Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year, New Goals for 2007

Have you made your new year resolutions? I have. I've never been much on making New Year resolutions, but this year I decided to shout out my goals.
  • Finish first draft of THE SWORDSWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER by January 15th.
  • Revise and send second draft to beta readers by March 1.
  • Send polished ms to agent by April 1.
  • Submit at least one short story each month to lit pubs.
  • Read more good books
  • Balance my personal life, my business life, and my creative life.
Are you a resolutionist? Do you want a place to shout out your resolutions? Feel free to post them here. The blogosphere is listening.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Four Words in Four Colors


Four words in four colors
Wishes all
For now and for tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shout out for my daughter

Today on LitPark Susan Henderson gave readers the opportunity to shout out something of themselves. I chose to shout out my 19-year-old daughter's blog Bella Voce. Elisabeth, or Elle-chan as we called her when she was born in Japan, delighted me last year when she exercised the freshman tradition and changed her major from political science to English. She hasn’t lost her political charge—as you will see when you read her review of Blood Diamond in her blog—but she has found her voice through writing. You may also remember my proud mama moment when I wrote of Elisabeth here back in September.

Give yourself a hug this holiday season.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Writers are more than the words they write

We are so much more than the words we write, yet the words we write draw from everything we are.

Sometimes I'm amazed at what flows from my mind, through my fingers, and onto the computer screen. This morning I wrote the above quote in a welcome note to a new member of my Knight Agency group. After I typed it I paused and smiled.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

NaNoWriMo Winner Here

Today is the final day for NaNoWriMo participants to finish their 50,000 word novels. Everyone who submits a manuscript of 50,000 words or more is considered a winner. I finished mine yesterday. Well, sort of. I hit the 50,000 word finish line. By my estimate, I still have at least 25,000 words to go before the story is complete. One of the authors in my online writer's group asked NaNoWriMo participants what they learned from their experience in the month-long writing marathon. Here’s what I said:

"Winning" NaNoWriMo takes a far second to the joy I have about this novel. Had I not taken the challenge by Lori Weinrott to join, propped up by Brian Howe's enthusiasm, I don't think I would have started this novel--just yet. Each paragraph, page, and chapter convinced me that this is the book I should be writing right now. I'm setting aside WHISPERING NIGHTS while I finish TSSD.

I started out composing at a genteel pace, but as the days slipped by and I got behind, I began to feel crushed by the approaching deadline. I don't think there's a switch to turn off my inner editor. I don't like schlocky writing when I read it and I tolerate it less from myself. Nevertheless, it's still a shi**y first draft. It’s going to need some serious editing in the second round.

In the beginning I was excited by the new story and the words came easily as the characters revealed themselves. As my word count lagged behind the daily goal, however, I became hyper aware of every word I produced, clicking the word count meter every few pages. Toward the end I reverted back to my normal writing style, which is imagining and framing scenes for content and plot progression, rather than word count sessions. This put the joy back in the journey.

This is the first morning I haven’t plunged myself into TSSD. I’m taking a day off from the story to do some other writing tasks (like updating Ovations). Not to worry though, THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER is even now sitting on her bed in the doll room, glaring at me to come up and play.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Sword Swallower's Daughter is Conceived

My friend EJ posted a comment to the previous blog entry, kindly reminding me the post was getting a little old. More than two weeks old. Truth is I’ve been busy. Everyone gets busy, but I mean buried with details. But you don’t want to hear about the two-day holiday event for 500 people that I’m coordinating for SITE-SoCal. I’m pumped up about this annual event, excited about mingling and jingling with industry friends, and most of all hoping to raise $200,000 for the three charities (Camp Alandale, La Calle, Oasis of Hollywood) we’ve chosen to support though this event.

It’s not like I’ve been holding out on you, but the holiday event is not what’s been filling my early morning creative hours. I’ve started writing a new novel. I’ve joined several of my writing pals for a month-long novel writing challenge called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo is kind of like the Boston Marathon for writers. The course is 30 days of 1667 word writing stretches. Everyone who writes 50,000 words and submits their manuscript at the end of the month is a winner. Although I’m not a quantity over quality writer, and I haven’t met the daily 1667 goal every day, as of this morning I reached 22,297 words in 16 days. I’m behind the nano quota, but I’m confident I’m going to cross the finish line with a novel I am proud of.

THE SWORDSWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER is a coming of age novel about loving people despite their failures, faults, and fetishes. The title, which has boiled around in my head for years, is autobiographical and many of my character’s experiences are loosely—emphasize loose here—based on my experiences growing up with an unconventional father and an over-conventional mother. Set the turbulent 1960s of my white Southern California childhood, it was an era when divorce was a sin, negroes were untouchable, Vietnam sent bloody images into American living rooms, and the Beatles led the British invasion of rock and roll.

You can read the first chapter of THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER on the fiction page of my website. Click the title above to get there.

I’m nearly half-way through with the NaNoWriMo challenge, but THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER will end when the story has been told. Check my daily word meter to see the progress. And leave me a comment to cheer me on.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I've Been Tagged

Some children played tag, red-rover, and hide-n-seek. Perhaps my cousins and I did too, but the most memorable game I remember was called "Machine Gun." There were seven of us, plus a few neighborhood kids thrown in to make a fun group. One person was the gunner and the others lined up across the yard. The gunner would assume the machine gun position with arm outstretched and finger pointed and say, GO. As the gunner made the ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah sound the rest of us ran across the yard only to be slain by the gunner. Then the gunner would walk through the fallen and choose the silliest, wildest, creepiest death position. That person would be resurrected by the gunner to become the next gunner. The game would begin again with a new gunner, while the former gunner would join the soon-to-be corpses. There was no trying to make it to the other side or to bring down the gunner. The object was to be chosen for having the creepiest death position. It's a wonder that none of us became assassins.

