Friday, September 29, 2006

Hey, What About Knitting?

I got an email recently from a friend who said, "You know, I like your blog but what about knitting? You never write about knitting anymore." She is correct about that --- I don't. I haven't done much knitting this summer but now that the days are getting cooler and the evenings shorter I have been back at it a little.

The image at left is the sleeve of the project I am working on, a bed jacket that I think I am going to love. I have decided to try making a couple bed jackets because I have all the shawls I need and so do my friends and family! Actually the name "bed jacket" is a tad coy. It is really a sweater but not the usual sweater --- it is somewhat smaller and lacier and less shaped. It looks like, well, a bed jacket. I am told they are all the rage now. There were even a couple featured in the October issue of Vogue. I mean --- come on! Is that chic or what?

For this bed jacket I am working with two strands held together --- one of Knit Picks Pima Cotton Crayon in Pink and one of a lovely, hand-painted silk eyelash called Strawberry. I have to tell you, if nothing else, this is the softest thing I have ever touched. It remionds me of those old chenille bath robes I had as a kid that had been washed a thousand time and were ratty and faded but so deliciously soft I loved to touch them. Except this is all brand new.

My plan is simple --- cause heaven knows I haven't gotten any better at following patterns. I cast on the stitches for the back and worked UP for 18" then divided the stitches at the shoulder line and worked down in two sections with a neat little edging along the front for 18" --- all in stockinette except the cute little edge. Once that was complete I worked the left front from front to side, picked up 20 stitches for the underarm, picked up the lower edge of the back stitches, cast on 20 for the right underarm, added the right front side and worked a few rows back and forth. That showed promise so I put the stitches on a holder and used an 18" circular needle to pick up stitches around the edge of the armhole. I worked this in the round for six inches in stockinette then decided to add a lace pattern which you see above. I did this for both sleeves and, when that turned out pretty good, I went back to the bottom edge. I just started working the lace pattern on that so it is looking good.

I know, I know --- none of this is very helpful to anyone who is reading it but it makes sense to me. Maybe someday I'll start a blog just for knitting and call it the Backazzward Knitter. I never know how my stuff is going to turn out. I'm just glad I get more good stuff than bad.

I went to the library and stocked up on audio books. I found a couple of mysteries on tape by one of my favorite mystery writers, James Lee Burke. I'm a sucker for Dave Robicheaux! So last night I sat and listened to the first few chapters of Jolie Blon's Bounce and worked on my sweater. It is now dark here at 6:45 and the time hasn't even changed yet! So knitting is again a regular evening activity.

So, that's it from me on the knitting scene. The bed jacket looks like it is going to be good. But I think Dave Robicheaux is headed for big trouble!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Some years back Betty Lou Schlemm, A.W.S., D.F. had a brillinat idea. Her idea was that people who were talented and knew they had a gift should share their gifts by donating a few hours as they could to support causes of merit. Out of this concept grew a long series of workshops and painting events designed to bring artists together to paint, teach, learn, critique, and have a wonderful time as they raised money for the cause of their choice. BL painted to raise money for Wellspring here in Gloucester as well asfor many other causes. The latest one is Cape Ann Animal Aid, a shelter and care center for cats and dogs.

Jane Daniel, the owner of the beautiful Hovey House where we have our writer's meetings is a gifted writer, an enthusiastic supporter of great causes, a lover of the arts, and a committed animal lover. If I have done anything worthwhile in my life, I think it was introducing Jane to BL. I have loved both of these women for a long time and seeing them form a beautiful friendship has been wonderful.

This week BL is giving a TOT workshop to support Cape Ann Animal Aid and yesterday Jane hosted them at her beautiful house. The painters in BL's workshop were stunned by the beauty of Jane's garden and by the breathtaking view from Hovey House's front yard. What follows are a few photographs I took yesterday during the workshop. I hope that you enjoy them.

Below BL offers painting tips to one of the artists while Jane and her dog Earthquake watch. Earthquake was a racing greyhound who was badly abused when Jane rescued him. Under her loving and tender care he has become the sweetest dog who is absolutely devoted to Jane. She takes him for runs on Good Harbor Beach and says when he really lets go and runs the beach it is a beautiful thing to behold but mostly he prefers to stay close to Jane.
You can see how absolutely gorgeous the clouds were yesterday. That is Ten Pound Island on the left in the photo and along the horizon in the back is Eastern Point Lighthouse and the breakwater. I would love to see the paintings that the artists got yesterday. They must have been overjoyed.

