A New Day Coming

From the time I first opened my eyes at 5:17AM this morning, I knew there was something special about today. It didn't take long to figure it out.

This is the last day of the year 2006. Tomorrow it will be 2007.

I always feel excited as an old year prepares to wrap up. There's something appealing to me about starting over with a blank (not necessarily clean) board. Already the hopes are buzzing around in my head. This will be the year I will finally lose those 25 pounds. This will be the year I will become totally and permanently organized. This will be the year I will get contracts for two pet projects of mine that have been languishing for years. This will be the year that Hollywood will call to option one of my books - no, let me re-phrase that, since they've already called. This will be the year that Hollywood will call to option one of my books with a positive result. And the book I'm presently writing, tentatively titled The First Fifty Years, will be, as the teenagers say (or used to say), the shit. (I always feel the most excited about the project I'm working on, even though I have two books coming out this year.)

I guess I'd better get busy. Because one thing is certain: Time waits for no one.

Coming in 2007
Thought y'all might like a sneak peek at the covers of my upcoming titles. A Love For All Seasons will be in stores in May. It's an Arabesque romance, my 10th. If These Walls Could Talk drops at the end of May. This is women's fiction. I'm working on the copyedited manuscript right now. These were done not by my in-house editor, who just took this job and is probably drowning in manuscripts, but by the legendary Monica Harris, the original editor of both the Arabesque line and of the Black Expressions Book Club, who called my book (quotes used by permission) "well-written and frighteningly realistic" and stated that "Everyone should read this before buying a home."
Something for everybody is coming your way from me in 2007!
Damn, I wish I'd thought of that

I'm taking some time off from work (which, at this point in my life, I do on a periodic basis only,) and I've been watching lots of movies on classic TV networks. I recently caught a showing of one of my favorites, A Letter To Three Wives.

It had been quite some time since the last time I'd seen this little gem from 1949 (often overlooked in favor of what many regard as writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' masterpiece, All About Eve, which was released one year later, in 1950.) I personally believe Letter is the superior film. But this time I realized something else. This film has an awful lot in common with one of my favorite TV shows, specifically Desperate Housewives.

The action in both the movie and the TV show takes place in an affluent burg, although all the Housewives live on the same street. A Letter To Three Wives is narrated by a fourth wife, Addie Ross, who has left town. Desperate Housewives is narrated by another wife, Mary Alice Young, who is dead. A Letter To Three Wives features one wife who is portrayed as somewhat of a klutz (Deborah Bishop, played by Jeanne Crain.) Desperate Housewives features a wife who seems to always be either putting her foot in her mouth or acting on an impulse, usually with disastrous results (Susan Mayer, played by Teri Hatcher.) A Letter To Three Wives has a wife who is firecely ambitious (Rita Phipps, played by Ann Sothern in the best role she ever got,) who out-earned her husband, an unusual concept for 1949. Desperate Housewives also has a fiercely ambitious wife with huge earnings potential (Lynette Scavo, played by Felicity Huffman.) A Letter To Three Wives has a wife who is a gold digger (Lora May Hollingsway, played by Linda Darnell.) In Desperate Housewives, the character of Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) loves the comfortable lifestyle her successful husband provides.

There are enough completely different features in the TV show, like the character of Bree Van Der Kamp (Marcia Cross,) where no one can claim series creator Marc Cherry copied the movie script, but it seems to me that he was clearly inspired by it. He says his mother gave him the idea as she recalled feeling sometimes feeling desperate when she raised her children with an often out-of-town husband, but I'm inclined to believe that he might have left out the part about seeing this old movie to get the whole idea for Wisteria Lane. And there's not a thing wrong with that.

Like I said, I wish I'd thought of it.
On The Road Again

Wow, has it really been a week since my last post? I'm on vacation through the end of the year, so posts will be sparse. Right now I'm in Florida, enjoying the warm weather, although the minute the plane landed and I had to start fanning myself I remember why I was so excited about moving to a cooler climate.

Be talkin' atcha.
What's Race Got To Do With It?

An ongoing debate continues that I suspect will eventually rival the “What came first, the chicken or the egg” question, and that is the question of how booksellers should shelve books by black authors.

This has been brought to the forefront by a well-written article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. (For a link to the article, visit author Monica Jackson’s web site at www.monicajackson.com .)

The issue seems to affect writers of contemporary fiction more than anyone else, and it’s a lot trickier than it seems on the surface. There are arguments on both sides that have some validity. I’ve given this matter a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with a possible guideline.

Do it like the library.

