Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lisa's Nag...the ONE THING you need to give up this year

So Sophie talked about the Neti pot. And we've had lots of Pens weigh in on nagging themselves and others.

I'm going to talk about the ONE THING you need to give up this year (or at the very least, cut back on).

High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Fructose. Crystalline Fructose. Sugar (which is half fructose).

The first three are found in many, many manufactured products on our grocery shelves. Protein bars, gatorade, ketchup, baby formula. The addition of sugar, fructose, crystalline fructose and HFCS is insidious.

Why should you give it up?

Below is a fascinating video regarding the evolution of the food industry, beginning with Nixon's wish to create low-cost, affordable for everyone food sources, touching on the research that lead the FDA to recommend a diet that is slowly killing us (low fat, high carb) and ending with the current state of Americans health.

I had never heard of Metabolic Syndrome until I watched this video. Now I see the term everywhere. And before you say...yeah, it's one guy's opinion. He's a Dr. and Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

The video is long (however if you care about your health and your kids' health I really, really recommend taking the time to watch the entire thing).

But I'll give you my take away points. The things that totally blew me away.

*The way our body metabolizes fructose is just the same as alcohol. Except that adults and kids ingest far more sugar/fructose/HFCS than they would drink alcohol.

*The body cannot process the amount of fructose ingested, it literally turns toxic in your liver.

*The way fructose works, it doesn't send signals to the brain to tell your body that you've eaten, so people eat more.

*We have a huge percentage of overweight INFANTS in the US (I want to say 50 but I can't remember the exact statistic). He believes it is due to the fructose in infant formula.

So there's my nag for the week. :)


Monday, January 30, 2012

Self-Promotion as Nagging?

L.G.C. Smith

I hate the word 'nag.' I'm old enough to still hear sexism in it. Women nag. Men . . . I don't know what they do. Hound? Nagging always seems to put a negative spin on things, and if I care enough to remind someone about something, or insist that a minimum basic standard of family or community participation be met, people should accept the admonition/encouragement (or whatever) appreciatively and snap to it. I am helping. I am being noble. You don't have to listen, but don't tell me I'm nagging.

There's one area where I can't help feeling like a nag, no matter how I spin it, and that's self-promotion. Whether we are traditionally published or indie-pubs, we have to find ways to let readers know we have something they might like to read.

I am constitutionally ill-equipped to do this. I was raised by people who felt it was bad form to toot your own horn. I internalized this completely.

So I have questions for readers: What can writers tell you that doesn't feel like nagging? How can we do it so you know we love and respect you? Because we do. Big time. Seriously. We are nothing without you. The last thing we want to do is nag you about our books.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm a Total Nag

It's true. I'm a total nag.

I think a big part of the problem was that I used to be pretty lazy. Through high school, especially, I was only semi-engaged with the idea of hard work. A big part of the problem was that I wasn't smart enough yet to understand how very little I know, and I could do well in things like school and after-school jobs with only a modicum of effort.

Then I went to college, and after a party-hearty first semester, I knuckled down. I definitely worked a lot harder than I did in high school, partly because I was beginning to realize that no matter how much I learned in class, there was so much more I didn't know. That said, I still wasn't winning any awards. Maybe I didn't "own" my life as much I should have, at that point, as I was still part of an educational system in which I knew I would, to a certain extent, be taken care of if I did what I was supposed to.

Everything changed, however, when I started grad school. Suddenly, either I got something done when I was supposed to, or I didn't. No one was there to remind me, or nag me, or help me schedule stuff. There were no helpful syllabi on which I could see what I must do, when. I just had to research a bunch of stuff, and then I had to write it, and occasionally pass stuff in.

All of a sudden, I was entirely responsible for my own success. And that changed me.

I became my mother.

My mom is an absolute power house of a woman who does approximately 1,000 things before dawn. The rest of the day is spent doing the real work. Seriously, she's amazing and slightly terrifying.

And I'm both proud and afraid that I've become her.

Now that I'm doing two things I love (writing and teaching), I have to be very productive in order to be, well, productive. Basically, I work all the time. It ain't pretty, but it's true. As a lifestyle choice, it works for me right now, and I'm not asking for an intervention. Where I go wrong, however, is not realizing that other people don't have to work as hard as I do, and very few actually want or need to.

Cuz that's when I start nagging. I know exactly what people in my life can do to become NUMBER ONE, so why aren't they doing it? I can't understand this, so I go ahead and fill them in on where they're going wrong. Eventually, I realize they want to punch me in the eye.

I'm shocked, every time.

