"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post-script to Wednesday, to see you thru Sunday

I'd like to write an enormous post right now, about the fun I had at the La Habra Public Library. It was a rotten day, weather-wise; cold drizzle wept from the grey sky all day long. (Side note: amazingly, my beginning riding student showed up for his lesson - by the end, not only was he cold and wet, he discovered he was allergic to horses!) Still seventeen brave souls got in their cars and schussed over to the library to hear me blather on about stuff.

The meeting was supplied with hot apple cider and homemade cookies, still warm when they arrived. The people who stayed away don't know what they missed.

As you can tell, it was an event filled with smiling faces, eager minds, and warm feelings. I'll talk about it all later, but I have to make this evening a short one.

Tomorrow my family heads to the mountains for three days. Please don't tell any crooks who might want to rob us when we're gone, although we'll have a friend hanging out at our place, so I guess it won't do them any good anyway. We'll spend New Year's in Idyllwild with friends, relaxing, playing games, doing whatever we want to do, instead of what we have to do.

I'll be working on a New Year's Resolution list. I don't usually make them. They fall apart after the first day or so, and the only resolution I've ever been able to keep is the year I vowed never to watch Robocop again. So far, that one's holding. But I'm feeling a bit, hmm, thoughtful this year, guilty that I've wasted time and energy doing nothing, when I could have been writing and riding. I'm not certain how that thoughtfulness will end up in the resolution list, but it will shape it.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone - see you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wednesday is Library Day!

Don't forget, if you live in the Orange County area, to come by the La Habra Public Library at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, December 30th. I will be there, talking about, "Write What You Know - Then Change It." It's a fun little exercise, where you'll learn many interesting things, like:

1. Why did I use Placentia as the setting of my novel?
2. What other setting did I use for another book I wrote?
3. What other authors have used "write what you know" to their benefit?
4. Can I stay on-topic in a room full of people?

Remember - tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. I'll also have copies of Freezer Burn on hand to autograph and sell.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas faq: Whadja get?

How was everyone's Christmas? That is, everyone who celebrates Christmas. Not to offend, you know.

Mine was pretty good, except that I had the Cold of a Thousand Faces. For three days, it was a Sore Throat, one that hurt so badly I barely got any sleep. On Christmas Eve, it became a Stuffy Head, which meant I didn't feel like having my traditional glass of wine for dinner or glass of sherry while I stuffed stockings. On Christmas Day, I was treated to Runny Nose, inconvenient as hell when you're wandering around to different houses to exchange gifts. Boxing Day was for Sinus Headache - I felt like someone was boxing my brains out.

And now, I'm sniffly but better, all thanks to the good Drs. Motrin, Sudafed, Halls, Afrin, and Excedrin. Better living through chemistry, I always say.

As for gifts, I was apparently good this year. No gold stars, but there was no coal in my stocking - oh, wait, I stuffed that. I got a nice gift card to a day spa, some iTunes cards, a few t-shirts and scarves. It was all pleasant. But I received one present that made me laugh, cry, and count my blessings.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, Dale got me horseback riding lessons for my birthday. One set of four lessons. I took them, but wanted more, so I took more. I took more, but I wanted to ride more, so I leased my trainer's champion trail horse. That led to going to horse shows, which ultimately led to my buying Frostie, breeding her, raising Snoopy, etc. As you can tell, the whole thing went from a little costly to a lotta costly pretty quick. Dale didn't say Stop, but he is the most laconic man in the universe, given to waiting until the last minute before he says, "So, did you think that was a good idea?" or something like that.

So I didn't really know what he thought about it all. He rarely accompanied me to the horse shows, or went to the ranch.

And then, for Christmas, I got this:

It's my trainer's horse, Copper Kist, the belt buckle I won, and all my ribbons. He went to the ranch, got them all to help him take the photos, put it all together, and had it framed. In other words, he spent a lot of time and effort, recording a memory for me. He may not have said it, but he was proud of what I had done.

THIS Christmas, I got a large, flat package from Dale and Marcus. I opened it and found:

Dale acted fairly nonchalant, but Marcus was beaming. Father and son had collaborated on a collage of my debut novel, complete with reviews from Amazon (five stars!) and the front and back cover of my book.

Wait... the front and back cover?

I tried to be tactful. I told them how wonderful it was, how much I loved it. But sooner or later I had to ask, "Did you cut up one of my books?"

"We bought it first," Dale replied, as if that made it perfectly reasonable.

