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Sunday, November 23, 2008


If the NY Times can do it, so can I.
A close reader wrote to tell me I got my cows all wrong in the "We're Here Because We're Here, etc." post. But this is Annie's World, and evidently in Annie's World, Herefords are dairy cattle. Unfortunately anyone in the real world (of farming, that is) knows they are for eating. She thought perhaps I'd seen Holsteins, which are black and white. I think she's right.
So...for all you farmers out there, I stand corrected.
And thanks, Louise, for setting this city girl straight.

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The Rest of the Story

Home now, and pictures ready. I'll start with the Candy Kitchen, since we did that first. Had lunch there. The coolest thing? The "phosphates." I know I've read books where the kids had phosphates, but I never thought I'd get the chance to order a Cherry Fizz myself. Until the Candy Kitchen.

George and Thelma Nopoulos make all their own sodas with their own syrup, and the choices range from lemon and root beer to Green River (lemon-lime, and a beautiful shade of green) and Oddball (a mix of the first 7 choices).
The soda fountain has been a fixture in town for over 3 generations. And as folks in Wilton can attest, many grew up there. It was where the kids hung out before television and cars took them farther afield. They'd come right over after school, stay til supper, go home for dinner, and come right back. Just the place for Andy Hardy and his friends.
Knowing I was a romance writer, Thelma was eager to tout the the restaurant as town matchmaker. She showed me a dozen or more pictures of people who met their spouses there, and one even dropped by for a visit. Carla and Bourke Thurston have been married for 50 years now. Here's their names scratched into the side of one of the wooden booths, circa 1956 or 7. It's a crappy picture, I know, but if you look closely, you can see the "C" of Carla's name and Bourke's below it.
What a great tribute to the Nopoulos's, their warmth and hospitality. Not to mention their generosity. When my sundae (made with George's homemade ice cream) melted because I was talking to the Thurstons, Thelma plopped another at my place. Of course, I had to take a bite. Out of politeness if nothing else...
Overstuffed with food and memories, we left the Candy Kitchen and went on to the real work of the day--harvesting corn.
Frank Townsend and his partner, Rick, have 8000 acres in feed corn and soybeans. They had a wet spring, so planting was late, which meant they were still harvesting late in November. Right now, their days were exhausting--early morning wake ups and going until midnight some days. Hard but necessary because they have to get the crop in before the first snowfall.
It was freezing that day, the kind of cold exacerbated by a knife-blade wind, so I was happy to sit in the cab of a pickup until they finished up with one field.
The combines--John Deere green all--are big monsters plow through the rows and vomit up corn in a flush of yellow into a massive bin.
I couldn't appreciate how monstrous they were, though, until I was sitting in one. Looking down at the stubs--the torpedo-like fingers that scoop in the stalks--felt like I was riding atop a piece of war machinery. Hacking down those stalks, feeding them to the razor sharp shuckers. Very cool. Very lethal, too. Couldn't help thinking that would be a neat way to kill someone. Hack an arm off. Skin them alive. And where better to hide a body than a corn field? Especially the dried up, brownish-yellow feed corn fields, which in themselves look like a Halloween set piece. Gruesome? Oh, yeah. But hey, someone's gotta come up with this stuff else there'd be no suspense stories. Right?
Lucky for me, I didn't have to stay until midnight. I got a taste of what this part of farming is like, and could go back to my comfortable house, my knitting, and my TV--way before midnight. But my respect for what these guys do is way up. Next time I hear some actor complaining about the hard work they do, I'll remember Frank and Rick.
The next day, I did a talk and book signing back at Bandag in Muscatine. Had a wonderful turnout and enjoyed meeting everyone. A special shout-out to Pam Collins, the Muscatine librarian who trekked over to see me. I talked up the RWA convention, so I hope to see her there at some point.
My Iowa adventure has come to an end, now, and I'm back home. Can't say enough good things about the people I met in Muscatine and Wilton and roundabout. I've already got a list of things I missed, so I'll have to go back.
But maybe I'll wait for the summer...

