Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drown your Leftovers in Mole

--by Juliet

First: We have a winner of Rochelle Staab's debut novel, Who Do, Voodoo? Linda Jay, you're the winner! You'll be receiving your book and pen soon!
Now, on to leftovers...

They say all the stories have been told, and that our task as writers is to come up with fresh ways of telling them. I see leftovers in that light.

Unlike some other Pens I could mention, I was raised to use leftovers for something fun and exciting the next day. My mother was from a Cajun family, and boy could she turn just about anything into croquettes: fish, chicken, broccoli...she was gifted. And my father was the soup king -- everything went into the pot. And I mean, everything.

This was how I was taught to cook: not by finding a recipe and buying the ingredients -- that was cheating. No, we were trained to poke around the cupboard and the fridge and "come up with something." The challenge was to make the leftovers so interesting and tasty that no one recognized them.

So I have an idea for all those tedious post-Thanksgiving leftovers out there: Mole. Keep a jar or two on the shelf; it's as easy as, well, mole from a jar.

Mole (pronounced mole-AY) comes from mulli in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Though the Aztecs were devastated by the arrival of the Spaniards (and European diseases), they did not disappear. Their descendants, the Nahua Indians, survived, as did their language and much of their culture, especially culinary traditions.Mole simply means “sauce”--which is why it’s fun to see it referred to on menus as “mole sauce”. Guacamole, for example, literally means avocado sauce.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of different moles in Mexico. Like curries from India, In Mexico many a region or inventive cook (or family matriarch) maintains their own secret recipe, a complex combination of spices and ingredients.

The version most commonly known in the US is the poblano or “chocolate” mole, which includes unsweetened cocoa as one of its many ingredients. But there are also black, red, yellow, colorado, green, almendrado, and pipi├ín (pumpkin seed) moles, just to name a few.

Moles might include walnuts, peanuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin or other squash seeds, bread crumbs, sugar, orange juice, cilantro, fruit, plantains, garlic, onion, cinnamon, chocolate, and a variety of other spices. Most include several chili peppers, especially ancho, pasilla, mulato and chipotle.

Moles do what tasty, spicy, flavorful sauces all over the world are meant to do: they enhance -- or disguise-- whatever it is you’re eating. Bored with Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing and gravy? Shred or chop your turkey, mix it with mole, wrap it in a tortilla and it’s a whole new taste treat.

And once you've eaten your full, get back to writing that story: add some new spices, give it a little kick, and tell it in your own unique way.
Because guajolote en mole might start out with Thanksgiving leftovers, but it ends up being so much more.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

El Sobrante

When I was young (very young, the kind of young that remembers looking up at the phone hung on the wall), we lived in El Sobrante, California. I remember practicing it: Ell So-BRAWN-tay. It was Spanish, my parents told me, for the Leftover. The land was the leftover bit of a ranch, parceled off after Mexico gained independence from Spain.

This fascinated me. Unless it was twice-baked spaghetti with a golden cheese crust, I could spot a meal on its second time around from twenty paces. No one liked leftovers. No one could.

So why then was my pretty little town called the leftover? Didn't they know about our library with the tall dark stacks full of books I would someday read? Didn't they know that our house had the best climbing tree ever? And that our school had the crunchiest tater tots I'd ever had in my whole life?

We didn't live in El Sobrante for long, not more than three or four years, I think, but it stuck in my mind as firmly as the phone number we had there, the very first number I ever memorized. And I wasn't the only one affected. When we moved overseas to Saipan when I was a teenager, my father decided to build a boat. Now, he's a talented man, a good builder. But no matter what, building a boat is…tricky. And he was doing it on the cheap with parts gleaned from wherever he could beg, borrow or steal them. So when the boat was finally put together in a form that looked like it might repel water, he christened it the El Sobrante (redundant article and all). He loved it, and the family spent many happy hours on the lagoon bailing water using old milk jugs.

And when SuperTyphoon Kim smashed the island and left slivers of his boat literally hanging from the trees on the Garapan beach, my mother put screwdrivers into my and my sisters' hands, sending us to rummage under palm fronds. "Watch out for scorpions," she said. "Bring back the metal. The bolts and screws, anything you can find."

That Christmas, Dad unwrapped his present from us. In a plain white envelope, he found the hardware of his boat. The label said, "Seeds of the El Sobrante II."

Leftovers. They can surprise you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leftovers? Not On My Watch!

by Sophie


Here is something you'll almost never see at my house - a full refrigerator. This photo was taken after Thanksgiving, before I'd had time to sneak in and toss it all in the trash.

I hate leftovers.

