November 30, 2002

laurielikesbooks Blog for November 2002 — November 2002 — November 2002

Being Sick (but also) a Trip to the Highlands

If you've ever had sinus surgery, you know that they pack your nose with tampon-like wads of cotton for a week thereafter, which makes breathing out of your nose an impossibility. It also makes sleeping incredibly difficult because your lips and mout
If you've ever had sinus surgery, you know that they pack your nose with tampon-like wads of cotton for a week thereafter, which makes breathing out of your nose an impossibility. It also makes sleeping incredibly difficult because your lips and mouth dry out so much it's actually painful.

I've had two sinus surgeries (and a tonsilectomy for chronic tonsilitus - about 20 infections in a single year) in the last 8 years. I've got allergies and narrow sinus passages, so I take allergy shots and irrigate my nose and take enough different nasal sprays to start my own pharmacy. When the plumbing is a problem and you've got allergies as well, there's not necessarily a lot they can do to attack either problem on its own, and when both act up at the same time, you may as well surrender.

Which is what I did over the last week. After taking home one upset 10-year-old girl last Friday night and settling in to read Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour, I finally fell asleep around 2 in the morning. By mid-day Saturday, the right side of my face felt as though it were under seige. Breathing was difficult and my forehead was pounding from a sinus headache. By the time I tried to go to sleep, I could not breathe at all and I had a fever.

Saturday night was endless; as bad as having tampons in my nose. At around midnight I tried sleeping in my "glider" chair, which is in my study. Why? Because it's one of two high-backed chairs in our house and I felt if I could sleep sitting up, I might be able to breathe. It might have worked...had I not startled myself awake every time I dozed off. At around 1, I moved to my desk chair (the other high-backed chair in our house) but again startled myself awake every so often. At 2 I finally gave up and decided I'd have to try mouth breathing. Because I think I was suffering from feverish delusions, I was afraid that if I breathed through my mouth I would unwittingly close my mouth during the night and suffocate.

Obviously I survived, but Sunday was even worse as the fever lingered and the sinuses on both sides seemed glued shut. I didn't die Sunday night either, and on Monday went to the doctor, who confirmed a bad infection and seemed surprised at how quickly it hit. And so my string of not having had just a plain old cold since I was 17 has continued.

I went home with strong antibiotics, strong decongestants that make me hyper, and a renewal for my two long-term allergy/sinus nose sprays. I didn't die Monday night, but I didn't breathe through my nose either, and after I drove my daughter to school Tuesday morning, I went home and took a three hour nap. When I woke up I realized my mouth hadn't dried out - apparently one side of my face drained into the other while I slept. I took naps every day this week, except for those mornings when my husband heard me try to speak, commanded, "Go back to bed," took our daughter to school, and on those days I slept in...until noon. Considering my day usually begins at 6:30, this gives you an idea of how badly I felt.

That woozy feeling you have with a sinus infection or head cold sometimes makes it impossible to concentrate; I couldn't read a book or a magazine, leaving nothing but television, which is another reason I'm sure I slept so much this past week.

My nose is better now, but my sinuses are still draining quite a bit, and my cough, which has always been my Achilles heel, is so explosive it's gross. I'm trying to keep this from turning into bronchitis, which I suffered chronically for several years, and spent most of last night coughing instead of sleeping. Maybe tonight will be okay?

Throughout all this, my husband has been wonderful. He refused to let me play the martyr and schlep our daughter around. So I've mostly slept, blowed my nose, and coughed, although I was able to get some work done on Thursday and Friday.

But cancelling the November 1st At the Back Fence was tough; in 6 1/2 years, I've never not posted a column out of illness. The one time I was sick in the past, author Julia Quinn wrote a guest column. And, because I was sick for the last part of October and had been out of town for the first part of the month, we posted fewer reviews than usual.

Being the nervous sort, I worried that our readers would leave in droves, but was actually too sick to care. And mostly too sick to read. I did manage to concentrate enough to finish Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, and then last night around midnight watched the Scotland episode of his A Cook's Tour.

In addition to eating fried pizza and a fried Mars bar in Glasgow, he ate haggis in Edinburgh (which he found delicious! and remarkably similar in terms of ingredients and preparation to French cuisine), then journeyed to the Highlands for a stay at the Cawdor Cottages, on the estate of Cawdor Castle. He fished, hunted rabbit, and enjoyed the food prepared with local ingredients by the estate's chef.

We've not done a Castle of the Week on Cawdor Castle, so I'm going to include a few photos here, as well as a bit of history.

Although he didn't mention it on the show, Cawdor is quite close to the battlefield of Culloden. Part of Shakespeare's MacBeth, Cawdor Castle was originally built in the mid-1400's as a private fortress by the powerful Thanes of Cawdor. Built around an oblong keep, the medieval tower rises four stories, and protects a legendary holly tree.

The Legendary Holly

The Medieval Tower

Additions were made to the castle over the centuries, but many were made during the 1600's. Unlike many a castle in the UK which now lie in ruins, Cawdor remains the home of Scottish gentry and is its interior is filled with the type of art you'd expect to see in a manor house.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall dates from the 16th century or before, and has been frequently remodelled, the last major alteration being the insertion of the plain, splendid fireplace in 1684, embellished with the Calder family emblems of the stag's head and buckle. At the opposite end of the room is a minstrel's gallery. Calder was an old spelling of Cawdor.

The Tapestry Bedroom contains the Family Marriage Bed of 1662. The gilded and silvered Venetian headboard is original. The Flemish tapestries are woven from wool and silk. They are hung directly over unplastered walls for both warmth and decoration. Their cost in 1682 was of £483, which, according to the handy Economic History Resources website, would be the equivalent of £49029 today.

The Tapestry Bedroom

I hope you've enjoyed this mini-vacation to the Highlands, even though you had to endure my gross infection to get there. Thanks to everyone who sent their best wishes, and to the many of you whom I know are also suffering the sinus infection from Hell, please take care and get well soon!

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Women, Heroines, & Age

Not long ago we did an At the Back Fence segment on the age of heroines in romance novels. The idea for talking about it came from a conversation I'd had with author Stef Ann Holm, who, after years of writing Americana romance, had her first contempo
Not long ago we did an At the Back Fence segment on the age of heroines in romance novels. The idea for talking about it came from a conversation I'd had with author Stef Ann Holm, who, after years of writing Americana romance, had her first contemporary romance published. A primary reason for doing this was because, as she got older, she found it more and more difficult to write about 20-year-old heroines.

Which prompted me to wonder how far this spread in both directions. In other words, did 40-ish/40+ women want to read about heroines 18 - 25 and did teens and young women want to read about heroines pushing 40 or over 40? Most of us, regardless of our age, have read romances for years featuring young heroines, particularly if the romances are historical. Why, I was shocked to be reminded not long ago that the heroine from a favorite Garwood romance - Saving Grace - was 15. Of course, readers of contemporary romance are more used to reading heroines who are in their 20's and even 30's, although 35 or so seems the cut-off, and though these heroines are often chronologically older, they are often only so superficially (living in small towns and being virgins and so forth), particularly if in series romances.

Before single title contemporaries developed as a sub-genre, the vast majority of contemporaries were really category or series romances, and generally featured younger, inexperienced women and older, more sophisticated, and often slightly menacing men. Harlequin/Silhouette has always lagged behind popular culture, and my sense is that when they began to "loosen up" in terms of this, they didn't loosen up all the way. But in single title contemporaries, which seem to me to have grown up outside of the Harlequin ideal of contemporary romance, there was more latitude, and as more people began to read these books, Harlequin has been forced to catch up, although I believe they still lag, even in their Blaze line - Harlequin and erotica seem more an oxymoron to me than anything else.

So tolerance for varying ages of heroines, it seems to me, depends on where you came to romance from, and how old you are. I came to romance in my very early 30's via the historical romance and didn't read either series romances or contemporary romances until my middle 30's. Now that I'm 41 and my husband is 47, I'm still more accepting of younger heroines than I believe others may be, particularly those who came to romance via single title contemporaries.

