Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gargoyles and Locked Rooms: Gigi's Short Stories

by Gigi

This week, my short story "The Shadow of the River" was published in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology.

"The Shadow of the River" is the first short story I've had published, and the second short story I've written. Though it sounds counterintuitive, I used to think that writing a short story would be more difficult than writing a novel.

Whenever I began to write a story, the idea would get away from me and grow into a plot that needed to become a whole novel. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I understood the idea that a short story needed to be grounded in a twist, but I wasn't able to put that idea into practice -- until I realized that my favorite short stories are locked room mysteries.

Locked room mysteries are those puzzles involving seemingly impossible crimes -- a dead body in a room locked from the inside with no way for the murderer to have escaped. Edgar Allan Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue" is an early example of the genre. John Dickson Carr, one of my favorite authors, wrote dozens of locked room mysteries.

The resolution of these mysteries is when the detective shows how the seemingly-impossible crime was carried out. That revelation of making the impossible possible is the twist. If it's a good story, it'll leave you slapping your forehead saying "Of course! Why didn't I see that!?".

Once I decided to write a locked room mystery, the short story finally clicked for me. I wrote an entire locked room mystery story in one afternoon. I started with a gargoyle on the first line, and ended 3,500 words later with what I hope will make people smack their foreheads that they should have guessed the puzzle but didn't. (Since that story features a gargoyle, I haven't yet figured out a venue in which to place it. Any ideas? It's a fair-play mystery even though it has a tinge of the paranormal.)

When the Fish Tales anthology was open to submissions, I sat down to write my second locked room mystery -- this time, without a gargoyle.

I began with Jaya Jones, the historian protagonist of my mystery series. I put her back in time in graduate school to solve the locked room murder of one of the professors in her department. The story became "The Shadow of the River" and was accepted into the anthology.

The Fish Tales anthology is a project of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime. Since we're "guppies," the broad theme of the anthology is bodies of water. And since Jaya is a historian, the body of water in my story is a historic map of rivers that converge in India. How does this ancient map lead to a locked room murder? Jaya Jones solves the baffling crime.

I'll leave you with a teaser from the jacket of the anthology:

22 tales of murder and mayhem by the rising stars of mystery.

Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology, casts a wide net across the mystery genre, delivering thrills, chills, and gills. This water-themed collection features locked room puzzles, police procedurals, cozy characters and hardboiled detectives... Come on in, the water’s fine. But be careful or you might find yourself sleeping with the fishes! 

It's fun to see it in print! 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Martha's Pet Peeve Probe

I've mentioned in a prior post that I have nothing interesting to say about our weekly topic of Pets, but reinterpret this topic to Pet Peeves and you can't shut me up (which may be your pet peeve.)

My pet peeve was nameless until 1985 when an American cartoonist made it a phenomenon now dubbed The Bechdel Test, which a movie fails unless it contains two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

I began to wonder. Can my life pass the Bechdel test?

Wary of Heisenberg, my favorite, if wimpiest, of the quantum mechanics principles, I knew instead of analyzing data going forward I would need to look back.

I gathered my past 24 hours of conversation from 7am on Monday March 28th to 6:59am on Tuesday, March 29th. (Yes, I realize this gives away that I half-ass my posts the day before they are due.)

Every validity test needs a set of guidelines. Here are mine:

1. Conversations about men will count against the Bechdel test if the context is personal or romantic. For example, conversations about a project including a male coworker's role are work. Conversations about nephews are family. I'll detail them out so you can decide if you disagree.

2. I will include all forms of communication including verbal, social media (twitter, facebook), email, text message, and IM. Social media posts will not count unless they are directly to me. For example, if I follow someone who generally posts about her boyfriend to the world at large, this is not a conversation unless I respond to it. However, my posts to the world at large will count.

Caveat: for the same of privacy, I am deliberately vague about certain discussions, but will not omit any topics. In instances of conversations, I note the starting time.

Here we go. Failures of Bechdel are italicized.

8:24am - verbal discussion with A re: our weekends, particularly enjoyment of and disappointment being back at work and what mood our boss might be in.

8:34am - email with B re: Bologna Book Fair

8:53am - tweet to C re: her May autographing in San Francisco

8:54am - email from D re: status of the work in progress and google stalking of editors

8:55am - tweet to general re: the movie Limitless

9:30am - tweet to general re: friend's brilliant and enviable Wondercon costume as Henry Cavill's wife

9:40am - verbal conversation with A and E re: NERT training, emergency preparedness, cultural differences of emergency response, and digression into our own personal survival strategies i.e. would we kill someone to survive (unequivocally yes, fyi)

9:55am - email and follow up tweet with F and G re: logistics for dinner event in which I am a total diva pain in the ass

10:20am - text with H and I re: meeting up for lunch and omg is it lunch yet and whaddya mean you're working from home and can't join us I?

11:00am - IM chat with J re: lap dancing, pole dancing, my addiction to online auctions, and whether I could handle being live hunted (with all due respect to myself, no.)

