Friday, November 21, 2014

Those golden old friends

Make new friends, but keep the old
Those are silver, these are gold.
 
 
I was fortunate enough tonight to have supper with a friend of forty-plus years--our oldest children are both forty-five, and we were friends when they are barely above toddlers, maybe before. In fact, I think I first met her before we had children. One of my favorite stories that Linda remembers is that my second child, as a very young girl, would rush to Linda's make-up table whenever we went to their house because apparently I was deficient in the area of make-up. Probably still am.
We've seem each other through death, divorce, children's weddings, as well as all the joys that pop up on life's journey. We've shared a lot, laughed a lot--and tried together to write memoirs. Both of us have great stories to tell, and Linda is a talented writer. I keep encouraging her to write down daily occurrences--in a class I taught she dealt gracefully with the death of her brother, her memories of her father, her childhood, and other closely held secrets. She was open and frank about her feelings on life, and I always found her writing a breath of fresh air.
When I was teaching the memoir class, Linda always came for supper beforehand, and I've learned to love to cook for her, learned her tastes. Well, there was the one disastrous night when I planned egg salad and smoked salmon sandwiches (do you know what a wonderful combination that is?) and she said she really didn't eat egg dishes. She remembers being forced to eat eggs at breakfast.
But I do remember, too, that she's not a big meat eater but she loves pasta and anchovies--so tonight we had a pasta dish with anchovies, oregano, garlic (heavy on the garlic) and egg yolks. Sort of an aveglemono. (Hmm, wonder if my daughter, traveling in Italy right now, has tried that?) In this dish the egg softened the anchovy and made a wonderful silky sauce. You couldn't really taste the anchovy--instead you got a great, earthy flavor. When we both went back for small second portions, the anchovy was more prominent. Salad and bread, and that's all it takes for a good meal.
Yes, we talked about life's weighty problems--she, like me, was most impressed with the President's talk last night and so sad that the butchering began immediately after. We talked about her mom, who has Alzheimer's and who has always been a favorite of mine, and her step-dad who has really suddenly become a good caregiver. Because she's a kind, caring person, she's making sure that the stepfather is included in her Thanksgiving plans. We laughed at Jacob who was here when she first came--in fact, she came early just so she could see him. When he was about three, he walked her across the street to the school and said, confidently, "This is where I'm going to school." He was right.
It's wonderful to have a friend who almost knows what you're going to say before you say it, and whose thoughts, concerns, joys and sorrows are shared. Thanks Linda, for a  pleasant evening and for a lot of good years of sharing over a long journey.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nice end to a day of woes

TCU Press has published Deep in the Art of Texas, edited by Michael Duty with an essay by Ron Tyler, and gorgeous reproductions of Texas art, primarily from between 1850 and 1950. Tonight I attended a reception at the Amon Carter--brief remarks by Duty and Tyler and a welcome from co-sponsor of the project, Mary Volcansek representing the Center of Texas Studies at TCU. In his comments, Duty said this is in no way a definitive volume but one that draws back the curtain just a bit to demonstrate that Texas has produced high-quality art. I remember years ago when I was doing research at the Carter for my dissertation. I mentioned that research to an English faculty member, and he joked, "You mean they have art there?" It wasn't funny. This book does much to document the art of Texas and is a project any academic press in Texas would be proud to add to its list. In fact, it made me wish for just a flash of a minute that I was still there--I wanted to be part of such an exciting production. And, the food and wine were excellent tonight. We came out of the Carter to a glorious evening, brisk but nice temperatures and a fresh breeze.
It almost compensated for a bad day. I somehow bruised the side of my foot--noticed last night that it was sore and it was worse this morning. Put on my good, sturdy walking shoes, and it's better tonight. The computer ate two of the images for the chili book--I cannot find them anywhere and will have to go back through that voluminous file to reconstruct the acquisitions process. And neither Jacob nor I were happy with each other, though tonight he went off with Phil Green for hamburgers at Tommy's while I was at the reception--and came back quite pleased with his evening. He adores Phil and his seeing-eye dog Santiago.
The things that went wrong today will work themselves out, and I know that. So I'll concentrate on the pleasant evening. Tomorrow I get a haircut first thing in the morning and that always makes for a bright day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My first writing experience


Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Richard Brawer. Richard writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time exploring local history. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife.

