Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Secret Shame....

There's been a great deal of discussion of the matter of bedbugs in the news lately. It can happen to anyone, especially if you've stayed in hotels, which seems to be their favorite breeding ground. Well, Collin and I have stayed in hotels extensively...and yes, it's happened to us.

We have bedbugs.

It's not an easy thing to confess, but I have photographic evidence of our infestation. See for yourself....

They're mating, for crying out loud! How many bugs will we end up with
before this ordeal is over?

They've taken over our TV!

They even eat in bed--and leave me the wrappers!

Now this has gone too far! The sleepovers have got to stop!!!

(The bugs featured here are actually from Hallmark's Love 'Em, Bug 'Em collection. The Minions are from Universal's Despicable Me, and Rufus the naked molerat is from Disney's Kim Possible animated series. Aren't they cute?)

NOTE: I hope you'll check out my fictional characters' roundtable discussion at Beishir Books!

Also, My novel Final Hours is available free for Kindle at Amazon today and tomorrow only....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Welcome to Geezerworld--The Pity Party Starts Now!

Getting old sucks.

I come from a family that ages very slowly...but when it catches up with us, it catches up with a vengeance. Just a few years ago, I didn't look or feel my age. I still don't look my age, but I sure do feel it! I'll be fifty-nine in a few short months. That means next year I'll be...SIXTY! Oh, crap! Turning thirty was no big deal. I felt like I'd finally grown up (that's what I thought, anyway). Forty was a bit unsettling. I was thirty-seven when my father died, and I was starting to feel the sting of mortality. If my dad could die, I could die. Fifty passed with only a slight nod in acknowledgment. That year was the beginning of a lot of turmoil in my life, and my fiftieth birthday was the least of my concerns. I'd lost my mom by then as well. My life seemed to be falling apart and I could do nothing to stop it.

Sure, I have a lot to complain about. I take too many meds--for hypertension, hypothyroidism, acid reflux, epilepsy, high cholesterol. Menopause is wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns and concentration. Certain hormones have taken a nosedive and replacing them synthetically is out of the question because the family history of heart disease says the risk is too high. I can't dance like I used to because I've got a bum leg due to an accident last year. I've lost too many loved ones--the latest on that list being my beloved Sammy Bird. I miss him. I miss all of them.

But I still have a great deal to be grateful for, even happy about.

I'm starting over on so many levels--rebuilding my career, rebuilding my life. I'm not making as much as I once did as an author, but I'm writing the books I really want to write. I have my faith, which is stronger than ever, and a great church. I have some wonderful new friends, friends I likely would never have met, had I not experienced the financial downturn. I have Collin, and I could not have asked for a better son. We've survived our own issues and are now--I think--closer than ever.

Sure, I wish my loved ones were all still alive and with us now. But do I regret the loss of my conventional publishing career or the income that went with it? No. I learned a great deal during that time. And I became someone I didn't really like very much. But a fall from grace was what it took to bring me to where I am now, so I'm glad it happened.

This year, I think I'll start counting backward. I'll be fifty-seven in August....

NOTE: Hope you'll check out the posts on my other blogs, too:
Beishir Books: From the Pages of the International Intruder 1
Beishir Books: From the Pages of the International Intruder 2
Basking in the Afterglow

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The International Intruder...An Equal Opportunity Offender

I've introduced a new feature over on my website, Beishir Books. Way back when I was writing Silhouette Romances as Toni Collins, I created a fictional tabloid in one of them, Something Old. It was owned by a vampire (the joke being that all tabloid publishers are bloodsucking monsters). The International Intruder became rather popular with some of my fellow romance writers, who requested permission to feature it in some of their novels as well. This led to letters from readers who guessed: "You all know each other, don't you?"

Try as we did to deny any such connection, our secret was out. We were having way too much fun with this!

Recently, I read a post on a blog for self-published authors that suggested promoting our books with character interviews and tabloid-style stories about events and characters on our blogs and websites. This gave me the idea to bring the Intruder out of mothballs and put it to good use. Collin quickly designed a nameplate for it....

