"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, February 29, 2012

Mammogram for Mrs. Carline

I had my yearly mammogram this week, a topic that I used for next week's column in the Placentia News-Times, but I thought I'd go into a little more detail on my blog with 76 of my closest friends. Wow, it never dawned on me before that if you were all trombones, I'd have enough for a marching band.

For those of you too young or too male to go through this procedure, let me 'splain it all to you.

1. You call the screening center and convince them you are under doctor's orders to get this done, and are not some random woman who wanders from center to center getting mammograms.

2. They finally give you an appointment. It will be two months in the future and in direct conflict with something else you need to do, but you take it because it's all they have.

3. On your appointment day, you show up at the center and fill out five pages of forms asking your name, date of birth, SAT scores, and previous marriages. Don't lie. They already know this information. It's just a test.

4. A nurse takes you into a room and instructs you to remove everything from the waist up and put on a robe. They have a funny definition for "robe". This is what you are thinking.

This is what you get.

It is not a robe. It is a teeny cape that barely covers your shoulders, let alone the girls. You feel very exposed. And cold.

5. You are now sitting in a waiting area, looking like a middle-aged, topless, superhero. You decide your super power is to make people look away when they see you.

6. Once in the room, you see The Machine. It looks just like the offspring of these two objects.

7. The technician pulls back your cape, grabs a breast and spreads it on the plate, then tightens the top down until your eyes want to pop out of your head. She opens the vise slightly, rearranges your breast like a hamburger patty she is about to toss on the grill, then tightens it again. If you weigh more than 98 pounds, she will also push the excess skin on your ribs away from the machine.

8. Once you are hanging by your tiptoes and thoroughly trapped in the machine, she will say, "Don't move," and take the picture.

9. This is repeated for the other breast, after which she will realign the machine to squeeze each breast sideways, then at interesting and uncomfortable angles. At one point, you will have one breast and part of your arm clamped in the machine, one hand gripping the rail above and the other hand pulling your other breast out of the camera's way.

10. Each time she says, "Don't move," you wonder where you could go if you wanted.

11. At last you are done and can get dressed. You vow to treat hamburger patties with more respect from now on.

I think I know why they scrutinize you so carefully to get one of these. If they didn't everyone would want one.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Conference thoughts, and where my mind travels

To start with, last weekend's San Diego Southern California Writers Conference was my best ever, and I really thought I'd already had my best ever, so that's upping the bar a lot. The workshops were fantastic. I don't know that I sat through any clunkers.

I kicked off the conference with Charmaine Hammond's workshop on Your Book as a Business. I couldn't take notes fast enough. She's a fun, engaging speaker, and had so many great ideas for me to try out.

Then I sat in on Lynn Price's workshop about Writing Memoirs - Making Them Care. But wait, you say, I didn't know you were writing a memoir. I'm not. I think I've had a ho-hum life. But I went for two reasons: 1) I have friends who are writing memoirs and ask me for advice all the time; and 2) no matter what I'm writing, I want to make them care. I learned a lot.

I pitched a new book idea at Marla Miller & Jennifer Silva Redmond's Pitch Witches workshop that was incredibly well received (and I'll post more about that on another day). It's a great way to spend 90 minutes - you get one editor and one publisher in a room and tell them what your book is about. They tell you whether you've described it too much, not enough, or whether indeed there is a marketable book in there at all.

There were workshops about why some books get published and some don't. There was another workshop about authors making alliances with other creative types. I carried something away from all of them.

At night, I was in the bar with my friends, Tameri Etherton, Jennifer Carlevatti Aderhold, and a revolving door of other conferees, workshop leaders, and the directors, Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers. I had two glasses of wine each evening and yet we still managed to close the bar each night. Tameri and I, along with our friend, Linda Ochocki, went on a field trip. I'm letting Tameri talk about that one on her blog - some day. Every night, I wasn't in bed before 2:30, and every morning I was up by 7:30. I was proud of being able to get my contacts in each day.

One speaker was special to me - Michele Scott. She has worked her tail off in this industry, been traditionally published, small press published and self-published, and is finally beginning to reap her well-deserved rewards. On Sunday, she found out her thriller, Daddy's Home (written as A.K. Alexander), was #8 on the Wall Street Journal's best seller list for Fiction, E-books. It's the only self-published book on the list. This. Is. Big.

Of course, I asked how she did it, and she laughed. "I have no idea!"