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 Before retiring I commuted an hour and twenty minutes to New York City by train. To fill the time I read a newspaper in the morning and books on the ride home.

 One day I read a horrendous news story about a father whose child was born with a brain impairment, and he refused to take him home from the hospital. The nurses were outraged, and their disgust was quoted in the story. Nothing was mentioned about the mother. That’s when my imagination took over and I asked myself, “What happened to the child? Where was the mother?”

 With mysteries being my favorite genre, I took those thoughts and began making notes. The notes turned into paragraphs and the paragraphs into chapters. Thus my first novel, The Nurse Wore Black, was born.

Now I had a book, but what do I do with it? Being a complete novice, I did the usual things most new writers do. I sent out query letters to agents and received a stack of rejections. Lamenting my woes to a friend, he told me about a local independent publisher in the town next to mine. Excited, I dropped in cold to their office. Two weeks later they said they wanted to publish my book. Wow!

When I saw the finished product, the “Wow” factor fell into the depression factor. The cover was not well done and leafing through the book I saw a number of typos. The publisher had never discussed the cover with me nor did they give me a proof of the formatted book. At the time I didn’t know enough to ask for them. As far as I knew, I thought the publisher would do the editing as well as create a proper cover. Needless to say, I did not send this book out for reviews nor did I push to sell it. It was an embarrassment.

The moral: Make sure you are pro-active in every phase of your book’s production from editing, to layout and design of the cover.

The Nurse Wore Black has been rewritten and re-titled, Secrets Can Be Deadly, and is now the first story in my trilogy, Murder at the Jersey Shore, featuring detective David Nance. The three-book volume is available on Amazon. See the link below.

Read more about Richard and his books at his website: http://www.silklegacy.com

His latest book is Love’s Sweet Sorrow, a romantic suspense novel. Love and faith are tested when Jason and Ariel are caught in a battle to expose smugglers selling weapons to terrorists.

Blurb for Love’s Sweet Sorrow:

It is said opposites attract. There can’t be two people more opposite than Ariel and Jason. Ariel is a traditional Quaker with an absolute aversion to war. Jason is the lead council for America's largest weapons manufacturer.

Their budding romance is thrown into turmoil when Jason uncovers evidence linking his employer to international arms deals that could devastate America. His determination to stop the treason puts Ariel in the middle of dangerous territory.

As the chases to retrieve the evidence intensify Ariel is forced to kill to save Jason’s life. She withdraws into a battle raging inside her, unable to reconcile who she has been to who she has become. Delving deeply into hers and Jason’s long-held opposing convictions, she questions whether they are truly meant to be together.

“Exciting thriller and love story extraordinaire!” Mortimer

“Excellent writing, impeccable plotting, and nicely developed characters. Shoshana Hathaway

“Your writing is very strong, and you have developed a gripping story.” The Writer’s Edge

“The characters and the plot were both extremely well-crafted.” S. Lynn

Read the full reviews at Richard’s website: http://www.silklegacy.com or the Amazon page for this book.

Love’s Sweet Sorrow is available in a trade paperback and e-book wherever books are sold.

