Friday, December 31, 2010

Customer Service and the Death of the Offline Store

The Dread Daughters received bows and arrows for Christmas from my mother-in-law. (New at the Salerni House: Now More Dread per Daughter!) No worries, though. We approved the purchase, and my husband was the one to pick them out, buy them, and deliver them to his mother for wrapping.

Having never purchased such an item before, my husband went to a sporting goods store to look at what was available. (I won’t name the store chain, but it rhymes with Rick’s.) Now, I should say that my husband and I are big online shoppers, but in this case, Bob wanted to physically look over the bows and choose something appropriate for our girls. After finding bows of the correct size, each of which came with two arrows, he was happy enough to stimulate the local economy by purchasing them from this store.

The problem was, there were only two of the bow/arrow packages left, and one of them had a broken arrow. With great difficulty, Bob flagged down a store clerk and asked if they had any more. No, the clerk informed him. Everything they had was on the floor. Next to the bow and arrow combination pack, Bob spotted a display of extra arrows, priced $1.99 each. He asked the clerk to swap out one of those arrows for the broken one that came with the bow. No, the clerk told him. Couldn’t do that. He was sorry one of the arrows was broken, but that’s just the way it was.

So, Bob pulled out his Droid, scanned the bar code of the bow and arrow kit, purchased them on the spot from an online vendor, and walked out of the sporting goods store – probably never to return. Unwilling to replace a $2 arrow, the clerk lost a $60 sale – and a customer – and it made no difference to the clerk, who’d get paid for his day’s work no matter how many sales he lost.

If businesses can’t train their employees in customer service (not to mention thinking their way through that $2 /$60 dilemma), then it’s no wonder that retail sales stores are going to lose out to Amazon and other online vendors.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Recap

Can you believe that 2010 is almost over? I can remember being a kid and thinking the year 2000 seemed so far away and magical. And now, that landmark date has come and gone – a decade ago! How can that be possible?

The year of 2010 was a fairly awesome one for me. I started blogging in January, not sure if I’d be able to think of something to say a couple times a week! Now, I have so many friends I met through blogging, I can hardly believe it’s only been a year. In January, I also stumbled across the caged graves of Catawissa, and I spent a good chunk of the year weaving them into a YA mystery novel.

In March, I attended the Sourcebooks Fire Launch Party in NYC, where I met some of the fantastic authors I’d already encountered through the TeenFire site: Laura and Lisa Roecker, Joy Preble, Adele Griffin, Lisa Brown, Helen Ellis, Cameron Stracher, Ty Drago, Bekka Black, and more. I also met my wonderful editor Kelly Barrales-Saylor in person, as well as my publicist Paul Samuelson -- and had a blast to boot!

May brought the release of We Hear the Dead, a blog tour, and several book events, including a joint event with the authors of Picture the Dead. I enjoyed a summer exploring the blogosphere and working on both a screenplay and a new manuscript (as well as revising an old one)—not to mention a fantastic vacation in Florida with the family.

This fall, my new 5th grade class and I opened a box from Scholastic that was full of copies of my book. That precipitated a lot of jumping up and down and shrieking, and not just from the kids! Then, over Thanksgiving, I dressed up in corset and neo-Victorian/steampunk attire to read from We Hear the Dead at Dorian’s Parlor, hob-nob with Elisha Kent Kane fans, and develop a fascinating new interest!

Think it couldn’t get better? Well, it did. Just a couple weeks before Christmas, I had an offer of representation from Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Literary Inc. That’s what I call a Christmas present! Yes, I broke out the champagne! (Actually, it was Prosecco, which I like better.) Now, I can’t wait to start working with Sara in the new year, whipping my manuscript A Pinpoint of Truth into shape and … uh, probably changing its name. (To my blogging buddies who’ve read this one – any ideas for a new title are very welcome!)

As we close out this year, I’d like to extend my thanks to all the new friends I’ve made through this blog this year. Do you know, I sometimes tell you guys things before I tell my offline friends and family? (I know I emailed blog friends about my exciting agent news before I picked up the phone to call my mom …) Thanks for being there!

Here’s to 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Would YOU Fly if the Pilot Didn't Want To?

Sorcia says, “THIS is a blizzard?”

I may very well eat my words if I wake up tomorrow (not too long after this post is published) and discover 4 feet of snow outside, but at 10pm on Sunday night, the Big 2010 Christmas Blizzard seems to be a Big Nothing. Yes, I will admit, it’s pretty windy outside, but there’s not much in the way of snow.

However, thanks to the snow, we get to have my brother-in-law an extra day or two. My sister’s family is visiting from Kansas, but her husband had to leave ahead of the rest of his family. He was supposed to fly out of Philadelphia for business this afternoon, and at the last minute his flight was canceled. His airline, USAir, was surprisingly candid about the reason.

Apparently, the flight crew boarded the plane; the pilot took a gander at the conditions and declined to fly. USAir told the waiting passengers they were working on two alternative plans:

Plan A: find another pilot who was willing to fly in the snow and wind
Plan B: wait 20 minutes and ask the current pilot if he was willing to change his mind

At this point, my brother-in-law called the car rental desk to reserve a car to drive back to our house. Good move!

So, tell me, if the original pilot thought it was too dangerous to fly, would you hang around waiting for them to dig up a more reckless/compliant/stupid one?

And – what were they doing in those 20 minutes to try and change the original pilot’s mind?? I have a picture of them taking him to the bar and buying him a stiff drink to bolster his courage.

Plan A, Plan B … would you want to know their Plan C?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve, Everyone!

It’s the Night Before Christmas and the house is a wreck.

All the creatures are up and about and running amok.

The children are NOT nestled in bed – more likely sprawled all over the floor with their cousins from Kansas, whom they haven’t seen in six months. They don’t even know what sugar plums are, and they’re probably not asleep.

I don’t have a kerchief, and Bob doesn’t wear a cap. But I’m sure we’ve got cocktails and music playing downstairs, and we’re enjoying the company of my sister Laurie and her husband Keith. If my brother Brian has driven up from Washington D.C. yet, he’s probably here too.

We’ve got yards of wrapping paper and several rolls of scotch tape, and we’re doing some last minute Christmas wrapping. Sorcia is probably beside herself with glee over the houseful of people – and there’s German Shepherd hair stuck under all the tape on the packages. (We’ll have to tell my niece tomorrow that the elves shed.)

That’s our Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas to all my blogging friends from the Salerni Family! Have a wonderful, peaceful, and joyful weekend!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Slice of Salerni Life 2010

With fond greetings to all my blogging friends, this is my Christmas card to you ... and my annual Christmas skit:

Dianne sits in her usual corner with her laptop, Sorcia at her feet. The phone rings.

Dianne: Hello?

Bob: Hi, hon. It’s me. How are things at home? Are you okay?

Dianne: Everything’s fine. Why?

Bob: I didn’t see any Facebook status update from you today, and nothing on Twitter. I was worried.

Dianne: Oh, I’m up to my eyebrows in math tests and reading journals to correct. Then, I was revising The Caged Graves when I thought of something I wanted to do with the first page of Pinpoint. In between, I was finishing a new chapter in the steampunk story.

Bob: I don’t see how you keep all those stories and characters straight.

Dianne: It just takes practice, Nate. Uh, I mean, Hodge.

Bob: My name’s Bob.

Dianne: Whatever. How are things at work?

Bob: Pretty good today. Nobody else wanted to teach Biomed how to use the new system so I got to do that---easy day, answered questions then took them all to lunch. Are the kids around?

Dianne: Let me check. (Texts Gina on her phone.) do u want 2 talk 2 daddy?

Gina: (texts back) yes.

Dianne: (texts) Where r u?

Gina: (texts) sitn nxt 2 u

Dianne: (looks up) Oh, so you are. Here’s the phone.

