Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Stress

I'm feeling a little Christmas stress. No not the shopping. I've got that done. Every year it gets a little easier. When my kids were little, I used to stress over just the right gift. Did each child have exactly the same number? Then there were stocking stuffers and wrapping everything on Christmas Eve and wondering again if I'd managed to get the one thing they were hoping for.

Then they grew up and had kids of their own. Each of the grandchildren used to send us a list. Al would have a great time picking out the noisiest toys for the boys and I'd shop for frilly dresses for the girls. Then when they reached about ten or eleven, we discovered we could no longer afford anything on the boy's lists and the girls didn't want anything picked out by an adult, so we went to money or gift cards instead. Their parents said they liked the change. Now that most of my grandchildren are older, we only get to buy a few presents.

 Al and I still exchange gifts and he is the hardest person to buy for. It's a struggle to find something he hasn't already bought for himself.  I especially like to buy trips because then I get to share the gift, but they're hard to wrap. This year I think he'll be surprised by at least one gift under the tree.

 We got in the habit a long time ago of not using credit except for each other and then just to be able to hide the amount spent. There were years when there wasn't much money and the kids were little that nothing under the tree cost over $5, and then we had years where we spent a great deal. As long as there were presents to open, it didn't seem to matter, so we learned to stay within out budget.

It's the decorating that makes me crazy. I have no talent when it comes to handicrafts and that includes flower arrangements and decorating. I don't mind decorating the tree, even though when I'm finished it looks pretty thrown together. I tell myself all the twinkling lights make it pretty. I have a village and a collection of Santa Clauses that get set wherever there is space. We hang lights outside only because everyone on our street does and we don't want to be the black hole of the street. It makes me crazy to see Al teetering on a ladder. I can't help remembering the time he fell off and we had to rush him to emergency. I don't know how people can put decorations up before Thanksgiving and leave them there until after New Years. We don't even start until the middle of December and by the day after Christmas, I'm feeling claustrophobic from all the clutter and tired of the lights blinking on and off all night through my bedroom window. I know your probably thinking that I have no holiday spirit and you might be right.

However, instead of taking Christ out of Christmas, I wish there was a way to make it more about Him. I have small nativity sets that I treasure. I wish I could find a large one that I could afford to put on my lawn. In place of all the blinking lights, I'd have just one lighted star over the manager. I wish when I walked in the mall or turned on the radio, I'd hear Christmas carols celebrating His birth instead of jingles. I respect all religions and don't wish to offend anyone. Why is it socially unacceptable to expect others to respect mine? I don't want to take Santa Claus or any of the fun out of the Christmas season. I'm all for anything that fosters love and caring. I just want to feel more of the peace that comes when I let myself remember that Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Christ's birth and not about whether my home qualifies for a page in Good Housekeeping.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Goals vs. Resolutions

I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long time ago.  They are always the same--lose weight and exercise--and I never keep them for long, if at all. But goals, goals are different.  As an HR director, I always made sure we set new goals every year. Not setting them meant we just did the same thing year as last year, and that was no way to stay in business.

For me resolutions tend to be "don'ts" while goals are "do's. The minute I say to myself "don't," I instantly want to. While I tend to balk at goals as well, I'm more inclined to at least try. Goals only work for me if they're reasonable and if I give myself some leeway. For instance I'm really trying to discipline myself to write more.  I love writing, but let's face it, it's work. I've tried making a goal to write for a specific number of hours each day. I've set aside a time, turned on the computer and stared at the blank page, maybe even written a paragraph before I get distracted or decide there's something more important that I should be doing. Then because I have a life and I can't stay home every day, I can't write every day. So much for that goal.

Recently I decided I wanted to finish the mystery I've been working on by the end of the year. I figured out it would take writing 1000 words a day every day for the next month. For the last two days I've been able to accomplish that. This works for me. It's a finite goal with no restrictions. I can do it at ten in the morning or midnight, all at once or in increments. If I can't do all 1000 words one day, then I have to make up the difference the next day. As long as it averages out to 1000 a day, I'm still on target. Also it's a short term goal, one month, so it doesn't seem that intimidating.

Granted this works because I actually enjoy writing, so it's no real hardship. But I think there are elements here that might work for other things. For instance, maybe instead of dieting, I could make a goal to eat more vegetables.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Literature vs. Entertainment

As far as I can tell in order to be considered classic literature, a book needs to be long, boring, depressing and it's author dead. Most of them have interesting stories.  Unfortunately they often get bogged down in archaic language, and a habit of dwelling on the unfairness of life. I read for the fun of it. I don't like to be lectured, preached to made to feel like an idiot. I don't want to have to look up several multi syllable words no one uses just to understand a sentence. I prefer heart stopping action to multi-tissue sob stories.

I don't claim to be an intellectual. I have a reasonable education and a fairly extensive vocabulary. Still when it comes to the books I choose, I'm an entertainment slut. I'll read anything that holds my attention with the objective of having a good time. A good book is an adventure that transports me. If I learn something along the way, or it causes me to think about life differently, so much the better.  It doesn't have to be beautifully written in order to be entertaining, as long as the words create a clear picture and wrap me up in the story.

So you'll understand why I own all four of the Twilight books and have read them several times. I also loved the Harry Potter series which admittedly is better written. I hate the fact that critics keep trashing them. I can understand if they don't find the stories appealing. Everyone has different tastes. But to say that they are poorly written is just snobbery.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What is Patience?

Is it resisting the instinct to blow your horn when you're running late and some idiot doesn't notice the light turned green because he's texting? Or is it sitting calmly without any desire to ram him? Do thoughts or actions determine patience?

Over the years I've learned not to say "hurry up," "get out of my way" or even "please shut up" out loud. I move over behind slow moving trucks to let the tailgater get by without lifting a finger. I wait quietly in line while employees discuss last night adventures. I resist the urge to run over people who conduct reunions in the grocery aisle.  I try to listen and make appropriate comments when I have absolutely no interest in the topic being discussed.  I bring a book to the doctors and when I travel so I don't have to make polite conversation with strangers, but I've learned not to growl when they talk to me anyway. I've even managed to moderate my facial muscles, substituting a smile and saying "no problem" when everything within me is screaming.

