Thursday, May 29, 2008

Been Awhile...

...since I've spoken of writing here on the old blog.

Several reasons. One (big surprise) I've been struggling lately. Okay, I know you're not suppose to say that stuff publicly on a writing blog, but oh well. I'm nothing if not painfully (and perhaps ill-advisedly--if that's a word) honest. Plus, the source of my angst is one common to writers: the dreaded synopsis.

I passed the first version by some crit partners and they agreed: lots of problems. Too many pages, too much detail, and worst--What's It All About, Alfie? In layman's terms, my plot rocks, my character arcs suck. The question remains: do I have the writing chops to fix it?

Or should I just ditch the whole book (a year of my life)?

For the record, I opted not to ditch. And this morning, I believe the synopsis is looking better and that a change in the ending may alleviate the character arc problem

We'll see. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, as always, the experience of writing this book has its lessons to teach. More than ever, I'm committed to spending a great deal of time in preparation before starting my next project. To that end, I'm re-reading Robert McKee's STORY again. Yep, that makes it three times so far. You'll be happy to know some of the constructs he puts forth are starting to seep in (only slightly kidding, here).

The second reason I've been struggling lately is that I'm becoming so disheartened with how s-l-o-w-l-y the publishing industry moves. Three partials submitted six months ago and no word. One partial submitted 18 months ago and the only word I have is that they received it. Fulls have taken over a year to come back with rejections.

It's hard enough to get rejections; harder still when it takes so long.

Sigh. Okay, rant over. The good news is that I'm still fascinated by writing. Can't give it up. So when the title for a new book floated through my brain, I had to pay attention. (Actually, it's the bastardization of the title of a famous book--can't tell you the name cuz then I'd have to kill you.)

First order of business (ha) read the famous book.


I'm so inspired! The theme of the book TOTALLY translates to a story fitting my title. Not that I've come UP with the story yet, but ideas are percolating. At this point, I wish I could just shove the previous project out the door and move on.

But, alas. That's not the way things work. I need to multi-task, and so I shall.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not What You Like To Hear

I'm standing in a random Laughlin casino at the desk where you get a Player's Card. It's noon and I slept about ten hours the night before so I'm feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As the clerk across from me enters data onto her computer, the woman next to her keeps catching my eye.

I must look like someone she knows.

I answer questions and wait, still unable to shake the feeling that the other woman is staring. Finally, I meet her gaze dead-on and offer up a questioning smile.

She smiles back. Here it comes. I look like her sister or something.

"You don't feel very well, do you?"

Huh?? Crap, I'm really gonna have to concentrate on making that appointment to get my eyes done.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I May Be Getting Too Old For This...

So, I'm here to vouch for the inadvisability of staying up till 4:30 a.m. on the night prior to travel day. Or maybe it was the shots of Patron ordered by the 3-card poker dealer. Yikes. Suffice to say I moaned and groaned my way across the desert yesterday.

Still...we DID have a blast. And I DEFINITELY came back with lots more cash in my pocket than when I arrived, which is always a good thing.

Speaking of cash...that story I alluded to in the previous post? Ann and I were sitting at a slot machine when she realized she'd lost an $80 bet slip. Now, trust me--I LOVE Ann to death--but sometimes she freaks out prematurely.

Not this time.

She swore she must have left it in the machines we'd been playing twenty minutes earlier. I swore she couldn't have because the woman who swooped in next didn't behave like someone who'd discovered a windfall. Anyway, Ann retraced her movements...and found the bet slip face down under the empty glass of wine she'd set it on.

A creative way to win $80, huh?

Later we dined at The Gourmet Room--a restaurant at Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort Hotel. What a beautiful experience! (If only Ann and I could remember the latter half of the meal. Kidding.)

I'm sure Marty was appropriately attired in one of his new shirts. Oh, not the ones he bought on Friday at the Asuza Costco. I'm talking about the shopping he did on Saturday morning. I mean, come on, folks--what's the world coming to when men SHOP?? Yeah, my head's still spinning. (P.S. Ann and I did NOT accompany him.)

