- Almost finished UN-decorating the house for the holiday season
- Writing back on schedule, after more than two weeks when I couldn’t remember what day of the week it was
- Several signed copies of UNDERWATER are available for purchase at Dunwoody Bakery, open Wednesdays through Saturdays
- Looking forward to my “Member Minute” talk at the Atlanta Writers Club meeting on January 17, 2015 at 1:30 pm, at Georgia Perimeter College
- On the horizon: My appearance at the Augusta Literary Festival on March 6-7. Looking forward to attending, meeting readers and signing books
- Planning the release of my work of creative nonfiction, titled ALL THE ABOVE this spring
- Resolving to step up my exercise routine this year
- Cheering for the Cowboys and the Seahawks during the NFL playoffs
- Happy that I’m traveling to Chapel Hill, NC in April and in May
- Glad to share family news with close friends and family
List Post, Numéro Trois (de novembre)
- Polishing my presentation for my Author Focus panel at Bouchercon 2014 this Saturday, November 15 at 12 noon (Harbor B)
- Anticipating Release Date of UNDERWATER, just two weeks from now, on November 25, 2014!
- Downloaded the Bcon app on my phone; je suis prête! (I’m ready! Thanks for suggesting I look, Jim!)
- One (print) signed book purchased last week: Truth Be Told, the latest from fellow Sister in Crime and Bouchercon 2014 attendee Hank Phillippi Ryan, whom I met here in Atlanta at the MJCCA Book Festival
- Revision/Plot sharpening: After a decision to trim and sharpen the plot (while paying attention to pacing), WIP now at 24k words…If I write 1,000 words a (work)day between now and the end of December, I’ll meet my goal of 50k by year end (which will be more than halfway done)
- Caught up with and heard her thoughts on the attributes of good audio books on Saturday evening, over a glass of wine with a good friend
- Wish I could be in two places at once: This weekend is UNC Homecoming (my husband’s college roommate is rumored to be attending), and this Thursday night is the UNC Relay For Life Gala*
- Noticed Goodreads Giveaway of UNDERWATER – It began on October 28 and ends on Release Date, November 25! Get on goodreads and register to win one of 20 copies!
- Enjoyed a lunch out with mon prof et mes amies du cours : Just after I got a makeover, we met for class in Madame’s atelier and then had a French déjeuner at un restaurant français
- It was a good football weekend: the Falcons and the Dawgs won! Let’s make that a trend!
* To which I donated print and audio versions of UNDERWATER, pre-release!
Playing to win
Football has been over for weeks, and college basketball – March Madness – ends tonight. The Tar Heels didn’t make it past the Third Round, but after a phenomenal regular season victory against rival Duke in UNC’s Dean Dome, it almost didn’t matter…especially since Duke was eliminated in the Second Round.
UNC students in downtown Chapel Hill, celebrating the victory over Duke on February 20, 2014
[Other than wanting UNC to beat them in basketball, I’m fine with Duke; the book I’ve been writing for almost a year now is partially set in Durham.]
Over the last several months (the coldest October through March in over a century, I read), I’ve been busy writing it, and I hope to finish it soon. The hardest part was the middle, which I was working on during the NFL playoffs (and while Atlanta got zapped with at least three bouts of freezing temperatures and/or snow and ice).
Lately though, I’ve been on kind of a writing roll, and I’m nearing the end. But it won’t be done then; working with my editor (and doing revisions) is next. There’s a lot more to do, too, the most fun of which will be to select a cover. Meanwhile, I’ve got the conflicts and characters identified for Book 4 (a suspense novel) and I can’t wait to get started on it.
So – what does any of that have to do with football, or with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson?
In a word: inspiration.
Autrefois, I didn’t like or even understand football. Now, I miss it a ton, and I can’t wait to watch the Falcons play this fall. I watched this year’s Super Bowl, enjoyed the game – and was inspired by the story (and words) of the Seattle quarterback.
Here’s someone who’s worked hard, who might have been considered an underdog, but who didn’t take No for an answer. I’m taking a cue from his words. Why not me?
Why not write fiction (and creative non-fiction)? Why not work full time on my books? Why not be committed to learn, and keep trying to improve my writing? Why not produce the best stories I can, and tell others about them?
Why not go for it?
“Why not you, Russ?”
Rendez-vous in the Big Apple
My husband and I spent a few days in New York City earlier this month, in between two bouts of record low temperatures up there, and (fortunately) days before snow fell in Manhattan.
As we walked from our hotel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the “Met”) one day, I tried to picture Candace Morgan’s apartment. Candace is the main character in my Suspense novel UNDERWATER, and she lives in Atlanta and New York. Undoubtedly, her place in the Upper East Side is tiny compared to the luxury penthouse condominium she owns down south. But it works, because she’s a minimalist – sort of.
