"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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

That time of the month - the end!

To finish this month's constant yapping, I'm going to complete my interview with Peri, conducted one early Sunday morning in her office.

GC: Should we talk about your love life?

Peri: If we don't who will? (laughs) I've been dating Skip Carlton for, um, about 6 years now.

GC: Wow, six years is a long time.

Peri: I know what you're thinking. It's what everyone else is thinking. Six years and no marriage? Skip wants to, but I don't. I've been married three times, so for me, it's kinda "been there, done that, got the t-shirt."

GC: So, it doesn't sound like marriage is for you?

Peri: Not really. My first husband was in the Navy, a nice guy but we were both too young and it was probably more about the physical attraction than anything else. I tried to pick the second husband based more on what we had in common.

GC: What happened there?

Peri: We were both college graduates, Protestant, liked classic rock and and old movies. We differed in only one way - he liked being a sociopath. Me, not so much.

GC: Ew. And the third?

Peri: Brilliant, funny, gorgeous, kind, generous. Unfortunately, a year into the marriage he figured out he's gay.

GC: Whoa, that would have been nice to know earlier.

Peri: Ya think? Anyway, I like the way things are now. Skip and I spend a lot of time together, but we both have our own places, so when things get too tense, we can go to our corners and cool off.

GC: How's Skip taking this change of careers?

Peri: Ha, speaking of things getting tense. He tries to act nonchalant, but I know it makes him nervous. Even though I'm doing background checks and surveillance, he worries about me. Now he knows how it feels.

GC: Because he's a cop? Does Placentia have a lot of crime?

Peri: No, but he carries a gun, other people carry guns. Chances are good, sooner or later they'll meet up.

GC: So let's talk about your career. Why did you get into private investigation?

Peri: I was a successful housecleaner for years. I did private residences, offices, you name it. Didn't make me rich, but I could afford to buy a little house, take a few vacations. When I turned 45, I started thinking about how long I'd have to work before I could retire, and I pictured myself at 60, on my knees several times a day, scrubbing bathtubs. I'm in good health, but what if I had back or joint problems?

My friend, Blanche, always teased me about figuring out everyone's secrets just from emptying their trash. Then, when the Franks' son went missing, I kind of helped with that investigation (Gayle's note: see Missing). It made me think I could make a living doing something that didn't involve bleach and rubber gloves – as a rule.

GC: Now that you've been doing it for awhile, how do you like being a private eye?

Peri: Sitting in my car with a camera sure beats schlepping garbage, although I'm hoping not every case is as dangerous as my last surveillance job (Gayle's note: see Freezer Burn).

GC: Thank you for your time, Peri, and good luck with the new business!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just because I won't be doing a blog a day doesn't mean I won't be blahging any more. I'll try to get 2-3 good posts up per week, so stay tuned.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Peri's first interview

Since the whole point of the Blog-A-Day challenge is to see I've got the chops to do a whole big blah-g book tour, I thought I'd try out one of the things I've seen other authors do when they visit other sites. They interview their characters, so I'm going to interview Peri Minneopa, my protagonist of Freezer Burn.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Due to our hectic schedules, Peri and I decide to meet in her office on Sunday morning. She rents a small space on the first floor of the Founders Plaza. It's sparsely furnished and decorated, but the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling window, overlooking the atrium. Peri stands up from behind her desk to greet me. She's about half a foot taller than me, with cornsilk blonde hair, and she's wearing khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt over a blue tank top that matches her eyes. She offers her hand to shake and I put a cup of coffee in it.

Peri: (laughing) How did you know?

GC: It's seven in the morning. Who doesn't need coffee?

We sit down, take deep sips of caffeine, and begin.

GC: Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?

Peri: Well, I was born in Spreckles, California, which is next door to Salinas. My parents moved to California from Minnesota when they got married.

GC: Why?

Peri: My folks were kind of beatniks, I guess. Early hippies. They had this idea of moving to a farm community to "get back to the land." So we lived in this rented farm house on about ten acres where my dad was always trying to raise things.

GC: What did he raise?

Peri: My mom's blood pressure, mostly. You know that joke about the new farmer who can't raise chickens? "Either I'm burying 'em too deep or watering 'em too much." That was Dad. Good thing he figured out he couldn't do it for a living – he got a job as a banker so he could play farmer on the weekends.

GC: And your mom?

Peri: She was probably the true beatnik. Dyed her own cloth, made clothes and sold them at the farmer's market.

GC: Tell us how you got into housecleaning as a career?

Peri: Well, it all started because my parents wanted me to go to UC Berkley and I wanted to go to UCLA, which meant I went to UCLA on my own dime. I had some scholarships, but I earned the rest of the way working for a housecleaning company. Once I got my Bachelors in English Lit, I worked for a couple of years writing ad copy, then went back to cleaning.

GC: I heard there was a pretty interesting story about your transition back to housecleaning.

Peri: (laughing) Oh, that. I was working for a pig of a boss for this ad agency, and I really hated it. The ad men thought that grammatical errors and misspelled words are really great gimmicks for selling a product, so I had to write the accompanying copy for some really stupid slogans. One day, Pig Boss came to my desk and threw my latest write-up at me, yelling because I had tried to write something meaningful about some snack food with the slogan, "It Tastes Gooder."

He screams at me, "I don't want your damned two-dollar words. Write it like a five-year old with learning disabilities."

I stood up – I was much taller than him – and kinda leaned over him a little. "You want a five-year old?" I took my cup of orange juice, poured it on his head and told him, "I quit, ya big butthead." Then I stuck my tongue out at him and left.

At that point, I decided to open my own housecleaning business. I still had my list of clients, and they were really happy to see me return, so it all worked out.

