Voice? Whose voice?

Hubby went back to work this week following his mid-July hip replacement. I know I’ll miss having him around, but it will allow me to get back into a routine–something I’ve missed these last six weeks.

One of the problems I have with routine, especially when writing, is getting lost in what I’m doing and letting the time slip away from me. I can start writing around nine in the morning and the next thing I know it might be three. I’ve promised Hubby (and my doctor) I’ll make a more concerted effort to get up and walk around every hour or so and that I won’t get so engrossed I forget to eat.

But how will I remember? I could always set the alarm on my cell phone, but often I don’t have it with me in my writing nook. Today I found a feature on my MAC that allows the computer to announce the time in quarter, half or hour intervals. As I started playing around with it, I discovered I could use the system voice or change it to the voice of Alex, Fred, Bruce or Ralph if I wanted a male voice. Female selections include Agnes, Kathy, Vicki, Victoria, and Princess. I could also choose from a whisper, good news, bad news (who’d do that?), deranged (or that?), and various other sounds. Of course, I plan to try them all.

In our writing, we also get to experiment with voice. When asked, most agents will say they are looking for a “unique voice.” Well, what the heck is that? We’re all unique according to our DNA and fingerprints, so wouldn’t our voices also be unique? I think what they mean is a voice that’s fresh and new and not like others currently popular in the literary world.

The voice to which I’m referring would of course be the narrator’s voice which is not to be confused with the author’s voice. Don’t forget we also have the voice of each of our characters. They all have to be distinctive. And when telling the story from one character’s voice (or point of view) we can’t jump to another point of view of another character.

With so many voices rumbling around in our manuscripts, it’s easy to see how authors can become distracted and lose their voice. I find my voice changes from day to day, so I have to go back and read what I wrote the prior day to make sure I’m in the right cadence for the story.

At the conference I recently attended, I listened to several agents and editors on multiple panels. The topic of voice always came up. Multiple points of view aka head hopping seems to be one of the fastest ways to get a manuscript rejected (other than passing it to the agent under a bathroom stall). They swear people do this.

So I have to ask myself, what is unique about MY voice? Why should someone prefer MY story over someone else’s? These are tough questions and, as a writer, I can become so enmeshed in my work, it is sometimes difficult to answer them. I know my voice when I hear it and likewise I know when it is off. I have to stay alert to keep it authentic and true to itself.

What about you? How do you find your voice and how do you stay true to it?

Killer Nashville — Another success!

I am exhausted and all I did was attend the conference. I can’t begin to imagine how tired the staff and volunteers who coordinated the event must be. Even so, their smiles welcomed hundreds of mystery writers who invaded visited Nashville for the weekend. I meant to ask how many had registered, but I forgot. Oh well! If that’s the most I forgot over the weekend, I’m doing okay.

 

A bunch of people escaped the hurricane by coming in from the Carolinas, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maine and Virginia. In addition there were Texans, Californians and folks from several “states in the middle.” It was even an international affair with representatives of Canada and Rome (Italy, not Georgia) present.

 

I heard multiple guests say this was the best-organized writing event they’d ever attended. Assuming they’d been to some other conferences, that’s a grand endorsement. Regardless, kudos to the staff and volunteers for another successful Killer Nashville.

 

In its sixth year, this is the first time KN has actually been within the city limits of Nashville, which I find amusing. I much preferred this year’s almost downtown location (Hotel Hutton) where we had the entire sixth floor convention area to ourselves. A bonus: the parking garage was surprisingly more convenient than valet parking. The hotel also boasted a popular restaurant and bar where after hours sessions appeared to be held.

 

But why wait until after hours and go all the way to the lobby for sustenance and, um, libation? The hotel set up and manned a snack station with fruit, yogurt, chips and sodas in the morning and a full bar after oh, I don’t know, two or so in the afternoon. Lest you think it was all feasting and drinking, there were indeed sessions, great sessions at that.

 

One of the sessions I heard the most buzz about was where five agents and editors told why they would stop reading a submitted manuscript. The “first page” of brave volunteers’ novels was read aloud by the same reader. During the reading of each one, the panel members would individually say, “stop,” at the point where he or she would quit reading. The panel was brutal, and the audience loved it. It was beneficial because we had concrete examples of what turns an agent off when reading submissions. I’ll admit I offered my first page and was one of the few lucky ones who had at least one panelist say he/she would read on to page two. The intent was not to single writers out (after all, we had voluntarily supplied the pages to be ripped apart) but to show the kinds of errors agents and editors see over and over. I certainly know what I need to do to whip my first page into shape.

 

Special guests for the event were popular authors Donald Bain and Robert Dugoni.  Killer Nashville founder, Clay Statfford (who is also a best selling author and filmmaker), interviewed each in individually. The guests of honor were also featured at a lavish dinner Saturday night that I didn’t attend. (I had to come home and sleep!)

 

During the conference, there were five different “tracks” running simultaneously—writing, getting published, career building, forensics, and fan. Attendees could hopscotch among them and if I had one complaint about the conference, it would be I could only be at one place at a time. Often there were two sessions I wanted to attend running concurrently.

 

In addition, attendees could purchase critiques for manuscripts and/or marketing plans. They could also pitch agents and/or editors in attendance for free. This garnered so much attention, a wait-list was created for those who didn’t sign up early enough. There was a mystery trivia contest, book signings, giveaways, a wine tasting event and even a crime scene staged by the TBI. I checked it out and they’d dramatically set up a “murder” complete with body (well not a real body) in the parking garage. It had police tape up and was clearly labeled in case someone happened upon it that wasn’t privy to the conference happenings–perhaps someone from the bar. KN registrants were invited to solve the crime and whoever came closest to figuring out the scenario won tuition to next year’s conference.

 

Barnes & Noble as well as Mysteries and More set up bookstores on site and from the looks of things many books were purchased. For those of you concerned about e-books taking over the world, I can assure you there were backaches galore from the traditional books bought over the weekend. Worry no more.

 

Have I whetted your appetite for next year’s Killer Nashville? If so, mark your calendar for August, 2012. I’m not sure whether it will be the third or fourth weekend so just come for both. It will probably be hot and humid (except in the hotel) but there will be plenty of fun things to occupy your time. I hope to see you then!

 

~ Kay

 

Killer Nashville

Killer Nashville starts today

I’ll be back on Monday 

 Have a great weekend

I’m no Webmaster, but I manage!

 

For those of us who grew up without computers, who learned to type instead of keyboard, the world of computers, and all that comes with it, is new.

I guess I’ve been lucky I’ve managed as well as I have, but I got humbled on Monday. I was on the blog to respond to some comments that had come in over the weekend, and when I hit “comments” I got a 400 Error. I think it was Will Robinson’s robot from Lost in Space that said, “That does not compute,” and I knew exactly what it meant.

What the heck is a “400 error” anyway? The first thing I did was take a deep breathe and assure myself I could figure this out. Then I did what any intelligent and rational person would do. I Googled it.

