Monday, March 30, 2009

"Who knew there were so many centers of the universe?”

When I read that phrase, I could think of dozens of situations where it's applicable.

For example: Consider my recent unexpected encounter with a neighbor. When I asked about his children, I was treated to a long list of their achievements delivered with a very self-satisfied, almost smug, look. Did he inquire once about mine, or me? Nope. Apparently his universe is more interesting than mine.

Last week I attended a writers’ social function where I hardly knew anyone. I did my best to introduce myself to as many people as possible and inquire about their writing. Then I asked questions to learn more. Can you guess how many were interested in my writing life? I can count them on three fingers.

It makes me wonder: Were these people simply centers of their own universes, or was I not assertive enough about sharing mine?

For example: Have you ever had conversations with people who were convinced their children are the smartest, or most athletic, or funniest progeny ever? It’s nice that they’re so proud of their kids, though I do have to wonder: isn’t anyone average anymore? I guess the normal folks live in other universes. Anyway, after listening attentively to these people talk about how wonderful their children are, it pains me to realize how few inquire about my (exceptionally wonderful) kids.

Or have you ever asked someone what they do for a living or for fun, or why they are attending a specific event (which are all supposed to be good conversation starters, right?) but they don't ask about you?

This one-sided conversation thing really irritates me sometimes. I confess that I've gone to social events and intentionally not shared any information about my life or my children to see how much time passes before anyone asks. There have been occasions when I’ve come home without one person inquiring, although I did learn a lot about their lives. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hearing about what’s going on in their worlds. I truly do. In fact, my interest in people is one reason I became a journalist. It also may be why I’m so sensitive to the fact that sometimes when I “interview” others, they don’t interview me back.

Do these sort of one-sided conversations ever happen to you? Could it be that some people just don't care much about other universes? Does it ever make you wonder: "Is there's something about me that screams boring"? Instead of following the advice that "nobody likes a braggart," perhaps we're failing to hold up our ends of the conversation by not interjecting tidbits about our lives. It's possible that I might have misplaced the etiquette book on conversation. Maybe people figure that if a person has something of interest to share, he or she will jump in without being asked – as we often do with close friends and family.

Or maybe there are just too many universes out there. What do you think?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Motherhood Crazy

A new television show called “In the Motherhood” debuts this week. It’s supposed to be based on true stories from real mothers. In fact, the program is looking for moms to share stories that could be “inspiration” for an episode. The show is a comedy, so I doubt they want sweet, touching tales.

If they choose a story, the contributor is thanked on the air. In other words, they’ll make sure everyone in America knows your past includes an incident worthy of a laugh track.

My life sometimes feels like a sitcom – but without the couple hundred thousand dollars per episode it deserves. So I’ve been thinking about whether I have any parenting stories worthy of a humorous TV show. I’ve already acknowledged how easy it is to embarrass my kids. But am I ready to embarrass myself on national television?

For example, would anyone else think it was funny that I rushed a child to the doctor, convinced he had chicken pox only to learn it was heat rash? Or would they laugh over the time my 4-year-old marched into his father’s home office to say goodbye before preschool and I yelled after him: “Are you wearing underwear today?” Of course, neither of us realized his father was conducting a telephone interview at the time. The woman at the other end of the telephone line stopped in midsentence and quickly ended the call. You can imagine how relieved I was when my son grew out of his “commando” phase.

I also wonder if “In the Motherhood” will accept stories from mothers who admit that at one time or another, exhaustion and the pressures of motherhood temporarily turned them into crazy women. These are the stories that will never be part of any “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book, but all moms have been there to one degree or another. It’s a good thing children are fairly resilient. Most seem to survive these moments of mom madness without years of therapy.

