Friday, July 31, 2009
Is there anyone who by now does not know the story of how the Harry Potter series was conceived? Just in case: J. K. Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London in 1990 when the idea for the boy wizard suddenly came to her. As she relates it:
"I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me."
(Notice that she sat and thought. She wrote none of this down; she just let the ideas bubble away.)
But is this really how it happens? The idea for a beloved character just pops into your head? Or has the idea been there all along, percolating away, inspired by nothing more than a face in the crowd from months before, or a phrase overheard in a café? Some insignificant event that may not even have registered at the time? This question fascinates and vexes authors, who are always asked where their ideas/characters come from. In reply, we mostly go into blank-stare mode, or give some glib answer (“the idea tree”). The fact is, no one knows.
What is certain, however, is that a train ride is the world’s best conductor, so to speak, for the creative process. I think it’s because you are trapped. You can’t be distracted by the sudden urge to do laundry, or paint the house, or go make a cup of coffee. In order to do these things, you’d first have to throw yourself off the train, and wisely realizing that would be unwise, you are thrown back instead on your own thought processes.
This trapped concept doesn’t work—for me, at any rate—on airplanes, because I am too busy helping the pilot keep the plane aloft by aiming uplifting prayers towards the cockpit, and it definitely doesn’t work in cars, distracted as I am by some idiot changing lanes at high speed without using his turn indicator (just yesterday I saw a bumper sticker I loved. It said, “If Jesus Were Here, He’d Use His Turn Signal”).
You’d think the same “trapped” concept might work while you’re in the dentist’s chair, but it doesn’t seem to pan out that way. A dentist’s chair does seem to send my brain into high gear, however: What’s that noise? What is that big silver thing he’s holding now? Is that a needle—good heavens, is that a needle? Is this guy old enough to be a dentist, anyway? I wonder if I look like Hannibal Lecter in this rubber mask? Will this be over soon? What’s that noise?
In other words, it’s like having a hyperkinetic four-year-old trapped inside your head: It’s lively in there, but it’s hardly creative.
But on a train, the forward movement is restful. I’m freed from all obligations and distractions, especially if I’ve left the computer at home. Combined with the sense that I have been granted permission to just sit and daydream, that does the trick for me every time. Plot twists invented; characters who announce themselves, fullblown. It is pure bliss for a writer.
Agatha Christie wrote that her best ideas came to her while she was sitting in a bathtub, eating apples. Believe me, I would try this if I thought it would make me half as ingenious as she was, and I’d be willing to bet some mystery authors have tried it, but somehow I think this technique was unique to Agatha. Other authors swear by washing the dishes as a surefire generator of ideas, but that doesn’t really work for me: I just want to get the chore over with, not daydream. Walking? Sometimes works, but not really.
Maybe if I ate apples on a train while sitting in a bathtub…would another story as good as Murder on the Orient Express come out of it?
Please visit me at http://gmmalliet.com/
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Twitter can be fun.
The Swine Flu Vaccine will be ready soon, but in such limited supply, I won't see any.
It's time to get new towels.
Brenda's cat, Kitty, died.
Leverage has returned for its second season on TNT.
I have a printer stand for my office arriving tomorrow (see last week's post).
Good intentions don't get the house cleaned.
Shark Week is coming.
I can't cook squash - well.
Stories about Amelia Earhart's disappearance still fascinate me.
Sometimes drug stores have great sales on items for author auction baskets.
I should buy more fresh peaches.
Dogs might be psychic.
Just because you're talking, doesn't mean anyone is listening.
Only one Republican judiciary committee member voted for Sonya Sotomayor.
Despite what some politicians are saying, none of the health care draft reform bills contain a clause promoting euthanasia of people over 65.
President Obama needs a "jeans" intervention.
I haven't read a book for pleasure this whole month.
Braums milk is the best.
The economy is turning around – the value of my 401k increased by 1/3 in last three months.
Birthers are just plain silly.
I might be going to Chicago in late October - beats my February trips.
Colin Powell is a national treasure.
I will never like liver, no matter how it's smothered.
The Terminator carries a big knife and issues I.O.U.s
Most ghost tours shut down for the month of August - just like Congress.
I miss watching The West Wing.
Bare Minerals makeup is incredible.
I spend less if I only get $20 out of the ATM per trip.
Dogs love Funyons.
I need to start getting to bed before midnight.
I still don't like chicken wings and beer - I don't like them separately either.
Writing a blog every week is hard work.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I was going to wade into the racially-charged waters of the Henry Louis Gates incident (Gates-gate?) but will leave you with one very succinct quote from Bill Maher which made me laugh no end: “Is your home safe from black intellectuals?” Presumably, Officer Crowley, Dr. Gates, and President Obama will join together in racial harmony this week and share a beer and move past the whole thing, even if in many parts of this country, black men will still be arrested for doing nothing wrong other than being black.
Ok, enough said. We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go. On that, I think we can all agree.
So, I now turn to what I like to call “a few of my favorite things” post. Not as popular as Oprah’s list of favorite things and I certainly won’t be sending each and every one of you one of the things on the list but maybe you’ll find yourself intrigued enough to buy one or more item on the list. Here we go:
1. Progresso Pesto Sauce: As faithful readers of this blog, you know that dinner time is a challenge around the Barbieri house. We have one vegetarian, one person on a low-roughage diet (that would be me), one person who eats just about everything, and one person who only likes to eat things, mostly meats, that a group recently cited as those who increase your risk for colorectal cancer (try explaining what that is to a 10-year-old). The answer to all of my prayers? Progresso Pesto Sauce. Yes, I know you can make your own, but that would require that I a) buy a basil plant, b) put it in a pot, c) make sure the cats in the neighborhood don’t use said pot for a litter box, and d) go outside and tend to the plant. None of that is happening friends, I can guarantee you. You know what’s easy, though? Pulling back the plastic lid on a container of store-bought pesto and mixing it with a bunch of hot pasta. Serving a salad and a loaf of Italian bread alongside it. Hearing people in family exclaim that this is their “favorite meal!” and seeing their smiles as they eat it. Easy, not too expensive, and everyone eats it. What could be better?
2. The BodenUSA web site: The country has a long way to go on racial issues and I have a long way to go on dressing myself better. Not so since I discovered the BodenUSA web site. Boden is a company based in the U.K. with moderately-priced but extremely hip clothes for women of a certain age. (That would be me and the northern half of Evelyn David, who is still expounding on her love of the black wrap dress that I encouraged her to buy and which she now owns. If you’d like to see what it looks like, go to www.maggiebarbieri.com. I’m wearing it in the photo on the home page.) And fortunately, as things have shifted southward on me, they have taken to making a line of very stylish tunics, which look fabulous with a pair of jeans or dressier pants and which cover my trouble spot or “writer heinie” which has developed over the past few years. I hesitated giving out this secret because I don’t want to see an army of tunic-wearing women walking around wearing the clothes that I have, but I’m a giver. You already knew that.
3. Facebook: I know. We’re supposed to be tired of social networking sites, but I’ve got to say that I am loving Facebook and enjoying reconnecting with friends and family. I’ve gotten to see pictures of my nieces and nephews on their most recent vacation, learned about who’s doing what from my high school and college classes, and reconnected with a lot of old friends. It’s also a great way to get the word out about my books, learn about other writers in the mystery world, and get feedback on covers and promotional materials. It’s also a nice diversion when I get bored with what I’m doing during my workday and that is not a bad thing.
