Friday, September 30, 2011


The other day I read a blog post that gave me pause. A writer had been castigated by another writer because she was looking for an agent instead of self-pubbing. Now given all the changes in Amazon’s algorithms and how that’s radically affecting indie e-books, it’s pretty foolish to think e-pubbing is the answer to everything. Click here to learn more.

Regardless of what path or paths you decide to choose in presenting your work to the world or even if you write in a notebook and never show it to a living soul, we ought to be encouraging one another.

As I was mulling over the whole situation, I realized how rare it is for someone to encourage someone else. I don’t know if it’s our culture or if it’s human nature, but real encouragement is rare. And I’m not talking about the cheap politically correct “everyone is special” mumbo-jumbo, but real, thoughtful encouragement. Can you remember the last time you encouraged someone else? What about the last time someone encouraged you?

I remember a professor I had in college. Dr. Brown. He was an elderly man who smoked way too much, but he had two rare gifts. First, he was a true genius. The only one I have ever met. Two, he knew how to encourage. He encouraged me. He wrote insightful comments on my papers and exams. He called on me in class and complimented what I had to say. And guess what? I never worked as hard for any literature class, ever. I spent every free hour learning everything I could about critical theory and Restoration Literature, which I hate (except for Tristram Shandy—a marvel of wit that breaks every rule of writing and does it with style). I was ready should Dr. Brown say, “Connie, give me a Hegelian reading of Dryden’s ‘Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day.’” And I would have been able to do it, even though I hate Hegel, dislike Dryden, and the ode—meh. I became a Pamela expert, despite that fact that Samuel Richardson poured every ounce of his prodigious tediousness into the novel. And I did that all because this man encouraged me.

Can you imagine what we could do if we encouraged each other? What about you all? Any stories of encouragement you’d like to share?

Click here to read this week's post on the Screwing Up Time blog.

Click here to read A.B. Keuser's interview of me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Are all indie novelists do-it-yourselfers? I am. Maybe I got it from my immigrant mother or my I-can-fix-that father, but I always want to give something a try myself.

When the lawnmower stopped working, I took it apart and moved some wires and pieces around. It worked. My son, who was probably hoping to get out of mowing the lawn asked, “What did you do?” I said, “I’m not really sure, but it works now.”

I got into gardening that way. It seemed to me that if you stuck plants in dirt and watered them, they should grow. It was a little more complicated, but my dendrobium orchid has been blooming since March. (BTW, orchids are so easy to grow. Give them good light, occasional water, and ignore them. They’ll bloom. Then you can pretend they’re a lot of work.)

Brewing beer was a similar thing. Apparently, my great grandmother used to throw a huge pot on her stove and brew. I bought a huge pot and a brewer’s book, and I discovered that homebrew tastes really good.

Recently, I decided to make yogurt. The good stuff is too expensive. So I heated 8 cups of milk to 180, cooled it to 112, mixed in a few tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt with active cultures, and cooked it for nine hours. Afterwards, I refrigerated it. (If you don’t have a yogurt maker, wrap your Dutch oven in towels and let it set for a day or so.) Season as desired. (For a sweet tooth, try sugar and preserves. If you like savory, sprinkle the yogurt with Greek seasoning. YUM.)

Next up, cheese. I want to make Brie and blue cheese.

Tell me, are you a do-it-youselfer? If so, what have you done?

Here’s a photo of me making yogurt.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Author Photo

Once in my life I’ve done a photo shoot. It was for a modeling portfolio—but that is another story and a boring one to boot. Okay, I did do one other shot for my very first author photo, but those photos were taken by my daughter’s friend who was sixteen at the time so it wasn’t intimidating (Thanks, Rebekah, you did a wonderful job.) However, the time had come for a new photo.

We have a friend who’s a photographer. And she was having a special sale on photo shoots. It seemed like a great way to get an author photo and family Christmas picture. (I usually take the family Christmas photo with a cheap camera on a tripod and a timer amid grumbling and gnashing of teeth. And the lighting is always weird with half of us in the shade and half in the sun.)