In fact, I'm not only accepting of younger heroines, I have a bias against older heroines - and heroes too. I had a severe problem with Suzanne Brockmann's The Admiral's Bride because the hero was in his late 50's, and when I recently picked up Donna Simpson's A Matchmaker's Christmas, I was initially put off because the main heroine is nearly 40 and the hero is 47. Too close to home? Perhaps, but something about reading a traditional Regency Romance with such "old people" (roughly my age and my husband's age, and I don't consider us old at all!) unnerved me. I mentioned this on the Regency discussion list I'm on, and to members of AAR's staff, only to learn that those who'd read the book found it wonderful. And so I pressed on.

Ultimately the age of these characters didn't matter; I enjoyed the book and continue to believe Donna Simpson is one of the best romance writers around; she's going to begin to write longer historicals in addition to traditional Regencies, and though I wish her success, I hope she still writes trads because I like her voice for them. As for the age of heroes and heroines, I think I'd still prefer to read about women and men in their 20's and 30's. As we all saw when Jamie Lee Curtis let it all hang out in More magazine earlier this year, as great as women now look today when they are "of a certain age," part of the reason I read romance is for the fantasy of it. While I enjoy the occasional deviation from the norm, I'd rather read romances featuring beautiful men and women, and particularly in historical eras before plastic surgery and make-up as we know it today, 40 in 1815 doesn't much resemble 40 in 2002.

I have much less trouble reading about heroes and heroines who are 40-ish in contemporary romances - I'm currently that Stef Ann Holm book I mentioned earlier - Girls Night. The heroine is 38 and the hero is in his mid-40's. But I think that's roughly the cut-off point for me. I can't imagine that when I'm 50 I'll want to read about 50-ish heroes and heroines, but then I'll probably still be annoyed to continue to read about 25-year-old contemporary virgins. Will I still want to read about heroines considered "on the shelf" at 24? I honestly can't say. I do know, though, that demographics play a large part in determining what is published, and therefore what's written. Whether I'm going to match a demographic publishers want is unknown at this point; I'd imagine that publishers are going to continue to want to pull in younger readers, and yet my age group, and the women slightly older than me (I'm the last year, I think, of the Baby Boom), is such a large demographic that there's always going to be some market that I'll find appealing.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Girls Night, Old School Heroes, and Jerry Seinfeld

I've taken to writing fan letters to authors whose books I enjoy. Recently I've written to Donna Simpson and yesterday wrote to Stef Ann Holm, whose Girls Night I'd just finished. About a month ago I read a funny article in RT that Stef's daughters h
I've taken to writing fan letters to authors whose books I enjoy. Recently I've written to Donna Simpson and yesterday wrote to Stef Ann Holm, whose Girls Night I'd just finished. About a month ago I read a funny article in RT that Stef's daughters had contributed to as a way to "kick off" the sale of Girls Night. I thought the girls were hilarious and for some reason was expecting the book to be equally funny.

For some reason that was what stuck in my mind about the book even though we'd done both a Pandora's Box and a DIK Review of the book...and Ellen's wonderful review enumerates the dark side of the book, which is the internal demon Vince (the hero) fights once he discovers the the subject of his new "real crime" book planned his serial murders so that Vince would later write about them. Brilliant!

Some of what I most enjoyed about Girls Night was what wasn't there - namely a suspense sub-plot. So many contemporary romances feature suspense sub-plots that it's hard to find one that doesn't. And yet there's plenty of strong material to fill the book, including a sweet secondary romance between Vince's dad (who's been a widower for years and years) and a neighbor; well-written secondary characters such as Jillene's (the heroine) daughters Faye and Claire; and best of all, two wonderful lead characters.

Holm's previous books have mostly been Americana romances (it's hard to believe she once wrote a pirate romance entitled King of the Pirates!), which is a sub-genre I don't read, so this is the first of her books I've read. I'm so pleased she'll be writing more contemporaries because she has a wonderful voice for them, and I imagine the love scenes, which were luscious in Girls Night, are a lot "stronger" than she'd written in the past.

I recently wrote about Old School Heroes in the At the Back Fence column. An expressive word to describe an "old school hero" would be "gentleman." Vince is a gentleman - in the best sense of the word. Jillene was lucky to find him, and, luckily for the reader, she deserved the happiness she found with him. There are some great moments in the book, and never does author Holm take the stereotypical way out. The could-have-been "other woman" isn't, the kids aren't obnoxious or bratty, and the serial murderer doesn't escape and come after Vince and/or Jillene. Instead, there are wonderful moments of serendipity, such as the visit of a certain actor to Jillene's coffee house, Java the Hut, and sweet moments when Vince and his dad talk to each other that illustrates how much father loves son and the son loves his father.

And Jillene, whose business isn't bringing in as much money as she needs to support her family, has to make very difficult lifestyle changes. It's rare in a romance to read about a heroine who can't take her daughters out for fast food because she can't afford to do so without scrounging beneath couch cushions for loose change. It's one thing to cancel cable to save a few bucks, but what to do when you can't make your health insurance premiums? This is the stuff of real life and I'm grateful that Holm wrote about it in her book. The Dale Chihuly chandelier is just icing on the cake, as far as I'm concerned - yes, I'm a Chihuly fan girl from way back.

And now, on to an entirely different subject. (How's that for a segue?)

No matter how often I grown about bad author behavior, I realize that writing a book and putting yourself out there for other people to criticize is incredibly difficult. I have an even stronger appreciation today than I did yesterday, because last night my husband and I saw Comedian, a documentary about the creation of Jerry Seinfeld's new comedy routine. I'll say this, though. It's one thing to have people read your work and criticize it. It's another to have people watch you work and know as you're working whether they like it or not.

I watched Seinfeld from the beginning, before anyone knew who Jerry Seinfeld was, or had figured out the show. I remember telling my husband about watching this oddly funny show (he was out of town at the time) featuring a scene wherein a guy and his friend stake out a building's lobby to meet up with a girl he'd met. For those who are Seinfeld fanatics, this is the first episode wherein George uses the name "Art Vandaley."

It would be safe to say I became a Jerry Seinfeld fanatic myself. I own an episode guide of his show, bought Seinlanguage - in hardcover - right after it was published. I still have my copy of EW when they did the Seinfeld episode guide, and bought three or four (at least) commemorative magazines that were published when the show went off the air. I don't get much chance to watch the show in syndication, but whenever he's on Letterman or Regis or whatever, I try to watch. His first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman after he'd retired his act and gone into show business hibernation was one I made sure to watch, and as I watched an excerpt of it in his documentary last night, it struck me anew how wonderfully he seems to flip words backwards and forwards to make a joke, which is what he did in describing how difficult it is to do "nothing" and how easy it is to fall into doing "something." Frankly, if you're not a fan of Jerry Seinfeld and/or Seinfeld, that probably doesn't sound the least bit funny, but it was.

After Seinfeld went off the air and he went off to make American Express commercials, Jerry Seinfeld retired his act. His HBO Special featured not only his last performance of the act, but a funeral for the act, attended by droves of comedic luminaries. I watched, thought it was fun, but until last night really didn't appreciate how radical a move this was. Because once a comedian retires an act, he literally has nothing, and it takes months, as I learned while watching last night, to craft even five minutes of material.

Comedian follows Jerry Seinfeld as he creates a new act for himself. Remember, this is a man worth $100 million dollars and never has to work another day in his life. What's he do? He goes to open-mike nights at comedy clubs like every other schlub wanting to make it big and goes on stage with tiny snippets of material (although most of them don't have the luxury of travelling by private jet to East Bumf_ck, Ohio). And he doesn't always succeed - one night he forgets where he is and simply dies on stage. Another night he's heckled by someone wanting to know if "this is his first gig." He slowly, tortously, creates an act throughout the course of the movie, minute by minute, until he's got enough material to actually have his agent book him a paying gig.

