I'm off like dirty underwear! Have a great Fourth! We'll chew some more fat when I get back next weekend.
The name of my book to be released in 2008 has been changed, something that happens fairly often in the industry. I originally called it The First Fifty Years, because the theme is turning 50 (yes, an idea straight out of real life). The marketing department at the publisher was concerned that this would be a turn-off for the younger demographic. We tossed around a few titles, and it looks like we going to go with Once Upon a Project (because a key element is that the women met as children over 40 years before, when all their families lived in a low-income housing project on the South Side of Chicago).
I can understand their concerns about not wishing to alienate a significant portion of the buying public, but this does get my typical writer's mind wondering. I'm going to go out on a limb here – I have no statistics to back me up and am speaking purely from what I've seen – and say that a high percentage of contemporary novels today are about people in their twenties and thirties. I recently read a page-turner about college students (if you're curious, it was Kayla Perrin's mystery, We'll Never Tell), and while I enjoyed it very much, the fact that the characters were young enough to be my daughters did not escape me.
Which brings me to the question: Would you be likely to pick up a book about middle-aged folks, or can you relate (or do you simply prefer) storylines revolving around younger characters? If so, how young?
I know I’m supposed to be writing, but wanted to comment on this.
In the Far Southwest suburbs of Chicago about 10 days ago, the bodies of a woman and her three children, ages 8, 11, and 12, were found in an SUV on the side of a highway. Also in the vehicle was the woman’s husband and the children’s father, who’d been shot in the thigh. The police were quick to say that he’d been questioned and was free to go, he wasn't considered a suspect, etc. My suspicions were immediately raised about why this man suffered a non-life-threatening injury while everyone else his family were all killed. This man and his family are white.
The husband was arrested yesterday as he arrived for his family's funeral and charged with three counts of murder.
Another arrest also took place yesterday, that of the boyfriend of the missing pregnant woman in Ohio, whose body was found. He was arrested and charged with two counts of murder, one for his girlfriend and another for her unborn baby, of whom he is assumed to be the father. This man is black. His girlfriend was white.
These are both heinous crimes, but guess which one is featured on the national news and which one has been relegated to local?
Enough pondering and wandering. Now I’ve got to get back to work.
I've got a manuscript to finish. It's turning out to be more difficult than I expected. Lots of loose ends to tie up.
I'm sure I won't be able to resist posting something in the next couple of days, but I'm going to try to be quiet and keep my nose to the grindstone.
Today was Take Your Dog to Work Day.
Your daughters, yes. They'll likely one day be working women, and they might as well learn at a reasonably young age that it's no picnic trying to balance full-time work with family life. But your dog? Can there possibly be a point to this?
I haven't seen a single canine in the building I work at, and I'm glad, since I'm allergic. But I'm told that the next building is full of mutts.
I'm grateful not to be sneezing.
I'll be at the Borders on Deane Drive in Rockford, Illinois, tomorrow (Saturday, June 23rd), at 11AM. If you're in the area, stop by!
This morning I saw an ad for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. It shows her and Bill at a diner, just chit-chatting over a meal, the camera cutting to other diners (none of whom look in the least like Secret Service agents) and the action going on. Hillary tells Bill she has the perfect song to play for him. Just as she's about to select it from the playlist, the screen cuts to black.
This is, of course, a play on the recent controversial final episode of The Sopranos. I thought it was rather clever, and is sure to be a hit with the folks in New Jersey.
The writers of the show chose to let the viewers decide for themselves whether those menacing folks hanging around the diner were there to commit murder. As for Hillary's quest to become the first female U.S. President, nobody knows how that's going to turn out.
Many viewers absolutely hated this ending. I didn't watch the show, but I heard about all the ruckus, and it made me think that this type of ambiguous ending wouldn't be very popular in a book, either. I think readers want (and I also feel they're entitled to) closure, of least of the existing conflicts. Sure, a sequel can be written, but I think these are best if they introduce a new set of problems rather than a continuation of the same old same old.
What do you think?
Today I got the news I'd been waiting for.
If you read my blog regularly you know that a few months back I learned that my romance publisher, the Arabesque line (most recently owned by Harlequin), was dropping me. I have been waiting for an explanation ever since, and quite frankly, I was beginning to think I'd never get one.