I used to be afraid to admit this. I've encountered too many people who find it a moral failing, akin to throwing pop cans into the trash instead of recycling, or killing weeds with kerosene - disrespectful to a struggling planet. And I suppose there's something to be said for that point of view, because if I'd just eat the damn things instead of getting rid of them the minute the rest of the household isn't looking, I suppose I could save time and money and more than a few bags of potato chips.

But trust me, any gains to be had from ingesting last week's lasagna or yesterday's chinese food are FAR, FAR outweighed by my discomfort - nay, revulsion - at the prospect.

I know exactly why I feel this way. Suffice it to say it's highly personal, dating back to formative years with people who either allowed food castoffs to grow into colonies of mold, or else worked hard to wedge recycled cottage cheese and yogurt containers full of foodstuffs into every square inch of the fridge (sorry, Dad! very proud of you for being an early Greenie! But YUCK!)

Bliss, to me, is a clean fridge with no discernible odor and so few items on the shelves that it looks like an art installation. Over time I found out I'm not alone. Like so many emotionally weighted issues, it all seems to trace back to one's past, and to skip generations. Those reared with abundance (or out and out visual/olfactory assault, as the case may be) seem to prefer paucity. Those who had to deal with barren shelves (like my own poor children) grow up to hoard vast stores, comforted, I suppose, by the prospect of never running out.

Remember that back page of Bon Appetit - for all I know they're still doing it - where they ask a celebrity what three things are always in her fridge? And how everyone always mentions champagne? Seriously it was like, "tempeh, green peppercorns, and CHAMPAGNE" or "bacon fat, canned frosting, and CHAMPAGNE" or even "spermicidal gel, larvae, and CHAMPAGNE"....well, honestly, my fridge always, always has a bottle of champagne rolling around somewhere. My other two items would be heavy whipping cream (for my coffee) and butter. What about y'all?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Staindrop Winners!

Thanks to those of you who commented last Monday! You all win a copy of my paranormal erotic romance novella, Staindrop! So toni in florida, William Doonan, and fishgirl182 please send your email addresses to and tell me what format you'd like: Kindle, Nook, or anything else.

To everyone who bought a copy, thank you so much!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Who Do, Voodoo? Welcome Rochelle Staab!

Today we're happy to invite Rochelle Staab to join us here at the Pensfatales -- Rochelle's debut novel, WHO DO, VOODOO? has been garnering praise left and right. Leave a comment (with your email address, please) for a chance to win a copy of her new book, and a nifty pen!

Rochelle's a hoot in person, too, though as we always say...what happens at the Bouchercon bar, stays at the Bouchercon bar...

In Who Do, Voodoo? psychologist Liz Cooper dismisses the supernatural until her best friend discovers mysterious tarot cards tacked to her front door—the same cards drawn in a tarot reading the night before a death two years earlier. Liz teams up with an occult expert to track the harasser, a journey that leads them to murder and a voodoo curse, challenging Liz to question logic and set aside her doubts to unravel otherworldly secrets—or risk being outwitted by a cunning killer.

Happy Holidays! Thank you, Pens Fatales, and especially Juliet Blackwell for inviting me here to talk about presents and my new novel, Who Do, Voodoo?

Today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Thousands of people are flooding the malls (the streets, parking spaces, freeways, and check-out lines) to shop. Heading out with a list to scour for bargains is a noble and fearless move, and hurray to those who braved the crowds this morning and are already home wrapping presents while sipping spiked eggnog.

Me? Just pass me the nog. I’m already so far behind on the holidays that I’m double tasking and creating my list of presents as we speak. As a book lover and a writer, I like turning people on to my favorite novels. Books are the presents that keep on giving long after the tinsel is in the trash. And with a little coupling, books create presents with a fun theme.

For example, my recently divorced and overworked friend Beth would love Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Scandal wrapped with a 2012 calendar For Women Who Do Too Much.

A pink tool kit and a copy of Juliet Blackwell’s Dead Bolt would be perfect for Marcia, my femme fixer-upper cousin who swears there’s a friendly ghost in her house.

Best friend Trish just took up knitting, so a great present for her would be Rachel Herron’s Wishes and Stitches tucked inside a new knitting bag.

Niece Mandy loves vintage clothing. How fun to pop Juliet’s Hexes And Hemlines into an antique clutch as a holiday present.

