Sunday, December 19, 2010

Time to say goodbye... Blogger, that is, but hopefully not you. I've been testing the waters over at WordPress and have decided I prefer the features they offer. If you would like to continue following my blog, and I hope you do, come visit and subscribe at

Hope to see you there.

Have a beautiful holiday season.

Best regards,

Saturday, February 20, 2010


It is Friday night and the movie Signs is on TV. I settle in to watch it with my ten-year-old son at my side, snuggled under a throw. I've seen the movie before, years ago, but all I remember of the story line is that it involves extraterrestrials. This will be my son's first, official scary movie. A bit over-protective, you say? Perhaps, but Jaws ripped a bloody hunk of wide-eyed innocence out of my childhood, so deal with it.

Maybe I'm a wuss by today's standards of horror, but it's the little things that scare me, the rustle of corn stalks in the wind, a momentary shadow blocking the light shining under a closed door, the hint--no, the promise--of something more to come. As the tension in the movie builds, I look over and see that my son has stuck his fingers in his ears. When I question him about this, he says it's in case something jumps out on the screen. Hmmm, clearly I'd done the kid no favors. I gently remove the fingers from his ears and place them over his eyes.

We get through the shadowy figure on the roof, an otherworldly ankle retreating into the corn, a clawed hand reaching underneath a pantry door, and finally the big moment has arrived--the alien appears in full-body view. I gasp and assume fetal position. My son shouts too, but it's not fear I hear in his voice. "Ewwwww. He's naked. I can see his be-front." (I find out later that a be-front is the opposite of a be-hind. Kids.)

Naked? I peek through my fingers, concerned now that I am not only frightening him to death before bedtime but also exposing him to alien nudity at ten years of age. I can feel my head tilting to one side, assessing the situation. I wouldn't exactly say naked. He looks a bit like Kate Moss, circa 1993, in a washed-out, grey catsuit. In fact, she may have worn something just like that on a catwalk in the past.

The movie ends and Jon brushes his teeth and climbs into bed. Much later, I make my way upstairs in the darkened house. My eyes are closed as I climb the stairs and my fingers feel for the light switch in my room. I laugh to myself, remembering I did this very thing as a child whenever I was afraid and said a special prayer, taught to me by Grandma Pasqualine, that was 100% effective in warding off bad dreams. When I hear my son call out from his room, saying he can't sleep because he's disgusted by that naked alien, I tell him he can come sleep with me. Little does he know that he's helping me out.

When I relate this story to a friend the next day, he exclaims, "You're kidding?" A lover of all things horror, he can't imagine that I was that freaked by the movie Signs. I remind him that I have alien issues that began almost fifteen years ago.

It was my thirtieth birthday and my cousin, let's just call her Cuzzy, sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers and two mylar birthday balloons tied together, one floating higher than the other. That night, I crawled into bed with a copy of Communion by Whitley Strieber, a supposed true story of the writer's abduction by aliens at his summer cabin. Years later, they made a movie of the book, starring Christopher Walken who, in all fairness, has always frightened me a bit whether he was in a horror movie or not, the only exception being his appearance on Saturday Night Live with the delivery of the line "I got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell." But I digress.

As the ceiling fan whirred and my book light cast a concentrated beam in the otherwise dark room, I turned page after page of the frightening account. Eventually, I couldn't keep my eyes open and succumbed to sleep. Hours later, something woke me and I opened my eyes to see two silver-faced creatures bobbing at my bedside. I screamed like I had never screamed before, over and over again, and my husband jumped many feet into the air. Had I been a person of lesser health, my heart could not have survived the fright. By the time my husband peeled himself off the ceiling, I was kneeling in the middle of the bed, pointing my finger, babbling incoherently. He turned on the light to reveal that I had almost been abducted by...wait, it's coming...a pair of mylar balloons. Of course, you know that I've never lived this down.

Though the "aliens" were debunked, the scientist in me (yes, believe it or not, there is a scientist in me despite my "I want to believe" philosophy) had to know how those balloons made it to my bedside on the very night Whitley Strieber was scaring the crap out of me. The next day I created a re-enactment and realized that the ceiling fan, set to draw the hot air up and cool the house, had also sucked the balloons from the kitchen, through the foyer, up a flight of stairs, and into my room to end up at my side of the bed. You see the problem though, don't you? What stopped them from getting sucked up into the ceiling fan? Why did they "choose" to linger at my bedside? Mwhahahahahahahaha. I can honestly say that no horror movie has ever scared me more than that night did. All mylar balloons are now tied down before bedtime in my house. Wince. And that's because, yes, it's true, this event happened twice to me.

Sometimes I wish I were more like my son, able to get through the scary stuff with just an "ewwww" and some mild digestive upset.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Signing for Pediatric MS

A huge thank you to everyone who supported us at the fundraiser for Pediatric MS on Saturday. Thank you to the Broadway Mall for having us, Natale of the Long Island Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for the support (and for doing hours of crafts with kids before your bachelorette party), everyone who stopped by to purchase a book or raffle tickets, my family for their support, the New York Islanders for the donated merchandise, and Sparky, the team mascot, for the entertainment.

The proceeds from my book sales on Saturday will be donated to the LIV LIFE MS Walk team, headed up by 16-year-old Olivia, who was diagnosed with Pediatric MS two years ago. Who knew kids got MS? I didn't until Rina, Olivia's mom, emailed me after reading that I was interested in partnering with local charities.

For anyone who couldn't attend the event but wants to contribute to the cause, please visit Olivia's MS Walk page to make a donation.

Photos will be posted shortly at

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Benefactor Receives 5 Stars and a Top Pick Rating by Night Owl Reviews

What a way to ring in the New Year! I was notified of this review minutes before heading out the door to celebrate. Needless to say, there were many beaming faces around the laptop tonight and two reasons to drink champagne.

Here's what reviewer, Diana Coyle, had to say:

All I can say about this story is, “WOW!!!” This was a powerful story that grabbed me from the first page and had me on a roller coaster ride until the very last sentence. Ms. Dempsey packed this story with raw emotions and I just couldn’t help but feel terrible for Kate....I’m new to Ms. Dempsey and her writing, but I can tell you that I am her #1 fan now. I eagerly look forward to reading more from this author as soon as possible. Keep the stories coming, Ms. Dempsey!

Read the full review here.

I received my first review on Thanksgiving morning and this last one on New Year's Eve. Some kind of holiday pattern, maybe? Whatever it takes! Let's go Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. YEAH!!!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

4-Book Rating for The Benefactor from Long and Short Reviews

What a great Thanksgiving gift! And definitely something to be thankful for.

I just got my first, official review from Long and Short Reviews. They gave The Benefactor a 4-book rating.

Click here to read the complete review. I've pasted in part of it below.

The “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” beginning of The Benefactor is deceptive. Suspense creeps in early when Kate Barrett’s “secret friend” sends a gift to her new apartment before she moves in and even before her name is listed at the new address.

As the plot takes twists and turns with layer after layer of Kate’s past life being peeled away, she feels off balance and must re-evaluate past events while moving along at warp speed in her new job at eTown Technology. Kate, bright, college-educated, and dedicated is on the fast track to success.

Michael Callaghan, owner of eTown Technology, watches Kate and encourages her to make the most of her talents. He rewards her with promotions and pay. He stays in the background with Frank Tarantino being the visible “boss” up to a point. However, Michael exerts pressure when Frank steps over the line with Kate. Michael’s past also had layers to it that he does not reveal. His anonymous philanthropic works take on new meaning as the layers of his past begin to peel away. The Benefactor, a story about a quest for redemption and about the power of forgiveness, lures the reader in.

The secondary characters help develop the complexities in the story and add some interesting insights into the various ways people cope with their circumstances—circumstances that cannot always be seen as just black or white, the shades of grey in between must be considered.

Margaret Reyes Dempsey’s unobtrusive writing style makes the story flow and propels the reader along with a mixture of bumps and smoothness along the way that keeps the reader’s interest fully engaged.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Launch Party for The Benefactor

My book launch party was last night and it was an amazing evening. There was a cocktail party for guests of the hotel before my event began. The general manager suggested I get there early to set up and meet some of them. He had displayed the book signing poster in the lobby during the week, sent emails to the guests, and a telephone broadcast to the rooms inviting them down for happy hour and the book signing. About fifty people showed up and as I set up, 19 of them came over to chat and buy books, which totally shocked me. I was shaking a bit when I signed that first book in the presence of a stranger. I had already signed a bunch of pre-orders for the launch party, but I was by myself for those. :-)

At 7:00 PM, my family and friends arrived (about 100 people). It was a magical night. Everyone was so excited. There was a constant line at the signing table. A local paper had printed an article about the book launch and someone actually brought a copy of that for me to autograph along with the book. In addition to the food and drinks that were served, my mom brought in 100 casatelli, a Sicilian dessert, which is described on pages 106-107 of The Benefactor. We put up a sign with that information, along with a description of the dessert (pastry dough filled with sweetened ricotta, shaved chocolate, and a touch of cinnamon, fried or baked, and dusted with powdered sugar).

