Archive for December, 2009

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2009

Good-bye, 2009! Here’s hoping 2010 is a better year.
With that in mind, here’s a quote from Anne Shirley, of “Anne of Green Gables” fame, that I find especially apt for this time of year:
“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”


The Ghostess Hosts a Seminar on Storybook Romance

December 29, 2009

Yesterday, wandering through the library stacks, I was struck with a sudden pang of envy for the buxom, bejeweled heroines on the covers of the romance novels. How do they manage to live such lives? Why are they so desirable? And, more to the point, how can the Ghostess and her gang grab a little of that glamour for themselves?
So I endeavored to find out. I was lucky enough to connect with one of the top-selling romantic authors of our time, and she has most graciously and enthusiastically agreed to share some of the many tricks of the trade with all of us. She has asked that I not reveal her actual name, but you’ll know her by her noms de plume. So sit back, enjoy a glass of the fine champagne she’s provided, have a truffle or two, and prepare to put a little romance in your life.

Hello, darlings, are we all ripe for romance? I’m here today, in my $3000 earth-toned silky lounging suit and my blood diamonds, because I know all of you adorable ladies and dashing gentlemen are just panting to learn the secrets of what it takes to live just the way they do in my best-selling love stories, which you can obtain from Chocolate Hearts Press.
Oh, come now, you know who I am, don’t you? Why, I’m Freya Goodlove, the creator of the Nubile Nobles series! And I’m also Monique d’Amour, she of the Continental Conquests Quartet! And you surely know me as Cammi Colt, who writes those rip-snortin’ Ranchin’ ‘n’ Romancin’ books that are doing so well on the charts! See, you knew me all along! I wear many different chapeaux (each one more expensive and lovely than the one before) but the important thing to remember is that I am an expert on all things love-related. I am the Queen of Hearts! (Chocolate Hearts, of course! *giggles*)
So let’s get started. Today we’re going to begin with the basics, the things that I consider the most important when it comes to living one’s very own Storybook Romance.
First, and do forgive me for being so frightfully blunt, you must be wealthy. No, not rich, dearies; desserts and fabrics are rich. People are wealthy. It’s a sad but true fact that True Romance simply cannot be had by people who might kindly be said to live In Humble Circumstances. There are a few exceptions, which I will come to shortly. But the general rule is, have a fortune.
How does one go about acquiring this fortune? The simplest way, of course, is to inherit it. Probably a full ninety percent of my characters did exactly this. Nothing is more aphrodisiacal than Old Money!
Failing that, one may earn their fortune, but it must be done with the greatest consideration. First of all, it must be earned glamorously. Earning it as a fashion designer, a film star, a high-powered attorney, or, perhaps best of all, a romance writer! will do nicely. Attorney and film star are a bit tricky though. You’ll want to make sure you never lose a case or star in a bad film.
Owning a restaurant or nightclub is quite acceptable provided the establishment is “la creme de la creme.” The more exclusive and expensive the place, the better.
If you choose to make your millions by owning a prosperous company, take care! Advertising firms, publishing houses, luxury automobile companies and the like are best. To be avoided are discount-store chains, plumbing fixtures or processed foods.
I hardly need to remind you not to lose your fortune, as I’m sure that’s the last thing any of us wants! But if you do, all is not lost! (Just the fortune. Tee hee.) Remember ladies, that many men, particularly noblemen, are extremely attracted to a penniless girl, especially if she hasn’t always been penniless. There’s just something irresistible about an innocent slip of a girl whose wicked and dissolute brother has squandered the family riches on drink. It brings out the protective Father Bear in so many of these aristocrats.
If you’re a gentleman and find yourself in dire financial straits, you may possibly be able to get a job working for a more fortunate family with an eligible daughter, or alternately, a detestable husband and a susceptible wife. Remember Storm Kincaid in Cammi Colt’s “His Branded Bride?” He met the lovely Miss Charlotte while serving as foreman on her father’s sprawling ranch after his own father disowned him over his refusal to follow in Kincaid Senior’s shady footsteps.
A word about gambling: I would not advise you to try and amass wealth via the cards, the dice, or the horses. And certainly not via the slot machines, the roulette wheel, or the sports book! Sir Phillip Mondegreen did enjoy a career as a professional gambler in Monique d’Amour’s “His Monte Carlo Mistress,” but remember, he repented and gave up his wastrel ways when Lady Theodora turned up great with his child.
All right! That’s the most important thing, wealth. Best to put that right on the table and not dither about with coy euphemisms and evasions. Money may be vulgar, but sometimes, when preparing to lead the Life Romantic, one must confront vulgarities head-on and get them out of the way in order to move on to more pleasant things.
On that note, darlings, I must take my leave of you today. Charlemagne, my poodle, is at this very moment at Chiens et Chats getting his weekly shampoo and set, and I must be fetching him shortly. So au revoir for now, and I will be meeting with you all again very soon to continue my seminar on Storybook Romance!

