Archive | June 2009

Tripping to Milwaukee for a high school reunion

Death on Ridge Road by Grant Wood

Death on Ridge Road by Grant Wood

I’m off to Milwaukee for my 50th high school reunion. It’s almost midnight and I haven’t started packing yet! Need to leave the house by 8am to catch a flight out of Albany.

My last trip to Wisconsin, twelve years ago, was excruciatingly painful. I developed trigeminal neuralgia, maybe from clogged ears on the plane followed by a lukewarm and dirty motel swimming pool. I drove around in agony, alone in a rented car, stopping at emergency rooms all over the state in search of a diagnosis and pain relief. Ended up at a liquor store on a rainy Saturday night in St. Paul, from whence I was due to fly home the next day. Had been trying to find the Mall of America but kept getting lost on thruways.

I told the liquor store clerk, “I’m afraid I’m a danger to myself or others.” She promptly called 911 and I found myself locked in the back of a cop car, trying to convince the officer I’d only been kidding. Having worked in mental health for many years, I knew perfectly well that my words were a red flag. Luckily I escaped arrest, and the officer helped direct me to an inn for the night.

This trip has got to be better! I hope to check in here along the way, but I’ll be using my husband’s laptop, which is old and cranky – a lot like me.

My blogging story arc – a field of dreams

Available from Amazon or www.virtualbookworm.com

Available from Amazon or http://www.virtualbookworm.com

In my mystery novels, I do my best to build tension, to keep the reader engaged for over 300 pages. More than one successful author has said there should be conflict on every page. And ideally, every chapter ends with a cliff hanger – an unresolved situation that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Readers have told me I’m pretty good at this – once they start one of my novels, they have a hard time putting it down. I’m delighted to hear this, of course. But blogging is a whole different ball game. For me, each post has been a mini-essay, complete in itself. But what keeps readers coming back and wanting more? That’s something I’m still figuring out.

Once again I’m giving a shout-out to one of my colleagues on Blog Book Tours, Alexis Grant. Whereas most of us in this online course are published authors, she has yet to finish her first book-length manuscript. Although an experienced journalist, she calls herself an “aspiring author” and invites readers to follow her along on her journey to publication. At first I thought this was presumptuous – why should anyone care? But her posts are engaging and full of information, and she’s getting tons of followers.

So I’ve decided I’m going to share my journey as well. Not to publication – I’ve already published two mysteries I’m proud of – but to getting a first-rate agent and a well established publisher. I’ve tried the traditional query-letter-SASE-sample-chapters routine, and I hate it. Baseball diamondSo I’m trying the Kevin Costner “Field of Dreams” approach instead – “If you build it, they will come.” I’ll just put myself out here online, build the best blog site and internet presence I can manage, and have faith – when the time is right, with a little nudging, that agent will appear.

I’ll post my journey online – not daily, but maybe once a week. I’ll devote the other four weekdays to other topics. But my quest for fame and fortune, however modest, will be my story arc, the tale that keeps people coming back – and I have every intention of hitting the ball out of the park.

This is a weird metaphor for me, since I absolutely loathe baseball – or playing softball at least. When I worked as an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, we used to have picnics at the boathouse by the river. Occasionally I was forced to play softball, and I’d scream and run away every time the ball came near me. The patients thought it was hilarious. 

Editing Excellence – Remembering My Father

Forest stream photo“As a journalist in a newsroom, I never worried about how to write. I just did it. I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline.”

These words from Alexis Grant jumped out at me this morning. I’d left her blog up on my screen when I turned off the monitor late last night, intending to write her a comment, but today the words triggered a whole new chain of thought – about blogging and about my father, Wallace Lomoe, who was Managing Editor and later Executive Editor of The Milwaukee Journal. He inspired my love of writing, but more importantly perhaps, he passed on the perfectionistic standards that make me a ruthless editor of my own work. It’s appropriate to pay tribute to him on Father’s Day.

