Everything But Books
Fun and more fun, but none of it relating to books (because I have another page for that)

May 9, 2013

High heels, murder, and lockjaw — or why I now love flip-flops


In 1917, The Evening Independent published an article on high heels that began: “Style decrees that women wear high-heel foot wear, which buckles up the toes, producing painful corns; then many women cut at these pests, which is a most dangerous preceding, because one is simply inviting infection or an awful death from lockjaw.”

In 1935, a woman named Edith Maxwell murdered her father with the heel of her shoe. She had apparently taken to wearing high heels when she left her mountain home and set out for the big city. There she learned to rouge her cheeks and powder her nose and flirt with men and, yes, wear high heels. Folks said, if her daddy’s murder was any proof, the city had changed her for the worse.

Many, many years later, when I was eleven years old, my mother took me shopping for school shoes. She liked a sensible brown pair of Buster Browns, but I wanted the blue-strapped, wooden high-heeled Candies.

“No,” my mom said.
“Because you’re too young. You cannot wear those to school.”
“But they’re the most beautiful shoes ever.”

This went on for several minutes.

Finally I said, with great exasperation and resolution, “If I can’t have these, I don’t want any shoes at all.”

This was a tactic I often used, even though it never ever worked in my favor. For some reason I never remembered this.

All I had to do was think back to a summer three years earlier when we were traveling to the beach with my aunt and my cousins– Lisa, who is five years older, and Shannon, who is one year older. Then, I’d had my heart set on a Tiger Beat Magazine, the same one Lisa and Shannon were allowed to buy. But Mom thought I was too young, and suggested I get a Betty & Veronica comic instead.


Now I loved Betty & Veronica, but everyone knew this was no substitute for Tiger Beat. I told my mother that if I couldn’t have it, I didn’t want anything at all. “Fine,” she said, and I spent the rest of the car ride watching Lisa and Shannon read their magazines, Shannon making a grand show of it and taking extra care to gloat at me over the pages.

Standing in the shoe store, I repeated myself. “If I can’t have these, I don’t want any new shoes.”

“Fine,” my mother said, and we drove home empty-handed.

As we pulled into the driveway, I said to her, “When I get older, I am going to wear high heels every day of my life,” as if this, somehow, would make her sorry.

She said, “Go for it.” My mother rarely wore heels. At forty, she was pretty and luminous, and had long, slim legs like Audrey Hepburn. She could have worn all the heels in the world, but for some reason she didn’t. For me, it was a great, frustrating mystery.

Until now.

Oh, I eventually got the Candies– when I was twelve, I was allowed to wear them for dress-up at home. These were shoes so beautiful that my younger cousin Ashley made me promise to will them to her when I died.

She can have them. Because, while I still wear heels when I go out on the town (which is very rare these days, thanks to That Big Book Deadline), I am most comfortable in my pink and black flip-flops.

April 22, 2013

Where to shop for those who have everything


In my research for American Blonde, I’ve been learning all about 1940’s-era forensics and the Los Angeles County Coroner. (I highly recommend Thomas Noguchi’s books Coroner and Coroner at Large , by the way. Both riveting examinations of his work as the “Coroner to the Stars.”)

During that research, one of the most fascinating things I discovered is that the Los Angeles County Coroner has a gift shop. A gift shop! Not so surprisingly, it’s the only coroner’s office in the world to have one.

Skeletons in the Closet is located at 1104 N. Mission Road in Los Angeles, and is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. till 4:00 pm. They have everything from housewares to office supplies to clothing to complete crime scene kits and body bags. My favorites: the body bath towel (their top seller) and the body sticky notes.

For pictures and more details, here’s an article from California Through My Lens.

March 7, 2013

Sugar, sugar

Next to Betty Rubble, my favorite cartoon character has always been Veronica Lodge, that vampy brunette vixen who is always stealing Archie’s heart from another Betty, perky and pony-tailed girl-next-door Betty Cooper.