Being Shamelessly Materialistic…But Just For One Day

December 26, 2009

Hello again, loyal readers! On this day after Christmas, (or as our British friends call it, Boxing Day) I would like to take this opportunity to say I hope your holiday, whichever one you choose to celebrate, however you choose to celebrate it, was as special as any holiday should be.
I think, whether we, as adults, acknowledge it or not, we all have at least one gift every year that we would consider our favorite gift. It might be a favorite because it was something we had been coveting all year, stopping to drool over it everytime we saw it in the store. Or it might earn the Favorite title because it was totally out of the blue, completely unexpected. You never gave it a thought, but lo and behold somebody has given it to you as a present, and it’s just so right, so perfect,, so YOU, that you wonder how on earth you managed without it for so long.
This year, I have a favorite big present and a favorite little present. My favorite big present is one of those indoor gardens, the kind you can use to grow herbs or vegetables all year round. I had wanted one of those very much at one point, probably during a cold, late spring when I was impatient to get my seeds planted. But I had mostly forgotten about that want till I opened up the box yesterday. Whoopee! Perfect for me!
My favorite little present came from my brother. He gave me something known as Bucky Balls. You know those toys that have a plastic case with a magnet inside it and a bunch of tiny metal balls on top that you move around over the case? God help you if you should, by some mischance, knock a handful of the tiny balls off the case. They are a terrible nuisance to pick up, even assuming you can find all of them.
Bucky Balls are different. They’re small metal balls too, but they themselves are magnetic, and the force of their magnetism is quite strong. This means they don’t go rolling around on you, and you can sit with the whole 216 balls in your hand and not worry about losing a single one of them as long as you are even just Minimally careful. You can make bracelets or necklaces, and the magnetism is strong enough that you can actually wear them. Or you can just sit and fiddle, forming all sorts of interesting shapes. The only shape I can’t seem to get them to make is the original cube they came in. There has got to be a way, but I haven’t found it yet.
Go here
to learn more about these amazing little widgets.
Now, walk along with me for a wee while, as we visit a few of the Ghostess’s Christmas Pasts, and see a few of my other favorite presents.

