Happy Halloween from My Husband and Me

Make it a safe holiday.
Quality Counts

The manuscript for Once Upon A Project has been handled differently from those for past books. Usually, the manuscript has been edited by both the editor and the copyeditor by the time I get to see it. This time I received my editor's edits first, which were extremely sparse. At that time I went through the entire manuscript and made numerous corrections and improvements. It was refreshing to have taken a three-month break from it and look at it with a fresh outlook. This would, I felt, make the copyeditor's job easier.

The copyedited manuscript was delivered today, and I must say I am impressed. Not with myself, but with the copyeditor. Here I was thinking that I'd corrected all the errors in my text and he or she (in this case a he) would have an easy job of it. Not the case. He found loads of inconsistencies, contradictions, and timeline errors, ten pages worth, with quotes lifted directly from the manuscript to support his concerns. One or two of them can be easily explained (like Chicago's Blizzard of '67 occurring in January, before any of the girls turned 10, which is why they were 9 years old at the time despite a birth year of 1957). Some I outright disagree with (A past event that occurred 23 years before is correctly referred to in narrative, but I feel it's perfectly natural for people to refer to it in dialogue as "20 years" or "more than 20 years," rather than the correct "23 years," which strikes me as too exact to be realistic).

The great majority, however, are legitimate and require attention. For instance, I used the New York term, "D.A.'s office," when in Chicago they call it the "state's attorney's office." (But I did remember to call "soda," (a New York term), "pop" when these Midwesterners spoke!)

What's scarier, on the very first page I found a timeline that had been changed . . . incorrectly. I think we're all going to be confused before this is over.

My take? The publishing industry needs more thorough copyeditors like the gentleman who worked on my manuscript. If there were, the quality of books - which has been discussed on various forums in recent months - would shoot up like rockets. No more stories where decades conveniently vanish or with flimsily explained, implausible plot devices. Yes, it's going to be hard work for me to make these changes, and yes, I'm annoyed at myself for not catching most of these beforehand, but it took a lot of hard work for him to point out that what I said on pages 179, 195, 204, and 65 doesn't add up to the same thing . . . and again on pages 66, 207, 208, 242, 251, 281, 304, 305, 353, 354, and 360 . . . and again on - well, you get the point. Not to mention that damn lay vs. lie (I used it incorrectly on Page 1 and probably throughout the manuscript). It's excruciatingly tedious work. But the bottom line is, it will make for a much better book in the end when it's all cleared up.

And that's my #1 priority.

I saw a TV segment on one of the morning shows about what constitutes appropriate dress for the office, a subject I believe is overdue for discussion. Somehow over the past dozen years or so, boobs have ruled, and necklines have been dropping. Cleavage is everywhere (and those who don't have it are getting it, courtesy of plastic surgeons). I would expect to see a little skin at the beach, but I don't expect to see it at the bowling alley, at the mall, or in church.

I always thought that cleavage was something seen either strictly at evening events (many years ago a picture of actor Zero Mostel looking down the dress of a 40-ish pre-mastectomy Shirley Temple Black was widely publicized, and it's doubtful that either Mrs. Mostel and Mr. Black was amused) or one of those unreal TV things (you know, like designer wardrobes on characters who are supposed to be working class, or convenient coat hooks instead of the standard coat closet). Only on TV, I said to myself, would a female attorney waltz into court with a blouse that (pardon the pun) crossed the line. I think it's ridiculous to give impressionable teenage girls the idea that professional women show their tits.

Then along came Hillary Clinton, addressing the Senate with a blouse under her suit cut down to . . . well, Washington, DC. This is a woman who wants to be President. Is she trying to win over potential voters by making what she feels is an impressive physical appearance (she sure as hell won't do it with those piano legs). But why does she feel this is even necessary? She can emphasize her femininity for those who suspect she's a barracuda in more subtle ways. (You don't see Condoleeza Rice spilling out of her blouse.)

Just as we cover our mouths when we cough, I think we should keep our chests covered. Save the cleavage for the beach or for the Oscars.

Happy Birthday - Splash!

Today is my mother's 89th birthday. She says she feels great, and she's already looking forward to her 90th next year. She told me this morning what she's going to wear when she gets together with her surviving children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren to celebrate that milestone.

Here she was a month ago today out in Colorado, with four of her 15 grandchildren.

So, I wish a Happy, Happy Birthday to the gal with the big legs. I love you!

P.S. The 'splash' in the title above refers to the circumstances of Mom's birth. My grandmother went to tinkle, and out came a surprise! Nana was too shocked to act right away. Luckily for all of us, Nana's mother was there and quickly scooped Mom out of the toilet bowl. My mother, incidentally, doesn't like water to this day. Do you suppose there's a connection?
Progress Report/See You on the Radio

I got some work done on my work in progress over the weekend. I haven't done a count recently, and was pleasantly surprised to see I've passed the halfway mark:

I really could have done better, but I was feeling a little sluggish all weekend (now that it's time to go back to work, I'm feeling better.

