"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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Here, kitty, kitty

I do like to drag out ye olde tyme frights near All Hallow's Eve. Yes, this is how ancient I feel, resorting to the original Frankenstein, Alfred Hitchcock, even Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy to get my scares.

I've shown you the trailer for The Cat People (1942) before, but here's one of the creepier scenes.

I used to watch this and get chills. Now I'm thinking about the story. A young woman morphs into a black panther whenever her libido is aroused. She is both confused and terrified of what she is, and seeks help. Unfortunately, let's just call her therapist a bad choice.

It seems like a wonder that this film was made at all. A man named DeWitt Bodeen wrote the script for a title and subject that were imposed upon him by the RKO Studio chief Charles Koerner. Val Lewton was the producer, who had been hired by RKO to produce movies as quickly and cheaply possible. The film came in ahead of schedule and for less than its $150,000 budget.

The movie was panned by critics, but it was a box-office hit. It was also in the theaters for such a long time, its original critics had a chance to revisit and publish more favorable reviews.

I like this, because it shows the tenacity of a writer to work within a demanding system, and make lemonade from lemons.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The answer was there all along

I'm really over at Crime Fiction Collective today, but I've had a recent convergence of thoughts that culminated in one big idea, and you know me, I'm a sharer.

When last we met, I was at a loss, wondering what it takes to own your position as an author (without activating everyone else's gag muscle). As I moped around, trying to think of a topic for the CFC, I decided to talk about my muse.

Me and my Frostie at a show in Santa Barbara

Frostie is fifteen now. I've had her since she was three. She has taught me much, but she has revealed more. One trait that I consider my best AND worst (and have given to Peri) is my stubbornness. I never knew how stubborn I was until I bought Frostie and she revealed my flaw/superpower. 

Riding did not come naturally to me, so I had to fight hard to develop my balance. This involved many lessons with my trainer holding the long line while Frostie loped around, with me in the saddle, no stirrups and no reins. I had to learn to relax at the small of my back and let my hips follow my horse, instead of fighting her.

While I learned, I found myself sliding right and left, and flopping forward and back - and frightened to tears the entire time. I kept telling myself that I was a grown woman who was PAYING for the lesson and had the absolute right to stop and get off my horse. But I didn't.

I was too stubborn to quit.

Frostie also taught me confidence. She is a skittish horse, given to spooking at plastic bags, trash cans that have been moved, and ghosts. Apart from the obvious problem when I was in the saddle (see stubbornness, above), it was hard to lead her anywhere without having her startle and jump, usually on me. Learning to keep her attention and calm her down gave me a new level of self-assurance.

It also saved my feet.

The day after I wrote the CFC post about her, I was sitting at the ranch, waiting for a student. I had already gone to Snoopy's stall and petted him, and kissed his nose, and told him about his book. Then I visited Frostie and talked to her about her modeling gig and how pretty the pictures turned out. There was also scratching and smooching. Now I sat and looked out at the arena, to Frostie who was in her stall, looking back at me.

And it dawned on me what a lucky, lucky person I am to have these horses. Me, who loved horses from before the womb, who was denied them until she had decided that dream might not survive, and who was able to dream again thanks to a caring husband. I started crying a little, then, because I felt such intense happiness and blessings.

So now I'm at a loss AND I'm a mess.

But I thought about what Frostie had taught me. Confidence and a stubborn streak. Why am I stressing about being recognized as what I am? I'm an author. If you don't believe me, I won't give up until I change your mind.

And when all else fails, I try to channel this woman:

After all, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I need me some moves

I'm at a loss.

I've decided to embrace this self-publishing gig. Got my own little press, with its own little logo. Even got a business license, just so I'm legit.

I realize that authors and publishers do two different things. Authors create the product. Publishers package and promote the product. Two different hats must be worn. They cannot be worn simultaneously.

So while my third mystery, The Hot Mess, is in the hands of an editor and the cover art is in progress by my designer, I'm doing publisher things like writing the jacket blurb and thinking about how and when to release it in its various incarnations.

And don't forget promotion. How am I going to drum up interest in this thing?

It occurred to me that maybe I could get one or two of my more famous author friends to read an advance copy and give me a blurb for the jacket (note: only if they liked it). Something I could use in my advertising. Put on my website. Put on a banner and fly from a rented airplane. You know, the usual routine.

I met a fairly well-known and very established mystery author recently. Not Sue Grafton famous, but famous within her sub-genre. We spoke at length, exchanged emails and got along like peas in a pod. Perhaps she could help me with a little statement about how wonderful my book is.

