Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Jerrica Knight-Catania!


A big welcome to our guest today, romance author Jerrica Knight-Catania! Jerrica is an absolute doll and we are so happy to have her with us today, which just happens to be her birthday! Happy Birthday, Jerrica! After obtaining a degree in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and years of pursuing a career on the stage, Jerrica left the "glamorous" life of an actress in favor of writing romance. She continues to reside in the New York City area with her husband, cat and ever-expanding belly, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the newest addition to their family. In the meantime, she continues to work on the fourth installment of the Wetherby Brothers' Novels.

In the last few years, my husband and I have really gotten into the spirit of giving. We've been so blessed in so many ways in our own lives, it just felt right to start paying it forward. With so many in need, especially nowadays, we love to think of new ways to give back. Last year we came upon a wonderful organization called Wish Upon a Hero. This organization is a place where those in need can post what it is they are in need of. Needs vary from "Please send Christmas cards to my kids" to "I need a donor for a liver transplant." And in return, those who have a desire to give back can go on, find people they are able to help, and do just that. Last year, Eric and I picked out several families who weren't going to have any Christmas at all, then we gathered games, toys and clothes for them, and shipped them off. As much as I would love to do that again this year, I find that I'm not in a position to do so. Right now, I'm 35 weeks pregnant, and I'm just not as mobile as I would like to be. Not to mention, any energy I do have is going into preparations for our new little bundle. So instead of hunting and gathering, I decided to go another route. I've written a short story called Christmas Warms the Harts, and I've made it available for a small price on my website. 50% of the net profits will go to benefit the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation so that they may continue to do the amazing work they do all over the country.

Giveaway: If you purchase the short story Christmas Warms the Harts, you will automatically be eligible to win a free, signed copy of my debut release, A Gentleman Never Tells. **Please make sure you note at Paypal Checkout that you would like to be entered for the chance to win!

Links for purchase are on the main page of www.jerricasplace.com and the contest will run through December 9th!


Blurbs

A Gentleman Never Tells

Benjamin Wetherby, Earl of Glastonbury and heir to the Marquessate of Eastleigh, has just received an urgent letter from home. His father is dying and he must return to England at once. Benjamin is a man bound by honor and duty, to both his country and his family. So, despite his reservations, he leaves his life in New York City behind so he may find a wife and assume his role as the Marquess of Eastleigh.

Miss Phoebe Blake is finally out of mourning for her father, and just in time. She and her mother could be days away from being carted off to debtors' prison, so Phoebe returns to society with the intent and determination to secure a rich husband.
Sparks fly when Benjamin and Phoebe meet, and it appears they have both found just what they are looking for. But will a dark secret keep them from finding their happily ever after?

Buy your copy of A Gentleman Never Tells here!

Christmas Warms the Harts - A short story

Catherine Wetherby Hart, Duchess of Weston, is convinced Christmas will be ruined if the famous Hart Christmas Ball isn't perfect. But two special guests might just make it the best Christmas ever.

Links

Website: www.jerricasplace.com
Blog: romancingthebook.wordpress.com
Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jerrica-Knight-Catania/117398793629
Twitter: princessjewel78

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Five Pounds Later and I am Still a Dreamer

Five pounds later...

(possibly more)

Made Giada's stuffing and it was excellent! I give it five stars. Make it for Christmas. The family loved it, or at least that's the impression they gave since there wasn't any left over.

It was a pleasant Thanksgiving. My sons drove out together and didn't kill each other, or even punch one another. They might have even said a few words between themselves, although they were likely not completely positive. My father was his sweet self and actually did not take even one nap during the day. My dad has been taking cat naps since I was a little girl (probably why he's been able to work twelve + days all of his life). My mother had a few aches and pains this year due to a recent leg injury but still refused to give up all the control to me (although I did my best to prepare the dinner at home and transport it as my goal was for her to actually have her put her feet up this year--never, ever gonna happen I now realize--can anyone relate here?). My husband did his job of carving the big bird (and a fine job he does at this), and he also did a good job watching football with my dad, uncle, sons, and our friend Joe. Joe's wife Gillian is one of my closest friends. She's really like a sister to me and we had a lot of fun in the kitchen together and a nice visit. My uncle who I love dearly tends to believe EVERYTHING he reads off the Internet. He actually told Gillian that the original rock the pilgrims landed on was not Plymouth Rock. Gillian is a fifth grade school teacher. I stirred green beans.= during this conversation.

The food was delicious--(the stuffing of course), green beans with Meyer lemon peel, pine nuts, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes and bacon (everything tastes good with bacon in it) Blackberry Jell-O tasty treat (secret recipe), spinach salad, mashed and sweet potatoes, and cornbread with sharp cheddar and jalapeno (my cute husband makes these and they are yummy), and the turkey (brined in sea salt and juices). Mhhmm--I want more.

My lovely aunt washed and cleaned up after everyone, and wouldn't accept a lot of help from the rest of us. And my little girl, well she does what little girls do best--play, be silly, and have fun.

There is a point (albeit small) to this story. I promise.

We wound up staying the night (as always on a holiday) and over breakfast the following morning I had a very nice talk with my dad. I am blessed to be close with both of my parents. They are hugely supportive of my family and me. They are generous, kind and loving. My dad is one of my confidantes and mentors. He and my mother built a business from a small back room in the house I grew up in. I talk to my dad about my career a lot because I know he understands and has been there.

As Jessica mentioned in a post the other day that the publishing business right now is (hmmmm, I believe her words were pukeworthy) is not so easy. Not like it ever is, but these days not being under a contract for a writer who has made her living at it for the past few years is frightening. As you may have guessed I am no longer under a contract. Cat is out of the bag. After A Toast to Murder, there will be no more Nikki Sands (unless the fans revolt, and I'm praying for that, but...) and there may be another Michaela Bancroft mystery as the horse lovers do want more, but it won't come out from my original publisher. I am pursuing a few things these days including some YA and middle grade kids' avenues. I have a commercial adult fiction (El Patron) coming out that I will be posting chapters on in the next few days. I have a gazillion ideas for more books, and no matter what the publishing climate, or if I don't wind up with a contract again, I will keep writing. But I have to admit that it is difficult, scary, and at times depressing. The Writing Dream has been one that I have had since I was a little girl and I still have it. It's in my soul and it is my passion (besides being a mom and my horses).

I explained all of these feelings and thoughts to my dad yesterday morning, and I while talking with him, I remembered why he is my mentor and confidante. He said to me that the reason for the success of their business (and even during these difficult times when their company feels the hardships my dad perserveres http://www.americashorsedaily.com/professionals-choice/) is due to faith, hard work, and tenacity. He told me that giving up is never an option. He's right. Although I know in my heart that 'not' writing is never an option because I will always write, my dad reminded me that 'not' pursuing my dream of building a career as a writer is also in the non-option clause. It's my dream to be a career novelist, to see my name on the bestseller lists, to make people smile, cry, laugh, think, FEEL. It's my dream to entertain readers and it is my dream to connect with those readers. These days I'm not feeling as if I have been doing that. Maybe I am wrong--paranoia is a writer's disease.

This Thanksgiving I was grateful for a lot of things, but I think today I am most grateful for my Dad who reminds me that dreams are important and good. Dreams make us tick and keep our passions alive.

It's funny as I had no clue where I was going to go with this entry. My initial plan was to touch on some of this and then ask readers what they would like to read. But it turned out how it did--reminding me, yet again, that it's okay for me to continue on full speed ahead.

How about you? Tell JP and me your dreams, your T-Day events, thoughts, insights. Anyone out there with a confidante, mentor--someone who has helped you and made you grateful for your dreams?

Have a great Sunday.

Cheers,
Michele

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I loved JP and Nick's video and since I have a new laptop with a webcam, I figured I'd drag (2 out of 3) my kids into my office to say "Happy T-Day!" The sound quality sucks, but we're working on that. Cheers, Michele

Failed Attempt At Making Touching Thanksgiving Video

The Kid Talks Turkey



The Kid Talks Turkey

Nick: Where’s the turkey? I can’t believe you already got it!

Me (removing a bag from the fridge): See?

Nick (visibly crushed): Oh. That’s our turkey?

Me: What’s wrong with the turkey?

Nick: I thought you were going to kill it.

Me: I did. I went to the supermarket, pulled out my shotgun, and killed it. They had all the turkeys there just waiting for me. I found a good one and… Bang! That was that.

Nick: You did?

Me: Yes. And then I wrapped it up in plastic and printed Butterball on it.

Nick (more delighted): You did?

Me: Sorry, no. Somebody else killed it.

Nick: Poor Mr. Turkey’s spirit is probably no longer here with us.

Me: Sure it is. We’ll eat up his spirit and he’ll stay with us.

Nick: Ew…

Me: There’s no pleasing you on this turkey issue, is there?


Happy Thanksgiving and better luck with your turkey.

Jessica


Almost Nineteen. Ugh.

Parenting any age child comes with its ups and downs: the worries, pride, fear, sadness, joy, etc. And so much more.

