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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.)

car

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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CHAPTER THREE

Trevor Martin had done well for himself, Sarah reflected, as she sat opposite his massive mahogany desk on Monday, sipping the coffee his assistant had brought in. He could afford a three-office suite on the thirtieth floor of 600 West Broadway to house himself and his two associate attorneys. The associates were tucked into the interior spaces, but Trevor’s office overlooked San Diego Bay, now sparkling in the August morning as if the sun had thrown handfuls of diamond dust over the gray-blue waves.

“You aren’t going to like what I have to say about this case,” Trevor began.

“Try me.”

“Well, to get straight to the point, your client is as looney as they come. The court declared a doubt about her mental competency to stand trial a week after the preliminary hearing. Basically, she went straight back to her cell at the jail after the prelim, curled up on her bunk, and hasn’t spoken a word since.”

“Wouldn’t it be a bit of a shock to be held for trial on two murders, knowing she’s facing the death penalty?”

Trevor shrugged. “She’s a lawyer, herself. She had to know what was going to go down from the minute she pulled the trigger on Brigman.”

“Did she tell you she did it?”

“Of course not. She claims she left Brigman’s at 9:30 and went home to Pacific Beach. But that can’t be true because her cell phone shows her in Brigman and her ex-husband’s neighborhood at 11:15 p.m. Alexa had just enough time to kill Brigman and then drive over to Michael’s and shoot him.. She was between murders when Meggie called. And, as you probably know, the Glock .9 used to kill them both was registered to her.”

“How did she explain the cell phone evidence?”

“Not very well. She says she was driving around because she couldn’t sleep and was missing her children.”

“Isn’t that possible? They were little. She’d be likely to miss them.”

“Oh come on!” Trevor leaned back in his chair and shook his head at her stupidity. “In what universe does a woman with motive and opportunity just happened to be driving around the neighborhood of the two men she hates above all others at the very same time someone is using her gun to kill them?”

“What does she have to say about the gun?”

“That it was stolen. She claims she reported the theft to the police, but there’s no record of a police report.”

“How can you be sure there’s no report?”

“Preston Baldwin is the deputy district attorney who’s prosecuting the case. He’s the number three man in that office, and we go back a long way. He’s turned over all the discovery, and no police report.”

Sarah studied Trevor until he began to squirm in the silence. If you put an ill-fitting, thousand-dollar suit on a donkey and turned it into a person then added a beer belly, you’d get Trevor Martin, she reflected. He was thin, except for the paunch, in his late fifties, with a bulbous nose, and squinty dark eyes of an undefined color. He combed his sparse gray locks over Donald Trump-style and wore a suit that matched his hair. Everything about him said mediocrity. Sarah reckoned he’d earned his high-class address based on cunning and deceit and not on legal talent.

“You mean you’re conducting your investigation into your client’s defense relying solely upon the word of the man who’s prosecuting her?”

“Look, you’re making way too much out of this. I told you, Preston and I go way back. We’ve tried probably a hundred cases against each other. We socialize. In fact, I was at a barbecue at his house the night after the prelim. If that report had been in his file, he’d have turned it over.”

Sarah tried to keep her face impassive, but she could tell Trevor was becoming more and more agitated by her disapproval. He leaned over his desk and hissed, “Don’t waste your time on sympathy for this woman. She’s a consummate lying, manipulating bitch.”

“I’m sorry, did you just call your client a ‘bitch’? What about fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty to the client? Did you tell her you were partying with opposing counsel the night after she was bound over to face the death penalty?”

Trevor was incensed. “Don’t quote the Rules of Professional Conduct to me. I know them. But I also know how to survive in this town. My relationship with Preston Baldwin has lasted for twenty years. Clients come and go. As will Alexa Reed. No, I didn’t tell her Preston and I are friends. That’s my private life, and I’m not bound to reveal my private life to clients.”

“But that’s not how it works,” Sarah said. “Our duty of loyalty is to our clients, not to the attorneys we try cases with. If you had a social relationship with opposing counsel, you should have told her.”

Trevor shrugged. “I can see you’ve got a lot to learn. This isn’t New York, Ms. Knight. We do things our own way.”

“This is beginning to sound like my meeting with Hal Remington.”

“Better not cross Hal if you want to work in San Diego.”

“Funny, that’s exactly what he said.”

Trevor leaned back in his padded leather executive chair and adopted a paternal tone. “If you want to go on some sort of crusade, claiming we’re all unethical, you’re welcome to do it. But remember, we’ve all been here more than twenty years, doing our jobs, and not getting into any trouble with the state bar. If you start accusing us of shafting our clients – even if we do – you won’t get to first base. Who do you think the state bar is going to believe? You and a string of convicted felons, complaining about their trial attorneys? Or us?”

