- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
For the snoop in all of us
I'm exhausted. Cleaned the Jeffers house and Dr. Bite's office today – his name isn't really Dr. Bite, but he's a dentist, so I like calling him that. Doesn't matter, he's never there when I come to clean.
The Jeffers house was a sty this time. Mrs. Jeffers is on travel. I could tell because her side of the sink is missing some bottles, and her power suit isn't in the closet, but the dry cleaning bag is still hanging there. She didn't run off, 'cause the Volvo was in the garage. From the looks of the place when she's gone, it wouldn't surprise me if she did just pack it up and leave. Between the husband, the teenage girl and the ten-year old boy, none of them can pick a towel up, throw a wrapper away, get a dish even near the kitchen, let alone the sink, nothing. Usually, when I go to their house, I do the basics and I'm done in two hours. I gave them an extra half-hour today and worked my ass off to get everything done in a half-assed way.
Mr. Jeffers started to give me a little grief about the lack of serious dusting, but I pointed out that he may want to put a little stain remover on the shirt I picked up off the floor, because Mrs. Jeffers' dark berry lipstick was all over the inside of the collar. He stared at me, trying to figure out if I knew Mrs. Jeffers doesn't wear dark lipstick (I know she likes the bronzes), then shut up and paid me.
Dr. Bite's office was in its usual state when I got there. Neat and organized, even before I start cleaning. It even smells mint-y fresh. I dust, clean the bathroom and scrub the sinks out. I don't touch the equipment – that's their department. Found a note under the chair in his office when I was vacuuming today. "Call me 555-6009" in big, curly handwriting, with a little smiley face, like a teenager would sign. Of course I was curious. Is it a note he found, or is Dr. Bite a perv, messing with little girls?
True confession time – I opened his desk drawers to see if I could find out what the note meant. One of the drawers was locked, but I know the key is under the desk lamp, because I move it when I dust. It's a pretty stupid place to hide a key, so I went ahead and used it. If the pictures in that drawer are the same woman who wrote that note, at least she looks legal – every bare inch of her. At that moment, I was really happy I'd never let any of my exes take photos of me in the nude. Or Skip.
Speaking of Skip, we were going to have dinner tonight, but he got called on a case. Sometimes sucks dating a detective. So I had a long soak in the tub for my tired muscles, then had my favorite dinner, Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream, and watched a Sherlock Holmes movie. I love mysteries. While I was in the tub, I started thinking about what Blanche said when we had lunch Wednesday. She thinks I should get out of the housecleaning business and become a private investigator. I can't help but think about the PI's I see on TV or read about in books. They're always in some kind of hot water. I hate danger, but my shoulders and knees sure are feeling today's bout with the Jeffers house. I suppose I could just do background checks, surveillance, stuff like that. Sitting in a car is easier than scrubbing toilets, any day. I'm just afraid I wouldn't be any good at it.
Well, gonna read one more chapter of that new Michele Scott mystery before I turn in. Her amateur sleuth, Nikki, is always in trouble. I wonder if I should tell Skip about that gun I saw in Dr. Bite's locked drawer.
I guess she decided to start a new career after all. Too bad it didn't turn out to be as low risk as she'd hoped.
Friday, March 27, 2009
My big, fat (possibly existential) question of the day
I'm taking a poll, mostly because I'm so damn curious, if I was a cat I'd be down to my last life right now.
First, go to the Southern California Writer's Conference blog (click here) and watch the clip of Joe Wambaugh, David Brin, Mark Clements, and other authors talk about the technical process of writing. I was particularly struck by their unwillingness at the time (1996) to embrace the word processor as a writing tool. Thomas Wolfe wrote Look Homeward, Angel standing in his kitchen, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk - the first draft was somewhere between 250,000 and 380,000 words (I guess Wolfe had a hard time counting). A few years ago, I was privileged to hear Ray Bradbury speak; although he is quite computer literate, he still prefers to use a typewriter for his manuscripts.
Now, my question to you, as a writer is this: How much of your time, your labor, your perserverance, would you give to your book(s) if you did not have the wonders of the modern computer? Be absolutely honest about this - knowing your last novel went through 30 revisions, would you still be willing to re-type the whole thing for submission to an agent?