I confess that this treatment did give rise to some "What's wrong with me all of a sudden?" feelings, although I couldn't imagine why. My sales have been respectable, especially considering that my romances are missing much of the fantasy element that many readers adore. I haven't cussed anybody out or done anything otherwise to tick them off. So why was I getting the shaft, and why no explanation other than some vague mumbo-jumbo?
That syndrome didn't last very long. I took a peek at the upcoming title list, and it doesn't take a Ph.D. in neuroscience to figure out what direction the imprint is headed and why I don't fit into it. But it's nice to hear it directly from the horse's mouth (well, directly through an intermediary), even semi-officially.
So what happens to my writing career as far as romance is concerned? (My mainstream is alive and well, in case you're wondering.) Where do I fit in? Do I even want to fit in?
What I'm going to do right now is nothing. I'll be Fedexing a manuscript in the mail to my mainstream publisher early next week (because I want it there by Friday and I'm too cheap to use anything but Ground service), and then I'm going on vacation with my husband and celebrate my birthday. I'm turning fifty and will probably ponder a lot of things in the coming weeks, like what I want to do with the rest of my life.
Time isn't exactly running short, but at this point it's safe to say that there are more yesterdays than tomorrows. I don't necessarily want to spend it trying to fit in.
This was the lead story on yesterday morning's news. The white female Senator from New York has, according to the latest poll numbers, gained a double digit lead over the black male Senator from Illinois.
Part of this is attributed to the strong support of women for Hillary, who has been endorsed by Maya Angelou and other prominent women. The media also reported growing concern about Barack's "lack of experience."
Because Barack hasn't taken any missteps to suggest he is not ready for the Presidency and certainly gives the impression that he can hang with the best of them, I have to wonder if this shift might be a possible cover to me for people who initially supported Barack because they didn't want to be perceived as racists, moving it to Hillary because "I don't really want a (insert slur here) in the White House."
After all, this is a country where a candidate (Mitt Romney) has a strong showing merely because he "looked Presidential," in other words, a white male with gray at his temples.
I did a book signing last week at a mall, which always gives me an opportunity to do some people-watching. I saw a scene that disturbed me. A family of four was walking through the book store (not because they wanted to browse, but because they parked closest to that particular exit). Mom went first, followed by a little boy of about 7. Then came Dad, and then, about 6 feet behind, came a little girl about 2, maybe younger. Not only was the child walking alone well behind her family, but neither parent even turned to see if she was keeping up.
When my stepdaughter came to visit us, I never let her out of my sight. She returned shopping carts to the outdoor corral under my eagle eye. When walking in crowded public places, at least that first year (she was 6 at the time,) I usually held her hand.
Anybody could have grabbed this child at the mall, and the parents wouldn't have been any the wiser. That's a sad commentary.
All you folks in the Southside vicinity, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be at the Borders on W. 95th Street in Beverly this Saturday, June 16th, from 2PM until about 4PM. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in and say hello (and buy a book!)
Hope to see you there!
Nothing against Blair Underwood. We have the same initials and the same last name (the one I use in my other life away from writing), and for all I know he's related to my husband; for even though my husband shares more of a physical resemblance with Terence Howard, he and Blair have the same shaped ears, which run on the Underwood side of the family . . . but I digress. Blair (I can't bring myself to call him "Underwood") is hardly the first celebrity to pen a novel, work of nonfiction, or a children's book. But I can't help wondering if he had to write two or three complete manuscripts before getting a deal, or if he was able to get an agent and publisher largely on the strength of his name recognition (and his undeniably talented collaborators). The size of his name on the book jacket versus his more experienced co-authors tells me it's otherwise.
For all I know, Blair really sweated over his part of the manuscript. Or maybe he's just a naturally gifted writer, and the words flowed like the Chicago River and barely needed work at all. But there are an awful lot of celebrity-penned books out there other than their own biographies, and I suspect that every one of them had an easier time getting in print than your average slob who's burning the midnight oil to finish their project. And I'll say this . . . they can't all be that talented.
A Romance In Color Review on A Love For All Seasons
Okay, I haven't shoved a review down your throats in weeks now, so it's time to do it. (It's my blog, and I'll say what I want to!)
