"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, December 19, 2010

A new book for a new year

A quick post today, folks, introducing my latest book, which is now available on Amazon:

Gorgeous, yes? The cover art was designed by the fabulous Joe Felipe of Market Me Graphics. Love. Him.

People kept asking me when I was going to publish a book of my columns, and I kept saying, gee yes, I should do that. But when I approached agents/editors/publishers, their response was lukewarm at best.

"Yes, that sounds like a great idea, but you're not famous. Come back and see us when you're Dave Barry."

Not to sound pissy, but when I'm Dave Barry, I don't need to go see them. I might need to see a specialist, however.

So I decided to try out Amazon's CreateSpace program. You write the book, send them your stuff and they publish it. You get a bunch more money per sale than if you went the traditional route, and you have more control.

Control is not always a good thing. Having never published my own book before, I had to go a few rounds with them on page count, margin size, etc. Most of these corrections were because I didn't know what I was doing. Fortunately, CreateSpace was willing to work with me on fixing things. They do charge a little money for their part of the process, and they waived certain fees with me because they understood my floundering.

Now all I have to do is let everyone in the universe know it's out there so the people who like to laugh can buy it and get a giggle or two.

I don't have any signings lined up, but if you live near me and you buy a copy, let me know and I'll come sign it for you. Hell, I'll read it to you if you like. It'll be fun. We can do lunch.

Call me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Holidays, ooh-ooh!

Now that my house is clean and everything's under control (she says with her fingers crossed dear god dear god let everything stay under control), let's talk about the Christmas letter. First of all, thanks for all your comments (most of you made them on Facebook). The winning photo is...

Number 2!

The horses' ears are not pointing forward, but the people are all looking up and smiling, Katy is not turning her back to the camera, Duffy is almost-sitting, and my jawline has not been completely swallowed by my wrinkles, so it's a winner.

Along with the photo, I always write a letter. It's actually how I began my writing "career". After the first letter, people kept telling me I needed to write for real. After the second letter, the arguments began in other households - "Why can't you write a good Christmas letter like the Carlines?" Now that I do write for real, the pressure escalates every year.

I think everyone needs to be confident about one thing they do well. Maybe it's playing a sport, or cooking a meal, or being good at your job. I can honestly say, without bravado, I know I 'm good at Christmas letters. I've read some really good ones and some really bad ones, and I've learned how to do it well.

The trick is to get in and out of your year in one page. If you can do it with a jaunty smile and a hope for peace on earth, good will to everyone, more's the better. If your year has been a hot mess, then do it with poignant grace, and still be hopeful for a better new year.

Here's my letter for 2010:

Wishing you all Peace on Earth, Good Will to Everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Please enjoy the music while we try to reach your party.

Okay, peeps, this week I am trying to get the house both decorated AND cleaned, in anticipation of our Sunday GumboFest and Football-a-Palooza. Dale makes great gumbo, and we invite all our friends, whether they like football or not. I'm not the biggest football fan in the universe (probably 1,906,542 in Amazon rankings), so I'll be wandering through the house yakking to people, offering a bit of wine/beer/soda, and generally enjoying the company.

It's all fun but leaves me with NO time to do much else. So while I'm busy, please enjoy these Christmas videos:

1. Dean Martin singing "White Christmas" - yes, I know Bing is the definitive version, and this video clip kind of bugs me because the voice is off-sync with his lips BUT-BUT-BUT if anyone could wish for a White Christmas, it would be an Ohio transplant (Dino) AND there are horses in the video, too. You know I'm a sucker for horses.

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks - At Christmas, they used to play this song constantly at Goldblatt's Plaza, back in Decatur, Illinois, outside the window display of animated critters that were supposed to be chipmunks. Today I would probably think it's cheesy, but when I was a kiddo, I was entranced. This is the original version.

3. Lights! Music! Action! What video-ganza would be complete without a view of some over-lit house choreographed to music?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Help! (I need somebody)

Yesterday we did our traditional Christmas photo shoot. Years ago, we started taking a picture of the three of us to include in our cards. Then one year, I got the bright idea to include the dog and cat, too. This was a little more chaotic than just three people, especially since we were doing it in the living room with the camera on a tripod on a timer. Imagine:

Get everyone posed. Keep the dog from sniffing the cat. Keep the cat on son's lap. Get everyone re-posed. Go set the timer. Run back to family. Re-pose everyone. Hear click. Wonder whether you smiled or not. In the age of processed film, this made a difference.

When my mare, Frostie, had her baby (Snoopy), I decided we needed a Christmas picture with the horses, too. We tossed the cat and dog in the car and drove to the ranch, where we went through the same delightful process with the added difficulty of keeping Frostie from sniffing the cat and Snoopy from wandering in and out of the shot.

