Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let the celebrations begin

My memoir classes had a reunion holiday party tonight, for me the first party of the season. Some of these ladies know each other very very well, from sharing their memoirs; others, from different classes, had never met. Yet they all chattered and gossiped and had a wonderful time. We were each to wrap and bring a book that we were ready to pass on to someone else, and then we had a Chinese auction. Elizabeth said she'd never seen such a cut-throat auction, but people kept "stealing" other people's books--for a moment I had a Joanna Fluke cozy that I was really looking forward to reading, but someone stole it, and I ended with a Mary Higgins Clark--hers are terrific mysteries but a bit scary to read when one is home alone. We had great refreshments--including latkes, which I'd been missing, and spanikopita, which I love. Altogether a simply wonderful evening.
'Tis the season in other ways. It seems I spend my time running errands. Today it was a haircut, followed by a trip to get  festive paper plates (does everyone realize how expensive they've become?), then a trip to DSW to look for everyday shoes for me. Nada. The one pair that might have been okay was only ten dollars cheaper than the really neat Merrells I ordered yesterday. Then to the camera shop to leave Jordan's camera to be repaired--6-8 weeks and $125. Oh, my! More errands tomorrow. I can see the Christmas season rushing by without much writing done but, hey, that's okay. I set my own deadlines, and all this holiday stuff makes me happy. That's what retirement is about--doing what you want to do. Though that small voice inside me adds, "Make sure you do for others." Does taking Jordan's camera to the repair shop--which I had a hard time finding--count?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering Elmer Kelton--once again

I didn't post a blog last night because I was consumed with reading a pdf proof of Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories. It's not a festschrift in the proper sense of that term, because it includes several personal memories, but it is a book in tribute to the late, beloved author. I read it once in Austin, surrounded by all the hubbub of family. When I came home and read in peace and quiet I was amazed at how much more I caught--little things like misplaced commas and quotes mostly, but a few misused words. And, horrors, a dangling modifier--a grammatical error that can send me screaming into the night.
The book is due from TCU Press in the spring. Jim Lee and I co-edited--we've teamed up on some good projects. The essays and memories in this one are by people who knew Elmer well--all friends because everyone he met became his friend, but some of these folks have taught his work in the classroom. And probably my favorite essay is the one by his son, Steve, who succeeded his dad as editor of Livestock Weekly. Steve subtly blends in a son's memories with a more business-like assessment of way Elmer's work as an agricultural journalist contributed to the realism of his fiction. A truly great essay from a guy whose arm I had to twist to get him to write it.
Now I've sent the corrections off and am feeling--well, lazy, idle, whatever. Yesterday I bustled around and got lots done, like pulling up dead plants from the porch and a wash, but today I've been sort of lackadaisical and had such a sound nap that I woke up totally disoriented. Ate too big a dinner of leftover potato salad and egg salad and feel full and sleepy. But my Thanksgiving accomplishment is that with all that rich food, I lost a pound. Feeling super about that. Anyway, I guess I'll stumble my way through the rest of the evening, maybe reading a book. Tomorrow I must start reading the version of Mattie I plan to put on Kindle. And then I have to review and do a bit of rewriting on Skeleton in a Dead Space to put it on KIndle.
Meantime I'm reading Double Shot, a foodie cozy mystery by Diane Mott Davidson who is the star of that genre, in spite of all the other contestants. If anybody has read any of her novels about Goldy, the Colorado caterer, and also watched the Barefoot Contessa on TV, tell me if you don't think they're a perfect match! Ina Garten should play Goldy in a movie. Oh, bother, the fact that Garten is a chef and not an actress is a trivial thing!
Enough. I may eat chocolate.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home again--and some lessons from Thanksgiving

No matter how much I enjoy being someplace else--and I did love our Austin Thanksgiving--I am always glad to be home again. We drove on Saturday to beat the Sunday traffic, but we didn't get away from Austin until 3 p.m, which I thought was a bad plan--and it turned out to be. Traffic slowed just past Temple and bunched up off and on until Hillsboro, slowing us sometimse to 10 mph, averaging maybe 40-50. Nerve-wracking. We were tired and hungry, and Jacob got weepy--though a few Cheerios, Goldfish and raisins restored his blood sugar. Actually got to my house a bit after 6:30, which isn't bad--it just seemed that way. My cat could have cared less about seeing me but wanted food; my dog didn't care about food, but he was delighted to see me.
Leftovers are always the best part of a holiday meal, but here are a couple of things I learned:
--Mashed potatoes and gravy make a wonderful breakfast. We never get enough gravy from the turkey, so I made traditional gravy out of the drippings, scraping up all those good brown pieces, and then we added two quarts of prepared gravy Megan had bought from a home delivery service in Austin called The Soup Kitchen. Their gravy was quite pale, so I added a good couple of dashes of Kitchen Bouquet which turned it a lovely rich brown and spiced it up just a bit. It was the best we've made in a long time. Weight Watchers doesn't count too heavily for mashed potatoes, but they just don't know how much sour cream and butter Jordan puts in hers!
--I learned to love chess pie. I'd heard about it, probably never eaten it. Mel made it according to her great-grandmother's recipe which calls for corn meal and vinegar in the filling. Jordan called it baked sugar. I ate finger-sized slivers of it and was heartbroken this morning to discover it was all gone. Weight Watchers has never heard of chess pie (or vinegar pie) so I figured it was fair just not to mention it. The foods that I eat that Weight Watchers knows nothing about are numerous--I think they need a more sophisticated dietitian. Meantime I plan to ask Mel to share the recipe.
Elizabeth was right--going on Weight Watchers before the holidays made me a more conscious eater--I managed to come in almost on target with my points by taking a tablespoon of this and that. With so many offerings, that's a great way to taste everything and yet not feel stuffed. There again, Weight Watchers doesn't realize Lisa makes green bean casserole with sour cream, jack cheese (or monterrey, I'm not sure) and corn flakes soaked in a whole stick of butter. I cannot begin to tell you how much butter we used on Thursday!
--A non-cooking lesson for everyone who might find themselves in cold country. A norther hit Austin Thursday afternoon, like a snap of the fingers, dropping the temperature dramatically within minutes. That night it was really cold. I sleep in the office, the only upstairs room, that is always much colder than the rest of the house (and I don't think the heat was on at all that night). I could not sleep and realized it was because I was cold--my feet were like blocks of ice, and I was curling around myself to keep warm. Finally got up and got my sweats--put on the shirt and made a pocket out of the pants for my feet. It took a while for them to thaw, but then they were warm and toasty. Another problem is when the air gets cold, so does the air in a blow-up mattress. The next night the girls put a duvet on it for me, and I again slept with my special foot warmer and my sweatshirt and was as toasty and warm as I could be. Slept very well. I may sleep with my feet in sweat pants all winter--their soft lining makes them just wonderful, better than a cat on my feet.
We were supposed to come home on Sunday but came today for a variety of reasons. Still, I cannot get over the idea that it is Sunday. Jordan said something about Christian having a day off tomorrow and I asked why he wasn't working. I looked at businesses we drove by and wondered why they were open on Sunday. And tonight, of the newspapers left by Moksha, the pet-sitter, I threw the thickest on my desk to read. I swear I searched that thing three times looking for Parade, until it dawned on me it was Thursday's paper and was thick because it had all the ads for the Friday super sales.Okay, I'm beginning to get it: tomorrow is Sunday.
Back to routine, but overwhelmed by things to do. Some of my porch plants froze and I have to uproot them, especially the sweet potatoes. And my driveway is solid leaves, though I don't plan to tackle that.
How about you? Did you learn any life lessons over Thanksgiving? Are you charging into December feeling that you have a ton of things to do? A freind sent me a Biblical verse about living in the day and knowing God will help you face whatever tomorrow brings. I do wish I could learn to live in the moment and not worry a week or so ahead. I'm working on it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A special video and a Thanksgiving album

Nature's Wonders! This is the link to a 30-second video that Maddie made for me. She let me choose the pictures and music, and she gave me credit as co-producer. I just watched her put it together. Remember, folks, she's just eleven, a wonderful example of why they call it the tween age. One minute she romps with her cousins, six and under; the next she's lulling them to sleep; then she's at the computer or has her nose buried in a fairly sophisticated book. Such fun to watch and be with.
For those who are interested, an album of the Alter Thanksgiving 2010:
 Maddie and Kegan
Megan and Colin checking the turkey

To turkeys--the birds, not the people, and their cooks. Megan did a traditional roast and Brandon fried his bird.

