Friday, November 24, 2006

A Day to be Thankful For

Last night I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I held my baby granddaughter for the first time since she was born. I had a one-day window of opportunity a couple of weeks ago, but I was in Dallas on business . . . and the baby wasn't. The very next day the baby contracted an intestinal infection which meant she had to be incubated and intubated until just two days ago, and that meant I couldn't hold her. Yesterday, after the extended family finished Thanksgiving dinner and went our separate ways, my daughters, son-in-law and I went to the hospital and, after all the usual care-taking items were out of the way, Vanessa laid little Abigail in my arms. I've been sitting beside her incubator for the past few weeks, reading to her. We've read "The Baby Blue Cat Who Said No", "Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree", and "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" several times a week, but when I spoke and her little eyes went wide as if she recognized my voice, I was both surprised and overwhelmed with emotion. I didn't get to hold her for long, but holding her for even 15 minutes was the best thing that's happened to be in a long time, and it was definitely something to be grateful for.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Remembering My Dad

This is a really difficult post for me to write, especially since I've slipped firmly into a deep valley of denial over the past few days. Last Friday morning, just after 5:25 a.m., my dad passed away. He was 81 and tired of being old, but even so his death was quick and shocking. He fell just a few days before that and broke his ankle. On Monday, doctors performed surgery to repair the break and inserted a metal plate. Wednesday, he seemed to be healing well and was even ornery enough to make us wonder how the nurses would put up with him in an extended care facility for 60 days or more. Then came Thursday, and his congestive heart failure began giving him trouble and just 12 hours later, my dad was gone. We hardly had time to catch our breath or absorb the fact that he wasn't doing well. We've been through the ordeal of funeral planning, and even the funeral itself, but we're all still walking around in a kind of daze. I don't know how soon I'll return to some kind of normal schedule, but I'll try to post again in a few days.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Just When You Think You're Catching Up With Life . . .

. . . somebody throws you another curve ball. I've been off the internet for a couple of weeks now because my very first grandchild decided she needed to come into the world 13 1/2 weeks ahead of schedule. We spent several days in the hospital trying to convince her to be patient and wait, but this little girl knows what she wants and she doesn't take no for an answer. Abigail Charlotte arrived after a mere 97 hours of labor, weighing a whopping 2 pounds 9 ounces and stretching to a grand length of 14 1/2 inches. We won't be bringing her home from the hospital for a while yet, but she's doing well and already growing. I'm absolutely thrilled to be a grandmom for the first time, and I'm not bragging one bit when I say she's just about the prettiest baby I've ever seen! I can't wait until she's out of the isolette so I can take some books into the NICU and read to her. While my daughter was in labor with Abigail (no, she's not going to be Abby, at least not while her parents are listening) I received a phone call from my mother letting me know that one of my cousins had died. Gary was one of those larger-than-life people who fill a room with their personality when they walk through the door, and I'm going to miss him. We had one fairly uneventful day, and then my dad fell and broke his ankle. He's 81 years old and suffering from congestive heart failure, so he's been in the ICU for the past couple of days waiting to stabilize enough to undergo surgery. The surgery was this afternoon, and his doctor tells us it all went well, which is good news. They've installed a metal plate in his ankle that will stay there for the rest of his life, and he's not allowed to even attempt to walk on that foot or put any weight on it at all for at least two months, so now we begin the next-to-impossible task of keeping my very fidgety dad in bed and off his feet for the next 60 days. It's been an emotional couple of weeks, filled with ups and downs, highs, lows, and lots of tears -- the good kind and the not-so-good kind. I've divided my time between the Newborn ICU and the regular ICU in two hospitals 20 miles apart. I lost track of the days a long time ago, and I'm never sure what day of the week it is, but I suppose this, too, shall pass. Before you know it, three months will have passed, Abigail will come home and so will my dad, and life will settle down into a nice, smooth routine again. And if you believe that, I have some lovely swampland . . .

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Where Did the Month Go?

I could swear I blogged here just a couple of days ago, yet when I looked at the blog this morning, I realized it has been two whole weeks! I'm not sure how that happened. 

I mean, sure, it's been busy around here. I've been working on PEPPERMINT TWISTED, the third book in the candy shop mystery series, and when the work is going well (which, thankfully, it is) the days seem to fly by. 

Because the book is set around Paradise's Arts Festival, I decided to spend a day at a local arts festival over Labor Day weekend. I had a lot of fun, but I wish I'd had a whole lot more money with me since I found way too many things I wanted to bring home with me. I did buy one picture for myself and one for my oldest daughter, who went with me, but I managed to refrain from buying everything that caught my eye. 