Having a real photographer sounded great until I discovered an hour before the shoot, that the six of us don’t own clothes in the same color family. Ariel prefers muted colors—greys and browns. I like brighter colors—oranges, greens, and reds. The boys generally have whatever colors were on sale that their grandmother liked and bought them for their birthdays. My bed was covered with clothes none of which worked together. I was nearly panicked, telling myself that I was an idiot for not making clothes decisions earlier in the day/week.

Ariel said, “Let Dad do it when he comes home.” Now don’t cringe. I know most men don’t know a teal from a Prussian blue. But most men aren’t gifted artists. Calvin is. And his specialty is color. He can look at a beige wall, go to the paint store, and bring home the identical color. (Apparently, he “paints” the color in his mind—all he has to do is match it at the store.)

When Cal got home, he glanced at the piles of clothes on the bed and said, “Luke wears this, Matt this, Jake that, Ariel this, you this, and I’ll wear that.” worked!

Here are a couple of photos. They were taken by the amazing Rachael Venema of Raeven Photography. You should check out her website.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Reviews

One of the scariest things about being an author is book reviews. I had no idea.

A lot of reviews are unanticipated—the ones that show up on Amazon. Of those, there are the fun reviews, written by friends who aren’t writers, but read your book and loved it. Of course, an odd moment inevitably follows when you realize that they’re shocked that you could have written it and you wonder how much of a loser they think you are. But you let it go because you realize that they loved you even though they thought you were a loser, which is very cool.

Back to reviews. There are reviews written by strangers—they are the ultimate authorial experience. A complete stranger falls in love with your novel. Total rush. And, of course, there are the total loon reviews (thankfully, I’ve been spared these so far), where someone, who is most likely a sadist, decides you and your book are an appropriate punching bag. Not much you can do about those reviews except hope said person gets struck by lightning—just kidding, sort of.

Then there are the reviews you anticipate. Where either you ask a reviewer to consider your book or a reviewer contacts you and says they will be reviewing your book. These are wonderful opportunities. But too scary. (Talk about stress dreams.) You can’t help but wonder, what if my novel has spinach between its front teeth. Just because no one has noticed it thus far doesn’t mean it’s not there. Or what if this reviewer doesn’t connect to my main character or my plot or my voice? Those things happen.

A week or two ago a reviewer told me that she’d be reviewing Screwing Up Time. Yesterday, I got an email saying that she really enjoyed it. PHEW! I wanted to throw a party and dance around the house. Instead, I emailed my writing buddies, told my husband and sons (“That’s nice, Mom”), and made my daughter read the email on my laptop screen. So my blood pressure has returned to normal, that nervous twitch near my eye has disappeared, and I’m becoming more certain that my novel doesn’t have spinach between its teeth. At least, I’ll be convinced until I’m waiting for the next review.

Two Notes:

1. When the review and an author interview come out at the end of the month, I’ll post a link.

2. A big congratulations to Lydia and KO, who both signed with literary agents!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Benadryl Dreams

Yesterday morning I decided to do some weeding. The ground was soft from rain and the weather was cool. So I weeded. Then I came inside. And washed up. I noticed a red mark on my temple. It itched a bit so I slopped some Benadryl cream on it and got on with the rest of my day.

In the afternoon when child number three got home from class and saw me, he said, “Wow. That’s interesting.” I went to look in the mirror. My upper eyelid was swollen. Hmm. I tried some ice. It didn’t help.

By dinner, the lower eyelid was swelling and my eye was watering. I made cold compresses. I was avoiding oral Benadryl because it makes my hands shake. By evening, child two came home from an exam and said, “If you don’t do something about your eye, it will swell shut.” Cal said, “Whoa, you look like you’ve been punched in the face, only no bruising.”

So I took Benadryl. And went to sleep, and woke up a lot. But the dreams...

I dreamt of a 50 foot brick fireplace with a wide maw. And it was hungry. I saw rows of old-fashioned tuxedo collars that looked suspiciously like constrictors. I saw psychedelic paint that rippled and danced malevolently. And I rode in elevators that opened into nothingness. If I’d dreamt of tutu-clad elephants carrying stilettos, I’d have known I was in a macabre version of Fantasia.

