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Last Wednesday morning, at 5:30, I woke up with my heart racing like a NASCAR competitor. I rolled over and tried deep breathing, but my heart ignored the vast quantities of oxygen I poured in and out of my lungs. (I have a trumpet player acquaintance who swears his trumpet-breath training saved his life during a heart attack. So I thought it was worth a try. I guess it doesn’t work for woodwinds.)

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So I sat up on the side of my bed in the dark and panicked. Which sent my out-of-control ticker into the tilt zone. But really, I told myself, wasn’t this the product of a month of my doctor trying to find a blood pressure medication that would keep mine normal and not give me the backache the current one gave me. Surely I wasn’t going to die of a pounding heart brought on by the recent three-day trial of a DIFFERENT DRUG? Then I decided NOT to answer that question.

I went down to the kitchen and swallowed the effective, but offending drug we were trying to replace, reasoning that the back pain you know is preferable to the death you don’t know. I went back to bed, and somehow my pulse went back to normal. I fell asleep congratulating myself on saving the cost of the ER visit and remaining alive, all with one tiny pill that was just going to give me a severely aching back while it kept me on this side of Eternity.

BUT THEN –

I was awake once more. And my heart was now racing along again in the danger zone. It was no longer impressed that I was willing to endure back pain to get it to behave. And it had developed this funky new symptom, pressure on my chest. I sat up again and considered my options. There was no one home but me and the retrievers, who don’t drive. One child was in Seattle. Not an option. One was in a classroom teaching with a brand new job on the other side of town. Not an option. The third was in his second week of law school, in class, also on the other side of town. Strike Three.

I reminded myself people in my family live a long, long time. All I had to do was drive myself to the hospital. I was tough. I could do it. After all, I’d given birth to three children after the age of thirty-six, wimping out to anesthesia only on child number three.

So for twenty minutes, I listened to Frank Sinatra sing Mack the Knife and tried to pretend my heart wasn’t going faster than my MiniCooper. I picked Mack, not because I like the lyrics, but there’s this feel-good jazz interlude that’s all big band and no vocals. And if I was heading to the Other Side, I wanted  Count Basie to give me a Big Send Off with trumpets blazing. I drove, and breathed as I counted the red lights to the ER.

The staff grabbed me at once and stuck electrodes everywhere. And by their reaction, which went from OMG to Oh, hum, I wasn’t having a heart attack. After a lady with a clipboard asked if I had an “Advanced Directive” and I told her “No, that means death is not an option today,” (she didn’t get the joke) a serious young ER doc told me the vampires would be after my blood, and then he would figure out what was making my heart run like a racehorse.

I had no one to talk to. I lay on my back and stared at the layers of gray metal light fixture on the ceiling and tried more deep breathing. My heart slowed its pace slightly, but nothing like what I needed to be comfortable.

I decided to think about SOMETHING ELSE. But what? I considered the possibility, Advanced Directive or no, the Universe had decided my number was up. Would the petals of the industrial light fixture above my head slowly dissolve into the long white-tunnel everyone talked about? Would heading into the light be easier than lying here alone, trying not to worry the EKG might have been wrong because my heart was not with the slow-down program? Would I get to come back and write a bestseller about Heaven which I already remembered from Before I Was Born? Had it changed much? Heaven Before and After didn’t sound dramatic enough for the bestseller list. And then it might seem boring that I’d already been there and remembered the place.

The ER doc returned to look at the heart monitor. Surely a bad sign, I thought.

“Wow, your heart rate’s high!”

Tell me something I don’t know. Was this doctor-speak for the white tunnel is on it’s way?

“Don’t name a number,” I said. I figured the freak-out from that information would send me into Eternal Oz to hang with the Wizard for sure.

He nodded and made way for the vampire cart.

Now I began to wonder if I should call my children. After all, they had no idea where I was or that my heart was doing a tap dance that might not have an encore. But the nurse had promised me an answer within the hour after the lab had given the results to the serious ER doc. So I decided to delay announcement of my possible demise. In the meantime, my heart had taken a new view of woodwind breathing and was beginning to turn down the metronome.