After the Arts Festival, we stopped by an antique store. I haven't done a lot of antiquing in my life, but I think it's something I could acquire a taste for all too easily. I guess I also lost track of time because I had another critique weekend with my critique partners, I gave a speech to a local writing group, and it was my birthday last week. I turned 38. Again. 

If you don't believe me, ask my kids. The birthday cake they made me even said so. And no, I'm not going to tell you how many times I've turned 38 already. That's not the point. The point is . . . well, there is no point, I guess. Or if there was one, I've forgotten it. Maybe that's what happens when you turn 38 too many times.

When I was younger, my mother warned me that time moved faster when you were an adult, and she's right. It seems like this Blink-And-Two-Weeks-Are-Gone thing is happening to me more often than it used to. Remember when it used to take a decade or two for your birthday to roll around every year? Remember when you wanted your birthday to roll around? When you wished years away as you ached to be old enough to drive, to vote, to drink, to move out? And then, all of a sudden, without any warning at all, you can't put on the brakes hard enough to stop the year from passing. I mean, it's already September 14th. Another minute and a half, and October will be here.

And speaking of time . . . it's already 10:30 and I haven't written a word so far this morning. Since I told my editor I'd try very hard to get PEPPERMINT TWISTED to her by October 15th, I'd better stop blogging and get to work. I've only got about 5 minutes before my deadline.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Senseless Musings on a Thursday Afternon

With 200 pages left to go, I gave up on reading The Chronicles of Narnia -- at least I gave up on reading it straight through to the end. 700-plus pages of children's adventures in a magical land might be fun, but not all at once.

To tell the truth, I was ready to put the book aside after the second book in the Chronicles. Trouble is, I'm reading it for my book club. We meet in another two weeks, and I'd kind of like to have the book finished before then. It makes the discussion more interesting if you've actually read the book. Not to mention the fact that having read the book makes it easier to voice an intelligent opinion. I spent quite a bit of time today trying to decide why I'm so ready to put the book aside and start on something else.

The writing is great. I enjoy C.S. Lewis's voice a lot, actually. It's easy to read and filled with humor. And it's not as if I never fantasized about castles and enchanted forests and the like when I was a girl. My childhood fantasy adventures weren't filled with wars and giants and swordplay, but they weren't Knight In Shining Armor Rescues Fair Maiden either. I guess they were somewhere in between.

But the point is, it's not the subject matter that has me setting the book aside, either. The truth is, I think I'm bored. Not that the books are boring. . . It's just that I think I'd like the books better if I didn't try to read all seven of them at once. I'm not one of those readers who can pick up an entire mystery series and read from first book to last without a break.

That shouldn't surprise me. I'm not one of those writers who can write the same type of book twice in a row, either. I need variety. Lots of it. Back in the olden days when I worked at another career, I needed variety in my work, too. Nothing made me crazier than to go to work and find the same old thing day after day. Luckily, that didn't happen very often, so I managed to hang around my last career for 15 years or so.

But if you want to make me absolutely nuts, just stick me in a room filing for 8 hours a day, or put me on an assembly line. Either of those jobs would do the trick, no questions asked. I'm just glad there are people who can do those jobs without losing their marbles; otherwise, the world would be a very sorry place, indeed. I'm just not sure what these things say about me.

Does it make me creative? Or do I just have the attention span of a gnat? I prefer the first explanation. I'd bet money my kids would vote for the second. But this is my blog, not theirs, and they don't get a vote here, so you know what that means. My choice it is! Of course, I'm not sure that really fits the current situation. Can I say that I'm too creative to finish reading The Chronicles of Narnia and keep a straight face? Or would it, perhaps, be more accurate to say that I've stopped reading for now because I have the attention span of a gnat?

 Hmmmm.... Yep. Too creative. Absolutely!

Monday, August 28, 2006

In Search of Excellence

So I watched the Emmy Awards last night -- not because I'm particularly fascinated by celebreties and their award shows, but because I was taping an episode of Big Brother 7 for my daughter and nothing else was on that I hadn't seen before. Plus, I was completely unmotivated to get up and look for the remote.

