Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What I Did Last Summer

Why am I posting about summer now? I just found this piece. Sometimes I start a blog and lose steam before it’s done. Instead of discarding the partials, I save them. Every now and then I read them all and try to figure out what point I was trying to make. It’s like a game. So here is one from September.
Years ago in Glen Ferris we had a senior couple who traveled all year long. That was notable because most of the Glen Ferris population did not. When Christmas came, the couple’s annual letter was filled with tales of visits to their children and grandchildren. They called themselves the nomadic [last name] and wrote as though none of us could wait to hear their latest gripping adventures on the road. This post will be the opposite of a holiday letter, or maybe half of one.
In June my 50th high school reunion in West Virginia was interrupted by a derecho (de-RAY-sho), a straight-line windstorm linked to severe thunderstorm activity. I’d never seen one or even heard the word, but the night of our class picnic I was returning to my hotel when the sky ahead turned brown. Broken branches and leaves blew across the road, and what looked like a giant cloud of dirt swept toward my car. In seconds I was enveloped, blinded. Swirling bits of debris ticked against the paint and glass of the car as I slowed down but kept going. Farther on, heavy rains flooded the highway. Orange construction barrels blew over and rolled into traffic. The capital city of Charleston was dark. Fortunately, my hotel had a generator, but the next day power was out all over the region and gasoline stations were shut down well into Ohio. The rest of the reunion was cancelled, and there was nothing to do but go home.
Two days earlier I had sent the manuscript for Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life, to the publisher, giving my brother Joe and me a temporary break from months of discussion and writing. I had finally cleaned my house.
In early July Greg and Annie came to visit. I love the summers because my sweet granddaughter, now nine years old, comes to stay a few days with her Cincinnati grandma. This has been our special time since Annie was two. My son’s visit was an added treat this year, though he divided his time between my house and his company’s offices in Columbus.
The sun threatened to roast us every day. With temperatures in the nineties, it was even too hot to swim. We stayed inside, and Annie watched the Disney Channel. On the 4th of July my air conditioner quit. There was no discussion, no debating the pros and cons of a replacement. The new one was installed in a hurry, and a few hours later we were back to having cool air.
On July 24 my brother had back surgery. This was Joe’s second operation to address cervical myelopathy, a disease affecting the nerves along the spine. He stayed with me for the first two weeks of his recuperation, as his movements were limited initially by a walker and for a month by a neck brace. Though he wasn’t permitted to drive for another two weeks, Joe returned home in the middle of August.
Summer always ends with my birthday, which usually occurs during Labor Day weekend. Now in Ohio our yards are covered with gorgeous fallen leaves. Mr. Joe is in production. Annie’s been back in school for months. Soon it will be time for Joe to put his little red sports car away for the winter in favor of the safer tank our mom used to drive.
Time flies, you know? I haven’t been nomadic, not since the reunion. I’m just grateful that all of my former classmates made it home safely after the storm. I’m glad my brother is on the road again after his surgery. As for Annie, she’s rocking the fourth grade.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bookstore Ambitions

This morning I’ve been reading blogs about what it’s like to work in a bookstore. That’s because I’ve applied for a job as a bookseller.
This is the third time I’ve applied to this particular store, which is located a few miles from my home. I figure its proximity might reduce my driving stress once winter arrives...if I ever get the job.
Honestly, I thought that hiring me would be a no-brainer for the bookstore manager. I’m presentable and articulate. I have related experience and a proven work ethic. What’s not to like? The first time I applied I was on high alert for a few days, expecting to be called any minute for an interview. Really, why did they they even let me leave the store after I’d handed them such a stellar application? It was all I could do not to look behind me on my way to the car. I would not have been surprised to see an employee chasing me through the parking lot: “Please, come back! We need you now.”
The real surprise unfolded when absolutely nothing happened: no chasing, no call, and no interview. I got up my nerve and asked a bookseller about the hiring practices of the store. She was quite chipper and encouraging when she said, “We discard our applications after a few months. By all means, apply again.” I went home and completed my paperwork for the second time, put it all in a folder, and handed it in the same day. I saw no point in playing hard to get.
Nothing happened. Months passed, and I knew that my application and resume had again hit the trash can. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t even been given a chance to interview, but after two tries I let my bookstore ambitions go. Until now.
I know someone at this bookstore, which is how I heard a few days ago that they were hiring. Should I try again? Why not? Maybe the third time really is a charm.
Back in January, my hard drive crashed and many files were lost. My resume was one of them, and so I redid it. I completed the job application—again—and took both documents to the store. I made it safely to my car afterward, and so far my phone has not rung off the hook. At least I’m not surprised.
And that brings us back to the blogs I’ve been reading, the inside scoop about what it’s like to be a bookseller. They keep secret journals of stupid customer questions. They have to clean the public restrooms. The worst assignment in the store is magazines, because people are pigs. Kids run wild. The same in-store music repeats for months until you want to bash in your skull. People try to read entire books without leaving the store.
Do I still want to be a bookseller? Yes. I will let you know if it ever happens.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Is It Done?

