Tuesday, April 21, 2015

About Pauline Collins

Today I’d like to talk about an often overlooked and under-appreciated British actress, Pauline Collins (no relation). She can hold her own against the likes of Dame Judy Densch, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Helen Miren, yet American audiences don’t seem to be aware of her.

I first discovered her years ago in the film Shirley Valentine. Shirley is a bored middle-aged British woman whose life is turned on end when a friend invites her for a holiday in Greece. Pauline originated the role in the one-woman stage play, for which she garnered several awards. The movie retains much of the wit and most of the terrific lines of the play, and Pauline Collins shines as the mousy woman who discovers herself while on a break from her everyday life.

I next remember her stealing the spotlight in the movie Paradise Road as Mrs. Drummond. This film is the true story of women prisoners of war during WWII who form an orchestra using only their voices. The music in the film was created using the actual scores written in the camp. Mrs. Drummond is heartbreakingly real. She is the most memorable character in a cast of phenomenal actresses. The story is a powerful tale of hope and survival.
This film with its ensemble cast of acting powerhouses was Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and one of my favorite films of 2012. Quartet tells the story of senior citizens who now live in a home for retired musicians. 
Billy Connolly plays an elfin character whose stroke has left him with no governor. He speaks and behaves without thinking. But the twinkle in his eye makes him charming and a delight.
Tom Courtenay and Dame Maggie Smith’s characters were briefly married many years before. They are now faced with living in close quarters again and are forced to deal with the issues that ended their marriage.
But the most memorable character for me is Pauline Collins’s Cissy. This character suffers from senile dementia. Watching her took me back to the years when my mother left us a bit at a time with the same affliction. Pauline’s performance is spot on—heartbreakingly so. At the end of the day, hers is the character I remember.
This is an absolutely joyful film about triumph over adversity. If you see it, be sure to watch all the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD. Most of the actors in this film are former and current performers, and the music is phenomenal. I loved it so much I bought the CD before the DVD was released.
Of course, I had to own the DVD. In fact, I own all of these and have to re-watch them periodically.
If you have not seen these three films, rent them. Every time I see them, I am reminded how much I love them. These are only three among Pauline Collins’s impressive filmography, but when you see them, I’m certain you will understand why I respect and appreciate the talent of this under-valued actress.

Have you seen her work? Do you have a favorite?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ghosts and Why I Write About Them

Today I welcome one of my favorite authors and good friend, Marilyn (F.M.) Meredith. I asked her why she wrote about a ghost in her latest book, Violent Departures. Since my own book Ghost Writer, features a ghost, I wanted to know why she chose one as a character.

My host for today posed this question, and it’s a good one.

Stories in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series often have ghosts in them. Tempe is a Native American and she’s quite open to the spirit world. I’ve done a lot of research about spirits and ghostly visitations for this series and other books I’ve written.

I’ve never had a ghost in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series before, but there is one in ViolentDepartures. I’m not going to tell you about it because I don’t want to spoil the story.
I’m not sure how I feel about ghosts, but the idea has always intrigued me. Perhaps they are just a residue of a person, a remembrance that remains in a place, or maybe as some have said, they are not ready to move on or have unfinished business that is keeping them here.
My grandkids think the house hubby and I call home is haunted. Yes, doors do open and close on their own, and our two big cats have always acted like they see things we don’t. Does it bother us? No, because I don’t think ghostly beings can do any harm.

Hubby and I have stayed in a few reportedly haunted places. The Menger Hotel in San Antonio is one. It’s a beautiful old hotel built in 1859. My experience with a ghost there happened at night. Someone kept knocking on a nearby door. I finally stepped into the hall to see what the problem was. The knocking continued, but no one was there.

Room 17 in the Bella Maggiore Inn in Ventura CA is supposed to be haunted by a prostitute. Of course we asked for that room—but no ghost. Daughter said it was because I was there with my husband. Because it’s an old hotel, it does have the ambience of having ghostly residents.

And then there’s the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. We’ve stayed there several times. It’s fun to take the ghost tour where you can see manufactured ghosts. One time when I left an event and came down in the elevator to my deck, I was completely disoriented. Nothing looked the same as it had earlier. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. I couldn’t find my room. I went to the center of the deck, turned around and walked back and everything returned to normal.

That’s as close as I can come to telling you why I write about ghosts.

If you’ve had a ghostly encounter, do write about it in the comments.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith

Blurb for Violent Departures:
College student, Veronica Randall, disappears from her car in her own driveway, everyone in the Rocky Bluff P.D. is looking for her. Detective Milligan and family move into a house that may be haunted. Officer Butler is assigned to train a new hire and faces several major challenges.
F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of over thirty published novels. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Besides having family members in law enforcement, she lived in a town much like Rocky Bluff with many police families as neighbors.