So imagine my elation when I lifted my head long enough from 1946 (where I’m buried in the next Velva Jean novel) to hear the news that M.A.C has just released an Archie’s Girls cosmetic line.

Short of an ABBA clothing line, this is the greatest retail experience I can imagine.

As Huff Post reports, “Betty’s collection offers lipsticks, lipglosses, eye shadow palettes, and blushes in light pinks, vibrant peaches and corals. They’re pastel shades that perfectly reflect Betty’s innocent, bubbly personality. On the flip side, you can expect bright and rich shades of violet, plum, red, and navy from Veronica’s colour palette, being the glamorous diva that she is.”

Because it’s a limited edition, I, for one, have already ordered my Ronnie Red lipstick and my Strawberry Malt lipglass.

What better way to celebrate my inner– and outer– Veronica?

And speaking of the Archies…

February 14, 2013

Love the one you’re with

This week, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, popular e-zine Be Inkandescent is featuring an article on collaborating couples– those who work side by side as they balance two powerful, time-consuming, stressful, successful careers. You can read the full article here, but I couldn’t resist sharing a portion of it.


By Hope Katz Gibbs

How do you manage business and love in the 24-hour/7 days-a-week race that is your life? Scroll down for an honest, thoughtful glimpse into the balancing act from 14 Power Couples who are at the top of their game.

Author Jennifer Niven
+ Internet security architect and photographer Louis Kapeleris
Los Angeles, California

What brought you together, and what keeps you together?
Beyond our wonderful first date, we discovered that we connected on a number of levels. We have similar values, we laugh at so many of the same things. We’re different (he’s more reserved, I’m more social), but we complement each other. We work hard, and we love to explore and travel and have adventures. We believe in living our lives “out there,” as one of my characters would say. We work well together, and this is an unexpected, unanticipated bonus. Even though we come from totally different perspectives—I’m right-brained, he’s left-brained—we’re each other’s best friends.

Does keeping your professional life separate keep your relationship rich and healthy? We work in different businesses; however, we also work for the same company—the Jennifer Niven publishing empire. Louis photographs my author events, as well as takes my author photos. He handles my website programming, design, and maintenance. We work on publicity ideas. We made the book trailer for my latest book. He also is one of my best creative sounding boards (my mother being the other one). I bounce ideas off him, then we brainstorm together.

What are the challenges of being two powerful people at the top of your professional game?
We work all the time, and both our careers come with a great deal of stress. Sometimes it’s hard to make the time just to relax, enjoy each other, see our friends, travel—or even get out of the house more than once a week. Communication is key. Even if you’re busy, busy, busy, you have to take time to show and tell the other person you love him (or her), and you have to take time to connect, even if it’s just for a few moments out of a crazy day.

February 11, 2013

Velva Jean Valentines

When I was growing up in Indiana, I used to love buying Valentine’s Cards at Hook’s Drugstore. My friends and I would walk up there (after a trip to the Dairy Queen) and browse through the packages: Super Friends, Barbie, Care Bears, Scooby-Doo. I deliberated over which one to choose with all the studious and exhaustive thought that I would give my first-day-of-school outfits and my choice of lunch box.

After all, the cards you picked said so much about you.

This year, as I’m working away madly on the next Velva Jean book, I looked up from the computer long enough to realize that it isn’t actually May of 1946, but is really February of 2013 and that Valentine’s Day is once again upon us.

Which made me start thinking about the type of card Velva Jean might send to her own Valentines.

Here are a few ideas (I might like the lipstick one best of all):

January 30, 2013

The Santiago Blues

I have been a huge fan of Jennifer Niven ever since Velva Jean Learns To Drive came out and I instantly fell in love with it. Being a musician, one of the reasons I love the Velva Jean series is because of the music. I have found Velva Jean very musically inspiring, and I now know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I am deeply honored and proud to share with you a new song, entitled “The Santiago Blues,” inspired by Becoming Clementine, and written by one of my very best friends Shelby Padgett.