Grandkids at the "kids" table

Me with two of my beautiful girls

Hope everyone had a great and grateful Thanksgiving.

A Swirl of Activity

I'm sitting here letting the activity of Thanksgiving swirl around me--Megan is making a pie crust, Colin and Lisa are making breakfast quiches (I'm waiting!). Later, Jordan will mash potatoes, Lisa will make green bean casserole, and in a couple hours I'll put the turkey in the oven and make the dressing. Kids swirl around everywhere, running in and out, "helping" with the cooking, begging for a taste here and there. Sawyer is hard at work with his new favorite chore--washing dishes. I suspect last night's brave talk of a group morning run has been deliberately been forgotten. Last night we sat up late, talking about nothing and enjoying being together. It took the little boys forever to go to sleep but Maddie and Edie cuddled them and loved on them and they finally slept. This morning they were up early. I know the day will drift away with this happy hubub, five conversations going at once. I am truly blessed and thankful as I am for many things, children and grandchildren lead the list!
Mayy all of you have a happy Thanksgiving with good food and good company.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Being thankful

If you get beyond the turkey and all that sumptuous food, Thanksgiving is a holiday onto itself, unlike any other. Sure, we're comemmorating the pilgrims' arrival and first feast, and Lord knows we should be thankful, as Americans, for the abundance of food most of us enjoy--and not forget those even in our own neighborhoods who are not as fortunate. But Thanksgiving should go beyond that traditional blessing, "God is great,God is good/Let us thank Him for our food/By his hand we must be fed/ Give us Lord our daily bread." Ever since my children were in pre-school we have said that blessing, holding hands. For years, Uncle John would say, "Start 'em off, Jame" and Jamie would lead the blessing. Then, as she grew older, the honor fell to Maddie. This year, we will miss being with the Peckham/Azuma contingent of the family and will think fond thoughts of them as we say the familiar blessing. Jacob insisted on the blessing the other night when Beth and Weldon came to dinner--but then he wouldn't start if off, and I had to do it. We'll see what child does it this year.
I try to be thankful every day because so much good has come my way, but on Thanksgiving it might be good to take an extra moment, each of us, to ponder the blessings in our lives and scorn the troubles. Family and friends are the first on everyone's list, as well they should be. I am so blessed by family--four chldren who all grew up to be fine, contributing citizens, likeable people who do their part in the world, and best of all, who are absolutely crazy about being together as a family. We truly celebrate the togethrness of holidays. And then seven grandchildren, who are growing up with memories of their loud, boisterous aunts, uncles, and cousins (of course their grandmother is calm and quiet at all times). Someone wrote me today that she thought an Alter family get-together must be like a Cecil B. deMille cast call. Well, not quite . . . but close.
And friends? I am blessed with wonderful friends, each of whom fills a special spot in my life. I won't try to start naming, because I'd surely leave someone out. Suffice to say, retirement would be dull and meaningless without the friends who bring shape to my life and give me a sense that I mean something to others, just as they mean a lot to me. I learn from my friends, and I think with their help I grow in wisdom and joy.
But there's so much more. In retirement, I'm grateful for the wonderful and rewarding career that I had (and sort of continue to have) and for the fact that I have so much to occupy my time and interest that I'm busier than ever. I so feared waking up to wonder what I'd do each day, and it has been just the opposite--I wake up and wonder how I'm going to get done all that I want to do. My writing has me engaged, interested, and enthusiastic. And I have my house,  my wonderful garden, my dog and cat, my love of cooking. Truly, my cup runneth over.
Which brings me around to faith. I have dropped out as a churchgoer, which I'm hoping is not permanent. It's just my comfort place right now But I am thankful that if anything it has made me more conscioius of my faith, more anxious to keep in touch with faith and trust than when I attended church regularly and maybe took it forgranted. I am leery of Facebook posts that are openly evangelistic, so I won't go into what I've learned about faith in these last two years--suffice to say I am sure the Lord looks after me and my loved ones, and I try to earn that. We may not be saved by good works, but I think they're important.
So, count your blessings, dismiss your troubles, and put your faith in whatever deity you choose to worship. And most of all, enjoy the moment . . . and the holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do you dream in technicolor?

Christmas is coming! I know it because my Christmas cactus is blooming its fool head off! So beautiful.
Do you dream in technicolor? I dream in vivid color, with sound and touch sensations--I distinctly remember trying to open a door to a room that was flooded on the other side--I could feel the resistance of the water. One night I dreamt that someone brought a possum to work (yes, Susan, I fear it was you) and Melinda picked it up (no sane person picks up a possum except perhaps by the tail) to put it outside and it peed on her. Ever after, when I mention dreams, she says, "I sure did hate being peed on by that possum!" I have the usual dreams, like the exam you haven't prepared for, haven't even gone to class all semester. But I have others, like the one that I'm cleaning up a mess. Sometimes its in a kitchen (not necessarily mine) or a room in a house where the mess grows worse with everything I do; it can even be outside with pieces of paper flying everywhere. I consulted the Google dream dictionary (for what that's worth) and it says you are cleaning out your life in preparation for anothr big step forward. I rather like that interpretation. Surely it means publication, fame and fortune. On the other hand I dreamed the other night that I was newly married to my ex-husband and he moved me to a small town, but he kept disappearing. I met the ladies, who were kind to me, and I can remember working hard to learn their names, the names of their children, and where each one lived. But then I realized that they were congregating in my house every morning, and I couldn't get anything done. I felt stifled. I could probably analyze that one if I tried hard, but last night I dreamt that I was part (a minor part) of a grant-writing team working on grants to perfect space travel. Pretty astounding since grant writing is not a skill I have, and I certainly know zilch about space travel. My dreams are rarely frightening and sometimes pleasant. Sometimes I am able to inject reality into them--like that exam dream. I'll suddenly say, "Judith,  you're through with school. You have your degrees. This is just a dream." Jordan's favorite of my dreams? The time I saw the stuffed, oversized leopard, Clifford, who has a prominent place in the living room, walking around the house. "Mom," she said, "don't tell anyone about this." And then she went and told everyone she knew! Some people never remember their dreams. I'm glad I do. What about you?
Taught my last memoir class until February today. It will be nice to have a break. Otherwise, a busy day but I accomplished much. The Christmas decorations are pretty much roughed in. Fred came by with some helpful comments on my manuscript, and I plan to get back to the other manuscript tonight. So life is rolling along.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Reading and the lazy day that wasn't