11:10am - IM chat with K re: audio books

11:22am - IM chat with B re: submission

11:28am - email with L re: her mom's general state of awesomeness

11:30am - verbal conversation with A re: defining key collaborators in grants

11:33am - email with M re: sugo recipe failure and correlation to patience

11:36am - tweets with N and L re: vampire wimps with breakout into love for Ian Somerhalder and Timothy Olyphant (I can make anything relate to Timothy Olyphant)

11:37am - email with O re: stress over upcoming parental visit

12:30pm - verbal conversation with H re: having run into woman I thought I knew in the bathroom because she looked so familiar but really she was Pam from the Real World San Francisco season, the deliciousness of pho, our friend's happy hour over the weekend which she missed, the movie Limitless, gym memberships, and Wondercon, specifically, what fandom line do we need to not cross to still respect ourselves in the morning.

12:36pm - email from P (with many respondents) re: her anthology short story (woohoo)

1:05pm - email with Q re: bachelorette party planning (details omitted but rest assured any bachelorette party I'm planning doesn't culminate in a sweaty, half-naked acrobatic guy)

1:08pm - text from I re: Timothy Olyphant's npr appearance

1:39pm - email from R re: Timothy Olyphant's npr appearance

1:44pm - text from S re: her return to town

2:15pm - verbal conversation with I re: new job posting and updating her resume

2:17pm - emails with H and I re: resume review

3:02pm - tweet to F re: washing her car of pet dander so I can survive being inside it

5:15pm - tweets with T and L re: Cheetos

5:30pm - verbal conversation with G re: car accidents, raising children, divorce, the Jaqueline Howett situation, and book reviews

6:30pm - verbal conversation with G, U, F, V, and W re: celebrating our friend's book release, cakes, electronic versus print publishing, family and divorce, pay inequities, our personal publishing related news, the industry at large and various and other sundry topics of titillating score.

7:23pm - email with X re: baby shower invitations

7:39pm - email with B re: submissions

8:19pm - tweet to S re: her return to town

9:45pm - verbal conversation with F re: book brainstorming

10:56pm - email with Y re: her dog getting into a fight

11:07pm - email with Z, AA and BB re: baby shower logistics

11:08pm - email with CC re: delicious pop-up delis

11:29pm - tweet to G and F re: thanking for hospitality and ride home

11:36pm - email with DD re: sister's birthday gift ideas

I also "liked" several people's facebook status related to: EE's upcoming trip to Peru, I's brother-in-law's return from military service, and FF's hotel offering makeup remover (what? that's nice of them.)

There you have it. Twenty four hours with yours truly in conversation with thirty two of her female friends, coworkers, family, and acquaintances.

Three conversations about Ian Somerhalder and/or Timothy Olyphant. (If you want to get picky and count the Henry Cavill one, go ahead, but that was really about the costume and not him.)

Two conversations about a friend's divorce.

One conversations about publishing and pay inquities which included discussions of two specific men's business decisions (as well as many women's business decisions) so I would only say 20% of this counts.

Now to the question: is this a typical day for me? Well, actually, no.

I normally don't spend this much time in conversation with F and G who can be credited with the latter three incidences of Bechdel test failure. This day also completely lacked four other friends who I usually speak to every day and see weekly because of this deviation from social norms.

As to those four friends, I took a look at a week's worth of correspondence and thought back to our in-person time and concluded nearly all our conversations passed the Bechdel test with topic contendors orbiting around (1) food, (2) being Asian and (3) whatever it is we're *doing* when we're together which, ahem, isn't a guy. If we do happen to talk about a guy, it's rarely about one guy and instead about "guys in general" as in "Why are guys so low functioning when it comes to planning a date?" (Don't get all defensive, guys, it's just an example.)

Not to pat myself on the back, but I'd say my friends and I pass with flying colors. Good to know I don't have to be pet peeved with myself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Healing Power of Pets

So I'm going to cheat today and give you all this link to the Wall Street Journal photos. These are pictures of people in earthquake- and tsunami- ravaged Japan with their pets.

There is something so absolutely comforting about holding your pet when you're having a bad moment. For these people, their life going forward is going to be filled with bad moments for a long time to come.

If you have a few dollars to spare, please consider donating to the Red Cross.

And take a moment right now to count your blessings, because chances are that whatever bad is happening with you is nothing compared to what these people face right now.


ps. A picture of Blackjack, my cat, as a kitten. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Introducing: Lisa Alder and "The Demon's Bargain"

The Pens Fatales are proud to announce the publishing debut of one of our nearest and dearest friends, LISA ALDER. Lisa is the author of The Demon’s Bargain, an erotic romance novella on sale now at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

The Demon’s Bargain by Lisa Alder

When the Demon bargains for one night of her one loses.

Vetis, the Demon of Corruption, is bored. It’s too easy to tempt humans into committing horrible acts and the appeal has worn thin. He’s restless and seeking distraction...until a gambler offers to settle a debt by submitting his wife for Vetis’s use.

One tiny glimpse of the rage in Amara and the absolutely sexless way she endures his sensual touch, and Vetis has his challenge. He’ll make this woman enjoy the carnal pleasures of sex.

The bargain is struck. One night. Of HER pleasure. And the debt will be paid.