The theme theory works for guys and eReaders too. My nephew Matt likes politics, golf, and his Kindle so I think I’ll wrap up a box of golf balls with a note that Pete Morin’s political thriller Diary of a Small Fish will be delivered to his eReader on Christmas Day. Neighbor Brant likes jazz and mystery, making him a perfect combo for a Michael Connelly Harry Bosch novel plus a John Coltrane CD (one of Bosch’s favorite jazz musicians.) Steve is a hockey nut, so I can tuck a pair of tickets into one of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels.

And if anyone asks for my novel, Who Do, Voodoo? I may add a batch of brownies, a Bell, Book and Candle DVD, or a deck of tarot cards to the present for fun.

Ah, I feel better already. Pass the nog again, will you?

Do you have any clever ideas for good book/gift combos? Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Who Do, Voodoo? and a nifty Who Do, Voodoo? pen. US residents only.

Rochelle Staab, a former award-winning radio programmer and music industry marketing executive, blends her fascination with the supernatural and her love for mystery in Who Do, Voodoo? the best-selling first novel in her Mind for Murder Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Bruja Brouhaha, the second novel in the series will be released in August 2012.

Visit Rochelle at, or on Link
Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads


"The first in the Mind for Murder mystery series set in Los Angeles grabs your attention from the start with creepy tarot cards, voodoo priestesses and cursed spell books. A fresh and entertaining premise for a new series that is cleverly plotted and executed."
 —RT Reviews (4 stars)

Let Staab's debut cast a spell over your readers with its spirited pace, likable heroine, and Los Angeles backdrop. VERDICT: Staab sets her fairly sophisticated blend of the occult in a flashy West Coast locale for great escape reading. Fans of Juliet Blackwell and Rebecca M. Hale will get a kick out of this one. ~ Library Journal

“Didn't need my crystal ball to see into the future of this wonderful debut. A sexy, funny, and engaging whodunit set in Tinsel Town, Who do, Voodoo? is a winner.” ~ Lesley Kagen, NY Times Bestselling author of Good Graces

"A spellbinding blend of voodoo and tarot traditions, Who Do, Voodoo? is a superlative supernatural mystery." ~ Cleo Coyle, author of the national bestselling Haunted Bookshop and Coffeehouse Mysteries

“Whoo hoo! Smart, sophisticated and utterly spellbinding. This magical mystery is captivatingly clever, completely charming, and compelling from its irresistible beginning to its unpredictable end. (Who do loves it? I do!)” ~ Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity winning author

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Presents for Me and You

by Gigi

I finished my last chemotherapy treatment last week, so I bought myself these fantastic Emma Peel style silver boots as a present to myself to celebrate.

The rest of this blog post has nothing to do with boots or awesome 1960s TV characters, but one has to get the important things out of the way first.

Instead, I'm going to explain why I've never purchased a single present off of a registry list.

I'm sorry, but I can't do it. It's too impersonal. If you're my friend and you've gotten married or had a baby since I've known you, you already know this to be the case. I might have found a gift for you on Etsy or designed something for you myself—but whatever it was, I thought of you when I saw it. That's important to me.

I realize there's a point to gift registries when people get married and have babies. People need specific items at these life-changing junctures. But in the modern world and the reality I live in, nobody was living with their parents until they got married; everyone had already accumulated more than enough stuff by the time they got married and started having babies. I want to be a part of the lives of my friends, but I don't want it to be through buying them a random product for their kitchen that has no significance except that it looked nice while they were walking around Crate and Barrel with a registry scanner.

Don't get me wrong. If one of my friends needed something they couldn't afford, I would act differently. But living in such an affluent society, this hasn't been the case. I'm spoiled with far too many objects that I don't really need, as are the people around me. Did I need those silver boots? Of course not. But they're special to me because when I was diagnosed with cancer I told myself I'd survive it and come out stronger than ever—and feeling strong and sexy like a kick-ass heroine helps me get there.

If I'm buying a present either for myself or for a friend, I want it to be personal like that. Often it's even an experience rather than a physical object. For the holidays, I take the same approach. It takes a while to find what I'm looking for, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Martha's Present To You

You know how at Thanksgiving dinner you go around the table and say what you're thankful for and the pressure is high and they always start at the furthest point from you at the table and you're thinking "family" but then someone else says "family" and then crap, you have to come up with a new answer but then someone else steals "this meal" and "my friends" and "my health" and "you all at this table" and you're thinking CRAP, PEOPLE, STOP STEALING MY ANSWERS!

My gift to you this holiday season: a kick-ass list of backup gratefulness!

