Tag Archive for: Final Exam

It’s only weather…

This past weekend, all up and down the Eastern seaboard, we were under a “Winter Weather Advisory” or depending on where you lived south of us, a “Winter Storm Warning.” For the uninitiated out there, that means that we were getting a snowstorm. Interestingly, here in the Hudson Valley, we got less snow than say the Jersey Shore, but we had to shovel five or six inches. But the way the television news and their meteorologists (who used to be called “weathermen”) got all charged up, you would have thought that Armageddon was a-coming. Precipitation, even here in the precipitation capital of the world, is treated as a life-changing event. It’s not. It’s water that’s frozen and falls from the sky. Pretty magical when you think about it, but not cause for the alarm that was sounded here for two solid days prior to one flake falling.

I used to get worked up about the weather—both hot and cold—until I talked myself off the ledge and realized that one, we were not going to run out of food even if I didn’t go grocery shopping prior to the big “snow event,” as it was being called, and two, we would survive regardless of how long the storm lasted. According to the weather reports, I should have stockpiled enough food to last a week and one of us would definitely perish unless extreme precautions were taken.

There are a host of other pieces of advice. I list them below with my take on them.

1. Dress in layers. Needs no elaboration, you would think. Unless you’re child #2, who wears a short-sleeved tee shirt under an unzippered winter coat, and ankle sweat socks inside his boots. Are the meteorologists targeting child #2’s demographic, a group of 10-year-old boys who don’t feel the cold? I wonder about that all the time.

2. When shoveling, bend at the knees. I’ve been bending at the head. Is that wrong?

3. Don’t drive if you don’t have to. Unless you’re towing three hundred pounds of sand and wearing a DPW vest, I think this is very good advice.

4. Make sure you look in on elderly neighbors. Again, good advice. They’ve got all the stockpiled food. My grandmother, who died in 1981, was still using the sugar supply that she had stockpiled during World War II until the day she passed.

I made the mistake of going to a local drugstore chain on Saturday afternoon to buy Christmas lights. We were putting up the tree, and of course, only half of the lights were working. The snow hadn’t started yet, the start time being revised hourly as the storm passed us by and hammered our neighbors to the south and east. But the people at this local strip mall apparently hadn’t gotten the memo. Driving through the parking lot to find a spot, the panic was palpable. Did I mention that this strip mall houses a gourmet grocery store, the aforementioned chain drugstore, the post office, and most importantly, the liquor store? Frankly, I saw more bottle-shaped bags being hoisted in the parking lot than bags containing groceries. Jack Daniels, it would seem, is a much better companion, and a much better stockpiling option, than disposable razors or paper towels. Hushed whispers about snowfall totals punctuated my long wait at the drugstore.

“Did you hear? It could be TWO FEET!”

“I know! I had to come out and buy milk! We won’t get out until Monday, if we’re lucky!”

People, we live on the East Coast. We have had snowstorms before and we knew for an entire week that this one was heading our way. We will not be snowed in, despite what the meteorologists tell us. If we’re stuck inside for twelve hours, it will be a lot. My guess is closer to eight. (In actuality, it was more like…two.)

And as for those meteorologists, I know that they’re supposed to be smart people. But the one who was rabble rousing on our local channel this weekend once did an interview with Miss Puerto Rico, who just happened to be marching in the Puerto Rico day parade in New York City, and was conveniently wearing a sash across her ample bosom that read “Miss Puerto Rico.” His question to her?

“Where are you from?”

If I’m going to get my panties in a wad about the weather, I’m surely going to trust someone who can read cues better than this guy.

Happy holidays, Stiletto faithful!

Maggie Barbieri

First Drafts

I have the distinct honor and privilege of having had my fourth book published last week and my fifth book, which will be published next year, done and submitted. It is called “Third Degree,” and I finally let go and sent it off yesterday. Although I’m overjoyed by the publication of “Final Exam,” which so far, has been well received, I’m a nervous wreck having submitted the new manuscript yesterday. You’d think that a day as joyous as that would leave me relaxed and serene.

Far from it.

Let the nail-biting begin.