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Friday, November 21, 2008


Had a wonderful day yesterday at the Candy Kitchen in Wilton, IA, and then onto the corn harvest. Rode a combine--those things are awesome!--and shivered in the freezing Iowa wind.
Unfortunately, though I did remember to bring my camera and even take pictures (a miracle), I didn't think to bring the cable I need to hook the camera up to the computer so I can transfer the pictures and use them here. Guess I ought to think about a SIM card.
Live and learn...
The upshot is I won't be giving the details until I get home.
In the meantime, here's a picture of the Candy Kitchen. And you can read a bit more about it here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

History vs History

I've been around the block twice , now, and finally figured out why this town feels so different from Nashville.

It's history is intact.

Not that Nashville's a slouch when it comes to preservation (okay, well, maybe it is) but there's so much less to preserve.

Ironic, that. Because Nashville is the older city--by a good 50 years or more. But there's not much left of the 19th century. A few historic homes, mostly antebellum mansions and farms, but very little on the city streets themselves. Muscatine's hill, on the other hand, has many homes that date to the 19th century, many of them well-preserved and lived in.

So, what happened in Nashville?

My guess is a little ruckus called the Civil War. Nashville was the first state capital to fall to union troops, and the last large-scale battle of the war's western front. By the time Appomattox rolled around, who knows what shape the city was in? We know the south was ravaged by the war, so maybe few people had money to build. People probably eked out their lives in whatever home they had until it was falling around their ears. By the time things stabalized and some wealth recouped, any homes being built were constructed on a more modest scale. Most seem to date from the first quarter of the 20th century and into the 1930s.

On the other hand, Nashville's population nearly quadrupled in size between the end of the war and 1900, which would indicate a definite level of prosperity. So, go figure.

In any case, no battles were fought in Muscatine, unless you consider the battle of industry. That war enriched the city, which, in its heyday, produced nearly 40% of the world's pearl buttons.
The beautiful homes in the historic district with their gingerbread trim, turrets, and wraparound porches are evidence of that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We're Here Because We're Here Because We're...

The trip to Iowa was filled with interesting things. We drove north through most of Missouri and then into southern Iowa on a 4-lane highway (2 lanes each direction), so we passed through a lot of small towns and out into country. Miles and miles of farmland--beef (black Angus) and dairy (Herefords* mostly) cattle, sheep, and acres and acres of corn. If you ever thought that Big Corn was a myth, just drive through this part of the Midwest.

Between the ubiquitous corn syrup in nearly all processed foods to the quest for biofuel, corn is king here. It may be November but in Iowa they're still harvesting. We saw the combines at work many times over the hours.

The topography looks a lot like Alberta. I was just there this summer so the memories are fresh. You can't see the blur of the Rockies in the distance like you can in Alberta, but otherwise it's very similar: flat prairie farmland. In both places you can look east or west and see the weather miles and miles away. You can be enjoying a perfect blue sky, but over there dark clouds are shooting down rain. Or it's gloomy where you are but on the distant horizon, God rays of light zip from the clouds.

What struck me as different, though, were the towns caught between the prairie. There's a feeling of decay in these American towns that you don't sense in Alberta. On our journey we saw abandoned buildings, empty warehouses, falling-down wood homes. Other parts of town are doing okay--there's a Hardy's or an Arby's. A Domino's, maybe. The used car lot(s), the auto parts place, the muffler repair shop, the farm supply store. In Washington Junction we saw a couple of smoke stacks that indicated some manufacturing still happening there. But it does make you wonder what all the people in these towns do and how they make it through the year. They can't all be farmers...

We arrived, finally, at our destination: Muscatine, Iowa, population somewhere around 23,000. Situated right on the Mississippi, it, too, feels like a place out of time. We passed through the downtown and the brick facades look like a Hollywood set for a movie set in 19th century. Not much different from the picture, but with cars instead of carriages. No awnings, either. Today, some stores are occupied and thriving, but not all.

Much of the older homes are built on a hill overlooking the river--what's now called the historic district. I had the sense that this is where the well-to-do lived, while the working folks lived on the flat. Now, I'm told, everyone lives cheek to jowl whether professional or executive or chicken factory workers.

I'm staying in a brick home built in the early 1880s. There's a front stairway for the family and a back stairway for the servants. The back stairway leads to the attic where there's a single room with a door. Was the cook a day worker? Did the housekeeper get the room? Were there scullery maids living under the eaves? I won't say the house is haunted, but there's a feeling of past lives here.