According to Google, 400 errors are “low-level problems in the client or the Web server or both. 95% of the time this is because of a problem in the client side.” Well, duh. Of course it was on my side, but what do they mean by low-level? This was my blog they were talking about!

I tried to trouble-shoot using the guidelines I found online as well as some creative problem solving of my own. Nothing worked. Comments couldn’t be left on any of my blogs so I had to get this fixed!

After Google, I didn’t know where to turn. I e-mailed customer support at Blue Hole, my webhosting site as a starting place. Lucky guess! First, they told me to check my comment plug-in. I actually do know what a plug-in is (well, sort of) and knew where to look for it. However, there didn’t appear to be a plug-in for comments. Just in case I uninstalled each of my plug ins, checked my blog, then reinstalled. That wasn’t it. After my second e-mail to Blue Hole, I was told it was a script error and they gave me the correct script. They did not, however, tell me exactly where to put the script so I spent hours going over and over the admin site trying to figure this out.

After reading some online forums, I decided it might be my theme (background) so I started experimenting with changing it, which was actually kind of fun. But it didn’t solve the issue. I left a question on the general forum for Word Press, the software I used to create my blog but no one responded. I was so desperate, I clicked on the HTML tab which I try to stay away from because it scares the bejesus out of me.

Tuesday was a new day and I could look at the problem with fresh eyes, though it was the end of the day before I could get back to it. If it had been a snake it would’ve bitten me, but it wasn’t thank goodness, ‘cause I’m terrified by the creatures. I know, I know most are “our friends” and are more afraid of me than I am of them, but I don’t care, they aren’t in my network of friends. Anyway, when I looked at the Permalink on my blog, right smack dab in front of me, was the incorrect code Blue Hole had identified more than twenty-four hours earlier. From all of my surfing on the administrative site on Monday, I knew what Permalinks were. What I mean is I knew where to find them so I went in and changed the code to the correct one. Somehow the format had been changed from what it should have been to something custom.

I’d found during my on my blog research three or four people (?) who were listed as the administrator other than me. I changed their statuses and also changed their passwords just in case one of them might have been the culprit. I’ll be checking on that frequently—if I can figure out how to get back there.

Have a good one.

~Kay

 

 

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Social Media Whirlwind Tour

Announcing the In Leah’s Wake Social Media Whirlwind Tour—WooHoo!

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the In Leah’s Wake Kindle edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week.

What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including a Kindle, 5 autographed copies of the book, and multiple Amazon gift cards (1 for $100, 3 for $25, 5 for $10, and 10 for $5 – 19 in all)! Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, August 26th, so you don’t miss out.

 

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of In Leah’s Wake for just 99 cents
  2. Fill-out the form on the author’s site to enter for prizes
  3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book!

And I can win $100 too if you vote for my blog over on the author’s website. The blog host that gets the most votes in this traffic-breaker polls wins, so please cast yours right after purchasing In Leah’s Wake and entering the contests!

 

The featured events include:

Monday, Blogaganza on Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We’ll ask the writer 5 fun and random questions to get everyone talking. Leave a comment or question in response to the post, and you may win an autographed copy of In Leah’s Wake. Don’t forget to visit the author’s blog to enter for the other prizes!

Tuesday, Twitter chat with the author! Tweet with us between 4 and 5 PM Eastern Time, using the hashtag #emlyn. We’ll be talking with the author about her favorite books and best writing advice. Bring your questions about In Leah’s Wake and don’t forget to use #emlyn or to follow Terri @tglong. By joining in the tweet chat at the designated time, you may win an autographed copy of In Leah’s Wake. Don’t forget to visit the author’s blog to enter for the other prizes!

Wednesday, Google+ video chat with the author! Join our hangout between 12 and 3 PM Eastern Time to talk with the author and us via video chat. We’ll be gabbing about great books including In Leah’s Wake and about writing. Did you know that Terri is a creative writing instructor at Boston College? She’s got tons of good advice for aspiring writers. By joining in the Google+ video chat at the designated time, you may win an autographed copy of In Leah’s Wake. Don’t forget to visit the author’s blog to enter for the other prizes!

Thursday, Facebook interview with the author! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and ask Terri questions. She’s chosen three of her favorite topics to talk about: writing, parenting, and gourmet cooking. Of course, you’re welcome to ask about In Leah’s Wake too. Leave a comment or question as part of the thread, and you may win an autographed copy of In Leah’s Wake. Don’t forget tolike Terri’s Facebook page or to visit her blog to enter for the other prizes!

Friday, Fun & games based on the book! We want to close this whirlwind social media tour with a gigantic bang, which is why we’ve set-up two interactive book-themed features on the author’s blog. You can take the official Facebook quiz to find out which In Leah’s Wake character is most like you and learn how that character ties into the story. Then try out our crossroads story game. Throughout the course of the narrative, you’ll have several decisions to make. What you choose will affect the outcome of the story. Play as either rebellious teenager Leah or the trampled peacemaker and mother Zoe. Leave a comment or question on any of Terri’s blog entries, and you may win an autographed copy of In Leah’s Wake. Don’t forget to check out the other give-away contests while you’re on Terri’s blog!

About In Leah’s Wake: The Tyler family had the perfect life – until sixteen-year-old Leah decided she didn’t want to be perfect anymore. While Zoe and Will fight to save their daughter from destroying her brilliant future, Leah’s younger sister, Justine, must cope with the damage her out-of-control sibling leaves in her wake. Will this family survive? What happens when love just isn’t enough? Jodi Picoult fans will love this beautifully written and absorbing novel.

 

 


An excerpt from In Leah’s Wake

The prologue and first chapter

 

. . . little heart of mine, believe me, everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything. I dont know how to explain it to you, but I feel it is so, painfully even. And how is it we went on living, getting angry and not knowing?

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Grand Inquisitor

Prologue

March

Justine strikes a pose before the full-length mirror hanging on her closet door. Chin up, hands by her sides. She draws a breath. “My dear. . .” she begins, and stops mid-sentence. Wrinkles her nose. She’s got it all wrong. She’s too—Too stiff. Too grownup. Toosomething.

She rakes her fingers over her short dark hair, sweeping the bangs out of her eyes, tugs at the hem of her pink baby-doll pajamas. She’s scheduled to deliver the candidates’ address at her Confirmation Mass this afternoon. When she learned, six months ago, that she had been selected speaker, Justine was ecstatic. Now, the very idea of standing in front of the whole congregation, telling hundreds, maybe thousands, of people how she’s learned from her own family what it means to be part of God’s larger family makes her sick to her stomach.

She has no choice. She made a commitment.

She folds her hands primly, setting them at chest height on her imaginary podium, glances at her cheat sheet, rolls her lower face into a smile, and begins again. “My fellow Confirmation candidates,” she says this time. Justine crumples the paper, tosses it onto her bed. My fellow Confirmation candidates. What a dork. She sounds about twenty, instead of thirteen.