While all this is going on, the audience learns about the comedians he's admired, including Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Robert Klein, and Richard Pryor (there's a great scene at the Museum of Television and Radio where he cracks up watching Richard Pryor clips). The audience learns which comedians Seinfeld pals around with, including Colin Quinn, who used to be on SNL, Klein, Jay Leno, Shandling, Chris Rock, and George Wallace. There's a wonderful scene with Seinfeld and Leno, who I liked just fine until he took over The Tonight Show (what can I say? I'm a Letterman over Leno person.), and a funny scene with Seinfeld and Shandling. There's also a great moment wherein Seinfeld relays a story to a comedian named Orny Adams (whose struggle to get a development deal is a sub-plot of the documentary) about why entertainers entertain when regular people have regular lives and regular jobs.

The sub-plot involving Adams adds an interesting texture to the film. Adams makes Alvie Singer look well-adjusted. At one moment he is on a cocky cloud nine after having been invited to the Montreal Comedy Festival - it takes just four minutes for his mood to deflate into one of abject depression. And when he reveals to the camera all the material he's written in the nine years since he's been working on his comedy, the sheer amount is devastating.

There was likely too much Orny in the film, but there's a reason for it. It's easier to watch Orny be by turns "king of the world" cocky, then so wracked with self-doubt you can imagine (excuse my French) his balls retreating into his body, then funny, then scared, than it is to watch Jerry in these same moments. Seinfeld has his mask on - Orny doesn't.

Seinfeld spends a few minutes with one of his idols at the end of the documentary - Bill Cosby - who still does two shows (each over two hours) a night when he's performing. Whether Seinfeld loves Cosby for the same reason I do - he makes comedy look entirely effortless - it's clear that when Cosby tells him "he done good," the validation was worth all the torture Seinfeld put himself through to become successful.

Comedy is very, very hard, both in its creation, and because of what comedians have to do to share it with the audience. This documentary showed all that, but it was also so very funny, because Jerry Seinfeld is so very funny. If you are the type of reader who loves reading because you love words, Seinfeld is a master wordsmith.

I hope you'll catch Comedian in your city; it's a great time. And if you haven't read Girls Night, please consider it. It's good.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Reigniting a Love Affair

I grew up a tremendous fan of basketball. We had season tickets fifth row from the floor my entire youth for the Los Angeles Lakers, and until I went to college, we spent most Sunday nights eating at The Forum Club, then watching the game from our te
I grew up a tremendous fan of basketball. We had season tickets fifth row from the floor my entire youth for the Los Angeles Lakers, and until I went to college, we spent most Sunday nights eating at The Forum Club, then watching the game from our terrific seats. They were so close you could hear the players grunt and argue with the I'll bet you could hear the players curse. We were there throughout much of the Lakers' 1971-72 winning streak of 33 straight games, and the capper to this exciting year was when the Lakers won the NBA championship. As my father had recently suffered a heart attack, his doctors felt his attending the game would be so exciting as to be dangerous for him. So he gave two of our four tickets to close friends, and they took my sister and I to the game. It was fantastic, and exciting. In those days people didn't set cars on fire when their teams won national championships. The most dangerous thing that happened was that as the audience came down on the court to celebrate, I lost one of my shoes - my mother to this day doesn't believe that I could possibly have lost a shoe in the crowd, but I did.

I was so serious about basketball while growing up that I regularly read non-fiction books about basketball and basketball players - a favorite was a history of the Harlem Globetrotters. The year I first saw them play, I already knew most of their gags from reading about them, but I was fascinated about their humble start, the racism they faced, and some of the interesting factoids about some of the original players, like the fact that Goose Tatum's arms were so long they reached his knees. I was quite thrilled to tell my daughter the year we took her to see the Globetrotters that one of my friends from SMU undergrad had played for the team upon graduation. And I loved watching them do some of the old comedy bits they've done for decades - everybody should see the Globetrotters play at least once in their lives.

Not only did I read about basketball, but I collected autographs of my favorite Lakers. Elgin Baylor may not ring a bell today, but he was my idol back then, and I loved him, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Happy Hairston. I was more ambivalent about Wilt Chamberlin even though his offices were in the same building as my dad's company because he was such a horrendous free-throw shooter. But god help the nights Mel Counts came off the bench into the game! If ever there was a stereotype of a lumbering white basketball player, he was it, and I hated him. Listed on a page about him is that he "played 12 years in the NBA on different teams from 1964 to 1976." Hardly a ringing endorsement!

I was such a ferocious fan that I can remember shouting at the referees if they made a bad call, "Don't walk down a dark alley at night!" This from a ten-year-old girl, if you can imagine.

I loved watching basketball live and in person, but never really enjoyed watching it on television, so when I moved to Dallas, I lost interest. Oh, when the Dallas Mavericks became an expansion team, I was excited, but after their first couple of years, they settled into their place near the bottom of the barrel. I was in college, graduate school, then building a career. For fun we had season tickets to the Dallas Theatre Center, and except for those Ibsen plays that invariably put my husband to sleep on a Friday or Saturday night, we enjoyed watching this repertory theatre company. Some of their more experimental productions were fantastic, but we dropped our subscription after our daughter was born. I imagine once she's 13 and able to stay home without a sitter, we'll once again subscribe.

But back to basketball. It's my favorite sport. I also grew up going to UCLA college football, and attended a fair number of Rams games when they were in Los Angeles, but basketball was immediate, easy to follow, and fast. I've never liked baseball - whether in person or on television - and other than keeping up with which teams are doing well so I can talk to people at social gatherings, I've no interest in it.

And so when my husband makes a trip out to The Ball Park at Arlington, he takes our daughter. For her it's more about "daddy time" and the chance to eat so much crap it makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. A few weeks ago we were offered a couple of Dallas Stars hockey tickets; I told my husband that as long as we made our daughter guilty about the fact that I was going to stay home so she could go, she could go. I actually enjoy hockey, but decided they needed the time alone. And, since the Herbst device recently installed in her mouth to help align her lower jaw no longer hurt, I knew she was dying to eat tons of junk food. I knew the evening had been a success by the amount of crap she'd eaten when they came home.

My husband, who is, as I've said many times before, a wonderful man, decided a couple of weeks ago to buy us a partial season of tickets to see the Dallas Mavericks. This past Saturday was our first of ten games. The Mavericks just moved to the new American Airlines Center, along with the Dallas Stars. This brand-spanking-new arena has all the bells and whistles, two different levels of luxury suites, huge video screens, a platform for a live band, etc. I grew up on fifth row seats at the Forum. No doubt season tickets cost a fair amount in the 1970's, but there's no comparison to what is being charged today. For our second-row-from-the-top seats at the American Airlines Center we are paying nearly $40/ticket. We had a fabulous time at the game, and I loved explaining things to my daughter, such as the difference between a center, forward, and guard, and the number of points earned by shooting a free throw, a basket, or a 3-point basket (if anyone can tell me when they started awarding 3 points for long shots, please let me know - I know it happened several years ago, but would love to know precisely when, as well as why they felt the change was necessary).

I'm very excited to be going to some games again; it's also great fun to remember things I hadn't thought about in years. But I did notice a few things, both Saturday night, and at the other few Mavericks games we've gone to in the past few years.

If you're like me, you've read any number of articles about the high cost of today's sporting events. No kidding. I'm sure that's why there are so many "add-ons" at today's events, but there's so much going on at times it's hard to focus on the game. When did it become necessary to catapult t-shirts into the audience, fly mini-blimps around the arena, and play the dot game? I know that Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavericks, is a cutting-edge kind of guy trying to modernize the basketball "experience," but I felt as though I were suffering from ADHD during parts of the game. The game is enough for me.