To be honest, I never imagined that my book launch party would go the way it did. In fact, just that morning I'd burrowed deeper under the covers in total avoidance mode, incredibly nervous and not knowing what to expect. But when guests began arriving and I felt the energy in the room and saw how starry-eyed some of my friends and family were, it all started to feel real in a good way. I had a hard time falling asleep after such an energizing night. I'll never forget it. Thank you everyone for making it a dream come true.

[Visit the Gallery Page of my website to see photos from the event.]

Monday, October 26, 2009

Be-uh He-uh: Successful book promotion may require some form of refrigeration

[I'll get to the translation of Be-uh He-uh in a moment for any out-of-towners.]

My book, The Benefactor, was released by The Wild Rose Press last week. For the past few months I've been gazing into space and doing research on the best places to promote a book. Believe it or not, a bookstore is not that place. One local, independent store told a fellow writer that she should set the retail price and they'd take half. Only bad thing was it cost her $3 more than that "half price" to purchase the books at her special discount from her publisher. So, for the privilege of sitting at their store, it would cost her $3 per book (and that's not even factoring in the cost of shipping the books to her).

Discouraged by her news, I thought maybe a few local writers could pool their funds and get a table at the mall one day during the holiday season. How much could it be? I'll tell you. One table for one Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas costs $800. You'd have to sell a lot of books to just break even.

Joking around, I told one of my writer friends that we should get a table in the meat aisle of our local warehouse club store. There'd be plenty of people shopping for the holidays. He told me he'd already been turned down. At first, I thought he was pulling my leg. But no. He'd gone to the store where he had shopped for years and the manager was very excited about having a book signing there for him. But when the request made it to the "powers that be," the answer was a resounding, "Nay!"

With disbelief that a writer wouldn't even be welcome to sit in front of the frozen turkeys, but feeling that I was onto something, I spent a few more hours gazing into space, brainstorming with myself. Maybe it's that the Yankees have made it into the World Series, but those guys at the stadium who walk around with the cases of beer cans sitting in ice, screaming "Be-uh He-uh" (that's Beer Here for those of you not from the Metro New York area), suddenly came to mind. Maybe they had room in their beer cases for my romantic suspense novel. The odds are that at least some of the women sitting in the stands are glazed over and there only to impress their dates. They could get started reading immediately and maybe create a buzz in the stands. Though in New York, creating the wrong kind of buzz will get a hot dog thrown at you...or worse. Still, a bit of mustard never hurt anyone.

My mind continued on. What about those guys with the coolers heaved on their shoulders selling cold drinks on the beach? "Ice cold water, iced tea, The Benefactor, ice cold water, iced tea, The Benefactor." It has a nice ring to it, don't you think? And there are plenty of women on the beach, some perhaps in need of a good read.

Then this idea popped into my head...a truck rounds the corner, its bell ringing and the warped strains of "Turkey in the Straw" playing. Children run from their homes. It's the ice cream guy. He reaches into the freezer, pulls out a bomb pop for little Johnny, and The Benefactor for his mom.

Refrigeration, I tell you. Successful book promotion will undoubtedly come down to some form of refrigeration. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Here!!!!

I got word today that my book, The Benefactor, was available for author purchase, which was a great relief since, against advice, I have optimistically scheduled events and was starting to get a bit worried about having the books in time. When I arrived at my publisher's site, I saw that it's available for EVERYONE to purchase. A month early. Yay? Yay. YAY!!!!!!!

I imagine it will be a few weeks before The Benefactor is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc., but for now, it can be purchased at
The Wild Rose Press.

You can also check out my
website for the latest information.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vistaprint - Are you feeling lucky?

[Note: If you're not in the market for business cards and post cards, you might want to skip this one.]

Just placed my first order with Vistaprint. I'd read everyone's comments on Inked-In about how you sign up and they keep sending you deals. But until you actually place your first order, you have no idea just what it's like, and how it's geared very strongly to your gambling sense of adventure. Case in point, I need tons of business cards and post cards for my upcoming book release. My family alone will clean me out of hundreds of them. My release date also happens to be closing in. And so my dilemma was, do I order everything I need now, or order part of what I need and hope Vistaprint sends me a better deal tomorrow to place an additional order.

Knowing I was going to pick the slowest shipping method (21 days) because I get really cheap when it comes to shipping, I figured I didn't have much time to screw around with winning the Vistaprint lottery. So, I placed my full order. Upon hitting the submit button, a screen pops up indicating you have 10 minutes to add the following to your order with FREE shipping. One of the items was additional post cards; the other, additional business cards. I opted for the business cards--another 500 cards, color printing on both sides, for three bucks. Can't beat that. Once I'd ordered that, ANOTHER screen popped up with additional items and another 10 minute decision period. I decided it was time to log out.

So, the question is, should I have ordered fewer items to start? Would the offer that popped up have been as generous or is it based on your initial order? I have no idea. But I'm sure there's a study to be done here. I just don't have the time for it.

One word of advice: If you're someone who will worry until your order arrives about how the cards will look, order the pdf proof for $1.99 before you submit your order. The sense of security it provides is well worth the cost.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1st Anniversary of My Blog

Today is the first anniversary of this blog and I've been thinking about all that's happened over the course of the year. It reminds me of the importance of being open to people and reaching out to others. Nothing good happens if you sit alone in your home day after day. Read on to see what I mean.

In May of 2008, I was reading my Washington University in St. Louis Alumni Magazine when I noticed a blurb about a fellow alum who had just had a book published. Her name was Julie Compton, and though I didn't know her at school, I was really excited about her news. I sent her an email congratulating her (this is the reaching out to others part), which set off a chain of events I never could have predicted.

  • Julie responded and we began an email correspondence.
  • I visited her blog and was inspired to start a blog of my own.
  • It was either on her blog or website that I noticed a link for Inked-In, a social networking site for writers, artists, and musicians.
  • I joined Inked-In and that site became the outlet for a lot of pent-up creativity, not to mention the exciting exchanges with other crazy, creative types.
  • In the meantime, I bought a copy of Julie's book, Tell No Lies, and started reading. I enjoyed it so much, I sent her an email detailing my thoughts.
  • After several emails back and forth, Julie asked if I would be interested in becoming her beta reader. Hell, yeah!
  • Shortly thereafter, I found out that my novel, The Benefactor, was being considered for publication. I needed to get it in as good shape as possible before submitting it in its entirety to the requesting editor. Guess who helped me out with that. That's right--Julie's advice and editing tips were invaluable and will provide a foundation to make my next book better than it would have been.
  • Meanwhile, I was making lots of new friends at Inked-In. As a result of joining, I met a fellow novelist (and screenwriter) from the UK, Richard Lamb, with whom I am now collaborating on my next novel, a romantic comedy.
  • In his previous life, Richard was a graphic artist and he generously offered his assistance in coming up with the cover concept for The Benefactor.
  • As if things couldn't get more exciting, I was talking to Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor, a new friend and one of the founders of Inked-In (along with Joseph Reed Hayes), and by the end of the conversation we had decided to book a trip to Scotland with some of our other writer friends. For ten days in August, I'll be living in a former 17th century church that has been converted into a beautiful residence. It'll be great to meet everyone face-to-face (Skype isn't quite the same thing) and we'll also do some planning and scouting for a possible group writing venture.
  • The months were quickly ticking by, and I suddenly realized I needed a website for my book launch. Once again, Richard stepped up and offered his assistance. I'm hoping to announce the new site by the end of the summer.

It has been a whirlwind of a year--a year that would have been radically different had I not met Julie Compton.

I've always been a bit envious of aggressive networkers. I just don't have that in me. But sometimes a simple hello is all it takes to make new friends and spark a chain of magical events.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Picking Gravel out of my Knees

I was sitting at the baseball field the other day, working on my new novel, while my son's team practiced before the game. Behind me, a conversation caught my attention. One of Jon's teammates walked off the field to tell his dad he'd just been hit by the ball. As he rubbed the front of his thigh, his father asked, "Are you okay? Are you sure? Does it hurt? Are you sure you're okay? You okay, buddy? Are you going to be okay? You sure?" I couldn't help smiling at the way things have changed over the course of my almost 44 years on earth. Men have experienced exponential growth in sensitivity. Sometimes I wonder if it's too much.

