Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - Go Ninja On It!

I've made no secret that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE watching American Ninja Warrior. Those men and women attack those obstacles like their lives depend on it. Like a swarm of alligators and a band of flying monkeys are both chasing them.

Yes, that's the tip for today.
Tip of the Day:
Attack your WIP and your deadline
like your life depends on it.

Don't be a wimp and whine about your upcoming deadline and how you're not going to meet it and how you're missing out on everything and how you make no money writing and how your publisher, readers, family, reviewers don't appreciate you and how hard you work.

No one wants to hear that shit and it only takes valuable time away from your manuscript and destroys your confidence. 

I don't know about you folks, but I can't write when my head is up my ass.

Instead, focus on that deadline and your current manuscript with all the determination of tiny Kacy Catanzaro muscling her way to become the first woman to qualify for the finals on American Ninja Warrior.  And if you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this video that I posted on a previous blog post.

See that face. See that I refuse to give up mind set? See that success? That's the face of a Ninja Warrior. That's the face you should have while muscling your way towards a deadline.

Then again ... there are times you feel like a Ninja wimp.

I'm having one of those times right now. I didn't sleep well last night and I'm paying for it today.

My personal favorite whines that are looping through my head right now:

I'm old
I'm too tired
I want to go back to bed
I got nothing
I'm washed up

I'm staring at my WIP and my head is telling me the clock is ticking, which only adds to the pressure I feel.  I don't mean I have writer's block. I know exactly what's going on the page and it stands ready to gush forth like a broken water main. I just can't seem to make myself punch the keys to put it down on the page.  My mind is wandering and my determination and focus is following it like an abandoned puppy following a kid down the street. It happens to all of us.

Second Tip of the Day:
When you become a loss soul
wandering the writing woods,
don't sit down consigned to die.
Pick your sorry ass up
and fight your way out.

Okay, first throw yourself a pity party. A small one about the length of time it takes a Keurig coffee maker to brew a cup of coffee. Then kick yourself in the ass and get back to it.

I'm old. I'm experienced.
I'm too tired. Then get your ass to bed earlier.
I want to go back to bed. Not an option.
I got nothing. Bullshit, you have more ideas than M&Ms has candy.
I'm washed up. No, you just need a shower and a cup of coffee and you'll feel better.

Take a few hours or even A day to get your head screwed back on, but no more. The longer you dwell on negatives, the stronger they get and the more they beat you down. And that, like going back to bed right now, is not an option.

What would Kacy do?

I've got 26 days to make this book work. And I will do it!

Taking a deep breath.

Putting fingers to the keyboard.

At least I will right after I get that cup of coffee.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - All Work And No Play Makes Sue Ann Cranky

As I write this post I'm down to 29 days before my deadline on JUNK IN THE TRUNK, the 10th Odelia Grey novel.

It's been a great weekend, even if Friday ended with me losing a crown and getting hardly any writing done (not because of the crown, but because of other stuff that cropped up). As I said in my last post, shit happens and you'd better be prepared. I have a dental appointment on Monday and in the meantime I'm trying to make up lost time on the manuscript.

Tip of the Day:
Even on deadline, make time for some fun.
It will help your writing. Trust me.

Even on a crushing deadline I make sure I schedule in fun time (aside from exercise which I don't consider fun). On deadline it's difficult to be spontaneous, but I make sure I get out with friends at least once every other weekend.  In September I have something fun going on every single weekend in spite of being on deadline, but I usually only schedule one day for the fun and usually not all of that day.

Saturday I had planned on meeting my friends Heide and Mark for brunch at the Spitfire Grill in Santa Monica, a favorite place. After brunch Heide and I were heading to an art show at the Brentwood Art Center, then on to do some needed shopping. I had planned on being home in the late afternoon to get back to my writing, but, as I've said before, shit happens. This time it was good shit.

Do you know how much time one can spend in Bed, Bath and Beyond? And buy so little? I came home with a couple of cartons of Keurig coffee pods and Heide bought a new fan. Really. That's it.

By the time we'd finished up everything it was almost dinner time so we stopped off at Billingsley's, another favorite place which was close by, for a bite to eat. BTW, it was one of the few meals at which I exercised my right to be a Half-Assed Vegan and I ordered prime rib.

I didn't make it home until 8:30 and I was tired, so I read a bit and went to bed. So much for getting in several hours of writing.

As Scarlett O'Hara said: After all... tomorrow is another day. Just don't quote that to yourself too often.

Several years ago I worked relentlessly on my books in every waking moment not taken up by my day job. The result was horrible depression, a feeling of having lost control of my life, anger and even a growing dislike for writing in general.  I hardly ever left my apartment and blew off invitations from friends regularly.

I wrote ALL THE TIME. Period.

After taking a good look at my crumbling psyche, I decided to stop beating myself up and take back my personal life. In spite of still being under contract to write 2 novels a year and working a day job, I started making time to go to plays and concerts. I met friends and went to parties and took short trips. I stopped and smelled the proverbial roses. And do you know what happened? I still made my deadlines. There were some much needed extensions here and there, but I hit them and my work did not suffer. In fact, I think the books written after I unchained myself from self-imposed slavery were better paced and needed a lot less editing.

