Thursday, December 18, 2008

Music for the holidays


I don't hold myself out there as a music critic. But I know what I like. And I like Christmas music that makes me smile and gives me energy to get things done while I'm listening to it (or keeps me awake if I'm in the car).

The Keith Taylor Trio's jazzy O Christmas Tree-O is just such a CD. And it's available on CDBaby. Check it out. It will put a smile on your face and a HO-HO-HO in your heart!

(In the interest of full disclosure, Jim Cavender, the bass player on the cd and the one in the middle in the picture is my cousin-in-law. He's also the one who introduced me to my husband many years ago. So he's long held a special place in my heart. But that doesn't mean the cd's not good. It's fabulous!)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

First page

Three months ago I felt brave (or stupid) one day and sent off page one of the mystery that follows Redneck Tarot (tentatively titled Redneck Hex) to Dear Author, a mostly romance review blog that posts first pages from readers each Saturday for other readers to critique.

Mine is up this week.

The critiquers have been very kind and insightful, offering constructive criticism about every item on the page, something I've noticed each week as I've read and often commented on the other first pages that have appeared.

So, if you're feeling brave (or stupid) and you've got a first page that you'd like some feedback on, give Dear Author a shot. Then read and comment on the others each Saturday. It's only fair that you offer clear, constructive, kind criticism to the brave souls who put their work out if you expect the same in return. And be patient. Like I said, I submitted in September, but it was worth the wait.

Now, I just need to get to work on revisions.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bought books for the holidays

As you can see by the widget to the left, I'm supporting buying books for the holidays. I finally made my contribution this evening, ordering several books as gifts for my mom, my nephew and my husband.

One of the best things about buying books as gifts, especially ahead of the gift-giving day, you can read them yourself first! Of course, you have to be careful not to spill coffee or red wine on them or let the cats gnaw on them or drop them on the floor where the dog will think they're a chew toy. But, if you can avoid all that, then books give their gifts at least twice.

So rush right out a buy a book for your favorite loved one or as a hostess gift or for your mother-in-law this Christmas. In these hard economic times writers and publishers need your support, and you can't beat a book for entertainment value.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lessons learned and belated thanksgiving

No, I didn't finish 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I got to 20,000 and realized a couple of things:

1. The book was going nowhere, at least nowhere I could figure. The GPS had completely quit after leading me down increasingly narrow roads with no view.

2. If I'm going to participate in the challenge again, and I might, I have to go in more prepared. I decided on a whim, on the last day to sign up, to participate this year, thinking maybe it would spur some sort of fantastical writing. But, alas, it didn't. I need to go in with more than a tiny spark of an idea that sounded great in my head at two o'clock in the morning, but somehow didn't translate to more than 20,000 words--and it required stops at numerous metaphorical gas stations to ask directions to get that far.

Because I'd essentially abandoned the idea before Thanksgiving (I traveled with my laptop, just in case. Mostly it sat in my room calling my name occasionally but without much hope.) I had a really good Thanksgiving.

sunset_dinner

That's a picture of our view from the Thanksgiving dinner table. (Thanks to Catherine Head, a cousin, for providing the photo!) Much of my husband's family migrated to south Florida over the last 15 years or so, (this was taken on the Isles of Capri) a series of moves for which we are especially grateful come Thanksgiving.

I'm thankful that his family is warm and welcoming and generous and fun. And on top of all that, they offer the sunshine and beauty of South Florida at a time when home (Atlanta area) is cold, gray and dreary!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!



My husband, the dog and I are off for sunny South Florida for Thanksgiving with his (husband's not dog's) family. I hope you all have a lovely holiday with plenty of good food and good company. I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We need a little Christmas …

It seems wrong to be thinking about Christmas before Thanksgiving, but since this contest wants to know what we do in our homes for the holidays, and we visit my mother-in-law (in warm, sunny delightful south Florida) for Thanksgiving, I have to think about Christmas. Besides, I can no longer claim to be a Christmas traditionalist.

I’d been a purist about Christmas trees for as long as we’ve been married (21 years—YIKES!). I wanted a real tree, with that real tree smell and those real tree pine needles and it had to be nearly as tall as the ceiling. I don’t know where this need came from, probably my childhood deprivation. We decorated a bamboo in a pot at our house for all of my growing-up years.

Anyway, last year the southeast was experiencing a drought (we still are) of some significance, and I read that real live Christmas trees were dry and not likely to stay pretty through the holiday season. So, I broke down and bought a fake tree.

Chris-pink-tree

It’s not a traditional green or even a flocked tree. If we were going fake, we were going all the way. In keeping with the beach house theme, we got a pink tree. It’s the greatest thing! It looks wonderful with all of the pink flamingo and shell ornaments.

This year the drought is still bad here in Atlanta, though I haven’t read anything about Christmas trees yet (many of the trees in this area come out of North Carolina). But I’ve gotten kind of attached to the pink tree. I think we’ll go with it again this year.

Maybe by next year I can talk Chris into both—the pink tree in the living room and a real live green tree in the red room, a kind of combination den and office. How festive to have a tree in both rooms!

Better go. If I’m having two trees next year, I’ve got to stock up on ornaments.

pink-tree

“This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by SC Johnson’s Right@Home.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

NaNoWriMore

NaNoWriMo needs to be renamed. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is going on now. But it needs to stand for National Novel Writing MORE, because if you miss a day or, heaven forbid, two, the number of words you have to write to catch up becomes exponentially MORE impossible with every passing minute.

The goal is to have a 50,000-word novel written within the month of November, or 1,666 words each day. I did great for the first seven days. Then life got in the way. As of today, I am officially 6,666 words behind! When I wake up tomorrow I will be more than 8,000 words behind. And what am I doing--blogging. Because, frankly, it's a lot easier to complain about writing than it is to do it.

Try it, you'll see. Feel free to complain in the comments. Reading your complaints will provide me another much-needed form of procrastination.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The journey’s the thing

Nearly 10 years ago, back when we had more energy than money (Now we have no energy and no money, but that's another story.) my husband Chris bought a Jeep. Not one of those nice Grand Cherokees that the commercials show going off-road, but that you know never leave the pavement because who in their right mind would get a $40,000 car mired in the mud. No, he bought a 1984 CJ-7, a rugged, no air-conditioning, no radio, no room for sissies, real man's Jeep. In other words, he bought a hobby.

For the first few months Chris' relationship with his Jeep was purely destructive. He moved my much nicer, much newer car out of the garage and pulled the Jeep in. “Only for three or four days,” he said. He spent hours over the next months taking parts off, cleaning them, oiling them, gazing at them all over the garage floor. Finally, he was ready for the next phase of his hobby, though my car wouldn’t move back into the garage for many more months.

Chris did lots of work under the hood, but I have no idea what that involved besides massive amounts of grease and oil, the parts disappearing from the garage floor and lots of time. He traded some old Cadillac parts (from his former hobby) for automotive paint. He painted the Jeep forest green with black trim. His cousin sewed a spare-tire cover out of cammo fabric, rendering him almost invisible in the woods. He ordered new seats and got a console for Christmas. Phase two was complete.

The next phase involved sharing his hobby with others (besides me!). He joined a Jeep club, a group of people who think spending all weekend either working on their Jeeps or taking them out in the woods to beat the crap out of them, thus ensuring they have something to work on the next weekend, is really living.

When the club goes on their monthly outings, near as I can figure they gather, then convoy to whatever remote, muddy, wooded, hilly site they have scheduled to visit that month. Then they drive their Jeeps verrrrrrry slowwwwwwwwwly over trails.

Now, here is where the excitement reaches fever pitch. Sometimes one brave club member will creeeeeeeeep his Jeep even more slowwwwwly over a particularly steep rock or small hill. The other club members, whose Jeeps may not be tricked out (that's a Jeep term) to handle such an obstacle, stand around and watch this lone Jeep climb. Someone always documents these occasions with photos and video, and posts the blurry faces and mud-splattered vehicles on the club web site.

One blurry face is likely to be Patrick, one of the more fanatical, I mean devoted, members. Patrick spent $16,000 readying his Jeep for whatever rough terrain the world might throw at him. Patrick is unmarried, Chris added unnecessarily, but with a little envy in his voice.

For Chris' first Jeep club outing he left home at 8 a.m. and returned at 8 p.m. He only went 120 miles total. In 12 hours. If I tried to get him to drive to a spot 12 hours away, he'd act like I wanted to go to the moon. That phase of his hobby highlighted one of the major differences between us and our approaches to life. For Chris, in everything he does, the journey's the thing. Not me. I want to fall asleep in the backseat and wake up there--wherever there is. We've managed to work those differences out. Chris drives. I sleep.

But he won't be driving the Jeep anymore. He sold it. He hadn't been on a club outing in several years. Besides, it was tricked out just like he liked it. The journey was complete. Wonder where the next trip will take him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

I went to bed last night before McCain's concession or Obama's acceptance speeches. I'd heard, from Shep on Fox News (the only channel we get on our dish-less television) that Obama won, but it was with some lingering sense of "it could all still have been snatched away in the night," that I woke up this morning.

