Friday, April 29, 2011

Yep, We Got Her

Introducing our newest member:

Nicole Peeler. We wooed her from a distance and finally snared her with one of our snazziest, sparkliest nets. She's still kicking a little bit, but we throw Mont Blancs and Moleskines in every once in a while, and they lull her right back to sleep.

Nicole D. Peeler received an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Boston University, and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. She’s lived abroad in both Spain and the UK, and lived all over the USA. Currently, she resides outside Pittsburgh, to teach in Seton Hill’s MFA in Popular Fiction. When she’s not in the classroom infecting young minds with her madness, she’s writing Urban Fantasy for Orbit Books and taking pleasure in what means most to her: family, friends, food, and travel.

You can find her blogging at the League of Reluctant Adults, on facebook as Nicole Peeler, and on twitter as NicolePeeler. She’s getting very high tech, people, and it’s all for you.

We're proud that she's going to be our Pens in absentia, and we hope that you'll enjoy getting to know her! (And someday, we hope she moves to be with us! We're not a cult, no. Not exactly... But we're working on purchasing the land...)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is It a Lie if You're Acting?

by Gigi

I've admitted before that I'm the girl who moved the Ouija board. You could look me in the eye, and without blinking, my 12-year-old self would swear I didn't move the placard. Even though of course I did.

I was also known to have hidden a friend in the closet to make other kids think the house was haunted. It wasn't Halloween.

And as soon as I got my license at 16, I would scare the uninitiated with  Orange County urban legend 'The Brea Bum' as we were approaching the secluded spot where he 'lived.'

These were the lies of a creative child -- or so I tell myself.

In college, while I was writing bad fiction in creative writing class, I was also doing mock political debates in politics class. During one debate, students from Pitzer (my college) and Pomona (another Claremont College in our 5-college consortium) debated each other. I assumed the accent of the politician from the state I represented. I never once broke character. There might still be former Pomona College students out there who think I've got a thick South Carolina accent.

When I'm acting -- be it in the theatrical productions I acted in during high school and college, or in the roles I assumed above -- I can lie without breaking a sweat.

But when it comes to real life, I can't lie to save my life.

If I were to lie to you right now about something serious, you'd see it written all over my face. I'm so bad at real-life lying that you'd probably see right through me if I wrote a lie that I didn't intend to write as fiction. If I ever want to tell even a white lie, I'm better off keeping my mouth shut all together.

The good news is that I can have a blast telling stories -- be it in person, on stage, or on the page -- as long as I'm assuming the role of storyteller. Anyone have a Ouija board handy?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Here Lies Martha

When I was in (Catholic) elementary school I spent 30 minutes every morning in chapel, an hour each Wednesday in school religious service, an hour every school day in religious studies, a few hours every Sunday in community church, and 15 minutes after school in prayer.

Yet. Somehow. I came away with the belief that when you die, you sorta sit around in your body, rotting underground, until Jesus' second coming when you're judged and get shuffled off to Heaven or Hell.

If you know the real Catholic afterlife belief, then you got me. I obviously don't pay attention in class. Or before class. Or after class. Or on Sundays.

But onward...

I believed this purely and literally. I had no doubt in my mind that after I died, my soul would sit around in my body until the second coming.

Thus, I became very obsessed with the second coming.

How long was it going to be? Two years? Twenty years? A millenia? (Ok, fine, I didn't know the word millenia back then.) What about people who had been dead for tons of years? What were they doing?

I was convinced I would be horrible at being dead. I wasn't, and am still, not good at sitting still. I'm antsy. So I began to practice.

I would lie (lay? Adrienne, help me out here) on my back, close my eyes, and think to myself, "I'm dead. Now what?" Could I still sleep? Or would my soul be "on" all the time? What could I do with that time? Wouldn't I just go nuts? What about my mom and dad? Could I visit with them?

In my considerable prayer time, I would ask, beg, and plead for Jesus to hurry it up already and come while I was still alive so I wouldn't have to be dead and lie-ing (lying? laying?) around waiting for him. What the heck was he waiting for anyway? Now's a good as time as any, right?

I'm not sure when I shook this belief, but habits die hard and when I go to sleep at night and close my eyes I almost never find sleep because as I lie (it is lie, right?) there in the dark, I still think to myself - now what?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lies People Tell

by Lisa Hughey

In my personal life, I hate lies. With a passion that borders on obsessive. I strive to be as honest (without being cruel) as possible in my dealings with people. Of course there are the random small omissions usually in the quest to spare someone’s feelings that could be considered lies but even those I try to avoid. I don’t like to lie and I absolutely hate being lied to.

I think that’s why in my fictional life I’m so drawn to the world of espionage. The world of spies is built on lies. Exploring characters whose ordinary world is predicated by lies and half-truths is particularly fascinating to me. Writing about characters with a moral compass that excludes veracity provides a backdrop for countless twists in plot and character exposition. The character has a code of justice and so their motivations are inherently true. Yet finding the truth among the lies is a maze-like experience for both the reader and the author.


Photo courtesy of ilovememphis on Flickr

Sometimes the author is just as surprised by the things the character is hiding. The piecing together of the past and the reactions to the events in the story are less than straightforward and the mental puzzle of determining why a character behaves in a certain manner adds another layer to a likely complicated espionage plot.

Throw in a villain with his or her own set of lies and it just gets more interesting. My villains of choice tend to be Russian. There is no underlying meaning or ill-will toward Russian people, it’s just that the documented lines of misdirection, misinformation, and outright lies between the Russian and American espionage community is truly gripping.

