I'm Back . . . with the best of 2007
We just got in yesterday afternoon from a wonderful vacation in which we visited with friends and family - even our house - in three states. I wish I could have seen more people we kind of passed through, like my nieces in the Atlanta suburbs and my nephews and niece in another part of Indiana than the one where we stopped, but there's just not enough time. (I'd also like to tour Lincoln's log cabin birthplace in Kentucky, any bourbon distillery, the U.S. Mint in Kentucky, and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but haven't gotten to any of them yet, either.) The worst thing that happened to us was that my husband's cell phone died as we were leaving an Atlanta suburb after visiting family, and that was hardly trip-spoiling. The best part? Everyone (and everything) is feeling and looking well. A person can't ask for a better Christmas gift for their loved ones . . . although that diamond jewelry Santa gave me was a very close second. Plus, I got a new cell phone as well! I hope your celebration was happy as well.
While in Tampa I got to meet my fellow blogger Patricia Woodside, who's cute as a button (she's got dimples, y'all!). We had a great chat over breakfast. Patricia is the first person who called me on my new cell phone. I didn't even have the ringer on, but I was fiddling with it while my husband was in the barber chair getting rid of his Grizzly Adams look in time for Christmas when I noticed I had an incoming call. I've since adjsuted the volume.
I hope you caught my guest blog on Blogging in Black on Christmas Eve (if not, click the link!). It was a bad day for posting because everyone was busy with their families, but I hate to think that no one will read it.
Since I got my galleys for Once Upon A Project sent back to Kensington the day before we left, the nine days I was away was the longest stretch without writing in recent memory. I did find myself thinking about a new story involving a truck while gazing out at all those truck cabs (and while talking to a friend who is a former driver of an 18-wheeler after Christmas dinner), and then the magic happened. The bulk of the story came together in my mind. I dashed it out on my laptop in our hotel room in Chattanooga on Friday night.
Today is the last day of the year, and I realized I need to post my choices for best book of the year. I didn't read a whole lot, and most of what I read was forgettable. I do recall two wonderful stories, one by a relatively new author and one by a veteran writer, that each had execution problems, namely not-that-great writing. It's a good thing that the stories stayed with me. The new author will hopefully polish her skills, and if she does I predict big things for her. The veteran author falls under the "If it's not broke, don't fix it" category; she's doing fine sales-wise. I just can't help thinking how much better her books would be if she'd change some things about her execution.
This leads me to the best book I read this year. Last year I chose a mainstream and a romance. The few romances I compelted were all flawed, so this year I'll do a best mainstream and a runner-up.
The runner up first, in true beauty contest fashion . . . .

We'll Never Tell by Kayla Perrin, published last spring, is a riveting murder mystery on the campus of a public university in upstate New York. Kayla weaves a story so intriguing, I didn't even mind that the characters were 30 years younger than myself. She's a very talented author. This book also gets the prize for Best Book Not Part of a Series. If you haven't read it, check it out! Y'all know I'm not easily impressed.

And now for my vote for Best Book of 2007 (that I've read, anyway):

Yes, it's a celebrity book. Blair Underwood's name appears much more prominently on the cover than those of his more experienced co-writers, the husband-and-wife team of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. While I have nothing against Blair Underwood (I'm an Underwood myself by marriage, and since he and my husband have the exact same ears I've always wondered if there's a familial connection), earlier in the year I wrote a blog column in which I expressed being less than thrilled about the automatic media splashes made by celebrity-authored books (like the so-called author whose bio describes him as the ex-husband of a prominent person, his sole claim to fame). After having read this particular novel, I can say it deserves the attention. Good writing is good writing, good storytelling is good storytelling, and when they both happen in a published work it makes for something special. This is the first in a series, and since the next one won't be out until later in 2008 (a well-spaced 15 months after the first one), this series hater might even read that as well!

Gotta go turn in the rental vehicle. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the first of four monthly character blogs from Once Upon A Project, and later in the week, when bestselling author Kimberla Lawson Roby will take five of my questions.
Have a safe and happy New Year's Celebration. See you in '08.

Christmastime is Here

Every year while I run myself ragged preparing for the holiday (this will be our second year going on the road), I tell myself I'm crazy. And then a funny thing happens. I get the Christmas spirit.

It happened for me this morning, when I awoke and it dawned on me that my to-do list is down to a manageable size. I hummed Christmas carols as I stuffed the giant Christmas stocking we will carry with us with the last of the gifts, and I've been humming ever since.

We'll leave tomorrow morning at around 9AM (got to get those sofa armrest covers and pillows to the cleaners so I can have a nice clean house in time for New Year's.) We won't be back until December 30th, and I won't be blogging while we're away. But do check out my end-of-year musings on Blogging in Black on Christmas Eve.

