Checking in on the Bright Side

A fall-ish scene in City Park.

It feels like I’m in the home stretch of this super-busy period for my day job. It also feels like I’ve been going on about it (read: complaining) for these past few weeks, so my apologies. As I see some light up ahead, I sense my default mindset — I’ll call it a blend of realism and optimism — returning.

Just another ten days or so, and I should be able to get back to my preferred pace, which is a lot less class-five rapids, a lot more babbling brook.

But I also find, while I should have lots of stuff to write about, I have nothing to write about this week. No spark of inspiration, no anchor to wrap a post around. In lieu of that, here are some pictures from this past weekend. The first two from a run in City Park, and the last from the new Louisiana Children’s Museum, which recently reopened in a new location (in City Park).

Come to think of it…if I didn’t have City Park so close by, I’m sure I’d have a harder time finding stuff to write about. I also wonder if my default mindset might not be a little less optimistic…thanks, City Park!

The remaining attractions from Scout Island Scream Park are visible across the bayou.
I’ve always loved butterflies. The optimism of rebirth and renewal.

The Writing on the Wall

A Knight’s Tale is one of those movies that I missed out on, for the first ten or so years of its existence. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to know and recognize some of its many charms.

Of course, I love the character of Geoff Chaucer (Paul Bettany). He’s a down-on-his-luck writer, who falls in with the rag-tag traveling crew of faux knight Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger). Geoff is able to concoct the papers Sir Ulrich needs to “prove” his lineage, and he also uses his mad word skills to hype up the crowds in favor of Sir Ulrich.

This imaginative portrayal of the author of the famed Canterbury Tales strikes me as a true depiction of #writerslife. Centuries before hash tags were a thing.

I could probably go on about Chaucer, but I have another intention for this post. There’s a theme that comes up between Sir Ulrich (really, a peasant named William Thatcher), and his nemesis, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). A “real” count with the bloodline to prove it, and a true villain. Adhemar suspects Sir Ulrich is a phony. When Adhemar takes top prize in their first tournament match-up, he serves Ulrich the very ungracious insult:

“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.”

This insult does eventually come around to bite Adhemar in the heinie. But again, I’m digressing.

The point I’m wanting to make: I hadn’t realized that “weighed and measured” was a biblical reference, until I encountered it both in Moby Dick, and The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s from the Book of Daniel, and the narrative account of Belshazzar’s feast. Apparently, everyone was enjoying themselves a little too much at this feast, when a mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the wall:

“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”

Well, no one knew what it meant, not even Belshazzar’s wise men, and he was beyond freaked out. He sent for Daniel, who interpreted it as such:

  • mene — “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end”
  • tekel —  “you have been weighed. . .and found wanting”
  • upharsin — this one’s a little less clear to me, but, essentially, “your kingdom’s gonna be broken up, dude”

Melville uses “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” to foreshadow the fate of the Pequod. Dumas uses it in reference to the letter that denounced Edmond Dantes. That he eventually gets his hands on and uses in service of his vengeance.

Two big lessons I take from all this:

  1. “The writing on the wall” is literally mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.
  2. In fiction, (as in real life), karma can be a bitch.

Writers Roundup

All the authors had the opportunity to participate in a book signing. Heather Graham signed her books in front of my banner for a spell!

An overdue shout-out and THANK YOU to Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans. I was excited to attend this writers conference, held in the French Quarter over Labor Day weekend. Here’s a bit more detail, from the “thank you” email sent to the participants:

“We’re a unique little group, which came into being because of the devastation created in NOLA when the levees broke after Katrina. . . We’re warm, we’re small, we’re intimate. And, my biggest hope each year, is that we manage one task for you–and that’s to send you home happy and inspired.”

In my case, they definitely succeeded!

I was happy to meet and spend time with so many writers; and share thoughts and ideas on researching, publishing, and balancing all the demands of life with writing time.

Just a few of the writers there:

Heather Graham—the best-selling author is a native of Florida, but has a long-standing love for New Orleans. Indeed, several of her more than 200(!) romance, suspense, and paranormal novels are set here. I am so very grateful to Heather for her generosity, her time, and her dedication to great stories!

