Friday, August 28, 2009

Nothing's original, but is that bad?

Music, inspiration and madness produced this piece of artwork in one evening of hard driving coffee house action. Fascinated by the spirit of its creation and the fervor of the artist, I snapped a photo before he carted it off to his vehicle.

A few days later I clicked on a Twitter link and discovered the picture below. The original I'd seen in its living, breathing essence, seemed somehow tainted. Not as pleasing. Even though the first was created using a brush and oils, and the one below is merely a manipulated photograph.

Man on Fire
The experience reminded me of discovering a local author, and exploring her work only to be disappointed that each book copied the identical concepts, down to at least one character in each work having clever, whiskey eye color. I felt quite critical, smug even, although she had reached the NY Times Bestseller list multiple times.

How unoriginal.

After listening to my rant, my sister reminded me writers don't pump out several books a year. If you enjoy an author you usually wait a year for the next release. You forget their idiosyncrasies. I, however, forget little and tend to start with an author's first work and read one right after the other in an effort to determine how their writing style has evolved, and most of all I don't want every story to include:

Female protagonist who pep-talks self out-loud, saying things like ‘get yourself together, with more attractive siblings and one developmentally delayed or socially-underdeveloped one; she lives in a small town near a large city, and drives a jeep, rides horses bareback (ever tried it? Give me a saddle, geez), is from a wealthy, influential family, with a domineering father, makes bad choices in men, then suddenly makes a good one (?!), hooks her thumb at her chest and hitches her chin, has a sickly stomach and tends to throw up a lot.

A male character who sires a child with someone other than his wife and child is hidden, speaks basely about women, thinks about sex a lot and its not pretty, nor is it love, has a sex slave who is willing to do anything to keep him, which doesn’t seem to work out so well for her and ultimately is not appreciated by him, practices a sexual deviancy: brother to sister, father-daughter, or husband caught with under-aged girl…

Another male character who is a social outcast, as a youth has a trouble with the law, and who pines over the girl for years, and somehow was either misunderstood or magically got his life together.

Somewhere I read, perhaps on Nathan Bransford blog (wish I could find it), what sells, sells. The author had found a writing niche readers enjoyed and had exploited it.

I don't want to be a copy, or imitate. That's so uninspiring, I still can't quite embrace it. Perhaps that was my inspiration to be first, as in The First Carol. Someone else can be next or last, and I hope they have a grand time trying to imitate me. Sure. Let's run with that.

If given the chance (or talent), which author would you want to imitate and why?


Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's a writer's conference, cry me a river

Day One.
I give my elevator pitch to Fellow Writer A, a woman. She says, “Oooo, nice.”

I gain confidence and give my elevator pitch to First Agent. She nods, appears interested. I give very brief summary of story. When I get to the part where ex-husband shows up as female protagonist’s new boss the agent stops me.

“No. That is too much of a coincidence for me.” I explain how the plot line makes it plausible. “No,” she smiles, “He would already know who the employees are in a business he is buying.” I tell her the story does not make that clear, whether he knows she’s there or not, it is not a story point. “No,” she repeats still smiling, pulls out a pocket dagger, swings it in front of my eyes for emphasis and details further, “I can’t find anything likeable about your female character.”

Nothing? The glint of the steel flashes and I sit back in my seat. I swing my head toward the exit and try to judge how far away I am.

“I like books with very strong female protagonists. Rethink your pitch, recast it in a way that describes the genre, what and why—why would she marry him?” She says things like explain plot device and ends with, “I have a disdain for characters who get themselves into a fix.” She stabs the dagger into the table top for emphasis.

I am in a fix. She has disdain for me.

Rewrite the story? I can’t just make something up.

Oh, right, I made it all up.

It sucks. I suck.

I my lips pull into a wavering smile and I thank her for her time.

Day Two, Morning
I give my elevator pitch to Fellow Writer B, a man, “Wow, I’m intrigued.”

Second Agent says, “Pitch me.” I give same elevator pitch. She stops me. “If she’s learned not to depend, why does she?” I explain the circumstances that make it plausible. She asks, “Is this you?”

“No. why do you ask? Does it sound like it happened to me?”

“No, but if it had happened to you, I would ask why you married this guy and tell you to turn it into a memoir.”

I wonder briefly if I can find and marry Jae-Chun Lee. I must discard this thought, after all, he is already married and...and...he is fiction.

I realize I am insane.

My plot is insane.

