Saturday, December 19, 2009


Last August I posted an article about names, especially strange names. So I read with interest something on the subject in Time Magazine's December 7th issue. According to that, if you want to keep your kid out of prison, name him Michael, not Maxwell. In a study reported in Social Science Quarterly, people with unpopular names have a higher risk of criminality than people with popular ones.

This was not only news to me, but surprising news at that. In fact, I would have thought just the opposite might be true. But no. The researchers took records of over 15,000 boys and their names and tracked the crimes committed when the boys were adolescents. Boys with popular names, like Michael, committed the fewest crimes. Those with less popular names, like Preston or Alec. committed the most. The theory is that a familiar name leads to greater social acceptance, which leads to greater self-acceptance, and that leads to better behavior.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger. I'm just reporting this and, obviously, there are exceptions by the dozens of people with unusual names becoming famous for their good behavior, like, say, Barak Obama.

But, leaving the names of real people, let's talk about names of occupations. Remember when a janitor was a janitor and not a "building custodian"? Or a secretary was not an "administrative assistant?" Not that I object to people getting their self-esteem anyway they can. The one that really bugs me, though, is "Human Resources Department" instead of the old-fashioned "Personnel." Personnel was certainly shorter, and I don't think anyone was confused about what it meant. However, as I stated in one of my yet-to-be-published novels:

"Human Resources is rather scary. It makes me feel that, if I were to work for that company and somehow fail to perform adequately, I could end up on the cafeteria menu as 'Burger of the Month.'"

And then there's the word "zest." How did lemon or orange peel morph into zest? According to the dictionary, it hasn't, but every TV cooking show host talks about adding "zest" to a recipe, when really all she's doing is grating lemon or orange peel. I felt relieved that not everyone has fallen for this "uppity" name when I read in the November issue of Sunset Magazine a recipe that called for "grated orange peel."

And as a cooking magazine, Sunset is high on the list of food experts. They have their own kitchens where every recipe is tested before it's printed in the magazine. In fact, years ago, when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew the people who owned the magazine, went through their kitchens myself, and got to taste the results of their testing. I remember it well. Yummy!

So don't call it zest - call it by its real name: grated lemon (or orange) peel - and strike a blow for truth in labeling.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Those of you who are romance authors know what this is about. For others, let me explain that Harlequin--the premier romance publisher in the world--has just announced they're going into the self-publishing business.

In other words, they plan to solicit authors to pay them to print their books., just as other self-publishing companies--such as Author House, iUniverse and XLibris, etc.--do. Like those companies, dozens of which have proliferated since print-on-demand technology made it possible, they will charge an author anywhere from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars to publish their book in either hard cover or trade paperback. Those books get no editing and no promotion, and some companies charge the authors hefty sums to buy copies of their own books.

A few years ago ago a woman asked me, "Don'tall authors have to pay to get their books published. I was surprised then but not anymore. And now the biggest publisher of all has stooped to that level. Why, when Harlequin is already #1? The word "greed" comes to mind. Or is it jealosy that, when they see so many companies charging authors to get their book in print, they decided to join the crowd rushing to exploit them?

Whether you've been writing for thirty years (as I have) or thirty days, you need to know certain things. Publishers are in business to make money, and the traditional way to do that is to hire editors to read submitted manuscripts and decide which ones to publish based on their belief they can sell sufficient copies of said book to print, ship, advertise and pay the author for having written it. Remember, without authors writing books, publishers have no business. Today, ads by self-publishing companies offer to publish any book for a price, and a beginning writer may think that's the way it's done. But, as a reader, do you really want to spend money for a book that might have been (and probably was) written by a total amateur, which has never been edited (or even looked at) by a professional editor?

Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers have all announced that--if Harlequin charges authors to print their books--they will no longer be granted "eligible publisher" status with their members. I hope the pressure being applied by these associations will convince Harlequin to back down. There are far too many badly-written books out there now, and Harlequin will only damage its reputation by adding to the pile.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


As a writer, I naturally use words, and I want other people - many in fact - to read my words in the books I write. Even if they don't buy my books, but borrow them from friends or the library, I consider myself successful in my chosen career if people read my words. That's my goal, and, perhaps it's a selfish one. But what if words could sve lives?