I like to share mysteries I've enjoyed with blog readers, for those of you who like mysteries as much as I do. I just finished Jessica Rohm's Sugar Tower in which she mixes the decline of newspapers, the New York City real estate crisis, the workings of the medical examiner’s office, and one woman reporter, single at 42, hearing her biological clock and wondering if she made the wrong choices in life. Rohm adds the murder of a prominent developer’s wife, and then crafts a whopping good mystery with a lot of depth and character development. Yes, there’s an obvious allusion to Donald Trump in Barry Sugarman’s empire but Sugarman is better looking. Mach (Marchessa Jesus Piazza, whose newspaper byline reads M. Jesus Piazza) is the self-deprecating amateur sleuth who meets not only mystery but moral dilemmas as she tries to figure out who killed Annabel Trainor Sugarman and get an exclusive story for her newspaper. You know somebody in this story is smarmy but figuring out who isn’t easy, which is as it should be. A good read.
Today was supposed to be a lazy Sunday. I had the whole day ahead of me to do with as I pleased--well, almost. I guess my work ethic got to me or something, because after lingering over the paper and coffee (one can only linger so much on our much-reduced Sunday paper) I went to the grocery for one item (but did explore a new grocery store everyone raves about--it was just a nice clean grocery but not, as Sue said tonight, Central Market). Came home to ride my bicycle five miles and then start unpacking the Christmas decorations. My house is now really really messy, a work in process. Decorating for Christmas is sort of addictive--you think you'll quit for now but then it strikes you this belongs there instead of where it is, and you keep moving things around until without realizing it you've spent an hour. And it still doesn't look quite right. I usually do this Thanksgiving weekend but won't have time this year and my memoir class is having a Christmas party on the 30th. I told them not to expect decorations, but then I thought, "Why not?" So I'm working on it.
I finally quit rearranging to go to dinner at the home of my former neighbor, Sue. Her parents are in town, and I always enjoy seeing them. Good dinner, good conversation. They're Canadians, as obviously is Sue, and we discussed Prince William's engagement--Sue's father, Bob, says we Americans get a lot more excited about it than they do in Canada. Then we had a long talk about Prince Charles--they had not seen the NBC special that so impressed me, but we talked about him as an adult almost as old as we all are. A nice way to end a pleasant day, even if it wasn't lazy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing Woes and a good dinner

The end of my novel-in-progress has been kicking around in my head for several days but I just haven't had an unbroken spell of time to work on it (tells you I'm not as dedicated as I should be). Today I sent Jordan, Christian and Jacob off to Smashburgers and to play in the park with the double excuse that I wanted to write and I didn't need the calories of a hamburger (all too true!). I wrote like a blue streak--1500 words in an hour, because I knew where I was going. Got right up to the climactic scene, which I haven't quite worked out in my mind. I may not work it out until I actually sit down to write it. But I realized I'd been writing with a sure knowledge of what was going to happen for some time now and hadn't thought about chapters. I checked and found my last chapter was over 8,000 words--enough for at least three chapters. So I went back to correct that but found in the process that Chapter Fourteen consists of a half of a meaningless sentence. If I ever wrote Chapter Fourteen, it's gone except for that fragment. I knew instantly one part that needs to open the chapter, but I have no clue what else may have been in it (good lesson in learning to outline by chapters). I can only reconstruct on my first edit of the complete manuscript and try to remember what action is left out. I have a vague idea, but that's it. Truly frustrating, and yet I feel quite encouraged about the manuscript tonight. How did I lose it? Who knows? Maybe a mistake in saving, maybe a mistake in putting in chapters because I'm always writing great blocks of copy and then going back to put in chapters--in truth, it may be that not much is missing, although there is an abrupt transition between the end of Chapter 13 and the beginning of Chapter 15. Somehow I feel confident I'll figure it out.
After my mad writing streak, Jacob came back to spend the afternoon while his dad went to work and his mom was busy helping a friend move. I took a nap, leaving him to watch TV. He woke me once to ask when Beth and Weldon would be here, but when I got up from my nap, he was sound asleep. Awake, he repeated the question--he wanted Beth and Weldon. He was so excited by their presence that he ended up being a bit of a brat. I thought I was quite firm with him, but they both shook their heads and said, no, I was grandmotherly.
I did fix a terrific dinner, if I do say so. Porterhouse pork chops that I had brined, then roasted and served with a pan jus of chicken and beef broth, sauteed red cabbage with just a hint of vinegar, and mashed potatoes. Beth and Weldon are gluten/ dairy free (plus she doesn't eat soy or corn) so it's hard to cook for them, and I had to leave butter out. It worked out just fine. I did add butter to the jus after they'd been served, but I honestly don't see that it made that much difference.
Bless them, they helped get the Christmas decorations out of the attic. So now I'm torn--I have the whole day tomorrow. Don't know whether to unpack the Christmas stuff or write. I think Christmas will win out since there's an early holiday event at my house just after Thanksgiving and I won't have time over the holiday weekend.
Jacob has gone home with his mom (having left his beloved "Froggie" behind--she has a backup but called to say he can tell the difference). Beth and Weldon have gone home, and I have cleaned the kitchen. The dog and cat are asleep in their respective places. What a peaceful household. I love it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

His Royal Highness Prince Charles

I watched the NBC special interview with Prince Charles tonight, and my first thought was that he reminds me of Henry Adams. When I was a freshman in college I passed out of freshman English second semester and took instead an entire semester devoted to The Education of Henry Adams, a dense, multi-layered, introspective sort of autobiography of a man lost between two worlds that he symbolized by the Virgin and the Machine--the old order of faith and the new mechanized world. If I remember the book correctly, he saw these two polar opposites most clearly at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Prince Charles seems much the same--caught between the old order of the monarchy and his contemporary world of ecological concerns, particularly his project to save the rain forests. As newscaster Brian Williams found it, it's difficult to ask this man who will be king about his role as monarch, because it presumes the death of his parent and, as he said, now that he's in his sixties he may drop dead before he ever becomes king. It strikes me William is likely to ascend to the throne in much shorter time than his father, who is the longest-serving (is that the word?) heir apparent in the British monarchy.
Call me a patsy for a well-done pr piece and perhaps it's true, but Charles came across as very human in this special. Like many Americans, I had little regard for him, thinking he had dumped poor Diana for Camilla. But that's a surface reading of a complex situation. Having carried that image of a young Charles in my mind for years, it's strange to see him at the far edge of middle age, a graying, slightly paunchy, balding man but one who seems highly introspective, thoughtful when he speaks (almost sometimes in riddles), and a concerned parent. I loved seeing his castle/estate in northern Scotland where he grows all sorts of organic plants and puts his ecological concerns to a practical test. He's also a man comfortable with solitude, which I admire, and with long walks in the rugged countryside. All in all, I rather liked him--and now I want to go to the Scottish Highlands all the more.
I ignored Jacob to watch that. At one point, he told me to turn it off and play "Who Let the Dogs out" but I refused. I felt a trifle guilty when I snuck a look at him, a lonely child watching TV by himself. But we had great fun after the program was over reading a Star Wars book, watching dog videos that made him giggle. Otherwise a fine day--my friend Kathie picked me up and we met Carol and Fran at the Zodiac Room in the Dallas Neiman's. High cotton, that! But the best tuna I've had in a long time. And a good visit--with that bunch, talk inevitably comes back to publishing.
A nice day, and now I must go wish Jacob "Sweet Dreams." Sweet dreams to you, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A cheer for osteopathic medicine and a wonderful class session

Years and years ago the football team from the Andrew Still Osteopathic Cllege in Kirksville, Missouri, (Now the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) used to come to Texs to play TCU. The osteopathic team's cheer? "Hippity hoppity, osteopathy!" That's sort of what I feel like shouting tonight. I had a ferocious backache since the middle of the night or early Wed. a.m. Couldn't sleep, hurt worse lying down than being up, but hurt a lot then too. My favorite osteopathic physician, my brother, is 60 or so miles away, and I don't drive on the highway. So I made an appointment with a local doctor who was most courteous, said we'd met but it had been years, and then proceeded, gently, to fix my back. It's not perfet tonight, but I feel so much better. Came home this afternoon and took a long, comfortable nap--what a pleasure. Now I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, which I've missed for two nights. Note to the Texas legislature: do not pass legislation adding the M.D. degree to the TCOM program. The therapy at the core of that program is way too good to lose!
My memoir class met tonight, and it's amazing to see how much self-discovery has gone on in that group, how much growth, and how much openness they've achieved. Somehow this group can talk about grief and tragedy and come up laughing. We had some unexpted revelations tonight--I think one woman was as surprised at herself as were the rest of us. But there just aren't words to express how happy I am with this group. Most of them signalled they want to continue with a spring session, so we'll do that.  We'll meet one more time before the holidays, not for a class but for a party with former class members and the daytime class members invited. It will be a different atmosphere but still good. At the end when we stood in our circle and said how we felt tonight, I said, "Full of laughter and gratitutde for good friends." It's true.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing is art; publishing is business

