Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Curse of the Dirty Fork

Okay, this has been on my mind for awhile, and it justs seems like a good topic for a blog. You know, sort of trivial but still fun to crab about. Pardon me if I seem to be rambling, but . . .

. . . have you ever noticed how, when you go into a restaurant nowadays, they only give you one fork? And then after you’ve finished your salad or appetizer or whatever it is that you’re eating before the main course, they come to get your dirty plate (on top of which sits your dirty fork – yes, dirty fork – and you’ve placed the dirty fork there for exactly that reason: it’s dirty, just like your plate), and the waiter or waitress says “would you like to keep your fork?” This DRIVES ME CRAZY! I mean, is there any conceivable reason you would want to put the fork (still wet or at least a little sticky from your mouth or your food or whatever) onto the table in front of you, which is probably teeming with bacteria and other gross things? Is this a reasonable question for a waiter to ask? Is there some reason they don't want to give you another fork? One that is clean? Is that asking too much? I can't imagine there is that much more labor involved in giving patrons two forks instead of one. Can you? After all, isn't that the typical place setting? Two forks, a knife, and a spoon? It takes every bit of restraint I can muster not to say “If I wanted to keep my fork, I would have kept my fork!” or worse things that I probably shouldn't put in a blog . . .

And what gets me even more -- and here's where we all have the power to reverse this God-awful trend -- is that everyone sheepishly says "oh, okay" and then retrieves the dirty fork from the plate before it is whisked away. Some people, I've noticed, have even begun removing the dirty fork from the dirty plate before the waiter has a chance to ask the question! As if, somehow, it's our job. It's our duty. If that's the case, maybe we should all start offering to use the same plate over and over. "Here, take my salad plate and just use it again for my steak." Perhaps I shouldn't even suggest this, lest I give someone an idea . . .

In my opinion, we've all been brainwashed, and somehow, made to feel guilty for [gasp!] wanting a clean fork for our next course. It didn't used to be like this. This is a fairly recent trend.

Well, I simply do not put up with it anymore. When the waiter asks the question: "Would you like to keep your fork?" -- I look him in the eye and politely state with a smile: "No, I'd like a clean one, please." He gets it. And I get my clean fork.

St. Petersburg Book Festival

The St. Petersburg Book Festival turned out to be a great event. I had the opportunity to meet some of the other authors from Port Town Publishing and get some pointers on this whole "marketing" aspect of the business. Even better, I spent a lot of time chatting with festival-goers, who were a friendly bunch. The picture on the left is courtesy of reader Phil Lieberman, one of my first fans, I hope!

I know Florida is full of northern transplants, but I was still amazed at how many people I met who hailed from St. Louis (my hometown and the setting for Best Intentions). The Gateway Arch on the cover of my novel sure turned out to be a conversation starter!

Anyway, thanks to everyone who took a chance on a new writer and purchased the book. I'd love to hear from you after you read it -- let me know what you think.

Check back for some more pictures from the festival -- I hope to get them posted soon.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

History of the Orlando Sentinel "Being There" Essay

Sometimes you can become published in the most unlikely ways.

Case in point: about two and a half weeks ago, I started back up with my writing workshop after having been away for about a year. (More on that in a later entry). Our second prompt of the day involved writing a feeling or emotion onto a small slip of paper, and then handing that word to the person at our left. The word I received was "peace." We were then instructed to write something that described the feeling or emotion, without ever mentioning the word in what we wrote. I wrote about a float trip I took on the Glen Canyon river in the fall of 2005. We all read our writing out loud, and to my pleasure, everyone guessed that my word was "peace." After class, the leader of our workshop, Jamie Morris, mentioned that my piece might be appropriate for some sort of travel publication. She suggested that I take the time to clean it up a bit and send it in. I was taken by surprise at her suggestion -- after all, the piece felt like a stream of consciousness journal entry of some sort -- but I told her I'd think about it.

A day or so later, when I had some free time to look at what I'd written with new eyes, I started thinking about where I might submit it. I checked the word count of the piece, and it came in at just over 450 words. I then checked the submission guidelines for the Orlando Sentinel's "Being There" feature -- 300 to 400 words. So I set to work to see if I could edit my work to under 400 words. There was a time several years back when I would have had trouble doing this -- but the experience of editing a 700 page manuscript down to 424 pages has made me an expert at tossing words and tightening sentences!

