November 13, 2014

The problem with cozy mysteries

Writing cozies can be tricky. The rules are pretty well defined, even if you choose to write, as I do, a 'modern cozy'. There are three. 1)Cozy writers do not depict grizzly murders and autopsies are avoided. We don't have psychotic killers torturing hapless victims in gruesome detail. 2)Sex is glossed over with only the incidental reference to 'incredibly tall, slim men with well-cut graying hair and eyes the color of smoky quartz under wire-rimmed glasses'. Perhaps adding 'kind of bookish and sexy - quite the studly muffin'.  3)And, of course, we don't use foul language.

Of these restrictions I find I have no trouble at all avoiding explicit violence in my books. I am not a fan of this sort of thing. I turn my head when a doctor needs to give an injection on a medical show. I certainly am not going to write about some nut dismembering bodies or the joy he gets as he watches the last life's blood flow from a beautiful young woman's body. My victims tend to be obnoxious people that no one much likes who are conked on the head and found by the side of the road.

Next there is sex. - always an interesting subject and I'm not averse to the idea. But I was raised in the 50's and 60's when we didn't talk about it. I went to a Catholic girls' high school and to hear any of the conversations taking place at lunch no one in that entire school so much as kissed a boy. This, of course, was amazingly far from the truth. We were as fooling around at the drive-in as any healthy teenager, but we just did not discuss it. So not writing about it is pretty natural to me.

Foul language, on the other hand, can be a problem. I actually grew up in a home where I never heard my parents utter anything more profane than damn and hell. When my father needed to fix the plumbing or some other odious task, my mother would shoo us all out of the house for fear something stronger might slip from between his lips.

Of course, this did not prevent me from learning this language elsewhere and using it. My everyday speech is not chock full of colorful invective, I do occasionally throw out a word or two my mother would not approve of.

So what is acceptable in a cozy written in 2014? Can we use (this is silly I know) the S-word? Can we reference God? Can a leading lady say, "Oh Christ!"? And of course there is the big one - the F-bomb. Now I don't advocate throwing it around like confetti, but I do feel there are appropriate times that it might be used. As my children could tell you, if they heard me scream f..... out loud, they would most certainly know that I am really, really mad or have gone completely around the bend. And I feel the same holds true in a cozy. A crazed killer saying, "Oh gosh, you are an idiot" does not have the dramatic effect as something much more strongly worded. And so the question is, just how much is too much - and is it still a cozy?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. And by the way, I will be a guest on We B Swangin webcast this upcoming Wednesday, November 19th at 4 pm. Tune in at WLVS Radio Live www.listenvisionlive.com for what I'm sure will be an amusing hour.

October 29, 2014

The real Angela Forrest - Jean, Regina, and Mary

  

Of the characters I've created Angela Delphinium Forrest is my favorite. A woman of a certain age, she is charming, unpredictable, attractive, intelligent and whimsical. She's a wonderful hostess, be it a planned dinner or a surprise midnight invasion of nosy neighbors. She can whip up cookies for one hundred or a Thanksgiving dinner for twelve at a moment's notice. She owns the appropriate clothes for any event. On Thanksgiving Day she might be the perfect Pilgrim. In the dead of night, a sleek black cat burglar - with a splash of red at the neck, of course. She may be eccentric, verging on sheer lunacy, but she loves her family, is fiercely protective, and is always up for anything that sounds like trouble.

This lovely lady is, of course, an invention, but she has her roots in three wonderful women I have been fortunate to have in my life; Jean Petersen, Regina Clover, Mary Garrison.

Jean Petersen, my dear mother-in-law, is as lovely today as she was when I first met her almost fifty years ago. She is the perfect mother-in-law – never intrusive, always helpful. Family always comes first for Jean and we rely on her wisdom and support. She is a great cook and the ideal hostess. And she is an intelligent lady who isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Regina Clover, my mother, died 1986. I still miss her. She had a wicked sense of humor and a keen intelligence. She loved to tease people, my father especially. She accepted what life dealt out with patience and faith and there was rarely a situation where she couldn’t find something to laugh about. And although my father and brother were the writers in the family, my mother is the person who instilled in me my love of books, especially mysteries.

While Angela became a distillation of all these women, Mary Garrison, my best friend’s mother and something of a second mother to me, was the original inspiration for the character. Mary was a complex mixture of naiveté, gullibility, common sense, intelligence and business savvy. She loved life and people and her family most of all. She was a lady who rolled with the punches and usually found something good somewhere in the chaos. And Mary did indeed dress for every occasion – be it a sweater, skirt and knee socks for going back to school at sixty-something or a complete country western ensemble when visiting New Mexico.