Believe it or not, taking a day out to relax and enjoy yourself like this can, like exercise, clear the writing cobwebs and loosen up the words you're trying to get on the page. It's like pouring a bottle of Drano into your brain.
As I promised myself, I spent most of today writing. I didn't get as much done as I had hoped, but made some good solid progress that will need little editing. I also made myself a nice dinner and watched some TV and took time to sit on the patio and finish up a book I was reading. As soon as I post this blog, I'm planning on getting in another 45 minutes of writing.

If you're banging your head against a wall day
after day, all you're going to get is a headache, and you can't write with a massive headache. 
Step away from the wall and take a deep breath.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - 32 Days

Sometimes shit happens.

Literally and figuratively. 

This morning I got up knowing my writing time would be short because I had to get to the office a couple of hours early to work on a big project. I still figured I could squeeze in 30 minutes or so of writing.


Before my feet even hit the carpet I noticed the first piece of cat poop. It was next to the wall closest to the bed. Then I noticed two more about a foot away. Then a few more. Little dried brown balls that led me from the bed through the bedroom to the dressing area where I keep the cat box.  It looked like one of my cats needed to go bad and couldn't hold it until reaching the box. And I'm pretty sure I know which one it was.

So that was my morning. On a time crunch to begin with, I now had to pick up cat poop and clean the dirtied areas of the carpet.

I didn't even have time for my coffee!

Poop and projects had gotten in the way of my writing routine just 32 days out from a deadline.  And this was a pretty minor hiccup.

Tip of the Day:
Never assume when you are ahead of schedule
that you will stay ahead of schedule.
Shit happens.  It's called life.

Here are just a few things that can stand in the way of a writer meeting his or her deadline:
  • Illness - either yours or a family member's
  • Computer meltdown (Back your WIP up, people. Everyday!)
  • Your meltdown (trust me, it happens)
  • Unexpected company
  • An accident - try writing with broken bones or a concussion
  • Unusually long hours at the day job
  • A house fire or broken plumping
  • An earthquake, hurricane, tornado
  • Death
Get my drift?

A few years ago I had to work almost an entire week of 12-14 hour days at my day job just weeks before a book deadline. I almost ended up in the loony bin. Another time I had to have unexpected surgery shortly before a deadline.

Always write like alligators are nipping at your butt, not like you're on a leisurely cruise. Even when your deadline seems far away, trust me, it's not. All it would take is one bump in the road to eat up valuable time and turn you into road kill.

Most publishers will give you extensions. Thankfully, I've gotten many over the years. But they can only push it so far. Publishers have catalogues that have to go out and sales people who need to be informed and PR to line up. The author is not the only moving part of a manuscript and a lot of people depend on that book getting turned in within a reasonable amount of time.

Disasters aside, also don't be cavalier about your deadlines. The publishing world does not revolve around you and an author who doesn't take deadlines seriously may soon find themselves without a publisher.

Hopefully, in the next 32 days all I'll have to contend with is a little cat poop.  I wonder if I could get an extension with that excuse?

Oh, and work. I have to go in early again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - 33 Days

I did not sleep well last night. It's hotter than hell in my apartment and I don't have AC, just some mega fans. I woke up with a headache just after 5 and by 6 was writing armed with a mug of coffee and some Advil. No time to be wussy, I have a deadline to meet in 33 days.

I belong to a private healthy eating and exercise group on Facebook and our September challenge is to walk, bike, run or crawl 50 miles this month. No big deal. That breaks down to 1.666 miles a day. Today is the 3rd day of the month and I'm just getting started, so I'm a little behind but I'll catch up. I'm actually looking to hit at least 75 miles this month. I wear a Fit Bit One most days anyway, so now I'll make sure I get in enough steps to meet my mileage for the month and then some. It's easy to forget but the challenge will help me remember.

But you have a deadline to hit. This is no time to focus on exercise.

Oh yes it is!

Tip of the Day:
Make sure you get some exercise almost every day
while you are working on a tight deadline.

I hate exercise. There, I said it.  But I make it a point to get up from the computer at least once every 60-90 minutes, even at the office. It's not healthy for anyone to sit for hours in front of a computer. It's bad for your circulation, your focus, your eyes. Your attitude. It's bad for everything! Even for your WIP.

A little movement can greatly improve your focus and clarity, even if you take a break to clean your bathroom. On weekends, I often alternate between writing and household chores. 15-20 minutes with a sponge or vacuum can do wonders for clearing out the mental cobwebs or getting over blocks in your story. So can strapping on some sneakers and taking a walk or getting on an exercise bike or doing a yoga video.  One of my favorite breaks during a long writing session is a short stretching video set to snappy music. It not only perks me up but also loosens the tight muscles in my neck, arms and shoulders. Periodically roll and stretch those muscles. Keep them loose or you'll be whimpering in pain by the time you send in that manuscript.

It's also easy when you're on deadline to slip into the habit of eating lots of take out and junk food. Try not to do it. A logy body is a logy mind. Sure all that sugar will hype you up, but it will also bring you crashing down in a lifeless, brainless heap. And heavy food can make you sleepy. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. Eat healthy. Drink lots of water. And coffee. Gotta have coffee. You're an engine chugging up a steep hill, fuel yourself properly.