She screws up her face. “I can’t do this,” she says, wagging a finger at the girl watching her from the mirror. She would feel like a hypocrite.

 

Justine plods to the bathroom, pees, pads back to her bedroom. The forecasters are predicting snow, starting later today. A dismal gray stratus hangs over her skylight. Her room is dark, the air raw. Her sister’s blue and gold Cortland High sweatshirt lies in a heap at the foot of her bed. Justine pulls the sweatshirt over her head, retrieves the balled-up paper. With the back of her hand, she flattens it out, and returns to the mirror to practice.

As always, on first glance, the girl in the mirror takes Justine by surprise. She’s grown two inches since Christmas, isn’t chubby anymore, her belly flat, the clavicle bones visible now at the base of her throat. She pushes her bangs out of her pale, darkly fringed eyes. With her fingertips, she touches her cheeks. Her features have matured, her nose long and straight, like her mother’s, her cheekbones defined. She curls and uncurls her toes. She wears a size six shoe, a size and a half smaller than Leah. Her toes are long and slim, the nails painted blue.

Justine crushes the sheet of paper, tosses it in the trash, strolls to her window, raises the honeycomb shade. Spring feels a long way away, the yard empty, the trees bare. A rush of cold air streams in, under the sash. The air smells of snow. Justine presses her hand against the cool glass, the way she and her sister used to do on the windshield of their father’s car, when they were small. Stop, their father would scold. Youre making a mess. She smiles, remembering how Leah loved egging him on. She pulls her hand away from the glass, watches her prints disappear.

Justine wishes, sometimes, that she could disappear, too. Poof, just like the handprint.

Poof, just like her sister.

 

Chapter One: Just Do It

September

Zoe and Will Tyler sat at the dining room table, playing poker. The table, a nineteenth-century, hand-carved mahogany, faced the bay window overlooking their sprawling front yard. Husband and wife sat facing one another, a bowl of Tostitos and a half-empty bottle of port positioned between them. Their favorite Van Morrison disc—Tupelo Honey—spun on the player in the family room, the music drifting out of speakers built into the dining room walls.

Dog, their old yellow Lab, lay on a ratty pink baby blanket, under the window.

Zoe plucked the Queen of Hearts from the outside of her hand, and tucked it center. She was holding a straight. If she laid it down, she would win the hand, third in a row, and her husband would quit. If she didn’t, she would be cheating herself.

The moon was full tonight, its light casting a ghostly shadow across the yard. The full moon made Zoe anxious. For one of her internships in grad school, she’d worked on the psych ward at City Hospital, in Boston. On nights when the moon was full, the floor erupted, the patients noisy, agitated. Zoe’s superiors had pooh-poohed the lunar effect, chalked it up to irrationality, superstition. But Zoe had witnessed the flaring tempers, seen the commotion with her own two eyes, and found the effect impossible to deny—and nearly all the nurses concurred.

“Full moon,” she said. “I hadn’t noticed. No wonder I had trouble sleeping last night.”

Will set his empty glass on the table. With his fingers, he drummed an impatient tattoo. “You planning to take your turn any time soon? Be nice if we ended this game before midnight.”

“For Pete’s sake, Will.” Her husband had the attention span of a titmouse. He reminded her of Mick, a six year-old ADD patient she counseled—sweet kid, when he wasn’t ransacking her office, tossing the sand out of the turtle-shaped box, tweaking her African violets.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, sulking.

She shook her head—nothing, Mick—and forced a straight face.

“You’re laughing at me.”

“Don’t be silly. Why would I be laughing at you?”

He peered at his reflection in the window. Smirking, he finger-combed his baby-fine hair, pale, graying at the temples, carving a mini-pyramid at his crown.

“Nice do. Could use a little more gel,” she said, feeling mean-spirited the instant the words slipped out of her mouth. The poor guy was exhausted. He’d spent the week in California, on business, had flown into Logan this morning, on the red-eye. Though he had yet to fill her in on the details, it was obvious to her that his trip had not gone well. “Sorry,” she said. “Just kidding.” She fanned out her cards, hesitated for an instant, and laid down the straight.

“Congratulations.” Scowling, he pushed away from the table. “You win again.”

“Way to go, grumpy. Quit.”

“I’m getting water,” he said, tamping his hair. “Want some?”

Dog lifted her head, her gaze following Will to the door, yawned, and settled back down.

Her husband stomped across the kitchen, his footfall moving in the direction of the family room. The music stopped abruptly, and the opening chords of a Robbie Robertson tune belted out of the speakers. Zoe loved Robbie Robertson, “Showdown at Big Sky” one of her favorite songs. That didn’t mean that the entire state of Massachusetts wanted to hear it.

“Will,” she said, gesturing from the kitchen. “Turn it down. You’ll wake Justine.”

She waited a few seconds, caught his eye, gestured again. The third time was the charm.

Exasperated, she returned to the dining room, bundled the cards, put them away in the sideboard, and gathered the dishes. The toilet flushed in the half-bath off the back hall. Seconds later, she heard her husband rattling around the kitchen, slamming the cabinet doors. Last spring, Will had won a major contract for his company, North American Construction. Since then, he’d been back and forth nonstop to the West Coast, spending two weeks a month in San Francisco, servicing the client. Zoe hadn’t minded his traveling, at first. Over the past two years, with the glut of office and manufacturing space in the northeast, construction starts had dropped, and his sales had taken a serious hit, his commissions steadily dwindling. To compensate, initially they’d relied on their savings. In January, they’d remortgaged the house. When the California job arose, Will had jumped on the opportunity. He had no choice, especially with Leah headed to college next year. But the situation, lately, was brutal. Will hated traveling, hated flying, hated living out of a suitcase. And he resented missing Leah’s soccer games. Last November, as a sophomore, their daughter had been named Player of the Year on theBoston Globe All-Scholastic team. A week later, in his year-end summary, the sports reporter from the Cortland Gazette had called Leah the “best soccer player in the state.” The head coaches from the top colleges in the area—Harvard, Dartmouth, Boston College, BU—had sent congratulatory letters, expressing their interest. Will wanted to be home to guide her, meet the prospective coaches, help her sort through her options. Zoe didn’t blame her husband a bit. But it didn’t seem to occur to Will that his traveling disrupted her life, too. Last year, she’d developed a motivational seminar, called “Success Skills for Women on the Move.” Now that the girls were practically grown, the workshops were her babies. The extra workload at home, added to the demands of her fulltime job at the counseling center, left her with no time for marketing or promotion, and the workshops had stagnated. Zoe understood her husband’s frustration. It irked her when he minimized hers.

Will appeared in the doorway, a few minutes later, empty-handed. Will was tall, a hair shy of six-one. He’d played football in college, and, at forty-five, still had the broad shoulders and narrow waist of an athlete. Amazing, really: after eighteen years of marriage, she still found him achingly sexy. Crow’s feet creased the corners of his intelligent blue eyes and fine lines etched his cheekbones, giving his boyish features a look of intensity and purpose, qualities Zoe had recognized from the start but that only now, as he was aging, showed on his face.

