Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bare-knuckle Tuesday

"Man should stop fighting among themselves and should start fighting insects." Luther Burbank

I am on vacation in the Midwest and had the great pleasure of having dinner with a couple of my cousins at an excellent little Mexican restaurant where the guacamole was prepared fresh at the table and the mango margaritas were served in what appeared to be soup bowls growing on large glass stalks.

My cousins are thoroughly modern women in that they are lovely and accomplished, but the unfortunate side effect of being talented and dedicated in the workplace is that one is at times cajoled and at other times railroaded into the position of supervising other people.

Though not professionally trained as storytellers, they are more than adequate in the role, and I found myself transfixed by my cousin Diane's account of being awakened at three in the morning to learn that two women had come to blows at her workplace.

As my cousin is not a producer for Jerry Springer, this was a rather surprising turn of events. She is, in fact, a nursing supervisor at a suburban hospital. Having worked in a hospital myself, I am familiar with the unique set of pressures and frustrations therein, but the thought of an actual fist-fight between colleagues in full view and hearing of patients strikes me as remarkable. I wondered out loud whether there were extenuating circumstances. Had one or both combatants perhaps been raised by wolves? Were they actually drunken seventeen-year-old boys under the influence of massive testosterone surges? Had they been recruited from a rehab facility after frontal lobe injuries?

Despite much bemused laughter and contemplation, we were still unable to come up with a reasonable explanation. Having recently been forced by aol to see so many young female celebrity mug shots, I can't help but be a bit severe upon my gender at the moment. Certainly, the last thing I would like to see is for women to be repressed by society and buttoned-down as though we were back in the 1950s, but honestly I think we can behave a bit better than instinct would sometimes have us do.

I like, though have not always been successful at living by, the old adage: All things in moderation. Writing in particular can be an all-day and well-into-the-night affair at times to the detriment of dusting, raking, or even stretching to allow blood flow to return from my toes. But I resolve to keep trying for balance, which means absolutely no fist fights in the public and no more than one soup-bowl of margaritas.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

For Its Own Sake

"What is youth, except a man or woman before it is fit to be seen?"

The flower pictured grows in the jungle. If no photographer had ever taken its picture, it would still have lived the same way. I think we can learn a good deal from things that take no notice of admiration or criticism.

Remember to dance like no one is watching and to write for yourself first. After all, if someone says something unkind about your story, you can always push them down the stairs in your next novel. As my friend Sandy said when I reflected on this form of literary revenge: "Oh, the power."

And if you are not a writer, remember that on most days you'd have to count yourself lucky on that account and, literary or not, there are always mimosas. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Devil Pushes Prada Tuesday

"The only man who can fool all the women all the time is a fashion designer."

When I began life in the Midwest, I received new things three times per year: on my birthday, at Christmas, and at the start of the school year. Compared to the materialistic wonders bestowed on the middle-class children of the current day, my childhood is nearly a Dickens novel. Except for the fact that I was well-loved and well-fed and didn't have to work in a factory 15 hours per day...yes, straight from Dickens.

Anyway, there was genius in my parents' strategy that I doubt they were aware of. (I think their early frugal days were based in praticality. They were young and starting off, and they knew stories of people who had risen above or fallen onto hard times.) My version of hard times was not getting the newest Barbie townhouse, and the biproduct of not immediately getting the desires of my heart was that it made me dream, stoking my imagination.

As a young teenager, I bought Vogue and thought it was brilliant to have seventeen-year-old girls shaped like hangers modeling five-thousand-dollar dresses. The flashy photospreads and flawlessly made up models made me imagine what other lives would be like. I read the stories of people from around the world and dreamed of places I had never seen. I set the first novel I ever tried to write in Europe before I had been there. A while later, I discovered that if you don't know a place, you need to do something called research.

As time passed, things have changed. Now my dreams don't really involve things that can be bought from the pages of a magazine. I want to connect with people, to see the end of suffering and poverty and for the world to be at peace. You know, the little things. But every September, the teenage girl inside still breaks out and buys the September (the biggest fashion) issue of Vogue. And as I page through the magazine, I rejoice at all the things I see because I know they once inspired me to dream.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


"A two-year-old is like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it." Jerry Seinfeld

Life can be busy and a bit chaotic at times, which is how one night as my friend was coming out of the shower she happened to run into her little boy who had strolled in, uninvited and unannounced, as little people of both genders will do. Seeing her naked, he gasped and exclaimed: "Mommy, where is your penis?" To which, she sagely replied, "Mommy's a girl, and girls don't have penises." He looked perplexed for a moment and then with the quick curiosity of childhood asked: "Do you have a butt?"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bumper Stickers

Ever see a bumper sticker or t-shirt that makes you smile? Here are a couple that did that for me:

I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.

