Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wednesday Word Snoot: Silly Words

Courtesy of Graphican.com
You may remember that during the run-up to election 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of using "silly word games." I half-heard that news report and what I heard was "silly words."  That set off a train of thought that ended, as many of my trains of thought do, with a spot of Googling. (Search engines are the best thing to happen to procrastination since ... crossword puzzles. You can waste a lot of time Googling, as with completing crossword puzzles, but you almost always learn something.)
Who knew there was a linguist who's compiled a list of the "100 Silliest Words in English?"  Check it out here.  My favorite is "bloviate," which means to speak pompously or brag. Some of the words on the list are actually phrases, but let us not split hairs.
Writer's Digest has compiled a list of funny words to help writers write funnier stories. I'm not sure I see the innate hilarity of words like "bulgur" and "knickers," but a fair number of the words on the list not only sound funny but have obscure definitions (which they don't give, I guess assuming that writers will know what they mean). And extra points to you if you know what a "bumfuzzle" is. (If you don't, check it out at dictionary dot com.
Wikipedia has an entry on "Inherently funny words" that's extremely academic but has some interesting pop culture references, including one to a Star Trek: Next Generation episode where Joe Piscopo tells Commander Data that words ending in K are always funny.
But if you want to know what words are really inherently funny, it's best to have a little kid around. If you find them repeating a word or phrase, it's going to be because it tickled their fancy. (My sister, for reasons unknown to the rest of the family, thought the name "Gene Siskel" was hilarious and was prone to using it to punctuate sentences when she was a little girl.) Dr. Seuss was the master of silly words, and his word "grinch" is now a permanent part of the lexicon.
Wouldn't you love to invent a silly word that got adopted by everyone?

Worst advertising slogan ever?

Writing snappy advertising copy is not easy. I've done some copywriting in my day and was spectacularly mediocre at it. But honest to God--Charmin toilet paper (I refuse to say "bath tissue") seems to have hit a spectacular low point with their new campaign featuring a family of blue bears that just love how soft it is.  "Everybody's got to go," one of the bears says, and then the announcer comes in. "Enjoy the go."
Seriously? "Enjoy the go?"
I know I'm the girl who was talking about being inspired to write a story by the contents of my cat's litter box, but eeeeeuuuuuuw.  check out Charmin's home page for coupons.

Eiffel Tower Slide Show on Huffington Post

Who doesn't enjoy looking at photographs of the iconic Parisian landmark? Huff Post has a new slide show of Eiffel Tower photos leading off with one of the Tower overlooking a very snowy plaza. Enjoy them here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Annika Bengtzon Crime Reporter

Is anyone else watching this? It's a Swedish television show based on the novels by Liza Marklund about a crime reporter named Annika Bengtzon. Marklund is a crime reporter herself and also the co-owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Sweden.
Annika Bengtzon one of the projects from Yellow Bird, which a couple of years ago bought up a slew of Nordic Noir novels to make into movies and television shows.
It stars Malin Crepin as the title character who balances a career with a home life that includes a social climbing boyfriend and two young children. (In the first episode, "Nobel's Last Will," one of the subplots involves bullying and Annika's solution to the problem horrifies her partner but is absolutely satisfying.)
The material is not as dark--at least not so far--as most Nordic Noir stories. which is good because sometimes you just don't want to be left in the dark.
You can watch Annika Bengtzon Crime Reporter on Netflix.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Where do you get your ideas?

I'm always curious about how writers come up with their stories--one reason I really enjoy "How I Came to Write This Story" over at Patti Abbott's blog. Most of the time when I come up with an idea it's because of some sort of collision between something I've read or seen on TV and something that has happened in my daily life.
Right now, I'm writing a story called "Failure to Communicate." It's about a crazy cat lady that thinks her cat is sending her secret messages via the cat box.
The idea came to me one morning as I cleaned up after the cat and found a perfect letter L left for me in the cat sand. Eeeewwww. 
Nothing is ever wasted.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Word Snoot Wednesday

I did a lot of book-clearing over the holidays and one of the books I found tucked away was a very old copy of Poplollies and Bellibones, a collection of "lost words" and their meanings by Susan Kelz Sperling.
Poplolly, by the way, is not a backwards way to say "lollipop" but is an old-fashioned term of endearment, like "poppet." If you are, like me, a word snoot who enjoys unusual words, you should check the book out. It's available new for less than $5 and used for a penny and postage.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy Inauguration Day! Happy MLK Day!