After work, he’d changed into a pair of stonewashed jeans and a gray sweatshirt, worn soft, the words “Harvard Soccer Camp” screened in maroon lettering across the chest. Absently, he pushed up his sleeves, and peered around the room as though looking for something. “Zoe—” Normally, he called her Honey or Zo.

“I put the cards away.” She thumbed the sideboard. “You quit, remember?”

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

She glanced at the cuckoo clock on the far wall. “Ten past eleven. So?”

“Where’s Leah?”

At the football game, with Cissy. “They’ve been going every week. Did you forget?”

“She ought to be home by now.”

“She’s only ten minutes late.” Their daughter was a junior in high school. They’d agreed, before school started this year, to extend her weekend curfew to eleven. “She’ll be here soon.”

Will stalked to the window, grumbling. Dog rose, and pressed her nose to the glass.

Their driveway, half the length of a soccer field, sloped down from the cul-de-sac, arced around the lawn, and straightened, ending in a turnaround at the foot of their three-car garage. In summer, the oak and birch trees bordering the property obscured their view. Now that most of the leaves had fallen, the headlights were visible as vehicles entered the circle.

“She has a game in the morning.” Will stretched his neck . His upper back had been bothering him lately, residual pain from an old football injury he’d suffered in college.

Zoe came up behind him, pushing Dog’s blanket aside with her foot, and squeezed his shoulders. “You’re tight.”

He dropped his chin. “From sleeping on the plane. Got to get one of those donut pillows.”

“You know Leah. She has no sense of time. I’ll bet they stopped for something to eat.”

“I can’t see why Hillary won’t set a curfew. Every other coach has one.”

“Relax, Will. It’s not that late. You’re blowing this out of proportion. Don’t you think?”

A flash of headlights caught their attention. An SUV entered the cul-de-sac, rounded the circle, its lights sweeping over the drive and across their lawn, and headed down the street.

Bending, Will ruffled Dog’s ears. “Reardon’s coming tomorrow, specifically to watch her. She plays like crap when she’s tired.”

The Harvard coach. She should have known. “So she doesn’t go to Harvard,” she said, a tired remark, fully aware of the comeback her words would elicit, “she’ll go someplace else.”

“There is no place else.”

No place that would give her the opportunities, the connections… blah, blah, blah. They’d been over this a million times. If their daughter had the slightest aspiration of going to Harvard, Zoe would do everything in her power to support her. As far as she could tell, the name Harvard had never graced Leah’s wish-list. It was a moot point, anyway. For the last two terms, Leah’s grades had been dropping. If she did apply for admission, she would probably be denied.

“Reardon has pull,” he offered, a weak rebuttal in Zoe’s opinion. “He’s been talking to Hillary about her. She can’t afford to blow this opportunity.”

Opportunity? What opportunity? “Face it, Will. She doesn’t want to go to Harvard.”

“If she plays her cards right, she can probably get a boat.”

Zoe opened her mouth, ready to blast him. He’d received a full football scholarship from Penn State, and dropped out of college. Was that what he wanted? A college drop-out in a couple years? Noticing the purple rings under his eyes, she held back. “You’re exhausted.” His plane had barely touched ground at Logan Airport when he was ordered to NAC’s corporate office in Waltham, for a marketing meeting. He hadn’t had time to stop home to change his clothes, never mind take a short nap. “Why don’t you go to bed? I’ll wait up.”

The look he returned implied that she’d lost it. “You think I could sleep?”

“For all we know, they had a flat.”

“She would have called.”

“So call her.” Duh.

“I did. I got voice mail.”

Shoot. “You know Leah. Her battery probably died.” She was grasping at straws. Leah was sixteen years old. That phone was her lifeline. Still, it could be true. It was possible. Right?

 

Leah had totally lost track of time. She and Todd had been hanging out at the water tower for hours, perched on the hood of Todd’s Jeep, drinking Vodka and OJ, admiring the beautiful night. This place was perfect, the most perfect place in the universe, maybe. Big sky, lots of trees. From here, they could see the whole town, just about—the river, the railroad tracks. An orchard. In the valley, lights began to blink out. Leaning back on her elbows, she gazed up at the heavens. “Look,” she said, mesmerized by the inky black sky, the billions and billions of stars. “The Big Dipper.” As she stared into space, time fell away, the past merging seamlessly with the future, this moment, up here, with Todd, the only reality there ever was or ever could be.

Todd took her hand, drawing her close, so close she could smell the spicy deodorant under his armpits. Just being with Todd Corbett made her feel dizzy all over. Todd was, by far, the most beautiful boy she had ever laid eyes on. His hair was long on top, short on the sides. He had full lips, and the most fabulous blue eyes, like, like crystals or something. A Romanesque nose, the exact nose she’d once told Cissy she’d die for, only now that she’d seen it on Todd, she realized that that particular nose was meant for a boy. Best of all, he had this incredible aura, all purple and blue, like James Dean or Curt Cobain.

She curled her legs under her, laid her head on Todd’s chest.

 

They met at a party, the Friday before school started. Todd had been on tour for the past two years, working as a roadie for a heavy metal band called “Cobra.” Leah knew he was back—that was all anybody was talking about—had recognized him instantly, from all the descriptions.

She couldn’t believe her luck. Todd Corbett! And alone! She’d heard he was hot. He was even better looking in person. Looking back, she couldn’t believe she’d been so brazen. She left Cissy in the lurch, sashayed right over to him, took a seat beside him, on the living room floor.

The movie he was watching was stupid. People clopping across a field like zombies, their arms outstretched. They reminded her of herself and Justine when they were little, playing blind. Even the makeup looked phony.

“What are you watching?” she asked.

Night of the Living Dead. Flick’s a classic. Hey, haven’t I seen you someplace before?”

Maybe, though she couldn’t imagine where. Todd couldn’t possibly have remembered her from high school. She was only a freshman when he dropped out.

“Leah Tyler, right? You’re that soccer chick.”

 

The wind swished through the trees. Leah shivered and Todd shrugged out of his worn leather bomber, draped his jacket over her shoulders. He reached into the pocket of his jeans, retrieved a small plastic bag half-full of weed, began rolling a joint. He licked the edge of the paper, lit the joint, inhaling deeply, and handed it to her, the smell rich and exotic and sweet.

Leah had never smoked marijuana until she met Todd. She used to be scared, which was dumb: weed was totally harmless. (The first few times she smoked, she had to admit, she’d been disappointed.) She pulled, her chest searing, struggled to hold the ice-hot smoke in her lungs.

Suddenly, she was coughing, waving her arms.

“You OK, babe?” Todd rescued the joint. With the other hand, he patted her back.

Once she was breathing easily again, he laughed, a sweet laugh that left her feeling dignified, rather than cheesy or stupid. He pinched the joint between his index finger and thumb, took a hit to demonstrate, and brought it to her lips, holding it for her. “That’s it, babe. Good.”

