Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Forward

I'm not big on making New Year's Resolutions. I think most of them are doomed to fail because we make them out of pressure to start off a new year with a clean slate or at least a cleaner slate than the one we're bidding goodbye. I'd rather start changing something on the day that I realize it needs to be changed or, if I'm feeling contrary, procrastinate about it for awhile first.

The whole, "I resolve in 2011 to (fill in the blank)" just doesn't work for me. I'm much better with the mindset of, "I want to (fill in the blank) and I will begin on (pick a day)." The resolution then becomes a project. I'm very project-oriented. For someone who's usually a dreamer and and idea-generator, this method is quite concrete and detailed. It works.

I'm the same way with long-term goals. I do better when I break them down into steps that I will take to achieve the end-result.

Whether working on weight loss or working on a book, the big picture is often overwhelming. Instead of thinking, "I really need to lose a lot of weight this year", I'd rather focus on, "I can follow a healthy food plan today." I don't have to worry so much about completing a new book at the outset when, instead, I only need to write the first chapter, then the next and so on.

Several months ago for my day job, we spent a day with a coach who had us do a standard personality study. No surprise that I wound up in the "Creatives" category, but I also bled over a little into "Bottom-Liner". This is helpful because, as an idea-generator, it's also good to be results-oriented. Otherwise, what's the point of generating ideas if we don't use them to accomplish something.

Looking forward to 2011, I have lots of ideas for things I want to accomplish. Now I'm tapping into the other part of myself to formulate the plan.

What's on your agenda?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

News from the Woman Behind the Curtain

I know that it's been awhile. No, I didn't skid off of that high road and crash over the precipice. In addition to the usual chaos of the holiday season, I've been involved in a professional reinvention. Back in October, I talked about the restart of my career as a novelist. I figured it was about time to update everyone on the progress.

The cover artist has redesigned the covers for my books All Keyed Up and Key of Sea. We've agreed on the concepts and now he needs to finalize the designs. I'm really pleased with the new looks for the books and am looking forward to revealing them soon.

Likewise, I'm thrilled with the progress made by the company I contracted with to redesign my website. Again, we've settled on the design concept. Now I need to let them know what content to migrate from the current site, freshen up some material, and make some additional decisions.

So far, it sounds like other people are doing all the work for the restart. To some extent that's true. Now, I'm in the midst of my major responsibilities -- going through the books to fix a few things. Then I need to do the actual reformatting of the manuscripts to prepare them for electronic publishing.

Unlike some authors who do this when the books first come out, the last time I read them was when I did the final revisions for the original publisher. Frankly, the process of rereading them now feels a little weird. I bounce from pleased surprise, as in, "Wow. I actually wrote this? It's pretty good" to fretting whether the stories are truly good enough.

It's not unusual for writers to suffer from this fear and insecurity. I've read blog posts by fabulously successful, award-winning, New York Times bestselling authors where they proclaim that they suck. They don't, of course, they just sometimes think that they do, or are afraid that they do and they will soon be revealed as frauds.

Imagine for a second that the Wizard of Oz is a metaphor for a novelist's career. We'd be the guy concealed behind the curtain. The creative process would be Dorothy's journey to the Emerald City - sometimes the path is beautiful and filled with bright colors and interesting characters. Sometimes we creep through the dark forest, dodging apples thrown by scary trees, trying not to be captured by flying monkeys. Other times, it just gets so overwhelming that all we really want is to lie down among the flowers for a nap.

Well, I can't sleep my way through the process of checking my books. I've set goals and want these books to enjoy new life in e-publishing. To help the effort, I have already invested a good chunk of money in the covers and website. I want to, and will, push on and get the books ready to launch. I've gone through the poppy fields, gained entry to the Emerald City, and am putting my books through the buffing and polishing.

I've discovered a certain magic energy to preparing to release my books myself in the electronic publishing forums. Remember in the Wizard, Dorothy thought she had to do a whole bunch of stuff and rely on many others to achieve her goal.

Like her, I've discovered I have the power to get where I want to be all on my own.

Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Veering Off the High Road

When I was a kid and other kids picked on me or teased me (or were downright mean) to me about being overweight, my parents always told me to take the high road. That's a credo that I've attempted to follow all of my life, no matter how difficult it is to do sometimes.

The high road is not the easy path. For one thing, you have to trudge uphill to reach it. Once you're there, you have to slog your way through mud, rock slides, pot holes and other less savory things that are all intent on tripping you up during the journey so that you and your good intentions fall flat on your face.

It was particularly difficult when I was younger and, like most adolescents and teens, possessed less impulse control. I also had a temper, so every side trip to the high road was a lesson in not letting anger get away from me. There's good points and bad to that approach. Lashing out every time someone pisses us off isn't a constructive way to interact with others. Holding in the anger and trekking up that hill to the high road doesn't always achieve the best results.

Case in point, when I was 10, my family and I lived in France. My older brother and I went to a private school for American kids. There were a couple of girls in my home room who had been there for a few years. Since they were also on the far side of chubby, they were overjoyed to have a "new girl" to pick on. Smartly, they realized it was a glass classroom, so they didn't throw stones about my weight. Instead, they tried to make me feel bad because their fathers worked in the diplomatic corps and my father was, wait for it, only a doctor. Can you cross the t and dot the i in bitches along with me? I was incensed at the disrespect shown to my father. He only laughed when I relayed the tale of the grievous insult and told me to ignore them and, yes, take the high road.

I put more miles on that damned high road that year than a coast-to-coast trucker. Then February rolled around and the entire school closed for vacation, with most students going on school-sponsored ski trips. My best friend and I were on the same trip as my nemeses and the Fates had a good laugh when the four of us somehow ended up sharing a room. My high road taking must have frustrated them but, smelling fresh vulnerable meat, they turned on my friend. She was a quiet, timid girl who'd never gone on an away trip from her family before and was homesick. I warned them and warned them to stop teasing her, but they persisted until she began to cry great, heartbroken tears. When I ordered them to back off, they told me they could say and do anything they wanted -- including splitting us up because my father was only a doctor.

I snapped, saying something close to, "Your diplomatic fathers can't help you now." Then I picked up my heavy wooden hairbrush and went after the one girl. No, I didn't seriously beat her, but I got in several smacks before reason returned and I stopped. They never bullied me or my friend again.

Do I advocate violence as a solution? No. Do I think I would have been better served if I'd learned more effective techniques for conflict resolution other than relying on the power of taking the high road? Yes.

The thing with the high road is that it just removes you from the conflict. It doesn't take you to any definitive destination. You just keep walking until the conflict passes and then you resume your regularly plotted route -- until the next time something happens and you detour again.

I'm a long way away from that 10 year old. Most of the time these days, I can both take the high road and find an effective way to resolve a situation that doesn't involve beating someone with a hair brush. There are even times when I can shrug and release the annoyance.

Then there are times like today. Someone made some, I think, petty critiques of a volunteer project in which I was involved. Instead of immediately responding, I sprinted for the high road. Good thing because my initial thought, upon hearing the critique was, "Then you effing take on the project next time."

Securely perched up here on the hill, I'm giving myself 24 hours before I craft a written response. It will be diplomatic and calm and I will make my points without being angry, mean or bitchy. I promise.

Until then, I give myself permission to think of the road not traveled; the one littered with responses like, "Kiss my ass".

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Returning to Blog

I'm on day four of my four day weekend. It's been years since I took the day after Thanksgiving off and I'm so glad that I did. Had a great Thanksgiving. I joined friends at Bahia Honda State Park where they host the holiday dinner for park staff and volunteers. I usually meet some interesting people at those gatherings and thoroughly enjoy myself.

This year I tried something new for my food contribution to the feast. I roasted rutabagas, carrots and red onions in a yummy mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Everyone seemed to enjoy them and I thought the dish was delicious so I know I'll make it again during the year.

I spent several hours over the last few days setting up my new laptop. It even has new laptop smell. Frankly, it could have stunk like three day old fish and I wouldn't have cared. I'd been pushed to the edge of sanity by the e-obsessed antics of my old laptop. Some nights I could barely short circuit the machine long enough to type in my password and log on. I survived by checking email mostly on my iPhone and then using the netbook.

I love my little netbook. It's so convenient for travel. However, I don't find it comfortable to type on for long hours, so I wasn't as prone to blogging for awhile. Now I'm back.

I also spent a good chunk of time on the de-cluttering of the room that's supposed to be my office. It is amazing to me that no matter how often I tell myself that I will not let that room get out of control, it always defeats my best intentions. This might be because I often employ the Scarlet O'Hara approach to neatening and filing as in, "I'll do it tomorrow because tomorrow is another day." Do that often enough and the room quickly qualifies for an episode of Clean Sweep. I'm happy to say that I can now see a good amount of acreage on the floor and the mountains of paper have all been sorted into file folders or shredded. The "15 Minutes" approach really works. Telling myself that I only had to work on it for 15 minutes at a time made the process less overwhelming. Usually I worked far longer but clearly the idea gave me a mental boost.

Now that I've decluttered the office, I can declutter the section of kitchen counter that is a catch-all for miscellaneous stuff. Do you sense a trend?

