Thursday, May 24, 2007

Short and sweet... just like boric acid snack cakes

Just a quick one tonight... promise to respond to your comments tomorrow (and Melissa, I got yours via e-mail).

I made up some condensed-milk-boric-acid snack cakes, John, and distributed them for the six-legged population's enjoyment. I'll let you know how it goes; thanks for the tip!

And some good news today. Charlotte, my editor at Ballantine, is 100 pages from the end of the revisions I sent her and says they're great, and that the book will be ready to go into production next week.


And, for those of you who are interested, I just did a quickie (post, that is) over at Cozy Chicks on the merits of partial chaos.

Ciao for now... dead tired... hope all is well with you!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I was standing in the kitchen five minutes ago, fixing myself an artichoke heart and tomato salad (not particularly tasty, but filling), when the motion sensor light on the back porch went on.

And do you know what set it off?

A gigantic tree roach.

That's right. It was big enough to TRIP THE MOTION SENSOR.

I will be calling Aztec Organic Pest Control tomorrow.


Bureaucracy strikes again

So, I did my annual pilgrimage to the Travis County Appraisal District today, to contest the appraised value of my house. Usually, it's not a big deal; I spent a year reviewing appraisals for a living, and for the last eight years, I've come out with a reduction in my appraised value.

Not today, however.

The woman I dealt with today informed me that the appraised value was based on the average appraised value in my district. When I suggested that the appraised value was supposed to represent how much money I could actually get for my house, and that my appraised value seemed rather higher than the comparable sales in my neighborhood, she informed me that no, the appraised value was actually based on average appraised values in my neighborhood. Which evidently exist in some alternate universe in which a house's actual market value is not at all a factor.

Still, I insisted (silly me) on using sales prices as a gauge of value. And when I pointed out that on paper, my house was exactly the same as others that had sold at a rather lower price per square foot, she informed me that there had been an 'adjustment.'

"For what?" I asked.

She peered at her computer for a moment, pulled out a piece of paper, and said, "Your house is an L-shape. The others are squares. That's what the (multi-thousand-dollar) adjustment is for."

When I (perhaps a bit heatedly) suggested that most buyers wouldn't give a rat's a** whether the house was square or L-shaped, she remained unmoved.

Needless to say, I'll be taking this up with the board next week.


Anyone else brave the tax board?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Do you remember catching fireflies in Mason jars, and having magic lanterns in your bedroom at night? I do -- particularly at my grandmother's house in Pennsylvania. We'd catch a whole jar of them, sit down in the kitchen and have root beer floats, then let them out again just before we tucked ourselves in to sleep.

There aren't so many of the little bugs down here, but the magic is the same. After dinner tonight, the kids and I had an enchanted evening racing up and down the street, following the little flashing bugs -- like traveling stars -- through front yards. I love watching my daughter, hands extended like she's about to pray, wandering through the grass, transfixed by the tiny green flashes. And the excitement when she catches one -- you can see the glow through her fingers.

Magical moments.

And speaking of magical moments, I had one today, when I sent my edits off to my editor. I then spent the next three hours looking through the first 50K of the second book -- and getting excited about it all over again.

So all is right with the world, at least in my corner of Austin.

How are you?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Whew. And my next murder victim!

Well, it's been a flurry of a week, and I've heard from several of you that you are unable to post comments. I'm hoping that it's just a blip, since Blogger Help is less than easy to deal with; if it continues, please let me know, and I will brave the help people.

At any rate, this week has been very, very busy. I went to a marvelous book group (Mad About Mysteries) Tuesday, taught my mystery class Wednesday through Friday, and gave a brief talk at the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers event today. I also officially received the first SAGE award, which is lovely, and of which yet another photo is languishing in my camera.

Must get iPhoto installed.

So I had a lovely afternoon at Barnes and Noble, talking with lots of friendly writers about the wonderful supportive spirit of mentoring. And after consuming a giant Caesar salad and a few dozen sugar cookies that Sara Ann kindly brought to the party, I went home and changed into sneakers. And then, at my husband's urging, I engaged in a soccer scrimmage for the first time since I was about nine.

Unfortunately, the other players have evidently done a bit more work on their soccer skills in the intervening years, so it was not exactly a confidence-boosting experience, despite my kind husband's insistence that I didn't do nearly as abysmally as he had expected.