A couple of real chestnuts (get it?) are being aired between Sunday night, the 23rd, and Christmas Day on Turner Classic Movies. Up first is Christmas in Connecticut, a charming romantic comedy from 1945 with Barbara Stanwyck, one year after she played that murdering adulterous vixen in Double Indemnity. (Also in the cast is the imposing, fear-inspiring Sydney Greenstreet, so I guess everybody felt like doing comedy that year.) Babs plays a homemaking columnist for a leading woman's magazine who writes about life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and baby, sharing mouth-watering recipes. The truth is that she's single, childless and lives in a tiny New York apartment . . . and she can't cook. All her recipes come from her Uncle Felix, a Hungarian restaurateur. The scheme threatens to blow up in her face when her publisher insists that she entertain a war hero (remember, in 1945 the war had just ended) over the Christmas holiday. High jinks follow.

This movie was filmed in a remake deemed dreadful by just about all who saw it in 1992, directed by the now Governor of California (I say that because I can't spell his last name) starring Dyan Cannon (I never saw it and don't want to; even in 1992 Dyan Cannon had to be in her mid-50s, way too old for this part), and is being re-made again for theatrical release in 2009. The story will obviously have to be updated, and it'll be interesting to see how they pull off a domestic diva with no skills in this day and age of TV and Internet. Can you imagine Martha Stewart not being able to demonstrate her homemaking abilities on live TV?

The original is also notable for an important scene (at least to me) involving a black man. Most blacks, particularly black men, were portrayed as simpering idiots on the screen, but when Uncle Felix asks one of his waiters if the word "catastrophe" meant something good. The waiter's intelligent reply was a rarity in film. It happens fairly early in the movie, so don't miss it! Also, if you ever watched the original Superman series with George Reeves, watch for "Inspector Henderson" in the beginning of the movie as Barbara Stanwyck's agent. He was younger here, and actually rather good-looking. But he had a very distinct speaking voice that you're likely to recognize before the face. Finally, if that gorgeous, sprawling Connecticut house looks familiar, it was the same set used for the classic Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby from 1938.

Another cute semi-classic is Holiday Affair from 1949. This was an entertaining but low-budget film because Robert Mitchum had just been released from jail after serving six months for marijuana possession (he always looked a little high to me with those droopy eyes,) and the studio was afraid of how the public would receive him. (Back in those days actors were required to behave in a certain manner; it was called a "morals clause.") Janet Leigh, all of 22 at the time, looked a little young to be a widow with a 6-year-old son, but it all comes together. Janet's about to remarry to a stuffy lawyer when she meets Robert Mitchum in a department store and her life changes direction over the course of one week. This one was remade for TV a few years back - they show it on Lifetime - nicely updated, and they found an effectively handsome rogue to play the Mitchum part, although I prefer the original.

Both movies will air on TCM the night of December 23rd. Holiday Affair additionally airs on the morning of Christmas Eve, and Christmas in Connecticut on Christmas morning. I do hope they have TCM at the Homestead Suites . . . .

Merry Christmas to you and yours!! I hope to see you here on January 1st, when I'll be introducing the first of four "guest blogs" by the characters of Once Upon A Project, to run the 1st day of January, February, March, and April.
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas . . .

. . . which means I'm running terribly behind. Another holiday luncheon today (the members of our immediate department were taken to lunch on Friday), this one with the big boss and everyone under her. Because everyone is trying to wrap things up by midweek, the luncheon will be combined with a meeting that will run all afternoon. That puts me at a location at least ten miles past the office just in time for rush hour traffic.

I did get the rest of my shopping done, but I haven't been able to pick up the stuff that's been engraved because it snowed (yes, for the third Saturday in a row.) Thank God I impulsively went to the mall Friday after work. I feel terrible for the merchants . . . a girl at Things Remembered told me their business is hurting because of two consecutive snowy Saturdays in December. Of course, now it's three. I went back yesterday after they cleared the roads, hoping I could pick up the things I had engraved, but after 15 minutes of driving around looking for a parking space, I gave up and came home. I guess everybody else had the same idea. So I won't be shipping my package today, along with millions of other folks. It'll have to go tomorrow. Hope it gets there on time.

Anyway, with all my preparations for the holiday (hair, gift wrapping) and our trip (laundry - say no more), I barely had a chance to vacuum, much less pick up my galleys, which went untouched all weekend. I'll be putting my nose to the grindstone and pulling out my crock pot (usually reserved for entertaining with Swedish meatballs or cocktail franks . . . but this is an emergency, so I'll be cooking in the damn thing to eliminate 9PM dinners) and those Bisquick Impossible Pie recipes that make their own crust (first up: chicken pot pie).

