Thursday, August 28, 2008
We're on vacation this week. Unlike most people I know, we're spending ours at home--almost. Since we blew a bundle going to Busch Gardens in June, we decided to spend this one at home. So we're being tourists in our own town--Pittsburgh.
It's been fun so far. My husband and I have both lived in or around Pittsburgh our entire lives and there are tons of things we haven't done or seen. On Monday, we had lunch at Houlihan's in Station Square, then took a Just Ducky Tour.
It was a lot of fun. A DUKW is an amphibious vehicle first used in WWII (think D-Day Invasion). The D stands for 1942, the U for utility truck, the K for front wheel drive and the W for two tandem axle rear driving wheels. You wanted to know all that, right?
On Tuesday, we stayed home. I did some house cleaning (exciting, I know) and my better half worked in his wood shop. He's always happy when he's knee deep in sawdust. The rest of the day we hung out in our back yard.
On Wednesday, we made our way to the North Side of Pittsburgh to the National Aviary. They have an outdoor bird show that was a lot of fun.
Afterwards, we went to the historic Penn Brewery for lunch. The outside courtyard was worth a picture. We'll probably be checking out their upcoming Oktoberfest celebration at the end of September.
We're not sure yet what we're doing on Thursday, but on Friday we'll be up bright and early to head to the flea market in Rogers, Ohio. I hope my feet hold out!
How many of you have played tourists in your own town? What did you do? Would you do it again?
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Ohiopyle is a quaint little town nestled in the Laurel Highlands. No major highways run through it. Or even very near it. To get to the town, you must drive down some windy mountainous roads that appear to follow paths originally used for goats. During the week, the place is relatively quiet. But on holidays and weekends, folks flock to the small town in droves. Why? Well, for me, it’s the bike trails that follow an old railroad bed along the Youghiogheny River. Scenic doesn’t begin to describe it. Most people, especially young, adventure-seekers come for something else.
Home to more than 14 miles of some of the best whitewater rafting in the Eastern US, Ohiopyle draws both young and old into its state park where you can pay any one of several outfitters to take you out, either in a raft or a kayak. This river is nothing to sneeze at. People have lost their lives. Especially at the notorious Dimple Rock.
More dangerous still is the 18 foot waterfall in the heart of Ohiopyle. Just a little over two months ago, a man was swept over the falls, his body recovered days later. The challenge of surviving an intentional trip over the falls calls to many, but alas, it is illegal to go over the falls at Ohiopyle.
Except for one day a year. The Over the Falls Festival.
Last weekend, there wasn’t a parking space for miles. Buses rolled into the village and vendors set up booths in the park.
We had the foresight to arrive early enough to both find a parking spot—in the shade, no less—AND to watch the practice runs. It was incredible.
People do this ON PURPOSE. Some made it look easy, landing right-side-up and gliding away. Others (MOST) weren’t so lucky.
There were rescue personnel and volunteers everywhere. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured (unless you count their pride) while we were there. I did witness the rescue crew tossing lines to one unfortunate soul who got caught in some smaller rapids upstream. And I heard there were others who needed pulled out from that same spot.
This guy needed a shrink.
In fact, in my opinion, that could be said about most of the men and women who participated in the event.
But somehow, I suspect most of them will be back next year. I know I hope to be there again, too. However, I will be safe and dry on the observation deck, searching for a good camera angle.
(As you read this, I am away on vacation, so I won’t be able to respond to questions or comments. Feel free to chat among yourselves and I will be back next week.)
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I’m afraid this blog might end up being a short one because even though I started out with the best of intention and planned on spending a couple of hours on it, real life has interrupted my discipline – my evil cohort at work, Star Wars Guy, brought me a present on Monday: The Second Season DVD set of Dexter and I can’t wait to get to it.
I even stopped at Labriola’s Market on my way home to buy dinner so I wouldn’t have to waste any time cooking it. (Not to mention that their roasted eggplant stuffed with ricotta is to die for and their Chicken Romano ain’t bad, either).
I’ve already explained in a previous blog how I discovered Dexter years ago in print, and how I had to keep Dexter a guilty secret indulgence because how on earth do you confess to admiring a character who is a serial killer? Honestly, though, Dexter the Showtime Series is so much more than that oversimplification and the cast does wonderful work fleshing out the story. (Is that the correct verb?) Michael C. Hall deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of Dexter but my current favorite character is the seriously flawed detective Angel Batista played by David Zayas. There is something in his portrayal that is very, very close to real pathos plus I love Angel’s collection of hats.
Here’s a killer sample of the very human Angel:
But the question I want to post today is: have you ever read a story and then had a dream where that character or set of characters came to life in it? I can remember one dream I had where Tom Berenger was a vampire Lord but I believe that one was based more on a personal preference than on any actual character I had read about. What I’m looking for today is something more than wishful thinking: an example of a written character who came to independent life during the course of a dream.
I know there must be at least one Heathcliff out there and hopefully no one has stumbled into Hannibal Lecter. I look forward to reading your answers!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I've blogged a lot about police officers and law enforcement in general. Yesterday, in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review I read an article about a police officer in dire need of assistance and thought I'd pass it on.
Forty one year old PA State Police Sgt. Tom O'Connor has an aggressive form of cancer that has already claimed his eyesight and spread throughout his body. He is taking experimental chemotherapy at the moment and would like to return to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind when he's able. The blindness has been the most difficult and not being able to see the faces of his wife and children is devastating to him.
