Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama on prime time

Tonight was the night for Betty and me to have our weekly dinner, and we had decided on our favorite local sushi place. But then I realized we'd miss the Obama half hour, so I called and asked if I couldn't fix her dinner. I offered chicken piccata and salad, but then I found two yellow squash in the icebox. I had a vague idea of how to do a squash casserole but decided I'd look for a recipe. Found one but of course didn't have all the ingredients: stuffing mix, well I had a tiny bit and I augmented with bread crumbs, thyme, and poultry seasoning; cream of mushroom soup--I had cream of chicken and thought it would be fine, but when I opened it, it was chicken broth. So I used half of it, put in more than the required amount of sour cream, and then, for good measure, added two eggs so it would firm up. Stuck the whole mess in the oven and hoped for the best while cooking the rest of the dinner. When I looked at it, though, it seemed to have firmed up, but it was sort of pale and uninteresting looking, so I covered the top liberally with grated cheese. Betty ate two helpings, and after taking a bit out for my dinner tomorrow night, I sent the rest home with her. I know she and Don like squash casserole. I told her, however, that I could never tell her again how to do it. Chicken and salad were good too. She was prepared to make a fuss if I didn't have dessert, but when I offered ice cream with chocolate sauce, she declined--and so did I.
I was very glad we stayed in to watch Obama's prime time show. I thought maybe he would speak for half an hour, but as those of you who watched know it was vignettes of people in this country who are struggling. I, too, know people who've had their salaries cut, had to close their businesses, don't have adequate or any health insurance. It makes me feel very fortunate, but it also worries me--for the nation, for my children, for myself. I thought Obama was thoughtful, moving and convincing tonight. (And I caught Betty with a tear in her eye.) I don't know how many people watched--I'll be curous to hear reports and commentary in the morning--and I know it did nothing to convince die-hard conservatives, but I thought it was a spell-binding program.
Last night I started to post about things I was indignant about, but I thought it was so negative, I gave it up. But these are the things: the thought that big financial companies, to whom we just gave big bucks of taxpayers money, are planning to give big bonuses to their executives. But now I hear there's a proteset in Congress that essentially says we won't regulate and forbid it, but these companies would be well advised to reconsider. And a friend whose son works for one of those companies said they had heard nothing about the annual huge bash that brings people from around the world, puts them up at first-class hotels, and throws an extravagant party. Maybe people are learning after the scandal of AIG giving a multi-million dollar getaway Caribbean party even after the collapse.
And I'm indignant--okay, maybe sad--that the Christian Science Monitor is quitting the newspaper print business to have a presence on the web. I'm afraid but sure it's the wave of the future, but I hate it. Our local newspaper has grown so thin that it's hardly worth subscribing to (and besides they've let some of my friends go) and yet I love the newspaper and my morning cup of coffee. Online isn't the same--and it's often confusing to find your way around in.
But aside from being indignant, there is much I'm grateful for--family, friends, my interesting life, good books to read, and my writing, even though the latter sometimes seems a dead end. I go from discouragement to enthusiasm like a ping pong ball. Probably a sign of the times.
Off to Granbury tomorrow. Our author, Mary Rogers, is speaking about her book, Dancing Naked: Memorable Encounters with Unforgettable Texans, at a benefit for the Hood County Library, and I like to keep up my Granbury connections, so I'm tagging along.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another miscellany

A quiet couple of days. Yesterday I didn't even wash my hair (which makes me look awful) or put on makeup. Jacob amused me until about 10:30--at one point he rolled out my yoga mat, and when I told him that was what I exercised on, he began to do these funny exercises, hands and feet on the floor and raising one foot at a time or doing what looked like a clearly abortive cartwheel. I missed Meet the Press because we were watching The Mermaid, but I later heard McCain called Texas a battleground state. I wish! 'Fraid it's not true. My neighborhood is peppered with McCain/Palin signs but all the Obama signs have disappeared--someone with too little respect and too much time on their hands. I heard it was teenage or young college girls.
Tonight I am particularly upset about the murder of Jennifer Hudson's family. I know if she were not a celebrity, we wouldn't have heard a word. But I saw statistics tonight that there are more murders per capita in Chicago than New York or I think it was Detroit. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago--and I mean inner city, 51st Street in the Kenwood neighborhod. I never spent a night alone in our house until I was well past grown--if my parents left town, I went two doors down to the neighbors who had become adopted aunt and uncle. I tell people I'm a scaredy-cat because of that upbringing. My mom and I used to sleep on the screened-in porch in the summer, but she had hung waist-high curtains to conceal my cot, and I was never allowed to talk if there was someone on the street.
I don't know where the Hudson home is, but I'm curious. I know domestic violence like that occurs all the time, in Fort Worth as well as Chicago and every other city, but the abduction and murder of the young nephew is particulrly upsetting. I simply can't imagine what the surviving family members are going through. And the worst is, it happens all the time. It just doesn't often make the national headlines. It makes me though a little uncertain about writing books about murders--seems just a bit callous.
I'm getting in the holiday mood. I always go through this "Will I or won't I?" phase about my annual no-tree tree trimming party but last night I decided I would--I've been in a bit of the doldrums and the energy of planning and cooking would be good for me. So I picked a date, emailed it to some family and close friends, and of course Jordan immediately wrote back to say "Wrong!" They'll be in Dallas celebrating their anniversary. Back to the drawing board. I like the idea of an open house on Saturday at 5 p.m. because folks that have more festive plans can go on and those that don't can linger here. I have a good start on Christmas shopping and I hope when everyone's here at Thanksgiving they'll help decorate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts on book covers--and Jacob

