Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Surviving the Family Reunion
My sis and I realized that had our dad lived, his 101st birthday would be the day this appears. He and mom would have so loved this event--they were crazy about family and always amazed at how many we were since they'd only had two daughters. (Amazing to us too.)
The first evening, besides a lot of yakking, we were given cards to write down the information of how we came about our first name, something no one else has done, and our most embarrassing moment. We chowed down on Nachos with cheese, carrots, celery and dip, fruit and homemade cookies. Then we settled down to play our family's favorite game of Estimation. (It's not everyone's favorite, some of the men sneaked off to watch the debate.) The thing about this game that's so much fun is anyone can play and thought there is some strategy, you don't have to be particularly smart.
One of my great-grandson's who is a Sophomore in high school would consult with me on his hand--saying he had to find out what the "wise one" thought he should do. That tickled me.
We were at a Holiday Inn Express with a great breakfast which everyone enjoyed. Some of us were ready to eat and gab at 7 a.m. despite staying up way later than what I'm used to.
My job was making the chili beans which I got started fairly early. The wonderful smell of it cooking permeated the hotel. The kids had relay races beside the pool and swam. Lunch was hamburgers and hot dogs. Some went to State Line to Gamble, a son-in-law and grandson-in-law went four-bying, others went shopping at an outlet mall (I found some great bargains for Christmas). Of course you know there was lots and lots of gabbing going on. When we got back to the hotel, it was time for a Triathalon for the kids, jumping rope, swimming two laps, and a race around the outside of the hotel. Then everyone paticipated in a sponge relay which meant we all got wet. We were great entertainment for other hotel guests who were relaxing around the pool.
The chili beans were the best I've every made. What was left we shared with the hotel staff who were very appreciative. We had a talent show, and we learned everyone's secrets from the cards filled out earlier. The youngest kids crashed, the next age worked on craft projects while the rest of us went back to playing Estimation. And I was just as wise as the night before--though I didn't win. We had a great time.
It was great seeing the newest addition to the family and getting better acquainted with one of my grandson's girlfriend--and best of all, just spending time with relatives I don't see often.
Oh, and I sold four books! Better than some book events I've gone to.
Now I need to play catch-up again--the one drawback to going off and having a good time.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Happy New Year
The time between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is called the Days of Awe. They are a period for reflection, an opportunity to atone for sins in the past, make amends with those we've harmed, and decide to do better in the future. I know that this type of inner soul-searching should be an ongoing process, not something limited to the 10 days between the two High Holidays. So one of my resolutions for this new year is to take more time for spiritual inventory and spend less time on book inventory. I think both the professional and personal side of me will benefit.
So as we enter the Jewish year 5769, may I take this opportunity to wish each of you, a healthy, happy New Year.
Shana Tova Umetukah (Hebrew for "A Good and Sweet Year.")
Friday, September 26, 2008
Death and the Lit Chick
Several years ago, my husband and I belonged to a neighborhood book club. It lasted only about two years, then the group dissolved: attrition, conflicting and busy schedules, and all the rest made it too difficult to meet. What was slightly unusual about this club was that it was comprised of three men and three women. I don't have statistics to back this up, but I imagine most book clubs are female only or predominantly female.
What was also unusual was that, about eighteen months into our monthly meetings, we realized we had read only books by male authors. I don't remember the books now, except for Peace Like a River (lovely writing) and some god-awful attempt at imitating the Travis McGee books. My point is: We may have come a long way, baby, but somehow, without even realizing it, the women had gone along with choosing the more muscular books they thought the men might like, rather than making the men struggle through something like Sex and the City. I guess we knew they would flat-out refuse and that would be the end of that.
This is a pathetic confession to have to make; to this day I can't believe we women behaved like this, without even realizing we were doing so. The whole episode has been in my mind now that the ramp-up to my second novel in the St. Just mystery series has begun. A key--nay, a crucial--part of this ramp-up is the unveiling of the book cover, which, rightly or wrongly, can raise or sink a book. The first book was called Death of a Cozy Writer, and it was beautifully illustrated, I thought, by a fountain pen dripping blood (trust me, it sounds awful but it looks great). The second book is called Death and the Lit Chick, the cover for which appears above.
My first reaction on seeing this cover was that I loved it--I thought it was clever and impactful, looking like the spilled contents of a woman's purse (although it did portray many items not mentioned in the plot--a subject many authors over the centuries have ranted about so there's no need for me to repeat the rantings here). But my husband took one look and declared that no man would be caught dead buying that book unless it came supplied with a brown paper wrapper.
Worriedly, I reported the findings of my two-person survey to my editor, fearing I was going to lose the male audience that I knew existed for the first book. The second book was in the identical, traditional British mystery vein (there is nothing chick litty about the plot). But would I lose the men forever with this one? She told me that my audience would largely be female, anyway, and female was the target audience.
Is this true? I hate to lose the guys over a cover. Perhaps Death and the Lit Chick can be a litmus test, the way my book club was. If challenged, will "real men" buy a girly looking pink-and-red book with lipstick on the cover?
We shall see come April.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Chocolate Milk, Lack of Sleep, and Parenting
In my defense, I point out three things. First, it was a one-time purchase. Second, it was chocolate milk, not heroin. And third, and probably most important, they’re assuming I had standards when they were living full time in the house. Truth is: I’m a softie when it comes to my offspring. I repeat, who took them to see the World Wrestling Federation? And the answer is: not my husband who is still shell-shocked that I ever agreed to that outing.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about my standards (or lack thereof) as I work my way through this book on baby’s first year. Since this is a mystery blog, I’ve been trying to find a way to tie the subject to a whodunit. Best that I can come up with is the victim is a mother who declares in a park full of other new moms that her baby, at the age of three weeks, is sleeping through the night. I figure there would be plenty of suspects because the last thing you want to hear when you haven’t slept in 4000 hours is some woman, dressed in her skinny jeans, telling you how rested she feels.