I'll probably check in briefly during the week, but it'll likely be a post of 50 words or less because I've still got a long to-do list.

Catch you later! Stay sane.
The Week in Review

Ike Turner died this week. (More on this in my blog posting from earlier today for my take on this).

It looks like Barry Bonds' reign as the face of steroid use in Major League Baseball is about to be shared with a whole bunch of other faces . . . and many of them - no, make that most of them - aren't black. But it's usually the black dude who gets singled out.

Mitt Romey said in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show about attacks on his religion, "It's not the American way." I haven't heard anything so asinine since Ronald Reagan naively stated that growing up in Dixon, Illinois, he wasn't aware there was a race problem. Discrimination of all kinds is the American way, and everybody knows it. As for the discrimiation against blacks and women that exists within Romney's own Church of Latter Day Saints (the proper name for Mormonism) . . . I won't even go there.

Barack Obama's past drug use has been brought to the forefront by the desperate people behind Hillary Clinton's campaign (which as everyone knows can no longer claim "frontrunner" status because of all those white folks in Iowa who are putting on a liberal front and saying they will vote for Obama - yeah, right). Their little scheme blew up in their faces, culminating in Hillary's apology to Barack and the resignation of the staffer who brought it up. Personally, I always thought Barack did the right thing by admitting it early in the race and getting it out of the way (unlike the present occupant of the White House, who hoped his arrest for drunk driving wouldn't come out.) It made a lot more sense to me to be frank rather than to try to skirt the issue, like Bill Clinton's ridiculous 1992 claim that "I didn't inhale."
I've got to finish my holiday shopping this weekend and get gift cards and packages in the mail by Tuesday. I've also got galleys to read over for Once Upon a Project this weekend. I'm thrilled that they arrived this week; I should be able to get through them before we leave for vacation next Saturday. The behemoth of a story was typeset at 371 pages in trade paper size. The more I look at it, the more excited I get. It's good, y'all. Incidentally, Amazon now has the cover art on its page. Plus they're discounting it to $11.20. Add it to your list of books, spend at least $25 and get free shipping. To preorder click here.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing four or five Errol Flynn movies Saturday night into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I don't know what all the fuss was about Clark Gable being so handsome. In my opinion, Errol Flynn was the best-looking male actor of his era . . . at least he was before the effects too much alcohol and a late-blooming morphine addiction became apparent. Errol Flynn lived through an illness that damaged his heart in his youth, and he died prematurely in 1959, just five months after his 50th birthday (that's roughly my age right now). His busy love life inspired the expression "In Like Flynn," and he wanted to call his autobiography In Like Me, but the publisher felt that was too risqué, so he settled for My Wicked, Wicked Ways. He didn't live to see it published. My mother says she and all her girlfriends used to swoon over him in the Thirties. I don't think I'll stay up all night watching him . . . although I'll probably take a stab at it.
Have a great weekend!

So Long, Ike

Ike Turner died yesterday.
We've all heard rumors that he wasn't a very nice person. But we also know for a fact that he was a talented musician who never really got a lot of credit.

I think he would have been pleased at the TV obituary I saw, which referred to him first and foremost as a rock-and-roll pioneer (Ike Turner is credited by many music historians with performing with his band on the first rock-and-roll recording ever, way back in 1951) and naming highlights of his long career before any mention of what they described as a "notorious temper."

He's in God's hands now, and God is sure to let him know how He feels about whatever Ike did in his lifetime, just like He will with all of us.

I commend Tina Turner for her classy response to Ike's passing, which was . . . nothing. A spokesperson for her pointed out that she hasn't seen Ike in nearly 35 years and would not be making any statement about his death. Quite a contrast from the tacky Cher One-Name, who trashed Sonny Bono like yesterday's banana skin every chance she got, but yet hogged the spotlight at his funeral, weeping and carrying on like she'd lost her best friend and conveniently not saying a word of apology about all those mean things she said while he was alive to hear them. (Okay, so their marriage was probably more placid than that of the Turners and Sonny died tragically, but there's a valuable lesson in there about speaking ill of people nonetheless). And don't get me started on how Diana Ross took the spotlight at the funeral of Florence Ballard, not sitting quietly in the back with Mary Wilson and other folks from Motown, but marching right up and plopping her ass down in the very first pew, alongside Florence's mother, children and estranged husband.
What's done is done, as they say. You can't re-write history. Tina said what she wanted to say in her autobiography. No point in milking so many years later merely for the sake of publicity.
Five Questions for . . . Marcia King-Gamble

Welcome to a new feature on Chew the Fat with Bettye. I'll be doing periodic (a nice way of saying 'an irregular basis') mini-interviews with authors who have new books just in or about to hit stores. (I'm going to be doing a lot of yawning in the New Year; the only way I'll be able to read all these wonderful-sounding novels is to cut back on my sleep.) First up is the talented (and wonderfully photogenic, I might add) Marcia King-Gamble, who created the Flamingo Beach series for Harlequin's Kimani Romance line. I've known Marcia for nearly ten years. She was the first of my fellow writers to reach out to me, even before our then-publisher, BET, scheduled us to do signings together at scattered Florida locations quite some time ago, and I will always treasure her friendship.

