Sunday, January 20, 2008


Boy, youre going to carry that weight,
Carry that weight a long time

**Paul McCartney

HANK: I was looking for my little black notebook, the one I use to collect all the fabulous words and observations that are certainly going to make my next book into a blockbuster, and I couldn't find it. I couldn't find it because it was lost in the black hole of my purse, buried among two black pouches (for bandaids, earrings, advil, library cards, unused gift cards, stamps, a safety pin and a lipstick in case I lose my other lipstick), a black makeup bag, a black checkbook, a black calendar, a couple of black glasses cases, and well, you get the picture. So I was going to ask you all, and I still will, about what you carry. And why.

And then, as so often happens, the world provided something else along those lines . The incredibly talented Jonathan Soroff, who does the interviews for the Improper Bostonian(a Boston alternative magazine), did a story on what the teenaged debs at the Boston coming out cotillion, the "WINTER BALL" carried in their tiny dressy handbags.

And wow. The book ideas came spilling out. Here, from Jonathan's article:
Deb #1: a cell phone, a fake ID, lip gloss, an extra set of false eyelashes and a bit of cash.

Deb #2: cash, a fake ID, a real ID, a cell phone, lip gloss, a diamond bracelet and a pearl necklace

Deb #3: a pack of Parliaments, a pink lighter, a cell phone, cash.

Deb#4: a camera, phone, hotel, fake ID, and Adderall

Deb #5: wouldn't say.

What's in your purse? (An *extra* set of false eyelashes?)What's in your main character's purse? How important is what they carry?

ROBERTA: Well now I really want to know what's in Deb #5's little bag!

Funny thing, I just wrote a scene in which Rebecca Butterman's purse is snatched. She very foolishly chases the perpetrator down an alley, when the strap on her purse breaks and all her stuff scatters at the foot of a dumpster. So I can tell you exactly what's in there: Sunglasses, Palm pilot, pens, lip gloss, wallet, tampons, comb, cell phone...not a diamond bracelet or pearl necklace to be found! You can see she's a practical sort of woman.

A friend asked me this week whether I'd ever gotten into buying fancy bags to match my outfits. Not a chance--just one big clunky back-saver that doesn't really go with anything. But that's certainly another kind of detail that could reveal character, right?

JAN: My protagonist, Hallie Ahern, is definitely too unstylish to carry a designer bag, real purse or laptop tote. She drags around an unsightly backpack which is an important part of her journalistic life.Inside? Notebooks, pens, wallet, Chronicle ID and cardkey, her cell phone, breathmints, files, sometimes saltines, and a digital recorder to capture "ambient sound" for the website. But it all spills out, and whatever she needs is rarely there when she needs it.

My own purse is somewhat smaller, although still in the large category. I carry sunglases, breathmints, wallet, checkbook, keys, Advil, small notebook, cell phone,an IPOD, and a PDA I almost never remember to use. I have dreams of being organized and prepared. Pipe dreams.

RO: When I saw the title for this blog I was reminded of a really great book called The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Vietnam story, very powerful. No debs as far as I can remember.

HANK: I thought of it too, Ro. And my Dad told me he carried a little book of poetry with him all though World War Two. (Which included the Battle of the Bulge and a prison camp.) He says it was to remind him there was still beauty in the world. And that's kind of why I thought of it could certainly reveal character. Even if character is pack rat. Or paranoid.

ROSEMARY: Paula Holliday, my heroine, is a backpack kind of gal. She, like me, carries a cell phone, but, kind of, under protest. (Ask anyone who's ever called my's rarely turned on.)But she's also likely to be hauling around ziplock baggies, Felco nippers, two pairs of garden gloves, and a magnifying glass to look at bugs.

Like Hank, I have a collection of squarish black things, none of which is ever the one I'm aiming for when I fish around in my black hole of a handbag. Apart from the usual suspects - phone, wallet, card case, camera, Ipod, and makeup case (black, of course)I carry two Tibetan protection mandalas that my sister gave me when I climbed Kili. They worked, so I carry them everywhere.