David Morrell—“Rambo’s Daddy,” David Morrell hit the scene in 1972 with his debut novel, First Blood. He is the author of over thirty books, thrillers set in different times and locales. His latest series explores Victorian-era London. And he has such thoughtful advice on writing. Here is something I heard him say in a session (that I later looked up and pulled  from his website): “Before beginning each project, I write a letter to myself that asks the question: ‘Why is this book worth a year of my life?’ There needs to be something about a book’s theme, its research, and the way it is written that grabs me and won’t let go.”

And I was really thrilled to chat with my fellow, local, New Orleans writers; this was my first opportunity to meet most of them face-to-face. I’ve included links to their websites below:

Stella Barcelona – author of the Black Raven romantic thriller series

Colleen Mooney – author of the New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles

Liah Penn – mystery/suspense writer, and author of four novels, including the award-winning Pure Death

Alexandrea Weis – author of multiple paranormal, horror, and romance series, including the Magnus Blackwell series

My apologies to everyone I missed—I’m sure I’m leaving some folks out. I could fill pages and pages more about this event. But I have to stop somewhere.

So, to conclude, I’ll give an update on my own writing: the weekend of the conference, I juggled the sessions with running home and dedicating time to my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One. I was combing through some final edits, and hoped to be complete before the conference began, but, alas, it didn’t happen. I can now report that last Tuesday, September 4, I submitted a (hopefully, nearly,) final draft to my editor for one last review.

Happy and inspired, indeed!

The Writing Spectrum

Last weekend was jam-packed with writerly endeavors. I spent all day Saturday down in Houma, Louisiana, at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference. But Friday and Sunday each had significant entries, too. So herewith, in chronological order, the highlights:

Friday at Community Book Center: I had the pleasure of meeting Jan Miles of Brown Bird Books. She presented The Post-Racial Negro Green Book, which documents acts of racial bias against African Americans in the U.S., from 2013 to 2016. She read from a list of incidents—some from the recent years captured in the book, and some from the Civil Rights era—and had the audience guess the century they occurred. We got many wrong; it was an amazingly eye-opening exercise. She compiled this archive “for the sake of review, consideration, discussion, and action.” I would love to do my part to help spread the word.

Saturday at the Terrebonne Parish Main Library: This library hosted the 15th Annual Jambalaya Writers’ Conference. Houma is about an hour’s drive southwest of New Orleans, and this was my first time attending this event. I was so impressed by all the new voices I encountered; here are a few who stood out:

  • I started the day with a presentation by Chanelle Benz, author of a story collection titled The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead. These stories feature a wide range of characters from different centuries, so she was the perfect person to present the topic: “Write What You Don’t Know: Finding Diverse Characters.”
  • Maurice Carlos Ruffin, a New Orleans-based writer, moderated a panel on setting (called “Where to Hide the Bodies.”) He did an admirable job of making sure all the authors on the panel had equal time. (I recall him saying he’s a lawyer in addition to a writer, I think he was using that set of skills). Random House will publish his first novel, We Cast a Shadow, early next year.
  • R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series, is certainly not a new voice. While I definitely know who he is, he’s never been in my sphere, since I was far from the target demographic when Goosebumps hit its peak popularity. But it was great to hear one of the best-selling writers of all time talk about his writing process, how he got his start (as a humor writer, Jovial Bob Stine), and read from the really funny letters he’s received from children over the years.

Sunday at home: You always hear how writing is a solitary pursuit. That’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to it, I think. So, there had been a lot of people and lots of activity the twenty-four hours prior, and I HAD to finish the manuscript for my second novel. I had promised to submit to my publisher before the weekend was up.

I spent the entire day at my computer, only getting up to run two loads of laundry, and put a Costco lasagna in the oven. It was a beautiful day outside, it would have been perfect for a run. And, I could hear bands all day, at the finish line of the Rock’n’Roll marathon, just a few blocks away in City Park. But, I got into a massive disagreement with Word and inconsistent formatting of quotation marks, which ate up the break time I had hoped to take, for a quick jaunt into City Park.

All’s well that ends well, though. I submitted the manuscript around 10:30 pm Sunday, and had a contract in my inbox by 7:15 am Monday morning. The Trouble on Highway One is tentatively set to release in September. 🙂