Monday, November 29, 2010

So you want to write a novel....

I'm still recovering from a weekend trip to Washington, DC, and Thanksgiving with my beloved sons so instead of a blog entry about that "bonding with parental units" experience (look for it next week), I offer instead this amusing look at what some people believe is involved in writing novels.... (Press the arrow and enjoy!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Battle With Plastic Discs

Notice anything different about me in this photo?

(Other than the fact that I am holding my third consecutive award for Excellence in Annual Reports from the NH Local Government Center, she noted quite immodestly.)

The real answer is that I'm wearing contacts instead of the eyeglasses that age forced me to add to my daily apparel almost 15 years ago.

And I feel inclined to mention that I'm wearing contacts because, quite frankly, not enough people have noticed this change on their own, particularly in relation to the pain and suffering I've experienced in succumbing to vanity.

Some people can tell there's been a change in my apperance, but have a difficult time identifying exactly what that might be. My own mother didn't even notice and when I asked, she said I didn't usually wear my glasses all the time anyway. Perhaps she meant prior to the past 15 years of daily wear and, in her defense, she's known me far more years without them.

This "contacts" experience has not been especially easy, although my viewpoint may be skewed by the fact that the other person experiencing a one-day contacts tryout offered by my eye doctor was a 9-year-old girl, who had NO problems adjusting to plastic discs plastered across her eyeballs. As someone else noted, there are many things 9-year-olds can do that I can't, but wouldn't you think decades of life experience would give me at least a little edge? I mean, a 9-year-old???? Then there are the millions of other people in the world who quickly pop in their contacts every day. Why can't I be one of them?

I moved on to the training session where contacts technicians -- all of whom were wearing eyeglasses I should point out -- attempted to teach me how to insert and remove the contacts. You'd have thought tears of frustration would have made it easier, but when it looked like my lesson might continue into the next morning, one gently suggested I consider returning another time. But I had resolved not to let little round pieces of plastic or a 9-year-old get the best of me.
Eventually I was considered proficient enough to leave with my new vision apparatus, support materials and pitying looks on their faces.

They suggested that I turn to No. 2 son as a resource as he has worn contacts for years. When I telephoned him in Washington, DC, to inform him of this, he wasn't exactly receptive. Incredulous might be more like it when he said, "You want me to fly home and help you remove your contacts?"

I hesistated. "Yes, I think that would be a lovely thing for a son to do."

"Sorry, you'll have to figure this out on your own, Mom." (And this is how a child gets removed from his mother's will, by the way.)

The next day, it took almost an hour for me to insert the contacts but a fuzzy spot had developed in the left eye. Days later, I still could not see clearly. As it turns out, that eye has a larger field of vision so I needed a larger contact lens. (If I ever figure out if a larger field of vision is an advantage, I'll let you know.) Meanwhile, it still takes forever to get the contacts in and out, and I'm not sure how much longer my employer is going to allow me to continue with this folly that often further delays my arrival at work.

At last Friday's follow-up appointment, my eye doctor asked how things were going.

"Well, the number of obsecenities uttered during the insertion and removal process seems to have decreased," I said proudly. "And it's no longer taking 45 minutes to an hour to get them in and out."

The doctor laughed. He thought I was kidding.

"But I still can't see as well as I could with my glasses," I added.

"Well, there are some areas that will always be compromised," he noted.

Hmm... Perhaps I should rethink this experience, but I really don't have time right now because I have to go put some pieces of plastic in my eyes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Murder, Vampires and a Year of Work Ends

I'm delighted and relieved to report that my year of hard work came to successful fruition this past weekend at the New England Crime Bake for Mystery Readers and Writers.

While it has been exciting and stimulating to be co-chair of a conference totally run by mystery-loving volunteers, it also has been challenging and required much effort. It also has eaten up a great deal of writing (and other) time and I will be extremely thankful to get that back.

Crime Bake, now in its ninth year, takes place in "DEAD"ham, Massachusetts, and is co-sponsored by the New England chapters of the international mystery organizations Sisters in Crime (SinC) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Traditionally the co-chairs are the presidents of the local organizations, which in my case means not only presiding over an active SinC chapter that spans six New England states, it also required heading a Crime Bake committee of 20 people who hail from three of them -- and with someone I'd met only once before. In addition, this was only my second year on the Crime Bake Committee and it was MWANE President Margaret McLean's first so some of it we made up as we went along. (Here I persuaded Margaret that we should open the conference in vampire capes due to our Guest of Honor -- and sunglasses as daylight is a definite problem for vampires!)

We were aided in our conference planning by a strong cadre of dedicated fellow mystery writers who deeply love Crime Bake, which is known as a writer's conference. Sure, there were issues, false starts and some mistakes, but I was so grateful for the hard work of each of them because it has been vital to this venture and responsible for us selling out at the beginning of August.

Another major factor in our success was our guest of honor -- the incredible Charlaine Harris with four, count 'em four, mystery series, including the Sookie Stackhouse "Southern Vampire" books on which the HBO series True Blood is based. Charlaine was incredibly gracious, extremely generous with her time and writing advice, and one of the funniest women you'd ever meet. I had the privilege, along with my co-chair, of conducting a 45-minute Guest of Honor interview with this smart and engaging woman in front of a luncheon attended by almost 300 conference attendees -- and it was a highlight of my weekend. One of the things she told us is that in writing the Sookie series, she also is writing about discrimination, especially against the gay community.

This Arkansas mother of three has been a published author for 25 years (her second husband gave her what I consider an extremely romantic gift -- a typewriter for her to become a writer -- as a wedding gift so, as she says, she "kept him"). One of her characters has inspired a video game coming out early next year and CBS is developing a series based on her Harper Connolly books. We were very fortunate to have her as our Guest of Honor.

Our weekend lineup also included best-selling New England authors Dennis Lehane (seen here and personally invited by yours truly after stalking him at my local chain bookstore), Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hallie Ephron, Sheila Connolly and so many others, as well as exciting debut authors like Barb Ross. The schedule of fascinating panels also featured fabulous forensics experts, as well as 10 agents and editors from New York and New England. How could we not succeed?

This conference is always stimulating and energizing because the rooms are filled with so many enthusiastic mystery writers dedicated to improving their craft and talking about it. Let's face it: there also aren't many conferences where people can legitimately allow themselves to be excited about discussing murder, ways to dispose of a body or blood spatter patterns.

This year, we added a Vampire Ball to the activities in Charlaine's honor and urged people to dress in costume (the lobster and Vampire bride were among my favorites) or red and black, which are the official Crime Bake colors. Some, like me and "Dirty Business" mystery series author Rosemary Harris (photo at far right) also added the colors to our hair. The photo to the left below shows a bit of my red hair extension and two my fellow Working Stiffs bloggers after we met in person instead of the virtual world. Husband No. 1 (shown trying to keep up with me on the dance floor) opted for a blood red shirt to follow the red and black theme.
This weekend once again reminded me how blessed I am to have found my way to the mystery genre and to now be part of such an amazing community of writers. And I was giving thanks for this experience throughout the entire weekend, both when I was wearing my vampire cape and fangs -- and when I wasn't.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Makeup, Nancy Pelosi and Cleavage

A male reader (yes, there a few beyond Husband No. 1) noted following last week's blog entry about "The Beauty Bias" that women demand honesty in their relationships with men but:

"Those same women won't allow men or other women to see them before they have covered their lips in gloss, colored their hair to be something it isn't and in other ways changed their appearance so that they don't appear to be what they actually are at all. There's no truth in advertising here, is there? It's like "I want you to be honest" but "allow me to advertise myself as a beauty queen when in fact I'm not that at all."

As one who admits to wearing makeup and possibly "enhancing" my hair color, I suppose I might fall into this group. But I never claimed to be a beauty queen -- I gave up that dream long ago, but only because of the stilettos requirement (see previous blog entry).

In any case, the male reader's sentiments would seem to support a major point of "The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law": Men don't have to shell out money for makeup and hair color to be considered attractive.

And, as this reader points out, I married Husband No. 1 despite his long hair, beard and lack of makeup. (In my defense, I was going for income potential.) I also married him without having seen his bare chin. When he shaved his beard 10 years later on his 40th birthday, No. 1 son, then a toddler, ran screaming from the bathroom from the shock of seeing his father's naked face. At least I stayed in the room.

In any case, makeup seems to be one more area where expectations for men and women are different, and not always in a good way, which brings me to Nancy Pelosi. In New Hampshire, the nation's first female House Speaker was the devil in many of the vicious election campaign ads targeting Democratic incumbents. "Candidate X voted with Nansy Pelosi" or "He voted for Nancy Pelosi's health care plan," etc.

Do you remember another election where candidates were skewered for affiliation with the US Speaker of the House -- and would it have happened this year the California congresswoman were male? No matter what you think of Pelosi, is it possible that some of these attacks were not connected to partisan politics or her effectiveness in getting legislation passed, but because there are those who find it extremely threatening to see a strong woman in a position of power? So much for breaking through the "marble ceiling."

Last week, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer interviewed Pelosi following the Republican tidal wave that ousted her, and the Democrats, from power. After asking Pelosi about the election and being a role model for women politicians, Sawyer said, "Now what about your grandchildren? Will you be spending more time with them?" I couldn't hear her response because I was screaming at the television set: "Would you ask that of a man?" I got my answer not long afterward when she interviewed the incoming speaker, Ohio Republican Congressman John Boehner: There were no questions about grandchildren.

And this brings me to cleavage. Has anyone else noticed that many young women seem to be displaying a lot of it? I don't consider myself a prude, but when a young female reporter recently arrived at my office to interview me, I couldn't avoid noticing that her idea of professional attire included a blouse that showed at least three inches of cleavage. Is this the new fashion? Is it some sort of empowerment thing that no one's told me about? Does it occur to them that if people are looking at their breasts, these same people might not be listening as carefully to their words?

And then I have to ask: If women are showing cleavage because they think it makes them attractive, why don't men? I posed that question recently to a group of middle-aged woman and one reacted by saying, "Yech, who'd want to see that?"

Well, me for one. If nothing else, that would mean one less area where men and women are treated so differently when it comes to appearance. But my true preference would be that everyone cover themselves up, especially in the professional arena, so that people will be spending more time thinking about what comes from a person's brain than her -- or his -- body.