So, that's pretty much it for the 2008 Memorial Day Weekend Laughlin trip. I'm here to report that we encountered ZERO traffic...either because of the gas crunch, the gloomy economy, the lousy weather, or all of the above...which, y'know...would NEVER stop diehards like us.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Four Tales From The Road

1. Marty gets out of the rental car to pump gas, leaving Ann and me inside. One small thing: he’s neglected to put the car in PARK. As we roll backward (and with the driver’s side door aiming for Marty), Ann and I scream. Fortunately, Marty has time to dive back into the car and bring us to a halt. “This is going in the blog,” I yell. (Mind you, this is not even seven minutes into our journey.)

2. Gassed up, we get on the freeway, heading for Laughlin. Two miles later, Marty starts screaming obscenities. What, I wonder, has he forgotten this time? The answer is: SHIRTS. He has forgotten ALL of his shirts. (But not his special iron, of course...oh, no...he’s REMEMBERED the iron.) A quick debate ensues and, thanks to Ann, a return home is NOT the outcome. Nor is an immediate stop at Costco, since we’re trying to get out of the city before the traffic kicks in...which brings us to...

3. A stop at the Azusa Costco an hour later. In the pouring rain, Marty makes a dash into the store, returning ten minutes later with not one, not two...well, let’s cut to the chase: SIX shirts.

4. Okay, so Memorial Day Weekend. Clear, sunny days, right? Perfect driving weather, right? WRONG. Rain, thunder and lightning accompany us for the entire 5-1/2 hours it takes to make our way across the desert. A mental inventory of my suitcase reminds me that for the upcoming three wet and windy days, all I’ve brought are shorts, tops and bathing suits...I’m so screwed.

More to come...including the harrowing search for Ann’s $80 bet slip...Marty’s trip to Sam’s Club for more shirts....

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who SAYS California Doesn't Have Weather??

Rain, hail, snow, lightning, thunder...and tornadoes?? What's the world coming to? 'Course none of that happened in MY neck o' the woods yesterday, but I'm on STORM WATCH nonetheless. And paying particular attention to the weather between here and Laughlin since we'll be driving through there three hours from a rental car, no less. Let us not forget the infamous Gulf Coast rental car/storm debacle of yore (click here to read a full account).

Y'all have a safe Memorial Day Weekend...hopefully I'll have fun stuff to report from the laptop!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

George Michael on American Idol

Since I suspect many of my readers are anti-American Idol watchers (you know who you are!), I feel it's my civic duty to provide this video from last night's show.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Milestones in My Writing Career

It is an early Monday morning in October 1971.

With my heart in my throat, I brush past a zillion faceless strangers and come to a stop in front of an imposing three-story building. I double check the name on its facade, comparing it with my class schedule.

Right. Humanities Hall.

Next I ascend a flight of stairs and make my way down the proper corridor, finally reaching my destination.

It is the first day of college, and I am terrified.

Somehow I force myself to open the door and step inside. Instead of the set-up I'm used to--rows of chairs facing a blackboard--I discover one large table at which perhaps eight people are sitting. I stumble to a seat.

Quickly I learn that this "section" class is run not by the professor but by a T.A. (teaching assistant). I relax a little, realizing that my only encounters with the head honcho will occur in the relative anonymity of a huge lecture hall on Thursdays. Small chance I'll ever even meet him.

That Thursday, the professor approaches the podium, makes a few introductory remarks, then does something startling: he plays a recording of Rod Stewart's Maggie May followed by James Taylor's Fire and Rain. Love songs both, he points out, but written in widely disparate "voices."

I so get it.

Since this is a creative writing course, we are instructed to mimeograph (mimeograph!) our stories for sharing in our discussion class. I put this off as long as possible, namely because my experience thus far is with writing romance and somehow I'm pretty sure romance ain't gonna fly at the university level. (This sad fact is confirmed when another student brings in her lame story about Diane and David. The unstated ridicule in the room is palpable.) So, I write a story titled The Farm, and in it I mimic the tone and what I call pointlessness of material I've read in high school.

The day comes when I can't put off sharing my story any longer. I arrive in class with trembling hands and erratic heartbeat, knowing my colleagues have come prepared to rip it apart.

But it gets worse.

The professor--the one who exists in my mind only on Thursdays--has chosen this day to sit in our class.

Kill me now.

I don't remember much about the story, although I still have a copy of it somewhere. I recall describing the heroine's brother as looking like Rock Hudson but with a gap between his teeth. And it seemed appropriate for the heroine to wear a halter top, but first I had to determine precisely what a halter top was. Finally, I remember something about the heroine studying a fly as it rose from a gatepost to wing its way down a road into the distance.