While it's not exactly a game of tag, this memory was prompted by two things. Yesterday was Halloween, the creepiest day of the year, and my friend EJ Knapp tagged me in an online game of blog tag. To fulfill my destiny I must write five things about myself that are not commonly known. Then I must tag five others to keep the game alive. So here goes:

  1. I was born in Los Angeles to a San Francisco bohemian father of Italian descent and a Midwest fundamentalist mother whose roots trace back to Benjamin Franklin. They were unhappily married for ten years, divorcing when I was seven. My stepfather, a latent beatnik who introduced me to Joan Baez, Isaac Asimov, and kite flying, stepped in as the father my birth father couldn’t be.
  2. I was an in-betweener in high school. I wasn’t part of any single clique, but had friends in all the crowds from the existentialist intellectuals, to the pot-smoking loadies who hung out in the bathrooms. I was senior class president, wrote for the HS newspaper, and was editor of the yearbook my senior year.
  3. I follow the Christian faith, not because of blind adherence, obligation, or the need for a crutch. There was an emptiness in my life that pursuit of knowledge, pleasure, romance, or creativity couldn’t fill. I explored intellectual atheism, mysticism, new age thought, and Eastern religions, but in the end, I chose the grace that my study of the peace-loving Jesus revealed.
  4. I went to Orange Coast College in SoCal, but never got to the university level. If there are any regrets in my life, this is the biggie. I took an internship with Contemporary Christian Music magazine and loved the job so much I accepted a fulltime position with the expectation of taking night courses to finish my degree. I was promoted to assistant editor of the magazine and then life took off on a zipline adventure that was exactly what I needed at the time.
  5. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than being a mother. Creative endeavors like writing, music, and art nurture me, but I realize that I am a nurturer at heart. I have loved every age in the life of my children and now as they stand on the cusp of adulthood, I am in awe of who they’ve become.

It’s time to tag five more people: Lori Weinrott, Susan Henderson, Karen Dionne, Brian Howe, Danielle Schaaf, and one honorary family tag to my daughter, Bella Voce.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Guest Blogger: The Road to Peace

We have a guest blogger this week at Ovations. I'd love to introduce you to this wonderful lady, but she prefers to remain anonymous. Our guest is a dear friend of mine who I met through our work in the travel industry. She is a seasoned traveler, with an ear for the heartbeat of the culture in which she's working or visiting. She is not a professional writer, and yet her words flow as gracefully as any prose I've read by my favorite authors. Please read on and join the conversation by leaving a comment at the end.

The Road to Peace
By Anonymous

The other night when I was falling asleep, I was thinking, “How do we get from where we are in this distressed world to peace?” The end of a war brings a cessation of the strife and that is a relief for many, but it is not peace.

“So how do we get to peace?” And the answer that came. "Peace comes when all is forgiven, when compassion sees our shared pain, our shared fears and our shared hopes and possibilities.”

“Well that's great,” I thought, “but how do government and races and cultures forgive?” Governments, races and cultures do not forgive. People forgive, people generate and allow compassion. I am one person. How can I make a difference in the healing of our world? And the answer that came was, "I can begin, by looking at what I need to forgive in my life. I can begin by having compassion on others and myself.”

The world’s healing starts one person at a time.

I invite you to help heal the world by choosing to forgive people or situations in your life. Not just in broad terms, but specific people and situations. Today now begin to forgive and don’t forget to forgive yourself. All that is needed is the willingness to forgive even when we find it seems impossible. It can be instantaneous or take time. It only matters that you are willing to forgive and choose to see with compassion...

Peace and blessings to you.

Discussion: Are there people in your life who you can forgive? What can you do to help the citizens of our world find peace? Do you believe the world will ever know a true and enduring peace?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Notes on a travel show: Do you fear global tourism?

The Incentive Travel & Motivation Expo (IT&ME) is over for another year. Those attendees who contain themselves to a Monday through Friday work week are now following up on the business cards, notes, emails and to-dos that collect during this busy week in Chicago. I took Thursday night to myself in Chicago, where I had dinner with two of my author friends—Melanie Lynn Hauser (CONFESSIONS OF SUPERMOM) and Renee Rosen (EVERY CROOKED POT). Friday morning I browsed through shops on the Magnificient Mile and then took a late afternoon flight home to California. It’s Monday and I’m back to work with renewed vigor.

While I was in Chicago the FAA relaxed its regulations on what airline passengers could carry on for flights. This, of course, led to numerous conversations on the safety and security of air travel. While most of the people I spoke with at the expo had no fears about air travel and security while in foreign locales, they did relate concerns from their clients who aren't in the industry. Destinations such as Dubai had a large pavilion on the floor and despite the negative focus on the Middle East, the Dubai buzz was as positive this year as last.

The NoteWorthy Group, the UK destination management company and event planning house that I represent, didn’t have a booth on the expo floor this year. We found that last year I made as many contacts out on the floor as our managaing director, Susie Worthy, did sitting at the booth. This year we decided not to take a booth; Susie would stay in London, and I would go out and meet people on the floor. The strategy worked, for I met dozens of dynamic people who wanted to hear more about TNG and why we’ve been selected by Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the Top Travel Specialist for the UK and Scotland for two years in a row. This distinction speaks for itself.

I think London is a perfect location for a hip, exciting, culturally enriching destination for an incentive program, conference, or educational summit. Dollars for dollars, or should I say dollars for pounds, it’s a destination that works hard to compete with such tropical locales as Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean. Surprisingly, this year the number one objective I heard about travel programs in the UK was not the unfavorable exchange rate and expense of the UK, but the length of time it takes to get to Europe as opposed to our neighbors to the south. And golf. Proximity to a golf course seems to be a top priority for travel planners choosing a destination for their programs.

Foot traffic through the expo appeared to be down again this year. We noticed it last year, but nearly every booth I visited remarked the same. One tourism official suggested that the amount of workshops and sessions cuts into the time delegates would otherwise spend in the expo. Yet others commented that the sessions were their first priority and time on the floor was spent targeted to specific vendors, rather than browsing around drinking up champagne under the British Pavilion, genuine Café du Monde latte at the New Orleans booth, or sake and sushi with Japan. A Mexico vendor corroborated this theory, saying she had fewer visitors, but the ones who stopped were decision makers looking to do real business.