“That’s the speech Hal Remington gave me.”

“And he was right on the money! Look, Ms. Knight. Alexa Reed was a washed up associate at Warwick, Thompson, and Hayes. She got herself pregnant twice without much time between babies to hide her incompetence and to give herself an excuse to leave the firm. Michael, on the other hand, was a brilliant young lawyer who made partner in four years.”

“Was he brilliant or just the son of a sitting United States Supreme Court justice who was a former Warrick, Thompson partner himself?”

“If I have to answer that question, you haven’t heard anything I’ve said so far. Anyway, Alexa gets herself knocked up twice. The firm lets her go; and then she files for divorce, claiming Michael beat her and persuaded the partners to fire her. Ronald Brigman did her psychological evaluation in the custody case and found she was lying about the beatings and about why she was fired. Based on those findings, Brigman decided to give primary custody of the kids to Michael. Not less than a month later, Brigman and Michael are dead, killed with the gun registered to Alexa, who claims she was just driving around aimlessly in the neighborhood when someone else used it. Come on, Ms. Knight. How much time do you think anyone should waste investigating this case?”

“As much time as it takes to get it right. Did you interview the children?”

“Meggie and Sam? Of course not. They’re only six and five.”

“And they were in the house when their mother supposedly shot their father. What if she didn’t shoot him, and the children are the missing to prove it?”

Sarah noticed Trevor Martin’s face begin to go dark red. Could he be on the verge of a heart attack? “Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no way anyone can prove Alexa Reed is innocent. Interviewing the children wouldn’t change a thing. Besides, Coleman Reed and his wife Myra took Meggie and Sam to D.C. to live with them as soon as Alexa was arrested. Justice Reed requested a protective order from the superior court to keep people like you from bothering them. You want to talk to the children? You’d better have an airtight reason. Look, Ms. Knight. Remember what Hal Remington said: don’t try too hard if you expect to work in this town. Just file a few in limine motions to make it look good, do some cross examination, and accept the inevitable outcome. This client is a guilty nut job and them some. You’re here to make it look good and get paid. That’s all.

“And by the way, this case is going nowhere fast at the moment because Alexa Reed is curled up in that catatonic ball in her cell. She wouldn’t talk to me, and I doubt she will talk to you.”

“So I gather there’s a hearing coming up to determine whether she is competent to stand trial?”

“Right. On September 3, the day after labor day.”

“And who is the psychologist who is evaluating her for that hearing?”

“Percy Andrews.”

“What didn’t you request someone out of L.A.?”

“Because I didn’t need to. Percy Andrews has been doing court appointed evaluations in this town for twenty years.”

“And that’s my point. Isn’t it a conflict of interest to have him evaluating the woman accused of killing a colleague?”

His mouth became a tight line and he stood up abruptly. “I’ve got another appointment coming in ten minutes. I’ve given you all the help I can. And I’ve warned you. If you have any questions after you go over the file, you can call me.”

But not bloody likely you’ll answer, Sarah thought as she shook hands and left his office.

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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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I wanted to have this post up by the Fourth of July, but life intervened. The machine at my local FedEx that binds my unbrief lawyer briefs sputtered and died for the third time in the last month. Although I am one of the biggest accounts at that store, corporate FedEx is hemming and hawing about fixing the machine or firing me as customer. In the meantime, I am driving across the county to get the unbrief briefs copied and bound.

But enough corporate soap opera. Even if it’s after the Fourth, this is the kind of story that will make you smile any day of the year.

On September 11, 2001, when Carmen Footer, Joanne Miller, and Elaine Greene heard that America had been attacked, they felt they had to do something. So they grabbed their flags, walked up to Main Street in their hometown of Freeport, Maine, and began to wave Old Glory. The response was so overwhelming they pledged to be there every Tuesday for a year. Now, twelve years later, the Freeport Flag Ladies, as they are now called, are still there. And they haven’t missed a Tuesday since 9/11.

In a recent ABC news feature, Elaine Green explained their mission. People drive by and wave and honk every Tuesday because, “They’re happy to have that gentle reminder, this is their country. Freedom is not free.” The Flag Ladies make everyone who passes by “feel more connected to their country.”

The Flag Ladies’ mission has grown since that first tragic day in our country’s history. They now go to schools, churches, and community events with their patriotic message. And they travel five hours to greet military flights leaving and returning from overseas.

