Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Reflections

Christmas Time
Time for frightful reflection

It is here again.  It is a time of joy, laughter, loving, giving, family, friends, the clink of eggnog and brandy cups, the smell of cinnamon, the blinking reds, greens, blues and yellows of sparkling lights lining the roofs and circling the branches of fragrant Nobel firs.  And it is a time of acute embarrassment.

At least for me.

This year.

It started on Monday.  I hate being late.  In college, Robert Barthol, my California Criminal Law teacher, made us sign in for each class.  He’d snatch up the clipboard the moment the big hand reached the twelve.  If we came in late, he’d give us an opportunity to explain.  If he thought it a good reason, he’d let us sign in.  At the end of the quarter, he told us those who were signed in for every class could use him as a job reference.  Since then, I’ve valued punctuality, so when I remembered my dental cleaning appointment on Monday, and glanced at my watch, I rushed to the car and floored it out of my driveway.  With my right foot on the brake, and my left foot thumping the floor, I waited behind school bus, after school bus, finally careening into the parking lot nine minutes late. 

“Do I have time to, ah, go use the little room over there?” I asked the woman at the front desk, waving my hand toward the far end of the lobby.

She made a show of glaring at me, moving her eyes to the large clock ticking on the wall, and back to me.  “I really don’t think so.  She’ll need the whole hour to do you.”

I was on her naughty list, but she’d not even give me a lump of coal if I didn’t make that stop first. 

“I’ll rush,” I said, and loped across the room.  When I came out, the hygienist stood at the front desk, holding a thick file, her eyes sweeping the waiting room.  “Melanie?”

“I’m here,” I said, and clipped past all the people in the lobby, past the disapproving receptionist and followed the hygienist past x-ray room, past all the dentist treatment rooms, and past other hygienist’s rooms. 

At the end of the hall, she pointed to a doorway. “In here.” 

I brushed by her and laid my pocketbook on the counter. 

“Um,” the hygienist said, and moved closer to me, whispering in my ear, “you, ah, have a streamer.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of days later I couldn’t get warm at my house. I packed up my computer and drove to a Starbucks.  Once I had my latte, I leaned back in my chair, drew in the scent of brewing coffee, stretched my legs in front of me and took a sip of the steamy liquid.  But out of the corner of my eyes, I saw my navy blue socks clashing with the black pants and black shoes.  I downed the drink and walked stiff-legged out the door.

Tonight, I wanted to place a couple of Christmas CDs in my ancient stereo system, but couldn’t find the correct remote.  Every remote I found did nothing to turn on the stereo.  Honestly, I don’t even have that much in the way of electronic equipment.  I don’t even have cable, so what the heck do all these remotes operate, I thought.

I rocked back on my heels and sucked in a panicked breath.   Heat lit my face like a Christmas tree. 


I’m old.

That is the embarrassing conclusion.  There is no other explanation.  When you can’t figure out what each remote is for, that is the time you have to ask your children to come over and label everything for you, with detailed, pictured instructions.  And they should check your fire alarm batteries.  The week makes sense now.

Merry Christmas.  It is Christmas, right?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

And Then I Was in Traction

Hidden Rhetorical Questions
and how to handle them

Years ago I quit a job to take a promotion at another facility.  After several months I attended a sporting event where both companies were in attendance.  As I strolled along in front of the bleachers, clutching a diet cola and fixing the shoulder-strap of my purse on my shoulder, I greeted old friends and smiled at new ones. A woman I had known for several years waved me over.  “Melanie, Melanie, how are you?”

“I’m fine, Phyllis.  How are things going with you?”

“Fine, fine.”  She leaned forward and lowered her voice into a conspiratorial stage whisper.  “Tell me all about your new job.  Have you had any problems?”

It was a pretty dicey job, so it didn't surprise me she'd ask that question.  As it happened, I'd had big problems my second day.  Enough where I'd wondered if I'd made a mistake in taking the job.  “Well, it is going pretty well.  My second day there--”

“Frank,” Phyllis looked past me.  “Frank, how are you doing?”

I paused, not sure if her question had been rhetorical or not.  Perhaps she was just greeting everyone as they ambled past, and really didn't want an answer.

“Hey Phyllis, nice to see you,” Frank called.

Phyllis returned her attention to me.  “Your second day?”

With that encouragement, I continued. “Oh my second day,” I began, but her eyes glazed over and refocused somewhere behind me. 

“Wendy, how is everything with you?” she called.

There were people sitting all around Phyllis and I could feel my cheeks burn as they witnessed the snub.  Trying to cover the cut direct, I continued as if Phyllis were actually listening.  Perhaps the people wouldn’t realize how unimportant I was.  “Yes, my second day I got into a big fight, trying to protect my co-worker.”

Someone stopped behind me momentarily.  “I’m fine, Phyllis.  And you?”  Must have been Wendy.

This happened to me too often to be coincidence.  People would ask me a question and my answers were so uninteresting they could not be bothered to listen to them.  It made me feel small, like an ant in the shadow of an elephant’s footstep.  I straightened my shoulders and continued, “The person grabbed hold of my co-worker’s hair, took her down to the floor, and started snapping her head back and forth.  I jumped on top of the bad-guy and the fight was on.”

“I’m great, Wendy.” Phyllis grinned past me, occasionally flicking her eyes to mine to encourage me to go on.  “It is nice to see you and your kids.  They’ve really grown.”

“Yup,” I explained calmly.  “It took three deputies to break up the fight.”

Wendy and her kids must have moved along because Phyllis glanced at me again.  “Oh?”

“It was a rude beginning to my new job,” I said.

“Oh, I can imagine.” Her gaze slid past me again.  “Bill, how the heck are you?”

“When they pulled us apart, there was blood everywhere," I continued just to be obstinate.  "and a big wad of my co-worker's hair.  They rushed me to the hospital,” I added as an afterthought.  No reaction from Phyllis.  “And then I was in traction for a month.”