A little biographical info first:

"Marcia King-Gamble is a national best selling author who has written for Kensington, BET Books and St. Martin’s Press. She now writes for several Harlequin lines. This self-proclaimed world traveler has spent time in some of the more exotic parts of the world. She maintains the Far East, Venice and New Zealand are still favorite haunts. In her spare time Marcia enjoys kickboxing, step aerobics and body sculpting. She is passionate about animals, spicy foods and tearjerker movies. Marcia is also the editor of a monthly newsletter entitled Marcia’s Romantically Yours. Log onto her website and find out what she’s all about."

If you're not already familiar with Marcia's work, this will give you an opportunity to do so! So here we go . . . .

Bettye: Marcia, you just had a new book come out last month, November (Sex on Flamingo Beach, Kimani Romance), plus you have another new title coming out in January (Hook, Line, and Single, Kimani/Sepia), and a third in February (More Than A Woman, Kimani/Arabesque). This is great news for your readers, but it had to be a tremendous amount of work, since you and I both know these books don't write themselves! Do you think you can keep up this pace?

Marcia King-Gamble: Ah, this is one of the challenges of being a writer. These last few years I gave up having a life. For the most part I've always had a day job along with my writing career. When I decided to move to Seattle something had to give, and that something was a day job with benefits. I set certain financial goals, and to meet those goals it meant writing as many books as I possibly could. Word to the wise: Keep your day job. Sex on Flamingo Beach is my November 2007 release, and the fourth in the Flamingo Beach series. It's gotten great reviews and is published by Harlequin's Kimani line. I tackled the issues of an interracial relationship from an entirely different perspective.

Hook, Line and Single, a Sepia, also published by Harlequin - is my fourth mainstream effort, and my January 2008 release. The story is about a woman of a certain age and her ventures into the brave new world of cyber and speed dating.

And finally, More Than a Woman (an Arabesque release -published by Harlequin) should be out in February 2008, in time for Valentine's Day. It's set in the historic and beautiful city of St. Augustine, Florida. Be sure to pick up a copy of all three if you can. I'll have six books out in 2008. Whoosh!

Bettye: Six books! I am impressed, Marcia! I think the Flamingo Beach set-up is a wonderfully imaginative way to link a series of books, since the majority of them seem to revolve around families. I wasn't aware it's an interracial. I enjoy interracial romances, provided the conflict comes from something more than disapproving stares and rude remarks from bystanders. Your promise of a "different perspective" has me intrigued!

St. Augustine, the setting of your upcoming More Than a Woman, is a lovely city, close to my old stomping grounds of Jacksonville. But I must tell you I'm particularly really excited about Hook, Line and Single. As a woman of a certain age myself who sometimes feels a little lost with the rapidly evolving technology of today's world (although since I'm married I'm not looking for a date!), I'm tickled when books are published with older characters at the center. Those are all great titles, by the way!

Now for Question Two: Your other career is in the travel industry, and you've been all over the world. What would you say is your favorite spot?

Marcia King-Gamble: Having had the opportunity to travel with someone else picking up the tab has been a great experience. The wanderlust still remains in my veins today, and every penny of disposable still goes to travel. As for favorites, I'm still partial to places like Hong Kong, Venice and New Zealand, because I have such wonderful memories of the times spent there. Traveling to exotic parts of the world is the best finishing school there is.

Bettye: I agree. I love packing a bag and leaving town. And when someone else is picking up the tab, well, it doesn't get much better than that!

We're at the halfway point, #3 of 5 questions. Marcia, what's the last DVD you rented?

Marcia King-Gamble: This is an easy question. I don't rent DVDs. I gave up watching television when I began to write. And based on what I'm hearing, I haven't missed much. I do go to the movies, as it gets me out of the house. Of course, my favorites are all tearjerkers, similar to the books I like to read and write.