Frankly, Cuban presents an interesting story himself. Many people know he became a billionaire selling his streaming media technology to Yahoo, but what fewer people realize is why he had the technology created altogether: he wanted some way to hear his beloved Indiana college basketball team's games, and his company,, is the company that put radio stations on the Internet. Brash and opinionated, he has infuriated the NBA's commissioner as well as other team owners, and as a result has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars since he bought the team. Very visable in his ownership of the Mavericks, the 149th richest man in America (and not altogether bad looking!), recently married.

Well, I think I've rambled on long enough today. The Mavericks creamed the Detroit Pistons, and I got a bonus - making my daughter roar with laughter by calling that mini-blimp "retarded" in the same Boston accent Rachel Dratch uses when she plays "Denise" in those skits wherein Jimmy Fallon plays her boyfriend Sully. All in all, a good time was had by all on Saturday Night.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Harry Potter Fangirl

If for no other reason than it caused my daughter to fall in love with reading, I love J.K. Rawling's Harry Potter series. Right before book #4 - the behemoth - was released in the summer of 2000, I began to read the first book, Harry Potter and the
If for no other reason than it caused my daughter to fall in love with reading, I love J.K. Rawling's Harry Potter series. Right before book #4 - the behemoth - was released in the summer of 2000, I began to read the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, out loud to my daughter. She was eight at the time, and while a good reader, she didn't yet really, really love reading. It was such an entrancing book that I stayed up through the night finishing the book myself, and she was so energized about the series that she gobbled up the first three books in a matter of days. Which was important to her because the fourth book was being released over the very next weekend and she wanted it as soon as it was available. In order to encourage this excitement over reading, we took advantage of Amazon's offer at the time, which was that they would assure free delivery of the book the day of it's release.

The book did indeed arrive that Saturday and my daughter read it - all 734 pages of it - immediately and all through the night. There was no school the next day, and if she wanted to follow that age-old tradition of furtive reading in the dark with only a flashlight, who was I to stop her? She still thinks she pulled one over on me and has no idea I was happy enough about her joy to break the bed-time rules.

Since the summer of 2000, she's read each book in the series at least - and this is not hyperbole - 63 times. Every Internet trivia quiz on the books is too easy as far as she's concerned. Did I mention that I had to buy a third set of the books to keep hidden in my study because she's read the first set so often, and in the bath, that the books got waterlogged (but still, as far as she's concerned, fine)? A second set, which I made her buy herself, is in bad shape too, but at least it hasn't fallen apart, which is good as that third set is going to remain pristine for all eternity...after all, it's for me. And for those looking for a Clue-like game for Harry Potter fanatics, may I recommend the Harry Potter Mystery of Hogwarts board game?

We saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone the first night it opened in theatres and saw it again shortly thereafter. I thought it was fantastic, and though it seems heresy to say so, I actually preferred it to Lord of the Rings. What can I say other than that I'm wild about Harry?

We were pretty much first in line to buy the video of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when it was released this past May, and in the weeks before my daughter went to sleep-away camp in July, we watched it often. It wasn't just her asking to watch it over and was me. The last time we watched it, in fact, it was at my behest, and she actually asked if we could turn it off about mid-way through because she'd finally seen it enough. The night after she went away to camp, my husband put up with watching it yet one more time.

My daughter's not as into Harry Potter as she once was; now it's Neopets that occupies her spare time, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still read the books and occasionally go on Harry Potter binges.

I bought tickets online Wednesday for Friday's opening night of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - she invited her best friend to watch the movie with us, and then sleep over. Luckily this friend is another Harry Potter fan. I honestly don't know which of us was more excited about seeing the movie; it may well have been me. Although Entertainment Weekly gave it a good review (I brought the magazine in my AAR Bookbag so I'd have something to read in line), Newsweek did not. And as for the sad passing of Richard Harris, who played the character of Dumbledore to perfection, I'm not sure who they should cast in the third installment of the series. My husband thinks Christopher Lee would be good; I don't think he has the sort of avuncular irony necessary to play the role and would rather see Ian McKellan in the part. Although it's hard to say how many years either of those two actors have left, so we'll have to wait and see.

I can't remember the last time we actually had to wait in line to see a movie. We picked up the tickets an hour before show time and then took our places in the middle of a line that wrapped around half the 16-plex before sitting down to watch the movie.

I made sure to sit next to my husband as I knew I'd be grabbing him when the spiders and snakes made their appearances. He got grabbed often during the nearly-3-hour movie, which flew by very quickly. The only time I got at all antsy was close to the final, epic half hour, and only because I knew it was going to be edge-of-the-seat exciting. It was.

The children actors are better this time around, most particularly Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who play Hermoine Granger and Ron Weasley. The computer-generated Dobby brings some wonderful comic moments, and Jason Isaacs as Draco Malfoy's father - Lucius Malfoy - is wonderfully menacing (the dark-haired actor sports a beautiful mane of platinum blond hair in this movie and though I'm not one for blonds, thought he was fantastic looking!). Kenneth Branagh is terrific as well as in a role that seems at times to be a parody of himself. Isaacs, in fact, is quoted in the EW article as saying that director Christopher Columbus' job during many of their scenes together seemed to be to stop he and Branagh "from trying to out-ham each other."

Most critics (and people I've talked to since yesterday) believe Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was better than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I honestly can't say because I loved the first one, but then, I also loved The Phantom Menace.

My daughter and I are both trying to be patient for J.K. Rowling to finish the fifth book in the series. At times I wonder whether she'll be able to write all seven, but my daughter has no doubts at all. Until then, we'll just have to wait. As for me, I'm off to check out the Internet Movie Database for historic buildings used in the Harry Potter movies. We've used both Gloucester Cathedral and Alnwick Castle as previous Castles of the Week, but there are other possibilities....

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Thanksgiving Prep

Well, it's exactly one week from Thanksgiving... let the count-down begin. I actually have less than a week to get my act together as my mom is flying in early - Monday afternoon to be exact - so she can attend Grandparent's Day at our daughter's sch
Well, it's exactly one week from Thanksgiving... let the count-down begin. I actually have less than a week to get my act together as my mom is flying in early - Monday afternoon to be exact - so she can attend Grandparent's Day at our daughter's school. This is very exciting because it'll be the first time a grandparent has been able to attend Grandparent's Day. Unfortunately it means I've got to get the house ready between now and Monday and it's in horrendous shape.

My study has gotten so bad over the past several months that it's literally impossible to walk through most of it - the only part that isn't filled with papers and books is a small, narrow path from the door to my desk chair. I was supposed to have cleaned this room up over the weekend. Looks like I'll be doing that today and tomorrow. Then there's the kitchen, which first needs to be straightened out, then set up for silver polishing and massive amounts of cooking. I'm not much of a cook, but do have a delicious Thanksgiving menu that I make every year - except for last year when we decided not to make Thanksgiving because we were all still recovering from our daughter's illness. It was very depressing; this year we're back among the land of the living and will have a house full of family.

Actually, I don't make the entire meal. My husband, the wanna-be chef, makes the turkey (truly the only moist turkey I've ever eaten) over a two-day period and his fabulous pumpkin biscuits - he's been making those biscuits for nearly 20 years now, and they're so good I'm almost salivating just thinking about them. I make these wonderful mashed potatoes that actually taste good when re-heated - it's likely the combination of massive amounts of butter, cream cheese, and sour cream - cranberry sauce that our daughter loves so much she gorges on it for days, a hot fruit compote that I gorge on for days (whether it's the sherry or the butter or all the sweet fruit that makes it so good I can't say), a from-scratch chocolate cake, and the best damn pumpkin pie I've ever eaten.

Though I'm not a good cook, I watch a lot of cooking shows on TV because my husband loves them, and recently picked up a tip I hope will work. I always hand-whip cream for topping the pumpkin pies and learned from watching either Good Eats or Food 911 that if you melt a marshmallow and add it into the cream as you whip it, it won't deflate for several hours.