I’m working on the sleep chapters and discovered a whole industry devoted to getting your baby to sleep through the night. One expert, Dr. Richard Ferber, has become a verb. Have you Ferberized your baby? Sounds vaguely like pasteurized milk. Anyway the basic concept is that babies need to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. Parents are instructed to let their infant cry (for longer and longer periods over the course of a week) until he falls back to sleep. By that point, of course, the mother is up all night consumed by guilt, but that's another story. Dr. Ferber believes that it will be a rough few days, but that most babies learn self-soothing mechanisms and are sleeping like, well, babies within seven days.
At the other extreme is Dr. William Sears. He promotes attachment-style parenting and a family bed. Sears believes that it’s more important that babies get the reassurance and intimacy of parental soothing, than learn independent sleep habits.
Reminds me of the quote from John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.”
Most parents, I think, find something in the middle that makes them comfortable. I tend to err on the side of parental soothing. I could no more listen to my child cry for 25 minutes than I could stand hearing my dog whimper that long. On the other hand, I have no interest in routinely sharing my bed with anyone other than my husband. I do acknowledge, however, that by the time I had my second child (those firsborns are just one big learning curve), I no longer jumped at the first squawk, and was more than happy to not-so-gently nudge my husband to attend to the kid.
Bottom line: I accepted sleep deprivation as a parental fact of life, part and parcel of the job. But may I add that while I was crazed from all the nocturnal wakings when my kids were babies, it was nothing compared to the lack of sleep I got when they were teens.
Parenting is amazing, wonderful, fulfilling. It can also be a treacherous field of landmines through which we're all trying to navigate safely. While we can learn from each other, we also need to learn to trust our instincts about what works best for each of our own families.
And as for that carton of chocolate milk? Here's a confession. It had nothing to do with a lack of parenting standards. The better question is: who said it was for my daughter?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Calling the Dead! Calling the Winners!
Calling the Dead is the sixth in Marilyn's Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. For the latest novel featuring Tempe, check out Marilyn's "just released," Kindred Spirits.
Thanks to all who left comments or sent emails!
The Stiletto Gang
Live a Little
I’m actually leaving town next week and I couldn’t be more excited. It has been a long time since I actually took a business trip—actually, the reason I left my publishing job all those many years ago was to stop traveling. But be careful what you wish for; it was close to eight years before I got back on a plane and traveled anywhere and I can safely say that I’m ready to get back in the saddle. The kids are bigger, my time is more my own, and I don’t have to worry about expressing milk, making bottles, cooking five dinners in advance of my departure, or anything else regarding kith and kin before I leave. Because you know what? The family they can take care of themselves!
But those vestiges and responsibilities of motherhood don’t go away easily. The reason I’m traveling is to present, as the keynote speaker (very exciting!), to a group of English instructors in Tennessee in a town called Dickson, Tennessee. I’m fortunate to be traveling with a very good friend and former coworker who herself has three children, a dog, and a husband to take care of before she hits the road. She planned our trip and booked us into a Hampton Inn in Dickson, Tennessee, for the two nights that we’ll be away, because that was our ultimate destination, and why not? We’re women; we do the most convenient and least expensive thing when given the choice.I got to thinking. Dickson is probably lovely and probably small, which is fine; I live in lovely and small and am very happy here. But we fly into Nashville, a place I’ve never been. Why not stay by Opryland the first night, treat ourselves to a steak dinner and a couple of martinis, do a little shopping, and then head off to work the next day? I was afraid to broach the subject, because in all honesty, I’m not paying for the trip and didn’t feel like I could make demands. So, I broached lightly. Me: Would you consider meeting me at the airport on Thursday and staying at an Opryland hotel that night?
Her: (without pause) YES! I’M ON IT! WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?!
My friend immediately got on line and found the following hotel for the two of us, conveniently located next to a Nashville shopping mecca: http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-opryland/index.html. Guess who’s coming back with cowboy boots? And something with denim and rhinestones?
But this whole thing has gotten me thinking: What is it about us women that make us choose the most sensible and tried-and-true path? (Or am I alone here?) Granted, staying in Opryland and going to a honky-tonk (maybe, if we’re not too tired after the steak and martinis) is not wild and crazy, but the thought that it never occurred to either of us right off the bat gives me pause. What has happened to the two of us that we would get into a rental car, drive to our destination, work on our presentations until the late news came on, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour? What happened to living a little?
So, Stiletto Gang readers, especially those of you who have a) been to Nashville, b) live in Nashville, or c) just love the thought of being by Opryland, what do you suggest for two fancy-free middle-aged women without enough denim and rhinestones in their collective wardrobes? What should we do? (After our afternoon nap, that is.) What should we see? And just how ridiculous will cowboy looks on an East-coast mom who walks her West Highland Terrier through the center of her village every day?
Your honest assessments on all accounts, please.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Whoops, It's Tuesday and I'm Late
Last Thursday hubby and I left at 3:30 a.m. to fly to Phoenix and from there to St. Louis, MO. We then rented a car and drove to a little town called Taylorville, IL. (2 hour drive.) Thank goodness I brought along our portable Magellan as when we follow maps or something like Mapquest Directions, for some reason hubby tends to do the opposite of what I tell him. When the lady on Magellan warns him that the next turn will be to the right, he does what she says.
Taylorville has two motels, both rather mediocre. However, the one we stayed in was clean. We did have to ask for a hair dryer and more toilet paper and we got both. The bathroom light burned out, but it was fixed immediately.
Though the town is small, the streets are strange, going in all kinds of weird directions and changing names in the middle--so we continued to use the Magellan and still managed to get lost a couple of times.
There were two purposes for our visit. First, I was giving two presentations at the Prose in the Park writers' conference and second, to sign a publishing contract. The publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series quit the business so I had to find another publisher and fortunately did.
The conference was small, but the attendees attentive and friendly. Another presenter was J.D. Webb who I'd met at Love is Murder in Chicago. He did a great job and it was fun to see him again.