Jane also has a rescued kitty named Kiki who was unavailable to be photographed (cats!). BL also has a darling little dog from the shelter named Tippi. Tippi was visiting a friend yesterday.

If you are interested in more information on how to run a Tithing Our Talents event for your organization, please see our web site at: Tithing Our Talents.

You can see information about past TOT events at the North Shore Arts Association at: NSAA TOT 2005 and NSAA TOT 2004.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chick’s Night Out

Last winter Betty Lou and I started a regular Chcik’s-Night-Out —OLD chicks, we admitted, but still chicks in our minds anyway. We go out Tuesday nights to the same place, an Italian restaurant in the West End, and at the same time. We told all our friends what we were doing and when we would be there and within weeks Jane had joined us and sometimes Evelyn, usually Rebecca and sometimes Leslie. Plus others as their time allowed. This week we decided to start it up again and I am so glad that we did! I missed us! Even though I see or talk to all of these people regularly, there is nothing like the dynamics of us together.

Last night Jane and Evelyn and I were joined by Monica, who had been there before, and Robin who had not — it was great. We were also joined by an honorary chick, Tom, who was an excellent addition to the group.

Jane and I are the avid readers in the group and, since we often share books and seem to have similar taste in books, we have often recently read the same book. Last night it was Elizabeth Gilbert’s hilarious novel Stern Men. If you have not read it, you should. It is the story of Ruth, the daughter of a lobsterman, living on a small, rocky island off the coast of Maine where everyone is overly inbred and everyone depends on lobsters for their livelihoods. Across a narrow channel is an island of the same size, shape and population, also inbred lobstermen, who view them as rivals. Everything is going along quite as dysfunctionally as usual until Ruth goes and falls in love with a lobsterman from the rival island and then things get really goofy. It is a fun read and, in many parts, reminds me of Mark’s book. In Chapter 9 where the author chronicles the warfare between the two islands it reminds me of a hilarious version of Mark’s “Garand Afternoon”.

So we were talking about the book and then about Mark’s book and then someone told a story about a fisherman they know and then Tom, the most garrulous of guys and a natural-born story teller (not to mention, honorary chick) started and before he had finished his story, two other nearby tables had shifted over to join the party. It was a great night. I don’t know what time I got home and I’m paying for it this morning.

But it reminded me yet again that, despite all our modern gadgets, a bunch of folks sitting around telling stories over some food and wine is one of the most delightful and timeless experiences in the world. After a hard day hunting sabre-toothed tigers on the veldt, our ancestors did the same thing (though I’m not sure about the wine but I’d bet they had invented something). There is another thing important to this dynamic that I have noticed — you have to SHARE food. Not just all get a plate of something but things we can all reach for and bump hands in the process and say “mmmmm, did you taste this?” Pizza is perfect for this — an antipasto with baskets of hot rolls followed by a pizza is ideal. We share our time, we share our food, we share a bottle (or four) of wine and we share our stories.

So I am hoping we settle into a regular Chicks Night Out once again. I hope there will be other honorary chicks who will join us and I hope we will continue to share. I was thinking this morning about the solo guy who was waiting for his pizza while nursing a beer who wound up pulling up a chair and having more fun than any of the rest of us. I hope he’ll come back for Chick’s Night Out — even though I don’t know his name.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Autumnal Equinox

We just passed the Autumnal Equinox which means the hours of daylight are now less than the hours of darkness. For some this marks the end of summer, for others this marks the beginning of the year. Saturday was Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. I have always loved that even though I am not Jewish. I am pleased by holidays that mark a significant change in the seasons. Somehow it seems more meaningful to me. I’ve always wished they would move Christmas up a few days to the Winter Solstice. Without a naturally occurring event the dates seem so arbitrary.

I love this time of year. From now until the end of the year the days cannot move too slowly for me. I love the brilliance of the light on sunny days and the mistiness on days like this. Last night the wind was blowing ferociously and the leaves in the trees outside my window were rustling with an energy and intensity that seems to foretell something about to happen — something exciting and significant.

I spent the weekend working on s few writing projects and an amazing thing happened. This is the kind of thing that writers long for — or, at least, writers like me long for. I remembered something that happened at this time of year close to forty years go. I won’t go into the details of the event because I want to use it in something I am working on and don’t want a conflict of details. But it was fascinating. I have been searching for something that I could use in a transition I have in mind and this memory came to me.