About an hour later, I'd succeeded at cutting the piece down to 399 words, and I'd even added the missing word from the original -- peace. I drafted a brief cover letter, and with the click of a key stroke, submitted the piece to the Sentinel.

The next day I received a response that the paper wanted to publish my piece. I was thrilled! I think this was probably the fastest I'd ever received an acceptance -- it's usually the rejections that come so swiftly!

The piece can be found in the Travel section of today's (October 1, 2006) Orlando Sentinel, and it can also be viewed online for a limited time.

The moral of the story? A good writing workshop is a wonderful thing . . . it can motivate you to do more than just put pen to paper. It can help a writer to see potential in things that might have otherwise been delegated to the bottom of the desk drawer . . . Thanks, Jamie!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No, You're Not In It

Probably the most frequent question I hear from friends and family regarding my novel is: "So, am I in it?" The second is: "Is it autobiographical?" The answer to each is no (except for one minor exception -- see below) and no.

First of all, most writers prefer to remain friends with their friends, and as for family -- well, we at least want to be able to show our face at the dinner table next Thanksgiving. Although the idea of showing up as some character in a novel may seem appealing, it is the rare individual who is actually pleased when he reads how the writer portrays him. I mean, really, most novels are not about happy, perfect people, right? The characters must have flaws (and sometimes those flaws are really big ones!) in order to be interesting. Of course, we all know there are no perfect people, but that still doesn't stop your friends from expecting you to portray them as such in whatever you write . . . Most writers are very familiar with certain horror stories about what happens when you don't -- think Pat Conroy and his book "The Great Santini." Having a bestseller subsequently made into a movie sounds great and all, but I'm just not sure it's worth the exile he reportedly suffered. So, it's best to stay away from modeling your characters on people you know. No matter what you do, they won't like it.

That being said . . . there is one very minor character in my novel who is based on someone I know, but I've already forewarned the person. I believe this particular person knows himself/herself well, and also has a pretty good idea of his/her reputation (both in the eyes of admirers and detractors), so I don't think my portrayal will be surprising nor will it offend. I fit into the "admirer" category, so I consider my portrayal of this person to be favorable. I hope my "model" agrees!

As for the second question, is it autobiographical? The best way to answer this is to remind readers that this is a novel. My handy Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary defines "novel" as "a long invented prose narrative dealing with human experience through a connected sequence of events." Key word -- invented. Autobiographies and memoirs are both completely different beasts, and indeed, it's the rare person (I believe) who has an interesting enough life to write a whole book about it! Of course, all writers will admit to borrowing from their personal experiences to some extent or another -- the 'ol "write what you know" -- but what makes being a novelist so much fun, in my opinion, is the ability to tell the story as I see fit. I like to compare the act of writing to going to the movies, or dreaming. When I write, I get to immerse myself in a whole different world for a few hours each day, and even better, I get to decide what happens. (Or sometimes, my characters decide for me.) And though it's true I tend to stick to the types of people and places I know, and indeed sometimes I use little details that come straight from life as I know it, these things are what I would call my framework for the larger story I decide to tell.

So, when you don't see yourself in my novel, I hope you'll forgive me. Just chalk it up to the fact that I value my relationship with you -- whatever that may be!

Friday, August 11, 2006

My Website's Up

I'm happy to report that my website is up and running. Check it out at Use the link at the site to send me an email and let me know what you think. And of course, I hope you'll buy the book! :-)

I've been drafting "thoughtful" posts the last several days for this blog, but life has been so crazy the past few days that I haven't had time to finish and publish them . . . Soon, soon. But for now it'll have to just be my mindless musings . . .

Went to my second DMB (Dave Matthews Band) show of the summer this past Wednesday, in Tampa. I went with two of my girlfriends and we met up with another friend from Jacksonville -- a gal who I met for the first time last year in Tampa for the same show. Life's interesting that way. We didn't know anything about each other (other than the fact that we're close in age and we're both big DMB fans), but that was enough to convince us to take a chance and attend the concert together. (Neither had anyone else to go with for that show.) We had a blast, and now it seems to be turning into an annual event. She went on the cruise, too.

What's even weirder is that one of the other gals was a DMB fan also, yet despite the fact that I've known her now about two years, I only recently learned this about her.

