Richard Widmark died last week at the ripe old age of 93.
He was one of the last remaining stars from Hollywood's Golden Age. A successful radio actor, he first broke into movies playing murderous psycho Tommy Udo in the original version of Kiss of Death in 1947. The scene where he pushes a wheelchair-bound old woman down a flight of stairs while laughing maniacally chilled audiences.
Three years later he played a violent racist in No Way Out, Sidney Poitier's film debut. He recalled the vile things his character had to say to Sidney and recounted how he apologized to the novice actor after the cameras stopped rolling. Poitier accepted his apology, but, according to Widmark, had a fiercely cold look in his eyes that suggested he wanted to slap him. (Much was made of Don Ameche's request that the set of Trading Places be cleared of all but absolutely necessary actors and technicians for the famous scene where he said (referring to the collapse of Ralph Bellamy, who played his brother, "Fuck him!" Personally, I always wondered if he ever said anything to Eddie Murphy for the racial slur he called his character. Hmmmm.)
He also made a memorable appearance on an I Love Lucy episode when the fictional Ricardos went to Hollywood. This aside, I associated Richard Widmark with his trademark bad guy roles that when he aged and started doing character parts in movies like Against All Odds and Coma, I didn't trust him for one minute.
Offscreen, he had a reputation for being non-Hollywood, a devoted family man who lived quietly with his wife and daughter and shunning the party scene. Had his wife not predeceased him in the 1990s after a long marriage, he might have been one of those rare actors who made but one trip to the altar. (He remarried one of Henry Fonda's ex-wives in 1998.)
Here's Richard in his legendary scene. Kiss of Death was remade years later with David Caruso from NYPD Blue, but movie terror doesn't get any better than this.
Once Upon A Project makes its official debut five weeks from today. I’m in the home stretch, when early reviews start coming in from readers and organizations. APOOO gave it two thumbs up, as mentioned in Yasmin Coleman’s column on Blogging in Black this past weekend. I eagerly looked at the recently updated May RT ratings online, only to find that it wasn’t reviewed for that issue and I'll have to wait another month at least to see what they say.
It’s also time to put promotion in full gear. I confess, I started thinking about ways to promote this book early on. I’ve never done of this – it’s the writing process I adore, and any illusions of being a superstar in a very crowded field were short-lived. I did know that for this book I wanted to do something. Last fall, before I even had a clear picture of what I was going to do, I started putting $15 a week (as a contract employee, I get a paycheck every week) away toward my budget.
There’s dozens of services out there vying for those author promotion dollars. I had to decide which ones to pass on and which ones to grab. Making a choice is a very personal decision, since what works for one writer won't necessarily work for the next one.
Book trailers are fun to make, but I've been slow getting the finishing touches on mine. My husband's been slowly recovering from the flu and is attending an off-site conference all this week. Maybe I can get him to finish it this weekend and get it posted on YouTube and my web site. All he's got to do is add the music and credits. I originally had this targeted for mid-February. It'll now be closer to early April. But at least it's not costing me anything.
I’m generally not a conference person for the most part. It never seemed like a good economical decision to attend RT, and I let my membership in RWA lapse two years ago when I relocated. I always suspected – and from what I’ve heard other authors publicly state, I wasn’t too far off the mark – that I wouldn’t be able to give books away at these events where black authors writing books with black characters aren’t exactly in demand. Therefore, it seemed pointless and money better spent elsewhere (and not necessarily to promote my writing).
I always wanted to go to the Harlem Book Fair, but that mid-July date has proved problematic for me. Three years ago my stepson got married that weekend. Two years ago I moved my annual Hamptons vacation to August so it would coincide with my aunt’s 90th birthday party in my hometown of Yonkers (and one trip to New York per year is, quite frankly, sufficient). Last year my husband and I went away in late June/early July to coincide with my 50th birthday, and another trip two weeks later was out of the financial question. This year mid-July will find us vacationing in San Diego and hopefully Baja California (provided my husband gets his passport) at an informal high school reunion his classmates from Thailand put together. Maybe I’ll get to Harlem in mid-July eventually, but it won’t be this year.
I did decide to attend the Romance Slam Jam (or at least part of it; since I’ve got a Thursday evening signing scheduled on the South Side and a Friday lunchtime signing scheduled in downtown Chicago), which is being held just 30 miles from my home and just a few days after my new book’s release date. The possible downside to this is the very real possibility that the book vendor might not receive my brand new book in time for the signing. That means getting on the phone and seeing if the publisher can send me my author copies quickly so I’ll have a backup . . . and since that's no guarantee either, I still might end up sitting at the signing book-less and pissed.