On the bright side of things, I DID meet my next murder victim. (Fictional, of course. The murder will be, that is. Literary wish fulfillment, you could call it.)

Her name is... well, let's just call her Madge. (Short for Middle-Aged Dreadful Gorgon. Which would actually flow better as Dreadful Middle-Aged Gorgon, but the acronym wouldn't work.) Anyway, Madge has very definite ideas about who should and should not be allowed to play in lower-division co-ed recreational old-people's soccer. And -- you may have guessed this already -- in her (abundantly, vociferously, frequently expressed) opinion, I fall into the latter category.

I'm not saying I disagree with her. But she was so rude -- and I mean jaw-droppingly rude -- that after the initial shock wore off, my first impulse was, well, less than charitable.

Which is really not like me.

So I figure I'll keep showing up, if for no other reason to annoy her. And to pick up additional character quirks to incorporate into my next novel. If nothing else, I can always spend my time on the sidelines watching the kids and trying to figure out what to use as a murder weapon.

Heck, I may even spring for some cleats... and not just because Madge told me approximately 25 times that it was preposterous of me to even step out on the field without them, even though I wasn't the only one. (When I told her that my thought was to try the whole soccer thing out before dropping $20 or more on shoes I might never wear again, she sniffed and said I should have gone to Goodwill and bought smelly used ones. Again, kudos to me for exercising considerable self-restraint.)

But enough about Madge for now, although I'm sure I'll have more to say on that topic next week. Writing. I'm here to talk about writing, aren't I? And on that score, I am proud to announce that I am finally done with the rewrite, save for one steamy scene, and after rereading all 420 pages of my magnum opus tomorrow, I will send it off and resume work on the second book. Incidentally, last Friday, at Starbucks, I finished a scene, looked around at my compatriots, and said, "I don't know how your days are going, but I've had two orgasms in the last hour!"

Can you say awkward silence? :)

And even though writing steamy scenes is not my favorite activity (in the margin of every one, my editor wrote, "More detail would be fun"), it's getting to be easier. Particularly if you add a bit of humor in there. I doubt, however, that I will ever be in the same league as the erotic sci-fi writer I met at Romantic Times, whose aliens are blessed with... well, let's just say multiple endowments.

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

But enough about me. How are you?

And do you have any soccer tips for me? :)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thanks for bearing with me

Hi, guys!

I know I've been a bit more sporadic than usual this past week or two, but this is the busiest time of the year for me; I've got events four out of five nights this week, had two last weekend and one planned for this Sunday, and on top of that, I've been plowing through that edit and trying to manage all the end-of-school stuff.

But I am still here, and just finished my post (My Not So Secret Vices) today on Cozy Chicks. For those of you who know me and have read the Gray Whale Inn books, it will not come as a surprise that my primary not-so-secret vice is food, but there you have it.

I'm off to prepare for tonight's class, read your fabulous comments, and see how many e-mails I've missed over the past week.

On the plus side, although I still have to... er... beef up two love scenes, my edit is pretty much done, and I can move on to new things. You know it's long when your word processor can't even post the word count at the bottom of the page anymore (I topped 100K the other day).


How are you?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Summer "Vacation" bearing down on me like a freight train.

Is it just me? Where did the school year go? How the heck did it get to be May?

And whose brilliant idea was it to jam an entire year’s worth of activities into one month, then follow it with a desert of three school-less months where everything is closed?

I can’t be the only one walking around looking like a deer in the headlights at this time of year. Even WITH the twenty (rather expensive, alas) summer camps I signed the kids up for.

I have two children, which always used to seem manageable, if not exactly a walk in the park. But I’ve discovered that if you’re not hypervigilant, the activities kind of creep in there (basketweaving on Thursdays? Sure, honey!), and combined with school plays, doctor and dentist visits, and school events, all of a sudden you’re having to block out seventeen minutes to sit down and have dinner. Which you’ve bought pre-prepared, because who has time to cook?

Of course, all that will end in about three weeks. After which my children will be hanging off of me like ripe fruit. (Only more active, and vocal.)