E-book: $2.99

Trade Paperback: $11.99

A couple of the more popular links:


B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1119960392?ean=2940149824779

Also can be ordered from any bookstore by title or ISBN: 978-0-9890632-7-2

Love’s Sweet Sorrow is published by Vinspire Publishing. http://www.vinspirepublishing.com

Links to Murder at the Jersey Shore and his social networks:






 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A relief, a worry, and a puzzle

A relief: I am mightily relieved that the Senate rejected the Keystone Pipeline. I've read a lot about it: the scientists warn against it--one went so far as to say it was a note of doom for the planet; others point to the spills the pipeline has already had in Canada and this country, including a huge one in North Dakota; the President is not the only one to point out that Canada was merely using the US as a path to ship crude (and dirty) oil to China and other parts--there will be no benefit to the US, except 50 permanent jobs (Bernie Sanders said today that is not job growth). I saw a map today--the Tar Sands oil is in the southwest of Canada. The pipeline would snake it's way over to the Midwest and through our "bread basket," across the Southwest to be shipped out. We will not get a drop of oil; our gas prices will not go down, might go up. Someone told me tonight that the same oil is now being shipped on railroad cars, which is more dangerous. I vote we ban that shipment--let Canada ship its own dirty oil without detouring through our country, either by pipeline or rail. I am grateful for senators who want to work to correct climate change and are not affected by greed.
A worry: the brewing trouble in Ferguson MO. Whichever way the grand jury decides there will still be trouble, I fear. I read a Facebook posting recently about how tired Americans are of giving tax breaks to corporations that pay no tax and make huge profits, of paying corrupt politicians, of the general breakdown in our political system, of racism, of the gap between the wealthy and the poor. It ended with the ominous message: a storm is coming. I'm afraid Ferguson, especially an acquittal, might be the spark that ignites that storm (okay, mixed metaphor). But I remember too well how riots spread across the country after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It could happen again, but I pray not. There's no ignoring that there is simmering tension in this country.
A puzzle: for some time it's been assumed that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Once again, I rely on Facebook--it's a great monitor of public sentiment--and I feel instead of gaining support, she's losing traction. More than one person has touted Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate. From my point of view, she'd be great but I'm not sure she has the following--yet. There's been talk of an Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders ticket, which sounds idealistically wonderful to me. But I'm not sure they stand a chance. I dismissed a mention of a Clinton/Warren ticket--this country just isn't ready for two women.
With all these issues--the climate, race riots, jockeying for political position--I think it's one of those times we have to trust in whatever God we believe in. I can't believe rational thinking will win out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Report from Italy

Jordan is thoroughly enjoying her first sojourn in Europe--a "fam" (familiarity) trip to Italy. She landed in Rom sometime early early Sunday morning and has spend two days seeing the sights. This morning she reported that her workout for the day was to power walk the Spanish Steps. Made me a bit dizzy just looking at them.
She's been all the places tourists should go, though I can't name them--Christian can, because he's been there. But obviously she's having a grand time.
Not sure where she got the rose, but this was taken her first day there.
Meanwhile, back home, Jacob continually asks what time it is in Italy, and today when talk turned to Europe, he asked if his mom was going to Europe. We explained that she was already there, because Italy is in Europe. Great discussion followed--is Scotland in Europe? I say no, it's part of the UK; Christian says that's still Europe. Anyone?
This afternoon Jacob and I were preoccupied with geography closer to home. Can you name the state that borders Washington and Oregon on the east? How many states share a border with Mexico? What's the two-letter abbreviation or Alaska? Jacob suggested AA, but I told him that wouldn't work. We sped through spelling, math, reading, and social sciences because he and his dad have a project to work on tonight at home.
Had a pleasant catch-up dinner with a good friend I hadn't seen in a while. We ate at the Grill, where I'll eat again tomorrow night. I've got to stop eating loaded baked potatoes! So good, so not good for you.
I have done something bad to my left hip--I suspect it's the result of a fall in the driveway last Thursday, but my hip suddenly grabs me from time to time and my legs feel like leaden weights. I talked to my favorite doctor, my brother, and we agreed it's muscular and should get better in a day or two. He laughs because his wife and I both consider ourselves good diagnosticians. But I've lost my oomph for all the things I should do tonight, from wrapping to decorating. Going to stay at my desk and go to bed early.
Tomorrow is another day, and it will be better. Maybe even warmer.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The geese are getting fat--and it's not even Thanksgiving yet!

