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At some point into the Florida Writers Association Conference last weekend in Lake Mary, FL, I began to feel like a talent scout. That young man working on his mystery would be heard from. I was sure of it. A short story writer whose first publication is in the FWA collections book would soon break through that tough publishing wall. You just know it sometimes. The beautiful young woman I pegged in the parking lot on the first day as a writer made top ten in Collections. Later her elevator pitch to me of her first novel was concise and intriguing. An agent at the conference thought so, too, and asked for the manuscript.

One of my short stories made its way to “Slices of Life,” FWA’s collection book for 2010. I got to play like a real author and sign books for people. There are things you don’t know your first time. I soon learned my signature was not always enough. Some wanted something more personal. Here’s where quick thinking and creativity comes in handy even when in shock. I wonder if published authors go to their graves feeling like a fraud or will the feeling pass?

I will let you know soon when “Slices of Live” will be available for order for just $14.95 at www.amazon.com.   If you love short stories and real life characters you will treasure this book.

My friend Joan Levy and I were finalists in the Royal Palm Literary Awards contest. We met last year when I asked to sit by her at the awards banquet and felt like old friends by the time they called her name for a second prize tie in her category. This time both our stories were up for Creative Non-fiction Unpublished awards. I realized I would feel badly if I won and Joan didn’t and she felt the same. We held cold, shaky hands at times, rung our hands at others, praying for a tie between us at any level. The presenter had announced there were more ties than usual. We saw this as a good omen. We only talked of a tie. Someone must have heard us. We did come out even. Neither of us won. Relief came before our feelings of rejection, so I guess that’s good. There is always next year. Perhaps we’ll try for different categories, though, and we do have the satisfaction of knowing we both made it to the top layer.

The workshops were first class with lots of “take aways,” but for real value, meeting other people who relish sitting at a computer rearranging 26 characters into ideas and word pictures for hours is always the high point. I’ll never forget pausing at the door as I entered my first mini-conference a few years ago. I immediately stepped outside and called my husband to say, “There’s a room full of people just like me!”

My only regret was that I chose at one point to attend a serious, well-attended workshop in the huge ball room instead of “Let’s Talk About Sex” in a smaller venue with speaker Laura Parker Castoro I learned later she had them rolling in the aisles. No, not like that. She presented with humor. All in all, I’d rather have had Sex in the Orchid Room.

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Note: I have added a link to Sherry’s Salon web page in the last paragraph. I think you’ll find it is not your typical salon page.

Are we becoming England? I mean that in the best way. I think of the English as animal lovers, almost to obsession. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I am seeing the U.S. moving even more in that direction. Take one simple hour in my life today.

My hairdresser is located at a marina. Beautiful views of the harbor and the St. Johns River are right out the window. Even better is waiting for your appointment on the deck overlooking the river. But water ways with fish are magnets for stray animals. One poor pregnant cat showed up one day and gave birth in the shop (but that’s a secret). The kittens were quickly placed with customers from the shop and the diner next door. Mama kitty was spayed and was snoozing on the deck today.

Her pictures are displayed all over the shop. Today there was another picture, a digital frame flashing photos of a tiny squirrel and another cat. The shop owner took me through the story of his life beginning with the day her cat brought the tiny newborn through the cat door. That was over a year ago. The frame chronicles his move to the screened porch and finally to the outdoors, where today he has tiki bar, porch swing, picnic table with corn to share with his friends. There is even a whirligig to shoo away the hawks.

I had hardly begun my personal beautification when a guy walked in with his two-month old shitz shu puppy. We oo-ed and aw-ed over him, then talked of spiders and bats we have known in Florida.

I used to avoid going to “beauty parlors” because I felt so uneasy with the gossip and one-upmanship going on around me. You won’t find that at Sherry’s in Sanford, Florida http://www.sherryturnersalon.com/ , but you had better love animals.

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My granddaughters, daughter-in-law and I were having a girly day in Sanford, FL today, browsing and having lunch. Just as we passed a bar on a side street a tall, massive policeman in blue came loudly stumbling out the door. “Don’t bother coming here,” he slurred, “the place is closed, closed for the day.” We looked over our shoulders as he slapped the door shut hard, and said, “You didn’t see me here, didn’t see a thing.”