Likewise, much of the ensuing class discussion escapes me.

Except for one thing.

I remember distinctly the professor saying that the ending brought the story full circle and made the whole thing work.

For days, I basked in the compliment.

And although I never took another course from this gentlemen--nor any writing courses for that matter--I'll always be thankful he didn't squash my spirit. And hell, he makes it possible for me to say a Pulitzer Prize nominee once complimented a story I wrote.

Oakley Hall passed away this week. Before retiring in 1990, he put the writing program at UC Irvine on the map.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Insert Twilight Zone Theme Here

So y'all know I wrote a manuscript titled Fit For Love, right? It's about a couch potato heroine trapped at a boot camp for fitness freaks.


Yesterday, I picked up the June issue of True Romance 'cuz I've got two stories in it. One of them involves a hero and heroine who meet in the company gym, and I called it "When Love Works Out."

Guess what my editor renamed it?


Fit For Love.

What are the odds, huh?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Adios, Amigo

Time to say farewell to someone with whom most of my blogreaders won't be familiar. Hell, I only met the guy a few times myself. But, oh how he impacted my social life!

I'm talking about Bob McCord, owner of the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, California since 1974. Bob died May 12, 3 weeks after getting the diagnosis of a rare brain cancer. Ironic, in a way. According to reports, he went out cussing his "one-in-a-million" luck--yet those same odds played in his favor back when he was a young man. Turns out, his first career was in television, and it was while he was scouting locations in Arizona that his plane went down, killing all aboard but him. Injured, alone, and without water or food, he survived two days in the desert before being located. Later, a faulty transponder led to a hefty settlement--which he used to purchase a small, family-owned restaurant in Calabasas.

Personally, I'd be interested knowing whether he had a vision then--or, if he improvised as he went along. As the story goes, one day he took the tables and chairs outside to wash them, then noticed arriving customers sitting down to wait for service. Voila. Dining al fresco at the Sagebrush Cantina was born.

I remember well the first day I encountered its new incarnation. It was 1978, and I'd moved back to Calabasas after graduating from college. About ten of us, hung over from partying the night before at a club called Tennessee, Gin & Cotton, gathered to drink pitchers of margaritas and kamikaze shots. On a tiny stage crammed against a wall, a trio played mostly mellow music. Under the gently swaying trees, we shared jokes, laughs...youth.

Back then, the Sagebrush was a well-kept secret, but as the years passed, word got out. Either because Bob created a buzz or because the place on its own did, I don't know. Eventually, he absorbed half the parking lot to double the size of the patio and began adding oddities he'd collected from all over the world. I'm talkin' things like ferris wheels, train locomotives, and all kinds of circus memorabilia. No matter how often you went, you never knew what to expect.

And it wasn't just the decor. Oh, no. Nor was Bob satisfied with merely offering decent Mexican food at reasonable prices. Entertainment became key as well. Still mellow on weekday afternoons, but come Friday night, the rockers arrived. Good ones. I swear, one of the reasons younger generations in this area know about 60's music is because they grew up hearing it at the Cantina with their parents.

I'm not sure which decade saw Sundays at the Cantina become so popular. I mean, like I say--they were a staple for me and my friends from the get-go, but eventually the routine caught on all over the Valley. Hell, how about all over southern California? Celebrities, too. I've never been able to verify whether Bruce Springsteen truly got up and jammed one afternoon, but it wouldn't surprise me. After all, Sundays attract the widest variety of people you'll ever find in one place. From bikers in leather to socialites in silk. From babes in bikinis to sikhs in saris. Amazing.

And an integral part of the social fabric. In truth, the Sagebrush Cantina isn't a restaurant; it's a community, as evidenced by the countless relationships, friendships, marriages and yes--babies--which originated there.

So, it's with a heavy heart I note the passing of the man responsible for it all--the man who never once looked or acted like the hotshot owner of a popular restaurant/bar.

I hope he knew how much he meant to us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Perfect Weekend

Geesh. When a plan comes off without a hitch, you don't get much in the way of entertaining blog material...

Suffice to say, on Friday, I flew up to Sacramento to attend my nephew-in-law's surprise 40th birthday party...and everything went as planned. Flights were on-time, car rentals went as scheduled, people were where they were supposed to be...I mean, come on! How can everything go so smoothly?

