Thursday, May 30, 2013

The dilemma of Facebook

Every one pretty much agrees that Facebook is a time-suck. Once I get on it, I keep thinking “Oh, just a couple more posts.” Somehow I have this feeling I’m missing something world-shattering if I don’t see every post. Facebook itself saves me—at least on my computer. After so long it will freeze and send a message at the bottom of the screen, “Facebook stopped due to long-running script.” All I can do then is gracefully exit, so I know I do miss some posts.

Give it up entirely? Nope. Never. It’s fun to keep up with friends by commenting and hearing from them. Funny, but posts I think will elicit lot of comments, don’t; then I post something trivial and am flooded with responses. No telling. But I have made friends through Facebook and keep in closer touch with some old friends than I did before. Also it gives me a chance to reach out to acquaintances that I only see from time to time.

Sometimes Facebook is the first place I hear news of importance. The example that comes to mind today is Michele Bachmann’s decision to retire from Congress. But there have been other instances, from national news of significance to local storm warnings and notice of fires, bad wrecks, etc.

Another thing keeps me on Facebook: lost dogs, found strays, and particularly shelter dogs on the euthanasia list. It breaks my heart, and when I first saw them several years ago, I begged my friend to stop posting them. She said she couldn’t because each one broke her heart, and that was her way of helping. I’ve so come around to her way of thinking, and I post pictures of so many dogs I want to rush out and bring home. If I can save one, two or five, I’ve done better than none.

Finally, there’s my work as an author. These days authors are told Facebook is an essential part of their marketing program. But you have to walk a fine line—promote your books but post about other things too. If all you say boils down to “Buy my book” people will tune out quickly. I have a friend who is a political activist and posts a lot on Facebook about the causes she believes in. But she also posts about her grandsons, her yard, her cats and occasionally things she just finds funny. Her rationale: she wants people to know she’s a pretty nice, well-rounded person in addition to advocating the things she cares about—which sometimes includes my passion for helping desperate dogs and cats. I try to follow her example.

Give up Facebook? I don’t think so. Watch how much time I spend on it? For sure. If I spent all day I’d never get anything written. It’s a dilemma.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Are you involved in the world?

I have a good friend who is involved in all kinds of statewide civic causes that reflect the wide variety of her interests—The Texas State Historical Society, the Texas Institute of Letters, the Texas Folklore Society, alumni organizations and boards, state committees on the humanities and other such. She’s been president of a lot of those things, and every week finds her flitting to Austin or some such. Now she says she’s accepted a spot on the board of the Dallas Public Library. And whatever she does, she does it full throttle. And then tells me her schedule is going to do her in. I chide her for spreading herself too thin, but the truth is I’m proud to know her and a bit envious of the contributions she makes to the state, particularly to the humanities.

One of the things I thought I would do when I retired was volunteer. Over the years, feeling the need to make some sort of contribution, I’ve tried various things: a stint at the Museum of Science and History, giving kids talks on beach trash and its dangers, a session with an on-line volunteer program that had me coaching young writing students via the internet—it turned out to be so poorly administered that I gave up. My vision of volunteer work is working more at my church (there was a period when I did a lot of that), making sandwiches at the local night shelter, being a museum docent, the hands-on kind of stuff.

But it has dawned on me that I do a lot of volunteer work, for causes I care about, right here at my computer. I am a volunteer monitor one day a week for the Sister in Crime listserv; I am a member of the steering committee and membership chair for Guppies, the Going to be Published sub-group of Sisters in Crime (publication does not mean automatic expulsion from the group). I edit my neighborhood monthly newsletter, which often runs into a 20-page publication, and each week I welcome first-time visitors to University Christian Church—by phone if I can catch them and by email if not. I actively promote rescue dogs and sites on Facebook because animal welfare is a subject I am passionate about.

And I’ve done my bit in the past, as president and longtime board member of Western Writers of America, chair of Church and the Arts Committee at my church, secretary of the Texas Institute of Letters.

So maybe it’s dawning on me that I’m not the sloth that I thought I was. I do contribute to my own special world and more important the things that I do keep me involved. That, besides having meaningful work, is what I hope will keep me young in spirit as my body ages. I truly believe being involved in the world is essential to the happy life.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My friend, Golda Blum

On the Sisters in Crime listserv this morning I read the words of one crime writer who said she loves blogs about techniques of money laundering and the like, but stories of people's grandchildren bore her. Brought me up short for a moment, but I figure readers of my blog are either my friends or readers of my books, which are cozies not crime studies, and  you'll forgive me more than an occasional grandchild or dog story. Here's one I just can't resist sharing:
Jacob asked me last night, "Where's my Golda Blum?"
No idea what he was talking about. I know about Golda Meier and author Judy Blume so I thought maybe he had a book by Golda Blum, an author I'd not heard of.
"I left it on the table, and you moved it." (It's always my fault.)
When I said I had no idea what he was talking about and I hadn't moved anything except the empty pudding cups he and his friend left behind, he said, "You know, the coin the Tooth Fairly left me."
Aha! A gold doubloon. Never one to pass up an educational chance, I pulled up doubloon on the computer. Then nothing would do but we scroll through all the pictures, though I assured him he wouldn't find his. Doubloons are from the 16th and 17th centuries, priceless today, and the Tooth Fairy would not have left it. Of course, we did find one that looked just like his, and he was triumphant.
Then we examined the printing on the back (I didn't point out that real doubloons are double sided and do not having printing stamped on the back).. You guessed it, I'm sure. "Disney. Made in China." Instead of the great disappointment I thought he'd feel, he was ecstatic and kept saying "China! It was made in China!" as though that tripled its value.
I spent much of the rest of the evening trying to teach him to say gold doubloon.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Big dogs, small dogs

