I'm Back . . . with the best of 2007
We just got in yesterday afternoon from a wonderful vacation in which we visited with friends and family - even our house - in three states. I wish I could have seen more people we kind of passed through, like my nieces in the Atlanta suburbs and my nephews and niece in another part of Indiana than the one where we stopped, but there's just not enough time. (I'd also like to tour Lincoln's log cabin birthplace in Kentucky, any bourbon distillery, the U.S. Mint in Kentucky, and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but haven't gotten to any of them yet, either.) The worst thing that happened to us was that my husband's cell phone died as we were leaving an Atlanta suburb after visiting family, and that was hardly trip-spoiling. The best part? Everyone (and everything) is feeling and looking well. A person can't ask for a better Christmas gift for their loved ones . . . although that diamond jewelry Santa gave me was a very close second. Plus, I got a new cell phone as well! I hope your celebration was happy as well.
While in Tampa I got to meet my fellow blogger Patricia Woodside, who's cute as a button (she's got dimples, y'all!). We had a great chat over breakfast. Patricia is the first person who called me on my new cell phone. I didn't even have the ringer on, but I was fiddling with it while my husband was in the barber chair getting rid of his Grizzly Adams look in time for Christmas when I noticed I had an incoming call. I've since adjsuted the volume.
I hope you caught my guest blog on Blogging in Black on Christmas Eve (if not, click the link!). It was a bad day for posting because everyone was busy with their families, but I hate to think that no one will read it.
Since I got my galleys for Once Upon A Project sent back to Kensington the day before we left, the nine days I was away was the longest stretch without writing in recent memory. I did find myself thinking about a new story involving a truck while gazing out at all those truck cabs (and while talking to a friend who is a former driver of an 18-wheeler after Christmas dinner), and then the magic happened. The bulk of the story came together in my mind. I dashed it out on my laptop in our hotel room in Chattanooga on Friday night.
Today is the last day of the year, and I realized I need to post my choices for best book of the year. I didn't read a whole lot, and most of what I read was forgettable. I do recall two wonderful stories, one by a relatively new author and one by a veteran writer, that each had execution problems, namely not-that-great writing. It's a good thing that the stories stayed with me. The new author will hopefully polish her skills, and if she does I predict big things for her. The veteran author falls under the "If it's not broke, don't fix it" category; she's doing fine sales-wise. I just can't help thinking how much better her books would be if she'd change some things about her execution.
This leads me to the best book I read this year. Last year I chose a mainstream and a romance. The few romances I compelted were all flawed, so this year I'll do a best mainstream and a runner-up.
The runner up first, in true beauty contest fashion . . . .

We'll Never Tell by Kayla Perrin, published last spring, is a riveting murder mystery on the campus of a public university in upstate New York. Kayla weaves a story so intriguing, I didn't even mind that the characters were 30 years younger than myself. She's a very talented author. This book also gets the prize for Best Book Not Part of a Series. If you haven't read it, check it out! Y'all know I'm not easily impressed.

And now for my vote for Best Book of 2007 (that I've read, anyway):

Yes, it's a celebrity book. Blair Underwood's name appears much more prominently on the cover than those of his more experienced co-writers, the husband-and-wife team of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. While I have nothing against Blair Underwood (I'm an Underwood myself by marriage, and since he and my husband have the exact same ears I've always wondered if there's a familial connection), earlier in the year I wrote a blog column in which I expressed being less than thrilled about the automatic media splashes made by celebrity-authored books (like the so-called author whose bio describes him as the ex-husband of a prominent person, his sole claim to fame). After having read this particular novel, I can say it deserves the attention. Good writing is good writing, good storytelling is good storytelling, and when they both happen in a published work it makes for something special. This is the first in a series, and since the next one won't be out until later in 2008 (a well-spaced 15 months after the first one), this series hater might even read that as well!

Gotta go turn in the rental vehicle. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the first of four monthly character blogs from Once Upon A Project, and later in the week, when bestselling author Kimberla Lawson Roby will take five of my questions.
Have a safe and happy New Year's Celebration. See you in '08.

Christmastime is Here

Every year while I run myself ragged preparing for the holiday (this will be our second year going on the road), I tell myself I'm crazy. And then a funny thing happens. I get the Christmas spirit.

It happened for me this morning, when I awoke and it dawned on me that my to-do list is down to a manageable size. I hummed Christmas carols as I stuffed the giant Christmas stocking we will carry with us with the last of the gifts, and I've been humming ever since.

We'll leave tomorrow morning at around 9AM (got to get those sofa armrest covers and pillows to the cleaners so I can have a nice clean house in time for New Year's.) We won't be back until December 30th, and I won't be blogging while we're away. But do check out my end-of-year musings on Blogging in Black on Christmas Eve.

A couple of real chestnuts (get it?) are being aired between Sunday night, the 23rd, and Christmas Day on Turner Classic Movies. Up first is Christmas in Connecticut, a charming romantic comedy from 1945 with Barbara Stanwyck, one year after she played that murdering adulterous vixen in Double Indemnity. (Also in the cast is the imposing, fear-inspiring Sydney Greenstreet, so I guess everybody felt like doing comedy that year.) Babs plays a homemaking columnist for a leading woman's magazine who writes about life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and baby, sharing mouth-watering recipes. The truth is that she's single, childless and lives in a tiny New York apartment . . . and she can't cook. All her recipes come from her Uncle Felix, a Hungarian restaurateur. The scheme threatens to blow up in her face when her publisher insists that she entertain a war hero (remember, in 1945 the war had just ended) over the Christmas holiday. High jinks follow.

This movie was filmed in a remake deemed dreadful by just about all who saw it in 1992, directed by the now Governor of California (I say that because I can't spell his last name) starring Dyan Cannon (I never saw it and don't want to; even in 1992 Dyan Cannon had to be in her mid-50s, way too old for this part), and is being re-made again for theatrical release in 2009. The story will obviously have to be updated, and it'll be interesting to see how they pull off a domestic diva with no skills in this day and age of TV and Internet. Can you imagine Martha Stewart not being able to demonstrate her homemaking abilities on live TV?

The original is also notable for an important scene (at least to me) involving a black man. Most blacks, particularly black men, were portrayed as simpering idiots on the screen, but when Uncle Felix asks one of his waiters if the word "catastrophe" meant something good. The waiter's intelligent reply was a rarity in film. It happens fairly early in the movie, so don't miss it! Also, if you ever watched the original Superman series with George Reeves, watch for "Inspector Henderson" in the beginning of the movie as Barbara Stanwyck's agent. He was younger here, and actually rather good-looking. But he had a very distinct speaking voice that you're likely to recognize before the face. Finally, if that gorgeous, sprawling Connecticut house looks familiar, it was the same set used for the classic Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby from 1938.

Another cute semi-classic is Holiday Affair from 1949. This was an entertaining but low-budget film because Robert Mitchum had just been released from jail after serving six months for marijuana possession (he always looked a little high to me with those droopy eyes,) and the studio was afraid of how the public would receive him. (Back in those days actors were required to behave in a certain manner; it was called a "morals clause.") Janet Leigh, all of 22 at the time, looked a little young to be a widow with a 6-year-old son, but it all comes together. Janet's about to remarry to a stuffy lawyer when she meets Robert Mitchum in a department store and her life changes direction over the course of one week. This one was remade for TV a few years back - they show it on Lifetime - nicely updated, and they found an effectively handsome rogue to play the Mitchum part, although I prefer the original.

Both movies will air on TCM the night of December 23rd. Holiday Affair additionally airs on the morning of Christmas Eve, and Christmas in Connecticut on Christmas morning. I do hope they have TCM at the Homestead Suites . . . .

Merry Christmas to you and yours!! I hope to see you here on January 1st, when I'll be introducing the first of four "guest blogs" by the characters of Once Upon A Project, to run the 1st day of January, February, March, and April.
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas . . .

. . . which means I'm running terribly behind. Another holiday luncheon today (the members of our immediate department were taken to lunch on Friday), this one with the big boss and everyone under her. Because everyone is trying to wrap things up by midweek, the luncheon will be combined with a meeting that will run all afternoon. That puts me at a location at least ten miles past the office just in time for rush hour traffic.