In the end, the vampires had the answer. The new medication coupled with the weird diet the doctor’s nutritionist had come up with (another story) had washed out all my potassium. And hearts can’t hold a tempo without their potassium. They rush like a junior high band on steriods playing a Sousa march. So after an hour of fluid dripped into my vein and twenty minutes of drinking the nastiest tasting potassium liquid on the planet, I was wiped up, dusted off and sent HOME.

It could have been worse. I’m glad it’s over. I eat an avocado, now, every day. Better source of potassium and a whole lot cheaper than the ER.

The-Heart_R

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I was reading an article this week on tips for obtaining a literary agent. What struck me was the author’s authoritative insistence that without a “perfect” manuscript, drafted and redrafted and redrafted yet again, a writer is doomed to be ignored and never to be published. If that is true, I am wondering why so many books are out there, indie and traditionally published alike, because I am yet to read a “perfect” one. Have you?

I myself hate the cult of “perfectionism” because it creates a myth that victimizes the rest of us who are just trying to do our best work. Note that “ best work” is not “perfect work.” In between learning that Dance For A Dead Princess had been nominated by Foreward Reviews for its Book of the Year Award in Romance and learning Dance was the sole Finalist for the Beverly Hills Book Award in Romance, I got an e-mail one morning informing me my “review was ready” from a indie author book review service I had contacted ages ago. I scrolled down and read absolutely the nastiest, snarkiest review of my book imaginable. No, let me rephrase that. The nastiest, snarkiest review of any book imaginable. Apparently I’d unwittingly fallen into the hands of the High Priestess of Perfection. So while munching my slightly underdone egg and overdone toast, and drinking a less than perfectly brewed cup of coffee (but happy to have a warm breakfast anyway), I learned that the High Priestess found my plot “contrived,” thought the use of the diary to tell the inner story was “the oldest literary cliche” out there, and was just outraged because the word “lame” got into the text without an accent over the e. Oh, whoops, my eternal bad. High Priestess said nothing about my ability to draw a reader vividly into a scene. (A New York editor had given me that accolade years ago.) High Priestess had nothing to say about all the readers on GoodReads and Amazon who had stayed up at night to find out what happened. And, of course, she had no idea what the judges at Foreward thought of Dance for A Dead Princess. No, she was dead set in her opinion that Dance wasn’t perfect and therefore not worthy of anyone’s time of day.

Well, I agreed with her. If perfect is your bag, Dance is not for you. But, then, neither are the rest of the books out there. Wonder if High Priestess has given that much thought?

Fortunately, I’ve been a writer long enough to know what I do well, and where I can improve. I listen to honest reader feedback. I learn. I grow. But I have not one single aspiration to be Perfect. My heart was broken enough times on that wheel growing up, and I have no intention of the punched-in-the-gut feeling that comes from hours and hours of working and hoping for that “Perfect” accolade, only to find all effort wasted because the accent mark didn’t find its home over the “e.”

I think it is useless and wrong to preach the religion of “Perfectionism.” One Christmas I went to a luncheon here in San Diego that a local group of attorneys sponsored in honor of the season. We sat in a semi-dark cavern of a room, at fifty or sixty round tables covered in spotless linen (or the lights were dimmed to hide the spots, take your choice), and potted poinsettias were plopped in the center of the table (to give the proceedings that “festive” air, I guess). We ate rubbery chicken with a glob of gravy on top, dressing that I swear was made out of old newspapers, and green beans that had been run through a pot of boiling water for ten seconds flat. (I assumed those beans spoke French.)

Since I was starving, I opted to search for food value in the wilted lemon meringue pie that had probably been parked by each diner’s place around 8:30 that morning. And as I sent my blood sugar soaring on an empty stomach, I listened to the speaker, a middle-aged attorney in a bright purple suit, who was presenting a writing award to a student from one of the local law schools. What interested me was the Speaker’s awe-inspired assurance that this student was “Perfect” because she put every one of her writing projects through at least ten drafts. Had Madame Middle-Aged Purple Suit taken leave of her senses, I wondered. Which one of her clients would have paid the hourly rate of a junior attorney who couldn’t produce a fileable document (fileable, not perfect) in one draft and a final? No client on earth is going to pay for ten drafts. Nor should he or she have to. What unreasonable and unworkable standard of the cult of “Perfectionism” was Purple Suit advocating in the midst of stultifying boredom?