So one of the things I'm working on is not giving advice unless it's asked for, and then dropping it once it's given rather than chasing up to see if they did what I told them to. I'm not not telling people what my MUCH BETTER PLAN THAN THEIRS is, and I'm no longer saying to people, "Why the fuck don't you just do it, already, and stop saying you'll do it?"

Because even if I am right, and I do have the answers, nobody wants to hear them. And I certainly don't want to be that person. Even if that person is RIGHT, GODDAMIT.

She's also annoying. That nag that is me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Taurus Rising

-- Adrienne Miller

I don't take well to nagging. I never have. I suppose I could blame it on my stars. A few years ago my mother-in-law did my astrological chart, and while my sun sign is Libra, apparently my rising sign is Taurus. She told me that means that while I love balance and harmony (which I do) I'm also as stubborn as an old mule (which I also am). So what you get is someone who wants to everyone to be happy but always finds the sneaky, backdoor way to getting what I want.

I'm not a big (or any kind) believer in astrology, but in this case the description just happened to be accurate. I am that person. You can nag at me, and I'll smile and nod, but inside my heels are digging in so far that you could use me to plow a field.

I'll admit, it's not the most attractive personality trait. Some people would even call it passive aggressive, but that's only because I can't bring myself to be aggressive-aggressive. You know, those people who shout out their opinions loud enough for everyone in a three block radius to hear. I don't want to be that person either.

There has to be a middle ground. A plain aggressive. Someone who can just say no without explanation. Without raising her voice. Without sugarcoating anything. That's how I'd like to be. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to be that.

But until I do, seriously, don't nag me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Need a Nag!

--by Juliet

I need a nag to make me get stuff done.

I start things just fine. It's the finishing that kills me.

For instance, right now I’m on deadline. It’s that time in my writing schedule when someone asks me how I’m doing, and I take it as an act of aggression.

“Just how do you think I’m doing? I haven’t taken a shower in three days. I forgot how to brush my teeth and put on clothes. I'm hoping a car crashes outside my window so I'll finally have an ending to this freaking novel! That’s how I’m doing!”

All of this is accompanied, of course, by a crazed gleam in my eyes. Because I’m not really seeing the person talking to me, I’m seeing the fact that my inner nag failed, once again, to get me anywhere near finished before deadline.

As a mom, I nagged my son all the way through French school (bilingual nagging, even!) and then I nagged him through AP classes and SAT exams and college applications and now, guess what? He doesn't need me to nag him anymore! He now has his own inner nag, and does sensible things like getting his papers done ahead of time, and he's rocking something close to a 4.0 at his university. And he still manages to party.

So, um, why can't I manage to internalize my own nagging in some kind of effective way? Don't know, and I can't figure it out right now because I'm pulling an all-nighter to reach my deadline. I'm a mad writer stuck in my aerie.

And I’m trying not to take the need to write this blog as an act of aggression. I apologize ahead of time for my bad attitude. I’ll be me again in, oh, seventy-eight hours or so.

And after that...feel free to step up and nag. I need it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nagging Through the Doldrums

Yesterday, while at work, I wrote a thousand words while on a break. I'm in the middle (oh, the sagging middle) of a novel, and I get my words wherever I can, even if it means writing in the driver's seat of my car during lunch.

This, to me, is the hardest part of writing -- the first draft doldrums. (Related: you already knew, I'm sure, that the doldrums is slang for the low-pressure area around the equator where the winds are calm, making sailing difficult. It's damned hard to move without wind. But this was something I didn't know: In the doldrums, you can also have variable winds, squalls gales, and even hurricanes. Now, doesn't that remind us of writing the middle of the book? Flat, nothing going on, never gonna get anywhere, OH RIP ROARING EXCITEMENT, RIDE THIS AS FAR AS SHE BLOWS BAYBEEEE, oh crap it's gone again.)

So when I'm writing a first draft, I push through. Every day, I sit in front of the computer and wait for a breeze. If there's no breeze, I turn on my desk fan. If the power goes out, I puff out my cheeks and blow on my screen, wiping the spit off as needed.

I do it because I nag. I'm a nagger, by blood. My mother was a consummate and professional nagger, and I follow in her footsteps even though I don't want to. It's not as if I sit down and plan to nag. In fact, I spend quality time trying not to nag. If I nag my wife, she doesn't know about the thirty times I swallowed the request trying not to say anything. My sisters know to tune me out when I get wound up on issues like their health or their housing (and I do try to hold most of it in, I swear).

But I nag the life out of myself.

My eyes open, and it starts. Write. Write. Write. Write.

I roll over. Write something. Write anything.

I roll to my other side. Just sit at the desk. Three hours, that's all.

I pull the pillow over my head. Fine. You want to be that way? An hour would do it.