"REVIEW: A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS, the new novel by author Bettye Griffin, will titillate readers with its interesting view point on what happens when the woman is unwilling to love. For Alicia Timberlake, a good relationship is one that evolves from lovers into friends. Her system works well until she meets Jack Devlin and despite her attempts to get close, he insists on their being friends before becoming lovers. This goes against the grain for Alicia whose many romantic relationships never last more than a season. Jack on the contrary, is determined to show Alicia there can be one "Love For All Seasons."
This uncharted territory is unnerving for Alicia and despite her strong feelings for Jack, she’s uncertain she wants to rewrite the familiar script of her life. As she wrestles with the foreign idea of a future with one man, her entire sense of self is shattered by a malicious utterance from her younger sister. With her very identity an illusion, Alicia questions whether she can indeed build a real life with Jack. Jack, however, is willing to be her light out of emotional darkness but only time can fix her wounds and only time can tell if Jack has enough love to stick around. The plot takes us simultaneously from the present to the past as Alicia reveals the complexities of her childhood which shape her perceptions on love and relationships. The transition from past to present is carefully prepared and does not confuse the reader. The characters are all brought to life using language which gives a concise image of each main and sub-character. The story begins in bustling New York City and climaxes in a suburban town in Connecticut. Alicia and Jack enjoy a lively and open dialogue that is very funny at times and quite serious at others. It all makes for a wonderful read as Alicia fights to hold back how much she is falling for Jack while he fights to restrain; showing just how deeply he has fallen for her. Daphne, Alicia’s sister is a particularly nasty character but she adds her own interesting twist to the story. A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS is like any other in that it deals with love and commitment yet dissimilar in that here we see a woman who is unwilling to give her heart to man who unquestioningly wants to give his to her. Ms. Griffin does a wonderful job of showing the male character as a strong individual despite his precarious position as the one more open and honest with his emotions. Readers will enjoy this contemporary and well written love story."
I'm all choked up! While I try to compose myself, check out Romance In Color at romanceincolor.com .
I was posting a response on Patricia W.'s ReadinNWritin.blogspot.com when it occurred to me that I could do a blog on the subject. (That's the direct address, which one of these days I'll get around to adding to my links.)
My two new releases, A Love For All Seasons and If These Walls Could Talk, are my 12th and 13th novels, respectively. But every time a new book hits the shelves, I find myself worrying about how it will be received. (I realized a long time ago that the books will sell, but whether or not the reader enjoyed their purchase is just as important.) What will the readers say? Is there anything about the book's marketing to indicate that it's something it isn't? (Some folks who read my first mainstream title, The People Next Door, stated that they were expecting cat fights when that type of ghetto behavior really isn't my style, although I still don't believe this was suggested in the cover art or the blurb.) This might come from being shelved in the wrong section of the bookstore, like Street Lit.
I've been lucky so far. Response has been positive on public forums (Amazon for ALFAS, Barnes & Noble for ITWCT), but of course only a tiny percentage of readership will take time to post reviews. Others will contact me directly or sign the guest book on my web site. These are the only gauges I have of public opinion.
I was thrilled when avid reviewer L.D. Brown gave ALFAS five stars and said she loved it. Ms. Brown (I'm presuming she's a female) has become a big name in the reviewing community, as recognizable to me as longtime reviewers Toni Bonita and aNN Brown, and she hasn't liked all of my books (but I'm not telling you which one got the failing grade, even if I could name it off the top of my head).
Reader response affects my WIP, for as I finalize a manuscript that's soon due, I'm also grappling with the issue of the best point at which to begin my newest work. A few readers have indicated that ITWCT really got interesting after the three families have been introduced, while others have said they were pulled in right away. Truthfully, I gave weighty consideration to beginning the book by having all three couples meet at a model house, but decided against it. Introducing the readers to six main characters, plus their respective children, struck me as information overload for the readers, and they'd hate me for their confusion. Besides, what about the characters' motivations for buying homes so far away? The reader deserves to have this shown to them (not merely told to them; that is the #1 rule of good writing). I'd have to resort to backstory to fill in the reader, which I'm not a big fan of.
I felt it would be much better to introduce each family one at a time, give readers a glimpse into both their dreams and their problems in one chapter each, then move into their efforts to make their dreams come true and to solve their problems. I also studied the structure of books I've enjoyed and found they were written in this manner.