Day Two, Lunch
I decide I will not share agent feedback with my critique group, because one of them will tell me that such-and-so always bothered them, too, and I will quit, actually quit writing because…

I’ll give them a good excuse, as soon as I write one that does not suck and sound insane.

Day Two, Afternoon
I am thirsty. I leave my volunteer station in the agent consult area and grab a seltzer water can out of my car. I slip back into the banquet room and glide past an agent twiddling thumbs on a break.

The Agent grabs my arm and asks,“Where did you find the sparkling water?” I size the situation up. I hesitate. I do not snap the metal circle-tab. “You will be my new best friend,” she declares, “if you divulge your source.”

I hand her my can.

“No, I can't take your water,” she says, and struggles to maintain her composure. She’s likely very thirsty after telling all the writers how much they suck. She swallows and chomps down on the inside of her cheek.

“My treat,” I say. “I have a whole case in the car.”

She looks doubtful. I plant the can on her table. She relents. Her shaky hand reaches out. Her fingers close around the metal cylinder, red-glazed fingernails flick at the ring-top. It pops open and the water gasps, sparkling and plinking of Northwest freshness. She takes a long draw.

“You owe me a pitch,” I suggest, and it doesn't sound like I’m kidding. I mentally check my internal resources and steel myself for rejection.

“Send me your stuff,” she answers, “No,” she decides, after taking another gulp. She wipes her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “Send me your entire manuscript.” She scribbles her email on a scrap of paper.

I realize my value is measured in the drinks I keep in my car.

Later that evening, I wonder if it is required to cry everyday of a writer’s conference, and realize I do not suck at everything.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Celebrities who've met ME! Meet Dr. Nomsa Geleta

Pictured: Educator and author, Dr. Nomsa Geleta and Little Karol.

It all began…looking for a Jodi Picoult book, Little Karol sauntered up to the shelf, stared at the array of neatly organized titles and couldn’t make up her mind. So, she did what any teenager does. She changed her mind.

New plan: non-fiction.

She had the exact book in mind, but couldn’t remember the title. She walked me through her little brain tease. Movie. Teacher. Writers. I recalled the book but had no recollection of the title, either.

I, however, am never without options.

I eased up to the information desk, leaned an elbow on the counter, and had a casual, albeit quiet conversation, with an elderly woman who looked like today was her first day on the job.

“There’s a book about a teacher and she works in the inner-city.” I shuttered my voice so as not to sound as dumb to the general public as I obviously was, “And it’ good book.” I eased in closer. “They made a movie out of it.” The old lady leaned away. “And it starred...” I pursed my lips and paused, gazed up at the 30-foot store ceiling searching for the answer. “It's that girl who married Ben Afflect.” We were surrounded by exactly 1.56 quadrillion books, amassed inside a building which took up an entire city block, the world’s largest independent used and new bookstore, Powell’s Books, 68,000 sq. ft., multiple floors of paper, bindings and a coffee shop. Exactly my kind of place. The thought of coffee kicked the name into place, “Jennifer Garner!” I clapped my hands in relief, and glowed. Powell's attendants knew everything. “Do you know which book I’m talking about?”

The old lady’s cheeks flushed, she floundered, hands flying up to her throat. “I…I don’t know,” she stuttered.

My eyes darted around and I tried another tactic: repeat, repeat, LOUDER. “It’s a book that became a MOVIE…”

A blond floated by, caught the hints of Hollywood in our conversation and, of course, stopped to listen. She eased up to the info desk and leaned in.

I glanced at her, realized others waited for information, but not ready to give up my source to the secrets of Powells, I re-worded my question. “A book about a teacher. The kids write. They drink champagne, only it’s school and it’s not really champagne, it’s that sparkling apple juice. Cider stuff.”

The blond’s curls bounced as her head bobbed between me and the info lady. Info lady shrugged her rounded shoulders and shrank back on her stool. “I…I really don’t know.”

The blond pounced on the opportunity. “I do!”

I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back on my heels. Really.

The blond squeezed her eyes shut. “Its…it’s Freedom something.” She opened her eyes and bit her lip, “I know it...” She strained as the competition with herself heated up. “Freedom...” She flapped her hands.

Little Karol and I blinked at each other and announced simultaneously, “FREEDOM WRITERS!”

The blond smiled and skipped off singing. “Told you I knew it!”

The old lady plucked at her keyboard and came up with the info. She slid a scrap of white paper our direction. In skaky script it noted, Aisle 641, Rose Room. We snatched the sheet and skipped off trying to figure out how to pronounce the author’s last name, using several variations. Erin Grunell, Erin Grinnell, Erin Groomwell. Old lady handwriting is hard to read.