I squinch my eyes harder shut. Half-hour?

I hold my breath. Okay, ten minutes.

Fine. Ten minutes and you can have a carrot muffin at the cafe.

As usual, the offer of food-as-reward works, and I give in, just to shut the voice up. Then, when I get to the cafe, I can usually browbeat myself into three hours of work, just from that one carrot muffin and double Americano.

People often ask me (usually with an annoyed tone) how I get so much done. But I think I've just figured out why I feel like such a slacker all the time. If people had any idea how much more I feel like I should do, how much of the time I'm struggling to tune out the guilt-laced whiny voice inside my head, they'd understand how well I'm actually practicing active, chosen laziness whenever I possibly can.

It is one way to get through the doldrums, though. A thousand words? Great! And oh, by the way. It's not enough. Get off your ass and write another thousand on your next break. See you on the other side of the ocean, where The End lives.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why You Must Neti If It's the Last Thing [I Make] You Do

by Sophie


In my family we are neti pot FIENDS. I cannot overstate how we adore the things. I think it was Lisa who introduced me to them, years ago, and I found the whole concept entirely appalling. I made her describe several times how you jam the spout of the pot of saline water in one nostril and the saline solution pours INTO YOUR HEAD and comes out the other side. Disgusting! "But they've been doing it for centuries," Lisa assured me.

Not for me, the crazy crunchy-club stylings of a mystic-eastern-obsessed new age sensibility. I liked my alka-selzer plus cold medicine. I liked my thera-flu.

But as the years ticked by and I got busier and being laid out on the couch for days at a time seemed less and less appealing, and I became more prone to persistent sinus infections, and - the last straw - the Alka Selzer people quit making the good stuff and marketed only the lame-ass version that didn't give you any kind of decent buzz, I finally got desperate enough to give it a try.

The first time was weird. I locked myself in the bathroom with the same sense of apprehension and embarrassment as the first time I shaved my legs with my dad's pilfered razor a thousand years ago. I couldn't believe it would work. And yet...with only a flash of a weird sensation up there behind the eyeballs, the liquid came dribbling out the other side.

Fascinating! I actually felt proud of myself as I watched this strange process in the mirror. I'd had the little weird throat tickle that signals an oncoming cold, and as soon as I was finished with my first eight ounces of saline, it already felt better. Placebo effect, I was sure, but then...I didn't get sick.

I'm not one of those who use the thing every day during cold season, but I made a beeline for it every time I felt the least bit sniffly. And I kept not getting sick. An entire year went by - no sick days. Then it was two. I would have made it three whole years, but last august I went on a camping trip and DIDN'T BRING THE POT. And I got sick as all get out.

Since the beginning, I've nagged my family to try this thing. My brother was the first convert, though I doubt it was my influence - those Brookline people kind of swing that way so he had lots of other people convincing him too. But then my Dad got hooked. It took us a year to Judy, my Dad's wife, on board, but once she neti'd she was sold. The only holdout is my sister Kristen. She's got her annual cold - the same one I got every year before I converted - and it is making me nuts. Every time I see her I go into my neti speech, which usually ends with me raising my voice and telling her she's choosing to be sick when she doesn't have to (I am a terrible, terrible, sister; really, all you folks who think I'm delightful, just ask Kristen, she'll tell you the truth). My Christmas gift to Juliet this year was....oh, I suppose you can probably guess. And the worst thing is that, wrapped up in shiny paper, the little net box looked like it could be something really delightful. Perfume, perhaps, or a bracelet or something. But no. Juliet received a neti pot with a whole lotta love behind it.

I nag, and I just can't stop. Tonight we quad-teamed my sister - did I mention my kids also neti? - it was me and Junior and my dad and his wife, all begging, pleading, imploring, but most of all NAGGING poor Kristen to give it a try. Truly, I don't know how she can stand it. I would have folded, just to get us all off my back.

I only shared this tiny little corner of my nagging with you because I can't bear to face the whole truth. According to my kids, I'm a yeller, too emotional, and most definitely a nag. I'm not proud of any of it, but I can't seem to stop. I'd apologize, but the truth is that the next time I see you with the sniffles, I'm going to want to force you to neti too.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Too Virtuous for My Own Good?

by Gigi Pandian

Much to my dismay, I'm awful at having vices.

How cool would it be to sit in a candle-lit study with a cigarette and a glass of whiskey while typing away at a novel? Yes, very cool.

Alas, I tried smoking in college and hated it. More recently, I gave up alcohol during chemotherapy treatments, and found I didn't miss it one bit. What kind of tortured artist am I?

Gigi with a cup of strong coffee. Bliss.
Sure, I've got my coffee. But does that even count as a vice? Lots of studies show coffee is good for you.