I've been reading blogs about book covers--or faces, as we call them "in the trade." I've long known that many of the distributors who fill paperback racks in the groceries and drugstores of the nation lay out a bunch of covers and pick the ones they want--no attention to content, though some to author name recognition. If you're big, like say John Grisham or Nora Roberts, your name is in large type at the top of the cover, the title smaller and below. For most of us, the title is at the top and the name below. Still, we want our titles and names to "pop" out at the reader and the design to be compelling enough to draw a browser's eye, make him or her think he might want to read that book. It's something we struggle with all the time at TCU Press (although we don't do mass market paperbacks). Are the colors right? Is that the right image? Usually designers submit four or five possibilities for us to choose from.
But it all makes me think of the cover of my "breakout" book, if it could be called such. It was my first book from Bantam (previously I had published with Doubleday's western series, which as I understand it went mostly to subscription buyers such as libraries and prisons). Bantam (part then of Doubleday/Bantam/Dell) went to bookstores and you could always hope the book would have at least some time face rather than spine out.
The book was Libbie, a fictional biography of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, carrying her life to the point of George Armstrong Custer's death at Little Big Horn. The cover featured a voluptuous, dark-haired, sensual woman standing in knee-deep grass by a barbed wire fence. In the background, on bare brown dirt, was a fort, securely surrounded by a stockade. The problems were many: one friend said it looked like Madonna in period dress. More serious was the barbed wire fence: barbed wire was introduced in San Antonio in something like 1873; Custer died in 1876; there clearly had not been enough time to fence the West. Also Libbie stood in that deep grass of perhaps the Kansas plains but the fort behind her stood on the bare dry earth of Arizona. And the stockade? No western forts had stockades--there wasn't enough lumber in the West. In fact, in the manuscript, Libbie commented on her surprise that the forts were simply a ring of buildings without any surrounding protection--it scared her. I would like to plead that I was young, but I wasn't--this was in the early 1990s. But it was my first major commercial book, and I wasn't about to make waves. When I finally decided to mention it, it was too late. Another later book cover, on Cherokee Rose, featured a sultry blonde version of rodeo cowgirl and roper Lucille Mulhall, whose life formed the basis for the story even if I altered both the name and the facts. She stood with a horse looking over her shoulder--only the horse was disembodied. All it had was a head, no body behind her. I protested, andn the horse went. But that book sold less well than my other historicals. For some reason they were all published trade size (6x9) rather than the smaller paperback size, where I think they might have done better.
Jacob is here tonight. This is a picture of him at his happiest, watching "Beauty and the Beast" with a sippeee cup of milk (note the pumpkin on his face, which I promised not to wash off). He arrived cheeerful, had a dust-up with his mom over who would hold the DVD disk (he's broken some) and after she told him goodby and left, he had one of the worst "Where's Mommy?" fits he's ever had. Then he trundled back to "Beauty and the Beast," pointed out to me that I had to push play, and was content though far from cordial. Thank you, Marcia, for reminding me that two-year-olds soon turn into more predictable three-year-olds. When the movie ended, Jacob was again all fun and games, playing hide and seek, etc. Then he got the stool and put it next to his bed, an indication to me he was ready for bed, but then he said, "Not ready for bed." He did however climb on the stool and get in. I'm not sure he's asleep yet. There are long periods of quiet, but then I hear him on the monitor saying something very loud. We shall see.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thanks goodness it's Friday

I can't tell you how delighted I am it's Friday. The last few mornings I have definitely NOT wanted to get out of bed, and I look forward to sleeping late tomorrow. This morning, with Jacob here, I was so off my routine I almost forgot to put the dog out, never did read the newspaper nor check emails, and felt completely thrown together when I got to the office. But I had both of us dressed and fed by the time Jordan came for him about 8:30. And he was in a lovely cheerful mood all morning, though I couldn't convince him that he should let sleeping cats sleep.
I wasn't at work long before it was time to go to the shoulder doctor, who said the injury is so old that sugery probably wouldn't help it, therapy is NOT the thing, and occasional cortisone shots may help. I do think it feels some better, not that I don't know it's there. But it doesn't hurt a lot nor hamper a lot of my movement. I told him I do yoga but just not poses that hurt that shoulder, and he said that was good. I've noticed this week how much better I feel when I do my yoga--noticed because I had skipped it one or two days. Too much going on, but I felt stiff and sore those days and when I do my routine, I feel better the next day. And my feet are, I think, really getting better and stronger.
The grocery store where I've shopped for over twenty years has changed hands. They closed two weeks ago, opened earlier this week, and I made my first visit. It's where I buy toilet paper and soap and staples, while I buy produce and meat at Central Market. The new store is completely rearranged--it was like being in a foreign country! I had to go up and down every aisle looking for what I wanted--some of the rearranging made good sense, but it will take time to adjust. The prices may be a bit higher, but the aisles are wider and it has a new air to it. I didn't look closely but the produce really looks better.
And tonight I brought a major project home from the office but then decided I'd ignored my novel too long. Sent out two queries on the first novel, and did a lot of work on the second. I'm still going back and strengthening, adding suspects and strengthening their motives, etc. I think I'm making it a lot better, but I also realize I need to move ahead and write new text. It's probably my weekend project.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jacob--and no work done

