The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Monday, December 9, 2013

Roz’s Flippant Memories of Christmas Past

I flip the page on my 365 Nouns and Adjectives Calendar to reveal November 30, 2012. Sure, we’re heading into December; it’s literally around the corner, or in this case, on the next flip. But hey, plenty of time to do all the stuff that needs to be done before December 25. I’m still enjoying the Thanksgiving afterglow, and then I flip.

December 1: The word is Preparation. It’s cute. And I’ve got twenty-four days to prepare. I’m so on top of things, this is gonna be a breeze.

December 5: Word is Breeze. Order three gifts online. Two show up (never do receive the third one and spend the first four months of 2013 straightening out my credit card). Feeling generous, I put a five-dollar bill into the bucket attended by a bell-ringing Santa outside Walmart when I stop by to get my tires checked.

December 12: Word is Organization. This might be useful for someone less organized than me, but I am completely on track. Unfortunately, the two online gifts that made it to my door must be returned. Wrong size and color. Why did I ever think Kimberly would look good in chartreuse, especially trimmed in tiny black cats? She’s twenty-eight, for crying out loud, not eighty-eight. But no problem. Hideous top can be returned, and I’ll do all my shopping the old-fashioned way—in real stores. It’ll be fun.

December 14: Word is Yuletide. Now that’s more like it—we’re getting festive. Two tiny hitches, though: I’m reminded of the Secret Santa gift I must purchase for my unsuspecting coworker, and the secret stocking-stuffer items that must fill my designated stocking at the home of the friends I’ll be staying with. The idea is to cram as much into the stocking as possible, with no item costing more than five bucks. I was assigned Nickie, who doesn’t even wake up, much less get out of bed, for a five-dollar so-called gift. Still feeling generous, I put two bucks into Santa’s bucket on my trip to the store to buy air freshener.

December 17: Word is Festive. (I thought we’d already covered this.) So now it’s time to get serious. So far, of the twenty or so gifts I have to buy, I’ve managed only two. And both of them are for me.

December 20: Word is Relaxation. Are you kidding me? Who relaxes five days before Christmas? I begin planning a trip to the mall, something I promised myself back in July I would never do again. But I have no choice. On the way in, I put a buck fifty into Santa’s bucket, although Santa himself is not actually there and has been replaced by a teenager wearing a Texans T-shirt.

December 21: Word is Enjoyment. Obviously, the sadist who penned the calendar has never spent a whole day at the mall wandering aimlessly and chanting what shall I buy? As I leave, I see Santa is back, and I’d like to assure him I donated yesterday, but his look implies I’m going to the top of the naughty list. So I cough up all the loose change at the bottom of my purse (seventy-three cents).

December 23: Word is Furtive. I look it up and am delighted to discover it actually applies to me. During day two spent at the mall I appear to be avoiding notice or attention from any of the salespeople. But I’m determined not to leave without a gift for everyone on my list. Mission vaguely accomplished. I do, however, have to wait until a large family exits the mall, so I can go unseen in the middle of their throng. Big-time furtive. Because I have no cash left, I can’t risk being spotted by Santa.

December 24: Word is Tidings. Word should be Phew. I just made it. All price tags are removed; gifts wrapped tastefully; and ten miles of curling ribbon disposed of. Before I go to bed, I send e-cards to everyone I intended to snail-mail actual real-life Christmas cards to.

December 25:  Forget to look at the word.

December 26:  Word is Gratitude. And I have it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fictional Women Do Eat Quiche (If We Say So)

Kit James is a gourmet cook. Valerie Pankowski, not so much. She favors cereal for dinner, while Kit can rustle up a perfect frittata, even in a stranger’s kitchen with half the ingredients missing. We know all this because we made them do it.

Back in 2011, when Val and Kit were first introduced in The Disappearance of Mavis Woodstock, they were new to us. We four were still getting to know each other. We were creating two women, telling their story, making it up as we went along. By June 2012, when the girls appeared in The Murder of Susan Reed, we had become old friends, and we knew what we were dealing with, even though they gradually took on a life of their own. Obviously, we knew what Val and Kit were thinking and what they would say before they said it. And with the help of Word, and our two heads in the background writing and proofing, we continue to pull the strings on their lives, making sure they don’t repeat themselves, their hair color stays constant, and they arrive at a destination in the same outfit they put on that morning.