This terrific image is from Nikkolas and Nicole Smith and pretty much says it all.

Win a Weird Noir Mug

Note: prize is just the mug
Perfect for sipping coffee or tea or hot chocolate as you snuggle in against the winter weather with a good book and a warm dog or cat sitting on your feet to keep you cozy. Enter Weird Noir editor Kate Laity's "Ride the Wild Haggis" contest to win a Weird Noir mug. Details here.
And if you haven't yet picked up your copy of Weird Noir, you might want to do that now. The nights are starting to get longer. You need something to read.

How does anyone learn English as a second language?

It's not just that the language is filled with words that look absolutely the same but are pronounced differently--I read for pleasure; I read the book--or words can mean two different things that are contradictory (inflammable, for example). But I was recently struck by a phrase I've heard all my life and realized it had two seperate meanings and only context to set them apart.
The phrase is, "The die is cast." For me, the meaning is that someone has rolled the dice and made a decision. But I recently went to a printing museum where the docent, as part of the spiel, actually showed the crowd how a particular letter was cast into metal. "The die is cast."
These are the thoughts of a word snoot.

Miles Marshall Lewis on Mixed Couples in Paris

In his "Expat Diaries," Ebony Magazine's arts and culture editor, talks about race and culture in the US and France. Read the article here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tales of the Misbegotten Fairy Child



Tales of the Misbegotten: Fairy Child
By Katherine Tomlinson

 Dannon hated the changeling cases.
The Department had been making noises about creating a separate paranormal kidnapping squad to handle them but with the city's financial mess and the department's deep budget cuts, he knew that was never going to happen.
What Dannon hated the most was dealing with the mothers, most of whom had led charmed lives up until the moment the fairies took their babies and left something else behind.
Everyone knew it was the lucky ones who attracted the fairies' attention, the ones whose lives were envied, the ones whose lives seemed special.
Dannon had enough Irish in him to remember his grandmother telling him that a jealous look at a mother and her child was dangerous for them both and must always be followed by a blessing to ward off disaster.
Unless something bad was the intention.
The one good thing about the current string of changeling crimes, Dannon figured, was that it had put the kibosh on the practice of selling pictures of celebrity spawn.
Dannon hated dealing with celebrities almost as much as he hated dealing with vampires and a celebrity changeling case was a high-profile nightmare and the ordinary ones were bad too.
Dannon couldn't remember the number of times his team had been called to a house to deal with distraught parents who thought their baby was safe because they'd put an iron knife of a pair of scissors on top of the crib.

Book Review Wool (part 1) by Hugh Howey



When a free-thinking woman is hired to be the sheriff of a self-sustaining silo world, a revolution is sparked in part one of Hugh Howey's epic novel Wool.

Inside the Silo there is order, and that order is kept by adhering to the PACT and to the ORDER and to a set of rules. One of the worst crimes in the silo is voicing a desire for a better life. When the job of Sheriff becomes vacant, the current deputy does not want it and recommends Juliette Nichols for the job. Juliette, daughter of the man who keeps the silo's nurseries running, is not anxious to leave the mechanical level of the silo where she's worked for years tending to the respirators that recycle the Silo's air, but is eventually convinced to take the position.

Her decision upsets the delicate political balance inside the self-contained structure and leads to consequences no one could expect. Soon Juliette is asking a lot of inconvenient questions about how the Silo came into being and other secrets that the people in power have kept from its inhabitants.

