So Long, Summer

It's been an eventful week. The political bathroom sex sting, Wall Street hopping up and down, a commemoration of a devastating hurricane (from which recovery is moving much slower than I personally would like), kids returning to school in many areas, and family plans for the unofficial end of summer. (Officially, there's still about three more weeks.)

I've already commented on Senator Craig's self-induced troubles. I just pray that the bottom doesn't fall out of the housing market.

As for Hurricane Katrina, I will never forget those images two years ago, of people on the roofs of their homes pleading for rescue, of a woman beside her newly deceased husband on a bridge (a sufferer of a respiratory ailment, he expired when his oxygen ran out), and the water everywhere, flowing like rivers through the streets. I was disappointed to see that the worst-hit areas (anybody want to guess who lives there?) don't look much better two years later, with many of the residents who are eager to rebuild held up by bureaucracy and red tape, still living in trailers.

Has it ever taken two years and counting to restore other disaster-stricken areas of this country? Hurricane Andrew? Hurricane Hugo? Hell, what about Hurricane Camille 40-some years ago? Will people whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the recent Midwest floods still be living in trailers two years from now? (FEMA officials arrived there right away, incidentally.)

The TV cameras have left New Orleans to move on to the next story, the 10-year anniversary of the death of Princess Diana's death. But the images of streets with overgrown weeds covering foundations of abandoned houses, people living in trailers on their property or under bridges, and nuclear families forced to live in different cities will linger in my mind. Here's hoping the third anniversary will show families reunited and living in new housing and cleaned-up lots.
I wish you all a fun Labor Day holiday. The pictures above, by the way, were taken at our Family Reunion at the end of July. My husband and I, pictured on top, were both on the committee and I'm happy to say that a good time was had by all. The other shot is of me and one of my husband's cousins. You readers may know her by her pen name, Eboni Snoe.

Have a great weekend!

Not Exactly Heartwarming . . .

. . . even in this post-Michael Vick dog scandal world, but real estate billionaire Leona "Only-the-little-people-pay-taxes" Helmsley left $12 million to her beloved Maltese, Trouble. (Even the most steadfast ASPCA member is likely to have trou -- er, difficulty accepting this one.) When Trouble's time comes to go to the big kennel in the sky, he will be buried in the mausoleum in historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (where my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are buried; the cemetery is so old that the only grave we could find was that of our great-grandfather, who was a Civil War veteran). My husband tells me that he heard that when the dog passes on the unused funds are to be buried with him.

Leona Helmsley was pre-deceased by her only child. She left $5 million to two of her four grandchildren, nothing to her other two grandchildren and nothing to her great-grandchildren. She also bequeathed billions of dollars to charity.

I guess her family is wishing she remembered that charity begins at home.
But something tells me this isn't over.
"I Am Not Gay"

So declares Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, the latest politician to find himself in the hot seat in what is becoming an increasingly frequent parade of embarrassing incidents among our elected officials. I suspect this declaration will be up there with Bill Clinton's now-infamous "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" and Richard Nixon's classic "I am not a crook."

The picture of a contrite politician addressing the issue of personal misconduct, with the wife steadfastly at his side, is a familiar one. At this time, the Republicans have the Democrats beaten for the dubious honor of the highest number of recent mishaps (let's not forget about Representative William Jefferson, the Lousiana Democrat who was found to have $90,000 in cash stashed in his freezer, suspected bribe money), but as a Democrat I take no joy in this. These are our elected officials being charged with corruption and drug use and solicitation, and they ought to know better. Their personal behavior makes for one sorry state of affairs. The fact that we have a Republican President with approval ratings so low that he can offer no reassurances doesn't help.

This situation is so mucky that even other party members are saying that Mr. Craig's reasons for the guilty plea don't pass the common sense test (he pled guilty to get it over with, not because he actually was guilty - yeah, right), and have called for him to resign. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney severed ties with Mr. Craig quicker than you can say "liability." This is rare - usually party loyalty trumps everything. When the colleagues start saying someone should resign . . . watch out!

Mr. Craig's assertion of his sexuality suggests that being gay is a crime. It isn't, but solicitation of strangers for sex is. I find his declaration ironic. Does he believe his behavior would be more "acceptable" if he had approached a hooker who turned out to be an undercover female detective? Would his wife feel any less betrayed? It is clearly an attempt to hold onto his standing in a very conservative state.

As I stated, Republicans are being caught doing wrong in significantly greater numbers than their Democratic counterparts, making their emphasis on family values (like nobody else gives a damn about their families) laughable. When a morning news show asked the question if Republicans are being held to a higher standard I laughed out loud. That's like the Bush family lamenting that no one ever reported on Chelsea Clinton's antics they way they did on their twin girls. It's more of a case of Chelsea behaving responsibly while the Bush girls were visiting bars to indulge in underage drinking.