Tune in tomorrow for a discussion of Peri's marital mishaps, and what got her into private investigating.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The days of whines and jeezes

J.A. Konrath, who writes the Jack Daniels series, once described his writing style as (I'm paraphrasing here), "I give my main character a goal. Then I throw every obstacle I can think of at them to keep them from reaching that goal."

I think this describes most stories. The protagonist must have something they want, even if it's just to be left alone. And the author must spend the entire tale trying to keep them from getting it.

My main gal, Peri, wants to do low-risk investigations, like background checks and surveillance. You know, hunt around on the Internet and in libraries, sit in her car with a camera, easy stuff. Of course, that would make a pretty dull book. "Peri turned in her reports, went home and had a dirty martini, and they all lived happily ever after." The only thing to make that worse is if Peri never worried about her bills, her age, or her ability to buy Grey Goose vodka. Bo-ring.

And yet, as much as I like to read books with a quick pace and constant turmoil, I'd like my life to resemble the unsellable plot I've described above. No worries, no conflicts, happily ever after.

Today, however, I don't get my wish. I'm juggling three different events for my son's choir, worrying about the lack of sign-ups for summer horse camp, and trying to figure out how to squeeze a week's worth of travel to see my family in Illinois into our summer schedule. I thought I had a nice 8-day time frame worked out, when my husband said he needed to be back a day earlier and my son needs to be back two days before that.

Oh, yeah, and there's the book launch party, my publicity and marketing plans (am I missing an opportunity? Ack!), and I should be working on the next book.

So, in honor of today's resemblance to a soap opera plot, I'm naming this Whine and Jeez Friday. Please feel free to post your latest whine, about your life, your writing, your career, your kids, your pets, your landlord, your spouse...

I'm listening.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The moment I've been waiting for could wait a moment longer.

For those of you who are published authors and have been down this road before, I ask for some indulgence of my wide-eyed innocence.

Before Freezer Burn was published, it was read by lots of people, in bits and pieces. Agents looked at it; so did editors, publishers, and other writers. I listened to the critiques carefully, applied the rule of three when I wasn't certain about a change (get the same comment from three independent sources), and tried to lock my ego in the cabinet when someone's opinion rubbed me like sandpaper.

Now that my work is done and between covers, I feel confident that I've told a fun story in an entertaining way. Could it be improved? Probably. Is there truly a book out there without flaw? (Let's leave sacred writings out of that question, for tolerance's sake.) My philosophy is this: If you like my book, read it. If you don't, put it down. And God grant me the serenity to ignore the reviews.

Which brings me to my wide-eyed ignorance:

You see, I already have some pre-release copies of my book, a few of which I've sent to people for favorable blurbs (I've already told them that, if they don't like my book, silence is golden - please don't try to spin, "it made me want to throw up in my mouth" into glowing praise). In addition, although I'm having a launch party in July, some of my friends want to read the book ahead of the party, so I've been selling them copies.

There's my problem. I heard from one of my friends, who hasn't finished my book, but who knows two other friends who did. She said the other two thought it was funny that I never described Peri in the book.


On page 12, she bends her tall frame to look into a freezer, remarking that it's 50 years old, like her. On page 28, she fluffs her Nordic blonde hair. On page 186, she points to her freckled arm and describes her parents as very blond and Viking… I could continue, but you see what this did to me? I was certain that I had described enough of Peri to make her flesh and blood, and equally certain that no one else ever mentioned that before.

But it gets worse. My friend then relayed the information that one of the other gals "had notes." Notes?

"She's very literary," my friend said. "Don't you want to know how to make your next book stronger, if you plan to make a living doing this?"

Good thing I subscribe to WWPD?* I knew just how to reply.

"No. I know where to go when I want a critique. All I want from friends and family is adulation. If you read it and like it, tell me. If you read it and don't like it, shut the hell up. If you don't want to read it under those conditions, don't read it at all."

Too harsh?

I spent the rest of the day in a foul mood, wondering why some people think it's their unsolicited business to improve the way I do things.

I was still trying to shake it off when I got this email from Gordon Kirkland, one of my reviewers, an author who has won Canada's Stephen Leacock Award of Merit for Humour three times, and a writer I respect:

"I just finished reading an advance copy of Gayle’s first novel, Freezer Burn, a mystery with Gayle’s unique comedic voice spread all over it. It brings together a rather odd group of characters, with a couple of strange bodies thrown in for good measure.

I won’t give the plot away, other than to say it twists and turns like a highway designed by a drunken surveyor.

It makes a great summer read!"

In case you're wondering, we had a little online chat last night, where he told me he truly did like my book, mentioned a couple of the subplots in particular, and had no notes for me. So if nothing else, I learned yesterday not to read reviews, and that Gordon likes me! He really likes me!

*WWPD? = What Would Peri Do?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's all fun and games until someone gets poked in the ego

In the last half of my interview with Marsha Toy Engstrom, Book Club Cheerleader Extraordinaire, we discuss what happens when a good book club goes bad, plus, what's on the horizon for our Pom Pom Queen.

Did you ever have a disappointing session with a book or club members?
One time the group chose a book that no one liked. We found it sophomoric, shallow, and basically not worthy of reading. Not wanting to waste our discussion time together, we took the book’s theme—college campuses—and turned our discussion into a more personal girls’ chat about our own college experiences. We talked of life lessons, lost loves, and our own coming of age stories. It was a discussion that brought up a lot of funny anecdotes, and some surprises (You streaked where?) and helped us see a different side of our fellow group members. Many members have commented that they believe this meeting had a strong impact toward bringing our group closer together.

