Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exciting Book News: Gargoyle Girl Productions is Born & ARTIFACT Comes Out in August 2012

by Gigi Pandian

I've got some exciting news to share: I've formed Gargoyle Girl Productions and I’m going to publish my first mystery novel myself!

Publishing is a crazy journey. I've been having fun with it, so at first I was content to keep writing while my agent pitched my books and I waited for forces to align and result in a sale. My breast cancer diagnosis changed my thinking. When I thought about what I wanted to do to live my life to the fullest during these uncertain times, along with what I've learned about publishing in the last few years, everything clicked into place. Here's the story:

The 10 Reasons Why I Formed Gargoyle Girl Productions and am Publishing My Novel Myself

1. I didn’t rush into this.
I’ve written mystery stories and scripts since I was a kid, and wrote my first [awful] novel in college. It wasn’t until I wrote a draft of the mystery novel Artifact for NaNoWriMo six years ago that I felt I really had something.

2. The novel has already received several distinctions. I was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished traditional mystery writers while Artifact was a work in progress (2007). After getting involved in writers groups and learning how to edit a novel (2008), the manuscript was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Best First Traditional Mystery Competition (2009). It also received an Editor’s Choice award at the SDSU Writers Conference (2009).

3. I kept writing and had a work of fiction published. After Attifact, I wrote a YA mystery novel, another book in my mystery series, outlines of several more books in the series, and two short stories with series characters. My first short story is out in Fish Tales, a Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter anthology, and the second one was accepted into the next anthology.

4. I got myself an agent.
After going through the process of learning how to boil down my novel into a query letter, a synopsis, and a one-line pitch, I signed with an agent who shared my vision for the book and series.

5. Through two years of pitching to big publishers, my agent and I heard a lot about how good Artifact was, but that it didn’t fit established genre lines. I have a very lighthearted voice but write international treasure hunt adventure plots. It’s a cross-genre combo I happen to adore (think Elizabeth Peters and her Vicky Bliss mystery series) but not one that big publishers seemed keen on right now. I tried to write a "dark" mystery last year, but my natural voice came through and it turned out even more lighthearted than Artifact! At first I was content to wait out the market, since I’m having a blast writing more mysteries. But then:

6. I was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, at age 36, which is the kind of thing that helps you clarify your priorities.
I’ve always loved crafting mystery stories. I’d like to share them. Yup, it was the health shock that pushed me over the edge to make the decision to publish my mystery series myself. The diagnosis gave me a newfound clarity to see things I already knew. I love my day job at a non-profit, so I’m not looking for a new career. I want to make sure I’m releasing quality books, but I don’t want to rely on a publishing house to determine the fate of my books. And not to be too much of a downer, but with my uncertain health, I want to embrace life with my own deadlines.

7. My agent suggested it was time to think outside the box.
She had this idea right before my diagnosis, suggesting we consider different publishers than the main NYC presses, but I didn’t have time to consider my publishing plans until I was recovering from surgery. I thought about what “thinking outside the box” meant to me at this juncture in my life. I would have decided to move forward with my self-publishing plan regardless, but I’m glad she supports my decision to put my book out myself so it can find its audience.

8. I have the design and production skills to produce my books myself.
My title at my day job is Graphic Designer and Publications Manager. I do design, layout, and distribution of public education materials. With my skills, I can put in my own labor to create book covers, eBooks, and printed books. I’m working with a professional editor because I believe it’s such an important part of the process that signing with a publisher would have given me. The rest of the production process I can do myself.

9. I know what I’m getting myself into.
My network of writers – Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers or America, my critique partners across the country, and my local brainstorm partners – have taught me so much about the business of writing and publishing. Even though those were sometimes hard lessons to learn, I’m forever grateful to them. I know this isn’t an easy path I’m taking. But I also know what I need to do to make it a good one for me.

10. Life itself is a risk, and I want to have fun living it.
Toward that end, I formed Gargoyle Girl Productions. Named after my mystery-themed photography site, it’s an umbrella creative boutique to encompass all of my creative work: writing, design, and photography. I’m launching the first book of my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series as both a printed book and an ebook next year to coincide with the end of my main cancer treatments. I’m going to throw a big party. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating.

ARTIFACT comes out in August 2012: When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, sent by her ex-lover the same day he died in a supposed accident in the Highlands of Scotland, she discovers that the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she's not the only one on the trail...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Martha's Meme Crutch

We've had the definition before, but let's go over it one more time for effect:

meme: an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture

Sometimes it's a youtube video, but sometimes it's something else entirely.

Remember this:

I couldn't make it through a day of junior high without something going all not worthy.

Or how about this:

I don't know when it popped up, but back in college I never said "I know, right?" but now I'm that douchebag that says it all the time. Oh yeah, also, using the word douchebag all the time? Meme.

There was a time no one used the word douchebag to describe someone negatively. Then someone used it. Then it caught fire and everyone used it.

The problem with these types of memes is that they lead to verbal crutches and, in writing, the dreaded cliche.

As a young-adult author, I'm naturally obsessed with whatever Taylor Lautner's abs...I mean...Taylor Lautner is doing so I've been checking out his latest trailer:

There's a point where Taylor Lautner is on the phone with what must be the bad guy.
The bad guy says, "We're going to find you."
Taylor responds aggressively, "Not if I find you first."

That's technically another meme. Somewhere, societally, we decided the badass answer to "I'm going to find you" was "Not if I find you, first."

Even though this makes absolutely no sense.

If I said to someone: "I'm going to find you."
And they said, "Not if I find you first."
My natural response would be, ", well, let's just agree to meet somewhere? What's good for you? I don't mind cabbing it...maybe we could grab lunch?"

If cliche is the enemy of the writer than so is meme...but strangely, not zeitgiest (which we've discussed before in depth on this blog...)

The key is capture the spirit of the times without beating it like a dead horse (ahem...yet another meme turned cliche...)

With all the pressure to keep your writing pristine, thank goodness there's blogging! Where I can say whatever the hell. :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forget Me Me, Let's Talk About Something Far More Important

I think we've already established that I'm not an early adopter. Really, I don't care about the latest whosit or whatsit unless at some point it will save me time or money. Otherwise, being the first to have the latest (or fanciest) is pretty far down on my list of needs.

So this whole Meme topic has left me sort of adrift. I still don't really get Meme's and frankly, I don't care. There are so many other, more worthy topics of note to occupy my attention.