What I'm looking for is basic insights into all of us, as writers. Perhaps you use a typewriter, or like to write things out by hand. Perhaps you like to use different tools for different types of writing. As for myself, I'm still mulling this over. My first, easiest response is that, being a former software engineer and feeling so comfy around computers, I don't know why I'd use anything else. But that's not all of it, since sometimes I like the feel of a pen in my hand. I'm still thinking about it... but why should I be the only one lost in thought? Please share.
Friday, March 20, 2009
The wheels are in motion
I thought this would be a good place to have the launch party because this is where they find the first body in my book. Actually, they find it behind this building. The good thing about this building is that it's large enough to handle a lot of people, and it has a connection to the book. The bad thing about this building is that I can't serve any alcohol here, so Peri's dirty martinis will not be available.
I would have preferred to rent this place:
Back to the Backs Building – first of all, I'll set the mood with Dean Martin. In addition to Dino, I'll have some of Peri's favorite music (Eric Clapton and Arrowsmith), and I'll try to press my son's singing/guitar playing into service.
I'll decorate the tables with roses, to tie in with the Forever Roses Ring. I'll offer punch and cookies. Look at the cookie cutters I found:
Cool, yes? If I can get cookies made like these, it would be perfect. If it's cost-prohibitive, I could have a couple dozen of these to decorate the plate of plain cookies.
For entertainment, here's what I'm thinking:
1. Portable DVD players around the room, playing slide shows and other teasers for book.
2. Brief interview (I plan to enlist my friend, Robin, to come up with interesting questions).
3. Brief reading, along with a little Q&A.
4. Raffle off a book (money goes to support Placentia Library).
5. A large jar of olives – guess how many are in the jar and win a book.
6. First x number of people get promo materials.
What have I forgotten? Oh, yes, how about a table full of my books for sale, and an endless supply of pens for me to autograph them!
So… how's that sound? BTW, I'm holding it Sunday, July 19th, in the afternoon. Come on out and have some cookies!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Here I come, to save the day!
As usual, she asked her readers to share their favorite hero/ines, an exercise we had already done with our villains. Some readers like their heroes with deep flaws; some like them best when they're vulnerable underdogs. Since I'm a constant lurker on her blog, I wrote a rather long comment about all of the qualities I like in my protagonists, then I thought about specific characters I like - and I erased the comment. I wasn't certain my heroes all lived up to the qualities I'd listed. Instead, I listed the characters and said I'd have to think about what it is I like about them. I meant, of course, in the sweeping generalization sense.
One of the things I like about Alex's blog is that we truly have discussions - she makes comments about our comments. Her comment to me: "But I'd like to hear what you like about them."
So I thought, instead of taking up vast amounts of Alex's comment space, I'd discuss my who are my favorite heroes here (and why):
1. Sherlock Holmes. Okay, he's not the most two-dimensional character in history, but he set the standard for brilliant detectives. My heroes need to be smart. They have to outwit the villain, not outpunch him. It would have been nice if Sir Arthur had given us some inkling into Holmes' reasons for the drug abuse - I never quite bought his excuse of "ennui", but I understand that it wasn't important to his audience at the time. I remember enjoying the book The Seven Percent Solution, by Nicholas Meyer, which tried to take us a little deeper into Holmes' addiction.
2. Philip Marlowe. Whether reading The Big Sleep, or watching the Bogart version, I could really go for this guy. Tough, smart, and playful, something Holmes lacks. He stays ahead of the villains, most of the time, and when he gets caught, he's smart enough to find a way out of trouble. He could be seen as world-weary, which I'm not a big fan of, but he's still got that burning inquisitiveness that keeps him from giving up on humanity. He stays up late to figure out Geiger's code book (I'm talking about the movie here), and he continues to work the Sternwood case even when the D.A. and the general's daughter try to make him stop. This isn't a guy who's finished with life.
3. Eve Diamond. She's the intrepid reporter created by Denise Hamilton, a former (intrepid) reporter for the L.A. Times. I like Eve because she's good at her job, and she goes about it fearlessly. This is fairly sexist on my part; I assume my heroes are fearless, but I require my heroines to be so. Eve will go into any den in Hell to get the story, even if her heart is trying to claw its way out of her to escape. Her love life is usually a hot mess, but she's aware of the problem. Poor thing, she really does think the next guy will be The One, but she keeps choosing bad boys.