We're having such a big crowd this year that our dining room table won't be big enough, and I refuse to jerry-rig two tables together and try to find a tablecloth to fit. I had the brilliant idea of renting a table, chairs, and linens instead. It won't please my mother, who thinks the table should be set several days in advance, but I'm actually quite proud of myself for coming up with this idea. What I particularly like about it is that I ordered a jade-colored table cloth and napkins, which means I can have fun over the weekend shopping for a centerpiece and decorations. Since I hate autumnal colors, I never do the burnished gold and russet everyone else does; my last extravaganza was more of a stark winter setting with garlands of cranberry-like beads and silver polished stones strewn across the table, along with many gorgeous white apple-shaped candles set into silver trays. I may not be a cook, but I can decorate!

My mom's going to be in town for almost a full week, which means lots of fireworks potential. She's the one who taught me that guests, like fish, start to stink after three days. But time is so precious with her now that she's getting older, and I'm going to try to not get hurt feelings when she tells me everything I do is wrong. And with my husband's parents coming too (and his mother has been known to take out two daughters-in-law and two granddaughters with one single barb), well, who knows what'll happen?

Actually, I hope everyone behaves themselves - most particularly the grandmothers - so that the grandchildren will have fond memories of all the Thanksgiving dinners at our house. All three of my sisters-in-law understand it, most particularly the one who lives locally (she and her husband and two kids are our most regular Thanksgiving guests and we all get along extremely well, which means we try to get together whenever we can). It's nice that she appreciates it, because neither her husband or his brother, my husband, "gets" how important it is to have these family get-togethers. Oh, they think it's swell that the kids get along and enjoy each other's company, but I've decided it's a genetic thing that keeps them from understanding the importance of bringing together family and making memories.

Earlier this year, for instance, our daughter decided she wanted to have a birthday party at Smashing Times, a mosaic studio, just for her special auntie, her two cousins and their parents (the above-mentioned aunt and uncle), and her dad and I. Watching her uncle, who thinks he lacks any creativity in the craft arena, make a mosaic-covered card holder was worth the price of admission, but really, it was so wonderful doing this together, then walking across the shopping center for dinner at the Purple Cow restaurant, with the blue ketchup and heavy-duty milkshakes.

Doing mosaic work turns out to be even better for me than painting pottery. I've enjoyed making trivets for family, made a quite lovely vase for the den, and currently am working on a tissue-box holder for my mom. It's an excellent way to de-stress and because all you need to do is glue pieces of glass (or tile) onto a surface, then finish with a color-coordinated grout - not a tremendous amount of skill is necessary, although if I do say so myself (and I do), I've got a knack for it. Since I've only managed to buy her two gifts in my entire lifetime that I know she loved, I've decided to quit while ahead (the family tree pillow I had made by a woman I discovered at a craft show last year was a big hit!); this year for her birthday I decided to make her something. Never one to be left behind, so did my daughter. Hers is ready to be picked up today, but I've got to make time between now and Monday to finish mine... and then grout it.

As you can see, I've got lots to do, so I'm signing off.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Weird Books I Have Known

For some reason while watching the most shocking episode of Monarch of the Glen earlier this week, I started to think about the most bizarre books I've ever read that I'd recommend to others. I make no apologies for enjoying them, particularly the se
For some reason while watching the most shocking episode of Monarch of the Glen earlier this week, I started to think about the most bizarre books I've ever read that I'd recommend to others. I make no apologies for enjoying them, particularly the second on the list, which is disturbing in a rather sick way, although disturbing in a different fashion from the final book listed. Here they are, complete with synopsis information discovered around the 'Net:
  • Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa: Comic novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, published as La tia Julia y el escribidor in 1977. Vargas Llosa uses counterpoint, paradox, and satire to explore the creative process of writing and its relation to the daily lives of writers. One half of the story is an autobiographical account of an aspiring writer named Marito Varguitas, who falls in love with Julia, the divorced sister-in-law of his Uncle Lucho. Marito's success at writing and romance contrasts with the fortunes of Pedro Camacho, the protagonist of the other half of the story, who is a devoted but declining author of radio soap operas. (Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature)

    Reality merges with fantasy in this hilarious comic novel about the world of radio soap operas and the pitfalls of forbidden passion by the bestselling author of The Storyteller. Sexy, sophisticated, older Aunt Julia, now divorced, seeks a new mate who can support her in high style. She finds instead her libidinous nephew, and their affair shocks both famiy and community. (Ingram)

    Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990, has written many other odd books, including In Praise of the Stepmother. While I do recommend Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, I do not recommend Stepmother.

  • Punish Me With Kisses by William Bayer: A psycho sexual thriller charged with eroticism and menace, Punish Me with Kisses is the story of two sisters and the Mysterious Dark Man to whom both are helplessly drawn.

    It begins in Bar Harbor, Maine, summer playground of the rich. Shy and sensitive Penny Berring watches as her beautiful sister Suzie puts on a bizarre display- flaunting herself bare-breasted beside the pool, having sex with dozens of boys beneath her parents' windows, taunting her lovers, humiliating them. And then ... a scream in night, Suzie is murdered. There is a sensational inconclusive trial. And an enigma: What really happened? Who killed Suzie, and why?

    Three years pass. Penny is now living a quiet life in New York. Then it all starts again. She finds Suzie's "sex diary." It propels her on a strange sexual odyssey and toward a horrifying secret. (William Bayer's web site)

  • The Crying Heart Tattoo by David Martin: The main character, Sonny, narrates this story just days after the death of his life-long lover, Felicity Jones. His affair with Felicity, 20 years his senior, was kinky, unpredictable, irregular, and infrequent. Part of the attraction was a story that Felicity told Sonny in installments over the years. This saga paralleled their lives and gave vent to Felicity's hopes, dreams, fears, and despair. When the end of the story and Felicity's last words prove to be "the punch line" to a 30-year-long shaggy dog story, Sonny is the only person who can appreciate the joke. Martin writes well, alternating between living and imaginary characters, and humor and pathos abound. The tattoo ties it all together. (Library Journal)

  • Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins: Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. Which is to say, it begins in the forests of ancient Bohemia and doesn't conclude until nine o'clock tonight [Paris time]. It is a saga, as well. A saga must have a hero, and the hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle. The bottle is blue, very, very old, and embossed with the image of a goat-horned god. If the liquid in the bottle is actually the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon because it is leaking and there is only a drop of two left. (Bantam description)

  • The Bee Season by Myla Goldberg: There is so much pain in this powerful first novel about a family's unraveling that it often seems on the edge of unbearable. And yet, as we watch nine-year-old Eliza Naumann transform herself from underachiever to spelling prodigy, we endure the pain out of respect for one girl's courage and all-consuming love. Eliza's family is gradually breaking down in front of her: father Saul, whose self-absorbed passion for Jewish mysticism blinds him to the suffering of those closest to him; mother Myriam, whose quest for perfection leads her into kleptomania; and brother Aaron, who rebels against his faith and turns to Hare Krishna. Eliza attempts to put her family back together by an act of will, spelling her way to harmony, with an assist from her father's Kabbalah masters. Goldberg effectively mixes fascinating detail about spelling bees with metaphorical leaps of imagination, producing a novel that works on many levels. There is something of Holden Caulfield in Eliza, the same crazed determination to save her loved ones from themselves. An impressive debut from a remarkably talented writer. (Booklist)

  • La Cucina by Lily Prior: Since childhood, Rosa Fiore -- daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband -- found solace in her family's kitchen. La Cucina, the heart of the family's lush estate, was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table.