Hey, can you tell Julie-Ann's preggers?

Anyway, the next morning, I rose early and...well...there was this text message on my phone from a casino called Thunder Valley. (Hm. Wonder how they got my phone number, Marty...) So what better way to kill time waiting for my flight back to Burbank than to meander through Central California's farmland to an Indian casino, right?


So, that's what I did. And several hours later, I emerged from the clanking sound of video slots about $200 richer.


Flew back home, got a good night's sleep and picked up my parents for the Mother's Day soiree up at step-bro Mike's house. Barry and Polly made it back from Sacramento in time to show up for a great bar-b-que.

Got home and caught the last half of the Survivor finale.

So, like I say...pretty much the PERFECT weekend.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Highway 23--Safe At All Speeds

Yes, I'm happy to announce that you can tool along the Ronald Reagan Freeway again (or is that the 118?)...without fear of my roof flying off to flatten you. (Hm. Nice alliteration, huh?)

Okay, come on, folks. I'm exaggerating--that was never gonna happen. Uh, at least I don't think so.

Anyway, thanks to my nimble fingers and incomparable Google skills, my car is no longer a traveling wind tunnel. Next up on the Randy-fixes-her-own-mistakes schedule: removal of the duct tape and bubble wrap.

Hell, I now even know the secret location of the hydraulic pump ('s underneath the spare tire). Oh, and get this! I discovered I own a windscreen!! Who knew???

Maybe the car's worth keepin' around awhile longer.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Details

It's Spring.

The days are toasty, not yet broiling.

A fine time to take the hard top off my car and use the convertible--especially for a Sunday drive down the coast to a wedding shower in Santa Monica.

So, on Friday--thinking ahead since I can't lift the thing off by myself--I got co-worker John to help. First, he prepared a nice clean spot in the back of our factory to store it. Then, grunting and groaning, we wrestled it off, tipped it upside down, and laid it on a table. While John covered it with protective wrapping, I slid into the driver's seat to push the button that engages the automatic mechanism by which the convertible top raises and lowers.

Uh-oh. Trouble.

In a hypnotic trance, I watched as hydraulic fluid poured like Mrs. Butterworth's from an area behind the visor in an unrelenting stream to the seat about an inch from my thigh.

I guess I kinda thought it would stop in a few seconds.

It didn't.

Finally, I brought this unfortunate series of events to John's attention, and...I dunno...I guess I switched off the car. Meanwhile, the convertible top only made it half-way.

This is about when John and I dimly remembered a similar occurrence several years prior. Um, this is also when it dawned on me there was a REASON I hadn't used the convertible much...and why I wouldn't be using it this weekend.

John literally bandaged up the "wound" with paper towels and duct tape--a lovely, sophisticated addition to my snappy little sports car, then wiped the seat. And wiped some more.

Okay, so about a gallon of the fluid must have made it into the seat cushion. (That's when I had the brilliant idea about the bubble wrap--see earlier post.) Much cursing ensued.

Finally, we reversed order, lugging the hardtop back onto the frame. I pressed the button again, but guess what? Not quite enough hydraulic fluid left to get the thing to latch in place.


Let's recap: I've got duct tape running up one side of the window, I've got bubblewrap taped to the seat and...oh, yes...the roof of my car isn't quite attached.

Remembering that my old car had some sort of manual latches, I scanned the headliner for a similar device, and found a knob next to the rear view mirror. Twisted it.

Aha! I SWORE the "give" between latched/unlatched lessened, but my newly-arrived brother didn't believe me. To demonstrate the difference, I twisted the knob again.

It broke off and fell on the floor.

Let's recap: I've got duct tape running up one side of the window, I've got bubblewrap taped to the seat, the roof of my car isn't quite attached, and where a knob used to be, I now I have a wire dangling.

Do you see how this is a fine example of a good idea gone bad??

So now I'm cruising around in a wind tunnel...which is almost loud enough to drown out the ding ding ding designed to warn me about the roof not being 100 percent attached.

Don't worry.

I'm driving real slow.

Friday, May 02, 2008

You Know It's Bad...

when the best idea you have all day is to put three layers of bubblewrap on the driver's seat of your car.


Details to follow.