May 15, 2008
Apollo likes to walk. We take him out with Rocky while Adrian stays at home. (Yes, our dogs are named for the Rocky movies.) Being a Doberman, with a splash of Black Lab thrown in just to keep us on our toes, Apollo isn’t satisfied with just “walking.” He thrusts his nose deep into the ground, snorting up anything that will fit into his blow-hole sized nostrils. And he’s not satisfied to walk leisurely. He wants to trot or run or anything really besides walk. There is always something more interesting just beyond the end of the leash.
How does he compensate for this restriction in mobility? He turns circles. He trots for five feet, sniffing and snorting, then turns a circle. To the right. Always to the right. Apollo can’t turn left…except for this one time, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Rocky is an Akita with a splash of German Shepherd Dog thrown in for more dignity and a greater ability for condescension. He holds his head up regally, toenails elegantly clicking on the pavement in a perfect cadence, while his tedious companion slobbers and runs in circles, bounding from one dandelion patch to another…circling to the right, pacing, circling to the right, pacing…on and on and on.
But there was a day. One walk out of thousands, when my middle child and I were out walking the dogs…and I saw an Eastern Bluebird. Being from Nebraska, I don’t have much experience with the beautiful birds that flutter around our neighborhood here in Virginia…all different colors and songs….I’m not used to it. “Son, did you see that?” I asked, pointing. My son stood beside me, laughing. When he stopped, a grin plastered to his face, he said, “I know, Apollo just turned left.” Zoolander, eat your heart out!!
My dog turned left…and I missed it. I’ve watched diligently on every walk since then, waiting for him to repeat the act. But Apollo seems more comfortable turning right. It’s unnatural for him to do anything else.
So I find myself once again taking a lesson from this monster of a canine. Do I want to be the sort of writer that “can’t turn left?” Or do I want to do more? Be more? I’m in the second book of my Detective Baker series…and I’m happy with the way things are shaping up. But other stories…set in other times in other places…are tickling the back of my mind. And I find myself wanting to test the mysterious waters where these other ideas swim. I nursed the characters for The Deputy’s Widow for years, coddling them to maturity and, eventually, publication. Suddenly, that obsession isn’t there because I accomplished my goal. I’m published. And I’ll be published again with the sequel, provided my editor likes it. Trying something new doesn’t feel comfortable just yet. But, unlike my dog, I have higher brain function (sometimes) and I think I might give “turning left” a try. So I’ll keep watching Apollo, hoping he’ll overcome his multi-directional challengedness…and I’ll consider shooting off in a new direction myself on occasion.
May 9, 2008
Insomnia is a fickle thing. At times I’ll go for months unmolested by thoughts refusing to stay below the surface as I sleep. At other times, the beast rears its ugly head and I spend the night awake, tossing and turning and worrying about things over which I have no control. As I age, alongside my husband of 16 years, I can’t help but notice he’s afflicted with this condition on occasion as well. And even more interesting than this, is the fact that, once in awhile, we are afflicted at the same time.
I’m not sure which is worse…lying awake in the middle of the night as the clocks tick in an endless cadence, marking time that passes too slowly…or awakening an hour or two before dawn, wondering if going back to sleep is even worth the trouble.
Gone are the days when four in the morning felt like the middle of the night. Now I think about walking the dog or writing a chapter or blogging or answering e-mail. I think of all the productive things I could be doing with my time besides sleeping.
Last week, as my husband and I suffered a case of co-dependent early morning insomnia, we stumbled downstairs and cranked up the satellite as the coffee pot percolated and the dogs found comfy places on the sofa—clearly, insomnia is never a problem for a dog—to go back to sleep.
Infomercials dominate the airwaves before dawn, taking advantage of bleary-eyed insomniacs with promises that “This product will make your life easier…or your money back.”
Well, I love my Swiffer, but I can’t exactly say its made my life easier.
But that was before I heard about Tater Mitts. Have you heard of the Tater Mitts? Have you reserved your pair yet? Tater Mitts are a handy pair of gloves with steel wool on the outside. Just put on the gloves, pick up a potato, squish it around in your hands and…PRESTO!! The potato is free of that filthy peel.
I’m so stupid. All these years I’ve been using a potato peeler which could have flown out of my hands at any given moment and lodged in my neighbor’s eye. It’s true. I’ve been endangering the whole world with my reckless method of peeling potatoes.
Wouldn’t it be nice for writers if the reading public was as gullible as the infomercial quacks believe the entire world to be? I could say “Read my book-it will change your life.” Or I could pay people to say “You won’t believe the amazing things this book can do for you.” Or how about, “I never knew my life was so empty until I read “The Deputy’s Widow””
Nah, come to think of it, I wouldn’t respect an ignorant reading audience. I prefer readers who say, “I would have done this differently.” Or “This part was good, but try this.”
Writers live in a world where their product has to stand alone. The purpose of fiction can be one of two things: to prove a point, or to entertain. I prefer to read fiction for entertainment and I try to write fiction that accomplishes the same. I can’t promise a reader a good book and then not deliver. Why? Because readers are smart. And they read to be entertained. And they write reviews.
The morning of the Tater Mitts infomercial was rare. Normally, I pick up a book when I can’t sleep. I pick up a book and let myself sink into its world…because a writer is someone who delivers. There are no money-back guarantees. There are no paid celebrities with overly tight faces telling me this book will change my life. There’s just a writer’s work…and I know a little something about that…the sweat, the agony, the pressure.
You can keep your Tater Mitts. I’ll use a potato peeler and read a good book, thank you very much.
April 24, 2008
The Naked City
Since I’m not a native New Yorker, I felt a little precocious about seeing the city “Naked.” But, as I also happen to be as voyeuristic as the next guy, I decided, “what the hell?” and I watched. Let me tell you…the sheer number of people milling around, getting on and off the subway, living their lives, eating their lunch…well, it’s staggering to a small town girl like me. I found myself wanting to shove my children out of the way, saying, “Move it, pal,” as I made my way to the fridge for a soda during viewing.
The Naked City was filmed on location in 1948, during the peak of the film noir era. At the time, “on location” movies were unusual (so I’ve been told) and this was fresh and new for America. For the first time, movie goers were allowed to see the city as it lived, making New York the biggest star of the film.
Other unusual features of this movie: there are no opening credits and not much of a musical score. But we aren’t allowed to feel disappointed. After all, a narrator jumps in immediately, warning us that this film is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.” And, in case we forget, he jumps in throughout the film from time to time, underscoring the amount of work it is for a department to catch a killer.
The movie was directed by Jules Dassin and produced by Mark Hellinger. Barry Fitzgerald plays the sharp Irish cop, comes with his own brogue and everything, assisted by Don Taylor as Jimmy Halloran…the leg man. Together they work to track down the killer of a blonde named Jean Dexter, found dead in her bathtub. Strangled. Chloroformed. With a big, black starred sapphire in her possession and a pair of men’s pajamas in the bedroom.
First of all, NOT film-noir. If I had to classify this movie…and I do…I’d say it’s an original docu-drama. We are taken along with the cops, none of whom have any skeletons in their closets, as they try to solve the case. They bring in suspects, one by one, throw the book at ‘em, and let ‘em go. But the list of potential murderers narrows and eventually, a crime ring is uncovered. There’s none of the self-destructive downward spiral for the main characters in this film…all of that takes place with the crooks here, so we don’t feel the angst and the devastation as the film reaches its climax.
But it’s got a halfway decent foot chase and it’s worth watching, if you get a chance. I wouldn’t run out and buy it…check your local listings.