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Olivia’s “Uh-Oh, I Drank Too Many”

UH OH cocktailThere are some cocktails that go down a little too easy. If you like bourbon, this is one such drink. Olivia Caceres, a Muff-in-waiting, thought it tasted like an unusual, yet quite delicious, kind of lemonade and she just couldn’t resist. Uh-oh, Olivia!

The key here is to use Meyer lemons, not the ordinary grocery variety (though they’re acceptable in a pinch) and, in advance, to whip up something completely misnamed called “shrub,” which wouldn’t grow in the finest of greenhouses.*

Ingredients:

1 ½ oz. Bourbon

¾ oz. Fresh lemon juice

½ oz. Strawberry-Meyer lemon shrub

½ oz. Ginger syrup (1:1 fresh ginger juice and sugar)

1 dash Angostura bitters.

Tools:

Shaker, strainer, fine strainer, gorgeous glasses (coupe, martini, whiskey sour)

 The shrub:

Combine 1 cup of granulated sugar, the juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon and ½ cup of hulled, chopped strawberries in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and let cool. Strain, measure the liquid and add an equal measure of cider vinegar. Bottle and keep refrigerated for up to 10 days.

* I looked up why this concoction is called shrub and seems to be a bastardization of the Arabic word “sharab” which means “to drink.” We use it to refer to a mixture of two related but acid-based beverages. If you don’t want to whip up a batch yourself, you can buy a bottle version of shrub from—imagine–Shrub & Co.

Fading Frannie’s Midnight Reviver

scary cocktail -edited (1)The Muffs are all over thirty, many with kids, so when Frannie got asked to a post-Grammy party for #AndraDay that didn’t start ’til 10:30 p.m., she knew she’d need help rallying so as not to snooze through the whole thing. Fortunately, there was an open bar and all the ingredients for her wake-up punch. And even though Andra’s record #RiseUp didn’t win best R&B record of the year, Frannie had no idea, she was having so much fun.

Directions:                                                                                                                          Chill a coupe glass (or hope your bartender’s done it) and coat (evenly) the inside of the glass with absinthe.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 oz. dry gin
  • 3/4 oz. Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz. Cocci Americano
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • Scant teaspoon absinthe

Shake all but the absinthe with ice, strain into the glass, drink and be revived!

#15 – The Three Kalindas

Unknown“I found a way into the house,” I said to Stephanie who was out walking her stuffed womb the next afternoon. Her pace was that of a turtle and she looked ready to pop.

“Serious?”

Claudia, sans Tom, walked up and joined us. “The monster house? How?”

“Get this—I just applied for a job,” I whispered, even though no one could have heard us unless Buddy was bugging the street in addition to setting up cameras and telescopes. “They say they’re doing marketing and I’m a writer. I should be able to write marketing copy…I think.”

“Didn’t they recognize you?” Claudia asked.

“That’s what’s insane. It didn’t seem to worry them because I said I knew all about the business and didn’t mind the cars.”

“So make us the complaining whiners?” said Stephanie.

“What’s the greater good here?” I said. “One of us needs to get inside and get evidence. You heard what the City said. Stuff online that can’t be verified some other way are considered useless for proving anything.”

“You went over there?” Claudia was incredulous.

“I just thought the neighborly thing to do would be to simply ask them, neighbor to neighbor, to leave, or at least to have the employees park down the street. Though if the city officials already came out to the house and business is still being conducted, they obviously don’t care what we think.”

“They won’t hire you,” said Claudia. “That’s not going to happen.”

I shrugged. “You might be right but now I have a text relationship going on with Jack—he’s the owner or manager or somebody. He’s the guy who opened the door when I went over there. I can ask him things…”

Claudia wasn’t buyin’ it.

“Meanwhile,” chirped Stephanie with a twinkle above her belly. “Troy discovered that the owners are three brothers and get this—they live in Kansas.”

“So that’s what the realtor meant when he told me the house had been sold to some brothers,” I said. “The brothers, however, had never moved in!”

“Scandalous,” said Claudia.

“Not really scandalous,” smiled Stephanie. “But now Troy’s digging into who those brothers are and what other kinds of businesses they might be into.”

