Archive | August 2009

Julie & Julie & Julia

CocktailParty Anon painting Wash PostI just finished reading Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, which I confess I’d been unaware of until the movie came out. The book and the movie both left my main question unanswered: how on earth did Julie Powell lure all those visitors to her blog? I wish I knew her secret. Reading her book, though, I can detect some of the key ingredients. I’m tempted to use the obvious metaphor of analyzing the ingredients in a delicious recipe, but in my case, that’s a phony parallel, because my sense of taste isn’t all that great when it comes to food.

Julie Powell’s primary ingredient is good writing. Just a couple of pages into the book, she had me hooked. I hadn’t expected such a high-caliber, thoroughly entertaining prose style. I’ll admit to being a tad jealous and upset, just as I am when I discover a truly excellent mystery writer, the kind that makes me think, “Damn it, I’ll never be able to write that well.” Actually, my thoughts are nastier than that, but unlike the other Julie, I tend to limit my use of four-letter words, at least in prose. (Orally, it’s another matter – I was once practically kicked out of my Nia class at the Y for using the F word. Remind me to post my poem about the experience.)

Then there’s the freedom with which she spills her innermost thoughts and feelings on the page. Early on, we learn about her gynecological problems: “I found out I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, which sounds absolutely terrifying, but apparently just meant that I was going to get hairy and fat and I’d have to take all kinds of drugs to conceive.” She talks about her sex life, or more accurately, her lack of same due to her cooking obsession. In the book as in the movie, her husband Eric comes across as an absolute saint. I love her penchant for self-disclosure, and as you’ve probably realized if you’ve been following my blog, I write fairly openly about many aspects of my life, but unlike her, I believe there’s such a thing as too much information.

Julie Powell developed a loyal readership (her “bleaders,” she called them – short for blog readers), and whenever she missed more than a couple of days of posting, their comments reflected their alarm about her state of mind and their fear that she might give up and leave them in the lurch. Gradually she developed a sense of obligation to them, which no doubt helped sustain her momentum in cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year.

Another primary ingredient, of course, is the subject of food itself. No doubt this is what attracted her initial followers, but it wouldn’t have grabbed me. Yes, I own a few cookbooks, but the last time we moved, in 2001, I packed away most of them in a carton I’ve yet to unearth from among the many boxes of books moldering in my basement. Mostly I improvise. So does my husband, who fortunately shares the cooking duties fairly evenly. Lately, for the sake of longevity and all that good stuff, he’s trying to turn us into vegans. I find I scarcely miss meat, but as a native of Wisconsin, I could never give up cheese.

It’s five o’clock, and this post is making me ravenous. Besides, I need to take off for Woodstock, where I’ll be on grandmothering duty tonight and tomorrow. Hope I can pull together something to feed the kids! I have lots more to say about Julie & Julia, and how it relates to blogging in general and my own blogging ambitions in particular, but it will have to wait for my Wednesday post. I hope you’ll stop back then!

In praise of book clubs that actually buy books

Chihuly florabunda rose

Chihuly florabunda rose

I’ve still got a residual glow from my Sunday visit to a book club meeting at Lake George. The women of the Illiterati bought lots of my books – both Mood Swing and Eldercide – and now I’m trying to figure out how to find more groups like them. I’d been feeling increasingly jaded about in-person appearances, and I was terrified on the way up to Camp Wiawaka. Not because of my impending talk, but because I was running late as usual and took a gamble with the gas tank. By the time I was nearing my exit on the Northway, the lone remaining bar on the fuel gauge was blinking ominously, and I glided into the camp’s driveway on little more than fumes. The suspense was worth it, though, because these ladies rekindled my enthusiasm for face-to-face talks and signings.

I was invited by Ruth Van Brocklen, whom I’d come to know through our participation in the Mental Health Players, an improvisatory theater group that performs before a wide variety of community groups in an effort to raise consciousness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Ruth bought both my books when they came out, and she’s a high-energy woman of contagious enthusiasm, so I imagine she had little difficulty persuading the others to choose me as featured author at their annual get-away. I only wish I knew more readers like her.

These women actually expressed a sense of responsibility about buying my books. Since I’d driven 65 miles from home and wasn’t being paid for my time, that was the least they could do, several of them said. That’s the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. I’ve done quite a few readings and signings over the past two years, primarily with the Mavens of Mayhem, the upstate New York chapter of Sisters in Crime, at Capital District libraries and independent bookstores. By and large, sales have been disappointing. Often readers have told me that they’d love to buy my books, but that they’re on tight budgets and they simply can’t afford it. They tell me they’ll get them from the library instead, which would be okay, except that I’ve been remiss about getting my books into the various branches of the region’s library system.

