The Write Time

When Friday rolled around last week, I was pleased to realize that I had pressing to do this weekend, not many errands, and very little laundry. I was done with everything by early Saturday afternoon. Now I had plenty of time to write!



Looking back, I am amazed at how much time I frittered away doing nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. My husband and I did go out for dinner and a movie (or, in the lingo of the Midwest, which my husband speaks, “the show”) on Saturday night. And I did finish the book I’d been reading since before Christmas (not because I was struggling through a boring story, but because I generally have to impose limits on how much time I can spend reading.) Then there was the weekly housecleaning, which in our small, temporary living quarters never takes very long. Plus I touched up my hair on Sunday (my hairdresser is 1,200 miles away, in Florida.)

Speaking of 1,200, that’s the number of words I wrote all weekend: 1,272.

On weekdays, when I’m on a temp assignment, I usually get in 45 minutes at the keyboard before leaving for work. That yielded 677 words this morning. I also write during my lunch break on my QuickPad (an electronic, battery-operated keyboard,) plus I usually manage to get a few pages done when I’m supposed to be working (the beauty of being a temp.) That made for another 798 words.

So, 1,272 words over two days off, and 1,475 in a single day when I spend eight hours at work. It doesn’t seem plausible that I can write so little with so much spare time and write so much when I have practically none. But that's what happened to me the last couple of weekends, ever since I started working again after a five-week break.

Weird, isn’t it?
And the Award Goes To . . .

I watched the Golden Globes last week. No real surprises. The usual mix of cleavage and bones. Meryl Streep was charmingly witty when she won (is it me, or does Ms. Streep pick up an award every year?), and Helen Mirren proved that you can be over 60 and still be sexy. Annette Bening and Warren Beatty are finally starting to look like a real couple to me, instead of another old dude with a much-younger wife (that dowdy dress she had on went a long way toward that.)

But two things made me really happy. Grey’s Anatomy, which I don’t watch all that often, won for best something or other, with the award accepted by Shonda Rhimes, probably the most powerful black woman in television today. (The happy occasion was somewhat marred by Isaiah Washington’s unfortunate reference to his co-star, T.R. Knight . . . but that’s a column for another day.) Another was to see Ugly Betty recognized by the . . . the body of people who vote for the Golden Globes, I believe, the Hollywood Foreign Press. America Ferrara looked anything but ugly in her purple dress, and her speech was so heartfelt. I’m glad that Vanessa Williams has landed a decent acting job. It’s always been slim pickings out there for black actresses, and it gets tougher the older they get. I haven’t even seen Alfre Woodard lately, and she’s been popping up everywhere the last couple of years. I still think somebody ought to give Vanessa a recurring part on Desperate Housewives, now that they’ve found their way back to less ludicrous storylines this season, being in the same age group as the rest of the broads on the block (and certainly just as skinny.)

The SAGs come on tomorrow night. In my mind these carry less prestige than the Golden Globes, but I’ll probably tune in anyway, even if I’m multitasking, just for GP (that means general purposes, for all you young folks out there.) But when the golden boy (and I mean that literally,) the Oscars, comes on the end of February, I’ll be glued to the TV.

Now I'm off to check movie times. I'd like to see Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. My suspicions tell me that this sophisticated film will be playing closer to Chicago rather than up here in the sticks, so if we're faced with a 20-mile drive, we'll probably end up seeing Martin Scorcese's crime drama The Departed.

Wish us luck!
Life in Bettieville

People ask me all the time, “How do you write a whole book?”

That’s easy. When you love something, you manage to do it. Sure, creating roughly 850 pages of manuscript (in 11-point Dark Courier) a year for the past three years, 325 pages of which eventually become a contemporary romance and 425 a mainstream women’s fiction, may sound daunting, but I consider myself fortunate. With my writing (and with the all-important approval of my respective editors,) I can create my own world. Call it Bettieville.