“Can Tom and I help with that? I want to nail these suckers SO bad,” said Claudia. The attitude was way out of proportion with her diminutive put-together appearance.

“The more the merrier, right Steph?” I said.

“Sure. Troy is my very own Kalinda and I’m happy to share. He’s really good at finding stuff out; he just can’t tell me when this baby is going to appear. But all this has been a great distraction while we wait for him or her to show up.”

“We’re all kind of like Kalinda,” I said. “Though without her wardrobe and somebody writing our script. She knows what’s going to happen so we actually have to work harder.”

“Where’s Buddy?” asked Claudia. “You’d think he’d want to know all this.”

We all glanced over to Buddy’s house where I thought I could see the lens of his telescope through the drapes.

I sighed. “He has his methods and we have ours.”

# 13 – Red Rhino

rhino_eraser“I haven’t been able to find out what FFF stands for but I think I’ve discovered more evidence of a business linked to the monstrosity,” I told Buddy a few days later.

Buddy had just accosted one of the employees (or video gamers if you believed the folks at Building and Safety), telling the black-clad, messenger bag carrying guy to park somewhere else. The guy cowered, got in his black Honda and drove further down the street. We could see him making his way back up the block but he’d crossed the street to avoid further confrontation with Buddy and his big stick. Who wouldn’t?

“What did you find?” he asked.

“There’s an ad on Craig’s List looking for developers.”

“Developers of what? Hopefully not housing, ‘cuz look at that thing. If they want clients to think they have good taste, they shouldn’t be operating out of that.”

“Software developers,” I said. “And there was another ad for copywriters.”

“So do they build websites? That would fit,” Buddy said. “I don’t really care. I just want them gone.”

“They could be building websites but I just took it to mean they’re doing something online. Maybe coming up with a new way to spam us. Or maybe all the employees are hackers, stealing our credit card information. The parent company is called Red Rhino and they’re based in Colorado.”

Buddy snarled. “If they’re responsible for killing rhinos, they not only need to be shut down, they need to be shot.”

“If they’re selling rhino horn to rich, misinformed assholes who  think it’s going to turn them into great lovers, we’ll take ’em all down. But I bet they’re just trying to capitalize on the strength of the animal by creating an Internet brand name.”

Buddy growled.

“Anyway, if it’s an Internet company, that would explain why it’s so difficult to prove what’s going on in there. It also explains why the employees are carrying messenger bags; they all have laptops.”

“Can you print out what you found?” Buddy asked. “You know, something that lists the address with the name Red Rhino?”

“Already did that but is it enough evidence to shut them down? We’ve already learned not to expect logic and reason from the boys at Building & Safety. Just when we think they can’t get any stupider, they do.”

Buddy sighed.

I smiled back at him. “But if they don’t shut them down this time, I’m going to start blogging about the whole thing. Maybe we can embarrass our elected and appointed officials into doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Another car pulled up, right in front of us and a 25 year-old young woman got out, messenger bag in tow.

“Park down the street,” said Buddy. “Your boss should have told you not to park in front of my house.”

The girl looked frightened, got back in her new red Juke and drove off.

“You’re very effective, Buddy. Maybe you should just scare them all into never coming back.”

A small smile formed on his lips. “Don’t think I haven’t thought of it.”

 

Social Medea. Kill the Time Suck.

 imagesSPOILER ALERT: Depressing but curiously uplifting reality check.

You’ve written your book­—yippee, you! Congratulations, Mazel Tov. Now the tough part: you have to sell it. In 2014, even if you have a publisher, it falls to YOU to sell your book. To that end, you’re rackin’ up Facebook likes and you have your blog; you’re a posting presence on Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Goodreads and Instagram and getting followers on Twitter that you’re not even paying for (go you!) You’re guest blogging and cross-linking and the reviews coming in for your book (even from people you don’t know!) are stellar. You write sequels and prequels and go to writers’ conferences and attend classes about writing. You may even teach writing because—presuming you’ve done all the above—you know more than most. In short, you’re doing everything the social media experts have told you to do to get your book noticed and yet sales are still as though you’re selling sand in the Sahara, which is not far off considering 900 books get published in the U.S. every single day.