I did get the rest of my shopping done, but I haven't been able to pick up the stuff that's been engraved because it snowed (yes, for the third Saturday in a row.) Thank God I impulsively went to the mall Friday after work. I feel terrible for the merchants . . . a girl at Things Remembered told me their business is hurting because of two consecutive snowy Saturdays in December. Of course, now it's three. I went back yesterday after they cleared the roads, hoping I could pick up the things I had engraved, but after 15 minutes of driving around looking for a parking space, I gave up and came home. I guess everybody else had the same idea. So I won't be shipping my package today, along with millions of other folks. It'll have to go tomorrow. Hope it gets there on time.

Anyway, with all my preparations for the holiday (hair, gift wrapping) and our trip (laundry - say no more), I barely had a chance to vacuum, much less pick up my galleys, which went untouched all weekend. I'll be putting my nose to the grindstone and pulling out my crock pot (usually reserved for entertaining with Swedish meatballs or cocktail franks . . . but this is an emergency, so I'll be cooking in the damn thing to eliminate 9PM dinners) and those Bisquick Impossible Pie recipes that make their own crust (first up: chicken pot pie).

I'll probably check in briefly during the week, but it'll likely be a post of 50 words or less because I've still got a long to-do list.

Catch you later! Stay sane.
The Week in Review

Ike Turner died this week. (More on this in my blog posting from earlier today for my take on this).

It looks like Barry Bonds' reign as the face of steroid use in Major League Baseball is about to be shared with a whole bunch of other faces . . . and many of them - no, make that most of them - aren't black. But it's usually the black dude who gets singled out.

Mitt Romey said in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show about attacks on his religion, "It's not the American way." I haven't heard anything so asinine since Ronald Reagan naively stated that growing up in Dixon, Illinois, he wasn't aware there was a race problem. Discrimination of all kinds is the American way, and everybody knows it. As for the discrimiation against blacks and women that exists within Romney's own Church of Latter Day Saints (the proper name for Mormonism) . . . I won't even go there.

Barack Obama's past drug use has been brought to the forefront by the desperate people behind Hillary Clinton's campaign (which as everyone knows can no longer claim "frontrunner" status because of all those white folks in Iowa who are putting on a liberal front and saying they will vote for Obama - yeah, right). Their little scheme blew up in their faces, culminating in Hillary's apology to Barack and the resignation of the staffer who brought it up. Personally, I always thought Barack did the right thing by admitting it early in the race and getting it out of the way (unlike the present occupant of the White House, who hoped his arrest for drunk driving wouldn't come out.) It made a lot more sense to me to be frank rather than to try to skirt the issue, like Bill Clinton's ridiculous 1992 claim that "I didn't inhale."
I've got to finish my holiday shopping this weekend and get gift cards and packages in the mail by Tuesday. I've also got galleys to read over for Once Upon a Project this weekend. I'm thrilled that they arrived this week; I should be able to get through them before we leave for vacation next Saturday. The behemoth of a story was typeset at 371 pages in trade paper size. The more I look at it, the more excited I get. It's good, y'all. Incidentally, Amazon now has the cover art on its page. Plus they're discounting it to $11.20. Add it to your list of books, spend at least $25 and get free shipping. To preorder click here.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing four or five Errol Flynn movies Saturday night into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I don't know what all the fuss was about Clark Gable being so handsome. In my opinion, Errol Flynn was the best-looking male actor of his era . . . at least he was before the effects too much alcohol and a late-blooming morphine addiction became apparent. Errol Flynn lived through an illness that damaged his heart in his youth, and he died prematurely in 1959, just five months after his 50th birthday (that's roughly my age right now). His busy love life inspired the expression "In Like Flynn," and he wanted to call his autobiography In Like Me, but the publisher felt that was too risqué, so he settled for My Wicked, Wicked Ways. He didn't live to see it published. My mother says she and all her girlfriends used to swoon over him in the Thirties. I don't think I'll stay up all night watching him . . . although I'll probably take a stab at it.
Have a great weekend!

So Long, Ike

Ike Turner died yesterday.
We've all heard rumors that he wasn't a very nice person. But we also know for a fact that he was a talented musician who never really got a lot of credit.

I think he would have been pleased at the TV obituary I saw, which referred to him first and foremost as a rock-and-roll pioneer (Ike Turner is credited by many music historians with performing with his band on the first rock-and-roll recording ever, way back in 1951) and naming highlights of his long career before any mention of what they described as a "notorious temper."

He's in God's hands now, and God is sure to let him know how He feels about whatever Ike did in his lifetime, just like He will with all of us.

I commend Tina Turner for her classy response to Ike's passing, which was . . . nothing. A spokesperson for her pointed out that she hasn't seen Ike in nearly 35 years and would not be making any statement about his death. Quite a contrast from the tacky Cher One-Name, who trashed Sonny Bono like yesterday's banana skin every chance she got, but yet hogged the spotlight at his funeral, weeping and carrying on like she'd lost her best friend and conveniently not saying a word of apology about all those mean things she said while he was alive to hear them. (Okay, so their marriage was probably more placid than that of the Turners and Sonny died tragically, but there's a valuable lesson in there about speaking ill of people nonetheless). And don't get me started on how Diana Ross took the spotlight at the funeral of Florence Ballard, not sitting quietly in the back with Mary Wilson and other folks from Motown, but marching right up and plopping her ass down in the very first pew, alongside Florence's mother, children and estranged husband.
What's done is done, as they say. You can't re-write history. Tina said what she wanted to say in her autobiography. No point in milking so many years later merely for the sake of publicity.
Five Questions for . . . Marcia King-Gamble

Welcome to a new feature on Chew the Fat with Bettye. I'll be doing periodic (a nice way of saying 'an irregular basis') mini-interviews with authors who have new books just in or about to hit stores. (I'm going to be doing a lot of yawning in the New Year; the only way I'll be able to read all these wonderful-sounding novels is to cut back on my sleep.) First up is the talented (and wonderfully photogenic, I might add) Marcia King-Gamble, who created the Flamingo Beach series for Harlequin's Kimani Romance line. I've known Marcia for nearly ten years. She was the first of my fellow writers to reach out to me, even before our then-publisher, BET, scheduled us to do signings together at scattered Florida locations quite some time ago, and I will always treasure her friendship.

A little biographical info first:

"Marcia King-Gamble is a national best selling author who has written for Kensington, BET Books and St. Martin’s Press. She now writes for several Harlequin lines. This self-proclaimed world traveler has spent time in some of the more exotic parts of the world. She maintains the Far East, Venice and New Zealand are still favorite haunts. In her spare time Marcia enjoys kickboxing, step aerobics and body sculpting. She is passionate about animals, spicy foods and tearjerker movies. Marcia is also the editor of a monthly newsletter entitled Marcia’s Romantically Yours. Log onto her website and find out what she’s all about."

If you're not already familiar with Marcia's work, this will give you an opportunity to do so! So here we go . . . .

Bettye: Marcia, you just had a new book come out last month, November (Sex on Flamingo Beach, Kimani Romance), plus you have another new title coming out in January (Hook, Line, and Single, Kimani/Sepia), and a third in February (More Than A Woman, Kimani/Arabesque). This is great news for your readers, but it had to be a tremendous amount of work, since you and I both know these books don't write themselves! Do you think you can keep up this pace?

Marcia King-Gamble: Ah, this is one of the challenges of being a writer. These last few years I gave up having a life. For the most part I've always had a day job along with my writing career. When I decided to move to Seattle something had to give, and that something was a day job with benefits. I set certain financial goals, and to meet those goals it meant writing as many books as I possibly could. Word to the wise: Keep your day job. Sex on Flamingo Beach is my November 2007 release, and the fourth in the Flamingo Beach series. It's gotten great reviews and is published by Harlequin's Kimani line. I tackled the issues of an interracial relationship from an entirely different perspective.

Hook, Line and Single, a Sepia, also published by Harlequin - is my fourth mainstream effort, and my January 2008 release. The story is about a woman of a certain age and her ventures into the brave new world of cyber and speed dating.