This is where the other part of my brain kicked in, and an image appeared. I used to have a beautiful Persian cat who was Satan in black fur. She didn't pull any punches if things were not to her liking. Sometimes I needed to give her a bath, which usually ended up in a bloodbath for me, until I learned a little cat-bather's secret: you wrap their paws with masking tape. If you wrap the tape around their toes, they can't flex them to get their nails out. Masking tape doesn't stick to the fur so it's not harmful.

I would tape her toes on all four feet and pinch the extra tape in front, so she looked like she was wearing clown shoes. Then I'd put her in the tub and watch her flop and flail about before I turned on the warm water. It was funny, and it was retribution for all those times she shredded my hands.

The image of her flopping about in the tub came back to me while Michele and I were talking. I had been taking notes and making plans to try all of these great ways to sell my books, and I will try them out. I've listened to all kinds of authors talk about That One Great Thing that started their books selling. But Michele is the most honest author I know.

"A lot of it is just luck," she told me. "You throw it all out there and see what sticks."

We like to think there's a magic formula. For those who have been successful, they might think their path would work for everyone. At the end of the day, we're all just flailing about like cats in the tub. Some of us give up. Some of us flail harder. And some of us submit to the bath and plan our revenge.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The final impression that lingers

I'm just back from the San Diego edition of the Southern California Writer's Conference. I'm dog tired, exhiliarated, spent, excited, exuberant and perhaps too slightly hung over to adequately discuss what I did there, who I met, and what new dreams they gave me.

But this is how I feel.

More later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

San Diego, here I come!

This weekend is the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, and I'm going. It will be my, oh, two hundredth year of attending, and I'm as excited (and slightly nervous) as the first time.

SCWC has two conferences a year, one in September in Newport Beach and one over the President's Day weekend in San Diego. They've also had one in Palm Springs a few times, but it has turned out to be a difficult location, and the directors cannot do three conferences a year without suffering nervous breakdowns.

I'm only in charge of one Author's Luncheon, and I can feel their pain.

My first conference with them was in Palm Springs in 2006. I was told about the February conference in San Diego, but thought I'd skip that one - until I saw who was going to be teaching workshops. So I went in February, thinking I'd skip the September one - until I saw the workshops being taught. At some point, I resigned myself to two conferences a year because it might kill me to miss one.

I've posted before on what a great, working conference this is, but now I'm going to show you some examples. First, let's see a clip of the kind of speakers we get to hear, and what they have to say:

One of my favorite workshops is where you read your query or synopsis and Marla Miller identifies the problems with it. This is an online version of what she does at SCWC:

Lastly, the conference directors are dedicated to making this conference a good value for everyone's money, however, they are an irreverent crew and like to lighten things up. They've put out a series of videos highlighting the conference and the writer's life. Here's one of my favorites:

This conference began as a curiosity, but it is now my community. I know I can count on these people to give me strong feedback, critique, and advice on my writing, from creation through promotion.

Writers, artists, creative types - do you have a community, or are you a lone wolf?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Who do you love?

I know, I know, it's a completely commercial holiday. But who doesn't look for an excuse to have chocolate, wine, and roses?

(The video is snooze-worthy, but I love her voice.)

A very Happy Heart Day to my loves: my hubby Dale, our son Marcus, and yes, my four-legged lovelies, Duffy, Katy, Frostie and Snoopy. Will you be my (funny) Valentines?

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's a Midwestern girl to do?

When Marcus was a mere tadpole at KinderCare, he brought a flyer home one day. It was for "International Potluck Day." All his little schoolmates were to bring a dish that represented their cultural heritage, meaning all of the moms would be cooking, since who trusts a four-year old to light the oven?

So there I was, trying to figure out what "cultural heritage" I could whip up. I mean... look at me.

My cultural heritage is Welsh, Scottish, Irish, German, Dutch, and Swedish, with a slight smattering of Sioux and Cherokee. I try not to mention the Native American connection, because I'm reasonably sure only half of you believe me.

Dale's got the whole southern, Louisiana/Texas African American thing going, but I didn't know how many little kids like gumbo or red beans and rice. I can make a few of these meals, but they always taste like a pale, Midwestern girl had her hand in the mix. I've taken to calling my forays into other cultural tastes "Gringa" food. So I serve Gringa tacos, Gringa dirty rice, Gringa stir-fry, etc.

That year, I wimped out and made macaroni and cheese.

Years later, Marcus started bringing home flyers from his high school choir for their holiday potluck. Again, it would be the parents cooking - this time because our teenagers have too much homework. I decided I was going to push my little ethnic envelope and make something different. No Midwestern meat and potatoes, no mac 'n cheese, no fried chicken.