But it wasn't a dream. Now, my problem, which, granted is small after the problem's of the last eight years, is I'm a blue voter in a decidedly red county of a red state. I've been reading about fireworks and dancing in the streets. The streets around my house were dark and silent all evening. Even my husband doesn't share my joy.

That joy, relief, hope, expectation, even happy surprise has to go somewhere, so you, dear blog readers, can share it with me. Let me know what you're doing to celebrate or not, as your political persuasion leads you.

Me, I'm mostly procrastinating, reading news stories and blogs, confirming to myself that history has been made and that I did wake up this morning to find the long nightmare is over.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I'm a Georgia voter!


It was great! So easy and almost no line. I was at the polling place just 30 minutes, start to finish.

Now, don't start thinking there was no line because people in Georgia don't have the brains God gave a billy goat, so of course they ain't gonna vote. In fact, the woman working at the polling place said there were 75 people in line at 5 a.m. when she reported for polling duty. As I left, the line was almost twice as long as when I got there.

I guess I had good voting karma today. Hope that bodes well for all of my candidates. What about you? Have you voted? Got a good story to tell? Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Celebrate America. Go vote!
Happy Election Day!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know what that weird word in the title is, it's short for National Novel Writing Month. This is the 10th year that November has been NaNoWriMo. I first heard of it a couple of years ago, but never considered participating until this year. I found myself on Friday, October 31, the very last minute, registering without a thought in my head about what I'd write.

Now, two days in, I've got 4,200 words. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. (For those of you who are as mathematically challenged as I am, that breaks down to 1,666 words or almost 7 pages each and every day of November.) Don't edit, don't think too hard, just get the words out. The editing, revising, polishing or even the tossing out can come later. You're supposed to start something new, not work on something that's already in progress.

So, I've started a young adult mystery. I dreamed up--literally--the premise one night last week. We'll see if it can stand up to 50,000 words or more, in a month. I better get back to it!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grandma’s ghosts

In honor of Halloween, pull up a comfy chair, fix yourself a cup of hot cider, roast some marshmallows for s’mores, and I’ll tell you a true ghost story.

GGD.web

When I was about 10 years old, Grandma’s neighborhood was going downhill. She was considering selling her house, encouraged by my dad and my aunt, who wanted her to live somewhere safer. But Grandma was dragging her feet about the move. She'd raised my dad and my aunt in that house. My grandfather had died in that house. It was her home.

When a man bit off a policeman’s ear in Grandma’s front yard, she decided it was time to go. She sold her house and moved to a “better” neighborhood. The next month, when she was out of town for the weekend, her house in the better neighborhood was robbed. She came home to find they’d taken everything. The refrigerator stood open, and the food was gone; drawers were missing from the dressers; the handmade antique clock that had marked time on her mantle for years had disappeared; clothes, jewelry, sheets and towels had to be bought new.

But when we went to see Grandma a few months later (we lived in Alabama, she lived in North Carolina) she seemed to be doing well in her new house. She’d replaced her stuff and met her neighbors. And when she tucked my sister Susan and me in bed that first night, she said, “I’m going to tell you girls a true ghost story tonight.”

Grandma turned out the lights and sat down on the end of the bed. “Now, you know how I didn’t want to move out of my old house?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“It’s not just because I loved the house,” she said. “It’s because your grandpop visited me there.”

Susan and I snuggled deeper under the covers. Grandpop died when I was six. How could he visit?

“Many times since he died, he’d come to see me in the night,” Grandma said. “He’d sit down on the end of the bed, kind of like I'm doing now, and ask me how I was. Then he’d tell me he was watching out for me. I’d fall asleep with him by my side.

“I was afraid that if I moved, Grandpop wouldn’t be able to find me,” she continued. “Since he died in the house, I thought maybe he couldn’t leave there. I didn’t know how being a ghost worked.”

Susan and I scooted closer together. We didn’t know how being a ghost worked either.

“Then I moved here. I got robbed, and I didn’t know the neighbors, and I was really lonely. And your grandpop didn’t visit me,” she whispered.

We scooted closer to Grandma, whose huge smile showed up even in the dark bedroom..

“Then about a month ago I was in bed. I looked up and there was your grandpop standing in the door to the bedroom.” She turned toward the door, almost as if she could still see him standing there.

“He sat down on the side of the bed, patted my leg and said, ‘Don’t worry about moving. Wherever you go, I’ll always find you. He’s been back to see me two or three times since then. And I’ve met some really nice neighbors. And I got all new stuff. “ She rubbed the new sheets through her fingers. “I think I’m going to like it here.”

As I grew up, I didn’t think about Grandma’s ghost story very often. I knew she believed, but I’d never seen a ghost and wasn’t sure I believed. Grandma died a few years back. Not long after her death, I was in bed, thinking about her, and there she was, in the doorway to our bedroom.

She sat down next to me, patted my leg and said, “Don’t worry about me. I'm fine, and I’m looking out for you. Wherever you go, I’ll always find you.”

What I want to be when I grow up

This opinionated, this funny and this eloquent. There's some discussion in the comments about whether or not the bloggers really are in their 80s, but maybe that's beside the point. Given the number of hits and comments they're getting, they've struck a chord with a lot of people.

Meet Margaret and Helen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Donkey with a death wish

At the edge of the caldera, in the tiny town of Fira, on Santorini, my sister, Susan, and I peered out at the Agean Sea, marveling at a blue they created just for Greece. Our eyes traveled to donkeys ferrying people and things up from the boats docked at the old port below.

path.down

I don’t remember which of us thought it would be fun to hike the zigzagged path to the port, then ride a donkey back up, but it was a terrible, scary, asinine, stupid idea.

It was still fairly early in the morning when we started down the thousands of wide, uneven, cobblestone, horror-movie steps. But the sun that beat on the island in August didn't have a clock. We'd finished our water and worked up a sweat before we hit the half-way point.

At the port we poked into gift shops, bought a couple of trinkets and drank more water before seeking out our animal transport. We climbed a few steps, handed over our money and sat down on the next donkey that waited beside the top step.

path.up

A mother and her two teenage sons from Germany led our group, next Susan climbed aboard her ride. Our guide, a loose term since the donkeys all seemed to know the way to the top, would follow me. I watched Susan and the German family amble away as I sat down on the donkey from hell.

Before I could get a grip on the saddle horn, my donkey launched himself like a rocket. He aimed for the first zig in the zigzag path, slammed to a stop at the knee-high-to-a-donkey wall that bordered the path, hung his head over the wall giving me a donkey's-eye view of the edge of world, then turned sharply as if to scrape me off his back along the cliff, and raced to the next zag in the path. I clutched the saddle horn, my water bottle and my camera, with which I’d assumed I would take pictures from the back of the donkey, with one hand. The other hand held my hat on my head.

Moving at a gallop, we passed Susan on the second straight stretch. Her donkey strolled at a pace that allowed her to take pictures, enjoy the view, sip from her water bottle and laugh as I flew by on the demon. Once again, as he did at every zigzag in the path, the donkey stepped on the brakes with such force that I thought I’d be pitched over his head and crash to the rocks below.

On the third straightaway we passed the German family, who turned completely around on their nice, calm donkeys to point and laugh as the demon and I barreled by, doing what for a donkey must have been Mach 1.

Susan shouted from miles behind, “Take my picture. Turn around and take my picture.” Then she cackled, knowing there would be no turning around, no pictures on her placid critter as a reminder of how she’d lost her only sister in Greece: Death by donkey.

The demon slammed to its final (for my ride anyway. Despite its many attempts, it didn’t kill itself.) halt at the top of the path long before anyone else in our group rounded the last turn.

The Greek “guide” began to scream at me as he turned the final corner. I believe he was telling me to get off the donkey, but he was screaming in Greek, so I wasn't sure. And it didn’t matter. I couldn’t move. Somewhere around the fifth zig or zag, I had become one with the creature.

I sat, facing the cliff wall, trying to remember how to breathe, as Susan joined the yelling of the donkey man. “Take my picture, now. You’re sitting still, take it now.”

I managed to let go of my hat, grab the water bottle and saddle horn with one hand, my camera with the other and do as she asked. But I couldn’t turn. It was as if my butt was glued to that donkey. I aimed the camera behind me and without looking I took this awful picture.

Su.Donkey

Serves her right for laughing at my donkey with a death wish.

Don't forget to visit Angela Nickerson’s blog, Just Go. She's got goodie bags! From there you can visit other participating blogs.

Halloween Blogapalooza

flying pumpkin

I've been too busy to blog lately, but this week I'm going to try to make up for it.

Tomorrow I'm part of a blogapalooza put together by Angela Nickerson at her travel blog Just Go. Participating blogs will all have stories about a harrowing journey, just in time for Halloween. She's also got goodie bags to give away to several lucky comment-leaving Trick or Treaters.