Actually it was two different memories that have merged nicely into one. I remembered an event that was terrible and mysterious at the same time and I also remembered someone I once knew who was not at all involved in the event but whose personality and character will be useful in my reinvention of it. Isn’t that intriguing?

This happened out at Niles Beach where, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of ideas have come to me. I was watching the waves rolling in from a storm far out at sea and I noticed three younf women walking together. They wore longish skirts and were walking close to one another like a group of nuns and suddenly I remembered this time that.... Memory, and the things that trigger it, are fascinating to me.

I’ve written before about the genesis of the name “Parlez-Moi” for my little press and this blog. It came from that moment in The Old Mermaid’s Tale when Clair hears Baptiste’s voice for the first time. It is just a moment. She is walking down the street past the Old Mermaid Inn with her lover on a warm summer night and music drifts through the window of the inn. She hears a man singing the old Lucienne Boyer song, “Parlez-moi d’amour” and, in that instant when she hears his voice, the tectonic plates of her life shift and nothing will ever be the same. Those moments, those sudden instances when a thing happens — sometimes good, sometimes bad — are like this time of year. There is a change, summer is over and the days grow short. And even though we have been through this as many times as years we have been on this earth, there is always something significant in it. If we stay aware of these things.

So today, the day will grow dark much too soon and I will complain about that. But I will also savor the deeply oceanic smell of the air with its hints of apples and woodsmoke and spices. I’ll drink more coffee and get out my shawls and spend more time writing and stay mindful that autumn is here. A new year has begun. And it is good.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sense of Place

I suppose any writer who takes it upon himself to write a novel set in a specific place has a tough job ahead of them just to convey the sense of that place — at least to the people who know the place well. Maybe if I didn’t live on Cape Ann — in Gloucester — and love it as I do, I wouldn’t have expected more of Anita Diamant’s latest book, The Last Days of Dogtown. I finished it yesterday and have mixed feelings about it. It is well written. Much more so than her last book, Good Harbor, also about Gloucester – I guess.

I loved The Red Tent. I felt transported into another time and place and that is a wonderful thing. It is often why I chose certain books, to indulge in that sense of having traveled somewhere. I don’t think I made it 50 pages into Good Harbor. I felt nothing for the characters and didn’t think much of the writing. But The Last Days of Dogtown is nicely written and the characters are colorful, varied and well rendered. I cared about them — well, most of them. It is hard to care about people like Tammy and John Stanwood but they are well-crafted. And I cared much about the fate of the two neglected boys, Oliver and Sammy, and my heart broke for the two ill-fated lovers, Cornelius and Judy. So all of that is good and I would recommend the book on the strength of that.

But I live here and I love Gloucester and have walked through what remains of Dogtown and have seen the Whale’s Jaw and picked blueberries there and love the smell of the air here and, though all those things were mentioned in the book, I felt they were just descriptors that didn’t really connect the reader to the place. Maybe that’s just my issue. I learned something from it. A writer has an obligation to his setting as much as to his characters.

When I was working on th first draft of The Old Mermaid’s Tale, I intended to set it in Erie, Pennsylvania. I had spent many summer vacations there as a child and had lived there for a few years while attending college. I worked in a diner very much like the one Clair works in and the carriage house she lives in was crafted out of a combination of two magical places, a carriage house on the old estate that Behrend College was built on and a “cottage” hidden among bushes and brambles behind a friend’s family’s home just off Sixth Street in Erie.

But as I worked on the story I realized that to make the story work the way I wanted it to, I had to re-arrange the waterfront and the downtown area and I also knew that anyone who knew Erie would scoff at my descriptions. So, after much agonizing, I changed the name of the town to the imaginary city of Port Presque Isle. Anyone who reads the book and knows Erie will recognize much — very much. But there is enough of a difference to make me believe I made the right choice.

As I was reading the final chapters of Diamant’s book, when all the characters are slowly moving out of Dogtown and into Gloucester, I found myself imagining how I would have described the town and the wharves and the lives of the people here. I don’t know if that would have made the book more interesting to a reader in Nebraska or not. It would have made it more interesting to me.