We left Taylorville on Sunday and headed home. Flying today is grueling. Though I've done it often enough I know to take off my shoes and jacket, put anything that squeezes and squirts and can't be over 3 oz. in a quart size zip lock bag which must be tossed into a plastic box to be x-rayed, it's still a pain. Now the airlines don't feed you or give you anything to drink unless you pay for it, so we've learned to buy what we need after the screening process and take it on the plane.
When we landed in Phoenix we had about 10 minutes to get to our next plane which was in a different concourse and way at the end. Fortunately, one of those electric carts was there and we were offered a ride. Saved the day, otherwise we wouldn't have made it. From Phoenix to Bakersfield we fly in one of those small commuter planes and we've decided we like them best. There's actually more leg room and the stewardesses or whatever the politically correct name is today are more friendly.
On land, we still had an hour and a half drive ahead of us.
And as usual, we came home to piles of mail that had to be tended to, plus email that I couldn't take care of via my Blackberry.
Phew! Anyway, that's my excuse for being late and I'm sticking to it. Next up is a family reunion in Barstow.
In Honor of Kindred Spirits
Monday, September 22, 2008
For my day job, I’m working on a new book about baby’s first year. It’s been a long time since I had any infants in the house. Heck, even our dog is middle-aged. Many of the basics of newborn care haven’t changed, but the who, what, when, where, why, and how of baby’s sleeping habits has undergone a dramatic change since my kids were little. I’ll be devoting an entire chapter to what parents need to know about sleep – their own and their child’s.
I’ll also be focusing on separation anxiety, typical behavior in eight month old infants – and also in this mom whose “baby” is currently studying in Scotland. The news reports from the semester abroad student have been terrific. A little homesickness, a touch of shyness, but all in all, she’s having a grand time. Even willing to try vegetarian haggis – so the sense of adventure is strong.
But me? I have been surprised at how much I miss her. I’ve decided – and tell me if this makes sense – that my emotions are exaggerated because she’s in a different time zone. I feel like I’m watching a tape delay of the Beijing Olympics. The game is already over by the time I turn on the TV. I’m rooting for a winner when if I only go on the Internet, I can find the scores and know what happened. I’m not in “real time” with my kid.
On the other hand, my husband says I’m talking to her more now that she’s overseas, than when she was 120 miles away. Part of it (okay all of it) is my personal craziness, but Skype has dramatically changed my over-anxious life. If you’re not familiar with this free software, and have family and friends who live at a distance, you need to check this out. With Skype you can talk, and if you have a camera/microphone attached to your computer, you can actually see the person on the other end -- all without charge! On the first day in Scotland, by moving the camera on her laptop computer around the room, I could actually see where my daughter is living. When we talk, she can show me what she is wearing to the “freshers” dance. Of course, I could also see the circles under her eyes from lots of late-night events.
Letting go – whether your children are four, fourteen, or forty – is never easy. But thanks to a daughter who is patient with her over-anxious mother and with the help of cell phones, e-mail, and Skype, I can watch as she takes wing and soars.
Only 95 more days to go (before she's home!).
Friday, September 19, 2008
Excerpt from Kindred Spirits and Contest
This is the first chapter from Kindred Spirits:
Before Deputy Tempe Crabtree could see evidence of the forest fire, she could smell it.
Smoke was heavy in the air and got thicker as she drove up the highway into the mountains. Monday was one of her days off, but when something happened in her jurisdiction she was often the first responder. Her instructions from the sheriff’s sub-station in Dennison were to make sure everyone who lived in the path of the fire started in the higher elevations of Bear Creek canyon had obeyed evacuation orders.
As resident deputy of the large but sparsely populated area around the mountain community of Bear Creek,
The last estimate Tempe had heard about the fast moving fire in rugged country was that it covered more than 1100 acres. She was stopped at the staging area by a highway patrolman she knew by sight though couldn’t remember his name.
Though his uniform still had sharp creases, large circles of dampness crept from his underarms. Opaque sunglasses covered his eyes. He put both hands on the open window of her Blazer as he bent down to speak to her. “Where’re you headed, Deputy?”
“My orders are to check out some of the houses in the path of the fire. Make sure everyone’s out.”
“Be careful you don’t put yourself in danger. It’s one fast-moving fire. It’s in a rough area where they haven’t been able to get in any personnel yet. They’re doing lots of water drops. All the roads are closed from here on up.”
“Thanks for the warning. I know some of the folks who might not have received the word yet.”
Tempe drove by the private airstrip that had been taken over as the fire command post. Men and equipment, fire engines, water tenders and bulldozers were being dispatched from there as well as truckloads of hand crews.
Leaving her window down, Tempe drove around the traffic cones that temporarily blocked access to the road. She planned to stop at the Donaldsons’, but they were loading horses into a trailer, obviously on their way out.
The higher she drove on the winding road, the darker the sky, the thicker the smoke, the harder it was to breathe. Ashes showered on her white Blazer. She passed fire trucks and men heading upward to fight the fire. In her heart she was thankful her son, Blair, was already back on the coast for his last year in college or he’d be on the fire lines. Fighting fire had been his first love since the age of sixteen when he began hanging around Bear Creek’s fire station.
Loaded pick-up trucks drove down the hill, some pulling horse or cattle trailers, not getting out any too soon from the looks of the black sky and the large amount of falling ash.
She had one more place she wanted to check. A beautiful home and separate studio built of sugar pine stood atop a knoll surrounded by Chaparral and a thick pine forest. Tempe had been there once on a domestic abuse call. The owner, a well-known artist, Vanessa Ainsworth, now lived alone since her boy-friend had been served with a restraining order. If Vanessa wasn’t gone already, Tempe hoped to help her collect her animals and paintings and carry some of them out for her. When Tempe made the last turn before Vanessa’s she was halted by a horrifying sight.
I will give away an autographed copy of Calling the Dead, the sixth in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series to two people who leave a comment on this post or email me privately (firstname.lastname@example.org). All names will be put into a hat, or like container, and two drawn out for the books. I will not do the drawing until Wednesday, September 24. Good luck!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Jane and Hercule Sittin' in a Tree...
I’ve got a question – and apparently Agatha Christie has the answer.