A memory came to mind. I was about five years old. My dad had taken me to the park and plopped me on a swing. But not the baby swings--the ones for older kids. In those days, the seats weren't made from flexible rubber; they were thick planks of metal. So there I sat, swinging away, without the requisite crash helmet, elbow and knee pads, heart protector, harness, and other equipment we tend to use on our kids these days. Also, let me add that the material on the ground was not rubber or some other shock-absorbing substance--it was concrete. As I pumped my skinny legs and soared higher and higher, a breeze whipped up and my long hair flew across my face. What did I do? I let go of the swing to push back my hair and ended up flying off the back and hitting the cement wall behind the swing set. (I like to think that after I hit the wall, I slowly slid down it like a cartoon character.) My dad, who was talking to another parent, made his way over to me. Let me be generous and say he walked briskly, but it was certainly not the frantic sprint we see nowadays when a parent is trying to get to an injured child. I was by this time bawling my eyes out. What did my dad do? After he saw I wasn't seriously injured, he laughed and told me I was fine.

Flash forward three years. I'd received a bicycle for my birthday. After a few weeks of training wheels, Dad decided it was time for me to really learn how to ride. We made our way to the Department of Transportation's lot around the corner, which was covered in gravel. Dad started me off riding, holding the back of my seat, and things were looking good. But then he let go, and suddenly I was wobbling back and forth, back and forth, forgetting I could back pedal to brake, forgetting I could just put my feet down. Instead, I jerked the handlebars and ended up toppling over. Dad made his way over--briskly, as I mentioned before. I sat there--come on, you know--bawling my eyes out, with gravel stuck in my bloody knees. What did Dad do? He picked most of it out and then...laughed and told me I was fine. Then, he plopped me back on the bike, totally ignoring my screaming protests, and we did it again and again until I got it right.

A few months later, it was time to learn how to swim. After sinking and coming up sputtering to face my laughing father, I'd had enough. I knew how this was going to end and I wasn't having it. To this day, I can swing real high and ride a bike, but I can't swim, something I regret.

So what were the pros and cons of my dad's methods. On the plus side, I ended up being a really tough kid who grew into a tough woman. There's not much I think I can't do. On the other side, I grew up feeling my pain was not always properly acknowledged. It wasn't until I became a parent and realized how heartbreakingly adorable a curled, trembling lip is that I understood that Dad hadn't been laughing at me. Maybe he thought that laughing would shorten the amount of time I spent crying.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is that father who seemed to dwell a bit too long, despite his kid's claims that he was okay. Will that kid learn toughness, will he become a hypochondriac because of the overreaction of his father? Who knows?

I think somewhere between laughing at the gravel in your kids' knees and coddling them to excess lies a happy medium. With that said, I'm not sure I always get it right with my own son. I can't wait to read his blogs about me. :-D

[My husband thinks this blog sounds a bit harsh, but my dad will...LAUGH when he reads it. We tend to speak our minds in my family. He's heard me complain time and time again about his parenting methods (and how totally different he is as a grandfather), but he also remembers that I once announced at a large, family gathering when I was very young that if we were on a desert island and I suddenly came down with appendicitis, I would trust him to remove my appendix. I don't remember him laughing then--beaming was more like it. Happy Father's Day, Pupsley. I'd still let you take out my appendix. :-D]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let's Make a Deal

The year is 1974. The place is Hollywood, California. The weather is "hot as hell." But you don't mind. You've stood in line for three hours in the hopes that you'll make it through the doors. You're wearing an orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt, a brown fedora, a hot pink feather boa, green and blue plaid golf pants, and Keds hi-top sneakers in traditional white.

The doors open and people start filing in. You breathe a sigh of relief when you are counted as one of the studio audience, but relief soon turns to dismay when you see how far back your seat is. Before you get worked up about it, the lights come on, announcer Jay Stewart starts revving up the viewers, and then Monty himself walks out onto the stage. It's a whirlwind, people are screaming, deals are offered, decisions are made. And then, suddenly, he's standing next to you, every piece of hair perfectly shellacked in place.

He asks the next question and your eyes widen a bit. You rip open that massive, leopard-print tote bag hanging over your arm and start rifling through dental floss, Phillip's head screwdriver, tea bags, acorns, seashells, a lock of hair, a kazoo, and there it is...a pair of false teeth. You pull it out and wave it in the air. Monty doesn't even have to move. He's talking to you now and you feel a bit like Ralph Kramden on the $99,000 Answer episode. Hum-a-na-hum-a-na-hum-a-na.

Carol Merrill, that model with the legs up to here, walks into the aisle carrying a small table with a box on top of it. Monty offers you what is in that box or what is behind Curtain #1. You think a moment. Something big could be behind that curtain, but then again good things come in small packages. For all you know, Jay Stewart is sitting on an old tractor with a few bales of hay behind that curtain. You choose the box.

Carol flashes her trademark smile and her eyes twinkle. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? She lifts the top off the box and inside is an envelope. You realize you're holding your breath, but as long as they reveal the contents of that envelope within the next four minutes, you'll be okay. A long, shiny, red fingernail slips under the flap. A piece of card stock with fancy lettering on it is extracted. Monty tells you you've just won $500 per week for the rest of your life.

We're not talking quit-your-drag-of-a-job, life-changing moment here. But just the other day you were saying how much better life would be if you had a few extra bucks to eliminate the fear of the unknown. $500 a week for life is the answer to that prayer.

But it's not over.

Monty is offering another deal. Keep the contents of that box or trade it for what's behind Curtain #1. You feel the rush of adrenaline in your veins. Do you trade the sure thing for the unknown? Do you trade what was good enough just a day ago for the hope of something even better? Do you trade guaranteed stability for the possibility of something previously unimaginable?

You ask me this question 20 years ago and I might have gambled and picked the curtain. Now I'm not so sure. What about you?

Note: If you live in a part of the world where $500/week would mean a huge change in your life (alas, on Long Island, this is not the case), then lower the amount to something that would bring a bit of comfort but not have the sky rockets shooting off before your eyes and then answer the question.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Beyond the Sea: An Inked-In Collaboration

This blog is a collaboration between Richard Lamb and Margaret Reyes Dempsey discussing their collaboration.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Other Writers

Margaret: It seems membership is increasing at Inked-In. I'm sure many people join just to see what it's all about, as I did back in July. I never dreamed it would turn into a collaboration with a fellow writer on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm always up for a challenge, so when Richard said, "Hey, we should write something together," I immediately agreed. We had hit it off socially and admired each other's writing. He was a "long-winded" screenwriter who thought he might be better at novels. I was a "woman of few words" novelist who thought screenwriting might be a better match. (When it comes to talking, it's actually the reverse.) In the end, we decided on a novel, hoping our styles would meet somewhere in the middle.

Richard: Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a collaborator. When I was at Art College and I found myself having to do a group project, I would invariably come to blows with everyone else and then lose interest because they weren’t doing things the way I thought they should be done. I wanted total autonomy over all my projects or I simply lost enthusiasm for them. I’ve always been something of a loner, most especially when it comes to creative endeavours. So no one was more surprised than I when I suggested to Margaret that we collaborate on a novel together. We’d met on Inked-In a few months earlier and quickly discovered that we had a lot in common, both personally and creatively. So as far as whims go, it seemed like a fairly logical one. Which is more than can be said for most of my whims.

Margaret: Of course, I had reservations. As similar as we were in some ways, we couldn't be more different in how we approached the writing process. There were also difficulties (putting it very mildly) with misunderstandings due to American versus British English, not to mention the trouble you can get in with inflectionless forms of communication like online chat. What we did have in common, though, was the ability to duke it out and get on with the work. Well, eventually get on with the work, that is.

Richard: We came up with our idea in short order and quickly realised that we had something that was pretty original in its approach and execution. That gave us the initial buzz to get started and five months on we are still hammering away at it. Well, sort of. Maybe hammering isn’t the right word. Light tapping might be better.

Margaret: There were a few months when I was immersed in edits for my soon-to-be-released novel. But the real reason it took so long to get in the flow was the difference in our approach to writing. Richard is a spontaneous, "without a plan" kind of writer and I like to have a loose outline of where I'm heading (otherwise my finished project ends up looking like little Jimmy going from Point A to Point B in the Family Circus cartoons).

Richard: Okay, so there have been lapses in motivation along the way. On both sides. There have been times when Margaret has accelerated past me and times when I have accelerated past her. There have been many times when other projects have dragged us away (Margaret’s soon to be published novel is the prime example) and certainly times when we have become frustrated with ourselves and, from time to time, each other. However, I have not once lost interest in it and I have never really found myself wanting to reach across the Atlantic and strangle Margaret. Not in relation to this book anyway.