Jacob is spending the night tonight, so needless to say I'm not getting any work done. By the time I got him to bed, writing was the farthest thing from my mind. Usually he is not allowed in my office, so tonight when I let him wander in there he acted like he was in foreign territory. But he was good--when I said no (knitting needles) he put them down. He found some sort of electronic part in my junk tray and tried to use it to put lipstick on. Oh, well. He's always tired when he comes from day care and today apparently the fire alarm went off--not a fire drill but something to do with turning on the heat--and scared him badly. So he was really cranky, wanted nothing to do with me, barely ate the exotic dinner I fixed him--roast chicken (from some leftover tenders I had cooked), peas and carrots from a can, hummus (which he purportedly loves but didn't eat) and apple crisp, which I kept trying to convince him was a cookie. Big mistake! All he could say then was "Cookie!" But shortly after the abortive supper, he brightened up, wanted to talk and play, and was going full steam by the time it was bedtime. But he's a sweet agreeable child and easy to put to bed. He had pulled a stepstool up next to his Pack-'n'Play so we made a game of seeing how close he could come to getting into it by himself. Needless to say, I removed the stool after that. But so far there's not a peep out of him. And Scooby who barked all evening to get in because he could see us in the family room is in and happily quiet. All is peaceful--knock on wood.
I am a budget manager because of my position as director of the press, but finances are not my talent. I have a rather simplistic attitude about money--hoard it until you're sure you have a really really cofortable cushion--and I don't understand accounting procedures, like inventory write-down and capitalization of expenses. So after a three-hour meeting with my boss, who has an MBA, and the university's controller, my eyes were glazed over and crossed. I went to lunch with Jeannie at one of our favorite spots--bratwurst, hot kraut, and sour potato salad--and that helped. But in the meeting I tried to make my point again that I repeat over and over--publishing, especially academic publishing, should not be a bottom-line business. We don't publish to make money; we publish for the public good, the intellectual good, the contribution to public knowledge, and prestige for our university. Business types do not understand this. They say, "I know, I know, but . . . ." It's a really hard argument in this time when private universities, like other institutions and individuals, are seeing doom and gloom ahead. I had a headache by the time the meeting ended, but thanks to Jeannie for cheering me up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Watching my diet--with dismay

For one who could barely button her favorite pants on Monday, I haven't done very well today. Went to a luncheon where the buffet was vegetable soup--the broth looked greasy, so I took veggies without much broth--and croissant sandwiches--me, who's not eating carbs. And then the dessert was irresistible for a chocaholic--a sqaure of chocolate cake with a layer of strawberry cream something and iced in mousse-like light chocolate frosting. I didn't eat the last bite--and that, I decided, meant the cake didn't count. Then tonight I went off to the local restaurant that is offering Lobsterama--a whole lobster for $13.95. What I rationalized is that seafoord is good for you, and you really don't eat that much butter when you dip the bites of lobsters. I had salad, but righteously came home and resisted either chocolate or the apple crisp. Last night I sent all my weekend leftovers home with Melinda--her twenty-one year old son is living at home temporarily and she has to feed him. He apparently ate all the stuffed pork tederloi and a good bit of the chili/cumin potatoes. But I didn't send the apple crisp. I want some more of it, and I figure Jacob will like it tomorrow night. Funny, sophisticated kid. So far, I have hummus and apple crisp on his menu. Need to think of a little protein and a little green.
The luncheon I went to today was called "What's on Your Bookshelf?" Human Resources sponsors it for emloyees once a month and invites various authors. The author today writes sort of romance/fantacy/strong women's lit, and I was not prepared to be impressed. Nor did she initially make an impressive appearance. But she was drop dead funny, charming, uninhibited, just a great speech. The thing I came away with it from is that "if you believe it, you can do it." She writes a syndicated column five days a week, does radiio and TV shows, and writes novels. (Okay, she sleeps four hours a night, and I really really need eight). But when I started into this mystery writing business, my thought was that if I believed it, it would happen. Sometimes, lately, along the way, that conviction has faltered. But I intend to get it back now.
We had our first norther of the season today. It was cool and drizzling a bit when I went to work, but by the time we went to the luncheon--my whole office went across campus--it was sunny and surprisingly warm. By the time we came out, it was dismal and quite cold with a sharp wind blowing. They say we're in for severe weather, though mostly east of us. That always presents a dog dilemma--if I fed him, he'll want to sneak in the house, and I couldn't let him do that before I went to dinner. But it actually wasn't threatening, and he was fine. Tonight, debated but set the thermostate at 70 and turned on the heat--and I think it just kicked in. Fall is here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A super event, blogging, and a talk with my son

In spite of my promise not to post tonight, I find I'm home earlier than I thought and less tired. So I'll report tht our event--an onstage interview with an author, followed by signings--went well. We had over 500 tickets out for 450 seats but the 10% no-show rate held, and we had a packed audience but no overflow. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, it was a funny, interesting interview, and it all went well. TCU Press got lot of credit from the author, so that was good. There was a party afterwards to which I was invited but I begged off and came comfortably home to my cat and dog.
Three of my four children call me two, three, four times a week. Colin and Megan call when they're bored on their drive home from work; Jordan just calls--we usually talk once a day and often email several times a day. I love being in touch with them and hearing stories of their families. Sometimes we talk about deeper topics, but it's often a kind of "What's going on?" conversation. But I can go a couple of weeks without hearing from Jamie, which he doesn't seem to think is strange at all. He called last night at 9:45, asked if I was asleep, and we talked for 45 minutes--a wonderful conversation about everything from his moving his office to political theory, some about the current presidential race, some about his daughters who are lights in my life. I truly enjoyed it a lot and emailed him today to tell him so. It's the same when I go to Dallas to visit--because he picks me up in downtown Dallas and he lives in Frisco (as Melanie describes it, just south of the Oklahoma border), we have a long drive home--and we always have good conversations then. So I guess I'll stop complaining about never hearing from him--or his family. I thought I had Maddie, age nine, getting into the habit of emailing, but apparently not. And for a while, she tried to teach me about text messaging, but that went away too. I love it that I can have meaninful conversations with all my children. We've all grown up to be great friends.
At the event tonight, a woman came up to me and said she was a counselor at the middle school my children attended. I thanked her for speaking to me and told her that my children had all grown up to be lovely, nice people, married wonderful spouses, and had given me seven grandchildren. "I never doubted it," she said. Talk about pride. It's funny, but there are people in this city who remember me as the mother of my kids, not the press director, not the author. And that's how I hope my obituary reads--I am first and foremost a mom and a grandmom.
Today I read an article in Atlantic Monthly by a professional journalist on why he blogs. It was a deep, intellectual, convoluted article, but what I got out of it was that a blogger is free to say what he or she wants, thinks, believes. No worries about what an editor will think, whether or not it will sell, etc. It's sort of the ultimate in freedom of expression. And I guess that's why I blog. When you write mysteries, your concentration is always on what an agent and/or editor will think. When you blog--and particularly when you get feedback--it's sort of like talking to folks. I'm not much for being onstage--too shy--but this is an easy way to be onstage.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mostly cooking