My question is who owns the characters I love? The author who created them or the audience that sustains them?
According to a story in Monday’s edition of the New York Times, Mathew Prichard, Dame Agatha’s grandson, recently discovered 27 audiotapes, recorded by the legendary author as she prepared material for her autobiography (published in 1977). In it she responds to the repeated requests she had received about her characters: “People never stop writing to me nowadays to suggest that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot should meet. But why should they meet? I’m sure they would not like meeting at all. I shall not let them meet unless I feel a really sudden and unexpected urge to do so.”
First, I agree with Dame Agatha. The concept of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot working on a case together is, as undoubtedly my grandmother would have answered, just plain meshuganah (Yiddish for crazy).
But for those familiar with the fanfiction world, crossovers are a well-respected staple. In that genre, Miss Jane Marple might not just collaborate on a baffling whodunnit with the Belgian detective, but could be having his baby as well.
I know, I know – blasphemy. Mea culpa.
But in some ways, it’s a chicken and egg question. Dame Agatha – and Evelyn David, for that matter – is perfectly within her rights to decide what happens to her characters, including ***spoiler alert*** killing off Hercule Poirot when she saw fit. But like Arthur Conan Doyle, it is folly to ignore your readers when they are clamoring for a different outcome. Doyle took the "great hiatus," as his fans referred to the period after he published The Adventure of the Final Problem, where Sherlock Holmes disappeared over the Falls and was presumed dead. The detective's wondrous resurrection eight years later was motivated by many reasons, not the least of which was…$$$$
The collective Evelyn David has created backstories for all the main characters. These histories help us determine the motivations for Mac, Rachel, even Whiskey (it was hard being the runt of the litter…). So while you can do whatever you want with your characters – should you? Do you, the author, know them better than your readers?
The answer is: probably, sometimes, or it depends. Dame Agatha was undoubtedly correct that Jane and Hercule were destined never to be together. But like our real-life children, sometimes we need a fresh perspective. Our readers offer that. It may not change my decision on how a character will develop or change, but it will make me at least think through why I’m doing what I’m doing – and that’s never a bad thing.
Do you have a favorite character -- in books, television, or movies -- that you think was derailed by its creator?
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Good, Clean Fun
I’ve given a lot of thought to the term “wardrobe malfunction,” being as I have had a few of my own over the years. Nothing approaching “nipple-gate” of that long-ago Super Bowl with Janet Jackson, but definitely your garden-variety toilet paper on the shoe problem, skirt tucked into underwear issue, blouse gaping open to display my amble bosom to everyone on the Communion line at Holy Name of Mary church, including our lovely pastor.
I was watching the Super Bowl when Justin Timberlake “accidentally” pulled at the front of Janet Jackson’s leather bustier only to expose a middle-aged breast and its accompanying parts. She didn’t look very shocked and neither did he, raising the question of whether or not this event had been planned. Frankly, our family didn’t even realize what had happened until the next day because that’s what happens when four people are fighting for a shot at the guacamole, stooping so low as to push the six-year-old out of the way because he weighs the least.
There was a great hew and cry after “nipple-gate.” But the NFL persists in having over-the-top, pyrotechnic extravaganzas whereby Tom Petty, Prince, the Stones, or some other over-the-hill, yet still somewhat relevant band performs for the massive crowds at whatever mega-stadium the teams are playing in that year. I honestly believe that most of the people in the stands are out in the hallways, waiting on line to go to the bathroom (particularly, the women), buying hot dogs, or milling about. Only the suckers who couldn’t afford the $5000.00 Super Bowl package who are stuck at home eating cold pizza and drinking warm beer are subjected to these musical spectacles.
I have a plan, though. It will be entertaining, keep people in the stands, and have relevance, particularly for some parents who have spent thousands on private music lessons. I have tried, without success, to figure out a way to communicate this plan to Roger Goodell, the general manager of the NFL, so I’m hoping he’s a faithful Stiletto Gang reader and will take this suggestion under advisement: the half-time show should consist of marching bands. Hear me out: I think that the Super Bowl halftime show should be dedicated to the best of the college marching bands in the country. Having gone to a college with no marching band, I have always felt left out, maybe because I play a mean glockenspiel and had nowhere to ply my trade. I’m a huge fan of the USC Trojans, and a host of other marching bands. I have watched the movie "Drumline" more times than I can count. It’s good, clean, wholesome fun. And it would spotlight some of the most talented kids in this country. What could be better?
The Northern half of Evelyn David and I discussed this over lunch the other day: what is it about the NFL that makes it cleave to this idea of presenting “cool” bands to the general viewing population on one Sunday a year? We decided that it was purely demographical: apparently, their thinking is that people (read: men) in the 25-49 year old demographic watch the Super Bowl. And what they want to see (besides naked women) are bands of waning popularity who either resemble their parents or them themselves. But how about appealing to a broader demographic? How about lighting the fuel of the marching band fire in some kid who’s in the 7-17 year old demographic? Because if my experience is any indication, just seeing a marching band perform in all of their synchronistic glory will definitely stoke the inner percussionist fire of more than one kid out there.
But, Evelyn and I decided, it all comes down to money. So, if you put up the band whose previously cool song now is the centerpiece of a 4x4 commercial, Joe America out there will feel that he is seeing exactly what he wants to see and getting exactly what he wants to get from his Super Bowl. Or, he doesn’t think that at all, and just resumes cutting the six-foot hero while the show is in session. The rest of us, apparently, can just stick it. Good, clean fun has gone by the wayside and the almighty dollar wins yet again.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Report on My Book Launch and One More Mistake
Before the event, Junie Mattice, the Tolowa woman who inspired the story and two characters, stopped by to see me at the home where I was staying. We had a great reunion and I gave her a copy of the book, explaining about the mistake of the wrong name on the dedication. She laughed and thought it was funny because she'd given me that name. She took the book and went right home and read it.
We had two luncheons, one right after the other 11:30 and 1:30 at a historic B and B, the Ana Wulf House. Those who came paid $25 and received a copy of the book.