“Hey, Phyllis,” Bill barked.  “I’m the heck fine.  Glad to see you here.”

“Then they released me to one of those convalescent hospitals where I underwent extensive physical therapy,” I went on, folding my arms across my chest, juggling the cola, and jutting my chin.

“Glad to see you too, Bill,” Phyllis gushed.

Really warming to my subject, I plowed on, “I only just regained the use of my legs. 
The entire medical staff was amazed.”

“Where’s your wife, Bill?”

“Considering they were thinking I’d lose a kidney.”

“She’s working,” Bill answered, his voice distant now, as if he’d kept walking.

“But they think if I’m really careful I should retain my sight.”

“Bummer,” Phyllis called to Bill.

“But other than that, everything is going well,” I finished, sending her a friendly smile.

Phyllis returned her gaze to me.  “Wonderful,” she said.  “Glad everything’s going well.”

As I walked away, I heard snickering from the row behind Phyllis, and a few guffaws.  I felt a thrill of victory.  Someone had been interested, even if it was a stranger.  It gave me a new sense of confidence. I started my first novel shortly after. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A scream in the night

I'm still shivering and my hair is wet.

This evening I was returning from a writing event, speeding past farms and dairies, not quite out as far as the wildlife refuge (my house), when I spotted in the headlight beams what looked like some eyes beside the road.  Then they were gone.  Ever vigilant for the crafty black tailed deer who wait until they see my car coming and then merrily dash out to scare the living daylights out of me, I braked.  Hard.  As the car slid to a stop, I saw the swish of a long, dark tail, and a head lift briefly before going back to grazing.  This was no deer.  It was a horse.

Study of Wild Horses--Albert Bierstadt  1830-1902

Scenes of chasing my neighbor's rambunctious horses in the middle of the night in my youth flashed through my mind.  There are no street lights out in the wilds of the Vancouver hills and people travel in excess of 55 MPH.  Not me, of course, but others  I.turned on my emergency flashers and pulled into the next driveway, leaving my car near the road, and walked back toward the horse, cooing sweet horse nothings.  The beast turned his rear toward me and trotted ten feet away.  Yup, I thought.  This is going to be a problem.

The gravel crunched as I picked my way up the driveway to the house.  It was nearly 9 PM, but I could see  light through the windows.  I rang the bell.  Rang it again, stamping to keep out the cold.  No one came to the door and I could hear a car screaming down the road.  I jogged back down to the pavement and tried to wave to the driver to slow down but I was wearing all black and I know they couldn't see me.  I squeezed my eyes closed and hunched my shoulders as it flew past, dreading the thud of 900 lbs of horse meeting the bumper of a vehicle traveling at 60 MPH.

No impact, and the car careened away, unimpeded.

I crossed in the darkness and found another driveway.  It was misting, and I hugged my rain jacket against me in the 45 degree air.  A fire burned cheerfully in the fireplace and several lights were on in the back rooms.  I pounded on the door.  Seven times.  A doberman's face appeared on the other side of the glass in the door, but the wild barking did not bring anyone to investigate.  I knocked again.  Nothing, except the dog, teeth bared and frantic barking.

I walked back to the street, crossed and searched for the horse, but didn't see it.  Back in the car, I retraced my route, turned around about a quarter of a mile away and returned.  The horse was back beside the road, grazing again.  I pulled into a new driveway, lights flashing, got out and groped my way up to the door.  A light came one.  The door opened.

"Sorry to bother you but there is a horse loose beside the street and I know if it were mine, I'd want to be told--"

"Oh my God.  A horse?  Just one?  Where?"

I pointed down the road.  We couldn't see it, but her light was shining into a paddock beside her house, where a white horse pranced back and forth, tail high, and whickered nervously.  "Oh my God, it's mine.  Two of them are out."

She leaped off the porch, yelping out names.  "Where are they? Where are they?" she called to me.

I jogged back to the road, and make out the silhouette of one, its head up, ears pricked forward.  It started dancing away from me.  "Over there,  It is over there."  I pointed, but it was too dark to see.  "Here, here, this way." I called.

Then I saw headlights coming.   In each direction.  She saw them too.  Her voice rose an octave as she hollered for her horses.  The loose horse started to canter across the street.  The horse in the paddock paraded  back and forth along the fence, whinnying and snorting.  Out of nowhere a second dark, shape bounded past into the street.  The headlights closed in from both directions.  The woman bellowed, her arms windmilling in the light beams, "Look out! Look out!  Slow down."

Hooves pounded down the street, horses whinnied, engines roared, the woman screamed. Panic lit the night as the two cars screamed past, finally seeing us when they were nearly on top of us, slamming on their brakes, skidding.  The horses, at full gallop, sped away until they were out of headlight beams and only their hooves flying over the pavement could be heard.

A man's voice shouted in question.  "Horses loose," I called as I jogged back to my car and backed out onto the road, the flashers still going.  "They went that way, I shouted, pointing and hoping he could see.  I inched down the road and caught a glimpse of horses and the woman running, running, and I knew there was a corner ahead and could see headlights approaching it.

The horses veered off the main road down a dirt one, the woman still chasing.  I angled my car across the junction, still with the flashers going, and jumped out, prepared to head them off if they turned around, to prevent them from getting back onto the road.   A car sneaked by me, the man holding ropes.  Another neighbor jogged down the street.  "What is going on?"

"Horses loose," I shouted.  I could just make him out as he got closer.  "Wait," I said, and fished my warm jacket out of my car.  "The horse owner has no jacket on."  I held it out.  He grabbed it on the way past.

Another car pulled up.  The driver rolled down the passenger window.  "Horses loose." I called.

She threw the car into park and leaped out.  "How many?" she asked as she hurdled past.

"Two," I said. "And they disappeared to the right about twenty yards in front of you."