When you aren't a natural neatnik, nothing provides greater motivation for putting things in order than a deadline. In two weeks, my house is the host location for a baby shower for good friends. Two other friends and I are arranging the party with guys and gals invited. I needed to have everything straightened by this weekend so that I can put up some holiday decorations next weekend. The week before the shower I'll break out the heavy-duty cleaning weapons and accomplish a big task each night.

The last of those big tasks will be the floors and rugs. Cleaning them before the day of the party would be the equivalent of Martha Stewart meets Sisyphus. You see, in addition to everything else, construction began last week for my swimming pool. It is physically impossible for me to walk into the house without tracking dust or traces of dirt with me on my sandals. Some the morning of the shower, I will sweep away any dirt or sand in the driveway and then sweep, vacuum and mop the floors. My house is going to sparkle like a star on top of a Christmas tree. I'm determined!

Admid everything else, work progresses on the revitalization of my writing career. A cover artist is working on new covers for my two books. I had a phone consult with a new web designer. I'm going through the books themselves and getting them ready for conversion to e-format. This is an exciting time for me as an author. No matter how much we know that publishing is a business, we put our heart, sweat, time, energy and talent into our books and want them to do well. To be able to give my work another chance is a big time boost and motivates me to write new material, too.

Particularly now that I have a new laptop and can actually type. :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Not Quite as Entertaining Blog

Last night I wrote a really fun, entertaining blog about my weekend experience with the Ladies Let's Go Fishing Seminar. Right before I hit "Publish Post", the power went out, including the modem for my DSL. Bye-bye, blog post. :-(

By the time the power came back, I was so tired that I couldn't even think of recreating the previous post. So, forgive me, but we'll all have to settle for these random thoughts.

The LLGF was terrific with lots of great information and tips, skill stations where we learned and practiced, and a fun, enthusiastic group of women together because we all like to fish and want to get even better at the sport. I picked up gear that I needed at great savings off of regular retail in the silent auction and won one of the auction prizes. I bought a custom graphite fishing rod that's, be still my heart, purple! Most importantly, I met some really sweet women.

Next to the fun I personally experienced, I thoroughly enjoyed two sisters in particular. I'm horrible at guessing ages, but I think they were somewhere in their 50s. Neither of them had ever fished but one sister told me that they'd decided they needed to learn and experience new things. They thought that fishing sounded like something fun so they signed up for the seminar.

I loved their spirit and enthusiasm. Every time I saw them they looked like they were having a great time. We were on the same party fishing boat yesterday morning so I was right next to them when they each caught their first fish. They grinned like kids and the joy was infectious.

Great lesson for all of us in those two ladies. See out new experiences and enjoy them to their fullest!

Earlier tonight I was waiting at an intersection for a break in traffice so that I could pull out on the highway. A car was approaching from my left so I couldn't move forward. The driver pulled nearer and nearer and then turned into the street where I was sitting. Did he put his blinker on to signal that intention? Nooo. After I stopped muttering, I looked at the thing as a metaphor. How often in our lives do we wait to act because we need to see what someone else is going to do? How much better would it be if other people always indicated what action or direction they planned to take instead of proceeding without giving a clue?

Some would say that we shouldn't live our lives based on the actions of others. I'd say that sometimes that's right. Other times, like today when the wrong move could result in a collision with bodily harm, it's better to wait. For me, the moral is that we need to assess the risks and possible consequences before we act.

I'm working on a new mantra for myself these days. "Thinks can only upset me to the extent that I permit." It's important to keep things in perspective. Often this is easier in theory than in practice. Sometimes it takes, well, practice. I'm considering it a work in progress. :-)

What "work in progress" are you working on in your life?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shopping Guides

You'd think after 17 years of purchasing and owning personal computers, including four laptops -- Oh wait, I also have a netbook, so that's actually five laptops -- anyway, you'd think I'd understand what I need and what to look for in terms of processors, speed, memory, capacity, features, and so on.

I kind of do. I say "kind of" because I know what I use my laptops for and what I need them to be able to do. The problem lies in pairing up the usage needs with the specs of the different machines. Armed with my needs, I go on different manufacturers' websites and do my best to comparison shop. Unfortunately, I don't think the laptops are marketed according to what's intuitive for me.

At the heart of things, I automatically assume that bigger/more/faster is more desirable than "not as much". It's like I approach computer shopping with the same mindset that people used for selecting new cars back in the 60s and 70s.

Car shopping's easier, even with the obnoxious sales tactics.

For several weeks, I've known that I need to buy a new laptop. The current one still thinks that its e is depressed. I have to hit a shortcut button whenever I turn on the machine and then backspace and delete all of the eeeees that have already shown up in the password field. Handy thing that short cut button because, spontaneously, rows of eeeeeeeeeeeeeeees begin to appear. Even before this problem began, on a more regular basis the computer took me on an unexpected detour to the land of the Blue Screen. Not fun.

I've cruised different laptop manufacturer sites and attempted to comparison shop. I succeeded in getting overwhelmed. That model's lighter but not fast enough. The other one is heavier but faster and has a bigger screen and hard drive. The most expensive one has the fastest processor, the most RAM, and 500 GB HDD. Wow. Impressive stats but none felt just right.

I wish the companies would do what my friend and non-blood niece Hope just did. In a couple of concise paragraphs she made all of the numbers and specs make sense as they relate to what I need in a laptop. I no longer have to worry about whether I'm getting too fast or too slow a processor or too much or too little capacity in my hard drive. I know what to shoot for in RAM.

Now I can shop with greater confidence in my information. I'm prepared to make a good decision instead of stumbling around like a Technically Deficient Goldilocks trying to figure out which one is just right.

Some people need personal shoppers to help them pick out wardrobes. Everybody who knows how to use a computer, if not necessarily how to buy one, needs a Hope.

Thanks, Hope!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Fishing for Knowledge

I'm so flipping happy that the elections are over and we'll have six months without relentless campaign lies, er, ads. I'm so disgusted with politics in general that tonight, the voting results I cared about most were the ones that told me who got kicked off Dancing with the Stars.

I went out fishing on my boat with friends on Sunday and had a blast. Today I read our organization's president annual report letter. How are these two things connected? Both experiences resonated with me that things are very different when you're the ship's captain than when you're part of the crew.

I've fished all of my life with my parents or more experienced friends. Now I hope to take out less experienced people in the not too distant future. I'm really grateful that friends who know what they're doing went out with me on Sunday -- and that they shared their knowledge. I soaked up tips, hints, facts, techniques -- and a couple of really good spots to try.

Later that night, I wrote down stuff so I wouldn't forget. I have a new shopping list of items that I need to add to my tackle box and gear bag before I go out again.

My boss's letter shared something that she learned from our late president. Namely, that a good leader has to recognize what she doesn't know. Then, she can find people who have that area of expertise and add them to the team.
On Sunday's trip, there were a dozen things that I immediately realized I didn't know. Now I do. This will make me a better, more prepared and competent captain. I'm excited about the entire process. In a couple of weeks I'm taking a weekend fishing seminar for women only and am really looking forward to adding to my storehouse of information.

Fish will fear me. :-)

Cora shows off her keeper red-grouper

Drew and I with our grouper and lane snapper

My first hogfish!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Last Refuge

We're a few days away from Election Day. The nastiness that is the hallmark of politicial campaigning reaches a new height daily. I tune them out as much as possible, but the negativity oozes through my shields. Pretty much, I no longer truly believe in any candidate. It pretty much boils down to which one I think is lying least about his or her intentions.

Dr. Samuel Johnson once said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels." Substitute politics for patriotism and that pretty much sums it up.

Could you imagine going for a job interview and promoting yourself by completely tearing down and attacking other job candidates?

Locally, we have elections for City Council, County Commissioner, Mosquito Control and School Board. On that level, the elections have been pretty civil and we voters haven't had to dodge mud being slung by one candidate at another. Thank goodness. We'd be hip deep and unable to slog our way round in our daily activities.

The hottest issue in town right now is an ongoing battle over the local animal shelter. Whole lot of fighting, villification of opponents, manipulation of information and attempted power plays. Where this struggle is concerned, it seems like a lot of people have abandoned the strategy of reaching for your goals in positive ways. Instead of gaining support by pointing out the good that you or you or you can do, it appears that more choose to influence public opinion by making everyone else appear bad.

Another version of playing politics. Another refuge for scoundrels.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hoochie Coo

Earlier tonight, the news aired a story of two women in South Florida who are stealing from liquor stores. The M.O. is interesting. Each picks an otherwise empty aisle, grabs a bottle of her chosen alcoholic beverage and shoves it up under her dress, between her thighs.

These weren't pints or fifths, but full bottles. I guess if you're going to dare intimacy with a bottle, not to mention arrest, size does matter.

They haven't been caught in reality, but while their method is sort of clever, they aren't smart enough to avoid the security cameras. The scope, the grab, the shove, and the stroll out of the store are all caught on tape. The women are not skinny minnies. It takes some flesh in the thighs to walk without dropping the bottle. If the authorities nab them, I wonder if they'll dust the glass for prints.

I thought I'd seen inventive bottle sneaks when I hung out with a bouncer friend at a rock club. He had amazing intuition and could always pick out the guy who'd concealed a flask inside a cowboy boot, for example.

These women, however, take the cake -- or the Baccardi. They definitely put the hooch in hoochie mama.

