Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays #3

Well, it's raining in New York. It's not pouring, and we're planning on having dinner at the Heartland Brewery, right around the corner from the hotel, so not too bad.

But - this calls for another round of Rainy Days and Mondays.

The Backspace Writing conference is going well, but since my story's in need of some revision (and a new title), here is some inspiration on the idea that writing is rewriting:

"Fail. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett

"Rewriting is when playwriting really gets to be fun. In baseball you only get three swings and you're out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you'll hit the ball." - Playwright Neil Simon

"It is all a matter of trial and instructive error. I try to say what I cannot yet say and fail but find the failure instructive." - Donald Murray

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New York City, Day Three

Meteorologists got it wrong today for New York City. There was some rain, but not as much as predicted. It worked for me.

Here's a short recap of Day Three:
  • Liz and I were fortunate to get seats 11 rows back from James Gandolfini's hilarious performance in Tony-nominated God of Carnage. In truth, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, and Marcia Gay Harden were also amazing. I'm a huge Sopranos fan, so seeing "Tony" in the flesh was just a really cool experience. I'd recommend the show to anyone (above the age of 16 comfortable with the occasional four-letter word).
  • We burned some calories walking the Brooklyn Bridge. I'd never done this before, but it jumped to my "must-do" list for all future visits to the city.
  • We consumed some calories at Shanghai Cuisine, my Chinatown restaurant of choice on the corner of Mulberry and Bayard. Everything I've had there has been great, but I'd particularly recommend the steamed vegetable dumplings and spring rolls.
  • Strand Bookstore is huge! It's a shame airlines are charging for bags now. Let me hop on my soap box and say I'd contribute a lot more to the NYC economy while I'm here if I could actually take stuff home without paying for it all over again!

The Backspace Conference, which is the catalyst for this visit, starts tomorrow morning. It's Agent-Author Day, an opportunity to interact with about 20 agents. Here's to hoping it goes well...

Rainy Days and Mondays #2

Rainy Days and Mondays was on vacation for Memorial Day, but since wet weather is scheduled today for NYC, here's your next installment of inspiration:

Yesterday we visited the World Trade Center site. Crews are in the process of rebuilding the towers and a museum and memorial of September 11, so the temporary memorial has been taken down.

However, across the street is St. Paul's Chapel. During the rescue and recovery efforts, the chapel served as a care center for the thousands of volunteers who came from all over the world. When I get back home, I'll add some pictures to this post, but for now, here are some of the quotes and facts from the chapel exhibit that I found particularly powerful:
  • In the first three months after September 11th, more than 3,000 workers passed through the chapel's gates.
  • St. Paul's served between 2,000 and 3,000 meals to workers each day.
  • "In the hands of ordinary people, St. Paul's ministry achieved extraordinary heights. Strangers from all walks of life joined together to support and comfort the workers at Ground Zero. For nine months, they served hot meals, organized and dispensed supplies, loaned their expertise, and offered warm smiles. Their hospitality remains a testament to humanity and the power of community." -Chapel Exhibit
  • "[The firefighters and other rescue and recovery volunteers] were so tired, and they had so much on their minds that we had to think of every last need that they had and offer it to them before they realized they needed it," said one volunteer.
  • Over a thousand licensed massage therapists donated their time to fill four six-hour shifts each day.
  • "There were always people working [at Ground Zero] around the clock, so why shouldn't we be there around the clock? They all needed us," said Dr. Adam Lamb, a chiropractor who volunteered.
  • "People went in there and worked for 12 hours, and then walked out and said, "This may be the most important 12 hours I've ever spent in my life," said St. Paul's pastor.
  • "From the smoldering bleak pit at Ground Zero, workers saw St. Paul's steeple high above the dust. Though they wore many different uniforms, workers journeyed to the chapel with the same needs. At first, they wanted food and a place to sleep. Then, among the banners and letters of love and support, they found strength and courage to continue their overwhelming tasks." -Chapel Exhibit

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New York City, Day Two

We waited for the rain all day, but fortunately it didn't come. So we took advantage of some time outdoors in the city by packing in lots of walking, Grand Central Station, Central Park, World Trade Center site, and Battery Park.

