Mother Nature turns nasty, mirrors my mood

Charles Burchfield

Outside my office window this morning, the lake is sparkling in the distance and the sun is breaking through the gray November clouds. In the immediate foreground, there’s the rotting skeleton of a dead oak tree that really needs to come down. Caught in its branches are the severed limbs of a maple that came crashing down in a recent windstorm that whipped in from the south. Part of it landed on my little red kayak, which now has a concave bottom. It’s probably still usable, though I haven’t tried to find out. The tree bounced off the house, but didn’t do serious damage, and amazingly, it missed my beloved contorted filbert tree, also known as a Harry Lauder’s walking stick because of its twisted branches.

Technically, both dead trees are on our neighbors’ property. They’re nice people but they’re of modest means, and they don’t own a chainsaw. We’ve got a good one that’s been out of commission for years, and my husband finally dropped it off at the hardware store for an overhaul. If we don’t get that dead oak down before winter, it might fall smack dab onto the roof and into my office. Because the wind usually blows from the north, we’d thought it was in a protected spot between the two houses, but the storm in October proved us wrong.

Speaking of oak trees, there’s a living one out by the street. Raking up beneath it, I found hundreds of spiky little spheres clinging to the fallen leaves. At first glance they looked like baby wooly bear caterpillars curled into balls, but when I gingerly pulled one from a leaf, squeezed and examined it, I realized it was of vegetable rather than animal origin. But what was it? Some kind of gall or chancre, probably. In the ten years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen it before. I need to do some online research, or maybe call the Cooperative Extension, to identify it and see whether it poses a danger to my perennials. Maybe it’s something that’s moved north with global warming.

Charles Burchfield

Back in the summer I identified another toxic invader I’d never seen before. Something stripped my cranberry viburnum bare virtually overnight, reducing the leaves to skeletal filigree. Looking more closely, I saw tiny caterpillars, less than an inch long. Master Gardeners of my acquaintance identified the culprits – viburnum leaf beetles, another newcomer to our region. Like the blight that has wreaked havoc with this year’s tomatoes, the nasty creatures migrated here from the west. Although I normally avoid insecticides, I bought a potion specifically designed for these and similar beetles, and drenched the ground in a circle around the bush. I’m supposed to repeat the ritual next spring, but although the viburnum bravely put out a second batch of leaves, it may already be beyond saving if live insects are wintering underground. I won’t know till next May or June.

All this destruction and disease seems apropos as an extended metaphor for my mood in the wake of the Sisters in Crime meeting I stormed out of last Saturday. I know there’s a name for this usage of images from nature to mirror human emotions, but I wasn’t an English major – maybe someone out there can tell me what it’s called.

Almost a week has passed. The rage that drove me to split from that meeting has abated, and that’s a good thing, because all those toxic emotions were having a devastating effect on my physical and mental health. Fortunately I’ve developed ways to banish negativity from my mind. The passage of time helped. So did the positive feedback and support I’ve received from my online community of writer friends, the wonderful day I spent with my daughter and granddaughters in Woodstock, and a Thanksgiving that reminded me of all the blessings in my life.

What fate’s in store for the Mavens of Mayhem, our Upstate New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime? It will probably survive, albeit without me, but like the diseased oak and viburnum, it’s under siege and currently on the verge of a long winter’s nap. I have some further thoughts on the subject, especially on the uneasy alliance between authors and fans, but for the time being, I’m consigning the Mavens to the deep freeze of a cryogenic limbo.   

Today’s paintings are by Charles Burchfield, a fascinating American artist of the generation of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. Burchfield’s landscapes have an uncanny way of reflecting human emotions. There’s a new museum in Buffalo named in his honor, the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – well worth a visit if you find yourself in western New York State.

Counting my Thanksgiving blessings

Today I’m down in Woodstock caring for my granddaughters, and I feel truly blessed. Kaya, who’s ten, has the day off from school, but Jasper, three, has a half-day at her Montessori school, and Kaya and I are leaving soon to pick her up. Then I’ll treat them to lunch at Friendly’s in the Hudson Valley Mall. I already know what they’ll order – the kid’s special, with a grilled cheese sandwich, fries, and an elaborate sundae concoction for dessert. I’ll probably have something equally decadent and bad for me, but hey, it’s the holidays. After that, we’ll probably stroll the mall and I’ll treat them to a couple of early Christmas presents, if the crowds aren’t too bad.