Margaret: In time, Richard began to see that his approach wouldn't work in a collaboration. After all, we couldn't read each other's minds and the type of novel we're writing demands consistency. We compromised by discussing individual chapters as we went along. Then we finished chapter four and got stuck again. Finally, Richard suggested that we plot the whole thing out so we knew where we were going. Wow, what a great idea. Wish I had thought of that. ;-)

Richard: I’ve been surprised how easily we have worked together. We complement each other creatively and I’ve even enjoyed Margaret’s little brainstorming sessions, a concept which I have usually found extremely tedious in the past. In fact, we spent God knows how many hours brainstorming almost the whole thing over the last few days. It was exhausting but surprisingly satisfying.

Margaret: So, the last two days have been a whirlwind of activity. We spent hours on the phone plotting out the novel (me on my lounge chair sitting out in the sun on a mild New York spring day; Richard on his sofa under an English night sky). It was exhilarating and grueling at the same time. But in the end, we had something amazing that we both really liked. We'll see where it goes.

Richard: I guess the secret of this collaboration’s success is the way in which we complement each other. Sometimes I need to be told to write less and sometimes Margaret needs to be told to write more. Together we find a common ground where I think something very special will be produced.

Note: Inked-In is an online social network for writers, artists, and musicians.


As I get older, I realize just what a gift memory is. I also realize that my memory isn't what it once was (and I'm only 43!). Pregnancy and motherhood have a way of permanently reserving a portion of your brain. However, I'm grateful for the section they've left for my personal use. And there's nothing like a good memory--especially one that is older and whose reality has mellowed with age so that what remains is sweeter than what originally existed.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said "Light tomorrow with today!" To me that means to live well and make good memories. Don't waste time journaling every detail, don't see your vacation through the lens of a camera, don't watch your child grow up through the end of a video recorder. Live life to its fullest, immersed completely--even in the seemingly mundane moments for that is where the best future memories often reside.

In another blog, I mentioned feeling guilty for not "documenting" Jon's life as much as I "should." But recently I watched some old home movies and realized that my parents had captured my entire childhood in about 3 hours of footage. That was more than enough to jog my memory and fill in the empty pieces. If every detail had been captured, if I had lived like the character Truman with every minute recorded, there would be no creativity permitted in the selected recollections. Life would have been reduced to a series of stage directions presented in the past tense.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Benefactor - Coming Soon...

My publisher has just added my novel, The Benefactor, to the Coming Soon section of their website. In the publishing world, "coming soon" means "in about a year." My release date is January 22, 2010.

Update: The release has been moved up to November 13, 2009.

Benefactor - Coming Soon...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In the Moment

A forty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a twenty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with her flawless skin, perfect shape, and healthy glow. She compares it to how she looks with her cellulite and excessive curves, some in the wrong places. She wrinkles her nose.

A sixty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a forty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with her womanly curves, the trophies of motherhood. She compares it to how she looks with her wrinkled and saggy skin. She wrinkles her nose.

An eighty-year-old woman sits looking at photos of a sixty-year-old woman. She thinks to herself how beautiful the younger woman is with expressive laugh lines around her mouth and eyes, the evidence of a happy life etched on her face. She compares it to how she looks with her stooped body that feels every ache and pain. She wrinkles her nose.

And then she realizes that she has spent her entire life wrinkling her nose at how she looks in the present and looking back with longing at her younger self who she did not appreciate at the time. She wishes now that she had loved herself more. There's always today.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fear Through the Ages

I was mostly a fearless kid. In fact, I can remember only two times I felt fearful--one dealing with deep water (still a fear to this day) and another when some kids threatened to kick my ass after school (I talked my way out of it). In all other matters I was a risk taker, not afraid to fail, pretty damn confident that I was going to turn out all right. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't Evil Knievel--I was wired more for cerebral than for physical pursuits--though there was that day with the motorcycles, jumping ditches at the lots.

In my twenties this fearlessness continued. I spoke my mind, interviewed for jobs I wanted but didn't have the skills for and got them, quit a well-paying job to start my own business. There was never a moment's doubt while I was going through all these things. I was like a superhero who couldn't be struck down.

And then the thirties arrived and self-knowledge tangoed into the room. The real stuff, not the façade. I realized that I was actually a very fearful person all along but had covered it up with toughness and an "attack before you are attacked" attitude. In much deeper journaling sessions than I had ever tackled, I uncovered fear upon fear. I thought it was good at the time to have done that--to know who I really was, to know I wasn't the image I had projected.

When I got pregnant with my son, all kinds of crazy hormones got added to the mix. There was such a mellowing of me with motherhood that I almost didn't recognize myself anymore. The hard candy shell cracked and the chewy, emotional center dripped out and gooed things up. Having come from a family where "you don't let 'em see you cry," this new me felt uncomfortable. And then there were the fears. Let's face it, there are no fears like the ones you have for a child.

Eventually, I came to embrace the more emotional me. Having a child made me a much more empathetic person. I didn't just use logic to work through a problem; I began taking people's feelings into account. And then the forties rolled in. How's this for reality?


And sometimes those fears are debilitating. They cause me to be cautious and second guess...they cause me to look longingly over my shoulder at the younger me who didn't know herself better.

It seems inevitable that each year will get worse. There will be fears about health, disability, loss, death, finances, and a whole new generation of loved ones. Will I stop taking the very risks that brought me my biggest successes? Will I stay indoors for fear that a falling brick will land on my head? I'm not sure. I'll ponder these and other questions while I bungee jump off my roof.

Motley Crue - Afraid

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Magical Day

The Friday before Thanksgiving started like any other Friday. My husband went to get me a coffee and pick up a lottery ticket because as they say in New York, "you gotta be in it to win it."

Unfortunately, the lottery machine was down.

That afternoon, we visited Jon's fourth grade class for an Authors Celebration. The kids had written books about endangered animals. The parents got to read each book and write comments on their sheets.

I wrote: "Congratulations on your book. Now you can say you were published before your Mom."

When I arrived home, I was chatting online with a fellow writer with whom I am collaborating on my third novel when the following email arrived from an editor who was reviewing the manuscript for my second novel:

Finally! I've received permission from the powers that be to offer a contract for your novel. I enjoyed the story and the changes you've made. One thing though, in order to publish this novel, it'll need a new title. We already have one with that name. If this is okay with you, let me know and I'll prepare the contract packet.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Needless to say, there was much screaming, yelling, and jumping. My husband had just picked up Jon from school and they were the first to hear the news. I told Jon he had brought me good luck.

My mom cried, my sister was overjoyed, my brother got really quiet with a bit of awe in his voice, my dad brought me a beautiful plant, one of my friends who reads my early drafts did a jig. It was amazing.

To top it off, I had plans to go to a book signing for Mary and Carol Higgins Clark with a friend. The Higgins Clark ladies were quite entertaining and I was just glowing listening to them with my news dancing in my head. When they were signing the book, I told them my news and they went crazy. It was so exciting to have these two famous authors reading the email I had printed out and offering me advice and congrats.

Mary signed a copy of her book and then my email. She wrote: Think Royalty Checks! Her daughter wrote: Way to go Margaret. Can't wait to see your book in print!

Does a day get more magical than this?

After the signing, my friend and I were sitting in the Borders Café. I happened to glance at the blurb on the Higgins Clark book and saw it was about a group of people who win a large lottery.

Hmmmm. If that lottery machine had been working, do you think I would have won the lottery that day? I do.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stepping into the twilight zone . . . destination unknown

A friend and I were talking the other day about the connections people make with one another. It was just after she had experienced one of those twilight zone moments. You know the ones. They rock you to your core, but they usually take place during some mundane moment of your day when you least expect to be rocked to your core--standing on line at the post office, a kid's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, buying a pound of Boar's Head Maple Honey Turkey at the deli counter.

First meetings are typically formal affairs with two parties feeling each other out, erring on the side of caution until there is a bit more understanding between them. Other times, you meet someone and there is an immediate camaraderie. You have things in common. Maybe you grew up in the same neighborhood or with the same ethnic influences, or perhaps you find the same things funny. In any case, there is an instant ease, but the feeling ends there and, after wiping the pizza grease from your kid's face, you move on with the thought that you've shared a brief, delightful encounter.

Then there is the twilight zone moment--the one when you meet someone and a jolt passes through you, and you're sure you already know them. You have no memory of your past with them because your past with them never happened during your lifetime. And it's not the easy feeling of camaraderie described above. To the contrary, it is like finding a beloved who has been lost to you for a very long time. This sensation, or recognition, can occur before you've even spoken. Perhaps it takes place on an energy level of which we are not fully conscious. You get to talking and find you know how they will respond to questions about their life, their beliefs, their dreams. It's like you've already had the discussion a long, long time ago and it comes back to you in bits and pieces. You frequently say the exact thing at the same moment.

Is it that we have known the person before in some previous life? Is it just that they are so similar to us that it's like knowing ourselves? Whatever the case, these are magical encounters that happen rarely. There's no walking away from moments like these. There's a sense that you must follow them to wherever they lead because surely the universe or God or an angel, or whatever you choose to call it, is sending you a rare gift, an opportunity for enlightenment, something great that will change your life and the world around you. You don't know what that something is, but you trust that it exists.

