A Happy New Year, Safe at Home

New Year's Ball Times SquarePhooey! Only a couple of hours left till midnight, and it’s highly doubtful that I’ll finish my novel, Hope Dawns Eternal, this year. I’ve got one more climactic scene to write, but I’m sorely tempted to switch on the TV and watch the ball drop. If past years are any indication, ABC will cut away from the actual ball with its thousands of Svarowski crystals and focus on Ryan Seacrest or a crowd shot instead. I’ll end up swearing at the stupid editing and wishing Dick Clark were still alive to ring in the New Year.

I’ve been watching that damn ball drop for practically fifty years. Living in Manhattan in the 1960’s, I was too hip to own a TV, much less make the trek to Times Square to be squashed in a crowd of thousands, but I usually ended up at the apartment of some unattached friend who was throwing a party to welcome in the New Year. Invariably I drank too much and welcomed in New Year’s Day with a vicious hangover.

In the nearly forty years I’ve been married, I recall venturing out on New Year’s Eve on only a handful of occasions. New Year's clock midnightBack in the 1990’s, Albany had a First Night celebration with music, dancing and other entertainment in multiple venues, and we went a couple of times. More than anything, I recall the biting wind chill, which felt well below zero, and weeping over a beloved hat I left at the Palace Theater. (I was in a major depression at the time, and I cried at the drop of a hat – literally, on that occasion.)

A decade later, my husband and I read from our novels as part of Saratoga’s First Night. My friend Marilyn Rothstein, aka M.E. Kemp, booked our mystery writers’ group into an art gallery for the night, and as participants, we got free passes. It was a festive night, and the fireworks at midnight were spectacular, but we’re leery of sharing the Northway with a bunch of drunks, so we’ve stayed home ever since.

Anyway, nothing could ever equal the annual New Year’s parties my parents threw in Milwaukee in the 1950’s, beginning sometime in the McCarthy era. My father was Managing Editor of The Milwaukee Journal, and the invitees were a fascinating mix of the city’s intellectual and artistic elite, including lots of journalists. There was singing around the piano, and the liquor flowed copiously practically till dawn of New Year’s Day. In those days, no one had heard of DWI, and yet somehow they all survived.

New Year's Eve Times Square overviewIn the ensuing decades, we’ve grown increasingly austere when it comes to alcohol, or at least my friends and acquaintances have. On the other hand, when I stopped at the local liquor store around five o’clock this evening, the place was more mobbed than I’ve ever seen it, with cars overflowing the available spaces and creating a minor traffic jam. It’s good to know there are still those among us who plan to toast the coming of the New Year.

As I write, I’m sipping some Pinot Noir out of a Corbett Canyon box. I bought it primarily to flavor the beef stew that’s simmering in my Crock Pot. The aroma that’s wafting up through the floor boards is making me ravenously hungry, but it won’t be ready till around 11:00pm, when I’ll be ready to tune in to the festivities on TV. No need to tune in sooner, because the entertainers featured this year are too damn young and over-exposed. I’ve already heard and seen more than enough of Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, not to mention Meghan Traynor singing about her big butt and how it’s all about the bass. Elton John is the only star advertised who’s from my generation, but hey, time moves on.

On Christmas after dinner at my daughter’s house, I danced with her, my granddaughters and their friends to a program called “Just Dance,” where the person holding the Wii remote gets scored on how closely they can mimic the moves of the computer-generated dancers on screen. There are dozens of songs to choose from, most of them by new groups I’ve never heard of, but they did have some oldies, like Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and everyone loved that one too. The dance style is that jerky, angular stuff I’ve seen on TV but never attempted before, but it’s great exercise, and I’m tempted to get the program.

The thought of exercise conjures up notions of New Year’s resolutions, but hey, I’m not going there – not tonight. Instead I’m going downstairs for some wine and cheese followed by that stew. And I’ll probably be ready for bed soon after the ball drops.

Have a wonderful New Year’s, everyone, and thanks for reading my blog. See you in 2015.

New Year's cat in basket

The Trial Before Christmas – Watch Out for Flying Books!

 

Trial Before Christmas posterThe fine line between fact and fiction blurred last night at a festive holiday reception when a man threw a hardcover book at a woman’s head – in a library, no less. She was seated at a table signing copies of a new edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas. As an author, I’ve never much liked hawking my books at signings, but this represents a new low that’s even more troubling than the usual scenario where no one buys your books.

What precipitated the attack? The woman, Pamela McColl, had just given “expert testimony” in a mock trial concerning the true authorship of  ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Widely attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, the work may in fact have been written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.  The trial took place in the John T. Casey Ceremonial Courtroom in the Rensselaer County Courthouse in Troy, New York, with prominent local attorneys arguing for the plaintiff and the defendant.

The event was part of Troy’s Victorian Stroll, and it was free and first-come first-serve, so I arrived Victorian Stroll balloon manearly. In the lobby, real cops were on duty, and there was a genuine security check, complete with the walk-through entrance and the conveyor belt to detect contraband items. The courtroom was packed, and I grabbed one of the few remaining seats. In the back row, I couldn’t hear everyone clearly, but I picked up bits and pieces of Ms. McColl’s testimony. In period costume, she argued against the portrayal of St. Nicholas as a smoker:

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath. 

