"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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Evolution and hope

Marcus' senior vocal jazz recital was on Sunday. I'm just the mom, so I'm not a good judge, but his teacher pronounced it the best recital she has been to this year. Or maybe ever. I don't quite remember, but there were tears in her eyes. There were tears in mine, too.

My tears were for a different reason.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Casablanca. (This is not unusual, since I like to watch Turner Classic Movies.) One of the songs in the movie got into my head as an earworm. It's called "Shine."

It's an odd little ditty. I didn't know much about the song, except that it's obviously a song for a black man to sing. I mean, I can't imagine Frank Sinatra singing, "Just because my teeth are pearly/ just because my hair is curly."

Imagine my surprise when I heard Marcus singing the song in the recital. But first, he introduced it. Apparently, back at the turn of the 20th century (1880-1920), there was a music genre called "coon songs." They were, as you can imagine, unapologetically racist, and the origins of the derogatory term for black people. A trio of men wrote "That's Why They Call Me Shine" as a commentary on those songs.

I've always figured that my son has been blessed to grow up in an environment where no one seemed to notice or care that he is half black. If he has been called out for his race, I have no idea, although I can't imagine he would have hidden it from me.

All I know is, on Sunday evening, I listened to him sing a song about being christened a normal name, but being called everything from "Sambo" to "Chocolate Drop." According to the song, people call the man Shine because he's fabulous and either they're clueless or jealous.

Let's add this to the mix: he chose to play the guitar for this piece. When my father died, I told my brother he could have everything, but if he or his kids didn't want Dad's guitar, I'd like Marcus to have it. It's a 1932 Gretsch acoustic. Dad obsessed over this guitar, claiming to have stalked the guy until he had enough money and the guy needed cash. As it turns out, a 1932 Gretsch was considered a poor quality guitar at the time and not worth as much as Dad probably paid for it. Oddly, the years have aged the wood and produce a beautiful, mellow sound. So it's not worth as much as a collectible piece as it is for its tone.

When I married Dale, I sent my folks a letter, explaining that I knew how they felt about black people and interracial marriage, and that Dale is a good man whom I love and this was my choice. Their response was disappointing, but what I expected. My father, who was the most vocal racist in our house, told me he never wanted to see me again.

I can't imagine anything my son could ever do to make me not want to see him again. I will always want to see him one more time.

So Sunday night, I watched Marcus play his racist grandfather's guitar and sing a song that pushes back at that racism.

Can you blame me for crying?

Monday, April 21, 2014

My writing process (or lack thereof) blog tour

My pal (and author extraordinaire) Jenny Hilborne asked me to join her blog tour.

"It's only four questions, so it's super easy," she said. Actually, she wrote that, but I can picture her saying it in that darling English accent of hers. With only four questions, how could I refuse?

Then I read the questions. Oof. Nevertheless (don't you love that word?) here's my best attempt at answering:

1. What am I working on?
Mostly, I'm working on getting Murder on the Hoof released in May. I just completed what I believe is my last review of it. Now I'm just waiting on a review or two of the ARC to hopefully (if they are positive) boost the release.

In the background, I'm developing the cast of the next Peri mystery. Stay tuned for further developments.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My mysteries are rather quirky. They are definitely character driven, and the plots are on the unusual side (e.g. a severed hand in a freezer, a group of rich women who are possibly assassins, insurance fraud going back years). Peri, my private investigator, often acts like an amateur sleuth.

For my romantic suspense, I have two strong, good men pursuing a romance with my main character. There is a rule in romance that everyone gets their Happily Ever After. I didn't know that rule until I had already written the story. Without giving anything away, someone in my book does not get to be happy ever after.

I really should start reading some of these rules.

3. Why do I write what I write?
I like mysteries and I like humor, so I try to include them both. I like the puzzle-solving aspect of mysteries, the labyrinth of clues and dead ends, and I like getting into the psyches of the characters, finding their secrets. As far as the humor, well, I can't help myself.

4. How does my writing process work?
After I wrote Freezer Burn, I thought my process was to write an outline and stick to it. Then Hit or Missus came along and I couldn't stick with the outline. Then I wrote The Hot Mess kind of half-and-half outlined and not. Now I realize that the process is different for each book. What stays the same is the amount of journaling I do for the main characters. Just writing a few pages as a character lets me hear their voice, understand how they got to be who they are, and often reveals the plot much more clearly than any outline.

I hope these answers give you some idea of my writing process. Thanks, Jenny, for including me on the tour!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stop me, somebody.

My latest book is due to be released in a little over a month. The ebook will be out on Kindle May 21st (Wednesday). The paperback will be out on May 24th, a Saturday. I was agonizing over where to have a release party, until I figured out I needed to work in the morning, then I was invited to a party in the afternoon. I thought about a party on Sunday, but I'm scheduled to be at an event that day, too. So I shall raise a glass at each location and toast the birth of my seventh book-child.

Why am I waiting so long to release MURDER ON THE HOOF? Mostly to set up any advance publicity and marketing. Get a blurb for the press release. Line up some appearances, either at bookstores or online. Do the publisher-thing.

If I can just get the author to stop screwing with the manuscript.

Yes, I've had the book professionally edited. Yes, I was more than happy with the edits. I was satisfied, contented, assured that the changes were good and necessary and made my book better. One of the things I like to do with each book is to read a proof copy of the paperback version, and read a copy on my Kindle. The same words seem to look wildly different, and I find additional ways to tighten the writing.

I'm now on my second paperback proof. It looks good. Perhaps more than good. I love it, from the cover to the words on the page. And yet... I can always find one little change that would make it better. Or would it?

