May 29, 2013

A Random Act of Kindness

E. C. Stilson, a Goodreads friend, is hosting a Random Acts of Kindness Blogfest this week. Due to my impressive lack of time management skills, I was too late with my RSVP to participate in the event. But I really like the idea, so this week I'm writing about a Random Act of Kindness that was done for me once upon a time when I was just a slip of a girl.
The author and her little red car

When I was sixteen, I was the proud possessor of a really lovely red VW Beetle convertible. When I say really lovely, I mean it was mine and it ran quite frequently. It was a great car with a unique smell, sort of like creosote or, as some thought, L'air Du Dead Body.

My best friend, Linda, and I spent the summer of 1966 cruising around Washington DC to the sounds the Beatles and the Stones.  But Motown was our favorite that year. We sang along with Kim Westin's Take Me in Your Arms and J.J. Jackson's It's All Right as we drove past the houses of various boys and ate at the Hot Shoppe's drive-in. They were great days. 

As all interesting people do, the Bug had a few little eccentricities. The passenger door didn't close completely, so people passing us were always waving, shouting, and pointing. This is not the Random Act of K. I am writing about, but it certainly was kind of all those people not to want my best friend to fall out of the car. She and I always smiled and waved in return and pointed out the rope that we had tied through the window and around the door frame to keep it closed.

And the convertible top was not user friendly in any way at all, so when it rained we usually just put up an umbrella.

The car kept running by some miracle and time moved on. By eighteen we were legal to drink beer and wine in Washington, so we did. We'd drive my little convertible to Georgetown, buy some incredibly cheap champagne and sit outside the Little Tavern (where we had gotten cups) and sip away. We'd sing Hey, Jude and think deep thoughts about how best to get the car to start again.

Cautionary note: If you are a passenger in a little red car and are holding a bottle of champagne, do not fiddle with the top. It might come off and ricochet around the interior hitting you in the head and the driver in the leg and making you both think you've been shot by passing motorcyclists.

In the fall Linda went to school and I went to work. I got my first real full time job at the Thomas H. Ryan Management Company located around 12th and New York Avenue downtown, a block from the Greyhound Bus terminal. I was a receptionist. I couldn't type and wasn't too hot at math, but I managed to answer the phones and write receipts for rents when tenants dropped them off. I excelled at being pleasant. This was entirely due to my mother who taught me to be polite at all times.

I often took the bus to work, but some days I would drive. The next summer a friend who also worked downtown was carpooling with me. He worked at an office building near Connecticut Avenue and 18th Street. I may be getting the exact location wrong - it was a long time ago - but you get the gist: a whole lot of rush hour traffic.

Now, my little car had one other interesting feature in addition to the aroma, the door, the convertible top, and by this point the iffy clutch and a reluctance to move in reverse. It had no gas gauge. Instead of a gauge those inventive little Germans added a really fun feature - an emergency gas tank. It had a lever on the floor just in front of the gear shift. Whenever I felt the car coughing to a stop when I wasn't putting on the brake, I just flipped the switch and was good to go for another ten miles or so.

Now being one of a daring few who find it a challenge to wait until I can smell the fumes before I think about putting gas into my car, I used this feature fairly often. Problems arose, however, when helpful passengers would flip the switch for me and I would forget that I needed to get gas. Which brings us to a Random Act of Kindness. I think you can probably guess what's coming.

Yes, one afternoon at about 5:30 my car came to a complete stop in the middle of the intersection at 18th and Connecticut. I remember freaking out when I went to turn on the emergency tank and found that someone else already had. I started laughing somewhat hysterically as cars began honking and traffic backed up. Then, of course, I burst into tears. I had no idea what to do. 

Suddenly a nicely dressed businessman appeared at my window and asked what was wrong. I told him. I must have looked so pitiful he didn't even bother to tell me what an idiot I was. I think he must have had a daughter of his own. At any rate, he just smiled and told me to calm down. If I could just steer my old pitiful excuse for a car, he would push it with his really nice new one. I assumed he was just going to push me out of the way as a R. Act of K. to all the poor saps who were stuck behind me. But this total stranger with his really nice car actually pushed me for three blocks until we found a gas station. Then he waved and went on his merry way.

