Archive for March, 2014

Good Stuff

on March 31, 2014 in Misc 10 Comments »

mark_twain sitting

This week I’ve got one old piece of good stuff for you and one new piece.  First the old….

This last week I came across a fact about Mark Twain that made me feel good.  Did you know Twain had trouble becoming a full-time, professional writer?  He’d been slogging away as a reporter in San Francisco and Hawaii (okay, Hawaii was a blast for him), but his writing gigs still didn’t pay enough and he was poor and in debt.   That’s when he wondered if he should go on the lecture circuit.  What he had in mind was to give a humorous presentation about his experiences in Hawaii.  His writer friends were dead set against this and insisted it would ruin his literary reputation.  His former newspaper boss asked him, “Which do you need most at present, money or literary reputation?”  Twain answered “Money!”

So Twain went on the stage and became a kind of traveling nineteenth century stand-up comic.  And thus a great American writer was born.  Not with a lucrative publishing deal or a bestseller, but with personal appearances that gave him enough fame and money to launch his book career.  In other words, he established a platform first, a very distinct public persona, and THEN he wrote his books.

Maybe this isn’t good new for me after all.  All these years I’ve been concentrating on just writing.  Ah, dang!



The other good–no, WONDERFUL–piece of news is that Hart Johnson’s newest cozy mystery KEEPING MUM is out.  Having read her first two books in this series, I can tell you that I’m eager to read the latest adventure of Cam Harris and her pals as they rush to solve another brain-teasing murder.  There will be drama.  There will be humor.  There will be lots of colorful characters with suspicious behavior….

See, Roanoke, Virginia, may seem civilized and lovely, but underneath the flowery surface lurks lust and jealousy and anger and greed, and all kinds of other motivations that make bad people off other people.  KEEPING MUM is written under Hart’s pen name Alyse Carlson, and it’s available everywhere.  I bought it at my local bookstore, ’cause I’m an old fashioned woman who loves my indie shops.

And of course stop by to say hi to Hart at her always entertaining blog, Confessions of a Watery Tart.  (Sorry I can’t make the link work.  I’m still trying figure out my latest version of Word Press.)

Have any good news yourself this last week, or coming up?  I’d love to hear about it.


Sure, I shoulda been writing this blog instead of being on the phone forever with my sister. But you know what we were raving about?

Old movies and how they’re fantastically well-written.

thin man two

And I mean the REALLY OLD flicks—those black white gems from the 1930’s and early ’40’s. Back in the days of Cary Grant and savvy, sophisticated women of all ages.  How sophisticated, elegant and striking, you ask?  Just watch the scene from The Thin Man that introduces us to to Nick and Nora, the private eye married to the society lady.  Wow.  This is how grown-ups used to talk.

Apparently Johnny Depp was about to star in a remake of The Thin Man when Warner Bros got cold feet over the (gulp!) $100 million budget.  What a joke.  The original is perfect and cost just over a couple hundred thousand–about $4 million in today’s money.

Anyway, this rant began on Friday at work when I made a wonderful discovery:  I can watch old movies on YouTube on my computer.  I HAD NO IDEA!

Of course I didn’t watch an entire flick (I’m a dutiful employee), but I couldn’t resist bringing up a gorgeous HD version of one of my faves, My Man Godfrey, and watching it with a colleague.


After six or seven minutes we had to get back to work, but in those minutes we were introduced to the main characters, their relationships, the plot, the theme, and more jokes, literate dialogue, and poignant moments than can be found in entire novels.  Godfrey is one of the best of the screwball comedies, but like many movies of the Depression there’s also a strong social conscience and an underlying shadow about how we treat our fellow man when he’s down and out.  All of this, yet woven together in seamless storytelling.

I could go on about some of my other faves (The Philadelpha Story, Dodsworth, His Gal Friday), but then I’d be up writing all night. Instead I’d love to hear what old flicks you think are especially well written.

Sure, there’s also a lot of old crap and plenty of modern masterpieces.  But old movies that have made a strong impression on you—which ones would you name?

Sigmund Freud once asked with frustration, “What do women want?”

beck squareAccording to book sales we want Fifty Shades of Grey.  (This SO doesn’t include me.)  In which a young woman signs a contract that forces her to do bad sexual stuff with a gorgeous billionaire who can buy her all the designer shoes she wants.  (And you thought Cinderella was a silly fairy tale.)

According to suspense writer Lee Child, mega seller among women, we want justice and / or revenge.  And also please a passing-through-town handsome hero who takes a middle-aged woman as a lover and sees her for how wonderful she is.

Oh wait, that’s also the plot for the gazillion-selling Bridges of Madison County.

Finally, there are literary bestsellers like The Help and The Invention of Wings.  In which women rebel against nasty conformists and do what’s right and make the mean lady eat shit pie.  Literally.

