Sharon Fiffer's Blog
July 18, 2014
What are you doing the weekend of October 24-26? Raking leaves? Picking out a pumpkin? Sewing sequins on your Halloween costume?
Jane Wheel and I have a better idea for you.
Solve a mystery instead!
I’ve discovered an unsolved crime at the Heartland Spa in Gilman, IL and on Friday, October 24, I’ll be re-opening the case. With the help of the weekend guests on this special theme weekend, perhaps we can finally close the book on this one.
Upon check in, guests will receive a case file. Clues will be planted throughout the spa—poolside, throughout the salon and massage rooms and in the weekend classes. The more you take advantage of what the Heartland has to offer, the better your chances of solving the mystery. Even your afternoon snack might hold the key. Special prizes to the detectives or teams of detectives who can piece together the puzzle by weekend’s end.
In addition to presenting a new original mystery to solve, I’ll be giving a talk called CHOOSE YOUR POISON on the many types of mysteries titles available to readers including a booklist to introduce you to noir, police procedural, and the traditional/cozy mystery.
We’ll even have a classic mystery movie to watch and discuss—to entertain, enlighten and sharpen your mystery-solving skills.
Visit www.heartlandspa.com for more information about the Heartland to make your plans. Get some friends together and form a crime-solving team. This will be a fun, health-filled, delicious, nutritious—and not too malicious weekend! It’s true that the Heartland is not an inexpensive place to visit. But the all-inclusive weekend emphasizing stress reduction, a healthful lifestyle and pampering is a bargain when you price out all the good it does for you mentally and physically. It really is a peaceful and healing place–so it will be a lot of fun to introduce a little mysterious intrigue to accompany your massage! Hope you can join us!
June 24, 2014
Someone close to me suffered a loss. A real one. It’s something that, without question, will impact her life forever.
What do we do when that happens to people we love?
We offer our company, maybe some food, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, an open heart.
We also share their rage and sense of injustice. Life didn’t keep its promise! We, too, raise our fists and shout and cry. We also offer platitudes, easy phrases that someone might have once offered us. It’s not a door closing, it’s another one opening too fast. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. You will be stronger for the experience.
Well, platitudes usually become platitudes because they’re true—nothing gets repeated until it’s a cliché if there isn’t some truth in it—but those phrases are as hard to hear as they are sometimes difficult to say. It is our nature to want to talk, to soothe, to be compassionate, but sometimes the words just make everything sound worse.
Now I’m going to say something that you might think is silly, but I swear I’m not trying to be flip. I am so far from being flippant right now. What do I really want to offer my friend?
I want her to take up a hobby. Maybe start collecting something. Anything. Plastic gumball charms, quilts, teapots, keys, postcards—doesn’t matter. I think having something, some thing, to seek, to find, to hold in her hand, will give her just enough direction away from her sadness to allow her to forge a new path. Yes, I’m lapsing into those clichés. But I believe in stuff. I believe in collecting and touching and sorting. I believe in arranging things on a shelf, hanging things on a wall. I am a magpie who wants to pick up shiny bits and weave them into my nest so I can see the beauty even if I’m alone in spotting it. And frankly, I think magpies are happier for their collecting. A world of magpies is messier, busier, fuller, and yes, shinier. More beautiful.
Every time I read another article on cleaning our houses, de-cluttering, reorganizing, I want to scream and warn people against the conspiracy. Are people really happier without their matchbook collections and jars of pens and pencils? Is the cigar box filled with old postcards covered in spidery handwriting really slowing us down? Does a sleek clean countertop signal organization? Or emptiness? What are we humans if not collectors of experiences and the detritus that comes with them. Should we really fear that if we keep our mother’s teacups and our children’s artwork it is a step on the road to hoarderdom?
So in addition to railing against the fates, I want to take my loved one to a flea market. I want to make her look at funny old things, to embrace memories and laugh at silly and absurd objects. Look–someone collected those shells and made them into a funny monkey playing the guitar. That’s what a human being did! People can leave us and die and do bad things but they can also be silly and ridiculous and passionate about the smallest joys.