4.Flynn Carsen. This is the hero of The Librarian movies. If you haven't seen them, they were made-for-TV movies by Turner Network Television (TNT). Flynn is played by Noah Wyle; he is a supersmart geek (even by geek standards) who has a gazillion university degrees and a head chock full o' facts. He thinks he wants to get a steady job, find a girl, and live a normal life. Instead, he is recruited to be the "Librarian", in charge of collecting and maintaining a unique collection of artifacts - like Excalibur, Pan's flute, the Holy Grail, etc. Check it out here. What I like about Flynn is that he is smart, but hasn't quite accepted his fate as Keeper of Really Important Relics. He is also truly heroic in his desire to do the right thing, at any cost.
5. Rick O'Connell. The hero of the Mummy movies first strikes me as a lout, but as soon as the lovely Evelyn hires him and gets him cleaned up, he gets smarter. I like Rick because he is smart, but he doesn't want to admit it. Part of the reason, I think, is that his knowledge may be from an ancient source, which he doesn't believe in. I also love that he is intensely loyal to his wife, and later, his son. He's kinda yummy, too.
6. Ripley. Sigourney Weaver impressed me as a heroine because it was the first time I saw that kind of physical strength portrayed by a woman on the screen. She fought the Alien with her brain, and every weapon she could get her hands on.
7. Nick and Nora Charles. I don't think I'd like to see these two separately, but I love them as a team. Funny, smart, and snappy dressers!
The next three are strictly from TV-land:
8. Brenda Lee Johnson. She's a driven police chief in L.A. (The Closer) who keeps a stash of junk food in her drawer because she eats chocolate when she's stressed. Again, a smart cookie, I wouldn't say she's absolutely fearless, but she will leap into the thick of things, even when she's afraid.
9. Ziva David. She's not really the "star" of NCIS, but I like her character, the Mossad-trained Israeli who mangles English slang, threatens suspects with bodily harm, yet fusses over her teammates and occasionally, second-guesses herself.
10. Allison DuBois. Even if you don't believe in the power of psychics, this character on Medium is compelling. She has spent a lifetime fearing this ability, being told to ignore it, trying to drink it away. Now that she's allowed to use it, she doesn't always know what the dead are trying to tell her. She's supremely human, trying to be a mom and a wife and a responsible member of society - and I like her because she's like me in some ways, trying to juggle all the balls, plus add the one marked "Me" in every once in awhile. Only she gets to discover the murderer and save the day!
So those are mine. It's clear I want my hero/ines to be smart, funny, fearless people. I don't care if they have flaws, as long as they are at least human.
What are your favorite traits in a hero/ine? Are they the same for both?
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.
The second thing was receiving a copy of the pdf file of my book from Karen Syed (you know... Echelon Press... She Who Must Be Obeyed... LOL) to be proofed. I spent yesterday reading it aloud, making a (very few) red marks, and thinking.
The last thing was my friend, Robin. I had sent her an email asking for her input into the book launch party. She was, as usual, her macabre self, and had quite a few suggestions about decor, games and giveaways.
As I read through my book, I began to notice objects and places and names that could be used to establish the party's look and let people have a good time. Robin pointed out two very obvious symbols on the book cover:
The martini glass, and the bloody hand print. She suggested using these images as decoration, along with the refrigerator, as much as possible. She also suggested having a fake (I hope!) corpse at the scene, and playing a game where people try on the ring (sort of a twisted Cinderella-slipper, or OJ-glove thing).
First, let's dispense with the things I don't think I should do, even though I kind of want to:
1. Supply a corpse. Since the party will be held where the first body is discovered, it would be fun to recreate the scene. However, I have two problems. One is that the party will be inside, but the body is found outside. What if someone steals my body while we're inside? Or the neighbors see it and call the cops? Although, it would make a great news story: Dead Body Hoax to Promote New Book. The other problem is that I want things to be more interactive. Not only do I not know what to do with a dead body, I don't WANT to know what to do with one. Although, if I could get a member of the PPD to show up and describe what they'd actually do if someone found a corpse behind the Backs Building, that might be cool...
