- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times
Monday, April 27, 2009
My weekend started last Thursday, when I got home from the ranch and heard the following message on my home phone:
"Hi, this is Karen Syed. I just received 20 copies of your book today, and I was wondering if you're going to be at the L.A. Times book festival this Sunday. You said you'd try, but you might have something else to do. If you are, I'll bring the books with me for you to sell. Call me back as soon as you can."
My first thought was, my book is listed on the Echelon website as being available June 1st. My book launch party is July 19th. How can I have copies for sale now?
It took me all of two seconds to decide that who the hell cares. I called her back immediately and told her yes, YES, I'll be there on Sunday.
The next few days were spent reminding myself to breathe in, breathe out, and repeat as necessary. Thursday night, I went to sleep thinking, in three days I get to see my book. On Friday, I thought, in two days I get to hold my book. By Sunday morning, I could barely inhale from excitement.
I was, of course, early to UCLA on Sunday. In my defense, you never know what the freeways in SoCal are going to be like. The first people in the booth were the Fairy Lady, Bobbie Hinman, and her helpful hubby, who started setting up their portion of the Echelon Press booth. Soon, Jeff Sherratt came, then I think a whirlwind of Teresa Burrell, Jenny Turner, and Herself, Karen Syed. Pam Ripling and Alyssa Montgomery brought up the rear, but were quickly forgiven because they brought food.
I began the day by bribing my publisher with her favorite morning drink (hint: if you need to meet with Karen early, bring a venti decaf caramel machiato from Starbuck's with you), plus an extra little gift of herbal tea and a customized mug I ordered from Zazzle with my book cover on one side and "Get burned. It's cool." on the other side. Cute, huh?
By the time everyone was arranging tablecloths and getting out books and accessories, I looked down at an open box and saw my books. I kind of wanted to pass out, then run around squealing, but I resisted. After all, nobody else was doing that, and I didn't want to look too weird. I took my books out of their box and put them on a table, which is when I found out how truly underprepared I was.
EVERYBODY had bookstands to stand their books upright, and plastic holders to contain their bookmarks and business cards, and postcards and Jenny's got handcrafted book thongs for everyone who buys a book, and...
I had three things: 1) a bunch of bookmarks that I ordered from Vista Prints at the last minute because my real bookmarks haven't been completed yet; 2) a small amount of magnitized business cards because I appreciate the irony of having a refrigerator magnet with a picture of a refrigerator on it; and 3) a stunning realization that I had no clue what I was doing there. To make matters worse, I had forgotten to put a Sharpie in my purse, and I had forgotten my camera. I felt a little boneheaded.
So Jeff loaned me a stand for my book and a Sharpie, Teresa loaned me a holder for my bookmarks, and the little redheaded stepchild put her book display together. Here's what it looked like:
We puttered about until 10 a.m., when the festival officially opened. The first thing we noticed was a huge line forming on the sidewalk beside us. Karen said, "Oh, look, people standing still. Why doesn't someone go give them some bookmarks?"
I was planning to observe how everyone else worked the crowd, but no one moved. I'm pretty sure I had an out-of-body experience at this point - bookmarks in hand, I could feel my feet moving toward the line even though my head was wondering where we were going.
"Who are you waiting for?" I asked a couple.
There was my opening. "Oh, you like mysteries? I wrote one!" I burbled my spiel for them, handing them bookmarks before prattling my way down the line. I tried to give bookmarks to everyone, but I didn't bother the people who were too busy talking to each other. Everyone was so nice to me, they shared in my enthusiasm and promised to come by our booth after they got their books autographed. I'm not sure if they showed up or not, but it was fun talking to them.
Nevertheless, I had my first sale in no time. Here's the picture:
It was very cool, very exciting, very over the top surreal. Each sale was like that. I wanted to scream at Karen, "OMG, they're buying MY book!" But I didn't. I did get better at the spiel, throwing in some humor about what happens when Peri finds that severed hand in Benny's freezer. "Usually I throw those away when I find them," I'd say. "But she decides to call the cops." I'd say it got a laugh at least 97% of the time.
Best encounter of the day? I approached two women and asked if they like mysteries. The younger one pointed to the older one. "My mom does." I gave them my pitch, along with the comedy, and the young woman holds out her hand. "Now THAT'S worth a bookmark," she said. They didn't buy a book, but who knows? My website is listed. It'll be interesting to see what kind of hits I get.
