Friday, December 21, 2007

I have been buried with work the last few weeks and haven't had a moment to spare. Here's wishing all of you a happy, healthy, holiday and a great two-thousand and eight.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

RIP: Princess Jasmine 1995-2007

Had our neighbors been peeking into our yard tonight they may have thought BassMan and I were up to no good.

Earlier in the day BassMan dug a hole. A large one.

This morning, Princess Jasmine Amedea Leroyce Bass, our 12-year-old collie, who's been ailing for several days, let us know today would be her last. We made her comfortable on her sleeping pad, massaged and petted her, nestled and nurtured her. She drifted to sleep and by nightfall she was gone.

So there we were, patio torch blazing over the hole dug and ready, laying deep our Princess in the waning moon. Should the sheriff come a'knocking we'll have a story to tell. It begins here.

Princess was the most gentle of dogs, as smart as Lassie, and loyal to the end. We got Princess from a man whose aging breeding pair of collies produced a surprise litter of two pups. The first pup died, but Princess survived. Her mother wasn't able to produce milk, so the owner bottle-fed Princess. The owner was getting on in years himself and didn't have the energy to keep a collie puppy around, but he didn't want to see Princess on the dog market. When Princess was four-months-old, he advertized for a special family to adopt her, listing criteria that would have made the Ellen DeGeneres rescue center proud. We passed the test and this generous man gave Princess to us. His only charge: that we love and care for her.

Several things come to mind when I remember Princess. It was tradition for our kids to name the pets. On the way to our interview with Princess's breeding owner, we discussed what we would name her. Elisabeth (then eight) and Jonathan (then six) were unanimous that she should be called Princess. In tribute to one of their favorite Disney princesses, they insisted she be Princess Jasmine. On top of that, they insisted on each of their middle names tagged on. She would be Princess Jasmine Amedea Leroyce Bass. Divine synchronicity would have it that ever since the day she was born her owner had been calling her Princess.

We live in a region I call "wind alley." When Santa Ana winds blow in from the high desert we are usually hit with a double blast. Several times through the years the wind would pick up while we were gone and I'd drive up to find the gate blown wide open. The first time this happened, I panicked at the thought of Princess running away in the wind. I jumped from the van and ran through the backyard calling for her. She was nowhere. I rushed back to the front and began looking up and down the street. Elisabeth and Jonathan called me from the front porch. My heart broke wide open to see Princess laying unruffled on our front doorstep awaiting our return.

This year we sent our youngest child to college 1,500 miles away. Our oldest is planning for grad school in NY and London. We did this only a few months ago and here we are at the pet cemetary again. Life changes, we change, but love grows.

BassMan and I are going to plant an avocado tree over Princess.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In the Tent of Revision

It's November. National Novel Writing Month. If you've been reading Ovations for more than a year, then you'll remember that I wrote the first 50k of THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER last year during NaNoWriMo. Several well-wishing friends have emailed recently asking me about the status of last year's NaNoWriMo novel.

I finished the SFD (Shi**y First Draft) last May, set it aside for a month, then went back in to close holes, flesh-out characters, and clean up sentences. A couple of very trusted readers have given me some fabulous insights that I'm now working into the manuscript.

I'm not playing NaNoWriMo this year. Instead, I've dedicated the month of November to finishing the revision and getting this baby ready for the big top.

Oh yeah, the graphic at right is a mock-up I created last year using a photo of my dad (who really was a sword swallower) and a photo of me with my mom and sisters. Of course, I must finish and get the book published first, but should the book be made into film (most every novelist's dream) I'd love Johnny Depp to play the father. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meet Buck

It's official. We have a new dog. We weren't looking for a new dog, nor an old one. It turns out our new dog isn't exactly new. He's been used. Used badly. Someone abused him.

I met Buck at my neighborhood Bark Park, where I take Tank to play almost every day. I arrived to see what looked like a yellow labrador puppy cowering outside the park gates. No collar. He scooted off when we approached. Once inside the park, I asked several of the people inside if they knew anything about the dog. Everyone was concerned about him.

Once Tank was happily chasing someone else's tennis ball, I approached the dog. He skittered away, his tail between his legs. Upon closer view, I could tell he wasn't a puppy, but an adult male, probably a beagle and lab mix. He wouldn't come to me, which is rare, because I can usually get the most timid of dogs (and cats) to trust me. Back inside the park, all of us dog companions discussed what to do. No one wanted to leave him at the park, as temperatures were expected to drop overnight. I decided to take him home and see if we could find his owners.

BassMan came out to the park with his truck and with much wooing with food and a steady hand, was able to load him into the cab. We put Buck in our backyard and brought our 12-year-old collie, Princess, inside along with Tank. Once we had him at home, it became clear to me by his behavior that he'd been abused. A sudden move would send him cowering away, hiding under the patio table or the BBQ grill. I gave him a jerky treat that he looked at like it was poison. As soon as I stepped back into the house, he devoured the jerky treat. We fed him. He ate. By the end of the night he was letting me pet him, looking up at me with sad brown eyes that broke my heart. He slept in the doghouse that Tank never uses and the next morning met me at the door with his tail wagging.

I called the shelter to report him, then put signs up at the two local pet stores, the vet offices in the area, and around the bark park. Two people called me, but their descriptions didn't match Buck. By the third day BassMan and I were in love with the little guy. We knew we couldn't take him to the shelter if no one called for him, and began hoping no one would.

By the second week, he'd come out of his timidness, but still lurches if someone moves too suddenly around him. I kicked the tennis ball one day when he was nearby and he ran with his tail cowed so fast, you would have thought I'd kicked him. These are sure signs he'd been abused.

When no one claimed him by the second week, we took him to our vet and had him scanned for a microchip. Nothing. That's when we decided to make a claim on him. We had him immunized, given a physical, chipped, and... neutered. He's all ours now. Buck is already house-trained, sleeps on a pillow on my side of the bed, and snores. Have you ever heard a dog snore?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Report from the California Firelines

Like much of the nation my eyes and heart have been following the story of the California wildfires. My home is not in a high-risk fire zone, but as a lifelong Californian, I know many whose homes were. I know several firefighters as well and have tried to keep in touch with them and their families during this time.

While flames threatened his own neighborhood, my friend Monte Umsted spent nearly a week on the firelines in San Diego. After he returned, Monte, an engineer for Poway Fire Department, sent me the following letter and pictures. I asked him for permission to post it here for my friends around the world to see. Click on any of the photos to enlarge the shot.


I arrived home today after spending a week assigned to the "Harris" fire, which was the first one to start. That fire was about a forty-five minute drive just to get to the area, so suffice to say it got a good head start.

