MOM’S SECRET CRUSH
If she were alive, Mary Elizabeth Duffy would turn 100 this December 31st. That realization tempers the New Year’s revelry for me and turns my thoughts to the simple memories that I cherish of my mother. She grew up the oldest of five siblings in a devout Irish Catholic family and dreamed of becoming a nun (UGH!) or a kindergarten teacher. To help support her family during the Depression she relinquished a scholarship to the state teachers’ college and went to work. I never recall her even once using “bad language” or expressing the mildest interest in any member of the opposite sex but my father. Except for one.
My mother was a fan girl of William Conrad, who portrayed portly detective Frank Cannon on that old television show. He certainly wasn’t my idea of a hunk but to her he was “nice” an intelligent man who loved to cook, treated women with respect and drove a really cool car. She never missed an episode of Cannon and rebuked anyone who dared to call him fat. Needless to say, he was also safe and somewhat asexual, hardly heart throb material. He would never make the cut as a hero in one of my novels although he might portray the kind friend or savvy cop.
Thanks to cable television, I can relive those memories of my mother by watching re-runs of—what else—Cannon. He still fails to ring any of my bells but I have to admit that in an era of violent, often vulgar programs replete with anti-heroes it is comforting to find a lead character like old Frank. He is “nice.”
Read and Learn
Today I interviewed renown author Nancy Thayer for the BOOKS AND THE WORLD television program. Although Nancy is the published author of 29 novels, I had never before had the pleasure of reading her work. I am so glad that I did. Nancy writes what some would term, “Women’s fiction” and has a legion of fans. As I plunged into the narrative of her latest work, I quickly learned the secrets of her success: Compelling characters combatting the type of issues that confront so many of us. Nancy revealed that her focus is and has always been family, friends, relationships, and life issues.No apologies for focusing on the mundane and no reluctance to call her books “beach reads.”She lives on the beautiful island of Nantucket (poor thing), and that setting forms the backdrop for her novel. I am a mystery writer who typically wallows in mayhem, duplicity and a healthy dose of snark. How nice to visit another, gentler world for a change. Thanks, Nancy!
I’m guilty. I confess that I adore watching re-runs of McMILLAN and Wife every Sunday.Admittedly Sally was portrayed as a cute, hapless dimwit (every man’s dream wife in the -70s), and the lovey-dovey relationship between Mac and her was obviously fabricated since Rock Hudson had other interests. SO WHAT? San Francisco was an ideal setting, Enright the perfect sidekick, and MILDRED, the annoying but dedicated housekeeper who no longer exists (and probably never did.)As a young college student I watched the Sunday Mystery Movies, and often wished I could change places with Sally– No cares or expectations for achievement, just being cute, cuddly and complacent. After all, that’s what fantasy was all about and still is.
MEMORIES OF OSCARS PAST
Once upon a time, long long ago in a land without cable TV, streaming services or the Internet, watching the annual Academy Awards show was an incredible treat. The broadcast aired on a weeknight and after much cajoling and fervent promises that were soon broken, my mother would allow us to stay up until the Best Picture award was announced or the clock struck midnight whichever came first. My sister and I were ecstatic even though many of the nominees were considered too “adult” for our tender eyes and ears to experience. We consumed mounds of popcorn and Tab, salivated over the fashions sported by celebrities, and cheered for our favorites. Admittedly even then the acceptance speeches were dreadful—tedious for anyone especially a child to hear. They were BORING but not infuriating.
I no longer watch the Oscars or the Emmys for that matter. Possibly the sheer number of “award” shows has stripped the sheen from that once special spectacle. Think about it: we now have the Sag, People’s Choice, Grammy, Golden Globe, Country Music Hall and Lord knows how many others to choose from. Fashion winners and losers are amply displayed on the internet accompanied by snide or sycophantic commentary. If the show conflicts with your schedule—DVR it to suit your convenience. No big deal!
Most of all, award shows have morphed into an endless round of one-sided political commentary by cue-card reading fools who must believe that their views actually influence listeners. THEY DON’T.
Ratings have declined sharply for Awards Shows according to Variety. That doesn’t surprise me, but I still feel a pang of nostalgia for simpler times when a family munched popcorn and cheered for their favorites without vile comments about our elected officials polluting the airways. Times were simpler then. Sometimes simple is better.
Yesterday I trudged to the FED_EX store to mail copies of SWANN SONGS to Goodreads winners.For once I was minding my own business, quietly stacking books in a pile for mailing. No good comes from passivity.
FED_EX CLERK: (Looking at the cover of SWANN SONGS).” Did you write this?”
ME: (proudly)-“Yes. It’s the 4th in the series.”
FED-EX CLERK: “Hmm. Looks like a romance. I have friends who read that stuff. Intelligent women too!Can’t understand it.”
ME: “Actually the book is a romantic MYSTERY. Basically a mystery with a pinch of sex.”
OTHER FEDEX CLERK joining in: “Only a pinch? Too bad.”
EVIL FED EX CLERK: “I love mystery books but not something like that. Covers with that bare-chested guy….”
ME (w/ some asperity).”My books do NOT have Fabio on them.”
OTHER FED-EX CLERK: “Too bad.”
Next time I’m going to the US Post office. They IGNORE you.
BANK ON IT!