Now that we have a digital camera and can usually find a willing helper to take the pictures (thanks, Niki!) the only thing we have to do is pose. And re-pose. And re-pose again, until we have enough pictures to choose one. (I'll be posting the outtakes on Snoopy's blog, or you can see them on my Facebook page.)
My dilemma this year is that we actually got several pix that we could use, so I thought I'd see if anyone has a preference. Vote for your favorite in the comments below. If no one has a favorite, I may just toss a dart at them and see where it lands.

Picture 1:

Picture 2:

Picture 3:

Picture 4:

Picture 5:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful? I am...

Quite frankly, I am humbled, to have brought this young man into the world and had the privilege to watch him grow, just so I can be witness to this:

(He's the one in the middle with the fluffy hair.)

I thanked him yesterday, on the way home from college, saying, "I'd love you no matter what, even if you were a scofflaw and a scoundrel. But thank you for being so easy to love and such a nice person to be around."

His response? "Scofflaw. That's a fun word."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I can't help myself

I'm supposed to be cleaning my house today, since I'm hosting Thanksgiving and I have a cat and dog who love to run through the house, plucking their fur and leaving it on everything. But I needed to take a quick break to post something that's on my mind.

Be warned: I am now about to venture into the territory known as Too Much Information. I promise not to be graphic, or post any pictures. What does this have to do with writing?

Everything. You see, writers are funny critters. When something strikes us as worthy of writing about, we must jot it down, even if it is embarrassing, heartbreaking, or even potentially dull for a reader. (If it's the latter, we just liven it up after we've gotten it on paper.)


All the recent brouhaha about the TSA's new body scan/public grope procedures reminded me that I needed my yearly Pap smear. My ex-husband used to get mad about my yearly checkup because he was jealous of another man looking at me naked. What kind of tryst he thought I was having with my doctor under garish exam room lights with a nurse looking on, I'll never know.

For all of the anxious men out there, let me walk you through a standard checkup:

First, you are weighed. They let you put your purse down and take off your shoes, but you cannot undress. The best you can do is to exhale and hope it makes your lungs lighter.

Next, you pee in a cup, then carry the cup to the nurse's station for them to dip a little paper strip. While that strip is drying, they prick your finger with a needle and put your blood on another paper strip. Paper strips are big with nurses.

After they check your blood pressure, you go into an exam room, take off your clothes and put on a paper dress. Actually, they used to give you a paper dress. Now, they give you a paper crop top and a paper sheet to cover your lap. I'm five feet two and it all barely covers me. I don't know what my taller friends do.

The doctor and nurse come in, and ask you a bunch of questions about your health while the doctor pries your nether regions open with a vise and scrapes a few cells off your cervix with a skinny little plastic instrument that feels like a hammer and chisel while it's doing its job.

Satisfied, gents? Romantic enough for ya? Bet you're happy all you have to do is turn your head and cough.

So when I went to my doctor's appointment on Thursday, I began by sitting in the waiting room worrying about whether I had to pee. I didn't have to, which was a problem. It's not something I can do on command if there's nothing in the tank. Seriously, in the past, I have handed the nurse a cup with an eighth of an inch of liquid in it and said, "Sorry. It's all I had."

It was an awkward moment.

When my name was called, I went back with the nurse, got on the scale and tried not to look, then prepared for what came next.

"Come on back and we'll get your blood pressure," she said.


Apparently, I'm at the age of no longer needing to pee in a cup, or give blood. She took my blood pressure and escorted me to the room, where I got ready for the doctor. I was sitting in my paper ensemble when my body said: "Hmm. We didn't pee in the cup. We didn't have to pee, but we didn't. Do we have to now? We don't know. We were expecting to have to, and then we didn't. Hmm."

Since I was already decked out for the doctor, I couldn't very well run down the hall for a quick pit stop, so I sat there and told my body it was imagining things and I was fine.

The nurse practitioner was scheduled instead of the doctor. She's a very nice woman, explains everything and tries not to cause any pain. We began the exam by discussing menopause and what I needed to do next to control my symptoms without harming my bones, etc. Finally, it was time to stop examining my advancing age and start examining me.

"Hmm," she said as she worked. "Your cervix is closed very tightly and will not let me collect cells."

Well, that's a new one.

She tried for several moments, then told me she might have gotten enough to test, but she'd give me some medicine to help things along in case she had to call me back in for another attempt. It was also impossible to check my uterus out, so she made an appointment to get an ultrasound of that area, in addition to my mammogram and a bone density scan.

"I have to go back for an ultrasound," I told my husband that evening. "My uterus was uncooperative."

He didn't even blink. I guess he's heard weirder things come out of my mouth.

A couple of days later, I went back for the ultrasound. Naively, I believed the technician would goo up a small knob with cold gel and rub it around my lower stomach area, the way they do it when you're pregnant.

No. Think more internally, if you get my drift. First, though, she put my feet in very non-adjustable stirrups and scooted my tush down until I thought I was in some kind of secret yoga position that only true yogis can practice after they've broken both hips. As my thighs cramped and knees ached, she began her work. She looked at the monitor, moved the wand, pressed buttons, repeated, for about 10-15 minutes.