Then all was quiet.  The cold seeped into my light raincoat.  Mist coated my hair.  For ten minutes I paced in the blinking yellow light of my car's flashers and wondered how long it would be before my battery suffered, stamping my feet, and blowing warm air on my hands, alert for the sounds of hooves.  Another ten minutes later a car slowly approached, and stopped at the side of the road, his beams spotlighting me.  I advanced and could just barely make out a light bar on the roof.

"Horses loose," I warned.

"Yeah, I know.  I got the call.  How many?"

"Two, and there are about five people out chasing them.  They took off to the right about twenty yards down this road."

"Okay, I'm going to go take a look," he said.

"Can you get around me?  I'm trying to block them from getting back onto the main road if they come back this way."

"Yeah, I can get by."

He squeezed past in his car and inched his way down the dirt road.

I was shivering now, hugging my jacket to me and wishing I'd worn a warmer one.  About five minutes later a white apparition materialized behind me, giving me a start until I realized it was a woman in a white ski parka.  "Where are they?"

I repeated the directions to her, but just as she started down the road, we heard the steady clopping of horses at a sedate walk.  Then we saw them come out from behind some bushes, and there were definitely two-legged shapes beside each horse.  As they got closer, I saw the owner, her hand gripping the rope around one horse and the other hand gripping my jacket.

"You didn't need the jacket?" I asked.

"No.  But thanks.  Before someone brought ropes I thought I could use it to rope one of them."  She held it out.  "I'm Denise."

"I'm Melanie." I took the jacket.

"Thank you so much for stopping.  I'm sure they'd be dead by now if you hadn't."

I followed them back a quarter of a mile, with my flashers going until they were safe in the paddock.

"Merry Christmas," I called as I did a three-point-turn in the driveway of the first house I had tried.

"And to you too," echoed out of the dark.

Can I list this as volunteer work on my resume?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Defying Death

Defying Death

I was talking with one of our suppliers the other day, and she told me she is going to Maine on her vacation.  This caused my mouth to go dry, and sweat to bead on my upper lip.  Visions jumbled into my head of the time I spent in Maine, on/in the Kennebec River the summer my older sister (who shall remain nameless)  tried to kill me.

I had traveled back to Massachusetts to visit family, and my older sister asked if I'd like to do some kayaking.  That sounded good.  I had kayaked on the stoic, flat waters of pristine lakes under the watchful eye of Mt. Hood in Oregon, and paddled down the meandering, innocent waters of the Lewis and Cowlitz rivers that feed from Mt. Saint Helens in Washington. It was relaxing and peaceful and allowed up-close interaction with Great Blue Herons and Osprey.

 "That sounds great," I said, "as long as it is an easy paddle."  She booked a trip down the Kennebec, insisting the brochure said the level was for "anyone."

When we got to the river, it turned out the first part of the trip was in a white water raft.  This concerned me because "white-water" and "kayaking" are not two terms I like to put together, but she insisted the rafting part of the trip was just the first part, and once through the rapids, we'd board the kayaks.  I had been white-water rafting on the Stanislaus River, in California, the Rio Grande, in New Mexico, and the Deschutes River in Oregon and it had been fun.  The Deschutes has one or two Class 4 rapids, depending on the water level, and before shooting them, everyone gets out and climbs over the rocks to stare at it, and plan the attack.  The guide tells the crew exactly what to expect, and how to paddle it. It is all very organized.  The rest of the Deschutes trip consists of several Class 3 rapids, and a lot of swift current that is fun in a raft, but nothing I'd want to do in a kayak.

"Okay," I said.  "Sounds good."  We got to the put-in place and my sister and I climbed into the front of the raft.

The guide shot me an assessing look.  "You are going to sit there?"

I was on the port side of the bow, and looked around me to see if there was something saying it wasn't a proper place to be.  On the Deschutes, people had always sat in the bow.  "Is there a reason why I shouldn't?"

He quirked an eyebrow.  "No reason at all."

The rest of the people crowded into the raft and we shoved off.  Within moments I heard a roaring, similar to the sound when you stand at the base of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge.  "What's that?"

It turns out that the Kennebec rafting portion is a perilous white-water trip through three miles of continuous, life-threatening Class 4 rapids.  At one point the churning waters swamped the raft as we dropped into a hole, and as we came up, I was swept overboard, sucked below the surface even though strapped into a very buoyant life-vest.  My first thought was "hang onto the paddle."  No one wants to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  My second thought was, "Why am I still below the surface?"  My life-vest still surrounded me, but with the force of Class 4 rapids it does not necessarily keep you on top of the water.  I fought my way toward the light, lungs burning, and gulped in a huge breath.  The rapids sucked me down again, and again, and each time I'd surface I'd only have time for a quick breath before being swamped again.  I laid on my back and kept my feet downriver, as were the instructions we'd been given at the beginning of the trip.
Coming up out of the Hole, Kennebec River

By the time they caught up to me, and dragged my nearly lifeless body into the bottom of the raft, I understood what a fish must feel after loosing a battle with a fishing line.  Except I was too exhausted to flap around.  I remained sprawled, still gripping the paddle, through two or three more treacherous death-drops, squeezing my eyes shut against the walls of spray bounding over the boat.  After several minutes of shameful cowardice, I crawled over the other passengers to my place in the bow while the craft plunged through more hurling rapids.

A short time later (a way, way too short time later, in my opinion) the guide headed to a rocky bank under the shade of birch and oak branches.  Two kayaks rested on shore.  Two.  One for me, and one for my nameless older sister.  Apparently we were the only two foolish enough to sign up for the kayaking.  With knees still shaking, I wobbled my way out of the raft and climbed onto the sit-upon blue plastic kayak, which the guide pulled into the water.  They pried the rafting paddle out of my fist and slid a kayaking paddle into it, then the guide splashed back to the raft and shoved off.  All around me the waters roared.  This was no meandering river.  As far as the eye could see, the power of the river screamed with miles of Class 3 rapids, before emptying into a more placid part of the Kennebec for the last four miles to the take-out point.

