Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Should You Feel Bad About Reading Stephen King?

(By Scott Beauchamp, BookRiot.com, 13 July 2012)
Sometimes it’s interesting to watch a fight. That’s even more likely to be true if the fight is a literary one. A particularly interesting literary battle, one close to my own heart, has been playing out on the pages of the website Salon over the past couple days, and the author standing at the center of the controversy has become one of the most divisive figures in American publishing: Stephen King. How did someone so warmly received by the public, someone who is such a fixture of American book culture, come to be so controversial?  The name King is pretty much synonymous with American Horror Writing. He’s made millions off of his books and their film adaptations. He’s been published in such high-minded periodicals as The New Yorker and has garnered praise from The New York Times. He’s won acclaim from venerable literary organizations as well, like from the National Book Foundation in 2003. King is as much a staple of American culture as are non-human entities like Coke, The Loony Tunes, and Ford Trucks.

You could say that he’s as American as apple pie. Or the electric chair.  But to some critics, that’s the problem. Or, to be more precise, many literary critics equate cultural ubiquity with lower standards. And in a general sense, they’re right. The whole point of creating literary standards is to separate the elite authors from the mediocre. Ignoring for the moment that every critic has their own standards, which always include their own biases, it’s easy to accept the concept that there are books that are literary and books that are entertainment. At their best, books are both of these things. But what seems to be left out of this overly simple demarcation are the demands of the reader. And in King’s world, the reader is, well…king.
Dwight Allen, originally writing in the L.A. Review of Books, takes King to task for not being up to snuff. Or, what he really does, is take his literary-minded friends to task for giving King more credit than Allen thinks he deserves. This all comes up in a conversation he has with his wife (not a critic, she works in the medical field), and they begin discussing why readers read the kind of fiction that they do. Allen generously (I’m not being sarcastic here) allows that what he’s looking for in a book might not be what everyone else is. He admits to being a “high-maintenance” reader and that he wants every sentence to be true and beautiful. He then goes on to recount his horrible experiences of trying to read King. So much cliché and trudging, he claims, and so boring.
Fair enough. Dwight Allen doesn’t enjoy reading Stephen King. But it was the end of the piece that struck me as a little cynical. When talking about the publishing business being just like any other business, biased towards market-driven value, fueled by politics, etc, Allen is basically making the impossible case that an infrastructure he feels lacks credibility is granting said credibility to an author that he doesn’t like. As the English used to say, it’s a bit of a bad show.

Things weren’t improved by Erik Nelson’s response on Salon. Nelson accuses Allen of a variety of thought crimes, including but not limited to: professional jealousy, snobbery, elitism, and ignorance. His tone is shrill and his metaphors are quite literally laughable (“…Allen should have read, before trying to set this straw man on fire with his woefully wet matches.” “…work worthy of more than a drive-by shooting by a lazy marksman.”). Most of Nelson’s criticisms were off-mark themselves. He never defends King’s work on any basis other than: 1) He enjoys reading it 2) Other people enjoy reading it 3) He is a JFK documentarian and can attest to the accuracy of King’s last novel, 11-22-63. I know I sound mean when I say this, but the kind of defense King should get from accusations of being a bad, stupid writer, probably shouldn’t come from one of the same. Because he’s not, and he deserves more than that.

In other words, I think both Allen and Nelson are wrong. Allen is wrong because he’s too vague in his criticism about the criteria he uses to judge the literary merit of King. Sentence by sentence, King may not be a David Foster Wallace. But as a storyteller, isn’t he one of the best? Don’t his trenchant social criticisms have literary value? And Nelson is wrong because he defends King using the same material that Allen uses to criticism him with. No, being popular does not make you good. Or at least that’s what a banner hanging in my sixth-grade classroom told me.  It seems like these semi-annual “should I feel bad about reading Stephen King?” battles are getting a bit out of hand. Snobs: your standards are not objective. King Defenders: don’t be so insecure. These arguments always seem to bring out the worst in people, because it really becomes a war about your identity as a reader. But who cares who considered which author to be what? Sit down and read and enjoy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Diane Vallere: Interviews From Her Book Blog Tours

Diane Vallere’s Book Blog Tour 2013
A friend of mine writes books and to promote her book, she has been going on a book tour.  Except in the digital age, this means a virtual tour.  She is not sitting in a bookstore autographing copies of the book that was just sold to a customer (although she has done that too.)  Instead, she is doing a tour of book blogs.  Blogs that focus on her genre (mystery) or style (light hearted murder) do a written Q&A  with her and post it to the blog on a particular day.  I always find it fascinating to see what writers or filmmakers or musicians have to say about their creative process so I decided to collect some of the more interesting responses here for posterity. 
Buyer Beware, Brancusi And Audrey Hepburn
(By Diane Vallere, Mystery Playground, 15 April 2013)
We have a guest post today from Diane Vallere, author of the cozy mystery, BUYER BEWARE, about her inspiration for the book and insider secrets from her eight years as a luxury department store buyer.  The author is also giving away free copies of the book and a $25 Book Depository gift card. Instructions on how to enter can be found at the bottom of the post.

This post is supposed to be about the research I conducted for BUYER, BEWARE, the latest book in the Style & Error Mystery Series. Trouble is, having worked as a buyer for about eight years, I lived through a large portion of the research and have nothing to show for it except for an outdated resume. I would have loved to distract you with photos of factories, showrooms, and handsome designers, but, alas, those photos don’t exist. I have ridiculously few photos from the mid-nineties to the mid-oughts. (Those that I do have are of my cat, who is no longer with me, but lives on in the character Logan.)  So instead, I’m going to dazzle you with a combination of insider information, the inspiration behind this particular story, and, because I sometimes have trouble focusing, a squirrel.
1.The mystery in BUYER, BEWARE surrounds a fictitious collection of designer handbags. In real life, handbags have become status items on par with precious jewelry! Unbeknownst to many clients, one luxury handbag brand includes microchips in their bags so they can verify authenticity and aggressively take down knockoff artists. For real!
2. The reason BUYER, BEWARE opens with a caper is I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favorite movies, How To Steal A Million.  I liked the idea of a planned theft, coordinated by people who could pull it off, but not for reasons of greed or illegal financial gain. The fake statue was designed by Milo Puccetti, a student of Constantine Brancusi. That was inspired by the statue Bird in Space, housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Having grown in in Phillly-adjacent Reading, Pennsylvania, I often went to the museum and admired the exhibit. Who knows—it might have been the same day I ran up the steps out front and imitated Rocky Balboa. (The name Milo is a nod to THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, one of my favorite books).
3. Samantha Kidd lives in this house:

Coincidentally, I lived there too. A few years ago it was listed for sale and I considered setting up an appointment with the realtor to check it out (I didn’t). I wonder if the new owners know what a gem they have?
4. Getting back to handbags, can you believe one vendor “auditions” new factories with ghost orders? Handbags are produced and checked for quality and consistency over a period of several seasons. Even harder to believe: regardless of how good the resulting product is, it never sees the light of day. Instead, it is destroyed. A crime unto itself.
5. BUYER, BEWARE is set in a fictionalized version of Reading, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Once I decided to fictionalize it, I knew I had the opportunity to use re-landscape the city to my needs. The vendor showroom in this book, mentioned as being in a renovated building on Penn Street, is in the old Pomeroy’s department store, which, in reality, closed in 1957 and was subsequently turned into a bank. I have a soft spot for retail establishments that no longer exist.
6. One highly coveted collection of crocodile bags maintains a price structure almost 30% less than other bags made of the same materials. Why? The company is excused from export tariffs because they employ many locals and are not affiliated with the drug trade. The lower cost is passed along to the consumer. Still, the bags are in the several thousand dollar price range!
7. The scenes between Detective Loncar and Samantha are some of my most favorite. I admit, my first attempts to write a homicide detective character were pretty far off-base. It wasn’t until I attended a class on Interrogation Techniques taught by a former homicide detective that I realized my fantasy-land police were an insult to the boys in blue. But I was inspired. I rewrote the interrogation scene in DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY and incorporated some of what I’d learned. When it came time to put the polish on BUYER, BEWARE, I realized how much fun I could have with the interaction between Detective Loncar and Samantha—and I did.
8. The rumored waiting list for the Hermes Birkin bag is pretty much that—a rumor (or maybe better called an urban legend?). Spend any time in one of the luxury retailers in Beverly Hills and you’ll start to think they’re issued to anyone who moves to the zip code 90210! And just a few weeks ago two Birkins became part of a mystery all their own: along with pieces of precious jewelry, they were stolen from a house in the greater Philadelphia area. There is often inspiration in the news.
9. There is a ridiculous amount of information about squirrels on the internet, and, even more ridiculous are the one million plus stories that include the words “squirrel” and “handbag.” I don’t have that kind of time—do you?
Fashion Can Be Deadly
(By Diane Vallere, on Brookeblogs.com, April 18, 2013)
A few months ago I was in the basement of the luxury retail store where I work, prepping samples for a trunk show. The samples were fairly wrinkled from being packed in the trunks and required steaming, a process that involves hanging garments on a rolling rack (20—40 items), rolling the rack into a large metal cage (about 8’x 10’x 12’), securing the door, and punching the start button. The cage fills with steam, releasing the wrinkles the clothes acquired in transit. It was 7:00 in the morning and no other associates were around. I powered up the steamer, waited until the pressure built up, and yanked the door open. A puff of hot, wet air hit me in the face and I forgot all about steaming samples because I knew one day Samantha Kidd, fashion industry professional turned amateur sleuth, would discover a victim inside of a steamer cage.
On a completely different day, I asked my manager to unlock the personal shopper’s offices so I could look for an item. The offices in question are in the corner of the store and consist of a reception area, three fitting rooms, and a back office. One of the fitting rooms also houses the personal shopper’s desk. Both the individual fitting rooms and overall offices are locked up at the end of each day and very few people have those keys. In a flash, I knew one day I’d have Samantha unlock a personal shopper’s office and find a body. But who? A client? A personal shopper? A stylist? A manager? And the even better question: who could have had access to this otherwise secure area? [disclaimer: I like my store’s personal shoppers and have no intention to knock them off.]
If you’ve read the two books in the series, you know neither of these events has happened. So what’s my point? That inspiration for fashion mysteries jumps out at me almost every day. When travelling to Europe for buying trips, my coworkers and I trusted the car service that shuttled us from appointment to appointment—but what if a shady character did away with the driver and hijacked our car, taking us to his scary hideout for nefarious business instead of delivering us to a showroom filled with shoe samples? What if a sewing assistant was found murdered backstage at a fashion show? What if a store that specialized in second hand vintage T-shirts and jeans opened up around the same time that victims were found around town, left naked? Would you put two and two together?
Ask anyone who works in the industry and they’ll tell you that fashion is serious business. That doesn’t mean it is without its light side. Cozy mysteries can be set against a lot of different backdrops, and the backdrops are often the thing that pulls readers to one series over another. The Style & Error Mystery Series lets me play with the seamy side of the fashion world while still honoring what I love about it: the quick pace, the ever-changing environment, the unique characters. And, of course, the clothes.
(Saturday, April 20, 2013)
It’s been a rough couple of months around here, mostly because my owner doesn’t leave the house. Her name is Samantha, but I call her the ice cream lady. She’s a person. She’s supposed to go places. I’m a cat. I’m supposed to explore the interior of the house, secure the circumference, and test out various spots for sleeping. Only, ever since we moved from the very, very little place that I was never allowed to leave into this gigantic one (that seemed exciting at first, with its stairs and floors like scratching posts, but turned into a death trap when the basement flooded), she’s been doing stuff to the walls that makes the place smell funny and moving around the things in her closet. I joined her once and curled up on a pile of colorful fluffy things, but she didn’t seem happy. She put me outside the room, said something about “cashmere,” and shut the door. I could have gone downstairs to play with my red and yellow felt mouse but it’s stuck under the big gray thing she sits on when she watches the black box, so instead I sat outside the door and meowed until she took a break and gave me ice cream. She does that a lot. That’s how she got her name. 
Last week was different. People came over. A guy with funny black and white checkered shoes and a woman with scary lime green heels that could really hurt my tail! And a new guy whose socks smelled like grass. I think the ice cream lady warned him about me, but I wanted to get her back for knocking my mouse under the big gray thing, so I jumped on his lap and purred while he pet me. I liked him. I hope he comes back. 
Tonight the same people came over. This time they were all very excited about a tall wooden thing. My owner laid it down on the glass square I’m not allowed to jump on (something about my paw prints). The guy with the funny checkered shoes and my owner went into the room with the food. I followed them because I thought it was time to eat. I was wrong. They went back to the room with the door that lets me go outside and looked out the big glass square. I love the big glass square! It’s way better than the black box. Some days I sit by the big glass square and watch things go back and forth. But tonight there were too many people looking out the big glass square so I figured I’d check out the wooden thing instead.  
I swatted at it. It didn’t do anything. I butted it with my head, too—the way they treated it, I figured it would be fun to play with, like a mouse or a chipmunk—but it didn’t move. It didn’t smell like catnip or tuna, either. Honestly, I don’t know why they like this thing so much. It doesn’t even have feathers! 
I walked away from the wooden thing while bright lights swirled around at the place next door. The lights upset everybody. I don’t think the people’s eyes work like mine, so I didn’t know they could see the lights. They sure don’t work like mine when the ice cream lady can’t find her slipper. Duh, it’s right under the big gray thing next to my mouse. Not sure how it got there. That’s the story I’m sticking to. But between you and me, if given the chance, I might put the wooden thing under there too. I want my mouse! 
A Chat and a Chai with … Samantha Kidd
She’s a fashionista with a flair for trouble. (Wonder if Birkin makes a body bag?)
Meet out-of-work fashion expert Samantha Kidd. In Buyer, Beware by Diane Vallere, she was recruited to fill the designer shoes of a dead woman, but the new job comes with a caveat: she’s expected to find out who bagged the store’s former handbag buyer. The police name a suspect but the label doesn’t fit. Samantha turns to a sexy stranger for help, but as the walls close around her like a snug satin lining, she must get a handle on the suspects, or risk being caught in the killer’s clutches. I sat down with Samantha to talk about fashion, fatalities and my mother’s penchant for pearls. Oh and not to GIVE AWAY (wink) the surprise, but after the interview, there’s a special something I know you’ll love.
