Grumble. Grouse. Complain. (Restaurant Edition)

So here’s a situation…  What would you do?

You and a companion spend a long morning traipsing around a national battlefield in near-100-degree heat. Around 1:45, you realize you’re ravenous. At 2:00 p.m., you enter the Tavern, the only restaurant visible on Main Street of the town nearest the battlefield. A sign says, “Seat Yourself,” which you do. About five minutes later, a waitress comes over, brings menus, and takes your drink order. She brings you your drinks and takes your meal order (for one plain burger and one chicken panini, hold the chipotle sauce on the panini; add fries to both sandwiches.)

Then, you wait. After about 10 minutes, the table of four that ordered immediately before you gets their food. After another 5 minutes (15 total since ordering), the waitress refreshes one of your drinks. After another 10 minutes (25 since ordering), the waitress re-refreshes both drinks. She says, “They made a mistake and put the chipotle on the sandwich. They’re fixing it now.”

About 5 minutes (30 since ordering), another party of four enters, sits, orders, and gets drinks. After about 15 minutes (45 since ordering), the second party of four gets their meals. Your waitress is nowhere in sight and has, in fact, been absent since telling you about the mistaken order.

Do you:

  1. Continue to wait, in hope that your meals can now be completed because no one else is waiting for food in the restaurant and you know you’re in a small place and people need to relax and be patient?
  2. Ask the bartender to track down the status of your meal, in hopes that he might be able to determine the cause of the wait?
  3. Pay the bartender for the drinks and leave, because you really don’t trust what you might say to the bartender, the waitress, or anyone else, in your ravenous state?
  4. Walk out without paying for anything?
  5. Something else?

We opted for option 3. We were fresh out of patience for option 1, and we didn’t trust ourselves to be civil for option 2. Ordinarily, we’d ask for a manager, but we suspected none was around, and we certainly didn’t want a free future meal at the place. We needed to get home within two hours, and we had 1.5 hours on the road, so we didn’t want to spend any more time waiting.

The entire experience was tremendously frustrating. I felt for the overworked waitress (right up until she didn’t manage to get our corrected order out before the second table of four’s food.) I understand that restaurants work on narrow margins, and we cost them three sandwiches, and I actually feel a little guilty for that. The locals at the bar didn’t-look-at-us with the sort of disgust locals feel for unreasonable out-of-towners.

Sigh.

But ultimately, we were left with a new catch-phrase – “chipotle sauce” – for a certain type of not-life-threatening disaster that we’ll certainly encounter in the future. And a new appreciation for the efficiency of McDonalds, which served us for half the cost in less than 1/10 the time. (Yeah, it was McDonalds, but by that point, we didn’t care…)

Read More

Another RWA Nationals Bites the Dust

I spent the majority of last week at the Romance Writers of America annual meeting, in New York City. When it came time to register for the conference, I almost chose not to go–I don’t have any ongoing traditional contracts right now, and I parted ways with my agent earlier this year, so there weren’t those all-important dinners, lunches, and other meetings to attend. As I dithered about whether or not to attend, the slots filled up at the massive book-signing that launches the convention, so I couldn’t give away my books in the service of literacy charities. Plus, the conference was at the Marriott Marquis, in the middle of Times Square, which is so crowded and loud and crowded and bright and crowded and under construction and crowded and…

timessquare

(That’s not my picture of Times Square; it belongs to one of the jillions of tour bus companies that ply their trade in the space. I didn’t stop to take pictures–see above for the the explanation of chaos!)

But one of the workshops I suggested for the conference–The Midlist Guide to Making Six Figures in Indie Publishing–was accepted, so I had a chance to sit on a panel with smart, funny, successful women like Deanna Chase, Angie Fox, Eliza Knight, and Kathryn LeVeque.

And I scheduled meetings with some of my favorite authors, to find out how they’re doing, and to talk about possible joint projects (in some cases) and perspectives on some of my solo projects. And I had a chance to meet my new cover designer in person. And I saw my former Harlequin editor, who is now a freelancer offering her decades of experience to clients. (Hi, Pamela Aares! And Deborah Blake! And Kristan Higgins! And Mary-Theresa Hussey! And Kim Killion!)

And I was able to schedule a meeting with my editor and publicist at Open Road, the publisher who currently has my Glasswrights Series–all in service to an exciting announcement I can share with you in the next month or so.

And one of my Book View Cafe compatriots, Sarah Zettel, was looking for a roommate. Sarah was one of my beta readers for the Diamond Brides Series. She’s a life-long fan of baseball, so she was able to comment on all aspects of the game plus she wasn’t afraid to comment on details in love scenes. I already knew we had a ton in common, and I was looking forward to discussing all sorts of career issues with her.

And so, I arrived in New York City a week ago. I spent Tuesday as a civilian, not a writer. Sarah and I went to see The Weir, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, a play about the power of stories and storytelling and truth and fiction–a perfect launch for the convention.