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

Maybe it was flying solo that did the trick. I had a whole hour to talk about my books, read excerpts and field questions. The fact that we were all sipping wine in a beautiful lakeside setting didn’t hurt either. With panels of four or five authors, in contrast, usually none of us has sold more than a couple of books. At least one author has theorized that when a group of writers speak, readers feel guilty about buying from just one or two of us, so they end up buying nothing at all. A few months ago, five Mavens spoke at a small bookstore. We outnumbered the audience, and not one of us sold a single book. On top of that, the store’s owner told us afterwards that she couldn’t carry any of our books, not even on consignment, because she didn’t have the space. Just being there to spread the word and build our reputations should have been more than enough, she said. I feel the bile rise in my stomach even as I write, and it’s not just the black coffee I’ve been sipping all day.

But after my experience with the Illiterati, I’ll probably seek out more talks and signings. I love hearing the laughter, the praise for the quality of my writing, and I love signing my books, stuffing cash and checks into my handbag after my talk. When I tallied up the returns after the rainy drive home, it occurred to me that my writing might actually contribute in a meaningful way to my family’s standard of living. What a novel idea! Next time, though, I’ll leave ample time to gas up before I go. After the signing, I managed to get safely back to the sole gas station on Lake George’s main drag, but that kind of brinksmanship and the resulting high anxiety can’t be good for my cardiovascular system.  

What are your experiences with book signings? Which venues work best? Where have you found the audiences most likely to buy? What about group vs. individual signings? Are signings worth the time and aggravation? And the most pressing question of all: how do you find those book groups?

TGIF Blog Party – you’re cordially invited!

CocktailParty Anon painting Wash PostFriday’s officially my day for guest bloggers, but I haven’t had time to choose someone and pull together a coherent post, so I’m throwing a party instead. As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett would sing, “Pour me something tall and strong – it’s five o’clock somewhere!” Stop in, bring your favorite dish, and introduce yourself – the party will run all weekend. I’m bringing pasta with my raunchy homemade pesto featuring basil from my garden and a big box of Franzia chardonnay (when it comes to wine, I’m cheap and easy.)

I borrowed this idea from Alexis Grant, who got it from literary agent Rachelle Gardner, but in keeping with my former career as an art therapist, I’m adding my own twist with a little creative visualization. Writers, envision yourself at a great cocktail party at your favorite conference. Personally, I’m picturing the party the Mystery Writers of America throw after their Alex Katz the-cocktail-partyEdgars Symposium in New York City. Now imagine you’re introduced to someone you’ve always wanted to meet – a top agent, maybe, or your favorite author. You’ve got only a minute or two to captivate them so much that they’ll be dying to read your book.

 

Okay, now write down that speech and post it here as a comment! Be sure to include a link to your website or blog if you have one. But you don’t have to be a writer to join the party – readers of all persuasions are welcome too! Come on in out of lurking mode and let us hear from you. I hope we can all discover some folks we’d like to know better.

If there’s something exciting going on in your life that you’d love to share, feel free to do that too. I’ll start: I’ve been spending much of the week in Woodstock helping my daughter Stacey paint the rooms in her new house. Her daughters, Kaya, age 10 and Jasper, age 3, spent the past week with the other grandparents in Connecticut, so the moving and painting blitz could happen without distraction. But they’re driving the kids back today, and we’ll all converge on the house this afternoon. It’ll be the girls’ first night sleeping in their new home. I’m hoping Kaya will like the celadon green we picked for her room, and we’re pretty sure Jasper will love her pale pink walls. On the way there, my husband and I will pick up a fancy cake and get an appropriate message inscribed.

The day will be especially meaningful because Stacey’s husband, Adam, died unexpectedly on August 25th last year. As you can imagine, they’ve been through a difficult journey since then, and it’s marvelous that they have the chance to celebrate this new beginning. Sometimes the joys of family surpass the pleasures of the writing life.

Hosting Guest Bloggers: 20 questions about best practices

Butterfly on pink flowerThis past Friday, I hosted my first guest blogger, Sunny Frazier. How did she get the gig? Simple – she sent me an e-mail attachment with an engaging essay titled “Am I A Writer?” I read it, liked it, and voila – my first guest. I’ve heard from other potential guests as well, but Sunny was the first to send me a post that was ready to cut and paste.