In UNDERWATER, Candace spends most of her time in the city I know better, Atlanta (though she jets off to two exotic locations, only one of which I’ve visited). Relatively few of the story’s scenes take place up north, none during the winter; however, unlike me, Candace knows her way around “the City.”
So, why did my husband and I schedule a trip there, with no thought to the January weather possibilities? Parce que we recently reconnected with an old friend from our college days in Chapel Hill, whom we hadn’t seen in decades. That friend and we decided to rendez-vous in New York (she lives in Boston), and she and we contacted three other UNC friends who live in and around New York and asked them to join us.
The Old Well on the campus of UNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
We’d seen one of these friends a few times in recent years (although she, the Boston woman, hadn’t seen him since college), but we hadn’t seen or talked to the rest in over thirty years. Pourquoi? Because we had moved to Texas right after graduation and had simply lost contact. We hadn’t known their parents’ addresses or phone numbers – pretty much the only way, back then, to find each other.
But now, thanks to technology, social networks and just plain serendipity – well, I’m going to credit serendipity too, because it just felt like it was a factor – all but one of us met on a Saturday at a Greek restaurant on 7th Avenue. We caught up over lunch at a round table, then continued to share memories and news at a nearby Irish Pub. That night, it was a smaller group at dinner at an Italian restaurant on 51st Street.
The one who couldn’t attend that Saturday had previously scheduled a weekend trip. But – serendipitously – we had arrived on Thursday, and she happened to be free for dinner that night, so we met at a fabulous midtown restaurant. It was a wonderful kickoff to a great weekend.
It was a little weird to see each other again after so long and compare memories. On the other hand, it was somehow comfortable. We had all become friends without the benefit of instant and easy communication, and with the aid of serendipity. (Perhaps because we never did anything like it in college, exchanging emails and texts before and after our “reunion” in NYC felt a little odd – but only a little.)
I was glad the weather cooperated while we were there, and I’m thankful we dodged the snow and freezing temperatures (though ours down south have been pareil, lately). Next weekend, as I watch the Super Bowl, if it’s extremely cold (or worse) up there, I’ll be thinking of my northern friends.
With warm thoughts.
“Time Travel:” mon expérience
L’interview took place last August at the Carolina Coffee Shop in Chapel Hill, NC, right before UNDERWATER was released.I had just dropped off my daughter at college and was planning a Launch Party for my new Suspense novel. The interviewer was fellow Tar Heel Lucy Hood, who had studied in Spain just a few years after I returned from my year abroad in Montpellier, France on the UNC program there.
Fast forward to January 2014, and you have Lucy’s article, Time Travel, in the current edition of the Carolina Alumni Review!
You’ll find a lot about my first novel MAKE THAT DEUX, which Lucy and I discussed that morning, a little about UNDERWATER, and a few things about me (including a recent photo).
While MAKE THAT DEUX takes you back to the 70s (think: American Hustle, Argo and the Bee Gees), UNDERWATER is set in current times. It takes place in Atlanta and New York, with a scene or two in France.
I’m not a big “time travel” person when it comes to the movies, when that means the characters can go back and forth in time and try to alter or fix things that happened, then deal with the ramifications. But one movie that does it well, in my opinion, is the not-so-famous film that came out in 2000, called The Family Man starring Nicolas Cage.
In the movie, there was a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and one of them was going to spend time in Europe for a great opportunity, and then they…
Well, it’s a romantic, sweet story, just like (but different from) MAKE THAT DEUX. But if you want to take a different journey, filled with conflict, betrayal, despair and deceit, go deeper and dive into UNDERWATER.
You may have a hard time coming up for air.
The cost of forgiveness
During 2013, I read some good books, one of which was A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. Being so attached to Chapel Hill, NC, where I went to college, you’d think I would have read it a long time ago – or least known that the famous author lived in the town for many years. I didn’t even know about the Betty Smith house, though I’m sure I’ve walked by it before.
I knew about the novel, though, and last summer, when my daughter (soon to be a freshman at UNC) was looking for something good to read, I suggested it to her. She read it, and then I did and immediately added it to my list of all-time favorite books. One of the story’s most memorable lines is spoken by the main character’s grandmother:
“‘Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.'”
Two characters in my latest novel, UNDERWATER, struggle with forgiveness. One of them faces the difficult task of forgiving someone who refuses to express remorse for a past wrong. The other deals with her own internal feelings of sorrow and shame. For both, the decision to focus on gratitude instead of hurt makes forgiveness not only possible, but much easier.