“Gruwell,” stated a gentleman.

Our eyes flicked up and met the smile of a friendly stranger.

“Thanks,” I said. “I met her. We’re looking for her book, Freedom Writers.” Well, met as in sat in the audience at the YWCA event and listened to her story.

“Great book,” he said, and motioned toward the woman in the aisle with him, “She met her, too.” The woman smiled shyly as our attention focused on her. “In fact, “he continued, “She co-wrote her next book. Teaching Hope.”

It’s true, I thought. I can‘t go anywhere without celebrities seeking me out. It’s a good thing I’m interesting.

We introduced ourselves and and entered into a lively conversation with Dr. Dennis Pataniczek, Dean at Salisbury University, and Dr. Nomsa Geleta, Director of Graduate Programs. I tucked Dr. Geleta's card into my camera case right after I took her picture with Little Karol

We continued the conversation via email as I wanted to know more about Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell. Geleta first met Erin Gruwell just before the movie Freedom Writers was made. “We had invited her as a speaker for our campus. She stayed in touch with a colleague of mine. When she decided to invite a select group of "teachers" for a five day all paid institute she invited me although I was not a teacher in a K-12 setting. I am one of the only two professors in the group of 150 teachers that were selected to attend the institute and were then asked to participate in the book project. My role as well as those of other 150 participants was to write a story in the life of a teacher. I submitted one story about my teaching experience as a secondary school teacher. When the book comes out I will let you know which one is mine. The book is expected to be out August 16th. Barnes and Nobles will carry the book.

“I hope you and your daughter enjoy reading the Freedom Writers Diaries and the soon to be released Teaching Hope.

“I hope she finds the stories from both books inspiring and affirming her desire to be a teacher, our nation and the world needs good teachers.”

Thank you Dr. Geleta and Dr. Pataniczek for being friendly voices in a big bookstore willing to be kind to strangers looking for a good book, and for being in the right place at the right time. We loved meeting you! But most of all, thank you for caring about education. What you do changes the world

From the Random House web-site: ERIN GRUWELL, the Freedom Writers, and her nonprofit organization, The Freedom Writers Foundation, have received many awards, including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award, and have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Primetime, Good Morning America, and The View, to name a few. All 150 Freedom Writers went on to graduate from high school. Erin Gruwell is also a charismatic motivational speaker who spreads her dynamic message to students, teachers, and business people around the world. She lives in southern California.

Subtitle: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers and Erin Gruwell
Author: Gruwell, Erin
Foreword: Quindlen, Anna
Author: The Freedom Writers
Publisher: Broadway Books
Subject: Teacher-student relationships
Subject: Teachers
Subject: Teaching Methods & Materials - General
Subject: United states
Subject: Attitudes
Subject: Philosophy & Social Aspects
Publication Date: August 2009
Binding: Paperback
Language: English
Pages: 384

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why asian guys can't get white girls

Written and Directed by Philip Wang. Wong Fu Productions.

Oh, and this is cool, if you like the Bai Ren Kan Bu Dong t-shirt featured in the video (the one with the Asian characters) you can purchase the t-shirt from for only $14.99.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Boring until the gunshot

Air damp with the night’s rain whipped through the cracked window. I took my foot off the gas to exit I-5 and rode the 179th Street off ramp down, not slowing, hoping to make the green light that gleamed at its base. I grabbed a hard left, straightened the car in the unusual August morning fog, and allowed stanchions and flags to ease me along the familiar route to the county fair grounds.

My fluorescent orange credential parking pass dangled from the rear-view mirror of my white Chevy Malibu. I flicked it with my finger until I got the attention of the safety-vested kid inside the gate. Mid yawn he waved me through.

I took the circle drive around the grounds at a steady five miles an hour above the posted limit and pulled into the parking area closest to the commercial building that housed the office. Avoiding the loose gravel, I steered the car onto the over-sized asphalt sidewalk and peered down each aisle gawking for the first row not roped off. Easy in and out access seemed to be my solitary purpose for this three-year, ego boosting, volunteer position on the county fair board.

Can't wait for it to be over.

After shifting into park, I glanced in the mirror and mussed my wet hair. Lemon verbena wafted into the space and I closed the window, grabbed my bag, and strode toward my early morning appointment: fair safety meeting.


