Monday, August 17, 2009

What I Saw on the Street: Why Would You Ever?!

Ok, maybe I've just never been an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived parent, but this warning really made me wonder.







Mostly because of where it was located. On this fold-out baby-changing rack.














In this lovely rest room.


Now is it just me, or are there very few circumstances that would result in leaving a child unattended here? Maybe a massive earthquake involving the ground splitting between you and the changing rack? Or maybe security guards storm the bathroom that you're sharing with Larry Craig (they don't see the baby) and you're hauled away to bathroom jail somewhere? Or maybe aliens abduct you and their tractor beam doesn't 'perceive' the baby.

These are just some theoratical possibilities. Because I can't even imagine forgetting my luggage or cell phone in a place like this, much less something I worked on for at least 9 months.

Now get back to your books!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Last year: nada. This year: Glaucoma?

Yes, this really is me, facing down one of those Clockwork Orange-esque eye-test contraptions that you sit your mug into when you go to the optometrist. Having fairly recently re-acquired insurance (after a 6 year gap), I get eye checkups every year now. And just to remind me that time was passing, God gave me a hiccup this time. Last year: nada. This year: Glaucoma?

Yes, that glaucoma. As in: pressure-on-the-eye-that-eventually-causes-blindness-disease. My internal eye pressure which was normal last year was high enough this year for my doc to order more tests and put me in a waiting period. To say the least, I was pretty unexcited at the prospect of going blind sometime in the future. I have always taken good care of myself, and the idea that nature and fate were going to curse me just out of a random throw of cruelty darts was really getting me down. My eye doctor told me not to worry (easy for her to say, she’s got glasses, and apparently nothing to worry about), and that I should come back in 1 to 3 months for a follow up.

I chose 1 month. Best to find out when my eyeballs were going to explode from the volcanic pressure that I was sure was mounting even as I felt my way along the corridor outside, wondering if I’d even be able to see it next time.

A month is a nice length of time when you’re on vacation in Hawaii. It’s an eternity if you’re waiting to find out if a cloak of darkness will eventually descend upon your eyes. The realization of mortality, of human limitation, and all that I have not achieved fell like mattress-sized dominoes. I wondered if I would still be able to write if I could not see. Maybe this was a good time to switch to that acting career everyone always told me I should pursue. Or maybe it was time to dip into savings and go to Hawaii before I couldn’t see it anymore.

When I revisited my eye doctor, I went through a round of tests, much like looking at an old computer game. I was sure I was missing peripheral dots of light… that my plunge into blackness was just around the corner. Would I get a cane? Or a dog? Would I have to move back home where I’d ramble around the house like Lynn Holly Johnson in “Ice Castles” until finally rescued by a Robby Benson-like hero? It was all too much to think about. Until she told me that my pressure was fine.

“Fine?” I asked. I’d already checked with relatives to see if there was a history of glaucoma. I’d already begun working on my ‘Well, I’d love to keep working for this company…but’ speech. What? I’m not going blind?

She said that sometimes the pressure rises and they don’t know why. It was just a glitch. I left feeling two feet taller than I’d felt in years. I took off my sunglasses and really looked at everything around me.

The truth is that it could come back, or I could be in an accident, or that maybe there’s a transatlantic plane in my future that’s headed for the bottom of the ocean. But in the mean time, I have the knowledge that the future is unsure. The only thing that is sure, is appreciation. Look around. See, hear, taste, feel, and do.

Eyesight is as tenuous as life itself. Lose one, and the other is drastically different, or ceases to exist at all. So finances be damned, maybe I'll be taking that trip to Hawaii after all!

Now get back to your books!

Friday, July 10, 2009

What I Saw in My Kitchen: Eye vs. Orange

Ok, is it just me, or does this bisected orange look like a science diagram of a human eye? 

No, I did not drop acid in my kitchen. But you know how patterns and shapes in nature repeat and borrow, right? Like the “clouds” in your coffee look strangely like the soft, dried foam that remains after high tide recedes on a beach. Or how the veins of a leaf resemble the branches of a winter tree seen at a distance.

Well when I cut into this orange, I was struck by how much like a human eye it looked like. No, no the L’Oreal Eva Longoria long-lash kind, but the kind you might see in a science class diagram. It’s a little antiseptic, yes, but pretty fascinating to think that nature crosses barriers as wide as fruit and the human being to borrow designs that work for her. Just something to look at next time you’re slicing citrus… or at the eye doctor.

Now get back to your books.

What I Saw on the Street: Advertising Misstep


I’m not sure exactly when advertising and pornography crossed swords (pun intended) but doesn’t this ad from a “classy” parfumier do just that? If they decide to follow it up with something even more daring, where is there to go? Come Even Closer? Or maybe something really classy like Pearl Necklace. Sorry. I didn't make the ad up, I'm just running with it. 

Now get your minds out of the gutter and get back to your books.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What I Saw on the Street: The Escaped Shopping Cart

Ok, I’m obviously a mystery fan, but it’s even better when you see the mystery outside the local Super A Foods/ El Pollo Campo. How? How did this shopping cart a) lose its wheels? And b) how did it make its way to the curb?