Marcia from El Paso claims she's missing her Judy's Stew fix because I haven't blogged enough lately, and I replied that I didn't think I had much to say except trivia. But I promised to post something tonight, so this is mostly a cooking blog. Last night I had lovely dinner guests--two couples fairly far apart in age but most compatible in spirit, and talk ranged from a scholarly interest in the history of comic books to the art of collecting to politics--we are all of the same mind but the discussion still got lively. And we ended the evening recounting a series of cooking failures (I hope that was not a reflection on my dinner).
I served a recipe I've looked at in my "appalling collection" for years and never tried--and of course I didn't read it carefully enough so I goofed several times. It was roast pork loin stuffed with an apricot mixture: I gleefully bought pork tenderloins, came home and read the recipe again, and that was not at all what was meant--it called for a loin roast. I figured I just wouldn't cook them as long. Then I forgot the part about divided use in the molasses and probably put too much in the stuffing, though it was pretty good. Then I didn't read carefully enough to realize that you were supposed to pour chicken broth and bourbon over the meat, roast it, and then add cream to the pan drippings. I added it at the beginning. But what was really cool was that I cooked that mixture--broth, bourbon, and cream--and then flamed it without burning myself. And I was amazed at how long it flamed merrily away. The accompanying recipe was for "Thunderbolt Mashed Potatoes"--seasoned with corn, cumin, chili powder. They were good but I made them the day before and didn't think I got them hot enough for dinner. To my mind the best was the apple crisp for dessert, but my oh my! it had a lot of butter, and I served it with real whipped cream. One of the guests, a man, looked at me and said, "Is this the real thing?" And his wife said, "It's better for you than the other kind." He ate two helpings.
Alas and alack, this morning I could barely button a favorite pair of pants, so I'm off bread, potatoes, etc., had a vinaigrette salad dressing tonight instead of that wonderful mayo/sourcream/blue cheese one I've recently invented, and limited my chocolate intake this afternoon.
Tonight I fixed spicy chicken fingers. Megan called, and I asked if she remembered them, and she did. You dust chicken tenders in flour mixed with salt, pepper and oregano, brown them in butter and olive oil, and then add diced Roma tomatoes, diced basil, garlic and lime juice. Such fun to pick the fresh basil, but I never use my fresh thyme--it's too strong.
No much else new. Everyone in the neighborhood is losing their political signs--but it's bipartisan. Both Obama and McCain signs are being stolen. I wonder if its a teenage prank or people with serious political beliefs and a distorted sense of American freedom of expression. They left the signs in my yard for a state senator and a state representative, just took the Obama one.
I started a British Victorian mystery over the weekend. I have to be careful about identifying titles or authors, because many of those authors I've now "met" through the Sisters in Crime network. But I seriously considered putting this one down several times. I persevered, however, and now I'm drawn into it. I decided maybe that's a huge difference between British and American cozies--in American cozies there's usually a body in the first chapter; in British ones, it takes you a long time to get drawn into the story. It may be too that I prefer to read about people I can identify with--contemporaries. I read a blurb recently for a mystery set in churches in Rome, but the protagonist was an American journalist, and I thought I'd really like to read that book. Like many that I read about on the Agent Quest listserv, it's unpublished now. I found one author has a series of Travel Agent Mysteries, so since Jordan is a travel agent I rushed to amazon--no luck. And then I realized that author, like me, is unpublished. I am working away though--and finishing that Victorian mystery.
Huge author's program tomorrow night--at least 500 tickets out, maybe more, for a venue that seats 450. It will be an interesting and long evening. Don't be surprised if I don't blog. Sorry, Marcia.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A yoga day

