Friday, December 31, 2010

Setting Your Goals for the New Year

Okay, now that I've blathered about my own goals for the New Year, you probably got bored and thought about something more interesting: your goals for the New Year. As a compulsive list-maker and goal setter, let me offer you some suggestions.


I do strongly suggest that you think in terms of goals rather than resolutions. So many resolutions involve "don't" behavior. Every time you think "Don't do ___," you're thinking about ___. In fact, you're starting to obsess about it. How can you stop without doing ___?

Phrasing can be very important in the case of goals that do involve stopping certain kinds of behavior, such as overeating. Losing weight is especially challenging, because you have to keep eating, while trying 'not' to eat too much. Try thinking in terms of eating 'enough' rather than 'not overeating'. It might help.

When you set your goals, be realistic. Be realistic in terms of what you think you can accomplish, not what you've heard other people can or did do. Sure, the fat people on those TV weight loss shows did lose a remarkable amount of weight in a relatively short time. They also had coaches and cooks helping them out. We're also learning that sometimes more time passes between episodes than a real-life week. Measuring yourself by those standards will make you feel like a failure every week you lose less than five pounds.

Speaking of realistic, be sure your goals are about you. Getting your husband to stop smoking isn't under your control, it's under his control. You may have an obedient child who wants to please, but if she's not a 'morning person', this is unlikely to change. Some goals, by definition, do involve other people. If you're trying to get better performance ratings at work, or peddle your book to a publisher, a good portion of the outcome is in other people's hands. In this case, being realistic means you must accept that you might fail despite your best actions. Sometimes your boss just has it in for you.

Be specific. What is the most important thing you're trying to accomplish? "Reduce debt" sounds good, but is sort of vague. You might consider paying the minimums on your credit cards 'reducing debt' (FYI: no, it's not). "Retire my VISA card" or "Close my Dillard's account for good" are clearer goals.

Prepare to stick with it. Weight Watchers has a successful program. So does SparkPeople. Frankly, there are a lot of diet systems that really can help you lose weight - if you stick to them. Ask yourself how serious you are about your goal before ponying up time and money for a gym membership, new running shoes, etc. Paying off that MasterCard? You're probably going to have to do without some indulgences to make those higher payments... every single month.

Look for tools to help. Educate yourself. I mentioned there are a lot of diet systems that can help you - there are also a number of financial advice sites that can steer you towards better credit or reduced debt, if that's your goal (look for advice columns, not people who want you to pay them money to 'repair your credit'). MSN Money's Personal Finance isn't a bad place to start. Trying to stop smok- uh, live tobacco-free? Look at the American Lung Association pages. Educate yourself, then work from there.

Finally...

Don't make your list too long. Cut yourself a little slack, will you? You need downtime. You're starting the New Year with plenty of energy and zeal (or bloated regret), but both will wear off by the time January is over. Set a few really important goals and pursue them. If you accomplish some other stuff, great, but don't schedule every minute of every day for working on yourself. The brightest guy I know, a mathematician, takes time off to watch the Simpsons. If his brilliant brain needs time off from weighty issues, so does yours.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Planning the New Year

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans”

- John Lennon

Some people make resolutions for the New Year: I make lists. Each January, I used to make long lists of what I wanted to accomplish that year. I set up goals for my health (read for this: lose weight), finances, employment, spirituality, and, of course, for my writing. When I married, I expanded the chart of goals to include my wife's goals as well (not sure how she felt about that, but I'm a little OCD). We bought a house, so I added a new category for work around the house (painting, fixing stuff, etc.).

Every December, I reviewed the list to see how I'd done. Gentle Reader, I'm sure you're intelligent enough to guess that I was lucky to get half of my goals anywhere near accomplishment in twelve months. My goals were set up for blue skies, not the changeable climate of real life. Why not aim for the best?

Oh, well.

A couple of years ago, I decided to do something simpler: a short list of things I thought were really important. Since then, December hasn't been nearly as brutal.

My goals for 2010:
Lose weight. Finish rewrite. Get an agent. Please note that I dropped 'Get out of debt' from the list after taking out a loan to replace our central air. A house is a money pit. We're just lucky we don't have children to raise.

Goals accomplished? Well, I didn't lose weight, but I maintained the weight I've lost (although the jury is still out until after I escape my mother's clutches). I did finish the rewrite. I didn't get that agent, but I got a publisher, which was better!

Goals for 2011... Hrm. Lose weight (perennial goal). Promote book. I was working on a separate book with a new character when I got the good news. Do I try to finish it, or restart work on the sequel for All This and Family, Too?

Lots to plan for... I may only accomplish the first two goals. Or... maybe only the second goal. I'll be satisfied if it comes off well.

I hope everyone has a great New Year. Try not to get too hung up on resolutions or lists.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Recipe: Mom's Avgolemono Soup

The finished product.

Today, I'm posting something you will rarely see here: a recipe. I rarely cook, and when I do it usually involves boiling water and some sort of powder or item in a can. However, I am visiting my mother, who is Greek, and she makes the best avgolemono soup in the world. All cultures seem to have some form of chicken soup; this is the Greek version.

Although I first posted this on Sparkpeople.com, this is not a 'healthy' recipe. This is the way my mother, a real Greek, makes it... although the bouillon is a recent addition. Restaurants often just use the egg whites; my mother uses whole eggs.

Ingredients:
Chicken Broth, 10 cup (8 fl oz)
Egg, fresh, 5 large
Lemon Juice, 4 lemon yields
White Rice, medium grain, 4 cup
Chicken bouillon, 3 cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Boil a chicken for two hours. Remove the chicken from the pot, and use for chicken salad or some other purpose (you can add some of the meat back to the soup later if you want).

Add 1 and 1/3 cups dry rice to the pot. Let the rice cook. TURN DOWN THE HEAT.

Squeeze the 4 lemons. Beat the eggs, THEN add the lemon juice. Beat together.

Slowly add a LITTLE bit of the broth at a time to the egg-lemon mixture until the mixture gets very warm. Dump into the broth and stir.

Let the broth come to where it begins to boil again, and take the pot OFF the heat. I cannot stress this part enough; you don't want the egg to 'break'. The only reason Mom lets it boil at all is because of salmonella worries.

Side note: some people use orzo instead of rice. My mother is a purist. Also: don't add onions of any sort. Trust me on this one.

I added this to my repertoire at SparkPeople because I needed a calorie count (the vat above comes out to about 16 servings at 137 calories each, if you're curious). Since I shared it, I have received several responses from people who tried making it and loved the results. Guess I give better directions for cooking than doing the actual cooking.

If you try it, I hope it turns out well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Traffic Tribulations

I apologize in advance to all Tennesseans reading this blog. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the state, at least not now that football season is over. I lived in Alcoa and Maryville for a few years during my childhood, and they were pretty good years.

However: Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge is a growing fistula on the state's backside, spewing road rage and concrete droppings of tourist traps from Sevierville to Cherokee, North Carolina. If you live there, I feel sorry for you. You seem like nice people, but I think your blood pressure might drop if you relocated.

When I was a child, we visited Gatlinburg a few times. We parked, got out of the car, and walked around to look at the tourist attractions. Finding a parking place was the only problem. Things have changed a lot in the last -um- twenty-five years.

The layout of the area probably 'just happened that way', but could not have been better planned by an anger management counselor looking for customers: Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville is one huge mall with four to six-lane service roads. There are precious few sidewalks, and nothing is close to anything else. Signs and lights are everywhere, telling you that you're simultaneously on a northbound and southbound road. That's not all: U.S. 441 splits at a right angle for north vs. south, too. Methinks someone didn't have a compass.

I drove through Denver during the Democratic National Convention. Every morning, I left from Aurora and entered its construction zones and rotating lane closures. They changed the lane closures every day for security reasons (malice, more likely). Denver earned its listing as a horrible town for traffic fair and square.