Last week my brother and I submitted the manuscript for his memoir, Mr. Joe, to our publisher. I was the one who sent it in, using an increasingly common method: I attached the 362-page Microsoft Word file to an e-mail. Both Joe and I are compulsively early, so the manuscript left on its cyber-journey two days before the deadline—on Wednesday instead of Friday.

Perhaps you heard my “Ta-da!” as I clicked the Send button. At last, the thing was out of our hands. Mr. Joe has been a six-year labor of love, but that Wednesday I was saturated with it, having spent the previous ten days putting in revisions. As the message went to the Out box, I could almost hear the clang of rolling steel, as though a safety door had descended behind Mr. Joe  and forced me to let go—not a bad thing.
Our publisher normally responds like lightning to e-mails, so I was surprised when we heard nothing back from her.  Joe, with his trusting nature, assumed that all was well; but some of us harbor more anxiety. Some of us question everything. All I could think was: Did she get the manuscript? Did she read it? Did she love it or hate it?
The silence was agonizing.
When Friday came—the due date--I ventured a second e-mail in case the manuscript had not reached its destination. That time the reply was quick. Our publisher had been preparing for a huge book fair all week. Mr. Joe, one of many projects, was on her reading schedule for the following week.
“Are you ‘done’ with it?” she asked in her message. “Do you believe it’s ready to go?”
If I thought the silence from Wednesday to Friday was agonizing, this was worse. How could I say it? The day after I sent the manuscript in, I found an error: two words left out of one of the later chapters,  no doubt the result of my cutting and pasting. The spell check hadn’t caught it.
I’d also thought of a great line I could add to Chapter 44, regarding my mother’s statement that she did not want to live to be ninety years old. I hadn’t immediately seen that her words would connect beautifully to an earlier passage in the book.
Now my mind was racing. Should I tell the publisher about these changes? That would mean sending a new file. The changes were tiny. The missing words would be caught in Production. Should I read Mr. Joe yet again? Would I think of a dozen other changes if I did? I decided to delay my response.
She wrote again: “I’ll read it Tuesday and Wednesday if you feel it’s ready to go to typesetting.”
I couldn’t escape the  readiness issue. It made my heart race. It made my mind wild. It made me doubt myself—but let’s cut to the lesson. Joe has had to remind me a few times during this project that everything isn’t about me.  I don’t recall that he said it this time, but his words echoed in my mind like the clang of that virtual steel door.
Our publisher is beyond excited about Mr. Joe. Being also a busy publisher, she likes to avoid reading multiple versions of the same manuscript. Her unsettling questions weren’t a finger-wagging directed at me. She merely wanted  to know if the Author Final was indeed final. I told her the truth: I'm never done. Writers seldom are. We can always find something to change.
As she began her reading two thousand miles and three time zones away, Joe and I did the same in Cincinnati. I intended to make my two little fixes and hope the 91,000 other words would still stand. Here’s the thing: Every change in a manuscript starts a chain reaction. Maybe we should call it a change reaction, because every change can trigger a new story. Every change makes an author rethink what came before and after it. I got lost in Mr. Joe and felt like I was fighting my way out. Maybe you know the feeling.
Luckily, our inner survival mechanism eventually kicks in. When mine finally did, I completed my edits easily and clicked on the Send button without a single stab of conscience.
Thanks to our publisher, Bettie Youngs of Bettie Youngs Books, for her steadfast support and encouragement during the development of Mr. Joe.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Massage

A few weeks ago I bought my first smartphone, and the other day I got my first massage. Look out, world! The girl from Glen Ferris is on the loose. And when I say loose, well, it’s a nice segue to the massage story.