My post is about a ride on a "Donkey with a Death Wish." Check back tomorrow for that and hit Just Go for more on the goodie bags and to see who else has had a harrowing journey.

On Friday, in honor of the spooky day, I'll post a true ghost story about my grandmother, called, appropriately enough, "Grandma's Ghosts."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Little & cute, then what?

When my nephews were little and cute, I can remember wondering if I'd still love them when they got to be big. What if they grew up and weren't any fun? What if they were mean? What if they were boring? I wasn't even going to venture into what if they became ax murderers, or worse. I was just worried about not liking them.

They are now 14, 11 and 9, teetering between childhood and adulthood. When I called their house last week, Eli, the 14-year-old, answered, and because they have caller ID, he launched immediately into, "Aunt Karen, there's an air show this weekend. Don't you want to go?"

Since Chris (my non-workaholic, he says, but constantly working husband) had to work, and my sister and her husband viewed this as an opportunity to ditch their offspring for a few hours, I took them on my own. The day was beautiful, sunny and warm, but not hot.

We rode a shuttle bus that arrived at the show just in time for us to see the F-22 Raptor through the bus windows. WOW! What a show that plane (that flies undetected by radar, so Eli tells me) put on. Stalls, flying straight up and straight down until I was sure it was going to crash into the crowd of people, then "walking" on its tail--its body vertical, but moving forward.

Next was an aerobatic bi-plane. The youngest nephew's favorite--he's into all things old right now. Lots of loops and spins and falls straight down, too.

Meanwhile, we also got to climb on and in a C-130, a C-5, and lots of smaller planes, including a "mosquito"--some World War II trainer--where the boys were allowed to sit in the cockpit, while a very nice, patient man told them all about how the controls work.

The grand finale: the Thunderbirds.

But what I loved the most was watching Eli be the leader. "Come one, Aunt Karen (because the younger boys followed wherever Eli led). We'll be able to see better over here." And watching the youngest one make his own fun. The noise of the planes and the sun shining in his eyes as he stared straight up got to be too much after awhile. So he sat in the grass and made a "whip" by tying together long, straight weeds. And the middle nephew was what he almost always is, interested in the planes, eager to see everything, and cracking funny jokes.

I've eased up a little on my worry that they'll grow up and I won't like them anymore.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Attack of the love bugs

Okay, it’s a stretch to tie a lovely wedding to the mess that’s all over my car, but since they both involved love and I have pictures, I thought I’d give it a shot. Sometimes you need a challenge.

So, in chronological order: Attack of the love bugs, Part I

I drove from my house north of Atlanta to south-central Georgia a couple of weeks ago. I write about economic development (an elusive concept these days) in various Georgia counties for Georgia Trend magazine and was headed off to learn all there was to know about Coffee County. The first thing I learned is that to get there in late September you have to drive through the mating love bugs. Not only do they swarm so disgustingly that you can hardly see to drive through them, but they dry on the car in an instant. Then it takes dynamite and a crowbar to get the nasty bits off.

love.bugs

I fretted a little about not making a professional impression, what with my car looking like a giant had upchucked on it. But at least two out of three cars in that area looked just like mine—or worse. Two weeks later, following a car wash and several windshield washings, I can almost see clearly through the glass again, though bits of love-bug goo remain to remind me of my trip.

Attack of the love bugs, Part II

This was less an attack than a romantic encounter. We went to the Wedding at the Farm this past weekend. Friends of ours, Shannon Wilder and Curtis Johnson, got married at her family’s farm near Gadsden, Alabama.

Shannon.Curtis

The wedding itself took place in a grove of pecan trees that seemed to have been planted years ago for just such an occasion. The space between them created an outdoor chapel with the sun peeking through the leaves. Following the ceremony, the guests all wandered across the country road to the tractor shed where the sweet smell of barbeque drifted on the sounds of live music and the laughter of kids and adults. We could all see why it was the bride’s “favorite place in the whole world” and the place where she wanted to declare before friends and family that the love bug had attacked.

shed

Friday, October 10, 2008

Once upon a time ...

Every eye in the tent was on the woman sitting on a stool on a bare wooden stage talking about how she’d have lost her virginity if only the police hadn’t interrupted at a crucial moment the carefully researched and staged event. No one gasped or tut-tutted at the indelicate subject matter. We were too busy wiping the tears of laughter that ran from our eyes. Beth Horner, the virgin under discussion, was followed by Bil Lepp, who told us about how one of his college buddies, Paul, had built a submarine in his dorm room their senior year. The sub was so big they had to blast a hole in the dorm wall to get the pig-pink contraption out. (Bil won the West Virginia State liar's contest several years running.)

The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, which comes up the first weekend of October each year, is like sitting around the Thanksgiving table enjoying a feast of the best family stories—with 20,000 of your closest friends and assuming your family includes the likes of matriarch Kathryn Windham, who barely leaned on her cane as she described her 90th birthday party this past summer, complete with comb chorus and a parade through downtown Selma, Ala.

Then there’s cousin Andy Offutt Irwin, you know, the weird kid who grew up to be the one everybody wanted to sit next to at dinner. Andy told about Aunt Marguerite, the 85-year-old founder of the Southern White Old Ladies Hospital, then Andy and his band, the Finger Monsters, played a song about his girlfriend Clarice who was a member of the Klan, and wouldn’t leave it, even for love. (That’s not clan like she was a family member, but Klan like the KKK.) We were all too busy laughing at the song to worry about whether or not it was politically correct for two African-American women to be singing backup on such a tune.

You know how some of your relatives are. Despite hearing from birth that it’s not polite to discuss religion, money or politics, some people just can’t help themselves. John McCutcheon is one who mixes all of the above with his music and stories, making most of the audience laugh and think at the same time. (Not to mention swoon. My mom and my aunt would have followed him home if I hadn’t been there to remind them that they’re both already married.)

While the National Storytelling Festival is like the Thanksgiving table of festivals, with its variety of the best the storytelling community has to offer stuffed down your throat until you think you can’t take another bite, smaller, kitchen-table festivals can be found all over the country. Just Google storytelling festival and your state, you’ll find something. Or visit storytellers’ web sites, where you’ll find links to their tour schedules. You can try just a taste of storytelling, rather than stuffing yourself at first with an entire feast.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Keep your audience in mind

As a theater major at Florida State (Go, ‘Noles!), a storyteller, freelance writer and aspiring mystery writer, the phrase “always keep your audience in mind” has been in my brain for nearly my whole life. That idea is why debut mysteries have the body on the first page (or at least in the first couple of pages) because mystery readers—including agents and editors—have expectations. It’s why “if it bleeds it leads” became the mantra for television news. Someone decided that’s what the audience wanted. And it’s why authors at a book talk-book signing shouldn’t let their child take over the presentation.

Recently I went to a book signing at an independent bookstore near my house. I like the bookstore. The owner is friendly, knowledgeable and supportive of local and regional authors. This was a pay-to-attend event, not much at $5, but still. I didn’t mind spending the money to hear an author I’ve enjoyed. Author’s books are funny, so I had high hopes that Author would be, too.

But Author wasn’t. In fact, Author was unprofessional. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like kids, a lot. Sometimes more than adults. However, when I have paid $5 to hear an author speak, I don’t want an eight-year-old, no matter how cute and precocious, taking over the discussion.

Author, who was obviously completely distracted by the very loquacious child, nevertheless did nothing to stop the chatter. Author allowed the child to tell stories, answer questions that Author was asked by audience members, and whisper in Author’s ear several times as the two stood before 20-25 people who had paid $5 each (not to mention those who had already paid for Author’s books—in hardback, no less) to hear Author speak.

After 20 minutes or so of what felt like eavesdropping on a private parent-child conversation, I was relieved when Author gave up on the speaking portion of the evening, though moving to the book signing didn’t mean the end of the child’s performance. Author let us know that child also wanted to sign books, if we didn’t mind. (The child is mentioned in the book, which is non-fiction.)

Chris (my husband) and I left without buying a book, which I would have done if I’d enjoyed Author’s talk. If I’d enjoyed the talk, I’d likely have gone to hear Author again or maybe signed up for one of Author’s workshops, because I’ve heard good things about them. But I won’t now. Author broke the first rule of entertainment, which is what Author’s books and book talks are: Always keep your audience in mind.

Feel free to leave a comment about book signings you’ve attended—good or bad. Or let me know if you think I overreacted. (Though I have to say, Chris felt the same way, and he has way more patience than I do.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ahoy, me hearties, it’s Nana’s birthday!

That’s pirate speak for “Hey, y’all, it’s my grandmother’s birthday!” She’s 91 on this International Talk Like a Pirate Day. We hope she won't be walking the plank anytime soon.

Here’s a picture of her (she's second from the left) and my mom and my two aunts from last year at our family reunion to celebrate her 90th.