I'm doing an Internet Radio tonight with Cheryl Robinson of Just About Books, so if you've got some free time at 9PM Eastern Time, listen live at www.JustAboutBooksTalkShow.com . Cheryl also informs me that the interview will be posted on the web site for about 60 days afterward.

Happy Monday to you!
Movies Galore

I didn't make it to the movies this weekend - no real surprise there, I think we're both tired (hubby is taking a nap right now, as a matter of fact) - but I did have the opportunity to see a couple of old movies on Turner Classics that I hadn't seen before and enjoyed very much . . . even though the plot of one with Ingrid Bergman didn't make much sense (a governess is sent home to France after the family she works for suffers huge losses in the Panic of 1907 and comes back ten years later . . . except by then the four sons are all grown and don't need a governess . . . go figure). I guess they had to bring her back so she could lock horns with Susan Hayward, as the bride of one of the boys who's as much as a nymphomaniac as they'd allow on the screen in 1941 (and that's saying quite a bit).

I switched over to the glossy Lana Turner version of that old standby, Imitation of Life. Lana was upset after an unpleasant encounter with a touchy agent. Her maid, Juanita Moore, says, "I'll fix you a glass of hot milk."

Now, seriously . . . do people really drink hot milk? The very thought of it makes me gag. I've seen this line used in many movies and old sitcoms (sometimes it's "warm" milk). Is this a white folks' thing? (Of course, sometimes the upset person is also offered a brandy or a cup of hot tea, both of which seem more appropriate.)

Just curious.
Do you NaNoWriMo?

Most aspiring writers know that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is the month of November. The goal is to complete 50,000 words (too short for a complete novel, other than some of the shorter Harlequin lines, but a good start nonetheless) between midnight on November 1st and 11:59PM on November 30th. Their web site is http://www.nanowrimo.org/ .

I've participated in this for the last several years, but decided not to do it this year. I'm probably close to halfway through my work in progress, and I'd rather work on that. One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is to start with a brand new project. It's a rule I admit I haven't always followed, but this year I'll honor it.

That brings me to my next question . . . .

Do you Sweat?

The second 70 Days of Sweat writing challenge started ten days ago. I'm not even sure if people can still register. The idea here is to have a completed first draft of a novel (I think it's 90,000 words, but I'm not sure) in 70 days. I participated in the first challenge, and that's why I got so much done (In addition to the WIP referred to above, I've also gotten through the first third of another project). Their web site is http://70daysofsweat.com/wordpress .

As for me, I'm going to spend the weekend continuing my read-through of my WIP, which I'm writing with no blueprint (synopsis). I feared that I might have lost my sense of direction, veered off into a different direction. I want to check the flow, make sure it gives the reader a good sense of who these characters are, their hopes and fears, what they want out of their lives, and that the tone is consistent.

From what I've read so far, I'm rather pleased with myself. I'm enjoying expanding of what I've already written, fleshing out the characters, knowing where I want everyone to be when it ends, but not sure of how they'll get there. Of course, I have to keep up the standard I've started for another 250 pages or so. It'll be chilly here in Chicago, a good weekend to stay in, cook (but not eat a whole lot), and work. My goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.

Have a great weekend, everyone!
Follow-Up on Latest Foot-in-Mouth Case

Dr. James D. Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist, has announced his retirement from the Chancellor position, as well as his seat on the board of directors, of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York.

The retirement comes in the wake of an uproar stemming from Dr. Watson's remarks that people of African descent are not as intelligent as those of European descent, and following his suspension from the laboratory "until further notice" (translation: until his arm was twisted to the point where he cried out, "All right, I'll retire!")

Putting him out to pasture is certainly the ending I would have chosen.
Haven't I seen you somewhere before . . . ?

I watched a movie last night on Lifetime (which I find myself doing a lot less than I used to, for some reason). This was a romance based on a novel by top author Linda Lael Miller. A woman on the run jumps into a car and drives until it breaks down and gets a job in a diner, cooking, and she finds herself drawn to a handsome rancher. But the danger follows her.

As I watched the story I immediately thought of a Lifetime movie I saw earlier this year, this one based on a Nora Roberts novel. A woman wanting to escape bad memories drives until her car breaks down and gets a job in a diner, cooking. In the town she finds romance, but the danger follows her.

Now, I know there are only so many themes in romance, but damn! These movies were produced around the same time. The Nora Roberts adaptation was done specifically for Lifetime. Comments on the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) said the Linda Lael Miller movie was made for cable, but didn't name Lifetime specifically, although it has that network stamped all over it. But why make such similar movies at the same time? It didn't help that both female leads in the films were blondes, the men dark-haired. These are two prolific authors. Why not purchase the rights to stories not so similar?