I posted the first "story," an interview with the five rowdy Cantwell brothers from An Army of Angels--I hope you'll check it out! And while you're there, have a look at the letters from readers I've posted!

You'll also be seeing the Intruder over at the joint blog William Kendall and I created for our alter egos/pseudonyms, Basking in the Afterglow, and quite possibly on William's blog, Speak of the Devil as well!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review ~ The Descendants (DVD)

George Clooney is more than just a pretty face.

Just in case you didn't already know that, see The Descendants. In my opinion, this is the best film he's made to date. Clooney is a movie star who can still morph into a character, unlike some movie stars who come across on screen as movie stars just playing someone else (Tom Cruise, I'm talking about you). In this film, he's a lawyer named Matt King whose risk-taking wife is on life support, having been critically injured in a water skiing accident. He's also dealing with two daughters, both having trouble coping with their mother's absence.

Then he finds out his wife had been having an affair and was planning to leave him. As he searches for answers, he struggles to hold his family together, spearhead the sale of his family's ancestral land, and eventually make a decision as to whether or not to keep his wife on life support. When he sets out to find and confront the real estate broker his wife was seeing, with his daughters and eldest daughter Alex's dopey friend Sid in two, the family begins to bond.

Clooney, a confirmed bachelor in real life, is spot-on as a husband and father here. As his daughters, Alex and Scottie, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller are also wonderful. I especially liked Nick Krause as Alex's always inappropriate friend Sid. This guy was a genius when it came to ticking people off. Beau Bridges is good, as always, as one of Matt's cousins, Hugh, a long-haired, Hawaiian-shirted land baron.

But the real star of this movie is Hawaii, and never has it looked more beautiful. The cinematography shows off the lush paradise to the max, providing such a stunning backdrop for the family's turmoil that you'll run, not walk, to your nearest travel agent.

I confess: I've been a fan of George Clooney's ever since he played Sela Ward's love interest in the late '80s TV series Sisters...but this actor isn't getting older, he's getting better. Much better. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There's an App for That...and Just About Anything Else!

In recent weeks, Senator Mark Udall  has been urging the FCC and US cellphone service providers to come together to protect their customers from phone theft. Our smartphones, most worth hundreds of dollars, are too tempting a target for theft, as they presently can be reactivated even after being stolen. He proposes that the providers create a database in which the stolen phone IDs would be listed, making it impossible for a stolen device to be reactivated. Such a database already protects cellphone owners in other countries. 

On the news this morning, it was reported that this would become a reality in the US within the next six months. But there are ways to protect your devices now. Case in point: eight-year-old Tennesee boy, Landon Crabtree, who used the "Find My iPad" application to locate his stolen iPad and the rest of his family's stolen property.

Collin and I already have Lookout on our phones and my Kindle Fire. If lost or stolen, activating Lookout will prompt the device to emit a loud screaming sound that can only be turned off by the device's owner. We took steps to protect all of our devices as soon as we purchased them. You just never know who might decide to help themselves to your property. If they take ours, they're in for one nasty surprise!

Collin, geek that he is, is always looking for new apps. He recently installed Wi-Fi File Explorer on my netbook, Android and Kindle, enabling me to move files among the three devices. He knows I hate having to connect them. What can I say? I'm lazy. 

Actually, I'm always afraid I'll do something wrong and cause them all to crash like electronic dominos!

NOTE: William and I, as our alter egos Scarlett and James, review the recently re-released Titanic at Basking in the Afterglow!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Brazen and the Ridiculous

I think I still watch soap operas because they remind me of what bad writing is really like. Don't believe me? Write scenes worthy of a soap and submit them to any commercial publisher. You'll get a rejection in record time. No editor I've ever worked with would accept such unbelievable characters and storylines.

