Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brave

The Kranz Family in 2013. Jennifer is in yellow.

The other day, I met up with Libby Kranz during a trip we took to Gilroy. Libby is the mom of Jennifer, a six-year-old who died of DIPG February 12 this year. We met at a park. At one point, during respective kid tussling, she started talking to a woman a short distance away. I concluded it was a friend she had run into.

It wasn't. Libby came back, bristling with energy. The woman was a stranger, and Libby had just approached her--a cold call of sorts--to tell her about Jennifer.

She was being brave.

No one wants to walk up to strangers and tell them about a cancer that gives a 9 month life expectancy from diagnosis (Libby's daughter got a third of that time), tell them how only one cent of every dollar donated to the American Cancer Society goes to pediatric cancer, and tell them how the federal government funded pediatric research back in 2008 but then somehow the money has been held up ...

Nothing is going to help Libby's daughter. But something fierce, powerful and brave is going to save other people's daughters and sons. It's Libby, and the awareness she is raising for this devastating monster cancer that steals children. She was talking that day about business cards being printed up, so when she went to talk to people, she'd have a card to hand them. She is focused. She is committed. She is brave.

It's hard to talk about, and hard to think about. Libby admitted on her blog that before her daughter was diagnosed, she too would change the channel when the St. Jude's commercials came on. But the fact is, cancer is only easy to ignore if you don't know someone affected by it--and these days, that sliver of the population is getting smaller and smaller.

What can you do? Read and share Libby's blog. Contribute to the fund at Stanford University where Jennifer's cells are being studied--she had a very aggressive form of DIPG and thus her cells may contain valuable information to unlock this disease. If you feel proactive and want to physically get out there to help the world's children, consider "fluttering" . . . a genius plan of Libby's to both bring awareness to the cause and raise funds.

Being brave isn't just about doing things that scare you. Sometimes it's about stepping up the plate and helping when you can.



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Friday, July 04, 2014

The Paul Mailman Ten Miler

Dad on the left, adjusting his watch. A newspaper clipping.


Last month, I put myself and my family on a plane, flew from California to New Hampshire, all for the sake of running a ten mile race. Crazy? Yes! Of course! But this wasn't just any old race. It is named for my father, who was instrumental in getting running going in the 1970s in Montpelier, Vermont, where the race was held. We didn't always run for exercise, you know. That was a craze that developed just, well about 40 years ago, and this edition of the race was its 40th anniversary. I couldn't resist the chance to cross something off my bucket list.*

Here I am, approaching the finish line. The slowboats all came in singly.


My father is alive and well and wonderful. He wasn't able to run the race, but throughout my life he has a been a model of dedication to running. My older sisters tell me he would run 10 miles daily after working an eight hour day. I asked him if he ran with a canteen, because my running partner is very firm about bringing water, and "bottled water" as such didn't exist back then, nor the flasks that velcro to your hand so you're not even aware you're holding it.. He said no. See, Denise?!

It was an honor to run this race under his name, to get the race t-shirt with his name all over it (a delightful play on his name, with an envelope theme and a cancelled postmark), and most of all....drum roll....to get my entire extended family (minus one nephew, unfortunately, who couldn't make it) back to our hometown. We hadn't been there together for 19 years.

19 years! We ate the steakhouse, the Wayside, walked the streets I love, saw the Trombleys, saw the Quelches, saw Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Mrs. Downey and Scott Lovelette. I toured the capitol and it was a fascinating tour--I guess when I last lived here I wasn't quite so historical. In the capitol, I ran into Mr. Brooks, my old chem teacher and now Sergeant at Arms. I missed a few things: going out to get a creemie (I am kicking myself), my old scoop shop was missing (is it possible Ben & Jerry's couldn't make a go of it financially in the state capital??) and it would have been nice to go to a service at Bethany, esp. given that the race day was my sister's 30th anniversary of being married there! Can I just say, Montpelier, Vermont, is an extraordinary city. I'm so glad I got to grow up here.

My nuclear family. There was also a handful of the next generation running around. I'm in purple.