The Last Days of Dogtown is a good book filled with complex emotions and a fine sense of a time that I am very glad I did not live in. My only wish is that there was more of Dogtown itself in it. But the characters are good — it’s just that Gloucester is a character all its own, and that is what I missed.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Homegrown Tomatoes

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes. - Guy Clark

Yep, it’s that time of year for sure. For awhile, when the first tomatoes start to ripen, folks hoard them but mid-September they remember, yet again, that there’s no stopping those ambitious little tomato vines. It would be a sin not to do something with them. People set to work freezing and canning. Around here all the wives make mammoth batches of spaghetti sauce (or “gravy” as some here call it) to put by for the winter. I swear my entire neighborhood smells of simmering tomato sauce loaded with garlic and fresh basil.

Lucky for me a few people have also passed their tomatoes on to garden-less friends. I’ve got a good sized basket full of homegrown tomatoes, scallions, and garlic out in the kitchen right now.

Back where I come from in Pennsylvania, keeping a garden was something most folks did. Even if they didn’t have room for a a full garden they could find a spot for a couple of tomato plants, a few onions and, of course, the ubiquitous rhubarb plant that grew like a shrub outside the kitchen door. When the first snows of winter cleared away my Grandmother Werner would have to go out and check on the rhubarb plants that dotted her big yard.

Gram Werner’s rhubarb plant was a child of a plant that her mother-in-law had outside her own kitchen door and which she divided and passed along to her children. When Gram divided her plant some of it wound up in the yard of one daughter in Erie, Pennsylvania and another in my Dad’s garden. That plant went on to sire plants that went with his children as they moved away. Over the years of my wandering, I planted Gram Werner’s rhubarb in a number of places, the last one being in Marblehead. I sometimes think I should drive by that house in Marblehead and see if its new owner kept it. They would if they knew its lineage.

But growing vegetables and passing them on is usually a lovely tradition kept by country folk — and some city folk too. My Mother always used to say that September was the only month of the year in which you had to lock you car in St. Marys. If you didn’t people would put zucchini in it. Zucchini. Is there anything in the world that grows like zucchini? My Uncle Tommy has always been a prolific gardener and, since it is just he and Aunt Mary Rita, never uses all the vegetables he grows. He puts extra produce in a cardboard box and sits it on the sidewalk out front with a sign saying “Free, Help Yourself”. Usually the box is emptied within hours but he swears people ADD zucchini to the box.

Uncle Tommy and Aunt Mary Rita married late in life and, even thirty years later, are still in love.”You should taste the tomato relish your Aunt Mary Rita made,” he will say when I visit. “I couldn’t have made it without the tomatoes your Uncle Tommy grew,” she’ll say. They are my inspiration.

So, it is chilly this morning. I write wrapped in one of my warm shawls. Yesterday for lunch I had a sandwich of homegrown tomatoes and scallions. Back home I would have made it on my Mother’s homemade rye bread but here Sclafani’s semolina is a perfectly wonderful substitute. You slice it thin and spread both pieces with a light coating of mayonnaise. Wash the sun-warmed tomato sitting on the windowsill and slice it, layering it on the bread with plenty of black pepper. Add a couple scallions, sliced thin, too. Put the lid on and — bliss.

I can’t wait for lunch today. In fact, nothing says you can’t have a sandwich of homegrown tomatoes for breakfast, right? See you later.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hovey House Writer’s Group Starts A New Season

This has been a good summer for the Hovey House Writer’s Group members and I am looking forward to our first meeting on October 10. There is a lot to talk about. Of course, there is my book, My Last Romance and other passions which, even though I have not been doing much to promote it, is giving me some good feedback. I’m not aggressive about this as I should be.

Mark is doing well with F/V Black Sheep. Things have been quiet the last two weeks but now all the press releases we sent out are starting to show some results. He had an interview with the local newspaper and they said they want to talk to him again before they print the article. He also got an email from his college alumni magazine, La Louisiane in Lafayette, Louisiana. These are good things and may open a couple of new markets.

Joe Orlando’s second book in his Gloucester Trilogy is now out. The Bastard’s Weapon continues the story of John Palermo, the Italian immigrant attorney, who fights for the rights of fishing families being victimized by insane insurance regulations.

Both Joe and Mark are invited as guests to the first meeting of the Hovey House Group which should be interesting on two levels. Both have interesting books just out plus they went to prep school together and played on the same baseball team. I don’t know how long it is since they’ve seen each other but I’m looking forward to hearing them together there.

Rebecca Reynolds had an article published in Sculpture Review Magazine about the imagery of the horse in American sculpture. Rebecca, who lives in Sculptor Walker Hancock’s old studio, is working on her dissertation on sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington who created Gloucester’s beautiful Joan of Arc statue. Rebecca worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the American Decorative Arts Department for many years. This was a good publication credit for her.