Nearing the commercial building I passed a handful of carnival workers whose conversations grew silent as the sound of my clicking Ferragamo’s overtook them. What secrets could they have, I wondered, and smiled at my own. Nordstrom Rack coup, clearly a return and deeply discounted. I enjoyed the little flash of toe-buckle with each swish of my cotton cream slacks.

Inside the building I slipped past the rows of canned goods. I slung through the four-foot gate, built to keep the public at bay, and closed in on the bad coffee brewing in the break room. Last year, I’d brought fragrant gourmet grounds for our ten-consecutive day morning meetings, but I had not managed it this year. Bad economy, real job churning in constant crisis, overseeing the active social schedule of a teenager involved with boys, 4-H, and dogs sucked up all available mom brain cells and any extra time.

The round robin report on non-events had already begun. I grabbed a chair at the end of one of the scattered tables and plopped my steaming white Styrofoam cup in front of me. The previous night’s demolition derby had failed to incite any bad behavior, grand stands full, but aggressive competitors failed to pitch the cheering crowd into overload. Next. Vendor heaven after the show. Next. Volunteer Horse Patrol rode a quiet evening, no smuggled in booze. No nothing.

This has got to be the safest place in the state. I sipped the dastardly brew.

Yesterday, largest day in the carnival area, today and Sunday should go gangbusters. Next. Thirty kids participated in the Special Olympics, big thanks to Funtastic Shows for the stuffed animal prizes…

I gazed out the conference room window. I’d have nothing to add when they came to me. The fair scholarships had been awarded, and the account had not been replenished, as I knew they’d hoped. The rich cousins remained on the east coast. The outlaw cousins, my branch of the family, had fled to the wild west and never gained foothold in the lucrative trade that flourished when Fort Vancouver organized commerce in this area.

Welcome to the middle class.

My eyes skimmed over the dock dog set up. A black lab swam circles in the pool nipping at the waves he created. Paddle. Nip. Paddle. Nip. He climbed up the ramp, paused, and flung himself back into the oasis of blue.

“We lost…” I tuned back into the meeting. A lime clad Coast-to-Coast security representative said, “About 150 parking spaces due to tonight’s tough trucks and pro AM. Thirty rigs were here when I arrived at six, and they’re still pulling in.” His voice betrayed his exhilaration for the upcoming big-noise event.

Movement outside caught the corner of my eye and my attention reverted to the open stretch near the swimming dog. A fair Carney in a dirty gray t-shirt spoke with force, fists opening and closing, a dark charcoal, triangle patch visible in his arm pit area when he flapped his limbs. He glanced toward the conference room, gestured my direction.

Is he signaling me? I straightened. No, Carol Jo, it’s not always about you.

I flicked my eyes over the room. The gentle buzz of the reports continued. I twisted my pen, pretended to write and peered through the sparkling window to the glistening outdoors. The gray-shirted Carney muscled in on someone. His scuffed brown boots bit into the grass as he drug his foe into range. The younger, twenty-something kid, yanked off balance, lurched forward and pushed the Carney’s grimy hands off his shirt. He regained composure and jammed his hands deep in the pockets of his ragged jeans. Both men appeared aged by wear and tear, no evidence of the natural progression of comfortable lives. The heated, mostly one-sided conversation continued. The younger pulled his hands out and ran them over his thighs.

Sweaty palms?

“Someone loaded their four-horse trailer through the yellow gate,” chuckled the parking supervisor. “He wound through the back and ended up on the mid-way. We’re marking that as a new path to the horse barn.” The group chortled. Outside the muted shouting of the Carney ramped up. The younger man looked away, rolled his neck, twisted his head, eyes flitting over the grounds, pain or something else. He looked directly at me.


Inside, a fresh scrubbed fireman spoke. I peered at the uniformed man's bland face, not even a freckle. I looked at my half bare arms, my spattering of freckles had developed into age spots.

Goodbye thirties. Hello forties.

“Three calls yesterday,” the fireman reported, then as an after thought, “Aspirin, band-aid, wrong number.”


The announcements droned. 4-H heifer sale successful, our average price per pound beat out Chehalis’ top price.

Outside the younger man sputtered and shook. His chest heaved. He inhaled a deep breath.

Is he going to cry?

The veterinarian's voice cracked. “Sent a sick bull cow home. Received a 4 AM call on a crashing goat.” He cleared his throat.

I wondered aloud what ‘crashing goat’ meant, imagined small hooves kicking the slats of the pen until the wood cracked and splintered, a goat crashing out onto the mid-way heading straight for the misdirected horse trailer, and spearing it with its tiny goat horns.

