Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Edgar Dress, Part Two

Well, shoot. I can't find a picture.

So I'll have to try to paint one in your mind.

Edgar Dress #2: Cave girl. Full-length. Tomato red. Fitted. Long slit.Tiny red beads all over it.

Good enough, yes?

Because it's not really the dress itself, it's the way I found it.

I was in Homewood, Alabama doing an extended visit to middle schools, soaking in Southern hospitality as I shared in the post from earlier this month. During the visit I learned that I'd been nominated for a second Edgar, and in the excitement of that I told my hosts the story of the $29 Little Pink Dress.

Being from the South, they loved the story.

They weren't convinced about the wearing of white shoes so early in the calendar year, but after polite murmurings and hoisted eyebrows, they let it slide.

Especially after I got to the part about winning the Edgar, and what Mary Higgins Clark had said.

Anyway, on my last day in Alabama, there was a big "luncheon" being held in my honor at a swanky restaurant, and the superintendent, principals, & librarians were all going to be in attendance.

Well, right next door to this swanky luncheoning local just so happened to be a "vintage clothing shoppe." "Let's go!" the ladies who drove me to the restaurant said. "Maybe you'll find your Edgar dress!"

Not likely, I knew, considering we only had about 10 minutes to shop. Which, after stepping inside, I was really regretting. The place was big! And packed! No secret closet, man, this place had rooms and rooms and rooms.

We found the "gowns" section and almost immediately I spotted the red cave-girl dress. Amid other showy gowns, it was understated, and (key to this 5'10+" author) longer than everything else around it.

I pulled it out and all the ladies went "Ooooo."

"It would go great with white shoes and gloves, don't you think?" I asked.

"Hmmmm," they all went, their eyebrows twitching.

And then I saw the price tag and squealed, "It's twenty-nine dollars!"

Having heard the Little Pink Dress story, the ladies knew: it was meant to be. So I tried it on speedy-quick, it fit, I paid, and we scurried across the street to lunch.

There is a third story, it involves black. And a sharp-tongued aunt. And, of course, $29.

Maybe next week!

Until then, here's wishing all of you a Happy New Year and an outstanding 2014.

See you in the comments!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

With a Ho-Ho-Ho & a Fa-La-La-La-La

The Edgar Dress #2 story is going to remain closeted for another week. I have to find a picture (which might take a while), and I'm still unpacking from last night's gig, where our family band played the "Second Annual Risky Whippet Christmas." It was a lot of work to prepare for the show, and haul gear, etc., but it was worth it for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which being that a lot of our friends came.

It struck me how it's been a hard year for many of us, and how nice it was to be able to be together and do something joyful. It's easy for adults to lose the "fun" in their lives, as it tends to get swallowed up by responsibility and general fatigue. But last night, everyone let go a little and recharged a little. There was dancing. And singing. And a crazed rendition of Partridge in a Pear Tree. And loud fa-la-la-la-la-ing through Deck the Halls.

There was also jingle-belling through Metallica.

Which came after audience singing the "oooooooo!"s in the choruses of Beatles' Helter Skelter.

Helter Skelter and Enter Sandman may not seem like appropriate songs for a Christmas Bash, but that's only if you aren't familiar with the comedic aspects of the Risky Whippet band. We turned Enter Sandman into Enter Santa-man, and with Colton's deep, "Ho-ho-ho"s and the demonic shaking of the jingle stick it became a Christmas song. Of sorts. Connor was all against it (and on paper it does sound really dopey), but by the third set the audience was all for it, and it turned out to be awesome fun.

So the Edgar dress will have to wait, and I instead post a picture of my Santa skirt. And now, with a ho-ho-ho and fa-la-la-la-la, I wish you, my faithful blogettes, a very merry Christmas. Sing. Jingle. Embrace life. Enjoy your friends and family. Have some fun.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Edgar Dress, Part One

Well, I've checked the archives and I cannot find any Edgar dress story, so grab a mug of cocoa and settle in.

Actually, this story has five parts. Only three are entertaining, so I'll spare you two of them, and tell you only the first one tonight.

I had never been to New York City. I learned that Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief had been nominated for an Edgar via a call from my agent on my classroom phone. It was nice to be nominated, I knew, but the importance of it was a little lost on me. I was already late getting out the door to pick up my kids, and I was really hungry for an after school snack.

After school snacks are a vital part of a teacher's life, you know.

It didn't really sink in that attending the Edgars was a such big deal, or potentially fun, until the embossed invitation arrived from Mystery Writers of America. It was classy, with a stylized graphic of Edgar Allan Poe in a bow tie, and it instructed the recipient to "Dress To Kill."

I loved that!

And after planning the trip with my editor, Nancy, I was now in the spirit of things and started taking the invitation seriously.

Unfortunately, there is no "serious shopping" around here. Not within the time constraints of a full time job and two little kids, anyway. And after the initial frustration of department store boring, somebody suggested I try Sherry's Secret Closet. "She sells vintage Hollywood gowns."

Yup, discards of the stars.

I was game, and when I found the little side shop where Sherry had her wares, I saw how the store got its name. It was small, all right, and the "dressing room" was just a curtained-off storage space--no mirror, no hook for clothes, just random boxes precariously stacked.

Sherry greeted me, then got back to her phone call. As I flicked through the racks I couldn't help overhearing her hushed conversation, and it didn't take long to suspect that she was being hounded by bill collectors. Or maybe she had a second occupation snuffing people out! It was a coin toss.