“But my book is good, people should notice me!” you say, meanwhile thinking, how can it be that E.L. James sells Fifty Shades of Gray (which the majority of reviewers called dreck) to Hollywood for $12 million when you can’t sell enough books to feed your goldfish? “It’s not fair,” you whine. “I’ve been doing this for so long—certainly longer than E.L. James! Somebody notice me, please, oh please!” Yeah well, get in line.

A psychotherapist I am not and in my pretty crappy acting career, I’ve never played one on T.V., but I can say with some authority (and more than a dash of common sense) that accepting certain realities in life will stand one in better stead than believing in snake oil and the folks that sell it. In the independent author world, snake oil is buying likes and followers on social media and believing that’s going to convert to sales. Sure, it might look impressive to have 10,000 followers, but when over half of them are posting in languages you and your prospective readers can’t read, they don’t count. They’re shills. In my case I have over 3000 Twitter followers but I bet only 100 of them have bought one of my books. Probably less.

Of course you have to do something to get noticed, and thereby sell books. But if everyone’s doing the same thing, hanging out on social media at what Mary Walters calls the equivalent of an online water cooler, then it’s going to be hard to stand out, right? Ever watch a Twitter stream go by? Who has time? Certainly not other writers; they’re either writing or sending out their own tweets that no one is reading. With all seriousness, there are very few writers on social media scouring other writers’ posts to find authors they don’t know about so they can buy their books. Like the majority of the reading public, swamped with too many choices, they’re looking to trusted sources to help narrow them down and those trusted sources are still in the pocket of the few major publishers who put out books written by the chosen ones—star writers like Franzen and Grisham and celebrities with ghost-written memoirs. Okay sure, a few new writers squeak into the big 6 every so often to give the rest of us hope, but chances are they knew somebody. What’s that old trope about success: 10% inspiration, 10% perspiration and 80% luck? Put that against the backdrop of declining book sales and what we’re looking at, people, is a rather bleak landscape for the rest of us. A tree may grow in Brooklyn but not without a lot of help.

“All right,” you say. “Enough cynicism and negativity.” You read blogs to be uplifted. “Can’t you give us some positive, concrete and constructive advice?” Well here it is… Get Over Yourself. Stop whining and kick on, as my old riding instructor used to say. Just get on with it. If you are writing books, you are very lucky. You could be destroying your kidneys as a long distance trucker. You might be working at a slaughterhouse or as an Andy Gump servicer.  Don’t misunderstand: we need these people. They are doing things that society needs. But us? We are writing books. What a luxury. How lucky we are! You can complain about lack of book sales; it may even be healthy to vent but be real—these are rich people problems.

You have to ask yourself why you write. Is it because you want to be famous and make a lot of money? Because—and it’s the same with acting—these are not, nor have they ever been, good reasons to write books, Doh! Accepting reality with respect to writing is figuring out why you write. If you have something to say, you love to write and feel great having written, then you’re following your calling and should keep doing it for no other end than these. If you enjoy social media, and think it’s helping, I’m not saying don’t do it, only that I wouldn’t believe what the snake oil folks are pitching: that being big on social media will get you book sales. There’s no syllogism there.

Getting book sales is not a science. It’s an art form and one that’s rarely displayed using social media where most of what gets posted is noise. We all know that in order to sell, wherever it is you’re selling, one needs to get attention. But how? Securing a photo of Oprah carrying your book on her vacation would jump start sales in the same way Michelle Obama has launched the career of many a young fashion designer by wearing their creations. Having that photo would work in a magazine, on TV and possibly on Twitter too if you could get it retweeted (good luck getting those fake Twitter followers to retweet you). But how do you get Oprah (or Matt Damon or Sophia Vergara) to carry your book? Well, you could stalk them (not recommended) or you could Photoshop a picture of them holding your book (also not recommended). Sigh of frustration. So what do you do to get attention?

