Where Did it Go?

320px-Photo_Quarter_Horse_RacingI know it’s only November and we still have Thanksgiving and December holidays to go before the new year.  But I woke up this morning and thought Yikes, where did my year go? I feel like I’m racing to the finish.

And how much can I cram into the last month and a half?

I had a great year.   Living at the shore is a sure fire way to reduce stress.  Stuck on a plot point? A the minute walk on the beach will fix that?  Well at least give you a new viewpoint when you return to the manuscript.

Did I bask in the sun all summer?  No.  I sat at my computer all summer.  All winter, spring and fall (so far.)  Am I a happy camper?

YES. YES. YES.

WhisperBeachIt was wild.  I wrote my next women’s fiction. Whisper Beach, which comes out in June.  About childhood friends who might or might not still be friends when the re meet at a funeral. A touch of the Big Chill Jersey Edition.

 

 

Then I wrote the first novel in a new historical mystery series (as Shelley Freydont). A Gilded Grave. It was really fun and hair-tearing.  Lots of research. But that’s the beauty of working at something you love, and feel compelled to do. It takes pace in 1895, the height of the Gilded Age in Newport, Rhode Island, which gave me a double dose of one of my favorite places because it came on the heels of my last Women’s Fiction Breakwater Bay which is a contemporary A Gilded Grave2 smastory set in Newport.

BreakwaterBay

 

 

 

And last but not least a new Celebration Bay novel and novella  to be out in time for Halloween next year.

It was a crazy year.  Crazy and beach-soothing. Did I feel like I missed anything?  Sure. Lots, but it was worth it.

I hope I get to repeat it next year. Though I will try to schedule better.

How did your year go?  Meet your goals? Sat back and enjoyed life?  A little bit of both? What do you love spending (almost) every waking minute doing?

 

 

Sand Surf and Carousels

We Jerseyans love our shore.  We go down the shore for vacations, for holidays, for relaxing, for inspiration, just for the heck of it.  Memories are made there. Lives are changed there.  And many good times have been had there.

Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage.  It hurt individuals, families, friends, neighbors.  But in new Jersey’s indomitable spirit, everybody came out to lend a hand, donated goods, time and financial support, trying to make life a little more comfortable for those who lost their home, business or a loved one.

BUT WE’RE BACK!!!

Seaside Heights back and building

I’ve been busy with a bunch of deadlines and hours of writing, but I took a day off to drive over to Seaside Heights to see how things were going.

And they were going.  It was a Tuesday and though the boardwalk wasn’t thronged, it is the very beginning of the season, it was there and looking good. Arcades were open, games and food lined way.  Both carousels were up and running.

I’m a big carousel lover.  I’m exultant that I finally got to put a carousel in my upcoming book Stargazey Point.  The book takes place in a fictional town on the South Carolina shore, and strangely enough , though written well before Sandy, it’s about a town devastated by decades of hurricanes that looks toward its old carousel to lead it back into prosperity.

Yike’s, kind of scary.  Little did I know then that I would be getting first hand experience of how my characters were affected and how their lives were changed, and most importantly of all, how they made a comeback, stronger than ever.

Carousels are more than just a ride, a fun few minutes, to me at least.  They are symbols of childhood innocence, of hope, of dreams. A lot to ask of a ride that goes around in a circle with none of the high tech thrills and chills of being suspended in air, dropped through space, scared out of your wits. Up and down and round and round, sort of like life, and if you’re lucky there’s a brass ring to take home.

 

STARGAZE POINT

 

Here’s an excerpt from STARGAZEY POINT

Even when the carousel music slowly wobbled to silence, Cab could still hear it playing inside his head. Sometimes he heard it in his dreams and he and Midnight Lady would gallop over the sand, wild like the wind, his Uncle Ned had read that from a book once, wild like the wind.

His uncle locked up the carousel, stuck the cash box under his arm, and came to stand beside him.  “Tired, son?”

“No sir,” Cab said, stifling a yawn.

“It’s a mighty fine night, ain’t it?”

Cab nodded.  Stargazey Point was just about the best place in the world. Like living in a carnival.

