Friday, August 31, 2007

What I Can't Read Now

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will notice that until five minutes ago STRAWBERRY FIELDS by Marina Lewycka was in the "What I'm Reading Now" spot in the sidebar at right. Normally, books move from there into the "Books I've Read Recently" column just below it.

But not this time.

I reviewed Lewycka's debut novel, A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRAINIAN, for Entertainment Weekly and loved it. So I was thrilled when STRAWBERRY FIELDS was sent me by an enterprising publicist at Penguin Press. Here's the description on Powell's Books: of the most enchanting, merry, and moving picaresque journeys across the length and breadth of England since Chaucer's pilgrims set off to Canterbury.
Enticing, huh? I started reading the book a few days later and was immediately drawn into the tale of foreign migrant workers at a strawberry farm in southern England. It is enchanting, merry and moving.

And then I came to the part where two young Chinese women eagerly accept a shady Slav's offer to go to Amsterdam as nannies to a wealthy family, and are bundled into a car--after he pockets their passports. My heart sunk; I knew what would happen to them and couldn't bear to read the horrifying details. Following that, a hapless Pole winds up in a pestilential chicken factory-farm, which is so gruesomely observed that I thought I'd be ill.

I was reading at bedtime. Bad choice. I tried again in the daytime, but didn't fare any better. I should have read the book's press release all the way through, because on page 2 there's this:
Along the way, the workers' fantasies about England keep rudely bumping into the ignominious [Powell's adds "brutal"] and sometimes dangerous realities of life on the margins as an émigré in the new Europe. Some of them meet terrible ends...
So, excellent as it is, I'm putting STRAWBERRY FIELDS aside for the indefinite future. But I heartily recommend it to those who aren't hyper-squeamish and/or grappling with PTSD.

As for me, I just picked up AROUND THE WORLD WITH AUNTIE MAME by Patrick Dennis. It's perfect low-anxiety reading, with such sly delights as:
The Ritz telephone operator was just recovering from the impact of my St. Boniface Academy irregular French verbs...

Today she was looking very Parisian in a Molyneux suit, pearls, fox furs, hennaed upsweep, and a face that was at least ten years younger than the one I'd seen her wearing two years earlier.

Quote for the Day

Profound self-knowledge is not transforming. It’s just disappointing.
--David Brooks, Go West, Old Man in today's NYT (registration required)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Old Gossip

Slunch, the publishing gossip site I just learned about on GalleyCat, takes aim at my former employer Publishers Weekly in two posts: "What the hell pw?" and "An open letter to pw." The latter asks:
do I not send you tons of books each year? Are they not good enough?
Which reminds me of a possibly apocryphal tale that was whispered over the cubie walls at PW's old (then new) digs on 17th Street some 20 years ago.

There was a certain editor--I'll call her "K"-- whose cubicle was so crammed with tottering towers of books and manuscripts that no one except herself dared enter. She would also completely rewrite my reviews (others' too, I'm sure) for no other I reason, I supposed, than to make them hers. I got so tired of this that I stopped reviewing for her. The pay was low (PW is paying LESS now for reviews than I was getting in 1989!) and there are no bylines, so the major satisfaction was seeing one's words in print. So what was the point, I figured, of struggling to find the exact bons mots to string together if they're all going to be changed anyway?

K also had a personality. Someone allegedly overheard her speaking to an editor, who had apparently phoned to complain about lack of review attention in K's section:
"Well," she snapped, "if you published better books, we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?"

Pub Talk: Peter Charles Melman

Novelist Peter Charles Melman at Fanellli Cafe

This conversation really was in a pub. Two weeks ago, I met Peter Charles Melman, author of LANDSMAN, for drinks at Fanelli's, my old watering hole on Prince Street in Soho.

LANDSMAN chronicles the exploits of a young Jewish street punk in 1860s New Orleans, who winds up fighting for the Confederacy. After Pete's reading and talk at the Tattered Cover last month, during which he proved himself an impressive Cajun speaker, I invited him to be on my "Nice Jewish Boys Gone Wild" panel at next year's VaBook Festival. (I'm looking for one or two more authors to fill out the panel, so if you know any prospects, send 'em my way.)