When I woke up this morning (my eye still looks terrible), I wished that I wrote speculative fiction because I’d have material enough for a month of short stories. Has anyone else ever had Benadryl dreams?

I have to admit I’m almost looking forward to more Benadryl tonight.

Monday, September 19, 2011


My son Jacob had a Calculus 2 exam the other day. So he spent the weekend obsessively checking the university website, where grades are posted. (This really beats the old days when professors posted grades on their office doors and you had to trek down to their office to get your grade.) Though I know what it’s like to wait at the computer. Any writer who’s trying to get a book published knows what it’s like to hit the refresh button on their email.

I’m waiting to hear back on a full of my literary novel (I call it “the platypus” though it has nothing to do with animals), which is with one of my dream agents right now. She’s read a partial already so she knows the voice and writing style. Now I wait. And try not to think about the book. And ignore the nervous pitch in my stomach when I check my email. For those of you who haven’t had the writing experience, the next step is either an emailed rejection, an email asking for revisions, an email wanting to schedule a phone conversation, or a phone call out of the blue to talk about representation.

In the meantime, I enjoy my kids, clean my house, and write some more. I’m 4/5s of the way done with a sequel to the YA novel I’ve written. (Yes, I write more than one genre.) And I have an idea for another literary novel, which I can’t wait to get to.

Anyone else out there waiting? 

Friday, September 16, 2011


Everyone dreams. Most people can tell the difference between dreams and real life. I’m not so good at that. My dreams are extremely vivid. (I would have been a great architect in Inception.) So when I wake up, I’m often very confused. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shaken Cal awake and said, “The police are pounding on the front door.” His response after many such episodes is, “I’m not getting up. The police can beat down the door if they want in.” Now before you wonder if I’ve committed any felonies, the answer is no. I suspect these dreams may be the result of the stories of Nazi soldiers breaking into my mother’s home and chasing after my grandfather. But these dreams make sense. I have an existential reason for them.

But I have other nightmares. These are worse. They wake me up and leave me breathless or hyperventilating. They’re claustrophobia dreams. Which would be understandable if I was claustrophobic, but I’m not. Closed in spaces don’t bother me in the least. You need someone to creep on their tummy down the crawlspace and put up insulation 100 feet from the floor opening, I’m your crawler. The idea of inching my way through air conditioning ducts to break into an evil lair sounds like fun to me. So why do I have these claustrophobia nightmares? Is there anyone else out there who has psycho dreams too? I’d love to know I’m not the only one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting Something for Nothing

We don’t have cable. We’ve never had cable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those I-don’t-believe-in-television-we-only-read-Shakespeare kind of people. I love Shakespeare and could talk about the plays and the sonnets for hours. But I also love Leverage, Castle, and the Yankees (I don’t really love baseball, but I love my husband and sons. And they love baseball, so...I know that Nick Swisher is called “Swish,” Robinson Cano is called “Robby,” and Curtis Granderson is called “The Grandy Man.”) Anyway, I enjoy popular culture. But without cable, it’s kind of hard. And cable is just too expensive. (Do you know how much beef/chicken/beans I can buy with that kind of money?)

But I worked out the popular cultural connection. For years we streamed from the computer onto the television. Everything was great. Until last week.

Last week, we tried to stream the final episode of Leverage. And it was locked!?! And you had to type in some stupid cable code to unlock the episode. How could they do this to me? I realize that I’m not actually paying for the content, but I watch their uber-stupid commercials. (Actually, I like the one with the fake raccoon-man who destroys the attic.) But most of the commercials assume that the viewers are stoned/drunk/brain-dead—I mean who wants to listen to commercials that scream at them. Or watch over and over again, the lame eyelash commercial (Latisse) that warns you the product may permanently “darken” your irises and eyelids. Why would anyone buy that crap?

