Friday, January 28, 2011

Petra Goes to College

Finally, my novel is being read and not just by people who are doing me a favor. Bethany wanted to read my book and she asked Brandon to print it out for her. Brandon took it to his chiropractic school where he could print it out for free. But, about a third of the way through the printing, the machine ran out of paper. He had hundred pages printed and he figured he’d do the rest later, when there was paper.

The next day he goes to school and finds that people are passing around a two hundred page novel printed on pink paper. He tells a friend that he has to get it back. Friend replies, “That’s yours? People are reading that.”

I imagine this medical student turning on a printer. It says no paper, he loads it with the only paper he can find… pink. And then the printer proceeds to shoot out the remainder of my novel. And of course, all the kissing happens in the remainder. Suddenly, all these students of anatomy have something less clinical to read.

Bethany said, “Brandon got it back, but I think there are pages missing.”
I wonder which ones.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Today I'm posting a story written by my good friend, Terry Black. Terry's a member of my writing group and I'm lucky to know him.

by Terry Black

Micawber's first thought when he saw the humans was, Great! Another food source.
They were always dropping things, forgetting things, leaving food unattended — practically an invitation for Micawber to swoop in and help himself. That was a high priority, especially now, with his mate almost ready to lay her eggs, depending on him for food and protection. He perched on his roost, cooing softly to Whitethroat, and watched for his chance.
It soon came.
He counted three hikers, two men and a woman, with thick boots and laden backpacks, ripe for the plunder. They stopped to rest at a talon-shaped rock, near the lodgepole pine where he and Whitethroat had made their nest. Micawber didn't like them coming so close, but he kept quiet for fear of drawing attention.
The woman spoke first.
"How much farther?" she said irritably. She was slightly built and breathing heavily, her skin wet with perspiration. "Maybe we should turn back, Vince."
"And waste the whole morning?" The taller man, with cinnamon hair, swept his arm over the densely wooded hills of the Shoshone River Canyon. "Shame to come this far and then give up, before we reach the hot springs."
"But they're so remote! Couldn't you have picked something closer?"
"Ask my brother, he's the expert."
The woman turned to the third man, who was husky and tan, wearing a Park Ranger's uniform. “How about it, Hal?”
Hal shrugged. "You know why we're here, Alice — we want to avoid the tourist spots. You're can't appreciate nature with a dozen cameras popping. It'll be nicer this way, you'll see."
"I guess." Alice unclipped her backpack and let it slide to the ground. "But I'm not taking this pack any farther, Hal. I'll pick it up on the way back."
The tall man started to object, but Hal cut him off. "That'll be fine, Alice. It's safe, there's no one around for miles. And the hot springs are just over that rise."
She turned to the tall man. "Sure you don't mind, Vince?"
"Not at all, honey." He coaxed her back onto the trail. "I just want you to be happy."
They set off again, leaving the backpack. But Vince cast a quick glance behind, seen only by Micawber. The glance was not loving. It was swift and calculating, a look of cold appraisal — the way a crow looks over its hunting ground.
Micawber waited until they were gone, and glided earthward.

The pack was tightly sealed, so no animals could plunder its contents. Micawber didn't care. He picked at a zipper with his beak, pulling this way and that until the pull ring slid back on a tempting side pocket.
There was no food inside, but something almost as good. Micawber poked around and pulled out a beautiful diamond bracelet, glittering in the sunshine. Whitethroat loved bright and pretty things, and it seemed the perfect gift for her. He flapped up to the nest and gave her the treasure. She cooed with affection, tilting her head to catch the play of light on the diamonds.
Micawber left her and went scouting, to see where the humans had gone. He found them at the hot springs, where boiling water bubbled up from the thermal cauldron deep underneath Yellowstone Park. Alice and Vince were standing at the lip of a rainbow-colored pool, watching the steam rise from its hypnotic depths. Hal stood back, uneasily.
"It's beautiful," said Alice, staring into the water. "I'm so glad you brought me here. This is something you see once in a lifetime."
"And now you have," Vince said.
"Have I told you how much I love you?"
"Much too often. But you won't anymore."
Alice looked baffled, then stricken as she saw the sudden malice in Vince's eyes. She started to say something, but had no chance. In one swift motion, her husband shoved her with all his strength, propelling her into the hot spring.
She plunged into the scalding water, and came up screaming. Her skin turned beet-red from the furnace heat. She tried to claw her way out, but Vince kicked her back in again.
She kept screaming for a long time.