A couple of years ago I joined Sisters in Crime, on the advice of author Susan Wittig Albert, and then the AgentQuest listserv--postings by authors who were trying to find agents. It's a pretty difficult thing to get an agent,  yet this group is uniformly supportive and there's not a trace of competition--okay, a few admit to occasional twinges of jealousy but they rally. News of rejection after rejection is met with condolences and advice to get out there and submit again. Some of these writers  have submitted twenty queries, some a hundred or more, and still they keep going. Agents have a variety of canned reasons for rejection: I just didn't love it enough; I don't know where I could sell it; your writing is excellent but it's just not for me. Bottom line: this is a tough market, both for writers to place with an agent and agents to place a work with a publisher. It's partly the crowded mystery field and it's partly the economy--at least that's my take on things.
As I posted not long ago, I had an agent for a  year. He sent my manuscript to eleven publishers and announced he couldn't sell it. I'll give him credit--he sent it to all the "big" names and then a few. There are actually six "big" publishers these days who can make your fame and fortune. I guess I never really thought of achieving fame or fortune, and after that rejection, I got honest with myself. I am not a "breakout" writer (at my age I probably don't have enough writing years to establish a Sandra Brown-like career and maybe I don't have the talent or the chutzpah--take your choice). But I do believe in my writing and want to publish it.
My manuscript, "Skeleton in a Dead Space," has now been shopped; no other agent is going to look at it when it's been rejected by all the major mystery pubishers. Like a lot of others, I'm weighing the pros and cons of small presses vs. self-publishing, probably with Amazon, which offers an attractive package of print-on-demand paper copies and e-book publication. Self-publishing has lost the stigma that it once had, and I am truly tempted by this route. Fred Erisman, my mentor, has re-read the manuscript (for the umpteenth time, poor man) and declares he still thinks it's publishable, has no corrections or changes to suggest but a few ideas. I hope to get with him in the next week to hear those ideas. And to talk over with him the merits of various means of publication. One thought that keeps coming back to me is that it can take a small publisher a year to consider a manuscript--at 72, I'm not that patient. I want to see that manusript published and move on to others, lke the one I've almost finished.
The point I've been workikng around to is that someone posted on the Guppy (Going to be Published) Small Press Quest list how free she felt once she had given up the idea of an agent. She was enjoying writing again and not dreading the next ding of her e-mail, which might well be a rejection. The Guppies also have a wonderfukl role model in Susan Schreyer who has just posted her first novel on Kindle, Death by a Dark Horse. She's done a terrific job of marketing, and her book is selling--it's next on my reading list.
I have one e-book available from Smashwords and Kindle (the short story collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance http://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Learns-Dance-Stories-ebook/dp/B00466HT7Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1290048693&sr=1-1) and plan to post my 1988 Spur Award-winning novel, Mattie, soon (see, it's a business. You learn to overcome modesty and go for blatant self promotion). The trick is to build up readers, and the more titles you have the better. I have also created an Amazon author's page (http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6KPU6/ref=sr_tc_img_2_0?qid=1290048839&sr=1-2-ent). The trouble is, I'm posting western Americana titles when I want to build a mystery readers' base. Maybe that will come next.
Wow, I have gone on too long about this. But, yes, publishing is a business. And figuring out marketing e-books or choosing a small press takes as much research as getting an agent. It just doesn't bring the rejection, and that's good.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Being a grandmother ain't easy--neither is technology

Jacob arrived at 5, after having fallen asleep in the car between pre-school and my house. He was, to put it bluntly, crabby, curled up into himself on the daybed, watching TV. When he talked it was a low, muttered, whiny tone that I could barely hear let alone understand. I ignored him except to say I'd be in my office if he needed me. After six, I fixed supper, put lots of ketchup on his meatloaf and called him. He wasn't hungry, didn't want to come to the table, finally came reluctantly when I said no dinner, no ice cream. He began to pick at he ketchup, but I explained ketchup alone didn't count--he'd have to eat some meat. One bite and he spit it out, retreated to his couch. I threw out the dinner and busied myself with various things around the house. About 7:30 I went to check and he was playing with his action figures--one look at me and he sank back down on the bed. I laughed at him, asked if he were going to be glum again just because I'd come into the room. Within a minute, we were laughing and teasing--I had my Jacob back.
I'd thrown his dinner away so I asked if he wanted pbj and he did--although it turns out I wasn't supposed to cut it in half.. Who knew? I explained cutting a sandwich in half was routine good manners. We chatted while he ate about  the little boy who had been here in his place earlier. He didn't know that boy. I asked if he liked meatloaf and he said he did but that other little boy didn't. The sparkle in his eyes was back, and we had a pleasant evening with a few lapses.
Christian said tonight--and I agree--we all have some tough nights coming, because none of us run an "eat when  you please" household and he's going to have to get over that. He's also bad about demanding rather than asking politely, and we're working on that. I don't do anything without a please and a thank you, and if I think it's appropriate I tell him to do it himself. And when he cried and yelled about the cut sandwich, I was quite firm about not tolerating that kind of behavior--which is, I guess, why he ate it. When he left, he burrowed his face in my lap and then held it up for a kiss, so I guess discipline is forgiven. But I don't know what to do about that other boy--hmmm, is there a children's story there?
Technology did me in today. I was very carefully following directions to create a fan page on Facebook--this seems a bit futile because you had to list names, and I don't have fans as such. So I listed family. Turns out I created a personal page, for which I see no need since you have your profile page. And the section on MySpace in the book I was following is beyond me--the author says it's the single most important network for a writer, but I am more baffled than by Twitter at which I'm gradually making inroads. I've had enough of all that for the day and am reading a novel.
But then I used Evite to send invitations for a party in mid-December--without knowing I was doing that, I sent them today. Christian said, "Oh, well, it's good to get it on everybody's calendar." I think my friends will decide I've gone looney, inviting them slightly over a month before the event. But then I've already had three acceptances. Next time, though, I'll save it as a draft. Christian says I'll have to send out two reminders--something else to learn.
Jordan sent me an Evite to a Christmas cookie party on a Saturday afternoon in December--the co-hostesses are her friends and contemporaries, and I knew I'd rather have my Saturday nap, so I replied "Probabky not." She laughed tonight and said, "You're keeping Jacob that day." Hmmm--I'll have to see if it's on my calendar. If not, she gets the please and thank-you leassons.
Lots of things I left undone today but the nice thing about retirement is they can wait until tomorrow. One thing I noticed this morning about my new lazy way of life is that I have little time: by the time I got up, admittedly late, read e-mails, watched about Prince William's engagement on TV, rode my bike, and showered, it was time to run my one errand and meet old friends for lunch. In fact, I was a tad late for lunch. Where did the morning go?
Tomorrow is liable to be the same.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back to work--a day of details