So instead of Me Me, I'm going to tell you about the Blue Star Mothers of America.

I think this might be the third week in a row where I've talked about philanthropy (and so sorry to keep bringing it up) but this past weekend my daughter and I volunteered for this AMAZING organization. From their website:

The Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-political organization. We do not support any political candidate, nor do we endorse any religious organization. The military represents all aspects of America as does our organization.

We are mothers who now have, or have had, children honorably serving in the military. We are a non-profit (501[c]3) Veterans service organization supporting our military children while promoting patriotism.

My daughter and I worked with the Blue Star Mothers to solicit donations for care packages to be sent to the troops overseas at our local grocery store and then helped sort the various items. We made cards to send to the servicemen and women who are serving our country in foreign locations. And we talked with mothers and fathers whose children are making a difference.

What do they need? They need small things, hot chocolate, oatmeal, poptarts, toothpaste, floss, makeup for the female troops, tampons, candy, cup o noodles, tuna, coffee, a variety of small easily purchased items to assemble into a package for the servicemen and women to receive during the holidays.

Sometimes they keep the items, sometimes they give them to the kids in the regions they occupy and protect. These men and women are laying their lives on the line. I don't care how hard your budget is to keep, one small purchase, as little as a dollar can make a difference in their lives.

Think about it.


Monday, September 26, 2011


L.G.C. Smith

Every time I get an email or read an article or blog post with a YouTube link, anxiety skitters through me. To play, or not to play? Most of the time, I don’t play.

I am afraid of YouTube.

To varying degrees, I’m also afraid of Twitter and Facebook.

I could blame it on being, ahem, shall we say past the first flush of youth. That’s a factor, but it isn’t the whole picture. Technology doesn’t inherently scare me. The people who use it are another matter. But technology is pretty cool.

I could claim to be upset by the potential for unintentionally invading some poor teenager’s privacy when a video of him getting walloped in the groin by a baseball bat wielding two-year-old trashes his dreams of stealing fifth-grade girls’ hearts from Justin Bieber. But that’s only a minor consideration.

I do worry about unsuspecting young people not realizing the depths of garden-variety depravity to which they may expose themselves with photos, clever videos, sexting, and what have you. But this doesn't contribute to my personal fear.

Free-floating anxiety, of which I have more than the average bear, isn’t to blame. No. I’ve acquired skills for talking myself down.

There is one thing about YouTube I can’t get away from. However alluring all those funny videos are, and there’s no denying the bone-deep appeal of Randall’s honey badger narration, they will Suck Up All the Time in the Universe.

YouTube is the blackest hole of a time sink on this side of the galaxy.

Alas, unlike the honey badger, I give a shit. I have books to write, research to do, and more books to read than I can fit into my days as it is. There are children in my life who are still young enough to want actual interaction. These circumstances alone, though wouldn’t make YouTube super scary. I also have a little issue with an OCD approach to clever film clips. I may have been born without a stop button. Therefore . . .

I am afraid of YouTube. Not memes. Memes are fine. But I will never be ahead of any curves that start on YouTube. I know my limitations.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Miming Memes. Or Meming Mimes?

So, when I first read this topic on a our Pens Google alert, I thought:

"What the fuck am I going to say about MIMES?"

Then I reread it again, and I remembered my Selfish Gene, and then I did some research on current memes.

I got a bunch of hits that made sense: The dancing baby, the dancing hamster, LOL CATZ, the Bedroom Intruder, etc.

Only as I read every single one of them, I imagined them with mimes. Miming memes? Or meming mimes?

I've not recovered since. ;-)

What would you like to see a mime meming?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meme Me

-- Adrienne Miller

Thank heaven for YouTube.

Yes, I get that there is more to memes than Double Rainbow and The Bed Intruder Song. But let's be honest, you're not interested in that, are you? You don't care about the evolution of the paper clip as a prime example of how the human mind constantly struggles to improve our current situation.

No, you want the funny. It's ok. So do I.

So here are some of my favorite  favorite sources of web based comedy.

Blame Society Productions

You probably already know about Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager. If you don't, you should. Darth's little brother has been running shifts at Empire Market for 3 seasons now.

The cast and crew have been making these for free. These are talented people and they deserved to get paid. There is a kickstarter campaign to make Season 4.

But Chad Vader, as great as it is, isn't the best that Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda have to offer. They have put out an embarrassment of YouTube riches. My favorites: Beer & Board Games, Fun Rangers, and Ehow. Note: all of these are edgier than the PG Chad Vader episodes, definetly NSFW...but they're also funnier.

"If only three sheep can be involved, it's not worth my time!" Seriously, don't click on this if you're at work. 

Next time you have an hour to kill, check them out.


If you were anything like me, you spent the last part of 1999 crying in a corner because you'd just found out that Mystery Science Theater 3000 had been canceled.

Ok, so you probably weren't anything like me...but, if you really like to listen to three ridiculously funny guys making fun of movies, check it out.

Fortunately  Mike, Kevin and Bill are always suitable for work!

Viral Video Firm School

Brett Erlich is a god. Don't believe me?

I give you Exhibit A:

And Exhibit B:

See? There's like a million of these, and they're all just as awesome.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Poodle with a Mohawk

I'm so out of it that I have no idea what a "meme" even is. Sophie's lovely Bouchercon post on Monday was no help at all, and Rachael's delightful essay still leaves me feeling, well, still a little unclear on the concept, a little out of it.

But this is no surprise. A good many of us authors --nearly all, perhaps?-- were hopeless book nerds in high school. I've never really "gotten" the latest meme, much less have I been on the cutting edge...I've never once said, for instance, that "I saw that video when it only had a few hundred hits." I'm the last one on the bandwagon, folks. And I really don't mind my seat in the rear.

About the only time I ever exhibited anything approximating coolness was an awesome T shirt I had the second year of college. It featured Fifi, a poodle, who was "small, black, and mad as hell."

(Check out the copyrighted artwork, by Lynda Barry, here.)

"He knew what people thought of his kind: High strung. Spoiled rotten. French." But once he becomes Poodle with a Mohawk, "You'll never call him Fifi again!"

It was the kind of culturally-loaded humor that young people love: in order to get the joke, you had to know the kind of pampered poodles that were prevalent amongst the suburban folk; you had to understand the political statement implicit in the Mohawk hairstyle; and you had to embrace an ironic way of looking at the world.