My moment of mom insanity involved a trip to an Ames Department Store with a colicky, crying baby in the carriage and a whining 5-year-old who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer to his repeated requests for yet another truck. To this day, I’m surprised no one called the authorities when I finally yelled, “If I’m such a bad mom, why don’t you just stand in front of the store until you can find a better one?” Both children were so stunned they stopped crying. I stomped into the parking lot with the baby in my arms. Once the 5-year-old recovered from the shock, he came running after us and all was soon forgiven. Years later, he’s not too fond of department stores. I just hope he never remembers why. Of course, I’ve never forgotten the look on Husband No. 1’s face when he asked about our trip to the store and I told him I tried to leave one of our children there. No wonder he took over the shopping for a while.

Did you or someone you know ever have a crazy mom moment? What stories would you be willing to share with the program’s producers at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A week of mystery

Last week I attended my first book event in a bar, learned from experts from the Boston Police Department ballistics lab how to make a gun and bullets nearly untraceable, and found out my award-winning mystery short story "Mercy 101" will be read aloud over the radio waves and available as a "podcast."

I wish every week had this much mystery in it.

The book reading and signing in a bar was a novel experience, literally. It's part of a new series launched by my local independent bookstore, RiverRun, and it brought Jedediah Berry to town to read from his unusual book, "The Manual of Detection," which the Boston Globe has described as "surreal, absurd and cerebral." The intimate Red Door lounge/martini bar, which was otherwise empty on a Tuesday night, offered drinks with names related to the book, while music appropriate to the novel played in the background. After the reading, there was a musical interlude so the small audience could chat over drinks with Berry and submit questions to be posed later, with prizes awarded for the top entries.

The next night Husband No. 1 and I headed to Brookline, Mass., for a Mystery Writers of New England meeting featuring two experts from the Boston PD Ballistics Lab. Here are just a few of the interesting things we learned:

  • The best way to make it difficult, if not impossible, to trace a bullet is to hide the corpse for a while -- the markings on the bullet continue to fade the longer it's in the body;
  • It costs about $400 to buy any type of illegal gun on the streets of Boston; and
  • More revolvers are used in Boston than any city other than Las Vegas because of so many small manufacturers in the area over the years.
  • (I can't say anymore about how to make a gun untraceable because 1) I don't want to give you ideas and 2) I want to surprise you with the information in my story or book.)

Meanwhile, "Mercy 101" is scheduled to be read aloud Tuesday on a radio program called Lit103.3, "fiction for the ears," in Northampton, Mass., but it also is available anytime on the web site in podcast form or can be heard online by pushing the black arrow that comes up on this page. Although the program is about an hour long, the intro and story, itself, only last about 35 minutes. I couldn't wait to hear how the story, which won the 2007 award for best New England crime short story, sounded when someone else read it aloud. "Mercy 101" and its characters have been inside my head for so long that it was odd, but wonderful, to hear it in someone else's voice. This is my first podcast. Can Hollywood be far behind?

One can only hope....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Random Rants & Reading

My local newspaper had a story last week about a guy who demanded his ring back. The ex-girlfriend refused. They argued. She punched him (twice), leaving the imprint of the ring on his face. Now she’s charged with assault.

I have to ask: who really commited a crime here? If the responding officer or the prosecutor had been female, maybe they’d have hauled the GUY's ass off to jail for refusing to take “no” for an answer. Demanding that a gift be returned is just bad manners. Women know this. I wish the newspaper would identify the guy in case anyone wanted to send a “Happy International Women’s Day to you, buddy” greeting like his ex-girlfriend did. What a waste of tax dollars, huh? If you want to read the update on what happened in court, click here.

Rant No. 2
Do you think stores, restaurants and oil companies have been ripping us off big time? All of a sudden they’re offering incentives and discounts to get us to spend money – and they’re still making a profit. Every time I pump gas into my car, I get mad when I remember paying $3.80 a gallon (and that Exxon Mobil made its largest profit in history last year).