There’s no magic path to success and if there were, it would soon no longer be magic as everyone would be doing it. While it’s true we’re all supposed to be hawking our books to get noticed, I submit that most writers don’t like selling; we particularly don’t like selling ourselves. Interestingly—or stupidly—I have chosen four different career paths: playwright, mediator, actor and novelist and each of these requires other people to “like” me in order for me to find success. And for each of these endeavors I have discovered a few truths about making a sale or getting a job, which usually work when I have the energy to follow my own advice. Nothing revolutionary; just a couple of things to keep in mind when you’re feeling frustrated at having to sell a book when what you want to be doing is writing your next one:

1)    Meeting people face to face is still the best way to build fans—particularly when no one knows that you or your book exists. Though writers are generally content keeping their own company, it’s good to get out in the world. Consider it “research” if you need a better reason than selling yourself. You can try giving your books to people who seem interested and ask if they’ll write a review. Volunteer to speak to groups that might find commonality with the characters in your stories.

2)    Be in the social media agora because these days not being there looks weird but don’t have unreasonable expectations about the benefits. Post on a regular basis, even if it’s only once a month, just to keep up the presence. Alternate between the “Hey you, buy my book” type of post and a more nuanced post about the world of your characters. If you can learn Hoot Suite or some other scheduled release software, you can set up a a lot of tweets ahead of time, so you don’t have to think about it. Use social media but don’t expect much because it is what everyone else is doing. If you don’t do something differently, you’ll just be part of the noise.

The main advice I have is to keep writing because the thing is selling books and writing books are different art forms and you can’t be angry with yourself if you’re good at one and not the other. We all need to be realistic about the chances of our books being discovered; especially if we’re not willing to do what it takes—coming up with something new—in order to be noticed. If you write because you love it and couldn’t care less if anyone bought your book, you’re probably the type to find solace in the stories of Vincent Van Gogh and countless other artists who found no purchase during their lifetimes. On the other hand, if selling means a lot to you, then you gotta get out there and meet people, pitch and talk and smile and hope that eventually you’ll get lucky. Do you know the Daft Punk lyric, “I’m up all night to get lucky?” Even those hot sexy guys at the top of the pop charts know if you’re not out there playing the game, no one knows you’re there. In large part, we make our own luck.

 

Ann Royal Nicholas is the author of The Muffia series of books, Homegrown: The Terror Within (under the name Cialan Haasnic) and Wine for Dummies (Royal Mack). www.annroyalnicholas.com

THE MUFFIA’s “Hot & Bothered” $250 Gift Certificate Giveaway

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Enter the “Hot & Bothered” Contest

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$250 gift certificate! 
RULES: In order to be entered, you must purchase at least one copy of THE MUFFIA during the contest period (FEB.1-28, 2014). Submitting the form below along with your proof of purchase invoice number will secure your entry. One entry (with unique invoice number) permitted with each MUFFIA purchase. All purchases count, whether you bought THE MUFFIA at Amazon, B&N, iTunes or Powell’s.
Winner will receive a $250 Gift Certificate to his/her choice for one of the following: Crate & Barrel, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Ann Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Apple Store, Best Buy, Bev Mo or Sports Authority. Winner’s name will be announced unless he or she wishes to remain anonymous. No information supplied by entrants will be shared. Invoice number for purchase verification purposes only.

 

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Build a Better Book Club: Suggestions From The Muffia

Forget what you may have heard about The Muffia—banish the thoughts of lesbian pornographers and the militant English mums who expose bad mothering. The Muffia is, in fact, my Los Angeles based, all women’s book club. That’s right; we read books—not even particularly sexy books. Our Muffia came into existence in 2001, years before either of the other claimants despite the fact that The Muffia has just been released. Oh my, that sounds provocative doesn’t it? What I meant was that my novel, The Muffia, which is based on the Muffia book club, was released; not the Muff members themselves. We find release quite regularly, thank you.

It was after the twin towers fell. A group of us—friends for the most part—found ourselves talking about how life was suddenly more precious, our hold on it more tenuous. Tragedy has a way of bringing people closer so we weren’t unique in this. All of us, it seemed, sought greater connection. So we decided to start a book club. It was a way for us to come together and share our lives over a book we’d read, or, I should saywere supposed to have read. Somewhere along the way we started calling ourselves The Muffia.