Over the afternoon, I sat one time (to eat lunch with Karen), got slightly sunburned, and sold 17 copies of my book. I took the other three home as part of my author copies.
When the day was done, I helped pack stuff away and schlep things to the car. The good news is I found my car right away, something I'm typically not good at doing. The bad news is that I got a little lost getting back to the freeway. I recently activated the VZNavigator on my phone, so I tried it out. I had my Bluetooth earpiece on, so it was a little weird to have some woman whispering in my ear - "In 1.1 miles, turn right on National." I'm sure my hubby would like this feature.
In light of this unexpected bookselling opportunity, I've set up a new page on my website, "Where's Gayle?" I'll list all my speaking and signing engagements here. It was kind of a hard page to set up. I was going to call it "Appearances" but that sounded either like I'm singing nightly at a piano bar or I work part-time as the Aurora Borealis or some kind of apparition. Even saying it as "Where's Gayle?" has its problems. What if people think they can find my GPS location on the website? ("Oh, she's at Ralph's, get the camera!") Anyway, check it out and tell me what you think, http://www.gaylecarline.com/gayleappearances.html.
On a rather random note, I have a question for you all: when you are having milk and cookies, and the cookies are gone, so you're drinking the milk, do you drink the crumbs as well, or just drink the milk down to where the crumbs get the thickest? Just wondering.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I'm pretty sure this love of puzzles accounts for the fact that I love IKEA. I buy bookcases and TV stands and bring them home to assemble. The instructions are picture-driven, and clear, if sometimes absurd in their overstatement.
"Attach the Base (D), the square tray marked 'D', to the Side Frame (A), the large piece marked 'A', with Head Cap Bolts, in the package marked 'Head Cap Bolts'."
Um, could you repeat that? You lost me at 'D'.
Oddly enough, I also love antique furniture and have several really nice, old wardrobes and tables and such. But I digress.
I decided I needed a new storage unit to replace the butcher block microwave table I'd had since my second marriage. It had no sentimental value, and my failed-attempt-at-owning-a-terrier had resulted in the second shelf being thoroughly chewed.
So I saw a little baker's rack in the online Target store and ordered it. It came a week later, in a bulky box that weighed 70 pounds, meaning I couldn't possibly drag it into the kitchen to take it apart so I could put it together.
Hubby wasn't home, so what else is a girl to do? I opened the box and dragged each piece into the family room, so I could put it together while I watched Bones.
One thing I hadn't counted on was the styroform shrapnel that was attached to each piece. My carpet looks snowier than when I was shredding that bag full of old documents. But, again, I digress.
Unlike IKEA furniture, which only takes one hexagonal wrench (provided) to assemble, the Target rack needed the wrench plus a Phillips screwdriver. We have quite a few screwdrivers in the house, but I decided to use my special screwdriver. I'm not sure where I got this, but I've had a little combo hammer-Phillips-flathead-screwdriver for a long time now. I refer to it as Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Doesn't it remind you of that song?
Each time I use it, I start humming, "Bang bang, Maxwell's Silver Hammer came down upon her head. Bang bang, Maxwell's Silver Hammer made sure she was dead."
Cool how it comes apart, too.
Took me about three commercial breaks to get the baker's rack assembled. I faltered, briefly, at Step 3, when I forgot to attach the Front Rail (H) marked 'H', to the Side Frame (C) marked 'C', but I recovered quickly and was on my way.
The 'hutch' portion of the rack was, simply, a beeeeyotch to get together. Every piece had a dowel to fit into the other piece, they weren't always aligned, and they had to all be put together at the same time. There was a little cursing, I admit. If you've ever seen Bones, you've seen Seeley Booth get angry, pull out his gun, and shoot an inanimate object.
Let's just say it's a good thing I don't own a gun and leave it like that.
But here's the result. Pretty, huh?
Do you like to put things together? Do you follow the directions? Or do you like to pay someone else to do it?