Which brings me to why I don't watch as much Lifetime as I used to. The movies all seem the same, picked from a handful of plots. Woman-with-evil-husbands. Woman-with-promiscuous-or-otherwise-troubled-daughter. The supernatural. Woman-being-stalked-by-obsessed-man. Woman-having-extramarital-affair.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't complain. The lack of absorbing TV is probably good for my writing.
Is This Shit Still Going On?

The Associated Press reports that a recent promotion for a Detroit club, "Light Skinned Women & all Libras" in Detroit that was to allow all-night free admission to black women with fair or light skin was canceled after the promoter received "dozens" of complaints.

The promoter, one Ulysses Barnes, was quoted as saying "I thought it was brilliant." He also described it as "a party thing." Barnes has also canned the idea of "sexy chocolate" and "sexy caramel" promotions.

He'd better stick to astrological signs and leave the physical characteristics out of it.

Dates are not his forte

Picture it: Saturday. After a few pre-dawn hours spent writing, I get my husband off to work (yes, it's Saturday, but they're behind on a commitment they made), then set out to work on changing linens, sweeping and mopping floors, dusting furniture and ceiling fans. Then I run out on an errand and return home and resume writing after putting a load of laundry in.

The clothes are in the dryer when the phone rings. It's my brother-in-law, asking, "I hope we're still on for tonight" and saying he made reservations for 8:30. My mouth drops open. My husband told me his brother was coming to Chicago on the 25th and that we'd drive down and go out that Saturday, which should have been next week.

This isn't the first time my other half has gotten dates mixed up, but I'd always found out his mistake earlier than this. It was going on 3:30, and there I was, my hair neatly braided in cornrows (with sloppy parts) from last night, starting to feel like I could use a nap because I'd been up since 5AM, and just learning that our night out was tonight. I suggested that my brother-in-law to call his brother to determine if he needed to push back the reservation time; I wasn't sure how late he was working.

By the time my husband called me with a sheepish I-guess-I-must-have-gotten-the-dates-wrong, I already had the initial what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-hair problem settled (unbraid it, brush it out, and pin it up!) and had decided both of us would wear (a sports coat for him, lest we were eating somewhere that wouldn't let him in without one.) I even managed a 30-minute catnap, although my husband did all the driving. There was some confusion when we arrived at the hotel trying to find them (as I said to my brother-in-law, "You just had to stay in at the only hotel in downtown Chicago with two towers and two different lobbies!"), but we had a wonderful time, dinner at a fish and seafood restaurant and then to a blues club (my husband and I love the blues). We don't often go all the way to downtown Chicago (it's a 40-mile drive, usually in brutal traffic), but it was a fun evening, and the weather was warmer than usual for late October. We got home at 2AM, which meant that except for that brief 30-minute catnap, I'd been up for 21 hours. (I spent most of Sunday resting.)

Before we headed for home, I did caution my brother-in-law that whenever he makes plans with his brother, to please make sure he talks to me about it as well so I can reserve the right date.

My husband is a great guy, but he'd make a lousy social secretary.
Another Great Post (not mine)

Aspiring writers, or those with time management issues, check out Saturday Chit-Chat with Cindi Myers over at the Plot Monkeys Blog (http://www.plotmonkeys.com/). As you know, I'm big on making the most out of small blocks of time. I follow most, if not all, of the six points Cindi makes.

That's enough time today devoted to blogs. I need to get back to my read-over of my work in progress.

So What if Black Producers Helm Non-Black Films?

I read last week over at the Crime Sistah's blog (http://www.crimesistahs.blogspot.com/) that there's been an uproar over a black film producer, Debra Martin Chase, choosing to work on a Hispanic project, namely the mega-successful novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez.

The comments in response to the announcement are no longer available at the EUR website (http://www.eurweb.com/) for some reason, but from what I understand, the gist of the matter is that many people criticized Ms. Chase for producing this project rather than one which would feature black actors (obviously I won't use the term, "actors of color.") This backlash came as a surprise to many people, including myself. First of all, Ms. Chase can produce any damn project she wants. If she can get the financing, more power to her. Why is there this thinking that blacks in film have to limit themselves to black-themed projects? Secondly, while Dirty Girls concentrates on the Hispanic culture, this culture includes many people who belong to the black race (including, I believe, two of the main six characters.)

Okay, so I don't know if all six characters will make it to the big screen. It's hard to devote screen time to the personal problems of so many people, although it's been done before (as when Mary McCarthy's bestselling novel The Group was adapted for the screen, and also Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, which told the stories of four mothers and four adult daughters). Since Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez is writing the screenplay herself, I'm sure she'll try to include all six, so I'm not particularly worried about A Letter to Three Wives syndrome (self-explanatory; the title of the novel this classic film was based on was A Letter to Five Wives) happening here.

But if it is ultimately determined that six sucias won't fit into the film, please, please, please, don't drop the black ones!