Ill-used by her husband, Amara believes she is doomed, for she has no pleasure within her, her innocence forfeit long ago. But as Amara’s body awakens with sinful desires and carnal longings, hope begins to blossom that pleasure is within her reach.

Demons never fail and the challenge is on. Vetis knows with the right sensual persuasion the debt will be paid in pleasure, however he doesn’t bargain on falling in love.

Warning: this erotic romance novella contains m/f/m sex, light bondage, and smokin' hot demon sex

After more than a decade of writing professionally, she decided to self-publish one of her erotic romance novellas as an e-book. In light of recent high profile authors shifting to self-publishing their work as e-books, we thought it might be interesting to see why Alder has chosen this option.

LGCS: Congratulations. I read The Demon’s Bargain, and it’s great! Not only is it erotic, but I really cared about what happened to Amara, the heroine. She’s been abused by a cad of a husband, and Vetis, the Demon of Corruption, makes it his goal to heal her spirit. That’s something of a twist for a Demon, isn’t it?

LA: First off, while Demons can be a brutal race, they are not necessarily evil. In my research, I learned that Demons were actually helpful to humans. One of the things that I absolutely loved about writing this story was exploring the concept of evil and turning the idea of who or what is bad upside down.

LGCS: What was the inspiration for the novella?

LA: Hah. That’s a funny story. I had wanted to write an erotic novella for some time but I hadn’t been able to come up with a world that excited me. Then two things happened simultaneously. One day I was doing research on Angels and as an off-shoot, I read about Demons. The second thing was I read Juliet’s Victorian Erotica post (last September I believe). That afternoon, the story idea literally just came to me almost fully formed.

LGCS: Oh, that Juliet! We have to watch her every now and again. When did you decide to put The Demon’s Bargain out on your own? Are you jumping on a bandwagon here?

LA: I’d submitted The Demon’s Bargain to two very reputable e-publishers whose books I really respect. I would have LOVED to work with either house, but unfortunately they passed. At the same time, I had some friends who ventured into self-publishing with a degree of success, so I decided to try it. Jumping on the bandwagon. Sure. If you’d asked me a year ago if I would self-publish, I would have said absolutely not. But the world of publishing is changing. For better or worse? Only time will tell.

LGCS: Does your motivation to self-publish differ from authors such as Amanda Hocking?

LA: Actually, I think it’s basically the same reason. Amanda Hocking tried and tried to publish with a traditional house and kept getting turned down. She finally self-published and it turned out that fans really love her work. For me, I’m hoping that my “not quite right for our house” will be “just right” for readers.

LGCS: Tell us something about the process you went through to get The Demon’s Bargain ready for publication.

LA: Once I made the decision, I knew I needed help. Although I have GREAT critique partners, the reality is that sometimes only an editor is going to ask the right questions in order to make your manuscript the best that it can be. I am lucky enough to know a few freelance editors, so I contacted a woman who had edited erotic romance and got on her schedule. Then I hired a designer to design the cover (which is totally HOT). After several revision passes, and several rounds of copy edits, I decided The Demon’s Bargain was ready to be published. Then I had to learn the ins and outs of formatting for Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It turned out to be both harder and easier than I thought it would be. But seeing the cover on Amazon for the first time was quite a rush!

LGCS: The Demon’s Bargain has a tag “Demons Unleashed.” Does that mean we can expect more hot Demon sex in the future?

LA: Yes! I’m very happy to tell you that Prince Gaap’s story, To Summon A Demon, will be available in late May.

I would love to give away 2 copies of The Demon’s Bargain to your readers.
So if you’d like to win either a copy for Kindle or Nook, just comment and I’ll randomly draw two names. If you don’t have a Kindle or Nook, I’m hoping to have The Demon’s Bargain available in other formats by April 1st.

Thank you so much to the Pens for having me!!

LGCS: It's been our pleasure. Best of luck with The Demon’s Bargain.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adrienne Rambles About Animals

I’m contractually obligated not to have any pets. No really. It’s in my lease in big, bold typeface. No Freakin’ Animals! or we kick your butt out. And they mean it.

This a sign posted at the entrance of our complex, so don’t even think about sneaking me in a kitty. Violators will be prosecuted, mind you. 
Not that I mind. I’m not a real animal lover. I’ve had pets that I’ve loved, and they were great, but the truth is that most animals make me a little nervous. Especially wild animals (ok, I know this is supposed to be about pets, but it turns out that’s about all I’ve got in me about the domesticated critters).
Of course, there are the ones that I’m downright afraid of. The usual cast of characters 



face eating spiders (probably an urban legend, but whoever let facts get in the way of good irrational fear)

Ok, I’m aware the geese don’t make anybody else’s scary animal list, but let me tell you those beaky little devils are terrifying. 
So with this general distrust of the animal kingdom in mind, I went to to find out what my animal personality was. Why them, you ask. Well, everyone knows that on top of being “the most accurate personality test on the web” and having been featured on both CNN and Dr. Phil, they are also the first result to pop up on Google. And, hell, that’s good enough for me.
After answering a few rather personal questions, their super computers went to work and came up with...Walrus.