To all of you who either called or e-mailed us, a big thanks for thinking of us during this rather interesting week. For those who inquired about [my wife] and the kids, while they were a bit concerned about the possible need to evacuate, fortunately they were able to stay put. Their experience wasn't all that different than the Cedar Fire that went through the southeast part of town four years ago. This time, they were better prepared to "pull the hook" in case things went sour.

The "Witch" fire (labeled after the Witch Creek area east of here where it started) made its way through north Poway, which is considered the "high rent" district, but still resulted in the loss of nearly one hundred homes. After it tore through Poway, it proceeded towards the north San Diego sub-community of Rancho Bernardo, where at least three hundred homes were lost, including the home of [my daughter's] soccer coach (and a La Mesa firefighter).

It was a bit troublesome for me, being that I was well involved on my fire, not knowing what was happening back at home, or even if I was going to have one left. In all, there were eight fires burning at one time or another in San Diego County alone.

There were a few scary moments during the first day [at the "Harris" fire], including hearing the cries for help from the fire crew that was overrun by fire, sending all four to the burn unit. My moments came when we were overrun by fire trying to keep it from jumping the road (suuuure... stop 50 mile per hour flames from jumping across a one-lane road. During the Cedar fire, a ten lane freeway wasn't even enough!); the other moment came while we were defending a house and the wind shifted 90-degrees, hammering me and my engine with fire... melted a few things, but we survived it okay.

The thing that started to really concern us had to do with the size and scope of the number of fires in the area. Every time requests for resources were made, they were siphoned off for other incidents. This not only involved the re-direction of fire engines, air tankers, helicopters, etc. but vital essentials such as food and water, too.

The morning of the third day was kind of a "okay, time out here" mentality, for we had gotten to the point where we were dividing up our remaining bottles of water, and whatever food we could scrounge between everyone's "out of county" bags. Fortunately, our strike team leader went to a small country store to get us food and water, not an easy tasks with all that was going on. That, and having only a couple of hours sleep here and there didn't help much, either.

After the first few days, things started to simmer down some, but still had flare-ups here and there. Friday night was interesting, seeing where additional help was coming from: Seattle, Washington.... New Mexico... Sedona, Arizona.... Reno, Nevada... Idaho... even a contingent of Bomberos from Tijuana! Loooong drive for some. Come to find out, my neighbor across the street was involved in coordinating helicopter operations on one part of the fire (heard ya on the radio the other day, Matt!).

But today was the best day, for it was determined that our strike team wasn't needed anymore, so we were processed out. After taking a quick lap with my crew through north Poway and spending a couple of hours cleaning the fire engine, I showered up and came home to a family that was happy to see me, some homemade cards from two little girls for their Daddy, a boy who was eager to see some of the pictures I was able to take and a wife who was glad that she could pawn off the kids to someone else! :-)

Attached are some pictures I managed to take during my "trip". One of them shows that you just never know you you might meet out on the fireline!

How about sending Monte and the firefighters of California a note of encouragement or thanks. Simply click the COMMENTS link below.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Breath & Shadow Update

Remember this post from last May? Thanks to many of you who sponsored me in the Breath & Shadow write-a-thon, you can take an advance peek at my novel in progress in this month's edition of Breath & Shadow.

The write-a-thon was a great success for Breath & Shadow, bringing in much-needed funds to operate this monthly literary website. Breath & Shadow is the only literary magazine written, edited, and published by people with disabilities.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Descent into Mordor?

Yesterday as my daughter and I drove westbound on I-10 through the Banning Pass, I snapped this camera phone picture of the smoke from the many fires burning through California. My daughter's comment: "It looks like we're descending into Mordor."

What do you think?

Oh yeah, those are windmills. But not the Don Quixote kind.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maid of the Year

Irony is this. I attended the Motivation Show in Chicago and stayed at the the City Centre Hotel. I didn't want to carry around a large wad of cash and the hotel didn't have a room safe. I decided the cash was safer on my person than left in my room. I pulled the cash from my purse and rushed out to catch the shuttle bus to the convention center.

At the end of a tiring day, I took a taxi back to the hotel and went to pay the driver, only to discover my wad was missing. I had just enough cash to pay and tip the driver, then fled to my room, my mind running every scenario I could think of for where I may have lost--or had stolen--the cash. By the time I reached the 19th floor, I realized I couldn't remember where I'd placed the cash to begin with. Dread hit me as I rushed to my room, fearing the cash I'd taken out of my purse--which I clearly remember--would be gone with the Chicago wind.

I looked on the ironing board, not there. I checked the desk, nope. I sat on the bed to look around the room, wondering where I might have laid the bills when I looked down and saw lying right below the pillow, blending into the green coverlet, the stack of twenties. I counted them out: $260 just as I remembered.

I don't think you need me to spell out the irony. I called housekeeping to find out who'd taken care of my room that day and connected with Sylvia the housekeeping manager. She was eager to help and before I could complete the thank you letter I was writing to the maid, Sylvia knocked on my door with sweet Herminia. Herminia blushed when she read the note and saw the tip I'd stuck in the envelope. She blushed again when I asked if I could take her picture for my blog. If there were a Hotel Maid of the Year contest, I would nominate Herminia.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fluffing Up the Empty Nest

Two weeks ago we drove our youngest child, Jonathan, to college in Kansas. Our oldest, Elisabeth, returned to her campus last week. We are now, officially, empty nesters.

The week Elisabeth returned to school, my friend Amy had a baby. In a congratulatory email I wrote her this:
I want one. Well... maybe not. I had one once, no, I had two. They never last. You get all used to them snuggly and cuddly and everything about them is wonderful. They have a terrible habit of growing, though. When they grow they change, and every stage is as fun and fabulous as the one before. They never stop the growing part. The body stops growing so fast, but their insides get bigger and bigger until their eyes can’t contain it all. Before long your house isn’t big enough for them and their gigantic world view. They leave the nest and take all the love you gave them in their memory. They return, but they’re not yours anymore. That’s when you realize they were never yours to begin with.
Amy's journey as a mother is just beginning, while mine is taking a new path. Mothers and fathers never stop being parents, but the new path marks changes in the parent/child relationship. I noticed the first time my daughter came home from college for the summer that she was so much more independent, confident, self-motivated. Our relationship changed. She is still my daughter, but she's also my friend.