In other words, much of human grief is caused by those same humans who are doing the grieving.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Book Video for If These Walls Could Talk

Oh, shucks. The HTML codes won't work in Blogger. I'll get it fixed . . . eventually.

In the meantime, if you want to see it, here's the link:

Hope you enjoy it.
I've Been Tagged for Middle Name MeMe

Don't ask me who came up with that name. I don't start this shit, I'm just trying to cooperate.

First, the way it works:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.

2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of their middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.

3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.

4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

That said, I don't have a middle name. My full first name is Bettye-Lynn, hyphenated, so I generally use Lynn as my middle name. They don't get much shorter, unless you're a Jo or a Mae (like my mom). So . . . .

L - Lazy. I have to fight every day to stay on task. I'd usually just rather watch Turner Classic Movies.

Y - Yonkers, New York. It's where I was born and lived for over 30 years. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. None of that "Westchester" crap people pull as code for this dumpy city just north of the Bronx.

N - Naughty. I have an "evil twin" who sometimes just won't shut up.

N - Nice. I try to make up for my evil twin.

Now for people I'm tagging: Nobody. You wouldn't want me to be late for work, would you?

Fall of a Good Ol' Boy

Said someone on an Internet message board: "It is such a shame that the first Hispanic Attorney General has covered himself with such apparent dishonesty. We need to remember he is a bad lawyer first and Hispanic second. "

Amen to that.
A couple of other comments: Someone dubbed him "Seedy' Gonzalez," and then there's the magical question, "So when's the pardon?"
Panster in Disguise?

While home due to feeling under the weather on July 10th, I stumbled across a writing challenge called the 70 Days of Sweat, which calls for writers to complete a first draft of a novel in 70 days, between July 10th and approximately September 20th. I decided to sign up.

I updated my progress yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I'd written 67,000+ words since that time. What was even more amazing was that I did not have a completed synopsis, only a vague idea of how the plot would unfold. I haven't written this way in quite some time.

It seems to be working for me. I've never produced this much in such a short period of time before. In many cases this would be nearly a completed novel. I'm actually working between two projects, and even though the bulk of it is on one manuscript, I can't say anything is nearly complete. But the progress meter I installed on the Books/Works in Progress page of my web site shows 36% for the major project. I hope to have it past 50% by the 20th of September.

It's still too early for me to say with certainty whether this is the way for me to go in the future; I'll have to complete a draft without running into problems first. I just know that in the here and now it's working, so I'll stick with it.

Wish me luck!

Do You Really Want To See This?

There is a movement under way in Atlanta to outlaw sagging slacks and other public displays of underwear, like those bra straps that don't fit under spaghetti-strapped tank tops.
City Councilman C.T. Martin has proposed the legislation. He is hotly opposed by civil libertarians as an infringement of first amendment right of free expression. They also say this is targeted toward black youth. A gentleman on the latter side who was being interviewed on TV declared that sagging jeans is just a style, no different than the miniskirt or the midriff. I think this is a lame argument. Miniskirts and midriffs exposed skin of thighs and midsections, respectively, but nothing you could be arrested for. If these young men didn't wear underwear under those jeans, they butts would be exposed.
My views are somewhere in the middle. I've always hated that so-called "fashion," which reportedly originated in prisons, where belts are not used for safety reasons. But I don't see it as a race issue, just one of bad taste. I do feel that outlawing it seems extreme. I don't feel such attire should be permitted in schools, and that students who show up dressed that way should be sent home.
I'd love it if those merchants who post signs like 'No shirt? No shoes? NO SERVICE' will do the same for exposed underwear. But it's up to them. The fellows who go in for this style might pull up their pants if they can't get served at McDonald's or Popeye's or get into a movie.
One has to wonder how many of these young men will end up in prison yards, wearing work pants that sag . . . .?

One Voice: Tribute to Jon Lucien

All you jazz fans out there will want to know that we've lost a beautiful voice, that of Jon Lucien. The Tortola-born, St. Thomas-raised singer who specialized in jazz with a Caribbean and Brazilian twist passed away at the age of 65 in Florida, where he lived.

I got to see him perform live many years ago at a club/restaurant on Columbus Aveue in New York (was it The Cellar? It was so long ago I can't remember; I was married to my first husband at the time, and most of that is a blur). He wasn't the most exciting performer I've ever seen, singing with his eyes closed and barely moving, but that baritone voice was thrilling. He leaves a legacy of romantic music. His version of the French love song Dindi (Pronounced "Jin-jee") will live on smooth jazz forever.

In death, he joins two daughters who were killed on TWA Flight 800, which went down off the coast of Long Island in 1996.

Rest in peace. You will not be forgotten.

Man Behaving Badly

Picture it: A young boy grows up in the projects in a depressed area of Newport News, Virginia. He shows an affinity for athletics early on, particularly his ability to throw a football long distances. He enrolls at Virginia Tech and is soon drafted for the NFL. His latest contract, $130 million over ten years plus a $37 million
signing bonus, makes NFL history for the largest up to that time (2004). He uses part of his wealth to work with underprivileged children in his hometown and contributes generously to a fund to assist families of those killed in the Virginia Tech massacre with funeral expenses.

A success story? No. He chances it all to operate an illegal dog fighting
and gambling business on his property in Virginia. He finances it, personally manages the gambling end and participates in executing the animals who don't perform well. He had
been doing this for six years (dating back to the beginning of his NFL career) when he was caught. He accepted a plea bargain to the felony charges, which will almost certainly involve jail time. His NFL career is in jeopardy, and indications are that he will miss this season. The owner of his team, the Atlanta Falcons, has said that even if he does return to football, he will not be returning to the Falcons. There is talk of him having to return the signing bonus (that was $37 million, in case you forgot) for violating the NFL code of conduct.

He is only 27 years old.

His name is Michael Vick, and he blew it.

Why? Why didn't the grisly sport of dog fighting, where dogs literally fight each other to the death, repel him instead of making him want to participate in it? Why didn't he have the good sense to realize what was at stake? Did anyone close to him try to warn him he was asking for trouble?

One of my co-workers was saying that he thinks its ridiculous for anyone to do jail time for killing a dog in a society where animals are slaughtered regularly for human consumption. I disagree. Slaughterhouses apply death quickly. The cattle and pigs aren't torn apart little by litt.e. One could also argue that our society also allows humans to fight (it's called boxing). We do, however, stop it at the first sign that a fighter is in danger of being beaten to death.

And there's the #1 reason. Dog fighting is against the law. My colleague also argued that Vick is being persecuted for being a celebrity. I say that's a crock. Non-famous people go to jail all the time for breaking the law. Why should he be any different?

This is a sad situation. For Michael Vick, for his family, for the people he helped with his charitable efforts, and for all those poor dogs who died.

". . . and the horse you rode in on"

In honor of my immediately preceding post and discussion about the gesture of giving someone "the finger," I present this photo. My co-worker's granddaughter was 1 month old at the time this was taken, and something (or somebody) clearly had her pissed off. You can see it not only in her gesture, but on her face!

You Really Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover

We've all seen movies where someone falls into a river, climbs out, and while on the boat that has rescued them is suddenly completely dry. Or movies with a fight scene where someone falls on their back on solid ice, then jumps right back up and resumes fighting without so much as an "Ouch!" Yeah, right.

A few days ago I finished reading a book. The story held much promise, but the execution was lacking, loaded with far-fetched situations and, at least in the beginning, writing more suggestive of a rough draft than a finished product.

The topic of Not Ready for Prime Time books getting into print without adequate editing is a hot one right now. Romantic Times magazine has published reader letters in which they complain about rampant typos and other aspects of poor editing, and Blogging in Black has featured discussions about the same.

The book I read didn't have any typos, but there's more to being not ready for prime time than misspellings. This particular novel did mix up timelines (Obviously I can't give the precise example; I'm not out to trash someone's work here. But as a similar situation I offer the scene in the movie Titanic where Rose, on the run with Jack from her fiance's manservant, gives the man the finger . . . something I found jolting because the setting was the year 1912, decades before this obscene gesture came into being). It also contained several implausible situations, one glaring incident in particular that I simply couldn't buy. I'm amazed that these got past both the author and their editor.

An editor's job isn't just to merely check the spelling and punctuation. They're supposed to point out how improbable a situation is, or that the author might be referring to an incident that hadn't happened yet, which can be very easy to do when writing a novel set in years past with present-day mindset, even if it's just a few years. (The 1987 film Wall Street announced at the very beginning that the story began action took place in 1985, then in an early scene a character describing the notorious Wall Street Wizard Gordon Gekko says that he was on the phone selling within seconds of learning that the the Challenger rocket blew up - an event that didn't happen until 1986.)

Minor incidents, like the one I cited from Wall Street and the one in a novel I read which was set in the first half of the 20th Century, where a character who'd been killed in World War II sent regrets to a wedding held in 1953, are really not a big deal, because they have little effect on the plot (although I do maintain that if hundreds of readers noticed the latter, it should have been picked up in the editing phase.) But huge mistakes, like in the book I read where 20 years was misplaced in the lives of prominent elderly characters, to the point where one woman died at an age that was roughly equal to the year she was married, reduced what had been a compelling story to just plain unbelievable fluff, for these old folks would at best be over 100 at this pivotal part of the story and, more likely, deceased. You can't just make characters 20 years younger all of a sudden because it fits the plotline.