Great...I’m a walrus.
I have no idea how they came up with that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Black Cat Fever

By Juliet

I've always been a dog person. I love their loyalty, their generosity of spirit. Cats, on the other hand, seemed aloof and demanding...and I really don't do aloof and demanding.

But once my dog passed away, the neighbor's black cat set about seducing me with his feline wiles. Coincidentally, this all happened around the time I was starting to write my witchcraft mystery series, so it seemed rather appropriate to have a decidedly un-aloof, but demanding, black cat named Oscar hanging out with me while I wrote.

So this got me thinking...what's with the black cat and witches stereotype?

In Europe, witches were believed to have animal familiars, who functioned not only as companion animals but also as magical helpers. Cats were the most commonly mentioned witch's familiar, but not the only one. Witches were also associated with dogs, rats, snakes and toads...even pigs.

Who ever heard of a piggy familiar?
Three witches riding a pig (The Witches of Northamptonshire 1612)

In Greek mythology, the witch-like Circe lived on the island of Aeaea and was known for her knowledge of botanical potions. She was fond of transforming her enemies, or those who had offended her, into animals. Notably, she turned Odysseus’ men into swine.

In the New World, witches and curanderas, or folk healers, are often associated with naguales. The nagual is like an alter ego, an animal familiar that lives a parallel life to your own. In Rodolfo Anaya’s beautiful novel Bless Me, Ultima, the elderly curandera (a folk-healer) has an owl as her guardian spirit. It was born at the same time as Ultima, and will die when she herself passes over.

As in Europe, the nagual is often a creature of the night: an owl, a toad, a coyote. Some believe that when one dreams, it means one’s nagual is traipsing about on adventures.

Nagualism is linked with ancient pre-Columbian shamanistic practices through depictions of humans with animal features, found in the surviving art and books of the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec peoples.

At left: Emergencia del Nagual (the nagual coming out). Códice Nutall

So am I saying that Oscar-the-black-cat is my spiritual counterpart, some sort of shape-shifting totem?

Nah. But it sure is fun to think about what trouble my familiar might get into, traipsing about at night while I dream.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Pets. I never meant to have this many. Really.

Three dogs, four cats. Anyone will tell you (and they're right): that's too damn many. Not that I want to lose any, because I don't. But holy helen, it's a lot. I know that.

It happened like this:

I had Digit, the cat of my heart. He was born a jackass, and remains a jackass. No one likes him but me, and he returns the favor. He is NOT a nice cat. To temper him, I got him a girl cat, back in 1998 or so. Adah. She's completely neurotic, and is a slave to anything or anyone touching her head. She sits and drools and will self-pet, if given a sleeping hand to rub against. She's exhausting, and she and Digit never made friends.

Along came Lala. She had a dog (Harriet, the dog of her heart, the best dog I ever knew) and an almost-dog, Miss Idaho (a chihuahua who meows).

Happy family. Two dogs, two cats. Couldn't ask for anything more, right? Right.

I wanted my OWN dog. Along comes Clara, the border collie. Then Digit disappeared, and we all mourned his death. In the throes of grief, three months after his disappearance, I went to the animal shelter to adopt a boy cat in his memory, and accidentally came home with two boy kittens I couldn't bear separating. Waylon and Willie made three cats, for those keeping score.

Then, four months after his disappearance, Digit returned from the dead. (Really. He'd probably jumped into a truck or car and been transported away, and per the vet, he'd been walking for FOUR MONTHS to get home. The pads and claws of his feet were worn to nothing. Most of his rear end was lost to a feral bite and resulting infection. The vet couldn't find a heartbeat and said I had a zombie-cat. He was hours from death when he showed up at our back porch, swaying, almost unable to cry. *I* was not so hampered and can still well up just thinking about it.)

Total: 3 dogs, 4 cats. SO MANY. Then Harriet died (really died, sadly), and we were very, very sad. Months later, Lala needed a dog to hug and found Clementine, the most ridiculous pit bull/beagle mix anyone's ever met. She wants ONLY to hug, to lean, to spoon, to cuddle. She doesn't care about food, air, or water, as long as a human is loving her.

Total: Still 3 dogs, 4 cats. We are completely outnumbered, and today, when Lala was sick and I took a nap in the bed with her, we were covered with animals. I can hear Martha wheezing from here when I say that we woke up and looked around (the animals don't usually sleep with us) to find we were infested with animals. There was one on each limb and some left over. It was crazy.

But it was joyful, too. It's utterly impossible to ever be lonely in the Hehu House. We are loved, as are they, and we all of us know it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Not the Baby Talk, Please...

by Sophie

The photo to the left is proof of my great hypocrisy.

Lisa occasionally teases me for my animal-hating ways, and it's true that I'm contemptuous of animal mollycoddlers - people who dress their pets in costumes, or talk to them as if they understand, or - most dreadfully and horribly - speak in baby talk to their pets. People who, in the wake of terrible catastrophes, spend enormous amounts of time and money and energy on animals when there are people - human beings, children of God - who are suffering.

Yes, I have strong feelings on the subject, which are no doubt a result of being the granddaughter of homesteaders who raised animals to eat, and of having grown up among pragmatic and largely broke people who could neither afford nor countenance thousand-dollar vet bills when there were human mouths to feed and, besides, all around the countryside, a new litter of pups or kittens were generally a stone's throw away.