I have no revelations on publishing to share from this meeting. We just talked about this and that: my misspent youth (a good chunk of which was passed at Fanelli's); Pete's impending fatherhood (his wife is due this Sunday); Jews in Louisiana (a branch of the Standers settled in Opelousas); where Pete got the inspiration for LANDSMAN (from a comment by Tony Horwitz in his CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC; yup it's a small world).

In short: We had a swell time. And Fanelli's is still a great place to while away a weekday cocktail hour. Or two.

Pub Talk: Rita Rosenkranz

Literary Agent Rita Rosenkranz

Agent Rita Rosenkranz met me at her spotless Upper West Side home office at the ungodly hour of 8:15 a.m. (the only time I had left) on the day I left New York. Rosenkranz was an assistant editor at Random House and then an assistant managing editor, after which she was a managing editor at Scribners, then editor-in-chief at Outlet (then part of Crown, which is now part of Random House).

I started off by asking her what mistakes authors tend to make. Her response:
Relying on their publisher in old-fashioned ways: assuming they can depend on their publisher fully steering their campaign. They can spend too much energy being frustrated with the publisher and losing traction. Then it's too late to go to Plan B--which should have been Plan A.

If I have to spend too much time giving pep talks to authors, it means they don't have a fire in the belly that I can trust. Publishers are attracted to authors whose projects have built-in momentum. One of my business writers estimates that she spends 30% of her day on marketing [which is about right].

The agent's job has magnified on a macrocosmic and microcosmic level. I have a lot more to do now. I have many first-time authors for whom there is a longer learning curve, as I need to introduce them to the basics of the industry. When an author is naturally media savvy, I know the book stands a chance. I’m attracted to the content, of course, but an author’s marketing savvy plays a significant part too.

My work brings me joy. I do a lot of editing before a book goes out to publishers--sometimes multiple rounds. My reputation is based on it; I want to make a sale. I also want the author to appreciate the need to upgrade their work, and, where needed, to learn the mechanics of good writing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Screwed on Straight

In my August 15 post, Still Screwed, I commemorated last year's insertion of the hardware in my right arm. I wondered whether scheduling three workshops and as many dental/surgical procedures in three months indicates that I am:
a) optimistic
b) in denial
c) nuts
d) all of the above?
Commenters responded that I am:
a) optimistic
e) brave as hell (thanks, Kim Stagliano!)

But upon suffering an infection after last week's oral surgery and root canal, I've decided that the answer is:

d) all of the above!
Or maybe:
Upon coming to my senses the other day, I jettisoned the November 10 workshop in DC and moved the NYC workshop, originally slated for Oct 20, to that date. Guests are the same, plus publicist Kelly Powers of Obie Joe Media, who was slated for DC.

And I'm giving myself more time to heal by putting off cosmetic dental work till early next year. I'll just avoid smiling widely (not an issue right now as my mouth remains too sore to do so).

The LA workshop is still on for September 29. Laurie Viera Rigler, author of CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT (it's a blast; you must read it!), just came on board as a guest speaker. See complete fall workshop schedule here.

On Sept. 30, I'll be on a panel moderated by publicist extraordinaire Kim Dower, "How to Make a Book," at the West Hollywood Book Fair.

Then on Oct. 3, I'll have my nose broken. Think I'll stock up on tequila and audio books, as I won't be able to wear my glasses for a while.

A Cautionary Tale

On Aug 21, I got an email from "L," a book designer/packager I know. She was working on a nonfiction book for an author, "MD," who planned to self-publish, but she thought his topic was important enough that he could get a commercial publishing deal. Could I refer him to any agents?

I did some digging and found a treasure trove. MD, who's an authority in his field, was extensively quoted in recent front-page New York Times stories that I'd read closely because their subject touches me personally. WOW! I contacted two agents with experience in MD's subject area, who were interested and wanted to see the manuscript right away. I told L, who said she'd pass the word on to MD and get back to me.

Yesterday, a full week later, L called me. "What's happening?" I asked excitedly.

Her answer was a thudding surprise. Seems that in the meantime, L had contacted an acquiring nonfiction editor at a biggish publisher, whom I know and like. Oh, the editor told her, MD's manuscript was submitted by "Agent J" months ago and she'd passed on it. No further interest. Over and out.


