Dancing with the stars

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Jennifer Crusie is the second from the right.

The blogging group with Jennifer Crusie (second from the right)

Every year for some years now I’ve attended RWA’s national conference in July. This year it was in New York, which meant that my favorite writer of all time, Jennifer Crusie, who also taught the McDaniel College creative writing/romance program I took, could attend. I went to her two conference sessions along with my group bloggers (my former classmates from the McDaniel program), and a nice person took a photo of us all. Proof positive!

The conference was its usual busy self. Besides meeting Jennifer Crusie, the other highlight of the event was that one of our number, Jeanne Oates Estridge (third from right) won the Golden Heart award for paranormal romance. We’re all super proud of her! It’s a tremendous honor, winning over hundreds if not thousands of entries. I’m hoping for a major hardcover release for her.

I got more out of the conference this year than usual (good sessions, connecting with old friends, cementing new friendships, interesting pitches, and did I mention Jennifer Crusie?), but it took more out of me than usual (too much noise, too much rich food [all my fault], not enough sleep [ditto]). It’s been my vacation of choice for a while now, but after next year, when it’s practically in my backyard, I might think about cutting back to every other year or so and maybe going instead to smaller, more local conferences. I could save me some bucks and plan a bigger trip for the times I do go. We’ll see.

Next year in San Diego!

Let’s hear it for the girls

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Catas-TrophyToday I found a fun and inspiring story about publishing, and I always like those. It’s about a book. Here’s the opening:

“Miss Peacock felt the warm tears welling up in her eyes…. It had been Miss Peacock’s lifelong ambition to hoist the trophy aloft with two victorious arms. Apart from basketball, Miss Peacock’s two more modest pastimes were knitting and the regular manufacturing and drinking of hot chocolate in the staff canteen.”

Thus begins The Catas-Trophy, a 140-page mystery about the theft of a prestigious basketball trophy from a school in London. The author(s): 29 girls, students in Class 5 at the Teresian School in Donnybrook, Co Dublin, ages 11-12. Each student wrote and illustrated a chapter.

Caoimhe Ní Fhaoláin, the girls’ teacher, assigned the project to develop the students’ writing and teamwork skills. The girls voted regularly to decide the direction the story should take.

“It was a great lesson in diplomacy,” said Ní Fhaoláin. “They worked together to develop the characters and ensure that the plots are flawless throughout.” The students were responsible for the front and back cover design and illustration, blurb, and title.

Printed volumes of The Catas-Trophy are sold locally, and it’s also available on Amazon. Proceeds go to the Irish Cancer Society and Down Syndrome Ireland. Because that’s how the girls voted to do it.

So, excuses for not writing and publishing, anyone? I didn’t think so.

 

Flash fiction challenge: The car chase

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Chuck Wendig issued a flash fiction challenge: write a car chase in 2,000 words. I’m cheating a bit, because while my antagonist leads the chase in a car, the scene is about the chaser, not the chasee. And the chaser is a food truck. But, hey. There’s a car in there. Somewhere. Comments welcome!

When the Eklunds broke away from the race and sped across town, Karen Renfrew turned from the orange and blue paisley–painted, Indian-themed food truck and stared as the small cavalcade—the electric sports cars driven by the investors, and then the electric support vehicle—bashed their way through the traffic cones that marked the route and peeled off in the wrong direction.

“Well, that’s really weird,” she said to Uncle Boo-boo, who had taken her to his sister’s startup food truck and was introducing her to the tasty miracle that was chicken tikka masala. “Why are those cars going off the track? Why is Phoebe following them?”

“Perhaps it is secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said, beaming.

“What are you talking about?” Sanjay asked, sticking his head out of the food truck’s order window. “What CIA business? What’s Phoebe up to now?”

“We don’t know!” Karen said, frowning after the cars. “It’s very odd.”

“I think it’s secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said.

“Maybe we should follow them,” Sanjay said. “Phoebe has a exhibited a distressing habit of taking risks. Perhaps she could use our help.”

“An excellent suggestion!” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Let’s go!” He unhooked the chalkboard menu that hung from the side of the truck and stashed it on the counter. Sanjay disappeared inside, and in seconds, a cloud of black smoke erupted from the tailpipe as the truck roared to life.

“We’re chasing them in the food truck?” Karen didn’t think they could catch them in the food truck. Or even keep them in sight, no matter how bright those ghastly yellow cars were and how tall the cones stood out on the vehicles’ roofs.