The only thing I have to compare is that around 30 years ago, I once snuck my 35 mm camera into a concert by sticking it in my jeans. (I took off the lens first, of course, and put it in the bottom of my purse. Security never looked past the wallet and hairbrush. The most difficult part was getting the camera out while I was seated. Thanks to a friend who threw her jacket over my lap, I managed without injury.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Draculas -Escalating Terror in a Fantastic Read

I don’t read a lot of horror novels. Admittedly, I’m a little on the wuss side, but I couldn’t resist Draculas by F. Paul Wilson, Jack Kilborn, Blake Crouch and Jeff Strand. The idea of four authors collaborating on a single book intrigued me. That I was already a fan of Wilson and Kilborn sealed the deal.

From page one, the story grabbed me. A terminally-ill millionaire purchases a Romanian skull rumored to be that of Dracula. In sight of his hospice nurse and research assistant, he plunges the skull’s elongated fangs into his neck and convulses. They rush him to the hospital where he dies.

Like the clock striking midnight on December 31st kicks off a new year of revelry, the millionaire’s arrival in the E.R. triggers a night of escalating terror where nobody is safe and even the innocent transform into monsters.

Unforgettable characters are the heart of Draculas: A nurse takes her mission of caring to the bravest level; a not-so-bright lumberjack demonstrates that loyalty and love are powerful weapons; a gun-nut's heroism puts you on his side regardless of your stand on the NRA; a tender pastor and his wife see their daughter born while numerous others die.

I won’t give spoilers, but trust me that the evil characters are as compelling as the heroes. I was as engaged in their scenes while praying that they’d be defeated.

You’ll never look at a clown the same way again.

Even with multiple authors, the writing is seamless and the action moves so fast that you’re nearly breathless. All four of the contributors are master craftsmen. The storytelling is superb with tension that escalates through to the climax.

How good are these writers? In the midst of relentless gore, they made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. This avid reader, who rarely picks up horror, now hopes they’ll collaborate on additional books. While I wait, I’ll enjoy the bonus stories and extra, cool, features included with the download.

Draculas goes on sale at Amazon tomorrow and will be available in electronic version only. The book is a bargain at $2.99. Click here to purchase.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


For so many years, much of my life focused on getting a career as a romance novelist. Honing my craft, learning the industry, really concentrating on doing everything right as a professional author. Always the efforts were fueled by the dream.

Now, after the experience I described in a previous post, I've hauled out the jumper cables and am working to restart and charge up the career by first revitalizing my two dead-in-the-water books and then launching new material.

It's a whole different feeling. The dream has changed. The wide-eyed, heart-grabbing optimism has morphed into a sharp-edged practicality and a business plan. I've checked off the first item on that plan and decided on a cover artist. By the end of the day, I'll have gathered the necessary information and sent it to him. I'm also going through my website to see what needs to be tweaked so that it will be ready for the new covers when they're available. I need the website in shape before the books launch.

While covers are designed and the site is tweaked, I'll go the books to make a few corrections we missed the last time out.

Do you see the step by step precision in the plan? I'm in Phase One -- Preparing to Launch. Phase Two is getting the books formatted for electronic readers. Phase Three involves setting the marketing. Phase Four is the actual launch.

I'm definitely accessing two sides to my personality type - the imaginative creator with lots of ideas and the clear-cut planner who sets out a method to accomplish those ideas. The planner was never as developed when I was younger. I'm glad it's more evident now. I need those skills to be successful in my day job and the practice I've had in recent years will serve me well in the restart.

Now to work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

For Lack of a Letter

For rasons unbknownst to m , a lttr mystriously stoppd working on my computr kyboard. Do you hav any ida how inconvnint it is to typ without an ?

Thank goodness I have a netbook as a backup. I'm even happier that none of my passwords contain an e or I'd be royally screwed. I've known for some time that my laptop was beginning to fail. The symptoms were there, like more frequent appearances by the blue screen of death. I accepted that I should start researching a replacement, but I procrastinated and hoped to delay the expense for at least a little while.

This morning when I turned on the computer it let out a sustained, high pitched tone. The password window was filled with dots, like someone had hit a key and held it. I hit "Enter" knowing that doing so would give me the "Incorrect Password" message and, hopefully, clear the window so I could enter the right password.

I logged onto my AOL account and began to write an email. That's when I discovered that the "e" didn't work. I assumed that something -- a piece of dog hair, a stray crumb -- might have wedged its way beneath the key. I blew in some air, fiddle a little, blew in some more air, and even picked up the computer and shook it a little, hoping to dislodge the unknown whatever.

No luck. No e. I rebooted, but that didn't work either.

It bears repeating -- Thank goodness for the backup netbook. At least I could accomplish some work tonight and not force people to read e-less e-mails. I'm also grateful for smart friends. I called one to ask if she's happy with her make of laptop and told her the problem. (I love my little netbook, but it isn't a long term solution.)

During the conversation she suggested I pick up an inexpensive keyboard that connects with a USB cord to use with the laptop for the time being.

You don't need an e to spell Lightbulb! What an easy, effective solution. This will help me stall the bigger purchase, at least until I figure out what lap top I really want. No need to rush into a stress-induced panic purchase.

A few hours ago, I was bemoaning my lack of a letter. Now I'm calm about this situation, realizing that you don't need an e to find a smart solution.

I do, however, need an e to say, "Thanks, Jennif!"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Doing What You Can; Understanding What You Can't

All my life I dreamed of writing a book. For someone who has always believed in the power of my dreams, my overall effort was, frankly, half-assed. I started, all gung-ho, and always let the story ideas fall by the wayside. I've lost count of the number of books I started.

Was it laziness? Lack of commitment? Maybe a little of both, but more than that, I suffered a horrible lack of confidence.

About sixteen years ago, I finally got serious. It's impossible to publish an unwritten book, after all, and I knew that if I was ever going to see this dream come true, I'd better get my ass in gear. I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and New Jersey Romance Writers (NJRW) and focused on learning the craft of writing book-length fiction. I wrote and wrote and wrote, revised, polished and revised some more. I entered contests and thrilled to any positive comments. I learned to not let criticism or rejections crush my spirit and never gave up.

It took several years, including some when I was derailed by certain life events but not by self-confidence hits. Then, finally, I sold the second manuscript I'd completed to a new, small, independent publisher. Soon after, they bought the next book. The high of realizing my dream was better than sex, champagne and rock and roll all at once. No matter what, I'd written books and they'd been published!

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough in the long run. The books didn't sell well. Even though I know intellectually that very small print runs and light distribution contributed to crappy sales, I internalized the process and let it knock the confidence right out of me. Then the publisher put my books Out of Print, and the desolation increased. You know how Hester wore an "A" on her chest to proclaim her sin of Adultery? I felt like I walked through the days with an "L" for Loser.

That wasn't even the worst part. The biggest casualty of the experience was that I let it annihilate my creative spirit and drive.

Editors and agents at conferences always say, "Write the best book that you can" as if that's the be all and end all. Well, I'd done that and it ended badly. So, where did that leave me, the writer?

In a really sad, depressed, disheartened place. The thing about spending time in a hellish spot, is that any sane person doesn't like that existence. It sucks when something that used to bring great joy hurts you again and again, but that's how it goes until you find a way to stop the pain.

I had a choice. Completely give up and find a way to no longer care, or fight back. I've chosen to battle the feelings of failure and do whatever it takes to revitalize myself, and my writing career.

Recently, I asked for full reversion of the rights to my two published books. Happily, the publisher agreed. Now, I have the ability to breathe new life into these stories. I can try to sell them to another publisher, or I can publish them myself via Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and other platforms. Having only recently gotten them back under my control, I'm not eager to give them up again anytime soon.

I'm embarking on a new venture. I have a plan to accomplish my goals. It's even committed to an Excel spreadsheet. I might be a creative soul, but I know how to execute a methodical plan. I can do this.

I already am.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Crossing The Tea in Discrimination!

I don't like to get too serious on this blog, but I've had enough. I'm tired of being the object of discrimination and the target of tremendous disregard.

I'm a tea drinker, okay? Get used to it, to us, and please stop treating us like we're second class citizens.

Case in point, just this morning, I pulled into a local gas 'n go place. The store has everything from motor oil to fried chicken; ice cream to beer. They have flavored coffees, even cappucino. I'm sure you'll agree that, given the vast selection, it was a safe bet that I could run in and make a nice, bracing cup of hot black tea for the road.

I lost that bet. The store had three different flavors of coffee; three artificial sweeteners, a choice of white granulated sugar or raw sugar and pitchers of skim milk, whole milk, and half and half. All that, and the only open tea boxes boasted the non-caffeine flavors of lemon and green teas. I asked the young women behind the counter. Their only solution was that I buy a box of tea off of the shelves. I suppose I should at least give them some points for having any tea available. I've gone into similar stores elsewhere where not a single bag of tea leaves existed. So sad.

Have you ever been to a conference, banquet or wedding and seen the wait staff roam the floor with carafes of coffee, ready to refill everybody's cup. Raise your hand if you've had to raise your hand and ask them to bring you another cup of tea. Raise the other hand if they only bring hot water and don't offer you a second tea bag.