“Dying,” the woman to my right answered.

“Oh.” I said

Back outside, the younger man exploded, shouted lip readable obscenities exposing a huge gap between his teeth. He puffed his cheeks and pounded his hands on his thighs. His head bobbed between me and the Carney.

The Carney glanced my way and stepped back. The kid jumped forward and pushed the gray shirted man in the chest. They scuffled out of sight. I signaled the security guy across the room. Danny, the captain. He smiled, waved back, made a motion as if writing, and moved his right hand to his ear as if holding a phone.

Shit. He wants my number.

“Down hill from here,” the marketing manager wrapped up.

“Let’s hope not,” replied the executive director.

Group chuckle.

Meeting over, I moved quickly out the side door directly into the break room. I dumped the remnants of my bad brew into the sink, not bothering to rinse the tinted brown stream down the drain, tossed the cup, and ran to the door leading into the hall. The handle twisted in my hand. The door opened. I stared straight into the name tag: Danny Stevens, Security Captain. My eyes crept up his barrel chest to his slow grin.

“Gotta run,” I stammered. “Catch you later.”

“Where you headed?” he asked, a lazy smile stretched his chubby cheeks. His shirt microphone crackled. He plucked at it and pressed a button on the mic. “Be right there.” He clicked the switch off. “I’ll see you in the dog barn.” I groaned, covered it with a cough and rushed the front door. “What color do you call that?” He said, pointing to his head. “Your hair color.”

“Auburn,” I said, and then to myself, flecked with gray.

I dodged the growing flood of incoming vendors and two slow moving electric wheel chairs. The disabled pair squeezed hands, and I felt a pang of jealousy. What the hell's wrong with me? I sighed took a breath and relaxed to a normal pace. A crash to my right startled me. Too much coffee makes a jittery morning at the county fair. My ankle twisted on the gravel path when the metal cracked against metal a second time. My eyes tore through the carnival area as the non-rhythmic clanging continued. I searched for where it reverberated.


The Carney stood with his back to me and swung a shovel between the Ferris wheel and the Tilt-A-Whirl, sinewy arms slicing through the air, more muscle than I imagined. The younger man dodged the make shift weapon, screamed, and thrust his arm my direction. The Carney turned and stared. Twenty-something cracked Carney's jaw just then. The Carney crumpled into himself and the shovel thunked on the ground. The kid retreated hopping and flipping his hand.

Must have hurt.

The crowd, who had hovered on the edges while the shovel swung, drew close, a growing murmur. I heard heavy boots pounding behind me. A county sheriff crashed past. His protruding elbow hit my shoulder and knocked me to the ground. My arms flew out and my bag flipped out of my hand. An angry ‘hey,’ stuck in my throat. I swallowed when I noticed the officer’s hand reaching to his holster and unsnapping the clasp.

The two fighting men were at it again, grunting, wrestling, pulling apart, panting. I surveyed the contents of my bag strewn about, moaned and brushed at the dirt and grass smudges on my slacks. I stood, shook my pants only to be knocked down by the next officer to run past.

What am I? Invisible?

Shouts. Commands. Escalating orders. I crouched, gathered my spiraled contents, rolled my feet under me and rose. The Carney stilled with his hands in the air. The young man lay on his chest. He held a dark... walkie-talkie? His hands shook. He pointed it my direction.

That’s odd.

I noted the flash of the camera and thought the noise that followed bizarre. A burning split me sharp as any migraine, creased my hip, and pitched me into a spin. My head jerked. My knees buckled. For a third time I thumped to the ground. Fireplay of flashes blinged. Pop. Pop. Pop. Dazed, I watched with curiosity a spurt of leaping blood. Whose is that? I reached for where my side stung. My hand felt sticky, warm.

I think…it’s…my blood.

I wobbled and attempted to stand. A shooting stab blinded my vision. I sank. My forehead hit something solid. Earth. I rolled on my back. Someone spoke. My eyes fluttered. Danny knelt beside me and stared all color drained from his cherubic cheeks, his hands reaching toward my arm. I was twenty pounds overweight and didn’t want him to figure that out when he pulled me up, so I pushed his groping paws away. I heard the cart before I saw it. A wheel of the stretcher came into view along with the paramedic’s boots. Someone behind him stumbled, the cart plowed into the paramedic, he fell into Danny, who thundered on top of me.