Bettye: Oh, yes. I agree that there's little on TV these days, and if this writer's strike goes on much longer we're liable to see things like Dancing with the Biggest Loser. I like tearjerkers myself. I stayed up past midnight one weekday last week to watch a series of 1930s movies (they called them "weepers" back then) with a top actress of the day, Irene Dunne. Lots of unwed-mother-sacrifices-all-for-her-child, cheating-spouse, illicit-affair storylines.

Okay, now for an intrusively personal question. Asparagus . . . love it or hate it?

Marcia King-Gamble: Asparagus? Love it when someone knows how to cook it. Hate it when it's a soggy mess with no gourmet trimmings.

Bettye: And now for my final question. Can you write with music playing?

Marcia King-Gamble: I can write with almost anything going on around me. I can write and talk to you. It's something a busy person learns to do. When you're eternally on tight deadlines there's no such thing as writer's block.

Bettye: Believe it or not, you've answered five questions. Would you like to say anything in closing to the folks reading this?

Marcia King-Gamble: I'd love to hear from you. Visit my websites: My home page, http://www.lovemarcia.com/, or my page on My Space, www.myspace.com/marciakinggamble. Sign up for my newsletter, Marcia's Romantically Yours. I'm working on book number twenty four right now.

Bettye: You keep writing. We'll be reading.

Many thanks to Marcia for taking time out to chat.

Call a spade a spade

There's nothing wrong with having wide hips.

But it's ludicrous to claim after photographic evidence to the contrary that you're a size 2. I haven't laughed so hard since Pam Grier casually mentioned being a size 8 in an interview.

I don't have a particularly wide hips or a big ass, either. Even with a stomach that looks like I'm going into my fifth month, I can still get into a size 10 (at least on the bottom). Of course, at Chico's I'm a size 2 (they market their sizes in 0, 1, 2, 3, I presume to appeal to their customers' vanity). But their 2 is equivalent to an 8-10.

When I get to California, I'll have to check the clothing sizes just to see if they do as Chico's does and call a 10 a 2.

It's like measuring your age in dog years.

Figure 8

Saturday I spent an enjoyable afternoon shopping at the Prime Outlets over the Wisconsin border (in 16-degree weather). Sunday I attacked the paper invasion that's been piling up on my desk. After that I didn't feel like doing a damn thing, not even writing.

I often spend Sunday afternoons watching figure skating (while writing and preparing dinner, multitasker that I am). This Sunday I just sat and watched, not doing anything else. I love the gracefulness of the female skaters and the male/female ice dancing (don't care much for men skating alone). There are so many different combinations of movements.

As I considered the re-structuring that must be done on my current WIP, it occurred to me that figure skating is like writing (just because I didn't feel like writing anything didn't mean I wasn't thinking about it). You often know what is coming, depending on the genre of the story (or that a jump is coming when in skating the jumps, spins, and lifts), but the execution is different. Everyone has their own style, and sometimes the style of an individual or team differs within itself. I've seen couples moving in perfect symmetry on the ice to romantic music and the classics, then show their whimsical side with more fast-paced numbers and lots of equally challenging steps. I cheer for the skaters who manage to execute every turn, lift, and jump flawlessly.

But sometimes skaters do slip and fall. One unlucky couple yesterday was perfect until the dip at the finale, when the female somehow landed flat on her back (in writing, this is known as an unsatisfying ending). Although they're always back on their feet before I can say "Ouch!" on their behalf, it has to be upsetting after all that practice. It's kind of the way I feel when I read over galleys - which I'll be doing next week - and see things I want to re-write but can't at that late stage in the process. The job of going over what I've written and making the changes my agent has suggested before submission seems, not insurmountable, but at the very least a daunting task.

I'm working on something a little different from anything I've done before, not extremely different, but with subtle nuances of which I wasn't previously aware. On Sunday I watched two performances of an ice-skating couple, the first one all smooth and graceful, the second much more athletic. They made it all look so easy. I thought of how I've always admired authors who comfortably move between very different genres, like Leslie Esdaile (or L.A. Banks or Leslie Esdaile Banks, depending on what she's writing), Donna Hill and the others whose names I can't think of at the moment. (Yes, I write romance and women's fiction, but - while not taking anything away from my own accomplishments - the fact is that these two categories aren't all that far apart. It's actually a sub-genre that's giving me such a hard time at the moment.) Writers who move between genres well (or from smooth choreography to complicated moves on the ice) make it look easy when it's anything but. Even authors who write in one genre, like romance, try different approaches within that genre to shake things up a little. This is a must, for no one wants to write the same story over and over again. Likewise, spectators at all those skating shows and competitions would also be unhappy if their favorite skaters did the same routines over and over again, and they'd stop buying tickets.