For instance in libraries, non-fiction books are usually shelved by subject matter, but with sub-categories. A soul food cookbook is likely to be shelved with other soul food cookbooks within the cookbook classification, but so are books on Creole cooking, Italian cooking, etc. This makes it easier for library patrons to locate what they’re looking for swiftly without having to thumb over books on things like desserts and Thai cooking when they’re looking for a recipe for seafood chowder. Similarly, a library patron looking for a book on New York doesn’t have to go through books about Australia, Spain, or Kenya to find what they’re looking for, because the geography books are grouped by subject.

Most tellingly, in the library, all fiction is grouped together. Whether it is Charles Dickens, Zora Neale Hurston, Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, or Eric Jerome Dickey, for the most part they make no distinction. A few exceptions: New books are displayed prominently for both fiction and non-fiction, because they are likely to be more popular with the public. Mystery, westerns, science fiction, and romance do have their own sections, the latter two usually exclusively in paperback, simply because each of these sub-genres contain large numbers of books. And still other books are given prominence if they are timely: The memoir The Pursuit of Happyness [sic], the basis of the critically accalimed, about-to-open Will Smith movie, or a biography of any recently deceased public figure, or books relating to a current holiday or milestone, anything from Valentine’s Day to the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which happens to be the day I’m drafting this column. Then there is the obligatory Black History Month display every February.

I’m not a librarian, but I don’t believe that any public library has works of fiction clumped together on the sole basis of the race or culture of their authors.

So why do the bookstores do it? The ever-important bottom profit line clearly has something to do with it. The belief that black people are too stupid to be able to find the latest book by their favorite author alphabetized within the fiction section probably figures into the mix as well.

Maybe there’s too much effort to categorize fiction, to put authors in a cubbyhole. I write in two genres, romance and women’s fiction, under one name. I remember being livid when I saw my mainstream title, Nothing But Trouble, on an aisle display at a Barnes & Noble that said, “Street Lit.” (?#!) I promptly removed my books and placed them on the table in front of the store where other new trade-sized paperbacks lay. I can’t say I was angry when my first work of mainstream fiction, The People Next Door, was shelved in the romance section along with my other titles – that’s too strong a word – but I didn’t like it, because this book cannot even remotely be characterized as romance.

Why can’t the distinctions on those special bookstore displays be merely based on book size within fiction and non-fiction? I’m sure it’s easier to display similarly sized books together. All new and featured hardcover fiction together, nonfiction together, trade together, and mass market together?

And leave race out of it. Just like the library.
Great Minds Really Do Think Alike
While surfing the web the other day, I saw a review of my colleague Janice Sims' new book, an Arabesque romance called Constant Craving. The names of the hero and heroine jumped out at me. Franklyn (with a 'Y') and Elise (with an 'I'.)

I was momentarily horrified. Not because I knew unpleasant people with those names and it brought back bad memories, but because the manuscript I am currently writing for my 2008 mainstream novel, tentatively titled The First Fifty Years, that features a couple named Franklin (with an 'I') and Elyse (with a 'Y'.) Except for the interchangeable 'I' and 'Y' in their first names, my characters have the same names as those in Ms. Sims' novel! (I'll have to e-mail Janice and ask what last she gave her characters. If it's Hughes or Reavis - the surnames I gave to my characters - you'll hear my scream, even if you're in San Diego.)

This probably doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things. Ms. Sims' book is coming out this month, December 2006. My manuscript isn't even due until next summer, and will probably be published sometime in 2008. And while Ms. Sims' Franklyn and Elise are at the center of her novel, my Franklin and Elyse share center stage with multiple other characters (The First Fifty Years is about four lifelong friends turning fifty.)

But when I think about it, there are several times when I've gotten nervous when I saw that another author had a similar plotline or title to mine. Just recently I was asked to change the title of my upcoming (June 2007) mainstream novel. The publishing company's marketing department didn't think the original title of The Edge of a Dream; didn't think it had enough oomph. I then suggested Anyplace I Hang My Hat, which they liked, but rejected because Susan Isaacs has a book coming out with that same title. We finally settled on If These Walls Could Talk.

I even found myself at the root of another writer’s anguish. My colleague Angie Daniels was shocked recently to learn that my next romance, A Love For All Seasons, carries the same title as her upcoming romance for a different publisher. I don't know what they decided to do about it. (My books comes out first, so any changes will have to be on their end.)

Back when I was writing my first mainstream novel, The People Next Door, I read in a publisher's forecast that Connie Briscoe had written a potential blockbuster called P.G. County, all about life in an upper middle class neighborhood in Maryland. I went into a panic that it was too similar to my book, which was about life in an upper middle class neighborhood in Florida and would be published after Ms. Briscoe's. My agent assured me that my book, written in my own voice, would be sufficiently different from Ms. Briscoe's. Of course, it was. But that didn’t stop me from worrying about it. There will probably be more similarities in the future, and more worrying.