L got hold of MD and asked him about Agent J. Oh yeah, he told her, J had submitted his manuscript (which was a mess, according to L, who'd had it edited by a pro) to FIFTY publishers and they'd all rejected it. And some of their responses were rather rude, MD added. (Hahahahahaha!) So MD stopped corresponding with Agent J and assumed they were through.

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, MD, though a high-powered professional, has zero knowledge of the publishing business. He'd first contacted L in July, expecting her to design his book so he could publish it (unedited, natch) by September. She set him straight on that immediately. And the other day, she had to explain to him that no one--not even a self-publishing house--
can touch his book until he cancels his contract with Agent J. In writing. MD couldn't remember any details of his agency agreement, which he may not have bothered to read, but he duly sent off a termination letter to Agent J (who has a string of solid-looking deals on

Now what?

L is backing away slowly from MD. With his book dead in the water at basically every publisher in the country, it's highly unlikely that an agent would want to take it on now. Besides, MD's gone off agents after the one didn't work out. (Rolling my eyes...) The only way I think his book could be shopped anew, I told L, would be if an agent matched MD up with a well-respected co-writer who would totally overhaul the manuscript and add late-breaking material, of which there will soon be a quantity. And of course if MD gets media coverage over the new stuff.

But all that's iffy, and MD is itching to get his book out now. So he may self-publish after all. And L may soon be running away screaming.

Moral: Too many to enumerate.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pub Talk: Janet Reid

Janet Reid of Imprint Agency told me so much good stuff that she gets her own post.

What authors should do:
  1. Work on your email signature. It should be no longer than 10 words, including your book's title. Make it zippy and catchy; even counterintuitive with negative reviews ["Fatiguing, pretentious and empty"--Alexander Woolcott*]. You can't keep using the same sig over & over again. You should have either 10 or 365 [!], which respectively rotate on a daily or weekly basis. The trick to managing this is to have a mail management program such as MS Entourage or Outlook, which automatically shuffles the sigs.

  2. You must draw on a collective. Find authors at your publisher, or elsewhere, who are publishing like books. For example, there's The Killer Year with Jason Pinter, JT Ellison and others. They have a website and a blog, blurb each others' books, get established thriller writers as mentors. They did an extraordinary job.

    The day of "I'm going to write my books and be over it" is done. You have to have your collective almost before your book is accepted. If there isn't one, start it. [That's what the members of The Debutante Ball did.] It's really helpful if you talk about others' books.

  3. Don't talk bad about anybody online. Ever. You don't know who's reading.

  4. Watch who you're linking to. Make sure they're not nuts or writing things with which you don't want to be associated. Nothing is ever static. You have to tend your site/blog like a garden.

  5. Don't talk too much on writers' boards or blogs. (One of Reid's favorites is crimespace.) Be there, but don't be the star. If you're writing paragraphs and paragraphs online, you're not [doing your own] writing. Wait 24 hours before responding to a post or an email if it makes you mad, sad or glad, or conjures up lots of any emotion.

  6. Never assume anything. Someone may not be responding to your email because it went astray, or it got caught in their Spam folder.

  7. Look for things that you can do yourself. You have to make your own noise in the marketplace. Establish ongoing relationships. Make friends with bookstores. Be a face: go to readings and events, look at websites for staff picks, send congratulations to authors/booksellers/editors/agents for awards they've won. MANNERS COUNT!

  8. I love! You can bookmark every bookstore in your region. You can plug in your Zip code and find out who's reading tonight. [You can also sign up for weekly email announcements of author events in your area.]
*From a 1928 review of e.e. cummings's play "him"

Pub Talk: Agents

Here are more notes from my conversations with publishing people in New York the week before last.

Folio Literary Management:
  • So you put up a MySpace page. Then what? You have to fiigure out what to do after that.
  • Don't blow off your author questionnaire.
  • No matter what we tell authors, they don't want to cough up the dough to do publicity right. They MUST understand there's a timetable for publicity, and get the sense of urgency.
Agent "M":
Everybody talks like theirs is the next Big Book. But books can be a success without being stars. Eighty percent of a publisher's money is made off the backlist. For example, on the DorothyL mystery list, the majority of the books that members talk about are old. And those people buy books.

People usually have to see a product seven times for it to make an impression. The question is, how do you get people to see your book seven times without hiring a publicist? You can manage publicity, but you can't generate it. Inhouse publicists are good at managing publicity, but they can't do the daily recognition stuff. [That's up to a freelance pub and/or the author.]