Micawber had no opinion about Alice's murder. The affairs of humans were not his own. He circled back to the lodgepole pine to check on Whitethroat, gently cawing, coming to rest on the sturdy branch supporting her nest. Micawber had chosen the branch carefully, checking for rot and infestation. Whitethroat seemed comfortable there, nestled in her jury-built home.
They heard the humans — the remaining humans — crunching back through the underbrush.
"I didn't realize how bad it would be," said Hal, looking pale and unsettled.
"Deal with it," said Vince. "We're almost done here. You just have to sound convincing over the radio. Keep it simple — she wandered off, by the time we found her it was too late."
"What about the backpack?"
"She left it here. We don't know why. Make the call." Hal was thumbing a button on his radio when Vince said, "Wait, stop."
He held up the backpack, showing the unzippered pocket. "The bracelet’s missing – that fancy one she drags everywhere. Someone took it while we were gone.”
"Hold on, Vince." Hal stooped to inspect the ground. "No footprints but ours — the thief wasn't a person."
"You mean, an animal? What kind of animal opens zippers and doesn't leave tracks?"
Hal looked up into the trees. He squinted, frowned, and pointed directly at Micawber. "That kind."

Micawber realized he'd been spotted. He didn't like it. He dropped into a swooping dive, cawing furiously, banking and swerving into a distant stand of pines. Vince pulled a .38 automatic from his jacket and tried to draw a bead on him, but the speed and distance were too great.
"You've got a gun?" Hal looked horrified. "Are you insane?"
"They're legal in national parks, haven't you heard?"
"We're trying to look innocent," Hal insisted. "Put the gun away, leave the bracelet."
"It's worth fifty grand. I'm not leaving it."
"It's in a crow's nest, fifty feet off the ground! What are you going to do, climb up and get it?"
"Which tree?"
"I'm not going to—"
"Which tree?"
Hal sighed. "This one," he said, tapping the base of the lodgepole pine. "The bird's trying to lure you away. They do that. They're clever, they can trick you."
"Wait for me."
Vince grabbed a low-hanging branch, hoisted himself up, and reached for the next one. Hal went apoplectic. "Don't do this, Vince! It's a bad idea."
"You're okay with killing my wife, but you're worried about a bird?"
"It's trouble we don't need."
Vince ignored him, and kept climbing. He was strong and fit, and made rapid progress. He remembered tree-climbing as a boy, the sense of exhilaration. And shooting birds with a BB gun. Now he was much bigger, and his gun packed a lot more wallop.
He brushed aside a pine bough, and Micawber came screeching at his face.
He recoiled, fighting for balance, losing his grip. He almost went over but he managed to snag a branch and catch himself. He cursed and drew his .38 and sent a fusillade at Micawber, BANG BANG BANG, but the bird dipped and swerved and went unharmed.
"Don't shoot!" yelled Hal. "You'll attract attention!"
"Like I care." Vince wanted to wring the bird's neck, but he forced himself to take a deep, calming breath. The crow was small; it weighed about one pound. It couldn't hurt him. He put his gun away and resumed climbing, slowly and methodically, wary of another ambush.
He looked up and saw the nest.
It was coarse and bulky, the size of a dinnerplate. It sat twenty feet above him. He saw another bird, probably the crow's mate, peering over the side. She had a white spot on her throat, like a dab of paint.
Micawber came at him again, hectoring, screaming. Vince held tight and ignored him. Just keep climbing. The nest was ten feet away, now five. He saw a glitter of sunlight on the side, and realized he'd found the bracelet. Perhaps he could strangle the bird with it, be a nice bit of poetic justice.
He heard a soft caw.
Vince turned and saw something he wouldn't have thought possible: Micawber was hovering in mid-air, riding an updraft, not far away. Looking right at him with his black marble eyes.
A stationary target.
Vince drew his gun. He stepped out onto a branch, fixing Micawber in his gunsight. He shifted his weight, preparing to fire, and the branch (which was rotten clear through) snapped under him.
He pitched forward. There was still a moment when he might have saved himself, if he'd dropped the gun and grabbed for purchase, but he kept on firing even as the shots went wild and he came down hard on the talon-shaped rock at the base of the lodgepole pine.
Snapping his neck like that dried-out branch.