2. Use the bloody handprint as decoration. Ok, I admit, I like this, down to serving cookies that are in the shapes of hands (I draw the line at red icing - maybe). But there will be people bringing their kids, and I don't want them to be covering their eyes and ears constantly. I don't consider Freezer Burn to be brazenly gruesome or gratuitously adult in theme. But it's a book. Adults can read it and decide whether to allow their kids to read it. That's their job.
3. The ring game. This would be fun, if any kind of ring like this truly existed. I don't even know who I could contact to make me a paper mache version. Here's what the ring is based on:
Except that the stones are all much larger, and the center diamond is cut uniquely so the facets look like rose petals. Know where I can pick up one of those?
However, as Katherine Hepburn said in Desk Set, "Many things remind me of many things." Robin's ideas plus my book plus Diana's comment made me go, "What about..."
1. A game where people count how many martini glass images they see around the room? Winner gets a promo item.
2. A game to get people talking to other people (this is a favorite of mine) - I make up stickers with names and places that are common to the book. Everyone gets a sticker on their back and must ask Yes/No questions to find out who/what they are. Winner gets a promo item.
3. I have a portable DVD player, with two screens. I could have a loop of my book slide shows (or even put a trailer together) to be showing in the room.
4. Decor - use roses, emeralds, diamonds (not real ones!), and martinis. Garlands, posters, I don't know.
5. A contest based on reading a passage (what location did I fictionalize, where is Peri, etc).
6. Raffle off a copy of the book. Give the money to the Placentia Library.
All these are in addition to the plans I've already made. So, am I getting close? Or should I go back to the drawing board?
Monday, March 9, 2009
Countdown to Launch
Dream One was an enormous gathering of family and friends at the local Italian restaurant, which is featured in the book. We'd have food and drink and Dean Martin tunes, while I sat and signed books.
Dream Two's setting was the Barnes & Noble that sits on the site of my old workplace, Hughes Aircraft. Now Raytheon, there is a single building left on the hill where many of my former co-workers still toil away. It seemed like the perfect place to draw an audience.
Then Karen told me what a launch party really looked like. "You need to invite at least 300 people," she told me. "About 100 will actually show up."
There were more instructions. Serve cookies and punch, invite the media, get one of your friends to sit at a table and sell books, etc. But there was one little piece she left out, probably because she assumed I'd know this: Make it fun. People should want to come and find out about the book, and leave with a copy in their hands that they can't wait to read. They should want to tell their friends, "I met the author and she signed my copy and it's just so cool!"
Okay, any suggestions on how I make this fun?
Here's what I'm planning so far:
1. Launch party location - The Backs Building at Kraemer Memorial Park in Placentia. This is a community building that I can rent, supercheap, and it's where the first body in my book is found. I thought it would be nice to tie in an actual location with the "fictional" location. I also thought I'd have an after-party at my house for friends and family, where I can serve some real food and drinks.
2. Decor/ambiance - Haven't quite figured out a decor, but I definitely plan to have a soundtrack of Dean Martin songs (the object of Benny's obsession), plus a few of the things Peri likes to listen to. I'm also in negotiations with my singer-guitarist son to provide some live music. Peri loves to watch old movies, so maybe I can do something with that, decor-wise.
3. Media - Since I write for the Placentia News-Times, I'm going to try to get coverage from them, even if I have to throw myself under a bus to do it. I think I'll also engage my friend, Robin, in a mock-interview, to be videotaped and used for my website, advertising, etc.
4. What else? Here's where I could use some ideas. I have one so far. Here's a picture of the back of the Backs Building:
Now then, here are the first couple of pages that take place in this location:
The red lights from the squad cars were barely visible in the midday sun. Peri saw Skip dig his way through the crowd as they swarmed around the yellow police tape barricading the corner of the Backs Building. She took her time getting out of the car, excited about investigating a murder, but anxious about the scene.
Peri wound through the curious onlookers and slipped under the tape, stopping on a rise of grass, where she could watch Skip and Blanche work. She couldn't see the body clearly, but could only discern a tangle of dark hair and a golden covering, either a blanket or a coat. Blanche knelt beside the body, pointing and speaking into a digital recorder. Skip stood to the side, looking down at Blanche and taking notes.