But first, about the blogging. Alexis was writing about the differences between journalistic writing and tackling an entire book, but “I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline” is an apt description of my approach to blogging till now. A phrase or a few scattered ideas begin percolating in my mind. Sometimes I jot down some notes in my little blue blog book, but more often I sit down at the computer and lo and behold, the words begin to flow onto the screen. Basically, it’s the same way I go about writing a novel, except that with the novel, there’s an overall story arc that keeps me pointed in a more or less coherent direction. In blogging, I’ve been disregarding the bigger picture, and I’ve decided that has to change. But more on that in tomorrow’s post – today’s is about my father.

Wallace Lomoe was born in northern Wisconsin in 1898. In his youth, he

Library of Congress photo

Library of Congress photo

dreamed of writing The Great American Novel. In search of background and inspiration, he spent most of the1920’s living the archetypal hobo’s life, riding the rails and doing odd jobs throughout the country. By 1928, he was back home, working as a reporter at The Superior Telegram, where two significant events occurred. He met my mother, Viola Wick, also a cub reporter at the Telegram. They married soon after, and as was all too typical back then, she abandoned her career to become a wife and mother. And Calvin Coolidge spent a summer fishing in northern Wisconsin. The Telegram assigned my father to cover the President’s vacation, both because of his writing skills and because he was an ace fisherman and northwoods guide. His stories got picked up by the Associated Press, and The Milwaukee Journal offered him a job.

In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks from City Editor and Managing Editor to Executive Editor. Known as “the bear,” he inspired respect and fear in his underlings. Once a reporter who had just won a Pulitzer Prize came to him for a raise, and he refused, saying, “The Pulitzer has nothing to do with your salary.” Along the way, he abandoned his dream of writing The Great American Novel and ultimately destroyed a lengthy manuscript that would at the very least have made a marvellous memoir. Evidently the book didn’t live up to his own exacting standards.

My father’s memory lives on in the annals of journalism. Googling his name this morning, I found 273 hits, including one in a book I hadn’t known existed: Joe McCarthy and the Press by Edwin R. Bayley. My father was a staunch enemy of the witch-hunting senator, as evidenced in the following quote:

“We think McCarthy is a sideshow barker in dealing with the press,” said Wallace Lomoe, managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal. “First he drops a hint. Then he gives out a name. Third, he gives his version of what the name said or did. And the press carries all three.”

I’ve never seen this quote before, but discovering it delights me this morning, when I devoured our local Sunday paper in under an hour while bemoaning its pitiful contents. My father died in 1975, but if by some miracle he were reincarnated, what would he think of the state of journalism these days? He’d probably be shaking off the gloom and doom and focusing on mastering the internet, just as I am today.

The Milwaukee Journal merged with the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1995. The Journal was an afternoon paper, fiercely independent, whereas the Sentinel was a morning paper, part of the Hearst empire. In our family, “Hearst” was almost as dirty a word as “McCarthy.” The Journal Sentinel now publishes mornings, and the Journal’s glory days are long gone.

Norman Mailer admired my chest – because I was wearing my book cover!

Commenting on my post about blatant self-promotion, Marvin D. Wilson advised me to “let it all hang out” when it comes to hyping my books. The phrase brought back a treasured memory from 2007 – the night Norman Mailer gave me a beatific grin while he ogled my chest.

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

Mailer was at the New York State Writers Institute in the spring of 2007 reading from his latest book, and as it turned out, his last – his controversial novel The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler’s childhood. Page Hall was packed to overflowing. Though Mailer hobbled to the stage with difficulty, his reading and the Q&A that followed was strong, lucid and entertaining. As I recall, he said he was still following a disciplined writing schedule. Someone asked if he was planning to write a sequel about Hitler’s adulthood, and he replied that realistically, he didn’t believe he would live long enough. He died later that year, on November 10th.

I bought the book, of course, and joined the long line for autographs. We admirers had our instructions – he would sign his name only. No personal inscriptions, and no chitchat. As I inched slowly toward his table, I could see how frail, fatigued and bored he looked. I was wearing my turquoise tee-

Order from Amazon or www.virtualbookworm.com
Order from Amazon or http://www.virtualbookworm.com

shirt with the cover of Mood Swing emblazoned on my chest. I threw open my jacket and proclaimed, “This is my first novel!”  His face lit up, and he blessed me with a radiant grin I’ll always treasure in memory. 

