Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oh Come Let Us Go Shopping

‘Tis Christmas time—we know it’s official because the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit, but more importantly, we have passed Black Friday and Cyber Monday. HoHoHo.

Truly, we’re starting to feel like the Grinch about this. All of the advertising hurled at us—which, truth be told, starts in October—yells “Buy Me, at 20% off, with free shipping. It’s mind numbing. Stores and manufacturers work hard and long to whip us into a buying frenzy. And now they have precise tools to measure their success.

By Saturday morning preliminary statistics on Black Friday were available. According to the National Retail Federation, the number of shoppers in the stores was up by 4.8%, but the amount of money spent by each shopper was down by 3.5% to 347.44. Couldn’t they at least round off to the nearest dime?

And then came Cyber Monday. By Tuesday we not only knew that $733,000,000 had been spent online (thanks to market research firm comScore) which was 21% more than was spent last year, but we also found out that 60% of it was ordered on business computers. That was at lunch time, right?

And in more from the none-of-your-damn-business department, Facebook has a tool called Beacon, which broadcasts what you have purchased online to all of your Facebook friends. That’s just plain creepy!!!

Saturday, on the radio, we heard a Westchester County foster care official asking that as shoppers fill their carts and bags, they remember the children who don’t have parents racing through the aisles at Toys ‘R Us and Old Navy to get the items on their wish lists. They’re not talking about kids in foreign countries. These are children living in the midst of some of the wealthiest towns in this country who are being forgotten.

When are we going to say enough is enough? Most of us have plenty—at least the ones all the ads are aimed at. We have more crap than we need, use, or even want. Christmas giving used to be a singular occasion, with maybe the exception of a birthday, when you exchanged a special gift with loved ones. That one thing you’d been longing for, needing or the one item someone thought would bring a smile to your face and a bit of joy to your heart. But these days, we all take care of our wants and needs pretty regularly—they don’t get a chance to linger in our hopes and dreams. We march into the department, electronics, discount, toy—whatever store, plop down our shiny plastic card and our desires are instantly satisfied—until the next payday or next billing cycle when we do it all over again.

Then Christmastime rolls around—our friends and families go crazy, wracking their brains trying to figure out what to buy us—because we’ve already got everything—and we bought it ourselves. But still we brave traffic jams, fight for mall parking spots, stand in long lines, so we can buy and give more --- and what does any of it mean?

And is it December 26th when all the articles run about how much plastic debt we average Americans carry? According to a Wall Street Journal article Click here: Before You Shop, Be Credit-Card Smart - , that number is $9659 (come on, spend that extra dollar).

We’re not trying to be Scrooges—we like presents—who doesn’t? But we have allowed the dictates of the market economy to convince us that we must spend, spend, spend (even if we can’t afford it), and ultimately and all that consuming corrupts the meaning and spirit of the season.

Several years ago, Virginia’s family decided to stop the madness—and instead of buying gifts for each other, family members donate what they would have spent to a charity of their choice. “We still get together on Christmas--eat, drink, talk—all the same foolishness and traditions apply. I don’t miss the gifts and I don’t think anybody else does either. We have comfort and joy—you can’t buy that.”

And by the way, according to PNC Bank, it costs $19,507 to buy all of the items mentioned in The Twelve Days of Christmas (Click here: The Raw Story '12 days of Christmas' index up 3.1 percent). Maybe if we just got four golden rings or should we make it five silver ones, Cornish hens are on sale, so we can nix the turtle doves, a DJ should take care of the drummers drumming and the pipers piping. . .

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:02 AM 2 comments

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Even when you get to spend lots of time doing something you love, it often involves doing things you don’t like very much. Like today. We would love to be with our families and friends, enjoying their company, telling or listening to the same old stories that still make us laugh, watching football (OK, only one of us would rather be doing that), sharing hugs, and heaping plates of our family favorite dishes (‘I really shouldn’t, but I’ll have a teensy more macaroni and cheese, and maybe some stuffing. . .’).

But this year, because of a fast approaching deadline and the hope that we can be done in time to fully participate in the joys of Christmas, we have chosen to work on Thanksgiving.