I've been a big-dog person all my life--collies, a lab, Australian shepherds, even two bearded Collies and an Irish wolfhound. I loved them all desperately. But when I started to buy a Labradoodle, my protective older brother, a physician, informed me bluntly that I am too old and too unsteady on my feet for another big dog--especially one that could be 100 lbs. So I got a Bordoodle, a mix of Border Collie and poodle. Sophie is 26 lbs.
One caution I had going into small dog ownership was the difference in temperament. I am used to the laid-back, calm disposition of big dogs (well, maybe Aussies not so much). Small dogs, to my mind, tended to be yippy, undisciplined, stubborn, self-centered, almost like cats. Sophie is and isn't--she was a rowdy puppy, no question about it, but at two she is perfectly housebroken, sweet and loving and full of kisses. She rarely barks unless a squirrel or possum antagonizes her, and she lets out a high-pitched bark of warning when someone comes near the house. But she doesn't bark to hear herself. She is perfectly crate-trained and will go to her crate of her own accord. Most evenings you can find her under my desk sleeping contentedly, knowing I'm near. She is crazy about my daughter Jordan, my grandson Jacob, and my friend Elizabeth who lives in my garage apartment.
But Sophie is still excitable, though she's calmed down a lot. Still, she thinks strangers and guests in the house came specifically to have her jump on them so they can love her, and I have never leash-trained her because, even at 26 lbs., she could pull me down in her excitement at being in the outside world. She's stubborn when she thinks I should turn from the computer to play with her, and she only comes in when I call her at night if she decides she wants to.
What puzzles me most is that Jacob has friends who have big dogs but range from terrified to leery. Today she was as afraid of our seven-year-old visitor as he was of her, and I kept her in the office with me.
Jacob on the other hand is now perfectly comfortable with dogs of all sizes, and I'm so glad I had a hand in making him a dog person.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The hardest book I ever wrote

The hardest book I’ve ever written. Sigh. It’s always the one I’m working on. I struggled so with the last Kelly O’Connell book (Danger Comes Home, due in e-book in June or July) that I considered maybe it was the last I’d write. Of course it wasn’t. Writing is what I do, and I’m an addict. I can’t give it up. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

But now I think the book I’m working on is the hardest I’ve ever done, and perhaps it is. It’s a mystery I wrote ten years ago and decided to revisit this spring. I have a friend who did that successfully and has gotten raves on the book originally written thirteen years ago. So why not me?

The novel is called The Perfect Coed and involves, as you might suspect, the murder of a young coed at a fictional state-system university in Texas. No spoilers here but it was sparked by a fleeting rumor I heard years ago about a group of doctors’ wives. I just translated it to college girls.

My mentor, beta reader, whatever has read it and made serious suggestions, though he agreed the basic premise was believable. This is one of the few times, except short stories, that I’ve attempted a third person narrative, and Fred suggested I have too many points of view, so that the reader has a hard time figuring out whose mind he or she is in at any given point. I am editing now to try and change that but in some sections it’s hard work to weave in the necessary information while staying within a few limited points of view.

My beta reader also suggested that with my academic background I should exploit the campus setting of this novel and some of the oh-so-familiar academic types found on its pages. A bit harder to do, but that’s for the next time around. I can see spending a lot of time on this editing project…and I have another Kelly O’Connell novel to write. Plus two books to read in galley sometime (Danger Comes Home and Murder at Tremont House, the second Blue Plate Mystery) and two books by other authors to edit.

Oh me. Why don’t I nail myself to that computer chair?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HIgh tea, of sorts

Instead of writing the Great American novel, this morning you would have found me in the kitchen making finger sandwiches. Now I’ve been to high tea—notably at The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas--and I know how fingers sandwiches should look. My cucumber, chive, cream cheese ones did not look that neat—they kept falling apart. When my children were little I used to make two or three kinds of sandwiches and cut them into finger sandwiches, so each child could have several choices. Colin had a fondness for cream cheese and mayonnaise until a friend said, “Colin, it doesn’t have any flavor.”
Some of the sandwiches I made this morning were for little boys—peanut butter and honey. But I was really trying to make nice, ladylike ones. Jordan informed me a couple of weeks ago she had invited my back-fence neighbor and her two boys for tea in the garden and promptly began digging out some of my mom’s fancy dishes I never use. I try to go along with most of Jordan’s schemes, so I went shopping yesterday for just the right bread (Pepperidge Farm thin sliced), whipped cream cheese spread, pimento cheese, trail mix and amaretto-coated pecans. I mean, if we’re going uptown, we’re going to do it right.

Jordan laid out trays, dishes, etc. and had everything ready last night. After school, Jacob did a check of the back yard for dog poop. “Did she poop?” he asked. Since he hadn’t checked in three days, I told him I was pretty sure she had. Then we rushed through his homework.