Perhaps Miss Ten Drafts went on to be a disciple of the High Priestess, I don’t know. I never went to another holiday luncheon. I’m not perfect, my books are perfect, my readers aren’t perfect, and I love us all just the way we are. I’m throwing my hat in the ring to stamp out the religion of Perfectionism!

The High Priestess

The High Priestess

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One year ago yesterday, I pushed the publish button on Amazon and Nook Press and became a published author. I knew I’d embarked on a journey that I’d always wanted to make, but I had no idea what was coming.

At first, Dance For A Dead Prinessc was an e-book only. I didn’t realize until months later how simple and inexpensive and indeed, imperative, it was to create a paperback on Create Space.

And I started the journey with a website under construction and quickly learned not having a website made me a second-class author citizen. Thus, when I wrote one blogger who offered two-day guest spots for authors, to secure two days to guest post, she replied, “Well, ok. But you only get one day because you don’t have a website.”

But the website lesson was trivial compared to the advertising lesson. For breathtaking amounts of money, I bought ads on Kirkus Reviews, thinking their favorable review of Dance For A Dead Princess would quickly produce a readership for the book. Wrong. Expensively wrong. Ads ran. No one seemed to notice.

Then I tried an all-romance website and had the book’s cover pasted up for a month for another quite tidy sum. Again, no one noticed. My book was simply embedded in a mosaic of other books – most with far racier covers. Since I was a new and unknown author, and readers were perusing this site for their favorites that involved shirtless men, Dance For A Dead Princess wasn’t a candidate for their attention. Another lesson learned.

After a certain amount of frustration, I managed to get Dance up on GoodReads. But since Amazon does not cross-post reviews on that site, all my reviews remained on Amazon.

Then I discovered the Truly Expensive Blog tour. I wonder if I thought it would be effective because it was Truly Expensive or because the owner of the business persuaded me she knew what she was doing or because I had read how some blog tours had put Indie books on the map (and the bestseller list.) But of all the money I threw at advertising in the first year of being an author, the Truly Expensive Blog Tour was the most wasted. The owner of the business and my tour director had more excuses than you can count for why the tour dates weren’t honored and why the reviews promised were never posted. To put it mildly, I’d been scammed, big time.

About this time, I decided to do Facebook ads and Kindle Daily Nation sponsorships, although I also sat up nights hunting for websites where indie authors could post for free or nominal sums. Oddly enough, although multiple indie authors claimed Facebook ads were useless, I found them more effective than anything else I’d tried. And they were happily quite low budget. I began to think that the more money I threw at the problem, the less success I had. Whereas, when I was being cheap, I seemed to get better results.

Another example of that principle was another blog tour organizer, who appeared on top of a Google Search one day. Her rates sounded too good to be true. But this time I was careful to research her company and to ask her bluntly if she kept her promises, telling her the horror story of the Truly Expensive Blog Tour. I was delighted to learn she was everything she claimed to be. Organized, honest, efficient, and trustworthy. And she was able to produce reviews, which are the gold standard for selling books. Almost all of the reviews on GoodReads came from her blog tour (which has now continued for months for a fraction of the cost of Truly Expensive.)

And then, just as the First Year of Being An Author was ending, I received some exciting news. Dance For A Dead Princess is a finalist in the Foreward Reviews Best Book of the Year Award for 2013, with the final results to be published in June. And Dance is the Finalist for the 2014 Beverly Hills International Book Award. That award has one winner and one finalist in each category, so I’m honored to be No. 2 in Romance.

Yesterday I started the Second Year of Being An Author by writing the first press release I’d ever written in my life and sending it off to local media. Whether it gets noticed or not, just doing it felt good. And I contacted local indie bookstores I’ve been meaning to contact for months.

Most of all, so many friends have helped out during Year One. They’ve written reviews, they’ve offered encouragement, they’ve stuck up for me and the book when the inevitable Vicious Reviewers surfaced. Launching a book into the world takes friends, and I am very grateful to mine and to everyone who as read Dance for A Dead Princess. And now Year Two Begins.

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CHAPTER FOUR

A jail is nothing but gray, Sarah thought on Tuesday afternoon. She and Jim had been sitting in gray metal chairs at the gray metal table in the attorney-client interview room for a half hour without any sign of Alexa Reed. Sarah looked around to keep from being mesmerized by Jim’s gentle eyes, studying her from his seat at the end of the table. He looked good in a suit. She’d never seen him in one before. Feelings would complicate things; she couldn’t have feelings. But his eyes tempted her to have them. She needed a night with David and soon to make her forget about Jim. Hadn’t he said his wife was in Cabo this week? She’d call him after work, and see if he was free that evening.

