Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! I'm taking a break from blogging but I'll be back after the holidays on January 6, 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Are You Addicted to Books?

Are you ready for Christmas yet? I'm not, so here's another article from the archives that originally appeared September 15, 2010.

"I cannot think of a greater blessing than to die in one's own bed, without warning or discomfort, on the last page of a new book that we most wanted to read."  Lord John Russell

Are you addicted to books?  If you are, at least it's a harmless addiction.  And thanks to libraries, thrift stores and used book stores, it can be inexpensive, too.

Tell Tale Signs of Book Addiction:
  • Is your nightstand overflowing with books (purchased, borrowed or given to you)?
  • When you walk into a store, are you immediately drawn to the book section?
  • Are your bookshelves filled to capacity?  Do you have a stash in the closet that won't fit on the shelves?
  • When you visit someone's house, do you start paging through what they're reading?
  • Does your librarian know you by name (and reserve books for you she knows you'll like)?
  • Do you have a book in your purse, the glove compartment and the bathroom, so you'll never be trapped anywhere without access to a fix?
  • When you read, does time stop?
On my last vacation, I left home with three books, but returned with six.  I purchased one at Goodwill for .75, my mother-in-law said I was welcome to take one from the rec center library at her housing complex, plus she gave me one she'd just finished.  At a recent writers meeting someone brought books to give away.  I took two!  The stash in my closet is growing bigger!   Too bad I'm such a slow reader!

Are you addicted to books?  If so, can you describe any other signs?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Writing Tip: Arrive Late, Leave Early

With Christmas quickly approaching and all that comes with it (house cleaning, decorating, company, etc.), I'll be re-posting quite a bit this month.  This article originally appeared here on April 18, 2011. Great advice from bestselling author Robert Masello!

"Too many words..."
"Figure out what the action of the scene is going to be, or what its thrust is, and then start writing just a fraction before the action begins." Robert Masello, Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 42: Make an Entrance

If you haven't guessed, Masello's Robert's Rules of Writing is one of my favorite craft books.  It's a small work jam packed with excellent advice!

I'm currently revising a WIP, and this rule reminds me that I don't need to fill up scenes with lots of superfluous information.

Masello uses the example of a scene that takes place in a lecture hall.  Is it really necessary to show the students filing in, the professor straightening his notes at the podium, then clearing his throat and beginning the lecture?

Absolutely not!  If the oncoming conflict is an argument that takes place between the protagonist and the professor, that results in the protagonist getting kicked out of school, focus on that.

Masello says, "If that's what the scene is about, if that's what moves the action of your story forward, then come in just before the argument flares up and out of control.  And once the expulsion is given, end the scene...Lingering in that lecture hall will only dilute the power of the confrontation."

In closing, get to the point, and know when to quit.  Rambling and meandering is okay in a first draft, but while revising, cut what's possible so the reader won't be bored!

Have you ever struggled with your characters' arrivals and departures into and out of scenes?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The New Slang

Being the mother of two boys, twelve and fourteen, I'm constantly confronted by new slang words, the meanings of which I have no clue.  Even when I think I understand something, I don't, such as the term skep. It's not short for skeptical, as I'd assumed.  

Today I thought I'd share a few words I've heard recently from the mouths of my babes. I've included definitions from The Urban Dictionary. If you do visit that link, be forewarned: Language-wise, it's not the cleanest place.

Only a chosen few can look this cool...

beast: UK Slang: a person who is very good at something.

boss: Incrediably awesome; miraculous; great.

epic: Being unusually large, powerful or wonderful. On a grander scale than the modified word would otherwise imply.

fail: The glorious lack of success.

lame: Just plain stupid, un-original, or lifeless.

owned, pwned, 0wn3d, pwn3d, own3d: To be made a fool of. To make a fool of. To confound or prove wrong. Embarrassing someone. Being embarrassed.

skep: A term used to describe a situation that is to one's disliking. Also used to describe a situation that is uncomfortable... Not used as an abbreviation of skeptical, because you do not necessarily have to be skeptical of the situation.

twerk: The rhythmic gyrating of the lower extremities in a lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal or laughter in one's intended audience.

yolo: Abbreviation for you only live once. 

If you're middle-aged and above, what are some new slang words you've heard from the young people around you? And if you are young, what are some of the coolest new slang words? 

By the way, I'm happy to report that according to The Urban Dictionary, the term cool (the best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell) never goes out of style!

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm taking a break today to prepare for the hectic days ahead, but I'll be back to blogging next week!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Healthy Black Bean-Hominy Chili

The last time I posted a recipe, I promised I’d provide my favorite vegetarian chili next time around.  This delicious dish was created by Pam Anderson and appeared in USA Today Weekend’s December 30, 2011-January 1, 2013 edition.  If you’re a big-time meat lover, add some chorizo.  Enjoy!

