Face Time

                                                FACE TIME


Like many of you, each morning I watch the national news shows eager to assess those being interviewed. More often than not people who should know better perform dismally in the spotlight. Some are quite unforgettable—not in a good way. Until now, hedge fund huckster Martin Shkreli had my vote for insolence beyond the call of duty and against his own best interests. He shrugged off raising the price of a life-saving drug by 800% while displaying a patented sneer that was truly a work of art. Subsequent actions by the SEC and a command appearance before a Senate Sub-committee were probable by-products of that tour de force.

I was eager to hear the new editor-in-chief of COSMOPOLITAN magazine this morning on voting patterns of young women. MISTAKE! Joanna Coles out sneered Shkreli (credit the British accent), used unnecessarily vulgar language, and managed to achieve something that Vladimir Putin failed to do: annoy the usually unflappable Charlie Rose. This thoroughly unpleasant woman did her employer and herself a disservice. Her message—young women are seeking something new—was obscured by her bad behavior and repellent personality.

There are lessons to be learned from those who can relate to an audience and like it or not, authors must master public appearances. Some are naturally gifted in this area but there is still hope for those who are introverts. Consider the following:

  1. Show your audience and moderator courtesy by listening to the question and answering it succinctly.
  2. Don’t babble, bloviate, or bore your listeners.
  3. Even if you are a curmudgeon, learn to FAKE IT. Be your self but be your BEST self.
  4. Humor, particularly self-deprecating humor is always a crowd pleaser.
  5. Remember that every appearance is an opportunity—for good or bad. Prospective readers or current fans will be influenced by your public persona.

Finally: with social media and the INTERNET things last forever. Use your time in the spotlight to advance your own interests.

Beware The Green-Eyed Verb


                                                BEWARE THE GREEN-EYED VERB

Many people are beset by jealousy but writers, individuals who labor in splendid isolation without adequate recognition or compensation, are especially vulnerable to the slings and arrows of envy. Writing is a cruel mistress, the true La Belle Dame sans Merci, who frequently beguiles one with promises then casts him aside. The New York Times Book Review (1/31/16) notes the temptation to react to another’s good fortune—fawning reviews, sizable advances, burgeoning sales–by exercising the power of the green-eyed verb to savage competitors. We may all occasionally scratch our heads when some mediocre or poorly written novel scales the heights, but obsessing over the success of another is counterproductive. Far better to analyze why and profit from it.

Awards can indeed be popularity contests that are totally unrelated to content. Reviews may be subjective and sales reports can be manipulated. Taken together however they suggest a strategy that the savvy student of the game takes into account. Why bemoan your fate when you may have the power to change it?

Aligning oneself with supportive writing communities also helps. Sisters-in-Crime is one example of an organization that educates and encourages its members while focusing on skill building. It celebrates the success of crime writers and strives to share the wealth with all members. There are many other groups with a similar mission that can stimulate professional growth and combat writers’ angst.

If all else fails, the next time you peruse the NYTIMES best seller list keep one thing in mind: perhaps the writer in question is actually BETTER than you.



According to the New York Times, erotica and even somewhat naughty novels are a smash success in the audio book market. Typical consumers range from salespeople to long-haul truckers. Even the car-pool parent or subway commuter occasionally succumbs. That may explain sudden stops made by tractor-trailers or the secret smiles on the lips of your Metro seat-mate.

What sparked the trend: anonymity. It started with e-book readers that allowed one to conceal saucy covers from prying eyes and now has spread to ears that hear the words one dare not speak.With the arrival of “50 SHADES” and self-publishing, standards of taste have plummeted, proving yet again that giving consumers what they want is still a sound sales strategy.
Poor DH Lawrence and his pals wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today.



All my life I have been blessed with abundant good health and I now realize how smug that has made me. When a crisis hit (detached retina), I was totally unprepared for the helplessness it sparked and the primal fear of blindness it provoked. In the blink of an eye (LOL), I was transported to Boston for emergency surgery and deprived temporarily of simple pleasures such as reading, and writing that are so much a part of my life.
As in all things, there were life lessons to be learned from this experience that I will share with you. Most people respond with great kindness to a sight impaired person who blunders about an enormous medical facility trying to find her way. A wrong turn at the elevator landed me in the basement but a kindly physician bundled me back into the elevator and guided me to the correct floor. The medical staff was surprisingly courteous.My surgeon even asked me to consider using his speciality for a subsequent mystery story. No problem there. Agatha Christie used atropine plenty of times to off her victims and I now have my own supply.
Just an aside– as Nativist sentiments swirl about the political landscape, I note that my surgeon (considered one of the top retinal specialists in the nation) is of Cuban descent. Take that, Mr. T !!
There was a glaring exception to the “kindness of strangers” rule. One nattily dressed geezer in a packed grocery line raised a patrician brow and chided me for touching him with my cart. I considered asking this entitled prig to step outside to settle things (he was at least 25 years my senior and I thought I could take him even with only one good eye)
however, my own good manners prevailed. If I had actually been aiming for his bony ass, believe me he would have known it.