My brother gave me a gift card for my birthday entitling me to a session at Massage Envy. I’d seen the building: lots of windows and shades made it seem mysterious, but maybe they were just keeping the sun out. Some of the most glamorous spas are located in the vast and gorgeous West, where the desert takes its toll. This one is in a shopping center near my home in Ohio.
Massages were nothing new to most of my friends, who had always told me I would love the experience. I didn’t know if I’d love it or not. Was I supposed to get naked? In a salon where I got my eyebrows waxed, I waited for my appointments in a spa environment. On Saturdays, especially, it was common to see bridal parties in their white terry robes having a day of beauty before the wedding. They were always young and beautiful. Let’s just say that I’m in a different place and well accustomed to a daily routine of trying to disguise my flaws.
I have wrinkles. My belly isn’t tight. My legs are all freckled from years in the sun. Yes, such changes come with age, but all of a sudden somebody I hadn’t met was going to know those things. Maybe the Kardashians can just throw their clothes off and relax, but could I?
In some circles, massage is a shady word. That’s a shame, but I did think about it before I made my appointment. Would any of the touching be too close for comfort? Many people wouldn’t worry about such things, but after all these years I’m sure I represent the ones who would.
When I arrived, I filled out a questionnaire. My lack of experience prevented me from answering some of the questions, e.g., what kind of massage did I want. There was a list of body areas on the form so that I could indicate which ones were all right to include in the massage. One was gluteus. Who goes around saying “gluteus”? I wasn’t positive I knew what it was. That’s hard for a writer to admit, but at least I was right. The girl at the counter confirmed that it was my butt.
After the questionnaire and a little spiel about what to expect, I was shown to the inner sanctum of the spa. If you haven’t been, a spa environment is hushed. Soft music plays in the background. The lights are low. People use their indoor voices. Maybe you remember the Seinfeld episode about the “low talker,” the woman who practically whispered her every sentence. In a spa, everybody talks that way. The whole idea is for customers to relax. Even the rooms are named to soothe. While I was waiting in the Tranquility Room, I silenced my phone in case an actual call might come through. 
The massage took place in a small room with a heated table made up like a bed. I undressed to my undies and lay down under the covers to wait for Jen, my massage therapist. Some people like it quiet during a massage, but I knew that I would feel better if she explained what she was doing. I found out I was having a Swedish massage, and because it was my first time, Jen applied a light-to-medium touch. The light in the room was dimmed, and that helped my anxiety about my body.
From that point, I did relax. I realized that a skilled professional was taking the tension knots out of my back, improving my circulation, and helping me to leave my Type A personality behind for an hour. Anyone who can do those things—especially that last one--deserves high praise.
The second half of my massage, the part that took place after I understood the process, was very quiet. I no longer felt the need to talk. I left the spa relaxed. I didn’t feel like I would melt into a puddle, but maybe next time, now that I know what it’s all about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Joining the 21st Century