Surely I, a Denver Convention veteran, wouldn't get lost in Sevierville, a 'small town' in Tennessee..? Yes, I did, and lots of fun was had by all (NOT). It was even more 'fun' later, when we needed to take someone to the emergency department (I will not relate that story here because I've received death threats). Did GPS help on that trip? No, it didn't, not when they'd moved the hospital!

Oh, you're planning to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Drive into NC from I-40 and approach from Cherokee. Mapquest told me that a drive from one resort to another would take 10-11 minutes. It took 45 minutes to an hour each time we drove it. We tried driving through the park from the Tennessee side during warmer weather (FYI: Xmas is the busiest season), and it took three hours to get anywhere close to the park. Biggest use of the park's welcome center: to pee. Incidentally, we took the faster route. If you want to take a slower route, try the 'Gatlinburg Bypass'.

Don't try to do an entire drive-through of the Park via the other direction, either: the traffic backup to the Terrible Tennessee Trio begins while you're still inside the park in a section where you can't do turnarounds. Expect to creep for a couple of miles before you reach the park exit. Oh, and keep those windows rolled up. There are still bears in the Park, and they love potato chips.

I know, I know. All these complaints, and I've offered no solutions. I have one: create a public shuttle system that stops at the various resorts/hotels and malls/tourist attractions. Stick a giant Park n' Ride at the outskirts of Sevierville, too, so daytime visitors would have a legal place to leave their cars. Yes, this would require an enormous number of shuttles to cover the area effective. The system would be large enough, though, if everyone who wanted the shuttle to stop at their establishment had to pony up a few thousand dollars and pay an annual fee for maintenance. There are very few 'small' businesses in the area, and no one is selling anything on the cheap.

They'd all pay the fee to be included, to keep the customers coming in. It's not like you can just walk any more.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Stephen King is at the point in his career where he writes what he feels like writing, and publishes when he feels like publishing. In the Afterword to this collection, King states:

I have tried my best... to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances.


"1922" - 132 pages. This tale was the last one I read and required the most commitment to finish on my part. His inspiration was the photograph collection from the nonfiction book Wisconsin Death Trip. He hoped to capture some of the bleakness and isolation of the pictures in this story.

I believe he succeeded in doing this. Wilfred James certainly has a difficult life, made more so by a wife who wants to sell her land to a hog farmer, no matter the consequences to her husband's farm. Murder is the unsurprising result, with the somewhat reluctant assistance of James' son. This kicks off a series of events that culminate in an ending reminiscent of Poe, Lovecraft, or... er, Stephen King.

This story required the most commitment from me because I found it difficult to like any of the characters. King's portrayal of them isn't unrealistic or inaccurate; they are entirely believable. I just didn't like them, with the possible exception of the son's girlfriend. She was more sympathetic, but her existence and plight weren't really necessary to the core of the story. The interlude of her doomed romance with the son is more of a detour on the way to ruin.

"Big Driver" - 112 pages. This tale should prove very popular with female mystery readers and their fans. Tess, a cozy writer, is called to speak to a group after Janet Evanovich cancels. On a shortcut home through no-man's land, she is seized, raped, and left for dead. She finds her way back to safety, but she will never be the same. She cannot report what happened to her because of the damage it would do to her image as a cozy writer. The other option? Revenge, served Stephen King style.

I greatly enjoyed this story, especially with its salute to the writers' life and its nod to women mystery writers. Janet Evanovich is one of the most-read (and well-paid) living mystery writers, although the true mystery tends to center around whether she will hook up with Morelli or Ranger in the latest book. Tess outlines the presentation 'routine' of an author as she performs it. Later, she will talk to her cat... and the cat will talk back (an unfortunate occurrence in super-cozies). As she becomes increasingly not-cozy in outlook, she also talks to her GPS and the corpses of her victims. A fun read.

"Fair Extension" - 33 pages. This was the shortest, so I read this first. Yes, I am lazy.

Man dying of cancer makes a deal with Mr. "Elvid" to continue living. My comment: in Danse Macabre, King states that the horror reader has the moral sense of the average Puritan when it comes to who can (and should) have horrible things done to them. He did not invoke this rule when I thought he should. Not satisfied with the ending, but make your own judgment.

"A Good Marriage" - 103 pages. What do you do when you discover your husband is a serial killer? In the afterword, King cites the example of the BTK Killer: many people believed that his wife had to know what her husband was doing. King disagrees, and asks, "What if..."

I'm trying to think what to say about this story of Darcellen and her non-fun version of Dexter. I know it was a decent story, but I'd have to flip through it to come up with good or bad stuff. When I was trying to describe the stories in this collection to a friend, I had a mental block with this one: "And the other one, it was a good story, but... let me get the book. Oh, yeah... this is what it's about..." I think that tells me what I thought of it.

Time to assign some stars to this collection of novellas and one short story.

Overall? Four stars. I enjoyed the book overall and it gave me real pleasure to read it. Rating the individual stories...? Three stars for "1922", despite my complaints. If he meant to convey despair, he got what he wanted. Four stars for "Big Driver". Two stars for "Fair Extension". I would make it one for my dislike of the ending, but I save that for really crappy writing. Three stars for "A Good Marriage". It was a good story and it kept me turning pages. It just didn't stick with me.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo is Over: Now What?

Let me confess now: I am a huge cheater and rebel when it comes to NaNoWriMo. I did start my current WIP during NaNo, but I have used it since to force myself to work on the same book intensively for at least one month out of the year. 

Some other writers do this same thing, using the freedom and camaraderie of the event to get some serious writing done. I'm a serious introvert, but I love doing the write-ins. I get an excuse to drink coffee sweetened and creamed to shameful levels, swap war stories with other writers, and write side by side with other people.

There are a lot of true winners out there, though, people who began on 11/1 with zero words and had 50K written before 12/1. I've been congratulating them on Facebook, Twitter, and on the main NaNo site. You have a lot to be proud of, too! 50,000 words in one month is impressive. My personal best is about 14K, accomplished during NaNoWriMo (of course).

So... now what do you do with your magnum opus? Some people are content to write for themselves, but their numbers are a hell of a lot smaller than the numbers who want other people to read their material. If you're reading this blog based on the title, I know you fall into the latter category. Here are my suggestions and caveats for your new child:

Nota bene: The focus of NaNoWriMo, is quantity, not quality. They say so right in the intro material. This means it's time to work on the quality of your piece.

Not everyone gets this. A number of winners, flush with success and possibly an overdose of coffee, join AgentQuest immediately and start sending out their manuscripts as soon as they have some names and addresses. The NaNoWriMo blog addressed this last year:
In fact, several agents joke that December is "NaQuRejMo," which cruelly stands for "National Query Rejection Month." In all seriousness, though, we do see a lot of queries in December.
Take the time to reread and edit your work before sending it out. Once an agent has rejected your book, you  don't get to resubmit it. Agents always have lots of other query letters and manuscripts to read. Take the best shot you can the first time.

Okay, so I've convinced you to review your novel. What should you be looking for?

First things first: you need to make it longer. Fifty thousand words is really good, but publishers are generally looking for novels that run somewhere between seventy to ninety thousand. The good news: when you reread your MS (manuscript), you will spot places where you didn't give enough description or need to add a bridge scene so the reader will know what the hell is going on. Yes, you'll find them, even if you thought you did way too much description in that one scene (shorten that scene, BTW).

Next: there's a good chance your main character is a Mary Sue. You may find her adventures scintillating, but no one else will (because they know it's about YOU and not THEM). I read one story where the main character got a hot tub for Christmas. Several people died during the novel, all in connection with water, so I assumed the heroine would find herself in mortal danger from its roiling waters before the end of the book. Nope, all her dips were heavenly. She just wanted a hot tub, so she gave one to her character.

Finally: NaNo tactics don't always adapt well to the world of publishing: Unless your story is set in Japan, you really need to delete that Wall of Ninjas scene you used to boost your word count. Come up with something else. Like I said, you don't want to submit your manuscript during December anyway. If you can do 50K in one month, I am sure you can make up the word count before January.