Who says we don't have color in the fall? This picture doesn't do justice to the red brilliance of my crepe myrtles--and the neighbors across the drive are just as bright and beautiful. I love driving in and looking at them.
Yesterday I felt edgy, as though I hadn't done anything or there was something I'd left undone, in spite of all the cooking I'd worked on. Think it was reflected in my sleep because I didn't sleep well. But early this morning as I was dozing, inspiration hit, and I knew an incident that had to go into my novel-in-progress. Of course it was this evening before I tried to fit it in and found it doesn't fit anywhere smoothly so on the first edit it may go, but it does tie up one loose end that would be left at the close of the novel. I wrote a thousand words tonight and am up to 58,000 words, so now I begin to wrap it up. But life--and holiday planning--keep getting in the way.
My other big accomplishment of the day was to send off my 1988 title, Mattie, to be scanned so I can put it on Kindle and Smashwords (for those that don't know Smashwords provides books to all digital platforms like Nook, Sony Reader, etc.). And I made contact with an artist to do a new cover. The cover that's on it is not commercially eye-catching and totally misrepresents the book--and besides, I don't have rights to it, though I do to the text. The president of Smashwords was a guest mentor on Sisters in Crime today and I got lots of information, overload really, about posting books. Now I'll have to digest it.
Also taught my memoir class at TCU today. I had decided not to do it again, because the atmosphere is so different from the evening class (I'm sure wine makes the big difference but so does being in a home and relaxed at the end of the day instead of in the middle of a work day). Several of the women, however, said they looked forward to this break in their day, so Susan, the director of training, and I will talk it over and see what we come up with. I also have some ideas about changing the evening class and am wondering if there will be enough demand to do a daytime class on my own. I don't want to let it encroach too much on my time, but I enjoy the classes and am pleased that the women seem to get so much out of them. One woman in the evening group wrote a long email about what she'd discovered through the class and sent it to all of us. Gave me a real sense of satisfaction.
So here I am, back in my workaday world and liking it. Never did figure out what I left undone yesterday or what was niggling at the back of my brain. Perhaps it will surface, and if it doesn't I'll just assume it wasn't important.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The crisis in the US and a weird weekend

A friend, an Austin attorney, sent an e-mail to about 70 people, as he put it, of all political persuasions and faiths, about what he sees as the looming crisis in the U.S. economic situation. Of course, he's not alone, but he made a cogent case because he is, in his own words, not one to be concerned about terrorists, tornadoes, and all the other threats around us--he generally feels it will work out. But the national debt has jarred him out of his complacency: the debt is now at something like $13.75 billion, with a ceiling of $14 billion. If Congress raises the ceiling, the U.S. (if I understand this correctly) doesn't have the assets to back that up and things could come to a screeching halt. Besides, the prospect of unanimity in the incoming legislature seems nil to me. Monte's question: what can we, as citizens, do about it?
I haven't read many answers but almost uniformly the few I've read said compromise and bipartisan politics are the answers,with which I agree wholeheartedly. But John Boehner has been quoted as saying he's ready for a fight, and Mitch McConnell sounds the same way, although the president has made compromise noises, even about the tax cuts for the rich. I totally disagree with that (if anybody's interested). I keep hearing the mantra, "You don't raise taxes in a time of recession." Of course, you don't raise taxs on lower income and middle class people--they'll stop buying and putting money into the economy. But those with incomes of $500,000 or more annually? They'll still buy what they want and invest as they please. I think it's a no-brainer, but I'm not an economist.
In the course of this I've corresponded with a woman who is--I won't get this right, Linnea, and I apologize--a professor of business law in a law school (I lost the email and don't know where but somewhere in California). In her answer she referred to a book titled The Fourth Turning, which proposes that there are four crises in American history: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War (fought because things had gotten beyond compromise), the Great Depression/WWII and, now, the economic crisis. Linnea suggests we are well into the fourth crisis.
What can we as citizens do? I have no idea. I don't think letter writing is effective. In fact I think nothing short of a movement like MLK started will do the trick to get the Washington heads to listen up and work for the good of the country and not the party. I am not optimistic, and the whole thing depressed me all weekend--but I made a new friend, and that's nice.
Other than that, it's been a bad 24 hours. Last night about ten I started to feel queasy but I thought it would go away. Wrong. As I started to brush my teeth I got violently ill--twice. Decided with some apprehension I'd go to bed--I was afraid of throwing up during the night. So I turned off the light on my desk--and the chain came off in my hand! This morning, I felt fine so it was something I ate--I have my suspicions that but's too much information for a blog. But I realized that I've gotten a stubborn stain on my favorite gray sweatshirt/jacket, I can't log into E-vite, I haven't lost weight on Weight Watchers even though I've been oh-so-careful, well the last few days anyway. There was more for my litany of complaints and I was ready with them when Jordan and Jacob arrived for lunch--when I asked for sympathy, she said, "I'm thinking." Well, she was stuck on what made me sick which to me was now in the past and I wanted to deal with the other problems.
In spite of all my complaints, it's been a quiet but nice weekend. I did a lot of cooking--all the baking for the holidays. Today I made Jordan's favorite--chocolate chip bars. The recipe makes a ton, but it is messy to deal with, even messier getting the bars out of the pans and into bags to freeze, let alone washing the pans. I realize that I've gone through several T-shirts this weekend and maybe permanently stained a couple--they're soaking now. I must learn to wear an apron. I made bison meatloaf (Weight Watchers shows no such item but it should be low in ponts) for supper, along with roasted Brussel sprouts and a bit of squash casserole.
Tonight, the world looks a little brighter. I've resigned myself to looking like my mom with spotted clothes. At least they're clothes I only wear around the house--there's a good reason I don't cook in good clothes! My neighbors have put twinkly lights on the new trellis, and I can see it from my desk--gets me in the holiday mood. I'll do battle with e-vite later on and will take the lamp to the hardware tomorrow. Now what were my other complaints?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A book signing and a cooking/holiday day

Eleven of the contributors signed Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook at a local Barnes & Noble today and sold a respectable number of copies, plus three copies of the original book, Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, which is hardback and much more expensive. I think, however, with the exception of one man, we got no takers from drop-in buyers. We tried to talk to several who passed by, but those encounters only end with making you look a bit foolish--at least to me. Those who bought were friends of one or more of the contributors. Still, it was a jolly get-together--those women are so much fun.
Otherwise this was a domestic day: a load of wash, run the dishwasher (I only have to do that every five or six days), and cook. I baked the gingersnaps from the dough I made yesterday--if the dough is any indication, they'll be delicious. But the recipe says roll into walnut-size balls. Mine were too big, because they spread and ran into each other, and I ended up with the weirdest shaped cookies. Then I made a small squash casserole, and cooked fresh asparagus and Dover sole for my dinner.
Tonight I'm off to wrap a few more presents. The holidays are firmly planted in my mind.
It's cold in North Texas tonight, with a threat of frost in outlying areas, though I doubt we'll get it in the city. Still my sweet potato plants are looking pretty pitiful. My neighbors put up a g-normous metal trellis between our houses (at some points, they are very close together, and they've been training ivy up the hurricane fence, so now they twisted some of the ivy on to the trellis). It's pretty, but I'm not sure how I feel about it--I'll wait to see how much ivy grows on it. I know that tiny strip on my side is ugly--a bunch of volunteer trees, but as Greg the botanist says, "They're trees, aren't they?" I figure they cool the house in summer. Beyond that, nothing will grow because no sun ever penetrates back there. I do keep that area cleaned up after the dog--it seems to be one of his favorite places.
You'll note I've ignored internet fame and fortume for the day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

brain overload, cooking, and good food

My brain is overloaded tonight with all that I'm trying to read and learn about self-promotion on the internet. Tried and tried today to register with a list called HARO--Help a Reporter--where you can list areas of knowledge that you might be interviewed about. Never could get the link to work and yet now they're sending me messages, so they must think I'm registered. And, can't get my Twitter password to work--though I have a plain record ofwhat it is. Problems now that I'll put off until tomorrow. One positive thing accomplished: I made contact with a service (one person, I'm sure) who scans books much more cheaply than Kinko's, and after exchanging e-mails and reviewing her independent contractor agreement, I'm ready to send her a copy of Mattie, my 1988 title from Doubleday that won a Spur Award. So inch by inch I'm making progress in this brave new world of publishing. I'm really leaning toward self-publishing my mystery, but the logistics of promotion still scare me. I have been a guest on several blogs lately, and I think bit by bit I'm increasing my internet platform. As one friend said, it's a lot to wrap your mind around.
I was also quite domestic today--besides the mundane chore of doing a wash, I started baking for the holidays. Made 42 mini muffins with a Weight Watchers recipe that mixes 1 box chocolate cake mix, 1 can pure pumpkin, and a half cup mini chocolate chips. If you bake it in regular muffin cups, it makes 18 and they are only 2 points each. Then I made the dough for gingersnaps--will bake them tomorrow, and Sunday's project will be chocolate chip squares.
Had lunch with Sue, my former neighbor, today at Carshon's and splurged (in terms of calories) on lox and cream cheese. A bad thing to do since some new acquaintances took me to dinner tonight at Bonnell's, an upscale, chef-driven restaurant. I love the appetizers at Bonnell's so I had the venison carpaccio, with a side of blue cheese grits. Brought most of the grits home for breakfast.
My hosts tonight were Jean and Charlie Tipps. She is vice-president for advancement at the osteopathic college, and he edited the 40-years history of the school to which I contributed and which is still not published. But, as we worked together, I found he had a background in pubishing and had been at  UT Press in Austin in the '70s. So we had a high old time telling publishing stories. Good food and wine, and very good company.
Truly a pleasant day, one in which I both enjoyed myself and feel like I made a slight dent in the tasks ahead of me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