One of my biggest fears about being a writer has always been that I don't possess enough angst to write meaningful stories. At first I thought cancer would solve this problem. Instead, it turned out that even in a supposed crisis, I don't freak out.

But I realized something else while going through cancer treatments. The books I was devouring weren't deep explorations of disease or crime or the human condition. I didn't want an excuse to cry. I wanted to be carried away on adventures that would inspire me to take my own. I was picking up lighthearted mysteries with a heavy dose of adventure -- the stuff I like to write.

So perhaps it's not so bad that I wrote some kick-ass pages last weekend while eating a kale salad instead of with a cigarette dangling from my lip.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Martha's Defense of Vice

I'm not the type to deny myself.

Good food? I eat it.
Nice things? I buy them.
Social life? I haz it.

Why would I say no to myself? I LOVE myself. I give myself anything and everything.

In fact, I am PRO vice.

Let's break the big ones down, shall we?

Vice #1: Vanity aka Self-Love (no, not *that* self-love you dirty gutter-minded folks)

I never understood why Dante was so down on self-love. Even bringing in the religious mentality - if God made me in his image, and I love God, why wouldn't I also love myself? And who wants to hang out with a wallowing mess of self-pity anyway?

Vice #2: Greed

Our entire economy and society is built on the premise that I want things I don't have. Wanting leads to motivation and innovation. Wanting keeps things interesting.

Vice #3 Lust
Are we or are we not supposed to procreate as a species?

Vice #4: Anger
You know what creeps me out? Indifference. If things like child abuse, sexual abuse and human slavery don't make you angry, there is something wrong with you. For realz.

Vice #5: Gluttony
See Greed

Vice #6: Envy
See Greed

Vice #7: Sloth
Okay, I'll admit. I'm not a fan of sloth. I don't even like to sleep because it feels lazy.

I know, I know, your body is replenishing and your brain is doing something (useless) and it's good for you and studies show this but these studies don't compare what I can get done while I'm awake to whatever happens when I'm asleep.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Carribbean and everything else seemed to be a way to kill time until my next nap.

Breakfast then nap.
Lunch then siesta.
Pool time then doze.
Dinner then nod off.
Entertainment then sleep.

I also discovered the Snuggie for the first time, which is a genius napstastic accoutrement that makes you feel like you're being cradled by angels. I don't know what you got from me last Christmas, but this Christmas, it's probably gonna be a Snuggie.

(You're welcome.)

I digress - bottom line, if you've made it this far in life without giving into one of the big seven, you're probably not reading this blog as blog-reading is firmly covered under Vice #7: Sloth.

Ergo, I can say terrible things like those other people. Like they aren't very interesting. Not YOU, however. If you're reading this blog, you're fantastic.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shared Vice

Shared Vice
by Lisa Hughey

Vice. It connotes bad things. Depravity, sin, things to be avoided, things, potentially, to be ashamed of.

And now I confess that I have shared my vice with my children. Not just shared but encouraged.  

Bet you're wondering...what could it be?

We've covered television, smoking, drinking, naughty magazines, fried eggs. And even with all those topics, no one mentioned my vice. But I guarantee that every single Pens has the same addictive vice that I do.

I love Books. Paranormal romance, mystery, historical romance, time-travel romance, thrillers, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, erotica, romantic suspense. 

Reading books is a huge time suck. And in this age of uber-productivity and twenty-four hour connectivity, people are expected to be on task and on target every single waking minute.

So how do I unplug? I can lose hours to a good book. Sometimes, I will spend an entire day gorging myself on more than one. More like two, three, four, even five books. Usually I hunker down in my bed, comforter fluffed around me and a stack of books by my side. I only emerge from my little cave for tea and the occasional sustenance. And by the end of the day, my bed is littered with the leftovers from my voracious reading habit.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Share my vice with me and cuddle up with a good book. 


ps. I'll leave you with this darling video.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kindle Touch Giveaway...Tell Us Your Resolutions for 2012

Okay, so redirect to this post.


And leave a comment for a chance to win. :) See details from last Friday.

Happy Friday the 13th.

The Pens

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Just Can't Help Myself

--Adrienne Miller

I know it's wrong. I know I'm not supposed to like it. Everyone tells me to stay away. But do I listen? Oh hells no. 

It's just too good. I'll take it just about anywhere. Even in places nature didn't intend for it to go. So hot. So sticky. Heaven help me, I even love it when the gooey stuff goes everywhere.

Yep, I love fried eggs. Lately, they're my main vice.