There is the baby stage, when parents think they will never get another wink of sleep. And they won't, because once inducted into this society of parenthood there will almost most definitely never ever be another waking or even sleeping moment when you're not aware of your responsibility. You'll wake with a start when your kid whispers your name. "What? Are you okay?" When they are three-years-old and the temper tantrum is so extreme that you have to wonder if Satan didn't crawl into bed with you on that baby making night, and you decide that you will most definitely make your child stay in time out no matter what. And then after thirty minutes of screaming and kicking you give them the freaking M&M that they wanted and they shut-up. Immediately.

How about when they're ten, and the teacher tells you that your child thinks outside the box. They are "special" but not "spacial." True story. When the teacher told me that my kid thought outside the box, I was like, "I know. It's so awesome! Yeah. Right?" Ummm.... No. Apparently thinking outside the box is not a good thing, but being "spacial" is. Can someone please tell me, what the f... is "spacial"? Five years later and I am still wondering. As far as I am concerned, my kids are all special and those who are spacial can go off and become professional spacialists or whatever the hell they are destined to do.

I'll skip over the teen years since I have evidently erased all memory of those dreadful days. I can't remember a thing. But I have determined that parenting an almost nineteen-year-old is sooooo hard. No longer can I do a time out, or threaten, or take away TV, etc. I can do the old, "You have to pay rent if you don't do what I expect," deal. That does work, but it's incredibly weird to shift gears from parent to landlord. Hate it.

So there is this real strange thing that happens from 18-19 for young adults living at home. First is, Mom realizes that Mom can no longer be just Mom, unless she wants to be totally taken advantage of. Second is that there is a privacy factor and what Mom can cross and can't cross is.... Oh God, it's just this mixture of feelings of sadness, acceptance, confusion, and a general bundle of mother feelings that can really screw with you if you don't have something to ground you. Thank God I have my horses and a little kid still. As a mom of an almost ninteen-year-old, I feel like it's reasonable to expect his room and bathroom to stay clean, that he mow the lawn, take out trash, do his own laundry, and possibly a few small chores that may come his way. Oh, and could he please call me when he is not coming home? So far it all seems to be running smoothly and I can't complain since the kid works 20-30 hour weeks at Costco and is going to college. Good kid.

The hard part for me is when I call my child after I know he's been off of work or school for over an hour to ask when he'll be home, and to let him know there is a plate of dinner waiting, and he replies, "I'm with a friend." Grrrr......!!!! I wasn't born yesterday. I've called a few times in the recent past and gotten, "I'm at Paul's," or "I'm with dad," or I'm with Grace, "(who I know is a real friend). But when I get the vague, "I'm with a friend," it takes everything inside of me not to ask, "What friend?" "Who? "Where?" What are you doing?" Please tell me that you listened when we discussed safe sex. I am too young to be your friend's child's grandmother.

Watching your child transition from childhood to adulthood brings so many new boudaries and expectations and we have to adjust to that. And it's not easy. It's not special. Or spacial even. It's so flipping hard that I now understand what people really meant when they would tell me to savor the baby years, and that those are the easy years. And in retrospect, hey were easy. Little people have little problems, like wetting the bed, or sucking their thumb, or hating mustard. Big kids? Sigh. You have to deal with your child's first heartbreak (trust me, it hurts ten time worse than your own first heart break), paranoia about drinking, smoking, being stupid and above all, whether he is he doing any of that while driving. I don't care how fantastic and seemingly perfect your kid is; it is still on your mind. You can have a 4.7 GPA kid who gets pregnant while drinking some kind of fruity drink or doing ecstasy. No matter how great a parent you might be, our kids are under some serious pressures. Your word might not be the last.

So, if you are a parent, savor every moment they are around. Breathe them in like the blessing they are. Trust that God has a plan for them and for you. Just be thankful to be their parent whether they are nine seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years old.

I am now going to bed and praying that my almost nineteen-year-old will be home in less than nineteen minutes he promised.

Bless You and Yours,
Michele

Monday, November 23, 2009

Angst-giving.


So it’s almost Thanksgiving. Time to proclaim all that you are grateful for. Family, friends, the whole bit. Yeah, whatever. But first I have to share what I’m NOT thankful for. I’m a big fan of angst, so here is what I’m most angsty about this year:

The, um, horrendous, puke-worthy, depressing state of the book market. It’s terrible. It’s a nightmare to sell a book, unless you’re, say, Stephanie Meyer;  then you can re-write the phone book so that “Andrews, Marcia” spends her time pining over  the immortal, hunky, fanged “Fitzpatrick, Alan.” (Yeah, yeah, I read the whole series, too. And I’m team Edward. All the way.) Meanwhile, stupid, stupid, awful books like Palin’s “Going Rogue” and that vapid Heidi and Spencer’s book, “How to Be Famous” are selling like H1N1 vaccines on the black market. Who is reading this crap? Please read something good. It doesn’t have to be a sleep-inducing tribute to academia, or a lengthy philosophical novel that makes you want to slit your wrists. Keep your brain challenged or drown yourself in a fun fantasy world. Just please don’t pay money for total junk. Normally I’d tell you to read anything. Anything! But I can’t do it. Have some sort of quality filter. There are wonderful talented authors out there who deserve your money. And Palin and the Brat Pratts are not in that category. Until this market changes, I beg you to throw your support towards writers that deserve to be published.



On the positive end of things, besides the obvious big stuff (like going to the Rick Springfield concert and drinking Coolattas all summer), there is a lot to be grateful for on the seemingly-less-important-but-actually-VERY-important front: living on the east coast so that I get to see unedited versions of live events (ie: Adam Lambert getting simulated...pleasure... from another man on the AMAs), Levi Johnston posing in Playgirl, a delightful season of “Flipping Out,” Lady Gaga’s reliable wearing of freakish outfits, John Mayer’s tweets, Michael Scott dating Pam’s mother on “The Office,” my dog learning not to eat absolutely every inanimate object in the house, the electric mattress pad that is making me think it might not really be almost winter, and the Awkward Family Photos site.
 
Oh. And family and friends. Of course. (Hi, Rick!)

-Jessica



          

Just a Couple of Bad Girls

I'm a good girl. I always have pretty much been a good girl. I try to do the right thing, make people happy--you know the good girl syndrome. I bet many of you are also "good girls." But I can't speak for my partner in crime, JP. I think deep down she's a good girl. She wants to be anyway. She really is good, because anyone who is still in love with Rick Springfield is technically a good girl. Actually she's a good girl with a bad attiutude, and no I don't mean bad as in bad. I meean it in the cool/bad terminology of the word. Oh boy, you all know what I mean. But she's the reason we now have an "adult content" warning on our blog...


Anyway, my friendship with the lovely Ms. Park began in an e-mail where she let me know that, although she'd been barfing all night due to food poisoning, she was grateful she had a copy of "Silenced by Syrah," because in between violent meetings with the porcelain God, she was enjoying (and better yet, even laughing) while reading the third caper in my Wine Lover's series. Every author wants to receive an e-mail like this. Even with the vomiting factor. I mean, if a reader will keep reading your book while puking all night long... Hey, as far as I'm concerned that's a great compliment.


So anyhow, I knew I had to talk with this chick. I e-mailed her back and got her phone number, and the rest is history. Pretty much not a day goes by that we don't speak and support one another. We've even been banned for life from the "Cooking Light," website. I'm totally serious here. All we were trying to do was give away free books! The next thing I know we receive a nasty e-mail that tells us we are banned FOR LIFE from the Cooking Light Web site. OMG--like seriously? Do they have Internet cops who are tracking us for the next fifty years to make sure we never ever go on their site? And frankly, I don't even like to cook light do I don't particularly give a crap. We were just trying to be politically correct since "healthy lifestyle" seems to be the buzz line these days. I might be married to a personal trainer and nutritionist, but if you think I don't use real butter and cream in my food, then I hate to tell you... Well, I really hate to tell my husband because he thinks I am this amazing cook who cooks all of these healthy meals for the family that conveniently always taste good.  Yeah, well, like I said, butter and cream all the way, and screw Cooking Light; the website and the actual act.

By the way, this cooking light thing I do at home is just between us here.



So back to my getting to know Jessica story. When JP told me how she envisioned me and my writing world, I actually laughed so hard there were tears in my eyes. My BAD friend actually had this vision of me sitting in a white, oversized chaise lounge, overlooking the ocean, with a glass of expensive wine in my hand. Sounds good to me. I just was wondering where the Levi lookalike cabana boys were in that vision? (By the way, I'm good with the Levi look but God forbid that a boy that dumb opens his mouth around me. He is here for one reason, and you all know it isn't to be attorney general, or vice president.) So it's a good vision, huh? But I had to burst that bubble. There is nothing white in this house. And if it was ever white, it's likely now a kind of beige, tan, possibly brown. But definitely not white. As for the expensive wine? I know that the wine lover's mystery author should be drinking expensive wine, but I've yet to receive a royalty payment resemblant of say, Nora Roberts (I'm dreaming now). If by "expensive" she meant under ten bucks, then okay. You could probably find me drinking a glass in the evenings in my kitchen while I cook dinner for five, chase out the 120-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback and the pound puppy every five minutes. (Granted, I've been known to feed the dogs an In-N-Out burger on occasion, but they really need to learn to leave me alone.)