KIndle publishing, self publishing, promotion, memoirs--my brain is in a whirl

Spent much of the day studying various hints on promoting your e-books, formatting them to publish--did some investigation and found that Kinko's will scan existing books without damaging the spine for $1.00/page. Wonder if I'd ever make that much back if I posted one, short (182) word-book on Kindle and Smashwords. Also, everytime I see a new small press mentioned, I check out the web page--so many are interested in sci-fi, horror, vampires, etc. Doesn't seem to be many that want cozy mysteries, but I have starred a couple to query. Waiting on that until after Fred re-reads the manuscript. Meanwhile my desk is still loaded with tips for promotion and that book on how to build your platform. I'm only half way through the book--think what wondrous things I might do if I ever finish it! All of this takes most of the day--well, there was the grocery this morning, lunch with a friend, class tonight, and of course my nap. Point though is that I'm not anywhere near going back to concentrate on the novel in progress. I figure when I get back to writing it, I need to give it my full attention. I started to say I'll be grateful for the holidays--but what am I going to be on holiday from?
Holidays, however, do mean more of a disruption--I planned to bake all weekend, stocking my freezer for the holidays. Forgot, however, a nice dinner invitation for Friday night, a trip to Central Market on Saturday, a stop at Origins for cosmetics, and a 1:00 p.m. book signing with the contributors to Grace & Gumption. If you're in the area of the University Village Barnes & Noble, come on by. Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook is a wonderful mix of social history and recipes--some tempting, some not so. But should you want to stew a squirrel, this book tells you how. Great gift for women in Fort Worth.
My memoir class met tonight, and as always I'm enthralled. They are so open and honest about their lives. One class member, a minister, read us a eulogy she delivered for a very young woman--I don't know how she got through it without crying, but she says she tries to think of things that make her angry. If someone died of cancer, she thinks how much she hates cancer--when she's angry, she doesn't cry. Another described a year-long experience living in London in terms of the language difficulties and had us all laughing. Still another described a couple of heartbreaking incidents from her childhood. At the end we all stand in a circle and say how we're feeling--in one word. I couldn't help it: I had a sentence. I was feeling happy for the good things we heard tonight, but sad that there is so much unhappiness in the world. One more class, and then we'll have a reunion with previous class members.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The difference in authors

Nice dinner visit with a TCU faculty member who publishes in the academic world--that world I used to be part of. It's fun to compare notes about the very different worlds we operate in. She's waiting for a report on a second review of her political science manuscript from a major, large academic publisher--expects to hear in two months, which is a fast turnaround to me. When she asked, I tried to explain Smashwords to her but not sure I even understand it enough to do a good explanation. But she's kind to ask about my mysteries and my progress.
Writers' days are, I find, often eaten up by chores--cooking, folding that laundry that's been in the dryer for two days, doing your daily workout, watering plants--and the endless e-mails. But an email forwarded  David Wisehart's blog with helpful suggestions for those who want to promote online books. Find it at http://kindle-author.blogspot.com/2010/11/top-10-tips-for-promoting-your-book.html.
The internet is agog tonight at the Amazon posting of a "how to" book for pedolphiles, although the authors claims it's about loving children and not sexual abuse. Not many, including me, believe that. It's a can of worms--where does free speech end and decency take over. And who decides? I know what I think, but I wonder about others. One author on a mystery listserv suggested that by ordering the book, a person was open to investigation, even if the records had to be subpoened. As for the idea that folks boycott Amazon because of this, he wrote that instead he'd ask for a list of those who ordered. Someone asked if the book was available to registered sex offenders--I don't see how it could not be.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Taking charge

The publishing world is, as most people know these days, being swept by changes and nobody knows how it will work out. The popularity of e-readers jumps astronimcally almost every month--still a small percentage but the growth is amazing; many small presses are turning to print-on-demand technology, which gets better daily; and the big six or eight publishers left after conglomeration are increasingly unwilling to consider new authors or to promote their authors. They want the big bucks that only a few big names can supply--George W. Bush comes to mind, because his book will sell mega-thousands, maybe a million.
Most of us don't even have our eye on stardom--we write because we write and, yes, we'd like to be published, and we'd like to make a little money. Agents, however, want to make big bucks, just like the big publishers, whose day may be fading. All of this is turning midlist authors, newbies, and some others to small presses and e-book publishing, which can make big bucks. There's been lots of the Guppies listserv and a new listserv named GuppyPressQuest (both closed lists) about taking charge of your career rather than, as one writer put it, standing outside the stadium waiting for a scalper (read agent) to sell you a ticket. Well, since I've been released by my agent--oh, I so wanted to do the releasing--I've taken this to heart and am working hard on several aspects: reviewing the rejected novel and also giving it to my mentor, Fred, to read, working on establishing my presence (or platform, as they say) on the web, and investigating how to get my backlist scanned into pdfs so I can post it on Kindle and Smashwords. Also reading We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media, which has good hints for "establishing my platform" but is sometimes heavy reading. Still I've followed through on some--i.e., read my revised profile on this page. Also, expect some content change on this blog--more focus on writing and books, particularly cozy mysteries.
Then I decided I'd better take charge of other aspects of my life, so I rejoined Weight Watchers--I've gained nine lbs. since the low I hit before I quit the program and with the holidays coming up . . . . And I've been trying to plan for Christmas a bit for some time, but now I've made a shopping list so I can bake and stock the freezer this weekend, and Christian got my wrappings out of the attic for me last night, so tonight I wrapped a whole bunch of presents. Now must track down the gifts I bought and can't find, and get the rest of the family to give me some hints. I'm feeling righteous about all I did today--laundry, plant care, rode my stationary bike 5 miles in 25 minutes, went to a Book Ladies breakfast, had lunch with Fred. Whoosh, retirement is not easy.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Good Reading

Just finished two books by members of Sisters in Crime. The first was Kaye George's collection of short stories, A Patchwork of Stories, which she self-published on Kindle and Smashwords. Cheers to Kaye for stepping up to the newest trend in publishing that is changing everything about the business. These aren't stories no one would publish--they've all been previously published in various magazines and some have won awards or come close. But as I know too well, it's hard to interest publishers in short stories, especially of the mystery or western variety.
As for Kaye's stories themselves, all I can say is she has a wickedly ironic sense of humor and a vivid imagination. The conclusion of a couple of stories of vengeful wives will leave your head spinning with surprise--and maybe just a bit of a laugh. And who expects to meet werewolves in a collection like this, but they're there. There's a burnt-out cop story, but even he has his unexpected moment of revenge, and there's a dramatic story about a P.I. and a floozy lady at a fancy dance. Order this collection in any of its available forms--Kindle, online, PDF, Nook, Sony Reader, whatever--and you'll be reading all night.
Kathleen Ernst's Old World Murder (Midnight Ink) makes wonderful use of her own background as an interpreter and Curator of Interpretations and Collections at the actual Old World Wisconsin site, so readers learn a lot about historical preservation and Norwegian culture of the 19th century. This is a true cozy, with the central figure the new Curator of Collections, a woman wounded in love. Coming to her rescue, even though she fights his efforts, is a small-town taciturn cop, a drop-out from the Milwaukee police force. Ernst is adept at red herrings, so just when you think you have sorted the good guys (and gals) from the bad ones, you find out you were so terribly wrong. And the killer? You'll never guess. This is the first venture into adult mysteries by Ernst, an established writer for children. Let's hope they'll be more.
Have you noticed that's a real pattern in cozies? The heroine distancing herself from the guy who's trying to help her, determined to do things on her own. I realize the need for conflict to keep the story going, but sometimes I want to reach in the book and shake both of them. I think it's a theme worth exploring sometime.
Two thoughts from today's memoir class: "You never know a subject until you write about it." So true, particularly of getting to know yourself through memoir writing. And a suggestion for grandmothers (and others): Google a Web site called Savvy Grandmothers. Marty Norman's newsletter today was about passing your heritage down to your grandchildren. That, too, is particularly appropriate for memoir writers.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Daylight savings time, writer's doldrums