Today was a yoga day but also a tired one, for no known reason. I went to Central Market fairly early but felt like I was just plodding my way through the store. Just after I got the groceries put up, Elizabeth arrived for a yoga lesson, and I told her I was having a tired day. But she boosted my spirits greatly when she said she could tell I was stronger and more flexible than when I started yoga. She asked if could tell, and in a way I can--there are poses I can do know that I couldn't before, but in a way I can't tell because I can't see or feel the day to day slow changes. Its like yesterday when the lovely lady that cuts my hair asked if I was getting a lot of comments on how much longer it is, and I said I wasn't. I think it's because people see me every day. Anyway, yoga invigorated me, but then this evening when I stood in the kitchen cooking for an hour, my low back forced me to sit every once in a while--and that made me tired. I made mashed potatoes for tomorrow night's company dinner and discovered that I bought the wrong cut of meat for the recipe I'm using--instead of a pork loin roast, I bought pork tenderloins. Bet I can improvise. But more about that menu tomorrow, because it really is a good one. Tonight I stir-fried some veggies that were in the fridge--asparation (which I'd never heard of--I thought I was buying broccolini), onion, zucchini, and some fresh mushrooms, then added bay scallops. Sooo good.
I sat outside to read for a bit tonight before the dark that comes way too early these days. It was so still that it was almost eerie--not a breath of wind anywhere.
Back to revising my mystery--maybe revising is a way of avoiding writing new text. I have to stay up late enough tonight to watch Sarah Palin and Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live. Whatever else Governor Palin has done, she has certainly brought new life to SNL. I read a letter to the editor that made me laugh the other day: a reader wrote that he or she would never vote for Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, because she doesn't use correct grammar. It seems that before the vice-presidential debate, she approached Senator Biden and said "Can I call you Joe?" whereas any grammarian knows she should have said, "May I call you Joe?" I can think of a lot of reasons I don't want her a heartbeat from the presidency but that small grammatical slip is not one of them. If you were watching, she did call him "Joe," and he addressed her as "Governor."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lots of nothing

I haven't posted in days. Brandon, the Austin son-in-law, asked me once if I wouldn't lose my audience if I didn't post for days, and I told him I hoped not. But this time it's a combination of being busy and not having anything significant to say, unless I wanted to get on a poitical soapbox. Okay, I'll begin there: I read a letter to the editor the other day where someone wrote that they would never vote for Sara Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency because she uses poor grammar. The writer was offended because before the vice-presidential debate Palin approached Senator Biden and said, "Can I call you Joe?" Well, clearly, as the writer pointed out, she should have said, "May I call you Joe?" I laughed out loud. I can think of a hundred reasons not to vote for Sarah Palin, but that's pretty low on my list.
Tonight is the first night all week that I have stayed home alone--Monday I went to dinner with friends, Tuesday Betty and I went to the same restaurant because it was Lobsterama, where they sell a whole lobster for $13.95. It was delicious, and we're going back next week while the event is still on. Last night Jordan and Jacob came for dinner, and I laughed at Jacob when he left. After sweet hugs and kisses, he said, "Bye bye, Juju. Bye bye, dinner." I think he meant a phrase he's recently learned which is "Thank you dinner."
Work has been busy but unremarkale. We have a huge, sold-out author event next week, and that's taken a lot of my planning. I feel good about it--which is always a good sign--but there are a thousand ways it could go wrong, and I'll breathe easier when it's over.
And I'm trying to get back into that second novel. I've learned so very much from the Sister in Crime list, the Agent Quest list, and a cozy class I'm taking online. One of the things stressed is to profile your villain first, then profile the other suspects--something I hadn't done. I just leapt into it. But now I'm going back and doing that. And it all works out in my mind, but I find myself reluctant to actually get back to writing. Maybe it's because I've had no luck at placing the first novel--though I realize I haven't tried as many agents and publishers nor been rejected as many times as many many other authors have. Maybe I'm getting lazy, and maybe I'm too easily seduced into reading other people's mysteries. I need some self-discipline, which I've always prided myself on having at least a fair amount of (oops, a sentence ending with a preposition).
Cool weather--well, cool for us--has finally arrived in Texas. When I came home this afternoon, the house felt cool, and I closed some of the windows that have been open for a month. After a nap, I woke up cold and put on a sweatshirt. I think it's a sure sign of fall, though it is really late this year. Whatever, the cool nights make for wonderful sleeping.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday blues

I'm curiously out of sorts tonight and not sure why. I've had a pleasant weekend, though a bit lonely. But my neighbor and I sat on the porch a while last night--it is such pleasant porch weather in the evenings, I just wish it didn't get dark so early! We managed to avoid politics and talked a lot about dogs. Today I was to babysit Jacob from 10 until 2 but when Jordan arrived with him she wasn't feeling well and finally decided not to go to the luncheon. So we had grilled cheese lunches at 11 a.m., played with Jacob until about 12:30, and then all three of us took long naps. It was fun. Sometimes long weekends do make me out of sorts, but I don't think that's it.
I think I'm unhappy about my writing. I've finished rereading Skeleton in a Dead Space and think I'm okay with it. Tonight it's the subject on the blurb exercise (through Sisters in Crime) so I'm not going to submit it elsewhere until I get those comments, but I'm ready to submit. I figure there are three queries out that might get responses, about four more I don't exepect to hear from, and it's been rejected five times. That's honestly not too depressing a record as these things go. And I'm rethinking my second novel in my mind, uncertain about plot and motivation (I'm learning a lot from this online course in cozy writing). I'm not ready to read through it and change it but thoughts keep popping into my mind. So of course I'm distracting myself by reading someone else's mystery--which may be why I'm out of sorts.
Tomorrow I work from home while an AT&T guy wires my house for HDTV. but I have two major office projects to work on and I won't procrastinate on them like I am on the novel. So tomorrow will be a better day (to almost quote Scarlet). Meantime I guess I'll finish that mystery which, truth be told, I think I already read once.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Musings about authors