You're stepping into the twilight zone, destination unknown. How many of us have the courage to embark on that journey?

Friday, September 26, 2008

One Two Three Kick

October is right around the corner and thoughts of Nan are on my mind. For those of you who don't know, Nan is my grandmother, Domenica Esposito, whom we called Nana Mickey. She passed away in October of 2000 and life hasn't been quite the same without her. You may think you have a wonderful grandmother, but you don't have mine. Only one was made before they broke that mold.

Nan babysat for us every, and I mean every, Saturday night. She claimed it was to give my parents some quality time together, but my siblings and I knew better. There was nothing she loved more in life than spending time with her grandchildren. And the feeling was mutual.

Saturday nights started off with Mom getting us fed. Then, we'd go sit on the front stoop and wait for Nan to round the corner. She loved to take buses and walk and would often refuse my mom's offer of a ride. As soon as we saw her walking down the block, we would start screaming and jumping up and down.

My childhood was lived in a modest home where everything had its place. One toy was played with and put away before another one was taken out. Cushions remained on the couch and there was NO jumping on furniture. You ate three square meals before you got dessert. You didn't disturb the neighbors with excessive noise. You went to bed early. Hell, in the winter darkness, my mom would have us in bed by 6:30 PM. You get the picture.

When Nan showed up and Mom and Dad had pulled away in the car, ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. First, there was a visit to the candy store--actually, a numbers running joint fronting as a candy store, as I now understand it--where we could buy whatever our little hearts desired. When the ice cream man made his rounds later, we'd get that too. And maybe a knish or hot pretzel to go with it. Strung out on lots of sugar and Nan's enthusiasm, the cushions on the 1970's, crushed-velvet, orange sofa would be ripped off and thrown around on the floor, and we would pretend we were floating on rafts in the middle of the sea. Beds were jumped on with great exhilaration, pigtails flying in the air.

The Saturday night line up on TV back then was All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, and, our favorite, Carol Burnett. But TV viewing required more snacks. So, the Jiffy Pop popcorn came out and we'd shake it over the stove top and watch that silver foil turban grow and shoot out wisps of steam. Along with the salty, we needed a little sweet. Out came the marshmallows and a long fork. They got toasted over the flame on the stove and many of them caught fire and melted all over the metal grates. Any idea how hard it is to get melted marshmallow off of those? I'm actually surprised that Nan wasn't banned from babysitting after a few such adventures.

To get us up to our beds, she'd form a conga line with us and we'd one-two-three-kick up the stairs. Then we'd beg for a story. She rarely read to us from a book; she made up her own stories and told them in installments week after week. They were mystery stories about pickpockets, smugglers, and kidnappers down at the South Street Seaport. I can imagine how she'd gaze out her work window and dream up tales for our Saturdays together. We would whine and beg when she'd leave us with a cliff-hanger.

She was a lover of new experiences, exotic foods, world travel, and foreign accents. Guess I got that gene too. ;-)

After the jumping and snacking and TV viewing, we'd settle down in bed. By now, Nan was snoring away, but I was always still awake. At that time of night, Chiller Theater would come on, and that horrible hand with the six fingers would rise out of the ground, and that voice would say "Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiilllllllllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeerrrrrr." Eeek. It used to freak the hell out of me, and I'd put my hands over my eyes and watch through my fingers.

At some point, the sound of a car door would slam, and Nan would jump up and run downstairs. Cushions would be tossed back on the couch, dishes gathered and placed in the sink. My mom always had a kitchen to tidy up after a date with dad. Meanwhile, I'd pretend to be asleep when my parents came up to my room so Nan wouldn't get in trouble. But when Nan sneaked up to say goodnight, I'd open one eye and she'd wink at me.

People often debate whether certain traits are the result of nature or nurture. I’m not sure which transmission method is responsible for my sense of awe and wonder, but I do know that in some major way, my grandmother was responsible.

Children have no problem appreciating the miraculous, but as we mature, we begin to take life for granted—the sunset goes unnoticed or is cursed as we’re heading west in rush-hour traffic. The chirping of the birds is a nuisance to our Saturday morning sleep. A drenching spring rain makes us feel gloomy rather than foreshadowing new life.

Nan had as strong a sense of awe as any child I know. To see her out in nature was to see a 75-year-old child—eyes bright, wide smile, face turned up to the sun, and occasionally a foot missing the curb as a result.

She taught me to listen for the sea in a seashell, to jump waves, to crush herbs between my fingers and inhale their sweet and spicy scent, to identify birds, and appreciate flowers and trees. I watched ants for hours at a time when I was a child, amazed at the cooperation of insects--something so often absent in our own species. I remember pulling kitchen chairs in front of the back door to watch a summer thunder shower and then watching the sunlight return in a reddish-orange wash across the late afternoon sky. Rain was never to be dreaded; you could always walk between the rain drops or just have faith that you’d dry soon enough. And in late summer, I loved sniffing the cool, night air to catch a scent of the ripe grapes from the arbor next door.

All of these things are a part of me, handed down from a woman who had no equal. What a blessing to have been mentored in the art of living life with abandon. And when I do my final one two three kick out of this world, I hope my love of life will remain with those I leave behind. I love you, Nan.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Death of a Salesman

Last night as I was chatting with my Inked-In friends, my husband came in to tell me some terrible news. The salesman from whom we had leased our car had been struck and killed while crossing the street to get a cup of coffee. Whew. It really threw me. We spent only five hours with the guy one day in June. I imagine I drove him crazy with my negotiating and spouting of money factors and the number of times I sat back and said "no go" and watched him walk off to chat with his boss. But he never lost his cool and was respectful of my wishes to not be bombarded with options I didn't want.

When you spend a few hours in someone's company, you tend to hear some of their life. He was looking forward to his son's wedding in July and laughing over the fact that when you're the parents of the groom, you just nod and smile and do whatever the bride's family says. One of his co-workers later told me that he had been through some health problems, including a kidney transplant.

In the end, I got the price I wanted and we shook hands. I walked away feeling that I had met a man who was one of the decent ones in the sometimes sleazy car-selling industry. I had intended to send him a card in July to congratulate him on his son's wedding. But, as often happens, the whirlwind of life swept me up and my good intentions blew away.

So now I sit and think about how total strangers can touch you deeply. I think about how short life is and how death is often a surprise. I wonder, in this world of online friendships, if people will just disappear one day and never be heard from again. Most of all, I am reminded of how important it is to do what makes you happy, follow your passions, and tell people how much you care for them. All we have is this moment.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Eat My Words

My mother always said "be careful what you put down on paper; you're creating a lasting record." I suppose it proves how much of a rebel I was that I became a writer.

I'll admit there are a few letters I wish I'd never sent and a few emails I wish I could recall. That's for reason of content. But in written correspondence there's also the problem of absence of intonation, inflection, facial expression (especially the very useful wink), that can make something you intended as a joke seem like a serious insult.

And God forbid we forget to put that crucial piece of modern punctuation at the end of the sentence--that clarifying smiley face--then there's no hope of averting disaster. I can imagine the friendships that have been ruined with that one omission, and I pray that major discussions between world leaders do not take place over email. Consider the difference between:

We're launching our missiles at 3 PM sharp.

We're launching our missiles at 3 PM sharp :-)

(For added security, I might even add an LOL to that second one.)

On the other hand, as readers of written correspondence, perhaps we should take some extra time to analyze what someone might mean before jumping to conclusions. After all, why would someone who just wrote 14 lovely lines of correspondence want to stab you through the heart on line 15? It's just not done. With the truly evil ones you usually find yourself impaled by line 2.

Then there's the whole blogging thing, which basically has the same risks as other forms of written communication. Except you get to unintentionally insult many people at once. Quite efficient, actually.

I wonder if other writers are as paranoid as I am or if that childhood message just did a number on my brain. (Note to self: Send email to mom complaining about childhood issues. Be sure to end with a smiley face.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Back to School

School starts tomorrow. The budget wasn't passed and a class was eliminated in each grade, meaning class size is slightly larger this year. Apparently there won't be a second to spare, not even to sharpen a pencil. So here I sit, sharpening 24 Ticonderoga #2 pencils, as per the official school supplies list. I suppose the theory is when your point breaks or wears down, just take a new pencil and be done with it. Quick and efficient for the kid and teacher--mind-numbing for the parent doing the sharpening. Luckily, I have one of those battery-operated gizmos.

