Round up the usual suspects

Mercury in retrograde. Mama and best friend had argument with other best friend and all three are fretting and stewing over a STOOOPID miscommunication (they’re all getting so hard of hearing, too.) Garage door (overhead BIG door) broke and fell down when I tried to close it for the night; the big spring at the top went ~POW~ *SPROINGGG*. Will be leaving door in “up” position and all lights on all night. I wanted to run to Kroger and buy one of those life-size witches you put on the front porch for Halloween so if anyone came into the garage it would say, “Hahahahahaha my pretty!!” and scare them away. But there’s nothin’ in there worth stealin’, just rusty garden tools and my old manuscripts that you can’t run fast enough to give away in the first place.

But that’s not ALL the good news.

A published author did something VERY kind on my behalf today. She emailed the editor who supposedly has had my MARFA LIGHTS mystery on her desk since February to see whether she ever saw it and what the status was. I was a bit reluctant to email myself (because sometimes that precipitates a sendback, when that wasn’t what I intended), and it turned out that the editor was her editor! So that was a real mitzvah, and she gets stars in her Heavenly crown. Take THAT, the guy who put up an article saying how he hates to get asked for help by these dumb nooobs! Good deeds are done daily, in quiet, in secret. SO there.

Of course, what I’d hoped was that perhaps the book was sitting forgotten in a stack on the editor’s desk, and could be looked at now. But I needed to know if she had passed on it, too, so I could go back to marketing it. I truly believe that the book has an audience consisting NOT of the empty set. And this publisher is not the ONLY publisher of mysteries.

My judge, the one who sent the book up there with the contest picks (for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s contest), had been very encouraging. She said that she thought the book should be seen, and that typically when she sends a book along it is taken seriously, even though it wasn’t right for the contest win. I appreciated her efforts on my behalf, as well.

Alas, the news wasn’t good this morning. The editor wrote, “Tell her thanks for submitting, but we will not be publishing her novel.”

Now, I can’t resist a bit of rejectomancy on that. Isn’t that an unusual way to put it? It’s as if the editor had the impression that I thought all I had to do was mail this book up there and they’d be publishing it. As though it was fairly ridiculous for me to be sitting here like a little creep for all those months thinking she’d be taking it seriously at all. Perhaps that’s just the impression I get. But anyhow, it seems to be prophetic, as this is the fifth time one of my mysteries has been sent up there by a contest judge and hasn’t impressed them. The editors in charge of that line just don’t like my style, and that’s their privilege. I should look elsewhere.

Still, I had expected a more typical, “Sorry, but we’re passing on it,” or “Tell her it isn’t right for our line.” I should have thought it was understood that they wouldn’t be publishing the novel without doing the entire offer/contract dance and so forth. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s still odd, I think. I know the judge said she had sent things up there before without anyone taking offense.

Just for the record, I had NOT assumed that anyone would just be publishing the novel as a given. I always try to project a sense of hope, and I believe that to some extent the theory of visualization (“keep believing and saying it’s true and it will be”) can work for some people. But I’m not completely clueless out here on this end of the pixelstream. *sigh* I hope I didn’t come across to them in that way. I’m really glad I didn’t contact or call them directly myself. My self-esteem is already measured on the negative Kelvin scale.

However, I would again like to thank my benefactor, who shall remain anonymous. Doing that for me has freed me from the illusion that the book might be still under consideration! I would never have known for sure. Now I can start over with some kind of marketing plan.

I believe the market for mysteries is still viable. It’s back to the agent query pages for me, because most mystery houses don’t take any unsolicited queries. I still have MIRANDA’S RIGHTS with an agent for consideration. And there’s the Dorchester contest. Naturally, when the family found out about this (my mother overheard when I was telling a friend on the phone), they leaped on it as Yet Another Cosmic Sign that I should forget this foolishness and go back to being a complete machine that exists only to service them, take out the trash, cook food, run errands, and climb on ladders to observe broken overhead door mechanisms (and get moths in my hair). Naturally, they are again Very Disappointed In Me For Not Taking The Hint.

Them’s the breaks. I simply was not cut out for all this housework stuff. Obviously I was intended for a family that could afford servants and a staff. Until the Health Dept. begins lurking outside to peek in the windows, I’m not going to worry overmuch about being in House Beautiful.

It’s funny how we never seem to get the children we expect to get–you know, the ones who are like us and who want what we wanted out of life. I’m sure there’s a Heavenly committee in charge of assigning personalities, and that they get a real kick of some of the mismatches they manage to make!

*pblttt*

Mercury, get out of that rut and go forward again!!