It's 9:30 pm. Usually I'm watching TV about now, but instead I'm plugging away at my WIP.  I have to be to work earlier than usual tomorrow and won't get in my usual writing time. But that's another topic for another post.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - 34 Days

I slept in a an extra hour this morning. Usually I'm up by 5 am, but today it was almost 6 when I opened my eyes because I didn't fall asleep until nearly midnight. Not because I was writing, but because I was reading, a pleasure that often gets kicked in the face when I'm on deadline.

My usual morning routine is:
  • Feed and give fresh water to cats; clean their box
  • Facebook chores - birthday greetings, post to a blog group, check fan club posts, etc.
  • Post something short and fun to both Facebook and Twitter, because ALL writers need to have a social media presence (more on this another time)
  • Check e-mail for any pressing matters
  • Pack lunch
  • Make coffee and breakfast, which is usually cereal with fruit
I have the above down to 30 minutes max, then I bring my coffee and breakfast to my computer and write until I have to get showered and dressed for work. Sometimes I also carve out 30 minutes for exercise.

Tip of the Day:
Make use of small snatches of time.
You'll be surprised how much you can get done in 60, 45, 30 and even 15 minutes.

Sometimes during my 1 hour lunchtime at the office I have to attend department meetings or continuing education seminars. Other times, when I'm on a project crunch, I have to work through lunch. But when I don't, I use that time for writing or writing chores such as:
  • Answering e-mail
  • Working on blogs - mine and upcoming guest blogs
  • Working on next newsletter or adding people to my newsletter list
  • Preparing for any presentations I might be giving in the near future
  • Research for new book
  • Editing work
  • Writing on other projects such as upcoming books, short stories or special projects.

Out 1/6/14
Think of it this way. If you can add at least a single page a day to another WIP (which stands for work in progress for you newbies) other than the one you are slaving over at home, then at the end of a month you may have added 20-50 pages to that project, which is certainly better than none. I like to work on my next book this way so that when it gets moved to the main event, it already has a good jump start.

Personally, I don't like using my lunchtime to work on the book under deadline, although I have done it from time to time. It breaks my focus on the story at hand. I keep my reserved writing block just for that to keep the continuity.

Last week my editor at Berkley sent me the final edits for GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, which will be released the first week in January. I am currently going over these pages during lunch and today was no exception. It's an easy thing. It's the final read before it goes to print, so there are no major edits, just tweaks. I'll be working on this over lunch for the next week or so.

Ask almost any author who holds down a day job and they will tell you they work on their writing or something related to it at lunchtime in their offices, their cars, or in restaurants and coffee shops.

And sometimes lunch is just lunch. I'll eat my food and play Words With Friends, read, go out with co-workers, or go for a walk.

Because I don't go into work until 10, I don't get home much before 7:30 in the evening. Tonight I didn't make it home until 8. I had dinner, watched a little TV, talked with a friend and headed to bed.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your WIP is go to bed and get a good night's sleep.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Diary of a Deadline - 35 Days

Sometimes I get asked why I don't give out a lot of writing advice like many other seasoned (and not-so-seasoned) writers. The thing is, I do, especially when asked privately or when speaking to writers' groups. I just don't make a big habit of offering it up in my blog, and most of what fledgling writers need to know about character development and plot has already been said by others.

But what does it feel like to be staring down the barrel of a book deadline? Something I do a couple times a year.

Writing on deadline is like trying to be witty and articulate at gunpoint, while trying not to pee your pants.
That's what it feels like.

So I've decided to chronicle the ups and downs of the next 35days while I complete my 10th Odelia Grey novel that has a working title of JUNK IN THE TRUNK. It will be the 20th novel I have written and doesn't take into account the short stories I have also penned. Twenty novels, almost all of them written in the past 10-12 years while holding down a full-time day job.

I hope that Diary of a Deadline will give readers a taste of what it is like if you want to be a prolific writer and don't have the people or the cash to hire others to help you with the day to day stuff of life while you're trying to be creative on demand.

I've never been good at keeping a diary or journal, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

35 Days To Go 

It's the Monday of Labor Day Weekend and I don't have to work at the law firm. I have a load of laundry in the washer. Another load is waiting to go in and I'm writing between cycles. Where did this 3-day long weekend go? I wrote most of it, even cancelling out of a party on Sunday because I was in THE ZONE, and, trust me, you don't mess with THE ZONE.

Cats are fed. Cat box cleaned. Shit, I haven't even had my coffee yet. It's only 8:21 am and I feel like I've been up for hours.

The rest of my day went pretty much the same. I would write. Do a chore. Write. Do another small chore. But it wasn't all writing and chores. I read for about an hour and watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad, Season 1, while eating an early supper. I've never seen this show before and found it amazing. If I didn't have a book on deadline, I would have sat on the sofa and done a marathon.  Because I got so much writing done, later I watched American Ninja Warrior without a bit of guilt. I had enough food in the fridge to eat leftovers instead of cooking.

And how did the writing go?