The fashions at award shows don't really interest me, either. First of all, you have a lot of unnaturally thin women walking around in clothes nobody would ever really wear anywhere. Second, even if the real women in the world had the money to buy those clothes, they're only made to look good on people with a body fat index in the negative numbers. And, of course, there's the price. Even the knock-offs that go on sale the next day are more money than I like to spend on clothes. I don't see the point, you know? Even if you have $67 Million moldering away in your bank account, why would anyone spend a hideously stupid amount of it on clothes? I don't know . . . maybe it's just me.

But anyway, the Emmys.

Yeah, I agree that the plane crash bit was in seriously bad taste, considering. Maybe somebody should have thought it through before airing it. Then again, if there hadn't been an opening, half the people blogging about the plane crash bit today would have complained that the Emmys were boring. It was a no-win situation if you ask me.

Conan could have explained that the opening had been ditched because of the crash in Kentucky, but that would only have started the mad search for copies of the ditched sequence. You know how we are out here in TV watching land. Tell us something exists that we're not allowed to see, and we'll make damn sure we see it anyway.

I was torn when it came to the Best Actor in a Comedy award, but it's the only award I really cared even a little bit about. I think Tony Shaloub is brilliant as Monk. I love the subtleties he puts into his performance, but I also think that Steve Carell is brilliant in "The Office." If Shaloub hadn't walked away with his third Emmy this year, I'd have been okay with Carell getting it.

Yeah, I liked the acceptance speech by the guy who listed the people he did not want to thank. Not thanking his former teacher was hilarious. I'm sure we all had a few teachers in the past who discouraged us from doing something. Not all of us get the chance to throw that discouragement back in the teacher’s face on national TV.

Okay, and I experienced a momentary disappointment when Keifer Sutherland walked away with the award I thought should have gone to Chris Meloni, but it was gone in a flash. I just don't get worked up over these things. Besides, I've had a soft spot for Keifer ever since my oldest daughter developed a raging crush on him back in the early days of his career. And I guess I did think that Jamie Presley should have won as best supporting actress in a comedy, but I can’t even remember this morning who actually did win.

I watched, but I guess I didn’t absorb a whole lot of what happened. I don't know when I stopped giving more than a flying hoot about award shows. When I was younger, I thought watching the Academy Awards show was pretty great. It was kind of a family event, as I recall. Maybe I'm just older and wiser now. Or maybe there are so many awards given out now, none of them mean much. 

Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for encouraging excellence, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with healthy competition. I'm not one of those people who thinks we should all receive awards just for existing. In my opinion, we spend too much time these days encouraging mediocrity.

I don't think the world will see great things in the future if none of today's kids are allowed to achieve greatness because we're so worried about hurting the other kid's feelings. But I digress. The point is that when you have 10 or 12 chances to be named as "best actor" for your role in a particular show or movie, isn’t the honor diluted a bit? That's my question of the day, I guess: Does it mean as much to be named "best" at anything when there are a handful of other "bests" running around at the same time?

Photo by Tomascz Szkopinski

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Heaven Is a Book Store

I really appreciate the convenience of ordering books online, and I'm always thrilled when I can send readers to online booksellers to find copies of my older books, but there's still nothing like a flesh-and-blood book store.

It's been a while since I let myself walk into one because they're dangerous places for me when money's a little tight. Maybe I could resist the urge to buy books if I absolutely had to. I'm not sure. It's never actually happened.

While shopping with my youngest daughter one day, I actually had a conversation in which I listed food as a frivilous "want," while books fell on the "need" side of the list. It took us both about 20 minutes to realize what we'd done. Even then, we didn't move books to the "want" side. We just realized that we're kind of weird, and that some people might have issues with our priorities.

After a prolonged absence from the book store, walking into one is . . . well, it might sound sacreligious to some, but it's almost like a religious experience. The smell of books represents both safety and adventure to me. It's part of countless wonderful experiences beginning in early childhood and continuing right on up to the present day. I can still close my eyes and imagine walking into the Bookmobile as a little girl, inhaling that incredible smell, and then wandering through the shelves to pick out the stories I wanted to read.

When I was a young married woman and my mother-in-law came to town for her once-a-year visit, the two of us always stole away to the book store. My mother had introduced me to some great authors whose books I still love to this day, but my mother-in-law had different reading tastes and she opened a whole new world to me. I have books on the shelves in my office that I bought decades ago on book store trips with Kathryn, and all these years later all I have to do is look at the cover and I'm transported back in time.