4. My new Dyson vacuum: Another way Facebook has helped me is that it allows me to get information on products before I buy them. I put in my status update last week that I needed a new vacuum and the comments flooded in. Most encouraged me to get a Dyson and boy am I glad I did. Remembering the southern half of Evelyn David’s post a few weeks back about putting her vacuum together (something I wouldn’t be remotely interested in or adept at), I was concerned about getting a machine that I wouldn’t be able to use right out of the box, let alone have to use a screwdriver to put together. Fortunately, the Dyson was already assembled and after a few test runs, virtually the easiest thing in the world to use. The only drawback? The bagless technology. It’s great—don’t get me wrong. I just don’t enjoy seeing Barbieri dirt—and apparently, there’s a lot of it—swirling around in the clear canister after just one vacuum session. We are apparently a very dirty and disgusting family and my old vacuum, with its bag housed in a canister in which nothing could be seen, kept this ugly secret. I guess I’ll get used to seeing the dirt swirl around, but for right now, I’m pretending it belongs to someone else.
So, that’s it. I could go on but I’ll wait for another post to do so. We still haven’t discussed my love of mocha chip frappacinos from Starbucks but will, I promise. What are your favorite things? More importantly, what can’t you live without?
And don’t forget to protect your home from intellectuals—black, Asian, caucasian, or otherwise.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Instead I'm going to confess my TV watching guilty pleasures. My husband and I both watch General Hospital. I've watched General Hospital for years, way back before Luke and Laura got married. Hubby didn't watch with me back in those days because he was either off to war or working on base.
Because it comes on at 2 in the afternoon here, it's a good time for both of us to take a break--and I must confess, sometimes we both snooze a bit. We are entertained by the fact that almost everyone has slept or been married to everyone else in the cast at one time or another. We know nothing will ever have a happy ending or the show would just stop. However there are some amazing actors on the show--at times I wonder how they can keep from laughing.
I also love reality TV. I watch Big Brother and have my favorites--hubby will only watch this one if he's forced into it. Survivor and the Amazing Race are others that I enjoy. I have a granddaughter who is determined that she and her husband are going to try out for it one day--the only thing that's holding them back is my daughter who won't babysit until their three year old is less of a handful.
What I don't like is the Japanese take-off shows where people actually get hurt. Why anyone would do those I have no idea.
Oh, and I also like to watch the disaster movies that have been coming out this summer too. The acting has been lousy, the stories just as lousy, but for some reason I'm fascinated by them. Maybe it's because I don't really have to think to follow along and if I go to sleep before it's over it's not really something I'll worry about.
Last week we went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and took one of my good friends who is also a faithful fan of my books. We loved the movie--husband nodded off a few times--we went to the 10 a.m. showing so I think he was bored. My friend is also a General Hospital fan so at lunch we talked about all the wild goings-on.
Except for GH I don't watch TV in the day time. By the time evening rolls around, I no longer have the ambition to write and I guess I'm ready for my guilty pleasures.
That's my confession and I'm sticking to it.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Usually, with enough rewrites and tweaking back and forth between the two halves of Evelyn David, we settle on the perfect word for the situation.
Here’s the dilemma. Irish wolfhounds, like Whiskey, the adored and adorable character in Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake, don’t bark. Or at least, they don’t bark like Lassie. They rumble, they boof, they definitely communicate, but bark, like Benji or Beethoven, or any of the other big screen canine idols, nope, that’s not how an Irish wolfhound sounds.
But when we use the verb, bark, despite full knowledge that it’s not exactly accurate, we’re trying to use a common term that the reader will understand. Whiskey is talking – we’re less concerned about the sound she makes, than about her efforts to communicate. For example, in Murder Takes the Cake, we wrote:
"Whiskey?" Rachel sighed and stroked the dog's head. "Okay, I know your first loyalties lie with him, but it doesn't feel very good to always be an afterthought. Don't you think I deserve to be more than a minor character in this little drama Mac calls his life? If he survives, we're going to have a serious discussion."
This time Whiskey's bark sounded much more like agreement.
On the other hand, we want to acknowledge, as several wolfhound owners have pointed out to us, that these gentle giants sound different than other dogs. It would be as if we called the Chicago rapid transit system the Metro instead of the L. For most readers outside of Chicago, it probably wouldn’t matter. But for those who do know exactly what the train system in the Windy City is called – it breaks the action, takes the reader outside the story.
Our solution – we think – is, in the next book in the series, have Rachel comment to Mac about the timbre and tone of Whiskey’s “voice.”
Any other ideas?
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Friday, July 24, 2009
The Stiletto Gang
I noticed your guest blogger last week was Lisa Lutz, who has a very funny car chase prologue that kicks off her wonderfully entertaining book The Spellman Files (the first in her Spellman series). I laughed when I first read the prologue, laughed again when I read it to my husband (who’s also my business partner in our private investigator [PI] agency), then laughed all over again when I read it to his teenage daughter (who, with a PI dad and a PI stepmom, is similar to the protagonist in The Spellman Files). Suffice it to say, we’re a real-life PI family who are fans of the fictional PI family, the Spellmans.
But what about such car chases in real life? I mean, besides the Spellmans, think about all those groovy car chases and squealing, burning brakes in every one of those old Rockford episodes (for those uninitiated to this classic PI series, do yourself a favor and check out The Rockford Files, a ‘70s TV series starring an ex-convict turned laid-back PI, played by James Garner, who also did his own car stunts in the show).
Fortunately, those exciting, nail-biting car chases only take place in fiction. In the real-world, PIs drive more safely and have guidelines for mobile, also called rolling, surveillances (meaning, surveillances conducted while driving a car or van). I thought I’d discuss some mobile surveillance techniques for fans of The Stiletto Gang blog as some of you are also writers and might find them useful for your stories.
First of all, let’s debunk the myth that mobile surveillances are one-man (or one-woman) shows.
One-Person Mobile Surveillance: Recipe for Failure?
There are investigators who swear that a one-person mobile surveillance is a recipe for failure (one PI gives a 5% success rate). In our agency, we can vouch that a one-person mobile surveillance is tough. You’re watching traffic and pedestrians and intersections and traffic lights and regulatory traffic signs and your subject is weaving and gunning it through rush-hour traffic and…
You just lost him.
We now counsel prospective clients that a two-person surveillance significantly increases the chances of success. Our preference is two investigators in two vehicles, but even two investigators in one vehicle improves the success rate of a mobile surveillance (one investigator can focus on driving while the other takes video/photographs, checks directions, stays focused on where the subject’s car is turning, etc.)
Nevertheless, at our agency there are times where one of us ends up doing a solo mobile surveillance. Sometimes by accident. For example, both of us were surveiling a felon a while back. We were in two cars, communicating with each other by walkie talkies. We’d researched the area, knew all the streets, and we prepared to do a two-person mobile surveillance. When the target turned on a side street, I followed, but my husband got caught in a rush-hour traffic jam. Miraculously, I did a one-person mobile surveillance through three counties, all the while tracking the felon, and ultimately tagging the location he ended at (which had been our goal). But I’ll tell you, both of us still shake our heads over that one—we still can’t believe we pulled off a one-car/one-investigator mobile surveillance through three counties. For those of you writing a sleuth story, maybe he/she knows the stakes are against him/her in a lengthy one-person mobile surveillance, but goes for it anyway.
