Sunday, May 31, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Scarlett of From the Shores of Introspect and Retrospect, who won the drawing for a copy of Claudia Hall Christian's book, "The Fey."

Congratulations, Scarlett, and enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

High Maintenance Woman

I want to test drive a Lamborghini. It's either that or eating two pounds of dark chocolate, and driving is less likely to induce a Diabetic coma.

The showroom guards will probably require my Dunn & Bradstreet rating, a blood sample, genealogy, character references from the captains of industry who recently received humongous payouts from the government, and a note from Harry Winston.

I suppose I should wear shoes when I present myself, and perhaps the pelts of dead animals, artfully arranged to look as if they grew on me, Van Cleef & Arpels diamonds dripping from my earlobes, wrists, and hanging between my boobs, which I might add are my own. No plastic has been hurt in the making of this product.

The company logo seems to represent the Golden Calf, which in Biblical times symbolized a system of worship. This strikes me as incredibly blatant, but realistic. It's hard to be subtle when you're driving a vehicle worth more than a million smackeroos. ("Smackeroo" means both "dollar" and "kiss", which I also find disturbing.)

The Lamborghini is apparently the least fuel efficient vehicle on the market, but that is very likely of no concern to those who can afford one. Nor does the maker produce enough of them to cause emission problems on the highway.

The company was started in 1963 in a little town near Bologna, Italy, by Ferruccio Lamborghini, a manufacturer of tractors. I'm guessing he was tired of testing vehicles in stinking fields strewn with cow-pies and needed a change of pace.

Lamborghini was an enthusiastic owner of sports cars including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Maserati and Ferrari. He eventually owned three Ferraris, all of which had recurring clutch problems. He complained to Enzo Ferrari, who stated derisively that a tractor maker was not qualified to criticize his cars. The gauntlet was thrown down. Lamborghini began to repair the clutches himself and noticed that some of their components were exactly the same as those he used on his tractors. Encouraged, he commissioned several of the top auto designers in the world to build a car that would rival Ferrari. The result would eventually become the Lamborghini 350GT, and a new company was born in the process. Its fortunes have waxed and waned over the years and it is presently owned by Volkswagen Group. The people's car.

I should probably just go for the chocolate, Diabetes be damned. The folks behind the counter at the Godiva store have never asked for my pedigree, and there is also no dress code. Sometimes they even throw in a freebie. And if I eat enough of it, I can probably run all the way home without my car. It doesn't get any more fuel efficient than that.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Failed Music Career

My first musical instrument was the triangle in my kindergarten rhythm band, clearly the best one. The tambourines and maracas were a little too much like baby rattles, which we had only recently outgrown, and drumsticks without drums were anticlimactic, like the sound of one hand clapping. Cymbals had no tone and bells were just stupid.

A few years later, it was decreed that I take piano lessons like my older brother. Our father had been a concert pianist in his youth, and the first piece of furniture my parents bought when they married was a Mason & Hamlin baby grand from A Showroom. Apparently, my father preferred its bass registers to the Steinway he also auditioned.

My brother had learned to bang out "Country Gardens," emphasizing every note equally like a military march. He was praised mightily and enjoined to perform every time my parents had company. This charming ritual kept all but their most devoted friends from returning to our house a second time.

My piano teacher was Miss Kelly. She had stiff, cadaverish yellow hair and applied two perfectly round patches of rouge to her pale powdered cheeks that resembled unpressed linen. She sat next to me on the piano bench and spat when she spoke. Dodging spittle took all my effort and besides, I had very small hands so after a few months, we called it quits. My parents were probably as relieved as I was.

My father especially loved to play Chopin etudes, but sometimes he played Broadway show tunes and we all stood around the piano and sang. I had perfect pitch and was proud of my clear soprano voice. On singing nights I got sent to bed late. My brother locked himself in his room and my parents settled at the kitchen table for their nightly pot of coffee with milk and sugar. While my father smoked his last cigarette of the day, my mother washed their cups and saucers and they went to bed, too.

One winter’s night while walking home from school, I heard the strains of a violin through a window and sat on the curb long past dinner, transfixed. After a lot of begging, I got to take violin lessons. In six months I had worked my way through the first several lesson books, which normally takes years.