So after nine months of ferrying children to mind-enriching activities and creating impromptu Abigail Adams caps out of cheesecloth and twine, I’ll be fending off requests to create to-scale replicas of the Taj Mahal in mixed media (drinking straws, egg cartons, and permanent marker, most of which will end up on my couches).

What are your summer plans?

Do they involve rum?

And if so, do you have a mojito recipe you’d like to share? ;)

(No more pink wine for me, thank you very much. At least not tonight...)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

How did I get here?

Did you ever have one of those days when you wondered exactly how you ended up where you are?

As you may have guessed, I'm having one right now. It's probably because after I had my critique group last night, I headed over to Waterloo Records and picked up a CD I haven't listened to in about 12 years. But I popped it into my minivan's CD player (we had to replace the left front speaker recently, and it looks like the front right speaker is going to have to be replaced, too) and was suddenly transported back to another time.

A less complicated time.

A time when, to be honest, I would have welcomed more complications.

I was thinking about it this evening; right now, I'd like a life that's relatively uncluttered, with lots of time for reflection -- and, of course, for writing. And dream-following, of course; we only have one life, and it's up to us to make the most of it.

But between the school plays and the kids' health problems (yes, there are more now -- not major ones, but issues that require further consultations, time commitments and worry) and the laundry and the bills and the editing deadlines and the oil changes I haven't done yet (speaking of which, my inspection sticker expired in February and I still haven't done anything about it), some days I wonder exactly how I got here.

And how I can get to Tahiti from here.

Which brings something else to mind. Several years ago, I moved to a beautiful 1860s Victorian house in Bethel, Connecticut. It was like something out of a fairy tale; my room was a beautiful pale peach, with antique hardwood floors. It also had a lovely balcony overlooking a grove of tall, tall trees; in June, it seemed like heaven on earth. I recall looking forward to a proper snowy Christmas, and vividly remember one December night, looking out my mullioned window at fat flakes of snow as they swirled down from the gray-black sky. It was beautiful -- I half-expected snow fairies to pop out of the trees and perform a little pas-de-deux.

By February, however, the beautiful windows were covered with plastic and blankets (the house had no insulation, and the temperature never topped 50 degrees) and I was sending letters to the Chamber of Commerce in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (In my defense, I'd spent over a decade in Texas and didn't own proper boots, much less a coat, so I was hardly prepared. As I recall, I spent most of that winter in the bathroom, reading about Arizona -- with a space heater and a hot bath.)

But I digress. The point is, there are those of us who are destined to be content, I think.

And then there are people like me, who are always scanning the horizon, looking for what's next.

And this entire post just goes to show why I should NEVER post after imbibing two glasses of pink wine. Because I get totally maudlin.

Okay. Enough navel-gazing. (And -- obviously -- enough pink wine.) I'm off to start chivvying children to bed. Oh, and writing? I'm in edit mode, on page 250 of a 400 (400!) page manuscript, and working at a rate of 30 pages per day. Hope to be done by this time next week, at which point I'll try to remember where I was on the other manuscript when I switched gears.

How are you? Any exciting news? Any fun trips to destinations that you can tell me about? (These days, it's all about vicarious travel...)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Roast beef, yogurt, bananas... and arias?

Between editing and picking up my son this afternoon, I made a quick stop at the grocery store, where I picked up some cold cuts, some yogurt, a few tomatoes... and an impromptu singing lesson.

I was subsequently serenaded in three languages. In the parking lot. While I put my groceries into the back of the minivan.

You see, for some reason, while I was paying for my groceries, the man bagging them (his name is Jud) asked if I was a singer. (Why, I have no idea -- my speaking voice is less than mellifluous, to my ears, anyway.) When I told him I only sang in the car, and that my children usually asked me to stop before I hit the third note, he launched into a mini-workshop on how to sing (I vaguely remember something about using the diaphragm to push the lungs up, relaxing the throat, letting the mouth open, and not singing from the throat, but there was much, much more, and I've lost it already)...

Jud didn't ask me if I needed to be accompanied on the way to my car, he just provided it -- both corporeally and musically. As we walked across the parking lot, he told me all about the difference between singing in Czech and Italian (Italian is, evidently, all about the vowels, making it easy to sing beautifully, whereas Czech, like German and English, involves clenching the jaw).