Once you begin rereading your MS, you will begin to feel certain emotions. Remember all those pep talks from the NaNo folks about the way you would be feeling when you hit certain word counts? Excited during the first 15K words, in the doldrums at 25K, plunging down the hillside at 40K? The feeling you will get when really reviewing your NaNo MS will make you remember 25K as a joyous time.

Why? Because you're going to be thinking: "OMG! This is so disjointed and repetitive! It has all sorts of plot holes! This is the worst sex scene ever! I used the wrong character's name at least six times! I can't spell worth a damn, and look at all those typos! I thought I'd made a few in my rush to finish, but wow! I suck as a writer!"

No, you don't. In fact, you're thinking like a real writer.

NaNoWriMo is all about the joy (or, in some cases, madness) of creation. You've given birth to something. Like most infants, though, it looks like a squalling mess on arrival and it needs to be cleaned off and clothed before you introduce it to the world around you.

There are a few authors that - bang, right out of the box - can produce a marvelous story. Most of them learned how to do it through practice. Everyone else is doing what you did - brazening it out for the first writing, then berating themselves when they realize how many do-overs are needed. That's okay. That's normal.

It's also something you need to do before you send your MS to an agent. If you want them to take you seriously, you need to take the writing seriously. Not during the first write-up, but afterwards. If you decide that you really were doing it 'just for fun', fine. No harm, no foul. Please don't send it to an agent, though. The self-publishing industry can help you make great Xmas presents for your friends.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

I'm at it again.
What with all the excitement, I forgot to mention that I am participating in National Novel Writing Month again. I've never 'won' by getting 50,000 words written during the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo, but it always gives an amazing boost to my Work In Progress (WIP). I appear to be a gregarious writer, an adjective that one wouldn't usually apply to me. The write-ins with the local Wrimos and camaraderie I've found on Twitter are just great, not to mention the ideas and support I always get at the NaNoWriMo website.

I don't really follow 'the rules'... well, not every time. I did actually start one WIP during NaNoWriMo, but usually I use the month to beef up my word count on something I already have going. I can also tap the knowledge and suggestions of other Wrimos to add the proper details to my plots. If you want to know a good place to dump a body, someone in the Forums can tell you. If you want to know what the student ghetto at a specific university looks like, one of the Wrimos on Twitter can help you. If you hate yourself and want to die, there's a special forum just for you with people who will commiserate.

Right now, I'm working with a hero that really doesn't want to come across with his personality. I know his background, I know his opinion on certain things, I know what drives him, but he's just... dithering. Unfortunately, this means he resembles me in a way he shouldn't.

Guess what? There's a thread in the Forums where you can write to your characters. Here's my letter:


Dear Cade:
I'm finding it hard not to give up on you. I've been trying to write you for the last three years, but you keep dragging your heels.

I tried first person, which you wanted. You didn't come across with the bold action I know is hidden in you. You didn't even come across with lukewarm action. Nothing got written, and I've been depressed about it.
I know your background. I know what drives you - when you move, which seems to be never. I've gone to two plotting workshops to assist me in figuring out what to do with you. I have at least some rudimentary ideas, but you're not helping me out here. You just hang around my head, moping about what a great book you could be. I notice this doesn't actually lead to your helping me WRITE you.

Cade, or should I say Cad, I'm pissed. You won't help me write you, and you won't STFU and let me move on to more cooperative characters.

So... remember the head I stuck in your crawlspace last year? That was just smelly. This year, I'm threatening your job, your wallet, and possibly your family. I'm even thinking about killing Marina's cat and stuffing it in your gym bag. You are the Character, but I am the Goddess of your world. I answer to the Muses, but YOU answer to ME.

It's time to sh*t or get off the pot.

Will this work? Maybe, maybe not. But I know the other Wrimos will get a good laugh out of it, and it was fun to write. That's what NNWM is all about. Writing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pulmonary Hypertension: Update on My Father

Once again, it's Pulmonary Hypertension Blogging Awareness Day. If you read my post last year, you know that my father has this disorder.

Time for an update: Dad is using the oxygen tank more frequently. After a stretch of 'holding steady', he had a serious drop in heart/lung function this fall. He's been having trouble getting out of his chair, being lightheaded when he stands, and having to rest/nap after even mild exertion.

As far as I can tell, he has gone from Class 2 to Class 3 pulmonary hypertension. This is not a good thing. The doctor has been trying Revatio with him. Never heard of it? Yes, you have... its other name is Viagra. Unfortunately, it has no fun 'side effects' for him.

Dad says that it's not working very well in other ways, either. He isn't as bad off as he was, but he's still not functioning well. The doc didn't think the Revatio would perform very well, but he wanted to see if it made a difference before moving on to stronger drugs - the sort with the FDA black box warning.

Now, my father is hoping to get onto Tracleer. It's strongly counterindicated for pregnant women (not an issue for a man in his seventies) and people with liver problems. In some cases, it can actually damage your liver. It is only doled out in 30-day allotments at a time by certified doctors and authorized pharmacies, and patients must have monthly liver function tests. Yes, that dangerous.

Oh, and expensive! It could easily cost him over $600 a month with health insurance. Or so he says. He also said 'a little under 14K a year', so I think he's lowballing for my sake. Meanwhile, he's taking 2 Revatio a day instead of 3 so he won't have to buy more before he sees the doctor about the Tracleer.

Since this is a degenerative condition with no cure, eventually Tracleer will not be effective either. The next step will be continuous subcutaneous or intravenous medication with a pump.

It's a sad decline to watch. On the other hand, I have been blessed to have him for this long. It's been five years since his diagnosis. By this time, half the people diagnosed with PH are already dead.

To learn more about Pulmonary Hypertension, click here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Suspense by Parnell Hall

Suspense (The Stanley Hastings Mystery Novels)Suspense by Parnell Hall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Parnell Hall sets up the rules for writing suspense in this novel: literally. Kenneth P. Winnington, husband of Stanley Hastings' new client, writes suspense novels for a living and is happy to share them: Don't write in first person. Don't use a continuing character. Don't let the hero know the danger he's in.

Parnell Hall breaks all these rules in the commission of this novel, including one more, but revealing it here would give away the ending.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

MY BOOK HAS A PUBLISHER!

I received the good news last night. Pill Hill Press has accepted my first (completed) novel and will publish it in 2011. I am dancing on air! Okay, would you believe the carpet?

Gwen, Karen, and I toasted the good news last night with Code Red Mountain Dew. Hey, it's blood-colored... if you're the Kool-Aid Man.

The title is All This and Family, Too. Lesbian vampire moves her family into a gated community in Southern California. There, she learns the meaning of true horror.

Any suggestions for 2011 conventions and potential reviewers would be appreciated. I need to plan ahead.

Huzzah!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Dressed to the Nines at Magna Cum Murder

Gwen and I at Magna cum Murder
If you've never been to Magna cum Murder, you're missing a great con. It's certainly not on the grand scale of a Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime, but it's a lot more intimate. You have a much better chance of speaking one-on-one with the featured authors, getting a seat at a panel discussion, and they even feed you!

Since it took place over Halloween, costumes were encouraged for the Saturday night banquet. Gwen and I went all out, deciding to go as Baby Face Nelson and "Darla", his moll. We picked up the jacket and gown from Goodwill, the garter holster and feather boa from the Halloween store, and the purple pistol from Meiers. Gwen made my headdress herself. To complete the costume, I had to reacquaint myself with some of the feminine arts: lipstick, makeup, and leg-shaving. That last is definitely not in the Lesbian Handbook.

Gwen was pleased with my look, though. She took several pictures. Later, I discovered that crossing your legs in a slit dress means your lap is covered and everything else is exposed. One is definitely not going online. I looked like a Georgia O'Keefe painting: petals spread wide, and stamens hanging out!