Again, the walking was probably necessary. We had pizza for lunch and couldn't resist a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery for dessert. I'd kind of like to eat another one right now!

Overall, the day was great, and it was punctuated perfectly.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Stanley Cup Finals! Go Pens!

On my way to Macy's this evening, I passed someone wearing a Penguins jersey. I was wearing my Malkin jersey. We shared a "Go Pens!" moment.

We have big plans tomorrow afternoon...but it's a surprise. You'll have to check back then!

Monday, May 25, 2009

New York City, Day One

Last weekend, I spent three great days at the PennWriters Conference in Pittsburgh, and although I haven't had the chance to blog about it, I will soon. I attended some amazing sessions on point of view, pitching, character development, series characters, thrillers vs. suspense vs. mysteries, and crime scene writing.

I'm basically behind because as I was recovering from PennWriters, I was also preparing for Backspace, which is this Thursday to Saturday in the Big Apple.

Liz, a friend and co-worker who's writing a romance novel, and I arrived in the city this morning and met some friends for a trip to Coney Island.

I was stoked about this trip.

A TV program on the best places to get hot dogs had something to do with that, and I was looking forward to a visit to Nathan's. The hot dog was awesome. I'd eat another tomorrow if Coney Island wasn't an hour away on the subway.

The beach and boardwalk at Coney Island were great, but the amusement park wasn't impressive. Apparently, I'm spoiled since growing up less than an hour away from Kennywood, a family park with one of the top wooden roller coasters in the country.

Don't get me wrong, Coney Island was fun. I expected a bigger amusement park, but it was definitely worth the trip.

We rounded out the day with some afternoon rest, dinner in Little Italy (and a chocolate-dipped cannoli for dessert). Then it was time for penance in the form of jogging the stairs at our hotel and walking about a mile round trip to Times Square and back.

More tomorrow....Go Pens!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Signing off on Idol

So, if we were sitting across from each other at a diner (you with your yummy, greasy hashbrowns and me with a slice of melon and toast), the first thing I would bring up is American Idol.


Maybe that Austin Powers influence worked on you.

Congratulations to Kris. He deserves this. Adam is very talented, but to be truthful in chatting with friends, family, and strangers at the salon these past few weeks, none of them preferred Adam.


Yet, Adam nation is crying foul because he was such a favorite. Why was he the top dog?

The judges loved him. They're always looking for new and original, and Adam is unlike any previous Idol winners for sure.

And, Idol is filmed in California, which basically gives Adam home-court advantage.

Another point to consider is this is America. We have a soft spot for the underdog.

The bottom line is Kris won. Maybe some people used computers to facilitate that. Maybe some people voted because of his religious values.

Or maybe some people like me were up until 1 a.m. doing random tasks, carrying around a cell phone hitting end/send, end/send, end/send.

Kris won. Adam will still have a career. Congrats to both of them. Moving on...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol and Update

At the risk of alienating some of you, I'm going out on a limb and saying...


I like his voice. I like his artistry. I like that he sings instead of screams. I like that he contorts his face in painful expressions when he belts out a note. I love that he's the underdog. So, just do it...


I'm a fan of Austin Powers. Remember when Will Ferrell could not resist a question three times. I'm hoping this has the same effect...


Deep that that's over, how about an update. I've been in contact with several agents and have great feedback for improving THE DINER ON THIRD. I'm in revisions, again. Next week, I'm heading to New York City for the Backspace conference where I'll meet with other agents and editors.

The best way to explain what's going on right now is that good things are happening. Not great things, but I'm still working towards that. Thanks for your support and encouragement!

P.S. Can Marc-Andre Fleury get a street named after him or something? Go Pens!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays #1

As a kid, I was a fan of the Carpenters. I remember spinning around the living room shouting how rainy days and Mondays always got me down.