It’s just a hazard of my profession.
2006 National Novel Writing Month: The End

NaNoWriMo ended yesterday, and my total was 35,893 words written during the month of November. (Unfortunately, when I went to update my final 933 words, that part of the site had already been disabled, leaving me with an official total slightly less than what I actually did.) I feel pretty good about what I accomplished. I never expected to get to 50,000 words, but I'm amazed at how many writers did reach that milestone. Part of the reason I can't do it is because I can't resist the urge to stop writing and edit. Can't stand sloppy writing. But my 35,893 words are all good words. Approximately 143 pages of good words.

Now comes the hard part; trying to keep up that pace every day.
Snowed In

Yes, it's the first snowstorm of the season here in Chicagoland. Much of the Midwest is getting clobbered by Mother Nature. It's still coming down, and everything looks so picturesque outside our windows: The pond gleaming and looking almost frozen, the grass covered with snow, the tree branches outlined in white, and that unrecognizable blob that I now realize is our barbecue grill that my husband forgot to cover the last time he used it. Hopefully it will survive.

Today is my 15th anniversary, and my husband and I will go out later this morning to play in the snow. (Can you say, "At-choo!) You'll probably hear us sneezing from where you live.

The bulk of my day is going to be spent right here at the computer, doing a little surfing and a lot of writing. Tomorrow the roads will be cleared and it will be back to business as usual.

So I'm going to enjoy today. And best of all, the 1949 classic A Letter To Three Wives is coming on cable. This is one of my all-time favorites, a shining example of good, tight writing.

A Loss to the Literary World

It’s natural to be touched by death in life. I myself have lost my father, two brothers, and a sister-in-law, all of them except my father to early deaths. It’s also natural to feel touched by the deaths of prominent people whom we’ve never met.

I’m not talking about President John F. Kennedy – I’m probably one of the few first-graders of the time who have absolutely no memory of that day in Dallas (and as an adult, I personally believe he has been overrated, practically canonized, not because he was so wonderful [whatever did he do for black folks during the turbulent civil rights period of the early 1960s?], but because of what happened to him.) But that’s a column for another day. Actually, I’m not talking about any politicians or activists, but rather people in the arts, people like the immensely talented musicians Curtis Mayfield and Barry White, both of whom left this earth too soon. This morning I heard about another.

Bebe Moore Campbell was one of the first names in the New Renaissance of African-American fiction that began during the 1990s. A journalist who was at one time on the staff of Essence magazine, Ms. Campbell broke into the world of literature with her novel Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, a fictionalized account of the lynching of Emmitt Till in Mississippi over fifty years ago.

Although at the time I write this I have had eleven novels published, with numbers twelve and thirteen completed; when I read Ms. Campbell’s first novel I was still an aspiring author. It remains one of the best books I’ve ever read. I had heard of the Emmitt Till murder, of course. It happened before my birth, but I’d seen the articles in Ebony and Jet and seen it featured on the excellent PBS documentary, Eyes on the Prize. But Ms. Campbell’s book actually brought me to that dusty town in the Mississippi Delta in the mid 1950s, the shotgun shacks with their outhouses in the back and the tin washtubs lying near laundry lines, with beds made of straw and perhaps, if the owners could afford it, a faucet with running water in the kitchen sink only. I actually saw the people huddling around the TVs in the windows of the hardware store downtown, the old-fashioned, curvy Coca-Cola bottles. I saw the black people make the best of what little they had. I’d seen the white people, just as hopelessly poor as the blacks after generations, but smug in their imagined superiority, heard them speaking in hushed tones of the black women with their private parts that were “different” from those of proper white women like themselves. I saw the irony in the declaration of the matriarch of the white family speaking out against integration, “They’re trying to make them [blacks] as good as us.” I pictured her face, so aptly described by Ms. Campbell as “expressionless as a piece of biscuit dough.”

That book, with its beautifully phrased metaphors and gorgeous visual characterizations, blew me away. This, I told myself, was real writing, literary, yet not requiring me to have a dictionary to decipher. Every word seemed carefully chosen. I vowed on the spot not to take the easy way out, not to pepper my writing with tired clich├ęs because they were there.

I’ve always wanted to attempt a historical novel. Not set in the Dark Ages, or even in the years following the Civil War. I want to do a novel spanning the World War II years through the present day. I have a story (or at least part of it.) I have my mother, uncle, and aunt, ranging in age from 85 to 90, to share their memories with me. And I have Bebe Moore Campbell’s masterpiece to show me how it should be done.