American Intelligence has buildings full of people devoted to analyzing and deciphering bits of information collected from a variety of sources and putting together a logical explanation of events. They have to sift through hours of communication intelligence, human intelligence (that would be people sources), rumors, innuendoes, and misinformation to distill the information down to usable intelligence. In my mind, when you consider how much information is out there, it’s a miracle that any intelligence findings are on the mark.

For research, I’ve read some riveting and completely fantastical plots that are so crazy, if you read them in a book, you’d throw it across the room and consider the story implausible. That’s part of what makes writing about lies so much fun and in the end the hero and heroine always find their way to the truth.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Big Lies and Public Education Wars

L.G.C. Smith

It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between lying and storytelling, but the most fundamental difference is obvious to five-year-olds. Stories come with embedded messages that signal “This is a story. It’s made up.” Lies don’t.

There are, of course, more and less subtle means of alerting audiences to story contexts. Lies can be subtle, as well, exploiting small distinctions. Then there are sledgehammer lies, those that are so outrageous, so blatant, and so clearly malicious that it’s hard to believe anyone gives them credence. Yet someone always does, frequently uttering the adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” as they give authority to something they shouldn’t. Self-interest is usually a big factor in this sort of lie, too, both in the telling and in the unwillingness to challenge liars outright.

Everyone reading this knows all about all this since we all read and write about the failures and triumphs of the human condition. Most of us are also very, very good at letting people know when we’re telling stories because we understand their power, and the difference between the power of a well-told story and a lie.

I’m trying really hard to avoid preaching because I’m mad as hell over a vicious lie my husband’s supervisor told about him.

My husband is a middle school PE teacher. He’s been teaching 22 years. His school district is working very hard to fire him because it costs less to pay a new, inexperienced teacher. Not only are their salaries lower, they don’t get the same benefits, and they can be fired more easily when the state cuts district budgets yet again. There are many administrative advantages to getting the experienced teachers out of cash-strapped public schools. But to get rid of them, the districts have to prove they’re incompetent or unfit to teach.

Now that there’s no limit on the size of PE classes in my husband’s district, almost every one of his periods has 55 or more students. With that many students, the administrators at his school have been reprimanding him when students don’t dress for PE, when they wander off to the bathroom during class, when there are fights, and when there are pantsing incidents. None of those things should be happening. That goes without saying. But what do administrators think is going to happen when the teacher/student ratio is 1/55? Seriously. There are going to be problems. The other teachers are having problems, too. There will likely be more problems with inexperienced teachers.

My husband has been placed on Notice for being unprofessional because of too many nonsuits, a kid getting dropped into a dumpster last year (thanks, Glee), two pantsings, and an argument between students that he kept from escalating to actual physical contact. He will be dismissed, the union tells us, no later than May 15th no matter how well he does in addressing the alleged deficits in his performance.

This places us in dire financial circumstances, but honestly, it’s happening to a lot of people. We don’t take this too personally. Neither do we take it lying down, but this is a trend that isn’t completely about my husband’s job performance. Up to a point, the district has used story-telling techniques to paint a picture of a teacher who isn’t in control. Strictly speaking, they’re lying, but if they keep to the legal parameters, there’s not a great deal we can do about it.

After several instances of not-quite legal behavior on the part of the administration, two weeks ago, the vice-principal came into the PE office at the beginning of one period and told my husband that there had been an accusation from another staff member (probably the inexperienced ‘aide’ they want to hire after they get rid of my husband) that my husband had used the “N” word six times in the PE office.

That’s right. The N word. Only slightly less loaded than an accusation of sexual abuse, which would involve the police.

My husband, terribly upset at this shameless lie, had to go immediately into class. There was no time to address the matter without leaving students unattended. At the beginning of the next period, both the principal and the vice-principal showed up for an unannounced observation.

This whole mess just became deeply, irrevocably personal. My husband is sick about it. Literally. He’s got a cold he can’t shake and the stress isn’t helping. He can’t even speak about this lie without his voice failing.

The N word.

My sister’s husband, our brother-in-law, is African American. Our niece, our beloved, cherished niece, the joy of our lives, is half Black. We live next door to them. They are family. We walk in and out of each others' houses every day. They take care of us. We take care of them. We love them.

For Bob to use this word…No. No.

I cannot measure the anger and the sorrow we feel knowing that someday our niece will learn that word. Worse, she’ll learn that having brown skin has made so many Americans less in the eyes of those with lighter skin. The world will be a darker place when that happens. It is a darker place every time it happens. It happens all the time. It happens to the children my husband teaches, children like our intelligent, compassionate, wonderful niece. This is personal and grievous every time it happens.

That word in the mouth of a white man teaching students of many colors reeks of racism, injustice and the senseless waste of dreams and potential.

This is the lie a middle school vice-principal chooses to tell about my husband.

California school districts are in financial straits. Across the country, public school teachers are being targeted as the new pigs at the public trough, a bunch of greedy thugs unwilling to shoulder yet more of the burden for public education by taking even lower wages, fewer health benefits, and worse working conditions. More lies. General, stupid, impersonal lies fostered by people who don’t understand or value public education.

But this lie was malicious in the extreme. It was personal. It was aimed at upsetting an experienced teacher as little else would immediately before an unannounced observation.

Is there anyone in this country who wants their child to attend a school where this sort of behavior is happening? My mother was a public school teacher. Three of my grandparents were public school teachers and administrators. I’ve heard plenty of backroom stories about what goes on in schools, and never anything like this.

