Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Moments That Remind Us . . .

There are important people in your life and then there are IMPORTANT people. Unsung heroes.  Your hairdresser, your nail tech, your dog sitter. Not much stands in the way of my hair appointment, little stands in the way of a manicure but nothing, and I mean NOTHING gets between me and our dog sitter.  She is an esteemed part of our family.  My dog loves her.  He happily prances out to her car and never looks back even after spending days moping because the suitcases are out.  Jan's here?  See ya! The same could be said of our neighbor's dog.  She loves Jan, too. So, when my dog sitter's husband passed away recently, it wasn't a shock but still a surprise.  when we got word from her sister-in-law that there would be an open house to honor Jan's husband, John, at our community clubhouse, neighbor Carol and I decided to go up there, pay our respects to Jan. I didn't really know John but he loved my dog so. . .

We, Carol and I, decided we'd go together.  So, we dressed, put on make-up and made our way to the clubhouse at the appointed time.  The plan was to seek out Jan, extend our sympathies and then get out of the way so that others who are really closer to her could socialize.  That was the plan.

The clubhouse was packed.  Recognizing almost no one, we assumed it must be family and scanned the crowd looking for Jan.  Near the food table? No, but there were some delicious looking cheese and meat spreads and desserts. Near the beverages? No. Near the 4 men standing in uniform near the door? Uniform? Hmm. John was former Navy, perhaps they were there to pay respects, too.  Finally we spot Jan holding court at a large table and she is delighted to see us, encourages us to get some food and take a seat, "They should be starting soon."

Starting? Carol and I are perplexed. Starting what?  Is this a memorial service?  Collectively we went through the gamut of options. Certainly we don't belong at John's memorial service. Do we sneak out the back door? Squeeze past the uniformed men? What do we do?  We aren't family. We didn't really know John.  And so we stood awkwardly, with smiles plastered across our faces, talking through our teeth:

Me:"What do you want to do?" Smiling, smiling.
Carol: "I don't know." Looking around, smile firm and toothy, "Lets go get a drink."
We shuffle in synch across the room to the beverages and get some iced tea. I never know how to naturally place my arms in these situations, so holding a cup of tea seems like a good fix.

Me: "Now what?" Ever smiling.
Carol: "I don't know." Looking around and pointing with her eyes to the far wall, "I think that's a guest book. Let's go sign it and then slip out the door."

Collectively, we walk stiffly back across the room, in synch, toward the table with the book.  Only it isn't a book, it's a memorial card with John's information. We each pick one up. 

Me: "Now what?" Smiling, smiling.
Carol: Smiling, "I don't know."

Just then, a man kindly urges us to take a seat, he would, he said, be starting in a minute.  I looked at Carol and she looked at me and our smiles, still plastered on our faces said it all, "We're staying."

And so it began with a few words from Jan's brother-in-law. He reminded us that John was a veteran, a career man in the navy doing the jobs that don't garner bravado but most certainly keep that well oiled machine going; the jobs below deck that are necessary for keeping the whole vessel afloat. He traveled the world, served our country faithfully and then he settled in California where, the speaker said, he tried to become a gentleman farmer.  Always a gentleman, John was, apparently a lousy farmer.  His final years were spent at Ralph's Grocery Store - he worked the deli and had a list of regulars who would only allow John to cut their order.  He was that well liked.

The Veterans who had been standing along the side of the room were now beckoned forward.  They marched up in synch (now THEY know how to look natural doing it) and solemnly snapped a crisp flag out and then carefully, methodically, each movement made with full intention and perfection, folded the flag
into the familiar, revered triangle before then presenting it to Jan who was seated, surrounded by family.  I looked at Carol, a tear forming in the corner of her eye and knew I was sunk. 

The veterans then stood at attention while one of the men slowly, methodically raised a trumpet to his lips.  I turned to Carol and said, "They are going to play taps."  She shook her head, "I can't watch.  I'm going to lose it," she said.  "Lamaze breath," I replied.  I've found that Lamaze breathing has done more for me in the control of crying than it ever did in childbirth.  So now I am breathing, hee, hee , hee as the crystal clear notes of Taps resonate through the room. Hee, hee, hee.  It wasn't working. Carol, by then has given up. The veterans, well oiled in their minuscule movements then march off the floor to the chant of one of the men. Hee, hee, hee. Now I know exactly what to do with my arms because I have to wipe the flowing tears from my face. It was short and sweet but, it was powerful.