I managed to get just shy of 6,000 words on the page today and I'm pleased with almost all of it. The book is just about half done at this stage.

I must confess, I am a fast writer, and I write better under pressure. I try not to over think words and sentences. I knew exactly what today's focus was going to be in the book, even though I don't outline. I saw it in my head and transcribed it to the page as it played out in my brain. This doesn't mean I don't go back and edit, I do. But I tend to do rolling edits.  That's when a writer writes several pages or chapters then goes back to edit that work before continuing.  Before I settled in to watch ANW, I went back and did a quick edit of the pages I wrote earlier today.

Tomorrow I move into a new phase of the book.

Writers today do not have this luxury.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Half-Assed Veganism - A New Label

There are lots of labels in this world. Some complimentary. Some not so much.  As many of you know, this year I drastically changed my eating habits and it seems I don't fit into any of the usual chowing down groups.

Therefore, I formally declare myself a Half-Assed Vegan, a description I used for the first time in a blog post in early June.

There, I've said it. And I stand tall (well, as tall as 5' 1/2" can stand) with my head held high under that banner.
My name is Sue Ann Jaffarian and I am a Half-Assed Vegan!
You mean you're a vegan?

No, I eat seafood.

That means you're a pescatarian.

Not exactly. I eat eggs.

But isn't that a lacto-ovo-vegetarian?

No. Lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat seafood but do eat dairy and eggs. I don't eat dairy due to a recently discovered food allergy.

So here is my criteria for being a Half-Assed Vegan. Some of you may fall into this category. If so, please be my guest to proudly bear the moniker:

About 80-90% of my diet is vegan. I cook almost entirely vegan at home.  Once in a while when out I will eat a smidgen of meat or have a small burger or a turkey sandwich, but that's really about it and it's not very often. The one thing I do my best to avoid totally is dairy.

Changing how I eat this year has had many benefits:

1) my eczema is pretty much gone (the dairy issue);
2) my constant indigestion and acid reflux is pretty much gone;
3) I'm losing weight without counting points, calories or carbs (but I do watch portion sizes on things like rice, bread and pasta);
4) I feel better overall
5) I've rediscovered my love for cooking!

Yes, me, the Queen of Fast Food is now cooking again! I used to love to cook, but somewhere along the way got bored with it and resorted to fast food and dining out for many meals. Now I eat at home most of the time. I pack healthy lunches and snacks for work. I scour the web for fabulous new recipes, which I trade with my friend Lori, who is a vegan. I'm even coming up with my own concoctions. My fridge, which used to be pretty empty, is now stocked with fruits, veggies, whole grain breads and lovely leftovers. It's a beautiful sight to behold.

Last weekend I made a zucchini au gratin dish using homemade vegan "parmesan cheese" and a tofu parmesan (like veal or chicken parmesan, but with tofu). Both were delicious.  This week I also  whipped up a roasted red pepper sauce for pasta and a vegan corn chowder.  All of these dishes (except for the tofu dish) are from a fabulous blog called Minimalist Baker.  It's da bomb. Run by a husband and wife, they are taking vegetarianism and veganism to new fun heights.

Some other sites I have found fun and useful are:

Vegan Dad (how could you not love a guy who makes vegan twinkies!)
Oh She Glows
Vegetarian Times
Eating Well

Basically, if you have a favorite dish, you can vegan-ize or make it vegetarian by simply searching the web for it by putting "vegan" in front of the food's name. Warning: not all transitions work and I've tried some that won't be made again in my kitchen, but many are super good if you don't expect it to taste exactly the same as your beloved favorite. There are some, like the tofu parmesan, that I actually like more. And the vegan parmesan cheese on the Minimalist Baker website will make you a true believer. I like it better than real parmesan cheese!

The only downside to all this is eating out. Not so much in Los Angeles, where I live and where most restaurants offer many vegetarian and vegan options, but when I travel it can be a real challenge. I was recently on a trip to Massachusetts. Most restaurants in the area where I was staying offered vegetarian options but those dishes were usually drowning in cheese or sauces of some sort or another. For most meals out I ate seafood, which was also a challenge because much of it was cooked in butter sauces or fried. I went primarily with the fried seafood, which was hardly a punishment since I love it so much, but was happy to get home and dry out from all that grease.

One thing I've really noticed since becoming a Half-Assed Vegan is how much of our food is covered in cheese or processed cheese products. Now don't get me wrong. I adore cheese! I seriously miss cheese! But now that I don't eat it and have to hunt down foods without it, I've really opened my eyes to how much of it the American public consumes.  No wonder we have such serious health issues in this country.

I've become quite adept at saying "no cheese" or "no butter" when ordering out.  I'm not shy at all about asking ahead of time how veggies are prepared and insisting that they be steamed and served without butter or sauces or cheese.  Even most meatless salads in restaurants come laden with cheese.

Many, many years ago I was watching a medical drama on TV, which name escapes me now. I still remember this one scene which I found very funny at the time, not realizing how relevant it would one day be to me:

A doctor tells his patient he must give up a lot of his favorite foods.
Patient: "But, Doc, what's life without cheese?"
Doctor:  "Longer."

It's not so funny to me now.

Just so you don't go away thinking my new lifestyle is totally boring and not any fun, I'll leave you with this:

Oreos are vegan.

Oh, yeah, they are. And they are used in a lot of vegan dessert recipes.

Then again, it makes you wonder about that cream filling, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Wicked Pull Of Home

My reality is that I'm not that far from retirement. I'm not talking about retirement from writing but from my career as a paralegal.

When I first started writing I actually believed, like many other fledgling writers, that I'd make enough money to support myself and could leave the day job behind and write full time. [Insert wild cackling laughter here.]  Not so. While I do make money from my books, it's not even close to enough to pay my rent and other expenses, not to mention individual health care coverage.

I turn 62 in a few months. Even if I did make enough money from my writing to pay my personal expenses, I'm so close to retirement that to leave my job (which I like very much, by the way) behind now and head into early retirement would be a big financial mistake. But that doesn't keep me from planning for it.

For the past few years I've been looking at places where I might want to retire.  I don't want to stay in Los Angeles. I'm tired of the traffic, noise and crowds, and it is WAY TOO EXPENSIVE. I've known for quite some time that when I retire I will pack my stuff up and move.

But where?  That has been the big question.  I've looked at several places in Southern California and a few out of state places, but it wasn't until the past month or so that I realized where I want to be. 

I want to go home.

By home, I mean the East Coast, specifically New England, more specifically Massachusetts, where I was born.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about the winters.  But I like winter for the most part. What I never liked about it when I did live there was driving in it day in and day out to go to work.  But if I'm not working, I won't be forced out onto icy roads.  I can sit in my nice warm place in my Snuggie, point out the window at the falling snow, and say, "Pretty."

And I want to be near my family. I really miss them and my trip East a few weeks ago really underscored that in my heart. I want to see the generations grow up. I want to spend the holidays with them. Each year that passes, I want it more.

What can I say? You can take the girl out of New England but you can't take New England out of the girl.

This past week I've moved from the maybe one day stage of Retirement into the planning stage. Over the next few years I'm going to be cleaning out all the crap I don't need, and tightening the belt a bit more in preparation. I'm a sexagenarian with a new mission. I've even contacted a realtor in Massachusetts to discuss options.

Yeah, it's that real.

My Odelia Grey books are contracted for 3 more books with those contracts ending close to my retirement. I have plans for new things and might even extend the Odelia series in a new format. And the Granny books are chugging along nicely.  Even with publishing being chaotic, I'm hoping that my writing income will continue and will supplement my retirement income.  At least that's the plan.

OMG! I just realized that if I'm moving back to Massachusetts I'll have to become a Boston Red Sox fan. There's just no way around that. It's a requirement. And I don't even like baseball. If they find that out, will they deny me residence?

Aside from the baseball thing,
it's going to be WICKED AWESOME.
I just know it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bullets and Burgers for Your Little Princess

The simpler days.
This morning, before I even had coffee in hand or had fed my cats, I learned of this tragic story on Facebook: A 9 year old girl shot and killed a shooting instructor with an Uzi.

Huh? Clearly the dust bunnies of sleep were clouding my senses.

I read the story again. Then checked it out on the Internet knowing that sometimes stuff on Facebook cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

Nope. It was true according to several dependable news sources.  Here's CNN's account so you can check it for yourself:

In a nutshell, a little girl on vacation with her parents was learning how to fire an automatic gun at a shooting range not far from Las Vegas. The shoot range is called Bullets and Burgers. (I didn't make that name up although it does sound right out of a novel.) The instructor was teaching her how to properly stand and fire and after a couple of single shots gave her the green light to set it to full automatic.  It was the last thing he ever did.

Apparently, on full auto the gun recoiled in the child's hands and bullets struck the instructor in the head, killing him.

First of all, let me say that while I am not a gun enthusiast, I do believe that stable and screened citizens should have the right to own registered firearms. And I fully believe that if you do own a gun you should be fully trained on how to use it, store it, and care for it.  I do not believe in these fools who make political statements by carrying automatic rifles into public places.

I'm even okay with parents teaching or having someone teach their child how to shoot a rifle. After all, many children grow up in areas where hunting is part of their culture and they learn the proper way to handle a gun at an early age.  According to the story, children 8 and up can shoot at this range with parental approval and supervision.

But a fucking UZI!  At nine years old! Is this child being shipped off to fight in the Israeli army? Are international drug cartels threatening her neighborhood and she's its only hope? Was Disneyland closed?

Proudly recording their little girl's summer fun, the parents got it all on video. That's some spectacular home movie footage! I guarantee no one will be yawning or shooting spit balls during that day's show 'n tell. She'll be a hit in her local elementary school, especially after all the horror of school shootings. Everyone will want to be her emergency buddy, even the teacher. She might even earn a badge if she's in Girl Scouts. She can sell cookies at gun point.

Really, parents?!  A fucking UZI!  I know we want our girls to be strong and fearless and confident, but a FUCKING UZI?!

I can't say FUCKING UZI enough this morning. Really, I can't.

There is so much tragedy here on so many levels:

1) An innocent man lost his life;
2) An innocent child took a life and will have to live with that for the rest of her life;
3) Some parents need a serious reality check, maybe even a lobotomy, and these parents should start saving now for all the therapy that child is going to need. And, yes, in this case, it is the parents' fault.

I know that stun guns come in pink. I wonder if  Uzi's also have a pretty in pink line. Maybe there's a special edition with princess stickers or the Hello Kitty logo. They could call it Hello, Killy.

I'm going to get another cup of coffee now... I need to turn my attention back to the murder mystery I'm writing, which seems like child's play after this. 

Yes, that pun was intended.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Say Thank You And Move Along

Last night I had an opportunity to pay it forward. This is a simple principle and one I like to exercise as often as possible since so many people have been generous to me over the years in lots of different ways.

Sometimes paying it forward involves doing someone a simple kindness or a good turn, sometimes it involves something financial. The whole idea is to continue the cycle of being kind to one another, spreading decency like a virus. 

Think of Ebola with a super hero cape instead of skull and crossbones.

So last night after work I'm at Ralphs doing some grocery shopping. As usual that time of day, the store was packed and the check out lines long. There was an elderly lady in front of me at the cashier. She was in a dither because she couldn't find her wallet. The cashier was very patient and pleasant and asked if she could put the woman's grocery items aside and help the other customers in line, which the woman agreed to while she continued her hunt. When the cashier started checking me out, I told the her to add the other woman's groceries to my bill and I paid for both.

Before you think I'm being super noble, trust me, together our groceries totaled less than $45.00.

Anyway, our groceries were bagged and when they handed the woman her bag, she was confused. The checker told her I'd paid for them. The woman made a slight stink, saying I couldn't do that. I told her it was my pleasure and that we all found ourselves without our wallets from time to time.

Good deed done and over. Right? Wrong.

By the time I loaded my two bags into the trunk of my car, got inside and buckled up, the woman had hunted me down. Wedging herself and her cart between my car and the next she continued to insist that I could not pay for her groceries. This went on for a long time, even though I insisted several times that it was no big deal and that I needed to get home, and also pointed out that the people in the car next to mine were trying to pull out and couldn't with her in the way. The woman barely moved, the vehicle slowly maneuvered out, and she continued to block the now empty and valuable parking spot, which I think in LA is a crime punishable by jail time.

Eventually we exchanged information since the woman was determined to do me a kindness in return and it was obvious she wasn't going to let me go with just a simple thank you.  Satisfied, she left. A man and woman immediately pulled their vehicle into the parking spot next to me. The man, who was driving, ranted and raved at me through the passenger side open window, saying how rude and inconsiderate I was to block a parking spot. Seriously, he was red in the face with rage and I thought he was going to have a stroke.

So here's the moral to the story...

I'm sure you're thinking I'm going to say no good deed goes unpunished, but no, I'm not going to be that negative and sarcastic.  After all, I was only embarrassed and no one died.

No, the moral to this story is ...

Continue to pay it forward, in spite of crazy people screaming about parking.

And ...

If someone does you a good deed, do not embarrass your benefactor by making a scene. Say a heartfelt thank you and move along, determined to do the same for someone else when the opportunity arises.

Just say

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Summer Working Vacation

I just returned from my summer vacation. I used to go on cruises and big trips with lots of running around, but in the past few years I've come to prefer quiet, relaxing vacations that also include book research. That makes it a working vacation, but I don't mind as long as I enjoy it. It's a two-fer I've come to love.

On August 7th I met up with Susan, one of my BFFs, at the airport in Hartford, Connecticut, grabbed a rental car, and drove about an hour to East Brookfield, Massachusetts.  I was born in Haverhill, MA, which is tucked in the northeast corner of the state, but my immediate family relocated many years ago to Brookfield, which is in the south central part near the tourist area of Sturbridge. I love that area and am seriously thinking of relocating there when I retire in about 5 years or so.  You see, I don't mind cold weather and snow as along as I don't have to drive to work in it.
Is this adorable or what?
Anyway, rather than stay with family in a crowded house, I decided to rent a cottage on nearby Lake Laskaway. OMG! I fell in love with the place. It was this small cute cottage with all the amenities of home (washer/dryer, full kitchen, TV with cable, WiFi) and some I don't get in the middle of Los Angeles (lake front, quiet, flower garden). It was priced reasonably and the owners, Pattie and Peter O'Neil, had thought of everything to make their guests comfy. I slept like the dead each and every night and woke up each morning to the peaceful flow of the lake.

Our first full day we drove to the town of Greenfield where we met up with my brother Thom and another of my friends, Stacia.  Both of them live in Vermont and were happy to meet us halfway. My sister-in-law Marlaine came and brought my two youngest great-nieces to see their grandfather. We had a great time catching up over yummy New England fried seafood. After, Susan and I visited Magic Wings, a butterfly conservatory just a few minutes away.  This place was AMAZING and if you find yourself in MA, try to fit it into your schedule. There were butterflies EVERYWHERE and they had lots of birds and even interesting reptiles and insects. The people who work are charming and knowledgeable and very eager to tell you all about the creatures who reside at Magic Wings.

Saturday found us at Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum, which we visited with my niece Lindsay and my eldest great-niece. I had never been there even though I'd been to Sturbridge many times. It was a good place for me to do some of the research for the 6th Granny Apples novel (which Berkley just bought!), as well as a great place for Susan to visit on her first trip to New England. She and I also did a lot of driving around the countryside as I soaked in the ambiance for Emma's trip to the area in the book. Later we gathered with my family for a cookout.

On Sunday a bunch of us gathered at the Spencer Country Inn for brunch to celebrate the Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club on Facebook being on the brink of 1,000 members.  Cyn Reilly, her husband Steve, and their son joined us. Cyn started the fan club and administers it along with Lindsay. It was another great time of good food and visiting and lots of laughter. Later Marlaine and Lindsay came back to the cottage to enjoy the lake with us.

The brunch bunch - Cyn is in the middle
Monday Susan and I hung around the cottage and later went to Marlaine's for dinner. Tuesday we hit the road again for me to do some book/area surveillance and made another short trip to Sturbridge to visit some shops. We had lunch at the historical Publick House.  My last night in town Lindsay and her boyfriend Jeff took me to dinner.

My office while on vacation
Most mornings found me armed with a cup of coffee and writing at the picnic table facing the lake. I could do that every day! I even put in some time at the picnic table on an afternoon or two. I don't force myself to write when I go on vacation, but if my muse whispers in my ear, I don't ignore her. I'm happy to say my muse made the trip with me and she and I got a lot of work done, both at the cottage and on the flight home. I was working on the 10th Odelia Grey novel, which is due to its publisher in early October.

Susan and I had PERFECT weather the entire trip and I have the tan/burn marks to prove it. It wasn't even muggy, which is the norm for New England in the summer.  The day we left a big storm blew in and we made our way back to the Hartford airport in pouring rain. Nice timing, Mother Nature, and much appreciated!

Even though I've spent most of my life in Southern California, I can't deny the pull of my New England roots and still call it "home." Like I said, I'm considering retiring near my family when the time comes. I love living in LA, but as I get older the crowds, noise and traffic are really getting on my nerves.  What can I say? I'm an old fart now and this old fart is craving the peace and quiet of country living, preferably by a lake.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It's All About The Writing

This past weekend I was the moderator on a panel of authors at the Carson Library. With me were three talented ladies:  Rochelle Staab, Maxine Nunes and Kathy Bennett. I enjoy being a moderator when I have the time to read the other authors' books and put together some thoughtful questions. The event was sparsely attended but it was lively and the audience questions were well thought-out.

One theme we kept returning to no matter what the question was that there is no substitute for good writing. No matter what happens in publishing, the bottom line is that it is always, in the end, all about the book - the characters, plot and story line - and the competence of the words on the page. 

We've all read books, both self-published and traditionally published, that have made us scratch our heads and wonder how in the world the drivel came to be printed and released. And yes, I'm even talking about bad books from some of the major publishers. I've read some really terrific books from independent authors and some real garbage from the big guns. Go figure!  But publishing opportunities and fairness aside, in the end, it's about the quality of the writing. There is no getting away from that. And don't readers deserve the best we've got?

We all have our opinions on what makes a great book. A plot line or theme that intrigues me might leave others shrugging or even retching with disgust, and vice versa. But no matter the story or the likability of the characters, or even the type of book, in the end it all boils down to the writing. Even a comic book has to be well written. A children's book consisting of no more than a handful of words must be well written.  Even a book about raising chickens on a rooftop in New York City must be well written. See where I'm going here?

If you are a lazy writer and trying to cut corners or not willing to learn and hone your craft with each new project, it will show in your work. Readers may buy your first book to give you a shot, but if the writing isn't good, it will be reflected in the lower sales for your next. Trust me on this.  Readers can tell when you've "phoned in" your performance or don't have the chops or interest or professionalism to fine tune it.

So why is this on my mind today?  Glad you asked.

I'm currently finishing up the final edits on GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, my 5th Ghost of Granny Apples mystery. This weekend I'll begin the final edits on HELL ON WHEELS, my 9th Odelia Grey mystery. It would be easy to just gloss over these edits and speed through them, depending on the talents of the copy editors at both publishers to clean up my work. That's their job, right? Wrong! Their job is to help me turn out the best book I can, but MY JOB is to read every word again, for the umpteenth time, and make sure it is as clean and as perfect as it can be.  Sometimes errors can and do get through, but when I turn these manuscripts in this next week, I'll know I've done everything possible to make them as good as I can.

As of today, I have completed twenty novels and seven short stories. And while I am far from a literary author, with each one I learn more about my craft. With each book, I strive to increase the quality of my writing. My writing skills are always a work in progress. It makes no difference if I write the book in twelve months, in six, or in two, if I'm not focused on producing a quality work, I'm wasting my time. More importantly, I'm wasting the readers' time. And shame on me if I do that!

In a nutshell:

There is no substitute for or
short cut to good writing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sending You A Dozen

I wrote for about five hours today.  But even with all that time, I didn't get a single page completed on my work in progress, which is the 10th Odelia Grey mystery with a working title of JUNK IN THE TRUNK.

Did I have writer's block?  No.

Did I nap and say I was writing. No, although a short nap was taken today.