Research about tjhe different lives lived by children (and adults) in poor families versus middle-class families shows that words make a huge difference in deciding who does well in school and succeeds in life.

What words? Well, any words. In fact, the more words a child hears while growing up, the better. A study in Kansas City showed that by the age of three, a child from a middle-class home heard 20 million more words than a child from an impoverished home.

Were the middle-class parents doing flash-card games to increase their child's vocabulary? No. They were just ordinary words spoken at the breakfast or dinner table. They were words used to a child while he played with blocks, or talking about games or toys, or asking what he did at day-care. Even better: the words of the books read to the child every night before bedtime.

Apparently, we don't use words because we can think: we can think because we have words to use.

What a simple way to lift children out of poverty. Read to them, talk to them. Instead of corporal punishment when a child misbehaves, try conversation. Negotiation, conversation, discussion about the incident will be far better. An important thing that language does for a child is to distance him from his emotions. If he can put a name to his feelings, he can begin to control them. It can give him motivation and the experience of learning new ideas.

Thus, hearing words can help a child succeed in school and keep him out of trouble after school. If fewer children drop out, or resort to violence because they don't know anything better, they can become useful citizens instead of gang members. And that can save lives.

So, if you're a parent or grandparent, talk to the children in your life, read to them. You'll be helping them and society at the same time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Recently a friend commented to me that we live in "paradise." Well, not exactly. But it is nice. Our gated community sports tidy green golf courses, leafy green trees, carefully tended flower beds, four swimming pools (with adjoining spas), and tennis courts. Inside the three clubhouses, you'll find two exercise rooms, two theatres, four restaurants, a dance studio, club rooms (some with kitchens attached), a well-stocked library, even a branch post office.

On the other hand, Hawaii is often called "paradise,"and I'd have to say I'd put the island of Maui on the top of any list of mine. Blue skies, balmy breezes, sandy beaches, the aroma of flowers. What's not to like? After twenty years of owning a condo there, I still think fondly of it. Or maybe that's just me.

Do we live in a place because we love it or do we love it because we live there?

I'm sure that residents of other countries feel the same way about their surroundings. I've had the good fortune to travel to a few other countries, and, if I had to choose a place to live outside the U.S., I think it might be Lake Como in Italy.

In my newest romance novel ROMAN HOLIDAY, my character goes there and is as delighted with what she sees as I was when I visited. Apparently Europeans have made it a travel destination for thousands of years, and George Clooney owns a villa on the lake. Need I say more?

However, if you go to Lake Como, be sure to visit the rest of Italy too. The people are friendly (most speak English), the food is great and history surrounds you. Sometimes people say, "See Rome and die," (The original proverb was "See Naples and die" but that was in the 13th century.), because supposedly nothing after that can equal it. And it's almost true today. Besides many modern buildings, you can still see evidence of ancient churches and the Roman Forum and stand in the center of the Colosseum, which was built before Christ. In Florence you can look upon Michaelangelo's staue of David, or climb the 294 steps to the top of the Leaning Tower in Pisa (if you're young and fearless). And Venice has a sight you will see nowhere else in the world: canals instead of streets.

So I'm a great believer in leaving home from time to time to see the rest of the world. If nothing else, it gives writers a marvelous backdrop for their stories.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Well, maybe that's not true. Caesar Salad became popular because so many people liked it and that won't change with the closure of the original Caesar's restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, this week.

But I, for one, am sorry that gang violence, the recession, and fear of swine flu have kept Americans from going south of the border to taste the original Caesar Salad. When I lived near San Diego--only six years ago--I went there several times, usually when our house guests from other places wanted to go to Tijuana to buy expensive prescription drugs at cheaper prices. We'd drive to the border, park on the U.S. side and walk across, then bus to the main street of town where pharmacies almost outnumbered the sidewalk hustlers who offered us hand-made toys, woven scarves and silver jewelry. Our friends would buy their drugs, using their own doctor's prescription (or one from the handy Mexican doctor in the back room) and then we'd go to Caesar's for lunch.