These days, I'm lucky to check out the Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger (narrated by Randall) at about hit number 17 million. Yes, I said it: 17 million. But check it out...I may be late, but the view from the back is pretty good:

Funny, huh? Wish I still had that Poodle T shirt, though. It was rad. Which meant cool, a very, very long time ago.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whisper Meme

Meme: an idea that spreads through a population, taking hold like a virus. They can be harmful: racist memes that spread through a family/territory/area. Or, as in the case of faith-based religions, they can be argued to be helpful--they assist people to live happier, more peaceful lives (unless that faith-based religion likes to bash/fight other people in which case, let's go back to calling it harmful).

And in terms of internet memes, they can make you feel like you're in fourth grade, still feathering your hair the wrong way, pegging your jeans but not knowing the rubber band trick so the pant leg always falls down.

If you miss a meme, you're out. Not with it. You're hanging with the uncool crowd, and you thought you doing okay up until that point. Someone chortles and says, "But what does it meeeeean?" and everyone else says, "Double Rainbow!" And you go, huh? Then everybody trips over themselves to tell you about the funniest thing that's ever happened, anywhere, and YOU MISSED IT, and they tell you the story, and even though you don't care, you try to look like you do, because then maybe you'll be a little cooler than you were five minutes ago.

Can you tell I was one of the uncool kids? When my peers at school at school would ask if I knew the latest song, I would nod and pretend that I did. Friendship pins? No, I just didn't like wearing mine, I said, desperate to catch a glimpse of one so I could try to approximate it in private later.

And I can see the attraction of a meme, I really can. It's fun to be on the forefront of anything. "Yeah, it has five million views now but when I saw it first it had six." But I miss too many things. I get Rickrolled and I don't even know it. (But click here if you'd like to be -- wouldn't you like that?) It's a flood. No one can keep up with the coolth on the internet, so I've given up again. I keep abreast of the knitting memes as much as I can (and they exist, believe me. Clapotis! Koigu! Swallowtail!) but that's about it.

But now, because I know something that you MIGHT not know about, I have to share it with you -- did you know about whisper videos? That they're A Thing? People video themselves whispering, and people clamor for more. It seems to be some kind of relaxation fetish-y type thing, and I'm both fascinated and completely creeped out by them. I can't listen to them, can't even get through one. But there's a good example here. I think you should click. Good GOD, it's odd.

And THAT, my friends, is what the internet is for.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bouchercon Blur - And a Couple of Smart Broads

by Sophie


hey you guys...I'm afraid I'm going to be a lazy-ass poster today. The truth is that I just returned from Bouchercon, the big mystery conference, and I'm a little wee bit weary. The best part was rooming with Juliet and Nicole, hanging out with my brother Mike, and seeing Pens favorite Mysti Berry around when she wasn't scribbling madly in her room. I'd tell you all the fun and amazing experiences we had, except I expect to be asleep long before I could get halfway through the list.

you're right - we *do* look adorable in matching purple! we didn't even plan it!

But I *did* have a thought to share with you regarding memes....specifically, blog memes. A couple of years ago I had never heard the term; my first exposure came in a single week when two of the finer bloggers out there tagged me. It just so happened that both of these women were at Bouchercon, so if you'll indulge me, I'll share them with you for your browsing pleasure.

First, Patti Abbot's blog is a must-read for anyone interested in crime fiction. Not only does she cover all aspects of crime writing, but she does really imaginative series of posts from a variety of perspectives - and she has a lot to say about her home town of Detroit, as well.

The second person I'd like to introduce you to is supersmart reference librarian and crime author Barbara Fister. I discovered her on her personal blog, and she is now also a columnist for Library Journal, and her musings are *definitely* worthy of your consideration.

Okay sugars, sorry for the brevity (and noodle-brained-ness). Back in a couple of weeks with something to say!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Hunger Challenge, or Blogging for Charity

And this week on the Pens we've got a little weekend extra!! Our pal, Bethany is here! Bethany Herron is an almost-Pen, by blood (yes, that Herron). She drives freight trains, raises moolah for disadvantaged youth, counts pennies on the Board of SFA-RWA, and writes urban fantasy from her Edwardian-era flat (it has a pie safe!) in Oakland, California.

Blogging is a very personal thing. Which is a nice way of saying that it has a tendency to become quite selfish.

There are frequent breaks in that tendency, all of which I love: twitter mavens donating their tweet to charity, fundraising campaigns through social media, blog posts that shed light on a social injustice.

Some non-profits are starting to do amazing things on blogging platforms, raising awareness and involving online communities. Which brings me neatly to my #HungerChallenge! For one week, finishing up today, the SF Food Bank challenged bloggers everywhere to try and live on an average food stamp budget.

That’s $33, for one week. $4.72 a day. Dude, one Zachary’s pizza would wipe you out for the entire week. And that’s not even counting a tip.

I’m not going to focus on the fact that I failed miserably. I’m not even going to go into the why and how; you can check out my personal blog for that, if you’re so inclined. I will share a couple of thoughts that came to me during the process, and hope that it inspires you to show some charity towards your local food bank. And yes, this will still be all about me. It is a blog, after all.

I’m blessed, and I know it. I have an amazing support system, and a billion places to score a freegan meal. I still have an ‘emergency’ credit card, even after cutting all my real cards into little pieces at the beginning of this year.

What happens when those fail? When my sisters can’t afford to feed me, and when all of my emergency cards max out from “but I really needed it” pizza and ice cream? What happens when – not if, but when – I’m looking for some charity?

See, I always think the apocalypse is just around the corner. I’ve been learning how to create debris shelters and make fire, and a tracking course is in my future. But there are smaller, more personal apocalypses. Where your world falls apart, but the one around you keeps going.

I hope I will be prepared and have the strength of will to keep going when that happens, just like the 38 million people on food stamps in the US already do. I could live on $4.72, for sure. But it wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t be fun, and it would also be only one small view of a larger life of difficulties.

Plus, no more Hangar One Vodka tonics! Like, ever! Can you imagine the horror? This was a very dry week.

Be charitable, while you can. And appreciate your booze while you still have it.

And if you want more of Bethany, you can read about her adventures here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Martha's Secret Charity Shame

If this were the charity equivalent of an AA meeting, this is where I'd tap the mic, wince at the screechy feedback through the speakers, clear my throat with an awkward cough and say, "Uh, my name is Martha and I'm a Charitaholic."

When I was in elementary school, our class was asked to fundraise. I don't remember the cause, I only remember it involved public solicitation of cash from parents, friends, and neighbors. And I remember refusing to do it.