There's much more to say about this race and my (inadequate! ha!) training, but I leave that for another day. Suffice it to say, my nephews finished the race in good time, my sister and her husband walked four miles of it and heard an amazing tale from a concentration camp survivor who walked with them, and I completed the race with a time I was fine with (11:37 min.miles). I didn't blister the pavement, but as my dad said when I undertook training, "you're not a spring chicken anymore." No! This "winter hen" did the best she could. :)

Paul Mailman (Dad) and me in the parking lot afterwards

It turned out that keeping my maiden name did finally pay off--I got the #1 race bib!



*I don't know where this phrase originates from, or truly what it means. I think it came from a novel that then became a Paul Newman movie, neither of which I've read or seen. I may be using the term wrong, but I think the bucket list is things you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket. Accurate assessment?

P.S. This blog is supposed to be about writing and history--but a lot of great plotting and story resolution comes while running. That's my loose connection: live with it! :)


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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book cover design for HAUNTED



This week I received the cover design for HAUNTED, Book One of the Arnaud Legacy trilogy coming out from Kensington Books this coming March. It's always a thrilling moment for a writer to see someone's interpretation of their book. It's been getting great reactions from people I've shared it with, and I love the moody somberness of the scene, and the great fonts. (I'm a font person!). I think this jacket really effectively conveys the idea of a ghost story/haunted mansion tale.

I have to thank old writers group friend Michelle Gagnon for the excellent cover blurb: she is a wonderful Y.A. writer whose novel Don't Turn Around blew my socks off.

If anyone is interested in preordering the book now, here's the link.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Introducing Lynn Carthage

The pseudonymous Lynn Carthage

Today Publisher's Marketplace officially announced (I had "soft announced" a few months ago here) the sale of my young adult trilogy to Kensington Books. For my foray into young adult fiction, I'm going to use a pen name, Lynn Carthage, to keep my adult and YA writing separate. The first book in the trilogy hits bookstores next March. As the time comes closer, I'll launch a Lynn Carthage website, FB presence and Twitter handle. I'm really excited to join this new genre, to see a book I love hit the marketplace, and to see cover art. I love covers. And now...I have to sculpt and create the next two books in the series. It's fun to be writing on deadline rather than on spec. :)


From Publisher's Marketplace
Children's: Young Adult

Bram Stoker finalist and author of Witch's Trinity Erika Mailman 
writing as Lynn Carthage's ARNAUD LEGACY: HAUNTED, 
about a teen moving with her family in the run-down ancestral 
mansion in England which appears to still be inhabited, to 
Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Children's, in a three-book 
deal, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (world).
 
 
 
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Raiders of the Lost Ark

4: my favorite number. Coincidence? I think not.

**NOTE: there are plot spoilers, but I am unapologetic. This movie is 33 years old!

This week I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen again, for the first time since 1981. Of course, I've viewed it multiple times since on TV and with rentals, but it had been a really, really long time since I'd seen it, and thus I watched it with very fresh eyes.

When my Dad took us to see this movie in 1981, I thought based on the title that it was going to be a movie about football. I can still recall my excitement when it dawned on me that it was a movie about archeology. I purchased the novelization and am kicking myself I don't have it today. I pored over that book like nobody's business. In the scene in the movie when Indy draws the sunbeam coming through the headpiece of the staff of Ra, and his chalk pulls so decisively on the flimsy portable chalkboard, I felt a visceral memory: that sound.


This movie holds up.

It's not dated. It feels like something wonderful the studios released last week.

I'm in awe of the storytelling. It's so well-plotted. For instance, the very first thing we learn about Marion Ravenwood is that she can drink large men under the table. That comes into play later when she tries to use that skill to extract herself from Belloq. (It's always bothered me that she doesn't wait until he's completely nodded out; he could so easily raise an alarm even as drunk as he is--but then Toht shows up so it's all moot anyway.) We learn right away that Indy doesn't like snakes...and so of course his climactic moment from which escape seems absolutely impossible also involves snakes. They are the hot fudge on the trouble sundae. We learn in an offhand reference that Indy and Marion like to eat dates. The dates later cause a mild panic in us, as we watch Indy carry a poisoned one around, thinking aloud as he delays eating it.

I wanted to be Marion Ravenwood. Perhaps this is why I'm so fond of Ravenswood wine. :) I could go on at length about Marion and how she shaped my ideas of what a strong woman is, but that's a post for another day.

