Sunday, December 27, 2009


People acquire reputations for all kinds of crazy things: the number of days spent camped out in a tree; the unlikelihood of delivering eight babies in one sitting; the variety of women willing to appear naked in your magazine. I've yet to hear of a "name" acquired by the number of times you get hit by a ball.

The Wills family does have a ball reputation of sorts--trophies and medals won by hitting balls with a racket, smashing balls with a wrist, slinging balls over water, slamming balls against a wall. No medals have yet been won by offering one's body as a pelt spot. However, this is about to change; I demand that personal impact be recognized as an official event.

My unique sport began innocently enough when I stood near a railing at my grandson's ice hockey game. First time I'd ever personally witnessed this game--and to add to my uncanny luck, other family members stood beside me. But only I was singled out by the puck that ricocheted off the ice and found its target on my upper arm. It was Chris, (standing next to me), who noted, "Of course, Mom, you were the one that got hit." How he recognized this tendency so early, is difficult to imagine. But let's just say his statement was predictive of future events.

Once Dane became fully invested in volleyball, Rob and I attended most of his matches. The Anaheim Sports Arena contains some twenty volleyball courts. Unlike other spectators, I've been hit by balls flying out of at least ten of those courts. Balls from courts behind me smash against the net and find my back. Balls from warm-up smashes clunk off my head. Balls from near-empty courts find me as I head for the cafeteria--and one managed to knock off my glasses. In fact my glasses alone have been tweaked three times. Other parents noticed and began saying things like, "You do seem to have a bulls eye painted on your body." "You need to arrive wearing a helmet." "Don't sit by her--she gets hit every time."

Once a ball from a nearby court followed me down a narrow hall and nailed me as I entered the ladies room.

The gold-medal moment actually occurred in a high school gymnasium. Like other spectators, I was sitting innocently in the bleachers when it happened. A ball from the court in front of us sailed down the length of the gymnasium, hit a side wall at the end of our bleachers, and flew like a homing pigeon straight for my head. Dozens of other heads were available, of course, but obviously none of them qualified.

Aware of my propensities, this year 23 members of our family spent Christmas Eve trying to hit me with an under-inflated beach ball. They gave themselves great credit for originality and timing--howling with glee when they connected. Only at the end did I assure them they hardly qualified for "best shot of the year."

That came a few weeks earlier when, with my granddaughter, I visited a tiny tots birthday party. Like grasshoppers, some ten three-year-olds leaped and frolicked across a small living room, chasing little toys and pinata candies. Among the objects on the floor was a tiny ball. To my astonishment, a miniature boy took a mighty swing with his miniature toe, caught the ball just right, and sent it cascading into my face.

The man sitting next to me said, "Oh! Are you all right?" He probably didn't believe me when I said, "Well, that was certainly the smallest of my assailants. You wouldn't know this, of course, but I do have a national reputation--as a target."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


My husband, Rob, has a THING about burning down the house. "Don't leave the teakettle on, Babe. You'll incinerate our place." The other night he rousted me out of bed at midnight. "What? You left the clothes dryer running? Probably oughta shut it off. By the time the smoke reaches our bedroom, the house will be gone." Once he even closed down the oven when I wasn't looking. "I turned it off. You weren't in the room."

"I was in the bathroom."

"When something's cooking, you have to be in the kitchen." Before my eyes he turned deaf when I tried to explain that ovens are DESIGNED to function when you're not physically present. For Rob, the most logical man I know, the logic has to arrive when he asks for it--from a source that's more exotic than a wife. As to the house burning down . . . apparently he wants me right there, watching, when flames start licking out of the oven.

This same Rob has few problems with stenching up the house. One evening, two weeks ago, he stuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave and set the timer in the dark. Exempt from the watch-the-oven rule, he hobbled back to his chair, using a cane because his knee hadn't quite recovered from its eighth surgery.

I began smelling a smell. Not a good smell. Tentatively, I peeked into the microwave, and quickly slammed it shut. Smoke had already collected into a black, stampeding ball, just waiting for some fool to let it out. "The popcorn's burned!" I shouted toward his chair. "The microwave is full of smoke. I don't dare open the door!"

"Just wait, Babe," he said calmly. "It'll go away." Well, he was right. Some of the smoke escaped without anyone's help. Out through seams and cracks that only a demon could find. Our kitchen took on an overlay of evil. This wasn't your ordinary smoke--it was the kind of chemical effluvium that seeps out of dangerous labs, forcing people to grab gas masks.