“No, nothing, “I said, “and take a look at our license plate. I’m sure you’ll not want to stop us anytime, will you?”

The cop carried on with his ruse until we all broke out in laughter. You gotta love small towns.

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Let’s put two myths to bed right off.

  • Writers are loners. Sure we work alone because writing is a one-person job unless you are part of a writing team for TV, but “loners” does not describe us. At the Florida Writers Association (www.floridawriters.net)annual conference in Lake Mary, Florida last weekend most attendees did indeed come alone it seemed, but there was a reason, if we can trust my limited “survey.” Those I spoke with did so for the same reason I did. Okay, we don’t have any friends, but besides that, the purpose was to meet as many other writers as possible in a short time. The best way to do that was not to pair up with someone you knew. And it worked. I met so many kindred souls my head is spinning. I’ll touch on a few in a minute.
  • Conference or banquet food is old TV dinners from the days of Sid Caesar and Howdy Doody, scraped from the tin trays and plopped before you, probably cold. You people have obviously never attended a conference at the Marriott in Lake Mary. I heard a perfect description of the creative breakfasts, lunches, breaks and dinners served us: “I feel like I’m on a cruise ship.” That sums it up. Of course, we will all need to work off the extra pounds as we do after a cruise, too. If you need further convincing, how about this? During the conference there was only one standing ovation—it was for the chef.

This was my first time attending a major conference, so I paid for one day (the second) in case it was not beneficial. I came back for the final day and wished I had attended the first, too. (Note to self for next year.)

The first workshop attended was for those farther along and ready to publish and promote, but things picked up when I heard young fantasy writer M.B. Weston, author of Elysian Chronicles . Her presentation on plot and structure was spirited and aimed right at my sore spot, conflict avoidance. She has a hard time doing bad things to her protagonist, too, but had tricks to help. Thank you. Thank you.

The first workshop after lunch was Crafting Commercial Memoir and presented by Brandi Bowles, an agent with Morhaim Literary Agency (www.morhaimliterary.com) whose job it is to buy memoirs. You can’t get advice more straight from the mouth than that. We left there seeing we had to target our audience and basically begin promotion of our book before we even write it. It’s a commercial world out there, kids. Techniques for stringing individual stories together with a narrative thread are the most challenging for me. Ms Bowles gave us several ways to accomplish that goal. Now the work begins.

After a hearty lunch, my next workshop was with Margie Lawson, psychologist, writer, international presenter (http://margielawson.com/, who spoke on Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. I have no doubt everyone in that workshop will soon be pouring over every work they have written to measure effectiveness against Margie Lawson’s criteria.

In the final workshop Sunday, James O. Born, author of five police thrillers, the latest “Escape Clause” (http://jamesoborn.com/titled his workshop Realism & What Drives Readers Crazy. He also writes science fiction under the pseudonym James O’Neal. Born, a DEA agent in “real life,” pulled one weapon after another from his duffle bag and kept us laughing while learning. Think: Carrot Top’s trunk with lethal weapons. No one got handcuffed (luckily) because he forgot the keys, but he turned my weapon against me when I asked advice on the police style (Surefire) defensive flashlight I carry.

This post has gone on long enough. I’ll be back to introduce you to some of the amazing writers I met and the visual treat we all had from the party next door, an Indian engagement party.

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Ghosts in Room 1170

I’m breezing along, checking out the deals on a travel newsletter when I see this review of a Quality Inn on International Drive, Orlando, Florida. You might expect such doings in an old inn, but modern one? Strange, but interesting. All you ghost hunters out there who have a go at it, I’d appreciate a report of your stay. The review:

 

Do not stay in room 1170. I booked a room at a great price. Our keys did not work the 1st time. Went to front desk to get the keys to work. They did not work. We had security help us to get in. Once we were in all this things started to happen. Knocks on the wall when noone was staying on either side of us. A dark shadow in the corner. Foot steps sounds in the room. A big bang on the day inside. At one point one pillow looked like something was pokingin it. A great room if your a gost hunter!!