The time switch certainly did not work to my advantage this weekend. Jacob fell asleep on his own bed at nine (old time), so I struggled him out of his shoes, jeans and underwear and was about to put on a diaper when he fell out of bed, which woke him thoroughly. He declared he was not asleep: "My eyes were open!" Not. So I got him settled in bed, watching Star Wars. I thought I'd let him stay up a bit so he didn't wake me at six; besides, he'd fall asleep again, but no, he'd just taken the edge off. He promised me however when that DVD was over, he'd go "Night, night." Wrong! When it was over and I turned of the TV, he had a meltdown, wanted Mommy, etc. We called her, he calmed down a bit, and settled in bed, I thought. Pretty soon he came into the office announcing he wanted to sit on my lap. When I finally asked if he wanted to sleep in his bed or mine (dumb, dumb question), he said mine. We settled down, except I had to get up to get Froggie and Puppy and then again to turn off the kitchen light. He fell asleep quite quickly, but then he was all arms and legs and elbows and knees, and he slept crosswise on the bed. When I tried to move him, it was like moving a boulder--dead weight. I remembered the time when I was about his age and my grandmother came to visit--she slept in my bed with me. The next morning, she, a very neurotic woman, complained that I kicked her in the belly and made her ill. It's a tiny bit of guilt that stayed with me for years until I realized it was her problem, not mine.
This morning, I was sleepy, but Jacob woke at 8:30 (9:30 the old time, thank you) bright and happy, and we had a delightful morning. We did discuss last night's meltdown and decided to revert to our old rule: the TV goes off at 9:00--he calls it nine-oh-oh.
I've still got the rejection blues, pondering what to do with my mystery--self-pubish, go the small press route? I know that I rushed into a contract with an agent, so delighted to have someone interested in my work that I didn't ask the right questions or enough of them. This time I want to be deliberate and have a plan. I won't do another agent search--the manuscript has been shopped to all the obvious publishers, so what agent would take it on? But I'm convinced that Skeleton in a Dead Space has as much merit as many of the mysteries I read. And once again I'm distracted from the work-in-progress, which now has a title: Deadly Greens, A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery. I'm reading a book right now about establishing your social network platform--maybe I'll be inspired. The coming week is busy enough too that maybe I'll snap out of my doldrums. It's not like me to linger in them.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Another lemon

Just when I was getting over yesterday's disappointment about my agent dropping me, another disappointment: U-Verse's contract with Food Network has expired, and when I clicked the channel where I usually get it I got a reality show about housewives. Not what I wanted at all. I've voiced as many complaints as I could.
Tonight the new neighbors (wonder when I'll stop using that adjective) came for supper--Meredith, Brannon, and two-year-old Abby. Jacob and Abby played together, and he was really a sweet good boy with the littler child. We had a killer cassereole of beef, noodles, and lots of stuff bad for you like sour cream, cheese, and Ritz crackers soaked in melted butter--thanks to Jenn Riley of Mystery Lovers Kitchen. After they left a bit after eight I did the dishes and went to look at Jacob who was watching a Star Wars DVD--only he was sound asleep. I slipped his jeans add pants off and was about to put a diaper on when he fell off the bed and woke up in full indignation, declared he was not asleep--his eyes were open. So I put pjs on him and dispensed with all othr night-time rituals. Tucked him in and figured he'd fall asleep again watching TV. It's apparently his night for abuse, since earlier we had watched a video of the friendship between a dog and a dolphin--and I went to get the keyboard out to thank the friend who sent it and soundly whacked Jacob in the cheek with the keyboard. Lots of tears, cries for Mommy, but then he spotted a new toy in the bookcase--I'd been thinking it might be his Christmas present, but it came in handy tonight to dry those tears.
Meredith and Brannon are fun--thirty years old, which makes them forty-two years younger than me, but I thoroughly enjoy their company. And Abby is sweet, quite mature for a two-year-old. So it was a pleasant evening.
Cold out these nights--porch weather didn't last long enough.

Friday, November 05, 2010

When life gives you lemons . . . well I haven't quite gotten to the lemonade part yet

My year-long contract with my agent ends November 20, and I had some concerns about the working relationship, so I wrote to him. Got back an e-mail today releasing me from our contract Seems he's exhausted places to send my manuscript--which means eleven publishers. I am trying hard to view this as an opportunity and not a defeat. He sent to the big publishers in NY, but I think more and more authors are turning to small publishers and e-book publishing, and I intend to explore that. Once a manuscript has been shopped, as this one has, it's virtually impossible to get another agent. Also this agent kept talking about getting my 1990s historical fiction on Kindle and Smashwords but nothing happened, so I'll undertake that myself. As many of you know, I put my short story collection on those two e-book platforms, but I well recognize it wasn't a professional job, and I'm going to do better next time. Trouble is, I don't have Word files of these older books. A new challenge, but I'm determined to meet it. I've started making some inquiries today So, it's a bump in the road but maybe as Betty said to me this morning, "When one door closes, another opens." I'm certainly not giving up, not in a week when I've had a great honor and been a guest blogger twice. I may get the big head. But the agent rejection should keep it in check.
Other than that, I had a pleasasnt day--Betty and I went to the church bazaar, which recalls a lot of good childhood memories. I did some Christmas shopping. Then we went to the Barnes & Noble that now is staying, and I did more Christmas shopping--plus renewed my membership, since the local store isn't going to close. And finally we ate at a favorite place--the Swiss Pastry Shop. Yumm. . . bratwurst, really mustardy potato salad, and hot kraut. So good. I denied myself the Black Forest Cake, much as I wanted it. Yesterday at the doctor's office, I did not acquit myself well on the scales.
Life is always interesting--Jordan just called wanting to know how to spell "La Cucaracha!"  Don't ask me why, but I did manage to throw in that it means "The Cockroach."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A bunch of little stuff, mostly good