They smoked the joint to its stub, and he showed her how to fashion a roach clip from twigs. Afterward, he offered to drive her home. “Don’t want you getting in trouble or nothing.”

“That’s OK,” Leah said dreamily. “I don’t have to go yet.”

Todd hopped off the hood of the Jeep, pulled a flannel blanket from the back of the truck, and spread the blanket on the grass, under a giant oak tree. Leah watched him smooth it out, his hands dancing, the whole world intensely colored, brilliantly alive. She heard the lonely trill of a cricket, calling from deep in the valley, smelled the damp autumn earth, felt the cool blue breeze on her face. Todd was gliding toward her now, floating on air. He scooped her into his arms, lifting her from the hood of his Jeep, and laid her on the blanket. And kissed her.

 

At eleven thirty, Zoe dialed Leah’s cell phone again. When Leah didn’t pick up, she tried Cissy, both times reaching voice mail. “I don’t believe those two,” Zoe said, infuriated. “I’ll bet they changed their ringers. The little devils probably know it’s us.”

“That’s your daughter for you,” Will huffed.

“She’s my daughter now?”

By eleven forty-five, Zoe was chewing her cuticles. And Will was pacing.

“This is it,” Will announced. “I’m calling the cops.”

“You can’t be serious. What do you plan to tell them?”

He opened his cell phone. “I can’t sit here, doing nothing.” He glared at the screen.

“You can’t call the cops. She’s forty-five minutes late. They’ll think we’re crazy.”

He clicked his cell shut, dug his keys out of his pocket. “Fine. I’ll find her myself.”

Find her? Where on earth did he plan to look?

“I’ll start at the high school.”

“The game was over hours ago.”

“I’ll drive by the Hanson’s.” He headed for the garage, Dog at his heels.

“And do what?” Cissy’s mom, a nurse, worked the early shift at St. John’s. Judi was probably in bed by now. He would frighten her if he knocked on the door. “Will? Answer me.”

He swiveled to face her. “Look for the car,” he snapped, and ushered Dog out the door.

Zoe stood in the mudroom, at a loss, staring blankly at the door her husband had closed. The house, she realized when she came to, was an icebox. She rooted through the hall closet, found a fleece jacket of Will’s, and pulled it on, kicked off her shoes, the ceramic tile cool under her bare feet, went to the bathroom, crossed the hall to the laundry, tossed a load of clean clothes into the dryer, and wandered back to the kitchen. She poured a glass of water, gathered the dishes they’d left on the dining room table, and emptied the uneaten chips into the compactor. She loaded the dishwasher. After she finished washing the counter, she flung the rag into the sink, and grabbed the cordless phone, so she would have a phone handy if Will or Leah tried to call.

A family portrait, commissioned last year, hung over the stone fireplace in the family room. For the photograph, the four of them had dressed in blue; their blue period, they’d joked when the photographer showed them the proofs. In the photo, Zoe is sitting on a stool, leaning toward the camera, Will standing behind her, flanked by the girls. Looking at the portrait, you’d never guess how hard it had been for the photographer to capture the shot, the kids squabbling, Will impatient, Zoe frustrated, both parents clenching their teeth. Restless, Zoe stepped down into the family room, sank into the oversized chair next to the fireplace, and curled her legs under her, clutching the phone.

Waiting, she tried to think positive thoughts. Leah’s responsible. She can handle herself. If the girls had been in a car accident, the police would have contacted them by now. As usual, her effort to avoid negative thoughts conjured them up. Something wasn’t right. Leah had been late a few times before, never like this. A half hour was one thing. Zoe often lost track of time herself. She would be at her office, transcribing her notes, look up, notice the clock, and realize she was supposed to have picked up one of the girls—at school, at the mall, at a friend’s—fifteen, twenty minutes before. She would rush around her office in a tizzy, collecting her folders and purse, cursing herself for being a neglectful mother, and drive like a madwoman to her destination. But an hour? She checked her watch. And fifteen minutes? This wasn’t like Leah.

She wondered if she had missed something. A signal. A hint. This morning, Leah, out of bed by seven, had moseyed into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. Spotting the sauce pan on the front burner, she’d whined about having to eat oatmeal again. But she always whined when Zoe made oatmeal, which on certain days she found “revolting,” on others “disgusting” or “gross.” Zoe set the bowl in front of her. “Quit bellyaching,” she said. “Oatmeal is good for you.”

They were running late. So the girls wouldn’t have to rush to catch the bus, Zoe offered to drive them to school. Justine rode shotgun, while Leah dozed in the backseat. At two, Leah called Zoe at work to remind her that she and Cissy planned to go to the game. She was headed directly home after practice, Leah had said; she would fix dinner. At six thirty, when Zoe opened the back door, she smelled Leah’s spicy, cumin-laced chili. On the island counter, Zoe found place settings for her, for Will, for Justine, three glasses filled with ice water and lemon. Justine was upstairs in her room, doing her geometry homework. Leah had already left for the game.

Zoe closed her eyes, breathing deeply, attempting to center herself, and, counting backward from ten. . . eight, seven, six. . . summoned an image of her daughter. Leah’s face materialized, and her body slowly came into focus. Directing her energy outward, Zoe enclosed her daughter in a protective circle of light. Be safe, baby, she whispered. Be safe.

 

Will drove along country roads canopied by the boughs of towering oak trees, the winding streets bordered by stone walls erected in the late 1700’s, by the farmers who’d settled the town. In those days, the stone walls served as boundary markers, the average farm occupying fifty acres of land, most of it orchards. It was a hard life, Will thought, working eighteen hours a day, building walls, cultivating the land. He reached for Dog, on the passenger seat, ruffled her ears. “What do you say, Girl?” Dog cocked her head. “Was life harder then? Or harder today?”

The Hansons lived a mile outside the center, on a corner lot in a modest sub-division, built in the late-eighties, a neighborhood of center-entry colonials, garrisons, expanded Capes, set on cramped one-acre lots. Will slowed as they approached the Hanson’s newly remodeled Salt Box, he and Dog rubber-necking together. Onion lamps flanked the entrance and the garage doors; matching pole lights lined the drive. The house was dark, the driveway empty. Will turned left, onto the adjacent street, hoping to find a light on in the back of the house, in which case he would knock on the door. Nothing, not even a porch lamp. Frustrated, he rounded the block, passed by the front of the property again, in case he had somehow managed to miss Cissy’s car the first time, and headed for the high school, on the off-chance that the girls were still there.

The parking lot was dark when Will pulled in, the lights extinguished hours ago. He pulled down the sloping driveway behind the school, passing the rubberized track, where the soccer players practiced their sprints. He swung by the service entrance, then by the gym, doubled back, and circled the deserted lot, scanning the playing fields. At the ticket booth by football stadium, he parked, and just sat, thinking, Dog curled beside him on the passenger seat.

