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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A postscript from the superficial writer

Don't whine, but I have to do one more post about the writer's conference before I return to the trip, only because I experienced one of those intense, personal, "aha" moments that take your brain cells and rearrange them inside your skull. I can actually feel them running around like they're playing musical chairs - I'll probably lose one when the music stops.

Friday night's speaker at the SCWC was Monte Schulz. He wrote a 900-page novel in ten years, spent eight years trying to get it published, finally broke it into three smaller novels, and got a publisher for all three books plus two more.

I would have thought it'd be easy for him. After all, he's Charles Schulz's son.

His speech was like a vocal pendulum, swinging from point to counterpoint. At first, he sounded as if literary fiction were the only books worth reading and all else was drivel. Then he told us of reading Stephen King and Clive Cussler and he didn't care if they weren't literary giants because they told great stories. In the next breath, he described a way of writing about a subject that no one else had thought of before and wasn't he just the genius of the century? As soon as I wanted to roll my eyes, he made a self-deprecating joke and disarmed me. He spoke of times when he wrote one sentence a day for a month, and I thought, I'd rather stick a sharp object in my temple than write that slowly.

Still, I was intrigued enough to attend his workshop the following day, "Using Style to Transcend Substance." He read us works from Truman Capote and Norman Mailer and Eugene O'Neill and more. He then said that many genre writers are great storytellers, but not great writers. And he laid down the challenge: If you love genre writing, why don't you resolve to be the best ever? Why whip out two novels a year (or, in James Patterson's case, a dozen) of mediocrity, when you can take your time and mold a work worth not just reading, but re-reading?

It dawned on me, as I heard him read from Other Voices Other Rooms, that the words became their own layer of the story and they sang to me and reached into me and beyond me and pulled me into another stratum. This is the hallmark of great literature and sets it apart from the plethora of pop fiction on Amazon. I listened and knew the difference between Capote's writing and my own: my writing skips across the surface of your consciousness like a flat pebble on taut water. You might like it, you might think it's a fun, quick read, but would you re-visit it? I could only come to one conclusion:

Wah! I wanna write like that!

To inspire you the way Monte inspired me, here is a passage from Death Comes for the Archbishop, describing Father Latour's impression of Trinidad Lucero.

"His fat face was irritatingly stupid, and had the grey, oily look of soft cheeses. The corners of his mouth were deep folds in plumpness, like the creases in a baby's legs, and the steel rim of his spectacles, where it crossed his nose, was embedded in soft flesh. He said not one word during supper, but ate as if he were afraid of never seeing food again. When his attention left his plate for a moment, it was fixed in the same greedy way upon the girl who served the table - and who seemed to regard him with careless contempt. The student gave the impression of being always stupefied by one form of sensual disturbance or another."

Today's editors might be tempted to tell Willa Cather to shorten this; she has broken every rule of the New Age of Writing with her passive tense and use of adverbs, but would you truly want to miss this opportunity to wallow in the images she has given us? The way that last sentence ties the paragraph up is so stunning, I want to go out and look at the world and learn how to describe it as Willa does.

Don't you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Road Trip Intermission

I do want to get to the last part of my trip, where I hobnob with famous author John Lescroart, attend a wine tasting, and eat burgers with Kimi and Pete.
(That's me on the right, next to my friend Marsha Toy Engstrom, John, and Marsha's sister, Sheri.)

But tomorrow I'm heading to the Southern California Writer's Conference. Okay, "heading to" the event sounds like I'm traveling a long way and will stay at the enchanting Crowne Plaza in beautiful downtown Irvine. The truth of the matter is that I live about 20 minutes from there, so I'll be coming home every night, to save on hotel costs.

After all, I have to save my money for drinks with Michael and crew in the lounge.

If I haven't convinced you in prior posts that the SCWC is the reason - THE reason - I got Freezer Burn written and published, well, then… what more do I have to do?

It's a fun conference. It's a working conference. In many ways, it's a conference that will either build you or break you. I've sat in many workshops and listened to the speakers talk about the uphill climb of writing well, of getting an agent, getting published, marketing your work, and so on. The comments from the folks around my table range from negative ("They're all biased against older writers") to clueless ("My book is already self-published - I don't want to re-write it, I just want to find an agent for it") to the quiet nods of people who got the information and know what to do with it.