There are 10 of us Muffs (in the book there are 7, which is hard enough to keep track of). And when we get together, we share so much more than books: Marriage, divorce, relationship drama; bar mitzvahs, births, deaths… menopause. When we meet, we always share a good meal and wine—often copious amounts of wine, which probably explains how we thought it was a good idea to call ourselves The Muffia.

The Muffia book club works and because I’m so grateful to be part of it, I will endeavor to provide some tips for making your existing book club more successful; or, if you’re thinking about starting a club, a few ideas you might want to consider before you do.

1)    “Who” is your book club?                                                                                                    

What brings you or holds you together? The key is finding what it is you share. Are you alumnae from college? Residents of a cul de sac? Certainly you share the love of reading but there has to be more to fall back on when the book conversation dies, which it will. The Muffs talk about everything, often very personal things. On those rare occasions when we’ve felt a book was not worth belaboring, we have been known to spend evenings talking about our kids or parents; or a Muff’s recent sexy escapade. This gets down to choosing the members of your book club. For me, this is the single biggest reason for The Muffia’s success: We like and respect each other. Though we’re certainly different and disagree about the books a lot, no Muff gets bent outa shape when another Muff tells her she’s full o’ fluff (expletive replaced). So build your book club to last.

2)    Anticipate and head off conflict.

Even when you share an identity or focus with others in your club, if a certain member is disrespectful of others’ opinions or book choices then feelings get hurt. The Muffs have simply decided that a big reason we’re in a book club is to be introduced to books and opinions we might not have thought of ourselves. Therefore we are not to complain when a Muff picks a book that sounds unappealing. We have a South African Muff and without her, I never would have read Please Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Yes, it’s an odd title but we all loved it. Sure, Muffs have picked a few duds as well but even then, we still get something out of them.

If you do have a “problem” member, one way to handle him or her is to hire a sort-of “moderator” who conducts the club like a class. Two of my friends are in this type of club and wouldn’t have it any other way. The leader ensures that those who are less forceful get a chance to speak and also acts as a buffer. Leaders often help choose a book and provide critique from outside sources. This wouldn’t work for The Muffia because the Muffs are all terribly opinionated and don’t really care about outside sources.

3)    Share the duties.

A Muff doesn’t have duties other than her annual turn at hostess, which is hardly a chore. To be a hostess in The Muffia means you get to choose the book, organize the food and have book club come to your house. Good food and drink are great for putting people at ease and for getting the conversation going. The Muffia is no different. And we all make an effort to have delicious dishes and yummy desserts whenever we meet. There is the duty of scheduling, but the way we handle it is to know from the get-go that there will be multiple group emails with everyone weighing in. We thought about using an online scheduler but nixed the idea as too impersonal. Ultimately, we like the silly emails.

In a book club where there’s a leader, there are likely responsibilities such as dues collection or ordering food and these should probably be rotated so no one feels put upon. Again, it gets back to choosing your group wisely, genuinely liking the people in your book club and having some flexibility because being in a book club is supposed to be fun. (See #1 above)

4)    Limit the guests.                                                                                                               

When new people enter any established group it by necessity changes. The Muffia is made up entirely of women and we do not permit men. That said, we did have a male author once.  We read J.R Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar, because one of the Muffs knew him. It was a fun night despite the fact we had to curtail our ordinarily randy conversation (He probably would have been fascinated). Occasionally we have a female guest but ONLY if every Muff says yes and ONLY if she has read the book!

5)    Watch out for “Big” books.

It’s probably smart not to choose books that are too long. Then again, some hefty volumes read fast and some short ones read slowly.  A few Muffs are big readers and have chosen weighty tomes with no harmful effects. And guess what? It’s not the end of the world if people don’t finish a book. There’s no guarantee people will finish the book when it’s only 250 pages! There’s still a lot to talk about. That said, if a Muff shows up without having read the whole book, she has to expect spoilers—that’s her penance for not finishing. The thing is, she knows this going in and is sensible enough not to get annoyed.