Chloe: Welcome, Samantha. Now, as a decorator, I can profile a suspect by their décor better than any agent in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Can you do the same thing with a person’s outfit?
Samantha: I’m sorry for taking so long to answer. I got a little lost wondering what you’d think of my budget living room makeover. This is about me, not my house, right?
Chloe: Right. (Though I love a budget makeover.)
Samantha: Then, yes, I’m a bit of a closet profiler, and I don’t mean I keep it a secret. My first lesson about how much your clothes can say came when I was in college. One professor said he could take a picture of us on our first day and know everything he had to know about us based on our outfit. I didn’t like that he thought he could figure me out by the black skirt and pink crinoline I wore that day, so I experimented with every trend in the book during the semester just to keep him on his toes.
Chloe: My mom wears a uniform of twin sets, pearls and peep toes. She says, “Classic.” I say “Bor-ing?” You say… ?
Samantha: Depends on how many strands of pearls. One is a little expected. Ten is a little bit fabulous. And what’s she wearing on the bottom? Pencil skirt? (yawn) Jeans? I’m getting a mental image that’s a little bit Coco Chanel and a little bit Carrie Bradshaw.
Chloe: Oh, she’s definitely more Coco than Carrie. Tell me, what led you to leave the glamour of New York for charm of Ribbon, Pennsylvania, which, despite its cute name, is hardly a fashion mecca?
Samantha: I’ve thought a lot about that over the past few months. When I was in NY I had job security and an enviable paycheck. What I didn’t have was a life. No matter how stressful life in New York was, I always thought I could go home to that house to decompress. My parents called and said they were moving to California and the house I grew up in was going to be sold. I went to Ribbon to help them pack and I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t go back to my life in New York. The fashion director for Ribbon’s department store discovered me crying to my cat in a parking lot. He offered me a job and as crazy as it sounds, for that one moment, I knew that job was what I wanted to do.  But now that things haven’t worked out so well since I’ve been here, I’m considering a rule: no rash decisions while hanging out in parking lots outside pizza places. My judgment may have been compromised by the smell of melted mozzarella and tomato sauce.
Chloe: We’ve all been there. At the preview party of a new store called Heist, you find a dead body. Your second in just a few months. Are you starting to think you’re cursed or something?
Samantha: SHHHH! Keep your voice down, please. I still need to get a job, and this economy makes that hard enough. The last thing I need is for a potential employer to hear my fashion-insider experience comes with a side of bad juju.
Chloe: Ooh. Sorry. Better to let them find out for themselves, right? So, you end up taking the job left open by the murder victim. And I thought the New York fashion scene was cutthroat. Any qualms about filling a dead woman’s shoes, even if they were designer?
Samantha: You know what, Chloe? Yes. Yes, I have qualms. And not why you think. It’s not because the person I was following had died, but because this was pretty much the same job I left behind in New York. Six months ago I left that job because I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. This opportunity came up and it was like, “the job is yours.” I almost got the feeling I didn’t have a choice (and if you saw my bank statement, you’d realize I kind of didn’t). And you want to know a secret? Deep down, I already know I can do this job because I’ve done it before. But what if it turns out the only job I can get is the one I don’t want?
Chloe: Yikes, that would be tough. Now, the fashion-challenged cop on the case, Detective Loncar, doesn’t seem to want your help with his investigation. Do you find yourself dressing him with your eyes when he lectures you about minding your own business?
Samantha: Better than undressing him with my eyes! You know, Detective Loncar once asked me my fashion advice and I gave it to him. I thought it was a bonding experience, but turns out he was using my knowledge of fashion to determine my ‘truth baseline’ during an interrogation. Tricky cop! Still, it wouldn’t hurt him to wear a different pair of shoes.  I bet his wife would thank me.
Chloe: Ha. I bet she would. With your shoe-buyer boyfriend Nick in Italy for a month, the sparks seem to fly between you and that cute Dante. Which way are you leaning now? Team Nick or Team Dante?
Samantha: I suppressed feelings about Nick for years when I was a buyer and he was one of my vendors. I still remember that day he caught me trying on one of his shoes from the back of a delivery truck on the dirty streets of New York. He looked so good with his curly brown hair and his Rocky T-shirt. But Dante–where did he come from? I don’t know. I can’t tell where Nick’s head is right now. I can’t say I’m all that happy about the my-boyfriend-spends-6-months-a-year-in-Italy thing, and honestly, he doesn’t do well with the whole my-girlfriend-finds-dead-people thing either. Dante does a little too well with the dead people thing, which is a little scary. I don’t know that I want to date a guy who thinks that’s normal!
Chloe: Your author, Diane Vallere, works as a buyer for one of the top luxury stores in the country and writes mysteries at night. That’s not really a question as much as a compliment. Talk about living the dream.
Samantha: Well, Diane used to be a buyer for one of the top luxury stores in the country, writing mysteries at night, but now she’s a selling specialist who writes mysteries on her lunch break. I think it’s cool that she did what I did—gave up the glam job for one that let her figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
Chloe: I love that. But hey, can Diane get me a Birkin bag? Just kidding. No, really, can she?
Samantha: As far as I know, Diane has gotten one Birken bag for one person in her life: me. (I happen to know the first handbag she spent any kind of money on was a pretty good knockoff she bought in Italy back when they still used the Lira, but don’t tell her I told you.)
Chloe: What does she have planned for you next in the Style or Error series?
Samantha: Personally, I can’t imagine that anything as exciting as the murder at Tradava or the murder at Heist will happen to me again. I’m still looking for a job, but Eddie asked me to help him install an exhibit on The History of Fashion at the local museum. I figure, clothes that haven’t been worn for decades, mannequins, and a rare collection of hats. What could go wrong?
Chloe: What indeed? It was wonderful to meet you, Samantha. You’re every bit as fabulous as I’d imagined.
And here’s one from a previous book blog tour….
Let's Chat With Diane Vallere! (Get Lost In A Book’s Website, 16 August 2012)
Susan: So, you launched your own detective agency at age ten, right? What was your first case?
Diane: The case of the missing pencils. One of my classmates continually found himself without a pencil. He hired me (and my partner, because all great 10-year-old detectives have partners) to find out who was taking them. While he suspected the people who sat near him, turns out the real villain was gravity. They were rolling off his desk to the floor.
Susan: What caused you to switch from detective work to the fashion industry? 
Diane:  I have always loved solving problems, but I’ve also always loved clothes. When I graduated college with an Art History degree, my mom (who I think was concerned that I’d move home and stay forever) suggested I go to the mall and fill out an application. Thus, the start of a career in retail fashion.
Susan: You are certainly well-travelled. What is your favorite place you’ve visited so far?
Diane: I was lucky enough to get to go to Milan, Paris, and London for my job, but I really loved Lyon, France, where the lingerie fair is held each year. I travelled with a fabulous boss who gave me complete autonomy and a coworker who was also a mentor. I’d become friends with a few of my vendors, too, and for us to all be in France and call it work was an embarrassment of riches.
Susan: What’s your favorite kind of story to get lost in?
Diane:  I love to read but often can’t find blocks of time because I’m trying to stay focused on the story in my head, so a book that I can read—devour!—in an afternoon, or over only a few days, is the best.
Susan: The protagonist in Designer Dirty Laundry, Samantha Kidd, is a trend specialist. Can you tell us a little about what she does?
Diane: Samantha’s job is to assist the Fashion Director in recognizing trends from the runway, to communicate between the buyers and advertisers about the trends that are important to Tradava (the store where she works), and to promote the trends through fashion shows at the store.
Susan: Is it true that you make cupcakes that looked like crime scene tape for a Sisters in Crime meeting? Can you get us some of those?
Diane: Yes, I did! Truthfully, I asked the bakery department of my local grocery store if they could make them for me. They said they could, but their body language said otherwise, so I ordered cupcakes with bright yellow icing and shook black sugar through a stencil to spell out the words. I’m sure the cake decorating staff is quite talented, but I did not trust them to embrace my vision.