And Clare Higgins, my friend and neighbor, had quite a significant accomplishment as well. Clare, who is a Shakespearean scholar, wrote a parody titled Queer Bent for the Tudor Gent. It was selected in a short drama competition to be performed in Sydney, Australia. She just received the DVD of it last week and I got a chance to see it. It is absolutely delightful and the performers in Australia did a great job. So we are planning an evening in which to view it with members of the group. She told me last night that one of the cast members of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has requested a copy of the DVD! That could be interesting.

So we are off on another season and looking forward to what other members of the group have to report.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Christine Mosher

It’s always exciting when you discover an artist of whatever discipline who is doing good work of a totally unique and captivating nature. This week I received the photographs of the paintings from the Moshers for the FrameUp Art Gala. The Moshers are well-known in the area as artists — husband and wife — who have a gallery on Main Street in Rockport. Don is a traditional artist of great skill whose landscapes executed in delicious color and exquisite detail are greatly prized. Christine, however, has taken a very different approach to painting and I love it.

I suppose you could make comparisons to the Pre-Raphaelites and to Gustav Klimt but that wouldn’t do her work justice. There is a contemporary flair to her work that is all her own. The painting for FrameUp is a perfect example. Titled, The Mermaiden, it features a beautiful woman with a suggestion of scales about her hips, holding a nautilus shell in her hand and featuring stars in her abundant hair. The figure is beautiful with a sweet face and dreamy expression but it is the setting that intrigues me. The mermaiden is bordered by some very interesting work. A panel to the right of the maiden is filled with interesting shapes and colors all suggestive of the sea — golden seahorses which appear to be stamped on and algae-like shapes and forms against a deep-ocean blue with swirling paint. It is the sort of painting you can study for a long time and not fully absorb.

I’ve noticed this about Christine’s work before. She often paints women, frequently in oriental dress, but it is the exquisitely, uniquely female textures and shapes that surround them that is so mesmerizing. Peacocks, fans, cushions, bowls, pieces of fruit and always those remarkable textiles. I find her style to be deliciously female without being coyly feminine, a singular distinction.

Back in the classical era of painting, artists used symbols in their paintings to tell the story of the painting. The color of a ribbon, the type of a flower, the placement of a book were all cues to the reader of secrets hidden in the painting that could be understood only by interpreting the symbols. The reason for that was simple — they lived in dangerous times when saying words could endanger your life but conveying concepts through symbols could tell a tale without the use of words. The Pre-Raphaelites continued that tradition, even though their world was not nearly as dangerous. Still, the romance of a hidden story was irresistible to them.

Carl Jung’s work on Man and His Symbols was embraced by many painters of the early twentieth century and artists from Picasso and Matisse to Dali and Klee chose the language of symbols for many of their paintings. I think people are intrigued by such things — I know I am. Christine Mosher’s paintings fascinate because there is the suggestion of mystery about them. Who are these beautiful women? Where are they from and where do they live now? Under the sea?

On her web site, Christine has a lovely painting that I think must be something of a self-portrait. It is of a woman in a pale blue shirt and flowing skirt holding a painter’s pallet and surrounded by suggestions of other art, including a statue of Venus. It is a wonderful painting and is the sort of thing that a century from now someone will sit staring at and think, who was this woman artist? What a fascinating woman she must have been. And they would be right about that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Treat for the Weekend

Some things are just worth spending the weekend enjoying... CLICK HERE

So sue me. ;o)

Have a great weekend...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Putting It Out There

I wonder if all writers are reclusive by nature. I think you have to be somewhat reclusive in order to spend as much time inside your head as writing requires — at least fiction writing. It is now almost two weeks since My Last Romance and other passions arrived on my doorstep and I am having a terrible time with the promotion end of this. People have been wonderful. I am the problem.

John Ronan is a local writer/poet/film-maker who has been hosting a television program called The Writer’s Block for years. He has been talking to me about being on his show for some time now based on my involvement in the Hovey House Writer’s Group and, now that my book is available, he has called again. This isn’t easy. In the first place, I am not a television person. My TV sits on the floor under the dining room table and I dust the cobwebs off it periodically. When John called the other day I tried to think of every reason I could think of to get out of filming a show for him but realized that this isn’t for me, it is for the book. So on October 3rd I will go to his studio to film a program for later broadcast. I am nervous as hell about this.