Hal tried to pry Vince's gun from his hand. He couldn't. He saw Micawber diving toward him, screeching in a way that sounded oddly human and disturbingly plaintive, like the dying screams of Alice in the hot spring. His courage left him then, and he bolted.
"I'm sorry," he said over and over, to no one. "Christ, I'm so sorry." He fled into the woods, panicking, crashing through the brambles like a man insane.
Micawber let him go. Hal was no threat to them, not anymore. He wheeled around and flew back up to find Whitethroat cooing sweetly, looking proud but exhausted. In the nest were three eggs of greenish-blue. The diamond bracelet set them off beautifully.
Her job was to tend the eggs until hatching. His was to guard the nest. Micawber took his roost and scanned the forest with utmost care, keeping a sharp eye out for other vermin.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Kanga's Pouch

Today a few things happened that may or may not be related, but still I’ve found myself connecting the dots, wondering if there are dots, or if it all means nothing more than I’m old.

First, I sent my novel to an agent. This is perhaps not a big first deal. I’ve finished several books and they all were sent away to various places. Each met differing levels of criticism. I have high expectations for this one and so it seems different, although it might not matter… the end result may be the same. It’s sort of like sending a beloved child to kindergarten, not knowing how they’ll be treated once they’re away. The difference is, of course, no one sends a kindergartner home with a note saying, “sorry, this isn’t right for us.” But, it is like once a child as gotten on the school bus, life isn’t ever really the same for them, or for me, because that sweet incubation time is over. I remember once visiting the zoo and watching a momma kangaroo trying to keep her joey in her pouch. The little guy wanted sooo badly to leave, but every time he made the attempt, his mom shoved him back in. I really empathized with that mom kanga when my children wanted to leave the pouch. I wasn’t ever ready for the school bus, the driver’s license, the mission call. Just like I’m never ready for the rejection letters.

I’m probably not ready for my novel to leave home, not because I don’t think it’s finished, but because I don’t want to face the world of hurt that’s waiting. I could keep it here, fiddle with it, crossing Is and dotting Ts, shoving it back into its pouch.

Not because it’s not ready, but because I’m not ready.

Another milestone. My blog passed the one thousand hit mark today. I don’t know if this is a lot or a little, because I don’t want to ask. Somehow asking someone how many hits they got on their blog seems a little like asking their bra size. It shouldn’t matter, A, B or C, because we’re all curvy in our way and whatever we put out into the world is uniquely our own. So, a thousand hits…what does that mean?

And one more thing. I’ve been teaching piano for about four years. Braden is one of my oldest students; we’ve been sharing the bench for a long time. Last week I wrote a letter of recommendation for Braden’s application to an art school, knowing full well that if Braden’s accepted, our years on the bench are over. Braden and I rarely talk of anything that isn’t music related, but, if he leaves, as he should, I will miss him. Not because he isn’t ready to go, but because he takes a part of me with him.