Like love, gratefulness may seem just to happen, but it’s really a choice. Another idea the story examines is the responsibilities – and limits – of generosity. When someone gives us a gift expecting nothing in return, we feel grateful, we want to reciprocate, and we want to be around them more. When the “gift” has strings attached though, we feel indebted, and we want to create distance from the giver.
While it’s good manners to reciprocate a gift, it’s not always possible to do so at the same level. Gratitude is possible, however. When a gift has strings attached, the giver doesn’t want a gift in return, or even just true gratitude. Instead, (s)he wants the recipient to feel indebted, and then to do something or to behave a certain way.
Forgiveness is a gift for which we should expect nothing back, however. No strings attached.
And its cost is nothing.
How Chapel Hill has changed, on the surface…and below
A few weeks ago, when I was in Chapel Hill, N.C., someone asked me what the town and university was like when I was a student at UNC (before and after my year in France). Was it very different? The answer is yes, and no.
The Old Well on UNC campus
Back then, life was simpler, more private, and much more dependent on serendipity. On the other hand, some things are much simpler now, like “typing” a paper and doing research. It’s easier to arrange a rendez-vous (“date?”) now, but even easier to renege on one. *
Very few students studied abroad when I was at UNC, and those who did applied for the (young) program through the Romance Languages Department in Dey Hall. Now, there’s a Study Abroad Office and a wealth of information available on the UNC Global website. And when I was a student, college debt was much less, even in “real dollars,” and few students signed up for it – college tuition was much more affordable, and so was a year abroad.
The UNC campus hasn’t changed much, except for many new buildings and, of course, fewer parking lots. The town has changed a bit, though. The Franklin Hotel stands close to the spot where the Greyhound Bus Station used to be. Lots of restaurants have come and gone (see below). Now, you go to the Dean Dome for basketball games (if you can get tickets) instead of Carmicheal Arena.
But the Post Office on Franklin Street remains where it was, and so do the Carolina Inn and Granville Towers. The Graduate Library, Wilson, still stands of course, and so do Morehead Planetarium, Playmakers Theatre and the Paul Green Theatre. If you want to live near campus, you can still find rentals on McCauley Street and West Cameron Avenue. And it’s still a short walk to Carrboro.
The house on West Cameron Avenue where I lived during my last year at UNC
When I was a student, I worked during the year to help pay expenses. I was a waitress at Spanky’s, the Carolina Coffee Shop, and at the Country Squire, a steakhouse located on the bus line between Chapel Hill and Durham (important, because I didn’t have a car). Spanky’s and CCS are still in business, but the Country Squire was torn down after I graduated, to make room for I-40.
Like any college town, many establishments have disappeared:– Papagayo’s (new when I was a student) – the Rathskeller (I only went there once) – Krissa, a favorite Greek place – the Yacht Club (fancy, but in a basement) – Hector’s – Sadlack’s (where my husband worked as a student) – Roy Roger’s – Harrison’s (another bar is there now, I think) – the Mad Hatter – the Shack – Troll’s – the Porthole, a restaurant in the alley next to CCS
But some remain:– Four Corners – La Residence – Squid’s (in a different location now, I think) – He’s Not Here – the Station in Carrboro – Aurora (moved) – Breadman’s (also moved, but only across the street, and a bit different now) – Crook’s Corner (way different, and in a different place) – Pyewacket (used to be vegetarian) – Ye Olde Waffle Shop, a CCS competior – and of course, Sutton’s Drug Store.
Below the surface changes, I’m sure that life as a UNC student is different now, but still the same in many, many ways. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
Which is a very good thing.
* See my post of Sept. 19, 2012: Call me maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un
A Pat o’ Butter in a Sea o’ Grits
Growing up in Atlanta in a family where the father did the cooking, I never realized that grits were a southern dish.
My parents were born and raised in southwest Virginia, went to college and got married in Tennessee, and “moved away from there” as young parents, before I came along…to Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Missouri and finally, Georgia.
But everywhere they lived, la cuisine chez nous was distinctly southern. Tomato Gravy, or Sausage Gravy, and Buttermilk Biscuits, made from scratch. Apple Butter. Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy. Potato Cakes. Chicken and Dumplings. Cornbread. Sweet Tea. Fried Green Tomatoes. Sweet Potato Casserole. Sometimes, Breakfast for Dinner.
I married a Yankee who had never heard of them, and whose talents as a chef (later on)
rivaled surpassed my father’s. Mon mari grew up in a big family where the mom had a weekly dinner menu: Monday was hamburgers, Tuesday was spaghetti, Wednesday was hot dogs, Thursday was chicken, and Friday was grilled cheese and tomato soup.
So, when he was in college in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and his uncle sent him the cookbook Fearless Cooking for Men, he decided to learn to cook.