Conference began on Wednesday, with all those planned encounters I mentioned above. Plus, I ran into friends from all over the country (especially a number of folks in Washington Romance Writers and Maryland Romance Writers, who I just don’t get to see often enough here at home.) I listened to horrific stories of traditional publishing messing up writing careers. And I heard amazing tales of publishers who came through in major, unexpected ways. I developed ideas for new writing projects, both solo work and collaborative efforts. I talked, talked, talked.  And I ate, ate, ate.

IsleOfCapri

Our group at Isle of Capri restaurant, before the table was filled with amazing pastas, meats, desserts, etc.  (That’s Angelina Lopez, Amy DeLuca, Me, Denny Bryce, Olivia Kalb, and Erika Kelly.)

On my last day in New York, my roommate had an early flight, so she left before my eyes were fully open. After I staggered to wakefulness, I walked up to the Bouchon Bakery, where I indulged in a cheddar bacon scone and a chocolate macaron. (What? You don’t do dessert-for-breakfast?) Then, I returned to the room and finished packing.

My last task was to slip $5 into an envelope left on the desk for that purpose–for tipping the maid who had served us so well each day of our stay. I’d left $5 each morning, and Sandra J had been a fantastic ambassador for the hotel, greeting me cheerfully in the hallway every time I saw her. On this last day, I opened the envelope and found $20–left by my roommate. Neither she nor I had ever discussed the matter, but we both believed in tipping such hard workers who get paid so little. Just another sign that Sarah was the right roommate for me!

Envelope

Now, I’m back at home, with dozens of new ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. My career-management to-do list has a number of new entries.

Yes, it takes time and effort and money (so much money!) to travel to RWA Nationals. But this year, it was worth it!

Pardon me, while I get back to work…

Read More

My Not-To-Be-Read List

I have a to-be-read list that stretches on for about a mile.  (And I’m about to add to it, as I’m typing this post from an Amtrak train that is carrying me to Romance Writers of America’s annual meeting, where free books will be in abundance…) Of course, the mere fact that I have a TBR list implies that there are vast hordes of books on my not-to-be-read list. But I don’t think about the majority of those books.

Today, I’m thinking about one book in particular. The book that has received more press than any other single novel this year. The book that blew away previous pre-order records at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book that sold 1.1 million copies in its first week on the market. The book that has resulted in much controversy, including a state investigation into the welfare of the author.

Of course, I’m talking about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird and I are old friends. I first met Lee’s novel in an odd library edition–an orange, hard-cover binding with a relatively modern image.

mockingbird

(You’ll have to imagine the orange background; the image gods were fortunate and did not turn up a copy!)

I read the book relatively late, in high school, where I participated on the speech team, specializing in Extemporaneous Prose. My junior year, Mockingbird was the book selected for competition. At each tournament, we competitors would draw a slip of paper that contained a 30-page section of the book. We had 15 minutes to prepare our presentation, then we had five minutes to present an edited dramatic presentation of those 30 pages.

I read Mockingbird dozens of times while preparing for competition, and I drew slips of paper a couple of dozen times during the year. I learned to present Scout’s voice, and Atticus’s, and all the supporting characters. I went to State in competition, where I placed in the top three competitors in my category.

Since high school, I’ve re-read Mockingbird a couple of times. I’m always impressed by the language, by the evocation of a time and a place. I’ve followed the controversies through the years. (Did Truman Capote really write the book? Why is Harper Lee such a recluse? Why hasn’t Harper Lee written anything else?)

And then, as we all know, we learned that Lee did write something else.

Or maybe not. From the reports I’ve read, it seems as if Lee wrote earlier drafts of Mockingbird. She developed her characters and her theme. She created a plot. She revised her work, likely several times. She shifted her story from a “coming home” story to a “growing up” story. Now, that first version–the “coming home” story, Go Set a Watchman–is being marketed as a separate novel.

It’s impossible for any outsider to know the truth behind Mockingbird and Watchman. Lee may know, if she’s still compos mentis. Her attorney, who brought Watchman to light, knows. A handful of other people may know parts of the story.

But I have chosen to accept this version of the narrative: Lee locked away Watchman, never intending it to be published. It was a draft, a version of a story that did not reflect her ultimate vision of her characters, her plot, or her theme. Lee will never profit from the sale of Watchman; she is unable to use the vast sums of money that should be flowing to her from the sale of the book. And I will not participate in the Watchman celebration.

I fully understand that reasonable minds may differ regarding Watchman. I don’t think less of people who choose to buy the work and/or to read it. But I hope that each person who does support Watchman has thought through the implications of their choice and does so knowingly and with consideration before action.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I see the Watchman situation as different from Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. Ellison was also a great American writer. He also wrote a single book, Invisible Man, that is widely read and generally considered a masterpiece. He also lived a relatively reclusive life, resisting society’s urging to publish more during his lifetime. After his death, he was found to have been working on another novel, which was published posthumously. But unfinished work is different, to me, from finished-and-boxed-under-the-bed work.

 

Read More

A Lost Weekend

Wow, is it Monday already?  I feel like I’ve been living in a warped zone of time, where days mistakenly drop away from my calendar, without explanation or warning.

In other words, I’ve had a cold for the past week.