According to the online dictionary I use, smartphone is one word, lowercased. My version of Microsoft Word doesn’t know this; it puts a red squiggly line underneath the now-common term for a telephone that lets us do dozens of things besides talk. As of last week, I’m the proud owner of a smartphone. Actually, the one I bought is called a phablet, a combination phone and tablet.
I’d been thinking about upgrading my old cell, which was already a year past the end of its contract and embarrassingly out of date, but I’d put it off. I hardly ever used the phone, and it rarely rang. When it did, I was either startled or oblivious. Once when my brother and I were driving through Atlanta, the phone was plugged in to recharge in the car. It was resting on a molded tray between the seats when I heard a brrrrrr-ing sound I couldn’t identify. “What’s that?” I asked, looking around in surprise. “It sounds like a tornado warning.” Another time, in a restaurant, I was sure it was someone passing gas.
The most annoying thing about my old cell phone was the phone number. It had obviously belonged to a criminal, or at least a slippery character, before it was assigned to me. Every day I received at least one urgent call from someone needing to get in touch with a certain Dale S. without delay. Sometimes it was a recorded message and sometimes a live person, but it was urgent, guaranteed. Dale got more calls than I did, so naturally I began to resent the ringing of my phone. I should have had my number changed, but instead I tried to correct the situation one desperate authority figure at a time, a losing battle.
It wasn’t Dale’s popularity that made me cave in. It was the possibility of doing retail business on my phone using a little technological wonder called the Square (to learn more, check out The Square is a free device that plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone and allows the user to process credit and debit cards. I don’t have mine yet, but I’ve seen it in use and have already installed the app on my phone. With my Dracula book already in circulation and Mr. Joe coming out in a few months, I didn’t want to be limited to taking cash or checks when selling books.
My new smartphone is a wonder. No one’s called me yet, but I think I’m going to love it once I learn the features. The second thing I bought, after the phone, was a book to tell me how to use it: Samsung Galaxy Note for Dummies. I’m working my way through the chapters. For some of us, smartphones are intuitive the way computers were intuitive: over time, lots of time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Maniac, Maniac

Yesterday morning I rushed outside in my shortest shorts, the ones I only sleep in, after a moving truck pulled up next door. Two men were headed toward the back of the truck, presumably to load or unload something. It was eight o’clock, and the truck was blocking my garage—the very situation that turns me into a maniac.

Was I going anywhere at that hour? No. That hardly mattered; my chest got tight the minute I spotted the truck. My heart rate took a flying leap at the thought of being stuck two hours later when I had to leave in the car for my nail appointment. Don’t even try to apply logic to that.
I live in attached housing and don’t have my own driveway, just a garage and the one space in front of it. The people who live on my street understand the parking parameters, but visitors often don’t. They block residents’ garages and occasionally impede the flow of traffic on the street. Delivery and service vehicles are generally forgiven; we all need those once in a while. So why did the moving truck send me into a tailspin?
I suspect it’s a touch of claustrophobia. My morning coffee was a likely contributor, too, considering the time of day. Finally, those of us who tend to be territorial don’t do well with vaguely defined spaces that border on public spaces. There you go: perfectly reasonable explanations for why I burst out the front door like a psycho in my short shorts, jumped off the porch step, and cleared the ground cover like a rabbit.
Afterward I pictured myself running across the yard with my car keys like someone in a cartoon. Attack mode was a new low. Normally I just seethe at the offending vehicle from inside the house and no one’s the wiser. How many times could I charge across the lawn without gaining an unfortunate reputation in this small neighborhood? I’ve lived here for fifteen years, and so far the worst thing my neighbors have called me was a hermit.
Even hermits need to take the car out of the garage.
Maybe everybody has a hot button, something that drives them so crazy they have to fix it now. Maybe yours wouldn’t even bother someone else. My nail technician says hers is getting the “sticky stuff” from the gel polish process on her hands. Twice yesterday she stopped doing my manicure to grab for a paper towel.
I’ve been thinking about how to contain my blocked-garage mania. The obvious way would be to stay in the house when it happens. Another would be to cut my caffeine intake, so yesterday I stocked up on the K-Cup solution, Half-Caff. Fortunately (bright spot alert), it turned out that the moving truck was not settling in for the day. In fact, ten minutes after seeing the raving maniac in my front yard, it was gone.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

United What?

A new reality show starring a family of twenty-one people—friends of the famous Duggars of “19 Kids and Counting”--has just been announced. The group fondly known on “19 Kids” as “the Bates” are getting their own show.

Sorry, I cannot watch a show titled “United Bates of America.” It isn’t because the name isn’t clever; it’s because “Bates” is incorrect. The plural form of Bates, the family’s last name, is Bateses. Calling them “the Bates” should have been nipped in the bud when the Duggars started doing it. Now the whole nation will follow along. Where were these people when plurals were taught in English class? After all, we don’t say “keeping up with the Jones.”