This is the first official song Shelby has written and I am tremendously proud of her! It is a beautiful song that makes you want to cry, whether you have read Becoming Clementine or not. (but it you haven’t read it yet, you should really go do that right now, because it’s amazing.)

Here is Shelby’s wonderful song:

The Santiago Blues – Shelby Padgett


A Very Proud Friend, Musician and Kindred Spirit. <3


Briana Harley, currently a music composition major in Southern California, plans to pursue a career in anything and everything under the vast umbrella of music, which includes indie/folk singer, symphony conductor/composer, rock stardom and film scoring. You can’t ask her what her favorite genre of music is because she doesn’t have one. She adores all music from Beethoven to The Beatles. When she’s not composing or performing she is a “textbook” nerd-fighter, anglophile, & fangirl of all things science fiction, comic books, fantasy, supernatural, history and literature. For a play-by-play of her crazy random happenstances you can follow her on twitter @BrianaHarley

January 28, 2013

Ada Blackjack — the shop

Recently I heard from a designer named Ivonne Schippers, who let me know about her Etsy shop, where she sells handmade bags and leather goods. The shop’s name? Ada Blackjack.

Ivonne says she was fascinated by the early polar expeditions and came across Ada when reading and researching. “I thought it was a great story and found it a very inspiring name for my brand.”

Originally from Holland, Ivonne moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2008. She had always sewed as a hobby, making some of her own clothes, but she went to school to study theater, film, and television science, and later worked for a movie distributor, a communications agency, and an apartment booking agency. When she lost her job in 2010, she began yoga teacher training, but when an injury intervened, she postponed training and “dusted off” her sewing machines.

“The initial idea was to make bags for yoga mats but pretty soon I decided to make other types of bags as well. With a lot of practicing and studying I am where I’m now, selling my bags online.”

Her designs are lovely. As Ivonne says on her online storefront, “I decided it was time to start doing what I love most, creating handmade goods to brighten up this world a little bit.”

And brighten she does. Check out her bags on Etsy and on Facebook, and read an interview with Ivonne over at Cute Suite.

I can’t help but think that the original Ada Blackjack, a skilled seamstress herself (pictured here in a parka she designed and created), would be proud.

December 31, 2012

A New Year’s song and a memory

I’m wishing everyone a safe and joy-filled New Year’s Eve, and a healthy, prosperous, and happy 2013. I’m spending the last day of 2013 at my desk, an ABBA song running through my head. (As anyone who knows me can tell you, I love ABBA.)

The poignantly lovely “Happy New Year” was originally entitled “Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk on Christmas Day.” (Something I can’t quite imagine!) I was a little girl when the song first came out. I still remember buying the album it appeared on– my mother and I went to Musicland at Richmond Square Mall. It was 1980. I took the album home and read through the liner notes and then set the record on the turntable and pulled on my giant headphones.

This was always the most exciting moment– hearing the songs for the very first time. Even now, my heart flutters a bit just remembering it. I usually skipped past the Agnetha songs on my first go-through so I could hear all the Frida songs first. Frida was my idol.

When I finally settled in to listen to “Happy New Year,” I remember lying on the floor of my green room in Richmond, Indiana, wondering about all the things that lay ahead. As Agnetha sings: “It’s the end of a decade, in another ten years time, who can say what we’ll find, what lies waiting down the line, in the end of ’89…”

Back then, it was hard to envision a world past 1989, much less 1999, 2009… I had no idea what was in store or what those years would bring– the joy, the sorrow, the loss, the love, the adventures, the struggles, the fun, the excitement. Where would I go? What would I be? As much as I dreamed of the future (as I longed to escape my small town), I could never have seen it all.

So here’s to joy, adventures, fun, excitement, and love in 2013. Happy New Year, everyone!

December 21, 2012

A favorite family holiday recipe

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t actually spend much time in the kitchen, but each year my mom and I like to do what we call our Christmas Baking. This has become a tradition of ours, and usually entails ordering a pie from Marie Callendar’s or arranging the Pillsbury pull-apart chocolate chip cookies on a cookie sheet and slipping them into the oven.