Elaine met a solider heading to Iraq in 2004 whom she will never forget. “His father called me about three to four months later to thank me. He said, ‘My son was killed. When he left, he was in a very dark place but I got a call when he arrived in Iraq and he said, I met some ladies and dad, and I’m going to be okay became I met people worth dying for, if it has to be.’ His father was calling to thank us because we gave his son his dignity. He didn’t die in a dark place. If I never did another thing in my life, it’s all I ever had done, it would have been enough,” Said Greene.

On September 11, 2001, Carmen, Joanne, and Elaine set out to be three tiny sparks of light in the darkness. They never knew how their lights would grow and shine and touch so many others. See? A story that will make you smile on any day of the year.

The Flag Ladies

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Toni Morrison explained, “I wrote the novel I wanted to read.” And I did the same thing when I wrote Dance For A Dead Princess. Here’s why:

Jane Eyre, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite novels. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read it. And I’m not alone. It is so popular that other authors have tried to replicate its magic in books like Jean Rhys’ Wide Saragaso Sea, or Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, or fairly recently, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey.  And now me, in Dance for a Dead Princess.

I was nostalgically wishing for another Jane Eyre experience over the weekend, as I was hunting for a book I really wanted to read. As I surveyed the offerings and was disappointed, I began to imagine what a modern day literary agent would say about Jayne Eyre:

From the Desk of the World’s Most Important Literary Agent to Miss Charlotte Bronte:

Dear Miss Bronte,

Thank you for the opportunity to consider the manuscript of your novel, Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, I am unable to represent it at this time. Some words of wisdom if you decided to submit it elsewhere: your story is definitely not a Romance Novel. If you are unwilling to make changes in the present draft, you should look for an agent who specializes in Contemporary Women’s Fiction or Mystery.

That said, you do have a very promising, if flawed, story here. With some changes, you could have a bestseller on your hands. (And I’d love the commission I’d earn from representing it.) To that end, and our mutual financial benefit, some suggestions. First, sex sells. Historical and contemporary romances have to be hot, hot, hot. I realize you’ve devised quite an ingenious plot line here, and Jane and Mr. Rochester (really, Miss Bronte, a romance novel hero called Mr. Rochester and not Trevor, Tray, or Brandon?) are quite convincingly in love by the time of their ill-fated marriage attempt. But they only TALK to each other. Where are the smoldering sex scenes? Jane never once mentions Mr. Rochester’s six-pack abs (I assume he has them, yes?), or his alpha male swagger (he is an alpha male, right?) and, for all the times he meets Jane in the lane he never once cops even the tiniest little feel. (On second thought, since he never gets her in the sack, he can’t be an alpha male, therefore he can’t be a Romance hero.)

And then there is Jane, herself. Really, Miss Bronte, Romance heroines are not “plain.” After all, when your book hits the big screen, which big name actress is going to want the role of a “plain” heroine? Jane should have masses of chestnut hair, down to her waist that Edward (or better yet, Trevor, Tray or Brandon) can bury his face in at the, ah, appropriate moment. In addition, a regulation Romance heroine must also be equipped with (at a minimum) an exquisite heart-shaped face, a perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth, and flashing dark eyes.

Your book, Miss Bronte, is all PLOT and no SEX. And it begins with Jane’s dreary life in an orphanage when it should start with Mr. Rochester undressing Jane in his imagination the moment he meets her at Thornfield Hall. I realize you must have taken a Creative Writing course in which some dreary professor taught you all about character, plot, voice, and point of view. But when it comes to writing a best selling Romance Novel, throw out all that Literary Stuff. Sex, Sex, Sex, sells. That’s all you need to know.  The only PLOT you need is how to get from one sex scene to another.

Here are some suggestions, then, for transforming Jane Eyre from its current status as a Romance novel loser to a New York Times bestseller. Plot: As soon as Mr. Rochester meets Jane, he asks her to enter to a “pretend” marriage to keep the unwanted attentions of Blanche Ingram at bay. Soon their “marriage” is anything but pretend, yet Mr. Rochester is still engaged to Blanche.

Or you could take a leaf from E.L. James and Syliva Day and install Mr. Rochester in his own “red room” at Thornfield where he and Blanche teach the virginal Jane all about sex, sex, sex. Terrified, she flees to her cousin St. John (horrible name, by the way for a Romance novel sub-hero) only to be pursued by Mr. Rochester and taken back for her well-deserved punishment.  At the end, she falls in love with Mr. Rochester (Trevor, Tray or Brandon) or at least she’s in love with his millions.