I once knew a man involved with books who delighted in telling you about all the famous writers he'd met--well, actually I've known several of those. But this one seemed to always say, "When I rode in an elevator with . . . . " and name someone famous. (I actually once rode in an elevator with James Garner, told him I was a fan, and he shook my hand and said, "Well, bless your heart." I also once rode in an elevator with Tom Sellick, but it was early morning and he looked pretty forbidding, so I didn' speak--neither did anyone else.) But this is sort of that kind of column--a couple of authors I've encountered one way or another, and a comment on authors.
A couple of years ago J. A. Jance was in town for an evening program. At the time she was probably my favorite mystery writer (she does the J. P. Beaumont series set in Seattle and the Joanna Brady series set in Arizona, and among other things I admire her ability to go from one to the other--but both are great reading.) The host of the evening, knowing I was a fan, invited me to meet her for a glass of tea in the late afternoon--he was giving her an early Mexican dinner. I tried not to gush, just to say I admired her work a lot, and I was trying to wrote mysteries and did she have any advice. She said something to the effect of, "Well, we all know how you do that. You put yourself in that chair in front of the keyboard and you stay there." I felt dismissed, insignificant, stupid--you name it. Later at the performance I learned that her son-in-law was dying half a continent away while I sat there blathering like an idiot about wanting to write. And in spite her family situation she gave a witty, charming interview onstage that night. So I don't hold it against her at all, and I still love her books.
But her quick comment was all wrong. Some people can sit at the computer all day every day and never turn out a publishable work. I've known that since I taught freshman English--some people can write, others can't. And mysteries are a whole different thing. In the not quite a year that I've belonged to Sisters in Crime I've learned an incredible amount about plotting mysteries, character, marketing, selling to an agent, a thousand different aspects that I never learned when I had an agent happily marketing western historical fiction for me. There are women in the Guppies (Going to be Published) group who have four, five, and six unpublished manuscripts, have been working on them for years. They obviously put their butts in the chair and the hands on the keyboard a lot but so far to no avail. I don't know that I have that patience. I want to sell the one I've completed. That will encourage me to move on to others. But I'm so impressed with the helpful spirit, the willingness to offer advice and to cheer for victories, commiserate over rejections, of Sisters in Crime and its sub-groups.
I've never met Sara Paretsky, another of my mystery writer heroes and a founder of Sisters in Crime. Her heroine, V. I. Warshawski, is a pretty hard-boiled p.i. in Chicago, so the setting appeals to me. Maybe a year ago I read Paretsky's nonfiction Writing in an Age of Silence and was so impressed by parts of it that I tracked her down on the internet and sent an email--and got back the most gracious personal reply. Paretsky contributes to a blog that I follow--The Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Mystery Writers--and once when she posted something about Chicago's South Side, I left a comment about how it resonated with me as a child of the South Side (though V. I.'s South Side is Calumet City, far south of where I grew up). Once again, I got a graciou response.
So I guess my point here is that in general seasoned successful writers aren't territorial, afraid of competition. They're more than willing to reach out and help beginners, to encoruage, to give advice. And that's comforting. I'd like to meet J. A. Jance again, under better circumstances.
Meanwhile, tonight I'm not going to put my fingers to the keyboard. It's Friday night, and I've been working frantically all week, and I'm going to read a good mystery.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A dining adventure

Betty and I had a real adventure tonight. We went to Dallas to the Hotel St. Germain. I had included the chef, a young man named Chad Martin, in my recently released book, Great Texas Chefs, and he invited me to come for dinner with a guest when the book was published. So tonight I took him two books and was rewarded with an amazing meal. Betty and I had looked at the menu online and decided we'd either have an appetizer and dessert, or split an entree. Chad had a different plan: when he came out to greet us he explained it was a menu fixe with five courses. Could we split, I asked? He shrugged and said they're small portions, so there we went for the whole thing.
First came an amuse bouche--a tiny square of smoked salmon on a small cornmeal like pancake and topped with caviar; then butternut squash soup with cinnamon apple and ancho creme fraiche (sorry, I don't know how to do accents on blogger). I'm not much of a soup eater and would have declined this in other circumstances, but it was wonderful--thick and buttery, with the chopped apples adding the perfect contrast and crunchiness. A taste of fall. Then came an appetizer of foie gras ravioli with smoked duck in truffle jus (I was beginning to be full by this time). I didn't get as much taste of the foie gras as I expected, but the delicately smoked duck was tantalizing--and I'd tell you I don't eat much duck. The maitre d' inquired how we wanted our tenderloins cooked--they were served on parsley beet puree with parmesan asparagus, a shallot compote, and red wine glace--the rich glace was a perfect compliment for the really good piece of meat. Dessert was an apple tart tatin with white chocolate praline mousse. I confess I didn't make it all the way through the tenderloin or the dessert. And the maitre d' kept filling our wine glasses so we had to be very careful. But the combinations of flavors, the imaginative mixing of foods, the attention to detail--it was all perfection and wonderful. Chad is a young chef, and I can see him going great places. The maitre d' wore white gloves and presented each course with a description, efficiently took away plates when we finished, and spoke with just enough of an old world accent that Betty sometimes had to repeat for me. There were only two other tables occupied, and the room was quiet, the mood subdued. After all the noisy restaurants we eat in, it was a real treat.
The hotel is European style in what once was someone's grand old house in Dallas' Oak Lawn area. It has seven "luxury" suites--we were curous about the cost but didn't ask--and the furnishings are old-world Victorian--heavy drapes, distressed woodwork, huge mirror in the entry hall, furniture that reminded me of the Victorian couch my mom had when I was a child.
Of course, we got lost trying to get out of Dallas, but we made it.
And tomorrow the dentist--what a letdown.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Rejection, yoga and the dentist