I live a good life, but it isn't in a chaise lounge and I won't be cooking light/Cooking Light any time soon. And I look forward to retirement because JP and I have vowed to have a vacation home somewhere tropical with plenty of eye candy around to bring us fruity drinks and calorie-laden delicacies while lounging on something white. Because we'll be too old to do anything but look and our husbands will be too old to care.


Have a great day and remember to be good. Actually no: be BAD.


Michele

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where Do You Get Babies?









My eight-year-old son brought up the dreaded question last night. I’ve explained this phenomenon before, but unfortunately kids need different forms of information as they age. I gave him the short run-down (again) but my narrative was followed by the inevitable slew of questions.


Kid: What if you had another baby?

Me: I'm not.

Kid: But what if you did?

Me: The world would implode... I mean, don't worry about it. I'm not.

Kid: But so where do you get babies?

Me: Costco. Or in your case, Target. Target has everything, right?

Kid (glaring at me): Mom!

Me: Remember your book? From Mommies and Daddies.

Kid: But how?

Me: Well, people have to have sex.

Kid: What???? Oh my God!

Me (nodding): Yes. It’s true.

I then gave him a unnecessarily lengthy description of IVF in the vain hope that his interest in science would distract him from further interrogation.

Kid: So which one did you do to have me? Sex or the other one?

Me: I did not have IVF.

Kid (look of hysteria and disbelief crossing his face): Did YOU have SEX?

Me (clearing my throat): Um… yes.

Kid (thinking for a moment): Just that one time?

Me (pondering various four-letter words, then pausing way too long): That’s private.

Kid: Oh my god!

-Jessica


Friday, November 20, 2009

Lukewarm Topics

Michele was kind enough (or just not well thought-out enough) to ask me to blog with her. In another naive move, she gave me her password so I took it upon myself to screw with her blog and move everything around. Poor woman. Anyhow, I took a very formal survey on Facebook about which inane subjects the public would like me to address. Those View ladies have “Hot Topics” but I’m just going with “Lukewarm Topics That Have No Important Bearing on the World Whatsoever.”

So by request, here are my thoughts on today’s pressing issues:

Twitter: There is no way to discuss Twitter without sounding vulgar. “I tweeted/twatted/twittered….” Any way you put it makes it sound like you’re busy getting yourself off. Which maybe you are, but I don’t want to know about it. And if I did want to know about it, I’d certainly want more than 140 characters of detail. Go the Carrie Prejean route. Live a little. The bigger problem I have is that Twitter confuses me because I can’t keep track of anyone, so I write stupid things like: “Twitter likes to warn me that I’m having unprotected Tweets, but the f’ing condom won’t fit over the Mac. Even the lubed one." But it gets me re-Tweeted more than, “Um… I have a new book out. Please buy it so I can afford to go on the Rick Springfield Cruise next year.” (BTW, it turns out that being "retweeted" is a lot less pleasurable than it sounds.) Facebook is more organized and logical. This is why I have overpowering bouts of compulsively Facebooking important information about Bedazzlers and how many Coolattas I’ve had that day. Of course “Facebooking” sounds equally as pornographic as all the “Twit/Twat” variations, but at least it involves the face and not… Well, let’s move on.

Dancing With the Stars: I gave up watching this show because I have a nauseating vestibular reaction to neon orange spray tans. Also, if I want to watch people get injured I’ll just watch a hockey game. Or idiots on Youtube. Or student drivers.

Levi Johnston: There is no measure to the joy I get over Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby daddy whoring himself out on Playgirl. He must love the ex-VP candidate as much as I do. Levi is a hot, craptastic mess and I can’t get enough. He’s so dumb, it’s adorable. I want a play-by-play of the Playgirl photo shoot. I want to comb out his armpit hair. I want to move the hockey stick out of the way so I can see all that Alaska has to offer. I love that he has a handler named Tank who appears to have even fewer brain cells than Lusty Levi himself. But most of all, I adore the boy for (in his own inarticulate way) telling Sarah Palin to screw off. Hugs, little guy! Or big guy? Unfortunately, by all accounts, we won’t get to see visual evidence either way… But that’s what the imagination is for.

Heidi Klum’s desire to lose 20 pounds: Offensive and obnoxious. Take off the angel wings and you’ll drop the weight. On one hand I resent that someone as vilely goddess-like as she is would say something stupid about wanting to lose weight. On the other hand, I can safely say that I do not look up to her as a role model so I couldn’t care less if she barfs into the toilet five times a day.

Wonder Woman outfit changes from Season 1 to Season 2: First of all, I can’t say anything about this show without pointing out that my adored Rick Springfield graced the show with his acting chops. Click here for delightful clips of hottie rock God frolicking.

Now, here’s the failure with the costume from the first season: Lynda has huge knockers. God love her, they’re big. But the excessive gold splayed across her chest is just too obvious. And frankly icky looking. It just seems that she was constantly announcing, “My breasts and I will battle you and take your lassoed body into our invisible airplane!” And who the hell gave the poor woman silver wristbands when the rest of her accessories were gold? Clearly not a gay man. And the starred shorts were more Spanx-looking than Wonder Woman deserved. By the second season they figured out that the subtle winged effect was more attractive cleavege-wise, that metals should not be mixed (gold matches gold), and that if you’re gonna have short shorts, they might as well not look like granny panties. And the cape is simply heaven.

I’d love to stay and chat more, but there’s a Levi photo shoot I have to research. And videos of Rick Springfield behaving inappropriately on Californication that I need to attend to. And let's hope my well-behaved mother doesn't find this post. Not that she'd know who Levi is, but still...

-Jessica

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Here's a little preview of my next book out. It's definitely not a cozy mystery. No worries though for the cozy readers--"Toast" will be out in April, and I'm working on a new Michaela Bancroft mystery.

El Patrón

What began as an innocent love affair for one young woman, Marta Peña, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 1969, sets in motion a series of events that spans the next thirty years. This is the story of South American drug lords Antonio Espinoza and Javier Rodriguez, and their violent quest for power. In a sweeping family saga, we meet the women who love them and the children they vow to protect at any cost.

With a complex web of interconnected families, this gritty novel delves into the lives of a power hungry clan, following the rise of their business, the destructive path of their torrid and erotic love affairs, and the struggle to balance intense greed with devout family loyalty.

Strong women face tragedies that test their will and their commitment to the men they passionately desire. As young girls grow into women, their traumatic pasts will drive their actions and force them to make gut-wrenching decisions.

With murder, drug trafficking, dirty politics, illegal gambling, prostitution, obsessive love affairs, and family strife, El Patrón is a whirlwind in the vein of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Blogger Jessica Park and Chapter One of "Cook the Books."



I am very happy today to have my good friend Jessica Park share the first chapter of her next book, "Cook the Books," due out in March. If you haven't read a Gourmet Girl Mystery, you need to. They're everything a good mystery should be and more--They're funny, romantic, mysterious(duh) and just plain fun. Do yourself a favor and read the entire series. You won't be sorry!

Without further ado...

Chapter 1

I have a love-hate relationship with Craigslist. On the one hand, I adore poking through the online classifieds for items I don’t even want—Swedish bobbin winders, chicken coops, vintage Christmas ornaments—and for enviable extravagances that I can’t afford—like the services of someone to come to my house to change the cat litter. On the other hand, I hate getting sucked into the vortex of randomly searching for weird items and unaffordable services instead of looking for what I actually need. For example, at the moment, I absolutely had to find a part-time job. I leaned back into my couch and adjusted the laptop so that it balanced comfortably on my knees.

I was broke because of the cutest baby in the world, Patrick, the three-month-old son of my best friend, Adrianna. One day last August, Adrianna and her husband, Owen, had almost simultaneously gotten married and become parents, and since then I’d spent a small fortune spoiling them and Patrick. Ade was staying at home with the baby while Owen, a seafood salesman, struggled to support them. Driving around Boston in a refrigerated truck, Owen delivered fish and shellfish to restaurants and tried to get new accounts. He seemed to spend as much on gas as he made on commissions. Luckier than Adrianna and Owen, I had a monthly stipend that was deposited into my account, courtesy of my late Uncle Alan, but the money hadn’t begun to cover the cost of my recent expenditures. As pleased as the credit card company must have been about the interest I was paying, its representatives were equally displeased with my making sporadic and late payments.

The principal blame for the hideous state of my finances lay with high-end baby boutiques and the baby sections of beyond-my-means department stores. How could I resist the designer blankies, the infant activity centers, the fancy play saucers, the darling Ralph Lauren outfits, and the endless assortment of rattles? Plus, Patrick obviously needed the expensive machine that reproduced the natural sounds of the jungle, the ocean, and evening in the forest, right? Ade and Owen lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment around the corner from mine. Patrick’s room had once been, and in reality still was, a closet; granted, it had a window and a radiator, but a closet it remained. So, the least I could do for my favorite friends was to lavish upon them everything they needed for their cherished and irresistible son, who was also my godson.