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tomatoes on Parade

My kitchen windowsill a few days ago.

I may be whining, but happily my mouth isn't too sore for me to eat the tomatoes that have finally come ripe in my garden. The squirrels got a few while I was in New York (Boy Wonder was a bit lax about harvesting), but they haven't made any raids lately--knock wood. The day after I got back, I harvested the Big Mutha: a Hungarian Heart that weighed in at 1 lb, 5/8 oz. It's pictured at top, leading a train of plum tomatoes, plus a seashell and chicken wishbone (for scale and artiness).

Hungarian Heart is an heirloom variety that's "indeterminate," meaning it grows like Audrey 2. Below left is what it looked like last week. It got so bushy and heavy that its cage fell over; the table is propping it up. On the right is as it looks now after being pruned ruthlessly. The fruits are so heavy that often the stems are too weak to support them, so I made slings for some of them out of cheesecloth. Darling Husband noted that the sac in the foreground looks remarkably scrotal.

Another Theme Song

As noted previously, my theme songs since last year have been "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "I Haven't Got Time for the Pain." Today I added a new one: "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" by Warren Zevon.

Yes, I'm feeling sorry for myself. And why not? Who can better give me pity than my own self? Darling Husband does an OK job of it, but he's not around 24/7. And he requires attention back again. So tiresome.

Once when the Boy Wonder was three, he was whining, which I can't abide. (I inherited that trait from my mother.) I growled through clenched teeth, "Stop whining!" His response, in the whiniest voice possible: "But I want to W-H-I-I-I-N-E!" I burst out laughing.

So I need to whine for a while, and then I'll laugh again--though without smiling, as my mouth is killing me. Which is why I'm whining.

Before Wednesday's oral surgery (top) and root canal (bottom), the endodontist wanted me to start a prophylactic course of antibiotics. I try to take them as seldom as possible, as they wreak havoc with my gut; plus my D.O. told me that antibiotics don't prevent infection. So I didn't.

My mouth and lower face got all swollen and sore from the surgery. Now I know what it's like to have collagen and Botox injections, as my smile lines have smoothed out and I can't smile or grimace at all. Yesterday the D.O. told me I look younger because of it. Maybe, but I feel ancient--and surly. (Ah, the price of beauty...)

Last night, the lower tooth started hurting so bad I couldn't get to sleep, so I rifled through the Rx drawer for a painkiller. It's amazing how many drugs were thrown at me last year: Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol,Valium, nortriptyline, Sulindac, Ultram, Lyrica, Topamax. What a party I could have! Only if the guests are anything like me, they'd just wind up scratching themselves maniacally and falling down. I settled on a Demerol and was able to sleep (fitfully) till 7 a.m.

This morning the tooth hurt even worse, so I called the endodontist, whose office blessedly has Saturday hours, and her partner saw me. Diagnosis: infection in bottom and top. Gotta give the guy credit for not saying, "I told you so." He also explained that my nose is sore because the roots of the teeth are right under it (which I'd sort of figured out on my own), and that I might get black eyes (which I hadn't). And that my nose will likely be sore for a few weeks. Which means it'll start feeling OK just before it gets broken again (surgically this time) in early October.

Now I'm gobbling penicillin and ibuprofen every six hours and feeling very sorry for myself. And I'm cursing the wanker who coined the phrase "No pain, no gain." I've been in pain for more than a year now, with months more to come, and about the only gain I've seen is in my medical practitioners' bank accounts. Certainly it hasn't been in my peace of mind or productivity.

And I've decided that my endodontist's practice--Endodontics of Cherry Creek & DTC*--would sound snazzier it it were named after its first two partners: Safer Sachs.

*Denver Tech Center

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stiff Upper Lip

Truth be told, after yesterday's oral surgery and root canal, my lower lip is stiff too. So are my chin and nose. Wish I knew what was done to them; I feel like I went a couple of rounds in the ring. The endodontist and anesthesiologist told me I did great.

Certainly I did better with the KO juice this time. Last year after the root canals, it took me a good half-hour to wake up enough to walk out of the office (I felt like a punchy prizefighter), whereupon I passed out for the 5-minute drive home. Darling Husband had to harangue me to stay awake long enough to eat some yogurt, then shake me awake 6 hours after I'd slid into the La-Z-Boy. Upon which I slurped a few more mouthfuls of yogurt, then went to bed and passed out for another 8 or so hours.