CONTESTS! For those interested parties

Someone just called this site to my attention. This kind lady keeps a chart of all sorts of contests that you can enter with your writing!

It can’t hurt to take a look. Most contests predicate your eligibility upon whether you’ve been paid for your work by a publication with a circulation of more than 5,000, or something like that, or whether you’ve been published in book-length fiction, or whatnot. You might be surprised at what you’re eligible to enter.

What the heck! You might as well look.

http://www.stephiesmith.com/contests.html

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On Facebook, one of my high school classmates posted a copy of our old senior class group photo. This wouldn’t be so surprising had the Plano Senior High Class of 1977 not numbered around 1500. The photo is about a yard long! But it got posted as a number of scans.

I was surprised at how many people’s faces were familiar, but I couldn’t put a last name–or sometimes even a first name–to them. I did tag my close friends who weren’t already tagged, my old boyfriends, my Secret Mad Crush (not very secret, actually–he knew perfectly well, and used to torment me by coming up behind me at the locker to hug me or send me a “secret smile” or shoot me the OK sign, just because he did enjoy getting the moony smile back!), and so forth. We were pretty cool-looking. No, REALLY.

Someone in the third row was caught blowing a bubble. She did that on purpose! I hope.

Three actors, all the movies . . . choose

Let’s say that Netflix or Blockbuster held a contest or a drawing, and that you won. The prize? All the films made by your choice of three actors (including actresses–some people use the term “actor” to mean both, some don’t). You get all the films, TV series, pilots, videos, or whatnot made by that actor and THAT actor and even *that* actor. Assume you get DVDs, or have a free pass on cable, or whatever is your preference.

Let’s say further that you must limit yourself to ONLY those films for the next, oh, two years. (Let’s not say “forever,” as there wouldn’t be any way to enforce that even in fantasy!)

Who do you choose?

I have probably mentioned this before, but it’s fun, so let’s do it again.

My first choice is James Stewart. For one thing, I get IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE; BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE; HARVEY; and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. (Oh, and the underrated DEAR BRIGITTE, which I think is a small jewel of a film. And REAR WINDOW, don’t forget. Along with his other Hitchcocks.) He has made a good number of great films.

The second pick has to be Gregory Peck. Otherwise, how am I to get TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and ROMAN HOLIDAY? He has a Hitchcock as well. And a lot of Westerns, but them’s da breaks. A few hilarious Ira Levin horror flicks, too.

The third choice is the tough one. One is tempted to choose Audrey Hepburn or Katharine Hepburn, but there’s still so much one would miss. Cary Grant comes to mind. To get a large number of films, one might choose John Wayne, but there are an awful lot of Westerns in that lot. William Powell didn’t make all that many films. We need somebody fairly prolific or we’ll feel ripped off. (grin)

One might wish to choose such that one might get a few films made after 1980, too . . . meaning a younger actor. That’s a tough one for me, though, because none of them are really icons, even if I like them. Closest thing to an icon would be Dustin Hoffman, and with him you’d get TOOTSIE (with Bill Murray to boot), MARATHON MAN, RAIN MAN, THE GRADUATE, WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN (AND WHY IS HE SAYING ALL THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME?), and all sorts of varied stuff, most of it (if not all) in color. Val Kilmer (mostly for REAL GENIUS and TOP SECRET, though Batman comes in the bargain), maybe. Meryl Streep. They’ve made a few goodies. But the third choice is the difficult one. I can’t get the original THE PARENT TRAP unless I go with Hayley Mills, Brian Keith, or Maureen O’Hara (none of whom is a slouch, either). Richard Dreyfuss would provide a certain type of film that I also like (I’m not thinking of his really popular ones like JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS so much as I am of ONCE AROUND, GOODBYE GIRL, APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ, and especially THE COMPETITION.)

Wonder how you’d get the Disney cartoons if you wanted those? You could get a lot of Warner Brothers cartoons if you said Mel Blanc (he voiced so many characters.). Anime would be another tough one to get in quantity, I think.

So those would be some of my can’t miss flicks.

Do you have three picks? Or would that just be too tough? Or do you not like movies? (It’s possible.)

Excitement (unwelcome) in downtown Dallas

Fox and other cable news networks covered this today. Yesterday, the only two places we could find out anything were the Dallas Observer and the FBI’s Dallas site at http://dallas.fbi.gov/dojpressrel/pressrel09/dl092409.htm.

I’m glad that attempt was foiled.