Business dominates talk on the travel floor, but our business is about showing gratitude, inspiring goals, and giving people a good time. Many of the vendors once again outdid themselves with their evening galas thrown to promote their services and say thank you to their clients. VisitLondon threw a brilliant party atop the Sears Tower on Tuesday night. The Mexico Tourism Board’s dinner cruise on The Odyssey served food flown in from Merida. The Las Vegas party at Crobar was once again the hot ticket with this year’s “super hero” theme. A significant aspect of this business is working hard and earning the perks of performance. My pals Madelyn Marusa and Denise Dornfeld are two ladies who mean business on the expo floor, but know how to have fun at the end of the day.

So now I’m back to work, sorting through business cards, following up on contacts, returning emails, and looking forward to a productive season.

Readers of Ovations are an eclectic group of writers, travel industry professionals, blog-hoppers, and friends. If you read through this entire piece, how about answering a few questions. Tell me what global destinations you’d like to visit in the next couple of years, and why they appeal to you. And most importantly, in the political climate of the world today, do you fear air travel and global tourism?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Do You Live Where You Do?

Today’s post at LitPark got me thinking. Susan Henderson, the gracious host of LitPark interviewed author Amy Wilentz about her new book, I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger. Amy lived in Jerusalem where peace on the streets is an oxymoron, and also in New York City during 9/11. As an author of two books and a journalist who’s written for The Nation, The New Republic, Newsday, Time, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, Amy considers her recent move to California a foreign assignment. I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen is a memoir informed by Amy’s search for safety and renewal after 9/11, yet dosed with California history and contemporary political reporting. I have not read Amy’s book yet, but the premise intrigued me beyond the surface. [Click the LitPark link to read more about Susan and Amy.]

While in New Orleans and the Katrina-devastated Mississippi bayou areas last summer, I heard several residents say how the media and other insensitive souls often asked them questions like, “why do you live here when you know it’s a hurricane zone,” or other less kind phrasings. Living in Southern California we hear such comments as, “Why do you live there with all of the [choose one] crime, heat, traffic, crowds, cost of living, liberalism, bad schools, earthquakes.”

Because it’s home. My father’s ashes are spread across the Pacific, my mother and sister lay side-by-side in the ground only fifteen miles from me. Because my children have roots in the same valley where mine have flourished. Because we like it here.

Being entirely fair to my husby, he stays here because of me. He’s a Carolina boy, raised on grits, fatback, and collard greens. The Marine Corps brought him here twenty-five years ago, he met me, and except for our three year tour in Iwakuni, Japan, we’ve lived here since. Given the chance he’d move back to North Carolina as quick as you can say suet.

A trend among retired California homeowners who sit on million dollar real estate they bought 30 years ago for the price of a Toyota today, is to sell out and buy into a community for active senior adults. They can buy a nice place with their house cash, invest the balance, and live off their retirement investments. Last Monday I was talking with a couple of my friends in that position: Gal One is selling her Orange County goldmine and moving to a retirement community in the desert and is trying to convince Gal Two to join her there. Finally Gal Two says, “Why should I sell the place that I love and move to a place where I don’t want to live?”

Why indeed? In light of Gal Two’s remark and then reading about Amy’s move to California to be rejuvenated made me wonder. Why do you live where you do? What took you there and what keeps you there?

Click the comment link below to tell us your story.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Remembering 9/11

It's midnight in New York City. It's time to remember.

I could write something to commemorate the fallen, to memorialize the tragedy. But someone I know already has. Read Bella Voce and leave a comment there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Daughter Grows Into Herself

My daughter returned to college this week. She’s a sophomore at a University of California campus only a half-hour drive from our home. Despite the nearby proximity, we decided last year it would be good for her to live on campus, not only because it’s more convenient, but because of the transitional value of life in a dorm.

She left for college as a political science major and came home as an English major. In between the change in her major she flirted with the sciences, having taken an oceanography class to satisfy her core requirements. The theory of continental drift fascinated her. She saw the whole of creation through the evolution of the earth. Yet she did not move into the sciences because the arts and humanities wooed her back through her first university level English class. Everything her teachers have been saying throughout her educational experience came into focus through this class.

Have I mentioned that she’s a scholar? A recipient of the university’s Chancellor’s Scholarship, among a list of other scholarships won during high school, my daughter craves knowledge. Not just trivia that makes good party chat, but the deep truths of how things work, why they work as they do, what happens when things break. She loves a research challenge and finding new ways to present time-honored truths. She has found an avenue of adventure in writing.

Had I tried to mold her into my own hopes for her she would have been a music major. I’ve been told by music teachers that perfect pitch does not exist, but near-perfect pitch does. She has it. Her soprano is clear and crisp, without shrill. When she plays piano and sings “Come What May” from Moulin Rouge, I get chills. All summer long she played selections from Phantom of the Opera while I worked. The house is silent now, the piano will collect dust again.

Her tennis coach thought she could have been ranked had we put her in competitive tennis early on. She picked up the game as a freshman in high school and smoked through lessons, burned up the court with her speed, but often defeated herself in the head play. Steve Kronseder, the tennis pro who took her under his wing, was an English major himself and did as much for her tennis game as he did her scholarship. I watched during lessons when he’d smash balls at her and then toss over questions about Beowulf, Chaucer, or Shakespeare. He’s the one who instilled in her the value that college is not a place to go to prepare for a job, but to explore knowledge.

Over the past year my daughter came home on weekends to do laundry, raid the pantry, see her local friends, and attend church with the family. When she went away in September of last year she was a girl excited to be out of the social cauldron called high school. She had no interest in joining a sorority, but made quick friends with her suite mates. The typical dorm hall dramas came and went and she often found herself the one doling out the psychic band-aids. It’s no wonder that this year she’s a Resident Advisor to a co-ed hall of 44 students.