Jonathan went to college much further away than his sister did. I keep up with him through phone calls and emails. I can already sense the maturity coming upon him. He won't be home until Christmas and I'm already counting the days. But until then, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet of my empty nest.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Books I Read on Vacation

I’ve been composing this post in my head since returning from vacation to a billion business emails, a SITE-SoCal meeting, and getting my son ready for his send-off to college on Monday. This year’s vacation awarded me ample time for reading and here’s a peek at what I enjoyed most:

EVERY CROOKED POT, by Renee Rosen. Most people have scars from childhood and adolescence, but hide them inside the people they grow up to be. Renee Rosen’s character, Nina, takes us on a wacky, witty, and wonderful ride through the 1960s and 1970s in search of a fix for a disfiguring birthmark over her eye. Nina is sympathetic without being maudlin and humorous without being absurd. A colorful cast of characters, led by her clarinet-playing, carpet-baron Daddy, make EVERY CROOKED POT one of my favorite books of the year.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, by J.K. Rowling. I spent a full day immersed in the magical world of J.K. Rowling, devouring this final tome in the Harry Potter series. The series ended without any big surprises, revealing the true natures of several key characters. Most rewarding was seeing the awkward orphan of book one become what Professor Dumbledore calls, “ wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.”

THE LIAR’S DIARY, by Patry Francis. Patry weaves a stunning tale of loyalty and betrayal, confidence and deceit, love and murder. The story grabbed me early on, but the vivid, haunting characters jumped from the pages into the community around me. THE LIAR’S DIARY kept me guessing with sadness through every chapter, then concluded with a twist I never saw coming.

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, by Augusten Burroughs. Anyone who enjoyed Augusten’s memoir, RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, will get a kick out of this new collection of essays. Augusten writes about his quirks, oddities, and sensibilities with swashes of brilliant color and blinding insight. I am compelled to call his writing “Van Gogh with words.” Augusten’s brother, John Elder Robison (LOOK ME IN THE EYE), gave me this book at BEA and signed it, “the big brother.”

ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, by Adrienne Kress. I confess, I probably wouldn’t have read this middle-grade adventure tale if not written by my Backspace friend, Adrienne. What I found between the charming cover and the final page is an adorable heroine, Alex , tomboy with a love for adventure. Throw in a nutty crew of adversaries and compatriots, a quest for pirate’s treasure, and you have a terrific children’s story. Adrienne’s writing style is particularly keen for reading aloud.

PROMISE NOT TO TELL, by Jennifer McMahon. Imagine growing up in a commune in Vermont during the 1970s. That is a story in itself, no? Jennifer deftly reflects between her character’s unconventional upbringing and the person she became after she moved away. The night Kate Cypher returns to the commune to make arrangements for the care of her mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a young girl is ritualistically murdered in the same manner as the unsolved murder of Kate’s best friend thirty years earlier. PROMISE NOT TO TELL is a spooky tale of avenging spirits and redemptive love.

What good books have you read this summer? Click the blue comments link below.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Chesapeake Bay: July 2007

I didn’t think it was possible to be so blissed-out that I couldn’t write. Chesapeake Bay did that to me.

Three years ago we stayed at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa and fell in love with Chesapeake Bay. When BassMan’s parents requested only a low-key family gathering for their 50th anniversary, both BassMan and I thought of taking them to Chesapeake Bay. I searched the internet for the perfect location and found a gorgeous weekly rental house on a private beach in Port Republic, Maryland. This glorious bayfront house owned by Greg and Alicia Yowell was like a private Ritz-Carlton villa in a secluded section of paradise. I rose every morning to watch the sunrise over the bay.

My first morning, however, was framed by the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series. Having been a fan of the Boy-Who-Lived since his first adventure in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, I had already done my internet research to find the nearest store where I could buy HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. I spent my first full day in Chesapeake lying on the sofa in the sunroom, a bayside breeze catching the pages as I turned them with record speed.

I took breaks to visit with BassMan’s parents, his sister, her husband, and their two young children. BassMan grilled delicious beer-can chicken, Elisabeth and Jonathan played with their little cousins in the bay, the senior Basses sat on the deck watching the kids play, and I read until midnight. Rising with the sun again the next day, I finished the final tome by eight, just about the time the rest of the house began to stir.

Port Republic, Maryland is only about an hour east of Washington, DC, but it might as well be on the other side of the world when considering its seclusion. I could fill several blog pages about our stay in Chesapeake Bay, but I don't want to be one of those boring neighbors telling vacation stories. Here are just a few of the highest highlights:

  • Viewing bald eagles soaring over Chesapeake Bay, swooping down to catch a fish and carry it wiggling in its claws all the way back to its nest in the cliffside trees.
  • Finding three giant Chesapecten jeffersonius scallop fossils during my daily shore walks.

  • Watching two elegant cownose rays gliding through the clear morning water as gracefully as the eagles soaring above.

  • Enjoying crabcakes and other seafood delights at local eateries.

  • Discovering what it is about the ocean that I love so much. That will require a blog post of its own. Maybe later.
Click here to view my Chesapeake Bay photo gallery.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Experienced Only Need Apply

My first published short story is up at The Rose & Thorn e-zine. Check it out here: Experienced Only Need Apply and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Five Days in Orlando

There’s heat and then there’s Florida heat. Hailing from the West Coast, where I’ve sweated out triple digits at Anaheim’s Disneyland, I thought I could handle Orlando’s theme parks in the summer. After all, I’d lived in Japan and toured Tokyo’s Magic Kingdom in horribly humid July. Boy was I wrong. California’s heat is like a dry rock sauna, but Florida’s heat is like a steam sauna.

We arrived at the Doubletree Castle in Orlando, where we enjoyed a roomy junior suite. The hotel’s location on International Drive made it easy for BassMan to hop on the shuttle to the Convention Center where he was attending the Airborne Law Enforcement Association Conference and Expo. That location also allowed easy transport via the hotel shuttle to the Disney parks and Universal.

Before I yak about our theme park adventures, I have to shout out congratulations to my son, Jonathan. The ALEA gives out a handful of scholarships annually and Jonathan won a $1500 award sponsored by MD Helicopters. ALEA presented Jonathan the scholarship at the organization’s annual membership meeting. Pictured here is Dale Christman, Law Enforcement Sales Manager at MD Helicopters, presenting the scholarship to Jonathan. Special thanks for the photo to Jack Sykes, Art Director/Chief Photographer for Professional Pilot Magazine.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom was our first stop. This is where I learned how much I’d forgotten about heated humidity. Halfway through the day I was ready to score some magic to disappear from the Magic Kingdom. Highlight of our visit was the spectacular thunder and lightning storm that passed directly overhead while we were about to ride Splash Mountain. Thunder exploded overhead, echoing through the labyrinthine ride queues and shaking the fiberglass mountain like an earthquake. The light and sound show was more exciting than the ride. Can you tell it’s been way too long since we Californians had seen a storm like this?