My spending had a second explanation, one much less altruistic than the desire to indulge my friends. As I hated to admit even to myself, my transformation into an especially profligate spendthrift just had to represent some sort of effort to fill the void that my boyfriend Josh had left when he’d moved to Hawaii. Yes, incredible though it still seemed, my perfect, gorgeous, charming, adorable chef boyfriend, Josh Driscoll, had up and left Boston to work as a private chef for a family in Hawaii. As of mid-September, we would have been together for a year. But instead of celebrating our anniversary with Josh, I’d spent most of September either shopping like a maniac or curled up in a ball on the couch, crying my eyes out. On Adrianna’s wedding day, the same day that she’d given birth to Patrick, Josh had asked me to go to Hawaii with him. Dream come true, right? Well, maybe for someone else, but I’d been heartbroken and furious at the invitation. There was no way that I wanted leave Adrianna, Owen, and their new baby. Furthermore, I was just beginning the second year of my master’s degree program in social work. I hadn’t exactly been a highly motivated student during my first year, but I was belatedly starting to fit in at social work school and to realize that my choice of the field had been far less random and capricious than I’d originally thought. In fact, I was enjoying my work too much to drop everything and jet off to Hawaii. Besides, it seemed to me that Josh’s decision to leave was an impulsive reaction to the tumultuous year he’d had, a year of bouncing from one disastrous restaurant experience to another. He’d been chronically overworked and exhausted, stressed beyond imagination, and the opportunity to work in Hawaii must have seemed like an easy way out. I just wished that, given the choice between Hawaii and me, he’d chosen me.

Josh had continued to e-mail me and occasionally to call, but I ignored his attempts to explain himself, deleted his messages, and eventually blocked his address altogether. It was now November, and I was no longer willing to hang around my condo, pining for a lost love. I had a life to live, and I was not going to be one of those women whose entire life hinges on a relationship with some guy. Even if that guy was the best thing that had ever happened to me! No, I, Chloe Carter, was an independent woman, a loyal friend, and a driven graduate student!

I again focused on Craigslist and clicked back to the main job categories in search of something that might pique my interest. “Accounting+finance” sounded relevant to my situation, but the state of my bank account hardly qualified me to manage someone else’s finances. “Arch / engineering” sounded high-paying, but my experience in the field was limited and unpromising. When I’d helped Owen to assemble Patrick’s crib, I’d failed to insert two long pieces of wood that had turned out to be major support bars. I really wasn’t equipped to apply for any sort of job involving architecture or engineering. “Internet engineers” sounded important and interesting, but my principal Internet skill consisted of expertise in Googling old classmates to see who had done anything Nobel Prize–worthy or scintillatingly illegal, so that I could feel either pitifully unsuccessful or smugly superior by comparison. I also spent time on the Web researching term papers and browsing for recipes and food trivia, but those activities hardly made me an Internet engineer.

Aha! “Food / bev / hosp” sounded more up my alley! I hesitated for a second because of Josh, who’d been one reason for my spending the past year totally consumed by all things food- and chef-related. I reminded myself, however, that I’d been a foodie before Josh and that I could continue to love all things gastronomic after Josh. Ugh. After Josh. I hated the sound of the words. I was over him. I had to be. I had no choice. And if searching through food-industry jobs was my way of clinging to the past? Well, avoiding the industry would mean that I was running away from it because I was still hurting, as I undeniably was. Every piece of cooking equipment in my kitchen reminded me of Josh. I was sick of tearing up at the sight of a measly spatula and cursing every time I turned on the oven. I damned well was going to get over crying at the sight of wooden spoons and paring knives! Maybe working in the food industry was exactly what I needed. Yes, I’d flood myself with food images until I was no longer reminded of Josh! I scrolled through the listings, but all of the jobs turned out to be for servers, cooks, bar managers, and mixologists. I don’t know what I’d been hoping for. A job as a voracious eater? As a taste tester?

I returned to the main menu. “Skilled trade?” How humiliating to realize that I had no skills! Even so, I skimmed the page and found “writing / editing.” I’d certainly written and edited plenty of my own papers over the past year. Although I couldn’t be considered a professional writer, I could probably pass myself off as preprofessional or possibly as just on the verge of becoming professional or as all-but-professional, so close to being outright professional that no one could tell the difference. Anyhow, it would certainly be easier to sell a potential employer on my writing skills than it would be to pretend that I possessed a “skilled trade” or that I was really quite qualified to serve as a mixologist or an architect or an Internet engineer. Skimming the writing and editing jobs, I discovered that I was impossibly unqualified for many. The odds of my suddenly becoming a Portuguese-English bilingual person who could prepare scholarly bibliographies were slim to none. And I was not about to attempt to edit a math textbook.

One job, however, leapt off the screen: assistant to a cookbook writer! The listing said the applicant would need solid writing skills in addition to an enthusiasm for food and recipes. The job was tailor-made for me! I immediately e-mailed my résumé and a quick letter of introduction that explained my unabashed love for everything that had anything to do with food. Then I crossed my fingers. This was the one and only job I’d applied for, mainly because it was the only one that interested me. Incidentally, it also happened to be the only job on Craigslist that I could possibly perform. Who knew what it would pay, though? Furthermore, if the job was so appealing to me, it might be equally so to others, meaning that I’d face serious competition.

I shut down the computer and headed down the short hall that led to my kitchen. As usual, the prospect of walking in felt like going into battle. The appliances, the food, and the utensils all seemed to be taunting me, reminding me of my chef. Truthfully, my whole condo reminded me of Josh, especially because we’d spent much more time at my place than at his. I loved my condo, and I wanted to feel the way I used to feel about it, but even my wall colors made me think of Josh. I’d gone through a serious phase of impulsively painting and repainting each room a different earthy color, and Josh had fueled my interest by giving me painting supplies as my Christmas gift last year. Maybe I’d have to repaint yet again. We’d spent hours snuggling on the couch in the tiny living room, and I’d watched him cook countless meals in my kitchen. And the bedroom? Well, there was the bedroom, too. One of my cats, Inga, brushed against my leg as I stood in the entryway to the kitchen. Josh had rescued Inga from a horrible owner who had threatened to toss her into the Charles River if no one took her. However unintentional, Inga was a living reminder of my ex.
I was going to brave my fears and get over this! I was twenty-six, for God’s sake, and I was going to move on from this relationship with maturity. I sighed, stepped into the kitchen, and reached up to a high shelf to retrieve a few cookbooks. In case I got to interview for the job, I’d better be prepared. In the past, I’d leafed through cookbooks for recipes. Now, I looked at them as books. In particular, one thing that would be different about working on a cookbook than working on other written material would certainly be the formatting. Flipping through the pages of a Julia Child book, I saw that the number of servings was designated at the top and that the ingredients were listed in the order they were used. Abbreviations, I realized, all had to be consistent. I grabbed another book and then another and another. Some books had lovely forewords that informed the reader of the culinary delights that followed. Some books paired anecdotes with recipes, and some had glossy, mouthwatering photos. My stomach growled as I stared at a gorgeous crown roast of lamb, tied in a circle and filled with a creamy polenta and sausage stuffing. I slammed the book shut. I had nothing in my fridge except leftover pizza and flat seltzer water.

I took a shower, threw on a pair of sweatpants and an old T-shirt, and pulled my red hair into a ponytail. I understood all too well that my lack of a romantic life explained why I was putting no effort into doing my hair and makeup and picking out a cute outfit, but what did my appearance really matter today? It was Sunday, and I was just going to be lounging around my place doing homework. I dutifully gathered together my social work reading material and flopped down on the couch, determined to get through the seven dry chapters that lay ahead of me.

I read three chapters and then cringed at the title of the fourth: “Love and Attachment.” Great! Exactly what I did not feel like reading about. In fact, the bane of my studies this fall had been this damn Attachment class. I threw the book across the room, shut my eyes, and willed my pain to retreat for a few hours.

Minutes later, when the phone rang, I gleefully snatched it from its cradle. Maybe it was Adrianna calling, and I could blow off my homework and go snuggle with baby Patrick? I didn’t recognize the number on caller ID but picked up anyway. Even talking to my credit card company would be a welcome distraction.

“Hello?”

“Hi. I’m trying to reach Chloe Carter,” a friendly male voice said.

“Speaking,” I said with disappointment. A telemarketer? Those people were always so goddamn friendly when they asked for you.

“Ms. Carter, this is Kyle Boucher.” He pronounced his last name in the French manner: Boo-shay. “I put out the ad for a writing assistant.”

“Oh! Yes!” I couldn’t contain my excitement. “That was fast. I just sent my résumé a few hours ago. And please call me Chloe. Oh, have you already filled the position?” I knew I should have started job hunting sooner.

“Please call me Kyle. And, no, in fact, you’re the first person to respond. I guess the idea of being a cookbook assistant didn’t capture many people’s interest. I was thrilled to find your résumé in my inbox.”

“Really? That’s great. It sounds like a job that I’d love.”