Christmas 1979, or maybe 1980: The play kitchen. Compared to the ones available now, this was pretty minimalist, and the fake food was hilariously unrealistic-looking. Who ever heard of a blue carrot, I ask you?! A flat carrot too, as if stamped with a press, with “CARROT” embossed on it? But I sure had a lot of fun with my very own kitchen. Even back then I was quite domesticated.
Christmas 1984: The Talk n Play. I think that’s what it was called. It was basically a tape player that played special cassettes. You would listen to the cassette, following along in the book if you wanted to, and at certain times during the story or game, you would get to choose what would happen next by pressing one of four colored buttons. Doesn’t sound all that special now, but I imagine it was cutting-edge back then.
Christmas 1987: An electric typewriter. Probably my first truly adult present. Never underestimate the importance of knowing how to type! Just think how gross this very blog would be if I hadn’t become a good typist early on.
Christmas 1992: The bread machine. We had loaves of fun with this. I was the only person I knew who not only baked bread from scratch, but also had a machine that did all the work for me. (Does that mean it wasn’t from scratch after all? Uh oh.) Regardless, there is nothing that tastes as good as a hot slice of fresh bread dripping with butter. Sad to say, there’s also nothing that will put weight on you quite so fast either, but it was a fairly small price to pay for such pleasure.
Christmas 2008: The peridot earrings. My favorite shade of green, and I don’t know anybody else who has any kind of jewelry with peridots. I don’t even know anybody with an August birthday who has peridots, and they’re the August birthstone.
Stay tuned! Next year I’ll share another favorite or two!

The King of Kings

December 24, 2009

Stephen King, of course! You didn’t think I meant LARRY KING, did you? I hate being asked to “pick your favorite author” because I enjoy so very many of them that it’s almost impossible to pick just one, or even just a few. But if I’m backed into a corner on the issue, I think Stephen King is the one I would pick as my favorite. I’ve not read all of his books, and a few of the ones I have read I didn’t like as much as others. (“The Colorado Kid” was a low point, I’m sorry to say, but at least it was very short.)
I could probably write an “It”-sized book detailing all the reasons I love King’s writing so much, but I think one of the main reasons is that his books are so absorbing. You can’t put one down once you’ve started it, even if you don’t much like it. “The Colorado Kid,” for instance. I didn’t like that one at all, but I wanted to see how it turned out, so I finished it. Same with “Lisey’s Story,” which was considerably longer. It’s kind of a dirty trick to play on your readers, to write a book they don’t really like but also make it so they have to finish it. A dirty rotten trick, but if somebody pulls it on me, and I fall for it and read all the way to the end, they have my undying admiration, because I am not easy to fool that way.
Another reason I love All Things King is his own peculiar brand of humor. He has the ability to terrify you and at the same time make you smile or laugh out loud. He said in one of the little “How I Came to Write This Story” notes in a book (another reason I love him; how many authors sit down with you after you’ve finished their book and explain, casual and friendly-like, why and how they wrote it?) that all of his books and stories start out being funny to him. Okay, maybe he has a rather warped sense of humor to think, for example, that a story about a drug-addicted doctor shipwrecked on an island so barren and deserted that he resorts to self-cannibalism is funny. But you know what? The way he wrote the story really was funny, in a dark, morbid, warped way, of course. (FYI: The short story is called “Survivor Type” and I read it in the collection “Skeleton Crew.”)
What it all boils down to is, Stephen King has a Way With Words. Simple as that. I don’t even feel any envy (not much; not so VERY much) for his Way With Words, because the fruits of his Way give me so much pleasure.
So, to wrap up this testimonial-dinner speech, which is beginning to sound a bit like something Annie Wilkes (“I’m your number-one fan!”) might give, here are just four King quotes that I particularly like, because they ring so true for me. I’ll be putting these up on my Favorite Pithy Quotations page as well. (You know, one of those links over to the side of the main page that you never click on? That one.)

“Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It’s what you say when you spill a cup of coffee or throw a gutterball when you’re bowling with the girls in the league. True sorry is as rare as true love.”–Susan Snell in “Carrie”
“If a good writer is having fun, his audience is almost always having fun.”–“On Writing”
“You can’t deny laughter. When it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”–“Hearts in Atlantis”
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”–“On Writing”