I don't remember much of kayaking the three miles of Class 3 rapids.  My mind shut down all non-essential thought and all I remember is terror and frantic paddling to keep from overturning.

When we got to the take-out place, my hands snaked to my hips and my chin jutted.  I lazered the guide with my gaze.  "How could they possibly list this journey as an "anyone can do it" trip?" I accused.

"Anyone can do it," he said, with a shrug.  "It is just that they may not be able to do it while still remaining in the boat," came the alarming reply.  Did my sister know this when she booked?  I say yes.  My mother insists she probably didn't.  I'd go along with my mother if it weren't for the fact my sister had scheduled a white-water kayaking lesson for "us" the day after our kayaking trip, on a tributary to the Kennebec.  Wouldn't you think she would have scheduled the class the day before the trip if she didn't have mayhem in mind?  And is it just me, or does anyone else find it a little too coincidental that the tributary on which the lesson was to be held, is called the Dead River?

Too late to save myself, Kennebec River

Yeah, me too.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things a writer learns at a hog farm

It is surprising how very little I know.  With every page written in my current manuscript, more research is necessary.  And it is a contemporary romance, so what is there not to know?  I mean, really, I didn’t get to be my age--with a daughter--without learning the mechanics of romance, right?  But every moment of one’s life is not necessarily involved with romance, in real life or within a novel.  It is those pesky little interludes of non-romance that are forcing me to research.  Now that I’ve learned about the “I’m a writer…” opening line, I’m getting better at snagging the little details I may, or may not, include in the book. 

Harley SuperLow Sportster
For instance, I walked into the local Harley Davidson store recently and cornered a salesman. “I’m a writer,” I said, and paused to let the enormity of those three stunning words sink into the consciousness of the salesman, whom I’ll call Chris, “and my character is 71 years old, rich, and he wants a Harley Davidson.  So, think of me as being that man.  I want to buy a Harley.  What will be your response?”

Chris, a young man in his thirties, with short brown hair and no noticeable tattoos, hesitated a moment before jumping into the land of “what if.”  “Do you have a motorcycle endorsement?”


“Do you ride motorcycles?”


“Then I suggest you take this motorcycle safety class.” He pointed to an advertisement on the counter for SW Motorcycle Safety.  “Once you pass that, you don’t have to take the driver’s test for the endorsement.  You just hand your ‘pass’ slip from the class over to the DMV.”

I folded my arms across my chest.  “I don’t want to do that.  I just want to buy the motorcycle.”

Chris lowered his voice, and cocked an eyebrow.  “How do you plan to get it home?  Did you have someone here to drive it?”

I jutted my chin.  “I can’t ride it home?”

He ignored the question.  “Would you like me to put it in my trailer and drive it to your house?”

I smiled.  “Yes, that would be very nice.  Thank you.”  I walked over to a row of smaller machines.  “Which one of these would you recommend, and money is no object.”

Now both eyebrows shot up.  “Money is no object?” he asked.

I narrowed my eyes.  “It is fiction.”

“Oh, that’s right.  Okay, well, how tall are you?”

“Does it matter?”  I figured if I could touch the ground while astride the bike, everything would be gravy.

“Yes.  You have to reach the pegs for your feet.”

“Oh,” I said.  I ran my gaze up and down the salesman.  “How tall are you?”

He shot me a grin.  “I’m 5’11” but I’d tell you six feet.”

I nodded.  I’d shave off twenty-five pounds if asked my weight if I were female, but right now I was a male.  “Yeah, okay, I’m six feet.  Really.”

“Okay, then.”  He patted the handle bar of one of the motorcycles.  “This one here…”  He squinted at me.  “Are you planning to ride this on the road, or off-road?”

How would I know what the character in my book planned?  I hadn’t written it yet.  But not wanting to limit the potential, I hauled in a breath and gave the salesman a smirk.  “Maybe I’ll want to do both.”

“Then get a Kawasaki.”

My mouth dropped open.  “I want a Harley,” I demanded.

“You don’t know how to ride, you don’t want to take the safety course, and you might ride off-road.  You need to get an entry level Kawasaki, or some small bike, about 250cc, and ride it for six months.  If you still want a Harley after that, come back.

I couldn’t believe how rude he was being to my character.  How would my character handle this?  “But I want a Harley, and I want it now, and I’ll pay cash.”

He placed his hands on his hips.  “Look, you lay a Kawasaki down and you can pick it up and keep going.  You lay one of these bikes down and it’ll be fifteen hundred to three thousand bucks to repair it.  These are not dirt bikes.  They are Harleys,” he said, as if this explained everything.  He pointed to a shiny chromed plate on the side.  “This right here is going to cost bucks if you lay it down.”

I thought about telling him I had the money to repair it, but then I realized it wasn’t about the money.  It was about the horror of someone being callus enough to allow a Hog to get injured.  “Look,” my character stood his ground, “I want to get a bike today.  I’ll worry about driving it later.  What one are you going to sell me?”

He sighed, and scrutinized me.  “Are you pretty buff?”

Dear Lord.  “Um…no.”  I could feel the heat wash over my face.  “I’m seventy-one, and have spent my life running a very large company.”

He snorted.  “Fine.  I’d recommend this little bike here.  It is about 500 pounds.  Probably be okay for you.”  He pointed to a Sportster. 
Harley Road King

A huge man, whose sleeveless t-shirt exposed multiple tattoos down both arms, shook his head and sent his long hair flying.  “Center of gravity is too high on that bike.  You want the Road King.”

Chris showed me the Road King, but it was 800 pounds and my character worried he might not be able to pick it up if he put it down.  I pointed to the sportster.  “Okay, I’ll take it.  What about helmets and jackets and stuff.”

He led me over to some helmets and expounded upon all the safety features.  I decided on a full, wrap-around helmet.  After all, my character is obnoxious, but not stupid.  Then he lead me over to the women’s’ jackets.  He pulled out a pink leather one.  “Now, this jacket is cute, but it shouldn’t be worn for riding.  There is no protection.”  He pulled out another jacket with some colorful leather trim.  “This one is still cute, but has protection--”

“Why are you showing me women’s jackets?”

