Monday, May 26, 2008

Words of Inspiration

No. 1 son graduated from college this Memorial Day weekend. Given that his parents are writers, he was not surprised to receive personal letters commemorating the occasion. I struggled to find the perfect phrasing to inspire him as he stands on the threshold of his future. Then a fellow writer posted a quote in honor of Memorial Day. Although Oliver Wendell Holmes was talking about war during his 1884 address in Keene, NH, his words of inspiration could pertain to many life challenges -- whether it be charting a future course, battling an illness, espousing a cause or even being a writer.

"To act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory."

Many of us use quotes and sayings to motivate and comfort us. The three near my computer read: “Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars; “Do the Unexpected” and finally, “Don’t mess with Texas women.” (The latter applies to ex-temporary Texans, too.)

But I wish we’d known about the Holmes quote before we composed the letter to be opened by No. 2 son at his high school “senior retreat” last week. Instead of the lofty words of Holmes, our younger son got parental pride in his accomplishments and hopes for his college career. Although heartfelt, I doubt our words of wisdom will ever be part of any prestigious speech, quoted in a great book or even printed on a coffee cup. Nonetheless, I do hope he takes to heart our concluding message: “We love you -- Don’t screw up.”

What words inspire you?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Blueberry Murder

I’ve worn glasses ever since my family complained that two tablespoons of chili powder should not be confused with two teaspoons. But until this month, I didn’t need them to pass the Department of Motor Vehicles eye test.

My new license restriction is an official acknowledgement that like most people over 45, my eyesight is deteriorating. My optometrist also claims everyone eventually develops cataracts if they live long enough. And the good news is….?

Fortunately, there are some great “reading industry” developments for aging eyes. The new HarperLuxe line of books, for example, features easier-to-read 14-point type (as opposed to the normal 11-point). They look like normal paperbacks so you don’t have to lug around a 16-point LARGE TYPE hardcover announcing weak eyesight, which appeals to the vain, aging Baby Boomers among us.

The Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle handheld digital book devices (which enable you to download books for a fee) also offer the option to enlarge word size.

Products like these make it easier for people to keep reading books (important to writers like me) and also to deal with the reality of failing eyesight. Though for most of us, it still takes something like my cooking disaster before we’ll admit it. For my aunt, it came the day she thwacked the fly swatter on the kitchen table only to have my uncle announce: “MaryAnn, you just killed a blueberry.”

That story always makes me laugh. But now I truly understand why she murdered a blueberry. Do you have a similar "crime" to confess?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cozies and Geezers

Having witnessed how using “cozy” to describe a traditional whodunit can spark controversy in the mystery world, I’m a bit apprehensive about possible reactions to my “geezer lit” article in this month’s AARP Bulletin. In it, I attempt to describe an emerging trend in crime fiction, which already differentiates between thrillers, suspense, police procedurals, hard-boiled, noir, and yes, “cozies”--
traditional/classic mysteries.

With AARP’s tabloid newspaper delivered to a whopping 22 million households with someone 50 or older, I hope none of them find “geezer” insulting. I don’t want to be the target of a massive “Seniors Aren’t Geezers” campaign. I’ve already seen how upset people get over “cozy.”

That controversy, by the way, centers on how best to describe mysteries in the style of Agatha Christie or “Murder She Wrote”: likable, amateur sleuths solving crimes with no graphic violence that occur in small towns or villages and are unraveled without profanity or explicit sex. Some believe “cozy” diminishes what is actually a traditional, or classic, form of mysteries. Many authors in this genre are female so maybe it smacks a bit of sexism, too.

Personally, I don’t think murder can ever be “cozy.” But I do see how the term generates a certain image, like a tea cozy, just as “geezer” hopefully brings to mind senior sleuths.

Nonetheless, there are some who’d prefer to avoid a “geezer lit” label, such as “Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries” author Cynthia Riggs. She says the age of her main character, 92-year-old Victoria Trumbull, “is only one aspect of her character, necessary only because she has certain limitations or prejudices she must overcome, including rampant ageism.”

Ageism, for those who haven’t experienced it, is “the tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment.” I hope everyone can agree there’s nothing “cozy” about that.

*AARP Bulletin hasn’t posted the small article on Page 6 online yet so here it is:
The graying of America is spreading fast to mystery bookshelves. A genre some have dubbed “geezer lit” featuring crime-solving protagonists age 70-plus is growing in popularity. While publishers have not released sales figures, more and more mystery titles are popping up starring older characters. In Retirement Homes are Murder by Mike Befeler, an octogenarian sleuth suffers from short-term memory loss. Among other novelists contributing recent titles are Cynthia Riggs (Shooting Star), Parnell Hall (The Soduku Puzzle Murders) and Rita Lakin (Getting Old Is to Die For). “We’ve just scratched the surface on so-called geezer lit,” observes best-selling thriller author Harlan Coben, president of the Mystery Writers of America. “It could be the next big frontier in crime fiction.” – Pat Remick"
Here are some links to other mystery authors writing about senior sleuths:,,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Mother's Day cautionary tale, or what I've learned through humiliation

My children are still at an age when I can embarrass them simply by breathing and being on the same planet.

This makes existence difficult. It also confuses me. How could my precious progeny possibly be embarrassed by someone as cool as me?

I will confess that embarrassment may have been a contributing factor to my “coolness.” Let's just say I’ve learned a lot through humiliation.

For example: Never joke with a lost astronaut.

I discovered this after losing my way for hours while driving a Space Shuttle Commander from the Dallas airport to a speaking engagement in Oklahoma. Even small talk became painful. The silence was deafening. So I asked: “Don’t you think it’s funny that you could find way your way into space and back but now we’re lost in Oklahoma?” He didn’t.

I’ve also learned that you should never insist upon bringing food to a social event after the hostess has politely rejected your offer to contribute. It’s surprising how out of place a homemade Waldorf Salad looks alongside a gourmet catered feast at a future NFL Commissioner’s home.

I learned the hard way that planning ahead is important. But I’ve also learned to be careful who you blame when the plans don’t work out.

This valuable lesson came one Mother’s Day when I berated a restaurant hostess for losing our reservation for 17. We were eventually seated and enjoyed a lovely meal. Still slightly miffed, I returned home to a message on the answering machine from another restaurant where I actually made a reservation. They were holding a very large table for us. I hope they’ve let someone else sit there by now.

Speaking of memorable dining experiences, I could never forget the shocked looks from my son and his 4th-grade classmates when I pulled a beer out of my lunch bag instead of the cream soda I thought I packed to chaperone their field trip to the NH Statehouse. I learned this can be a good indication that it's time for a vision check.

Asking a fellow football parent years later if we would be having sex in a bowl taught me it’s safer to 1) never speak to another parent but if you must, 2) don’t repeat any phrase learned from your children.

I cannot accurately describe the reaction from this rather shy and very religious man. Finally he stuttered: “Excuse me?”

“I asked if we were going to have sex in a bowl next week,” I continued cheerfully.
His face darkened. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sex in a bowl? That dessert you and your wife always bring to the dinners the night before the football games?”

“I call it Heavenly Delight,” he said as he walked away in a huff. I was so mortified that I couldn't stop giggling.

My oldest son initially was upset that I had revealed his team’s secret name for the dessert. But now both my boys deliver exaggerated renditions of the tale as often as possible. No doubt they will experience their own “heavenly delight” in retelling this story at my funeral.

I don’t mind. After all, I am a cool Mom.

I just hope they don’t embarrass themselves in the process....

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Blog Launched

It seems like everyone has something to say these days..... Me, too!
So here I go into cyberspace -- where hopefully someone will pay more attention than my husband and children do!