Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Is Greatness?

I'm not always sure what makes a work of art great, whether it be a painting, music, dance, poetry, a play, sculpture, novel, or whatever. I do know great is a far cry from poor, mediocre, fair and even good. Great is like, you know, GREAT!
When it is already great and the world acknowledges it, I glom on to it like a shot, just like everybody else. Greatness is very identifiable. I've never discovered anything or anyone great, myself, but I am very good at going along with the crowd. I'm in total agreement, you might say. Michelangelo, hip, hip hurrah. Kim Kardashian, I'm not so sure.
Just so you don't think I'm an ignorant baboon (pass the banana) here's what I do know. Art falls into two basic categories, creative and interpretative. Mozart created music. Pavarotti sang it. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and many well-known actors did the role. Once, Sarah Bernhardt played the part. I don't know how great she was, but you get the picture. One is the creator and the other the interpreter. You can be one or the other in the Greatness Hall of Fame or maybe, in some rare cases, you can be both. I can't think of anybody who has worn both hats, but maybe you can. It sounds like a lot of work to me. It's all I can do to remember where my glasses are.
But let me get back to the meaning of GREATNESS. Maybe if I knew what made something GREAT beforehand, I could sit down and write it. For the record, I'm thinking no. Trying to be GOOD is mind-boggling enough. I've been writing for years, if not decades, striving for merely that.
I am devoted to the craft of writing. I study hard, practice hard, write and rewrite, send it to writing buddies for a go-over, edit the miserable thing again and again until I think I will throw up, and then put it away in total disgust. I tackle it several months later, and it's more of the same. The process is tedious, and time consuming. Remember, too, I'm only shooting for GOOD. Truth be told, I don't think I would know GREAT if it came up and bit me on the butt.
Speaking of butts, did Michelangelo sweat over David's backside like that? I mean, did Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni -- and there's a mouthful -- walk around that amazing piece of marble, day after day, wondering what he could do to make it better?
Did he invite over a gaggle of fellow pals on their lunch breaks and beg for their opinions? Did he cover Davey Boy with a tarp for a couple of months, go about the business of painting the Sistine Chapel, and return to this wonder munching on a bagel but with a fresher eye, saying,
"What were you thinking, man? That butt needs to be higher!"
Somehow, I don't think so. There's something about genius that doesn't seem to collaborate or brook any self-doubt.
Whoa! Maybe we've left greatness and wandered over to genius. That was Michelangelo, for sure, genius.
Here's another toughie. Was someone like Arthur Ashe a GREAT tennis player or just GOOD? And what about Leonard Bernstein, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Fellini, Einstein, Madame Curie? Were they GREAT? Or like David's creator, did any of them attain that lofty geni-osity?
Forget about GOOD vs. GREAT, where does greatness stop and genius begin? I have no idea. I only know I'm not any of these. And frankly, it's a relief. It's hard enough striving for GOOD.
No wonder martinis were invented. Pass the olives while I contemplate all of this.


In her varied career, Heather has written short stories, novels, comedy acts, television treatments, ad copy, commercials, and had two one-act plays well-received in Manhattan. Once she even ghostwrote a book on how to run an employment agency. She was unemployed at the time.
One of her first paying jobs was writing a love story for a book published by Bantam called Moments of Love. She had a deadline of one week but promptly came down with the flu. Heather wrote "The Sands of Time" with a raging temperature, and delivered some pretty hot stuff because of it. Her stint at New York City’s No Soap Radio - where she wrote comedic ad copy – helped develop her long-time love affair with comedy.
Her first novel of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Murder is a Family Business, is winner of the Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award 2011, and the second, A Wedding to Die For, is an EPIC Best eBook Mystery of the Year finalist 2012. The third, Death Runs in the Family, debuts in May!
Heather's blog at:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cats (and dogs) of the Big Easy

Just returned from doing research for the 4th book in the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery Series, which takes place in New Orleans. What a fabulous city! So colorful, so historic, so very special. To think, we might have lost this city forever thanks to Katrina and bad government decisions. Aside from the French Quarter and the Garden District, it will never be quite the same, though. It will be BETTER. What little I've learned about the people of New Orleans during my scant visit, they have a way of making their mystical spot on earth, jazzy, unique, and sparkling.

I simply had to take a lot of pictures of this treasured place and kept running into cats wherever I went, mainly lounging around in shop window! Here are some of the four-footed felines, who look like living in this amazing piece of the planet is only their due.

What I like about New Orleanians best is their sense of whimsy. They will have a two-hundred year old historic building, beautifully preserved and loving cared for, with plastic, multi-colored mardi gras beads draped along the length of balcony railing of the second floor. It is just too fun.
Saw a three legged dog, too. A large, white mix. He only had one back leg but managed to get along on the cobbled streets of this terrific city. A lady stopped the man and asked him how fast he (the dog) could walk. The man replied, "As fast as he wants to." You could tell the man loved this animal and it warmed my heart. I love it when people treat animals right, no matter where they are. Great cities are like that; it's in the air. Hurrah for the Big Easy!
I didn't get a picture, but it is in my heart, safe and sound.
I can't wait to go back!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Third Annual Palo Alto American Association of University Women Authors’ Luncheon, What is it about Paris?