One of my books, The People Next Door, contained an unfortunate error in a character name early on, one that my personal editor remembers correcting but somehow got through. I was expecting readers to point that error out to me. They didn't. It was rather jarring - I referred to a character by the name of another character who wasn't even in the scene. But if anyone noticed, they didn't tell me.

Back to the Titanic. This was a highly successful movie, breaking box-office records, but I have to wonder . . . did anyone other than me notice how implausible it was? The story of the sinking was narrated by one character, yet contained numerous scenes where she was not present (the scene on the bridge where the iceberg is first spotted, the chaos on the decks as people fought to get to lifeboats, the scheming of her fiance and his manservant, etc.) and would have no way of knowing what transpired.

The publishing world has to be deaf and blind not to recognize consumer discontent with poorly edited books. Whether they will cut back on trying to flood the market with books in an effort to pump up their profits remains to be seen, but if they do, I hope they will pay equal attention to complaints about stories with farfetched or downright nonsensical plot devices as they do to the spelling and punctuation. There's more to a book than an eye-catching cover. The content has to mean something.

The dilemma of this is that books with implausible aspects to their plots are often popular with readers, getting wonderful ratings, which tells me they are either are not comprehending or they just don't care. If a publisher is making money, why should they slow down for quality?
Taking The Day Off

This was my third weekend of what has been an extremely busy summer, social-wise, that I had nothing in particular to do. It was also the first where I felt like myself again, after spending that first weekend largely resting and the second still feeling sluggish. I looked forward to it. I planned on getting a ton of writing done.

I arose early on Saturday morning and did my housework (I'm an early morning cleaner), then settled down with my laptop at around 9:30AM. I transcribed dictation I'd spoken into my handheld the day before while taking a two-mile walk, which yielded a nice healthy number of pages. Then I set to creating more brilliant (or so I like to think) prose.

After two hours I'd created only a few paragraphs. I found myself surfing the Internet more than I was writing. Then I decided to go out and run some errands.

When I returned two hours later I still wasn't feeling it. What's wrong with you? I chided myself. This is the time you look forward to all week, when you try to squeeze two or three hours of writing each day. Having an entire afternoon to write, and you're not doing jack shit!

In the end I reached for a book I'd been reading, determined to finish it in spite of its flaws. At 5:30 I put the book down (not difficult to do at all) in order to join a book club who'd read my book Nothing But Trouble for a book discussion via telephone on my end, speakerphone on theirs (they're in another state.)

My husband had grilled some meat earlier, so we ate dinner. There was nothing on television, not even the Lifetime networks, so I picked up the book. I only had another 80 pages to read. I finished it. (Along with my earlier reading, that adds up to about two-and-a-half hours of my life that I'll never get back, but that's a post for another day.)

When I went to bed I was still annoyed with myself for farting the day away and set my alarm for 5AM, hoping Sunday would be better.

I woke up Sunday and wrote up a storm, in the wee hours of the morning and again in the afternoon, after we went out for a few hours.

So what's the difference? Why could I get nothing done on Saturday and so much on Sunday?

Because I needed a day off.

I write all the time. I usually get up between 5 and 5:45 on weekday mornings, depending on how late I was up the night before, and write before going to work. I spend most of my lunch hours writing (sometimes I'll have lunch with a friend). I spend downtime at work writing. I write at 8PM, when it's what I call "me time." I write while I'm driving, courtesy of a handheld recorder. That adds up to a lot of time spent writing (you might ask, with all that effort why is she only putting out a book or two a year? Because books don't just pour out of me like maple syrup out of a bottle, that's why. This shit is hard work, at least for me).

While there are days when I don't get to write much or not at all, that's because I'm busy doing other things and I'm usually too tired. That's not the same as taking a day off.

I didn't realize it at the time, but on Saturday I was simply too burned out to continue. I needed to take a break.

Now I feel good as new.
A Stitch in Time

I spent the morning revising a document that's in its final stages. My fingers kept tripping over the keyboard. Now, I'm an excellent typist, and while I may eventually develop arthritis (my mother has it), my fingers still have full mobility. I couldn't understand what the problem is.

Then it hit me. I was typing in a program that doesn't allow the use of the word expanders I have set up in Word. So I had to type out Every Single Word, including words I'm not accustomed to spelling out.

You might not think that this makes a big difference, but it does. When I was a medical (med)transcriptionist and was paid on a production scale, I was (ws) usually in the top 3 producers of the services (svcs) I worked for, largely because of my ability (abil) to store hundreds of short cuts in my head.

When I started (sta) writing, I used the same concept. It's not likely that I'll be using phrases like insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (iddm) in my novels, but I use all those everyday words. Words like tomorrow (tmr), with (w), throughout (tho), would (wud), should (shd), problem (plem), without (wo), yesterday (yd), very (vy), and lots, lots more. I produce these words with as little as 1 keystroke and no more than 3. I do the same for character names. This came in handy when one of the major characters of my novel Nothing But Trouble had an accent mark over one of the letters. It would have driven me nuts if I had to type it out every time I used it.

This practice is also handy when I am transcribing from my handheld, which I frequently (fre) use while out walking or while behind the wheel. I've learned to dictate narration and dialogue at a comfortable (comf) type-back pace, but I couldn't (cudn) do it without (wo) my word expanders (MS-Word calls it Auto Correct.) Of course, the drawback is times like these, when I have to spell everything out.

Have a great weekend (wkn)!
A Surprising Discovery

I was moving around the house the other morning with the TV set to a morning news show. I stopped to listen to the day's top news stories and the weather forecast, and only half listened to the rest of the stories they covered. But the sound of wonderful a-cappella singing of Stevie Wonder's You Are The Sunshine Of My Life caught my ear, and I stopped what I was doing to look at the screen.

I saw about ten middle-aged people, just one woman in the group, notable for full heads of hair (in some cases gray) on all the men and lots and lots of teeth. My first thought was that the Kennedy cousins had formed a singing group. Then the camera panned across the group in close-up and I recognized Marie Osmond. The entire Osmond family was being featured to promote their new show in Las Vegas.

I never regarded the Osmonds as having any particular musical talent. I saw them as a rip-off of the Jackson family, back in the day when they were known as the Jackson Five (I know for a fact that there are plenty of people out there who would erroneously say with absolute authority that One Bad Apple was recorded by Michael and his brothers.) That song with its R&B sound, a big hit for the Osmonds in the early 70s, was clearly an effort to cash in on the success of the Jacksons. Jumping on the bandwagon is nothing new, but I resented it, yes, for racial reasons. Black people have always been denounced, but that hasn't stopped our fashions, style, and music from being copied and profited from.

As I watched their a-cappella performance I suddenly realized that these people can really sing. No augmentation or other studio tricks, no music . . . just wonderful harmony reminiscent of Take 6 or the Emotions.

After an introduction that included a playful jibe at the decades-old rivalry with the Jacksons ("You forgot Tito," somebody quipped) and a brief interview, they sang their big hit, One Bad Apple. Little Donny at 50 can't hit those high notes he nailed at 13, but again, I was struck by how good they sounded. Those brothers (and I mean brothers in the Biblical sense, not, well, brothas of the brownskin type) can really sing!

Funny how I never noticed that before. Makes me wonder what else I've overlooked.

My Third Post of the Morning

I know I said I was going to retreat (I need to be writing!), I just happened to notice that my book Nothing But Trouble (2006) had this ranking on Amazon:
Popular in this category:
#77 in
Books > Literature & Fiction > Women's Fiction > Friendship
That's not #77 overall, mind you. But #77 in friendship-oriented women's fiction is pretty impressive (even if it changes, and in another hour I could be at #2,000,000. I'm just one screen after the legendary novels Valley of the Dolls and The Best of Everything (these titles still selling after 40+ and 50 years, respectively). So I'm tickled, and I'm sharing.
I'm now going to shut up, at least until tomorrow, and possibly the day after that.
Yes, I Did It . . . Exploited the Murder of My Son for Money, That Is

It was quietly announced on the news this morning that O.J. Simpson's controversial book, If I Did It, is getting published after all.

A judge assigned the rights to the book to the family of Ronald Goldman, who has arranged for the book to be published with all royalties going to them. This will represent payment for the wrongful death judgment issued years ago and never collected on. I don't think O.J. Simpson cares about this; he's already gotten paid.

I'm waiting for all the collective outrage to begin, all that righteous anger protesting the publication of the book that arose last year, heavily publicized in the media. I always felt this idea was in poor taste. At the center was the slaughter of two human beings. However, everyone didn't feel that way. In the middle of all the hubbub, orders for the book pushed it to #1 on Amazon, while other folks behind the scenes scrambled to get their hands on advance copies.

Personally, I think the lurid subject matter is a lot more offensive when it is published by the family than by the accused. I suppose that if there's not so much as a peep of objection out of the public at this news, that means it's okay to make money off of the gruesome knife murder of your loved one.

Hey, if they're not happy with the amount of blood money they make, maybe they'll get lucky and another family member will get bumped off by a celebrity. No, make that a black celebrity, for the racial issue has has always been the newsworthy factor in this case.

Two posts before 8AM. That's a record for me. I'm calling it a day. I go out with one word . . .

