Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Little Pumpkin Meets Big Boo

I grew up in northeastern Ohio. Back in the day (as the current expression goes) carving a pumpkin face then trick or treating on Halloween was a big deal. Like kids everywhere my brother and I carefully chose our costumes--except for one season when Mom picked that year's outfit for me.

I don't remember why she did, but at eight I was mortified to have to dress as a bright orange pumpkin! Nevertheless, with the promise of treats in mind and my little brother in tow, I loped through our neighborhood in the dark, ringing doorbells and filling our bags with candy, cookies, apples, and more candy. As a big sister, I knew this trek could be a dangerous undertaking. According to suburban legend in our town, an elderly doctor who lived in a spooky-looking brick house with all its shades drawn lured unsuspecting children inside each Halloween--and they were never seen again. This, of course, lent an atmosphere of delicious terror to the pitch-dark night.

Already trembling in our shoes, my brother and I managed to survive the encounter. In fact, somewhat to our disappointment, the doctor seemed perfectly normal. Nice, really. Breathless with relief, we soon ran up to another house on a different block, rang the bell, and dumped our treats into the bags. Heady with success by this time we turned the corner, climbed a set of steps to a porch, and repeated our routine. "Trick or treat!"

But when the door opened, who was standing there, glowering? Not that doctor, who I'm sure was innocent. No, like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, I came smack up against the frightening Boo Radley in the flesh. "Weren't you kids just here?" he growled with a suspicious glance at my orange pumpkin suit. Busted. I wasn't exactly invisible. We had inadvertently come to the same door, the same house as the one just before. It had a wraparound porch that faced on two streets. We weren't really double-dipping, and like the "evil" doctor, "Boo Radley" wasn't really an ogre. Ah, the imagination of an earnest little girl. Maybe she should have been a writer....

Where I live now, and write, on a mountain far from my hometown, the nights are even darker than the Halloweens of my childhood. Or so they seem. I still love this scary time of year, and things that go bump in the night, and having a pumpkin to carve, not to mention buying candy for this year's Trick or Treat handout (and of course, some Dove chocolates just for me). But my favorite memory of Halloween is that long-ago march through the fallen leaves in my pumpkin costume (Mom's choice, bless her heart). If I still had it, and it fit the larger, more whimsical me, I think I'd wear it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Beware of Those Knee-High Boots!

Brr, shiver--and I don't mean from the cold.

It's almost Halloween, that scariest time of year, and the chills are running down my spine. All around me are signs that Trick or Treat is upon us. The stores are filled with candy and costumes, their aisles covered with gossamer cobwebs, and in my local Wal-Mart there's a pretty scary guy in overalls perched on a tractor, looming right by the check-out counters. He's stuffed, not real, but he does make me pull up short every time I see him. As another sign of the season the grocery aisles are chockablock with fall gourds and piles of pumpkins, both orange and...white? Who knew? My sister-in-law tells me there are blue ones, too, though I haven't seen any. I like my pumpkins the traditional way.

Movies too, I guess.

"Psycho" is probably the most memorable horror film from my past (remember, "Norman? Norman!"), but has anyone here watched "See No Evil?"

The movie has two titles, actually, one for the U.S. market and another for the U.K., but unfortunately I don't recall its other, British name. In either case, like "Rosemary's Baby," it stars a young Mia Farrow, who in this one looks appropriately delicate and vulnerable, the latter in part because (like Audrey Hepburn in "Home Before Dark") she is totally blind.

A quick plot recap: While staying with relatives on their vast British estate, Mia comes home one afternoon--and instantly feels that something is terribly wrong in the house. It's not just the eerie silence. Because of her blindness (recent, if I remember right) her other senses have become more acute, and with growing horror she gropes her way through room after room of the manor house, only to find that everyone in the family is dead. Murdered. Why? She doesn't know. The viewer can see the carnage, but of course Mia cannot.

And she isn't alone in the house. The killer is still there. She can hear him.

On the other hand, he doesn't realize she's blind, and although she escapes (temporarily) he's now after her--the only "witness" to his crimes.

The viewer, like Mia (sorry, I've forgotten her character's name), doesn't see this part, but throughout the film the villain walks around in classic British hunt boots, stomp, stomp, stomp as he tracks, and terrorizes, our heroine. Yet he is photographed only from the knees down. We never see his face.

Is there anyone Mia can turn to? And trust?

Well, a nice romance might help to break the tension, and it does. But it also heightens the fear in both Mia and the audience. Our hero also wears hunt boots! Is he really falling in love with her, protective of her? Or is he the actual killer?

That's a simplified version of the story, but I guarantee it's frightening from beginning to end.

And, in part, glamorous. I like my horror movies to also look good. For some reason a beautiful setting (a fantasy) seems to intensify the conflict, e.g., the everyday, presumably safe environment of this country estate against the heroine's increasing fears for her life. There's also some exciting footage with the horses from the hero's stable, which play a role at the crisis point of the film.

If you can, get a copy of "See No Evil." I highly recommend it.

It'll scare the pants off you. Right on time for Halloween.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Scary Movie

I love masquerade parties, always have. I suppose it’s being able to be someone else for a little while, release the inhibitions and act the part from behind a colorful mask that is appealing. This is probably why I love Halloween. You get to play dress up. I’m in the process of making my daughter’s Halloween costume. I cut the pattern out today and did all the marking. Now I’m ready to sew. She’s going to be a pilgrim. I have an Elizabethan gown I made several years ago for the masquerade party they have every year at the Romantic Times Convention. I’m going to wear it as I take my daughter trick or treating. The gown is beautiful and took me a whole evening to create each sleeve. It needs ironing and the photo doesn’t do it justice, but it is a beautiful gown. Members of my romance writers chapter have occasionally borrowed it for programs, fashion shows and demonstrations.