Howey's "arkology" is set some few hundred years in the future. We’re not sure exactly where we are, although at one point, a character sees a map with ATLANTA written on it. There are some nice world-building touches here, including a ritualized funeral that includes throwing vegetables and fruits into the grave to symbolize the circle of life.

Poe man of the 80s

This is why I love Facebook. You can see silliness  like this photo of Edgar Allan Poe photoshopped to look  like a sleazy bad guy on Magnum PI.  Not sure where it originated.
And speaking of Poe (a belated happy birthday to the dark bard), his poetry is going to be an integral part of The Following, the Kevin Williamson-created television show starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.
Bacon plays an FBI agent and Purefoy plays a literature professor specializing in romantic poetry whose real passion is murder. The series premieres on Fox this coming Monday and I cannot wait. There's an "Inside The Following" featurette up on IMDB, with images of crazy cultists in Poe masks killing people in honor of their idol, the charismatic killer played by Purefoy.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang

If you like your noir leavened with humor and a lot of local color, you will LOVE Jay Caspian Kang's San Francisco-based, cross-cultural mystery, The Dead Do Not Improve.

THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE by Jay Caspian Kang


The lives of a detective and an under-employed Korean-American intersect when a woman is murdered in Jay Caspian Kang's novel The Dead Do Not Improve.

Philip Kim, a first-generation Korean-American, sleeps through the murder of his neighbor, Dolores Stone. He never knew her name until after the fact, just always called her the "Baby Molester," a name bestowed on her by Kathleen, the girl Philip followed to San Francisco and hasn’t talked to in a year.

Philip often sleeps late and just as often is late to his job, working for a social network that targets men who have been dumped. (getoverit.com). He is responsible for greeting the new accounts and sending them chatty emails every so often. For this he’s encouraged to use the named "Philip Davis" because research has convinced his boss that no one trusts Asians when it comes to relationship advice.

The man investigating the murder is Sid (short for Siddhartha) Finch, and he's more interested in saving his marriage to Sarah than in solving the crime which is, as is often the case, a gateway murder that leads to a much larger problem.

The dual stories are both interesting and the worlds of Finch and Philip are populated by extremely good characters. Philip's internal monologues often have to do with Korean identity and there's a running motif about the Korean-American school shooter at Virginia Tech.

Some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious, particularly the interactions between Sid and the waitresses at a restaurant called Being Abundance, where everyone seems to have a reddish glow. There’s also a scene at a vintage clothing store where Philip and a neighbor suit up for Dolores’ bizarre funeral that seems incredibly and indelibly San Francisco.

Book Review Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre



Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre is the true story of Eddie Chapman, a criminal-turned-spy and his role as “Agent Zigzag” during WWII.  As always with Macintyre’s books, the characters here are first rate, with Chapman coming across as a character with a capital C.  He fascinated almost everyone he came into contact with, from the women who fell for his blue eyes to the man who “ran” him as an agent for MI5.  This was a man who made his living as a thief, but who also courted friendships with people like Noel Coward and a young filmmaker who went on to direct the first James Bond movie. 

Eddie Chapman/Agent Zigzag
Macintyre has a knack for taking footnotes in history and turning them into riveting non-fiction. The author does a terrific job of sketching out both time and place, wherever that time or place might be.  Whether he’s recounting the story of Eddie’s early crimes, the night he was arrested while dining with a date or his growing frustration in prison, there’s always an emotional underpinning to the scenes, and they spring from the pages in three dimensions.  The writer intersperses contemporary documents with his own narrative, so that we read accounts of Eddie’s crimes and exploits.  It gives a true immediacy to the events and brings us into his story. 

Stephan Graumann, the aristocratic German spymaster who "runs" Eddie in Germany is very much the antithesis of the clichéd German spy.  He’s an educated and intelligent man.  (And as we learn from the author’s graceful side trips into context, we know that the Abwehr was antithetical to Nazi culture.  Headed up by Admiral Canaris, who would later be executed for his part in a plot to kill Hitler, the German intelligence service sought to serve the country without serving the Fuhrer.)