Epcot was interesting, but now that I’ve been there, I can’t say it was worth the exhorbitant entry fees. One thing Disney got right at Epcot was putting the attraction lines inside huge biospheric buildings with air conditioning.

Jonathan was sick the day Elisabeth and I went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This meant I had to go the next day with him. The last time I’d ridden a roller coaster with Jonathan was when he was eight, barely tall enough to have snuck past the height line at the Desperado coaster at Buffalo Bill’s Casino near the stateline at Primm, Nevada. BassMan held on so tightly to Jonathan on Desperado, we had to pry his fingers off Jonathan’s arm when the ride was done.

Eighteen-year-old Jonathan is old enough to have gone to Universal and conquered any ride by himself, but how fun is that? When you’re a tourist in a town 3,000 miles from home, trekking around a theme park with your mom is better than going by yourself. I guess. I rode all the big coasters and other amusements all over again with Jonathan. Surprisingly, this Mama’s still got the curve when it comes to coasters.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Our Pet Cemetery Grows By One

In the wayback of our half-acre yard we have a substantial pet cemetery. The ground was consecrated only a few weeks after we moved in when our fluffy white rabbit, Snowball, didn’t make the transition from his comfy cage inside the air conditioned house to his custom-built hutch on the side of our yard. In the years since, we’ve buried Lady, a four-month-old German shepherd mix who drowned in a freak accident in our spa (and I mean freak accident); an amazing alligator lizard with a tail 12-inches long who couldn’t adapt to life in a reptile habitat inside the house (the only thing my kids learned from this was that outside critters live best outside); my gorgeous rooster who strutted and crowed like a prizefighter; two sister cats we’d had since they were kittens (Funny Face and Mariah); and my beloved Bichon Frise, Handsome, a rescue dog who became my shadow and dearest companion.

Yesterday we had to put down our beloved, 18-year-old cat, Neesa, mother of Funny Face and Mariah. Anyone who has loved a pet can understand the waves of grief and sadness we felt yesterday and will continue to feel in the days ahead.

Neesa has been a part of our family since we lived in Orange County immediately after returning from our years in Japan. Like the best cats, Neesa, adopted us. She came to us in a family way and gave birth to six kittens in the attic of our house. Only days after her litter was born, good mother Neesa, found an opportunity to move her litter to upscale digs inside the house. Here’s what happened.

My daughter, Elisabeth, only three years old at the time, had a cradle full of stuffed animals on the floor of her room. The two kids and I had just returned from a large grocery shopping trip and I’d parked my van inside the garage and left the door into the kitchen wide open while I shuffled bags of groceries from the van inside the house. The phone rang, so I paused my unloading, leaving the door open. A moment later I saw Neesa run through the kitchen and disappear into the back of the house. Back in 1991 I didn’t have a cordless phone, so I stayed yakking into my wired handset in the kitchen. A moment later Neesa ran back into the garage and I didn’t give it another thought until I saw her run back in. This time I noticed a tiny black kitten hanging by the nape of the neck from Neesa’s mouth. I put the phone down and followed her.

Neesa, in her motherly way, had taken the open door opportunity to move her kittens, one at a time, from the attic space to a comfy spot inside the house. She dropped the little black darling right into Elisabeth’s stuffed animal sanctuary where the little mewers blended right in.

Smitten with this little example of animal instinct, the kids and I watched as Neesa moved all of her kittens into Elisabeth’s room and nestled in among the stuffed animals to nurse. I moved some of Elisabeth’s special stuffies from the new kitty nursery and we let Neesa and her litter stay there until it was time to find homes for the kitties.

Elisabeth gave Funny Face her name because she had a black dot next to her nose that made her look, well, funny. The three all-black male kittens we gave away to friends. My sister, Robin, took Mariah for her daughter Darah. After Robin found she was deathly allergic to cats, we took Mariah back and kept her until her death about a year ago at age 16. Funny Face preceded Mariah, passing peacefully at the age of 13.

We weren’t exactly sure how old Neesa was, as she was fully grown when she adopted us. When we had her spayed right after she weaned her litter, the vet said she was young, probably about a year old. This makes her about the same age as my son, Jonathan.

Neesa has been a part of our family for so long that Elisabeth and Jonathan don’t remember life without her. She’s buried now in the pet cemetery where her two daughters lay.

The photo above shows (l-r) Neesa and Mariah posing on their thones in front of our house in early 2005. RIP: Neesa, Funny Face, and Mariah.
If you've ever lost a beloved pet, feel free to share a memory here. Simply click the blue COMMENTS link below.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Celebrate Freedom

The USA is mired in some sticky gunk right now, but it's my home. What a better way to say Happy Birthday America than with fireworks over Disneyland. Disneyland fireworks shoot in the distance in my novel, THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER, also.

I took this shot at Disneyland's 50th Anniversary Happiest Homecoming on Earth celebration on May 5, 2005. If you're a Disney fan, you can read my post about the occasion in the May 2005 Archives.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Synchronicity

A few weeks ago I wrote here about writers needing a platform. Last week I attended a SITE-SoCal meeting at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara and heard a talk from branding specialist and author Sandra Sellani. Sandra gave an hour packed punch from her brand new book, What's your BQ.

BQ: Branding Quotient. Anyone with any marketing experience knows that branding is the lifeblood of selling a product. Think Kleenex, Band-Aid, Clorox, Evian. Branding is creating a proprietary, visual, emotional, rational, and cultural image of your product. Buyers don't perceive the above five elements of branding when they reach for a bottle of Evian water, yet the subconcious effect has grabbed them.

Sandra said anyone who sells commodities must have a strategy to survive in this cluttered marketplace. My mind engaged to her talk on two levels: 1) as a business person with a company of my own, and 2) as an author competing for dwindling publishing slots in a market glutted with submissions.

When we hear commodity, most people think of a tangible product, like widgets, flankels, and jigs. Sandra pointed to the crowd and said, "You are a commodity." It's true. We may sell a product or service, but in terms of personal branding, we are the product. Successful salespeople understand they are not only promoting their product or service, they are selling themselves.

Authors hear about platform in all of the publishing circles. I wrote about platform here. As Sandra spoke about branding, it clicked. Branding in the marketing world is the same as platform in the publishing world. Authors are a commodity; not just their books, stories, or articles. Authors who understand this early in their career: Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Tom Clancy, JK Rowling, become name brands, household words, the icon to which all their competition seeks to compare.

So we know that we are commodities. What then is our strategy for success? Here are a few of the notes I took away from Sandra's talk, peppered with my own insights:
  • Create competitive differentiation. Prove why you are different.
  • Go for the gut. Target the emotions and go for the gut reactions. Emotions connect.
  • Be a Vulcan. Statistics impress. Look for logical points for those who identify with a purely rational approach.
  • Gossip, heresay, and reputation. What do people say about you when you're not around.
  • The eye of the beholder: You are what the consumer thinks you are.