I also believe in making things. Art, soup, bread, a sweater, a collage. I believe in busy hands and a lively sense of wanting, seeking, finding, crafting, repurposing. So after I take my friend to the flea market, if she’ll let me, I’ll teach her to knit–to follow a pattern that keeps a promise.
But first, we’ll go out and look at some stuff.
June 13, 2014
I promise I’m writing–albeit slowly–but more importantly, I’m researching. And you know what summer research means–garage sales, flea markets and rummage sales. However, in LUCKY STUFF, Jane Wheel was left without her beloved stuff, remember? So, in order to help with the “blank slate” mindset of Jane, I am culling the collections around here big time! And how does a born acquirer cull? Here’s the rough draft of the ad that tells you:
Mark your calendar!
Friday, June 27 and Saturday June 28, 9-3
It’s time for collector/writer/picker/scavenger/junker to hold giant annual sale. And this year, Jane Wheel is joined by three others who have as much cool stuff as I do! Vintage, antique and contemporary stuff along with all the usual suspects. Also getting rid of some family pieces, furniture ( a Henredon folio 500 club-type chair –look it up—I’m selling cheap!) and stuff from storage. Items will include great jewelry; furniture; tons of buttons—some really good ones; sewing collectibles; red bakelite handled flatware; mid-century modern stuff like Hellerware dishes and tile-top coffee table made in Denmark; art and art supplies; books—childrens and adults–vintage and contemporary titles; dishes; kitchenalia; linens; some good clothes and shoes; vintage magazines; ephemera; and all the usual suspects. Sorry, no baby clothes. Things will be priced to move.
There will be, however, a treasures area. Gems include Jan/68 Look Mag with Avedon Beatles cover, signed Higgins glass bowl, bakelite jewelry, as well as other vintage collectibles. Good stuff priced fairly—higher than normal garage sale prices, but low enough for online resellers and dealers to make a profit! Everybody wins!
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And my friends have great stuff, too!
So, if you’re in the Chicago area, hope you’ll stop by. All the specifics of address and reminders of date and time will be on the Jane Wheel facebook page (which if you haven’t liked by now, please–like immediately–so you don’t miss anything. I’ll also post photos of the prep over the next few weeks. And if you’re too far away to attend, send word (and photos!) of what you’re buying or selling in your area!
May 20, 2014
As Jane Wheel’s main advisor, I thought it might be a great idea to try selling a few buttons on ebay. The pros of that are–fewer buttons stashed in my vintage card catalogue (and in every other nook and cranny in my office) and a few cents in my paypal account–going in rather than going out). The cons are many–I hate going to the post office, I have no idea how to make up my “lots”, I don’t want to become obsessed with checking my sales, and I can’t seem to get the hang of photographing items so they look as appealing as the ones I always want to bid on. And since I’m just dipping my toe into the ebay pool, I don’t want to spend days when I should be writing, photographing and re-photographing.
If you want to see the other badly photographed results, click on my seller name and you’ll see 4 other lots of badly photographed buttons. The buttons themselves are not bad buttons–I think they’re sweet–but I have more and better ones to post when I get the hang of this–and don’t feel as intimidated by doing the listings.
The pros of finally doing this? I realize I have thousands of buttons. The cons? I realize I have thousands of buttons.
April 2, 2014
So there’s this. April 25-27, I’ll be the guest speaker at The Heartland Spa in Gilman, Illinois. In addition to a presentation on Saturday evening, I’ll be conducting a mini-workshop aimed at novice writers as well as those more experienced. In fact, I’m hoping there will people who come who have never written, but just think they might have a story to tell. This will be the perfect environment to start the process–to think about your own story and how you might like to tell it. You might want to keep it as a private journal piece or share with friends or family–or maybe you want to write for the wider world. I’ll be available all weekend for individual consultations!