Last week I bought a pair of brand-new, Land’s End all-weather $39.50 shoes for just $2.49. This is NOT a typo. Sears was selling them for $24.99, then put them on a 50 percent off sale (even though we still have enough snow that they're not officially past season), and if I signed up for the Sears 22.15 percent interest (!) credit card, they’d knock off another $10. I did, and paid off the $2.49 right there. Someone still made a profit on those shoes. When you see discounts like that on apparel, don't you wonder: Just HOW BIG was that markup? Have you gotten any great deals like that lately?

No Rant, Just Reading
Instead of continuing to rant, I thought I'd close by offering two great reading opportunities:
An interesting blog for food & household-related hints, including how to successfully store strawberries for days on end, (and written by a mystery writer) is

Below are the links for five mystery short stories nominated for this year’s “Agatha Awards” given in honor of the incomparable Agatha Christie. I’m proud to say my latest published story “Circulation” was submitted for consideration, although it didn’t make the final five. The finalists and the winners are chosen by the people who will be attending the mystery fan and writers’ conference “Malice Domestic” in May. Take a look. The stories are listed alphabetically by author. Tell me which one you think should win and I’ll let you know if the Malice folks agreed.

"The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe (Penguin Group)

"Killing Time" by Jane Cleland, Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine - November 2008

"Dangerous Crossing" by Carla Coupe, Chesapeake Crimes 3 (Wildside Press)

"Skull and Cross-Examinations" by Toni L.P. Kelner, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - February 2008

"A Nice Old Guy" by Nancy Pickard, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2008

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ready to celebrate?

It’s March and it’s time to celebrate. I’m not talking about St. Patrick’s Day. This is Women’s History Month and next Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day.

This, my female friends, is a major holiday in several countries, including China, Russia, Macedonia and Vietnam. I’m talking gifts and flowers. I'm thinking we need to get that March gift-giving thing going here. With 4.8 million more women then men in America, majority should rule.

Even though Hallmark hasn’t caught on yet, we could still “strongly suggest” that all males honor us next Sunday. Celebrate "IWD" by being pampered/worshipped, maybe curling up with a good book (by a female author), and taking a break from work, cooking, cleaning, etc. Instead of green beer, think a nice chardonnay or latte. Gifts and flowers would be nice, too. So if a male asks you do something next Sunday, just reply (indignantly): "Did you forget what day it is???"

The History Lesson
International Women’s Day had its roots in a March 8, 1857, protest over the working conditions in New York’s garment factories. Police attacked the women and forced them to disperse. Symbolically, 15,000 women marched through New York on March 8, 1908, to demand shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labor. Their slogan was "Bread and Roses" -- bread symbolizing economic security and roses for a better quality of life. Later that year, the last Sunday in February was designated as National Women’s Day.

In 1913, the observance was moved to March, perhaps in memory of the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City where 148 women were killed because of unsafe working conditions. Protests followed, including a silent funeral march of 100,000 people. In 1981 Congress established National Women's History Week to be commemorated in the second week of March and six years later, expanded it to a month. The UN proclaims March 8 as a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. This year’s theme is “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.”
American Women by the Numbers:

154.7 million: number of females in the U.S. as of October
$34,278: median annual earnings of women 16 or older working full-time, year round
77.5 cents: how much women earn for every $1 earned by men

females 16 and older in the labor force (71 million)
all 50 states: where women earn less than men
82.8 million: mothers of all ages
1.9: average number of children born to women now 40 to 44
5.6 million: stay-at-home mothers, up from 4.6 million a decade ago
33%: women 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor’s degree (26 % for men)
28.2 million: women 25 and up with at least a bachelor's degree
58%: number of bachelor’s degrees women will earn this year, master's--60%
$939 billion: revenue for 6.5 million women-owned businesses
7.1 million: employed by women-owned businesses
62.6 million: married women
60.7 million: widowed, divorced or never married women
14%: proportion of females in the military (198,400)
3 million: girls participating in high school athletics
174,534: females playing a National Collegiate Athletic Association sport