Yeah, I know they're kind of wimpy as vices go, but you have to cut me some slack. I don't really drink all that often. I haven't smoked in a long, long time. I don't like to gamble, and I've been with the same guy since I was twenty. I'm aware that maybe it puts me a little on the boring side, but I'm a pretty upright citizen.

Which doesn't leave me too many options on the vice front. So fried eggs it will have to be.

But why should I have to make excuses for something that tastes so good? Plop one of those bad boys on just about anything and it goes from ordinary to awesome. Hash browns. Grilled cheese. Fried chicken.

Regular burger becomes awesome burger. 

Oh yes, I made and ate that. Without shame, baby. Without shame.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vintage Vice

--by Juliet

As an adolescent in suburban Cupertino California in the 1970s, I had to keep on my toes if I wanted any shot at finding vice of any kind. Oh sure, drugs could be had at the high school, but I never liked the folks who used – if I wanted to sit in a corner and babble, I could do it without external influences. The vice I was most interested in was SEX.

But smut was hard to find.

Keep in mind: back then “Adult Content” was available only through “Adult Stores”. And those kinds of places did not exist on Cupertino’s leafy streets.

But then one day I was snooping, and I came across my dad’s stash of Playboy magazines.

It was a revelation. I know, I know, objectification of woman, yada yada yada. I get that. As an adult I can see that the women featured in these magazines were made out to be acted upon, rather than as independent actors in their own sexuality. But at the time all I could think was: these women appeared to be having fun. They seemed to like sex. They were smiling, sunny and happy in their nakedness.

I spent many delectable hours poring over these publications. And I didn’t just check out the magazines for the pictures. Oh no, I was there for the articles. Okay, not all the articles…but some of them were highly informative. For someone with almost no sex education at school, and very little on the homefront --my dear mother tried, but women from her background simply did not talk about such things-- this was all incredible information, ripe to be shared with friends. I especially liked the jokes at the back. They carried with them a wealth of cultural as well as sexual information.

Soon I realized that every home I babysat in was a potential gold mine. I don’t mean to disillusion anyone about a) what a nosy kid I was and b) what babysitters in your house might be up to, but I looked around. Usually you didn't have to go any further than a bedside table. And it wasn't just Playboy or Penthouse. I found The Kama Sutra. The Joy of Sex. Our Bodies, Ourselves. Wow. My young mind was blown.

Granted, now that so much more is available on the internet, I'm sure much of the motivation for snooping has been leached from our young. And it's worthy of note that much of vintage Playboy's "art" would be too tame for the likes of many fashion and gossip magazines, today.

As far as introductions to smut go, this was much gentler than what the average adolescent finds today when she Googles "sex" or anything of the ilk. Some of that stuff shocks the hell out of me, so I can only imagine what an innocent young mind might make of it all.

And no, 1970s "men's magazines" were not the best introduction a young woman could have to the world of sex and sexuality. But as far as smut goes...it was exciting, fun, and so, so naughty.

Oooh, the wonderful vice of it all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vice is Fun

A vice is a habit or behavior considered immoral. And therefore, honey, they are FUN.
Running down the list of a few of my favorites:

1. Writing. I tell lies for a living. I make up truth, and then I make it up some more. When the lies are thick as tar, it's time to lay them on thicker, until the subject being written about is squirming and hopelessly stuck. And get this: the better the lie is, the harder it will be to tell that it's untrue.

2. Smoking. It's bad for you, and I don't do it. But the only reason I don't do it is because if I had even half a cigarette, I'd be back to a pack a day in a week. I've been an ex-smoker now for almost ten years, and I still love the smell of it. It's a sexy vice, too. Is there anything as seductive of that play of hands and mouth, the dance of smoke?

3. Sugar. Some people like crunchy snacks? Save 'em. I can leave a bag of potato chips on the counter for a month, but if you put ice cream in front of me and fail to remove your hand, I will bite it right off as I dive headfirst into the pint. I live, breathe, and run on sugar. Once, I cut it out of my life. For six months, I ate nothing sweeter than the occasional depressing drip of agave syrup on my oatmeal. I lost weight! I felt better than I ever had before! I was strong! Lean! Fast! Then I ate a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter minis, and I'm slower, heavier, and yes, happier.

4. Accordion. I don't think I need to say anything more than that.

(Oh. Maybe one more.)

5. Bluegrass. Don't tell me it's wrong because it feels so right.

And at its core, isn't that what vice is about? Be it Scotch or fast women (and with luck, both!), vice is bad. And that's why the thrill is particular, why the rush feels so good. Yes, we may regret it later, but let me play that accordion along with my Doc Watson album while drinking Laphroig and eating M&Ms, and I'm a happy-in-the-moment girl. I might regret the hangover tomorrow, but tonight, it's exactly what the doctor ordered.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vice, Miami Style

by Sophie


I've been wallowing in research set in the late 70s, so when I received my blog topic reminder last week, I read the word "vice" and thought not of Talisker and Ghiradelli and midnight oil, not of dark alleys and men one knows better than to talk to and sins of omission and commission, but...


