“LUCK:” OF SACRED COWS AND PROSPERITY ELEPHANTS

schooled by a cowRecently I returned from India, a two-week adventure involving stops at half-a-dozen cities, writing and photographing sites for a major magazine. Unlike most pre-packaged trips where the travel agency takes care of small details like hotels, transportation, food and visits to preordained tourist spots, my friend Bev and I were pretty much on our own, although we used Holidays at India, a boutique travel agency that mostly caters to Europeans, for some tours and hotels. I was also dealing with a cultural tourism representative who helped organize and coordinate contacts and visits to the necessary places. To accommodate our budget, we flew via Air India during the “off” season — April, the beginning of their very hot summer. And steerage was still packed during the 13-hour flight.

When I’d mention the excursion to friends and others, they would say things like, “Lucky you!” But luck had very little to do with it and I knew this when I got the assignment back in February 2015. Rather than go into the ups and down and occasional craziness involved, I’ll cut to the take-away: Keep going. If one thing doesn’t work out, try something else. The motion thing also worked well in terms of the physical demands of the trip itself, which involved climbing steep steps and navigating uneven pavement, walking for miles on end and dragging luggage everywhere. (Hint: Use two equally weighted medium bags, even if you have to run out the day before and buy one. It’s far better than a single heavy suitcase in case you have to schlep the thing up a flight of stairs against a huge mass of people pushing in the opposite direction, like Bev did at the train station in Pune.)

I also came away with a couple of insights about fortune. I met my new BFF Ganesh, which I later learned is the Hindu elephant god of wisdom and learning and remover of obstacles, at a temple, also in Pune. He was so sparkly and colorful that I purchased a mini-version of him and immediately put him in a prominent place in my office. Within a week of my return, I had several pending assignments and a huge contract, which I thought had been closed, suddenly opened up for bidding.

But to mix religious metaphors, on the yin (dark) side, I thought it would be hilarious to “tip” a sacred cow by handing it a rupee note. Cow-tipping being a Midwestern thing as in, on a Saturday night in your one-stoplight hometown, you go into a field where the cows sleep standing up and push them over. Of course I would never do such a thing because it not only is physically dangerous and traumatic for the animal but I would probably try to knock over a bull, which would end badly. But while at the Taj Mahal in Agra, I did come face-to-face with a cow and proffered it a 500-hundred rupee note, after finagling a friendly native to photograph the event for Facebook posterity. Several people saw and warned me not to do this as the cow would eat the equivalent of about $10. So I switched to 20 rupee note. The cow walked away, an annoyed look on its face. Within a couple of hours, bug spray exploded in all over my bag, I stepped in huge pile of cow dung, and upon returning to the hotel, found a major spill inside my makeup bag due to a mysterious distribution of very expensive face cream. I deleted all the pictures of myself with the cow but kept this one photo as a reminder not to mess with Mother Nature and what other people consider holy. Some might call it – groaner alert! – bovine revenge.

Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself. You may make mistakes, but you might find a “lucky” Ganesh to inspire you try again or at least get moo-ving in the right direction. And if you need any additional motivation or information please check out my updated list of events and conferences for the fall!

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF (RHYMES WITH) RICHES…OR “COUNTRY CLUB WIVES” HAS BEEN OPTIONED AS A TV SHOW!

Foreshadowing, anyone? Photo courtesy of
The Women’s Book.

I always like to joke that I am an overnight success story of 35 years. Fade to…

The late 1970s, the apartment that I shared with my then-husband. He had just finished reading the initial draft of my first novel THE PIPE DREAMERS. I didn’t believe him when he told me that it was bad (actually he said it sucked, but I’m trying to be nice here). But I went ahead and sent it out anyway, convinced that literary fame, fortune and a movie deal were in the offering. I even had it cast, with Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving as twenty-year-old Vietnam war protesters  (Steven Spielberg was Irving’s husband at the time, so it could have been a twofer and he could have directed it, had John Sayles, my first choice, passed on the project).  Turns out though, the ex was right and it took about a gazillion drafts and two-and-a-half decades for THE PIPE DREAMERS to even be commercially published.  And after a few years of being a professional writer and journalist, I stopped fantasizing about the Academy Awards.

Fast forward to October, 2014. I am having lunch at a restaurant, minding my own business. In fact, that afternoon I am booked to take a refresher course as a precinct judge for our local election – a rare chance to mingle with the public, since I work at home and have indoor cats — when I get an email from my publisher. “You own the TV rights to your novel COUNTRY CLUB WIVES,” he basically states. “I was contacted by a TV production company who is interested in possibly developing it as a series.”