He laughed.  “Oh yeah.  Forgot.”  We strolled over to the men’s section and I picked out a top-of-the-line jacket before he turned to the boots section.  “If you do end up going to the safety class, which I really recommend, then you can’t wear shoes like this.” He held up his foot sporting a gray running shoe.  “You have to have a boot that covers at least the ankle.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know.  I don’t want those big ones that go to the knee.  I wear expensive Italian leather loafers.”

“Follow me.  I’ll show you what I wear.”  I had to jog to keep up with his "six foot" frame as we rushed through the store, and down a hall past an “Employees only” sign.  He unlocked a door and we stepped inside an office.  He showed me his gear, all very nice, but my character wasn’t really interested in boots with a metal strip on the side for scraping on the pavement when leaning into a curve.  My character didn’t think he’d be going that fast.

Chris also showed me a few antique Harleys in the back of the store.  In all, I was there over an hour.  How much of the info he gave me will end up in my book?  I don’t know.  Maybe only a line or two, but at least I know something about the subject now.  They say you should write what you know, after all.

Editors note:  Melanie Sherman would like to thank Chris for his time and patience.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Willamette Writers Conference and being crafty

One on One Screenplay Consultations at Willamette Writers Conference
It is the Willamette Writers Conference again.  After spending the morning volunteering in the film agents consultation area, I was ready to attend some classes in the afternoon.  I chose a class taught by Lois Leveen called "Crafting Compelling Opening Lines."

She made us write an opening line for a book which included a nurse, and a homeless man in a hospital setting.  The opening line I came up with was so lame I wouldn't even want to read it to my critique group.

The scraggly man lurched into the scrub room, blood gushing from his arm, and grabbed the nurse's shoulder.

Lois then went on to give us several examples of opening lines from popular books and we dissected them to discover what made them good.  She said an opening line should contain some or all of the following:

  1. Sense of character
  2. Establishes relationships
  3. Sense of place
  4. Adventure
  5. Place
  6. Time/retrospection
  7. What has already happened
  8. What is about to occur

At the end of the class she had us write our opening line again.  Mine still doesn't accomplish all of the above, but I think it is a little stronger than the first example.

 A bloody hand, filthy fingers splayed, reached from the darkness of the empty ward and swiped the nurse's shoulder.

Lois Leveen

Please feel free to write your own opening line dealing with a homeless man, and nurse in a hospital setting in the comments section.

Lois Leveen is the author a Portland based author of The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Better than Starbucks and Sunshine

This morning, before driving an hour down to Oregon to visit with my parents, I stopped by a Starbucks drive-thru and ordered a tall cup of coffee with cream.  It was one of those pleasant waits when the sun warms through the open sunroof, Richard Stoltzman enchants through several speakers with  Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, my Starbucks card has plenty of money on it, and I'd remembered my own cup (thereby getting a discount).  My sunglasses were clean and the red arrow pointed to the "F" indicating a full tank.  There was even a joyous anticipation of getting to spend time with family.

Can't get much better than that, right?


Unless--when you drive up to the window--the barista leans out and says, "The gentleman in front of you paid for your coffee."


No, I don't know who it was.  The car was black, and that is all I can remember about it.  It was already gone by the time I pulled up and she told me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What a book launch looks like

Book Launch

Authors Mike Nettleton and Carolyn J. Rose

Saturday, Mike Nettleton and Carolyn J. Rose (part of the Deadly Duo Mysteries team) launched two books; a co-written YA book, Drum Warrior, by both Carolyn and Mike, and Carolyn's mystery Through a Yellow Wood, which is the sequel to Hemlock Lake.  It was held at Cover to Cover Books and Espresso, on St. Johns, in Vancouver, from 4 to 6 PM, and it included wine.  Cake, wine, and coffee always seems to draw out the writer and reader community.  

Carolyn and Mike found a place that would put their book covers on the cakes, which looked so fabulous I almost didn't want to cut the first slice.  

I was in charge of the chocolate cake. 

Amanda, the bookstore owner's niece, was in charge of the carrot cake.  Snacks also were set out, and even a few healthy items such as carrots and cherry tomatoes.  Mel, the bookstore owner whipped up one latte' after another, with a mocha tossed in now and then. 
Carolyn's Books

Carol Doane, a Vancouver social media expert, whom celebrities always want to meet, greeted people at the door, and tweeted the event. 
Deadly Duo Books
Smedley the bookstore service animal oversaw the book sales.

Mike Nettleton giving a reading

During the afternoon, Mike did a couple of readings from Drum Warrior, alternating with Carolyn reading from Through a Yellow Wood.

Carolyn J. Rose autographing books.

Throughout the event, the cash register whirred as books were purchased and autographed by the authors.

Authors Mike Nettleton and Carolyn J. Rose
It was a successful event.  I have to say, sitting at the cake table during the event, Amanda and I drew almost as much attention as the authors.    What can I say.  It was hard work, but someone had to do it (the taste test).

I hope to have my own book launch someday.  This was fun.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Traditional vs. Self Publishing

Carolyn J. Rose has a new book out, Through a Yellow Wood.  It is the sequel to the traditionally published Hemlock Lake, but now she is self publishing, and much happier.   Her book launch is at Cover to Cover Books this Saturday from 4 to 6 PM.  Without further chatter from me, may I present Carolyn, talking about traditional vs. self publishing.

GUEST BLOG:    Then and Now.
BY:  Carolyn J. Rose

Two years and four books ago I was a basket case. If you looked up “stressed out” in the dictionary, you would have seen a picture of me or even a short video clip.

Two years ago I was tugging at my hair, chewing on my fingernails, making lists, writing guest blogs, updating my website, querying reviewers, addressing postcards, mailing out advance copies of Hemlock Lake, and hoping to win enough readers to convince my publisher to offer me a contract for a second book. I was buying goodies for book launch events, color-coordinating plates and napkins with the book cover, and ordering way too much cake.