Healthy Black Bean-Hominy Chili
  • 1 quart good quality vegetable broth (e.g. Pacific, Kitchen Basics or Imagine brand)
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes
  • 1 generous Tb. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, cut into medium dice
  • 1 bell pepper, color choice is yours, cut into medium dice
  • 3 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. each ground cumin and oregano
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) drained black beans
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) drained hominy
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/4 of chopped fresh cilantro


1. Microwave broth and tomatoes in a microwave-safe container on high power until steamy hot, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a Dutch oven or small soup kettle over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers; sauté until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin and oregano: sauté until fragrant, a minute or so. Add beans and hominy along with hot broth mixture. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Stir in garlic, chocolate and cilantro; simmer a couple of minutes to blend flavors. Turn off heat and let stand a few minutes if there's time. Adjust seasonings and serve.

This is my very favorite vegetarian/black bean chili! Must be the hominy and the chocolate! I’d never had hominy (unless you count grits) until I tried this dish. Have you ever tried hominy? Also, do you have a favorite vegetarian chili?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Writing Your Author Bio

Today I'm featuring another selection from the archives. Whether traditionally or independently published, you'll want to craft an effective author bio! This post originally appeared on November 8, 2010. 

"There is properly no history; only biography." Ralph Waldo Emerson

You've finished your novel--that was the easy part! Now you've overcome your fears and written the query letter. In addition, you fought the idea of condensing your "baby" to five pages, but finally did and wrote a synopsis.

Good to go, right? In some cases yes, but not when the agent/publisher requests an author biography!  Writing your bio isn't as daunting as it is challenging for those of us who lead average, run of the mill lives.

Some people have experienced exciting and adventurous lives as army brats, or pursued glamorous professions such as corporate law or international business.  Even some not so glamorous professions can be rather exciting, such as truck driving or jail wardening.

But if we're not  lawyers like John Grisham, or doctors like Robin Cook, how can we make our lives (as housewives, sales clerks, accountants, insurance salesmen, etc.) sound a little more--robust?

First of all, you're not required to write a book! Usually no more than a paragraph is expected. You can take any significant experience in your life that has shaped you as a writer and put it in your bio.

Include your education if relevant to your writing background or your subject matter.  If you were an English major or have an MFA, great!  If you're a nuclear physicist, who's written a thriller about a nuclear physical disaster, by all means, state that.

Even if you don't have an MFA, or didn't go to college, you can take the life you've lived and work with it.  However, don't "toot your own horn." Author bios are written in third person. Your mother may think you're the greatest writer alive, but leave that to the agent/publisher to decide.

A previous published article (even if you weren't paid) and where it appeared can be mentioned in your bio.  Working in a job that used (or uses) your writing skill is also relevant info (such as news script writing for a local news station).

If you're a native of a notorious town (Las Vegas), popular tourist destination (San Francisco), or a historic city (Cincinnati), that fact can be used in crafting your bio.  Perhaps your hometown's crime history, famous prison, or relationship with the Underground Railroad tapped into your creative juices as you wove your story about the Mafia, Alcatraz, or an escaped slave.

As an avid reader, you can mention the authors who've influenced your work, such as Thomas Fleming and Eugenia Price for historicals, or John Grisham and Scott Turow for legal thrillers.

If you experienced an exciting trip to an exotic locale (this can be a trip in the mission field, or that trip to Europe you took with the high school senior class), you can describe how that experience inspired you in creating your story. Perhaps the people, the history/culture, or the art made an impression upon you.

Lastly, if you belong to a writers' organization (e.g. Romance Writers of America), and a critique group, place that in your bio.  This shows that your serious about your writing career and are working to improve your craft.

Here are a few basic points to keep in mind:
  • Write in third person
  • List facts
  • Cite relevant experience
  • Write tight
For more help, check out this link and this one. Both provide some great information for writing a compelling author bio!

Have you written your author bio yet? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Twelve Years A Slave