Junie was right there with me to autograph books. She told me she loved it, but she also found another mistake. That one I'm not telling anyone about and will wait and see how many will let me know. It's another error with a name.
After the luncheon, the first setting, I spoke about the book and how I met Junie and what she'd told me about her people. Then Junie talked about being Tolowa and some of the history and near genocide of her people. One of her daughters came too and was extremely thrilled for her mom.
The second setting we did much of the same but one of Junie's aunts and two sisters came. One of the sisters was a Tolowa storyteller and she honored us with two stories.
Both settings were full--and I was paid for the books and extra to help with the gas.
On Thursday evening Junie and I did a free repeat performance (if you can call it that) at the Crescent City Library to another full house. Sold more books and Junie sold some of her excellent art work. I also donated a complete set of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries to the library and was so glad I did because they have no budget for book.
It was a great week even if it did take us two days to get there and two days to get home.
Next up, I'm the keynote speaker for the Prose in the Park Writers' Conference in Taylorville IL. (Flying to that one.)
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Art and Artistry of Wedding Gifts
Weddings are on my mind. Of course, here’s where I’ll give the expected plug for the forthcoming, Murder Takes the Cake (May 2009) – which is fun, furry, and festive. But both in the fictional world and the real one, I’m awash in tulle and lace. In the last 12 months, I’ve hosted or attended four bridal showers, one engagement party, and two weddings. I’ve got two more weddings on the calendar in the next couple of weeks.
All of which means, besides dusting off my dancing shoes for the ceremonial, raucous hora (Israeli celebratory dance), I’m also spending a lot of time and money on wedding gifts. Part of me is envious, as I scan the bridal registries of the young couples. I wish that I could start over with new unchipped dishes and glasswear. I swear I’d still pick the same husband – but I’d like to replace my faded, thin towels, as well as my pilled, shrunken bottom sheets which pop off the mattress in the middle of the night.
Picking the right gift is always a delicate balancing act of taste and budget. The registries are much more elaborate today. Within days of getting engaged, I picked out, at my mother’s insistence, good china and silver – and in fact, got full services of both. But today, there are registries for the honeymoon, for gardening supplies, computer and electronic gifts, luggage, camping gear – you name it, somebody has registered for it.
But despite the often elaborate registries, I think every couple still receives at least one wedding gift that defies explanation. Ours was a silver-plated, four-quart teapot that rested on an elaborate, ornately carved ugly stand, and was engraved with the Greek letters of some fraternity. I still have it in the basement, waiting for the occasion when I host Queen Elizabeth and her family for tea.
Of course, no one owes you a gift and we need to remember to be grateful and gracious for the gesture and goodwill. But I read one story from a bride who recounted receiving a box of condoms as a wedding gift which seemed, pardon me, slightly tacky; or another who recalled the elaborately wrapped brick she received with a note that advised her to use it as a cornerstone when she built a house, which probably takes “practical” to a new level.
What’s your worst wedding gift ever?
Sunday, September 14, 2008
NEW ENGLAND CRIME BAKE
10. Early bird members who sign up soon (before October 1st) get a $30.00 discount. Put that in your gas tank for the drive to the commodious Dedham Hilton where Crime Bake will be held November 14-16.
9. After arriving at the Dedham Hilton, feast on pizza and conversation at the FREE pizza party where you can meet and greet mystery readers, writers, agents and editors.
8. Following the FREE pizza party, you get to choose to attend one of two fabulous and FREE Friday night workshops: Practicing Your Pitch with Lynne Heitman, a huge hit at previous Crime Bake conferences or Creating Your Wave with publicist Susan Schwartzman about how to effectively market your mystery in today’s tough market.
7. Yes, another FREEBIE! Crime Bake conference attendees are entitled to sign up for a FREE 5-minute one-on-one session to pitch their work to a literary agent. This year, attendees will have the opportunity to list their top three agent choices. Don’t wait to take advantage of this fabulous opportunity.
6. The agents are coming, the agents are coming and they include some of the finest, including Janet Reid, Donna Bagdasarian, Susan Gleason, Christine Witthohn, Ann Collette, Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank and Gina Panettieri.
5. Great Master Classes are offered again. Choose two from PLANNING THE PLAYS - "Painless Research" with Kathy Lynn Emerson; WHO'S ON FIRST - "Point of View" with Hallie Ephron; HITTING IT OUT OF THE PARK - "Ten Key Ingredients For a Successful Thriller" with Gary Braver; and PEEWEE LEAGUE - "Writing for Young Audiences" with Peter Abrahams.
4. Manuscript Critiques are available. Attendees may submit a 15-page writing sample (novel or short story) in advance and receive a one-on-one critique with a published mystery author during the conference.
3. A fountain of forensic experts, including the popular Poison Lady, will hold panels where you can fill your writing well with ideas on how to commit those dastardly deeds.
2. You can dine elbow to elbow with agents, authors, editors and forensic experts at the SATURDAY NIGHT BANQUET where the menu includes delicious food and maybe even a book deal. Your fabulous Saturday night will be topped by “Mystery Bingo” hosted by our own prime-time Hank Phillippi Ryan.
1. The number one reason to register for Crime Bake today is the NUMBER ONE New York Times, Los Angeles Times and London Times author and our Guest of Honor, HARLAN COBEN.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Lost and Found
Riley Come Home plunges Mac, Rachel, and Whiskey into the high-stakes dog show circuit, searching for a missing Irish wolfhound whose pedigree is longer than Crystal Gayle’s hair. I wish I’d had this sleuthing trio when Snickers, our first dog, went missing.
It began on a rainy Saturday afternoon. My husband was not only out of town on business, but out of the country, so the Sherlock Holmes/Miss Marple role would have to be played by moi. I’d promised the kids that we could make chocolate chip cookies and had left a bag of the chocolate morsels on the counter (Mistake #1). I left the kitchen for what I swear was a total of two minutes, and returned to find the bag on the floor half empty and Snickers with a chocolate mustache.