I wasn't having too much luck at first, but then I remembered I hadn't changed the batteries in about 15 years. Went in search of a Phillips-head screwdriver and managed to undo the very tight screws. Guess what? Not the battery compartment. Now I'm frickinfrackin under my breath. I screw those babies back in and the last one won't go all the way. Of course you realize I'm not using a good Phillips-head screwdriver. I'm using this teeny tiny one that came in the handle of a pink floral hammer--because some marketer thinks that when a woman needs to screw, her tool doesn't need to be as large as a man's. No pun intended, I swear.

Finally, I find the battery compartment on the end. Pop four new ones in there. Wow, it's like a lumberjack's saw. Totally buzzing. I'm tempted to go put on a red-plaid, flannel shirt, but it's about 80 degrees out. I put the first pencil in and stare at my computer screen. I have to keep taking it out to check my progress. By about pencil 16, I realize there is a slight give when the pencil is finished being sharpened--no checking required. I guess I was numb. Probably shouldn't be operating heavy machinery. Does a battery-operated pencil sharpener count as heavy machinery?

All done with the sharpening. What's that fine print at the bottom of the supply list? All supplies must be labeled with child's name. Great. Do they mean the box of 24 pencils or each pencil? Better play it safe. Thank God I named my kid Jon--no "h."

24 pencils, 24 crayons, 2 highlighters, 5 large glue sticks, 4 packs of Post-it notes, 12 washable markers, 26 colored pencils, 4 Sharpie markers, 5 marble notebooks, 3 folders, 2 erasers, 1 pair of scissors, 4 rolls of Scotch tape, 1 container of wipes, 1 box of baggies, a freakin' partridge in a pear tree and one grown woman's index finger (what can I say, I was on a roll).

More fine print: Please bring these items in for the first day of school. Additional items might be requested by individual teachers at a later date.

What more could he possibly need? We have at least one of everything in the Staples catalog.

I'm finally finished and start loading up his backpack. I'm still seeing "Jon Jon Jon" flash across my eyes--kind of like when you play too much Tetris and you see colored pieces falling even after the game is over. Frightening, but it will pass.

I sit back and take a deep breath and my eyes glance one more time at my now checked-off supply list. There's a box at the bottom of the page with some more fine print:

. . . and finally, children learn BEST when parents and teachers work closely together. Make the next school year "the" year that you maintain frequent contact with your child's teacher.

It's official. The summer is over.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Shitty Art

[The facts in this post come from today's edition of the New York Post.]

The artist (not what I call him), Andres Serrano, who brought us Piss Christ, a crucifix thrown into a backlit jar of the artist's urine, is back with a new exhibit.

This time it's "Shit: An Investigation." Yes, you heard that right. And if you instantly got an idea of what it might include and then dismissed it as some crazy mental leap, then you'd be wrong. Sixty-six portraits of feces, each priced between $30,000 and $40,000 dollars (for those who don't know what to do with their excess cash) will be on display. Most are animal samples. Ah, but there are three human samples, as the New York Post reports: Freudian Shit (from his therapist), Holy Shit (from an unnamed priest), and Self-Portrait (guess who?).

He says, "The smell is the worst part. I would just, you know, take it--either with a glove, or someone would put it on the table for me--and then I'd turn it around and look for something. You want to wear a mask."

He was delighted when he found a face in one of the samples. Just like cloud gazing, huh?

It was at about this point in the reading, as I was eating my lunch, that I noticed the four, full-color photographs in the upper-right corner of the page. I jumped back in my chair and threw my sandwich down on the plate, but then I found myself leaning in again . . .

Great Scott, if that jaguar sample didn't look like a turtle with a little beady eye.

Serrano thinks he is making a statement against pretension in art. "This show, it's like the circus coming to town. It's, like, the emperor has no clothes."

I wonder how many art snobs will miss the message and take the serious essay in the show catalog at face value and then pay face value for a framed piece of shit.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nature: From bathroom wall scribblings to Cape Henlopen dolphins

I'm back from a family camping vacation. Danny and Jon successfully separated me from Inked-In for five days. Our trip started out just fine, aside from the red bandana fuzz in my mouth. (Okay, when I said they successfully separated me from Inked-In, there was a bit of a scuffle and a gag was involved.) A few hours in, we stopped at a rest stop and Jon, my eight-year-old, got his first taste of bathroom wall poetry. My dad heard him in the next stall reading aloud: Truckers, if you want a bj . . .

Yikes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The angels of mercy must have been in full force because not a question was asked about what that meant.

We proceeded to Philly for lunch and a duck tour. Lunch was a wiz wit handicap, of course. Translation: a Philly cheese steak with Cheese Wiz (wiz), onions (wit), sliced in half (handicap). For those who have never been, the duck tour starts off as a bus tour and then the "bus" drives into the Delaware river and becomes a boat. The vehicle is based on the WWII DUKW.

The next morning, we set out for our real destination, Cape Henlopen, where we camped under pine trees at the very peaceful state campground. Upon arrival, my mother unpacked a bag of insect bite products. Apparently, she went crazy at Target and $87 later she had balms to ward off the bite, balms for after the bite. Hell, I think she even had one in there for balm before the bug decides to bite. I'm not into the lavish spreading of chemicals on my skin, so I watched as they all balmed up and proceeded to get bitten as I sat there unbalmed and unscathed. I guess I'm not sweet enough. :-)

Some people go through life with a black cloud over their heads. I go through life with a man with a cigar just upwind, blowing white clouds down at me. It never fails. If there is a man with a cigar, he will find me. The latest one found me on the beach, where we spent three otherwise glorious days. The weather was sunny but not too hot. The water was cold but refreshing. No waves, so I was happy. Best part was the dozens of dolphins (porpoises?) that passed by every afternoon. Some came within 20 feet. Really amazing. I had a feeling we would see them since we weren't too far from Wildwood where they always make an appearance. We spent 2 hours building a massive sand castle. Actually, it was more of a community with upper-class condos on one end and affordable housing down the river. A giant hot tub sat out front. Things were going great until a 21-month-old boy decided to play Godzilla. His mother grabbed him just before the condos were wiped out.

The beach is a funny place to me. You lie around mostly naked with total strangers within what would normally be your too-close-for-comfort zone if you were wearing clothes. Words carry over the breeze and people never factor that in as they engage in all kinds of conversation. It's a writer's dream. My favorite line this trip was from the husband who, as he huffed and puffed through the sand, loaded up like a pack mule, with his wife flip-flopping in front him, screamed out "Where ya goin' hun? The beach is the beach."

Riding back from the beach two afternoons, we saw three deer hanging out together in a meadow with people very close by playing ball. I guess they're used to seeing wildlife because they didn't seem particularly impressed. Me, I've gotta save up those wildlife moments and hold them close to my heart for when the only wildlife around are the winged rats (pigeons to you non-NYers) diving down for Burger King leavings.

This morning, as we packed up to come home, a turtle walked across our campsite. My niece fed him some of her breakfast cereal. I had just asked her what kind it was when the turtle jumped up on his hind legs and broke out into a jig. With a damn good brogue, he exclaimed, "Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. They're Lucky Charms and they're magically delicious." My sister admitted they probably weren't a very healthy food for a turtle. I told her they probably weren't really healthy for a human either.

My favorite silent laugh moment came as I was brushing my teeth in the campground bathroom this morning. I glanced to the right and the girl next to me was curling her eyelashes. Now I've seen a lot of primping go on in campground bathrooms over the years and it always make me laugh, but an eyelash curler was a first. I glanced into my mirror--my hair featured that insert-finger-in-socket look that I tend to sport in the summertime when you can't pay me enough to use a blow dryer. The only make-up I brought was a tube of Chapstick. My skin was pink from the sun. I glanced over at her mirror--her hair was perfectly straight, not a frizz to be found. Her skin tone was a perfect beige--I must have missed the concealer and foundation application. Her eyelashes looked like she had just taken off teeny hot rollers. I spit and rinsed, and my straight eyelashes and I made our way back to camp to take down the tent.

Home, sweet, home. I'm unpacked, the laundry is going, the mail has been opened, the junk emails deleted. It's time for Inked-In.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Overcoming Perfectionism

My son was born almost nine years ago and in his first year I took almost 600 photos of him. After carefully dating them, I placed them in a box in chronological order. Every time I stopped at Barnes and Noble, I'd pick up a scrapbooking magazine. Soon, I had a stack of them and a box full of scrapbooking equipment and supplies. One day, I finally had the courage to spread it all out on my dining room table.

I had given a great deal of thought to how I wanted to structure my scrapbook. Maybe a bit too much thought. I created my first page, then a second. I was pleased with the results. The next day, I was at it again. Soon I had a dozen or so pages completed. And then I got stuck. Some of the perfect little categories I had thought up for the scrapbook suddenly didn't mesh with the photos I had. Worse, one of my categories required a two-page spread, leaving a blank page before it. I couldn't bring myself to fill that page with photos that would now be out of chronological order. Heavens to murgatroid. I left the mess on the table for months without touching it. Finally, I packed it all away, along with the photos I had never placed in the scrapbook. I didn't even bother to put them into regular photo albums.