Yes. Miami Vice, the show that ruled the air from '84 to '89, when I was a fresh-faced college student. in 1984, I had an internship in Chapel Hill, NC, at IBM. I roomed with another intern named Michelle, and the two of us never missed an episode of Miami Vice. We sat on our rental couch and ate popcorn and focused all our attention on Crockett and Tubbs.

Looking at stills from the show now, it's impossible not to see how closely they are wedded to what has come to represent 80's style, in particular the cheap, cheesey, showy, throwaway sensibility which seems almost innocent in its naivetee now. Remember - those of you who lived through it - that there was so much we couldn't have predicted: shifting politics, "green" culture, the recession, the new minimalism which may have been born of hardship but has evolved into an entire cultural wave engendering things like Simple magazine and downsizing and small-carbon-footprint smugness. (Amusing to imagine Crockett's response to, say, a pair of Keen sandals.)

In fact, the show is given credit for setting many of those devil-may-care trends, especially the fashions, now cringe-worthy, that represented the height of masculine style. From the wiki page - "They popularized, if not invented, the T-shirt under Armani jacket-style...Crockett's perpetually unshaven appearance sparked a minor fashion trend, ... In an average episode, Crockett and Tubbs wore five to eight outfits, appearing in shades of pink, blue, green, peach, fuchsia..."

It's easy for today's young people (those in this house, for instance) to find the show laughable and unrealistic. In particular, the treatment of the "vice" for which it's named - the police division focusing primarily on drugs - has very little in common with what we now understand of the challenges posed by contemporary drug culture and politics. I guess you could say that Miami Vice is to contemporary drug trafficking and containment what aerobics instructor Barbie is to Jillian Michaels - frosting and froth with none of the depth levied by real-life challenges and circumstances.

Still, Miami Vice was formative for me. Maybe it's just the glimmery glow of youth over which I'm rhapsodizing, but it may have been during that the kernel of a desire to tell crime stories emerged.

And admit it, ladies of a certain age...Crockett kind of got to you, didn't he? A little?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kindle Touch Giveaway...Tell Us Your Resolutions for 2012

To usher in a fabulous new year, the Pens are going to do a fun giveaway. In the comments, tell us your New Year's Resolutions. Share one big one (or all your little ones, we don't care) for a chance to win a brand new Kindle Touch.

On Saturday, January 21st we'll use random.org to draw one lucky winner's name.


1. Only one entry per person :)

To start y'all off, we're each (ahem, *some* of us sent in resolutions....) posting a resolution of our own.

Sophie: ???

Rachael: To do something frivolous and enjoyable every day.

Julie: gets a pass 'cause she's in the middle of a deadline

Adrienne: Be kinder to myself and others.

Nicole: To entertain more and wear heels :)

Lynn: ???

Lisa: Be less hermit-y and more social

Martha: Use sunscreen and floss!!

Gigi: Since 2011 wasn't an especially fun year for me, I resolve to have FUN in 2012! (I realized I wanted to ramble on about this, so I did so here today.)

So come and tell us what you resolve for this year and you'll be entered in the drawing!!

Happy New Year from the Pens!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Being at Peace with Uncertainty

by Gigi Pandian

I'm a planner. I haven't run out of milk or any other staple in over 10 years. I plan vacations years in advance and buy airline tickets months ahead of time. I don't start writing a mystery until I have a plot worked out.

But this past year, I had to let go of all that.

And you know what? It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

When I wasn't healthy enough to go to the supermarket myself, my family and friends brought over groceries and made home-cooked meals. Giving up the control of being the one in the household to go to the supermarket was an adjustment. But it was amazing to learn how many people wanted to help.

When I couldn't travel, I had to cancel three upcoming trips. At first I was really disappointed, but I knew I had no choice. Once I accepted that, I realized there was a lot that I could do at home. Thanks to technology, I could work from home. That gave me a bit of normalcy. But when I wasn't working, what would I do with myself? I couldn't make plans that involved going out, so I lacked structure. And I didn't know how well I'd be feeling each day, so I had to take things one day at a time. That was the biggest challenge—not knowing.

But that's exactly what let me brainstorm about the projects that led me to create Gargoyle Girl Productions. And when I didn't want to be productive, I still didn't want to be bored. I took photographs of things around the house with a funky new camera lens, and hung out with my bookshelves full of books I hadn't previously had time to read. I had never before embraced giving up on books I wasn't into, but now I'm all about finishing only good books. Life's too short to spend time reading books we don't enjoy—or doing anything else we don't enjoy, for that matter.

