Sunday, October 25, 2009

Random Thoughts

No. 1 son accuses me of being cold-hearted for telling him he's now on his own when it comes to car insurance. With our policy up for renewal and him now living in another state, it seemed appropriate to advise him it's time to take on this adult obligation. In fact, it was a pleasure after years of watching our rates skyrocket due to his automobile adventures.

But he says half-jokingly that we've abandoned him in the cold, thrown him to the wolves. I can only laugh and shake my head. Am I the only one who finds this especially ironic coming from a child who abandoned his parents for Washington, DC, and considers himself mature enough to carry a gun, arrest people and yes, hand out speeding tickets?

It's all in the bag....
I have to say that the most exciting thing about my new eyeglasses is they came with sunglasses that pop on and off with a magnet, bringing an end to the frustration of trying to wrestle the clip-on versions onto my prescription lenses. I thought my new magnetized sunglasses were pretty cool until I saw my first Miche handbag last week. Talk about the wonders of magnets – they allow you to change the look of a designer handbag simpy by snapping on a new shell of any color and design. These shells are far cheaper than buying a bunch of purses – and they fold up, taking much less room than a collection of handbags.

I’m pretty much a one-bag woman – I find one I like and stick with it, for months and sometimes years, until it becomes too worn or no longer suits my purposes (too small, too large, etc.). I used to change out pocketbooks with the seasons but I’d always forget to move something into the new bag. I have accepted the reality that I don't care enough to bother with the ritual anymore. This one-purse attitude appalls my friend Lori, who claims to have an entire room devoted to her handbags. A Miche bag might benefit us both – get me to change my look at a reasonable price and help Lori use her purse room for something else. Some people find wonder in the universe. For me this week, it's magnets.

So what kind of purse/pocketbook/handbag owner are you?

Final words…
I learned this weekend that a former colleague died from a heart attack while undergoing tests for heart issues, which unfortunately he suffered from for years. As he was being prepped for the tests, the doctor walked in, took one look at him and said, “You’re having a heart attack.” He turned to his wife and said, “Guess I’m screwed.” He was 82 years old.

This got me thinking about the “last words” people say on this earth. Some people put their final thoughts on gravestones, like the infamous “I told you I was sick.” One of my favorite obituaries this year related how a very ill man looked up at his family gathered around him and asked, “Do you people know something I don’t?” Then there’s always "thanks for the memories.”

For my personality, “I told you so” might be as appropriate as closing out with a joke. However, I think I'd prefer that my last words be “I love you.”

Have you ever thought what yours would be?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Meeting a Moose and a Mystery Author

There were two "fun" things on my list of 2009 goals: seeing a moose in the wild and meeting author Dennis Lehane. I figured that fulfilling either would be fascinating – and I was correct.

I met goal No. 1 in June when, using the “but it’s my birthday” excuse, I dragged Husband No. 1 and Son No. 2 to northern New Hampshire to find not one, but four, of the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. (Click here for the recap.)

I figured tracking down Dennis Lehane would be more difficult. Although he lives in Boston part of the year, I don't think he's made many public appearances since the 2008 publication of “The Given Day,” his epic set in Boston around the time of the 1919 policemen’s strike. One presumes that’s because he’s been at his desk writing or in Florida teaching.

Many people are familiar with the films made from three Lehane books: the incredible “Mystic River” with Sean Penn and Tim Robbins; “Gone, Baby, Gone” with Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman; and the upcoming “Shutter Island” due out in February and starring Leonard DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley.

I am a huge fan of most of Lehane’s work. I was blown away by “Mystic River” but hated “Shutter Island.” And I adored his gritty mystery series featuring smart-mouthed Boston Private Investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. “Gone, Baby, Gone” is the fourth of five of those books. When he decided to end the deliciously dark string, I was devastated. I blame my grief for not yet reading “The Given Day” or “Coronado,” his short story collection.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was a few weeks ago to learn not only will his next book resurrect my favorite series, he was scheduled to sign the new paperback version of “The Given Day” at my local Barnes & Noble.

A week ago Thursday, I lined up with about 45 other fans -- plus camera-toting Husband No. 1. To my dismay, store management was so apprehensive about the potential size of the crowd that it downgraded his “reading” to a “signing.” Nonetheless, I was still going to meet Dennis Lehane – and my goal.

When it was finally my turn to bring my book to the desk for his autograph, I told him about my goals to see a moose... to which he interjected “that’s cool” … and to meet him, to which he said, “awwwhhh” as if he were truly touched (although maybe he just thought I was “touched,” as in mentally unbalanced).

In any case, it made it easier to issue an invitation for him to make his first appearance at the annual New England Crime Bake Conference for mystery writers and readers, which I’m on track to co-chair in November 2010.

Apparently our conversation continued longer than the store personnel and fans preferred. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Husband No. 1 snapping photos while the manager seemed to be wavering between calling security and tackling me himself. Apparently he doesn't have much respect for my goals.

I finally moved on after Dennis wrote down his assistant’s contact information. A few days later, she e-mailed that next year’s Crime Bake is on his calendar.

With two months still to go until the end of 2009, I am delighted to have already met my “fun” goals and contemplating the 2010 list. It’s much more enjoyable than dwelling on those pesky objectives I’m still trying to meet – like finishing my novel.

Did you set any “fun” goals for 2009? Did you accomplish them? Please share by leaving a comment below – maybe I can use them for my 2010 list!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Tragedies of Picture-Perfect Days

A perfect fall day – the piercingly blue cloudless sky, the gentle warmth from the sunlight dappling the trees, and the air crisp from the tiniest hint of cool weather to come.

It used to be that such achingly beautiful days filled my heart with gratitude that I live in New England. Now they fill me with dread.

Those of us who live in the Northeast will never forget that September 11, 2001, began as one of those picture-perfect days. By the time it ended, our world had changed forever.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see the dark sedans parked across the street that confirmed my fear that the American Airlines pilot who lived there was aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center towers. Although I did not know him well, I was certain even then that Tom McGuinness would never have flown that plane into a building, even at gunpoint. This could only mean that an unknown force of unspeakable evil was involved.

The terror and heartbreak of that horrific day left scars on all of us. For me, they were added to another wound that refuses to heal – the pain of a similarly gorgeous autumn day just two years earlier.

The foliage blaze of glory that greeted me as I drove out of the neighborhood with my son on the morning of Oct. 15, 1999, remains seared into my memory. Trying to concentrate on the day’s to-do list led by his dental appointment, I nearly missed the approach of my cousin’s car from the other direction. I was late, as always, and considered not stopping. But her unexpected appearance was too unusual to ignore.

I hit the brakes, put the car in park and hurried toward her vehicle, which by now had turned around and parked behind me in the middle of the intersection. When I saw her face, I knew something was terribly wrong. I never expected to hear that her brother Tony had been murdered.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of his tragic death at the age of 34. The man who stabbed him with an 8-inch fishing knife after the two argued outside a bar, and then drove away to leave my cousin bleeding to death in the middle of a darkened street, is petitioning to get out of prison early. The indescribable pain continues.

On a recent fall day not long ago, I glanced up at the unblemished blue sky and rather than be pleased with nature’s gift, I found myself uttering a silent prayer that the perfect autumn day would end quickly and without tragedy.

I told a friend about the unease I feel on beautiful fall days and she said she feels it, too, after 9/11. How about you? Is there a certain type of day that fills you with dread – or better yet, with joy -- because of a memory?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beware of the Book

Did you know that last week was "Banned Books Week"? Ironically, I spent part of it surrounded by books and those who love them at the trade show for the New England Independent Booksellers Association convention. There was no talk there about banning books in Hartford, CT, I assure you.

Nonetheless, it does my heart good as a writer and a bibliophile to know we live in a country where we have something like "Banned Books Week" to celebrate the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. By listing books that have been banned, or "challenged" in an attempt to force their removal from library or school bookshelves, the American Library Association and other groups are trying to highlight the danger of putting restraints on information in a free society.

The ALA recorded 513 "challenges" to books in 2008, but estimates the number reflects only 20-25% of actual incidents, as most are never reported. People try to block books for a multitude of reasons, but the most frequent seem to be concerns the books are too sexual, too violent, contain objectionable profanity and slang, include offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups -- or positively portray gays. Apparently there is less concern about intellectual freedom.
I'm proud to say that from looking at the ALA's interactive map, it appears no challenges were recorded in New Hampshire between 2007 and 2009, but that should come as no surprise to those of us who reside in the "Live Free or Die" state.

It's interesting to note that some of the notable books that have been banned, or challenged, over the years include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and Winnie-the-Pooh. Some authors today consider it a compliment to have their books on the same lists as these classics.
Here's the list of the 10 most challenged titles from 2008. How many of them were you even aware of before today?
And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is a 2005 children's book about two male penguins who raise an orphaned chick. It's topped the list of banned challenged books for three years running. It's based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo, who for six years formed a couple and then were given an egg to raise.

The reasons given for attempts to block the book: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group. Ironically, book sales seem to increase when it makes the list.

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman, undoubtedly got more challenges following the 2007 release of the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first entry in his Young Adult heroic fantasy series. The others are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence

TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle, part of the wildly successful Internet Girls series for young adults. The online chat trilogy, which began with ttyl in 2004, features exchanges between three girls.
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz, includes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3 : More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991), for ages 9-12.
Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, is an award-winning coming-of-age novel of young boy in New Mexico in the 1940s. It has sold more than 300,000 copies in paperback since its 1973 debut.
Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is a Young Adult novel published in 1999 about a high school freshman boy teetering on the brink of adulthood.
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

Gossip Girl (Young Adult series), by Cecily von Ziegesar. From the synopsis on Amazon: "Is Gossip Girl one of New York City's privileged teens with easy access to endless money, alcohol, and drugs? The answer remains a well-kept secret, but her Web page that opens each chapter (and that readers can visit) tells all about the in-crowd. Catty, backbiting, and exaggerated, GG's observations are also candid."
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen, is a 2008 children's book about a same-sex marriage between two dapper guinea pigs.
Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini and published in 2004, tells a story of betrayal and redemption featuring Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant, while providing an eye-opening account of Afghanistan's political turmoil.
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper, is for ages 9-12 and about a teenager whose aunt sends her a set of blank cards called Flashcards of My Life that include topics like "Friends," "Kiss" and "Identity" to spark her writing.
Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group
To see more lists of books that have been challenged, click on the links here. What's your favorite challenged/banned book?