Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Got Blood? Have a thirst for vampires? Host a Night-of-the-Living-Dead Party!

Vampire Parties are all the rage, thanks to books, TV shows, and movies like “Twilight,” “True Blood,” and “Vampire Diaries.” Whether you’re a fan of vampire Team Edward or werewolf Team Jacob, barmaid Sookie Stackhouse and vampire Bill Compton, or good/evil vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore Salvatore, you can host a Night of the Living Dead party to celebrate a birthday, Halloween, or the latest vampire episode.


There are lots of vampire-related party supplies available, but you can easily make your own invitations and personalize them to your theme. For a Coffin Invitation, fold a sheet of black construction paper in half. Draw the shape of a coffin on the paper, making sure one side of the coffin is on the fold. Cut out the coffin and write “Do not open until midnight” or “Open at your own risk” on the front using a sparkly pen. Or you can type it up on the computer using a spooky font, print it, cut it out, and glue it to the front. Next find a picture of your favorite vampire on the Internet or in a fan magazine and copy it for each invitation. Open the coffin and glue the picture on the right-hand side. On the opposite side, write the party details. For added fun, cut out drops of “blood” from red paper and place them in the envelope. Or add a set of vampire teeth.


Ask your guests to come as their favorite vampire—or werewolf—past or present. When they arrive, offer them face paints, vampire teeth, and vials of fake blood to add to their costumes. Make simple capes out of black fabric and hand them out to guests.


Create a gothic atmosphere with helium-inflated black and red balloons. Tie the balloons onto furniture, to backs of chairs, and float them to the ceiling. Turn the lights down and light candles, or string holiday lights around the room. Replace regular light bulbs with black lights and red bulbs. Make a giant coffin using a large appliance box. Paint it black, add a string of garlic or a wooden cross to the top, and place it in the center of the room to use for setting out snacks. Place vampire fangs, garlic, and plastic bats around the room or hang them from the ceiling. Cover your mirrors and black out your windows. Set the table with a black cloth and bright red paper products. Use vampire teeth as napkin rings. Make a centerpiece using a glass bowl, fill it with red tinted water, and float black candles. Make some personalized tombstones from cardboard or foam, and write epitaphs on them for each guest. Set them around the room. Play Clair de Lune, Muse, and Coldplay music in the background.

Games and Activities

* Team Trivia. Divide guests into two teams and have them answer trivia questions about vampires and such from “Twilight,” “True Blood,” or “Vampire Diaries.”

* Quote the Vampire. Write down quotes from the vampire books or shows and have guests try to identify the speaker.

* Vamping Vampires. Write down scenes from your favorite vampire film, book, or show, and have guests act them out for one another to guess.

* Vampire Shirt. Let guests make their own t-shirts with their favorite vampires or sayings on them. Print pictures of vampires and sayings on iron-on paper using the computer, and then let guests iron them on and decorate with glitter glue, sequins, and other embellishments.

* Vampire Videos. Watch videos of your favorite vampire films or TV shows. Don’t forget the originals, such as “Dracula,” or the popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”


Serve lots of red-colored food to satisfy that thirst for blood—red licorice, sliced red peppers, strawberries, red apples, red salsa with red tortilla chips, French fries with ketchup dip. Ask the bakery to tint a loaf of bread red, then make sandwiches with red jam. Cut out bat-shaped cookies, bake them, and spread with chocolate icing.

Offer a variety of red-colored drinks for the vampire guests, such as tomato juice, cranberry juice cocktail, red punch, red sports drink, etc. Freeze gummy worms in red water to make ice cubes for the drinks.

Make a coffin-shaped or tombstone-shaped red velvet cake, covered with chocolate icing.


Give the vampires plastic teeth, black capes, fake blood, posters of hot vampires, face painting makeup, videos of the shows, or other vampire related gifts—there are lots available!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Griswolds hit the Road

I haven’t been camping in over twenty years. I have pictures of the kids, filthy from head to toe as proof that I did go camping at least once. But the experience was so traumatic—all that dirt and those bugs and stuff—I swore the next time I went camping it would be at the Marriott—and I’d live without room service.