Gina: Hi, Dad! Guess what, Mom was my science teacher yesterday.

Bob: Yeah, I saw that on your guest post on Mommy’s blog. How was she?

Gina: She was okay. She spelled something wrong on the board.

Dianne: (sends Facebook chat to Gabbey) dad on phone. U want 2 talk 2 him?

Gabbey: (via Facebook chat) no IL txt him l8r

Bob: Where’s Gabbey?

Gina: She’s up in her room, making videos of herself playing the Zelda theme song on the viola and the ocarina and posting them on YouTube. She has a following of like 500 viewers.

Bob: That’s … disturbing. Put your mother back on the phone.

Dianne: Yes, I know. Zeldagirl367 is a bit of a sensation on YouTube. But I’m on it. Her comments are from other Zelda fans, and all they talk about are Link, Hyrule, and the Triforce. It kinda hardly matters if they’re other teens or 50 year old nerds.

Bob: Well, I checked her grades online and emailed her teachers, and she seems up to date on everything.

Dianne: And she was practicing her lines for the play earlier this evening. Gina helped her.

Gina: I told her I would read lines with her if she contributed $10 toward the Game Cube Adaptor for the Wii console I ordered on Amazon.

Dianne: What did you order on Amazon? And how did you order it? (mutters to Bob on the phone) She probably has her own credit card.

Gina: No, I don’t have my own credit card. They didn’t accept my application. But I have a gift certificate from the time I took all your spare change to the Coin Star machine at the grocery store.

Dianne: You took the spare change?

Bob: It’s the least we owe her. She’s the only reason we have an accurate grocery list each week. Hey, Dianne, I have a surprise for you.

DING DONG. At the sound of the doorbell, Sorcia leaps to her feet and launches at the door like a Cruise missile.


Dianne: (putting ice in the cocktail shaker) You finished the job and flew home early. I know. I’ve been tracking your phone by Google Latitude the whole time we’ve been talking.

Bob: (letting himself in) Wow, honey! Look at you working that technology. I’m impressed!

Sorcia: (whirling in a circle and whacking everybody with her tail) BARK! BOB’S HOME! BARK! LOVE BOB! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!

Gabbey: (via Facebook chat) tell dad hi

Monday, December 20, 2010

Revision: Alternate Universes for Your Characters

If you’re a writer, then you know how real your characters can be. You dream about them, talk to them, maybe even argue with them. They take on a life of their own once you put them on the page, and sometimes they lead you in directions you didn’t expect. I’m not much of an outliner, but even when I do outline, I have a tendency to deviate. Or, perhaps it’s my characters who deviate.

But then comes revision, and with a sweep of the highlighting function and a jab at the delete button, you start to re-write your characters’ lives. I usually fall in love with half my characters, so I welcome revision as a way to spend more time with them. (I’m one of the few writers I know who mourns when completing a first draft, instead of celebrating.)

Sometimes I imagine my revisions are creating alternate universes where my characters experience (infinite?) variations on their lives. For example, regarding The Caged Graves manuscript, there’s the universe where Beulah Poole, the housekeeper, is a young woman no older than my heroine Verity. Then, there’s the universe where Beulah is an old woman. There’s the universe where Silas Stevens is shot as a deserter, and another where he lives to be an old man.

If I go back into my initial notes for the story, I find yet another universe, where Verity’s rival love interests, Nate and Hadley, were completely different people and she made a different choice in the end. That was an aborted universe that never really came to be, and I can even trace the way it became diverted.

I’d read a blog entry by Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin, about how they searched The Library of Congress for historic photographs to match their characters and provide a basis for the illustrations in Picture the Dead. I thought it was a fabulous idea. Even though I wasn’t going to draw my characters, I wanted to be able to picture them in my mind. I looked for photographs to match the characters in my outline – but, of course, there were no such pictures. Instead, I found these two:

Neither of these young men resembled the characters I planned. But these photographs called to me, and these images shaped my two heroes. They went down on the page with their own personalities, and from that point there was no going back to the planned story.

If I’d picked two other photographs, would I have a different story today? Probably.

What about you? Do your characters inhabit multiple universes as you revise and re-work your manuscripts?

Photographs from Library of Congress

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sixteenth Anniversary and Dear Teen Me

Happy December 17th, everyone! I know it may not be a significant date for most people, but it’s my wedding anniversary! Bob and I were married on this day in 1994, the week before Christmas. It was a jolly and festive celebration!

We went skiing in Killington, Vermont for our honeymoon.

And I came home looking like this.

Yes, there was a lot of sophomoric laughter and all kinds of jokes about how I *really* injured my leg, but the true story is I fell over a rock while skiing on a relatively flat and easy trail. One wrong twist of the knee and – rip, there goes the ACL.

While I’m taking a look back in time, I’d like to point you in the direction of a new blog that launched this month: Dear Teen Me. This is the brainchild of blogger E. Kristin Anderson and fellow Sourcebooks author Miranda Kenneally. At Dear Teen Me, various up and coming YA authors share letters they wish they could write to their teenage selves.

So far, we’ve had a list of Do’s and Don’ts from Heidi R. Kling, boyfriend advice from Carrie Jones, and a list from Charles Benoit of 10 things he wanted to do before age 50 that he’s already done. I have a letter too, and my post is scheduled for sometime in late January!

Stop by Dear Teen Me for a bit of nostalgia – and some great dorky pix of awkward teenage future authors.

P.S. Do you have your Christmas shopping done yet? How about those cards? And how am I going to get this year’s Christmas skit written while I’m fooling around on Blogger …?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This is How Traditions Start ...

Several years ago (eight, to be precise), I decided to get creative with the note I sent out in Christmas cards and I wrote a creative little drama, which got inserted into everybody’s holiday greeting. It was well received by family and friends, and before Thanksgiving of the following year, people were hinting. “You’re going to do it again, right?”

Thus began The Slice of Salerni Life skit, which sees a reprise every year. Last Christmas, I tried to let it die a quiet little death, but the hue and cry over the empty card caused me to write it after the fact and send it out by email.

I thought the original skit was lost forever, due to a computer malfunction, but my mother-in-law recently found a paper copy. Oh, what fun it was to read the first one – and to consider how times have changed …

A Slice of Salerni Life – Christmas 2002

It’s late afternoon in the winter, and Dianne has just picked up Gina from day care. Gabbey’s had a half day of kindergarten, and Dianne’s had a full day of work …

Dianne: Okay, is everybody buckled in? Let’s go home.
Gina: I want juicy.
Dianne: I don’t have any juice.
Gabbey: Mommy, I have a question for you. Do days ever end?
Dianne: Gee, I hope not.
Gina: I want juicy.
Dianne: I don’t have any juice in the car. We’ll be home in fifteen minutes.
Gina: I want juicy … I want juicy … I want juicy … (Repeats every 5 seconds for a long, long time.)
Gabbey: Mommy, my library book says that some birds fly to South America for the winter.
Dianne: Wow!
Gabbey: How far is South America?
Dianne: Pretty far.
Gabbey: Mom, Gina stinks.
Gina: I not stinky. You stinky.
Dianne: Gina, when are you going to learn to use a potty?
Gina: I don’t want to use potty.
Gabbey: But you know you don’t like to make poop in your diaper.
Gina: I don’t have poop. My diaper’s okay.
Dianne: Gina, I can smell you from here.
Dianne: Okay, okay! (Sound of car windows opening.)
Gabbey: Mommy, have you ever been to South America?
Dianne: No, but I’ve been close. Mommy and Daddy went on an airplane to a place called St. Lucia, which is near South America
Gabbey: I’d like to ride on an airplane someday.
Dianne: I’m sure we’ll take you on an airplane someday.
Gina: I want to ride on an airplane.
Dianne: Someday.
Gina: I want to ride on an airplane.
Dianne: What, now?
Gina: I want to ride on an airplane … I want to ride on an airplane … I want to ride on an airplane … (Repeats every 5 seconds.)
RING! RING! The car phone automatically picks up. (Yes, in 2002 we had a dashboard-mounted car phone.)
Bob: Hello?
Dianne: Hi, sweetie.
Bob: Do you have the kids?
Bob: Oh, I guess you have them.
Gabbey: Mom! Gina kicked me!
Gina: Gabbey hit!
Bob: Is it going to be a martini night?
Dianne: Yes, dear. It’s going to be a martini night. With extra olives.
Bob: Okay. I’ll stop by the liquor store … Again. CLICK.
Gina: I want juicy … I want juicy … I want juicy …
Gabbey: Mom, do roads ever end?
Dianne: Yes, dear. It’s just this drive that goes on forever.