Ahem. All of that said....I do love my dog.

I've loved all my dogs: McDuff, Spot, Freddy, Stella, and now - gloriously - Bridget. McDuff was my childhood confessor and comfort, and I whispered all manner of secrets into his malodorous matted collie fur. Spot - oh, Spot, dog of my heart, best companion during the painful aftermath of my parents' divorce. Freddy, the sweet little ugly mutt who was the first pet I owned as a couple, followed by darling Stella - our first beagle, after I admired one in a movie and Bob surprised me with her for Valentine's day. Stella lived exactly fifteen years and died on Valentine's day two years ago.

After Stella died, we neither wanted nor needed another dog. Life was and remains complicated, far too complicated to fit a pet into the picture. But...well, then this happened:

and before long that damn dog grew up and things looked about like this:

...and as much as I'm loath to admit it, she's part of the family now.

I am still very uncomfortable with the amount of money and emotional investment Americans pour into their pets - I think we'd all be well served to spend a little more effort connecting with our neighbors, families, the downtrodden - and a LOT less money on pet accessories and toys and, God help us all, doggie day care and monogrammed water bowls and such.

But I have as much trouble resisting this as the next person:

So, here's a conflicted and ambivalent coffee-cheers to all the pets out there. In my heart of hearts, I do know how much they mean to so many of us, and today I honor that bond. I'll take Bridget on a walk, feed her an extra ration of frozen vegetables, let her jump up on the bed. It's the least I can do, given all the joy she's brought my dear ones. And, perhaps, me as well.

Oh, and P.S.? Just to make sure that my confession is year when my daughter was little, I made her an angel costume and I may have made Stella a little red satin doggie devil suit. And when my daughter was a bride for Halloween, I not only sewed Stella a bridesmaid costume but had their picture taken. With a parasol. And flowers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vision of the Future

The pens are happy to welcome Kristin Miller to the blog today. Kristin's debut romantic suspense novel, Dark Tide Rising, is available now.

Thank you to the Pens for inviting me to post today!  I’m proud to call you ladies writing peers and fast-growing friends.

I was an “old” child.  The one who never wanted to climb trees, choosing instead to sit in cool grass and pick petals off dandelions.  The one who secretly read John Saul’s Darkness instead of Judy Blume.  The one who crushed on Marty McFly instead of Prince Charming.  I had a few solid friends I could count on one hand.  We giggled playing Barbies, argued during four square, and whipped tetherballs like champions. 

But the ideas swimming in my head about what I wanted to do with my life differed from even my best of friends.  When a nine year old squeals in delight at the prospect of being a veterinarian, a doctor, a potter and an astronaut all at once, you say “Yes! That’s great!” But when a corkscrew-haired girl smiles and says, “I want to be a seventh grade English teacher” the response is usually “Really? Well that takes a certain type of person, honey…” 

People were right to dismiss my practical dreams at such a naïve, fruitful age.  It does take a certain type of person to want to teach middle school.  A person who’s wanted to teach seventh grade English since before they were in seventh grade.  A person who dreams of rows of Old Englished desks, the curt, woodsy smell of sharpened pencils and well-structured lessons spiraling around analysis, reflection and research.  An old child like me who always admired the teachers with pencils in their hair and glasses hanging off the tips of their noses.

Looking back, I’m not sure what made me decide to teach seventh grade, specifically.  Seven must’ve been my lucky number. The number of my favorite Madonna track on her True Blue album, perhaps.  Or the number of times I ogled over Jack “T. for Trustworthy” Colton in Romancing the Stone in a given week. 

Through the years, I never veered from my goal.  I went to a party college, yet seldom partied.  I kept my sights on those desks and lessons and those oh-so-trendy black-rimmed glasses.

And then I did it.  I reached my goal.  It was great, yet nothing like I envisioned it would be.  My students, pre-adolescent and wild-eyed, didn’t care about fluency or grammar or the very important difference between who and whom.  They didn’t care about standards or long-term goals.  They were nothing like I was at their age. They were kids.  How kids should be.  So full of wonderful, lofty ideas about the life ahead of them.  Too young to care about finals or SAT’s or Presidential hopefuls in the coming election.

It took a few years of teaching to realize how much reality veered from my childhood notions of adulthood.  I never needed nose-pinching glasses, even after the long nights spent skimming over expository essays.  Pencils never stayed in my hair, no matter how I tried to shove them in place.  Lessons revolving around standards changed more than fluorescent clothes trends.  Living my childhood to be a mature, wise adult didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped it would.

In some ways, it turned out better.  Quitting teaching to stay home and raise my own children has given me a richer lens with which to view life.  Being an old child kept my spirit focused and driven.  I reached my goals quickly.  But now, having lived thirty years with my nose to the grindstone, I can look up and enjoy the brightness of life—right alongside my own children.