“With what else do we have to chase them? By all means, in the food truck!” Uncle Boo-boo clipped the menu securely to the counter and then nudged her toward a small door in the side of the truck. “You do not see any other vehicles here, do you? The food truck is what we have. The food truck is what we’ll take.”

Karen heard a shout from inside the truck, and a skinny teenaged boy started slamming down the window covers. In seconds, the truck was secured and ready to go.

“No time to lose!” Uncle Boo-boo beamed and opened the side door.

In for a penny, Karen thought, and tripped up the steps in her killer heels. At the top she bumped into the teenager. “Oh, sorry!” she said.

“This is the nephew of my nephew Sanjay,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Justin.”

“Justin?” The teenager, a beautiful younger replica of Sanjay with dark brown, almond-shaped eyes, dark hair, and pants at least four sizes too big, shrugged.

“Don’t ask me.”

“Better sit!” Sanjay yelled from the driver’s seat. He ground the gears into first and stepped on the gas. The truck was heavy and slow, but even so, the lurch sent Karen flying into Uncle Boo-boo.

“Here, we have seats in the back,” he said, holding onto her firmly. “With belts. Better than an airplane.”

They staggered to the back of the truck, where Uncle Boo-boo pulled down a jump seat for the two of them, and Justin braced himself in a crevice between two built-in cupboards.

“Hang on!” Uncle Boo-boo called gaily as Sanjay ground the gears into second and the truck lurched again. Uncle Boo-boo grabbed Karen’s leg for emphasis, which was a lot less irritating than she thought it would be. She looked into his twinkling eyes and smiled.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Can we still see them?”

“We will catch them,” Sanjay called, glaring into the traffic, his eyes focused on the road. “They will not get away.” With one hand on the wheel, he dug his phone out of his pocket, and hit the speed dial.

“Phoebe!” he said. “What are you doing?” He listened for a minute, swerving around traffic with one hand, leaning on the horn when he had to. “We’re right behind you! Alert the hotel!” He disconnected and shoved the phone back in his pocket.

“The Swedish-Korean terrorists are making their move!” he said to his passengers. “We have to step on it!”

“Terrorists?” Karen said. “What terrorists? I never heard anything about terrorists.” She’d never really been positive that Phoebe had worked for the CIA. Her daughter just seemed to have a boring desk job at some gray agency in Washington where she sat all day and pushed paper around. She was a spy? When did that happen? And—chasing after terrorists like this, somebody was bound to get hurt.

“The Swedish-Koreans! I told you! They have guns! They are on the move! We must stop them!” Sanjay stamped on the accelerator. Hungry pedestrians, seeing the food truck barreling down the street, tried to flag him down, but he gestured wildly to get them to move out of the way. Then he turned on the truck’s exterior speakers and hit a button. Music from a Bollywood musical blared out into the Las Vegas desert.

“Ah,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “That is Lat Lag Gayee. Very nice tune.”

“What?” Karen said, hanging on to Uncle Boo-boo for dear life as Sanjay careened around a corner.

“From Race 2,” Uncle Boo-boo said, holding Karen firmly. “Not my favorite film, but I do like the music, don’t you?”

“Ah, sure,” Karen said. The truck sped down the street, music streaming out to the public. Several other vehicles honked. Sanjay honked back. From her position on the jump seat, Karen could see only a tiny sliver of the front-facing windshield. Buildings sped by, but she had a hard time orienting herself to where they were. And then Sanjay slammed on the brakes, and they all lurched forward.

“We’re here!” Sanjay threw open the driver-side door and leaped out of the truck. Uncle Boo-boo helped Karen to her feet and she, feeling unexpectedly hampered by her stilettos, followed him out the side door, gratefully taking his helpful hand. Justin jumped down and hiked up his pants with one hand after he landed. Karen looked up at the imposing façade of the Desert Dunes casino and the yellow electric SUV parked in front. What was Phoebe doing here? What was happening?

“Hey!” the liveried valet parking guy said. “You can’t park here!”

“CIA!” Sanjay flashed his food vendor’s permit for less than a second.

The valet parking guy grabbed Uncle Boo-boo’s arm. “Stop right there!”

“They’re with me,” Sanjay said. “National security!”

“At least turn off that music!”

“CIA!” Uncle Boo-boo said, shaking his arm loose and flashing his realtor’s license. “It’s most urgent.”