At the banquet, they had the people in costumes parade around so everyone could see them. Prizes were also given out. I am afraid that we lost out to "Bonnie and Clyde", who had professional costumes. Several people told us afterward that we were robbed. Even so, we had a great time.

Perhaps I'll be able to write more about Magna later. NaNoWriMo is taking most of my 'spare' time at the moment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Top 15 Novels

This is the meme: Fifteen novels you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

Here is my list, in no particular order:
  • Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny - First book of the Amber series: I was sold on it by Page 2. It got me to try my hand at writing fiction again instead of comic book stories.
  • The Heritage of Hastur by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Women like her writing better than men do... well, straight men.
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett - Cinderella story + similarly named heroine + heroine liked to make up cool stories. What's not to love?
  • Carrie by Stephen King - I was eleven when this book came out. I loved the notion of telekinesis - even had a set of the Rhine ESP cards - but the language and sexual content of this novel took me out of the realm of kiddie books.
  • The Far Side of Evil by Sylvia Louise Engdahl - original version. This one also took me out of the realm of kiddie books, but without sex or foul language. One of my early exposures to adult versions of cruelty.
  • Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane - This book was a major mind-screw. I loved it. Movie true to the novel, also great.
  • The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives - I loved Delirium. No one who knows me will be surprised by this.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle - Best explanation of the 4th dimension that I ever read.
  • Startide Rising by David Brin - Nonhuman intelligent species don't always think the way we do.
  • Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key - These kids are gifted and different from other kids. They live in a cruel world that confuses them. Finally, they find 'their people' and become happy. A parallel for real-life misfits.
  • The Other by Thomas Tryon - What a vile book! Harvest Home was also good, but this one sticks with me more, perhaps because I read it first.
  • Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl - screw Willy Wonka. I can dream up my own Candyland.
  • The Best of H.P. Lovecraft by H. P. Lovecraft - "The Silver Key" will always be my favorite. Lovecraft's manifesto against mundane thinking.
  • The Other Side of Tomorrow, collected by Roger Elwood - edges out Dystopian Visions. Elwood glutted the SF market in the 70s with anthologies. I read every one I could get my hands on.
  • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris - Yes, I also enjoyed Silence of the Lambs. This one explores the pathology of its villain in greater depth.
I did give this more than 15 minutes of thought, I confess. I've read a lot of books in my life. Some of the books above are collections of short stories, rather than novels. One is a graphic novel. Just be grateful I didn't list the entire Phoenix saga from the X-Men. All of these books either sparked my creativity or took my mind in a new direction. Sometimes I learned new (and not always nice) ways of thinking. Startide Rising stretched it in alien yet idealistic ways, Red Dragon drew me down into the pit.

Most of the lists I've seen in this meme, and others like it, contain works of great literature: Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer, the periphrastic and boring Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I'm sure many of these people are telling the truth, but sometimes I suspect they just list the books they were forced to read in school. I make no pretensions to reading good literature. I read fiction for pleasure, not to become 'cultured'. That's what my schools and my parents were for. The books above have special meaning for me in one way or another.

--

Friday, October 15, 2010

A racial question

I’ve been messing around with an idea for a novel for a couple of years. At its core, it’s a thriller with paranormal elements. Think Dean Koontz, though, more than Stephanie Meyer. No vampires in this one, no young hunk (or heroine) as the lead.

From his inception, I’ve thought of the character as having a psychic talent... and as biracial (black* and white, in this case). He’s not John Aleron, if you’ve read that character’s stories. This is someone new.

Now, I’m starting to wonder if this is such a good idea. One reason: most of the paranormal and thriller readers I’ve met over the years have been white in overwhelming numbers. Would publishers even consider a story centering around a biracial male character? I’m not saying all white readers are horrible racists who hate blacks… but publishers might be afraid that the reader base might not 'connect' with the character.

A second reason: how many quirks should I give this character? My spouse tells me that a mistake she often sees are authors who make a character quirky in so many ways that getting a ‘handle’ on them is difficult for the reader. Is paranormal + male + biracial too much?

A third reason: I am neither black nor biracial. My character would be raised in a predominantly white environment for various reasons, including the income of his family. The more money your family has in the USA, the more likely you are to be living around white people. Would black readers find my writing this character offensive? I was exposed to the poorer segment of the black population when I was a kid, but there is a big difference between knowing black people and knowing what it’s like to 'be black'.

At Magna Cum Murder in 2008, I had the pleasure of meeting Austin Camacho. He sat on a panel that dealt with writing characters who are unlike oneself in many ways. Austin is African-American and male. The character he was discussing was female and Irish. I pointed out that this was a character who differed from him in gender, race, nationality, and possibly religion as well. She was also an ex-jewel thief, but I don’t know what Austin’s past hobbies may have been.

Austin explained that a character could be very unlike his or her author in some ways, but share experiences that the author was quite capable of describing and exploring. My character, being biracial and older (around fifty years of age), would have been confronted daily with the same situation I had while growing up: not fitting in. I was an intellectual living in a significantly illiterate state, a liberal among conservatives, a lesbian and a Pagan among fundamentalist Christians. My hero would have some of these social disadvantages as well, plus the additional difference of being biracial. Someone like me could hide personality differences  by keeping my mouth shut, but racial heritage is usually self-evident.

To me, the notion of a psychic who would not only feel the ‘usual’ emotions of the people around him, but also the attitudes towards his race, is very compelling. We have been educated to ‘not see race’ in this day and age, but when we meet someone of another race in real life we often stumble over the baggage of our upbringing. My hero would be aware of that stumbling on a regular basis. Is this patronizing on my part?

What do you think?

* I use the term 'black' instead of 'African-American' because the latter is a) long, and b) acknowledges that there are black people beside African-Americans. I refer to Austin as an African-American because I'm comparing him to an Irish jewel thief. 

--

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Circle of Dishonor: a Spouse's Review

My wife's first novel.
 
I think this is a great book, but I have a serious bias. Here are some things I enjoy, though:

1. The heroine is not posing as a man in order to follow the man she loves or to avoid being married off. She took up the masquerade to get her man, not 'get a man'.

2. The secret society involved in this post-Civil War intrigue is not the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK were active, but not the only group in operation.

3. The story is set in a very exciting and turbulent time of Kentucky's history, one that is underrepresented in fiction. Between the Regulators, the Klan, and the feuds, one could set hundreds of stories here without running out of material. Gwen brings up some of this history without being pedantic.

4. The story has classic noir elements without being set in a 'noir' era or featuring a Sam Spade ripoff. You have the alienated private eye who keeps booze in a convenient drawer. You have the hooker with the heart of gold. You even have organized crime, although it is a different sort of 'mob'.

5. The 'current' plan of the villains is truly dastardly. I won't give it away and spoil the fun.

Want to draw your own conclusions? Go to gwenmayo.com and click on the link to read a sample from the novel. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Difficult to Swallow

Magic Mouthwash, sans Magic

Saturday night, I got food stuck in my esophagus. Answer to most asked question at this point: pork chops. Second question: bone-in. Third question: No, I was not gnawing on the bone. I think maybe I missed one of those tiny bone slivers that chops sometimes have. All I know is, it hurt and I couldn't swallow after that.

Part of story that matters: They ran a tube down my throat. Between that and the original problem, my throat/esophagus is (still) raw and sore. P.S. when they do this, they also take samples of your esophagus for Pathology. Ow.

So... one doc gave me a script for some 'magic mouthwash'. MM has lidocaine in it, which is supposed to kill pain and help me eat. I went to Rite Aid when they opened, got the script filled, went home. Shook bottle, took mouthwash. I noted that it was pretty thick at the time. Ate soup, went to take a nap. P.S. no codeine in this particular MM, but I was pretty tired.

Woke up from nap, went to get MM, only to discover that it had SET like gelatin in the bottle! I called the pharmacy, but the pharmacist is gone for the day (Sunday after 6 PM, go figure). I called Monday and got a sleepy-sounding tech. He didn't understand what 'set' meant, but understood "won't come out of the f---ing bottle" just fine. He told me the pharmacist would come on duty at 3 PM.