Susan: What was the first story you remember writing?
Diane: I was an avid reader of Sweet Dreams Romances when I was growing up and I tried my hand at writing one myself. I still have it. It was the story of Abby and Vinnie, two very competitive math students vying for the top grade in Geometry, and the new boy, Chris, who comes between them before helping them see they are destined for each other. I recently typed it up (yes, it was written long-hand) and titled it “The Square Root of the Problem.” It lives a nice existence on my hard drive now.
Susan: How much is Samantha like you?
Diane: Oh boy. I think Samantha is the person I might have become if I had made different choices after college. She represents the idea that a person can be smart but not very bright at the same time, and I often feel that way (though I don’t think I’ve admitted that until just now!). She is more fearless than I am, for sure, has a better figure. She wears what I want to wear and somehow has the money to buy it. Oh, and she’s an Aries, which I am not.
Susan: When reading and/or writing, do you put yourself in the heroine’s role?
Diane: I do, and I think that’s natural, though I think my writing clicked when I first started thinking, “what is he thinking right now?” about the male lead, or “how does the detective react to how Samantha is reacting?” It was a big lesson learned from my editor (Ramona deFelice Long), and now when I’m writing I find myself thinking from all sorts of different POVs. Makes me feel slightly crazy to have so many voices in my head, but it definitely leads to a better first draft!
Susan: What drew you to write mysteries?
Diane:  I started reading mysteries when I was around 9 (note direct impact on the soon-to-be-founded detective agency), and I found something inspiring about kids solving crimes that adults couldn’t. Trixie Belden wasn’t just a character to me, she was the person I wanted to be (but was a little afraid to be, because of her frequent interaction with counterfeiters and gun smugglers and danger).