Tips for Conducting a One-Vehicle, One-Investigator Mobile Surveillance
If your fictional sleuth is stuck, such as I was, in a one-vehicle, one-investigator mobile surveillance, think about using some of the following techniques:
- Have him/her stay in the right lane most of the time. If that’s not possible, use the center lane (that way, your PI can respond to either a right turn or left turn at the last moment).
- If it's a night surveillance, have your sleuth disable the dome light. Some real-life PIs put black tape over any miscellaneous interior lights as well (digital clocks, radio dials, etc.).
- While following, have your sleuth try to keep one car between his/her vehicle and the vehicle being following.
- Rather than stop directly behind the subject at a red light, see if there is a parking lot your sleuth can pull into until the light changes.
- If your fictional PI has an associate riding shotgun, besides taking photos, reading maps, etc., that person can also jump out for foot surveillance if necessary.
Tips for Conducting a Two vehicle/Two investigator Mobile Surveillance
Much better odds with two cars, two PIs. Below are some tips for this scenario:
- If your fictional PI has a good idea where the subject is going, he/she might travel in front of the target’s vehicle (be the lead) while the second PI travels behind the target’s vehicle.Using radios, the lead unit stays fairly close to the subject (no more than three or four cars in front). If the trailing unit sees the subject signal for a turn, he can radio the lead unit in time for it to make the same turn ahead of the subject.
- Play leapfrog: If the trailing unit gets cut off by a missed light or some other obstacle, he/she can radio the lead unit to drop back and behind the subject. The cut-off unit can then, by following the instructions radioed by the still in-contact unit, cut through side routes and place himself in front of the subject a few blocks down the road.
- To avoid suspicion: The lead and trailing units swap places while following the subject. First, the lead unit drops back behind the subject and just in front of the trailing unit. The trailing unit then speeds up and places him/herself in front of the subject.
- Think about using these techniques in your story. Have your PI mull over his/her options, discuss it with his associate. It’ll add plausibility to your characters and your story for them to discuss such tactics, their anticipated success rate, and use such jargon as “rolling” or “mobile” surveillance.
- And then, when they’re out there on the road, think about your readers and how much they love the prologue to The Spellman Files, or the way Jim Rockford could spin his car on a dime, and throw in some squealing, burning brakes.
Colleen is offering 2 giveaways to 2 names randomly picked from all who comment: 1 "Writing PIs in Novels--Keeping Sleuths Real on the Page" T-shirt (size L, sorry it's the only size left), and 1 free registration to class of choice from Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths: http://www.writingprivateinvestigators.com/
Names to be picked on Sunday, July 26! Check back here for winners and information on how to collect your prize if you win!
Colleen Collins (http://www.colleencollins.net/) is a multi-published author and professional PI. She and her husband run a detective agency in Denver, Colorado, and post articles about investigations on their blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes (http://writingpis.wordpress.com/). They’re currently teaching a series of classes for writers: “Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths” at http://www.writingprivateinvestigators.com/
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Readers that have been keeping up with my blog entries know that my new day job office was completed about a month later than promised. As a result my co-workers and I were forced to work from our homes and cars for about thirty days. It was fun for about two.
But that trauma is almost a memory (not really but I'm working on it). We moved in to our new digs on July 1. Movers brought our old furniture and files the next day and we've been unpacking boxes ever since, trying to become a functional office once more.
The Xerox machine was a week late. We've discovered we can do very little without a copier. Another week and we would have had to hire a scribe.
We've got a new telephone system and crib notes on how to operate it. I still don't know how to forward calls to another extension. I'm doing a lot of shouting, "XXX, pick up on line one!"
Our new furniture arrived last week. Now we have a mix of post WWII grey steel and 2009 extra special wood veneer particle board. Okay, the new stuff is better than that, but I bet the WWII filing cabinets still outlast our new ones.
The office is approximately 1700 square feet with tiny private offices along two sides and one large communal area that we've sectioned off with a wall of filing cabinets and bookcases. It's actually very nice. And the construction is mostly new – only the concrete slab and steel frame was left from the old building.
Tile floor is throughout, except for the small private offices. The builder ran out of time – actually I might have threatened to shorten his life span if he didn't hurry up – and he had to use carpet in the individual offices. After walking on the tile for a few weeks, I'm glad it's not all tile – my joints are protesting.
The building we leased for fifteen plus years before our move was in terrible shape. No upgrading or maintenance had been done for most of that time and we had to get out. We were demanding improvements and the landlord didn't see the need. The old space was a little bit larger and had a store room we miss, but we surely won't miss the leaky roof, intermittent heating, or rampant rodent infestation. Seriously, last winter we were almost overrun by mice.
Anyway, that's all in the past. The parking lot here isn't finished yet, but in another couple of weeks that will be done. I have a glass door in my new office (instead of a window) and I can watch the workmen pouring a new sidewalk within inches of my door. Will be a great place for a pot of flowers or my rock. Yes, I have a rock. A big rock. It was thrown by a blast from a mining company through the roof of a residence. I keep it to remind me, and the mining company, why the mining regulations are so important. At 150 pounds it's a little big to move around, but it really makes my point at hearings.
I'm glad to be in the new building, thankful the move was paid for before the state's economy went south. In Oklahoma we're only now beginning to feel the pinch that other states have been dealing with for awhile. Our agency budget has been slashed for the next twelve months. I think we'll have to buy our own ink pens and paper this coming year, but we also won't be fighting off invading hoards of mice – seems like a fair trade to me.
Just have to figure out how we'll use our new dishwasher-sized printer. We had money for the printer, but not the $700 stand to hold it. I think the vendor really intended them to be sold as a set. But if you don't have the money, you don't have the money. State governments - or at least our state government - can't run up deficits.
Back to the printer, it's sitting on the floor. We don't have a spare piece of furniture that is big enough or sturdy enough to hold it. If we plugged it in now, the printed documents would be shooting out across the tile floor and landing under the new conference table. I'll have to figure something out.
Hey, if the public complains about state workers laying down on the job, you'll know at least one reason – no printer stands.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Not so the resort, filled with intense and sometimes your quintessential ugly Americans. To paraphrase a song, “clowns to the left of me, type-A-ers to the right, here I am…” People often ask me where I come up with some of my characters, and dear readers, the answer is: everywhere. Vacation spots are a great place to people watch (the airport, in particular) and observe behavior. Who doesn’t respond when their spouse asks them a question? Who swims by themselves while their significant other tans all day? (I resisted the urge to lecture.) Who starts drinking rum swizzles at noon and doesn’t stop until the dinner bell rings? Who obsessively checks their bar bill and questions the cabana boy about it until the bartender comps at least one drink?