Contest:

Because it has been popular on my other blog tours, once again I’m offering the chance for the person who comments on the most blog posts during this tour to have a character named for him or her in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.

Or if that doesn’t appeal, the person may choose one of the earlier books in the series—either a print book or Kindle copy.

Links:

I tackled the topic of reading reviews of my books at http://jlgreger.blogspot.com/ and you can read it tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cliffhangers

Did you ever go to the movies on a Saturday as a child? If you’re old enough, you might remember seeing several cartoons, a double feature (two movies), and a serial for your fifty cents. Okay, that officially makes me old!
Larry went nearly every week with a friend as a kid. His favorite serials were the Flash Gordon ones. Each week, the theater would show a new ‘chapter.’ At the end of each one, Flash was left in an impossible situation. Larry felt compelled to return the following week to see how Flash escaped.

In writing classes, most instructors teach their students to make the beginning of each chapter a ‘grabber’—a sentence constructed to make the reader want to read on. The end of each chapter should be a ‘cliffhanger’ to force the reader to turn the page and start the next chapter.
Larry learned these lessons well from all those old movie serials. In his latest books, The McGregor Chronicles, he embraces both devices.

The first sentence in Book 1 – Saving Mike is:
Wake up, Matt, wake up,” an insistent voice repeats in my head.
The reader immediately asks, “Who is this? Is he talking to himself? Is it a dream?”
As the chapter progresses, even more questions arise, and some are answered.
The last sentence in the chapter is:
“Okay, let’s see if we can get this ship moving.”
The sentence implies the possibility of failure. The reader has to move on in order to find out if the ship will fly.
Several people who read this book have said they read it in one sitting, or they stayed up too late to finish, or they couldn’t put it down. Our beta readers for Book 2 – Escape From Eden (to be published this summer) have had the same reaction to it.
As writers, we all need to learn how to construct our chapters in the same manner. As readers, we love writers who are able to accomplish it.
The proviso, however, is that the reader should never be aware of the use of the devices! They must be part of the story and invisible to the reader.
Are you a writer? Can you use these devices effectively? Are you deliberate about how you encourage your readers to continue reading?

Are you a reader? How do you feel about compelling writing, which makes it impossible for you to stop in the middle?

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Only a Number

Recently friends were discussing age differences in dating and marriage. One thought the same age to three years’ difference was ideal. Another said she thought less than five. Both of them had a difference they considered too great—one was ten years, the other twelve.
I learned a lesson on this subject from my mother’s experience.
When she was eighteen, she was engaged to a friend’s brother who was thirty. Her parents felt he was much too old for her.
“When you’re fifty, you’ll still be young and want to go out and have fun. He’ll be sixty-two, retired, and want to stay home. The age difference is just too great,” her father told her.
She finally decided he was right and broke off the engagement.
She married my dad in October of 1942 when she was twenty-four. He was twenty-five.
Dad was home on leave before being deployed in WWII at the time of their wedding. They were apart for the next three years. Dad finally arrived back in the US in 1945.
He died of arteriosclerosis in 1954 at the age of thirty-seven.
In 1970, she married again, this time to a man who was sixteen years younger than she. The difference didn’t show in their appearances, however. The marriage lasted for eight years before they were divorced, but their ages had nothing at all to do their issues.
I’ve always believed one reason she married this particular man was so he could outlive her. She didn’t want to be widowed again.
After their divorce, they saw each other regularly and even traveled and vacationed together. They were each other’s best friends.
Twenty years after their divorce, he died at the age of sixty-three. Mom was seventy-nine, walked at least a mile and a half every day, and stayed active.
Through the years, she kept track of her friend’s brother. He married, and he and his wife went dancing once or twice a week. He continued dancing well into his eighties. My grandparents’ concern simply wasn’t justified in the long run.
When she died at age ninety-three, Mom had outlived both of her husbands.
So what is the ideal age difference?
Larry is two years older than I. That was pretty normal for the time we were dating. It works for us. But is it ideal? Is there an ideal?