“Excellent. Maybe we could set up an interview. In fact, why don’t we meet at a restaurant? Have you been to Oracle?” Kyle asked.

“No. That place opened about six months ago, right? I’ve heard good things about it.” I’d been dying to go there, actually. Josh and I had managed to get a reservation one night last summer, but he’d had to cancel at the last minute when his boss at his old restaurant, Simmer, had insisted that Josh needed to work.

“Any chance that you’re free to meet tomorrow night? Seven o’clock? I’m really behind on this project, and I’d love help as soon as possible.” The hint of desperation in Kyle’s voice raised my hopes for securing the job. “I’ve already made a reservation there for four, since I’d been hoping for a number of candidates to interview, but one enthusiastic response like yours is better than three wishy-washy ones.”

“Perfect. I’ll see you then. And thank you so much for calling.”
When I hung up, I realized that for the first time since Josh had left, I was feeling truly upbeat and optimistic. It felt good to have something to look forward to. The only thing nagging at me was the prospect of going out to dinner with a strange man. Not that Kyle had sounded particularly strange on the phone, but dining at a restaurant with a man brought up images of an actual date, something I was nowhere near ready for. Stupid of me, I thought. This was a job interview. I hadn’t met Kyle on a dating site, for Pete’s sake. Still, I was suddenly nervous. For all I knew, Kyle was a psycho ax murderer and posting ads for cookbook writers was his way of finding victims. Unlikely, I admit, but I nonetheless did what any other sensible, modern woman would have done: I searched Google Images for Kyle Boucher. After skipping over photos of men who certainly weren’t my prospective employer—unless he was ninety-eight years old or a professional soccer player or a congressman—I located one shot of him. He looked normal enough, but in the picture he was in a group of people at a high school reunion, and I continued to feel wary. Sociopaths were always described as totally normal looking, and I wasn’t in a mood to take risks right now. I called Adrianna.

She picked up after a few rings. “Spit-up and poop central. How can I help you?”

“Stop answering the phone like that,” I complained. “It’s so gross. Patrick does more than spit up and poop.”

“True. He does occasionally sleep. Although not for more than four hours at a time. And he cries, too. It’s charming.”
Adrianna sounded beyond exhausted. Before Patrick’s birth, Ade’s knowledge of children in its entirety could have been handwritten in large print on a small index card. What’s more, she’d never been one of those women who spent their lives dreaming about becoming mothers. On the contrary, she’d always had a rather strong dislike of children. Consequently, she’d reacted to finding out that she was pregnant with horror followed by panic. Fortunately, by the time Patrick had entered the world, she’d mellowed out, and some sort of instinctual parenting impulse had kicked in. Ade was hardly the soft, soothing motherly type, but Patrick was bringing out the best in the previously underdeveloped side of her. Besides, Owen was a fabulous father, and his enthusiasm had been contagious.

“But you know,” she continued, “I wouldn’t trade this little guy for anything. He giggles a lot now, too. Have you seen that? I got the cutest picture of him smiling. I’ll send it to you later. So, what’s up, Chloe? Are you coming over later? We miss Auntie!”

“I’m totally bogged down with homework for the rest of the day, but I wanted to see if you could come out to dinner with me tomorrow. Will Owen be home to stay with Patrick?”

“Yeah, Owen will be here, but I cannot afford to go out, you know that. And neither can you!”

“Actually, it’s for a job interview.” I explained the ad and the call from Kyle. “I don’t think I should go alone.”

“Chloe, you can’t show up for a job interview with your best friend tagging along. It’s not quite as bad as bringing your mommy, but close.”

“Please! I’ll pay for you, and it’ll give you a good excuse to get out of the house for a few hours. We’ll come up with an explanation for why you’re there, and then I won’t worry about being kidnapped after dessert.”
Adrianna paused. The prospect of going out for a real meal had to be enticing. “Fine. But don’t blame me if you end up embarrassed that you brought me. Oooh, what am I going to wear? And I’ll get to do my hair and everything!”

“See? This’ll be fun. I’ll pick you up at six thirty tomorrow.”
I was starting a new chapter in my life: a Josh-free chapter. Good!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Reviewing by Lori Gondelman

Today I am very pleased to have Lori Gondelman of Lori's Reading Corner as a guest blogger. I think you'll find some interesting info. here about book reviewing. PLease check out her site at http://www.lorisreadingcorner.blogspot.com/

Thank you, Lori!

Interview Questions

Q: How did you become a book review blogger?

A: I belong to an amazing book swapping site ~ www.paperbackswap.com. Basically you post books that you no longer want. When another member requests your book, you mail it off to them. Once they receive your book you earn a credit, with which you can then order a book that you want. Nice and simple. My friends started calling me “the book pimp” because my book recommendations would cause their wish lists to grow. Several of them started “bugging” me about doing a book blog. I put it off, because I honestly felt like I had nothing worthwhile to say. Eventually I gave in and it’s taken off. I’ve met and become friends with several authors as well as made some great contacts with publishers.

Q: How do you decide what books to review?

A: I’m pretty open to reviewing anything. I usually read a lot of mysteries, thrillers, suspense and women’s fiction. But I’ve tried to push the boundaries of my reading comfort zone and have accepted reviews for books I would not normally read. Although I do think that the majority of authors, publishers, promotion book tour sites can get a sense of the books I read from my blog and base their request for review on that. And if it’s something I know I really will not be able to get into, I am upfront about it while at the same time offering to host a blog tour/guest post for the author instead of the review.

Q: What is the demographic of your readership, and do you choose books that are marketed towards them?

A: When I started my blog I thought only my PBS friends would be reading it, since they were the ones that pushed me to start it. Now I have about 150 followers, not sure how many subscribe and 26,000 “hits”. Since I don’t know who is checking out my blog and what their reading interests are, I tend to read for myself. Of course I’m always hoping to turn someone on to a new book or author, but I like to read what I like to read.

Q: Do you ever do reviews to intentionally expose your readers to books they might not otherwise pick up on their own?

A: When I first started, that wasn’t my goal. It was simply to let others know what I thought about the books I was reading. But as the requests to review books that were out of my ‘comfort zone’, I figured if I could try something new, maybe someone else could as well.

Q: How much does cover design and title influence your decision about doing a review?

A: The only time a cover design or title my influence my decision to read it, is if I’m in a book store browsing the shelf and it catches my eye. But in terms of it affecting whether or not I review the book, not at all. The story itself is what is important.
Q: When reading a book for a review, do you read as you would strictly for your own pleasure or are you keeping an eye out for certain components?

A: I generally read for my own pleasure. I don’t want to turn my love for reading, which I do to “escape” into “work”. But if there are key elements, a phrase or specific things I think those reading my reviews should be aware of, I’ll take the time to jot down some notes so that I make sure to include them in my review.

Q: What is more important to you, quality of writing or the actual story?

A: For me, the story is more important. As long as I can feel as if I can relate to the characters or am a part of the story itself, I can get past an authors writing style that may not be exactly what I am used to.

Q: Do you compare your reviews of a given book to those of your peers? If so, do you find your views are generally similar or dissimilar?

A: A lot of my paperback swap friends started book blogs shortly after I did. We tend to share a lot of books with one another and will all post our reviews when we’re done. Because our taste in books is so similar our reviews tend mimic each others. I do like to browse other book blogs for reviews of the books I’ve read and am always interested to see how others feel. Sometimes it’s made me see parts of the books differently.

Q: Do you think the consolidation of the publishing industry has been positive or negative for the quality and diversity of books that make it to the market?

A: To be honest, I haven’t really noticed. All I know is I have over 400+ books in my TBR pile at home with more coming in all the time, I haven’t seen any difference in the quality of books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year, or one that came in today.

Q: Do you think e-books are going to make printed books obsolete like CD’s have become in the wake of the ipod revolution?

A: I hope not. I always swore I did not want an e-reader. Then my brother and sister in law got me one for my birthday. While I love the ease of use, the light feeling and how convenient it is to hold while walking my dog (yup – any chance I get to read, I take), there is no greater feeling than holding a book in your hands. And without those printed books, there would be no sites like paperbackswap, making it difficult for people without the finances to buy an e-reader, kindle or brand new hardcover to get the books they love to read.

Q: What is the best reward for you from blogging about books?

A: First off, of course, is just to be able to share my love of reading and my thoughts on the books I read. I love having people comment on my posts about how they’re now going to check out a book I reviewed/recommended or who come back after reading my review and then tell me how much they loved the book and wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t written about it. It warms my heart to know I’ve given someone else the same joy I received from reading a book. I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great contacts at Harper Collins, Random House and several other publishing houses. Publishers who have “stumbled” on my blog and would like to send me advanced reader copies to review. Most importantly, I’ve developed some terrific friendships with some fantastic authors, two of which are Jessica Conant Park and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Both have been very supportive of me and my blog, offering encouragement, advice and even providing me with autographed copies of their books to use as giveaways. Two recent things that have just floored me ~ I was asked by a national woman’s magazine to do an interview for a best of summer beach reading article. Unfortunately my part was cut, but the fact that of all of the amazing book blogs out there, they would even want to interview me was just incredible. And just yesterday, Jessica contacted an author she is good friends with (and who’s series I have read) who is almost done with her latest manuscript, for me to help them with the proofing of it before it heads off to the publisher. That they think that much of me means more than I could ever put into words.