Hubby and I arrived at the resort last week, and after having lunch and two rum drinks consumed in rapid succession (not recommended), headed down to the pool, where we set up camp on two lounge chairs next to the most gorgeous pool I had ever seen, the ocean at our backs, a lovely breeze caressing our exhausted bodies. The only bad part? We obviously had a VERY IMPORTANT PERSON sitting right behind us who had to do business—loudly—on his cell phone, while his wife and friends sat idly by, drinking daiquiris and trying to enjoy their vacation. We were soon joined by a family of four with a young daughter so unhappy with everything having to do with vacation that she set about wailing every two minutes or so to express her displeasure at a) the salt on the French fries served poolside, b) the amount of ice in her drink, c) the tightness or looseness (depending on her mood) of her arm swimmies, or d) all of the above. Her parents dealt with all of this with a general malaise, seemingly used to her meltdowns. Jim sat placidly, trying to block out the squealing, but hoping against hope that I wouldn’t get up and remind the parents that all of us around the pool were on vacation, some of us without our children for the first time in fifteen years. Fortunately, this family only returned intermittently and VERY IMPORTANT PERSON appeared to have checked out the day following our arrival.
VIP and unhappy little girl were replaced by a large, extended family who were attending a destination wedding at the resort. They were fine for the most part: pleasant, amiable, happy to be on vacation. Only problem was that instead of communicating via the poolside telephone with people in their party who were in other parts of the resort, they instead reveled in screaming at each other from pool to the third floor veranda of whichever guests were not at the pool. This got old very quickly.
But I got a ton of stuff for characters in my next book or two because you truly can’t make some of this stuff up. I overheard a conversation among a group of older women (who had brought their seemingly mute husbands with them on vacation) which centered entirely around doctor error and MRI’s. I’ve experienced both but have chosen to wipe them out of my mind, never to speak of either ever again unless I am a) called to the witness stand in a malpractice case or b) need to give someone advice on how to withstand the noise inside of an MRI machine. Their conversation about these two subjects took up the better part of three hours. No one swam, no one stared at the vistas beyond the pool, but everyone had a story about an MRI or a doctor who had killed one of their friends by prescribing the wrong medicine, puncturing their femoral artery with a syringe, or by JUST NOT CARING.
As fellow Stiletto Gang poster and northern half of Evelyn David would say, “OY.” Don’t even get me started on the behavior at the all-you-can-eat (for $25.00 US) breakfast buffet.
But then again, all of this is coming from a woman who sat poolside in what my mother calls her “bathing costume,” which is comprised of wide-brimmed hat, ankle-length swim tights, and a mock turtleneck, long-sleeved pull over (all UV protective). I’m sure people were looking at me thinking, “What the hell is she wearing? And if she can’t go out in the sun, why would she come to Bermuda?”
We met some great couples while we were away, too, all of whom were vacationing without their children and in a state of disbelief that we were in such an amazing, exotic locale. But we all talked about our children at length and then all admitted that we would be back with the kids at some point because we wanted to share this incredible place with them. And that’s how you know that even though they drive you a little crazy, you love them like crazy. And will do everything in your power to keep them away from doctors and MRI machines even if it means that at some point, they, too, will have to wear a bathing costume.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Last week we were in Santa Maria where everyone was complaining they were having a heat wave when the temperature hit 80. We loved it.
We were there for the Santa Barbara County Fair where we had a table for my books in the Fine Arts Pavilion. (Really, it was the roller skating rink with portable flooring put down over the skating floor). If we'd been out with the displays, paintings and photographs it might have been a great venue--instead they had us behind a Plexiglass wall that was the route to the restrooms. There wasn't even a sign that pointed out our hideout.
Only a few people ventured back there intent on looking at the photographic entries that hung on the wall behind us. When we were spotted, the people seemed surprised to see us there. Of course when anyone came in I was on my feet, pointing out the fact that I was an author and these were my books.
When no one was around, I took my cards and went into the main room and talked to people and giving out my cards and telling folks about the authors that were waiting to be discovered behind the wall.
I was the only mystery writer. There was a science fiction writer, an author of a how to raise children book, a poetry author, a children's book author and a children's book illustrator who worked on illustrations all through the fair.
I only signed up to be there three days from 11 to 4. I know my limits. For one thing, I was the only one up on my feet and talking to people. The others waited far more patiently than I am, for someone to pass by their displays.
I sold the most books--which wasn't a lot. I sold eight the first day, two the second, and seven the last. Not so great--however I did talk to many people and handed out lots and lots of cards.
Would I go again? Yes, if they found a better place for us to have our tables.
Hubby and I had a good time together--and he read one of my books all the way through while he was there. We ate every meal--breakfast and early supper--at the same restaurant which was near our motel. The food was outstanding and the wait staff wonderful. And the weather was much better than here at home.
Now I can concentrate on my writing for awhile.
Monday, July 20, 2009
But today, especially in this economy, I feel like shopping isn't so much an adventure, as a big game, and I'm constantly losing. Store loyalty? I don't think so.
Last week, I had a series of doctors' appointments. The only reason this is significant is because I was unable to go into a certain store with my daughter on Tuesday. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and she selected a significant amount of clothing that added up to $300. To me, that's a lot of money. Maybe not as much as Tori Spelling drops on one outfit, but still a chunk of change that I would think any store would welcome.
We got to the checkout, and there sitting on the top of the register, was a sign that said, "10% off every Tuesday." I thought for a moment and asked, very politely, if there weren't some way to take advantage of the sale since I had been unable to come to the store the previous day. The two young saleswomen said "no." I asked to speak to the manager. They looked at each other, then one nodded to the other as if she were the one in charge, and she again repeated that there was nothing to be done.
Now I'm sure an argument can rightly be made that rules are rules, and that I was only entitled to the 10% discount if I had arrived a day earlier -- or were willing to wait another week. But it just seems stupid to me to sacrifice a hefty sale like that when I was in a national chain that has had plummeting profits for months. Nor does it make much sense to essentially tell me I was a chump for paying $30 more than I would have a day earlier. Or that for all practical purposes, the store was suggesting that you should only shop on Tuesdays, otherwise there were penalties to be paid. In short, I would suggest that if nothing else, they should have taken down the sign.
So I voted with my feet and walked out. I didn't feel a bit triumphant. In fact, I apologized repeatedly to my daughter, who kept reassuring me that she completely supported my decision.
The final coda to this retail tale was found online. I ran a Google search and discovered that if I signed up for email alerts from this national chain, I would receive an immediate $15 credit plus free shipping. I found 5 of the 7 items and ordered them. The company still lost approximately $100 since they didn't have two of the pieces my daughter had wanted.
But is this any way to run a business? I get that there are rules -- but was it worth it to that local branch to lose a good sale? Had the help been clever, they would have at least suggested that my daughter open a store charge account in her name and get an immediate discount. But today, too often the personnel don't care about the customer or about the company that employs them - and I suspect the company doesn't show much concern about employees or customers.
Or maybe, as I began, I'm just old, old, old - and cranky.
What do you think?
Friday, July 17, 2009
The other day, I accidentally wandered into a dive bar with a friend. We thought we knew the owner, but were mistaken. Since we were already there, we decided to spend the night hanging out with the barflies. Shortly after I arrived, the woman to my left asked me to hold her seat. I complied, shooing away another stranger when he tried to take it. Then the bartender told me that the woman was crazy and had simply taken a seat elsewhere. Eventually, the seat next to me was occupied by a patron suffering from the common malady known as “man trouble.” I bought her a drink. In the corner was another woman, who I later learned owned the place. The bartender served her a glass mug containing three parts hot water and one part stale coffee.