Remembering an Old Friend

December 22, 2009

I just found out today that Alaina Reed Hall, who played Olivia on Sesame Street, has died. She was 63.
I remember Olivia so well. She was Gordon’s younger sister, and to my young mind she was very glamorous.
I remember one episode clearly. Oscar the Grouch somehow fixed Olivia up on a date with Bruno, the guy who carried his trash can around, whom Olivia had never met. Maria (who had never met Bruno either) was helping her get ready for the date, and insisted that Olivia needed to look grubby and disgusting. After all, Bruno was a friend of Oscar’s, and Grouches love grubby and disgusting, right?
So the big day arrived and Olivia was decked out in her oldest, raggediest, dirtiest clothes, her hair a mess and her face smudgy.
And here came Bruno, dressed up to the nines in a fine suit and tie! So Olivia had to rush back to her apartment and make herself presentable. Funny stuff.
Rest in peace, Olivia. We will miss you.

Avoid Cliche`s Like the Plague

December 22, 2009

Unless you’re a newscaster or reporter, that is. Watch almost any newscast and watch for the tried-and-trite cliche`s. You could even play a moderately effective drinking game: watch the news and take a swig each time one of those tired old lines is used. Here are a few of the most common cliche`s, along with what they really mean. No doubt I’ve left out a few, and there are surely a lot that I haven’t even heard yet, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Storm (or crime, or game) of the Century: There are at least a few of these every single year.
Police Are Not Calling Him a Suspect: Not on camera, at least not yet, they’re not, but hide a microphone in the squad room and you’ll hear a completely different version of things.
Police Say She Is Cooperating With Their Investigation: This can be interpreted a couple of ways.
1. She is confessing and telling them where to find the body. Or
2. She’ll be lawyered up by tomorrow and then she won’t be so very helpful anymore.
Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare: This is so overused it doesn’t need any commentary from me.
Unspeakable: Stay tuned, everyone! We’re going to tell you all the gory details, right after these important words from our sponsors! Don’t go away now!
Neighbors Are Shocked: (That he would shoot his entire family, burn down his house, embezzle his company’s fortune, blow up the Starbucks, etc.) They either didn’t know the culprit at all, or they were just waiting for something like this to happen. Possibly they even had a betting pool going.
Neighbors Describe Him As Quiet: (or that he kept to himself) Don’t ever be quiet or keep to yourself. Those are sure signs of a serial killer or mass murderer, and your neighbors really will have a betting pool. Honestly, you’ve got to figure at least SOME SK’s are noisy and boisterous, but you never hear about them.
Routine Traffic Stop: If it made the news at all, it was anything but routine Notice that it’s only the routine traffic stops that turn out to be disastrous.
Family Man: Just wait. The Other Woman, and quite possibly the Other Children, will surface eventually.
Flamboyant: Bizarre. Attention whore.
Free Spirit: Irresponsible. The type to run off and hitchhike to Las Vegas when they told the folks at home they were just going to the store for a pack of gum.
Charming: Shallow, at best. If “charming” is accompanied by “beautiful/handsome” they have done something terrible or it has been done to them.
Fun-loving: Liable to get plastered and wreck his parents’ house while they’re on vacation.
Cautious: Paranoid. House is like a bunker. Insists on secret knocks, passwords and has even called the police about the new mailman.
Trusting: No judgment, nearly nonexistent survival instincts. The polar opposite of the Cautious type described above. You can sell this person an oceanfront condo in North Dakota.
Model Employee: Roundly disliked by the other workers. Sucks up to the boss.
Aspiring Model/Actor: More looks than brains and more ambition than talent.
Well-preserved: (of a person) Has a plastic surgeon on retainer.
Vintage: (of a house, car, etc.) About to fall apart. Doesn’t even have to be very old, just neglected.
Precocious: (of a child) Mouthy, loves running verbal rings around adults. Usually gets away with it because he or she is cute and assumed to be intelligent.
Chilly: Below freezing.
Breezy: Small people may blow away to Oz.
Wet: Get your sump pump ready.
Pungent: Egads, what a stench!
Acquired Taste: Hardly anybody has managed to acquire the taste, or even wants to.

Yes, these are very cynical interpretations, but you can’t watch the news much without becoming at least a bit jaded by it all.