Looking out over the river, the whole town feels like a 19th century manufacturing center. I could imagine it, too. The factories close to the river. Gristmills, sawmills, railroads, and then Muscatine's claim to fame: the button factory, which manufactured pearl buttons from clam shells found in the Mississippi. I can see the workers making their way to these industrial centers, the women trailing their long skirts, the men in their caps and serviceable boots. And the judges, the factory owners, their wives and children, high up on the hill.

Mark Twain worked for the Muscatine Journal, which was partly owned by his brother, Orion. Did he live on the hill or on the flat? I have my suspicions, but we'll see. And as soon as I find out, I'll let you know. I'm off to explore.

*If this bothers you, see "Correction" posted 11-25-08. If you noticed nothing untoward, you're as clueless as me when it comes to cows, and don't need to rush off.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

On The Road Again

Yeah, I'm off to see the wizard. Another small town in the back of beyond. This time in Ioway. Looking forward to the Iowa way to treat you if they treat you which they may not do at all (gold star to whoever gets that...). I've been promised a corn harvest (weather permitting, of course) and a ride on a tractor, combine, or whatever random machine is close by. Let's hope I leave my inner klutz behind this time (see "Le Grand Entrance" post in September). Two wobbly ankles is enough to sacrifice for my art.

Yes, cats and kittens, as you can surmise, this is a research trip! Once again, your intrepid Noo Yawker is braving the wilds of rural America to see what small town living is like. My May book, One Deadly Sin, was inspired by an Iowa legend. My next book, tentatively titled (and if you've been keeping up with things you know that no title is safe until the damn thing shows up on the cover...) Two Lethal Lies, may be set in a small Iowa town. I'm still debating. Sin is set in Tennessee. It would be fun to move to another part of the country for Lies. And, lucky me, I have another tour guide to show me the way.

I remembered to bring my camera, so all I have to do is remember to take some pictures. I'm sure y'all will have fun seeing me posing as a farm girl. I've stripped my nails of their polish. Now if I can only remember to leave the stilettos behind...

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

88 Things To Do On A Gloomy Day

Gloomy, gray day today. Makes me want to curl up under the covers and watch Farscape. Nothing like a darkly beautiful, cosmic love story to soothe the soul on a shadowy day.

Don't know why every romance reader doesn't salivate over the TV series. Kick-ass heroine forced by circumstances and love to look beyond her aggressiveness. Beta hero forced by same to look beyond his normal instincts and become alpha. Both falling in love while fighting for their lives. Clever writing about the nature of humanity, hope, and war.

Not to mention one of the all-time greatest, most interesting and creepy villains ever. Yes, I know he looks...well, strange. But he more than compensates for his looks. Manipulative, sick with hatred for himself and others, powerful, driven to save the universe by taking everything from John--including his sanity.
Life and death far, far away--and right up close.
What is it about sci fi that puts people off?

It's such a great way to comment on our own time and place. The most romantic line ever written by anyone comes from Farscape:

"Do you love me?" Aeryn asks John.
His reply? "Beyond hope."
God, shoot me in the heart. What an amazing, off the nose way to say "more than anything."

Hope is central to the series. Hope that in the end, despite the overwhelming odds, the bad guys won't win. That the plan, no matter how stupid and desperate, will work. That the vulnerable universe won't explode even if the most powerful weapons are aimed at it. That the confused hero won't go crazy, though he's seeing things that aren't there. That love and friendship are worth any sacrifice. Can't get more American than that.

Of course the series was written before, during, and just after 9/11. And we've become so much more fearful and so much less hopeful since.

Be interesting to see if hope comes back into fashion with a new administration. Or if the war and the economic meltdown keep us as gloomy as this day.

If so, we may all need a dose of Farscape. There are 88 episodes and a miniseries to tie up the story. Plenty of great stuff to remind us not to give in or give up.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Weekend Update

Had a great weekend. Saturday was the Music City Romance Writers book signing in Lebanon, TN. Thanks to Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter fans, we had a great turnout. I sold several books to some Outlander fans who also turned out to be Farscapers. How cool is that? Got to talk about some of my favorite things.