She took in the dust-gray walls, the gray chairs and the table where they were seated, the gray door they had come through and the metal bars over the peek-hole window. A guard in a gun-metal gray uniform peering at them through the large glass security window directly in front of her completed the set. Sarah hadn’t been in a jail in a long time. Her clients were all wealthy business executives who bypassed lockup with millions of dollars worth of bail.

“I think she’s standing us up,” Jim said.

“Maybe. Trevor said she’s been curled up in a fetal position and hasn’t spoken since the preliminary hearing.”

“So she’s incompetent to stand trial.”

“I’d say yes for sure, but there’s a hearing September 3 to make that determination. I’m going to interview the psychologist who’s evaluating her as soon as I can get an appointment.”

“You’ll want me there in case he lies on the stand at the hearing.”

Despite her best judgment, Sarah’s eyes darted to his and remained fixed on their brown depths longer than she’d intended. “Yes, I will. Definitely.”

The gray metal entrance door began to slide to the right, extremely slowly, creaking as it moved. She and Jim turned toward it, thinking Alexa was about to appear. Instead, they saw only a portly fortiesh woman guard with a sour look on her face.

“Are you Sarah Knight?” she demanded. “Where’s you bar card?”

Sarah tried to stifle her annoyance, knowing a rise from her was what this nameless jail official wanted; but she’d shown her state bar identification card more times in the last half-hour than she had ever displayed it in her entire career. She was tired of dragging it out of her wallet.

But she did, and the guard scanned it for several minutes as if she thought it was counterfeit.

“And you? “ she demanded of Jim. “Where’s yours?”
Without a word, he patiently handed over both his California bar card which showed he was on inactive status as a lawyer, and his private investigator’s license. Sarah noticed he fumbled with his ex-FBI agent’s association id card for the grumpy guard’s benefit.

“You used to be an agent?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why are you working for defense lawyer scum?”

“Have to make a living.” Jim gave her a half-smile and put his credentials away.

“Well, bad news. Your client won’t get up to talk to you. She’s lying on her bunk, eyes open, saying nothing.”

“And this has gone on for some time?”

“Since they brought her back from the prelim on June 17. Somehow she eats enough to stay alive. But that’s it.”

“I’d like to go down to her cell and introduce myself,” Sarah said. “She’s never met me.”

“It’s against jail policy.”

“I can get a court order if you’d rather.”

The guard frowned at them both, delaying the moment when she’d have to admit defeat.

“You don’t have to. I’ll escort you down there.”

The interior corridors were even grayer, Sarah reflected a few minutes later as she and Jim followed the woman to Alexa’s cell. They twisted and turned through narrow hallways with the astringent smell of lemony disinfectant until they reached the tiny space Alexa Reed occupied.

Their sour guide dialed a combination lock on the door of the cell, and then used a key to complete opening it. Sarah and Jim stepped inside when it swung open, but there was barely room for both in the tiny dark space lit only by a three by three window high up on the outside wall.

She was a tiny bag of bones, Sarah reflected as she looked down at the woman in the navy blue prison scrubs curled up on the single cot. Her blonde hair was matted and uncombed, and apparently unwashed for weeks. Her large light blue eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused and distant. She was about five feet tall, Sarah guessed, and must have weighed all of ninety pounds.

She knelt by the cot. “Alexa, I’m Sarah Knight, your new attorney. And this is my investigator, Jim Mitchell. We’ve come to hear your side of things. Will you go down to the interview room with us where we can talk?”

No response. Alexa’s blue eyes remained blank and fixed on the opposite wall.

Jim leaned over and took one of Alexa’s small hands in his much larger one. Sarah couldn’t explain why she didn’t like that. She thought she saw a flicker in Alexa’s otherwise vacant blue eyes when Jim took her hand, but it might have been her imagination.

“She isn’t going to talk to you,” the hostile guard announced. “You’re going to have to leave.”

Jim let go of Alexa’s tiny fingers and stood up. He really did look good in a suit, Sarah thought once more, and then wondered why she was thinking about Jim’s looks and Alexa’s hand in his.