With simple, tasty recipes, the world of cooking opened up to him. He enjoyed the benefits of making dinner in his dorm room and off-campus apartment: it was cheaper than going out, and convenient on the weekend, with his weekday-only student meal plan.
And it was a great way to
a woman’s my heart.
Over the years, he’s evolved into a gourmet chef. His cookbook library has grown to include a variety of cuisines, including all of Julia Child’s recipes – she’s a favorite, and we both love la cuisine française. He’s also become acquainted with southern dishes, and introduced me to “northern” ones and their accoutrements.
Creamed Onions. Turnips. String Beans. “Southern” Fried Chicken (I always thought it was just Fried Chicken, but they add a qualifier.) Corn Fritters. Rolls (in place of biscuits, and store-bought). Ketchup on Scrambled Eggs.
I’ve adopted that last one, and for family birthday meals, “Southern” Fried Chicken and Corn Fritters are a tradition, but at least I don’t put maple syrup on mine. The rest of the above dishes are just, well, not me. At my urging, my husband has tasted grits, but he doesn’t love them and has never cooked them (even though they’re great with butter*).
Which brings me to the title of this post: another name for Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
I didn’t hear the Southern Part of Heaven** described that way until I met him, just after I turned eighteen. But “a pat o’ butter in a sea o’ grits” seemed perfect: if North Carolina (my second favorite state) is the grits, then yes, Chapel Hill is the pat of butter in the middle, dressing it up and making that tasty, buttery difference.
Other than my first Christmas break, the next summer, and ten months in the south of France – the experience on which my novel MAKE THAT DEUX is drawn – I spent as much time as I could in Chapel Hill between 1977 and 1981. My year in France was wonderful, but the tradeoff was missing a year in Chapel Hill and UNC, the most beautiful college campus in le monde…
My daughter just found out she’s been accepted there as a freshman this fall, and she’s thrilled to be a Tar Heel. I’m not sure if she likes grits as much as I do, but I know she’s a big fan of butter.
* See my post of October 3, 2012: What would Julia do? Faire la cuisine française.
** also known as a little slice of heaven…
Make that…my Book Trailer!
Voici ma vidéo….!
From storyboard to final release, it was a pleasure to work with Frank Martin, who did the animation for my Book Trailer! Merci, Monsieur!
Alors, qu’est-ce que vous en pensez? (What do you think?)
A (baker’s) dozen little-known facts – about me
Look for my BOOK TRAILER to be released soon for MAKE THAT DEUX!
While I wait for the finishing touches on it, here’s some trivia about me. My family (and relatives) know most of these faits peu connus (some of which are a bit embarrassante), but the rest of the world may not:
1. When I lived in France for a year as an exchange student, I didn’t (yet) have a driver’s license. But it wasn’t necessary to have one to drive a moped (mobylette). Phew!
Not my mobylette, but the same color mine was. (Why didn’t I take a picture? Because cameras – and film – were expensive!)
2. Since my birthday is October 20, I was always one of the oldest in my class growing up (when I started 1st grade, you had to be 6 years old by Oct. 1). In 9th grade, I set out to finish high school in 3 years, which I did, tying with another girl for 1st in my class. When I started at UNC, I was 17.
3. I was 2nd-runner-up in my high school beauty pageant (“Miss Tiger”).
4. I worked at the Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street (and other restaurants) when I was a student in Chapel Hill, and I once waited on Alan Alda. I don’t remember getting a big tip…
5. I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 26 years old and pregnant with twins, & I’ve never had another ear piercing (or any other kind).
6. One of my sons is a brain cancer survivor and was operated on by a renowned Duke neurosurgeon.* My son is doing terrific now & is involved in Relay for Life at UGA, which helps raise funds for cancer research.
7. I don’t wear bracelets or turtlenecks (though I used to wear both, but only once in a blue moon).
As a college freshman, wearing one of the two turtlenecks I remember ever owning.
8. I’m a slow reader, and always struggled to make A’s in English (which I did in high school, but not in college…Oops!)
9. Maybe because I’m very nearsighted (and my parents didn’t realize that until I was 12), I didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until I was 10 years old. I couldn’t see the ground in front of me!
10. I don’t get seasick, but I do get migraines occasionally.
11. My hair is naturally curly, and while my kids were growing up, I experimented with many different hairstyles and lengths.
Me when my third child was a toddler and my twins were in 1st grade
12. I left the promising field of computers and technology in the mid 1980s to stay home and raise my 4 children for 20 years, during which my family moved across the country 4 times.
13. I don’t know how to cook (much)…actually, that’s a well-known fact about me!
* Dr. Allan H. Friedman, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Duke University Hospital; the same doctor who operated on Senator Ted Kennedy several years ago.