Sometimes at my old job, we had contests to name new products. At other times, a group from the project would sit around a table and brainstorm. Whatever process was used for the new show, it seems somebody along the way could have piped up when “United Bates of America” was suggested. Didn’t anyone realize they were making a grammatical goof?
Since I started this blog, I’ve been accused of…well, how can we say it? I’ve been told I’m not at my best when dishing out grammatical advice. People prefer funny. There is nothing funny about my opinion of “the Bates.” I don’t mean the twenty-one people in the family; they seem like nice folks, and I wish them well. I mean the mistake we’re bound to hear again and again as summer becomes fall and one ad after another introduces us to “the Bates.” Enjoy the show if you watch it. I have to save my teeth, which I would surely grind to nubs during the first season.

For those of you who would like something funny rather than the 5:00 a.m. ravings of a caf-fiend, I'll take it under advisement. 

Friday, July 27, 2012


A furry raccoon stared back at me this morning from one of two metal cages baited with marshmallows and placed in my yard two days ago by a wildlife removal company. The animal looked just like I expected from the cartoons, a ball of fluff with a dark “bandit” mask around its eyes. Actually, it looked cute, but I wasn’t taken in. Sometimes our furry little friends can be our enemies. This one has been my nemesis for longer than I care to admit, making itself comfortable in the attic and chimney of my home and then having babies: babies that bump and scrape against the walls and cry with little clicks in their voices.

I was alone the other morning when that chilling sound filled the living area of my home, instantly gripping me in bone-deep fear. It was early and still dark out. I jumped out of my chair and grabbed a broom, my heart rate in overdrive, and then crept downstairs toward the crying. Was the animal in the fireplace? It seemed so; the noise coming from that dark void was immediate and loud. Only after I nudged an upholstered chair against my metal fire screen did I realize that the fireplace box was empty. No raccoons were going to jump out with their little claws and chase me through the house.

When it comes to animals, I am missing a sensitivity chip. I have to tell you that, or you might not fully appreciate my state of mind during this adventure. Even though I like, even love, some of my friends’ and family members’ pets, I am not an animal person. And raccoons are a far cry, so to speak, from domestic pets.
I was thrilled to gain a temporary roommate a couple days ago, and I’m not talking about Mama Raccoon. My brother, Joe, is staying here while he convalesces from back surgery. The timing was perfect in light of the raccoon issue. Never mind that Joe is wearing a neck brace and using a walker, moving at the pace of Tim Conway in the comedian’s hilarious characterization of an old codger; at least I was not alone with the beasts. And then last night when he heard the critters moving around inside the chimney space, Joe said, “If one of them comes into view, I’m out of here.”
When we were growing up in Glen Ferris, West Virginia, our house was spitting distance from Route 60, the Midland Trail. Route 60 was, and is, the only road going through town, the automatic default for semis and coal trucks as well as cars. The only buffer between our front yard and the traffic whizzing by was a sidewalk. Our parents wouldn’t let us have a dog because it could run out into the street. We couldn’t have a cat because my mother was afraid of cats. Our pets were dime-store Easter chickens that later “went to a farm” and turtles the size of deviled eggs. The chickens were dyed—mine was bright pink—and the turtles had designs painted on their little shells. We probably took home a goldfish or two over the years, as well. They did not prepare me for wildlife.
When you have raccoons, you hear noises above you that might remind you of your dad getting out of bed, as they did me. Boards creak with the weight. The creaking is punctuated by mysterious clunks. In addition, odors may drift down into your living area, and you might find yourself looking for the Yankee Candles in case anyone comes over.
The day I heard the raccoons crying I was ready to sign my place over and flee, but I called the animal control company instead. “I have an appointment for next Monday,” I said, “but this can’t wait. These raccoons are too close for comfort--practically in my living room. Please come before they start telling me what they want to watch on TV.” The wildlife removal guy came, the traps were set, and you know the rest.
This post, contrary to the title of my blog, isn’t about writing. I have to say that a lot lately, but here’s the point. It is writing. I am writing again. Thanks for following my meandering blog.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mom's Birthday