And finally, More Than a Woman (an Arabesque release -published by Harlequin) should be out in February 2008, in time for Valentine's Day. It's set in the historic and beautiful city of St. Augustine, Florida. Be sure to pick up a copy of all three if you can. I'll have six books out in 2008. Whoosh!

Bettye: Six books! I am impressed, Marcia! I think the Flamingo Beach set-up is a wonderfully imaginative way to link a series of books, since the majority of them seem to revolve around families. I wasn't aware it's an interracial. I enjoy interracial romances, provided the conflict comes from something more than disapproving stares and rude remarks from bystanders. Your promise of a "different perspective" has me intrigued!

St. Augustine, the setting of your upcoming More Than a Woman, is a lovely city, close to my old stomping grounds of Jacksonville. But I must tell you I'm particularly really excited about Hook, Line and Single. As a woman of a certain age myself who sometimes feels a little lost with the rapidly evolving technology of today's world (although since I'm married I'm not looking for a date!), I'm tickled when books are published with older characters at the center. Those are all great titles, by the way!

Now for Question Two: Your other career is in the travel industry, and you've been all over the world. What would you say is your favorite spot?

Marcia King-Gamble: Having had the opportunity to travel with someone else picking up the tab has been a great experience. The wanderlust still remains in my veins today, and every penny of disposable still goes to travel. As for favorites, I'm still partial to places like Hong Kong, Venice and New Zealand, because I have such wonderful memories of the times spent there. Traveling to exotic parts of the world is the best finishing school there is.

Bettye: I agree. I love packing a bag and leaving town. And when someone else is picking up the tab, well, it doesn't get much better than that!

We're at the halfway point, #3 of 5 questions. Marcia, what's the last DVD you rented?

Marcia King-Gamble: This is an easy question. I don't rent DVDs. I gave up watching television when I began to write. And based on what I'm hearing, I haven't missed much. I do go to the movies, as it gets me out of the house. Of course, my favorites are all tearjerkers, similar to the books I like to read and write.

Bettye: Oh, yes. I agree that there's little on TV these days, and if this writer's strike goes on much longer we're liable to see things like Dancing with the Biggest Loser. I like tearjerkers myself. I stayed up past midnight one weekday last week to watch a series of 1930s movies (they called them "weepers" back then) with a top actress of the day, Irene Dunne. Lots of unwed-mother-sacrifices-all-for-her-child, cheating-spouse, illicit-affair storylines.

Okay, now for an intrusively personal question. Asparagus . . . love it or hate it?

Marcia King-Gamble: Asparagus? Love it when someone knows how to cook it. Hate it when it's a soggy mess with no gourmet trimmings.

Bettye: And now for my final question. Can you write with music playing?

Marcia King-Gamble: I can write with almost anything going on around me. I can write and talk to you. It's something a busy person learns to do. When you're eternally on tight deadlines there's no such thing as writer's block.

Bettye: Believe it or not, you've answered five questions. Would you like to say anything in closing to the folks reading this?

Marcia King-Gamble: I'd love to hear from you. Visit my websites: My home page, http://www.lovemarcia.com/, or my page on My Space, www.myspace.com/marciakinggamble. Sign up for my newsletter, Marcia's Romantically Yours. I'm working on book number twenty four right now.

Bettye: You keep writing. We'll be reading.

Many thanks to Marcia for taking time out to chat.

Call a spade a spade

There's nothing wrong with having wide hips.

But it's ludicrous to claim after photographic evidence to the contrary that you're a size 2. I haven't laughed so hard since Pam Grier casually mentioned being a size 8 in an interview.

I don't have a particularly wide hips or a big ass, either. Even with a stomach that looks like I'm going into my fifth month, I can still get into a size 10 (at least on the bottom). Of course, at Chico's I'm a size 2 (they market their sizes in 0, 1, 2, 3, I presume to appeal to their customers' vanity). But their 2 is equivalent to an 8-10.

When I get to California, I'll have to check the clothing sizes just to see if they do as Chico's does and call a 10 a 2.

It's like measuring your age in dog years.

Figure 8

Saturday I spent an enjoyable afternoon shopping at the Prime Outlets over the Wisconsin border (in 16-degree weather). Sunday I attacked the paper invasion that's been piling up on my desk. After that I didn't feel like doing a damn thing, not even writing.

I often spend Sunday afternoons watching figure skating (while writing and preparing dinner, multitasker that I am). This Sunday I just sat and watched, not doing anything else. I love the gracefulness of the female skaters and the male/female ice dancing (don't care much for men skating alone). There are so many different combinations of movements.

As I considered the re-structuring that must be done on my current WIP, it occurred to me that figure skating is like writing (just because I didn't feel like writing anything didn't mean I wasn't thinking about it). You often know what is coming, depending on the genre of the story (or that a jump is coming when in skating the jumps, spins, and lifts), but the execution is different. Everyone has their own style, and sometimes the style of an individual or team differs within itself. I've seen couples moving in perfect symmetry on the ice to romantic music and the classics, then show their whimsical side with more fast-paced numbers and lots of equally challenging steps. I cheer for the skaters who manage to execute every turn, lift, and jump flawlessly.

But sometimes skaters do slip and fall. One unlucky couple yesterday was perfect until the dip at the finale, when the female somehow landed flat on her back (in writing, this is known as an unsatisfying ending). Although they're always back on their feet before I can say "Ouch!" on their behalf, it has to be upsetting after all that practice. It's kind of the way I feel when I read over galleys - which I'll be doing next week - and see things I want to re-write but can't at that late stage in the process. The job of going over what I've written and making the changes my agent has suggested before submission seems, not insurmountable, but at the very least a daunting task.

I'm working on something a little different from anything I've done before, not extremely different, but with subtle nuances of which I wasn't previously aware. On Sunday I watched two performances of an ice-skating couple, the first one all smooth and graceful, the second much more athletic. They made it all look so easy. I thought of how I've always admired authors who comfortably move between very different genres, like Leslie Esdaile (or L.A. Banks or Leslie Esdaile Banks, depending on what she's writing), Donna Hill and the others whose names I can't think of at the moment. (Yes, I write romance and women's fiction, but - while not taking anything away from my own accomplishments - the fact is that these two categories aren't all that far apart. It's actually a sub-genre that's giving me such a hard time at the moment.) Writers who move between genres well (or from smooth choreography to complicated moves on the ice) make it look easy when it's anything but. Even authors who write in one genre, like romance, try different approaches within that genre to shake things up a little. This is a must, for no one wants to write the same story over and over again. Likewise, spectators at all those skating shows and competitions would also be unhappy if their favorite skaters did the same routines over and over again, and they'd stop buying tickets.

Yes, figure skating is like writing. And now that my musing is over, it's time to stop procrastinating and get back to shaping my WIP to fit the mold . . . without falling on my ass. Considering the weather here this morning, I'll be doing a little gliding myself just to get to the car!
Mo' Colored

Oprah and Obama (no additional names necessary) hit the campaign trail this weekend. I saw clips of them speaking at a rally in South Carolina, attended mostly by black people. For some reason both parties feel it's necessary to take on a speech pattern that sound more down-home, or, if you will, black.

Has anyone else noticed this? And does it annoy you as much as it does me? I've seen Oprah slip into dialect occasionally on her show (especially if she's interviewing someone black), but at least she's not running for office. When a political candidate changes his manner of speaking to suit the audience, it rings phony to me. There's no drawl in Obama's voice when he's involved in a debate. The man doesn't even have southern roots, for crying out loud.

Personally, I think this sort of thing will backfire on them, and I wish they'd both cut it out and speak like they normally do.


In the blogosphere this week: Author Gammy Singer has a column about some really bad metaphors on the Crime Sistahs blog a few days ago. It's hilarious, so check it out. I really like the one about the simple uncle.

Gwyneth Bolton did an informative, entertaining interview with author Adrianne Byrd last Saturday. And Monica Jackson had a take on the Desperate Housewives tornado from Tuesday (the same day I did mine, proving that great minds think alike), and since she's a native of Kansas, she knows a thing or two about this weather phenomenon.

Finally, Shon Bacon tells me that she's posted an update to the interview I did with her last year, so stop by and read what I have to say!

