Monday, September 26, 2011

Counting to Twelve

Late again!

We took four teens to see a Bright Eyes concert last night. And I had a baby shower at the house during the day.

Good excuses!

It does not pay to stress about things. I keep reminding myself of this, but it's slow to sink in. When I first offered up  my house for this shower, the head count was going to be "ten or twelve" -- something I could manage. Then the pregnancy had complications, the baby came early, (he's doing great!), and suddenly people were asking if they could come, too,and the count zoomed up to twenty. All week I stressed about where I was going to seat twenty people -- the deck would have been great, but it was Sog City all week and not an option. So I spent Saturday moving furniture, adding chairs, you know, stressing.

And yesterday the sun broke through and everyone wanted to be out on the deck.

Which I had, of course, not cleaned.

So, see? All that stress and for what? I really need to just go with the flow more.

I will try to apply this to our gig on October 1st. I'm rhythmically impaired. I can't seem to count to twelve. And when you're doing songs based on 12-bar progression, counting to twelve is important.

Unless, as my drummer husband says, you "just feel it."

When you're Type-A, just feeling it collides with counting to twelve, and you find yourself lost at eleven-and-a-half going, Now?

Never mind. They all laugh at me. You're probably laughing at me, too. That's okay. I laugh at myself.

Only not when I'm lost somewhere between eight and twelve and I've got to jump in singing.

Anyway, see? I'm getting myself all stressed, and for what? It's a bar. We're going on at 11. At that stage people there will probably have trouble counting to four.

(But they probably know how to feel it.)

Anyway, some of you asked for details, so I'll add the poster. We'll do originals, plus covers by Social Distortion, Papa Roach, The Who, Alice in Chains, Jet, Sixx get the's gonna be loud. Someone's threatening to record it. I'll let you know.

Double-anyway. Onto something you may actually be interested in: I have a few early copies of Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls! Next week I will post a giveaway contest...or maybe not a contest but something. So check back here next Sunday (I won't be late, promise), and we'll figure out how to give a couple of you faithful followers a copy of the new book.

Until then, count to twelve for me!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bad Part About Good Habits

Hi, guys! Mark here, sitting in for Wendelin because she’s up to her neck with the latest SK manuscript, where Sammy is up to HER neck, getting in trouble in Las Vegas in what I affectionately refer to as Sammy Keyes and the Wayward Parents. (Ever notice how sometimes the parents act like children, which of course means that the children have to act like parents? But that’s a topic for another time, mi amigos!)

What’s on my mind at the moment are habits. Both kinds… the good ones we all aspire to acquire, and the bad ones that are oh-so-easy to pick up and darn near impossible to let go. Bad habits are certainly more fun, but I want to talk about good ones because lately I’ve been trying to divine their secrets…

The good thing about a habit (assuming it’s a good habit) is that once it in fact becomes a habit, you don’t have to struggle with the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ issue every day, as it becomes an automatic part of your life. Cool.

The bad part about good habits, however, is that they can be a beast to make into an actual habit.

Sometimes that beast can be almost un-tamable. (Anyone tried quitting smoking lately?) However, there is a secret. (Actually, it’s more like a helpful methodology. However, doesn’t ‘SECRET’ sound way more interesting than ‘HELPFUL METHODOLOGY’? I thought so, too…) And the secret is this: You do NOT have to force yourself to do the desirable/healthy/intelligent/mature/successful behavior forever. Nope. You just need to force yourself to do it for the indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time it takes for the desired behavior to become a true habit.

After that, it’s automatic, right? Easy money, honey!

And it really helps (uh, I mean, here’s another secret!) if you can put a strategy in place whereby the desired behavior is pretty much unavoidable during the habit-forming stage.

Case in point…

Wendelin has mentioned that we (as a family) are training for a marathon. This will be the first marathon for both of our boys. The older one is really looking forward to it, and joins us on our group training runs with a smile and zero complaints. The younger one… not so much. At first, he tried to say he wasn’t going to do it. Until I reminded him that he committed to doing this, and only after we had everyone’s commitment did Wendelin move some already-scheduled speaking engagements so we could run a marathon as a family. Then, he’d go on the early runs (marathon training is a four-month endeavor) very begrudgingly, complaining the whole way, and walking half the time. We just put on our ‘happy face’ and laughed when he complained, like he’d just told the world’s funniest joke.

Finally, after several weeks of this, his body started getting used to the running and his fitness level improved, and instead of being the boat anchor, he and I actually ran ahead of the others on a few runs, and he was like, “Hey guys, keep us with us!” (Ahh, the glory of youth…)

And most recently, on a Friday evening when we had a 12-miler scheduled for the next morning (usually a cause for much verbal dissention) he said, “Ya know, I’m actually looking forward to tomorrow’s run.”


I knew (okay, hoped) that if he stuck with it through that magic ‘indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time’, he would arrive at this juncture. And the thing that helped facilitate his sticking with it was a strict schedule (and occasional reminders that he was required to honor his commitment).

Once you’re past that stage, the part of the human brain that likes things in an orderly, repeated, constant, and consistent pattern takes over, and makes the motivational piece of the self-improvement puzzle that much easier to deal with.

At least, that’s my hypothesis until proven otherwise. (IOW, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…)

Here’s hoping all your newly acquired habits are good ones!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Electronic Editing (and a small sample of Justice Jack!)

Whenever I have a conversation with Nancy (my editor) about her job I learn something new. Maybe I was ignorant when she acquired my first book, but I didn't even realize back then that editors negotiate contracts. I thought they, you know, edited. Turns out editing's only a small fraction of their duties. I should ask Nancy to do a guest post sometime to explain...or even just list...what she as an editor does. I know some of you would find it fascinating.

For now I'll just give you a few interesting tidbits from our conversation.

First, apparently a lot of authors don't use the traditional guidelines for submitting manuscripts. You know, Times New Roman, double spaced, one-inch margins, header with name, book title, and page number, printed single sided in black ink on standard white 20# paper?

It's in every beginner's guide to submission.

Granted she doesn't work with many beginners anymore, but she's gotten pages submitted on onionskin parchment.

No, I'm not kidding.

I remember my dad using that stuff in the typewriter with carbon paper...or to include an extra page in an airletter for overseas.

So whoever this author was, he must've been pretty "established" for her to put up with that.

And pretty old.

But she also gets books e-mailed chapter by chapter as they get completed.Which means she has to consolidate the chapters into a manageable file herself.

Where's the author's rewrite process if this is how they submit it?

Unique fonts, not using Word, no electronic file available whatsoever (so she has to retype the thing?!)...I told her I couldn't believe she put up with it, but she said that one of the things she likes about her job is that all her authors are so different. They have their own personalities and ways of doing things, and she likes to allow them to breathe as artists.

A very noble attitude given the extra work it causes her. I'd want to tell the Wordless guy, Get with the  program, man! I can't be retyping your novel because you can't be bothered to take a class! Wake up Rip Van Wordless, it's 2011!

Anyway (deep breath) this recent conversation about the seemingly endless scope of Nancy's job was precipitated by my feeling befuddled by a new editing process she had asked me to try for the post-copy-edited manuscript of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack.

(Yes, we settled on Power.)

The manuscript came back to me as a Word doc with "tracked" notes from the copy editor and Nancy, with the idea being that I would comment, and change what I wanted on the computer and e-mail it back.

Save paper. Save time.

Murder your eyes.

After reading three chapters on screen I realized I wasn't reading the book as I always do (because there are always little mistakes that sneak through the process and I make it a point to read it each time). Instead I was jumping from markup to markup, trying to decipher what it is they were talking about.

Here's a little example :-)

Fortunately Nancy had had the foresight to also send me a hardcopy of the electronically marked-up manuscript. We're under a little time crunch and just in case I didn't adapt well to the electronic process, she said I could just mark up the hardcopy with pencil (like I always do), send it back, and she would enter the changes for me.

This was before our conversation, and, not liking the process, I put aside my computer and got to work with a pencil. I do have lots of other pressures in my life right now, and this whole new electronic editing business seemed tedious and like something I just was not interested in learning at the moment.