Mary left us in September. She is missed by so many people. And I’ve been feeling like my muse left with her. I have been having a very hard time writing Angela. But I suddenly realized that Angela, like Mary, Jean and Regina, knows that the secret when encountering stumbling blocks in life is simply to do the next right thing. So starting today, Angela is back in business - wearing a black wool sheath by St. John covered in white dog hair and a Red Sox baseball cap.
The Locket "see Angela at her best"- free this month at http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=penny+clover+petersen

  

September 16, 2014

Inspiring or not - September SinC-Up

I recently became a member of ‘Sisters in Crime’, a service organization dedicated to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. And wouldn’t you know it, I had no sooner sent in a check, than I got a writing assignment - an invitation to participate in September’s SinC-up for bloggers. (www.sistersincrime.org/bloghop)  So this week’s little missive actually will be about writing!

I would imagine that all writers are inspired by someone or something they have read - be it a childhood story that so stimulated the imagination that they embarked on wild adventures that they would later write about - or, perhaps, reading a gritty page-turner and realizing that that neighbor down the street who peers out the window with wild eyes through a crack in the curtain is a villain who needs a story.

And I am no exception. There are two authors to whom I’m grateful. The first is Harper Lee who wrote with such poetry that every time I read To Kill a Mockingbird I am once again totally immersed in her beautiful words. The sounds, the smells, the ‘feel’ of Maycomb become so real that I can’t put it down, even at the twentieth reading! I will never write such a book. I spent years trying to find a story in my heart that equaled it when I finally dawned on me that I didn't need to. It’s been done - perfectly.

But, I also realized what was most important to me about To Kill a Mockingbird.  Harper Lee made me want to write. It took a while, but at the ripe old age of fifty-nine, I finally found stories that I can tell in my own voice – cozy little mysteries. They’re not great American novels, but they are fun, little books that can take you out of yourself for a few hours. And with the stressful lives we all live, I think they serve a valuable purpose.

The second author who inspired me greatly was the one who actually gave me a kick start to write Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My. Her name shall remain unrevealed for two reasons. The first reason is that I've forgotten it.

The second reason (and the reason I've forgotten it) is that the book she had written was so bad that I couldn't bring myself to finish it. I complained loudly that “apparently anyone could get published and I wonder who she slept with to do so” or words to that effect. My charming husband, Tom, then said, “Well, why don’t you write one yourself?” And a book was born.

So thank you Miss Lee and Miss Unmemorable for the inspiration to craft words and the incentive to begin the process.


Check out mystery writer, Patricia Gligor, at http://pat-writersforum.blosgpot.com.

August 20, 2014

Medicare and the brand new me

Saturday I officially became a really old person. My brand new Medicare card is in my wallet, my knees hurt when I go up stairs, I have a pair of reading glasses in every room, and I don’t know what photo bombing is. I knew I’d arrived when my six year old granddaughter was explaining that she went real bowling, not Wii bowling, and condescendingly explained that Wii was a game.


I’m writing this as I wait  twenty-five minutes for my Clairol’s Age Defy hair coloring to work. It is busy correcting the seven signs of aging hair. Who knew? I thought getting gray was my only problem.  But now I know that I must also worry that my once youthful tresses are apparently lackluster, coarse, frizzy, unruly, dry, and breakable.

Cosmetics manufacturers certainly know what they’re doing. They are acutely aware that baby boomers do not want to age gracefully. And so most of the various creams and lotions – and there are quite a few in my bathroom cabinet - have ‘age defying’ somewhere on the label. And if it’s not ‘age defying’, it’s ‘lifting’ or 'firming'. If I had just thought to pickle myself in my twenties, maybe I wouldn't have to use all this stuff.

Where did I go wrong? My mother used Pond’s cold cream and a smidge of lanolin for moisturizer and her skin was absolutely beautiful.

Oops! Time to see just how much age I have defied using this special coloring. Well, would you look at that? I appear to be ten years younger. Oh wait, let me put my glasses on. Oh dear. As Emily Litella would say, “Nevermind.”


*For you youngsters out there, Emily Litella was a brilliant, if often mistaken, spokeswoman for many SNL causes.  

July 31, 2014

Killing me softly with a song

How many songs roll through your head in a week? And how do they get there? You know, the little ditty you just can't get rid of.

This morning while I was brushing my teeth I was singing Sesame Street in my mind. Why? I have no little ones here with me. I don't watch Sesame Street and can't recall hearing it lately.

Baker Street I could understand. I like Baker Street - kudos to Gerry Rafferty for writing it - and I was talking about it the other day. Having Baker Street run through my mind would make sense. But Sesame Street? No offense to BurpaErnie, as my son used to call them, but I don't particularly care for the tune. But there it was, "Can you tell me how to get, how to get, to Sesame Street."