Oh, and no one could make me do it. Not the teachers. Not the nuns. No amount of Catholic guilt was going to sway me.

I don't know why I had this particular aversion to fundraising. But I do know after the class raised money, and I found out the amount, I made an equal, private donation to the same charity...but didn't tell anyone about it.

There is probably some psychological reason I have this weird dysfunction, but I suspect I'm not alone.

If you...
- publicly shun the donation till at Church only to sneak in after the service and stuff it with dollar bills
- refuse requests to fund races for leukemia and whatnot only to go online later and donate anonymously
- when alone, and only when alone, randomly dole out cash to all kinds of people on the streets...only to learn that some of them are not homeless or pandering, only bike messengers chilling between assignments (oops)
- often purposely over-purchase at restaurants and pretend you are throwing it away only to give it whatever poor soul is hungry and huddled in a blanket nearby
...then you, too, may have Charity Shame.

Why am I ashamed of charity? Maybe it's the word - charity. It's full of connotations. Like I'm somehow "better" and giving to someone "in need" or "helpless" which makes me feel all douchebaggy and squirmy inside.

But the truth is....

(deep breaths)

...I love, love, love giving away my time, energy, and money to other causes/people/friends/strangers. I really do.


Charity is fucking ridiculous and I don't have to do it just because you expect me to and get the fuck out of my face with your stupid cause.

(no really, it makes my heart warm and fuzzy...)


All right we're clearly not going to solve all my issues in one blog post.

Point being.

Sometimes prickly people are charitable, too.
Stop making so many damn assumptions about us.

(grumble grumble grumble)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Beautiful Bill of Rights

by Gigi

Working for a non-profit is in my blood.

Before he came to the United States and became a professor, my dad worked in India for CARE, the humanitarian organization working directly with the poor to combat world poverty. Before becoming a professor herself, my mom attended Antioch college, a unique liberal arts college where the students alternate each quarter of school with a quarter of cooperative work.

It was really no surprise that I went to work for the ACLU. When I'm not off writing mysteries or photographing mysterious subjects like gargoyles, I spend my days as a graphic designer producing publications for the ACLU of Northern California.

The mission of the ACLU is to preserve and promote individual civil rights and liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution's Bill of Rights. That includes important rights such as free speech, due process, and the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

Some of my favorite projects are when we create public education materials in our "Know Your Rights" series, such as rights with the police and the rights of demonstrators, shown below.

I've been so fortunate in my life that it never occurred to me to do something different than work someplace that would help people. When I leave work, I'm refreshed rather than tired. So maybe I'm helping myself, too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Charity Blog, Pens Welcome Veronica Wolff

Pens are really pleased to welcome our pal, Veronica Wolff, author of historical romances and a the newly released YA series, beginning with ISLE OF NIGHT!!!

The Charity Blog

I’ve got a new book out this week, which means two things:

1. Yay, new book! Happy birthday, ISLE OF NIGHT!
2. I’ve been blogging, and interviewing, and Q-ing and A-ing my little heart out.

You’re catching me at the tail end of my publicity blitz, wherein I’ve been asked everything from the nature of horror (my book has vampires, and not the sparkly kind…mine are of the ruthless, bloodthirsty sort), to childhood abuse (my heroine suffered at the hands of her father, sending her careening straight to rock-bottom, which is how she ended up with those vampires), to vanilla vs. chocolate (vanilla in a photo-finish, unless it involves sea salt, in which case, chocolate all the way).

So, yeah, I’ve written lots of blogs in the past month, which has me a teensy bit burned out. But I really, really wanted to stop by and blog with the Pens too, because, seriously, I love these women. And not just in a SQUEE OMG AIR KISS kind of way. In a real, honest-to-goodness, admiring sorta way.

So, when Lisa got in touch, I had to say yes. Our exchange went a little something like this:

Lisa: Wanna come be a guest on the Pens? You could do an ISLE OF NIGHT launch post.

Isn't this cover gorgeous? (Lisa ::inserting her opinion here::)

V: (beaming, feeling thankful and honored) Fun! Thanks! I’d be honored!

Lisa: Great! The topic of the week is Charity.

(Shoulders sag.) How on earth do I tie vampires to Charity?

I racked my brain and came up with Weak Idea #1, something along the lines of…if my heroine could’ve relied on some sort of safety net (i.e. charity!), then maybe she wouldn’t have ended up on an airplane bound for the Isle of Night, where a coven of ancient vampires recruits young women to become Watchers, an elite group trained as agents, ambassadors, and sometimes assassins for them.

Meh. Boooring.

Time to bring out the big guns. At that point, I did what any smart person would do and asked Martha. (Because Martha knows, like, everything.)

V: So next week’s theme is charity. What should I blog about? (Cue me, wearing a pleasantly optimistic expression, waiting for Martha’s trademark wisdom to blow me away.)

Martha: You could do something clever and funny, like make up a vampire charity.

V: That does sound clever and funny! (Thinks a moment. Realizes how hard that sounds.) But I cannnn’t. (Hopefully I didn’t whine that last part too much, but only Martha could say for sure.)

Here’s where the panic set in. And with panic came the ludicrous, the ridiculous. I thought…I could look “charity” up in the dictionary and link the definition to my book in a witty, thoughtful way!

Nah. Too much of a stretch.

Or, I could refer to the lesser-used definition, which is mercy, which is something the vampires on my island don’t show. Particularly when they make the recruits compete against each other…and failure means death.

Not quite.

Or—ooh!—I got it…I could take the word c-h-a-r-i-t-y and write some pithy thing for each letter!!

Cue big shoulder slump, realizing that, when panicked, apparently I resort to that part of my brain best suited to fourth-grade homework problem solving.

Really nervous now, I decide to do what I always do when I hit this point. I consult with my critique partner, Kate Perry. Kate is a Kung Fu Master—like, literally, a full-on, red-sashed Kung Fu Master, whom you can see in action as the body double in my awesome

book trailer (because remember, this is still about me promoting my new book, ISLE OF NIGHT—in stores now!) Anyway, Kate is very calm and always has sage advice.

V: I have to do a blog about charity and I need help I don’t know what to blog about tell me what to do and how on earth do I link charity back to vampires?? (Do you hear the panic in my voice?)

Kate: Charity? That makes me think of Chaz Bono.

(This does nothing to ease my panic. Doesn’t she see how urgent this issue is?)

V: That’s Chastity. My topic is charity.