When I started writing The Unchained Trilogy, I read several slave narratives to help me with my research. I had not read Twelve Years a Slave, and wasn't even familiar with it.  But now I have the opportunity to read the book--and see the movie.
Solomon Northup
If you're like me, and unfamiliar with the real Solomon Northup, here's some information, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Solomon Northup (July 1808 – after 1857) was a free-born African American from Saratoga Springs, New York. He is noted for having been kidnapped in 1841 when enticed with a job offer. When he accompanied his supposed employers to Washington, DC, they drugged him and sold him into slavery. From Washington, DC, he was transported to New Orleans where he was sold to a plantation owner from Rapides Parish, Louisiana. After 12 years in bondage, he regained his freedom in January 1853; he was one of very few to do so in such cases. Held in the Red River region of Louisiana by several different owners, he got news to his family, who contacted friends and enlisted the Governor of New York, Washington Hunt in his cause. New York state had passed a law in 1840 to recover African-American residents who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Slave narratives are fascinating, but very sad and truly difficult to read.  Although reading Solomon Northup's story will be heart wrenching, watching the movie will be even more tortuous.
Scene from Twelve Years a Slave
According to The Boston Globe:
Hollywood’s portrayals of American slavery have run the gamut — from all but romanticizing it in “Gone with the Wind” to riffing ironically on it in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” A new film, “12 Years a Slave,” offers something different: a faithful, unvarnished depiction of everyday life as a slave, and of all the horrors that went with it. Based on the 1841 kidnapping into slavery of Solomon Northrup, a free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., the film is told from a slave’s point of view, with Northrup’s agony eloquently portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. One thing that comes through is the arbitrariness of the institution; slaves deemed unsatisfactory or rebellious were whipped, or strung up, in a blind rage by their owners. Other owners harbored moral conflicts about the “peculiar institution,” but nevertheless allowed slaves’ families to be broken up.   
I want to say I'm looking forward to seeing the movie--and I am--but it'll be hard. I'll be sure to have tissues handy.

Is Twelve Years A Slave on your "To See" or "To Read" list?  If you've had a chance to read it, or already seen the movie, what did you think?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Freaks: The Ultimate Horror Movie

With Halloween quickly approaching, horror movies have been running non-stop on local television channels.  Today, I'll tell you about one that you probably won't see anywhere.  This is an article from "the archives" that originally appeared here back on October 20, 2010. If you missed it the first time around, I hope you'll find it...interesting today... 

Freaks is a horror movie from 1932 that not everyone has heard of, and not many have seen. Even by today's standards, it's pretty much over the top, and will probably never be shown as a late night movie--even on cable! (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Scary movies are nothing new, and  have been around since the silent days starting in 1915 with Golem.  Known as "the first monster movie," Golem was based on the Jewish legend of a solidly built clay man sent to save the ghetto, but once his work is done, he runs wild throughout the village.

Another early classic, considered "the granddaddy of all horror films" is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which pits an evil doctor against a hero incarcerated in an insane asylum.  By the end of the film, the audience is unsure of who's really mad and who's sane.

Scene from Dr. Caligari

1922's Nosferatu is the first vampire movie that basically plagiarized the Dracula story.  This version presents an inhumane bloodsucker and is much more frightening than any of its motion picture predecessors.

The three above mentioned films were made in Europe.  But Universal Studios in Hollywood made its share of horror films starring Lon Chaney, including The Phantom of the Opera (1923) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1925).

But in 1931 Universal pushed the envelope a little further by producing Dracula, based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston.  Their work was based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film had no comic relief, nor a  trick ending to lessen the elements of the supernatural, so it was an extremely risky project for a Hollywood studio to undertake. American audiences, they feared, might not be receptive to it.

Because of a major publicity campaign, the film opened to full houses, complete with audience members fainting in shock.  Dracula was a hit!
Bela Lugosi as Dracula

But just how could Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios jump on the horror movie bandwagon? MGM was the premier studio back in the day, and after the success of Dracula they wanted to create something even "more horrific."

Tod Browning, who'd directed Dracula, was brought to MGM to direct an adaptation of a short story by Tod Robbins called Spurs. The plot is a simple melodrama. A husband finds out his wife wants to kill him so she can run off with his money and her lover. Only this story is set against the backdrop of a circus. The husband is a midget, the wife a Russian acrobat, and her lover, a cruel circus strong man.

The movie was eventually entitled Freaks (remember, there was no political correctness back in the 1930's).  But when conjoined twins, a bearded lady, armless and completely limbless sideshow stars, and many more started arriving on the set, MGM executives started having second thoughts. 

Director Tod Browning, perhaps thinking, "Maybe I went just a little too far..."

Browning gave each of these performers time on screen to exhibit their unique talents, but when the finished product was screened, the executives were not only shocked, but nauseated by what Browning had filmed. They ordered changes, but even with changes, once released to the public, audiences "freaked out" (sorry, couldn't resist).

The film suffered from so much bad press, it had to be pulled from circulation.  Shot in 36 days on a budget of $300,000, it ended up costing Browning his career and caused MGM to lose over $160,000.

To read more about the fate of Freaks and to actually see it, click here:

Have you ever heard of Freaks? Do you think you'll watch it? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Monday, October 21, 2013

John Garfield: Hollywood Casualty

John Garfield, life snuffed out too soon

Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson were all well known actors remembered for their tough guy portrayals in Warner Brother's films of the 1930s and '40s.  Another name to add to that list is John Garfield, although he is little remembered today.