He has used up all his sick leave and is looking into a disability pension. His wife can only work part time as she is taking care of Tom and their young children and they could use some financial assistance. Thankfully there are many people who have taken interest in O'Connor's plight and some have organized fundraisers to help the family.
For more information and to see what you can do for Sgt. O'Connor see the article in the Trib. There is information in the sidebar on how you can help.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
And I guess part of the reason I've spent so much time writing all these years, squeezing it in between naps and bedtimes and nursery school stints, is because I knew I'd need something to do when they were finished with me--finished with me in the that way that left us completely absorbed in each other's lives--something that makes me a person outside of a mother.
I was going to write about the 85 year old woman who held a 17 year old burglar at gunpoint until the police showed up, but something else happened that I just have to write about.
On Tuesday, 18 year old John Challis of Freedom, PA lost his hard-fought battle with cancer. While there are many other young people who suffer from the same disease, none of them touched as many people as John. His outlook on life and his ability to cope with a deadly disease with a smile made him special.
Shortly after that, John's story was playing on every local station, and soon other cities. John got to hang out with Mario Lemieux and the Penguins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and even the New York Yankees. He was featured on ESPN, and received letters from all over the country written by people who had been touched by his story.
He might have become a celebrity, but John's mission was to help other people. One of his goals, which he met, was to start the Courage for Life Foundation to help other teenagers with cancer.
John's motto was Courage + Believe = Life.
We should all be so profound.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
As writers, we tend to have rather vivid imaginations. Often, we live inside our heads in a fantasy world. We appear to be doing one thing, while in fact, our brains are somewhere else, plotting murders, solving murders, creating characters and worlds.
Recently, while doing my bit to keep my weight in check (also known as walking), I became bored with taking in my surroundings. My mind didn’t seem to want to focus on my WIP. Instead, it came up with a mind game.
First, I must explain that as a child, I grew up around motorheads. My grandpap, my dad, my brother, all had a passion for vehicles. I learned very early to distinguish between a Ford and a Buick. Show me a 1955 Chevy, a 1956 Chevy, and a 1957 Chevy and I can tell you which one is which.
So here is the game I invented to pass the time while walking: If money were no object, what kind of car would you own?
I love my car. It’s a 2005 Saturn Ion. Well, actually, right now it’s a Saturn On since the “I” fell off last winter. It’s my favorite color…turquoise. Not many cars quite that shade around, making it easy to spot in a parking lot. It gets great gas mileage.
However, that isn’t the point of the game. In my game, money is not an issue. If I had Bill Gates’ bank account, what kind of car would I buy?
It wasn’t an easy decision. I went through several possibilities (and could still be swayed from my ultimate decision).
My first thought goes back to my love for the TV show Miami Vice. That Ferrari was one hot car. Don Johnson wasn’t bad either. I nearly wept when they blew up the old black Ferrari, but the replacement Testarossa wasn’t anything to sneeze at.
But after giving it some thought, I decided against the Ferrari. Why? I have no idea. Like I said, I can still be swayed.
Those Mini Coopers are just the cutest things. I could go for one of those. Maybe I’d buy a Mini. But a Mini Cooper as my dream car? That seems…well… sad.
Next, I decided to play my game with my hubby (who usually does not like to be included in my blogs, but consented to having his responses reported upon). His first choice was predictable. Without hesitation, he chose a Model T.
However, he decided that he could realistically own a Model T. If money were no object, he should aim higher. He finally settled on a Tucker.
I was impressed. Good choice. Rare. Vintage. Definitely expensive. Truly worthy of being a dream car.
Which is why the Mini Cooper just wasn’t going to cut it.
So I went back inside my head and pondered the possibilities.
And I came to a decision. My dream car…my “if money were no object” car…is a 1959 Corvette.
Hubby tells me those things didn’t really have that great of a ride. Who cares??? I’m never going to really own one. So let me have my fantasy.
Now it’s your turn to play. Think about it. If money were not an issue (either to buy the car OR to put gas in it), what would you drive? It can be modern, classic, or antique. It can be oversized or small and sleek. It just has to be your dream car.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Thursday evening I’ll be packing for a beach vacation. Into the suitcase will go my swimming trunks, sandals, shorts, t-shirts, suntan lotion, paperbacks, umbrella (the advanced forecast isn’t very promising!) and, paper-clipped to a list of names and addresses, some postcard stamps.
Yep, I send postcards. An anachronism, I know, but I haven’t come up with a good reason for ending an old habit. It all started the summer I spent with an aunt in Tucson. It was my first long-distance trip (via un-air-conditioned bus in those pre-freeway days) and my first exposure to an exotic land. My family probably got tired of the same scenes—cacti, old Spanish missions, cemetery in Tombstone—but I never got tired of sending postcards, filled in tiny script with my latest adventures.
I also like to receive postcards. Travel by proxy, you could call it. At a holiday party last December I met some Pitt researchers who were traveling in January to India for a conference. I discovered that one of them shared my love of postcards. She took my address and promised to send me a card. It arrived in late February. It was a standard view of one of my favorite buildings, the Taj Mahal; the card is tacked on the corkboard above my desk.