All of a sudden, I have more empathy for agents and editors who have to handle queries. I’ve received several e-mails from people saying they’d like to be guests on my blog. Sometimes they include the name of a book they’ve written, sometimes not. This tells me next to nothing. Often they ask what I’d like them to write about. Damned if I know – if I did, I’d write it myself! If they would read my blog, react to it, and then send me something they think would be a good fit, I’d be a lot more likely to invite them as guests. If I have to send them individualized e-mails explaining what to do and offering suggested topics, their odds diminish radically.

Gosh, I’m sounding grouchy – please don’t take it personally, anyone. Today I’d planned to post some guidelines for guest bloggers, but I’ve realized I have more questions than answers. Here are some of them:

How do you decide whom to invite as a guest blogger? How would you rank the following in order of importance?

Reputation and/or quality of their published books?

Quality and/or entertainment value of the writing on their blogs?

Number of stats they get on their blogs?

Relevance of the genre they write in?

Reciprocity – the fact that they’ve been a faithful visitor to your blog?

Personal friendship?

What if someone sends you a post you consider mediocre or worse? Do you publish it anyway? Do you think the quality of your guests will influence people not to revisit your blog?

What if someone sends you a review copy and you really dislike it?

Do you encourage guests to submit posts that consist primarily of promoting their own books?

Are you willing to run posts people have already published elsewhere?

How much do you edit and/or cut your guests’ posts?

How much should you expect them to promote their visit to your blog? Where would you like them to promote it, and when should they start?

What about comments? Should they visit on the day of their posting to reply to peoples’ comments?

For that matter, how important is it for the blog host to reply to comments in general? I know it’s common courtesy, but does anyone really expect those comments about comments? (This is a bit off-topic, but it’s something I’ve been wondering about.)

Is there something else I’ve forgotten that I should be asking about?

 There, that’s 20 questions, more or less. I was going to number them so that people could comment by the number, but that would mess up the formatting, so I won’t be that compulsive. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll respond by commenting on those questions that may strike your fancy, or by contributing new questions of your own. Once I’ve sifted through all the answers, maybe I’ll be ready to write up my guidelines for guest bloggers. Oh, and I still haven’t decided on a guest for Friday. If you send me an essay of 400 to 600 words ASAP, maybe you can be the chosen one! Send them to me by email: julielomoe@nycap.rr.com.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I’ll revert to my 60’s nostalgia thread and talk about my close encounters with Jimi Hendrix and other superstars (SPOILER ALERT: don’t get your hopes up – the encounters weren’t all THAT close!)

One Red Push Pin: My poem about unsold works of art

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

This Sunday morning, August 16, marks the height of the Woodstock Festival 40th Anniversary frenzy. My three posts on my 1969 Woodstock experience have pulled in an enormous number of visitors, but I still haven’t tracked down any visual documentation for the paintings I showed there. Several of them still languish unseen in my basement – they’re far too large for any of the walls in my house.

 

I recently posted my poem about what becomes of unwanted books at a library sale. Today’s poem is about unwanted visual art. In a way, it’s the sister of the other poem. But for the visual artist, the question of what to do with old work is more problematic. Old books and unpublished manuscripts can be stored in a few banker’s boxes at the most, a computer jump drive at the least, so space isn’t a major problem. For works of visual art, it’s another matter entirely.

I wrote this poem after a visit to “The Great Municipal Side Show,” a members’ exhibition at the Albany Center Galleries in the fall of 2005.

 ONE RED PUSH PIN

 Ninety-nine art works unsold on the walls,

ninety-nine pieces of art.

If one more creation should happen to sell

there’ll be ninety-eight unwanted works on the walls.

 

One red push pin, one more day

until the show comes down.

This gallery marks the center of a circle,

its radius one hundred miles

in all directions.

Forty artists, one hundred works,

and only one red push pin. The tiny crimson dot

means someone craved the art

enough to sign a check and guarantee a home.

The rest remain bereft,

sad puppies left abandoned at the pound.

 

But maybe not. The gallery maven claims

two more are sold, so that makes three.

Perhaps they’re out of push pins.

 

Ninety-seven pieces of art on the wall.

Ninety-seven fragments

of starving artist soul still hang unclaimed,

or lie supine, or rise on pedestals

above the slate-gray floor of painted plywood,

so like the deck paint on my studio floor

in SoHo lo these many years ago.