Just as I was going to ask if she was shooting a mini-series, she said, "All done. You can get dressed now."

Will the pictures show I'm healthy? Did she photograph my good side? And if I have this much fun at my regular appointment, how much fun will it be when I go for my mammogram?

See how this story fits into writing? I'll bet you're all on the edge of your seats. With any luck, it's not because your feet are in the stirrups.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A post-script of sorts

In my last post, I listed the kinds of acts that separate the people with a shred of decency from the people whose decency is in shreds, the latter kind being a kind of villain I like to write. In my post, I listed the following examples:

They could return the twenty-dollar bill that has just fallen from the stranger's pocket, or they could keep it themselves. They could call 9-1-1 when they see the man being beaten, or they could go back to their work. They could help the old lady on to the bus and give up their seat, or they could push her under the wheels and ride comfortably.

At the time, I wrote that last example as a stretch of the imagination. I mean, really, what kind of person would do that?

I'd like to introduce Exhibit A.


Reviewers talk about how far-fetched plots might be, but, really - is there anything a human WON'T do?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is the measure of a villain?

If you don't read Alexandra Sokoloff's blog, or Murderati, you should. Even if you are not a writer, but just a reader or movie buff, they discuss the way that stories develop, as well as what makes a good character, whether it be hero or villain.

So what makes a good villain for you? Do you need someone so deliciously evil, they will never be redeemed?

Okay, not her.

Hannibal Lector comes to mind. His character is solidly twisted. Whether it is nature or nurture, it doesn't matter anymore. He can be in prison for a lifetime, meet with a psychologist eight hours every day, get shock treatments, none of it will rehabilitate him. We are committed to seeing him caught and punished and we do not feel any guilt about that.

And then there's my personal favorite, Mrs. Danvers. Loony as a tune, crazed with grief over Rebecca's death, she will not rest until she has driven The Second Mrs. DeWinter out of Manderlay, dead or alive. There's something unashamedly malicious about her that I like. She is righteous in her madness.

Those characters are wonderful, because we can point all our anger on them and exact our revenge. We don't have to say, "Aw, poor baby. He probably just had a bad childhood. Maybe she's a little hormonal. If only someone would remove that thorn from his paw, why, he'd be right as rain."

Naw, we hate them, and we LOVE it.

The villains I find fascinating are the marginal characters, villains of opportunity. They're the people who could live nicely, who could be decent, until The Choice comes across their path. They could return the twenty-dollar bill that has just fallen from the stranger's pocket, or they could keep it themselves. They could call 9-1-1 when they see the man being beaten, or they could go back to their work. They could help the old lady on to the bus and give up their seat, or they could push her under the wheels and ride comfortably.

In some ways, I think of these people as more soulless than Hannibal and his ilk. Hannibal has a clear, although degenerate, path and a core set of beliefs. Evil Opportunists blow in the wind. Their tenets include nothing more than doing whatever benefits them the most. Perhaps they're Narcissists. Don't know. Don't care. Don't like 'em.

But they may be harder for us to hate, because they're our neighbors and our co-workers. Sometimes they're our friends.

When I was an engineer, I used to play The Earthquake Game when I was in a boring meeting. I'd look around the room at my co-workers and imagine that a giant earthquake struck. Then I'd try to guess who in the room would be pulling people to safety and whose footprint would be in the middle of my back as they escaped.

These are the "villains" I like to write about. It's hard to feel good about hating them, because in so many ways, they could be us. And hopefully, watching their bad choices makes us want to strive harder to choose Good over that slippery slope to Evil.

Who are your favorite villains, and why?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Boo to you, too.

Quick post today, although I often start to dash off a quick post and end up pages later, thinking, where did I put that damn editor?

I love Halloween. Love to dress up. Love the fun-sized candy bars. Ten fun-sized Snickers equals one full-sized, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I don't get to dress up these days. No one in my age or friends group has costume parties. I could go trick-or-treating, but I think it might be just creepy for a middle-aged woman to go house to house, begging for chocolate.

This is my all-time favorite costume. My aunt Ardell made it for me. She's still alive, in her 80's, up and about with her self-decorated walker. By the way, I'm supposed to be a horse.

I made quite a few of Marcus' costumes. He wanted to be the Tin Man when he was four. I sewed the outfit, using silver lame, which isn't for wimps. A year or two later, he wanted to be Pikachu, a Pokemon character, which led to my best New Year's resolution ever: I promise not to ever work with fleece and cotton batting again.

This year, my college freshman is going as Jimi Hendrix. He can get away with it. He's going to a Halloween party, hosted by one of his college friends who is a very nice young man AND a few years older than Sonny-boy. Let's review - party is on Sunday night and Sonny's first class is at 8 o'clock on Monday morning. His last class is at 7 o'clock Monday night. As the responsible mom, I'm not sure whether to discuss the possible consequences of his possible actions, or whether to sit back and watch the train wreck unfold via his Facebook status.