I spin circles in snowfall with them, arms extended, tongue lolling down to catch fat, wet flakes.  I push them up trees, swing from low-hanging limbs, kicking my feet up as they climb to the highest, thinnest branch.  I’ve officially transitioned from old child to young adult; the kind that giggles louder and plays longer into the day.  The kind of young adult who drives a fast car and lets my hair do whatever the hell it wants to do, no matter who’s judging.  The kind that strolls in the pouring rain without an umbrella because, after all, it’s just water.  

I’ve learned that, often times, change is inevitable.  You can’t plan everything.  Hell, you can’t even dream everything.  While some long-standing dreams wither and die, other magnificently unthinkable ones bloom in their place.  I never dreamt of being a writer—my realist brain couldn’t comprehend something so far-fetched.  Yet here I am; fueling a passion I didn’t know existed.  Beyond my own happiness though, I’ve come to realize that inflaming passion in others—whether it’s by way of teaching, writing, or parenting—is truly what makes a soul vibrant and young.

Through all life’s curveballs, I’ve also realized there are some things in this world that remain constant…Marty McFly is still the hottest thing to hit Hollywood since one-point-twenty-one-gigawatts blasted his DeLorean back to 1955.

Kristin Miller is a former English teacher turned romance writer from northern California.  Her dark and sexy paranormal series, featuring a blood-war between vampires and shape-shifters in Crimson Bay California, will be available this summer from Avon Impulse.  Her debut romantic suspense novel, Dark Tide Rising, was released in February.  You can find out more about Kristin and her work at or

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Revenge of the Baby Blogs

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
by Gigi

Since Sophie posted such a lovely non-standard head shot of herself last week, the least I can do is post this St. Patrick's Day photo since it's St. Patty's day today. Did everyone remember to wear green?

I'm at an age where lots of my friends are having babies. And along with the babies, the vast majority have started baby blogs.

I love being able to keep up with my good friends who are spread out across the country -- seeing how their babies are growing and walking and saying the funniest things.

But I'm also curious about what the babies themselves will think a few years from now.

They say that kids growing up today are much more open to having everything in their lives public, thinking nothing of posting their most personal or outrageous details on Facebook or YouTube. But I wonder how far that extends. Will they really want their friends watching videos of diaper-clad tantrums? They're super-cute tantrums, it's true. But still.

It took me a long time to venture into social media, so I know I'm overly cautious. I joined this blog because a certain person strong-armed me into it -- for which I'm forever grateful :). And thanks to my 2011 New Year's resolutions, I've also got a photography blog and a Twitter account. (I'm still not on Facebook. I share an office with my office's social media strategist, who finds it amusing beyond believe that I'm one of the last remaining Facebook holdouts in the country.)

The first week I was on Twitter, I obsessively wondered how much was oversharing. I got over it once I got the hang of it, and now I'm having a blast (and I think I found a happy medium). But what about posting on behalf of your kids? I know I'm probably overthinking the whole thing -- but remember, anything posted online is potentially out there forever.

Not to end on that scary note, I'll wrap up by sharing the happy news that one of my friends is due to give birth any day now! This friend lives nearby, so her daughter will be one baby whose blog I won't need to read to see her grow up :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Martha Writes For Children

"What's your book about?"

The dreaded cocktail party question.

I have a pitch at the ready: "A teen spy infiltrating a graffiti artist ring finds her loyalties torn between the mission and the artists who inspire her to redefine herself."

Sometimes I get wide-eyed excitement.
But sometimes I get, "Oh. You write for children."

Yeah. I write for people. Age thirteen and up. What's it to you?

I don't understand why black turtleneck-wearing literary types* have it in for children's literature.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for children.
Mark Twain wrote for children.
JM Barrie, Lewis Carroll, and even hoity-toity William Blake targeted children.

That dog-eared Salinger whine-fest hipsters lug around their college years? Originally published for adults. But today? That would be considered a book for children.

Children's literature has the best of all worlds.

The immediacy of action thrillers.
The poignancy of romantic tearjerkers.
The thematic impact of literary juggernauts.
Books, you know, being bought and read.

The inevitable follow-up question comes: "When will you write an adult book?"

But why would I write an adult book?

I already have the best audience in the world.

* Nothing against literary types who wear black turtlenecks. I even have friends who wear black turtlenecks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Childbirth Conspiracy

by Lisa Hughey

The other Pens have admirably covered the angst of teen years, motivational tools for recalcitrant elementary schoolers, the heart-warming auntie love, the onus to make the most of our lives so that we set a good example.

I’m going to cover a topic no one ever talks about. I’m breaking a major female taboo, but I just think that every woman deserves to know about the Childbirth Conspiracy.

If you’re young and still deciding about motherhood, I’ve got one word for you: BEWARE.

Sign courtesy of

At first, right after you pee in the cup, or on the strip, or whatever, you are THRILLED. All out crazy happy. Your heart pounds with excitement, every little hiccup in your day can be attributed to that tiny zygote growing inside you. You will be entering the hallowed halls of motherhood. You smile, you glow, you gloat!

And then you throw up.

Sometimes it’s just a little nausea, so you shrug and smile serenely, secure in the knowledge that it’s all for the good of that miracle growing inside of you. Two weeks later, you’re lying on the bathroom floor, clinging to the bowl, vowing never to eat again, and half-heartedly noting that you really need to clean the base of the toilet. Weak from dehydration and lack of sustenance, the floor seems like a pretty nice place to hang out.