Nana-Daughters

Nana's not doing great this year-—forgetting things, though she still remembers people and faces, if not names. And her body’s wearing out. Much too slowly to suit her, she says. But she’s still around at 91, which gives all of us coming up after her hope for ourselves. (Her mother lived to be 93! Shiver me timbers, but the women live a long time in my family.)

Some of my best memories are of Nana young and fun. Going to her house meant liver mush for breakfast. Neese's is the best (and only) brand we'd eat. They call their liver mush liver pudding, but our family never used the pudding label. YUMMY! It’s a sausage-like dish, only so much better, sold only in North and South Carolina.

And she played games with us, like Tripoli—which was just like gambling, only we got to use her pennies, not our own. We felt very grown up! So YO HO HO and a Bottle of Rum to Nana on her 91st!

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has pirate jokes, in honor of today. Take a peek and try them out on your friends. Maybe you’ll get pieces of eight for your efforts.

Or to learn all about the holiday (really, is it a holiday?) hit the Talk Like a Pirate website, where the activity has passed “on fire” and is now “volcanic.” Check it out. It won’t cost you any dubloons!

So, avast ye, landlubbers and feel free to post any pirate jokes you know in the comments section.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Web site WOWs

Okay, maybe not WOWs, but I did do a little work on my web site. See the woes posting from last week.

The site definitely needs more, including a heavy dose of pizzazz. Unfortunately my web skills are enough for the basics but don’t stretch as far as bells and whistles.

Thanks to all the folks who looked it over and offered suggestions. I took many of them, which made it better still.

Take a look at the new and slightly improved Kennedy writing site and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm embarrassed I never read ...

A quickie today from the Washington Post book blog Short Stack, about books people are embarrassed not to have read.

I read a lot, though I've never been a huge fan of "important" fiction or the "classics."

But bless my heart, the book I'm most embarrassed, as a lifelong Southerner and lover of the movie, not to have read is Gone with the Wind.

I'll get to it. 'Cause tomorrow is another day!

So, tell me, what are you embarrassed to admit you've never read?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Web site woes

As a professional freelance writer and editor I have a web site. I’ve never mentioned it on this blog because I’m not thrilled with it. I put it together myself, and you can tell. It’s bland, but I always figured it did the job I needed it to do. It has writing samples, tells a little about the services I offer and has a link to this here blog—where lots more writing samples are available.

Now, though, I have an agent for a mystery I’ve written, Redneck Tarot. She’s trying to sell it. In order to help her do that, and I really want her to do that, I need a web site that reflects more of my fiction writing, rather than business writing. They are two entirely different animals. And yet, I can’t afford, at this point, to hire a fantastic web designer. Though I’ve found one I really like and drool over her work and wish that she were mine. The things she could do with Redneck Tarot cards.

Anyway, that’s a ways down the road. Meanwhile, I still need the business-like site. But a page with a brief synopsis of the book and some sort of intro that is much less businessy than the freelance pages would be great. I’d also like to post some of the Redneck Tarot cards—I don’t have pictures, but each chapter in the book starts with a description of a card and the divination. For example:

III Outside Women (The Empress)

Picture on the Redneck Tarot card: Three women in raggedy cut-off shorts and bright-colored tube tops. They’ve been generous in their application of makeup and have cigarettes dangling from their clown-red lips. They all have their fingers crooked as if calling you over.

Divination: Outside women are hussies, women a married man sees outside the bonds of matrimony. If this card turns up, you are in for a world of confusion. You’ve got a hankering for things you can’t seem to get, because you can’t put your finger on what it is exactly that you want.

Oh, and I want to do it all without having two sites to maintain.

Here’s the link. Be forewarned, it’s not great. But, maybe I get points for recognizing that and trying to make it better.

Any suggestions left in the comments area would be monumentally appreciated!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dead Aunt Karen or Happy Birthday to me

Today (September 3) is my birthday. It’s not a BIG ONE, though it’s big enough to suit me. We’re not doing anything very exciting—Wednesday birthdays don’t lend themselves to much in the way of going out or partying. Though I already got one present today-- Furry Happy Monsters. Guaranteed to wake you up happy!

But several years ago, when I experienced a BIG ONE, my sweet husband, Chris, threw me a surprise party that achieved its goal. I almost had a heart attack when I walked in the house (my sister, who was in on the whoop-de-do, had taken me out to lunch) to find 40 people dressed in their tropical finest, pina coladas in the blender, exotic eats and a mountain of gifts. It was great fun.

My sister, Susan, who got all the baking genes in the family, made me a cake. She got a “Barbie” from the dollar store, laid her out on the cake and wrapped her in a shroud. Susan said that she’d made the cake the day before and put it in the fridge. She then had to chase my then-three-year-old nephew out of the refrigerator until the party. He kept going in to gaze at the cake, lovingly I'm sure. The first time she asked what he was doing he said, “I’m staring at Dead Aunt Karen.” I was touched.

Following the party he carried Dead Aunt Karen around for weeks, until finally she really died. All of her limbs and even her head fell off, and she wasn’t as much fun anymore.

This year, Jake, the now-nine-year-old nephew, (no, that’s still not enough info for you to figure out how old I am) gets the real thing for my birthday, not the imitation Dead Aunt Karen. Chris and I are taking him to visit my parents this weekend. And while it’s my birthday, Jake has already put in his order for food and activities.

“Those 3-inch round steaks with the bacon around them (Mom made the mistake of fixing our little carnivore filet mignon one time. He’s never forgotten it, though he has trouble remembering the name.); chocolate meringue pie; and barbeque (which for those of you not from the South, means pork).”

After eating, he wants to “go to Moontown and fly in Papa’s plane. And don’t you have a museum here? (They live in Huntsville, Ala.) Let’s go there. And those caves we went to once. I want to go there again. And to the library, not that little one near your house, the big one. And can I get a movie and watch it while I eat my pie? I’ll sit on the floor on a towel so I don’t spill it on the rug. …”

While getting older doesn’t thrill me, I have to say, I’m glad I’m not Dead Aunt Karen. I’d hate to miss the fine food and activities that Mom and Jake have planned for my birthday weekend.

For a birthday party today, visit Rebecca's blog. It’s her birthday too, and she’s celebrating by breaking things. And leave a comment telling me about your favorite birthday memories. That’s all the present I need!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I hate moving!

You think moving a household (or a house, for that matter) is hard, try moving a business full of heavy equipment when you're too cheap to hire movers!

My husband owns 3-D Graphics & Printing, a large-format printing business. But just because it's HIS business, doesn't mean I'm uninvolved--and becoming more involved by the minute! Click here you'll see a photo of me holding up a very large aerial photo of Jacksonville Airport that we printed.

Anyway, I say all this to explain my blogging slackness--after trying to do better this month. I'm part of an online group that had an August Blog Challenge--to try to blog every day for a month. I didn't sign up to do it because we were out of town, had company, got found by a new cat (looks like his name will be Stewie, since his head is sort of football shaped, like the baby Stewie on Family Guy--a show I can't stand, by the way) and had this move scheduled. But I convinced myself I'd blog at least twice a week.

So, soon the move will be over. We have to be out of the old office space this week. And I'm sure Stewie will eventually get over the GOD-AWFUL diarrhea that has had the poor little demon locked in the Elvis bathroom for two days (because we spent a small fortune on cat medicine for a stray, free cat and he better get better!) and maybe life will calm down.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Crazy cat lady?

How many cats do you have to have before you become a crazy cat lady?

Six years ago, Miss Kitty appeared on our doorstep right before Christmas in the freezing cold. Our first cat (we're really dog people) she's with us still.

Last year about this time, Dusty Cat showed up in our yard. We were determined to keep him an outside cat, which was easy for me. He wasn't very nice at first. But then it got to be winter. Despite living in Georgia, we do experience winter. So, long about Christmas we got him neutered and brought him in the house. He's now about the sweetest cat I've ever seen. He seems, in fact, to think he's a dog. (It took Miss Kitty five months to come out of our bathroom. But now she likes Dusty Cat okay.)

Now, a really cute black cat, with a white spot on his chest and great, huge green eyes, has shown up. (All I can figure is word's gotten out in the kitty community that there's a crazy cat lady on the street, so drop by. She'll take you in.) He's small and friendly and now he's injured, probably from a fight. His face is swollen. He's hot--like with an infection. Chris (the otherwise fabulous husband) has been battling the adoption of this third cat. (We also have a dog, the Princess Prissy Pants, a Pomeranian.) But he admitted when he got home today that "other cat" needs to go to the vet. So, I guess he's ours now. Miss Kitty's going to hate him.

So, we have 3 cats, I guess, and 1 dog. But, I also have a husband. Do the dog and the husband balance out the 3 cats to keep me from being a crazy cat lady? The whole idea makes me nervous, but not nervous enough to not take Blackie/BullsEye/Snowflake/ whatever his name is, to the vet tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Meet Billy Poteet

Chris, another blogger/writer, posted this on her blog and challenged folks to introduce their characters--or think about the facts as they relate to their characters. So, here's a brief introduction to Billy Poteet, the 20-something-year-old sidekick in my as yet unpublished mystery Redneck Tarot.