On the rare occasions I do bake, though, this is typically what I make. The recipe is from my Great-Aunt Geneva Rone, who was famous in her little town of Waxhaw, North Carolina, for her baking skills. She was the one who baked all the family birthday cakes, the ones my mother and her siblings and cousins looked forward to each year. My mom remembers that in Aunt Genny’s kitchen there was always the smell of fresh baked bread or biscuits or brownies. At Christmas time, she kept Coca-Colas on the back porch where they grew ice-cold and frosty, and she served them with the things she made.

Aunt Genny also believed in a world map that contained only four places: “Heaven. Hell. Waxhaw. And Off Somewhere.” My parents named me in her honor.

Of all her wonderful recipes, this is my favorite.

Aunt Geneva’s Cheese Biscuits

Makes: about 4 dozen, and that won’t be nearly enough! (I usually double the recipe)
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 8-10 minutes


One cup of grated sharp (or extra sharp) cheddar cheese
One stick of butter or margarine, softened
3/4 to 1 cup of sifted flour
A dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 to 1 cup Rice Krispies (optional)


Blend cheese and butter thoroughly until creamy.

Work in flour with your hands until the dough is firm but not sticky, being careful not to overwork it.

Roll dough gently on floured board or counter.

Cut small biscuits– about the size of a silver dollar. (To shape and cut them, I usually use the top of one of my smallest juice glasses.)

Trim the tops of the biscuits with sesame seeds or pecan halves, if you like– or do as I do and leave them plain.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

Cool biscuits slightly before removing from pan.

To store, cool completely and seal in airtight container.

Reheat before serving to restore crispness.


December 18, 2012

Decorate with memories

I’ve always loved Christmas. The very first one I remember was spent on Okinawa, where we lived for the first three years of my life. I’m an only child and usually had my own Jennifer-sized Christmas tree, which was hung with ornaments I could play with and handle.

There was the manger scene, or Creche, as we call it, my parents bought in Japan, the inflatable Santa, the little white tree that belonged to my grandmama, the pink rocking horse that I once tried to eat because it looked like candy. And the angel, also found on Okinawa, that has topped our tree since my first Christmas.

Over the years, some things have gotten lost, but I still have a good many. Each one has a story. I think of them as tangible childhood memories. Holding them brings flashes of this holiday or that one, a jumble of years and places and people, but always of love and family and home.

Here are some of the most beloved:

The pink rocking horse, which is bald in places because I sat under the Christmas tree one year and tried to eat it.

Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, an ornament my mother gave me years ago because long after I stopped believing in Santa (I told my mother I’d always found the idea of a single man delivering toys on a single night improbable), I still believed in a giant rabbit who delivers candy.

The stained glass angel (as I always thought of her), who lived in the window of my bedroom until each December.

The little mouse in the rocking chair who, once upon a time, held a book in his lap. The book is gone, but the mouse is still with us, and each Christmas I find just the right corner of tree house for him.

Raggedy Ann and Andy, who, year after year, have gotten more and more X-rated. You never know what position they’ll be in when you pull them out of the ornament box. One year, my mother found a half dozen tiny Raggedy Anns and Andys and put them in a similar plastic globe– the result of the original Ann and Andy’s torrid love affair.

My dad’s childhood Santa ornament, which always hangs on the highest branches of the tree.

And, just above him, the Okinawan angel, who is, and always has been (for my entire life) our tree topper.

The members of the Creche, which have also been with me for each Christmas of my life. This year, I set them in the living room bar instead of the manger. (Which, when I write it out like that, sounds almost alarmingly unholy!)

My grandmama Eleanor’s white Christmas tree, which she kept in her room, the lights glowing at night so she could look at them. My grandmother was a strong, brilliant, feisty woman. She was highly educated and she spoke her mind. But she also possessed the most magical sense of wonder and fun. She marveled at that tree. I have it in my bedroom now where I can marvel at it too.

Do you all have any holiday favorites to share?

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