Garfield, an accomplished stage actor, is actually acknowledged as paving the way for Method actors, such as Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean. 
With Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946

Garfield's premature death was most likely caused by his blacklisting in Hollywood during the Communist scare. Although he was not a Communist, Garfiled knew some individuals, from his early theater days in New York, that were--including his wife, Roberta Seidman. 

Garfield had contracted scarlet fever as a child, and that sickness weakened his heart. He'd suffered two heart attacks prior his testimony before the U.S. Congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities.   
With Hazel Brooks in Body and Soul, 1947

Garfield denied Communist affiliation and refused to "name names." That ended his film career, and eventually his life.  Garfield died in 1952 at age 39, from a heart attack.

The only John Garfield film I've ever seen is The Postman Always Rings Twice, which is very steamy and excellent, by the way.  Have you ever seen any of John Garfield's films?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chili con Carne

Cooler weather is finally here, and one of my favorite cool weather meals is chili!  I especially love the ease afforded when it's made in the crock pot. This recipe, from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery, uses chunks of stew meat instead of ground beef, so if you're looking for something tasty, as well as hearty and satisfying, look no further! Enjoy!

Chili con Carne

1 1/2 lbs stew meat
2 cloves garlic
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t salt
1 t chili powder
1 onion, chopped
1t beef bullion granules
1 16 oz. can sliced tomatoes with juice
1 14 oz. can green chiles, chopped
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 16 oz. can pinto beans, drained
cooked rice

Sprinkle meat with garlic, pepper, salt and chili powder.  Pat spices into meat.  Cut meat into 1/2 inch cubes. Place meat in slow cooker. Cover with onion, bullion granules, tomatoes and chiles.  Cover and cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours or until meat is tender.  Turn control to HIGH. Add cilantro and beans.  Cover and cook on HIGH 20 minutes.  Serve on a bed of rice.  Makes five or six servings.

I'd never had chili with stew meat until I tried this recipe.  I grew up eating chili made with ground beef. What about you, and which do you prefer? I like both!

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Show Don't Tell: Can You Explain That?

"Show, don't tell." If you're a writer, you've probably heard this as advice from other writers and read about it in craft books many, many times. I was recently asked to explain it to a new writer, but after using a few "for instances", I decided to find something that would do a better job of describing it.

Here's an excellent article by Erin over at Daily Writing Tips.  If you're new to writing, this information will help you clearly understand how to show and not tell! By the way, I just discovered Daily Writing Tips, and it's a great place to find answers for any writing questions you may have!

Show, Dont Tell 

Anyone who’s ever written a short story or taken a freshman composition course has heard the words “show, don’t tell.”

I know those words can be frustrating. You might not know exactly what “show, don’t tell” means. Or you might believe that you are showing when you’re really telling.

While “telling” can be useful, even necessary, most people don’t realize how vital “showing” is to an effective story, essay, or even a blog post. Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and effective.

“Okay, I get it,” you’re thinking. “But how do I do it? How do I bring more ‘showing’ into my writing?”

I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips that will help make your writing more vivid and alive for your reader.

1. Use dialogue
This is probably one of the first things I talk to my students about when I have them write personal essays. Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:
“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”
Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.

2. Use sensory language
In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.

3. Be descriptive
I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in elementary school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.
The following example is from a short story I wrote.

Telling: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:

Showing: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.

The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.

When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:
He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.

4. Be specific, not vague
This is another one I’m constantly reminding my college students about. Frequently, they will turn in essays with vague, fuzzy language. I’m not sure if they think this type of writing sounds more academic, but all it really does is frustrate the reader.

Instead of writing, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it.

Hope this information from Daily Writing Tips is useful. If you're a seasoned writer, have you had to explain "show, don't tell" to a novice?  If you're new to writing, have ever had questions about it?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Gail Russell: Lost Dream

Life is the fullest when we pursue our dreams. I once heard Oprah Winfrey describe a job she had as a teenager at a local five and dime. I don't remember the exact job, but I do remember her saying that she wasn't allowed to talk.  Regarding this restriction, Oprah said, "I thought I would die!" Can you imagine Oprah not talking?

Sometimes, not choosing the right career path can be deadly, as in Gail Russell's situation.  If you've never heard of her, she was a beautiful actress that never wanted stardom, or even to act for that matter, but regardless, a movie career was thrust upon her. 

Russell began painting at age five, and her lifelong dream was to become a commercial artist.  However, that ambition was put aside when Hollywood came calling.

Born in Chicago, Russell moved to the Los Angeles area with her family when she was a teenager. Her otherworldly beauty brought her to the attention of Paramount Pictures in 1942. She chose a starlet's salary of $50 a week to help her struggling family, and also to appease her mother, who as a young woman, had wanted to be an actress. Living vicariously through your kids is never a good idea. Russell was an extreme introvert and almost clinically shy with no acting experience, yet Paramount had great plans and lots of money riding on her.