I found a recipe in the Southern Living Slow Cooker cookbook, called Loaded Jambalaya. There were a billion ingredients and it was really hard to do. I know, that sounds crazy. I mean, "slow cooker" and "difficult" should not be in the same breath. But it called for boned, skinned chicken and chopped onions and green peppers and celery and garlic and parsley and green onions.

The chopping! The chopping!

I rallied. I spent all morning prepping the damn thing. You gotta brown the chicken and saute the veggies - what the hell? What's the point of the whole "slow cooker" idea?

It turned out to taste okay, if a little bland, which is okay for a Gringa Jambalaya, as I had already christened it. But I made plans. If I cooked it again, there would be changes...

By the third time, I got the recipe where I wanted it. Spicier, and not as much chopping. My son pronounced it a winner. Here it is:

Gringa Jambalaya

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (use breasts, thighs, whatever looks good in the store and has already been boned & skinned), cut into pieces.
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper
2 Tbsp veggie oil (you can use olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped (use any color you want)
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 to 1 pound andouille sausage (yes, must be andouille)
1 (14 oz) can chicken broth
1 pound medium-size shrimp
1 Tbsp hot sauce (Tabasco, Frank's, whatever you like)
2 cups cooked rice

1. Toss chicken in salt & pepper.
2. Heat oil in skillet. Add chicken and cook until brown. Spoon chicken into slow cooker.
3. Add onion, green pepper, celery, garlic to skillet and saute until tender. Add to slow cooker.
4. Add tomatoes (Undrained), sausage, and broth to slow cooker.
5. Cover and cook on LOW 5 hours.
6. Cook rice and set aside.
7. Peel and de-vein shrimp, if necessary. Add shrimp, rice and hot sauce to slow cooker.
8. Turn cooker to HIGH and cook for 15 minutes or until shrimp turn pink.

Et, voila! La Gringa strikes again. I also make a mean mac 'n cheese.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

If Amazon is steamrolling over you, why do you continue to let it?

Some weeks, I'm just chattier than others...

I should preface this post by saying that I only slightly care where Amazon ends up, as villain or hero. I own a Kindle and a Kindle Fire, so I'm hardly their worst critic. I'm only writing this post to provide some grounds for discussion.

There's been a lot of press about Amazon this week. Barnes & Noble won't stock their books because they don't play fair. Several states are suing them for back taxes, and they're fighting back. They might even win. They're taking over the world.

Waa, waa, waa.

Let's face it. Amazon is doing business from a business perspective. Making money is, at the very least, an amoral activity. It's not evil to want to make money. We need food and shelter and money can buy us that. But it's not altruistic to need to make enough of a profit from your goods and services in order to pay for your own room and board, not even if you keep your profits so low you have to live on five dollars a day.

If you want to keep Amazon from becoming the only game in town, what can you do? A couple of things, Ladies and Gents.

1. If you're a non-Kindle e-reader owner, buy more damn books. Some of you are already doing your part. I'm talking about the rest of you. Want authors to keep offering their books on Nook? Buy their books, help them make money, and make it lucrative to stay with Barnes & Noble. Want books available on iTunes? Buy them on iTunes, instead of getting the Kindle App for your iPad.

2. If you're a paper-book reader, buy your books from brick-and-mortar stores or non-Amazon e-tailers (Barnes & Noble, etc). No, B&N won't stock Amazon books, but they'll order them for you. If they order enough of them, they might change their tune about stocking...

3. If you're a big company, and YES, I'M TALKING TO YOU, BARNES & NOBLE, make friends with all authors and publishers. Give me an Author's page on your site where fans can come and see my latest trailer or hook up with my latest blog. Make it easy to find me. Give me some discussion boards to talk to people, not just for self-promotion, but to find out what everyone's reading and recommend other authors I think they'll enjoy.

4. If you're a big company who wants to institute a self-publishing service and YES, I'M TALKING TO YOU, APPLE, study Amazon's model, see what authors like (and don't like) and grow your model from there. Don't start out all hoity-toity with a bunch of exclusivity clauses. Amazon didn't start there, and its base model still isn't there. You have a choice, as an author, to be exclusive or not.

For consumers, merchants, authors, readers, Amazon will only take over the world if you lie down and let it. If you learn from it, you can give it a run for its money.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

True confessions for February 1st

She's rude. She's nasty. She pushes so many boundaries, I think she's broken into another dimension. And she's my guilty pleasure.

Really, people, I'm a nice person. I try to understand other people's viewpoints. I try to be kind, to be uplifting. I'll always laugh at myself first, and loudest. I don't pick on others, even if I secretly think they're idiots.

But, damn, I think this woman's funny. SSHHHH, don't tell anybody, 'K?

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