How do you recover from a toxic group?
I’ve heard of—but fortunately have never experienced—a downright toxic group session. Not to say that all meetings I’ve ever attended have been sunshine and roses. When a group builds a safe environment, true disagreement and different perspectives are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The varying opinions make for a rich discussion. That’s why many reading groups love to discuss controversial books—such as those written by Jodi Picoult. The key is to maintain respect for the differing opinions. A club can outlaw personal attacks in their Code of Conduct by writing a ground rule something like, “Focus on the issue, not the person.” I have been in groups in which the conflict caused more tension than was truly healthy. In those cases, the facilitator or another group member can simply remind offending members of the ground rules, and reassure them that they are encouraged to state their own opinion as long as they don’t belittle or disrespect another person’s opinion. Conflict—done properly—should encourage better dialogue, thinking, and understanding. Those are all critical to a winning book club. ‘Group-think’ is a Glamour ‘Don’t’!

Will there be a Book Club Cheerleader book out someday to help us boring people?
I am working on a book—its working title is Celebrating Book Clubs: The Book Club Cheerleader’s Guide to Building a Winning Book Club. But it’s not to help “the boring.” Like my website, it is designed to help book clubs maximize the energy they already have in their groups by allowing them to focus on the three aspects of The People, The Fun, and The Book. Many groups focus only on The Book. But I’ve seen too many book clubs fizzle out before their time because they didn’t pay attention to the group dynamics of their club.

Like my website, Celebrating Book Clubs will give readers tips to take care of their fellow members by making them feel important and involved, and teach groups some techniques for making better group decisions. It will also give book clubs ideas for fun activities and games, while keeping the book as the center of their celebration. One chapter will walk new book clubbers through holding their first meeting, while another chapter will give reading groups some turn-key party productions that are ready to be plucked from the book (for those with less time or energy.) But readers can also use these ideas simply as jumping platforms to prime the pump of their own creativity.

When you read a book do you need:
- a likeable protagonist?
I used to believe that if you could not like the main character, the book had no chance of holding your attention. However, I’ve found—at least for myself—that if the author can make you have some sympathy or respect for the protagonist, you don’t necessarily have to like him or her personally. For example, when our group read Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, I did not like Framboise, the main character. I found her gruff, self-centered, and unfriendly. However, Ms. Harris was able to help me see Framboise’s side of the issues, so that even if I did not agree with her, I could understand her. So I guess the real issue is that a skilled writer can work wonders—and Joanne is a master at her craft!

- a great opening line?
Everyone loves a great opening line—but that doesn’t necessarily make the rest of the book great. Remembering Nancy Pearl’s “50-page rule”, the author needs to hook you—not just in the opening line—but in the opening chapters. That being said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… " Now Dickens knew how to write a brilliant opening line—and back it up with a great book!

- the promise of hot sex scenes?
I remember reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover in college and thinking it was even hotter than Rosemary Rogers’s latest offering. Looking back, I realize, rather than reading great literature, I was enjoying a stand-in romance with a novel between real boyfriends. I now laugh at the Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction Award”—since that could’ve been my college major! Apparently, Auberon Waugh established this award "with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." I guess that last portion of the passage, “otherwise sound literary novel” can take out a bit of the sting for those authors who ‘win’ the award. Surprisingly this has included such household names as John Updike, Thomas Wolfe, and Norman Mailer. The former won for ‘lifetime achievement.’

So, what I believe makes an ideal book club read is a creative, well-written story (Fiction or Nonfiction) with character development, conflict and tension, controversial subjects, and a plot that moves appropriately forward (without either dragging or racing). If you find such a gem—please let me know! (Gayle's note: Try Freezer Burn!) For a list of my book club favorites, please check out the bottom of the Celebrating Books page at

Rah, Rah, Reading!

Rah, Rah, exactly, Marsha! Good luck spreading your message, "They come for the Book, they stay for the Fun, and they leave if you screw up the People part."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Give me a B! Give me an O-O-K!

Normally, my posts consist of my blathering on about some subject, but today will be a little different. I want to tell everyone about a very special woman and her very special services.

No, not those kinds of services. People, get your minds out of the gutter!

I met Marsha Toy Engstrom at the 2008 Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. We hit it off immediately, sharing both a common sense of humor and outgoing personalities. Marsha was just getting her website, The Book Club Cheerleader, put together, and I was writing my humor column for the Placentia News-Times. Freezer Burn was but a twinkle in the back of my mind. We had a great time that weekend, and kept in touch.

With a background in team building and group dynamics, Marsha facilitates workshops and coaches book clubs to help groups get the most out of their experience. Her motto is, "They come for the Book, they stay for the Fun, and they leave if you screw up the People part."

The concept of a cheerleader for book clubs intrigued me, and, being an enquiring mind, I had some questions for her. What I discovered was a woman who injects energy into everything she touches, including her answers to my questions! I was going to edit Marsha's answers so my post wouldn't be too long, but I can't bear to remove one word. I'm going to post our interview over the next two days, so you can feel the enthusiasm for yourselves.

All I can say is, I want to go out and start a book club, just so I can have as much fun as Marsha!

1. Is your coaching service available online only, or do you make house calls? If so, how many pom-poms do you bring?

Gayle, the last part of that question is always the toughest one for me! Pom poms are not like little black dresses—or even coach’s whistles—where you know you can pack just one. So it really depends on how many participants you expect. You need at least one per person—preferably two. And then there’s the question of color—do you match what you’re wearing—or do you match the home décor? Is the occasion special enough to bring the metallic pom poms and wear the sparkle Nikes?

I do make house calls—I hold public workshops with my business partner, but I love to make private house calls; they're the best. Book clubs have invited me to help them facilitate the process of choosing their group name, coordinate icebreakers to kick-off their meetings, and observe their group processes and give them feedback. Each reading group is different, and what they want to achieve varies, so I love the diversity of visiting different clubs.

2. What's the best experience you've ever had with a book and a club?

Wow—I’ve had so many truly great experiences with reading groups—it’s hard to pick just one!