Awkward standing, unnatural arms, feeling like a voyeur at someone else's private moment - all of that disappeared when I realized that this kind man who loved my dog had spent a good part of his life in service to our country. He is a true unsung hero and deserves honor and an audience.

Happy Veteran's Day to All Veteran's and Thank You For Your Service.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Am I Working on Any New Books? Or, How Marketing Killed My Muse

I'm often asked if I am working on any books right now.  My guess is that people ask this for several reasons but most likely because it's a nice way to make conversation. Or, they are interested in the elusive "writer person" they know who rarely discusses writing in social company or and this is one is guided by my own conscious - they wonder why in the hell I haven't written (and really I mean publish) anything new since my last book which is now 3 years old.  My pat answer is yes, I have works in progress (WIPs to those who speak the lingo) but the mojo just hasn't been there.  And that would be the truth.  What I don't tell them is that my brain is going all of the time.  I have more great beginnings than even I realize but somewhere between five or 10,000 words in, I lose focus.  I get side tracked.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about this recently because I've got some really good ideas and it's time to get moving.  So what stops me?  Again, my default response would be to lean toward humor - my muse lives at the beach while I live in the desert.  We aren't on speaking terms right now.  Something like that.

The truth is and it dawned on me just recently is two fold.  The first is marketing.  When a writer signs with a publisher they often receive an advance check followed by royalties (pennies per book) on sales. Unless you are John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell or some other famous author, the amount of time and money spent marketing your book by a publisher is best summed up as "not much." Many of us have opted to go independent, publish on our own. There are benefits to that, the most important being royalties earned on every book - paperbacks maybe $1 but the ebook market is 70%.  I always encourage people to buy ebooks whenever possible.  It is environmentally sound. . . and I make more for my work : ) The downside is that an independent author is responsible for their own marketing.  And that, my friends, is the rub.  Marketing is time consuming.  Where are the best places to advertise?  Spend time researching it. What is the return on a marketing dollar? Spend time on spread sheets. Does your book fit in the parameters of said market? Spend time researching best avenues for your genre. The digital age has thrown even more curve balls because the algorithms change constantly. Algorithms - look it up. Keeping up with that is important for keeping sales afloat and it takes a lot of time.  By the time I have completed my marketing homework everyday, I'm ready to toss my computer out the window. So, basically marketing has killed my writing muse.  Today I decided I am done marketing.  Sales have been good for all of my books, I can't lie but, I'm done.  If I'm going to write, I have to get to it - whether sales remain constant or not. Ok. Gosh, that feels good.  Now on to the next reason and full disclosure - this gets kind of heavy.

My last book, No Such Thing, was based on a deeply disturbing time in the lives of the community in which I was raised. A serial killer, a pedophile preyed upon young kids in a very small area, abducted them, held them hostage, abused them and then killed them.  Something like that sends deep ripples through the community in which it occurs. It anchors its vile tentacles to every single person who becomes aware of the crimes and shapes how people live the rest of their lives- sometimes in subtle ways for which we are often unaware. For me it was even closer because of who the "final" victim was, Tim King.  Tim was the youngest brother of my friend and the friend of my youngest brother-in-law.  Still, I AM NO ONE in comparison to the family members who lived on after their children or siblings were abducted and murdered. I wanted to write a book that told the real story. I wanted to write it true to what was known but what was known has inflated, changed shape and become bloated by lies and lore.  And, the worst is that there is still no ending.  It's still an open case because none of the suspects have been charged.  So, I had to go with fiction because I needed an ending.  It sucked the life out of me to write it and it's taken awhile to dissipate the consumption that this case causes in me. I don't know that it will ever go away but, it's time to allow these other characters to live the life they have been living in my head for so long.

Thanks for asking, my friends, because it forced me to face some truths and thanks for listening but I've got to go. . .there's some writing to be done.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wake The Kids, Phone The Neighbors! El Nino Is Here!