I know he wasn’t grinning at my feminine endowments, because I haven’t got anything to brag about in that department. But I like to think I brightened up the signing for him. I’m not a huge fan of Mailer’s, and I know many women detest him as a male chauvinist pig (does anyone use that phrase anymore?) But I admire him as an American master of great stature and productivity. The flyleaf of The Castle in the Forest  lists 35 books, fiction and non-fiction, covering an enormous range of topics and spanning almost six decades. You’ve got to admire that kind of self-discipline and dedication.

I’m going to wear that same tee-shirt tonight. There’s a free dinner for members and staff at my local YMCA, so I’m going to don my bra (which I almost never wear, as an underendowed and aging child of the Sixties), flaunt my chest and flog my books. But I doubt anyone will give me a grin as great as the one I got from Norman Mailer. 

 

BSP, or Blatant Self-Promotion. Why should it be a no-no?

“I’m going to become a world-famous author through my mastery of the Internet.”

That was my response yesterday when our minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Society  passed around the mike and asked us what goals we could set for ourselves over the summer. We were observing our annual “Flower Communion,” in which we bring flowers from our gardens to share. Reverend Sam Trumbore had segued seamlessly from imagery of flowers and buds to the theme of what might be budding in our own lives and ready to burst into bloom.  

Chihuly florabunda rose

Chihuly florabunda rose

These were not the roses I brought. I do have a Chihuly rose bush blooming in my garden, and the blooms are absolutely breathtaking, but I was too selfish to share them. I brought some crimson Blaze climbing roses instead, more than adequate for the occasion. 

This blog isn’t about roses, though. It’s about my grandiose statement of world domination. Had I gone over the top? Am I escalating into a manic episode? Grandiosity is a common symptom of mania, as I and others with a bipolar diagnosis know full well. But I wasn’t being manic – just realistic, or almost, though it may take more than one summer to attain my dreams.

 

Why do we authors find it so distasteful to brag? Especially we women authors? Blatant self-promotion (BSP for short) is frowned upon on many Internet sites, and it’s said to be a turn-off when authors promote their work too openly at panels and signings. Yet why be so ashamed? I believe it’s ingrained in our upbringing, drummed into us from an early age, especially if we’re of AARP age or above. But how will anyone find out about our books if we’re too reticent to brag a little?

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

FUUSA‘s book club met last night, and we were talking about selections for the fall. One man suggested the group choose my book Eldercide, which I’ll be relaunching in September as Evening Falls Early. Another man seconded the motion, pointing out that perhaps copies of Eldercide will become valuable collectors’ items once it’s no longer available under that name. Both men were present at the morning service, so I guess my boastful declaration didn’t turn them off. Would the group have selected the book if I’d been silent when they handed the mic around? I’ll never know.

The Chihuly rose is a recently introduced florabunda, named for the famous glass artisan Dale Chihuly. It survived my northeastern Zone 5 winter in fine form, and I heartily recommend it. The blaze rose shown here is “Blaze of Glory,” a Jackson & Perkins introduction from 2005. My own blaze climbing rose is the more traditional crimson version, and it’s really taking off this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In memory of dogs loved and lost

Lucky and Me (Author photo for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders

Lucky and Me (Author photo for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders

This morning my daughter’s dog Sequoia died peacefully at the vet’s office in Woodstock. A black chow mix, Sequoia had been Stacey’s devoted companion for 16 years. The dog had been abandoned, tied for hours to a fence post in Tompkins Square Park in New York’s East Village when Stacey rescued her, and they’ve been together since before her marriage and the birth of her children.

Over the past couple of years, Sequoia’s been declining both physically and mentally. She developed a form of dementia not unlike Alzheimer’s, and became unpredictably aggressive to the point where she could no longer safely coexist with my young granddaughters. She still regarded me with affection, though, and I spent quality time with her yesterday, stroking her, giving her treats and tummy rubs. I couldn’t bear to accompany Sequoia and Stacey on that final visit to the vet, but my husband was there for them.