The really good news, confirmed in the paper this morning, is that our local Barnes & Noble, opened in 1995, is not going to close after all. B&N and the property managers finally reached an agreement on a new lease. I took part in an e-mail campaign to representatives of both sides, and I think it worked--the article in the paper this morning quoted the VP from B&N, David Deason, saying he appreciated hearing from all the customers who suppported the store. When I wrote Mr. Deason, I got a prompt and courteous reply abou t how much they wanted to keep the store open, explaining they were in new negotiations. Today, I thought it a good idea to write and thank him, and I got another nice reply. I'll never meet him, but I like this David Deason.
The people, as it were, have spoken, and it worked. Reminds me of a joke (this is for Democrats only) on Facebook yesterday. Someone wrote (and it's a quote but I don't remember from whom): The people have spoken, the bastards!
My cat and I are at a Mexican standoff, though I think he's winning. He wants to eat constantly since I started putting seafood in with his diet food. He sits, definitely in my face, on my desk and stares at me. Yesterday when I pushed him into a lying position, he bit me--not hard, but he broke the skin in one tiny place. I'm afraid, in quick thoughtless retaliation, I slapped him. We skirted each other the rest of the day. I know he's 18, and if he wants to eat, I should feed him--but he leaves unfinished food and won't eat again until I "freshen" it with new. It's a constant thing, and I do have a life to lead.
Betty and I went for sushi last night, something we haven't had in a long time, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was determinbed to have something new, tempted by the bacon-wrapped scallops, but finally resorted to Seattle Sunset (California roll topped with cream cheese and salmon) and the house salad. It has a slightly sweet dressing, and if you offered me a salad with a sweet dressing (even honey-mustard) I'd politely decline. But I like this.Of course, we laughed a lot and had a good time.
BSP (Sisters-in-Crime shorthand for blatant self-promotion): check out an interview with me on Kindle publishing at http://kindle-author.blogspot.com/2010/11/kindle-author-interview-judy-alter-html. And watch for an interview on memoir writing tomorrow on Jungle Red Writers at http://www.jungleredwriters.com/. I'm really on a campaign to improve my internet presence. So far sales of Sue Ellen Learns to Dance on Kindle have not shown the amazing results I keep reading about--not sure what I'm going wrong, but I'm working to remedy it. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Sue+Ellen+Learns+to+Dance Comments from those who've ordered it have been good--one I treasure was on the Guppies list when Susan Schreyer wrote, "You kick ass, lady." Who could ask for more?
Memoir class tonight. Linda came for dinner, as usual, and I fixed egg salad sandwiches (made with tarragon and capers and smoked salmon)--served  them on onion rolls. Really good if I do say so. She brought pimiento cheese that Rodger had made but he put black olives in it, and I shunned it. Linda Simmons brought guacamole that was delicious. I ate too much, and she left me some. As usual we had a great session--these women are so perceptive about their lives and so willing to share. I think the best part about the whole thing though is the sense of togetherness that's developed. They've really become a group comfortable and familiar with each other. (Notice, I'm avoiding such hackneyed terms as bonding.)
Going to sleep a happy camper tonight.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


In North Texas, our average first frost is around November 15, but already the nights are getting cool. It could creep up on us anytime, so last night I harvested my basil and made my annual batch of pesto. It's easy but takes longer than you think. I cobbled together a recipe from several sources and came up with this:
2 c. basil, packed
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. Parmesan, grated
1/3 c. chopped pecans (pine nuts are traditional, but this is Texas, and we have lots of pecans)
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
lime juice to taste - I think I used two small limes
Put it all in the food processor and blend until it's smooth. Spoon into plastic ice cube trays. A couple of years ago I had the happy idea that I could just twist the trays and the pesto cubes would pop out, so I could put them in a baggie in the freezer. Doesn't work that way. You have to pry each one out carefully, using a table knife.
Once in the freezer, they're handy for all kinds of things. My family likes it when I split a large block of cream cheese lengthwise, spread  half with pesto (defrosted) and plop the other half back on. It's also a great treat spread over goat cheese, or drop a melted cube in the middle of a bowl of hummus. Throw it in soups, stews, etc.
For years I have fixed what my family calls green noodles. This idea came from a former sister-in-law, who was expecting my brother for supper and had no money for groceries, so she used what she had: pasta, butter and lemon. Over the years I've embellished it, but I'm hard put to give quantities.
One package of spinach fettucine, cooked
One stick butter (Megan used to claim that was way too much but she's fat conscious; don't use maragarine)
1 can chopped artichoke hearts
Lots of lemon juice
Sliced mushrooms (they soak up the lemon in a delicioius way)
Sliced scallions
Parmesan cheese
And in recent years I've thrown in a cube of pesto.
Makes one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A gallery ofo photos and a rainy election day

Here are photos from the award ceremony Friday night. First, a very proud mom with three of her four children. Colin is holding the plaque though it's hard to see. We missed Megan, and she missed being there.
Me at the podium, with a strained and pained look because I'm speaking in public and I don't much like to do that. Joyce Roach said it was one of my best short talks ever--she failed to mention how I looked.

With my good friend, Jeannie, who is often my guardian angel. I have no idea what we were doing in the top photo--comparing our squash blossoms?
With longtime friend Joyce Roach, on the left--she's a fellow author, and we used to travel to meetings together all the time and had some great experiences. On the right is Melinda Esco, production manager at TCU Press and a good friend, who is terrific at her job.
Jamie, left, and Colin--two of the four lights of my life. Pictures are all thanks to Jordan Alter Burton.
A rainy day that started off with breakfast with an old friend and then two hours of telephone campaigning for Bill White--the mood in the local campaign office was upbeat and optimistic, and I was encouraged by all the people I talked to who were emphatic about voting for White. Then I found out it's a hand-picked list.  Still I think he has a better chance than the polls give him. I laughed at one answering machine message I got: "This is the queen. I'm not receiving subjects this morning, so leave a message." I wish I'd thought to begin the message with, "Your highness," but I wasn't that quick. I'll be glued to the TV tonight. Meantime, it's a wet, dreary afternoon--perfect for a book and a nap.
Later: well, it's over. The world looks glum to me: the Rangers lost, Bill White lost, the Republicans will take the House, and it continues to rain. White was gracious in his speech acknowledging Perry's victory, but I am baffled that so many vote with their eyes shut. I hope White's legacy of honesty, openness, and accountability will carry on in Texas and that he won't give up the fight. I want to urge him to stay on Perry's back. I think of the people I worked with every week at the local headquarters and want to weep--they were optimistic and upbeat this morning, and I grieve for what they must be feeling. From what I read we won't have Perry to worry about long--he's abandoning governorship to promote his book and then his eye is on the vice-presidency for 2012. I'm sorry. I can't be gracious in defeat--that gives me great worry for the country. I've had enough of election reports for the night.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Somehow, Mondays are catch-up days. This morning I discovered I was almost out of coffee, so I rushed to shower, get dressed, and go buy coffee plus pick up a book at Barnes & Noble that I had ordered. Came home to unload the dishwsher, fold the towels for the apt., and do chores like that. Of course, tonight, when I looked in that cabinet that I had thoroughly scoured this morning, I found a new container of coffee. Always the way.
Taught my memoir class at TCU at noon. It's a hard one. The ladies are really nice and sharing, but they are in the midst of their workday--on Monday, of all days, as one of them said. This is just an hour out of work, and their heads may have a hard time adjusting. We did share some great stories today--one woman wrote a prose poem about the women in her life and demonstated the legacy of strong women she's come from. Her own life made her sound really strong, and I much admired  her writing. She early on tried to drop out of the class because she didn't think her writing would hold up. I encouraged her, and now she's come up with one of the best pieces of the whole session. Today, the women shared stories happily and laughed a lot, though many agreed that most of what they recall about their lives is sad. I asked them to each write six sentences--or bullets--that sum up their life, trying to get them to put the odd bits and pieces  they've been writing into the perspective of a memoir. I think they see this as a writing class in which they should write an entertaining piece, without thought of how it fits into the overall picture of their lives. I stressed again that writing a memoir is about figuring out how you got where you are today, how you became the person you are.
It's amazing how busy I can keep with nothing the rest of the day--e-mails, answering questions for an online interview that I don't know when will appear, figuring out my Christmas list, cleaning off a huge pile on the corner of my desk--sorting pieces of paper and putting them where they belong, many in the trash. It's a good feeling.
Tomorrow is election day. I'll go to the White campaign office and make last-minute phone calls. I remain a bit optimistic in the face of negative polls. White had a good explanation that those are target polls, and in recent weeks I've surely talked to a lot more people who planned to vote for White than Perry.. I think the media gets hold of the polls and makes Perry's re-election a self-fulfilling prophecy. Can you imagine a United States with Rick Perry as president? God help us all. Please vote for Bill White tomorrow--it's important for Texas and for your future and mine.
The promised pictures of the weekend have not appeared. Maybe tomorrow.