“She was done living. I know that for a fact.”—Mr. Joe, Chapter 43, “One Loving Smile”

Today would have been my mother’s ninety-fourth birthday. Mom passed away in late March, 2008, at eighty-nine. Joe says she told him several times that she didn’t want to reach age ninety.
Mom had been living at the Alois Alzheimer Center in Cincinnati. If you wonder, as I did, where “Alois” comes from, it was Dr. Alzheimer’s first name--short for Aloysius. Mom spent the last seven months of her life there, among people who loved her.
More of Mom’s story will be told in Mr. Joe, my brother’s memoir, and Chapter 43 is the sweetest chapter about the two of them. I can say this because all I did was put Joe’s story down on “paper”; it isn’t like bragging on oneself.
Co-authoring Mr. Joe gave us both a wild ride through our childhood, and the road down memory lane was bumpy. That can happen when you revisit the past. It happens when you write this kind of book.
Mom had her troubles when we were growing up, which translated to trouble for us. If you read It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me, you know that she drank. Joe and I were afraid of her for many years, but Mom turned her life around. She quit drinking and later moved to Cincinnati to be near us and our families. That road was bumpy, too, and short compared to a lifetime, but it gave us all a second chance. I miss her.
One thing our mom always had was a great sense of humor. At ninety-four, she might just be a hoot. Happy birthday, Mom!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Finish Line

My brother and I have been working for months on a revision of our manuscript for Mr. Joe, which is due to the publisher July 1. Mr. Joe is Joe’s memoir; he’s told me the story during work sessions at coffee houses and our houses, and I’ve been typing it into the computer and making a few adjustments—not so much “writing it” as writing it down. Now we’re approaching the finish line.

It’s becoming real.

Our project was mostly talk for such a long time, and talk is cheap. We had a wonderful time discussing Mr. Joe in the car, in restaurants, and on my brother’s back porch. Won’t it be fun! What stories should we include? How will we promote the book together? We laughed and cried as we talked about publishing Mr. Joe and subsequently appearing on TV talk shows. It was an easy leap.
The finish line can be sobering. I think it’s the responsibility. Yes, this book is going to come out. Our friends and relatives and former co-workers are going to read it. How will they react? Who will come to the signings? Will the book make it? These are familiar questions to a writer, and both Joe and I have asked them.
I can’t speak for my co-author, but for me, approaching the finish line means that I’m tired. I’m tired of sitting in front of this computer, tired of rewriting, tired of pushing myself through the chapters to make my deadline. My body is feeling the long days in this chair. It’s a comfortable seat unless one sits on the edge of it, as I do, for hours at a time. I can’t seem to help it; Joe’s story is good, and I need to make it that good on paper.
When I get near the end—this I know from my first book, It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me—I get restless. I’m so excited about this new book. I want it to be the best it can be. But mostly I just want to be done. I get reckless, too, and that’s a recipe for making mistakes. The last few chapters require a high degree of vigilance, because everything has to come together at the end. The questions raised in the story have to be answered, the conclusion has to be satisfying, and all of it has to work.
In order to do this project justice, I need to be aware that I’m getting tired and anxious and--every now and then--just plain manic. You might understand this from your own experience. There are times we need to be on our toes because we feel that way. When that happens, an extra dose of vigilance will put us across the finish line.
Thanks to my amazing brother, Joseph Barnett, for an amazing story.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Clog in the Machine

Okay, now that I’ve written about writing, I can write about the Kardashians. Warning: If you didn’t like my blog about Kendra, you might not like this one.