Of course, the little red car is no more. I now drive a super safe Camry with about fifty air bags and a dinger that lets you know if your door's ajar. It has no smell. The Little Tavern is gone, but Linda is still my best friend. And I still remember a really, really nice stranger who took pity on a rather goofy girl when he didn't have to and committed a much appreciated Random Act of Kindness.

May 23, 2013

A Return to Childhood

My sister, Chris, and me-Vacation 1960
Summertime! Every child's favorite season. The season of picnics, lightening bugs, sparklers, Popsicles and staying up late. I remember well the family trips in a hot car to the beach or the mountains and the constant refrain of "She's touching me" and "Are we there yet?" I remember also the constant counter refrain of "Stop touching your sister" and "You are all getting a spanking when we get home." Though the threat was often repeated, I can remember only one time that we actually got a spanking when we got home and we really did deserve it.

An interesting highlight of these trips was stopping on the side of the road for 'pee' breaks. You boys
had it made, but this is no easy feat for girls. Someone's shoes always got wet.

We didn't have a radio, so we sang in the car. As my mother was the only person who could carry a tune, I can only think that this was cringe-inducing to anyone in earshot, but we loved it.

And the best part of the ride was laying in the well of the rear window where we could stretch out a little. We took turns. I can hear a lot of you shouting, "You did WHAT?", but remember these were the days when safety meant the brakes were working. We didn't have seat belts, no one had heard about car seats, and there really weren't many cars on the road.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Well, summertime vacations are the essence of a special little story that my sister, Chris, and I had been collaborating on, but that somehow got put on hold while we got a lot of other things done. But now that Roses and Daisies is finished (or will be by close of business Friday) and she and I have a bit of free time, it's definitely time for Christopher's Vacation Wish to see the light of day. So for the next few weeks that's what I'll be working on.

Today I'm featuring some of my sister's illustrations for three short stories that I have published on-line and a lovely little counting book, Counting My World (available by contacting me directly at I hope you enjoy them. (Please forgive the formatting. This program and I are just not getting along!)


May 17, 2013

What's next?

Well, I finally finished the first draft of my second book, Roses Are Dead, My Love. This was exactly one year later than I had planned, but life is pretty tricky, isn't it?
I was totally sidetracked by an on-going family emergency that began last May. The summer was exhausting, a slight reprieve in the fall, and then of course, the dreaded holidays were upon us. During this time writing took a back seat. In fact it was pretty much relegated to the trunk, if not actually being pulled along in a little U-Haul trailer. 
Just as I was getting back into a fairly organized writing routine, life once again got in the way. This time, happily, it wasn't a bad thing. My first book, Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My!, was picked up by Intrigue Publishing. Of course, this meant polishing and editing and re-editing and proofing and reading it out loud and finding incredibly dumb sounding sentences, sort of like this one, that have no end in sight and need to be fixed, but the manuscript is already in and now I'm waiting for the galley proof.
Being brand new to publishing, I'm not entirely sure what a galley proof is. But I believe from comments a friend has made, that it is the very last editable copy of the book before it's a done deal.
So I am now pondering what to do. Do I read the entire manuscript of Roses and Daisies out loud to myself or to some poor sucker who'll sit still for it and look for needed changes? And will I ever be satisfied anyway and would this be a gigantic waste of time?
Do I begin edits on Roses Are Dead? This could be fun, but should I wait and let it all gel a bit before I begin?
And I have a third book in mind. Rose and Daisy meet a ghost. I know this will take a couple of weeks, maybe months, of mulling over to come up with the complete plot. I mean, I guess they could just shake hands with the thing and get on with life, but that would be a really short book. So maybe I should start outlining and see where it takes the charming ladies.
Of course, there are things that I actually am supposed to be doing. I have a book reading next week and I should be reading out loud from my manuscript, so I don't sound like a total idiot. But that is where I started to panic (see paragraph 4) about the run-on sentences and the fact that I have neglected to use any pronouns at all in the chapter I've chosen to read. 
In addition, I've got a beautiful quilt panel my sister-in-law made for me to hang in the kitchen. I have yet to hang it. I have an old kitchen chair I've been meaning to repaint. I have yet to repaint it. And I've got a little patch of garden that is overrun with weeds which just gets me down when I look at it.
To top it all off my husband is laying a new floor on the deck and I'm his day laborer. I was just lifting a 12 foot 2x4 - or at least one end of it. I tell you those seven pound dumbbells I've been using are really paying off!
So I've got all this to do and what am I doing? Sipping tea and writing this blog, of course. What else would I be doing?
PS: If you happen to like my blog could you possibly click the G+1 icon and/or share it on Facebook? Apparently, this will do great things for my readership!