While in the military, I graduated from postcards to letter writing. But many letters I sent included postcards—think of it as a photo attachment to an e-mail message, only slower in delivery and touchable. Back then my handwriting was legible, and I had more to say than would fit on a card. One letter about a trip to Italy ran 12 pages long. I had fun writing it, though I’m not sure anyone but my Mom ever read the whole thing. (I’m not even sure she did.)
On last month’s bicycle ride around the Finger Lakes, I stopped in an antique store in Trumansburg (near Ithaca). The owner, who remembered me from my first visit there in 2005, told me (again) that he didn’t have any egg cups (which I collect). Why don’t I collect something else, he asked, leading me to several trays filled with antique postcards. (How did he know?) I walked out a half hour later, the proud owner of two 1907 views of downtown Pittsburgh. One card set me back $7 because all the vehicles on Fifth Avenue were horse drawn—no cars yet.
Any other postcard fans out there? If so, and you want a card from sunny (or wet) Carolina Beach, let me know. More than happy to add you to my mailing list. And if you’re taking a trip to an exotic land (any place outside southwestern PA qualifies), I’d love to get a card from you.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Last month, I wrote about attending the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams -- see While I Lay Sleeping, July 21, for details. Today, I decided to explain a little more about how dreams may inspire a story.
At the conference, I participated in a workshop in which the instructions were simple:
1. Pick a dream
2. Pick a card
3. Write a story using the dream and the card. The story must begin with, "Once upon a time," and end, "and they lived happily ever after."
I had my dream diary with me, so the first part was simple. I chose to use a dream I'd had the night of March 15:
A man invited goddesses to his island. Most were women dressed as goddesses, but there were a few real ones, too. One of the real ones struck down her imitators.
Then I picked a card. The cards weren't regular playing cards. Each had an animal/nature symbol, which was explained on a separate page. The card I chose turned out to be an antelope. The separate page told how, when early people were cold and starving, the antelope offered them his life, so they could wear his skin and eat his flesh. [Remember, in waking reality I am a leather-shunning vegetarian!]
This is the story I wrote at the workshop:
Once upon a time, there was an antelope who traveled far across the sea until he came to an island. On the island was a man. The man had invited goddesses to come to his island. He was surprised to see the antelope.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"I've come to help," replied the antelope.
"I don't need any help," said the man, and he believed it. Why would he possibly need help? He had invited goddesses!
The goddesses arrived and filled the island -- all types of goddesses, new and old -- towering Athenas and squat little Maori goddesses. Stone age Venuses and Aphrodite. So many goddesses, and most of them were fakes, just women who were pretending because they thought real goddesses did not exist.
When one of the real goddesses saw this, she was very angry. She struck down her imitators with storms and lightning and mighty thunderclaps until the entire island shook and seemed about to break apart.
"Now I need help," the man said to the antelope, but the antelope was very wise. He looked out at the rampaging goddess and took a deep, deep breath, and when he blew it out all sense of devastation left the island. The women who had been struck down awoke. They looked around and saw the blasted landscape being replaced by fields and flowers, and the goddess who had been so angry saw them now for what they truly were, her daughters. She took them in her arms and they all lived happily ever after.
See, wasn't that easy?
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I’m really thrilled to be joining The Working Stiffs as a regular. I'll forego the formal introductions since I've pretty much covered a lot of the personal things about me with Jennie Bentley's help. I will add that my first novel, A Reason For Dying debuted last month and things have been extremely busy. For me, I have a very full time day job with a big beer company and travel pretty much, including many trips to China. Three years ago, for some reason, I decided to write a novel. It started as a whim, quickly became a passion and now may be blossoming into a second career.
When Joyce sent me an e-mail asking me to sign on with The Working Stiffs, I didn’t hesitate to respond. Since then, I’ve pondered what to blog about on my debut as a regular. Then last week I found myself getting misty-eyed watching the television, thankful that I was alone in the house. Me, the MAN in a household of women and I’m getting emotional watching the TV.
It gets worse. I’m watching the finale of So You Think You Can Dance. Yep, that’s right. When Courtney Galiano was booted off the show and she gave this very emotional “Thank you” speech, my eyes started burning and I got all stuffy. The same thing happened when the judges gave their heartfelt praise to each of the final four. There, I said it and it’s out in the open. Not only do I watch a dance show (actually I like Dancing With The Stars too), I’m emotionally invested in it.
I began to think that maybe I was a reality show junkie and I needed help. But then I realized that there are plenty of shows that never caught my interest; Big Brother, The Bachelor, not even Last Comic Standing. I’m a huge Survivor fan and I also love The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser. I started wondering what it was that piqued my interest and my loyalty to certain shows and not others. For me, it all began in the Summer of 2000 with Survivor Borneo. And the first winner, Richard Hatch.
There was an interesting concept, a clash of cultures and personalities with few rules and people in a raw setting. The producers did a great job of letting us into their lives and getting to know these people. We either liked them or hated them, but we thought enough about them to have feelings one way or the other. Moments like the conflict that culminated with Susan Hawk’s near-famous speech to Kelly Wigglesworth and Richard Hatch intrigued and entertained.
And the rest is history. Reality shows began popping up all over and most have gone away just as fast. Some endure, however.
Why is that?