Ah, the holiday party season has begun. Country clubs and other venues all over America will be hosting corporate parties this Friday and next Friday (the preferred day for even nighttime work-related functions). My husband and I are stepping out tonight (at his job's shindig), and hopefully those slips and slides will be reserved for the dance floor and not the icy sidewalk, since it snowed again last night.

If I'm home tomorrow night, and since they're expecting even more snow this first week of December (two weeks before the official start of winter!), I suppose I will be, I'll be watching Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. I love this movie, even though I've seen it a hundred times. Ingrid Bergman's character has never met a penis she didn't like, Cary Grant's character is a cold SOB, but despite a crazy plot it all manages to be romantic, probably because the two leads made such a good-looking couple. I actually took their character's names for my last Arabesque, A Love For All Seasons: Alicia for the heroine (I changed her last name from Huberman to Timberlake), and Devlin for the hero, whom Alicia calls "Dev," just like in the movie. In the movie, I think Hitchcock pulled a second Mrs. de Winter on us: I don't remember ever hearing anyone call Cary Grant's Devlin by a first name. In my book I named him Jack. I also made him a lot nicer, although my Alicia is, like Ingrid Bergman's character, somewhat . . . uh, shall we say, easy.

Of course, I'll be writing, too. I did get one of my synopses revised to my satisfaction. (Let's hope my agent agrees.) The other one is taking a bit longer, but it's not a rush job like the first one was, so I'm okay with moving a little slower. In the meantime, another story is kicking its way into my thoughts and just won't stop, so I guess I'll start outlining.

Whatever you do this weekend, keep warm and safe. I'll be back on Monday, and look for a new blog feature on Thursday, December 13th.

Politics as Usual

The folks who are in danger of losing their homes will be getting their rates frozen, provided they are up to date on their payments.

This has been in the news for over a year now, but they wait until now to do anything about it? My heart goes out to all the people who lost homes last year and earlier this year. These people got screwed, just like the people of Oklahoma City got screwed. The reasons are different (politics and racism). The bottom line is the same.

Nobody cares about people being blown to bits if it was done by white boys (but if it's Muslims doing the deed, the victims' families get millions, national fundraisers are held, the whole nine yards). Nobody cares about the thousands of people literally losing the roofs over their heads unless it's close to an election year so the party in power can take credit and stand up, pound their chests, and say, "Vote for us! We saved your house!" They'd better hope that the people on the verge of losing their houses outnumber the people who've already lost theirs.

I am happy for those whose homes will be saved, but saddened for those for whom this comes too late. And my gut tells me they won't take the politicizing of their personal tragedies for political gain without expressing just how they feel.

For Anyone Planning to See Denzel's Latest Movie . . .

. . . The Great Debaters, which opens on Christmas Day (sorry about that dual poster), here's some background on the story, as reported by Laura Beil in today's New York Times. I enjoy historical movies, myself, although the ugliness of racism can often mar even a triumphant tale.

I hope the school gets a shot in the arm from the publicity.

December 5, 2007
For Struggling Black College, Hopes of a Revival

MARSHALL, Tex. — When the light at University Avenue is green, drivers can pass Wiley College without a glance. There was a time, however, when this small black liberal arts college here caught the attention of a nation: in the 1930s, Wiley’s polished team of debaters amassed a series of victories over white competitors that stunned the Jim Crow South.

The college would go on to groom civil rights leaders like James Farmer Jr. and Heman Sweatt, whose lawsuit against the University of Texas Law School in the 1940s helped pave the way for public school integration. Yet Wiley itself, like many black colleges, has struggled for survival ever since, and even reached the brink of collapse. This year, professors and staff members accepted unpaid furloughs. One employee could not share a recent report with trustees because his department could not afford copy paper.

Now Wiley is looking for a Hollywood ending.

On Dec. 25, “The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley’s most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship.

No one knows whether the story will raise the college’s fortunes, but Wiley, which has not been able to support a debate team for decades, is suddenly feeling the glow of celebrity. Enrollment has soared past 900 for the first time in at least 40 years. The administration building was given a face-lift, compliments of the moviemakers, who also manicured the campus with new greenery. There are hopes to revive the debate program, and in a movie tie-in, Wal-Mart is to endow a Melvin B. Tolson Scholarship Fund with $100,000.

Today, callers to the institution are greeted with a cheery recorded reminder: “Home of the Great Debaters.” Jamecia Murray, a junior from Logansport, La., has joked to prospective students that “you could wake up in the morning and see Denzel Washington out your window.”
Movies can have an impact on schools that lingers for years. Garfield High School in Los Angeles, made famous by “Stand and Deliver” in 1988, was able to recoup quickly when its auditorium burned last May. By October, the school had received more than $100,000 in donations, largely from those who remembered the film. “Garfield itself has become synonymous with the movie,” Nadia Gonzales, a school district spokeswoman, said.

But celebrity can be unpredictable. While “Fame,” in 1980, brought the High School of Performing Arts in New York City a bumper crop of applicants, many students resented the portrayal of drug use and premarital sex.

In many respects, Wiley’s story is the larger narrative of historically black institutions whose graduates lived to see landmark achievements in the 1960s, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But after securing the opportunity for bright young students to attend any institution they wanted, many black colleges stalled.

Texas had 11 black colleges in 1954. Three are now gone, another is on probation for academic and other problems, and a fifth operated during most of the 1990s without accreditation.
Wiley’s woes reflect 130 years of racial and economic tumult. The Methodist Church founded Wiley in Marshall, in the northeast corner of the state, which has always aligned with the Deep South more than the Old West. Harrison County, home to Wiley, once held the largest slave population in the state, and antebellum culture cast a shadow on race relations well into the 20th century.

By the time Mr. Tolson arrived in 1923, Wiley had emerged as an elite institution for the black middle class. The son of a Missouri preacher, Mr. Tolson had a soul fed by the Harlem Renaissance. He was both feared and loved, inspiring, as one biographer wrote, “devotion bordering on adulation in many who knew him well.” He remained at Wiley 24 years, publishing his most heralded work of poetry a year before his death in 1966.

Wiley’s 1935 victory over the University of Southern California (the opponents in the film are from Harvard) inspired people long denied dignity in white society. But the film omits one reality: even though they beat the reigning champions, the Great Debaters were not allowed to call themselves victors because they did not belong to the debate society, which did not allow blacks until after World War II.

The most renowned member of the debate team was a teenage James Farmer Jr., who would go on to found the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. He would later use his Wiley-honed skills in debates against Malcolm X, an unflinching orator. “I debated Malcolm X four times and beat him,” Mr. Farmer told an interviewer in 1997. “I’d think, ‘Come off it, Malcolm, you can’t win. You didn’t come up under Tolson.’”

In 1960, college students in Marshall were jailed for the first large sit-in in Texas. Within five years, the federal government would require integration.

But as black students and faculty members were courted by white institutions, the college’s identity became less clear. “I don’t think anybody could have calculated what integration would really do,” said Bob Hayes, a United Methodist bishop in Oklahoma whose father became president of Wiley in 1971.

Wiley’s football program, which had five national champion teams, disbanded in 1969. Two years later, the Methodist Church dispatched the Rev. Robert Hayes Sr. to Marshall to dissolve the college entirely. “The bishop said, ‘Go give it a decent funeral,’” recalled Mr. Hayes, who now lives in Houston.

But the elder Mr. Hayes, a Wiley graduate, could not bring himself to close his alma mater. A commanding preacher with a silky baritone, he convinced town bankers not to call in loans. Until he left in 1986, Mr. Hayes kept the doors open, even while enrollment dipped below 400. Robert Sherer, a history professor for 14 years beginning in 1975, recalls that he “got constantly in trouble with the dean by failing too many students. Every student they lost was a major financial hit.”

Heightening a sense of instability, a succession of five presidents passed through Wiley between 1986 and 2000. Lawns grew weedy. Buildings aged. In 2000, trustees recruited Haywood Strickland, president of Texas College in nearby Tyler, as president. He restored stability, but his tenure has not been completely smooth. In 2003, The Marshall News Messenger reported that despite an official biography that lists “doctoral training” at the University of Wisconsin, and publicly taking the title “doctor,” Mr. Strickland in fact has no earned Ph.D.
“I was unaffected by it,” Mr. Strickland said of the report, adding that he did not believe he had misrepresented himself.