One time, I visited a book club to facilitate a fun activity called “Hat’s Off’ where a half the group holds a mock decision-making meeting while wearing hats, and the other half of the group observes their interaction. Each hat tells all the other group members how to treat the wearer, i.e. “Agree with me”, “I’m the Leader”, “My Ideas Stink”, etc. It’s fairly short and it typically takes about 30 minutes to conduct the activity and facilitate a discussion of group culture, power, unwritten rules, etc. This group had so much fun role-playing, and then was so interested in what the results meant, that we spent over an hour debriefing and discussing their group dynamics. They really got into it—it was a powerful learning experience for them.

Another time, a group asked me to facilitate a team-building session at their off-site on personality differences. I asked them to take an assessment ahead of time, giving them directions on how to score it. They arrived at the off-site ready to find out what their personality type meant—and how each affects their reading group as a whole. Not only did the group have a fun and high-energy learning experience while I was there, but also I’m told that for the rest of the weekend, they kept bringing up various aspects of what they learned about themselves as new “aha’s.” That is one of the greatest compliments a facilitator can get!

3. How does your group choose their reading list?

My own neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood™, chooses our books two to three months in advance. Other groups I work with choose anywhere from 6-12 months in advance. Our club’s first rule is that you must have read the book to suggest it. (Yes—we have a couple of horror stories about books that got good press, but no one in our group had read them before suggesting, and they bombed…) Many of our group members use on-line resources including Book Browse and Reading Group Guides, as well as other print publications such as Bookmarks and The New York Review of Books to help find potentially good book club selections. Everyone is encouraged to bring a nominee or two. We then go around the room, Round Robin style, with each member telling a bit about the book, and why she believes it would make good discussion material. Finally, we take a vote, and the book with the most votes wins. If it’s a tie, we have our selection for the following month as well. We also keep a detailed history of past selections by genre, with the average group grade. This reminds us what types of books we’ve enjoyed reading and discussing in the past (Multi-cultural and Coming of Age are two popular themes for our group) and also encourages us to keep diversity in our reading.

4. I tend to think of book clubs as being fiction-readers, but is that accurate?

Some are, however, many book clubs enjoy reading a variety of types of books including biographies, memoirs, and history in addition to the typical literary novel. According to Reading Group Guides, 5 of their Top 45 book club selections for 2008, or 11%, were non-fiction tomes. These included contemporary book club favorites such as A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls; and enduring favorites like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.

Readers in the Hood™ has selected 15 out of 50, or 30% of our reading list to include non-fiction books. Some of our favorites include: The Color of Water by James McBride, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner, Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, and Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer.

Most reading groups tell me that they enjoy reading a diverse reading list, and with so many great non-fiction books available, it would be hard to exclude them. (And then there are the books that were classified as Nonfiction, that turn out to be fiction—but we probably shouldn’t go there, should we, Mr. Frey?)

5. Do you ever abandon a book?

We subscribe to Nancy Pearl’s “50-page rule.” It states basically —and I’m paraphrasing—that life is too short to read bad books. And we’re not snobs here—a ‘bad book’ is simply one that you do not enjoy reading. So if you read the first 50 pages and you are completely underwhelmed, the author has not done his or her job—which was to hook you. You, therefore, have permission to ditch that puppy and move on in search of your next great read. In a book club discussion, this means that the person just needs to tell the group, “I invoked the 50-page rule” and no one will think any worse of you. Sometimes that person can add to the discussion by telling what didn’t work for her, and other times she just won’t be able to add much to the conversation. But reading book club books is not homework for English 101. Reading should remain an enjoyable aspect of our adult lives—not a drudgery. Thanks, Nancy!

See, isn't she great? Tomorrow, we'll talk about bad book (and group) experiences, and what's next on the horizon for our Book Club Cheerleader.

(Marsha and her Readers in the Hood, at the Forsyte Saga event. Marsha is at the top, left.)

Get your pom poms ready and join us!

Monday, May 25, 2009

I did not serve, but I still remember.

I don't come from a particularly military family. My dad was in the Air Force during the Korean War. He says he was also in WWII, but by my calculations, he would have been 14 at the time, so I have my doubts. We'll leave that discussion for another time.

As for the other family members, my mom's dad could not go to war in WWII because he was 4F due to bad eyesight. Apparently this made things awkward, since his name was Hansel Wetherholt, a very German moniker. He never spoke of it, but my grandmother hinted a couple of times about how high they had to post the flag to please the neighbors.

Their son, my uncle Larry, was a Marine, stationed in post-war Tokyo. The only stories I ever heard him tell about the service were all about he and his buddies getting drunk and causing some kind of commotion. These were interesting memories at his funeral, when the local Marines showed up to tell everyone how well Larry represented the Marines and how proud they were to have him as a brother in the Corps. All righty, then.

All that being said…

I do think about the sacrifices service men and women have made for our country, and I am grateful. This includes the times I thought our country was making a mistake. I admire the people who sign up to the task of working for a safer, better United States, and who continue to work within our government to fulfill their duty, even when they disagree with the politics.

I may be a writer. I may be able to create characters in tough situations. But on a personal note, I can't imagine what it's like to be in combat, to walk through a strange terrain, wondering if my next step is on a land mine, or a meeting with an enemy's bullet. Then, to come home and not be able to lose that feeling of "waiting for the other shoe to drop," trying so hard to fit in and wishing your family understood.

For those of you who came home, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. For those who didn't come home, I thank you also, from the depth of my soul. For those of you who are still fighting, I pray for your continued safety.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Since I met my protagonist, Peri, I've been seeing the world through her eyes more and more. I hear pieces of conversations at the store and wonder if I've heard something sinister. An ambulance rushes by and I wonder if it's foul play. People buying large knives suddenly get my attention.

Of course, along with the curiosity comes the impatience. Peri speaks her mind in situations where I would be more tactful. If this part of her personality starts to manifest itself in me, I may have to invest in some duct tape.