Fast forward 8 years. I've spent my summer working on my third novel and the momentum has got my creative circuits sparking. I sit outside and write in my notebook as I watch my almost 9-year-old son ride his bicycle up and down the block. I realize he hasn't really ever seen his baby pictures. How sad. When I'm ready for a break from the writing, I go inside and pull out the box of photos. I find the photo albums I bought months ago and never used. I sit down and start making piles of my favorite photos. Before long, I have filled an album with 200 photos from the first six months of his life.

While I take a quick break to stretch and get some water, I decide to take a look at the abandoned scrapbook project. I open it to the first page and my breath catches. It is beautiful. So is the second and third. So is the two-page spread that I was never sure I liked way back when. What changed? Why do I suddenly love my scrapbook? Why is it so easy today to put those photos into albums?

Time has given me a fresh perspective and the objectivity I need to identify the good photos and pack away the rest. Back when I was a new, very hormonal mother, every photo might as well have been the baby himself. I couldn't choose one over another. A bit of distance has helped. There's no need to document every waking moment. Yawn. The days I do document mean all the more.

By the time I finish the second album, I realize I have eliminated one third of the photos. No nervous ticks. No feelings of guilt for not including them. My son runs into the room to ask me a question and sees the albums. When I show them to him, he breaks out into a smile and laughs at how cute he was as a baby. It's been a good day. I've managed to locate and extract a festering perfectionism lesion. I'm feeling courageous. I think I have some good scrapbook pages left in me. My son will come to believe he didn't just appear on earth at the age of six.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Walk That Way

Just got off the phone with my mom. She and my dad went to see a show last week and then went to a Mexican Restaurant in NYC. As they were eating their dinner, (I quote here) "an old guy with wrinkles, long hair, and lots of bracelets walked in" and was seated near them. Mom says he strutted in with two younger guys like he thought he was someone famous. After a bite of her mole poblano, she glanced up again, noticed his full lips and suddenly thought he was a cross-dresser and looked away, not wanting to stare at him. (Is that who's buying all those wax lips in the candy store?)

But then on the ride home, the name Steven popped into her head and she asked my sister if there was a rock musician named Steven Van Zandt. My sister told her that Van Zandt was indeed a musician but that my mother probably knew him from the Sopranos. Then, she suggested the surname Tyler and went on-line to show mom a photo of Steven Tyler.

"That's him!"

Poor Steven. I thought the Botox was working out so well for him. I guess not up close.

This reminds me of another sad story. In the late 80's, maybe early 90's, my parents were in a bar when a Stevie Nicks song started playing. The young girl standing next to my dad asked "Do you like Stevie Nicks?" My dad replied, "Who's he?"

Ugh. Gotta get these two to some remedial courses. They're only 63 for pete's sake.

A Sorry Attempt at Poetry in the Year 1993

One of my unofficial duties at my job is writing poems (and I use the word loosely) for people who are retiring. Most of them I've never met. Someone will come to me and give me some details about the person and then I'll sit and rearrange words on a page until I have some light-hearted rhyming lines that I hope will honor the retiree.

I know I am not a poet. However, I recently discovered I didn't always know that. I was looking through some old files and found a few poems from 1993 that were written by someone who thought she was a real poet (ahem).

In a spirit of fun and self-mockery, I hereby present to you a truly sorry attempt at poetry. I look forward to your evil comments :-) (And let me say how much I admire those of you who can write a real poem.)

Gravy Train?

Running late
staccato sprint
to catch the uptown train

as token slides
in turnstile slot
sounds Doppler's sad refrain

lonely platform
but for a man
bending o'er black case

stuffing change in
blue-jean pockets
wool hat pulled low on face

a few bars more
may bring a bonus
yet he stares at me

guitar in hand
i'm not enough
he doesn't play for free

suddenly strumming
triads deep, while
fingers pluck notes high

a melted chocolate melody
soft thanks his
harmony line

the metallic clink
of dinner resounds
within his felt-lined case

soup du jour
prime rib au jus
on a table cloth of lace

approaching rumble then
deafening silence
still he sings in key

a few more coins
buy pastry and some tea

homeward bound
yet back i glance
on half a song we're weaned

the gravy train
brings dreams of supper
then carts away his means

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Raving of a Germaphobe

I don't know what's happened to me. I've become a germaphobe. It's surprising considering I once interned at a microbiology lab and streak-plated bacteria-laden samples onto petri dishes in between bites of a sandwich. My father cannot wrap his brain around this fact--he knows the freak I've become.

Somewhere over the last decade my mind has been taken over by a demon of sorts. To be politically correct, he's a large, hirsute man. But since I break out in hives after long periods of political correctness, let's just call him Big Fat Hairy Man.

Disclaimer: There's nothing wrong with being a big, fat, hairy man. I've loved many over the years. So, embrace your big, fat, hairy man-ness. Oh, and no Big Fat Hairy Men were killed in the creation of his post.

Big Fat Hairy Man shows up in all kinds of places, but I see him most often when I have to stay at a hotel. Even good hotels. I walk into the pristine bathroom with its beauty pageant sash draped over the toilet bowl and I feel his presence. Those perfectly aligned wash cloths get my attention and I imagine Big Fat Hairy Man using them in a vigorous act of dingleberry disengagement. Sure they've been put through an industrial wash cycle, but that visual is a residue clinging to their bleached, white fibers.

I've seen too many police shows to doubt what a black light would reveal on the lush comforter. This doesn't stop my husband though. He kicks back and plops himself down right on top of the paisley plushness to click through some channels in search of the latest Islanders score.

My husband isn't the only one who threatens my sanity. There was the family member who let her toddler crawl on the Bates-like motel rug in Wildwood. (Okay, there was a sheet beneath her, but still.) When our toilet bowl backed up the next night and seeped out onto the rug, the instantaneous connection in my mind set my body aquiver for at least twenty minutes. That same vacation I watched one of our group make a sandwich on the dresser. No plate. Just dresser top (where Big Fat Hairy Man's naked ass could have sat while pulling on tube socks), Wonder Bread, 3 slices of bologna, two of Swiss cheese, a dab of mayo, Wonder Bread topper and voilà--lunch.

Alas, spiritual solace is not possible--even the Gideons bible is off limits. God knows there could have been a power outage during Big Fat Hairy Man's stay that precluded his watching the porn channel. Isn't it possible he turned to the Song of Songs while the cable company was managing the repairs. (Please, no letters. I'm aware that Song of Songs is not pornography, but Big Fat Hairy Man is a figment of my imagination and my mind says he isn't aware of the distinction and wouldn't know allegory if it grabbed a hold of his matted chest hairs and yanked.)

Every year we take several camping trips and they are the joy of my summer. When people wrinkle their noses and say "Ewww, the bugs, the dirt, yuk, how do you do it?" I reply "Hotels. Ewwww, the bed bugs, the shower fungus, the God-knows-what on the comforter, yuk, how do you do it?" At least with camping, it's me and my own DNA evidence in the sleeping bag.

Whew. I've gotta go. This topic's made me want to take a shower . . . right after I antibacterial-wipe my mouse.

On Cookbooks and Writing Books

Back in the days when I was the cook in the family, I'd bury my nose in a cookbook all day. By 6 PM I'd realize I hadn't started dinner, so we'd order out.

Funny part was, I have never followed a recipe to make dinner; I just enjoy reading cookbooks. I'm more of a spontaneous, intuitive cook. The exception would be baking, which I've always heard is an exact science. But I'm beginning to doubt that. My grandmother's handful surely couldn't be the same amount as your grandmother's handful, right?

In a crazed technical writer's attempt to capture the recipes of my elders, I once suggested transferring those handfuls into measuring cups so I could write up an accurate recipe. The withering glance I received taught me it's not about the amounts of ingredients, it's about "feeling it." And to feel it, you've got to get your hands in the mix.

What is it about cookbooks that make them as addictive as novels to me? Appetizer as Prologue? Butternut Squash Soup leading up to Plot Point One? Braised Short Ribs to get you over the hump in Act Two? A dessert of Casquitos de Guayaba con Queso Blanco as Climax? After-dinner drink as Epilogue?

I used to sit around reading writing books all day, too. By 6 PM, I'd realize that not only was dinner not ready, but I hadn't put a word to paper.

I quickly learned I had to ban the purchase of writing books until I started putting some of their advice into practice. (My husband quickly learned that if he wanted to eat, he'd have to learn how to cook.)

Recently, I've been better about writing regularly, so I treated myself to a new one: Write Away by Elizabeth George. I'm enjoying it and I've already used a few tips.