I'd like to talk briefly about what it's like as a writer to watch a story on the big screen and try to dissect it on the fly for why/how the plot works. This movie has a wonderful ongoing motif: briefly having something and losing it. Besides the obvious triad of Belloq consistently grabbing things Indiana has procured at great trouble and danger to himself, there's the man at the very beginning, about to land a big fish by the way his line is bending ... but he must throw the entire reel into the river to start up the plane for Indiana. There's the fact that Toht temporarily has the headpiece, and that his hand bears its emblem albeit inadequately (I love that detail the most, I think, of any plot device in the movie. How brilliant is that??!! "And then deduct one for Allah"....oh my God: organic, credible, and game-changing.) I watched the movie most definitely as someone enjoying being entertained, but I also mentally kept track of how the scenes keep fortifying the story, each one moving the plot forward in demonstrable ways. There's nothing wasted in this movie. (well, maybe some of the kissing--but that added immeasurably to my enjoyment!) Then there's the idea that Indy and Marion once had each other.

I could go on and on for a long time, but wanted to keep this short. I so much appreciate this movie, and I thank Cinemark for including it in their summer classic movies queue.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Gold Rush Writers Conference in Mokolumne Hill

View from my window at the Hotel Leger


Earlier this month, I attended the Gold Rush Writers Conference, founded nine years ago by Antoinette May, author of Pilate's Wife and The Sacred Well. I was there to teach a workshop on how to outline your novel and to moderate a historical fiction panel.

The conference was incredible--I told Antoinette afterwards that she had built an event that had a wonderful vibe of supportiveness and mutual interest. It involved an interesting collection of people presenting and attending.

Main Street. Hotel Leger on the left.


I do have to take a few moments to talk about Mokolumne Hill itself. I'm still not sure of its pronunciation; I believe I've heard Mok-a-LUM-knee and Ma-KOL-um-nee...perhaps best to use the abbreviation: Mok Hill.

This is a Gold Rush town that still exudes history. It's not tourism-driven, just a small town with many original facades and structures. The walking-tour brochures lists dozens of extant structures. As I first drove down the main street, my breath was taken away. Checking into the Hotel Leger, built in 1871 on the footprint of the original 1851 structure that burned, I was so excited I was literally giggling as I keyed into my room on the second floor. Decorated in the style of the day with antique furnishings, the rooms (I popped my head into as many as I could as the cleaning staff vacated them on the day we all left) look as they would have to miners and their families. Some rooms do have their own bathrooms and fireplaces, but others require you to step down the hallway to a shared bath. I appreciated the historical accuracy; I found myself wishing there was a basin and pitcher in my room to wash my face.

Rocking chair reflected in simple mirror. I'm in the 1800s!


I took a run one morning and explored more of Mok Hill. Built into otherwise undisturbed hillsides, the homes have incredible vistas with nary a sign of civilization in sight. I'd always wondered if there were still areas of California that hadn't been touched by citification: this is one. I strongly considered telling my husband we should relocate here. I even had a bit of a race uphill with two chortling turkeys; they were faster.

Yes, two swans were making out on my bed when I arrived. The nerve.


Back to the conference. The whole weekend began with a lovely picnic in Antoinette's back garden with wine and a chance to meet everyone. It set the tone for the conference.

The keynote speaker was Christian Kiefer, who gave a wonderful, funny speech, delayed by his rapturous consumption of sherbert. He also gave a great seminar on setting in novels, referencing several classic novels and teasing out a great description of a barometer's pride of place in a Flaubert scene. The brunch headliner Lucy Sanna gave a great account of path to publication: like most of us, it wasn't an immediate slam-dunk but took a lot of work and persistence (congratulations!)


Christian Kiefer's sherbet-fueled keynote


The historical fiction panelists were Antoinette May, Bob Yeager (best.shoes.ever) and Brent Barker. We had a good session looking at some of the joys and challenges of our particular genre. I attended a poetry open mic and liked a lot of the poetry I heard; I didn't catch all the names but remember Kevin Arnold, Sally Ashton, and Kathie Isaac-Luke. I had some great conversations with people and don't want to start naming names in case I forget someone, but I thank Ann for the G&T, Kathy B-F for the birdseed giveaway with a book purchase, Pam for a great workshop and handout, and of course Ms. Luce for the fortifications.

