Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crime Fiction Collective: Dialogue Nuts & Bolts

In writing critique sessions, I spend a lot of time correcting punctuation. This excellent article by Jodie Renner addresses most of the problems I've seen.

Crime Fiction Collective: Dialogue Nuts & Bolts: by Jodie Renner.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dena Blizzard for "Ruining the Rapture"

Early next year, I will put out my first Ebook, "RUINING THE RAPTURE (AND TEN OTHER STORIES OF DARK AMUSEMENT)." Right now I'm working on the book trailer.

My friend Dena Blizzard did a short video blurb for the book. A former Miss New Jersey, Dena is currently the warmup comic for "The Nate Berkus Show." Of course, being a comedienne, Dena couldn't do just a straightforward recommendation....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Panel Discussion at Phoenixville Library

Well, after complaining about holding events in empty bookstores on Saturday and Sunday, we had a full house at a Monday night event at a library!

The event was a panel discussion by contributors to the anthology CHESTER COUNTY FICTION. The Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Public Library set out 30 chairs for the audience. Ten minutes after we started, every chair save one was occupied! Afterwards, we sold (and signed) over 20 copies of the anthology.

The panel was ably moderated by Jason Hafer (of Phoenixville' s late, lamented Wolfgang Books). Everyone seemed to have fun.

Thanks to everyone who came out!

You can see some photos of the event here.

And Happy Holidays to one and all!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where Is Everybody?

I just finished a book signing for the anthology Chester County Fiction, in which I have two short stories. And I was dismayed at how few customers were in the bookstore.

Three years ago, when I was in that bookstore a week prior to Christmas, the place was a madhouse. The staff was harried, trying to keep up with customer demand. But today was barely busier than their usual weekend crowd.

My next event promoting this anthology is at the Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Public Library at 7 pm this Monday, December 19th. I hope the audience outnumbers the anthologists!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goodbye, Hitch

Christopher Hitchens, writer, raconteur, and contrarian, is gone.

This was no surprise; he announced that he had terminal cancer in 2010. But it saddens me greatly that he won't be around to make people angry.

I didn't agree with all of his positions, especially his support of the war in Iraq. But his positions were well thought out and beautifully delivered. I respected them.

Some hoped that Hitchens, an atheist, would have some sort of deathbed conversion. (Convert to what, I always wondered? His father was Christian, while his mother hid the fact that she was Jewish - Hitch didn't find that out until after she died.)

But he stuck to his non-belief. And I respect that, too.

In regard to his atheism, he wrote:

"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer

I don't drink much any more, but I'll drink a toast to Hitch this holiday season, with the best liquor I can afford. After all, at Hitch said, "Cheap booze is a false economy."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Styrofoam Hell

I'm sitting in a Starbucks, listening to a 19-year-old barista whining, "I give up. I just give up!" I'm shaking my head, thinking, She can't handle the pressure of working in an almost-empty Starbucks??

When I was her age, I spent a summer working swing shift on the production line at a styrofoam cup factory. Eight hours a day (unless I did overtime), I stood at a machine that shoved 30 cups into a plastic bag and sealed it. The work was so arduous that the factory hired 4 people for each job, assuming that 3 of them would quit before the end of their first shift. I didn't bother to complain: no one could've heard me over the machine noise, and everyone wore earplugs.

Anyone who has ever worked a swing shift knows that the job's special hell: you can never get your sleep cycle in tune with your work. We did a week on the midnight-to-8 am shift, a week on the 8 am-to-4 pm shift, followed by a week on the 4 pm-to-midnight shift. Several times I almost got in car accidents, falling asleep while driving home after my shift. And, in the summer, the day shift was scorching; you sweated right through your clothes. I started carrying a waterproof, velcro-sealed camper's wallet, so I wouldn't sweat on my money.

A few years later, when the styrofoam cup factory closed, it was declared a superfund site. So it probably wasn't a particularly healthy place to work.