Then I will be upset.
The Latest Case of Foot-in-Mouth Disease, or "So that's what he really thinks"

James D. Watson, one of multiple recipients of the 1962 Nobel Prize for deciphering the double-helix of DNA, was quoted as saying, “there are many people of color who are very talented,” he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa.”

“All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really,” The Times of London quoted him as saying.

Dr. Watson gave a statement to the press in which he said, “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.” But the good doctor's publicist, when asked about the comment, merely replied, “You have the statement,” she said. “That’s it, I am afraid.”

That's the first clue about the validity of the familiar "I was misquoted" claim, Sherlock.

Dr. Watson has been suspended from his post as chancellor at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, “pending further deliberation.” A statement on behalf of the research facility stated that their trustees, administration and faculty “vehemently disagree” with the sentiments of Dr. Watson.

I think some white people (the key word there is some) out there feel threatened. Why else would they try so hard to prove to the world, to the point of trying to prove scientifically, that they have greater intelligence than anyone else? This theory has been disproven time and time again, yet these so-called scientists just keep going . . . just like the Energizer fucking bunny.

Personally, I think this man should retire and go sit in a rocking chair somewhere.
I'm getting fat

I've been ducking my doctor. The last time I saw him, he told me I needed to lose 15-20 lb. at a minimum. I can tell from the pull of my clothes around my waist that I'm heavier now than I've ever been in my life. But when my blood pressure medication ran out of refills, I had no choice but to make an appointment.

The doc weighed me himself (his nurses didn't look like they were that busy). He told me (in a nice way, of course) that I'm too fat (he used the word, "overweight") and that from there it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to being obese (scary word).

So this little chubby is getting on the floor, touching knee to opposite elbow and lowering raised legs slow enough to feel the pull on my stomach muscles. I will also be eating more sensibly. Cereal and an English muffin for breakfast (at least most days,) salads for lunch (thank God for the salad bar at work), and a tiny piece of meat and plenty of vegetables for dinner. And I'll be taking the stairs . . . in the morning, at 5:00, at lunch, and a time or two up and down those three flights when I've been sitting on my butt for too long.

Gotta go exercise.
It's Up Again

Gas was $2.63 yesterday when I passed the station at Wal-Mart but didn't stop to fill up . . . because I was tired and wanted to go home.

Today it was $2.81.

Guess I should have gotten it yesterday. You slow, you blow.
Is It Just Me . . . ?

Or are movie ads all over the airwaves? I don't think I saw a single ad for an upcoming movie all summer long, and now they're everywhere. Halle Berry has a new movie out. Denzel Washington has a new movie out. Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, and Robert Duvall are co-starring. I already mentioned that Cate Blanchett is starring again as Elizabeth I. Tyler Perry's latest hit (so I predict) just opened. I caught a glimpse of Morgan Freeman in a movie called Gone Baby Gone. And there's a very confusing (at least from the coming attractions I saw), heavily hyped movie called Rendition. I've seen ads for every single one of these on TV.

Plus, all these movies are all opening in October or November. It makes me wonder what's coming out in December, when studios have been putting out their big guns, hoping that a late-year opening will help their films stay fresh in the minds of Oscar voters.

I already told my husband that I want to go to the movies this weekend!

Hey, Mr. Dream Merchant

I watched a movie on cable yesterday called The Holiday. It was a charming romantic story pairing Cameron Diaz with Jude Law (these two really burned up the screen) and the lovely Kate Winslet with Jack Black, with fine support from the always-wonderful Eli Wallach (92 years old at the time of this film's release).

You might be thinking that there's something wrong with, well, this picture, and that that something in question is Jack Black. My first thought was, "What the hell is he doing in this movie?" I don't know about you, but Jack Black is the last person I'd cast in a romantic comedy. His appearance makes him the antithesis of romance, someone destined to be a goofball or a character actor. But in this movie, it works. The screenwriter cleverly made his and Winslet's characters friends first, a direct contrast to the Diaz/Law relationship, who became intimate first and got to know each other later. Black, not particularly handsome and a little chunky, is so charming that the viewer can accept a gorgeous creature like Winslet falling for him. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out on the Starz network or at the rental store.

That got me to thinking of how romance novels have evolved in recent years. They used to be stories strictly about what my late aunt, who lived in the Hamptons of Long Island, used to refer to as the Beautiful People. Then readers expressed a wish for heroines they could easily identify with, the full figured woman (or as my doctor described me at my visit last week, "overweight.")
But what about the hero? I don't do much reading and haven't picked up a romance at all this year, so I'm curious. Do romance heroes still have perfect physiques? Are all of them still over six feet tall, even if the heroine is 5'1"? In my book Closer Than Close I deliberately made my hero 5'10" and on the pudgy side, and although he later made a halfhearted attempt to get into shape it was clear that his best days were behind him. He was also a postal worker, while the heroine owned and operated a successful hospitality business (no, she wasn't a madam.) I was able to get away with this (maybe because he was extremely handsome, plus in his early 40s), but is this a frequent occurrence? I do know that Melanie Schuster recently wrote a book about a Working Man which has met with much success. I thought that was neat, especially for the Kimani line, which likes heroes with plenty of money. (Hey, it works for Tyler Perry, whose movies often, almost to the point of predicactability), characterize the successful man as a meanie and the working stiff as sensitive and caring.)