Tea turned out not to be quite as elegant as I’d hoped. Jordan and Elizabeth said it was awfully hot outside for hot tea, so we sat in the playroom, with three boys yelling and screaming around us, riding a trike for which the are far too old and which desperately needs WD-40 to quiet it. We had one bloody nose that entailed a lot of wailing and screaming and apparently quite a bit of blood. But it was fun. Over the noise we managed to visit and talk about first grade and homework and the end of school and other things. I’ll rethink the event for another time.

Jordan helped me clean up, and we sat in the yard for a glass of wine. Maybe high tea isn’t our cup of tea. Guess what I had for supper? Yes, finger sandwiches. They were pretty darn good.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dogs and children

Sophie at two, with Jacob
We celebrated Sophie's second birthday over the weekend. Even had a dinner party at which she was showered with gifts--a huge rawhide bone, a soft toy with no stuffing for her to pull out, bright tennis balls, and other things--but, alas, there was no place for her at the table and she was excluded from the happy hour because we grilled on the front porch and nobody wanted to hold her on a leash. Still after all the excitement of extra people around all weekend (particularly two six-year-olds) and her birthday party, she was pooped last night, so tired she didn't eat for two days though I'm pleased to report she has eaten her dinner tonight
Two is the point at which people told me she would be mature and calm down. I saw one of those charts that puts dogs into equivalent human ages (the old theory we were all taught about seven years for one has gone by the wayside). Sophie should be the equivalent of twenty-four. I've tried to explain that to her, but, sigh, not all twenty-four-year-olds are mature, and I fear she'll be a late bloomer. She has calmed down a lot but visitors, kids, etc. still excite her. And she has a definite mind of her own. As the groomer said to me the other day, "She's feisty" (She only tried to bite him twice; otherwise she gave him kisses.)
Jacob is here tonight, and since it's a school night I've been much stricter about bedtime. He doesn't like it and can find a dozen things that keep him awake, though he's pretty much decided we won't have a tornado. But the washing machine, motorcycles (?), and cars kept him awake in his room, so he migrated to my bed. Next Sophie stayed by him and then left and he wanted her to stay all the time--not sure how to explain that to my newly mature (?) dog.
You'll pardon me I hope if my string is a little short tonight. Sophie and Jacob are both bright spots in my life but they can also try my patience something fearful.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A day in the life of ....

Wow! Today was a hectic, confusing, happy, noisy day with lots of fun and a problem. I spent the morning doing all those good things--watering plants, yoga, etc.--but since Colin, my oldest, didn't expect to arrive from Houston until noon I made German potato salad for tomorrow night and stuck it in the fridge. Just before noon, I pulled into Jordan's driveway--right behind Colin.
After a while Jamie arrived with Edie and we had a lovely time laughing and visiting, eating dips and tacos, and being the family that we are. But my nap was calling me, and I started to leave--until Jordan discovered a bubble on my passenger side front tire. She called Colin who said I could not even drive it home. So he, wonderful son that he is, took the spare to be aired up and then changed it, with help from his brother who arrived at just the right--or from his perspective, the wrong--time. I have great sons. Said my goodbyes once again and came home, caught up on a few details and crashed--slept soundly.
Tonight was Arts Goggle in Fairmount, and since I anticipated parking problems, Colin drove me. I was to sign books at State Representative Lon Burnam's office. With all the art displays and restaurants and attractions, I wondered how many people would go to a political office. Lon's wife, my good friend Carol, had put together an exhibit of historic photographs and had several books, not just mine, with authors present for signing. Oh, and food and wine. A steady stream of people filed through the office, and I sold enough books to make the evening worthwhile. In fact, Colin had to bring me more books. A successful evening.
I missed going to the trunk show at Urban Yoga where Elizabeth's friend from India, Uschi, had a display of the colorful tops she makes (I was wearing one tonight)--a big disappointment, but Elizabeth promised to bring some home for me to have my own private showing.
Now, everyone's gone except Colin and his six-year-old, Kegan, who are spending the night. Jacob is here tonight too to be with his cousin, and the three of them are watching a vampire movie. Such a joy to have at least one child and two grandchildren under my roof. Make me a happy camper. After this day, I'm tired but happy and counting my blessings.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Families are funny things

