Excerpts – Putzfraus and Bidets

I always dreamt of seeing Europe (the castles, the quaint villages, the timeless cities) so as soon as I was old enough I jumped at the chance to study foreign languages.
My first French teacher, Madame Burkholder, had us spend all our time memorizing dialogues in which we pretended to be young French students going to the library. It must have worked because after three years, the only phrases I remember to this day are Ou est la biblioteque? and Le matin papa apporter mon frère, ma soeur et moi au musee du Louvre
Two phrases I have never ever used in all my travels.  Who asks to go to the library in a country where they can barely speak let alone read the native language?
In high school I decided to branch out to German.
HerrAsmusMy teacher, Herr Asmus (that really was his name), looked just like Ichabod Crane.  His class was held in the same room used for Sex Education.  Thus my most enduring memory of Hairy Asmus was of him turning to a diagram on the wall beside him and snorting in disgust “How can I be expected to teach German with this  giant penis staring me in the face????”  We spent most of our time pretending to be tour guides.  The only phrase I remember from that class is:  Im Jahr 1950 König Ludwig der Zweite hatte diese berühmte Schloss geschlossen.
 Since no one in Germany ever asked me when King Louis the Second closed his famous castle,  I never had a chance to use that phrase either.  In fact the first person in Germany I  tried to communicate with was a cleaning lady.  That experience inspired the following scene from the Graduation Present.  Riley O’Tannen has just spent her first morning in the tiny town of Gunthersblum trying to communicate with her uncle’s cleaning lady (Putzfrau).  Around noon she receives a call from her uncle and takes off for Worms where he works hoping to have her first real german meal, but instead she is picked up at the train station by the intriguing young man she met the night before, Gil, and driven to the Officers’ Club for a burger.

From Chapter Two of the Graduation Present





“Your uncle’s only on his first martini,” Gil explained wryly. “So, he sent me to get you. He’s only got an hour for lunch which doesn’t leave a lot of time for …”

“Booze.” I muttered to which he laughed.

When I’m nervous or self-conscious I become a regular Chatty Cathy and so it was with poor Gil as we drove through the streets of Worms. First he had to hear all about the train station that was also the Post Office, the conductor who thought I’d changed identities between stations and kept demanding to see my passport, the Putzfrau and her cleaning fetishes and finally, regretfully, my confusion over the two toilets in Uncle Bob’s bathroom.


What do Americans use bidets for?  Soaking their tired footsies, of course.


“Well, that seals it,” he teased. “You are a country bumpkin! The second toilet is a bidet. It’s for washing up that part of your anatomy after you go.”



What’s the most useless phrase you ever learned in a language class?
Next time:  cooking lesson with Oncle Boob.  Eggs with Hats, the sure cure for any hangover.

Meet Jennifer Hotes: A Creepy Obsession Becomes a Novel

When I was in my early teens, boy, oh boy, did I love spooky graveyards! Mesmerized I’d read gravestone inscriptions and wonder about the dead.  Of course, I was not alone.  For her sixteenth birthday my step-daughter wanted nothing better than to take a gang of her fellow goths to a graveyard at midnight to hustle up some ghosts, vampires or zombies. Unfortunately all that happened was they got lots of bugs stuck in their spiky hairdos – ick!

Goth Sweet Sixteen  Party in the cemetery. Where else?

I gradually outgrew my fascination with the dead but a frightening childhood memory continues to haunt author and graveyard aficionado Jennifer Hotes to this day.  In her words, here’s what happened.
Jennifer Hotes, author, artist, mother and hospice volunteer

“It began with the best intentions, a single mother searching for a babysitter so she could attend night school, however it resulted in a lifelong obsession with cemeteries.

I was a petulant child, my older brother, Garth, was the good one. I had a wild imagination and frequently woke up from nightmares screaming loud enough to wake the entire household. No relative would share a bed with me when we came for a visit. They called me Rosemary’s baby. They joked about exorcisms.

