My Blog

Something to Savor

firefoxscreensnapz023I just finished Susan X Meagher’s Chef Special for a second time. Full disclosure, I was lucky enough to beta read it last summer, and so this time I just got to savor it – both for the food and the romance. As an author who hasn’t been writing long, I continually want to improve. So I listen to my editor, who is full of all sorts of wisdom, and try to read authors who are at the top of their game. Today, all my Christmas shopping done, I settled into a chair by the tree and dove in. As I swiped through the ebook on this cold, rainy day, I noticed all the things that Susan does so well.

First, she really immerses you in the characters lives, hopes and dreams. She makes sure by the end of the story that you get what makes Blake and Emily tick. After a while, I felt as if I was reading about people I actually knew and not, as sometimes is the case, just one-note characters who exist only to push the story along. I didn’t agree with everything that Blake and Emily did, but I understood why and that, to me, is a much bigger compliment.

Second, I read somewhere that the truth of a story lies in the details. Whoever said this must have read Susan’s books. Her details jump off the page and draw you in. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cooking in a professional kitchen, eating at a  Korean restaurant or struggling to date your boss. I know it sounds hokey ( and I’m sure Susan could write this sentence better), but I really felt like I was there. Five stars!

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Another full disclosure ( so I guess the first one was only half disclosure?) I’ve known Susan for many years. She is funny, generous, a wonderful friend and cook. Now I will add excellent teacher to that list. I’ll certainly be a better writer for all the fun I had today.

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The Real Gold in the Rainbow Awards

Runner-Up.jpgWednesday night I’m cooking dinner for my family—a nice winter vegetable soup with feta cheese and fresh basil—and the only thing I’m paying attention to is my laptop on the counter. The results for the Rainbow Awards are posting. Up they come, one category at a time, until the Best Lesbian Contemporary & Erotic Romance pops on the screen.  Heartwood, my second novel, is 4th! Right behind some of the best authors in the business. And then the Best Lesbian Book Category appears. I’m so new to the award circuit that I didn’t even know this was an award. OMG! Seriously? I’m a runner-up on this list too?

I stand there alone in the kitchen, letting this amazing news sink in, before I run to tell my family. On my way to the other side of the house, I realize that, really, I was a winner the moment I entered my book. As you might already know, the Rainbow Awards are special. Elisa, who devotes most of her free time for ten months to run the awards, wants “to spread the spirit of giving throughout all the awards”. She tries to spotlight as many submissions as she can by posting about honorable mentions, finalists, runner-ups and winners. More significantly, however, there is no submission fee. She’s created a list of LGBT non-profit charitable organizations, and since she doesn’t want to be the one who decides where the money goes, she trusts the authors to find the charity which speaks to them. This year alone, she raised over $14,000 for these worthy causes. A win-win for everyone.

PreviewScreenSnapz007.jpgThis summer when I was looking to enter Heartwood, I scanned the list and found the Los Angeles LGBT center. There were so many worthwhile organizations that it was hard to choose, but this one is in my backyard and so, in the end, it was easy to make a donation. I quickly fell into the community. I joined the near 90,000 followers on Facebook, found out two of my close friends were high-level sponsors, and attended a recent volunteer orientation to see how I could get more involved. Yes, I had won long before Elisa posted her 2016 lists.

Participation in the awards invites authors everywhere to pay it forward to our community. This is the real pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Awards. No matter what I write, I’ll be entering the contest every year from now on!

Rocks in the Water

Lord of the Flies is one of my all-time favorite books. Yes, I know it’s crazy. That I, a writer of romance and happily ever afters, love a book about a bunch of privileged white boys who crash on an island, throw off civilization, and set out to destroy each other. I could give a million reasons why the book works for me. Golding writes like an angel. He delivers such a thoughtful study of human nature and the evil, he believes, that lies in mankind’s heart—but wait—I’m drifting—that’s another blog.

Why I am thinking about Lord of the Flies now is one scene early on in the book. Roger, not one of the main characters, is walking along the beach looking for something to do. He comes across another kid swimming in the ocean. And if I remember correctly, Roger hides behind a palm and throws stones at the kid in the ocean. He doesn’t hit him; he just throws the rocks around the boy, because he is testing the waters, so to speak. To see if anyone will come running out to tell him to stop. To see if the old rules, don’t throw rocks at people, still apply. No one does. This knowledge allows Roger much later in the book to throw a much larger rock at another character and murder him. As I said up front, it’s a very brutal book.

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I was on Facebook recently and among all the horrible and sad posts of the aftermath of November 8th was this one. A friend wrote that her nephew, who carries a Mexican surname and is one-quarter Latino, was told by his lab partner at a middle school in the Midwest that the nephew was too lazy to be a good partner. And that the other boy would do all the work himself. As I clicked the red scowly face, I realized that here was another example of life imitating art. The white lab partner was testing the waters. Now that everyday racism and bigotry seem to be mainstreamed, he was seeing, just like Roger, what he could get away with.

 

Of course, my heart broke for my friend’s nephew. I am sure that this will not be his last negative experience in the trying times ahead. I hope he has the support at home and at school to allow him to move beyond these and other senseless comments. But I am just as worried for the lab partner. Did anyone step up to really explain why what he said is so dangerous?