Sandra gave us a peek at the VRIO model she covers in her book:

  • V--Valuable. Are you valuable to your clients, readers, employers?
  • R--Rare. Worker bees and hacks are a dime a dozen (so are cliches--but it works so well here). Be the diamond in a field of rhinestones.
  • I--Imitate. Identify the best in your field and do what they do better.
  • O--Organizational leverage. Make sure everyone in your company/team/agency understands your model and builds their strategy around it.
The Four Seasons Resort Aviara was the perfect setting for a talk about branding. This chain of luxury hotels and resorts has positioned itself at the top of its market. Four Seasons has city hotels all over the world, but this brand understands what travelers want in a resort away from the buzz and bang of a big city. Aviara is north of San Diego, set in a wetlands and wildlife conclave with spectacular views of the hills and lagoons. My room was spacious and overlooked the gorgeous Aviara gardens with a balcony and outdoor sitting area. I switched on the Bose wave radio, nibbled the chocolate-dipped strawberries delivered complimentary to my room, and worked in perfect serenity on my first draft revisions to THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER. Chris DeVito and the staff at Aviara have a high Brand Quotient in my book.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Proud Moments in Parenting

The jolly green graduate is my son Jonathan. He turned his tassel from high school on June 14th. He's headed to college in Kansas, taking a music and merit scholarship into a pre-law major.

Grinning appropriately for this occasion are husby Dave (aka, Bassman), daughter Elisabeth (aka, Elle), the grad himself (aka, Jonny) and moi.

Jonathan made us proud with a couple of other accomplishments. He won two Bank of America Achievement Awards: English and Drama, as well as the school's Religious Studies achievement award.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Applause for These Special Athletes

Yesterday I attended a leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics Southern California and met three amazing young athletes. Heather Dannielle Gossett, Michael Evans, and Austin Frederick are members of the Special Olympics Southern California team, representing the Pomona Valley Chapter.

My husband, Bassman, and a team from Pomona Police Department, ran the Special Olympics Flame of Hope through the city of Pomona. The leg opened on the grounds of the Lanterman State Hospital and Development Center, passed through the streets of Pomona, and was handed off to a team from Montclair Police Department.

Heather, Michael, and Austin ran alongside the PPD team on-and-off through the eight-mile segment. (Pictured above is Austin, Heather, and Michael.)

Heather, a 23-year-old, 11-year veteran of the Special Olympics, opened the segment as torch-bearer. Teammate, Michael Evans, is a 22-year-old runner and shot-put athlete who has participated in the Special Olympics for 12 years. At 14 years old, Austin Frederick, was the youngest member of the Pomona torch relay team, but is a 5-year participant in the Special Olympics. Austin ran the torch in the final yards.

The Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games open Friday night at Cal State Long Beach, with game and events opening Saturday and closing on Sunday.

Please post your comments and congrats to Heather, Michael, and Austin. I'll make sure they see your good wishes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Booking It In New York City

Writers often have parallel lives. Occasionally, a bridge connects those two lives, allowing a synchronistic exchange between worlds. My business life is among highly successful people in the travel and hospitality industry. To the greatest degree, my writing life is solitary. My online writer’s group, Backspace, provides a virtual water cooler where I exchange ideas, swap material for critique, and decompress from the stress of my business life. A bridge formed last week when I was able to attend the Incentive Brand Show at the Sheraton New York Towers on Day 1. Days 2 and 3 were spent at the Backspace conference at a legendary mid-town hotel that shall not be named, and Day 4 concluded in a whirlwind blow through Book Expo America (BEA), the annual mardi-gras of the American publishing industry.

Click here to see my NYC photo album.

The Backspace Conference

I’ve attended several writer’s conferences, but Backspace is by far the best. It’s expensive. Registration for two days of workshops and pitches, and a seated dinner, hit $405. Add accommodations in NYC, taxi fares, meals, and if you’re not within driving or train commute, airfare. This two-day conference could easily cross the $1500 mark. Is it worth it?

Depends on how serious you are about getting published. You won’t get better face time at any other conference I know of. Published authors freely mix with the unpublished, forging relationships that can be crucial in this extremely competitive industry. You’ll find top agents and editors hanging around to hear the sessions. Authors with critically acclaimed books appear on the panels side by side with debut novelists. Discussions in the panels range from technique to marketing, from writing successful query letters, to spit polishing a final edit. There are topics for the branded author and the breakout author.

Keynote speaker, Michael Cader, founder of PublishersMarketplace, woke up the crowd with a sobering look at the publishing industry. He gave startling statistics on book sales and gave enough number crunching elements to make a less-dedicated writer despair. Agent Kristin Nelson, who attended Cader’s session, blogged about it here. If someone can take one idea away from an event like Backspace and succeed with it in life, then the event was worth it. Cader’s insistence that an author must embrace pop culture and technology with blogging, YouTube, animated book trailers, and broadcast face time both inspired and annoyed attendees. He said that in order to succeed, authors must market themselves as if they were self-published, because publishers no longer roll out the marketing dough for anyone expect top list authors. It all comes down to branding. Create yourself as a brand to build a solid reader base.

BEA – Book Expo America

BEA is Disneyland for book lovers. Puff the Magic Dragon was there in the person of Peter Yarrow signing his lovely new children’s book of the same name. I wanted a signed copy and went around to the line, which I thought was only about 30 people deep. The man I stepped behind politely informed me that where I stepped in was only the aisle break to a line that stretched about 300 people down the center aisle of the main floor. Never mind. I snapped a picture of Peter signing. Peter charmed his guests when he paused to speak to each person as if they were the only one in line.

Next, my author pals Jenny Gardiner (SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEVER, Dorchester, Winter 2008), Kim Stagliano and I met with John Robison, author of the memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE (Crown, September 2007). John is a remarkable man whose life story would make a novelist wonder where to begin. Born with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism often linked to savant-like genius and anti-social behavior, John grew up misunderstood, abused, bullied, and outcast. His memoir covers his life from childhood, thorough his years designing smoking guitars and special effects for KISS, to engineering electronic games like Simon for Milton Bradley, and finally to his own entrepreneurial success as a service technician and restorer of Land Rovers, Rolls Royces, and other luxury automobiles. John’s memoir stands on its own merit, but I can’t hide the fact that John is also the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of RUNNING WITH SCISSORS.