Q: What are your three favorite books?

A: Because I read so much it’s hard to pick just three. My top 3 recent reads are Serendipity by Louise Shaffer
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
Henry’s Sisters by Cathy Lamb
I have to mention three of my favorite series.
Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen & Archie series,
Brian Freeman’s Jonathan Stride Series
and Jessica’s Gourmet Girl series. These are all must reads! Plus The Wine Lover's and Michaela Bancroft series (that goes without saying).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chipotle Turkey Tacos

Being a busy Mom/writer can be tiring, and it also means you have to be flexible. This includes when it comes to cooking meals. I love to cook and create, so last night I had to apply my creative skills combined with flexibility because it was one exhausting weekend. It started with my middle kid and I flying out to Sacramento for the night and next day where I was honored to teach a workshop for Capitol City Young Writers. Talk about a great group of passionate young writers! There were kids in the group who had written full manuscripts of over 400 pages!

Anyway, after landing back home Sat eve., John and I made our way up to where our horses are because our youngest was already staying with our trainer Terri, and getting ready for yesterday's horse show. Horse show days begin very early and tend to end late. Ten to twelve hours is not unheard of on a horse show day. Needless to say that by the time we made it home last night, the last thing on my mind was going to the store and filling up the fridge and making dinner. I had a hungry kid who was on the verge of a meltdown from being over tired, so I went to the freezer and found some ground turkey to defrost.

I found corn tortillas and we had cheese and tomatoes. See where I'm going here? I dind't have any of those little taco seasoning packets that come in so handy, but I do always have on hand-- chipotle powder, ancho chile powder, smoked paprika and garlic. Always. We had some orange juice in the fridge too, and I knew I could make these ingredients work. Let me just say that my ground turkey chipotle tacos were yummy and here is the recipe:

(Keep in mind my family loves spicy, so you may have to adjust the chile powders for your taste).

1 lb ground turkey
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
1 tsp chipotle powder
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp smooked paprika
pinch of salt
pinch of seasoning salt
1/2 cup of orange juice

cook ground turkey with all seasonings in olive oil (turkey has a lot less fat obviously than ground beef, thus I like to cook it in a spalsh of olive oil). Once the turkey is browned, pour in the orange juice, bring to boil and then simmer until juice is absorbed in the meat. The flavor is smoky, spicy with a hint of sweetness due to the juice. It was a hit with all three kids. Took me a half an hour. I sliced cucumbers as a side to cool the spices, and we also had apple slices. Easy and tasty. We had ours with corn tortillas, but if you prefer flour, go for it. I topped them with some cheese and tomatoes and we were good to go and I prevented a total 8 yr. old meltdown. I happened to have a bottle of $10.00 Cab in the wine wrack and I had a glass with the tacos, which went very well together.

Give these tacos a try. I think you'll be pleased you did.

I'd love to hear about your quick recipes. Please share.

Cheers,
Michele

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Toast to Murder


Okay, so you've been checking out my WIP stuff because that's what I've been posting. Today, I figured I'll post a little bit of the next wine mystery due out in April.

And here's a little reminder--Books are cheap gifts! The holidays are approaching and I am a book giver because I know how hard writers work and because I LOVE books. I figure if I can't help support the industry then, I'm a schmuck. And I don't just buy the bestsellers for my family and friends. I tend to look for the new authors, the writers I know who could use that extra push. I think there are so many wonderful, overlooked books out there. I won't go into it because I'll get sad and then angry and then confused and frustrated and I don't want to go there. Basically what I'm telling you is that you should buy books for your holiday gifts. People need to be reading! It's a good thing. And people don't just need literary, make you think and pose questions about life, culture, blah, blah, blah... People need fun! Get some fun books, put them in some fun books bags and give them as gifts!
Now, here's the first chapter of "A Toast to Murder."

Do you believe in fate? Sincerely, Moros Apate Thanatos . Nikki stared at the old photo beneath the note—a newspaper photo of a bride and groom. Her groom—Derek Malveaux smiling at the camera, arm around ex-wife Meredith Malveaux on their wedding day. And the signature. How weird. Moros Apate Thanatos. Greek. Had to be Greek. Nikki didn’t know what the words meant exactly but the word Moros didn’t sound good. She could jump on the computer and look it up. Whatever. It was some weirdo trying to shake her up before her wedding day. Why? Well it was sort of a known fact around wine country that Nikki had a knack for playing amateur sleuth and she was pretty decent at it. Maybe someone was testing her skills. But she didn’t have time for any type of mystery right now. She had a wedding to plan for goodness sakes.

Nikki shook her head and crumpled up the piece of paper and photo. She checked the postmark. Nothing. No return address. She frowned as the phone rang. In the background, Oscar the Grouch was singing something about trash. She glanced at her little charges who appeared to be entranced by the show.

If this was another one of those blocked caller calls, she thought she might come undone. For two weeks now, she’d been getting one to two phone calls a day. Of course after receiving what she just had in the mail, she had to wonder if it was Meredith who’d caught wind that in a few days Nikki and Derek were to be wed. But she didn’t see how that was possible. Meredith was in prison for murdering Gabriel Asanti, the former winemaker at Malveaux. Not to mention she and her half brother had tried to murder both Nikki and Derek. No. It seemed to Nikki that the only way Meredith and her disturbed brother Cal Winters could be behind the ominous note and prank phone calls was if they had someone on the outside doing their dirty work for them. But what for? The two of them were locked up for life. Maybe she would get on the Internet later and check out the meaning behind the signature on the notes.
Nikki grabbed the phone off the Spanish tiled kitchen counter, checking the caller ID first. She sighed. “Hi, Simon. Violet is fine. I haven’t corrupted the poor girl yet, but if you don’t stop bothering me, I might,” she said. She opened up the garbage disposal and threw away the note and photo.

“You’re such a peach. Listen Snow White, I want tails on my tux. As your best man, I mean maid of honor”—he giggled—“I think tails are necessary. They’re elegant, royal, regal, and totally appropriate.”

“No. No tails.” She glanced up to see what the toddlers were doing.

“Oh no! No, no, no, baby!” She dropped the phone and dashed from behind her kitchen counter and into the family room where the little ones were getting into things they shouldn’t have been. She had a fleeting vision of her favorite pinkberry lipstick smeared on the cream colored rug.

She took her purse from her friend Alyssa’s three-year-old son Petie.

“Petie wants the purse,” he whined. “Petie wants your purse, Aunt Nikki.”

“No honey. This is Aunt Nikki’s purse. It’s not a toy.”

Then two-year-old Violet stuck out her lower lip, crocodile tears filling her eyes. “Oh, sweetie girl. No tears.” Nikki picked her up. Violet Nicole Malveaux was the newest family member to join the vineyard.

Nikki’s best pals Simon and Marco had come home from China with Violet a little over a month ago. Simon was not only Nikki’s BFF, but was soon to be her maid of honor and her brother-in-law. Both Simon and Marco had wanted badly to be parents. They’d been jumping through the hoops within the U.S. system, but because they were gay they faced even more issues adopting than straight couples did. No one ever spoke out loud about these “issues,” but they had become obvious to her dear friends after nearly eight months of getting nowhere. The guys had even asked Nikki to be a surrogate, but there was no way she was down for that. Nikki wanted a child with Derek, and they’d been trying to conceive for some time now. They both felt that the sooner they started trying to have a family, the better. The doctors had told Nikki she would likely have some difficulty getting pregnant.

Two couples wanting to become parents—and Simon and Marco had done just that. Since they didn’t think they were ever going to adopt a child from their own country, and since a surrogate looked to be out of the question, they decided that maybe pulling a Brangelina and adopting a child from another country would be the way to go. And it had been. They both fell in love with little Violet at first sight. She was pretty much impossible not to fall in love with, with her big brown eyes, her dark hair that hung in wisps around her sweet face, and her precious laugh that could put a smile on even the most jaded of people. Now Violet was a Malveaux and Nikki would be a Malveaux in a matter of days because this coming Saturday was her wedding day! Tomorrow friends of Derek’s would be arriving from out of town and there was so much left to do.

But before she could get back to the wedding plans, she needed to take charge of the toddlers in the house. Why she’d agreed to babysit both Violet and Petie she wasn’t sure. Well, yes she was. She loved kids. Petie’s mom Alyssa had gone in for the final fitting of her bridesmaid’s dress, and Simon headed in with her for his final fitting of his maid of honor tuxedo. Yes, Simon was going to be Nikki’s maid of honor, and Marco was to be Derek’s best man. A little bit unconventional maybe, but not much went on at the Malveaux vineyard that could be considered conventional or, for that matter, even really functional. But they had a lot of damn fun.

“Nikki, Nikki . . .”

“Oops. Come on gang.” She walked back into the kitchen where she’d dropped the phone, forgetting all about Simon and his tirade over the fact that he wasn’t going to be wearing tails.