It seems like it's almost always songs I don't like much. I once had Benny and the Jets stuck in my head for almost a month. Not one of Sir Elton's finest, in my opinion. My mother had told me that the best way to rid yourself of an unwanted melody is to sing the entire ditty out loud. So I spent about a week singing, "Hey kids, dum de dum de li di, dum di dum di dum dum, B-B-B-Benny and the Jets" every chance I could get. I must have sounded like a broken juke box. But since I didn't know the words, so I couldn't get rid of the song.

When I sit down at the computer to play solitaire, as we writers tend to do when we're supposed to be writing, I almost always chant the juvenile little ditty, "Yank my doodle, it's a dandy." Why? Why I ask myself.

As I am sure you've guessed by now, I am low on material for my blog. I am going on vacation this week and fully expect rest and relaxation to fill me with brilliant ideas to share when I get back. In the meantime, I Elmo seems to be singing the Hallelujah chorus. HELP!

July 8, 2014

Flying High

This weekend my sister and I will be taking off from BWI for our annual pilgrimage to St. Paul, Minnesota. And I will be doing this cold turkey! I’m out of Valium and I draw the line at getting ploxed at nine-thirty on a Friday morning.
Each July we volunteer for this trial by airline to visit our beloved nephew and his family. They live in Thailand for ten months of the year and come home to Minnesota to visit parents and other assorted relatives for a rather short summer vacation. And as they spend about twenty-four hours in each direction in travel time with three young girls, it's hardly fair for old Aunties to insist they make another trek to good old Washington, DC. So old Aunties just bite the bullet and get on a damned plane.
Flying has become quite the ordeal, hasn't it? After spending an afternoon making calls to all parties involved in this adventure to make sure that the principals were all available for that week-end – nobody wants to fly to St. Paul only to find that St. Paul relations are elsewhere – I searched out the best itinerary and bought tickets on-line and sent the information to my sister. She called immediately to say, “We’re flying out of BWI and back into Dulles? Is that right?” No, of course, it isn't right. It’s just what I booked. I then spent another hour getting the mix-up straight with Delta, who were very helpful, actually.
Next come the logistics of getting to and from the airport and the hours of thought I need to put into packing. Why I need to put hours of thought into this, I have no idea. I just do. It’s only four days and I end up wearing the same two tops the entire time. But one needs to be prepared. Perhaps one will be invited to a ball at the governor’s mansion. It could happen.
The airport experience is a trip in itself; the check-in, the security line, getting the right shoes back on my feet, a quick Bloody Mary because by this time I don’t care anymore if it’s early morning, two hours shoved into a sardine tin next to a man who grumbles in his sleep, and Voila! We’ve arrived. Piece of apple pie. Can’t wait until next year. I think I’ll walk.

May 28, 2014

Mother Nature has my back

   I have a friend who is an early riser. By this I mean she voluntarily hops out of bed at five in the morning. Not only does she get up with, or possibly before, the birds, she also exercises daily and recommends it to me fairly frequently. I don't understand early risers and I particularly dislike exercise.
   But as I am aging at a rather alarming pace, I realize that if I don't use some of my muscles some of the time, they may decide to retire to a lovely Caribbean island without me. This poses a dilemma. 
   Luckily for me, Mother Nature takes lazy saps such as I into account. She has perfected a daily exercise regimen for seniors and we aren't even aware we're doing it.
   We've all stood in front of a closet at one time or another and wondered why we were standing there, haven't we? What most of you don't know is that this simple brain fart, as I've heard it called, turns into an exercise form as we age.
   For instance, it's morning. I've just gotten to the kitchen and turned the kettle on, but it's quite chilly. I go back upstairs to get my sweater. I walk into the bedroom and get a tissue and return to the kitchen. It's still chilly.
   I once again go up the stairs and into the bedroom. This time I quickly use the facilities and return to the kitchen. You guessed it. It's still chilly.
   Third time's the charm. I walk up the stairs while repeating to myself, "Sweater, sweater, sweater, sweater" until I reach the closet and grab the sweater. Three trips up and down the stairs and the day has hardly begun.
   Since this type of exercise only works to keeps my creaking knees somewhat oiled and a bit of cardio, Mother Nature has supplied a variation on this theme. The carrying of objects up and down the stairs for no apparent reason. This keeps the arms from getting too flabby. It goes like this. I take the fish for dinner out of the freezer in the basement and walk directly to the closet in my bedroom up two flights of stairs. I stand there for a moment trying to figure out why the hell I am holding a fish in the closet. I decide I must retrace my steps. After walking back to the kitchen, then to the basement, all time holding the frozen fish, I realize that I intended to put my sweater back in the closet because I was now quite comfortable heat-wise.
   After two additional trips, one to take up the towels and put them away, and one to retrieve the fish from the closet where I put it with the towels, the sweater is hung up and dinner is on the table!
   I haven't actually counted, but I think that yesterday I walked up and down my stairs at least 300 times either forgetting to fetch a sweater or the like or forgetting why in the name of all that's holy I was upstairs (or downstairs or on the deck) in the first place. This could be an exaggeration, but I prefer to think not. Mother Nature, I thank you very much.