When we got to the minivan, I started loading the bags while the demonstrations began. Jud didn't hold back at all; as we stood there in the parking lot, unloading groceries, he took a deep breath and belted out a few arias, trying to show me the difference between the sounds. I'm sure we got some odd looks, but I didn't care a whit. I was happy to be an audience, even if only for a few minutes; it was wonderful to hear someone so excited about something. And so anxious to share it.

As I got the last bag into the van and closed the hatch, Jud concluded his al fresco performance with a lovely little Italian aria. He then informed me that Luisa Tetrazzini had written a singing instruction book with Caruso, and that it was available on the third floor of the main library branch downtown. And that I should get it immediately before someone else snapped it up.

I thanked him, of course, and then we went our separate ways -- both smiling.

Truth be told, even though I have no plans to further my musical training at this time (or, quite frankly, ever), it was just a delightful experience, and I look forward to my next grocery run.

Because who knows? I might just get to hear some Chinese!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Malice, marshmallow fluff, and eyebrows

I just got back from the banquet (and post-banquet drinks), and I had a great time. Lots of fun authors and fans! And a good dinner, even if the chocolate mousse cake tasted disappointingly like brown marshmallow fluff.

And for those of you have been wondering about the Agathas, alas, the esteemed teapot didn't go home with me. It did, however, go home with Sandra Parshall, who is a lovely woman -- and, from everything I've heard, wrote a great book (it's called Heat of the Moon).

I got to hang out with a TON of authors and readers, though, and took even more photos I haven't downloaded yet. When I finally do get around to posting them all, it's going to be one picture-riffic post.

Oh -- and I've been saving up little tidbits the last few days -- have to share them.

First, when I complimented a woman in the Austin airport on her perfume, she informed me it was "CK Ethiopia."

To which I said: "Ethiopia? Do you mean Utopia?" (Easy to confuse, I know.)

Her response? "Yeah, that's it. Oh, and there's another good one. It's called Juicy Contour." (Correct me if I'm wrong -- I am not an aficionado of these things -- but isn't it "Juicy Couture?")

She was so nice, and the things coming out of her mouth were so fun, I just wanted to keep her talking (in part to see what other perfume names she could come up with), but alas, we were cruelly separated by the airline security lines.

My next unique discovery was a ladies' room in the DFW airport that smells EXACTLY like a donut shop. Weird.

And my last little tidbit came from the massive horde of highschool kids on the plane. One of the rather loud, blonde girls in the seats in front of mine shouted across the aisle to a friend (in a very urgent tone): "Brittany. You HAVE to come over here. We're discussing eyebrows!"

Another not-to-be-missed conversation, I'm sure. And it was doubtless documented by the twelve digital cameras they had with them, all of which probably exhausted their memory and battery life before we crossed over Tennessee. (We were headed to D.C.) I'm afraid the only pictorial memories of their big trip will involve the blue seatbacks of a 747 and a lot of braces.

Well, it's past midnight here, and I have to be up in six hours for the Sisters in Crime breakfast, but I just wanted to check in and say hi.

Toodles! More soon, I promise...

Thursday, May 03, 2007


So my camera is filling up with photos left and right. Have I downloaded any of them? Of course not.

And am I going to do that right now?

No. I'm going to go to bed. Because I have to get up at FIVE (yes, that's five A.M.) to go to the airport.

For Malice Domestic!

Where I will take several more pictures that hopefully will not languish on my camera for too, too long.

Anyway, when I get back (or if I have Internet access and a few free minutes in D.C.), I'll tell you all about my Georgetown engagement (holy smoke), all the great authors I met at Malice, who won the Agathas, and whether or not I streaked down King Street in Alexandria after the banquet.

Ha, ha, ha. Just kidding. Hopefully.

BUT, speaking of Alexandria, I was talking with a friend of mine at Starbucks today, and it turns out that we both used to go to the Union Street Pub in Old Town for dinner most nights of the week... 13 years ago. He sat in a booth, I sat at the bar, so we never met.

Isn't that strange?

Writingwise, I've added about 5K words to my first manuscript, all in the name of editing; at this rate, the darned thing will be 150K long.

Plan to do more on the plane tomorrow. But for now, must sleep.

When I return, things should (please, God, please) settle down for a few weeks, and I'll be able to post more regularly. But in the meantime, how are you? Inquiring minds want to know...