No pharmacist until 3 PM? On a weekday, when Rite Aid purports to be a chain of DRUGSTORES? What kind of BS is that? At the very least, they ought to have someone on duty at one of their local stores the tech could refer me to.

When I did get hold of the pharmacist, he was a very nice fellow. It turned out that UK had given them the 'recipe' for the MM, but their instructions, apparently unclear, were to dispense it in TWO bottles... because the components 'set' when you combine them. I was given two bottles with instructions to mix them in certain proportions. And I don't even cook!

It's a good thing I diet. Otherwise, I wouldn't be familiar with measuring spoons at all. So far, so good: I haven't killed myself. I just wish I could eat tastier stuff than non-medicinal Jell-O.

-

Sunday, September 12, 2010

TV Detectives in Days of Yore

We picked up a few back issues of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine at our Sisters in Crime chapter meeting yesterday. One of them, AHMM June 2005, has an interview with William Link (of Levinson & Link fame). The focus of the interview was on the television series Murder, She Wrote, then fresh out on DVD. Near the end of the article, Link bemoans the ageism that plagues the TV industry. He claimed even people in their forties were having problems (I'm riding the ragged edge of disaster in that case!) getting networks to look at their stuff. He also talked about hit shows like Columbo no longer being possible because of the focus on forensics.

Naturally, I went into the other room to discuss this with my spouse, who is even less qualified to write for television than I am, despite her superior writing credits. Only the inexperienced need apply, I suppose.

I proposed that one could do a series similar to, say, the old Ellery Queen: one old detective, one young detective. Perhaps the older detective would be the old-school detective, some grizzled police detective, and the young detective could be the forensics person. If Link were younger and had started writing in a different era, he might have had a Columbo that was savvier to high-tech. Certainly my favorite detective paid strict attention to details, and the show's villains came up with some clever, frequently technologically based, alibis.

Gwen proposed that the TV character closest to J.B. Fletcher now was Richard Castle. Very true! He has the same 'worldwide fame' and a talent for solving crimes. Fortunately, he's in a bigger town than Cabot Cove. I said that it would be a great team-up to bring J.B. Fletcher to the Castle show. The only disadvantage is the difference in networks. ABC would need to get permission from CBS to use the character.

"What they ought to do," Gwen said, "is put her at the table with the other writers during one of his poker sessions. She could do a cameo." She also felt that Jessica should have all the chips in front of her during the scene.

They wouldn't even have to identify her character. TV mystery buffs would KNOW. Anyone got an 'in' with Angela Lansbury or ABC?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Those Naughty, Naughty WIPs

The Writers Who Kill put a rather provocative post up yesterday: "I Hate My WIP". For those of you not familiar with writing jargon, WIP stands for "Work in Progress". I found a great relief in reading this article and realizing that I was not alone.

I hate my WIP up till the first draft is done. Then, it's: "OMG! I finished it! I did it! How wonderful! Yippee!" Dancing around.

Unfortunately, this is followed by revisions. Maternal adoration turns to diaperish (?) disgust. "There's a lot of crap in here! Yecch! PLEASE don't make me touch it! No! It's ugly! Ugly and full of crap! I can't send this ANYWHERE!"

Eventually (years later?) I have the WIP cleaned up and dressed nicely (i.e. I followed the submission guidelines). I send it out into the world, only to receive a note from the teacher: "Rejected." I search WIP/child for more crap; I know it's in there somewhere. That's the problem with babies, literary or physical.

After a few more rejects: WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY WIP? Isn't it cute enough? Maybe it should be blonde with a frilly dress. I don't think I can dress it like that, it would bite me. By the time I got it into that pink outfit, I'd need to update the technology in the story again (this has happened to me more than once). I detest my WIP; no one wants it. It's too gangly and funny-looking to be loved.

So, now, I have a freakish orphanage in my house (or, at least, my memory stick). My WIPs meep and chirp and drive me nuts. Periodically, though, one gets adopted. I send the lucky child off with relief and joy, but there's always that nagging feeling that I could have done better with it. Therein lies the true problem: the WIP stays a WIP until it's published. You will never be through with it.

So, once it becomes a true 'work', why do we want it back to make one last change?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Reunion Ruminations

This weekend, I will be attending my 30th high school reunion. I missed the 25th (not an accident), but a number of my old classmates discovered me on Facebook and it looks like I will have people to talk to. I find this very odd, since I barely remember some of them, but they seem to remember me.

Honestly, I'd hoped to have more trappings of success by this time. Oh, not a Lexus or a $500 outfit, but results of lifetime endeavors. A Master's, perhaps, or a Ph.D. The subject matter would be less important than the magical acronyms.

You see, I was one of those children cursed with being 'smart'. Usually, being smart makes my life easier. Most of my remarkably stupid decisions have been made based on emotions, not ignorance or an inability to draw conclusions. Most remarkably stupid decisions are made based on emotions, but I've saved myself from investing in silver or mixing Clorox and ammonia. Doing my day job is easier because I love information and learn new things quickly.

It's the expectations of being 'smart' that I must live down. When I graduated from high school, I visualized myself getting a degree in engineering and doing something cool like designing space shuttles. I would get a good-paying job and acquire the respect of my peers. Most importantly, I would write books. Lots of them. Probably science fiction, since that's where my experience would lie.

It didn't pan out that way. I realized, within a short time, that hard science drove me nuts. Not only was it hair-pulling difficult (even for someone who got a 33 in science on the ACT), I didn't find it especially interesting. I tried genetics for a while (thank you, X-Men), but came to the conclusion that I enjoyed reading science fiction more than doing actual science. Instead, I got a degree in journalism with a minor in psychology, since that was the subject I took more consistently than any other.

So... I just wrote lots of books then, correct? No. Despite the pressure from my internal sense of 'destiny', I avoided it like the plague. Writing is so important to my self-definition that I didn't seriously try fiction until I was nearly thirty. Writing fiction makes me want to Run Screaming Into the Night (tm). I edited two Pagan newsletters and was a credentialed blogger for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, so it's not expository writing that gives me trouble. It's fiction, my putative raison d'etre.

At least I have a manuscript now. I haven't sold it yet, but actually writing a book is a major victory in my... er, book. I have a few short story credits to my name.

I know I did better than some of my fellow grads. I'm employed, I have a house, and I've stayed out of prison. Right now, though, I feel like my biggest success was marrying well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is it time?

After putting it off for the first seven months of the year, I finally finished revising my novel. Now, to send it out. Again.

Oh, boy.

Time to face rejection again, or at least its possibility. I know I write decently, but it's not a book of great moment or even a charming cozy. It's a silly vampire story I started before the market began drowning in vampire stories. It's not a mystery or a paranormal romance. No sparkling, brooding hunks, no sophisticated femme fatales.

How can I possibly sell this?

I've wanted to be an author since at least fifth grade. Before then, even, but that was when I was first asked in class and the words came to my lips. To give myself credit, I said 'science fiction writer', not 'the next Faulkner' (yecch). Vampire astronomer probably isn't that far off the mark.

The anxiety is horrible to endure, though, as is the pain of rejection. I shouldn't be surprised at how long it took me to revise, considering what I have to face. My baby is funny-looking and has fangs. Maybe only a mother can love it.

But, like a parent, I must send it into the world. This is the proper endpoint of parenthood.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lessons I learned from Gwen's launch party

Gwen and I at the book launch!

Monday night, Gwen and I threw the launch party for Circle of Dishonor. It was wildly successful, especially in comparison to Parnell Hall's lament (detailed in an earlier post). We had well over fifty people drop by the ultra-hip bistro Natasha's to celebrate with us and, in most cases, purchase a copy of the book.