This is wrong. This kind of lying is an exercise in vice. It wounds far beyond the person about whom the lie is told. It makes me long for a divine retribution I don’t really believe in, or instant karma and a cut-throat lawyer in my husband’s corner.

But if I had children in California public schools, I’d be worried that the people most concerned with students are under attack from their own administrators. If I were a parent, I’d spend time teaching ethics and what it does to a person’s heart and mind to tell big lies. Those lessons have disappeared from at least one middle school in the Bay Area.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Terrible Lie...Or Is It?

--Adrienne Miller

I have a terrible confession to make. No, I didn't pull some giant con job in Las Vegas where I passed myself off as Lady Fiona Weathersby and separated wealthy middle-aged men from their money. Though now that I think about it, what are some of you Pens doing next weekend? Hmm....

Seriously, if any of you can rock an English accent, call me

Nope. This is worse. I can never remember how to use lie/lay.


Yes, I know one is a transitive verb and the other is intransitive, but I can never remember off the top of my head which one is which. Does my character lay the book down or does he lie it down? Hell if I know without looking it up.

And then comes the past tense confusion. The past tense of of lie is lay, and the past tense of lay is laid. Or is it the other way around? I don't even want to get into past participles.

The result of my confusion is that no one in the first drafts of my books ever puts anything down. Assumably all of my characters walk around with full hands and giant pockets. They sleep upright like astronauts.

It's not until I get into revisions that they can relax. That's when I pull out my big ol' spiral bound desk reference and go to work. You would think that by now, after dealing with this issue hundreds of times, I would remember which verb is which. But no such luck. I suppose it's just the way my brain is set up. I can remember all the words to Total Eclipse of the Heart but not this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lying to Oneself

by Juliet

Way back when, before I ever dreamed of becoming a "real" writer, I used to tell people:

"When I retire I'm going to move to [insert name of great European city here] and I'll tell everyone I'm working on a novel. That way I can sit around in cafes jotting things down in a notebook, drinking espresso and cheap wine, acting as though I'm doing something...but I'll never have to actually produce anything!"

I thought it was brilliant.

Wow. Did I underestimate this writing gig. "Never have to produce anything"? Really? Now that I do write for a living, I realize that ALL I ever do is produce, or at least try to produce, day in, day out.

Still, I have a confession to make: there are days when my hardworking neighbors think I'm "writing" but I'm really walking around the lake, having lunch with friends, and maybe cleaning out the shed or working in the garden or taking in a matinee.

Not many days, but there are some.

I console myself with the thought that, as a writer, I'm ALWAYS working. I'm going over character development as I'm perusing bookstore aisles, or observing details of wardrobe for some crucial descriptive passage, or perhaps my subconscious is working out a few plot problems while downing that second martini.

And as someone who's been self-employed, one way or another, for most of her adult life, I have no qualms about taking off on Tuesday when the stores are empty and the traffic is mellow. The harsh truth is I work most Saturdays and Sundays --and most evenings-- so I don't feel guilty about my rare free hours.

But here's where things get dicey...the problem isn't when we lie to others about writing; it's when we lie to ourselves.

I did it when I was "working on my dissertation" in anthropology. I aced the classes, whizzed through my oral exams and enjoyed the hell out of my field research. But the actual writing....? Not so much. I didn't have a word count or other daily goal to keep me on track. I couldn't keep my focus--new topics became fascinating, and everything was relevant and needed to be pursued. I developed a kind of graduate student ADD, and lost my ability to keep my butt in the chair, my mind on my thesis, and to write.

As months faded into years, I realized I enjoyed the idea of writing my dissertation a lot more than the reality of it. Being a doctoral student was fun. I garnered sympathy/respect/pity from the general public, was granted full university library access, managed to travel extensively, and even worked on a BBC documentary film. And I learned a hell of a lot. There were lots of perqs to the lifestyle.

But it was one thing to lie to others about what I was doing....quite another when I started lying to myself. That's when I knew I was in trouble.

I think lies have their place. In the eighties, when I traveled a lot, I told everyone I was Canadian (still a handy ruse). And every April 15 I insinuate that I need to buy all these art supplies for my business. If I'm bored on the plane, I might mention to my seatmate that I'm visiting my pen-pal prisoner fiance who currently resides in Vacaville Maximum Security.

But lying to myself about what I'm doing -- or not doing-- to fulfill my dreams? That, I will no longer do.

When I finally admitted to myself that I had been pursuing my PhD for all the wrong reasons, I pulled up my big girl pants and dropped the dissertation. Amazingly enough, the world did not end. No one's head exploded. After all those years, it was surprisingly easy to leave the lie behind.

So now, when I actually move to [insert name of great European city here] and sit around in cafes jotting things down in notebooks, drinking espresso and cheap wine...I'll be producing words that become sentences that lead to books. Honestly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rachael Used to Lie More

I think I used up all my lies back when I was a kid, because I'm a terrible liar now. I blush and stutter and, worst of all, forget what I lied about, so I have a pretty strict policy of truth (except, of course, for those social white lies that keep our worlds on course--I think those are sometimes necessary, and I'm pretty good at those).

But when I was a kid, I was AWESOME at lying. I sometimes made up lies just to see how big a whopper I could get away with. I remember describing my first French kiss to a friend in third grade, when in actuality I had no idea what one was, nor had I ever seen one, let alone had one. (I thought it involved a certain nibbling technique, which seemed much more French to me than the whole tongue thing that I learned about in fourth grade while watching two classmates wrestle mouths.)