Getting to know Val and Kit has brought us such joy and so many laughs. They’re both fiftysomething and are shameless Starbucks-aholics. When serious thinking or recapping events is required, they’re often found at their favorite coffee shop downing lattes. Val is your everyday, salt-of-the-earth working gal. Money is often as tight as the clothes she’s trying to fit into. She lives in a tiny apartment, which she loves, even though it’s been compared at least once to a rabbit hutch.
Kit, on the other hand (like Val before her divorce), has no occupation and lives in a large, stylish house. Her long-suffering husband, Larry, has tried numerous times to curtail the outlandish schemes of his wife, but so far his attempts have been unsuccessful. She has a wardrobe of designer outfits, all ridiculously overpriced (in Val’s opinion), and they fit her slim frame perfectly. On any occasion, she turns up in the perfect ensemble, while Val spends a good deal of time digging through her closet, trying to come up with something that doesn’t need repairing and won’t bring on one of her dreaded hot attacks. While Kit seems to never be less than perfectly made-up, Val’s attempts at cosmetic enhancement generally fade an hour after being slapped on.

In Death in Door County, the girls embark on a trip to Wisconsin to visit Val’s mother, Jean, never a big fan of Kitty Kat. She blames Kit for every indiscretion her daughter has ever committed, and she’s probably correct. Kit is the alpha pal of the two; Val follows in her wake, often kicking and screaming.  

Creating our two protagonists has been pure delight. They have become real people to us, and judging by many of the kind reviews we’ve received, we think they are real to some of our readers too. In our daily, nonfictionalized, very real lives, we often find ourselves saying oh, that is totally something Kit would do or that’s exactly what Val would say.

Kit is courageous, blunt, and loyal to her pal. Val is kinder, softer, but also faithful. What binds the two is their love for each other. True friendship is a rare blessing; and we should know.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Trick or Traitor

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Of course. You look hideous.” The teenage Kit handed me a wart she had fashioned out of Play-Doh. “Here—take this and put it on the end of your nose.”
I stuck the protuberance on the perfect spot as she came up behind me, spinning me around so I could get a good look in the full-length mirror attached to the back of my bedroom door. We’d spent the last half hour turning my face green and fixing the long, gray, ratty wig she’d gotten from somewhere-or-other.
“Ghastly,” Kit said.
“Scary,” I agreed, hardly recognizing myself. “But . . . maybe we should have gone for something a little less obvious . . . like Laverne or Shirley.”
“Pedestrian,” Kit said. It was her new favorite word. “Everyone will be Laverne and Shirley. We’ll be the only two witches.” She plunked the conical black silk hat on my head. “Perfect.”
“You should go and get dressed.” I turned away from my grisly image. “But I don’t know why you couldn’t get dressed here.”
“I told you. I have to pick up some candy for my mom, but I’ll run home, get my costume, and be back in twenty minutes. Twenty-five, tops.”
Kit gathered her belongings and ran out of the room. “Thirty minutes, Valley Girl,” I heard her yell as she ran down the stairs. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes.”
“Okay,” I called, shutting the door and staring at my reflection. I had to admit, it was almost magnificent in a frightening way. Taking a sip from my lukewarm Tab, I put my new Hall & Oates LP on the turntable of my record player. Rich Girl filled the room, and I couldn’t resist grabbing the broom and dancing around my bedroom.
Aargh!” It was my mother, standing in the doorway, shrieking. “Valerie, what are you doing? Turn that music down, for heaven’s sake. Do you want Daddy and me to be completely deaf? And what are you wearing?”
“Well, take a guess, Mom. What does it look like to you?” I had stopped twirling and was leaning on my broom handle. Witch-style.
“It’s not attractive, Valerie. And I can guess whose idea this was. Why couldn’t you be Dorothy from the The Wizard of Oz? Now, that’s a costume.”
“It’s pedestrian, Mom. That means—”
“Lacking in excitement. I know what it means.”
“This is fun.” I caught a glimpse in the mirror of my green face and protruding nose. “I like it.”
“Well, Buddy is downstairs, with Tom Haskins. Come and say hello.”
“Oh.” I hesitated, not comfortable about my brother and his friend seeing my witchy persona. “Tell Buddy I’ll see him tomorrow.”
“He won’t be here tomorrow. He and Tom are driving to Kings Island tonight.”
“Well, I . . . I’m not sure if . . .”  Suddenly I felt so juvenile. What would Buddy and his sophisticated friend Tom think of me? Why had I agreed to this horrible costume? And where was Kit, when I really needed her? She could make a witch fun, no matter how hideous. But my mother had come fully into the room, and with her arm around my waist, was pushing me toward the door.
“Here she is,” she yelled from the top of the stairs. “Here’s our little witch.”
At the bottom stood Buddy, my nineteen-year-old brother. Beside him was Tom Haskins, looking groovy in his rugby shirt and bell-bottoms.
“Hey, Sis,” Buddy yelled up at me. “You look cool.” Dear Buddy; he was better than a dozen Kits at making me feel good. I stood up a little straighter, leaving my mother’s grip.
“Hello, my little pretties,” I said, in as croaky a voice as I could manage, twisting my finger in their direction. Then I resumed my normal voice. “Hello, Tom.”
He gave me a crooked smile and dug his hands into his pockets. No comment.
The boys left, and Kit phoned to say she was running late (no big surprise there), but she’d meet me at the party. And yes, she was dressed. No problem.
My mother gave me a ride, four blocks away, insisting I not wear my hat in the car in case we were stopped by the police. Kit was already there, wearing a long, blond, layered wig; hot pants; and white knee-length boots. Farrah Fawcett. Damn her. Farrah Fawcett. The most glamorous woman on the planet.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, as soon as I’d made my way through the crowd to her side. My wart had dropped off my nose during the car ride over, and my green face was starting to itch.
“Sorry, Valley Girl,” Kit whispered, still managing a smile that Farrah herself would have envied. “But I heard Larry James is gonna be here tonight, and I wanted to be sure he noticed me.”
Really?” I said, scratching under my chin and then leaning on my broomstick. “’Cuz I passed about six Farrahs on the way in here. Do you really think he’ll notice you?”
“Hell yes,” she said, breathlessly. “He’ll notice me. If it’s the last thing he ever does.”
Years later, on a different Halloween night, when Tom Haskins and I were having a drink after work wearing normal street clothes, he reminded me of Halloween 1976.
“By the way, how did you like my costume that night?” I asked him.
“What costume?” he asked. As I knew he would. He never disappoints me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Let’s say you find yourself slapdab in the middle of a murder/thriller/mystery. You need a piece of vital information to save yourself, the country, the planet. And let’s say your informant is an evil, reprehensible character known to travel with two Dobermans, Adolph and Ava, trained to rip out throats. Our dastardly informant agrees to meet you in a vacant warehouse at midnight, down by the docks. Oh, and you should come alone.