So like my loft, so full of painted children,

born of inspiration, left to molder now

in a damp basement ninety miles north

of where the action was.

 

The paintings in the gallery call in plaintive voices.

Please buy me now!

I need a loving home!

My maker’s out of space!

They stare with liquid eyes

that follow me like Jesus as I pass,

my checkbook firmly zipped away,

its balance earmarked for necessities,

and art’s a luxury, or so I tell myself.

I swear I will not splurge.

 

My heart bleeds for the artists

who’ll cart their work back home

with no adoptive parents waiting in the wings.

To them, and yes, to me, art’s no mere luxury.

We thirst for it like water, but its power

is in the making, not the having.

When I crave more art, I’ll procreate my own,

and stash them with their siblings

in my dank, dark basement

where water rises from a spring-fed lake.

 

© Julie Lomoe, 2005

Potential buyers, please note: I took a bit of poetic license here. My paintings aren’t actually moldering in my basement; they’re carefully stored and in good condition, as are the cartons of jazz LPs from the 1950’s I keep vowing to sell on eBay one of these days.

Watch for more poems in future posts. And please stop back tomorrow, when I’ll pose some questions about hosting guests on our blogs.

Guest blogger Sunny Frazier asks, “Am I a writer?”

Sunny Frazier

Sunny Frazier

Today I’m delighted to welcome Sunny Frazier as my first guest blogger. Sunny and I have been getting acquainted on the CrimeSpace site, and she answered my open invitation by sending me the post below. I liked it immediately, and I also liked the way we bypassed the round of e-mails discussing what I might want her to blog about. I’ve read an excerpt from her mystery on her website, www.sunnyfrazier.com, and I was instantly intrigued.

I’ll be featuring guest bloggers on Fridays. In next Monday’s post, I’ll discuss what I’m looking for and how you too can become a guest on Musings Mysterioso.

SUNNY’S BIOGRAPHY

Sunny Frazier has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1972. She is a Navy veteran, earned a BA in Journalism, and wrote for a newspaper before joining the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. During her 17 year career in law enforcement, she spent 11 years working with an undercover narcotics team.

Frazier Sunny Where Angels Fear coverFrazier is also an amateur astrologer. She has been involved in astrology for 35 years. Her short mystery fiction has won over 30 awards and trophies, as well as publication in mystery magazines and law enforcement magazines. Her first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, FOOLS RUSH IN, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association. WHERE ANGELS FEAR came out in April, 2009. Frazier is a member of the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as the Public Safety Writers Association. She currently resides in Lemoore, CA.

Sunny is offering free horoscopes. Contact sunny69@comcast.net for details.

AM I A WRITER?

By Sunny Frazier

Last week at my writing group, one of the aspiring authors had a bit of a breakdown. She suffered from what all writers eventually go through. Her faith in her abilities was shaken, the struggle to get her story on paper seemed overwhelming, and the awful question loomed: Am I really a writer?

This rite of passage is crucial. Writing a book initially seems like fun. The potential novelist thinks, “Oh, I have stories to tell, I have a great imagination, I got an ‘A’ in English class in high school/college. My mother and friends say my emails are quippy, they delight in my ability to tell a good story. I’m a natural.”The reality is the plain white sheet of paper waiting for words. The cursor on the computer becomes a throbbing curse. Minutes tick by as phrases refuse to come. The story percolating in the brain falls short in print.

Wanting to be a writer and being a writer are two distinctively different animals. The wannabe sees the fun, the fulfillment, the praise, the bucks. They have passion and a story to tell and probably some talent.

Real writers expect to get saddle sores from sitting in front of the computer. Their eyes go bad from staring at the screen. Coffee, a shot of brandy and dark chocolate will only keep them functioning for so long. The only exercise they get is in their fingers—if they don’t get carpal tunnel first. They crave distractions, any reason to leave the ball and chain of the chair. They don’t want to talk to anyone who can’t empathize with their suffering.

And that, folks, is the crux of the problem. Does the world care if there is one more writer or one more book on the shelf? Not really. Is writing worth sacrificing the real people in our lives in favor of the fictional people we create? Are the rewards worth the effort? Am I really up to the task?

Writing is a choice. Nobody is standing behind us with a gun to our heads telling us to publish or perish. Writing is more than just imagination and plot. Good writing includes craft, strong word choices, constant editing, the illusive element called “voice,” and a thick skin. Writing is a gamble. Even the best novels often don’t see publication. Writing is about going the distance, not running a sprint. Writing is not graded, except by sales. Writing demands sacrifices, and each aspiring novelist has to ask, “What am I willing to give up to reach my goal?”