My teacher, who was first violinist with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, told my father there was nothing more he could teach me. He urged him to arrange for lessons with a master teacher in Manhattan, but my father had no interest in driving to the city for this and arranged for my teacher to give him violin lessons instead so we could play duets. At first I thought he wanted to be closer to me, but what he wanted was to play better than me. Since he was already a brilliant pianist, I wished he would just accompany me on his own instrument and leave me to mine, but nobody asked my opinion.

My father played violin like my classmates sounded out "Dick and Jane." He forced me to practice with him, but it was painful to witness a beautiful instrument being violated nightly as few things sound as ghastly as beginning violin. Before long, I gave it up and never played again.

My father seamlessly returned to his beloved Chopin and I sang loudly in my room every night with the door closed. My target was Martin, the blue-eyed blond boy across the street, not my type but a boy nonetheless, and I needed the practice.

About this time I tried to write Popular songs, as they were called before Rhythm & Blues which became Rock & Roll, eventually morphing into simply Rock. I loved the music but noticed that the lyrics were often ungrammatical, and though I realized that grammar was being sacrificed for rhythm, I couldn’t bring myself to write double negatives. I hated that I was so uptight, but on a deep level I was terrified of sounding illiterate so my brilliant songwriting career never happened. I bootlegged a small radio under my pillow and listened to a New York DJ called Moondog play R&B every night until he went off the air at 2:30.

Years later, living in Nashville, I noticed that every other business was a pawn shop, filled mostly with musical instruments. In the heart of the country music Mecca is a soft underbelly I call the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the place people come to become stars but mostly fail, even though some are immensely talented. I am not a country music fan, but have always wanted to write a song about the pawn shops of Nashville. Because it makes me cry. In my pickup truck. My Blue Tick Hound cries, too. Lord have mercy, it's enough to drive a body to drinkin' moonshine from my daddy's still after murderin' my cheatin' honky tonk boyfriend while awaitin' prison and redemption. My daddy was no coal miner, bless his heart, but maybe I could become obscenely rich, too, writing songs about poverty.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Author Tour Comes to San Francisco

One of my fellow bloggers whom I most admire is Claudia Hall Christian of On a Limb with Claudia. She has kept me in riveting bedtime stories for over a year with two (count 'em - TWO!!!) serial novels, Denver Cereal and The Fey. She is currently doing a blog tour with The Fey, a thinking woman's thriller-adventure story, and today is MY turn to host her and her fascinating characters.

1. Contest: Claudia is offering one free book to the reader of my choice. I will determine the winner in a drawing of all who ask for a copy, and announce it one week from today on May 31st.

2. Discounts: There is a special discount code, 2YSB5GPG, which gives my readers 10% off books when they purchase from Claudia's Create Space store. The discount does not work at, however.


1.) In your serialized novels, how many chapters ahead do you generally write before you publish them?

Denver Cereal is a true serial fiction. We publish on chapter a week. I have no real idea where it’s going or when it will end. Every time I worry that it’s ending, something else happens and story line is off and running again. I try to keep a month ahead of schedule. That said, life has kept me right on top of the deadlines. Sometimes the chapter goes up Sunday night just before publication. I don’t particularly like doing that because I miss major edits. But a chapter a week is a tough schedule.

The Fey is a novel with a finite beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, there’s two sequels (Learning to Stand and Who I Am) waiting in the wings to be published. The Fey is completed and available for sale. Learning to Stand is in final revisions based on the last editorial review. Who I Am runs in the same time frame as Denver Cereal. (For example, the event that recently happened to Paddie Hargreaves is a part of Who I Am.) Who I Am is in first draft form.

2.) (a.) How many hours a day do you work?

I’ve never thought of work as different from play or living or relating. Thus, since I’ve been writing, I’ve never kept track of the hours. I get to my desk around eight in the morning and leave it around seven at night. In the time, I handle marketing, writing, manage the art work, care for the websites and also write. I try to get words on a page for at least four hours a day. Of course, some of my best story ideas happen in the hours I’m not at my desk.

(b.) How do you divide your time between the two projects?

I’ve done different things at different times. Write now, I start the week with Denver Cereal. Midweek, I transition to working on Learning to Stand (the second in the Fey series)

3.) I know the characters in both your books are somewhat related, and several of them even appear in both. Are any based on actual people?