The backdrop of events is elegant.  In fact, it’s about as far removed from modern-day spycraft, with its anonymous rooms and bland personalities as it is possible to be.  The Villa de la Bretonniere is an irresistible setting for Eddie’s schooling. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review The Gods of Gotham



In pre-Civil War New York, a reluctant cop must find a murderer preying on child prostitutes as tensions escalate between locals and Irish immigrants. Lindsay Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham has just been nominated for an Edgar Award and in a year that was filled with outstanding historical mysteries, from The Killing of Emma Gross to The Technologists, this book stands out.

There is meticulous attention to period detail and excellent character work. The writer offers up four plausible candidates for the role of the killer and the revelation of who’s responsible will come as a surprise even for a reader paying close attention.

Be warned though, the plot is so dark it makes Caleb Carr's The Angel of Darkness look like a Nancy Drew mystery with a portrait of a cold-hearted madam that is chilling. Fans of the BBC America series Copper may find this book particularly engaging with its blend of crime and politics.

In Gods of Gotham the hero and investigator is a former barman who becomes a "copper star" after his life savings bur up in a fire that destroys his lodging. Timothy Wilde is no stranger to the mean streets of the city but even he is shocked when a madam who specializes in child prostitutes is protected by the Democratic Party because she's a generous benefactor.

The characters here are rich and layered, and their relationships are believable and adult.
Timothy is a complex man but his older brother Valentine is even better. There’s something twisted and tweaked about him and when we find out what it is, it explains a lot. Then there's Mercy, the do-gooder who is Timothy's childhood friend and the love of his life. As with Timothy and Valentine, there's a lot more going on with her than meets the eye.

Timothy has a large and eclectic circle of friends that include a former "oysterman" and a group of "newsies" who have banded together in an informal family. His landlady, a baker's widow, has a life filled with sorrow and a practicality that serves Timothy well.

Father Sheehy, an Irish Catholic priest who helps Timothy, is what a priest should be—a man who is ready to defend his flock—at gunpoint if necessary—and who harbors a fine, fierce outrage over injustice. He reminds us a bit of characters from the works of Andrew Vachss where the protagonists are always on the childrens' side. Then there’s Matsell and Piest, Timothy’s colleagues on the police force. They both turn out to be (again) terrific characters.

It seems likely that this is the first in a series of books about these characters and the characters are up to the task of keeping readers interested from one book to the next.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fleur Pellerin and Twitter

Fleur Pellerin is France's Minister for the Digital Economy (a very cool-sounding job title) and she's very much involved in a current contretemps over racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic hashtags on Twitter. The country that gave us liberte, egalite and fraternite, is having some problems living up to its national motto.  (Witness the huge turnout against gay marriage over the weekend.) Read about the court case now going on here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top baby names of 2013

Sookie? Are you kidding me? Eithne?  Really? (I actually know someone who named her baby girl Eithne. I hope she will grow into it.)  Speaking as someone who hated her first name enough to legally get rid of it--no one ever called me by the name except for elementary school teachers on the first day of class--it constantly amazes me the names that crop up.  Millie's' on the list too. My mother's name was Mildred and her mother called her "Mert," which she despised. She was Mickey from college onward. I always thought "Mickey" was kind of cool.
"Ellie" and "Betty" are on the list too.
The boys fare a bit better. Team Jacob comes up on top in the boy's list (and Edward actually isn't on the list at all). However Mo, Bertie and Gus make the list. "Bertie?" Not even "Albert," which would be bad enough? The commplete list of baby names is here.

Review of Snow White Must Die

This is a Euro-noir from German writer Cornelia "Nele" Neuhaus. It's part of a series about two detectives working homicides in the burbs of Frankfurt. I would love to read the first three books but they haven't been translated yet. The review is posted over at Criminal Element. Head over there for a chance to win the book.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review of Sarah Fine's SANCTUM

How far would you go to save someone you love?



In Sarah Fine's SANCTUM, a young woman goes to hell to retrieve her best friend, and finds the afterlife is not what she expected at all.