However, since you are the author of this plan to save the world, you don’t have to play by your informant’s rules. So the question is, who are you going to take with you?

Who’s the toughest, bravest, cleverest person you know?  Who’s handy with a weapon if needed? Who can outsmart our dangerous mole? And more importantly, who can follow the GPS instructions to actually find the docks—in the dark?

Well, since this is all make-believe, sort of, we can take anyone we like. Gibbs from NCIS springs to mind. He fits all the requirements, although he’s a little too quick to slap a person on the back of the head when he’s displeased. Monk is certainly smart enough, but we’re worried he’d be hampered by doggy doo-doo bags if Adolph and Ava get busy. The X-Men, who we understand are a team of mutant superheroes, probably would be a safe bet. And of course, any of the James Bonds would be okay, although we’d prefer Sean Connery because he’s always so tidy, even after a rumble.

But we’re going to settle on our friend Sarah. She’s more a super-grandma than a superhero. But she’s brave. She’s killed cockroaches the size of a polar bear, and she once wrestled a deranged cat (albeit wearing a beekeeper’s outfit at the time). She’s more than handy with a gun. At the shooting range, two government-type guys with gold badges on their belts said, “Nice shooting, ma’am.”  She’s supersmart; the paper she wrote titled “Rise to Globalism” earned an A (we won’t mention who she wrote it for). And she doesn’t need a dang GPS system; she can find any place, any time, even in the dark. Plus, she’s the biggest dog lover we know, so she’d have Adolph and Ava rolling over to have their bellies scratched in five minutes.

We’d feel safe with her anywhere. Who would you pick, and why?

Seriously. We want to know.

                           Sarah: a match for any Viking!                  

  Sarah with weapon at the ready.

Super Sarah taking aim.

Sarah, Roz and Patty

Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Know Absolutely Everything, and Then Some: Roz’s Other BFF

Today I splurged on a deep-red lipstick. I say splurged because I bought it at one of those stores that sells only cosmetics and related items instead of the grocery store, where I usually toss makeup into my cart along with bagels and toilet-bowl cleaner. My boyfriend was with me, complaining because they didn’t sell fishing gear or weaponry.

