Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day and Lemon Meringue Pie

Today, I honor my stepfather, Ken Horne, who was a radio operator in the RAF and was captured on Java in 1940. He spent five years in a Japanese prison camp and survived. He was a decent man, who stepped in and provided me and my sister with the father that we didn’t have. He was there for our triumphs and our failures, which is more than I can say for my “real” father.

And lemon meringue pie. This is one of those desserts that I alway associate with my mother, that and angel food cake. I can never make angel food cake without feeling guilty about wasting all those yolks. Of course you can freeze them, but I tried that and I always end up NOT using the frozen yolks and then discover them in the freezer six months later, all shriveled and sad from freezer burn.

My mother was of the “looks like shit” but “tastes like heaven” sort of baker. My little pastry chef heart could not bear to watch her slice into a pie or a cake without wincing because she’d shove the knife in and cut large pieces, which were all different sizes. But they all tasted great. So I’m thinking today of Ken and my mother, and hope they are together on that beach in heaven, reading good books and drinking their treasured tais.



Saturday, April 11, 2020

April in Qurantine

I am a homebody. This enforced quarantine isn't making me itch with boredom. My neighbor across the street is going berserko-frantic dealing with this isolation. To tell the truth, this appeals to the latent or not-so-latent sloth in me, plus I'm working from home and dealing with enormous projects that have identical deadlines. Boredom would be a blessing.

But what has happened is that I'm suddenly aware of how much stuff I have. Every single room in my house has a bookcase (or five) with the exception of the bathrooms. I'm a book lover as my friends well know, and although I purge now and then, I apparently don't purge enough because books are shoved into odd corners with a randomness that suggests a scattered mind or a woman who has run out of space in her bookshelves.

Also, lots of clothes. Yes, I purge my clothes closets with more diligence than my bookcases, but there is at least thirty years of fashion ephemera, and some dresses, blouses, etc., that I can't bear to get rid of because I still love them. A blouse that I picked up in the U.K. when I was twenty. A ton of sweaters knit by my mother that I will never wear because even at the present weight of, shall we say, too much, she assumed I have the dimensions of a polar bear and these sweaters hang off me, even now.

The point is (I always get there) thus: this reevaluation of my stuff isn't to embrace Marie Kondo, but to just stop buying things. I have enough for one lifetime going forward. More than enough. I'm not at the point of cutting up my credit cards, but I'm getting there. Shoes seem to be something I will always need as my feet keep on growing. Weird. I used to wear a respectable size 8 shoe. Had the kids and my feet grew an entire size. Got rid of a bunch of Italian-made shoes that I adored (and could afford at the time, sigh). Now I'm at least a 9-1/2 and a 10 in some brands. WTF!

When God closes a door, he opens a window. The payoff is that my boobs seem to be growing as well. Having been a woman with an, ahem, what I would call a modest-size rack for my entire life, I am now, well, much bigger. Enter another WTF! Will my breasts follow suit? When I go to that great beyond at some point, will I enter heaven with size 20 feet and 38F tits?

The musings on a gloomy Saturday.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Ode to Walter Satterthwait

Another good writer has received his angel wings: Walter Satterthwait. He was one of those writers who, IMO, never really got his due. His book, Lizzie, is one of the best character studies ever written. Brilliant book. It goes in and out of print as the market dictates, but if you can find a copy (bookfinder.com is your friend if you can't find it other places), I highly recommend it. Those who love historical mysteries will appreciate his writing. He was a master at capturing a historical period and has written several mysteries with historical characters as protagonists: Houdini and Oscar Wilde come to mind.

I met him at Bouchercon when I was a new writer. My first book had been accepted but wasn't published yet, and I was trying to establish some sort of presence before publication. I was nervous and a little awed, sitting in some outdoor cafe trying not to sound too desperate. Those of you who attended that particular Bouchercon (I had a Sharp's container in my hotel room, and I don't think it's because there was a diabetes convention in town. WHAT a shit show!) will remember that there was no place really to sit and have a drink. The hotel wanted you at the tables. But mystery writers will ALWAYS find a bar or make something into a bar.

Anyway, I was sitting next to Lee Child (here's a gigantic shout out to Lee--what a nice guy, didn't know me from Adam--and bought me several rounds of drinks while we trashed George Bush; what innocent days those were) and Walter Satterthwait and his partner (who I want to say is named Caroline). I had just read Lizzie and was awed by the writing, just bowled over. I gushed to him over what a marvelous read that book was and did he have anything else coming out? He told me that he did, but he was back to tending bar in the mean time to make ends meet. That was roughly twenty years ago, and the publishing market was robust enough that a no-name like me could get a publishing contract. Of course, I was working full-time, but I wasn't an established writer. The publishing climate is a million times worse now, and I see that Satterthwait's last book was published by Mysterious Press, another mystery publisher who's gone under.

But my point is not to whine, but to honor someone I think was a great writer, whose way with words lives on in his books. Isn't that part of the lure of writing? You never really die. Your voice always has a place on the page.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

February is here

I know that we Californians live in a strange land. Many of you are shoveling snow and packing in the supplies for the big freeze that's about to hit. I am watching my magnolia tree begin to blossom, and literally hearing the roses growing. I drove up to my sister's house in Sacramento this weekend for some bonding time and the drive up was a visual extravaganza. The cherry trees were in full flower and the almost trees were beginning to strut their stuff. Although housing has been the driving financial engine up there for many years, I am now seeing vineyard after vineyard hugging both sides of Highway 80. I surmise from this that it's much more profitable to grow grapes or almond trees that it is to build housing. The economic smash hit Sacramento very hard,  there were parts of Sacramento where a huge percentage of the housing stock was underwater. It's obviously much more profitable to grow grapes or almond trees than it is to build housing.