Jacob, between his mom, left, and his Aunt Dylan

I know families where siblings don't get along, where sometimes one person or another is totally estranged from the family. It breaks my heart, even in Ann Landers column, to read about children who are estranged from their parents--to me, that is a tie that binds. I am so blessed that my four children love me, care for me, and love each other. They jump at every opportunity to be together, and their children, my grandchildren, are growing up to think all families are loud, rowdy and lots of fun. They love it. And nobody ever leaves me out of the fun.
But I am blessed in another way. Divorce often muddies the water and complicates things, as it did in my life. When my ex left, he remarried and fathered a daughter, Dylan, who somebody told me is now twenty-nine. I can't believe that. But since she was a teen, Dylan and I have had a good relationship--she liked the fact that I am a writer; I like the fact that she has from an early age been interested in liberal causes and talked intelligently about them. A lawyer, she always works for non-profits (where she is probably almost non-profit) and does pro bono work. She cooks, and she grows vegetables on the family acreage. She loves to hear stories of her siblings.
Dylan arrived this evening, with her Aunt Karan, whom I've known forever--married to Dylan's mother's brother. I wish I could remember the convoluted way Karan once described our relationship because it was hysterical--something about her second husband being the brother of my ex's second wife, only more complicated. Today Karan hurried back to her home in the suburbs, and Dylan, Jordan, and I had a drink in the back yard with Jacob and Sophie running around. A good, happy time, talking about all kinds of things from dogs (Dylan is as much a softie as I am and helped medicate Sophie's scratched cornea) to cooking to stories about her dad. I think it's healthy that we can both talk about him without acrimony, and that we hug and tell each other, "It's good to see you."
I remember Dylan as a child. One night my children and I were all in Dallas--the kids to have dinner with their dad and me for a book event. When they picked me up, the kids asked if Dylan could come home with us for the night. I said of course, and in the car that child, who was maybe six, said, "I've been waiting all my life to do this!"
I'm not sure how to describe my relationship to her, except that she's my children's half-sister, but I know that our friendship is yet another blessing of my life. And Jacob adores his Aunt Dylan, was so excited about her visit. She has promised to sleep in his bed tonight--I tried to warn her but she just laughed.
Thanks, Dylan, for being who you are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stormy weather

As we say in Texas, it's "fixin' to come a gullywasher." We are under a severe storm alert until some time later tonight, and I have the TV on, muted, to watch for weather updates. Betty and I just had wine and crab cakes on a restaurant patio, and there was that wonderful sense of anticipation, with people glancing frequently at the rapidly darkening sky.
Several years ago, when there was a tornado in Fort Worth, she and I sat in a restaurant and watched the sky turn green. Then the heavy rain began, and we shrugged and ordered another glass of wine. The tornado that tore up downtown passed within a mile of where we were. Later, her husband looked at the two of us in amazement and said, "I can't believe you just sat there and ordered another drink." Even with all the windows, we were safer than if we'd ventured out, but I did think maybe the restaurant should have alerted customers. What if we had to dive under the tables?
I love watching a good storm, though Texas has taught me to be a bit cautious. Once when my children were little, there was a storm warning and the sky turned green. My ex- and I were running errands, and I called home and asked the nanny if she knew what to do with the children--we lived in a house with a basement, a Texas rarity, at the time. She said, "Oh, yes ma'am. What?"
When I was growing up, we spent two weeks every summer at a cabin perched high on a dune at the very foot of Lake Michigan. I loved to watch storms roll down the lake, gathering force as they came, churning up the water into high whitecaps. On the back side of the cabin was forest and all was always serene there even when it was wild on the lake side.
Jacob is terrified of storms. If he hears thunder, he rushes to look and see if the sky is green. On stormy nights, he says, "I think I better sleep with you tonight." I would love to share my delight in storms with him but I'm not sure how to do it.
I pray, of course, that we have no tornado, no damaging winds but a good heavy soaking rain. Texas, once again--or still--in the throes of a drought, needs it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Getting lost in books

Benghazi, IRS scandals, kidnapped women--when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, it's time to retreat into a good book...or three or four. I've spent the last week reading two books and sort of taking a vacation from the world and from my own work. Both of these are as yet unpublished, so I won't mention titles or authors but when the time comes I'll blog and post about them.
The first was a cozy, and I really really hated to finish it. I didn't want to emerge from that world and leave those characters, most of whom I already knew from previous titles in the series. I think one of the most important things an author can do is to create people you care about and a world you believe in. This was a horsey world of dressage, about which I have only a smidgeon of knowledge, but I liked it anyway. It was a cozy mystery--yes, people were killed and there was violence, but most of it was off-screen until the requisite final climatic scene where the protagonist is in grave danger.
For the last two days I've done little but read a thriller, intensely dark, utterly scary but riveting because as a reader I was desperate to know all the while how the victim was going to get away from the sadistic socioipath. Unlike the cozy, this was a world foreign to me--I don't live with violence, and I'm a bit in awe of authors who can create such dark evil. But still I cared about the good guys; I wanted them to survive. I think with such books you know it's going to be all right in the end but getting to that end is scary and has you on the edge of your seat. Instead of being loath to leave that world, I was anxious to read to the end, to the terrible climactic scene I knew was inevitable. It was everything I expected and more but I emerged from reading this one in a daze, struggling to come back to the reality of my own, much calmer, much more peaceful world.
I don't know whether or not having a vivid imagination helps you to be lost in a fictional world, but I am also a person who has vivid, Technicolor dreams (with sound), often bizarre, occasionally frightening but more often happy. But sometimes in the morning I'm reluctant to leave the dream world I've just been in and for a few minutes the routine of getting the dog out and getting myself ready for the day seems gray.
And then I turn on the morning news shows and there it all is--Benghazi, IRS scandals, kidnapped women. Who was it that wrote, "The world is too much with us, coming and going"?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day thoughts