Here's a paragraph I thought was good:

Willie brought the back of her hand across his face. He took a step backward and glowered at her, so she made a fist and punched his nose, knocking him into the table. She didn’t want to stop. Grabbing at the cart next to her, she pulled out a pair of scissors and lurched toward him. The fear on his face made her look up at the weapon she was about to plunge into him. Reality, reason, and good sense returned to her in a flash.

Here's how I thought it would be better:

His weakness fueled her rage. Willie brought the back of her hand across his face. He took a step backward and glowered at her, so she made a fist and punched his nose, knocking him into the table.

Her hand stung, but she didn’t want to stop. Grabbing at the cart next to her, she pulled out a pair of scissors and lurched toward him. The fear on his face made her look up at the weapon she was about to plunge into him.

Reality, reason, and good sense returned to her in a flash.

Is it really so much better that I should continue to tweak? (Note: I said tweak, not twerk.)

I may need an intervention. Can anyone out there get me to step away from the manuscript and put down the red pen?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Writing advice, for better or for worse.

There was a Facebook post today from a friend, who passed around a status by a frustrated writer. Frustrated Writer had decided to say "Rules, Schmules, I'm gonna toss thoughts about word count, genre, marketability, and just write my story." Someone else commented on the status, encouraging Frustrated Writer to discard all the rules, storm the Bastille, etc. The punchline here is that the Someone Else commenter is well known as giving a lot of writing advice without ever being published.

On the one hand, this is a cautionary tale about listening to people who don't have the requisite experience to be giving advice. On the other hand...

I believe that Frustrated Writer should just write their story. Don't worry about how long it is or isn't. Don't worry about which bookshelf (or cyber-category) it will fit into. Screw all that. Write the story.

Just don't expect to publish that story.

I remember sitting in quite a few workshops at the Southern California Writer's Conference led by Lynn Gard Price, editorial director for Behler Publications. Lynn's workshops were about the publishing and marketability of books, and were always well attended. Behler publishes non-fiction "personal journeys with socially relevant themes."

A lot of people I meet at the SCWC are writing memoirs. These folks have been through something and want to tell the world about it. Their personal journey is usually socially relevant. They all arrive at Lynn's workshop with hopeful hearts, listening for her to tell them how to query her with their manuscript.

What she gives them is not a hopeless message, but a warning: there are dozens of memoirs out there about addiction, abuse, death, disaster. She tries to be kind. She knows each story is unique to the individual it happened to, but it is not unique to society. Much, much, much of it has been done. Lynn wants to know what makes your story rise above the rest as being the one that Needs To Be Heard.

It seems like there is always a moment in the workshop where I hear the quiet whistle of dreams deflating. What I want to stand up and shout when I get that feeling is, "Write your story anyway! Don't worry about the publishing. You need to write it for you!"

Not all stories will be published, but I think they still need to be told. Memoirs especially need to be written. If you've been through something and emerged on the other side, sometimes you need to write, just to figure out what it all meant to you. Sometimes you find out that you still have some inner work to do. Sometimes you find out that what you thought was barely escaping with your life was actually a huge victory.

Maybe you've got a piece of fiction galloping around your brain that is so outrageous or quirky or out-of-the-box that it only might appeal to ten people on the planet. Perhaps there's an experimental kind of writing that you're itching to try. Neither of these may be sellable.

Write them anyway, without expectation.

Think of it this way: writing the Manuscipt That May Be Buried can only do two things for you. First, you can always learn from every bit of writing you do. Frankly, if each bit of writing does not teach you something, you're missing out on the wonder of the written word. Second, getting this story written clears out the pipes and allows your mind to move on to something that might be marketable.

So this is my advice. Just freakin' write.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Happy Friday!

I have a bunch of paperwork to fill out this morning, but I have a few random things on my mind:

1. My friend, DeAnna Cameron, has been busily building an audience for her online magazine, Lit Central OC. It's a great repository of information for writers, aimed at supporting those of us in Orange County. If you live in the OC and you are a writer, you should subscribe (it's free). DeAnna would like us to become a large network of writers who help each other - wouldn't that be good?

I was lucky enough to be featured on the magazine this week (Author Spotlight, and Spotlight Excerpt). And when I say lucky, I mean it. Don't think for one second that my friendship with DeAnna made any difference. She's got plenty of authors in the big writing pool to pull from. I'm just honored that I got a slot.

2. I've decided on a release date for MURDER ON THE HOOF. The ebook will be released for sale on Kindle Wednesday, May 21. You can sit in your comfiest chair and order it in your PJs. The paperback version will get a full-blown party on Saturday, May 24. I don't know where, yet, but I'm working on it.

Got any ideas?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I can't escape.

See this?

It's my Year of the Horse Swatch Watch. I got it for myself to celebrate my very special birthday in the Chinese sign that I was born under (no, I'm not Chinese, but let's let that go for the moment). It's too big for my wrist, but I love it and wear it as often as I can.

What's the problem? It ticks. Loudly. I keep it with the rest of my everyday jewelry on the counter in the dressing area, where I sit and do my makeup and general fussing. Each day I sit at the counter and hear the ticking. It is rhythmic, as you would expect.


Without being able to hear it, I'm sure you cannot make the connection. These are the words I start singing with it:

"Turned away from it all
Like the blind man
Sat on a fence, but it don't work
Keep coming up with love
But it's so slashed and torn
Why? Why? Why?"

Recognize it?

Yep. I'm continually Under Pressure.

What song do you get in your head the most? Or have I opened a box you'd rather not look into?

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