The Stuff Novels Are Made Of

She was born to a respectable family, but not great wealth, the only child of a Major General in the Marine Corps. Her carefree, travel-filled childhood ended at the age of 17, when she married for the first time, to a man of substantial fortune and short temper. It is said that her husband broke her jaw while she was pregnant with what would be her only child, a boy. After eleven miserable years, she and her husband divorced.

Two years later she married again, this time to a gentler soul. This husband, a respected name, was a financier with up and down fortunes, and she went to work at a magazine to help pay the bills. After she was widowed at the young age of 40 there was no large inheritance and she had to work, but was nevertheless a popular favorite among the society set. At a dinner party a year later she was introduced to Vincent Astor.

Vincent inherited the bulk of his father's estate when John Jacob Astor IV went down with the Titanic in 1912. (Vincent had a half-brother born a few months after the sinking, but no provision had been made in the will for him, so he received relatively little of the Astor millions. The provisions for Vincent's young stepmother [two years his junior] were to stop if she remarried, which she did a few years later.)

This marriage lasted a mere six years, until Vincent died in 1959. He left his wife $60 million dollars for herself (an average of $10 million for each year of marriage), plus another $60 million in a foundation to be devoted to philanthrophy. At this point Brooke Astor became known as simply "Mrs. Astor," the same name used by her husband's grandmother nearly a century before. While the first Mrs. Astor concentrated on silly social feuds, the second Mrs. Astor set about to do some good with the family money. By all accounts, she succeeded, making generous endowments to improve standards of living in some of New York's poorest communities.

As she aged and became more infirm, her only son, by now past 80 himself, was accused of pilfering from her estate and of abusing her by cutting back on her care . . . by his son, Mrs. Astor's grandson. What threatened to become a lurid trial was halted by a judge who moved the responsibility for the care of Mrs. Astor from her son to a longtime friend after several prominent people came forward to support the grandson's claims.

Brooke Astor died at the age of 105.

Her life proves that truth really can be stranger than fiction.
A New Writing Challenge

Come on, all you armchair wannabe writers who missed the 70 Days of Sweat Challenge, there's a new one that starts this week. Fast Draft is sponsored by author Candace Havens. The goal is to complete a first draft of a novel in two weeks. That's right, two weeks. Obviously the point is not to have a polished novel, but to have one that has a defined beginning, middle, and end. In other words, a novel that with polishing and revising can be saleable. One of the must-do's to accomplish this is to stop editing the damn thing or fussing over sentences that aren't quite grammatical and just let those words pour out. Sounds like a great way to produce for fussbudgets like me.

So put a muzzle on your inner editor and head over to Candy's web site at and click on Workshops on the left of the screen for more information.
"She doesn't write, she types."

There's an interesting discussion on the quality of books authored by black writers going on over at Blogging in Black. Check it out!

I titled this post after the famous, rather bitchy quote by Truman Capote regarding the writer who knocked his In Cold Blood off its #1 position on the best seller list: Jacqueline Susann. Ms. Susann, now long dead, held the record for the top-selling author for a very long time in the 60s and 70s, from just three novels. Her work is a good tool for any writer looking for a lesson in how to hook a reader. The books that made it to the marketplace were excellent and riveting; but people who worked with her said she was a marvelous storyteller with less than stellar writing talent; her original manuscripts required extensive editing and rewrites.

Could what we really need be more effort from the editorial staff? Nice thought, but hard to do, with most editors already overworked. Reminds me of a quote from the movie Arthur, when Dudley Moore's Arthur asked his butler, played by Sir John Gielgud (I know that's spelled wrong) to do something for him, and Sir John replied, "Perhaps you'd like me to wash your dick for you." In other words, Arthur had to take some responsibility and not leave everything up to his staff.

If writers write (and not merely type) and editors edit, we can probably meet each other halfway.

Friday Funny

This is obviously an old ad. My guess is that these people all died premature deaths from clogged arteries.

Have a great weekend!

Shape Up or Pay Up

A company out in Indiana has announced plans to begin fining employees for being overweight, smoking, and having high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.

Clarian Health Care Partners, frustrated by increasing health care costs, will be fining employees up to $30 every two weeks starting in February of 2009: $10 for having a body mass index (BMI) considered too high for good health, plus $5 each for a continued smoking habit, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and hypertension. A representative of Clarian says that employees have 18 months to get into shape at company expense before the deductions begin. I did not hear it said where the money (up to $780 annually for those who fall under every category) will go, but I presume it will be put toward their health insurance premiums. People who turn in notes from their physicians that say that they have reasons for not controlling one condition (for instance, because it will interfere with medication for another more pressing medical problem) will be exempt.