But I don't ask for something without offering fair value. I purchased one of her books and read it, planning to first praise it to the heavens in an email and posting a good review on Amazon before asking for a blurb.

Imagine my chagrin when I discovered I didn't like the book. I looked at the reviews on Amazon and quite a few reviewers had the same problems I had, which only made me feel worse, because I thought maybe it was just me. It wasn't.

Here's the thing: I was struck by her aura, for lack of a better term, when we met. She was not snobby, or narcissistic. She was just An Author. Period. If I had written this book and given it to my beta readers, they would have ripped me to little bite-sized pieces. Not only did she get a contract, but the way she spoke, it would never occur to her that she wouldn't get a contract for any book she decided to write.

What she has is what I lack, and I don't mean the contract. I mean the swagger of being an author, the ownership that you write books for the world to read and you're confident they will all love them, and if they don't, you'll cry all the way to the bank. Every time I attempt this, I start feeling way too precious for my own skin and abandon it in favor of a hearty laugh.

Any suggestions, Authors? How does one go about developing the external presentation, the thing that announces to the world that of course you are An Author of Some Importance without letting it take you over until no one wants to talk to you? Do I need moves like Jagger or something?

I'm seriously looking for some suggestions. And blurbs. I wouldn't mind having some blurbs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The silence of the blogs

No, I'm not talking about this guy.

I mean, my blog has been very hit or miss (BUY HIT OR MISSUS - sorry, couldn't resist a subconscious plug there) because I am working on two books, one being edited for publication and one being written, not to mention the several that are swirling on the back burner, waiting to be started.

In one sense, I do identify with Mr. Lector - figuratively. I do see myself being hogtied and masked from normal communications in order to complete my tasks. The writing doesn't do itself, kids.

So until I'm back, thought I'd leave you with some music.

I love this theme because it encompasses different types of music, which to me, echoes the movie's theme of the pioneering spirits who pushed into the West, a big, sprawling tapestry of land and climate and challenges. Makes me want to create a soundtrack for my books.

But I have to stay focused. Write, write, write.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

So... how's your weekend?

Personally, I seem to be recuperating.

I had scheduled some writing today, but my brain seems to be lagging. Noun? Verb? What speak is you language this?

Maybe I should keep my words little and sentences short.

I began the weekend with a few hours at Disneyland with my good buddy Tameri Etherton, who is just crazy fun. She was there to get pictures of the Halloween decorations. We were admittedly disappointed that California Adventure has no homage to Halloween at all. (Perhaps there are no holidays when you are having an adventure.) It was drizzling a little as we wandered around Faux-Fisherman's Wharf, desperately seeking coffee.

As if an Omen from Walt, the sun came out as soon as we hit the gates of Disneyland. After a thrilling ride on Big Thunder (where we might have frightened the small child in the next car by yelling things like, "Rattlesnake! Earthquake! Potted Light Fixture!"), we took the Jungle Cruise ride into deepest, darkest Anaheim.

We wish the animals wore Halloween masks!

There were two teenaged girls behind us in line, so Tameri was interested in what they read. Fantasy, the one girl said, which was perfect. Then she rattled off some of her favorite books, including Twilight. Oh, well.

Since the Indiana Jones ride was closed, we wandered a bit more through the park, then hit up downtown Disney for lunch and a trip to the candy store.


I got home in time to change clothes and go to the Placentia Library Jewel Reception, a dinner held by the Friends Foundation to thank their big donors (and by big, I mean anything over $100). It was super lovely. The library director, Jeanette, even let this guy out of Nadia's office. Nice young man, but a little too stiff to be any fun.

Saturday was the Placentia Heritage Parade and Festival, which meant rising at 5:30 ayem, getting completely dressed and made-up, in order to be in the parade. The parade didn't start til 9:30, but I had to be at Tri-City Park at 6:15 to unload and set up my author's booth. By 7:00 I needed coffee.

Here's the thing about me and coffee and mornings... we don't always play nice. Getting up uber-early upsets my stomach. I could use the coffee to wake me up, but if I drink it on an upset stomach, it only makes it angrier.

So no coffee.

By 9:30, my booth was ready, I was in the parade car, and everything was great.

We're ready to roll out!

The parade was so much fun! I waved until my arm ached. Then I waved with the other hand. Then I propped my arm on the car and waved some more. My face still hurts from the smiling.

Yes, I wore the tiara!