Yes, figure skating is like writing. And now that my musing is over, it's time to stop procrastinating and get back to shaping my WIP to fit the mold . . . without falling on my ass. Considering the weather here this morning, I'll be doing a little gliding myself just to get to the car!
Mo' Colored

Oprah and Obama (no additional names necessary) hit the campaign trail this weekend. I saw clips of them speaking at a rally in South Carolina, attended mostly by black people. For some reason both parties feel it's necessary to take on a speech pattern that sound more down-home, or, if you will, black.

Has anyone else noticed this? And does it annoy you as much as it does me? I've seen Oprah slip into dialect occasionally on her show (especially if she's interviewing someone black), but at least she's not running for office. When a political candidate changes his manner of speaking to suit the audience, it rings phony to me. There's no drawl in Obama's voice when he's involved in a debate. The man doesn't even have southern roots, for crying out loud.

Personally, I think this sort of thing will backfire on them, and I wish they'd both cut it out and speak like they normally do.


In the blogosphere this week: Author Gammy Singer has a column about some really bad metaphors on the Crime Sistahs blog a few days ago. It's hilarious, so check it out. I really like the one about the simple uncle.

Gwyneth Bolton did an informative, entertaining interview with author Adrianne Byrd last Saturday. And Monica Jackson had a take on the Desperate Housewives tornado from Tuesday (the same day I did mine, proving that great minds think alike), and since she's a native of Kansas, she knows a thing or two about this weather phenomenon.

Finally, Shon Bacon tells me that she's posted an update to the interview I did with her last year, so stop by and read what I have to say!

Ah, the holiday party season has begun. Country clubs and other venues all over America will be hosting corporate parties this Friday and next Friday (the preferred day for even nighttime work-related functions). My husband and I are stepping out tonight (at his job's shindig), and hopefully those slips and slides will be reserved for the dance floor and not the icy sidewalk, since it snowed again last night.

If I'm home tomorrow night, and since they're expecting even more snow this first week of December (two weeks before the official start of winter!), I suppose I will be, I'll be watching Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. I love this movie, even though I've seen it a hundred times. Ingrid Bergman's character has never met a penis she didn't like, Cary Grant's character is a cold SOB, but despite a crazy plot it all manages to be romantic, probably because the two leads made such a good-looking couple. I actually took their character's names for my last Arabesque, A Love For All Seasons: Alicia for the heroine (I changed her last name from Huberman to Timberlake), and Devlin for the hero, whom Alicia calls "Dev," just like in the movie. In the movie, I think Hitchcock pulled a second Mrs. de Winter on us: I don't remember ever hearing anyone call Cary Grant's Devlin by a first name. In my book I named him Jack. I also made him a lot nicer, although my Alicia is, like Ingrid Bergman's character, somewhat . . . uh, shall we say, easy.

Of course, I'll be writing, too. I did get one of my synopses revised to my satisfaction. (Let's hope my agent agrees.) The other one is taking a bit longer, but it's not a rush job like the first one was, so I'm okay with moving a little slower. In the meantime, another story is kicking its way into my thoughts and just won't stop, so I guess I'll start outlining.

Whatever you do this weekend, keep warm and safe. I'll be back on Monday, and look for a new blog feature on Thursday, December 13th.

Politics as Usual

The folks who are in danger of losing their homes will be getting their rates frozen, provided they are up to date on their payments.

This has been in the news for over a year now, but they wait until now to do anything about it? My heart goes out to all the people who lost homes last year and earlier this year. These people got screwed, just like the people of Oklahoma City got screwed. The reasons are different (politics and racism). The bottom line is the same.

Nobody cares about people being blown to bits if it was done by white boys (but if it's Muslims doing the deed, the victims' families get millions, national fundraisers are held, the whole nine yards). Nobody cares about the thousands of people literally losing the roofs over their heads unless it's close to an election year so the party in power can take credit and stand up, pound their chests, and say, "Vote for us! We saved your house!" They'd better hope that the people on the verge of losing their houses outnumber the people who've already lost theirs.

I am happy for those whose homes will be saved, but saddened for those for whom this comes too late. And my gut tells me they won't take the politicizing of their personal tragedies for political gain without expressing just how they feel.

For Anyone Planning to See Denzel's Latest Movie . . .

. . . The Great Debaters, which opens on Christmas Day (sorry about that dual poster), here's some background on the story, as reported by Laura Beil in today's New York Times. I enjoy historical movies, myself, although the ugliness of racism can often mar even a triumphant tale.

I hope the school gets a shot in the arm from the publicity.

December 5, 2007
For Struggling Black College, Hopes of a Revival

MARSHALL, Tex. — When the light at University Avenue is green, drivers can pass Wiley College without a glance. There was a time, however, when this small black liberal arts college here caught the attention of a nation: in the 1930s, Wiley’s polished team of debaters amassed a series of victories over white competitors that stunned the Jim Crow South.