For example, my son and I were at the Verizon store recently. We were upgrading his phone, and buying my hubby a Blackberry for our anniversary. It was about fifteen minutes before closing time; the store was inhabited by me and Marcus, and about seven employees – none of whom were waiting on us. One employee was running around, plugging display phones into chargers. Two more were at computer screens. The others were walking from Point A to Point B to Pointless.

Ten minutes later, we were still without help. I looked around the room, thought, what would Peri do, then opened my mouth to shout, "Who do I have to sleep with to buy a phone around here?" The assistant manager, perhaps sensing the Unhappy Customer alarm that was coming, walked over and introduced herself. We bought our phones and left, without incident, as they say.

Last night presented another opportunity for Peri to give me her opinion. Marcus is in his high school jazz band (Valencia High School in Placentia, CA, for the curious), and they had a concert last night. It was held on the patio in front of the music building and featured the middle school jazz band as well as the two VHS jazz bands, and a guest artist, Alex Iles. My hubby, Dale, and I paid $10 apiece for tickets to the event.

As you can imagine, there were lots of families at the event, to listen to their kids play. Dale and I sat with friends in the back, where we could stand up if we needed a better view. Behind us was a small grassy area with some tall planters.

Apparently, several parents thought it would be a good idea to let their kids play on the grass during the concert. This meant that, in addition to the music, I got to hear the squeals and shouting of children playing tag, catch, pirates, hide and seek, mortal combat, whatever. I sat, politely, while my inner Peri churned. If I had let her loose, she would have had a few words with everyone.

"Either corral those kids or I'm getting out the tranquilizer darts. Why did you even think they'd sit still and listen at a concert? Bring their damn Game Boys, or Home Boys, or whatever they are. Ever hear of a coloring book? Hire a babysitter, for Pete's sake."

I suppose if I ever lose control like that, I can always blame my writing. People will believe I'm doing research for a new book, and not just a curmudgeon, right?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Joe, in his own words

This has almost nothing to do with writing, except that I'm a writer and it makes me laugh until I can't breathe. Actually, I guess I could stretch the writing theme and say that the cleverness of the words in interpretating Joe's music astound me. I only wish I was this funny.


BTW, if I've messed up inserting this html, just click here to get to the YouTube link. I guarantee, it's four minutes and seven seconds of total lunacy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I try so hard to be serious

Quick post for today. This morning, I watched Rebecca on Turner Classic Movies. Who knew the man whose name used to be synonomous with "let's take noir classics and colorize them" would start such a wonderful station?

Mrs. Danvers is one of my favorite characters. Insane yet efficient. I've known employers who kept disruptive employees around because they met their monthly quotas. She reminds me of that thought process. ("Well, yes, she's mad as a hatter, but there's always a morning fire in the morning room and an evening fire in the – well, actually, it's all over the house now.")

Even so, every time I see (and enjoy) Rebecca, the back of my head is playing a different movie:

Carol Burnett and crew, in one of their many fine moments.

Can't you just see Judith Anderson, narrowing her eyes at Joan Fontaine and spitting, "Rebecky!"

Yep. I can.

* * * * *

REMINDER: Contest. Need I say more?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


First, a brief word from our sponsor:

Before I forget (and I forgot yesterday), do visit my blog post here and enter the contest to win a copy of my book, Freezer Burn. Loser gets two copies – sorry, just couldn't stop that Marx Brother's moment. Seriously, write 100 words to accompany the picture of the two scary women and submit in the comments. I know you can do it. Look into their beady eyes, scan the barren scene around them, let your mind wander… Yes, Nick Valentino, I'm talking to you. Give us a quick beat-down in steampunk.

Now, on to today's topic:

Klutz is defined as either a clumsy, awkward person, or a blockhead. I'd rather think of it as clumsy, since I sometimes consider myself a klutz; unfortunately, I also read that klutz originates from the Yiddish word "klots" which means "wooden beam." Hmm. Like a block. Head.

I may be clumsy, but I'm no wooden beam.

I'm not the constant klutz. I have moments of great dexterity. I spent some time dancing, from ballet to Lindy Hop, I've got a good riding seat, and I can embroider, so I clearly have motor skills.

Sometimes not all the pistons are firing, though.

Like the day I tossed the Tide Detergent ball into the washer, where it careened off the sides of the tub and caused some kind of physical law to be enacted, whereby all of the oozing liquid in the ball shot straight up in the air, landing on my head. The lessons here were: 1) drop the ball in, don't throw it; and 2) Tide is not a good shampoo.

Today was another of those days. It began with my deodorant and without my glasses. I got my new deodorant out of the medicine cabinet and opened the lid. There was a seal on the new container.

Without my glasses, I am marginally sighted, but the arrows were clear enough, and they pointed toward an edge, so I spent five minutes and two fingernails trying to pry the plastic off the indicated end. After a bit, I looked at the seal and saw a big black line on the opposite end and something blurry in the middle. I reached toward the line; the seal was loose on this end and the whole thing pulled off like buttah.

Apparently, the arrows were directing me to pull in their direction. Who knew?

But wait, there's more. I started turning the knob to get the gel up out of the container. I turned and I turned and I turned, but nothing was happening. Have you ever gotten so involved with the process that you forgot to look at the results? I kept turning the knob and looking at the stick in the middle without watching the top. Eventually, I looked up to see a good quarter-inch of standing goo coming out, slowly bending to the side. It was clear. It was fragrant. It was way too much goo.

A smart chickie would wipe the top with a tissue and begin again. A cheap chickie would try to dab the goo at her armpits and try not to get too slimy. Guess what I tried? There is, by the way, no efficient way to apply a mound of goo to your armpit without getting slimy. The goo dried, so I'm just a little sticky now, in a residual kind of way, much the way I felt residually klutzy for the rest of the day.