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I worry that a teacher just threw him that look, stop disrupting my class, and did not deal with the underlying issue. I worry that schools these days are so concerned with litigations and parent complaints that they will sweep these issues under the carpet or maybe even tell the teachers that they must embrace the uniqueness of each child. (This last one I know to actually be true). I worry that teenagers who are testing limits in general (and should be, I have a teenager myself) will see Trump’s victory as carte-blanche to throw as many rocks as they can to see if anything happens when they land. I worry that eventually, they will make their way to bigger boulders that will do much more damage.

 

The good news is that our nation and our LGBTQ community is not a bunch of boys on an island who just want to have fun without rules. We are, I hope, millions of thoughtful people who can and will step up when we see one person attacking another by truly educating both sides and guiding each to empathy and respect. I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this, and I know that everyone who is angered by the results of the election will deal with it differently. But hopefully, once the shock dies down, we will all act and not just fall back into our lives. And finally, I hope when the middle school boys are old enough to vote, they will find more common ground and fewer rocks.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

A few years ago, I’m sitting in my kitchen at the computer, writing. It’s not that late, but we live in the hills away from city lights, so it’s dark. The rest of my family, even the dog, is on the other side of the house. As fate has it, I’m writing a ghost story. Yes, I’m impressionable. My wife would even call me gullible. And I’ll be the first to admit that my mind is already full of ghouls and spirits, but I stand by what happened next…

I’m typing away with my back to the room when I feel something rush behind me. Low to the ground and about the shape of a medium-sized dog. I wait for our poodle to thrust her head into my lap. But she doesn’t, and when I turn around to look for her, nothing’s there. “Okay, that’s weird.” I think.  So weird, in fact, I get up to see if Ellie has shot right through the den. Nope. Empty. Not even the moon shines into the darkened room.

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I throw myself back into the story. My son’s asleep in his bedroom and my wife is watching TV in ours. The moments I have to write in this house are so rare that I don’t want to waste a second. Then, ten or fifteen minutes later I became aware that someone is standing at the entrance to the kitchen watching me. I’m so into my work, the presence filters into my consciousness slowly. I turn expecting my wife.  She’s wonderfully supportive of my writing and often stands right there at the edge of the kitchen waiting for a good time to interrupt.

It’s not her. It’s a man-shaped shadow with long limbs and a thick torso. No features, but he’s wearing a wide brim hat. He stands casually, back on his heels, as if he’s content just to observe me. I freeze and adrenalin washes through my body. There’s a fricken ghost in my kitchen!

FirefoxScreenSnapz029.jpgIf I were writing this as fiction, at this point, I would have the ghost do something that kick starts a plot—  shout out a warning, chase me into the next room, drop a keepsake on the counter to drag me into a mystery. But this story is true. He just stares back at me until he quietly fades away. Stupidly like every bad horror movie, I rush into the dining room. I look out the picture window. No explanation there. No one’s walking outside, no car lights throwing shadows into the house. My wife, also, is no help. “Your imagination is too good. You’re writing a ghost story. What’d you expect?” She loves me, but she doesn’t go in for ghosts and all that stuff. I let her get back to CSI and her TV crush, Marg Helgenberger.

The shadow man never comes back. Still, I’m freaked out enough to take a few days off from writing alone at night. A while later, almost the same time I stop thinking about my ghost man, my son and I take the dog for a walk. We’re puffing up a steep hill when my son, who’s around seven at the time, slides his hand in mine and says, “The shadow man doesn’t come to my room anymore.”

My son had seen him too. He was watching all of us…

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Apparently, I am one of those people

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Apparently, I am one of those people: who has a blog but never writes for it. This is so unlike me. I’m the kind of person who RSVPs to invitations way before the deadline and always tries to return a phone call or an email as soon as I can. So why did I post one short blog about The Gift, my first stand-alone short story, and then leave the website hanging?

I don’t know.

It’s not like I don’t have anything to say. My wife and son will tell you that I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things and am not afraid to share them. And the beauty of a blog is that anyone can stop reading whenever she gets bored, and I never have to know.

I’ve had other stories and even a novel to publicize between then and now. A blog would be a perfect place for that, right?

I love making keynotes which are essentially words and visuals on the same page driving to some important point. Basically, blogs for the workplace.

So again, I don’t know.

Maybe it was one of those things that you don’t do and don’t do and then it looms so large that you just push it away every time it comes up.

But I just spent a very happy afternoon reading Ann Patchett’s This is a Story of a Happy Marriage. The front flap describes the book as “a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work and art.” Basically, a very lucrative blog as most of the “writings” were also published in Vouge, Harpers, New York Times Magazine… you get the picture.

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I’m not a fool. I know that even on my best day, I can’t come close to Patchett. There is a rhythm and a beauty to her writing that raises her above us mere mortals. But writing is more about practice than it is about publishing, and I need the practice.

So I hope you’ll bear with me as I do, and with a lot of luck, maybe someday, I’ll be publishing a new book. This is the Story of a Happy Blog.

 

Christmas Came Early This Year

The-Gift_500x800Within the last month, I have seen three of my short stories published by Ylva Publishing, and just last week, I opened my mailbox to find my author’s copy of Wicked Things , Ylva’s Halloween anthology. Flipping through the pages of a print book to see words on a page that had only existed in my head six months ago was fantastically crazy: a moment I will certainly never forget.

Now my stand-alone story is up on Amazon. It’s spooky and Christmasy all at the same time. Most Christmas gifts are not meant to be opened early, but this one definitely is!