The State of Alabama is Actually a Really Small Town

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

On Jury Duty: Point Three: The State of Alabama is Actually a Really Small Town

Alabama is the biggest small town on the planet.

I said before that a large part of the federal jury selection process involves repeating the answers already given on the million page questionnaire. For the most part, the judge could have given us copies of the forms we’d returned and said, “if you said yes and this would bias you, speak now or forever hold your peace.” But he didn’t, and we went through all of it verbally.

A shocking number of us responded to the “aside from traffic violations, have you or a family member ever been convicted of or arrested for a misdemeanor or felony?” question. Now, the judge clearly said we didn’t have to humiliate ourselves. We could approach the bench to respond. In my case, it wasn’t my own dirty laundry, so I didn’t mind saying “It would be faster to ask me what she wasn’t convicted of.” (I suspect this response is one of the reasons I wasn’t selected, by the way.)

But boy howdy, people were willing to proclaim, “I got busted for X when I was twenty,” or  “Yeah, they got me for Y when I was a teen,” in front of a whole room full of people who, as it turned out, were not strangers.

Because not all the questions had already been asked. The ones about interrelationships got mindboggling results. They all boiled down to, “Do you know or are you related to anybody in the judge’s office, the prosecutor’s office, on the defense team, on the rest of the jury panel, or who might take the witness stand?” The judge said in advance there would be a ton of yes answers. He was right.

I’d be willing to bet forty out of fifty people knew somebody. It was all acquaintance stuff. “Lawyer X’s son goes to the same doctor as mine.” “Same gym.” And, my personal favorite, “We live in the same small town, county, whatever.”  Twenty three counties or so in the district, but it was like a game of six degrees of separation. If we’d gone on much longer, we’d have reached Kevin Bacon.

I’m face blind, so it takes me a very long time to associate an image with a name. Often, I randomly (and accidentally) assign people a name in my head (which I promptly forget), and that only confuses matters when I try to remember the right names.

If I stare at a stranger long enough – say a whole morning – I will gradually become convinced that I know that person from somewhere, though I won’t recognize that person  forty minutes after looking away. I have learned to ignore my instincts in this area. They suck.

By the time this question came up, I’d been staring at the rest of the room for hours. I was sure I knew ten of my fellow potential jurors. From somewhere.

I stayed seated when asked, but ultimately realized I do know of one guy (and that if I could associate names, faces, and jobs, I would have been aware of this simply from hearing his name) and that I have absolutely, without question, met one woman at a party. Somewhere. I think maybe Halloween. Possibly. We might both have been involved in planning the party. But I’m not sure. She didn’t identify me, either, so I was at least not alone in uncertainty.

And I wasn’t asking, “Um, can each and every one of you tell me if you know me?”

Because it’s one thing to snark about others, and quite another to admit that you can be an idiot yourself.

Monday, I’ll pound the final nail in this coffin and talk about the law.

The Whole System is Screwball

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

On Jury Duty: Point Two: The Whole System is Screwball

The system itself is often dumber than the people wrangled in. For all its specifics on a number of important points, the jury duty summons letter skips a basic bit of information. It doesn’t say, “You will, without question, be here until lunch the first day. If you are selected, you will be present through lunch for the length of the trial. You may bring lunch into the building.”  In fact, it says nothing about eating whatsoever. Nobody on my panel was under any illusion of getting sequestered and fed by the courts (though all of us seemed to know that part.)  But we all thought food from home was forbidden.

It turned out there was a cafeteria. They offered us free sodas and sold cheap nosh, but we were also totally allowed to bring our own. One guy was a diabetic and the administrator had to run around and find him some crackers because he didn’t know if he was allowed to bring his in and didn’t want to risk getting fined.

The summons’ list of don’t-brings is all about metal and electronics, but it isn’t complete.  So people showed up with stuff they thought would be legit. For instance, umbrellas. Um-fucking-brellas. It was threatening to pour when I got there. I was too lazy, prepared to endure a dunking, but another woman had her bumbershoot along and was required to leave it at a random table in front of the exit. Where it was still technically in the fucking building. She could totally have seized it and gone crazy.

The guy at the desk couldn’t take a minute to make sure it didn’t conceal a samurai sword-gun in a hidden central compartment and pass it through? He was already x-raying our shit for God’s sake.