We made back the money we invested in the first shipment of books, which will of course go immediately towards purchasing another shipment for Gwen's next signing. I also learned some important things to pass along to folks who haven't had the pleasure of launching a novel yet:

  • Bring plenty of pens. The author needs at least two good pens, and the person writing the receipts needs one, too (you will be writing receipts to show when you get audited, right?). You will also need spares to set out for check writers who have nothing to write with. None of our pens walked away, but it's best to be prepared.
  • Bring change, and lots of it. Unless your book is really expensive or a hardback, people will give you a Yuppie Food Stamp (aka a $20 bill) and you will need to make change... again and again.
  • Try to avoid the night before school starts. Some of your customers will need to attend parent meetings instead of your event. No, my parents never did this either, but things have changed.
  • The unexpected is not always a bad thing. Natasha's had scheduled a pianist for the same time slot as our book launch. I was worried that this meant no one would be able to hear Gwen or each other, but the music proved a pleasant background for our munching and socializing guests. Gwen spoke to the pianist before things got rolling and he 'took five' while she greeted everyone and read an excerpt from the book. Later, our gathering was referred to as 'classy' by one guest.
  • You will be mistaken for staff. You're sitting at a table in a central area, you have inventory, and a cash box. Of course you work there. Be nice to these people; they don't know you're a soon-to-be-famous author. Plus, the site host doesn't want you wrecking their usual business. Just fetch the waitress.
  • You will need to go out for food or have something to warm up at home, because you will be too busy to eat any of the spread you've set out for your guests. Gwen got two cubes of cheese, I got a sprig of grapes. That was it.
  • The caterer will add a gratuity charge to his/her quoted price. This is for the aggravation value of pouring drinks, refilling the platters, etc.
  • The key to the lockbox will drop to the most inaccessible spot in your purse or pocket, just when you need it. Tiny, isn't it?
And, finally...
  • Your bank is more alert than you think. The day after the party, Gwen got a call from her bank requesting that she verify a large charge to Natasha's made on Monday night. Yes, she owned up to it.

We had a great time; I hope you do, too.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Acting on the Intent to Sell

Jeffrey Marks and Carolyn Melvin

Gwen Mayo and I drove up to Columbus this past weekend to see Jeffrey Marks' presentation based on his third edition of Intent to Sell. The presentation and subsequent book signing were hosted by the Columbus chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Many authors dream of the day when a publisher will accept their novel for publication. Once that Big Day comes, though, their work is not over. Instead, they find themselves taking on a new job: promoter. J.B. Fletcher may have had publicists and handlers, but in the real world authors are their own first advocates.

Jeff touched on several aspects of promotion, including the necessity for the author to have a web site, and began enumerating its contents. Naturally, I thought of the site I've been working on for Gwen.

  • Good photo on the site? Check.
  • Pic of book cover? Check.
  • Three versions of what the book is about? Er... three? Where do I fit them?
  • Two versions of the bio, one short, one long. What about one that's in between? Hmm. I might have to get back to him on that.

Obviously, Gwen and I still have some work to do.

As one of our exercises, Jeff asked us to sit down and write a bio for ourselves, choosing which length we wanted to try. I have a few short snappy ones, so I decided to try for a longer one for myself. It certainly wasn't as impressive as Marks': books published, awards awarded, etc. Humble as it is, however, I present it here:
Sarah E. Glenn wanted to grow up to be Kolchak. As an adult, she got a B.S. in Journalism, which is redundant if you think about it. She specializes in weird stories of all sorts. They’ve appeared in G.W. ThomasGhostbreakers series, Mystery in Mind, an anthology from the Rhine Institute, and two will soon appear in Daily Flash 2011, a flash fiction anthology from Pill Hill Press.
Sarah is also a member of Sisters in Crime and belongs to the Ohio River Valley chapter. Her story “Party to a Fall” appears in the chapter’s Low Down and Derby anthology, and she’s also had stories published in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. "Patch Test", a medical mystery, was a finalist in Crossed Genres' 2010 "Science in my Fiction" competition.
Sarah E. Glenn’s novel, All This and Family, Too, has very little to do with the above except for Kolchak, because it has vampires in it. Please don’t cringe.
If only I had the book contract to go with the bio... At least I'm getting a head start on the publicity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There's rejection, and then there's Rejection!

I am happy to report that I've never gotten as harsh a rejection letter as the ones in this book. The young woman featured early in the video doesn't understand that rejections to writers are best done via letter, because slush pile readers get stalked sometimes (check out pages 2 and 3 of this article). Let's be honest, some writers are whack jobs. More of us would be if it weren't for the invention of psychotropic medications.


My wife specializes in receiving 'nice' rejection letters - you know, the ones that tell you what a wonderful writer you are, but your story doesn't fit for whatever reason. She didn't know whether to be flattered or frustrated as hell. Fortunately, she recently received the most important acceptance of all and her first novel is on sale.

When I get rejected, I get form letters. When I don't get form letters from an editor, it's because they take issue with something in my story. Yes, I know that I should take these to heart and correct my mistakes. I do correct those mistakes, but there isn't enough Lexapro in the world to salve the pain of a writer who takes rejection to heart. No wonder writers are famous for drinking.

Have you ever gotten an exceptionally vile rejection letter?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writer's Version of Don't Ask-Don't Tell, Part II

I got real comments from my last blog on this subject, which went to my head. Actual readers! I had a suggestion from my spouse shortly thereafter, and I overheard another frequently asked question today, while she was discussing her new book. They've been burning a hole in my writing pocket since:

  • Why don't you write about (subject that has nothing to do with your projects)? You'd be really good at it. (I could do a horror story about dry socket, too, but I have no inclination to do that, either.)
  • Why don't you do ___ with your character? (This generates one of two responses: a) because that's idiotic, or b) great idea, but now I can't do it because you'd demand to 'split the profits'. Ain't happening.)
  • You based this character on me, didn't you? (Trust me, if I did, you wouldn't have to ask. I've written roman à clef before. I give 'tells'. Like a character who thinks everything is about her.)
  • You based this character on (other friend or relative), didn't you? (See above. However, if it makes you happy to think I've zinged Uncle Fred, go ahead.)
  • Why do you bother writing? You're never going to make any money at it. (Neither does watching TV, drinking, or smoking. In other words, f--k off.) 
  •  Haven't you finished that book yet? (DAMN YOU TO HELL!)
Another question I get a lot: What is your book about? I've decided that although this got annoying after the third person asked, it gives me the chance to practice my 'pitch'.

Perhaps I should talk about annoying questions writers get from other writers next. Unfortunately, I'm probably the asker.

Another question that came up in the comments from the first article: You're a writer? Where have you been published? Naturally, not all writers are published authors. This doesn't mean they're not writers, it just means they don't have published works yet.

I don't have a snappy answer for this one. Do you know why? Because I rarely told people outside the writing community of my ambitions until I was published. I received too many negative comments about wanting to be a writer while I was growing up. As an adult, I didn't spring that little secret on non-writers without something to show for it. By the time I 'came out' as an author at work, I'd edited two Pagan newsletters, received some local recognition as a political blogger, and had several published stories.

I salute the unpublished writers who are willing to 'go public' and deal with this last question. You're braver than I am. Might I suggest that you simply tell them that you're still revising your novel?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Write Like WHO?

UPDATE: The analysis results
give you a come-on for a vanity publisher. The analysis itself is pretty fun, though!




I write like
Chuck Palahniuk
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


To quote Jon Stewart: "I s--t you not."

I've never even seen the movie Fight Club, much less read anything of Palahniuk's. One of the people at Coding Robots described the analysis process as follows: "It's the statistics of words, sentences, etc."


My stories include lesbian vampires, hospice workers doubling as occult detectives, and malicious misuse of nanotechology. None of them are peppered with S & M or people beating each other up for fun. Most of the time, in fact, my main characters would be leading quiet, productive lives (or unlives) if people would just stop messing with them.


I asked Coding Robots if Palahniuk used a lot of sarcasm.  The response: "If only iwl could detect sarcasm :) ".