But eventually the urge to blow chow seventy times a day fades along with your memories of cold tile and dirty commodes. It’s a miracle. You’re blessed. Give thanks!

And you toddle along, with a waist that expands faster than you can purchase new clothes. Nothing ever fits correctly, too wide in the legs, pinched in the waist, too tight in the chest, because Holy Mother of God, you’ve got giant boobs. (Which will sag the moment you’re done breastfeeding)

Then that baby rolls around in your stomach like an astronaut in zero gravity.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

The little cuss bounces off your ribs, your stomach and your bladder like a bowling ball against bumpers until you are peeing twenty times a day or attempting to relieve the constant heartburn brought on by eating the blandest food on the planet. The BLANDEST food on the planet. If you’re really lucky, constipation is your constant companion and you start mainlining Metamucil (after you steal it from your grandma) to try and relieve the symptoms.

And then it happens. One day as you tug on clothes that you’re sure must have shrunk in the wash because an elephant could wear this top and have room leftover for a few friends, and you look down to see...a great big belly.

You can’t see your feet. Not only can you not see them but chances are they are (with your cankles) swollen to forty times their normal size, forcing you to give up the one food you crave above all others.

Potato chips. Which immediately sends you into a crying jag that lasts for a good hour. Maybe longer, because, honestly besides the fact that their gestational period is months longer, you and Dumbo’s mother could be twins.

It’s too much. No one told you about all this!! When every woman you know was waxing poetic about the joy, the beauty, the miracle of freaking childbirth, they always neglect to mention the trials and challenges of actually being pregnant.

The truth is that every woman out there who has ever given birth signs a confidentiality contract, agreeing never to disclose the true facts about pregnancy. Then as if we are characters in some bizarre mind wipe sci-fi plot, women forget the horrible, awful, no-good days of being pregnant when the doctor places that tiny infant in their arms. But I feel it’s my duty as a woman to let you know that the conspiracy is real. It exists. Beware.

Even being able to combat the effects of the Motherhood Mind Wipe, I ended up with three of my own conspiracy babies.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Counting Blessings

L.G.C. Smith

I'm short on words today, though long on thoughts about all the families who have lost children in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the children who have lost loved ones. In recognit
ion that all we can ever be sure of is the present, here are some of the lovely moments the children in my life have given me in the last year or so.

#1 Niece: Christmas at Grandma's & Grandpa's

#2 Niece at the playground

#3 Niece in the wading pool last summer

My only nephew was born last summer.
I got to take his sisters for their first look at him.

Sixteen? How did that happen?

My cousin's smart, beautiful oldest daughter at fifteen.

My favorite non-blood-relation boys with the Leezlet.

Some of the other FHF kids and G bellying up to the bar for cake.

Only Nephew at 8 1/2 months.

My three favorite girls in the world last month at Grandma's.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This One's For The Moms

--Adrienne Miller

I’m not a big advice giver, especially when it comes to writing tips. We all know the biggies by heart anyways. Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard. Do it every day. There are great books if you need deeper help. On Writing by Stephen King is a favorite. Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird is pretty good too. I can’t pretend to do better than those two. 
But there might be one area that I can shed a little light on. You see, about three years ago, I almost quit writing. I hadn’t been at it for very long, not seriously at least, when my older son was diagnosed with autism. My life was full, too full, I figured for me to engage in dream chasing. I was already juggling a toddler, a preschooler and a full-time job, and now life was tossing a complex disability into the mix. I could have given up an no one would have faulted me. No one but me, that is.
Of course, I didn’t give up, and in the last three years I’ve learned a handful of things that have kept me going. 
1. Give up on perfect
And I’m not talking about perfectly folded towels and immaculate kitchens, though if that is your hang-up then it might be a good idea to take a step back from that too. 

No, I’m talking about something far more insidious -- the idea of perfect. The fiction that we create in our minds about the perfect tomorrow. The perfect writing conditions, the ones that, if only we had them, we could pump out six or seven bestsellers a year.
You know the story. It always starts off with One Day. One day when the kids are in school. One day when I have six solid hours of quiet to write. One day when I have my own office filled with comfy couches and potted plants.
One Day kills Today.  And there’s no guarantee that it’s coming. All of those problems that are clogging up your life right now, yeah, in five years they all may be resolved, but guess what? New ones are going to rush right in and take their place. Problems you can’t imagine yet. Problems just as complex and annoying as the ones you already have. 
One Day doesn’t exist. There is only wonderful, chaotic, annoyance-filled today with all of its lovely potential. 
2. You are tougher than you think
You’ve dealt with everything that parenthood has flung your way. The nausea,  lack of sleep, the panic you felt when the nurses first wheeled you out of the hospital with that helpless little bundle in your arms--you got through all that. You’ve coped with major and minor doctor visits, temper tantrums, and all out fights. Every time life chucked a curveball at your head, and you muttered to yourself that you couldn’t handle it, you did. 
Motherhood is a crucible. You go into it one person, and the stress, the worry, the pain and the joy changes you. Just remember, you are as strong as the fires you are forged in.
The hard work of writing and rewriting, the wear of rejection and the stress of deadlines, I’m not going to lie and say that they’re easy in comparison. I’m just guessing that if you can get through back to back sleepless nights with a squalling baby throwing up all over you, you probably have what it takes to handle a few faceless rejection letters .
3. What you’re doing is actually good for your kids
I know sometimes it’s hard to believe, especially when good ol’ guilt starts creeping its way into your head late at night, but I promise you its true.
Sure, kids need homemade cookies and somebody to snuggle them when they fall down and scrape their knee, and I’m going to go way out on a limb here and guess that you do that. But they need more than that. 
Everyday your kids are watching you and they are learning what it means to live a life, lessons that our society at large does not teach them. If their momma is a writer, they learn that passions are worth following, that dreams take hard work and dedication to come true, and that failure is just a part of the road to success. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Drunk short animals