Eight years … wow. What a difference. It’s time for me to get started on A Slice of Salerni Life 2010, and I’m hoping for inspiration soon!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Tooth Fairy Experiment

Friday’s blog post about the end of Santa in our household sparked a family discussion about various childhood legends, and Gina confessed to us that she performed an experiment a couple years ago to confirm her suspicions about the tooth fairy.

I did not know this.

Apparently, Gina had been dubious about the tooth fairy phenomenon for some time. I admit, it was partly my fault, because the tooth fairy was rather lackadaisical about her visits. She sometimes “forgot” to show up. “She’s got a busy schedule,” I used to tell my oldest child, Gabbey. “She’ll get around to it eventually!” (And then I would put a sticky note on my own pillow, reminding me to drop off the money before I went to sleep.)

Gina was not so easily fooled.

Apparently, at some point, she lost a tooth and decided to put it under her pillow without telling me or Bob. Days went by, and the tooth remained where she left it, unredeemed.

Gabbey claims she tried to help us out. “I told Gina the tooth fairy was behind schedule!”

I asked Gabbey why she didn’t just let us know the tooth was there, and she shrugged. “It was an experiment.”

After about a week, Gina finally presented the tooth to me and Bob, telling us it had just fallen out. That very night, the tooth vanished and was replaced by some shiny quarters. Gina’s hypothesis was proved correct.

I guess I’m just lucky Gina didn’t take photos as evidence and present this as her school Science Fair Project.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ho Ho Ho No More?


A few years ago, I lost my enthusiasm for Christmas.

I used to love shopping (okay, not in crowds, and mostly online), and if I didn’t have most of my gifts purchased by December 1st, I felt behind. I mailed my Christmas cards so early, people probably grumbled when they saw them. I baked; I decorated; I sang Christmas carols.

And then … my kids stopped believing in Santa.

It was a blow. My husband and I looked at each other in horror and disappointment when we realized, and I knew we were thinking the same thing. No more Santa-Tracking on the internet. No reason to buy secret Santa wrapping paper and hide it in the closet. No need to bring the presents downstairs secretly on Christmas Eve. No more half-eaten cookies and reindeer-chomped celery left on the hearth. It was the end of an era.

I’m sorry to say the joy kind of trickled out of Christmas … I don’t think I even bothered to put up decorations that year. Cards went out late. Presents were wrapped early and under the tree in advance, and the kids knew exactly what they were because they told us what to buy.

On Christmas morning, instead of bringing us Barbie Dolls to liberate from their packaging (savvy adults know to come armed with wire cutters and a seam ripper), the girls took their iTunes gift cards and jumped on the computer to upload their own songs. They put their headphones on and fell into their DS Nintendo games. Nobody needed me to unpackage anything, and there wasn’t a single item under the tree made by Fisher Price.

It’s been about 3 years since the axe fell on Santa, and I’m still trying to recover from it. Yes, yes, I know Santa is not the POINT of Christmas. But his passing left a gaping hole in our family traditions, and with our girls too big for “TOYS,” Christmas morning just isn’t as much fun (for me).

Maybe it’s time to develop some new Salerni Christmas traditions. My husband votes we start a tradition whereby “Gabbey and Gina visit the Grandparents” and “Dianne and Bob visit the Caribbean.”

But I was thinking more along the lines of something that included the teen and the tween. Any suggestions?

P.S. Since writing this, I was happy to learn my sister’s family is coming from Kansas to stay with us over Christmas – AND my 7-year old niece Olivia is still a believer. You know what that means? SANTA’S BACK AND THERE WILL BE BARBIES! (Gotta find my seam ripper.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beautiful Blogger Award

I have to thank Marcy over at mainewords for this lovely, purple award! Marcy's my crit partner, and I've been enjoying being an alpha reader for her first draft of Grimoire, a witchy YA Regency Romance. I was sorry to see it end, and you should have heard me boo-hooing when I found out the sequel she's been talking about actually takes place 200 years later and doesn't include the same characters! (Oh no-o-o!)

As part of this award, I'm supposed to share seven things you might not know about me and pass the award on to seven other bloggers.

Things you might not know about me, (ahem):
1. In person, I am very shy. It takes all my strength and willpower not to be a wallflower at social events.
2. My cocktail of choice is a vodka martini, straight up, with olives. (And yes, one of those does help me overcome the shy-thing.)
3. I went skiing on my honeymoon, tore my ACL, and came home in a hip to ankle leg brace.
4. This is my 22nd year teaching.
5. I met my husband at a murder mystery party.
6. I grew up on Star Trek re-runs, Star Wars, and played Dungeons and Dragons in high school. (Can you say nerd?)
7. And on the nerd theme, in 1983 a friend and I went 12 hours in advance to stand in line for tickets on the opening day of Return of the Jedi. Only, there was no line.

It's a good thing I hit 7 just then, because I just experienced a whole floodgate of nerdy memories from high school and who knows what I would have spilled next!

Picking 7 other bloggers (and not repeating Marcy's) is a lot harder. I love so many blogs, although I can't visit them as often as I like during the school year. But let me give it a try:

1. I have to pick Lenny's World first, because not only do Lenny's posts make me smile, his comments usually have me falling out of my chair with laughter.
2. Next, I'm going to choose Buffy's write zone, because she so frequently posts the exact words of wisdom I need to keep going. (Oops -- just realized this one repeats one of Marcy's, but I'm not removing it!)
3. Then, there's Visiting Reality, because Linda makes me scream out loud with laughter, but also sometimes posts a truly inspiring piece.
4. The Misadventures in Candyland, for in-your-face-humor, poignancy, and also really BIG HEART.
5. I cannot forget Tina Laurel Lee's brainchild, The Practice Room, where I hang out every Thursday night (and more often over the summer) for dedicated writing time and chatrolling with other writers.

There are so many others I could name, now that I got started, but I have to reserve the last two spots for two bloggers I met (for real) at PAYA, because it is SO awesome to actually meet a blogging pal in person:

6. Christine's Journey
7. Aine's Realm

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our Mountain Retreat

My family has spent a week in the Poconos Mountains every winter for skiing ever since we’ve been a family. Our favorite place is Blakeslee, PA, where we ski at Jack Frost and Big Boulder. A few years ago, we pulled the trigger on a long-standing dream and purchased a little condo on Jack Frost Mountain. We go up whenever there’s a confluence of our schedule and the rental schedule, and this year we reserved it for our own use over Thanksgiving. We love to relax in our little getaway (and I keep fantasizing about a writing retreat there, although I haven’t tried it yet), but the realities of owning the place require us to play landlord, as well.

We rent through a website. (Are you considering a little vacay in the Poconos? Here’s a link to our rental page on We sometimes rent to friends, relatives, and repeat tenants, but most of the people who stay in our home are strangers. We’ve had mostly good luck. People seem to like our home and appreciate the little amenities we provide. We sometimes discover bonus items left behind such as wine, vodka, beer, ice cream, puzzles, books, and games. One of our favorite repeat tenants never stays without leaving a gift behind, such as candles, oven mitts, or a spice rack.