Certainly the concept of the show has something to do with it, but it goes way beyond that. I think it’s all about emotional investment. Just like a great character in a great book, we connect with certain things, we share their emotions and begin to feel what they feel. Actually when it comes to character development, reality shows are a bit like a novel. The producers only have a finite number of episodes to hook the viewer on the characters or the story just like an author has a finite number of pages to do the same. And the really good producers and authors do it well. I guess TV pilots are like those first 5 pages of the novel, we give the producers an hour to capture us and we give an author 5 pages to do the same.
Okay, I’ll stick with reality shows. Most shows kick people off one or two at a time. Some by the other contestants and some by popular vote. Sometimes the deciding factor comes down to some kind of talent, but in most cases it’s character that determines who stays and who goes. Back to So You Think You Can Dance, they call it America’s most popular dancer. So, even though the judges have the ultimate say near the beginning of the competition, the final say-so comes from voting - 60,000,000 votes cast in the finale. At the beginning of their final show, they brought out their top 20 dancers. I barely remember the first 10 that left. Now I know my memory is NOT what it used to be, but I struggled to remember who some of these people were and this season of the show only ran for about ten weeks. I realized I didn’t remember them because I didn’t care about them.
When it comes to books, I was a big Jack Ryan fan. For those of you that didn’t read Tom Clancy’s books, Jack Ryan debuted in 1992 in Patriot Games and had a long career. I’m searching for the next Jack Ryan. Right now I’m interviewing Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s hero). In the meantime, I guess I’ll be sitting on my couch, sniffing over dance shows and waiting for Jack Bauer to come back for the next season of 24 and Jack Shephard from Lost to mess with my head some more. Maybe I’m just captivated by the name Jack. Hmmm, there is Captain Jack Sparrow (now there’s a character for you).
So how about you? Any closet reality show criers out there? Be honest. What are some of your favorite series characters?
I spent this past Saturday evening and part of Sunday at the Depreciation Lands Museum gathering information for a magazine article I'm writing. (For anyone who doesn't know, the Depreciation Lands were set aside by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania way back in 1783 to compensate Revolutionary War veterans because currency had depreciated too much.) It's one of those places that I pass all the time, but never stopped until this weekend. I am so glad I did. Every Sunday afternoon, volunteers go back in time and recreate what life was like in the late 18th century.
Anyway, on Sunday there was a little boy wearing colonial attire who was passing out copies of the "Pittsburgh Gazette" dated August 9, 1794. I'm not sure if these are real news items from the actual Gazette, but I got a kick out of reading them. I think you will too. Here are some interesting tidbits:
"On Saturday last, Thomas Dening was executed on the commons of this place, pursuant to his sentence, for the murder of Catherine Worthington."Bridget sounds like a winner, doesn't she? But I guess old Phelim does too.
"Runaway last night my wife Bridget Coole. She is a tight neat body, and has lost one leg. She was seen riding behind the Priest of the parish, through Fermony, and as we was never married, I will pay no debt that she does not contracts. She lisps with one tooth, and is of no use but to the owner. /s/Phelim Coole."
"Hemp wanted by Margaret Ross. Pittsburgh."
"We hear from Bellprae, that 2 Indians took Major Nathan Goodall on the 1st instant, who was carting rails but a short distance from the house, at the lower garrison. It is supposed they have seen where he unloaded, and secreted themselves close by, as they found his team partly turned round, and his whip lay beside the cattle."
"Saturday morning last, the 23rd inst. a duel was fought at Legionville between Mr. Jenifer and Mr. Gassaway, officers in the army. It is with regret we mention, that it terminated in the death of the latter."Anyone see a trend here?
"Notice. Whereas my wife has left my bed and board without the least provocation, therefore I forewarn all persons from trusting or harbouring her upon my account, as I am determined not to pay any debts of her contracting. /s/ Henry Swager."
"A disagreement having taken place between me and my wife Sarah Kear. I hereby forwarn all persons from trusting her on my account as I am determined not to pay any debts of her contracting. /s/ George Kear."
Here's a good one:
"Stop a villain. Ten dollars reward will be paid to any person for delivery of the body of Jacob Endrews in the jail of Allegheny County. He is about 22 years of age, light curly hair, tied, slender made, pock marked, much of a coxcomb, fond of gambling, and when intoxicated, very quarrelsome, he is a sadler by trade, which he learnt with Daniel Overaker, in Winchester, and his parents live within four miles of that place. As he has eloped from his bail it is hoped every honest man will examine strictly such as may answer this description, together will his apparel, which was a blue coat and white hat. /s/ Solomon Cook, Pittsburgh."
"Smith & Shiras have purchased the Brewery at the point, in Pittsburgh, and will carry on brewing business."And here's one from a wife:
"Six pence reward. Ranaway for John Gibson, living in Pittsburgh (after a hearing before Adamson Tannehill Esq. who ordered him home) an apprentice lad named Abner Evans, 5'4 or 5" high, dark complexion, very much addicted to lying and idleness. /s/ John Gibson, Pittsburgh."
"Whereas my husband William Wilson advertised me in the Pittsburgh Gazette, setting forth, that I Elizabeth Wilson had behaved myself in an unbecoming manner, and left his bed and board, I declare it is false, that he had neither of them, at the time he ran away from the constable, and left me with a child at my breast, without a thing to subsist upon. I hope therefore that no justice of the peace will hear his false tale, that he has and will be able to invent against me; as I declare I am afraid that he will take my life which he has often threatened. I can assure the public that he is a very bad man and a noted liar and has certified the same to Margaret Lounsdale. /s/ Elizabeth Wilson, St. Clair twp."