No. In my mind, they are beings in their own right. They exist somewhere in some place that I’ve never been. I strive to be clear enough to tell their stories well. I met them when they appear on the page.

4.) It is a truly amazing feat to write two novels at the same time when most of us can't even manage one.

(a.) How do you navigate between Denver Cereal and The Fey without favoring one over the other?

Have you ever been in the mood for chocolate? You eat chocolate for a few days, then aren’t interested anymore. That’s what it’s like for me. I have a Denver Cereal mood then a Fey mood. The pressure to keep up with the weekly chapters keeps Denver Cereal in the forefront. And still I’ve devoted weeks to polishing a chapter or scene in the Fey series.

I’ve also been working on two other serial fictions – a real time serial set in Philadelphia and another post-apocalyptic set in New Mexico. My mentor would like me to have more serial fiction in more cities. I’ve held him at bay for a while. When Denver Cereal reached it’s year anniversary this June, I may start another. We’ll see.

(b.) Do you have a secret favorite child between the two?

I don’t think I favor one character over another. Some days, I like one character or the other as I work on telling their stories.

The character I admire the most is Alexandra Hargreaves. I’ve learned the most from her. She is tough and funny and loving all in the same moment. She has a kind of self confidence that comes from being really tested.

(c.) Also, who is the character you most enjoy writing about in each book, and why?

To me, they are unique, perfect in their own imperfections, valuable, and I’m merely their scribe.

5.) Do you work from outlines, or do you let your characters lead you where they need to go?

I let the characters lead me. I’m frequently stunned by what happens. For example, I had no idea Jacob would be injured or that Trevor would be killed. These things just happened.

I generally have a sense of where things are going. Sometimes, I have the specific stories written out already. And still, I’m regularly stunned at what’s revealed.

6.) I've noticed that Jill has become more confident and is no longer the timid, meek woman we first knew, traumatized by her mysterious disappearance when her parents died and her abusive marriage. In fact, she becomes more like Alex, the heroine of your other book, all the time while Alex has become more vulnerable. Do you believe that every downtrodden woman has an inner Alex, and every strong, confident one an inner Jill? Please discuss.

Jill and Alex represent two separate archetypes of women.

Jill is very Athena-like. We meet her when she’s doing an incredibly courageous act – attending her ex-husband’s engagement party to set the record straight. She survived the situation with her parents and the poverty that it brought. She has a lot of secrets – one of which is her own power.

Alex has traits of Artemis. Everything is play to her. She greets every event and challenge person as if it was placed in front of her to toy with. She’s capable of great loyalty and deep love.

I believe that every downtrodden woman is incredibly strong. How else would they survive? They stay in difficult situation because they are so strong, not because they are weak. In the end, it’s this strength that can lead them to happiness.

7.) If Jacob is psychic, how is it that he didn't know Jill was his mystery lover and Katy his child, especially since Delphie knew?

Psychic’s aren’t any good at predicting things for themselves. Things get very muddy when it’s about them. Some people say it’s against universal law for them to know their own future. Jacob has a sense of what will happen, but not the details. He knew that Katy would be his daughter, for example, but not that she was his biological daughter. That’s pretty realistic for psychics.

8.) Is there a castle in Denver like the one in Denver Cereal?

There is a home in which the Castle is based upon. I’d tell you where it is but I keep forgetting to tell the occupants! I also officed in the Crooke Patterson Mansion for three years. The scope and size of Crooke Patterson is more similar to the Castle than the original house.

9.) Writers are always cautioned to write what they know. Are there other reasons why these books had to take place in Denver?

One of the beauties of serial fiction is it’s capacity to interact with the real world. Dickens used real characters to help make his fictional characters come alive. In Tales of the City, a serial fiction set in San Francisco, Armstead Maupin was able to change the way people thought and felt about AIDS. Cupcakes are a big deal because they were highlighted in Sex in the City.

My hope with Denver Cereal was to include real streets, stores and locations. Various readers have told me that they get the feeling they could walk down a street in Denver and see Jacob, Jill or any of the Denver Cereal characters. That sense of realism brings a wonderful grounding.