I’m inclined to believe age is just a number, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a person’s energy or enthusiasm for life. What do you think?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

When did you discover Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet? I found it early in high school, and its wisdom continues to speak to me. Just this week, ideas from this profound work came up in conversation with friends.
At breakfast the other day, “the girls” were discussing a friend who had recently died. She was loving and giving, always ready to help where needed. But even when help was offered to her, she refused to take it. She saw herself as a giver, not a taker.
I was reminded of the end of the essay “On Giving”:
“And you receivers—and you are all receivers—assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives. Rather, rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings. For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.”
We had a long discussion about the very real truth that we are all growing older, and may each require help at some time. Those of us who are givers (and all those at the table fit into that category) must remember not to steal the joy of giving from those who offer it. We love the feeling of being able to help someone else. Why do we deny that same sense of purpose to others? (I’m preaching to myself, here.)
Just yesterday, I was speaking to a younger woman whose husband died on Thursday. She felt guilty because she was crying so much. Another friend and I spent some time with her assuring her that she was entitled to feel her grief—for as long as needed. We also gave her permission to be angry with him for leaving.
Although his death was not unexpected, the actual moment she realized he was gone took her by surprise.
Once again, Gibran’s powerful words came to me. Several essays address death and the feelings which surround it:
From “On Joy and Sorrow”:
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
From “On Death”:
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?... And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
In this case, the last was totally appropriate. The husband was a hiker and loved the outdoors. He left instructions that he was to be cremated and his hiking friends were to scatter his ashes along the trail where they had shared such wonderful memories. Since he was a scientist and very concerned with the environment, the phrase “ashes to ashes; dust to dust” was very real to him.
The imagery in “The Coming of the Ship” and “The Farewell” speak metaphorically of death. One passage I especially love is from “The Coming of the Ship:
Let not the waves of the sea separate us now, and the years you have spent in our midst become a memory. You have walked among us a spirit, and your shadow has been a light upon our faces. Much have we loved you. But speechless was our love, and with veils has it been veiled. Yet now it cries aloud unto you, and would stand revealed before you. And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

If you have not read this lovely book before, I suggest you might want to try it now. It is an allegory, but it contains much profundity. If you read it years ago, you might want to take another look. (I pick it up every few years and read it again.) If you have read it, what are your feelings about it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Marketing and Promotion

Promotion and marketing are key to any enterprise. They are especially critical in the highly competitive world of publishing.

When our first book came out in 2005, we had no idea how much of our time would be spent promoting it. The time crunch got worse with every additional book—especially since they are in so many different genres!
We were fortunate to have heard marketing expert, Penny Sansevieri  (http://www.amarketingexpert.com), speak at one of the first conferences we attended. She outlined the basic marketing requirements if you are an author:
Website—This establishes you as a professional, so it must look professional. Our son-in-law is a pro and volunteered to design and update ours. We think it’s AWESOME!
Facebook—You need both a personal profile and an author page. Larry and I each have separate profiles. Some people create pages for each of their titles. This is probably overkill, but, in addition to our author page, we have one for our book 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, so we can target our Japanese friends and coworkers, and another for our Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies. I share this one with my co-writers, and it targets readers of romance fiction.
LinkedIn—This is a business site. When we were working at other jobs, we both had accounts here. As we began writing, we added writing, our books, and other associated activities to those profiles.
Twitter—I admit to being a complete twit when it comes to this. I have an account, but I never quite got the hang of using it. Nevertheless, I have linked my LinkedIn feed to post to Twitter at the same time. That way, I am continuing to post even without going directly to Twitter.
Blog—This also increases your visibility. I try to post at least weekly to mine. I write about the writing business as well as other things of interest to me—and hopefully to others as well.
Goodreads—This is a site for both readers and writers. Larry and I each have profiles.
Book Trailers—I have made video trailers for each of our books. We post them to Facebook, our website, and Goodreads. They can also be found on YouTube. Click the link to see my latest for Larry’s new book, The McGregor Chronicles.

Pinterestthis is the latest hot site. I post things I like as well as the covers of our books and links to the trailers to my page.

We do other things for promotion as well.
  1. Several years ago I ordered 500 nice pens from National Pen very inexpensively. Promo codes are available on the web for great discounts. These are great as handouts or extras when people buy your books. They’re great advertising because people keep them.
  2. You MUST have business cards if you are to be taken seriously as writers! We include, at minimum, our website and contact email address on ours. The theme reflects us as writers. (Since we are our brand, we want to hint at who we are.) We get free ones for each new book from VistaPrint to hand out pre-publication and to give away with the book afterward. You only pay for the shipping, and the quality is very good. With so many people going to ebooks, a card is a great memory-jogger for when they're ready to upload it. We also write “Thank you” on one and leave it with the tip whenever we dine out. It’s a small gesture and inexpensive as well.
  3. We’ve also purchased brochures, postcards, signs, etc. from VistaPrint. They always have free stuff like business cards, t-shirts, etc. You only pay for the shipping, and the quality has been excellent. Get on their mailing list for notice of their extra special offers.
  4. For other SWAG for giveaways, Oriental Trading Company is the place. This is where we get the chopsticks we give away when anyone buys a copy of our book 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We also bought mini-compasses to glue on the business cards for out book Directions of Love. They really worked, and people loved them!
  5.  For personal appearances, you might consider custom M&Ms. We had some made in aqua with “31 Months in Japan" on them. Get on their mailing list for notice of extras & Specials.
  6. For Local Author and Autographed stickers, try Earthly Charms or print your own on sticky paper.