The college has run deficits for much of his tenure — 2006 ended $1 million in the red — but administrators predict finishing the 2008 financial year in the black. There are plans to establish the campus’s first endowed chair, named after Mr. Tolson. The poet’s home, next to campus, now sports a sign in the yard advertising its place in history.

For his part, Mr. Washington had not previously heard of the debaters or even the college, but he said, “I’m aware of the strength of these historically black colleges, and what they’ve done for millions of African-American men and women over the years.” His son graduated from Morehouse College, which recently raised $118 million.

While historically black colleges constitute only 3 percent of American higher-education institutions, they graduate about 24 percent of all black college students. Some prefer a campus like Wiley, so personal that faculty members will track down a student who misses class. “To teach in schools like this demands some missionary-like spirit,” said Solomon Masenda, an English professor who joined the faculty almost 20 years ago. “You fall in love with it. I cannot explain it.”

Deborah Phillips credits the college with identifying her daughter Ashley’s strengths. Ashley Phillips arrived in Marshall unsure of what she might accomplish. Last month, Ms. Phillips was crowned Miss Wiley. By next year, she plans to be in medical school, with Wiley’s biology program as her foundation.

On a crisp November morning, her mother watched Homecoming paraders toss candy from convertibles on University Avenue. “Here,” Mrs. Phillips said, “you’re a student who dreams.”
Reality TV? I Don't Think So

Viewers of the hit show Desperate Housewives who live in areas prone to tornadoes have been critical of Sunday's episode that featured a tornado hitting Wisteria Lane. They said that the behavior depicted on the show was more in line with an expected hurricane (for which residents generally have lots of notice) than a tornado (which usually strike with just moments' notice, and no one knows in advance where they will hit until that funnel cloud forms).

I think they're right. I didn't grow up in Tornado Alley, but in the concrete jungle of New York. Still, I thought it amusing that characters were making all these preparations, planning to "wait out the storm" in their cellars, were stockpiling water, and - I must have missed this, but several people said they saw it - putting masking tape on their windows. I also thought it odd that objects as heavy as cars were lifted and slammed down on the ground while people standing nearby weren't as much as knocked down.

Defenders of the show say, "It's just TV." Well, people get a lot of their ideas and beliefs from what they see on television. A tornado is a very serious situation, capable of bringing death and destruction to anyone or anything in its path. I do believe that TV shows have a responsibility to try to paint a realistic picture of life-and-death situations. People get blown away or hit by heavy falling objects in tornadoes. While heavy rain from hurricanes can last for days, tornadoes are over in minutes, and taping windows is pointless against this kind of wind.

I've seen plenty of misrepresented situations on TV. An episode of the excellent and now defunct Lifetime series Any Day Now had a would-be author learn at the last minute that she'd signed with a vanity press . . . and she had an attorney representing her interests. Completely off the wall (unless the attorney was a complete charlatan who didn't even attend law school), but not particularly upsetting. No one's life depended on it. But God forbid some fool learns a funnel cloud is headed their way and thinks they have time to run to the store and get a supply of water or to go outside and tape their windows because of what they saw on TV.

"I will never say anything in my lifetime . . .
. . . that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me," Don Imus told his audience (both live and in the radiosphere) as he began his first broadcast at his new home, WABC-AM. "And no one else will say anything on my program that will make anyone think I did not deserve a second chance."
It's one thing to say that you'll keep your own mouth zipped, but it's something else to speak for other folks. Considering that the black dude who first referred to the women's basketball team as "hard-core hos" before Imus took the mantel and made his own slur remains at Imus' side, well, I just hope he was listening.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe him. He sounds chastened, humbled, and like he's displaying the sensitivity a man of his years should have.
So don't let me down, Big Mouth.

Going Once, Going Twice
All you Luther lovers, get ready! Dawson and Nye Auctioneers will be auctioning the belongings of the late singer next week.

The items to be sold include shoes, suits, housewares, various awards, luggage, artwork, and furniture, including these twin mink-upholstered (yes, mink) armchairs.

After all, is a house really a home without something like these to sink your body into?

Do You Know What Today (okay, tomorrow) Is?

So asks the musical question by Tony! Toni! Toné! The answer: It's our anniversary. Yes, tomorrow is my anniversary, 16 years. We are a little older and a lot heavier. Last year in Chicago it fell on a Friday and we had a foot of snow. I got the day off. Hubby was extremely busy and went in around 2PM, when the roads had been cleared and the electricity was back on at his office.

This year they are again expecting a storm, snow, sleet, real messy stuff. So we'll likely do the same thing we did last year . . . chill out patiently, knowing that in three weeks we'll be leaving for vacation in Florida!

I wonder - as I consider that I might have to cook dinner in rather than go out to eat if it's really slippery - what are the odds of crummy weather on the same date two consecutive years?
This weekend I will be cleaning up some projects in preparation for submission. This is the real grungy part of writing, and I'm giving myself two weeks to get it done. I already know from last year (because If These Walls Could Talk was a May release) that I will likely be dragging galleys along on my vacation (it's a May thing; those galleys are due back in New York right after the first of the year, so, future published writers, avoid May publication dates if you're hosting the holiday dinner, giving a New Year's party or have small children). I see no film classics scheduled, so I'll probably work in some shredding as well. Maybe even get a jump on my tax return and clean up the receipt file. Then again, maybe I'll just read a book.
Wishing a productive weekend to all!
The Atheist and the Bear (a Modern Fable)

An atheist was walking through the woods, exclaiming aloud at the beauty of nature.
"What majestic trees!"
"What powerful rivers!"
"What beautiful animals!"

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look . . . and saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge toward him.

He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the atheist cried out, "Oh, my God!"
Time stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.
As a bright light shone upon the man, a booming voice came out of the sky. "You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?"

The atheist looked directly into the light, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly as! k you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?"

"Very well," said the voice.
The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke:

"Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Tell me, am I the only one . . . .

Who thinks that heroes and heroines in romance novels who vow to never love again because their heart has been broken need to be, if not retired permanently, at least seriously cut back on?

I read maybe one or two romances a year, and the moment I see this in the text I groan . . . and usually put the book down. (This was Saturday, and I haven't picked it up yet.) Any hints on why this situation is so grossly overused?

Just curious.
Same old lovable me, with a few changes

After I wrote 'til I was empty-headed this weekend (don't know what's gotten into me); I changed the look of my blog. It's something I've wanted to do since my pal Gwyneth Bolton spruced up her blog recently. (Yeah, monkey-see, monkey-do.) It took forever to find a design that a) I liked, and b) that a technically un-savvy person like myself could figure out how to drop into Blogger. I also expanded my links to other blogs, something else I've been meaning to do.

I finally got around to getting the ball in motion to transfer my domain name from my old site to my new one that my husband designed for me. Check me out if you get a minute; I'm at www.bettyegriffin.com . I've still got some work to do on it, but at least it's up. Now I've got to set up my e-mail, which I've lost in the transition.
Sunday Company

Yeah, I'm guesting again, this time over at Blogging in Black, so stop on by!

The Week in Review

I hope you all had a good holiday. Ours couldn't have been nicer. We did manage to get to our destination; the predicted snowfall only turned out to be a light dusting. Dinner was great, and my sweet potato pies and marble pound cake went over well. A very happy day overall, even if I did end up leaving the Mrs. Smith's apple pie (my attempts to bake a pie of this type have been unsuccessful) in the freezer (something I realized while driving through Tippecanoe County in Indiana).

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated 60 years of marriage this week. It was revealed that they are both great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, which seems unnaturally close for married folks. First cousins share a set of grandparents, so I'm thinking that sharing a set of great-grandparents makes them just second cousins. Forget all that talk about it being all relative in West Virginia; it's all relative among the crowned heads of Europe. They're lucky their kids didn't turn out to be idiots.

The Stacy Peterson missing person case is without resolution. People are coming out of the woodwork like termites. Drew Peterson's first and second wives have shared their views of their ex-husband (the first wife said he has a temper but never threatened her, the second one said he threatened her.) So has a motorist who had a fender bender with Stacy before she went missing, who claims that in the aftermath she confided in him all about her troubled marriage and fear of her husband (the lead item on the 6 o'clock news here last week). And Drew's mother has also spoken out in defense of her son. His former boss on the police department says he was a bad cop. As for Drew himself, he has an attorney now and isn't saying much of anything. That was one painful Today show interview, as the attorney refused to let him answer question after question. Made me wonder what was the point of going on at all.

I predict that Stacy's eleventh grade classmates (after all, Stacy started messing with Drew when she was 17) will probably be the next ones in the spotlight.

Barack Obama is reported to be leading in the Iowa polls, but I have to wonder how many Iowans are really planning to vote for a black man to be President.

It's wonderful to have four glorious days off. This is the first year that I'm not going shopping. I usually give gift cards, but have braved those 5AM crowds to get something I wanted, like the 19-inch LCD monitor for $129. This year I'm perfectly content with what I've got. I'm going to do some housecleaning, some reading, and of course some writing. Saturday morning will find me and my laptop up at 5AM, watching Mutiny on the Bounty on Turner Classic Movies. Not that overblown version with Brando from 1962, but the 1935 original with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. I believe it was Clark Gable's best performance ever. Hard to believe there was just a scant 18 months in the ages of Gable and the short, portly Laughton, who personified cruelty with his depiction of Captain Bligh. But my favorite character was the ship's wooden-legged physician, who, when inebriated (which was most of the time) gave differing accounts of how he lost his leg, all of them colorful.

May the holiday glow continue to surround you and yours!

What A Character, Part III

Here's the third and final installment of the guest blogs from If These Walls Could Talk. Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday, all! It looks like we might miss having turkey with extended family because of some snow and rain expected to come this way. But there's sure to be leftovers, right? And don't they say that everything tastes better the next day?

Character: Veronica Lee from New York, New York
Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, in stores now
Setting: Washington Heights, October 2001

I find myself moving slowly as I push the shopping cart along Amsterdam Avenue. I have it upright because I’m also balancing a plastic basket full of clean clothes on top of the heavy black plastic bag full of clothes that’s inside it already. Fortunately, my shopping cart has two small wheels on each side in the front, so it will roll without me having to tilt it on back wheels only.

I’m Veronica Lee, and I’m tired. Walking a block-and-a-half with laundry for a family of four is no picnic. I do it every single weekend. My husband, Norman, helps me get the clothes from home to the Laundromat. It’s a real pain in the ass getting all that down the stairs from our third-floor walk-up. It's become a weekly ritual for us. He walks me to the Laundromat and then runs back home, where our two girls, Lorinda and Simone, are just waking up. Sometimes when I’m finished I’ll call him, and he and the girls will come and walk me home. But today it’s raining, and Norman was coughing this morning. I told him to go home and get back in bed. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get somebody in the building to help me carry the clothes upstairs. If not, I’ll just do it myself and make two trips, as women in these walk-up apartments have been doing for the last hundred years.

As I continue my slow walk, keeping my umbrella poised over my basket rather than myself, I can’t help thinking about those houses Norman and I looked at last year up in Northern Westchester County, in a Hudson River town called Peekskill. We saw one in particular that was really nice, with good-sized bedrooms and a great yard for the girls, and even for Norman and I to hold barbecues in. The price wasn’t bad, either. We made an offer for less, hoping the seller would come down a little bit. The moment our offer was in I started having second thoughts. What would we do all the way up in Peekskill? We didn’t know a soul who lived there. All our families and friends live here, in the city.

I kept my fears to myself, not saying anything to Norman until the sellers rejected our offer in favor of one that was higher. Norman was disappointed when we didn’t get the house. He said he definitely wants us to get out of the city. He’s been real gung-ho about it ever since last year, when he was mugged at gunpoint right here on Amsterdam Avenue, in broad daylight. I could have become a widow that day, and my daughters fatherless. Yeah, I’d like to get out of here myself.

I know no place on earth is completely safe, but New York has become a lot less so since September 11th. Norman and I both work as nurses up at the Presbyterian Medical Center here in Washington Heights, well away from the Towers, but that lockdown they put on the city’s bridges and tunnels after the attacks caused a whole lot of grief. You have to remember, Manhattan is an island. There’s no way to get off it without taking a bridge or a tunnel. A whole bunch of folks couldn’t get home ... or get to work.

Sure, I’d love to live in the suburbs someplace, where it’s all green and leafy, and where kids can ride bicycles on the sidewalks. Here I can’t even send Lorinda and Simone outside to play because there is no place to play. No wonder so many kids are getting fat, just sitting at home with TVs and computers. In the city it’ll soon be an epidemic.

One more thing about having a house. We'd be able to buy a washing machine and a dryer, and I wouldn't have to schlep in the rain, the snow, and the humidity to wash our family's clothes and linens. That's a beautiful thought, but Norman and I have a better chance of winning the big Lotto jackpot than we do of being able to buy a house in the general vicinity. New York may be the world’s most exciting city, but damned if it ain’t one of the most expensive. Everyplace that’s not too far, like Jersey or Southern Westchester or Long Island, is priced way beyond our means. I mean, four hundred thousand dollars for a house older than we are, and with one lousy bathroom. And the neighborhoods aren’t all that fabulous, either. The one in Peekskill sure wasn't. Of course, we're probably priced out of even there by now.

But on TV or in the movies, I'm always seeing black people living in neighborhoods that look like they’re no more than three years old, with two cars in every driveway, sometimes three, if they have kids old enough to drive. Whenever we see that, somebody always says with a loud suck of their teeth, “Black people don’t live like that.” From what I’ve seen in those black lifestyle magazines that I read at the bookstore, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve seen everyday people, not movie stars or people like that, featured living in gorgeous houses. Sometimes they’re even single women with homes of their own. But none of them live in New York. When I see that it makes me think if leaving New York really is the answer. Because my kids deserve better than what they’ve got.

And, I think as I park my shopping cart in a corner of the vestibule and begin the long trek upstairs with the basket, so do Norman and I.

I hope you enjoyed that peek at the three main characters of If These Walls Could Talk. I'll be back sometime over the weekend, wherever I am.

What a Character, Part II

Here's the encore of my second of three character blogs for If These Walls Could Talk. Enjoy!

Character: Camille Curry from the Bronx, New York
Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, published May 29, 2007
Setting: The Bronx, NY, October 2001

My name is Camille Curry. I’m a lifetime New Yorker, first in upper Manhattan, then I moved to the Bronx when I got married. My husband’s name is Reuben, and we’re the parents of two great kids: Mitchell and Shayla. My family means everything to me. I wish my mother could have lived long enough to see my husband and kids, but she passed away when I was nineteen, a couple of years before I even met Reuben. My father remarried, but I’m not really close to my stepmother. Nothing against her, you understand. It’s just that I miss my mother so much, and I feel cheated that she died without meeting her son-in-law or seeing her grandchildren.
My own in-laws are all right, but they’ve been getting on my nerves lately. Reuben has two sisters and a brother, plus his mother is still alive. I used to be real close to his youngest sister, Arnelle. We aren’t that tight anymore. She’s always asked to borrow money every now and again, and I never minded, if I had it – after all, I’ve got a family of my own – because I know it’s hard out there for single parents, but then she started taking advantage. She stopped volunteering to pay me back. I hate having to ask for money, but I can’t afford to donate fifty dollars here and eighty dollars there. Then, when she did pay me, she’d make snide comments like, “At least you’ve got a husband to help you out, Camille.” Like I owe her something because her baby’s daddy ran off. She should have chosen somebody more responsible to get knocked up by. Anyway, I’m walking around now with hair that needs a touch-up so bad that even my wide-tooth comb is screaming, and here comes Arnelle asking me for fifty dollars so her cable doesn’t get shut off. I told her I’m sorry, but I can’t help her. Not only do I need to get to the hairdresser, but Mitchell and Shayla are due for their dental checkups. Shayla is a picky eater, but her teeth are in pretty good condition. Mitchell, on the other hand, has a real sweet tooth, and I’m always after him to brush. He’s usually good for a couple of fillings at each checkup. Arnelle whined about how Cablevision was going to cut off her service. I told her that not having HBO didn’t mean the end of the world.

Arnelle might be the only one who asks to borrow money, but the rest of my in-laws have been annoyed with Reuben and me because their aunt recently died and left Reuben fifteen thousand dollars, but didn’t leave anything to them. I mean, are they expecting us to offer to share? I don't see why. Reuben always looked out for Aunt Mary since her only son moved out to Long Island. His siblings didn't do jack. Aunt Mary was a lot older than my mother-in-law, who was actually a change-of-life baby. Somebody had to look out for her. You just don’t leave a woman in her eighties to fend for herself, especially in the Bronx.

I admit I’m excited about the money. I never imagined in a million years that someone would die and leave us fifteen thousand dollars. That whole thought has become a stale cliché, something out of an old melodrama. And Aunt Mary never said a word to us about her plans, she’d just hug us and say we were such good children. I always thought it was terrible how Harvey, her son, left her high and dry, and I wonder if this was her way of sticking it to him. Her policy was only worth thirty-five-thousand dollars, so Reuben and I got nearly half of it. But Harvey clearly expected the whole enchilada. Who knew Aunt Mary could be so sly?

Reuben and I are still numb about it. We haven’t really talked much about what we’re going to do with it. Well, he does want to take the kids on a nice week-long vacation to Disney World and the other Florida fun parks. I don’t have a problem with that. They’ve never been there, and at six and nine they’re the right ages to go. Reuben and I will enjoy it just as much. We already decided that we want to stay in one of those furnished apartment hotels they have down there, where we’ll have our own bedroom, instead of a typical hotel room with all four of us crammed into it, me bunking with Shayla and Mitchell with Reuben. But that will only take a small portion of our windfall, maybe two grand tops. That still leaves a whole lot left. I know what I'd like to do with the money.

All my life I’ve lived in apartments. I’ve always dreamed of having a house in the country with a yard the kids can play in, on a nice suburban street where they can ride bicycles on the sidewalk. Mitchell wanted a bike really bad last Christmas. It really hurt Reuben and I to tell him he couldn’t have one. Not because we can’t afford it, but because there’s no place to ride it. We live on a commercial street near Yankee Stadium, right over a sheet metal shop. It’s noisy as hell down there, including on a lot of Saturday mornings when I’d like to sleep past 8AM. Half a block down is a junkyard, complete with mean dogs who bark at all hours. Walk in the other direction and you’ll see the Lexington Avenue El rumbling past, but you’ll probably hear it before you see it.

I can't even send the kids outside to play. There's no playground anywhere around. Our apartment is pretty nice, but small, only two bedrooms. Mitchell and Shayla are sharing a room. I always dreamed about a boyish room for my son, all plaid bedspread and curtains and a nice walnut desk; and an all-frills room for my daughter, all pink and white or maybe yellow, with a canopied bed. Instead they’ve got an androgynous space done in primary colors, with Shayla’s stuffed animals propped up in front of her pillows.
Reuben and I make fairly decent money – he’s the Grocery Manager at a local supermarket, and I’m a secretary in Marketing downtown – but the prices of houses here in New York are outrageous. And now there's talk of a recession in the wake of those horrible attacks on the World Trade Center last month. We can’t even afford to buy a co-op apartment, which in most cases are just rental buildings that have been converted. In other words, the bathroom is still in the hall and the kitchen is windowless. What I wouldn’t give to have a bathroom of my own. Well, to share with Reuben, of course.

Thanks to the money we inherited, there's a chance my dream will come true. First chance I get I’m going to talk to Reuben about it.

Read more about Camille Curry in my novel, If These Walls Could Talk, in stores now from Dafina Books. And check back tomorrow for Part III of What A Character, the last of the character blogs from If These Walls Could Talk.

Do It Again

While I'm getting ready to bake my pies and pound cake for Thanksgiving (and no doubt most of you are busy as well), I figured I'd do what network television does during holidays . . . run repeats. There's no law that says I can't repeat a blog column.

On the first of March, April, and May, respectively, I ran character blogs for the three main characters of my mainstream, If These Walls Could Talk, which was released May 29th. Following that well-worn advertaising technique of mind saturation, I'm running them again through Wednesday. If you haven't read the book, you should find them entertaining. Even if you have read the book, this is first-person text that was never intended for inclusion in the book. The purpose is to give readers a feel for each characters' mood and personality at the time immediately prior to the start of the novel.

And to saturate your brains, of course, with my novels. (The characters from my upcoming Once Upon A Project will be introducing themselves to you via guest blogs after January 1st.)

Character: Dawn Young from Brooklyn, NY
Book: If These Walls Could Talk, published May 29, 2007
Setting: October 2001, Brooklyn, NY

My name is Dawn Young. I live in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn with my husband, Milo, and our son, Zach. Our twelfth-floor apartment has great views of the Manhattan skyline . . . or maybe I should say had. Sadly, the skyline isn’t what it used to be since the terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center last month, on what had been a glorious late summer morning. Now all that’s left of the Twin Towers is a mountain of rubble . . . and a cloud of dust as a heartbreaking reminder all can see for miles around. The dust will eventually fade. The memory of that day won't.

Hundreds of people are down there working at the site, clearing away the rubble and pulling out bodies. You mark my words. Lung ailments in New York are going to shoot up in a year or two. It can’t be healthy, breathing in all that dust and toxins. And the odor of decomposing bodies isn’t exactly good for a person’s respiratory system, either.

I was worried about after-effects of the attacks on Zach, who’s just nine. The truth is, he’s handling it better than me. Of course, Manhattan is kind of distant for him. His world is pretty much confined to Brooklyn. Milo and I, on the other hand, go there to work five days a week. I’m a nervous wreck. I can barely breathe on the subway. I find myself eying my fellow riders carefully, my suspicions rising when I see someone who looks Middle Eastern. I know it’s not right — I’m not behaving any better than the white folks who’ve been keeping my people down for hundreds of years — but I can’t help it. Who knows when some maniac might try to do underground what some other maniacs did so far above ground? And all the innocent people they'll take with them.

Those people in the Towers that day did nothing wrong. They were just going about their business, trying to make a living, like Milo and me. I just can’t imagine the fear of those people trapped on floors above the impact zone. One minute, to be laughing and joking about what was on TV last night, and the next faced with a horrible choice between burning to death or drowning in smoke. A lot of those poor folks ended up jumping out of windows 85 stories or more above street level. And every one of them was something special to somebody: Somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s mother or father, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s dear friend. That awful morning left gaping holes in the lives of a lot of people. It easily could have been Milo or me, leaving our Zach with one less parent and changing his life forever. Both of us work in high rise buildings in midtown. I’m on the seventeenth floor, and he’s on the twenty-eighth. I know, I know. That’s too low for an airplane to slam into. Like that's really gonna make me feel safe. Before September 11th it never bothered me, but now I feel that it’s too damn high. If I never have to ride another elevator in my life, I’d be happy.

Fat chance of that happening. I can’t even get to my apartment without riding an elevator, unless, of course, the times when
both elevators are out of service. Which lately has been happening a lot more often than I’m comfortable with.

When I was a kid growing up in East New York, the elevators terrified me. I’d be okay if I was with somebody, but I’d never ride by myself. If the last person got out before I did, I’d get off with them and take the stairs the rest of the way. That probably explains why I was so skinny as a kid.

These days, I’m what you call statuesque. Milo loves the way I’m built. He likes all the meat on my nice round booty and my big boobs. To be honest, I rather like my body myself. I’m not fat, just big. I do have a defined waistline. But I know I’m carrying more weight than I ought to be, even with my height. I’m tall, five-nine. When I wear heels I’m often taller than Milo, who’s barely five-eleven. I’m bigger than he is, too. Milo has always been on the thin side, and in the years since we got married he’s put on a few pounds around his middle, but that’s all.

I keep telling myself that by the time I turn forty I’ll be in shape. Not toothpick thin like all those women you see on TV. I want to be gloriously full-figured, but I want to be under two hundred pounds. It means dropping about forty pounds. I should be able to do it. I’ve still got a couple of years.