The worst part about lying is how far you'll go to defend the lie. I think perhaps the difference between young Rachael and not-as-young-as-she-was Rachael is that I won't go to lengths anymore. If I lie, and I'm caught, I admit it. "Yep, you're right. I do mind that you didn't like my first chapter. I was lying when I said I didn't."

But as a kid, whew. I couldn't lie fast enough and I took it to the mat. Maybe it was my way of making up stories? I always knew I wanted to write fiction, but when I put words on to the page, I knew they weren't right, so instead, I'd lie.

And worse, I'd back my lie all the way into the corners they'd get stuck in. Like my Roomba which just got stuck under the couch, spinning its wheels futilely, blurting statements of error, I'd keep lying harder and lying bigger, hoping there was some way out.

A memorable lie of my youth also went with another sin: thievery. At the age of six, I stole my mother's ruby ring. I remember making the decision. I knew she never wore it and would never miss it. Where I thought I would be able to wear it, I don't know. To all my six-year old functions I didn't attend with my mom? Sheesh. I was a pint-sized idiot as well as a liar and a thief.

My mother discovered the theft quickly, perhaps within the same day or two. She was scary-good that way. She sat our small family in a circle on the kitchen floor. It was me, my five-year old sister, my father and her. "Someone in this room stole my ruby ring."

"Not me!" I piped. How could she know that it was me, after all? I was safe. She would blame my sister. Or even Dad! Maybe she'd think he stole it!

But she didn't seem to be falling for it. She didn't even look at Christy. "And that someone has tonight to replace it into my jewelry box, otherwise she'll be punished tomorrow."

"Not me," I said. Then I wept, deeply wounded that she would ever think such a crime of me.

"Put. It. Back. Or else. Whoever the thief is, Rachael, must put it back."

I sneaked into her room while she was cooking and put the ring back. She never said another word about it.

Until I graduated with my Master's degree. I opened a tiny wrapped box from her, and inside was the ruby ring. "Do you remember . . . ?" I didn't, couldn't, finish the sentence.

She laughed. "Of course. I figured at least now you'd earned it."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Me, Unvarnished

by Sophie


Lying is inevitable when one is human. I like to think I'm a fairly honest individual, and I'm truly trying to become more so, and yet not a day goes by that I don't tell one form of untruth or another. Most frequently it's the sort of social or "white lie" that is really a shortcut to a desired outcome or a way to avoid a small unpleasantness - "I'm so sorry I can't help with the fundraiser, but we're busy that evening"..."yellow suits you"..."I'd be thrilled to do another round of revisions."

Long ago, I told a far more damaging sort of lie, the sort that is the currency of shame, which any of my close readers will know is the emotion I find most devastating, damaging, and with the richest potential for storytelling. I was ashamed of many things when I was a young adult, key among them a variety of aspects of my upbringing, and so I made up elaborate lies so I would not have to admit to them. They were elaborate not because of their fantastical nature but because of how carefully entwined with the truth they were. I believe I thought these made them less "bad" - that I could be less ashamed of them, in other words, which is getting into a thousand-mirrors scenario with layers and levels of self-deception.

For instance, my father (who is a distinguished and well-published scholar and beloved teacher) was an ill-paid college professor when I was growing up. Because we often struggled financially and I didn't really understand what he did, I made up stories to make his job seem bigger and more important. Ironically, I would say that he had written important books and been nominated for awards - all of which came to pass in time. It's funny now, but at the time I felt an acute stab of regret and shame every time I lied about who my father was, because I recognized it to be a betrayal, even if I was the only one who ever knew it.

This got to be a habit with me. My first boyfriend was a minor athlete, but I made him out to be legendary. When I entered the work force, I pretended that my mother had been a lady of means (she was a coal miner's daughter) who loved fashion and insisted on proper comportment.

In my first suburban neighborhood, I fine-tuned my chameleonic talents. To fit in with my neighbors, I pretended to be more pious than I was (it was a highly religious neighborhood) as well as more traditional in my values and habits. Where I once boasted that my Dad was red-listed as a young man (true, but more a result of a misunderstanding than any radical activism on his part), I edited my story to highlight how my parents met at Catholic University (also true, though my retelling version had them meeting either under the trees during cherry blossom season or in a snowfall after midnight mass, a romantic embellishment from my imagination).

I've largely given up lying about myself - one of the best gifts of middle age - but I have to admit that the urge is still there. Whenever I meet someone new, there is a little editor inside my brain whispering into my ear how I ought to spin myself, to make myself more appealing. I hate this. I wish I could turn it off. I can't deny its usefulness - the chameleon tends to excel in social settings - but it leaves me feeling all wrong, dishonest, confused about who i really am.

The surprising outcome of honesty, however, is that people generally don't seem to think any less of me for it. I've experimented with revealing a few less-flattering aspects of myself; no one seems to mind. I think that people are a LOT more put off by the sort of passive-aggressiveness we tend to engage in when we start a relationship on a foundation of dishonest - I know I am!

I have a few friends and acquaintances who are truly gifted in the honesty department - to the point that their comments can occasionally sting. But I treasure them. It's a wonderful gift to know that what someone tells you truly reflects what's going on in their minds. I'm not there yet, not by a mile, but it's on my to-do list.

Today, I told a small but difficult truth to an acquaintance. It was a little scary. Afterward, there was this moment of fear, of vulnerability, wondering how she would react. And it was led to a good conversation and segued into friendship.