Dollars To Donuts

Yesterday I received a disquieting message from American Express-you know, the pulse-quickening, heart-wrenching kind that warns of fraudulent credit card charges. My chat with an account representative revealed that 2 charges ($100. & $50.) respectively with the name SVC CORP had appeared within one hour of each other. She did some research and revealed that a criminal with exceedingly low taste had charged those amounts at DUNKIN DONUTS!! DUNKIN’ DONUTS!! I quickly assured her that I neither drink their noxious brew nor frequent their establishments. Starbucks, no problem, but really I consider myself a coffee connoisseur (Some say snob), and although I have a sweet tooth, it does not extend to buying $150. worth of donuts!!
I have to commend Amex. Their rep was courteous and dilligent. She then scanned my account and said. “There are a awful lot of charges at NEIMAN MARCUS.
No problem, I said, with a secret smile. Some things are just worth the price.

Literary Lament

A recent opinion piece in BOOKENDS, posed this question:Is self-loathing an occupational hazard for writers? I love George Orwell’s observation that for writers, “self-loathing and self-love are locked in a tight pro-creative embrace.”
In all candor, many of us in all professions suffer from periodic bouts of despair, wondering if we are good enough, personable enough or just plain tough enough to survive and flourish in our chosen field. For writers (actors,comedians, & even politicians),
our merits are too often weighed publicly and cruelly in the theater of the absurd, aka the Internet.Unfortunately any troll with a computer and a grievance can savage our work. Third parties can inflict the unkindest cut of all by simply ignoring or dismissing us. Oscar Wilde, who knew a thing or two about trauma, famously said. “All men kill the things they love..” Writers in particular often labor in splendid isolation, mired in our daunting sales figures,paltry advances and the perceived successes of less talented peers.
Reality check–it is far easier to give up, and “kill the things we love” by abandoning the struggle than to persevere and create a novel to be proud of.
By allowing self-loathing to triumph, writers squander the most precious gifts of all–talent and creativity. After each rebuff, I force myself back into the battlefield, girded for victory.Sometimes I sense the triumph of optimism over reality. Other times, I savor the sweet sweet scent of success.


The NY Times posed an intriguing question in the Sunday edition:
If ULYSSES were published today, would it cause a whimper or a bang? Recall those days some eight decades ago when the US Postal authorities seized and burned the work. Copies were hidden behind newsstands and whispered about at chic parties. Naturally ULYSSES was banned in Boston and Joyce was renounced by churches in Ireland and elsewhere.Obscenity became obsession.
When the US SUPREME COURT tackled the issue the furor subsided a bit. Since few people agreed about or knew what “contemporary community standards” meant, the discretion of local communities broadened.
Fast forward to 2015. With the rise of the Internet, Amazon, Youtube etc. the “contemporary community standard” is now a
UNIVERSAL one. Frankly “50 Shades” and its descendants, render Molly Blume’s fantasies and her husband’s self-gratification rather tame or dare I say it, ho-hum.
I forced myself to plow through the endless stream of consciousness just to see if I could survive. Frankly I have always thought that DH Lawrence was far more naughty because he was easier to understand.
Bottom line: James Joyce would probably be feted by the New Yorker or the Times but his master work (ULYSSES) would excite little interest and even less passion. After viewing Season 3 of Orange is the New Black, I can truthfully say that Joyce seems almost GENTILE: in his portrayal of naughty acts.