Sarah stood also and turned toward the door. Suddenly, on impulse, she paused and fished one of her business cards out of her brief case. She pressed it into Alexa’s unresponsive hands.

“Here’s my card, Alexa. We’re here to help you.”

* * *

That night, Sarah found herself standing in front of Jim’s olive green bungalow at seven thirty. He’d insisted on making dinner again to give them a chance to talk over the day’s events. She had called David as soon as she’d gotten back to her office, ready to cancel the evening with Jim if he was free. But his wife had unexpectedly backed down from her Cabo trip, so seeing him was out of the question. Had Tessa guessed about their relationship? That possibility nagged at Sarah as she thought of calling Jim to set up a meeting at a restaurant where she would feel more in control. But the need for confidentiality trumped her scruples about being alone with him.

He put a glass of cabernet in her hand and motioned for her to take a seat on one of the tall stools around the island in his kitchen.

“I was in the mood for burgers, although not the ones you burn over a gas grill. Feeling the French bistro vibe tonight, so I’ve made grilled onion confit and Bearnaise sauce and shoestring sweet potato fries.”

“I’ll have to work out tomorrow for sure.”

He turned from stirring the onions and gave her a once over. “I doubt that. You look very Audrey Hepburn tonight in those black skinny pants and black shirt with your hair cut short like hers. Do people ever tell you that you look like her?”

“Once in a while. When they don’t otherwise know my ‘day job.’”

“I have to admit you had me fooled that night at Trend.”

Was it really less than a week since they’d met, Sarah reflected. Why did she feel as if she’d always known him?

“That was tough today at the jail,” Jim observed, turning back to his onions.

“Yes, it was.” Sarah paused to take a long drink of her wine, wondering if she should have asked for scotch instead.

“She’s barely alive.”

“Trevor Martin warned me, but it was much worse than I’d pictured.”

“She’ll be declared incompetent to stand trial. She’s completely incapable of assisting with her defense.”

“Yeah, that’s blatantly obvious. Still, I want to interview Percy Andrews to find out what he’s going to say at that competency hearing. I’ve got an appointment with him on Friday at 9 in the morning.”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

* * *

They ate in Jim’s small dinning room at a small antique maple table. He dialed the lights down, and lit candles in clear glass holders. Sarah wondered if he considered the evening a business or personal occasion.

“How long have you been in San Diego?” He asked as he put the plates on the table and motioned for her to take the seat opposite his.

“Since January. What about you?”

“Two years, now. It’s easier being on the opposite coast.” His eyes darkened as he spoke, but he gave her that gentle, honest smile that she found hard to resist. “Do you miss New York?”

“Sometimes.”

“Why didn’t you go with a big firm here like Warwick, Thompson?”

“I thought about it. I talked to Alan Warwick. In the end, I was tired of working for someone else.”

Jim smiled. “I can understand that. Any broken hearts left behind in New York?”

“Only the ones I mentioned the other night, the dry cleaning delivery boy and the Chinese food messenger. But I doubt they miss anything but the tips. I was always generous. What about you?” Why was she picturing him holding Alexa Reed’s tiny fingers?

“I’ve tried. No luck. Still head over heels for Gail.”

Jealousy was an inappropriate emotion Alexa reminded herself as he refilled her wine glass. “What is she like?”

“Funny, smart, beautiful. Taffy hair, big blue eyes. Knockout figure. Grew up in Boston. She teaches third grade and loves it. Cody has a half-sister, Brittany, whom he adores.”

Sarah studied him across the table. A white knit shirt tonight with navy linen pants. Such a kind, gentle face. Hard to believe he hadn’t found someone else by now.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“My hourly rate is a lot higher than that.”

“Guess I can’t afford them, then.”

“I thought you were a trust fund baby.”

He laughed. “I tend to forget about the old man’s money. I did without it all those years. Ok, I’ll pay your hourly rate if you tell me why you’re looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“As if you were reading my mind.”

“Now that would be a useful skill for a defense attorney. But I don’t do mind reading. I was just thinking a guy like you should have hooked up with someone by now.”

“I could say the same about you.” The tone of his voice made her tummy flutter, and she decided this conversation had to end and quickly.

“I do see someone. From time to time.”