I don't know how to wrap up this post. Um.... "Honesty is good"? - ick. The truth is that dis-honesty is a treasured device for a writer. So many fascinating things happen when people twist the truth. In real life, however, it generally doesn't serve one well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Danse Macabre

by Gigi

Dissonant music has always appealed to me. I recently learned that this might be related to my love of mysteries.

The "Devil's Interval" or the "Devil's Chord" is a tritone musical interval classified as dissonant that was banned during the Middle Ages. It was called diabolus in musica -- "The Devil in Music"-- because it evoked desire in people. The desire stemmed from wanting resolution in the dissonant music, not from being tempted by the Devil, but never mind the musical facts.

One of the more interesting uses of this tritone is in the composition Danse Macabre, composed by Camille Saint-Saens in the 17th Century. The song is used perfectly as the theme song to the brilliant mystery show Jonathan Creek.

Jonathan Creek follows the adventures of the consultant to a magician who is able to solve seemingly impossible crimes (if you read this you know I adore those puzzles). In spite of its rational explanations, the show creates a spooky, mysterious atmosphere -- just like the song.

Jonathan Creek

The audio recording of Neil Gaiman's wonderful Graveyard Book uses Danse Macabre in the background. As does one of the coolest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Hush). Notice a pattern yet?

P.S. The song takes its name from the allegory of the Dance of Death, where the dead from all realms of society come together in the cemetery to dance atop the graves.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Martha Does The Bedbug Dance

I was looking forward to this week's topic of dance.

I wanted to blog about my youthful disappointment at being cast as a rat in a small production of Nutcracker and thinking I absolutely would *not* twitch my nose accordingly.

Or my lame attempts at hip hop (including shameful video!) and how I won't quit no matter how awful I am at it.

Or my husband learning salsa so he could take me dancing on my 30th birthday.

So many stories..but instead.... I attended the wonderful Romantic Times Convention this past week, and through no fault of the organizers, who were wonderful, my room had bed bugs.

I can't think of anything else. This bed bug situation has consumed me since that weekend.

I've never been paranoid about bed bugs. The first I even heard of this phenomena was December 2010 when my roommate at a lodge in Big Sur insisted we check our beds, and I did it to humor her. Even when my RT roommate mentioned we should check our room for bed bugs, I did a mattress check just to humor her and went on enjoying the first day of a wonderful convention with awesome attendees and panels. (Really - great convention - go.)

The next morning, my RT roomie and I ordered room service. We gleefully sat on our beds, the cart between us with chorizo breakfast burritos. Then, during our meal, my roomie slapped something on the bed and wiped a bloody trail on the tablecloth.

She asked, "Do you think it was a bedbug?"

Well....I didn't know so I looked up a picture on the internet. She said that was what the bug looked like. She ran into the shower as I called down to the front desk who said they would send someone "from security" and were looking into moving us to another room.

I was really pleased with the response! Within the hour, a security guy arrived to take a picture of the blood streak on the tablecloth and we were ushered into another room. My roommate asked for a breakfast comp since our meal had been interrupted and the hotel complied by sending up breakfast buffet certificates to be used during our stay.

We went on our way. I attended panels. I visited friends in their rooms. I networked at the bar. To be honest, I figured the drama was done.

But it wasn't. I was back in my new room when there was a knock on the door. The gentleman from security was there with a man in a pest uniform. "We're here to check the room," he said. I let them in, thinking thanks, and sure. Then a voice came in from the security guy's walkie talkie which mentioned inspections in other rooms - the ones adjoining ours, and I commented that was very proactive and then the pest guy said, "Well, we found the colony in the headboard."

He pointed to the side of the room my roommate had taken, and I felt awful that I was relieved it was in her headboard. I asked what we should do, and the pest guy, who was checking our room, said he didn't see any bed bugs and they left.

So I figured we were fine, right? Wrong!

Sure, there were no bed bugs in the current room which we had been in for a grand total of six hours, but who knew what was lurking in the bags we had brought from the other infected room.

My roommie began to fill me in on what she was fast learning about bed bugs - that they are virulent, that they hide and lay eggs in suitcases and fabric seams. That all our things were likely just as infected as our old room had been and we were doing no more than infecting our new room and possibly the rooms of other people since we were wearing the clothes from our suitcases when visiting other suites.

Gross - just gross.

I tried to tell myself it was no biggie, that we had done our best.

The next day, my roommie woke up with bites. The day after, we both had bites, more of them. To be honest, we felt defeated. My roommie actually said the words, "I've been defeated." She had it far worse than I. I had two sets of bites, three bites each, running up my forearm and encircling my ankle. Hers set off a rash on her face.

We had one more day in our stay and hoped we'd received the bites the first night and they were only now becoming irritated. But it became clear if we wanted to avoid the possibility of infecting other people and our home environments, measures needed to be taken. I had driven my car and would need to put my suitcase and goods in it.

Was it worth the possibility of bringing an infestation home? My roommate asked for our room to be comped. We were met with some resistance at checkout. Told we were moved and ergo the situation must have been fixed but bringing up another manager's name got our rooms (but not incidental meals and internet) comped.

I made the decision to leave my suitcases and clothes behind. I couldn't chance bringing them into my home. I picked out some select items of emotional value and placed them in plastic bags I lifted off a cleaning cart but left everything else behind - goods far more than quintuple the price of the room.

I understand the situation is frustrating for the hotel. My family works in hotel management, and I know the struggles and challenges, and I have never before asked for a comped room. Trust me, I've had my share of hotel annoyances, but figure whatever, I'm just looking for a place to sleep. My roomie and I were reasonable. We were downright pleasant during the first call. We were firm but not loud during checkout as she said, "I would like my room comped to make up for the inconvenience we're going to face related to these bed bugs."