“That is disgusting,” I said, wondering why someone would try to turn bad coffee into tea.
My friend assured me she had seen it before, but I continued to express my shock and horror that someone would subject her taste buds to such a hideous beverage. Especially someone who owns a bar and has limitless libational possibilities.
“I have never seen anything like that in my whole life,” I said, with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.
“You need to get out more,” the bartender replied.
I couldn’t argue with him.In truth, I don’t get out much. I write novels for a living full-time. That has been the case since the beginning of 2006. I work from home, not in a café; I don’t have children, so I don’t carpool or participate in play dates. I’m not a member of any club to speak of. I leave my home for necessities and exercise and to hang out with friends, but I’m not a social animal and I learned a long time ago not to rely on real people for writing material. I’ll steal a line of dialogue here or there, but what I like about writing is that it’s not about real life—or more to the point, not about me. It’s the one time I can truly escape myself. The novels I write are for the most part pure fiction—I don’t generally get my ideas from the outside world. That said, I don’t want to avoid it altogether. Sometimes I want to have a real-life story to tell, just so I have something to contribute at dinner parties.
Whenever I need to experience the real world, I force myself to take the bus— a breeding ground not only for germs (so I can keep my immune system on high alert) but also for unforeseeable conversations.
Not too long ago, I overheard a delightful conversation on the 38 Geary.
A crazy man got on board. He shouted out to no one in particular, “Did you know I was in school to be a doctor?”
Another man replied, “I got news for you: You failed.”
The crazy man came back with: “I’ve been in hot tubs with judges. I got diamond rings and everything.”
He didn’t have any diamond rings on him, I should report. The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating in a lengthy monologue about the size of women’s behinds. Particularly the behind of the crazy man’s girlfriend.
But still, it got me thinking about imagination. The man with the imaginary medical training also lives much of his life in his own constructed world. I’m not so different. He tells his stories on the street; I hide out in my apartment concocting pure fiction. Then, every once in a while, I seek out reality. More often than not it encourages me to invent bolder, wilder lies. But I’d never write a character who drinks the dregs of a coffeepot topped off with lukewarm tap water. No one would believe it if I did.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
You know them. It's late. You need to be in bed. You're working the next day. You do a little channel surfing before turning off the tv and there it is. The movie you can never click past. It's caught you one more time.
Whether it's the plot, the music, the scenery, the dialogue, the cast or a combination of all five – there's just something about it that pushes all your "I love this movie" buttons.
I was caught by four of my favorites this past week. Note to self: after 9 pm skip TNT and AMC channels.
These are the ones that I love to watch again and again – my top ten, stay up late, and quote the lines movies.
1. The Hunt for Red October
3. The Undefeated
4. True Grit
5. Steel Magnolias
6. While You Were Sleeping
7. BAT 21
8. The Client
9. The Rookie
10. Independence Day
Honorable mentions – Medicine Man, Shenandoah, Dances with Wolves, Die Hard, Stand by Me.
One thing all of the movies listed above have in common are well developed characters that you can care about. You want the heroes and heroines to succeed in their quest. You cry. You laugh out loud. You cheer when the alien ship is destroyed, when the shark is turned into sushi, when the question is popped, when the couple rides off into the sunset or a snowstorm one step ahead of those chasing them. These are movies that make you feel something – the love of country, the fear of the unknown, the melancholy pangs of loss, the unrelenting hunger for justice, the comforting endurance of good friends, the pain of loneliness, the power of trust, the fun of outwitting an opponent, the joy of achieving a dream, and the exhilaration of overcoming all odds.
These are great movies that will stand the test of time. A check of my list shows most already have.
How about you? What are the movies you'll watch over and over? And hey, if it's a movie you can't sit through twice in a row, you don't love it enough to put it on this list!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Our kids are heading off to camp. When I was a kid, nobody I knew went to camp. With twenty or thirty kids in the neighborhood, who needed camp? We could run around outside, unfettered, for hours. Danger didn’t lurk around every corner like it seemingly does these days, and everyone had a great time. But now, once the winter semester is over, mothers (mostly) talk about what their kids are doing for the summer, who knows the best camps, where you can find the most reliable transportation to camp, who’s going to Bronx Zoo camp, who’s going to sleepaway camp for seven weeks, etc. For the past few summers, child #1 has been going to sleepaway camp for twelve days with her best friend, whose brother joined them last year. And this year, child #2 will join the group and attend with them for mini-session #2, which is a twelve day stay at a very rustic, yet charming, camp on a lake not terribly far from here.
God bless hubby’s heart because he’s done most of the camp preparation. Camp preparation includes stamping every piece of clothing—and that includes EVERY sock—with the child’s name, just in case they send their laundry out during the twelve days that they are at camp. A trip to Target last week netted a cache of $337.00 worth of camp supplies—body wash, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, a new trunk for child #2, extra bathing suits, extra underwear, and extra socks—most of which I’ll never see again, I imagine. Right now, husband is washing sheets and pillowcases so that they can be stowed in the trunk. They will return as they have in the past, but I guarantee you that they will smell like a combination of earth, mud, moisture, and sweat. Everything that returns from camp does and has to be washed repeatedly until it smells like home again.
The kids return smelling that way, too, incidentally.
Child #2 is very excited but if not a bit nervous. But being as he is extremely gregarious and would talk to a brick wall, I’m not terribly concerned. I keep telling him, “It’s twelve days. It’s not even two weeks. And you’ve got your sister, and her best friend, and her best friend’s brother. You’ll be home before you know it.” Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself?
The camp phenomenon is relatively new to me. I do have good friends who attended camp every summer, all summer long and they are wistful for their time there. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything but when my friends get talking about “color wars” and camp sing-alongs, I wonder what it must have been like to pack up at the beginning of the summer and leave home and kin to spend the summer with people who they still remain friends with.
Did you go to camp? What are your best memories? What, in essence, did I miss?
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Once there, we will spend three days at the Santa Maria Fair in the Fine Arts Exhibit along with artists, I suppose, and a handful of authors. We're doing readings, will have our books on display, and hopefully sell some. It will be interesting to see how will we compete with all the other intriguing things that are at a county fair. I'm always willing to try something once.
Actually, I think it'll be fun. My time slot is 11 to 4 on July 15, 16, 17. That means we'll have time for a leisurely breakfast and plenty of time in the evening to find a great restaurant with seafood and maybe even a movie theater close by.
We've been doing a lot of stuff around the house--cleaning up mostly, thankfully we've got a grandson in his twenties who manages to pop up here from time to time with a friend in tow. They usually need some money and I'm quite willing to pay for the work they do, and they've done plenty for us including remodeling and painting a couple of rooms so we could change our bedroom from upstairs to down.
Anyway, a nice vacation combined with book selling sounds pretty good right now. Maybe I might even get a few pictures.
Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
Monday, July 13, 2009
For me, when under stress, I turn to the foods of my childhood. Simple, plain, no fancy condiments, perhaps a touch of mayo to sweeten the chicken sandwich, on whole wheat, with a slice of tomato. Yum.
Anolther safe choice? Chicken soup, with or without a matzoh ball, but noodles are a nice touch.
Potatoes in almost any form, although probably not fried as too much grease just lingers.