But we’ve also discovered blackened pots and pans and dented bowls, and we can never understand why some tenants disconnect all the wires on the TV and remove the batteries from the remote control. That’s the downside of owning a rental unit: playing the game of What the Heck Did They Do Here?

Some of the not so nice things we’ve found at the house:
· Potatoes sprouting in the back of the closet
· Thong underwear hanging in the window
· Marital aids left in the dresser drawers
· Bags full of garbage thrown into the basement crawl space
· The aftermath of a fire being lit in the electric grill
· Marijuana nubs in the bottom of the trash can
· An exploded casserole dish left in the oven, along with its moldering contents
· Kitchen chair smashed to bits (think Goldilocks and Baby Bear)
· Hole kicked in bathroom door after a Super Bowl Party (guess their team lost)

Overall, we love our house and enjoy sharing it with people so they can have a relaxing vacation – and help us meet the mortgage.

But being a landlady has also reduced me to hanging signs in my house that say things like:


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Hound of the Salernis

We were planning to send Sorcia to doggie day camp while we were away for the holidays, but my sister-in-law Deb said that she and her husband Larry would be happy to watch her instead. This little gem was waiting for me in my In-Box upon my return ...

(with apologies to Arthur Conan Doyle)

So it came to pass that, in these Retro-Victorian times, the legend of the Hound was born. No mere legend, but a real Hound of monstrous proportions and appetites. To those non-believers, I give you warning- do not be caught by the Hound during those hours when the Powers of Evil are exalted.

My wife was the harbinger of this adventure, as she was when we met. I shall relate the tale of our meeting when the world is prepared to hear it. She mentioned, in her casual way, that her brother would be stopping by. I always enjoyed Robert’s visits and was thus cheered by the prospect that my retirement would be raised from its mundane moments. The bell rang and one of the denizens of my household showed him in.

I gasped when he entered my sitting room and laboratory. There with him stood a huge Hound. No ordinary canine this, but a giant, thrashing, and energetic beast, whose demeanor hearkened back to some primordial forbears. He managed to control the snorting creature, whose breaths were of the same proportion as our most powerful locomotives. “Good day, Lawrence, I see you are looking fit and ready to spend time with my companion.” In an instant I knew that Deborah had enlisted me to help confine this Hound while her brother was off to climb mountains and pursue his explorations of the Poconos or some other distant place.

“Good to see you, Robert, I see you have brought a friend.” Our dialogue went no further for the Hound leapt up and proceeded to slather my face, as though tasting a meal just before consuming it. As I could only see the gaping maw and huge teeth, I do not know what transpired for several moments. Only when the Hound lavished the same greeting to my beloved wife was I able to take in the scene.

“Lawrence, I have brought you all that you need to feed the Beast. She must be fed only what I give you. To do otherwise could result in dire consequences.” I knew better than to ask what those consequences could be.

“Cheerio, Lawrence, I’m off” and without so much as a dialogue tag, he was gone. Deborah was, in the meantime, feeding the creature something. I immediately perceived that she had not taken any of the victuals her brother left. “Deborah! You have fed the Beast something your brother has proscribed.”

“What harm can it do?” she asked, guilelessly. We would find the answer later with our noses.

I will not burden the reader with the minutia. For four days the Hound held us captive and captivated. I was intrigued that such a demonic canine was of the gentle gender. What if this monster had been the male of the species? I shuddered at the concept. Nonetheless, as the days passed we developed a genuine affection for her. For the time she was in our home, peddlers eschewed our door and our meager estate. Lesser dogs ceased to bark when she retorted with a sound akin to thunder.

When Robert returned to collect his Hound, we sadly turned her over to him. While we did not tame the Beast, we learned her ways and even laughed at her antics. Thus we knew the savage Beast could show loyalty and stoutness of heart. I could see by the look in Deborah’s eyes that we would soon be searching for our own legendary Hound.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Shortly after arriving at Dorian’s Parlor on Saturday night, we had the chance to chat with one of the founders, Gil Cnaan, who described the event as catering to “anachronauts – people who travel between times that never existed.” That pretty well sums up what we saw there, as we chatted with people dressed in everything from medieval capes and jerkins, to tails and waistcoats, corsets and fishnet stocking, wings, silver contact lenses, and sometimes fangs.

Everybody was fascinating. This was a highly intelligent crowd, with interests in history, science, music, art, literature, and clothing. Vendors displayed artwork, jewelry, steampunk accessories, hats, corsets, and even some replica 19th century surgical equipment: “For when it absolutely, positively HAS to come off in the next 30 seconds!”

The organizers kindly allowed my daughters to sit at my booth, outside the main ballroom. I worried that some of the attendees might be unhappy with their presence, but everybody took it in stride. “I approve of your minions!” said one gentleman, eyeing them up through his steampunk eyegear. And one of the vendors offered Gabbey a discount on a hairpiece she liked, just because she was wearing a Zelda hat.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was when I met Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars, who brought their copy of High Spirits, the original version of We Hear the Dead. Turns out Kyle is an aficionado of Elisha Kent Kane, and we had a grand time dishing about Elisha and Maggie, bashing Elisha’s mother, and speculating on whether he would have ultimately manned-up and done the right thing if you-know-what hadn’t happened.

I was so busy talking to people, I didn’t get to see much of the show, but there was a fan dancer, an opera singer, Katie Kat, a showing of the animated short The Tesla Experiment, and performances by Ego Likeness. Oh yeah, I was part of the entertainment, too. They showed my book trailer, and I did a brief reading.

A gentleman came up to me towards the end of the evening to get a book from me. He said he was sorry he’d missed my reading, since he got in late at the airport. But he’d caught it on the webcast. I just blinked at him. “What webcast?” Turns out, the whole event was broadcast live on the Dorian’s website. I’m really glad I didn’t know that at the time!

Overall, this was a blast, and I really want to go again! I was eyeing up the costumes, getting some ideas, and I know my husband was, too. I think I might be an anachronaut at heart, too!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Photos from Dorian's Parlor

Wow! What an extravaganza! Dorian's Parlor did not disappoint -- it was an exciting evening of entertainment, where the people OFF the stage were just as interesting as the people ON the stage.

The best way to describe the event is with pictures. Above is Gil Cnaan, one of the founders of Dorian's Parlor.

Bob and I pose for a photo before the event.

My munchkin minions hung around the entrance and took pictures of interesting guests. No, I don't know what he was hunting with that weapon.

There were lots of vendors with corsets and hats and leather accessories and jewelry. Clock parts were IN! The earrings above have been mine for years. I bought them long before steampunk became popular, and in fact I wore them on my first date with Bob. (They are my favorites!) But at Dorian's, a lot of the jewelry was made out of clock parts, and Bob bought this necklace for me to go with my earrings.

And of course, I did my bit on stage. I did not faint in my corset, no matter how nervous I was. However, I needed assistance getting on and off the stage in that skirt.

I'll post more later this week about the lively steampunk culture and some of the people we met. It's going to take me awhile to absorb it all!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Practicing for Dorian's

I’ve been practicing all week for this weekend’s reading at Dorian’s Parlor. Actually, you could say I started practicing last weekend, when my husband and I learned how to dress me up in my costume. Yes, it took two of us. All those movies you’ve seen where a servant or a sister has to lace up the heroine’s corset while she hangs on to the bed post? Completely accurate! The part you don’t usually see in the movies is the husband using Google to figure out how to lace up the corset in the first place.

After I got into the corset and skirt, I had to get into the car – not that easy a task when your body doesn’t bend normally, and thank heavens I wasn’t driving! Bob drove me to my mother’s, because she claimed she’d put together the perfect hat to go with my outfit. And wow, she was right!

Do you want to see a picture?