I was thrilled about having a book released as a hardcover, but I was concerned because that hardcover was priced at $25.95. Economic experts weren’t telling the public to get out there and buy books to boost the nation out of the recession and I had less name recognition than an obscure subspecies of garden slug.

I was also concerned because my publisher catered mostly to the library trade. It would be up to me to wedge Hemlock Lake onto shelves at bookstores. And the window of opportunity was tiny—the book would be “fresh” for only a few weeks.

As it turned out, despite a lot of effort, I was able to line up very few bookstore events. And, despite all those guest blogs and hours logged on social media, Hemlock Lake didn’t sell enough copies to make the publisher ask, “What else do you have for us?”

Stress turned into distress which led to self-doubt. Self-doubt threatened to morph into depression.

But then the e-version of Hemlock Lake (which I retained the rights to because e-versions weren’t included in the contract I signed on the cusp of the e-publishing revolution) picked up steam. Over the course of a year, it went from selling just a few copies a month to selling more than a hundred, then more than two hundred.

Distress morphed into delight and I got to work on manuscripts languishing in my computer waiting for a publisher to want them.

I published the next book—An Uncertain Refuge—on my own in May of 2011. Four months later I published another—A Place of Forgetting. In December I released No Substitute for Murder. A few days ago, Through a Yellow Wood, the sequel to Hemlock Lake, went up on Kindle and Nook.      

I’m having a launch party for it at Cover to Cover Books in Vancouver on Saturday, July 21st. I’m buying goodies, trying to color-coordinate plates and napkins, and I’ll probably order way too much cake. That part hasn’t changed.

And I still make lists—hey, I’m a Virgo and I love the feeling of checking off what I’ve accomplished—but the lists are much shorter.

But the big difference is that I’m not stressed out.

Because most of my sales come from e-books, I have a long-game strategy now. E-books stay on the virtual shelves where I put them. They aren’t remaindered and aren’t shuttled to the back room. My promotional window of opportunity doesn’t slam shut after a few weeks.

I still guest blog, but I space out those posts instead of cramming them all within a few days of the publication date. And, instead of blogging about my latest book, I write about other topics, like the dogs I’ve owned, the difficulty of finding clothes I like that also fit, and whether books with creepy characters should have a separate rating system.

Query Reviewers
I still query reviewers, but I space those queries out as well. I don’t know if it helps sales, but it feels good to see a new review pop up every few weeks.

I no longer worry about my books being priced too high because I have control over that. I can raise or lower prices whenever I want. Three of my books are just 99 cents in e-form. Two of them will probably stay that way for years.

I no longer worry about selling enough to make the publisher want another title because I’m the publisher. When it comes to questions about whether I should publish a book or eat more jumbo salted cashews, my comment to myself will be, “Go for it!”

Carolyn J. Rose
Sure, some titles have sold better than others—No Substitute for Murder, a light cozy, sold about 20,000 e-books in its first six months while An Uncertain Refuge, a more serious suspense novel, sold 14,000 in 13 months. But I won’t reject my next manuscript or rush to write a sequel based on those numbers.

The bottom line is that two years down the road from a traditionally published book, I’m much more relaxed. When we cut into that cake on July 21st, my stomach won’t be tied in knots. Heck, I might even be able to swallow a few bites, especially if Melanie cuts me a corner piece with lots of icing.

Carolyn is giving away a copy of her book, either paperback or e-form (no overseas mailings, please), leave a charming comment for Carolyn, say which format you would prefer, give an email address or your twitter name so we can let the lucky winner know.  

You can click here to go to Amazon to purchase her books.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to decorate for Independence Day

I feel a little sorry for my parents.  Mostly because they have me for a daughter.

The day started out beautifully, with sunshine and birds chirping and little bunnies eating weeds outside my window.  Then I drove to Starbucks and ordered my usual tall brewed coffee with cream and they gave it to me for free because it is Independence Day.  Next I drove down to Oregon and picked up my parents, taking them over to my sister's and brother-in-law's house for a barbecue for which we did not need the outdoor heater.

My mother is a parade person and was feeling lost without attending one, so I whipped out my Kindle Fire and played the 4th of July Flash Mob video at the Stop & Shop in Cape Cod.  We found a couple of other  4th of July Flash Mob videos and soon we were in the right mood.  My dad got out his harmonica and played several patriotic songs.  The barbecue spilled the smoky aroma of braised steak.  Corn on the cob sizzled on the grill.

But it was on the way back to their house when I decided I really liked all the flags lining the streets.  I was just about to pull out onto the highway when I said, "Don't you like all these flags?  Doesn't it give you a good Independence Day feeling?"

"Yes, it is the way it should be," my mother said.

Naturally, I decided I should do this instructional blog, showing people of America how to decorate  neighborhoods for the 4th of July.

I rammed the car into the left lane, hung an illegal U-turn, came about helm's hard a-lee, stomped on the brake and grabbed my mother's ankle, all while both parents shrieked in dismay, clutching their seatbelts.  Finally my hand found the camera by my mother's heel and whipped it out.

"You can't stop here," my father barked from the backseat.  "You're blocking the lane.  There is no shoulder."

"Shhhhh," my mother said, glancing over her shoulder to see if we were in danger of being hit.  "She's a writer.  She can do this if she wants."
Decorating for Independence Day

So, people of America, next year, this is a very nice way to decorate for the 4th of July.  You might have to click on the picture to make it bigger.  You'll notice we are going zero miles per hour.  But it is okay because I'm a writer.

Happy Independence Day.