Russell appeared in several films in the early and mid-1940s, the most notable being The Uninvited (1944).

She started drinking on the set of that film to ease her paralyzing stage fright and lack of self-confidence.  She'd freeze, forget her lines, then dissolve into tears, so the alcohol was a crutch.  But it eventually destroyed her career, her looks, and her personal life. By the fifties, Gail Russell's career was on the skids.

On July 5, 1957, she was photographed after she drove her convertible into the front of Jan's coffee shop at 8424 Beverly Blvd. After failing a sobriety test, Russell was arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

Russell was unable to control her addiction and in August of 1961, was found dead.  Malnourished and full of alcohol, Gail Russell died of a heart attack at age 36. Authorities found her in her apartment surrounded by her paintings and empty vodka bottles.

Who knows how different and fulfilling Gail's life would have been if she'd only been able to pursue her dream?  Are you pursuing yours? If not as a full time job, do you have time to enjoy it as a hobby?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Transforming Rita

Back in the 1930's, a young actress named Rita Cansino, was having a hard time breaking away from small exotic roles, in part due to her name, and in part to the jet black hair of her Spanish heritage.

As a starlet at Fox Studios, Rita Cansino married salesman and promoter Edward C. Judson.  Judson knew potential when he saw it.  Not only was Cansino beautiful, she was a dancer with a charismatic stage presence, and a spark that Judson knew would propel her to stardom.

Judson got her the lead roles in several independent films and arranged a screen test with Columbia Pictures. Columbia studio head Harry Cohn signed Cansino to a long-term contract, then cast her in small roles in Columbia features.

Cansino appeared in several roles in the mid 1930s playing an exotic foreigner.  Cohn claimed that Cansino's image was too Mediterranean.  That reduced her opportunities to being cast in "exotic" roles, which were more limited in number. 

At Cohn and Judson's urging, Cansino changed her hair color to auburn and her name to Rita Hayworth. By using her mother's maiden name (Haworth), she allowed the public to see her British-American ancestry and became a classic "American" pin-up.

And the rest is history...Rita Hayworth became a screen siren superstar of the 1940s! 

My favorite Rita Hayworth movie is Gilda. What's yours? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Peg Entwistle: A Tragic End

If I were to mention the name Peg Entwistle, it might not ring a bell. However, if you're familiar with Hollywood trivia, you'd remember her as the actress who committed suicide by leaping from the Hollywood sign.

It's a shame that twenty-four year old Peg Entwistle, a talented and accomplished stage actress, is most remembered for her death. An unsuccessful attempt at a film career led her to a tragic end that happened eighty-one years ago today.

Here's an account from

On the night of September [16], 1932, actress Peg Entwistle made her way up the steep slope of Mount Lee in Los Angeles to the site of the famous Hollywood sign (back then it spelled out "Hollywoodland"). She took off her coat and neatly folded it, put down her purse, and climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H. She stood atop it for a moment, looking over the lights of the glamorous city below, then leapt to her death.Peg probably died instantly, and her body was found [on September 18]by a hiker. 

Born in 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales, U.K., Millicent Lilian Entwistle, nicknamed Peg, saw more than her share of tragedy. She was just a child when her mother died unexpectedly, after which she moved with her father to New York City. A few years later, he was struck down by a hit-and-run car on Park Avenue and killed.

In her late teens, Peg began to pursue an acting career on the stage and was talented enough to win roles with the Boston repertory company and on Broadway in the renowned Theater Guild productions. (Bette Davis said that Peg Entwistle was her inspiration to pursue acting.) At age 19, she married actor Robert Keith, only to discover that he had been married previously and had a six-year-old son [Brian Keith, later of Family Affair fame]. They divorced.

Peg was able to find stage work in productions featuring such stars as Dorothy Gish and Laurette Taylor, but was already battling the demons of depression. Nevertheless, she set her sights on Hollywood and moved to Los Angles in 1932 in hopes of landing roles in motion pictures. 

At first she found work again on the stage, but then it seemed her destiny had really changed when RKO signed her to appear in the film Thirteen Women (click here to watch her appearance), starring Irene Dunne. When previews of the film received poor reviews, the studio re-edited it, and much of Peg's part was left on the editing floor. RKO subsequently dropped the options on her contract.  And on the night of September [16], 1932, after a bout of heavy drinking fueled by her depression and despair, 24-year-old Peg Entwistle told her uncle (with whom she was living) that she was going to meet some friends at a local drug store. Instead, she made her way to the Hollywood sign to meet her fate.

I recently learned that Peg's grave site is in Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio, a small town close to Cincinnati.  Over the summer, the kids and I took a field trip there to find it.
   This plot is shared with her father. For many years it was unmarked until a Facebook campaign raised funds for it.