But if the movie and dialog running in my head represent my level of patience, then I've failed miserably. In my head, the tailgater is getting pulled over by a cop, I lean over the counter and grab the talkative employee by hair, the people in the aisle scatter like bowling pins when I ram them with my cart. In my head, I tell people exactly what I'm thinking complete with expletives.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Today is our anniversary.

Forty-six years ago today, my boyfriend and I snuck away to Tijuana to get married. We told no one, no family members, no friends. We dished out $25, signed something written in Spanish, then the man shook out hands and told us we were married.  There was no ceremony. He handed us a receipt written in English stating we had paid for a marriage license and explained that it had to go to Mexico City to be registered and then it would be mailed to us.

Al bought me a ring. While trying to find our way back over the border, we got stopped by a cop for going the wrong way down a one-way street. Al bribed him with the money we had left and he let us go. Flat broke, our only choice was to spend out wedding night in my apartment.

 Five days later my husband left for San Antonio, Texas for basic training in the Air Force. Not long after, I moved back home to Las Vegas. We never received the license. Maybe it got lost in the mail when I moved. We'll never know. Without proof of marriage we couldn't get the extra money the Air Force provided to married men. So at the completion of basic training, my husband flew to Vegas and we got married again on Christmas Day.

Were we ever really married the first time? I have no idea.  Still, because this is the date we thought we got married, this is the day we celebrate. Besides Christmas already had enough going for it. After all this time, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that we are still together.

Al stayed in the Air Force for 24 years.  We suffered the loneliness of separation many times. Waiting in the states while he fought in Vietnam is an experience I never want to repeat. We argued, loved and raised three children while moving on the average of every three years. We never lived anywhere close to our family.

Although I didn't walk down an aisle in an expensive dress, eat wedding cake or throw flowers, it remains the best day of my life.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween

I love fall. Around here, it's the time of the year when you can sit outside and enjoy the sun. After a summer of darting from the air conditioned house to an air conditioned car, it feels good to be able to actually remain outside for more than five minutes. And now that I have a regular gardener, I don't have to feel guilty about sitting on the porch rather than weeding the flower beds.

However, fall also means Halloween. It's not that I have any objection to the actual holiday. I like handing out treats to the kiddies and there was a time when I looked forward to putting on a costume. When I worked at Circus Circus in Reno, our HR office coordinated our costumes.  One year we were a suit of cards. I think I was the three of hearts. In the hotel costume parade we even managed a very cute shuffle. One year we all dressed like M&Ms and I was the bag. I still have those costumes.

What I hate is having nothing on TV but recycled horror films for the entire month. I don't mind being scared, but today's horror films are more about blood and violence than spine tingling. Why do people want to watch the gore of sawed off limbs and people hacking up other people? Maybe it's a macho thing, you know, a challenge to see if you can sit through the whole thing without throwing up.
Not my idea of fun.  Give me an old Hitchcock suspense or even the hilarity of Abbot and Costello facing the mummy or Dracula. Now that's entertainment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm Alive!

At last I have conquered the cold! Well, not for everyone and not even permanently for me, just this last bout of it. After two weeks of sniffling, hacking, and swearing, (Yes, swearing. I'm not sick often, so I'm never able to accept the indignity of it happening to me) I was finally able to breathe all night without the aid of OTC drugs. Gone is the lack of energy and drugged out feeling that makes me want to curl up on the couch and whimper. I'm alive. The sun is shining. Life is great.

Now if only my husband felt the same way. Unfortunately I gave the dreaded germs to him. The good news is he is a much better patient than me. In fact, Al is the perfect patient for someone like me who has only minimal pampering or nursing instincts. He just wants to be left alone to sleep.  I can do that. My idea of nursing is making sure he takes pills and periodically checking to see if he's still living. Hand holding, sponging the brow with a cool cloth and soothing words are just not in my repertoire.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My husband and I just returned from traveling back to Nauvoo, Illinois. As a Mormon, Nauvoo is a part of my family history. I have relatives who were sealed in the Nauvoo temple, and ancestors who were born at Winter Quarters after the Saints were driven from their homes in Nauvoo. The highlight of the trip for me was being able to attend a session in the newly rebuilt temple. One of the temple workers told me how the church obtained the original building plans. When the missionaries in California knocked on a door, a man told them he wasn't interested in their message, but that the church might be interested in something that he had. He was a descendant of the architect and had a copy of the plans. The new temple was then constructed as close to the original plans as possible. I also took a tour of the Joseph Smith mansion now owned by the reorganized church and visited Carthage Jail where Joseph Smith was killed.

On our way back we stopped in Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain, for lunch. It always amazes me how towns capitalize on one person. They had a square set up with Becky Thatcher's home and the fence Tom Sawyer conned his friends into painting. Excuse me? Did the tourists understand that these places didn't ever exist except in Samuel Clement's mind? His boyhood home might have been authentic, but I wasn't curious enough to pay for a ticket.

I love the adventure of traveling and seeing new places, but I'm always glad to come home and sleep in my own bed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Art of Writing

Writing is an art form just as unique and individual as painting.  It takes skill, imagination and the talent to create a little bit of magic. Whether it's the language of  a lyrical poem that lifts the soul and in some way makes the world less frightening, the fast action of a spy thriller that pushes back the boredom of everyday life, or a tender love story that touches the heart, if the magic is there, it transforms the reader in some way.

Just like painting, it requires a certain amount of skill. Even with the most vivid imagination, if your words fail to paint the pictures in your head, there's no magic. Still, like any other art form, writing isn't as simple as constructing the perfect sentence or following a set of instructions. You can't  insert tab A in to slot B and come out with a best seller. Call it magic or talent, some part of what you write has to connect and resonate with the reader, expanding their understanding of themselves or the world around them. In its own way its more complicated than rocket science.

Experts like publishers and agents can't explain it, any more than an art expert can tell you how to create a masterpiece.  All they can do is give you examples of what works for them. It's as individual as taste.