Thanks to fellow Stiletto-wearing Susan McBride, I’ve stopped (kind of) engaging in risky behavior once a book is published. To wit: I no longer Google myself. I no longer read reviews unless my publisher sends them via email with a cover letter that’s either filled with glee or comes with a warning to not open until I’m sitting down (hate those, by the way). I definitely don’t check my Amazon numbers. These are all very wise instructions from a very wise, and not to mention, fabulous, writer.

But when you turn a manuscript in, there’s nothing left to do but wait. I hemmed and hawed about this latest manuscript’s “doneness” for far too long. Let’s just say that after repeated calls to the only other member of my writing group, the supremely-talented, Alison (no relation to Bergeron), to get assurance that I could indeed send it in and not be embarrassed, I hit the ‘send’ button. Honestly, I thought that I would be happy and relieved that I had beat my deadline by not one, but TWO, weeks. But instead, I feel anxiety.

Why is that?

I’m sure that the venerable Stiletto Gang ladies and all of our faithful followers can weigh in with a variety of theories. I’m fairly sure that they’ve all felt what I’m feeling right now in varying degrees during their writing careers. You worry that it isn’t as ‘done’ as you had thought. You have separation anxiety, thinking that with just one more day, or one more edit, it will be perfect. You have concern that your agent and/or editor won’t ‘get it’ and that they will look askance at you like “what the heck were you thinking, girlfriend?” You fret that it’s just not good.

But after four books that have gone into the interwebs and to my editor and agent, I can tell you that a variety of these things happen, sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in batches. It may not be perfect or they may not ‘get it.’ Or they get it, but it needed one final edit. Or some parts are great, and others just don’t work.

When all is said and done, it’s a first draft and you’ve been treating it like a printed book.

You’d think I would have avoided this pitfall because as you all know, my day job is an editor. But the wise counsel, hopefully, that I give to the authors with whom I work apparently doesn’t apply to me. It takes some getting your mind around but everything that one puts on the page is not brilliant the first time around. That’s why we have editors, and agents, and trusted friends who tell us the god’s honest truth when something just isn’t that good.

Until that time comes, however, I’m going to revel in the wonder that is good health, a wonderful family, a fulfilling career, and an overall feeling of happiness and well-being that a perfectly-constructed mystery can add to but can never bring totally.

Best wishes, Stiletto faithful.

Maggie Barbieri

An Excerpt from “Final Exam” (Murder 101 series)

In this latest entry in the Murder 101 series, Alison Bergeron, college professor/amateur sleuth finds herself living in a dorm on campus, taking the place of missing Resident Director, Wayne Brookwell. When she arrives at the dorm, she finds that the suite she was promised is really more than two tiny rooms accompanied by a decrepit private bath that has seen better days. We pick up with moving day, her devoted Bobby Crawford by her side, as they survey the premises and wonder how Alison is going to survive living in her new digs until the end of the semester or until she finds Wayne Brookwell, her main goal.

I leaned in and discovered my suite was basically a long, narrow room with hardwood floors and one window next to a twin-sized bed. The suite part, I surmised, was the small living area to the left of the bedroom that contained a desk, an old musty chair, and a book shelf that was separated from the bedroom by rather nice French doors. A bathroom was next to the bedroom and while I’m a fan of period detail, the subway tile that encased the shower looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since it was installed in what I guessed was the 1940s. I looked and Crawford and said, “Get me some Comet.”

“You’re not even in the door,” he said. “Let’s go in and see what else you need before I go to the store.”

“Besides a blow torch to burn this place down?” I asked, sitting dejectedly on the bed. A puff of dust flew up around me and I shivered in revulsion.

“Is there a laundry area in this building?” he asked, pulling me up off the bed and placing me in the doorway between the bedroom and living room. He pulled the bedding off and threw it onto the floor. “I don’t want you sleeping on Wayne Brookwell’s dirty sheets,” he said.

“That’s Wayne Butthole, to you.” I leaned on the door jamb. “Forever more, he’s Wayne Butthole.” I crossed my arms, and continued my visual reconnaissance of the area. “I hate him.”

“Laundry?” Crawford repeated.