I really adore these guys, and I love what they've done, and I love that they're so proud of me, even if a small portion of my brain wants to scream, "You tore up a perfectly good book! You could have scanned the covers! Agh!"

Luckily, it's Christmas and I can just feed that portion of my brain some more fudge to placate it.

How about you? Whadja get?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The abc's of Christmas

Before I start in on this Very Special Episode, can I tell you a secret? I was running Yet Another Holiday Errand yesterday, when I heard Dean Martin and Martina McBride singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on my minivan's radio. Honest to God, I sighed. One of those girlie, isn't he dreamy, sighs. Good thing no one else was in the car.

On to today's topic: Christmas letters.

It seems like Christmas letters polarize people. Either you love 'em or you use them in your fireplace, or you want to hunt the senders down and drown them in egg nog.

I like the ones that are well written. The ones that aren't - well, I don't begrudge them. They're giving me some news. Too much news? Maybe I can use Auntie's recent goiter surgery in my next novel. Braggarts? Ha, ha, I don't have to live with them. If they're just so painful and misspelled, my eyes reject the letters on the page, I give them a proper sendoff in the recycle bin.

My friends, Doug and Patty, used to send letters about all the exotic places they'd visit every year. It didn't make me feel envious - I felt like I was receiving a travelogue about a new country. Now they have a little girl, their first, and their letter bemoaned the fact that, now she's in school, there's a lot less African safaris on the agenda. Now I get to think, so now you know what our lives are like.

Then there's my friends, Paul and Suzanne. Suzanne writes the funniest letters. I mean, I'm humorous, but she's funny. Here's an excerpt from this year:

Paul is trying to teach his boxer, Buster, to say "mama." Sometimes I think he has snapped his carrot. Buster is patient with him and makes a lot of sounds that remind me of a dog being hit by a car.

She then describes buying a WiiFit and having it trash talk her, to the point she re-gifted it to a friend. Which, as she points out, doesn't make her a very good friend.

Note: I'm noticing that all of my Christmas letters are from couples, and the women write them. Is this a physical law, or something?

In 1995, I tried writing my first Christmas letter. It was a big hit with family and friends, so I kept writing them. They're now legendary, and have started fights in households ("Why can't you write a letter like the Carlines?"), something I have no control over, but feel badly about just the same. Truly, my letters are formulaic. Anyone can do them. Here's the process:

1. Pick a Christmas song or phrase that you can either build on, or make fun of.
2. Start with an intro paragraph, followed by one paragraph each for kids, husband, wife. Save one paragraph for things you did together as a family. End with a wrap-up paragraph.
3. Keep this to one page - This Is Important!
4. Sign each letter individually. Don't sign one and copy it.

Easy, yes?

Here's this year's letter, as an example.

Please Christmas, Don't Be Late

No, wait, don't listen to those chipmunks. Take your time, Christmas. If I could find a way to stall this holiday one more week, I would. By the time I get these cards in the mail, I'll have been to six concerts, a potluck and a couple of parties, all crowded into three weeks. Good thing I've scheduled a nap for December 26. In the meantime, what have the Carlines been up to?

Marcus is a senior this year, a fact that boggles my mind. He entered Valencia as a future engineer, and he's leaving as a musician. Most of his free time is spent writing music, and this summer he got to intern at a recording studio. He'd like to go to Cal State Long Beach's Conservatory of Music, to major in music composition, and perhaps get a teaching credential, just in case he needs a day job to support his dream of being a composer/arranger. My dream is that he gets his driver's license so I can stop schlepping him around.

Dale’s now on his 150th year at Raytheon. Okay, maybe only 30th, but it's a whole lotta years. He works late and comes home grumbling, which proves how much fun he's having. Even though Marcus has left sports to focus on music, Dale is still coaching - basketball. This year, he coached a team of 2nd and 3rd graders, many of whom had never played the game before. He also helped Art Sauceda with a team of 7th grade kids and won his first championship in hoops. As usual, Dale stays in the game himself, playing both basketball and softball this year, which gives him twice the opportunity for injuries.

As I reported last year, my book was published in August, and I feel like I haven't stopped running since. There are book signings to attend, author festivals to participate in, and Amazon rankings to check constantly. But I'm not just an author, I'm a juggler. I've still got my weekly column to write for the Placentia paper, and I'm the president of the VHS choir booster club this year. Between all of the balls I'm trying to keep in the air, it's a wonder I have time for the horses, but I do.