Something that was clearly forbidden gets my “come on” award. No cell phones. The given reason is security. Cell phones can be used to detonate bombs and leak secrets. And a courthouse has to protect against that terrorism shit (a flippant way to put it on 9/11, I suppose)  and protect people’s right to privacy.  But that’s not really why they’re banned, I’m certain.

The real reason is judges would get sick of fining people for contempt after an hour. See point one about stupid-as-shit people if you think most potential jurors would turn off the toys. Half of of all people forget they’re on in the theater, and that’s those folks who aren’t bored and rudely playing games to pass the time.  Imagine the jury pool tainted by the guy on the end who couldn’t remember the trial because he was too busy with peashooters and imp zombies.

But wholly banning them is absurd in the twenty first century. There should be a drop off and safe monitor point where they can be left and where emergency calls can be answered.

Think about it. I suspect many single parents request deferrals on the basis of being sole caregivers. But several were on my panel. They did not request deferrals, not out of stupidity, but because they were willing to serve. But they had to make major sacrifices to do it.

They were out of pocket, worried about their kids. Caregivers, daycares, and schools had no way of contacting them. Not. Acceptable. You want a representative jury pool? You make it possible to serve. You won’t allow phones? You provide an emergency number jurors can give loved ones. Who knows. Maybe there was a number and nobody bothered to communicate it. I find this doubtful.

The summons claims the system wishes to inconvenience the prospective juror as little as possible, but the reality is that only noisy problems are addressed. The system doesn’t want to be hassled with the jurors. And everyone from juror through defendant is completely screwed in the façade.

The king is dead. God save the king.

God bless America.

And give me back my damned phone.

Check in tomorrow to find out how small my state really is

Some People Are Stupid As Shit

On Jury Duty: Point one: Some people are stupid as shit

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

After shot. Sorry. I only have on a bra in the before shot. Ill text it to interested parties with no embarrassment whatsoever, but I do not believe it needs blogging.

In thirty seven years, I’ve never been summoned for jury duty. My number was due to come up, and it did, in the federal system. I knew dates when I scheduled my breast reduction surgery, and the doctor’s office thought I’d be fine to go sit around in a courtroom five days after having my chest sliced to ribbons. (They were right – breast tissue hasn’t got many nerve endings, so I don’t have much pain.) I was not ultimately assigned to a panel, and I don’t have to go back, so it wound up being a short term gig for me.

I rarely snark here, but there are times, and this is one of them, that only a snide and cynical perspective will do. The next few days will include observations from my day of civic duty. None of them will be polite. Let us begin.

Some people are stupid as shit, and I would not want them judging me. (You’ll find this thread woven into the fabric of this series.) Summoned jurors get instructions about how to report, when to report, where to report, what to wear, where to park, and the things forbidden in a courthouse. Also, they complete and return a million page questionnaire.

The Hunger Games wasn’t more clear about the selection process. Prospective jurors will know if they need to even show up as long as they call a certain robo-phone at a certain time.

And yet.

No fewer than three people (of a fifty member panel) arrived unnecessarily. Listen, I called that number. It had an ID for me. It updated me every time. If these people had read the giant 30 point font explanation and followed its simple guidelines, they would have saved themselves a wasted day.

Deferrals aren’t a big deal, yet people fail to request them in advance. For Christ’s sake, my initial date was supposed to be during the time when I’d be in Chicago. I requested a postponement, and it was granted. Permanent postponement was also possible for some. Nobody over seventy even had to write a letter. Service was wholly optional. Tick a box. Boom. Done.

And yet people showed up who would clearly have been released beforehand. If they did this knowing they could, by appearing and making their excuses in person, actually fulfill their duty for three years, I’d understand. But I don’t think so. They were so dumb they hadn’t done the homework.

Here’s an example. One guy over seventy with a horrible back, a weak bladder, and possible dementia (I kid you not) came in. At least three of those qualifications would have been a permanent deferral. He could have completed the process in the mail. But he didn’t bother to read. Nor did his probable caretaker.

Another? Get this.