She gave up her spring break last year to go on a service trip to Pass Christian, Mississippi, the gulf area most devastated by Katrina’s fury. She saved her money from her job at Starbucks to pay for the trip and came back a changed person. When we planned our summer vacation this year to include a week in New Orleans, she logged on with Habitat for Humanity and worked for three days in the brutal heat and humidity to build houses in the Ninth Ward area called Musician’s Village.

Only a few weeks ago she began a blog, Bella Voce. After 19 years of watching her attack and subdue anything she set her mind on I should not have been surprised at the depth of her writing. Yet I was. I’m glad I didn’t overbear my hopes on her in her early years with music. As talented as she is, I can see now that writing will be her destiny. She was born the spitting image of my husband; my genes seem to have been cancelled from her physical appearance. She’s blonde, I’m brunette; she’s blue-eyed, I’m hazel-eyed; she’s slender, I’m Reubenesque; she’s tall, I’m short. But as she gets older I see more of myself in her in different ways.

Elisabeth went away to college last fall as my daughter, but she came home as my friend. I’m missing my daughter, but I’ll always have my friend.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Do You Have Katrina Fatigue?

You may have heard the term “Katrina Fatigue.” Fatigue is a term used by the media to explain the indifference that creeps into the minds of the public when it is barraged with images, sound bytes, and sensationalist reporting that follows a catastrophe or prominent news event. You may have felt recurring Katrina fatigue as the one-year anniversary of the killer storm approached this week. If you’ve read my blog, you may have seen my on-location writing and photos from my trip to New Orleans this summer. But as I’ve watched the media coverage leading to the one-year anniversary of the storm’s landing, I’m haunted again at what happened to this glorious city.

Katrina Fatigue means something entirely different to those who live in the areas affected by Katrina. After a year of mourning, denial, and anger, there still isn’t resolution or acceptance for many Katrina victims. Katrina Fatigue hits them every day when they’re fighting with their insurance company over losses, hammering shingles and laying flooring, waiting for an “as is” sale on their water-ravaged house, listening to the occupants in the FEMA trailer next to them fighting over a drug deal and hoping they don’t pull out guns because those aluminum walls don’t stop bullets. While lights in the French Quarter are shining again, the shadow of Katrina is everywhere.

Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” spotlights the devastation of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, a cramped section of old, wood-frame houses, occupied primarily by working-class blacks whose heritage in the city goes back generations. Many of the houses in the Ninth Ward have been scoured up and reoccupied, but whole neighborhoods were dozed and are being rebuilt. The orange search and rescue signs painted on the fronts of the homes remain visible, like graffiti tributes to survival. Habitat for Humanity has a rebuilding project going in a Ninth Ward neighborhood called Musician’s Village. The homes are going up two and three at a time, but they’re built from volunteer labor by people of all color from around the world.

The often conspiratorialized 17th Street Levee break is blamed for much of the flooding that hit New Orleans, but east of that Levee is St. Bernard Parish, where that levee break just as hard. St. Bernard Parish, and other middle and upper class areas were also destroyed by hurricane winds, storm surge, or levee break flooding. Like those chronicled by Spike Lee, these were working class people, too; second and third generation New Orleans natives who’d saved and saved to buy a dream house in the suburbs. These residents still battle Katrina fatigue and many will never again occupy their dream home or get the insurance money to rebuild.

Moving east, we traveled to Mississippi, stopping in Pass Christian, the coastal hamlet which got the full fury of Katrina on August 29, 2005. Residents of Pass Christian and other devastated areas along the Mississippi coast are the forgotten cousins of Katrina’s victims. Even New Orleans residents expressed concern and great compassion when we told them we were headed out to Pass Christian. We visited with several couples in Pass Christian whose homes my daughter worked on in a service mission last April during her college spring break. Their homes are nearly rebuilt, but the reconstructing of their lives is far from over.

Katrina Fatigue is an easy term to use when we’re sitting in our air conditioned homes, drinking our designer water, and wearing new clothes from a pre-season rack at Macys. News fatigue hits from over-exposure and sensationalized media coverage. It focuses on incidents, rather than issues; personalities rather than persons, and victims, rather than victors. Katrina Fatigue is a cop-out term for over-stimulated and under-involved people. If you’re reading this, you are probably not one of them.

You can view more photos from my trip through the Gulf Coast in my website's photo gallery.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Experiments in viral marketing: bookstyle

I am participating in a blogging experiment hosted at To enter the contest, put up this blurb, image, and trackback and you are entered to win the following prize package.

  • $200 Amazon gift certificate
  • Signed copy of Slave to Sensation
  • New Zealand goodies chosen by Singh
  • ARC of Christine Feehan's October 31 release: Conspiracy Game

You can read about the experiment here and you can download the code that you need to participate here.

Nalini Singh
Berkley / September 2006

Welcome to a future where emotion is a crime and powers of the mind clash brutally against those of the heart.

Sascha Duncan is one of the Psy, a psychic race that has cut off its emotions in an effort to prevent murderous insanity. Those who feel are punished by having their brains wiped clean, their personalities and memories destroyed.

Lucas Hunter is a Changeling, a shapeshifter who craves sensation, lives for touch. When their separate worlds collide in the serial murders of Changeling women, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities…or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.

Read an excerpt here.

Nalini is one of my author sisters at the Knight Agency, and SLAVE TO SENSATION was the first book my agent, Nephele Tempest sold. See this post for more.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My short story took first prize at Backspace

The guessing game is over at Backspace. The winners of Short Story Contest #15 have been called out and sorted. I'm thrilled that my short story SKETCHES took first place.

Do you write stories with soundtracks playing in your mind? I do, and did with SKETCHES. Music is a huge motivator in my life and there are songs I've always thought would play out to amazing stories. "Me and Bobby McGee," by Kris Kristopherson, is one of them. I think the longing for a simple life and a steady love reach into the psyche of the common soul. I was in junior high when Janis Joplin belted this song in my bedroom for the first time and I've been haunted by it since.

