Incompetence, Sheer Incompetence

My author copies of my latest romance, A Love For All Seasons, were delivered yesterday. My husband and I were on our way out, so the box sat in a corner for a few hours. It was after 10PM when we returned and I was exhausted, but something told me to open the box and look at one of my books. I recognized that "Something's wrong" feeling.

I examined a book. There were my Acknowledgments in the beginning (my goodness, did I recognize so many people?), my dedication. So far, so good.

My chapter titles were there. I remembered that I'd chosen them carefully, with the plan of running a months-long contest that I mentioned in my reader letter. I made a mental note to put the details on my web site.

Then I turned to the end to see what else I'd said in my reader letter.

It wasn't there.

Instead, there was a scene from a chapter more than halfway into the book. My eyebrows shot up. What the hell was this doing here? Is this how they ended my story?

I quickly backtracked a couple of pages. There was my original ending, thank God. But there on the very next page was this out-of-place scene, looking like a continuation of the book that is sure to confuse readers.

Then it hit me.

This was the scene I'd chosen for my "teaser," something I'd submitted under the publisher-described title "Page One," (there's a clue, Sherlock), to indicate its placement in the finished product. So how did this end up at the end? And what the hell happened to my reader letter? (Hint: Look at the title of this blog.)

A flood of memories came back. Me muttering curses as I read the "page proofs" (which had obviously not been, well, proofed) that I had to return because of run-on and repeated lines. A high school dropout could have done a better job. And who knows if all the corrections I pointed out were even made.

I think I already ended a blog these two words, but in this case they fit just as well, so I'm going to say it again.

I'm disgusted.
My Interview with Karen Scott

I did an interview with Karen Scott of I was anxious to see it; the interview was some time ago and I've been busy, and I wanted to see what I said!

Anyway, here's the link, so mosey on over if you get a chance:
My Website E-Mail is Dead . . . What a Way To Start a New Week

I think the above heading says it all.

It's like I've been cut off from the world!

And I don't have the faintest idea what to do about it. My last resort is paying that $59 fee Microsoft charges for service on Outlook Express. I just paid Linksys $30 last week to restore my wireless connection after an installation of a name antivirus software product shut it down completely.

I'm disgusted at this point.
File Under 'This Shit Could Only Happen To Me'

Last Thursday I had a lovely e-mail from a reader about my book, One on One. It was one of those intelligently written reviews I like, where the reader went into detail about what she likes about my writing. She's sharp, with a real eye for detail. She even pointed out an error to me, that I had attributed an action to a character who wasn't even in the scene, including the page number. (My in-house editor only looked at the early portions of this book; it was written as I was preparing to relocate and it was an extremely busy time for me.)

In her closing, she asked me a question and asked me specifically to please be sure to respond. Because I was at a client site, I read this through a web site that allows people to check their e-mail remotely. I looked forward to sending her a response every bit as detailed as her e-mail.

As I always do, I checked my e-mail again just before 4PM (my agent is in the East, where it is an hour later). This time I had an ominous message: "You have no messages."

How could that be? I should have been looking at all the messages I received earlier, plus any new ones. They would remain on the remote e-mail retriever until I got home and brought up my default e-mail carrier, Outlook Express. This suggested that all my e-mail was gone!

I told myself not to worry, that when I opened Outlook Express on my desktop at home my mail would return. That night, after league bowling, I booted up my computer. A few e-mails came in, none of them from earlier in the day. My e-mail had disappeared!

I contacted the remote service and asked if they could help me. I'm still waiting for a response, although with the weekend it might take a few days. But I feel just awful about this. The lady who contacted me is going to think I don't want to be bothered, and nothing could be further from the truth. I can't remember her name or anything, just that it was a damn good letter and that I wanted to help her with what she asked me about. I hope she'll see this and contact me again.

Cross your fingers for me that the e-mail service can somehow restore this correspondence. The last thing any writer wants to do is alienate loyal readers.

Sigh . . . .
The Great White Hype

People are talking about John Edwards’ decision to continue his bed for President in the wake of his wife’s recurrence of breast cancer, which has now metastasized. Interestingly enough, cancer patients with their firsthand knowledge have expressed all different opinions. Some say he’s power-hungry and selfish to put his ambition in front of his devotion to his family. Others say that his life will have to go on, even if his wife passes away. Still others say he is exploiting his wife’s illness to revive his trailing candidacy. Most uncomfortable of all, many are practically writing Elizabeth Edwards’ epitaph.

I’m no doctor, of course, but personally, I don’t see a particularly positive outlook here. Stage IV metastatic cancer is as high as the meter goes. Somehow I doubt that Mrs. Edwards will have the long survival of former first lady Betty Ford and former second lady Happy Rockefeller, both of whom were diagnosed over 30 years ago. Instead I see images of Michael Landon on the Johnny Carson show a few days after he announced that he had pancreatic cancer. Three months later he was gone.

It’s not up to me to say if the Edwardses made the right decision or a wrong one. I’m not a cancer patient myself, but I’d imagine that the issue of mortality and the future has to be discussed among the affected family, no matter how painful it is to speak about. A few other pertinent factors: 1) John Edwards knew he wanted to run for president even before his wife’s diagnosis. 2) The nature of the disease is to move around. 3) This couple seems to be close.
4) They are clearly intelligent people. All of this makes me believe they decided what path to take in advance, making the best decision for them for their own reasons.

They are wealthy people and can afford the best of care. When the media says things like, “She wants to take care of her children,” I do hope people realize that Mrs. Edwards is not worried about what she will do if she finds herself too weak to cook dinner, or to do the laundry and ironing. Most people with millions don’t do that (many dual-career couples with high incomes don’t do that, either.) They have nannies to care for the children, maids to cook and clean, gardeners to take care of the begonias. (Likewise, the media made so much of Nancy Reagan “taking care of the former President” during his decline from Alzheimer’s, like she was really the one giving him sponge baths and changing his bed linen. I found this implied impression insulting to the exhausted caretakers of millions of other Americans.)

John Edwards may be trailing behind Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama among the Democrats (even if he’s getting all the headlines at the moment), but it is still early in the race. What no one in the Edwards camp is saying, but what they had to have thought of, is that he represents an alternative for the millions of Americans who are aghast at the thought of a woman or a black man in charge of the country. He is also likely to learn much sympathy for the way he rushed home from the campaign trail to be at his wife’s side (a situation that is likely to arise again). And he puts every single one of his opponents in the unenviable position of not being able to criticize him - for anything - without looking like insensitive oafs.

But whatever happens, I do wish Elizabeth Edwards the best.

Why I Never Get Tired of Looking at Terrence Howard

Terrence is on the cover of the April Essence.

The fellow on the right is my husband, as he looked when he was in his early 30s (In addition to picking up weight in the years since, he now has a liberal sprinking of gray in his beard, which he attributes to Yours Truly.) His widow's peak doesn't really show, and his eyes photographed dark (they're not quite as light as Terrence's), and his skin has more of a red tone to it than Terrence's . . . but damn if Terrence doesn't remind me of him. Terrence looks more like my husband than his own brother does, something my other half vehemently denies ("That man don't look nothin' like me.") Everybody else can see it except for him.
I'll have to bring this magazine along with me the next time we visit my mother-in-law. If she says there's a resemblance, that will stop the protests once and for all!
It's Good To Be Confident, But A Little Ego Goes A Very Long Way

I started a new temp assignment recently, a professional one involving proofreading and formatting documents before submission to the FDA. After two weeks, all is going well, and I'm pleased with my performance and what I've learned. My eye is getting sharper all the time (a skill that no doubt will come in handy when reading over my own manuscripts), and I am more comfortable working with MS Word (I'm a WordPerfect gal, but of course that software is pretty much obsolete in our Microsoft-dominated world.)

The documents I work with have been composed by medical writers, and I have been warned not to actually change anything they've written, just point it out for them and let them decide what to do. That makes perfect sense to me. They're the authors; the final decision should be theirs. I admire their skills, and I'll say this: It's much easier to say what's wrong with a document than it is to actually create it, whether it be background information relating to a new pharmaceutical product or a work of fiction, the latter being my specialty.

But what doesn't make sense to me is the attitudes of some of the writers, the ones I'm told will react to suggestions by haughtily saying, "Leave it the way it is." In other words, they won't even consider the possibility that perhaps they've gotten a word or a punctuation mark wrong, left out a word, etc.

I find this attitude incredulous, and more than a little pathetic. As a fiction writer, I continually strive to improve my product. I still struggle with certain grammatical rules, like the difference between lay and lie, and the difference between that and which. When I lived in Florida I attended a critique group, not regularly anymore because of time constraints, but occasionally, like when I wanted feedback on a new project. Some of their suggestions were completely outlandish, because they either didn't "get" the story or understand the culture of the characters. But other suggestions they made were invaluable. The trick is, you have to know the difference, what will work for your story and what won't.

I also welcome feedback from readers, even the negatives (at least those that give explanations as to why they didn't like my story). I get nothing constructive out of a review that says something like, "Terrible! Couldn't finish it!" Although I must admit, my personal favorite was the person who wrote simply, "A note to the author: Please don't ever write another book." Even now I'm smiling; it was hilarious. I bristle when I hear authors say that people who write negative reviews "have it in" for them. Do they really feel they've written masterpieces? Can they honestly say that they absolutely adored every book they've ever read? So why should their work have universal appeal? (I know, because they wrote it.)

I wonder if I'm the only author who feels this way. Because, in my opinion, maintaining the belief that you know everything about writing and/or are immune from errors and/or cannot possibly do anything to improve your work, no matter how many hundreds of documents or short stories or novels you have had published, is a demonstration of ego so strong it's laughable.
It's 55, not 85

We've had a bit of spring here in Chicagoland. The temperatures have risen to the 50s. Adults are choosing to leave their jackets in the car to walk outside in their shirtsleeves. So are kids.

That's what annoys me.

Adults can make their own decisions. If they want to be sneezing by Thursday, that's their business. But kids often don't know better. They're kids. That's why they have parents.

And the parents ought to know better than to let their kids run outside in 55-degree weather wearing short-sleeve shirts with no jackets.
The Early Bird

The Presidential race never ceases to amaze me. For one, I don't believe candidates have declared their intentions to run so early. I woke up this morning to the news that two more Republicans are expected to make formal announcements. One is a senator very vocal in opposition to the Iraq War, whose name I can't remember, but who reminds me of what the actor who played Jimmy Olsen on the old George Reeves Superman series would look like as an older man. The other is actor turned politician turned actor Fred Dalton Thompson, who would be undergoing another transformation back to actor.

I know what you're thinking. Not another actor in the White House; Reagan was enough. I will go out on a limb here and say that I'm willing to hear what Fred Thompson has to say. He made an impression on me during the fracas following the 2000 election. Most Republicans were pounding their chests like Tarzan, saying, "We won, we won," two behaved with more dignity. One was John McCain. The other was Fred Thompson. Both men, instead of gleefully declaring victory and accusing the Democrats of being sore losers, spoke about how unfortunate the entire situation was, and that they hoped a satisfactory resolution could be found. I have had respect for both politicians ever since.

While I respect John McCain, I do disagree with his position on the war, and I also feel he's a little old to be in the race; he'll be 72 at the time of the election next year, even older than the 69 the aforementioned Ronald Reagan was when first elected in 1980. I don't know too much about Fred Thompson, other than he left politics after suffering a personal tragedy (the loss of his daughter.) But I'm willing to hear him out. While I am a Democrat, I'm no party animal (i.e., whatever position the party takes is my position.)

It should be interesting.
Get Real

I just started a new temp assignment this week (which is why I haven't posted a whole lot; these people are really working me!) I work in a quiet environment; when you're proofreading medical documents and formatting them for the FDA you don't want a lot of distraction, lest you let a curvy apostrophe or a similarly spelled but incorrect word (creatine vs. creatinine) slip past you. But it's not all bulleted lists and drug trials; we do chat. The big topic of conversation today was that So-and-So got booted off American Idol last night, while Whosis got to go on to the next round. At least my colleagues chatted. I merely listened.

Listening to the chatter, I was reminded of an assignment I worked on last year. A group of women were discussing what they expected to happen on that night's Dancing With The Stars. These were professional women with an alphabet soup of initials after their names. No one expects them to go around sprouting 13-letter words, yet I couldn't help thinking that I could have been listening to a break-room conversation among waitresses or department store clerks.

Okay. You've probably guessed this by now, but I think that the reality craze has gotten out of control. It seems like every night is full of hour-long blocks devoted to people trying to find work, people going on treasure hunts, people against the elements on remote islands, people sharing living space, pseudo-celebrities allowing the public to view their lives, people trying to lose weight, pseudo-celebrities trying to lose weight, people trying to get a date, people looking to be made over so they can get a date, households swapping mother figures, or talent shows.

This type of programming has been around as long as TV itself. Even in television's infancy, producers knew that low-cost programming, if it attracted even a modest audience, could be huge money-makers for them. The Original Amateur Hour and Candid Camera both debuted in 1948, as did Toast of the Town, which is better known by the name it took in 1955, The Ed Sullivan Show. They are cheap to produce, and many have high ratings, making them a boon for the networks, who collect hefty advertising fees from sponsors to buy ad time.

As for me, I'll be watching the occasional drama and waiting for Ken Burns' newest documentary on World War II, which PBS has decided to air at the same time the fall shows are premiering. No doubt they're banking on people weary of watching the millionaires with laughingly bad haircuts and know-it-all Englishmen control their little corners of the world.

Personally, I hope they all get Lost.
Pardon Me?

"Scooter" Libby has been convicted. The question is . . . how much jail time will he serve?

My prediction . . . Not one day. The appeals process will now begin, and when it's over, or when President Bush's term is ending, whichever comes first, there will be a pardon issued.

Anyone want to predict when the pardon will come through?
All That Money . . .

The Mega Millions jackpot went to $370 million. I was exhausted when I left work, but I nevertheless drove past my house and went to the gas station to buy a ticket (that's right, a ticket, as in one.) I play the same numbers all the time, and my experience has been that the more tickets I have doesn't do a damn thing to increase my chances of winning.

Well, the winning numbers have been selected, and I had exactly one of them. Seems fitting somehow.

I'm sure some lucky soul (hopefully souls) is a winner.

As for me, I'm going to bed.
I'm Confused . . . .

I just finished watching the NAACP Image Awards. I do enjoy watching awards shows, I like to see who's put on weight, who's slimmed down, and how people look. It's usually no surprise, the same people look elegant year after year, the same people look like they were dressed by a blind person, the same people look like they were going out to wash the car, and the same people look like they're about a quarter-inch from having a titty malfunction.

Among those in the elegant camp (the only ones I will name): Tracee Ellis Ross, Mo'Nique, Raven-Symone (I refuse to spell her name with an accent mark when she doesn't pronounce it accordingly, to me that's just silly;) Queen Latifah, a young lady in a stunning black-and-white gown whose intro I missed but looked like she could have been Kerry Washington, and most of the men.

But here's the rub: They're called the Image Awards. I interpret that as meaning people of color playing roles of upstanding, respectable citizens or whose music can't be called objectionable (no lyrics about bitches or ho's.) So who wins? Not Will Smith for his role as a homeless single father trying to make a better life for himself and his son, but Forest Whitaker for his frighteningly realistic portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who by no stretch could be called a nice guy. Vanessa Williams also picked up an award for her role as the boss from hell on Ugly Betty. She shrieks, she schemes, she lies . . . . is that a good image?

Okay, so sometimes the best roles aren't the ones that paint the most illustrious images of persons of color. (I'm sure Denzel Washington was recognized a few years back for that lowdown snake he played in Training Day.) It wouldn't be fair to eliminate good acting performances just because their characters aren't moral people. But has it occurred to the powers that be at the NAACP that the name of their award is sometimes an oxymoron to the characterizations for which people win?

I think it should. Because, as I said, I'm completely confused about what they're trying to do.

And Now For Something Completely Different

My latest mainstream women's fiction, If These Walls Could Talk, will be out on May 29th, less than three months from now. I thought I'd introduce you to one of the characters. The plan is for other characters to follow in April and May, but that's just a plan. Plans have been known to go astray.
In the meantime, enjoy!

Character: Dawn Young from Brooklyn, NY
Book: If These Walls Could Talk, coming 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 a lot of 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.

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 upcoming novel, If These Walls Could Talk, coming May 29, 2007 from Dafina Books.