I was so shocked I practically spewed salad everywhere. My server came over to make sure everything was OK and I ended up spilling the beans, figuratively of course. I have a tendency to confide in strangers when unexpected life events take place. It may not always be prudent but sometimes it makes great literary fodder.

To make a long story short and with the help of my agent, Bob Diforio, I have signed an option deal for a TV series for COUNTRY CLUB WIVES with Insight Productions, out of Toronto (Canada, not Ohio).

Like most writers, I’ve had that “legend in my own mind” thing going in my head ever since I first set pen to paper (remember typewriters?).  And this certainly is a delightful and unexpected confirmation of decades of hard work. But it’s been one day at a time,  the way I’ve been taking everything these last few years, something I would have been unable to do in my impatient-for-success early career.

But Colonel Sanders and Grandma Moses might need to move over…A little.

 

Live Your Best Life

CLICK ON THE LOGO to learn about more risky business: My most recent crowdfunding campaign. CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK: AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL LIBARIES (Loconeal, 2016). Good times, fun with POTUS, cool perks!

What sometimes causes the most resistance can yield astonishing results. On the day I was scheduled to leave for a vacation, we had the worst snowstorm of the season. I was greatly looking forward to it – the vacation, not the blizzard — even though I had just lost a major stream of income, and the replacement stream, while promised, had yet to materialize. And some eight inches of the nasty white stuff with a nice varnish of ice added suspense to the possibility of reaching my final destination, although perhaps not the one I was hoping for.

The trip seemed doomed even before I left my driveway, which is where my car got stuck. So I did the only sensible thing. I stood in the middle of the street in my sneakers and jogging suit – I was going to Florida, after all – and yelled for help until a neighbor gave me a much needed push so I could slide from my suburb to the next to my son Alex’s house where he was to take me to the airport. Not our main one, which of course was much closer, but a smaller, mostly cargo military base from which my cut-rate airline was scheduled to leave, arguably the only departure out of Columbus not cancelled due to weather. Fortunately Alex has a four-wheel drive Jeep because my car got immobilized– again – in the middle of his cul-de-sac.

After what could understatedly be described as harrowing run to the airport and a zig-zag takeoff that involved periodic clenching of every bodily orifice to prevent possible evacuation of same, I was on my way. Thinking that this was probably more trouble than it was worth and I should have stayed put, despite the misery of the worst winter in recent history. Which was further cemented by the fact that, on the way to Miami, my rental car narrowly missed being mangled by a chainsaw that had bounced off the truck in front of me. But there’s something to be said for assured clear distance and I can now say I truly survived I-95.

Yet it was a wonderful trip. I stayed with friends in Naples, Miami and then went on a seven-day cruise with a singles group. Our ship, the Norwegian Epic, had a 4000-person capacity but our faction, consisting of 45 intrepid souls, had a personality footprint that far exceeded the average passenger, long married 50-50s (50+ years old/50+ pounds overweight) or consumers of the unlimited booze package aka it’s 5 o’clock 24/7.

On the next to the last day of the cruise, four of us went on a dune buggy ride in Cozumel. The outskirts of city were amazing – the shoreline was wild, untamed, like California before the 1960s population explosion. Part of the trip included snorkeling, something I rarely got to do but enjoyed immensely, once I overcame my fear of never being able to breathe again. After about 15 minutes of sheer terror, I could immerse myself in the exquisite world of underwater beauty and shimmering fish.

But when we dropped off our buggies, our tour guides said it was time for lunch. But what about snorkeling, we said. Well, if you really want to go, they said. Yes, our adventuresome group of four did. So they shepherded us to a nearby hotel, supplied us with fins, masks and breathing apparatus and indicated a mossy, slippery, concrete ledge to dive off of.

Um, I don’t think so…I took one look the crumbling sharp protuberance and indicated to my companions to go ahead without me. No way was I going to leap into the choppy ocean and hit myself in the head. I may be foolhardy but I wasn’t suicidal nor did I wish to partake of long-term disability which I couldn’t afford anyway.

But boy, was it beautiful and boy did I want to snorkel. But it obviously wasn’t meant to be, so I turned to walk away. Then a voice said, “I’ll help you get in the water if you want to.”

I looked up, and a slim woman of indeterminate age stood before me. “I will hand you the mask and fins while you use the ladder to get into the water.”

I hesitated. “Really? It looks dangerous.”