I’m always getting offers from people to do e-mail blasts, most of which I’ve resisted. These services can be rather costly, and with uncertain results. Many of them claim to have thousands and thousands of people listed on their databases, but I know that doesn’t mean that all those folks are reading their e-mail. How many times have I erased newsletters advertising new books from these same people without even opening them? The service I utilize to send my monthly e-mails to my subscribers offers statistics that show that a full one-third of the people who signed up have yet to open it.
In the end I decided to go with two such services because I believed they were a good bargain: SORMAG (Shades of Romance) and Romance Designs. Truth be told, I’m naturally skeptical of anything with the word “Romance” in it, since my book is women’s fiction and contains a minimum of romance, but regardless of this I felt, then and now, that I did the right thing.
I’m also trying to capitalize on a release date two weeks before Mother’s Day by making a yet-to-be-announced special offer to those who would like signed bookplates to personalize Mother’s Day gifts (or for themselves), although I’ll have to put a number limit on this because first class postage is expensive.
My final idea made me glad I’d set aside a budget because it would take the bulk of it. I decided to do a direct mail campaign targeted to a specific demographic: Fifty-year-old African-American female book buyers, since Once Upon A Project speaks most directly to them (although you can still appreciate it if you’re younger, older, or non-black). In addition to postage costs, it takes a lot of time to put together geographically-organized mailing lists, especially if it was done the way I did it (a little bit sneakily, and that’s all I’ll say about that). Because I got many more addresses than I was entitled to through somewhat fraudulent means, I ended up with 5-digit zip codes rather than the zip + 4s that are practically a requirement for direct mail, and I had to work out a way to get this information without driving myself nuts zip code crazy. I’m happy to say that it’s all coming together. I usually gather the data while watching TV, with three screens open on my computer. I have no idea how successful this endeavor will be, but two things work in my favor here – a postcard can be mailed for just 26 cents, and the price increase won’t go into effect until May. And I’ll have these contacts forever.
Of course, when I'm awaiting the release of my 15th book next April, I probably won't bother with any of this stuff.
I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday. We celebrated the arrival of spring with 11 inches of snow, which means it is still slushy and sloppy outside. I worked on promotion this week (just 5 weeks to go to the release date) and got very little done on my WIP.
As I watched Moses part the Red Sea in the 1956 film version of The Ten Commandments on Saturday night (the one special effect that still thrills me in a movie whose 50-year-old effects are now considered primitive), I knew I'd fall asleep before the scene on Mt. Sinai with the burning bush and the inscribed tablets, so I mentally went over the 10 commandments, confident I could remember them all.
It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. This is what I came up with.
1) Thou shalt not have any God before Me.
2) Thou shalt not worship any false images of Me.
3) Honor thy father and mother.
4) Thou shalt not kill.
5) Thou sahlt not steal.
6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7) Remember the Sabbath; keep it holy.
8) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife (or anything else of the neighbor's).
9) Thou shalt not take My name in vain.
I still can't remember the 10th one. Was it something about bearing false witness against thy neighbor? Somehow I don't think that's right.
I'm most guilty of breaking #7 and #9. (It was remembering these commandments that kept me from popping the magazine I was reading at the ophthalmologist's office this morning, which violates #5).
Speaking of #7, I'm ancient enough to remember when everything was closed on major holidays. It hurts my heart to see Wal-Mart and Blockbuster Video open on Easter, and it seems totally unnecessary. Why can't people buy the ingredients for their holiday meal, fill up their gas tanks and arrange for their after-dinner entertainment the day before?
Since tomorrow is Good Friday, something I've always regarded as a rather somber day, I offer you a rather raunchy Friday Funny one day early. All the moms out there can appreciate this tale. (And the Lord will forgive you if you read this during the three days.)
Everyone have a joyous Easter! (It's going to snow here . . . naturally, since today is the first day of spring.) Pray for all the peoples of the world . . . we truly need it.
Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table. He looks into his small bowl. It is empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?" he squeaks.
Papa Bear arrives at the big table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl, and it is also empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?" he roars.
Momma Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, "For heaven's sake, how many times do we have to go through this with you idiots? It was Momma Bear who got up first, it was Momma Bear who woke everyone in the house, it was Momma Bear who made the coffee, it was Momma Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night, it was Momma Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Momma Bear who set the damn table, it was Momma Bear who walked the dog, put the friggin' cat out, cleaned the litter box, and filled the dog and the cat's water and food dishes, and, now that you've decided to drag your sorry bear-asses downstairs and grace Momma Bear's kitchen
with your grumpy presence---listen good, 'cause I'm only going to say this one more time: "
"I haven't made the fucking porridge yet!!"
