Category Archives: Writing, Reading and Publishing

My First Paid Gig

payThis was the very first piece of writing I ever got paid for. It was the first thing I ever submitted.  Fifty bucks that might as well have been fifty thousand. That’s how good it felt. The editor told me she bought it because I made her laugh and I made her think. High praise, indeed.

Since I’m guessing you didn’t subscribe to The Prairie Times at the turn of the century, here it is in all its glory.

Controlling an Uncontrollable World

I have control issues.

I have some weight issues too, but I’ll get to them in a minute.

You know how the jelly sometimes drips on the outside of the jar which makes your hand all sticky when, yet again, you have to put it away after the kids eat lunch? I hate that.

And how the refrigerator ends up being home to a gazillion little plastic containers of leftovers in various states of decay? I hate that too.

And how you go to the grocery store and some prepubescent man-cub (who, I’ll wager, has never bought groceries for a family of five) carefully arranges your bread at the bottom of the bag and then proceeds to load it up with four jars of spaghetti sauce, a two-pound bag of carrots, and a half-gallon of ice cream? Again, hate that.

And loud, obnoxious cell phone users talking about their latest run-in with their child’s soccer coach/teacher/pediatrician while shopping for cereal . . . don’t get me started.

So, you see it’s true. I have serious control issues and an obvious preoccupation with groceries, which leads me to tell you that I am trying to lose ten pounds.

In the greater scheme of cosmic events, it isn’t much of a crisis; the world certainly has bigger problems to attend to. But I turned forty recently and without any warning — POOF — gray hair, a map of the canals of Venice in blue veins on my legs, and an extra ten pounds.

I can’t control much of that, but I can control what I eat and how much I exercise. Theoretically anyway.

Therefore, of the three, the ten measly pounds seems like the problem to tackle. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s only the size of a bag of flour. A really big bag of flour, but still.

I’ll count calories. I’ll exercise. Piece of cake. (Even my cliches are food-related. Do you see my cross to bear?)

In a perfect world, broccoli would taste as good as cheesecake and watching television would create negative calories.

But I live in an imperfect world.

Broccoli, while having many good qualities, does not taste as good as cheesecake. Watching TV with reckless abandon for so many years has helped to create this innertube around my mid-section. On the plus side, however, I can sing the theme songs in their entirety to both “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Addams Family,” including finger snaps.

And I could go on. And on and on. Ask my husband.

You’re probably thinking, assuming you haven’t already fallen from your chair from in extremis ennui, that I seem to have a healthy grasp on the situation and that I’m really no different from you. After all, we all have things in our lives we want to control.

But I’m guessing you’ve never demanded ice tea in your special Batman glass with a pre-determined number of ice cubes. Nor have you painstakingly demonstrated to your indifferent children the exact right way to vacuum the floor. And I’ll wager that you haven’t alphabetized your spice rack, your book shelves, AND your coupons.

Knowing this about me, you can now imagine what it’s like in the morning at my kitchen table while I read the newspaper.
Fires!
Drought!
Dirty politicians!
Teenagers rampaging through schools with guns!
Religious zealots!
Pedophile monsters plucking children from their homes!

I can’t control any of this.

Some mornings I give new meaning to the term ‘apoplectic.’ I have an opinion about all of it, and I’m always willing to share.

I want to control these things I read about. It would be so simple if everyone would just ask me first. I’d be happy to tell them how to solve each and every problem they encounter. I really don’t think it would take too much effort; after all, I don’t want much.

I want people to be smart and kind to one another. I want people to be honest. I want children, elders and pets to be loved and cherished simply because they exist. I want there to be fewer people using drugs and more people using deodorant. I want fewer people in jail and more people in school.

I want drivers to enter an intersection only when they can complete their turn. I want medicine to be affordable for everyone. I want scientists to figure out how to make cheeseburgers and brownies health food — after they cure cancer and the common cold, that is. I want medical providers to know everything and never make mistakes.

I want weather forecasters to be impeccably accurate at all times. I want underwear models to look like me and the rest of the women who inhabit the real world. I want teachers paid more and athletes paid less.

I want schools to be places where young people challenge themselves and learn from their mistakes. I want everyone to learn to read when they’re five and continue to do so voraciously for the rest of their lives.

I want teenagers to smooch and hold hands at the movies and let that tide ‘em over for awhile. I want everyone to have a mind-altering college experience without drugs. I want an end to babies being born to alcoholic and drug-addicted women. I want boys to know there is a difference between being macho and being a man.

I want people to cry when they’re sad and laugh when they’re happy. I want people to slow down — in their cars and in their lives. I want people to quit saying “I forgot” as an absolute defense, whether it relates to the toilet seat or their infant left in a sweltering car.

It may sound contradictory to tell you that I want people to accept different points of view since it must seem like I’m one of those dames who thinks she’s always right. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m probably not always perfectly, in every instance, exactly right every single time.

I am, however, a dogmatic and opinionated dame, and you won’t believe this either, but I really don’t care when people disagree with me. Quite the contrary. I want people to be as passionate about their opinions as I am. I want people to be able to articulate why they believe something. I want people to tell me I’m wrong and to show me the proof. But if they won’t or can’t, then I don’t care what they think.

I come by this character trait quite honestly. I grew up in a large family and we ate dinner together every night. On the rare occasion that anything interesting ever happened to one of us, we would begin to chat about that. But then, when the conversation lulled, usually after about thirty seconds, my father would make some sort of proclamation.

It might be simple like, “Women should never be allowed to drive.”
Or “When a child gets to age thirteen, he should be sent away until he’s thirty.”
Or “Two-years-olds paint better than Jackson Pollock.”
Or “Mighty Mouse could never beat Superman in a fair fight.”

Straightforward, direct statements.

Or they might be more complicated like, “If it weren’t for those Bleeding Heart Liberals, the family farm would have survived.”
Or “As a direct result of Daylight Savings Time, crime has increased 68%.”
Or “Gideon v. Wainwright is a much more important court decision than Miranda v. Arizona.”

Huh?

You had to have a certain amount of basic knowledge of current events to jump into the fray. But that’s exactly what we were expected to do.

The point of the exercise, unknown to me at the time, was to get us to form and articulate an opinion about the topic du jour, regardless of how absurd or whimsical. I was an adult before I realized my dad never believed any of the weird statements he made. Well, except the one about women drivers.

While people tend to adore my father, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that they seem a bit leery of me. Imagine. I’ve learned to form opinions, I can certainly argue my point of view, and now I just want everything the way I want it. I want to be able to control as many things as possible, yet know which can’t be controlled. Is that so unreasonable?

For instance, I can’t control wildfires, but I don’t have to cook my hot dogs over an open grill.

I can’t end the drought, but I can xeriscape my yard.

I can’t force politicians to be honest, but I can investigate as thoroughly as possible the candidate I vote for.

I can’t identify teenagers who are going to go shoot up a school, but I can make sure my own kids have a bucketful of self-control.

I can’t keep terrorists from exacting their brand of retribution, but I can live and preach tolerance.

I can’t brand every pedophile with a scarlet letter, but I can keep a watchful eye on my neighborhood.

Maybe it’s like that old adage “think globally, act locally.” If I can keep a firm grasp on the issues in my little world, maybe that’s enough. After all, you have to eat your elephant one bite at a time, right? (Again with the food!)

So ten pounds . . . big whoop, as the kids say.

Who knows? After I control these ten pounds, maybe I’ll try to tackle bigger issues in my life. Crooked politicians? Crime? Low SAT scores? The lack of a really good delicatessen in my neighborhood?

Maybe this will be harder than it seems.

What was the sweetest money you ever earned?

One Question Interview — Ann Parker

I started doing my One Question Interviews because I am lucky enough to be able to meet tons of eclectic and interesting authors. It occurred to me you might want to meet them, too. So I wrote a dozen or so questions on index cards, steered the authors to a quiet corner with me and my iPhone, then had them pick a question at random. I hope you like them and their books as much as I do. Visit their websites, find them on social media, buy their books, and/or ask your library to carry them. Share this post and the video with anyone who might enjoy their books.

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SilverLiesCoverIron_TiesLeadenSkiesCoverMercurysRise coverWhat_Gold_Buys_Cover

Ann Parker wanted to live in Colorado since she was a child, but through various “twists of fate” and life decisions, has only managed to move one set of hills east from where she was born and raised in Northern California. She wrote her first novel when she was 12 years old featuring… a strong female protagonist and set in the Old West! (Started young.) She’s  been a wordsmith since then, making a living by spinning words in one venue or another since she got out of college, mostly as a science writer. What she REALLY wanted to be was an astronomer (hence the double degree in Physics, with English Literature tagging along because she lived and breathed stories and words). Ah well, maybe next time.

She works like a crazy woman in her day job(s) and writes fiction the rest of the time. She lives with a spouse and a cat who uneasily (and barely) co-exist.

Her favorite book as a child was The Tall Book of Mother Goose, copyright 1942, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. This book came out long before she was born, so it must have been handed down from a cousin or some such. She loved the beautiful illustrations first, before she could read. At some point a little later on, she taught herself to count and recognize numbers using the page numbers. And when she finally could read, the whole world of poetry and “literature” opened up. This book has a little of everything. Mystery (who cut off the tails on Bo-Peep’s sheep?), danger and adventure (Jack and Jill! Up the hill! Then Jack falls down!), horror (little Miss Muffet and that scary spider), love (Mary and her little lamb)… you name it! She still gets a great feeling of “resonance” looking through the book.

What_Gold_Buys_CoverAnn’s newest book WHAT GOLD BUYS, set in Leadville, CO, is the fifth in the Silver Rush mystery series, and is available RIGHT NOW for pre-order.

Read descriptions of all the books in the series on Amazon.

Connect with Ann at her website,  on Goodreads, and all the usual places.

 

A Promise For Sidekicks

The literary world is full of sidekicks — Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Stephanie Plum and Lula, Linus and his blanket.

So are movies — Thelma and Louise, R2D2 and C3PO, the Karate Kid and his actual side kick.

So are meals. After all, what’s the point of mashed potatoes without gravy? Bagels without cream cheese? Cheesecake without strawberries? Orange jello without grated carrots?

I never said all sidekicks were good.

We have sidekicks in our real lives, too. Spouses, significant others, kids, siblings, BFFs, business partners, cubicle mates, roommates, critique partners, beta readers, pets.

Nala for Marshmallow Mayhem

Nala’s sidekick is this red pillow.

Everyone brings their unique angle to the relationship. And don’t forget that nobody thinks they are the sidekick — everyone is the hero of their own story. Some are equal relationships, others might tilt weekly or even hourly in favor of one or the other depending on a million different negotiations, verbalized or not. (But in the case of pets, the sidekick is always the one without opposable thumbs.)

As a writer, I depend on all these types of sidekicks, real and imaginary. The real people keep me moving forward, helping with my manuscripts or my psyche, calming, cajoling or kicking me, whichever I might need at that moment.

The imaginary people help creatively. They populate and drive my stories, often doing things that surprise and delight me … and sometimes confound me, spinning me off in a scary new direction.

But then there’s a group of sidekicks in that nebulous world between real and imaginary. I call them My Readers. I feel their presence almost more than I do my real-life sidekicks because they’re always hovering on my periphery. They never go to school or work, they don’t sleep, they don’t disappear while on a ski trip or a Netflix eight-season binge. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how to get My Readers to fall in love with my characters. How can I pull them into this plot with me? How can I get them to laugh, or gasp, or cry, or keep turning pages?

My Reader sidekicks are always in my head. I’m compelled to be a better writer for them, to be a better storyteller, to give them more than they give me.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to give them that much, but I can promise all my sidekicks one thing. I will never put carrots in their jello.

 

 

 

Twisting By The Fool

There are all kinds of twists — delicious twist doughnuts, intricate twist hairstyles and jewelry, and of course, plot twists.

None of which I’m going to talk about today.

Instead, I want to chat about Dire Straits.

Writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. In 2006, the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where you write 60,000 words of a new novel in 30 days), I learned a valuable lesson. Among many, many other things, I learned I had to exercise every day.

Subsequently, because I’m *ahem* older and wiser, I’ve learned, in no particular order, menopausal women pack on weight like mastodons preparing for the next Ice Age … a body in motion tends to stay in motion … standing is better than sitting … the hip bone’s connected to the back bone, the back bone’s connected to the neck bone, the neck bone’s connected to the head bone … and you’ve gotta shake dem skeleton bones.

Dire Straits also knows this.

Here is my workspace.

standing desk, ergonomics

When I know I’ll be writing and/or concentrating at my desk for lengthy periods, I set my alarm every hour. I have a playlist called “Becky’s Dance Party” and when the alarm sounds, I choose one song. Sometimes I pull out my trampoline and bounce in a raucous manner, sometimes I bop around in the room. But this is my favorite song to dance to …

And if you’ve been sitting there reading blogs, email, and Facebook for a while, I challenge you to crank the volume and join me as a twisty fool for three minutes and thirty-one seconds. I guarantee you will have more energy and better focus when you finish.

Now get back to work!

One Question Interview — Kim Fay

I started doing my One Question Interviews because I am lucky enough to be able to meet tons of eclectic and interesting authors. It occurred to me you might want to meet them, too. So I wrote a dozen or so questions on index cards, steered the authors to a quiet corner with me and my iPhone, then had them pick a question at random. I hope you like them and their books as much as I do. Visit their websites, find them on social media, buy their books, and/or ask your library to carry them. Share this post and the video with anyone who might enjoy their books.

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the map of lost memories2013 Edgar Award Finalist for Best First Novel by an American Author

In 1925 the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no one understands this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for a coveted museum curatorship because she is a woman. Seeking to restore her reputation, she sets off from Seattle in search of a temple believed to house the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. But her quest to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century soon becomes a quest for her family’s secrets. Embracing the colorful and corrupt world of colonial Asia in the early 1900s, The Map of Lost Memories takes readers into a forgotten era where nothing is as it seems.  As Irene travels through Shanghai’s lawless back streets and Saigon’s opium-filled lanes, she joins forces with a Communist temple robber and an intriguing nightclub owner with a complicated past. Deep within the humidity-soaked Cambodian jungle, what they bring to light does more than change history. It ultimately solves the mysteries of their own lives.

Kim Fay is the author of the historical novel, The Map of Lost Memories, a 2013 Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel by an American Author, and the food memoir Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, a Gourmand World Cookbook Award winner. She is also the creator/series editor of the “To Asia With Love” guidebooks and has contributed to the The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook and Sisters in Crime’s Writes of Passage.

She was born in Seattle and spent her childhood reading Nancy Drew throughout the small towns of Washington State. After working as an independent bookseller at the Elliott Bay Book Company, she moved to Vietnam in the mid-1990s. She fell in love with the country and lived in Saigon for four years, and she has been traveling regularly to Southeast Asia for more than twenty. She currently resides in Los Angeles where she is working on a novel about Vietnam in the 1950s, as well as a mystery series set in L.A. in the 1970s.

www.kimfay.net

https://twitter.com/kimkfay

https://www.pinterest.com/kimkfay/

https://www.facebook.com/kimfayauthor/?ref=hl

 

One Question Interview — Ellen Byron

I started doing my One Question Interviews because I am lucky enough to be able to meet tons of eclectic and interesting authors. It occurred to me you might want to meet them, too. So I wrote a dozen or so questions on index cards, steered the authors to a quiet corner with me and my iPhone, then had them pick a question at random. I hope you like them and their books as much as I do. Visit their websites, find them on social media, buy their books, and/or ask your library to carry them. Share this post and the video with anyone who might like their books.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

PlantationShuddersSmallerPLANTATION SHUDDERS, Ellen Byron‘s debut novel, was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and for an Agatha Best First Novel award. She’s a television writer whose credits include WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and STILL STANDING, as well as pilots for all the major networks. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, and is also a playwright whose work includes the award-winning one-acts, GRACELAND and ASLEEP ON THE WIND.

PLANTATION SHUDDERS comes out in paperback on August 11th. BODY ON THE BAYOU, the second book in the Cajun Country Mystery series, launches on September 13th.Body on the Bayou (smaller) (2)

 

Connect with Ellen on Twitter, too!

 

 

 

 

 

What If?

I’m still reeling over a conversation I had with a friend at my book club the other night.

In passing I said something about wondering what your life would be like if you’d never had kids. She looked at me as if I had inadvertently started reciting ancient Sanskrit texts about cheesemaking.

She said she never did anything like that.

She must have misunderstood me. “You’ve never come upon a car accident and been thankful that you stopped to tie your shoe or else it could have been you t-boned in the intersection?”

Nope.

“You’ve never pictured how your life would be now if you’d gone to a different college or grown up in a different town or been born a different race … or … or?”

Nope.

I’m still stunned because I think about things like that forty-leven times a day.

What if my boys hadn’t been in marching band in high school? I wouldn’t have met her or been in this book club.

What if my oldest son hadn’t worked a crap retail job where he met a kid who joined the Navy? He wouldn’t have joined and wouldn’t have worked in emergency medicine to find out how much he loved it. Plus, my younger son wouldn’t have joined and therefore wouldn’t have been in Guam to meet and marry his lovely wife. And what if she hadn’t joined the Navy?

What if we hadn’t taken that vacation to the Pacific northwest? My daughter wouldn’t have fallen in love with the area, wouldn’t be living there now, and wouldn’t have met and married her lovely husband. And what if they didn’t have the mutual friend who introduced them at her birthday party? What if she decided not to have that party?

What if I’d have chosen a different college? I wouldn’t have met hubs or created those amazing creatures we call our children.

Those questions never end for me and it honestly never occurred to me that everyone doesn’t do the same thing.

My family will attest to the fact that I’m a planner. I love lists and any/all methods of organization. I ALWAYS have a contingency plan. I’ve seen those people on the side of the highway with a flat tire on their way to the airport. I ALWAYS know who I can call to rescue me in any situation.

Lest you think I’m a complete whackjob, because I fear it’s beginning to show, this doesn’t preoccupy all my thoughts and actions. But I take comfort in knowing regardless of what the universe throws at me, I have a way (often several) to cope.

Of course, who’s to say that your life would be better or worse if one little butterfly flapped his wings differently? It’s all utterly unknowable, and maybe that’s the draw for me.

In my novels I tend to explore the issue of a perfectly ordinary someone thrown into extraordinary circumstances. What will they do? What would I do?

In Banana Bamboozle, a slightly overweight middle-aged woman sees a girl she is convinced is her niece, even though the niece died as an infant.

In Marshmallow Mayhem, she and her cohorts stumble on a dead body.

In the new mystery I’m *thisclose* to finishing, a midlist mystery writer is pulled kicking and screaming into a murder investigation that hits way too close to home.

What would I do? What would you do?

And for years I’ve been noodling over a novel about the seemingly inconsequential choices we make every single day that could lead to either your best day or your worst, if only you veered left instead of right. Guess what the working title is? Yep … “What If?”

The concept fascinates me. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer.

What about you … do you ever play the ‘What If’ game? Do you think I’m a complete whackjob? Because of this or all the other weird stuff you might know about me?

One Question Interview — Mark Stevens

I started doing my One Question Interviews because I am lucky enough to be able to meet tons of eclectic and interesting authors. It occurred to me you might want to meet them, too. So I wrote a dozen or so questions on index cards, steered the authors to a quiet corner with me and my iPhone, then had them pick a question at random. I hope you like them and their books as much as I do. Visit their websites, find them on social media, buy their books, and/or ask your library to carry them. Share this post and the video with anyone who might like their books.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mark Stevensmark stevens book award‘ newest mystery was nominated for a Colorado Book Award! I’ve read his Allison Coil series and I wish I had more than two actual thumbs-up to give. I guess I could get by with some metaphorical thumbs, but I’m not zen like that.

 

 

 

Mark has a presentation “Write What You Don’t Know” coming up at

  • Bemis Library
  • Saturday, April 16 from 2 – 4:30 p.m.
  • 6014 S. Datura Street Littleton, CO 80120

 

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