People often think that when you work for yourself, you get to take as much time as you want. And while it’s true, there is often flexibility in our schedule, just as often we run into ‘now or never’ situations. This is not the first time we’ve worked through a holiday. On other occasions through the years we have had to forego weekends (that’s pretty regular), holidays, even celebrating our own birthdays. Sometimes it’s tough, but we count our blessings.

We are thankful for many things in our lives.
We are thankful for our families and friends whose love and support we cherish.
We are thankful for good health and the good health of our loved ones.
We are thankful for the gifts we have been given and the privilege of sharing them with others.
We are thankful for the shelter that protects us and the food that nourishes our bodies.
We are thankful for all the material things that we have been fortunate enough to gather in our lives.
We are thankful for whatever we have in our bank accounts.
We are thankful for being able to travel and visit some far away places.
We are thankful for the success and happiness that the people we care about have achieved.
We are thankful for each other’s friendship.
We are thankful for the grace of The Creator, whose blessings we feel every day.

Later today we’ll take a break and enjoy some Thanksgiving steak (Virginia has a Delmonico. Donna prefers New York Strip), mashed sweet potatoes and string beans, but as we sit at the computer on this Thanksgiving, we are thankful to have the opportunity to share our stories and thankful for those who enjoy reading them. Have a joyful and Happy Thanksgiving!
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:17 AM 1 comments

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Trouble's Living Room

A few days ago, the news here in the New York/New Jersey area was dominated by a story of the shooting death of a thirteen year old on the streets of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Click here: Shooting Kills a Boy, 13, and Wounds Another - New York Times One of his companions was injured—the other escaped unharmed. There are questions—many of them--about the incident, which remain unanswered. And at this writing, no definitive leads about who might have committed this shameful, hideous crime have been posited publicly. But this is not about the investigation status, or even about the crime itself. What happened is, sad. There’s no question about what a tragedy it is for a life –any life, to be ended too soon and thirteen is unquestionably too soon. But what we are concerned about (and under the circumstances as they now stand, it’s not an easy concern to address—but we have to go there) is what on earth a thirteen year old and his two thirteen year old buddies were doing on the street, on a bicycle at 12:40 AM?

We couldn’t help but feel for the anguished mother as she wailed into the camera, pleading for answers why this happened to her boy. “He was a good boy.” But we also couldn’t help but ask why this good boy wasn’t at home in the first place? What happened was wrong, and we’re not saying that bad things can’t happen at home. We’ve all shaken our heads after hearing stories about slain innocent bystanders, or the men, women and children who were in their own homes, minding their own business and fell victim to an errant bullet. But, that’s not what occurred here. This child—and we know teens don’t think of themselves that way, but this is not about what they think—was half a mile from his house, but “on his way home” as the mother stated. What’s up with that? What happened to curfews? Yes, it was the early morning of Veteran’s Day, so schools would be closed—you get to stay up late on a holiday, but not out in the street. Is there any circumstance when it’s OK for a thirteen year old—boy or girl—to be out alone after midnight? At night, trouble doesn’t have to go anywhere to find them—they’re out in trouble’s living room.

What happened to parents being in control? And we’re not just talking about two parent households, because the reality is that many of us don’t grow up in those—Donna didn’t. We admit that it may seem easy for us to cast stones—neither of us has children.. But even though we haven’t walked the talk, that isn’t the real issue here, and placing blame isn’t the point. Our question is when did the kids take over? And whether it relates to curfew, clothing choices, studying—the list goes on—when did the, “Because I said so,” rule get thrown out?

Neither of us can imagine a circumstance under which we would have been permitted (even on a holiday weekend) to be out on the street at almost one o’clock in the morning—not at 13, 14 or even 15. OK. That was back in the olden days. We know times have changed. The world has changed --in some ways for the better in other ways not. But is it ever OK (or safe) for a thirteen year old, even with a cell phone with GPS tracking (this is purely hypothetical--we don’t know if this kid had a cell phone or not) to be hanging out on the street that late at night? What is an appropriate curfew?
We know who’s at fault—the shooter. BUT don’t Mom and Dad share at least some of the responsibility here?