Did I spend a lot of that time on the phone with my good friend Heide? Yes.

Did I spend most of that time on my back staring up at the ceiling. Yes.

Doesn't sound like writing to me.

But it is.

Today, I mapped out in my head the plot lines for the 10th, 11th, and 12th books in the Odelia Grey series. I considered ideas, plots, red herrings, and character direction. I tossed out some. Kept others and ran most by Heide, a voracious mystery reader, for her consideration (kind of like letting someone sample food before you serve it to guests).

What time I spent at the computer was to jot down notes and very loose outlines for each book. I also wrote the opening of book 11 and the last few paragraphs of that same book. And I started the first chapter of book 12. For my WIP I jotted down notes on plot twists and small seeds to plant to set up the upcoming books.

Why all the fuss?  Because I'm contracted for twelve Odelia Grey novels and I want these last three books to be extra special and satisfying to my readers.  I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12, but I do know what's in store for her over the course of the next three books, each of which will take the reader closer to the climax of book 12 and thus ending the story arc I started with book 1, TOO BIG TO MISS.

BTW, the working title of book 12 is TOO BIG TO DIE.  It has a nice complete sound to it, doesn't it?

When my agent first sold the Odelia Grey series to Midnight Ink, they bought the first three. Then they bought three more. Before those were done, we pitched six more books for an even dozen books with a specific story arc.  While I haven't written the exact books I pitched, by the time TOO BIG TO DIE is released, I will have finished the original story arc. Wow, it seems like almost yesterday when I made the commitment to complete twelve books and now I staring down the barrel of the final three.

Like I said, I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12 is finished and released. I have some ideas for new series and other books, but nothing sold or written.  After all, I still have three more Odelia books to write before any of that happens!

Lots of good things come in dozens:

Odelia Grey books.

Whatever happens in the last three Odelia Grey books, it will be what my readers expect and deserve:
A very wild ride.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

My 6-Month Check Up

I don't know how many others out there are keeping track of their 2014 New Year's Resolutions, but this gal is!  First time ever! It's a way of keeping me focused (sort of) and honest with myself.

So, let's refresh, shall we?

 In January I made the following 2014 New Year's Resolutions:

1) Make my bed every day
2) Balance my check book every month
3) Stick to a workout and eating program
4) Read at least 30 books this year.

In April I posted a blog on my progress.  New Year's Resolution Report Card

We're half way through 2014 and it's time to review what's happening with the 4 promises I made to myself.

1) Hem, haw ... I'm looking at my unmade bed right now and it's past 1 pm on a Saturday, so I can't even use the excuse that I'm running off to work for its untidy appearance.  I am planning on changing the linens later, but that's an excuse I can only use so often. Truth is, this is the simplest of my 2014 resolutions, yet the one I can't seem to keep to save my life!

2) Yes! We are 6 months into the new year and I have balanced my checkbook to the penny each and every month!

3) This was the most difficult of the resolutions, yet I'm doing fine with it.  I could be getting a lot more excise, but I am doing much more than at the beginning of the year. Last Friday I hit over 11,000 daily steps on my Fit Bit - a personal best!  As for eating, I'm still a Half-Assed Vegan. For the most part I don't eat meat of any kind, except for the once-in-a-while turkey sandwich. I don't even eat seafood that often anymore.  At home I cook pretty much vegan and am learning how to adapt some of my favorite recipes to meatless and dairy-free dishes.  Today I'm making a vegan mac 'n cheese made with sweet potato.  My friend Lori Olson made this and said it's da bomb! I'm also cooking a lot of Indian food and loving it. My favorites so far have been vegetable masala and aloo palak. I have some Thai recipes I want to try too.  It's like I'm discovering cooking again. I even bought myself a new food processor since mine is over 30 years old and the motor is finally giving out.

As for measurable progress, I've lost somewhere between 25-30 lbs since the beginning of the year.  I don't weigh myself often because I don't want to be a slave to the scale. I've gone down one size in my clothing, which is a much better measurement than the scale. It's slow, steady and healthy progress. 

I'm continuing with my nearly dairy-free life, which has been much more difficult for me than giving up meat. As I mentioned in my half-assed vegan post, I gave up dairy hoping it would help some of my skin issues. And it has!  My long-time eczema is almost GONE. Seeing my progress, a friend who has a young daughter with bad eczema decided to try getting her daughter off dairy. Her daughter's eczema is much better after just a few weeks.

I'm telling ya, if you're having skin and eczema issues, try going diary-free. And this advice is coming from a gal who never said no to cheese, ice cream, yogurt, cafĂ© lattes or sour cream. One look at my clear, itchless skin and I'm sold!  I've learned to embrace almond milk (which I like better than cow's milk) and soy ice cream and to enjoy Mexican food without cheese.  It can be done.

4) I have read 15 of my 30 book goal so far. You can keep track of the books I've read by clicking the Goodreads widget in the top right of my blog page.

So far, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for me. I'm not going to get rich this year (or maybe never), but I'm still writing away and my body is healthier.  And I've shown myself I can stick to New Year's Resolutions - sort of.

I wonder if I could train my cats to make the bed?