   With my youngest at the grave site

                         The boys at Peg's family plot, probably wondering why their mother is so morbid

Although this song wasn't written for Peg Entwistle, I'm using it as a little tribute to her, compliments of Steely Dan:   

I've seen your picture 
Your name in lights above it 
This is your big debut 
It's like a dream come true 
And when you smile for the camera 
I know they're gonna love it 

I like your pin shot 
I keep it with your letter 
Done up in blueprint blue 
It sure looks good on you 
So won't you smile for the camera 
I know I'll love you better 

It will come back to you 
It will come back to you 
Then the shutter falls 
You see it all in 3-D 
It's your favorite foreign movie

Were you familiar with Peg Entwistle's story?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Super Simple Peachy Barbecue Chicken

Last week we said goodbye to the end of summer barbecues...sniff.  Well, even though picnicking season is over, I love barbecued chicken any time of year--especially when it can be easily prepared in my crock pot! Here's a super simple recipe from Better Homes and Gardens that I hope you'll enjoy!

Super Simple Peachy Barbecue Chicken

2 1/2 - 3 pounds chicken drumsticks, skinned (if desired)
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup apricot or peach preserves
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
Fresh peaches, cut into wedges (optional)

Place chicken in a 3 1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker. For sauce, in a small bowl, stir together barbecue sauce, preserves, and mustard. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours.

Transfer chicken to a serving dish; cover and keep warm. Transfer sauce to a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until sauce is desired consistency. Serve chicken with sauce. If desired, garnish with fresh peaches. Makes 4-6 servings.

Do you have a favorite BBQ chicken recipe? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Off For Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to all! I'm taking the week off, but will be back to blogging next week!

I had a feast today of burgers, hot dogs, ribs, slaw, corn on the cob, baked beans and blueberry cake. I still can't move.  Hope you enjoyed the holiday, too!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler: Fact and Fiction

Lee Daniels' The Butler is high on my list of movies to see.  However, when I first learned about it (prior to Lee Daniels' name being added), I thought the story had been inspired by a novel.  Then I learned that it was actually based on the biographical account of Eugene Allen.  From what I've read, the movie differs considerably from Allen's life by adding drama to an already beautiful and emotional story!

If you're interested in learning the facts from the fiction, here's an excerpt from Douglas Cobb's article Fact and Fiction in Lee Daniels's The Butler, which appeared in the August 17, 2013 issue of The Las Vegas Guardian Express.  Click the link for the full story.
...While the actual White House butler, Eugene Allen, was born and grew up on a Virginia plantation in 1919, this setting is substituted in the movie version with the fictional White House Butler Cecil Gaines being born and growing up in Macon Georgia, where he worked in the cotton fields.
Allen arrived in Washington, DC, during the Great Depression. The conflict that happens in the movie between Gaines’s parents and the white farmers for whom they work was added for dramatic effect — it didn’t actually happen...

...Another place where the facts of Allen’s life are somewhat different from the fictional version of his life in the movie is that, in real life, Allen had a wife and one son, Charles Allen, while in the movie, he is married, but has two sons.

The actual Allen met his wife, Helene, in Washington at a birthday party. Gaines, on the other hand, meets his wife, Gloria, at a Washington hotel where they both work previous to Gaines landing his job at the White House.
Forest Whitaker as The Butler Cecil Gaines
The way that Allen heard of the job opening was through a woman telling him about it in 1952. He wasn’t looking for a new job at the time, in that he was fine with the job he had, at a Washington country club.

Also, Allen did not begin working as a butler from Day One at the White House; rather, he started off as a pantry worker and was later promoted to the job of the butler.
Cecil Gaines, in the movie, gets his job as the White House butler after first serving as an administrator of the White House in a hotel restaurant.

One of the many instances where the facts of what happened in Allen’s life are accurately depicted in the movie is both the real and movie butlers receives a tie of President John F. Kennedy from Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK’s assassination.
Eugene Allen, The "Real" Butler
As well, both butler versions were working in the kitchen of the White House on the day of Kennedy’s assassination, the same day Jacqueline presented both with a tie as a gift, and a memento.
Both Allen an Gaines get invited to Kennedy’s funeral, but both volunteer, instead, to stay behind a the White House, reasoning that someone had to serve the attendees as they returned from the funeral.

One place where there’s a major difference in the film’s depiction is that Charles Allen, Eugene’s son, was not the Black Panther and political activist that Gaines’s son is in the movie. Also, Charles never ran for a political office, whereas Gaines’s son does.

Though there was some tension between Allen and his son over certain civil rights issues, in real life Charles Allen worked as an investigator for the State Department and never ran for public office.

The movie’s Gaines, as well as the actual White House butler, Allen, were invited by President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan to a state dinner at the White House.The state dinner was for the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Also, both Allen and Gaines are supporters of Obama when he runs for the office during the 2008 presidential election. Allen and his wife had been married 65 years at the time. He was given a VIP invitation to President Obama’s inauguration, according to the article in Times, and he cried as he watched the ceremony.