It's not much of an incident, but it got me to thinking about the characters we create who are clumsy. The cliché is that they are clumsy but endearing – how many characters are clumsy and annoying? Lucy (of I Love Lucy) is the first person who pops into my head at the endearing end of the spectrum, and Inspector Clouseau is at the annoying end. In between are people like Chevy Chase in his SNL days, Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton.

Who are your favorite klutzes, real or fictional? Do you like them because they're endearing, or annoying?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Call me a Knight of Template

As part of this Blog-o-Day-o-Rama, I will, at some point, have my blog reviewed by others. We call it a critique, which is fine, except that it sounds so critique-kal, n'est ce pas? Along with content, ease of locating archives and links, and the ability to get updates, appearance is reviewed. I'm genuinely looking forward to having feedback on whether my blog is ready to support a blog book tour.

Here's the thing... while I try to make sure my blog page is chock full o' information, it's served up in a rather plain brown wrapper. Or, a plain green one. When I was first building my blog, I chose a template that was inconspicuous, I guess in an attempt to let the words shine, without the benefit of bells or whistles or dancing monkeys.

Not that I don't enjoy dancing monkeys.

So, I went looking around the internet for a template that would spruce up my blog. I searched through several sites, until they all began to look the same. A couple of templates caught my eye; they were made to look like pages in a journal. That would be a nice look, except when I clicked on them, all of the reviews were in Spanish. I feared I would download a template I couldn't talk to, and my words might be lost forever.

In the end, I chose to keep my sea of green tranquility, because I like it. If I really wanted to make it special, I'd mimic the look of my website, with a header, like this:

And then, a spiraled page look to the entries. It would be nice to have the entries in my own handwriting, except no one could read them. I can hear the discussions now:
"What's she trying to say? She flubbed her frying monikers?"
No, people - I love flying monkeys.

Maybe Ariel font is just as well.

I'm a smart enough cookie, so someday maybe I'll do this. After I sell Freezer Burn to lots of people, write another one to sell, meet my newspaper deadlines and see my son off to college. I'll set my alarm for a couple of years from now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sunday in the park with Steve and Doug

Before I start telling you about my Sunday afternoon author adventure, have you entered the contest yet? There's still plenty 'o time!

After Saturday's author saturation, what else could I do on Sunday, except attend a meeting of the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime? I joined this organization last year, at Jeff Sherratt's urging, but I am usually unable to get to their meetings. Karma always intrudes; it seems like every time I look at the agenda and decide to go, Ginny from the Placentia Library calls and asks me to volunteer at the Sunday book sale.

I made the extra effort to get to the SinC meeting this week because D.P. Lyle was going to be there as a speaker. When I was writing Freezer Burn, I spent a lot of time on his website, and bought his book, Forensics for Dummies, to figure out a few logistics about a frozen human hand. Naturally, I wanted to hear from the man who told me I was right, that frozen human skin would look a lot like frozen chicken skin.

In addition to Dr. Lyle, an author named Steve Hodel was going to be there to discuss "New Discoveries of the Black Dahlia Investigation." Some of you may already know who Steve is and the significance of his investigation – if you do, keep it to yourselves. As you can tell, I was clueless.

Steve Hodel began by reminding us of the Black Dahlia case, which was a murder committed in January, 1947, in Los Angeles. Elizabeth Short was discovered in a vacant lot in Leimert Park. She was brutally murdered, and her body mutilated beyond your wildest nightmares. The crime was sensational and never solved.

Steve then began to tell us about his own family history, beginning with his father, George Hodel, a precocious child who grew into a brilliant but troubled man. Steve grew up in a lavish, Hollywood lifestyle, and surprisingly, turned to law enforcement as a career. He's now a retired LAPD detective and private investigator.

I know what you're thinking: what do these two stories have to do with one another?

In 1999, Steve's father passed away and he was sent some of his father's old pictures, letters, etc. Imagine Steve' surprise when he saw pictures of a woman who looked just like Elizabeth Short. This began a decade-long search into both his father's past and the unsolved murder. Being in law enforcement, Steve got access to many people and records that the normal person wouldn't be able to see. I won't go into the details, but there's a high probability (over 90%) that his father was not only the Black Dahlia murderer, he was a psychopath and a serial killer.


Steve has written one book about the subject, and is now writing a book about his father.

During Steve's talk, Doug Lyle would intersperse medical opinion. For example, they went through the list of Elizabeth's wounds and Doug explained the difference between a killer's M.O. and their signature. The methods they use to plan, prepare and execute their crime may change to fit the circumstance, or as they learn from their previous attacks. Their signature, however, is the thing or set of things they must do to their victim, no matter how long it takes them.

Two things really struck me as I listened to these two men:

1. Doug Lyle has a typical style of doctor-speak that I would love to study. They have a confidence in their voice, as well as a timbre that, while not loud, cuts through the room so they're always heard.

2. Steve Hodel, for all of his knowledge of his father's evil, still loves him. He spent years upholding the law, he is not doing anything to shield his father's guilt, yet he still remembers his childhood fondly, especially having a brilliant father who could do anything.

A forensics expert who digs through physical and mental barriers to find the truth. A moral man who is mortified by his heritage and conflicted about his past. Wouldn't these all be great characters for a book?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A loaf of bread, a slab of meat, and thou. Oh, and a dagger.

As I indicated yesterday, this weekend was simply chock full o' authors, which would normally send me right to my laptop, inspired and energetic. They did inspire me. They did give me a big jolt of "git 'er done" spiritedness. Too bad I live in the real world.

If I could only get them to come to my house to clear my schedule so I could put my energy toward writing instead of cleaning out rooms, calling the plumber to fix leaks, and washing the cat's bloomers practically every morning because she's getting her long hair caught in, well, you know.

But, at least let me share these authors and give you a dose of inspiration.

On Saturday, I listened to three authors, Jeri Westerson, Jo Ann De Matteo, and Ann Mauer. Jo Ann wrote a historical romance, Cranberry Lake, which she self-published.