Addendum: I Write Like has added several new authors to their repertoire in the last few days. I still write like Chuck Palahniuk.

The Writer's Version of Don't Ask-Don't Tell


Inkygirl has put her pencil nib on a few of the annoying things writers (especially non-famous ones) deal with when their non-writing friends learn that they are writers.

Here are ones I've heard, with less-than-polite truthful answers:
  • I have this great idea for a book. (Unless you are another writer, 99% chance it's not. If you are a writer, 85% chance it's not. Please limit your pitch to query-letter length.)
  • Why don't you make my great idea into a book, and we can split the profits? (Why don't YOU write it, since it's your story? If you expect ME to write it, that split will be 1% to you for inspiration and 99% to me for perspiration, as per Thomas Edison.)
  • I had this dream last night. I'm sure it would make a great book. (Gaaahhh! Please, please don't tell it to me!)
  • Let me tell you about it in great detail. (Nooooo! Please stop! Why didn't I schedule that root canal for today? I'm sure there's a dentist somewhere that works on Saturday.)
  • Where do you get your ideas? (Good ideas come from the Muses. Not sure where the f--- mine come from, but people aren't buying them. Oh, wait, I have these dreams... let me tell YOU about my latest one in great detail.)
  • Writing is easy. You just get an idea and write it down. (Yeah, which is why it took three years to write my first novel and why my psychiatrist is trying 60mg of Lexapro on me for my 'existential angst').
  • I'd like to write a novel. If only I had the time like you do. (Based on your blow-by-blow description of "Jersey Couture", I'd say that you DO have the time. There are authors who've finished books while working two jobs, raising children, etc. It's not time, it's the trouble that stops you. Come to think of it, that's why it took me three years to write my first novel.)
  • Once you sell that novel, you'll be able to sit back and let the royalties roll in. (You really don't know anything about the publishing industry or the current book market, do you? Thanks for your confidence, though.)
If any writers out there are reading this post (is that crickets I hear?), please add the questions and comments YOU'D rather not hear again. I need to be prepared.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Old Spice

Recently, The Poison Review (an excellent resource site) reported: "Fox News discovers nutmeg abuse".

Teenagers have figured out that large amounts of nutmeg can make you high.

Video w/2010's Spice Girl

This is not a new discovery; the knowledge has been around for a while. Something that the TV spot didn't mention is the indigestion that goes along with consuming substantial amounts of caustic spices.

Back in a previous model of yours truly, around Sarah 3.0 (I'm on at least 6.0 now), I worked at the reports desk of my local police department. We processed mostly crime reports, but every once in a while we would get a report on someone who had harmed themselves in a weird way. Nutmeg featured prominently in one of them.

Circa 1990, two young men decided to reach a legal high via eggnog decoration. They visited their pusher of choice, the local Kroger's, where they purchased one box of nutmeg and two half-gallons of milk. These fellows tried, tried to plan ahead - honest! When they got back to their place in UK's student ghetto, they divided the Banda Island gold between the two containers of milk. They covered and shook the contents vigorously, then chugged them down.

The report didn't specify whether they got high or not. It did specify, however, that they began puking uncontrollably. This was waaaayy past too much baklava. The two guys visited the local ER, where the staff immediately became suspicious. They'd begun throwing up only two hours ago...? They didn't know why they were sick, but they thought they needed medical help...? That set the BS alarms off, and the staff wormed the story out of the young men.

A report was filed with the police, but, really, these young men had broken no laws outside of digestive ones. They had already been punished, though, for their culinary creativity.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall


I got clued into this video by John Clawitter's blog on 1st Turning Point. Parnell Hall is best known for his Puzzle Lady mysteries, but I'm fonder of Stanley Hastings. There's a lot of Parnell's own personality (and background) in Stanley, especially in the book Juror (click here for a sample read).

Part of why I'm thinking about Parnell's song is because my wife's book, Circle of Dishonor, is about to come out in print. She's setting up launch parties, and I'm working on her web site (please note there's no link for this yet). We're also hoping to line up some signing gigs... but I hope we have better luck than Parnell.

I sure hope Gwen is too busy to see this, come to think of it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Good news! My short story, "Co-Pay", will be appearing in Daily Flash 2011, an upcoming anthology from Pill Hill Press. Gwen Mayo also has a story appearing in the collection.

I hope you will all take a look, because they will be publishing Gwen's first novel later this summer!

The anthology is still open for submissions, so why don't you join us?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's not the same on paper

The Last Psychiatrist graced us with The Copenhagen Interpretation of Lost recently. If you don't know who TLP is, he/she is a blogger who psychoanalyzes popular culture and, occasionally, the people who make the news.

If, like me, you didn't know what the Copenhagen interpretation was, I will greatly oversimplify it for you: every item out there has a set number of places it could be right now. If you actually measure the item, the possibilities of its location are immediately shrunk by the act of measuring.

Um... okay. So perception creates reality?

The Last Psychiatrist applies this notion to Lost, which has parallel universes. Confession: I've never seen Lost, but my previous experience with the Chronicles of Amber has made me familiar with parallel universes.

In this case, all possibilities exist before you (to varying probabilities), but once a selection has been made, all other choices are obliterated. Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities. Just like middle age!
...
The point, for Lost, is that by having Desmond, Charlie, Jack, et al become aware of this other universe (e.g. Desmond's flash of Charlie drowning in the car) they are not jumping to the other universe, but in fact obliterating the one they are in, in favor of the other (Copenhagen interpretation.) This makes Locke/Smoke Monster's desire to leave the island, and the feared consequences ("everything will cease to be") more accurate. Locke isn't just changing universes, he is causing that one to obliterate.

Comparing it to middle age was very cold, but also very accurate. The older you get, the more choices you make. The more choices you make, the narrower your options are in the future. That's not entirely bad, by the way. You can cut down on a lot of bad outcomes through good planning and self-care.

Middle age, though, really seems to be when people start noticing the limitations on their future. Turning thirty is all about taking that 'last chance' with your youthful dreams. Turning fifty is more like getting a Triptik from AAA (showing my age with that reference, too!) showing where your future trouble spots are on the Highway of Life: You're really fat and have been for a while. Better watch that blood sugar... Your parents had cataracts. Squinting a lot lately? Your work history is clerical, and your degree is in journalism. You're probably not going to get a job in top administration anywhere, ever, especially since ageism is rampant and you're part of the wrong profile.

Oh, and you will die. You're just trying to control when, how, and what your circumstances will be.

I find the notion interesting, though, and think that writing fiction is an equally good example of the Copenhagen interpretation. When the story is still in your head, it is lovely and numinous - or evil and dastardly, for horror and mystery writers. Once you begin writing things down, though, concretizing those details necessary to creating a story, it comes thudding to earth. You have to name characters. You have to figure out how someone could introduce poison into a hormone patch. If you set the story in a fake town, you have to make up realistic-sounding details. If you set your story in a real town, you have to look up details. And, of course, all this is mere backdrop for the most important question of all: would Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine pay me to publish this?

One point in the writer's favor: Life always ends with death, but acceptance at AHMM still falls in the realm of possibility, no matter how remote that possibility is for some people (I won't name names). Maybe that's why I began seriously writing during the middle of a severe depression. If I felt like dying, what harm could a mere rejection slip inflict? (FYI, I now know the answer to this question.)

Another advantage: unlike life, 'past events' are malleable in a story... until it is published. You can change things around till you 'win'! Once it's in print, of course, it's set. If it's a standalone, no problem. Series character? The facts of the current story will limit certain things for future stories, but hey - it's still published. You're loved, and you win!

The drawback? It's going to be flawed. You brought it to earth, and now it's mortal. Every time you create or recreate the backstory, it limits what is feasible for the characters accordingly. The story will never be as lovely as it felt in your head, because defining it is the sun that burns off the morning mist. And people wonder why writers kill themselves...