But my son, who remembers our camping trips fondly—after all, he was only a kid and loved dirt and didn’t have to do any of the work—suggested we rent a couple of 30-foot RV for my husband’s 62nd birthday (on the 17th)/36th Father’s Day (on the 20th)/40th anniversary (on the 13th) and take a Family Road Trip. As much as I wanted my husband to have a nice triple celebration, I hesitated.

Camping just isn’t how I roll any more.

Then my son took us to the RV place to see the model he’d been planning to rent.
Wow. I had only been in an “RV” once before in my life, when I was a kid. My father rented a Teardrop Trailer, which is about the size of a Smart Car, but has two double beds—and that’s it. He and Mom packed their three kids in the back seat of their 1957 Buick and took off for a two-week cross-country trip to see relatives. My memories include dividing the back seat into thirds with invisible “Do Not Cross” lines, fighting with my brother and sister from Nevada to Ohio, and glancing at the Grand Canyon which looked like a big stupid hole to a ten-year-old kid like me.

The RV my son had his eye on was a palace compared to the Teardrop. It slept six, and was outfitted like a small apartment with cable TV, microwave, shower, refrigerator and freezer, stove and double sink, and more closet space than my bedroom.

“I could be happy here,” I said, sinking into the navigator’s bucket seat. I decided we’d rent one too, remembering that we’d be hauling two grandparents, four adult children and four grandchildren under the age of 6.

With the promise from my son that RV parks had come a long way since the Route 66 side-of-the-road pull-overs, we signed the contracts for two 30-footers and began planning the trip. My son wanted the Grand Canyon, my husband preferred the Oregon coast, so we settled for Monterey/Pismo Beach/Felton in the Santa Cruz mountains.

On departure day, we brought the giant condos-on-wheels home and began packing up. My husband packed everything from the espresso maker to the toaster—pots, pans, cooking utensils, plates, cups, paper towels—while I packed light—a handful of “Life is Good” t-shirts, some shorts, and my laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod, and GPS.

It took us four hours just to get out of the driveway.

Our first stop was the San Ramon Lucky store to load up the RV with enough snacks to fill the Grand Canyon. It took us another hour to buy groceries, use the bathroom, get and eat made-to-order sandwiches, and repack everything.

We were on the road at last. . .

Next time: A road block, a lost sewer hose, a middle-of-the-night alarm, and more.

You can reach Penny Warner at http://www.pennywarner.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I’m a list-maker, and so is my character, Presley Parker. In HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, she not only makes to-do lists for her party planning business, KILLER PARTIES, but she also makes lists of suspects whenever a dead body appears uninvited at one of her parties.

As for me, I write lists for everything—places to go, people to see, things to do. If I didn’t, I’d surely forget to go to my writing group meetings, talk with sources for my research, and, no doubt, write my book.

I especially love Top Ten lists. So for today’s topic, I’ve got two lists to share. The first one was created by another writer, Andrea Campbell, who sent me a wonderful list of things that help drive people to visit a website. Here are her top ten tips:

1. Leave comments
2. Cross-link
3. Subscribe
4. Take an RSS feed
5. Use the "Share" box (under the article for distribution)
6. Select: ie., add Andrea as your favorite Examiner (above by bio)
7. Visit a lot
8. Promote the heck out of it
9. Give it a tweet, a dig, a rave, a prop, a blink...
10. Post the URL to a search engine

By the way, you can subscribe to Andrea’s twitter site for more great tips--http://www.twitter.com/AndreaCampbell.

The second list I found on a great site called Toptenz.net. The site lists all kinds of lists, such as Top Ten Heists and Robberies, Top Ten Shocking Deaths, Top Ten Botched Bank Robberies, Top Ten Fugitives Still on the Run, Top Ten Deadliest Prisons, Top Ten Popular Poisons, Top Ten Con Games Explained, Top Ten Prison Escapes, and Top Ten Deadliest Female Killers.

These are all great lists for mystery writers, but my favorite is the Top Ten Literary Detectives. See how they compare to your top ten list.