Eight Character Facts

1. Your Character's Favorite Word:
Anything that rhymes and can be combined with "damn." Damn-spam is a favorite--and he doesn't mean the annoying e-mail kind of spam.

2. Your Character's Favorite Pastime:
Shooting televisions from the comfort of his outdoor recliners.

3. Your Character's Oddest Thought:
How many bites would you have to take of a cat before it died?

4. Your Character's Favorite Food or Snack:
Hamburgers and beer

5. Your Character's Worst Memory:
When his father died.

6. Your Character's Likes or Dislikes:
Billy likes the small, north Georgia town he lives in. He hates anybody messing with his friends or family.

7. Your Character's Favorite Dessert:
Chocolate cake that his mother made.

8. Your Character's Worst Moment:
When his twin brother Beau decided to leave home and go to college.

Feel free to share some facts about your fictional characters or maybe some of the real characters you know.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do not try this at home

No, I never claimed to be a good cook. But, honestly, any idiot ought to be able to bake a potato in the microwave.

Potato.blast

Get a load of the mess that appears when a potato explodes all over the oven! I swear I poked holes in it.

What the picture doesn't show is that the potato skin was completely empty. Every bit of the inside blew out, leaving a hard, crusty, empty shell.

It’s a good thing Chris can cook, or we’d be living on cold cereal and restaurant fare for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Word games bring new names

I was tagged to play this game, but maybe you're headed into the witness protection program or you've been asked to star in the next superhero movie. Sounds like fun, but you can't use your own name. The folks at your day job just wouldn't understand. This meme will help get those creative naming juices flowing.


1. Your real name:
Karen

2. Your Gangsta name: (first 3 letters of real name plus izzle)
Karizzle

3. Your Detective name: (fave color and fave animal)
Red Dog (sounds like a beer, to me!)

4. Your Soap Opera name: (your middle name and street you live on)
Ann Rich (Not terribly exciting. I"ll probably be killed off or at least go into a coma in the first season!)

5. Your Star Wars name: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name)
Kenka (Are you sure this isn't the porn name?)

6. Your Superhero name: (your 2ND favorite color, and favorite drink)
Pink Wine (What a weenie sounding superhero!)

7. Your Iraqi name: (2ND letter of your first name, 3rd letter of your last name, 1st letter of your middle name, 2ND letter of your moms maiden name, 3rd letter of your dads middle name, 1st letter of a siblings first name, and last letter of your mom's middle name)
Anaoesa (One more reason to be glad I wasn't born in Iraq!)

8. Your Witness Protection name: (parents' middle names)
Emma Neely (or Neely Emma)

9. Your Goth name: (black, and the name of one of your pets)
Black Prissy (A name that actually describes the dog, a black Pomeranian)


Feel free to share your own alter-egos' names! It's fun.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Top 5 reasons to find and stick with a critique group

Part II of my joining groups post:

Recently I’ve read blog posts and comments from writers who’ve had bad experiences with critique groups, including this one here. I just thought I’d share the other side of the experience. I’ve been in the same critique group more years than I like to think about, and I wouldn’t be a writer without them.

That said, here are my reasons for happily sticking with them:

No. 5
I’ve become a better writer for critiquing the work of other people. Part of my day job is editing newspaper and magazine copy, not books. By thinking about what works and what doesn’t work and why as I read other people’s fiction, I learn to recognize those same things in my own writing.

No. 4
They are all good at different things.

Carol can see the big picture. She moves sentences, paragraphs or even whole scenes around so that they make more sense or build more suspense than the way I had them.

Cindy, with her eye for detail, catches little mistakes, like if a car changes color or make from one page to the next, or if I use the same word too many times over a couple of pages or in a scene.

Jan’s background is business writing, she’s even taught it. There ain’t a grammar or punctuation rule she don’t know, and breaking one guarantees a mark from her blue pen. If it’s a rule broken on purpose, she’s OK with that. (For example, when setting a mystery in the Deep South, sometimes you have folks who say “ain’t” and “don’t.” See previous sentence but one. Bless her poor little Yankee heart, she finally got to where she could live with seeing the word “ain’t” without circling it.)

Kathy, whom I think of as the vampire in the group, likes to suck out anything extra—words, phrases, entire pages of dialog. Nothing is sacred when her red pen bleeds over the page.

No. 3
They are all professionals and behave as professionals. They recognize that the words are mine. They don’t try to change my “voice.” (A real challenge for a bunch of Yankees who were forced to read a manuscript called “Redneck Tarot,” not once, but several times. Actually, they taught me a lot about phrases and behavior that I thought was universal, but learned needed to be explained.)

No. 2
We are all happy for each other’s professional (and personal) successes, whether it’s finding an agent, getting that grant-writing job or having a poem published. Again, it’s a matter of being professional about what we do.

No. 1
We have become great friends. We have seen each other through divorce, illness, the death of one of our members, and the deaths of parents and children. But we’ve also enjoyed the good times: Christmas dinners, pictures and stories of trips to Italy, pride in each other’s accomplishments.

I recently got a real-live New York agent to represent “Redneck Tarot.” I couldn’t have done it without my patient, kind, smart, professional friends in the group known as the Thursday Night Slashers (except when we meet on Tuesdays). Thanks, y’all!

PS: If you’re interested in a critique group, try professional organizations as a starting point. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime. The other members of my critique group are all members or former members. If mysteries aren’t your thing, look around on the Internet for other professional organizations.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Sisters in Crime

In the last few days I’ve read several blog posts and comments about writer critique groups and professional organizations—some have been pro groups, some have been anti groups, often so opposed that I found myself wondering who had beat that person up so badly in a group setting.

I’ve been a member of Sisters in Crime (writers and readers of mysteries, not a merry band of female criminals) and a smaller critique group for many years and would not have gotten where I am today (granted, it’s not some high, exalted place, but still, I’m happy) without them.

So, without further introduction, here are my Top 5 Reasons for Joining and Sticking with Sisters in Crime. Tune in next time (either this weekend or Monday) for my 5 reasons for sticking with a critique group, which has occasionally been known as the Thursday Night Slashers, but generally isn’t really known as anything fancy.

No. 5
I’m not a joiner. I’m perfectly happy sitting at home in my pajamas (like right now, they’re bright green with flamingoes, how could I not be happy?) and writing about Redneck Tarot, Fiona and Eyeball Tate, and murder in the fictional town of Grand Junction, Georgia. But honestly, if you don’t ever go out and see other people, find out what they think and like and dislike and how they react to words and deeds, you can’t write well-rounded characters—or at least I can’t.

No. 4
The opportunity to meet smart, nice, supportive, interesting people. Sisters in Crime started in 1986 by women mystery writers who realized that women writers were paid less, reviewed less, and generally received less respect than male writers. And they got together to do something about it. Twenty+ years later Sisters in Crime is an international organization with thousands of members, both male and female, readers and writers, which offers support and encouragement to people from beginning writers to professionals who’ve written many books.

No. 3
The chance to hear fascinating speakers at our Atlanta Chapter meetings, from Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents who have walked us through fascinating cases to editors like Chris Roerden, who’s book “Don’t Murder Your Mystery” and talk to our group helped make my mystery “Redneck Tarot” something that a real-live New York agent agreed to represent.

No. 2
Introductions to writers and books I never would have found. Through Books in Print, the Sisters in Crime publication that lists members’ mysteries and mystery-related titles, the Sisters in Crime list-serv, at local chapter meetings and in talking with others who love to read mysteries, I have found writers and books that I never would have discovered if I’d stayed in my happy pj’s and never left the house.

No. 1
Mentors. Patricia Sprinkle a past international Sisters in Crime president who now lives in the Atlanta area and writes books that I enjoy and have bought for my mother and grandmother, and Kathryn Wall, Atlanta chapter member who writes the wonderful Bay Tanner mystery series, both read the first three chapters of my manuscript and offered invaluable suggestions for making it better.

No. 0 (I know, it’s really 6 reasons, but I write fiction, I don’t do numbers)
My critique group. I met them all through Sisters in Crime. More on them next time.

So, get out of your pjs and out of your house and find a group that can help to make your work better and your life much more interesting!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Beach car for the Burbs!

I'd never heard of Amphicars, cars that go on land and in the water, until I read my most recent Coastal Living magazine last night while waiting in the MommyVan (No, we don't have children, and I don't even drive the van. Chris, the male spouse in this marriage, drives the fairly beat up 1998 Windstar and dubbed it the MommyVan.) for Chris to pick up his 1976 pickup truck (we don't do new cars) that had to have transmission work. It wouldn't go in reverse; a real drawback in a longbed pickup!

Anyway, I've got to have an Amphicar. It's the perfect beach house in the burbs car--part convertible/part boat. My birthday's coming up in September. For those of you planning to get your shopping done early, this is what I want! I prefer the Fjord Green, but am willing to go with the blue or white in a pinch.