HANK: That's very hip, Ro. I have a good luck coin that came from...well, another story. But my purse weighs, I bet, 15 pounds. I cannot leave it behind. So I wondered, wht's making it so heavy? Besides my wallet and a little black pouch of stuff, I just counted 10 pencils, 6 pens, a stack of bookmarks for Face Time, a 2007 calendar, a 2008 calendar, my notebook, a stack of gift cards just in case I run out of money, a checkbook, business card case, a little bag of almonds, gum, those listerine breath strips, car keys, house keys, a makeup bag that you don't even wanna know what's in, a little flashlight..should I go on?
Is there a way to ditch all this? I try to think of it as a kind of weightlifting exercise.
Oh and PS--oops. We didn't mean "anything can happen Friday" to include nothing happening. Our bad. But watch this space--in fact, check the comments on Wednesday for what's going to happen Friday. Newly published or soon to be published mystery authors? Better visit JR!


  1. Ah yes, the black hole that is the purse. Saturday night I even had a bathing suit in it (don't ask).

    The basics: something to write on; something to write with; tissues for the inevitable runny nose; all that boring stuff like money and IDs and the cell phone; a flashlight (really--one of those mini MagLights. I started that after visiting a restaurant where it was too dark to read the menu); Altoids; nail clippers; checkbook; keys (two sets, in case I inadvertently leave one in the house/car/somewhere else).

    One other odd thought. After my last trip to the dentist, I found I was carrying a freebie floss dispenser, which unravels itself all the time. But when I last traveled by air, I found myself wondering...could I strangle the pilot with dental floss? And what about those toothpicks lurking in the bottom of the bag? If I found just the right spot (like someone's eye), could I disable someone?

  2. What a great topic. I once attended a seminar on personality types (you know, extrovert, introvert, judging, organized, and so on) that used the contents and organization of your wallet/purse/car trunk/closet to illustrate personality differences. Very fun.

    My large West African handbag that has been my only purse for over 15 years (it's mostly leather so it never wears out) includes, besides the items common to most of us except for the makeup pouch: a Japanese good-luck-in-driving charm that I brought home with me in 1977 and have carried ever since, an inhaler, my work ID, a toothbrush, allergy eyedrops, a cloth handkerchief, and always sugar-free gum, which I heard works great if you can't brush, so why do I also have the toothbrush?

  3. Hank, whenI read that your father carried the book of poetry to remind him the world still contained beauty, it made me tear up. He must be some kind of man.

    Amy MacKinnon

  4. I think I travel pretty light, bagwise. My husband, OTOH, probably still has the first bag of airline peanuts he was ever given at the bottom of his backpack. Pretzels, little bottles of booze, - Oreos, that have been pulverized into a fine powder because of the 800 page books he's squashed on top of them.
    I must admit that every once in a while when we're stuck someplace with no food (hiking, airport in third world country) it comes in handy.

  5. AH--Sheila, don't tell the TSA your deadly dental stuff ideas. We won't be able to bring that stuff on the plane anymore.

    Let me say--I just hopped over to your Writers Plot blog, and read your incredible post on promotion. I'm the tiniest bit math impaired, but I think you may have hit on a genius idea. Check it out, gang.

    Maxwriter--what did the seminar say about types when it came to purses? (Did it say something like: a writer who carries a big purse with a lot of pencils is destined to be a bestseller?) Anything like that?

    Amy--eight months til TETHERED is in the stores! Can we order it now and get a first edition?

  6. What a great post! My main protagonist at The Black Widow Agency has a prediliction for her 9mm Sig, a flask of Jack Daniels and several badges since she was...errr...fired from the force.

    In real life, I am obliged to carry the "gear" including some ID that says I'm with the PD and the incessant Nextel which, God forbid, I should ever be without. I also have notebooks, lots of pens (signing and notetaking) and a stack of BWA bookmarks for that poor clerk who asks to see picture ID (ha!) Makeup? One tube of lipstick and teabags.

    The only thing I can't do without is my tiny digital voice recorder slash mp3 player that lets me either listen to books or records notesfor books on the fly.

  7. Though I much-admire Grace Kelly's elegant Rear Window character -- was anyone ever more beautiful, graceful, and WELL APPOINTED?-- I cannot be bothered to change bags with every outfit, and since half my life I'm in a suit and heels and the other half in fatigues and steel-shanked boots, finding The Bag means finding something that works in a majority of contexts.

    I typically carry a tailored Brahmin multi-toned leather bag (ivory, brown, black snake-patterned leather). It has an attachable strap for airport slogging (yessss!) and is big enough to stow a little lunch if I have to.

    That said, I don't carry much in my purse.