Or finally, if you don’t like either of those plot ideas, instead of fleeing an orphanage, Jane should flee from an abusive first husband. Through sex, sex, sex, Mr. Rochester teaches her to TRUST again; and now armed with CONFIDENCE  in herself, she becomes a millionaire when representatives of Betty Crocker discover her tea shop in the village and purchase her secret recipe for blueberry scones.

Any of these plots and some really hot, hot, sex scenes would rocket your manuscript straight to the top. Otherwise, you might self-publish and sell a few copies to friends and relatives.

Sorry to send disappointing news, Miss Bronte.

Wishing you all the best,

The World’s Most Important (And Infallible) Literary Agent

A "plain" heroine, Miss Bronte, really?

A “plain” heroine, Miss Bronte, really?

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The self-growth community, which likes to clutter my inbox with fantastic offers for $10,000 worth of free life changing bonuses if only I will divulge my e-mail, vociferously insists we must all LET GO of the Past. I sometimes wonder if the induction ceremony for an authentic, card carrying self-growth guru is to have his or her memory wiped like a malfunctioning hard drive.

Personally, I would miss my Past. Not all of it, you understand. But even the terrible, terrorizing moments taught me things that, having sweated blood and endured raw fear to learn, I would not want to forget. And aren’t we doomed to repeat the Past until we finally learn what It is trying to teach us?

The thing is, what would artists make their art out of if they didn’t have their Pasts? Sylvia Plath, without her miserable, doomed love-affair with Ted Hughes, would never have become a Great Poet. Ditto for W.B. Yeats who made a highly successful poetic career out of mourning his loss of the ever elusive Maude Gonne. And then there is the mysterious woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. No lost love, no great sonnets. Thank goodness for the rest of us Plath, Yeats, and Shakespeare lived before the onslaught of self-growth emails insisting you can’t be Anybody until you LET Go of the Past.

And in my case, wiping my personal hard drive would be a rather long affair, since I have memories back to a very, very early age. Now, I am not one of those people who can cite chapter and verse every day of every week of my life. (I think that much recall would be boring.) But let’s just say I have some vivid and accurate recollections of certain major events before age three. And I’d miss them like I’d miss an arm or a leg if they vanished.

On the other hand, Too Much Past is the equivalent of those hoarding reality TV shows that I never watch. You know the ones, where some poor soul stills owns every McDonald’s wrapper and styrofoam Big Mac container that ever came into his or her life? The literary equivalent is poor Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

I began to meditate upon the proper balance for The Past in my life this weekend when I finally rebelled against another Saturday and Sunday spent writing unbrief briefs and invited the sky to fall if it wanted to because I was LEAVING MY COMPUTER for the weekend. Something about rebelling against the lawyer’s code which says “real men work weekends” (note, I know I’m not a man and maybe I’m not real), always brings out the Tidy Up, Throw It Out impulse in me.

After tackling my guest room, which needed considerable tidying and spiffing, my eyes lit upon my garage floor, covered in boxes of files in pending, but not currently active cases, which were supposed to go to offsite storage weeks ago. My MiniCooper had been complaining that His garage was too full of things besides Himself. And he was right. So after bribing my Stronger-Than-Me son to move the boxes, I suddenly spied a shelf filled with old calenders dating back ten years.

When I retired from law practice and became full-time Mommy in 1986, I used to order those calenders from the Smithsonian and National Geographic that came as little coil bound books, week on one side, breathtaking photo on the other. I scribbled things like pediatrician appointments, play dates, and my few-and-far-between babysitter relief afternoons in them. But mostly I loved the ever changing artwork.

But then, the divorce settled like ash from Vesuvius over our world. My beautiful little calendars became part of my family law attorney’s files – alibis to prove what I’d been up to for the last eight years. And I had to once again put on the great grey mantle of law practice. In place of my lithe little photographic calendars, I had to order those big clunky green-striped DayTimers, six inches thick, which arrived each year with their own grey coffin of a box to store them in. Forever, apparently.

Then on Saturday afternoon I looked at those boxes as they sat on my garage shelf, neatly labeled like Old Father Time with the year of his reign on the spine, and I asked myself when was the last time I’d opened any of them. Answer: on December 31 of the year they had passed into oblivion. In fact, all the briefs’ due dates they had chronicled were long past. The cases were closed out, and I could barely remember the clients’ names. Here was my chance, I realized, to throw out a cumbersome Past that really was THE PAST. Here was a hard drive that had long needed wiping. Joyfully I seized each and every one and gleefully threw them away.

Green-Lined Day Timer

Green-Lined Day Timer

They come with their own coffins

They come with their own coffins

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

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