That was one of the best days I had all year.

It was such a relief to feel nothing, and just sleep. My theme song became "I Wanna Be Sedated," with "Haven't Got Time for the Pain" coming in at #2.

I told the anesthesiologist about them yesterday and he suggested "Comfortably Numb" for #3. (He always wears loud tropical-print shirts; I told him that if his business ever goes downhill, he could get a job at Trader Joe's.)

This time I could have made it out of the endodontist's office on my own steam, but I got to ride in a wheelchair. And though I zonked out in the car, I woke up of my own accord 30 minutes later (the procedure was at a different location from before) and downed some yogurt with no problem. Then I slept for 4 hours and once again woke on my own.

Today I'm back to thinking wistfully of Theme Song #1, between bouts of (gently!) swishing salt water in my puffy mouth.

Air kisses all around!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pub Talk: Nicholas Griffin

Nicholas Griffin at Café Grumpy, NYC

I met author Nicholas Griffin at the Steerforth booth at BEA, where he was signing galleys of his latest novel, Dizzy City, just out this week. When the publicist told me what the book was about--an AWOL British soldier playing a complex con in New York City in 1916--I declared that it sounded right up my alley. I read it a few weeks ago, and it sure was.

Besides evoking New York on the eve of American involvement in World War I, Dizzy City contains an almost-too-perfect depiction of the protagonist's bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm still recovering from PTSD and had to take a breather after some of the passages.

Griffin's previous books are the nonfiction CAUCASUS: Mountain Men and Holy Wars (Thos. Dunne) and the novels The House of Sight and Shadow (Villard), The Requiem Shark (Villard) and The Masquerade (Little, Brown). Last Wednesday, he met me for coffee at the peaceful--and seriously caffeinated--Café Grumpy Chelsea on West 20th Street. I asked him to share what he'd learned about publishing.
The game doesn't end when you hand the book over. I used to think that writing the book was 90% of the work; now I think it's more like 40% or 50%. Domestic sales are just the beginning. The real money is in foreign rights; a thousand dollars here and there adds up. Holland and Germany are really big markets.

Personal relationships with bookstores are really key. The odd email and phone call go a long way. I have a relationship with The Poisoned Pen in Arizona; they'll sell a lot of my books. I wish I knew bookstores like that all around the country; I'd be set.

Think of your agent as an editor. When you pick an agent, don't just look at their numbers; look at the quality of their authors. Don't disregard small publishing houses. You may not see as much money upfront, but careerwise it may be a better move for you. The big review pages are more likely to receive and listen to a phone call from the publisher of a small house than a big one. The big guys just aren't going to get on the phone for you.

Pub Talk: Publicity Director

While in New York last week, I asked a bunch of publishing folk what they think authors need to know about publicity. Here are notes from my first conversation, with the publicity director--I'll call her Anne--at a major trade house.

Anne's first bit of advice--are you ready for this?--is something I've been saying in my workshop from Day 1:

This is a working relationship; treat your publicist as a colleague you'd like to get along with. Be as much help as you can without being an incredible nudge. Understand where the publisher is coming from. You've won the lottery just by getting a book deal. The only people that have made money on the book so far are you and your agent.

The publisher wants the book to work as much as you do. A tour does not equal love. We only do it where we think we'll have success. If we thought a tour would help, we'd send you on tour. Tours are getting tougher all the time: turnouts are down, local media has dried up.

You're either a national story or a local story; there's nothing in-between. Your topic has to be national for you to get national attention. An author being 40 or older doesn't help (OUCH!); that doesn't appeal to younger audiences.

One of the best things an author can do to promote his/her work is to get published in magazines. Especially for novelists, it's important to have a backstory that can be pitched to the media.

Give your publicist a copy of your publicity plan, but discuss your marketing plan with your editor. (The marketing plan would include things like website and blog, which don't belong under the rubric of "publicity"--at least to the publisher.)

To publicists: Use authors as much as you can; they are the experts on their books.