Kate: Hm. Interesting.

V: Well?

(The panic is intensifying now.)

Kate: Just do an interview-style post like the ones I do.

A-ha!! The author shouts in triumph! High-fives self! Thank you, Kate! An interview-style blog it is.

Only, hell, I just noticed…I’m closing in on 800 words, which is getting to be too long for your average blog post (since, as you can see, I’ve become something of a pro at these by now), which means it’s time to wrap it up.

So, to sum, this was a blog about Charity.

Also, I’d love it if you checked out my new book, ISLE OF NIGHT.

And hey, I’d be thrilled to send today’s winner a signed copy…which some might call downright charitable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paying it Forward

by Lisa Hughey

As most of you have figured out, this subject is very near and dear to my heart. The act of doing something for someone you don’t even know seems to be the ultimate gift. There’s no expectation of gratitude or reciprocation. The whole point of charity is to open your heart and receive the gift of satisfaction. And know that somewhere, you have made a difference.

My daughter and I are members of National Charity League. A fantastic organization whose mission is twofold, encouraging mothers and daughters to spend time together while involved in philanthropy in their local community.

I had never heard of NCL until my daughter was about ten. Some friends joined and started telling me about all the great experiences they had while serving the community. It sounded right up my alley, so when my daughter was old enough, we joined.

There is definitely a sorority aspect to the organization. There are rules, and minimum hours, and meetings all of which are designed for the participants to get the most out of the organization. We are in our third year and have done some pretty cool things.

We worked the Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society 24 hour walk-a-thon to raise money for cancer research.

Relay teams walk around the clock, most teams have a specific person that they walk to remember (or to celebrate their survival). The cancer survivors wear specially-colored t-shirts and walk right along with everyone else. It was one of the most memorable four hours we have spent together, ever.

Last year we contributed 50 hours of community service together (100 total) and then my daughter worked another 15 hours. I’m pretty proud of that.

We’ve sorted food at the food bank, tagged donations at the local hospice thrift store, sorted and packed books bound for the Phillippines, watched golf holes for a hole in one to support an organization that offers transitional housing for homeless families, made blankets for babies at the crisis center, stuffed stockings for kids in our county whose only gifts might be those stockings, Adopted a Family at the holidays, cared for cats at the county animal shelter, helped developmentally challenged and disabled kids play baseball, worked as Santa’s aide at the local museum, wrote cards to the troops, donated toiletries for female soldiers serving overseas. I’m sure there’s more I’ve forgotten.

It’s been an amazing few years and I never would have been involved in so many different things if not for this organization. It turns out some people don’t think much of NCL. I was really surprised to find that out. They poo-poo the organization without truly understanding. They assume that we are only out for community service to put on my daughter’s college resume or that we don’t really work.

What I’ve found couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve gotten to connect with mothers and daughters who have a passion for making a difference. Most of the women put in many, many hours to enrich the experience for all of us. And I am beyond proud to a part of such a great organization and thrilled that I’m passing on my love of service to my daughter.


ps. One other thing that we did was buy and pack boxes of food to be distributed in case of a natural disaster or an emergency.

If you google emergency food boxes you might be able to find something similar in your own community.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Charitable Attitude

L.G.C. Smith

When I was growing up, my parents practiced the old custom of tithing. A tenth of the household income was given to a combination of the church and various worthy causes. They taught me to set aside ten percent of my allowance for similar charitable giving. It didn’t matter how much or how little you had, you still made a point to think about and give something to those who had less. It was annoying sometimes—kids tend to want what they want and not think about others when there are Barbie clothes to buy—but in retrospect, it was great life training.

Later, when I was in high school, suffering the miserable caprices of my hormone-addled peers, it occurred to me that there were other aspects to charity besides just giving time and money to good programs and people. There was the attitude thing.

I was not inclined to have a charitable attitude. I was more inclined to be resentful.

I resented my parents for being clueless and forcing me to live under their harsh and punitive regime. I resented the fact that my younger siblings were never held to the same rigorous behavior standards that I was, and that as the oldest, I was always the guinea pig. “Oh,” my mom would say after letting my sisters get their ears pierced when they were eleven when I’d had to wait until I was fourteen, “I realized pierced ears don’t make pre-teens look like prostitutes, after all.” Why didn’t she listen to me when I said exactly that when I was eleven? And twelve? And thirteen? Arg.

I resented my younger sibs because they got privileges and nice things earlier and with less effort that I did. I resented them for using up all the family resources that should have been mine by right of primogeniture: our parents’ time and attention, clothes money, Christmas presents, the budget for European travel. I resented them for wrecking my stuff—I have a Barbie car story of my own, Juliet, but it isn’t as noble as yours. Let’s just say that the words ‘Barbie convertible’ can still cue histrionics in stressful family moments. I resented one sister, in particular, for telling her ninth grade French class, in which I was the TA, that I didn’t know what the word ‘dildo’ meant. Dear God. The humiliation.

I resented the jocks for being cute and making me lust after them because they never looked at me. I resented the rah-rahs for being cuter than I was and flirting with boys. I resented not knowing how to flirt. I resented not being sent to an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland where intellectual curiosity would be valued at least a little more than it was in suburban California. I resented how awful I looked in Gunne Sax dresses. Broad shoulders and a short neck are not well-served by ruffles and poofy sleeves. I resented—well, pretty much everything.

At some point in my overly earnest self-appraisals, it occurred to me that this was something I might consider changing if I didn’t want to enter my twenties as an angry, bitter curmudgeon, old before my time, and permanently sour. I decided to cultivate a charitable attitude.

Fortunately, this isn’t all that hard to do. When people misjudged me, hurt my feelings, or in any way failed to see and acknowledge my general awesomeness, I learned to let it go. I thought about what might have been going on in their day to make them mean and horrible. I decided to reserve judgment about their worth and their estimation of mine. I could always come back later, pronounce their doom and resent the besneezus out of them if I felt like it.

That didn’t happen. Much. And I started to look at people and see what they were good at and what made them anxious, what they liked and how they wanted to be perceived. And I started to say nice things when I noticed them, like “You sang that solo beautifully,” even when I wasn’t thrilled that they sang it better than I did. When people seemed mean and awful to me, I looked for something good in them, and I mentioned it when I found it.

Probably the most important people to whom I applied my new found tolerance and charitable attitude were my parents, sisters and brother. They were also the hardest ones to make it work with, but I tried really, really hard. And now, decades later when my siblings and parents are my best friends, I still try. It isn’t as hard. Most of the time. It can still be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.

So for me, charity often takes the form of offering an open mind and heart to those closest to me, as well as the occasional open wallet and open hand offered to those less fortunate. It’s an everyday thing. And it beats the heck out of resentment and anger.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's Luck Got To Do With It?

Sometimes I say how lucky I've been in life, and people get mad at me. They misinterpret my acknowledging the circumstances in which I grew up as my being self-effacing or humble. They think I'm saying that I am lucky to be successful, or that I think I don't deserve my success. But that's not what I'm saying.

Instead, I'm commenting less about my life now, and more about how I grew up. The fact is, I'm incredibly lucky. My parents are the most supportive, encouraging, and understanding parents possible. They were coaches and guides when I was a child, and now they're friends and advocates. They made huge sacrifices to give me an amazing education and they still support decisions that take me far from my family or are otherwise rather random or controversial.

I think knowing how lucky I am to have had this kind of childhood makes me really leery when people use cultural mythologies such as the American Dream, or that all men are created equal, to blast ideas of charity, or the idea that society needs to support its least well off. I'd love to think that those myths are true, and that we can all pull ourselves up by the bootstraps if we really want to. It'd be wonderful if opportunities come to everyone no matter what their circumstances, should they just take advantage of it.

It would also make sense if I believed these things, considering my own parent's lives. They both were middle children in working class families who "made it." They are tremendous success stories, unprecedented in their families.

And yet, I know my parents were incredibly smart, strong people who struggled with the might of lions to get where they are now. My dad would also argue they lived in a different America, one that took better care of its citizens. Furthermore, my mom's choice to teach special needs children her whole life has made me realize how blessed I am, and that there are so many different kinds of inequality in our world.

My mom's schools have a variety of different students who need to be educated outside the public system for a variety of reasons. Some are severely autistic, or brain injured, or otherwise mentally or physically impaired. Some come to her schools because they're victims of the most extreme abuse--physical, mental, or sexual. Some come simply because they've been ignored all their lives and have no idea how to act in society. They're basically a modern form of feral child, raised by technology rather than wolves.

Over the course of my life, I've spent a lot of time thinking about those kids, and who is going to take care of them. Some of the children are lucky enough to have marvelous, engaged parents who'd do anything for them--but who are also mortal. The victims of abuse are part of a system that has no money to support them. And these kids have already had everything I took for granted--all that love with which I grew up--perverted. And then there are the kids who, as they may say in a hip hop song, don't know how to act. But that's because no one has ever taught them.

So we have some kids who simply can't be self-sufficient and our system has to think through how we're going to accommodate them when their parents can't do it. But what about the kids who are damaged in so many other ways that aren't as apparent, or visible, or diagnosable as, say, autism? Can a person pull themselves up by the bootstraps, when they've never even been given a pair of boots?

I think about all the opportunities I've had that stem from my confidence, which was a product of all that love I felt as a child. I think of the doors that have opened because my parents taught me how to talk to adults and how to be productive, socially. I think about all the things I've been able to take advantage of because I never doubted my own abilities, and because I know that if I fail I'll still have people who love me.

And then I think about what it would be like not to have any of these intangible benefits. I don't have a special glow, because I was loved, nor do I have a special pass to a special club. And yet that's what it sometimes feels like, when I think about it--like everything I grew up with made all the hurdles a bit shorter or shaved a few miles off all the marathons.

I'm not saying that everyone who didn't have it perfect in life should have a free pass. I'm just saying that before we assume everyone's equal, and that we all had the same chances, we really examine our own lives. Oftentimes we'll find more legs-up than we thought.

Because I don't like living in a country where there is so much suffering. I certainly don't like living in one in which poverty sits side-by-side with the most grotesque wealth. And I think it is our responsibility to watch out for one another, especially for those people who've never gotten a break.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A More Charitable Heart

--Adrienne Miller

If I ever found a genie in a bottle, my wishes would probably go like this. First, I would wish for beautiful singing voice, cause mine is terrible. Second, I would wish for just a little artistic talent, because, well , I stink at that too. And last, I would wish for a more charitable heart.

The problem is even my reasons for this last wish are selfish.

I am a grudge holder. A bad one. I'm still holding tight to grudges that are going into their second decade. It's not something I'm proud of. I know it's petty and kind of silly, but I just can't seem to help it. Big hurts, little slights, they're all the same to me. And I've got a long memory.

The kicker is, I know that no good comes from holding grudges. I am rationally aware that the only person I am hurting by holding them is myself.

It's like that old saying. Holding a grudge is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.

My brain, of course, knows this. My heart, it seems, does not.

That's why I wish I could be more like those charitable people who are able to summon sympathy  for those who have done them wrong. It must be lovely to be one of those people who can forgive and let go so easily. They must live lighter lives than the rest of us.

I guess I'll never know until I find that magic lamp.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Barbie Convertibles and Rebuilding Together

I was a weird kid.

(pauses for gasps of shock and disbelief from reading audience).

One example: In an early act of self-conscious, self-righteous charity, I gave away my prized Barbie car. This wasn’t just any car. It was a convertible, pink, so cool. Our Barbies went to Diane Wilton’s pool/ocean in style, I can tell you that.
I gave it away because there was a toy drive, and while I had old toys to give, I believed the act of giving wouldn’t count unless I gave away something I really wanted. I thought it wasn’t true charity unless it involved self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, everyone remained suspicious of my motives. My parents decided I was fickle, that I no longer wanted the Barbie-oh-so-cool convertible Christmas gift for which I had begged so strenuously. Diane Wilton was pretty sore, too – how were the girls going to get to the beach party? At least one of my sisters told me I was stupid, that my sacrifice didn’t mean anything (she wanted to play with it, too). Martyr-like, I cried over my loss, resenting it bitterly.

Though I believe my motives were pure (ish), I now realize that except in extreme cases, charity is best expressed through all-around positive experiences rather than bitter self-sacrifice. Find something you love to do, somewhere your time and energy and money can be put to good use, not only for the recipient, but for yourself.