I find comfort in the memories of meals eaten with those I love. My mother, the original Evelyn, was, no offense Mom, a miserable cook. But I cherish the scenes in my mind of us sitting at the holiday table, with a bountiful selection of the favorites of my father, my sister, and me. Of course, she had ordered it all in from a local catering hall, but the choices were made with deliberate attention to what each of us would enjoy.
We all know that material things aren't what make us happy or fulfilled. Don't get me wrong. I love a new pair of shoes more than most. But lately, with a variety of problems popping up, I find comfort in eating that chicken sandwich and remembering the comfort I got from those who made it with love.
What foods give you comfort?
Friday, July 10, 2009
My debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur almost three months ago. The experience of having a book in print is at once exhilarating and more than a little scary.
There are moments when you feel on top of the world. Seeing your book on a local bookstore’s shelves. Getting a call asking you to come back and sign more copies, because they just sold out. Seeing a great review. Getting letters and emails from readers who want to tell you how much they enjoyed the book – and can’t wait for the next one.
There are other moments too, of course. Worrying whether readers – and reviewers – will like it. Whether anyone will buy it, or want to come to my signings and events.
I’m told that these highs and lows are par for the course – part of any author’s life, whether the first book or the twentieth.
My goal is to take it all in stride. Celebrate the highs and downplay the lows. Well, this is easier said than done. But, I guess I shouldn’t complain. After all, I have the perfect role model living under the same roof as me: another member of my family with literary chops, who couldn’t care less about book reviews or sales figures. My dog, Ginger.
This is Ginger.
She is a mixed breed – part golden retriever, part standard poodle. People call her a goldendoodle, though neither my husband nor I manage to say it with a straight face. She’s a great dog, despite the ridiculous name.
Ginger beat me to publication by about three years – for her book, Goldendoodle, released by Kennel Club Books, came out in June 2006. Ginger, of course, did not write it; her breeder, Kathryn Lee, is the author. But Ginger is the face of the book – the cover dog, so to speak. And once Ginger was chosen (she’s featured in additional photos inside the book as well), we were invested in what we came to consider “her” book. [please insert photo of Ginger book cover]
And Ginger treated the publication process exactly as one should. She had nothing but fun!
It started with the day that professional animal photographer Mary Bloom came to the house for the photoshoot. Ginger was brushed and coiffed, then taken outside to secure the perfect photograph. Mary needed a particular look: paws in a certain position, head facing front, and of course – the right expression on Ginger’s face. To us, it looked like work. To Ginger, it was all about the rewards – toys and cookies – for a job well done.
Three years later, I experienced a mild case of déjà vu. My friend and professional photographer Alison Sheehy came over to our house. I was brushed and coiffed, then taken outside in search of the perfect book jacket photograph. Ginger came, too – and I was reminded this was meant to be fun, not stressful (although, I think, Ginger was imminently more successful in this endeavor once again).
Well, we bought Ginger’s book and so did our family and friends. We talked it up, displayed it on our coffee tables, and enjoyed the moment.
Now we do much the same, but with a certain New York turn-of-the-century historical mystery novel.
Just checked Amazon. At the moment of this writing, my novel has a higher ranking than Ginger’s book. Ah, but Amazon rankings are fickle things, with plenty of highs and lows for all but the most established bestseller. And Ginger’s book continues to do well, even after three years. Not only is it well-written, filled with good information by a respected breeder, but it’s also chock-full of adorable puppies and dogs.
Ginger has the perfect attitude. Have fun and enjoy the attention. Ignore what is beyond your control. Because having a book out – and a dream realized – is a treat worth savoring.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I don't have a pet, but since I have long hair …
I got the Hoover because I've always had Hoovers. This will be my fourth in 25 years. So not a bad track record. My old Hoover upright still had a lot of suction but the last two times I used it … well there was this burning odor. Made me nervous. Plus it made the house smell like an ashtray. Remember those? Do people even have ashtrays any more?
Okay – back to the vacuum cleaner story.
So … I've been looking on-line to find the perfect vacuum cleaner. Okay, an almost perfect vacuum cleaner. The perfect one would have a maid attached. I also had to consider price. I didn't want my vacuum cleaner to cost more than my car.
I also wanted to try a bagless vacuum. I have a terrible time remembering to buy vacuum cleaner bags and then when I remember to buy them, I can't remember what kind of bag my vacuum cleaner needs. So a bagless vacuum seems like a good solution.
Of course I've heard that bagless vacuums have less suction power than bagged vacuums. And I do have lots of allergies – in particular an allergy to house dust. But don't you think that if I will use a bagless vacuum more often because I don't have to fool with bags, that fact would even out the negative of less suction?
When I found this model that offered both a bagged and a bagless option on the same vacuum, I bought it. I ordered it on line, then picked it up at the store. No shipping costs that way.
The box holding the vacuum was at least four feet tall. That freaked me out a little, but after I got it and the packing out of the box it was the regulation height for an upright vacuum.
Then the hard part started. A label on the box indicated that there was some assembly required. Always a bad sign. If the manufacturer is going to put something in a box that is almost twice the size of the item, why can't they send it assembled?
The handle was not attached to the vacuum. The hose carrier was not attached. I got out my reading glasses and a screw driver.
There was a little piece of cardboard on the handle that had a message in size 6 font – it said, "Remove before attaching handle." So I removed it. A little annoyed that I had to assemble anything, I vigorously removed it. The cardboard was holding four screws that I didn't see before ripping the cardboard off. I spent about 30 minutes searching the carpet for the four screws that had gone flying.
After finally attaching the handle and hose carrier, I was ready to check out the bagged and bagless canisters. You choose one and insert it into the vacuum assembly. The bagged option had a bag already in the canister. The bag was attached to a plastic piece. The plastic piece should have been hooked at the top and bottom to the canister – it wasn't. I spent about an hour trying to attach it.
Finally I took the bag off the plastic piece and then worked to attach the plastic piece into two tiny slots on the canister. I was afraid I was going to break the canister. There was a tag on the plastic piece that said, "Do Not Remove." No kidding!
Apparently in the shipping process someone had removed it. Two broken nails and 30 minutes later, the plastic piece was snapped into the canister. Then I added the bag.
Finally assembled, it looked very nice – black, smoky gray, with a copper colored chassis.
I should have plugged it in last night and tried it out.
But it was late when I finished, almost 9 pm. I'd been at it for 3 hours.
I think that's enough housework for any one day.
I guess I should have held out for the model with the maid.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Now you may be asking yourself, why would a melanoma survivor—and someone who assiduously avoids the sun—pick a tropical locale so close to the equator to vacation? First reason is that despite the fact that I can’t swim, I love to swim. And I use that term loosely. My idea of swimming is a spastic doggy paddle/treading water/half American crawl that if you tried to replicate, you might pull a disk out and require immediate surgery. But it has been working for me for years and I’ve learned not to make too many waves with it, so once the other swimmers get used to a middle-aged woman in ankle-length, UV protectant swim tights and a mock turtleneck UV protectant swim shirt flailing about next to them, and are convinced she isn’t having a stroke, everyone has a great time. We also have hats, sunscreen that was created for when you’re actually standing on the sun (ok, not really, but close enough), and swim shoes to protect the feet. Guaranteed, I’ll be the palest person getting off the plane at JFK when we return from the island.