Susan: I wanted to be Trixie, too!  (sigh) What three things are, at this moment, in Samantha Kidd’s purse?
Diane:  Duct Tape, lipstick, and a punch card (with 10 punches) for a free hoagie at the local sandwich store.
Susan: What is Samantha’s biggest vice?
Diane:  Shoes. Or junk food. It’s a tough call.
Susan: A girl after my own heart! But really, shoes can't be considered a vice, can they? What are the next five books on your ‘to be read’ pile?
Diane: In no particular order: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano, Artifact by Gigi Pandian, Nazareth Child by Darryl James, Ghost in a Polka Dot Bikini by Sue Ann Jaffarian, and Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History. (*disclaimer: I often scramble my TBR list and there are hundreds of books I’m eager to read!)
Susan’s GOTTA ASK:  What is your favorite scene in Designer Dirty Laundry?
Diane’s GOTTA ANSWER:  This is tough because two sprung to mind. There is a scene in the second half of the book where Samantha gets interrogated. I loved the scene until I took a course on interrogation taught by a homicide detective and realized how far away from reality I was. (Another disclaimer: this book is intentionally funny and is not to be used to train anyone planning on enrolling in the police academy. I took liberties.) I had to rewrite the scene, letting Samantha be Samantha within the general constraints of an interrogation, and I think it ended up better than it was originally.  But I also love the tree scene at the museum.
Susan: What’s up next for you?
Diane: PILLOW STALK, due in October 2012 
An Interview with Diane Vallere
(By E.B. Davis, Writers Who Kill, Wednesday, October 9, 2013
 “The reflective letters EMT on the back of her nylon jacket were more jarring than white shoes after Labor Day.”  - Diane Vallere, Designer Dirty Laundry
It’s no wonder that both of Diane Vallere’s series focus on fashion. She has worked for over twenty-years in the fashion industry, which has built credentials for her writing career. Polyester Press, her creation, published the first two books in the Style & Error Mystery Series and the Mad for Mod Series, and she wrote short stories introducing them. I’ve read all of her books, and I can tell you that Diane knows how to orchestrate complex plots! Now, Diane writes a third series, the Fabric Store Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime (not yet on the market), keeping Diane busy writing full-time.   Please welcome Diane Vallere to WWK.             
Diane, would you give our readers a synopsis of the three series you write?
Style & Error: When a former fashion buyer gives up the glam life to buy her childhood home in the hopes of starting over and simplifying, she finds new challenges in the form of murders in her new hometown of Ribbon, PA.
Mad for Mod: A midcentury-modern interior decorator who has modeled her life after Doris Day’s character in Pillow Talk teams up with a local homicide detective to solve crimes in a small suburb of Dallas, TX.
Fabric Store: A young woman inherits the decades-old fabric store she was born in and discovers more than musty satin and lace.
What were your considerations when you decided to self-publish?
I wanted to be able to provide for myself everything I might have gotten with a small press: ARCs, advance reviews, blurbs, trade paperbacks and ebooks. I felt empowered by the idea of having control over things like cover art and interior book layout, and the ability to be able to react quickly based on sales trends. I knew my experience as a buyer would serve me well when it came to making business decisions, and truthfully, I’ve spent all of my life working for companies and I’ve always dreamed of having something of my own.
Did you have help in editing, cover creation and formatting your self-published work?
I hire a content editor and copy editor for each of my books. After some trial and error, I’ve found people I like to work with, and I believe in building relationships with people when I like their work. I’ve always enjoyed graphic design even though I’m self-taught, so I took on the challenge of learning Photoshop and designing my own covers. (Even in my corporate jobs I often took on graphic design projects; as Creative and Planning Manager I designed the regional postcards, in-store promotional posters, and special event T-shirts for a division of stores, so I knew my skill set wasn’t completely imaginary). I also taught myself interior book layout and ebook formatting. I can’t say that this is the norm, but I really enjoyed knowing that I was continuing to learn new things. I found the entire process invigorating—much more so than the years I spent searching for an agent! J
How would you characterize the main characters in each of your series, including your new series?
While there is definitely a common thread to all three of my main characters, here’s how I would differentiate them:
Samantha Kidd: Thirty-something. Taurus. Bull-headed, stubborn. Fashion-history major. She believes fashion is important, not silly. Will charge ahead into a situation without thinking things through. She’s loyal to a fault. She has her own reasoning for everything she does, but it often isn’t the same reasoning anyone else would follow, which makes for some good humor. She has an older sister and parents on the other side of the country.
Madison Night: Late forties. She shares a birthday with Doris Day, so she’s an Aries. After a bad break-up, she left Pennsylvania for Dallas, TX, where she started her own decorating business and lives with the perfect male: her Shih Tzu, Rock. She relies on her “decorating eye”—the ability to look at a room and see what fits and what doesn’t—to help her work through the clues of solving a murder. She is currently drawn to two different men: her handyman, who is loyal and creative, and the local homicide detective, who seems to be the polar opposite of her, but shares many of her same independent qualities. Her parents passed away when she was in her thirties, and she has no siblings.
Polyester Monroe: Late twenties. FIDM graduate who has spent five years working at a seedy dress shop in downtown Los Angeles making pageant dresses out of cheap fabrics. Family is very important to her, so when she inherits a fabric shop that has been closed for ten years, instead of signing the paperwork to turn it over for resale, she sticks around, looking for signs of what her great uncle wanted her to do with the store when he left it to her. She is an only child, very close to her parents, who live locally.
Do you think the new series for Berkley Prime Crime would have happened without self-publishing?
No. I give the story below, but I think arriving at the mental place where I was ready to move on from what felt like a stagnant position in my writing career was a catalyst. Plus, once I decided to do it on my own, I started learning so much about how the industry runs! It was like seeing the whole process from the other side of the looking glass.
Have you ever entered fiction contests?
Yes. An earlier version of DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY won the Get Your Stiletto In The Door Contest, run by what was once the Chicklit Chapter of RWA (they are in the process of rebranding to Contemporary Romance Writers). I entered the Daphne (good scores but didn’t final), and several other RWA chapter contests.
How did the deal with Berkley Prime Crime happen? Were you represented by an agent? Was it a proposal of your own, or did the publisher have the series in mind?
The story: I asked an author for a blurb. She liked DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY enough that she told her editor about it, who asked to read it. She liked it but agreed that it wasn’t exactly right for their cozy line and asked if I’d be willing to rewrite it. I was already pretty solid on my decision so instead I wrote a proposal (character sketches and 3 chapters, plus concepts for future books in the series) and waited. And nudged. And waited. And nudged. And then I heard they were interested. On the advice of an author who was published with Berkley, I contacted my current agent and told her the situation. She read the chapters, we had a good conversation about where I was in my career and what I wanted, and she offered representation. I told her I wanted to keep self-publishing with Polyester Press, and she was okay with that.
Which is your favorite: clothing or home fashion?
Clothing, but it’s kind of 60%/40%, so a pretty close split.
How long have you written, and what drew you to mystery?
I’ve written since I was in my early teens—stories, poems, essays, novellas. I have a nice excerpt from a Batman/Catwoman romance that I started in the early 90s! I always wanted to write a mystery because I grew up with Trixie Belden—honestly, she’s as much a part of my childhood as the rest of the girls I was friends with!—and I thought it would be the absolute coolest to be able to write a mystery series. For a long time I wanted it to be a children’s series, but I didn’t have ideas. Then one day I thought about a woman who’s trying to be a grown-up but feels like her family always treats her like a kid. That idea turned into Samantha Kidd in the Style & Error Mysteries.
What items are in your beach bag?
30+ sunblock, 2 towels, a pillow, an old Vanity Fair magazine, $2 in loose change for a meter, rose water to spritz my face, a collapsible umbrella (one day I forgot the beach umbrella and discovered these work quite well!), bathing suit. If the trip is planned vs. spontaneous, I add: bottle of water, cheese & crackers, kindle, and an issue of Atomic Ranch.