Boarded-up IOOF and yes that does say Blacksmith Shop!


I didn't write at this conference, which is always one of my anticipated sidebars: being so inspired by being around other artists and hearing all the craft talk ordinarily sends me to my hotel room at some point to write. Ah well. Can't have it all!

Thank you, Antoinette and Charles, for a wonderful experience.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

Tahoe



This photo is from last weekend. We didn't get to Donner Lake, but I thought this image from the shores of Lake Tahoe gives the same dramatic impression: that the mountains can be snow-filled and dangerous while just down in the valley it's a beach day. A beach day with sweaters, but definitely a day we knelt in the sand and made castles.

My sister was here visiting and we watched the Ric Burns documentary on the Donner Party she had given me for Christmas. That documentary mentioned one thing I hadn't heard before (which I want to run by Kristin Johnson)--the idea that everyone else would've happily climbed the pass the day before snow fell, except they were waiting for the George Donners et al. to catch up.

Regardless of whether that's true or not, it kills me every time (reading or watching) that they missed it by one day. If the snowstorm had been delayed, they would have summited and been on the descent by the time snow flew. It's extraordinary to travel for months and months: and then miss your chance by one day.

I have an article coming out in Oakland Magazine about the aftermath of the Donner Party, when J. Ross Browne visited the Breens at their San Juan Bautista hotel after the disaster and couldn't sleep thinking that Mrs. Breen had the fearsome face of a cannibal. His imagination got the best of him. I'm hoping my article stresses enough that I pity the Donners. They have been the subjects of gruesome speculation, but truly they suffered almost unbearable agonies.

I can't imagine how much cold, low dread they felt as they saw the fast snow flying and realized they'd have to winter at the lake...when their food supply was already so low they'd sent others ahead to bring something back. A nightmare. Especially considering how many of the party were just children, including nursing babies.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

3rd annual Nat'l Keep Your Chin Up Day for Writers

The geese believe in you!


I may be the only one observing the National Keep Your Chin Up Day for Writers, but I'm delighted it is now Year Three.

This day is meant to bolster and fortify anyone who is feeling in the doldrums about the process of writing and publishing. There is joy in writing, but not much joy in writing query letters, trying to attract an agent's attention and stacking up the list of rejections. All writers go through this. We all despair...we all wonder if we are talented or just fooling ourselves. We can receive that one rejection that feels like a blow to the gut because we were sure that editor or agent was the one: they were artistically and aesthetically aligned and we knew they were going to love our work. Except they didn't.

I reiterate: we all go through it. We all self-question and face the glowing computer screen at 3 a.m. thinking, "What am I doing?"

But if we are steadfast and believe in ourselves, we will listen to that little voice that says, "I can do this. I'm a voracious reader. I know how to craft a story because I've read a million stories. I am an astute observer of human nature, and I know dialogue, and I can put together a lovely, visual scene and say something interesting about the world I inhabit."

That's all it is.

Writing is a celebration of being human, so we have to find the celebration in it. We love people. We love their stories, their quirks, their secret shames. We love their dazzling, unlikely triumphs. We like their new haircut and hearing them sing in the shower and we like seeing them at the end of the day, tired and ready to shut off the stimulus, to start the whole thing all over again tomorrow. So we write. We tell everyone else about those people, because they're important. Our characters are significant; they help us understand the world.

I've been teaching a literature survey at our local community college, and as a class we've come to realize most of literature is...well, sad. It's rare to find the poem that exults (which is why I love Walt Whitman so dearly). Most poems acknowledge the brevity of our lives and the rarity of finding someone to share them meaningfully. Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss! I think that's true, but it's only one side of the story.

I challenge anyone who comes to this post today in the doldrums, to write a scene or a poem that uplifts. Craft an interaction that leaves the participants exhilarated. You may discard it; it may never see screentime in your novel or your collection of poems--but give it a try. You may find that your own mood also lifts.

And keep in mind that it only takes one to say yes: one agent will represent your work someday, and one editor will acquire it. Keep the faith.

Keep your chin up.



If you'd like to read the previous years' posts on Keep Your Chin Up Day:
Last year
First year


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