The college would go on to groom civil rights leaders like James Farmer Jr. and Heman Sweatt, whose lawsuit against the University of Texas Law School in the 1940s helped pave the way for public school integration. Yet Wiley itself, like many black colleges, has struggled for survival ever since, and even reached the brink of collapse. This year, professors and staff members accepted unpaid furloughs. One employee could not share a recent report with trustees because his department could not afford copy paper.

Now Wiley is looking for a Hollywood ending.

On Dec. 25, “The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley’s most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship.

No one knows whether the story will raise the college’s fortunes, but Wiley, which has not been able to support a debate team for decades, is suddenly feeling the glow of celebrity. Enrollment has soared past 900 for the first time in at least 40 years. The administration building was given a face-lift, compliments of the moviemakers, who also manicured the campus with new greenery. There are hopes to revive the debate program, and in a movie tie-in, Wal-Mart is to endow a Melvin B. Tolson Scholarship Fund with $100,000.

Today, callers to the institution are greeted with a cheery recorded reminder: “Home of the Great Debaters.” Jamecia Murray, a junior from Logansport, La., has joked to prospective students that “you could wake up in the morning and see Denzel Washington out your window.”
Movies can have an impact on schools that lingers for years. Garfield High School in Los Angeles, made famous by “Stand and Deliver” in 1988, was able to recoup quickly when its auditorium burned last May. By October, the school had received more than $100,000 in donations, largely from those who remembered the film. “Garfield itself has become synonymous with the movie,” Nadia Gonzales, a school district spokeswoman, said.

But celebrity can be unpredictable. While “Fame,” in 1980, brought the High School of Performing Arts in New York City a bumper crop of applicants, many students resented the portrayal of drug use and premarital sex.

In many respects, Wiley’s story is the larger narrative of historically black institutions whose graduates lived to see landmark achievements in the 1960s, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But after securing the opportunity for bright young students to attend any institution they wanted, many black colleges stalled.

Texas had 11 black colleges in 1954. Three are now gone, another is on probation for academic and other problems, and a fifth operated during most of the 1990s without accreditation.
Wiley’s woes reflect 130 years of racial and economic tumult. The Methodist Church founded Wiley in Marshall, in the northeast corner of the state, which has always aligned with the Deep South more than the Old West. Harrison County, home to Wiley, once held the largest slave population in the state, and antebellum culture cast a shadow on race relations well into the 20th century.

By the time Mr. Tolson arrived in 1923, Wiley had emerged as an elite institution for the black middle class. The son of a Missouri preacher, Mr. Tolson had a soul fed by the Harlem Renaissance. He was both feared and loved, inspiring, as one biographer wrote, “devotion bordering on adulation in many who knew him well.” He remained at Wiley 24 years, publishing his most heralded work of poetry a year before his death in 1966.

Wiley’s 1935 victory over the University of Southern California (the opponents in the film are from Harvard) inspired people long denied dignity in white society. But the film omits one reality: even though they beat the reigning champions, the Great Debaters were not allowed to call themselves victors because they did not belong to the debate society, which did not allow blacks until after World War II.

The most renowned member of the debate team was a teenage James Farmer Jr., who would go on to found the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. He would later use his Wiley-honed skills in debates against Malcolm X, an unflinching orator. “I debated Malcolm X four times and beat him,” Mr. Farmer told an interviewer in 1997. “I’d think, ‘Come off it, Malcolm, you can’t win. You didn’t come up under Tolson.’”

In 1960, college students in Marshall were jailed for the first large sit-in in Texas. Within five years, the federal government would require integration.

But as black students and faculty members were courted by white institutions, the college’s identity became less clear. “I don’t think anybody could have calculated what integration would really do,” said Bob Hayes, a United Methodist bishop in Oklahoma whose father became president of Wiley in 1971.

Wiley’s football program, which had five national champion teams, disbanded in 1969. Two years later, the Methodist Church dispatched the Rev. Robert Hayes Sr. to Marshall to dissolve the college entirely. “The bishop said, ‘Go give it a decent funeral,’” recalled Mr. Hayes, who now lives in Houston.

But the elder Mr. Hayes, a Wiley graduate, could not bring himself to close his alma mater. A commanding preacher with a silky baritone, he convinced town bankers not to call in loans. Until he left in 1986, Mr. Hayes kept the doors open, even while enrollment dipped below 400. Robert Sherer, a history professor for 14 years beginning in 1975, recalls that he “got constantly in trouble with the dean by failing too many students. Every student they lost was a major financial hit.”

