Monday, March 31, 2008

On Blogging

When I started to blog, I promised myself that I would do at least three to four of them a week. That number didn’t sound too intimidating. I mean how hard could it be to write about your day, or your family, or your work? Well, I’m finding it really hard – much harder than I thought it would be!

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I never kept a diary as a young girl, or even as a teenager. I was never even a little bit tempted to pour my heart out on paper. For one thing I can’t write fast enough with a pen or pencil to keep up with my thoughts (I can barely do it on a keyboard!) For some reason it makes me really nervous to try. I’m a Gemini (the twins!) and my mind tends to take off in several different directions at once. Which one should I follow?

And when I was a kid just the idea of committing my deepest thoughts to writing gave me cold chills! What if someone found them? What if my MOTHER read them? YIKES!!

So, nothing much has changed now that I’m an adult, a mother and a grandmother. I still find it really hard to write what essentially amounts to a diary. Moreover, a diary sent out into cyberspace for the world to read! Very scary. While I want to be honest about what I write, it’s hard for me to share that much of myself. Maybe I still care too much about what other people think of me. I thought I’d gotten beyond that, but if I have, why is it so hard for me to put my feelings on paper?

In the end, though, maybe this is a good exercise for me – good for me to open up more and share some of my experiences, both in life and in my work. Maybe that’s why I became a novelist in the first place – so I could express all those thoughts and emotions through my characters. No wonder I love my job!

Anyway, a promise is a promise, even one made to yourself. Come hell or high water, I’m going to keep writing these blogs, even if it kills me.

Do any of you other bloggers feel this way? Or is it just me?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another Book Signing

I had another book signing yesterday morning – second one this week – and it went very well. Everyone there got involved in the discussion and asked a lot of really good questions, which always helps make these kind of events successful. I’ve never been very good at delivering monologues.

The only glitch in the day was that the event was held at Eugene’s largest mall. You see I hate to shop. Yeah, I know, I’m a disgrace to my gender. But I just can’t help it. I think it’s because I hate making decisions, and when you come right down to it, that’s what shopping is mostly about – trying to decide who wants what and what size it should be. Which is why I rarely give anyone clothes – I never seem to get the size thing right.

So, knowing for months ahead where I’d be giving my talk, I started a list of all the items I needed to buy while I was actually in the mall. One or two were for me, but most of the stuff was for two of my granddaughters – Vaneza and Danielle – who are celebrating birthdays on the 1st and 9th of April. (I also spent an hour and a half in Hallmark’s trying to choose greeting cards to last until the end of the year. And we have a big family. And good grief, they have too many darn cards to choose from! See, this is what I mean about decisions. They can drive you crazy!!)

Once I’d paid for over two dozen cards (and yes, I realized I’d forgotten a few by the time I got home), it was off to find the gifts on my granddaughters’ wish lists. Naturally, they were all but impossible to locate – at least with the right animal or character on them, or in the right color. And talk about impulse buying, while trying to pick out a particular gift for Danielle, I ended up buying one for myself. Which I didn’t really need, but couldn’t resist.

When I finally got home it was late afternoon, I was exhausted and my writing day was virtually shot. And all I had to show for it was one medium-sized plastic shopping bag – and a huge headache. As for those impossible-to-find gift items the girls want, well, there’s always the Internet!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Last night's local book club visit...

I was invited to visit a local book club last night. They had just finished reading THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER and wanted to discuss it with me. I have to admit that this always makes me a little nervous. What if they didn’t like the book, and thought it would be more fun to tear apart if I was actually there in person?

But having agreed to go, I change from my usual sweat pants – so comfortable to work in – wash my hair and get into the car. I’ve printed out the directions to where the meeting is being held, have my cell phone next to me on the passenger seat, and I’m raring to go. Except that I’ve printed out the wrong address. A quick stop at the house listed on the print-out, a husband who has no idea where his wife is – despite my insistence that she and her friends are at that very moment sitting in his living room waiting for me to arrive – and I’m back in my car and picking up my phone.

Several calls later, I’ve failed to connect with anyone on the phone list. Worse, I still don’t know where I was supposed to have been fifteen minutes ago. (I have by now traveled the same five mile stretch of highway twice, once going east, and once going west). I finally reach someone who is also running late for the book club meeting, and she cheerfully agrees to meet me at a highway turn-off I didn’t know existed. By now it’s dark and has started to rain, I’m on a winding two-lane street I’ve never been on before, trying to find a white SUV that’s supposed to be waiting for me somewhere on the side of the road. After passing my rescuer twice, she honks and we finally connect. Shaking her head, she indicates that I should follow her.

My white SUV Saint Bernard leads me down ever more windy roads – which have by now turned to dirt (or should I say mud) – further into the country which, if I could see actually see it through the driving rain would, I’m sure, be beautiful. After ten minutes in this maze, we make our way through a white picket fence and up a gentle slope to a lovely farm house. Our hostess and her husband, it turns out, raise Angus cows which are contentedly grazing in the pasture outside their office window. I see them by flood light and am very jealous of the view; my office window overlooks the street, sans cows, sheep, horses, or any other animals. Lots of cars, motorcycles and bikes, though.

I take off my jacket, gratefully accept a glass of wine and enjoy the great dinner that is placed before me – I’m in luck, it’s a dinner meeting and the food is great. So is the wine, which does its job by calming my frayed nerves before I’m called upon to speak.