No one wants to sleep with me except Satan.

“No one wants to sleep with me except Satan.”


But, Mom didn’t take this into account when she decided to beef up her teaching credentials. Desperate for someone to babysit Garth and me, she finally found someone, the daughter of a cemetery caretaker. After feeding us supper, she dropped us at a little house in the middle of a graveyard and into the care of a woman with a friendly face and dishwater-blonde hair. Clad in overalls, the woman urged us to trek outside and play. She assured us that she and her siblings grew up in this cemetery. Their favorite games had been hide-and-seek and tag.  We did the same thing in our apartment playground, right?

Go out in the graveyard to play, little girl…The ghosts won’t hurt you!

With a gentle nudge, she pushed us off the front porch onto the cemetery grounds. I remember how sinister the headstones looked in the dark, shaped like smoky ghosts anxious to play, anxious to scare the shit out of a couple of kids. Maybe we attempted to play, but the black space in my memory leads me to believe we probably crouched behind the house, shivered and piddled in our pants, as we counted down the minutes until she allowed us back inside the safe, cozy house. Once  inside, I remember falling asleep on the couch, eyes glued to the picture window hoping for the flash of my mother’s headlights. We were silent on the drive home.  What Mom mistook for natural end-of-day sleepiness, was actually the result of living in fear for hours. Terror wore us out.

th-1The effect of that cemetery never left me. It whispered to me in my nightmares, it colored my imagination in reds and grays. Like coming upon a grisly accident, I found I couldn’t look away from a cemetery, and, in fact, was drawn to them. Maybe it was a lame quest to conquer a phobia, but I became obsessed with finding cemeteries and walking through them. One night I had a nightmare which would eventually become my first novel, Four Rubbings. The dream flickered to life like a movie, four teens visit an old Seattle cemetery to create tombstone rubbings on Halloween night. They hope to make a connection with the people buried beneath the tombstones. They get more than they expect, when the four graves lead them to uncover mysteries, mysteries that need to be unraveled to bring peace to the dead. 


The author's trusty hound, Cooper.  He knows  where all the bones are buried.

The author’s trusty hound, Cooper. He knows where all the bones are buried.

I knew that the four graves my characters rubbed needed to be based in reality, so I researched, traveled and visited forty plus graveyards across the west coast. My daughters spent two summer vacations exploring cemeteries with me. Yes, there will be therapy bills, but in the meantime, they’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and serenity of these places. They’ve become curious about the people buried within the graves, and wondered about their stories, just like me. We found the graves that the teens rub in Four Rubbings, and so much more. Even now, as we travel, our journeys always lead us to new boneyards, new discoveries and fresh questions.

For us, Memorial Day is something we celebrate everyday, taking time to remember those that have come before us, lived, tried their best and passed away. They were important. And as long as we take the time to touch their tombstones and speak their names, they continue to live. And that is a good thing.”

Jana Cover

On sale on Amazon


Jenn’s Website: http://www.jenniferlhotes.com/
Twitter:  @fourrubbings



Cinderella plays Craps with M&Ms


Landing in Las Vegas – no sign of the living.

Apologies for neglecting my blogging duties but I just returned from a brief trip to Las Vegas where having regrets is the name of the game.  My personal favorite is that chicken sandwich I had in the hotel cafe the night before we left. By the time we got home (after a myriad of airport delays) my stomach felt like a balloon filled with nauseous gases about to explore.  As a result, I’ve just spent the last three days curled in a ball, never more than six feet from the bathroom.


The Rat Pack – outside of Frank Sinatra, who can name the other members?

Vegas is proof that the end of the world is upon us. You only need look at the roster of shows to support this thesis:  Michael Jackson at Mandalay Bay,  The Beatles’ Love at the Mirage  (Okay, half dead), the Jersey Boys at the Paris and the Rat Pack at the Rio.  All memories of days gone by.