Being part of a book club is not to be missed and the best book clubs are populated by people who bring out the best in you—like The Muffia does for me. Nurture those relationships, the stories you read and the stories you’re a part of. You’ll reap the rewards.

Do you belong to a book club? How do you make yours work? What was your book club’s favorite read?

Ann Royal Nicholas is a writer, actor and director whose career spans 30 years and is comprised of work for stage, film, television and individual consumption. She has contributed columns forVine Times and Touring & Tasting, as well as articles for Los Angeles Times and The Chronicle of the Horse. Her novel, Homegrown: The Terror Within (written under the pseudonym, Cialan Haasnic), is joined on shelves by The Muffia, the first of a “chick lit” series published by Water Street Press. Originally from the East Coast, Ann currently lives in Los Angeles with her son.

This piece first appeared as a guest post on the Shelf Pleasure blog. Shelf Pleasure: a destination spot for women who love reading (www.shelfpleasure.com)

The Muffia

The Muffia is available everywhere. 10% of all profits from book sales will be given to girls and women’s causes in the U.S. “Buy ‘The Muffia,’ help women.” If you know of any worthy groups, let us know who they are.

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What Moved Her — Three Minute Fiction

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Because, “Base jumping has a death rate of one per every 2000; a venomous snake—Black Mamba, for example—one in 2 million bites; and each of us has a one in 3 million chance of being crushed by a piece of falling space debris while doing absolutely nothing.”
Or so said Claire’s counselor one Thursday afternoon, during her weekly online Agoraphobe Support group meeting, while leading a discussion of risk-averseness, which also included references to Bernie Madoff and unpasteurized dairy products. As Claire assessed events she deemed unrelated to her reality, open beside her was the referenced text: “Fears: Real and Imagined,” a book she approached with trepidation due to its confusing subtitle.”
As she was considering the imminence of death and the many forms in which it might come to her, a splash, followed by gasps entered Claire’s subconscious. It was the part of her that was least afraid according to Sigmund F. Johnson, the author of the aforementioned book of Fears, even though Claire sensed her subconscious was as frightened as the rest of her, probably more so for all the terrifying synaptical activity which never surfaced to her full awareness, but which she nevertheless knew was happening every time her chest ached.
The splashes had to be those of Dierdra, a self-described shut-in of vertical, rather than horizontal dimension, who brought her iPad into the bathroom—camera function disabled, thankfully—and took baths while in session, her fears, she claimed, reduced by the proximity of warm water.
Then, from somewhere through the closed window—nowhere near her aging laptop, which surely must be killing her with radioactive isotopes—came more splashes and a cry that sounded like, “Help.” Well, of course we all need help, Claire thought, for she was not one to muse. But then it sounded again and up from the fascia and nerves and sacs and spaces inside her, came a reaction even she could not have expected: What is the death rate for saving a life? Shocking to her, yes, that she was even contemplating a move so bold her group leader might try to stop her had her computer not needed a restart. But how to talk herself out of it—this idea; the Book of Fears had no answer and yet her heart was still, not clutching at the rest of her, nor demanding that she remain inside looking out.
Then, with the certainty of those who know death is coming—possibly from salmonella, possibly from something bigger than us all—Claire’s was a conviction she hadn’t felt since before she’d closed her door all those years ago when love went bad and bad got worse. Now, there was no reason to stay when the rewards of going were so great, so immediate.
It was the kid. He’d frightened her once, maybe more. His wildness, so disturbing as she watched him circle the pool on his scooter—terrifying object—yet now the vortex had pulled him in, alone and in need; his caregiver—what a silly term, like unreasonable fears—nowhere in sight. Her fear of watching his death was greater than her own to prevent it and with that, she not only closed the book, but tossed it aside, flung open the door and went through it.