We also asked that they check our new room. The response? "Well, did you file a report with security?" No, we did not file a report - do it anyway!

At no time did the hotel admit culpability or that there were bed bugs - remember, it was the independent pest inspector who told me about the colony. When a friend told the hotel she heard there were bugs, they said, ""Guests call about bed bugs but when we inspect, it's another kind of bug." They also said things to us like, "The hotel doesn't have bed bugs - guests bring them in."

What do I wish? After all - the room was comped, right? Here's the thing - I don't care about the free room.

I wish the hotel had helped us by telling us what we needed to do to minimize the chance of spreading bed bugs or bringing them into the next room, even if it meant admitting culpability. I wish they had been proactive about producing us with plastic bags or access to a heated clothes dryer.

I am not only paranoid about myself, but about my friends. I had been in their hotel rooms. I had borrowed their party clothes. Another friend had brought her one year old baby into our room for a visit.

I literally drove home having left most of my things behind, stripped naked in my garage, threw out that outfit, and ran into the house to take a shower then wiped down my leather car seats with alcohol. I admit a consumer responsibility as well, but it wasn't for a few days where I had been able to fully research bed bugs. Now I feel like I could lead a class on it.

I've woken up the past few days paranoid to find new bites on me or my husband. The other two sets of bites itch like the devil and have rashed. I'll never be casual about bed bugs again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Dance of Volleyball

I spent the weekend at the Far Westerns No Dinx Volleyball tournament. My daughter, the Princess, started playing competitive volleyball this year.
If your vision of volleyball was like mine a few years ago, there are six players on the court, three in front, three in back, and the right back corner player serves. The players stand in their spots, and only move when the ball comes to them, in order to get the ball over the net.

It turns out there is quite a bit more to competitive volleyball. They have plays. They have moves. They have rotations. Their movement on the court is a different kind of dance. And I have to say it is beautiful and atheletic and amazing.

If you've never seen competitive volleyball, take a look at this video and watch the Dance of Volleyball.

Stanford vs. Long Beach in 2001

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wallflower Way

L.G.C. Smith

A lot of writers are wallflowers by nature. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but, on the whole, if a body spends too much time at the ball dancing, flirting and drinking the spiked punch, that person is going to be too tired, busy or buzzed to write about it later. However, if a body lurks along the periphery observing the dancing and revelry, that person is going to hear and see a lot of interesting things. Some might resort to thinking interesting thoughts, or even, God save us, fantasizing.

And voila. Stories.

Wallflowers are ever alert to the scent of a story. Wallflowers watch. Wallflowers listen. Wallflowers wonder.

That last bit alone separates wallflowers from the gyrating masses.

When the wallflower gets home from the dance, he or she has built up a head of creative steam that must be vented. Clouds of words and sentences issue forth from teeming brains and hearts. Since wallflowers don’t expend all their energy dancing, they have enough to fuel sitting on their (frequently wider than average) butts for the hours it takes to hone their tales.

Many people assume wallflowers are forlorn souls yearning for the chance to waltz with the most desirable lad or lassie in the ballroom. They are frequently objects of pity and scorn. Ha. Being so misunderstood only preps them to write authentic Young Adult fiction well into old age.

Besides, it’s not always true. Some wallflowers could teach the whole room to polka if so inclined. Some are accomplished dancers who could make The Terminator weep for their grace and beauty. (It could happen.) Instead, the wallflower prefers to remain incognito in order to gather material and conserve energy for writing.

Wallflowers sacrifice. Wallflowers eschew pride. Wallflowers take the road less travelled.

Writing’s a dance that rewards wallflowers. I think it highly probable that wallflowers invented writing—possibly so they would have something interesting to think about during dances at the ziggurat.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Posh Dancing

--Adrienne Miller

One of the Pens recently confessed that she didn’t much care for Regency-set historical romances. They’re too many rules, she said. Too few ways that the hero and heroine can court. I understood, but also I found it interesting that the reasons she didn’t like the genre were the very same reasons that I loved it. 
Rules of courtship were strict and demanded that interactions remained formal. Country dancing was more like choreographed walking than our free spirited idea of dance. 

There was a reason the waltz was so scandalous when it was first introduced. Touching while pressed face to face, why people only do that when they...
Even so they made the most of the time they had. In Pride and Prejudice the dance between Mr. Darcy and Lizzie allows for the longest conversation between the two characters up to that point.

It’s a turning point in the story, the point were we begin to glimpse that there might be a more enigmatic side to the taciturn Mr. Darcy than we had imagined. And it only happened because the two characters had a few moments of semi-privacy to speak openly. Finding a way around all of society’s rules made the discovery all the sweeter. 
Of course, this is pretty funny too. (Go to 1:32 for the line that I believe all P&P fans secretly craved in the original. NSFW)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Smile. You're dancing.

by Juliet

As far as my memory serves (and since I'm too lazy to look it up, my flawed memory will have to serve) humans are the only creature that dances.

Oh sure, ants and bees have “dances” that they use to communicate to their brethren where to find honey-filled flowers, or a pungent carcass. Many mammals indulge in interesting mating boogies, and birds often strut their stuff while singing, rather like they’re putting on a show.

But moving one’s body for no reason related to food or reproduction…that’s a human thing.