The whole process, from germ of an idea (“Hmm, I think I’d like to do a rags-to-riches Cinderella story”) to an entire novel (in this case, my own From This Day Forward) can be frustrating, especially when I hit a brick wall (there’s a lot of those in Bettieville, despite my efforts to bulldoze them.) So when I’m ready to take a break from contractually obligated manuscripts, I pull out my story outlines that are in progress. Sometimes absolutely nothing happens. Other times a light bulb goes off in my head, the missing link that makes it all come together, or the subplot that’s needed to meet the word count. Having a ready synopsis helps me keep on schedule.

Of course, ideas can come from anywhere, so my antenna is always turned on when watching the news, or when skimming through magazines, or when watching those Lifetime TV movies. I once got the idea for a fake pregnancy subplot for my romance A Love of Her Own from the latter, and an article in People magazine filled in the blanks for the aforementioned From This Day Forward.

Then there are the books that practically write themselves. Sometimes the storyline just flows, like the juice in that glass you accidentally knocked over. The ideas for my books Prelude to a Kiss, Straight to the Heart, and Where There’s Smoke came to me in the snap of a finger, and they were the easiest to write.

Funny. I always dreamed of writing mainstream women’s fiction. The happiness I felt when I obtained my first contract for this will always be a vivid memory for me. But although I knew this was my first preference, I found that I enjoyed writing romance too much to just stop. Why wouldn’t I? I wasn’t pressured to write to anyone’s specifications but my own. When I felt like I couldn’t write a fresh-sounding love scene, I stopped including them until I was ready to tackle them again, four books later. When I wanted to write about a heroine with an extensive sexual history because I was tired of heroines with just one miserable sexual encounter in their past or heroines who only knew one sexual position (including one who had been married [?!]), I was given the green light (that book, A Love For All Seasons, will be out this spring.) And no one insisted that I write an organized series (I have done series, but unofficial and unplanned,) which are very popular in romance but not a particular favorite of mine. So I continue to pound out those 850 pages annually for both genres, loving every minute of it.

The best thing about Bettieville are the people who drop by, i.e., the reading audience who enjoy my work. I don’t write because I expect to get rich from it. I write because I love doing it. Of course, reader requests are important, and I do listen to and plan to honor their requests asking for more about particular characters. On the other hand, being able to write what I want to write is, as they say, priceless. The public can be very fickle, and my personal tastes are admittedly a bit offbeat. Like most writers, I have to be true to myself and write what I love to write. I have no interest in being a hack, like the James Caan character in the movie adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery, who'd grown tired of the character that made him wealthy and provided for his daughter.

Ah, Bettieville, where I get to indulge myself by creating stories I want to tell. It’s the best place on earth for me.

Life is good.
And I Am Telling You It’s Oscar Time Again

The nominations were announced this morning, and the omission of Dreamgirls, the most honored film of the year, from the Best Picture category ignited cries of foul from lovers of the movie.

Over the years there have been plenty of nominees and winners that left me scratching my head. Like how on earth could Art Carney have won a Best Actor statuette for Harry and Tonto over the likes of Dustin Hoffman in Lenny, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, and Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II, for instance. Or why Malcolm X failed to make the final cut for Best Picture (okay, maybe that one can be explained by the Academy not liking Spike Lee.) Or why Rocky beat out Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men for Best Picture. Or how any movie can be nominated for Best Picture without receiving the same recognition for its director. Don't the two go hand in hand? Whose picture is it, anyway?

I for one am not too upset by what many perceive as a snub. Granted, I haven’t seen Dreamgirls. It was on my To Do list during my recent five-week break between temp assignments, but I got so bogged down going over 850 pages of copyedits and doing rewrites here and there, plus working on new proposals, that I didn't make it, and now I'm been called back to another assignment. But I did ee the play back in the 1980s, with its original cast of Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena, Loretta Devine as Lorell, Jennifer Holliday as Effie, and Obba Babatunde in, if I recall correctly, the role of Effie's brother. Even then, I thought that, while glittery and a showcase for 1960s costumes and wigs, the story seemed a little thin and the songs unmemorable (while Jennifer Holliday undeniably put everything she had into her big number, her voice was always too raw for my taste . . . and if I only had a quarter for each time an amateur show contestant has screamed out that song in the years since.) I was quite surprised when I heard they were making it into a feature film.

Some people are crying racism. Others say that the movie only came to life when Jennifer Hudson or Eddie Murphy were on the screen, and lackluster at other times. Others have said that Jennifer Hudson - at this point in her career more of a singer than an actress - wasn’t even all that hot, other than her shining moment when she sang that song, but that the seasoned Eddie Murphy really shone throughout.

I’m inclined to discount the racism factor, based solely on the stage version that I saw, which was enjoyable at the time but largely forgettable, like most musicals. God forbid people take a page from the Jet magazine playbook, always whining about all the performances that were overlooked by the Academy (and then proceeding to list every single performance by black actors in the year.) Someone at Jet actually wrote that Whitney Houston’s acting in Waiting to Exhale was worthy of a nomination.

Many folks upset by the Dreamgirls flap have stated courtesy of the Internet that they will not watch the broadcast when the awards are given out. I’ll be tuning in on Oscar night to root for Forest Whitaker (who might lose to Peter O’Toole, an excellent actor past 70 (he looks 90) who, if he loses again will hold the record for the most nods with winning.)

But there's something to be happy for. Since only original compositions written specifically for film are eligible for award nominations, I won’t have to sit through another performance of that song.
Will we ever overcome?

Yesterday was a good day. Both the NFL teams I rooted for won their respective championship games.

I've never been much for football and still am not, but living in Chicagoland I can't help but get caught up in Bears fever. I've always been a Colts fan; Indiana is my husband's home state, and I've been listening to him and his son cheer for them for the last 15 years. My hopes for the Super Bowl victor? The Colts. (Said softly, lest any Bears fans be lurking around.)

To my surprise, the final story featured on the network newscast this evening was the fact that both teams are going to the Super Bowl guided by African-American lead coaches. This was compared to the sports firsts by heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and major league baseball player Jackie Robinson (in 1910 and 1947, respectively.)

I heard this fact mentioned on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, but I would expect that. After all, Tom and the gang often present issues of interest to the black community. But it seemed out of place given such emphasis on the network news, a broadcast which, unlike the aforementioned syndicated radio show, does not have a predominantly African-American audience.

Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl game, was interviewed for the piece and said the media is making too much of it. At least one of the coaches said that while he is proud, in this day and age it really shouldn't be a huge deal. I agree.

I guess race will always be with us, just like death and taxes.
It's Game Day

And I just have this to say:

Go, Bears!!!!
Can I Get A Drum Roll, Please?

As a writer, it seems like I always have something to work on. For the last three years I've written two books a year, roughly 900 manuscript pages. I do have another life outside of being hunched over my laptop. There's my husband, my household, my puzzles, my bowling . . . reading for pleasure gets pushed to the bottom of the heap.
But last year, during which I had more leisure time because I didn't do a whole lot of working at an outside job, I made some time to read, just for the heck of it. I started reading a few titles that I could take or leave, some of which I have yet to finish, others which left me with a that's-six-hours-of-my-life-I'll-never-get-back feeling. I can't say that I came across a single book that I couldn't put down . . . that free-falling carefree life is a thing of my twenties; now my deeply ingrained notion of get-your-work-done-before-you-pick-up-a-book precludes letting the laundry or dinner or food shopping go because I've just got to find out what happens to So-and-So . . . but I read some books that I greatly enjoyed.
I have narrowed down my short list of best reads for 2006 to two titles, two very different types of stories. Bettye's picks for 2006 are (drum roll, please . . . .)

I read one at the beginning of 2006, the other at the end of 2006. Both had babies at the center of their storylines. RM Johnson's The Million Dollar Divorce was a roller coaster ride of emotions, including desperation, despair, a thirst for revenge bordering on obsession, and most important of all, hope. Adrianne Byrd's She's My Baby was a charming story of a female publishing executive (referred to in the book by the outdated term career woman, which belongs with stewardess and Betamax) with no maternal instincts whatsoever, and a sexy neighbor who gives a sistah a hand. But both were great stories, highly entertaining, enjoyable to the last page.
What more could you ask for in a book?
The Personal Price of War

"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young," Boxer said. "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families."

These were the words of Senator Barbara Boxer to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, which made perfect sense to me. Personally, I am grateful that neither of my boys are in the military.

But the White House and certain other people - mostly likely Republicans - are all up in arms, calling the remark "outrageous," claiming Senator Boxer attacked Secretary Rice for not having children, etc. Leave it to these people to attempt to whip up a loaf of bread with no yeast.

Life allows us to feel only a certain degree of empathy for the bereaved; it simply isn't normal - indeed, it's probably an inkling of a mental disorder - to literally feel someone else's pain. I do remember crying when I saw that movie that was made about the five Sullivan brothers, who were all killed when the ship they served on together went down in World War II. The scene when the family was informed of the deaths still stays with me today ("Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, I'm afraid I bring you very bad news . . .")

As bad as most of us feel when we see the photographs on the news of military men and women who have been killed, the cold, hard fact is that no one feels these deaths more keenly than their loved ones, and everybody knows it. Why do you suppose the rich and powerful use their connections to keep their children out of it, whether it be the Civil War or the war today?

Senator Boxer merely pointed out that neither she, with children too old and grandchildren too young to serve, and Secretary Rice, an only child who did not have children, do not have direct familial connections to the men and women serving in the military. The Secretary is a woman of high intelligence; there is no reason for her to be confused by the Senator's statements. Her reaction is nothing more than a staged attempt to turn the focus to women's lifestyle choices, and off of the real issue, the lives being lost in the ongoing Iraq war.

I just hope Senator Boxer sticks to her guns. The last thing the Democrats need is another John Kerry, whose comments about the unlikelihood of seeing college grads serving in Iraq were dead on, but whose waffling of the issue during the ruckus that followed did in his political career.
The Last Hurrah

So the President wants to get more troops in and go storming through Iraq. That doesn't sound like a bad idea, but only 20,000? That's not a storm, it's a shower.

I'm sick of this war. It's been going on for over five years. World War II didn't last that long, for crying out loud. I get heartsick at the photos of all those young people in our military who have been killed, each of them someone's son or daughter, someone's sibling, someone's friend, and often someone's sweetheart or spouse and someone's father or mother. Yet we've been plugging along, and the number of dead is fast approaching (if it hasn't already surpassed) the number of people killed in the Twin Towers alone.

He stated our involvement would not be open-ended, but didn't say how long our commitment would be. I'm sure he knows that he needs to have this wrapped up before the elections of 2008. Not so much for himself, since he can't run again anyway; but to save his party from losing to the Democrats and to give himself a legacy.

And if he plans to do a Nixon and prolong the war until a few months before the 2008 elections, I hope that people are smart enough to recognize that for what it is - a political ploy at the expense of American lives.

Personally, I don't think he's got even a remote shot at making much impact with 20,000 more troops. That's like Popeye eating one forkful of spinach.
Cokehead for President?

This latest controversy surrounding the confessed drug use in Barack Obama’s past is bullshit. The issue of illegal drugs has come up since the Presidency shifted a generation, from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton, the first Baby Boomer to be president. I’m a Baby Boomer myself, and I believe there are few people of that generation (whose ages now range from 42 to 60) who did not experiment with something in an era where going to college was practically synonymous with getting high on weekends, when people often smoked marijuana in public at open-air concerts, and when people commonly wore miniature plastic Coke bottles around their necks as a symbol of cocaine use. (If this sounds odd, trust me: You had to be there.)

Clinton famously dealt with the issue by saying he did try marijuana, but did not inhale. (That one clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame of Dumb Political Comments, along with his self-righteous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and the equally tight-lipped “I am not a crook” uttered by Richard Nixon in 1974.) Former Presidential aspirant Al Gore's staid personality probably saved his ass from close questioning. And I don’t recall George W. Bush addressing the issue at all as he valiantly tried to conceal his past drinking problem and his DUI arrest. (Alcoholism has affected a number of presidents, most notably Franklin Pierce (who Barbara Bush claims to be descended from, interesting because his children died in adolescence or younger,) Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.

I do understand that alcohol abuse isn’t against the law, and thus lies the difference. But it’s a fine line. Who’s to say that someone who habitually cheats on their spouse, with recent affairs, has a better moral character than someone who got high on cocaine twenty years ago, or than someone who has ever gotten behind the wheel of a motor vehicle impaired from liquor? A drug user is essentially doing the most harm to himself. Infidelity and driving while drunk hurts – or has the potential to hurt – other people. And don’t get me started on young men of privilege, like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who managed through their families’ wealth and influence not to be drafted into military service during the Vietnam Era.

While it would be better if drug use weren't an issue; personally, I don’t believe it is realistic to expect a candidate born after 1945 to not have experimented with illegal substances at one time or another. To know that a candidate once used drugs, at least on a casual basis, would not stop me from voting for him or her. On the other hand, anyone who was strung out, or even who required rehabilitation to stop using as opposed to simply outgrowing the stuff, in my opinion, has no business running for President in the first place. Embarrassing situations from our past that no one would care about otherwise usually make their way to the forefront if any degree of prominence is reached. (Case in point: The old bisexual/S&M photo scandal of Vanessa Williams when she became Miss America. I remember my father saying that she knew those pictures were out there someplace; did she really believe no one would bring them to light and miss a chance to make an easy buck at her expense?)

It annoys me that the people on the news are saying that Obama “rebuilt his life,” because it suggests he was a hard-core addict, pawning his belongings to buy more cocaine. I haven’t read his book, but I suspect he alluded to casual use (complete with inhaling of marijuana!) as a young man, not addiction. I think "went on with his life" is more appropriate wording.

Clearly Barack Obama was trying to quell any ruckus before it started by making a candid admission. The fact that it has re-surfaced several years after the publication of his book and has remained in the news for several days, to me, smacks of the ol' "vast right-wing conspiracy" one of his possible opponents spoke of fifteen years ago, only this time with a sturdier leg to stand on.
And Now For Something Really Important

Okay. Just last night I completed copyedits (I made changes to 150 pages!) for one publisher's manuscript when the doorbell rings this morning with copyedits from my other publisher. Right now I'm buried and can't really think of much else, at least nothing of any substance.

So tell me, which do you prefer, Staples' Easy Button or Office Depot's recently introduced (Helping) Hand?

My vote: The Hand. It's got more personality than a button. What do you think?
Praise is Fine, but Bury Him Already

Yesterday, a week after his death, the state funeral was held for President Gerald R. Ford, who is being remembered as a thoroughly decent man over thirty years after his pardon of President Nixon met with such a firestorm.

Although I was one of the Americans who voted for Jimmy Carter in the election of 1976 (my first presidential election as a voter,) I’m glad to see Gerald Ford remembered with such fondness. I don’t believe that Presidents should be exempt from prosecution any more than any other citizen, so I didn’t agree with the pardon then, nor has time reversed my stand. But Gerald Ford seemed to be a fairly decent and likeable fellow, Nixon pardon aside. I never heard any rumors about him tomcatting around with other women. Nor do I recall hearing any stories about wild behavior on the part of any of his children.

I thought that the behavior of the Ford offspring (calling four adults, ages 49 through 56, “children” doesn’t seem appropriate) and their offspring as they thanked the thousands who came to pay respects to their father and grandfather at the Capitol was commendable. I think it’s safe to say that there will be no “Daddy Dearest” books written by any of the Ford children. It’s nice to see such familial love.

I couldn’t help noticing just how peaked the family members looked at yesterday’s services. I was especially surprised at the frail, bent appearance of Betty Ford, who is now 88 years old. Mrs. Ford did not go into the Capitol with her children for one last look at her husband’s coffin on this extremely windy morning, and I have to wonder how she managed to get in there on previous days. I can’t imagine her getting up all those stairs. Hopefully there’s an elevator.

Of course, in the days following the death of a loved one, people tend not to look their best, even if the deceased, like the President, has been in failing health and the death did not really come as a surprise. Then I realized that these folks have been through a lot. There was the viewing of the flag-draped coffin prior to the private service for the family in the California desert city where President and Mrs. Ford lived. Then the family accompanied the coffin to Washington, D.C., for two days of public viewing (of the flag-draped coffin, not of President Ford himself.) Yesterday, after the state funeral, the family flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the President was raised, for yet more public viewing and a final service before burial later today. Now, that’s a lot of services. All that stress can make anyone haggard, and can be dangerous in a woman of Betty Ford’s age and somewhat unstable history.

I’ve always respected Betty Ford’s frank attitude, particularly in regard to her breast cancer, which prompted thousands of women to get checkups, and her candid admissions about her addiction to alcohol and pills and about her face lift (I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand it when women like Ivana Trump and Janet Jackson insist they’ve never undergone surgical improvements when anyone with eyes can spot the differences between before and after.)

But I remember thinking it odd that someone so open never corrected anyone when, prior to the 1976 election, she was asked if her husband planned to run for re-election (Gerald Ford was appointed, not elected, to his Vice Presidential post after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew, moving into the Presidency after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon.) But it's the reason she gave for her substance abuse made her credibility take a nosedive for me, and which I can't help but being concerned about now. Her husband was frequently away during his congressional career, and she felt so overwhelmed that she turned to drink.

Give me a break. This was a woman living in a lovely home in Alexandria, Virginia, with a maid (a black woman, natch) to do all the cooking and cleaning for herself and her four children. How many women lived in less affluent surroundings, who had to do all the cooking and cleaning for their families with no household help? Hell, my own mother had five children, the first four in a five-year period, and spent ten years living in a housing project, hardly the garden spot of the world. Our apartment was always spotless, our cupboards always full, because of her tireless cleaning and shopping. My earliest memories of her are her sitting behind the ironing board, an overflowing basket of folded rough-dry laundry on the floor nearby. Ironing gave her a rare opportunity to sit down.

Plenty of women of that era and now as well didn’t have husbands to bring home a paycheck while they kept house. That meant they had to do all that cooking and cleaning and food shopping and laundry and ironing themselves . . . after they worked to bring home the bacon, usually at jobs that paid nowhere near the amount men earned. These women had it toughest of all.

I know that people are made unhappy by different situations, but I feel that being literally driven to drink because your husband – who provided a comfortable life for you – did a lot of traveling and left you at home to care for your children is just plain lame. This hardly sounds like the same woman who after her marriage in 1948 agreed to keep a low profile until her new husband’s first Congressional election out of fear that her self-described background as a “divorced ex-dancer” might not sit well with conservative Midwestern voters.

The claim of the stress of raising children alone would sound more befitting if it came from a woman raised in wealth. (Anyone who believes that women like Jacqueline Kennedy, whose stepfather Hugh Auchincloss was a millionaire back in a time when it really meant something; and Nancy Reagan, whose neurosurgeon stepfather was hardly a pauper, even if he didn’t have the Auchincloss millions, got out of bed in the middle of the night to feed a screaming infant or who regularly bathed their babies themselves, raise your hand.) But Betty Ford did not come from this type of privileged background, and I never understood her whining.

Betty’s husband is gone now, after 58 years of marriage. Fortunately, she has the support of a large, loving family of children and grandchildren who will surely keep a close watch on her.

And I’m glad, for I suspect she’s going to need it. Dealing with the loss of her husband at this point in her life will likely be a lot more difficult than, half a lifetime ago, making sure her four young children are in bed by eighty-thirty or handing the housekeeper a shopping list.
Happy New Year!

It’s 2007! As the recently departed James Brown would say, Good Gawd!!!

A happy and prosperous new year to you and yours. May all your dreams come true.