The signing took place in Sherlocks, which bills itself as the largest independent bookseller in Tennessee. They did a wonderful job, very organized, and treated us like royalty. And it's quite a set up. They have a cafe which sells food--they fed us, and the chicken salad was terrific. They had lattes for the tweedy crowd and beer for the Joe Six-Packs. One of the owners is a model race car enthusiast, so there's a model shop in the store. I heard they'll be building a track in the parking lot for racing model cars this summer. But best of all, they have a screening room where they show classic movies. It rents out for parties, and I'm gonna figure out how to get a bunch of my friends over there for a movie night. Anyway, I forgot my camera, so I don't have pics, but if you want the full low-down, who was there, and all the trimmings, go to Jody Wallace's blog. She's got it all.

I spent Sunday afternoon playing at my latest obsession--mah jongg. I'm new the game, which is complex and takes skill, but not so much skill that you can't yak your way through it with your girlfriends. Which is half the fun anyway. I'm a bit obsessed. Taught my husband, daughter, and daughter's poor fiance to play last weekend. And all week I haunted e-bay, bidding up a set. There are so many and they can really be beautiful.

Didn't get the one I wanted, but I imagine I will. Eventually.

Tomorrow, I'm expecting the copy edit of One Deadly Sin, so it's back to work. But that's okay. I had a wonderfully relaxing weekend, so I'm ready.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Outlander Redux

Okay, exhilaration over. I'm ready to plunge back into fantasy.

Adrian, Hugh, Dougray, Gerard...Hmm, some choice.

Still wondering if there's someone else out there...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

I won't be long here. There are hundreds of other places to talk about this and everywhere you go people probably will. Not to mention you can't turn on the radio, the TV or the 'net without hearing about it, and this is a place you come to escape. But I can't let the day go without some small minor nod to history.

What a night.

What a morning.

What an amazing country we live in.

That's all, folks. I'm taking the day off to celebrate.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Outlander Goes Hollywood

First off, don't forget the blog contest. Just comment and you're entered to win chocolate!

Now...I said when I started this shebang that I'd be writing about my faves and raves, among other things, so I had to share this exciting news: one of my all-time favorite books, Outlander, is being developed for the big screen.

According to Sci Fi Week, which got it from Variety, some outfit called Essential Pictures already has a script, written by none other than Randall Wallace of Braveheart fame, and is looking for directors. I did a little digging and found out that EP is an expansion of a financing/distribution company and the two men set to head the new company have a modest list of producer credits. Their goal is 2-3 movies a year with budgets ranging from $10-$40 million. Not huge by Hollywood standards. Let's hope that Outlander doesn't get the Dune treatment.

On the plus side, Oscar-winner Randall Wallace ain't a bad start. On the minus side, Wallace also won a Razzie for the worst screenplay of the year for Pearl Harbor. But there's another plus: one of the head honchos of Essential was executive producer on one of my favorite indies, Two-Family House, a great love story especially if you’re living in the south and miss those twisted Brooklyn accents.

Okay, so there are the facts. Now onto the fun part. Casting.

For years I’ve been thinking about Highlander TV star, Adrian Paul as the perfect Jamie. But TPTB sat around on their butts so long he might be too old. Then again, who cares? I think AP would make a great Jamie Fraser. He's big enough, has the leading man looks, can certainly use a sword, and he can handle the heavy as well as the lighter stuff. And given the budget I'll bet he'd be affordable.

Then again, Hugh Jackman would also be amazing.

Gerard Butler already has the accent.

Dougray Scott has the accent and the right last name.

Yeah, I know, not a red head among them...But that's what Nice n Easy is for.

And Claire? You need intelligence and resourcefulness for her. Wouldn’t Cate Blanchett be fabulous?

Of course all the above are over the age limit, but who's out there in their twenties who's good enough? You tell me. You're the casting director. Who would come to your auditions?

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Monday, November 3, 2008


A new week, cats and kittens. A new month, and (drumroll please...) a new contest!
That's right, I'm giving away a whole new set of stuff in November. In honor of my new endeavor, Annie's World, I'm not only giving away a signed copy of my RITA-winning book, Blackout, one lucky blogger will also receive a collection of gourmet hot chocolate from Godiva. All I can say is
So get your blog on, jump into Annie's World, and who knows? Once December rolls around you could be reading a great book and enjoying a fabulous cup of cocoa.

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