May 22, 2014

Remembering My Brother

On May 22nd, 1968 my brother, Tim Clover, was killed in Viet Nam. A long dark night began for our family. It was only our deep, abiding love for our parents, for his widow and son, and for each other that saw our family through until morning finally dawned, slowly creeping over the horizon, lighting our way once again. 

Tim was truly special - our only boy, handsome, charismatic, highly intelligent. He was a poet and a dreamer who hated the war. And he was my best friend from the day I was born until the day he was lost. Although I wrote this eulogy years ago, time hasn’t erased the sense of loss. My life is a good one. I have a wonderful husband and family, close friends, and beautiful grand-children. But I will miss Tim always.

                                                                                        Tim 

Glancing out the window I catch a glimpse of the last sunlight of day brightening, almost artificially, the Western sky, thrusting me back to the remembrance of the last light of my day long years ago. An interminable dark night followed before a slow dawn. The pain is sometimes as acute now as it was then, only now it last seconds, minutes, instead of hours and long nights.

            Could it be almost fifteen years already? When in that time did I lose the lovely silliness of childhood? When did I become so inhibited that I ceased sitting on curbs for lack of chairs or mimicking the caged gorilla to make him talk to me? At what point was I unable to utter the beautiful little fantasies and half-truths that fall trippingly from every child's tongue?

            Fifteen years! A long time and, yet, not so long. Not long enough to heal the wound, but long enough to make other matters equally or more important. Long enough to become a woman, wife, and mother, but not long enough for the soul to catch up with the body. In many ways, I will always remain an insecure teen-ager waiting for her brother's approval.

            The scenes my mind conjures up are so agonizingly real, but without them my life would be sorely empty. His voice, his mannerisms, his face are only shadows of memory. His uncanny insight into my mind and mine into his, the need now for fumbling words where once none were needed, the total empathy of brother and sister that I now miss are the substance of the memory brought back so abruptly to me in a seconds glance at a fading sky.

            He was a part of me since my earliest memory, the person most closely entwined with my childhood and youth. He consoled me and wept with me in those horrendous teen-age years that unmercifully coincided with the sixties, that time of turbulence so unfathomable for a girl of seventeen. This is a eulogy for a beloved brother who was lost in that turbulence. Long may he rest now in peace.


May 7, 2014

Life lessons learned



Kids learn a lot of good things playing sports. My son, Matt, played baseball. This is a wonderful sport for teaching patience, concentration, team work, and how to win graciously or lose with dignity. But sometimes, some more interesting lessons can be learned!

In 1999, Matt's team had won the local championship and was headed to the regional play-offs hoping to get to the Babe Ruth World Series in Abbeville, Louisiana. The usual etiquette had been for the host team's families to house the players for the tournament. And we had been assured it was all taken care of.

Imagine our surprise when we got to Hamilton New Jersey to find that no such accommodation had been made. Good sportsmanship requires me to believe that this was a genuine mistake on Hamilton's (our chief rival) part. Others may think differently.

At any rate, there we were with fifteen boys with no place to lay their heads. The scramble began to find a motel that had room for the team, the coaching staff, and the parents. Luckily, there was such a place to be had just across Route 1 in Pennsylvania. The only catch being that this motel was attached to a 'gentleman's club'. A glance at the clientele might have you looking up 'gentleman' in the dictionary, but the rooms were clean and we were close to the ball field.  

An interesting thing about Route 1 in Pennsylvania is that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a sex shop or a gentleman's club. There are just tons of them. Every block seems to have at least one or the other.

Well, our boys learned quite a few things that week other than the value of hard work and good sportsmanship. They learned that working girls sometimes rent hotel rooms by the hour, that adults who have had too much to drink sometimes go skinny dipping in hotel pools and don't seem to mind a couple of idiot kids jumping in with them, and that if you really annoy your coach by climbing onto the roof in the middle of the night, he will bang on your door and get you up at six a.m. for an impromptu practice.

Despite the odd week, our team won the tournament and they got to Louisiana for the Babe Ruth World Series where they acquitted themselves well coming in third. And I think the added attractions just made it all more memorable.

April 22, 2014

What would Daisy do? Character development 101

This week I have to honor of being a guest on Evelyn Cullet's 'Evey's Writers Blog'. Check it out at http://evelyncullet.com/penny-clover-petersen-daisy-rose-mystery-series/#comments

What would Daisy do?

One of things I like about writing is being someone else for a while. I can be eccentric, or angry, or charming and it all works out for the best. I like to take a situation and imagine how each of my characters would handle it. I have three main characters, sisters Daisy and Rose who own a gift boutique together and their mother Angela who interferes.