What about you? Has your idea of a romance hero evolved at all, or do you still like them over six feet, with six-pack abs, and a full head of hair and chiseled features, no matter what the heroine looks like? Is it okay for the hero to have love handles or a receding hairline if the heroine has a roll or two of extra flesh around her middle? Or is this a double standard? Or am I just being too real for the genre?

He Looks Awfully Slim to Me

Hillary Clinton's people are reportedly watching Al Gore very closely for signs of weight loss. You might have noticed that former Vice President and near-President has put on some serious pounds in recent years. Apparently, Hillary's people feel that a weight loss might signal an intent to jump into (and thus change the dynamics of) the Democratic race for the nomination. After all, everyone wants to put their best profile forward.

He is all over the news as the most prominent member of the team that shares the Nobel Peace Prize win. This photo was taken today. He definitely looks like he's shed some of that extra weight.

Then again, maybe he just wants to get in shape to look better for himself.

Isn't It Ironic?

Last night my husband and I watched a Spike Lee gem, Get on the Bus, from about a dozen years ago. One of the premium cable channels ran it.

We'd seen it before, of course. It's one of the few movies (dare I say only?) to show the viewpoints of black men. I think it's one of Spike's best.

I admired the performance of Ossie Davis. It must take a special ability to die on-screen, especially for an elderly actor. Roger Guenveur Smith is obviously a favorite of Spike Lee's; he's shown up on many of his films - always, as my husband pointed out, playing an asshole. This time around he was a cop who let the power of his profession plus personal issues surrounding the murder of his father override common sense, although we didn't get to see if he had second thoughts about arresting one of his fellow passengers at the end of the journey.

But my biggest kick came from seeing Isaiah Washington playing a gay man who laments that homophobia and racism will always be with us. If only he knew . . . .

I'll be writing this weekend. I kind of kicked around this week, because I had burnout from a marathon session of reading my manuscript through twice last weekend, once from my personal editor and once from the real McCoy. But because I'm a writer at hurt, that urge is never gone for long. And forget about patting myself on the back because I've made good progress on my WIPs. Hell, I've had three-and-a-half months off. I should have something to show for all that idle time, don't you think?
Have a great weekend!

Every Star has an Achilles heel

Employees of a New Jersey hospital have been either reprimanded or suspended – depending on the source – for peeking at the medical records of actor George Clooney, who was involved in a motorcycle accident there.

I worked on-site at a hospital a few years back, and anyone with a computer logon could check anyone's record. The fact that many hospital employees (I actually worked for a transcription service but had an office at the hospital) received their care from physicians within the hospital network because they could do so more economically made for a situation that I felt compromised their privacy. I remember an especially messy incident involving an HIV diagnosis. The gossip was so thick that it became a Human Resource issue, and the employee involved was understandably furious.
Then there was the incident at the Mayo Clinic when I worked there, where two transcriptionists were terminated for gossiping in the ladies room about the health issues of a famous patient that one of them had transcribed.

And does anyone remember that actor Anthony Perkins' (the original Norman Bates of Psycho) lab work was leaked to the media, making it public that he had AIDS? I thought that was awful.

I believe that many celebrities use aliases when being admitted to the hospital for surgeries or to give birth. Any prominent person who finds himself or herself being treated at a hospital ER for an accident or sudden illness would be a fool to tell the treating physician anything more than he/she needs to know to provide care, like if they're taking or are allergic to any medications that might make a prescribed medication counterproductive (or worse).
George Clooney strikes me as being nobody's fool. The actor did not complain about the situation and has spoken out in its aftermath, declaring that suspension seems like excessive punishment. (Spoken like a man who knows he did not share anything of any interest to his treating physician).

One of the unsubstantiated stories circulating is that the snooping employees were suspended for four weeks without pay. That does seem excessive; however, I can't help thinking that if these employees were suspended for three days with no pay and it was publicized, it might go a long way toward preserving the privacy of other famous people. A hospital employee will surely think twice before selling someone's private information to a tabloid if they are in danger of losing their job and any future means of employment in the medical field. The tabloids don't pay that much.

What do you think?

Does This Woman Fascinate You?

Bette Davis starred in two movies about her. Cate Blanchett has done the same thing. Helen Mirren picked up an Emmy (naturally) for playing her on television. Judi Dench played her in the movies.

She died over 400 years ago. She wasn't even remotely pretty. She never married, and the legend persists she remained a virgin (my husband scoffs at that one, naming Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Leicester, and the queen's late-life interest in the Earl of Essex).