10. V.I. Warshawski, Sara Parestsky’s tough female detective from Chicago—one of the first of her kind.

9. Nick and Nora Charles, the married couple played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the movies, who engage in witty banter as much as solve mysteries.

8. Sam Spade, the hard-boiled dick created by Dashiell Hammett and starring Humphrey Bogart in the much-loved classic 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon.

7. Mike Hammer, created by Mickey Spillane. Hammer wasn’t above breaking the law—or a leg—to get his man.

6. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s cozy series featuring a sweet, old lady sleuth with a sharp and suspicious mind.

5. Hercule Poirot, another of Christie’s creations, whose odd speech and finicky ways either enchanted or irritated readers.

4. The Hardy Boys, one of Edward Stratemeyer’s many syndicated series, starring Frank and Joe Hardy. Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy played the heartthrobs in the TV series.

3. Nancy Drew, another of the Stratemeyer creations, who solved mysteries with the help of her two chums, Bess and George. Her first case came out 80 years ago.

2. Philip Marlowe, “world weary, heavy drinking gumshoe,” that Raymond Chandler brought to life to right the world’s wrongs.

1. Sherlock Holmes, arguably the greatest detective in fiction still today, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his own powers of “deductive reasoning.”

So who’s on your Top Ten list of fictional detectives? Kinsey Milhone? Stephanie Plum? Scooby Doo?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Forty years: Warners vs. Gores

We’re celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary this month. After hearing Al and Tipper Gore’s recent announcement to end their 40-year marriage, we’ve carefully considered our options and have decided to stay together.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been married as long as we have. Forty years is a hella-long time. Back in 1970 a new house cost $23,000 (ours was $32,000), gas was 36 cents a gallon (practically free), a stamp was 6 cents (and there was no e-mail), and we could have bought a Gremlin for less than $2,000 (what’s a Gremlin?).

Most of our milestone anniversary celebrations have been simple. We’re usually in a cheap hotel somewhere near Disneyland, sharing cupcakes with the kids, and planning our next rides. This year we’re looking for something really special to mark this momentous occasion, in memory of our 1970 wedding.

And what memories we have of that time. It was the end of the sixties, the dawn of the seventies, and—unlike our parents’ traditional weddings,we wanted something different, right down to the song performed at the ceremony—-something by the Beatles, of course (“Baby, I’m amazed”).

For my wedding, forty years ago, I made my own bridal gown (using a Simplicity pattern) and the bridesmaids’ dresses (psychedelic orange and yellow). I whipped up all the food for the reception (tiny sandwiches), held the reception at my parents’ house (only a couple of people fell in the pool) and hired a relative to provide the live music (my brother). We spent our honeymoon night at some hotel in Oakland (not the one that rented by the hour) and I broke out in hives the next day (my mother said it was nerves).

Today’s weddings are nothing like ours. Last weekend we attended the wedding of my daughter-in-law’s brother, Ken, and his bride, Kelly. The invitations were incredible hand-made three-dimensional creations. The wedding was held against the picturesque backdrop of Lake Tahoe, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, majestic pine trees, and a babbling brook. The bride wore a stunning beaded gown I could never have made. The sumptuous buffet was provided by the lodge. And the wedding cakes were covered with frosting flowers that looked too real to eat.

But some things haven’t changed in forty years: Happy brides and proud grooms, beautiful bridesmaids and handsome groomsmen, and lots of family and friends there to celebrate a special day.

So we’ve been trying to brainstorm ideas for celebrating our Big 4-0. Take a cruise to Alaska? Too cold. Tour Europe? Too much volcanic ash. Rent an RV and drive to the Grand Canyon? Too far. Have a big party? Too tired. Go to Disneyland? Been there, done that, every year for the past 40 years.

Oh well. Maybe we’ll take a short drive down the coast for the weekend, catch up on our reading, go out to dinner, and then get a good night’s sleep. After all, we’d better keep it simple if we want to get through another 40 years together. I just hope Ken and Kelly have as many happy years as we’ve had.

Because now that so many years have passed, truthfully, I’m amazed.