(Not that dancing’s not related to sex-- after all, there’s a whole lot of courtship going on out on the average dance floor. In fact, in more genteel times, dancing was about as close as most couples got to having sex, and it’s clear why every elder generation is afraid that the young people’s dances lead to nothing but smut and ruination – seen teenagers dirty dancing lately? My lord in heaven…*waves hands over face*)

It has something to do with the ability to really enjoy music, obviously. It’s the rare human who has never been transported by music, at one point or another. The right music can speak to our souls, bypassing the intellect and moving right on into one’s gut. When music speaks to your heart, it’s magic. And then letting that magic travel right one out through one’s appendages in dance…well, that can be nirvana.
{at left, a Halloween dance. Yes, I'm the Pen who gives dance parties...}

Let me be clear: I’m not any good at it. Not ANY good at it. Especially if there are actual steps involved, in which case I get caught up in trying to figure out which way my foot’s supposed to be landing, and I forget to hear the music, and can’t remember how to respond, and I feel like a fool.

But whenever I fear looking ridiculous I remember a sultry night in Spain, many many years ago. I sat in a humble little plaza, watching as a group of migrant workers on their way back to Andalusia sang a flamenco tune. A few young men tapped out a beat on the stone benches, others called out and laughed, and an old woman got up. I’m talking OLD, wrinkled and stooped. She started to dance, to sway, holding her arms over her head, snapping her fingers and stomping.

Even I could see that she wasn’t much good –she was off-beat and rather clumsy. But she smiled as she turned, her black skirt swishing around her legs, her body swaying with abandon, and every young person in that crowd cheered her on.

So forget the steps. The self-consciousness. Let the music into your heart, and let yourself sway. Throw in a gyration or two. Stomp your feet. Lift your arms up. Close your eyes.

Smile. You’re dancing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rachael's Old Fashioned

I love to dance, but only when there are prescribed rules, forms to follow. If there's a dance beat at a club and I'm supposed to just move, I feel completely lame, but I'm a great contra-dancer (New England line dancing). I can stomp my feet to the sound of a fiddle. I can pull off a square-dance or two. I'm not that hot at the polka, but you can't beat me at the waltz: the only dance that, when done right, makes a person feel like they're actually flying.

I love contra-dancing so much that I put one in my next book, WISHES AND STITCHES, out in October. Here, in a short sneak peek, we see Naomi dancing with a Cypress Hollow rancher.

Naomi moved into Stephen’s arms, her hand in his work-roughened palm, her arm at his shoulder, grateful that there was no way to keep from smiling when an old cowboy was spinning a girl round and around so fast that Naomi knew if he let her go, she’d fly across the room like an out-of-control top. She didn’t know what she was doing, but he made her feel coordinated and graceful.

Elbert Romo, dapper in his new blue overalls that were creased as if he’d just ironed them, cut in as the music turned to a waltz. He smelled not unpleasantly like a cough drop and was just as good as Stephens on the floor. As they spun through the crowd, Naomi felt the grin again creep across her face.

“You’re good at this dance,” said Elbert as they wheeled past Mayor Finley, resplendent in a yellow sequined gown that made her look like Big Bird in drag. “Who taught you?”

Naomi felt her smile fade. “My father. The waltz was his favorite.”

“He did good, teaching his daughter. But I gotta say, you should dance the next waltz with that new doc who’s got his eye on you. You two look fine together, and I have to admit, though I’m young for my years, it’s possible I’m a little old for you.”

Elbert led them backwards past the refreshments table, and for once dizzy second Naomi met Rig’s gaze. The blood roared in her ears and she stumbled. Elbert caught her, “Whoopsie! It’s one-two-three, four-five-six.” He pulled her back on beat, and she tried not to think how red-faced she must be. Or about how much he must despise her.

She’d never find out how it felt to waltz with Rig.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Just Park Me With a Drink, Please

by Sophie


You know the husband parking lot at any formal occasion, where the lurkers at the back of the room clutch their drinks and desperately try to avoid having to dance? That's where I belong. And in the event that I am forced to dance, I'm very like these poor guys, lurching and bobbing uncomfortably, miserably even, with all the natural grace of a rhino.

I'm not sure how I ended up this way. I don't think I'm a particularly stiff or formal person. I'm not afraid to let my hair down and have fun. But sometime after a show of early promise - I did just fine during the square dance unit in fifth grade gym class, and I almost fainted with delight the first time I slow danced when my girl scout troop visited the now defunct Kemper Military Academy for a "social" - any natural inclination withered on the vine.

It's true that I am not graceful. I'm accident prone and often bump into things. When my boyfriend and I attended step classes in the late eighties (remember those?) I often fell off the step or grapevined in the wrong direction, while he was the teacher's pet. This same boyfriend had dated a dancer and was accomplished enough that he was in high demand at weddings; I was happy for him to whirl everyone from the bridesmaids to the groom's mother to the bride herself around the floor, while I drank wine and ate cake.

One thing you'll never catch characters doing in my book is dancing, at least so far. I don't know how to write that scene. I don't know how to communicate the joy that so many people obviously take from letting music bypass their conscious mind and go straight to the body.

There is one exception. I danced with my children. When they were small, I picked them up and waltzed them around the kitchen, singing (I never had a problem with that) and dipping and spinning. Those were wonderful moments - private moments. My babies were not old enough to know that their mother had two left feet, and I suppose that gave me a sort of freedom that is now lost.