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How many highs and lows can you cram in one week? I don’t know, but last week fate did its best to break a record.

 

 

 

Riverwalk, Sanford, FL

Riverwalk, Sanford, FL

 

 

Hannah in Antique Shop

Hannah in Antique Shop

 

Haley & The Dragon

Haley & The Dragon

Saturday, I prowled the nooks and crannies of antique shops in Sanford, FL with my granddaughters and daughter-in-law and let the cool breezes blow on us on the Riverwalk on Lake Monroe. Downtown Sanford is right on the water. Its beautiful old main street has been gussied up with charming restaurants and shops and is a great place to spend the day. What history lessons the “antiques” provide! Try it sometime with your grands. They’ll meet the first I Pod (78 rpm record player), manual cash register with pop-up numbers, embroidered tea towels grandmas made and put in a hope chest for their trousseau, and school desks with ink wells. You picture them in fifty or sixty years showing their grands antique stores with unrecognizable items such as flat screen TV’s, I Pods, I Phones, ear buds, and select furniture from Rooms to Go.

 

Two mornings later I’m on the phone to 911 before 7 a.m. Why do they try to keep you hanging on the line until six strapling EMTs are in the middle of your bedroom? Does anybody know? I finally told the lady I had to hang up and get some clothes on, and I did – just in time. I guess they are used to staying in contact when the caller is in the closet and Freddie Kruger is gassing up his chainsaw. But I had more important things to do than chat. The guys and girls got my husband breathing in seconds. We were totally impressed with them. We spent the better part of the day in ER, but were allowed to go home with promises to return immediately if the pneumonia worsened. I’ve been afraid to take my clothes off all week, but Jerry is better. My friend Abbe says the blonde medicine is working. 🙂

 

Highs and lows pretty much pinged around like a piston election night. Without anyone to really support, you would think some of the thrill would go out of the election, but no. It’s in our blood. I would like to nominate John McCain for best concession speech EVER. I had forgotten how gracious politics could be in the old days. Thanks for bringing that back, John, if only for a few minutes.

 

 

Mountain to Mole Hill --Someday

Mountain to Mole Hill --Someday

Cooler weather today was my cue to begin making a mole hill out of the mountain of wood chips the tree people dumped in our side yard for free. So I started this morning. I soon began to glisten and my muscles hinted at how they will feel tomorrow. I stepped back to see what must be a greatly reduced pile, and hoped I had enough. Take a look at the picture. Perspective. It’s all in the perspective. Up close it seemed I had chiseled away the size of the Grand Canyon.  At least I don’t have to do my yoga today for exercise.

 

To cap the week off, I checked our 401K. Am I ready for next week? I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll adopt the phlosophy of my friend Bob Buckman: The lower our accounts go, the less we have to lose. 

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I hope Jerry and I are good grandparents. It surely didn’t start out that way. stjohns3-2-8-032-1.jpgThe first time her parents trusted us alone with our year-old granddaughter we took her to Birds of Prey. It sounded like a good idea at the time. Audubon Birds of Prey in Maitland, FL rescues injured birds and releases them back into the wild when possible.

Haley smiled at the white-faced, barn owl as we entered. That may have been her last smile. We pushed the stroller to the bald eagle cage. There poor, injured, no-longer-majestic eagles loped around an enclosure, some dragging a wing. Haley’s face began to screw into a tortured mask. We quickly turned the stroller toward the cage behind her. On every crooked limb sat an injured vulture. Their bald, blood-red heads popped from fluffy white feathers above their scruffy black bodies. Wings drooped on some, claws or feet were missing on others. The scene we had always looked on with pity we now saw with a toddler’s eyes. Before Haley lay a Tim Burton horror scene of deformed, hissing, grunting vultures. She screamed to the top of her lungs. We calmed her down and cut our trip short, feeling like failures as grandparents. We thought we would be better at it.

Haley is ten years old now and thankfully doesn’t remember our first little foray. Perhaps it had no lasting impact on her little psyche. When we are out in nature now my camera cannot rest in my lap. She shouts incessantly “Ahmaw, take a picture! An anhinga! A gator! An eagle! An osprey!” Is it just possible that we didn’t scar her permanently?

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