Let’s say you’re shopping, and you lose the wheels. I’m down with that. It could happen. But would I then continue to drag the cumbersome and rather uncooperative cart all the way to the curb to catch the bus?

Or let’s say the cart just became defective. Would the employees drag it all the way to the street instead of just leaving it out back for the garbagemen to take it?

In my entire life, I have never seen a shopping cart without its wheels, much less one that has managed to find its way to the curb, where apparently, it’s waiting for a bus to the wheel factory. Who knows, maybe next week, the cart will have returned from its travels and gone back to service at the Super A Foods. Now to track down the disembodied wheels somewhere...roaming the streets of Los Angeles, looking for a cart...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

They Melt in Your Mouth, and In Your Conscience

I’m trying to lose weight. Not that you can tell. But I can. At work, over the long and lonely nights that are the “Sunrise Shift” atop the 25th floor of an empty office tower, the vending machines call to me. “Come….” They say, “behold our wares, taste of us, we are sugar.”

I try to resist. But at 4:15 am, trying to stay awake while editing legal documents, a tempting way to revive oneself (albeit temporarily) is the loud crunch in ones own ear of the beloved M&M.
Always peanut. Never chocolate.
Chocolate is too sweet, too easy, too…junior for my adult palatte.
Only the slightly larger, almost imperceptibly varied curvatures of the peanut buried beneath the factory-glazed coating can satisfy a discerning landscape of sugar-enhanced tastebuds waiting for a flavor journey.

The outer coating strikes like glass at first, and to the first-taster, it must seem like he’s about to eat rocks. Then the thin layer of not-too-much-milk-chocolate gives way to the yielding flesh of the peanut that has nested there, fresh as the sun-baked Georgia soil where nature’s tender rays brought it to fruition.

The crack/yield/flesh is too much for just one M&M. Oh no! You must have more. And therein comes the genius that is dieting on these rainbow’s end of indulgent would-be waist-busting beauties. They come in very small bags. Bags that cost almost a dollar each. One bag is enough to satisfy my eternal craving for crunchy and salty and sweet all rolled into a shell of hardened candy goodness without having to resist a tray of say…cookies. But don’t get me started on those.

For now, take up my battle cry of M&M! America’s Next Subway Diet. The US Solution to the Biggest Loser Desert Plan. And if the little marbles of mmm never make it past the vending machine front-lines of sugar-satieting service, then perhaps their modest placement in the pantheon of national sweet-n-savory snacks is right where they belong. May they never go the way of Bacon Thins, Mother’s glazed animal cookies, or (gasp) the cheap but oh-so-satisfying Marathon bar. Indeed, may it be M&Ms that last a long, long, long, long time.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What I Saw on the Street: Dirty Robbers!


Sometimes just a walk down the street is enough to make you smile. 

Like this small sticker I saw on a power box on Hope Street. 

Ironic, no? Right downtown, in the heart of LA’s business district is 

a sign that really tells it like it is. Now if they only had this sign posted 

on the roads so people could be really aware of what’s going on. 

As it is, the PC police will probably remove this sticker, so I was quick 

to get it on film before it’s gone.


Friday, June 19, 2009

What I Saw on the Street: Handy Man Haulin'



Now you don’t see a truck like this every day. But you might see one every day — at Kmart. Right there in swanky Burbank, just one street over from the IKEA/Bed Bath & Beblond Complex lurks a low-end, barely-staffed, so-ready-for-five-finger-discount Kmart. Surely a blight on the neighborhood, hidden barely by it’s proximity behind a Ralph’s grocery. I can even imagine Burbank Galleria architects' slightly altering the entrances, windows and store layouts to hide the Nuevo Mall-riche-ness from America’s dirty, early, unretouched retail roots.


But what a wonderful truck this is. In the face of an economic meltdown, I imagine that this non-Apprentice-ready entrepreneur is probably picking up some business from the newly-down-and-out who need a lot of stuff hauled away. And need a paint job? He’s ready.


You don’t get these kind of pictograms except in primitive caves, and the sides of do-it-yourself-man vans by guys who create their own opportunities, even if the tons of scrap metal they’re haulin down the high way in their Roald-Dalh-esque junk jalopy may threaten your life in a sudden stop, blowout, or a 'but-officer, I-was-jus'-reaching-for-my-coffee moment.'

Maybe we’re turning a corner in LA. A corner where Zza Gabor will be eclipsed by the return of some Joads like this guy who might just be moving up in a world that’s long been over due to come back down a notch or two. Who knows? Maybe IKEA and Bed Bath and Beblond will end up going Chapter 11 along with Linen’s & Things and free up some store front glass for this guy to display his wares, and maybe even his painting skills. With his ‘na├»ve’ approach to art, maybe he’ll be selling on canvas and not just putting a brush to the walls. I say more power to him. He's not asking for billion dollar bail-outs, that's for sure. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What I Saw on the Street: "i" Family



Ok, so it's not exactly digital, but these windshield family stickers are a wave of the digital age. i Family. or M"i" Family. or Famil"i".