Example: last week on The Bold and the Beautiful, the always tacky, always pushy Amber Moore crashed a party for up-and-coming designer Caroline Spencer. Not being invited never stops the white trash girl from Furnace Creek. Fresh off her scheme to pass off her baby as the child of media heir Liam Spencer, she's made a complete fool of herself in trying to worm her way back into the Forrester Creations family via ex-husband Rick Forrester.

And the male characters--total wussies! This is a high fashion house. They should design the men's suits with backbones, because only one man on this show seems to have one...and I'm pretty sure he's the devil incarnate.

Spineless men, pushy women...the staple of soaps for decades now. I remember how my mom would react watching Dynasty back in the '80s. She'd be outraged when ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins) would barge into the Carrington mansion, usually without knocking, and bait Blake's current wife, the sweet, spineless Krystle. "If that were my house, her (substitute the word "butt" here) would be hitting the sidewalk!" Mom would shout.

Mom was only a doormat for her own sisters. I wouldn't even allow that.

I had something like this happen to me six years ago, when we were in the process of moving. I had a so-called friend who was the epitome of the pushy broad. She showed up not long after we moved in. She and her husband were having issues. He didn't know she'd lost her job. (She says she quit; they say she got fired for stealing.) She thought she was going to spend eight hours a day parked in my apartment. There was no way that was going to happen. I'm too accustomed to doing what I want when I want. I explained to her that I needed to finish my book, and I couldn't do that with her underfoot.

She very generously offered to leave by four so that I could write in the evening. Wasn't that nice of her? I was counting to ten by that time. I explained that being able to write on my own schedule means my schedule, not hers.

She still didn't get it. She said her husband would be furious when he discovered she wasn't working and she would be moving in with Collin and me. I not-so-patiently told her that no, she would not be, as my lease prohibits adding new tenants without management approval. We even have to get approval for temporary houseguests. I had to get permission from the leasing office to keep a friend's dog while she was on vacation.

The last straw came the day we brought home everything from our storage locker. We'd just unloaded the truck when she arrived. "This isn't a good time," I told her.

"Oh, that's okay'," she said, as if I had asked her if she minded that I was in the middle of unpacking. She walked past me, into the apartment, and pulled up a chair in the midst of all the stacked boxes. I started counting again--this time in Spanish.Slowly. Very slowly.

She doesn't know how close she came to being decapitated.

I went about my unpacking, figuring she'd take the hint. She didn't. When she pushed me to stop what I was doing and listen to her, I let her have it. She got out of there fast. I haven't seen her since. But she still comes to mind when I see characters like Amber Moore on TV....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Endings, Beginnings...and Saying Goodbye

Tomorrow is Easter. A reminder that Christ died for us and was resurrected, that physical death is not the end but a new beginning. Still, we mourn those we lose. Even knowing we'll see them again one day, we miss them now.

Last weekend, a very dear member of my church family passed away. Kathy was a lovely, delightful, vibrant woman who had struggled with health issues for some time. She hadn't been to church in months due to concerns about having to use an oxygen tank. Though I hadn't seen her in a while, I find myself missing her deeply now that she's left us.

Today is her memorial service, and I find myself in a difficult position. On one hand, I feel it's right to be there, to pay my respects to her and her grieving husband, Robert. On the other, this is not how I want to remember her. I want to remember her the way she looked and talked the last time I saw her. That's a selfish attitude, I know. I hate funerals. I've been to one in fourteen years, and that was for the son of a longtime friend. I'd known the young man since he was a baby, and seeing him in the casket was unsettling. I kept picturing him as a toddler, wondering how this could have happened to someone so young. Yesterday, I saw a young couple in the courtyard, blowing bubbles with their two toddlers. One of the little ones looked just like Jeff had at that age. He was such a cutie....

My parents' funerals were hard on Collin and me. Collin was almost twelve when my dad passed away. Seeing him at the funeral parlor, Mom and I agreed he should not attend the graveside service. Collin is not one to express what's he's feeling. He keeps most of it locked up inside. I wish he would be more open, for his own good. 