He was screaming her name into the phone. “Nikki!”

“I’m here.” Violet leaned her head against Nikki’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around her, entwining her fingers into her hair. The baby had taken to playing with Nikki’s hair and many times it helped her fall asleep. Simon stopped by on occasions when he couldn’t get her to go down for a nap and asked if she could play with her auntie’s hair in order to lull her. They joked about Simon needing to get a long haired wig. “Just a sec, Simon. Petie sit down at the table okay, and Auntie Nikki will get you a snack. Hold on for one minute.”

Petie smiled. “Okay. Petie wants a snack.” He batted his lashes over his big brown eyes. Oh, boy, the kid was going to be a heartbreaker.

“I know. Hang on.” Nikki picked the phone back up. “Hi. Sorry.”

“What in the world is going on there?” Simon sounded like he was hyperventilating.

“Nothing. Petie got into my purse while talking to you and he took my lipstick out and dumped most of my purse onto the floor. No worries. I’ll pick up the mess in a minute. I think Violet is falling asleep on me. She’s tired from playing all morning. I need to put her down, and Petie is waiting for a snack.”

“Why didn’t you put your purse away in the first place, Snow White?” he asked, referring to her by his pet name for her. “I mean, seriously. You have babies there and God knows what could be growing in your purse. Or what if one of them took out a pen or pencil and stabbed themselves in the eye? The possibilities are endless. I can’t believe you would be so irresponsible.”

“I don’t have time for one of your lectures on parenting right now. You can scold me later. If you hadn’t called with your drama in the first place, I wouldn’t be irritated with you and having to pick up the contents of my purse.” Nikki knew those contents ranged from umpteen receipts, candy and gum wrappers, a lipstick or two, business cards, and some loose change. She was notorious for dumping anything and everything in to what Derek called her “abyss” instead of her purse. Thus, Simon wasn’t completely off base with his accusation of things possibly growing in there.

“Speaking of my drama. I want those tails,” he demanded.

“No. It’s my wedding. I said no, and now I have to go. Bye-bye.” She hung up the phone and then turned the ringer off. “Ha-ha. Too bad, so sad.” She faced Petie. Violet’s fingers were still wound in her hair, but she’d grown quiet and become deadweight against her.

She needed to put her down, but would have to walk into the guest room where her playpen was and Petie had started banging his fists on the kitchen table. “Snack. Petie wants snack. Petie wants snack.”

“Shh, Petie. Violet is going night night. I’m getting you a snack.” Balancing the toddler in her arms, she went to the kitchen pantry and took out a box of animal crackers, and got him a glass of milk. “I’m going to go put Violet down now.”

“No, no. Petie wants Aunt Nikki here. You sit. You sit right here with Petie. Please.” He smiled.

How could she refuse? “Okay. I’ll sit.”

They shared the animal crackers and when Petie was finished with his milk, they went to the couch where they sat back and fell asleep watching the rest of Sesame Street. The show was Petie’s favorite and Elmo was Petie’s favorite muppet. On the show Elmo always refers to himself in the third person, as in, “Elmo wants,” or “Elmo likes.” Thus, Petie had become Elmo’s copycat.

He was an adorable little boy who’d been through a great deal in his short life. He had a rare heart condition and for the first couple of years of his life, he needed a transplant. He had finally gotten one last year, and since then he’d grown stronger and precocious, which was good all around.

With Derek in tow, it was Ollie, Nikki and Derek’s Rhodesian ridgeback, who woke them when he came bounding into the house, the sound of his nails clicking against the hardwood floors. Nikki opened her eyes to see Derek leaning over her, his green eyes warm and happy, his smile bright. “Look at you. You look good like this.”
“Like what?” she asked, sleep on the edge of her voice.

He touched Violet’s dark head of hair, and she stirred at his touch. “Mommied out. You are in the mommy zone, and I am liking it. Except the mess is kind of . . .” He made a face.

“I know. They dumped out my purse.”

“Want me to pick it up?”

“No. I’ll get it.”

He leaned in and whispered in her ear. “You know what? Seeing you like this makes me wanna practice those baby-making techniques.”

“Easy does it there. We have wedding plans to finish up and I think we should wait to practice on our wedding night.”

“I disagree, but don’t have time to argue. Just got a call from my out-of-town friends, my college buddies and their wives.” He made another face likely realizing that his news would not be exactly welcomed. “Sorry, honey, looks like they decided to come in a day early before everyone else gets in. I have to run into the city now to get them at the airport.”

“What? No. No. I’m not ready for guests. Not yet. Look at me. I have peanut butter on my jeans and—”

“You’re great. You’re gorgeous. Absolutely, positively gorgeous. And it’ll take me time to get into the city, pick them up, and come back. That should give you plenty of time to change your jeans. Don’t worry about a thing. They’re staying at the hotel and I’ve already talked to Marco. He’ll have their suites ready for them by the time they get here. You don’t have to do a thing.”

“I think I need to do a little more than change my jeans. What about dinner? I need to go to the store. We don’t have a thing for me to fix.”

He shook his head. “Stop worrying. I’ve already taken care of that, too. It’s all good. This is our week. Relax. This will be the best week of our lives.” He bent down, traced her check and jaw with his finger. “I love you. And I still think we should negotiate the baby making practice. I really do. We’ll talk. Or other things.” He kissed her, melting the worries away for a few seconds until he said good-bye and walked back out the door.

Ollie plopped down at her feet. “Easy for him to say. No worries. I haven’t even told him that Simon wants to wear tails.” The caramel colored Ridgeback thumped his tail. “You wouldn’t want to wear tails. Seriously, what normal guy wants to wear tails? Oh wait, though. We are speaking of Simon.” Ollie lifted his head and turned toward the door.

“I heard that.” It was Simon, gallivanting his way through the hall and into the family room where Nikki was beginning to feel a bit weighted down by team toddler. “Normal is passé, and I am hip and hot.”

“Tails are passé.”

“Never. Not in a million years. Lookie here. How cute. I just passed the blushing groom-to-be. Uh-oh. I see the bride is not blushing. What gives?”
Nikki didn’t get a chance to explain about Derek’s friends coming into town or the note and photo, because Violet woke up and heard one of her daddies. “Daddy,” Violet said. She called Simon “Daddy,” and Marco, “Papa.”

Simon reached his arms out. “There is my little rosebud. How is Daddy’s little girl? Come here, Vivi.”

Violet tried to pull her hands from Nikki’s hair to go into her father’s arms. “Ouch,” Nikki said. Violet whimpered. “What in the world? I think her hands are stuck.” Nikki looked up at Simon.

“What do you mean?” Simon asked.

“I don’t know. But I can’t get them loose.” Violet kept trying to free her hands but couldn’t, and she began to cry. “They’re stuck in my hair.”

“Was she playing with glue?”

“Of course not.”

Simon reached behind Nikki’s back. “Lean forward a little.”

Nikki did so. “What’s the problem?” Now Violet was starting to really cry and Petie was waking up.

“Hmmm.”

“What is it?”

“Um, Snow White . . .” He clucked his tongue. “It appears we definitely have a bit of a sticky situation.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dead Celebs Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO

I am not a rebel by nature. Or who knows…maybe I am. However, life has seemed to dictate what my nature could and could not be, and rebel was one of those things that I could not be. Not after what my parents had gone through. I could never yell, lie, sneak out of the house, talk back. None of that. Therefore, leaving behind my mother and father on that late April afternoon was by far the most rebellious thing I had ever done in my twenty-eight years, and honestly it left me feeling cold. Poor Mama Cass with her thick coat must have hated me on that fifteen hundred mile journey, because I was freezing cold the whole way and I cranked up the heater in my van, even through Arizona at eighty degrees. It was the kind of cold that you can feel on the inside—that only a real hot bath combined with a hot tea, and then a tuck between the covers can cure.

I wasn’t sick. No sore throat. No aching body. Nothing like that. I was just cold.
And then, after three days of driving and staying in cheap motels, I took the 10 West all the way into Los Angeles. The first thing I did was head to the ocean—Venice Beach to exact, and yes L.A. has plenty of blonde, beautiful people and then some, but let me just say for the record that there are a ton of freaks in L.A., especially Venice beach. I saw one guy with hair that I can’t even describe the color, kind of that baby food like green pea color. I shudder to think about it, because not only was the color bad, but it was almost down to his butt and twisted and gnarled. Gross. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his shorts were well beneath the boxers. Not an attractive picture and then there was the iguana he had wrapped around his neck. Never saw that before. Mama Cass went totally berserk yapping away at him and the iguana. I had to yank pretty hard on her leash to get her to move on with me, while the guy snarled, “Get your mangy piece of shit mutt away.” Um, okay. Excuse me? My dog, mangy? Look who was talking. I decided best to keep my mouth shut and move along, tugging on Cass the entire way.