Here's what I know for certain: If you've told an epic story, but you don't know whether it's any good, you need to go to the conference and let other writers lift you up. If you've told an epic tale and are feeling darn bratty about your skills, you need to go to the conference and be taken down a peg.

It runs this Friday afternoon thru Sunday morning. If you're in the SoCal area and you want to be a better writer, get your buns down there!

If you just want to hear about the rest of my trip, stay tuned. I'll be back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What an adventure: Day Two

My original plan for Friday was to stop in Auburn at The Book Haven to ask if they liked my book, then drive to the Gray Eagle Lodge and say hello to all the folks, poke my head in at High Sierra Books and Gifts in Portola to share a laugh with Kelly, and be in Quincy by 4:30 p.m.

Around five o'clock Thursday night, I began to re-think that. When I reviewed my Mapquest notes, it dawned on me that I would not have nearly enough time for all of these little visits, so I went to Plan B.

I called an old friend who lives in Auburn to see if she'd meet me for an early lunch. Meri and I shared an office when we were both software engineers at Hughes Aircraft Company. We became friends, hung out together, and have kept in touch by Christmas cards since she moved to the Sacramento area, about 18 years ago. It's possible I hadn't seen her since Marcus was born and she visited me in the hospital, but I won't swear to that.

While I waited to meet her, I stopped in at the Book Haven and asked about my book. In August, I'd given a copy of Freezer Burn to the very enthusiastic store manager, who said she'd read it immediately and pass it on to the owner. As it turns out, the manager might have been more enthusiastic about returning to college; she left without completing the task. The owner did not recall seeing my book. She took all my information, swore it had to be in the store somewhere, and said she'd get back to me. Yes, I've already sent her the follow-up email.

Oh, well. I still had some time to kill, so I drove to the Placer County Library and got the buyer's name for mystery books. On my way there, I passed some peculiar statues.

Not only is she nearly naked, she is larger than most planets. Just ask her sister:

The tableau indicates that they are gunning for this guy. I have no idea what his crime is, unless his chain-rattling is keeping them up at night. God knows it'd make me cranky.

According to Meri, they have to hire extra chaperones to ride the school bus, just to put their hands over the children's eyes when they drive past.

I arrived at Epilog Books in Quincy about an hour early, which was fine. Christine Crawford, the owner, was happy to see me. I met her husband, and the young woman who works in the store. Everyone was friendly and loved chatting, which meant I had come to the right place. Unfortunately, Quincy on a Friday night is not exactly a hotbed of activity. There were eight people on the street, four of which came into the store, and I sold two books. But I'm not complaining - here were the highlights:

1. I met a firefighter who had just returned from battling the Station Fire in north L.A., and I was able to thank him profusely.
2. I met a darling boy of about 12, who is also an author and we exchanged ideas on how to improve our writing.
3. I had a great time with Chris and her hubby and would go back there in a New York minute.
4. She placed my book next to the new Dan Brown - what great advertising!
5. I sold two books.

One story about the young boy, James: we were trying to explain Dean Martin to him, describing his singing and acting and style. James looked very thoughtful for a moment, then remarked, "So, Dean Martin is the prehistoric Elvis."

This made me feel old enough, until he added, "Of course, Elvis is the prehistoric Michael Jackson."

If I could, I'd insert the sound of a woman weeping here. A really old woman. Crone-ish.

At the end of it all, I drove 76 miles of narrow, twisting road in ink-darkness from Quincy to Oroville, keeping a sharp lookout for deer while my contacts glued themselves to my eyes. I pulled into Oroville, wanting dinner and a bed. Both the desk clerk at the Motel 6 and the manager at the Cornucopia restaurant wanted to know what brought me to town. They didn't have the cash for a book, but I ended up giving them bookmarks and cards.

It was a great way to end the day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What an adventure: Day One

I just got back from my trip and I barely know where to start. I was going to give you the Reader's Digest version of where I went and what I did, but the trip was so rich and filled with interesting things to see and people to meet, I'm going to take it a day at a time. It was a short trip, so it won't take long, I promise. And tomorrow, I'll have pictures.

My journey got off to a great start in Bakersfield on Thursday. First of all, I have this mental image of independent bookstores as hole-in-the-wall operations with tight rows of floor to ceiling bookshelves, crammed with Everything That's Ever Been Published. This picture was dashed when I pulled into the upscale shopping center and entered Russo's Books, next to Talbot's. It was clean and pretty and neatly arranged.