Does this happen in the U.K. or Ireland, where tea drinking is so celebrated that cups are poured with a sense of ceremony?

One of my best ever tea experiences took place at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. during their famous high tea. The waitress warmed my cup before placing it in front of me. Then, she not only asked me my preferences, cream with one sweetener, she also prepared the tea for me. Pekoe perfection, let me tell you. I savored that first cup as much as I did the ultra-yummy scones.

Why, oh why, can't I, a lifelong drinker of tea, always be treated with the same attention and service as my coffee-drinking compadres? Folks at that gas station convenience store, wouldn't you rather have made a sale, than lose the business? Wait staff, if your emphasis is on good service, doesn't it benefit your effort if you remember to check in with the tea drinkers at your tables? It can't be that hard to keep a carafe of hot water and a box of tea bags nearby.

I call for an end to poor or non-existent service for tea drinkers. Appreciate us. Appreciate our business. Do not make us suffer the lack of our chosen beverage.

No more brew-haha, okay?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Celebrities Become Asshats

Over at one of my favorite blogs A Year and Change by the amazing Lucy March, the equally amazing community of readers known as the Betties are sort of debating Sean Connery. Several years ago, Connery gave a lengthy explanation on the circumstances when he feels it's justified to slap a woman. There are plenty of places online to watch the interview clip with Barbara Walters. Connery's opinion is not what I'm musing.

I'm wondering if we care disproportionately more when a celebrity or public figure acts like an asshat than we do over some non-famous man or woman down the street. Maybe that isn't the right question. Maybe it should be why, not if, we care.

Hah. Perhaps care isn't even the right word. Seriously, I really don't care about Connery's opinion, or Lindsay Lohan's probation violation; Mel Gibson's drunken tirades or Ashton Kutcher's alleged infidelity.

However, when I hear about these things, I admit that my attention's diverted to the story. It might only be for a couple of seconds, but the information registers. Why does it seem as if we're more interested? Are we more riveted by the public opinion plunge of these people because we're the ones that built their pedestals in the first place? Is it similar to car crashes that are horrific but we can't stop watching?

I think it's more that the celebrity, the household name, is a common point of reference. The mere fact that they are someone whose name is known by the masses appears to rocket up the interest in their words, accomplishments, crashes, and causes.

The degree and spread of the interest increases in direction proportion to the level of their celebrity. If a superintendent's wife embezzles money from the local school district, that news will buzz around your hometown. It probably won't be much more than a blip in the next county.

What if your state's attorney general gets a DUI? You and your friend four counties over will probably see the story in your newspaper or on television. Will it make a fuss in the diners and coffeeshops two states away?

Ramp that up to, say, the Speaker of the House or the Vice President and that same story's going all CNN all the time. The more people who know about a person, the more celebrated he or she is, the bigger the news story, the harder the fall.

If some schmo at the local bar belches after a swallow of beer and says, "Yeah, there's times when it's okay to slap a gal," probably nobody's going to put it up on YouTube. Years late, people who have never met him face to face are not going to discuss his words on a blog.

Hmm. Maybe that's another price that stars pay for their fame and money. They can't hide their asshattery.

Now that I've pondered this, I want to ask myself, "Do I ever want to be that well known?"

Do you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Comings and Goings

I had another post prepared, something upbeat and funny. Now it doesn't fit my mood which has turned sharply introspective.

The brother of one of my dearest friend's is dying from cancer. He has fought a long, courageous battle against his disease. I've never met him. My experience of him comes through his sisters and their stories. Yet, even from a distance, his life has touched mine. Grace, humor, faith -- I can only pray that when I'm nearing the end of my life, I'll be blessed with those gifts to help me on the journey.

My heart aches for my friend, her sisters and sister-in-law. I'd like to wrap them all in a giant blanket -- an emotional comforter in more ways than one -- and cushion them against the sorrow.

By contrast, earlier today I spoke with another one of my dearest friends. She and her husband battled for over eight years to have a baby. Their daughter was born six weeks ago. She was seven weeks early but is catching up fast, bless her sweet little self. I haven't met her yet, but my friend text messages me a picture every frew days.

Beginnings and endings. Birth and death. The beginning of the road and the end of one journey while we transition to the next. In between the start and the finish, if we're really, really lucky, we give and receive love. We care for the people in our lives and are cared for by others in our times of need. Those are the things that matter.

Those are the blessings.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Last night, HBO premiered a new series called Boardwalk Empire about Atlantic City, N.J. at the beginning of Prohibition. I'm an Atlantic City native and keenly interested in this show and the historical depiction of my hometown. It focuses on the county treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a dapper power broker, totally corrupt mover and shaker.

In 1920, my mother's mother would have been 27. My grandfather was the V.P. of a local bank. Nana's father was a county judge. So, of course, my family would have known this man, or at least known of him. I confirmed this with my aunt. Nucky was still around when she was a young girl in the 30s. She remembers seeing him walk around town and being introduced to him once when she was quite young.

I was talking about the show yesterday afternoon with a friend who then said, "Your family goes back a long way in this country, doesn't it?"

I don't think about it often, but it's true. Nana's family was here well before the Revolutionary War. (She and my mother both belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution.)

Yesterday, I really stopped and considered what this means. Members of my family were already in this country before it was this country. They were British subjects who rebelled against the Crown and fought side-by-side with their neighbors for America's independence. Maybe one of them crossed the Delaware with George Washington that fateful Christmas Day to launch the surprise attack at Trenton. I'll have to research that. There's a family book somewhere that might hold the information.

Whatever the case, the roots of the family tree go deep in the earth of New Jersey. I'm proud of that fact and those long ago ancestors. Nana's family also settled early in Atlantic County. I'm not sure of the exact generation, but it was at least a few steps back from when she was born. Have you heard of the Jersey Devil? The creature was reportedly born to a woman with the last name of Leeds who lived near the Pine Barrens in the county. (There's a Leeds Point in the area.) We connect to the Leeds family, too, and when my cousins and I were younger we claimed the Jersey Devil as a relation.

On the other side of the family, the history is much shorter. My father was a first-generation American, born to Sicilian parents. Grandpa Stella came over when he was in his teens. Grandma was born in this country, very soon after her parents arrived. They embraced the American way and the dream. My father was born the same year that Prohibition started. Twenty some odd years later, he fought in World War II.

What defines a proud American? Pondering these things and how many family fits in the grand scheme, there's at least one thing of which I'm sure. Whether 100 years, two hundred years or two generations, length of time doesn't factor into the definition.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What a Gallimaufry.

I have a pretty good, some would say above average, vocabulary. My reading comprehension has always tested high. Unless I pick up a medical or major scientific journal in a field which which I am not familiar, I usually know the words in books I read. If I hit one that's unfamiliar, I can figure it out by the context.

In a novel, it's rare for me to run across a word I've never seen and can't figure out. That happened today in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The word for the day is Gallimaufry. The sentence was something like, "Vanger's were in a real gallimaufry."

The sentence stopped me cold. As a reader, I don't mind the occasional strange word as long as not knowing it doesn't interrupt my reading entertainment. Seriously, do you know what that word means? (No fair if you've already read the book and looked it up for yourself.) Could you get its meaning from such a generic sentence?

I really hated needing to put the book down and look up gallimaufry in the dictionary. Even the speed and ease of using my iPhone didn't reduce the annoyance. By the way, gallimaufry means hodgepodge and is from the Middle French for stew.

I ask you -- couldn't Larsson have just used hodgepodge or, even better, stew? Did Larsson write his manuscripts in English or Swedish? If the latter, can you imagine the translator's reasoning? "Gallimaufry! There's a word that, surely, everyone will know!"

On what planet?

Told you I'm annoyed. Know what really scorches my stew? When I posted the word to Facebook, my freakin' iPhone recognized the word before I finished typing and offered to fill it in for me. Smartass smart phone.

Do you ever watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee? The contestants are allowed to ask the judges to use the word in a sentence. Here's what I would use if this was the word in question:

I think it's pretentious for authors to use a word like gallimaufry when hodgepodge will do.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Burn This Blog

I usually stick to the fun side of blogging, but I've seen one too many stories that glorify hate-mongering this week and I'm sick of it.

I'm tired of people blaming all Muslims for the actions of fanatics. The family I saw last weekend in the airport, the young adults I've known since they were born who converted to and practice Sufi, and the doctor who just treated your mother in the E.R. are no more responsible for the attacks on this country than you or I.

Yet, for no reason other than their faith, they are the target of hate, scorn, bigotry, vitriol, and violence.

The same acts that we decry when they are directed at Americans in foreign countries now occur with increasing frequency in this country, where we're supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave. Where we're supposed to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The attacks of 9/11 struck at our hearts. Amid the almost overwhelming national shock and mourning, we grew more united in our resolve. We would not be defeated by extremists. The American spirit would not be crushed. We would rise from the ashes, remember those who died, and not give victory to those who attacked us.

Yet today I feel like we are letting them win. If the Muslim center had been built near the World Trade Center before 09/11/01, there would not have been national protests.

We do not battle our enemies by fighting over that center. It isn't a victory over fanaticism to burn the Quran.

Instead, these actions give them what they want -- fuel for their argument that Americans hate all those connected to Islam.