In a carnival atmosphere like Backspace and BEA, I find people seldom listen to others. There are crowds of people, background noise, crazy distractions, and personal agendas. John, however, drew me aside, where we sat and talked about his book, his plans, and how I recognized Asberger in someone dear to me. Then he asked me about my book, THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER. He listened. He showed interest in my book. Then he said, “I’d like to introduce you to the marketing director of St. Martin's; they publish my brother’s books.”

So away we went, little me and big John—he must be in the neighborhood of six-foot, four-inches—winding through the crowd, first to Picador, where he got us copies of his brother’s new book, POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, and then introduced me to the publisher of Picador. Then on to St. Martin’s. The marketing director was not there at the time, but the sales executive gave me the name of the editor and told me to have my agent send the manuscript to her when it was ready for submission. John is an author with an amazing story, but moreso he’s an amazing gentleman with a heart of gold.

Cover to cover from NY to CA, I read John’s book. LOOK ME IN THE EYE is startling. The more you see into the character of an Aspergian person, the more you may recognize it in people you have known through life. Remember that awkward kid with the wacky glasses? The one who trudged across campus like a robot, a slide rule in his pocket, muttering the periodic table of elements during lunch? I learned in John’s book that Asperger Syndrome was not classified until 1984. The kid I knew in high school was probably Aspergian. I wish I would have been nicer to him.

Summer hasn't yet begun and yet my reading list is full. I picked up several books to give aways throughout the summer. Watch in the coming weeks for contests and you could win.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sword Swallower's Daughter is Finished

Last night at 1 a.m. I typed THE END to my first draft version of THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER. What a fabulous feeling.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Writers and Websites

The following is the text to a talk I'm giving tomorrow to the California Writers' Club, Inland Empire Chapter.

Do I Need a Website?

Back when I was young and flippant, I informed my dental hygienist that I brushed twice a day and asked if it was really that important to floss my teeth also.

“Only if you want to keep them,” she replied without a missing a beat.

So it is with writers and websites. If you’re serious about writing for publication, it’s time for you to look into creating a presence on the internet.

I Googled Myself

In today’s marketplace smart people seeking information on a subject or person turn to the web. I just typed my byline Carolyn Burns Bass into Google and came back with hits filling the first four pages. Some of those hits are directly culled from my websites, but many of them links to book reviews I’ve published and responses that I’ve made on other people’s blogs and MySpace pages.

If an editor wanted to look deeper into my publishing history, it would not be hard to find more than enough information to prove that I am a serious writer, serious about being published.

You and Your Platform

Agents and editors banter around the word “platform.” In today’s publishing world, authors are packaged as commodities. It’s beyond genre, category, or voice. It’s about how the publisher can market the author along with the book.

A platform to the publisher/editor is a way to sell books. A platform to the author is a way to sell ideas.

A platform is not just the stage on which you stand to pitch your product, it’s the product itself. In the case of authors it’s more than just the book, but what drove the author to write it. It’s the backstory of the book, the story before the story and after the story ends. The author’s beliefs and passions are the foundation of his or her platform; what he or she would write about if they weren’t writers.
  • Martha O’Connor, author of the novel THE BITCH POSSE, uses her platform to raise public awareness about diabetes; her young son was diagnosed with type 1, juvenile diabetes while she was writing the novel.
  • Barry Eisler, author of the John Rain series of thrillers, has a CIA background and writes political views in his blog.
  • Tish Cohen, a self-described agoraphobic in the making, is author of the recently released TOWN HOUSE, a novel about an agoraphobic man’s struggle to live with is phobias. Tish has a “What’s Your Phobia” section on her website.
  • Good Girls Kill For Money Club is a blog written by a group of female mystery authors, reveal the mystery behind other authors with insightful questions and commentary.
  • LitPark, operated by Susan Henderson, former editor of Night Train magazine, and author of the upcoming, TAP ROOT, uses the metaphor of a playground for writers to answer questions of the week, read about upcoming new books and authors, and share personal anecdotes.
  • Ovations, my primary blog, espouses my platform in this log line: An ovation is rousing, prolonged applause. It's a display of public homage or welcome. More than enthusiastic hand-clapping, it's a way of rewarding hard work, showing gratitude, or offering praise. Ovations celebrates the unfinished script of life, where the earth is the stage and people are the stars.

Not only do these blogs promote the author’s platform and books, they can help other authors create an online presence and begin the foundation of their own platform. They invite you to join the conversation by leaving a comment. Your comments are forever logged to the world wide web and searchable to anyone around the globe.

Three Easy Ways to Build Your Platform
  1. Read blogs and comment frequently on your favorites.
  2. Begin your own blog or MySpace.MySpace is the easiest “website/blog in a package.”
  3. When you have something ready to sell, be it a novel, non-fiction proposal or finished manuscript, think about opening a website.

How to, Where to Blog

There are dozens of free blog hosts. If you want to add bells and whistles, such as running polls or surveys, you can pay some blog hosts for upgraded accounts. I host my primary blog at Bloggger, yet I also have a LiveJournal account that is cross linked to my Blogger account. I cross link, so that if I comment on a LiveJournal blog (my agent has a Live Journal blog), it includes my picture and a link back to me.

MySpace is not just for teenagers. It has the biggest tent of talent in the world wide circ us. Here you’ll find pages and pages of authors, news about their books, tours, special offers, and often a blog. I have a MySpace page filled with a wondrous variety of authors, artists, acrobats, and all kinds of people from around the world. These people, some who contacted me and other who’ve sounded interesting enough to me to contact them, are my “friends.” I have 493 friends.

Rather than list the plethora of free source websites and blogs, visit this site and then surf until you catch a site that looks easy or interesting to you.

If you don’t see anything that appeals to you there, just type in your search browser: blog hosts. You’ll get pages and pages of blog sites and offers.

Other Important or Helpful Sites for Writers

I have long been a supporter of Writer’s Digest’s annual survey and publication of its 101 Best Websites for Writers. Surf these links and enjoy the ride.

If you attend my talk, I'd love to hear your comments here. If you're a regular reader of Ovations, you're already blog saavy, but I'd still enjoy hearing from you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I'm in a write-a-thon

I’ve been asked to participate in a write-a-thon sponsored by Breath & Shadow, an online journal of literature by people with disabilities. The staff has invited their — and the readers’ — favorite writers to write a piece to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal. I’m very excited about this opportunity to write for Breath & Shadow and honored to have been selected to participate. The write-a-thon, as its name suggests, is a fundraiser.

What you may not know about me is that I have a hearing impairment. My hearing loss is the result of nerve damage caused by chronic ear infections as a child and sustained exposure to loud sound (live music, I’m afraid to say). Although I get by just fine with my hearing loss, there is much of the hearing world that I miss. I don’t hear crickets chirp anymore. I can’t hear the buzzer of my coffee pot, my kitchen timer, or many alarm clocks. I set my cellphone to vibrate and wear it on my body.