Weaving magic is hard work, often painful, but ultimately satisfying.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm an Author

My first royalty check from Amazon arrived yesterday. Granted it won't buy that Caribbean cruise that my husband sings about when he sees me writing, his way of encouraging me to write that blockbuster that will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.  I keep telling him that's unrealistic, but I appreciate his faith in me. About the only thing I could buy with this check is dinner for two at McDonald's, but then that's not the point, which is that people actually paid money to read what I wrote.

I'm very grateful to the friends and relatives who put out their hard earned cash, some of whom had already read it for free.

I love to read.  I never thought I could actually write a book. Unlike a lot of writers who have felt compelled to write their whole lives, I took up writing later in life as a hobby. I don't do handicrafts because I suck at all of them. Even after extensive instruction, my finished product always looked like a kindergarten project and did nothing for my ego. My mother has a beautiful voice and paints. Sadly she refused to pass any of those talents on to me.  She also kept the boobs and gave me a big butt, but that's another story.

Having failed at all the regular hobbies, I decided to try writing.  Why not? it couldn't be any worse than the sweater I tried knit. To my surprise, I enjoyed the process and finished a book. Even more astonishing to me, people outside my immediate family asked to read it and when finished said they couldn't wait for the sequel.

While my writing may never lead to an interview on the Today Show, I'm proud of what I've written and to be able to say, "I sold a book!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Love and Marriage

Most of us get married somewhere in our twenty's when we don't have enough experience to pick a career let alone a lifetime companion. We aren't even fully formed ourselves. In my twenty's I didn't know a thing about love.  My parents adored each other and I assumed that's all it took. You fell in love, got married and the happily ever after thing just happened. Somehow your heart would simply pick out the right person.

Obviously, that's not true.  So how in the world did I manage at twenty to pick the perfect man for me? I can look back and know it wasn't a decision based on logic. I'm impulsive and Al's idea of acting on impulse is having less than two days to prepare. In high school I dreaded sitting through history. He loved it. I don't carry cash because I can't hold on to it.  Al panics when our checking account slips below his comfort zone. (It's a good thing I kept the checkbook during the lean years when a good month meant I had enough money left to buy milk and bread the week before pay day.) I'm an optimist, always sure everything will turn out perfectly.  Al plans for the worst. We don't watch the same TV shows and we're not even the same religion. Yet somehow we compliment each other and it works.

We've been married forever, or at least longer than we were single, and every day with him is better than yesterday. Best of all, he makes me feel loved and wanted and even at times beautiful. Trust me, that's a challenge. I have a heartless mirror that shows me every every extra pound and wrinkle. Not that we haven't had our problems.  You can't be that different and expect not to argue, sometimes at the top of our lungs. Actually I'm the only one who yells. Al just walks away until he calms down.  I used to resent it, wanting to fight it out and then kiss and make up. Now I appreciate the control it takes to walk away when you're that angry, rather than lash out and hurt someone with words or actions that no amount of kissing can erase.

In the beginning love meant physical attraction, wanting to spend time together and having fun, now it means being terrified of having to live even one day without him. My mother once told me the most important thing in a marriage was respect.  She said love comes and goes, but if you have respect you'll always have something to build on. She's a smart woman.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trash or Treasure

I saw an advertisement for a ghostwriter for several erotica stories.  What?  He can't write his own sex scenes? If I understand it correctly, erotica is all about graphic sex and not much else.  So if this guy needs a ghost writer who is willing to write the sex part, what exactly is he writing?

I admit I don't understand the erotica thing anyway.  Heaven know it sells, but then there's always been a good market for pornography. What I don't get is why a professional writer would consider turning out this trash. Money, of course, probably a great deal of it. However, the fact that most of these writers use a pen name rather than their real name tells me how proud they are of their work.  It's not like it requires a large vocabulary and I doubt the reader cares about whether you've used the correct syntax, as long as you've thrown vulgarity and swear words in every other sentence, and what they read makes them doubt the quality of their own love life. It's not hard to appeal to our baser instincts.

So much of what we read, see on TV, and listen to on the radio is about sex. Not love, not finding someone to share your life with, just sex.  A very popular song with teenagers today is about drinking too much, dancing on tables, skinny dipping and then having sex with people they don't know, and doing it again every Friday night while making it all sound like great fun. No mention of the possibility of AIDS, STD, or even pregnancy and a hundred other possibilities. TV programs and movies have people ripping each other's clothes off after the first date.  That's lust, not love and not the basis of a lasting relationship.

Then I watched the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables.  What a wonderful story about love and sacrifice, no swear words or sex scenes.  In fact, the most moving part is about the unselfish love of a father for his adopted daughter.  To say the music is incredible would be an understatement.  It fills you with joy and a desire to be a better person. To me, that's what literature, music, and art should do.

I have no illusions about my ability to write a classic, but I want to be proud of what I do write, stories where good prevails over evil, and the reader comes away feeling good about themselves and life in general.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Story's the Thing

I've been reading all about the rules a writer needs to follow in order to get published.  While I don't doubt that these things are important, without a great story and interesting characters, none of it will matter. 

Writing is a form of creation and shouldn't be stifled by rules. When I dither over the perfect sentence, I sometimes lose the excitement of allowing my imagination to soar. I've discovered that getting the plot down on paper while it's still fresh in my mind is more important than worrying about whether I've used active verbs, avoided adverbs, or even written in complete sentences. All that can be fixed in editing. Is the story so compelling that the reader must find out what happens next?  Are my characters interesting?  Most important how do I feel about what I've written?  It's my creation and whether an agent or publisher thinks it's worthy of publication shouldn't negate the satisfaction I feel when I read it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will Power

How do you develop will power?  Why do some people seem to have it naturally, while the rest of us dream about the day when it will suddenly come to us?  I used to think I had it.  I was a good student.  I went to school every day.  I did my homework.  When I went to work, I actually worked all day, even when the supervisor wasn't watching.  I only called off when I was sick.  As a mother, my kids came first.

However, I've never been able to stick to an exercise program.  I've managed it for a few days, even a couple of weeks.  Exercise helps you lose weight, tones those sagging muscles, gives you more energy to do the things you want to do, even makes you feel better.  I've read all the literature.  I've even experienced it,so why have I used my exercise machine as a clothes rack, buried my exercise videos, and my swimming pool continues to go unused? 