Jodie Foster Blasts Kristen Stewart–Robert Pattinson Break-Up Spectacle

Jodie Foster Has Some Things To Say About Celebrity Culture

By Jen Chaney, Washington Post’s Celebritology, 15 August 2012)

Foster on today’s celeb culture: “I would quit before I started.” (Matt Sayles - Invision via AP)

Jodie Foster has come to the defense of her media-battered “Panic Room” co-star Kristen Stewart in a new essay for the Daily Beast.  This should not be particularly surprising, as Foster is known for being very loyal to her colleagues, as well as for being a former child star who strongly values one’s need to maintain privacy. What’s more compelling — at least from this Celebritologist’s perspective — is what Foster has to say about celebrity culture circa 2012.

”In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life,” she writes, referring to her rise to movie stardom in the 1970s. “If I were a young actor or actress starting my career today in the new era of social media and its sanctioned hunting season, would I survive? . . . I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally. I would only hope that someone who loved me, really loved me, would put their arm around me and lead me away to safety.”

Is Foster right? Has the notion of celebrity transformed drastically since she swapped identities with Barbara Harris in the 1976 version of “Freaky Friday”?  As the Oscar winner notes in the piece, we’ve always been interested in gossip and the none-of-our-beeswax details about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there’s no question that, as Foster says and I implied in a piece this week about the Olympics and fame, celebrity-coverage times have changed. The question is: Why?

Foster mentions social media and a general sense that members of the press and the paparazzi not only regularly cross the line, but have stopped acknowledging there is one. But should we blame Twitter for that? The TMZ-ification of America? Our personal appetites for fresh, nitty-gritty details about the famous people we admire as quickly as we can consume them?

Honestly, it’s a swirling mess of all the above. Technology has collided with human nature and created a culture in which everything — including our interest in and, by extension, the generation of entertainment news — is accelerated and magnified. Once upon a time, we might have merely wondered what was really going on in Stewart’s love life. Now we can actively hunt down and often find the details, true or wholly invented, via a few taps on our iPhones, then share those possibly false details with a side order of snarky commentary on our Twitter feeds, which will, in turn, be cited as evidence of the national opinion on the important matter of whether or not Stewart is, officially, a trampire. And all of this can happen in less time than it takes to pick up an order of fast food.

Celebritology, like so many blogs and news outlets, admittedly sits smack in the middle of that bizarre place where an interest in Hollywood personalities and possible invasion of privacy meet. Every day, blogs such as this one attempt to serve as fun but responsible pop culture barometers, to convey the significant celebrity and entertainment stories of the day without stepping on any editorial land mine. I know how much our readers are interested in the Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart story, for instance, and I want to give them what they want but (ideally) while maintaining some semblance of class. But maybe all of us, myself included, should say no to certain stories more often. Perhaps we should stop and take a breath, even when everything happening in the world around us says: “Go, go, go! Now, now, now! Publish, publish, publish!”

It’s certainly not a bad idea. But even if the People magazines and Vultures and, yes, Washington Posts of the world did just that, it probably still would not resolve the issues Foster raises.  In fact, the conclusion of Foster’s essay suggests that it’s impossible to put the celebrity-culture genie back into the bottle. She acknowledges at the end of her piece that even the biggest headline-generating entertainment story is just a temporary storm cloud, another thing that too shall pass. She encourages Stewart, and other young stars like her, to hold on to their capacity to live life fully, even though they may need to be simultaneously guarded while they’re doing it.

But it seems that’s the best they can do. Because regardless of how they handle themselves, someone — whether it’s a legitimate reporter or just your average celebrity fanatic with a FlipCam — will be there to capture that candid photo or relay precisely where a reality star can currently be found slurping margaritas with a married NFL player. And via the Internet, that information will spread.

There is no turning the car around, kids. The question that all of us — entertainment journalists, tabloid scribes, movie stars and consumers of pop culture news — must consider is whether we can all do a better job of following the rules of the road while we continue our journey on what Mr. Pattinson himself calls “the craziest theme park ride” we’ve ever been on.

(By Jodie Foster, The Daily Beast,  15 August 2012)

 We’ve all seen the headlines at the check-out counter. “Kristen Stewart Caught.” We’ve all thumbed the glossy pages here and there. “Kris and Rob a couple?” We all catch the snaps. “I like that dress. I hate the hair. Cute couple. Bad shoes.” There’s no guilt in acknowledging the human interest in public linens. It’s as old as the hills. Lift up beautiful young people like gods and then pull them down to earth to gaze at their seams. See, they’re just like us. But we seldom consider the childhoods we unknowingly destroy in the process.

I have been an actress since I was 3 years old, 46 years to date. I have no memories of a childhood outside the public eye. I am told people look to me as a success story. Often complete strangers approach me and ask, How have you stayed so normal, so well-adjusted, so private? I usually lie and say, “Just boring I guess.” The truth is, like some curious radioactive mutant, I have invented my own gothic survival tools. I have fashioned rules to control the glaring eyes. Maybe I’ve organized my career choices to allow myself (and the ones I truly love) maximum personal dignity. And, yes, I have neurotically adapted to the gladiator sport of celebrity culture, the cruelty of a life lived as a moving target. In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life. Sure, you’d have to lose your spontaneity in the elaborate architecture. You’d have to learn to submerge beneath the foul air and breathe through a straw. But at least you could stand up and say, I will not willfully participate in my own exploitation. Not anymore. If I were a young actor or actress starting my career today in the new era of social media and its sanctioned hunting season, would I survive? Would I drown myself in drugs, sex, and parties? Would I be lost?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally. I would only hope that someone who loved me, really loved me, would put their arm around me and lead me away to safety. Sarah Tobias would never have danced before her rapists in The Accused. Clarice would never have shared the awful screaming of the lambs to Dr. Lecter. Another actress might surely have taken my place, opened her soul to create those characters, surrendered her vulnerabilities. But would she have survived the paparazzi peering into her windows, the online harassment, the public humiliations, without overdosing in a hotel room or sticking her face with needles until she became unrecognizable even to herself?

Acting is all about communicating vulnerability, allowing the truth inside yourself to shine through regardless of whether it looks foolish or shameful. To open and give yourself completely. It is an act of freedom, love, connection. Actors long to be known in the deepest way for their subtleties of character, for their imperfections, their complexities, their instincts, their willingness to fall. The more fearless you are, the more truthful the performance. How can you do that if you know you will be personally judged, skewered, betrayed? If you’re smart, you learn to willfully disassociate, to compartmentalize. Putting your emotions into a safety box definitely comes in handy when the public throws stones. The point is to survive, intact or not, whatever the emotional cost. Actors who become celebrities are supposed to be grateful for the public interest. After all, they’re getting paid. Just to set the record straight, a salary for a given on-screen performance does not include the right to invade anyone’s privacy, to destroy someone’s sense of self.

In 2001 I spent 5 months with Kristen Stewart on the set of Panic Room mostly holed up in a space the size of a Manhattan closet. We talked and laughed for hours, sharing spontaneous mysteries and venting our boredom. I grew to love that kid. She turned 11 during our shoot and on her birthday I organized a mariachi band to serenade her at the taco bar while she blew out her candles. She begrudgingly danced around a sombrero with me but soon rushed off to a basketball game with the grip and electric departments. Her mother and I watched her jump around after the ball, hooting with every team basket. “She doesn’t want to be an actor when she grows up, does she?” I asked. Her mom sighed. “Yes … unfortunately.” We both smiled and shrugged with an ambivalence born from experience. “Can’t you talk her out of it?” I offered. “Oh, I’ve tried. She loves it. She just loves it.” More sighs. We watched her run around the court for a while, both of us silent, each thinking our own thoughts. I was pregnant at the time and found myself daydreaming of the child I might have soon. Would she be just like Kristen? All that beautiful talent and fearlessness … would she jump and dunk and make me so proud?