I know that chocolate can be lethal to dogs, so I put in an emergency call to the vet who informed me that I had to make Snickers vomit in order to get the chocolate out of her system. Oy! Cursing under my breath – as well as loud enough for my husband to hear me five thousand miles away – I gave her an emetic and proceeded to spend the next hour cleaning up after the little darling.
The vet also told me that I should then give her rice and boiled chicken for the next few days. Oh goody. Another palate to placate since the only meal the four kids could agree on was a strawberry fruit roll-up.
So I prepared the delicacy for Snickers, then put her outside in the fenced backyard so she could do her “business.” Mistake #2.
It’s easy to get distracted in a house full of kids, so I confess it was probably a half hour or more (okay, more, she wasn’t exactly on my hit parade list that afternoon) before I went to let the dog back in the house and discovered…yes Mistake #3, the gate to the backyard was open and Snickers was nowhere to be found
Hysteria descended en masse as the children wailed about their missing dog, although were generally useless in actually searching for the hound.
The phone rang. It was the cops. Yes, they had found Snickers. Yes, they knew exactly where she was…the dog pound. And did I know that her license had expired, that there was a fine for letting a dog run around off the leash, not to mention a fine for the expired license?
I could find Snickers at the local pound…but couldn’t bail her out until the next day because the village office was closed so I couldn’t pay the fine and get the license renewed until then.
I took the boiled chicken and rice to the “inmate” since I certainly didn’t want her to have to deal with institutional food. Just to add insult to injury, I lost one of my favorite Tupperware bowls at the dog pound.
I wish I could say that Snickers learned her lesson(s) and that she returned a chastened dog who never again ate food off the counter or dashed out the door to freedom. I could write that because I’m a fiction writer…but as a woman of truth, the only one who learned a lesson that weekend was my husband….business travel can indeed be rewarding.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Having It All?
I took the easy way out: I left my well-paying, exciting job as an editor at a large publishing house to stay home and freelance, which gave me flexibility and the opportunity to be with my children day and night. I had tired of the travel, the commute, and a host of other things related to the job. And I could see that I was suffering mentally because I felt tremendous guilt that I had left my child at home with a nanny, Tracy, who was paid a handsome sum every week.
The first day that I stayed home and imposed some discipline on my four-and-a-half year old, she proclaimed, “I miss Tracy!”
So much for putting your dreams on hold.
But I’ve been thinking about this concept of having it all what with the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president on the Republican ticket. It seems like for as far as we’ve come, we haven’t gotten anywhere, because people are still talking about how this mother of five children—the youngest just several months old with special needs—will attend to the second largest job in the world, in terms of scope. One part of me is offended that we’re even having this conversation. The other? Totally gets it.
I’m a proud third-wave feminist. Our mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, and friends gave up a lot to give us what we have today. My grandmother, for one, worked full-time while my mother was a child—and as you know, did an admirable job—and she was in the minority, but she paved the way for me to go to college, to delay marriage if I wanted, to delay having children if I wanted, to have a career. To have it all.
So why did I decide to give it up just when it seemed like I had snared the brass ring? And why do I feel like Sarah Palin, if she is indeed our next vice-president, will be allowing something in her life to suffer by having it all, be it her family, her job, or a little bit of both?
I’m feeling disloyal to the team, girls, and I don’t like it. And I feel like I’m tossing out more questions than I’m answering, but I feel truly conflicted. What part of the conversation that we’re currently having should focus on the fact that Sarah Palin has a large brood and is running for office? Should it be part of the conversation at all? It certainly isn’t when it comes to our male candidates, obviously.
I know a lot of people have little affection for Hillary Clinton, but in terms of this debate, I have to say that she is someone that the right (with a capital R) should embrace whole-heartedly. After all, she put her life on hold for first, her husband’s career, and second, seemingly, for her daughter’s well being. Yet, during the nomination process, she was portrayed as all sorts of bad—bad wife, bad mother, bad feminist, bad Democrat, bad woman. To my mind, she made the decision that you can have it all—just not all at the same time. And I think that’s the conclusion I’m finally coming to.
Ok, Stiletto readers: weigh in. Is it possible to have it all and if so, what, if any, are the costs?
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Perils of Being an Author
Hopefully, I’ll be carrying the 200 books I ordered.
The last part of the drive is wonderful as we’ll be driving through the majestic redwood forest. The ancient redwoods are absolutely mind boggling. When you’re in the forest the trees are so thick, you can’t see the sky.
If we’re lucky, we’ll see a herd of elk. We have each time we’ve driven to Crescent City.
As we draw closer, we’ll be driving along the coast. The ocean is gorgeous along here with fantastic rock formations.
The whole process of getting Kindred Spirits out in time for the book launch has been nerve-wracking. Just before the edits came, I found out that a prominent fact given to me by my primary source and I used in the book several times was erroneous. This meant a scramble trying to find the places and making the changes so they sounded like that’s what they were meant to be.
When the galley arrived, I found one more place that had to be altered. In my determination to make sure the galley was correct I neglected to check the Dedication page. After the book was at the printer and too late to make anymore changes, I looked at the galley for something else and guess what I found? The last name of the person I dedicated the book to is wrong! The first name is correct, but the last name is the name I gave to one of the characters in the book. Granted, the character was inspired by this person, but that doesn’t excuse the mistake.
I suspect when I ran the spell-checker at some point, it suggested I change the right name which is quite unusual to the other name and I mindlessly did it and never noticed my error.
I’ll hand correct the mistake in the books that go out in Crescent City–and I’ll promise the person I dedicated it to a corrected copy when new books are printed. That’s all I can do at this point.
An apology will definitely be a part of my speech at the launching at the Ana Wulf Bed and Breakfast on Wednesday.
Oh, the trials and pain of being an author.
Who knows? Maybe the copy with the mistake in it will become a collector’s copy. Yeah, right.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I Do, I Do!
The collective Evelyn David is positively giddy to announce that Murder Takes the Cake, the sequel to Murder Off the Books, will be published May 2009. Giddy, I tell you.
Here’s a brief synopsis: The guest list is getting shorter and shorter, as the body count rises. Can Mac, Rachel, and Whiskey find the killer who wants to see the bride in red…blood red?