Here are some of my other faves:

  • The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (an oldie but a goodie - make sure it's the original version)
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey
  • The First Five Page by Noah Lukeman (he's a literary agent in NYC who tells you why you get rejected within the first 5 pages)
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  • Gotham Writers' Workshop Writing Fiction
  • Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein
It won't be long before I'll need another fix. So if you have any favorites, please send some recommendations.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Here is a welcoming, supportive site for writers, artists, and musicians.

View my page on Inked-In

Oops, they did it again

[I copied this one from my blog on the Inked-In site.]

Imagine this. You're sitting in a living room in a quaint cottage on a winding country road in Wales. A crocheted blanket is draped over your lap and a steaming cup of Earl Grey sits on a lace doily on an antique table. You are reading a novel--perhaps a cozy mystery or a Regency romance. Suddenly, you feel a rumbling and you notice that your tea has broken out into little ripples. A low sound in the distance is growing louder by the second. Two bright lights shine through the windows and illuminate your Thomas Kinkade painting, which hangs above the crackling fire in the hearth. Just as you turn your head to see where they are coming from, a truck crashes into your house. Wow. Freaky, right?

Now imagine that this has happened to you 16 times.

As they say, life is stranger than fiction. This story, minus the cottage decorations, appeared in the Weird But True section of today's New York Post.

Apparently, a satellite navigation system is "telling drivers the extremely narrow street is a shortcut."

The woman who lives in the house says it has been stressful and traumatic and that her insurance premiums have gone sky high.

Hmmm. Is the practice of law legal in Wales? The first time this happened to me, I'd be on the phone with a lawyer trying to determine if it was the fault of the GPS manufacturer, the company who creates the software for the device, the trucking company, or the moron who was driving the truck who trusted a machine more than his eyes telling him there was a house blocking his path. Instead, this woman is paying a premium to live in a death trap, albeit a lovely death trap if only in my imagination.

After the second time it happens, perhaps a global recall is in order. Maybe even a giant billboard like in the cartoons: Turn Back Now!!! But sixteen times?! I can't imagine it. Perhaps my assumption that this woman hasn't taken any action has made an ass out of u and me. But even if she has, after 16 times, doesn't her stubborn insistence on staying put point to a possible death wish? Someone call the twinkie van, and have the men in white coats take her to a nice, relaxing place. She deserves it. Then put that baby on the market. Uh, ixnay on the Open House--maybe a direct sale to the Department of Highways would be safer.

The scary part is that this is not an isolated incident (I'm taking the 16 incidents as a whole here). I've heard other stories of people who have driven into swamps, bodies of water, ditches that obviously were not a road all because their GPS device told them to. The voice of a certain parent comes to mind: If the GPS device told you to jump off a bridge . . . . Apparently, we need a new driving designation. How about DWC--Driving While Comatose?

It's kind of like a sci-fi story: GPS device (played by HAL) subliminally brainwashes people into handing over all common sense and blindly following directions. Long haul trucker (played by William Shatner) boldly goes where no man has gone (more than 16 times) before.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Doctors do appendectomies; tech writers do documentation. Get it?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have enough pet peeves to open a pet shop. Among them:

  • Tissues that have tiny dust particles in them that make you sneeze. Why can't they make them out of the same stuff they use for toilet paper? (I once worked with a woman who swore this was a conspiracy to get people sneezing and buying more tissues.)

  • Deli workers who put on gloves to make my sandwich, then leave them on to hand me my change with bits of lettuce and dressing clinging to my quarters, then make the next guy's sandwich with the same gloves that just handled money.

  • The cashier at the cafeteria who responded to my comment that there wasn't any coffee left by saying she doesn't make coffee at 10 AM because most people are like her and have one cup early in the morning. To which I could only reply "Really?" as I struggled to unfold the fingers in my clenched fist and took a DEEEEEEEP breath.

Heading back to the office sans coffee is already one step in the wrong direction. So, it's no surprise that small things can set me off--never mind the whoppers.

Imagine my delight when I received an email from a colleague with no writing or instructional design experience who decided he should take courseware created by three professional technical writers and make some changes to it to make it more fun for the audience. I opened the first file--a PowerPoint presentation meant to provide an overview of the process in a training session.

The hyperventilating started immediately.

There were nine different fonts on the first slide in six different colors. The next slide had an animated fireworks display to start the session off with a bang. Having heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, he included a few graphics--cartoon characters, some smoke stacks in the background, a shopping cart filled with computer equipment that looked like it had been salvaged from the local dump, and a cornucopia filled with autumn's bounty. Too bad he never heard the part about the graphics needing to have something to do with the subject matter being presented.

No joke, this presentation was like a 1980's laser rock show at the Hayden planetarium. Oh and he even had a soundtrack to go along with it. Just click that little speaker icon in the corner of the PowerPoint slide. He assured me it was supposed to be Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral": IV (because all training presentations are an ode to joy, right?). Unfortunately, Sympathy for the Devil must have been the file just above it in his music library. (Mick Jagger would be my only solace for the day.)

Is it me or is this just crazy? What if I ran into an operating room during an appendectomy and told the surgeon "Wait, give me that scalpel. I think we should make the incision on the left side. It will be much more entertaining that way for the other doctors and nurses assisting at the surgery."

I guarantee you'd be visiting me on the psych floor.

Apparently, there are no special skills required to do technical writing. Anyone can do it.

As I was reviewing the final "improvements" to my courseware, a co-worker stopped by to peer over my shoulder. "Huh, maybe I'll convince my wife to get a job as a tech writer. God knows we could use a second income." Innocent me, I asked "oh is she a writer?" "No, but how hard could it be."

I broke out in a fit of sputum-flying coughing and reached for a dusty tissue. Good thing there was no coffee left at the cafeteria.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Just Crack Your Knuckles and Get On With It

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from a loved one who is going on an audition next week and needs to be able to sing a song to piano accompaniment. Yikes. I knew where this was going. I'm the piano player in my family.

It started in the typical way. Mom heard me plucking out tunes by ear on a toy piano when I was three and thought I was the next Beethoven, but with three kids and a cop's salary there was no way they could afford lessons, let alone a piano. Then, my dad was walking the beat one day in Canarsie and some women asked him if he knew anyone who wanted a piano. It was free if someone would just come and move it out of their home. (Don't try to tell me there are no angels walking the earth.) When my dad got off his shift, he went back with a truck and brought home an upright piano painted . . . brick red that fit perfectly into an alcove in our kitchen that was painted . . . avocado green. Are you getting the visual on this? Has the avocado green given away my age?

At six years old, I started classical lessons and took them until I was 13 or 14. My dad has a great photo of me lying on my back on the piano bench, with one arm and legs dangling to the floor and one finger raised to tap a key. This was my rebellious idea of practicing, I guess, after I had been told a half dozen times.

Needless to say, I was a big hit in my family, as all kids are. I had to play for whoever walked in the door and was asked to play by relatives whenever we visited. People oohed and aahed and, if I'm being fair to myself, I was pretty good for an average (read non-prodigy) kid.

But then something happened, or rather didn't happen. I didn't progress in my abilities. I got to a certain point and just started to feel stagnant. One of the problems was I didn't know how to improvise. So, I was locked into playing the classical songs I knew and whenever I tried anything pop or rock it came off sounding stilted.

In my teens and twenties, I started writing lyrics, which came naturally, and putting them to tunes, which didn't come so naturally. I wanted to copyright them and try to sell them, but once again my lack of improvisation skills made me self-conscious about sending them out. (I did, however, send lyrics out to a Nashville contest and ended up placing in the top 10, which was fun.)

Sometime around twenty years old I decided I wasn't a real musician and from that time on would never again play for a living soul. If it was summertime and I had the urge to play, I'd close my windows so no one would hear. My family told me I was nuts, that I was good. I told them they only thought I was good because they knew nothing about music. Then my son was born and I just stopped playing. I don't think I've played an entire song in the last eight years.

So my phone rang and, as you've guessed by now, I was asked to tape myself playing the piano for the song that would be sung at the audition. I suggested iTunes. They said no good because it had lead vocals on it. I suggested iTunes karaoke version. They said no good because it wasn't just a piano. I grabbed a paper towel and mopped the sweat from my brow. Okay, I squeaked and then spent the rest of the afternoon practicing the hell out of the piece.

The sheet music was easy enough to read. The problem was I suspected a real piano player would never play a sheet-music melody line as accompaniment. I felt I needed to provide another version and that would require . . . cue horror music here . . . improvisation.

Four hours later (and with the windows still open), I taped both versions. They are not perfect. They are not even very good. But they'll be better than nothing at all . . . I hope.

For those of you who read my post A Spanish Major???, you know that it's been a week of challenging requests for me, so I think today I'll unplug the phones and bury my prominent proboscis in a good book. And if any of you musicians out there have suggestions for improving my improvisation skills, send them my way.