We picked a hotel with seven restaurants because another thing we’re not is intrepid travelers. If you all recall our honeymoon story, we once went off the grid for “authentic” south of the border food, only to have me pick up a parasite, which I’m pretty darn sure still resides in my lower intestine and makes an appearance every once in a while. I’m also pretty sure that it has created its own parasitic family, one that enjoys making me sick every few years or so. So, once we park ourselves at the resorts, it’s where we sit, eat, sleep, “swim”, and lounge for the next week. We’re also not motor scooter people (Dad once forbade me from riding them and I obeyed him—my sister, not so afraid of authority, rode them all through her high school senior year trip to the island and even flashed pictures in his face while I said a silent prayer in the corner; she was, in the words of my grandmother, “bold.”)—but we’re not averse to getting on one of the clearly-marked pastel Bermudian buses and riding into Hamilton for a little shopping and dining. I will resist the urge to buy a “Bermuda bag.” Remember those? They were big when I was in high school. They had a wooden handle and were oval shaped and you could change the fabric on the handle to one of a thousand pastel or paisley selections. I couldn’t carry one off in 1985 and I certainly can’t now. But I often get caught up in the local color and think that I must have whatever it is that they’re selling. A Bermuda bag, though, doesn’t go with my clogs and recycled grocery bag lifestyle. I think I’m old enough and wise enough to realize this but only time will tell.
This time, though, I’m determined to get to St. George, which I heard is an historic part of the island and where you can get a drink called the “dark and stormy” that is sweet but deadly. My kind of drink exactly.
We have plans to partake in some kayaking while we’re there, but I’ve also learned that once we settle in somewhere and regard all of the activities that other resort-goers are undertaking, we just live vicariously through them. We’re both so tired from the school year and my work schedule that while we have great hopes of kayaking, scuba diving, and other water adventures, I bet you anything that the most we’ll do is raise a hand to the bartender to bring us another rum swizzle. That will require most of our energy and we want to make sure we don’t run out of steam too early in the vacation.
I’ll give you a full report upon my return. I plan on returning parasite, and sunburn-free. What are your plans for the summer, Stiletto Gang readers and posters? Will it be full-on relaxation or an adventure vacation? Write in and let us know!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Back in my younger days, I have a feeling there were just as many bad people around, we just didn't hear about them so much.
I had lots of freedom. Mom really didn't seem to care where I went as long as I was home by 5 for dinner. Also, if we heard my dad whistle, and he could whistle really loud, we better hustle on home. I did not grow up in the country, our home was in Los Angeles. We had hills behind our house where the Glendale Freeway is today. We usually didn't hike in the hills unless we had a grown-up with us because hobos lived in the hills. And yes, they really did, we often saw their encampments though never them.
We did a lot of roller skating down the sidewalks, we lived on a hilly street and usually stopped by crashing into someone's garage door. We also rode our bikes everywhere. I often rode off alone in the summer with my writing gear in my basket and a book to read, and parked myself several blocks away under a lovely willow tree on someone's front lawn. (No, I didn't know the people.) I would write and read and enjoy myself and no one ever told me to move along.
I can just imagine the people of the house saying, "There's that strange little girl again."
Though I spent a lot of time with my friends doing all sorts of things like digging tunnels in the vacant lot (to escape from the enemy--I grew up during WWII) and cococting poisons, putting on plays with the neighborhood kids, I also wandered around a lot by myself. Sometimes I even managed to get lost.
When my cousin and I were 10 our mothers let us go downtown (downtown L.A.) on the streetcar by ourselves. (What we didn't know is they followed us on the very next street car.) We had strict orders to stay in the block between 5th and 6th and to only go in those stores. Because we did as we were told, we were allowed to go downtown by ourselves whenever we wanted after that. Back in those days you could buy a lot at the dime store with one dollar.
Visits to the library were a weekly event. Mom had to drive us there. I always got 10 books and read them all before the week was up.
When I was a bit older mom subscribed to a book club and she told me I couldn't read the books--but I did after she finished them. (I'm sure she knew.)
My growing up years were filled with freedom and I truly know how blessed I was.
Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
Monday, July 6, 2009
But that being said, this trip was exhausting (6 events in 5 days), but oh so satisfying. Authors can easily get obsessed (or maybe just this author?) over Amazon rankings, checking constantly to see if there is any movement. The mood swings from exhilaration when the numbers suggest books have been sold to the depths of despair when it looks like no one will ever buy any book again – well it’s enough to give you a bad case of whiplash.
But when you’re on the road, actually meeting mystery lovers who have shown up and want to talk about whodunnits, is incentive enough to kickstart the next book in the Sullivan Investigations Series.
Some highlights of the trip:
Selling out twice at Barnes and Noble in Manassas! The manager had put up an end display a couple of days before my event. Sold so many books, he had to reorder – and then I sold every single one of them in two hours.
Visiting Mystery Loves Company – a wonderful bookstore in Oxford, Maryland, in an idyllic setting. Sold out of Murder Takes the Cake there!
Visiting Warrenton, Virginia – the setting of both Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake. The people were friendly and helpful, and I saw exactly the place where the next murder will occur! I also heard some fun and scary ghost stories about the area. Definitely fodder for Murder Ups the Ante (book three).
My talks at the libraries in Middleburg, VA, Cambridge, MD, and Delmar, DE. The librarians, Sheila Whetzel, Leslie Grove, and Veronica Schell were warm, welcoming, encouraging, and enthusiastic. In a time of economic difficulties, libraries are a national treasure. Many thanks to all.
Fabulous meal at Latitude 38 in Oxford, MD. Yum, Yum, Yum.
Wonderful mini-reunion with old college friends in Washington, DC. All these years later (and it is a looooong time since we were fresh-women together) – and the friendships endure.
Time alone with my husband. With work and family demands, it’s hard to find time to just chat. Long hours in the car were made fun because we were together. Yesterday was our anniversary and I’m so glad I’m married to this wonderful guy.
The recovery of Clio. Wouldn’t you just know that we leave town and the dog gets sick. Good news is she’ll be fine. Even better news, our daughter and son handled the situation perfectly. Poor pup developed a nasty cyst that got infected. Add in a series of thunderstorms which always leaves her terrified, and she’s had a rough few days. But she’s on the road to good health and is back gobbling treats with a vengeance.
My Blackberry. Yep, it was definitely worth the investment. While on the road, I could Facebook and Twitter, and keep up with business e-mails.
So I’m home (hooray), but there are more book events planned for the summer. But first, laundry, grocery shopping, and maybe even a chapter or two of book number three!
Friday, July 3, 2009
I find myself avoiding the evening news these days. I mostly tune in just to see the weather and hear any updates on off-season Blues hockey (hey, they just got a really good defenseman from Sweden who's about 19 and cute as a button!). I'm not even very keen on reading online news. It's like everywhere I look something awful's happening: economies are collapsing, wars are going on, a military coup's taken place, another celebrity has passed away, or a fat-cat financier's going to jail (okay, that last one isn't depressing at all really).