After colorful testimony from the ghosts of Livingston and Moore and closing arguments from the lawyers, the jury, comprised of randomly selected audience members, decided in favor of Major Livingston. Then everyone was invited to attend the reception next door at the Troy Library, which had no security checks in place. I was savoring a glass of wine and a fillet mignon sandwich when I heard a shout and a crash. Turning in the direction of the commotion, I saw a man tightly flanked by two others who held him by both arms and propelled him out the door of the Victorian reading room.

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

It’s all right, don’t worry,” said one of them as they did their perp walk. But was it? What had happened? Ever curious, I questioned him later. It turned out that the man had been so incensed by Ms. McColl’s anti-smoking testimony that he started an argument that culminated in his throwing one of her books at her head. When she signed a book for me later, she was uninjured and surprisingly calm and collected. (Fortunately, though hard-cover, the book was light-weight.)

Her version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, published by Grafton and Scratch, was listed in the program as a “Non-smoking edition.” I’m not sure if the book thrower was enraged by her testimony, by the book itself, or by both, but any way you look at it, it’s distressing – maybe yet another reason to forget about book signings and focus on selling books online.

So what happened to the guy? One of the two young men who escorted him out – both lawyers – said they didn’t call the cops, just told him to leave. “We know him,” he said, so perhaps he’s a neighborhood character. Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.

Victorian Stroll protest 2014Meanwhile, outside the library as darkness fell on the Victorian Stroll, protestors lay down in the street at Monument Square to protest the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island. Try as we may to escape into nostalgia, the twenty-first century and all its inequities remind us we can’t escape reality.

 

 

 

 

My NaNoWriMo win: I may be a cheater, but I’m not a liar

Trying my best at my own table

Trying my best at my own table

I made it! Last night I validated my National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) score of over 50,000 words, and the site declared me an official winner. They provided a link to an online certificate I can download, with lines to fill in my name and book title, and links to order merchandise, including a black tee shirt with this year’s emblem – a knight slaying a dragon.

There’s just one problem: I cheated. Yesterday afternoon I reached 30,747 words in the document I’d titled “NaNo total word count,” and there was no way I could legitimately come up with another 20,000 words in the last few hours of the contest. Illegitimately, it was easy, with just a few simple commands: Select all, copy and paste. Eureka! All at once, I had a document of 61,494 words. I uploaded it into the correct line in the NaNo form, hit the button marked “Validate,” and voila! I was a winner.

True confession time: this isn’t the first year I’ve done this. I’ve entered NaNo several times. A couple of times I dropped out, butDennys Nano 11-30-14 the other times I used the nefarious means I’ve described above. But this was the first time I solicited other people’s opinions – on Facebook, no less – before taking this sinister turn to the left. Those who replied, including my husband, felt I should take the high road and refrain from cheating. I’d be demeaning the efforts of those who won legitimately, they said. Heaven forbid I break the rules! Those rules are set by genuine human beings, true, but they’re enforced by a computer program. It counts words; it doesn’t read or judge content. Theoretically I could type the same word 50,000 times.

Our fearless leader, Shannon Kauderer

Our fearless leader, Shannon Kauderer

At last night’s final November NaNo write-in at Denny’s, the Albany group’s Sunday night hangout for the past month, I confessed my transgression and asked if anyone else had cheated. No one fessed up. I wasn’t tarred and feathered, but no one told me it was okay, and I didn’t win the plastic diamond our leader passed out to those who had won legitimately.

So am I ashamed? Embarrassed? Yes, to some extent. In the hard light of the morning after, I considered not blogging about this at all, but then I’d feel even more cowardly. Besides, in many ways I consider myself a genuine winner, with some bona fide accomplishments. For example:

  • I’m off to a good start on Sunlight and Shadow, the sequel to Hope Dawns Eternal, and I know where the plot is going from here.
  • I’ve learned the basics of the Scrivener program, which offers new ways of organizing my novel in a more flexible, less linear fashion.
  • I’ve found I can write at night as well as I can in the daytime.
  • My wine consumption has dropped dramatically because of the aforementioned night writing, because my writing suffers when I’m under the influence. Even a single glass makes me noticeably more slow and stupid.
  • I’ve gotten better at just jumping in and tackling a scene rather than procrastinating and waiting for inspiration to strike.
  • I’ve gotten better at banishing my inner critic.

I still prefer writing in solitude to writing in groups. And I’ll never be as speedy as those folks who can crank out thousands of words a day, but then I’ve never read anything they’ve written. For all I know, it’s total gibberish, but in NaNoWriMo, aside from counting words,  there’s no comparing and no critiquing. That’s why I’ll probably do it again. Who knows, next year I might even win without cheating.

Dennys NaNo Robb

 

The accompanying photos are from last night’s write-in at the Denny’s in Latham. A shout-out to the wonderful staff there, who let us hang out for hours in our very own room, overdosing on coffee and scrumptious desserts.