I see all those cautions about not putting up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, and this year I can only laugh apologetically. I have felt so rushed, ever since I found out that most but not all of my family will be here the weekend of Dec. 6. We may do Alter Alternative Christmas--at the least I'll send their presents home with them. So I've been in a frenzy of baking, wrapping and decorating--far earlier than I normally would have, though I'm pretty compulsive about getting things done ahead of time.
One morning last week I wrapped a lot of presents, and Friday night I baked a Bundt cake to freeze. Saturday I went to the grocery, came home and made two pans of Toll House bars--it wore me out. The batter is stiff and hard to work with and though I softened the butter, blending four sticks of butter into three cups of sugar (brown and white) with a hand mixer is a challenge at best--I had dough bits all over the kitchen. I told Jordan next time she orders those she'll have to do the mixing. After I got them made and baked--with one pan not done in the middle, no matter that I left it almost twice as long and the edges were getting crisp--I was exhausted.
I spent the rest of yesterday being lazy. Cool, grey day, comfortably warm house, good book to read--Maya Corrigan's By Cook or By Crook, which I thoroughly enjoyed--and a long nap. It ended up a self-indulgent day and did wonders for my soul.
But of course I woke at four in the morning with thoughts of all I had to do. So today I almost finished decorating the house, separated out things that didn't need to be done by Dec. 6 (principally gifts wrapped) and made cookie dough, though I just didn't have the oomph to roll out the cookies--the dough is in the fridge for tomorrow. I realized I needed to pay attention to the writing end of my life. So I sorted through chili pictures and worked on the neighborhood newsletter. Once again ready for a nap, though Sophie decided to bark frantically at the rats in the attic during my nap--not restful.
Jordan is in Italy on a business trip (poor girl) so Christian and Jacob came for supper. I made hamburger Stroganoff, which wasn't as good as it sounded, and a good salad plus broccoli for Jacob because he loves it and won't eat salad. Christian worked on the greens and lights for over the door, and we sat and visited by the fire. Pleasant evening.
I've about given up on the novel I'm working on until I get this Christmas thing--and all those fat geese--in hand. But tonight I will go back and correct one scene. Where was my brain when I had a man, two days post-op from being shot in the belly, demand chicken fried steak? Rethink that one!
Have a good week everyone.
 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My whine for the day

I have a good friend who is visually challenged--okay, he's almost virtually blind. He has a service dog, a white cane, and a lovely wife who looks out for him every minute. We all look out for him, telling him when there's a table or chair in his path, guiding him to a chair, pointing out where his food is, handing him his drink. Oh, every once in a while there's a blind joke--like the time someone asked him if a certain person had curly hair and he dead-panned, "I have no idea."
I am hearing impaired, and I get lots of jokes and teasing. "You got your ears in?" "Can you hear me?" Some people speak so clearly and distinctly on the phone, they're a joy to talk to; others talk too rapidly or softly, and I find myself asking them to slow down, speak up, always apologizing that I'm "a tad hard of hearing." Tad hardly describes it. Music in church never sounds the same--my friend who cannot see also wears hearing aids, though he doesn't seem to have as much trouble as I do, but he agrees music never again will sound the same. If I'm in a room with ten friends all talking at once or in a noisy restaurant, forget it! I may get snatches of the conversation but not enough to tune in. Sometimes, people make an effort to speak clearly and distinctly...and I still don't get it. Part of hearing loss is a sort of loss of comprehension (I've read this so it's not just my senile brain)--you hear the words but they don't make sense. And then when they do suddenly make sense, you're embarrassed. I have come up with some really odd interpretations--like the other daughter said she wanted something, and I said, "You want caviar?"
Don't get me wrong. I'd a lot rather lose my hearing than my sight, and I admire my friend up one side and down the other for the way he lives his life--traveling, partying, enjoying himself. Until a couple of years ago, he worked; he still reads and works on the computer, though I not sure with what kind of enhancements.
But sometimes I wish loss of hearing wasn't treated as the joke of old age. It's a real problem for me, folks. No, I don't think it changes my life much--but it embarrasses and frustrates me.
Okay, whine over. As you were.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Happy Hour