For a writer, a plummeting mood is a bit of a death curse.

However, on this Monday, I'm not down. After attending the fantastic PennWriters conference this weekend, meeting impressive agents, and building friendships with other writers, inspired is a much better word to describe my Monday morning.

Since I started this blog, I've been looking for ways to share inspiriation. And since it seems most people need a little boost on rainy days and Mondays, that's when I'm going to send some your way.

We're starting off with a brilliant woman that bestselling author Lisa Scottoline quoted at the conference this weekend. In sharing a boisterous tale of her life, Lisa mentioned her mother's strength with this quote:

"A woman is like a teabag - you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water."

It's a popular quote, one that you probably recognize from Eleanor Roosevelt.

Since it is so well-known, I wanted to share another one. At the conference, I learned a lot about character development. And this quote also by the former first lady seems fitting.

"People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built."

So start this week off right by building your characters on the page or building your own character.

Happy Monday!

P.S. Go Pens!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Origin of Stalker Tamara

Last night, I screamed, jumped, high-fived, slapped people with a towel, and shook my hips to the rhythm.

I bet you're wondering where a gal could do all of those things. Well, the most wonderful place in Pittsburgh of course, Mellon Arena on a playoff hockey night.

The game was awesome. Admittedly it would have been better if the Washington Capitals didn't play so despicably dirty. And better still had the Pittsburgh Penguins won.

Nevertheless, it was a good time. Coincidentally, it was also the location of my Stalker Tamara origination story.

Let me take you back to my senior year in high school. I went to the arena with a group of guy friends for Monday Night Raw. Yes, we're talking WWF. My idol was The Rock. I loved the eyebrow and the elbow.

The night before, I made a sign that consisted of five poster boards spelling out "Rocky." On the center three boards, I drew the bull with one raised eyebrow. Monday night, it was the first sign on the jumbo-tron, thank you very much.

Some things never change. The show was awesome. There was screaming, jumping, high-fiving and hip-shaking, although towels were not involved.

Afterwards, we stood outside and froze, waiting for the wrestlers to exit the arena. We saw the Hardy Boys, the Undertaker, Cain, and other favorites of the time. Then from a distance, I saw The Rock shaking hands with a few guys and mock fighting with others in the parking garage under the arena. Then he got into the driver's side of a sedan and drove away - right passed us.

As the crazed fan I was, I was first row, against the rope, taking pictures and screaming.

Let me take you on a tangent, creating some suspense and offering background. Pittsburgh is notorious for its roads. The highway engineers of Pennsylvania graduated at the bottom of their classes to be sure (no offense, but it's hard to argue this point). But poor design of city roads forced Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to stop his car in the middle of the road, awaiting the opportunity to merge into traffic.

Teenage-crazed-fan Stalker Tamara didn't give him that chance. Without hesitation, I was sprawled on his windshield like a bug. One hand pounded on the glass. The other snapped photo after photo. My eyes were locked on the People's Eyebrow, raised just for me - and the horde of fans who piled on top of me.

In my memory, the moment goes on forever. Realistically, it ended after a few seconds with a cop wrapping his arms around my waist as I kicked and screamed with elation at the fact that a single pane of glass and only a foot of space separated me from...the only words I can think of here are not appropriate for all audiences, so you fill in the blank.

So, there you have it. The genesis of Stalker Tamara. I like to think I'm reformed. I don't jump on vehicles anymore. That's a step in the right direction.

Yet, I like the idea of a protagonist who is a bit of a stalker. Not in a creepy way, of course. Just in a way that the opening line of her story could be: "I don't do drugs. I rarely drink, but occasionally, it's fun to stalk people."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Festival of Mystery II and Stalking Stories

Mystery Lover's Bookshop's 14th annual Festival of Mystery Monday was a big success. Festival book sales were up 14 percent from last year, hopefully a sign that in the tough economy people are turning to books for entertainment.