Speaking of horses, Frostie and Snoopy are both healthy as, well, you know. I usually ride Frostie at least once a week to keep her in shape, and I use her for the occasional lesson. Snoopy is rehabilitating so well that we may start showing him next spring, although I confess, the first time we let him run after breaking his leg, my heart stood still for several beats.

Carline vacations were pretty normal this year; we spent a week at Gold Lake and a week in Decatur, visiting with friends and family, respectively. They were both good trips and we had a lot of fun. On our way home from Gold Lake, the guys took the kids white-water rafting, leaving the ladies with no other option than to go wine tasting. It was a tough job, but we rallied.

By this time next year, I may be describing life in an empty nest. I'm not a weepy gal by nature, but I confess, lately I find myself thinking, "This is the last time Marcus does (fill in the blank)." As I spend time with his choir classmates, I see such bright stars headed out toward the future, and I want to watch their success.

When it comes to that, I agree with the Chipmunks - I can hardly stand the wait.

* * * * *
Add the Christmas picture to that and you've got yourself a holiday greeting. Okay, you've got two days and the blueprint - what do you want your letter to say?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A brief departure from Holiday Cheer

I apologize for today's post. It's completely beneath my normal standards for holiday warmth. Let's just say I needed the distraction.

As part of my daily blog-lurking (blurking?), I usually check out The Rejectionist. Today they posted "Today's Self-Publishing Analogy," with an old magazine advertisement as follows:

I think the point of the post was to show the amount of work a self-published writer has to do to "pump themselves up" in the public eye.

Or maybe it's a warning against blowing up, as it says on the page.

My first thought was, were torpedo breasts really ever in style? Cuz, if they were, every woman in America must have looked armed and dangerous.

My second thought was, I got a better idea. What if that tube was a straw... and you filled the cups with a beverage, like, wine? Wouldn't that be the perfect bra for us ladies of a certain age? Not only would the cooling liquid keep our hot flashes under control, but a little sip, here and there, could do wonders for our dispositions.

We'd just have to sip from each cup evenly, but I think we could remember that, at least until we drink to the point of not caring whether we were lopsided or not.

I can see the advertising campaign: "Forget HRT - Give Me My WineBra!"

Tomorrow, I promise, I'll post another warm, fuzzy note.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Post Script to Sunday's Entry

I ran across this photo of Simba, and Marcus, in their younger days. It was the year in which Marcus refused to sit for any picture without his constant, stuffed companion. The expression on his face reflects the pure joy of a 3-year old.

Yeah. We renewed his contract.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tradition... Tradition!

Remember the last post, where I said that getting our Christmas tree was pretty inconsequential? Yeah, about that...

I suppose, picking out the tree, strapping it to the roof of the minivan and getting it home were ho-hum stuff. Once home, I spent a day trying to decorate it, while fielding phone calls and emails about my son's choir activities that I, as choir booster club president, am somehow in charge of handling. Mix these distractions with the fact that I am allergic to live Christmas trees, and it's no wonder it took me all day to hang ornaments.

The allergy is a new one - it began two years ago and is now to the point where I break out, itch, and my eyes water. I need to break down and get an artificial tree. I know this. A beautiful, fake green tree, a pre-lit one. It would save me, both in decorating time and the cost of Benedryl.

Like this:

(BTW, this one is On Sale for $749.)

Call me a product of "A Charlie Brown Christmas", but I just can't. I need to go and look for That Special Tree. A tree with personality, with attitude, with quirks. Over the years, I've had short squatty trees, tall skinny trees, trees with limbs too limp to hold any ornaments, trees that shoved themselves against the corner to hide a bald spot - one year I even had a tree that leaned out into the living room with a rather menacing glare. We chopped that one up before we put it on the curb.

So this year I braved red blotches and burning eyes for this:

Isn't it lovely? Okay, go ahead, say it: it's crooked. Actually, it's not so much crooked as leaning, but not in a menacing way, just a tired one. The fact that the topmost branch is not quite strong enough to hold up my Las Vegas Star of Bethlehem adds to the askew-ness of the whole visual.

Like the tree topper? I found it at a drugstore, after my previous tree topper up and died. It was a pink, mosque-shaped affair, with a faceless plastic angel leaning out of one of the spun-fiber (perhaps asbestos) windows. An ex-husband pronounced it "hideous beyond all reason" but I loved it.

In addition to my questionable taste in tree toppers, I'm not big on the matchy-matchy ornaments. I prefer the ones that have a history to them. For example, there's this:

It's the first ornament I ever got, and it's the first one I hang on the tree. When I was in kindergarten, a boy's mother sewed it for me. Notice the upside-down "G". It used to bother me, but now I find it endearing.

Like this one:

Made for me by my friend La La. Her name is really Laura, but she used to work at a school for the VERY physically disabled (as in, "So-and-so won't be in today because she died last night"). There was only one student who could speak, and she pronounced her name "La La." It stuck.

Or this one:

My friend's mother hand-painted this for me. She tried to give the angel red hair, like mine, but it ended up pink. Maybe when I go completely gray, I'll try pink.

And then there are family treasures, like this:

This is the stocking we had to hang every year for this guy:

My son's security "blanket" was a Simba he spotted in Mervyn's (now defunct) as a two-year old. He grabbed the package and held onto it through the store.

"Are we buying that?" Dale asked.

I pulled on the package once and was met with 2-year old resistance. "I guess so."

Simba went everywhere and did everything. He survived a few rounds in the washer and dryer after he got wet, dirty, or thrown up on. And every Christmas, Santa had to figure out what to put in a stuffed animal's stocking. Thus, the sweatshirt. Sometimes he got a collar, sometimes a sweater. Santa shopped at Petsmart.

Simba spends his days on top of Marcus' shelves now, seemingly ignored, although when I got him out to take his picture, Marcus said, "Hey - where are you taking him?" I could almost feel a force-field, as if I wouldn't be able to pass beyond the bedroom door with the bedraggled lion.

But I digress. When I think of putting these odd little assortments on a gloriously perfect (if fake) tree, it almost feels like I'm committing a crime. If I go fake, I'd rather go all the way.

My grandmother had one of these. She also had this:

It rotated as it played two or three high, tinny Christmas tunes, changing the color of the tree from green to blue to red to yellow. The colors were nice to watch, but the music gave everyone a nervous twitch after about ten minutes. I certainly could not hang my oddities on the aluminum branches, but it would announce to the world that I am proud to have a fake tree for Christmas. On my own terms, of course.

What about you? No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, are there traditions that you absolutely CANNOT abandon? Please share!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The things I do for Christmas

My family and I did two important things today:

1. We took our annual Christmas picture.

2. We got our (live) Christmas tree.

The tree was pretty inconsequential. The picture - not so much.

In the olden days, we went to a "professional" photographer for the holiday pix. I'm using the quotes because the studio was one of those 1-hour places in the mall that have the appropriate backdrops but don't care if your baby is spitting up formula through the entire 10-minute session.

Then we got smart and started doing our own.

Of course, we had to have the whole family in the pictures, which used to mean the dog and cat. One year, we tried to include Ben, the gecko. Turns out Ben's very small, not very photogenic, and considered to be an appetizer by the dog and cat.

Those pictures were hectic enough, but now that we have two horses, the ante has been raised considerably. We take everyone out to the Silver Rose Ranch in Chino Hills (where the horses are boarded), find a green spot and take as many pictures as possible, in the hopes that one of them will look good enough for a Christmas card.

For the first time anywhere, I am going to show the outtakes of this year's session. This is what we deal with:

In this first shot, notice that Mikey the dog wants to get down because he does not like sitting on the bench's slatted seat (in theory, I agree, it's not comfy).

Katy, the cat, wants off the bench, off the ranch, and back at her nice house. The older she gets, the more she hates this day, and usually coughs up something disgusting on the carpet later, just to punish me.

Frostie is the chestnut horse to the left. At this point, she doesn't want to look at the bench because it wasn't there this morning and if she doesn't look at it, it will go away. Her son, Snoopy, however, wants to eat the bench because he's ADD and wants to put everything in his mouth...

Including our son, Marcus. His shirt and hat were endlessly fascinating, and I spent most of the time pulling his big face away from my teenager's neck. (Hey, I got it - the next book will be about horse vampires!)

Here's a little closeup:

Notice my right hand trying to get his attention while the taut lead rope tries to tug him away. Good sport that he is, Marcus smiles through the whole ordeal, while Katy is still determined not to pose for the papparazzi.

We finally got Snoopy's attention, when...

Frostie sees something in the bushes and gets Dale's attention, which makes Katy think she can make a break for it. At this point, only Snoopy and the dog are camera ready.

Twelve shots later, we finally had a picture no one would cringe at when we sent it out to friends and relatives. Here's the one we picked:

Okay, so Katy's still not smiling, and Frostie's ears aren't pointed forward, but five out of seven of us were facing the camera, so ya gotta take what ya can get.