As always, I took a tour around the store, checking for their mystery section and seeing if they carry any of my friends' books. I then wandered to the back and saw a lady coming out of the office who looked like she might know something.

My spiel usually goes something like this: "Hi, I'm a debut novelist on my way to a book signing and I'm visiting independent bookstores (or libraries) along my route to see if you'd like to carry my book, or would like to have me come for an author event." This is said in a very perky voice, after which I whip out Freezer Burn and give them the 25-word commercial.

The lady in Russo's introduced me to Tony, as in Tony Russo, who went back to his office immediately and got his calendar to book me. Wow, as they say at Staples, that was easy! I'll be sharing a table at the Bakersfield Book Festival on November 7, which should be fun.

After my success, I headed up CA-99 to Fresno. The Fig Garden Bookstore was also in a rather ritzy section of town. While not exactly icy, they did not run to their calendar to see when I could come back for a visit. In hindsight, the lady who spoke with me is very old-school; she couldn't see beyond local authors and large publishers. But she graciously took my media kit and said she'd certainly order my book if anyone asked for it.

Naturally, I'm going to appeal to any of my Facebook/MySpace/Twitter friends in the Fresno area to go order Freezer Burn from The Fig Garden Bookstore. Pleeeeeeze. I want to turn this lady's head.
I had planned to see some stores in Sacramento, but I got into town too late for anything but dinner with my friends, Jim Barnes, his two daughters, Alyssa and Melinda, and their older sister, Sara. I met them in Roseville, at a place called Dos Coyotes. Getting there was fun…

Here's the thing: my 12-year old minivan does not have a GPS system, so I prepared for my trip with a bunch of Mapquest maps and the VZ Navigator system on my Verizon phone. As with most GPS systems, a gentle female voice told me where to go. I originally named her Wanda the Wonder Navigator, but after traveling 1200 miles with her, I've decided it's a pair of sisters. Wanda gives the very clear directions to "prepare to turn right in 500 yards" then lets her sister pronounce the names. Her sister (let's call her Justine) says things like, "Shee-Ay Wan ThurdEEN," for CA-113. I think she has a little problem, and Wanda may be enabling her.

I do hope she's not spending her entire paycheck at the corner bar.

The other problem with Wanda and Justine is that they are too polite. If I receive a phone call while they are in the midst of navigation, they won't interrupt to tell me I need to turn, like, NOW.

So as I was trying to get from CA-99 to the I-80, a girlfriend called, which silenced my navigating sisters and sent me to the wrong freeway. By the time we ended our conversation, I was in a very dark, very quiet, very industrial part of Sacramento. Was I worried? Pish, tosh, no. I had gas in the car, locks on the doors, and a potential story to tell.

"Recalculating," Wanda said.

After a few miles, I heard the reassuring direction to "prepare to turn right in point-five miles, onto-"

"Aye-etty eesht," Justine chimed.

After dinner, the gals directed me to my Motel 6, which seems like the kind of place you'd send someone who's just been released from the Institution for the Terminally Fragile. There are no sharp corners, no drawers on the desk, no lid on the toilet, nothing to hurt you. There are also no people who actually want to sleep or use their inside voices, and all the rooms have to be built underneath a busy freeway. But I was exhausted, so I slept anyway.

And that was Day One. Tomorrow, I'll talk about my signing in Quincy, but first, I'll show you pictures of some really big naked people in Auburn. Promise.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Road Trip!

Dear Minions,

I will be away for the next four days. Although I'll have access to my email, I cannot say the same about the Internet - it will be hit and miss. I am going to a book signing in Quincy, California.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the region, Quincy is in the northeastern part of California. Here:

It is the county seat for Plumas County. Out of the 20,000 residents of the county, Quincy is home to 1,879 of them.

I live in Placentia, which is in the southwest part of California. Here:

Listen - can you hear the sound? It's all of your brains, thinking, "Why would she make a 1200-mile round trip to such a small location?"

Because they asked me. When I was up there in August, I stopped by a few bookstores to introduce them to Freezer Burn. Christine Crawford, the owner of Epilog Books in Quincy, read it, loved it, and emailed me about doing an event.

My options were to wait until next August, when my family vacations there again, or to find a time and a way to get up there while my book is still new and fresh on the market. What's a girl to do?