When November rolled around, it was time for NaNoWriMo. But wait! I wouldn't be able to do my usual routine of spending National Novel Writing Month meeting up with a good friend at a cafe multiple mornings per week. This year, I was on my own. But I think that's part of what enabled me to write something completely different than I was used to.

Now I'm well enough to be going into the office, buying my own groceries, and hanging out a cafes. But there's still a lot of uncertainty in my life. I've always been mellow, and I'm glad it turns out that after being shaken up I've again found that place of being at peace. I still wish I could plan a bit more.... But based on how well I got through the second half of 2011, I'd say I'm doing pretty well being at peace with uncertainty.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Martha's Moment of Peace

I have a pretty serious case of anxiety and therefore a pretty serious case of insomnia. Most mornings at three am, I find myself desperate to silence the chatter in my mind, desperate for a little peace.

I finally found it - on youtube.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon this video of a young man receiving a head massage in India.

The video is weirdly hypnotizing and relaxing especially given the video is loud and the massage itself even a bit...jarring. But I couldn't stop myself from watching it over and over again. Soon, I started clicking on other Indian head massage videos. After two or three videos, my eyes would droop and bam, I'd be asleep.

It got to the point where I'd sneak into bed with my tablet and tune into youtube to watch the video before falling asleep.

I started to feel like I had a dirty little secret.

Turns out - I'm not alone. This video, for one, has been watched nearly four million times as of today. There is a whole mini-cult of people who watch massage videos to calm down and are especially relaxed by videos of traditional Indian head massages.

Everyone's got something that soothes their soul.

Guess mine is just a little unorthodox.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Inner Peace

Inner Peace
by Lisa Hughey

About eight years ago I finally took my first yoga class, I loved it. Honestly I felt like I was born to do yoga.

(picture from http://thirtytherapy.wordpress.com/tag/yoga/)

I've always been flexible so all the stretching felt amazing. I have pretty good balance. The one thing I knew I needed to work on was my strength. But otherwise, everything felt great. Until the end of the class.

If you've ever taken yoga, you are probably nodding your head right now. (If you haven't, I'm about to enlighten you. :) )

Shavasana. The corpse pose.

The basic premise is that you lie on your mat, arms away from your body, legs slightly spread, eyes closed and just...be at peace.

(picture from yogarelaxationm.blogspot.com)

Sounds easy, right? Nope. I remember laying (lying, whatever) there, mind racing. I went through all the errands I needed to do, reminded myself about kids school stuff, calculated how much time I had to write now that I'd taken over an hour and a half off to try a yoga class, and generally let back in all the stress that I'd released over the class period. And thought yoga was great, except for that final pose. Yeah, right, just relax and let your mind and body float while you think about nothing.

I'm sure if my teacher was watching that I probably fidgeted most of that shavasana period. The teacher actually apologized because we'd gone a little bit long in the other poses and had to have a shortened eight minute shavasana instead of the regular ten to twelve minutes she usually allotted. All I could think was Thank God.

I went back for my second class and pretty much had the same experience. But over the next month, as I learned more about yoga and about the tenets of yoga practice, I began to experience the true beauty of shavasana. By freeing your mind and body of all the craziness of your everyday life, for a few precious minutes, you can actually achieve inner peace.

Of course, that peace won't necessarily last for long. But over time, you can train yourself to find it anytime and anywhere. There are so many things in our life that are out of our hands. We're just along for the ride. But in this one area, we have complete control.

And it feels amazing.

So in this new year, I'm wishing for you happiness, good health and a generous dose of inner peace.

Love, Lisa 

ps. If you are interested in reading more about inner peace, try this wonderful book by the Dalai Lama. How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Peace in the Kingdom

L.G.C. Smith

Idiosyncratic as it may be, I spend a lot of time imagining life in early seventh century Britain. The heroes who inspired my “Kings of the North” series lived and died then, as did the Anglo-Saxon saint from whose name comes the place name that is my family name.

I have ridiculous fantasies of getting another PhD, this one in early medieval British landscape history, just because I love pondering the little scraps of information left by material culture, works of poetry and history, place names, field systems, church records, parish boundaries, architecture, archeology and whatnot. Then I make up more stories based on what I learn instead of writing journal articles, so I really I don’t need another degree to do that. But I keep reading Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. And a lot of other stuff besides.