The song opens with, "Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train, feeling near as faded as my jeans. Bobby thumbed a diesel down, right before it rained, took us all the way to New Orleans." That song played unrelentingly in my mind while I watched rain fall every single day we were in New Orleans last month. I began writing the story while on the road from New Orleans to North Carolina. Every little town we passed had a Waffle House. Every Waffle House had a diesel truck in the parking lot. Rather than telling a story of the past with the MC and his girl Bobby, I made it a story for today with yesterday in the rearview mirror. I named the MC Kris as a tribute to the balladmaster himself.

This is what EJ Knapp said about SKETCHES: "Exquisite story, exquisitely written. The pace, the tension, the description. Connected to, yet never dependent on, a long ago tune, one possible future beheld, another unfolding, damn but you made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, brought goosebumbs to my arms. An absolutely beautiful piece of work."

I have, in fact, fallen in love with the MC and the broken girl. I just might keep this trip to California going for several thousand miles.

If you're a member of Backspace, you can read SKETCHES in Short Story Contest #15. If you're not a member, you can join here , or you'll have to wait until it's in print elsewhere. I'll be sure to let you know when and where.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MySpace is YourSpace

As if a blog and a website were not enough, I have set up camp in the biggest circus in cyberspace. If you're a denizen of MySpace, why don't you stroll on over to my tent. You'll find me in the Arts & Literature alley: Carolyn's MySpace Place.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tank Turns Two

Take a look at Tank, my seriously cute Jack Russell Terrier who turned two today. His daddy is Quest of JRS, a grand champion in Ireland and a Purina Dog Show challenger, but his mommy's the one with the real heart. She's April, the namesake of of Ape Pen Publishing.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Stories for Sale: $2 each

I created Ovations to celebrate the unfinished script of life and offer applause to those who live it. Today I have two stories in one. I belong to an online writer's group called Backspace. We are a community of kindred spirits, some having published more than 70 books and some--like me--still working toward the first book sale. On Tuesday, one of our resident writers revealed a crisis in his life, his transparency touched my heart and compelled me to respond. His name is EJ Knapp and I'd like you to read his story for yourself in his blog.

The second part of this story is how EJ's need galvanized our writer's community to help. He simply asked if there were any writers who could "donate" a short story or piece of prose that he could post on his website and "sell" for two dollars. The outpouring of support from our community of writers provided EJ with more than enough stories to sell. Reading the notes of support for EJ has filled my heart with respect, admiration, and total joy for each author who responded. I could list each author here, but truly the best way I can thank them is to ask each of you to visit EJ's blog and buy a story.

Did I submit a story? You betcha. I sent EJ a story called EXPERIENCED ONLY NEED APPLY. It's not posted just yet, but bookmark EJ's blog and check back. I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Literary Gala, Southern-style

The next stop on our summer road trip was Madison, Georgia, where my literary agency was celebrating its 10th anniversary. The Knight Agency was founded by agent and author Deidre Knight in 1996 and through its cluster of 100-plus fiction and non-fiction authors has launched more than 600 books. The party was attended by two bus loads of authors--mostly women. My husby joined a few other husbands in the shadows to crow or commiserate the life of an author's spouse.

Deidre held the party at the offices of The Knight Agency in Madison in order to give her authors a look at the offices where the business of selling books takes place. The offices reside in an old craftsman cottage on a shady street in Madison, billed as the "town Sherman refused to burn" during his punishing push through Dixie. We were led through the offices and to the backyard where a party pavilion was set and lined with twinkle lights. Everyone had their fingers crossed during the drive into Madison, praying the rain that wet the highway on the way to the party wouldn't flood the gala in the town Sherman so admired.

Under the pavilion we found everything you'd expect at a Southern party, and more. Intelligent and witty conversation bubbled like the peach mimosas; a classical guitarist filled the air with a melodious sound-drop, and the food was right from a Southern Living cookbook. Most decadent was a sweets station where pecans and sugar were cooked onsite to praline perfection. There was as much buzz about the pralines as there was about books.

My agent, Nephele Tempest, paused with me for a photo before we entered the party. Nephele opened the Knight Agency's West Coast offices just over a year ago and has already gathered an impressive group of authors and has made several sales. She reigned queen of her cluster at the party, introducing me to my sister authors and sharing insights into what's coming up.

Later in the evening my husband and I joined Kristin Nelson, president of Nelson Literary Agency, at a table with a lovely couple who live next door to Deidre. I asked which of the two was the romance author, and got a good laugh. Turned out neither of them are authors, but both are avid readers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Homage to Margaret Mitchell

The first road trip we took with our kids they were four and two years old. We packed a potty chair, activity kits, juice boxes, and those kid-proof "My First Sony" walkmans. The kids whined and cranked a bit, but we made it from Laguna Hills, CA to Houston in three good days. Yesterday we drove from New Orleans to Atlanta--an easy six-hour-drive--and you'd think my 19 and 17-year-old offspring were kiddies again. They had snacks, sodas, iPods, and laptop PCs to watch movies, but they picked and snapped at each other like a couple of old married folk.

The Atlanta Marriott Marquis where we'd booked for the night was crawling with women in town for the Romance Writers of America annual conference. I stuck up a conversation with Suzanne Simmons, an author of 40-plus novels, in the executive lobby of the Marquis. She shared a bit of her writing journey with me and encouraged me to keep my klunky name--Carolyn Burns Bass--when I publish. I've always thought Burns Bass was an odd conjunction; Burns, a verb next to the noun Bass. My kids often tease me with variations such as Carolyn burns fish, Carolyn burns hamburgers, Carolyn burns everything (not true!). Thank you, Suzanne.

The highlight of our stay in Atlanta was my pilgrimmage to the Margaret Mitchell museum. I first read Gone With the Wind during the summer in between seventh and eighth grade, and have re-read it several times since. Margaret and her husband rented a tiny apartment in this gracious Peachtree Street Victorian charmer while she wrote GWTW. I walked through the house tour with eyes wide open and spirit sensitive to the muse that dwelt there as Margaret composed one of the greatest American novels of all time. Margaret didn't think much of her prose, as she had great heroes among authors. But history thinks otherwise, and I agree.