My booth this year was not on the main path, so the bad news is, I didn't sell a lot of books. The good news is, I got two speaking engagements. The other bad news is, the way my booth was situated, people kept getting trapped behind me and walking through the middle of my booth to get to the path, tearing my sign loose. The good news is, Veronica from the Parks and Rec Department got two big "Road Closed" barricades and put them up to block people, AND I made friends with the cranky lady selling plush toys to my right.

After a day of excitement, I wanted to get into my jammies and relax, but instead, there was one more thing to do. Dale and I had to take Marcus out to his favorite restaurant for his birthday.
"Bucket o' Boat Trash" anyone?

As usual, I announced his birthday to the waitress, who did the whole "it's your birthday, shake your booty," ritual of embarrassment. It may be his birthday, but it's my entertainment.

What did you all do this weekend?

Friday, October 12, 2012

A day of birthdays and festivals

It's October 12th. Do you know what that means? Yes, yes, it is the official date of Columbus Day, since abandoned in favor of the second Monday in October, but more than that, it is the birthdate of this guy:

Don't recognize him? Try him a few years older:

It's my son, Marcus. He's 20 years old today. (I haven't aged - how did he get so old?) As a toddler, he was obsessed with cars and at three years old could tell the difference between any make and model, and I mean ANY make and model. The day we were driving down the street and he said, of the car next to us, "That's a Ford Bronco. It's an '89," is the day I officially called it creepy.

At 20, he is at the California State University, Long Beach Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, studying vocal jazz and composition. In between cars and music, there were passionate interests in bugs, dinosaurs, the Titanic, soccer, Pokemon, and dancing.

I am just proud to be the mom of a kid who invests himself in curiosity. I wish everyone wanted to know everything about something.

In other news, on Saturday, I'll be in the Placentia Heritage Parade. You can't miss me. I'll be the one wearing the tiara. After the parade I'll take up my usual spot as an author in my booth in Tri-City Park. If you're in the Placentia area, come by and say hello. The Heritage Festival is nothing but fun!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's CFC Day

It's an alternate Thursday, which means I'm in an alternate universe, known as the Crime Fiction Collective blog. Today, I'm discussing conventions and conferences, their differences and similarities and what to expect from each.

Come on by and visit me there.

P.S. Honk if you get the association with this picture.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Highlights from Duarte

I love the Duarte Author Festival and will always attend, as long as there is nothing pressing scheduled, and I mean pressing as in major surgery, not pressing as in Girls' Road Trip. I want to give a great big shout-out to Pat De Rose who sends out endless emails and puts together forms and puts up with authors who forget to reserve their table and have a zillion questions and want to move their tables around because there's too much sun and it disturbs their chi.

Thank you, Pat, for what must be a thankless job.

Although this festival seemed a little less populated this year, in terms of tables and patrons, it was a lot of fun. Of course, there were those friends who I missed. Pam and her niece, Alyssa, will be back next year, I hope. Jeff Sherratt will not. I missed his presence, missed looking over and seeing him standing and talking to someone, always talking to someone. He was one gregarious guy.

Teresa Burrell was at my table, though, and we had a good time discussing publishing and writing and families and more. We sat on a panel together and got to tell a good crowd all about our books and ourselves. I think we each sold enough books to cover the cost of the table, and gave out a lot of bookmarks to people who have ebooks.

I may need an app, so I can sell them on the spot.

Apart from an encounter with an interestingly prim older woman who described in great detail her attendance at a bondage seminar and subsequent homework, my highlight was actually being interviewed by a couple of Duarte High School students who were filming for the local cable-TV station as part of their ROP program. Isaiah was my actual interviewer, a junior who wants to be a writer. And a director and an actor.

Watch out, Matt Damon.

We kept having to start the interview over because people kept walking in between us and the camera, but it was so darn much fun, I didn't care. As they were setting up for the third (or was it the fourth?) take, he said, "I have to say, you're my most fun interview today."

That's who I am: the fun one.

Next weekend, I'll be at the Placentia Heritage Festival in Tri-City Park. First of all, I'm going to be in the parade as a Library Trustee. Maybe someday, I'll be in the parade as Famous Local Author. (Readers of Hit or Missus might think I already have.)

The Duarte Author Festival was supported heavily by Ray Bradbury, and part of my fondness for it stems from meeting him there. It only seems fitting to include a video of him, talking about his passions.

Reading, writing, and libraries. What's not to love?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Duarte, here I (we?) come

I have been working steadily toward my goal of finishing Snoopy's memoir by the first week of November, mostly by sitting my tushie down and writing, but also by scheduling my week so I know when I am available to write. One of the things I've discovered is that planning/wishing to write is useless when my day is already crammed with other activities. Better to let that day be what it is, and schedule the day that works.