At this point in my life I’m too heavy to be huffing and puffing my way up twelve flights of stairs when the elevators are out at home. The building I live in has eighteen floors, technically seventeen when you consider that there’s no 13. Lots of buildings in New York go from floor 12 to 14 because people are superstitious. Still, with a building that tall I don’t see why they couldn’t have put in a third elevator. Even when one elevator is out, it takes forever to get down to the lobby.

I really wish Milo and I could afford a house. Not some silly co-op, not even a condo. Most of those are just glorified apartments. So what, they put in vanities and movie-star lights in the bathroom, parquet floors, and oak kitchen cabinets. It’s still an apartment. The residents still have to pack up their laundry and bring it downstairs.

My dream is to one day have a real house, two stories, with a front yard and a back yard with trees. A formal dining room with a big, beautiful table and a cabinet to display all my china instead of a nook tucked between the living room and the kitchen. Lots of windows dressed with beautiful treatments. A kitchen big enough to put a table for casual meals. A
laundry room, where I can have my own washer and dryer. And Zach could have the dog he wants.

To me, that’s the ultimate in convenience, having your own washer and dryer. Lots of people in the building have them now — dishwashers too — but they’re not supposed to. They’ll be in big trouble if the management finds out they’re there.

It’s nice to have dreams, but the reality is that I’ve got a much better shot at success of losing those forty pounds than I do of ever owning a home. This is New York, traditionally one of the most expensive real estate markets there is. Neither Milo nor I know anyone who has a house. Everyone on both sides of our families, plus all our friends are tenants, paying rent every month. Rent that goes up every year, I might add.

Don’t get me wrong. We live pretty good, better than a whole lot of people. We take a nice vacation every summer. Our car is always a new model. And we’re some of the best-dressed folks you’ve ever seen. I just get a little jealous when I hear people at work, who commute from the Island or Jersey, or even from Queens, talking about re-paving their driveways or having their houses pressure washed or painted. Sure, some of them make more money than I do, but some of them don’t.
Makes me wonder what Milo and I are doing wrong.

Read more about Dawn Young in my novel, If These Walls Could Talk, now available in bookstores everywhere (and if they're sold out, they can order it!!!).
Be My Guest

My guest blog over at Romancing the Blog is up today (Sunday), so check me out over at www.romancingtheblog.com !

Chewing the Fat on Friday

My third post of the day. My, I've got a lot to say!

When I realized that I'm over two-thirds into my WIP, I realized that I'd better start thinking about the ending. With three separate subplots to wrap up, that last 30K can get eaten up very quickly.

I'm happy to say that The Idea Fairy hit two days ago, in pieces. One story's end came to me while I was driving to work. The other came to me while I was working after lunch. The last subplot came that night, as I was pouring out the first two onto the computer. This was thrilling for me; it means I can start polishing my synopsis and get it to my agent. I don't have to finish the manuscript; all I was waiting for was the ending to come to me. Completing a book that's two-thirds written will not be a problem, when the time comes (I'm optimistic; can you tell?)

Which reminds me, it's time for an updated count. Drum roll, please . . . .


Roughly 6,200 words since last week's count. I can live with that.

What comes next, you ask? Polish the synopsis (trim the fat, give it personality, sharpen its wit), send it to my agent, then work on another project. This next WIP isn't new; I was working on it simultaneously with the WIP referenced above before I concentrated on the one hardest to write.

I'll be rising early this weekend, as usual, but there doesn't appear to be a whole lot on TCM this weekend. I'll probably tune into Flower Drum Song on Sunday morning. I liked this movie even as a child because, like, A Raisin in the Sun, its cast was almost completely non-white (in this case Asian). It also has Juanita Hall, a favorite of Rodgers & Hammerstein (she had a prominent part in their South Pacific as well) and one of the relatively few black people without Asian blood who could believably pass for Chinese. (Ms. Hall worked with teens in Tarrytown, New York, in the 1920s (including my father), giving them pointers on voice.) I love the scene when she is on the phone ordering thousand-day-old eggs from the grocer and admonishes, "And make sure they're fresh!"

But the best movie will not air until Tuesday, November 20th, when TCM presents The Bad and the Beautiful at 8PM ET. (I mentioned a quote from it in my previous post.) Pay attention to the music; it's one of the most memorable movie scores ever written.

So much for chewing the fat on writing and entertainment. Now on to trimming the fat, the overeating season has officially begun. My job's cafeteria offered a Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, the last day for many people until after the holiday. A fabulous meal, with my choice of three sides to go with my turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and dinner roll. I enjoyed it immensely and ate every bite, but oh, those calories.

To combat the extra intake, I've initiated what I call the 12-step program. No, I'm not an alcoholic. I'm taking the stairs at work. I'm on the third floor, and between each floor there are two flights of 12 steps apiece. I go up those 48 steps when I get in in the morning and down when I leave at night. I also make at least three trips up and down during the day, which I will slowly increase. I've gotten to the point where I can climb up without getting short of breath, much less having to stop to gasp for air (which I did in the beginning).

I should see some results in a month or so . . . provided my knees hold out.
Have a great weekend!

All Men (and Women) are Prosecuted Equally

Maybe they should amend the Constitution. Because, from where I sit, black males have a better chance of serving time than anybody. Did anyone mention jail time when Marion Jones recently confessed to using steroids? What about all the other athletes?
But, be they Georgia or Louisiana teenagers or O.J. Simpson (I'm just waiting for him to get the max), the legal system seems to be out to get black males.
Not Even A Little Bit

So replied a character played by Kirk Douglas to a character played by Lana Turner in the 1952 movie about a ruthless producer, The Bad and the Beautiful, when she asked, "Will you marry me?"

Which brings me to my point. What is the big deal about whether illegal immigrants should have driver's licenses? Yo, people, they're not supposed to be here in the first place, remember? Yet both Hillary Clinton (two weeks ago in Philadelphia) and Barack Obama (last night in Las Vegas) hemmed and hawed when asked this question. So what's the problem? (Illegal immigrants don't vote, either, folks.) If there's a concern about alienating the Latino vote (hardly every person here illegally is Latino, but they probably make up the bulk of this group because of our proximity to Mexico), propose working out a plan to deal with the issue.

Coming up with the right answer to this question seems like a slam dunk to me. Damn, even Chris Dodd recognized that.

It's Ready For Pre-Order, Y'all!

Once Upon A Project now has an Amazon page:

There's no graphic yet, but it's listed with a release date of April 29, 2008. Get your orders in today!!! (God, just writing that makes me feel like a barker for a carnival sideshow . . . .)
Seriously, though, it costs nothing to pre-order (you are not charged until the book ships); in fact, you will receive a 5% pre-order discount. And if the price is lowered between now and the on-sale date, when it ships, you will automatically be charged the lower price on top of your 5% pre-order discount!!!
Stay tuned. The main characters will take turns "guest" blogging right here after the first of the year, with first-person observations to acquaint you with them in the months prior to the book's publication.
Embracing Your Inner Ho

Adrianne Byrd has an interesting post on her blog, http://adriannebyrd.net/blog , about the limitations often put on romance writers about their heroines. God knows I hate those old stereotyped romance heroines. Check it out!
A Bad Week in the Literary World

The writer Norman Mailer passed away last weekend. Last night came news of the death of Ira Levin.

Mr. Levin never became a household name, and his output was scarce at best - seven novels, the first of which was published 54 years ago, but chances are that anyone reading this blog will recognize his work. His first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, was published in 1953 when Levin was just 24 years old. Three years later it was filmed, giving Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner their best early roles. A tepid remake was released in 1991.

Among Ira Levin's other works: The cult classic Rosemary's Baby, which was also made into a film; The Stepford Wives, filmed twice and, like Rosemary's Baby, spawned one or more TV movie sequels; The Boys From Brazil, and Deathtrap, which began as a Broadway play.

It's not many authors who can say that most of their books were made into movies (two of them twice). Considering the financial successes of his books, it's no wonder that Levin didn't write more.

He once remarked that because he authored Rosemary's Baby he felt responsible for the string of 1970s Hollywood movies about the Devil (the most prominent of which were The Exorcist and The Omen. He added, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye, "Of course, I didn't send any of the royalties back."