She had a friend in the shop. A flamboyant guy who watched me move about from his perch on a torn velvet-seat stool. "Try that pink one," he said as I pulled out a blue dress.

"Pink's not me," I informed him.

I selected about five dresses and each time I came out to look in the mirror the guy went tsk and raised an eyebrow. "Try the pink."

"No, really. Pink's not me."

Plus, it was chiffon.

And short.

With little cape-y wings.

And rhinestones.

None of the five dresses I picked worked, let alone made me feel like I was dressing to kill. And as I was wrestling around in the "dressing room," discouraged and pretty much fed up, an arm jetted through the curtain. It was holding the pink dress. "Just put it on!" he said. "You'll look smashing!"

So I did. And it was...awesome.

And only $29!?

So I bought it, and decided that white gloves and white shoes and some cool vintage jewelry borrowed from a teaching colleague would complete the look.

Uh, did I mention I'd never been to New York before?

Well, I learned something as I walked my short pink dress and white shoes and gloves into the Grand Hyatt Hotel the night of the Edgar gala.

Everyone in New York wears black.

Immediately, I felt...ridiculous. But people were very kind and welcoming. One of the MWA organizers even sized me up and said, "Now that's how it's done!"and Mary Higgins Clark told me "Darling, you look like a princess!" and Nancy whispered, "Twenty-nine dollars? Are you serious?" after I told her my little story. So, yeah, I started having fun.

So much so that when they announced that Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief  won the Edgar for best juvenile mystery, I ran my little white shoes up to the podium, my little pink chiffon wings flying behind me.

Anyway, there you have it. The Edgar dress story. Part One.

Next week, Part Two!

Meanwhile, see you in the comments, and happy bargain shopping!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Breakfast in Birmingham

Many years ago, when the kids were still little and it was a huge deal to leave them, the school & library director at my publishing house asked if I'd be willing to participate in an event in Birmingham, Alabama.

I had no clue how hard it would be to be to get there (very), or what participating in this event would entail (uh...breakfast?).

Yes, it took all day (and 3 planes) to get to Birmingham, and the following morning after breakfast with a small group of librarians, I went back to the airport and flew home.

"I am never going to Birmingham for breakfast again!" I told Mark (and the kids and the dogs and the dishes). And when other questionable invitations would came along, Mark would say, "Wait. Is this another breakfast in Birmingham?"

After all, it had been a colossal waste of time, and for what?

Well, the funny thing is, about a year after the infamous Breakfast in Birmingham, librarians from a group of middle schools in Homewood, Alabama invited me to come visit all their schools. As in, paying school visits.They had a bunch of them lined up.

"We met you in Birmingham!" they said, "At the breakfast!"

Well, this was an invitation for much more than scrambled eggs, so off I went again to Birmingham, where the ladies picked me up and drove me to nearby Homewood. This was in 2001, and it's when I learned what Southern hospitality is all about. It's when I got my first taste of real "swaeet tea." It's when I learned the secret to fixin' lima beans (bacon, and lots of it). And it's when I learned the phrase "swear to howdy."

I loved everything about that visit. From the kids at the schools, to the people who taught them, to the way food was always on the table, to the humorous phrases they used, to the way the whisked me into a second-hand store after I told them my little Edgar dress story. (Have I told you my Edgar dress story?)

In fact, I was so charmed by it--by all of it--that I took notes.

Notes that would become the voice and the flavor of Swear to Howdy--a book I wrote with Alabama in mind; one I had those same librarians read and weigh in on before publication.

Clearly, I got much more from my breakfast in Birmingham than I could ever have imagined. (I was in Tennessee earlier this year and a woman came up to me at a conference and said, "I'm sure you don't remember, but I met you at a breakfast in Birmingham years ago..." I about hit the floor.)

In 2006 my "Southern belle" friends had me back for more school visits, and we have stayed in touch since. I've tried to "explain them" to Mark, but really, their hospitality is something you more have to experience than can explain.

So I let them know we were embarking on this wild road trip tour, and that we would take a little detour into Homewood if they wanted to have a reunion. Almost right after I sent the message, one of them messaged back, "I'll cook!"

So after speaking at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, we'll head to Homewood to meet up with the ladies. And the next day you know where I'll be dragging Mark, right?

Into Birmingham for breakfast!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beet Soup

When I taught high school, I had a student with the last name of Borsch.

There was also a Keyes.

And an Acosta.

You get the picture.

I didn't fashion the characters after the students, I just lifted their names out of my grade book. It's a good source. Way better than 10,001 Names For Baby.

UNTIL I got published and my former students started hearing rumors about the names in the Sammy Keyes series.

That's when the questions (and the rumors) started.

And now that my former students have children of their own, well, I have some explaining to do.

"No! Officer Borsch is NOT your dad! Your dad was a good student. Very nice! He just happened to have a great name for that particular character. Did you know that borsch(t) is a type of soup? Made of beets? Usually served cold? With sour cream? No, really! Your dad never told you that?"

(Whose face is beet-red now?)

"And he's a great character! How far have you read? Oh, just through Sisters of Mercy? You have to read a few more books, but you'll see! He's one of the BEST characters in the series. I love Officer Borsch!"

At my talk at the "Santa Martina Public Library" I confessed that I was a little worried about the whole naming thing, but it turned out that none of my former students were there to call me out on that. They just wanted to say hi after so many years and have their kids meet me.

Plus they thought it was pretty cool that their names were in books translated into a whole bunch of foreign languages. Even if you can't read the language, you can pick out the names!

So overall, it was a big relief, and a wonderful experience. Still, it's probably a good thing that my grade book is closed for good.