Iconized representations of everyone from baby to grandma and cat included, they are a plague on the already competency-challenged Angelinos. And there's a down side.

Not to be morbid, but whenever I see one of these family stickers on the back of a car or truck, I can’t help but wonder what happens when the unthinkable happens. When Jr. or Tina or Grandma or Bobo the dog doesn’t make it. Do you go out and scrape them off the window? Put an “x” through them? Put a halo over their head? It just seems like if you go and put everyone in your family on a windshield, you, like bugs, are asking for it. Me, I’m not putting my loved ones on a windshield. It’s the last place I hope they end up.

What I Saw on the "Street": Have You Been Xlerated?

Have you been Xlerated yet? No, it’s not a ride at your local Six Flags, it’s a turbo-charged air blower in your local bathroom. Not to be outdone by the simple but now-woefully-outdated hand-dryer, the Xlerator has gone 2.0 reboot. This ain’t your mamma’s hand dryer. But you might wish it were.

Featured in water-and-paper conscious establishments all across LA, this device boasts "xlerated" drying time by blasting water from the washer's hands. What it doesn't boast is that the air pressure is so xtreme that the skin on your hand will fold and flap like a turkey waddle.



Not what anyone wants to see, much less an age-conscious gay may facing down an army of OC/Gossip Girl look-alikes every day on the city streets. Maybe don't need to see that right now in my fragile, close-to-shattering, delicate frame of mind.

Watching my hand ripple and turn into a skin sail, I immediately Roger Moore's brush with death in the G-Force Simulator from 1979's "Moonraker". His face ripples back and we get a look at what a dive in a jet plane would look like with Joan Rivers flying it to plastic surgery hell. No thanks.








I don’t even want to see it on my hand. So as sanitary and fast as the Xlerator might be, I’ll be looking for paper towels, the old fashioned hand-dryer, or maybe just wiping my hands on my jeans. So what if people think I wet myself. At least they won’t think I’m old. Oh- Wait a second…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What "I" Saw on the Street: Apartment Hunting

First, I put "I" in quotes because this first picture is actually what Google "saw." I love it when the Google Camera is in front of a large object so that whatever it was you were looking for is not visible. Not even from the robo-satellites that are apparently photographing the entire planet.

here's the house I live in now.


Even from space you can see that it's a four lane, divided road, that yes, is the fire/police/wailing siren corridor. See why I'm trying to move?



And here is a house that someone else wanted me to move into. And when I say "house," what I really mean is garage.
When I asked the landlady who had lived here before, what I really meant was "who died to vacate the place for me?" She was very enthused to tell me that her mother had lived there. Now that's love. No, her mother didn't die (she only WISHED she had), she moved in with another daughter. A daughter (I'm guessing) with no spare cellar, garage, or closet to put her. The landlady was proud to show off the new appliances (they really were new, she scored points there). But the bedroom was the size of a cell, hard-tiled on the floor, with one small window. Well, really, it was a ventilation grid. The bathroom was equally dark, and I only ventured to put my head through the doorway in case maybe there was an automatically locking door and she was planning to keep me there as an unwilling domestic.

"The last girl was here two years," she exclaimed. 'And then the pneumonia set in?' I thought. Then the landlady then showed me the best feature of all. When you want to lose the view of the cars in the driveway and just get away from all the fresh air and sunlight, just click the garage door button the side of the wall.

Down rolls the automatic door, each segmented panel lurching quietly into place until the white, aluminum wall slams like a whisper into the coarse brickwork of the driveway...brickwork which is your kitchen floor. Perfect for stubbing your toe on a Sunday morning.

I began to wonder if I had any enemies I could send the listing to. "Christian" teachers who had beaten with a ruler in school. Bullies who'd made my life hell. And then I came up with the perfect tenant. Bernie Madoff. He'd love the savings. And the TB, it's totally free!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What I Saw On the Street: Box Man

I'm starting a new blog feature that I call "What I Saw on the Street". Whether it's stainless steel "balls" hanging from the back of a trailer hitch, or a man with a box on his head on Hollywood Boulevard...there is no predicting what you'll see on city streets here in LA. Because I'm using my cell phone for most of the shots, they may have a slightly Bigfoot Tabloid 1973 quality, but I really think that adds to the whole look. 

Driving through town the other day, I indeed saw this man on H0llywood Boulevard with a box on his head. He was homeless, and had a beggar's cup out. Whether he knew if he got any money, I'm not sure, since the bag seemed to block most of his view. But one thing is for sure, every time I see a homeless person, it puts my problems in perspective. Some of you might have a bum here or there, or maybe a town drunk. LA has a population numbering in the thousands (the country's largest. See, LA can boast about lots of things!). There is even something called the Mission District. Not the toni section of San Francisco, it's where the missions are. As in prayer and soup kitchens and priests tending to the down-n-out. 

It's easy to think, 'eh, things aren't going THAT well.' But when you pass someone laying in their own decayed filth, it really makes a ride in your 1994 Geo Metro feel like you're driving a Rolls Royce. So chin-up, look on the bright side, and be glad that despite your problems, you're not panhandling on Hollywood Boulevard with a box on your head.