Ann wrote The Magic Eye, which is historical fiction and also self-published.

And then, there's Jeri.

Jeri's first novel, Veil of Lies, was published by St. Martin's Minotaur last year, and her latest, Serpent in the Thorns, will be published later this year. Both novels follow the exploits of Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective in 14th century England. As you can imagine, Jeri's talk grabbed my attention. Not only was she the most animated storyteller in the group, I love a good speech about dead bodies.

By the way, I'd love to direct you to the other two authors' websites, but Jo Ann doesn't have one, at least none that I can find with Google. Ann has a business website, which contains a couple of pages about her book. These were lovely ladies, and their novels have gotten great reviews on Amazon, but they truly need to step up their Internet presence. And Jo Ann, bless her heart, needs to stop reading her speeches and learn to talk to her audience.

I hope I don't offend them – just a little constructive criticism.

Back to Jeri: I felt an immediate affinity for her work. I don't necessarily adore all things Medieval, but I was drawn to her passion for the period, particularly her love of the weaponry. She has quite a collection of swords, knives, axes, etc, and told a most hysterical story about learning to use said implements of destruction on actual flesh.

It made perfect sense to me, as an author, that she would want to know how to describe the feel of a broadsword as it hacked into a body, or a knife stabbing a victim. Knowing she couldn't just go to Cadavers 'R' Us to purchase a corpse, Jeri went to Costco and bought the largest slab of meat (bone-in) she could find.

She figured out quickly that meat on a kitchen counter didn't have the same feel as a standing foe, so she nailed it to her kid's swing-set and spent the afternoon stabbing, whacking, and generally murdering a side of beef.

Amid the laughter in our audience, Jeri admitted she hoped the neighbors weren't watching, and she was glad her family wasn't home. She also gave us a great insight: when you're hacking an opponent to death, you get a lot of them on you. It's something to remember when you're writing that dismemberment scene.

After listening to that, of course I bought her book, and of course I'll read it. I'll probably give it to my 16-year old to read, too, since he loves that time period.

So, the questions of the day are: As writers, what have you done or tried in order to describe it properly? As readers, have you ever read anything that was described so thoroughly, you felt you were actually doing it yourself?

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about Steve Hodel and D.P. Lyle at the SinC meeting. In the meantime, don't forget to enter the contest!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A tease for tomorrow

First of all, let me just remind everyone about my spur o' the moment contest, to win a free copy of Freezer Burn (I'll even autograph it, and I have very pretty handwriting). Depending upon how many entries I get, I'll leave the contest open for at least a week, and as much as a month, if no one's biting right away. Write your entries in the comments for that blog post, and do obey the rules - 100 words or less.

This post will be short tonight, I hope, but I just wanted to mention my busy, busy author-centric weekend. I attended the Placentia Library's Author's Luncheon at the Alta Vista Country Club. It was lovely, and I got a bit of a feel of the place by sitting in their large meeting room, watching through the floor-to-ceiling windows as the golfers putted and teed off and did whatever the hell golfers do. I can tell I've got some more investigating to do. The authors were nice, although I enjoyed the mystery writer, Jeri Westerson, the most of the three.

That was Saturday, and on Sunday, I attended my first Sisters in Crime (SinC) meeting down in Irvine. It was a combined meeting with the Mystery Writers of America, and the special guests were Steve Hodel and D.P. Lyle. They did a wonderful presentation about the Black Dahlia murder case. Color me impressed.

Tomorrow I'll have time to really give you the full rundown, including what Jeri told us she did in her quest to describe what it's like to run a sword through a body, and why Steve Hodel is uniquely qualified to talk about the Black Dahlia case.

Until then, my dears, sweet dreams.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hey, I got an idea!

I love flash fiction. It usually involves writing about a picture, or objects, or a series of random words, or even a beginning sentence, and has a set word count of anywhere from 14 to 1000 words. It's a great exercise for writers because it teaches you to tell an entire story in as few words as possible. Your writing must be spare. You must get to the point. No lollygagging.

So here's my idea - I found this picture among my mother's tubs o' photos (see my website for the whole story of that particular nightmare):

Write a story of NO MORE THAN 100 words about this picture. It must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. The author of the story I like best will get a free copy of Freezer Burn.

C'mon, what have you got to lose?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dear God, does she ever shut up?

One of the things I'm discovering about this Blog-A-Day-O-Rama is that, on the days when I'm super-busy, I need to just post something quick, like a pretty picture or a famous quote, but I can't. I've got to type some of my own words to go with it, and before I know it, I've typed an entire entry. I guess you could say I run off at the fingertips.

So, it's late-ish Friday night and I want to get to bed early because tomorrow's a busy day. It will start off here, at the Alta Vista Country Club:

This is Placentia's country club, and it's where the Placentia Library is hosting their Author's Luncheon. No, I'm not one of the authors being feted - yet - but I want to go and meet some other authors, glad-hand the library patrons and get the scoop on the luncheon and the country club.

You see, my next Peri Minneopa mystery novel will be set in this world. I realize that the Placentia Alta Vista Country Club isn't quite the upscale digs that some of those reality-TV housewives would frequent; however, by the time I get done with it, it will be.

Although I love setting the action in and around my hometown, I do take liberties. After all, it's called fiction, people. The real country club offers only golf, and has a nice clubhouse with a bar and restaurant and meeting rooms. My version will probaby include tennis courts, a pool, and perhaps a spa. Not to give away too much, Peri has to infiltrate a group of wealthy wives for surveillance and discovers some of them may have an interesting side business. The working title? "Hit or Missus."

In addition to the author's luncheon, tomorrow is my 17th wedding anniversary. I'm not certain what Dale and I will do, but rumor has it my son will be out of the house with friends until late, so who knows where we'll go and what we'll do?