In late September, I queried an agent about my first mystery--I changed the title from Dead Space to Skeleton in a Dead Space. I thought that would be magic, but it wasn't. The agent responded by return email asking to see the full manuscript--that's unusual, and it was my first request for a full. Uusally agents if they are at all interested only want 30 pages. But today she rejected it--kindly, saying she liked the heroine, my writing, the premise, but it dragged in spots and didn't hold her as a reader. When I wrote to thank her for quick respone and kind words, she replied she was sure I would find a home for it, that her reaction was purely subjective--which is probably true. Who knows what kind of a mood she was in or how pressured when she read it. But I don't know whether I'm encouraged or discouraged--I'm eating chocolate just in case. I can't decide whether to read it one more time--I cannot tell you how many times I've read it--looking for "dead spaces" in the text or to move on to the half-written sequel, which I've ignored of late.
I thought maybe a yoga session would sort my thoughts out. It didn't. But it was encouraging. Elizabeth, my friend/instructor, keeps telling me every day is a different day. One day you can do a pose perfectly and the next you might fall on your face if you tried it. Yesterday morning, nervous about my big adventure to the Cowgirl, I did my routine--and did awfully at many poses, felt my muscles quiver where they don't usually, forgot some aspects of poses and of the routine, etc. and did not feel relaxed at all at the end of it. Today, in spite of rejection and a trip to the dentist, I did soooo much better--in fact, I think if Elizabeth had been here she would have told me my form was really good. Funny--or maybe not--how your mind affects the function of your body. I guess I more than others should now that by now.
I did go to the dentist with much less trepidation that I had about going to the Cowgirl (go figure--makes no sense; I used to go to the Cowgirl all the time). And I'm now the proud new owner of a gold crown that feels quite comfortable.Got to go back at 7:45 Thursday a.m. for gum cleaning and a few days later for a regular cleaning. Seems I'm spending a lot of time in the dentist's chair, not my favorite place.
I'm in the midst of another absorbing mystery--not my own--so I'm going to read and ignore mine one more day. Tomorrow I'll have lunch with Fred, my mentor, and maybe he'll have wonderful words of encouragement. He thinks we're celebrating the request of a full manuscript. Hah!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Well, darn!

I just wrote a fairly long post and somehow lost it. So this version may be shorter (I thought Blogger always saved drafts but not this time!).
My first "deep thoughts" were on voluteerism, which I've always thought should mean helping the needy, the hungry, the homeless--but somehow I never did that. At church I was chair of Fellowship, which meant arranging social events and meals for church member (ours is a fairly affluent church with few needy people) and then of Church and the Arts which meant art exhibits, lectures, theatre and museum trips, and the like. I never volunteered with Outreach, never helped with the Children's Closet which provides clothes and school supplies for needy children, never made sandwiches at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. And lately I haven't thought about volunteering--my balance/panic attack problems have made it enough of a challenge to do the daily things. But I also realized I was drawing tighter the circle around me which limited what I did, how much I get out in the world. So when the Cowgirl Museum asked if I'd be an art attendant at the upcoming Heart of the West art sale, I agreed. I went to a training session today--proud of myself that I parked in a handicapped spot a long way from the door and walked in with all the assurance in the world. But during the half-hour session, we stood in the gallery, and I discovered we would stand in the gallery for three to four hours Friday night. My feet and back still remember too much of last Friday's reception, and I'm just not up to that. So I came home, emailed my regrets, and asked that they find me a job where I can sit at least occasionally. But I was proud of myself that I'd gone to the meeting, taken that step.
Food fads have been on my mind. They come and go--what ever happened, for instance, to fondue? White zinfandel? Who knew we would be eating broccolini and brightly colored cauliflowers? But I think food fads come for us as individuals too. Not too long ago I scrambled myself eggs with smoked salmon, onion, and tomato every weekend morning--I used to blog about it--but now I've gotten out of the habit, though I did make it this morning and it was delicious. But my current fads are filet of Dover sole, sauteed in butter and olive oil, then topped with a lemon-butter sauce; ground sirloin patties that I cook the way my mom did--sprinkle the skillet with salt (no grease) and brown at high heat on both sides--a crisp outside and really rare inside that I love; and chocolate bars with peanuts and jalopenos--addictive. Maybe that cilantro pesto and hummus will become a new one, because it sure was good.
The days are growing shorter all the time, and I view that with regret. Tonight the temperature is perfect and there's a lovely breeze blowing, so I took the rest of my dinner wine out on the porch with a book. But by 7:15, dark had driven me back inside. And it's so dark in the morning. Daylight savings time will only make it worse--lighter in the morning maybe, but so dark so early in the afternoon. I hate the heat of summer but love the light.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Exhuastion is the sequel to "Yikes!"

This is what a yard sale looks like at my house. The cane-seated oak chairs are antiques--I paid a hefty bit for them 30 years ago, and I've been trying to sell or give them away for about a year now. Cane seats and small grandchildren do not mix well. No takers today. The kids did a pretty good job of cleaning up--they were soooo tired--but I stumble over this and that here and there--and there's a huge pile of trash on the front porch that Christian will come get tomororow. Jordan has an 8:15 flight to Vancouver in the morning--her travel agency is sending her on a "fam" trip, a 5-day cruise which will be meeting after meeting and not all run and play. I don't know how she'll do it because I was exhausted myself all day and did almost nothing to help with the sale. My feet still hurt from last night's reception, and my whole body felt weary. Jordan said she could tell my feet hurt by the way I walked. An indication of how tired I was: for the first two hours or so that I was up I had my left shoe on my right foot and vice versa. I finally looked dowh and thought, "This is wrong!" I'd see something that needed to be done and think, "No, not now." I did get Jacob up, diapered, dressed and fed breakfast--which he didn't eat. About the only other constructive thing I did was to go to the grocery store--and take a long nap.