After a few minutes, Skip waved Peri over. She hesitated; she had never seen a dead body, except for relatives in their caskets. Even from a distance, she could tell this one needed brighter lipstick. As she moved closer, she saw the skin looked dark and pocked, decomposed from daily watering. Although it fascinated her, Peri did not want to showcase her inexperience by suddenly fainting or throwing up.
"What's it look like, Beebs?" Skip asked.
"I'll know more when I get her back to the office, but it's definitely a young female, dead at least a day, or two."
Peri had finally joined them, looking over Blanche's shoulder at the corpse. Still tucked against the building, the body looked as if she had laid down for a nap, a rich, golden coat buttoned and smoothed over her legs, her arms crossed in front, modestly hiding the fact they had no hands. Peri could smell a combination of rotting meat, wet dirt, and general compost, not as horrible as she had feared. Neither was the sight of the darkened skin, patchy from deterioration. Even the face, missing lips, and most of the nose, didn't creep her out as much as she had imagined. Peri relaxed and listened to the conversation.
"My first guess is blunt force trauma," Blanche said, pointing to a dark spot in the victim's forehead. "I'll get you results as soon as I can. By the way, Peri, thanks for your insights about Dani the other night. Turns out, she's been seeing a Goth saxophonist who dropped out of college. We're having him over for dinner on Tuesday. Wanna come?"
Peri laughed. "Wouldn't miss it for the world. Maybe I should try to corner the 'moms with teenagers' market. I'll bet they could use an investigator sometimes."
As you can see from the text, I took some liberties with the location. Do you think it would be fun to read this passage, then talk about why an author sets their story in a real location, only to change it?
If anyone has been through this before, I'd be interested in knowing what you did for your launch to make it a fun and entertaining party. What worked? What didn't? What would you do differently?
Friday, March 6, 2009
Man, that torks me off.
Monday, March 2, 2009
At least I've got my site
Let me just explain why I couldn't hire this out: it wasn't the money. I need to update the links to my newspaper column every Thursday. I have a mailing list of people who get pissy if they can't find this week's little bit 'o' Placentia heaven. So I needed a website I could massage by myself.
I visited several other author websites and got ideas from them. In particular, I like the way Ridley Pearson has his home page adorned with a fancy headshot, pointing me in one direction for his adult writings, and a goofy caricature, pointing me in another direction for his children's books. I also like Louise Ure's site. Great colors, clean lines, love the geometry of it.
Like I said in a previous post, my website began with a simple, if ambiguous, goal - get my name out on the Internet. Now that I know who I am and what I want other people to know, I used what I liked about Ridley's and Louise's sites to focus my site more clearly.
Before you visit it, let me walk you through my thought process.
First of all, I wanted a banner for every page to remind everyone who I am. On the old site, I referred to myself as a "writer, rider, and maven-in-training." I decided to refine this to "author, columnist, and maven-in-training." I kept the maven moniker because I needed a category to cover my miscellaneous writings and a 'know it all' should span everything from journalist to humorist.
Second, I needed a color palette to tie the pages together. I prefer lavender and other shades of purple, but when I tried it out, it looked like a romance writer's site, which is not me. So I went to the blues and found a nice teal and periwinkle. I paired them with grays for a neutral base, and added a little yellow for pop.
I built the banner to include photos that 'brand' me - pictures of Placentia because that's where my column appears and my mystery is set, pictures of me with my horse to tie me into my equine writings, and a picture of me as a child, looking rather peevish on a rocking horse. No doubt, I was peevish because it wasn't a real horse.
Once the banner was built, I started with the middle of the home page, focusing on my books and career as an author. To the left, I put my exploits as a columnist; to the right are my miscellaneous meanderings, under the Maven tag. They are sublisted as Odds 'n Ends, Fits 'n Giggles. From there, I created pages to: 1) tease people into wanting Freezer Burn, 2) invite them to buy Missing, 3) give my fans their weekly dose of What a Day, and 4) give curious cats a glimpse of my equine writings, as well as some flash fiction, with pictures and without.
I'm hoping people like the new look. I think it looks fresh and really easy to navigate, but what do I know? Come visit http://www.gaylecarline.com/ and see what you think. Go ahead. Kick the tires, take it around the block, let me know if there are any screws loose.