My writing group gave the aspiring author empathy and a tissue to wipe away tears and years of frustration. Her life is full of overwhelming obstacles, yet I know she’ll show up next Friday night ready for more criticism. Last week she had a breakdown–next week, perhaps a breakthrough.

Woodstock 1969, Part III: Requiem for the spirit of 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Thoroughly wrung out after my three days at the 1969 Woodstock festival, I got back to my SoHo loft and my painting. Perhaps coincidentally, my Sixties psychedelic style peaked in late August of that year, and my work took a darker turn. I began softening the hard edges, dimming the colors with airbrush and spray guns. Was it something in the air, a change in the zeitgeist? Maybe, though I didn’t recognize it then. All I knew was that I was growing bored with the colorful hard-edged style I’d developed over the past several years and weary of my frenetic, hedonistic life style.

For me, the Sixties were all about liberation from my straight-laced Midwestern background and the compulsion that drove me toward academic achievement. I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a child of the Sixties. It was late autumn of 1964, I’d been married about six months, and I was enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia University. Our studios were in the upper reaches of Lowe Library, and I shared space with Susan Hartung, another native of Milwaukee, who’d brought in a portable radio. One day the radio emitted a sustained, twangy note that segued into an astounding guitar riff that grabbed me in the guts. “What’s THAT?” I asked my studio mate. She stared at me with a look of incredulous scorn. “It’s the Beatles,” she said.

Somehow I’d been so sheltered that I’d missed the beginning of the British invasion, but the opening bars of “I Feel Fine” changed that instantly.* Soon I was buying Beatles records and fan magazines. Pop art was in its infancy, and I began painting nearly life-size images of my new idols. My Beatlemania Beatles 1964deserves a post of its own (remind me to describe the time I practically got into their bedroom.) But suffice it to say that I betrayed modern jazz, my first musical love, and entered a delayed but protracted adolescence that consumed me right up till Woodstock, when I encountered that Columbia drawing instructor who’d so detested my Beatles paintings. My art over that five-year period reflected the politics and social issues of the era, including the Vietnam war, but mostly it was about the music, and so was my life.

Rolling Stones Gimme ShelterIn music, the darkness descended in earnest at the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated concert at Altamont, where a man was beaten to death by Hells Angels acting as security guards. Things got worse in April of 1970 when Paul McCartney announced the breakup of the Beatles. When the news broke, I was in Florida. My mother was in a coma in a Sarasota hospital following a fall in the bathroom of the house my parents had rented for the winter, and her prognosis looked bleak. At last she regained consciousness of a sort, but the subdural hematoma and the prolonged coma had affected her deeply, and she was no longer the same woman.

My paintings grew ever darker in the ensuing months. Jimi Hendrix died on September 18th, and Janis Joplin on October 4th. They’d already been favorite subjects of mine, but now I painted them in memoriam. In October I Jimi Hendrixflew back to Milwaukee to visit my parents, bringing slides of my newest paintings. My mother was failing rapidly, only intermittently lucid, but when I projected the slides on the walls of her bedroom, she rallied enough to express concern. “Those paintings are so dark and gloomy,” she said. “Why do you paint such sad paintings? Life is beautiful – you should be happy.” She died a month later, on November 20th. In retrospect, she was right – being happy is definitely better, and for me, the happiness, freedom and innocence of the Woodstock era was definitely over.

Now, forty years after Woodstock, I’ve discovered a new kind of happiness. As Joni Mitchell sang, “The seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down – we’re captive on the carousel of time.” Last week I rode the carousel – literally – with my two granddaughters at the Ulster County Fair, and tomorrow my daughter signs the closing papers on her very own house – in Woodstock.

I have some thoughts on the positive parallels between the sixties and the internet revolution of today, but those will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, check back in on Friday, when I’ll be featuring my first guest blogger, Sunny Frazier.

* For music lovers only: Wikipedia has an exhaustive entry on “I Feel Fine,” saying it “marks the earliest example of the use of feedback as a recording effect.”  Here’s an excerpt: “The intro to “I Feel Fine” starts with a single, percussive (yet pure-sounding) note (a high “A” harmonic) played on Paul’s Hofner bass guitar that sustains, perhaps beyond any song previously recorded. It is then (famously) transformed and distorted via feedback. According to Paul McCartney, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pick-up on it so it could be amplified… We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it… and it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object– an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”