My thoughts are much on King Edwin of Northumbria these days, as his book is up next. Bede has a great deal to say about Edwin because he was the first Northumbrian king to convert to Christianity. Edwin looms large by virtue of having established some measure of sovereignty over a good bit of what is today England (along with a fair portion of Scotland) and having led the charge for Christ in Northumbria.

It would be, I think, a mistake to view Edwin as any sort of modern-day evangelist. For one thing, Bede tells of him taking a very long time to decide to convert from whatever native pagan tradition he was raised in. In his darkest hour, when his greatest enemy (Æthelfrith, the hero of the first book in my series, Warlord) stood poised to annihilate him, Edwin received a mysterious visit from a stranger who exacted the promise that if there were someone who could save him from betrayal and death, Edwin would offer his allegiance to that lord. Of course this turned out to be The Lord, the Big Guy himself. And even though Edwin was saved, he didn’t immediately attribute that salvation to God. It took some time and another prophesied sign to get him on that path.

Even then, Edwin had to confer with his advisors. Bede would have it that Edwin’s chief priest decided there was no tangible benefit in the old religion. It wasn’t winning them any battles or loot. Therefore, practically speaking, it made sense to jump ship. Then Bede relates his famous ‘sparrow in the hall’ homily, likening the moment of a sparrow’s flight in one window and out another to a man’s awareness of his mortal life. It is but a flash of a much wider reality that is don’t necessarily perceived. Edwin listened to both the pragmatic and the metaphysical arguments.

The final argument, however, sounded all too much like certain hawkish fundies. In the old religion, priests were forbidden arms. So the high priest insisted on being the first to hie himself up on the king’s stallion, grab a sword, cut down the old idols and burn the temple. Bede seems to feel this was noble behavior. I notice that it wasn’t Edwin who did it. He didn’t stop it. But he didn’t do it himself.

Eventually Edwin committed to conversion, was baptized, founded churches and dedicated his daughter to the service of the Church, but my sense is that he did it for political reasons as much as anything personal. Bede’s most glowing praise of Edwin stands out through the many centuries since his life: It was related that there was so great a peace in Britain, wherever the dominion of King Edwin reached, that, as the proverb still runs, a woman with a newborn child could walk throughout the island from sea to sea and take no harm. (Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the British People, Oxford World’s Classics, 1999, OUP, p. 100)

For all that he was a warrior who rode into battle at the head of his army, sword at the ready, Edwin appears to have cared for more than victory and conquest. A peaceable kingdom was no mean accomplishment if word of it survived a hundred years past Edwin’s reign and into Bede’s lifetime. In an age of warrior kings and saints, this detail offers a glimpse into what peace meant in the early seventh century.

It is entirely speculation, but I suspect that Edwin made his choice to convert to Christianity for reasons in which personal faith may have been only a small part. In light of the orderly peace Bede describes, Edwin likely saw Christianity as a means to bring together the disparate peoples of his time. The more numerous British were already Christian and had been from late Roman times. The less numerous Anglo-Saxons were not, aside from the odd king, but as they gained political power, their kings may have seen advantages to be had in adopting the religion of the majority of the population.

They did so in a fractious fashion pitting the authority of the Roman Church against that of the Celtic Church, but behind both iterations of the faith lay similar teachings about the relations between mankind and God. Those could be drawn upon to order the relationships between men and women in communities where the lines of power and authority were shifting. The Good News offered functional templates for everyday life wherein all lives mattered and were worth preserving. The choice of the sparrow in Edwin’s hall is no accident of rhetoric. It highlights the teaching of Matthew (10:29-31) that claims that God knows if a single sparrow falls to earth. If such small creatures have worth and value to God then so should people understand that the worth of a human life is great, as well. This lesson was vital to establishing peace in Edwin’s kingdom.

Life in early seventh century Britain was dicey. Peace was hard to come by. I think Edwin saw a better chance for it under Christianity. I also think history records that he was a charismatic leader, probably more beloved than he was feared. Yet Edwin’s peace did not last long. He ruled Northumbria for seventeen years, and his death ushered in another short period of chaos and conflict that showed how tenuous his peace truly was. But it lived large in the memory of his kingdom and remains a part of the dynamic history of the North.

My New Year begins with thinking about King Edwin and the peace he wrought. By year’s end, I hope to have cast him into war again, and learned what a peacemaking old warrior might do with modern conflicts.

PS: In other news, Staindrop has been renamed Master of My Surrender. Apparently men tend to hear 'Staindrop' and think “Monica Lewinsky” and “dress.” To those of you who went there, all I can say is that yes, I was aware of the connotation, but most women did not go there. They really didn’t. However, I can only take so much adolescent snickers, and in the world of ebooks, it’s an easy fix. To those of you who’ve bought it, thank you very much, and please beware this is the same book you already have.