May 10, 2013

A Writer's Group

On Tuesday I visited a writing group at a maximum security prison. A group of young men who are in there for serious crimes are trying to make sense of their lives, trying to find a better path. We sat together and discussed writing. I was awed by the interest, the thoughtfulness of their comments and questions, and the courage of these men.

Think of it. They're in prison and they're taking part in an activity that even in grade school could get you laughed at. It must take an enormous amount of courage to come to this writer's group, to try something new, to open themselves up and to put their own thoughts on paper for someone else to read.

They were so interested in all aspects of writing - the process, character development, discipline, outlining, something as seemingly simple as knowing when to quit for the day - it made me realize the value of sharing thoughts as I hadn't before. I also learned, once again, not to judge a book by its cover (pun intended). Interesting ideas can come from anyone, from any background, in any circumstance.

I was absolutely humbled by the warmth of the reception I got and the fact that they actually listened to me as if I were a 'real' writer. And as I sat there I realized that I am a real writer and that I'd better respect that.

I wish these men so much success. Their lives may be limited by walls and guards, but not by lack of imagination or the ability to learn.

May 2, 2013

Final Edits

Well, I'm finally beginning to feel like I might be about to have a book published! The final edits and proof-reading are done and my publisher is asking me for things like a bio for the back of the book. (Who knew writing a short biography could cause so much angst?)

I say the final edits are done. Well, they are. I keep telling myself that. It's a done deal. The book is finished. Really. Of course, I finally had to stop re-reading and just send the damned thing in, as my husband kept telling me to do. I probably could have rewritten most of the book and still found things I think I could have worded better.

On the upside of this task is the fact that computers make editing way easy. Thank God for computers. For those of us who remember manual typewriters, Ko-Rec-Type, Wite-out, and carbon paper computers are a true space-age miracle. I think everyone under the age of forty or so should have the privilege of typing a ten-page term paper and finding a paragraph left out in the middle of page one at three in the morning. I defy them not to go into hysterics and throw the typewriter across the room!

And think about those poor unfortunates of previous eras. I mean, just imagine some innocent sap in the fourteenth century slaving away at an illuminated page of the Bible for hours on end in a cold, damp monastery and realizing he left out a rather important not, as in thou shalt commit adultery. While a good time might be had by some who would love to adhere to this version, I'm pretty sure said monk's boss wouldn't find it amusing. Talk about hysterics.

But there is a down side - computers make editing way easy! No problem slipping that paragraph back in place or adding the all important not. However, I wonder how many times I would have rewritten the same sentence over and over, changed word placement that no one but I will ever notice, or find just the right adjective to mean the exact sort of 'pretty' I intended, if I had to hand write or re-type whole pages. And then I wonder if all of this tinkering actually made my writing any better. Maybe it made it worse. Sort of like changing your first answer on a test.

At any rate for better or worse - I'm going with better since there's not much I can do about it now - Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My! is on its way to becoming a reality. And that's pretty exciting. Come December you can be the judge of whether or not all the tinkering worked as well as I hope it did.

In the meantime I'm wiping my brow and saying "Phew, glad that's done." Edits finished, short story written, deadlines met - now back to my next book, Roses Are Dead, My Love before I forget just what I did with the Mickey Mantle autographed rookie card that's causing so much murder and mayhem in Old Towne.