Let me get this right . . . the President was getting a blow job in the Oval Office, which he dismissed as not sexual relations (yeah . . . just a snack). The governor of New Jersey was having a menage a trois with his wife and other men (but his wife said she had no idea he was bisexual when she filed for divorce). The governor of New York was flying hookers down to D.C. with public funds. The marriage of his replacement, with both him and his wife admitting to extramarital affairs, is best expressed by the Johnnie Taylor classic from which I quoted above.
How the heck does anything get done in the world of politics, with everybody out fucking all the time?
My husband got sick with what was diagnosed as the flu a week-and-a-half ago, and by last Monday I had a sore throat. The doctor said I had an early bronchitis. Well, maybe it was early then, but by week's end I had a full-fledged case of coughing my guts out. This past weekend, with both of us coughing, it sounds like a damn TB ward at our house.
I'm no stranger to bronchitis. I came down with it right after I got married back in '91 and was coughing up a storm then, too. I had it again a few years back. But it seems to be taking longer to go away this time. I guess it's because I'm older than I used to be? Or maybe it's because I had to take care of my husband, since he was sicker than I was and is a 200+ pound baby when in any discomfort. You moms who have nursed sick kids and sick spouses while not feeling too swivvy yourselves have my utmost admiration.
The bad news is I only read one chapter of a new book I bought before giving in to the I-don't-wanna-do-shit feeling of the sick. It's shaping up to be a damn good book, too, with lots of layers to peel off.
The good news is that in spite of feeling like crap I managed to write a couple thousand words:
Progress meter by Writertopia.
Yeah, I'm shocked. It didn't feel like I'd written more than a couple of paragraphs. Most of this was insertions, since I'm introducing a character I'd forgotten about and need to mention her before page 121. I like reading well-constructed layered storylines. Writing them is a pain in the ass.
I've contacted no less than three authors with new releases to ask if they'd like to be interviewed. One, contacted through her web site, has not been heard from after four weeks. Another, also contacted through her web site, has not been heard from after a week-and-a-half. The third was also contacted through her web site, and her e-mail bounced back as promptly as a punching bag with a message that the address is no good. Come on. I used the same means to contact them that their readers would. Is this really how they treat their readers? What the hell is with these people?
If you haven't already figured it out, I'm still feeling a little cranky.
Bettye: Tell us about your new release, Double Platinum. I know it's about the music industry. Was it difficult to research?
Bettye: It makes it a lot easier to have the knowledge in play before writing a book, doesn't it? Double Platinum dropped just 6 months after your most recent book, Paige's Web. That's impressively prolific. Will you continue to have new books published at that rate of frequency?
Bettye: Sounds like the perfect theme! Now, for a little something about Shelia that readers want to know. What would you say is your best culinary creation?
Bettye: I like how y'all mix up the classics with more recent novels. We mustn't forget the writers of an earlier time. Shelia, will readers (and myself) be seeing you at this year's Slam Jam? Will you be attending any other conferences?
I'm over at Blogging in Black today. Check me out!
While you're in the blogosphere, check out author Lori Johnson's Thursday Thirteen over at her blog. (I'm a week late on this one, but it's fun, so drop in.) She was asking people to share their 13 least favorite foods. I'm with you on the Spam and the liver, Lori!
Connie Briscoe's blog has a fun typing test. I scored 97.29 WPM with no errors! And here I was thinking I only typed 90 WPM!
Be sure to come back here tomorrow for the latest author response to my 5 questions!
When Geraldine Ferraro was plucked from obscure New York congresswoman back in 1984 to run with Walter Mondale on his Presidential ticket, much was made of her humble beginnings as the daughter of Italian immigrants. She was presented to the public as an ordinary Queens housewife who ran for Congress but was soon revealed to be a millionaire. She countered the negative publicity arising from the duplicity by stressing how hard she worked to get where she is, etc.
It's remarkable how certain people - and I'm not going to mention what people - have a sense of entitlement, whether born into wealth or attain it later in life, and that these same people look at another group of people and see them solely as products of Affirmative Action.
You aren't being attacked because you're white, Dummy. You're being attacked because you expressed a belief that black people can't possibly get ahead through hard work, but only because of the breaks they receive. And you're too stupid to realize how utterly asinine such a belief that is.