Did he look disappointed? She wasn’t sure.

“Lucky him. What’s he like?”

“A busy important, CEO of a commercial real estate firm. His brother, who works for him, had a minor problem with the Securities and Exchange Commission last winter, just after I got here.”

“And you took care of it for him?”

“Made it all go away.”

Jim studied her in the candlelight. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Sara traced the circle of the bottom of her wine glass. “Now you’re reading minds.”

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of witnesses. I know when someone’s holding back.”

Her dark eyes met his, and she smiled. “You’re really good. I’ll give you credit. David Scott is very married.”

“Ah, I see.” He crossed his knife and fork on his plate in a gesture of finality before bringing his eyes back to study hers. “Then why waste your time?”

“He’s witty, well educated, and charming.” And I can’t fall in love with him. But Sarah would never say that out loud.

“Does the wife know?”

She frowned as she thought of the defunct Cabo trip. “I don’t think so.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“She was supposed to be in Cabo tonight.”

“And he was supposed to be with you?”

“But she cancelled. I don’t think it had anything to do with me and David.”

“Well, my luck that she stayed in town.” He leaned over and started to refill her glass, but she put her hand over the top.

“I’m driving, remember?”

“And I’ve got that guest room, remember? This was a tough day. You need it. Let me put the plates in the sink and then join you in the living room. I’ve learned a lot about Alexa Reed since this afternoon. I think you’re going to be interested in what I’ve found out.”

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Earlier this week, Scotland Yard announced it was investigating new information about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. A former member of the British Special Air Services the (SAS) boasted to his former wife that the SAS had brought about her death. His former parents-in-law reported the claim to the military police who passed it on to Scotland Yard.

The original announcement was appropriately neutral. Scotland Yard informed the public of the information and indicated the police would assess it for credibility. But Scotland Yard also said it would not reinvestigate Diana’s death at this time, a wise conclusion since no one yet knows if the new information can be believed.

The press, however, have transformed this simple bit of factual reporting into a speculative circus. Some commentators insist all possible “conspiracy” theories have been debunked and only crazy people believe them while others see a plot lurking in every corner. Rather than the wait-and-see position of Scotland Yard, most press reports require the reader to take a position: believe or disbelieve. The press’s approach to the new information illustrates the rule that human beings like to organize data and reach conclusions just as they prefer to return to the tonic tone in melody. In other words, we don’t like unanswered questions.

But it isn’t likely that the “truth” of the princess’ death will ever be resolved. Or, if it is, the answer will be revealed a lifetime or so later. Think about it. If powerful governmental and multinational forces brought about her assassination, they have every tool on the planet available to perpetuate their cover up. They aren’t going to make any dramatic confessions based upon the ex-parents-in-law’s letter. And, if Diana’s death was a tragic accident, people who love a conspiracy are going to continue to spin their own yarns.

This whole controversy reminds me of speculation about the fate of Tsar Nicholas of Russia’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. When I was growing up, a German woman named Anna Anderson made out a case that convinced many people she was the grand duchess and had miraculously survived the cellar execution in Ekaterinburg. Anna Anderson appeared to have information only the real Anastasia would have known. Some who had known the grand duchess believed Anna, but many others dubbed her an impostor. She wound up married to an eccentric professor of history in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she died in 1984. In 1956, Ingrid Bergman stared in a movie loosely based on Anna Anderson’s life and claims. Litigation to determine whether Anna was the real Anastasia never reached a conclusion.

In 1977, two investigative journalists, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, wrote a book called The File on The Tsar, claiming that not all of the royal family died at Ekaterinburg and the survivors became pawns in an international power game. They claimed Lenin, the Kaiser, the British royal family, and British intelligence were all involved. I read it at the time, and found it interesting and persuasive.

But The File on the Tsar illustrates how facts can be manipulated to fit the end the writer wants to believe. In 1991, the bodies of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters were found in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg. DNA testing confirmed their identities. Then, in 2007, Alexi and the remaining daughter were found, and DNA testing confirmed that all seven Romanovs had died in the cellar that day. By that time, Anna Anderson had been established as an impostor because in 1984, when she died, DNA testing showed she was not related to the Romanovs.

The deaths of famous people hold our attention, especially when they happen under odd or mysterious circumstances. In fact, our fascination with these stories lies in our inability to know exactly what took place. If the facts were known and settled, we would go looking for another more interesting tale whose facts were not resolved.