I think I’ll read it again.

May she rest in peace.
"I am not a Racist"

The latest to utter this defensive statement that brings pictures of Richard Nixon to my mind (anybody out there remember his declaring, "I am not a crook!"?) is comedian Michael Richards. I never watched Seinfeld, but I do recognize the tall man with the angular features.

I was immediately reminded of a passage in my upcoming novel, If These Walls Could Talk (June 2007, Dafina Books, paper, $14.) Here it is:

"Camille had no fantasies about how her neighbors perceived black people. Sure, they were friendly, and careful to never consider using any racial slurs in front of her and Reuben, to whom they’d only shown cordiality. But let a person of color cut them off on the highway and see how fast that word came out of their mouths. Camille believed that everybody had a touch of Archie Bunker in them; that no one, no matter what ethnic group they belonged to, was immune to using a racial slur when they felt wronged by a person of identifiable ethnicity. The standoffishness Tanisha and Douglas demonstrated had done little to endear them to any of the other families on the street, and she suspected that many of them privately celebrated their downfall. She wondered if anyone had made the connection between their behavior and the fear they must have felt."

The world's population, and that of the U.S., consists of many different cultures. I believe that at one time or another we have all been guilty of, if not using a racial slur, ridiculing people of different cultures, whether it be mimicking a distinct speech pattern, making disparaging remarks about their diets, their economics, etc. This can all be considered racist behavior, even if done in jest. But I firmly believe that what comes out when one is angry represents the revealing of one's unadulterated psyche, unmasked by polite behavior.

What do you think?
The Plug is Pulled

Rupert Murdoch officially put the kabosh on O.J. Simpson's book deal, but once again Simpson laughs all the way to the bank. Not only was the story the lead on the evening news, but it was reported that a) he gets to keep the advance, and b) he had it paid to his children, which protects it from the judgment.

To be continued . . . .
He’s baaaaaaaack

Just when O.J. Simpson seemed to have faded into obscurity, here he comes again with more bizarre behavior.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t feel the righteous indignation most of America seems to have regarding the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. It's a sad fact of life that many people are murdered. The great majority of murders have lasting effects on those close to the victims only.

I regard the tragic murders of Ms. Simpson and Mr. Goldman the same way most people would had the victims’ pigmentation been twenty shades darker. Does anyone out there honestly believe that this case would have received all the attention it did if Simpson had been accused of killing two black people? The victim’s names, still prominent and instantly recognizable after a dozen years, would have been relegated to a faded memory had they been black, like the names of previous winners of reality competitions. As for the families, there are families of murder victims all across America who don’t get to call press conferences, give interviews ("I just want people to understand how we feel," says Denise Brown, sister of Ms. Simpson,) or have their spokesperson release statements to the press, because nobody really gives a shit about what they have to say. They have no public platforms and have to bear their grief in private.

As far as I can tell, O.J. Simpson enjoys being in the limelight too much to ever go gently into that good night. I predict that he will continue making periodic, taseteless attempts at getting America’s attention, all of which will be successful. If the Amazon rankings are indicative, this time he’s hit pay dirt. America, no doubt looking for a new interest now that Dancing With The Stars is over, will flock to bookstores to buy If I Did It . . . .

It'll be rather creepy to see a book by O.J. Simpson on the New York Times bestseller list. Simpson has hit upon a way to really thumb his nose at the families of the victims, who have through their spokespersons expressed outrage at the inappropriateness of this book, while reportedly requesting that any money it earns go to them as part of that $33 million judgment they were awarded.

It’s got to burn more than a little to ask for proceeds of a book that exploits the murder of your loved one.
Turkey time is upon us again

But not for everybody.

No, I’m not talking about people too poor to afford a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. This isn’t a blog about helping out those less fortunate; that’s between people and their own consciences. I’m talking about the folks who don’t particularly care for turkey.

My husband is one of them. It was always our job to host Thanksgiving dinner, and we dutifully served turkey year in and year out, with a ham on the side. My father, aghast at the "hack job" we did slicing the thing (something I never understood; it was dead already, right?), started bringing his electric carving knife, and it became his job to carve the bird.

Two years after my father passed, the family was sitting around talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. My brother-in-law, who hails from Nassau, Bahamas, commented that he would be just as happy eating a dinner of, say, shrimp, admitting that he wasn’t too crazy about turkey. My husband said the same thing, but that instead of shrimp his first choice would be catfish.

That year we served our first Thanksgiving dinner consisting of fried whole catfish and boiled shrimp with different sauces. We had the cornbread dressing and the gravy, the green bean casserole, the greens, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, and rolls, just no turkey or ham.