One of the perks of being there in person was that they gave us a business card with the original salad recipe printed on the back. This was important to me because--thanks to an article in our local newspaper which listed hot sauce as an ingredient in "traditional Caesar Salad"--I had researched the topic. Many of my cookbooks gave recipes for the salad, and all were different, but I found a book which told its history. (This was before Wikipedia.) Caesar Cardini was an Italian who emigrated to Mexico around 1918 and opened a restaurant. His brother Alex, who flew airplanes during WWI, joined him several years later and put together Romaine lettuce, croutons, a one-minute egg, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, and tossed it with his brother's salad dressing. No hot sauce and no anchovies.

Because American flyers stationed in San Diego went to Tijuana often and loved the salad, it came to be known as "Aviators' Salad," but later simply Caesar's Salad, since one could only get it there. I remember my first one at a fancy restaurant where the waiter (as they still did in Tijuana six years ago) would put it together and toss it at your table if at least two people ordered it. Now, of course, you can get some version of it almost everywhere, even McDonald's. Except that these imitators invariably cut the Romaine in pieces, whereas the original used whole leaves.

I still have that business card from "Caesar's Palace," and if you want the entire recipe for four persons, with exact amounts of all ingredients, leave a comment. Meanwhile, raise your glass in a toast to Caesar while enjoying the most famous salad in the country.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Like everyone else this week, I'm shocked and dismayed over the news that, after eighteen years, a little girl, kidnapped at age eleven, has finally been found and returned to her family.

Many years ago, my son was kidnapped by my ex-husband, and I went through a terrible ordeal until he was returned. But my experience pales before what Jaycee's mother must have endured. To say nothing of what happened to Jaycee: raped, forced to live in a shack, bear two children, never allowed to go to school or see a doctor. It's outrageous and totally beyond words.

In these times, when a meddling neighbor will sometimes yell, "child abuse," if she sees a mother grab her child too tightly, how could this travesty go unnoticed?

I've read that, in 2006, a neighbor did report seeing children in the backyard of this registered sex offender's house; but the police who came never even went into the backyard to investigate. Do I detect a lawsuit in the future? In my opinion, I should. I don't like ambulance-chasing lawyers or frivolous litigation, but this case screams for retribution, if only to send a strong message to those we trust to keep us--and our children--safe.

In the musical I'm currently rehearsing for, we sing, "Tragedy tomorrow - Comedy tonight!" But I'm finding it hard to keep the tears out of my voice this week. I hope there'll be Comedy Tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Since I mentioned the Irish name "Declan" in my previous post, I've been thinking about the names of characters in my books. For surnames, I steal them from the lists of actors, producers or directors that crawl down my TV screen after a program. For first names, I began using names that were popular at the time. But, lately, I've named my heroines Megan, Dana, Kimberly and Darcy, which belong to girls and women in my family. Some heroes are called Jonathan, Steve, Michael and Richard, also family names. These may seem like "plain vanilla" (read "dull") to some, but I happen to think it's important for the reader to be able to pronounce and spell the names I use.

That's why I don't understand the current craze to change the spelling. Instead of Christine, we have Krystynne, and Barbra, not Barbara. A woman calls herself Sessalee. Wasn't that name formerly Cecily? How about Keyren for Karen, Mairi for Mary, Kerralynne for Caroline, and Karole for Carol? Some men are just as bad. Instead of Larry, we have Lary; instead of Dan we have Dann. I even met a man who spelled his name Xchyler and pronounced it Skyler. A writer cals himself Samm, and another "Bhyl," which I suppose is pronounced Bill. and one named Jimmy spells it "Jhimye." Or maybe that was a woman.

I once belonged to a writing group where authors chose names of places for their characters. Probably because of Tennessee Williams, Minnesota Fats, Indiana Jones and Paris Hilton. Authors used Montana, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Reno, Devon and even Arabia. Fortunately, I moved away before someone thought of Baghdad.