I’m not sure why the Fey thriller novels take place in Denver. I only know that the story is better, deeper and more consistent when it takes place here. Part of the current rewrite of Learning to Stand is bringing it back to Denver. And it’s better here.

10.) The Fey is a multi-book series while, if I'm not mistaken, Denver Cereal is intended to be only one book. What were your reasons for expanding one but not the other?

There are at least eight books planned for the Alex the Fey series. We’re just getting started there.

As a serial fiction, Denver Cereal can continue… forever potentially. I believe the longest running serial fiction, the Diary of V in Redbook, ran for nine years.

I don’t have a specific timeline or number of books for either project. I will continue to write as long as these characters have something to say. So far, they haven’t stopped talking.

11.) Honey and Brianna have names but Trevor's second wife, their sister, does not. I've theorized that you didn't want to ruin any name by giving it to someone so evil, but Lucretia Borgia, Regan in The Exorcist, Carrie, and Cruella de Ville all have names so I'm probably spinning my head in the wrong direction. Would you explain why you didn't give her one?

I chose not to give Trevor’s wife a name because everyone knows someone like her. Everyone has a person in their life that treats the world as if it owes them things. The hope was that the reader could project their own evil name onto her.

Denver Cereal is inhabited with flawed people who, at the end of the day, try to do their best. Sometimes they succeed. Many times they fail. Positive, hopeful characters get too little time in our modern imagination. Characters like Trevor’s wife (the step-whore) have dominated fiction for the last twenty years. She doesn’t need a name. Because she, like all people like her, are just wasps that get in the way of the positive, hopeful, doing their best people of the world.

12.) I'm confused about the fact that Alex and Max have been referred to as "identical twins" often enough that it seems like a biological description rather than just a statement that they strongly resemble each other. How is this possible when they are not same-sex twins?

Opposite sex identical or monozygotic twins are possible, but incredibly rare. There are three documented cases in the world right now. And even then, technically they are not identical because one has two X chromosomes and the other has an XY chromosome.

Alexandra and Maxwell Hargreaves are monozygotic twins. A few of our early readers are monozygotic twins. They have agree that beyond the way they look, Alex and Max act like monozygotic twins.

13.) Do you speak fluent Gaelic? My great nephew from County Wicklow taught me to say "kiss my ass" which sounds like "pog mah hog" ( with hard "o's") but I couldn't spell it to save my hog.

I don’t speak Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic or Ulster Gaelic. The Fey team learned Irish Gaelic because it’s not spoken in the Middle East and only rarely spoken in Europe. Knowing Irish Gaelic gave them a chance to speak to each other with ease without fear of being overheard or easily understood even if they were monitored.

14.) When you come to San Francisco for an author signing, can we do dinner?

I am thrilled to come and spend time with you – dinner, a walk, a cup of tea. Name the place and time and I will engender to be there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Not to Run a Business

or Allstate Insurance Redux

I just received a phone call from a person named Crystal at Allstate Insurance, the purpose of which was to check that I am still happy with my policy. Um, no. I canceled both our policies over a month ago and took out new ones with State Farm. The question should have been: How was I unhappy with my policies? Let me count the ways.

My agent quit the company and never informed me, resulting in countless messages from me on his answering machine which were never answered. They once received my payment ONE DAY later than the due date and the next morning there was a rude notice from Allstate tacked to my door. After many years of being their customer and never missing a payment. I couldn't believe it. There is a twelve-day grace period, so I wasn't really late by normal calculations. From that point on, I hand-delivered my payments to their office instead of trusting to the mails, and in fact, I left payments on both policies in their mailbox after the office was permanently closed because there was no indication of it. I knew that they normally locked their door for lunch and it was lunchtime, so I made what turned out to be a wrong assumption.

After I changed to State Farm, it turned out that the vin number I had given them for my car, which I got from our old Allstate auto policy, was wrong. In other words, there was no vehicle with that vin number registered in California and if we had been involved in an accident, we would have been considered uninsured drivers even though we paid Allstate for years to keep our policy in effect. Since the vin on the car was hard to read, I got it off the car's title, and I believe we are now legal. (Allstate had changed a letter and a number, which was never discovered although they continued to renew our policy every six months.)