Of course, different readers have different interpretations. The art of starting a novel with the right amount of balance . . . not overwhelming the readers with information and characters, not taking too long to establish the conflict, is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.
Readers? Writers? Both? What's your take on this? How do you like the books you read to be structured?
Isaiah Washington will not be back to Gray's (or is it Grey's; I keep forgetting which is the character and which is the reference book) Anatomy next year, as a result of the well-documented slurs he made against a co-worker.
I'm sure he'll bounce back in another part, but I have to wonder . . . if he dislikes gay people so much, what made him go into acting in the first place? (Was the art direction school filled?)
While out with my husband last weekend, he jabbed me and said, "Look! That kid's wearing gym shoes, but she's gliding."
I looked and was equally puzzled. A woman in her 30s who was sitting next to us was nice enough to bring us up to date about sneaker skates (my husband's use of the term "gym shoes" is a Midwestern term; in the East we call them "sneakers" . . . but I digress.) She concluded with, "My son begged me to get him a pair, but I said no. I think they're dangerous."
I agree with her. And in the week since that first sighting, I see kids wearing these shoes all over the place. Kids are gliding everywhere . . . and I wondered how many of them glide right into the ER with bruises and orthopedic sprains or even broken bones.
According to a report on the morning news, quite a few. It's no wonder. The wheels are positioned near the heel so that the kids can't really walk normally in them. The truth is, you can't glide everywhere. What about walking up stairs?
These shoes have been banned by many schools and malls, whose wide, open walkways make ideal gliding grounds (and therefore targets for litigious parents).
I know how hard it is to say no to a child (and I'm just a stepparent). But this is clearly an "It's for your own good" issue. I hope parents use their heads when it comes to buying these sneaker shoes. Sure, they can be fun. But consider getting your child a pair of in-line skates instead, so skating can remain a separate activity. Mixing sneakers and skates together is as bad as idea as mixing a fish sandwich and a chocolate shake.
Damn. It's been so quiet since Rosie O’Donnell went off the air with one last shouting match (but I'm sure she be back, not to The View but to her own show, before too long.) There hasn't even been a peep out of Donald Trump (am I the only one who thinks these two might have a secret agreement to keep their feud going just to keep their respective names in the press? I don't know if there's been any effect on Donald, but Rosie has turned into a ratings champ.)
Now it's Paris all over the airwaves. First the jokes about her going to jail. Then she actually goes to jail (not prison - there's a difference), for three days (not five, as her attorney [earning that $750 an hour, no doubt] says, then there's a hearing, at which she's going to appear, then will call in, then she will appear again . . . and now, back to the hoosegow a second time. For the full 45 days. She provided the public with a most unflattering expression as she was driven away. The "I've learned a lot from this" statement when she was originally released to house arrest suggested she'd already put the incident behind her. I guess she was shocked to learn it's not over.
My two cents? She committed a serious crime, the consequences of which could have been potentially a lot worse if she'd injured or killed someone or damaged property. The repeated offenses show a flagrant disregard for the law. I think she should serve her time, just like she would if her name was Mary Smith . . . or LaKeisha Robinson. I'm not sure, though, why the judge went back to the original 45 days after originally cutting it down to 23. It was the sheriff's idea to release her, and it almost seems like she's being penalized because the sheriff fell for her histrionics.
She doesn't like isolation? Okay, so let her mix with the general inmate population. When she gets out in 45 days, then she can talk about how much she's learned.
"Hire a driver" will probably be at the top of the list.
I'll be at the Borders in the Southlake Mall in Merrillville tomorrow (Saturday, June 9th) from 2-4PM (probably later). Come on out and see me if you're in that neck of the woods.
. . . I give them this link to a blog posted today (so if you follow the link a month from now, don't blame me if you have to scroll.) There's a lot of novels out there, folks. I can't stress this enough. And it doesn't matter if you write black or white characters, chances are likely that you'll all end up at the same address.
Poor house, anyone?
I admit to not being a particularly religious person, although I do believe in God and say prayers every day, usually more than once (like when I eat or if I hear bad news). I thank the Lord for the usual things – my life, my health, my family . . . the comforts that make life easier, from the basics (food, shelter) to all those extras (computers, DSL, cable TV, vacations, the third car) . . . asking Him to grant strength and comfort to those who've suffered a loss . . . even asking for world peace. One thing I have never given thanks for, though, is my ability to write. It never even occurred to me to do this.