    When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in this small community that takes pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa's infatuation with culinary arts was rivaled only by her passion for a young man, Bartolomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ended in tragedy, Rosa retreated first into her kitchen and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stayed for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

    Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only is I'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him to Rosa's library, and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which I'lnglese awakens the power of Rosa's sensuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When I'Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for the loss of her second love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, among her, growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her cherished Cucina. (book jacket synopsis)

  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquevel: A first novel ("the number one bestseller in Mexico in 1990'')--liberally sprinkled with recipes and homemade remedies- -from screenwriter Esquivel. Set in turn-of-the-century Mexico, it tells the romantic tale of Tita De La Garza, the youngest of Mama Elena's three daughters, whose fate, dictated by family tradition, is to remain single so that she can take care of her mother in her old age. Tita has grown up under the tutelage of the spinster cook Nacha and has learned all the family recipes and remedies. When Pedro, Tita's admirer, asks for Tita's hand in marriage, her mother refuses permission, offering instead Tita's older sister, Rosaura. Pedro accepts, thinking it will be a way to stay close to his one true love. But Tita doesn't know his thinking and, crushed by what she sees as betrayal, she must make the wedding cake. Crying as she bakes, her tears mingle with the ingredients and unleash a wave of longing in everyone who eats a piece. It is just the beginning of the realization that Tita has special talents, both in the kitchen and beyond. As we witness the nurturing Tita's struggle to be true both to family tradition and to her own heart, we are steeped in elaborate recipes for dishes such as turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds or quail with rose petals, in medicinal concoctions for ailments such as bad breath and gas, and in instructions on how to make ink or matches. Eventually, Tita must choose between marrying a loving, devoted doctor or saving herself for Pedro, her first true love. Her choice is revealed in a surprise last chapter. Playful in its flirtation with magical realism and engaging in its folkloric earthiness but, nonetheless, light, romantic fare. (Kirkus)

  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind: In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"-the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brillance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity. (Amazon)

Not included on this list are various paranormal books such as those featuring vampires, werewolves, and the like. Those are obviously odd, but in a more conventional manner, although Kim Newman's Anno Dracula does stand out as taking the vampire genre and twisting it entirely on its ear. He has written at least two sequels to this book. I was unable to finish the first, The Bloody Red Baron, and have not tried this author again.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books


The End of Innocence

Thanksgiving is over; I hope your family's celebration was as wonderful as ours. We had a lot to be thankful for this year, particularly that so many family members from far away could join my husband, daughter, and me as we hosted the one large even
Thanksgiving is over; I hope your family's celebration was as wonderful as ours. We had a lot to be thankful for this year, particularly that so many family members from far away could join my husband, daughter, and me as we hosted the one large event we host each year. I just returned home from taking my mother to the airport - she is currently winging her way back to Los Angeles, and my mother and father in law are also flying - to their home in south Texas.

Every dish cooked was delicious, particularly my husband's turkey, which was juicier than ever. The only blip on the radar was that the tablecloth delivered was in fact not jade, but more of a teal color, which necessitated a last minute return trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to exchange the jade votives for more cranberry-colored candles. I really did luck out w/the mini-cranberry wreath napkin rings, and if I do say so myself, the tables were lovely.

About the only not so warm and fuzzy feeling I have today comes from an article in the December edition of the RWA newsletter. Way back in April of this year, I was contacted by a reporter for Variety who had been asked to write an "article on news/rumors/gossip that spreads through the Internet." She was specifically interested in the Robin Lee Hatcher/Idaho Statesman episode and that now-infamous review we posted for Christina Dodd's Lost in Your Arms back in February. She asked me some questions and I provided a quite detailed written response in return.

After I learned the resultant article was finally in print, a copy was faxed to me. After my first read-through, I definitely had some thoughts, but was most surprised to discover, at the end of the article, that the author of the article was in fact the author of some historical romances under a different name. When I checked my file on all our correspondence, I found no notice that the author had identified herself as that pen name. And when I checked our archived reviews, I discovered that we had published a very negative review of this author's work back in 1999.

Had I know that the author of this article had been previously reviewed by us, particularly in light of the grade she received, I don't know that I would have agreed to participate in the article. And, after I read the article again, and then again, and then heard from people who had also read it, I began to believe that the article was perhaps less "just an examination of how the Internet is changing our lives," and more a piece with a particular slant to it.

That said, anytime someone - including me - participates in an article, there's always the possibility that the end result won't be the expected. I more or less repeated that over and over again during the RLH episode when I stated that anyone who has been interviewed in the past needs to be ever-vigilant about every word uttered. Indeed, when I was interviewed this summer by a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer, I spent quite a bit of time crafting my responses with extreme care.

I'm bothered not only by the fact that the author of the piece in the RWA newsletter never disclosed her pen name, but that the article led off by talking about how a rumor has nearly ruined a small business. After all, my linking to the RLH article wasn't a rumor - the article was a fact, the article was written in a reputable paper owned by a reputable company. And the fact remains that the newspaper did not print a retraction, which leads me to continue to believe that Ms. Hatcher did, in fact, say the things she is quoted as having said. Whether the interviewer provided the context is something about which Ms. Hatcher, having been interviewed many, many times in the past when she was president of RWA, should have exercised more control over during the interview process. Sitting for an interview is not like sitting down and having a conversation - the person being interviewed has a duty to measure each word, and to be clever enough up-front to know that the interviewer may have a "hook" in mind. When I responded to the questions for the RWA article, I knew there might be a slant, which is why I indeed crafted every response very, very carefully. Nothing I said in regards to the interview was taken out of context, although it does appear at times as though I'm responding to a direct allegation of mis-doing by either Dodd or Hatcher when in fact I was not.

I was also bothered that Natasha Kern was quoted in the piece, and yet her relationship to Ms. Hatcher (she is her agent) was never stated.

I have written to RWA asking if I may prepare a letter to the editor of their newsletter, which I would like to see printed in a subsequent edition. I'll let you know if this occurs, and if you have the chance to read the article itself, I'd love to know what you thought about it.

And for those who will have the chance to read the article, here are the questions put to me, followed by my response to the writer:

"You own a message board on your Web site so you see lots of stories coming through. With the Robin Lee Hatcher article, you posted the link to the board. In the process, many people attacked Robin personally, some claimed you were trying to get more hits to the site, some were glad you brought it to their attention, etc. But this was news.

"What is your position on this? Did you feel, as the Web site owner, what you were doing was justified as journalism, letting your readers know what was going on in the romance community? Do you monitor what people say in situations like this (and others) and take into account that someone may slander another person and evoke a law suit?

"In Christina's case and the report of plagarism - and forgive me on this, I've only heard bits and pieces so if you could enlighten me on this one, I'd appreciate it - was this more of a rumor that got out of hand?

"Also, in the Robin thread, someone accused you of lighting fires to get more traffic to the site. Can you comment on this?

"I'm looking at both sides of this issue. Was there an incident when news got out that was positive about someone, but not true? A rumor that they hit the best-seller list or won a Rita, for instance.

"Just so you know and feel comfortable with my questions, this is not an anti-message board article and I don't plan on rehashing all these issues. It's just an examination of how the Internet is changing our lives. And anything more you'd like to add, please do."

"I'd like to answer your question in a couple of different ways. It's true that gossip spreads like wildfire on the Internet, but gossip spreads quickest when there's a large audience for it. Here's an example: The May issue of Romantic Times featured a gossipy segment about a copyright infringement case we first reported at our site in February, which we did because we try to report news-worthy items to our readers whenever we can. I worked on that initial piece by doing research on the 'Net, calling lawyers for both publishers involved, and following up on leads. The resultant piece provided a lot of good information to our readers on an important topic (timely too, given the Doris Kearns Goowdin and Stephen Ambrose situations), including these things:
  • Cindi Louis' CRAZY THING CALLED LOVE had indeed been removed from distribution by Harper for copyright infringement after an agreement was reached w/Harlequin and an "unnamed author." Although the "victimized" author was not named by the lawyers, one of our sources close to the author provided that information, and though we didn't have a second source, we shared what we had learned, which turned out to have been accurate after talking to the lawyers again and mentioning the name "Linda Turner," and her book, THE PROPOSAL.