You know how with walk-a-thons you pledge a certain dollar amount per mile or kilometer? This write-a-thon works the same way. I will be writing a short story of no more than 500 words. If I get at least five people to support me with a pledge, Breath & Shadow will publish my write-a-thon piece. The pledge amount is variable and won’t be collected until after my work is published in the fall. A standard pledge is 2 cents or 5 cents per word for a 500-word piece — which comes out to a $10 or $25 donation. Of course, you can always pledge less (one cent per word) or for more (a dime or a quarter per word). Any amount of support is welcome. Remember, I have a word limit of 500 words.

Breath Shadow is a nonprofit publication; subscriptions are free. It’s the only magazine that prints the writing of people with all kinds of disabilities and is edited and written only by people with disabilities. It’s made a real difference in the life of disabled people to have their work about disability taken seriously and published in a quality journal. The journal is a project of ROSC, a tax-exempt charity. They will be happy to send you a receipt for your donation, if you like.

If you would like to sponsor me, please email me at Carolyn [at] and tell me how much you’re pledging. Also, when my work is published, Breath & Shadow will post the names of the people who sponsored me, so please let me know if it’s okay to post your name or if you’d like to be listed as “anonymous."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A quiet Mother's Day morning

Awake again in the quiet of this Mother's Day morning. I've had the breakfasts in bed, muffins, eggs, sprigs of flowers in tiny vases, but this morning's peacefulness is the best gift of all. Tank, my canine son, is curled around my legs, while my human son sleeps. Husby worked until two a.m. and will sleep until about nine. My daughter's probably hugging her pillow in her dorm room across the valley and will greet us in church this morning. Life is profoundly good.

If you've read Ovations for a while (at least a year) you may recall this plaque that I created the year after my mother passed away. I run it each Mother's Day. It says everything I feel about Mother's Day. If you can't read the verse, click on the picture and it will open to a larger size.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tish Cohen at Book Soup

Congratulations to Tish Cohen, seen here signing my copy of her debut novel, TOWN HOUSE. Book Soup, the famous independent bookstore of the stars on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood hosted Tish's book launch last night. Rex Pickett, author of SIDEWAYS, introduced Tish and gave a glowing endorsement.

Before signing, Tish read chapter two of TOWN HOUSE, offering a peek into her hilarious dysfunctional character Jack Madigan, the reclusive son of a famous, dead shock-rock star.

Film rights to TOWN HOUSE have already been sold.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Finally a quiet moment... and some squees

I’ve put on my favorite iTunes playlist, my cat and dog are sleeping on each side of me, the husby and son are out, and the sun is setting. This is my favorite time of day.

The last couple of weeks my husby and I have done some travel driving. Two weeks ago we drove to Scottsdale and last weekend we drove to Las Vegas. I often listen to audio books while I’m driving, so I thought it would be fun to load up my iPod with something that we both would like. I enjoy literary and up-market commercial fiction, Bassman likes thrillers, espionage, crime noir and police procedurals. After several hours of sampling through, I downloaded Carl Hiaasen’s SKINNY DIP.

Part noir, part thriller, all humor, Bassman and I laughed our way across two deserts while listening to SKINNY DIP. I’d heard Hiaasen’s name praised among writer friends, but had never explored his catalog of work. This summer we’re flying to Orlando, renting a car and driving up to Chesapeake Bay, then driving back to down to North Carolina and flying home from Raleigh/Durham. You can be sure we’ll dish up some Carl Hiaasen on the road.

It’s been a while since I gave some squees...

For my husby, Bassman: At 48 he’s still got it. Last weekend was the annual Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay, an annual footrace made of law enforcement teams from all over the country. He really didn’t want to run a leg of the 120-mile relay through the desert, but his team had someone drop out and they begged him to run. He had less than a week to train for the 6.5 mile section of the relay, but he keeps himself in great shape. It wasn’t a cakewalk, for sure, but he did pass six other team runners and helped his team look good. Bravo, Bassman.

For my friend, Susan Henderson: Susan sold her first novel TAP ROOT a few weeks ago—without an agent. I have followed her writing progress on this novel for several months through her blog, LitPark, and empathized her pangs of writing, revising, finishing, submitting. Hearing of its quick sale is like being a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. TAP ROOT is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1970s, about a girl who believes her mother has gone missing. After finding her mother living in a secret room in the basement, the nine-year-old girl must come to terms with their irrevocably changed relationship. Now that’s intense. I can’t wait to read it.

For my son, Jonathan: He’s not off to see the wizard, he IS the wizard. Jonathan’s in the final weeks of practice for his high school musical production of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Tomorrow we’re going out costume shopping and I’m going to have fun making his turban for the scene when he’s Professor Marvel.

For Southern California Book Lovers: This weekend is the LA Times Festival of Books. I’ll be working a shift on Saturday at the California Writers Club booth (12-2) and then enjoying myself for the rest of the day. This is an amazing two days of author signings, lectures, readings, panels, and exhibits. If you’re there, stop by the CWC and say hello.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When words fail: Virginia Tech 2007

Click on the image above to view a memorial slideshow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Do you love what you do?

I’m sitting on the most comfortable hotel chair in the world. At least it feels that way to me. Traveling and staying in nice hotels is one of the best perks in my life. I say life, rather than job, because I love what I do.

The shingle above my business website says I do travel marketing, meeting planning, and business communications. My author's website says I’m a fiction writer. This blog is my attempt to synthesize both of these vocations into meaningful praise for the amazing people, places, and things that make this a wonderous world.

Last week I was looking out at the Pacific Ocean from Huntington Beach, California and today I’m watching the shadows fall across the rugged desert peaks surrounding Scottsdale, Arizona. We just checked into an amazing property—Hotel Valley Ho, a Scottsdale landmark and hip urban oasis since the late 1950s. This is our room.

Yes, that is an oversized bathtub in the middle of the room. When I said it was romantic; my husby didn’t argue. Ever pragmatic, he did voice a concern that I might get up in the middle of the night and fall into it. Our room has a separate glass-door shower and lush, Red Flower spa amenities for bathing.

Look closely at the shot to the right. See the 32-inch flat screen TV aimed at the bathtub? That’s a long, wall-length counter of luxury accessories like crystal wine glasses, a martini shaker and glasses, a magnifying make-up mirror. See the black bullet thing? It’s a pod expresso maker. Inside those cabinets are a fully-stocked mini-bar and quirky selection of gourmet snacks like Lucy’s “Predic-a-Mints,” Cracker Jacks, and chips and salsa.