Writers are beginning to change their own names too and perhaps it helps their careers. I don't know. My father, who was British, gave popular English names - Vera and Phyllis - to my sister and me. When film was a new medium, actors often changed their names to something simple. Now they make them as strange as possible.

I shudder to think what the future holds when so many people give their children - or themselves - weird names. As a example, here are the names of contestants on a game show I sometimes watch. (You can learn a lot more than the cost of vowels watching WHEEL OF FORTUNE.) Sashimia, Farisa, Tamashia, Chadira, Plezetta, Saptosa and Tayonna. Tonnacus, Tavis, Ramar, Tenok, Okey and Rami are all men. I kid you not.

Is this just a fad that will come to an end before I give up trying to spell names altogether? To keep my sanity, I'm beginning a list of all the weird names that belong to real people. If you care to add some I'll be glad to post them and keep them in my little black book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I can't believe it's been so long since my last (my first) blog post. Every time I started to write one, something came up--a long trip from California to Missouri aand back (that took all of June), then a family wedding in Oregon--plus getting a part in a new musical to be performed in our local little theatre. Yes I sing too, but Celine Dion has nothing to fear.

Ideas for blogging came to me from time to time--newsworthy events to comment on, like ship piracy off the coast of Somalia (remember that?) and Michael Jackson's untimely death (will that coverage never end?), but those are too out-of-date. So, instead, I'll go with what happened within the past week. I think the French call it "deja vu."

Jazz being one of my musical faves, about nine days ago, we went to see Diana Krall perform. Afterward, I Googled her and learned that her husband, Elvis Costello is Irish and his real first name is Declan. I'd never heard that name before. but four days later, I saw the name in a magazine article. And, two days after that--in the chapter of a book posted in my online critique group--there was Declan again.

This wasn't the first time I heard of something and then it popped up again two more times in short order, and I'm told by friends that they've had similar experiences. Makes you believe there's some truth to the theory that if you concentrate on something, you'll bring more of it into your life. (Money. Money. Money. Published books with my name on them.)

Well, the latter came true yesterday, when the books I ordered from Wild Rose Press arrived. They're copies of my latest romance novel, ROMAN HOLIDAY. It's an inspirational romance which came out last month and I'm getting ready to give copies to relatives for Christmas. If you'd like a free, autographed copy, just be one of the first three to post a comment here.

I won't always give away books, but I need to make up for my prior tardiness. I promise to post more often from now on.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I was a single working gal and it was April in Illinois. (Not exactly Paris, but you can't have everything) and a girlfriend and I decided to go to Iowa to visit a friend and her husband. Our hosts took us to a club where they were members and, in addition to dinner, there would be music and dancing.

So I wore my new dress, a white silk print with colorful flowers and a short, flouncy skirt. To pick up one of the colors, I put an orange belt around my (then) tiny waist. My hostess owned a pair of orange silk pumps so I wore those too, although they were two sizes too small.

We finished dinner and were drinking coffee when a short (but not too short for me in heels) dark, handsome man came to our table and asked our host for permission to ask me to dance. Even in those days, men didn't ask permission to marry a girl, much less ask her to dance. Was this amazing or what?

So I danced with him, during which I discovered he was a skydiver. A forty-one-day whirlwind courtship later, we were married, and, about seven hundred days after that, we were divorced. My mother quoted the old proverb, "Marry in haste - repent at leisure," regularly thereafter, bless her heart.

FREE FALL. my latest contemporary romance novel, is based on what I learned about skydiving and parachutes in those two years. In my book, the skydiver is the hero, but in real life he left a lot to be desired. So, although some of the novel is true, most is made up, which is what novelists do. Not to brag too much about my own work, I'll just say that it has some romantic scenes--which is what you buy a romance for--some exciting scenes--this is an awesome sport--and a bit of humor. Without humor, I'd never have survived that matrimonial adventure.

All fiction writers use their experiences to a greater or lesser extent in their books, and I'll bet lots of you readers--even if you don't write books--are thinking, "Yes, that time I was... (fill in the blank) would make a great story." So tell me about it (in 250 words or less). The first five people to comment on this article--even if they don't tell me their story--will get a free, autographed copy of FREE FALL.