Nothing’s Sacred, NOt Even Reindeer

December 19, 2009

It seems even Rudolph isn’t safe from the never-ending battle of the sexes. Witness this letter to Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: With the holidays here, songs about Santa and his reindeer are filling the air. I’m writing to talk about reindeer antlers. Reindeer are unique
because they are the only members of the deer family in which both genders have antlers, which are made of bone and grown annually.
In the summer and fall, you cannot identify a reindeer as a “he” or a “she” without further investigation. In late December, however, only the females still
have their antlers.
During the summer months, the males use their antlers to attract females and defend their harem (anywhere from five to 15 females) from other males. When
they are no longer “looking for love,” the males lose their antlers. The females, on the other hand, keep theirs through the winter and into the spring,
and use them to compete for food and to protect their young.
The only reindeer with antlers at Christmastime are the GIRLS, Abby. So Rudolph would have been appropriately named “Rudolphia,” and the other reindeer
would have been laughing and calling HER names until the glow from HER nose guided Santa’s sleigh that foggy Christmas eve. — JOYCE CAMPBELL, PH.D.

That is actually pretty interesting, about the antlers. But then again, reindeer are interesting and unusual animals. They are so strongly associated with Christmas, Santa Claus, elves and flying sleighs that some people have a hard time believing they are real. Oh yes, Virginia, there really are reindeer; they’ve been domesticated for centuries, both as pack animals and as a source of meat, milk and hides. Their milk, in fact, is some of the richest in the world.
But facts just get in the way of a good story, and so they must have done way back in 1939, when Rudolph was created as a Christmas advertising gimmick by the Montgomery Ward department-store chain. There’s no way to know now if his creator, Robert May, knew anything about reindeer, but he clearly didn’t know about the business with the antlers.
Since his inception, Rudolph has firmly established himself as an essential part of Christmas folklore. Gene Autry’s version of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” is one of the best-selling songs in history. Ask anybody, and chances are good to excellent that Rudolph is the only reindeer whose name they can remember. (For the record, the others are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid and Donder and Blitzen.)
Personally I’m not so convinced Rudolph is a she. Know what I think? I think other reindeer laughed at HIM because he was the only boy reindeer they ever met who didn’t shed his antlers in winter the way he was supposed to.
And note please, that I did not stoop so low as to make an unfunny joke about female reindeer never getting lost because they don’t mind asking for directions. You’d think Dear Abby, of all people, would retire that old chestnut, but no such luck:

Dear DR. CAMPBELL: Fascinating. This clearly explains why Santa doesn’t get lost at Christmas. Females are never reluctant to ask for directions … ho,
ho, ho.

*groan, gag, sigh*
Rudolph, hold your antlered head up high, and let that nose shine. You’re The Man.

It’s the Season of Giving

December 16, 2009

And that means it’s time to salute those among us who are unselfish and generous in the name of a good cause. So today I’m offering a heartfelt tip of the hat to WAR: Whimsical Animal Rescue of Sussex County Animal Association, a local organization involved in caring for “unwanted,” abandoned or otherwise unfortunate cats and dogs.
I was lucky enough to spend most of yesterday afternoon with Amy, who is in charge of the feline divison of WAR. It takes a very special kind of person to provide foster care for cats and kittens, nursing them back to health, socializing them, loving them, and then finding them good and caring homes. Well, Amy, if I didn’t say so yesterday, (and even if I did) I’ll say it now: you are that kind of special. I’m not sure I could do it, I’d be wanting to keep every kitten that passed through my door.
There is nothing quite like walking into a building specially set aside for cats, kneeling down and being mobbed by a posse of friendly, curious kitties. Kitties of all description, from tiny, striped Mr. Spock to the gentle blue-eyed Blue Moon, and of course the excellent orange Tabasco, who wanted all the attention and petting for himself and wasn’t afraid to push his furry pals out of the way in order to get it. The whole experience just confirms what the scientists have been saying all along: interacting with animals is good for us.
So Amy, thanks again both for a wonderful afternoon, and for your tireless and devoted care of these adorable creatures. And to Blue Moon, Tabasco, Spock and Company, best possible wishes to all of you!
Go to Whimsical Animal Rescue to learn more about this amazing organization, and to see pictures of some of the cats and dogs.