To my delight, all twelve book club members loved THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER, and do not seem in the least inclined to tear me apart or force me into the pasture to face the bull. We enjoy a delightful hour chatting, sipping wine and discussing the book, my childhood, how Sarah Woolson came to be, and age and sex prejudice in Hollywood. (Don’t ask, that’s a whole other story!)

The rich dark chocolate cake they serve me before it’s time to leave, is – you should excuse the pun – the frosting on the cake. A grand time was had by all, especially me since I don’t often find a dozen lovely, well-read women in one place who actually want me to talk about myself. This does great things for the ego!

My white SUV Saint Bernard offers to lead me out of the idyllic countryside and back to the highway, which by now I know by heart. I bid a fond farewell to the Angus cows, and dutifully follow her back to civilization.

Despite much wishful thinking, the view from my office window has not changed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hard to get back in gear

It’s always hard to get back on track when I’ve been on the road. Bob and I spent a great two weeks in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, skiing, hanging out with family, and playing in the snow. Last Friday, we left Incline Village and drove to the Trinity Alps in California to visit a good friend. Talk about snow! Our friend is practically buried in the stuff. I did get some work done, but not a lot. It’s really hard to concentrate on writing when nature sits just outside your window in all its glory!

Our ride back to Eugene from the Trinity Alps was amazing. If less traveled roads over the mountains have been plowed, it’s faster and easier to take them to get home, rather than major highways that are well maintained but that take us miles out of our way. After Bob called road maintenance, he decided it would be safe to take the more direct route home, even though it’s mostly winding roads that are only two-lanes wide in most places. Well, these roads proved to be less traveled all right. We actually went 70 miles without seeing another car – either coming or going! That has to be a first. I guess most travelers decided to play it safe in case the roads hadn’t been plowed.

We arrived home to find two large bins of mail had collected at the post office, and more than 40 calls blinked on our answering machine. Very daunting. I figure it takes us at least a full day to unpack, go through the mail (for the most part junk), and listen to all the messages (again, most of it junk).

Then there were all the shows that taped on Replay TV while we were gone. Too many of them to watch the night we got home, but we did sneak in an episode of Monk. Always good for a laugh to help us unwind from a long trip. And it’s nice to look forward to the dozen or more other shows still waiting to be viewed. Lordy, what did we ever do before TiVo and Replay?

More after I’ve cleared a path to our bed and slept for at least 12 hours!

Thursday, March 6, 2008


One of my favorite things to do while growing up in San Francisco, was to ride its awesome cable cars. I would drag Nana, my long-suffering grandmother – with whom I lived for several years – onto one of these moving national treasures every time we went downtown to shop. Rain or shine, I would always insist on sitting on the outside of the car, the better to watch the bustling, and fascinating, city as we rode up and down the hills.

Sarah Woolson – the fictional heroine of my 1880s Sarah Woolson historical mystery series; MURDER ON NOB HILL, THE RUSSIAN HILL MURDERS, THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER – also likes to ride the cable cars, and frequently uses this mode of transportation to make her way around San Francisco. This has caused a number of readers to write inquiring about the history of these famous landmarks: Who invented them? When did they first start running? How do they work? How many cable car lines are still in operation?

Actually, it’s a pretty interesting story. The city’s first public transportation was a horse-drawn omnibus, which started carrying passengers and goods around rapidly growing San Francisco in 1850. But the omnibuses and privately driven horse-drawn cars and carts, found the city’s steep hills difficult going. That was when a London-born Scotsman, Andrew Hallidie, came up with an unusual and creative solution to the problem.

Arriving in San Francisco during the late 1860s, Andrew S. Hallidie – who had pioneered the use of steel cable in the west’s gold and silver mines – witnessed a horrific street car accident caused by a tired old horse trying to climb a slippery San Francisco hill. This caused him to start thinking about how he might conquer the many steep grades of this “City of Hills”. An expert in manufacturing wire rope and cable, he realized that if he could come up with a transportation system by using a cable traction system, he could move people, heavy goods and other prohibitably large loads up even the steepest of San Francisco’s hills.

Hallidie’s basic invention was an endless cable running in a slot just below street level, kept in motion by huge wheels which were housed in cable car barns. To control the car’s movement, its gripman would fasten onto the running cable to make it run, then disengage from the cable and apply its brake to make it stop.

Undeterred by public and newspaper ridicule and skepticism, on August 2, 1873 at 4:00 a.m., the first trial run of Hallidie’s “dummy” made its way down the Clay Street hill between Jones and Kearny Streets, a distance of 2,880 feet. Later the same day, the dummy with a car attached, made another round trip, this time with a large, curious crowd in attendance.

This new public transportation cost five cents a ride, and eventually it was able to reach any part of the city, opening whole new areas to development. In their heyday, as many as eight different cable car lines, extending 112 miles, sent cars up Telegraph, Russian and Nob hills, out to the Presidio, to Golden Gate Park, and even to the Cliff House at Lands End. In its heyday, San Francisco boasted eight cable car companies, operating 600 cars over 100 miles of track.

In 1947, the cable car was very nearly phased out by authorities in the name of “progress”. The outcry from San Franciscans, however, was so loud and outraged that after a long political struggle that didn’t end until 1955 – when there was only a few miles of track left – they were finally saved from oblivion. The cable cars received their official seal of approval in 1964, when they were declared a National Historic Landmark.

Today, there are only three cable car lines left running in San Francisco, but they continue to be as much a part of the City By The Bay as the fog, Coit Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge.