Friday, June 29, 2012

Nora got it right

Over the years I’ve read several studies that attempted to determine why some people considered themselves happy even in unpleasant circumstances and others were unhappy when everything was going great for them. It’s the glass half full or half empty point of view that some studies say is inherent in our personalities, not learned or acquired. It’s something I’ve been thinking about this week after encountering a person whose anger has taken over her life.

Coincidentally, in reading tributes to the late, marvelous Nora Ephron I came across two of her quotes that really struck a chord on the subject.

"My religion is 'Get over it’. And I was raised in that religion. That was the religion of my home — my mother saying, 'Everything is copy; everything is material; someday you will think this is funny.' My parents never said, 'Oh you poor thing.' It was work through it, get to the other side, turn it into something. And it worked with me."

I love that religion! One of my most miserable adventures involved snowmobiles, wilderness trails and a severe case of the flu. It’s now one of my best cocktail party stories. But I also think how sad when I hear adults decades past majority wallow in self-pity over injustices of their youth, or people who can’t let go of their rage and resentment toward an ex-spouse or lover. Their emotions poison any chance of happiness. Getting over it is healing, rebirth, a chance to start fresh. Nora had it right.

"You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday. If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it."

She did what she loved and loved what she did. So as a tribute to a witty, wise woman, do what you love today and tomorrow and the day after.

For more, check out an interview and article on called 'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron, Aging Gratefully which includes an excerpt of her book.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Temperature's Rising

The heat is on in Humidity City—103 degrees yesterday. This morning, a fellow walker greeted me on the park path and declared the temperature reading in his car had flashed 95 degrees. Since it wasn't yet , I'm pretty sure the spike was caused by the sun beating down on the vehicle. "We have to start walking at six," he said. Then he shook his head. "Make that five."

Earlier, one of my cats had slipped outside when I opened the door to collect the newspaper. He stopped short in the middle of the driveway, turned, and ran back into the house. When it's too hot outside for a desert animal, it's too hot.

Houstonians take their hydration seriously. Big Gulps are wedged into the cup holders of cars and trucks, and people carry bottled water, iced Starbucks or iced tea wherever they go from early June into October. Yes, we've got to kick the sugary-drink habit, but don't take our super sizes away.

Yesterday, I pulled into an office-building parking lot, and gaped at an empty spot in the shade of a sheltering tree. I turned the steering wheel so hard it whimpered but snagged the space. Score! Two hours later, I returned to find my car covered in bird droppings. The building's tenants and visitors had avoided that tree for a reason.

Enough moaning! Summer taketh our energy-level with the heat, then giveth back our zippety-do-dah via peaches, berries, mangoes and melons--and ice cream, sorbets, and paletas. Ice-cold watermelon is my go-to dessert when the heat index climbs above 100.

Help out an easily wilted writer. How do you beat the summer heat?

Monday, June 25, 2012

OMG! I'm a nerd!!

Sometimes the truth hits you like a π in the face. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) I use to think I was kind of cool—a delusion perpetuated by YA author Tera Lynn Childs at a book signing at Blue Willow Bookstore a couple years ago.  That was before I noticed which Facebook photos and links I can’t help sharing. The photo above pretty much illustrates my point.

The truth is, I love nerdy humor and take great delight in figuring out geeky puzzles like Legos cartoon characters. George Takei—the actor who played Sulu in the original Star Trek with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy—regularly posts hilarious pics he gets from fans with captions like: “Use the force, Harry.” –Gandalf. Or advertisements for Viagra altered to ads for Spice (yup, as in Frank Herbert’s DUNE series.) I laughed and shared. I couldn’t help myself.

So what have you learned about yourself from Facebook, the internet, online shopping, SKYPE, i-Anything? What surprises you about the things you find fascinating online that never hit your radar otherwise? 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Vacation by the Book

My big vacation of 2012 took place two months ago, but I’ve got summer travel plans that span at least two continents. The itinerary includes hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, visiting the Outer Banks, and spending time in Venice. When the heat in Houston is at its worst, I’ll hunker down in the British countryside, somewhere near the border between Devon and Somerset.

No, I’m not a trust fund baby, and, yes, I have responsibilities. That’s why I’ll be traveling vicariously via books. No one would mistake a library card for a Eurailpass, true, but both deliver adventure. What’s more, armchair travelers don’t have to contend with altitude sickness, strikes, blisters, or currency fluctuations.

Here’s a VERY partial line-up:

WILD, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed A friend who’s hiked the Appalachian Trail twice did part of the Pacific Crest and found it tough going. Hiking and summer go together, especially when I don’t actually have to sweat.

KEEPER OF THE LIGHT by Diane Chamberlain This 1992 story unfolds in the Outer Banks. What’s summer without a book set on the beach?

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES by Donna Leon I’m halfway through Leon’s DOCTORED EVIDENCE, another Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice. C’mon, who doesn’t want to escape to Italy? My method eliminates the crowds.

THE SUMMERHOUSE by Marcia Willett When Houston’s daytime temperatures reach the high nineties and stay there for weeks, I crave descriptions of people pulling on sweaters and rain boots in August—and then letting those damp sweaters dry near the Aga.

I’ve got more terrific books in the Kindle plus that library card, so I’m set for summer but always want recommendations of books set in places I’d like to visit—and I’d like to visit almost anywhere.

So, where will you be traveling via books?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I’ve taken entire workshops on opening lines. That’s first sentences of a story, not bar pick-up lines, although they probably have more in common than writers want to believe. Lots of book buyers open to the first page and read the opening when deciding whether to buy the book. If you’re considering buying an e-book or even a paper book online, most sites allow you to download or read a sample. Regardless of genre—literary works seem to be immune to this issue—the author’s job is to hook the reader in the first line, paragraph and page or risk losing a sale. Sad but true. First lines can be magic or death. 
I came across an article on the online version of the Stylist magazine in the UK called THE BEST 100 OPENING LINES FROM BOOKS.   Naturally, I had to investigate what they were.  Hey, these were the best first lines of all time!! The books covered an amazing range of works from classics like Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bridget Jones Diary. And, yes, I read those openers one by one.
 As I read, I considered which lines would have compelled me to plop down $14.99 in a bookstore to read the rest. The answer was, not many. Naturally given my long history as an avid reader and my BA in literature, I’ve read a surprising percentage of the books named for reasons other than their first lines. But were these all hooks? Not for me.  
Of course, the all time classic first line in romance is from Jane Austen's  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  And so a genre was born.
I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is absolutely brilliant at first lines so I’m going to share a few I find irresistible. 
If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python.— MATCH ME IF YOU CAN 
It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger than life world. -- NATURAL BORN CHARMER  (This is my all time favorite SEP book!)
 Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.IT HAD TO BE YOU
There are so many other authors and opening sentences I love, I could go on for pages, but I’d rather hear from you. Do you have any first lines you love? What about them them hooked you? Please share!!!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Tribe Divided

Children's-book author Caroline Starr Rose has written resolutions to guide herself toward the life she hopes to lead. One of those resolutions is to speak well of fellow writers whether she knows them personally or not and whether she likes their writing or not. "These are my people," she reasons. (For more of Rose's resolutions, click here, here, and here. )

I'm with Rose. A mystery writer has more in common with the author of an angsty YA than she does with the police detective she interviewed for her story. The YA writer may not read historicals but understands the effort the historical writer puts into creating dialogue that's true to the characters and the time period. Writers know how hard it is to put words on a page and how agonizing it is to rearrange and/or cut them.

So why can't we all just get along?*

We suspect those who self-publish require instant gratification while those who contract with Big Six publishers need hand-holding.

We malign other writers' choice of genres and think nothing of telling a paranormal writer we hate vampires/ghosts/things that go bump in the night. We joke that a literary novelist wouldn't recognize a plot if it kidnapped them and held them for ransom. Deep down, we think YA writers never grew up.

Writers who are prolific are superficial. Writers who take three years to crank out 90,000 words lack discipline. The stereotypes go on and on, which is ironic in a tribe that prides itself on originality and avoidance of clichés.

Congress is divided, but writers shouldn't be.

I wouldn't talk up a book I didn't enjoy, but I don't have to talk down about it. I'm not required to praise another writer but can't bury him/her with passive-aggressive comments. When I'm rooting out clichés in the manuscript, I can toss those that have made themselves at home in my head.

Writers are my people and I owe them and myself respect.
*Rodney King, 1965-2012, RIP

Friday, June 15, 2012


Would he be more handsome if his name was Ryan?

I’ve always had a thing about names so when I came across a piece from NPR called Baby Names: The Latest Partisan Divide? I couldn’t resist reading it. Apparently people in the conservative Midwest choose more creative and androgynous names like Paislee, Liberty, Rykan and Scottlynn for their children while New Englander’s favor traditional names such as Evan, Elizabeth, Rachel, Abigail and John. Hmmm.  An interesting study.
As a writer I think a lot about characters’ names before committing to them because I know how important it is for the reader connect with the persona I’m creating as quickly as possible. If my heroine is strong and adventuresome, Molly or Tillie won’t communicate those traits. An alpha-hero can be Will, Jake or Roarke but not Billy, Walter or Elmer.  A lot has been written about how names affect peoples’ reaction to a person. The BBC asked, “Would he be more handsome if his name was Ryan?” over a picture of George Clooney. Archibald Leach was certainly more attractive as Cary Grant and Betty Joan Perske was much sexier as Lauren Bacall. Would Tom Cruise still be a star as Thomas Mapother IV? And, yes, there’s a website with celebrities’real names if you want to see more. 
Historical author  Shana Galen wrote a great blog post about naming characters  where she said, “The author also has to choose a name she can live with for six months. If my archenemy is named Gabrielle, I’m not going to want to write that name a dozen times a day.” Good advice! She also warns that difficult spelling and pronunciation.   
If you want to know what names were popular in the United States when an American character was born, the Social Security website lets you search the most popular names by year  This site can eat a lot of time, but it’s also fascinating to see how the popularity of names changes. Dorothy, Betty and Joan were common in the 1930’s, and disappeared from the list in the 1950’s when Linda, Susan, Barbara and Nancy hit the top 20. By the 2000’s, none of these girls names appeared in the top 200. On the other hand, Michael has been near the top of the boys’ names list since the 1940’s, and James and William have never dropped off. Does this data fascinate anyone else?
So what names do you respond to positively or negatively? Are there any that would turn you off to a character or book instantly? Any that would create instant rapport?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Share the Blog Love

Months ago, fiction writer/blogger Sally Driscoll honored me with the Liebster Award. Although I was thrilled, I was afraid it came with tough-to-follow rules like tell ten deep, dark secrets on your blog, write twelve pages of fan fiction about a character in your work-in-progress, and rearrange your writing space according to feng shui principles. I should have trusted Sally. When I looked up the award's background, I found it's given to bloggers who inspired the giver in some way and who have fewer than 200 followers. Liebster comes from the German word meaning "beloved, dearest, or favorite." Danke, Sally!

Here are the only rules I found:

1. Link back to the person who gave it to you and thank them.

2. Post the award to your blog.

3. Give the award to 5 bloggers with less than 200 followers that you appreciate and value.

4. Leave a comment on the 5 blogs to let them know that they have received this award.

In other words, the award is a way for me to alert others to blogs I find meaningful Since many blogs speak to me, the 200-followers stipulation came in handy. I was able to rule out blogs that post total numbers of followers. The blogs I cite here may have many more than 200 followers but don't post numbers, or only post numbers of e-mail subscribers. I'm happy to play dumb.

By the way, even small blogs like this one have long reaches. Lark Howard's post on her visit to Lourdes, France has been viewed more than 2000 times.

My first two Liebster nominees are fellow members of RWA's Women's Fiction Chapter

Florence Fois grew up, raised a family, and worked in NYC. Her blog, FoIS in the City celebrates
the food, landmarks, street games, and people of the five boroughs.

Rosemary DiBattista is a Jersey Girl with a love of Shakespeare, good food, and the shore. Murder Marinara, the first in her Casa Lido mystery series, will be published by Penguin/NAL in early 2014.

Eden Mabee recently joined my WANA group. WANA stands for We Are Not Alone. The acronym has nothing to do with Roswell or alien sightings; it expresses social-media expert Kristen Lamb's view that writers must band together to help one another promote blogs/market books/encourage creativity. Eden's blog, Many Worlds from Many Minds, offers musings on writing, motherhood, and other topics as well as snippets from Eden's older works.

Reetta Raitanen has been an important part of my WANA group from the beginning, but she took her sweet time launching her blog. (One look at it, and you'll know why; she's a perfectionist.) The Dark Side Has Chocolate offers lots of links for writers as well as posts on whatever captures Reetta's fantasy/urban fantasy-loving heart. By the way, she's a Finn but blogs in English. Impressive, huh?

Sally Driscoll, who set this Liebster Award post in motion, recently published two short stories, Sleep and Rage, in a genre she dubs "Mommy Noir." I find that term evocative--and it reminds me of the dark moments I experienced when raising my kids. Alas, mommy-blogs didn't exist then, and I could have used the virtual support, laughs, and wisdom.

My fifth nomination for the Liebster Award goes to a group of young writer moms, including Houston's own Shana Galen, who blog at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. They tackle a range of topics with humor, honesty and smarts. How I wish that blog had been around in the 80's.

I hope you enjoy reading the blogs of my Liebster nominees, and I hope they don't wait as long as I did to share the love. Thanks, again, Sally!

Monday, June 11, 2012


The Lonely Planet newsletter a few months back had an article on the Best in Travel Readers’ Choice Award  and the winner was Iceland. Iceland? There are many places I’d like to go but Iceland never crossed my mind. Ever. Not because if the Ice part of its name—I live in Houston so I fantasize about cold weather five months a year—but I’ve never met anyone who has even been there. So I read the article and found myself wondering if it might be a fun adventure destination for the following reasons given by LP readers:

  • Volcanoes, aurora, glaciers, icebergs, incredible displays of nature!
  • Back-country areas are still largely undiscovered
  • Geothermally heated pools to refresh the soul
  • Hip, cool Reykjavik
  • Affordable compared to the rest of Europe

But the one that really got me was:
Puffins!!! Who wouldn’t want to see puffins?!!

So does anyone have any suggestions for an unconventional vacation destination? What about short-breaks and road-trips?  Where are you going this summer?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Writing without Training Wheels

Here in Humidity City, I rarely see kids out playing in the middle of a June day. Instead, they turn up in the evening, in that precious hour between the time the sun turns down its heat and mosquitoes' launch their hunt for fresh blood. This week, a couple of families have been teaching kids to ride two-wheeled bikes on the cul de sac where I live. (Look, Ma, no training wheels!)

It's humbling and inspiring to see a kid take on a two-wheeler. The natural athletes imitate what they've seen, their gift for balance asserts itself, and they're off and riding within minutes.

The bike riders I most like to watch have average motor skills and above-average drive. They get the bike going but panic, wobble and fall. They restart, look back to make sure their mom or dad has a hand on the bike's rear fender, wobble and fall. They start again, misjudge speed or turn too sharply, and go down. These kids wear helmets and elbow- and knee pads, but a fall scrapes skin and pride. Some of these kids wipe away tears. Others pretend they LIKE to crash. Then they get on their bikes and try again. And again.