Still, it's all relative. A few years prior to that, a lot of guys my age were on patrol in rice paddies in Vietnam. They would've loved to trade places with me.

But that girl who can't handle working in a clean, air-conditioned Starbucks has some serious challenges in store for her!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wharton Esherick Museum

Three years ago, I wrote an article on the Wharton Esherick Museum, hidden away on a hillside just west of Valley Forge Park, Pennsylvania. Esherick (1887-1970) was a woodworking artist of great renown. The above image is a photo of his iconic spiral staircase, which was exhibited at the 1940 New York World's Fair.

Ever since I visited the museum, I've tried to get my 82-year-old father to visit it. I knew he'd enjoy it - before he became a music professor, he worked for his father as a carpenter. (My grandfather owned the Lester Woodworking Company of Philadelphia, which specialized in making roll-top desks. Of course, roll-top desks went out of fashion long ago, and the company folded.)

My father still has a great appreciation of fine carpentry. But he's also sedentary and stubborn, so for three years he put off visiting a place I knew he'd love.

Finally, today, he visited the Wharton Esherick National Historic Landmark for Architecture. My sister took him. He loved it, of course.

And THAT's what I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is This a Bad Sign?

I'm writing in a Starbucks until it's time for tonight's meeting of the Main Line Writers Group.

This Starbucks is playing music so bad, so tinny, that I couldn't tell if it was coming from the PA system or the website I was looking at was playing music! Yes, it's THAT bad.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author Breece D'J Pancake

I was emailing a writer in West Virginia, and got to thinking about that late, great West Virginia author Breece D'J Pancake. I wanted to ask her a question about his work, but she'd never read him.

Pancake - yes, that was his real name* - killed himself at the age of 26, despite an astonishingly successful debut as a writer of short-stories. His work was compared to that of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Chuck Palahniuk and Andre Dubus III (among others) have cited him as an influence. But Pancake shot himself back in 1983, and he seems to be largely forgotten.

My email question to the West Virginia author? "When writing in West Virginian dialect, Pancake used to write the word "it" as "hit." I've never seen anyone else do that. Is it a good approximation of a local dialect?"

I'm still looking for the answer, in case anyone knows. I was in Weirton, West Virginia, some thirty years ago, and I don't recall how they spoke. (Besides, residents in what passes for an urban center in West Virginia probably don't sound like rural folks.)

If you're interested, there was a nice appreciation of Breece D'J Pancake by Dwight Garner in The New York Times, on the occasion of what would have been Pancake's 55th birthday.

* The only affectation in his name was accidental: when The Atlantic Monthly published his first short story, they printed his middle initials as D'J instead of D.J. The error amused Pancake and he let it stand, both then and on his subsequent publications.

Book Review Ad

That's Still Edible!

My car is in the shop, so this is the second day I'm trapped at home. I didn't expect my brakes to go, so I didn't shop before my car went in for repairs.

Being stuck at home with a depleted pantry makes you re-evaluate expiration dates on food. I just found out that you CAN eat two-year-old pasta as long as you boil it thoroughly.

But if my car's not ready tomorrow, I'm going to do an internet search on how to eat cattails. (And my decorative cattails are only a year old!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Launch of the CHESTER COUNTY FICTION Anthology

Yesterday we had the book launch of the anthology Chester County Fiction at the iconic (and appropriately musty) Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, PA. We jammed the back room with guests (luckily, the local fire marshal isn't a bibliophile) and sold half of our initial print run! Kudos to publisher Jim Breslin for arranging such a successful event.

Everyone who attended seemed to have a good time, with the possible exception of the hapless guest who got peed on by owner Tom Baldwin's dog.

I've autographed plenty of books in the past, but yesterday I learned that signing a paperback while standing up in a crowd requires a different skill set. (That's assuming you want to write legibly.) Thankfully, I already know how to avoid incontinent dogs.

Now I'm looking forward to the next group signing, to be held from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, October 22nd, at the Chester County Book and Music Company. Hope you can join us!