Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Since no prominent people have put their foot in their mouth lately, I thought I'd pull something out of the past to share with you.

Back in the 1950s, a talented pianist named Oscar Levant had a variety show on television. In addition to his musical skills, Oscar was also quite witty. He frequently checked himself into what was delicately known as a "sanitarium," but instead of trying to conceal his emotional problems, he poked fun at them with comments like, "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line."

But one of Oscar's comments got his show yanked off the air before you could say Rice Krispies. Referring to Marilyn Monroe's recent remarriage to playwright Arthur Miller in a ceremony conducted by a rabbi, Oscar said, "Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her."

After he was out of a job, Oscar said, "I didn't mean it that way."

Yeah, right. But I'm surprised that America in the 1950s even got it.

Today's the Day

Oops. I kinda lost a day there because of the holiday, and because my head's been buried in my laptop as I get into my Thirty-Day countdown to D (Deadline) Day. Today is Tuesday (and a gorgeous day it is after the so-so weekend weather, as I predicted on this blog just last week). If These Walls Could Talk is due on store shelves today, so be sure to pick up a copy! If you live in my hometown of Yonkers, New York, there should be autographed copies at the Waldenbooks in Cross County Center; and also at The Book Nook and at the B. Dalton at Regency Square Mall, both in Jacksonville, Florida.
If you haven't read my character blogs, posted on the first of March, April, and May, respectively, they are still here in my archived posts.

If you like If These Walls Could Talk, please tell everybody (and I do mean everybody . . . the bank teller who processes your deposit . . . the customer service rep you're connected with on the phone who sounds like a sister . . . the ladies at the hairdresser, the lady in the next chair when you get that pedicure.) In the unlikely event it's not your kind of story, well, feel free to keep that little morsel to yourself.

Wishing you good reading!
Miss USA Tumbles

In a video that's likely to be played dozens of times (think Former President Gerald Ford tripping over his feet), Miss USA fell on her butt during the evening gown competition of the Miss Universe Pageant last night in Mexico City. The swiftness with which she got to her feet is demonstrative of true youth and makes me realize how close I am to the "I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up" phase of my life.

Anyway, something like this was bound to happen. High heels, even one step (although I'm not certain there was a step involved in this mishap), and no banister don't go together any more than fish and ice cream. Better it happen to a young woman in her 20s than at the Academy Awards with a woman over 50, over 70, or even worse, over 90 (although it looked like Olivia de Havilland had the good sense to wear flat beneath her gown at her last Academy Award appearance.) Trust me, a 90-year-old woman who takes that kind of spill won't be able to get up at all, nor will she smile afterward.

Hey, I wonder if beauty pageant contestants still are required to wear high heels with their swimsuits?
The Silent Majority

Okay, all you lurkers. I know you're out there; I've got a stat counter on my site. I know you're coming back to read more posts (did I mention I've got a stat counter)?

I don't know who you are or where you are. You're just anonymous statistics. But I'd love to hear from you, whoever you are! So respond to something once in a while. Give poor Gwyneth a break. (Hugs to you, my friend.) Surely you don't want me to get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the author with the fewest blog responses.

Have a good Memorial Day weekend. I hope it's not raining where you are. I've never seen such an iffy spring in my life. In New York it used to rain 8 out of 10 Memorial Days, and Chicago is due to have showers off and on all weekend.

That's all right for me; I've got a book to finish and need to keep my ass in the house. But most folks don't. It's not fair for the sun to come out of hiding on Tuesday, when we have to head back to work.

Maybe July 4th will be better.
It's Later Than You Think

I saw a TV interview this morning of a woman who, at age 60, just gave birth to twins. When asked if she felt she was too old, she replied no, citing that both her parents lived into their 90s.

Well, that explanation made about as much sense as putting nipples on mannequins. Just because Mom and Dad lived long lives is no guarantee that their offspring will live at least that long. Just ask my two brothers who died at 36 and 39, respectively. (That's a rhetorical question. They're dead, remember?)

I suffered from infertility through both my marriages. When I turned 40, I said to myself, "It's time to move on." (Okay, first I wrote a book about a heroine who couldn't have children, [A Love of Her Own], then I moved on.) My husband and I have a 7-month old grandchild, whom I just adore . . . but I'm glad she's not my child. In my opinion motherhood is either for the young, or the very early middle-aged. I used to kid my husband that I'd probably get pregnant at 50, and I'd deal with it by jumping off a bridge . . . after I shot him, of course.

I wish the new parents lots of luck and stronger invincibility than George Armstrong Custer. Of course, twin babies aren't the same as 20,000 Sioux warriors. Then again, if this new mother could afford to get impregnated in the first place (I haven't heard much about the method used, but I'm pretty sure it didn't happen the usual way), she can probably afford to pay someone who will get up for those middle-of-the-night feedings and later, to chase two active toddlers around.

I'm just happy to be Grandma Bettye.
Girl, Put Your Records On

A couple of weeks ago I caught that old Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt romantic comedy What Women Want on one of the cable networks. I thought this was a stylish movie when I first saw in the theater (not with my husband; this is definitely not his kind of movie). Not only did Helen Hunt have a fabulous wardrobe, but the settings were like a two-hour advertisement for New York. And the music was nothing short of heavenly.

This viewing I perked up at two songs I knew I had to hear again: The standards Night and Day and If I Had You, both sung by vocalists my ear didn't recognize. I've always been a big fan of standards, having grown up with my parents listening to their favorites, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Doris Day. So I went to the Internet and researched the identity of these singers. Night and Day was performed on the soundtrack CD by none other than the Temptations, who gave the Cole Porter classic a dreamy, romantic sound I hadn't heard before. Frank Sinatra came close, but like many other artists, his version includes the intro, ("Like the beat-beat-beat of the tom-toms . . . .") that I've concluded is impossible to sing, Cole Porter lyrics notwithstanding, nearly ruins the rest of the song, and is best left in instrumental versions.

Of course, the Tempts have had more lineups than my husband has had in 15 years of league bowling, so I don't know which incarnation of the group performed this song, only that they did a fabulous job with it. (Another artist who can turn a mean standard is Chaka Khan. I heard her sing a cute little ditty called Hazel's Hips plus a few other gems on her Classikhan CD, which I've got to get a copy of.)

The other vocalist (If I Had You) was someone named Nnenna Freelon, whose name I remembered seeing simply because of the unusual spelling of her first name, which I imagine is pronounced, "Nina." I listened to other recordings by her, and she is one talented sister. She does covers of standards and more contemporary music (i.e., the music of Stevie Wonder), always applying her own unique phrasing. Her version of the standard Prelude to a Kiss (the title of one of my early novels which was around long before that Meg Ryan movie) just blew me away. Ms. Freelon took ownership of that song, just the way Lena Horne owns Stormy Weather and Etta James owns At Last. Why this singer is not a huge star falls under the "Life's-Not-Fair" category.

Then again, maybe I've just been in the dark. Is anybody reading this familiar with this gifted artist? I'd love your recommendations.
Something I Found Amusing

A remark attributed to Winston Churchill, reportedly on ending a sentence with a preposition:

“This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”

Of course, he could have been talking about anything, like the London Blitz. But isn't it fun to think that this Prime Minister - who was a nonfiction author as well - was indeed referring to punctuation?
Tune In Tomorrow

As I watched the closing moments of last night's season finale of Desperate Housewives I recalled hearing in the beginning of the year that one of the housewives would be eliminated by season's end. At first I thought it would be Edie, who didn't have a whole lot to do in the first place. Then, last week, I thought maybe Lynette would bite the dust. I know now that my initial guess was the correct one.

The writers sent Edie off with a whimper, considering her personality, which was just as scheming and dishonest up to her next-to-last scene as it was in the very first episode. But I can swallow it. "Woman haunted by fear of ending up alone puts all hopes in new relationship and gives up when it goes bust."

Overall, I thought the third season much better than the second. Loose ends were tied up, and new ones created. What delicious things are going to go wrong for Susan and Mike, now that they're married? What will Gabrielle do after learning the underhanded reason why that dude she just married was so anxious to marry her? And how will Carlos react to Edie's suicide? It's clearly not over between Carlos and Gabby. (That would have been enough to drive Edie to suicide, after losing Mike to Susan.) How long will Bree be able to keep up the charade of covering for her daughter's pregnancy? And what about Lynette's health?

I hope the producers put some more color on Wisteria Lane. I love Alfre Woodard, but that whole storyline in the second season was ridiculous. I still say bring in a 40-ish, sexy actress to blend in with the others.

That's probably my only wish for the show. I'll be tuning in come fall.

To be continued (organ music) . . . .

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille"
Okay, so Mother's Day was a week ago. I wanted to post the newest photos of my adorable grandchild, who is now 7 months old, but my scanner wouldn't cooperate. So here's an old photo of our beautiful baby girl, from back in the day when she slept most of the time.
And a prettier sleepyhead you never saw, I'm sure.
Print Shop is a Writer's Best Friend

The scanner and photocopying portion of my all-in-one printer suddenly stopped working, which annoyed me because I was about to do a booksigning and had just run out of business cards (which for me are color copies of my latest novel with my website printed on the back.) I run the page through my printer to get my website on the back of the cards, but the cover has to be photocopied in business-card size. Which meant I had no cards.

Then I remembered Print Shop, which I use mostly for postcards to send to people on my mailing list without e-mail addresses. It took about five minutes to design a card with the cover art of both my new releases and other vital info. The day was saved!

I took a closer look at this software and thought of it the week before Mother's Day, when I was shopping for greeting cards and was put off by prices as high as $6 for one card (I bought two, for my mother and my husband's mother . . . everyone else received our best wishes). I bought a package of 25 print-ready blank greeting cards for 11 bucks, just in time to send greetings to four nieces, all with birthdays between May 13th and 19th), my godmother's 90th birthday, and a friend's daughter who's graduating high school (the software includes dozens of designs for all occasions).

I realize I might sound like one, but no, this is not a paid advertisement. I'm just so tickled that I can do all this promo and personal stuff myself and save a ton of money, which is always a good thing. This software, which has been around for years, is the best thing to come along since the Post-It note.

Now, if I can only keep from running out of ink . . . .

In Memoriam

Author Katherine D. Jones passed away yesterday, May 17th.

I never met Katherine. I learned last December that we have a mutual friend, and we both got a kick out of this when I e-mailed her. We corresponded back and forth by e-mail. I found her to be charming and funny. On-line contact is not unusual in the world of black romance writers, at least in my experience. I have “chatted” with numerous colleagues via the Internet before actually meeting them face-to-face. We said we hoped to meet at a future Slam Jam. Sadly, this will not happen.

In addition to being a writer, Katherine was a wife and mother to two sons. She will be greatly missed by her family, her friends, and her readership.

Rest in peace.
And Then There Were Three

I was stunned and saddened – in that order – to learn of the untimely passing of Yolanda King at the age of 51.

With my own 50th birthday approaching very rapidly, I am more aware than ever of my own mortality. Names in the obituaries are no longer anonymous old people or even parents of friends (many people I know have lost both parents by now); they are my contemporaries. To learn that someone your own age suddenly collapsed and died is . . . well, frightening. I picture her parents in Heaven, looking up and exclaiming, "What are you doing here so soon?"

My condolences to the King family, who have suffered more than their fair share of sudden and tragic deaths. And I do hope that the surviving three siblings, whose two vs. two squabbles re the management of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change made headlines following the death of their mother, Coretta, last year, can finally come to an agreement, if they haven't already.
Still Chuckling Over This One

One of the computers on our home network went out last night. I decided the problem probably laid with my wireless adaptor, since everything else seemed to be working. So today I bought a new one, a compact USB adaptor, according to the box.

I installed the software, but when I was prompted to insert the damn thing it wouldn't fit. A closer look revealed that my compact adaptor would only fit in the USB port if I removed my keyboard, my mouse, and my printer. (This is an older model desktop, from before the time when manufacturers began installing additional USB ports in the front.) Removing these peripherals would, of course, render my desktop useless.

I ended up going to a different store (the first place I went to only had this type of adaptor, and I'm just not up to driving back there tonight to return it) and purchased a different model, but the manufacturer's use of the word compact to describe this monstrosity cracks me up.

And after the aggravation I've had the last two days I could use a good belly laugh.
Happy Mother's Day

In honor of this day, I was going to post the newest picture of my granddaughter, who is 7 months old and utterly charming. Unfortunately, there seems to be something wrong with my scanner, so no photos.

Just good wishes.
How Do They Do It?

Yesterday morning I boarded the Union Pacific North Line at the Great Lakes Station in North Chicago, bound for the Ogilvie Transportation Center in the city, where I had a book signing (a rather successful one, but that's not the subject here). I parked in a numbered parking spot, as non-numbered spaces are reserved for regular commuters, of which there were about two dozen.

I've never been much of a commuter - for years I worked in my home office - but before I reached my destination, I found myself not envying those two dozen folks who make this trip daily. It took one hour and ten minutes to get downtown. By car, in steadily moving traffic, it takes maybe 45 minutes. Of course, driving into the city during business hours is a stupid idea unless you've got a couple of hours to fritter away.

What struck me as odd is that, unlike New York's Metro North, there is no such thing as an express train on the Union Pacific. Each train stops at each station from Kenosha, Wisconsin, all the way to downtown Chicago. Some trains will only run as far as the southern part of Lake County, just north of Cook, but they don't skip stations.

And here's the rub: While the Citicorp Building is above the train station and other buildings are nearby, many people who work in buildings further away have to get on a bus to get to work. That hour and 10 minutes can easily stretch out another half hour. And that's just one way. Chances are these people spend three hours a day just getting back and forth to work.

This experience made me remember the original Bob Newhart Show (which was set in Chicago), in which the opening credits depicted Bob kissing Suzanne Pleshette good-bye and leaving for work, walking, waiting at a train platform, switching trains, walking some more . . . I was a teenager at the time, but I remember saying to myself, How long does it take this poor man to get to work??? That's a lot of time.

Commuters have my utmost admiration. But I'm glad I work 3 miles down the road and can be there in 10 minutes.
Who, Me?

This morning, the Today show ran a segment on an identity theft ring who, courtesy of a hospital admissions clerk, specialized in stealing the identities of the dead. It's a damn shame that a person can't register for a hospital stay or get their taxes done without having to worry about someone taking their personal information and using it to establish credit and run up thousands of dollars of purchases.

While these people were completely innocent, it pays to be alert. This reminded me of an e-mail I recently received, from a "student" at a high school who said she was doing a paper on her favorite author, and asked me to answer a couple of questions so she could turn in her paper on time.

This alone raised my suspicions (it must be the New Yorker in me). Doing a paper on me? Why, for heaven's sake? She then proceeded to ask me for a) my date of birth, b) my place of birth, c) the names and ages of my children, and a few other questions that had nothing to do with my writing, everything to do with my personal life and were, frankly, none of her business. (I half expected her to ask for my mother's maiden name, but even she must have thought that was going too far.) Apparently this "student" was hoping that I will be so flattered at being her favorite author that I will blindly provide all kind of personal information to her.

Not a chance.
Easy as Pie

I watch a lot of old movies, and it never fails to crack me up when writers are shown as simply sitting down at the typewriter and typing out their latest project. There's the typewriter, and there's a stack of paper. Nowhere is there any evidence of any editing or correction tools in the pre-computer age. No erasers, no red pens. The implication is that the manuscript, whether it be an article, short story, novel, or screenplay, that they typed out was what they sent off . . . and what was ultimately published.

This is bullshit. Writers don't merely sit down and bang out a project; they sweat it out by checking facts, then constantly revising, expanding, deleting. This takes a lot of thought, especially when we can't put our finger on just what's wrong with that sentence, only that there is something wrong.

There's a popular misconception that writing is "easy" work. For those who find writing easy, perhaps they are genuinely talented and can create fine prose with only minor edits. This is possible, but rare, I suspect. More likely, the manuscript will be riddled with repetitive phrases, stale cliches, and/or read like a first draft.

I'm just glad that I became a writer in the computer age. Writing is hard enough without having to do it with no edit or delete function.
You Can Tell the Price of Gas Has Risen When . . .

The sign on the gas pumps at Wal-Mart that said, "No Pre-Pay Necessary . . . We Trust You" has been taken down and replaced with "You MUST swipe your credit card or pay inside before any gas will be dispensed."

Three-twenty a gallon. Damn.
Watch Out For That Tree!

I went out for my walk last night, the one I take a) if I don't have to stop at the Wal-Mart Supercenter to pick something up, or b) if I have to cook because there aren't any more leftovers, or c) if it's not too cold or windy or raining outside. Carrying my handheld recorder (why just walk when I can walk and compose a scene or two for my book?) I walk out to the main road (less than ¼ mile) and around a large circle, upon which used to sit a shopping mall, which has been razed. The land, except for a lovely fountain and name sign in two corners and a large Retail Parcels Available sign on the third, sits empty, and the sidewalks have been freshly laid. (I understand the city is trying to override the law that prohibits casinos from being built inland, but I digress.) A good mile-plus in diameter, it's a favorite spot for people to stroll, by themselves, with a friend, with their spouses, with their dogs, with their kids, and sometimes the whole family, Grandma and Grandpa included.

But last night I saw something I'd never seen before. A woman was walking at a steady pace while simultaneously reading a book. No shit, the sistah was reading.

Since I get nauseated if I try to focus on the printed word while in motion (unless I'm on a plane or a train), I found this fascinating in itself. I was also amazed that she could keep up that pace without falling on her face or at least stepping in dog poop. The fairly new, smooth sidewalk probably helped with the former, but there's no saving a person from the latter, especially considering that most of the canines around here are small-statured with small poop. I passed her twice, and because she had passed the turnoff to the residential area she was clearly walking more than one length of the circle (if sistah's tryin' to lose weight and can keep this up, I predict she'll drop 40 pounds in no time.) Both times her eyes were glued to her book, not missing a step as she said hello.

I wanted to kick myself for not having my business cards with me, but in hindsight I'm not sure she would have been willing to stop long enough to accept one from me!
Madison Avenue Strikes Again

This morning while driving to work (this contractor was late again, but hey, with everything on my plate right now I've got to cut back on something – I heard a commercial for an insurance company. The male announcer said something like, "We understand that you want to protect the things that matter most to you – your home . . . your car . . . your family."

A nice sentiment, but I think they got the order wrong . . really wrong. I don't think that most people would value their Buicks (or even a Mercedes, for God's sake) or their homes in front of the well-being of their loved ones. At least I hope not.

I'm amazed that one slipped by the advertising department.