I keep up with the Kardashians, and sometimes it’s a lot like work. Oh, it’s easy to follow their story if one is being weekend lazy and turns the TV to the Entertainment channel, E!. E! has gotten lazy, too; when its daytime lineup doesn’t include showing “Movies We Love” (e.g., Knocked Up) until some of us hate them, E! repeats episodes of “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
We really have no excuse for missing the months leading up to Kim’s lavish wedding to the athlete Kris Humphries, whose giant hand on hers was a source of morbid fascination to me as they walked together down the aisle last year.
I watched it all, and then Kim filed for divorce after only 72 days of marriage. Her story: A “hopeless romantic,” she was swept along in the wedding hoopla and didn’t want to disappoint those who had poured their time and millions into planning her special day.
The couple’s legal battles have continued into 2012, as each accuses the other of fraud. Kim has maintained all along that she wanted “a family and babies and a real life so badly.” As one who keeps up, I say, “Bull.” Sorry, Kim, but this time I have to go with Humphries, even though I don’t particularly like him, based on what I’ve seen and read.
His story: He loved his wife and was blindsided by the divorce. Maybe so, but anyone who says to his new bride, “Babe, by the time you have kids and they're in school, no one will care about you,” needs to be served divorce papers. And was he really expecting Kim Kardashian, a workaholic with a current net worth of $35 million from endorsements and appearances, to move to Minnesota?
My publicist says the key to success and happiness is managing our expectations. When I get ready for a book signing, I try to remember that.
The soon-to-be exes should have talked a bit more about expectations, IMHO, because his were blindly unrealistic. Maybe he didn’t watch the “Kardashians” episodes in which Kim bought and decorated her mansion, wiping down surfaces like someone possessed. I suppose he was elsewhere when the rest of us saw her closets, with all the hangers exactly alike and every sweater folded to perfection. He must have missed the show in which his future bride scolded her mom and sisters because when they stepped off the walk, their high heels made holes in her back yard. Maybe he was out practicing basketball during those episodes; otherwise, he would have known not to leave “messy piles of clothes” around the house.
The groom was unrealistic, but I also believe the bride misrepresented herself—not a very good start to forever. I don’t believe their wedding was solely a publicity stunt. However, I do believe that Kim is solidly married to her career but might not know it.
Kris, as cocky as he seemed on the show, had no chance against the Kardashian machine. The family closed ranks, supporting one of their own against the world. Imagine if you had a family like that! Maybe you do. Imagine a publicity machine like the Kardashians’. What would that be like? I guess it would depend which side you were on.
Disclosure: This blog was originally written in November 2011. It was updated just before posting.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I’ve been on a break. Maybe you noticed.

For the last two months I’ve been trying to decide whether to admit that I came down with a case of shingles during my fall book tour. We’ve talked about the roller-coaster ride that is sometimes the lot of an author, so you deserve to know.

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by a virus in the body. Almost half the cases occur in people 60 and older. It’s believed that stress can contribute to an outbreak.
When I embarked on my publicity campaign for It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me, I knew I’d sometimes be leaving my comfort zone behind. Many of the things I did—and have written about in this blog—were new. However, I was no stranger to new challenges, or to stress; my career as an editor had included plenty of both. The idea of speaking to crowds wasn’t new, nor was it intimidating. I certainly hadn’t broken out in shingles as a result. So, what happened?
One morning in November, just before my Atlanta trip, I woke up itching. Two little bite-like areas had appeared on my midsection. They looked like chigger bites, so I put clear nail polish over them. Then, because I’d been in bed, I thought, “Bedbugs!” They’re a hot traveler topic these days, so I stripped my bed and sprayed the mattress with Lysol, but found nothing.
By the time I was ready to leave Atlanta for home, my two itchy “bites” had developed into what appeared to be a raging case of hives. The rash began over the right side of my rib cage and wrapped all the way around onto my back. I was a mess. I was beginning to suspect shingles, and my doctor confirmed it the next day. Even though I received treatment, the condition lasted for weeks, taking my focus and energy. I did very little writing.
I think the shingles were related to the book tour—not the times when I had a blast, speaking to groups and meeting people who said they loved my book. Not the times there were actual lines for my autograph. It was the other events, the ones that are the “downside” of the author’s roller-coaster ride, the ones attended by only one or two people, or—this is the worst—seats filled by bookstore employees because no one else came. It happens, you know, and you still have to perform. That was what did it, in my opinion.
It made me hesitant to go back out on the road, but I went. Last week I had a very successful trip to South Carolina, where I spoke at a college. Slowly I’m returning to my routine, so I hope you didn’t give up on me.
If you’re concerned about shingles, there is a vaccine. It won’t do me any good, but you might want to check into it, especially if you’re of a certain age.