I've dressed the horses up a couple of times, but only for the Holiday parade at the ranch. My favorite costume for Frostie is when she was pregnant at Christmas time. She looked great as the Virgin Mary. I'll probably burn in hell.

Snoopy has been The WW I flying ace (from Peanuts), Snoop Horsey Dogg (cornrows, bling, and all), and this little number, that I like to call, A Trailer Park Trash Christmas.

Oh - and Dale? He sometimes dresses up like this:

Get it? He's pretending to be an excitable guy. For those of you who know Dale, you'll totally get this joke. For those of you who don't, let's just say my hubby's bio-rhythm chart is a straight line.

What do you do for Halloween?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bach to Bugs

Let's begin this blog post by acknowledging two things about me:

1. When it comes to music, I am an eclectic person. I can't think of any musical genre that hasn't produced at least one song I like.

2. I was raised on a strict diet of country twang, and learned about classical music from the Looney Tunes.

So, when I go to a classical concert, there is a little of the Looney in me. I mean no disrespect. I'm just, in my son's words, "really weird."**

Last Sunday, Marcus sang with the Cal State Long Beach University Choir at the Los Angeles Bach Festival. It was held at the First Congregational Church of L.A. They presented Bach's St. John Passion as their finale for a week-long event, which apparently included a laser show on Friday night to accompany his famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Wish I'd been there for that – it had to be pretty cool.

The St. John Passion was, well, passionate. The music is beautiful, although long. There were sixty-eight individual pieces, for both chorus and soloists. Sixty-eight pieces… in German. We had a script to follow along, with the English translation on the side (the elderly men in front of me still got lost). Dale and I managed to sit on the correct side of the aisle and could see Marcus in the balcony. It was golden.

Like I said, the music was beautiful, but long. This allowed my mind to wander… my weird mind. The first thing I noticed was the TV monitor next to the organ. Since the organist faced away from the conductor, they had a monitor for her, so she could be conducted along with the orchestra.

Ever played with funhouse mirrors? As you move in and out, your features get distorted, larger and smaller, right? Unfortunately, that's the way the camera was portraying the conductor. He was not a large man, dapper in his tuxedo with tails, a blinding-white shirt, tie and cummerbund. But every time he raised his arms and directed the choir and orchestra, the camera enlarged his white shirt, like a balloon, expanding on the monitor.

Expand. Contract. Expand. Contract. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I was trying not to laugh. Elmer Fudd came to mind. I started smiling. At this point, I wanted to point out the Fudd-istic event to my hubby, but I didn't dare. As opposed to the last four years of enduring noisy audiences at high school concerts, this audience was silent as the grave, if you'll allow me a cliché.

So I sat and smiled and read along with the program and started laughing again when the gorgeous bass, as Jesus, sang, "Put up thy sword in thy sheath", which in German is, "Stecke dein Schwert in die Scheide."

C'mon, tell me you're not thinking of Blazing Saddles, or at least giggling from the alliteration.

At intermission, the two old men behind me had a few things to say. They did not understand why the CSULB choir was singing, probably because they didn't read the program notes that explained the conductor, Jonathan Talberg, is also the director of choral, vocal and opera studies at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSULB. They also didn't care for the man sitting in the row ahead of me who had an earring. But the most intriguing conversation they had was this:

Old Man 1: "I met the conductor in the men's room. He seems very nice."

Old Man 2: "He looks like he's (*unintelligible word*)."

Old Man 1: "Well, most people in music are (*unintelligible word*)."

What was the word? What are most people in music? Short? Classy? Episcopal? I didn't turn around and ask, although I wanted to. I may eavesdrop, but I don't intrude. It's called manners, people.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour concert, I was mostly impressed that the soloists had learned such intricate melodies, especially the Evangelist, who had the largest role. We didn't get to speak to Marcus before we left, but I texted him. "Good job!" I said, "Catchy tune. LOL."

See? I can listen to classical music and enjoy it. I just can't keep the funny out.

** Marcus recently informed me that he and his dorm-mate are, "eerily similar. We like the same anime, music, and we both have really weird moms."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A political rant

By the time November 2nd rolls around, I'm hoping to have the will to vote. I know I'll have the desire to beat something – anything – with a baseball bat, just from listening to all of the ads.

I'm tired of the accusations and the exposés and the mudslinging by the spin doctors on all sides, so here's my two-cents, as a registered voter, to all the politicians out there: It's all about you, isn't it?

Last year, I was president of my son's choir booster club. We began the year in rough shape. Due to various reasons, we owed several thousand dollars, to both companies and parents. Even though it wasn't my credit score on the line, I felt the enormous weight of all the money we needed to raise – just to pay our debts off. I wasn't even certain if we'd raise enough to pay for what our kids needed this year.

I'm no financial wizard. I had no grand ideas for getting out of this mess. I only had two things going for me: 1) my honesty, and 2) my eternal optimism, both of which I hoped were contagious. For our first meeting, I explained our situation to the other parents and appealed to their sense of honor. We needed to make these debts right. And then I asked for their help.

The parents responded in ways bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. We paid our outstanding balances, we raised enough money to get music for the teacher and send the kids on a couple of small tours, and we ended the year with enough in the bank to get the next year started in the black.

I'm not telling this story to brag – I didn't do anything special. The parents did it all. I was just the cheerleader. I'd probably make a poor politician, because it'd be hard for me to tell everyone how I am going to solve the government's problems. All I could do is tell you, honestly, what the problems are, and appeal to you to help me solve them.

So it pisses me off to see all these politicians tell me how they're going to fix everything, because all I see are people who think they are going to ramrod their ideas down everyone's throats. Even if they're good ideas, do you have to be a bulldozer?

(An aside I must throw in here: in my state, and possibly in others, we've got former CEOs running for office. There's a lot of bragging about how much money they made for their company and shareholders. But what was it like for their employees? Did they offer good health plans, pay a living wage, treat them like human beings? Do they see the voters as shareholders or employees?)

A long time ago, a teacher described the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager pushes work onto their employees. A leader draws results from their employees.

I'm tired of being managed. Where are the leaders?

Okay, rant over. Hurry up, November 2nd. I want to get this thing over.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Today's post is brought to you by the letter G for Grief, Good-bye, Gah.

Remember my sassy little book trailer for Freezer Burn? There is a picture of the book on a boat:

That's Jim Barnes. My book is wearing his arms, paddling the kayak on Salmon Lake, in northern California. Here's the actual shot:

I met Jim at the Gray Eagle Lodge in the Plumas National Forest in 2002. It was a fairly innocuous meeting; I honestly don't remember much about him except he was very quiet and went along with whatever anyone else wanted to do.

We kept going up to Gray Eagle every year, and kept meeting Jim and his family and kept forging our friendship. In addition to being quiet and agreeable, I also found out, over time, that he was funny, he played the guitar, and he was nice to hang around with. (This is a pic of our usual campsite. Jim's in the middle, standing.)

Eight years later, we're good friends, even though he's in Sacramento and we're in Placentia, which is about seven hours apart. We don't know the details of each other's lives, we don't speak daily, or even weekly, unless you count our Facebook shenanigans. But we see each other when we can, and if he needed us, we'd be northbound to Sacramento ASAP.

Which made it difficult when we found out he had cancer. Neither Dale nor I are doctors, caregivers, or have any clue about how to help our friends and loved ones go through this awful disease. We can be cheerleaders. We can offer our shoulders to absorb tears, or the weight of the world. We can even stand in the middle of a hospital and yell, "Who do I have to sleep with to get some attention around here?"

Okay, I can probably yell that better than Dale.

So we hovered, as best we could, 400 miles away, texting, calling, and doing the Facebook thing. We saw Jim in August at Gray Eagle. He was taking a lot of extreme medication to control the pain, and had just had the first biopsy. It was either lymphoma or pancreatic cancer, and he'd find out when he got back from vacation.

It's weird, but we were praying for lymphoma. It is, at least, the most treatable and most recoverable.

Several weeks pass, mostly because it seems that his doctors and nurses each want to piss one more day away and schedule things daaaaaayyyyyyssss apart. Not that I'm bitter about the medical establishment and insurance companies… We finally find out it's lymphoma and he's starting chemo.

Yay, lymphoma! (Weird, right?)

His first treatment doesn't go well. He's in pain, he's scared, and all we can do down here is tell him he's in our thoughts and prayers and we love him and if the kids need anything, we're here to help. I see on Facebook that some of his friends are familiar with the effects of chemo and are offering suggestions, and I feel better, knowing he's got such a big support group.

Another few weeks go by and I don't hear anything from him. I send a message to his daughter, Alyssa. "How's your dad?"

"Not good." Her reply is devastating. He is in constant pain. The chemo isn't working. Nothing is working. He asked his daughters for permission to go into compassionate care and slip away. There is nothing else to be done, except to be medicated beyond consciousness and wait.

Turns out it was pancreatic cancer all along.

At 11:25 p.m., the same day I receive this message and alert the rest of his friends in southern California and send a message to Lyssie of love and support, I get a text from a friend of his oldest, non-bio-daughter (not that it matters). Jim has just passed.

There are a frantic few days, trying to figure out whether to run to Sacramento just to hug three girls, or whether to wait until we can be of help, or attend a service, or… or what? What do you do for a friend? When my dad died, we flew back to Illinois to attend the funeral and help my brother clean out his apartment. Services for Jim are still a few weeks away. He has family who are helping the girls.

All I feel I can do right now is get out the tissues and the pom-poms. Cry on my shoulder, Sweeties, and know I'm rooting for you.

And Jim – I'd tell you to rest in peace, but I'd rather you rest on your own terms. Let it be peaceful if that's your desire. Or come back and haunt us if it gives you a giggle. Love you always.

One of our outings was when Jim, along with "Sarica" (Sara, the oldest and her BFF, Erica) came to the Sacramento Convention Center to see Marcus sing with the All State Jazz Choir. He was here, in the audience:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shh... I'm not supposed to be here

I'm writing this from my horse trainer's home office while she and her hubby are out at a movie. I've been working for Tina every other week for a coupla months now, and I'm kind of officially off-duty but I need to hang around because Duffy-puppy is in her Monday night obedience class.

Mostly, I'm here to tell you how much complete and utter fun the Southern California Writers Conference LA (Newport Beach) was this weekend. I drank a little too much wine and my eyes feel like they're full of ground glass, but damn, I'm energized! My workshop was superb. Right people for the message, right message for them - does it get any better? They were so lovely and willing to listen and take a chance on the funny side of life. I'd have 'em all over to dinner if I knew how to cook. I sure hope Michael and Wes invite me to do the San Diego conference, if Gordon decides not to do it. That'd be the bomb.

But back to the ranch -

I was going to call up some school districts and ask them if they're interested in field trip information because we're offering ranch tours to children's groups, BUT... after Googling all the districts and getting phone numbers, I can't find Tina's phone in her house to call anyone. I can use my cell phone except it sometimes decides it doesn't want to hear me now and flakes out on me. I did go out to the barn office to try to make the calls but it's hot out there. As in, 113 degrees hot. As in, a dress rehearsal for Hell. I made one call from the barn phone, and said, "Dear God, why am I out here?"

So I'm sitting here in Tina's home office, using her computer, which is a Mac but it's okay, I'm bilingual. Tina's left-handed, which means I'm reaching across with my right hand to click on the mouse. And I'm wearing my bifocals, which means I'm craning my neck up so I can look down through the correct part of the lens.

And Duffy-puppy could be laying outside in the kennel with his friend, Buddy, under the misters, which make it very cool and pleasant. Instead, he's standing at the kennel door, barking and making me miserable.

Yeah, the life of a writer is a glamorous one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'm ready!

Starting tomorrow, I'll be at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach for the 8th annual Southern California Writers Conference - LA, and I'm really excited. Okay, I'd be slightly more excited if I was actually staying at the Hyatt, but who can afford those rates?

I'm teaching a workshop on humor, Sunday morning at 9, and I'm looking forward to sharing whatever knowledge and tools I have about writing funny. For the past few weeks, I've made notes and gathered information and quotes. Today I finished getting ready: I got a haircut, a manicure and a pedicure.

I get a haircut fairly regularly, but I haven't had a mani/pedi in well over a year, possibly two. Every time I think about getting one, I tell myself, "Your nails will be ruined tomorrow when you go to the ranch. And forget the toenails. They won't survive the cowboy boots."

But today I went to Glen Ivy Spa in Brea, where Emma (from Romania) helped me choose a nail color, then gave me a wonderful manicure, which included a mint scrub and an arm/hand massage. Afterward, she handed me over to Amanda (from California), who scrubbed and sanded my feet, and painted my toes the same color as my nails.

Emma took the nail color selection very seriously. She wanted to know what I was doing this weekend, what kind of conference, what sort of presentation I would be making. Would I be holding a book? She took all these things into consideration before she offered me two choices, a light pink and a ruby red. My decision?

When I first saw my nails I thought, ooh, shiny. Then I thought: "I've had two years to grow nails, Mother - Jungle Red!" (Norma Shearer in The Women)

Then I stopped by California Pizza Kitchen to pick up dinner for Dale and I, and the waitress said, "Wow, I like your nails. They remind me of the ruby slippers."

Yes. Ruby slippers. Kind of like my favorite purse.

So, the question is, should I use the purse this weekend to match my nails? Or should I just stop obsessing on my nails and focus on the workshop?

Ooh. Shiny.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Let this be a lesson to you!

This is a lesson in letting opportunity slip through your fingers, your little calloused, carpel-tunneled fingers.

I'm a fairly notorious blog lurker. I like to comment on thought-provoking blogs, or even silly ones. One of the blogs I read regularly is Murderati. The writers are all interesting and have good information about writing, about publishing, and about how their lives intrude/enhance their work. Two weeks ago, Toni McGee Causey kicked off a two-week journey through people's workspaces. She shared pictures of her work area with descriptions, and invited 'Rati readers to do the same.

How could I refuse?

The Gods-honest truth is, I write all over my house, with the exception of my bathroom (um, no) and my son's bedroom (teenager, smelly, um, double-no). So I should have sent this photo:

This is the recliner in the family room. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing, writing and thinking, here. Usually, Turner Classic Movies is in the background.

Or, I could have sent in this photo. This is my very pretty desk with my writing books (Bird by Bird, On Writing, The Writer's Book of Days), a cute little lamp and my printer. I write here sometimes, although I can't really write in the mornings because the sun is too bright and I'm too cheap to buy a shade for the window.

Also, this guy stands by the fireplace behind me and he kinda creeps me out. A friend "gifted" him to me years ago and he didn't have any mane or tail, so he looked like a sheep. I bought doll hair and ribbons from the craft store and made him look like a horse again - a holiday horse, but I don't know what to do with him now. So far, all of my friends have avoided being "gifted."

I ended up sending this one, since it's the one place I truly feel my butt is in the chair and I'm working. I gave Toni a description of what's on the table, which I would repeat here, but then you might not go over to her entry on Murderati today and see my picture and blurb, mixed in with all the other 'Rati characters. If I'd known I could submit multiple pictures, I'd have added this one.

The puppy divides his time between trying to get me to play with him and looking like this. So sad.

Here's where I had a moment of true, epic failure: LOOK AT MY COMPUTER SCREEN in the picture. It's my Facebook page. My freakin' Facebook page.

Why didn't I have my website? My book cover? Why didn't it scream "This is Gayle Carline and what she writes?" Oh, oh, and to top it off, I didn't ANYWHERE mention that I'm the AUTHOR OF FREEZER BURN.

Gaaahhhh, what the hell is wrong with me?!?!?!?!

Learn, Tadpoles. Learn from my mistakes. Never miss an opportunity to tell the world about your work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The ball, she is rolling!

I just got off the phone with the lovely folks at Amazon's Createspace, and I can officially say that I'm on my way to publishing my first book of columns. I say "first" because I'm hoping there'll be more.

I had to talk to a representative because I seemed to be in between the menu options they listed - I have cover art, designed by the wonderful Joe Felipe, but I feel unsure of myself when it comes to formatting the manuscript to look as professional as it can. So they figured out a "one from Column A, one from Column B" program for me, along with some phone numbers to call if I needed help. I'm guessing they mean help with my book. I could use some help emptying the trash and cleaning the patio...

ANYWHO. Here's my cover. I love it. More later.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Humor workshop, anyone?

If you've noticed my calendar of events, you'll see that I'm at the Southern California Writer's Conference in September, which is, like, a month away. I've been going to these conferences since 2006, and I've sung their praises lots of times, but this year, I'm actually teaching a workshop.

I'm so stoked!

The workshop is called, "Funny How? How am I Funny? (And How to Write it)" As you can guess, it's about writing humor. The name of the workshop came out of a website called "I Write Like". You plug in a sample of your writing and it tells you what author you write like. I submitted a paragraph from Freezer Burn and was told I write like Mark Twain. Then I submitted a paragraph from my weekly humor column and was told I write like Mario Puzo.


If you don't know, or don't want to bother with the whole click-on-his-name-thingy, Mario Puzo wrote a lot of Mafia-related books, including The Godfather. Hmm... my sense of humor is akin to The Last Don... all I could think of was Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

"... like I amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?"

I think this is just before he shoots someone.

So the goal of my workshop is to spell out some of the pitfalls of writing humor and suggest some solutions for punching up your punchline. Ha ha - get it? I'm in the process of organizing the flow of the workshop and I think I've got the material I want to cover, but I'm wondering:

1. Should I have charts or drawings, like PowerPoint or something? I'd rather not hand out copies of things, since I do believe in Save Paper, Save the World, but I could plug in some e-charts and offer to email them to people, or even post them on my blog or website.

2. The workshop is 90 minutes long, and I'd like to engage the participants in some kind of exercise after I get finished blabbing. My thoughts are to either see if anyone is struggling with a specific piece of their humor writing and have a group session on how to fix what might be wrong, or to have everyone work individually on some of the points I'll be making, or to give them a humorous situation and have them write it up in their own style. Any preferences?

3. Here's the other thing about the workshop: It's on Sunday morning, at 9 a.m. This is after Saturday night's banquet and subsequent late-night sessions. There may be some comatose folks - should I offer coffee and donuts? I mean, there's nothing like bribing your audience, right?

Any thoughts, writers and readers?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calling all readers

I know, I know, it's been a coupla weeks since I posted anything, although I have been writing. Just not blogging.

So, as Mr. Monk would say, here's what happened:

I finished the second book and dutifully set it aside while I started putting together a book of my newspaper columns. Everyone knows I write a weekly column, yes? It's in the Placentia News-Times, which is a subsidiary or something of the Orange County Register. So, anyway, instead of slapping a bunch of columns in and putting them into categories, I built it as a memoir of my first few years as a columnist. I've named it, "What Would Erma Do? Confessions of a First-Time Humor Columnist". I'm working with a guy on the cover art and getting it ready for self-publishing.

