Thursday, February 28, 2008

I’m Behind Schedule – AGAIN!!

I know it must be my fault I keep falling behind in my writing. My goal is to write 2,000 words a day, or roughly 8 pages, but some days I’m lucky to turn out even one or two decent pages.

The underlying problem is that I’m easily distracted. The darn phone is one of the main culprits. I screen the calls, but can’t not answer if it’s my husband or one of our kids. I finally got Caller ID so I could get rid of all the irritating “buy this”, or “you can’t live without this”, or “you’re cruel if you don’t donate to that” calls. But family – those I have to answer. And we have a lot of family!

And don’t get me started on the Internet and email! My agent, my editor, my publicist, my screenwriting partner, LA producers, all correspond via email. So do friends across the country and even those down the street, next for that matter. I constantly ask myself why I feel compelled to check my email every ten minutes? Would the world come to a screeching halt if I didn’t check for half an hour say? Or what about an hour? Could I survive a whole hour without opening that cyberspace mailbox?

Sometimes I put on my Bose over-the-ear headphones my husband gave me a couple of years ago, and pretend I live on the edge of nowhere with no one around to interrupt me. Unfortunately, audio silence doesn’t prevent my damn fingers from giving into temptation and logging onto my online mailbox. (Do you suppose Bose will ever come out with fingerphones??)

Actually, I think I use email as an excuse to postpone writing the next scene, or figuring out where to place that really important clue that I don’t want anyone to recognize as a clue until the end of the book. Of course it’s only postponing the inevitable, and I know I’ll have to pay the price later that night if I want to get anywhere near my words for the day goal.

For awhile a friend who owned the house next door let me use one of his empty rooms as my office, while he fixed the place up to sell. That was the best office I ever had in my life! No phone, no TV, no refrigerator stocked with yummy temptations begging to be eaten. Every day I was astonished by how many pages I wrote. Ten, twelve, sometimes even twenty or more. Unbelievable! Writing there was so great, that I half-jokingly approached my husband about the possibility of buying the house so I could continue to work there. He just shook his head and regarded me with that all too familiar look of amazement and said that would be one hell of an expensive office! Needless to say, he didn’t make a bid on the house.

Yeah, I know I have no one to blame but myself when I fall behind schedule with my book. I think my belated New Year’s resolution is to let the phone pick up messages, and to check my email only four or five times a day, tops! Surely that’s enough, isn’t it? Oh, lord, I’m already weakening! That blasted mailbox is just too damn addicting!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

San Francisco’s Famous Cliff House

Because of the latest book in the Sarah Woolson historical mystery series, THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER, a lot of readers have asked me about the history of the Cliff House. Here's a brief account of the famed landmark, taken from the San Francisco Facts page on my website:

The first of the four Cliff Houses to occupy the northwest tip of San Francisco -- at the entrance to the Golden Gate where the land ends and the Pacific crashes against the cliffs and shore – was erected in 1863 by Charles Butler, a local real estate man. Not only did it afford a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, but its many visitors were greatly entertained by the antics of thousands of sea lions, otters and the famous seals from which the massive sandstone cliffs – once a part of the mainland -- were named.

Before the first Europeans arrived in the seventeen hundreds, Ocean Beach was part of one vast sand dune with not a tree in sight. In 1857, Harper's Weekly had this to say about Ocean Beach: "The voyager is impressed with the gloomy appearance of the scene before him; a multitude of low, black sand hills are partially visible over which continually sweep, like disturbed spirits, flying clouds of dense mist. Passing gradually into the strait, the scene constantly increases in interest. The surrounding hills assume a more positive form; the islands become bold and rocky, and in some parts precipitous, swelling at times into towering mountains. The strong winds and heavy fog which constantly assail the land, prevents trees and luxuriant vegetation.

Despite the fog and frequent winds, this first Cliff House had everything necessary to ensure its success. Except easy access. Located at what was popularly referred to as Lands End, Ocean Beach was so far out of the city, and so difficult to reach, that it wasn't until a toll road was finished in 1864 that visitors could finally travel there in relative comfort and a great deal less time.

In 1866, the proprietor of the first Cliff House was Capt. Junius G. Foster, who was a jovial, innovative innkeeper. People flocked in from San Francisco for good food and drink, horse racing and other recreation. The mile-and-a-quarter-long "speedway" (one of the final sections of the toll road) was constantly rolled to keep it smooth and watered to hold down the dust. Such famous men as Senator George Hearst, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker regularly raced their trotters on this improvised speedway.