Get one for me and I promise to take you for a ride!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Human and Animal Waste Contamination!

These are not words you want to read in the same sentence with “beach,” especially when it’s the beach you are spending a week at, and the words are followed by the advisory, “don’t swim.” But it’s what we ran into on , an island off of Apalachicola, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. According to the nice man at the St. George Island State Park, this happens every year—YIKES!

We managed to have a good time anyway. Here’s a picture of my dad, on the eve of his 71st birthday, wearing his beach booties (he’s the only man I know who can call size 13 shoes “booties” with a straight face!) while walking his dog, Leroy. This was the day before the advisory went out. We didn’t get Dad or his booties back on the beach after this.

Dad & Leroy

When the beach outside our door became unavailable, we headed to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, about 45 minutes from St. George. It was a beautiful park. (Chris says all beaches look the same, water + sand, but I disagree. Some are cleaner--even without the “waste” advisory--others have dunes, some have clear, blue water.) St. Joe has a nice flat beach, high dunes covered with waving beach grass, and high winds. Chris reacted to the wind, which kept yanking his hat off (his head is shaved, so a hat is important) by pulling a MacGyver. He tied his hat strings to his bathing suit strings. Not a pretty look, but it kept his hat from flying off.

Chris plays McGyver

In other weird beach happenings, our 9-year-old nephew saw “the wrong end of a naked man” coming out of the water along Hwy. 98, between Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach, where the highway runs right beside the water. His only comment, said with eyes big as dinner plates, “Thank God it wasn’t a woman!” Despite our driving back and forth along that stretch of highway several times over the next few days, we never saw the naked man—wrong end or right!

Friday, July 25, 2008

What I did for my summer vacation

Our vacation is coming up (I thought it would never get here). And that got me to thinking about the best vacation I’ve ever had. It was a couple of summers ago when I went to Greece for three weeks. So, check out my vacation memories, then tell me about your own. Let us see the world from the comfort of our computers through your eyes.

The trip to Greece wasn’t a typical see-75-cities-plus-50-islands-in-three-weeks tour. I spent two weeks in Thessaloniki in northern Greece (with a weekend side trip to Crete), then a week on the volcano island of Santorini.

My husband, Chris, (who’s practically perfect in every other way) won’t fly. So, I have to find travel companions elsewhere. Fortunately I have a family (parents, sister) that I like and that likes to travel. My sister, an anthropology professor, travels to Greece almost every summer. Two years ago she taught in a study-abroad program in Thessaloniki. My mom and a friend of hers signed up for the program. My dad and I, who never took school nearly as seriously as did the other family members, decided we just wanted the trip, not the study.

While Susan and Mom taught and studied (Mom was determined to make an A, despite our pointing out that her permanent record didn’t matter so much in retirement) Daddy and I spent two weeks walking the interesting streets of Thessaloniki, where on one block you find ancient Roman ruins dating from the 700s, right next to a church from the 1000s, with 1960’s era highrise apartments overlooking them.

Thessaloniki street

Rotunda

On Crete we ate lunch one day in Mochlos overlooking the Aegean, just down from the taverna in the photo below. I never wanted to leave. It was the most relaxing, tranquil, beautiful place.

Mochlos, Crete


Fortunately we did leave (though it was tough). But if we hadn’t, we never would have gotten to Santorini, which is the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen. You stand on the rim of the caldera (the bowl that was left when the volcano erupted about 3,600 years ago) looking at the houses and buildings that cling to the nearly vertical sides and wonder how they were built and how people manage to get all of their belongings into those little structures when donkeys are the only things that can carry any sort of load through the town.

Fira

Bells of Oia

This year we’re off to St. George Island, Florida. A quiet little island (Can you tell I have a thing for islands?) off Apalachicola on the Florida panhandle. Not nearly as exotic as Greece, but you don’t have to fly there from Atlanta, so Chris is going.

Let us know where you’ve been or where you’re going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It’s all Greek to me

My sister just got back from the Greek island of Crete, where she spent a month “working.” She’s a physical anthropologist and was cataloging human skeletons—not very old ones by Greek standards, only 600-700 years!

Anyway, she brought us back this little painting on wood.

Kalimera

It says “good morning” in Greek. Pronounced ka-lee-MEH-ra. The traditional place to hang these, according to Susan, is over the bathroom mirror, where you will see it every morning. If we’d done that, it would have been butt up against the ceiling and tall as I am (5’10”) I never would have seen it. So we hung it between our bathroom mirrors. It makes me smile every time I see it. (The bathroom walls are pink, not purple, which is the color they look on my computer. Chris calls it Barbie's dream bathroom.)

Now, I mention all this Greek goodness to explain the new screen doors. See, we got a cat. New cat, Dusty, scared old cat, Miss Kitty—whose name ought to be scaredy cat, since she’s afraid of everything—so that Miss Kitty started going into the guest room and yakking on the carpet. After six years of blocking off the rooms with baby gates, Miss Kitty suddenly realized she could jump the gates.

With a beach house theme, I thought screen doors on the guest rooms were a great idea. But Chris, hubby and the one who’d have to install said doors, remained unconvinced. “Screen doors inside is just weird.” Until Kitty yakked once too often on the guest bed.

After finally agreeing to install the doors, he expected I’d paint them white. Now, we have a lot of white in our house: all the trim work, some beaded board wainscoting, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, so I’m not opposed to white. But these are screen doors, inside the house. They begged for something interesting to be done to them.

Taking my inspiration from Greece—Santorini, specifically, where I went with my sister to a conference a couple of years ago—I painted them blue. This photo is of a door in Santorini.

Santorini door

I love the screen doors. They keep the cats out; they keep the a/c flowing (we’ve had mildew problems); and they look great. So great, in fact, that even Chris likes them.

These are our screen doors:

Screen doors

And, yes, that is an Elvis shower curtain visible in the background. More on the Elvis bathroom in a later post.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

She knows whereof she writes

This blog post, Writing a Novel, A Love Story, from Libba Bray is hilarious about the ups and downs of writing a novel:

http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/36896.html

Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Letting light into the tomb

The first time we walked into our house, my reaction was, “Ohmygod, it’s dark as a tomb!” My second reaction was, “We can fix that.”

Kitchen into dining room

The house had 2 acres, nearly unheard of in the northern suburbs of Atlanta even 14 years ago, and a pool. With a remodeling contractor husband, Chris, I knew we could redo the eyesore of a house that came with the great piece of land.

The biggest project we tackled, and we’ve redone the entire house inside and out, was the kitchen. It sat in the middle of the house, dark and uninviting, walled off from the tiny dining room, with almost no counter space. Shortly after we moved in, the oven and the dishwasher both died.

We replaced the dishwasher immediately. I could live without an oven, but not without a dishwasher. In fact, we lived for five years with only an oven from the 1940s that one of my mother’s friends gave us. About the size of a large microwave, the oven lived in a separate room from the kitchen because it tripped the breaker if any lights or other appliances were used while it was on. We’d have to take a flashlight with us to check to see if the food was done, because if we turned on an overhead light, the breaker blew.

When we finally dived into the kitchen remodel, we lived without any cabinets, except for the one that held the sink, for a couple of years. But the wait was worth it. Chris built the new cabinets for us. They are 3” taller than standard. Chris and I are both 5’10” tall. While Chris calls the cabinets “freakishly tall,” I think he’s glad he added the height. I know I am!

I love the black grout with the white subway tiles. It doesn’t show a bit of dirt. And I’m even happy with the Formica countertops. One day we’ll upgrade to something else, I like the look of concrete counters, but for now, these look great.

Front window

We removed the walls separating the kitchen from the living room and dining room and expanded the kitchen into the breakfast area. It’s not a formal house, so we decided we didn’t need a formal dining room. One larger eating area is better than two small ones. The expansion gave us lots more counter and cabinet space, plus allowed room for an island that I don’t know how we’d have lived without.

The hardwood flooring, which we put down in the kitchen, living room, dining room, hall and master bedroom (the house is all on one level) was the hardest job of all. In fact, it nearly killed my dad, who graciously helped us lay the unfinished, tongue and groove oak. I thought maybe he’d never walk upright again, but he recovered, and still speaks to us.

Though the plan had been to paint the floors red—I’d seen a house in Architectural Digest many years ago that had red-painted floors and loved them—Chris couldn’t bring himself to do it. Once the wood was down, he liked it too much to cover it up. So, we stained it very lightly and coated it with polyurethane.

When the floor color changed, that meant the wall color had to change. We opted for Julep Mint, a Sherwin Williams color that seems to morph from blue to green depending on the light. It’s a perfect choice for a beach house in the ’burbs.

The walls came down

This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blackberry pickin' time


Every summer our yard turns into a jungle. With nearly two acres of trees, little grass, several hundred daylillies and a willingness to let it all be natural, by this time of year, the yard begins to look like no one could possibly live amongst all that greenery. And while I gaze at photos of beautifully manicured and landscaped plots and suffer pangs of garden envy, I get over it by picking blackberries throughout the month of July.