You should hear from your publicist about five months out, but first talk to your editor about publicity. Work doesn't start till galleys are in. There's a 3-4 week launch. The inhouse publicist's job is to LAUNCH the book. (After the launch, it's up to the author and/or a freelance publicist.)

If you're having difficulties with your publicist, don't complain or get nasty. Say to your editor (calmly!), "I'm just concerned that..."
A book is "review only"when there's nothing to talk about--author is unpresentable, there's no riveting backstory, etc. We send every book to Oprah, and pitch most everything to Charlie Rose and NPR. Watch and listen to all the shows that you think you should be on. How will you talk about your book on "Fresh Air"?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Still Screwed

A year ago today I had a 6-inch steel plate screwed into my upper right arm. To mark the occasion, Miss Snark ran a "Bella Stander Get Humerus Poetry Contest," for which I remain ever grateful. She and the Snarklings were the high point of last summer--maybe even the entire year. (I saw her in NYC today and thanked her in person.) Read all about the contest--and see Xrays!--in my post Well & Truly Screwed.

The good news is that after two surgeries (I had another on Nov 1 to free the median nerve from scar tissue), I can use my right hand to do fun things like: scratch my nose, write, type, floss my teeth, turn a key, hold the dog's leash.

The bad news is that my fingers are partly numb and my grip is weak. I have to rummage around in my purse left-handed because I can't feel the difference between, say, a lipstick and a bottle of eyedrops. Also the sites of the original breaks at the humeral head (top of arm) and under the plate are still sore.

My D.O., who hasn't been wrong yet, says that the bone isn't set straight (clearly visible on the Xray, only I hadn't noticed) and the median nerve is being impinged by the plate. Which means that I may need to have the plate removed--but not till at least December, as the bone has to have grown back completely (if crookedly).

But first, I'm getting:
  • oral surgery (top front) & root canal (bottom front) next week.
  • S-curve in septum straightened, dent tapped out of nose & sinus reamed out in early October.
  • cap on top front tooth (provided it's OK after surgery) in mid-November

Oh yeah, and in between I'm giving Book Promotion 101 workshops in LA, NYC and DC. And... um...probably going for the occasional trail ride (wearing my super-duper new Charles Owen skull helmet--thanks, Billie!).

Am I:
a) optimistic
b) in denial
c) nuts
d) all of the above?

P.S. Gomez, the equine responsible for all this tsuris, has long since been sold--I hope to someone who stears clear of steel-pipe fencing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back in My Old Hometown Out East*

There are 8 million people in New York City and I've been trying to meet with all of them since getting here last Friday. It hasn't quite worked out; I've seen only about 7.9 million. But I still have another day and a half to go.

Seen on Saturday:

  • An Asian bride and groom in wedding finery posing for photos in front of a closed Metro-North ticket booth at Grand Central. I'm still trying to figure out why.
  • Two young women sitting on the stairs at Grand Central, behind signs reading "Sitting on stairs absolutely prohibited." Per Woody Guthrie, the other side of the signs didn't say nuthin' (i.e., a restaurant ad).
  • A man in a Che Guevara t-shirt singing "Amazing Grace" in the tunnel to the Times Square shuttle. I was tempted to stop and ask him about his competing messages.
  • Three hulking Heidis in the Times Square subway station. No one over age 12, or over 5' and 150 lbs should wear petticoats and knee socks.
  • A full-car subway advertisement for Westin Hotels. I thought someone had been sick on the seat, then I realized it had been dappled to resemble the forest floor.

*a nod to Damon Runyon

Monday, August 06, 2007

Squirrels 3, Bella 0

A spot of red caught my eye when I looked out the kitchen window yesterday. I went outside to investigate, and what did I find lying on the ground but a nearly ripe, HALF-EATEN, Hungarian Heart tomato! One that I'd been waiting patiently to turn all red, along with about 20 others on five bushy plants in my backyard. Upon closer examination, the tomato bore distinct signs of having been gnawed by squirrels.

ARGH! I tossed it on the compost heap, taking care not to touch any of the chewed spots in case of rabies and/or plague germs.

Then I checked on the two (2!) peaches that my new peach tree had managed to produce. They'd been getting increasingly red and I'd been copping a feel every few days to determine whether they were ready to be picked. They were rock-hard at last squeeze, but I thought maybe they'd been ripened by all the hot and sunny weather.