As soon as I got home, I typed the brand Urban Decay and the color F-Bomb into Google and was immediately treated to a video of a pretty, young woman telling me exactly how to apply it. You might think a person would already know how to apply lipstick; it’s fairly self-explanatory. But no, she had a few tricks up her sleeve and even set the timer on her iPhone, promising to return several hours later and let us know how it performed. I’m pleased to report that the F-Bomb is a winner.

I’m not sure who I’m happiest with, Urban Decay or Google. Okay, it’s Google. Earlier this week I severely burned my thumb when removing a cup of queso from my microwave. After thirty minutes of sitting on the couch trying to keep my thumb submerged in a cup of ice water (and guarding said water from cocker spaniel Bailey, who was apparently suddenly very thirsty), I googled burns and discovered that if you don’t have aloe vera on hand (I don’t), then you can coat the affected area with white toothpaste, and presto, the pain will stop instantly. It did. But note, this works only with white toothpaste, not blue, green or gel.

Bailey, yet another friend of Roz’s, first introduced in our blog about Skype

So, in my daily life, Google has become an unpaid consultant living in my home. I seek advice daily on everything from how many children the Duchess of Devonshire had in the late 1700s to when it’s time to change the oil in my car (even though the car itself will let me know, I still need a second opinion from Google).

As a writer, I find Google indispensable. There’s a little stuff I think I know, and then a whole lot of stuff I don’t. In our latest book in The Val & Kit Mystery Series (still in the works and as yet untitled), the ladies are treated to Greek coffee made in a briki, a word that was on the tip of our tongues until Google defined it. In DEATH IN DOOR COUNTY, a character from Croatia emerges, and Google took us on a tour of that country, clearing up any misconceptions about Croatian culture.

How does one make a perfect martini? What are the ingredients for shrimp étoufée? And furthermore, how do you even spell étoufée?  I’m no cook, but since Kit James (one of our protagonists) is somewhat of a gourmet, I’m learning through Google on her behalf. Of course, the pitfall of my googly pal is spending too many hours looking up something that leads to something else. For example: is George Clooney really single again can take you to the Darfur conflict, which in turn can lead you to Africa in general and blood diamonds. And before you know it, you are cruising the Tiffany website.

Then, just when I think I might know all there is to know about everything, Mother Nature kicks in and deletes a good portion of this minutiae from my memory, freeing up a lot of space. But I won’t be undone, and I’m off now to Google Mother Nature herself.

Just who is she?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Val & Kit: A Peek at Their Past (Circa 1975)

“Are you sure this is safe?” I asked Kit.
“Of course; it’s totally safe. Good grief, Valley Girl, it’s not gonna kill you or anything.”
I smiled at her use of the nickname she’d suddenly given me. Valley Girl. It sounded so cool.
“Well, if you’re sure, Kitty Kat,” I replied. If I had a nickname, then she should have one, too, although Kitty Kat didn’t sound nearly as fab as Valley Girl. I picked up the box of hair dye and read the instructions, for the third time. “It says here you should try a test on a patch of skin by your elbow. For allergies and stuff.”
“Oh, they always say that. They have to; it’s the law. But don’t pay any attention. And stop worrying. It’s gonna be fine. When you’re done, you’ll be a gorgeous redhead, like Ann Margaret.”
“Ann Margaret! She’s a million years old. Think of someone younger.”
“Okay, how about me?”
Kit did indeed have gorgeous reddish-brown hair that was admired by everyone in school. And since I wanted so much to be like her, I had agreed to her suggestion that I dye my dark-blond hair the same color. I picked up the box again. “Says here we should rinse it out no more than thirty minutes later. It’s been thirty-five.”
“Oh, Val, they say thirty minutes because they have to. It’s the law. But everyone knows you have to keep it on at least ten minutes more.”
“I think it’s starting to burn my scalp.”
“Good, that’s good. That means it’s penetrating the hair shafts.”
I was getting nervous, particularly at Kit’s sudden knowledge of the law, not to mention hair follicles. But I was wishing now I had just stuck with the hair color God had given me.
At the thought of God, I suddenly heard the front door slam. Had to be my mother, as close to God as you could get. I heard her footsteps coming down the hall to the bathroom and watched the locked door handle jiggle as she tried to open it.
“Valerie, what in the dickens are you doing in there?” she called from the other side. “Open this door at once.”
That was Kit’s cue to climb on the back of the commode and squeeze through the small window that led out to my backyard.
“Nothing, Mom. I’m taking a shower; I’ll be done in a few minutes.”
“Shower?  At three in the afternoon?  Is that Katherine in there with you?”
“No, of course not.” It wasn’t a lie. I glanced out the window and saw Kit raise two fingers, giving me the peace sign. She was so cool.
“That girl is such a nuisance,” my mother said from the other side of the door.
“She’s not even here,” I said, raising my voice.
“You’re not having any problems, are you?” Her voice had softened a little. “Female stuff?”
“No,” I said. Just you, I thought.
“Okay; then finish your shower or whatever it is you’re doing. I bought a new rug I want you to see.”
Twenty minutes later, after rinsing and scrubbing and then re-rinsing my hair, I emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my head. I wasn’t close to Kit’s gorgeous auburn, or even Ann Margaret. More like Lucille Ball at the height of her zaniness.
The next day my mother took me to LaVonda’s House of Beauty, a place she visited every five weeks to restore her own honey-blond locks to their natural shade. LaVonda herself did several things to my tresses, apparently all legal, and was somehow able to return my hair close to its usual drab color.
On the drive home my mother instructed me to never try anything so foolish again, and more importantly, I was to have no contact whatsoever with that girl Katherine. She and I were forbidden to be friends, and that was the end of that.
Yeah, right.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Happens in June, Stays in June (Just Ask Roz)