While the author gets major props for not mining the same old/same old tropes used in so many YA paranormals, and for injecting a strong dose of reality into the backstory of her characters, the set up is not nearly as accessible as many of the other shadowlands/otherworld/afterlife versions of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth.

SANCTUM is a well-written story by a writer who understands the genre very well and has twisted it around to make it darker and richer than the familiar aching angsty teen sex fantasy wrapped around a paranormal core. There's a little of that, along with the instant attraction that seems to be de obligatory with these books, but heroine Lela Santos (who could not be MORE out of place in her Rhode Island high school) has a mission that is more important to her than the relationship she develops with the hunky alpha male Malachi, one of the "Guards" who polices the infernal city.

There are some neat little twists to the conventions and tropes that are so overused in the genre. When Lela gets a tattoo, it's not a tramp stamp but a picture of her dead friend, and it's there as a promise and a pledge more than just skin art.

This is basically a quest novel and in many ways, it's a quantum quest in that just being on the quest changes Lela. One of the best things about the book is that it quickly leaves the high school world behind and takes us to a magical/supernatural/horrible place. The city is visually stunning, but the Judge who presides over it seems a lot like the Oracle in the MATRIX series, although she's not baking anyone cookies or smoking a cigarette. (One of the reasons we know that Lela is a tough girl is that she is smoking a cigarette at the beginning of the book, though she never does it again.)

We like Lela, who has escaped a horrible past and who has a very interesting destiny. The book includes a preview chapter of the next book, and it sounds pretty intriguing. In fact, it sounds more interesting than SANCTUM. That's one of the problems with reading the first in a series--there's a LOT of setup.

This is a promising start to a series, and it will be nice to see where it goes. Right now, it doesn't seem different enough--at least not to someone who reads A LOT of this kind of material (the Guards, in particular, seem a lot like the angels in ANGELFALL)--but Fine is a writer whose work is so enjoyable that readers will stick around to see what happens next.

Feminist Friday Bonus Deadline Hollywood's Interview with Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster is the child star who got it right and segued into a fantastic career as an adult actress and director. Check out the interview here as she talks about her career and the DeMille Award she'll get at the Golden Globes.

Feminist Fiction Friday is Back with Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson mostly writes short fiction, but her novel Fudoki was declared one of the best SF/F novels of 2003 by Publisher's Weekly. She's won a number of awards over the year and in 2012 her novella, The Man Who Bridged the Mist won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. (You can read it here for free.) She also writes poetry and essays. You can read more of her work on her website.
An editor as well as a writer, she's worked for Tor Books, Dark Horse Comics, and as content manager for Microsoft Reader.
She's' not only won awards, but she's a final judge for the Theodore Sturgeon Award.
Twenty of her stories are archived at the free speculative fiction site (a treasure trove of stories by everyone from Isaac Asimov to Roger Zelazny. The stories by Johnson offer a large representative sample of her work and include such award-winners as "Fox Magic" and "Ponies."
Fudoki, is the second in a planned trilogy set in ancient Japan. The first, Fox Woman, was a love story about a man and a fox woman (Kitsune.) Fudoki is about Kagaya-hime, a sometime woman warrior who may or may not be a figment of the imagination of a dying empress.
Her debut short story collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, contains 300 pages of her short fiction.
She gives great interviews.
"Making the Unreal Real at GeekMom.
"An Interview with Kij Johnson" at Apex Magazine
"A Terrifying Mix of Honesty and Rigor" in Clarkesworld Magzine
Here's a Los Angeles Review of Books review on At the Mouth of the River of Bees where the reviewer focused on the sexual politicsof the stories.
If you have a few minutes today, sample one of Kij Johnson's stories and come away refreshed and impressed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catmoji a delivery system for cat cuteness

I do not, as a general rule, email cute cat pictures and adorable pet videos. (I made an exception for the Siamese cat "singing" the theme from Game of Thrones and I think the "Engineer's Guide to Cats" is hilarious). But one of the things I do every day is check in with Cat of the Day and I have been known to pin some of those pictures on my board at Pinterest, along with the noir book covers and the photos of haunted places. A friend of mine sent me the link to catmoji, which is basically a site for all the cat pictures everyone has and wants to share. Forget cute babies and fuzzy puppies, they go straight for the cat cuteness. If you like looking at cute cat pictures, check catmoji out.