I've read lots of posts today about mothers, some so wonderful as to be angels and others pretty dysfunctional. It made me probe my thoughts about my mom, but that's for another post, another time, because the day got me to thinking about myself as a mom. I hope I was somewhere between those extremes--not an angel but not terribly dysfunctional.
I never thought much about having children. I just assumed they'd come along after I married. They didn't, and while it didn't bother me much, my then-husband was desperate to be a father. We began adoption proceedings after five years or marriage and too many fertility tests, and within a few short years I found myself the mother of four adopted children, two of mixed race. I loved it, reveled in it, adored those children, even though at one point I had three under three and all in diapers. There is nothing better than the child hanging on to your shoulder who is quite certain you are the center of his or her universe.
Flash forward a few years, and I suddenly was the single parent of four, ages six to twelve. Yes, I had envisioned life without that man but I was scared. I didn't know I could raise four children alone. I somehow did it, because today they are each happy, contributing citizens, successful in their chosen fields, loving husbands and wives and mothers and fathers. And so close to each other emotionally and to me. I am so proud I could bust my buttons. Other people heap praise on me for raising four wonderful children, but I shrug and say "It was dumb luck." And I think it was.
I was busy, working and trying to start a writing career. I thought they would put on my tombstone, "I remember her--she always said, 'Run ng now, I'm busy." They each began to work at sixteen--if they wanted cars they had to pay their own insurance. Then they griped, once doctor's children and expecting the world on a platter; today they are grateful for the experience.
I do know a few things I did right. Meals were always on time, well balanced, and home-made; chores were assigned; rooms were to be kept reasonably tidy (this was only successful with two of the four). But I think the biggest thing is that they knew I loved them and that I was there for them. I remember the spring night that my oldest didn't come home until daybreak--he found me, wearing a big t-shirt and undies, sitting in a chair by the door. His explanation that he'd been swimming in a quarry  brought a torrent of anger, but he knew it was fueled by love and concern. We struggled through the years when teen-age girls hate their mothers and survived, love intact. I heard stories later of things I wish they'd never told me--parties they gave when I traveled on business, etc. Then we were on to proms and too soon weddings, several of which turned into four- and five-day parties.
And then, belatedly, there were seven grandchildren, all close together in age.
Perhaps my proudest moment, the one that epitomizes the love and closeness of my family, was the party they threw for eighty of my nearest and dearest to mark my 70th birthday. Afterwards, many people commented on their strong affection for each other and for me.
I know I am blessed, but motherhood? I don't have a clue about it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book covers--my horror story and some good news

There's been a lot of discussion recently on Sisters in Crime about how much input an author has on cover design--or, more precisely, how much he or she doesn't have. I have loved all my covers from Turquoise Morning Press--three in the Kelly O'Connell series and the first Blue Plate Café Mystery.
But I do have horror stories. The worst was the cover on my 1994 novel based on the life of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of George Armstrong Custer of Little Big Horn infamy. Libbie was a good-looking woman for her day (1850s-1860s) but never as sultry as the woman pictured above who, as one friend told me, looks like Madonna in nineteenth-century dress. She stands knee-deep in a lush field of prairie grass--Kansas, perhaps--next to a barbed wire fence. If you're a history student you spot the problem right away. Barbed wire was first demonstrated at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio in 1876; Custer died at Little Big Horn in 1876. No way was Kansas fenced before Libbie left the West and went east to build her husband's reputation as a martyr hero.
Besides, this is the ubiquitous West. If you have Kansas in the foreground, you have Arizona in the background--bare red earth. Trouble is though, there's a stockade fence. Forts in the West notably did not have any kind of barrier around them--Libbie wrote in one of her books how alarmed she was to realize the fort they were sent to was merely a collection of buildings with no perimeter fortification. If there had been a barricade it certainly wouldn't have been the sturdy log fortress pictured. There weren't enough tall, thick tree in the entire West to do that.
Libbie was my first book to be published by Bantam and only my second from a New York major house. I felt like a newcomer and, yes, I was cowed, so I said nothing. By the time I decided to say something, it was too late--publicity was done and production had been started. I guess it wasn't serious because the book sold well. (Can't resist a plug--it's now available, with a more suitable cover, in the Real Women of the American West series as an e-book only).
Two books later, I complained again to Bantam and got results. The first cover picture they sent for Cherokee Rose (based on the life of the first Wild West Show trick-roping cowgirl, Lucille Mulhall) showed a sultry cowgirl (again more sultry than Lucille ever thought about being) with a horse's head over her shoulder. The trouble was the horse had no body--it was, as it were, disembodied--only a head. I mentioned this problem and the horse disappeared.
My current publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, made it clear, by contract, from the beginning: the publisher has final say over the cover, though the author may have some input. It's worked well so far. The first cover she sent for Skeleton in a Dead Space had a full, stark white skeleton against a black background with bright touches of red--wait, this is a cozy and that didn't fit the mood of the book at all.
I wrote and said so and the publisher agreed. She herself came up with the cover that I still think is terrific.
But it's true--it's the lucky author that gets any meaningful input, and I feel lucky. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why do we write?