This morning, I had to pick up two non-fiction books for various projects, so after visiting the dentist and stopping at the grocery store, I headed for my local bookseller. Halfway there, I realized that I needed company, so I rounded up my daughters, and the three of us headed into booklover heaven. I'd say that we spent way too much, but really! How can you spend too much on books? It's just not possible.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Firewalkers Retreat

My critique group is getting together for a writing retreat this weekend, and I think it's time to start gearing up for it. We leave mid-day Thursday and get back Monday night -- which is just about five days away from reality, with only me and my laptop, good friends, chocolate, and Angie's world-famous guacamole!!!!! I'm telling you, life doesn't get much better.

I first met Jo Ann about 13 years ago, I think. Maybe 14. We met at a writing conference in a workshop we both attended. Something clicked, and we've been friends ever since. Jo Ann and I share high internal thermostats, so when the others are whining about the room being cold, Jo and I just smile at each other and nudge the thermostat a little lower. In spite of her love of air-conditioning, she is happiest when she's nursing sick cattle or mending fences, or taking her turn with the irrigation water. She thinks a town with a population of 100 is seriously overcrowded.

Teresa came along a couple of years later. She joined our local writing group and volunteered to be my Vice-President the year I decided I'd be President. What can I say? It's a small group and it was my turn. Nobody actually "runs" for office, we just agree to do the job. Anyway, I made a big mistake with Teresa. She looked kind of quiet and shy and withdrawn, and I wasn't sure she'd have enough oomph to be an effective Vice-President, but she was the only willing sucker to step up to the plate, so I welcomed her with open arms. Turns out, looks can be deceiving. Teresa has more oomph and gumption than five people her size, and she's an extremely effective leader. She has my vote for any position she ever wants. She is, to use an old, tired cliche (because it's midnight and my brain feels old and tired) dynamite, pure and simple.

Not Angie's actual guacamole.
And then there's Angie. Angie is not only a friend and critique partner, she's also my cousin. Now the thing you have to keep in mind is that my dad is 19 years older than Angie's dad. My Uncle Ralph was born while my dad was off fighting World War II. My dad never even saw Ralph until Ralph was about 2 years old. Angie is a few years younger than my oldest daughter, so when the kids were all little, she seemed more like my kids' cousin than mine. For me, Angie has been the biggest surprise of all. Maybe because I didn't expect my "little" cousin to turn out to be such an incredible woman with such an immense heart and magnificent talent. Maybe because I didn't expect her to be such a complex individual with tremendously deep insight. Yeah, I know. My fault for short-changing her.

The point is, after a good 8 years or more together, the four of us have become extremely close. For all our differences, we also share a good many similarities. Top priority for our group is absolute honesty so we can have absolute trust. These women are the members of my critique group, and we do write. We even critique each other's work from time to time. They'll be telling me what they think of the opening scenes of Peppermint Twisted this weekend. But mostly the Firewalkers is about trust and about laughter (lots of laughter) and about chocolate, and about having a soft place to fall when the world gets too rough. And, of course, it's also about Angie's guacamole.

photo credit: OMG GUAC via photopin (license)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

What Famous Work of Art Are You?

You Are Best Described By...
Meditative Rose By Salvadore Dali

At least that's what I am today. Right this minute. Yesterday, I was probably more like Picasso's "Woman With A Blue Hat"

It's been a lazy day around here today. My oldest daughter is living with me again for a little while, and we stayed up way too late watching a movie. "A Bug's Life," no less. I'm not going to deny that I love the occasional Disney movie, but the reason we chose "A Bug's Life" is not because of the cute little ants or the colorful artwork. We chose the movie because my daughter is a huge fan of Kevin Spacey and after seeing the rerun of his recent interview on Letterman, that movie (even though it's not the only Spacey film she owns) went in the DVD player.

Anyway, a late night on the anthill meant that I woke up a little foggy-headed this morning. Spent an hour reading from THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, which is the summer selection for my book club. We always take a three-month hiatus in the summer because everyone's too busy to get together, and we choose a long book to read since we'll (in theory) have enough time to read it. Usually I put off starting the book until about a week before our September meeting, so the fact that I've already started reading in August is terrifically meaningful.

Since then, I've spent most of the day revising four chapters of my current work in progress, Book #3 of the Candy Shop mystery series, PEPPERMINT TWISTED. The good news is that I'm finally starting to feel the rhythm of the story, and that's always a good thing. Until the rhythm is in sync, everything I write is just so much dreck. When I'm chopping away at the story, writing 100 pages of what the story isn't to find one page of what it is, I envy those writers who begin a new project and charge ahead for the first hundred pages. I think how nice it would be to write smoothly on a new project, to be excited to figure out where the story is going, to have words, scenes, and ideas spilling out of my head almost more quickly than I can get them down. (I don't think that's how it actually works, but it's my fantasy and this is my blog.)