I pick five short stories you shouldn't miss...

Over at his blog Death By Killing, Chris Rhatigan is running his annual "Five You Can't Miss" recommendations for short stories. I weigh in today. You can read my picks here.
Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian
If one of your New Year's Resolutions was to read more books, one place to start is by reading more book blogs to help you sift through the literary silt to find the gold. Here's a  list of top book blogs compiled at Blogrank from a variety of sources (including Feedburner, Google PR and Alexa).

Z is for Zebra

Courtesy: My Cute Graphics
I'm in word snoot mode today, thinking about why my Q and X keyboard  keys aren't more worn because I am VERY fond of words that begin with those letters and even fonder of words that use both--quincunx, exquisite, quixotic. (If you want to see more words that have both letters, or any other letter combinations, check out Scrabble Wizard.)
I started wondering why Z is the least-used letter. Are there that many fewer words that start with Z?  (I mean sure, that would be the obvious conclusion but what about some facts?) As they say on NPR's marketplace, "let's run the numbers."
There's a  site called words by letter that lets you search words by length, by definition and by suffix and prefix (two words with Xs).
Vocabulary.com will give you interesting factoids like 100 SAT words that begin with W,X,Y & Z. There's only one for X (xenophobia) but seven for Z.  So that's a little counter-intuitive.
Over at TalkTalk where there's a dictionary of difficult words, the Z word list begins with zaibatsu (from the Japanese, meaning a large industrial or financial corporation) and ends with zymotic (defined as: a. pertaining to fermentation; due to development of germs entering body from outside; n. contagious or infectious disease.) I will definitely be back to that site because I love obscure words.
If I still had a paper dictionary, I'd just count the number of pages devoted to Z letters and compare it to the number of pages devoted to E.  Further research must be done!  But not today. 

K is for Katherine

Photo by Brian Lary
I learned to type my junior year in high school--thank you Pela Love Bobbitt, and I've been touch-typing ever since. Because I don't have to look at my keyboard when I type, I don't notice when the letters start rubbing off the tops of the keys until someone else sits down to use my computer and is confronted with a nearly blank keyboard.
Right now, out of 26 letters, the only ones that are still labeled are Q, P, F, G, J, Z, and X. 
I got curious. "Everyone" knows that the most-used letter in English is E but what are the least-used letters?
According to Wikipedia (don 't you love Wikipedia?) The letters least frequently used are:
Z
Q
J
X
K
V
B
P
It makes sense that I use "K" more than most people because my name begins with K but why am I typing so many more words that begin with V and B than everyone else? Do I send that many emails to my friend Berkeley?  And V?  It's not like I write about vampires that much. It's a mystery.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tales of the Misbegotten: Star Quality

I am days from finishing Starcaster, the novel I'm writing in a shared world environment with authors Charlotte English, MeiLin Miranda and Joseph Robert Lewis.  I have promised myself that I won't write any more short stories until Starcaster and Misbegotten (due in May!) are finished, but this story came to me while I was perusing a gossip site and it would not go away.  It is set in the paranormal L.A. that is the setting for Misbegotten (and the stories in L.A. Nocturne and L.A. Nocturne II).