Is it really June? Did we skip any months? I can clearly remember eating a lot of chocolate in February around the 14th, and I definitely got a basket filled with more chocolate in March. But are we really halfway through the year already?

Well, before June rushes by completely, like the preceding months, let’s see what happened and what’s in store.

June 1
The month starts with local TV stations gently reminding us that this is the beginning of hurricane season along the Texas coast. So from now until November 30, I keep one ear on the meteorologists, hoping not to hear words like disturbance or rotation or the dreaded landfall. And I have good intentions. On the first of the month I start adding hurricane supplies to my grocery list. Usually, however, by the middle of July I have eaten and drunk most of my supplies.

June 6
I really want everyone to know that this day, D-Day, changed the course of history. Our world might be very different if Allied troops had not crossed the English Channel into France sixty-nine years ago and thereby brought about the beginning of the end of Hitler’s grip on the world.

June 14
This is Flag Day. But in my house, every day is Flag Day.

June 16
Father’s Day. My father passed away when I was in my thirties. He was from Scotland and was funny, kind and handsome. He loved Mickey Spillane novels and Frank Sinatra and watching boxing on the television. When I was little, he would take me to The Tower of London on Sunday mornings, where we mingled with tourists. When I think of him, I remember what a great dad he was. I was very lucky.

June 20
Betty Obermeier, Patty’s mother, celebrates her 92nd birthday. I am honored to say she thinks of me as the second daughter she never had among all those boys. She is not only one of the biggest fans of The Val & Kit Mystery Series, but also one of its best proofreaders. And her computer skills and Facebook savvy make me envious. She is a remarkable and inspiring lady, and I am blessed to have her in my life.

Roz and Betty

June 21
My calendar tells me that this is when summer officially begins. But did anyone tell Texas? Our temperatures reached the mid-nineties way ahead of this date, and let’s face it, any degree past that doesn’t really matter. Hot is hot.

June 1 – 30
June is traditionally a month for weddings. But I actually went to a wedding in May. My friend who is 67 and has been single for over 30 years married her 72-year-old boyfriend. It was as romantic as any twentysomething wedding I’ve ever attended.

Okay, July, bring it on. We’re ready. And this reminds me, I’ve got to get batteries.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Like It Or Not (And Patty Doesn’t) . . .

If there’s an evolution going on in the English language, on both sides of the pond (see Roz’s recent post), there’s a revolution going on when it comes to what my English teachers called mechanics.

Or so it seems to me. Maybe it’s just that my greatest strength and favorite pastime has been remembering rules most people deem pesky and contemplating styles that many think (and were taught) are rules. It’s hard to be a boomer, not only because we think we need to restore our hair color and protect our joints with glucosamine, but because the use of e-mails, texts, and tweets has obliterated many of the punctuation rules we so painstakingly learned.