  • Harlequin doesn't file US Copyrights, which may, in fact, make it more difficult to protect its writers against copyright infringement.

  • How to determine which books are registered as having US Copyrights.

"We thought the story was done until we read the May RT and found they had printed something based on a phone call made by someone close to Cindi Louis, and this person was said to have a good 'reputation.' The RT article turned the tables and made it sound as though Louis was the injured party and intimated 'not-good' things about Linda Turner.

"So, as I reported again at AAR this past week, I started digging again - calling the lawyers, asking other category romance authors for information on timelines: how long does it take for Harlequin to approve a proposal for a book from an author they've worked with before; how long does it take to write a category romance; and how long is a book "in the can" before it is published? I also did research that determined - from information on Cindi Louis' web site and elsewhere - that she could not have written her book prior to - at the earliest - some time in 1997, which is after Turner's book would have been "in the can." I found out who RT's "author X" was as well.

"In short, I handled the story just as a reporter for my local newspaper would have, by doing research, checking facts, creating timelines, going to the lawyers, etc. My report was not gossip - it was reporting. As big as we are getting, though, RT has a whole lot more readers, and so a whole lot more people aren't going to know what really happened unless RT actually does the leg-work - or they report on what AAR already reported.

"But mainly what you'll find at AAR are discussion points - based on what we're reading, what we hear people talking about...and whenever we hear of an article about an author or w/an author in the mainstream that is 'news-worthy,' we report on it. A few years ago, there was a romance author killed by her either ex-or-soon-to-be-ex husband. Much of the reporting done in the mainstream played off the fact that this woman was the author of those lurid romances rather than the fact that she had been brutally murdered. We opened discussion on that too, on one of FIVE message boards, one of which is solely for the use of authors to promote themselves. When the Janet Dailey/Nora Roberts copyright infringment story first started to be known, we covered it, and covered it fully - I think we scooped just about everyone w/that story.

"Earlier this week there was a very interesting post on one of our Message Boards (regarding the Hatcher story) that said something that I think is critical to understanding AAR. This comes from Beverly Medos on our Potpourri MB (Beverley used to do a monthly column for AAR, but hasn't for 2 or 3 years now). She wrote, in reference to the Robin Lee Hatcher controversy:

"I almost posted on this earlier but had decided not to, however, now that someone else has brought it up I have to agree. I didn't read the original article because I wasn't interested in the topic but I did scan the threads in question and read some of the posts as things developed. And the entire evolution of the discussion was just weird. What I mean is that this site has never been a stranger to controversy but what many don't realize or appreciate is that the reason isn't because Laurie actively stirs it up. It's because she isn't afraid of it. It's a subtle distinction, but it is also a big one."

"I'm glad Beverly wrote that, because that's how I see it too. We are a large enough site - w/2.1 million hits every month and roughly 100,000 unique visitors every month, that we don't need to create controversy to bring in hits, particularly not to encourage advertisers, which, if you knew our revenue stream, would be laughable. What we do is encourage discussion - that's the long and short of it. The complaints we most often get are from people who are not regulars at the site, but come by when it's 'their' author being discussed (or a friend), and will turn a perfectly interesting discussion into a flame war.

"Here's a perfect example: last summer I started a discussion about the winners of 2001's RITA awards (top romance author awards given out by RWA). Since I'd heard lots of grumbling about certain of the winners from readers on our boards and two discussion lists, I basically said the following, after congratulating all the winners: 'Just like you may have an Oscar party to diss the winners of have a Miss America party to make fun of Miss Tennessee, which of the RITA winners did you think didn't deserve to win?' I even listed the few categories I had found surprising, given the buzz (or lack thereof) of certain books.

"One big name author who I named didn't think that was very nice, and she and I went back and forth on the MB, each clarifying our points. It never got ugly between us - we were professional about it. But some of our readers - including one who is the biggest fan of this author you could imagine, thought the author was trying to cut off discussion. This was not pretty to watch, particularly when this author's fans 'invaded' our board. It was like being fire-bombed and it didn't stop at our site until I posted a message saying we'd granted that author Desert Isle Keeper status (our highest honor) 'X' number of times. (And it continued at the 'fan' site - 500 posts, including a call by some of the fans to 'boycott' AAR until the author stepped in and they knocked it off).

"Even so, before that happened, several authors had come by AAR to talk about judging in the RITA contests. It was fascinating to me to hear one author talk about 'craft and technique' while another author talked about 'wearing her reader hat and voting for the book she liked best.' You don't find that kind of in-depth discussion at sites that don't invite these types of discussions, and since I'm utterly fascinated by what happens in the creative mind, I was pleased.

"The big name author and I continue to talk regularly; she reads every column I write and though she's not visable at AAR all the time, she continues to be a part of certain discussions. And though I thought the discussion led to the revelation of some really interesting stuff, she hated the whole thing. I realized that's because she's not used to being in such discussions daily while I, at this point, am. If you talk enough to enough people and encourage them to talk back, there's going to be disagreement...and some of it will get loud. Sometimes people forget that the act of reading a book and talking about it is NOT brain surgery, that we're not solving the Middle East crisis...they forget what we're talking about are books, a form of entertainment, and let their passion for a book or author get the better of them. Readers are people, and it's human nature once in a while to lose perspective, and a sense of humor.

"The home page of our site says 'AAR - the back-fence for lovers of romance novels.' Some people don't get that, think there's an ulterior motive behind it, or don't agree w/it - thinking we all have to be 'nice' all the time. I guide content at AAR only in that I ask the people who write for AAR to write about what's interesting to them, because it's bound to also be of interest to our readers if they're enthusiastic about it. I also ask that their writing be entertaining, as well as informative.

"Now, talking about the Robin Lee Hatcher thing specifically, a major author who apparently also lives in Idaho was appalled that a former RWA member would be quoted as having said the things she says in the article. If you read my final note - after Hatcher and the editor at the paper spoke - you'll note that the paper made no changes and didn't publish Hatcher's letter. This is a woman who's been interviewed many, many times, and just as I'm being careful in my answers to you, I assumed she was careful in her answers to that reporter. The spin she tried to give at our site some days later - and the spin of one author who really does not care for AAR - didn't come off as genuine to many of the other authors and readers who participated in the discussion. Most of the people who got angry about the discussion at all, and tried to change the focus, were not 'AAR regulars;' many were people who clearly had never been to the site before, including one poster who asked who the 'mysterious LLB' was.

"What happened, instead of commenting on the actual piece, was a discussion of whether or not I should have posted a link to it w/out going to Hatcher first. I found that discussion silly - still do - because the Idaho Statesman is a legitimate and non-tabloid newspaper. As I said on the message board, 'this is not a tabloid newspaper with articles about 100 year old women giving birth to 300 pound babies....' But for some of the people who posted, it was easier to focus on how nothing ever printed in a newspaper is believable. That's a specious argument to me but it made for a hell of a blow-up on the message board. What was most interesting to me during the discussion was how many authors came out and posted using their real names and said they found Hatcher's comments upsetting. Generally when a discussion gets as loud as this one did, authors stop using their real names.

I am careful in my reporting AND my commentary never to say anything that is libelous. I don't 'report' something false, and if I'm giving my opinion, I'm clear about it. But my personality comes through in both my reporting and my commentary - I'm like a dog w/a bone when I'm interested in something because I'll follow every lead exhaustively until I'm satisfied that I know all I need to know. I also tend to be not only a problem-solver, but a problem-finder, which means I automatically tune into things that are potentially interesting to our readers. What can I say...I'm an intense person, and that intensity spills over into the site. I can't control what our posters write, but if things get too out of hand and the discussion ceases to be useful, we have moderators who will delete a thread.