Now, back to the mystery novel... I printed it out and took it with me on vacation, where I ran through the first edits. Here's what I've got so far - it's clean. It reads smoothly. It goes from start to end without confusion. The characters are solid. The dialogue is real.

Here's what I don't know - is it a GOOD story? Is it compelling? Is the plot too convoluted? Are there any deux ex machina moments I've ignored because I wanted things to come together in a particular way? Have I missed any opportunities to tell a better, more complete tale?

So I'm trolling for beta readers. Would anyone out there like to be my guinea pig? If so, here's what I need from you:

1. Be specific in your notes. "I don't like it," doesn't tell me how to fix it.
2. Be kind. Only because I think this world would be so much better if everyone was kinder.

The title is "Hit or Missus". Here's my first draft at the jacket blurb.

Former housecleaner Peri Minneopa thinks her new job as a private investigator should consist of quiet days doing background searches and low-risk surveillance. Her latest case is a normal one: a husband suspects his wife is cheating, and hires Peri to get to the truth. As soon as she starts working, however, she finds herself on the wrong end of the investigation, as the hunted instead of the hunter. The threats alarm her enough, but when the bodies start piling up, she must decide whether this case, and this career, is what she had in mind.

If you're interested in reading the whole story, shoot me an email with either your email address, if you prefer a soft copy, or your postal address if you want a hard copy.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Where was I?

Oh, yes, I was strutting around, calling myself an author, even though I've only got one book published. I can hear the catcalls now:

"One measly little book, is that all? FREEZER BURN's a year old. What have you done for us lately?"

Thank you for asking. As a matter of fact, on July 7th, I finished the second book. I locked myself in the kitchen with the puppy for three solid days and wrote about 18,000 words. It was difficult. It was glorious. It was done.

At least, the first draft is complete. I'm now cooling my heels until August, when we leave on vacation and I take the draft with me to begin editing. I love editing - the hard building work is complete and now it's time to mop the floors, dust the endtables, get the cobwebs out of the corners.

Wait - maybe that's my house.

But I'm not just resting on my laurels. Actually, my laurels haven't rested since my son was born, but let's not go there. I'm doing Other Stuff.

Stuff like putting together a book of my columns. It's composed as a memoir about my first few years as a columnist. I'm calling it, "What Would Erma Do? Confessions of a First-Time Humor Columnist." Since I have the whole community platform thing going, I thought I'd try self-publishing this one. Also, most publishers I've approached with this idea have said, basically, "We know humor essays sell. We just don't know how to sell them." Meh. I'll do it myself.

I'm also re-editing and polishing a short story I did for an anthology. It's about Peri in her housecleaning, pre-investigator days, solving a crime for a client. I'm not certain where it's going to end up, but it will be available for sale or rent, or possibly even a free teaser, like Joe Konrath, who is soon going to have more money than God because he gives stuff away. Yea, I dunno how it works, either.

Lastly, I made a new video trailer for FREEZER BURN. It's probably sheer madness on my part, but I spoofed the Old Spice ad.

Tell me what you think... and please be kind.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Even books need birthdays

Freezer Burn was officially launched a year ago. One of the nice things about books, apart from the sheer beauty of the written word and the way they take you to exotic lands and introduce you to interesting people, is their longevity. Books released years ago are still in print and being sold at bookstores, on Amazon, and in other retail nooks and crannies.

So I don't believe in ditching last year's book for this year's model. Add to that the fact that this year's book isn't ready yet, and I really want to keep trying to get Freezer Burn into as many hands as possible.

In a rather looney moment, I got an equally looney idea: Have a birthday party for the book. After reason returned, I decided not to truly host a birthday party, but to make a video of a party to advertise my book. Brilliant!

Or not. I don't know, but I did it. It's on YouTube now, so the damage is done. Let me know what you think (but please be kind).

You can still buy Freezer Burn at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere - it's available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and other e-reader format!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The write tool for the job.

My apologies - I've been a little MIA lately, but I had a good reason, I think. That is, if you think this is a good reason:

Sonny Boy (Marcus) graduated from Valencia High School (in Placentia) last Tuesday. For some odd reason, one simple ceremoney consumed my entire week. Go figure.

In the midst of Graduation-Palooza, I did a book club at Raytheon Company and the Huntington Beach Library Author's Luncheon. Both were wonderful. I had a great time, sold a few books, and met some swell folks, including David Rosenfelt. Look him up, he's hysterical.

The nice people at each event gave me presents - wasn't that cool? The Raytheon Book Club gave me this little knitted bookmark:

Isn't he cute? (Note, he has little wire glasses on his little googly eyes.)

As much as I love this cuddly guy, the Huntington Beach Library knows the way to a mystery writer's heart. They gave me this:

(Insert Psycho violins here) SCREE! SCREE! SCREE! SCREE!

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.