I have also agreed to do a Know Your Neighbor program at the Emerson Inn about the book. Actually, Mark agreed to do it with me. Since both of us are naturally shy people this is a good opportunity to make an appearance, push our books, and have each other for support. The Hovey House Writer’s Group is also starting up again. That’s a little easier because I know all those people and am familiar with Jane’s beautiful house. I was at a meeting there last night and thought how luck the arts community of Cape Ann is to have Jane and her generosity with her beautiful house.

But the point is that promoting a book is difficult if you are not an outgoing person. Mark has been working with a reporter from the local newspaper on a feature on him and his book. It is going to be a big boost for his book in this area but he is pushing himself doing it. He isn’t comfortable about it.

Maybe that’s why people like us write. Maybe it is because, being reclusive, we have this big internal life and it needs expression. So we write. Then, when we have created this thing and published, we have to do something with it. Sara Gruen, who wrote the very popular Water for Elephants, and Joshlyn Jackson, who wrote Between, Georgia, are both in my Working Novelists group and I have been reading with absolute fascination their posts about their book tours and appearances. Both of them are young mothers — I can’t imagine how they handle it from that perspective. But they seem to be very happy going out there to all these readings, lunches, speaking engagements, etc. I admire them greatly for that. I literally don’t know how they handle it.

So, we persist. I find myself thinking obsessively about my novel and the longing I feel to get back to work on it. Partly this is because I genuinely love but also, I suspect, it is a diversion from the necessity of promoting this book. Now that the days are growing shorter I just want to stay home and write. It is a sweet temptation but one that has to wait for awhile.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Seasmoke — The 2006 Anthology

The gallies for Killing Julie Morris arrived in the mail the other day and I sat down and read them last night. They look good from a proofreading point of view but, like most writers, I picked the heck out of the writing. The truth is, in all the work to be done for Mark’s F/V Black Sheep and for my book My Last Romance and other passions, I completely forgot about Killing Julie Morris. I wrote it last winter and sent it off without thinking any more about it. It was accepted for Level Best Books 2006 anthology and that was the end of it in my mind. I guess that’s one of the luxuries of not being the publisher as well.

As a story, I still like it. I kind of wonder where it came from but I wonder that about a lot of my stories. I was talking to poet John Ronan the other day and we got talking about where poems — and where stories — come from. I have this theory that there is an alternate universe that runs alongside ours where stories and characters live. Sometimes you get lucky and one of the stories picks you to write it. It just bonks you on the head and announces, I’m here! Sometimes I feel like all I do is run the pencil.

But Killing Julie Morris wasn’t quite that easy. The deadline for the 2006 anthology was closing in and I wasn’t at all sure I was going to have something to submit. I had come up with the idea of a woman who drove an ice truck one day when I was stuck in traffic (such traffic as we have in Gloucester in the winter) behind a Cape Pond Ice Truck but that was as far as it went for weeks. As the deadline came rushing at me things began to click and, much to my surprise, I wrote my third crime story. I never thought of myself as a crime writer.

So, anyway, I read the story last night and, despite the fact that I would probably have made a dozen changes if I could, it wasn’t bad. I’ll sign off on it today.

I also received a copy of the cover which I think is really attractive. After that pretty blue cover on Windchill I didn’t think they could come up with something as attractive but they did. I love the smokey grays of this book.

I suppose every writer picks their work to death — why did I use THAT word? Why didn’t I clarify that more? Have I used that descriptor too many times? Actually, the only writers who seem not to pick their work apart are the ones who should. Now that a few people have read My Last Romance and are giving me feedback the thing I hear most often is that about my economy of language — no wasted words. I like that.

So today Killing Julie Morris goes off to the publishers and in a couple months it will be available. And I can keep stay aware for the next set of characters who need someone to tell their story.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Watching Your Baby Grow

One of my hate-fans recently made a crack about what she referred to as my “ceaseless self-promotion”. I thought that was interesting so I posed the issue to my online Writer’s Publishing and Promoting Group. “How do you handle it?” I asked. In that group we talk endlessly about the need to promote, promote, promote. None of us like it — all of us wish we had publicists and a marketing department to do it for us but — that’s all part of being an independent publisher. Independent being the operative word.

Anyone who runs their own business knows this. I’ve been running Valentine Design for over three years now and, though there are lean times, business keeps coming in (thank God, literally). Because of the nature of my business most of my clients are also independent business people and they well know that marketing is both key to success and a pain in the patoot. How do you succeed as an independent business if you don’t promote, promote, promote?