Uncle Ned said goodnight to the women closing up the community store.  They were going home for the night, but out on the pier people played the arcades and ate cotton candy and drank lemonade.  If he listened real hard, Cab could hear music coming from the pavilion out at the end, where the grownups would be dancing to a real live band.

Ned put his arm around Cab’s shoulders.  “Time we were getting home.  Have us some left over barbeque and get to bed.”

They walked away from the beach, the lights, the sounds and into the night. They were half way home when Uncle Ned stopped in the middle of the dark street.  “Look up at the sky, Cab.”

Cab did.  The sky was black and there more stars than you could ever count. He sighed.  School would be starting soon and he’d have to leave his uncle for another year. He didn’t want to go, he didn’t like boarding school, everyone here was nice.

“I wish I could stay in Stargazey Point forever.”

“Maybe you will one day. It’s a magical place, sure enough.  It can mend your heart, make you strong, and show you the way to follow your dream.  You remember that, Cab. There’s not a better place in the whole world than right here at the Point.”

 

 

Holy Moly!!

HOLY MOLY

You never know what interesting things you might stumble upon doing research.

In my current work in  progress aimed for  2014 and titled so far as Breakwater Bay, one of my characters is a book illustrator. He  is doing the illustrations for and yet another children’s version of the Odyssey.

Now I’ve studied Homer, but it was a while ago and I wasn’t sure which characters were in the Iliad and which were in the Odyssey.  So I googled.

Holy Moly!!!! I couldn’t believe what I found. I say that all the time, Holy Moly!  My characters often are heard saying it.  I always just assumed that it was one  of those mildly drat kind of expressions like gosh durn and other light weight swear words that won’t get you into trouble with readers or your mother.

Well, guess again.  Holy Moly is an herb. A Holy herb.  A magical herb that is written about in the Odyssey. Hermes gives this herb to Odysseus to protect him from Circe, so that he can rescue his crew, whom she has turned into swine.  Sounding familiar?

Supposedly this magical herb is grown from the blood of a giant killed on the isle of Kirke or Circe.

 

 

 

It has been suggested that this was actually a plant  in the species Galanthus or the snowdrop; evidently it substances can counteract the affects of hallucinations.  As kids we were always told snow drops were poison. Here’ s a lovely photo of the snow drop taken by Simon Garbutt.

Anybody know how moly or molu grew from an herb in the Odyssey to an expression of surprise?

Holy Moly!!

 

The Wandering MInd

 

 It reached eighty degrees here last week. Normally I’d drive down the shore, take a beach chair and a book and sit out for a few hours before treating myself to a nice lunch and driving home.

But a weird thing happened. Last week I also put the finishing touches on a Christmas novella and sent it out.  A couple of days later I started on my next mystery which as it happens also takes place at Christmas.  The beach idea flew right out of my mind.

I was in word count mode and my imagination was full throttle.  I had to set a timer so I wouldn’t forget to go to the gym each day.  Now here’s the weird part.  Do you ever get lost in your book, whether reading or writing so that you lose track of time, or place or . . . the weather?  The timer went off.  Time for the gym.  I finished my sentence and headed to the closet for my coat.

And stood there. There were no coats in the closet.  No scarves, no winter hats, no gloves.

Because I had put them all away several weeks before.  I’d forgotten because I was so immersed in snow and good cheer (No I was only drinking black coffee all morning.) that I had totally worked myself into thinking it was winter outside.

That’s a great thing to happen when you’re reading and writing.  It makes fiction seem so real.  But it’s just a little scary when it doesn’t stop when you close the book or when your lap top switches to sleep mode.

I’ve pretty much successfully trained myself not to plot while driving. I’ve been known to arrive at a destination that wasn’t intended.  Or look up at a light  and wonder how I got there.   But that was in years past and needless to say, not in a high traffic area, for instance midtown Manhattan, but in those places where your full concentrations wasn’t needed.  Regardless, I decided that plotting time would have to go during driving time.  Now I listen to music as I drive and keep my eyes and mind on the road.

Which means my mind has to take over other noncrucial moments to play out a plot line. Which has led to the charred dinner rumor my kids passed around. Let the record show, I do not burn everything I cook.  In fact, I hardly ever, well, not often, not too often . . . It was just those grilled sandwiches that I wandered off to look at my email and forgot until the smoke alarm beeped sending me running back to the kitchen.  Now if I cook, I stay in the kitchen.  We eat a lot of takeout.

They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  It’s also pretty funky when it wanders off like a misbehaving child.   But what adventures it has.

I hope you’re just like me nad have learned to coral those pecky ideas.  Where has your mind wandered lately?

Learning Lessons

When I left the gym this morning, The Sleeping Beauty Ballet was playing on the car radio.  Now those of you who know that I was a dancer in a former profession, won’t be surprised that I could still remember whole bits of steps.  The only time I was ever in Sleeping Beauty was when I was fourteen, many years ago.

It was a summer production by an established, semi-professional, regional ballet company,  being set by two dancers from the Royal Ballet in London. They held outside auditions and I was accepted.

It was that summer I learned my first big lesson.

I was young, I was away from home and I wasn’t really tall.  But I made the cut for the sixteen member corps de ballet.  A big coup.  It meant that I actually got to dance instead of just being one of the  townspeople who stood around watching the others dance. I was also called to understudy several soloists. I was in heaven until the next day.

That’s when I learned that one of the local girls who hadn’t made a place in the corps complained to her mother.  And the mother, being a patron of the ballet company, went in and demanded that her daughter be put in the corps. One minute I was standing waiting for my entrance at the end of the line, the next I was dismissed and the girl (whose name I will always remember but not share) stepped into my place.

I wasn’t so young and naïve not to see the looks that went around the room.  More than one dancer said something to me about it not being fair.  No, but it still had happened.  And I didn’t have a mother nearby to champion my cause.

Variation rehearsals were held in the mornings.  And each morning I was there, ready to dance my heart out, the umpteenth understudy for Blue Bird, Puss N Boots, Lilac Fairy, and every afternoon I would go into the group rehearsal and watch everyone else dance until it was time for the crowd scene where I had landed a spotlight role as one of the knitting ladies who the three spinning ladies came out of the crowd to down center, with knitting needles as I recall,  and were banished from the kingdom (offstage left). That was my summer.

I was living in a dorm with a group of ballet boys from a New York Dance company who had been imported to do the major roles.  They were nice but older and had their own lifestyles so after rehearsal I ate something from a corner market and sat in my room.  Kind of depressing even for a fourteen year old.

This went on for weeks and then it was time for our first costume fittings.  I walked past yards of shiny colored satins, bejeweled tutus of tulle and velvet, fur lined cloaks, to where the spinning ladies were being fitted.  A nice lady helped me into the heavy black wool dress.  It was several inches too long, and even in the air conditioning terribly hot and itchy.  But I put it on and looked down at the heavy long sleeves, the hand stitched  seams.  The cuffs and collar were edged in black braiding.  I’m sure there was years of sweat residing in its folds, but it was the most gorgeous  thing I’d ever seen and for a moment I didn’t miss the white gossamer tulles of the corps de ballet.

Rehearsals went on and I was given many compliments on my dancing the umpteenth understudy part of the variations.  Maybe they were just feeling guilty for knocking me out of the corps.  They told me I had talent.  The rehearsal pianist who said he had played for Pavlova told me  the world was waiting for me.  And ruined it all by telling me that I first needed to tape back my ears, because they stuck out, there was nothing to do about the points but hope for the best.

That’s when I grew  to love and appreciate those ballet boys and their odd lifestyles.  They said I had “diva” ears and people would kill to have them.  I can’t remember if I believed them or not, but I didn’t tape them back.

So rehearsals  continued and I continued to walk out of the crowd on cue to meet the other two spinning ladies, only to be banished from the kingdom and chased off stage left.