The Kitchen Is No Place For a Coward

December 16, 2009

And one has to be brave to acknowledge this. I’ve rarely been disappointed with the results of my cooking when I “thought out of the box.” Yesterday’s pot roast was an example.
In our family, a pot roast always contains beef (it was chuck this time) plus carrots, celery and onions. Yesterday, I got bold and decided to experiment a bit, and I’m glad I did.
Here’s the Ghostess’s unscientific, not-written-in-stone recipe. If it seems vague, that’s because, with only one major exception, you have a lot of leeway when it comes to how much of what ingredients you use. The important exception is baking. It’s best not to fool around much with cake or bread recipes, unless you’re willing to take the chance that your finished product falls flat or turns out hard and gritty as the Pyramids.
To your pot roast and vegetables, (carrots, celery, onions, potates, turnips, any fairly firm vegetable works well) and add a couple cups of cranberry juice. Add garlic, a bit more than you would usually be comfortable adding. Add a bay leaf or two, some ground cinnamon and ginger, and salt and pepper. I imagine a bit of hot pepper would also work well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how tender the meat will be when you use cranberry juice as your liquid.
Bake at dg350 with the cover of the dish or pan slightly askew for a couple hours, until the meat is done to your liking.
And that’s it! Easy, homey, yet interesting.

Requiem for Lost Websites

December 12, 2009

Yes, I’m up very late. I blame the tasty gingerbread latte I had from Barnes and Noble earlier this evening.
I want to take this opportunity to lament the apparent passing of a few websites that I really enjoyed but that have seemingly been abandoned.
BVitamin Q This was a wonderful site filled with all kinds of trivia, all in lists. I especially liked this site because many of the lists dealt with favorite subjects of mine: food and words. Luckily the site’s archive is still online, and it comprises several years’ worth of postings. The site was eventually changed to:
Infowisps: This one only lasted a couple months and was then abandoned. No explanation given. I have e-mailed Roddy Lumsden, the creator of both VitaminQ and Infowisps, but have never gotten a reply. Roddy, if you happen to read this, I miss you and your fun facts. Come back to us.
Blaque’s Dungeon: This was a Yahoo-based site, also called Blaque’s True Crime Dungeon, I think. I discovered this in 2001 or 2002 and, as in the case of the two sites mentioned above, fell instantly in love with it. It was a collection of current news articles on, you guessed it, true crime, leaning toward the bizarre and sordid, crimes which didn’t make headlines otherwise. Exactly my cup of tea. Sadly, a couple years later, the site shut down without warning, taking its archives with it. I looked everywhere but could never find it again.
This particular story has a somewhat happy ending. Just a couple months ago, my excellent friend Anthony, who enjoys that kind of news as much as I do, and who is also a much more patient researcher than I am, managed to track down the Blaque’s Dungeon creator, a guy calling himself Jonathan Blaque. (I have no idea if that’s his real name or not.) Mr. Blaque has a Livejournal site that is sort of similar to what he did before on Yahoo. However, I don’t like LJ sites because there is just way too much junk on the page and it is a nuisance to try and navigate, unlike WordPress. Also, the Blaque’s new page is much more political than his old one, and frankly, if I wanted to hear that kind of ranting, I’d tune into some AM all-talk radio station. I wish Blaque had left the archives of his old site available instead of just wiping them away to wherever it is that dead websites go.
All right, the caffeine rush is winding down finally, so I’ll sign off till next time. Don’t worry, I have no plans to go the way of these three websites. I will be back!