How many of us grew up with the Golden Rule of treat others as you would like to be treated? At work these days we're learning the Platinum Rule -- treat others as they would like to be treated.

I get that people are angry at Al Qaida, at the people who seek to tear us down. So am I. But I refuse to let that anger poison me to the point where I treat all Muslims as enemies.

I will not allow fanatics to convert me to their politics of hate.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sensory Memory

Whenever I go away for a few days, my dogs go to "doggy camp". Last weekend, I got home Sunday night but, because Monday was a holiday, I couldn't pick up Nat and Pyxi until Tuesday. The emptiness in the house expanded with their absence but my senses didn't get the message that they weren't here.

Each time I pushed back my chair, I waited to hear them jump up to see what I was about to do. A couple of dozen times, in pure reflex, I reached to pet them and my fingers expected to feel soft fur. I opened the front door and automatically gave the "wait" hand signal.

I do these things so many times each day that they're ingrained. The sounds, the touches, the instinctive actions are imprinted on my eyes, ears, nose, and skin. They're so palpable that, even when the dogs aren't here, I still feel, hear, and smell them to some degree. No, not as vividly as if Nat and Pyxi were really by my side, but sensory memory is strong.

I notice it more with the dogs these days than with anyone else because the three of us are my "now". Still, even 25 years after my father's death, if I hold very still and close my eyes, I remember exactly how it felt when he hugged me. Everybody's hug is unique depending on their height or body structure in relation to mine, the amount of pressure, the duration. Dad's hug was unlike any other.

Mom had a way of brushing my hair back from my face. When I was a little girl and upset about something, we'd talk and she would repeat the motion, with her fingers threading through my hair, soft against my skin. It always soothed and calmed me down. Even when I was an adult, she'd do it sometimes when she knew that something was weighing on my mind. That's another sensory memory I carry with me, years after her passing.

I'm working on a story in which a woman leaves her husband after many years of marriage. She's finally had enough of his cheating and the complete lack of respect he shows her. There's more to it. Leaving is really an act of survival and a step toward healing for her. Still, I think that it would be very, very hard for her to leave behind the sensory memories even though she has physically removed herself from his presence.

I can picture her lying in bed alone but remembering how his side of the mattress dipped when he joined her and how his arm wrapped around her and held her close. I wonder how much more lonely she'll feel without these things in her life. How will she cope. Perhaps to fight their power, she'll need to make herself remember the touches that actually annoyed her but that she never shared... like the way that his fingers curled into her waist when he placed his hand at the small of her back. The motion always communicated possession instead of intimacy.

More to ponder.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Feeding on the Energy

I was in New Orleans for Heather Graham's annual Writers for New Orleans Workshop this past weekend. For me, this is less work and more fun with friends. People I adore fly in from all over the country and we spend a few days together doing panels, discussions, and partying in a terrific city that epitomizes fun.

There's a palpable energy to the city. It spreads out like sunshine and soaks into your skin until you're all filled up with warmth and light. The French Quarter doesn't simply buzz or hum with life. It sings in full-throated harmony and dances to the rhythm of jazz, blues and zydeco. Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the spirt (and spirits) flow.

There's an energy to a writers' conference, too. I love talking with and listening to writers and readers. They are all storytellers and for someone who loves words as much as I do, this is like a banquet for gluttons. From the sharp smarts of JA Konrath who has become an Internet juggernaut with the Kindle sales of his work, to the hilarious joy of L.A. Banks who has the funniest tale of getting the call about her first sale ever . . . to Sarah from Smart Bitches Love Trashy Books who shines the spotlight on the genre's glories and flaws and now is invited to speak at places like Princeton University and publishers' institutes . . . F. Paul Wilson, Alexandra Sokoloff, Harley Jane Kozak, Linda Conrad, Kayla Perrin, Kathy Love . . . I could go on and on and on.

I talked to writers, editors, readers. We shared stories over Eggs Benedict or scones in the morning, fine filet and cocktails in the evening. I gorged on the energy of like-minded people and returned home stuffed and happy.

I have to wonder if it's like this in other industries. Do dentists or insurance agents go to conventions and catch a similar vibe? Do they return to their homes, buzzing with energy and eager to go forth and create with new purpose?

For their sakes, I hope so.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Best Awards Show Opening E-V-E-R!

Okay. I admit it. I'm biased. That said, I still think that the opening of last night's 62nd Emmy Awards show was the best. How could I not love it. The cast of Glee, Tina Fey, Betty White, Jane Lynch, all led by Jimmy Fallon in a Gleed version of Born to Run.

Glee and Springsteen. One of my favorite shows meets the music of my all time favorite rock and roller. There was so much to love in those six or so minutes that I can't full describe it here. I don't need to because, if you missed it last night, you can watch it right here, right now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Learning Curve

How are you at learning new things? Do you embrace new challenges or would you rather mentally cross your arms, dig in your heels and pout?

I'm a better student and more avid learner now than I ever was in my youth. Back in school, I loved to read so I did great in English, History, Philosophy and a few other areas of study. Math and Science? Not even close.

In later years, I get a greater kick about exploring new subjects. When I think of all that I've learned about marine mammals in the last ten years, and how much I enjoy the process I'm amazed. (Some previous professors would be surprised, too.) These days my co-workers and I have the opportunity to participate in a university-level Animal Cognition class. Fascinating!

Outside of "class work", I've experienced a number of different life lessons. Boat handling and navigation rules; snorkeling; the ever-advancing world of personal computers, the Internet, social media and phones that are hand-held computers as well as communication devices - Whew! When it comes to modern technology, we almost don't have a choice not to learn. I'm grateful that I continue to like the lessons.

What if you didn't? What if you collided with a huge life change that forced you to learn about things you'd never had to handle before -- and never particularly wanted to? I imagine that how you've lived your life to that point influences how well you handle this ball that's been pitched full speed at your strike zone.

If you're one kind of person, you might try to resist, and ultimately resent, the forced change. You might refuse to move forward and end up flattened. Another personality would stand, hands on hips, and say, "Bring it on." Still another might rub her hands together, eager to see what's coming her way and what new experiences she's about to see.

(Yes, I'm pondering for the sake of my story's character.)

Are you one of these personalities, or someone else?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cutting Spending

I don't normally discuss politics on this blog. I'm not really going to discuss this topic now, at least not in terms of the philosophies, beliefs and practices of the various political parties. To me, talking about politics is sort of like talking about food. Pick a food, any food, and there will be people who love it as the best tasting thing e-v-e-r while others make faces, turn up their noses as if sniffing the foulest stench, and, in general, look like they want to hurl big, disgusting chunks.

I'm sort of moderate these days. When I moved to Florida, I actually registered as an Independent which makes me NPA (no party affiliation). Apparently in Florida NPA is the fastest growing segment of the voting population. Either a lot of people are fed up with the largely two-party system or they're sick of getting campaign recordings every night on their home phones.

Yesterday the primaries were held in Florida. Thank God I no longer have to hear endless, continual television ads for Jeff Green and Kendrick Meek (Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate) or Bill McCollum and Rick Scott (Republicans for Governor)playing wherever I go.

If there has ever been a nastier campaign run than these two, I sure don't remember. They ripped each other apart and, in the process, stacked up huge advertising bills. It's estimated that Scott spent close to 50 Million dollars on the primary advertising and that Green spent almost 20 million. Out of their own pockets! Those are some damn deep pockets!

By contrast, the Florida legislature had to cut 46 million dollars from financial aid for students from the state budget.

I'm really having a hard time accepting that so much money is spent on campaign advertising, particularly when so many of the ads feature candidates saying things like, "I will reduce government spending" or "balance the budget". Cut back on your own spending first, bucko.

Can you imagine all the good that could be done for the people of Florida with that $70 million dollars alone??

I have a theory that there should be strict campaign funding limits placed on all candidates, including what you can buy with your own money. I'd like to see there be one campaign fund that all donations go into (again, limited in size) and that all qualified candidates get an equal share of that master fund. That would level out the whole playing field.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Porch Sitting

For those of you who stopped by to see if I ranted, I decided to employ the 24 Hour Rule. If I'm still stewing over the issue 24 hours from now, I'll rant. For right now, I'm attempting to keep things in perspective.

Instead I'm pondering porches. Down here in the Florida Keys (Up here if you're reading this in Central or South America), my little house overlooks part of a harbor. At some point every day I sit out on the porch, looking out at the water. It's a peaceful, calm location most of the time. I've seen manatees and dolphins swim by and tarpons roll on a summer evening. Sea gulls, pelicans and cormorants perch on the pilings or dive for fish. A Great White Heron occasionally struts along the sea wall or an iguana scoots along, hoping I don't see him. If I approach, he jumps into the water and swims a comfortable distance away.

There are always boats anchored on mooring buoys in back of the house. In the winter, there might be 30 or 40 at a time. On any day tall-masted sailboats and solid cruisers could be my temporary neighbors. In the meantime, boats of all sizes and kinds cruise by the house on their way out to or home from the ocean. Sometimes it's the vessel of people I know and we call out hellos and wave like you might to a neighbor strolling past your house.