Question: When no one knows or cares that something is wrong, is it still wrong? Maybe it doesn’t matter, for many, as long as they communicate their intended meaning. But for professional writers, yeah, methinks wrong is, well, wrong.

The advent of touch screens, voice commands, and texts has rendered my second-greatest strength—fast typing—even more worthless. Yes, I do send texts without commas and semicolons (but only rarely, when I’m really in a rush), and I do it very s-l-o-w-l-y and inaccurately. What I was good at has been replaced by something I’m bad at. I shouldn’t complain, though, since that comes with the blessing of living longer, just as surely as good knees are replaced by achy ones.

Of course the way we use language, grammar rules, and punctuation isn't the only thing that has changed through the years. Roz and I happily traded our manual typewriters for electrics, which we later replaced with word processors and then computers. And we rejoiced when we could use faxes and then e-mails instead of snail-mail to send each other our chapters. So we’ll (almost) graciously accept other changes too.

Roz and Patty (with Patty’s daughter Melissa of Mel’s Green Garden) when they still wrote with typewriters.

Roz and Patty graduated to computers and faxes about the time Patty sported this hideous hairdo.

By the time they enjoyed this photo op, Roz and Patty were sending chapters via e-mails but had no idea Twitter, blogging, Skype, and Amazon would soon change their writing world.

I still recommend knowing the rules before changing (aka breaking) them. So go ahead and omit punctuation in favor of another letter or word in order to keep your tweets at 140 characters, but know that if you write your novel like that, you’ll probably lose your reader before the end of the first chapter, if not the first page.

And so I continue to learn the latest, often when I go to an online dictionary or reference site for confirmation when I’m teaching grandchildren or others whom I’m editing the error of their ways—only to find there’s been another rule change, or a rule that’s been relegated to a style choice, or a style choice that’s become obsolete.

I’m thinking of the two spaces after every period that my fingers have automatically typed—and then keyed in—since I was fifteen years old. I’ve learned to put only one space now. This practice changed when typewriters, with their same-size letters, gave way to computers and the fonts that allowed an I, for example, to occupy less space than a W. The eye no longer needs extra space between sentences.

The biggest change I notice, and the grayest area I see when perusing different grammar books and style manuals, is in the two tiny marks that take up the biggest part of my editing time: commas and hyphens. (And yes the Internal Revenue Code has some real competition when it comes to black-and-white vs. gray-and-murky.) Commas and hyphens seem to be required in fewer instances than back when I learned to conjugate verbs and diagram sentences, although both remain crucial to the meaning a writer wants to convey (didn’t the comma single-handedly propel the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves to the bestseller list?). Two quick examples of their importance from the latest in our Val & Kit Mystery Series, Death in Door County:  

She wore blue pencil pants and had a soft-pink wool cardigan. The hyphen makes it clear the color of the cardigan was a soft shade of pink, not a bright pink or dark pink. Without the hyphen, we would have been telling the reader the sweater felt soft, not rough.

As we ate, the three of them talked about Doris. With or without the comma, the meaning would be clear for most readers once they finished the sentence. But without the comma, some might pause—and gag—at the thought of Val and Kit eating the three other women at their table.

Granted, many unnecessary uses have been eliminated, making even me happy. What was once to morrow became to-morrow and is now the far-superior tomorrow. Then again, it was already tomorrow when I first laid eyes on it, so I didn’t experience any growing pains. Perhaps remembering this example will help me embrace change.

But because punctuation is so important and because of the ever-changing rules and acceptable styles, there are two writing habits I’m not going to change:

  1. Staying abreast of current rules so that if I break them, it’s for good reason (for effect, perhaps, especially in dialogue or first person).
  2. Being consistent. Many “rules” are just style choices, but pick and stick to give the reader a more seamless reading experience. Follow the MLA Style Manual, for example, and put a comma before the adverb too at the end of a sentence. Or abide by The Chicago Manual of Style and omit such a comma. Just be consistent.
Be consistent, that is, until things change. And they will. That will never change.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Another Note . . . Roz Muses on Music Magic

On my visit to Door County last year, Patty’s beautiful then-thirteen-year-old granddaughter Ella showed me a picture of her future husband. Turns out he’s a member of the boy band One Direction. No surprise there, since Ella’s a singer herself. In Ella’s bedroom I marveled at the poster of the boys adorning the wall, as she pointed out—among other things—that they all had good teeth even though they were British. I congratulated her on her good taste. At the time I was only vaguely aware of One Direction, but I have since become a fan and look forward to the wedding (although I know thirteen-year-old girls can be fickle, and Ella might, by now, have another husband in her sights).