Things to be Thankful For If You Are Lucky Enough To Have Them

- potable water
- literacy
- indoor plumbing
- the internet
- Adele's Someone Like You
- free speech
- your adorable (insert pet name here)
- the right to vote
- Timothy Olyphant
- a job
- equality
- The Vampire Diaries
- access to first rate healthcare
- a safe place to sleep
- any first world problem

Can I also stick in a personal gratefulness plug for Gigi going into the holiday season healthy? Sure I's my blog entry.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lisa presents...presents

My views on presents are the same as everyone else's. I like to give. I'm not so great on the receiving. But I really, really love to give presents. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the person likes. I keep notes in my phone all year long. And I frequently give books as presents.

I love books. Non-fiction, fiction (romance, thrillers, horror, sci-fi, YA), cookbooks, decorating books, coffee table books, picture books, how-to books. You name it and I probably have one (or fifty) lying around.

I literally have books in every room in my house (except the bathrooms and that's because they're too small). I have stacks on the floor in the living room and family. Bookshelves in all the bedrooms (because my kids have lots of books too). Plus bookshelves in the office and the kitchen and the family room. The Pens are getting more and more prolific so I've just about got space cleared in the office for an exclusive Pens Fatales shelf.

And since we're talking about presents, I'm going to give you a list of the most recent Pens releases so if you're so inclined you can give one this holiday season. Or if you've got a few minutes between cooking side dishes and turkey to curl up with a book or an e-reader....

LGC Smith:


Juliet Blackwell:

Hexes and Hemlines
Deadbolt (coming December 6th)

Sophie Littlefield:

Bad Day for Scandal

Nicole Peeler:

Eye of the Tempest

Rachael Herron:

Wishes and Stitches
A Life in Stitches

Lisa Hughey:


Happy Thanksgiving!!

ps. My present for this week is the presence of my son who is home from college. I haven't seen him for ten weeks. That's a long time. I am really looking forward to spending time with him and guess what? I've got a book for him. :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Staindrop by L. G. C. Smith

I’m very pleased to present my first ebook, Staindrop (A Paranormal Erotic Romance Novella) by L. G. C. Smith. This is an erotic ghost story that I started working on the last time I was in England. The heroine is caught between two lovers, the ghost of an Anglo-Saxon king and a very much alive English duke.

Elizabeth Jory is in love with a ghost, which kind of sucks when it comes to sex.

Rafe Crosfield, the hot physics professor she meets in York, might be the man to tempt her back into the land of the living. But when he’s making her scream and melt, who’s driving her to such mindless pleasure? Just Rafe, or is her ghost there, too?

Rafe has secrets of his own. His sexual inclinations make it hard to find the right woman. Can he convince Elizabeth, who seems perfect for him, to stay long enough to find out?

It’s a little naughty—in all the best ways. Until December 15th, you can buy it for $.99 at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and other places fine ebooks are sold. After that it will be $1.99.

It’s exciting to have a book in the marketplace again. After all, it’s been a long time since my earlier books, written under the pseudonym Allison Hayes, were published. I thought I could happily write forever in obscurity without publishing. I love writing. The process of crafting imagination, research, language and creative juice into a story fulfills me like nothing else. It’s enough.

Then things changed in my life. My husband, a teacher, is being forced into early retirement. Our income, never impressive, is going to take a killing blow pretty quick here. I no longer have the luxury of writing to please myself alone. I need the marketplace. I need readers.

Fortunately, I love readers. Readers are family. I come from an actual family of dedicated popular fiction readers, but whenever I talk to a reader I don’t know, if we read romance, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, mystery, horror, or any subgenre or combination of these, we have something to talk about. Something fun. The connection is instant. Like with family. I love readers.

As an author, my goal is to give readers a satisfying book. No going commando on editing or anything like that for me. Fellow Pens Lisa and Adrienne have read and critiqued Staindrop. The incomparable Alicia Rasley edited, and then Lisa proofread. My beautiful cover was designed by our very own Gigi Pandian’s Gargoyle Girl Productions. She did a fabulous job, don’t you think? Martha and The Alpha Division coached me, held my hand and did the file conversions that would have taken me way too long on my own. Every one of the other Pens inspires me to share my books with readers again instead of sitting on my hoard of stories like an agoraphobic dragon.

After Staindrop, I will be publishing another novella, this one a historical fantasy, Eve of All Hallows, about a young Northumbrian king looking for the Welsh witch said to possess the power to grant kingship over all of Britain. Look for Eve of All Hallows in January 2012.