“I’m the cocktail waitress,” Karen said, wondering if the valet parking guy might actually hold her back. She thought that might be a good idea. He was kind of cute, and her feet were killing her. When she’d accepted the date with Uncle Boo-boo to see the race, she hadn’t expected to do so much running herself.

“Hey! Wait!” The valet guy said, but Sanjay ran to the revolving doors without looking back. Uncle Boo-boo towed Karen, who tripped along as fast as she could, and Justin slouched behind.

“We’re in,” Sanjay said, looking around the lobby for Phoebe, or alternatively, any sign of trouble. “Now let’s go save us a Secretary of State.”

Selective blindness

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Watch this 1999 video by psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. You won’t be sorry, I promise.

Did you get the number of ball passes correct? I really focused, and I did count correctly.

For those who didn’t see the 300-pound gorilla in the room, which I did not, this phenomenon is entirely normal. Did you ever not notice a friend’s new haircut? Or not realize that a sibling had gained weight over the last 10 years? If so, it’s not because you’re too self-involved. According to researchers, it’s how our brains are wired. It’s called “change blindness,” and it’s the phenomenon of not noticing something—even a 300-pound gorilla—when it stares us in the face.

There’s also “inattentional blindness,” when we don’t see the difference because we’re not looking for it. In the video, if didn’t see the gorilla, it’s because you were told to count the number of ball passes. If you’d been told to look for the gorilla, you’d have seen it. Which I did, easily, when I played the video back.

These blindnesses are shortcuts our brains take. There’s too much information to process everything constantly, so the brain fills in the space we don’t much care about. The brain assumes. And we know how assumptions can sometimes get us into trouble!

While inattentional blindness can be fun when it’s about gorilla videos or video games, it can have serious consequences, because if you’re not looking for gorillas, you won’t see them. So if you’re not consciously looking for motorcycles or dogs in the road, you might miss those, too.

So be careful out there! You never know when a 300-pound gorilla will be in the room.

Happy birthday today

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Like lots of people, I like to stroll through the internet, and today while looking up some biographical material, I got caught up in what happened on April 4. Among other things, many cool writerly type people were born.

Robert_Downey_JrFor those who like action films, Robert Downey, Jr., an actor, singer, producer, and screenwriter, was born in 1965.

For those who like television shows (Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal, and Harry’s Law), writer David E. Kelley was born in 1956.

Kitty_Kelley_Photo_by_Raymond_BoydIf you like to read about scandal, another Kelley, this time Kitty Kelley, was born in 1942. She’s the author of many best-selling, unauthorized biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Oprah Winfrey, and Nancy Reagan, among others. Called “the consummate gossip monger,” she claimed to be an “unabashed admirer of transparency.” However, when critics scrutinized her work more carefully, many of her “facts” were found to be unsubstantiated. Readers might not have cared.

MayaAngelouMaya Angelou was born on this day in 1928. To know her life story is to wonder what you’ve been doing with your own. She was a supper club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana, and professor. She was friends with Malcolm X and Billie Holiday. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than 50 years. Her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), brought her international recognition and acclaim. Some cities have tried to ban her books from public libraries, but her works, based on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel, are widely used in schools and universities worldwide.

Robert_E__SherwoodFinally, in 1896, Robert E. Sherwood, playwright and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was born. One of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table, Sherwood was close friends with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber, and at six feet eight inches, was the tallest among them. He co-wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the film The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Best wishes to all.

 

It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to

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poetryWhat with one thing and another, it’s been a rough week. I took a hiatus and wandered over to Jenny Crusie‘s site, where I learned about The Toast, which is a blast and just what I needed when I was done assembling receipts for Uncle Sam. For a fun look at oppressive activities, take a look at “Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History” by Mallory Ortberg. In fact, her entire “Western Art History” oeuvre is not to be missed. As one of her women who’s having a terrible time at a party would say, it’s bears.

Farewell, my lovely

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pine_treeThe neighbor kitty-corner to my yard is taking down a 100-year-old (or older) pine tree. It is enormous—by far the largest tree on the block—and towers over all the buildings in my residential area. The workmen have been at it for two days already. The buzz of their chain saws is both irritating and heartbreaking. I don’t know if the tree is diseased—it didn’t look it—and I was often annoyed at how it shaded my vegetable garden. But over the buzz of the chainsaw, I think I can hear it weeping.