Weddings are on my mind. I’m hosting a bridal shower in a few weeks. While I’m not expecting anything sinister to happen, all this “till death do us part” stuff has made me sloppily sentimental about my own nuptials. Held in the middle of the summer, the temperature was about 110 in the shade, and the menu was caponette, a uniquely Baltimore kosher dish which was essentially chicken on steroids. My only nod to personalizing my wedding was to insist on a chocolate wedding cake. My mom made most (probably all) of the decisions since frankly I had no taste at that point in my life.
I do have wonderful memories of looking for a wedding dress. Mom insisted that we take my father along. As I have mentioned before, my Dad was, to put it lovingly, frugal. I guess Mom didn’t want to hear any financial hysteria when he got the bill. I tried on several gowns and Dad nixed each one, until I emerged from the dressing room in what was the most expensive dress of the group. He smiled and said, “that’s it” – and I felt like Cinderella at the ball. After the wedding, a dry cleaner “preserved for eternity” my dress. To be honest, I’m not sure why I saved it. I’m four inches shorter than my daughter and the puffy sleeves and empire waist would look ridiculous on her. As for the shoes, four children later, and my feet are two full sizes larger. But they’re upstairs in the attic as well.
Weddings today are big business. The average budget for a wedding is $28,000+ (or a fabulous downpayment on a home!). In the U.S., that translates to an annual $40 billion industry. There are wedding coordinators (versus my cousin Suzi who stood at the back of the synagogue and whispered, “go” when she thought it was the right moment for each of the attendants to move). Photographers still capture every moment, but now there are videographers as well. I have mixed feelings about videotaping weddings. While it’s true you capture every second of the big event, that also means that certain moments that memory will eventually blur to less-than-mortifying status, are now captured forever in living color on tape.
We’re adding a wedding stories page to our website (www.evelyndavid.com). Please share your favorite, funniest, or even murderous memory of your special day.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I got out of prison last Wednesday at noon.
No, I hadn't been in the slammer because I’d been convicted of a criminal offense, unless you consider writing a mystery book a crime. I went to the California Institution for Men, Chino, CA to give a talk to the inmates.
It was the most uplifting experience of my writing career. The prison library, where they held the event, only had room for fifty people. And apparently a lot more than fifty men had wanted to attend. So, prior to my arrival the staff held a writing contest. Everyone who wanted to be included had to write an essay explaining why he wanted to hear me speak. The staff judged the essays. The top fifty writers were allowed to attend.
Briefly, the audience was attentive, eager, and enthusiastic. We laughed and joked and talked about writing, publishing, and even about promotion, “It’ll be tough for you lifers in the room to hit the local Barnes & Noble for a book signing, if you do get your book published. But write it anyway. You’ll be creating your own world where you make the rules.” They liked that remark.
The prison authorities had scheduled my talk to last an hour, but after two and a half hours we were still going strong. I gave away about a dozen books, signed to the winners of the essay contest and the staff. The library is now going to stock The Brimstone Murders, and all my future books.
At the conclusion, the inmates stepped outside for a moment and each one wrote a little note to me on a flyer and signed it, thanking me for giving them my time.
Here are a few of the fifty comments that these “hardcore” criminals wrote. I purposely did not include their names.
“Thank you so much for your time. I will publish a book.”
“I completely enjoyed your lecture. Thank you for your sage advice and compelling experiences. I’m confident that I will put it to great use. See you on the circuit."
“Thanks, Jeff. You are a blessing . . . God speed you in your writing. . .”
“Mr. Sherratt, It was an honor and pleasure to take part in your lecture. I will remember this throughout my life, and I will use what I heard to succeed. Thank you.”
I became a little nervous prior to the talk when several people on the prison staff explained how much the inmates were looking forward to the lecture. I kept thinking, as I walked through the yard with Betty, the librarian, my ability at giving lectures leaves a lot to be desired. Was I going to add another disappointment to their already troubled lives? Maybe, the staff should’ve asked Joe Konrath to give the talk. He’d wow them.
But within five minutes I knew I had connected with the men. I could see it in their faces and in their eyes. They wanted to learn about writing. They wanted to better themselves and they’d give me one hundred percent of their attention.
I highly encourage other authors to call the nearest prison library and let the staff know you'd be willing to spend a little time, talking to inmates about all things writing. You'll leave there a better person than when you first walked through those iron gates.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Five Little Lifestyle Changers
a. The remote control – remember when you had to get off the couch to change tv channels and risk bodily injury from other viewers? Now you can just click and duck.
b. The hair dryer – remember when you had to attempt sleeping on rollers because your hair wasn't dry yet? I say attempt because I never actually managed it. Now you can wash your hair any time – day or night, winter or summer - without risking catching pneumonia from going outside with a wet head. I doubt many ever died from washing their hair during inclement weather but my grandmother believed it was a distinct possibility.
c. Flash (thumb) drives – Remember floppy disks? Remember trying to format CDs so you could use them to store computer data? Sometimes it took hours. Flash drives are incredible. You can store enormous amounts of information on these little lipstick-sized electronic units – more information than boxes of floppies could contain– more information than stored in a row of filing cabinets.
d. The VCR and now the DVD Recorder – remember the generations of little girls who never saw Cinderella because the networks always aired it on Sunday night during church services? Remember scheduling your college classes so you could still see your favorite soap opera? The VCR freed people to watch movies and tv programs when they wanted, instead of when the networks scheduled them.
f. Mr. Coffee and the slew of programmable electric coffee makers – the ease of having hot, fresh coffee waiting for you when you get up in the morning is a luxury I wouldn't want to give up.
What's been invented during your lifetime that's impacted your lifestyle? Cable tv? Garage door openers? On-line shopping? Contact lens? ATMs? What?
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
The End Is Near
The last fifty pages are the hardest.
That’s what I tell myself--and know to be true--as I pass page 130 (I’m on page 132, to be exact) of an approximately 180-page, single-spaced manuscript. Because that’s what translates into a 380ish page text, which is what the Alison Bergeron mysteries usually come out as when they become a book.