I realized this when reading the Acknowledgments section of a novel whose author thanked God, and I wondered, am I being ungrateful?
I've been blessed with an aptitude for the written word, but that alone hardly qualifies me to write a novel, no more than showing a predilection for dance qualifies one to lead the dream sequence in Oklahoma! or a proclivity to immerse onself into a fictional character makes one ready to star in Macbeth, or a talent for drawing makes the artist ready for a one-man show at the Met. Like any natural skill, writing must be nurtured and improved to a degree where it will do me some good. People gifted with good singing voices must project from their diaphragms; if they don't they'll burn out their voice . . . literally. Athletes and serious actors, like singers, have coaches. I practice my chosen craft, just like boxers spar, tennis players volley, and ice skaters spin. In doing so, I changed a natural ability into an acquired skill.
Many years ago a little boy with a stuttering problem practiced speaking until he developed an impressive speaking voice. Not quite as long ago, a young boy, devastated at having been cut from the basketball team at school, set out to improve his skills. Both these people are known today for being at the top of their craft. We know them as James Earl Jones and Michael Jordan, respectively.
I parlayed my own ability as a fast and accurate typist and ability to retain hundreds of short cuts in my head into a career as a sought-after medical transcriptionist, earning quite a respectable income without having to leave my home (and usually wearing something other than street clothes.) I remember how I used to scream at my stepkids for carelessly packing sharp knives blade side up in the dishwasher, giving my fingers several close calls when I went to put them away. I earned my living with those fingers. What I didn't count on was the sharp pains in both my wrists that developed after years of transcribing by day and writing by night
. . . pains that eventually drove me out of the profession (because I wasn't about to give up my writing). I hadn't mistreated my hands, I overused them. I've managed to rebound nicely, but even in the glory days, it never occurred to me to thank God for the skill that had been so good to me.
So while I'm appreciative for my natural ability, I also know that there's no magic wand involved. It took a heck of a lot of sweat for me to get to where I am now.
And I also know that the learning will never end.
I woke up bright and early this morning to see a drizzly, dark day. (I have a lot of complaints about the climate here in the Chicagoland area, but that's a column for another day). As I straightened up the kitchen and divided the remainder of the meat my husband and I bought over the weekend (I ran out of freezer bags and had to go out yesterday to get some more), I felt strangely cheerful. Even having to do a little rearranging to get the rest of the meat to fit into the freezer part of the fridge (nothing else is going to fit in our chest freezer, a situation really more suitable to a family of five or six rather than two) didn't faze me. Then, as I was wiping my hands dry, about to go get dressed, my husband called out, "Bettye, make me a couple of sandwiches with those cold cuts we bought, will ya?" his sense of timing failed to ruffle me (and he really does have the worst possible timing. If he sleeps late and I decide I can't wait another minute to cook breakfast, he'll come staggering out of the bedroom just as I'm sitting down with my plate and say, "Where's mine?")
Still, I didn't understand the reason I felt so good. I didn't get as much done over the weekend as I'd planned to.
I worked on my manuscript Friday evening and Sunday morning, not at all on Saturday, which I spent running errands and then dividing and wrapping a very large amount of meat. But as I completed scenes on Sunday and dropped scenes written earlier into place, I realized that most of the project is complete, and that I've got plenty of time to write bridging scenes and drop in the ones I wrote earlier. It's always a good feeling to learn that there won't be an eleventh-hour rush to get it sent out before leaving for vacation.
My synopsis for my next project is coming along nicely, too. To clarify, the synopsis is a summary of the story I'd like to tell next, which I submit to my editor, who will read it and decide whether or not she wants me to write the book). So is the story proposal I've been working on, although it still isn't ready yet. Again for clarification, a proposal includes a synopsis, but it also includes a couple of chapters so that editors unfamiliar with my work can get a feel for my writing style, along with a summary of the story I want to tell.