More importantly, does your love for puzzles carry over to mysteries? Or vice versa?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Whaddya think? I think I sound pretty smart, and look, well, my age. Maybe next time, I'll speak through a sock puppet. Now I know why Streisand always monitors which side she's photographed from.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I suppose I could have made her some kind of green queen, able to grow orchids in asphalt, but I made the decision to make her Not a Nurturer, of flora or fauna. Here is an excerpt from the book to illustrate:
Peri sat on her patio, enjoying the afternoon sun while she worked on her laptop. Once in awhile, she looked around at her yard, wishing she had enough money to pay for proper landscaping. She thought about Kevin Conway's house, so beautifully lush. Her small space, bordered by walls of cinderblock, contained uneven patches of grass, surrounded by yellow-leafed rose bushes. In the far corner, a bougainvillea hung halfway over the yard, dripping hot pink flowers.
It's better this way, she thought. If I had it professionally landscaped, I'd have to hire a live-in gardener to keep things from dying. I don't have the extra room for that, much less the cash.
They say, write what you know. Here's a picture of my back yard:
See anything familiar? It may not be in bloom yet, but here is Peri's bougainvillea, growing amidst the uneven patches of grass. The difference between Peri and me is that I still have delusions of having a nice yard.
The structure you see is a swingset my hubby built for our son when he was small. It has a fort at the top, and a corkscrew slide - what fun! A lot less fun when you're a teenager, as it turns out. When I finally convinced myself that my only child would never be able to get his feet into the fort, much less the rest of his big, stinky-boy body, I started thinking about what else to do with it. Dale worked very hard building it. Yes, it was from a kit, but he didn't read the directions (does this surprise you?) so it was quite an ordeal. I remember one evening, standing in the dark and holding up one end while he tried to figure out which post went where. Did I mention I was holding the heavy end?
I didn't want to just tear it down - it represented effort. What else could I do (think-think-think)?
I got it! I'll make it a planter!
So there it sits with a big, honkin' bougainvillea (which I can't seem to kill), several star-jasmine vines strangling the wood, and the overgrown results of throwing a handful of wildflower seeds under the fort.
Yeah, I know. It's a hot mess.
I'm also apparently pretty good at growing Mexican poppies. They're these purpley-blue things:
I bought two little pots, brought them home and set them against the wall, intending to plant them. I didn't. The little devils grew through the pots and are spreading completely across the lawn. Soon I won't have to worry about the patches of grass, but I am wondering how my husband will mow anything.
On the downside, anything I try to put into pots ends up like this:
Gah. I bring them home from the nursery, put them in pots and they look happy for about two weeks. Then their flowers fall off and they start to semi-wilt, but it takes them another month or so to completely die. In the meantime, they taunt me. "We would thrive if you would just give us what we need."
I wish I knew.
And, can anyone identify this?
I've named it the Dominatus Yer Yardus. It grows in the front yard and the back yard and I can't kill it. All I can do is take the machete to it when it starts toward the house. It's got stickers, too, which makes it painful to clean up.
This is another problem with my lack of gardening skills - I also have no gardening knowledge. I read books all the time that detail what kind of trees or shrubberies are lining a street or blowing in the wind (Dean Koontz comes to mind), and I'm given a really solid sense of place. But I don't know a pepper tree from an oak, and I'm pretty sure Peri can't tell either. If most of the book is from her POV, is it okay to describe foliage instead of name it?
When you're reading a book, does it bother you when the author tosses in a reference to jacaranda trees if you don't know what those are? Or does it help you establish the scene?
While I'm waiting to hear your comments, I'll be outside, trying to figure out how to spruce things up for July's book launch. The swingset-planter may not be working.
Friday, April 17, 2009
All true, friends. But after the book launch, I'd like to have my friends and family back at the house for food, drinks, and fun. And my house is in no shape to entertain. Trust me, I need a running start.
Oh, I can get the communal areas clean. We have a nice-sized living room-kitchen-family room arrangement that I can whip into shape within a day, when pressed. It's hard to keep it spic-and-span all the time because I live with a cat and dog who run through the house picking their fur out and tossing it on the carpet, and a son and husband who run through the house taking their shoes and clothes off and tossing them... well, you get the picture.
But there are a couple of rooms I haven't tackled in awhile. They are spare bedrooms, one for guests, and one that pretends to be an office, with a desk and a daybed. They are also the reason for how I clean the other rooms - all the extra "stuff" goes into those two rooms. And then I shut the doors.
I could just do that again for July, but I'm tired of boarding up rooms. I feel like Mrs. Danvers. ("NOT IN THERE! THAT'S REBECCA'S ROOM!")