My head lolled to one side. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed I'd be able to breath again. The pain was horrific. I struggled to refill my lungs and caught a glimpse of the great beyond past Danny's ear. Heaven? The blue of the sky steered into focus and wisps of clouds drifted. No, heaven would be a man in Danny's position, except it would feel good.

Our eyes locked. He stuttered, but I understood his sentence. “Why was the guy aiming at you?”

The paramedic’s hand twitched and grabbed my wrist.

“Get off,” I said to Danny, and I wasn’t polite. I heard the splash at the dock dogs pool, coughed and then the real pain started. I grimaced.

I'm going down in fair history as the director who took a bullet, if that's not a reason to quit, I don't know what is.

Danny fondled my hand. I wanted to pull away but lacked the strength. I wished I could have spit when he ran his fingers through my hair. “You're going to need to wash it again,” he said. “What is that fragrance?”

I started to speak, but another odor hit my olfactory, and a cold muzzle snorted over my cheek. “Dog shit.” I whispered, and passed out.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our front door now fits in a box

Remember all that construction around the office? If not, you can review some of it here on this post.

Well, things are falling from the sky now. Big rocks. Out of big machines with hanging jaws that rip into the street and fling their heads up to disgorge into yawning dump trucks.


Slight operator error.

Huge bang.

Cracking echoes.

We are now missing our front window. Not to worry. Everyone 'chipped' in to help. We have able men everywhere. In fact, according to this picture it appears it takes three men to supervise and one to actually...sweep. Go, Sweep Man!

What have you swept up lately?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Celebrities who've met ME! Meet Luke Ryan, Vice President at MGM

I met Luke Ryan in 2008 at the Willamette Writers Conference. This year we ran into each other at the same conference and reminisced about that magical moment when our paths first crossed....

Mr. Ryan exited the agent pitch area and ambled straight toward me. I manned the 'please leave your comments here' volunteer post. I started a friendly conversation, how's it going, what do you do. He said he did film. I said...

"Oh-oh-oh! Are you looking for a project with an Asian man married to a Caucasian woman?!"

He gazed off into the distance giving proper thought to contemplating my query. He re-focused, took in my expectant face, looked me solidly in the eye, and uttered, "No."

"Honesty. That I like." I said, and smiled sheepishly. Wanting to finish on a more positive note, I asked, "Where are you from?"

He broke a smile and murmured the sweet word, "Hollywood."

"The only person I know in Hollywood is Ed Schofield," I chattered. "He did some work for Spielberg."

"I've heard of him," he mused.

"Really, wow, that makes me feel good," I responded.

He gave me a sideways glance then laughed. Yeah, there's more than one idiot at writers' conferences.

The next day he was the luncheon speaker. The emcee announced him as a Vice President at MGM, with much heralded experience including executive producer credits of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a movie that actually starred an Asian, Korean actor John Cho.

I've thought about watching the movie Ryan produced, but I can't get excited about it. I think our tastes run in opposite direction, avoiding odd people for him, awkward moments for me.

This year I attended one of Luke Ryan's classes. He's a kickass, entertaining teacher and extremely generous with his time with the conference and writers.

Here's a shout out to Luke Ryan who shared the main points of writing a detective film and a thriller and as soon as I find my notes I'll share them on the blog.

In the meantime, wishing you much success! Oh, and besides that animation stuff for Spielberg, Schofield also had a small part in a Gary Shandling movie. Now, that would be embarrassing


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vacation over, what comes next?

There is something sad about the last days of vacation, something that fills me with deep anxiety, that somehow I'm not ready for life, I'm not ready to go back. I want to staaaaay....

It's been a week. It's time, the vacation gods murmur. The universe allowed you to leave, now it's time to go back, go home.

"But I want to staaaaay...." I sing into the wind and it drifts back into my face, but far rougher than I'd released it, and I swallow the words. "You're right," I concede, and the consonants taste like sandpaper. "It's time to go."

Work hard, the spirits whisper, do your best and you can return.

We throw things in our bags un-carefully, a counterpoint to the anticipation we'd began the week with, trying to fool the lesser sprites (the ones that keep a closer watch) that it doesn't matter. We're fine leaving. We could stay if we wanted. We just want to go home now. Really

The car rumbles to life, noses out of the the parking lot, and turns east toward home.

What's the first thing you do at the end of your vacation?


Friday, August 7, 2009

Jake the alligator man and why my daughter has a new sweatshirt

There are the things that dreams are made of, and then there are the dark remnants that drift into our nightmares.