I don't know which historical figure has been portrayed in film and television the most, but Elizabeth I has got to be at least near the top of the list.

So, does anybody plan to see the latest movie on her life?

Ripped From the Headlines

As I printed out a well-written newspaper account of the chaos that occurred at Sunday's Chicago Marathon yesterday to place in my idea file, I felt a little twinge of guilt. Dozens of people became ill at the event. One even died. And yet it inspired me as something to include in one of my works in progress that has a Chicago setting. My stomach did a few jumps out of my moral objections to what I was doing.

This is hardly the first time I've used current events in my writing. I've written about the aftermath of 9/11, how love often grew between those closest to the deceased as they comforted each other. I wrote about a man who'd been found dead Monday morning after lifting weights alone in his office, with no one to help him when he suffered a spasm. I wrote about a wedding fiasco I read about in the local paper. I've got a novel drafted around the aftermath of a tragic fire in my hometown. Plus, I have in my file an article about a fatal holiday car crash, although I haven't used that one yet. All of these incidents were devastating . . . to real people.

But wait a minute. Fiction is drama. A novel where everything is hunky dory and nothing extraordinary, even tragic, happens will read like a real snooze and for that reason will never be published. That's a fact. I told myself to chill and promptly went back to my search of the headlines.

Is anyone else influenced by current big news stories, or by those human interest stories? Do you overlook anything with a tragic overtone? If not, do you ever stop and ask yourself, What the hell am I doing?
Tagged Again

I've been foiled, tagged . . . and it's only Monday, for crying out loud.

My colleague Deirdre Savoy is the guilty party this time.

Total number of books:
I presume this means the number I possess at the moment. Very few, maybe three novels plus a handful of writing aids. Even before we relocated up here, my husband made the rather ominous remark that there was room in our house for either me or my books. Carting them up from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment made no sense, and only the important stuff went into storage, so I shipped several cartons as a donation to the New Orleans Library. Since the library up here is deficient when it comes to contemporary A-A fiction, they're the recipient of the books I acquire now after I've read them.

Last Book Read:
I haven't finished the one I'm currently reading, so I can't count that one. Can't name the last one I completed, since it was too implausible and I just skimmed until I got to the end. The one before that was pretty good, uplifting and all that, but the author's incessant use of the character's names in and out of dialogue was too distracting. Very disappointing, coming from what is supposed to be a seasoned author. (Damn, how far back do I have to go already?) Before that . . . let's see . . . I guess it was Kayla Perrin's book about a sorority hazing gone horribly wrong . . . oh, what's it called . . . We'll Never Tell. That's it. Good book.

Five meaningful books:
The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann. Very well put together. I learned a lot about characterization from that one, how to balance one's cast. In my opinion she peaked with this one; that next one she wrote was too silly.

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell. Taught me the importance of fresh metaphors vs. tired clich├ęs. Her first novel and in my opinion her masterpiece. I admit it: I couldn't finish Singing in the Comeback Choir.

Plenty Good Room by Teresa Watson McClain. Beautifully told story of a troubled teen with a difficult home life. I see she's writing for Sepia now. I really must pick up one of her books. A wonderful talent who, unlike Ms. Susann and Ms. Campbell, is still among us.

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan. An epiphany. There I was, in my mid-thirties, reading about black women who were also in their mid-thirties. It was heavenly. It was also (says me) her best book. I read somewhere that she's doing a sequel about the quartet 15 years later.

A Love of Her Own by Yours Truly. Okay, maybe this is cheating, but hell, Dee did it. I received many poignant reader letters about this story about finding love in the face of infertility. Writing this story did much to help me accept and cope with not having children of my own (that and the fact that I was past 40 when I wrote it and my still-held belief that motherhood is for the young!)

And I'm tagging . . . nobody. I need all the friends I can get!
Of Manuscripts and Titles

I rose at 5AM Saturday morning to work on the edits for Once Upon A Project. I had two sets, one from my editor and one from my personal editor, my friend Kim whose got one of the sharpest sets of eyes out there and noted things like words repeated too often, words left out, awkward sentences, stuff like that. That meant going through a 117,000-word manuscript twice, even though there were pages and pages with no marks from either. This was also my last chance at re-writing (when I heard someone refer to the nearby city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, as "Ke-Nowhere," I knew I had to get that in my book!), and I'm feeling quite happy with the end result. The manuscript hasn't been copyedited yet - unusual in my experience - but my editor promised to discuss anything major the copyeditor wants to mess with. It was finished by 3PM. I put it aside for a few hours, making just one more change before e-mailing it later that evening.

I haven't had much luck with mainstream titles. The original title of this book was going to be The First Fifty Years. The marketing staff rejected that as being too limiting, suggesting that you have to be fifty to read it. So was the alternate, The Fifty-Year Itch. I put out a title call for the gals on one of the Yahoo groups I belong to, and someone suggested Once Upon A Project, which passed both the editor and the marketing test.