"A cow came to the plantation of John Buchanan who now lives on Grant's Hill, one mile from Pittsburgh. Owner desired to come, prove property, pay charges and take her away."
Don't you wish the newspapers were still written like this? I'd much rather read about someone's missing cows or pigs, an Indian attack, or a husband/wife tiff than another drive-by shooting or the upcoming election. How about you? Do you wish you could turn back time or do you prefer the news of today?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Most of my teenage years were spent around a barn. Typical of lots of young girls, I loved horses. When I was little, I would gallop around the house on all fours and whinny at my mom. As I grew older, I would gallop around outside, pretending my legs were a horse and the rest of my body was me RIDING said horse. Finally, I convinced my folks to get me the real thing. We lived on a farm. The excuse of having nowhere to keep one just didn’t work after age eight or so.
I joined 4H and showed at the fair and a few other horse shows. But I never really found my niche. Game classes like barrels and pole bending required a love for speed. I tended to prefer poking along at a more leisurely pace. But the classes to which I was drawn—western pleasure and equitation—required a lot of training and grooming and clipping and polishing… In other words, they were way too much like work. So I shifted to trail riding. Haul the horse to a park or just jump on its back and head into the woods. No hoof polish required.
However, I had friends who showed. Some showed in games, some in pleasure. And they were good at it. I enjoyed the horse show atmosphere, so I would tag along and play groom, holding the horse, watering the horse, dusting off boots after the rider mounted, just prior to entering the ring. I’d found my niche! Horse show gofer!
After twenty-five years of owning horse, we decided to give it up. I’d list our reasons, but it would take up too much space. Suffice it to say it was time. For some reason, when I no longer owned a horse, many of my friends who did drifted away. And so, for over ten years, I did not attend a horse show.
Until this weekend.
My friend, Jessi, who trains Thoroughbreds at the track and who has patiently answered my questions about racing and life on the backside of Mountaineer for my writing endeavors, has become a horseshow mom. Sunday was their third show. (Note: I was supposed to go with them to a show a couple of weeks ago, but THIS came up and kept me at home). It was a fun show with peewee classes and game classes. No serious pleasure or equitation classes at this one. Jessi’s son Dylan rode Nappy pony leadline in the only real equitation class held and came away with a third place ribbon!
He also won a second in Egg and Spoon, which had also been one of my favorites way back when. You hold a spoon with an egg balanced in it and the last one to lose their egg wins.
Between classes, I held Nappy, who smiled for the camera.
Jessi’s youngest Mallory wants to show, too, but is just a tad too little (read: uncooperative) yet. But she’s cute as a bug and enjoyed sitting on Nappy. That’s big sister, Lauren peering over Nappy’s rump.
Lauren needs a slightly bigger mount, but still had fun running Nappy in some of the game classes. He looks like he’s really flying here. Aren’t camera angles wonderfully deceptive things? Truthfully, for as short as his legs are, the pony does have some speed.
To make my return to the horse show life even more joyful, I ran into an old friend there. “Old” as in “have known her a long time.” Karen, who was one of my friends who ran games, is now bringing her kids to horse shows. And she also brought the grandson of the mare she used to ride when we were younger.
Karen’s sister, Mary, was there, too. We used to all trail ride together. It was a blast to see them again after all these years.
So perhaps the adage about not being able to go home again doesn’t apply to all things. It definitely doesn’t apply to horse shows.
And just as proof that I DID actually ride in western pleasure, here are a couple of old photos of my late, great mare, Jenny, with me at a show more years ago than I care to count.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The family partnership has decided to sell our summer cottage due to a bunch of different reasons all of which involve money in one form or another. This makes it a difficult summer for me since I’ve been visiting this cottage every summer for fifty years and it’s such an ingrained part of me that when I consider giving it up it makes me wonder: well, then, if I’m not Martha Reed from Muskoka then who am I?
I’m trying to look at this as a liberating experience: once again I get to reinvent myself but I happened to like this part of me and I was hoping to be able to leave it alone. I have enough other parts of me that still need work including the new parts recently affected by pernicious gravity. No such luck.
My fellow partners have been removing memorabilia off the walls and out of the china cabinet as their timeshares end and they say farewell, so there are a few bare spots around the cottage that weren’t vacant last year. Yesterday, I did my part when I sent the family off to play golf, poured a cup of coffee and decided to go through our ‘library’.
Unaccountably, our ‘library’ is the darkest, dankest room in the cottage, all the way to the back and with a fireplace that rarely gets used. There are, however, bookshelves along three walls and these shelves are filled with a hundred years’ worth of dog-eared summer reading.
I can remember switching dust covers on a couple of the books and sneaking some racy ‘70’s novels up to my room when I was a preteen but to my delight I really dug into the stacks yesterday and turned up some early mystery novels that I didn’t know where there: The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart was a particular find since I’ve been meaning to seriously study her body of work. I’m taking that one home with me.
Since these books were leftovers from various family members, I’ve been able to do a little detective work of my own. I’ve been trying to uncover the reading tastes or preferred genres of the previous vacationing generations by looking at who signed what on which flyleaf. I now have solid proof that my grandmother was a voracious reader of modern (for her time) novels; I had never seen the woman pick up a book but my older cousin had reported that observation to me. My grandfather loved spy novels like LeCarre. My great-aunt was the mystery buff. Perhaps it is genetic.