Well, sorry. You’re going to have to wait for the unveiling at the steampunk ball. I’ll probably post on Twitter and Facebook during the event – and then blog about it on Monday. (Oh, wait a minute. I’ll have no place to keep my Droid, I just realized. Maybe Bob will hold it for me?)

I’ve also been practicing my reading. I decided to focus on Maggie Fox’s beaux, Philadelphia native, Dr. Elisha Kent Kane. After all, he’s buried just a couple miles away from where we’ll be. I only have ten minutes, which is perfect for reading the story of how he fell through the ice with his sled dogs. Hopefully, the audience will appreciate that most of the story is told in his own words (although my editors made me trim him down – they found him too wordy, LOL!).

Speaking of Dr. Kane, my husband will be in costume, too, and he asked the costumers to get him something as close to Kane’s naval uniform as possible. I didn’t get to see the fitting, so the whole ensemble will be a surprise to me tomorrow.

I can hardly wait, although I am a little nervous. I keep envisioning the Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Elizabeth can’t breathe in her corset and falls off the parapet …

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sending a Kid up Everest

Report cards and parent conferences are over, and it's time for Thanksgiving break! I feel like I've worked hard enough for it!

Exhaustion makes me cranky and maybe a little fanciful. My over-exerted neurons are firing off crazy ideas and strange little mini-stories. Overall, parent conferences went very well, and I heard a number of times that I’ve made a positive influence on my students. A couple parents have thanked me for placing a particular book into the hands of their child, transforming a reluctant reader into someone hungry for more books by that author/in that series/on that topic. So maybe it’s no wonder the following conversation in the library this week was followed by a paranoid crazy fantasy:

Me: Mark, why haven’t you picked out a library book?

Mark: (skulking at the back of the line, where he always tries to hide) I hate reading. I don’t want a book.

Me: We go through this every week, Mark. Let’s pick something interesting and short.

Mark: (stomping over reluctantly) Nothing’s interesting.

Me: Look, here’s a book on Mt. Everest. (Mark rolls his eyes.) C’mon, Mark. Lots of people died trying to climb Everest. You’ll like that part.

Mark: (with a spark of interest) Really?

Me: Oh, yeah. Look, here’s a picture of Beck Weathers, who was left for dead. But turns out, he was alive and he practically had to rescue himself.

Mark: (pointing at another picture) Are those all tombstones?

Me: Yeah. Pretty gruesome, huh?

Mark: Okay, I’ll take it.

I figured at first that he was only humoring me, so we could hurry up and leave the library. But as we walked back to the classroom, I looked back and saw him reading while walking. I smiled to myself. If he liked this book, I would try to get him interested Gordon Korman’s Everest series. Maybe Mark would get really interested in Everest. Maybe Mark would become a mountain climber. Maybe Mark would someday ascend Mr. Everest. Maybe Mark would get hurt! And I would be to blame! And his mother would be crying on the news, telling the world it was all the fault of Mark’s fifth grade teacher who gave him a book on Everest …

That’s about the time I realized, I really, really, really need this upcoming holiday break.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Squashed Flat

I don’t have much for you today, folks. A week of being buried under report cards was followed by a week of parent-teacher conferences – including one 12-hour work day – and I still have more conferences to do tonight. I’m feeling squashed flat – kind of like our old friend, Wile E. Coyote.

Now, the coyote was always back in the next scene, as good as new. I might need more of a recovery time, as exhaustion has completely sapped my creative energy. And I’m feeling a bit stymied anyway.

I’m considering another round of revisions on The Caged Graves, but I need to carefully think through what the changes will entail. The Wardenclyffe story has only 2 chapters so far, but my main character Mick has already diverted from the outline I wrote – which may be a good thing. And I’m mulling over a few other story ideas as well.

Good thing Thanksgiving break is coming … because I need some down time.

In the meantime, how do you like the snazzy new counterweight kitchen lights my husband installed, which I’m told are totally steampunk?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gina Review: Vordak the Incomprehensible

I've got Gina here -- ahem -- I've got ZARKOR here, cape and all, to give us a review of a book that's pure evil ...

Gina's Review: Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World

Do you want to rule the world?  If so this is the book for you!  If not, do a hundred trillion push-ups!  In the beginning of this book take a few tips from Vordak about being evil then take the evil test!  If you pick the evilest answer for all of them Vordak says you will probably at least rule a small island nation. 

Read through the sections about fashion with your belts, your costume, your mask, and your cape.  There are three very important reasons to wear a cape. 1.  Darth Vader wears a cape.   2.  The Riddler does not wear a cape.   3.  Darth Vader is cooler then the Riddler.  Therefore a cape is necessary! 

Read all the top three ways to make a Girl Scout cry or try the ways to ruin a field trip!  You think Santa is nice?  Not when you read this book: example he has only one suit.... which he wears every day.... which means Mrs. Santa has to wash it every night! 

Learn all about the superheroes and how to trap them!  Learn about your minions -- which ones you should definitely have and which ones to avoid. Now all you need is an awesome name (but don't even think about stealing Vordak!)  He gives specific guidelines so you can end up with a name like Zarkor The Unyieldingly Unforgiving.

Now that you’re ruler of the world, don't you want some tips about what to do with your power?  Well why not play Being Bowling: line up everyone in a town in a bowling arrangement then set up a big tower and roll your big bowling ball down!  Want more fun things to do?  Read this book then, or of course you could do ten million sit-ups.  You choose!

I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys a good laugh and wants to be ruler of the world.  I liked this book because Vordak plays tricks on you to make you look like you possess the brains of a turnip.  Also he includes a special maze with a lazy solution.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Crime of the Century

I love it when I’m researching a project and I discover a fascinating side story that has nothing to do with my WIP, yet pulls me off track for hours, just reading about it.

While reading about Tesla’s experiments on Long Island at Wardenclyffe Tower, I came across a reference to the architect who built the tower, Stanford White. I didn’t recognize the name, but apparently he was an extremely famous and talented architect who was murdered a few years later in what was called The Crime of the Century.

The Crime of the Century? In 1906, the media had already decided that no other crime in the next 94 years could be as important? As a matter of fact, I thought The Crime of the Century (of the 20th century, that is) was the Lindbergh kidnapping.

As it turns out, the media has dubbed countless crimes the most important one of the century – from The Great Brinks Robbery to the Jonestown Massacre. But Stanford White’s murder was the first.

White was shot in the head and killed on the Madison Square Roof Garden by millionaire Harry K. Thaw in front of dozens of witnesses. The motive? Five years earlier, Stanford White (a known womanizer) had carried on an affair with Thaw’s 22-year old wife, Evelyn Nesbitt. The affair occurred before Evelyn, a famous model and chorus girl, had even met her future husband, but Thaw was so violently jealous that he apparently felt the need to kill the man who’d been his wife’s first lover.

Thaw was tried twice for the crime. The jury was deadlocked the first time, and he was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity the second time – although he was subsequently incarcerated in a hospital for the “criminally insane.” His trial (1907-1908) was dubbed – what else? – The Trial of the Century. (Move over OJ Simpson.)

What does this have to do with my current WIP? Absolutely nothing. But it was a fascinating little side trip. And it does make me wonder … what was The Crime of the Century in the 1800’s? And how many of them were there?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blogs I Shouldn't Write

Last week, students were off for a teacher in-service day, and I attended a day full of meetings and presentations. A day full of meetings will get me thinking – especially in report card season when I have a ton of work to do, and I can’t do any of it because I’m in meetings …

On this particular day, my mind wandered to blog posts. I already had two blog posts scheduled, but I was drawing a blank for the upcoming week. What could I write about?

On my breaks and in the spare moments between meetings (anybody buying that?), I decided to jot down some ideas for future blog posts. Problem was, I could only think of blog post topics I shouldn’t write:

Anatomy of a Meeting

Personality Types and Unexpected Jekyll/Hyde Transformations

How to Divert the Agenda in 5 Easy Steps

Pros and Cons of Installing Shock Buzzers in the Conference Room Chairs (And Who Gets to Hold the Trigger)

The Case for Settling Disputes with Slap-Down Mud-Wrestling

Optimal Duration for Beating a Dead Horse

I can’t write about any of these topics, for obvious reasons. :D However, you guys are welcome to expound on any of those topics – or share the topics you’ve thought about, but really shouldn’t write about!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Time to Pantster and a Time to Outline

I’m hanging up my “pants” on this WIP and taking up outlining for awhile!

When I start a new story, I generally know how it begins and how it ends. The journey between those two points is an adventure – sometimes a scary, panic-stricken one – but nevertheless an exciting journey with lots of meandering and the occasional deadly cliff.

It’s like a great big connect-the-dots puzzle. Once the first draft is complete, I take a few steps back, and I might discover that I have to erase some of the lines and connect them in a different way. (But the same can be said of a first draft written from an outline.)

I have notes, of course – notes on things that must happen and things that might happen. Sometimes they are no more than impressions of scenes that may or may not ever be written. The characters tell me what to do as I go. Recently, the projected loser in a romantic triangle persuaded me he should be the winner after all. And since his rival didn’t turn out to be the guy I thought he was, I agreed whole-heartedly with the change.

But in the case of this new project, I think I need a more detailed road map. Research into Nikola Tesla is making my brain hurt! That man was into alternating current, high frequency high voltage electricity, wireless transmission of electricity, wireless communication, renewable energy, x-rays, remote controlled warcraft, and more. A story featuring Tesla could involve anything from Martians to anti-gravity! (He believed in both.) Without a plan, my dot-to-dot plot might end up a terrible snarl!

I know how I want the story to end, so I’ll be outlining backwards from that point until I reach my beginning. Yeah, I said I would outline, but I didn’t say I would do it the regular way.

I can’t promise I’ll follow the outline either! :D

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Defense of Daylight Savings Time

Last week I railed against changing the clocks, and most of my blog followers agreed with me. I invited dissenting opinions to share their point of view, and today I’d like to present a guest blog by my brother-in-law, Larry O’Donnell. (You’ve met Larry before!)

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude by Larry O’Donnell

Why do we need those pesky time zones and seasonal time changes?

Some of the reasons are socio-economic, some are to avoid chaos and some actually save lives.

The Sun gives us a means of telling time by appearing to move from east to west. The sun dial was developed (and used for centuries) as way of determining time. There were an infinite number of time zones because the sun dial was accurate only where it stood. That didn’t matter since there was little commerce and almost all of it was local. Once land and sea transportation and commerce went to steam, the need for coordinated time became obvious. Ultimately, a general agreement led to time zones. This convention simplified navigation, which used time and the angular altitude of stars to determine position.

In theory, each of the 24 time zones is 15 degrees of Longitude wide. The middle of the zone is where noon occurs with the Sun directly overhead, at the Equator on the solstice.

In practice, the time zones gerrymander according to national, State, and county borders. Sometimes they are drawn to topographic features, mostly rivers. Florida has two time zones divided by the Apalachicola River.

In order to position daylight during the most productive times of the day an adjustment is made by advancing or retarding the clock. Navigation ignores this change by using UTC or what used to be Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to measure against star sightings. There has been considerable debate about the use of DST, and States are permitted to legislate their participation. Arizona and Hawaii, for instance, do not change to DST.

There are those who claim there is an energy saving benefit. There those who refute that claim. Some folks believe it improves the quality of life by permitting working people daylight in the evenings for recreation or chores. One thing that is relatively certain, where it has been studied, is that there are fewer pedestrian deaths and injuries during DST. Studies clearly indicated the number of pedestrian casualties in the same locations were significantly higher starting immediately after the conclusion of DST.

The two time zone idea would be okay for the people living in the middle of the zone. But the people living on the edge of their zone would have some difficulties. Imagine if it were 6am in both New York City and Wichita, Kansas. In New York, it would be dawn, but the sun might still be an hour and a half away from Wichita.

I like the extra hour of sleep in the fall and despise losing it in the spring but other than that, I think the system provides better quality of life, in the summer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Blog Wordle

This is a Wordle created for my blog by a former student (and friend of Dread Daughter #1)

It clearly shows what's been on my mind lately!

Thanks, Christine!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Having Mom in the Classroom Next Door

This year, my daughter Gina is in fifth grade, and she's in the classroom right next to mine. Her teacher is the young man I mentored three years ago when he started teaching at my school.

It's been a fun and strange year so far. At least one third of my homeroom class has been to my house for a pool party or a slumber party -- and therefore, have seen me in my bathing suit and/or pajamas.

Today, I bring you Gina with a guest post on the situation from her point of view:

Having My Mom in the Classroom Next Door by Gina Salerni

Having my mom in the classroom next door is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because if I forget something like money for the book fair I can just go over and get some. It’s also a good thing because if I forget a note for something after school like science fair or Girl Scouts I can always go get one.

It’s a bad thing because if I miss one assignment she will find out very quickly! It’s also a bad thing because all my friends say every day “I saw your mom today.” And that can get very annoying!

It’s also kind of weird because if I am in the hallway I’m likely to run into her and be surprised. Also if the door is open, I can hear her teaching and that is weird. She comes into my classroom too if she needs to give my teacher something or get something from him. It’s also weird for my friends because some of them are in her class. So at school she’s their teacher, but after school she’s carpooling them to a birthday party.

Overall having my mom as a teacher next door is just weird! Just wait until we switch classes during science and she’s MY teacher for a few weeks!

Yup! Her homeroom comes to me in less than two weeks for my unit on Environmental Science. That should be interesting. We've discussed whether she or not she will address me as Mrs. Salerni -- but I'm not holding out much hope.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Daylight Savings Time Hell

Sunday is the day we change the clocks again.

UGH! The older I get, the harder it seems to make this time shift twice a year. My entire body protests the change. It’s used to doing certain things at certain times, and it doesn’t appreciate that weird feeling of being lost in time. This seems like an exaggeration, and I know you’re probably thinking: Boy, is Dianne cranky today! But honestly, twice a year on a time changing Sunday, I feel like hell. The following Monday isn’t much better, either.

So, why do we do this? Does it actually do any good? Can anyone produce positive evidence – PROOF – that we save energy by changing the time twice a year?

A lot of people say no, it doesn’t save any energy at all. Here’s an article in the New York Times suggesting that households may consume more electricity during Daylight Savings.

And here’s a great website called End Daylight Savings Time that provides some historical background about the custom, as well as a modest (and reasonable) alternative proposal. They propose that Mountain and Eastern time zones remain permanently on standard time, and that Central and Pacific time zones remain permanently on daylight savings time – thus reducing the mainland United States to TWO time zones instead of FOUR. Imagine that – wouldn’t it make business travel so much simpler, as well as eliminate the need to change the clocks twice a year?

How do you feel? Anyone out there who’s favor of the current system, please speak up and tell me why! I promise not to fire any spitballs at you.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dorian's Parlor

So, it’s all set:

Saturday, November 27 at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City, Philadelphia, I’ll be reading from We Hear the Dead and leading a Q/A session at a “Dress-to-the-Nines, Steampunk, Neo-Victorian, Black-Tie” evening – in full 19th century costume!

How did I end up here?

Well, it starts like this: A man and his wife go into a corset shop …

Yeah, I know it sounds like a dirty joke, but it’s true. My husband took me to Philadelphia for a surprise shopping trip last month, on the hunt for a nineteenth century-type costume. The wonderful staff at Passional were not only able to help us put together an outfit, they suggested we check out Dorian’s Parlor, a monthly steampunk extravaganza held just down the street. Passional apparently outfits a number of steampunk enthusiasts and has a regular vendor table at the event. Even though We Hear the Dead is not steampunk, they seemed confident the subject matter would be of interest to the Dorian crowd.