DivasAnd then there’s Divas –  the Liza, Cher, Tina, Bette and Ann Margret transvestite review. Whenever I see ads for one of those reviews, I thank God I never became a celebrity.  I can’t imagine anything worse than being selected number one on the list of Celebrities Who’ve Aged the Worst or Plastic Surgery Gone Bad.

In Vegas people start drinking at – well, what am I saying – they never stop drinking. The four foot deep serpentine  pool

Gamblers exercising at a Vegas pool

Exercising at a Vegas pool.  Belly on up to the bar, folks, and take a chance.

at our hotel was filled all day with folks holding monster sized plastic cups filled with beer or margaritas.  Late afternoon they all trek back upstairs for a nap, only re-emerging after nine when the nightlife begins.

To see all those gorgeous show girls on the arms of half-dead beasts is a feminist’s vision of hell.  Coincidently, ambulances roll down the strip all night long, not quietly.  Sleep is impossible.

This show (a comedy) was set in the year I arrived in Nevada - the year all of the citizens got zapped by radioactivity and turned into Zombies.

According to this show (Zombie Burlesque), the year I arrived in Nevada all of the citizens were zapped by radioactivity and turned into zombies.

But how silly of me. Sleep?  In Vegas?  If you want sleep, stay home!

We stayed at the Tropicana which is one of the older hotels and sits across the street from the Disney-inspired Excalibur.

The "Castle" at night

The “Castle” at night

Thus we had a view of the pink and blue spires of the “castle.”

We’d flown down from the SF Bay Area to babysit our granddaughter, who will only dress in princess gowns and refuses to answer to any name other than “Cinderella,” while her mother was at a conference.  Of course, Cinderella was delighted that there was a castle right across the street and kept asking when we could go. So after meeting up with Princess M&M at the M&M Museum we took her over to the Castle.  Naively we were expecting at least one princess-themed display, game or event.  Just one!!   However all hopes were dashed when we were greeted at the door by a dominatrix and some of the boys from Thunder Down Under (male strippers from Australia).


The “princes” in the castle


All were bare-chested and dressed in skin tight leather pants.   “Where are the princes and princesses?”  I asked, “I mean this is a frigging castle, right?”


Cinderella with Princess M&M wondering why Prince Charming has no pants.



They looked at me as if I was speaking Martian.


The hopes of the young are soon dashed in Vegas.  But if you’re dead, it’s the place to be.




Excerpts – Lapin au Jus

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from the Graduation Present.  I’ve chosen these excerpts based on early reader feedback.  I hope you enjoy them!
The following scene takes place in a Parisian restaurant where the FrenchRestaurantmain character (Riley O’Tannen) is having dinner with her chaperone (the wealthy, mysterious  and very gay Lou Raferman) and Mrs. C. (an English acquaintance and founding member of the Deadly Dames Book Club)


“How do you say ‘you are such wonderful waiters’?” I asked Lou, interrupting their conversation. He arched his eyebrows.

“How many glasses of wine have you had, my dear?”

“Oh, I dunno. They just keep giving me more.”

“Well, perhaps you should pace yourself. The main course is next and it’s something you want to save your palate for. People make reservations months in advance just to taste Chef Michel’s lapin au jus!”

Lapin, I thought. What the heck was that? Before I had a lapinchance to ask, the main course arrived. The lump of browned meat on my plate slightly resembled a very plump chicken thigh. It was covered with sauce and dressed with grilled celery.

“Doesn’t ‘lapin’ mean ‘rabbit’?” I asked Lou.

“No, it means ‘Hare,’” he replied rather stiffly.

I poked the meat with my fork. It jiggled. Not only did they expect me to eat a bunny, but an underdone bunny. A bunny butchered by some horrible man in a dirty apron, then hung outside a shop to drip blood onto the sidewalk. Once it had bunnyhad soft fur and a funny little nose. Once it had hopped merrily through fields doing harm to no one. Then it was slaughtered.