The neighbors came for drinks and cilantro pesto with hummus--my experiment of the day. Jay (the handsome one who's a conservative) was late because he was playing ball with Jacob at Jordan and Christian's. He had been a huge help with the sale. I had my dinner half cooked--green beans with bacon and vinegar, sauteed tiny tomatoes. I'll saute fish just before I eat. I figure if I have a glass of wine with the neighbors I'llbe too tired to cook the whole thing from scratch. The pesto/hummus combination turned out to be great. I tried to take a picture of us having happy hour with a huge pile of trash behind us, but it didn't work so you'll just have to take my word for it--it was a tranquil ending to a hectic day, even if we did get into a political discussion. We're of different persuasions, but we're pretty honest about it and it works well. Jay, Susan and Sue went off to Chadra, the Lebanese restaurant, to meet friends for dinner, but I begged off. I had that half cooked dinner, and I'm most content at home, trying to catch up on things and finish a mystery I've been reading for days.

Friday, October 03, 2008


That's exactly how I felt when I walked into my own house tonight, 8 p.m., tired after a long author's reception, and hungry. This is what my house looked like. When I left it may have had a few corners that needed straightening--the bathroom and kitchen may not have been perfect, but oh my! I'm not fastidioius housekeeper--I hate to clean house, but I can't stand clutter. The great warning used to be "Hold on to your glass or she'll police it." So you can imagine how overwhelmed I feel. All this is in preparation for the garage sale Jordan and Christian are having at my house at the break of dawn (or before) tomorrow morning--you'd be surprised how early people arrive. It's at my house because I live on a busier street than they do and because tomorrow is the annual neighborhood garage sale. I'm hoping Jacob and I can sleep through the early parts and then I can calmly feed him breakfast and get him watching Lion King or some such, but I have a feeling it's a vain hope. I may run away mid-morning to the grocery, but I cannot adequately tell you how much I dread this periodic event. Where in heaven's name do they get all the stuff to sell?

TCU Press hosted a reception for one of our books tonight at the Community Arts Center. It's a photography book, Fort Worth: A Personal View, and 18 photos from the book are on exhibit in one of the CAC galleries during the entire month of October. The photographer is thrilled; he sold some books tonight, we did an inexpensive reception--pretzel sticks, smoked almonds, and marianted olives, plus wine, of which folks didn't drink a whole lot. But it was a good three hours on our feet, and I was hungry and tired when I got home. The kids had eaten smoked turkey sandwiches, and while I was eating my dinner at my desk, Christian stuck his head in to ask, "What did you cook that smells so good?" I felt guilty telling him it was a ground sirloin patty and a blue cheese salad.

Last nigth Betty and I went shoe shopping before dinner and bought identical black shoes--we'll be the Bobbsey twins. Then we went back to the wine cafe, and I had the same thing I'd had two nights earlier--wedge salad and chocolate mousse. So good. Then I came home, watched the debates--until Jordan, Jacob and Christian arrived after which I watched with half an eye, the other eye on Jacob. Still no great writing accomplished.

So now it's the tail end of another
long day--I did a massive grocery shopping, worked in the morning, etc.--and I'm too tired to think about being a writer. I find my days boil down to work in the morning, deal with emails in the afternoon, a nap, and maybe something constructive at night. At this rate, I'll never get my second mystery done, and I have to somehow change my schedule--no, giving up the nap is not an option! Sometmes I think how lucky I am that my life is so full that I don't have time to write--but hey, that's wrong. Writing is what I want to do.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An Old Friend is back

When my ex and I were first married, we lived in Kirksville, MIssouri, home of the original school of osteopathic medicine. He was in school there, and I had recently finished my masters in English Ed. at what we then called the Teachers College, so I was working at the osteopathic college--I had a strong family background in osteopathic medicine. But we were poor, and we furnished our house from estate sales. Mom and Pop would move off the farm, and the kids didn't want that old oak furniture, so they sold it at auction-like sales.This table is an unusual square oak kitchen table. I'm not sure what we paid for it, but I have a round oak pedestal table with ball feet that I got for $3 (this was in the sixties) so I guess that gives you an idea. We committed what is probably antique murder by cutting the table down to coffee table height, but it went with us to each of the four houses that was lived in Then I got it in the divorce--he declared he no longer wanted old but was interested in Oriental modern. Great! I wanted the old stuff, and I still have most of it--a buffet with glass knobs and burled wood insets and a marble top. I remember I paid $12 for it just before we were moving to Texas, and he was furious that I was going to move a heavy marble top across the country!
But I had this table in every living room the kids and I had (we moved several times) until in the mid-'80s we moved into a ranch house--the first I'd ever lived in with a family room separate from the living room. The square oak was relegated to the family room when a decorator friend convinced me to get a glass-topped brass coffee table. That's been in my living room ever since, but it has become a problem--with grandchildren. They lean on it, they walk into it, when they were still crawling they hit their heads on it. To this day, Jacob tests me by leaning on it and watching to see what my reaction is. I say no, he moves, and in a minute he's leaning on it again--and watching me. So I decided that the glass table had to go to the guest room--where the square one had been relegated. Lewis, who keeps my house together, refinished the oak one and I came home today to find it in the living room. It is truly like having an old friend back. I confess I'd been home for several hours before I realized, "Wow! My table is here." But then I just sat and stared at it. It's a wonderful table.
Busy day, lots of work on my desk at the office, lots of Sisters in Crime emails when I got home, Christmas presents to order, phone calls to make as Obama block captain. And the biggie--a lunch meeting of my editorial board. Not many of them were present but the provost was, and he was the one I really wanted to hear my comments, so I deem it a success.
I think I may just loaf and read tonight.