I realize part of the problem is that I'm not a creature of habit.  In fact, I detest habit.  I refuse to wash on Mondays, or clean on a specific day of the week.  Spontaneity seems like so much more fun, until I realize I'm out of underwear and the dust is an inch thick, but then I take care of those chores.  Not so with exercise. When I stand in front of the mirror surveying my spare tire and sagging arms, I tell myself to go exercise.  Not happening.

If this was my only lack of self control, I'd probably consider it a phobia and move on, but I also have a problem with chocolate.  I hear it calling to me, and my fat cells screaming to be nourished by this ambrosia. I have no trouble resisting dessert as long as it's not chocolate.  (In my opinion, white chocolate does not even qualify as chocolate, and therefore not a temptation.  Only real brown chocolate, the darker the better, sets up the siren call.)  My husband keeps me supplied in chocolate, insisting that withdrawals are too dangerous.  I suspect he means dangerous for him.

Someday, I'm going to eat right, exercise, and eliminate chocolate from my diet.  In addition, I'll write at least eight hours every day, clean house regularly, and keep the weeds out of my yard.  Just as soon as they find out how to bottle this stuff called will power.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Characters

To me the best part of writing is creating the characters.  As the story unfolds, I get to know them better and often they surprise me, taking the story in a different direction than I'd originally planned.  Once I set up a scene where one character tries to talk the hero out of running off to rescue the innocents. The story line had the hero ignoring the advise and leaving anyway.  However, once I wrote the dialog, I realized only a stupid man would leave at that time.  Since the character I created was not only brave, but highly intelligent, I had no choice but to rewrite the story line.

For me to continue to read a book, I have to like the main characters. They don't have to be perfect, just have redeeming qualities. I don't enjoy books written from villain's point of view. I don't want to see into the mind of a serial killer or rapist. I'll tolerate a few chapters, but not the whole book.  Even on TV or in the movies I can't stand a whiny, stupidly indecisive, or just plain annoying heroine.  Horror movies where the girl does nothing but scream and weep drive me insane. Usually it doesn't take long before I'm rooting for the villain to just kill her and put us all out of our misery.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Romance

What is romance? Movies and tv would have us believe it's soft music, candlelight, champagne and sex. But we all know you can have all the trappings and still not feel the romance.  Romance is all about feeling loved, wanted and cherished. Still, the only way the screen has of depicting feelings is with settings and dialog.  If they tried to put all that into the dialog, the actor would sound sappy and insincere.   Books have the ability to let us see in to the minds and thoughts of a character so when he says, "You're my whole world and I can't live without you," we believe. 

Unfortunately like the screen, in real life all we have is words.  No one can see into our hearts and minds and know what we're really feeling.  Half the time what we were feeling is so mixed up with our fears and insecurities that even we aren't sure. It seems like once we fall in love, showing someone how we feel should be easy.  However, at some time, usually in our teenage years, we gave our heart to someone and they threw it back in our face crushed and mangled.  Once it healed, we were more careful, never sharing it again completely, always holding back a little, just in case. And we're afraid of sounding sappy. Yet, we crave those romantic moments.

Romance in real life is elusive. It's difficult to plan, and often happens spontaneously.  We can miss it, if we're not careful.  For instance, I feel loved and cherished when my husband is yelling at me for not calling when I'm running late when I see the fear in his eyes.   Romance is continuing to come home every night to the overwhelming responsibility, chaos and noise not because you have no where else to go, but because you can't stay away.  It can be as wonderful and selfless as someone rubbing your tired aching feet, or as simple as feeling someone reach out a hand or a foot in the middle of the night just to touch you. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reading

I love to read.  When I was little and sent to my room to clean it, I'd read instead.  As a wife and mother when my children napped, instead of doing all the things I should have been doing, I read. When they got older and went to school, I went to work, and it because harder to carve out time to read, so I read on my lunch hour and while taking a bath a night.  There never seemed to be enough time to read.  I've often lost needed sleep to stay up and finish a book. 

Recently I went to a seminar where the speaker said that a large number of people who graduate from high school and college never read another book.  All I could think was how sad.  Although I've had the opportunity to travel a great deal, I visited many of those places first in books.  I've met people and had experiences through books not possible in any other way. Even though I read mainly fiction simply for the fun of it, my life is richer and my outlook broader.

Now that I have more time on my hands, I'm still reading every chance I get.  My tastes are varied and it would probably be easier to list what I don't like.  I didn't used to like romance novels.  I thought they were plot less.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get together, the end.  In one of the first ones I tried the man and woman met and fell in love after only fifteen minutes.  I closed the book at that point, unable to stretch my imagination that far.  However, since then I've discovered Nora Roberts and am an avid fan.  I don't enjoy poetry unless I'm the one writing it.  Although I've read a variety of self-help books, I haven't found them much help.  I avoid anything depressing or that describes hurting children or that includes graphic sex or violence of any kind. I want happy endings.  When I close a book, I want to feel great.  I don't want to have nightmares, so I generally don't read horror stories, sorry Stephen King.

Lately I've discovered young adult novels, all of the excitement without the sex or gore.  If any of you have authors you love, I'd welcome your suggestions.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weeds

I live in the desert where no plants are supposed to grow.  When I had a lawn, without constant watering it turned brown under the summer sun.  Now I have desert landscaping and the grass insists upon coming up everywhere, around the trees and bushes which only get a minimum of water, and even through the heavy black plastic covered by rocks. I can't even pull it out because the ground is too dry. What perverse law of nature decrees that grass grow where it's not wanted and weeds crowd out the grass in a lawn?

Writers Groups

There's many different kinds of writers groups all dedicated to helping the novice writer.  Some meet monthly and have speakers.  If I'm looking for information, I prefer books.  I'm not totally anti-social.  I like people, just in small doses. However, after being in business for so many years, forced to sit through endless meetings and attend boring seminars, I tend to avoid that type of meeting.  Still looking for input on my writing, I found a critique group where I could bring a chapter and get feedback.  It amazed me how many people were writing books, most of them really good. Again after enduring the politics of the business world, I was stunned at the lack of professional jealousy.  Granted most of us weren't professional writers, but still. Instead of being insulting or even discouraging, the critiques were kind and constructive.  They pointed out grammatical errors as well as holes in the plot.