Which means I need to get some sleep if I want to truly enjoy tomorrow. I keep thinking tomorrow's entry might be brief, but that's what I thought about this one, too.

Later, Peeps.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And now for something completely different.

I either dodged a bullet today or I was denied parole, I can't figure out which.

For the past year, I've been growing my hair out to donate. Pantene has a program, Beautiful Lengths, where you can donate your hair to be made into wigs for cancer patients. They only require an 8-inch ponytail, but it can't be more than 5% gray, and there are some restrictions about dyeing. My friend, Patty, told me about it after she came over one day with her long brown hair cut short.

I'm a natural redhead. Not auburn, or carrot-y red, more strawberry, but certainly red enough for every school photographer to say, "Gimme a big smile, Red." Every. School. Photographer. For years, I wore my hair very long, nearly to my waist. It is thick and wavy, in addition to being red, so it was the first thing anyone noticed. It seemed to me that I was "the little red-haired girl."

I'm now at an interesting age, between lifting an icy eyebrow at you when you ask how old I am and snarling, "Stop bugging me, I'm xx years old!" I've been wearing my hair around shoulder-length for a few years, and part of me says if I shortened my style, it would make my face look younger, in that "Extreme Makeover" kind of way. But part of me wants to keep the length and pretend I'm still the little redhaired girl.

So I decided to have one last hurrah with long hair and grow it out for charity. This way, I could justify the lengthy locks and say good-bye for a good cause. I made my decision last March, 2008.

Here's a few things I've learned so far:

1. Long hair is expensive and time-consuming. I go through a bottle of Mane 'N' Tail conditioner every other week. (Don't ask why I'm not using the Pantene products - I couldn't possibly afford it.)

2. Long hair on a woman of my age is not, um, flattering. Worn down, it accentuates the direction that gravity is taking every other part of my face. Worn up, I look like one of those stereotypical big-haired Southern gals when it's fluffy, and like an onion when it's flat.

3. Long hair is still long hair to men; they love it.

What is it about men and long hair? My husband adores my red-blonde waves, but it's not just him - or me. I even know a guy who didn't want his wife in their Christmas picture because she had cut her hair. There's got to be some psychology thesis examining the roots (pardon the pun) of the effect of long-haired females on the male libido. If anyone out there knows this answer, please share with the class.

I mention this because I went to Larry, my hairdresser, thinking that today would be the day for THE CUT. I am completely ready to give a ponytail to someone who needs it, and don't think I will ever wish for long hair again. Unfortunately, I had not told my husband to be prepared for a new wife when he got home. Fortunately, my hair still isn't quite long enough to give Pantene a decent ponytail. My hair got a reprieve, even if I didn't. Larry thinks it'll be ready by the first week of July.

That's, what, three more bottles of conditioner?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Geez, not another Mafia don disguised as a priest!

Recognize this guy?

His name is Todd Stashwick and he's an actor. I'm talking about him today because I love to watch crime shows of any kind, from the grim Criminal Minds to the quirky Monk. I see Todd a lot on some of these shows, and I know he's going to be a bad guy each time. In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, he was a zoo veterinarian AND a sociopath. On Psych, he was Gus' boss AND a jerk. His physicality fits the definition of "dangerous" – add his deep voice and it's hard to envision him as the wimpy accountant, or the pleasant neighbor.

He's not the only one. These days, there are a small number of actors I recognize across the screen, and as soon as I see them, I begin to suspect them of the murderer du jour. I don't know their names (I had to search IMDB for awhile to find Todd), but I know their faces. It's a pity, really, because I still enjoy the plots of the shows. The mysteries are good, but the familiar faces telegraph the solution, which kind of ruins it for me.

I think this applies to books as well. There are characters I know will rise above their stations (the hooker with the heart of gold), characters who are too good to be true, and characters I've just seen too much. The plot of the novel may be intriguing, but I often know whodunit before I should, because isn't it always the supportive friend who is the secret psycho, and not the bad witch?

I'm not trying to pick on any author; I think we all do it. To my shame, I created a large, overweight police officer in Freezer Burn. I didn't mean to make Officer Tony Monroe a stereotype but he popped into my head as an ex-football player, so what was I to do? Put him on a diet?

When you're reading, what character type are you tired of seeing?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I wanna be loved by you (boop-boop-de-boop)

It's Day Two of muscling through my press kit, and the fog is lifting even if the spirit is not. I've got a bio, and all the book information, I just need to write the press release and the pitch letter, both of which are giving me the fits.

I can write about imaginary characters having escapades. I can write stories of funny and stupid things that I've done, or about the silly slips in communication between me and the rest of my family. But it's difficult to separate myself from my work and write words of praise to entice people to buy my book.

Don't misunderstand - I love my book. It's not a literary tome; it's a quick, summer read that's perfect for an afternoon at the beach, and I don't see anything wrong with that. The characters are engaging, the plot is solid, and there's plenty of humor (of course). But how do I write up a kit about Freezer Burn that makes bookstores want to stock it, the media to laud it and women to swoon over it? Okay, I don't need swooning, but you get the idea.

I need to sound like I've got the greatest show on Earth.

Wish I felt less like I was walking on shakey ground.

In addition to substance, I also want the kit to have a clean and polished look to it, whether it's my online kit or my hardcopy one. It needs to be well organized,

yet have lots of visual appeal and promise rich rewards.

Coincidentally (or perhaps it was serendipity), my horoscope had some interesting words for me today, words that may spur me to complete my task:

"Why are you trying so hard to be modest about all of your accomplishments? It makes no sense to be humble now. Let everyone know how proud you are of yourself -- you'll get no denials from anyone! You will join the ranks of friends in high places, because your credibility and influence are about to increase dramatically. Start acting and looking the part. It's a great time to invest in building your wardrobe into something more impressive."

Sounds like I'd better get that press release written, 'cause I gotta go shopping! Later, kids!

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