Consider Jake the Alligator Man. He fully intrigued me as a child, even captured my attention into young adulthood. I grappled with the facts of his leathery, dark hide looking for the stitch line that proved a human head had been attached to an alligator's body. I could never find the seam.

Perhaps, I believed he was real. Perhaps, that tainted the story as I spun the tale of the alligator man to my daughter and promised she would meet him.

"Some folks claim Jake the Alligator Man was a valet in a New Orleans whorehouse," I read from the complimentary brochure provided by Marsh's Free Museum. "Others claim to have seen him in carnivals, crawling around, nods of his head communicating yes or no."

My daughter grew astonished at the prospect of being face-to-face with Jake the Alligator Man.

She should have been sickened. I don't think even a mother could love his face...but she wasn't repulsed by JAKE.

Instead, she was disappointed in the way only a teenager can truly experience.

It's the one thing, the most important thing your mom neglects to explain which destroys all your hopes in life.

"I thought he would be ALIVE!" she roared when she finally saw him behind the glass case. She crossed her skinny little arms over her chest and stated, "You owe me." Her eyes narrowed in on me. "Buy me a hoody."


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Things my mom didn't tell me

My mom told me there were three bedrooms at the place she had booked for us at the beach.

What she didn’t tell me: the two bedrooms on the second floor have private baths with jetted tubs, the living room features a gas fireplace, flat screen TV and stereo system, the kitchen a dishwasher, a side-by-side with filtered water, and granite countertops.

She also neglected to announce the deck featured an ocean view, touted a gas grill and a hottub, which is why I appeared without a bathing suit.

Had she told me it was equipped with a washer and dryer I would have brought my chores.


I’m confused. I thought we were traveling with retired folk. I thought we were…not rich. I thought vacation timeshares were bad, and that you should not purchase them.

I still believe that is true.

Do not buy timeshares!

Do, however, encourage your parents to purchase them.

Oh, and remember to bring along someone who can cook (that would not be me).

And enjoy the view.

With a glass of wine.

Out of a box.


That was my classy contribution...

What's your best contribution this summer?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Don’t be fooled by the smiley face

There is no family vacation without savoring a bakery, dining in a recommended restaurant, driving around at least once…the wrong direction (we call that DAD!), and visiting a bookstore.

I didn’t buy a book. I had two dozen in the trunk, but that did not stop me from shopping. I can’t leave people alone. I had to bother the bookstore owner a few of times, do you have A Certain Slant of Light? Do you have a copy of (fill in the blank). Oh, hey, did you know the designer who did this Columbine bookcover (Henry Sene Yee) talks about creating it on his blog? Would you like me to email that to you?

After all that needless chatter I was, indeed, obligated to spend money in her store. A gift to me. I settled on a notebook. Every writer needs one.

In fact, mini-notebooks were required in Novel Writing Boot Camp by teacher Carolyn Rose. In fact, Elizabeth Lyons, in her book Manuscript Makeover, advises we have mere seconds to capture a thought, an idea, a firefly. They all admonish: keep something handy to write on. I have nothing handy, its all in the bottom of one of my many bags.

I bought the notebook.

I, however, was not the first person to write in my notebook.

It was my sister.

She wrote, “Hello. No pictures on Face book ☺.”

I think the smiley face negates any orders she may have been doling out.

What messages are you ignoring?


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A family means love, good food and adoption

Full disclosure: adoption runs rampant in our family. Really amok.

No one remembers who’s adopted and who is not.

That’s a tragedy. But only in Wisconsin, 1998.

I first heard of this tragedy shortly after it happened. I watched a television program about a Milwaukee, Wisconsin uncle attempting to adopt his orphaned niece. The judge denied the uncle's petition because he had also been adopted, and therefore—using strict interpretation of the law—not a blood relative, and that is what Children's Court Judge Daniel L. Konkol based his decision on. The case was reviewed in the book Adoption Nation, and an excerpt can be read here.

Globally, adoption laws require would-be parents to jump through hoops no birth parent will ever be forced to consider, and that’s okay. But why would a state law require adoptive parents to accept their adopted children, as if they were delivered by birth in all matters legal, and then turn around and negate the child’s rights once they had grown into adulthood? It was a staggering decision that angered adoption advocates.

The TV program, the concept, and the ‘meddlers’ in the Milwaukee case left me incensed. After all, aren’t there at least two people in the picture perfect, two parent, 2.5 child, American dream family who are NOT blood relatives? Yes, usually. The mother and the father. Okay, my logic sucks, but still.