If anything good comes out of our own country's current mess, I hope it's people taking a look at their lives and realizing that little things mean a lot. I remember being in high school when Ralph Lauren was taking off, and we all begged our parents for anything with a tiny Polo man on it. "Greed is good," Gordon Gekko declared, and everyone bought it. Pretty soon, too many folks were living on credit, buying houses, cars, electronics, and other bling they couldn't afford. Right out of college, my sister had five major credit cards all charged to their limits. Meanwhile, post-university, I paid for everything in cash and had a heckuva time getting a Visa until I'd established a credit history. Then again, maybe that was a good thing as I don't rely on credit cards much now.
Don't get me wrong. I like nice things as much as the next gal. But once I was living off my own earnings, it was amazing how much I realized I could do without. What I couldn't pay for with cash, I didn't need. My grandfather had lived by that credo, and I see how right he was. I feel fortunate to have married a man who doesn't need a lot of "stuff" to be happy.
Unfortunately, these days everything that's affordable seems to be made in China. I'm sure tons of folks like me would rather buy "Made in the USA," only it's hard to find. Honestly, I've had enough T-shirts that fall apart at the seams after one wearing to be willing to pay more for something that's domestically produced by skillful adults, not by children in sweat shops. Wouldn't it be lovely if more companies returned from overseas and got the manufacturing biz humming in this country again?
As kids, we didn't care about labels or impressing anyone with status symbols. The simplest things were the most fun, like catching fireflies on a warm summer night; running through the sprinkler in our bathing suits; finding clover and weaving it into a necklace; baking cookies in grandma's kitchen. I'm not sure when the "gotta have it" syndrome sets in or what causes it. Too bad there's not a vaccine to inoculate us against it.
I still think the best things in life are free, like taking walks in the park, chillin' on the porch swing, going to art festivals, holding hands with your honey, or singing your lungs out to Def Leppard. Oh, and how cool is the sound of thunder and rain from a good old-fashioned summer storm (but not the kind that spawns tornadoes or knocks down power lines!)?
I'd like to hear some of the simple things in your lives that you love to do. And, whatever they are, I hope you get to do them plenty over this extended holiday weekend. Happy Fourth of July to everyone!
P.S. Speaking of fun free things: The Book Belles are giving away a tote bag full of signed books. Contest ends July 15 so there's still time!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The new office space was a long time coming. There is a standard 3-4 months of red-tape involved in any relocation of a state office. That's if everything goes smoothly and the new building is vacant, meets state building codes, and the price doesn't exceed price per square footage caps. The building we just moved into had to be remodeled before we could move in. The building was gutted, exterior walls removed, exposing the steel bones. The roof was left on, but before the remodel was over, it was replaced. All the plumbing was replaced. And while all that was going on – it rained. It rained for a couple of months straight. My carefully planned move schedule was doomed.
We moved out of our old building on the last working day of May. That's right, May. For the entire month of June, my office has been my car and home. My employees have been working from home and another field office 60 miles away. It was fun for just about two days. Then it was just a hassle. Each day I drove into the town where the new office was, picked up the office mail from the Post Office (we had it forwarded to new address, then held as it became clear we would not have a June 1 move-in date despite the contractor's assurances). After collecting the mail, I would go to the new building and check on the remodel progress. Most days there was very little.
Before leaving the old office we had "surplussed" a lot of our elderly furniture and ordered some new stuff- some matching stuff. Note: a field office usually gets castoff furniture from the main office and the main office gets new furniture. Our field office was no exception. I was using some furniture given to the state from the federal government when they closed an office in the early 1980s. The furniture itself was from the post-WWII era. My desk was big – you could land a plane on it. It was all metal – the heavy stuff – with the soft gummy top that is usually covered with a sheet of glass. My desk didn't come with the glass so you had to be careful with what you set on the surface. A coffee cup ring was permanent if you didn't use a coaster. Anything heavier, you had a permanent indention.
My boss encouraged me to pick out a new desk – of course it was going to be smaller (they stopped making the big ones) but the new office was going to be smaller too. So I agreed. Reluctantly. My old desk is gone. My new desk is still on order. I'm using a computer table as a desk now. Talk about small! By the time I get my new desk – another week maybe – I'll probably be thrilled with the size.
On July 2, we hope not only be in the new office with all our boxes and furniture, but to have internet service. When that happens, maybe the new place will feel like home – so to speak.
There are still about 100 boxes to unpack.
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I’m finding myself having a hard time getting worked up about the death of Michael Jackson and I’m wondering why that is. Well, deep down inside, I know what it is, but for right now, let’s just leave it alone. I do feel terrible for the surviving family members, and particularly, his children—two of who have their collective future hanging in the balance while their birth mother decides whether or not she wants to be a participating mother as opposed to someone who carried them for nine months and then left shortly thereafter. The whole situation has a decidedly carnival air about it, just as the poor man’s life did. And that leaves me sad, but not with a grief that I can’t overcome, which is how I’m seeing some people depicted on television.
I can’t say that I was surprised by the too early and untimely demise of Michael Jackson at all. Part of me was surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner.
We also, as a media-hungry society, watched as Farrah Fawcett died a slow and painful death from cancer. I felt worse about her passing, maybe because I know the pain of being a cancer patient, or maybe because I related to the fact that despite being perfect looking, she had a less than perfect life marred by the addictions of a grown son who had to visit her in shackles. Although her family and friends claimed that she had no idea that her son was in jail, I think she knew. I think that she was fully aware until the end that her little boy had lived a less than stellar life and was suffering the consequences. Don’t ask me how I know this or why I think this but I think that behind that glorious smile was a pain that only a parent with a dark secret like that can hide.
It was with great sadness that I had to let child #2 know that Billy Mays, champion pitchman, had died. Nothing gives child #2 more joy than the “Mighty-Putty” commercial in which with just a piece of this magic putty, an elephant can pull an eighteen wheeler. Kid begs me—and I mean BEGS me—every time the commercial comes on to buy Mighty Putty, going on to list the innumerable uses it might have in our own home. They are too embarrassing to list but put end to end, amount to a punch list that would probably stretch down our street to the Hudson River below. He was crestfallen when he heard that his hero had died. I think I may actually get the kid some Mighty Putty to alleviate his grief.
Between these celebrity deaths, plane crashes, the fallen troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pictures of protestors being gunned down in the middle of the streets of Iraqi protesting the election (I hope this gives the non-voting Americans—and you know who you are—pause), I can barely stand to watch the news. You would think that all around us was death. But truly, all around us is life. And that, we should celebrate. Because every day is a gift to be treasured and too often, we treat as something that we are owed.
And so finally, I’d like to remember someone who wasn’t a celebrity, but just a very kind man and someone who our family considered one of a kind. John “Mac” McVeigh died on Friday at the age of 67, of an untimely and massive heart attack. He was my father’s oldest and dearest friend and was someone who could light up a room without sucking all of the oxygen out of it. He once told me when I was very small that “God never gives you more than you can handle” and I remembered those words, even as they were used as mere platitudes throughout the years by lesser men and women to describe situations that didn’t rival the ones he faced. He loved his “Reezie,” his kids, and his grandkids. And he loved his friends and treated them like special gifts bestowed upon him. He told the longest, most meandering stories that you could imagine, but eventually, those stories would come to an end, and you would be richer for having heard them. To say that he will be missed is a massive understatement, but if we can all carry around just a little piece of John’s love of life around with us in our hearts, we will all be just a little bit better. And happier.