One of the books I pulled off the shelf was Death in Holy Orders by PD James. Honestly, sometimes I have trouble reading English novels because I’m lazy and non-American writers use grammatically correct sentence structure and a bigger Oxford vocabulary than I’m used to and it hurts my brain. I feel stupid when I don’t catch all the coy intellectual references and I have to google them up. I’m from the Papa Hemingway school of using small words and saying just what you mean but I figured that since I was on vacation maybe I should work my brain just a little to keep it from atrophy. I ended up loving the book, but what really rang my bell was a little epilogue from PD James on why she wrote detective fiction. One passage in particular caught my attention and I thought it was right on:
As I continued with the genre I became increasingly fascinated with its possibilities. In particular, how one could use what some might see as an outworn form to produce a contemporary novel which would provide excitement and mystery and yet say something true about contemporary men and women under the trauma of a police investigation for murder.
- PD James
I’ve been working on my latest mystery novel and I’ve begun to see exciting new possibilities including the scary idea that perhaps I’ve expanded past the borders of my genre and that I might be stepping off into a larger, deeper pool. Luckily, the part of me I’m keeping during this latest transition includes my lifesaving certification.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Since no one else seems compelled to write anything today, I'll step up.
Please join me over on the Good Girls Kill For Money Club to read my (if I do say so myself) quite brilliant post about the above - that's right, beginnings - and try to win an advanced reader copy of my masterpiece, Fatal Fixer-Upper, scheduled for release on November 4th.
C'mon; you know you want one!
Friday, August 08, 2008
2008 has been quite a year so far. My husband lost his job, and I switched from part-time to full-time employment for the first time in 10 years, so we could keep health insurance. My husband found a new job, but my job remained full-time, because, alas, I haven’t figured out how to make that door swing in the opposite direction – at least not yet. I got to try single parenting for the first time for three weeks in June while my husband was in Germany for his new job. I can’t say I cared for it.
My sons’ regular baseball season began in late March and ended just in time for all-star baseball tournaments in July. Between the two of them, they played 25 baseball games from July 5 to July 24. On July 28, they started football. Football practice is five nights a week from 5:45 to 8 p.m. The coaches say a parent should be present, just in case. (Just in case some kid who outweighs my kid by 50 lbs. tackles him and snaps his little bones?) I don’t get home from work until 6 p.m., so my husband takes them to practice, and I go straight from work to meet them at the field. When we get home from practice, I make dinner, the boys shower, we eat, and we go to bed. I haven’t read a book in months.
If I sound like I’m complaining – and I’m sure I do – I have to admit that life is pretty darn good, if somewhat chaotic. First off, my husband and I have jobs. Good jobs that pay us more than enough to live on. And that’s nothing to take for granted, especially in this economy. Second, we have two happy, healthy, active kids who love sports. Nothing wrong with that, either. As a bonus, we’ve made lots of friends over the years among the parents of their teammates, so we actually enjoy those many hours spent at the baseball and football fields.
Still, I could really use a vacation. And lucky me, I’m getting one. Tomorrow I’ll be digging my toes into the sand of Dewey Beach, Delaware. I have one whole blissful week in which I won’t have to think about work or worry about rushing off to the kids’ practice. One whole blissful week to lie on the beach and relax, refresh, recharge.
And I know where I’m going as soon as we get there. There’s a little book shop just a couple of blocks from our beach rental. It’s called Books & Coffee, and I’m gonna get me some of both. Iced coffee for the beach, of course. Any recommendations for my beach read?
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Like many others, I'm fascinated by cases that appear to be unsolvable: The Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Jon Benet Ramsey, and of course The Boy in the Box.
One of the most fascinating cases, though, occurred seven years ago shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when five people died and seventeen were injured from being exposed to anthrax. People were panicked. Was this another terroristic attack? Although it appeared that those in the media and politicians were the targets, no one really believed they were safe. At the police department, we had calls daily from residents who received what they thought was suspicious mail. The department had to quickly develop a protocol for handling items that residents turned over to them. None of the mail turned out to be hazardous, but it was still a trying time for those involved.
Now that everyone has become complacent again and mostly forgotten about the Amerithrax case, there has been a break in the case. Just as the FBI was preparing to charge 62 year old Army scientist Bruce Ivins with murder, he committed suicide by taking an overdose of Tylenol with codeine.
Using new, state of the art scientific testing, authorities were able to determine that the anthrax strain used in the attacks was very rare and narrowed it down to a sample that Ivins controlled. If this testing had been available earlier, the case would have been solved years ago.
We now know who did it, but with Ivins' death, we may never know why--or how.
How was he able to take his anthrax sample and make a powdered form without any of his co-workers knowing about it? Why were the media and former senator Tom Daschle targeted? How and why did he go to New Jersey to mail the anthrax-laced letters? Was his motive to promote his recently patented anthrax vaccine? Or was he a just a "revenge killer" as his therapist Jean Duley stated?
Hopefully, with US District Judge Royce Lamberth unsealing certain documents we may get a few answers. These documents are now posted on the website of the Department of Justice if anyone wants to take a look.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I thought I’d surrendered my hatred of cell phones. I thought I’d come to accept that the blasted things are everywhere.