Muff penetrates another Book Club and gets “Sex in a Pan”

Book clubs can be cliquey. I know, I’m in one—even though I wouldn’t call “The Muffia” an uber cliquey group by a long stretch. Still, anything with the word “club” in it suggests the reason it’s a club (and not a class or block association) is there’s some exclusivity. In other words, not just anyone can join. So last week as I was heading to a book club gathering in a pocket of LA a few over from mine, I had some trepidation. There was only one woman in the club whom I knew and, that said, I didn’t know her all that well. However, I’d always found her to be a lovely woman—kind and generous and not the type of person to point me into an ambush. Karen is a mom and yoga teacher with a great sense of humor—Muff material for sure. So I hoped her club would be as welcoming as she was. This was to be my first appearance at a book club for my new, eponymously named book, The Muffia, about my own book club, whose members get themselves into more than a few compromising positions so I was extremely curious about how a different, non-Muff club, would relate to the story.

Shortly after arriving, a glass of wine thrust into my hand and already feeling comfortable with this group of attractive, well-dressed women, I decided to address the circling elephant and announced that I wanted total honesty about how the members felt about The Muffia. The real life Muffs disagree on books quite regularly. In fact, there’s never a meeting where one of us doesn’t like something about our latest read. So that’s what I expected from Karen’s club. Actually I can’t really call it Karen’s club because the members defer to a smoldering dark redhead named Dana (who reminded me of Blaze Star) as the “Boss.” Why she was the boss was unclear but I didn’t ask; internal book club machinations being beyond my purview. The point is, I expected a few of the women to have some “constructive criticism” and I wanted them to speak freely—just as they would if I hadn’t been there. This seemed to put them at ease and set off an immediate rant about a prior book club selection, Patty Smith’s Just Friends, which as it happens the Muffs read too. But whereas we (in general) loved it, Karen/Dana’s club pretty much reviled it except for Karen who had selected it and who had constructed a small shrine for Patty in her living room. The fact that Karen had picked the hated Just Friends as well as The Muffia suffused me with dread. Was Karen the book club member who chose the books nobody liked?

I smiled, come what may, reasoning that as an author—hell, as a person—I will never please everybody, so I shouldn’t bother trying. But knowing that The Muffia is a planned series of books, and that I’ve only completed Book I, I was in the singular position of having this (and other book clubs I speak to) help me as I write books II-VII. There’s a saying I generally detest, “It’s All Good,” but in this situation, it was true. Anything they told me would be grist for the mill of my mind. Not only did I want to know what they really thought, I also wanted to mine them for material.

This group didn’t disappoint on any level. As Karen served a delicious meal, the group told me they wanted more of Vicki, less of Lila with Madeline’s vibrator and details about Nate’s affair. Most enjoyed the read and found more similarities with their counterparts in the book, than differences. Somewhere between dinner and Karen’s decadent dessert dubbed “Sex in a Pan” (destined to be a Muff favorite), we left The Muffia behind and segued into the stories women who are comfortable with each other share. There was a member’s recent trip to Hawaii and an incident in which she was encouraged to behave like a big cat, brought on by her husband’s positive response to one little blue pill. All appeared shocked that one hit of Viagra was $50 but it seemed too many of them knew where to get it at a discount not to have had personal experience. I’ll stop there to spare the group any possible repercussions but suffice it to say, these ladies talk about all the stuff the Muffs talk about and they made me feel included and comfortable. The evening was over way too quickly—each of the women needing to get home to take care of children, husbands, pets and hearths. Each of the women had come, given, and received the jolt of energy, support, and encouragement that we get from each other and, just as in The Muffia, whatever book they read is beside the point. We come together to share life.  Affirmed. Thank you, Karen, and thank you to her club, for having me.

Karen has graciously provided the recipe for “Sex in a Pan” and I print it here.

Sex in a Pan

Combine: 1 cup flour, ½ cup chopped pecans, 1 stick softened butter.

Pack this into a 9 x 13 inch pan and bake 15-25 minutes at 350 degrees until light brown. Cool. Then:

Combine: 8 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 cup Cool Whip and spread onto the cooled crust. Then:

Combine: 2 boxes of instant chocolate pudding* with 3 cups of milk. Beat for 2 minutes and spread on top of the cream cheese mixture, then spread 1 cup Cool Whip on top and if desired, decorate the top. (Karen said she ran out of time but she was going to put a big pink M on it.)

* If desired, you can use butterscotch or lemon or some other concoction of your choice in place of the chocolate pudding

 

"Naked" Sex in a Pan
“Naked” Sex in a Pan