Suppose these ladies are on their way home from a funeral. They drove separately and are about ten minutes apart as they pass through a speed trap. What would each lady do?


Angela Forrest after being pulled over would first let her dog, Percy, out of the car to answer a call of nature. She would then tell the police officer that she's so sorry she may have been a little distracted. She is on her way home from a dear friend's funeral and her mind was elsewhere. She would go on to say that she hoped he is wearing sunscreen, especially on his neck, because he certainly doesn't want sun spots later on in life, and he could use a little Biz in the laundry to get the tiny ketchup stain off his shirt. Finally she would scoop up Percy who had chosen the officer's leg to have a good time with, give him her calling card, and invite him for dinner. She would then get back in the car and drive away, the policeman never having had the chance to get a word in.


Daisy Forrest Greene, on the other hand, would probably not be so diplomatic. She isn't the greatest fan of the police, her ex-husband, rat-bastard extraordinaire Bill Greene, being a detective with the Maryland State Police. I'm pretty sure Daisy would roll down her window, give the officer a 'look' and say, "What!" After being asked if she realized that she had been speeding, she would answer that, of course she was and you would be too if you had just had to sit through the longest, most boring wake of your entire life. One hundred and fifty people in a hot room overwhelmed with the smell of lilies talking about a nasty old woman who was ninety-nine years old if she was a day and the only reason these people were there was on the off chance that she left them something in her will. Finally she would hand him her license and registration after a bit of digging in her purse and tell him to get a move on if he was giving her a ticket because she had a vodka and tonic waiting at home with her name on it. Incorrectly, but fortunately for her, he would think that she was Detective Greene's wife, not his ex, and give her a warning. She would sigh, shake her head and speed off.


And then there is Rose Forrest. A bit less volatile, Rose would give the officer an alluring smile as she hands him her license and registration that happen to be right at hand, tosses her hair back as she says, "I'm so sorry. The day was so lovely, I guess I got a little carried away. It's so good to be alive." A tear would trickle down her cheek and she would mention that she was just returning from attending a close relations funeral. She could also absolutely understand if he needed to give her a ticket. She really should be more careful and will in the future. At which point, the poor sap, already worn down by Angela and Daisy, simply gives in to the inevitable and tells her he's very sorry about her loss and please take care.


Of course, none of these is even remotely resembles how I would handle this sort of thing in real life. What would actually happen is I would have purse panic looking for my license, become nearly hysterical as I fumble in the glove box for the registration, answer politely if all too honestly all his questions - yes, of course I know I was doing 60 in a 40 zone and no, I have not been drinking unless you count the 14 cups of tea I had waiting for my mother to say good-bye to all of her friends. At this point I no doubt would burst out crying. And not looking too alluring with a red runny nose, I would get a big fat ticket and be sent on my way.







April 4, 2014

Seven to Ten Days from Tuesday

Do you ever wonder if you're invisible? The Invisible Customer or the Invisible Patient or the Invisible
Have you ever thought that you were, perhaps, an Invisible Person? Are you, like I seem to be, the Invisible Customer, the Invisible Patient, the Invisible Voice Crying in the Wilderness? I'd like to think I'm not the only person in the world who seems to be constantly overlooked.

An instance of this rather annoying condition -  my husband and I recently contributed to Maryland Public Television and requested a thank-you gift. Tom has been looking forward to listening to endless hours of 1950's pop music. I have not, but that's not really the issue. The issue is that it's been almost two months now and we have no music.

I called this morning to find out where the heck our CDs were. After being put on hold three times as the woman who answered tried to figure out just who I was and what I had requested, I was told that, oh dear, it seems that our little contribution was incorrectly entered into whatever database they use. Silence.

Silly question from me. When can I expect my music? Well, if they have one in the studio - about two weeks from next Tuesday. Is it me or is this rather odd? Perhaps, they only mail things on Tuesday.  At any rate, Invisible Person that I am, I got a rather vague apology and no promise of any particular help. I mentioned that this was not a great way to do business and got a pretty darned soggy, "Sorry."

And my husband just walked in the door and gave me a second Invisible Instance - just today. He'd been to the eye doctor. He has been seeing this doctor for several years now, in fact, ever since he opened the practice. The receptionist asked my husband a long list of questions which he answered (with a degree of irritability, not understanding why he was telling her things she must already know). When she came to the last one - "How did you hear about us?" - he realized that she thought he was a new patient. She hadn't found his file. Really!? Invisibility strikes again.

Anyhow, I find that this dread disease seems to attack me more and more often. I think I'm actually fading because it couldn't be that the current customer service mentality is not so much about service, as it is about getting you off the phone, could it? For any of you who also have this affliction, I wish you well and you'll receive the gift for your generous donation seven to ten days from next Tuesday.