I hope he’ll be treated kindly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thank you Hillary

About four years ago I began writing my novel Shell Charms, which was then called A Pebble in his Pocket. Loved my character, loved my idea, but about a hundred pages into it, it needed something. I didn’t know what…. I didn’t know for about two days. A friend asked me for a favor, a four hour type favor, the type of favor that would kill my writing time, but since I was writing stuck, I agreed. Why spend another day not knowing where my characters were going? During the four hour favor, Hillary told me about growing up in Laguna, near the infamous Timothy Leary and the brotherhood of eternal love. Inspiration struck, research happened and the rest of the novel was like a love affair. (I love this story and I’ve Hillary to thank.)

Four years later and Shell Charms has seen nothing but the inside of a drawer. Last night inspiration struck again, surprisingly while I was, once again, doing something for Hillary. Her company folded and her two cars died all within a couple of weeks. I was standing on her front porch when I had the thought. It was like someone whispered in my ear, ask Hillary to turn your book into a screenplay. And so I did. And she said she’d love to. I told her that if she could sell it, we’d split the proceeds.

I gave this more thought and realized the book I’ve just finished would be a ridiculously expensive movie to make and then I thought – Shell Charms, the book she provided the inspiration for four years ago during that four hour favor! And so, I’ve resurrected Shell Charms and I’m sending it to Hillary. The chances of her selling it are probably zippo, BUT what if she did?

(Actually, I hope she’s able to find a job long before she finishes turning Shell Charms into a screenplay, but if not a job, how about an Oscar?)

For your reading pleasure, here’s the first chapter of Shell Charms, a mystery concerning a murder, a thief, an apple orchard, a lost history major, a misbehaving terrier, and the LSD counterculture.

Shell Charms chapter 1

Mic dove into the pool and lingered below the surface, contemplating his ability to drown. He watched blue bubbles swirl as he sunk further from the white morning sun. Knowing he hadn’t the nerve or will, he let his lungs pull him upward and he floated before breaking surface. Gasping, he filled his lungs and then swam without noise, his clean strokes a reminder of what his bovine body had once been.

Mic reached the edge of the pool and hung on the ledge. Beyond the neighboring orange grove he saw the long blue stretch of the Pacific. Squinting, he imagined he could see the black bobbing heads of surfers. Closing his eyes, he felt the tide’s push and pull, the stinging salt in his eyes, the call of gulls and the beckoning waves. He thought of the brotherhood, recalling their stringy brown bodies, salt crusted hair, and red eyes. Most, if not all, had long since died.

Mic pushed away from the wall and rolled onto his back and looked up at the dark windows of the neoclassic monstrosity he called home. He wondered if Ginny watched from an upper window and in a small fit of rebellion he pushed his distended belly a little higher as he did the back stroke. He knew he looked like Humty Dumpty with spaghetti arms and legs laced with purple veins. He hadn’t illusions about his Einstein hair and ZZ Top beard. But, what had happened to her? Who had replaced the girl in the tie-dyed skirt with daisies tucked in her braids? The girl who tasted of homemade blackberry wine? Where had she gone? Was she happier in the mansion than in the shack with long boards lining the walls, towels draped over the scavenged furniture, chinks of daylight shining through the haze?

Mic returned to the pool’s edged and heaved out of the pool. He shivered in the morning cold, shook the water out of hair and beard and retrieved his water bottle. Pulling off the stopper, he drank fast, letting the liquid slide down his throat. The water, at first innocuous, turned to stinging tin and burned his mouth, throat, and gut.

The bottle slipped from his fingers, splashed to the ground and then rolled at his feet. Mic staggered, reached for the back of a lawn chair, and tripped on the plastic bottle. His head hit the tile with a smack. Lead filled his limbs. A weight settled on his chest making his breath laborious, painful. He lay on the cement, his eyes fixed on the sun, his body inert, unable to move, flinch or cry out when a foot wedged beneath his torso and kicked him into the pool.

Is this it then? Mic thought, his thoughts as clear as the water filling his nose and lungs. After everything, crystal blue? Mic, letting go of will, sank beneath the surface and watched the sun fade.