The jury selection process is basically a period of time during which people answer a shit-ton of questions that they have already responded to on the million page questionnaire. Some of these questions meant people were excused automatically.  If you have, say, been convicted of or are charged with a felony and not had your civil rights restored, you are not eligible for jury duty, and the questionnaire clearly says so and instructs you how to communicate this in advance and save yourself a fucking hassle. One guy on our panel got to leave three minutes into the questioning because he had not, in spite of completing the form, paid attention to this detail.

Going forward, keep this in mind. Some of my fellow humans are not jury material. I would plea bargain my ass off and beg for a judge-only trial before I faced a group of my peers.

Stay tuned tomorrow to find out why I’m skeptical of the process itself.

I hate big boobs (and I cannot lie)

My boobs and I have come to an agreement over the years. They will hang down to my belly button. I will bitch, moan, and threaten to hack them off. It’s a good arrangement for them.

They get to hulk around on my chest, making running and any other bouncy activities impossible. At one point, I tried strapping myself in with an ace bandage. It worked loose. I spent the rest of that jog in the traditional cross-armed clutch known by large breasted women the world over as the “Jesus, these fucking things cancel breathing every time they jounce” run.

They get to humiliate me in public. They tend to pop out in the swimming pool and ocean in all but the least comfortable bathing suits.  I twice duct taped myself into strapless bras to be in friends’ weddings. I did it a third time for my own.

And most of all, they get to hurt me. I have a K cup people. The eleventh letter of the alphabet. And that don’t mean no Keurig size, neither. The indentations on my shoulders are probably permanent. Every time I lose weight, I go up a cup. I thought that was supposed to work the opposite way.

There’s never any question that reduction surgery would be covered by insurance. But the one time I was at the point of scheduling it (back when I was a mere G), I met this guy, realized we’d probably have babies together, knew I’d want to nurse, and, whoops, that was fifteen years and two kids ago now.

I’ve wanted to make the change for some time, but have held back. I don’t want a shitty boob job, though frankly that would be better than the back pain. And I don’t want this to be some vanity thing. I’m not a fan of plastic surgery for its own sake.

And there’s that other Thing. The Big Thing.  Whatever else my boobs may be, they are healthy.

So many women’s breasts are not healthy. One friend of ours has survived cancer not once, but twice. Double mastectomy. Another is fighting it now. (And kicking its ass.) She’s also undergoing a double mastectomy soon, once her term of chemo finishes. And a third friend thought she’d won only to have the fucking cancer come back and metastasize. She fought hard, but she died, leaving her husband and three small sons behind. So my complaints about a sore back and painful exercise seem petty. And it’s hard to cope with a problem when it feels petty.

But a surprising number of friends here in town have had reduction surgery, and all of them swear it’s the best thing they’ve done for themselves. (I say that about my hysterectomy.) So last month I finally nerved up and spoke to a highly recommended doctor.

Long story short, the surgery is tomorrow.

Bye, bye, big boobies. Bye, bye, back pain. Twelve hours from now, I’ll be on my way to something like a C cup. Wish me luck folks and watch for my pain-killer induced, inappropriate Facebook humor.

See you on the other, smaller, side.


Like Vegas Only Blander


12 ways a visit to the specialist is like a trip to Vegas

Thanks to bowel issues, we’ve had Sam on the lowest amount of medication he’s taken since early in 2013, and he’s managing himself infinitely better now than he did then. So emotionally, things are okay with him. But we’ve got to get his ass under control.

Back in April, he abruptly lost the ability to feel it when he shat. Completely. Panicked that his meds had caused the problem, I pulled back to only those he had been taking since before it started. That fixed nothing. Now, the pediatrician swears he has a bowel obstruction. There’s a specialist who thinks maybe she’s right.

The cure is ghastly.

And I’m not convinced it’s the correct one, because I’m dubious of the diagnosis. While we were waiting around for three hours at the pediatric GI’s office today, Scott made some other awful observations

1)      No clocks. Anywhere.

Seriously. We arrived at 8:45 for a 9:20 appointment. Without our cell phones, we’d have been lost in timeless Disney Channel limbo until they called us back at 10:40.

2)      You have no idea what will happen next

Sam was afraid they’d draw blood or cram a finger up his ass. He’s experienced both. We waited an hour for the doctor to press on his stomach and agree that she couldn’t feel anything backed up.