Scotland Yard had it right in its neutral announcement; and the press, insisting on belief or un, had it wrong. No one can really decide what happened in Paris on August 31, 1997, based upon this new little bit of information. More than likely whether Diana’s death was deliberate or an accident will never be resolved. Or if it is, the truth will come out after a much longer time, as with the Anastasia mystery. In the meantime, the circumstances surrounding Diana’s death create material for fiction writers like me. I wanted to write about a beautiful woman whom I admired because she grew up in difficult circumstances on the world stage. She transformed herself from a naive girl into a charismatic woman who spoke for compassion and love, and she was willing to share her struggles with the rest of us who are struggling. Dance For A Dead Princess is not an argument for or against what “really happened.” It is intended to be a highly entertaining story about interesting and lovable people.

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

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I started life as a listener, became a writer, worked as an editor, and drifted into being a lawyer. While a listener, I learned to love stories. While a writer, I learned to tell them. While an editor, I learned to tell them well.

It never occurred to me until I became a lawyer that the process of writing is a mystery to many people. Law schools have something called “law reviews” where students edit each other’s “case notes.” “Case notes” are not notes at all but are long deadly dull treatises on legal subjects not even a lawyer can love. The point of being on the law review is to learn how to pick a subject, write about it, and use a legal style manual to make sure all the citations and use of punctuation throughout the deadly dull case note are consistent. The theory is that later on, when lawyers write trial memoranda and appellate briefs (intended to keep the reader awake, unlike case notes), their written work will look professional instead of sloppy and haphazard. A legal brief with correct grammar and punctuation and consistent citation style is the equivalent of putting on a suit to go to court instead of appearing in your pajamas.

In the book publishing world, everyone knows traditional publishers have editors and proofreaders and copy editors. Their function is to make the fiction and nonfiction books the house publishes look professional. Like lawyers, publishers set standards for their written work by designating the style manual or manuals and the rules for punctuation, grammar, and citations that will make the house’s book internally consistent and appealing to readers. The point is not that every publisher uses the same style manual or follows exactly the same rules. Rather, the point is consistency within the works the house offers for sale.

One of the last steps in producing a brief for the court of appeal is editing and proofreading it. Proofreading yourself accurately is nearly impossible. Back in my editor days, we used to take turns acting as proofreaders for other editors’ projects because after anyone has read and re-read a document a number of times, the accuracy rate for proofreading slips into the toilet. Since I work without staff, I have to proofread my own work; and I have found that reading aloud and taking the sections of the brief out of order help me find my errors. And because I used to teach writing and grammar and punctuation, I do know where those pesky commas go. (They are logical little beasts; and no, they don’t go where you pause to breathe when reading out loud.)

This has always been my world. First, the story. Second, the writing. Third, editing the work. Whether writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction or legal briefs (a sometimes blend of fiction and non, but never mind), I never thought of deviating from this routine. And I’m not going to stop now.

But after I published my novel and began to read author discussions on various forums, I was surprised to discover that many who call themselves authors do not respect the process of editing. They see it as optional. That, in my mind, creates a problem in the world of self-publishing. Whereas a reader can rely on a traditionally published book to be edited and internally consistent, buying a self-published book can be a crap shoot. It might be presenting itself to the world in its professional dress. Or it might have been let loose still wearing its pajamas. I’ve downloaded a few of those books, and I haven’t gotten beyond page twenty-five in any of them. And failing to respect the editorial process leads to a divide among reviewers. A lot of them either won’t consider a non-traditionally published book, or they demand assurances a self-published book has been edited.

Treating editing as optional hurts everyone in the self-publishing community. Ignoring the editorial process is a mistake. A good editor has the art of cleaning up a manuscript while preserving the authentic and individual voice of the author. Good editing is never, ever optional. No reader wants to buy a book still in its pj’s.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Grandaddy of Style Manuals

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Legal Style Manual:  Dreaded Blue Book

Legal Style Manual: Dreaded Blue Book

California's Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

California’s Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

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It all began in Costco with Gwyneth Paltrow. I hit Costco about twice a month because one of my dogs has to have prescriptions filled in the pharmacy. Otherwise, I might not be much of a Costco shopper because the warehouse is off my beaten path, and I can wrangle most things I want out of Vons and Trader Joes now that we’ve become a household of one or two.