Earlier today, I watched and listened to a man calling for his dog while he rowed from his boat to the island across the way. The dog went for a spontaneous swim at low tide and then decided to chase some birds. The whole time that the man rowed, he kept up a monologue about wanting the dog to come back, he wasn't happy, the dog was being bad. The dog did not reply but eventually he jumped into the boat. The man hugged him, ruffled his fur and began to row them home.

Seven or so years ago, a drunk jerk kicked his dog overboard and yelled that he hoped she'd drown. Someone jumped in his inflatable runabout and fished the pooch out of the water. I took her in and got her to shelter. A friend of mine later adopted her.

My porch is the perfect spot to watch our town's tremendous fireworks display on the Fourth of July or the holiday boat parade in early December. (Note to self: I promised to enter my boat this year. Must enlist help from friends to decorate and ride with me.)

I enjoy having friends over to relax on an evening, sip wine, nibble on snacks and talk. Some say this porch is one of their favorite places in the Keys. I know it's one of mine.

Porches have a high social value. My childhood home had an open front porch. I remember late summer afternoons with family and friends gathered together. We kids sipped juices or soda and played on the sidewalk and front yard while our parents enjoyed gin and tonics or whiskey sours. Up and down the street, neighbors were out on their porches, enjoying the ocean breeze.

The house we moved to when I was 12 or 13 had a "sunroom" with big plate-glass windows instead of an open porch, but there was an open deck on the second floor. During the day we'd sunbathe up there. The sunroom provided year-round street viewing. The neighbors never walked past without waving. We were only a few houses from the beach and boardwalk so there was usually a steady parade of people that ambled by or rode their bikes in the evening. One year we noticed that a particularly good looking guy jogged by every night. Mom teased my friends and me that no matter what we were doing, we made sure to get to the sunroom when he was due for his nightly run.

There's a big chunk of time in my life when I didn't have a porch on which to sit and connect to the neighborhood. Various apartments didn't provide the same social setting. I wonder now how much I must have missed, what I might have seen, or with whom I might have chatted.

There are always stories outside waiting to be discovered and all you have to do is spend aome time sitting on a porch.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Expectations play a big part in the story I'm writing. The woman, let's call her A for now since I'm still not settled on a character name, has devoted most of her life to fulfilling other people's expectations. Her parents, teachers, then husband and children, all expected her to be or act a certain way. She expected herself to meet those other expectations. She got pretty fed up with this over the years but instead of redefining her goals for herself, she got weighed down by doing what everyone else wanted.

It's hard to break that pattern of behavior and for her, a gradual descent into self-medicating evolved. Right before the book opens, something happens that finally proves to be her snapping point. Someone expects something of her that is simply intolerable. How she recreates herself and her life, how her actions affect her known relationships (estranged husband, grown kids, etc.) and what happens when new relationships knock on the door, are the heart of the book.

Lots of pondering for me as I navigate this world. So, for the sake of discussion, pick an expectation, any expectation and explain how you feel about it. Is it your expectation of how your relationship(s) should be, or your reaction to what someone expects of you? How do you handle the conflict when opposite expectations collide? Are you always to thine own self true, or do you establish an acceptable compromise, or do you completely rebel? How do you decide which expectation takes priority?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Uncommon Courtesy

I just spent forty-five minutes writing a new blog post. I thought I'd saved it. I thought everything was fine with my Internet and Browser, even though there's a storm crashing outside. I went to post and poof! No post. Forgive me if I don't reconstruct the entire thing, but try to make my point more succinctly.

On my flight home Wednesday, an 11 year old boy sat next to me. He offered me gum, apologized for bumping my elbow, thanked me when I reminded him to buckle his seat belt and asked the flight attendant if she needed help when he accidentally knocked over his cup of ice. We discussed books, school and football during the flight. He was an engaging conversationalist but never veered over into being annoying. At one point in the flight, I dozed off and he never bothered me.

He was truly a nice, polite kid and it was a pleasure to share the plane ride with him.

By contrast, as I waited for my suitcase at the baggage claim, some jerk shouldered me aside to grab his bag, and swung it from the belt right into me. I think he said, "Sorry", but it might have been "Outta the way, bitch" that he muttered as he rushed off. The 11 year old definitely could have given him lessons in basic courtesy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Family You Make

I have a very good family of origin. I was born into a loving family with strong, close relationships to not only my parents and brother but also aunts, uncles and cousins. We aren't perfect, of course. We had our share of trials, tribulations, losses and sadness, but I really couldn't have asked for more.

I also count myself fortunate to be part of other families. There's my work family and, yes, we consider ourselves such. This is particularly important and valuable to me because I left my blood family and friends back home in the Northeast when I moved to the Florida Keys almost 9 years ago.

Right now I'm up in Cape Cod with a tribe of friends. We call ourselves Pastafarians. It all started 37 years ago when some college buddies, friends of my brother, got together and camped on Nantucket. Two challenged each other to a spaghetti sauce cookoff. It's grown since that time and every year the tribe gathers for vacation. We always have a Pasta Match with our own ceremonies, taste testing, voting, etc. There were around 50 of us here yesterday. Not everybody stays the week but for however much time the fluid group is together we share big meals, numerous discussions, pool parties, music jams, board games and the pleasure of each other's company. Young people who weren't even born yet are grown up and bringing their fiances. There are a couple of 3rd generationers running around and a lot of Old Geezer references as the original college buddies approach 60.

After years of sometime attending, I've made the pilgrammage annually for the last 11 years. I love reconnecting with these people and growing new friendships along the way. I also love that the cooler Cape temps provide a nice respite from August in Florida.

My family of friends is extensive and spread out in several states. Many are back in New Jersey and today, one group is very much on my mind. I'm waiting to hear about the safe arrival of a new baby - born to a woman who is like my little sister. I became friends with her family almost 20 years ago. She and her mom are also romance writers. We've loved and supported each other through various experiences, good and bad.

Any time now, I'll get a call that my new little niece has arrived. I can't wait. She's proof that no matter how big our family - the one to which we're born, or the ones we make for ourselves -- we can always make room in our heart for more.

While I wait, I'm heading out for this year's book club discussion. We're honoring To Kill a Mockingbird on its 50th Anniversary.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Art of Being Alone

On another blog I frequent, we've been discussing marriage, being alone, relationships and all manner of related topics. 30 years ago, I figured I'd meet Mr. Right, we'd have a long, solid marriage, children, and go on to our retirement years until death did us part.

Needless to say, my life didn't turn out that way. Yet, as I've discovered, not having the husband, the marriage, and the children has not meant that I miserably failed in my life's journey. Quite the contrary. I've made a good life for myself and am happy living it. Did I have to do some work to get to this happiness in head and heart. Yes, indeed, but I did it.

In mulling over the story I'm writing, I've thought a lot about the main character. It is really her story. She's in her mid-40s and has been married for over 20 years. Now she's left that marriage and, for the first time ever, is living alone.

I think that situation must be worse. It must be harder for someone to have to learn in her 40s how to be alone and how to construct her own happiness. At least,I think it must be holder, but I realize that I might believe that because I grew into this life. It was, for me, a gradual progression over the years. It didn't just suddenly happen in a matter of weeks or months.

When the end result is the same -- you're living alone in your 40s or 50s -- does how you arrived there mean that the result impacts you differently? Again, I think it must, but I only have my own experience to go by.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

New Beginning

I'm starting a new book today. There. I said it. I can't take it back.

For those of you new to this blog or new to me, I wrote two books that were published in '04 and '05. The sales experience was not kind. Whether the problem stemmed from low print run and light distribution or the overall toughness of the market with a lot of titles competing for readers' dollars or what, the stunning lack of success knocked me on my ass. I tried to invest myself in another story. I ended up starting three or four new books, but fell into a mindset of, "Why am I doing this? I suck. What's the point?"

Writing is not an easy task. Writing a book takes a hell of a lot of commitment in time and creative energy. While I am 100% a writer down to my soul, I truly questioned why I was giving up so much of my life to complete a book, only to spectacularly fail. Like most writers I know, I have a day job and in that job I write all of the time. So, my need to create is met every day.

After a couple of years of trying and not being able to sustain the book-writing effort, I sank from disappointed to completely demoralized. Every time someone asked me, "When is your next book coming out", I cringed inside and felt the failure even more strongly.

That's no way to live and enjoy life. Finally, I owned the fact that I did not want to write for awhile. I put an end to figuratively slamming my head against the wall and gave myself permission to not write another book. The switch to my mindset and emotions was instantaneous and powerful. Instead of wanting to duck and run from the next book question, I could smile and say, "I'm taking a break right now" or "I'm not currently writing."

I stopped feeling like a failure and gave up the guilt. I distanced myself from the previous experience, got involved in some other activities, and enjoyed myself.

After awhile, the expected happened. The urge to write fiction returned. The desire rekindled and a story idea germinated. I signed up for a course called Discovery, taught by outstanding author Lani Diane Rich. (Registration for the fall course is now open at For six weeks in this class I engaged in the process of discovering this new idea, the characters, the concept, the backstory. I put together a soundtrack and listened to it daily. Picked photos of actors to serve as placeholders for the main characters and put them into a collage. I wrote backstory for the woman who is the heart and purpose of the book.

Out of this Discovery process the characters developed and they grew as people. I've come to know them, to understand what makes them tick, what they're fighting, what they want, and what they need. Pivotal scenes have manifested in my head. I'm excited about writing this story, but I haven't opened up a document to start page one.