A little BSP (blatant self promotion)--I got two nice reviews today. One, for Murder at the Blue Plate Café, called it fast-paced and said it makes you think about your view of life and what is truly important. The other, for the older Skeleton in A Dead Space, called it very engrossing and fast moving with characters you can identify with and advised adding it to your must-read list.  Needless to say, both reviews have me floating on a cloud of happiness. Heady stuff, since I still consider myself a fledgling at mysteries. But the reviews got me to thinking about something that's been niggling around in the back of my mind.
The other day I saw on a post that an author wrote that any one who thinks writing is not a business is fooling themselves. While I fully recognize that it is a business, I'm not sure money is why I write. I'm not good at following sales number on Amazon or Smashwords, so checks from those sources always come as pleasant surprises. Checks from my publisher are often a bit of a letdown because I hope for my sales of my current and brand-new works though she assures me I'm doing really well. I don't check reviews on Amazon or Goodreads often (never have figured Goodreads out completely). I'm no good at worrying about Amazon's algorithms or whether or not it's worthwhile to post for Nook or which is better--traditional bookmarks or business cards. Marketing just isn't my thing. I do blog, post on Facebook and Twitters, try to do lots of guest blogs, order bookmarks, hold a launch when I have print books, and that's all fun for me. If any of it were a chore, I wouldn't do it.
But I'm fortunate that I don't have to write for sustenance. I'm retired, have a retirement income and have other assets. My earnings from writing allow me life's luxuries, like my recent trip to Hawaii and the deck I'm thinking of putting on the back of my house. Once, at a gathering of five women, one of them said to me, "Pretty soon you'll be so successful you can retire a second time." I told them that I'd recently gotten a royalty check and if they weren't too fussy about where they went, I might be able to take them to lunch. No wine with lunch, though.
I write because I cannot imagine not writing. I write because telling stories gives me great pleasure, even when I have to struggle to figure out what's next and where the story is going. I'm a longtime believer in listening to your characters and they'll tell you where your story is going. I write because working things out in words gives me as much pleasure as a mathematician gets from working out a complicated formula. My life would be empty without writing.
When I retired, I joined Sisters in Crime and the sub-group, Guppies (Going to Be Published or Great Unpublished, whichever way you want to think about it). Those groups have opened a whole new world for me and kept me busy daily. I've always believed in getting involved in groups you join, so I monitor the listserv one day a week for SinC and I'm on the Guppies Steering Committee. Nothing to do with mysteries, but I also edit the monthly neighborhood newsletter and weekly welcome first-time visitors to our church.
Plus I have family and friends to keep up with, go out to lunch and dinner, and a household to run, a dog to care for. Life keeps me busy, but writing gives it a center and a focus. If I weren't writing, I'd be cooking but that's not a full-time occupation for several reasons--who would eat all that food, since I sort of live alone, sort of don't (one of my part-time residents is a picky six-year-old). And my back is getting too old to spend hours on that lovely stone kitchen floor. No, I write...and cook occasionally.
Writing gives meaning to my life and brings me pleasure--especially when I have a new book come out or, like today, I get a good review. Do I want the income to stop? No way, but it's not my primary reason for writing.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Family and friends and gratitude

Banner day--I got mail from two of my grandchildren--a sweet card from my oldest granddaughter sent from Hong Kong, where she's been with her dad while he had business. I gave her the National Geographic guide to Hong Kong and she wrote to thank me and say she'd seen places mentioned in the book. And, to balance it out, a sweet card from my youngest--six-year-old Kegan who wrote to thank me for his birthday present--a soccer jersey--and to say he misses me and loves me so much. Be still my heart!
This has been a week in which I think how blessed I am with friends. Lunch one day with a friend of 40 years, dinner the next night with a new friend who paid for my dinner before I got there--she knew what I'd order, lunch with another dear friend and happy hour the next day with my former neighbor who still calls me her Fort Worth mom, lunch again today and then I took dinner to a friend and her husband. She's just had a knee replacement and isn't getting around very well. Makes me think how blessed I am.
And I've thought about the blessings of friendship all week. I am surrounded by friends and family who know me well and care for me. If it weren't for that, I'd never know I had the TIA, but friend Jean who took me to lunch that day and on the way home said, "I want you to call your doctor. Something has happened to you." Then in came Elizabeth from the garage apt. saying, "Are you okay? You look really tired." What I didn't know was that there was a network of calls going on  behind my back. Jean called Elizabeth; Elizabeth called Jordan; Jordan called my brother and then came to take me to the ER; the next day, after the ER "trash" diagnosis, my brother called my doctor. And after I posted an incoherent blog I got days of messages of concern. My youngest son even came from Dallas to take me to lunch--a rare treat, but we had a good visit.
I'm not sure what I've done to merit all this concern, but I am so grateful--and so resolved now to pay it forward. I do think one thing is true: the more you reach out to others, the happier your life.
I'm now back to normal--what is that anyway?--feeling fine and almost free of the lingering fear or depression that followed the TIA. Nothing but good in the future.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Low Country Boil--well deserving of its awards

I just finished reading Low Country Boil by Susan Boyer (published by Henery Press), which won the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and was a finalist in the 2012 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart Award®. This past weekend the book won the 2012 Agatha Award for the Best First Novel at Malice Domestic, a popular mystery writers con. One approaches a book so lauded with a bit of caution—what makes it so special?