No peaches. Not on the tree, not on the ground. Completely gone. GAAAAH!!!

What hubris of me to write, in A Mighty Hungarian Heart:
The few neighboring squirrels stopped coming by thanks to her [Jenny dog] and the ever-vigilant Max [cat], who spends most of his time outside...
Max has been put on notice.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My New Boyfriends

I have three new loves: one black (13), one white (19), one brown (26). Call me a cradle-robber; call them big, strong and hunky. Call our relationship what it is: dirty. But Darling Husband isn't the least bit jealous. In fact, he and my two (2!) counselors consider it therapeutic, as do I.

Here are Sam, Smoky and Don when I saw them on Friday morning:

The boys live just a few minutes away from me, at Four Mile Historic Park. Sam and Smoky, who are Percherons, team up to give carriage and wagon rides; Don is mostly there to demonstrate just how stubborn a mule can be (though he's also very sweet and patient, and loves being petted). For the past month or so, I've been washing and grooming them once or twice a week.

I was all happy that it rained Thursday night--until I saw the big mud puddles in the boys' corral, and Smoky and Don caked with dirt. It took me two hours in the blazing sun to get them cleaned up. I always save Don till last, as he's way smaller than the other two, but I was so hot and tired by the time I got to him that I skipped the bath and just gave him a good brushing; plus, as I did with the others, daubed his cuts (horses get all kinds of dings) with shocking-pink ointment and sprayed him all over with fly spray.

I love horses and had been missing them terribly. But I was also badly traumatized by my accident and subsequent surgeries (with still more to come, starting in a couple of weeks).

My first big step was just touching a horse again. Oddly enough that happened during BEA, down the street from the Javits Center, where a carriage horse was getting a bath. Neither he nor his groom appreciated my petting him on the nose, but it was a very important experience for me.

Just the idea of riding put me in a panic, but I thought I'd like to groom some calm horses (i,e., not Thoroughbreds, like the one that threw me). There's an outfit about an hour away from me that does "equine-assisted psychotherapy," but I thought, Why should I pay to groom a horse, and a far-away one at that? Plus I already had a nearby therapist I'm happy with.

Then one Sunday, I was walking Jenny along the creek at Four Mile Park when I heard a fife and drum corps. I went up top to investigate and saw a band of Civil War re-enactors (funny...their uniforms were a different color than the ones in Virginia), and beyond them a big white horse galloping away. I'd been taking Jenny to the park for more than a year and had never noticed horses there before. I drove to the other end of the park to investigate, and there I saw two big horses and a little mule in a corral. I walked over to the fence to say hello, and ended up scratching the rump of the biggest, dirtiest one of the three--of course the white one.

My hand came up filthy, whereupon I got the notion that the horses could use some extra grooming. So I volunteered for the job, and now they are (temporarily) cleaner and I have the darkest tan and most freckles in decades. No way I could have gone riding last week if I hadn't been tending Smoky, Sam and Don. Grooming is good physical therapy for my right arm too. However, it's still too weak and sore to reach up and brush, so I mostly use my left hand for that.

Here's Smoky before and after his bath; he likes to "crib" (chew on the rail & suck air):

Sam, all clean & shiny; Don making sure I'd have enough work:

My Cozy Hometown Paper: The NYT

I may be living 1775 miles west of my native Manhattan, but the New York Times is still much more relevant to me than the Denver Post. As I perused the Times over breakfast by the kitchen window a little while ago, I felt like I was living in a small town. And that wasn't just because I was overlooking my little patch of garden; there were so many mentions of people I know that I could have been reading The Weekly Almanac (a Northeast PA paper that I wrote for nearly 20 years ago) instead of The Newspaper of Record.

Baratunde Thurston, BP 101 workshop alum and perennial BEA Saturday Book & Author Breakfast date, got this quote in "Democratic Candidates Spar at ‘Netroots’ Forum":
“What you have here is a bunch of micro-media outlets that connect to thousands upon thousands of people — influential people,” said Baratunde Thurston, who writes a political blog in Boston. “The candidates would be foolish to miss out on an opportunity like this.”
In the Book Review, the Fiction Review gave a thumbs up to Timothy Schaffert's Devils in the Sugar Shop. (See his wonderful story of thanks in my post A Grace Note of Gratitude.)