“Well, it’s fine if you are careful and use the ladder,” the woman insisted. “Swim alongside the wall and you can catch up with your group. But only if you want to.”

Of course I wanted to. But I was also scared to death. But then, who knew when I’d get another opportunity to snorkel? And I was a strong swimmer and in pretty good shape. And being a self-proclaimed weenie can get tiresome after a while. So, heart pounding in fear, I slid down the ladder while the woman patiently handed me my equipment. And soon enough I was splashing my way towards my group telling myself to pace my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate and pass out. And sure enough 15 minutes later I was having the time of my life.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes life kicks the crap out of you and then takes unexpected detours. But sometimes if you jump in – well, in my case, ease in at your own speed – it works out. But the path you were supposed to take and the things you had planned never happen. So you have to improvise. And if that seems foolhardy to someone else, so be it.

But I needed that vacation. It was the first real one I’d had in years and when I returned, I was able to finish a book close to deadline, launch a crowdfunding campaign for my newest project, CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK: A GUIDE TO AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES (Loconeal, 2016), and acquire new clients and contracts, hopefully stabilizing my income stream.

I call it living your best life. It’s unforeseen, unpredictable and at times, really frightening, because even though I am a creative person, a little security is always nice. But an unplanned-for divorce (is there any other kind?), a child’s illness (ditto on the unexpected), and a decision in my 20s to pursue a career as a freelance writer and hence avoid anything as mundane as having my own personal pension plan wreaked havoc with any savings I might have acquired. And no one preached financial literacy to girls growing up in middle-class Dayton, Ohio in the 1960s. But it’s never too late to learn, and I have…somewhat.

Looking at it another way, life could stop us dead in our tracks at any time. And few will probably spend their last moments thinking of their IRAs and bank balances. But you will remember the snorkeling.

 

 

 

What Inspires You?

 

Frankly, some days I don’t feel particularly inspired. I just want to take a nap.*

Midsomer murders

DS Jones and DCI Barnaby, set against the backdrop of “Midsomer.” Photo courtesy of the Guardian UK.

Yet sometimes I get my best – or most harebrained — ideas at the oddest times. Standing in the shower, driving the car, in the middle of a doctor’s exam, where there’s absolutely no safe or even reasonable access to a notebook, real or virtual. Which is why I try to have a pen, pad or smartphone handy no matter where I’m at. Even if it’s to remind myself to turn off the curling irons so as to avoid setting my house on fire or, at the very least, burning the countertops. And of course there’s the middle-of-the-night brainstorm that makes sense at 3 in the afternoon, oh, maybe 5 percent of the time.

Or maybe something weird or offbeat results in ideas coming together. Recently during a particularly doldrumesque week, I decided to see about catching up with my favorite TV show, “Midsomer Murders.”** Based on the novels by British mystery writer Caroline Graham, the long-running series is set deep in the heart of rural England. I started watching the show and immediately became a fan and then around 2006, A&E and the Biography Channel abruptly pulled the plug, replacing it and several other well-produced and acted imports with “Duck Dynasty,” “Bates Motel,” and “American Hoggers.”

So out of sheer boredom and work avoidance, I went online to Amazon to see what newer episodes were available. The show, produced by ITV in the UK had been renewed for several years, although DVD technology in the mid-2000s had not yet evolved to include affordable multiregional DVRs that could play overseas disks. What popped up on my search was a dizzying array of titles at exorbitant costs. Next stop was my local online library catalogue which had nearly as large of a selection – all for free, as long as they were returned on time. And I knew that for a while I would be screwed sleep-wise – with nearly eight seasons to catch up on, I would be glued to the TV well into the night.

And indeed it was like reconnecting with an old friend. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (actor John Nettles) was as solid, humorous and reliable as ever and his various sidekicks were still toothsome, including the most recent, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). But what started happening as I delved back into that wonderful, exquisitely realized world was for me almost as bizarre as the occurrences in fictional Midsomer County: I began to resurrect my past fantasy of going to and spending time at South Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where the series is mostly filmed.

But here’s the thing: I need to get away for several weeks to work on LIFE DURING WARTIME: A VETERAN SON’S ADDICTION, my memoir/guidebook for families and loved one of addicts. A three-day excursion to a park in Indiana a couple of months ago to review, finish and polish the prospectus and sample chapter had proven to be extremely productive. Plus I could actually explore “Midsomer” – there are tours of and even an annual convention celebrating the hugely popular show. I hope to write my own fictional satire series set in a large retirement community in the US. While the “Villages” in Florida may seem sterile, bland and boringly American by comparison, I suspect that a hop across the pond to its bloody and eccentric distant cousin may provide some great material and ideas.