Heightening a sense of instability, a succession of five presidents passed through Wiley between 1986 and 2000. Lawns grew weedy. Buildings aged. In 2000, trustees recruited Haywood Strickland, president of Texas College in nearby Tyler, as president. He restored stability, but his tenure has not been completely smooth. In 2003, The Marshall News Messenger reported that despite an official biography that lists “doctoral training” at the University of Wisconsin, and publicly taking the title “doctor,” Mr. Strickland in fact has no earned Ph.D.
“I was unaffected by it,” Mr. Strickland said of the report, adding that he did not believe he had misrepresented himself.

The college has run deficits for much of his tenure — 2006 ended $1 million in the red — but administrators predict finishing the 2008 financial year in the black. There are plans to establish the campus’s first endowed chair, named after Mr. Tolson. The poet’s home, next to campus, now sports a sign in the yard advertising its place in history.

For his part, Mr. Washington had not previously heard of the debaters or even the college, but he said, “I’m aware of the strength of these historically black colleges, and what they’ve done for millions of African-American men and women over the years.” His son graduated from Morehouse College, which recently raised $118 million.

While historically black colleges constitute only 3 percent of American higher-education institutions, they graduate about 24 percent of all black college students. Some prefer a campus like Wiley, so personal that faculty members will track down a student who misses class. “To teach in schools like this demands some missionary-like spirit,” said Solomon Masenda, an English professor who joined the faculty almost 20 years ago. “You fall in love with it. I cannot explain it.”

Deborah Phillips credits the college with identifying her daughter Ashley’s strengths. Ashley Phillips arrived in Marshall unsure of what she might accomplish. Last month, Ms. Phillips was crowned Miss Wiley. By next year, she plans to be in medical school, with Wiley’s biology program as her foundation.

On a crisp November morning, her mother watched Homecoming paraders toss candy from convertibles on University Avenue. “Here,” Mrs. Phillips said, “you’re a student who dreams.”
Reality TV? I Don't Think So

Viewers of the hit show Desperate Housewives who live in areas prone to tornadoes have been critical of Sunday's episode that featured a tornado hitting Wisteria Lane. They said that the behavior depicted on the show was more in line with an expected hurricane (for which residents generally have lots of notice) than a tornado (which usually strike with just moments' notice, and no one knows in advance where they will hit until that funnel cloud forms).

I think they're right. I didn't grow up in Tornado Alley, but in the concrete jungle of New York. Still, I thought it amusing that characters were making all these preparations, planning to "wait out the storm" in their cellars, were stockpiling water, and - I must have missed this, but several people said they saw it - putting masking tape on their windows. I also thought it odd that objects as heavy as cars were lifted and slammed down on the ground while people standing nearby weren't as much as knocked down.

Defenders of the show say, "It's just TV." Well, people get a lot of their ideas and beliefs from what they see on television. A tornado is a very serious situation, capable of bringing death and destruction to anyone or anything in its path. I do believe that TV shows have a responsibility to try to paint a realistic picture of life-and-death situations. People get blown away or hit by heavy falling objects in tornadoes. While heavy rain from hurricanes can last for days, tornadoes are over in minutes, and taping windows is pointless against this kind of wind.

I've seen plenty of misrepresented situations on TV. An episode of the excellent and now defunct Lifetime series Any Day Now had a would-be author learn at the last minute that she'd signed with a vanity press . . . and she had an attorney representing her interests. Completely off the wall (unless the attorney was a complete charlatan who didn't even attend law school), but not particularly upsetting. No one's life depended on it. But God forbid some fool learns a funnel cloud is headed their way and thinks they have time to run to the store and get a supply of water or to go outside and tape their windows because of what they saw on TV.

"I will never say anything in my lifetime . . .
. . . that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me," Don Imus told his audience (both live and in the radiosphere) as he began his first broadcast at his new home, WABC-AM. "And no one else will say anything on my program that will make anyone think I did not deserve a second chance."
It's one thing to say that you'll keep your own mouth zipped, but it's something else to speak for other folks. Considering that the black dude who first referred to the women's basketball team as "hard-core hos" before Imus took the mantel and made his own slur remains at Imus' side, well, I just hope he was listening.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe him. He sounds chastened, humbled, and like he's displaying the sensitivity a man of his years should have.
So don't let me down, Big Mouth.

Going Once, Going Twice
All you Luther lovers, get ready! Dawson and Nye Auctioneers will be auctioning the belongings of the late singer next week.

The items to be sold include shoes, suits, housewares, various awards, luggage, artwork, and furniture, including these twin mink-upholstered (yes, mink) armchairs.

After all, is a house really a home without something like these to sink your body into?