They’d had no idea, he and Zoe, how easy they’d had it when the girls were young. In their eyes, every little thing seemed like a crisis. They would glance at the window, catch three- year-old Leah zooming down the drive on her Big-Wheel, her legs outstretched, little hands reaching for the sky. In a panic, they would tear out of the house, always an instant too late, too far from their daughter to do anything except cross their fingers and watch. “Leah—” Will would holler, his stomach churning, “hold on.” And Zoe would cover her eyes, both parents envisioning the worst, the Big-Wheel rocketing off course, crashing into a tree. Later, the rope swing he’d hung by their deck replaced the Big-Wheel as the most obvious threat. They’d worried about random accidents, obsessed over tragedies they watched on News Center 5 or read about in the Globe: that the girls would fall into the hidden shaft of a well or drown in a neighbor’s backyard pool, that a stranger would kidnap one of their daughters when she was outside playing or taking a walk. It was tough being a parent, the welfare of their children utterly dependent on them, yet as long as they were vigilant, as long as they did their job, kept a trained eye on their daughters, their children would be safe. Now that she was older, they had no way of keeping tabs on their daughter. Once the car she was riding in rolled out of the drive, her fate was out of their hands. She could be anywhere, doing anything, with anyone. They had no way to protect her.

“What do you say, girl?” he said finally. “Doesn’t look like she’s here, does it?”

In a last ditch effort, he took another run by the Hanson’s place.

 

Zoe had fallen asleep clutching the portable phone, her head resting on the wing of her chair. He brushed a curl out of her face, touched her shoulder gently, so he wouldn’t startle her.

His wife blinked up at him. “Did you find her?”

He shook his head, dejected.

Dog nuzzled Zoe’s leg. Yawning, she scratched the dog’s head. “What time is it?”

“Close to one.”

“My God.” She pulled herself to an upright position. “What do you think is going on?”

Hard to say at this point, he told her. “She didn’t call, did she?”

Zoe shook her head in alarm. “You don’t think anything’s happened, do you?”

“We’d have heard by now.”

“I’m worried, Will. This isn’t like her.”

Will rubbed his neck, squeezing the trapezius muscles, hoping to release some of the tension. “I don’t know where else to look. Figured it’d be stupid to keep driving in circles.”

His wife attempted to stifle a yawn.

“You look beat,” he said. “Why don’t you go to bed? I’ll wait up.”

“You’re as tired as I am.”

“Go. I can sleep in. You’ve got to get up in the morning.”

“Maybe I should,” she said, shifting position. “Have to be up at six. Had to—” She paused, her glazed eyes fixed on the palladium window at the far end of the room. “Sorry.” She blinked. “I had to shift my schedule around. Workshop Sunday. Wake me when she comes in? You won’t forget?”

“I won’t forget.”

Will helped his wife out of her chair, walked her to the front staircase, kissed her, and told her to sleep well. From the foot of the staircase, he watched her climb the stairs and wander down the hall to their bedroom. When she closed the door, he went to the kitchen, filled a glass with spring water, brought the glass to the living room, sat on his leather recliner by the window, adjusted the back, and put up his feet. Dog lay on the floor, next to his chair. In ten minutes, she was snoring. He plucked an old issue of Sports Illustrated out of the pleated leather pocket on the side of his chair, flipped through. Unable to focus, he tossed it on the floor.

On the windowsill, in front of an eight-by-ten studio portrait of the girls, taken when Justine was a toddler, sat a framed snapshot of Leah. He picked up the photo. They’d been in Cortland for about a year when he snapped the shot. Leah was not quite seven, the youngest child on the under-ten team. Her uniform was two sizes too big, her baggie blue T-shirt skimming the hem of her shorts. The team was in the midst of a game, Leah racing to the net, blond ponytail flying, the ball jouncing in front of her, her tiny face focused, intense.

His daughter was an exceptional player, fast, agile, fiercely competitive, the best player from Massachusetts ever, some coaches said. Since she was a child, Will had been grooming her, encouraging her, fostering her talent. Youth soccer, traveling teams. Scholarship to Harvard—that was their plan. They’d practiced, strategized, prepared. Through the rain, the snow, he’d been right there with her. All in service to the crimson uniform she would one day wear. That was her dream, wasn’t it? She hoped to play pro. But Harvard first. Time and again, they’d discussed the importance of a good education, the one thing in life that can never be taken away.

Will pushed her, he knew. He wanted the best for his kids. He would do whatever it took to help them succeed, prevent them from repeating the mistakes he’d made. In the spring of his junior year, he’d left Penn State, surrendering a full scholarship, trading his education for a long shot at a music career. In one hour, the time it took to inform his dean he was quitting, walk to the registrar’s office and sign a couple of forms, he’d managed to screw up his life. Look at him: forty-five-years-old, stuck in a dead-end job, kissing the asses of people who ought to be working for him. He refused to sit back, watch Leah throw her life away. Kids needed guidance, a motivational coach to push them, keep them focused, drive them when they didn’t feel like practicing, pump them up when they lost confidence, spur them on when they wanted to quit.

Will closed his eyes. God help him. Tell him he hadn’t pushed her away.

Almost time for Killer Nashville

A week from today I’ll be KILLER NASHVILLE, a local writers’ conference that is tons of fun. This is the sixth annual conference, held the last weekend in August. (Mark your calendar for next year!)

Like many conferences KN gives attendees an opportunity to meet with agents and editors (free). This year they feature agents from Folio Literary Management, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and Nancy Coffee Literary and Media Representation. In addition editors from Five Star Mysteries, Oceanview Publishing, The Permanent Press and Second Chance Press will be taking pitches.

Unlike most conferences, KN offers five distinct event tracks for people with varied interests and experience levels. They have a Writing Track, a Publishing Track, a Career Management and Promotion Track, a Forensic Track and a Fan Track—that’s right readers (not just writers) have their own events. Those of us with varied interests don’t have to stick with one track; we can jump back and forth as much as our little hearts desire. How cool is that?

Perhaps the most unusual is the track for forensic junkies. It includes a “real” crime scene set up by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). It’s a compilation of real crime scenes encountered by the TBI. Conference attendees have the opportunity to gather clues and try to solve the case. The person who comes closest to the true scenario wins free registration to the next year’s conference.

Speaking of registration: Killer Nashville has the most reasonable registration fee ($170 for all three days) of any conference I’ve seen. Though a bargain, the three days are so jam-packed I always come home absolutely exhausted, but pumped for the following day.

One of the two guests of honor this year is the New York Times bestselling author, Donald Bain. He’s written more than 100 books. (When does he sleep?) He currently writes original novels based upon the television series ‘Murder, She Wrote.” The other guest of honor is Robert Dugoni who is also a NYT bestselling author. He’s an attorney who now does more authoring than lawyering. He’s written five books and has been published in 18 foreign countries.

Prior to this year, the conference was held in Franklin, TN, a suburb south of Nashville. However the event outgrew the venue and will this year be much closer to downtown Nashville. I’m always surprised at how many non-Tennesseans attend–from all over the USA and sometimes other countries. With its new location this year, our visitors will be only a hop, skip and a jump from the honky tonks and other landmarks that make Nashville . . . well, Nashville. Of course, with such a jam-packed schedule they’ll have to need much less sleep than me to go out for a taste of local flavor.