Then there’s my elderly religious mother who called me up when she finished reading my second Charity MacCay manuscript and exclaimed, “I’m so glad Charity shot that man!”

Gee, Mom, thanks.  Glad you like the deadly part.

See, what I’m exploring in last week’s post and today’s is how most women secretly want to be sorta bad in a glamorous, sexy, power-wielding way.  NOT a trashy Lindsey Lohan way.  We want bad with class.

Oh sure, we admire saintly ladies like Mother Theresa and Jane Goodall.  But try marketing a book with a heroine like that.  When Angelina Jolie played a noble heroine in the movie A Mighty Heart, it did little business, but her bad-girl kick-ass movies have been hits.

The fact is, most women—and most men too—want a woman in a story to have a dark side.  Like Kate Beckinsale in those vamp-in-leather flicks (see photo above).  This is why Scarlet O’Hara is the heroine of Gone With the Wind and NOT nice innocent Melanie.

So I figure that to be good at marketing my upcoming books I’ve gotta go bad.  Emphasize why Charity is NOT always a lady.

This is where fiction meets reality.

“This isn’t a book to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force.”

So Dorothy Parker wrote in a book review.  But the kind of pitching I’m talking about is advertising.  As in how to talk up your own book.

Here’s my question:  If you could afford a good-sized advertisement in a publication, hard copy or electronic, what words would you use to pitch your book?

mad men

I’ve thought about how to advertise my latest manuscript / novel (which is in the still-trying-to-get-it-published-stage), and it ain’t easy. It’s like trying to write a fraction of a blurb.  The pitch should make readers cry out dramatically, “I MUST BUY THIS BOOK!” In this case, it’s my humorous historical novel, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar.

Here’s what I came up with:

When Charity is good, she’s very very good. But when she’s bad she’s brilliant.

Thanks to Mae West for that slightly altered line. Then there’s this one:

Charity MacCay—a Gilded Age bad girl who keeps trying to be good. But being good in a bad world isn’t easy.

Not too original, that one—but is it still catchy?

Here’s the longest version:

Charity MacCay keeps trying to be a good girl.

Then she falls in love with a kind of bad man.

And she gets rich in a sort of bad way.

But when company men take her hard-earned money, she becomes very, very good at getting even.

I’m still working on these lines, and they make my books sound pretty lightweight.  In fact it’s an intelligent, fiercely researched book about the Gilded Age, Manhattan circa 1867-68, and America’s first corporate scandal.  But if I pitched it along these lines I’d sell maybe five, six copies.  And the fact is my novel is also a FUN read about an idealistic, impulsive young woman who rebels against the corset-tight rules of her times.

I’d really appreciate your feedback and tales of your own experiences.  How did you sum up your story in one or two attention-grabbing sentences?  Can it be done?

Have a great week.

clock books

You know what? There are only so many books I can read in my lifetime.

I’m not young. I’m on the downward slope of life. I always thought I’d read all the books I want when I get the time. But the fact is, I’ll never have that much time.

So I gotta cull my to-read list.  My stacks of books.  Shelves of books.  Those many, many e-books.

See, the thing is I have too many books.  This is because a) they were the last copy and on sale so of course I just had to buy them, b) they were only a buck or two at Goodwill, c) they’re Kindle books, which are too inexpensive and easy to buy, and c) they’re gifts from relatives and friends.  It doesn’t help that a lot of them are big honkin’ histories and biographies (my weakness) which I can’t exactly whip through over a weekend.

It also doesn’t help that I’ve met some wonderful writers on the Internet, like, say, YOU ALL!  And of course I just have to get your novels and short stories which are entertaining and exciting and even thoughtful, and I will, eventually, finish reading them all.  But please be patient with me.


I’ve found that what I’m losing interest in are a lot of “literary” novels I have lying around.  They tend to be all atmosphere and beautiful language, but the plot (if there is one) can be so thin that I just can’t hang in there.  Like Toni Morrison’s Jazz: Beautiful writing, but too stream-of-consciousness-no-story for me.  Seriously, some of you know more about storytelling and plot construction than you’d find in her much-praised books.

Okay, I confess that on Friday I bought Hillary Mantel’s brilliant Bring Down the Bodies (Booker Prize winner), because it was on sale and I really want to read it because I couldn’t put down her Wolf Hall.  But I won’t be reading it until I finish some of your books, which I also really want to read, and a couple of history books relevant to my Charity MacCay manuscripts, which I’m still polishing.

Then I swear I’m gonna stop buying books except for those of my blogging friends.  And I’m gonna stay out of bookstores.  And away from Amazon.  Really.  I swear it.

How about you? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the good books that are out there?