Anyway, we had a lot of interesting discussions during the pre-concert parking lot tailgating, and I'm sure I'll eventually get to them in my posts. One, I'll mention now, was our belief that you're never to old to enjoy a good concert . . . I get tired of reading reviews about DMB shows, and they always mention the "college-age" crowd. Yet if the reviewer really took the time to look around, he/she would find quite a mixed bag at the shows, in terms of age. Dave himself is approaching 40, and the band's been around now for enough years that the early fans have grown older with him . . .

More topics later . . . but here's a preview:
I'm reading a book called "The Sociopath Next Door." VERY interesting . . . and it's giving me a zillion ideas for stories . . . Now if only I can find a few hours to actually sit down and write something longer than a blog posting.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

In Defense of Toll Brothers

Check out one of my poems that was recently published in the Mom Writers Literary Magazine. Scroll down to the Poetry section; it's entitled "In Defense of Toll Brothers." Hope you like it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Book Publishing Progress. . .

The book cover for my soon-to-be released (July '06) novel, Best Intentions, is ready to go. I'm very pleased with how it turned out. Thanks go to my designer (and friend) Kathy McLaughlin of IDesign. Check it out:

In the next few days, you'll be able to read the synopsis and an excerpt at Port Town Publishing, and pre-order a copy if you like what you see . . . and I hope you do!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Interesting Item about Democracy

My cousin forwarded this today to me by e-mail. I don't know who the original author is (if anyone knows, please let me know) but I thought it was interesting, scary, and confirms what I've been feeling in my gut for some time now . . .
How Long Do We Have?

About the time our original 13 states adopted their newconstitution, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at theUniversity of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continueto exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

"The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage"

Professor Joseph Olson of Hamline University School of Law, St.Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2000 Presidential election:
1. Population of counties won by: Gore: 127 million; Bush: 143 million.
2. Square miles of land won by: Gore: 580,000; Bush: 2,427,000.
3. States won by: Gore: 19; Bush: 29.
4. Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Gore: 13.2; Bush: 2.1.

Professor Olson adds: "In aggregate, the map of the territory Bush won was mostly the land owned by the tax-paying citizens of this great country. Gore's territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements living off government welfare."

Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the "complacency & apathy" phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy, with some 40 percent of the nation's population already having reached the "governmental dependency" phase.

Pass this along to help everyone realize just how much is at stake, knowing that apathy is the greatest danger to our freedom.

On a final note, Professor Olson is just a tiny bit more optimistic than me -- I put us somewhere in the "apathy to dependence" phase!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm Getting Published!

Well, I guess I'm going to have to revise my profile . . . I'm no longer looking for an agent and/or publisher for my novel . . . Why's that?

I received an offer to publish my novel, Best Intentions!!!

When I first found out, I screamed so loud my kids thought I'd hurt myself. My husband was in Italy at the time on business (tough work, huh?), and because I didn't want to tell anyone else until I'd told him, I had to keep it bottled up inside me until I could reach him on the phone. Argh!

Release date is targeted for July 1, 2006. Check back -- I'll update as it moves forward. I hope to get the cover design posted when it's ready, with a blurb, etc.

I do want to add a quick thanks to my friend and former writing workshop leader in Philly, Alison Hicks. I don't think I would have ever finished this novel if it hadn't been for my participation in her workshops and her very inspiring critiques . . . Check out her site at!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dave Matthews and Friends Cruise

Here's a post I made on WeeklyDavespeak.
From WeeklyDavespeak:

I dreaded looking at the message boards today, because I had such a GREAT time on the cruise and listening to everyone whine was getting old . . . I was so happy to see that most of the comments posted are positive.

Was it poorly organized? Yes.
Was the "private" island not really private, but just the well-known Paradise Island? Yes.
Did it take forever to catch the tenders over to the island? For some, yes. For others, no.
Were there long lines for things there shouldn't have been (drink/food tickets, and then the actual drink/food)? Yes.
Did the weather suck? Yes.
Did the weather really, really suck? Yes.


We were on the Sovereign. We left around 4:15 to catch the 4:30 tender, and were on the island by 5:00. (Some friends were on later tenders, and it did take them much longer . . . but they nevertheless arrived before the concert started). After I stood in a long ticket line for a long time without even a few feet of forward movement, my husband got creative and paid someone at the front of the line to buy some tickets for us. The drink line was long, but moved relatively quickly. I was disappointed that the only drink choices were beer and wine -- I think the Atlantis could have made a killing if they'd served mixed drinks -- but hey, I was gonna see Dave -- I was happy. And when one of the tenders arrived carrying more fans, my husband got creative again and got on the tender after everyone had disembarked and bought a bottle of rum from the bartender on the tender. Problem solved!

There were a lot of angry people on the island because of the tender/drinks issues, but once the concert started, all appeared to be forgotten. There was Dave -- I mean, really, THERE WAS DAVE -- RIGHT IN FRONT OF US -- SO INCREDIBLY CLOSE! There wasn't a bad spot on the beach, and everywhere I looked people were singing, dancing, making new friends, just having a ball.

And then the rains came . . . and came . . . and came . . . I live in Florida, and have been through 2 hurricane seasons so far, and even I was amazed at the amount of rain that came . . .

But did it dampen our spirits?? NO WAY! For most of us, the rain just seemed to add to the wacky, craziness of the evening.

As Dave and the other musicians left the stage, many started to ditch the island to head back to the cruise ships, but others headed to the beer tents to weather the storm. Plastic bags were passed out for everyone to don, and in some tents, the vendors felt bad enough for us to hand out free beers. Despite being drenched and frozen to the bone, everyone in the tents was laughing and goofing and living it up. We had no intentions of bailing if and until someone came back out on the stage to tell us that the concert for over. Much time passed, and we were rewarded for our efforts . . . the rains let up, and some of us spied activity up on the stage. We took off from under the tents and ran to the stage just in time to see Dave coming out and taking a seat right at the edge with guitar in hand. Even when I was in the 2nd row of a concert at Madison Square Garden, I was not this close! It was absolutely amazing . . . .

The night continued -- we continued to sing and party as if the rain had never happened, except now we were wet but a lot closer to the stage!

When it ended, Dave kept making the comment that "maybe I'll have to 'get on the boats' . . .!" I knew then that he wouldn't just say that unless he intended to do it. This feeling was confirmed when after he left the stage, and everyone was screaming "one more song!", one of the stagehands said, "Don't worry, you'll see him again tonight" Wink, wink.

My friends and I were in the last boat to finally leave the island (yes, there was even a line to get off of the island at the end of the evening). But no one cared -- the partying continued. Some played in the water, despite the cold. We made more friends, took more pictures . . .

When we arrived back at the dock where the cruise ships were, we looked like lost refugees . . . As we entered the boat, we received hot chocolate, not beer (maybe that was the earlier groups who came back, or the Majesty folks?). One of the boat's officers was greeting us, and I asked him where Dave would be on the boat. He said "Dave's not staying on the boat" and I said, "I know, but where is he playing?" and he quietly said -- "Go to the Follies", which is the name of the largest music venue on the ship.

We returned to our rooms, took a quick hot shower to thaw our bodies, and headed to the Follies. The doors opened, we ran down to the front, and a bit later, we were once again rewarded for our troubles --- DAVE came on stage and it was like watching him in a small, smoky bar. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. My only regret is that I didn't get a center stage seat, because he shook the hands of those in the center at the end. But I can't complain about my spot on the side -- still right in front of the stage. I'm still smiling . . . . Thank you, thank you, thank you, DAVE!! You proved you were everything I thought and MORE.

The next day was interesting, to say the least. At breakfast, you could tell just by looking at someone's face whether they'd seen the whole thing (all 3 parts) or not. Some people were pissed -- and I'm sure I would have been too -- but in the end, I think I would have blamed myself for not sticking it out. Yet even the angry people chilled as the day went on. They started playing DMB on the pool deck, and because we couldn't go to Coco Cay (because the seas were too rough), everyone ended up at the pool drinking and dancing and just being silly. I suspect we all had much more fun than we would have had on Coco Cay, where everyone probably would have split up. Instead, the whole ship (or a large part of it) partied together on the pool deck listening to Dave.

To all of you who were there, THANK YOU FOR CONTRIBUTING TO AN INCREDIBLE TIME! It'll take a lot to top this one . . .
Life handed us lemons, and some of us made lemonade . . . And boy oh boy, was it GOOD!