Ella, right, with cousin and manager Emma—and One Direction!

I was lucky enough to have been a teenager in the sixties, in London—at that time the center of the universe—and therefore familiar from the beginning with the ultimate boy band. Yep, the Beatles. Okay, they were not the first boy band; in fact, they weren’t even called a boy band. But sorry, as far as most of the English are concerned, it all started with John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

When I was Ella’s age, I was going to marry George. Paul was too pretty, John too smart, and Ringo . . . well, Ringo was just the drummer and sat in the back. But George was perfect. A lot has changed since then, and at some point I gave up my obsession with George, and we both moved on.

But my conversation with Ella got me thinking about the power and necessity of the boy bands and their ilk. And even more important, how music defines our generations and a good tune can bring back heart-stopping memories. I love a lot of today’s music, but I can get carried away by a good Journey song or The Four Seasons just as easily as I can with Maroon 5, The Black Eyed Peas, or . . . well, One Direction. Baby Love sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes takes me back to my teenage years and Monday nights at the local dance hall. When I listen to a Tina Turner song, I can see my sister dancing on a table at a Saturday night party. And the crooning of Frank Sinatra recalls my parents slow-dancing in our living room. Even though, at the time, it was a huge yuck, the memory of it is still sweet.

The first time I sang The Star-Spangled Banner as a new American citizen, my heart was full. Baseball games in Houston and singing Deep in the Heart of Texas is a proud and joyous experience. When I hear the hymn Jerusalem, I am moved with love for England, my country of birth.

But my most recent memory of the power of music came just last week. Neil Diamond at Fenway Park leading the crowd in the chorus of Sweet Caroline in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Boy, good times never seemed so good.

Emma and Ella Makin’ Music Magic

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Sunshine Award

We’ve been tagged with The Sunshine Award!  First, we’ll link back to Sharon Jones. Next, Roz will answer some questions, and then we’ll tag 10 other bloggers.
Thank you, Sharon Jones, for thinking of us!
1. What is your favorite Christmas/festive movie?
The Bishop’s Wife, starring Loretta Young and Cary Grant. It was made in 1947, and it’s timeless. Cary is so handsome, and Loretta is gorgeous. It’s romantic, funny, and magical. Love it.
 2. What is your favorite flower?
Tulips. No contest. They are the Coco Chanel of flowers. The simple LBD of blooms. Never any need to dress them up with ferns or baby’s breath. Elegant and classy all on their own. Also, you’ll never prick your finger on a tulip.
 3. What is your favorite non-alcoholic beverage?
I was a Diet Coke fiend for several decades. Then someone offered me a Diet Dr Pepper, and I was like, where have you been all my life, Doc? 
4. What is your passion?
I’m generally too lazy or tired for passion these days, except for writing.  Especially when it’s going well; and the words fall into place; and I share it with my partner. When we find something that didn’t come out quite right, and we laugh our heads off, I remember how lucky I am to be doing this. That’s passion.
5. What is your favorite time of year?
My favorite time begins with Halloween. Picking something silly and fun to wear and preparing to be amazed at the creativity of others. 
Roz, dressed as a desperate housewife for Halloween
Then there’s the certainty that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, a uniquely American holiday. I give thanks for loved ones and for living where I do. And the best part is, we are not done yet. Along comes Christmas. Glorious Christmas. Just being in a mall at Christmastime or listening to Frank Sinatra sing a Christmas song makes me happy. And finally, just when you think it can’t get any better than this, the January sales begin.
 6. What is your favorite time of day?
When I get home from a busy day and can slide into my big fluffy slippers, pour a Diet Dr Pepper, and read my e-mail.
 7. What is your favorite physical activity?
Wearing my fluffy slippers, sipping my Dr. Pepper, and reading my e-mail.
8. What is your favorite vacation?
Anywhere with people I love. Could be on a cruise to the Bahamas, a road trip across America, or sharing one end of a couch with someone I love and watching an old movie.

Now we want to tag some of our favorite bloggers:
Keep it going if you have time; no worries if you don’t!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Our English Language Must, Like, Change—Roz’s Take

Many years ago, when I was a schoolgirl in England, my beloved English teacher pulled me to the front of the class to chastise me for using the word okay. I was mortified as she explained to me and the rest of the class that okay was American slang, definitely not proper English, and certainly not okay.