Rumors of snow in the mountains, unseasonably warm temperatures in the Midwest and almost no hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean all point to the arrival of the feared and dreaded El Nino. What does that mean for us desert dwellers? Cooler temperature and even some rain.  Real rain  (which is desperately needed to assuage the drought) and the most unique and overblown weather reports I’ve heard yet.  With a mixture of heightened adrenalin-driven giddiness and tempered seriousness, our weather people spend a good portion of the news show describing and reminding us of what El Nino is and how much havoc it brought the last time, followed by how it will effect us as well as other parts of the country in the coming days. And I will give them this; it can bring weather related disasters to many areas. . . just not here so much. Yet, these driven and hard-hitting professionals will level their eyes and look into the camera and deliver the forecast that by all accounts, should send us running and screaming, tying down trees, bringing in outdoor furniture and hunkering down. Example?Rains are called monsoons and generally equal about .2 of an inch, if that. Sometimes it has been no more than a spattering of drops on my windshield - IF I'm in the right location at the right minute. A winter storm might bring some winds and cooler temperatures and snow in the mountains – which, by the way, is exactly where I like my snow; pretty to look at. . . from a distance. By comparison, the California weather people – ours especially, who report on these major weather events with the accompanying bluster and bravado still don’t have a clue what real weather is like. Yesterday we had some cloud cover, with the cloud bank surrounding the tops of the mountains while our temps were hovering in the low 70s yet this was the weather headline,  delivered by an  attractive weather caster (because I’m not sure if she is a meteorologist or not) wearing a darling little sleeveless dress, “Major Winter Storm Barrels (BARRELS!) Through." To prepare, I wore blue jeans. . .and a light long-sleeve top.

Come on! I’m from the Midwest; give me something to justify my new adorable winter jacket and cute boots.  That’s all I’m saying.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Think My Exercise Classes are Twerking

We all have them, those moments of clarity when in the midst of some activity, the fog that lingers around old memories like a Vaseline covered camera lens dissipates and the memory becomes focused but the meaning and understanding of the memory have a newer, deeper perspective. That happened to me just this morning and the result was life altering - sort of.

When I was a little girl, like many little girls, I took ballet lessons and then later modern dance and jazz.  As a teenager I stopped formal lessons but, along with my friends, went to night clubs to dance- mostly in Canada which, in retrospect was intuitive given what I have just figured out.

I've always been active.  In the 90s I did step aerobics, then in the 2000s I moved to kick-boxing.  I loved the kickboxing.  There is something cathartic about kicking and punching a bag and I did this with a core group faithfully through 4 instructors before my knee gave out followed by the demise of my commitment to any structured exercise class.  What was next? Running. A friend of mine decided one day to train for a marathon (yes, just like that) so in solidarity I decided to train for a 5k (you know because it's ALMOST the same) and much to my utter dismay, I became a runner. I love running but, it can become monotonous and it did, so I took a break only restarting a running program recently.  All of this is background for explaining why I took the next step.

I'm not an athlete per se. If you look at me nothing about me screams athlete. Nothing. But, I walk an average of 18 miles a week (I have a dog so. . .),often ride a bike and sometimes swim (although swimming for me is a pleasure activity so why would I want to foul the mojo by making it exercise?) And yes, a few weeks ago, I added running back into the mix.  But look at me and what do you see? Well, lean and tough does not come to mind.

So, I decided to step it up and joined a Zumba class.  Zumba, for those of you who are also stuck in exercise class void, is basically step aerobics without the step and done to music with a distinct Latin flavor. It is salsa, mambo and a little bit of hip hop.  I spent the early 2000s leaping around a gym kicking at men holding bags. . . how tough could a little dancing be, right?

Channeling my former dancing self, I showed up to my first class, stumbled through it, went to the second class and gained some confidence since the moves were no longer foreign and, man, I felt pretty good.  So, yesterday I went to my third session. In walks Patty, the instructor who I quickly learned was BORN salsa dancing and off we go. There are lots of minuscule little foot movements in Zumba, back and forth, front to back to side to back to front to back to side and well, you get the picture.  All of this is done within the first measure of a song and keeps coming at you relentlessly.  Determined to catch on, I studied her feet and when I finally had it down, she had changed foot movements.  Then, I realized that in conjunction with footwork was hip movement, booty popping, then shimmying and finally arm movements that included waving in the air, shaking them out and then an arms-to-the-side morocco playing simulation. All of this ALL AT THE SAME TIME. And it was then, at this junction that I looked in the wall length-mirror that we all stand in front of for the class and watched in horror as this room full of old women twerked. TWERKED! Even more horrifying? I was one of them. If you have not witnessed a room full of just to the right of middle aged bottoms twerking consider yourself blessed and avert your eyes immediately.

As I watch myself move to the music like some out of control carnival ride through hell I realized what my mom, my instructors and my friends had quietly been trying to tell me all of my life: I can't Dance. And with that, I stopped moving and burst out laughing - laughed so hard I almost peed (and ok, it may not take hard laughter for that to happen anymore). I laughed at the site of my unatheletic, soft body that thought it was dancing well but really looked like it was fighting off a large bat and decided, what the hell - I'll keep coming because I can laugh or I can cry, either way it burns another 1.3 calories a minute so I might as well laugh, right?