My stack of books waiting to be read doubled after my visit to the festival with books from Jane K. Cleland, Shirley Damsgaard, Kathryn Miller Haines, Stefanie Pintoff, Marcia Talley, and Heather Terrell. I'm anxious to get through them. As I do, I'll blog about the great reads I'm sure to find.

After laughing with a friend regarding my stalker status mentioned in the last blog post, I thought an explanation might be in order.

As a student in the University of St. Andrews creative writing program, my classmates deemed my quote of the year: "I don't do drugs. I rarely drink, but occasionally it's fun to stalk people."

They suggested I use it as an opening line of a book. They published it on a web site that listed our bios. They wouldn't let me forget it.

The quote sparked from the Dunhill Links celebrity golf tournament held on the Old Course in St. Andrews in October of 2004. I heard there would be quite a group of celebrities, so my roommate and I got up early and hiked it out to the tenth hole. As we got there, a van pulled up next to us. The side door slid open and out hopped Hugh Grant. Our mouths dropped, and we followed him without a thought.

Eventually, we took a pretty horrible picture with him, and he wasn't the friendliest of blokes. But he could have been having a bad day. Who knows?

Then, we watched Dennis Quaid golf a bit. He was friendly and gorgeous. He golfed alongside Greg Kinnear, who might not be the best golfer ever. He hit the golf ball into a massive crowd of people.

Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Douglas were also there, but my best and most significant stalking experience was with Kevin Costner.

When we first saw him, he was pulling a little kid out from the crowd to take a picture with him on the green. At the next hole, he leaned against the fence and chatted with the locals. From only a few feet away, I could see a bug crawling up his shoulder to his neck. The way I saw it, if a bug was crawling on me, I'd want someone to let me know.

So I interrupted his conversation to tell him he had a bug on his shoulder, and to my incredible surprise, he leaned toward me silently asking for me to swipe it away. So I did. Then he grabbed both of my hands, and with his face inches from mine said, "Now, I better not see that bug on ebay." I laughed.

He went back to golf, and I took a few steps back from the fence to have a minor freakout. I wish I could say I was cool and nonchalant around celebrities. (As I racked my brain to find a celebrity I've been cool around, it took a few seconds, but I did not freak out in any way when I was only feet away from Prince William several times. Ha!).

Anyway, I went for a drink at the pub with my writer friends later and told them the story. They couldn't believe I just spoke to Kevin Costner like that. I should have kept my mouth shut, but at some point I mumbled, "That was nothing," and thought back to my first incident with celebrity and how cops were involved.

To hear about the genesis of Stalker Tamara, check back soon...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Festival of Mystery - Part I

The parking lot at the Greek Orthodox Social Hall wasn't jam-packed when I arrived at the Festival of Mystery an hour before the doors opened, and I was lucky to snag a space close enough to watch the line the rain.

It's a festival tradition that the first 100 people receive a bag of free books.

People know this. They've been coming for years. They arrive early and claim their spaces in line (and by claim I mean cut in front of you). Since the rain was pouring down and there were clearly not 100 umbrellas in line, I killed a few minutes in my car.

Then as car after car after car pulled into the parking lot, my heart started beating fast, and I turned into one of those aforementioned "people" rushing from to claim a spot.

Despite the fact that I've painted mystery readers as crazies who cut in front of you (only one woman cut in front of me, and with her eyes, she challenged me to call her on it - I didn't), I had a nice chat with two Pittsburgh natives during the 45-minute wait for the doors to open. They were friendly and fantastic, as most Pittsburghers are.

And the authors were equally awesome. Here are some highlights and shoutouts:

Wendy Corsi Staub
I have it on good authority that I'm Wendy's favorite customer. Okay, maybe not, like top favorite, but I'm up there.

Earlier this year, I discovered her Lily Dale series about Calla Delaney, a teenage girl who loses her mom to a terrible accident and moves to live with her strange grandmother in a town full of psychics and mediums. I loved, loved, loved the series and picked up a few more books with psychic protagonists Monday night.