April 2, 2014

Guest blogger - Mia Marie Rafield

I have a very special blog today. My great-niece, Mia Maria Rafield, has written a short story. Mia was visiting Mimi and Poppy's house where she discovered an actual, old-fashioned typewriter. She was intrigued, deeming it "fascinating". Mia mastered the operation of the machine in no time and began to write.

Mia is in the second grade and loves to read, read, read. But she's not only a bookworm. Mia also has her yellow belt in karate, is a Daisy Scout, loves archery and climbing, and they haven't invented an amusement park ride that she won't go on. And I have to add that she's cute as a bug!

I have re-typed the entire story and letter here with a bit of editing (spelling and punctuation only, the text is all Mia's). I hope you enjoy this budding author's work as much as I did.

Dear Aunt Penny,
Please publish my story - I have been working on this for 5 years, I mean minutes, and I think you understand. So anyway please publish my story.
Love Mia Marie Rafield

Wednesday March 12 2014

In the beginning of the day, well I guess it was not so great of a morning. My Nana told me that if I did not fold my clothes and clean my room and take everything off of my hangers that I could not go to Mimi's and Poppy's house. That made me sad.

So I rushed right in to my room and got to work.

20 minutes later the doorbell rings. I got my socks and shoes, got my bags and stood at the door. But when I opened the door it was my brothers' baby sitter. I got my brother and gave him to her, I said good bye. I shut the door and waited on the sofa.

10 minutes later the door bell rings again. This time was sure it was them. And it was. I was so excited!




March 24, 2014

Let's literally take a stand

I heard some disturbing news the other day and I was so amazed that my teeth literally fell out of my mouth. And yes, apparently I can say that because the news was that the OED, as well as Mirriam-Webster, define 'literally' as 'virtually'. Will the madness never end?
literally
Mirriam-Webster 2:  in effect :  virtually 
Oxford English Dictionary
c. colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’. Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that English is literally an ever-moving river of thought and change, and frequently sludge, but really, this is bit much. Let's face it, this is big.

If we accept that what is literal is actually only figurative than there goes the comic validity of Sheldon Cooper cocking his head, raising his eyebrows as he says, "literally?" when Penny enthusiastically says something like, "My head literally exploded!" This always gets a huge laugh, as it should. Sheldon is a hoot, as is Penny. (If you don't watch The Big Bang Theory, you might try it. We all need a little inane laughter in our lives.)

Not only will comedy be effected. How will we know when literally means just that. Suppose I went to a hockey game and was hit in the mouth by a puck and I was telling you that my teeth literally fell out of my mouth. How would you know whether or not they had? Well, the ice pack, tears, the inability to open my mouth and the need to write all of this down for you might give it away. But you get my drift.

So, as writers, readers, and lovers of the English language, I think we should literally take a stand - in front of the TV as we watch The Big Bang Theory and wear helmets to hockey games while standing in an upright position






March 11, 2014

Odds and ends/College Park Book Festival, March 22nd

Just a few odds and ends before I get back to the serious business of writing Book Number Three. Can you believe it? I finally got the first few pages written and am determined to continue uninterrupted. I find the patently ridiculous notion that I can go for an hour or so uninterrupted amusing. At any rate, I left Daisy explaining to Rose that the ghost she saw was real. Since Rose is taking some convincing on this (being a firm believer that there are no ghosts in this world) and since Daisy is rapidly downing Spooky Juice (a nice little Halloween cocktail that Rose is testing out) to calm her rapidly beating heart, I'd better hurry up here or Daisy will be too looped to tell her story!

So, a quick Eileen insurance update. We all need a good laugh. March 1, her new private pay Kaiser insurance kicked in, so Tom took her prescriptions to be filled at the Rite-Aid she has been using for years. Come to find out that these drugs, which are old, generic, tried and true meds that are in no way odd or experimental, and which were prescribed by Kaiser doctors and have been covered by Kaiser for the last two years, are NOT covered by this Kaiser policy. How about that!

Adding insult to injury, Rite-Aid neglected to tell Tom that there was a coupon available on-line that would reduce the cost by half. And of course didn't point out that if he had the meds filled at Target he could get them for a mere fraction of the $200 they were charging. I love our health care system. How dare anyone suggest that perhaps changing it is a good thing.

On a happier note, I had my first ever spa experience. My darling husband must have been in fear of me going bananas, so he got me a spa day for Christmas. I was just too tense to use it in January. He didn't understand the thinking here, but I feel that other tense ladies will. I mean, I was so stressed that the thought of choosing which salad I wanted for lunch was a little too much.