The one thing I had to learn was, while I respected each person's point of view, ultimately it was my creation and I had to be satisfied with the result.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Publishers and Agents

Wanting an unbiased critique of my manuscript, I decided to send it to several publishers and agents.  However, after some research, I found that isn't possible.  None of the big publishers and very few of the others will accept  a manuscript that isn't submitted by an agent. But wait. Agents won't look at your manuscript either.  You have to submit what they call a Query Letter.  If writing a novel isn't difficult enough, they expect you to write one paragraph describing the masterpiece you've worked on for months, maybe even years, in one scintillating paragraph that so intrigues them that they ask to read a few pages of the actual book. Not one page, but one paragraph. The second paragraph of this letter should be devoted to your other writing accomplishments which, the books tell me, should only include stuff you've had published. Talk about a catch 22. 

The letter should include how your book is different from all the other books on the market.  But what I'm trying to sell is a murder mystery.  Someone dies, clues come to light, the detectives finally solve the murder, that's the genre.  The only real differences are my own writing style, the twists and turns of the plot, and the characters I create.  Unless I add zombie killers, or turn one of the detectives into a vampire, no wait, that's been done, how different can it be?  How do they expect me to explain either the intricate plot lines or the characters on one lousy paragraph?  On the other hand, why do they want it to be that different anyway?  Mysteries are big sellers.  Why wouldn't you want to find another Agatha Christie? (Not that I would be bold enough to compare myself with her, but just saying.)

Okay, so in spite of the obstacles, I gave it a shot. Most of them simply didn't reply.  Others sent a one line email saying essentially, "Thanks but no thanks."  I didn't even get a critique of the letter. Back to square one.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Insecurity

I have to thank all of my friends who visited this blog. I'm wondering if everyone who creates something always worries about whether it's any good.  Or are there people in the world who can say, "This is me. Like it. Don't like it.  It doesn't matter."  I love what I write, at least while I'm writing it.  However, whenever I let someone read it and they say, "Oh I really liked it." I can't help but wonder what they would say if they didn't.  I know I wouldn't have the courage to tell someone I cared about, "This was so bad I couldn't even finish it.  You really need to get a new hobby because you suck at this." Instead, I would find something to praise.  So how do you tell if someone actually like what you wrote?  We send it out to publishers or agents who don't care about our feelings.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Excerpt from Double Down