by Juliet

Cute stories about one's kid are like stories about one's dog or a slide-show of family trips to Disneyland: lovely to recall in the privacy of one's home but best not inflicted upon unsuspecting readers.
(Besides, my now-nineteen-year-old doesn’t relish his mom giving away his how he used to prance around the house in the nude, brandishing his Nerf bow and arrows. Or how, when he deigned to put on clothes at all, he dressed as Robin, complete with cape, for a little over two years. He would tell all who would listen that Robin was very important, because Robin was Batman’s psychic --by which he meant sidekick. Cute, huh?)

Okay, enough. Sorry about that.

(Above, my boy with his grandma. No longer Batman's psychic.)

So instead, I’ll just ‘fess up: I never used to like kids.

I mean, I liked the concept of children. They're the future, they're full of wonder, they're innocent miracles, etcetera, etcetera. But when it came down to actually spending time with kids...not so much.

However, since my own kid was a kid, and I liked him, then I liked kid. And now whenever I see children I remember my boy at that age, and I get all gooey and nostalgic, and end up not unlike a big old puddle of melted candy.

Here’s what I learned:
  1. Kids are nuts. It’s like they’re on drugs, or drunk, or schizophrenic. Or all three at once. They talk to themselves, see imaginary people, twirl around until they throw up just to see what it feels like. Seriously, watch a kid for a while in a public setting, and then imagine a grown up acting like that. They’d be arrested for their own protection.
  2. In order to talk to kids, it’s best to act crazy yourself. If a kid’s wearing a pink dress, go, “Duuude. Nice pants you’re wearing. I like that color green.” Usually this inspires them to correct you, which give them the satisfaction of knowing that even though they still pee in their pants, at least they’re smarter than a certain grown up they could mention. If, on the other hand, they just stare at you with an uncomprehending look on their face, they’re not worth your time. If they laugh and get the joke, you should make a note to check in with them ten or twenty years down the line, as they might just turn out to be a really interesting human.
  3. As a corollary to the above: kids are boring if you try to talk to them about anything important. They couldn’t care less about recent events in Egypt, and they have absolutely no opinion about the use (and overuse) of adverbs in fiction. But if you go with the crazy, they’re highly entertaining. Bored at a party? Find the six year old and ask them when they were last on Mars. Or how long they think horses can hold their breath. Or whether the Cookie Monster and Elmo should get married. They’ll have an opinion, guaranteed.
  4. Kids are little savages. They have no idea how polite company works. It is their parents’ job to train them in the ways of our cultural norms. Unfortunately, many parents fall short in that regard, so a lot of kids don’t know they’re not supposed to sit on top of the table while sticking a fork in their eyes and spitting into the gravy. Sometimes, you have to be the force of cultural tradition, which is an uncomfortable place for those of us who like to think of ourselves as iconoclasts and rebels. In short, children act like children. And sometimes adults act like children. And that means YOU have to act like an adult, which is a major drag.
  5. Children don’t actually need a reason for stuff, and they’re easy to trick. I didn’t want to fall into the “Because I said so” trap with my son, so instead I’d say “I’ll tell you later. Like when you get to college.” This became a useful trope in our household. I would tell my son: “Don’t pick your nose. That’s for college.” “Don’t sit on the table and put the fork in your eye and spit in the gravy, you can do that all you want when you’re in college.” “Don’t pee in your pants….” You get the idea. By the time they actually get to college, peer pressure will do your job for you. Plus, this way kids grow up thinking college is this awesome hedonistic world of pants-peeing and nose-picking and sitting on tables while spitting and inflicting injuries. In addition to taking care of your immediate explanatory needs, this method causes them to aspire to a university education. High expectations makes for good parenting, or so they say.
Soooo, I like to bring these posts back to writing. I know, I know, hard to imagine the connection, right? Here goes: While writing, it’s best to bring out the inner crazy, indulge that long-ago child that didn’t realize there were so many limits. Like children, writers often appear to be drunk, or high, or schizophrenic -- we talk to ourselves and spend our days with imaginary figures, and imagine a world of pure possibility. It's a thing of beauty.

Just remember to keep it in check while in public, or you’ll be arrested.

(At left, the author as a kid, with her dog Princess-- otherwise known as a talking horse from Mars.)