But once we got past that we took in the ocean color—silvery blue--the smell—fresh, oceany, minus the cigarette smoke and tanning oil that occasionally wafted it’s way toward us--the crashing waves, the sandy beach like a picture postcard—and then, we people watched for quite some time. Cheapest entertainment in the world. All I’m saying is, bring a lawn chair, a bag of Tostitos and a six pack of sodas and the movies have nothing on Venice Beach. When I have to get away from anything famous and dead, I head to Venice Beach. The way to beat crazy I figure is to go and see even more crazy.

Cass and I shared a couple of slices of pizza and a Coke (yes, Cass drinks Coca-Cola, too, but none of that diet crap) and I figured we needed to find a place to stay for the night, because the next day would be apartment and job hunting day. Frugality is something my father prides himself on and it’s sort of worn off on me. I knew that five thousand dollars was probably not going to go far in the land of glitz and glamour.

I found a Motel a few blocks from the beach and decided on it. It was fifty-five bucks for the night, which seemed like a lot but we were tired and I thought being close to the ocean might be cool because I could take Cass for a walk in the morning. Problem was that they had a no animal policy.

“You gotta stay in the van girl,” I told her. She thumped her tail slightly and looked at me with her big dark eyes and I swear she looked sad. I then whispered in her ear, “Just kidding. Only for a little bit. Soon as the coast is clear, I’ll come get you.” She thumped her tail even harder. I know the dog gets me. I may sound a bit biased here, but Cass is the smartest dog ever. She is. “You be a good girl and I’ll be back.” And I was after a shower and a change of clothes. I snuck my half coyote, half lab—possibly some border collie pooch into the dingy motel room that smelled of stale cigarettes, pesticides and mildew. She jumped up on the bed with me and we fell fast asleep.

***

A week later, and Cass and I were still at Motel Venice without any future prospects. We had driven around the city a few hundred times, only to find that fifty-five bucks for a motel room was cheap, and so far no one had caught me sneaking Cass in and out. I had applied for a variety of jobs from Subway sandwiches, Gag in the bag (take your pick as to which fast food joint to fill in here), to a receptionist at a variety of nail salons. I even took a chance and went out on a limb and applied for a position at Nordstrom in the cosmetics department. I figured what the heck—Mama is a beautician—and I did sell Mary Kay for two weeks.
Then Betty LaRue’s words played over in my mind. “Go live your dream. Go sing wherever you can. Sing.” I sighed and reached my hand over to pat Cass on the head, her big eyes staring at me. “What do I do, Cass? What should we do?” I’d already gone through almost a grand between the gas, food for the two of us and the motel. Time was running out.

“I need a singing gig,” I said. Cass lifted her head and studied me. “What to do?” I clucked my tongue. We came to a red light cruising North on La Cienega. The cross was Fairfax, close to The Beverly Center where I’d applied for the Nordstrom job. Decent area.

Cass whined. I looked over at her. “What? What would you do?” She tucked her head under her paws. And as if lightening struck and my daddy was standing up on his pulpit in front of me, I got it. “Pray? Right. Why didn’t I think of that?” I smirked. Being raised by a Southern Baptist minister prayer was talked about and done a lot in my house. As a kid I was all about prayer and miracles and trusted that God knew best and that there was even a God taking care of all of us.
But when your twelve and your older sister runs away and is later found murdered, and you prayed and prayed for three months for God to bring her home and He didn’t, well losing faith in the power of prayer just sort of happens.

Mama Cass kept her head tucked under her paws and whined again. “You’re serious? You been listening to Daddy way too much. Great. I got a little Billy Graham in my dog.” She lifted her head and glared, then tucked it again back under the paws. “Okay. Fine. I get it.” I took a deep breath. “Okay. Hi God, Evie Duncan here…” I said feeling very much like Margaret in Judy Blume’s young adult novel “Are You There God? It’s me Margaret.” “Yeah, so anyway. You must know what’s going on here with me. You know everything. Right? At least Daddy says you do. So, the singing thing, yeah I could really use a break right about now. I don’t want to disappoint Betty LaRue and I honestly don’t think You would either because well, you know Betty, so could you help me out a little? Thanks. Amen.” I know it was weak, but like I said, it’d been some time since I’d prayed.

Cass sat up and as we rolled up to the next light at La Brea, she let out a yelp. “What now?” She was looking at the window. A chalkboard sign on the sidewalk read “Two dollar tacos and two dollar beer.” I licked my lips. The place didn’t look like much, considering the area. A big green neon sign on top read “Nick’s.”
“Lunch time,” I announced. I found a meter and parked the van, cracked the windows and rolled back the sun roof. “Stay put girl. Doubt dogs are allowed.” She gave me her totally offended look, where she sort of pens her ears back and cocks her head to the side. “I know. It’s stupid. I’ll bring you back a taco and a Coke.”

The atmosphere inside Nick’s was needless to say—lacking. The place was a dive, which didn’t bother me because being a Texas girl I’ve been in a few dive bars. God forbid my father ever find out. He’d probably disown me. Elvis was belting out Blue Suede Shoes from the corner jukebox. The carpet was the color of reddish mud with black smudges here and there. I’m sure that at some point it had been true red. The bar was long and narrow, a row of stools covered in cracked brown vinyl facing a mirror lit up by dim light bulbs across it (with a few burnt out) that covered the back wall. Liquor bottles sat displayed on the back counter. A handful of patrons who looked as if they’d been glued to those chairs for a number of years sat in silence nursing their woes. On the other side of me were four rows of booths with the same cracked brown vinyl seating. A younger couple sat in one of the booths playing grab ass and giggling while downing a couple of beers and noshing on tacos.

A middle aged guy that looked older than he probably was walked toward me—tall and skinny. He had longish graying blonde hair that skimmed his shoulders and wore a worn pair of jeans that were too big for him and a red polo shirt that also looked too big. The name Nick was stitched in black across the right side. He semi-smiled and his green eyes although sad, cast a little light in them with his smile. “Welcome to Nick’s.”

“Thanks.”

“Here for lunch?”

I nodded. “Two dollar tacos and beer can’t be beat, but I think I’ll have a Coke instead.”

He laughed. “Anywhere. Take your pick.”

I chose the back booth, away from the grab assers and settled in to think a little more about my predicament. I noticed photos lined the walls of various celebrities. Many of them autographed and signed personally to Nick.

Five minutes passed since I’d last seen Nick. He apparently was host, owner, cook and bartender. He appeared and sat three tacos and a beer down in front of me. “Oh no. I haven’t ordered yet. And I wanted a Coke.”

He sat down across from me. “You’re not from here.”

I shrugged. “It shows that much?”

He laughed—warm and hardy. “Look I serve Tuesday two dollar tacos and hands down I know I make the best tacos in town. You got chicken, steak and pork there. You have to have a beer with it. Tacos without beer is like sacreligous.”

Now I laughed. I don’t think my father would’ve agreed with Nick, but to each his own. “You must be Nick.”

“That obvious?”

“The name on the shirt sort of gives you away.” I took a bite of one of the tacos. Mouthwatering. “Oh my gosh. These are amazing.” I looked at the taco and then Nick and then took another bite.”

“Told you.” He winked. “Where you from?”

I set down the taco and wiped my hands. “Sorry. I’m Evie Duncan. I’m from Texas.”

“You don’t have much of an accent.”

I shrugged. “My father is from the Midwest. He’s never had a southern accent and my mom, well she is from Texas and she definitely has a drawl, but I guess I take after my dad.”

“I can hear it a little. Not much. What you brings you west Evie Duncan? Let me guess—actress or singer?”

I took a sip of the beer. He was right. Tacos and beer did seem to make a perfect match. “You’re good. Singer, guitar player.”

“Really?”

“Really. Why?”

“I dunno. I thought actress for sure.”

“Nope.”

“What do you like to play? Sing?” He stood and went behind the bar, grabbing himself a beer and came back to sit down.

“I like it all. I’m partial to the blues, I like folksy, kind of I don’t know, I think Sheryl Crowe is great, I love Pat Benetar if you’re going for some old school rock and Heart is awesome, too. Um Amy Winehouse as far as a little more contemporary but then she’s a bit whacked.” I realized he was older and might not even know who Amy Winehouse was.

“What makes you say that?” He laughed again. “Heroin, jail, lowlife husband, maybe?” He was up on his music. Cool. “Evie Duncan wants to be a singing star. Huh?”

I nodded, feeling heat rise to my cheeks. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Okay. You got your guitar?”

“With me?”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“I do.”

“Great. See that spot over there in the corner next to the juke box?”

“Yeah.”

“Grab your guitar and sing some songs. I know a few show business types and I wouldn’t mind having live entertainment to bring some people in. That is if you’re good.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. Okay.” I stood. “Can I get another taco?”

“You’re hungry, huh. Usually three fill my customers up.”

“It’s for my dog. She’s out in my van.”

“Bring her in. She doesn’t bite does she?”

“Oh no. Not even.”

“I love dogs. Go get the dog and the guitar. “I’ll make her up some tacos while you do that.”

I slid open the door on the van. Cass was curled up in the back. She lifted her head. I kissed to her. “Hungry?”

This word always prompted her to quickly follow my lead. We headed into Nick’s with me wondering if playing music in this dive bar would be the answer to my prayers.