Take a look at the racks on this baby

Perhaps this is the one who charged me 
I told myself not to post any more pictures of black-tailed deer, at least not for a while, but I saw this guy on the way home from work yesterday.  I slammed on my brakes, and motioned for the frowning woman behind me to go around.  She stayed where she was, but scowled.  By the time I raised the camera, it appeared to me the buck was lowering his head into fighting position. I could feel his animosity. In fact, he  looked like the very one that charged me (Deadly Velvet Weapons) a few years ago.  I stomped on the gas, much to the delight of the woman behind me.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The "I Am A Writer" Defense

Yesterday, I did some research.  I didn't set out to do the research, but I was driving by a parking lot when I saw a little, pastel yellow VW Beetle convertible.  "That's it," I said.  "That is the car in the book I'm currently writing."  I had already done a scene that takes place inside the car, and I knew I needed to check out a real one before long.

I veered across the double yellow lines, cranked the helm hard-a-lee and bounced into the parking lot, braking to a stop in the empty space beside the car.  A camera is almost always sliding around on the floor of my car--because I never know when a bear might cross the road again, and I want to be ready--so I  scooped it up and stepped out of the car, taking pictures of the car as surreptitiously as possible.

But I needed to examine the interior, and wanted a few shots.  There was no way to see through the glare of window without cupping my hands and pressing my nose against the glass.

Really hard to be unobtrusive with your nose against the glass.  Besides, I was afraid I'd leave nose prints that would be admissible in court, and there was a woman in a minivan watching my every move.  I wasn't sure how the "But, Officer, I'm a writer, and..." defense would work on the police.

So, I locked up my car and with the camera strap dangling, I paced into the bowling alley, and straight up to the snack bar.  "I have a weird request.  I'm looking for the owner of the light yellow, VW Bug out in the parking lot.  Do you know who owns it?"

The waitress balanced a plate filled with beefy french fries, a thick hamburger, and a fat dill pickle in one hand, and a club sandwich with a bag of chips in the other.  She nodded to the way I came in.  "Yeah, it is one of the people in the hair salon, I'm pretty sure."


I raced out and across the parking lot to the beauty parlor.  Three woman sat in various states of dubious beauty, while three other women stood behind them with scissors, bottles of die, or blow-dryers.  They all looked up when I came in.

"May I help you?"  The nearest employee glanced at my hair and grimaced, probably realizing my hair is beyond help.

I took a bracing, I-am-totally-confident-and-I-do-this-all-the-time-and-it-it-no-big-deal-and-I-am-not-acting-like-a-weirdo breath.  "Yes, I have a question.  I'm a writer and I need to speak to the owner of that cute little VW convertible out in the parking lot."

One of the women stopped, scissors open above a clump of hair held up by a comb. She glanced down at my camera, then up at me. "That's my car."

I trotted over to her.  "I'm a writer and I've just written a scene which takes place in your car, well, not your car, but a car just like yours, and I realized I wasn't sure about the interior of the car.  Would you mind if I get a few pictures of it?"

"Door is unlocked."

As soon as she had finished with her client, she came out in the parking lot and answered a bunch of questions, pointed out how to open and close the windows, the roof, the automatic locks, and made me promise to bring her a book if I get published.

When I was finished, it occurred to me I could have gone to a dealership and looked at one there, but that is too dangerous.  I miss my VW Cabrio too much.  I was afraid I might trade in my Subaru.

Aren't those flowers cute?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Admitting Weakness

Lately I've been posting a lot of deer pictures taken either on my way to work in the morning, or on the way home, usually late into the evening.  You may think it is just because wildlife interests me, and that would be partly true.  The whole truth is, I'm torturing my followers who are hunters.  

At work, Lake, or John, or Angela, or Tim will ask how my day is going.  I'll tell them about the big buck I saw, or the twin fawns, or the three or four does, and I'll see eyes glaze over.  Tongues snake out and swipe lips, trigger fingers begin to twitch.

"Yeah," I'll say, "you can see it on my blog.  I posted pictures."

The next day they'll sidle up and ask if I have a landowner tag.

I just shake my head and tell them about the young buck I saw that day, much younger than the big one I saw the day before.

"Where do you live?"

I'll just smile.

Come hunting season, I'll usually have two or three hunters offer to come fix something at my house.  Phffft.  I know the real reason they are offering.

They can't have my deer.

I'll probably still continue to torture them. It is a weakness.  I admit it.

Is it too mean?

Schooner is a hunter, too.  I know because he opens my drawers and cabinets to hunt through them.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Morning and Evening Commute in the Northwest

Black-tailed morning commute

The sun was out today on my commute to work.  But it was bumper to bumper traffic.  Four black-tailed deer in the middle of the road, caused a traffic jam.  By the time I got my camera out of its case, one had left and the rest were taking the deer-off-ramp.

Stealing from neighbor's tree

On the way home this evening, I caught a doe stealing from the neighbor's trees, chomping the luscious foliage.  But, when she realized she'd been caught, she simply denied her crime.


Since she was unimpressed by my accusations, I drove up the hill and found a buck stealing from my field.
Black-tailed buck in velvet

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Schooner on Hayden Island, OR

Just off I-5, a sleepy community of houseboats, yachts, and sailboats rocks against the shore of Hayden Island between the Columbia River and the North Portland Harbor channel.  There are two fabulous cafes on the island.  One is the Island Cafe, floating on the dock along the channel.  On a hot summer evening, as you eat a shrimp salad, you can watch all sorts of pleasure boats float past; some even pulling up to the cafe, tossing a line, and clambering onto the dock for a meal.

The other, Hidden Bay Cafe, is not as crowded, and overlooks the marina tucked into a small bay along the Columbia River.  I met my daughter there after work a few days ago.  While I waited, I watched several sailboats out on the Columbia.  Is it me, or is one of them sailing backwards?

Used to the pleasure craft seen on the south side of the island along the harbor channel, I forgot the north side would provide a view of the heavy traffic along the Columbia.  While filming a sailboat, a Tidewater barge completely upstaged it.

I have a particular fondness for Hayden Island because a group of islanders were doing an annual clean-up along the shorelines when they came across a little kitten and his mom, half starved, and cowering in the brush.  They rescued them, found a home for the mom, and posted a picture of the baby at a Hayden Island fundraiser I attended.