Look closely and you'll see me on the front porch sitting, rocking with the vibe of another era.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Evesdropping in New Orleans

Overheard between a vendor and a local in New Orlean's French Market, July 23, 2006:

Local: How's business?
Vendor: Shitty.
Local: Tourists not buying?
Vendor: It's all those volunteers.
Local: Why doesn't someone tell them we don't need volunteers gutting houses, we need a revolution.

French Quarter Gallery

The beat goes on in the French Quarter. Click below to view my photos of New Orleans French Quarter, July 2006.

French Quarter Gallery

Katrina Gallery

Click below to view my photos and commentary on the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina in New Orleans

Katrina in Mississippi

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dining Around New Orleans

The Crescent City is a haven for foodies. Although it’s renowned for Creole and Cajun, the two styles of cuisine it birthed, New Orleans has a wide array of international culinary choices. Hailing from Southern California where we have every kind of cuisine imaginable, we’ve decided to concentrate our dining on the foods that grew up here.

We choose the Cookin’ Cajun kitchen inside the Creole Delicacies gourmet store in the Riverwalk Mall for our first lunch. Chef instructor Saundra Green dishes us up some chicken and andoille sausage gumbo, red beans and rice, baked chicken, and Marti Gras salad. Cajun cooking just doesn’t get more real than this stick-to-your hips and thighs lunch. I sample the selections, but wind up with a huge plate of Marti Gras salad. Tara, who’s attending cooking school, and I try to figure out what the dressing is made of, but Saundra won’t give us a clue. She baits us by saying we have to come to a cooking class to get the recipe. Sold. I make a reservation for Thursday’s class.

Later that night a group of us from the ALEA conference head toward the French Quarter under the guidance of Tara, and discover Oliver’s Restaurant. Three generations of Arnaud Olivers run this charming Creole restaurant. I order the shrimp scampi, which I learn originated right here in the city of food. Tara, the most experimental of all of us orders the Rabbit. Now I must digress here because I’ve known Tara since she was ten. Let me tell you, this little girl was a picky eater. But then so were my two kids, Elisabeth and Jonathan. I discovered things they would eat heartily and would make them frequently. Tara loved my beef and bean burritos, so every time she was over for dinner I’d cook up some spicy ground beef, add the Rosarita refried beans, shredded cheddar jack, and roll it in a big flour tortilla. It became a standing joke that all I could cook was been and beef burritos. That Tara wound up in cooking school and is now ordering the Rabbit delights me as much as if she were my own daughter.

Wednesday night the ALEA attendees are treated to a night at The House of Blues. Our kids went out on their own for dinner and guess where they wound up? They call us from their booth in the dining room at the House of Blues to let us know the power’s out and the restaurant is dark and eerie. We’re bussed over in a drizzling rain, while lightning flashes through the dark clouds. We listen to the band do cover versions of classic R&B tunes before deciding the hors d’oeuvers are just not worth waiting in line for. We head down to the dining room and enjoy a good meal without waiting in line.

The next two nights we eat dinner in the hotel at ALEA vendor chow-downs. Hilton did well in feeding the crowd, but we’re happy when Saturday rolls around and we head down the road to Mulate’s for some Cajun cuisine. The food at Mulate’s is delish, but the atmosphere is better. A zydeco band is playing bayou music and several couples doing country swing on the dance floor. Before long a fine southern gentleman approaches our table and asks our 19-year-old daughter Elisabeth to dance. She accepts with a big California smile and he guides her to the square. She’s been country swing dancing with friends from college, so she picks up his lead and away they go.

Later he sits down with us and tells us his story. He says he’s so old he knew the Dead Sea when it was only sick. Actually, he’s 86, a New Orleans native and a Mulate’s fixture. He tells us about going through Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 and hopes he never has to go through another hurricane.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

French Quarter Still Lives

My daughter’s best friend since elementary school, who’s attending the Culinary Institute of New Orleans, has met us at the mall for a happy reunion. Tara’s been here since January and navigates around the city with a food compass. She knows all of the best restaurants, all of the good food markets, all of the culinary legends, and regales us with the history of Creole Cuisine and Cajun Cooking.

Tara leads us around the French Quarter, peppering our walk with spicy New Orleans legends and salting it with savory snippets of gossip. Downtown New Orleans and in particular the French Quarter was built on the highest ground in the area. When the levee broke, water from Lake Pontchartrain flowed into the downtown crescent as far as St. Charles Street, bypassing most of the French Quarter. It was the brutal arms of Katrina that tore boards from storefronts, punched out windows, and spewed water into the shops.

On the third day after the storm the sun came out. And so did the looters. With every law and emergency worker that didn't abandon post busy rescuing people, guarding merchandise was a low priority. Stores like Lisette Sutton's Creole Delicacies were stripped. In addition to such necessities as food and water; clothing, cosmetics and drugs, twentieth century pirates commandeered liquor and cigarettes, designer duds, jewelry, electronics, and anything they could barter for a buck. Not since the days of the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte has Pirates Alley seen more thievery.

We pass Café Du Monde, crowded with tourists and others sinking beignets into café latte. Jackson Square is powdered with pedestrians, bicyclists and the lovely horse and carriage charmers that lend romance to the French Quarter. Stores and restaurants are open, people are shopping, drinking, laughing. Life is all about us.

Friday, July 21, 2006

New Orleans T-Shirts Say Everything

T-Shirts for sale in New Orleans French Quarter July 2006:
  • Make Levees Not War
  • FEMA: The other four-letter word
  • I survived Katrina and all I have is this stupid T-shirt
  • Tourists go home, but leave your dollars
  • Save New Orleans - Stop Global Warming
  • Willy Nagin and the Chocolate Factory (cartoon of mayor Ray Nagin as Willy Wonka)
  • Meet the Fockers (with faces of Ray Nagin and other Louisiana politicians)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Crescent City Awakening

I’m up with the sun this morning, and the first thing I do is throw back the drapes. I saw a glimmer of the Mississippi River last night, but this morning I’m stunned. The river cuts through the city like a Chinese dragon, sparkling with scales of sunlit current. Before me is a huge crescent of land, one of many that form in the arches of the giant dragon called The Mississippi.