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 10:04 AM 3 comments

Thursday, November 08, 2007


OK we went to a big fancy publishing industry cocktail party (hosted by Bertelsman--Literary Guild, Black Expressions, Book of the Month, Doubleday, etc.) in New York last night, then out to dinner with an old friend. We didn’t get in until the wee hours—on a WEDNESDAY night no less!! We acted like we were still young enough to stay out until 2 o’clock in the morning and be functional the next day. On top of that, Donna, who has been walking around (and partying) with a fishbone (from salmon steak on Tuesday) caught in her throat, needed a bit of emergency medical assistance this morning (the fishbone was successfully removed—think I’ll be eating soup for a little while). Needless to say, we’re a bit off schedule today and were scrambling to come up with a blog when our “inbox” brought great news we can share with you. A few weeks ago we blogged about our experience in the sound booth at Brilliance Audio in Michigan, recording the audio version of Gotta Keep on Tryin’. Well, they also did an interview which you can now listen to on their website: So today we have an audio blog---take a listen—let us know what you think!

In the soundbooth at Brilliance Audio

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:13 PM 1 comments

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween-Turning Pages Style

While we’re really different in a lot of ways, one common denominator—neither of us cares much for dressing up on Halloween (Virginia is fond of dressing up, pretty much every day, but she likes to go as herself). We didn’t let that stand in the way of our fun this past weekend when we attended Oakland, CA book club Turning Pages’ Halloween shindig.

The theme was “Dynamic Duos” and we were their guests, along with buddies and first time writer pairing Candice Dow and Daaimah Poole (who just turned in their manuscript for We Take This Man). Oaklander Mary B. Morrison ably represented the tandem of Morrison and Weber, who brought you She Ain’t the One (we hear He Ain’t the One is on the way) since New Yorker Carl Weber observes his own personal no-fly zone and California was a little far to drive over the weekend. Michelle McGriff was also solo, since sadly, her writing partner on The Legend of Morning, T.L. Gardner, had a death in the family.

The Turning Pages members were definitely in the spirit, and showed lots of creativity in dressing as their favorite duos. The Green Hornet and Kato, Nelson and Winnie Mandela (these members met at the book club and later married. Who said reading isn’t romantic?), and Count Blacula and his Mistress of Darkness among others (we’ve got lots of photos below). The big winners for the night were a round, brown Austin Powers and his very own Foxy Cleopatra. And we give props to book club co-founder Deborah Burton Johnson’s husband, who went along gamely as a last minute Fred Flintstone, big feet and all, after their Hugh Hefner and Playboy Bunny costumes got lost in the mail.

Daaimah and Candice were our very own Salt n Peppa. And after much consideration, we decided to come as each other. So, we started the evening with matching dresses and our own hair. Later, we snuck off for a ladies room break where we switched jewelry and donned wigs making Donna an instant blonde and giving Virginia a brown-haired flashback. Either our costumes were unsuccessful or too successful. It took people a while to figure out anything was different!

Even with all the fun, we had a chance to talk books. Each pair described how they write together, and no two were alike. The book conversation continued on Sunday when Candice and Daaimah met with We Turn Pages Too, the book club for 20 somethings. There is also Teens Turning Pages, Children Turning Pages, and Babies Turning Pages, because as the club motto states, Reading is For Everyone!

We have a great time when we get to meet with book clubs. We love to hear what you think and what you’re reading, and share what goes into our books, so we hope to see lots of book club members on our tour for Gotta Keep on Tryin’ (our schedule so far is posted on our October 18th blog and check our website at for updates). We look forward to our brunch with Tabahani Book Club in Long Beach, CA. And please let us where you and your book club members are going to join us!

Turning Pages Dynamic Duos Halloween Party Pics

Fred Flintstone with his arms full of Salt 'n Peppa AKA Daaimah Poole and Candice Dow

The inimitable Mary Morrison came as...Mary Morrison with spider!

Stolen from the Las Vegas TV ad where the women switch wigs in the ladies' room--we came as each other!!

Wicked Witch of the West--don't you just love those stockings?!

Rockin' Royals--Cleo and Julius!!

Foxy and Austin at it again--you should have seen his teeth!

Raggedy Ann and Andy posing for the paparazzi--in their prize winning duds!

Marilyn and Wilma? No! It's Turning Pages Founders Taynay Matsumoto and Deborah Burton-Johnson lookin' fine!

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 12:01 PM 0 comments
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