Jordan leaves for ten days in Italy--an overwhelming itinerary--at 5 a.m. tomorrow, so tonight we had a happy hour at my house. Just neighbors, the people who routinely come for happy hour. It was noisy and happy and full of advice from travelers, though Jordan herself is a seasoned traveler. When I travel with her, I simply do whatever she tells me and say, "Yes, ma'am." She'll be going to Rome, Venice, Milan, the Amalfi Coast, Lake Como--I know I've left something out. This is a work trip, what the travel industry calls a "fam trip" to familiarize travel agents with destinations they can recommend to their clients. She's had many wonderful trips on the wings of "fam trips" but this is her first European jaunt...and the longest time she'll be away from her husband and son. So there were many toasts and good wishes.
Two dogs slept peacefully through most of the festivities. Well, Santiago slept--he's old and tired and can't be bothered, though he is the sweetest, most loving dog and, being a seeing-eye dog, is perfectly trained. Sophie on the other hand was delighted to have so many people she adores around and flitted from one to the other, though she focused on Margaret who sometimes takes her for a walk. Sometimes she fusses at Santiago because she wants him to play with her, but Jordan caught them in a quiet moment together. Lovely to have two quiet dogs.
I've been working hard--devoting some time to Christmas since my family will be here Dec. 6 for Alter Alternative Christmas. But I'm also writing a thousand words a day, and proud of that accomplishment. Plus I'm trying to promote my new books.
To that end I'm offering two coffee cups to people who tell me the first complete sentence on p. 62 of The Perfect Coed. Winners will be chosen at random by a blind drawing by my grandson. Please include your email and snail mail address when you email me at j.alter@tcu.edu to enter. This offer will be repeated on Facebook and Twitter. Entries close November 24.
Now I have to go bake a Bundt cake to freeze and then write my thousand words. No wonder I'm tired at night.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

Today I'm worrying about the homeless--seems I always have something to worry about. But America has long nourished a Horatio Alger kind of mentality--Go West, young man, and make your fortune. Anyone can succeed in America--just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it. You'll be rich in no time.
Well, you know what, folks? It isn't true anymore. There are too many in our society who cannot do that because they're veterans with PTSD, or they're mentally incompetent, or they're drug addicts (don't condemn until you've walked a mile in their moccasins). As a result, America has a tremendous problem with the homeless population. And we're not dealing with it well.
I'm appalled at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where a 90+ year-old man was arrested for feeding the homeless. Some suggested if he hadn't done it in a park, it would have been all right, but from reports I've read, place wasn't the issue. It is against the law in Fort Lauderdale to feed the homeless.
Now I know this is a nation of diversity but many of our politicians spout a line of Christian values--okay, folks, what's one big thing Jesus was known for? Fishes and loaves. And what does the statue say at Ellis Island--"Bring me your hungry, your tired, your poor."
In a small town in California, Weatherford, it's now against the law for the homeless to camp anywhere, even on private property with permission. And they've locked all the public restrooms. I don't care what religion you are, compassion is compassion--and that isn't it.
Our homeless need our help, not laws to ostracize them. What would these local governments do? Have us create one huge colony, perhaps in the still-vast plains of the West or Midwest and herd all the homeless there to die of starvation and thirst?
That is not what America is about, not the values our country was founded on. The homeless need our help, whether it be care facilities, mental health treatment, whatever. Many groups, foundations, etc. do serve that population--Presbyterian Night Shelter, Habitat for Humanity, Union Gospel Mission, Catholic Charities and many others--and that's just in my home town. But all these agencies can't begin to meet the overwhelming need.
I have a friend who has worked with the homeless and gotten to know some of them. She sees them as individuals with hopes and fears and dreams, not as part of a forgotten population. America, while arguing about the Keystone pipe line and tax breaks for the rich, needs to come to real grips with the problems of poverty and homelessness in our very own America. Do I know the answer? Of course not. But wiser heads than mine can figure it out. What I know is something needs to be done about it, and not yesterday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why 1993?