It was also the millisecond before Snoopy made one final attempt at the teenager.

Now I just have to write the Christmas letter, and decorate the tree, and buy some presents, and...


Friday, December 4, 2009

A small request

"Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people."
- Eleanor Roosevelt.

Now then, can we please stop talking about Tiger Woods?

Tell me about the latest book you read, or movie you saw. What did you like about it? What did you wish was done better?

P.S. If you're in the area, come visit me in Chino this Sunday. I'll be at the Borders Bookstore on Grand, near the 71 freeway, from noon until I sell the last book. I hope they have a cot in the back...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How I named my blog

When I first began blogging, I floundered around a bit, in Wordpress and on MySpace and finally lit on Blogger, partly because it had that "Insert Tab A into Slot B" way of developing a page, and partly because I can have quite a few different blogs on different subjects. This was important because in addition to this blog, I have the ongoing saga of my horse, Snoopy, and his broken leg. (Go here to read about his journey back to health.)

One of the fun parts of Blogger is their "Blogs of Note", where the Blogger team of experts trolls around the pool and finds interesting blogs to recommend. I'd love to be a Blog of Note someday, but they're pretty random and I may have a better chance winning an Oscar.

As a matter of fact, this post seems random, but I'm explaining all this to tell you how I stumbled upon a blog called "synch-ro-ni-zing". It's written by a lady named Ruth, and the pictures are beautiful, as well as the words. She seems to live in a rural kind of place that sounds peaceful and lovely, and I'd probably like to live there, too, as long as I wasn't too far away from civilization.

I'm telling you all this because Ruth has asked for blog writers to tell her how we named our blogs - in a post. She is providing a link for her readers to peruse our offerings and satisfy everyone's curiosity. So here's how I named this "On the edge of the chair of literature."

I am a writer, and this blog began as a way for me to talk about the writing process. In some ways, I'd like to have a defined writing platform, as in "a romance author," or "a women's lit writer," but I don't. I write a humor column in my very local newspaper, the Placentia News-Times. I've been known to write articles in California Riding Magazine about horse shows. And, of course, I've written a mystery, Freezer Burn, which was published in August.

As a reader, I'm equally eclectic. In my misspent youth, I read anything that strung letters together to make words I could understand. Now that I'm older and realize I can't read everything, I tried to read things that are well written, no matter what genre. This explains why I haven't read any of the Twilight series. And no, I'm not seeing the movies.

But of all the genres, the humor essay remains my favorite thing to read, and James Thurber remains my all-time favorite essayist. He had a brilliant way of taking a mundane family interaction and lifting it to absurdity. In his essays, he had an Everyman kind of role, to try to live a quiet and orderly life, which was constantly tossed aside by the chaos of society.

When I visited his house and museum in Columbus, Ohio, I was as impressed by the man as I was by his writings. He was legally blind in his later years, so much so that he wore what amounted to binoculars for glasses - a large, black contraption that was strapped to his head. He used enormous canvases to draw his cartoons, and would sit very close to the work as he inked these impossibly big characters.

How many of us would keep going like this? He could have, at any time, said, "Enough. I'm blind, for Pete's sake. I'm going to spend my days sitting in my yard and listening to the birds singing." But he was driven to create, no matter what.

When I needed a name for my blog, I had to involve my idol. I re-read My Life and Hard Times and found what I was looking for in the very first entry, "Preface to a Life." In it, Thurber is bemoaning the aging process. (That he is approaching his forties in the piece is part of the humor, although I suspect it was not meant to be; these days, we are less apt to think of forty as old.) He worries that he is getting older, and is living with a daily dread of losing his way in this world.

According to Thurber, the aging humorist writes from fear rather than joy. "The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats. Afraid of losing themselves in the larger flight of the two-volume novel, or even the one-volume novel, they stick to short accounts of their misadventures because they never get so deep into them but that they feel they can get out. This type of writing is not a joyous form of self-expression but the manifestation of a twitchiness at once cosmic and mundane."

It's a funny piece, but in a melancholy way, and I think there is a certain truth to the "twitchy" factor. If you are a writer, you write because you can't NOT write. Although I did eventually make the move to the full-length (more or less) novel, I see Thurber's point about it all.

Words burn in my head, until I must sit down and release them through my fingertips. I do worry about getting so deeply into writing a scene that I cannot write my way out of it. And I would love to write Great Literature and sit with my back in its chair, but instead, I sit on the edge and write my light and lively tales.

There now, does that make any sense?

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