Some people who showed up at Dad's funeral surprised me. Neighborhood kids he'd terrorized came to say goodbye--I think they actually meant it! They were going to miss him! Most of them grew up to be decent young men. Dad, of course, would have said they turned out well because he'd been so hard to them. It couldn't possibly be their parents' efforts....

Mom's funeral was a disaster. There was nearly a confrontation between me and an unwanted "mourner"--a cousin I knew couldn't care less about my mother. She was only there to attach herself (as usual) to my mother's eldest sister. For some reason, most of the family treated Queen Bertha like she was God. (Not even close!)

Then there were the so-called family members who showed up asking if Mom had by any chance left them any insurance inheritance. This funeral was mostly people who hadn't been there for her when she was alive and needed them, but had the nerve to show up to pretend they cared that she was gone. I wanted to throw the lot of them out!

I told Collin I don't want a funeral. When Dad died, I bought four burial plots. He and Mom now occupy two of them. I have no intention of taking up residence in one of the other two. I want to to be cremated, like Sam. I don't want a memorial service.  I want Collin to take the people I'm closest to to a decent restaurant (as I recall, Chuck E. Cheese has a party room) and give me a roast. 

Yep, you read that right. A roast--like the old Friar's Club celebrity roasts, where friends and family get up and make jokes about the honoree. I like the Comedy Central roasts too, but the roasters there are, for the most part, just the same group of stand-up comics for every roast,  who didn't really know the roastee. If I'm going to be insulted, I want to be insulted by people who actually have ammunition.

Take your best shots, guys. It will be the only time I won't be able to shoot back!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Confessions of a Shopophobic

My name is Norma and I am a shopophobic.

It's true. I'm a disgrace to my gender. I hate shopping. I do not have a closet full of clothes and two hundred pairs of shoes. I don't get all the important fashion magazines every month. I refuse to waste time "browsing."  I don't spend hours checking every rack in every store or holed up in dressing rooms trying on one outfit after another. I haven't worn a dress in twenty years and probably will never wear one again. I won't wear anything that isn't comfortable. I think designer fashion looks silly. 

I am a shopophobic. One who does not wish to be cured.

Every few months, I rant about how much I hate shopping--usually after someone tries to make me shop. They always fail, by the way. Sometimes, I'll see someone wearing something I like and ask where they bought it. More often than not, though, I'll just find something I like and buy several. I recently got a pair of jeans on sale and they were such a perfect fit, I bought a second pair. I may buy a third pair if they're still on sale. Last year, I found a T-shirt I liked at Old Navy. I bought five in different colors.

Shopping has become a dangerous activity in my neck of the woods anyway. At one of our upscale malls, the St. Louis Galleria, there have been muggings on the parking lot. In the past month, one woman had her purse stolen while she was trying on clothes. The guy just reached under the door and grabbed it. In a separate incident, another woman was approached by two people claiming to have a gun--in the mall during regular business hours. They forced her to withdraw cash from two ATMs before letting her go.

I think I'll buy my clothes online from now on....

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Excerpt: An Army of Angels

Paulie Cantwell

"So when do we get to meet him?" I wanted to know.

I'm Robyn's eldest brother, admittedly a badass SOB capable of scaring the crap out of just about everybody. I guess I just look scary, I don't know—I'm a big sucker, tall, well over six feet, with dirty blond hair that has only a passing acquaintance with a comb. I do a better job with the beard than I do with my hair. So sue me. I own a gym, and I'm a bodybuilder myself. Two hundred sixty pounds of muscle and madness, and proud of it. For years, I've made sport out of terrorizing anyone and everyone Robyn dated.

"Who?" Robyn asked as she cleared the dishes from the table after dinner. She knew who I was talking about but was obviously postponing the agony of meeting her five brothers for this new guy for as long as she could. That told me he was different from the others. I had to check him out, see if he was good enough for her.

I grinned. "The guy you're so hung up on," I said. "And don't try to deny it. This is me you're talking to. I know you, and this one's different."