I'm a little scared. Okay, I'm a lot scared. No matter what happens, once I start writing this book, I'm not quitting until it's finished. There will be no repeat of getting 50 pages in and then giving up. One day at a time, one page at a time, once the journey starts, the book and I are in this trip together until The End.

That's my commitment to my story and to myself. I'm not concerned right now with submitting or selling the finished book. Until it's written, there's nothing to sell.

I won't do daily updates. Maybe not even weekly, but I'll let you know my progress from time to time. For today, the commitment is that I will write the opening scene. It's in my head. Now, today, it's time to get it out onto the page. A new beginning in more ways than one.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Prescription for Recycling

First off, thank you for playing the Menopause is like the Mob game with me. I tossed your names into a hat and picked a winner. Kelly, please email me at with your name and address and which book you'd like a copy of -- All Keyed Up or Key of Sea.

I need to rant a little about recycling, specifically, a complete refusal to consider the possibilities of recycling, as demonstrated by someone at the local chain pharmacy store today. I take four prescriptions. Every month, I peel the labels off the pill bottles and then have to chuck them in the trash because they aren't made from recyclable plastic.

I currently take four prescription meds a day, so that's four bottles a month that go in the garbage or 48 a year. I'm sure that there are other customers who take less and other who take more. So, for the sake of discussion, let's say that the average customer takes two meds a month. I don't know how many customers frequent this store, but lets say, arbitrarily, that there are 300. So, at minimum, the pharmacy dispenses 600 pill containers a month. That's 7200 a year from a single store.

I'm sure that the chain buys these in bulk, so maybe they only cost .05 each, but what about the cost to the environment. Don't you think they'd want to recycle or at least reuse the containers? How difficult can it be?

I brought this up to the pharmacist today in casual conversation. I received one negative response after the other. Here's a general recap with the gist of the conversation.

Me: Wow, too bad that we can't bring the bottles back to CVS so they can be reused. Him: The labels contain confidential medical information.
Me: I peel them off every month before I throw them out.
Him: Not everyone does. It's too hard for some older people.
Me: Maybe there are easier labels.
Him: But the pill bottles aren't made out of recyclable plastic
Me: But couldn't they be?
Him: Labels don't stick well on all kinds of recyclable plastic
Me: (With confused look) But there are labels on milk jugs and other plastic containers.
Him: Those kinds of labels can't be printed easily on the laser printer.
Me: Well, instead of recycling, could customers return them to the store so they could be reused?
Him: No, there'd be too many for our staff to take the labels off of.

At that point, I realized the futility of continuing the discussion. All he can see are the reasons why it can't be done, instead of seeking possible solutions for how it could be accomplished. As I left, I thought it ironic

Think about all of the people in all of the towns who fill medication prescriptions. Imagine all of those bottles hitting the landfills day after day, month after month, year after year. Surely someone can figure out a solution.

How difficult can it be to create a recyclable plastic pill bottle to which laser-printer compatible labels will adhere and yet be easy to remove? Barring that, how hard is it to create a laser printer label that can be removed from any plastic so that the bottle could be reused instead of trashed?

Anybody out there work in these fields and want to take this on as a project?

Anybody have a kid who wants to take this on as a project for this year's school science fair?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top Ways that Menopause is Like the Mob

If you're uncomfortable discussing "womanly" things, stop reading now and head over to YouTube.

Today, we're talking menopause. I'm in the stage medically known as perimenopause which roughly means that the "change" is coming sooner rather than later. (When I say that, I hear Johnny Cash singing Folsum Prison Blues and want to parody the lyrics. "I feel the change a-coming. I'm going round the bend . . ."

I'm not sure how accurate the estimated time frame is for perimenopause, because as near as I can tell, once you hit puberty, you're on the downward side of slope. We're born with a couple of million eggs that naturally die off so that at puberty we're down to about 400,000. After that, we lose about a thousand a month so, really, from the initial two mil, only about 400 ever mature.

However, I've started to have some indications that the time is nigh. I say, "Bring it on." The sooner it starts, the sooner it finishes. I can devote the money spent on tampons to something else. I live in the Florida Keys and the average hot flash can't possibly be more uncomfortable than the heat and humidity of July and August. I might not even notice if I'm outside when one hits.

My body teased me earlier in the year. After a couple of years of significant lessening in my monthly cycle, I skipped two months. I thought, "Okay. We're in full menopause mode." Turns out the cessation of period was more like a comma. I got it again the next month, skipped another month, now it's arrived again -- sort of like bugs in the house. You can exterminate them for awhile, but they always return.

I've been reading up on the whole process. I don't remember my mother's change process being all that big a deal. I recall one hot flash in my presence. Either I was completely oblivious to her journey or she was monumentally discreet about the whole deal. That would have been Mom's way -- go off and experience the misery in private so that she didn't inconvenience anybody.

No matter how bad or how easy a time I have, I'm determined to go through it with a sense of humor. That doesn't mean the whole thing will be a laugh riot, but I'm sure I can find something humorous in even the dark times.

With that in mind, I'm compiling a list of the Top Ways that Menopause is Like the Mob. The first item on the list was obviously inspired by that too-brief respite. I've come up with five and am now throwing open the blog to your suggestions. Leave a comparison in the comments. When this has run its course (pun fully intended), I'll randomly pick a winner from the commenters and send a signed copy of either of my books.

Here's the list so far:
1) Just when you think you’ve quit, it pulls you back in
2) The only thing worse in bed than night sweats is a severed horse’s head
3) Older generations of Sicilians don’t like to talk openly about the Cosa Nostra. (This thing of ours.) Older generations of women don’t like to speak openly of Questo Nostro Cambiamento. (This Change of ours.)
4) In the mob, things get ugly in a snap. Women with severe hormonal fluctuations – likewise.
5)Mobsters and menopause -- both known for "packing heat".

Have at it, readers. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scrabble Rant

Allow me a moment for a slight rant. I love Scrabble. It's my favorite board game. I don't get to play against people very often. Sadly, nobody in my family will play with me. My nephew claims it's humiliating to always get his ass kicked. I'm a little surprised at that 'tude. I've tried to teach them defensive strategies and share other tips. It's not like I did a Scrabble end zone dance that time that I cleared my rack over a Triple Word space, made three new words and scored 90 points in a single turn.

Nobody seems to believe me when I say that success all depends on the letters you happen to have in your rack.

The Scrabble App was the first one I bought for my iPhone. It's a great way to wake up my brain or kill time in a doctor's waiting room or any other place where time needs killin'. I play against the computer in the game. I've noticed something strange in the words that the game accepts. I'm old school Scrabble where you don't use proper names or any word that begins with a capital letter. Imagine my surprise when the computer put down Zaire. I did a quick Google search online and found out that in April of this year one of the game's licensors changed the rules to allow some proper names. (Hasbro has the rights in some countries; Mattel has the rights in others. The App version is by Hasbro.)

Fooey on that, I say, particularly if I can place the F on a Triple Letter space and the Y on a Double Word, thus scoring 38 points. I'd never do that if playing against people on an actual board. However, if the computer can do it, then I am forced to play by its rules.

So, last night I logged on for a quick game. We progressed and I spotted the opportunity to build on the computer's word GRAM to make MONDAY and earn a Triple Word. This message popped up: This word is not in the dictionary. Please try again.

What the hell? It's a day of the week. How can Monday not be in the Scrabble dictionary?? On the off chance that alien parasites had invaded my brain and destroyed the spelling sector, I called a friend.

"Spell Monday for me," I said. Dead silence ensued while she tried to reason out whether this was a trick question or the set-up for a joke.


"How do you spell Monday?"

More silence, then a tentative, "As in the Monday that's the day of the week?"

"Yes. THAT Monday."

She complied. Assured that my spelling acumen had not vanished I told her why I wanted confirmation. We agreed that the game was screwed up.

I then checked the minimal rules included with the App. They say that some "offensive or obscure words have been eliminated from the game". Granted, a lot of people don't cartwheel with glee when Monday rolls around, but it's hardly an offensive word.

Obscure? This game allows za (slang for pizza), qi (variant of chi) and qat (variant of khat, an Arabic shrub), but not Monday??

I'm not sure whether to write to Hasbro or EA, but someone needs to fix this problem. It's more than a Scrabble fan and confirmed logophile can stand!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Eyes Wide Open Side

Have you seen the movie The Blind Side? It was one of my favorite movies last year. I was completely inspired by the story of pro football player Michael Oher. The son of a drug-addicted, empoverished woman, Michael goes through a series of foster homes before a chance meeting at school with the Tuohy family. Sean and Leigh Anne are well-off folks with big hearts. They end up adopting Michael, fighting for him to do better in school, urging him to learn to play football, providing the inspiration and support for him to succeed. It's a story that gets you right in the heart and I'm not surprised that the movie was a sensation.

How many of us have done anything comparable to what the Tuohy family did for that young man? How many of us would? I've heard some more cynical folks suggest that it was easy for them since they had successful businesses and money to spare. I don't care how big someone's bank account might be. Taking someone into your family is an investment of your heart, along with your time, energy and money.