So now you know why Killer Nashville is my favorite conference. It’s not just because I get to sleep in my own bed at night (though that’s nice), it’s because Clay Stafford and his crew work their butts off to put this thing together. In addition, their new website rocks. If you don’t have plans next to weekend, come on down. There’s always room for one more at Killer Nashville.

~ Kay

The Help . . . and me

Last summer I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Last weekend I saw the movie. Can you say, “Flashback?”   . . . “To the sixties?” Boy, I can—with both the book and the movie. Remember, I grew up in Alabama during that time. I’m guessing the setting of the book would have been when I was around six or seven years old.

I’m not going to spoil the book or the movie for you, but I will recommend both. Here’s the basic premise without disclosing any more than you’d see in a television commercial, the movie trailer or a preview.

A recent college graduate returns to her middle Mississippi plantation-style family home and all of her friends are married and most have babies. All also have maids . . . and they treat their maids the way many maids were treated in the 60’s: low pay, no benefits, long work hours, oblivious to their feelings . . . like they were a different species that would give them cooties or something. With her enlightened perspective after graduating from college, (Ole Miss, by the way), she now grasps how “the help” are overworked and underappreciated. She decides to write a top-secret book based on the stories and experiences of the maids of her friends.

Again, this is set in the 60’s. Think Civil Rights Movement. Think Ku Klux Klan. Think pre-dishwashers and disposable diapers and fast food on every corner. This is the era of my youth so I can relate.

Unlike the women in the novel/movie, my family wasn’t wealthy. We were solid middle-class because both of my parents (with their high school educations) worked full-time. Even so, we had a maid. Her name was Norma and to the best of my recollection she came twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) during the school year and Monday through Friday during the summer. I’m pretty sure we didn’t pay her much and I know she didn’t have any benefits, other that eating her own cooking when she took a lunch break.

Norma wasn’t our “nanny” in that she wasn’t with my sister and me as infants–though we did have black help then as well–I can remember a large black woman rocking my sister as a newborn. I was young when Norma started working in our home–pre-school, I think–and she worked for us until she retired while I was away at college. She let herself in the back door (we never locked it) and my family would awaken to the smell of breakfast. To this day I’ve not found biscuits as good as hers anywhere else. In fact, she came out of retirement the first time I went home after getting married. She wanted to make sure my new husband got some of “Norma’s biscuits.” She didn’t tell anyone she was coming—she just heard I’d be home (remember, small town), and showed up. She died not long after that.

My sister and I grew up in a home with a racist father and a mother who tried to keep the peace. I don’t recall her ever saying the “n” word, though I do remember my elderly grandfather (Mother’s dad) saying it in front of Norma when she’d gone to his house to cook for some occasion. I strongly suspect my grandfather was in the KKK when he was younger, but that’s another story.

What amazes me is neither my sister nor I inherited that racist mentality. Now we both live in large cities (Nashville and Seattle) where we each have friends who happen to be black.

I remember clearly when I first became aware of racism. I was in the fifth grade (I think I was color blind until then) and one of my classmates, Jeffery DeVaughan, was the first “colored” person in my class. On his birthday, his mother sent a home-baked birthday cake to school, as was the tradition. I remember hearing some of my classmates say they’d been told by their parents not to eat the cake because a “negro” had made it. This seemed absurd to me as most of the birthday cakes sent to school were made by “the help” working in my classmates homes. What was the difference?

Integration hit hard after that school year and I had many black classmates—“many” being a relative term considering my high school graduating class had sixty-six members. I wasn’t a “spend the night” friend with them, but I did consider some of them friends.

In particular was a girl named Darlene Brooks, who by coincidence was Norma’s niece. (Norma was only working one day a week by then because of her advanced age plus my sister and I were old enough to help with the housework.) Anyway, my senior year I was editor of our school newspaper (which was actually a page—or less—in our town’s local eight-page weekly) and Darlene was my assistant editor. We regularly collaborated after school and on weekends by telephone.

One Saturday afternoon at the crowded Piggly Wiggly, I saw Darlene with her grandmother, with whom she lived. I went over to say hello. I gave Darlene a hug and told her grandmother how much I liked Darlene.  It was like hitting the pause button on your remote control. Shopping carts and conversations stopped and all eyes were on the three of us as we chatted in front of the meat counter. Darlene and I exchanged a look, then a small smile as I continued chatting with her grandmother (at an increased volume level because I had deduced from my first remark she had a hearing problem—not). I told her I hoped I didn’t bother her with my frequent phone calls and how much I valued her granddaughter’s opinions. I never mentioned the newspaper. When the conversation was over (and the remote switched back to “play”), I walked back to my mother who witnessed the whole thing go down. I’ll never forget her words; this is a direct quote, “You better hope your daddy doesn’t find out about this.” And that was that.

Did my experiences mirror those of the characters in The Help? Enough to bring up shame for me when I read the book and again when I saw the movie. I get it was a different era and I can’t apply 2011 values to the culture of the sixties. I know my parents and the other parents in my small hometown were only doing what they knew how to do and they were doing it to the best of their abilities. But it still makes me cringe to remember the racism I grew up with.

Do I have a maid now? I have a (white) cleaning lady who comes in once a week and I assure you she is paid well for her services.

Whether you loved or hated The Help, it has caused lots of discussions on blogs and other forms of social networking. It’s also being talked about on the street, in workplaces, at church–just about any place where people gather. By the way, to have people talking about their books is what all authors want. It’s called buzz . . .

~Kay

Trash the book, not the author!

My intention today was to blog about Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help and the film adaptation, which debuted last week. As I wrote that post, I realized I needed more time to organize my many thoughts about this book and movie and what they bring up for me, so look for that post on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I will write about my friend Phoenix Sullivan. She was a guest blogger here in March and has a popular blog called Dare to Dream. Until recently, she reviewed queries and synopses on her blog, made suggestions and helped hundreds of newbie writers with these tricky projects. Earlier this year, she invited authors to submit for an anthology, selected the pieces to include, edited them and published Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever online. She has written two novels and runs a farm (complete with chickens and horses and other animals) all by herself. Many of her followers, including myself, consider her Wonder Woman.

One of her books, Spoils of War, made it through the gruesome process of agents and editors and got all the way to the editorial table at two publishing houses—the last step before being offered a traditional publishing contract. Though both publishers had favorable comments, they ultimately decided to pass on her books. However, Spoils of War got a glowing endorsement by New York Times best selling author Jennifer Blake and Phoenix to publish it online a few months ago.

Her sales had been steady, then . . . over the weekend, Spoils of War went viral on Twitter and various blogs. It all started with a scathing review by January on a popular website called Dear Author.