Chapter One

The Filipino kitchen steward reached for one of the sex toys that we’d confiscated from his work locker. Leaning over my desk, he waved it in front of my face. “You try, I promise you like.”
At a loss for words, a flush burning my cheeks, I looked at Alan Harris, the Security Director, for help.
He had his lips pressed tightly together. His eyes watered from the effort to keep from laughing. I scowled at him. Rearranging his face into an appropriate somber expression, he turned to the man, took the item out of his hands, and laid it back on the desk.
 “Please sit down Mr. Pinos. What Ms. Peterson is trying to tell you is that you can’t keep these things in your locker. It’s against the rules.”
“No can keep here? But people need to see to buy.” Mr. Pinos sat down looking thoroughly confused.
For the last ten minutes, we had been trying to explain to Mr. Pinos that he couldn’t supplement his income by selling sex toys out of his locker to other employees on property. Even after his supervisor finally arrived and explained it to him in his native language, Tagalog, Mr. Pinos continued to argue. The only words I understood were “Las Vegas.”
His supervisor turned to us and explained in English, “Mr. Pinos is shocked a casino in Las Vegas would have such rules.”
Just a typical day in Las Vegas, sunny and hot with a chance of weird. As Human Resource Director for the Royal Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, this wasn’t even one of my more bizarre disciplinary interviews. Tag lines like “Sin City” and “Everything that Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” very effectively convinced potential employees as well as customers that anything was acceptable in Vegas. After eight years on the job, I’d barely managed to convince the supervisory staff that they have to abide by the law.
With over 1600 employees, I don’t do all the disciplinary interviews. Normally my Labor Relations Manager would be sitting here instead of me, but it was after six and I was the only one still in the office when Alan called.
After several more minutes of argument, the supervisor led the resigned looking Mr. Pinos out of my office. He was even more disappointed when Alan refused to allow him to take the evidence with him.
During the conversation, I’d been trying to figure out the purpose of one of the contraptions. After they left, I held it up, carefully touching only the plastic wrap, and twisted it first one way and then the other. I was married once a while back, so not particularly na├»ve, but I’d never come across anything like it. Turning to Alan I said, “I give up. What is this?”
Standing up and taking it out of my hand, he said, “Trust me, you’ll never have a use for it.” Since he said it with a grin and a wink, I wasn’t sure whether that was an offer or a statement of fact. There had always been chemistry between us. We flirted, but that’s as far as it went. Company policy strictly forbids any relationship between executives. That didn’t stop me from ogling his nice tight rear bending over my desk as he gathered up the rest of the toys.
Alan had sandy hair, blue eyes and at six foot was slightly taller than I was. Even in his suit, it was obvious he worked out regularly. When Alan stood up, I wrenched my eyes up to look at his face
“Hey Val, you want to go get some dinner,” he asked with a hint of a smile as if he knew where my eyes had been.
We’d eaten dinner together several times. It was usually less of a date, and more like two people who lived alone and couldn’t face cooking after a long day. Alan was always reluctant to talk about himself or his past. All I knew was that when the hotel recruited him from somewhere in the Midwest, his wife stayed behind to sell the house. After six months, instead of selling the house, she served him with divorce papers, winning total custody of their daughter. Inevitably, we ended up talking about work.
I wasn’t in the mood. Stuffing my swollen feet back into the brand new pair of shoes lying under my desk, my only thought was bandaging the blisters on my heels. “Thanks, but I’m going home. If I don’t make it to the cleaners before they close, and do some laundry, I’ll have to show up tomorrow going commando in jeans and a t-shirt.”
He cocked his head to one side and leered. “I’d like to see that, but I doubt if it would make the right impression at the executive staff meeting, especially since the corporate executives are supposed to be there.”
“I thought that wasn’t until the 24th.” Checking my calendar I found tomorrow was the 24t.h. I even had it circled in red. Usually Charlene, my secretary, reminded me. I remembered she seemed preoccupied, but because I had been in meetings all day, she’d left before I could question her.
I grabbed my purse out of a drawer, stuffed in my cell phone and dug out my keys. Alan waited while I locked up and turned off the lights. He walked me as far as the elevator to the parking garage.
 “You going home?” I asked.
“No, I’ve still got some work to do, and I need to stow these toys in the evidence locker.”
I said goodbye and rode down to the basement. At the end of the day, when I climb into the front seat of my blue Saturn, I’m always thankful that one of the perks of being an executive was a parking space in the garage. Evenings are still hot in Vegas. It may cool down to eighty degrees, but not until after midnight. In the summer after six in the evening, the temperature was usually still over ninety. The seat of a car sitting out in the sun can sear the skin right off the back of your legs and, until the air conditioning kicks in, the only way to hold the steering wheel was with your fingernails. My car wasn’t cool, but at least it was bearable. I cranked up the air, pulled out onto a side street that ran behind the hotel, and headed for the interstate.
The car cooled down by the time I reached the cleaners around the corner from my house. After buying back four suits, I drove home and pulled into my garage. A year after my promotion to director, I purchased this two-bedroom home in a quiet neighborhood close to downtown, but far enough away from the tourist corridors. It sat on a postage-size lot perfect for someone with no time for gardening. A small, covered, cement patio surrounded by desert plants took up the entire back yard. I treasured the fact that I owned a stand-alone house that didn’t share any walls with neighbors. If my neighbors fought or turned up their stereos, I couldn’t hear them. I lived alone, and I loved it. After talking to people all day long, the last thing I needed at night was company.
Kicking off my shoes, I hung the suits in the closet and stripped down to my underwear. Surveying myself in the mirror, I decided that at thirty, I didn’t look too bad. I’d always been thin. A tiny waist, a flat tummy, and natural blond hair I wore just skimming my shoulders. Offset small boobs and hips I considered too big. At five feet ten inches, my best features were my long legs. Throwing on shorts and a t-shirt, I picked up the phone that had been ringing since I opened the door.
“Hi Mom.”
“Don’t tell me you’re just getting home?”
“Yes.” Actually, this was early for me. I pulled a frozen dinner out of the freezer and shoved it in the microwave, while cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear.
“You work too hard. It’s no wonder you don’t have a social life.”
“I have a social life.”
“Really when’s the last time you went on a date?”
“Oh, that kind of social life.” The microwave dinged. I burned my fingers taking off the plastic wrap.
“I heard that. You’re nuking your dinner again. Instead of eating alone, you should be cooking Alan Harris a nice homemade meal.”
I sighed. “I’ve told you before. Alan and I are just friends.”
“What about that nice Mr. Jefferson I introduced you to last month?”
“Are you kidding? He was a least a foot shorter than me, and he had no neck.”
“At your age, you can’t afford to be so picky. He has a good job and he could afford to support you. You could quit that job, stay home, and have babies. Pretty soon, you’ll be too old to start a family. Everyone else my age already has two or three grandchildren.”
I loved my job and I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about having babies. I didn’t even like babysitting as a teenager. This wasn’t a new conversation, so I knew better than to mention any of that. I murmured appropriate remarks and waited until she ran down. Finally, she got to the reason she called.
“Eddie called and said he’s coming home this weekend. Can you come to dinner on Friday?”
 Eddie was my brother, my only sibling. A perpetual student, he’d been in college for over five years only recently deciding on a major. I hadn’t seen him for at least six months. We didn’t have a lot in common since he was several years younger. Still he had a sunny personality and a great sense of humor. I enjoyed his company. I located my purse, dug out my cell phone, and entered the date promising to be there. I told her I was looking forward to it. It was true. My mom was a great cook and, with my brother there, she would have to divide her nagging time between us.
Hanging up, I took my dinner out on the patio. The moisture from the misters cooled the slight breeze. I listened to the crickets, and watched the humming birds fight over the bird feeder. When it got dark, I went back inside, threw a load of laundry in the washer, and turned on the TV to watch the news. I was just getting ready for bed when the phone rang. I answered it, knowing it was probably someone from the resort. It wasn’t unusual for me to get calls in the middle of the night. Rules are, before a supervisor can suspend or fire someone, they had to call and run the facts by me. It kept the supervisors from making decisions in anger that the resort had to pay for later. Usually I can handle it over the phone.
Not this time. Alan told me that the police were there and wanted me to come down. Since I lived across town, I told him to give me about thirty minutes. I changed into slacks and a blouse, slipping on a pair of flats instead of the killer heels.
Once before when a former employee committed a crime, the police wanted me to pull his personnel file to check the addresses of references or family where he might be hiding. Assuming this was similar, I didn’t worry until I saw crime scene tape across the door to the HR office as I drove by.
I parked in my usual space and took the elevator up to the first floor. A uniformed officer standing guard outside the office door stopped me. Before I could give him my name, I spotted Alan in the window waving at me. He came out, and led me inside.
He put his arm around me and led me through the foyer, past the counter and into the office area. All the lights were on. The other office doors stood open, but everyone congregated in front of my office.