I was reminded of this program while re-reading Jacquelyn Mitchard’s book A Theory of Relativity. If her name sounds familiar it is because she also wrote The Deep End of the Ocean. In A Theory of Relativity, Mitchard creates a masterful piece that does not allow us to view any one person as bad, nor does any character have unsound motives. Actions stem from good intentions and how we value families based on the family we know and the duty we feel. Mitchard serves up the story with Sturm and Drang, and although I would have preferred more forward direction in the time line during the first part of the story, the book is knuckle biting.

In real life, Uncle Scott Albrecht lost the case to adopt his niece. Mitchard’s development of his saga into fiction and her own personal parallel is reported on the Harper Collins web-site in Mitchard's Author Essay.

And I can speak from experience, it is not blood that creates a family. It is love, good food, and the ability to tolerate each other on vacation.

What is family to you?


Monday, August 3, 2009

Less cranky, more cranberry and I'll take that with honey

Good morning.

I did turn off the computer.

I set down my book.

I put on my sandals.

I went.

It was… different.

Yes, I stood inside the Cranberry Museum, which means I was not forced into the Kite Museum. So, before this vacation continues, allow me to get this out of the way:
  • 8,000 acres of cranberries stretch across the West Coast

  • Cranberries do NOT grow in water (they are, however, harvested in water)

  • Cranberries require bees for pollination

What does all this mean?

Cranberry honey stands ready for my toast tomorrow.

How about you? What are you planning for tomorrow?


Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Tempest leaves town

Vacation Day One
I can be a pleasant person to vacation with. Really.

I’m just not a pleasant person to be around when trying to leave on vacation. I stomp and storm. Not pretty.

The tempest is the build up of stress, the need to flee work pressure, to escape constant deadlines, to shed the dozens who appear at my cube every ten minutes, or so, with questions, questions, questions. The patience it drains to consider each one, decide yes or no, and further, to explain the philosophy behind my responses—believing if they understand the why, they’ll be able to craft their own decisions, and the right ones, in the field—takes boundless energy.

Personal power piddled down to an unsteady drip of a leaky faucet. No energy. Except to, well, yell.

I was so horribly prepared for this week off my dear daughter did my packing. She started an hour before we left. That is quite possibly child labor in some homes, but in mine a gesture of love. Sweet love, someone loves me very much. I am grateful.

When I finally slid behind the wheel, all energy pumped out, forced out into cleaning and scouring so we wouldn’t come home to the same old mess, and seriously bled dry by not enough pre-planning, I was exhausted.

All I craved was a couch and a cover to crack. Hardbound, paperback, didn’t matter. I crated two dozen and threw them in the trunk. A partial tank of gas later, we arrived.

The next issue was the others who love me. The rest of the family. I heard them plainly as each mile passed between us and home. “No computer.” “Stop reading.” “Come with us.” But the physical hurdle to overcome crossed The Columbia.

A bridge. It's 6.545 miles long, merely 28 ft wide, and 196 ft at high tide. It's the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. We crossed it.

We arrived 10PM, hungry, everything closed except Chen's Chinese. We grabbed our take-out and dodged horses clopping on the sidewalk. Seriously. We are totally in the Wild West, which isn't a problem per se, it's the road apples that annoy.

At the condo, I turned on my computer. I grappled through a few pages of my book. I slipped into bed….

I think they call that sleep.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Winner either way, cause your parents are here...and so are we


Critique group member Melanie is spending the final heart wrenching moments of finding out whether she is the PNWA mainstream category winner by moving her parents. Across country.

Her latest correspondence:

I'm using my mother's computer to email. Her computer won't allow me to access the webpage (you recommended). I'm exhausted and can barely wait to get on the plane to enjoy my first class ticket home. But wait...they are sending my father with me. He will talk talk talk talk the entire flight.



The final questions:

  • Will Melanie survive her loquacious father on the flight out West?

  • Will Melanie win the PNWA contest?

  • When she wins, will she thank our critique group for unwavering loyalty and astute recommendations on her lovely historical fiction manuscript?

Your turn! What have you been waiting for? Who's waiting with you?

Pictured left to right: Melanie and our loyal critique group.
Photographer: The First Carol

UPDATE SATURDAY 10 PM: I've told everyone what a GREAT critique group I'm in. I couldn't believe I got second place. Wow wow wow. Melanie

UPDATE 11 PM: I've been invited to send the first chapter to four agents. One of them wants me to split it into two novels of 50,000 words each and sell it as YA.

[Yes! Wishes do come true - The First Carol]


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