There’s this image I have of a perfect moment. It comes to me as a square format 8mm home movie with ’70s oversaturated reds and blues, no sound, just a scratchy loop … there’s a little white-haired girl twirling in the surf. She’s singing at the top of her lungs, jumping and spinning around in the cold water, all salty, sandy, full of joy and confidence. She’s unconscious of the camera, of course, in her own world. The camera shakes a little. Perhaps her mom’s laughing behind the lens. Could a child be more loved than in this moment? She’s perfect. She is absolutely perfect.

Cut to: Today … A beautiful young woman strides down the sidewalk alone, head down, hands drawn into fists. She’s walking fast, darting around huge men with black cameras thrusting at her mouth and chest. “Kristen, how do you feel?” “Smile Kris!” “Hey, hey, did you get her?” “I got her. I got her!” The young woman doesn’t cry. Fuck no. She doesn’t look up. She’s learned. She keeps her head down, her shades on, fists in her pockets. Don’t speak. Don’t look. Don’t cry.

My mother had a saying that she doled out after every small injustice, every heartbreak, every moment of abject suffering. “This too shall pass.” God, I hated that phrase. It always seemed so banal and out of touch, like she was telling me my pain was irrelevant. Now it just seems quaint, but oddly true … Eventually this all passes. The public horrors of today eventually blow away. And, yes, you are changed by the awful wake of reckoning they leave behind. You trust less. You calculate your steps. You survive. Hopefully in the process you don’t lose your ability to throw your arms in the air again and spin in wild abandon. That is the ultimate F.U. and—finally—the most beautiful survival tool of all. Don’t let them take that away from you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Post Office Woes

How To Save The U.S. Postal Service

(By Mike Tae and Adam LaVier, Washington Post, 10 August 2012)

The outside of the Old City Post Office in Washington, now home to the National Postal Museum, bears a noble inscription to the mail: “Bond of the Scattered Family/ Enlarger of the Common Life/ Carrier of News and Knowledge/ Instrument of Trade and Industry.”  It’s a proud statement about what the mail used to be. For more than 200 years after Benjamin Franklin was named the first postmaster general in 1775, the United States Postal Service provided services Americans wanted, in ways no other institution could match — and usually at a profit.  But today, the “bond of the scattered family” comes from text messages, Skype and Facebook. And global businesses favor private letter and package carriers.

In 2010, the U.S. Postal Service projected that it would lose $238 billion over the following decade — a sum roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Chile. Sadly, it’s not only the forecasts that are grim for the USPS. On Thursday, the agency reported a $5.2 billion loss for the second quarter.  Despite years of study and recommendations, Congress continues to play small ball with the Postal Service. The leading bills in the Senate and the House each push for budget cuts and downsizing, but these are Band-Aids. They do not resolve the underlying problems of the USPS.
So what should the government do to turn around the Postal Service? Some people want a full and immediate privatization of the agency. That’s what Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget, called for in a recent column for Bloomberg View, and other economists find the idea appealing. They say a privatized USPS would have the freedom necessary to deal with the agency’s large structural challenges, which Congress after Congress has failed to address.
While privatization may offer some advantages in the long run, doing it now is neither politically tenable nor wise. To take the USPS private, Congress would need to find a consensus to sell off the country’s second-largest employer during the longest stretch of high unemployment in modern American history.  Moreover, the Treasury is liable for post-employment benefits for federal workers. Supporters of privatization cite the $13 billion overfunding of the USPS’s pensions. But few mention the $46.2 billion in underfunded health benefits promised to employees, which no private bidder would ever agree to take on. Immediate privatization would leave taxpayers with yet another multibillion-dollar bill. 

The Postal Service can become a sustainable business and stay under government control. And it can do this in a way that would ultimately lead to privatization without wreaking havoc on its employees or the taxpayers.  For good models, look abroad, where postal services have successfully navigated the extremes of privatization and government monopoly. Sweden eliminated Posten AB’s monopoly, allowed others to enter the market and forced the enterprise to go head to head with its new competitors, while maintaining 100 percent state ownership. Germany reduced its ownership of Deutsche Post to a third and has licensed more than 800 companies to provide alternative services, forcing Deutsche Post to expand and adapt with the competition. Even in Canada, which maintains Canada Post’s mail monopoly as a fully state-owned corporation, the postal service has the mandate and the authority to make changes to preserve public funds.
In the past 20 years, as the ways we stay connected to one another have changed dramatically, many of the postal services around the world have changed, too. But not here. Congress, in fact, has continued to restrict the USPS and aid its private competitors.  Congress fostered the growth of the companies that are eating the USPS’s lunch, passing the Air Cargo Deregulation Act of 1977, nicknamed the “Federal Express Act,” and the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. Both changed transportation laws to meet the needs of private shipping carriers. But the time when UPS and FedEx required special protections against the Postal Service has long since passed. It’s now time for lawmakers to consider how to work for the USPS, not against it.

There are three successful precedents for change that we should consider.  First, many national postal services have expanded and diversified their revenue by offering new competitive products, including global package delivery, logistics and freight forwarding. If it’s allowed to use its sizable revenue from first-class and standard mail delivery to invest in new and growing areas, the USPS can build revenue streams that will last beyond first-class mail.
Second, it is possible to deliver mail to everyone quickly and reliably at an affordable price. But this obligation must be coupled with competitive price adjustments and reasonable limits to delivery service. Postage rate increases are currently set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, whose commissioners are appointed by the president — not by the people who run the business. The USPS needs the authority to effectively cover its costs while preserving universal service.

Third, postal services are pursuing technical innovations to keep up with modern communication. In 2010, Deutsche Post embraced online and hybrid mail services, and made money doing it. (Hybrid mail systems give customers a choice between electronic or physical letters.) The Postal Service could adopt similar innovations.
These are all reasonable changes that have worked abroad. But Congress and presidentially appointed overseers stand in the way of trying them here. In addition to the stranglehold on pricing, the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act severely restricts the USPS from expanding its services.  The path forward for the Postal Service will be difficult and involve compromise for everyone. But by loosening restrictions on its ability to compete and allowing it to adapt, Congress can allow the USPS to remain as an “enlarger of the common life” — not just an enlarger of our debt.