Now get back to your books!


Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Lost Keys Mystery


Christy put me up to this so blame her.

HOW?

In the 90’s my sister was in the military and visiting me and my mother in our hometown. Pensacola, Florida. Our life WAS the military. We had lived on bases most of our lives, shopped at a commissary instead of a grocery store, and banked at the Navy Federal Credit Union. After my father retired, the bank was no longer very conveniently located because we moved. But you do what you’ve always done in the military, so we banked Navy.

My sister borrowed my mother’s car to make a deposit and get some cash. She drove to the other side of Pensacola where the bank was near two bases. She did her business and returned. And could not find the keys. Anywhere. We looked in the car, around it, under the seats. We looked in the house, in the sandy drive and among the leaves. We checked the dogs bowl to see if she’d perhaps been chewing on a plastic key fob. We looked inside the bathrooms, the fridge, and the garbage cans.

About an hour later, we got a call. From the bank. Navy Federal Credit Union. The one on the other side of town. They had the keys. At the bank. On the other side of town.
Now if my sister drove TO our house with the keys, how did they end up back at the bank? I ask you, How?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

All the Time in the World

It seems like you have 365 days when you start the year. But then you have to take out all the days you work, all the hours you sleep, all the times that you’re sick, and then all the times you are unexpectedly sick. Like last week.

I was cruising down a trail in Griffith Park when suddenly I realized that not only was the hill too steep, but the gravel made it feel like ice. My back tire started to fish-tail, and then I was falling, just to the side of the handle bars as the bike went down. Hand and knees striking first. The bike and I sliding another five feet or so on the fine powder on a steep incline. Coming to rest, I lay still, taking in the dirt, the coming darkness and how quiet the trail was. If I’d broken something, would anyone else be coming down the trail? If I had to stay there the whole night, would coyotes find me? Eat me? Or just toy with my broken body as I screamed in vain?

I felt my body, nothing broken. And I’d worn workout pants and a long-sleeve jacked and gloves. Very, very lucky because usually it’s just me and shorts and a sleeve-less t-shirt. My knees were banged up, but I tried not to pay attention to the dirty black-and-red streaks under my pants. If I could just get back to the car, stow the bike, and get on my way, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad.

Now it’s about 2-weeks later and I’m on crutches and fitted with a one-size-fits-all leg brace. A growing dome of fluid on my knee cap, bruising, and odd grinding noises told me something was wrong. Toddling off to the Emergency room two days ago, I had it x-rayed and looked at by a doctor. No breaks or fractures, but maybe something wrong with the ligaments. Further doctoring is in order.

In the mean time, keep it elevated and warm (not iced). Until then, I’ll be out of circulation for a few days. Despite a fairly busy schedule of writing, reading, and revision, a year always has moments that you can’t plan for. That’s why they tell you to have your manuscript ready when you write to agents. Because they don’t want to hear, “Well, you’re not going to believe this, but…” It was J.M. Barrie who said that some times is precious precisely because it’s wasted. Here’s to the two weeks I’m losing to a bum leg, laid up at home, reading books, hanging out with my boyfriend and our cat. Maybe it’s a God-imposed vacation. Or the universe reminding me that some of the 365 days granted at the beginning of the year have already been struck from the calendar by fate.

Now get back to your books!

Zoinks! Rejected Again


So if (ahem, I mean) WHEN I get published, I'll share it with you, so why not my rejections. It's part of the process, and doesn't often see the light of day. Rejections go along with unwanted mail. But there's always a story to the submission of a strory.

I submitted to AHMM (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine for those in the know), looking to plume my hat with a national publication. And who knows, maybe I'll get to meet him some day. I LOVE his movies. I sent in my submission on January 3rd. The rejections is dated April 29th. And my follow-up note is for June. So they're actually two months AHEAD of schedule. That's good news, isn't it? And they sent me a 60%-off coupon. They like me. They REALLY like me!

But seriously, it's a form rejection, but they did reply in the time they said they would (which beats the Tumbleweeds effect of some responses. That's when you've waited so long that you can hear tumbleweeds blowing in the howling wind outside). And it's a chance to revisit the short story as the editor did. Open the letter, re-read the piece and see if my attention flags at all. If it does, it's time for a rewrite. If four more months I could have submitted and heard back again. And eventually, somewhere down the line, I'm going to meet this Alfed Hitchcock guy. Or at least get into his magazine.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile


With a strange flu season upon on us, I love that the richest nation on Earth has as it's virus-fighting slogan: Cover Your Nose and Mouth. Is that what we've come to? It's right up there with the post-9/11 "Just Keep Shopping." Because that's worked so well. It reminds me of a kind of 50's girl slogan that my mother used to say sarcastically: You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. This, foisted upon women who ran the frickin' country while all the men were off at war. When the men returned, all the Rosies were supposed to put up their rivets and go back to the home. Where presumably all that concerned them was whether or not they were properly dressed. I'm sure in their time of psychic stress, that the fashion slogan "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" came as great comfort. About as comforting as our flu-fighting mantra: Cover Your Nose and Mouth.
But it's not all bad, I mean, it's ultimately harkening back to the pioneer spirit. Whatever Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger. Or the Boy Scout motto: Always Be Prepared. Which kind of make some of the post-war slogans seem a little wimpy. Boyscouts and pioneers are at the ready to bite a stick while taking out a bullet, or steeling themselves for a long winter trapped at Donner lake. We could take a page from their book in these uncertain financial and epidemiological times. Today I'm neither shopping, nor - apparently - am I fully dressed. But I am ready to cover my nose and mouth. Mostly because I'm not leavin' the fricken house until all my hotpockets and juiceboxes are gone. And I've got a 2-year supply!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The First "Dip"


So roughly 12 hours after my submission frenzy, I already have my first "dip." Now I'm going to define dip as two things:

1) the first screaming drop of the aforementioned roller coaster
2) the first dip into a pool after a long winter

Rejection ain't that hard. I have been trained by experience and by other writers to expect it. So as they letters come back "not for our list at this time," I think of them as a first dip in a pool, a first contact, parties that I've missed, moments when a connection didn't quite happen.

A long list of inspiring stories of "right place, right time," come to mind and I remember that each contact is a potential opportunity for the future.

Newtonian physics tell me that potential will eventually become kinetic. When, I'm not sure, but the idea that Isaac Newton is shining down on me gives me some faith. So bring it! Here's to the first dip!

Hitting "Send" is like the first hill on a roller coaster

Finally, I've done it.
Today I hit "send" six times. Six.
Six small strikes of a key on a keyboard.
Six huge lurches in my gut.

It's not the absolute first time I've submitted, but it's been while, and I've forgotten what a mini-production it is. It's like a tiny publishing cycle all by itself.
Write letter. Proof letter.
Write synopsis. Proof synopsis.
Write bio. Proof bio.
Re-write.
Re-proof.
lather. rinse. repeat, until hair falls out.

And still. STILL I found errors. There was the Horror of the Missing Hyphen. Only to be followed by the Accidental Centering of the Last Line of Text. There was the Last Minute Discovery of An Agent's Name Needing Mid-Name Capitalization (think McIntosh, or DeLeandro). And all the time I spent on spacing paragraphs in Word so that titles had their own lines and page breaks (like great Byronesque poetry) had real meaning, was lost. Lost to the vagaries of email. Font choices stripped of all seriphs. Line breaks controlled by distant screens in distant states. It is now only the words themselves that can have impact. But isn't that the sign of a good writer? That the words have impact whether typeset for a hard-cover book, or scrawled on a bar napkin in a lightning-bolt-moment of inspiration.

In the end only two things got me to send those query letters.
1) another deadline for another project
2) realizing that sitting in my home office, the Ed McMahon of publishing probably woudln't be driving up in the Victory Van to write me my winning check.

Fly query letters! Be free! And then come back with good news or I'll hunt you down and burn you. Or maybe that's not the right spirit exactly...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Funny Monday (bonus track)

"Taser the Flavor"

This is the title of my dream from two nights ago. I swear to God, I woke up laughing because the last thought I had before waking up was a cooking show called "Taser the Flavor." Chicken, turkey, and even sides of beef would be seasoned, and then tasered until cooked to perfection. The chefs would be dressed as cops - or even better! - security guards.

Convulsing and spasming meat would drive the audience into a frenzy. And the first one to blacken his entree wins!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Advertising Gone Too Far - Monday Funny



This is my Monday Funny, early. I'm off to Vegas with Luis for two days and to see my sister and her family. But before I go...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Guest" Blog


I've-- well, just click the link in the title.
My graemestone.com website has a blog, and well, that explains why there's a "guest" entry from, well, me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Readers Wanted - Trades Offered


I'm post-conference and jonesing to submit work. But not without some independent readership. I'm going to check out Critique Circle. But if any of you guys want to read/trade, I'm putting it out there. I'm not sure if this is like offering to "let" a friend pet-sit, but I don't know a ton of other writers so I figure: start with a small pool.

The first chapter of both books is at my website. If you like what you read, let me know and I'll PDF you the rest.

Graeme

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Perky "Monday" contribution

I was...traveling on Monday...so... And then I just got home Tuesday, and I work Tuesday night, so I just got on the blogs after two weeks off, so here's my contribution to Perky Monday.

I know this totally Holly Hobbys my hard-core masculine image that everyone had of me, but I love this picture. It makes me want to BE the kitten. The kitten and mom look so blissfully happy. From the kitten's smile, to the mom's half-lid's, to her armrest-paw, I just love it.



Graeme

Back and Ready for Action. Well, sort of

hey ya'll,

I'm back from Psuedo Big Sur (it's in Monterey until either the mountain slides off, or they the conference go back to its original location.) But the conference/workshop itself was geunine. I learned, wrote, revised, was criqued, made friends, and even left the hotel. But now what?

I want to apply for the SCBWI General Grant, but of course have a challenge. "The Pardy Boys" was clearly the front-runner. "Dr. Rasp" was seen as too run-of-the-mill. Problem: "Pardy Boys" is a cliff-hanging series. The advice: end the first book to make it a stand-alone. Problem: I've worked for a year to create a series. Advice? (this is the part where you come in).

I'm cutting and pasting the synopsis below. But it does have spoilers in it for anyone who might volunteer to read the book. So do I write a new ending? Submit as-is? Turn to goat herding to get out of this crazy racket?

Graeme
p.s. the mailing deadline for the SCBWI Grant application is March 15th.

The Pardy Boys: Mystery of the Black Book
Synopsis by Graeme Stone

When their billionaire father is murdered and they’re framed for the crime, adoptive brothers set out to catch his killer.

Mercifully adopted when their straight-laced families rejected them for being gay, adoptive brothers Joe and Frank Pardy are day and night. Frank (16) is an impulsive, asian party boy, while Joe (17) is a button-down, white, wannabe Wall-Streeter. Like any siblings, they love to fight. That is until their father’s body is found hanging in his bedroom, his lover Armando the most obvious culprit.

But when Armando is found innocent, and bank accounts are frozen, the boys suspect that family lawyer Alden Roche is framing them. Fleeing with a sack of cash, the boys only have one weapon: their father’s infamous black book. Kept in a code they only partially understand, it reveals that he had one last appointment: Provincetown in 3 days.

Taking assumed identities, they decipher a name from the black book —“Henry”. But their job becomes infinitely more complicated when Frank gets caught with his pants down and is wrongly accused of stealing jewels from a very handsome hotel patron named Roland Garret. They cut a deal: if the hotel delays contacting the police, they will find the real thief or go to jail in two days. The real plan: find Henry on borrowed time and get out of town before the deadline.

When some electronic sleuthing reveals that a small-time hustler named Trent is faking the jewel theft for insurance money, they confront him. But Alden’s men show up, forcing the boys to follow Trent to a secret speak-easy called…Henry’s. And the owner of Henry’s is none other than Roland, the jewel heist’s true mastermind. Furious at the intrusion, he is going to lock them up.

But when Roland realizes the boys are James’ sons, he apologizes for embroiling them in his con game. Regretfully he divulges the reason for their father’s visit: a lost love letter. In college their father had an affair with another military man known in the letters only as Soldier. Love turned sour when Soldier betrayed their father. If he has already resorted to murder, the letter puts the boys in grave danger because it is the only hard evidence linking the two men.

Ducking Alden’s goons, they escape Provincetown for Boston. Searching the Harvard library, they hope an old yearbook will reveal Soldier’s picture to put a face to the name: no luck. That is until they find out at a local bar that a military-wide reunion in Miami will turn up people who knew their father…and his killer.

Hitch-hiking aboard a ship called “The Flying Dutchman” the boys realize all too late that the boat belongs to Soldier, a man crazy enough to sail them right into a hurricane. This cliffhanging ending leads to the next book in the series, Attack of the Phantom Yacht.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

On Wet Toilet Seats

How is that our aim at home is flawless, when our aim in public is so cruel? It's Toilet-Seat Sociology. How you treat yourself is completely different from how you treat others. I made the mistake of stopping by the Highland Del Taco the other night. I sometimes make a pit stop when passing through Hollywood. I used to live very close by, but after a developer bought my rental house and turned the lot into condos, I was forced to move out of a neighborhood I could no longer afford.

But just down the street lingers this Del Taco, infamous for it's exterior (former gas station?) bathroom which requires a quarter to enter. Yes, you pay for the privilege of seeing a restroom that rivals the squat-holes of eastern European train stations. This place was so bad that the flies were gagging. I wondered what would possess not the first person not to flush, but the 2nd, 6th or 8th. As the excrement piled up, surely there must have been the temptation to relieve the porcelain of its burden. Or maybe the fear (my case) was greater that one tap on the malfunctioning handle would bring forth a foul flood, and then the attentions of the staff who would probably blame the unlucky flusher for deposits beyond anything but a pachyderm.

Until we can keep a restroom clean amongst us all, is there really any hope for cleaning up the rest of the world?

Now get back to your best aim on your writing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life Intrudes

This Valentine's Day, I went to a funeral.

I met Jessica when I worked briefly at USC as a temp before escaping to full-time work. I labored in the student office for the Dental School, which was almost as much fun as flossing. Jessica and I shared the same sense of humor, and often emailed back and forth across a four-person office when things got weird with co-workers, or heated with pushy students who didn't realize that they were about as much fun as a root canal. She was a freak-magnet who always had hilarious stories like aisle-blocking long-legged men who's i.d. tag on their briefcase said "M. Stork" or other ridiculous encounters. Quirky, smart, and sly, she was my new best friend, and a welcoming face in a new job where I feared I wouldn't fit in.

We shared lunches at the music school down the street, traded commuting stories, and laughed at the absurdity of USC's sometimes bureaucratic way of business. When you first meet someone, you think you know them because of your first impressions. As you see them day after day, week after week, they reconfirm your first impressions because nothing intrudes to alter what you perceive. But first impressions only go so far because people only show you so much on the surface. Beneath is a complexity that can take a lifetime to appreciate. That appreciation is called friendship and you're lucky if someone lets you in deep enough to be considered a friend.

Subtle signs of Jessica's outside life began to sift into daily conversation like flour dusting a cutting board. She would mention that she was going to spend the weekend in the desert with her sister. So, adding to the picture was the image of a sister. I filled in some blanks by imagining parents, and a family home somewhere not too far away. I also thought briefly that maybe she and her sister were spending a weekend in the desert together as a kind of getaway. But as the weeks went by, I realized from the regularity of the visits that this sister must actually live in the high desert that sits high above sea-level Los Angeles and a world away from celebrities and car chases.

As the holidays approached, I was invited to the school potluck for Thanksgiving. I brought squash casserole and carpooled with the office gals, each of us clutching a dish we'd made. Christmas plans came up and Jessica mentioned that her sister, Jennifer, was a twin, and that she had been battling cancer, but was doing a little better with treatment. So all the time that I had pictured family get-togethers and sisterly visits, there was more going on than I could know. Retreats were revealed to be vigils, and visits unveiled as measured time made bittersweet by illness. I wanted to imagine that I'd sensed something... a depth, a gravity to things. But the truth was that until Jessica said something, I didn't know a thing. I remember sitting at my desk the Monday following Thanksgiving and seeing her so differently eyes just visible above her computer monitor. Everything was the same, except now I knew enough to appreciate that amidst the swirl of scheduling student exams, calculating grades and attending to the needs of professors there was a river of emotion quietly running underneath my friend.

I never did meet Jennifer. She remained a fixture in screen-saver photos and stories. Jessica talked about her, the visits to the high desert, and periodically mentioned how her treatment was going. It sounded unpleasant, but like it was being managed, that there was hope. I left USC to take a permanent job at the law firm where I now work, but I didn't lose touch with Jessica. I visited USC for lunch, and emailed. We often talked of seeing each other for dinner, a movie, or just to hang out. But the plans never materialized because, I reasoned, we were both just too busy. But there is the busy of grocery lists and plumber's visits. And then there is the busy of a sister who is sick.

Checking email a week ago, I saw the announcement for Jennifer's funeral service and my heart just sank. All this time I hadn't known enough to reach out, hadn't asked enough to know, hadn't understood what my friend had been going through.

The funeral fell on Valentine's Day. One heart-shaped arrangement of flowers dedicated to Jennifer from her husband made me feel that one can never say 'I love you' often enough. Jessica's family is very spiritual and their faith is helping them through an incredibly difficult time. Made all the more difficult by the the fact that Jessica also has cancer now, as does her mother. There is the saying that God does not give us more than we can handle. I have never been a big believer in this expression because it seems to remove compassion when it is needed most. It isolates and imbues with strength and independence that which is most in danger of loneliness and collapse.

As I wept at the funeral, I realized that my tears were just a tiny reflection of a family's profound grief in the wake of immediate loss, and more loss that may come in the future. The most I could do was be present and share in their difficult time, trying to see it as God letting me share the burden instead of leaving it all to them. I can't say I felt even adequate to the task. And for someone addicted to 'doing,' just 'being' was very difficult. What is there even to say? For all of the truly important things in life, there are no words.

What has stayed with me is that that you can never know what is going on in another person's life. I have been very productive this past year; managing my own family illness with my partner (kidney failure), writing, holding down a job, and squeezing in some travel. But how I wish my eyes had been open wider so I might have taken in a little more of life as it was happening around me. There is a balance between creating lives on a page, witnessing them, and participating in them. Sometimes life seems to intrude on my writing, and sometimes that very intrusion is the thing worth writing about.

Now go tell someone you love them. It doesn't have to be Valentine's Day for that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Last Hundred Is Always the Hardest

I'm "finished." Well, at least with a draft. "The Abominable Plan of Dr. Rasp" will be ready for Big Sur. That sounds like a headline doesn't it? Like those crazy Hollywood Reporter lingo-jingo headlines that you practically have to be an industry insider to understand. But I guess I'm getting closer to being an industry insider because I know what Big Sur means. It means a white-knuckle, nerve-wracking joyride to the a month of all-nighters trying to finish 100 weenzy pages.

The previous draft of this book was over 200 pages, and now it's sailing in at just over 100. But it is so much better. This is after getting notes a year ago from an editor-for-hire who had great notes. But notes that took a year to accept. I keep thinking of one of the speeches (Lisa Yee?) in which the author talked about complete, major rewrites over several years to get what her editor was after. So this last 100 pages as been the hardest. I am so ready to move on, but a polish is in order before heading up to Big Sur in (gulp) couple of weeks.