3)      Nothing changes, morning, noon, or night

The doctor couldn’t access the radiologist’s formal report to decide what she really thought was going on. We proceeded as if guessing was the best course.

4)      You can’t see outside.

Windows? We don’t need no stinking windows.

5)      Nobody is from here

Judging from her accent, I’d say the doctor is from Africa or possibly New Jersey. Hard to say which. Half the patients are from Prattville, and the others are from places with names like Hope Hull.

6)      Nothing ever comes to a conclusion

The doctor massaged Sam’s stomach and decided it wasn’t distended. I could have told her that, and  other than that, we could have conducted the entire appointment without him. Three hours out of school, and all we really got was a parent consultation, instructions I doubt will help, and a future appointment for when they fail.

7)      Nothing costs what you expect

What’s your specialist copay? Figuring it out is like learning a fucking rewards program. It depends on your insurer and the position of the moon in relationship to Mars.

8)      Everybody’s hands get dirty

Why is there hand sanitizer in the doctor’s office but not the waiting area? Why, why, why? It’s a little late by the time the nurse calls your name.

9)      You’re not sure everybody’s here for the main purpose

This office was in a hospital tower that had everything from a bank, to an open-to-the-public restaurant, to (I kid you not) a barber shop.

10)  You’re never exactly sure what you win or whether it’s worth it.

We’re going to have to torture Sam with a concoction my father would call a “colon blow” before we can give him a pill that might make him able to feel his poop again. Might.

11)  It’s a numbers game

Four months so far invested. A billion dollars spent in pull-ups. At least two specialist trips. And it’s still a roll of the dice to see if any of it works.

12)  If you wait long enough something good will happen. To somebody.

But it won’t necessarily be you.

Enter to win prizes if you’re at Killer Nashville this weekend

If you’re at Killer Nashville this weekend, please, take a moment to enter my drawing by performing one (or more!) of the actions listed below. We’ll have more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I’ll draw winners early Saturday morning. You must be present at Killer Nashville 8/23-8/25 to claim your prize. I will notify winners by e-mail.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


ElI leaned out on the platform, straining my ears for the train’s first distant rumble. “It’ll come, Jessie,” Scott reassured me. It was July in Chicago. We were waiting for the L. And his enthusiasm was as high as my own.

When I was a kid, I hated trains exactly when my dad and sister were enjoying a Lionel phase. By the time I reversed my position, they were through. But once miniature engines claimed my interest, they never let go. Marrying an addict only fueled my interest. We honeymooned by train. We look for historic railway projects where the real hobbyists practice their art. And, of course, we drag along our children.

But not in Chicago. In Chicago, we were alone, Sam and Caroline each with a grandmother. For the first time in a little more than twelve years, Scott and I took trains with destinations.

True to his prediction, the L arrived on time, coming not so much in a rumble as a speed generated roar. The rails rattled in the unmistakable thwumpa-de-clack pattern of a locomotive, but above that sound, wind echoed as the train knifed through the tunnel. We weren’t elevated here. This portion of track was pure subway. Although the cars visibly slowed, I still thought we might be passed by, as we had been when the Howard Station express thundered through several minutes ago. But the brakes suddenly screamed, and the train squealed to a halt, letting us on.

That time, we got to sit down. In fact, we mostly sat on the trains.

Our hotel was out by O’Hare, and we commuted forty minutes each way to and from downtown. Because we got on so early in the route, we didn’t have much of a seating problem going either way. So we watched as we flew down the interstate median, passing traffic whether the vehicles were at a standstill or moving at a good clip. Inside, the blaring sound of our motion, of the wind and the wheels, made conversation nearly impossible.

On another day heading back from a Cubs game, the train had been crowded. Scott and I stood clutching plastic loops, lurching at every stop as the automated voice above announced the next station and whether the doors opened on the left or right. Sometimes, the engineer came on, urging passengers to hurry up getting off and on, so he could get out of the way for the next train. Before we left town, we picked up an Amtrack brochure and studied it, dreaming the places we could take the kids.

Honestly, though, Chicago is the finest. They say there is no sound like the L. I believe it. I’ve been there. I know.

An affordable thing happened on the way to the bookstore

I went on vacation without my husband. Picked up the kids and took them to the beach. So I was busy getting a sunburn on Wednesday when my husband made my phone ring at a moment when I wasn’t standing hip deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Did you know your book is available on Kindle?”