Some moments beg to be retold, some are best forgotten, and then there are the unforgettable moments, the ones unheralded, unanticipated, unprecedented. Love doesn’t always happen at first sight. Scarlet and Rhett, Lancelot and Guinevere, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, all took some foreplay, some warming up, but when the Norse god walked into Mim’s backlit by the morning sun, Maisie knew her life had changed. The history eluding her, the story that didn’t want to be told, it would all go unnoted. Hex her editor, doom the deadline. Thor, god of thunder and fair weather, had arrived.

He stood on the large pink and purple paisley swirls that Les had painted on the cement floor, and none of the fussy femininity surrounding him detracted from his virility. He chose a table beside wrought iron shelves overflowing with an eclectic collection of china pieces, antique books, etchings, and prints. An eighteenth century flow blue tea pot shared a shelf with a flying saucer wooden burl box. A Viking sat among Rocco and Baroque decorative art.

Thor had a swarthy friend who ordered a ham and cheese croissant. Maisie wrote down their orders, and for a moment, felt fortunate that she was writing in the café rather than at her desk. All thoughts of the Thurstons, Laguna’s founding family, walked out the door. She didn’t have writer’s block. Why write a book about Laguna’s history when she could write breakfast food? Who needed a book contract in Laguna, a place of sunshine and Norse Gods? Maisie, who’d abandoned her nearly completed dissertation to write for a literary magazine, who’d left the magazine to write a book, who understood and respected the power of words, tapped her pencil against her notepad, and murmured, “That’ll be right up.” Brilliant.

Maisie dished the men’s orders and inhaled the heady scents of fresh baked bread, cheese and coffee. After adding a couple of extra strawberries to their plates she willed herself not to stare. She stepped away from Thor and the Italian, hoping distance could douse her attraction. Maisie focused on Mrs. Henderson, one of the Mercantile’s best costumers.

“I don’t know, Maisie.” Mrs. Henderson held up a swatch of blue and white tulle, cocked her head and tapped her size six shoe. “It’s just such an important decision…” her voice trailed away and her eyes flicked towards the pastry counter.

“Maybe an éclair would make the decision easier,” Maisie said, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Oh, I really couldn’t. Ralph, my trainer, he’s a calorie cop.” Mrs. Henderson began to twist the tulle in her ring laden fingers, giggling. “But, the cream in an éclair is low carb.”

While Mrs. Henderson tangled with decisions, Maisie watched Thor lounging between a display of antique hat pins and a Victorian gilded mirror. She could see him and his reflection and he seemed to fill the room. In reality, he held a fork, but in her mind he held the magic hammer, Mjolnir, capable of throwing lightning bolts to her heart. His companion, the Italian, held a napkin. Maisie shifted from one foot to the next, wearing a pleasant face that hopefully didn’t reveal Norse deity worshipping thoughts.

While she waited for Mrs. Henderson’s choice, she wondered if the woman had felt the same rush of pleasure for her husband. Maisie had never met Mr. Henderson, but she’d heard from Mim that he’d recently died, suddenly, tragically, and yet days later Mrs. Henderson was debating the merits of pottery bits.

Maisie raised her eyebrows, smiled and tried not to look at Mrs. Henderson’s neck, one of the few physical evidences of the widow’s age. Mrs. Henderson had a forty year old face, high, pointy teenage breasts and a geriatric neck. Maisie allowed herself another sneak peak at Thor’s biceps, swallowed and said, “Actually, I just made the éclairs this morning. They’re mostly eggs, protein rich.”

Mrs. Henderson’s glance flitted between an early Staffordshire, a Majolica teapot and the alluring éclair. Maisie looked out the window at the marine layer billowing off Laguna’s shore. Even though the traditional school year had started a few weeks ago, as the sun rose the sidewalks and beach would fill with tourists in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. Maisie’s gazed returned to Thor’s thick, tanned forearms and Rolex watch. No ring. The Italian looked as if his shoulders and chest were about to burst his polo shirt.