Note of Apology:

To the dance teachers at Borgo Sisters School of Dance in Royal Oak, MI - I now understand why that starchy pink tutu was never going to be mine. I am sorry that it took me 4 years of your time to figure that out.

To Miss Jeanne, my jr. high PE teacher - It wasn't the song you made us perform a dance routine to, I rather liked 'Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band even if it was played on my parents radio station. . . I really wasn't misbehaving or mocking your choices, it was the fact that I can't dance!

To My Friends (especially those who daringly crossed the border on any given night because we could drink legally in Canada) - Wow. Way to allow me to look like an ass all of these years guys. No one told me?  I know, that is not an apology.

Friday, September 11, 2015

People and Places - A Cruise through Central Europe. . . Or the Mississippi

PEOPLE  The More They Age, The More They Stay The Same

When we retired we decided to make travel our goal while we are still able to travel.  Our first post retirement trip was to China last year. It was all encompassing, exhausting and eye opening. The first hing we discovered is that most travelers are ,well,  older.  The group we traveled through China with was a collective age of 70 but their energy level was intense. So, this year when we booked a European river cruise, I expected to be traveling with older people.  I wasn't wrong.

The trip, a Viking Cruise trip is called The Grand European Tour; a pompous moniker for a 15 day trip down the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.  We began in Amsterdam and ended in Budapest. Unlike an ocean ship that has multiple decks, night clubs, game rooms and casinos - floating cities, the river longboats are far more low key.  No casino, no night club, just a lounge, a sun deck and staterooms. The boat holds 190 passengers and by the end of two weeks, you know most of them and recognize all of them.  Having worked in the school system for a number of years, I learned how to remember names and faces aaaannnnnd personalities.

Corraling a group of cruisers, most of them senior citizens, is not unlike trying to keep 5th graders in line or better yet, trying to herd cats.  There are the people who can't seem to make their listening devices work no matter what.  There are the people who monopolize the tour guide's time by asking ceaseless questions, usually the same question rephrased in different ways and there are the ones who want to show off all they know by stumping the tour guide.

Thus, I maintain that taking a two week river cruise with 189 other people isn't any different than taking a 5th grade field trip; a
two week field trip only this time, I wasn't the one responsible for the group. And as with any class, we had our jocks, our know-it-alls, our questioners, our cool kids, our "unique" kids (you know, the ones you all fear will sit by you) and our middle of the road kids. It was a fairly cohesive group, actually and because we are all adults, there was no jockeying for the best seat or to sit by our friends. . .or was there?

One of the added tours we took required us to get on a full windowed coach and drive the "Romantic Road" which is not romantic in the least but it is picturesque the way driving along the Mississippi through Illinois is picturesque, and go to the walled village of Rothenburg, Germany.  I was standing behind the first couple in line and hoping to get a front set for me and Moondoggy (and should have by the count in front of me) when this couple literally pushed me back and ran up the steps and sat in the front seats, one on each side in the middle of a seat meant for two.  I stepped up, stopped and looked at them, "I thought you were together," I said in my passive aggressive tone and they said, "We are saving these for our friends."  Oooookay. Fine.  I'll make sure I am first on the way back so I we can have a front seat.  Game on.  And so we drove the Romantic Road and viewed it from the second seat surmising that yes, if we didn't know we were in Germany, we could, in fact, be in northern Illinois.  No loss.  When the bus arrived  and BEFORE we disembarked, pushy man asks the tour guide, "Same seats on the way back, right?"  The guide fumbled with the question and finally said, "Please be sure you are on the same bus." So pushy guy, his wife and their friends spread their jackets across the front seats to save them.  I smirked.  Jokes on you guys.

Monday, August 3, 2015

It Was An Honor Just To Be Nominated

You've heard them all say it, the actors who are nominated for Oscars, Emmys, Peoples Choice etc., that tired old line that sends most people into fits of eye rolling and internal snickering. . .  "It was an honor just to be nominated."

Yesterday I was informed that my novel, No Such Thing, was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Book of the Year in the Paranormal/Supernatural category. This same book was, when it was first published in 2013, a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Was I proud? Yes. Was I excited? Yes. Did I think I would win over-all? No, and I didn't. But, just to be acknowledged in such a way gave me a validation I cannot explain. It's always a crapshoot to lay words on paper, arrange them in such a way as to try to tell a story that burns in your gut without becoming gratuitous or out and out raunchy, yet open the collective eyes of readers to the deeply slimy world that exists under our noses.