Star Quality

When the Star found the Stranger lounging on the $12,000 sofa in his trailer, he wasn't afraid at first, just annoyed.
His first question wasn't "Who are you?" because frankly, he didn't care.
Nor did he ask, "What do you want?" because that was obvious. Like everyone else, he wanted to tear off a little piece of star-shine for himself.
The star, whose name was Denis Flynn, had been a child actor who had had a rocky transition into adult roles, languishing in horror movies with numbers after their titles and doing television guest roles as ex-boyfriends on sitcoms and designated victims on crime shows.
There'd been the obligatory bar fights and rehab stints and everyone assumed he'd be another TMZ headline before he turned 30 but three years ago he'd done a Robert Downey, Jr. and blown everyone away in an indie movie called Slanguage. Since then they'd been offering Ryan Gosling his cast-offs and he'd been balls-deep in quality pussy.
When he saw the Stranger, whose name was Alex Mariana, Flynn was annoyed because Alex was a blip and when you're a star, there are people who are supposed to take care of blips before they cross your radar.
So while he made a mental note to make his personal assistant's life miserable for not dealing with Alex, the question Flynn asked was, "How did you get in here?"
And actually, it was a serious question because after a series of stalker incidents involving a female director working on the lot, security was supposed to be tight.
"Wasn't that hard," Alex said with a grin, and just like that, Denis was looking at a perfect double of the movie's cinematographer.
"Shit," Flynn said as the shape-shifter melted back into his original shape.
"So what do you want?"
Alex grinned wider. "I'm here to talk business," he said.
Alex had to give the Star credit. He'd been pulling one of these jobs once a year for the last decade and almost without exception he'd had to spell things out for the marks. It wasn't that they were stupid; they just couldn't quite wrap their heads around the idea that they were so vulnerable. Flynn, though, he seemed to grasp the situation perfectly right away.
Instead of launching into a lot of hand-wringing and macho posturing, Flynn just went over to the full-size fridge his assistant kept stocked with gluten-free snacks and artisanal glacier water, and pulled out a one-ounce bag of organic kale chips.
He sat down in a chair that matched the sofa, kicked back and started snarfing his chips.
"Do me," he said. "I want to see your me."
Alex obliged. "We're the same height," Alex said, so that makes it easier. I'm pretty flexible, so I can go up or down an inch or two. But if you were really six one like it says on IMDB, we wouldn't be a perfect match.
Alex could tell the star didn't like that but he just shrugged. "Fair enough," he said.
Flynn seemed mesmerized by Alex's counterfeit of himself.
"Change back," he finally ordered. "Looking at you is too much like being in a dream and seeing myself dead."
It was quiet in the trailer for a bit, quiet enough Alex could hear each individual crunch as Flynn ate his chips. Finally Flynn screwed up the bag and looked around as if waiting for someone to take it from him and dispose of it properly.
When no one materialized, he set his trash on the birdseye maple coffee table that drew the trailer's décor together with its golden hues.
"How much?" he asked.
"A hundred thousand," Alex replied.
Flynn lifted his eyebrows. "You think small," he said.
"I'm not greedy," Alex replied.
"And if I don't pay?"
"There are so many options," Alex said. "Couch jumping on a talk show; melting down in a racist rant; propositioning a male masseuse."
"The couch jumping was a good one," Flynn said.
"Thank you."
"So how does this work? You want me to write you a check?"
"Money orders. In thousand dollar increments. Have your assistant buy them at separate Western Union branches all over the city. Don't fill out the buyer's section, I'll take care of that."
"And how do I get you the money?"
"Put it in a Fred Siegel bag and give it to that hot girlfriend of yours."
For the first time Flynn looked angry.
"Leave Danica out of this."
"She'll never even see me," Alex promised. "Get the money together," he said. "I'll let you know where and when Danica can make the drop."
It turned out that within three miles of the studio in either direction there were more than a hundred PayDay Plus and Paycheck Advance and Western Union franchises and it only took Flynn's assistant three hours to buy100 money orders.
He didn't bother to ask Flynn what the money orders were for because he never questioned his boss, and Flynn wouldn't have told him anyway.
He did, however, make a discreet phone call to the National Enquirer to tell them Flynn might be falling back into his old drug-buying ways. It wouldn't be the first time he'd scored some cash for a hot tip.

Paris in Motion--video by Mayeul Akpovi

Posted on Arch Daily today (part three) is a great time-lapse video of the City of Lights.

And speaking of southern cooking...