Today was day one of the State Fair of Texas, the gates of which are not far from Ross Avenue and that tower. *whew*

I’d like to go down to the fair this year. We’ll see if I can recruit anyone to come along. Mama is afraid of the DART train and can’t walk that far, anyhow, and my cousins typically take their children as a family these days. It might be fun to team up with the people from the neighborhood watch meeting. They’re fellow paranoids, very wary and suspicious, so we’d be a good fit. We’re NOT going on the Swiss Sky Ride, though. The last time I went on that thing was in 1979, and we rode it the night before it FELL. I told the people I was in the cart with that the thing was squeaking and swaying. They just laughed. But I turned out to have good instincts.

No Tilt-A-Whirl, either. I’ll do some shootin’ gallery stuff if I can figure out how the gun sights are bent (they bend ’em to cheat, but if you can figure out that it’s shootin’ an inch low and a foot to one side, you can correct for it and win a stuffed Santa Banana! Whee!) And definitely the sideshow. Is there still a sideshow? Maybe they’ll ask me to join!

Happy Nat’l Punctuation Day!

For some of us, EVERY day is Punctuation Day.

But if you haven’t been celebrating it every day, take time today to thank your lucky stars for semicolons and parentheses. They’re two of the most often vilified marks, but they make everything worthwhile.

http://nationalpunctuationday.com

Incidentally, my book SONG FROM THE HEART has garnered 159 votes in that TextNovel contest, up from zero about a month ago. I think that’s respectable, considering that most of my voters are strangers who ran across the book at the site (many of them are fellow contestants). You can see the list of voters on each book’s main page, which keeps things more aboveboard (I think). I’m not going to post another chapter until it gets up to 160. *joking* Now, in order to be in the top twenty, the book needs 165 or thereabouts. The top six or seven entrants are doing a lot of contest-style promotional stuff (“Vote for my book and your split ends will be instantly healed! Do I hear ‘Amen’?!”). Their votes are in the 280-380 range.

I have some trepidation about doing contests like that–you know, the ones where they say, “Vote for me and win a Starbucks card!” I’m always a bit concerned that because you’re offering something with monetary value (as opposed to a copy of your own book, which presumably is worth zero *ha* or at least is not easily convertible to money or goods), there are laws and such that might apply. I wouldn’t want to get into a problem. Also, doesn’t it seem cheesy to bribe people to vote for you? Ah, well, maybe not. After all, look at politicians around the globe and all their ways of enticing voters. Ha!

If you haven’t read the first page or so of SONG, though, I double-dog-dare ya to find a place where I’ve repeated something three times or done a string of clever jokes. *grin* It’s a different type of book. Do you find that your books come out with similar voices, or are they all different? I think some writers do have more than one natural voice/style. And some of us are good at pastiche. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to write exclusively suspense, any more than I would read it exclusively. Now and then, it’s kind of fun.

But give me BLEAK HOUSE most of the time. Or ATLAS SHRUGGED *cringe, but trainwreck-fascinating*. Or even A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. Read ’em and see why. Come on, you know you want to.

Get Ready For National Punctuation Day!!

OMG . . . at last, a holiday I can really get behind!

Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day in the USA. If only I had known in advance, I’d have baked semicolon scones to send in for their contest.

See the site at http://nationalpunctuationday.com/!

The serial comma finally gets its due in the form of their endorsement.

How many horses were in the race, three or four?

“The horses thundered toward the finish: black and gold, red and white, blue and teal and yellow.”

When punctuated using a serial comma, the meaning is clear. Four horses raced neck-and-neck: black and gold, red and white, blue and teal, and yellow.

(I could envision it other ways: what if they were black-and-gold, red-and-white, blue, and teal-and-yellow? Another argument for hyphenating compound modifiers, as well as including the serial comma. I also think teal goes better with yellow. Or it could be black-and-gold, red-and-white, blue, teal, and yellow. You know, the Joycean “blue and teal and yellow” stream.)

[They include another example of an ambiguous book dedication, but I’ve always preferred my original example from years ago: “To my parents, Hillary Clinton and God.”]

“Punctuation counts,” says Rubin. “A misplaced comma can alter the meaning of a sentence. ‘Style guides’ should never get in the way of clarity. The proper use of the serial comma should be taught, used, and accepted universally.”

Yay!

Now, if the world would only get over that hangup about the interrobang.
# # #
“Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.”–Lewis Thomas, “Notes on Punctuation,” _The Medusa and the Snail_ (1979)

Ze Demise of Handwriteeng?

You knew it was coming. When you stopped checking your postal mail box with any kind of anticipation. When the only person who sent you a snailmail birthday card or thank-you note was your grandmother or your elderly aunt. When you no longer really got ANY kind of handwritten stuff from any of your correspondents.