The fact that so many other Americans look at Barack Obama and see someone they feel should be helping them with their luggage at the airport, or see Michelle Obama - an accomplished attorney in her own right - as someone who should be cleaning their toilets, makes the votes he is winning that much more remarkable.
Feels Like Another One (scandal, that is)
Political scandals aren't new, but I'll tell you this. Whether it's a Democrat or Republican, a blow job in the White House, a solicitation for gay sex in a public restroom, or a call to a hooker . . .
I do empathize for the wife who stands by her husband in the face of a very public humiliation. Look at the expression on Silda Wall Spitzer's face; she'd clearly rather be anywhere but there. These men all owe their wives big time (although Dina McGreevey, wife of former New Jersey governor, is in the process of getting divorced after Jim McGreevey was revealed to have had an affair with a male aide).
Will Smith once said that he has tried to live his life as if he planned to one day run for U.S. President - i.e., nothing that can be thrown up in his face. I haven't lived in New York in nearly 20 years and haven't kept up with local politics, but I'm hearing that Eliot Spitzer often comes off as a holier-than-thou type. He should have thought like Will.
Maybe this will take some of the attention off of a race for the Democratic Presidential nomination that is fast becoming just plain silly. I thought it was incredibly nervy of Hillary and Bill Clinton to speculate on a Clinton/Obama ticket (in that order, naturally). Said Obama today: “I don’t know how somebody who’s in second place can offer the vice presidency to someone who’s in first place.” Stick to your guns, Barack. Hillary needs you to win much more than you need her to do the same.
I'm happy to report that I finished the book I started reading New Year's Day. Let's see . . . January first to March 9th . . . if I keep up this pace I'll get to read 5 more books before the year is out! I enjoyed the book I read, although I do think it could have been 50 pages shorter. It was a romance, one of those real feel-good stories that makes you go, "Ahhhhh!" when you read the last sentence. A vividly drawn locale and plenty of yummy sex also helped make the read enjoyable.
As you can see, I am sticking to my rule that reading won't interfere with my other planned accomplishments. I tried to institute a rule that I would not bring any books into the house unless I've read everything I have, but I broke it two weeks ago when I went to Borders to get a gift card for my Movie Trivia contest. They were having one of those "Buy 1, get 1 half price" deals (who can resist that?). I picked up one of those old family secret books and am looking forward to reading it.
I also finally got around to updating my website, so take a look. I'd hoped to have my book trailer done by now, but hubby is under the weather, so that will have to wait. There's an excerpt to Once Upon A Project posted on the Books and WIP page.
Of course, I've been writing as well:
Progress meter by Writertopia.
Last week's progress was done entirely by dictation as I drove. I will probably continue with this until early May, at which time I'll be done with promotion for my new book, and then I'll get to work in earnest. In the meantime, those 2,500 words or so each week will add up.
The news stories and TV news segments screamed, "Gloria Steinem attacks John McCain's war record." Apparently, when discussing the Republican front runner's years spent as a prisoner of war, Ms. Steinem said, "This is supposed to be a qualification to be president? I don’t think so."
I watched this with a shrug. I'm not surprised this created an uproar, but an attack? I don't see it.
Ms. Steinem, who supports Hillary Clinton, presented a hypothetical situation of a "Joan McCain" having spent years as a captive of the Viet Cong, suggesting the scrutiny the fictitious "Joan" might be under that would not even be considered of John, like "What did you do wrong that resulted in your capture?" and "What terrible things did you have to do?" She ended by making the above statement.
I respect John McCain for his terrible ordeal, but I must agree with Ms. Steinem. I don't believe that being a prisoner of war qualifies John McCain to be President any more than Congressman John Lewis having the shit beaten out of him on Bloody Sunday qualifies him to be President (entirely hypothetical; we all know Rep. Lewis is not in the running.) These are men who made personal sacrifices to make America a better place.
But, that said, it might have been better (especially for Hillary) if Steinem kept her mouth shut, since I don't believe John McCain is pulling a Rudy Guiliani (i.e., building his candidacy around his war record).
Something else I must mention, given the title of this column. The owner of a popular hot dog restaurant in Manhattan, Gray's Papaya, has put up a large poster in the window of his business that says, "Yes, Senator Obama, we are ready to believe again." When the New York Times did a story on this, people immediately began to respond that they would not be eating at Gray's anymore.
Only in America.
I wonder: Is it possible to write an entire novel just in the time it takes me to drive to work and on weekend errands? That's when I've been dictating most of my text.
And since I finally cracked 30,000 words, I ain't doing half bad.
Setting: Chicago, Spring 2007