For most of the years since that was our annual banquet, with an occasional turkey fried out on the patio, a nice change from roasted that my husband, as well as my brother-in-law, approved of.

This year, my husband and I are living in a small apartment eleven hundred miles away from our home in Florida, which is now inhabited by rental tenants while my husband works here in the Midwest. Fortunately, we have family an hour-and-a-half away and more family four hours away. But we’ve opted to stay home for a quiet Thanksgiving, because my husband has to work the day after, and because the period between mid-December and the rest of the year will be hectic, with lots of travel. The menu? Stuffed Cornish hens, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and biscuits. One meat, two starches (three if you count the biscuits,) one vegetable, and one fruit. That’s plenty of food for two people. We’ll have a nice meal, chill out, and maybe I’ll drag him with me to the early opening of the stores on Friday morning.

Four glorious days off from my present temp assignment. I can’t wait.

What about you? Is your holiday traditional, or non-traditional, whether related to menu or other aspects?
You’ve got a lotta nerve . . . ?!!

I’m all for helping people. I’ve always appreciated it when someone comes up to me and offers assistance, and I try to do the same whenever I see someone who looks lost or confused.

In the eight years since my first novel was published, I regularly receive requests from people asking me to "read my work and tell me what you think of it," or even ask, "How do I get published?"

These requests never fail to amaze me. In this information age, where tons of data is available at our fingertips or even at the local bookstore, why are people asking such basic questions, like how they go about getting published? My own opinion? Laziness combined with a touch of greed. In these times, just about everybody and their mother has a book out, including many celebrities. I truly believe that people see writing as a way to make a quick buck. I love writing, but it’s hard work. Writers who turn out quality work at a fairly quick pace will always have my admiration.

Now, I’m not one of those to take the attitude that it’s every man for him/herself when it comes to giving aspiring writers pointers. I have on several occasions offered to read the work of some people active in the on-line writing community who expressed frustration at the reaction to their writing efforts. Offhand, I can think of two that showed real promise. The others were plagued with the type of writing mistakes many people - published authors as well as novices - make, like telling rather than showing, overuse of characters’ names, repetitiveness, passivity, creative dialogue tags, etc.

Some months back I received a letter from a young woman in prison who raved about one of my books, only to ask that I send her some more books to read. She actually included a wish list of titles she was dying to read for what I presume was my purchasing convenience (how thoughtful.) And I thought I’d seen the height of gall when I received an invitation to a bridal shower that included the statement, "Checks and gift cards appreciated." But that’s a gripe for another day. In case you’re wondering, that letter went right in the trash.

Then, last week, I received a large envelope with a cover letter telling me how much the reader enjoyed my book when they checked it out at the library (which took up two lines.) The reader spent the remainder of the full-page letter telling me about a project they are currently working on, which they’d just sent to a publisher I immediately recognized as a vanity press, and asked me to "please take a look at it and give me your honest opinion, and if you can help me please do so." At the end of the letter the reader inserted a note, "Please return copy." Naturally, she didn’t include an SASE (that's self-addressed, stamped envelope for all you non-writers out there.)

Whichever way I interpreted this request, which I narrowed down to either A) This person is either totally clueless, or B) This person is just trying to get editing services for free, it annoyed me. I gave this reader the benefit of the doubt and presumed she simply didn't know, so I invested 39 cents in a stamp to respond. I gave this reader my honest opinion (about her request, not about her writing, which I did not read,) concluding by telling her that I will return her pages provided she sends me a self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage for its return within two weeks, or else it gets recycled. Hopefully, she's learned a few things and will do her homework. If not, she will probably move on to another writer.

Who knows, maybe the best way to handle people with that much nerve is to be just as nervy in return.
Every Kind of People

I ran into someone last week that I used to work with on a temporary assignment (hey, my royalties don't exactly rival those of Stephen King, so I do some temp work now and again) some months ago, and seeing her again made me remember an incident that took place between us. She chided me for taking the next step, telling me that our job was to proceed with the task at hand and not check the work of the people giving it to us. I thought this was silly, because if the process didn’t complete the first time, it only kicked back to us for further attention. When I pointed this out, she told me that she merely gives it back to the originator and asks them to sort it out.

Just like flowery romance writing gives it a bad name among many readers (but that’s another column for another day,) to me this kind of It’s-not-my-job attitude gives administrative assistants a bad rep as well. But what really ticked me off was watching this same person, who was so quick to throw something back to certain people, go out of her way to be helpful toward other people. Then I realized the distinction: The people she was so dismissive of worked from cubicles. The ones she tried so hard to be of assistance to had offices, with four walls and a door. And that’s what bothered me. In the old days it used to be called "brown-nosing" in polite company, and I would guess that it's still called "ass kissing" in more liberal circles.