I’m typing this on the brand-new computer we bought our daughter Stacey for her birthday in October, in the house she bought over the summer and moved into just a couple of months ago. I’m enormously proud of her – she’s come a long way since her husband died unexpectedly in August of 2008. She and the girls have been gradually moving through the healing process, and they seem truly happy. The house is gorgeous, nicer than our own, and I look forward to spending lots of wonderful time here – including nights when I crash here after partaking of some of Woodstock’s musical nightlife. Oh, and they even have a new cat – a beautful gray tiger-striped, six-months-old male named Loki – who promises to be as friendly as my own cats.

Life is good, and the nasty infighting I described in my last blog post is the last thing on my mind. I know I’m truly blessed, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope that like me, you have many blessings to count.

Burying the lead and cutting some ties

Michael Easton

Whew, my Blog Book Tour’s over at last. Ten stops in two consecutive Monday-Friday work weeks. Today I was planning to wrap it all up with a summary, including links to all the sites I visited, but I’m simply too frazzled, so I’ll do it early next week. Today’s illustration, incidentally, is a more up-to-date photo of Michael Easton, from 2007. I decided the photo from his days as a vampire on Port Charles, the one I used in my post on villains, simply didn’t do him justice. And what with all the hype on the opening weekend of the second Twilight movie, the photo seems appropriate – some eye candy for those of us women who prefer our men a bit more mature than Robert Pattinson.

Actually, my post today has nothing to do with villains, vampires or Blog Book Tours, and I’m not frazzled because of the book tour. I’m doing what I believe journalists call “burying the lead.”  I’ve been careful on this blog not to put anyone down. I don’t malign individual writers, even those who write atrociously, and I don’t violate confidences. But today, in the interests of lowering my blood pressure, I need to break my usual pattern and vent.

Today I quit a local organization of fans and writers to which I’ve belonged since its founding several years ago. It’s a chapter of a national organization that will remain nameless. My decision wasn’t taken lightly; in fact, it’s a step I probably should have taken long ago. Here are a few of the issues that came up at our lunch meeting today at an Albany pub:

  • Election of new officers: our new president is fine, but she’s the only writer to hold an officer’s position. The rest are allegedly fans. A writer friend of mine ran for vice president but was defeated by an open show of hands – a mortifying way to hold an election! The winner was a state employee who is not now and has never been a writer.
  • Throwing away $8,000: through a personal contact, the same writer friend was invited to apply for an $8,000 grant for an anthology of short stories by our members. The president, however, ordered the treasurer not to release the documents necessary to complete the application, because “we hadn’t had time to discuss it.” Those present today also expressed concerns: What if we didn’t have enough material to fill the book? What if the foundation wanted their money back? What exactly did they want us to write? They decided they had made the correct decision in blackballing the application.
  • Payment or reimbursement for authors’ appearances: they reaffirmed their longstanding position that authors should not be paid nor reimbursed for mileage for personal appearances. The organization exists not to promote individual authors, but to promote the chapter as a whole. All income from library and other appearances should go to the organization, not the individual writers.
  • My personal book sales: the woman who has appointed herself the chapter’s book seller berated me at length for attempting to sell my own books rather than give her a percentage of my sales. Her independent bookstore handles all the authors’ sales, she said, but she reaffirmed her decision not to handle my suspense novel ELDERCIDE because she finds the title and concept disgusting. The fact that I was named Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library doesn’t cut any ice with her.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I hoped that venting here about today’s fiasco would help tamp down my rage, but I find my blood pressure climbing once again, so I’d better quit. Suffice it to say I asked the treasurer to return the check I’d just written for next year’s dues, tore it up dramatically in front of all those assembled, threw down $10 for my lunch, and slammed the door on my way out. Talk about burning bridges!

With fans like these, who needs enemies? Only one of these fans has ever bought a book of mine.  I still have my writer friends, a couple of whom I’ve met through this organization, but other than that, as Heidi Klum would say on Project Runway, I’m OUT. And I’m not particularly worried that any of those alleged fans will see this blog post, because they’re steadfast in their hatred of the Internet, and my blog in particular.

And now I’m off to see the new Warren Miller extreme skiing movie and collect some free lift tickets. Seeing all those skiers jumping off cliffs and being buried in avalanches is just what I need tonight!