You hear stories about other people who go beyond themselves to truly offer care, shelter and layers of support for people in need. I've seen numerous families like this on Extreme Makover: Home Edition and am thrilled that those people have their goodness repaid with new homes. Still, I'm removed from them, and from the Tuohys. They're people I see on the small and large screen.

Then there's my friend R and his family. (I don't know how he'd feel about me using his name, so I'll keep it simple.) He and my brother met in college and became friends, so I've known him now for most of my life. He has never been anything but warm, kind and loving to me -- even when I was firmly in the pain in the ass younger sister roll. I've gotten to see R enough over the years to have a real friendship.

He impresses me no end. R has three daughters by blood, five other sons and daughters through marriage. I don't think I've ever heard the word "step" applied to any of the kids who came into his life when he married their mothers. They are all kids of his heart. In the last couple of years, the family has grown by one additional youngster who is related by neither blood nor marriage. I think M is a son by need. He needed a family and R and the rest of the clan opened up theirs and made room.

Unlike the Tuohy family of Tennessee, R isn't rolling in money with a near-mansion sized home and a pair of luxurious vehicles in the spacious garage. The four oldest are out on their own -- and amazing women in their own right. (Side note to the ones who read this blog: Yes, this means you! I think you're amazing women and I'm proud to be an honorary aunt.) Even with some of them out of the nest, I don't know how R manages to support the rest, but he does. He provides them with a home, stability, and emotional support, and he models for them admirable, honorable, caring behavior. He's an outspoken proponent of human rights -- whether through Amnesty International or Students for a Free Tibet -- a supporter of the environment, and just an all around good guy.

This week, I feel like he's our own personal Blind Side story. M, that newest son, is heading off to college in the fall and is coming up a little short in financial aid. Determined to help him get what he needs for the upcoming year, R and the family reached out to their friends. I have no doubt that the goal will be met.

I want to thank R for modeling for the rest of us what it means to really open up your heart and your home. The experience of the last 24 hours is a warm, positive, reminder that when we help each other, we truly make the world better for everyone.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Importance of Not Getting Discouraged

I took the boat out today for the first time in several weeks. The winds been blowing a lot down here and we've had some stormy weather off and on. Since I only have the weekends, I've been waiting on Mother Nature. Today, I saw a window of time when the wind light and the sky was mostly sunny, so I lowered the boat, hopped in and cruised off.

It was nice in the harbor and I took my time. I kept an eye on the clouds and realized that they were advancing more quickly than I'd estimated. We weren't expecting any fierce fronts and getting hit with raindrops has never concerned me.

Heading for home, I checked the wind direction, estimating that it was blowing toward my sea wall, so I'd have to adjust the angle and speed with which I approached.

Folks, I totally botched my docking maneuver. I came in a little too slow which allowed the wind to blow me too close to the dock. I had to try to push off so that I could approach the lift. I felt way too out of practice and this made me overreact. Too much power. Oversteering. Not thinking it through. One mistake after the other. Don't worry. Nothing got broken, on me or the boat, or the seawall for that matter.

Still, although physically everything was fine, mentally, I was frazzled and discouraged. I'd never done such a horrid docking. My skills were supposed to be improving, not sliding down. Thank God nobody saw me, or I least I couldn't see anyone watching. Had that been the case, I would have added embarrassment to the list of negative emotions.

Although discouraged, I had no choice but to back out, cruise away from the dock, and try the approach again. Same thing happened with the wind, but instead of doing a bunch of different things, I just stopped and held the boat against the seawall so that I could think it through.

Suddenly, all of the right steps became clear. I adjusted the engines in the right direction, pushed myself off a bit and used one engine's throttle to advance the boat in the right direction, onto the lift. I killed the power and pulled myself in tight, raised the lift, and exhaled. I'd done it.

I learned a lot of lessons in one simple, or not so simple, docking. One, you can do everything right, and outside forces, such as the wind, can push you off course. Two, be prepared to make adjustments. Three, overreacting to a challenge only complicates matters. Four, you might get discouraged, but you can't quit. Five, when something's off, stop and think it through. Finally, be proud of yourself when you succeed.

If you only stopped when you got discouraged, you'd never get to the point where you can rejoice in your success. Now, I'm ready to go out again the next time that weather permits.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

TV Dinners

I'm old enough to remember when frozen dinners were new. Swanson TV dinners came in aluminum foil pans, with the different meal elements in their own sections. A full dinner right out of the freezer, into the oven, and onto your tv tray so you could eat with your eyes glued to the evening news. Nowadays there are hundreds of meals in the freezer section of your supermarket for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, parties, you name it.

That's not the kind of television dinner I'm musing about tonight. I just took a batch of scones out of the oven. With every breath I smell warm cinnamon. I love scones and am pretty pleased that I've learned to make them from scratch. I tried several recipes, without great success. The results were more like cinnamon-raisin biscuits.

Then, a few years ago while on a Jet Blue flight, I saw a show with Mark Bittman visiting Tartine's, a San Francisco bakery. The head pastry chef took him step by step through the process of making their scones. Immediately I saw all that I'd done wrong all those previous times. As soon as I returned home, I Googled the recipe and have been able to make scrumptious scones ever since.

I love watching shows on the Food Network. The competition shows are my favorite. I'm fascinated by trained chefs who can take seemingly random ingredients and create fabulous dishes. While I'm not ready to conjure up a clafoutis, and I don't think I could whip out five beautifully designed dishes in an hour a la the Iron Chefs, I've picked up a few pointers. I'm yet to try to replicate a full meal from any television show.

Some of the best pointers come from Good Eats with Alton Brown. I learned more about filet mignon from him in one hour than in a lifetime of eating that meat.

There are dishes that I've read about in books that I've tried to make at home, most notably some things that Robert B. Parker wrote up in his Spenser series. I have a favorite pasta meal that I can throw together with very little effort thanks to Spenser.

What about you? Do you enjoy watching cooking shows? Which show or chef is your favorite? Have you ever looked at what they make on tv and tried to cook it yourself at home? (Recipe sharing is encouraged!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Memory Snapshots

Today was the 41st anniversary of the day man first walked on the moon. I remember exactly where I was -- summer camp, New York State. They halted the regular camp activities and gathered all of us in the big dining hall. Long before the days of wide-screen televisions, they'd placed a regular sized black and white set on a ladder so that we all could see that moonwalk.

Thinking about this monumental event today led to discussion of other happenings that are so significant, so major, that we retain a clear memory - captured like a photograph in our memories.

I was five when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. My mother told me the news. A few days later, my brother and some of our neighborhood friends were sitting around a plastic tablecloth in our living room, attention riveted on the small b&w tv, watching when Jack Ruby stepped forward and shot Lee Harvey Oswald. We yelled for Mom who was making us sandwiches in the kitchen. The tablecloth had gold roosters printed on it. I don't remember any other colors from that moment -- not the room, or what any of us were wearing -- just the gold roosters. Seeing someone murdered made quite an impact.

I can still see the face of the 5th grade classmate who told me that RFK had been shot. We were living in France that year and all day long we waited for news. No Internet back then so we didn't find out until Mom picked us up from the school. We pulled up to a streetside newspaper kiosk and saw the headline in bold black letters three inches high - Il Est Mort. (He is dead.)

The pictures are scattered across the years.

The day that Elvis died. The night John Lennon was murdered. I can feel and hear the crunch of snow under my boots when I walked out of an office after learning of the Challenger explosion.

A friend called to tell me that a plane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. I turned on the tv and saw the second plane hit.

In reviewing all of the snapshot memories, I realize many of them are connected to bad and sad things. It's like tragedy locks the frame with sharper, clearer images.

There are, however, many happier standouts. Where I was and who I was with when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980. The phone calls from my mother telling me my nephews had been born. The night I logged online and opened the email from a publisher offering me a contract on my first book. The meeting with my boss when she offered me this job.

In recalling all these things tonight, I also recognized an interesting difference. When I think of all the bad memories, the emotions are muted. For the happy events, I feel everything the way that I did when they first happened. The cheering. The welling of joy in my heart. The mind-blowing excitement. The excited nerves. They're all there, ready to be relived again along with the memories.

What snapshot memories do you carry in your head?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Professional Perspectives

Does everybody notice different things depending on what we do for a living? As a writer, I know that I see things in books that drive me crazy. Things I might not have noticed before, like frequent shifts between the point of view of different characters. I'm re-reading a book right now and it kills me that the copy editor didn't catch (or perhaps is responsible for) all the references to Columbian art. Since I know that the author is not talking about art from Columbia, SC, all those references should be Colombia.

I started pondering this topic early this morning while stretched out in the dentist chair having my teeth cleaned. When a dentist meets someone, do they notice the other person's teeth and smile before anything else? Are hairstylists forever critiquing styles and thinking what would look better on the person in their line of sight? Does an auto mechanic pull up next to a rumbling or pinging car and think, "Jesus, dude, get a tune up?"

Can a good chef ever eat anywhere but a top restaurant? What about those professional stylists who advise people how to dress on What Not to Wear? Can they ever walk down the street in a crowd and not recoil from any egregious fashion faux pas?

Finally, I have to ask. Does a plastic surgeon automatically check out breasts, purely from professional curiosity, and think, "I would have gone a little rounder and up a cup size?"

Does what you do for a living influence how you look at things around you? Let's discuss.