I saw several things Susan did with great skill. Obviously she knows the low country, its culture, its people, and its food—some of which made me very hungry. Boyer created a small island community not far from Charleston, SC, called Stella Maris, which rings so true as a place that I searched on Google to see if it’s real. There are a lot of businesses (notably recovery centers, which is a puzzle) named Stella Maris but, alas, no such island community. Yet Boyer made it seem a real place, as though you could drive the streets, find the marina, eat and the local restaurant and have a drink at the local pub. And the people who inhabit Stella Maris are characters, from her father who can play southern redneck when it suits him, to her godmother, Grace, a grand southern belle. Liz Talbot, the protagonist, is a P.I., returned from Charleston to solve the unexplained death of her grandmother, and she keeps getting crossways with her older brother, Blake, who is the local chief of police.

Normally I’m not much drawn to the paranormal in a mystery but Boyer uses a spirit effectively for both plot and comic relief. Colleen was Liz’s best friend, but she drowned at seventeen. Now she reappears, insisting she is neither an angel nor a ghost but a guardian spirit on assignment to protect the island of Stella Maris. This of course sometimes puts Liz in a difficult spot, since she’s the only one who can see and hear Colleen, though godmother Grace, known for the psychic ability she claims, declares one day that she could swear there is someone else at the lunch table with them. Occasionally Colleen speaks out of turn, and Liz forgets herself, telling her aloud to shut up. In one semi-romantic scene, the man she’s with thinks she’s saying that to him.

There are other moments of high comedy, Perhaps one of the funniest occurs when Blake assigns an officer to watch his family while a killer, target unknown, is loose on the island. But the deputy gets a call about a body in a marsh, and the only thing he can think of to do is load the whole family, including Basset Hound Chumley, into the car and head for the crime scene. Blake’s reaction is comedy at its best. Liz’s mother epitomizes the southern belle, fixing luscious blueberry pancakes and chicken and dumplings for her family, running the local church bazaar, and admonishing her daughters that everything will be fine if they will put on fresh lipstick.

Sounds like a light cozy, doesn’t it? It is and it isn’t. Amidst all the atmosphere, there is much tension, moments of real danger for Liz and others she cares about, and some deaths. For a bit I thought this verged on being a thriller, because Liz knew who the killer was and it became a game of find him before he can strike again. But even P.I.s make mistakes!

Well done, Susan Boyer, and worthy of its awards.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Hong Kong bound (not me) and some mental processing

My youngest son owns his own toy manufacturers' sales representative company and travels to Hong Kong two or three times a year on business. Since he is, by heritage, half Greek and half Chinese, he has biological ties to Hong Kong though he's never met his biological parents and shows no interest--but still those trips are a nice connection to his heritage. This time, he took his oldest daughter (my oldest granddaughter), Maddie, who turns 14 today. It's hard to tell which of them is more excited, but the happiness in the photo above is so obvious you can almost reach out and touch it. I am overjoyed for them. Of course, I cautioned him not to let her eat street food, and he said she had to (she's an adventuresome eater). Turns out her mom gave him the same instructions but knew he wouldn't abide by them so got Maddie a Hep A shot. They'll be gone a week, and for the first time in all his business trips, he's going to take time to explore the city and show it to her. It will be an adventure she'll remember the rest of her life. Need I add she's very much her daddy's girl?
Meantime, back at home, I'm having a hard time processing this TIA business. I decided TIAs happen to other people, not me! I woke this morning and had a moment's confusion coming from a deep dream to the reality of the day--had to orient myself to what day it is and what was on my schedule, and for a moment, I thought, "Oh, Lord, it's happening again." It may, and I know that, but not likely twice within one week--and it may never happen again. I have to work to separate myself from my mom's medical history. I always thought she had a series of TIAs that sent her spiraling into the senility that marked her last years...and I don't want to go there. My brother said my other theory is right--I've had better medical care and medicine has come a long way in the 26 years since Mom left us.
When I process a major life event--and I consider this one--my faith always comes into it, not that I think God sent a TIA to punish or warn me. But I have watched friends deal with the health problems of aging--hip and knee replacements, stroke, even cancer--and I have somehow felt immune, as though I were protected by a white light. Now I know that's not so. It's a lesson in humility, in my own mortality, and in thinking about my future and what I'm meant to do with the rest of my life. I think it will take me some time to stop watching for symptoms and to get my confidence back.
Meantime today I drove--first time since last Monday--which, as Elizabeth says, always feels like you're on Mars. Wore myself out going to two groceries and starting to fix Sunday supper. Tonight Jacob comes to spend the night. I will be glad for his sweet company, and I have vowed to be around and in good intellectual condition until I see him graduate from college and walk down the wedding aisle. Maybe he'll do all those things at an early age:-)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Lovely evening and a day of resolution