Picture Books

Is the author’s picture on her book jacket worth more than 1000 words? An interesting piece in Sunday’s NYTimes (6/7), suggests that women writers may be taken more seriously if they look “Stern, severe,strict”–in other words as the title suggests “How to Pose like A Man.” The author posits that male writers receive more reviews from reputable sources than females (a verifiable fact) and that their demeanor might account for some of the disparity.
FIDDLESTICKS! I suspect that part of the problem has to do with genre and sub-genres. Female writers are far more likely to write romances, a category frequently deplored by SERIOUS reviewers even though it attracts the largest number of readers. Even among mystery writers, “Cozies” are essentially a female preserve and less likely to command the attention of publications such as the NYTImes. (Tell that to Agatha Christie with her 500 million books sold!!} Take a gander at book covers, an essential sales tool for attracting new readers. SERIOUS covers, which may indeed be “stern, severe, and strict” are commonly seen on thrillers, police procedurals, adventure novels and literary fiction. Papa Hemingway would never countenance a “sissy cover” on his tomes, and as for James Joyce or Norman Mailer–enough said.

Personally I don’t want to “pose like a man.” I want the best, most airbrushed image of me that I can possibly find. After all, I write FICTION and illusion is everything. Take my writing seriously if you will but leave my photo intact!!

Dog Show Rules — Parallels To The Writing World


I’ve been away from the dog show game for some time. Thus I was struck anew by the parallels between these canine carnivals and the writers’ world. Human behavior can vary greatly but dogs generally find ways to rise above their baser instincts.
Thus, the wise person concedes that every dog is beautiful and every author’s book is memorable.

The following points are axiomatic for AKC (American Kennel Club), participants but they hold value for writers as well.

1. Do Your Paperwork
The American Kennel Club sets very specific rules for competing in dog shows. Bottom line— late or incomplete paperwork disqualifies an entry. Likewise, publishers and agents specify requirements on their websites. It astonishes me when otherwise intelligent beings grouse about being rejected for sending a 150,000 word unsolicited manuscript directly to an agent or editor. Read, digest and follow instructions if you want to compete.

2. Grooming is essential. Always put your best paw (foot) forward. Dogs and their handlers accept this but not every writer agrees. A disheveled show dog will not win despite his/her distinguished pedigree. Too often writers believe that casual attire is synonomous with sloppy. Appointments with prospective editors, agents and peers are business meetings that require one to project a professional image. No self-respecting Sheltie would ever forget that.

3. Show your teeth to authority figures but don’t bite—SMILE.
Judges routinely examine a dog’s mouth to assess his bite and teeth. Bad behavior—even the slightest nip—may disqualify a dog for life. Growling shows bad temperment, a fatal flaw in the breed standard.
Writers have been known to snipe, grouse and snap at readers, reviewers, and publishers who displease them or offer unflattering criticism. THIS NEVER WORKS. Better to adopt the show dog style and grin while thinking about the bones (or bucks) to come. After all, no writer wants a reputation for being “difficult.” Better to suck it in and move on.

4. Refrain from barnyard behavior. Show dogs know that nuzzling, sniffing, challenging or God forbid mounting are strictly forbidden. Potty issues in the ring are embarrassing and unacceptable.
Unfortunately, the alcohol-fueled hilarity at conferences leads some writers to forget that. Fisticuffs, slanging matches or unlikely pairings tend to live in infamy. Remember, other writers are born storytellers who can immortalize your bad behavior. It is their nature.

5. Keep your composure and self-confidence even when you lose.
Show dogs realize that although each match has only three winners, the other competitors are not losers. They hold their heads high and prance out of the ring with their pride intact. Writers who watch others snag awards and honors often lose their confidence. Self-doubt has no place in the show ring or the literary field. Hold you head high and forge ahead. That’s what winners do.

Some authors complain that the publishing industry has gone to the dogs. That’s not such a bad thing is it?

THE MANSION MURDERS: Musings about a tragedy.

THE MANSION MURDERS: Musings about a tragedy.
Like many other Americans, I have been transfixed (okay, obsessed) by last week’s tragic murders of a family in an affluent section of Washington DC.
The horrific cruelty that ended four lives is something that civilized creatures can neither understand nor endure.I won’t dwell on the details–they are far too painful. I focused instead on the comments sections in the Washington Post. There over 300 readers and counting expressed sentiments ranging from analytical (reasonably sound theories about the crime)to disheartening. The usual procession of race-baiters surfaced (Obviously an act by minorities); rabid gun advocates and naysayers suggested that the father should have carried a gun at all times); and class warriors bemoaned the coverage because the victims were wealthy. Amid these distractions the loss of two loving parents, their hard-working housekeeper and an innocent 10 year old boy can be muted.
May these tortured souls rest in peace & may the miscreants who
took their lives enter the 9th circle for all eternity.