Now get back to your book!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stuffing

The stuffing was terrible. We both agreed. From a box, too wet when finished, flavorless. In a word, mush. But I was craving comfort food and I just can't throw out food, so I stuck with the stuffing. I spruced it up with more onions than they asked for. I put in raisins, poultry seasoning, cayenne pepper for some kick. Still not great, the stuffing was just something I couldn't give up on. The next day, I added celery, and it had dried out a little in the tupperware where it was journeying back and forth to work. Today I had butternut squash, soup and salad for lunch. I broke the stuffing and suddenly it wasn't just so-so, it was fantastic. How is that one day and a few ingredients made all the difference? I'm not one to say that God is speaking to me through my box-stuffing, but that appears to be what's happened. And God is saying, 'stick with that story you're working on, have patience, and before you know it...'

Now get back to your stories.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

the Moment of Truth

Or at least the Moment of Commitment.

So I'm sure I was one of the last to submit to Firebrand, but I did it. At first I was trying to cram in 20 full pages, and then realized that a 20 page chapter in a boy's tweener book just wouldn't fit. If I can't convince them in 9 pages, or even 5, then the story has bigger problems not solved by length.

The same sample is what I'm going to use for Big Sur. It's both a relief and a fire to have submitted. A relief because I can stop sweating. A fire because that's what's now lit under my ass to make everything as good and exciting as it is when there's a deadline.

I even used a few lines for the Westside Schmooze "First Pages" night which was great. Lee and Rita really had fun, and the format of the evening (mixing published/famous/unknown writings together) was also great. I think last year I did a lot of writing in a vacuum, and the Schmoozes give me a sense of community that I was missing. Hats off to the Westside Schmooze; it's a good group.

All that writing took it out of me, though. I've been off my blogs for over a week. And tomorrow I'm taking some time off for the MLK Holiday/Inauguration Build-up. I'll see you all reliably again in a week.

Now get back to those books!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dr. Rasp vs. the Pardy Boys

Ok, so I'm very excited at Firebrand's internet special (submit by January 15th, and NO QUERY). But it's like the old saying goes: you don't know what you have 'til it's gone. And now that the query is gone, I'm wondering if the submission is stronger WITH it. I did sell a script, and I did win a script contest. But here's my real dilemma. Just because I'm not using a query doesn't mean I'm not queer.

the Pardy Boys is gay YA. One editor said it bordered on soft-core. Yikes! The kiss of death. I've since gotten better opinions, but I think maybe a query letter would bouy the novel by showing the submission in context, while also demonstrating some kind of marketability for my writing.

That said, Dr. Rasp, which is pretty darn cute and cuddly, is squarly a boys tweener action-adventure story. But I can't query it to save my life. So maybe I should submit "The Abominable Plan of Dr. Rasp" via no-query month, and then wait until the 16th to submit "the Pardy Boys" via the normal channels.

Oh this is all so indulgent now I feel I'm wasting valuable blog pixels on drivel. But not before asking you guys: whaddyou think?

Now get back to your books!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Submission Schizophrenia

Ok, so I'm sending a short story to a magazine. No big deal.
Printed the labels, the SASE, have my follow-up date marked on the calendar.
Submitting to an agent... not so easy.

I'm paranoid of making the wrong impression, of missing an opportunity. Should I wait until I've gone to Big Sur in March before submitting? But Firebrand's offering a great Query Holiday special until January 15th with no pitch letter--just pages! It's the deal of a life-time.

Pardy Boys is ready to go. Certainly the first 20 pages. So why can't I just bite the bullet? Is there one "perfect agent?" Does one have to think of a career trajectory, or is it important just to get into the game? I've researched about 14 agencies. They fall into three categories:

- No, Too Snooty.
- Wow, Will my Letter Burn up on Entry?
- Hmm, they seem cool AND approachable.

Coddle me, advise me, encourage me.

Driving Self Insane in LA

Stage Fright

This week I'm submitting.
Surrendering.
Giving in.
Throwing myself at Fate's Mercy.

And naturally that led me to watching "Somewhere in Time", the 1980 time-travel-fantasy-romance starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Well it's not good enough to just watch "Somewhere in Time" is it? I also had to go on IMDB and check out Jane's credits and find out about her twins, her mini-serieses (what's the plural? anyone... anyone... Beuller?), and some of her amazing bio facts (her eyes are different colors! and she's only 5'4''. Marilyn was only 5'2'' but I digress.)

In the quotes section of IMDB there was this amazing quote about auditions gone wrong, and it's inspiring because AFTER the audition, Jane went on to some pretty great things. So here's the quote:

After I had my first child, I stopped breastfeeding early because I had been told that there was a possibility that I might star in "The Thorn Birds" (1983), which I wanted more than life itself. I went to do the screen test and everything went great until we [Richard Chamberlain and I] did the love scene. I had stopped feeding for three weeks and unexpectedly my milk came in! I lifted myself up in my pink 1930s negligee, and it's a wet T-shirt contest! I looked up and it was just terrible. There was a big puddle of white milk all over his bare chest. I mean a puddle. This was a serious incident. His reaction was not good. You just say, "What can you do?"

Ok, so after that, I'm ready for anything. I'm sending out my letters, hoping for the best, and preparing for... well, I'm not prepared for spontaneous lactation, but I think that I'll have a healthier appreciation for the process of putting myself out there after Jane's encouragement.

now get back to your books!