I’d like to give two copies of Staindrop to readers who comment on this post. I’ll draw at random on Saturday, November 26th and announce the winners here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Last Week's Winner: Barbara

Barbara is the winner of the Silver Rush Mysteries prize from our guest last week, Ann Parker. Thanks for reading PensFatales, Barbara!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Coming in late to this discussion, everyone's said most of what I'd say about presents, meaning stuff. I'm one of those obnoxious people who has pretty much everything she wants, in terms of stuff. Plus, if I do want something, I usually just go out and buy it. Meanwhile, most of the people I know also already have what they want. So gift-giving, especially in todays time of regifting, wish-lists, and the state of our landfills, seems to me such a silly thing. But what about presence, rather than presents? I've been thinking a lot of presence, lately, and how little I seem to have of it. And yet, I live in this technological utopia, where everyday more and more gadgets are invented that better allow us to communicate. My new phone gives me Face Time, on top of Skype, on top of messages and calling and email and Facebook and Twitter... And yet I spend so little time really talking to the people I love. Don't get me wrong, I'm in constant contact. "Love the profile pic!" "Movie at 8. See you there." "Hey, skype next week?" Et cetera, et cetera. And yet I think partly because of the plethora of ways to communicate, I now almost resent genuine communication. I spend so much time adding to or answering the inundation of tiny, practically pointless messages that I actively avoid lengthy phone calls, or long emails, because I've simply run out of time in the day and have other things to do. In fact, I've been feeling really lonely recently, but I realized that I've barely talked to any of my amazing, really good friends. I've been in touch, yes, but that's it. No real discussions, no real sharing of feelings or the sort of grooming that relationships need, to stay strong. If I'm honest, and my relationships were primates, I'd be the monkey that perfunctorily pats and runs, when what I really should be doing is to sit down for a nice long spell and eat up all the lice on a friend's body. I need such acts, personally, and my relationships need it, too. But what about Nanowrimo! And grading! It's the end of the semester, fercrissakes! I don't have time to pick nits! So I complain of being lonely, even as I send out a hundred hastily worded messages, or tweets, or Facebook comments..... I'm thinking that instead of worrying about presents, this holiday season, I need to think about upping my presence. Not only do I know it's not made by children in a Chinese sweatshop, but it's something I really want, that only I can give. I hope my friends and loved ones will be feeling just as generous.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Other Side of the Counter

--Adrienne Miller

I've always worked in retail. Well, maybe not always. There was that time in high school that I worked at a dry cleaners. And in college when I worked at a laser tag place. But I digress. Most of the time that I've been working, I've been selling something. Books, coffee, greeting cards, clothes, I've sold them all.

Retail can give you a different perspective on our gift giving holidays. Yeah, some of it can be bad. People can be mean. They can yell and be rude. They can huff and puff and blow your house down. The internets abound with stories written by the burned out retail employee. God knows, on occasion I can feel that way too. 

But usually I don't. Because for every nasty, growling, short-tempered gift buyer there are a hundred lovely people happily searching for the perfect something. People usually go out shopping in groups. The store may be packed but most people are smiling. Jolly music is playing. Decorations are everywhere. And, ain't gonna lie, the days go by real fast. What drags in the middle of June, flies by in December.

I remember a beautiful moment last year. It was Christmas Eve and I got off work after the shops had closed. It was cold enough to see my breath, and I was all bundled up in my big, wooly sweater. The christmas lights were strung between the buildings, shimmering like pretend stars. everyone was already home. I don't think I passed another soul. But the music was still on in the plaza, and as I walked to my car I was serenaded by the most gorgeous version of Silent Night I can remember hearing. It was as if the world had orchestrated the scene for me. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

All I want for Christmas...

--by Juliet

I’m big into Christmas. I love the lights, and the trees, and the decorations. I watch The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, and I’m enchanted by the themes each and every year—the cornier the better. I adore the parties, and the color scheme, and the drinking.

But I’m not wild about the presents. I wish I could claim it was a Buddhist thing, but it has more to do with anxiety: giving someone the wrong thing; spending too much money; present disparity (theirs is bigger, making me feel guilty; or the reverse, making them beholden).

Besides, it’s just such a BUSY season. Maybe it’s just that I’m not much of a shopper, but I never find time to check out all the decorations and the movies and the social functions AND go shopping. In theory, I’d like to give everybody something handmade. Yeah. Not gonna happen.

My mother always wanted to give her three girls something truly special, something that would convey how much she cared for us. Some object that would please us as much as the little Japanese dolls her brother brought back from the war, or the cashmere sweater she received at her high school graduation, or the inlaid music box my father gave her as an engagement present. She failed every time. Instead, we would become saddled with an outfit that was woefully out of style, or fussy gold jewelry when we wanted pounded silver, or some little ceramic doohickey that had no purpose but to sit on the shelf collecting dust. But since it was from Mom, you were obliged to hang on to it for at least a few years before passing it along to the poor unsuspecting shoppers at Salvation Army.