So I waited until February and enjoyed a stress-free day being pampered. I thought I might be able to clear my mind and do a bit of plotting for my book, but I was just too mellow. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Tolkien, good times don't really make a good story, so there you have it - lovely day and home to a lovely man who took me out to dinner that night. Other than that, the long, long winter seems to be coming to an end! Yay!!! One short announcement - March 22nd – I’ll be taking part in the Second Annual College Park Book Festival on March 22, 2014 from 2 to 4 PM at the Hollywood Methodist Church (on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Hollywood Road). The event is co-sponsored by the College Park Lions Club and the College Park Community Library. This is a family, fun filled activity which gives us a chance to highlight local authors and encourage reading in the community. I hope you’ll come by and say hello.

February 27, 2014

Cabin fever and a grammar hammer

Well, this winter seems never-ending and cabin fever is bringing out the worst in me. I just read a list of the most 'contented' states - states where life expectancy is longer, that have a very low percentage of obese people, and have higher yearly incomes. Most of them were damned cold; Minnesota and both Dakotas. I'm thinking people live longer because their organs are frozen for about a third of the year, and so, are better preserved.

But, that's neither here nor there. Cabin fever is making my worst nit-picky side come out. Everything annoys way too easily. So I've decided to have a pet peeve a week and kind of spread out the irritation until spring blooms and I can get into the open air and take a walk. (To those of you who will point out that I actually can take a walk in the cold - I don't want to.)

This week's peeve is grammar. My mother was a funny lady and pretty lenient about most things, but when it came to table manners and grammar she was a real stickler and I like to think I'm carrying her torch, so to speak. Yes, I know that English is a fluid, ever-changing language. But I believe it's important to master the basics before creating something new.  

There are a few things I've given up on. "Hopefully" when you mean "I hope" for example. Though strictly incorrect, the meaning is clear. My mother held hopefully this was used by politicians in the hope that no one would actually associate them personally with what they were hoping. Probably a good assumption.

And the other day I heard a newscaster say "impactful." What can you say to that? I just shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. And using "are done" when you really mean "have finished" just makes me sad, but I feel it's here to stay.

However, the misuse of the pronouns "me" and "I" still has me yelling at the television and muttering under my breath when I can't really, politely, correct someone out loud.

Growing up, one of the big errors that seemed to abound was the misuse of the word 'me'. "Johnny and me are going to the park." My mother would say "Hmm?" and wait for a correction to "Johnny and I." Then she'd give the okay nod.  

Somehow the pendulum seems to have swung so far that much of the English speaking world is afraid to use 'me'. So now I hear from teachers, friends, TV reporters, and characters on the screen, say, "Would you like to go to the park with Johnny and I?" or "They were having lunch with Mom and I?" It's the object of a preposition for crying out loud. What you really want to to say is, "With me." It's making me nuts and, as my husband will attest, I'm already walking a fine line on that front.

So please, for the sake of my sanity, let's nip this insidious practice in mid-bloom and go back to the good old days when spring was in the air and we loved to say, "I ain't gonna say ain't 'cause ain't ain't in the dictionary."

February 7, 2014

Insurance Debacle Update

So many people have been kind enough to ask how we are getting along with the whole insurance debacle that I feel I should publish a little update.




This week we ended up getting Eileen private pay insurance. This will give us some breathing room to see if we can work through the system or not.


After a week spent on the phone and in the Affordable Care Office set up in the Prince George's County Social Services office, my feeling is that we will not be able to unless we go to Annapolis and sit on Anthony Brown's desk and make him notice us.


Unbelievably, even the poor saps who work in that office have no more access to the powers that be than you or I. After spending almost two hours waiting last Wednesday we finally met with a really nice guy named Ronald. He understood our problem, could not fix it there, and spent an hour to get through to customer service, only to be cut off once he connected. And he wasn't even able get the same person back on the line! It's enough to scream.


Some have asked if this has caused me to change my political affiliation - it has not. I figure you don't disown your children because of mistakes, even disastrous ones. You just end up being bitterly disappointed and you don't vote for them for Governor.


On a cheerier note - MDHMH sent a correction letter. They realized that Eileen is the Ward and that I am the Guardian. Will wonders never cease?


PS: A dear friend has given me a 'special number' that she called and got immediate help. This may work for us, but because of other circumstances to do with Medicaid, we haven't used this magic bullet. I'm saving it though, just in case.



January 30, 2014

Health insurance and some rather inventive language

Just an amusing little anecdote today about the wonderful Maryland health system and our ward.


For those of you who may not know, two years ago Tom and I became the 'guardians' of his adult cousin, Eileen, when her mother died. Eileen has myriad developmental problems and some mental health issues as well. She is just able to live by herself in the house she grew up in with the help a home health aide. We have power of attorney. Tom handles all of her finances and I handle health issues and groceries. Eileen pretty much depends on us for everything.


Now between a massive screw-up (no other word for it) with her old employer and its new COBRA administrator and the massive screw-up (again, no other word for it) that is the Affordable Health Care Act in Maryland, Eileen is at this moment without insurance.


