"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

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

I'm not always ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille

There is a kind of shot that film/TV directors use when someone discovers THE SECRET to the whole story. It's kind of a quick closeup, either toward or away, while their eyes widen. Kind of like this:


Or this:


I don't care if it's considered cheesy, it fits the moment, just as it fits moments in my life. I was remembering one of these today. 

Marcus needed new shoes. We used to go to Famous Footwear, where I'd buy him two pairs of shoes because the second pair was half price. He would dutifully wear the same pair of shoes until they fell apart and I'd donate the second pair because they no longer fit him. It only took me eight or ten years to figure out that I could buy him one pair and get myself a pair for half price.

I'm nothing if not stubborn.

This particular day, he'd been in a kids' size 4, so we sat down in the kids section and I got the metal foot measure to see what size he needed. He propped his heel against the back and...his toes hung over the front. Confused, I retrieved the adult-sized metal foot measure.

My son wore a size 6 MENS.

Numbly, I walked him to the men's section and let him pick out a pair of sneakers. I then struggled to breathe as he strode up and down the aisle, saying, "Look! I have clown feet!"

It was that moment of revelation, when I saw my son as an adult. A mini-adult who was in elementary school, but yet--not a baby.

Years later, I still feel that quick closeup, just before the camera hits me in the face.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Day's end

When I am at the end of my day

    I shall not rage nor shall I whimper

But I should like to have a party

     and serve too much of everything

And speak of simple things and hard things 

     and all that lies between in shadows

        and laugh until we weep.

One thing I ask and one thing only

When I lie and tell you 

     I am not afraid

Smile, Dear Friend, and say, "Not you."

Not you.

--Gayle Carline, 2021

Monday, May 17, 2021

Out in the land of the living

"Now is the winter of our discontent 

Made glorious summer by this sun of York."

We all remember March 2020, when the lockdown came for us and we sat home and masked up and cracked our hands red from washing. It was the winter of our discontent, which lasted about 15 months. 

I remember it painfully because I had JUST. RELEASED. A. NEW. BOOK. I had plans, People. Big plans that were thwarted on all sides because I couldn't go anywhere and meet anyone and do anything.

In time, I dried my tears and kept working on the next project.

But glorious summer is literally and metaphorically coming. I'm happy to announce that I will be having a booth at this year's Celebration of the Arts and Music Festival, presented by the Yorba Linda Arts Alliance Foundation. Yeah, it's a mouthful to say, but just say you'll be there to see me IRL! I will have bunches of books, and maybe some giveaways and IDK, a way to tell you how grateful I am to actually see you in the flesh.

But before that, I will be part of a panel at the Sisters in Crime Orange County meeting on this Sunday, May 23rd. Unfortunately, we will still be Zooming, but at least it's not as far to drive, and you don't have to put on pants!

Here is the link to the time, the topic, and all of our friendly faces. I can't wait to talk with these ladies!


Hope to see you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I see funny people

I've got other things to do today but sometimes a thing gets hold of my brain and I have to clear it out before I can get to anything else. A thought clog, if you will.

Someone posted a thing on Facebook recently that basically said you can tell someone's intelligence by their sense of humor. At first, I thought that was right, because there is a certain level of smart that allows you to enjoy erudite, New Yorker humor.

Then I remembered what I've learned about humor over the years and I reconsidered.

So I'm going to attempt, in a single post(!) to try to ease your mind about why you have a PhD and still laugh at fart jokes. Ready?

Here's the thing about humor: it is completely subjective. I'm sure there are scientists who've done all kinds of tests to figure out where "funny" lives in our bodies and quantify humor, etc. I'm not sure how successful they've been.

We call it a "sense of humor" for a reason. I know we've all been sold on the five senses (six if you're Haley Joel Osment), but scientists have found a lot more.

Typically our "senses" are defined as physical reactions to external stimuli, but some external stimuli are subtle (e.g. our sense of our own physical space--we can touch our nose with our eyes closed). Scientists have defined between 14-20 senses (again, not counting HJO) and are probably still looking for more.

What does this have to do with your sense of humor? Pretty much everything. I like brussels sprouts. You may hate them. Why? "Because they're yucky," is not an answer. You don't like the way they taste and your taste is neither good nor evil--it's just your taste.

Why do you laugh at a joke? "Because it's funny," is not the answer. Why is it that you can understand a joke, understand why it is meant to be funny, and yet not feel any spontaneous laughter from it? Again, your sense of humor is not good or bad--it's just your humor. 

Which means that maybe you were laughing at The Three Stooges as a kid and still laugh at them because you can't help it if they make your stomach shake and your lungs dance and tears roll down your face. You can be a nuclear physicist or a clerk in the store. 

Your funny is YOUR funny, no matter what your IQ is.

For my writer friends, here is an additional point I'd like to make:

When we're faced with a food we don't like, we don't eat it, and say, "Thank you, but I don't like peas." We own that as our taste preference. (Unless we're in grade school where there is a lot of pointing and, "You gonna eat THAT?")

When we're faced with a joke, or a book, or a movie, that does not make us laugh, we don't smile and say, "Thank you, but I don't like slapstick humor." We say, "It didn't make me laugh, therefore IT WASN'T FUNNY." Somehow our own taste in humor has been spread about to become everyone's taste in humor.

Which means that if you are writing humor and intend it to reach an audience and get the best audience you can, you need to be specific about your brand of funny. Are puns your forte? Anecdotal stories? Do your characters drip with stunning sarcastic wit?

Tell your audience what they should expect. And then scrub yourself daily with steel wool--if you write humor, you're gonna need thick skin.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Writing, editing, and leopard-print lingerie

 I have in the past written a post about my editing process. It is long and it is tedious (the process, not the post) and is usually composed of five official stages of editing, and within each stage, an infinite number of passes through the manuscript. If you want to look it up, it's here:


Since that's the way I've always done it, that's the way I expected to do it for this book (currently titled MOON DRAGON FALLING, book 2 of the fantasy trilogy). As usual, my great expectations were incorrect. I'm going to chalk it up to two things. 

One is that this is a Big Damn Book that refuses to come in under 110,000 words. (My editor might eventually disagree when she reads it.) 

The second is that this book, much like the first, refused all attempts to be outlined like my mysteries and insisted on being born naturally, without a plan. Or an epidural.


So instead of doing many sweeping reads to get rid of my go-to words and fix grammar and tidy things up, I went straight to Step 4, where I reverse-engineered the book and made an outline, then looked at the pacing, re-arranged chapters, and fixed what fell flat. 

I'm now going to the Read Aloud portion of the program, followed by the Listen to the Digital Voice Recorder step, and hopefully end up Verifying My Edits without losing my mind.

I'm thinking of making a board game out of this process.

As I was re-structuring the chapters, an idea slapped me. Why not make the beginning of the second book echo the beginning of the first? If I can do it subtly, it's one of those things that brings the reader confidence, makes them feel like they know and like this story without knowing why. Like when a woman wears leopard-print lingerie under her business suit--her secret brings her confidence. No one else knows why there's a spring in her step. They don't have to. 

They just have to stay out of her way.


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