For six years I worked with a program called Rebuilding Together (it used to be the more poetically titled Christmas in April-- the name was changed to be more inclusive). Rebuilding Together is a program that performs repairs and upgrades on the houses of elderly and disabled homeowners who can't afford to keep their homes up. Here’s the really great part: though the program operates year-round collecting funds and identifying needy homeowners, the volunteer work dates are limited. Usually all of the hands-on labor takes place over one (sometimes two) weekends in April.
(above, me being trained by my Dad at an early age)
As “house captain” I was involved since January, getting to know the homeowner, inspecting the house, identifying needs, prioritizing jobs. Health and safety concerns are primary, of course, but usually we also tried to spruce up the place with new paint, cleaning, and gardening. After months of prep and planning, came…

Workday. I’ve never been to a barn-raising, but a Rebuilding Together Workday has that same uplifting, almost spiritual feeling of accomplishment through community. On workday, scores of volunteers arrive, consuming donated bagels and coffee before choosing their jobs, receiving instruction, and toiling away like demons. Experienced trades-people tackle plumbing and electrical issues, while folks with more enthusiasm than skills dig vegetable beds, or learn the basics of exterior painting.

Working together for a single day, seventy people can get one whole hell of a lot done. A new roof. Windows repaired. Old linoleum stripped, new floor applied. Walls washed, spackled, painted. Water heaters strapped and blanketed. Rotting porches replaced. Leaky faucets fixed. Locks changed, hinges oiled, slick walkways made safe.

It’s an incredibly exhausting day: occasional skirmishes break out, and mistakes are made. We once had a fraternity show up to perform community service work as punishment for a drunken party – they arrived hung-over and still buzzed, lacking any understanding of the true mission of the project. They mowed through the donated cookies and fruit, and then wanted me to sign off on their community service form.

But by and large, the before-and-after photos of the projects (none of which I have available on my computer, unfortunately) show the beauty of the day. Exhausted, dirty, smiling faces. Homeowners overwhelmed with relief and gratitude. A whole lot of folks with new skills and knowledge about house building and repair. Plus, the overall good feeling of having done something of value for another person.

This year, though I won’t be House Captain, I’ll at least volunteer for the day, or two. I’ll put on my overalls, grab a paintbrush or hammer, get good and dirty, and help a neighbor out. Because I can, and it feels good.

For all I know, my early act of Barbie-car sacrifice did lead to some karmic payback –I’ve had a wonderful life, full of luck and fabulous opportunities. But as my eight-year-old self would have pointed out, I wasn’t doing it for payback. Charity is performed for its own sake…and yet it does pay back. In so very many ways.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Charity Begins at Home

There’s a thing I want to do, and it’s something I’m completely terrified of doing. I want to be a hospice volunteer.

Three years ago my mother died. In the last month of her life (perhaps just the last three weeks—it blends together in my memory like a hideous nightmare), she was able to be home, surrounded by her three daughters. Looking back, I'm not sure how we all managed to take the time off work. None of us worked flexible jobs. But we were there, all the time. We were there up till the very end.

Two things made that time bearable: the fact that we were in it together, and the fact that every day a hospice care worker came by.

Now, the nurse didn’t come every day. He or she stopped by once every four or five days. At first, this didn't feel like enough. We wanted them there all the time. We were terrified. I work 911 for a living, and we’d been told that now 911 wasn’t an option. They gave us a sticker to put on our phone that said In Case Of Emergency, Do Not Call 911. Call Hospice Nurse For Advice. We were, for the first time in our lives, completely alone, beyond help. It was up to us.

But every day, someone came by. An older woman who talked too much and said strange things about crystals came twice a week—she was an odd duck, but she knew how to wash my mother’s hair without hurting her, something we hadn’t been able to figure out. Another person came just to help around the house. The chaplain came by. Mom didn’t want to pray with him because he wasn’t her minister, but I talked to him in the garden, which was what I needed.

They made us feel not so alone.

One night, I helped my mother to the bathroom, using my arms to support all her weight. I dropped her—either that or she slipped one way as I went the other—all I knew was that her head hit the doorjamb with a gigantic thud. A goose egg formed almost instantly, and I was sick to my stomach. Mom didn’t even notice it had happened, and no one else was awake in the house. I couldn't, wouldn't, wake them. My first instinct was to—what else?—call 911. But I couldn’t.

So I called the nurse. She soothed my nerves, telling me yes, it would bruise, but if her breathing remained the same then I didn’t even need to do anything for it. She was dying, for Chrissakes, what did a bruise matter? (Okay, she didn’t say that. But I took that away from it.) She made me feel better. “It happens,” she said. “You’re doing everything you can, and you’re doing it right.”

That was what we needed then, so desperately. We needed people who weren’t too uncomfortable to look us in the eye. People who didn’t burst into tears as soon as they came out of her room. People who could ask us how we were, to whom we could tell the whole truth. Unvarnished.

It’s almost a cliché, isn’t it? That hospice workers are angels? But they are. I want to be one. I have a new job, and a little more time on my hands. I’m looking into it this week.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Job Jar

by Sophie


Giving to others is something we grow into as we age. Children are not naturally givers. Sure, they have the occasional charming rogue generous impulse, perhaps even harbingers of the lovely character they'll develop later, but in general they're good at demanding that their own needs be met, and not good at meeting those of others.

When my kids were little, I found this distressing. I didn't have the benefit of hindsight, of knowing that they would grow up to be perfectly splendid much of the time and selfish and unreasonable no more often than most humans. I decided I would force the issue. I had a vague sense that if they practiced generous acts, unnatural though they might be, eventually it might become rote. Unshakable. Habitual.

What better season for this enforced, joyless giving than Lent? We used to observe those six weeks together, as a family, and when my kids were 3 and 5 I took an old jumbo peanut butter jar, covered it with stickers spelling out "JOB JAR," and painstakingly cut out over 150 little slips of paper, each with a task description typed on it. Each family member had his or her own special color of paper, but the slips were folded and then tossed together like so much tricolor pasta. The idea was that every morning you had to pick a slip of paper in your color, and do whatever it said at some point during the day.

One problem at the beginning was that the kids didn't read. No matter - their enthusiasm was undiminished by the fact that they had to have their sentences read to them. Afterwards I stuck a piece of tape to their paper slip and they were allowed to add it to the others. My daughter's went on the oven, my son's on the kitchen island, wobbly rows of tasks that grew over the course of the season.

The hardest part was thinking up enough jobs for everyone. I was driven by the biblical sense of service, of serving others. The concept of charity requires that the person being acted upon be in need in some way; I was comfortable with a liberal interpretation of "need". My younger child "needed" to feel included, for instance; so sometimes the job of the older one was "let your sister join you and your friends when they come over." I sometimes "needed" a reminder to slow down and enjoy the process, not the result, so sometimes the kids' job was to help me cook, even when the result was much more cleanup work for me.