(Of course, the romantic lead of WHTD, intrepid Arctic explorer Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, was a Philadelphia native and rests eternally within the city limits. See my blog post about visiting his tomb here.)

My promotional staff (ie: Bob) contacted Gil Cnaan, one of the organizers of Dorian’s Parlor, and before I knew it, the two of them had booked me on stage – in corset – to do a formal reading. I am psyched! When I learned that the evening’s entertainment will also include a showing of the animated short film The Tesla Experiment: Twain in Vain, I knew it had to be another SIGN!

Dorian’s Parlor was recently named the Ultimate Geeky Getaway by Geekadelphia. Well, with my lovely new outfit, at least I’ll be dressed in appropriate Geek Chic … Pictures to come, I promise!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet Sorcia

As Halloween approaches, I am sadly reminded that we no longer have our live-in, year-round Halloween decoration – our black cat, Maui. We lost Maui to the highway last fall, and we were devastated. He was the smartest, most personable cat I’ve ever owned. Honestly, I thought he was too smart to cross the road …

The kids wanted another pet, but my husband and I knew no cat could replace Maui. So, in our grief, we went a little overboard and acquired a GERMAN SHEPHERD.

I swear, when we brought her home, I got nervous. I looked at those markings, those ears, the shape of that head – and I felt like Little Red Riding Hood. “What big teeth you have, Sorcia …”

We’d never owned a dog before, and I admit to making some rookie mistakes. I quickly learned not to talk while the dog was licking my face, unless I wanted a French kiss. And although Sorcia loves chasing a red dot from a laser pointer as much as Maui ever did, an 80 lb dog crashing around the house produces a lot more destruction than a 10 lb cat.

When we first got her, she spent her early days trying to “herd” us all into one room and keep us there by lying across the doorway. She’s gotten better about that now, but she’s still very protective. The one time my husband went out to the hot tub without me, Sorcia barked and whined at him continuously, her feet up on the side of the hot tub, staring worriedly down into the water where I usually sit. Sorcia clearly thought that Bob had carelessly let me slide under the water and drown. He had to bring her back inside to show her I was safe (writing on my laptop, of course).

With Sorcia at my side, door-to-door salesmen don’t stay long. I’m pretty sure she would just put her paws on their shoulders and lick their faces if I let her go – but they don’t know that.

And one of the more amusing things about Sorcia is her guilty little secret … Her favorite flavor of dog food is … wait for it … LAMB.

I’m pretty sure German Shepherds aren’t supposed to eat the sheep. But I guess all that baa-baa-baa can get on your nerves after awhile, and the temptation might just become too much!

Sorcia says: "Is it dinner time yet?"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When the Cosmos Beats You Over the Head With a Sign …

Okay, so last week I was excited about my pre-writing, brainstorming process, but as I started to do actual research, my confidence faltered. What was I thinking – venturing into the steampunk genre? I am the most mechanically disinclined person I know. I have never understood electricity or magnetism, or the relationship between them. How could I possibly grasp the concepts behind Tesla’s work – let alone weave that into the background of a story set in an alternate reality? If I don’t understand the actual technology, how can I conceive of alternate technology?

I was losing my nerve …

Sometimes, however, the cosmos will send you a sign. Maybe more than one. If you’re really dense (like I can be), it might even hit you over the head with multiple signs in a single week.

First, I was invited to attend and perform a reading from We Hear the Dead at Dorian’s Parlor, a steampunk ball which takes place in Philadelphia every month.

Secondly, my husband and I picked out some really cool lights for our “Let’s Brighten Up the Kitchen” project. Only afterwards did we discover these counterweight lights are very popular for people wanting to decorate their home in steampunk. (Are there a lot of those people?!)

Third, I received a nice little message on my Facebook Fan page for We Hear the Dead, and when I went to reply to the person, I discovered a “I Love Steampunk” slogan on her page.

Next, Word for Teens posted a steampunk reading list.

Then, I received an email out of the blue from someone who listened to a radio interview I did back in 2007 about the Fox sisters. In his signature line – a link to a website he maintains on Tesla-related products and articles.

Finally, I SKYPED with a class of high school writing students in Florida, and when they asked me about my current writing project, I admitted I was *considering* a steampunk novel focusing on Tesla’s work. The reaction was immediate and enthusiastic enough for me to see even on the computer screen. The teacher took the microphone to tell me; “They love steampunk. They love Tesla. They say go for it!”

What’s a writer to do when an idea slaps you in the face that many times? I’m digging into my research with fervor now. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but it seems as if I’m meant to TRY.

Have you ever been hit over the head with a SIGN?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cut Yourself Loose from the Herd!

I’ve now had a guest blog post from nearly every member of my family -- except one. Well, today, I’m very pleased to introduce you to my husband, Bob. He’s my best friend, my advisor, my tech crew, and the reason I ever became brave enough to publish a book. Today, he’s going to share some tips on cutting yourself from the herd …

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED - advice from Bob Salerni

“So, you like to take the road less traveled, eh?”

I was startled by the words of the Disney employee standing next to an empty FASTPASS machine. I already thought it must be broken or some kind of trick. After fighting my way thru the heavy crowds in Adventure Land, most of whose deodorant was not up to the task that day, I found myself watching other park-goers standing in FASTPASS lines 15-20 deep for the same attraction -- as my machine spit out a ticket with a small, reassuring noise.

I looked at the Disney employee as he smiled at me. He made no move to summon the other guests or to organize the mob. Was he there just keeping tabs on Disney’s little social experiment? The machine was located by itself, a short distance away from the others, but still clearly labeled and open. Why did everyone go stand in the long line? Duh! Because there was a line!

What is it about our nature that makes us want to follow the herd? As I had already read -- and was quickly discovering to be true -- when at any crowded venue, it’s best to do the *opposite* of everyone else.

A website that I used to plan our Disney trip offers a complete analysis of Theme Park crowd psychology. What’s really scary is how accurate and useful it is. Big event here today? Nope. Avoid it like the plague. Extra hours tonight? Probably not. Go to sleep and start out early tomorrow while everyone else is tired. Time and again, this strategy worked flawlessly.

I’ve seen it in operation elsewhere too. Really, almost everywhere you look you can find examples of how *not* following the crowd will get you where you want to go faster.

Even when someone offers helpful advice for avoiding a line, most people will resist. On a recent jaunt through security at the Philadelphia Airport I was waiting in a very long and growing line at Terminal B. A nice TSA employee circulated through the crowd and told everyone there was NO LINE at Terminal C. Just walk about 500 feet out of your way and back to avoid standing here for 45 minutes to an hour. Did she get many takers? Of course not. Everyone stood frozen, unwilling to risk the unknown of walking over *there* and back.

Being the risk-taker that I am (and being able to clearly SEE the other empty TSA line from where I stood!), I walked over and was on my way in less than 2 minutes.

Look around and see where you really want to go. There may be a better way to get there.

Which road do you prefer ?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Malevolent Spam

Spam seems to come in waves of pink, sticky goo. We’ve all been barraged by offers of Viagra and various other drugs that can be obtained by mail. Then, there are the Account Verifications – from your bank, from your internet provider, from the IRS and the FBI and all kinds of institutions you don’t want to annoy -- asking you to provide all your account information as verification that YOU are who you say you are. (Ironic, that!)

If you own any kind of rental property, then you’ve surely seen the scam whereby someone overseas wants to rent your property for a month as “a gift” for someone else, but can only provide you with an overlarge cashier’s check. You, of course, will write a personal check for the difference and mail that back. Yeah, right.