Cursive Writing: A Fading Skill by Tom Breen, Associated Press, via Yahoo! News

“It doesn’t get quite the emphasis it did years ago, primarily because of all the technology skills we now teach,” said Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary education […] [P]arents, who recall their own hours of laborious cursive practice, learn that what used to be called “penmanship” is being shunted aside at schools across the country in favor of 21st century skills.

[S]tudents are doing more and more work on computers[.] […] “We need to make sure they’ll be ready for what’s going to happen in 2020 or 2030,” said Katie Van Sluys, a professor at DePaul University and the president of the Whole Language Umbrella, a conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.

**NOTE: No wonder she thinks like that . . . “whole language” my eye.**

“Handwriting is increasingly something people do only when they need to make a note to themselves rather than communicate with others […] Students accustomed to using computers to write at home have a hard time seeing the relevance of hours of practicing cursive handwriting.
Text messaging, e-mail, and word processing have replaced handwriting outside the classroom, said Cheryl Jeffers, a professor at Marshall University’s College of Education and Human Services, and she worries they’ll replace it entirely before long.
“I am not sure students have a sense of any reason why they should vest their time and effort in writing a message out manually when it can be sent electronically in seconds.”
For Jeffers, cursive writing is a lifelong skill, one she fears could become lost to the culture, making many historic records hard to decipher and robbing people of “a gift.”
At Mountaineer Montessori in Charleston, teacher Sharon Spencer stresses cursive to her first- through third-graders. By the time her students are in the third grade, they are writing book reports and their spelling words in cursive.
To Spencer, cursive writing is an art that helps teach them muscle control and hand-eye coordination.
“In the age of computers, I just tell the children, what if we are on an island and don’t have electricity? One of the ways we communicate is through writing,” she said.
“Handwriting is really the tail wagging the dog,” Graham said. Most people peak in terms of legibility in 4th grade, Graham said, and Wright said it’s common for adults to write in a cursive-print hybrid. “People still have to write, even if it’s just scribbling,” said Paula Sassi, a certified master graphologist and a member of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation.
“Just like when we went from quill pen to fountain pen to ball point, now we’re going from the art of handwriting to handwriting purely as communication,” she said.

Man. That’s really food for thought, if you hadn’t already gobbled up the idea. I know I am jealous that my niece and nephew have never had to copy over a composition or book report because of three errors on a page (you could cross them out in ink if there were fewer than three, but if you had three . . . or if the stupid boy Michael Keegan who had a crush on you and sat at the next desk over would wait until you had the dam’ thing nearly copied out and then would reach over and HIT your hand so it went skidding across the page and crossed it all out so you had to start over!!) They’ll never know the frustration of that wasted time. On the other hand, handwriting is a little dab of art that we all do.

My handwriting peaked in fourth grade?!

I won awards for calligraphy in eighth grade, and I used to have pretty
good handwriting. It has, however, degenerated as I was more and more able to use keyboarding everywhere. I started typing as a kid, though, and playing the organ and later the piano, so the finger action of typing came pretty easily.

Look at it this way: now everybody writes like an M. D.!

But I wouldn’t want to completely quit doing handwriting. For one thing,
if you need to access the creative Muses, it’s often a good idea to take a
blank tablet (like a sketchpad) and start writing in a color of ink or
pencil (or crayon) that you really love, and write UP and DOWN instead of
horizontally along the lines, and don’t worry about writing within the
lines. You can even spiral your thoughts. This causes the internal editor
to snort and walk away, thinking this is just playtime and nothing serious,
and then the Inner Child can come out and surprise you by doing something
special . . . channeling the Muse more easily . . . or just making stuff up.

So let’s hold on to those handwritten journals! I already miss getting
handwritten letters. I was in a mail art group until last year when I
completely ran out of time to respond and I had to drop (because I couldn’t
do justice to the replies I was supposed to be making). That was some
really beautiful handmade art I was getting, too. And all only meant for
one person! That era is fading so quickly. Now I do a mass e-mail a lot
of the time. Not that I don’t mean the greetings or information personally
for each person on the list, but I can’t spend the time to do it all
separately. Alas!

We trade the specialness for the speed and convenience and mass
communications. I suppose it’s for the best . . . isn’t it . . . hmmmm

Oh, well. Soon enough, we’ll all be fitted with a keyboard or brain-to-text interface. (Mine will consist mostly of “That *censored* and *censored*”)

Until then, there’s always this:
Tom’s Handwriting