“Why the crime scenes tape?” I asked.
 “The police want to ask you a few questions.” He led me over to my secretary’s desk, just outside my office. A tall dark haired man in a suit leaned against her desk with his back to us talking to two security officers. Alan, keeping his arm around my shoulders, walked me over to introduce me. Tapping the man on the back he said, “Detective Delgado . . .”
When Detective Delgado turned around, my jaw dropped. I never expected to see anyone that good looking outside of an air brushed movie poster, dark hair, green eyes, muscular in all the right places, without an ounce of fat showing anywhere. He wore a custom tailored Armani suit with an air of smooth sophistication. Still something about the way he held himself hinted of danger. It gave him just enough of an edge to be believable as a cop. He focused glorious green eyes on me, igniting all my hormones. A wave of heat started somewhere in my middle and spread outward. He was at least six foot three because I had to look up at him. Masculinity poured off him like aftershave. I felt like a bloodhound that just caught the scent of raw steak.
Oblivious, Alan went on, “This is Valerie Peterson, that’s her office.”
I closed my mouth and tried to remember how to breathe. The detective stuck out his hand. Without conscious thought, my hand reached out to shake it. Unfortunately, I forgot how to let go and he had to pull his hand away.
When he looked away to introduce his partner, Brian Long, I pulled myself together. Detective Long looked like a detective, probably close to fifty, about my height, gray hair with a ruddy complexion and a potbelly hanging over his belt. He smiled and shook my hand. His blue gray eyes looked through you, reminding me of my father. Still holding my hand, he pulled me to the side so the men leading a covered gurney out of my office could get by.
Shocked I looked at Alan.
“It’s Monica.”
“My Monica?” Monica Smith, the Labor Relations Manager, had only worked for me for the last two months. When my old labor relations manager followed her Air Force husband to Germany, corporate asked me to take Monica. She worked at another property in St. Louis and needed to move to Las Vegas for personal reasons. When I interviewed her, she seemed well qualified with a clean record. I admit I had a hard time not letting her looks intimidate me. Monica had a fabulous figure, the kind every woman dreams of, tiny waist and hips, and large breasts. Combined with long blond hair and enormous blue eyes, it was hard not to hate her. However, being the self-assured, confident woman I am, I hired her anyway. Okay, I couldn‘t think of any good reason to deny her the transfer. Now Monica was dead.
Alan leaned in and whispered, “She was murdered here.”
“Murdered? Here?” I knew I sounded like an echo, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around the words. When the gurney passed, I looked through the open door and saw blood on the carpet. It dawned on me then, when he said here, he meant my office. I must have blanched because suddenly Alan shoved a chair under me, and someone else offered me water. When Detective Long offered me a tissue, I realized there were tears running down my face. Surprised, I took the tissue and mopped my face. I’m not generally a crier.
Detective Delgado stayed leaned up against the desk, looking down at me. I met his gaze and asked, “How?”
He ignored my question. His partner took out a notebook and a pen. Assuming they wanted Monica’s personal information in order to notify her next of kin, I stood and turned toward my office.
Detective Delgado stopped me. “Where are you going?” he said gruffly.
“To my office to pull Monica’s file. I keep all the HR employee files in my office. Isn’t that why you called me here?”
“You can’t go in there. Your office is now a crime scene.” He sounded slightly annoyed as if dealing with someone who wasn’t very bright.
Feeling stupid, I said, “Oh, of course,” and changed direction to walk around him to access Charlene’s computer. “Well, I can look up her address on the computer but it won’t tell me her next of kin.”
Frowning, he put his hand out to stop me, motioning for me to sit back down. “What time did you leave tonight?”
I remained standing. “About six. Chief Harris watched me lock up and walked me to the elevator.” Assuming that Alan had already told him this, I looked over at Alan. He’d moved away to stand against the wall. Arms folded and looking down, he didn’t say anything. I looked around for a trashcan to deposit the tissue Detective Long had given me, now a wadded up mess in my hand.
Detective Delgado pulled the can out from under Charlene’s desk. “Did you come back to the office for any reason?”
I dropped in the tissue. “Not until now.”
“What did you do when you left here?”
“I went home.”
“What time did you arrive at home?”
“About seven fifteen.”
He looked at his notes. “You live at 2346 E. Oakley?”
“Yes.” I wondered why he had my address written down.
The crease between his eyes reappeared. “Why did it take you over an hour to get home?”
“I stopped off at the cleaners.” I was starting to get pissed. Why were my movements important? Surely, he didn’t think I killed her.
Very slowly, punctuating every word, as if speaking to a child he said, “I need you to answer my questions in detail, please. What did you do when you got home?”
Angry now, I placed one hand on my hip and looked up at him. “I parked my car in the garage, walked to the bedroom, hung up my suits, and took off my clothes. I left my bra and panties on, in case you need to know that. I put on white shorts and a blue t-shirt, and then talked to my mother on the phone. I can give you her number because I’m sure you’ll want to verify the time. I took a frozen dinner from the refrigerator, walked to the microwave and when the timer beeped, I sat on the patio to eat it. Do you want to know what I ate for dinner?”
His lip curved up on one side as if stifling a smile. “Not at the moment. Can anyone other than your mother verify what time you got home?”
“Why? Do you think she would lie about it?” When he didn’t answer, I sighed and went on. “Not unless one my neighbors looked out their window. I live alone.” I finally sat down with my arms folded in my lap, scowling at him.
“Do you have any idea why Ms. Smith was here tonight?”
I relaxed a little. I’d expected these questions. “No. You would have to look at her calendar.”
“Did she often have a reason to come back after hours?”
“Yes, if she was conducting an investigation into an employee complaint or pending discipline, and needed to talk to someone who worked a later shift.”
“Would she do that in your office?”
“No. Normally she would speak to them somewhere near their work station.”
“Can you think of any reason why she would be in your office?”
“No.” I frowned. Now that he mentioned it, I realized how strange that was. “She shouldn’t have been able to get in my office. I keep it locked and she didn’t have a key. Only security, Charlene Larsen, who is my secretary, and I have keys.”
Two guys came out of my office stripping off rubber gloves. “We’re through for now. It’s all yours.”
Detective Delgado said, “Thanks. Ms. Peterson, I’d like you to take a look and see if you can tell if anything’s missing.”
A wave of odor assailed me as I walked in the door. Although I’d never smelled death before, this was more than just the smell of blood, coppery yet rancid, and something else I chose not to identify. My stomach roiled. Trying not to breathe, I concentrated on details to keep the queasiness under control.
The contents of my inbox and glass from broken picture frames lay strewn in front of the desk. One of the chairs that usually sat against the wall had been overturned on top of the mess. The other was shoved in the corner. A large puddle of blood congealed on the carpet. Blood and what looked to me like brain matter spattered the top and side of my computer, as well as the wall behind it. I couldn’t help picturing how she must have fallen and hit her head on the edge of the desk. I quickly looked away, and resisted the urge to vomit by sucking air through my teeth.
My chair sat against the back wall. The middle desk drawer with pencils and pens stood open, but the deeper side drawers remained locked. I handed my keys to a gloved police officer, who unlocked the right hand drawer.
“I don’t see anything missing. All the files looked to be undisturbed. That’s her file.” I pointed to the one with Monica’s name on it. When the police officer took it from the drawer and gave it to Delgado, I bolted from the office, leaping over the puddle of blood. Leaning against Charlene’s desk, several deep breaths failed to clear the smell or settle my stomach.
Detective Long who followed me out asked, “Are you all right?”
I nodded.
“Would you print out a list of the names and addresses of all the HR staff for me?”
Since they already had my address, he was probably just giving me something to do. Still, I was grateful for the distraction.
Detective Delgado came out and said, “You can go, but I don’t want you talking to anyone about this.”
“What about my staff? I’ll need to notify them.”
“No. I want to interview them as they come to work. I’d rather they didn’t know until then.”
Alan said, “I’ve arranged for an area in security for the police interviews and I notified Tony.”
Tony Augustino was our General Manage and our boss. It didn’t surprise me that Tony wasn’t there. While he insisted on being kept informed, he trusted his executives to be able to do their jobs while he did his. He would be on the phone notifying corporate we’d had a murder. Fortunately, the HR office was located as far away from any guest areas as possible. Even if the guests had noticed the cop cars, they may not have realized it had happened on hotel property.
It was almost two a.m. when Alan walked me out to the elevator once again. Alone together for the first time, I asked him the questions the detective refused to answer. “When did this happen?”
“Security called me at ten saying they found Monica lying on the floor of your office when they let in the night cleaners. The door to your office was open and the lights were on. I got here before the police arrived. It looked to me like she fell, hitting her head on the side of your desk. Those were the only injuries that I could see from the doorway. However, once the coroner examined her, I heard him tell the detectives that from the force of the blow, it couldn’t have been an accident. Someone pushed her.”
I drove home and crawled into bed for a few hours of sleep, hoping I wouldn’t have nightmares. They weren’t nightmares exactly, just vague images of blood dripping.