It's a pleasure to watch a natural athlete in action but is a bigger kick to see a child work, work, work for success. What's more, once the kids have mastered bike-riding, I can't see any difference between the naturals and the pluggers.

The takeaway for writers is that we don't have to be gifted to succeed. We do, however, have to fall and get back up again. Fall and get back up again.

Five-year-olds do it. We can, too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I'm attending a non-writer business conference this week. The organization is a consortium of some of the most innovative and successful people in their industry. Yesterday I attended a session where the speaker addressed the challenge of staying motivated over a long and often difficult career. Some of his advice hit home to me as a writer.

  • Visualize what could be and don't let anyone tell you your dreams are impossible.
  • Do what you do well regardless of what everyone else is doing. Following the herd will only lead to mediocrity.
  • Focus on the things that take you closer to your goal and let go of things that merely suck your time and energy.
  • Keep things in perspective. Avoid getting too low when things get rough, it'll get better. On the other hand, don't get carried away celebrating your victories because tomorrow you need to suit up and perform again or lose your momentum. 
No matter what path someone takes, apparently the map to success and happiness are pretty much the same. What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Monday, June 4, 2012


We've all encountered that person who hates his/her day job and makes sure everyone knows it. The resentment he/she totes around is infectious and exhausting

People who like their work, in contrast, are a pleasure to be with even if I don't completely get their passion for mass transportation, retail operations, fifth-grade math or whatever it is that turns them on.

And then there's Marlene, a nurse at a local hospital's day-surgery unit.

I met Marlene last week when being prepped for my second cochlear implant. She cloaked efficiency in a friendly, easy manner and it was easy to see she enjoyed patient care.

After Marlene slipped non-skid socks on my feet and wrapped a blanket around me, she talked to me and Hubs about what would happen over the next three or four hours. As she spoke, she stroked my blanket-clad legs.

Was she conscious of stroking my legs or was the action instinctive? Had she picked up on the nervousness I thought I'd hid? Or did she make it a point to soothe every patient before surgery?

I didn't need answers to those questions to know I was in the presence of someone who wasn't just good at her work--she'd been called to it.

"I will be with you in the recovery room," she said.

Hubs and I shared a look, and I knew Marlene's statement reassured him as much as it did me.

Our health-care system has plenty of problems, but, thank God, it also has the Marlenes.

Have you encountered someone with a calling for his/her work? Please give this person a shout-out in comments.

Friday, June 1, 2012


With summer here, I’m finding my reading choices have shifted with the season. Recently I’ve been especially enjoying some terrific romantic suspense books and thrillers. Who can resist Vince Flynn’s political thrillers or the latest Jack Reacher from Lee Child? But beyond the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller List, there are some great beach reads that take a bit more digging to discover.
 Out this week is a collection of short stories/novellas called LOVE IS MURDER by thirty superstars of the suspense genre. Sure, Sandra Brown’s name is on the cover in bold type, but don’t overlook gems by Brenda Novak, Laura Griffin, Roxanne St. Claire, and Houston’s own Will Simon. If you’re out and about in Houston on Sunday afternoon, stop by Murder by the Book on Bissonnet at 3:00 pm and get Will to sign your copy!
Speaking of Brenda Novak and Laura Griffin, I just finished their recent releases and both were terrific!! In Laura’s TWISTED  a young woman police detective teams with a hardened FBI profiler to find the twisted killer of young women. Laura knows her stuff when it comes to real life detective work and could teach CSI Miami a thing or two!
The hero of Brenda Novak’s INSIDE served fourteen years for a murder he didn't commit, but when he’s finally exonerated, must go back inside a high security prison undercover to protect his sister and her kids. Add a woman Chief Deputy Warden who tries to protect him and…well, things do heat up in more ways than one!
 So what are you reading? What do you recommend for a sunny afternoon at poolside?