I never said anything to that person about how I felt (a nice part of temp work means you can toss most things over your shoulder,) and that week-long assignment has long since ended. But I wonder if she truly believes that it’s okay to treat people differently because of their position.

What about you? Do you always treat all people with the same basic courtesy and respect, whether they’re a bum on the street or an elegantly dressed person, someone who holds a low-ranking position versus a divisional head or a vice president?

Think about it.
On the Kerry flap

I understand how servicemen and women and their loved ones can be insulted by John Kerry’s recent remarks, and I’m glad he apologized to them, an action I felt to be appropriate. I do feel that the Senator's bumbling of the matter has destroyed any hopes of him being President. But I’m amazed that in all the flack that followed, no one, not even the Senator, has pointed out what seems obvious to me:

It has always been a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. We’ve all seen those ads on TV showing young people of modest or less than modest means telling their parents (if the parties involved are African-American, there's only a mother, but that’s another issue) of their wishes to join the service to earn money for college. We’ve also all seen the biographies of soldiers killed in the line of duty on the evening news, no doubt feeling sad to learn that the deceased’s plans to study engineering or law after their discharge, presumably with the funds they’ve earned during their service, will never come to pass.

Going back to the Civil War, and perhaps even prior to that, the wealthy frequently paid the poor to serve in their sons’ stead, in essence buying their children’s safety.

During World War II patriotism - and enlistments - ran high, but sons of the wealthy usually opted for the Navy, certainly still in peril from being shot down, but well away from ground combat. In Vietnam many of the privileged arranged for their sons to perform alternate roles, National Guard duty, desk jobs, training, etc., again, far removed from the Viet Cong. The actual fighting – and the dying – is generally done by ordinary soldiers. Not generals or other high-ranking officers who command them, just plain soldiers. I’m sure that some of them are true patriots who dropped out of college to enlist, but I suspect most are less privileged Americans fighting to earn better lives for themselves and their children . . . because that's the only way they could afford it.

And speaking of this topic, how many members of Congress and other top politicians, regardless of their party affiliations, have offspring serving in Iraq?

What I garnered from Senator Kerry’s remarks was that young people whose parents cannot afford college tuition should study hard to make good grades, so they will qualify for scholarships and won’t have to put their lives at risk to get a college education. Perhaps it is such a delicate topic that there’s just no way to raise it without sounding condescending or insulting.

And maybe that’s why we should discuss it.
Madonna and Child

When I first heard about how Madonna (no last name necessary) had arranged to adopt an African boy, I didn’t like it. Why? Not because he’s black and she’s white. A needy child is a needy child. My disapproval came from the fact that the boy is not an orphan. His father, indigent as well as overwhelmed at the loss of most of his family from illness, placed him in an orphanage out of desperation. When I heard this, my first thought was, ‘Why can’t she bring the father home with her as well? Give him a job or something so that he still has contact with his son.’

I can’t imagine how devastating it must be to allow your child to be taken from you because you are too poor to provide even the basics. I remember a TV movie with Mare Winningham that depicted this very situation about 15 years ago; and the final scene of that film, showing the mother sobbing her heart out as she abandoned her little girl in a park and watched from behind a tree as the DCF staffers she called picked the child up, remains vivid to me even today.

Then came the explosion. The father, perhaps having second thoughts about being so far away from his son, claimed he didn’t understand the details of the arrangement, that he believed his son would come home after X amount of years, having regained his health. Madonna, of course, was maligned in the press as trying to buy the child’s way out of the country quickly, three steps ahead of the law.

I don’t know how this situation will end. I just feel that if Madonna hadn’t attempted to break up this family, or if she’d arranged to adopt an actual orphan instead, she probably would be back home in London with the new addition to her family.
My Favorite Time of Year

I've always loved autumn, when the air is crisp and cool and smells fresher than at any other time of year, and when the leaves change from green to glorious. I missed it all those years I lived in Florida.

Something else indicative of fall: The increasing ads for candidates running for election. Personally, I can't wait for the elections to be over. Not because I'm anxious to know the outcome, but because I'm sick of it. I'd like to be able to drive past an open field without it being lined with ads, or pass a telephone pole that's not plastered with some candidate's face. I'd like to be able to watch a TV show without hearing all those attack ads. I've lived in Illinois just over six months, yet I recognize the voice of a candidate in one of the major races (I can't even say which one it is, but it's a big one, since those damn ads have been running as long as I've been up here) without even seeing her, from her opponent saturating the airwaves with coverage of her committing one faux pas after another, always ending with the tagline: "What's she thinking?"