Forgive the delay in posting this blog, but directly after the AAUW Luncheon on Saturday, April 7th, I flew to New Orleans for a little research for the fourth book of my humorous Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, working title, DEAD, if only.
That doesn't diminish in any way the memories of the exciting afternoon I had moderating What is it about Paris? for the American Association of University Women.
Who and what is AAUW? Check out their website and learn more about this worthy organization. This intelligent group of women do many good deeds throughout the year for their communities, wherever they may be. Saturday, April seventh, this band of women, four illustrious writers, and an independent bookstore, Books Inc. Palo Alto, combined in a benefit to send deserving seventh grade girls to a week-long math/science camp at Stanford University this July.
Lucky me, I got to moderate this event, asking questions about the latest books of these talented authors: Donia Bijan, Jacqueline E. Luckett, Ellen Sussman,and Cara Black.
These four fabulous femmes have written four terrific books and I should know. I’ve read each book, three novels and one memoir. Deciding to do that before I queried them at the luncheon was one of the best presents I could ever have given myself.
The books were wonderful! I laughed, I cried, I felt, I thought, I imagined, and I learned. Books don't get much better than that.
While the main theme of the luncheon was why did the authors choose Paris, it segued into many other subjects. Besides, if you've been to Paris, you know why Paris. I mean, come on. As a writer of a humorous mystery series, and never having it touch Paris, I am rethinking that decision. Yowser! Traveling to Paris to research and write about it... and get a tax write-off?
Putting Uncle Sam aside, if you are wondering what the four recently published books are about, here's a brief blurb on each one:
Donia Bijan - author of Maman, Homesick Pie
'An eloquent, heartfelt memoir, interspersed with thirty inspired recipes taken from Bijan’s experiences: from her Iranian childhood (Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant, and Orange Cardamom Cookies), her French training (Ratatouille with Black Olives and Fried Bread, and Purple Plum Skillet Tart), and her cooking career (Roast Duck Legs with Dates and Warm Lentil Salad, and Rose Petal Ice Cream). Donia’s love for her mother and her home, as well as for adventure and the power of good food, sings from every page.'
Jacqueline E. Luckett
- author of Passing Love.
'Moving back and forth in time between the sparkling Paris of today and the jazz-fueled city filled with expatriates in the 1950s, Passing Love is the story of two women dealing with lost love, secrets and betrayal, and how the City of light may hold all of the answers.'
Ellen Sussman - author of French Lessons.
'A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love and loss, as their lives intersect in surprising ways.'
Cara Black - author of Murder at the Lanterne Rouge
'Templars, secret medieval guilds, Chinatown sweatshops, botched affairs of the heart--the 12th Aimée Leduc mystery is the most exciting one yet!'

If you are looking for a good read, let me recommend one or all of these books. So, hie thee to your nearest independent bookstore, such as Books Inc, Palo Alto and pick one up.
Yes, yes, I know. Something online, like Amazon is so easy, so quick but think for a moment. Your independent bookstore serves the community it lives in, cares about authors and its patrons. The world would be not quite so nice if they went away. Besides, the smell of books lovingly gathered together in one place is very special. Visit one today and see what I mean. It's like a long-overdo visit with a favorite relative.
Another great independent bookstore is Copperfield's Napa. They, like Books Inc., have a commitment to the community and local authors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kudos to Co-chairs Robin Burcell and Cindy Sample for the LCC Conference

The Sacramento 2012 Left Coast Crime Conference went as smooth as butter, and I know something about churning. Before I took an early retirement from Stanford U. to write - and every year it gets earlier; I now claim to have been fifteen years old - I managed the Office of Faculty Recruiting for the Graduate School of Business.
I may not have pushed six-hundred people in and out of events at the same time the way Cindy and Robin did, but I've shoved enough VIPs around to know it ain't easy. These ladies excelled at what they did. Even with all the help from willing volunteers, it was a remarkable job.
I have to say, though, authors and fans alike wanted to have a good time. And we did. We schmoozed, we learned, we laughed, we ate, and we drank. We shared experiences, created new memories, made new friends, and we ate and we drank. Oh, wait a minute. I said that last part.
I think the thing which impressed me the most was the camaraderie. Authors big and small, well-known or just beginning, were equals there. Fans and writers shared ideas and had many a one-on-one. It was unique. It was exhilarating. It was exhausting.
This exhaustion never seemed to hit Cindy and Robin, though. And I wondered how they did it. I mean, just how caffeined up were they? At the end of each conference day, not only were they still standing, but every hair was in place and they looked terrific. I would have needed a medic, a gurney, and Valium fed to me intravenously.
But not much phased these two fine, fine writers. However, I'm thinking they were so busy keeping LCC's Mining for Murder going, they didn't have the opportunity to think about their own work. So I've decided to take a moment and do a little promoting for them. They deserve it.

Robin Burcell - An FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. She is the author of the Anthony Award winning SFPD Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie novels and the Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick series. The Bone Chamber is a thrill. Just be sure to lock your doors before you read it. Here's Robin's webpage, a very classy bit of business, I might add, and just like the lady herself:

Cindy Sample - A degree in History and a stint as CEO of a nationwide company somehow led to her first novel, Dying for a Date, released by L&L Dreamspell in June, 2010. This humorous novel combines bad dates, real estate, a few dead bodies, and plenty of giggles. Dying for a Date was voted #1 in Romance in the 2010 P&E Readers Poll. The sequel, Dying for a Dance, was released to rave reviews in October 2011.
Cindy's website, like her, is charming, funny, and inviting:

You can't go wrong with either or both of these ladies' books. Great reads. And they run one helluva conference, too.