In 1868, Captain Foster tripled the size of the building by adding two wings and a long balcony to the original structure, thus making it what is now referred to as the "second" Cliff House, and providing overnight lodging for his guests. It became one of the premiere attractions for all the first families of the city. But in the late 1870s, the guests began to complain that the outings to Lands End weren't as much fun as they had once been. The reason for this wasn't difficult to find: Cliff House was now crawling with tourists. On nice afternoons, it wasn't unusual to see 1,200 teams hitched in front of the buildings. As the genteel clientele disappeared, the Cliff House began attracting more moneyed gamblers, politicians, and lobbyists, along with their assorted collection of lady friends.

In the early 1880s, Adolph Sutro – a quiet and scholarly German who made his fortune by solving the drainage and ventilation problems at the Comstock Lode – bought the Cliff House and much of the surrounding land, In fact, at one time Sutro owned 1/12 of the city of San Francisco! He went on to build a vast mansion, a conservatory, a park, and the largest indoor public bath complex in the world.

When the "second" Cliff House burned to the ground in 1894, Adolph Sutro rebuilt, but this time on a much grander scale. (Incidentally, this is the Cliff House pictured on the jacket of THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER, chosen, if fifteen years ahead of its time, because it is so much more dramatic and recognizable than the actual building which stood there at that time). This new structure was so ornate that it quickly became known as the "Gingerbread Palace". It was a grandiose and eye-catching edifice, and went on to host many of the celebrities and luminaries of the day, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Adelina Patti, Presidents Hays, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Taft. In his quest to attract more working-class families to the Cliff House, Sutro discontinued offering hotel services, leading the establishment to become a popular venue for dining, receptions, private lunches, galleries, gift shops and exhibits.

Adolph Sutro died in 1898, and thus did not live long enough to see his beloved Cliff House bravely withstand the ravages of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Unfortunately, its good fortune was short-lived. On September 7, 1907, the Gingerbread Palace Cliff House burned completely down to the rocks. Sutro's daughter, Dr. Emma Merritt, erected the "fourth" Cliff House, but rather than creating another elaborate structure, she opted to build one of concrete and steel that would blend in with its surroundings. This Cliff House opened its doors on July 1, 1909. After the unique and expansive Sutro Baths burned down in 1966, part of its contents – the Musee Mecanique – moved into the Cliff House where it still remains. The Cliff House closed once more in 1969, but reopened again in 1973 with restaurants, bars and shops. In 1977, the Golden Gate National Parks Association became the owner of the property for $3,791,000.

To this day, the San Francisco Cliff House remains one of the city's most beloved and exciting landmarks, attracting millions of visitors every year from all over the world.

Sources: "San Francisciana: Photographs of the Cliff House," by Marilyn Blaisdell; "San Francisco's Ocean Beach," by Kathleen Manning and Jim Dickson, Arcadia Books; "Suddenly San Francisco: The Early Years of an Instant City," by Charles Lockwood, A California Living Book.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Online Publicity

Yikes!! What have I gotten myself into?

I finally broke down and hired a talented and organized young woman, Tara Green with, to handle my online publicity. This wasn't an easy decision. First of all, I figured it was bound to be costly -- after all, if you want talent and organizational skills, along with a great imagination and unbelievable energy, you're going to have to pay for it, right? Then there's all those computer skills she possess that I lack, not to mention my pitiful knowledge of where to go on the Internet to make the best use of said skills. See? It’s not as easy as you might think.

Okay, so I searched hard to find just the right person for the job. Then I examined my dwindling promotional budget to see if I could afford her. So far, this was my thorniest decision. I mean, how far can you stretch a budget that is practically nonexistent? Finally, I threw up my hands in frustration. If I wanted to hire someone top-notch, who would do a bang up job of spreading my name all over the Internet, I damn well was going to HAVE to afford her!

At this point you might think it should all be clear sailing – someone else was now in charge, the weight of all those knotty decisions were now resting on her shoulders and off of mine. Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Since hiring my go-like-crazy publicist, I feel like a prize race horse is pulling my wagon, whip cracking over my head. This fireball is making me work my bootie-buns off! Six, seven, eight emails in one day! This woman’s mind just doesn’t quit. Ideas pour out of her like an oversized sieve. Most unsettling, at least for my pride, is they’re all really good ideas!

Although I only communicate with her by email, I swear I can see the smoke rising out of the top of her unbelievably creative head! The lists she asks me to okay every day, read longer than a chapter in one of my books. Where is she digging up all these websites, I wonder in bewildered admiration? How does she know all these people? Most important of all, how in the world am I going to keep up with her?!

Then, all too soon, she sneaks up on me to deliver the coup de grace: “I really need you to send me 4 or 5 blogs, she informs me. ASAP!” When I gasp – figuratively speaking, of course, since this is all written in an email – she says, “Hey, that shouldn’t be a problem for someone who writes complex murder mysteries!”

Oh, yeah? Well, right about now a good, complicated murder mystery sounds like a Sunday stroll in the park!