Adding more drama always makes a true story more exciting! Have you seen Lee Daniels' The Butler yet? If so, what did you think?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

By the way, if you like the time period depicted in Lee Daniels' The Butler, try The Governor's Sons--historical fiction with lots romance and suspense.  Please excuse my shameless self-promotion!

Monday, August 19, 2013

What Makes Movie Dialogue Memorable

This is a post from "the archives".  Hope you enjoy it for another round!

"The stuff that dreams are made of." Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, 1941

Along with reading and writing, watching movies is one of my top favorite past times! Dream weaving and illusion contribute to making enjoyable movies.  I love watching stories unfold and listening to the characters. But what makes a line of movie dialogue, or even just a single word, timeless and unforgettable? What makes it so memorable that it's often quoted in real life, other movies, television and even kids' cartoons?
Perhaps it's spoken during a suspenseful situation, or in a scene where love has gone wrong. Maybe it's exclaimed in the thick of danger, or during the thrill of excitement, or in the midst of a conflict about to explode. It could be line akin to a sigh of relief, spoken at the very end, when all problems are resolved.
With a skilled screenwriter and an amazing story, all of these elements can create exciting dialogue and at least one immortal line that leaves the audience saying, "I loved it when he said..."

Here are 10 of my favorites, in chronological order:

  1. "Wait a minute, wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" Al Jolson as Jackie Rabinowitz in The Jazz Singer, 1927
  2. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, 1939
  3. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, 1939
  4. "Rosebud." Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane, 1941
  5. "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, 1942
  6. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." Lauren Bacall as Marie "Slim" Browning in To Have and Have Not, 1944
  7. "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" Alfonso Bedoya as "Gold Hat" in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948
  8. "Stella! Hey, Stella!" Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in On the Waterfront, 1951
  9. "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, 1954
  10. "Say 'hello' to my little friend!" Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface, 1983
What are some of your favorite movie lines? And in your opinion, what makes them so memorable?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House

As a lover of history and author of historical fiction, I thoroughly enjoy visiting historic homes. They're great for research and just a fun way to get lost in the past!

Okay, so that all sounds fine and good, but my kids hate history! Regardless, during summer vacation I dragged them over to The Harriet Beecher Stowe House.  It's less than ten minutes from where we live, and I thought it would be a great living history lesson for them.

"How exciting," I said, "to walk in the same house that Harriet Beecher Stowe actually lived in.  We'll walk on the same floor, climb the same steps, and walk on the very grounds she strode!"  I reminded them that she's the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book partly responsible for bringing about the Civil War due to its realistic portrayal of slavery.

She brought to light the truth about the "Peculiar Institution" that so many Americans were unaware of. While living in Cincinnati she met slaves.  She visited Kentucky, which is right across the Ohio River (today about a ten minute drive from the Stowe House), and saw the conditions to which slaves were subjected.  Her time in Cincinnati inspired her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin.

My boys were much less enthusiastic than I was about our field trip, but despite their initial protests, they enjoyed the self guided tour we had.  They even stood still  long enough for me to read some of the display materials to them.

Here's a little history about the house and Harriet Beecher Stowe's life in Cincinnati. Mrs. Stowe lived in Cincinnati for nearly twenty years.  The house where she lived, now known as The Stowe House, was completed in 1833. It was built as the residence for the Lane Seminary President, and its first occupants were Harriet's family, headed by her father Reverend Lyman Beecher, who moved his large family to Cincinnati in 1832.

Lane Seminary was an influential Presbyterian college and religious seminary in the 1830s and 1840s.  It was also the first US college and seminary to admit a black student, James Bradley, a former slave. Students of the seminary went on to become educators, ministers, abolitionists, and social reformers.

After Harriet married Lane professor Calvin Stowe in 1836, she moved nearby, but visited the house frequently, and her first two children were born there.

Every city and town has history to share.  Are you close to a piece of living history in your area?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Indonesian Pork

I'll be out of town next week, so this will be my last post until August 12.  In the meantime, if you're looking for something tasty and easy to prepare, look no further!

This recipe is from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery and it's absolutely delicious! Hope you enjoy it.

Indonesian Pork

1 4-5 pound pork roast
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 t dried red pepper flakes
1/4 lemon juice
1 T crystallized ginger
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter]

Place a metal rack or trivet in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place meat on rack.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, pepper flakes and lemon juice. Pour mixture over meat.  Cover and cook on low 9-10 hours  Remove meat and keep warm.  Skim off excess fat from juices. Turn control to high.  Stir in peanut butter and cook about five minutes.  Slice meat and serve.  Makes 5-6 servings.