I’ve been through New Orleans by way of Interstate 10. It was nearly 20 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, and we were pedal to the metal to get to North Carolina to drop off our truck with my husband’s family before moving to Japan for our three-year tour. New Orleans was only a blur of bridges and a stop for lunch somewhere off the interstate. Waddling around the French Quarter with my big ole baby-bump just didn’t sound like fun. I’m sorry now that I don’t have that memory of what New Orleans looked like before Katrina.

So I’m anxious to get out of the hotel room and into the Crescent City. My husband has a full day of classes, so he takes off to join the rest of the pilots in a night vision goggles training session. Leaving my son still exercising his dreams, my daughter and I head across the hotel to the Riverwalk Mall. I’m saddened to see many of the shops still closed up; some completely vacant, others with signs promising to open soon. We stop into Creole Delicacies, a little gourmet shop and learn why New Orleans is considered the friendliest city in the country.

My son, 17, is with us now. He’s hungry and just a bit growly like teenage boys get when their belly is empty. At the back of the gourmet shop we discover a little dining room and a show kitchen. Although the tables are filled with a production line of gift basket preparation—Cajun spices, pralines, New Orleans memorabilia—the ladies working the basket assembly welcome us and offer us lunch. My son’s had his tongue set for a big ole burger, but the only thing on the menu here is baked Creole chicken, gumbo, red beans and rice, and Marti Gras salad. I ask the woman in the apron what she’d offer a grumbly teenage boy, she nods and tells me, “I know what you mean; I have a 17-year-old son.” So she heaps him up a giant sampler plate with half a chicken it. Jonathan eats, and eats, and eats some more, but not even Jonathan can finish.

We’re the only ones in the dining room, which we learn is really a classroom. Striking up a conversation with the woman in the apron, we learn her name is Saundra and she teaches Cajun and Creole cooking classes right there in the kitchen. She introduces us to Lisette, who owns the store, and before long the stories spill out.

Saundra lost her home and everything in it; trinkets, and trophies, treasures of a life born and raised in New Orleans. She still can’t talk about it without her eyes misting and her voice cracking. Lisette didn’t lose her home, but her mother did. Lisette, who along with her husband Dana, owns Creole Delicacies, lost their stores to looters. All of the Riverwalk stores were looted—all except the Christmas Store. Honor among thieves? Make your own conclusions in that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Midnight in New Orleans

I didn't choose New Orleans as my vacation destination; it chose me. Or rather, the Airborne Law Enforcement Association selected the city for its annual convention and I'm along for the ride. My husband is a police pilot and this is his annual gig.

Travel, meetings, conventions, incentive trips are my business. So, how could I pass the opportunity to see New Orleans stretch forth its arms in its first season after Katrina.

We arrived late Monday night and jumped into a taxi around midnight. Our taxi didn't take us through the French Quarter, but straight down Canal Street and to the Hilton Riverside's front door. One of the first things I do upon entering a hotel room is open the curtains to check out the view. Even at midnight our room on the 20th floor didn't disappoint, though it only hinted at the spectacular sight that awaited.

As a travel marketing consultant, my trips are usually filled with appointments, planned activities, pre-arranged meals. This trip is a mix of business and pleasure, my family is with me, and I'm in a city I've never yet explored. I can't wait to see what tomorrow holds.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July Under the Sun

Everyone loves a parade. I caught this lovely lass under a parasol at the Fourth of July parade in Ontario, California.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Elephants Trample America

Just in from San Francisco: New York Times bestselling author Sara Gruen (right), author of three novels, including the recently released Water For Elephants, met with poet and novelist Rebecca del Rio at SF independent bookseller Book Passage. Both authors met through the online writer's group Backspace.

Sara's Water for Elephants is climbing the NYT bestseller charts at a steady pace. If you haven't heard the thundering stampede, read about it and order it here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mexico is a Time Pirate

It's early June in Puerto Vallarta. By 8 a.m. the boats filled with fishing tourists have anchored just offshore in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. Lines are in the water, poles propped on rails. Libations may be in the hands of these fishing tourists, but my naked eyes see only outlines. Ostensibly these tourists are hoping to catch fish, but I can’t help but wonder if some are here in Puerto Vallarta fishing for something else.

By 8:30 the first party boat sails by. A catamaran, its crew gripping the sidelines in one hand and a drink in the other, rushes along the coast in a race against outbound schedules. I heard it coming; voices rising and falling with the swells carry far across water. These tourists are fishing also; not for the fruit of the sea, but for pleasure, experience, thrills. Anything that steals the stress even for an hour revives the soul in ways not yet known.

The morning broke with clouds resting upon the ocean. By 10 a.m. the clouds have broken, their edges now laced with blue like a doily thrown against a Pacific blue sky. The crashing of the surf, shadows of rippling swells, blue meeting blue in a forever line of vision, the salty sea air charged with invigorating ions; this is the ocean, relaxing and rejuvenating.

Watch out for Mexico. Time is a pirate here, it sneaks upon you without warning, ravaging your schedules, bombarding your agendas, stealing the minutes and leaving you afloat in the jotsam of your plans.

SITE Chicago's Annual Educational Retreat

World travel is a dream to some, a passion for others, and a perk to those who must travel for a living. Travel awarded to high performing individuals is a synthesis of purpose and pleasure, inspiring people to achieve their goals, while assuring organizational success.

Chicago chapter of the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives brought us down to Puerto Vallarta for an educational retreat, in conjunction with Meeting Place Mexico. The SITE Chicago board deserves a standing ovation or creating the perfect blend of educational topics, cultural presentations, regional activities, and dine-around delights.

See my website gallery for more photos of passionate Puerto Vallarta.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

From Weblationship to Friendship

I met two of my webuddys today. Rebecca del Rio and Brian Howe are both writers and poets whom I met through an online writer's forum called Backspace. Rebecca was attending a conference near the city where I live and Brian lives about 50 miles from me. We met at Rebecca's hotel for coffee, fizzy water and book talk.

