Friday, June 28, 2013

If you don't have anything nice to say...say something anyway!'ve been writing this blog off and on for two months now and I THINK, given my complete inability to work so much as a microwave (I don't own one) that I never activated the place on my blog to post comments. I think I have now so...

    ...please post a comment.

    I've had a tough week and really, anything would cheer me up. First, I left my wallet in a restaurant (very honest staff at Maggie McFly's in Southbury, Ct. had it waiting for me when I made the 2-hour round trip drive to retrieve it). This was the good part of the week. You know it was a bad week when this was the good part.

     Then my daughter came down with a virus and spent the next 48 hours glued to the television watching reruns of Victorious and Zoe 101. (Even I can recite the episodes at this point).

     Then somebody hacked one of my credit cards and charged $4,000 worth of stuff. The worst part of it was, they didn't even charge anything worthwhile. I mean, if you're going to take a chance on an extended stay at a bed-and-barbed-wire, couldn't it be for something a little more imaginative than a bunch of visits to Wendy's and a couple of shopping sprees at Target?

     Honestly, thieves have no creativity! If I had carte blanche with someone's credit card, I'd take myself to Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands, host a dinner for ten at the 21 Club in New York City, go to a ridiculously overpriced day spa and buy all the creams to take home.

      Then again, with the cost of my kid's dental checkups, maybe I'd just get a good tooth cleaning.



Friday, June 21, 2013

Encouraging Words manuscript is circulating. Seventeen days and no word. I know in my head that this process will take AT LEAST a month and could take A YEAR (yikes!). But in my heart, I'm dealing with it like I have a plastic bag over my head with minutes of oxygen left.

     In my efforts to distract myself (aside from writing, which is never quite the distraction I hope it will be) I'm scouring the internet for inspiration. But I'm finding things like...



     So much for inspiration.

     I found an article on one of my favorite websites: about famous authors whose books took a long time to sell. Figured that would cheer me up.

     Not so fast...

     I read about John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and was published in 1980...

     ....ELEVEN YEARS after the author committed suicide after a five-year battle to get his book into print.

     On this cheery note, I emailed my forever supportive son about Toole.

     His reply:

     "Don't worry, Mom. That won't happen to you."

     I hope he's referring to the suicide part. Then again, it's more likely he's referring to my chances of ever winning a Pulitzer....


Monday, June 17, 2013

The People Behind the Stories

I posted this piece today on:


It's a fascinating blog penned by a lot of terrific mystery writers. Check it out. Here's my post:

   I’m reading a really great mystery novel by Paul Levine at the moment called Illegal.  But what first struck me about the book, before I ever got to the story, was the dedication:
    To the woman carrying a rucksack, clutching her child’s hand and kicking up dust as she scrambled along a desert trail near Calexico, California.
     I love that dedication because it reminds me that sometimes an inspiration for a story is nothing more than an image you can’t shake. The only way to make sense of it is to write about it.
     My first three mysteries were set in the FDNY where my husband is a chief. Yet ironically, the image I couldn’t shake didn’t come from him, perhaps because I was too close to the story to see it. It was the late 1990s. I was working as a writer for Reader’s Digest and my editor asked me to spend three or four shifts (called “tours”) riding with the FDNY for a day-in-the-life story for the magazine.
     I got clearance to ride with a rescue company—an elite unit that handles large fires and rescue operations throughout the five boroughs of New York City. As the only woman in an all-male firehouse, I got a quick education in how to “blend in:” get in and out of the bathroom quickly (and don’t put too much faith in the latch on the door). Get comfortable with being dirty and tired. And make sure you’re not the last one on the rig when a run comes in.
     I did four night tours—6 p.m. to 9 a.m.—over the course of two weeks and developed a reputation for being “a white cloud.” That’s what they call a firefighter who never seems to catch a job. All the major fires and emergencies kept happening when I wasn’t there. But this gave me a chance to get to know the men and hear their stories.
      I soon learned that one of the officers in the company had lost his firefighter brother, a father of three, in a deadly blaze in Queens two years earlier. On one of those long, sleepless “white cloud” tours, the officer opened up to me about the night he was yanked from duty, informed of his brother’s death and then asked to break the news to his brother’s wife. He showed up at their house in the middle of the night and found the whole place lit up like a Christmas tree.
     She already knows, he thought. Why else would all the lights be on at 2 a.m.? And then he realized something worse: his sister-in-law kept all the lights on every night his brother wasn’t there.  She couldn’t bear the darkness when he was gone. And here he was, standing on her doorstep, bringing her a lifetime of darkness.
     Even though I was married to a firefighter, I had never allowed myself to picture such a moment. But that image of the house lit up like a Christmas tree spoke to me deeply, both as a writer and the wife of a firefighter. I knew I had to tell that story—not directly perhaps, but in a way that would capture the uncertainty firefighters and their families face consciously or (in my case) unconsciously every day.
     I ended up writing three mystery novels about life and death in the FDNY. Now I’m working on a mystery series that concerns undocumented immigrants in suburban New York. This series also began with a moment. For several years, I had been working with immigrant outreach organizations near my home, helping to write the real-life stories of undocumented Latinos. During this time, I was introduced to a Guatemalan man in his late 20s who had nearly died of dehydration on two separate border crossings. I found myself riveted by his description of those harrowing journeys. Machetes held to his throat. Pistols pointed at his head. Desperate moments in the desert when he was reduced to drinking his own urine to survive.
     But what really struck me were the circumstances that led to his second border crossing. He and his kid brother were living in suburban New York at the time. It was winter. Jobs were scarce. A garment wholesaler offered them temporary work in New England sewing clothes. After two weeks, with their wages in their pockets, they were ready for the trip back to New York. To celebrate, the kid brother ordered Chinese takeout—chicken and broccoli—to be delivered to the motel where they were staying. By the time the food came, the brother had fallen asleep so the man went downstairs to pay for the food. Instead of a Chinese delivery clerk, he was met by immigration agents who arrested him, shipped him off to a detention center and eventually deported him back to Guatemala. (His brother, by the way, slept blissfully through the whole ordeal and never got arrested or deported).
     Imagine your whole life being upended over an order of Chinese takeout! Imagine having the courage and determination to undertake that dangerous, brutal, near-death journey all over again. (Not to mention still being on speaking terms with your brother afterwards.)
     There are writers who could think up these situations out of thin air. Maybe it’s because I started out as a journalist, but my inspiration almost always comes from real people. Their stories keep me honest. And forever indebted.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I Love Yoda

     I was never a big fan of the Star Wars movies, but there was a wonderful scene I loved in The Empire Strikes Back. It's when the Jedi master, Yoda, a tiny Gremlin-like character, is training his whiny pupil, Luke Skywalker.
     Luke's spaceship has been lodged in the swamp and Luke must summon his Jedi powers to get it out. Luke has never moved anything larger than a few stones this way. He complains that moving a whole spaceship is impossible. Yoda tells him the only difference is in his mind.
     "I'll give it a try," Luke offers.
     "No," says Yoda emphatically. "Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."
     I love these words, even if they did come from a syntax-challenged gnome pushing 900 years of age. "Try" is such a non-comittal word. It implies effort while divesting itself of results. Would we remember the names of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Alexander Fleming and Jonas Salk if they merely tried to accomplish their achievements?
     Try is good. Every great achievement has many tries behind it. But try has no currency in itself. Try is the warm up to "do." I tell my kids this all the time. I tell myself this, too.
     Then again, Yoda had more than eight centuries to perfect his wisdom. Now, if he could just work on his grammar.
     I will not "try" to write today. I will just do it!