We begin our own existence with numinous pictures of what our life will be like. In childhood, all things are possible, even becoming a superhero or a robot. This becomes tempered by the time we reach adolescence. Becoming a rock star or a model is possible, but we have some notion of what's 'unrealistic'. Many years later, we remember these younger times fondly - not necessarily because we had a good childhood or an enjoyable adolescence, but because we remember how wide open to greatness we felt.

Can we recapture that optimism somehow? Or does it only exist in ignorance and inaction? Because those are the only ways to 'beat' the Copenhagen Interpretation, whether in writing or life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sisters in Crime Loves the Pineville, KY library!

During 2010, Sisters in Crime is conducting a "We Love Libraries" lottery. U.S. libraries nominated at the SinC website become eligible to win a check for $1000. This may not mean much in large cities, but for smaller libraries it's pretty nice.

The Ohio River Valley chapter is celebrating this year, because March's winner was the Pineville-Bell County Public Library in Pineville, Kentucky! Our chapter has received the check and is making arrangements for presentation. The ceremony will probably take place in May. There's a good chance I'll be out of the state when it happens, so I hope someone takes pictures.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Advice for the Civically Handicapped

Sometimes it seems like U.S. citizens either don't know or have conveniently forgotten information that is common knowledge for everyone else. Since today is Tax Day, I thought I'd bring up one that seems obvious but apparently bears repeating:

You have to file a tax return.

You may have heard somewhere or read somewhere that tax collection is voluntary, but snopes.com and the IRS disagree. That second one is especially important, because they can throw your ass in jail whether you think you're supposed to pay taxes or not.

If you're not into Snopes, try USA Today. The tenth myth they listed? That paying taxes is voluntary. It's not. 'Voluntary' refers to us citizens sending the IRS our information, rather than the government having to tot up all our transactions and making its best guess on our deductions.

Okay, now you're saying that the government has the mainstream media issuing the party line. You'll get no arguments from me about that. This doesn't mean, though, that the IRS has no power to stuff you into the can for a few years. Even Wesley Snipes had to do time, and he's a well-liked celebrity who had prominent people pleading his case, plus some proof that his financial advisers had deceived him.

The income tax was first established during the Civil War to support war costs. It was dropped in 1872, but in 1913 the 16th Amendment gave Congress the legal authority to tax income. And the government doesn't balk at exercising that authority. When even Elliot Ness couldn't get Al Capone into prison, the IRS did.

Plus, give it a moment's thought. Do you really think that there's a secret group of wealthy cognoscenti that don't pay taxes because they have this special knowledge? You heard of it, didn't you? Do you think that they hire highly skilled lawyers who can beat the IRS at its own game? No, the wealthy cognoscenti are using offshore accounts to hide assets or buying their own congressmen to put loopholes in the tax law.

So... YES, you must file a tax return. You may not need to pay anything, but you should file. Just saying.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Victory is mine!

As of last night, I am the winner of the office pool. Duke beat West Virginia, and everyone in the pool has advanced as far as they could. I won the prize over much wiser heads, and I know it... heh, heh.

I was sorry, though, to hear about Da'Sean Butler being so seriously injured. I hope it is not a career-ending injury, but anything involving torn ligaments is pretty ominous. He seems like a really nice guy. I hope he graduates and finds a good career if he can't progress along his original path.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rooting for... Duke?

Sadly, UK was defeated over the weekend. Both of the teams I chose for that championship game are out of the running, so I have advanced as far as I can in bracket points.

Would you believe,though... that I am leading the ENT pool at the moment? This next weekend will probably determine who wins the bracket competition. It's between me and Dr. Jones. He's got West Virginia playing in the championship game (I had UK). This weekend, Duke plays WV. If WV wins, Dr. Jones wins. If Duke wins, I win. Guess what? I'm rooting for Duke.

I find this very ironic. One of the other doctors had a statistician do his brackets. Dr. Jones is a huge basketball fan and knows the teams really well. _I_ just like to play because it's a fun thing to do with other UK people. I mostly chose my teams based on their rankings. My Final Four were the top seeds of their regions. My brackets busted when everyone else's did. Yet, somehow, I managed to choose the right combination of lesser teams to keep me in the running.

So, I'll be waiting to see how Duke does (actually watching the game would probably jinx them). It'd be so funny to accidentally win again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's that time again...


This is one year I'm not certain I should run this pic, despite the giggle it gives me.

I don't watch many sports that don't directly involve a relative. One exception: ice skating at the Olympics. Not just any ice skating... it has to be at the Olympics.

The other exception: March Madness. From the pic, I think you can guess my state of residence. I began doing the bracket thing to be a 'joiner' at work, but got hooked when I accidentally won because, like everyone else, I'd put UK going all the way... but unlike everyone else, I had Syracuse go with them. UK didn't go all the way, but Syracuse did. I chose Syracuse because one of my wife's bosses went there... not because I knew much about them. I won, though, and I liked that part (especially the $$$). I've had no such luck since.

After this past weekend, though, I jumped from tenth place to third in my wife's office pool. I've been trying to figure out why, since I lost Kansas and Villanova when everyone else did. Everyone kept Ohio State in like I did (I went there for 3 years, so that was a sentimental choice, not skill). So, why?

Because I kept Duke. Most of her office had Rick Pitino beating Duke with Louisville, and I didn't. Just because they're rivals doesn't mean I underestimate them. I have them going to the Final Four, too.

They just better not beat Kentucky.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Watching What Other People Eat

One of the people on the Leaving 190-ville team (SparkPeople) likes the quote at the bottom of my messages: "The toughest part of a diet isn't watching what you eat. It's watching what other people eat." I don't remember where I stole that from, but it's certainly true!

Once you're under 200 pounds, you start to approach the 'normal' range of weight (or, in many guys' cases, the 'fit' range). You can buy clothes in 'regular' stores. You may be able to give up the seat belt extender in airplanes. Your endurance increases. Your feet hurt less. Blood pressure drops. Diabetes becomes easier to control.

Then, you start trying to eat like 'normal' people too, and the days of salads and sugar-free tea go out the window. You're still trying to reach a lower weight, or are trying to eat a 'maintenance' diet, but everyone else is enjoying themselves!

You and your friends go out for pizza, and you know you better not have more than 2 pieces, preferably cheese or veggie. Your friends are going to eat at least half a pizza each. You have Sunday dinner with the family, and Mom brings out the bread and butter. While you indulge in one piece with a 'naughty' amount of low-fat oleo, everyone else is slathering the butter on and demolishing the loaf. When you visit IHOP, you mentally calculate how many calories you'll have in your other meals for the day before you order (suggestion: make this brunch and only have ONE other meal that day). At the tables around you, people are having all-you-can-eat pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash browns. The kids' soccer team goes to DQ for a post-game treat. They order Blizzards while you have a vanilla cone or a small sundae.

And, of course, all of these foods are being washed down with gallons of sweet, delicious, evil pop. You're still trying to convince your liver that water isn't bad for it (at least I am).

Often, I can just look at these people's butts to remember that I am not the one eating the wrong amount of food. One time at IHOP, my spouse speculated that a man at a nearby table would be lucky to see his son reach adulthood. My skinnier co-workers may indulge in pizza or donuts occasionally, but I know what Spartan lives they normally lead. It sure doesn't feel that way when we're eating treats together, though! You feel like the odd person out, the one who can't do what normal people do.

I'm not surprised some dieters become food Nazis with their families and friends. It's got to drive them nuts, seeing everyone else having all the fun. Eating 'regular' foods with your family (or going to 'regular' restaurants) is also more challenging than having a fridge that ONLY contains skim milk, spinach, and skinless breast of chicken. It'd be so much easier if everyone else ate the same things you did.

I'm still trying to find that balance without going medieval on everyone else. Often, I just take smaller portions or cut out one of the sides. I split entrees with my wife or order the Happy Meal at McDonald's. It may appear abnormal, but, trust me, it's not.

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