My workshop is included in your weekend at the Heartland. It’s not cheap to go to the Heartland–I know that–but it is one thing you can do for yourself that is so beneficial! I visited the Heartland in 1997 for the first time and it was my first spa experience–I’d never even had a massage before. I learned so much about taking care of myself–and it was so good for me, I’ve managed to visit at least once a year ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the guest speakers now for about twelve years and it is a total pleasure to watch people de-stress, unwind and be inspired.
If you can afford to treat yourself–please come. If not in April, then go when you can–it’s always worth it. And if you click on the link to the Heartland site and you’ll find some special offers–or just call the office and ask what special they have the weekend of April 25. The most economical way to visit is to go with a friend and share a room. Surely you deserve a getaway after this long winter!
Below is the description of my participation in the weekend. It will be lots of fun–but probably not better than the massage included in your weekend package!
What’s Your Story? A Writing/Reading Weekend for everyone!
Everyone has a story to tell. Whether or not you’re a beginner, an experienced writer or someone who only dreams of one day putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), this mini-workshop promises fun and insights for both writers and dreamers!
Interested guests will meet with Sharon on Friday night for a discussion and optional writing exercise based on a prompt. Bring a notebook–this will be fun! Saturday, Sharon will be available for individual consultations during the day. Guests may submit up to 15 manuscript pages for Sharon to review in advance. (either bring pages to Sharon on Friday evening or send via email as an attachment–.doc format only–to the Heartland and they will forward to Sharon)
On Saturday evening, Sharon will discuss Reading, Writing and Other Mysteries–Finding your way into a Story.
Sharon Fiffer is the author of eight Jane Wheel mystery novels published by St. Martin’s Minotaur, most recently, LUCKY STUFF. Sharon has also edited three collections of literary memoirs, HOME, FAMILY and BODY. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, The New York Times and several literary magazines. She has taught creative writing and American Literature at The University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University and is the co-founder of the Wesley Writers’ Workshop where she currently teaches several writing workshops.
March 10, 2014
For those of you who took the Jane Wheel quiz last week–and for those of you who are readers of the books, , I’m guessing you pretty much know the answer to which character you most resemble.
In Kankakee, on March 4, when I gave this quiz to over 100 women who are members of the Tuesday Book Review, the majority of the quiz takers ended up as Nellie. This made me think that perhaps Kankakee is so intertwined with Nellie’s personality that Kankakee is even more of a character than I thought it was.
Please let me know which character you are? I’ll post something on the Jane Wheel facebook page and you can answer in the comment section.
As promised, here’s your answer key:
If you answered mostly a, you are well-on your way to becoming an amateur sleuth—and you probably have a few collections displayed in your house! You’re Jane Wheel!
If you answered mostly b, you are the best friend and sidekick anyone could love! You also have excellent taste! You’re the fun-loving Tim Lowry!
If you answered mostly c, Namaste, my friend! You are the wise and modest Detective Oh.
If you answered mostly d, I think you know who you are. You don’t like pretension, you don’t suffer fools lightly, and you are more honest than most. Congratulations, Nellie!
March 6, 2014
Welcome to the quiz that will inform you which character from the Jane Wheel mysteries you most closely resemble! Just like the quizzes that tell you which city you should live in, which movie star you resemble and which Downton Abbey character you are, the Jane Wheel quiz promises you equally valuable information! Answer key will be posted next week. Oh–and if you have time to take this quiz, I hope you’ll also go to facebook, search for Jane Wheel and go to the Jane Wheel facebook page and click “like.” Any readings, signings, up-to-date information is posted there regularly. Thanks–hope you click soon!
WHICH JANE WHEEL CHARACTER ARE YOU?
1.At Blue’s Café (or Pink’s), you order:
a. Pie b. Salad c. Tea d. Black coffee
2. Your favorite decorating style is:
a. Arts and Crafts b. Mid-century Modern
c. Contemporary d. What the hell is a decorating style?
3. Your favorite reading is:
a. A P.D. James mystery b. Any celebrity bio
c. Modern poetry d. Kankakee Daily Journal—Obituaries
4. At a large rummage sale, you head first to:
a. Housewares/kitchen b. Furniture c. Books
d. Why would I touch something if I don’t know where it’s been?