What Mom failed to realize was that because she had so little in her early life – she was the youngest of eleven, raised during the depression—each possession was special. When money is never spent on something as frivolous as dolls or as exotic as cashmere, then those items are something to keep and treasure for a lifetime.

But our modern world is chock-full of cheap consumer items, available even to those with very little expendable income. Which might be why textiles now amount to more than 5% of our landfills -- when’s the last time you actually wore out a piece of clothing, to the point of it falling apart? My mother wore that cashmere sweater for more than twenty years, until it was so moth-eaten it couldn't be saved.

So that’s what presents often seem like to me: the burden of something I don’t need but can’t get rid of. On the other hand, the occasional note or present out of the blue? That’s something else entirely. A friend who found an old photo that “reminded her of me” in a junk shop. A scarf given to me “out of the blue” from a certain Pensfatales that was perfect in every way: perfect color, size, sheen. A pink golf ball that a friend went through the brambles to bring back to me, daring the ridicule of his fellow golfers.So as corny as it might sound, all I really want from my friends and family this season, as in most others, is their thoughts. Time, if possible, to sit and share a drink or watch The Grinch. A letter would be lovely. Or we could all DANCE like they do in Charlie Brown's world:

But then, if someone simply must buy me a present, a little cottage in the Loire Valley would do just fine. Just sayin', it wouldn't wind up in any landfill.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Presenting Rachael

I struggled with this post. I’m ambivalent, at best, about presents. I hate to wrap—I think it’s a waste of time and resources—so I’m the kind of person who hides the gift behind her back and says, “Pick a hand.” Giving is nice, but the getting part stresses me out.

There’s so much managing of emotion that goes along with presents. And oh, my goodness, do my codependent tendencies come out when I’m thinking about this.

Say it’s your birthday. Perhaps you get just what you want. Great! But then you have to think of adequate words to thank the giver, which can be difficult. Worse, you get something you didn’t want, in which case you have to work even harder to find words that aren’t lies but convey something better, warmer, than disappointment.

And if you’re the giver? That’s even harder. You think and plan and make and knit and sew and plot, and in four seconds, the gift is received and pushed aside in order to open the next one. I really try to prevent myself from saying “Do you like it? Do you really like it? Look, did you see that it flies/walks/cries when you push this button? It’s so you, isn’t it? You love it, right? Do you love it?” because then I’m making the poor recipient manage all the emotions that I myself have a hard time with.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I was a kid, I was sneaky. I could pull off a piece of tape like I was one of Santa’s elves. Mom never suspected that I already knew what every present under the tree already was, and I had to keep it that way—when I opened the big book of fairy tales, I had to act surprised while I managed the disappointment (that I’d brought down onto my own head) that there were no surprises left on Christmas morning, none at all.

That shaped me into who I am today. If someone places a present in front of me with the wrapping paper gapping open, I’ll shut my eyes and hold the paper in place while hollering for someone to get me some tape. If I think an area might be off-limits due to present-goings-on, I’ll stay out of the entire room. If a receipt falls to the floor and I start to read it, the second I think it might be private, my eyes shut tight. I hate figuring out surprises in advance now, to the extent that when I’m reading mystery novels, I work hard not to think too much about whodunit. I want that reward. I don’t even read the backs of books. I want the surprise.

So I can’t wait for December 6th. Juliet Blackwell’s new book, Dead Bolt, comes out, and if anyone breathes a word of the ending before I get there, I’ll hit that person in the head with a dictionary. I’m just saying.

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Me With Love From Me

by Sophie


My agent, Barbara Poelle, often says that you should buy yourself a gift when you are working on a book, wrap it up, and unwrap it on the day when you finish your manuscript. A present for yourself!

I took this advice to heart several books ago, when Barbara and I started working together. I have a fondness for junk jewelry, especially rings, and I've bought myself a slew over the last, oh, eight books.

The gift you buy yourself to celebrate a book certainly doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be an indulgence. OPI nail polish instead of Maybelline. Balvenie instead of Budweiser. Yes, in a sense you're rewarding yourself for a job well done - after all, a book's a lonely, prickly slog and reaching the end is an accomplishment to celebrate, whether it's your first or your 99th. But after going around this track for a few laps, I think it's actually more about rewarding your imperfect, flawed, but still-trying writerly self, not for "The End" but for the *process*.