Sorry, I don’t mean to diss the pharmaceutical companies. At least, not much.  But why lock the final episode of Leverage? It’s not like that’s going to make me buy cable. And Netflix isn’t much help; their streamable content is mostly junk that no one wants to watch. Though Downton Abbey and the new Sherlock series were notable exceptions.

I fear this is the beginning of the end of the something-for-nothing glory of the internet. Even Amazon is going to start charging sales tax in some states. What is the world coming to? I want my something for nothing.

BTW, here’s a link to my book blog post “Moaning Monks.” Enjoy.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I don’t often wander through the nutraceuticals* section of the grocery store or pharmacy (mostly because the stuff is way too expensive and the results are too sketchy), but I was looking through a Costco coupon book and came upon the ads for nutraceuticals.

Now the ads don’t make a lot of health claims, though there is the “Green Tea Fat Burner” that clearly seems to be making a claim. But there are some really odd ones out there. There’s “Grape Seed.” Um, couldn’t I just eat grapes and chew the seeds? And “Cranberries.” I’ve got those in my freezer.

What about CoQ10—it sounds like a French chicken dish. Don’t forget Acai Berry Cleanse. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to be, except there’s a picture of a woman’s stomach on the front. So it’s some kind of intestinal gut soap? I thought that many kinds of intestinal bacteria were good and made important things like vitamin K.

What about “CinSulin?” That sounds like something you’d hear preached against on Sunday mornings. My favorite was “Flush-Free Niacin.” Would you really want to put something like that in your mouth? Eew.

I’m sure I’ve stepped on some toes. (I don't mean to--if they help your health, great). Nutraceuticals are big business in the US and a lot of people swear by them. But it seems to me that you could be taking a LOT of these things. I counted 26 different supplements, and those are the ones on sale.  (Okay, I don’t need “Prostate Health” because I haven’t got one of those.) But it seems to me that a balanced diet and exercise would be a cheaper, more proven route to health.

On the other hand, my fingernails are still recovering from the paint/lacquer stripper I used on the bathroom doors. Maybe I need to try “Hair, Skin & Nails,” which is probably a modern version of Knox gelatin that teenage girls used to drink/eat to make their nails stronger. I never tried it; flavorless jello would never make it past my gag reflex.

*Note a “nutraceutical” is a combination of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical.” It’s a food or food-based supplement that is supposed to bring health or medical benefits.

Friday, September 9, 2011


A month ago I was talking to a friend who is a linguist. We were discussing the cultural aspects of language, and he brought up irony. He asked me how I would explain irony to someone whose language didn’t have a term for it (i.e., it’s not part of their cultural milieu). I tried to explain it and failed. I told him that I’d have to consult my trusty M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms. (I adore that book!)

Later I realized that the best way to explain a term is by example. I’m teaching MacBeth right now and it’s rife with irony. For example, after Duncan’s murder, MacBeth wonders what will clean the blood from his hands. Lady MacBeth says “a little water.” Yet, she’ll be the one washing her hands saying, “Out damn spot” by the end.

But as good as literary examples are, real life ones are better. Yesterday, my daughter came home from her computer programming class. She said that class always gets interesting right around 5pm when the computer announces that the system will be shutting down in two minutes—right during the middle of the professor’s lecture. And it takes the professor about ten to fifteen minutes to get the whole system rebooted afterwards. It’s the third week of classes so the professor is getting very frustrated. He hasn’t been able to fix the problem. So yesterday he asked the class if they knew what was wrong. One student told him that the university computers are scheduled to reboot at 2am, and for some reason the computer system clock in the Java 2 class was set to the wrong time—2am instead of 5pm. All the prof had to do was reset the clock to the correct time. But the prof didn’t know how to do that. The student told him to right click the clock in the bottom right hand side of the screen. However, English is not the prof’s first language. And so he wasn’t able to reset the computer’s clock. A programming prof who can’t reset the computer’s clock—that, my friends, is irony. (Kind of like mathematics profs and students who can’t multiply—but that’s another post.)