The Edge of a Dream was published as If These Walls Could Talk (after my first alternate choice, Anyplace I Hang My Hat, was rejected because somebody else - Susan Isaacs, I think - had a book out with that title)

The book I named Better Days was published as Nothing But Trouble after being rejected by the marketing department.

My first mainstream, The People Next Door, was accepted as it was.

One out of four, or 25%, of my mainstream title suggests were kept. With romance I've had a better odds:

A Love for All Seasons was accepted.

One on One was accepted.

Where There's Smoke was accepted.

Straight to the Heart was accepted.

Closer Than Close was accepted.

From This Day Forward was accepted.

Prelude to a Kiss was accepted.

Desire with an "e" (an odd choice until you consider the heroine's name was "Desiree") was published as Love Affair after my editor signed off on this alternate title instead of the one she liked the most, Prelude to a Kiss. I admit to being paranoid enough to suspect that a book with my title by another author was going to show up, but my editor promised that we would save the Prelude title for my next book. Considering that was a romantic comedy that went well with that breezy title, it all worked out fine in the end.

A Love of Her Own was accepted. (This book remains my cleanest ever - two words were changed. That's all.)

The title of my first book, At Long Last Love, was accepted.

9 out of 10, or 90%. The odds are better for me here.

But it's still a real crapshoot.
Great Post

No, I'm not tooting my own horn. I'm talking about the post about how the Marion Jones steroid scandal relates to competition in writing. It's going on over at Blogging in Black, so head on over to http://www.blogginginblack.com/ and ponder Roslyn Hardy Holcomb's thoughts, entitled Jagged Little Pill.
Foiled Again by Those Damned Youthful Demographics

Here I am, all excited about my upcoming novel, Once Upon A Project, which is about women at a crossroads as they turn 50, when I hear that Harlequin is folding its Next imprint, which is all about women in their late 30s and older (although what I've seen makes me believe I suspect that the largest percentage of books are concentrated on the lower end of that scale).

How does this bode for my book? I can't know for sure, but I'm concerned.

If the Next line didn't catch on with the public, does this mean that most readers relate better to younger women? I have nothing against younger women - I was one myself once - but I thought it would be a nice change of pace to write about people closer to my own age.

I know that advertisers love the 18-34 demographic, but I also know that everybody out there doesn't fit into that group . . . .

First Look

I thought I'd let you guys see the cover for Once Upon A Project, which will be out in May 2008.
Here's the blurb from the back cover:

Elyse, Susan, and Grace couldn't be happier when their friend Pat organizes a reunion for past residents of the Chicago public housing project where they all grew up. It is, after all, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, and like their long-ago home, the lifelong friends are also turning fifty. But none of them suspects the event will have life-altering changes . . .

Elyse plans to attend with her husband, but as usual lately, he bows out, pleading fatigue. He's thirteen years her senior, and Elyse fears he's slowing down. But does that mean she has to?

Susan also arrives alone. Her marriage is faltering since her diagnosis of breast cancer. But when she runs into a former flame, it feels like time has stood still . . . .

Twice divorced, Grace needs a distraction, and she finds it in Eric. Once a cute kid four years Grace's junior, Eric is now a handsome man whose age doesn't matter -- but their differences in financial status might . . . .

And forced by her parents to give up the love of her life after a family tragedy, Pat never again found love. When an old friend from law school sees a media report about the reunion and contacts her, will she at last find the love that's eluded her?

Now it's time for four friends to kick off a new chapter in each of their lives as past memories join with present temptations and future hopes . . . .
The characters from the book will be guest blogging after the first of the year, so stay tuned! In the meantime, whattaya think of it?
TV Time

At every start to the TV season I tell myself I'm going to watch this show and that show . . . and I usually don't. TV just doesn't grab me like it used to.

I caught the season premiere of Desperate Housewives while on vacation, and will continue to watch. I thought the premiere was especially sharp, with that little surprise regarding the Edie character and also the introduction of new characters, complete with a whole new mystery. They redeemed themselves last year after Season 2 ventured off into the silly.

There's supposed to be a show on about husbands, but I can't remember the name of it. It might be interesting to look at life and marriage from the standpoint of men.

I already enjoy Kelsey Grammer's new comedy Back To You. (Frasier, in my opinion, was one of the funniest TV shows ever, and I still watch the reruns. This new show has the same producers and many of the same writers, and although this one isn't quite as good - it gives me chuckles rather than belly laughs - it's still early in the game.

Last year we bowled on Thursday nights, so I missed a lot of Ugly Betty. I used to watch it on the computer, but then I kind of lost interest. So now I haven't the faintest idea what's going on. But Vanessa Williams and Ana Ortiz are such hoots in that.