“No idea,” I said. “I assume it’s in the basement but I can’t be sure.” Although I had parked outside of this building for the better part of a decade, I had never been inside, save for the lobby. The building was five stories high, with men housed on all but one floor, a floor that had been reserved for the overflow of female students in any given year. But Siena was still known as the men’s dorm and had been since I had been a student here, years previous. It looked pretty much the same as I remembered it—ornate, varnished mouldings; marble floors; heavy mahogany doors stained a dark, cherry brown. It smelled of Pledge and floor polish and decades’ worth of smelly gym socks and young adult hormones.

Crawford picked the pile of dirty bedding up and started down the hall, his sneakers making a squish-squish noise as he proceeded. I back went into the bedroom and sat down on the denuded bed, surveying my surroundings. I couldn’t imagine spending one night here, never mind five weeks, but that was my lot and I had to suck it up. I don’t want to suck it up! I wanted to yell, but I made an attempt at maturity and swallowed whatever feelings I had. The one thing I couldn’t ignore was my bladder, which obviously was past the point of no return. I got up and went into the bathroom, looking around as I did my business, taking in the rust stains in the porcelain pedestal sink, and the dirty ring around the tub. There were a few squares of toilet paper left on the roll and I made a mental note to tell Crawford to get toilet paper, too.

When I flushed the toilet, a torrent of water, toilet paper, and various other bits of flotsam and jetsam that had been residing in the toilet since the Mesozoic Age came spewing up at me from the filthy bowl, and I put my hands over my face to protect myself, a little too late. The front of my shirt and my jeans were instantly soaked, and water poured onto the tile floor and puddle around my feet. I spit a few times, wondering exactly what I had almost ingested. I grabbed a less-than-clean towel from the towel bar and wiped off my face and hands. I looked at the floating detritus on the floor and stifled a gag.

Crawford returned and knocked softly on the bathroom door. “Everything okay in there?”

“No!” I called back while attempting to open the door with the ancient door knob. I finally got it open and gave him a view of what the bathroom looked like.

“What the hell happened?”

“What do you think happened?” I asked and threw the soaked towel at him, catching him squarely in the solar plexus. “We are not off to a good start here.”

He went into the bathroom and threw the towel on the floor, attempting to sop up the mess from the exploding toilet. I riffled through my suitcase, finding a clean pair of jeans and a tee shirt. I stripped off my clothes and put them in a pile by the door. Once I was redressed, I stopped by the bathroom. “I’m going to go down to the laundry room and throw these clothes in, too.” I watched as Crawford raised the toilet seat and stared solemnly into the toilet. I had no idea whether or not he was handy and I wasn’t sticking around to find out. “It’s in the basement, right?”

He didn’t turn around but put his hands on his hips, surveying the damage. “Right.”

I padded down the hall toward the grand staircase which led me to a laundry room that was much nicer than my new accommodations. Six new, state-of-the-art washers and companion dryers lined one wall, the other wall lined with vending machines with soda, candy, and snacks. There was a change machine, and a machine to buy bleach and detergent. It was clean, well-lit, and modern with signs advertising its wi-fi access. I looked around enviously. My basement was musty, dusty, and home to more than one mouse, I suspected. Okay, so things were looking up. A little bit.

I threw the dirty clothes into the wash that Crawford had started and returned to the lobby floor, which was still empty. I had forgotten to ask Merrimack if any students were staying on campus during Spring Break and made a mental note to send him an email once I unearthed my computer from the mound of my possessions in the middle of the little patch of floor between my bed and the dresser.

“Do you want to get Chinese food, Crawford?” I asked, back upstairs and going through items in my open suitcase. He didn’t answer. I guess I owed him an apology for biting his head off and throwing the dirty towel at him but I didn’t expect the silent treatment. “Crawford?” I went to the bathroom door and found him kneeling on the floor in his undershirt, the toilet off its seal, the top removed. His shirt was draped over the side of the tub and he was dirty and wet, his dark hair flopping over his sweaty brow. “Crawford?”

He leaned over and stretched out, ending up on his right side, his left arm disappearing into the gaping hole of the upended toilet. He came out with a ziplock bag filled with something that I knew wasn’t Mrs. Brookwell’s famous home-grown tea.