Maisie turned her attention to Mrs. Henderson and noticed the woman’s tired eyes, the soft sagging skin beneath her chin. Maisie wanted to offer sympathy for Mrs. Henderson’s loss, but she didn’t know how, so instead she said, “Maybe just a nice tea or a glass of juice.”

Mrs. Henderson sniffed. “When does Mim get back? She’s always very good with these decisions.”

Considering her aunt’s swollen face and swatches of bandages, Maisie gave the rehearsed response. “About a month, I think.” A month of pain sacrificed to vanity.

Mrs. Henderson threw up her hands. “Oh what the hay! You’ve convinced me! I’ll get the Staffordshire and an éclair!”

Maisie took a step backwards. “Hmm, great. I’ll wrap up the teapot, it’s a lovely piece.”

Mrs. Henderson, content with her purchase, said, “I remember when Mim brought it home from the Lake District.”

Maisie stopped listening; she remembered Mim finding the piece on E-bay. She carefully removed the pot from its place among the Bardollos and McCoys and slipped into the back room. “It’ll take me just a sec to wrap this up,” she called over her shoulder.

She passed Whistler, a stringy Jack Russell terrier sitting on his bed near the doorway. He let out a small grunt and rutted around for his ball. Maisie had let him in to the shop because she’d felt guilty and sorry for him. Uncle Les had tired of him and had put him in his kennel in the alley. Maisie had tired of his cries. He didn’t seem any less crotchety, let alone happy, in his new place. He licked his wounded paw and worried the bandage around his foreleg. He reminded Maisie of the rattlesnake adage, the smaller the snake the meaner the bite.

The backroom could have been on a different planet. While the front of the shop had been decorated by Les, an artist with fussy flair, the back of the shop was all Mim. Antiques, what-nots and whatevers had been piled into towers that loomed to block the meager light streaming from high, dusty windows. The kitchen grill, sink and cutting board were frequently hiding behind Mim’s latest acquisitions: only the stove-oven combo remained safe from clutter. Chairs, tables and a grandfather clock hung from the pipes that criss-crossed the ceiling. Maisie tried not to think of earthquakes.

She twirled the pot in bubble wrap, sealed it with a Mim’s Mercantile sticker and placed it in one of the signature pink paisley bags. She emerged from the dark, dusty back into the bright, sunny store in time to see Whistler leap in the air. While the Thor and the Italian fumbled in their pockets and counted change, Whistler snagged what remained of the croissant and bolted out the door.

“What the--” Italian began.

Thor burst into a laugh.

Maisie groaned.

Thor took note of her distress. “I’ll get him.”

The Italian stopped laughing. “No, I’ll get him.”

“Please, don’t bother-” Maisie began, watching Whistler streak down the sidewalk, his bandage waving in the air like a flag of victory.

Thor and the Italian looked at each other momentarily and then as if telepathing a silent GO, they bolted. For a moment they wrestled in the doorway, and then the Italian gave Thor a good natured shove back into the store and tore up the sidewalk. Thor overtook him by the intersection.

Maisie thought about joining them, hustling Mrs. Henderson out the door, closing the shop, chasing Thor, Italian and Whistler, but a man dressed in a dark blazer, sturdy brown shoes and sunglasses stood in front of the gaping front door, watching the men and dog weave up the sidewalk. After some hesitation, he entered the shop, making two customers Maisie would need to hustle. He fiddled with the rim of his glasses, but left them on to shield his eyes.

Mrs. Henderson nodded her head at a dog’s toy in the corner. Maisie gave the man another look and then tried to nonchalantly kick a squeaky mouse behind the counter. Sighing, she knew that chasing Whistler would only encourage him. Left alone, the dog would come home when he was hungry, and he was always hungry, but if someone gave chase, he could be gone all the day. He wouldn’t completely disappear, he’d toy his followers, rag them with near captures and taunt them with close encounters.

Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat. She stood, drumming her long French manicured nails on the glass of the pastry counter. She dipped her head again at the customer standing in front of the hatpin collection, an unfathomable expression on his face. He didn’t seem the hatpin sort; in fact, Maisie wouldn’t have marked him as a collector. He seemed too large and masculine for Mim’s shop, like a Scottish highlander crashing a lady’s tea. Maisie followed Mrs. Henderson’s pointed gaze towards the man’s waistband and saw a leather holster, a flash of metal. Her heart quickened and she relabeled the Scottish highlander into a highwayman.

Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again and raised her eyebrows at Whistler’s abandoned rawhide bone lying beneath the bistro table.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Henderson,” Maisie said, hurrying to get the éclair while using her foot to scoot the dog chew behind a potted fichus. She opened the pastry case and pulled out a brownie. Fumbling with a Mim’s Mercantile bag, she licked her fingers and tried to open the bag. She could feel the man watching while she gave Mrs. Henderson an apologetic smile and shook the bag open.

“I wanted an éclair,” Mrs. Henderson said. She cast the man another glance, but he kept his sunglasses trained on Maisie. Mrs. Henderson turned her back to him. “FBI,” she mouthed.

Whistler hardly seemed worth an undercover agent, but Maisie’s cheeks flushed. It’d been irresponsible and thoughtless to allow the dog in the shop. Flustered, she set the brownie aside and fought the urge to lick the brownie’s frosting off her fingers. She’d forgotten the plastic gloves, a testament to her nervousness; finger licking and food serving shouldn’t be standard café practice. Under the shelter of the counter she slipped the plastic gloves over messy fingers and pulled an éclair out of the case. She took a deep breath and then another, trying to relax. Was this really easier than her job at LA Literary? She’d left the magazine to devote her time to writing, not sell pastries and chase dogs. Maisie glanced up the man had turned toward a pair of Les’ photographs of Avalon bay.

“You shouldn’t have invited Monster to the store,” Mrs. Henderson whispered.

Maisie nodded. She considered defending herself, but knew Mrs. Henderson was right. Even though the Jack Russell whined and cried when left alone, he should have stayed with Mim where he could chew and destroy, but not endanger a livelihood.

Maisie looked out the window and watched the dog and men dance down the sidewalk, dodging tourists, bumping into a man on rollerblades, interrupting a skateboarder. Whistler’s tail darted across the street, causing a BMW to brake quickly and skitter towards a parked VW van. A Hyundai bleeped as Thor and Italian lunged for the dog. Safely out of traffic, Whistler’s white rump disappeared into a hedge. Thor leaped over the plant while the Italian crouched on the sidewalk.

And then Thor took off his shirt.

Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again. “I said,” Mrs. Henderson raised her voice an octave, “that I’d like another éclair.”

Maisie reluctantly took her gaze off Thor’s muscular back. “Really?”

Mrs. Henderson twisted her lips into a sheepish, unnatural grin and gave the armed man a lowered eyelid appraising. “If you’re going to go to hell, you might as well go in a limo.”

Or in a back of a dog catcher van, Maisie thought. “Thank you, Mrs. Henderson, I hope we’ll see you again soon,” she said, wondering how to rescue Whistler while a man with a concealed weapon considered a 1910 edition of Huckleberry Finn.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I began writing at six-thirty this morning. Early for me. The sun was shining. The dog lay at my feet. The house was quiet and still and I was on fire. I was Jane, Eudora, Willa and all of the Bronte sisters rolled into one. My mediocre prose turned to poetry as I revised. Completely engrossed in the Renaissance, the dying whizz of my laptop shocked me. Suddenly, I wasn’t lost in the English countryside, but in my bedroom in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. After sometime I managed to revive my laptop and opened my word document. It read, last auto-saved at 6:50 am.

Almost two hours and 30 pages of revisions lost.

I e-mailed my writing partner to explain why I couldn’t come today. I have to try and recapture what I’ve lost.

She replied, Hope you're able to pull it all back together the way you wanted. A couple of times when this has happened to me I've ended up putting it back together even better.

I didn’t think that could be true in this instance. I’d been flying high, everything was clicking, I was snap, crackle and pop. But, after a long day, as I wrote the final sentence for my book, “Ah, I see you’ve forgotten Sleepy Hallow,” I have to admit Melanie was right. My writing that umpteenth time around, was stronger, punchier, and wittier.

Why is life like that? Why are there constant revisions, even when (or maybe especially when) I think I’m bordering on brilliance? Some people never take a re-do, or at least, so it seems. But me, I’m on a path, I think it’s a great path heading to an even greater destination and then suddenly everything changes and I have to scramble. I try to regroup and refocus (this, by the way, may take years) and then, I discover I’m stronger than I thought. Probably stronger than I ever wanted to be.

Aside from the chapter headings, my novel is done. I think it is my personal best.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Whatfor and Whatnot about my Novel

Three of my readers gave me what-for and what not on my novel. I’ll introduce them and then share their comments.

Linda, my sister-in-law, has, I think, read everything I’ve written. We share a love of Mary Stewart, a British romance novelist who had her heyday in the sixties. Linda isn’t a writer, but she is a reader and she’s a lot of other things as well. A mother of nine, a nurse, a therapist, a return missionary (of two missions.) I’m a big fan of Linda and am flattered that she reads (and supposedly enjoys) my work. Here’s a bit of what she said. Just read your novel and as usual I liked reading it. In fact I read it in just a couple of evenings. I found that like a lot of your stories the beginning seems to be a little slow, hard to understand where everything and everyone is coming from but then the story begins to unfold and the excitement of reading it draws you in and the momentum is like a train that starts slow and gains speed, faster and faster until the end when it comes to a gradual slowing down and you've reached your destination.

Because of Linda’s comments, I reworked the first chapter and deleted the prologue. It really didn’t work, but because I liked it, I hated throwing it away. I solved that problem by tucking a portion of the really good parts into the fire scene near the end.

Melanie is my writing partner. We meet on Monday afternoons and Melanie is an amazingly good sport about having her children twirl around us. We take turns reading 10 pages out loud and then opine (cool word, just had to use it, I hope the context is correct.) Melanie, besides being a gifted writer, is a former English teacher and English major. Look for her book The List, in bookstores near you this March. Melanie sprinkled comments and red marks all over my manuscript, but here’s what she said about the ending, the part causing me the most angst. I really did not think you were going to be able to pull off an ending that worked, but this totally did it. Very good! Melanie suggested more internal conflict when Petra (minor spoiler alert) returns home (come on, everyone saw that coming, right?) I agree.

Melanie and Wendy, my niece, both had problems with the swimming scene. This is what Melanie said: Why wouldn't she have gotten dressed after getting out of the water? I'd been assuming that's what she did all along, and if she didn't, I want a good reason about why she didn't. The swimming scene is important. I had intended to spill Emory’s complete history at that point, and yet, when I reached it, I decided to hold back. There are at least two more Petra books in my head and I decided not to share my secrets all at once. But, because I consider it a pivotal scene, I want it to be pitch perfect.

Wendy is an English major and avid reader. She’s also number nine in a family of ten children. The Strong (yes, that’s really their name) girls are a rare and magical mix of beauty and brains. Wendy caught all sorts of grammatical blunders. I hope to hire her to edit my next book. She caught the teaser at the end and told me it didn’t work. She’s right, darn her. It needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the bitter end, the last thing I want to do is fiddle with the last sentence. I’ll have to take care of it when I’m not so jaded. Wendy sprinkled my manuscript with giggles and goosebumps. I looked for those two words; they were ego soothing after Melanie’s repeated word choice and awkward.

But, a good critique isn’t about applause and back slapping. It’s about whistle blowing on stupidity, boring bits, and character deviations. It’s about catching run-ons, spicing up talking head scenes, and killing redundancy.

Although, a little applause is nice, because, after all, I just finished writing an eighty thousand word novel. And that’s a lot of words.