I expect Ariel or someone else will have compassion on the professor and show him how to reset the computer’s clock before next class. I have to admit, the incident makes me feel much better about my computer skills, or lack there of.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Virtues and Vices

My daughter is studying French at the university she attends. She’s taking it for fun since she needs some extra units. Since she studied in high school for three years, she’s also hoping that it will also be an easy A.

One of the things she likes about the class is her instructor’s focus on cultural differences. (Since we’ve lived in several different places, we’ve experienced many taboos the hard way—breaking them by accident.)

Her professor has talked about living in Paris, about her homesickness, which resulted in overeating, and about a Parisian friend’s response. When she saw this friend after her bout of homesickness, the friend said, “Tu es grosse. Ca va?” Which in English is “You’re fat. How are you?” Of course, Ariel’s American prof nearly burst into tears. Later, she realized her friend wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings. It was just frank. (France was peopled by the Franks.) It was honest. As the prof admitted, it wasn’t like she could hide her larger size. And it did motivate her to do something about it.

One of the cultural virtues of the South, in which they take great pride, is politeness. The other day I was very impressed by it. A little old lady had stopped her car in the middle of the road. None of the ten cars lined up behind her (through an intersection) could get around her. But through the multiple lights, no one honked. Finally, a woman got out of her car and walked to the old lady’s car to see what was up. (I was traveling in the other direction and could see that nothing was up—the woman was staring around herself—either an Alzheimer’s situation or something worse. I felt very pleased that no one was making the situation worse by selfish honking. Score one for politeness virtues.

However, sometimes virtues become vices. The same day I was driving home and a light turned red. Cars stopped and waited. The light turned green. The car in the front didn’t move. And it didn’t move. At first, I thought, “Oh, some poor person killed their car or has car problems.” Until I realized that the person was texting—this was pretty apparent because it could be seen through the window. And still no one honked their horn. Twelve cars waited and waited. I finally honked, and the person looked up, put their phone down, and the light turned red. ACK!

So I’m learning patience, not one of my virtues. But I’m still honking when someone rudely makes twelve cars wait until they finish texting. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Lady with the Crazed Appliances

I never knew that I’d be known as “the lady with the crazed appliances.” It’s not something that I aspired to in college or as a child. But given that people google “crazed appliances” and find me or friends say, “Um, any new appliance mishaps?”, I guess it’s time to embrace the title.

I’m tempted to blame our house. After all, it was built in 1940. But most of the appliances are new. Besides there were several incidents before we moved. The one that comes to mind is the stove that exploded while I was cooking. Yes, the burner exploded and sent molten metal through the air. Thankfully, I like to wear heavy aprons and it didn’t hit any bare skin. It was truly amazing—the pot that was on the burner was coated with metal afterwards and had to be thrown out. And, of course, we had to buy a new stove.

But that’s not the incident I meant to tell you about. (That was just backstory.) My latest appliance fiasco was the burglar alarm.

A burglar alarm has no interest to me. We have Jezebel—and even though she’s a big softie, Labs are territorial and very protective. So she gets properly snarly when a stranger comes near the house. (Our new mailman is afraid of her—she’d probably lick him to death.) Jez is our burglar alarm.

But the people who owned the house before us prefered electronic surveillance. So they put in an ADT system. We didn’t renew the contract. Fine. Of course, they never shut down the system completely, so the system pinged whenever a door or window opened. No big deal. Until last Thursday.

Thursday night the system went haywire. You haven’t experienced confusion until a burglar alarm that you know nothing about goes off at 1 am. It’s especially difficult to shut it off when you can’t find your glasses. I know because I was randomly punching buttons on the wall monitor. Eventually, I pushed the right button and the system turned off. If I had been wise, I would have found my glasses and put them on my nightstand. I was not wise. When the alarm went off at 2am, I had the same fiasco all over again. The same thing happened at 3am.