"Don't know what you're talking about." She scraped the remnants of food into the food bowls along one wall.

I was distracted from my interrogation for a minute there. "I've got to get that garbage disposal put in," I said.

She laughed at that. "We don't need a garbage disposal," she said. "In case you haven't noticed, we already have ten of them. These guys will eat anything that's not nailed down or on fire."

Almost as if on cue, all the cats and dogs appeared in the doorway, knocking each other down to get to the food. I looked down at them and shook my head. "They're so old they can barely get around, but the minute they smell food, they've got all kinds of energy."

Robyn laughed. "Much like five guys I know."

I got back on subject. "So...this guy, what did you say his name is?" I wanted to know.

"I didn't."

"What is it?"

"None of your business."

"You ashamed of him?"

"No, of course not."

"Then why the secrecy?" I pushed her.

"I'm not going to have you and the other four Stooges scaring him away," she said, running hot, soapy water into the sink.

I made a face. "There are only three Stooges, honey. Everybody knows that."

She turned to face me. "Not true," she said. "There were a total of five. Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp and Curly Joe." We'd been like that since we were kids, teasing, debating the silliest things.

I laughed. "Does that make me Moe?" I asked, scratching one of the dogs' ears as it ate.

She thought about it. "I guess you're as close to a Moe as this family's got."

"Moe was the smart one," I reminded her.

"When compared to the other four, I suppose you could say you're the smart one. You didn't have to repeat any grades or anything," Robyn said. She turned and threw a dishtowel at me. "I'll wash, you dry. On second thought, you wash, I'll dry."

"You need a dishwasher," I said as I got up and dragged my ass over to the sink, pushing the towel back at her.

"No, I don't. I've got one--you."

I reached down into the water and started washing the dishes. "Now, back to your mystery man. Name?"

"Brad Pitt."

I whistled. "I'm impressed. Does Angelina know?"

She rolled her eyes. "Give it up...Moe."

"You know that's not gonna happen," I said, grinning. "Might as well tell me."

She hesitated. "Alex," she said finally. "His name is Alex."

I kept working on the dishes like I wasn't making a big deal of it. "Now we're getting somewhere. Does he have a last name?"

"Yes, of course. But that's all you're getting."

"Where'd you meet him?"

"At the shelter." She took a tall glass from me, held it up to the light to inspect it for spots, then dried it.

"He works there?"

She hesitated. "Not exactly...."

That made me stop what he was doing. "Are you telling me he lives there?" I asked, hearing all kinds of alarm bells in my head.
"I'm not telling you anything," she said.

"He does live there--are you freakin' nuts?" I asked, pressing a wet hand to her forehead, pretending to see if she had a fever.

"Do you really think because someone's living in a homeless shelter, they're no good?" she asked, angered by the possibility that she could be correct in such an assumption about her big brother.

"I didn't say that."

"You might as well have."

I turned to face her. This was no time for subtlety, and I was no good at that shit anyway. If it was rattling around in my head, it eventually found its way into my mouth. "Robyn, you've told me yourself--the guys who come in there are almost always psych cases. Druggies or with a nasty case PTSD, courtesy of one war or another."

"Not Alex."
I wasn't convinced. "You sure about that?" I asked.

"Yes. I am."

"How long have you known him?"

"Long enough," she said.

"Which means you've probably known him for what--a week?"

"No." Now she was thoroughly annoyed with me. "Six weeks."

"Oh, well, send out the friggin' wedding announcements,"  I said sarcastically. "You know all there is to know about him--until the DEA or his two wives turn up looking for him."

"Shut up, Paulie!" she snapped. "He's not like that. He's different from the others. Really."

"So was Jeffrey Dahmer. And not in a good way."

"Alex is a good man." She paused. "Paulie, I do see guys at the shelter all the time. And yes, they're all damaged goods. They've been on drugs or damaged by war. Yes, I've seen it. Too much of it."

"So how is this guy Alex different?" I asked. I looked at her and turned into a damn marshmallow. "You know I'm only worried because you're my baby sister and I love you."