I, on the other hand, thought it was the epitome of cool. I had picked it up from one of the many American TV shows and movies we were, and still are, bombarded with. Now, many, many years later, after living in the U.S. for more than half my life, I am amused at how specific words, once used only in England, have almost vanished and been replaced by Americanisms. I return to my native England at least once a year, and I never fail to notice how English English is evolving. It’s, like, so totally cool.

The list is endless. A flat is now an apartment. A lift is an elevator. Women carry purses, not handbags. A television advert has been replaced by a commercial. And the word guys is commonly used to refer to a group of people, regardless of gender (I think we can blame the highly popular TV show Friends for that one). English people, like their American cousins, are, like, constantly using the word like inappropriately, to the extent that it will eventually be, like, proper.

And it’s not just across the Atlantic Ocean that language is evolving. I moved to Texas from Minnesota thirty years ago. When I first arrived in The Lone Star State, I was charmed by the Texas accent and unique language. Texans were often fixin’ to do something, and y’all was the preferred second-person pronoun. Sadly, with so many Yankees moving to our state, the Texas idioms and unique way of speaking are growing rare. The exception is y’all (that’s staying right here, thank you, ma’am).

When Patty and I first started writing together, she would sometimes graciously point out a specific word I had used, questioning if it was British. And she was always right. But I think she would agree that those British words creep into my narrative less and less. It’s not so much that I have become Americanized; it’s that the English language (as spoken in England) has done so.

Of course, we all know that English has to evolve (as Patty, my wordsmith, pointed out). If not, we would all be speaking like characters in a Jane Austen novel, or even worse, a Shakespearean play. And that’s just, like, totally okay! NOT!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Coming Out of the Closet

by Roz

I’m referring to the closet where books are written. Admitting to friends and loved ones that I am a co-novelist, now published, has taken many years. My writing partner, who is much braver than I am, has always been out and loving it. So, a big thank you to Patty.

Of course, having two novels available on Kindle, with a third (Death in Door County) on the way, has made it easier. These days, when the subject of my writing does come up and I am asked the inevitable question by non-writing people (and I am always asked), I have a darn good response.

Before Kindle, it went something like this:

Non-Writing Person: “Oh, you are a writer?”
Me: “Yes.”
NWP: “Have you ever been published?”
Me: “The food here is very good . . . ” or “I think it might rain later . . . ” or “Do you think Daniel Craig is tall enough to play James Bond?”

Basically, I’d grab any response that would change the subject before the glazed-over look appeared in NWP’s eyes. And it always did. It used to be that the worst thing you could say to any writer was are you published? These days, almost anyone can be published. But it’s not easy. It takes hard work, editing and formatting knowledge, and definitely some technical skill. And I’m not even talking about the actual writing part. That’s why I leave all the publishing stuff to Patty. In fact, without her, I would still be so far back in the closet, I’d be eating dust bunnies for breakfast.

The reason for my continuing hesitation was all the attention and fuss I was sure would be heaped upon me. I’m just not comfortable with that. Nevertheless, when our second book was published, I decided I would tell people, but only if the subject came up.

So, the very next day at work, my boss just happened to mention how much her mother loved her Kindle and was always looking for new writers. I could feel Patty kick my Texas shins all the way from Wisconsin, urging me to take advantage of this opportunity. So, I did it. I announced to the office of six people that I would be going to lunch at noon, and oh, by the way, I have co-authored not one but two murder mysteries and they are available on Kindle.

I had been expecting champagne corks to start popping and the paparazzi to camp outside my office. But it wasn’t quite that way. In fact, apart from a few raised eyebrows and several looks of suspicion, the only comment was from the twenty-two-year-old girl who asked if she could pose for the next cover. Seriously, where was all the attention and fuss that I had been dreading?  And shouldn’t I now be happy that no one was fussing?

Mike, my one true love (for the past thirteen years), has always been so encouraging and was excited when the first book went live on Kindle. So excited, in fact, that he’s read almost half of it. I should mention that although Mike is a voracious reader, the current book on his nightstand is a tome on the the Punic Wars. So, he’s not exactly our target audience.

But here’s the reward for coming out. Even though my writing wasn’t mentioned again at my place of work for several days, my boss came in one morning and announced that her sister had bought our second book, The Murder of Susan Reed, and she actually enjoyed it. Phew!!!!

Okay, so it’s not really the attention I fear, it’s the bad attention. The good stuff is worth leaving the closet for.