    A little flat card wallet with
    my driver's license, pilot certificates/medical, search team ID,insurance card, business cards,one debit card,
    one teabag (Felicia! If we met on a plane we could have a teaparty.)
    and my American Airlines Mastercard. Two blank checks inside the same flat card wallet.

    A comb. A lipstick.
    The iPhone and a black leather-covered reporter's notepad with an attached pen. I sketch in it more often than write.

    My purse is light and mostly empty. But I do like that it can accomodate lunch and a book into it for flights. I could smuggle a couple of kittens in it, if pressed, which is a charming thought. :-D

  8. GOT NEWS?

    This Friday, we here at JR want to make sure everyone knows your headlines. Got a mystery coming out soon? A sale? A reading or signing you'd love to let your pals know about?

    Now you can BSP without fear--we love BSP on Jungle Red's "Anything can Happen" Fridays.

    Liz--you out there? Toni? Sheila? Ro, you've got a party in the works, right? Susannah's sale? Who else?

    Just email me via my website go to http:
    and click on "contact"

    As many announcements as we can fit (keep 'em short!)--we'll post Friday on the front page.

    Tell your pals! It's BSP Friday on Jungle Red.

  9. Susannah,
    Was that a reference to the kitty who jumped into its owners' suitcase and flew from Fort Worth to Florida?

  10. It wasn't, but how I admire that little one's spirit of get-up-and-go.



  11. Long ago, a coworker told me that a woman's purse only needed be big enough for a credit card and a lipstick. today, she would add cell phone.
    Then again, was it Erma Bombeck who said that a woman's car is an extension of her purse? That's more like me.

  12. Daisy, I've noticed that really organized people can carry small purses. They must think ahead before they go anywhere and know exactly what they are going to need on that outing.
    I have to have EVERYTHING there all the time because heaven knows I'm not going to think about what I need BEFOREHAND. That would involve PLANNING. A skill set that I haven't developed yet.

  13. I have my regular purse with everything I could possibly need and then some in it, but I also have a small zipper bag in it that contains the true essentials: driver's license, ATM card, credit card, insurance card (in case I'm in an accident), extra car key (for the six times a year I lock the keys in the car), small spool of dental floss (I have a food trap between my molars--I know, too much information), small tin of lip balm, and cash. I stick this in one pocket, my cell phone in another and I can go almost anywhere.

    Do you notice the same men who make fun of women's big purses are the first to say, "Can you put this in your purse?" when you're out together? Not naming any names, of course.


  14. In truth, my handbag contents are pretty bland, the highlight being a pack of checks so old they are curlicued (because my hairdresser doesn't take plastic). It's the front seat of my car that holds weirdness. Single Glove Emporium is its other name.


  15. Becky,
    Is that because you drive with only one glove on? I have a habit of tearing off the right glove so I can feel the steering wheel when I drive. i have no idea why I do this. Roberta..? anybody..?

  16. Becky--is it--leftover gloves because you always forget where you put one of them? Notice I didn't say:lost.

    And hey Sheila--I just had a delayed reaction--bathing suit? I've had shoes. And scarves. ANd certainly food. Grapes. Celery. But--bathing suit? I know you said don't ask. But that's just an invitation.

    Ah, Susannah--Grace Kelly in Rear Window. You're so right. No one is more perfect. I love her hiding Harpers Bazaar behind a "worthwhile" book.

    And Mo--so perfect! Yes, indeed..I get razzed for my purse--until Jonathan wants to put something in it.

    Felicia: you're way too cool with police stuff. Probasbyl htey let you through airport lines without a pause. But teabags? I'd carry them for puffy eyes, but you probably just drink tea.

    Daisy: welcome! so nice to "see" you! Where are you from?

  17. Apropos of Rear Window, I was just remembering that one of the major plot points in that movie turns on Grace Kelly's character, Lisa, disputing the meaning of the items found in a handbag.

    Does it count that I remembered this days after a blog entry opened? }:>

    And additionally, an entry from Wikipedia, that deep well of questionable knowledge:

    The French haute couture fashion house Herm├Ęs named one of its most famous and now most sought-after products, the "Kelly Bag", after Grace Kelly. Waiting lists up to two years long are not unusual for this handbag, and prices start at $5,000 for the small version in plain leather and exceed $50,000 for crocodile skin or other unusual materials.

    Just in case you're shopping.