On top of everything else I'm working on, Saturday, June 9th, begins the first of three consecutive weeks of book signings (I don't use the word "tour;" it may sound nice, but it really isn't an accurate definition of what I do. A tour, to me, is being on the road (or traveling via some other means) and signing in Boston on Wednesday, New York on Thursday, Philly on Friday, the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area on Saturday, taking off Sunday and Monday and then starting over on Tuesday in the Carolinas, etc. These are usually paid for by the publisher and are reserved for top-selling authors. Going out to nearby cities on Saturdays is hardly the same thing. Personally, I always get a laugh when other writers say they're going "on tour" like they're Eric Jerome Dickey or somebody. But I digress).
Signings require a lot of work. I e-mailed the people on my mailing list who live in the Greater Chicagoland area to tell them where I'll be and when, which took longer than I expected. I also created gifts to give to readers who buy more than one book.
So in hindsight, I guess I got more accomplished than I first thought. On top of that, my nephew, who lives in a tight-knit community of historic homes in Jacksonville, gave a party for his friends and neighbors Friday night – his first in the new house – and reported it was a smashing success. My 90-year-old aunt called me Sunday just to say hello and is herself doing just great. My granddaughter, once a preemie weighing less than 3 lb., is thriving and is now nice and plump at 9 months. And my 88-year-old mother is excited about her trip to New York later this week to visit her sister (the aforementioned aunt).
So I begin a new week on this gloomy Monday with a smile on my face. Sure, there's always something to be annoyed about, but there is much to be grateful for.
I hope I'm still smiling when the week draws to a close.
I went to the store this morning (at 6AM, actually when I realized I'd run out of detergent and bleach), and noticed that the cashier appeared to be looking at me expectantly when she handed me my receipt. I told her I wanted my liquid detergent and bleach to be bagged. She acquiesed, then looked at me again. I realized that she was waiting for me to say "Thank you." I took my bags and left.
This is ridiculous. My coming to her place of employment helps to keep the damn place open. Because of the money I spend, she has a job. Yet she looks at me like she's waiting for me to thank her.
I've noticed this type of behavior in many a cashier lately, and I don't get it. I can remember the days when employees used to thank their patrons. One store had the lettering over their exit, "Thank you for your patronage." This seems to have gone the way of $1.25 a gallon gas.
For the record, I'm not an oaf. I don't expect people to get out of my way when I'm coming through. I excuse myself when I bump into people. But I'll be damned if I'll thank someone for spending my money at their place of business.
Is it just me, or has society become a lot more demanding these days?
I have officially entered D-day, 'D' standing for deadline. I have roughly 30 days to get my manuscript completed on time. This is always an exciting time, because it means I'm almost done with a project I've been working on since late last year.
This encompasses a couple of key points:
1) Pulling out my synopsis and making sure that I haven't forgotten any major plot points (since I refer to the synopsis during the writing process, this is merely a formality; I don't really expect to discover that I left out anything imperative).
2) Polishing all those key scenes I wrote out of sequence and then inserting them in an appropriate spot (which has been known to change from spot A to spot B before it's all over).
3) One last read-through before printing, during which I continue to edit, suddenly noticing little nuances that I somehow missed in my earlier 50 or 60 read-throughs. (It's been said before - writing is re-writing.) Often I'll notice something after I've printed, in which case I insert additional text on a separate page numbered "154-A". If that was good enough for the publishing world before there were computers, it's good enough for a writer struggling to meet her deadline (and who has a limited budget for ink and paper).
4) Making sure all the loose ends are tied up. No making readers guess what happens, and certainly no leaving situations open-ended so I can address them in a sequel. This would be fine if I was writing for As the World Turns, but this is a novel. Even if I do a sequel eventually (I'm not crazy about sequels, but that's a column for another day), I'm a firm believer each book should be a stand-alone story.
The feeling I get when dropping my latest "masterpiece" off at the Fedex office is only equaled by the rush I still get at seeing the finished product on the store shelves. It's proof that I ran with the course and completed a project from start to finish.
Satisfaction comes in different ways, just like happiness.
But what about the hotel maids, who handled his used sheets and towels? The people who sat next to him at the bar? The people who washed his utensils? The car rental employee who handed him his contract and keys? The other folks with whom he might have had contact with? I haven't heard anyone even mention them. I haven't seen his photograph displayed with a message that if you remember having any contact with him, to get tested.
I don't get it.