Please welcome Sally Carpenter, my Wednesday guest. A native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, California, she has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City. Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do (don't mess with Sally!).
She’s worked as an actress, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.
The initial Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol book, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. Cozy Cat Press has published The Sinister Sitcom Caper and The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper. In addition, Sally has two short stories in anthologies: “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in” in Last Exit to Murder and "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet" in Plan B: Omnibus.
Sally Carpenter blogs at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. Contact her at Facebook or scwriter@earthlink.net.
 
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Why set a cozy series in 1993?
In 1993 Bill Clinton began his two terms as president and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” launched its seven-year run. Canada had its first female prime minister and the U.S. Air Force was ordered to let women fly war planes. The eastern states were zonked with record snowfall and Texas was hit with the Waco standoff.
And 1993 is the setting of my Sandy Fairfax, Teen Idol cozy series. But why 1993? Why not present day?
Sandy starred in a TV series, “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth,” that ran from 1975 to 1979. He was nineteen years old when the series premiered and twenty-three when it ended (his character continued on in a cartoon series that ran from 1979 to 1980). His career tanked at that point.
In my series, Sandy is older and making a comeback. Teen idols from the 1960s/70s followed a predictable life path: huge success in early twenties, about ten fallow years and then an upswing in their thirties when nostalgia kicked in for the adults and younger generations discovered them.
Placing the books in 2014 would make Sandy fifty-nine years old. At fifty-nine Sandy would be too old to restart an entertainment career; in his thirties he would still be “cute” enough. At age fifty-nine he would have moved on to another profession.
I needed a character young enough to do physical stunts and be in good physical health. Many seniors are still spry at age fifty-nine but not as much as they were in younger years.
Sandy has children and I want to keep them young. I want him to fight with his ex and for Sandy to still be an influence on his kids. If Sandy were fifty-nine, his older child would be thirty-three!
So I made Sandy thirty-eight years old, a good age for a midlife crises, which placed him in 1993.
This year works for me for other reasons. Technology was not so overwhelming as today. I didn’t want characters with cell phones glued to their ears or their eyes staring at a tablet all day. My amateur sleuth finds out things through legwork and interviews, not by looking up info on the Internet. Frankly, I don’t understand much of modern technology—I barely figured out Facebook and emails—so with 1993 I can write about things I understand.
The 1970s was a good decade for teen idols. Every idol starred on a TV show as promotion; MTV music videos didn’t exist. Only three networks existed; the broadcast world was not as fragmented as today’s 200-plus channels. Radio stations were likewise limited in format, so Sandy’s music hit a bigger audience. Even people who didn’t watch his show knew who he was.
Teen idol music of that day was more na├»ve and wholesome. Idols didn’t twerk onstage or wear revealing outfits. Their stage shows were simple and focused on the performer, a stark contrast to modern pyrotechnic, heavily engineered music spectaculars.
Of course teen idols were often naughty boys offstage, but their handlers kept their escapades out of the news. If Sandy had thrown eggs at a neighbor’s house, his manager would have kept it hushed up (not that Sandy would do such a thing. He drank, but he was never vicious).
Writing about 1993 has some challenges. I have to rely on my memory and the Internet to get things right. I’m constantly researching to see if certain products had been invented and how Los Angeles, Sandy’s home, looked at that time. But overall it’s a fun time for me to write about and hopefully, for the readers to read about.
Caribbean cruises were as popular in 1993 as they are now. Sandy and his sister, who is blind, perform a series of concerts aboard the SS Zodiac bound for Nassau. But when a dead body turns up in Sandy’s backstage dressing room, it’s full steam ahead for the amateur sleuth as he meets a colorful cast of suspects, tries to avoid an old flame, and attempts to seduce his lovely choreographer. But will Sandy to live long enough to unmask the killer at the ship’s Halloween costume gala?