Listen, I'm just as upset as the next woman about the ridiculous costs of health care, but I find this appalling. This is supposed to be a free country. Most of the conditions above require lab work to monitor. Will they force people to turn over their confidential medical records (not to mention that lab work itself is expensive)? What happened to the right to live as you choose? So what if you want to drag around an extra 100 pounds or light up after every meal and other times, too? My own husband smokes. I don't like it, but I do know that it's his life and he has the right to live it as he chooses.

The representative interviewed said they are covered legally, but I find that hard to believe. I'm predicting a flurry of lawsuits over this. It seems as if they are dictating people's lifestyles, and what gives them that right?

I have to wonder if Clarian is just trying to scare their employees into taking better care of themselves and maybe getting a reduction in their premiums. Because if a couple of dozen people do take advantage of the workout and counseling sessions the company is offering and do manage to improve their health over the next 18 months, that can only be a good thing.
Hillary shines, Bonds hits it

I watched the Democratic candidates debate last night, and all I can say is, "Damn, Hillary's good." Not once did she trip over her own tongue. To me she stood taller than the six men she was debating. Talk about grace under pressure.

Several of the candidates sidestepped questions asked of them, with no worse example than Joseph Biden. When asked about protection of miners by the widow of a man who perished in the Sago mine last year, he acknowledged that he, too, knew the pain of losing a spouse, but then went off topic, addressing Iraq. He didn't even answer the poor woman's question.

Barack Obama also did a little sidestepping. I personally didn't appreciate the moderator's (Keith Olbermann) asking Barack Obama if he would receive Barry Bonds at the White House if he were President, then, after Barack's response, prompted, "Was that a yes?" Olbermann did not remind Joe Biden that he hadn't addressed the question asked of him (which was a hell of a lot more serious). Asking about honoring Barry Bonds struck me right off as a question reserved for Barack because of his race. I thought it was inappropriate.

Speaking of Barry Bonds, he hit home run #756 last night in San Francisco. I haven't really followed this controversy, not being a baseball fan, but I always wondered, if he failed a steroid test why not just disqualify him? But from what I've read, Barry never failed a steroid test. So why isn't he left alone? Why all the speculation and doubt surrounding him?

I'm curious to see how much controversy will surround the next guy to approach the new record . . . especially if he's white and never failed a steroid test.

But another curiosity will be settled much sooner than that. Barack Obama is not the resident of the White House, making Olbermann's question moot. But will Barry be invited to the White House by its current occupant?
Keeping up with Baby Jones

On line ahead of me at Wal-Mart this weekend was an adorable baby girl with her parents. She was a real Personality Kid, grinning and laughing at her daddy while her mother busily compared two products, trying to decide which one to buy. What struck me about her was that although quite small, she had two upper and two lower teeth. I asked the mom how old she was. "Seven months," she replied.

Seven months! My first thought was that my own grandchild is ten months and is just teething with her bottom teeth, which haven't broken through yet. This child was three months younger and had four teeth already? How does that make our baby look?

I told my husband about this when I got home, and he (having raised children while I have not) told me to chill, that all babies are on different schedules, and that getting one's first teeth at ten months is hardly considered abnormally slow development.

I put this into a writing perspective (which I understand better than babies). Would I compare myself to any of my fellow authors? No, because everyone is different. Some writers can produce four or even five books a year. Others can only do one or two. So whether it's getting teeth, walking, or saying their first word, some babies are going to come out ahead.

Speaking of walking, just last week we got to see our little bundle take a few steps all by herself before she collapsed in a heap to the carpet.
Those Pesky Loose Ends

Last night I was watching Imitation of Life before I went to bed, not the original from 1934, but the glossy remake from 1959, Lana Turner's first part after the scandal that nearly ruined her career (that would be when her daughter stabbed and killed her thug boyfriend.) I've seen the movie a million times, and find it entertaining (except for the cringe-worthy parts, like when Juanita Moore's character says to that of Lana Turner, "Just let me do for you.") But last night I noticed something that slipped past me before.

Lana Turner is in a restaurant with John Gavin when another woman comes up to her and says, "Nothing in it for me, honey, but I hear that they're casting for Tennessee Williams' new play." Lana Turner immediately goes to see the agent to get a reading.

So what was wrong with that scene? Well, the woman who gave her the tip was young and attractive, and I started wondering why she said there wasn't anything in it for her. She was obviously a struggling actress, too. What actor wouldn't want to be a Tennessee Williams play (Streetcar, anyone)? This playwright launched Marlon Brando and made Jessica Tandy the toast of the town.

I think it would have been much better to have the woman say something like, "Since I've got a gig I can't audition, but . . . ." or even, "I hear they're looking for a blonde . . . ." (the other woman was dark-haired, while the originally red-haired Lana Turner was blond for most of her career). That tells the audience why this lady isn't hightailing it to the agent's office to finagle a reading.

Now, you might be thinking that I've got a touch of compulsive disorder to be worrying about a character with two lines (and you may be right), but I like for everything to make sense in my movies, and my books, too.

Now, I know that everything can't be explained in a book. It's most important to tie up loose plot points than address every little thing. But sometimes those little details get readers to wondering. A friend was reading my manuscript, and when she read in my narrative that one of my main characters' parents had a stormy marriage, she scribbled ("What went wrong? They loved each other enough to get married, didn't they?") She had a special interest about this because, like the characters' parents, she is in an interracial marriage. I told her that the book wasn't about the parents' relationship, but about their daughter, and that it wasn't important. But I understand what she meant. Sometimes you just want to know why.

Already, just one month after turning in my manuscript, I'm starting to think of multiple points that need to be addressed in further depth, just in case there are any other I-want-to-know-the-reason-for-this readers like me who will pick up my book.

A writer's work is never done.

Can you say, "Phobia?"

Just last week, on July 26th, I wrote a column about people's fears, taking responses from a survey done by an on-line newspaper. In it, I mentioned that I always felt uncomfortable on bridges or in tunnels, long before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Like most of those people who shared their fears, mine was something I rarely thought about, largely because at this particular point in my life I don't encounter any bridges.

Last night I heard that an interstate bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minnesota had collapsed under the weight of rush hour traffic, and that a handful of people were confirmed dead and a larger number was missing. This is a nightmare come true for many myself and people who have deep-rooted fears of being suspended high above water and having the ground give way.

Today came the news I expected - that many bridges in the United States are desperately overdue for extensive repairs, including the Tappan Zee Bridge that connects Westchester and Rockland Counties in suburban New York, with the greatest number of bridges needing repairs located in the states of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

I'm just heartsick at the thought of people driving home from work or to see a baseball game suddenly finding themselves plunging into the waters of the Mississippi. If you've ever seen the this mighty river in person, you'll know that it's a muddy mess, that it's right up there with the alligator-laden, swampy Florida Everglades for just about the worst body of water to fall into. I saw it for the first time during a New Orleans vacation a few years back (pre-Katrina). We crossed it just last month, between Illinois and Missouri and again between Arkansas and Tennessee, with the latter bridge looking a little raggedy to me and causing some uneasy moments.

My prayers go out for those lost, and to their families and friends.

And I pray for the safety of all those who cross bridges every day, and that the repairs will soon get underway.

In view of what occurred yesterday, I don't think that there will be much grumbling about inconvenience.

The Gal with the Big Legs

My mother is visiting me this week from Florida. I just can't tell you how happy I am to have her here. I haven't seen her in seven months, when she and I set out on a road trip from Florida here to Northern Illinois.

The only difficult thing about leaving Florida last year was putting so much distance between us. My mother had coped with the death of my father by concentrating on her family (she lives with my sister and brother-in-law,) and here I was leaving the state and moving 1,100 miles away. It was extremely gut-wrenching for me.

I was the last of my parents' children, and they had been married more than a decade by the time I showed up. They weren't exactly young parents - I was born four days before my father's 46th birthday (he lived until 1999,) and my mother was going on 39. (I guess you could call them trailblazers for today's generation of older parents.) My mother will be 89 years old later this year.
As the youngest with five years between me and my nearest sibling, I got to have her all to myself while my siblings were in school. There were five of us in total, and a family joke is that if my parents had World War II not intervened and my parents gotten married earlier and started having kids right away, plus had the ones that were miscarried, there'd be so many of us that we never would have gotten out of public housing.

My parents met at a skating rink in suburban New York in 1942, when he nudged his friends and asked, "Who's the gal with the big legs?" as he tried to finagle an introduction. As you can see, back in the day, my mother was definitely ready for her close-up. She was 26 years old and every inch the glamour girl when this picture was taken in January of 1945. I'm sorry to say that neither myself nor my sister was this pretty when we were 26.

At 88, Mom is past the glamorous stage, but she is, if you'll pardon the cliché, she's cute as a button (you might be able to click on both photos to enlarge them). Her height in her prime years was a mere five feet, one-and-a-half inches. She's now down to four-eleven because of age and shrinkage (I tease her that she'd make a great jewel thief because she probably doesn't leave fingerprints anymore). She complains that she has to take two steps for every one step everybody else takes because of her short legs, and a pet peeve of hers is steep stairs and high-sitting SUVs. But she walks quite well, without using a cane. She has the enthusiasm of a little girl when presented with a new experience, like riding a double-decker commuter train when I brought her into the city. She constantly reminds me that she would have lived here in Chicago had she married the GI she was seeing before my father came along and made her forget all about him.

I'm just tickled pink to have her here and am already looking forward to joining her on a trip out West in the fall.