For those of you who've never picked blackberries, let me tell you, it's a challenge. Blackberry bushes have big, sharp thorns that prick at your clothes or bare legs. And they grow in the shade. You can't just stand at the edge of a blackberry thicket and pluck berries without getting dirty. Nope, you have to get in amongst the thorns, where chiggers and snakes like to live.

The first time I remember picking blackberries I was a teenager. My uncle had told me that snakes like to live where blackberries grow. My job, I decided, rather than actually picking berries, was to beat two sticks together and holler, "go away snakes," on a regular basis. My strategy worked. We didn't see a single snake that day.

I'm not quite as vocal now in my snake-shooing. But I do wear shoes and socks and keep one eye on the ground at all times, looking for anything that slithers. A jungle like ours could comfortably harbor serpents the likes of which haven't been seen since the garden of Eden.

It's worth the scratches, the chigger bites and the fear every time I pop one of these homegrown berries into my mouth. I guess as long as blackberries are the payoff, I'll admire landcaped yards in photos and keep the jungle we call home.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oldest Living Blogger

Olive Riley, who has been called the oldest living blogger, died over the weekend at a nursing home in Australia. I confess I wasn't familiar with Ms. Riley or her blog  until I read about her death this morning. And I don't feel sad about her passing. I didn't know her. She was 108. It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. What I feel is uplifted by her life.


My 90-year-old grandmother (a spring chicken compared to Ms. Riley) is in a nursing home. She had a stroke several years ago. But even before that horrible event, it seemed that her willingness to expand herself and her world had faded. We tried to get her interested in email--she has children and grandchildren scattered around the country--or books on tape--she loved to read, but her eyes were failing her--but she couldn't summon any interest in new technologies that might have helped make her days better. Now, she's not in the physical condition to learn anything new. And it makes me wonder. Do people who remain connected to the world around, who continue to learn new things and stay interested in others, who maintain an open heart and upbeat attitude live longer, happier, healthier lives? 


Maybe Olive Riley wasn't happy. I don't know. But it appears she was. Her final blog post mentions singing a happy song with one of the nurses and other residents. I find that inspirational and not a bad way to go out. 

Friday, July 11, 2008

My day job

When people ask what I do, I have the hardest time answering. I've said, "depends on what day it is," and "if it's Tuesday, I must be a writer." But neither of those really say enough about the fun I have on a daily basis.

Take today, for example. Today I was doing manual labor in an un-air conditioned warehouse in Georgia in July, on the production end of my husband's large-format printing business. (I'd link to his web site, but it's under construction. When it's up, I'll post it.) Not only does he print really big stuff--signs, posters, museum exhibits, etc.--he also has an enormous CNC router--a computer-run router for cutting shapes out of wood, plastic, sign board, all kinds of materials. Today I was running the router, cutting life-size superhero shapes out of this lightweight plasticy/foam boardy stuff, that I'm sure has a name. I don't know what it is.

You more astute readers will be saying to yourselves, "She ain't doing that now. Now she's blogging." (Though maybe the more astute of you wouldn't use the word "ain't.") Yes, I'm blogging, something I've been meaning to do for days. And it's all because the coupling broke on the router. There I was, pushing the buttons, making the router bit go, when it stopped cutting all the way through the material.

So, now I'm waiting, on Friday afternoon, of course, because these things always happen on Friday--unless they happen on the weekend--for Chris (the husband, man of my dreams) to find a new coupling (coupler, one of those). You'd think if one could be found anywhere in the world, you could find it in the Atlanta area. But not so far. And of course the work must be finished and delivered to the customer by Monday. Which means we'll work all weekend, if Chris can find the part.

Which gets us back to what I do and how I answer that question. I work with Chris at 3-D Graphics & Printing probably 20 hours a week or so, including lots of weekends, because Chris is a workaholic. (Don't let him hear you say that, he'll just deny it as he speeds by on his way to the office.)

Other times I'm a freelance writer, mostly for Georgia Trend, a business/economic development magazine in Georgia. I spent one day this week in Hall County, Georgia, doing research for a magazine piece--but that's another blog post.

And in my spare time I write mysteries. I've just gotten a real live New York agent, who's trying her mightiest to sell Redneck Tarot. I just know she is. And when that happens, I'll have an easy answer when someone asks me what I do, because mystery writer will move to the tip of my tongue.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No, it's not a pond!



But try telling that to the Canada geese who took up residence on our pool this spring. We had some trouble with the pump that keeps water off the pool cover during the winter—the trouble was it quit working and we never replaced it. So disgusting brown, pond-like water filled the pool. When we took the cover off, I couldn’t blame the geese, it looked like a pond to me too.

A pair of geese has rested on our neighbor’s pond (a real one, not a pool) for years. But this year with the drought in Georgia, I guess their pond didn’t look as inviting. The couple didn’t bypass it completely, but they seemed to look on our pool as their vacation pond. They’d mostly hang out next door, then when they needed a break from the old home place, they’d head to our pool.

Or it could have been the vicious Pomeranian, Princess Prissy Pants, who lives at our house that kept the geese at bay. She enjoyed barking at them, but actually never got too close. Though they should have been used to attacks by small dogs—our neighbors have two Chihuahuas, which by weight almost equal our Pom.

But fun with wildlife in the pool didn’t end with the geese. On day two after uncovering the pool, action-hero Chris (my husband) rescued a pitiful drowning chipmunk from the murky water. He fished him out with the net, dried him (or her, how do you tell with a chipmunk?) off with a towel, then when the little thing still didn’t seem to be recovering fast enough to suit the man of steel, Chris got the hair dryer and gave the critter a blow dry, a haircut would have been extra. The chipmunk recovered and scampered off to the soothing tones of YAP! YAP! YAP! from the resident yap dog.

A drowned rat (literally, nothing figurative about the way it looked) was next. But since that doesn’t have a happy ending, I won’t go into detail.

We’re planning the first human swimmers this weekend, provided the chemicals have finished doing their job on the goose poop, chipmunk fur and general dead-rat ookiness.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brrr!

So the guy came out Saturday to look at the furnace, declared that the blower motor had burned out, and we'd have to wait until Monday to get a new one--it being Easter weekend and all. And that will be one finger and three toes for the good news.

Fortunately, this being the South, it wasn't miserably cold on Easter. Though we woke up to 55 degree temps in the house Sunday morning. By keeping a fire going in the traditional wood burning fireplace in the great room all day and having 17 people huddled in front of it drinking hot chocolate, we managed to get it to about 70 degrees. Warmer than we keep the thermostat.

We hid eggs, ate too much, including the cutest cake shaped like a lamb. It was red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, so looked just like lamb brains and innards when we cut into it. It inspired many gross comments, but tasted great!

So, while all the chaos was going on at our house, our cat, Dusty Cat, disappeared. He tends to do that when we have kids over (we don't have any of our own) or my parent's dog, Leroy, the killer shitz zu, visits, because he barks at Dusty. We couldn't find him Sunday night when we went to bed and usually he senses when everyone leaves and hurries home, but not always. So we weren't really worried. But yesterday it was cold outside and windy and he still didn't reappear. And we did begin to worry.

Meanwhile, a different guy from the heating and air company came to fix the blower motor and discovered that it was fine. The circuit board had actually burned up==he showed it to me. He managed to get the heat on, which the guy on Saturday should have been able to do, he said. But had to go back to the shop for the right part. So late yesterday afternoon, after shelling out the rest of my fingers, 2 arms and 3 legs (I had to get one of Chris's) we got heat. Just in time for sub-freezing temps last night! Yippy!

So last night as we were getting ready for bed, Chris tiptoed out in his jammies, bathrobe and stocking cap (he's got a shaved head) and heard Dusty meowing, faintly. Chris called me out and with flashlights we looked all around, listening to him cry, but he wasn't getting any closer.

Chris finally managed to catch Dusty's eyes in his flashlight--he was trapped in the crawlspace of our neighbors' house! They are adding a master bedroom to the front of their house, which faces the back of our house sort of catty-cornered. Their house is at the back of their 2-acre lot, across a small pond from us. So, it's a long way from our fence to their house. And because they aren't moved into the new bedroom yet, they couldn't hear Dusty crying.

We wandered over, me in my jammies and a coat, just to confirm that's where he was, and sure enough, we saw him looking out at us. But the door to their crawl space is right under their current bedroom window and we were afraid they'd shoot first and ask questions later if they heard people breaking into the crawl space at midnight. So, we walked back home and called the neighbors--all their lights were out, so it looked like they weren't up. Fortunately we know them very well.

Don met us at the crawl space door in his jammies and bathrobe and we got Dusty out of the crawl space. Don said Dusty had to have been in there since shortly after lunchtime on Sunday. That's when Don had noticed the door open and closed it. I swear Dusty had lost weight. He seemed lighter weight when I picked him up, which wasn't until we got to back to our house. He raced ahead of us, looking back every now and then to be sure we were coming. Soon as we opened the front door, he ran to his food and yowled for chow. Poor little guy.