When I was younger, I used to spend Sunday afternoons in the theater watching horror movies. My friends and I used to love to do the "scare me to death in the dark" routine. And at that time, it seemed as if there was a different horror movie every week. Much like there are continuous teen movies today. If a movie truly met our qualifications, we’d be scared. If not, it was usually laughable.

One of my all-time favorite scary movies is Invasion of the Body Snatchers . It was hard to choose just one to write about, but this one still gives me chills today. It doesn’t matter how many versions of the movie they make, and I see another one with Nicole Kidman is about to be released, the black and white release from 1956 with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter is the best in my opinion. It scared me when I first saw it because it was so real. I knew it could happen. I was convinced that in some small town in America the invasion had already begun. Even though I was and am a logical person, I knew this could happen so quickly and without the knowledge of anyone who could stop it.

I completely empathized with Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). No one believed him. He was a well-respected physician, and other doctors thought he was crazy. If he convinced anyone, no one else could and if they did it would be too late for them to do anything.

I saw the story as it was presented. At my young age, Id didn’t get the underlying message of a story. It was decades later that I realized there was a metaphor in there for Communism or McCarthyism. For my purposes, it worked. I was scared. And today I continue to be entertained, even though I can see the flaws in the plotline. They don’t detract from the film. Halloween is approaching and I haven’t see it on the television schedule yet, but I’m sure it will be there before the holiday ends. Look for it and enjoy a really fine film.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I can remember watching this movie - which scared me to death - when I lived in Toronto, years after it first came out. It was late at night, I lived by myself, I have this feeling it was in the winter so it was (or felt) especially dark.

Audrey Hepburn is blind and she's on her way home from a trip and a drug dealer puts something in the doll she's bringing home.

She lives in a basement apartment in New York and I think the reason it felt so incredibly scary to me was that I lived in a ground floor apartment at the time, I was about Audrey's age, though I hadn't just flown home from Paris and I wasn't married.

But still, this is probably the scariest movie I ever saw and it wasn't scary because it was violent or because there were ghosts or the devil or some big evil, it was scary because it was incredibly suspenseful.

The bad guy keeps showing up in Audrey's life as she maneuvers her way around her apartment, around the city, and she's blind. I still can't think of anything more frightening...

She couldn't see him, she didn't know he was following her, but things kept moving in her apartment, things kept happening that she couldn't understand.

You need to see this movie if you like suspense - but don't watch it by yourself late at night, okay? I'd never do that again. I have watched it since the first time but I either watch it in the daytime or with someone else. Too scary for me.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Truth? And Consequences

My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading Face Time, the newest Charlotte McNally Mystery. It’s being released this week! I say: Hooray. So far, Mom says: I’m sure that’s lovely, dear. You can imagine the tone.

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. Why is Mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife. No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s gong go be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me, dear,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—it’s not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she had tears in her eyes. One reviewer told me she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?
Do you have a contentious relationship with your mother? (or daughter?) Do you understand each other?
With love to all mothers and daughters...
Hank (okay, it's Harriet) Phillippi Ryan

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's NEXT in November

by Susan Crosby

There was a hot-looking man in her kitchen. And he was cooking!

Maureen Hart had never had a summer so crazy...not even the year she'd become a teenage unwed mother. Now her life was on track with a steady boyfriend and a big promotion looming. And the one person who could derail everything was now waiting on her doorstep!Maureen's estranged daughter desperately needed her to care for her six-year-old son for a while. She just never imagined when she said yes that the child's gorgeous paternal grandfather, Daniel, would insist on staying, as well.

Quarters were getting interestingly close. But Maureen was technically almost engaged...and a workaholic...and a control freak. And totally about to cut loose and indulge in a little fun with a man capable of doing his own laundry!


Thirty-nine-year-old Maureen Hart's life seems like it's moving toward complete satisfaction. She has a serious man, good friends and a possible promotion. Then her estranged daughter leaves Maureen with the young grandson she adores but has never spent any time with. Handsome and unsettling Daniel Cregg, the paternal grandfather, follows. Since her daughter and grandson live with him in Seattle, Maureen feels he stole them from her after his son died. Soon her settled life is in turmoil as she fights her attraction to Daniel and refuses to put her boyfriend ahead of her grandson. I'm Your Man (4), by Susan Crosby, has an interesting, compelling hero, a complex heroine and a heartwarming ending—which might be too neatly tied up but is completely entertaining.
~ Romantic Times


by Peggy Webb

What happens when two women swap lives?

Soap Opera Star Gloria Hart: After losing her celebrated soap opera role, she winds up crashing her Ferrari Spider and getting stranded in Mooreville, Mississippi. Will America's TV goddess discover the role of her life with handsome rancher Matt Tucker playing the leading man? After all, he's the first man she's kissed off camera in over five years!

Married Mom Jenny Miller: Up to her ears in pies she bakes for her husband's restaurant and the trials of an angst-ridden teenager, she's lost touch with herself. Can her budding friendship with Gloria change that? With a few margaritas, a memorable road trip and a little help from each other, these women are about to find friendship, love and their own secret goddesses!

Congratulations to the winners of the September contest

Jenna and Ashley Ladd.

Would you email me at kate@kateaustin.ca with your name and address and I'll send them along to the prize givers for this month?

And don't forget to post for the October contest prizes...