Rebecca is close to finishing her first novel, while Brian completed his first novel last November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I wish I could have taken an active role when Rebecca and Brian began talking about poetry. I don't mean the kind of poetry found on greeting cards and gift store plaques. These two are both accomplished poets, and both have been published in respected poetry magazines. They know and understand poetry at a level I've never achieved. I hope you'll click on their names for a glimpse of Rebecca and Brian's poetry.

Pictured below are (l-r) me, Rebecca and Brian.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fun With Blanks

I created a new blog today. Logophiles and writers understand the power of a single word or phrase to change the meaning of a sentence. I thought it would be cool to offer a daily exercise to stretch your creativity, work-out your word power, massage your muse, or just start your day with the power of possibility.

I invite you to click on over and have Fun With Blanks.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Of Life and Breath and Wine and Song

Living and Breathing in the Moment

We spend hours in the future, hoping or dreading; we waste time in the past regretting or reliving. Seldom do we recognize the present and the power it holds over our well-being.

Paul Motenko is the father of an extraordinary young woman named Stacy. Stacy was scheduled to speak at the SITE-SoCal luncheon yesterday, but was unable to change a mid-term exam and had to cancel. In her place she suggested her dad.

Stacy is a survivor. I’ve never met Stacy, but this is what I know. She was born with Cystic Fibrosis, an infant/childhood disease that up until the latter part of the last century was always fatal. Only in the last 25 years has medical understanding made strides in treating, extending, and improving the quality of life for CF children. Stacy learned early in life to cherish each breath and to live in the moment with hope for the future.

Even if Stacy had been able to reschedule her mid-term exam, she wouldn’t have been able to speak at our luncheon yesterday. She was in the hospital. Again. Frequent hospital stays for routine treatments and emergencies are nothing new to Stacy, or any other CF child.

Stacy’s father, Paul, could have opted out from his 10-minute speaking slot for our group. A daughter in the hospital is a good excuse. But Paul is also extraordinary. President and co-owner of BJs Restaurants, an upscale chain of brew houses in the western states, Paul stepped into the moment to share two of his passions: his daughter and his commitment to finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

Paul has become one of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s strongest champions. He is a frequent speaker on behalf of CFF and won several accommodations for his support. Most impressive is his ongoing donations of a portion of sales from the Pizookie dessert served at BJ’s Brewhouse restaurants.

Living in the moment takes on new meaning when considering the challenges that make ordinary people extraordinary.

Of Wine and Song

Not to be forgotten, PJ Ochlan, the brand director for Cobblestone Vineyards, warmed up the SITE-SoCal guests with his generous pouring of Cobblestone Wines. PJ, a character actor of film and television is also the voice of K-Mozart’s (FM 105.1) Arts Report. A renaissance man of romance and humanities, PJ’s tale of his journey from actor to radio personality to sommelier resonated with notes from the soundtrack of a California dream.

PJ brought along Cobblestone’s two award-winning artisan wines. A 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Cobblestone’s home vineyards in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey, California and a 2002 Chardonnay grown in California's renown Napa Valley.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Iris Perfection

The bliss of rebirth in the clothing of spring.*

Purple and lavender bearded iris. Photo taken today in my back yard.

*Carolyn Burns Bass, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Locks Of Love

I did it. I cut my hair. Short.

Several years ago I read about an organization called Locks Of Love, which furnishes human hair wigs to children afflicted with disease who can't grow hair of their own. I visited their website and saw pictures of children in before (bald) photos and after (with LOL wigs). After seeing these lovely children I determined to grow a crop of hair and donate it.

My hair has always been extremely thick and coarse, and it grows very fast. The last real chop I'd had was in spring of 2002, which turned me into a pixie that I thought looked great. So I stopped the pixie cut maintenance and just let it go. It grew out to my chin line and my husband was encouraged. It passed my chin and hit the shoulder length where it wouldn't stay behind my shoulders and always fell in my face. I took stock in claw clips, the best hair accessory since the rubber band. After a couple of years my hair cascaded down my back in waves, my husband began to think I was morphing back into the woman he married.

Locks Of Love requires a minimum of ten-inches of hair for their donations. Because I promised my husby I wouldn't do the pixie-cut again, I took a bit longer to grow my hair to a length where I could donate ten inches and still have some fluff around my face.

For several months now I've needed a change. When my friend Carlene invited me to her house for a "hair-fest" with our private stylist, Jamie Cabrillo, I knew it was time. I woke up yesterday morning giddy with excitement. I gently let my husby know that today was the day, that my chestnut tresses would be braided and cut and I would emerge a new woman. I promised that if I felt good about myself, it couldn't help but radiate onto him.

Because I had so much hair, Jamie made two braids. My buddy Carlene had the honors of the first cut. Jamie lopped off the second braid and then began clipping away. She said my wavy hair had been pulled tight from its length for so long that it sprang into curls when she wet it. She gave me a "stacked bob" that has layers in the back for fullness, but blends to a single length in the front to avoid the curse of big hair. I love the cut.

Husby came over to the hair fest for a view of the new me before heading to work that evening. I'd warned him that it could be pretty short. He was delightfully surprised it wasn't as short as he expected. I was delightfully surprised at his reaction.

So now my two braids are sitting in a zip-lock bag awaiting shipment to Locks Of Love. Like an organ donor, I'll never know the child who will wear my hair. But it feels great to know it'll bring smiles for years.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Nexus Lives

So it's been four months since I updated my blog. Not because nothing's happened, but because so much was happening my muse needed a rest.

While my muse was on vacation, my creative critic put on the gloves and gave my novel, THE NEXUS, logosuction and a pace lift. I'm happy to say that I was able to cut more than 22,000 words without losing any of the texture or changing the voice. Every character survived, though they move through their paces with more immediacy and determination.

I shipped NEXUS to my agent on Monday, it arrived at her office this morning. Now I'll wait to see what she thinks.

In the meantime, I'm going to pick up the threads of WHISPERING NIGHTS and go back to the Yorkshire moors where I left Clarissa and the eccentric family of slave-smuggling aristocrats to which she is governess.