Lately, I’ve been swamped by the You’re a Winner type of spam. Without even lifting a finger to enter, I’ve apparently won the Canadian Lottery, the Lottery of the Netherlands, the Irish Lottery, and the Online Nokia Lottery. Boy, am I lucky.

However this week, I received an entirely new kind of spam. The subject line was: Your Death Has Been Arranged. In this email, I was informed that someone had taken out a contract on my life. The sender of the email was the hit man, who -- after spying on me, videotaping me, and recording all the personal habits of myself and my family -- was offering me the chance to pay him NOT to kill me. Otherwise, he would be coming to murder me shortly. He warned me not to contact the authorities. (Does blogging about it count?)

I have to say --- this was a new kind of spam and a pretty disturbing one. Pfishers and swindlers are bad enough. This particular email had no link to click. It wanted me to reply.

There were no personal details included in the threat, and I’m sure it went out to tens of thousands of people. In fact, a quick Google search shows that this extortion scam has been around since 2006. But unlike most of the other spam I get, it felt malevolent. It made me angry. It gave me the chills.

It also gave me … ideas. I’m a writer. I can’t help it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Timber Creek SKYPE & Happy Birthday Wishes

Yesterday, I had the amazing experience of meeting two high school creative writing classes at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida – without leaving my home! This was not only the first school presentation I’ve given (uh, not counting my daily lessons as a 5th grade teacher), but also my first time presenting via SKYPE.

I have to thank Amanda Burford of The Newbie Novelist for the opportunity to meet with her two classes. (I met Amanda through WriteOnCon, by the way.) It was Amanda’s idea to do the SKYPE, and despite my initial nervousness about relying on the technology – it all went very smoothly!

It’s pretty cool to give a presentation in your own home. Since they were only seeing me from the waist up – I could have worn my pajama bottoms if I wanted to. (I didn’t though.) Okay, so my dog licked my face at one point, and the phone started ringing (I dropped it on the floor and kicked it out of the room). One of the hardest things for me to do was talk to the camera on the top of the monitor instead of to the picture of the students on the screen. I think I got better at it, but it was hard to fight that impulse to talk to their faces.

They had some great questions for me: ranging from the process of writing, fighting writer’s block, getting published, and finding inspiration. Apparently, their original list of questions also included: Is your husband hot? But their teacher edited that one out. (Of course he is.)

Anyway, it was a fabulous experience and one I’d be happy to repeat …

Moving on to other business -- I want to extend a HAPPY BIRTHDAY greeting to my blogging friend Lenny! For those of you who don’t know Lenny, please check out his blog. I won’t tell you exactly how old Lenny is, but let’s just say that Lenny’s age REALLY brings down the average age of my group of blogging buddies. And that’s just one of many reasons to love him!

Lenny’s a fantastic writer – he fooled the heck out of me during Jen Daiker’s Guess My Character Blogfest. He is also a walking advertisement for my book, since he’s fond of wearing the We Hear the Dead t-shirt he won in Candyland’s contest. And he might just be his brother’s secret weapon when it comes to getting a date …

So, Happy Birthday, Lenny! I hope you have a fantastic day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Does Your Brain Storm?

Pre-writing. What works for you? When you’re chewing on a story idea, how do you work it all out? Where do you begin?

I spend a lot of time just worrying the idea in my mind, like a dog gnawing on a bone. And I do a lot of reading – books and internet. I might read more in the genre, or maybe do some historical research, or just surf the internet looking for little real life gems that I can incorporate into the plot.

Do you have a character in mind? I did, this time, but it wasn’t the main character. I could clearly see his love interest (who also happens to be an antagonist in this case) but my main character was pretty shadowy. I didn’t know his problems, his goals, his backstory, and I especially didn’t know his name. (I threw a couple at him, but he rejected them.)

My idea also involves playing around with the laws of electricity and magnetism. I am absolutely clueless on both subjects, but luckily, I have an in-house expert. I’ve been bugging my husband for weeks on this subject. He’s drawn diagrams, used analogies, and recently dragged out Gabbey’s old circuit kit as demonstration. He’s been extraordinarily patient – anybody who knows me, knows I’m mechanically disinclined.

On Saturday, during a day trip to Philadelphia, I chewed his ear off in the car the whole way there – bouncing ideas off his head, and he didn’t even ducked them. By the time we reached the city, I had an idea that just might work for a setting – but setting is only a backdrop, of course. I still had no idea who the heck my nameless main character was. I had no story.

We were pretty busy all afternoon, but conversation resumed on the car ride home. This time, Bob came up with a brilliant idea for a setting that was possibly even better. We were only 20 minutes from home when I finally realized how this new setting connected to my main character. Suddenly, I knew what he was going to do – and I knew why he was going to do it – and how he was going to redeem himself afterwards. I had a story!

Am I ready to write? No way. I still have a TON of reading to do – historical and scientific research. My character has to develop some more … and he still needs a name … but I’m on my way now!

What’s your process?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Best of Kansas

In 2007, I hosted a farewell party for my sister’s family, who were moving from Pennsylvania to Kansas. I decided to send out invitations listing The Top 10 Things We Love About Kansas. The problem was, after

1) It’s equally near to both the east and west coast
2) Not nearly as many tornadoes as you think
3) Carry On My Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind … I ran out of ideas!

My sister, unfortunately, felt the same way – at first. But happily, she has long since settled in and is guest blogging for me today, sharing the best thing about Kansas:

Hello there, my name is Laurie Kremer. My sister asked me months ago if I would write a guest piece, and I decided to share my experience living in Kansas

I’ve lived in the Midwest for a little over three years. At first I compared everything to the suburb of Philadelphia in which I used to live. I grouched about the distance to the mall and the lack of convenience stores. Our first week in Kansas, I ventured out with my GPS to a Pizza Hut a couple towns away. As we opened the door, an elderly gentleman on his way out, dressed in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap claiming “SHIT HAPPENS,” leaned down, looked my 8 year old son in the eye and said “There ain’t no more pizza in there!”

Clutching my children to me, I rushed passed him and into the restaurant where I proceeded to sit down and fight off a panic attack.

I laugh at that memory now, for that truly was the exception and not the rule. In the suburbs of Kansas City, we really know our neighbors and enjoy a sense of community. People are just nice! There’s no other way to explain it.

Ever been to the Philadelphia Airport? It’s huge, difficult to navigate, and full of people running -- stressed and sweaty -- from one hanger to the next trying to catch a plane. Just a few months after moving to Kansas, I flew home alone to attend a cousin’s wedding. My husband took the day off from his new job to drive me to the Kansas City Airport. As we arrived, we had one of those classic moments that all couples have at some point in their relationship where they say simultaneously, “I thought you put the suitcase in the car!”

In my complete panic, I irrationally blamed forgetting the suitcase on the fact that he made us move to Kansas. Determined to make me happy -- or perhaps desperate to get me out of town -- Keith told me to go to my gate. He would drive home and be back with my suitcase before the plane took off.

I was sure he was wrong, but I did as he asked. The Kansas City Airport is so small that from my gate I could see out into the street where I watched for my husband and counted the minutes until the flight boarded. He did not make it in time.

As I boarded, I explained the situation to the flight attendant, and she did the most unbelievable thing. She asked what kind of car my husband drove and then went outside and stood on the curb. My husband pulled up a few minutes later to find a bubbly flight attendant waving him down.

So what’s it like to live in the Midwest? It’s really NICE! It will never replace home and family and the lifelong friendships we built through the years, but we’ve found a happiness and level of contentment that I’m not sure I thought we could have when we moved away from Pennsylvania.

Last story for you. A little over a year ago, our daughter contracted pneumonia following her tonsillectomy, and we ended up at the local children’s hospital for the weekend. My husband drove home to get some clothes for us, and when he pulled up to the house, he found one neighbor moving the front lawn and another neighbor mowing the back yard. Pretty nice, huh?