There's a distinction, though I'm not doing a very good job of making it. Every day, I sit in my chair and I flex my fingers and I write that first word, and the mental dialog I'm having goes something like this: "Oh dear God please let me be worthy today, please don't let my words suck, please don't let me wreck whatever I did well yesterday, please let me do honor to that brilliant germ of a story that You gave me." In the "Finish That Book" workshop that I give with Juliet, we often talk about fear, about feelings of unworthiness - and no one is more qualified to have that discussion than me, because I feel like a pretender every day.

But I still show up. And *that* is what I think the presents are *really* meant to reward.

None of my best friends are very good at understanding how amazing they are, and I think it's safe to say that I'm probably a little more amazing than I realize, too. If I had my own Writing Godmother, I imagine she'd breeze in (with donuts!) ** every day around ten just to tell me how fantastic I am and to keep that lovely momentum going. But I don't, and she doesn't. That's why I have to be my own Fairy Godmother - and so do you.

The book I'm working on should be finished around the end of the year, and I bought a writing gift for myself a few weeks ago and set it on top of my dresser so I could admire it. But you know what? It's been a hell of a month, and I decided to give it to myself early. Because I make the rules.

Okay, here's where I get a little girly, so if you're only here for the flesh eating and the suede floggers, you might want to take your leave. The rest of you? I'll share that I have a little bit of a handbag fetish. I don't buy them often (bought my last everyday bag before the Alaska Bouchercon, in fact) but when I do, I go a little overboard. This time, I used birthday money and an unexpected writing windfall and all the cash stashed in my bra drawer, but it was so worth it:

Doesn't that just scream "Sophie Littlefield's purse?" It's a nod to my WalMart past with those brass grommets, but the leather, oh, you could slide deliciously to heaven on that leather. Trashy and luxe, all at once. Big enough for all the usual stuff as well as a notebook, a hardback, *and* my kindle. Oh, and my flask.

Here's the purse that's retiring. I'll say this for the Coach people, they sure can make a purse (but for the love of God, enough with those eyeball-singeing prints!) - my dad gave me my first Coach in high school and I once accidentally drove a pickup truck over it with no discernible damage.

I keep threatening to buy Juliet a purse the *minute* I hit it big. She's more, shall we say, indifferent to handbag fashion than I - she got her last bag (which is, I must admit, pretty cute) for five bucks at a garage sale. I'm thinking her new bookmarks would look pretty darling peeking out of this, don't you?

** I simply MUST tell you about my recent donut discovery. A gentleman friend brought me a donut from Johnny's Donuts in Lafayette. A maple frosted, to be specific. It was the most perfect donut I have ever eaten, over many years of searching. If you had told me that the finest donut could be found east of the tunnel, I would never have believed you :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Regrets? Oh, a Few

Today the Pens welcome local writer friend Ann Parker, whose latest book, MERCURY'S RISE, is wowing critics including Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. We're so glad Ann took time out of a trip to Colorado to join us!

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First, I want to thank Pens Fatales, and especially Sophie Littlefield, for hosting me on this stop of my virtual tour for MERCURY’S RISE, the fourth of my Silver Rush historical mystery novels.

Second, a few words (and a couple of songs) on the topic of regrets. Pondering the topic gave me a chance to slow down in my crazy move-as-fast-as-you-can-and-then-even-faster life, and think back.

Because that’s what regrets are about, right? Looking back, and wishing at some level that things had turned out differently… whatever that means.

Okay, let’s go for the official Oxford Dictionary Online definition:
Regret: A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

Has happened. Has been done. Regret is all about looking into the past.

And hey, I write about the past (the 1880s to be exact). I suppose that means the topic of regrets—their causes and their results—are right up my alley, so to speak. When I think of regrets, the song “My Way” (sung by Frank Sinatra) immediately pops to mind. (I believe my mother must have played “Sinatra’s Greatest Hits” or some such on a regular basis, because this was truly my first thought). Check out this rendition (you’ll need to get past Sinatra’s initial grumbling, but he does eventually burst into song):

Part of life, I figure, is learning to deal with regrets and coming to terms with all the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” stuff and accept (with grace and gratitude) what one does have. Mick Jagger, another singer but for a different generation, put it succinctly: “You can’t always get what you want… you get what you need.”

You can hear the whole song as it was first performed on television in the clip below. (Note: This is the Rolling Stones back in the late 1960s, so if you’re into vintage fashion and hairstyles, you may find this… entertaining? Slightly amusing? And whoa, Mick Jagger looks sooooo yoooooung.)