I spent a pleasant weekend in New York, celebrating a minor dog show triumph (another point for Lord Byron), and seeing the sights. Imagine my chagrin when while attempting a minor purchase at Saks, my Bank Card was “declined.” Forget the humiliation I encountered: the icily polite clerk with narrowed eyes and a tight lipped smile who nodded with faux empathy when I proclaimed that “there must be a mistake.” They’ve heard that song sung by many credit-challenged patrons in the past.
Fast forward to my dealings with BancAmerica. Forget the 22 MINUTE wait on my cell phone because “our representatives are busy assisting other customers. Your call is important to us.” REALLY? When an assistor finally answered, she informed me “Oh. You’re a premium member. I can’t help you. Let me switch you to the premium line.”
(Omit the volcanic eruption from yours truly).
After another 10 MINUTES on the cellphone, a pleasant lady responded and quickly diagnosed my problem.
Assistor: Oh. You’re in New York.”
Assistor: “You didn’t tell us you were going to New York.”
Incredulity and a protracted discussion on coordinating my travel plans with the BANK ensued.
Assistor: What are you doing in New York?”
Me: Unprintable outrage.
Assistor: When will you be back in Massachusetts? The exact date.”
Me: Long, mostly polite diatribe about the unacceptable intrusion into my private life and my refusal to comply with their absurd requirements in order to use MY MONEY.
Assistor: We’re only trying to protect you. Our policy is for your own good.
For years, citizens complained about the depredations of the IRS. Hey. Compared with BANKS, the Treasury Department is a rank amateur.
A sour observation in the New York Times book review (2/21) suggested that commercial fiction, that opiate of the masses, is comparable to a Dorito-a tasty but ephemeral treat with no lasting benefit. Literary fiction, however, is equated with “books of value,” a type of vital nutrition for the soul. I note that the author mentions the supposed financial rewards of commercial fiction (LOL) several times. With marked distain, she remarks that literary fiction exceeds “market value” and commercial appeal. Pity the poor purveyor of novels that seek to engage and entertain a wide audience. The literary establishment inveighs against such goals and often indoctrinates MFA students against them.
Pretentious prose masquerading as “deep thinking” can bore the pants off readers. However, works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and a fellow named Shakespeare were originally geared toward the masses yet cherished by millions of readers in subsequent generations. Commercial or literary fiction—you be the judge. I believe both can coexist peacefully without diminishing either.
PS—I researched the author of that piece, a well-respected and erudite woman who has won numerous literary honors. Too bad that her published works sound as dull as dishwater. I guarantee that they will never pander to the great unwashed.
Like many of you, each morning I watch the national news shows eager to assess those being interviewed. More often than not people who should know better perform dismally in the spotlight. Some are quite unforgettable—not in a good way. Until now, hedge fund huckster Martin Shkreli had my vote for insolence beyond the call of duty and against his own best interests. He shrugged off raising the price of a life-saving drug by 800% while displaying a patented sneer that was truly a work of art. Subsequent actions by the SEC and a command appearance before a Senate Sub-committee were probable by-products of that tour de force.
I was eager to hear the new editor-in-chief of COSMOPOLITAN magazine this morning on voting patterns of young women. MISTAKE! Joanna Coles out sneered Shkreli (credit the British accent), used unnecessarily vulgar language, and managed to achieve something that Vladimir Putin failed to do: annoy the usually unflappable Charlie Rose. This thoroughly unpleasant woman did her employer and herself a disservice. Her message—young women are seeking something new—was obscured by her bad behavior and repellent personality.
There are lessons to be learned from those who can relate to an audience and like it or not, authors must master public appearances. Some are naturally gifted in this area but there is still hope for those who are introverts. Consider the following:
- Show your audience and moderator courtesy by listening to the question and answering it succinctly.
- Don’t babble, bloviate, or bore your listeners.
- Even if you are a curmudgeon, learn to FAKE IT. Be your self but be your BEST self.
- Humor, particularly self-deprecating humor is always a crowd pleaser.
- Remember that every appearance is an opportunity—for good or bad. Prospective readers or current fans will be influenced by your public persona.
Finally: with social media and the INTERNET things last forever. Use your time in the spotlight to advance your own interests.
BEWARE THE GREEN-EYED VERB
Many people are beset by jealousy but writers, individuals who labor in splendid isolation without adequate recognition or compensation, are especially vulnerable to the slings and arrows of envy. Writing is a cruel mistress, the true La Belle Dame sans Merci, who frequently beguiles one with promises then casts him aside. The New York Times Book Review (1/31/16) notes the temptation to react to another’s good fortune—fawning reviews, sizable advances, burgeoning sales–by exercising the power of the green-eyed verb to savage competitors. We may all occasionally scratch our heads when some mediocre or poorly written novel scales the heights, but obsessing over the success of another is counterproductive. Far better to analyze why and profit from it.
Awards can indeed be popularity contests that are totally unrelated to content. Reviews may be subjective and sales reports can be manipulated. Taken together however they suggest a strategy that the savvy student of the game takes into account. Why bemoan your fate when you may have the power to change it?
Aligning oneself with supportive writing communities also helps. Sisters-in-Crime is one example of an organization that educates and encourages its members while focusing on skill building. It celebrates the success of crime writers and strives to share the wealth with all members. There are many other groups with a similar mission that can stimulate professional growth and combat writers’ angst.
If all else fails, the next time you peruse the NYTIMES best seller list keep one thing in mind: perhaps the writer in question is actually BETTER than you.