Just for fun, every year there was one slip for each child that read simply "Mama's Day." On that day, they did not get in trouble, no matter what. They never abused the privelege, but on that day I did all their tasks, made them their favorite foods, let them watch TV and play video games, asked nothing in return. I envisioned that some day they would return the favor, that being the recipient of simple giving would somehow take root and bloom in them.

I am happy to say that has happened, though of course I can't prove that the Jar had anything to do with it. Both of my kids take joy in doing for others. They are clever, creative, and almost giddy about giving, whether it's planning their dad's birthday or surprising a friend with a thoughtful gesture. Not all the time, of course, hell no. Like the rest of us, they can be real beasts, whiny and selfish and thoughtless. But when they shine, they shine.

At some point, maybe five years ago, the job jar fell by the wayside. We were disenchanted with other aspects of the church calendar; Lent is no longer formally observed in our home. We're all too busy to add tasks to our day without good reason. But I miss those days, the joy of watching them pull out their slips of paper and discover a new small way to change the shape of someone's day.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Enemy, My Friend: Hunger

The Pens are thrilled to welcome guest blogger and long time pal, Mysti Berry. Mysti Berry has a B.A. in linguistics from UC Santa Cruz and an M.F.A. in writing from University of San Francisco. Her scripts, novel excerpts, and short stories have won awards from Mendocino to Salinas. Her short story, "Inside Job," will be published next year in a Sisters in Crime anthology. Her first crime novel about a fraud investigator in San Francisco and Las Vegas is due to be finished any day now.

For most of my life, I’ve dodged hunger. The mere threat of a rumbly tummy sent me straight to the Ding Dongs, HoHos, PopTarts, or on gourmet evenings, to a box of mac-n-cheese and a fruit pie for dessert.

Predictably, this led to some serious poundage by my fourth decade. Within a few hours of vowing to behave, I would be hungry, and then would dodge the feeling by eating. Finally, the lovely folks at UCSF Weight Management program suggested a “medically supervised, VLC (very low calorie) meal replacement program.” Instead of my impulse-based 3000 calories a day, I eat carefully prepared 200 calorie doses, five times a day. Surely I’ll fail at this as much as I failed at everything else diet related, won’t I?

Turns out, I am 100% compliant with the program, twenty pounds down and a few more sets of twenty to go. And I’m hungry all damn day. Hungry, hungry, hungry. But with the help of a whole team of medical professionals, I’m able to now just feel the hunger and let it go.

There’s a trick to it, of course.

At 1000 calories of “food” like the early astronauts ate, your body and most of your mind loses interest in food of any kind as it settles into a safe, medically-supervised ketosis. However, I’ll eventually have to go back to the real world of making choices about food, and feeling all my feelings instead of stuffing them down with giant pasta feeds or extra large pizzas. So I’m hard at work on all these things while the relative quiet of the program gives me a little extra time and space to sort things out.

What has any of this to do with writing? A whole heck of a lot. Now that I understand hunger instead of run from it, I can use the concept of hunger for both character and plot development. It goes a little something like this:

1. Figure out what the protagonist needs more than anything else in the universe. For example, Sam Spade needs to believe he isn’t as morally corrupt as everyone around him is—he needs to know he has his limits on the downward slope. So he has to find out who really killed his partner—if it was his partner’s wife, he’s partly to blame. In a newer example, Lily Ivory in Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mystery series needs a community—she was robbed of one because of her powers. Throughout the series, she takes incredible risks that we believe, because we know how much her new friends and position in the local community mean to her.

2. Figure out what the flip side of that need is, what endangers it or threatens it. Back to our examples: Sam Spade’s desires threaten to overrun his morality—after all, he’s sleeping with his partner’s wife when the story starts, and Ms. Wonderly is in a whole new league of femme fatale. And Lily, if the “establishment” finds out about her gifts, or if the new men in her life freak out, she’s at risk of losing her newfound community. We know this would be like death for Sam or Lily, and yet it’s so likely they will be overwhelmed that we just have to keep reading.

3. Find every situation you can that both promises more of what the protagonist needs and threatens to take it away, preferably in the same scene! Sophie Littlefield has mastered this with her Stella Hardesty series—after a lifetime largely shorn of adult love, Stella needs the affection and approval of a romantic partner. The object of her desire, however, threatens her safety, her freedom, and her new day job. We can’t imagine how she’ll resolve this contradiction between absolute need and nearly certain failure, so we have to keep reading.
So for fictional characters as well as real ones, hunger is both a friend and an enemy. Please tell me, what do you hunger for, and what threatens to take it away?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wanderlust & Coffee

I thought I'd gotten off easy.

No nausea. Mild fatigue. Turns out I can even pull off short hair. (I was told I look French with this even shorter haircut at left. Thoughts?) Chemotherapy isn't so bad, I thought to myself.

But then I found out what my specific side effects were to be. Here are the two that have left me ravenous:

1. I cannot drink coffee. Coffee. If there is anything in the world I'm addicted to, it's coffee. Not only physically. I'm convinced it's overwhelmingly psychological. But that only makes it worse. I'm entering my second month of four months without coffee. Will I make it? Only time will tell.

2. My immune system is so shot that I'm stuck in the house. Not only can I not travel, which sounded bad enough, but I can't go out and be around people. I'm an explorer by nature. I'm used to getting on a plane every couple of months. When I'm in town, I'm trying out a new cafe for writing or stopping in front of a random art exhibit in someone's front yard in Berkeley. Well, not this fall.

But I'm also never one to dwell on the curve balls life throws my way. After a small amount of moaning and planning future travels that seemed quite far off, I decided I'd bring the adventure to me.

Last week, I bought a Lensbaby Composer, a selective focus camera lens that allows you to pinpoint the spot in an image you want to highlight and also focus ridiculously close to objects. That latter point is rather important when one wants to make an adventure out of one's house.

The lens arrived earlier this week. Here are a few of my first shots.

Three Lewis Chessmen sit on my bookshelf. The Lewis Chessmen are the famous pieces found in Scotland's Outer Hebrides a couple hundred years ago that scholars believe to have been originally carved in the 12th century. They're so fascinating because each of the dozens of pieces have unique, often humorous, facial expressions. I made these three pieces out of a plaster cast when I was a kid.

A miniature version of the classic Rolleiflex camera.

Self-portrait in front of my favorite bookshelf.
-- Gigi