So far, you say, not very amusing. It's coming.


I said above 'no other word for it', but I am wrong. My dear husband has found many other words for it. I've never heard most of them. Not that I am particularly conversant with that particular speech form. I've never been a sailor. But I have seen a lot of movies. I've heard a lot of language in those movies. And I think those writers could up their vocabulary a notch or two by speaking to my husband about Healthcare in Maryland.


However, just when things looked pretty darned bleak and what we both needed was a really good laugh, we got a letter in the mail from the Maryland Department of Mental Health. It was a request to fill out a survey on our recent dealings with the agency. God bless their little pea-picking hearts, the letter was addressed to Eileen - the parent/guardian/caretaker of Penny Petersen. And we thought these agencies had no sense of humor. 


The letter did the trick. Tom laughed. I laughed. My daughter laughed. My sister laughed. True, this is not much of a story and perhaps you had to be there, but after a day spent at Social Services trying in vain to correct the whole insurance fiasco, that silly letter turned out to be a life saver.

January 24, 2014

Tunnel vision - or the lack thereof


Writing can be difficult to say the least. That blank page thing is not an exaggeration. Blank pages are pretty damned scary. And my male tunnel vision approach is not working out as planned.


Yesterday I woke up determined to get a two page synopsis of my new book written. To the uninitiated I know this sounds like a piece of custard tart - Mary met John, they fell in love, they discovered a body, the dog ate the evidence, the killer attacked the dog, Mary saved John from a burning building and they caught the maniac. All lived happily ever after, except the maniac who disapproved of the prison's Friday lunch menu.


But I find trying to reduce 65,000 words to a measly 800 or so while keeping some semblance of an orderly plot, and making it interesting and reflective of my writing style is really, really hard. But I was determined not to give in to all of the distractions around me and get it done! (Oh my goodness, my nails really need a manicure.)


I had already done the grunt work. I had reread my notes, scanned the book, and made an outline to follow. I was reviewing said notes and deciphering my chicken scratch (my handwriting leaves something to be desired, such as legibility) when the phone rang. I needed to answer it because we were expecting - no, expecting is too strong a word - we were hoping for a call from the insurance company about our ward's health insurance. So I answered it. Shouldn't have. It was as you might have guessed a salesperson on a mission. (Just a minute, I need another cup of tea.)


Back to the writing board, tea in hand. I had just figured out what "D&R wanr behind" written in the margin meant when I remembered that I had not yet done my aerobic arm exercise - my New Year's resolution. Four minutes dancing with weights to 'I Will Survive" and I was back to business.


Four hours, five cups of tea, three more phone calls, a snack, another snack, a minute dusting the computer, a call to my daughter, and a quick load of laundry later and it was done. 64,879 words encapsulated in a brief 639 word précis. It wasn't bad. A little humor, strong plot line, characters clearly identified. This was okay. Culprit caught and put in jail. But it seemed like something was missing. I read it again - slowly. OMG, I forgot the murder! Tunnel vision where art thou?

January 16, 2014

2014 - It's got to be a better year

As the new year begins I am trying to get back into a rhythm of some sort regarding, I was going to say my writing, but my life would be more accurate.


Too much has been going on in the extended family and very little of it good. A death and two serious illnesses have taken their toll on all of us. I have been distracted to say the least. I find myself staring out the window a lot, walking in aimless circles, eating a lot of junk food, and generally wasting entire days unable to focus.


But it's 2014, time to pull myself up by my bootstraps - I am not entirely sure what bootstraps are, but I'm pretty sure that pulling them up is a good thing - and getting on with life, writing, and - heaven help me - a healthier, or at least less fattening, diet.


First step - I will be positive. After all 2013 wasn't all bad. I did get my book published. Last week I went to Barnes and Noble in Alexandria and signed some books for the store. Just like a real author! I'm going to a cozy mystery conference in May. This is all good stuff.


And second - I'm getting organized. I can hear a lot of laughing out loud, but I'm determined. I will develop tunnel vision. I will be like many men I know and completely ignore anything that is not right in front of me.


Of course, this will happen as soon as I finish writing this blog, making dinner, and then spending tomorrow on the phone with the fine people from Affordable Health Care, COBRA, CareFirst and probably a few others in order to straighten out the mess someone - and we have no idea who - has made of Eileen's health insurance. So really, I will get organized when hell freezes over or when I throw the phone out the window, whichever comes first. This is my plan and I'm sticking to it.





In the meantime, I am stuck on a key part of my new mystery. But after tomorrow's marathon phoning I may change the whole plot anyway to a woman driven mad by insurance companies who gets her revenge by locking all of the people who run these companies in a room with a non-stop recording telling them to "Press 1" now, but never letting them do it!