I tossed it about in my mind for a few days, before deciding that I could visit bookstores and libraries on my way up and back. Somehow, I find it easier to sell people on Freezer Burn when I meet them face-to-face. I have friends in Sacramento to visit, as well as San Jose, so I can visit with them. As a matter of fact, Marsha (the Book Club Cheerleader) Engstrom is near Sacramento and invited me to an author's luncheon while I'm there. The featured author is John Lescoart, so I'm pretty excited about that.

I'm really excited about the trip, although I'm hoping that the 12-year old minivan with 185,000 miles on it is a good sport about it all. (I promise to clean out the back before I go.)

I can't decide what the best part will be - meeting new people or coming home with stories to tell. Admit it, you know I'll have them. See you all when I get back. And if you live in the Quincy area, come by and see me!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Post Script: Here is my horoscope for the week of September 17th. I'm not certain whether I should be trembling in fear or happiness...

Pisces Horoscope (courtesy Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology)

Your quest has come to a fork, Pisces. Down one path lies a tumultuous obsession -- a compulsive, tormented hunt like Captain Ahab's pursuit of Moby Dick. In the other direction, a graceful chase beckons, more in the manner of Sir Galahad's pure-hearted search for the Holy Grail. Choose one fork and your quarry will be beastly, impossible, and frustrating. If you choose the other fork, your quarry will be magical, earthy, and transformative.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I thought today's post had nothing to do with writing, but maybe I'm mistaken.

I know, alert the media.

This weekend, I worked a car wash to raise funds for my son's choir. I'm the booster club president this year, so I kind of supervised things and made decisions and counted the money. Although the kids worked hard, they seemed to have fun and it was great to see them bonding, especially at the start of the school year.

For me, it was kind of like a book signing or other festival, where I'm talking to potential customers, schmoozing and laughing and having a good time. I sometimes wonder how I still manage to think of myself as a shy person, when as soon as I'm in a crowd, my mouth just starts flapping.

Many wonderful people came to get their cars washed. Some gave us more than our advertised price ($5 for cars, $7 for the big stuff). One man walked over and gave us five dollars as a donation. A few of the customers were alumni of our high school (Valencia H.S. in Placentia - Go Tigers!), and one lady has twins at VHS in their sophomore year. They were gracious, chatty, and eager to help us earn a little money.

And then this guy showed up.

"Your kids aren't very friendly," he said. "No one's greeted me."

"We'll greet you," I told him. I looked down the parking lot at the kids. "They seem to be a little occupied with washing cars."

He took a five dollar bill out of his wallet and I looked at his vehicle. It was an SUV, about the size of my hubby's Ford Escape.

"SUVs are seven dollars," I said.

He held onto his bill. "Well, then never mind. I can get my car washed for five somewhere else. It's not big enough for seven dollars."

My smile froze as I considered my options:

1. Explain to him that this is a fund raiser to help our children survive a school year where budget cuts have forced us to raise money so our teacher can make copies and what kind of louse begrudges a charity two extra dollars?

2. End our tug-of-war over the bill and encourage him to go find his Five Dollar Shangri-La.

3. Shut up and take the money.

The pity of it is, at the end of the day, it was five dollars more than we had, so I took the last course. I gave in, wished him well (to his face), and called him a jackass (behind his back). The good news is, he didn't complain about the quality of the wash.

Out of the entire wonderful, blessed, happy day, that man still leaves a nasty film on my memory. The only way I can clean it off is to write about it, which makes this post all about the writing. From exorcising our demons to expressing our joy, if we can pour our emotions on the page, it keeps us from exploding.

Maybe that guy will end up in the next novel - as one of my victims…

Friday, September 11, 2009


As of this post, the fires in California are close to being vanquished - I believe they call it being "contained" which is apparently not the same as "out". I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. I passed them on to the firefighters, the weather, and God. But this post is not about fires, at least not in a specific way.

It's September 11, a day of remembrance. I can't call it an anniversary, since that word sounds like we should have a party. If you're like me, you probably don't know what you should do, but partying is not on the list.

What do you do on a date like this? Perhaps we should go about our day solemnly, with no laughter or gaiety, reflecting and praying, and promising to right the wrong that was done.

I don't know how much more I need to reflect. When my mind rolls across the phrase, "Nine Eleven", it immediately summons where I was and what I was doing. The morning started when I turned on the news at seven, three hours behind New York time. I watched the attack in disbelief, as it played over and over. Later, the news service would take a sensitive turn and stop showing the footage of the planes entering the buildings, but it's too late for me. The tape runs through my head anyway.