On Tuesday, I opened the door to the office and forced myself to look around. After the dizziness passed, I took all of the boxes and bags of papers out of the room and sat in front of the TV, sorting. Sooner or later, I had a tall kitchen can bag full of trash, one stack of significant documents, and an Old Navy bag of items to be shredded. I dragged the shredder out of the office, plugged it in and stuck in a receipt.
Nothing. No shredding, no noise, nada. It was a dead shredder.
I tried to fix it. I stuck a knife into the slot (yes, I unplugged it, Mom) and tried to loosen the wads of chewed up paper clogging the machine, but I couldn't. I suppose if I had the right screwdriver and could unscrew the top of the motor, I could expose the blades and clean them off.
Screw that. I went out and bought a new one. It's black and silver and shiny and I love it so. It has a special light to tell you when the bin is full, and another one to tell you when you've worked it too hard and it has to cool off. It also has a little row of pictures to warn me of things I'm not supposed to do. These I understand:
Friday, April 10, 2009
That's my main character, Peri, talking. She's having a fight with her boyfriend, Skip, in my short story, Cleaning Up at the Franks. If you want to read the whole story, you're going to have to buy MISSING from Echelon Press. I highly recommend the book for three reasons: 1. it's full of great stories by some really good writers; 2. all proceeds from the sale of the book go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; and 3. my story is in it. So it's all good, yes?
Any, Peri has a way of saying what she thinks, something that I'd like to do a little more often, but don't. You can think of her as my alter-ego. I know I do.
The other day, I was running errands, and was feeling a little cranky. Maybe it was my allergies, maybe it was the fact that the pharmacy was late re-filling my hormonal medication, but I wasn't my usual self. To keep this blog G-rated, I'll just say I was a bad witch. I noticed this when I entered a parking lot and had to stop while a woman walked in front of me. The car coming my way had already stopped, so I stopped too. As I watched her saunter across, talking on her cell phone and sort of parading her royal status as Pedestrian to us, I thought, "You pain in the ass, the only reason I stopped was because the other car was already stopped and I didn't want to look like a jerk."
This is not my normal thought process. I'm the nice person, the one who stops to let people by, who lets the woman with one item go in front of her in line, and who does it happily. So it surprised me to have that reaction to one harried woman, probably on her cell phone because her daughter called at the last minute to say they were also out of toilet paper.
See how I usually try to find an excuse for people?
But at that moment, I wanted to lean out of my window and yell, "Could ya walk a little slower? I have NOTHING on my schedule today." Or even better - I wanted to continue to drive past, making her stop and wait for me. But I did neither, not because I was feeling generous, but because I cared about what other people thought. This realization made me even crankier. Why should I care what the collective 'they' think? They don't seem to care what I think of them.
Part of me knows, begrudgingly, that as soon as I speed past some clueless pedestrian or mouth off to the man who waits until the cashier tells him the total before he starts fumbling for his checkbook, someone will find that moment to recognize me. "Aren't you the columnist for the Placentia newspaper? Wow, you're a real jerk." Of course, once Freezer Burn is published, it will be, "Aren't you the local author? Wow, you're a (bad witch)."
So Peri will have to be my alter-ego and say all the things I wish I could say when I'm feeling cranky.
As readers, or TV/movie viewers, is there any character you secretly wish you could be, but know you can't? As writers, have you ever created a character you'd like to be, but suspect you couldn't pull off? Tell me about them, why you want to identify with them and why you think you can't step into their shoes.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
So now I watch a lot of shows, mostly dramas these days, always mysteries. From Cold Case to NCIS, Medium, and the L&O and CSI franchises, I'm always trying to figure out whodunit. Lately, I've been trying to figure out more. I've been watching the story arcs and how they're set up. They all do it slightly differently, but I've learned a lot of interesting things I can apply to my own plot lines. For example:
CSI - I only watch the original and NY (I admit it, Caruso is too creepy for me), but I've noticed that the first person they interview is usually the killer, especially if they look benign and act helpful. Cold Case follows this formula also; the one person you discount as being innocent usually did it.
L&O - In this show, the first interviewee is usually NOT the killer, and their theories on the motive will shift at least three times during the hour.
NCIS - I don't notice as many red herrings in this show, altho I may be wrong. What I do notice is the chipping away, bit by bit, of the evidence until the killer is narrowed down. And I notice that I've got a crush on McGee(k), who wrote one thriller and is now a recognized bestseller, and buys expensive clothes and cars. Ah, the romance of the writer, through the eyes of the media (who should know better).