This morning he was ready to go out again, but I couldn't do it. It's only 30 degrees here this morning and I didn't want to worry about him again!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter!

Well, I'm a day late, but the sentiment is sincere. We had a really nice Easter, which was a surprise given that we had no heat and 17 people at our house for Easter dinner!

My parents arrived Friday to spend the weekend. Friday night after dinner, we were playing cards and started smelling something like electrical burning. It was in what we call the red room (formerly a garage, now an office/den). We wandered all around the room, sniffing and feeling outlets to see if they were hot. The electrical box is out there, it wasn't hot either. We couldn't find anything. We went back to playing cards and the smell got worse. We all got up and tried the sniff and search again. Still nothing. By the time it got to be bedtime, the smell was not as strong, so we didn't worry too much about it.

Saturday morning I woke up cold. That doesn't often happen. We have a programmable thermostat set for the temp to go up in the mornings. I pulled on my big fuzzy robe and went to look at the thermostat. It said the temp was 59 degrees in the house and the heat wasn't on. Chris was already up, but he had both his laptop and one of our cats in his lap, so he hadn't noticed that it was cold in the house.

So, here we are, Easter weekend, 17 people coming for dinner on Sunday, my parents spending the weekend with us, and no heat. I made coffee while Chris checked on the thermostat (Maybe it was the batteries. Nope, not that.) and the furnace (The blower wasn't blowing.). And the coffee maker overflowed coffee-ground filled black sludge all over the kitchen counter. The day was just getting better and better.

About the time I got the mess cleaned up and a new pot on, Chris figured out he couldn't fix the furnace and started making phone calls. He actually found somebody who'd come out on the Saturday of Easter weekend without charging us an additional arm and leg (on top of the regular arm and leg for a service call). Turns out this was because he didn't know what he was doing!

We have heat now, but had to give up all of our limbs to get it! More on the saga tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Last one on KTW, I promise!

Our Selma, Alabama, tour picks up at the library.

I swear, this will be my last post on this. It was just such a great weekend I couldn’t resist reliving it!

We didn’t get to see the Kathryn Tucker Windham Conference Room at the Selma Public Library, a meeting was in progress. But we didn’t need to see inside the room named for Miz Windham to recognize her influence. First, every person we saw in the beautiful, well-appointed, book-filled library knew who she was the second we walked through the door. Second, paintings and photographs of her fill the space. Third, she knew every inch of building, from the offices to the children’s room. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated money for computers for the library, she told us. And even visited Selma to present the money. They stayed at the St. James Hotel, an old hotel recently renovated, according to Miz Windham. Overlooking the river, the hotel has balconies and ironwork, which make it look like something from New Orleans.

After the library we took a quick driving tour of the rest of Selma—both the good parts and the not-so-good parts. Miz Windham is obviously interested in all things about her town, including architecture. We saw a lovely section of beautifully restored 19th century homes and an area where gentrification is coming more slowly, but where the frame houses, many with gingerbread trim, often have stars carved in the eaves or over the doors. She’s tried as long as she’s lived in Selma to find out what the stars mean or who added them to the trim work, but she still doesn’t know and says most people don’t even seem to notice them. Daddy was driving too fast for me to get pictures of any stars. By this time he was becoming worried that we wouldn’t get Miz Windham to Huntsville in time for dinner at the church and we’d be barred from town for life for making her late.

Charlie Lucas, a folk artist who does a lot of metal sculpture is her neighbor. He wasn’t home, but she said he wouldn’t mind if we looked through his backyard, which is filled with sculpture—a Trojan horse, an ironing board with mop-hair and a face, among other equally interesting things. I think he’d be great to have for a neighbor, but I live in a neighborhood where nobody much bothers anybody else about what they have in their yards. He probably wouldn’t be real popular in some of the newer subdivisions with covenants about how long your trashbin can stay by the street.

She has several pieces of his in her house, including a really cute camel made from railroad ties, a sculpture of a soldier going off to war—and because war can make you cry, he’s carrying a windshield wiper to wipe away the tears—it’s a fabulous piece, and a painting of Miz Windham dancing in a blue dress, looking joyous.

But finally it was time to start home. Fortunately we had a storyteller in our midst to keep the miles flying by. She tells about growing up in Thomasville, Alabama, a small town about 60 miles from Selma. She tells about Gee’s Bend, where the beautiful and unusual quilts that have been shown at the High Museum here in Atlanta, among other places around the country, were created. It’s a tiny black community that for decades was cut off from the rest of the world because of its location on a tiny piece of land in a bend of the Alabama River. The lack of a bridge or ferry service across the river made it an hour drive just to get to the county seat.

She then spent the weekend telling listeners in Huntsville some of the same things that she’d told us in the car. But it didn’t matter one bit. Like little children who want to hear the same story over and over, I could listen to her stories again and again. They make you laugh and think and remember and grateful to be alive.

Friday, March 07, 2008

“Who is she?”



Obviously after just a couple of days—though I’ve heard Miz Windham tell stories for years and read “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” as a kid (it was practically required reading in Alabama, where I grew up, filled with great, creepy stories)—I don’t know all about who she is. But she manages to give quite a bit of herself away in a short amount of time.

She’s a woman who’s lived through a lot—in her town and in her personal life—and yet she appears to have come through it thinking the best of people and demanding the best of herself.

We stopped at the Live Oak Cemetery after lunch. According to Miz Windham, Selma is the northernmost point where Live Oaks will grow. They are scattered throughout this beautiful cemetery that looks like it ought to be in Savannah or Charleston rather than an inland Alabama town. They’ve been burying folks in Live Oak since the early 1800s—back when they knew how to bury their dead. I’ve included a photo of one of the more spectacular monuments, for Drury Fair Jones, who was buried in 1878.

I had no idea Spanish moss grew on anything but Live Oaks, but the azaleas (which were not blooming this time of year) and the camellias (which were blooming beautifully, see the second photo) were dripping with the grey-green moss. I could have spent all day wandering around.

But we had other places to go. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the Bloody Sunday Civil Rights March, 43 years ago this week, was on our list of must-sees. The bridge is longer than we expected, with a “memorial” on the side outside of town. I put memorial in quotes, because it does little to honor the dignity of the marchers with its rundown, almost tacky, brick-set plaques. The bridge was actually named long before it became infamous for a Confederate general, who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and is buried in Selma. I like to think he’s rolling over in his grave at Live Oak.

Next up, the library, with its Kathryn Tucker Windham Conference Room, among other goodies. But that’ll have to wait until later.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kathryn Windham, from Selma, Alabama

At storytelling festivals that's the only way Miz Windham wants to be introduced: her name and where she's from. But I want to tell a little more about her, in case you don't know who she is. Because I got to spend much of last weekend with her and enjoyed every minute of it.

Sometimes when you meet someone you’ve admired, you find you don’t admire her as much anymore. Their humanity shows, with all of its warts and blemishes, leaving you feeling a little disappointed.

Kathryn Tucker Windham, a storyteller, writer and photographer from Selma, Alabama, who (whom?, I never know) I have admired for years, wasn't like that. I came away from the weekend not only not disappointed, but inspired to write more, tell stories more and find ways to be a better person. Pretty powerful stuff to pick up from a woman who will be 90 in June.

She was one of the featured storytellers at a storytelling festival in Huntsville, Ala. My parents and I were assigned the enviable task of driving from Huntsville to Selma (about 3.5 hours) to pick Miz Windham up on Friday. But this wouldn’t be a quick down-and-back trip. Miz Windham has lived in Selma for 53 years and is proud of her town. She wanted to show it off to a couple of first-time visitors. (My dad had been there before, but Mom and I never had.)

We were reluctant to leave her house—which is like the best kind of museum. A collection of interesting photos, some of her with famous folks from Alabama, some she’d taken; of paintings and other art people had given her (her neighbor is folk-artist Charlie Lucas); of the fake leg with the fake blood coming out the top that she talks about in her stories; of quilts from a quilter in Gees Bend, Alabama. But she assured us we’d have time for the tour after we got back from lunch—at the best barbeque place in the world.

While Hancock’s barbeque was good, I’m not sure it’s the best I’ve ever eaten. But it was obviously a favorite of Miz Windham’s. They all knew her in there. She told us a story (she told stories all day, making the tour and the drive home fly by) about how one week she’d had a newspaper reporter come interview her on Monday and she’d taken him to Hancock’s for lunch. On Tuesday she had a different reporter come, and she took him. On Wednesday a friend from her college (she went to Huntingdon) came, and she took him to lunch at Hancock’s. And on Thursday yet another reporter ate lunch with her at Hancock’s. The same new waitress served her and her male guests all four days. After lunch on Thursday, the owner, a woman Miz Windham knows, walked up to her, smiling. “The waitress just came back and said, ‘That woman’s been in here every day this week with a different man. Who is she?’”

More about who she is in the next couple of days.