Another way to deal with regrets is to embrace the philosophy of my protagonist, Inez Stannert. Inez runs the Silver Queen Saloon in 1880s Leadville, Colorado. She believes that the past is gone and one should focus on the future. I like to describe Inez as a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. Part of the “mystery” of her past comes from the fact that she prefers not to think about it… or at least, certain parts of it. She’s learned that, to survive, it’s sometimes necessary to reinvent oneself and to keep moving forward without looking back.

So, does Inez have regrets?

On the one hand, she has, in some ways, made a hash of her life. On the other hand, given all the shenanigans and dead bodies falling around her, it’s not as if she has much time or inclination to ponder and regret.

Still, I wonder. If she were of a contemplative nature and had time to reflect on past decisions, would she regret:

1. Turning her back on her family to elope with smooth-talkin’, good-lookin’ gambler / con man Mark Stannert, back in 1868?
2. Settling down in Leadville after a decade of roaming with Mark and their business partner Abe Jackson?
3. Not looking a little harder for Mark when he disappeared without a trace in the spring of 1879?
4. Sending her eight-month-old son back East to live with her sister, while remaining in Leadville to run the saloon and to await word of Mark’s whereabouts?
5. Starting an affair with the mysterious Reverend Sands?
6. Staying put in Leadville and not running away with Sands when she had the chance?
7. Not moving a little faster on getting a divorce from her absent husband?
8. Digging into some of those mysterious deaths that seem to occur with great regularity around her?


Guess you’ll have to read MERCURY’S RISE to learn the answers to at least some of these questions about Inez, her past, and her regrets!


Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, MERCURY’S RISE, was released November 1. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!” Learn more about Ann and her series at

MERCURY’S RISE and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers,, and Barnes and Noble.

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour schedule, check out her Appearances page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days

by Gigi Pandian

I never want to regret that I didn't see the world.

It's not that I haven't seen a good bit of the world already. Having anthropologists for parents, I started traveling abroad at a young age. The problem might be that I've already seen too much -- and it's shown me how little I've truly seen.

With the clarity that comes with receiving a scary health diagnosis, I realized that seeing more of the world is one of the things most important to me. So I made myself a list of all of the upcoming trips I want to take once I complete my year of cancer treatments.

The problem? The list kept growing. And growing.
  • Whiskey tasting in Scotland with the Pens
  • Putting my French to use in the south of France with the husband
  • Eating my way through Simla and northern India with my parents
  • Road tripping to Alaska with a friend
  • Seeing the amazing sculptures of Angkor Wat in Cambodia
  • Touring the castles of Slovakia
  • Visiting Greece and Turkey for the first time (I missed them when I backpacked through Europe after college) 
  • The gargoyle photographer in me insisting on finding the Garden of Monsters outside Rome
  • The adventurer in me thinking I shouldn't miss out on visiting China
  • The romantic in me whispering in my ear about returning to Prague…

I could tell my initial scribbled list was just the tip of the iceberg. I knew what I needed to do: I'm using a three month sabbatical to take a round-the-world trip. Oh yes, I'm going around the world in 80 days.

Even though three months initially strikes one as a long time (airplane travel wasn't available to Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's classic novel Around the World in 80 Days) I know it's not nearly long enough to see the whole world. Therefore I'm still going to take many of those trips above as their own in-depth trips. But taking a round-the-world trip has made me free to keep adding to my list. I can now write down new destinations that intrigue me. And since it's going to take me a little while to save up for this trip, I have a feeling it's going to be a long list.

My goal is to take this trip at the five-year mark of being cancer free. That's the date they say is the big deal to know if you're cured or not. Either way, I'm taking this trip.

So what do you think? Where in the world should I be sure to include on my list?

Should I take a train trip on the Orient Express? Visit Tokyo's intriguing themed restaurants? Stay in a treehouse in China? Cancer has shown me I'm even stronger than I thought I was, so I'm up for anything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Martha's Regret Playlist

I'm not a fan of regret.

Not because of this: "I don't regret anything because everything that's happened has made me who I am today."

That answer is a crock of shit. There are a million and one ways my life could be better or worse of. The universe of possibilities is so explosive I give myself a migraine just thinking about it. Every time I hear someone parrot the above line, I want to stab myself in the eye. But moving on...

I'm not a fan of regret because it involves a fair amount of sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself.

But hey, I'm human. (Shocking, I know.)

And sometimes I sit around feeling sorry for myself.

This event is usually triggered by a beautifully written story or song.

In fact, I have a whole host of songs on my playlist designed to get me into a regret frame of mine so I can write about some character's pansy ass emotions.

Here are my top songs to get in the mood:

Go ahead. Sit back. Hit Play. Feel shame and sorrow for your life's choices. What else are you going to do on Hump Day?