“I can’t eat this,” I said to the waiter. “I’m too full. J’ai trop mange.” The waiter looked at me aghast.

“My dear, it’s the chef’s signature dish! You must eat it.” Lou commanded, “Mange, mange!”

“It’s a bunny, Mr. Raferman. A bunny!”

“It is a hare and you must eat it!”

I began to sob. “I can’t.” Tears ran down my face and onto the bunny. The waiter grabbed my plate.

chef louis“Végétarienne!” He sniffed. Lou’s mouth fell open. He glanced towards the kitchen as though at any moment the chef would emerge with a cleaver. Then he stood up, threw money on the table, and announced we were leaving.

Motto: If you insult the chef in Paris, run for your life.

Mid Air Freakout

As promised, part of the first chapter of the GRADUATION PRESENT

I was halfway to Germany on a wide-bodied plane when all the wires in my brain fizzled into mush. Below lay snow and ice infinitum. Ahead, the veil of darkness called night. Soon we would pass through it, a silver arrow rounding the curve of the earth, that is, if the plane didn’t crash in the frozen wasteland of northern Canada, as I suspected it would. Then we’d be lost forever, for it was too vast a white nothingness for any search and recovery team to ever find us. We’d have to eat each other to survive, like the Donner party. That is, if the plane landed intact, which it wouldn’t. It would tumble across the tundra, our bodies mangled in the wreckage. I imagined a hungry polar bear, wandering about and coming upon mounds of steaming, freshly roasted flesh, thanking God for sending down such succulent manna from heaven, if indeed, bears prayed.

I closed the shade and turned on the overhead light. I’d been staring at the vast whiteness for way too long and it had gotten to me in the worst way. The plane will not fall from the sky, I told myself. Bears will not eat your roasted liver. Uncle Bob will get the telegram. He will meet you at the airport. Focus on these happy thoughts: The storybook castles. The quaint medieval villages. The Alps! All those await you, Riley Anne O’Tannen! All those things and more.

The plane shook violently. The seat belt lights flashed. “Air turbulence,” the pilot announced in English, then German, then French. He’d been making that same claim for the last hour but I knew he was lying. We’d lost an engine, sucked in a goose, or ruptured a gas line. We were going down.

“Was ist los?” Frau Schwimmer demanded. All the other passengers were nesting comfortably in their seats, trying to catch a few hours of sleep before we landed on the other side of the world. But not her seatmate. Oh no. When not fretting over every minor vibration of the plane, I wrestled with the map on my lap as though my life depended on it.

“Nichts,” I claimed. Nothing is wrong. She unfortunately spoke no English and although I thought (after three whole years of high school German) I’d be able to communicate with her, our early conversations had been labored and futile. About the only thing I learned was that she was returning from a visit with her daughter in San Francisco.

She noted my crumpled map. “Wo gehen sie?”


“Gunthersblum?” She echoed. She was a little older than my mother but not as old as my grandmother, stout but not overweight. Her curly brown hair tightly framed a kindly face but her woolen suit was severe. “Ich weiss es nicht.”


“Nein.” She hadn’t heard of the town of Gunthersblum which was worrisome indeed as I had not been able to find it on my map. How could I relax if I didn’t know where I was going? However she was not a woman to allow panic on her watch. She patted my hand. “Not to have angst!” She ordered, rooting through a massive carpetbag purse for her map. “We will find.”

But we didn’t. We scoured every inch of her much more comprehensive map, top to bottom, bottom to top, the border towns, the mountain towns, the seaside towns—searching for Gunthersblum, Guntherstown, Gunthersville, Saint Gunthers, even Lake Gunthers—with no luck. Of course I was no help. Was it North or South? She asked but I had no idea. It was just a town in Germany I was being sent to for reasons alien to the Frau Schwimmers of the world. Women like her, with their ordered lives, could never in a million years understand my family.

If you want to read the rest, it’s on sale on Amazon.

Next – favorite sections from early readers…