Excerpt from The Crystal's Curse

Stargazer Space Station orbiting earth -1968

Lrence rubbed his sweaty palms on the sides of his pants. He swallowed, trying to ease the tightness in his chest. The others seemed just as nervous standing outside the vault waiting for Cnoc to input the access code. Lrence peered into the shadows of the dimly lit hallway and listened. The eerie quiet, which should have been reassuring, pressed in on him, straining already taut nerves. He felt Kafra shiver. He put his arm around her and leaned in close to whisper in her ear. “You don’t have to do this. It’s not too late to go back.”

She bit her lip and shook her head.

He glanced over at Demitri leaning against the wall feigning nonchalance, wearing a big smile like this was all a game. His fingers steadily drumming the wall behind him gave him away. Always up for a challenge, he’d been the most enthusiastic about the plan. Maybe because he had the least to lose since he had no family to embarrass or to leave behind.

Remnr wasn’t even trying to pretend. Running his hand through his dark blond hair, he stood close behind Cnoc, leaning forward as if by his very presence he could make Cnoc go faster.

Cnoc wiped the sweat from his brow, flicking his long black hair out of his eyes. He elbowed Remnr. “Stop breathing down my neck.”

Remnr grunted softly, moving back only a fraction of an inch.

Kubal stood rigidly next to Lrence, his hands in his pockets. Even though he’d assured them he’d taken care of the alarm system and redirected the surveillance cameras so they couldn‘t be seen, he kept glancing up and down the corridor. Ex-army and head of security, Kubal’s willingness to join this group still surprised Lrence. Even now, Lrence couldn’t help wondering if he’d set them up. If anything went wrong, there would be no way to explain their presence in this top security hallway.

Finally, the lock clicked and the vault door swung open. One by one, they followed Cnoc into the vault. The crystals lay in individual boxes on a raised platform in the center of the vault. Cnoc carefully lifted the lid of the first box. Lrence held his breath, waiting for an alarm. There was only silence. Quickly, Cnoc opened the next two boxes handing Lrence three power crystals. Lrence tucked the crystals inside a leather pouch. Cnoc opened the remaining boxes and passed three crystals to each of them, retaining the last three for himself.

As they turned to leave, a red light over the vault door began blinking.

“What’s that?” Remnr whispered nervously.

“Our cue to leave,” replied Kubal. “We have exactly thirty seconds before that door locks.” He grabbed each of them and shoved them through the door. As the last one out, he managed to slip through just before it clanged shut and triggered a cacophony of alarms throughout the complex.

“I thought you said you disabled all the alarms,” grumbled Demitri.

Kubal rolled his eyes. “If you’d listened to my briefing, you’d know there remained a chance removing the crystals would trigger an alarm I couldn’t disarm. Follow me and shut up, we only have about three minutes to get out of here.”

He led them single file through carefully programmed gaps between the corridor cameras, often holding up a hand to stop them until a camera swiveled away. Timing was the key. As the last one in line, Lrence waited nervously shifting from one foot to the other watching for Kubal’s signal to move forward. He found it hard to stand quietly and walk slowly between cameras with alarms ringing and the sound of running guards coming closer, the urge to run almost overpowering. Finally, outside the secured area, they ran to the transporter and beamed to the surface. They still had to hurry. It wouldn’t take long for the authorities to find the beam out signature.

Lrence, as the leader of the group, looked at each of his five comrades. This was it then. There was no going back. By stealing the crystals, they’d be labeled as traitors and hunted down. Standing in front of the portal, they had no time for goodbyes, having said all that earlier. They would only be safe once they stepped through the portal. Safe but marooned on an alien planet, thought Lrence. After tonight, they could never again return home. They had sacrificed everything, for what? Were they saviors or traitors? Even after all these months of planning and debate, Lrence still didn’t know the answer. He just knew that he could not stand by while his planet plotted to enslave the entire inhabitants of another system.
One by one they stepped into the portal and disappeared into earth’s past.

To read more or to purchase this book, go to
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0054KD5LM or http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65615