We spent Presidents Day weekend up at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania, huddling inside a modern cabin as the temperatures dipped into the single digits.  (One morning, we woke up to the textbook definition of a “dusting” of snow — about half an inch that covered all the existing snowbanks and ice slicks with a beautiful, pristine layer of white.)  The time was perfect for catching up on reading, and for being disconnected from the online world.  (Although there’s cell phone connectivity, there’s no wifi in the park.)  Alas, it was too cold and too icy to do much hiking, even on the very easy paths.  More time for reading!

icicles3

We drove home last Monday, cleverly meeting the park’s required check-out time of 10:00 a.m. and arriving at our house about two hours before a snowstorm.  Those five inches proved enough to shut down the federal government (Mark’s employer) and the local schools (providers of my Tuesday-morning exercise class), so we enjoyed an additional day of vacation.  At home, of course, we also enjoyed the added attention of the local felines, each of whom staked claim to a lap and protected it with great ferocity.

And then began the loss of days.  I came down with a head cold on Monday — nothing serious, but a wonderful excuse for sleeping.  And sleeping.  And sleeping some more.  I got *some* work done (editing two chapters of JOY OF WITCHCRAFT — gotta get ready for that August release!) but mostly I drank Day-Quil and Ny-Quil, and provided a stable bed for the kitties.

Then another weekend happened.  Another weekend with another five inches or so of snow, this time followed by a nice glaze of freezing rain.

I know we’re not getting weather anything like our poor friends in New England.  But the snow and ice we’ve gotten is more than enough to complicate life here — especially when we had massive melt-off yesterday, followed by a precipitous drop in temps today.  The world outside my door is pretty much a skating rink, and it looks like it’ll stay that way for several days.

I hate ice.

I hate slipping on ice.

I live in terror of falling on ice.  (Not so much the fall.  The resulting broken bones, concussions, etc.)

Yuck.

At least I’ve been amusing myself with one thing:  Of the two cats in the house, the greatest challenge (by far) is Poppy.  She is an extremely strong-willed cat, with firm ideas about where she should be when, and what we humans should be doing to serve her.  She makes writing a challenge, because she refuses to settle on a lap (why take a nice, warm, cat-trap-blanket-covered lap, when there’s a keyboard in use so nearby?)

But when we got Poppy from the shelter, about six years ago, we decided that she’d been owned by a family of consumptives.  She *hates* when people cough.  In fact, she’ll leave food, her favorite scratching toy, her warmest lap, even a keyboard-in-use, if someone coughs.  And when one or both of her humans have colds, her sensitivities are heightened.  She’ll take her leave as soon as one of said human takes a deep breath (presumably, preparatory to coughing.)

I’m trying very hard not to use my knowledge for evil.  But if I just happen to take a deep breath and if that just happens to send the cat upstairs to the guest room, where the sun is streaming in the window, and if I just happen to be able to get more work done…

Well, that benefits everyone, right?  I’m not cruel for testing her responsiveness.  Right?  Right?

Read More

Lessons from an Off-Season Beach Vacation

We added a day to the already three-day weekend last week and headed down to the Outer Banks, in North Carolina.  A relative owns a gigantic “cottage” there, a beach house that’s intended to sleep around 20.  We’ve found that we love, love, love going down there in the heart of winter, when the vast majority of businesses are boarded up and the beach is deserted as far as the eye can see.  Some lessons learned on this trip:

47-OuterBanksBeach

  • It really is better to remember the keys to someone else’s house before you’ve driven 1.5 hours.  Through rush-hour traffic. Paying for the use of the toll-based express lanes.  (When you finally remember the keys that are hanging on the hook at home, be grateful that the cottage has a keypad entry system, designed for summer guests who arrive after hours.  Don’t bother driving back for the keys.)
  • The weekend following New Year’s Day really is the weekend when most places shut down for the season. Don’t have your heart set on any favorite restaurant. Don’t hold your breath for any particular store. That’s not why you went to the Outer Banks, anyway.
  • The restaurants (and movie theaters) that are open are going to be crowded.  Very crowded. Plan ahead, if you have time constraints.
  • Heat really does rise.  When you’re staying on the third floor of a huge cottage, with only the heater for that floor turned on, you will shiver when you walk down to the lower floors. Take a jacket when you go to inventory the bed linens in the lower rooms.  Really.
  • Sand is much more firmly packed in cold weather, especially after a day of solid rain, than it is in the summer. Plan on walking a lot farther along the beach. But you probably still won’t get to that pier, the one that seems to move farther away with every step you take.
  • No matter how thoroughly you think you cleaned your shoes, you’re going to track sand into the house. A lot of sand. Really. Even when you thought you’d knocked off every last grain. Just plan on sweeping it up — it’s easier that way.
  • There are few things more enjoyable than curling up on a comfy couch, beneath a warm quilt, sipping from a mug of hot tea, reading a RITA-submission romance novel in the middle of a driving rainstorm.

We had a wonderful break. But it’s oh so hard to get back into the rhythm of working! Of course, with a book release next Tuesday, I don’t have a lot of choice…

Read More