Then came the first dress rehearsal.  I put on the heavy costume.  Did I mention it was an outdoor amphitheatre?  Huge and hot.  The orchestra was in the pit, the music swelled.  Dancers took their places.  I watched from the wings  until it was time for the crowd scene.  I entered cloaked by the others.  And something happened.  I was suddenly in the kingdom of Sleeping Beauty.  It was the most magical thing I had ever seen, or heard, the  sets, the costumes, the music.  I floated on a cloud of sheer awe. And only dimly became aware of a voice yelling over the microphone that directors used when they were watching from the  front of house. “Third spinning lady, Where’s the damn third spinning lady?

The words barely penetrated my rapt state, until I was shoved out of the crowd and stumbled onto center stage to meet the two waiting spinning ladies who looked a little miffed.  We were banished stage left.  And the show went on.

I never reached that state of pure awe after that.  I didn’t dare. I waited in the wings, listened to the music for cue.  Was alert and ready when it was time for my less than fifteen minutes of fame. I never missed a cue after that, even though I never danced a step on stage.

That wasn’t the last time I lost a part or a role because someone had more clout.  But it was the last time I let it happen without putting up a fight. I learned some valuable life lessons.

One, if you don’t have a rich mamma, you gotta learn to take care of yourself.

Two, a truly great performer always has to reserve a bit of him/herself to keep the character doing what he should on cue.

Three, the shape of your ears can be dealt with and aren’t really that important.

And the most important thing of all.  People can step on you, push you down, laugh at you, or dismiss you as unimportant.  There are no small parts.

And no one, no one, can ever take away the magic inside you.

I”m sure we all have lessons to share.  What’s yours?

 

Writing in Color

So Many ColorsThey say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I write thousands of words, my books generally run around a hundred thousand words.  Sometimes longer.

So a thousand words seems like a no-brainer.

But try describing the delicate pink blossoms as they hover on the dark branches of the ornamental plum. It’s a sight that must make the most harried person stop and look in wonder.  Or that blue the sky takes on when the clouds have passed and the sun shines through unhampered.  Or the sheer exuberance of the yellow forsythia when all you can see is a fireworks display of color shooting toward the sky, and curving back toward earth

A thousand words.

Four manuscript pages.

Should be easy.

In these fast lane times if you took four pages to describe Armageddon, much less a spring flower, you’d be shown the publishing door, and kicked back into the nineteenth century.  (Okay, most of us don’t actually see a real door, but you know what I mean.)

In those days, readers savored their books, there weren’t that many being published each month.  And there were only a few books stores.  If you weren’t near a book store or lending library, you had to wait for the cut versions to be delivered by mail.  Which came by stage coach, an amazingly quick method of transport as long as the horses were fresh. You waited eagerly for the next installment of Dickens in the London newspapers or—remember these?— monthly magazines.

The working and poorer classes didn’t have too much time for reading.  We don’t have that much time either.

But those were before the days of the twitter attention span, live streaming, pinging and poking. Of course it was also the days when the majority of people had no indoor plumbing.  Which probably cut down on bathroom reading considerably.

These days you pretty much have to sneak a description in during the action or your character.  I don’t mind that.  It makes sense to see the world through your protagonist’s eyes.  Even the eyes of the villain.  It makes more sense than having the anonymous all seeing narrator ( accent on the second syllable, please) interjecting just when you’ve become totally absorbed in the characters’ lives.

But there’s something sad about not being able or knowing how to take the time to savor a slow passage of writing. To roll it around on your mental tongue; appreciate it’s rightness.

What we want are page turners.  Which I always thought was a strange designation. Until recently you had to turn the pages to read any book.  But we know what they mean.  Write a book that is so constantly compelling, so full of hooks and cliff hangers that the readers can’t put it down.  Will stay up late, miss their train stop, forget to pick up the kids.

When did reading become such an exhausting activity?

Wasn’t it Elmore Leonard who when asked how he writes, said “I cut out the parts the reader skips over.”

Smart man, sad commentary on how we read today.

What words at their most succinct can do is trigger a picture in the head of the reader that expands and expounds on what they’re reading, letting them complete the scene in their imagination as we draw them into the next page.

Which kind of reading do you prefer, slow and lazy or page turning thrills?