“It is?”

“So you didn’t know.”

“Are you sure.”

A long silence followed. I thought he was annoyed I’d asked. But then, he came back on. “Yup. Double checked.”

“Well, that’s great. How much is it?”

“About three bucks.”

“Well … I guess I better do something about that.”

“You could write a blog post.”

“Hey! I could. I could do that.”

Announcing The Marriage at the Rue Morgue. Now available in Kindle.

Run a bookstore? Don’t be afraid of me.

DSC_0288If you run a bookstore, please don’t be put off by my “Don’t Buy My Book” campaign. It may be tempting to answer “OK, I won’t. Thanks for the tip, weirdo,” and walk the other direction. But I invite you to take a closer look. I can host murderously fun mystery parties in bookstores. Purely aside from the fact that at least some people who come to an author event will buy that author’s book, if I can shift the focus away from myself, I can create an opportunity for bookstore owners to highlight their mystery collections. Those who don’t buy my book then may very well come back and buy it later, and they are liable to buy something on the spot. Plus, we’ll be having tons of fun.

Can I be honest? Aside from my friends and a few professional contacts, nobody has heard of me. When I say “don’t buy my book”, all I’m doing is taking out a guilt trip. This is not the “don’t buy books” tour. It’s the “don’t buy my book” tour.

I don’t suffer from the illusion that I’ll be rich and famous overnight with one e-book and one physical book on the market. I need to prove myself to readers before they are going to want to pay more than a couple of dollars for my stuff. Suggesting that they request it in libraries is a practical matter. I’m asking people to give me a test drive.

Bookstores don’t exist in competition with libraries. (I heard the line about how libraries have to compete with booksellers throughout library school, and it’s absurd.) The two entities share a symbiotic relationship. Libraries grow readers. Readers buy books. No book buyer can afford to purchase and house every beloved tome. Yet public libraries aren’t archives, and they rarely have more than a few copies of any one title. Readers need libraries to meet the new authors, and they need bookstores to buy the books they know they’ll want to read over and over.

Mine is a good book. People will want to read it more than once.

But they can’t know that right away. So I want them to ask their librarians to add it to the collection. I do not want them to race out and buy a book when they aren’t sure if they’ll feel gypped or not. I want them to buy my books when they know my writing and trust me.

You can find in-depth details over on the Mystery Parties section under the Appearances tab of my Rue Morgue site, but in general, here’s how it works. I schedule a two-hour long mystery party at the bookstore. The plot moves along every fifteen minutes or so, and clues are hidden throughout the store. Who knows what browsers will find when they are freed from the static model of an author signing! My publisher offers deep discounts to groups hosting author events, so the risk for the store is minimal. Store owners choose portions of their collections to highlight. They have a chance to network with new customers. And readers have a fun time building friendships.

The “don’t buy my book” tour isn’t intended to scare people away from stores, and it shouldn’t scare stores away from me. It’s a unique marketing technique based in honesty. Please, take a look over at the Rue Morgue page and see what I’m talking about and why it would be a lot of fun to tell people, “Whatever you do, don’t buy that deadly book.”

Book Release Party The Marriage at the Rue Morgue

MarriageAtRueMorgueFront (1)The Marriage at the Rue Morgue comes out today, and I couldn’t be more excited. I have magnets, tote bags, shirts, and Webkinz orangutans to mail out to lucky winners who retweet today’s post with the hashtag #don’tbuymybook (I checked, nobody else is using that one). I’ll also give away prizes if you go to your local library’s twitter feed and share with them using the hashtag  #pleasedobuythisbook (again, nobody is using it). Finally, I’ll give you prizes if you share the post on Facebook or G+.

I’m using Woobox to track Twitter hashtags, Facebook likes, and Facebook comments and pick winners from among them.

But if you share the post on Facebook or G+, then let me know in the comment section below. I’ll use to pick winners throughout the day and as my whims dictate.

Oh, and if you are buying the book (and I’m not trying to discourage those who want it!) and would like an autograph, please let me know. I have bookplates I can sign and send.

Come back tomorrow and find out why the “Don’t Buy My Book” tour isn’t a bad idea for bookstores, either.