There's something cool about meeting authors. Until Monday, Wendy was a list of books, a picture on the back cover, but now, she's a beautiful, giggly, friendly, funny woman who pushes antibacterial handy wipes on her customers in the name of swine flu.

And bottom line, she's a great writer.

Jason Pinter
It's official. If I'm Wendy's favorite customer, I'm Jason's safe stalker.

I say safe because it's not creepy or anything. At least I hope not. Of all the authors I've had the pleasure of meeting, it seems I bump into Jason most often.

Last year, when I joined Backspace, I read up on the authors and was interested in Jason's series about Henry Parker, a crime-solving journalist. I ordered one of the books and loved it only to learn Jason would be in Pittsburgh days later for the 2008 Festival of Mystery.

I introduced myself, tried to keep the oh-my-gosh-I'm-talking-to-a-real-life-published-author giggles under control and bought another book in the series. Fast forward three months to the Backspace conference in New York where I said, "Hey, Jason, remember me?"

The first three books in his Henry Parker series are out, so grab them. Two more are on the way this fall and winter.

I seem to be in ramble mode today, so I'm going to cut this off and come back tomorrow to tell you about the other authors I stalked - only in a good way - at the Festival of Mystery.

P.S. C'mon Pens!

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I've been quiet for a few days, so here are a few updates for you:

Update #1: I'm still here. In other words, despite my boring diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and the occasional splash of flavor, I haven't wasted away.

Update #2: This is finals week. No, I'm not a student. I'm a teacher, which makes finals week worse. Students have at most five papers/assignments to write. I have about 20 exams and 40 essays to grade from two classes. I can't imagine how full-time instructors feel this week in grading exams and essays from hundreds of students!

Update #3: THE DINER ON THIRD, my YA paranormal mystery about 17-year-old ghost hunter Leia Angeletti is out on submission with several agents. I've had some positive reponses and two outright rejections. I'm hopeful, but I'm also beginning to think the manuscript could be improved in a few ways.

Update #4: The April Marathon is over, obviously. I spent some quality time with great writers, racing to a finish line of either 500 or 1,000 words, and little by little I developed the plot for Leia Angeletti's second adventure. However, revisions for THE DINER ON THIRD and query letters slowed down the momentum for book two. Although I didn't meet my goal, I'm proud to say I finished the month with 25,000 words towards my next book!

Update #5: I've been looking forward to May for a loooooooong time! Here's why:

  • May 4, Festival of Mystery hosted by Mystery Lover's Bookshop (FYI - The staff is fantastic, and they offer free shipping on any book orders more than $10, so give them a call). I'm going to embrace a dork moment and say I'm giggling inside at the opportunity to visit with writers I admire and meet new writers as well.
  • May 9, Summer vacation begins. To focus my efforts on fiction, I won't be teaching this summer. Although I love my students, this is my first vacation from teaching since the fall semester of 2006. I'm looking forward to it :-)
  • May 15-17, PennWriters Conference. I'm a newbie to the PennWriters organization, and the giddy dork inside will blossom mid-month to meet with agents and writers at the annual conference in Pittsburgh.
  • May 24-30, New York City, here we come! My great friend and writerly colleague, Liz Hayes, and I are heading to the big city for some fun and some business. Monday to Wednesday, we'll be hanging out with awesome chicas (and I mean you Katie, Chelsea, and Kailen!!!), and Thursday to Saturday, we're attending the fantastic Backspace Conference.
  • May 31, Bon anniversaire a moi! For those of you who know French, it's not my birthday. Let me spit out a cliche and say I can't believe a year has passed since my high school sweetheart and I tied the knot. But it has, and let's hope flights are on schedule, so I can rush home from New York to eat a year-old strawberry cheesecake before he eats it all on his own (and because I love him and all that)!

P.S. A.S. King's DUST OF 100 DOGS was discussed as a Great Read on this blog in March. She's an awesome writer and a cool gal, and she's running a contest on her blog this weekend. Write a 100-word story to win an autographed copy of her book. You know this giggling dork will be giving it a shot. You should too. Check it out.