You can’t see it in the picture, but I’m using it now: complimentary wireless internet in every room. Throughout the hotel, in fact. I can sit in a cabana next to the pool and work on THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER.

Hotel Valley Ho is the kind of place this sword swallower’s daughter never would have stayed in as a child. She’s pinching herself right now, making sure she’s really here. I write about travel, beautiful places, and gracious people. I believe much of my travel writing is to a create permanent record of where I’ve been—not in a look-at-me-living-it-up way, but in gratitude--a reflection of how far I’ve come.

Now if they only sold this chair.

Do you love what you do? Click the COMMENT link below and tell us why or why not.
* * *
Special thanks to Jesse Thompson and Hotel Valley Ho for donating a stay at their fabu property to the SITE-SoCal Holiday Charity Auction. I bought the package and happy I did.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Between business and pleasure

I’m writing this morning from the glorious Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach, California. Although this hotel is only about an hour from my home, I’ve come to love this property for a number of reasons. The smartest reason is that the Waterfront has discovered that perfect blend between business and pleasure. I am here for business, but pleasure is what I’m getting right now as I sit in my room watching the famous Surf City waves peak and crest in the early morning ocean mist.

I arrived last night just after sunset and stepped out of my car to the scent of wood smoke, savory hotdogs, and crusty marshmallows rising from the firepits lining the beach. I couldn’t really distinguish the hot dogs and marshmallows, but having sat around those fire pits many times through the years, my memory filled in the details.

Poised on Pacific Coast Highway, along the Orange County Riviera, The Waterfront offers views of the wide sand and rolling waves from almost every room in the house. The first thing I do when checking into a hotel room is open the curtains (okay, this after tipping the bellboy). The lights along the famous Huntington Beach Pier had just lit, reflecting in the teal-blue ocean below.

This pier is one of my favorite childhood memories. My mother once dreamed she was standing on that pier watching me struggling in the water below, sucked under and swept out before her eyes. I don’t think I ever told her how that dream haunted me for years. Looking back, I think the dream was symbolic. She watched me go through some pretty rough times, unable to reach me from her motherly perch. The ocean of life threw me back, coughing and sputtering on the sandy shores of adulthood.

I want to thank J.D. Shafer and the fabulous Hilton Waterfront staff for making my stay in their house so fabulous. After my SITE-SoCal meeting today I’ll drive north on PCH a few miles to Seal Beach, where I spent many wild and carefree days as a child, and where my character Sheila’s daddy lives in my novel, THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER.

Where did you spend your summers or your wild and carefree days of youth? Click the comments link below.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Advice from and for writers

At a meeting of the California Writer’s Club last Saturday I heard Susan Straight speak and read from her latest novel, A MILLION NIGHTENGALES. Susan has long been one of my favorite authors, whose authentic life in Riverside, California makes her writing sing like a New York diva.

Susan voiced something I have internalized since I began writing fiction seriously, but have never heard from other writers: She says she's constantly working on her novel--even when she's not sitting in front of the work, she's ruminating over characters, setting, conflicts. Susan is one of the few authors I know who write complete novels longhand. Her method of choice are yellow legal pads, which she then transfers the work to her computer. Susan teaches creative writing at the university where my daughter is an English major, considering a minor in creative writing. If she takes one of Susan's classes, I'm going to crawl into her backpack and listen through the zipper.

Tonight I'm going to hear Anne Lamott speak and read from her new collection of essays, Grace (Eventually). I've heard Anne before and she speaks just like she writes--from the hip and heart. Stay tuned.

Before Susan's talk at the CWC meeting on Saturday, we were given an exercise to write advice to ourselves that we wish we would’ve received early in our writing career. Here’s what I wrote:
Read good books. Reading is the most important element of writing. Reading opens the door to worlds outside your own, will expose you to foreign cultures and diverse lifestyles, and will reveal the thread of humanity that we all share. Only through discovering the outer world can you hope to share your inner world.

Experience life. Plan for your future, but live in the moment. Observe people and places around you; participate in what is going on around you. Remember how you felt when you reached important milestones.

Discover what you like reading best. Read the kind of books you want to write. Study how they’re written: setting, characters, motivation, plot, conflict, story arc, pace, layers, subtext, theme.

Devote yourself to craft. Writing begins when you put one word in front of the other, but there’s more to writing than nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Study and practice the rudimentary elements of literature: theme, metaphor, exposition, dialog, narrative, and story. Remember that conflict is the heart of a story; without conflict there is no plot, and without plot there is no story.

Learn to edit yourself. Don’t fall in love with your words. Even the best writers have editors, but editing begins with the writer. Look at your words and imagine them written by someone else. Strike out the dead wood, kill your darlings. Stroke and polish. Send your baby out into the world dressed for success.

Accept criticism. Critics are everywhere. Learn to discern true criticism from the emotionally charged ranting of ignorant critics. True criticism offers suggestions for improvement or comments intended to encourage the author to strive for excellence. Accept good criticism; reject ignorant criticism and reviews.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Good things are happening

It's true. I’m in the final act of the SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER and excited about where we are now. Sheila’s Daddy just bought a sailboat to live aboard. Wouldn’t that be fun?

I got an email from an editor at a very nice print magazine, saying they loved my short story, STILL LIFE, the one that tied for first place in last month’s Backspace contest. She asked if she could use it in a future edition of the magazine. I’ll reveal more details when they’re available. But I’m happy to see this story placed in such a fine magazine.

In today’s LitPark, Susan Henderson, author and playground monitor extraordinaire, included a small memoir I wrote about my mom, and included a photo of her and me taken on my wedding day. Take a look here. (Can’t wait to announce your news, Susan!)

I finished reading Kristy Kiernan’s CATCHING GENIUS. This was one of those books that you can’t wait to find out what happens, but you’re sorry it’s over when you read the last page. The final chapter was a bittersweet finish on a glorious sonata. Here is the beautiful cover again.

Here’s something to give you a chuckle this week; this is from Bud Caddell, runner up to the Tech Brew/FeedBurner contest. Bud’s entry is a takeoff of the Bulwer-Lytton (Bad) Fiction contest.

From the moment she walked in the door and let down her hair, he was hooked, hooked on those warm blonde locks drenched in the sun filtering through the cheap plastic blinds, hooked on that shade of blonde that reminded him of the icons on the site he was feverishly posting and reposting his newest blog post, the one with the image of Britney Spears with the sign of the beast so artfully photoshopped on her bare skull, so hooked that he knew, from that moment, that she was the only real linkbait he’d ever known, and that he digged her.

The Reading List: