Tap Dancing Fool

I’ve wanted to tap dance forever, it seems.

Musicals make me swoon with joy at the dance numbers. Those flying feet, the percussion, the precision. I wanted to do it so bad.

As a kid, though, I don’t remember even asking if I could take lessons. Maybe I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Maybe I knew there was no money for that. Or maybe I was afraid to find out I was no good at it and would never be another Shirley Temple.

But I’m old now, and have my own money and a car to get myself to lessons. I also try to do things that scare me these days.

As the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Ebenezer Scrooge, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”

In early summer of 2016, I was at a party and a friend of mine mentioned that she had been taking beginning tap lessons at our local arts center. I perked up immediately. The more she talked, and the more I drank, the more eager I became.

I bought some black lace-up taps shoes and registered for the next 6-week session. I wasn’t very good and the class wasn’t really a start-at-the-beginning kinda thing. The same people (mostly middle-aged women like me) just kept signing up and so the instructor just moved ’em all along and tried to drag the rest of us newbies with them.

The few sessions I took were hella fun, though, and I learned lots of basic steps. We did some routines that I could mostly follow along with, as long as I stood in the back where I could see someone who could actually remember all the steps. After a time, I even managed a passable time step!

But in the autumn, I started having weird pains in my back, which, long story short, turned out to be that pesky tumor in my spine. I went under the knife almost exactly two years ago today.

Cut to — I can say that because I watch movies — a couple of weeks ago. I’m still feeling the effects of surgery, which mainly manifests as numbness in my left leg. I thought it would be gone by now (heck, I thought it would be gone about ten minutes after surgery because I’m delusional like that!), but it’s not. So I thought, “Screw it. That ghost is right. Time IS short.”

The arts center still offers adult tap lessons, but they are at a completely inconvenient time for me, so I started searching for online resources. Lo and behold, I found one!

For the cost of two sessions at the arts center, I bought this online tutorial package. I can do the lessons in my basement whenever it works for me and go back over the stuff I find difficult.

There’s also a Facebook group for the subscribers of the class and it’s inspiring and encouraging to see the videos they post, and to hear their stories.

So far, I’ve only been doing the warm-up, which I can alllllmost do — *shakes fist at paradiddles* — and the first lesson, which was a breeze up until the end. And then the delightfully optimistic Aussie instructor told me to go faster. Which is hilarious. Partly because I’m not that graceful, partly because my numb foot doesn’t always do what I say, and partly because my balance is iffy sometimes.

But guess what? I’m tapping! And it’s fun. Maybe there will be videos of my progress, yanno, when I progress!

What have you always wanted to do? What’s stopping you? Can you tap dance? Any tips to help me speed up?

The Journey of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS

I finished copyedits for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS 10 days before the deadline … yay, me!

funny mysteriesNormally I work on a mini-trampoline at a stand-up desk, but as you can see here, I needed to spread out for the task at hand.

My production editor mailed me a paper copy of my manuscript that she already triaged for the most egregious mistakes I made. (She also emailed me this as a PDF so I could see what she corrected. I should use this as a learning tool, but I prefer to live in a world of denial.)

She also emailed me a Word document with her comments highlighted. Most of these were questions and clarifications, places where I might have contradicted myself, instances where she was confused by something I said.

In the photo, you can see the page proofs in front of my computer. Each page is set up like how it will look in the actual book. On the screen is the Word Doc with her comments.

I noted where her first comment was, then read on my paper copy from page one up to that comment. If I had any changes I wanted to make (typos or changing a word or phrase), I wrote them in pencil on my paper copy. When I got to her comment, I dealt with it, again, writing any changes on my paper copy.

This time I was smart. I also wrote the online page number on my paper copy because it’s never the same, a problem I grappled with during copyedits for FICTION CAN BE MURDER. Often, she’ll have the same continuity issue in several places in the Word doc. If I make the change on page 47, but it also comes up on page 112 and 163, I will have to search and search for that change. This time, I was working on the paper copy so I could fix all three pages up front. This was a little flash of brilliance on my part. (It would really be something to brag about if I’d remembered to note in her comments on pages 112 and 163 that I’d already taken care of them so when I got there I wouldn’t be, you know, searching and searching. We live. We learn. Hopefully.)

So I did that all the way through; reading the paper copy, responding to the online notes and making other changes along the way.

This took me 14 hours and 40 minutes, over 5 days from December 17 – December 27, 2018.

Then I typed all the changes from my paper copy into the Word doc with her notes, again, making tweaks as I went. I’m sure I made new and exciting mistakes as well.

This took me 3 hours and 30 minutes, on December 27th and 28th.

Then I let it sit for a couple of days while I drank heavily.

On December 31, 2018 I started early and read the whole thing on my laptop while sitting in my living room. That’s really the only way to catch flow, pacing, continuity, and echo problems. Again, I made some minor changes as I read.

This took me 6 hours and 20 minutes. Because it’s careful reading that requires a lot of concentration, and because my butt goes numb, I got up and moved around every hour when my timer dinged.

I wrote the dedication and the acknowledgments, checked the bio they already had, and then sent it off.

In a couple of weeks my production editor will look at all the new brilliance and harm I’ve done to the manuscript, deal with everything she needs to, and then send me a new copy. I’ll have a chance to read it over one last time, but I’ll only have a few days to do so before it goes into production.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the timeline for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS —

The first draft was written in 20 days between October 3 – November 4, 2016.

  • 163 pages
  • 43,907 words
  • 41.25 hours
  • 1,065 words per hour, average
  • 2 hours per day

The first edit was done in 6 days between November 7 – 29, 2016.

  • 12 hours
  • 2 hours per day

I typed in all the changes over 4 days (7 hours total) between November 29 – December 2, 2016.

I let it rest, then re-read it and made more changes over 3 days (6 hours total) between December 7 – December 9, 2016.

Then I really let it rest while I recovered from spinal surgery and got FICTION CAN BE MURDER ready to launch (April 2018).

I picked it up again on January 8, 2018 and did another revision over 13.5 hours and called it done on January 12, 2018.

“Done,” of course, being an ambiguous term in the writing world. It’s also why I always laugh when people ask, “How long did it take to write your book?”

But it’s up for pre-order now and will be published on April 8, 2019!

mystery with humor

 

 

Money and Funny

I had two books going recently, one nonfiction and one fiction.

the business of writing

SCRATCH was a mostly fascinating collection of essays from writers of all stripes talking about the money part of writing. You know, making a living.

As Vladimir Nabokov said, “I write for my pleasure, but publish for money.” As J. Robert Lennon remarks in his essay, “this philosophy seems unambiguously useful: fiscally pragmatic and mojo-positive.”

Money is something we don’t really discuss, which in her essay Choire Sicha might be because “writers cleave off from the real world, where math actually exists. Many of us gleefully profess an incompetence with all kinds of numeric systems, up to and including taxes. If you ever want to see something sad, ask a room full of freelance writers about their tax strategies. It’s like asking a pack of baby kittens about space travel.”

But the most illuminating one for me was the interview with Cheryl Strayed in which she speaks very candidly about her money issues. She describes being on tour promoting her wildly successful bestseller, WILD, and having her rent check bounce.

I don’t think most writers understand the money part of publishing, and I’m sure non-writers don’t. This book can fix that.

The second book I just finished was from my friend Gretchen Archer.

funny mysteries

She writes an absolutely hilarious series of capers set in the world of casinos. DOUBLE DOG DARE is her latest, but I suggest you begin with her first and savor your way through.

Crossword Cozies

I’m cogitating over a new cozy mystery series set in the world of crossword puzzles so I’ve started learning how to make them.

Guess what?

It’s haaaard!

I complete the easy King crossword and the progressively harder NYT puzzle printed every day in the Denver Post. Well, not every day. I haven’t attempted the Sunday NYT and I cheat my way through the one on Saturday.

I’m pretty good at solving the puzzles, so I assumed (yeah, I know) that it wouldn’t be a huge leap to flip it and start creating them.

I begin with a 15×15 blank grid. There are rules you have to abide by. You can only have a maximum of 38 black squares and a maximum of 78 words, only 20 of which can be 3-letter words.

Crossword puzzles must have rotational symmetry, meaning that you can turn the page upside down and the puzzle grid looks exactly the same. Luckily, the software takes care of this chore for me. So if I put a black space in the top row, the fourth from the left, there will also be one in the bottom row the fourth from the right.

The “entries” are the words in the puzzle. The “slots” are where those words go. The “clues” are the hints you give so the solvers can put the right entries into the right slots.

Puzzles usually have themes, whether you see them or not, and they also need symmetry. Say my theme is “Murder.” There are a lot of words for murder: slaughter, assassinate, run through, decapitate, asphyxiate, disembowel, exterminate, pump full of lead. But I can’t use them all. First, because that’s too many and I wouldn’t be able to find entries for the rest of the grid. But also because of symmetry.

“Slaughter” has 9 letters, “pump full of lead” has 14, “assassinate” and “exterminate” both have 11 and the rest all have 10.

Right off the bat I know I can’t use “slaughter” because it has no corresponding length word. You must have a black square after each of your theme words, so here’s what would happen if I tried to pair these two.

And I can’t use “pump full of lead” because it has 14 letters, problematic in a 15×15 grid.

Seems okay …. until you add the black space at the end. No symmetry!

So I’ll choose assassinate, exterminate, run through, and disembowel as my theme words.

That’s the beginning of my puzzle. And my headache. Next I have to start placing more black squares to break up long slots and to make the puzzle look pretty. Then comes the filling of the grid, which takes a lot of trial and error. Mostly error for me. I’ll talk about that more when I get better at it. When you have real words in all the slots, then you write the clues. Punnier, more obscure clues make for a more difficult puzzle, but I don’t know how to gauge the difficulty level yet.

Did I mention this was haaaaard??

How ’bout you? Do you like to solve crossword puzzles? Would you read a mystery series set in the world of puzzling? What clever name would you bestow upon said crossword series?

I’m Hearing Voices

I rarely re-read books.

The exceptions are

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I love her with my whole heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because The SantaLand Diaries is pretty close to perfect writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I read this book as a young teenager and it cast a spell on me that appears to be unbreakable.

And now I can add

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to my list.

I read it when it came out in 2017 and a member of my book club chose it for our December 2018 read. The second time through I was able to savor it, letting the prose weave through my thoughts, finding new nooks and crannies to settle in.

Eleanor Oliphant gives new meaning to the term “socially awkward.” She’s a mulligan stew of hilarity, practicality, and heartbreak … and so much more.

I love the story, but it’s on my list to re-read because of a couple of things the author, Gail Honeyman, does really well.

The first thing is backstory. I won’t give anything away, but Eleanor has a secret. Honeyman dribbles just the right amount of information the reader needs at just the right time. ‘Nuff said about that, lest I spoil it. You’ll see when you read it.

But the second thing the author does is much more difficult. And that is capturing Eleanor’s voice.

Talking about voice in writing can be nebulous. Like art or pornography, you can’t define it precisely, but you know it when you see it.

Voice has different levels and different meanings.

First, there’s the writer’s voice. The writing of Ernest Hemingway doesn’t sound anything like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Janet Evanovich doesn’t sound anything like John Grisham. Dr Seuss doesn’t sound anything like Emily Dickinson.

Each author chooses certain words and rhythms to their writings. I bet you can search the depth and breadth of Fitzgerald’s works and never find him describing anyone as a “mulligan stew.” Nor will I ever write anything resembling, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I use a lot of sentence fragments when I write, anathema to some. Hemingway rarely varies his sentence pattern, anathema to me. But that’s an entirely different blog post. Fight me later.

Second, there’s the actual voice of the character. Some people have foreign or regional accents. Some drop the G at the end of a word. Some speak fast, some s l o w. Some have a squeaky soprano, some a basso profundo. Eleanor Oliphant is Scottish and that creeps in every so often. The first time I heard The SantaLand Diaries was on NPR, read by the author, David Sedaris. He has a very distinctive voice and I haven’t read anything of his since without hearing his words in his voice.

Then, the heart of a character, who they are. And that is shown by everything they say, how they say it, what they don’t say.

This is the voice that Gail Honeyman excels at with Eleanor Oliphant.

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Eleanor, does it? While it might be infuriating to hang out with her as a real person, I love spending time with fictional Eleanor.

I could listen to her voice for hours.

What are some other voices that have stuck with you over the years?

I Need Your Opinion

I need your opinion.

pre-orders available now – just click the beautiful cover!

I’m gearing up for the release of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS in April 2019 but I’m not sure what kind of publicity events I should do. They’re all fun for me, but a girl only has so much time!

What kind of book events do you like?

  • Launch parties
  • Readings
  • Panel presentations at libraries or bookstores
  • Facebook parties
  • None of the above
  • Something else?

Tell you what … if you comment on this post and tell me what kind of events you like and what you like to hear authors talk about, when I get my Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, I’ll pick a lucky commenter (maybe more) to get a copy hot off the press!

Also …. I’m contemplating a southern California book tour, maybe in June. If I was in the vicinity of The Book Carnival in Orange, would you come see me?

Comment below! And thanks … you’re the BEST!

 

Resiliency

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly resilient person. I mean, it’s not one of the top ten words I’d use in one of those job interview questions, “describe your strengths.”

To me, resiliency means rolling with the punches, landing on your feet, changing gears when necessary.

But I like order. Outlines. Lists. Calendars. Plans. Itineraries. Knowing, for example, on Sunday — tomorrow — I’m going to be on my way to Bucharest to begin our 26-day Danube River cruise, bracketed with a few days at the beginning in Transylvania and a few days in Amsterdam at the end.

Except that on Thursday — two days ago — they cancelled it due to no water in the Danube. Who knew the river was the most important thing for a river cruise? I’d been convinced it was the free booze on board.

Thursday evening I was honored to sign books at the Mountain and Plains Independent Booksellers Association convention. Everything was still up in the air while I was there. On Wednesday I had bought our nonrefundable tickets to tour the Anne Frank House. This book was directly across from me, mocking me. The lovely author signing next to me saw me take this photo and misunderstood, offering to take a pic of me signing books, so in a lull between traffic, I explained what had happened and why I was taking that particular picture. She gasped and said, “That’s the saddest story ever! I nodded at the Anne Frank book and said, “Well, maybe not the saddest.”

 

So, resiliency.

I read the cancellation email that morning while my husband was getting ready to go to work so we were able to debrief somewhat. Stunned, we made a weird tentative plan to see if we could step into some other tour going, well, anywhere. I mean, we’d spent months organizing dogsitters and arranging to be gone from work. Surely that couldn’t have been all for naught!

After a few hours of checking and refreshing my email obsessively, the tour person finally emailed and told me she found one going to southern Spain, Portugal, and Morocco over the same dates. Nice, surely, but not on my bucket list.

While obsessively and frantically googling things about the Danube River, I stumbled on this. If only we’d known, we could have booked our cruise for Octo— Hey! Wait.

Our travel agent scrambled to put together an alternative itinerary for us, using the same flights and general areas along the Danube. But that wasn’t what we wanted either. We wanted other people to be in charge for a few weeks, so we told her no thank you to this also.

We both felt utter disbelief. I had expected we might need to portage around some sections of the river due to low water, but complete cancellation wasn’t even on my radar.

All day it was an odd combination of mourning as well as a little bit of relief. Twenty-six days is a long time to depend on others to care for quirky little Nala. Also, we own a small print shop and out of the blue two weeks ago, one of our employees quit, leaving two perfectly capable employees to do the work of four. And all of a sudden, a ton of unexpected work walked in the door, a small part of which would keep four people very busy.

Aren’t these the saddest luggage tags ever?? All dressed up and nowhere to go.

Now, I’m going to stop my sad tale of woe here, lest you think I’m whining, because I’m not, not really. Yes, this was a disruption. Yes, we’ve been looking forward to this trip since summer of 2017 when we booked it. Yes, I’ve enjoyed saying, “Oh, I wish I could do [that thing you invited me to], but I’ll be in [Vienna/Bucharest/Prague/other exotic locale] that night.”

I was looking forward to being out of the country before and during the election. I wanted to send my daughter a birthday card from Romania or someplace cool. I wanted to turn off my brain and have people do and think for me for a few weeks. I wanted to work on notes for my next books while gliding by castles and Old World charm.

But the drought in Europe doesn’t seem to care about any of that.

This is truly the first worldiest of first world problems. Oh no … our 26-day Danube River cruise was cancelled and I got all my money back plus some travel vouchers when we rebook! And how awful … I had to spend Saturday morning creating a 10-day replacement vacation to the Oregon coast where we get to stay in a lighthouse, visit with our daughter and SIL, and spend a few days at an oceanfront resort! Woe is me, how will I ever cope??

We didn’t have much choice but to make lemonade out of this climate change fiasco.

Or did we?

At least 200 other people, just on our boat, got that same cancellation email. How did they react? Did any of them scream and yell at the poor woman who had to sign her name to it? Did any of them faint and need smelling salts like delicate women of yore? Were there threats of lawsuits? Clenching of fists? Rending of garments?

Or was there resilience? Are there 200 alternative itineraries whirling in motion now?

I mentioned that we booked this trip in July of 2017. That was about six months after the tumor was removed from my spine and I’d relearned how to walk.

Maybe I’m more resilient than I realize.

So tomorrow, the first day of our non-vacation, we’re making mimosas with a bottle of champagne I found shoved in the back of the liquor cabinet when I’d stocked it for my house and dog sitters. We’ll toast what might have been, we’ll await the rebooking of our cruise for sometime in 2019, and we’ll thank our lucky stars that we weren’t already in Europe when they cancelled the cruise.

The only question now is … how resilient are inscriptions in books to be donated to the boat’s library?

Six Movies All Parents Should Watch With Their Teens

I read an article a while back by a guy whose wife went on a business trip, leaving him home alone with his teenager. Since it was summer vacation, he decided to make a list of Six Movies All Parents Should Watch With Their Teens, “essential viewing because of their cultural and historical relevance.”

My husband and I tried to make our kids culturally literate in all aspects of their lives. They’ve had all the cool music seep into their subconscious — on vinyl, no less — Sinatra, Queen, Boston, Earth Wind and Fire, Tom Lehrer, Billie Holiday, Pat Benatar, Green Day, and The Beatles, to mention just a few renowned troubadours held in the highest esteem in BeckyLand. They learned how to swing dance. They’ve seen as many Broadway shows in person as we could afford to attend, and the rest on DVD and video. They’ve eaten all kinds of food from when they were tiny. They’ve read widely and deeply in many genres. We traveled with them as often as we could. We watched with them the popular TV shows of the day, which was, admittedly, much easier in the 1990s and 2000s when there were fewer channels.

I will say, the day they laughed at the second or third layer joke in The Simpsons was a proud day for me. Not ashamed to say I wiped a wee tear.

So here is the list that guy proposed:

Witness

Hoosiers

All the President’s Men

To Kill A Mockingbird

Norma Rae

RBG (the new biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg which I haven’t see yet)

I don’t necessarily disagree with any of those, and his covers the historical portion of cultural literacy a bit better than mine, but here’s my list:

The Princess Bride

True Grit (John Wayne version)

Blazing Saddles

Sleepless in Seattle

The King & I … or 1776 …. or The Sound of Music … or Camelot

Stand By Me … or The Sandlot

So, what would be on your list? Keep in mind we’re talking about young teenagers becoming culturally literate here. (Which is why I had to leave off one of my all-time faves, Shawn of the Dead. Such great, gory zombie fun! But probably not for tykes.)