Me And The Magical Miracle Wig
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ME AND THE MAGICAL MIRACLE WIG. (a true story)

Once long ago and far away in desolate West Springfield, Massachusetts, the nuns running our high school issued a ukase: all girls must have hair above (not touching) their shoulders. What prompted this absurd dictum, you might ask. Apparently, the good Sisters believed that long hair corrupted the innocent Catholic lads roaming our corridors leading to impure thoughts of (gasp) SEX. In vain did we argue that even the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary), sported long locks. Many tried tucking the offending strands under and pinning them up but this too was unsatisfactory. The nuns were unmoved and decreed that the penalty for disobedience was suspension or expulsion. WHAT? Memory check: In the late 1960’s most young females wore long, flowing hair. Shearing it off was a painful process akin to self-mutilation.

Slowly, inexorably after a few rebels were disciplined, the traumatized masses fell in line. Except one.

My mother and I devised a different plan. We purchased a short distinctly unstylish wig of dubious origin whose only virtue was that it fell nowhere near my shoulders. Make no mistake: it was truly hideous. When I appeared in class wearing it, I received accolades from the staff. They lauded me for obedience and complimented my new look. The other kids instantly knew what the score was but to their credit they stayed silent.

Ultimately parents complained to the Bishop and the Cardinal about the absurd policy and it was rescinded—Small consolation to the girls in the school, a case of much too little too late.

When the reign of terror officially ended, I pranced into class the next day sporting my own waist length hair. The principal, a daunting blend of Torquemada and Robespierre, summoned me to her office. Through clenched teeth, she demanded an explanation for my sudden metamorphosis. Quick thinking and fancy footwork were required. I faced her and with perfect composure said the following:

“It’s a miracle, Sister.”

BRING ON THE BUBBLY (NATIONAL CHAMPAGNE DAY, 12/31)
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BRING ON THE BUBBLY (NATIONAL CHAMPAGNE DAY, 12/31)

I know nothing about wine although I love the term oenophile. Like my protagonist Eja Kane, I have expertise in only three liquid substances: coffee, bottled water, and champagne. Espresso is the brew of the gods—rich, potent and oh so satisfying. It seeps down into my soul awakening my senses and enlivening my being. Needless to say, the inferior dreck offered in so many establishments simply will not do. I abstain until a superior blend arrives.

Bottled water is even more problematic. NEVER have I or will I sip from a plastic container. My drink of choice (like Eja’s) is Pellegrino although in a pinch or when in France, Perrier will do. Eschewing plastic happens to be ecologically sound but frankly taste is my primary concern. Plastic invades the tongue wreaking havoc in its wake.

That brings us to Champagne, the gift that seals the Franco-American alliance. Only sparkling wine from France can be called Champagne (take THAT California). I adore the bubbly tingle, and the exquisite, silky sensation as it slides down my throat. Most of us commemorate only very special occasions with Champagne, although the Swanns tend to indulge much more often. Billionaires can afford that but for the rest of us, toasting the New Year happily coincides with national champagne day, December 31st

Bottoms up!

(MANTRAP, book #2 in the Boston Uncommons Series)

MOM’S SECRET CRUSH
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MOMS SECRET CRUSH

 

If she were alive, Mary Elizabeth Duffy would turn 100 this December 31st. That realization tempers the New Year’s revelry for me and turns my thoughts to the simple memories that I cherish of my mother. She grew up the oldest of five siblings in a devout Irish Catholic family and dreamed of becoming a nun (UGH!) or a kindergarten teacher. To help support her family during the Depression she relinquished a scholarship to the state teachers’ college and went to work. I never recall her even once using “bad language” or expressing the mildest interest in any member of the opposite sex but my father. Except for one.

My mother was a fan girl of William Conrad, who portrayed portly detective Frank Cannon on that old television show. He certainly wasn’t my idea of a hunk but to her he was “nice” an intelligent man who loved to cook, treated women with respect and drove a really cool car. She never missed an episode of Cannon and rebuked anyone who dared to call him fat. Needless to say, he was also safe and somewhat asexual, hardly heart throb material. He would never make the cut as a hero in one of my novels although he might portray the kind friend or savvy cop.

Thanks to cable television, I can relive those memories of my mother by watching re-runs of—what else—Cannon. He still fails to ring any of my bells but I have to admit that in an era of violent, often vulgar programs replete with anti-heroes it is comforting to find a lead character like old Frank. He is “nice.”

Read and Learn
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Read and Learn
Today I interviewed renown author Nancy Thayer for the BOOKS AND THE WORLD television program. Although Nancy is the published author of 29 novels, I had never before had the pleasure of reading her work. I am so glad that I did. Nancy writes what some would term, “Women’s fiction” and has a legion of fans. As I plunged into the narrative of her latest work, I quickly learned the secrets of her success: Compelling characters combatting the type of issues that confront so many of us. Nancy revealed that her focus is and has always been family, friends, relationships, and life issues.No apologies for focusing on the mundane and no reluctance to call her books “beach reads.”She lives on the beautiful island of Nantucket (poor thing), and that setting forms the backdrop for her novel. I am a mystery writer who typically wallows in mayhem, duplicity and a healthy dose of snark. How nice to visit another, gentler world for a change. Thanks, Nancy!

McMillan and Wife
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NOSTALGIA
I’m guilty. I confess that I adore watching re-runs of McMILLAN and Wife every Sunday.Admittedly Sally was portrayed as a cute, hapless dimwit (every man’s dream wife in the -70s), and the lovey-dovey relationship between Mac and her was obviously fabricated since Rock Hudson had other interests. SO WHAT? San Francisco was an ideal setting, Enright the perfect sidekick, and MILDRED, the annoying but dedicated housekeeper who no longer exists (and probably never did.)As a young college student I watched the Sunday Mystery Movies, and often wished I could change places with Sally– No cares or expectations for achievement, just being cute, cuddly and complacent. After all, that’s what fantasy was all about and still is.

MEMORIES OF OSCARS PAST
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MEMORIES OF OSCARS PAST

Once upon a time, long long ago in a land without cable TV, streaming services or the Internet, watching the annual Academy Awards show was an incredible treat. The broadcast aired on a weeknight and after much cajoling and fervent promises that were soon broken, my mother would allow us to stay up until the Best Picture award was announced or the clock struck midnight whichever came first. My sister and I were ecstatic even though many of the nominees were considered too “adult” for our tender eyes and ears to experience. We consumed mounds of popcorn and Tab, salivated over the fashions sported by celebrities, and cheered for our favorites. Admittedly even then the acceptance speeches were dreadful—tedious for anyone especially a child to hear. They were BORING but not infuriating.

I no longer watch the Oscars or the Emmys for that matter. Possibly the sheer number of “award” shows has stripped the sheen from that once special spectacle. Think about it: we now have the Sag, People’s Choice, Grammy, Golden Globe, Country Music Hall and Lord knows how many others to choose from. Fashion winners and losers are amply displayed on the internet accompanied by snide or sycophantic commentary.  If the show conflicts with your schedule—DVR it to suit your convenience. No big deal!

Most of all, award shows have morphed into an endless round of one-sided political commentary by cue-card reading fools who must believe that their views actually influence listeners. THEY DON’T.

Ratings have declined sharply for Awards Shows according to Variety. That doesn’t surprise me, but I still feel a pang of nostalgia for simpler times when a family munched popcorn and cheered for their favorites without vile comments about our elected officials polluting the airways. Times were simpler then. Sometimes simple is better.

Vox Populi
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Vox Populi
Yesterday I trudged to the FED_EX store to mail copies of SWANN SONGS to Goodreads winners.For once I was minding my own business, quietly stacking books in a pile for mailing. No good comes from passivity.
FED_EX CLERK: (Looking at the cover of SWANN SONGS).” Did you write this?”
ME: (proudly)-“Yes. It’s the 4th in the series.”
FED-EX CLERK: “Hmm. Looks like a romance. I have friends who read that stuff. Intelligent women too!Can’t understand it.”
ME: “Actually the book is a romantic MYSTERY. Basically a mystery with a pinch of sex.”
OTHER FEDEX CLERK joining in: “Only a pinch? Too bad.”
EVIL FED EX CLERK: “I love mystery books but not something like that. Covers with that bare-chested guy….”
ME (w/ some asperity).”My books do NOT have Fabio on them.”
OTHER FED-EX CLERK: “Too bad.”

Next time I’m going to the US Post office. They IGNORE you.

SEX, MURDER, SHOPPING (NYT, 4/13)
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SEX, MURDER, SHOPPING (NYT, 4/13)

Let me be clear: I would LOVE to have my novels reviewed by Janet Maslin, chief book critic of the NYTimes. Even a lukewarm mention translates into visibility, sales and prestige. Even an acknowledgement by the Grey Lady that an author exists is indeed a priceless piece of advertising.

Witness today’s review of MAESTRA, described as “ …a pornographic, shopathon, travelogue thriller …” replete with licentious billionaires, art scams, scheming strumpets, and murder. The sexual component is apparently crude enough to render “50 Shades” almost chaste.

Ms. Maslin’s critique is hardly complimentary. In fact, she suggests that even the heroine’s jaded gymnastics grow stale and dare we say it, boring.

Still, I seriously considered plunking down the $13.95 needed to pre-order the e-book. After all, who knows what I might learn? The novel’s author is a British historian, which argues for at least some sheen of respectability. When I read that like many series, this is only book one, and that it has already been optioned by Hollywood, I decided to wait. Sometimes the film version skips the clunky dialogue and gets to the good parts straight away!

BANK ON IT
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BANK ON IT!

I spent a pleasant weekend in New York, celebrating a minor dog show triumph (another point for Lord Byron), and seeing the sights. Imagine my chagrin when while attempting a minor purchase at Saks, my Bank Card was “declined.” Forget the humiliation I encountered: the icily polite clerk with narrowed eyes and a tight lipped smile who nodded with faux empathy when I proclaimed that “there must be a mistake.” They’ve heard that song sung by many credit-challenged patrons in the past.

Fast forward to my dealings with BancAmerica. Forget the 22 MINUTE wait on my cell phone because “our representatives are busy assisting other customers. Your call is important to us.” REALLY? When an assistor finally answered, she informed me “Oh. You’re a premium member. I can’t help you. Let me switch you to the premium line.”
(Omit the volcanic eruption from yours truly).
After another 10 MINUTES on the cellphone, a pleasant lady responded and quickly diagnosed my problem.
Assistor: Oh. You’re in New York.”
Me—“And …”
Assistor: “You didn’t tell us you were going to New York.”
Incredulity and a protracted discussion on coordinating my travel plans with the BANK ensued.
Assistor: What are you doing in New York?”
Me: Unprintable outrage.
Assistor: When will you be back in Massachusetts? The exact date.”
Me: Long, mostly polite diatribe about the unacceptable intrusion into my private life and my refusal to comply with their absurd requirements in order to use MY MONEY.
Assistor: We’re only trying to protect you. Our policy is for your own good.

For years, citizens complained about the depredations of the IRS. Hey. Compared with BANKS, the Treasury Department is a rank amateur.

Dorito Doldrums
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DORITO DOLDRUMS

 

A sour observation in the New York Times book review (2/21) suggested that commercial fiction, that opiate of the masses, is comparable to a Dorito-a tasty but ephemeral treat with no lasting benefit. Literary fiction, however, is equated with “books of value,” a type of vital nutrition for the soul. I note that the author mentions the supposed financial rewards of commercial fiction (LOL) several times. With marked distain, she remarks that literary fiction exceeds “market value” and commercial appeal. Pity the poor purveyor of novels that seek to engage and entertain a wide audience. The literary establishment inveighs against such goals and often indoctrinates MFA students against them.

Pretentious prose masquerading as “deep thinking” can bore the pants off readers. However, works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and a fellow named Shakespeare were originally geared toward the masses yet cherished by millions of readers in subsequent generations. Commercial or literary fiction—you be the judge. I believe both can coexist peacefully without diminishing either.

PS—I researched the author of that piece, a well-respected and erudite woman who has won numerous literary honors. Too bad that her published works sound as dull as dishwater. I guarantee that they will never pander to the great unwashed.