Being noticed is all about promotion and marketing. What ideas have you seen or used?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Fond Farewell



On Thursday, March 5, we marked the end of an era. On that day, we celebrated the life of our dear friend Edith Banning-Josef, who’d died two days earlier.

People are often called unique, but I have never known anyone else quite like her. She certainly marched to the beat of her own drummer.

We first met her over forty years ago when she brought her two boys to church. From that point on, no one who attended our contemporary service could miss her. She sat in the back row on the aisle and ‘managed’ the service.

She was hard to miss. A tiny bird-like woman, she nearly always wore leggings and a sweatshirt. She particularly favored a hot pink one with three small fuzzy teddy bears and pink hearts. I made it over twenty years ago for a church sale. Edith bought it, and every time she wore it, she pointed it out to me to make sure I remembered.

When the church was on a schedule with Sunday school between services, the kids remained for the entire first service. Edith decided they should take the collection, and each week, she chose the kids for this job. They were delighted when she picked them. If one of our kids brought a friend, Edith often asked the friend to participate. What a marvelous way to let a child know they were welcome!

1982
She truly had a heart for kids. She assisted in a classroom at the local elementary school for years, helped in Sunday school, and taught vacation Bible school. She had a particularly close relationship with my daughter, Kim, since she was the same age as Edith’s younger son. Edith’s nickname for Kim was ‘Snookie Cookie.’ (Where it came from, we never knew.) Before long, Kim called her the same thing. Even last Christmas when Kim visited church, they greeted each other that way.

After Kim moved to Texas, the first question Edith always asked us was, “How is Kim doing?” When talking with friends at the reception following Edith’s memorial service, I discovered she did the same with most of the kids who had grown up in the church.

All her involvement with our church was ironic because she never joined. I periodically invited her to become a member, but she always told me she had joined the church as a girl and didn’t feel the need to belong to ours, even though she attended regularly. She finally said she would join when David did. (He’d also been attending for years without becoming a member.) I suspect she said it to shut me up. When David finally joined the church about three years ago, I reminded her of her promise. Of course, she still declined.

Edith had the heart of a Deacon and performed lots of Deacon-like activities—even though we could never give her the official title. Whenever we held an event, Edith was there to help. She cared deeply about people, and always enjoyed our fellowship events. She was a guest in our home for several of these and had a great time.
1999
For many years, she and my mother spent Friday afternoons at the church folding the bulletins for Sunday morning. They became good friends. When Mom’s senility incapacitated her, we moved her to an assisted living facility. Edith made a point to visit her at least once a week. As Mom deteriorated, we had to relocate her to a nursing home. Edith continued to visit each Saturday. We always knew she’d been there because we’d sometimes find a cookie on a paper towel with a note written on it: Vera’s. Do not eat. She often left a bunch of wild flowers in a little bottle from which she’d soaked off the label.

On the day Mom died, we took her onyx ring to Edith since we wanted her to have it. We didn’t think she should hear the news from someone else or over the phone. We told her she could wear the ring, keep it, sell it, or give it away. She said she wanted one of her granddaughters to have it.

Fortunately, we have our old church directories since very few photos exist of Edith. Her niece confirmed that Edith didn’t like to have her picture taken. She said many of the family photos show Edith with her hands over her face.

This is ironic because she always had a camera in her hand. Over the years, she must have taken thousands of pictures of events at the church—but we never saw any of them. When asked about them, she said they were all on slides and she didn’t have a projector. We offered to let her use ours, but then she couldn’t find the slides. (No surprise.)

We speculated that she might not have had film in the camera, but after she died, her boys found several rolls of undeveloped film with her cameras.

Between services, we have coffee hour on the patio in front of the entrance. One of her ‘jobs’ at the church was to ring a school bell to let everyone know it was time for the second service to begin. I guess we’ll have to find someone else to do that job now.
2006
We will miss our friend Edith very much, but we consider ourselves so very blessed to have had her in our lives for so many years.