Fortunately I have never been afflicted with Costco Syndrome. I have never gone into a warehouse planning to spend a hundred bucks and come out with a five thousand dollar hot tub or a monster flat screen. I know people who’ve done that and cut up their membership cards immediately afterwards. (Good thing, too.)

No, I put my consumer blinders on whenever I enter those massive doors and buy the prescriptions and the boring stuff like enough paper towel, TP, and garbage bags to last through a ride on Noah’s Ark; a mega box of Clif Bars for my son who lives on them; and two bottles of my favorite zin, twelve bucks and under, for nights when I’m ready to unwind from writing unbrief briefs and my current novel in progress.

But I admit I have one weakness: I browse the book table after I’ve munched through the samples (and resisted buying of all the preservative laden convenience foods Costco is pushing that particular day). The book table, however, is my Armageddon. Like most word-obsessed people, I have a weakness for books. And I’m a foodie on top of that, so a cookbook is not to be resisted. Not long ago, I staged a personal intervention in which I promised my rational self not to buy another cookbook until I had cooked at least one thing from all the others I’ve been acquiring after visits to Anthropologie. BUT THEN . . . .

That day, “It’s All Good,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest cook book sang its siren song to me in all it’s glossy picture laden, healthy food glory. I didn’t buy her first one – maybe because I didn’t find it at Costco dirt cheap – but “It’s All Good” became my extravagance of the day.

I sat up nights reading it along with the other cookbooks languishing in the Give Us Attention Pile. Soon I was concocting Gwyneth’s warm mustard lentil salad (a major yum) for lunch and her olive oil fried eggs for breakfast. (I added my own sprinkle of crisped prosciuto on top.) AND THEN I discovered “Avocado Toast.” As she says, it isn’t really a recipe. You stick some sliced up avocado (or mashed up) on some toast with Vegenaise and maybe sprinkle on some chili flakes.

Being Ms. Paltrow, she puts her avocados on gluten free bread. But I took one look at that stuff at Vons and decided bread made from sawdust is not my thing. So I began to browse the bread aisle, a low-carb dieter’s nightmare.

And that’s when I met Dave’s Killer Bread. The picture of the ex-con on the package was riveting, along with his statement, “ I was a four-time loser. I spent fifteen years in and out of prison.” Now, I write unbrief briefs week after week for more than four-time losers, and I was intrigued by anyone who could leave that life behind and bake bread. In fact, lots and lots of bread. There were so many varieties with seeds and sprouts and no bad things in them (ok, Gwyneth, they did have gluten, but it’s not a problem for me) that I thought I’d died and gone to Foodie Carb Heaven.

As soon as I got home with my loaf of Dave’s Lite Killer Bread, I made a beeline for the website. And here’s what I found:

Dave Dahl is the son of Jim Dahl, who purchased a bakery in Portland, Oregon in 1955. Jim worked extremely hard to develop bread made with whole grains and no animal fats. His bread from the 1960’s, “Surviva,” is still popular today. All of Jim Dahl’s children, including Dave, worked in the family business as they grew up. But Dave, who suffered from severe depression, didn’t appreciate his father’s work ethic, and went on to a life of drugs, assault, armed robbery, and burglary. And to terms in prison in Oregon.

But after fifteen years, Dave decided to be treated for his depression, and he learned drafting design while in prison. He expected to continue with that work, but after he got out his brother Glen, who now ran the bakery after Jim’s death, welcomed him back. Dave put everything he had into developing “Dave’s Killer Bread,” and the family business quickly had a hit.

Here is a link to a great video of Dave telling his story. You want to see this, I promise. http://www.daveskillerbread.com/daves-story/video.html

Dave believes in giving back in lots of ways. One third of his work force consists of ex-felons like himself. And he returned to the prison where he was incarcerated to tell the others they, too, could turn their lives around if, as Dave puts it, they had the humility to ask for help.

Having seen so much hopelessness in my “day job,” I was overwhelmed when I read Dave’s story. And the bread – by the way – makes the most divine Avocado Toast.

“Dave’s Killer Bread – Just Say No to Bread on Drugs!”

Dave

Dave

The Killer Bread

The Killer Bread

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