Sometimes it’s good to sit back and pick at the odd, intriguing thread. Because that’s where the greatest ideas and insights can come from. And what seemed impossible before is suddenly ripe with potential.

*While researching this blog, I came across some concrete ideas that might help jump-start inspiration.  The first, from Write to Done, consists of 31-derful suggestions that provide specific places and things to get you going again.  The second is Grammarly, which I used to grammar check this post, because, even though it’s automated, it’s “another set of eyes” that can help pinpoint problem areas and move you in the write, er, right direction.

**For those curious about this show I have provided a link to the “unofficial” site which has the most comprehensive, up-to-date information and Midsomer doings as well as details on the annual convention.

What are YOUR Writing Goals?*

Some thoughts on the journey — and the destination

Draft book coverRecently a client said to me, “You should be proud of this book; you can use it in your editing portfolio.” I thought to myself, “What editing portfolio?” While I enjoyed working on the book and was pleased with the end result, it neither had my name on it nor my vision attached to it.

Which led to me to ponder, what are my writing goals these days? At the beginning of my career, when I first started out, the answer was easy: I wanted fame and fortune from the publication of my Great American Novel, THE PIPE DREAMERS. Writing always came naturally to me and I assumed – incorrectly – that I could be the next John Grisham or Judith Guest, whose bestseller-turned-Hollywood movie ORDINARY PEOPLE was randomly discovered from a slush pile, back in the days when people actually typed and mailed manuscripts (remember double-spaced, numbered pages?) to publishers. I think Oprah might have been a teenager back then.

As anyone who has ever written for any amount of time can probably relate, I was quickly disavowed of delusions of greatness. So my goal became even simpler: I wanted to get published. And I did, first in small, easily forgotten magazines and circulars, then later in publications like People and the Chicago Tribune. By the time I turned forty, I was determined to make the move from magazines to books and my first nonfiction title, THE COCKROACH HALL OF FAME AND 101 OFF-THE-WALL MUSEUMS, was published, much to my great initial embarrassment. I did not want to be remembered as the author of “that cockroach book.” But in the early 1990s, the publishers’ decisions overrode authors’ opinions and I ended up on “Good Morning America,” with articles about the book appearing in national magazines and most major newspapers in the US. Not shabby for somebody who started out knowing nobody and practically nothing about the writing business, but not the greatest either when compared to my initial fantasy of being a literary lioness.

Through the years, my career has gone through permutations and twists and turns too numerous to mention here. This is a blog, not a magazine article or a book of essays (Link spoiler alert: Unabashed promotion for my upcoming collection – CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY CAT LADY AND OTHER POSSIBLY DEMENTED MEANDERINGS). Suffice to say that these days, my goals have gone back to their simpler forms. But it’s quite different. For one thing, I recognize that life is short and that most of us are quickly forgotten, no matter how important we – and even others – may think we are. And then there’s the thing about money and recognition, both come and go at a whim and the reality is that you’re only as good as your last project. It can disappear in an instant.

So what I’ve come up with is this: What’s important and what is right today? Life is complicated and we are faced with many different choices and demands. For me, this means:

1) Work which reliably pays the bills and I can look myself in the mirror when it’s done. That would be the kind of project mentioned by my client in the first paragraph.

2) Work that is challenging, both emotionally and mentally. My medical writing, which I’ve been doing since 2004, fills this bill. It’s ever-changing and also rewarding, both personally and financially.

3) Work that fulfills my need for fun. These would be my essays, certain kinds of travel books and other satirical fiction, which may or may not be published or may or may not be a huge success. Yet they too are immensely rewarding.

4) Work that may be difficult and painful, yet needs to be accomplished because that’s what we, as writers, sometimes do. My memoir and guidebook, LIFE DURING WARTIME: A VETERAN SON’S ADDICTION, falls into this category. It is hard yet immensely rewarding and I hope to spare others some of the same pain I experienced. The sudden death of my son’s mentor recently reminded that time is finite and I’d better get on the stick.

The common thread that keeps coming up here is “rewarding.” And that seems to be a pretty good litmus test.

How about you? What are your writing goals “just for today?”

More information about my books, scheduled talks, and animals can be found on my Web site.

*Illustration is the cover of my newest book, CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY CAT LADY AND OTHER POSSIBLY DEMENTED MEANDERINGS, design & art © 2013, by Melissa Connolly. It also doubles as a portrait of the author.