Have you ever tasted any Indonesian dishes?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ina Ray Hutton: Soulful Siren of Swing

Before Madonna and before Beyonce, there was Ina Ray Hutton! Never heard of her? Neither had I until I stumbled across her on the Internet.

Ina Ray Hutton (March 13, 1916 – February 19, 1984) was an American female band leader during the Big Band era of the 1930s and '40's.  She was also the sister of band singer June Hutton.  

Beautiful and talented, Ina Ray carried a secret to her grave.  But before we discuss that, a little biographical info from Wikipedia follows below.

Ina Ray Hutton began dancing and singing in stage revues at the age of eight and attended Hyde Park High School on the South Side of Chicago. In the 1930s she appeared on Broadway in George White's Scandals and The Ziegfeld Follies.

In 1934 she was asked by a vaudeville agent to lead an all-girl orchestra, the Melodears.  Hutton and her Melodears were one of the first all-girl bands to be filmed for Paramount shorts including Accent on Girls and Swing Hutton Swing and Hollywood feature films. 

Although the group disbanded in 1939, in 1940 Hutton led an all-male orchestra that was featured in the film Even Since Venus (1944); it was disbanded in 1946. During the 1950s, she returned to the all-girl format for variety television programs including the Ina Ray Hutton Show for a local station on the West Coast. 

Here's the secret to her story:  Her parents were identified as "negro" or "mulatto" by census takers. According to

Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago on March 13, 1916.  Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman.  By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.  That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.  When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.

Odessa and June grew up among black neighbors on Chicago’s South Side.  Their mother played piano in dance halls and hotel ballrooms.  Odessa studied dance with a prominent black teacher and choreographer, Hazel Thompson Davis.  The Cowans' hometown black newspaper, The Chicago Defender, first wrote glowingly of Odessa’s performances when she was seven.  But the next year, despite the fact that she had the same South Side address into her teens, mentions of Odessa Cowan in the Defender disappeared.  By some accounts, that was the year she was “discovered” by a white vaudeville producer.

When watching Hutton perform to the segregated audiences of the day, she's quite soulful and jazzy, almost with an attitude of I'm pulling one over on you--I'm getting away with it--and I'm laughing all the way to the bank! Good for her!  Here she is performing Truckin' and Suzy Q.  Enjoy the show!

Had you ever heard of Ina Ray Hutton?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Hardest Part of Publishing

How can I keep my sales from going to the dogs?
Please visit me over at Coming Down the Mountain with Karen Jones Gowen today for a post on Marketing and Promotion. 

To me that’s the hardest part of the book publishing process. The writing is easy, but getting people to read what you’ve written is not.

Visit Karen’s blog for some of my basic marketing tips! Aside from writing more books, what are some things you do to market and promote your work?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Clean Up Your Act: Trash Those Useless Details

This post originally appeared on May 24, 2010.  I thought it would be useful information to share again today!

"In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling." Stephen King

I'm certainly guilty of descriptive overflow, as well as providing too many historical facts, overusing adverbs, and writing too many details that the reader doesn't need to know.

As writers, we want to entertain, not bog down our audience with how much we know, how beautifully we can describe something or explain every move a character makes upon waking up, driving to work, arriving at the office and riding the elevator to the 9th floor.

All of the above add wordiness and slow the pace. This takes away from the storytelling--what people buy books for in the first place!

In researching historical fiction, I find several things fascinating. But it's important for me to realize, that people read for the story, not a history lesson. Characters in whatever time frame we're writing about should react to events around them as we do today. In other words, no character should start espousing a dissertation on an event which today is considered historical and significant.

Something else I've had to curtail is wanting to describe every movement. "She took a sip of water. Afterwards, she set the glass down." The reader can figure that out, unless something significant happens as she puts the glass down. "She took a sip of water. But after setting down the glass discovered blood stains on the table."

It's also easy to lay it on thick with those adverbs and adjectives. "The large, shiny glaring light nearly blinded him with its overwhelmingly white brightness." Hmm, that's an instant rejection. How about, "The large light shone brightly, nearly blinding him."

Lastly, we should never overindulge ourselves by writing too much description. "Aunt Margaret's study, decorated with water stained antiques and thick gray curtains, appeared gloomy to Elise. She sat down on a wingback chair, feeling the metal springs beneath its threadbare fabric." That's good enough. Don't do this: "The chair once belonged to a wealthy planter in Georgia who'd owned 1000 slaves. At least that's what Aunt Margaret was told when she'd purchased it three years ago in Macon." Who cares?! Unless the history of the chair pertains in some way to the story, all we need to know is that it's old and uncomfortable!

Enough description to set things like time, the place and its surroundings, and the mood of your character/characters should provide enough details for the reader to fill in the rest. That's what reading fiction is all about, using your imagination!

What are some useless details you've learned to cut from your writing? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!