Why we love sexy villains

Michael Easton

Why do we love those sexy villains? That’s what I’m writing about today over at Toni Andrews’ blog, Something Different This Way Comes. She’s published with Harlequin, so I thought I should write about something romantic. But romance isn’t huge in my novels. There are plenty of attractive men, but my heroines are too busy solving crimes to get seriously involved, so I decided writing about my villains would be the next best thing.

 

Gabriel, the mysterious killer in Eldercide, bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Easton, the actor who plays Lieutenant John McBain on One Life to Live. But Michael was a lot sexier playing the tormented vampire Caleb Morley on the defunct soap opera Port Charles. Visit Toni’s blog to learn more about Gabriel and Michael. And check out Michael’s website for more photos. He’s also a poet, graphic novelist and film director. (BTW, my husband’s well aware of this fascination of mine.) 

It’s not too late to take the Jung Typology Test I described on yesterday’s blog, both here and at Jane Kennedy Sutton’s Jane’s Ride. Just go to www.humanmetrics.com. So far all the writers I’ve heard from score as introverts. Are there any extrovert writers out there? Extrovert readers, maybe? Curious minds want to know.

Tomorrow I’ll be at Morgan Mandel’s Double M blog, talking about self-publishing. She’s also been generous enough to give me a shout-out at Acme Authors.

Just one more post to write for this Blog Book Tour! I was hoping to do it today, but I need to get cleaned up to usher for Ani DiFranco’s concert at The Egg. I last heard her when I was in the studio audience for Conan O’Brien’s late late show when he was just starting out. We’ll probably both look older!

Are all writers introverts? Are you? Take the Jung typology test and find out!

Munch street scene

Edward Munch

Attention all introvert writers: Can you find success by tapping into your inner extrovert?

That’s the question I’m posing today in my guest post on Jane Kennedy Sutton’s excellent blog, Jane’s Ride. I provide a link to a site where you can take the Jung Typology Test. Answer 60 yes/no questions, and the site will tell you which of 16 personality types best describes you. So far, five of us writers have taken the test, and we all score as introverts. What about you? Go to www.humanmetrics.com and find out. Post the results in your comments on Jane’s blog, or you can leave a comment here. I’ll tabulate the responses from both blogs. Then, needless to say, I’ll blog about it.

If you’re not a writer, please take the test and post your results anyway, along with your line of work or anything else you want to share. We need a control group too! 

The test tells me I’m an INFP. Those initials stand for introvert, intuitive, feeling and perceiving.

According to educational psychologist David Keirsey’s widely used Temperament Sorter, I’m an “idealist healer.” My type “can seem shy, even distant around others. . . Because of their deep-seated reserve, however, they can work quite happily alone. . . They have a natural interest in scholarly activities and demonstrate, like the other Idealists, a remarkable facility with language. They have a gift for interpreting stories, as well as for creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion.” 

I love that description, and unlike astrology, there’s even some scientific validity to it. Maybe you’ll love your type too! Again the test link is www.humanmetrics.com. To learn more about the four temperaments and the 16 personality types, go to http://keirsey.com. After you have your results, it would be great if you post them here as a comment, and let us know if you think the results are accurate. 

On Jane’s blog, I described myself as an introvert. Friday night, when I wrote the post, I was psyching myself up for my Author of the Year award luncheon on Saturday, writing about how I enjoy talking about my work but dread the one-to-one interactions at the signing table later, when I have to put on my perky face and try to sell books. As it turned out, I had a great time Saturday. During the talk, I disregarded my notes and improvised. I was at my hypomanic, extroverted best, and more people bought my books than ever before. No doubt my mood and my image were enhanced by the presence of my husband, who handled the books sales, my daughter Stacey, and my granddaughters Kaya (ten) and Jasper (three). Kaya videotaped my talk, and maybe I’ll figure out how to post it on You Tube one of these days.

CocktailParty Anon painting Wash PostAfter the luncheon, we spent some quality family time at the New York State museum, including a couple of spins for the kids on the vintage merry-go-round. Then Stacey and the girls headed back to Woodstock, and my husband and I headed over to some  friends’ house for a gourmet French dinner party we’d purchased at a silent auction at our Unitarian Universalist church. Atypically, rather than feeling drained and ready to retreat into silence after doing my author bit, I stayed in full-throttle extrovert mode for the rest of the evening.

It just goes to show that, as I wrote on Jane’s blog, our personalities are endlessly complex, and most of us have the ability to shift from one role to another as the occasion demands. I hope you’ll go to www.humanmetrics.com, take the Jung Typology Test, and share your results with me.