The feedback I got from the P&P Group was exactly what I suspected: a.) nobody likes to promote themselves in fact some are having a very bad time of it, b.) people who criticize you for promoting your work are either clueless about the business world, just looking for something to be hateful about, or resentful that you have accomplished something worth promoting, and c.) what you are promoting is your product — your book, your skills, your services — not yourself but, since you are the one providing your product it might seem to others that you are promoting yourself and they just have to deal with it.

This is all very interesting because, of course, it is all true. Especially for writers. In order to be a writer you have to believe that you have something of value to say in the world — either opinions that need to be heard, ideas that need to be shared, or stories that need to be given life. I fall into the latter category. Most of my writing is fiction and, therefore, filled with characters and situations that some people have responded to and more will — I hope. Even though My Last Romance and other passions has only been in the world for a week and I haven’t done much about getting it out there, the feedback I am getting is encouraging.

But, to the original issue, how do I promote this book? how do I get it out in the world without sounding like I am some kind of amazing egotist? I have been watching Mark as he goes about the business of promoting his book and it is fun to watch. He has an easy, laid-back style and it is working for him. People come up to him and say,”hey, I heard you wrote a book.” And he says, yeah and mumbles around a little bit and then says, “I have one in the truck if you want to take a look at it.” It’s a good way of making a sale.

But he has taken hits too from people who want to take the wind out of his sails — nasty digs, ugly comments. He is better at ignoring them than I am but then he participated in fishing turf wars with other lobstermen for years. Some of them came to blows so snotty remarks don’t bother him.

But more than anything it is the whole issue of why some people are so bitterly resentful of another person’s joy in having created something, pride in offering a service, or just the plain necessity of making a living. There is just a lot of unhappiness in this world — people who live with the constant belief that more for you means less for me. That is a sad way to live but so ubiquitous. Maybe it stems from childhood when mommy or daddy didn’t have a big enough lap for all their kiddies.

So, we promote, promote, promote because we believe in what we have to offer. And if there is resentment, well, too bad. If I’ve learned anything birthing this baby it is what most mothers know instinctively — the baby is what is important, not the opinions of the world. You tend to your child, that is your job, and then you get the joy and satisfaction of watching your baby blossom and grow.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Trudi's Flowers

Trudi sent me flowers and I do believe that this is the most beautiful bouquet I have ever seen. Trudi has fabulous taste in such things and the florist, Audrey's Flower Shop here in Gloucester, did an amazing job of following her instructions. I was going to send Trudi the photos but then thought I would post them. I never know the names of flowers. Of course I know the lilies and the white roses but otherwise.... well, I hope someone else knows what the other white flowers and the pink things are.
All I can say is, these flowers are just gorgeous. The lilies are opening more each hour and I can smell them all over the house.

Thank you, Trudi!!! They are incredible. You made my day and are always and ever the dearest of friends!!!!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back to Work

Now that Labor Day is over and summer has arrived at the part I love — those last three weeks before the autumnal equinox — it is time to stop goofing off and get a few things done. We had a rainy weekend here which was good for me because I stayed home and took care of a few things. I did go out yesterday for the Schooner Races. The wonderful picture at left was taken by my friend Jay Albert who has taken some of the best photos of Gloucester Harbor I have ever seen. That’s the Thomas E. Lannon, a true Essex schooner, blowing by a Navy destroyer.

But now that summer has simmered down and business is picking up and I have a book to push, I have to get to work. So over the weekend I started work on the Parlez-Moi Press home page and web site. This is actually fun because my boss for this site is easy to get along with. I have known for quite awhile that I wanted to make a Flash movie and this weekend I started it. The one that is posted now isn’t exactly what I had in mind but it is getting close. I’m getting better with Flash the more I twiddle with it.

What I wanted for this page was something bluesy and dreamy — the kind of crazy, montage of images that
make up dreams and finally settle into something interesting. The images I used all have meaning — at least to me — and I think people will enjoy them. I’ll be interested to hear feedback.

I always liked the dove gray and violet color scheme I chose for Parlez-Moi Press. It is dreamy all by itself. And I love my little mermaid logo which I adapted from a piece of clip art I found in an old engravers clip art collection. The eyes that have remained a constant through all my Parlez-Moi Press designs are from a pencil sketch I did a long time ago. I call them Baptiste’s Eyes because they always make me think of the main character in The Old Mermaid’s Tale. The other design elements are also evocative for me. Of course there is the pounding surf of the ocean that underscores my whole life these days. That is a photograph I took out at Niles Beach last winter.