No Such Thing is fiction.  It is based on real life crimes committed by a monster(s) under the moniker Oakland County Child Killer in the late 70s; a series of crimes that have never been solved. It is personal to me but even as I tell you that, I am no one compared to the victim's family members who are still waiting (and fighting) for investigations.  The case is still open and ongoing, the possible suspect list ebbs and flows with time. Theories are a little like jello, stable in some states and completely without structure in others and the same theory can be brought from liquid to solid to liquid again on the words and opinions of those in charge.  Frustrating doesn't touch the level of angst these families feel.It was my initial desire to write this as non-fiction but, like my jello reference above, the story is like a jellyfish.  It floats along guided by currents, but underneath, the tentacles grow, intertwine and tangle.  They also sting like hell. It is impossible for me to wrap my brain around all of it - I'll leave that to the journalists who weren't asked to switch majors because they embellished.

And so, I had to write this story.  I wrote it because it has been with me since March 16, 1977. I wrote it because, with fiction, I could bring all of these "non-provable" theories and suspects to life. I wrote it because I had to. I will know in mid-August if it is the actual winner of Book of the Year (Paranormal/supernatural). If it is, I will shout it across the cyber world (and probably out in my front yard so, fair warning to the neighbors). If it's not, I can honestly say, it is such an honor to be a finalist but more than that, I hope I can continue to reach people and open them up to these cases that plague Oakland County, Michigan and took the vital, potential-rich lives of four kids: Mark Stebbins, Jill Robinson, Kristine Mihelich, and Tim King.

Monday, July 6, 2015


One of the great gifts in life I have found is watching your children become parents.  Somehow, given all of the obstacles life has thrown in the way, I managed to have 2 healthy, well adjusted, unincarcerated kids. The oldest has even gone so far as to find a soulmate, marry her (and he married up, for sure) and start his own family.

Sure, sure, I get untold pleasure from spending time with my beautiful, smart and headstrong granddaughter.  But really, the gift comes from the years of a smug, know-it-all teenager now finding himself trying to reason with a toddler.  A headstrong toddler.

They began, like any other parents; reading the books, taking classes, preparing themselves to carefully and safely bring this vulnerable human into the world and raise her to the best of their ability and newly learned knowledge.

After the baby arrived, they solemnly partook of the "golden hour" - a time of skin-on-skin contact and quiet bonding before we grandparents were allowed in to see the baby.  Fair enough. Soon after, a special nurse came in to give them lessons on sterilizing, hand washing and feeding the baby that included completely undressing the baby before said feeding - one can presume because it was a more organic state, I guess. Naked feeding? Did no one even care that it was January 1st and flipping cold outside?  My son's mother-in-law and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. . .after all, what did we know?  Later, when the baby started fussing even after a diaper change and feeding, I suggested a pacifier (or some clothes) but was met with blank stares.  Oh, no. . .we are going to teach her to self soothe, they said. OoooKkkkk.

The morning after their first night as parents, we grandparents were enjoying a celebratory breakfast before heading back to the hospital when I got a text from my son.

Son: When are you coming?
Me: After breakfast. Why?
Son: We want someone to hold this baby because she won't stop crying and we've been holding her all night.  We need sleep. And what's for dinner?
Me: What do you want?
Son: To go out
Me: Do you have a sitter lined up?  We'd love to go out.

He didn't think it was very funny but when we arrived at the hospital, we noticed that the baby was no longer naked when being fed.

Several months later we visited again.  I marveled at how big our little girl was getting and I also noted that she now had a pacifier attached to her outfit for easy access.  I asked my daughter-in-law if the books had helped prepare her for parenthood.  Her response was beautiful. "I feel like," she said, "all of the books should begin with the sentence, 'Throw this book away and listen to your mother.'" Yep, she gets it now.

They recently had their second child and I was fortunate enough to witness his birth.  What a gift.  I am fairly certain, though, that she would have welcomed a marching band into the room, so at ease was she.

Even better was the text I received from my son the following morning:
A photo of a sleeping baby -
Son: Lessons learned from First child: jammiees during feeding, pacis and bottles make for a happy baby and (relatively) well rested parents. #winningatparenting

The final act of complete parental graduation?  When the granddaughter was introduced to the new brother she pulled the paci from her mouth and stuck it in his, spit and all. They have arrived.