Still. When I'd finally made it through the 300-page hardcopy, I called Nancy to let her know that the 8-page pdf she'd sent me titled "How to Review and Mark Electronically" (which I'd wasted paper printing) didn't match my version of Word and that I didn't know how I was going to be able to get this done. I also told her exactly what I didn't like about the process.

She totally got where I was coming from and we then had a little talk about why she had chosen me to try this process on (flattery will get your author to try again) and how she would never ask Wordless or Onionskin to attempt this. Then, because her version of Word is similar to mine, she was able to walk me through a few of the changes. She helped me add comments...explained how to substitute one word for another...taught me what the different modes showed or didn't show.... Soon I had the hang of it, and I realized that, even though it was still a little scary, it was really pretty straight forward.

She again offered to do it for me, but at this point she'd told me about Onionskin and Wordless and I realized that if I didn't step forward, one day I'd be my own version of Onionskin (I plan to live a very long time, okay?). She also told me that although Random House is just converting to this, other houses have already established this as standard procedure. So I got off the phone and got to work, and within a few hours I'd entered all the changes and had the manuscript e-mailed back to her.

So I've stepped forward, and next time I'm sure it will seem easy, but not without the hardcopy.

That goes forward with me.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Escape From Sin City

Unfortunately, I did not get thrown in jail.

Unfortunately, Las Vegas needs a big detention facility for its serious, accidental, and notorious criminals.

It's the Clark County Detention Center and it's huge.

Apparently O.J. Simpson is there.

But the young man running the security station has a ten year old daughter who is into reading mysteries, so when I told him who I was and why I was trying to get into jail he was all over helping us.

In a sometimes confused, is-this-reality-you're-talking-or-are-you-making-this-up? sort of way.

Poor guy. I do talk about my characters like they're real.

Anyway, I found out some important information, even though it was from outside the holding tank. (Which is as far as a 13 or 14 year old will be allowed to get anyhow.)

(Go ahead, pick a character. Any character.)

(Well, okay, not Hudson. He's 73. I mean any character of appropriate age. You know.)

And then, as luck would have it, across the street from the cagey CCDC--a mere parking lot away--we spotted a wedding chapel.

With a drive through window!

I squealed, I was so excited. Mark and I were with another couple who had flown in to Las Vegas to join us on this adventure. I'll call them Bill and Loraine to protect their identities. (After all, no one would guess that I'd use their real names right? I mean, if I said I was making up names, that's what I'd be doing, right? Right.)

Anyway, Bill and Loraine are fans of the Bellagio (as are many of you apparently!) and Cirque du Soleil shows--you know, the more high end stuff. I warned them that this wasn't going to be a high-end excursion. That we were there to check out bad shows, tacky wedding chapels, forbidden corridors, and the jail.

Loraine couldn't wait.

So when I spotted the wedding chapel, she squealed, too. And then we dragged the men to this drive-through facility and got an awesome tour of the inside of the chapel. You can get married in the little room downstairs. Or a churchy looking big one upstairs. Or on the rooftop! With Astroturf and a little arch bridge. (The photographers blue-screen out the CCDC in the background. for no extra charge.)

And, if you want, Elvis can marry you.

Loraine and I came away from our extensive chapel tour thinking that it was actually a lot nicer than a drive-by facility first seemed.

The boys just wanted to get out of there!

Speaking of Elvis--we ran into a few of those (as you can see from the picture). They all wear that white getup. And, yeah, that little Elvis cracked me up. It would be interesting to know his story.

We saw bad shows, got nosy in back corridors, took tons of pictures, and had the good fortune of asking the right person to show us around behind stage at a club. There were all sorts of rooms, offices, VIP sections, sky boxes, and loading docks that I had no clue existed. From the front the venue looks almost small, but as you probably already know, nothing's small in Vegas.

(Well, except that one Elvis impersonator.)

So it was a very fruitful trip and I'm excited to get Sammy off the plane and into Las Vegas's McCarran Airport (which we also took lots of pictures of). And even though I'm pretty sure I won't be using all the information I gathered, it's better to have too much than not enough. Especially since I'm not a fan of Sin City and have no desire to go back.

Unless maybe it's to the Bellagio.

Still. How could staying at a posh hotel compare to a Sammy Keyes romp through the city?

Watch out Las Vegas, here she comes!