Who can resist a pwecious widdle kiddy in need of a home?
Schooner as a baby

That is how Schooner came to share the house with me.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Jantzen Beach Osprey

Jantzen Beach Osprey

I should probably point out that Jantzen Beach isn't near the ocean.  It is along the Columbia River.  From the parking lot of the shopping center, there is no sign of the river, but I would imagine being at the lofty height of the osprey there would be a clear view.  It appears this parent is waiting for the other to bring dinner.

This week, I met my daughter for an after work glass of wine on Hayden Island and while I was waiting I drove over to visit my osprey friend and decided to get video.  From the video, you can hear the Osprey call if you try to ignore the jets taking off from Portland International Airport.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Black-tailed Buck

On my way to work yesterday, I had to stop for this buck, who was standing in the middle of the road.  He stared at me while I reached down to the floor of my car, scooped up my camera case, unzipped it, slid out the camera, and turned it on.  As soon as I brought it up to focus on him, he turned tail toward me, and walked away.
Black-tailed buck in velvet

Do you suppose that is his opinion of my desire to put him on my blog?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nesting Osprey

This weekend marks the third year I've been doing this blog.  I've found some new friends, and invited others to do guest posts.  I've enjoyed sharing things with readers, like my idea for my new book, "Say Cheese Before You Die" and exposing my inadequacies in "The Earnestness of Being Important."  But mostly I've enjoyed sharing my precarious relationship with the wildlife.

A couple of weeks ago I lugged a sixteen pound bag of cat food across the parking lot at the Jantzen Beach Shopping Center and heard the insistent call of a bird.  I looked up in time to see an Osprey gliding overhead.  But the desperate command continued, and I looked around the parking lot until I found it.

The Osprey nest, on top of a light fixture in the middle of the parking lot, was occupied.  I used to see Osprey when I kayaked on the Northwest rivers, watching as they circled the river in search of a tasty fish dinner.  The Osprey is a large raptor, though not as big as an eagle.   Their nests are huge, and they like to use flat surfaces.  I would think it would get warm on top of the light fixture.  Will the branches catch fire?

Lovely birds.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sophie Moss, The Selkie Spell

A while ago, I entered a contest on a blog by Sophie Moss.  The prize was a copy of her book, The Selkie Spell, and I won.  Normally the only thing I win is drawing for random drug testing at work, so I was thrilled.  The book was fabulous, and I wrote a review on Goodreads.  Someone "liked" the review and I decided I liked her book so much, I should invite Sophie to do a guest post for me.  She was hesitant, but after I sent her a bunch of questions, she gave in and answered them.  Without further ado, here is the guest post from Sophie Moss, author of The Selkie Spell.
*  *  *  *  *

Tell us about your road to publication... Is this self-published or through a press? Why?
Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today, Melanie! I’m happy to share my road to publication. Yes, The Selkie Spell is self-published. I decided to “go indie” for a number of reasons, but mostly because the opportunities for self-published authors now are tremendous. Self-publishing offers an incredible sense of control and ownership of the publishing process. It allows you to connect directly with readers and find and build your audience in a way that is fundamentally transforming the publishing industry.

Did you send out query letters?
I tried the traditional route: querying agents and editors, pitching at conferences, joining writers groups, and entering contests. But watching the indie author revolution take shape last fall, I decided why wait around trying to be discovered by a publishing house when I could jump into this publishing party right now?

Tell us a little bit about The Selkie Spell… 
Photo by Joseph Mischyshyn
The first book in The Seal Island Trilogy is about an American doctor whose life is transformed when she travels to an enchanted Irish island and discovers she has the power to break a 200-year-old curse. At first, Tara Moore laughs off the villagers’ speculation that she is descended from a selkie—a magical creature who is bewitching the island. But when a ghostly woman appears to her with a warning, Tara realizes it was more than chance that brought her to this island. Desperate to escape a dark and dangerous past, Tara struggles against a passionate attraction to handsome islander Dominic O’Sullivan. But the enchantment of the island soon overpowers her and she falls helpless under its spell. Caught between magic and reality, Tara must find a way to wield both when a dangerous stranger from her past arrives, threatening to destroy the lives of everyone on the island.

How did you come up with the idea for The Selkie Spell? 
When I was living in Ireland, I took a weekend trip to the magical, windswept island of Inishbofin. The moment I stepped off the ferry, I felt like I was home. It was the strangest feeling: being so far from  home and yet sensing I belonged. After returning to the states, I discovered the movie, The Secret of Roan Inish, and first learned of the selkie legends. Intrigued by the thought of seals who can transform into beautiful women on land, I decided to weave my love of romance novels, Ireland, and fairy tales into one delicious novel!

Blasket Islands, County Kerry, Ireland  Photo by Snalwibma
When do you expect to release the second book in The Seal Island Trilogy? 
The Seal Island Trilogy continues with Caitlin and Liam’s story, The Selkie Enchantress, coming out this summer! As readers of The Selkie Spell know, Irish islander, Caitlin Conner, has been in love with professor of Irish folklore, Liam O'Sullivan, for as long as she can remember. But just when he's starting to look at her as more than a friend, a mysterious woman arrives on Seal Island and captures his heart. As Caitlin discovers the truth behind the woman’s lies, she realizes Liam is trapped in a dangerous enchantment and the only way to break the spell is to uncover a secret Irish fairy tale that has remained hidden for hundreds of years. But when the petals of a white rose grown in winter start to fall, the legend is set in motion. And Caitlin must find a way to change the ending before the last petal falls.
Sophie Moss

Author's Bio:  

Sophie Moss writes contemporary Irish fairy tale romances. Her stories are full of magic, mystery, and small-town Irish charm. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Vermont. When she's not writing, she's tending to her garden. She has a strange knack for finding four-leaf clovers and writes best while sipping a Guinness.

You may purchase The Selkie Spell by clicking HERE.