In her review, January ripped the book apart on everything from historical accuracy to editorial errors like spelling and commas (she later retracted her comments on spelling when she realized the words she sited were accurately spelled; she had made the assumption the author meant to use other words–oh, my!).  Commas, of course, are pretty subjective and, as a former editor, I’m pretty sure Phoenix put commas where needed in her work.

January’s primary attack was aimed at the rape and violence in the book. The heroine was raped by three men (to my recollection) including the hero. More disturbing was the repeated rape of an eleven-year-old enslaved by a much older man who’d essentially made her his plaything.

Are these rapes upsetting? Absolutely. Were they in context for the time frame of the novel? Yes. I think Cliff said it best in a five-star review on Amazon. In part, his review is:

Spoil of War . . . deals with difficult subjects in a sympathetic way without trying to impose 21st century morals on 5th century characters.

Cliff’s review captures what’s wrong with January’s review. She took the actions in the book out of context. Phoenix’s characters and the situations they were in fit the era. Was it historically accurate? I don’t know and I don’t care. It entertained me, and this is not a genre I’d normally read.

The book clearly states the setting is during a disturbing time in history. Here’s part of the product description.

Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

January is certainly entitled to her opinion and to blog about it. The 3000+ word attack elicited over 200 comments. (For comparison, my post today is less than 800 words and I’d love to have even 25 comments on a post.) Most of the comments were in agreement with the blogger but few had read the book. The post, as well as many of the comments, was an attack on the author in addition to her work. They questioned her integrity; they all but questioned her parentage. I know Phoenix and I know she is ethical and kind and her personal standards are exceptionally high. The blogger and her followers can trash the book all day long—we all have different tastes in what we read—but don’t personally attack the author. Writers are people too and what we write does not necessarily reflect our beliefs. That’s why it’s called fiction.

To get some balance, the blog Rise of the Slush reviewed the book prior to January’s review if you want to check it out.

Before I get completely off my soapbox, (I am getting a little dizzy), I’ll leave you with this Oscar Wilde quote: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Hang in there Phoenix while you’re being talked about and remember, those of us who know you have your back. (Completely off soapbox now!)

I hope you’ll be back Wednesday for my post about The Help.

~Kay

Character Chat — Emma

Guest blogger is Emma Morgan, a character from my novel, MURDER ON MUSIC ROW

 

Hi everyone,

Last week Loralee told you a little about her heritage and I thought it was a good idea. Therefore, this week you get to read about me.

I grew up here in Nashville, one of six children. My family settled here before the Civil War and most of my relatives have stayed in the area. I had a good childhood. My mom stayed home with us and my dad started a law firm that is now one of Nashville’s largest.

I matriculated to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville like most of my family. That’s where I met Nan. We were going through sorority rush and about to smolder all dressed up in the late summer heat. When we discovered we were both Nashvillians, we found we knew a lot of the same people and had much in common. As it turned out, we pledged the same sorority and immediately arranged a swap so we could be roommates, and we roomed together for all four years of undergraduate school.

It was during my college years I met Loralee, Nan’s best friend since the seventh grade. Loralee went to the University of Kentucky, but it seemed she was in Knoxville more than Lexington. It took a while for us to warm up to each other, but since we both loved Nan, we made it work. Truthfully, she still grates on my nerves from time to time, but because of the longevity of our relationship, I tolerate her idiosyncrasies and manage to love her. After all, she and Nan are my daughters’ godmothers so the three of us plan to remain best friends forever. Ha! Here I am at thirty-four talking about BFFs.

I have a master’s in political science from Vanderbilt, which is where I met my husband, Josh. It was love at first sight and within a month we were sharing an apartment. This was scandalous in my staunch Catholic family (even in this day and age), but all was forgiven (and conveniently forgotten) when we married four years later.

Josh went to work for the D.A.’s office right out of law school. He’s an ADA with political aspirations, which means I have to be on my best behavior all of the time. It’s not that I want to do anything despicable, I just want the right to be a little outrageous if I so desire. I wish he’d quit the rat-race and go to work for Daddy. I know he’d make partner in no time and maybe then we’d see more of him than we do now.

Josh and I have two daughters. Grace is seven and afraid of nothing. She’s been to the ER so many times, I’m afraid we might be reported to Children’s Protective Services. Not really–she just takes a lot of risks and risks lead to accidents and often broken bones. Abby is five and she’s our little prima donna. Right now she is into baking tiny cupcakes for her imaginary tea parties. Of course, she really wants to eat the miniature treats and thinks she’s pulling one over on me. Both of them have Josh wrapped around their little fingers, so I’m the one with the day-to-day drudgery of disciplining them. Of course I’m also the one who has the opportunity to experience their magical day-to-day moments as well.

I don’t work; I stay home with the girls and they are a full-time job. When I decided not to go to law school, I trained as an interior designer and enjoy doing that gratis when asked by friends or family. I also design jewelry and some clothing, but I haven’t accomplished much since the girls came along.

I think this is more than enough history on me. Have a fabulous weekend and one of us will be back to blog next week.

~Emma

Starbucks and me

I don’t drink coffee. Never have. Never will. Yet I find myself snuggled in the same corner chair at Starbucks on MWF from ten until twelve. What gives?

It’s been four weeks today since Hubby had his hip replaced. Youngest son moved home for the summer to study for and take his GRE (done!) and help out after his dad’s surgery. His jobs were to get the trash to the road on Fridays, water the outside plants because I’m afraid of what lurks beneath the bushes you have to go through to get to the hose and take his dad to physical therapy.

It was a solid plan because the PT time would give me some much needed alone time in the house to write or whatever. So why am I sitting in Starbucks instead of youngest son? Because he got a job. Not that I’m complaining (well, I guess I am) because it’s difficult for anyone to find a job in this economy, much less a brand new college graduate, so I’m proud of him. But . . . although he still handles the garbage and waters the plants, it leaves me to take his dad to PT and eliminates my home alone time.

Hubby is doing well. He and his cane walked around the block before we left for PT. He sees his doctor in two weeks and is scheduled to go back to work in three. The doc said ideally Hubby’d be out of work for twelve weeks, but one of us would have had to have been institutionalized if that had been the case.

As you know, I left cozy writing nook and moved downstairs to be available to his every whim. Now with his increased mobility, he can pretty much do everything for himself. However, when I tried to relocate back upstairs to cozy nook, he used his cell phone to call me on the house phone for all of hie “Where is . . . ” questions. It’s just easier to stay downstairs.

At least our  biggest issue has been resolved. Movies have been his distraction during his convalescence, and he watches then at full volume. I swear, even when I’m upstairs in my writing nook, I close the door and I can still hear the dialogue of the movies. Sitting in the same room, it was unbearable. After three tries, we found cordless headphones that were comfortable and hold a decent charge. Now I can work in silence while he watches the movies with the sound blaring in his ears. I suppose hearing aides will be next on our list.

It’s almost time to leave my corner chair and retrieve him from PT. Thank you Starbucks for providing a comfy, cool place to write while I wait. I may not drink it, but I do love the smell of your coffee!