Unfortunately, Election Day comes late this year, since November 1st falls on a Wednesday, pushing the first Tuesday in November back as far as it can go.

It's going to be a long fourteen days . . . .
Preparing to write my butt off

During November I'll be joining thousands of writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The objective is to write 50,000 words in 30 days (that breaks down to 1,667 words for each of 30 days.)

Of course, 50,000 words doesn't make a novel - even short novels are longer than that - but it makes a hell of a good first draft that can be fleshed out at a later time. I've been outlining an idea for a sequel to one of my earlier romances that readers have been asking for since 2002 (the future heroine was still in high school at that time, and I didn't want to write the story a year later and make her twenty-five, like dog years.) I still haven't completed the synopsis, but the story has legs and a theme.

Will I succeed in completing 50,000 words, even without cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Probably not. Will I do better than I did last year? Absolutely. Hell, even 25,000 words is a good start.

Any writers out there having trouble getting started or on a routine? Check out NaNoWriMo. Their website is http://www.nanowrimo.org .
In the nick of time plus it's too late, baby

I'm running a week behind, and today it all caught up with me.

My plan for last weekend was to go to the post office and ship all the prizes (CDs, T-shirts, autographed books) I've been giving away through my website, through Internet chats, and drawings at book signings, plus autographed bookplates to readers and to bookstores where my titles sell particularly well. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?

I'm currently on a temp assignment, which a) gets me out of this tiny apartment we're renting up here; b) gets me around live people with interesting careers I can ask them about and use for my characters, c) allows me to do some marketing of my books to employees; and, finally d) puts a few bucks in the household coffers while I wait for that next royalty to show up in November. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because post offices in this quiet suburban area (which makes Jacksonville, Florida, look like New York City) are only open during business hours. Getting to one during the week when I'm on an assignment is next to impossible.

The trouble started a week-and-a-half ago, when I developed a sharp, stabbing pain in my side. It got worse as the day went on. I called my husband, who brought me to the ER (of course, being new to the area, we had to get directions to the nearest hospital.) I was diagnosed with a ruptured ovarian cyst and stayed there until eleven o'clock that night, when they sent me home with orders to rest.

At three the next afternoon I was dozing off (doctor's orders, right?) when my husband called from his office. He just learned his mother had been admitted to the hospital with numerous symptoms, which meant we (that means me) had to pack up and drive (that means him) 80 miles to Northwest Indiana (by the way, rush hour traffic in Chicago is to be avoided at all costs.) We spent the next six days there, and my mother-in-law is recovering nicely, thank God.

Because of all the illnesses, the prizes I was supposed to send out last weekend got pushed to this weekend. So was my intention when I rolled out of bed this morning at a later-than-usual 8AM. I burned CDs, printed out CD and jewel case labels, signed bookplates, and made up mailing labels. Then I realized I had to refer to my e-mail for a friend who had wanted bookplates for some of her friends, since I didn't know their names. That's when I saw the e-mail in my Inbox with this subject line:

"Interview, October 14th."

Oh, my God! Today is October 14th. In all the excitement of the last week and my anxiousness to get these prizes shipped I'd completely forgotten about the radio interview I was supposed to do. My mind raced as I scanned through the e-mail. There were the directions to the studio, which I highlighted and printed. So far, so good. Then I looked for a mention of what time they wanted me. Nothing. Shit. That meant this had been provided in an earlier e-mail. But surely it was sometime in the morning; who does interviews in the evening? Wait a minute; it's coming back to me. Hadn't my contact said something about 10:30, 11?

I checked the time. 10:55AM. Great. Here I was, still in my sleep shirt, holding an e-mail with directions and having no telephone number to let them know I was running late.

After a few moments of what-do-I-do-now, I decided to make a run for it. After all, it wasn't a live interview. I had some wiggle room. So what if I was fifteen minutes late? At least the studio wasn't far away, in downtown Waukegan. I'd been over that way once when the agency sent me to a law firm, so I pretty much knew where it was. I threw on some jeans, a t-shirt, decided I could spare a few seconds to put on some socks, grabbed a jacket and my purse and hit the door. I ran a comb through my hair while I drove, after checking the directions to see where I was supposed to turn. I looked like Who Did It And Ran, but after all, it wasn't a TV interview. Nobody would see me other than the staff.

Traffic was surprisingly heavy, considering I was heading east on a road that dead ended at the shores of Lake Michigan. Where were all these people going? Still, I managed to get there at 11:12. The interviewer and the control man were very gracious.