I was wrong.
Monday, I stood at the gas pump filling up…a situation that doesn’t do much for my mood anyway…when a young girl wheeled up to the pump next to mine, hopped out, and began gassing up her vehicle. All the while, she kept her cell phone pinned to her ear with her shoulder.
Note to all cell phone addicts: cell phones should not be used when pumping gas. Electrical sparks (which can be created by cell phones) combined with gasoline fumes equals BOOM.
I was tempted to remind this girl of that apparently little-known fact. Look, sweetie, if you want to blow yourself into the next state, fine. But don’t do it with me standing next to you.
While I was debating whether or not this gal might be crazy enough to pull out a gun and shoot me for not minding my own business, another car pulled up to the pump in front of mine. You guessed it. The driver proceeded to fill her car with her phone stuck to her ear.
I was surrounded! Rather than point out the error of their ways, I chose to get the heck outta there. Since I haven’t heard any news reports of explosions at the Robinson Get Go, I assume all survived.
Why must we constantly be “in touch” with everyone else? What is so important that you have to discuss it while driving? Shopping? Pumping gas? Walking on the bike trails?
Using the bathroom?! Yep. They’re everywhere.
With gas prices (and cell phone sparks threatening to blow me up at the pumps), I’m tempted to break out my bicycle and use it to get around. The problem isn’t so much the tractor trailers that cruise our road doing 60 MPH in spite of the 45 MPH speed limit. It’s the drivers who are too busy text messaging to watch where they’re going. Just waiting to cross the road to get my mail has become an adventure. I’ve jumped back to avoid being clipped by the passenger-side rearview mirror zipping past only to notice the driver scowling at his phone.
Watch the damn road!
Lately, I’m even fed up with my own phone. Yes, I have one. It’s for emergencies. And for my 88 year old mom to reach me if she needs me. But lately it’s been ringing a lot. No, I haven’t suddenly become popular. The bulk of my incoming calls are wrong numbers. One guy called me last night claiming my number had come up repeatedly in his caller ID and he wanted to know who I was and what I wanted. I assured him that I had not called him and hung up. So he called back. I told him it was still the wrong number. I guess he got the hint. If the phone had rung a third time, I would have let it go to voice mail.
I admit, wrong numbers can sometimes be entertaining. I had one guy call my voice mail repeatedly over a couple of days begging me in tears to come back to him.
I do identify myself in my greeting message. Apparently, it didn’t matter to him that I was not DeeDee Baby. He still left his messages for her on my voice mail. “Please come back to Poppy, DeeDee Baby!” And, no, I am not changing the names to protect the terminally stupid.
Okay, my rant is over. I feel better now. Anyone want to share? What’s your favorite annoying cell phone moment? Have you received any interesting wrong numbers? I think there’s some story material here.
Monday, August 04, 2008
When I was a little girl, I aspired to be a translator at the United Nations. I imagined myself fluent in French, Russian, Chinese, whatever the situation called for. My father, after all, despite having only a 9th-grade education, could manage to communicate in many languages. He had grown up speaking Hungarian at home, Slovak in the neighborhood, and English in school. An uncle by marriage, Sicilian by birth, had emigrated to the US in childhood and gotten a job where he came in contact with Polish co-workers. He and my father would throw phrases at one another in at least a dozen languages, each trying (without success) to stump the other. Alas, I seem to have missed out on that portion of my father's genes. I have absolutely no facility for languages.
That isn't for lack of trying. I took years of Latin and French in high school and, although my comprehension of written French was good enough to exempt Pitt's foreign language requirement, I took one semester each of Spanish and Russian, not to mention a course in French literature. I can't speak any of those languages. I tried do-it-yourself courses to teach myself Greek and Danish in preparation for trips to Greece and Denmark. No luck. For the past several months I've been taking a French class, hoping I'd be able to communicate a little during my recent trip to Montreal for a conference on dreams. Luckily, I ran into another attendee who spoke French and handled the conversation with our Haitian taxi driver.
Still, I decided to attend at least one lecture in French, just to see whether or not I could follow it. I chose Odyssee d'Homere et voyage interieur. The catalogue described it as: Au cours de cet atelier, nous ferons l'experience d'une approche dans laquelle nos propres reves, les mythes et les evenements de notre quotidien creent un fascinant jeu de miroirs qui nous revelent a nous-memes. L'Odysee d'Homere sera utilisee comme metaphore de la quete spirituelle et nous guidera dans notre proper voyage de retour a Soi. I took this to mean that the quest for
self-understanding would be explored through the familiar tale of the Odyssey. That was, in fact, what the lecture was about. I think. I really was able to follow some of the written materials. I recognized the PowerPoint map as being the Eastern Mediterranean. The lecture itself, though -- I only caught the occasional word. My internal translation ran something like:
Ullyses and his companions (French French French French French) the sea (French French French) wind (French French French French French French French French) Ithaca.
I sat in the back of the room and, whenever the lecturer would look up, inviting audience participation, I would hide behind the person in front of me. Still, I'm glad I went.
What about you? Do you speak and/or understand any languages other than English?
Saturday, August 02, 2008
People keep asking me what I’ve been doing since I became unemployed. Well, lots of things.