5. Go-to accessory?
a.Frye boots b.Kalo silver cufflinks
c.vintage necktie d.hairnet
6. At Cobb Park, you are most likely to:
a.collect buckeyes b. re-imagine the landscaping
c. enjoy the view of the river
d. Offer unasked for advice to the tennis players
7. Where do you search if you’ve misplaced your car keys?
a. inside the vintage “flip-top” sugar bowl
b. on the Chase chrome butler’s tray
c. you never misplace your car keys
d. Why would I need car keys?
8.Your drink of choice at the E Z Way Inn:
a.Grey Goose b. Craft beer c. Saki
d. what the hell is Grey Goose, craft beer, and Socky?
9. At the Root Beer Stand, you order:
a. sauce bun
b. sauce bun to go (I don’t eat in my car)
c. sauce bun (can you make it vegetarian?)
d. sauce bun (extra napkins)
10. Which quote most closely resembles your philosophy?
a.“Three things cannot remain long hidden—the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Buddha
b. “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun” Buddha
c. “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it” Buddha
d. “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see” Me–who is Buddha?
Answer Key to come!
January 3, 2014
December 20, 2013
I wanted to title this post Merry Christmas, but I am a sporadic poster these days, so that would mean, if I don’t get anything up here again by the end of January, that title would tell you right away what a laggard I’ve been!
At least with the new year type headline, I figure I’m good until early spring–not that I intend to be a stranger here.
So here’s my end of the year wrap-up. I’ve finished a book. Not Jane Wheel. And until I know the book’s fate, I can’t say a word about it. My own superstitions. I’ve also begun work on an EZ Way Inn project that’s not exactly Jane Wheel–but readers will see the connections! And…I’m working on another novel that looks at the “picking” life from another angle altogether. My other creative pursuits? Well, there’s this.
I made, well…stacked this!
My projections for 2014? More of the same–writing, writing, writing and reading, reading, reading. Teaching three workshops a week continues to delight and inspire me–I learn something new every class. Our dog, Fergus, continues to amaze and amuse us. I can only hope that he is as pleased with us as we are with him.
My wishes for you, friends, readers, countrymen and women? To always have an anticipated book to read on your night stand, a pending garage sale to attend that promises “vintage and MORE” and a winter that lasts only as long as you can stand it and not a minute more.
Thanks for reading about Jane Wheel and friends. She’ll be back soon, I hope, but for now, she’s decorating the old button factory in Kankakee with a million twinkling lights and serving eggnog from a vintage Heisy punch bowl. Tim has hung swags of evergreen over all the doors and Nellie and Don will be co-hosting a Christmas Eve party for all of the EZ Way Inn customers who have nowhere else to be. Not a bad way to say goodby to 2013 and welcome the new year!
September 8, 2013
I don’t often post anything labeled “science” since I believe collecting, writing and remembering fall more into the arts than sciences. However, I engaged in an experiment this weekend that I’d like to share.
If you like Jane Wheel on facebook, you might know I attended three rummage sales this weekend and gathered some “stuff.” Since I like to think that I can cull my collections to make room for new old things, last night I scanned the kitchen for ways to control clutter. I spotted a cake pan I had purchased–mostly for its yellow color and also for the recipe for “flan” printed on the bottom. I hadn’t bothered to try the recipe–or use the pan. Should I get rid of it or keep? I was ready to put it into the subtraction bag when I decided that I ought to at least make the “flan” once. So, last night, while watching a little college football (Go Wildcats and Go Blue in honor of my Michigan family members), I whipped up this little “flan.”
Why the annoying “”"”? Because I always thought of flan as a delicious caramel custard and this recipe made what looked to be a cross between a lemon cake and shortbread. I covered it and decided to serve it tonight when we have dinner guests coming. Too bland looking alone, this afternoon I filled in the indentation on the top with lemon curd and raspberries and will serve whipped cream on the side.
Thus, whether the pan stays or goes will be up to the tasters of tonight’s dessert. Don’t you wish all decluttering could be solved scientifically…or deliciously?