U.S. Postal Service Faces Bankruptcy, Plans Cuts To Slow Delivery Of First Class Mail

(Associated Press, December 4, 2011)

Facing bankruptcy, the U.S. Postal Service is pushing ahead with unprecedented cuts to first-class mail next spring that will slow delivery and, for the first time in 40 years, eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day.  The estimated $3 billion in reductions, to be announced in broader detail on Monday, are part of a wide-ranging effort by the cash-strapped Postal Service to quickly trim costs, seeing no immediate help from Congress.  The changes would provide short-term relief, but ultimately could prove counterproductive, pushing more of America's business onto the Internet. They could slow everything from check payments to Netflix's DVDs-by-mail, add costs to mail-order prescription drugs, and threaten the existence of newspapers and time-sensitive magazines delivered by postal carrier to far-flung suburban and rural communities.

That birthday card mailed first-class to Mom also could arrive a day or two late, if people don't plan ahead.  "It's a potentially major change, but I don't think consumers are focused on it and it won't register until the service goes away," said Jim Corridore, analyst with S&P Capital IQ, who tracks the shipping industry. "Over time, to the extent the customer service experience gets worse, it will only increase the shift away from mail to alternatives. There's almost nothing you can't do online that you can do by mail."  The cuts, now being finalized, would close roughly 250 of the nearly 500 mail processing centers across the country as early as next March. Because the consolidations typically would lengthen the distance mail travels from post office to processing center, the agency also would lower delivery standards for first-class mail that have been in place since 1971.

Currently, first-class mail is supposed to be delivered to homes and businesses within the continental U.S. in one day to three days. That will lengthen to two days to three days, meaning mailers no longer could expect next-day delivery in surrounding communities. Periodicals could take between two days and nine days.  About 42 percent of first-class mail is now delivered the following day. An additional 27 percent arrives in two days, about 31 percent in three days and less than 1 percent in four days to five days. Following the change next spring, about 51 percent of all first-class mail is expected to arrive in two days, with most of the remainder delivered in three days.

The consolidation of mail processing centers is in addition to the planned closing of about 3,700 local post offices. In all, roughly 100,000 postal employees could be cut as a result of the various closures, resulting in savings of up to $6.5 billion a year.  Expressing urgency to reduce costs, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in an interview that the agency has to act while waiting for Congress to grant it authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and reduce health care and other labor costs.  The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive tax money, but is subject to congressional control on large aspects of its operations. The changes in first-class mail delivery can go into place without permission from Congress.

 After five years in the red, the post office faces imminent default this month on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits. It is projected to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year amid steady declines in first-class mail volume. Donahoe has said the agency must make cuts of $20 billion by 2015 to be profitable.  It already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.  "We have a business model that is failing. You can't continue to run red ink and not make changes," Donahoe said. "We know our business, and we listen to our customers. Customers are looking for affordable and consistent mail service, and they do not want us to take tax money."  Separate bills that have passed House and Senate committees would give the Postal Service more authority and liquidity to stave off immediate bankruptcy. But prospects are somewhat dim for final congressional action on those bills anytime soon, especially if the measures are seen in an election year as promoting layoffs and cuts to neighborhood post offices.

Technically, the Postal Service must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission before it can begin closing local post offices and processing centers. But such opinions are nonbinding, and Donahoe is making clear the agency will proceed with reductions once the opinion is released next March.  "The things I have control over here at the Postal Service, we have to do," he said, describing the cuts as a necessary business decision. "If we do nothing, we will have a death spiral."  The Postal Service initially announced in September it was studying the possibility of closing the processing centers and published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments. Within 30 days, the plan elicited nearly 4,400 public comments, mostly in opposition.

Among them:

_Small-town mayors and legislators in states including Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania cited the economic harm if postal offices were to close, eliminating jobs and reducing service. Small-business owners in many other states also were worried.  "It's kind of a lifeline," said William C. Snodgrass, who owns a USave Pharmacy in North Platte, Neb., referring to next-day first-class delivery. His store mails hundreds of prescriptions a week to residents in mostly rural areas of the state that lack local pharmacies. If first-class delivery were lengthened to three days and Saturday mail service also were suspended, a resident might not get a shipment mailed on Wednesday until the following week.

"A lot of people in these communities are 65 or 70 years old, and transportation is an issue for them," said Snodgrass, who hasn't decided whether he will have to switch to a private carrier such as UPS for one-day delivery. That would mean passing along higher shipping costs to customers. "It's impossible for many of my customers to drive 100 miles, especially in the winter, to get the medications they need."

_ESPN The Magazine and Crain Communications, which prints some 27 trade and consumer publications, said delays to first-class delivery could ruin the value of their news. Their magazines are typically printed at week's end with mail arrival timed for weekend sports events or the Monday start of the work week. Newspapers, already struggling in the Internet age, also could suffer.  "No one wants to receive Tuesday's issue, containing news of Monday's events, on Wednesday," said Paul Boyle, a senior vice president of the Newspaper Association of America, which represents nearly 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. "Especially in rural areas where there might not be broadband access for Internet news, it will hurt the ability of newspapers to reach customers who pretty much rely on the printed newspaper to stay connected to their communities."

_AT&T, which mails approximately 55 million customer billing statements each month, wants assurances that the Postal Service will widely publicize and educate the public about changes to avoid confusion over delivery that might lead to delinquent payments. The company is also concerned that after extensive cuts the Postal Service might realize it cannot meet a relaxed standard of two-to-three day delivery.  Other companies standing to lose include Netflix, which offers monthly pricing plans for unlimited DVDs by mail, sent one disc or two at a time. Longer delivery times would mean fewer opportunities to receive discs each month, effectively a price increase. Netflix in recent months has been vigorously promoting its video streaming service as an alternative.  "DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said this year.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate committee that oversees the post office, believes the agency is taking the wrong approach. She says service cuts will only push more consumers to online bill payment or private carriers such as UPS or FedEx, leading to lower revenue in the future.  "Time and time again in the face of more red ink, the Postal Service puts forward ideas that could well accelerate its death spiral," she said, urging passage of a bill that would refund nearly $7 billion the Postal Service overpaid into a federal retirement fund, encourage a restructuring of health benefits and reduce the agency's annual payments into a retiree health account.

That measure would postpone a move to five-day-a-week mail delivery for at least two years and require additional layers of review before the agency closed postal branches and mail processing centers.  "The solution to the Postal Service's financial crisis is not easy but must involve tackling more significant expenses that do not drive customers," Collins said.  In the event of a shutdown due to bankruptcy, private companies such as FedEx and UPS could handle a small portion of the material the post office moves, but they do not go everywhere. No business has shown interest in delivering letters everywhere in the country for a set rate of 44 cents or 45 cents for a first-class letter.

Ruth Goldway, chair of the Postal Regulatory Commission, said the planned cuts could test the limits of the Postal Service's legal obligation to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. "It will have substantial cost savings, but it really does have the potential to change what the postal service is and its role in providing fast and efficient delivery of mail," she said.