Crystal's call today is yet another indication of how severely out-to-lunch Allstate is. Apparently, they are not aware that I canceled our policies with them, which makes me happier than ever that I did. It's good to know that there is always room for more La-La in La-La Land.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Displaced Person

I was born on Long Island, New York, which, like most coastal land, is flat. I always thought there should be mountains although until I was 11, I had never seen any and believed that they resembled upside down ice cream cones, only larger.

I was aware of the so-called New York accent, but never developed it. It was one of endless ways in which I was a misfit. Years later at acting school, I was the only person in my class who had no regional accent of any kind. I sounded like a Californian.

For a couple of years, I lived in Minnesota where all the people were nine-foot blonds except for the men, who were taller. Their ancestors came from Norway, Sweden and Finland. I was never taken for Scandinavian. People politely asked me, "What sports do you like?" as they looked down at my five-foot oneness, and I knew they were thinking "Jacks. She plays jacks." What they said was "Oof-tah." In Minnesota, everyone plays ice hockey, which is a vicious sport. You would think it was about skating but the skating is just the means to beat someone up. Hockey players tend to be missing their front teeth. Nobody minds this.

Lunn's grocery store, which was carpeted, had seven or eight aisles of cookies and pastry as opposed to the standard one or two in other places. I assumed the intensely cold winters had something to do with this flagrant need for fat-building carbs. It is so cold in Minnesota that some men earn their entire year's living driving around the stadium parking lot jumping cars with dead batteries after hockey games. An evening at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis was memorable not only for seeing a young Tovah Feldshuh, who later played a major bitch on Law and Order until they killed her off, but for the fact that my post earrings froze in my ears during the short walk from car to building.

You would think that with such severe winters, the summers would be moderate but you'd be wrong. The summers are as insanely hot as the winters are cold. It didn't escape my notice that there is no ocean in Minnesota, but there are millions of lakes which infuse everything with the loveliest quality of light I have ever seen. The beaches are manmade, truckloads of sand deposited on the shores of lakes. Even the mosquitoes are oversized, probably from sucking on giants.

I missed the ocean so much that I moved to a small town by the sea in Massachusetts, which has a distinctive accent, too, as in Hah-vard. Boston was built in circles, even the places called Squares, so you can't get anywhere without driving miles out of your way to turn around, which could reduce even Marcus Aurelius to tears. The fashion industry has no foothold there; jack boots and dark down are worn for all occasions because sensible trumps death.

Later, living in Vermont, I was considered a "flatlander." This is not a compliment. "Varmint," as I fondly called it, is no slouch either when it comes to sub-arctic temperatures, especially when your house is not heated. I built a wood stove out of a galvanized garbage can and chopped logs every morning. To this day, I sneer at people who go camping in their RV's and think they are roughing it.

When I moved to North Carolina, I was told often and most tediously the difference between Yankees and Damn Yankees, the former being folks who come to North Carolina from above the Mason-Dixon line, the latter being folks who come to North Carolina from above the Mason-Dixon line and STAY. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Western NC are incredibly beautiful, and so is the Eastern coastline, the Outer Banks, miles and miles of exquisite empty beach ending at Cape Hatteras.

But I have never known another place where purveyors of so many religions were after my soul: The Southern Baptists, Methodists, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists who chant for goods and finally lost interest in me when I confessed that I was only in it for the sushi, the Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Snake Handlers, Sister Polly and her tongue language and prayer cloths and the Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm sure I've left out a few. Apparently, I have a soul that cries out to be saved by every manner of deity, but I stayed true to my roots and rejected them all regardless of race, creed or national origin. I am an equal opportunity heathen.

To the rest of the country I may not have an accent, but my lack of a drawl designated me a depraved Union foreigner in Tennessee. I wish I had a pair of shoes for every time I heard "Y'all ain't from around here, are ya?" In the South, you would think the Civil War happened last week, and they're plotting a rematch.

It seems oddly full-circle, in a way, to be living in California because all my life I have been asked if I am from here. I am neither blond nor Asian so I will never blend into either of the majority populations, I did not move here to be discovered by movie makers, and I have not experienced a major earthquake yet, though it's only a matter of time.

But I will say this -- I am finally in a place where I speak the language.