Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Watching the Hammered Follies

Yes, I really am blogging on a holiday, that's just how devoted I am to writing. Plus there's not much else to do. I'm an only child and my parents passed away a long time ago. No pity party please -- I have about a zillion cousins and friends who invite me over for fun and festivities. But I'm off the hook per the compulsory family gathering. 

A bunch of friends and I had a tradition for years: they would come by my apartment with pie and bitch about their families. They didn't know each other's families and we would always be in helpless giggles halfway through the evening: everyone had an inappropriate uncle, a drunk brother, a slutty cousin, or any and all of the combinations thereof. My  friends would be quite loopy at the end of the evening (lots of champagne with the pie); we had a big girls' sleepover. I'd get up in the morning and serve my friends coffee and pancakes while they relaxed in their sleeping bags.

The weather has been crappy and I have no urge to go to town, but the island is perking up and the show is about to begin. There are a few more people on the island because there are a few more lights here and there. But the big rush comes for New Year's. People like to come here, get hammered and drive around -- because they can. There are only 30 residents and it isn't like we have a police force.

I don't drink, never have, and the idea of careening around hammered strikes me as exceptionally silly -- but what do I know, right? We find folks in the ditches all the time and they certainly seem to think they're having fun. Occasionally they go to remote corners of the island and that's a problem. If you  drive off the road out in the middle of nowhere, it is very likely that no one will find you. Heck, you don't even have to be out in the middle of nowhere, you can be on one of the roads that we all go along frequently -- but not at night.

Did I mention we have no streetlights? True. If I have to drive after dark I have to be careful to pick a car that has headlights. My favorite vehicle doesn't, though I can still drive it just fine as long as I have moonlight.

So there you are, drunky person, in the ditch, in the dark. You pull out your cell phone. Guess what? We have lousy coverage.

Even if you get your cell to work, you can't dial 911 and expect a helicopter to rush out and pick you up -- as many people have found out. "911" dialed from a cell phone roams; you might get any one of three or four dispatch offices in any one of four counties, we even get Canada. If you manage to get to the emergency services folks that are supposed to respond to us, they will want to send the boat (politics at work). It's a very nice boat which the driver put up on the rocks last summer running emergency patients to... not the hospital nearest us, but to another bigger facility that was farther away (more politics).

Moral of the story: if you must get drunk, do so with at least a dozen of your friends, so when you go joyriding and careen off the road, you can huddle together for warmth 'til we find you in the morning. Or you can stagger together down the road and sing loudly and off-key. Either way you'll have a great story to tell.

And so will I.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I've been doing a lot of thinking about crazy people this week -- not because the people around me are crazy -- I'm pretty sure they're not, but I'm struggling with a character in my current manuscript. She has no feelings -- does she have Asperger's Syndrome? Maybe, even thought the DSM-V has removed it, effective May 2013. "Autism spectrum disorder" doesn't have the same ring.

There could be a plot thread here -- what if my character created the diagnosis of Asperger's for herself so she could get state benefits? What happens if the syndrome is no longer in the DSM-V? Hmmm -- interesting premise but I can her you all out there yawning.

What if I make her a psychopath? What is a psychoath? "A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse."

OK, but she's not antisocial or aggressive or perverted.

Maybe she's sociopath -- ah -- now we're getting warmer. Our girl has no conscience she cannot love, she can do anything and feel no guilt. She's spontaneous, complex, and talented but doesn't care what happens to the people around her. Her goal is to dominate the people and "win".

Time to re-read The Sociopath Next Door (interesting reviews on Goodreads.... hmmm)

I recall something I read years ago -- an actress playing Salome is presented with the head of John the Baptist on a platter -- how does she react?

She recoils in horror, had to her mouth. (Cliche.)
She laughs manically. (Cliche.)
She acts as if she'd gone mad -- tearing of hair, wild eyes. (Bad acting)

She acts as if the severed head is the cutest puppy she ever saw. (perfect - and -  scene).

Crazy behavior is normal behavior taken out of context...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Read a great review of Anne Applebaum's new book, "Iron Curtain, the Crushing of Eastern Europe"  in the New Yorker. I clicked right over to Amazon to discover that it isn't in paperback yet. I can pre-order for August delivery, but the hard copy (21.00) or Kindle (17.00). I don't have an e-reader, guess I'll have to buy hardcover. On the other hand, I am in the habit of reading in the evening, I wonder how reading about the crushing of Poland will affect my dreams. Applebaum's "Gulag" is also on my reading list -- hardly light reading.

And in the interest of comparison -- both books are cheaper on Amazon than on eBay.

Heck of a week! I was part of a BIG group show in Seattle -- the 30-Day Art Challenge  and I mean BIG -- 107 artists, each of us made thirty 8 x 10 works and on December 5 and 6, the opening was a eyeball blowing cacophony of color and pattern.

The VIP Friends and Family opening was Dec 5 -- which was crowded, but nothing compared to the crush during First Thursday, December 6. I could barely move -- the gal doing the counting said she'd clicked in 167 people in a single 15-minute period. That's more people than I see in a months on end here on the island -- with the exception of Saturday Markets in summer.

The cool thing? If you liked something on the wall, you could take it down and buy it -- $50.00 bought you any piece of art you fancied and mid-evening the line to buy art snaked around the foyer outside the gallery.

Ah city life -- sometimes I miss it, meetings with cool folksa bout cool projects, coffee with friends. What I don't miss is this -- can't go out the door without spending money. And... always walking on a hard surface. Quite the contrast to my muddy life here; and there's no place to spend money unless I buy eggs!

Life on an island....

Monday, December 3, 2012


More (imagined) adventures of Elvis Rain, the Barking Rain Press mascot...


Del's favorite coffee shop, Java Jive, had been bought by the cafe next door. It was renamed the El Jive and he was pleased to see that none of his favorite baristas had left -- and dogs were still welcome. The baristas told him that they were now part of the Cafe El Marz Cooperative, there was a profit-sharing program and in fact, the restaurant and the coffee shop would be owned by the employees in a few years.

That seemed like a good thing to Dell and he congratulated the baristas.

He and Elvis went home and got ready to go to work at Doggie Daycare.

There's a parvovirus outbreak in the city, a dozen cases traced to an off-leash park across the city from the Doggie Daycare. Amy has been busy assuring her customers that she doesn't take their dogs to that park and making sure that all their dog-clients have been vaccinated against parvo. She also bought a case of bleach and put all the volunteers, including Del, to work scrubbing and bleaching every inch of the floor, the kennels, and the runs. The boss had all the chips and dirt scraped off the play area and replaced with fresh dirt, gravel and chips.

Everything smelled good and fresh, Del thought, like a laundromat in a hamster cage. Most of the Doggie Daycare customers took a look at how clean everything was and didn't worry that their dogs would get sick.

However, some clients have asked Amy and Tom to care for their dogs at home and have paid a pretty penny for the service. Del has been assigned to one dog in his neighborhood and for these duties, he is paid. The little extra bit of money was good to have -- Del planned to buy himself a nice big steak at the store -- and share the bone with Elvis.

The dog owners have left very specific instructions: no dog parks, don't let the dog sniff at anything, no contact with other dogs, exactly one cup  of dry food at 9:30 in the morning, scooped poop goes into the special garbage can... the list went on for two pages. Del left Elvis in the car and carefully walked the dog around the neighborhood three times a day, and played a little fetch with her. After three days it was clear to him that the dog was lonely and he asked Amy if Fluffball could come back to doggie daycare.

"I'll ask," Amy said, "But they're scared that the dog will catch parvo. She's been vaccinated and is young and healthy, but her owners are ultra-cautious."

It was a week before Fluffball came back to Doggie Daycare, even though her owners insisted she be kept in a separate run and not be allowed to come in contact with any of the other dogs. Still, she seemed to be happier with the other dogs around, Dell thought.

It has been raining non-stop for days and Elvis, who hates rain, has been a big grumble. Dell has to get the golf umbrella out to coax him outside, but today it's too windy for the umbrella. They have to use a default walk out by the covered play shed on the school grounds. Dogs are not technically allowed on the school grounds, but the kids know Elvis and Dell is careful to pick up after Elvis very carefully.

Other dogs get in and do their business near the shed too, really, the shed is a kind of dog magnet. Dell picks up after them too, but today even Dell is a little jumpy about parvo. There are stray dogs in the neighborhood, so he took Elvis, grumbling the whole way, to another corner of the field, where he had to do his business in the rain.

He grumbled and glared at Dell the whole way back to the house.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lying Disease

There was a fantastic article in The Stranger by Cienna Madrid about Munchhausen-by-internet ...which led me to three thoughts…

A phenom we see all the time in publishing – an unusual disease or disorder turns up in the news, which turns up a few months later in a half-dozen manuscripts, which in turn takes all the mystery out of – say -- a mystery novel. A friend who works for one of the big publishing houses said there was a big uptick in stores about hoarders, people with odd jobs, extreme chefs, and fishermen when those programs were first on TV – she called it “writer’s Munchhausen”. She knew it wasn’t an entirely accurate description, but the term stuck with me.

A friend who was a school nurse said that she was constantly looking at limps, stomachaches, headaches, blurry/double vision, cramps, fevers, and yes, pregnancies -- that arose for various psychological reasons. She estimated that three-quarters of the ailments she saw were imagined. She had a variety of ways to determine if the ailment was real or not; although either way she offered support to her students – and counseling.

… A revisit my own experiences with Munchhausen IRL (in real life)

I had a benign cyst removed from one breast when I was in my early twenties; the doctor did such a good job with the surgery that every OB-GYN I’ve seen since has remarked on his work. Three years later I had another lump in the same breast and a swollen lymph node, and went to the doctor, biopsy reveals nothing, but I still felt crappy. Another round of tests and the doctor said, you have no immune system left, get your affairs together -- and handed me a stack of brochures about what to do at the end of one’s life.
I told my friends that I was dying and I certainly felt bad enough to die for a week or so; I had a high fever, lost my voice, and could barely move from bed. A friend would come and take care of me – make soup, share her experiences with chemo and radiation. I talked about my dad’s battle with cancer and eventual suicide; she talked about feeling suicidal.

One morning I woke up and felt… better. Over the next few days I got well, and the better I got, the less I saw of my friend. She stopped coming over and when I ran into her at the grocery store she poked me in the chest and called me a liar, a faker. I didn’t know what to say.

My friends were mystified too, “Weren’t you supposed to die?”

“They were wrong? I dunno.” (That sounded stupid, even to me.)

I went back to my doctor, who pronounced me healthy – I’d probably had the flu.

Twenty years later, I discovered[1] that my test results and another had been mixed up; well, not exactly mixed up – another patient and I had received the same diagnosis, but mine was false. (BTW: sleuthing was required to find this out: it wasn’t written out in so many words on my records.)

Over the next decades, weird little clusters of symptoms would keep popping up – the most annoying was that I’d occasionally get buzzy in the head and faint for no discernible reason. Was I having seizures? “Spells?” I imagine if it had been 1900 I’d be diagnosed with a “female complaint.”

It took years to discover that I had severe food allergies, but only if I ate certain foods in combination during a specific point in my menstrual cycle; for instance, a garlicky white bean salad, shellfish and strawberry shortcake eaten at the same meal would trigger every one of my allergies at once. Immediately after my period I would feel a little headachey; BUT just before my period I would go from headache to a faint. But not right away – it took a few hours for all the allergens to work their magic on me.

My allergist said it was an anaphylactic reaction, made more severe by my estrogen levels. She said, “Your body is going overboard protecting you in case you get pregnant.” I knew nothing about anaphylactic reactions then, now most folks know about anaphylactic reactions to bee stings and peanuts.

The allergist suggested I join a group of other folks with food allergies. They offered tons of support, understood when I said that people thought I was faking symptoms, offered stories of their own—one man’s children thought he had Alzheimer’s, another said her husband insisted on having a cat and didn’t believe she was allergic to cats. “Or cat spit,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of reading and it’s the probably the enzymes in the cat spit that I’m allergic to. I’d be fine with a spitless cat.”

One woman in the group was really keen on getting the details of all of our allergic reactions—she would be bright-eyed and weirdly interested, for instance, when one member of the group accidently ate something that had peanut oil in it and had to go the emergency room – a few weeks later the exact. same. thing. happened to this gal.

The others in the group believed she was lying, maybe even faking outright, but weren’t quite sure what to do. Was she hurting anyone? Did she fake stuff outside of group – had she really been to the emergency room? We never found out. She left the group a few weeks later, telling us that she was moving to San Francisco – we wondered if that was true and if it was, would she join another allergy support group?

We decided that it was an endless chain.

[1] I went to work for the healthcare provider; I was able to access my own records.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Historical Fiction (and Elvis Rain)

My favorite genre to edit is historical fiction; and by that I don't mean romances that are -- incidentally -- set during a time of turbulent history. (OK, I'll make an exception for Casablanca.)

It was E.L. Doctrow's Ragtime that did it for me -- written in syncopated style, when I read passages aloud I could feel the rhythms of ragtime in the words. And Evelyn Nesbit!  Doctrow called her the first media darling, a woman who was famous for being famous. Doctrow drew his characters very well; and though I knew that Stanford White, Henry Thaw and Evelyn Nesbit were real, I was disappointed to discover that Coalhouse Walker was fictional.

I am not a huge fan of French and English history, though I studied both to understanding the context of Shakespeare's plays. If I were a fan, I could keep reading Jean Plaidy or Sharon Kay Penman for years... possibly decades.

I recently read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall  -- a lot of reading at 600+ pages. Mantel finds fresh life in the stories of Henry VIII by skimming through Prince Hal and his many wives and writing about Oliver Cromwell and Thomas More -- but she wasn't writing a history book, her hybrid novel is historical fiction.

A chuckle here--Mantel's book arrived in the mail from a friend who bought it thinking she was getting some light reading -- sex, scandal and intrigue (still at 600+ pages) in the vein of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl.

The Other Boleyn Girl is also historical fiction and Gregory took great liberties with the historical context and characters in the book, which makes for a great novel, but made historians cross. However, the book was made into a big-budget movie  and I don't expect to see "Wolf Hall" as a movie soon. (Maybe a BBC4 documentary.)

Historical bodice rippers aside, Larissa Macfarquar at the New Yorker feels that Hilary Mantel has revitalized historical fiction.

Historical Fiction -- partial reading list from my freshman literature class, circa 1993:

Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Ann Rinaldi,  (YA books with historical background)
Ken Follett (yes!),  Pillars of the Earth

More (imagined) Adventures of Elvis Rain

Elvis is not thrilled with the rain -- no, the deluge -- today. Dell had to practically drag him down to the Java Jive to watch the action between Ms UB, her dog B+ and Noodles' owner, the object of Ms UB's affections.

The only way Dell could get Elvis out the door was to put his red "Therapy Dog" vest on -- Elvis was used to wearing a vest. When the vest was on, he knew it was time to go to work.

When the Doggie Daycare van pulled up, Elvis made a dash for the side door-- it was dry inside the van and he was tired of standing under the drippy eaves at Java Jive. Dell reined him back in and the young woman driving the van smiled at him while B+ and Noodles got on board.

On a whim, Dell asked, "Do you need help?"

"We're not hiring."

"I was thinking of volunteering. Elvis and I were in the Beagle Brigade, and he's-- we're -- a trained therapy team, maybe we can be of use to you."

The young woman latched the doors on the dog crates, then stood up and pulled a business card from the driver's-side visor. "You bet," she said. Normally I'd say no, but you might be a good addition to our team. Call the boss -- Tom, tell him Amy told you to call."

"Amy, OK. Thanks," Dell said. They shook hands.

Elvis trotted along expectantly beside Dell and he realized that they couldn't go back to the house, Elvis expected to go to work. They walked to the Mini-School Cooperative Daycare--they knew Dell and Elvis there -- and the parents and kids going in all gave Elvis a pet. After that Elvis was happy to go home.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Elvis Rain & the Dryer Sheets

More (imagined) adventures of Elvis, the Barking Rain Press mascot...


Dell and Elvis moved last week to newer, but smaller digs in a posh (but slightly odd) neighborhood;  Elvis doesn't have to ride the elevator up and down from the fourth anymore and the dog park is only six blocks away. Elvis is thrilled, he's never liked elevators.

However, Elvis constantly alerts to the house next door; sits down in front of the house and won't move. Dell wonders what's going on -- Elvis was trained to sniff out contraband fruit in airline luggage; he can't imagine that there's a illegal mango-growing operation next door. Eventually he caught a whiff of what Elvis smelled--something fruity--ah--the neighbor is using fruit-scented dryer sheets. Mystery solved.

Elvis loves the dog park even though he's not interested in the other dogs, being off-leash or playing fetch. (Elvis pointedly does not fetch.) His passion is collecting tennis balls and he won't leave the park until he has collected every tennis ball. A first he carefully made a pile of them at Dell's feet; that didn't work because other dogs would steal the balls back. Now Dell brings a big garbage bag along and puts all the tennis balls in it; when Elvis is done he leaves the bag on the bench.

Java Jive the coffee shop comes after the dog park. Elvis dutifully will alert to any fruit on the counter: today it's a display of Satsuma oranges. Dell gets a large drip and Elvis gets a dog biscuit; they've been coming every morning at about the same time and Dell has started to recognize the regulars. The morning starts with a gaggle of high school kids who hop off their buses and grab lattes and mochas before going to school (their private high school is across the street). As soon as they're gone a woman who reeks of cigarettes and booze comes in and shakily nurses small drip; the Doggie Daycare Van stops in front of Java Jive and picks up a half-dozen dogs every morning; there seems to be a romance brewing between the owner of Noodles, a curly gray dog and B+, who is some sort of Labrador mix. His owner is a nervous woman Dell calls "Ms. UB" because she is always in a sweatshirt that says "UB" -- university-of-something? Dell isn't sure; but he knows she waits until she sees Noodles and his owner before going into Java Jive and she always orders a dry cap.

Elvis alerts to B+ as if he's another service dog, Ms UB curtly told Dell that he flunked service dog school.

Dell tried out a small joke: "His name is B+? So he's a good dog, but not an excellent one, right?"

Ms. UB looked at Dell flatly. "His name is Ben, his name tag is scratched up." She scampered out the door after Noodles and his owner, the dogs got into the Doggie Daycare van, Ms. UB laughed loudly at something Noodles' owner said.

Interesting question from a student this week: "How did you edit when -- you know, you set type by hand?"

Answer: Very carefully. I sent the student a little diagram showing how we would edit thoroughly on paper before sending copy to the typesetter, the process of pulling and reviewing galley proofs. The whole process took a long time -- I think of this every time I do a quick edit in InDesign.

And among my who-needs-it-now skills, I can read accurately upside-down and backwards and can spot a 1/4 point of bad kerning or leading at 40 paces.

Next week: Elvis, Noodles and B+

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'll Be Brief

I'll be brief because it'sNaNo month and I am already carpal-tunneling... sigh. Time to switch keyboards.

NaNoWriMo is my favorite month – and I am not being sarcastic. Can I really write a novel in a month? I dunno – I haven’t written a novel, but I have written 50,000+ words during the month. The point of NaNo is to write 50,000 words during November, 1667 words a day – or more – or less, just get to 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Was my “novel” any good? No – and yes. I surprised myself by getting through a story I’d been working on for years, beginning to end – though the story turned out to be about something other than I thought. But it wasn’t a very good story… but there was a story in there that I wanted to tell. I’m still poking at it – why is it I want to tell this story?


Monday, October 29, 2012

Elvis the Therapy Dog

More (imaginary) adventures of Elvis, our mascot...

Is Elvis, our mascot a beagle or a basset hound? My friends who raise basset hounds say he looks more like a basset, but not quite. A basgle? A be-set?

Rain, Rain and Rain 

Elvis decidedly did not like the deluge of rain this week -- not all week thank goodness or we'd be afloat. His human (Wendell -- also known as Dell) said he spent all week barking at the rain through the patio door and grumbling whenever he went outside.

He also keeps alerting to apples and mangoes when Wendell brings them home -- he found a lot of both. stuffed in luggage as contraband in his Beagle Brigade days. Wendell thinks that either he can't shake his training or he wants more dried liver treats. He'd sit by the kitchen counter for hours in alert position if Dell didn't reward him with a dried liver treat, their usual MO when they were a working team at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Dell decided that maybe he was getting bored being retired from the Beagle Brigade. His friend Amy from the coffee shop suggested that they try Pet Partners  to see if Elvis would be a good therapy dog. They just finished training and Elvis went on his first supervised therapy visit with Amy and Ranger, who is a retired drug sniffing dog. Elvis did pretty well, despite alerting to a package of dried mango slices in one patient's room.

That is, he did pretty well until Ranger caused a mild uproar by alerting to an empty hospice room, something he's never done. But after Elvis alerted to the mango slices, Ranger -- maybe showing off a bit -- alerted to a corner of an empty room.

Amy had to find a subtle way to telling the staff the Ranger smelled something. The something turned out to be a half-gram of marijuana that had fallen into the back corner of the bedside stand. It probably wasn't illegal -- many of the hospice patients are in the last stages of terminal cancer and are registered to receive medicinal marijuana. However, when Elvis got a whiff of the grass, he started howling and wouldn't stop. Dell had to drag him out of the hospice, though he found out later that everyone got a good laugh out of Elvis's behavior and they've been invited back.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Elvis Rain and Literary Fiction

OK, so we are Barking Rain Press and right now we don’t offer any books about dogs, rain or barking! We’ll have to see what the next submission period in January brings: one of the fun things about publishing genre fiction is that we publish the best of whatever we receive in a submission period, whether it’s paranormal YA or mystery, or…?
Elvis Rain, the beagle on our logo, is an imaginary guy, though I occasionally give him a fantasy life as complex as Snoopy's. He hates rain. He refuses to wear a raincoat and his people have to hold an umbrella over him if they expect him to go for a walk when it's wet out. However, they have to open the umbrella away from Elvis because he also hates umbrellas.
Rain was not a problem for Elvis in his previous life as part of the Beagle Brigade in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. He sniffed out contraband, mostly apples and mangoes, though once he found a bag of cow brains in a Samsonite suitcase. He's retired now, living in Portland and thinking about writing about his days in the Brigade. Give him a dog biscuit and he'll talk for hours about the work he did with Wendell (his handler) and Troy -- his brother, who was also in the Brigade. Give him a couple more dog treats (he likes freeze-dried liver the best) and he'll talk about his life before the Beagle Brigade, how he and his brother ended up in a shelter and were rescued by Wendell, who trained them... (more adventrues to follow)
I miss working directly with authors and I miss seeing public reaction to a new book. One of my favorite jobs when I worked with the Als was to accompany authors to book signings; they were usually in small independent bookstores that had enthusiastic and well-spoken patrons. We'd do a reading, books were signed; I would return a couple of weeks later to chat with the store owner and see how the book was moving, we'd discuss books -- all very civilized and I got a real sense of what books were selling in what markets.
But now we're in an online world -- being able to talk face-to-face about Barking Rain at Wordstock was fun.
One person stopped by our booth and asked if we published literary fiction -- we could come up with several examples of literary fiction: “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Catcher in the Rye” -- but had to Google the term for a definition.
Wikipedia said that "To be considered literary, a work usually must be "critically acclaimed" and "serious". In practice, works of literary fiction often are "complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas." 

By that definition; the author wouldn't be calling they work literary fiction -- it seems a bit presumptuous. But later in the same Wikipedia article, it's suggested that literary fiction is a genre -- "Neal Stephenson has suggested that while any definition will be simplistic there is a general cultural difference between literary and genre fiction, created by who the author is accountable to. Literary novelists are typically supported by patronage via employment at a university or similar institutions, with the continuation of such positions determined not by book sales but by critical acclaim by other established literary authors and critics. Genre fiction writers seek to support themselves by book sales and write to please a mass audience."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wordstock and Elvis Rain

I spent this weekend in Portland (Oregon) at Wordstock: a whirlwind of vendors, authors, writers, editors; book readings, panels, workshops and presentations. There was a fantastic kid area with activities and presentations from fabulously entertaining children's authors. (Squish the Super Amoeba!) Kids 0-13 could get in free and there were lots of families at the event.

The kids could even read to a dog, thanks to friendly support from therapy dogs from Pet Partners (formerly known as the Delta Society). The dogs were a big hit: one little girl carefully held the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" open so Jack the dog could see the pictures: he looked at them gravely and wagged his tail.

I was holding down a corner of the Barking Rain Press booth; and in the course of a couple of days of chatting with folks who stopped by I realized that we have published no stories about barking, rain or dogs: our beagle mascot, Elvis, has no backstory!

I have decided that Elvis is a retired drug-sniffing beagle: rescued from the pound and very good at  his job. However, he hates the rain: he won't go outside unless his person puts an umbrella up... and now to think of some adventures for Elvis...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Open Source

I am a computer geek who still believes that software should be open-source, even though my clients use software that requires me to buy and use licensed products. I used to tell my students that Mac-vs-PC was not the point: use the machine that suits you best. If you really want power using a computer, learn to write code. When I was first learning computers -- that would be the 1960's -- the only way to use a computer was to learn code, which was the way it was until we moved to the GUI, the graphical interface. But here's the deal -- several decades later I can still see the code under the interface... just like... writers can see the alphabet in their writing.
You knew I'd manage to segue from computer geek to writing and editing, yes?
I learned my A-B-C's; then learned that the letters could be combined to make words, the words to make sentences. How we come to do this is nothing short of miraculous, since our alphabet has become an abstract representation of what were once organic sounds and symbols. I remember the first page of each letter in my World Book Encyclopedia showed how the letter evolved: "A" started out as an ox head and so forth. 
I am also a letterform and typeface geek, worked as a typographer when the world needed such folks -- but that's as far as I'll digress here, except that searching for a good link to the origins of the alphabet led me to a book, which I just ordered -- ah the hypertext world!
In second grade Mrs. Sandstedt asked us to write about what super-power we would want; we wrote for a few minutes, then she invited us one by one to her desk to share our papers with her. I remember what I wrote: I wanted to speak all the languages in the world; I remember her reply -- "that's what artists and writers do."
Hear that? Artists and writers speak all the languages in the world.
I also remember how I had Mrs. Sandstedt's undivided attention for ten minutes: Ever year I taught I tried my best to give a few minutes of my undivided attention as often as I could. No small feat when as a middle and high school teacher I saw 100-120 students a day.
But back around to that open source concept.
In California "...Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a proposal to create a website that will allow students to download digital versions of popular textbooks for free."
Do you remember buying textbooks at the beginning of the semester and returning them at the end? I do – and I remember often reading assignments in the texts in the college bookstore because I couldn't afford the books – and eat too.
Going from $1000 a year or more in textbooks to free is darn cool for the students, but negotiating the digital rights with the publishers will be challenging. there is, of course, a committee overseeing the process, first texts will be available in 2013-2014.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One of Those Weeks

Once of those weeks; dog hurt, husband hurt back trying to help dog, house is completely torn apart in the midst of getting re-organized -- as is an acre of garden.

And yet, one part of the house is tidied; another part shows progress; the third is still a wreck, but you can see that work has been done. Same for the garden.

I've taken to a version ofsquare-meter (square-yard) gardening, subdividing the garden beds into smaller beds that are easily managed. I usually cannot spend hours working on a 10' x 12' garden bed -- or thereabouts, since very little in my garden is square.

However, when that bed is divided into six smaller beds, no problem. On a day where everything is going wacky, I can tend to one small bed and feel virtuous. If I manage a small bed or two a day, over the course of a year most of the garden looks like someone is giving it a go. (And because getting to town is problematic in the winter, I grow food year-round.)

Mel Bartholomew has set himself up as the originator and guru of square-foot gardening--although frankly, I remember my neighbors practicing the method decades before. Like my childhood neighbors, I am blessed with heavy clay soil that grows nothing easily: I’d have to bring in topsoil, not an option out here.

Lolo Houbein's philosophy is closer to mine -- I grow things mixed wildly in my garden squares-- my current favorite has curly kale, chard, broccoli, snapdragons and an errant nasturtium bubbling out of it.
OK, yes, all of the above reminds me of the script I'm working on -- chaos, but this scene works -- and this one almost works -- and the whole thing is rather pleasing to the eye if I skim over the half-written and half edited bits.

Bear with me while I apply my garden metaphor to the writing process, and I'll try not beat you silly with it --

--if you are the sort of gardener who likes straight rows, beautifully tilled soil and timed drip irrigation, then by all means, that's how you should garden;

--if you are rather haphazard like me, be haphazard;

--if you live in an urban area, join a community garden group (here's Seattle's version, the P-Patch) or grow plants in containers;

--if you can't grow a thing, and you want a garden, hire a gardener; or if gardening doesn't interest you, support local farmers -- take in the sights and sounds and smells at a farmer's market, join a CSA.

There is no one right writing process or editing process; do what works for you, keep going, celebrate any success, big or little. (Hooray! I put pen to paper today and wrote a grocery list!)

I can't it better than Ray Bradbury: we're supposed to be having fun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Writers live in a curious world, where everyone has an idea for a story (see last week's blog) -- or it feels like every story that could be told has been told. Nonetheless, we keep writing.
Web sites like Writers Write and Grammar Girl abound with writing tips, and ideas. I use a couple of writing prompt sites. The Writer's Digest site is great -- and for quick inspiration I like CreativeWritingPrompts.com -- rollover the numbers on the site with your mouse and a prompt pops up. #192: Why would a pastry chef refuse to move to another town? (Sweeney Todd immediately popped into my mind!)

There is no shortage of great ideas -- the writer's CRAFT is the difference. Often the craft is finding a new way to tell a familiar story; or a familiar way to tell a familiar story -- as a friend who writes romance novels says, "I give my readers the stories they expect."

But there is also the unexpected.

How do you give Shakespeare -- specifically "Hamlet" -- a twist? Tom Stoppard does it with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. A line near the end of "Hamlet" triggers the entire play, first produced in 1966 (and made into a film in 1990). This play is interwoven with scenes from Hamlet; often with the two protagonists looking on in amazement at the action on the stage. I often taught the two plays together and one of my students said, "That Stoppard guy, he's just samplin' Shakespeare, right?"

Right! Exactly. 
Judy Garland et al in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) was the only Wizard of Oz for a very long time. Then the movie was remade as The Wiz -- an “urbanized retelling” with an all-Black cast, first as a play (1975) and a movie (1978, Motown Productions with Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russell, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor). The movie was a flop, though it offered up one hit tune ("Ease On Down the Road"). 
There were no more Oz stories until Gregory McGuire published  Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995). In 1998, Steven Schwartz acquired the stage rights and worked with Winnie Holzman to develop the mega award-winning musical Wicked: the Untold Story of the Witches of Oz (debut 2003). "Wicked" the musical does reference the 1939 film – it almost has to because “The Wizard of Oz is deeply embedded into our popular culture.
Occasionally, we get two interpretations of the same story, almost at the same time -- for instance, Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Valmont (1989) are two movies based on the same book: Chloderos Laclos' 1782 (yes, 1782) novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses". Though “Dangerous Liasons” is the better-known of the two, “Valmont” is preferred by film buffs.  For a comparison of the two see The Clever Pup.
And... vampires. Audiences never seem to tire of vampire stories. How many ways can the story be told? The original Nosterafu (1922) still stands; and in recent memory, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, (1994) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)  and the Twilight Series, books and movies (2005-present) have all covered familiar ground in very different ways. And the vampire stories just keep coming -- Florence Wilson write Teenage Vampire when she was fourteen years old...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Be Mean to Your Characters

I subscribe to a freelancer listserv and every week there's a request for a writer to ghost or "polish" a memoir or a novel about pioneer ancestors or dad's World War II experiences. I reviewed dozens of these manuscripts at my first editing job and by the tenth or maybe the twentieth it was apparent that the stories were all interesting, but much more interesting to the family than to a potential audience of readers.

We had a stack in the slush pile that were carefully typewritten and bound with a nice title page -- "The Johnson-Inglemoor Family History". Maybe it is fascinating to the family to know how great-grandpa and grandma got to Canada or the USA; met, married, had trials and tribulations, and ultimately prospered. Cue the three-generations family reunion photo, newest baby in great-grandma's lap.

But it’s BORING to the rest of us: we've got our own family stories. How is yours different?

The "Als" (see blog post from May 28, 2012) used to call these manuscripts R2R (rags-to-riches), or 40AM (forty-acres-and-a-mule), or IMG (immigrant makes good).

There was only one manuscript among the dozens of R2R, 40AM and IMG manscripts that intrigued the "Als". In Chapter Two the author wrote, "There was a rumor that great-grandpa had a whole 'nother family back in Kentucky..."

The "other family" could have made for an interesting story, but when we asked the author if she could elaborate, she balked. "Oh no, we don't talk about that," she said. "The real story is how great-grandpa came out here and built the mill with his own hands."

That scenario would repeat itself over and over, especially in family memoirs, even when novelized -- a causal mention of a crazy cousin who "caused a lot of trouble" or a grandmother rumored to have been a nun -- whenever the story got interesting, the author would pull back and offer the happy-days story.

The truth is – you have to be awful to your characters; dig for the dirt.

Kurt Vonnegut talks about writing short stories: a-minute-and-a-half eight steps. Step 6: be a sadist -- make awful things happen to your characters in order that the reader see what they are made of.

And Vonnegut talks amusingly about the Shape of Stories. The text of this talk appears in his book Palm Sunday.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hooray -- You're (Almost) Published!

YAY! A publisher has accepted your manuscript, you've been assigned an editor. Are you ready for the hard work? Do you really, really love that manuscript? I hope you do because it is time to launch your book: you will be its biggest cheerleader, its biggest promoter, and you will be talking about it non-stop. A friend said doing her doctoral dissertation was easier than selling her first book: "At least I had the PhD after years of research and writing: I have been selling this book for THREE YEARS and everyone asks me when I'm going to write another one!"

I had a long list of suggestions prepared for authors preparing to launch books, but I discovered that I couldn't say it better than Michael Hyatt, who describes in detail not only how to launch a book, but How to Launch a Bestselling Book

The entire post (summarized below) is an excellent primer on working every angle to get your book not just noticed, but SELLING.


Hyatt writes, " I can’t promise this will work for you. While I characterize this as a “formula,” I refer to it as my formula. This is what worked for me. Hopefully, you can personalize what I have done and build on it. This assumes you have a wow product. As I say in my Platform keynote speech (quoting from David Ogilvy), “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.” Your book must meet a felt need, be well-written, and have the potential to reach a large enough segment of the population.

This (list) doesn’t include what the publisher did... I assumed personal responsibility. I wasn’t expecting the publishing company to make me famous or make my book successful. I’ve been in this business a long time, and that’s not how it works. If you expect this, you will be disappointed."

Hyatt's bullet points are:

  • I set a specific goal.
  • I engaged my tribe early. (Hyatt blogged parts of his book before publication)
  • I secured endorsements.
  • I formed a launch team.
  • I focused the promotion.
  • I created a can’t-say-no offer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Slush Pile & Acknowledging Your Genius

You've got a completed manuscript! Congratulations! But is it really done?

Every publisher has a "slush pile" -- manuscripts that have promise, but...

Following are the top five varieties of manuscripts I've read in countless slush piles: (1) a "completed" manuscript that reads like a first or second draft--particularly common after the 3-Day Novel Contest and NaNoWriMo; (2) a writer who should know better; (3) endless description about the wonderful place I'm about to enter; (4) a great story that doesn't start in Chapter One; (5) a story that's all exposition and dialogue that's more exposition.

1. This reads like a second draft. There's a story in here, but I can hardly find it. Reject.

2. Author says he has a MFA in Creative Writing -- then he should know about arc of action -- there isn't one, even if I allow for the new-age-ish plotline and POV; horrible spelling, grammar and punctuation. Reject.

3. Great story premise but author spends first several chapters telling me all about the land of Oshtofoguwitz, I know where every hovel and castle is, but author doesn't get to the point of the travelogue until Chapter Eight. Recommend author edit and resubmit for reconsideration in six months.

4. Excellent story and intriguing characters; but too much exposition at beginning -- story doesn't start until chapter five. Start story with Chapter Five, fold in exposition and this is a winner. If author is willing to make these edits, accept manuscript.

5. Endless exposition and when there's dialogue it's something like, "Remember when we killed that girl, well, we'd better be careful the cops don't catch us." Reject.

You're a Genius

I'm willing to admit that we editors and publishers may know nothing of your genius. The publishing world has many stories about rejected manuscripts that eventually became best sellers. However, how many times have you heard the SAME stories about The Thorn Birds or J.K. Rowling? (I'm tired of hearing them too.)

If your manuscript is the fabulous work you think it is, then publishers will take notice. And if you keep getting rejection letter after rejection letter and you are positive that your work is exactly what you want it to be, explore the pros and cons of every publishing avenue open to you.

As Nayia Moysidis says in her blog -- Unpublished? You Don’t Actually Suck: "Each year, a publishing house can expect to receive about 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts. Out of every 10,000 manuscripts submitted, about 3 are published. The odds are horrifying, which is perhaps why so many undiscovered writers turn to self-publication... There's no one to blame. It's not the publishing houses. It's not the literary agencies. It's not even you. With so much talent in the publishing world, it's opportunity that's the problem."

Moysidis goes on to promote her project -- the Writer's Bloq, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter: "If your work doesn't have a home on the streets you recognize, it's time to start a new path. If your writing simply doesn't belong to the neighborhoods you've visited, it's time to join our Bloq." An interesting premise and worth a look.


Next week: You got a manuscript accepted! Now comes the hard work: launching your book.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Myth Structure

I look for myth structure when I’m editing; every protagonist goes through some portion of the hero’s journey and tension builds when he stalls on a step, tries to skip a step, or runs away from the journey.

Perhaps your reader has never heard of Hero of a Thousand Faces or saw Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell, but he instinctively knows what the steps of the hero’s journey are – in the same way he knows how a story should “go”. I remember a six-year-old telling me that in his story first the boy finds a magic rock and then he loses it and the he finds it again.

Following are the steps in the hero’s journey. Imagine your favorite book or movie, or the manuscript you're working on right now – can you identify the steps in the plot?


The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Supernatural Aid (the Helper appears)
The Crossing of the First Threshold (into adventure)
The Belly of the Whale (hero separates from known world and self)


The Road of Trials (tests, often in threes)
The Meeting with the “Goddess” (the union of opposites)
Woman as the Temptress (hero is tempted)
Atonement with the Father (“father” as ultimate power)
Apotheosis (deification, hero rests)
The Ultimate Boon (the goal of the quest)


Refusal of the Return (to everyday life)
The Magic Flight (escape)
Rescue from Without
The Crossing of the Return Threshold (returning with wisdom)
Master of the Two Worlds (maybe just the material and spiritual worlds)
Freedom to Live

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Sybil" and Schreiber

How far would we go, as writers and editors, to have a mega-best-seller?

Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan came out in 2011 and it finally floated to the top of the stack of reading. I was fascinated with the story because it is the story of a writer, Flora Rheta Schreiber, who despite having serious doubts about her subject matter, wrote a best seller. She was goaded on by psychiatrist Dr. Connie Wilbur, who was trying to make her name diagnosing and curing patients of multiple personalities.

Shirley Mason, the real Sybil, was dependent on Dr. Wilbur and Dr. Wilbur on Shirley. And Dr. Wilbur and Shirley Mason depended on Flora Rheta Schreiber to tell their story. The relationship between psychiatrist and patient -- and Shirley Mason's awareness that she was faking it to make her psychiatrist happy -- is summed up in an article on the PsychCentral web site.

But what of the WRITER? Flora Rheta Schreiber was the psychiatry editor of Science Digest when she heard about Shirley Mason, a patient of Dr. Connie Wilbur. Debbie Nathan writes that Schreiber was influenced by Truman Capote's In Cold Blood -- a "non-fiction novel" -- a serious work.

Schreiber had a startling true story and two compelling protagonists, a troubled woman and a caring psychiatrist. But who was the antagonist? The multiple personalities? Shirley Mason's mother became the antagonist, a crazy woman, sexually abusing her daughter, fragmenting "Sybil" into multiple personalities. Presto, there's the arc of action: young woman, horribly abused, fractures into sixteen distinct personalities, but with therapy from a caring psychiatrist, "re-integrates" all her personalities into one and lives happily ever after.

It would have made a great work of non-fiction, a case study with composite characters and events; even if Dr. Connie Wilbur was there as herself. But Sybil was presented as non-fiction, the truth, no composite characters (a claim changed with a subsequent edition) and barely-disguised real names--and it was a huge hit, on the New York Times best seller list, seven million copies sold. Almost immediately readers who knew Shirley had guessed "Sybil's" real identity.

Nathan states that Schreiber had received a sizable advance and was under pressure from Dr. Wilbur to publish. Nathan states that Schreiber had her doubts and considered withdrawing from the project, but pressed on, looking for the best-seller, and she got it. In doing so Dr. Wilbur, Shirley Mason and Flora Schreiber became "Sybil Inc." -- a real entity, designed to mine the Sybil story. A "Sybil" musical? A board game?

And what of the EDITOR? I would have been very dubious if asked to edit the manuscript as non-fiction. Sixteen personalities? Has anyone checked the facts? Could "Sybil" really have been present at the real events she's described? Are some of these events made up? Why was "Sybil" taking a cornucopia of mind-bending drugs? Wouldn't they affect what you believed you saw or what you said?

But I also admit I am coming from a 2012 perspective, after working on stories like the"satanic ritual" daycare cases -- where the "confessions" of children were coerced. (The full story of one case can be found in Frontline: Innocence Lost, which aired on PBS in 1991, 1993 and 1997. )

After "Sybil", Nathan writes that Schreiber was compelled to write another non-fiction novel. She published The Shoemaker: Anatomy of a Psychiatric in 1983; it made the best seller list, but not for long and was generally deemed a flop.

Nathan writes, "It was one thing to promote the illness of 'Sybil'... who would not have harmed a flea. It was quite another to make a victim-hero of the infamous Joe Kallinger, who... was a murderer." (page 206) Flora had become very friendly with Joe Kallinger and called him "Boomy Bum Boo" (page 205) -- and the families of his victims pressed charges against Schrieber.

How far would you go as a writer or editor to create that best seller?


Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Monday, August 13, 2012


The ugly fact is books are made out of books.” (Cormac McCarthy, The New York Times, 1992)

Plagarism has been in the news again, this time a storm around TV host, Washington Post columnist and author Fareed Zakaria. He acknowledged and apologized for lifting parts of a magazine article and parts of one his books. But wait, maybe he didn’t plagiarize, according to The Daily Beast. Maybe he or his researchers were guilty of being lazy -- grabbing a clip online and not bothering to track down the source.

I am fascinated by the story behind Q.R. Markham's "Assassin of Secrets"; which is comprised of passages lifted from a number of other novels, which led many to ask-- why did the author think--in the age of Google -- that he could get away with it? Or was it an elaborate ruse?

This New Yorker article says “Assassin of Secrets” is looking more and more like pastiche or collage, rather than a “novel,” as we properly understand the word.

Rowan wouldn’t be the only writer in recent years—the era of redefining what is meant by ‘intellectual property’—to use plagiarism to make a statement. Those whose points have been well-taken, however, have generally been up-front about their borrowing. Among the best-known are Jonathan Lethem, whose 2007 essay in Harper’s, ‘The Ecastasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,’ comprised only lifted passages; and the British “collagiste” Graham Rawle, whose 2009 novel “Woman’s World” was “assembled from 40,000 fragments of text snipped from women’s magazines.”

Both of these were praised for their meta properties: they worked on the story level and also critiqued and commented upon the stories they told through their acts of appropriation. If Rowan is trying to comment upon the spy genre—on how it is both tired and endlessly renewable, on how we as readers of the genre want nothing but to be astonished again and again by the same old thing—then he has done a bang-up job. If he wants to comment on our current notions of discovery, to turn us all into armchair detectives, Googling here and there and everywhere to solve the puzzle, he is a genius. (David Shields, whom James Wood wrote about last year in this magazine, might approve of his project.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

There's only one story

It really is all about the story and I can’t say it better than Bob Mayer:

The product is the story. Not the book, not the eBook, not the audio book. The Story.

The consumer is the reader. Not the bookstores, the platform, the distributor, the sales force. The Reader.

Authors produce story. Readers consume story. If anyone is in the path between Author and Reader they must add value to that connection.



I taught "Writing for Non-Writers" at a community college years ago. I expected maybe a half-dozen students, to my surprise, forty-plus people signed up. In the first class, I handed out two index cards to each student: on one, I asked students to write down what they wanted to write about.

Invariably, someone said, "I don't want to write down my topic because someone will steal it."

"OK just to write poetry or fiction or non-fiction, you can further subdivide that into short story, children's book, western, mystery, biography, etcetera... if you wish," I said, writing on the whiteboard, "Or any combination of those. Or maybe you want to write for magazines or newspapers. OK to write 'I don't know yet' too."

The class sorted the index cards by topic; we had two poets, seven who wanted to write children’s books, several who wanted to write for magazines and a couple of "I don't knows"; the class was just about equally divided between people who wanted to write fiction and those who wanted to write non-fiction. There were a large number of people who wanted to write biographies.

I had the class find the others who were writing in their genre; another invariable question, "Do we have to stay in these groups?"

"Of course not, but who's going to understand better your struggles than someone who's writing in the same genre as you?"

"I think it would be better if you mixed us up," said one gentleman.

"I will, next class," I said. "Take a few moments in your groups to exchange names, then we'll talk about your story."

"How do you know my story?" the gentleman asked as a woman--perhaps his wife -- poked him in the ribs.

"I don't know the details of your story," I said after the groups had met. "but I do know that there is only one story and that is -- something happened. Something happened and there's a story in it.

"Everything was going fine and something happened to upset the apple cart; everything was going to hell in a handbasket and something happened to make it less hellish; or nothing happened -- that is, something is always on the verge of happening, but it doesn't happen, or perhaps earth-shaking events are happening around your hero, your protagonist, but they don't affect him or her."

The room was dead silent except for the sound of pens scratching and laptop keys tapping.

"Can you repeat that?"

"Why don't you have slides?"

I repeated what I said and wrote on the whiteboard:

OK - not OK

Not OK - OK


And I said, "Writing well means listening well. The slides are on my website. OK, quick show of hands; as far as you know at this minute, how many of you have a story in mind where everything starts OK and things go awry? And... they start awry and get better? How about nothing happens?"

The two poets looked at each other and laughed. I said, "Poetry is a little different. There can be an arc of action--that's what we're talking about here -- the arc of action; but many poems are a snapshot of something in the human condition, explored in nuanced ways; poetry is more like painting to me."

“But there’s still a story.” said one of the students. “I make up stories about paintings all the time.”

I wrote on the whiteboard:


Monday, July 30, 2012

So you want to write A novel?

I can't say it any better than David Kazzie and note that Kazzie has done an great job of promoting his book The Jackpot with this video, which was re-posted on Facebook via Writer's Digest.

Authors who have published in the last few years know that only half the work is done once the book is published. The next step is promotion, getting your name and book out there, readings, signings, conference appearances. Making one's living as an author is not for the faint of heart; though you can be almost cripplingly shy, like an author I worked with. She hired me to do the phone work and schedule readings and signings; I introduced her, she read, signed books; afterward I'd send out her sweat-drenched clothes to be cleaned.

I met Betty in the steno pool (remember those?). I was a temp, a filing clerk, the filing cabinets I worked with were by Betty's desk. I'd see her writing in shorthand on a steno pad that she tucked into her bag and realized that it wasn't company work. One afternoon I scrunched down by her desk and asked what she was writing. "A novel, about a pale undertaker's assistant who prefers to work with the dead," she whispered.

Isn't that a great character description? I was hooked. We had our lunches together and talked about Jane, her heroine; we'd whisper about plot when we could get away with it at work, she'd pass me notes. At the end of the temp assignment I promised to look for the book when it was published.

Six years later I saw the book in softcover in Tower Books, but I would have missed it if I hadn't picked up the book and read, "Janet, a pale undertaker's assistant who prefers to work with the dead..."

The story had a new title and Betty was using a nom de plume, but I was sure it was her. I sent a letter to Betty via the publisher (we're in the years before email and web sites). Betty wrote back and asked me if I could work with her on her book tour. We had a good time, and the book sold modestly well.

I asked Betty if the stress of public appearances was worth it and she said, "If I were a really good author, maybe I could get away with never being seen, like JD Salinger or Harper Lee, Thomas Pynchon--not that I'm comparing my writing to theirs. But the writing should speak for itself, don't you think? Why do people need to see me?"

That's a question I still can't answer -- yes the writing should speak for itself and no, I don't know why many people want to meet the author. A friend says it's to reassure us readers that authors are real people; which she says is why so many people think they can be authors. They've had experiences, they have an idea for a book, there are a zillion books out there, therefore it shouldn't be too hard to write a book.

But we know that's not the case.


Next week: it's all the same story.

I would love to link to Betty's book in this blog, but the book is out of print and I cannot find it anywhere; and there's a new horror film out with the same title. If anyone has a copy of "Dead Shadows" by Sandra Pharnetton I'd love to buy it from you!