Far from gliding through the pages without effort, I hack my way through every sentence, feeling about as capable as an artist who's been asked to carve an intricte glass figurine using a machete. This goes on until the characters finally agree to wake up and come to life for me. Luckily, once that happens everything changes. Then I get to drop the machete and take up my fine, delicate tools because I become a bystander, a writer lucky enough to listen in while the story unfolds around me.

I don't mean that the book just pours into my head and out of my fingers in one smooth movement. It's not a miracle or anything. Or maybe it is. All I know is that the hardest work I do on any book is chiseling my way into the heads and hearts of the people I'm writing about. And that I routinely pick such stubborn characters to work with, there's a whole lot of chiseling to do. :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How Did It Start?

For the past few days, I've been trying to figure out where my love of mysteries first began. Yeah, I know. Too much time on my hands. Except that's not entirely true. I don't have nearly enough time for everything I need to do, I'm just really good at procrastinating.

But I digress. . .

I can't remember how old I was when I read my first Nancy Drew mystery, but I know I was younger than 11. Much younger. I was still living in Montana then, and my mother signed my sister and me up for some Nancy Drew book club, which meant that two Nancy Drew mysteries were delivered to our front door every month (or something like that.) I remember sharing the books with my sister, but I don't remember how we decided who read what, and when. I'm guessing when I say that she read the books first and then passed them on to me, but it seems like a logical guess since she was three years older and, naturally, bossy.

At some point, my mother decided to sell off my Nancy Drew books (without even mentioning her evil plan to me) so she could buy the Hardy Boys series for my brother (who doesn't read and so never did appreciate the depth of my personal sacrifice.) I wish I could report that I'm so emotionally healthy that the loss of my beloved Nancy Drew books was merely a blip on the radar screen of my childhood, but I can't. I'm still miffed, but I feel a little better because my mother (perhaps recognizing the need to make serious amends) gave me the entire set of story books that she used to read to me from when I was very young.

My favorite story of all time, TOM TIT TOT, is in those books, and I clearly remember the delicious shivers that raced up my spine when I listened to that story. I wasn't much older when my grandmother gave me a Readers Digest condensed version of Victoria Holt's MISTRESS OF MELLYN to read during a family camping trip. I might have been 12 or 13, but I might have been 10 or 11.

What I do remember is sitting in the shade for days, enjoying those familiar delicious shivers as I read. After working through every Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney gothic I could get my hands on, I discovered Agatha Christie, and spent the next few years reading British mysteries, almost exclusively. In my head, a mystery wasn't a mystery unless it was a cozy set in a small English village.

 I can't remember when I finally began accepting Settings Other Than British and Mysteries Other Than Cozy into the fold, but at some point variety became the key to my reading experience. I read everything and everyone, but rarely do I read two books by the same author, or two books from the same genre or subgenre in a row. But that's just how things stand now. My reading habits will probably change again one of these days. Seems that the only thing that doesn't change is the fact that things are always changing Brows

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Home Again!

I'm home from Atlanta, glad to be back in my own bed and eating home-cooked food again.

Actually, I've been home since Sunday evening, but I'm just beginning to catch up with myself and the hundreds of e-mails that piled up while I was away. The trip was a good one. Saw friends I only see once a year, made new friends, and bought a couple of T-shirts and coffee mugs (always a sign of success when I travel.) Picked up somewhere around 45 new books, all but 2 of them free. Since my large suitcase was already teetering on the edge of the airline's weight limit, that meant I had to ship a box home to myself.

 I hate reporting that the police found little Destiny Norton's body in the basement of a neighbor's house while I was away. My heart breaks for her parents.

On a not-so-heavy note, my dog Angel was hit by a police car while I was away. Luckily, she came through with a bruised leg and sore paw, but nothing was broken. How she even survived the impact is a mystery. The police car was going about 35 mph and hit her hard enough to spin her around in the street. She lay there for a minute while my daughter freaked out, then got up and limped off. Val finally found her on the front porch, waiting to be let inside.

 I hate that she was hurt, but since she's okay I'm hoping that maybe this will teach her that it's not a good idea to sneak past a person as they're coming inside at midnight and race off through the neighborhood in search of Grand Adventure -- especially when the escapee is covered head-to-toe in black fur!!!! I'm just sayin' . . .

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Previous Blog Posts

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