I’ve been cleaning out my attic and cupboards for the garage sale we’re having on Saturday. We figured since our kids are now 24 and 20, it might be time to get rid of all the stuffed animals, Micromachines, Fisher Price toys, games and puzzles. The Legos, the Star Wars and Ghostbusters toys are staying, though. I’m also getting rid of all the might-need-it-someday stuff that we’re not really going to need someday. If anyone thinks they might need my junk, let me know. But you have to come and get it.
I’m researching magazines for articles I have some ideas for, and I submitted a short story to an e-zine. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. I have a new book kind of figured out, and a first chapter written. It’s a funny mystery (at least I think it’s funny), which is a new direction for me. It’s a lot of fun so far.
When I started researching small towns for the setting in the new book, I found this site. I could spend hours looking at this stuff—and I think I did. You can pick any state you want to research. If you click on what’s in parenthesis, it gives you a list of smaller towns. After that, there’s even a link for towns with less than 1000 people. I’ve browsed the listings for several states.
Did you know there’s a town in Mississippi named Chunky (population 344)? I can’t help but wonder how that town was named. There’s one in Georgia called Ty Ty (pop. 716). Why not just one Ty? There’s another town in Georgia called Experiment (pop. 3233). The experiment must have worked—the town is still there. We have our share of odd names in Pennsylvania, too: Grindstone, Mars, Nanty-Glo, Glen Campbell (not the singer, I’m sure!), even Intercourse.
I dare you to go to that site and not spend hours there.
There was also a news article that caught my eye a few days ago. There’s some guy named Franz Felhaber, who keeps taking old, decomposed cash to various banks and attempts to cash it in. In his latest venture, he arrived at the Treasury Department carrying a suitcase with over 5 million dollars. Authorities are suspicious. Felhaber can’t seem to keep his story straight, either. He’s said the money was an inheritance, was found in a tree, found when someone dug up a field, belongs to relatives from Mexico. The list goes on. No wonder the feds are suspicious.
As a writer, I can’t help but wonder where the money really did come from. Is it drug money? Buried treasure? Ransom? What do you think?
Friday, August 01, 2008
As you’re reading this, a really big machine somewhere is spitting out pages of my first book, Fatal Fixer-Upper, scheduled for release on November 4th, 2008 (and available right now for preorder).
Yep, that’s right: we’ve gone to press. I breezed through copyedits sometime in May, doing only what was necessary to get the pages back to my editor before boarding a plane to Europe. I paid for that when the final page proofs arrived in July, and I discovered mistakes I should have caught earlier. So I had to grovel and apologize and ask if I could please change this and that, because it really wouldn’t be a good idea to print the book with mistakes in it.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, I had to write a page of acknowledgements. You know what I’m talking about: that page at the beginning or end of the book giving thanks to all the people who have helped me along the way and made me the brilliant and successful creature that I am. My parents, who gave birth to me. My first-grade teacher, who recognized my amazing talent at the tender age of seven. My husband, who puts up with my monumental ego... My agent, my editor, my family and friends, the guys at the post office, who accepted the package with my submission in it and got it delivered where it was supposed to go. Fellow writers, fellow readers, my publicists, anyone who has ever – or will ever – review the book. God. The whole damn machine that’s New York Publishing. Everyone I’ve ever met, because as surely as death and taxes, they’ve had a finger in making me who I am today.
Writing isn’t a solitary endeavor at all, contrary to popular opinion. Everyone we interact with shapes us in some way. Our values, our outlook, our thought processes (or lack thereof) are all courtesy of someone we’ve run across at some point, whether the experience was a good or a bad one. And on a purely pedestrian basis, the people we live with play a huge role in how easy or hard it is for us to plant our butts in the chair and actually write every day. I have a household full of people and pets, all of whom have needs, and I owe them humongous thanks for putting up with me and letting me do what I love, even if that means that my wonderful husband is the sole breadwinner in the family, and the boys get hot dogs and frozen chicken nuggets all too often, and have to share their bedrooms with dust bunnies the size of water buffalo.
Ultimately, though, there is only one person who gets the credit for my being the very small fry that I am today, as far as publishing goes. I’ve always been a writer, as far back as I can remember, but she helped me become a published writer, and for that, I owe her a debt of gratitude the size of Mt. Everest. When I told her I’d always wanted to write books, she said I could. She listened patiently as I talked her ear off about plot and character. She read and critiqued my manuscript. She sat down with me and made lists of agents I should query. She read and critiqued my query letter. When I got responses telling me I needed to tighten the book – i.e. cut the fat – she sat down with me again, and helped me revise. She made more lists of agents when I’d gone through the first ones. The agent who ended up wanting to represent me was someone she had met, and although I didn’t name-drop up front, I don’t doubt the mention of her name later made my agent think more highly of me. That's the kind of person she is.
I could go on, making lists of all the things Tasha Alexander has done for me, and the stellar advice she’s given and continues to give, but the bottom line is, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without her generosity and unselfishness. She’s been my friend and my mentor, my sounding-board and my inspiration. She’s the best role model a girl wanting to write a book could have, and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.
So what about you? Do you have someone in your life who reached out to you and made you believe you could do the impossible? Someone who walked the walk with you, to make sure you got to the finish line? Who cheered you on and convinced you to keep going when you got tired and wanted to give up? You're one of the lucky ones. Make your own acknowledgement, and tell us about them!