Within the past few years, I’ve had to take three dogs on that last journey. All three were critically, terminally ill, and their passing through lethal injection at the hands of the veterinarian was peaceful. In my novel Eldercide, an elderly gentleman suffering from Parkinson’s comments that he wishes society allowed people the same gentle exit we provide our beloved pets. But humane as these assisted deaths may be, it’s never easy for the human families left behind. 

Do you have a pet you’d like to remember here? I’d love to her about him or her.

In the author photo above, I’m joined by Lucky, a beautiful golden retriever who graced our lives for less than a year. A family in Woodstock could no longer keep him because of rivalry with other pets, so we adopted him. As it turned out, he was suffering from lymphoma, and despite aggressive treatment, he died at only four years old.

Dogs have figured prominently in both my mysteries. Now that my husband and I share our home only with two cats, I expect cats to play a stronger role in my fiction. (Photograph by Hot Shot Photos in Albany)

Mac Attack – Laptop Seduction at the Mall

Available from Amazon or www.virtualbookworm.com

Available from Amazon or http://www.virtualbookworm.com

“The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.” So sang Jim Morrison of The Doors in the song “Backdoor Man.” I’m not a little girl, but I believe men don’t understand the rush that overtakes women – or at least this woman – when they zero in on that “Gotta have it!” item at the mall. Endorphins kick in and there’s a sense of exhilaration. That’s what happened to me today in the Apple store at Crossgates Mall when the young guy in the turquoise tee was demonstrating all the jazzy features on a MacIntosh laptop.

“I’m going to the mall,” my husband said after lunch. My first reaction was that I couldn’t possibly go – I hadn’t even logged onto my computer today. But I quickly gave in, and an hour later we were in Best Buy, looking at laptops. Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Dell, SONY – there were plenty to choose from in a relatively reasonable price range. Taking notes, trying to decipher the features on the tags, it occurred to me that this excursion might be a topic for today’s post.

Then we strolled over to the Apple store to look at Macs. I’d never set foot inside before – some inner voice kept telling me I didn’t need or deserve one. But once inside, I was instantly seduced by the elegant displays. Then all at once we were face to face with a friend who happens to be a minister. A sign from God? I don’t think so – she’s a Unitarian Universalist. But looking unusually blissful, she told us she’d just bought a Mac yesterday, and she was about to meet with one of those guys in the turquoise tees to learn more about how to use it. As she rushed to her assignation, she had the unmistakeable glow of a woman who’s had a transcendent shopping experience. 

While our own guy demonstrated all the jazzy Mac features and my husband asked intelligent geeky questions, I came to that “Gotta have it” decision. It won’t be today or tomorrow – not till after my big high school reunion in Milwaukee at the end of June – but I’m going to get a Mac this summer. I’ll scrimp and save, and I’ve got a July birthday coming up. My PC’s working fine, but my upstairs office under the eaves gets unbearably hot, and it does double duty as the cats’ bedroom and litter box room.

I can picture myself in a month, sitting with my new laptop under the Norway maple in the back yard, or at Panera with my Blog Book  Tours colleagues Alexis Grant and K. A. Laity, blogging in air-conditioned comfort. For now, though, I’ve got to sign off. My cat Lunesta is writhing around on my desk, telling me she wants to go to bed.

Today’s illustration is my cover for my second mystery, Eldercide. Feedback over the past year has convinced me that both the title and the cover are too terrifying for general consumption. Some people love it, but more are put off by it. While trying to sell Eldercide at various events, I’ve sold more copies of Mood Swing. One bookstore owner refused to carry Eldercide because she hates the word “elder” and finds the illustration “ghastly.” I’ll be redoing the cover and retitling the book Evening Falls Early. Much cozier, don’t you think? In the meantime, you can still order Eldercide from Amazon. Who knows, some day it may be a limited-edition collector’s item.