A dear friend of--what? thirty-five years or more?--came for supper tonight. We used to see each other once a week but now it has been since the holidays, so we had lots of catching up to do. And what better guest than one who brings dinner and does the dishes too? Linda brought a wonderful goat cheese/wasabi appetizer, chicken rolls stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon, and a salad. All delicious. And we spent three hours catching up, laughing at old memories, working out current  problems. So wonderful to have such long lasting friendships.
And it was a perfect cap to the day that brought me some peace of mind. My doctor confirmed what I suspected--a transient alteration of awareness was a junk diagnosis. I had a transient ischemic accident, known to some as a mini-stroke. It left no damage, and I am back to normal. He is changing a medication, prescribing a new one, and advising an aspirin a day. Other than that, he said, "Go live your life. It may never happen again."
I am shaken by the fact that I had a TIA at an age ten years younger than my mom. I had always thought that it was a series of TIAs that sent her into senility and I dread that more than anything. But I guess I can't live my life in fear, so I'll go about my normal activities and thank the Lord for my good health. The doctor said that the fact that I take good care of myself and have had good medical care all my life probably meant that what could have been a stroke was only a TIA--my body compensated.
Jordan has been so wonderful throughout this, and she was with me at the doctor's office today. I am so very grateful to her and to my other children who have each expressed their concern in their own ways. Between children and friends, I feel surrounded by a cocoon of love, and I know I am a most fortunate person.
So tomorrow it's hit the grocery stores, get ready for Sunday supper for six, and move on with my life. Putting TIAs and health worries behind me.
I've sent thanks to many who expressed concern, but if I missed you, please know how much I appreciate it.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Alabana moves to East Texas--great folk tales

Want to hear a seemingly authentic East Texas voice spinning tales of World War II times and little towns and gossip and local characters? And talking about such radio programs as Fibber McGee and such things as blackouts--you have to be of a certain age to remember these things, but they were all nostalgic to me. To hear about them just listen to Jim Lee read from his new collection of short stories, A Texas Jubilee (TCU Press). Now Jim will be the first to tell you that many of these stories are based on incidents he remembers from his home town of Leeds, Alabama, and many of the characters come from there. But being, as he now is, the grandfather of Texas folk tales and folklore (and a Fellow of the Texas Folklore Society), he moved  them to his adopted state where he's lived longer than I care to tell you. At first, he set these tales in Bonham but then he decided he didn't know enough about Bonham, so he moved them to the fictional town of Bodark Springs and the characters and stories began to emerge almost on their own, with Jim as a conduit. He'll tell you he's not a writer but he is--he's a master of the short story. He'll also tell you the stories have much in common with Alabama, because East Texas is the South, and anywhere east of I-35 is the South; west of that highway is the West.
Delightful evening tonight. The Bookish Frogs (another name for friends of TCU Press) met at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens for a pot-luck supper and evening with Jim Lee. An impromptu happy hour developed at my house first, with Melinda, production manager at the press, and Carol Roark who said she was going and did I want a ride, and then Christian who came along to get Jacob and stayed an hour, and finally Elizabeth who wandered in after making movies with Jacob. We had a happy time, nibbling on this wonderful rosemary/olive oil asiago cheese I get at Central Market, so wonderful Carol and I were almost late to the party.
Dinner was good--it's amazing the things people bring to pot-luck suppers. One good friend always brings a bok choy salad because it's such a hit. There was potato salad and--be still my heart!--spanakopita (so delicious), tuna salad, fried chicken and ribs, and so much more. I made a layered salad--one of those retro things where you layer the salad, spread mayo and sour cream on the top and let it sit all night. Green peas are an essential ingredient--except I forgot and found them on the counter after I'd' finished off the salad and no way to add them then. They'll be good on leftover salad tomorrow.
I saw people I hadn't seen in a while and was glad to see, missed some familiar faces, but all in all it was a lovely evening. And Jim was the star, as he always is whenever he speaks. If anyone ever had a natural talent for humor, it's Jim Lee. So, cheers for him and his new book. May he sell many, many copies.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Nothing is as easy as it seems

Thanks to all who understood about the typos in my blog last night and sent good wishes and advice. One of my symptoms was that I could not type--it simply came out gibberish. I wrote the blog late last night when I thought all was well--apparently not.
And what I thought was a one-day little deal has grown into a pain in the neck. I'm to have an MI (I think the office assistant meant MRI) tomorrow. I dread that because I'm a bit claustrophobic--time to practice yoga deep breathing, etc. And then I see my doctor Friday. Bad news for me: I am forbidden to drive at least until I see the doctor on Friday and he has the results of the MRI. I had invited friends for Friday night supper and had a wonderful menu planned, now all down the drain. I've left messages asking if we can't go out, and I'm adjusting slowly, rearranging my thinking. Optimist that I am, I plan on grocery shopping Saturday morning, but I did tell Elizabeth she might have to go on a wine run before that.
You'd think two days at home would be a great time to write but it's too uncertain--or I'm too uncertain. I may get a guest blog done--have one in mind--but I'm between novels, waiting for my mentor to critique the one I gave him last week. So, joy oh joy, I'll read. That's what I meant to do today but I didn't get far.
Nice treat: Jamie, my third child, had an appointment in town today and came afterward to take me to lunch. I had picked out a nice little Italian place but he was so late we went to the deli--my favorite place anyway. Such a good visit with him. I've said it before and will no doubt say it again, but much as I love all my children, it's lovely to have face-to-face time with one of them. Jamie went with me to pick up Jacob, who was thrilled to see him, and then we went to see Jamie's third grade teacher, who is still hard at work. Lots of hugs and good memories (Jacob looked a little bored.)
'Off to shower and then there's that book I've been wanting to read. Oh, wait, I've got to make sense out of the disorder of my desk.