Also in the Book Review, there's a full-page review by Philip Lopate of Patrick McGilligan's biography, OSCAR MICHEAUX: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker. Pat interviewed my father for TENDER COMRADES: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist and was on a panel I moderated at the VaBook Festival a couple of years ago, "The Hollywood Blacklist: Why Does It Still Matter?"

And for the true flavor of a hometown rag, there's the lede in the final paragraph of Lisa Fugard's otherwise excellent review of DOWN THE NILE: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney:
With her sinuous and richly textured writing and her eye for vivid and startling details
My reaction (after swallowing my coffee): "OWWOOOO!"

Apparently Fugard and the editors at the NYTBR haven't read "Bella's Rules for Reviewing" on my writing website. Rule #6 states:
Shun these over-used phrases & words:
  • richly textured (my #1 pet peeve; do a Google search & it'll be yours too.)
  • luminous prose
  • page-turner
  • keen eye for telling detail
  • a book that you can't put down
  • till long after the last page is turned
  • gripping, compelling, intriguing, interesting
  • [see more in Circle of clichés]

Devil in the Details

Rather belatedly, tonight Darling Husband and I watched "Mad Men" for the first time (we have DVR). Loved it, but there was a howler that really bugs me. A character mentions that Dick Nixon is campaigning for president, and one of his rivals is John Kennedy. So that means it's 1960; and judging by the light clothing it's maybe midyear.

But then there's a close-up of one of the secretaries typing on an IBM Selectric--which wasn't introduced until 1961. It took me all of 30 seconds to research that on Google. Couldn't the set designer have done the same?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Perfect Day...After a Few Deep Breaths

Bear Creek Lake Park, from the saddle.

This morning I went for a trail ride at Bear Creek Lake Park. Having ridden last weekend (see Back in the Saddle), I thought I was all over my horsey fears. However, when it came time to get ready to go I started panicking.

First I couldn't find my wallet, and once I found it I misplaced it again. Then I freaked out over last year's bloodstains on my helmet cover, which hadn't washed out. I thought I'd wear it anyway, but every time I looked at it my chest and throat tightened. A half-hour before I was supposed to leave, I tried to rub the stains out with cream of tartar (a friend told me it's good on rust), but they stayed as dark as ever. No way I could put that thing on my head. I put it in the trash; it's 20 years old anyway. I ended up wearing the unadorned helmet over a white cotton Bookazine cap I got at BEA years ago, which has a nice big visor.

Eventually I rattled out of the house and into the car--then had to go back in because I'd forgotten something. I was really shaky behind the wheel at first, and had to do some deep breathing and think calming thoughts (as learned during my treatment for PTSD; more about that another time). Listening to a Tracy Nelson CD helped even more. Let's hear it for "Down So Low"!

Once I got to the park, though, everything was A-OK. However, Jenny made it clear that I was crazy to think she'd sit in the car while I had fun outside. Fortunately my ride started a few minutes late so she got to run around a bit, after which she didn't mind being in the car, which I parked under a big shady tree.

There were only four of us, plus the teenaged wrangler, on the trail. Happily for me I was put in the rear, due to the fact that Big Momma, though calm (she appeared to be part Percheron), tends to kick any horse behind her. We rode at a snail's pace, and every now and then I'd stop so we could trot to catch up.

The woman in front of me could barely ride at a walk (that's her in the pic below), and her young son ended up being led by a rope because he couldn't make his horse mind. Even so, when we got back she said she wished we'd galloped. "Gallop?!" I exclaimed. "Well, at least trot," she hedged. Yeah right.

On the trail behind the would-be Rough Rider.

Jenny was in luck after that: We had a good long walk around a big pond and by a creek, during which she reminded me yet again that she really, really wants to be a country dog. Then, as I had time to kill before a lunch date, we walked along Bear Creek in Lair o' the Bear Park near Morrison. Better still, after lunch at Bear Creek Restaurant in Kittredge, my lunch companion and I sat at a picnic table while Jenny frolicked in the creek. I drove home very slowly via Kerr Gulch, which boasts lovely green (!) scenery and white-knuckle hairpin turns.

A favorite sign on the way D-O-W-N to Denver.

Perhaps best of all, after weeks of drought, this evening it rained for almost three hours. I opened all the windows just so I could hear it. Bliss!