Medium - The fun part of this show is trying to figure out where Allison's dreams/visions are trying to lead me. Should I take them literally this week, or figuratively? If I was writing paranormal, I'd want to do it like this.
Recently, I've been conscious of the soundtrack. A sad moment may be well written (and have all the right camera angles), but if it didn't have that poignant music behind it, would I still be weeping at the TV screen? Which made me think...
What if e-books came with soundtracks? The Kindle, iPhone, eReader, etc are all getting more sophisticated. They know what page you're on - why couldn't a clever person program music to accompany the words? As your main character cradles their dying best friend, the music swells appropriately. Or perhaps, for the savvy and independent reader, they are allowed to program their own soundtrack? How cool would that be? I wonder if Amazon/Apple/Sony would be interested, and more importantly, would pay me for their interest. It could be the next great app!
See, TV didn't rot my brain at all.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Sad news today. Mrs. Needles died last night. Heart attack, I think she was in her late 60's, early 70's. She was my very first client – I looked it up on my records out of curiosity, my first appointment with her was June 7, 1987. Wow, 20 years. I had just quit my job at the newspaper. It wasn't a bad job, but I'd been working there for 5 years and was still writing the one-paragraph traffic accident fillers. Skip says I get bored easily.
Her son, Benny, was only 15 when I started cleaning her house. He was always an odd duck – still is. I usually look at people and think, they may not be attractive by society's standards, but I'll bet there's someone out there for them. Not Benny. He never seemed to have that many friends, went through a lot of jobs, lived with his mom, but doesn't act unhappy or depressed. And girls – no. At first, he could barely speak to me, which made it difficult if I came to clean and his mom had run to the store. Took at least a year for him just say hello. It's been 20 years now and he still doesn't look me in the eye.
I was going to call today and express my sympathies, but I'm afraid Benny might freak, so I called his aunt, Esmy, instead. She told me about the services, said she's having people back to her house afterward. I feel like I should go, maybe not to the house, but at least to the funeral.
Being a housecleaner, you develop some weird relationships. I know everything about Mrs. Needles, probably even things she wouldn't want me to know. The first day I cleaned, I suspected her husband hadn't passed away, the way she told Benny. There were no mementos of him, no pictures, no trinkets, nothing. Being new to this business, I asked if she wanted me to pick things up and put them away or just dust around them. She told me to use my judgment.
So when I found a receipt on her nightstand, I opened the drawer to put it away and saw a note, scribbled in bad handwriting, saying good-bye. It wasn't signed, so I knew it could only be from her husband. I also knew she read it every night before she went to sleep. It's the kind of thing one woman would like to discuss with another, but housecleaners can't cross that line, so I left the receipt on top of the nightstand and dusted around it.
That's the weird part about housecleaning – I know these people so intimately, but I might as well be the vacuum. Everyone treats me well, but they have their conversations like I'm not in the room, and they don't seem to mind that I know whether their husbands wear boxers or briefs because I'm not another woman, a possible rival for their hubby's affections. So when something happens in their households, I'd like to be happy for them or sad for them or offer some kind of assistance, but I'm just the woman who mops their floors, so I keep my mouth shut.
Of course, I learn a lot that way.
I also remember what Mrs. Needles told me about Benny's room that first day. "Just keep the door closed and it won't be so bad." The door was open one day and I understood what she meant. Now that she's gone, I'm afraid the rest of the house will look like his room – dear God, what chaos!
*** Holy crap, Benny just called me! SPOKE TO ME! ON THE PHONE! Is the Apocalypse around the corner? He sounded kinda strange, like he was in one of those 50's, Las Vegas swinger movies. Told me he wanted me to continue cleaning the house once a week. I said how sorry I was about his mom dying, and he said the funniest thing. "Yeah, it's a pity, but at least she got to celebrate Dino's birthday."
Well, gonna make out my list of things to do tomorrow, then sit down with a bowl of popcorn and my favorite movie, The Big Sleep. Love Bogie, almost as much as I love mysteries.
I'm beginning to see that, not only does Peri like mysteries, she can't help but try to find them in real life as well as in books and movies.
How about you? Do you ever look at a situation and try to guess what's going on in the shadows?