Check out the Daily Shot's listing "The 10 Best Southern Food Blogs" here. How can you resist blogs called Biscuits & Such or Sinful Southern Sweets?

I'm the new Southern Cooking Editor at BellaOnline

That's right y'all. I've got another new gig--"Southern Cooking" editor over at BellaOnline.com. Check me out here. I spent a little over a year writing about chocolate for the website's food and wine channel, waiting for this topic to open up. And now it's mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.
All those grease-spattered recipes I inherited from my mother and grandmothers will now be unleashed on the web. (And none too soon--some of the recipes are so faded I can barely read them and in a year or two they could be as lost to time as fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
Coming up in the next few weeks will be recipes for George Washington's birthday cake (a delicious cake with cherry and walnuts that I've never found anywhere else), directions for soups and winter vegetable casseroles and even a little White Trash cooking. And in the summer there will be barbecue and potato salad and strawberry shortcake with honest-to-God shortcakes and not those mushy sponge thingies they sell at the grocery store.
Stop by and bookmark the site.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Huffington Post on the Most Romantic Spot in Paris

The Ponts Des Arts bridge with the love padlocks. Read more about it here and click through the slideshow.

Must have been that extra slice of buche noel.

The official kilogram kept in Paris and used as a standard, is gaining weight. And nobody quite knows why. The full story here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The word of the year is Hashtag

The American Dialect Society is at it again. Click here for their roundup of best new words on Mental Floos.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vulcan's Fire Salt

Do you know the kind of damage you can do with a $50 gift certificate to The Spice House?  A lot.
I've been trolling through their catalogue and already have a list of six things I'd like to get, including green mango powder, which I've never tried and have been wanting to.
This hot salt (Vulcan Fire Salt) caught my eye though.  It pretty much has everything a spice blend should have.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A site that will give you the inside scoop on Paris

Heather Stimmler-Hall's blog, Secrets of Paris, has been online since 1999. Her publishing company, Fleur de Lire, publishes (among other books), the Naughty Guide to Paris.

Download Paris Pastry App

New for the new year: our favorite foodie expatriate, David Lebovitz (Living the Sweet Life in Paris) has a Paris Pastry app you can download (through iTunes) of his Paris Pastry App.

Sign up to get 52 stories by 7 of France's top authors!

From Le French Book site:  sign up to receive (free) a daily or weekly email featuring 52 short stories written (in collaboration) by seven French authors.The stories are in English, so even if one of your New Year's Resolutions was that 2013 would be the year you learned French, you can ease yourself into it gradually.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review Maps of the Edge by Ian Creasey



One of the writers I discovered during the 365 Day Challenge was Ian Creasey. Maps of the Edge is a collection of spec fic stories by Creasey published in 2011. (His novella, The Strawberry Thief, was published last October. I can't wait to read it.) Creasey identifies as a science fiction writer, but pigeonholing him into one genre really doesn't seem fair, especially after reading through this collection, which is a small sample of the more than 50-odd stories he's sold to magazines and anthologies.

The stories range over a wide spectrum of emotions. "Reality 2.0" is a hilarious riff on a new product from Microsoft, a re-imagination of math called "WonderNumbers" that takes all the hard work out of math, much to the dismay of mathematicians. "Now you can divide by zero" is the product's sales pitch for the software, which does away with a lot of inconvenient math concepts and formulae. "This is How it Feels" is a haunting story about loss and grief that describes the feeling as "a compost heap where rats endlessly gnaw over the scraps of your heart." 

"Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone" is a story about a mother and a daughter that also touches on one of the core concepts and conceits of the collection, the persistence of personality in an electronic afterlife. Many of the stories are surrounded and shaped by conspiracy theories and there are references throughout to a Conspiracy Channel--the people who work there and some of the shows that appear. And who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory?

Creasey is not just a storyteller, he's an actual wordsmith--a term that's thrown around much too easily. (In the opening story, "Erosion," he describes clouds as looking like "celestial loft insulation" and the phrase is just perfect.)

You don't have to like science fiction to like Creasey's stories but if you do, you will love them.