Frodo failed. Bush has the ring.

Save a horse. Ride a cowboy.

I cook with wine. Sometimes I put it in food.

To hell with the devil.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Slave to Two Masters

"The miracle of the seed and the soil is not available by affirmation; it is only available by labor." Jim Rohn

In middle June, I was offered a contract for Would-be Witch, a humorous urban fantasy. (That is to say that I consider it humorous. In a year, you may decide for yourself.) I have no supernatural abilities myself (and Hogwarts, so far as I know, is by invitation only) and yet after the news of impending publication, I am fairly certain I levitated through life for two months.

The main character in the book Tammy Jo Trask is sort of Stephanie Plum meets Daisy Duke, plucky and Southern and up for adventures that would raise the hackles on a werewolf. I personally try to avoid adventures that are of the nature described in the book, but that doesn't mean they weren't extremely fun to write.

Before there was a would-be witch named Tamara Josephine, there were other characters. Many other characters in fact, including one (named Ryan) of an extremely complex nature and background, who found me one afternoon when I needed her to make a romantic mystery I was working on come to life.

Perhaps because I read widely, I have always written in different styles and in different genres. The drama or comedy in a scene is chosen to match the tone of the short arc. The multi-scene passages I wrote in my youth lacked structure and weren't meant to be novels. They were meant to be entertainment for myself and a friend. There was complete freedom in those days.

Inevitably, I wanted a wider audience than one lone soul. Concerned that the publishing world was not in the market for rambling soap operatic epics of millions of words (excepting the case of the sublime Ms. Gabaldon), I decided it was best to rein in my style and conform to the traditional length and form of a novel.

My agent loved Ryan and wanted to introduce her around New York. As Ryan's scribe, I was invited along. While that book traveled, I wrote a new and totally different book, proving that the characters choose me rather than the other way around. I was fortunate that my agent also saw the commercial potential of the new story.

Now, Would-be Witch and its sequel have sold first, and herein lies the dilemma. As I work on some revisions on the mystery, I wonder if being a slave to two masters is the best career choice. I've heard lots about branding--too much in fact. And yet I have to admit if I bought a Katie MacAlister book and found she'd written it in the style of a Michael Connelly book or vice versa, I would be bewildered and disappointed. Like other readers, I want each author to deliver a book in the style that made me love his/her work in the first place.

So here I am wondering whether it's wise to split my attentions. The things in my favor are the fact that I'm prolific and the fact that I seem to feel equally comfortable writing in either style. Not in my favor is the fact that time ticks by and every day, week, and month spent on one project is stolen from another that could be building my readership.

This is one of the many reasons that writing for a hobby is easier than writing for publication. On the other hand, one day my novel will be on bookshelves in Borders and Barnes & Noble; I'll hold it in my hot little hands and be able to announce to unwitting passers by: I made this.

Maybe I shouldn't worry so much about the journey. The path of my career will likely choose me, as all of my best stories do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mimosa Tuesday

"In spite of the cost of living, it's still popular." Kathleen Norris

I went to something called an exit interview today. I checked some boxes to describe my experiences, positive and negative, at the full-time job I was leaving. I looked for a check box that said: I am leaving because I am insane. There wasn't a box. I guess not many people admit to insanity on that sort of form. Other forms yes.

I had a year-and-a-half old bottle of champagne from a party I threw. I don't usually serve champagne and didn't on that night either, but one likes to be prepared in case a celebration breaks out at a party.

I mixed the champagne with some orange juice fortified with calcium and antioxidants. Right, thereby converting it into health food. I ate organic strawberries and toasted a new life...one in which I suspect a perfectly lovely hobby, writing, will turn into a perfectly wretched way of making a living. Despite this concern, I am inordinately cheerful. This has to do with a terribly ingrained and unflagging optimism, which is not particularly realistic, but which I recommend wholeheartedly along with a small pitcher of mimosas and a very good literary agent.

Kissing the Suspect Release!

Chapter 1 Callie Melville was wanted by the law, but to put it that way made things sound worse than they were. She hoped. The rumors...