I somehow had to explain it all to my 8-year old, who became immediately worried that we would not be safe. It was one of those moments when you're glad you live in a little 'burb and are of no consequence to any great power. (Just between you and me, I doubt if our Govenor knows where Placentia is.) By the time I dropped my son off at school, he was calm, although still thoughtful.

This was the day of my morning riding lesson. My trainer, Tina, and I discussed the horrorific event while I got my horse ready. We were still in a state of shock. During my lesson, my mare was an absolute pill. At one point, she reared, spun on her back leg, and dumped me. It was the last time she ever threw me.

Over the next few weeks, I was surprised at the reactions of both myself and my friends. I suddenly felt a compulsion to tell everyone I met, "I'm so glad you're alive!" I mean everyone - even the lady at the Carl's Jr. drive-thru. Mostly, I resisted the impulse, although people might have noticed I was extra happy to see them. I also contacted, or tried to contact, people from my past. Old girlfriends from high school were difficult, since we do tend to change our names, but I sent an email to my 1st husband, and one to an old boyfriend, not to rekindle anything, but just to make sure they were safe.

I wanted everyone to be safe.

On the downside, a friend of mine who I had always thought of as open-minded, told me she didn't at all mind if all of the Arabic people in the country were rounded up. That was her way of being safe. I responded that I hadn't seen all the 25-year old white boys rounded up when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, and I would hate to see my son's former babysitters, a lovely Lebanese family, harassed because of their ethnic heritage.

We're no longer friends.

All this floods back to me in an instant. Reflection isn't something I need to do.

I think, what I need to do, is forgive. Forgetting is out of the question, but if I cannot forgive those misguided souls for their heinous acts, I'm ultimately hurting myself. They did what they did with the belief they would ascend to the uppermost level of their heaven; we may believe differently, but I imagine their last breaths were taken in happy, if nervous, anticipation. My last breath may be years away (okay, I'm hoping my tombstone says, "She was really old"), but why shouldn't I always live in happy anticipation of each new moment? If my remaining years are filled with anger and fear, I think it's the icing on their cake.

Forgiveness is hard, but I'm going to choose happy over hate.

P.S. I was going to include a picture with this post, but the images of that day still break my heart.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things

First of all, I'm going to ask that everyone reading this post, stop and offer a prayer to Whoever you believe in, to give our California firefighters victory over this battle. The closest fire is a good 25 miles from my house, yet there is a layer of ashes on my car, and the sun has been filtered through a brown haze all day. The heat won't stop, either, as though the clouds are on fire and pressing down on us. We need relief, either in temperature or humidity, or (miraculously) even rain. If you don't pray, then donate some $$, volunteer at a shelter, or grab a bucket.
It's time to help.

Now, let us move on to other subjects.

Back in August, I offered up another contest for an autographed copy of Freezer Burn. The rules were amazingly simple: just crawl around my website and answer five questions. The first person to answer correctly would win.

Not only did Nancy Sharpe answer everything, she did it the first day of the contest, and no one else even tried. Tsk, tsk, people, I'm a little disappointed, although I hope Nancy isn't disappointed with her book. Email me your address, Ms. Sharpe, and I'll get it in the post.

Finally, let's have a little fun, shall we?

Back in April, Michael Steven Gregory, of the SCWC, put a little teaser together for my book and unleashed it on YouTube. Here it is again, for those of you who are interested:

At the time, MSG promoted it on the SCWC blog, with these words:

Columnist and longtime SCWCer Gayle Carline’s Freezer Burn is out shortly from Echelon Press. Here’s a little glimpse into the characters Gayle had to wrestle with in her debut comedic mystery.

I bring this up because I subscribe to Google Alerts (who doesn't?) and receive scheduled emails telling me where my name has appeared on the 'Net recently. Well, not exactly my name - I get a lot of Gayles who aren't me, and some Carolines because Google thinks it looks an awful lot like Carline, but there's usually at least two or three links that are correct.

This week, one link caught my interest. A certain "jamesdanieluc" re-posted MSG's original blog. This is how it ended up:

Editorialist and longtime SCWCer Gayle Carline 's Deep-freeze Burning is out deadly from Echelon Pressure. Here Holds a trifle glance into the characters Gayle shoulded wrestle with in her launching comedic enigma.

I don't know who this person is, but I admire their attempt to translate MSG's words into their own language and back again. Poetry. Sheer poetry.

What more can I say? Please read Freezer Burn, my debut comedic enigma.

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