Page 130 or so is pivotal because I’ve already laid the groundwork for the mystery, thrown in a few red herrings, established my secondary characters (those who aren’t Alison, Crawford, Max, Fred, or Kevin), and am barreling toward the conclusion.
The only problem is that I don’t know how the story is going to end.
This is a common problem for me, as you know if you’ve been reading The Stiletto Gang since our inception this past winter. I race, race, race to the end only to find that I have nothing left to say. Or I have too much to say and would need another hundred pages to say it. Either way, it’s not pretty. So, I’m trying to take my time and figure out what would make the most sense given the story, the characters, and the setting.
I’m much further along than I was last year at this time, which is a very good thing. Last year, as I sat writing on New Year’s Eve (my deadline), I wrote myself into a corner where all of my major characters were at a crossroads, and not in a good way. Fortunately, my agent had the good sense to tell me that the ending that I had conceived (which amounted to, essentially, “…and then they all died”) really wasn’t going to please the reading public. I went back to the drawing board and was surprised to find that I was able to end the novel in a pleasing and suspenseful way, if I just took a minute or two to figure out what would make the most sense in this imaginary world that I had created. In my haste to make my deadline, I had created an ending that would have upset a lot of people (nobody died but relationships were put to the test with some not making the grade). Had I just gone a day or two over the December 31st deadline—and face it, was St. Martin’s really going to give me grief about that—I would have been able to see the forest for the trees. Or write a convincing ending to the story.
I’m determined to not make the same mistake. So with fifty pages to go, I’m going to take my time and think about what makes the most sense. Nothing fantastical, nothing jarring—just a neat tie-up of the story and the characters’ lives, leaving open the possibility of novel #5, for which I already have a title, but not a story, which is not usually how things go. (For “Quick Study” I was down to the wire before I came up with that one and now? I love it.)
I’ve always thought of myself who works best under pressure but in the case of finishing a novel, I’m finding that pulling an all-nighter or writing down to the deadline just doesn’t cut it. So check back as I try to stick to a five-page per day writing regimen, which will allow me ample time to write and then rewrite, and then, if necessary, rewrite again before my New Year’s due date.
Today doesn’t count because I just got back from vacation. And also because after I finish writing this post, I’m going to head downstairs and continue reading Evelyn’s Murder Takes the Cake manuscript, which if I don’t finish right away, will definitely derail me from my own writing!
I’d love your feedback? What are you writing regimens? And do they work? And how soon after you write, do you revise? And have you ever written anything as ridiculous “…and then they all died”? Inquiring minds want to know.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Oh, My Goodness!
No, it’s not in the content of the book–this is worse. The person who actually gave me the first seed of an idea for the story is the one to whom I dedicated the book, Junie Mattice. Unfortunately, in the dedication, her name is printed as Junie Mahoney.
Of course I didn’t notice it when I went over the edits–because it wasn’t in them. What it was in, and I should have noticed then, was the dedication page in the galley.
Where did the name Mahoney come from? It’s the last name of one of the main characters in the Crescent City part of the book–one that was inspired by Junie. Junie has such a multi-faceted personality, I actually based two major characters on her. All I can think of is the spell-checker changed the name from Mattice and Mahoney. Of course I’m the one who is at fault for not noticing it.
In my defense, I was hard-pressed for time because I have to receive the copies of the book this week in order to have them to cart with us when we leave for Crescent City this week. I went over the content of the book carefully and obviously overlooked the dedication page.
What am I going to do about it? I’ve already apologized via email to Junie. I’ll hand correct the copies that I sell in Crescent City. It’ll certainly give me something else to talk about as I speak about Kindred Spirits–something I’d rather not have.
Do I have advice for other authors because of this? Sure, check out your dedication page when doing edits and going over the galley. Certainly from now on that’ll be the first place I check. Too late for 200 copies of this book. Hopefully it’ll be corrected for anymore that are sent out.
Will other mistakes slip by me and other authors? Unfortunately, that’s part of the process. Our eyes seem to correct mistakes and we don’t even notice them.
I hope Junie will forgive me–my intentions were to honor her. I have tremendous respect for this strong Tolowa woman who has for years stood up for what she believes in and continues to fight for the Tolowa people.
Kindred Spirits is available for order at http://www.mundania.com/books-kindredspirits.html
Monday, September 1, 2008
To Infinity, and Beyond
If you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.
On Friday, my daughter leaves to spend the semester at the University of Glasgow. She’s probably 90 percent excited and 10 percent nervous. If I were to analyze my own emotions, it would be more like 90 percent worried and 10 percent jealous.
It’s not the trip that I envy. It’s her sense of adventure. Sure she’s a little worried about making new friends, questioning the difficulty of her courses, and daunted by the sheer logistics of moving so far away from home. But mostly, she’s eager to begin this exciting new chapter of her life. She’s got this self-confidence that fills me with such pride as her mother.
There’s a difference between taking risks and risky behavior. And while no parent ever wants their kid to be in danger, we do want them to use their intelligence, education, and instincts, to try new things and chart new paths. Because it’s in the trying of something new, that we learn the most and take the greatest leaps forward.
Next month, I’m going to Bouchercon, a huge mystery conference featuring authors I’ve admired and been been reading for years. I’ve even been asked to moderate a panel (Cat Scratch Fever, Saturday, October 11, 10-11 AM). It’s an honor, it’s exciting…it’s scary. I’ve got to move outside my comfort zone. Writers are often shy – maybe it’s why we invent characters with all the daring traits we lack. So I’ve got to force myself to “get out there.” I'm determined to avoid that eighth grade dance experience that is imprinted in my brain: hovering around the punch bowl, eating chips, tapping my feet, and checking my watch to see when my father is going to pick me up. Instead I've made up my mind that I'm going to take chances -- sit next to someone I don't know; begin conversations rather than waiting for someone to talk to me; and embrace the unknown, rather than stick to the familiar.
Please tell me - how do you approach new adventures?
Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David