The interview went well, but unfortunately, by the time I got back home and packed up everything (God forbid I send a book autographed to Martha to Ginger) it was 12:54PM, six minutes before the post office closed. The post office is close to where I live, but it's not that close.

You've probably guessed this by now, but I will have to try for next week. Our local post office is equipped with an automated postal clerk, but I've got some international pieces to send, and I don't think a machine is going to allow me to post parcels for South Africa and Vietnam.

Next weekend, come the proverbial hell or high water, I will get to the post office. All you folks who are awaiting for your prizes, rest assured I haven't forgotten you. You've just gotten caught up in the crazy world of Bettye Griffin, Novelist.
Friday the 13th

As I get older my superstition about Friday the 13th being unlucky has lessened until completely gone. Today was an ordinary day, nothing special.

Now, if only I can do something about my fear of the full moon . . . .
Baby, It’s Cold Outside

I am about to live through my first full winter in 17 years, courtesy of relocating from Northern Florida to Northern Illinois.

I was back and forth between these locations the first three months of this year. During that time I got to experience the chill of those winds off of Lake Michigan (we live some 40 miles north of Chicago, but it’s just as windy,) and even got snowed in the day I was to fly back to Florida to continue the packing process, but this will be the first full winter.

It’s a joy to witness fall foliage, something I haven’t seen in a very long time. But it’s way too early for snow, and the forecast calls for flurries this evening, with accumulations points north of here. Thank God my husband didn’t accept a position in Minneapolis. Right now it feels like snow. The winds blow through me, the skies are gray, and something wet hits me every couple of seconds.

I’m no stranger to winter. Before those 17 years I spent in Florida I lived in New York for over 30 years (and no, I’m not ancient!) But it seems like the temperatures here plummeted even before Labor Day. We returned that Monday from a trip out of town to find the pool where we live standing empty and forgotten, like a tabletop TV after the plasma model has been installed, and not a single child playing outside. Within days the pool had been drained for the winter, the lounge chairs around it brought into the storage room. We’ve had some beautiful spring-like days since, but I don’t recall it getting this cold this fast in New York. I’m not even sure which city is farther north, The Big Apple or Chi-Town. I’ll have to check my travel atlas.

Quickly, before my fingers freeze.
Take two aspirin and call me in the morning

I suppose that all of us at one time have been a patient or known a patient in a hospital. I’m amazed at how many people remain unaware of proper hospital etiquette.

People are hospitalized for one reason - because they are ill. They’re there to receive treatment and to begin the recovery process. Everyone likes to know that their friends and family care about them, but no one wants to feel like they have to sit up and talk to entertain a constant stream of visitors, either live or on the telephone, when all they really want to do is rest.

In the New York suburbs, where I’m originally from, hospital patients are guarded almost to the level of a valuable art exhibit. All visitors must be checked in, and visitors are limited to two at a time, even if they are all members of the same family. Other geographical areas I’ve been to tend to be less regimented. Anyone who knows the patient’s room number can go right up, even if it’s a party of six. The hospital feels that visitors other than members of the patient’s immediate family have enough common sense to limit their visits to five or ten minutes if the patient clearly isn’t feeling well; and perhaps twenty or thirty even under the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately, there’s always going to be people who forget the patient is a patient. They’ll bring little Junior and the twins along to visit Great Aunt Edna, forgetting that the sight of her own grandchildren isn’t likely to be a welcome one for Auntie, at least not while she’s feeling under the weather. Or other people will visit in the aforementioned group of six to have a little party in Uncle Charlie’s room, each trying to outtalk the other in voices that can be heard clear down to the nurses’ station, often peppered with profanity. Maybe old Unc just isn’t well enough to appreciate the funny story about the farmer’s twin daughters. Or maybe the usually dapper old gent doesn’t like being seen without his teeth in or his hairpiece in place.

Then there are the ones whose reasons for visiting are less than well meaning. Nosy Aunt Harriet might want to know just how sick the patient is; so she can alert the family - with a dramatic flourish, of course - and make an uncomplicated case of tonsillitis sound like a visit from the Grim Reaper is imminent. Maybe Cousin Homer wants to know if he’ll be getting that coin collection the patient promised to leave him in his will earlier than he thought.

There’s nothing to be said about people with such underhanded motives. But for the well-meaning folks, please remember how you felt last time you were sick at home. That person in the hospital bed is sicker than you were, plus they’re at an added disadvantage - it’s hard to rest when someone sticks a thermometer in your mouth every four hours. Drop in, sure. Bring a card or a bunch of flowers from the supermarket, sure. But please remember that sitting there all day, chatting about this and that, only serves to drain the patient’s strength.