Today, I scheduled a non-writing day, even though I am only busy in the late morning (and sort of early afternoon) taking a riding lesson. What else could be so important?

I have to get my books and stuff ready for the Duarte Author Festival this Saturday. I won't tell you this is a big money-maker for me. It's not. It's a lot of schlepping and schmoozing for a few book sales. Why do it?

1. It's in a beautiful venue, so I feel I have not schlepped in vain.

2. Schlepping aside, I like schmoozing, and people actually recognize me from the previous years. I know that I can get signups to be alerted to my next book release, and gather more fans.

3. This is the festival where I met Ray Bradbury. It will always have a place in my heart.

4. I usually get to spend the day with one of my good writing buddies, Pam Carter Ripling (writing as Anne Carter). I love her lighthouse mysteries, and she's such a peach. (Note: she will not be here this year and I'm dying just a little, but Tee Burrell will be sharing the table and she's equally good company.)

Pam's on the right (her funny/cute niece Alyssa is on the left, and our dear friend Jeff is in the middle)

5. This is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Duarte Library. How can I not support that?

Now that I've listed why I will be there, here are five good reasons why YOU should join me:

1. It's not that far away (Westminster Gardens, 1420 Santo Domingo Ave, Duarte). Only thirty minutes from my house in Orange County, for Pete's sake.

2. Once you get there, it looks like this.

Pretty, yes?

3. They have over 50 authors, entertainment, children's activities, and panels where authors talk about books.

4. Did I mention this is a library fundraiser?

5. You can schmooze with moi. I'll have my physical books for sale, plus a sign-up sheet for my soon-to-be-released third mystery, The Hot Mess. PLUS, if you visit my Facebook Author Page, there is a secret code for getting a big discount on any of my books, including the new one.

Now that I've given you all the reasons to come, and there's no reason not to (other than band practice or heart surgery), when can I expect you to show up?

Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm not Lisa*

As you can see on the side panel of this blog, I have two books of humor essays, culled from the columns I write for the Placentia News-Times (I am currently on hiatus until the election is over, but plan to return).

A few light-months ago, someone took me to task for having the audacity to mention Erma in the titles. Most people know this refers to the late but very great Erma Bombeck. She is the queen of the Slice of Life Humor Essay, having written over 4,000 columns before her very untimely death in 1996. The unnamed individual believed that it turned Erma-lovers off, to have someone mention her name in connection with their own writing.

When someone criticizes something I have done or said, my first instinct is to say, "Oh, no! Maybe they're right! Maybe I'm not funny, maybe I didn't think this through, maybe I am as dumb as I look." Or something to that effect. If confronted head-on, I tend to fold and claim stupidity. If it's something in writing, I'm able to walk away and examine it, to see if I truly am an idiot.

So after months of examination, I can finally see the forest and the trees. Here's my answer:

I didn't name my books after Erma because I think I am the next Erma Bombeck. No one is the next Erma Bombeck. She came along in the 60s with a fresh voice, who said out loud what so many wives and moms were thinking: Why the hell does anyone think housework is fun and childrearing is easy? Of course, she said it in some truly hilarious ways. She was both talented AND unique for her time.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Ermas now. We all feel free to tell the world just what happened to us today and why we have to laugh about it because otherwise we'd have to sit down and cry and that makes our faces puffy. There are so many of us doing it that, when I was looking around to try to be syndicated, lots of newspapers and magazines said, "No slice of life pieces." I can only guess they are inundated with men and women who had a bad day and want to write about it in a funny way.

It's cheaper than therapy.

Erma led the charge. She was the first, and no one will ever replace her. Her followers (like me) work like crazy to be funny and poignant, as she was, but we all know she created the blueprint for us.

I like to think karma made me a humor essayist, because Erma and I share the same birthday - February 21 (not the same year).

I used Erma in my books' titles because 1) I share her sense of humor, and 2) I aspire to be like her. Some people think I'm as funny as Erma, and some do not. Humor is subjective and that is just something humor writers have to steel themself against. If I don't quite make it up to her quality (in some people's opinions), at least everyone knows where I'm aiming.

So the answer is that I made the right decision. At some point, I plan to put out one more Erma book. I like things in threes.

*The reason for this post's title is that, when I was first criticized, I thought, "Well, I'm not Erma," and this song jumped, immediately, into my head.

BTW, this is from an episode of Hee Haw. Loved Buck Owens.

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