Next day, I was determined. The ADT alarm was going to die. I called ADT. I had my I-lived-in-New-England-I-can-be-very-tough attitude on because I had heard horror stories about how difficult ADT can be to work with—if you aren’t paying them, they don’t care. But, providentially, the woman at the service center was very sweet—I explained the multiple alarms during the wee hours of the morning. She explained that the battery backup was dying. All we had to do was “pop the battery.” Simple, right? Not.

The system controller was in the bathroom linen closet, and someone had built shelves over it. Can you say “stupid”? I removed the shelves. Then lady told me to take the key on top of the box and unlock it. My first throught was “Really? You think there’s going to be a key there.” There was no key. I informed her. A long pause ensued, followed by “Oh. Well, it’ll be okay. You’ll just need to unplug the system from the electrical feed.” That sounded to me like “Cut the red wire.” It wasn’t that easy. She told me the electrical connection should be within 15 feet of the box. It wasn’t. So I had to trace all the lines leaving the box—there are a lot of lines given that every door and window is wired. And they all ran through the basement—a 70+ year old basement is an accumulation of abandoned wiring, unused ducting, and spider webs. Not to mention that I haven’t reorganized it since the last time it flooded (when we had tornadoes and lost electricity for 5 days), so the basement is a rat’s maze of bins and boxes stacked higgledy-piggledy.

About this time, the ADT woman said, “I can’t stay on the phone with you anymore—I have to talk to paying customers.” Which I understood, but now she’d abandoned me to the basement. I asked for Cal’s help, but in a couple of minutes he pronounced the situation as “trying to find a needle in a haystack.” He wanted to take a crowbar to the bathroom monitor box. I wasn’t quite that desperate.

About fifteen minutes later, I found the electrical feed—on the other side of the basement—nowhere near the 15 feet. I unscrewed the plug from the electrical system. Of course, the inevitable happened. The burglar alarm went off. Finally, the battery backup died. Yay! Now we sleep blissfully. The only one who misses the burglar alarm is Jezebel—it was her early warning system. When it chimed, she’d jump up out of a deep sleep and charge the offending door or window. Now she can only sleep for 20 out every 24 hours. Poor baby.

Instead of photos of me climbing around the scary basement, I thought I’d include one of the tea party I gave last Friday. It was a lot of fun. 

Friday, September 2, 2011


Back in July I e-published my YA novel, Screwing Up Time. A little marketing research showed that I needed to write a sequel—indie books, particularly YA, sell better when they’re part of a series. Besides my novel had a few unanswered elements that I was planning to deal with in a sequel. Thankfully, I didn’t need to start from scratch because I’d done some writing on the sequel a while back. Although to my chagrin, half of what I’d written got scrapped or revamped.

Approaching this book, I knew that I couldn’t use my normal plodding style of writing. I needed to set myself a goal. I decided that 1000 words a day 5 days a week would work for me. (What was I thinking?!) After all, I know people, who appear sane, that write 5,000 words a day. I tell myself those writers don’t have kids, don’t work, and have full-time maid service. (For those of you who aren’t writers, one page is 250 words.) The most I’ve ever written in a single day is 2000 words. And that was when I was flying high on a creativity rush.

I’ve been doing the 5000 words a week for a couple of weeks now. The novel is moving at a brisk pace, and I’ve reached the halfway point. So everything’s good. Except my kitchen needs sanitizing (not good since I’m hosting a tea tonight—time to break out the bleach and other caustic chemicals). Every muscle in my body aches. I guess writing is a physical activity for me. (Does that mean I can cut down on my three mile runs?) And my brain is turning to word mush.

So I’m looking for brain recharge. Anyone have ideas? Two caveats. I can only watch an occasional movie as flashing lights give me migraines. Even on TV with the lights on. And I can only eat so much chocolate, or I’d have to increase my runs. And that is not an option since I hate exercise—I’d rather shove bamboo shoots up my fingernails. (Ack—my cliché meter is going off. Help me recharge.)

BTW, suggestions of a Caribbean cruise are appreciated, especially if you feel compelled to provide the cash for the trip. But since it’s hurricane season, it’ll have to wait. That makes me wonder, if I wrote 5k words a day on a cruise, could I deduct it from my taxes?