Jimmy Smits' new show, Cane, seemed interesting. I just hope they don't kill of Hector Elizondo's character. It's about time somebody put on a drama with a Hispanic family. It's held my attention so far.

My husband and I watched Ken Burns' newest documentary (14 hours!) on The War (as my father, a veteran of it, used to say, putting emphasis on the The). Riveting, as always. (for those of you who don't know, it's about the big one . . . WWII.)

Sunday nights are going to be difficult. Desperate Housewives is up against another favorite of mine, Cold Case (makes me teary-eyed every time). I'm curious to see what happens with that interracial romance between the heavyset cop and his attractive neighbor, who has a teenage son who was at first distrustful of his mother's new friend but is now warming up to him. And come January, the return of Law & Order to a timeslot opposite both of them!!! I guess I'll watch Law & Order when it airs, see Desperate Housewives on the computer replay 24 hours later, and catch reruns of Cold Case.

How about you? What shows are you watching? Any disappointments? Any surprises?

Bettye is Baffled Again (Another One for the 'I Just Don't Get It' Category)

No, I'm not confused about the people in the pictures from my recent vacation, who are my mom with her three surviving kids, me with my niece, who wanted to ride wtih me (I wonder why?), me and the birthday boy, and the nieces and nephew who attended. Apologies if you're seeing this twice; I fouled up something earlier and aren't sure if I got rid of it.
Now, on to what has me befuddled (I always liked that word.) Can anyone explain to me why people start standing in line at the airline gate so far ahead of boarding time? When I flew out to Colorado very early Friday morning, people were standing on line by 6:20AM, before the plane even arrived at the gate. The disembarking passengers had to get off, the flight attendants had to pick up a little plus do a passenger count, and the passengers continuing on were given the opportunity to switch seats before the new set of passengers could get on. I could tell we would be late taking off, but still people stood.

On my return trip Monday, people started lining up forty minutes before our scheduled departure (at least this time the plane was parked at the gate). Southwest Airlines divides passengers into groups A, B, and C, depending on when one's ticket was purchased, plus those who qualify to pre-board (the idea is that they will be the first to get on and the last to de-plane upon landing because it takes them a little longer to get it together, but I have never seen any of them wait until the plane empties before getting off themselves – instead they hold everybody up with their walkers and wheelchairs and their three kids under age 4).

Anyway, I waited until the line for group B had reached where I was sitting before getting up. I sailed past people in Group C who'd been standing on line for half an hour.

I don't understand what the mad rush is to get on the airplane, with its stuffy air and narrow seats. On the other hand, I do understand the rush to get off, but again, I can't figure why even the people in the back get up and grab their stuff the second the Fasten Seat Belt sign goes off. Don't they realize that there are dozens of people in front of them?

If anyone can shed any light on this, I'd love to hear it. I'm truly baffled. Do you do this? Why, for heaven's sake?
What's Good Enough for Don Imus is Good Enough for Isaiah Thomas

The guilty verdict is in. I say throw the book at him. His defense of using the B-word toward a black woman was pathetic and says a lot about what's wrong with black culture today. I know his mama taught him better than that. God help us if the majority of black men feel it's perfectly all right to disrespect black women this way.

That's all I have to say.
I'm baaaaaaack!

Colorado was as beautiful as I remember it (I was last there way back in 1981). We spent most of our time in the suburb of Aurora rather than the city, but we did get down to the 16th Street Mall on Friday, both for lunch and dinner. My brother was absolutely shocked to see so many of his family members sitting there when my mother (who flew out a day earlier) took him and a friend to dinner. He first noticed his own children and grandchildren before he realized that my sister and I were also present. His 60th birthday was fun for all of us. I'd never been to the Mongolian Barbeque before, but I'll be going again!

I rented a PT Cruiser convertible (the weather was in the 70s) and zoomed around the mountains to an elevation of 8,500 feet, up to the historic town of Black Hawk, which now looks like a Las Vegas of the mountains, with two- and three-story casinos and saloons all over the place. I went into Fitzgerald's with $10 and left with $44 (my motto is, when you win don't stick around to give it back.)

You can't believe how close the moon looks at that higher altitude. But Black Hawk is some 3,000 feet higher than the Mile High City. I would have loved to see the moon from there, but those curvy mountain roads are not meant to be driven down after dark.

Anyway, I'm back and am working on my copyedited manuscript, which is the last chance I'll have to do any re-writing of Once Upon A Project. My editor wanted them, like, yesterday, but it's a huge work - 117,000 words - and I've already spotted several continuity errors that even she didn't catch, so I will look at it extremely carefully before sending it back. The first rule of publishing is that a rushed book is a sloppy book. Unfortunately, these edits have a way of showing up just before I leave for vacation.

Check my blog next week for a special sneak preview of the cover art. And please check out the interview I did with Gwyneth Bolton on her blog, www.gwynethbolton.blogspot.com .

Good to be back!