"Alex is very intelligent," she said. "And creative, talented. He's an artist--the best amateur I've ever seen. Good enough to be successful if he wanted."

"He doesn't want to? Doesn't that make you wonder?"

"I have the feeling that he's walked away from something so painful, it made him give up everything," she said. "I see such deep sadness in him...."

"But you don't know any of the details? And you can't understand why I worry?"

"Have I ever been stupid over a man, Paulie?" she asked.

"No," I admitted.

"Then why don't you trust me?"

"I trust you," I insisted. "It's him I'm not sure about."

"He's a good guy. Really."

"And you're falling hard for him," I said, passing her the last washed dish.

She dried it and put it in the cabinet. "I like him. Like."

"I get the feeling there's more than like going on there," I said. "Be careful, kiddo."

"Always," she said, tossing the wet towel at me. Then, with the sweetest smile she could manage, she added, "And Paulie...if you interfere, I'm going to feed your favorite body parts to that hungry mob over there." She pointed to the dogs and cats.

Yikes! I winced at the thought.

"They really will eat anything, you know."

Monday, April 2, 2012

We Learn Something New Every Day...Some Things We DON'T Want to Know!

I've always thought I was fairly streetwise...but I'm now discovering just how much I don't know.

In dealing with my bad neighbor issues, I've received advice from a friend who happens to be a retired St. Louis County police officer. He's told me how to handle the situation, what I can and can't do, and what I'll need if I opt to make a peace disturbance complaint.

Today, he told me some things about the apartment complex I didn't know--like the fact that some of these apartments are HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) units. It seems all the large complexes have some HUD units. My knowledge of HUD extends only to the short-lived Eddie Murphy Claymation TV series, The PJs. In the show, the building super of a housing project (voiced by Murphy) was always getting the window slammed in his face by an obnoxious HUD agent when he went to their office for help.

The show was funny. HUD's public image isn't. Mention HUD and the response is almost always negative. Poverty, crime, drugs, slums...those are the words spoken in hushed tones when a property is identified as HUD. Does that explain the frequent police presence here? No idea.

Then there are the weird smells around here. I've wished for smellproofing even more often than I've wished for soundproofing and a No Kid Zone!

I'm so naive, I didn't know what I was smelling. I thought there were just people here who were actually worse cooks than I am! Only when it was explained to me did I realize that awful smell was...marijuana! It smells as bad as skunk! Why does anyone want to smoke anything that smells so terrible?

Color me clueless. I just realized I wouldn't know a meth lab if I smelled one....

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Best April Fool's Prank Ever

No, sorry to say I didn't come up with it.

It was actually a prank played on me and some of my friends on the Writers Digest message boards a couple of years ago. At that time, William was getting some pretty bizarre private messages from a woman there--gory  photos, websites that had to do with stuff like death and dismemberment. We started referring to her privately as mad Mel. William was getting freaked out by her messages. He tried ignoring her. She didn't take the finally, April and I confronted her on one of the message boards and let her know he didn't appreciate her odd attentions.

Shortly thereafter, April Fool's Day came. Julie, a friend from our WD inner circle and the last person we would have expected to play a prank because she's so good-natured, did just that. And she did it brilliantly!

When I logged on the morning of April 1st, there was a notice from WD: I had a private message from...Mad Mel! It was an out-and-out threat--she was telling me to back off, that William was hers and I'd better stay out of her way! Soon, I heard from others in our circle who had also received messages from "Mad Mel." Everybody was alarmed by the fact that she even knew we had been calling her that.

None of us could figure it out...until Julie finally came forward and 'fessed up. She had taken the time to create a profile for "Mad Mel" and send out clever PMs to everybody! It was without a doubt the funniest prank I have ever had played on me. I've been the target of some good ones, and I've pulled some good ones of my own over the years. But this one takes the prize. 

Thank you, Julie, wherever you are now. It was brilliant. I bow to your creative genius!