Luckily, I did not pass down my dancelessness to my kids

One of the Pens give wonderful parties where everyone ends up dancing in the living room. I love these parties, as an observer, a wallflower. High heels are kicked to the corners of the room, furniture is pushed back, people ebb and flow into each others orbits - there is laughter and flirtation and I'm envious, I suppose, but nowhere near bold enough to join in.

I won't rule out the possibility that someday the moment might come - exactly the right song, partner, whim - and I might try again. But for now, it's the sidelines for me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

World Autism Awareness Day

--Adrienne Miller

Disability is a rough word. It can make us feel uncomfortable, uneasy. It can make us want to look away, close our ears, pretend, even momentarily, it doesn’t exist. All of these reactions are understandable. I see them almost every day when I’m out in the world with my son, Jack. 
Meeting people with disabilities, including autism, can force us to confront some of our deepest fears--the fear that there but for the grace of god go I, the fear that it could happen to someone you love, the fear that we are helpless against the whims of nature. 
But like most fears, this is one that if you confront it head on, you can emerge on the other side. 
We are not helpless. I am big believer in advocacy and awareness, but I realize that knowledge alone is not enough. Action has a way of shining light into the dark corners of our fears like nothing else. 
There are great organizations out there can help us take action and help people with disabilities like autism reach heir potential. Here are three of my favorites.
1. The Special Olympics has a special place in my heart. Their oath of “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” is something we would all do well keep in our lives. Athletes grow pride in their own abilities and athleticism. There are several ways to help out the Special Olympics chapter in your area, from financial support to volunteering your time. 
2. Help a child with autism in your area reach his potential. Go to and click on projects. Search by your hometown and the keyword “autism”. Then give.
3. This one is as easy as making a cup of coffee. Aspire Coffeeworks is a Chicago coffee company (but they ship anywhere) that employs people with developmental disabilities. The proceeds from the sale of their coffee go right back into Aspire’s programs for adults and children. You were going to buy coffee anyway, right? And better to buy it from an organization with a heart and soul instead of a giant corporate behemoth, right? Right.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Behind Every Good Writer Stands a Dog (who wants to go out)…

By Lecia Cornwall

Ah, pets—Does anyone understand writer’s angst better than a cat? Who makes a better muse than a dog?

I share my life with four cats and a chocolate Labrador retriever. Many of the lessons I’ve learned about being a successful writer come from watching my pets.

Frank, my alpha cat, teaches the lessons of devotion and independence. He’s informed, knows everything, yet maintains a dignified distance from underlings. He’s involved with every aspect of life in his domain, from disciplining dogs and subordinates, and checking visitors at the door, to keeping watch over anyone who uses the bathroom. Frank is the one by my side when I write, as encouraging and enigmatic as any writer’s muse.

Kipper, my chocolate Labrador retriever, represents the pure joy and possibility in every single day. Just a ball, that’s all he needs, like an idea he can play with, make into something new, something he can catch, fetch, dig or chew. Even half an idea—or half a ball— has endless potential. Our long afternoon walks are when I do most of my thinking and plotting and work out story problems. It’s incredible how much can be done away from the computer, and paper, and cell phones. Kipper enjoys each and every ‘aha’ moment I find, and takes delight in his own.

Ted was a feral kitten, brought home as a foster cat for a cat adoption group in Ottawa. He’s big, and well, homely. No one wanted him but me, so he stayed. Ted is beautiful on the inside. He loves classical music, and poetry. He’s diabetic, and getting old, but he greets every day with determined routine, enjoying the perfect order of his life. A writer needs a routine like that to stay on track, and Ted reminds me my characters have to have hidden depths and inner beauty.

Like every good romance writer, Alphonse is a dichotomy. He’s the sweetest-natured cat I’ve ever known in the house. Outside, he is the neighborhood serial killer, specializing in voles. Every now and then he surprises me with a gift, either live or dead, laying it at my feet with feline pride glowing in his eyes (My muse does the same thing, sometimes bringing me her ideas like dim-sum offerings, sometimes giving me a dead vole.) Aren’t writers a lot like Alphonse? A multitude of personalities course through our brains. We think up the most diabolical ways to kill our villains, torment our heroes and heroines, and still create the kind of tender love scenes that make our readers purr with delight.

Now what could Missy the Siamese represent, besides persistence of song, and the joy of a little pampering now and then? Siamese cats are never quiet. They tell endless stories (loudly) to anyone who’ll listen. She has a heated basket of her very own, lined with the finest fake fur, and she reclines in incredible comfort. She’s an odd duck among the other cats, like a writer amid engineers, or lawyers, or accountants. Missy reminds me that busy writers need someone to listen to our latest story ideas and a little pampering now and then—a glass of wine, a snuggly blanket and thou, perhaps? Oh, and a good book!

My pets might drive me crazy at times, interrupting the flow of creative thought with demands for attention, food, or constant in and out privileges, but I couldn’t live without their inspiration, companionship and the reminder that love isn’t just confined to the pages of our books. It’s in the way we live between the pages. Each day must have a balance of sleep, work, play, purring, barking and treats. There are days when we feel as if we’ve been locked out in the rain, and days when the sun shines on us, and we bask. There is catnip and Milk Bones to look forward to, and hairballs, too. There’s time to be silly, time to be affectionate, and time to be ruthless. In the end, if we’re lucky, inspired, dedicated, and pampered, it all works out, and the ideas flow when they’re supposed to, and the stories fall onto the page.

Thanks for the inspiration! When I’m done with this life as a writer, I think I’ll come back as a pet, and return the favor.

Lecia Cornwall is the author of Secrets of A Proper Countess, now available from Avon.