He looked up at me. “Call Fred.”

Maggie Barbieri

Final Exam at Amazon

Idle Threats

I was making the bed one morning, the television tuned to a morning program on a national station, when James Patterson’s voice implored me to buy his latest book or he would “kill Alex Cross.” Oh, really? You would? This advertisement from the thriller-meister has generated a great deal of talk on DorothyL, a listserv that I and many of my Stiletto brethren subscribe to. People fall firmly into two camps when it comes to expressing their opinions about this ad: brilliant versus schlocky. I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

The first thing I wondered is exactly how much does it cost to get thirty seconds worth of air time during “Good Morning, America”? I’m sure it’s more money than I have but I wonder nonetheless. Second, I wondered how many people actually believe Patterson. Is there a contingent of die-hard Patterson fans out there who would trudge to the bookstore (or to their computer keyboard) to order the book just because he said so? Obviously, Patterson is being tongue-in-cheek. But I’m curious to know how successful an ad like that is in generating sales.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read an Alex Cross novel, so I don’t know whether to be chagrined or not that he might travel to the great unknown in Patterson’s next novel. Is Alex Cross the guy that Morgan Freeman always plays in the movies? If so, please don’t kill him, Mr. Patterson. I love Morgan Freeman and want him to have work well into his 80’s, some 50 years after it is unacceptable for women to have a decent leading role.

Let’s remember that Patterson began in advertising, something that’s been pointed out several times on DorothyL. According to one of the posters—our friend and fellow mystery writer, Chris Grabenstein—the sign on Patterson’s door to his band of ad copywriters was “Startle me.” I actually have a friend who worked for him, and by all accounts, he was a master at the game. So it’s not surprising that he would pull out all of the stops to sell books, which got me wondering (once again…I do a lot of wondering), “Just how far would I go to sell a book?”

Conclusion? Not far.

People know what they like to read and they are not usually persuaded to go outside of their comfort zones, in my opinion. I think back to one of the first book signings I ever did, as the guest writer featured during our middle-school’s Barnes and Noble fundraiser. I sat, all alone, at a table in the middle of the store, smiling and trying not to look as uncomfortable as I felt. A woman approached me and asked me what kind of book “Murder 101” was. I gave her a rambling synopsis of the plot, and she took the book over to where she was sitting to look through it to see whether or not it was worth the twenty or so bucks B&N was charging for it on that particular day. She walked back to me a few minutes later, her face stern. She handed me back the book. “I don’t think I want to read this,” she said. And instead of screaming, “Buy this book or I will kill Alison Bergeron!” I bid her a nice day and sunk a little lower in my hard-backed chair.

I used to work in college textbook publishing and one of my jobs was to support our sales reps in the field by traveling with them and making sales calls. I have to say, I was pretty good at closing the deal. And I will admit I once used the old “baby needs a new pair of shoes” line to a professor who was considering one of our books. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and he was so surprised by my cheekiness that he ordered 150 copies of a $40.00 book on the spot. Yes, that’s $6000 worth of business in a five-minute call. All this to prove that when necessary, I can sell. But there’s something different when it’s a book that you wrote, that your blood, sweat, and tears went into, that came from your heart. The hard sell just doesn’t seem to apply.

All this to say that I applaud Mr. Patterson. I won’t buy his book (“I don’t think I want to read this”) but I will probably buy a copy for a family member for Christmas. Because in a thirty-second ad, Patterson piqued my interest. People obviously care enough about Alex Cross as a protagonist that killing him off would upset them greatly. And that makes me wonder.

“Final Exam” came out yesterday. If you like my kind of mysteries, I hope you’ll buy it. More than that, though, I hope you enjoy it.

And in the interest of blatant self-promotion, commonly called BSP on DorothyL, what I will do is offer an excerpt of “Final Exam” here at the Stiletto Gang on Friday. Please check back if you’re interested in finding out what kind of trouble Alison Bergeron gets herself into this time. Let’s just say it involves exploding toilets, drugs, aliases, and one very hot and bothered Crawford. Interested yet?