I’m heading for the home stretch on my Blog Book Tour. Tomorrow I’ll be on Toni Andrews’ blog. I’ll post her link and the last three later. Right now, though, I’ve got two blog posts to write before I drive over to SUNY-Albany for the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the NYS Writers Institute. Mario Cuomo and Doris Kearns Goodwin are the featured speakers, so I’d best get there early! These events are free, and they tend to fill up fast. Waiting in line, I’ll have plenty of time for networking, so I’ll bring my books and rev up to play extrovert once more.

My Blog Book Tour – I’m running as fast as I can!

Alice in Wonderland, rabbit“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!” I feel like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, trying frantically to keep up with my Blog Book Tour. Today I’m on Karen Walker’s blog, Following The Whispers, writing about the tragic saga of my golden retriever Lucky, as well as my shepherd-mix Rishi who stars in Mood Swing.

 

I just sent off a post to Jean Henry Mead for her blog Writing Advice & Good Books, where I’ll be visiting tomorrow. My topic:

First or third person? One voice or many? Julie Lomoe’s musings on point of view.

Fortunately, I’ve already given the topic considerable thought. I moderated a virtual panel discussion about POV for the Poisoned Pen Web Con on October 24, so I’m revisiting some of what I said there. By the way, the day’s proceedings, including my panel, are now free on line through the above link. It’s a real treasure trove of information.

Friday’s stop: Helen Ginger’s Straight from Hel blog 

Brian Wilson nowLast night I heard Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame at The Egg. Although his voice has coarsened over the years, he had a first-rate band with several singers who created beautiful harmonies. Brian seemed happier than when I heard him at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center several years ago. I’m reminded of the perennial “tortured genius” theme – Brian Wilson certainly qualifies. That in turn reminds me of the “genius is only a step away from madness” theme. I’ll be writing about that  on Helen’s blog, drawing on my personal experience from an acute manic episode. Friday the 13th seems like an appropriate day for that particular piece of personal history.

Thanks to the blog hosts who’ve been so patient and tolerant of my last-minute efforts. And to those hosting me next week: I’m in catch-up mode now, so in the immortal words of Brian Wilson, “Don’t worry baby – everything will be alright.” (I used to sing that gorgeous song as a lullaby for my daughter, and now I sing it to my granddaughters.)

Sneak Preview of my Blog Book Tour!

Mood Swing front coverMy Blog Book Tour starts Monday! I’ve written my first two guest blogs and sent them off to the hosts. It’s odd writing a blog post and not being able to see it up on the web as soon as I click “Publish.” The instant gratification of the Internet is truly addictive, and I’d almost forgotten how much patience it takes to wait. Even a few days feels like ages – and I can hardly bear to think about how long it takes to get a book published.

Here are the links and details for my first three blog stops. I’ll be adding more about subsequent stops next week.

 

 

Monday, November 9                        L. Diane Wolfe’s Spunk on a Stick

For my first guest post ever, I’ve written about how my career as an art therapist and home health care administrator inspired and informed both my mystery novels. It’s something I’d never done in such detail on my own blog – interesting how this tour is already helping me focus and fill in some gaps. 

Tuesday, November 10         Maryann Miller’s It’s Not All Gravy

Maryann is currently featuring books that would make good holiday gifts. Rather than toot my own horn in a truly obnoxious fashion, I decided to quote reviews from my fellow writers. Amazing how good it felt to revisit all the great things people said about me! Again, this is something I haven’t done on my own blog. I’m going to create a page for those reviews ASAP. Maybe it’ll help me sell more books!

Wednesday, November 11    Karen Walker’s Following the Whispers

Karen is a fellow alumna from the Blog Book Tour class that took place last May and June. She writes nonfiction focusing on her personal journey, and I admire her honesty and courage when it comes to self-disclosure. I was going to write something comparing memoir and fiction, but I changed my mind after I sent out photos to all the hosts. People loved the photo of me with Lucky, my late golden retriever, and I realized I’d never written about him. So Wednesday’s post will be about dogs I’ve known, both real and fictional. I think I’ll call it Truth can be stranger than fiction: the tragic saga of Lucky, my golden retriever.

People familiar with Blog Book Tours recommend planning and writing your posts far ahead. But hey, I’ve never been that kind of writer – I thrive on the brinksmanship of deadlines. So what will I be writing about after Wednesday? I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

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