"As far as the Christina Dodd situation, here's what happened: our reviewer read her book, realized it reminded her of an earlier (and better) book by a different author, and thought about how to best approach that in her review. Most of us at AAR are tremendous fans of Entertainment Weekly, and they often print tables w/in their pages comparing and contrasting two things. So she decided to do the same. I thought it was absolutely brilliant because when we'd said in earlier reviews that one book was too similar to another, we'd get the 'that's too vague' complaint. By showing the similarities point by point, the reviewer was making clear that she found Dodd's book paled in comparison to the earlier release.

"This time, however, there were calls on the MB that by pointing out the similarities, we would 'ruin' the read for readers, that we were calling Dodd a plagiarist. We most assuredly did nothing of the kind; we pointed out that if someone wanted to read a story based on that premise, they'd do better to find that earlier release. That's what we do in our reviews - we inform AND entertain. I still think it's one of the best reviews we've ever done and I'm very proud of it, and the reviewer who wrote it.

"The only people who used the 'P-word' were some readers on our board, and we made sure to repeat over and over that we had never said such a thing and were NOT saying such a thing. Some other authors signed to that publisher emailed me privately; one author who'd gotten mostly great reviews from us said she'd gone to her editor to request we never review her books again because we were out to destroy Dodd's career. Never mind that we'd given Dodd top honors for several books in the past - and those top honors were controversial in and of themselves. My favorite book by her generated six weeks of material for this site because so many people found the book's handling of certain issues so troubling.

"Our site has grown exponentially for years now; we are in a period of tremendous growth yet again which started in September and has continued unabated ever since. Generally we go through one 'burp' a year that bumps us up to a higher level, but for the past several months, we've just had increase upon increase upon increase. MOST romance sites come and go; few stay online as long as we have, and some that have been around a long time are too conservative in their nature to suit me, which is why I think people like to visit AAR. And some exist only to provoke; they're fun to visit but mostly for shock value. I think AAR is dynamic, fun, and there's always something new to read or discuss. We also offer a depth of material you won't find elsewhere - so much original content, and so much scholarly work too. I've been extremely proud of our Historical Cheat Sheet since its inception; there's probably 70 articles in it now that teach history to readers.

"The 'traffic' argument goes like this: I create controversy so traffic will increase so we'll get more money from advertisers. I bet we lose more prospective advertisers BECAUSE of the controversy than we get. We could earn a lot more via our amazon links if we gave better grades in our reviews...but we don't, because we're not in it for the money. I've become convinced that unless you're selling porn on the 'Net, you're not going to make a living at it. If you can, I sure haven't figure out how.

"We would do the same 'work' we do now if we had fewer visitors. As long as those who write for the site and who visit the site are enthusiastic, then we'll do what we're doing. The material our staff originates fulfills my mandate of being informative and entertaining, and of creating points of discussion, of allowing our readers to have a voice. Many of our most popular discussions follow the human side of romance reading - how many books do you have in your tbr pile, do you sneak a peek at the endings, what are your favorite books, what are your reading idiosyncracies...? These questions help us come together as a community - if you can talk to someone else who has 300 books in their to-be-read stack, you don't feel isolated. Your neighbor may make snide remarks about your choice of reading material, that snotty clerk at the bookstore may look down his nose when you show up with five romances at his register, but you've got a place that encourages you to engage in intelligent discussion about what you love to read. We celebrate our hobby, our obsession with reading, our bookishness and revel in it...that's what this site allows. We believe we do more to promote reading through our content than we're given credit for.

"We consider ourselves organic in nature, talking about what interests our readers because we ARE readers. We not only allow dissent - we encourage it via our dual reviews (two reviewers w/different viewpoints on a book will sometimes both review it), our daily message board discussions, and the publishing of all sides of an issue in our commentary. The At the Back Fence column I write, now along w/two co-columnists - began in 1996 before I had message boards - it was me, the readers, and email. But we take advantage of the interactivity on the 'Net with our columns, our message boards, our polls, and the fact that if you disagree w/us, we'll give you the opportunity to voice your opinions...we'll even publish them.

"How anyone can have a problem w/that is beyond me.

"To my knowledge, nothing we've ever officially 'reported' was inaccurate. There are always statements on our boards that turn out to not be true, but we work hard to prevent what I call 'fraudulent' posts and ballot-box stuffing. You'd be amazed at how many people seem to think doing well in one of our polls is important enough that they'll go to the extreme of stuffing the ballot box. Sometimes they are authors, sometimes they are small publishers, and sometimes they are simply fans.

"If a visitor to the site posts something that turns out to be untrue, someone else will correct them asap. I can't remember a time when some sort of false rumor started at the site that wasn't ended immediately, either by another reader, or an author who's 'in the know.' Obviously there's speculation about this and that, but our readers are savvy enough to know what's speculation and what's real.

"A few weeks ago we posted a negative review of a book and suddenly there were posts all over the Reviews MB. Several of the posts were made w/in an hour and a half, at midnight on a Sunday night, purportedly from six different people. So I did an IP check and learned that all the posts were made from the same computer. A rabid fan of the author's felt the need to do this, why, I can't be sure. I ended up deleting the thread, although I reposted it in one lengthy post when readers asked to see it. But that fraudulent poster hasn't returned.

"I think message boards can be valuable tools; just tonight I got a lead to follow-up another copyright infringement case I covered a few years ago. Had we not been having a discussion of the Turner/Louis case, that lead would never have come my way. I expect to be contacting the two publishers' lawyers next week.

"I like to think of our site as a way to educate people - for instance, someone who posted on our message board about the Cindi Louis/Linda Turner case thought that Louis' book was pulled from distribution simply because Harlequin made a complaint about it. In my response, I explained that wasn't so - that a publisher does not pull a book from distribution over a complaint, and would never allow another publisher to say a book had infringed upon its copyright unless that had been part of the confidentiality agreement. If you don't ask questions, you don't get answers. One of our boards exists solely for readers and authors to educate one another. There are historical questions asked, questions asked about an author's backlist, or questions like this: 'I read a book three years ago that I can't remember now. The hero was name so-and-so, the heroine was such-and-such, and this is what happened in the book. Can you tell me the title and author?' Nine times out of ten someone will post a correct response, and usually w/in hours or a day.

"What I've noticed about AAR's message boards is this: authors (and readers) who come expecting everyone to agree and be positive about the books they're reading will not enjoy themselves. My philosophy is that in real life, people disagree - if we all thought the same things, we'd be incredibly boring. Am I always pleased at how a poster will comment on something she didn't like, from a book to a review at AAR? Of course not. Have I started some discussions in a manner I'd later wish I'd begun differently? Yes, upon occasion, although I RARELY 'lose it' because if I'm responding to a MB post, I'll sit there for a considerable period of time before hitting that 'post' button. Same goes for email. I think of AAR as a dinner party at my house; I do what I can to make sure my guests are having a good time, that they're being entertained, but I want them to participate. I try not to be rude to my guests, to be accomodating to their needs (our content is often reader-driven), but if someone breaks a vase on purpose, tells me my food stinks, or tells everyone to go to 'a better party,' I'll call them on it, gently at first, but then less gently and more forcefully.

"The Internet, because of its anonymity, makes people think they can say whatever they want w/out using the manners they were raised with, and I'm assuming these people were raised to have good manners because I was raised to have good manners. Which is why I'm careful...but I make no bones about my personality and the sensibility of the site. Sometimes we're tongue in cheek, sometimes we're sarcastic, but I think to our readers we're fulfilling our mandate.

"It's also easy to misinterpret what someone else is saying when you can't see their face or hear their voice. Which means there are limits to what interaction on the Internet can provide. But for romance readers, who have felt the need to be 'in the closet' because of what we love to read, AAR has provided a sense of community where any reader can say whatever she/he believes or feels. For many of our readers, that's a very valuable thing, and something they can't get in the 'real' (non-cyber) world. My main goal was to create that community; I think I've achieved it even if it scares others."

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books