I used the image of Michelangelo’s Prigioneri “Atlas” because I love the symbology of that — a strong, powerful figure still trapped in the marble that “imprisons it” as Michelangelo himself said. And I like having it morph into the statue of the entwined Hindu lovers from one ho the Khujaraho Temples. It’s a nice transition — the stone prisoner transforming into a pair of lovers. The other carved figure in the montage is from a photograph I took out by Niles Beach. There is a seaside house there with a number of stone sculptures in the yard. One of them, a sad looking lady, stands just inside an ornate iron gate with the ocean behind her. She made me think of the women who wait for their men to return from the sea. And I liked morphing that into a photo of the beautiful tall ship Picton Castle that I took out in the harbor here a couple years ago. The sad lady and the returning ship.

Well, creating these sorts of little Flash movies is sort of like inventing a dream all your own. In a way, it’s like writing a story in pictures.

So Parlez-Moi Press is getting a facelift and My Last Romance and other passions will soon be available from this site. This is exciting and overwhelming and I’m more than a bit intimidated by the whole project but, so what? You have to stretch, right?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 01, 2006

My Last Romance and other passions

It’s here! I’m.... I don’t know... I opened the box yesterday and there were all these beautiful books with... with... with my name on them! It’s kind of intimidating. I birthed this baby and now that it’s in the world, I have to do something with it.

Of course the big issue now is marketing and promotion but I’ll worry about that tomorrow. The book is on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble and, within weeks, it will be on a lot of other book sales sites. I’ll have to handle local distribution and the press releases but I can do that but, of course, that’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that the world now has a book in it with my name on it.

This book is actually a bit of a canary that I am sending down into the coal mine to see how I feel about being an author. After all I have been through with the submission-acceptance-rejection cycle of The Old Mermaid’s Tale I had to rethink whether I wanted to continue to go through that or whether I wanted to do something less emotionally chaotic and go the independent press route. I know I am too emotionally attached to Mermaid to plunge right in with it. I really admire Mark for the way he has approached this. But, being less brave, I decided to gather up these eight stories, polish them up, and send them down the mine to see how frightening the whole thing really is. Less than 24 hours into the process, things are good.

But I want to talk a little bit about the eight stories in the book.

The title story, My Last Romance, is the story of Ruby and Silvio, two characters I genuinely love. I think, in my “other” life, I am Ruby, a torch singer with a big band, led by Silvio. They’ve had a tempestuous life — and a tempestuous romance and now, in their senior years the past has stirred things up for them. I think it is my best story.

There are three short-short stories, Asa, Damian and Danse Avec Moi. Asa was previously published in Level Best Books’ 2004 anthology, Riptide: Crime Stories by New England Writers. All three of them are steamy little vignettes about passionate women who love interesting men. I have to say I am moderately intimidated by their steaminess just because I don’t think people who know me would think I would write that way — but we shall see.

Flynnie and Babe is a sweet little love story about two people who have been through a lot in love and have not noticed the most obvious thing in the world — each other. It’s an old theme and yet one that is so ubiquitous that it bears re-interpretation.

Waiting for Lindy is the only story in the book written from a man’s point of view. It was fun to write. Guy, the hero of the story, lost his wife a few years back and has now fallen under the spell of a “younger” woman in her thirties. He is crazy about her but too uncertain to believe it will last. I love both Guy and his son Hugh in the story. They are both men I know well.

Treat Yourself to the Best was the hardest one to write because it is the one that is closest to my own life. I am nothing like Fifi, the main character, but my world and her world are very much alike. The ending of that story was a profound revelation for me!

The longest story in the book is also the one I am most attached to. The Haven is the story of a married woman, Chrissy, who feels unworthy of both her husband and of the life he has given her. Stash, her husband's much older cousin, is a hard-bitten, tattooed, scrappy mariner who was once the terror of the waterfront. But in Stash, Chrissy finds someone who sees her — sees her completely. I have a feeling it will be a challenging story for some people — I’ll be interested to hear reactions to it.

So this is my book. It is available now through Amazon and Barnes and Noble online and will soon be available from my My Last Romance web site. Or just call me or send me an email (inquiry at parlezmoipress dot com). I’ll send you one. If you like it, please leave feedback on Amazon — or B&N. I hope you do like it. These characters are dear to my heart.

Thanks for reading!