I am working like a fiend on my new Y.A. novel. It's very much coming together, the narrative no longer filled with those annoying holes that you know you have to solve before you can create a satisfying ending. I always have a beginning, a middle, and an end that is set in stone. This helps me not wander too far off from what I'm trying to say. The middle can be squishy, moving earlier or later, and the beginning? Sigh. I always write that at least ten times. I don't change that much, but I am constantly fishing for that beginning that will keep the reader reading. And I never change the ending. Never. Because that is the heart of what I want to say.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer

My best wishes for the holidays. It's Christmas number two without my mother, and it's still really hard. She was all about family and table, and that has become my legacy as well. Also, being a former chef plays into that rather nicely. But because the holidays are all about family and table, it only makes that one phantom seat at the table that is vacant and will always be vacant all the more poignant. And more precious in a way. When god closes a door, he opens a window.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Writers Are a Desperate Bunch

There is a website called "Writer Beware" that acts as a bullhorn to let authors know which publishing entities are withholding royalties, which ones do not act in good faith. etc. You get the picture. In the last several month there have been two exposes of fairly well-known publishers (in two different genres and that's important to keep in the back of your mind). Both of them are not paying royalties due to their authors, both of them have been stalling for months (sometimes for years) in an effort to not pay royalties, all the while collecting money from sales of their authors' books.

The accounting system of publishing is unbelievable arcane. I STILL don't understand my statements and I've been writing professionally for twenty years. I trust my publisher so I don't query my statements, but I have to admit then if I didn't, I'd probably stay quiet for a good long while. Because I'm desperate to stay in the market and keep my name out there.

You say, why are the authors being so dumb to keep publishing with an publishing house that is stiffing them. We aren't dumb, we are desperate. Should you be so lucky to get a publishing contract, you are so grateful, so happy you don't have to go the self-publishing route, that you are willing to accept the fact--for much longer than you should--that emails aren't being returned, that checks aren't arriving in a timely manner, and that surely these are accounting errors. The point is that unless you are publishing with a reputable publisher, then you have NO IDEA how many books are being sold. None. You have to take on faith that they are reporting your sales properly. Because you are desperate, you might find yourself essentially writing for free. Some people with these publishers have not been paid, ever, and others have been paid in the past, but are not being paid now. In some cases we are talking thousands of dollars.

The semi-reputable publishers or those who had a decent rep in the past, but are now holding on to your royalties or are essentially running a Ponzi scheme, will give you back your rights. No questions asked. Of course this means that they don't have your books to sell anymore, but I would imagine the number of queries they get in a given week means they will have fresh product to market in a very short time. Will all of these new authors generate as much income as the previous set? This is debatable, but with so many authors getting bounced from trad publishing, it's not a stretch to consider that these houses are going to capture a few decent authors who have a history of publishing and sales. And those authors are desperate.

If you Google the average salary of authors you will get ridiculous article after ridiculous article that says something like the average "take" for an author is on the order of $60,000/year. This is total hogwash, as pointed out in the sobering blog post by the author's guild (https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/six-takeaways-from-the-authors-guild-2018-authors-income-survey/). For 2018, the average income was something like $6500, which was down from 2017. That sounds more like it.  Because that average author figure includes people like J.K. Rowling, who I assure you is not pulling down $65,000/year. Add a few zeros to that number.

So, as my publisher told me when they phoned me with the good news about my first book, "Don't quit your day job." I was really lucky because I have an ethical publisher. Sadly, I also know that I was so desperate to get my novel published (I didn't have an agent), I probably would have signed with Fraud-Publishers-R-Us.

Because I was desperate.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

New Book!

RESOLUTION IS FINISHED AND UP FOR SALE!!!!!!! My amazing sister, Valerie Mighetto, designed the awesome cover, and I'm really pleased how it turned out.
I've finally formatted and wrangled my words into something that resembles a book using technology that was determined to thwart me at every turn. The mental scars will fade eventually, but what a difficult and frustrating process. Anyway. Resolution, my second Jane Austen pastiche, is done! It is for sale at all the usual haunts, both as a digital and paperback copy. Persuasion is the most melancholy of Austen's books, and I hope I was able to capture what makes Anne Elliot the character in all of Austen who deserves the happy ending.
Resolution is a modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic Persuasion. Instead of sailors, we have academics and instead of Bath, we have Carmel. Our story opens with Anne Elliot packing up the family home. Her father, a professor at the University of California, is book smart but a financial idiot. In an attempt to recoup his losses from a disastrous business investment, he rents out the family home to the Crofts, who happen to be the brother-in-law and sister of Derrick Wentworth, Anne’s former love. They met while students at university and had an acrimonious parting the spring of her junior year. Now thirty-five, she’s dated other men, but no one has made as deep dents in her heart as had Derrick Wentworth. We have the selfish father, the odious sister, and whining malcontented sister set against the backdrops of California cities of Berkeley and Carmel. There is commentary on academia, grief, love in the modern age, and marriage in the modern age, and stubborn young men who learn to regret their arrogance and the women who love them.