Unprotected, I ran around the family room and front hall, opening outside doors, propping them open. The cats were bewildered. She's letting us come and go--at willl? I turned on the attic fan in the hall, which sucks in air from outside. I switched on the fan over the stove. Nothing helped. The foul air grew worse, crept over to Rob's chair.

He said, "You'd better remove the popcorn. Grab it quick and throw it outside." He made it sound easy, but the job actually required preparation. First I ran to the back door, grabbed a lungful of clean air, and holding my breath, I darted to the microwave, grabbed the popcorn, and flung it out toward the garage. Eventually I allowed myself another real breath. But not in the kitchen.

For the rest of the night, our kitchen and family room remained toxic. Unless you stood in an outside doorway, breathing seemed a dangerous option. Inevitably, a question ocurred to me: WHAT did they put in the popcorn? I said to Rob, "Surely you'll never eat THAT again!" And Rob, who would abandon a wheelchair for a penny in the gutter, said, "Well, there's only one more bag." Implying that even one bag of poison was worth saving.

We could only escape the fumes by going to bed.

The next day the two rooms were still alive with odor. A rag dipped in Pinesol and swabbed around the microwave's interior removed a horrible, yellowish layer of scum, but in no way interrupted the smell. A second swabbing was equally useless. Some odors simply can't be overcome. We'd have done as well with the residue from a skunk.

At last, one week later, the kitchen was once again breathable. But not near the microwave. Our appliance survived a bad encounter with popcorn, but now it has putrid pores and bad breath, and so do parts of the family room. You don't have to burn down a house to destroy it. You can actually accomplish the same thing by stinking it to death.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Running Through the UCLA/SC Game in my Underwear

I just re-read a funny article on author book tours by the L.A. Times writer, Al Martinez. It was a comforting article, actually. Makes me feel like I'm not alone. He talks about accompanying the famous writer, Irving Wallace, to a signing in San Francisco --a disaster in which Wallace sat in a San Francisco book store for a full hour gazing at fifty white plastic chairs--with not one person sitting in them. As Martinez says, "Absolutely no one came to buy a book." Wallace was so incensed he never did another signing.

Then Martinez talks about his own signing--where he only faced 25 white plastic chairs . . . with the same dismal results. Nobody ever sat down in any of them. He claims he did sell five books, however--three of which he bought himself. He thought he'd sold another one to a man in overalls who stood for some time thumbing through the book--then made a sour face and put it down. Martinez says, "It's just as well. I don't sell to men in overalls." He admits he stays for the whole hour, "amusing myself by humming and scratching and reading what I wrote and trying to figure out why I wrote it."

The last chapter in my book, "A Clown in the Trunk" is called, "The White Plastic Chairs." And it's all about all those chairs nobody ever sits in, and how, unlike Wallace and Martinez, I'm willing to pursue people around the book store, striking up conversations designed to entice them into opening their wallets. My husband says, "I suppose you put them in a choke hold." Well, not quite. But I thought of it.

But now that a certain blonde bimbo and her husband have attracted worldwide fame by breaking into a White House dinner, they'll probably get a book deal--and sell loads of books. As for me, I've considered running through the UCLA/SC football game in my underwear. Has any grandmother ever done that? Would it give me a big enough name to sell books? I'd love to consider it. But first I'll have to lose a few pounds.

Anyone out there have a better idea??

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Everyone Wants Your Money

I've just published a new book: Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published." Lots of writers love it. I've gotten wonderful reviews on Amazon.

The book is written--there's nothing else I need do. Except sell it. Well, hey, that should be easy? Right?

Wrong. And here's where it gets interesting. Somehow, all the promoters in the world know I've written a book, and now all of them want to help me sell it. And I'm not exaggerating. I get new offers almost every day. Let us take your book to the libraries. Let us take your book to the media. Let us take your book to New York. Let us teach you how to sell on the internet. Let us sign you up for a class. Let us introduce you to TV producers. To your neighbors. To all the other writers in the world. We'll do it all. You'll soon be famous. Even more, you'll be rich.

Well, hey, I do need help.

But then I patiently scroll through the testimonials, and FINALLY, FINALLY reach the bottom line. This will cost me only $500. $700. A thousand dollars. Five thousand dollars. Enough money so I'd have to sell thousands of books just to come out even. Somehow, no one offers a money-back guarantee that this will happen.

What they DO offer is a guarantee that THEY will get rich. It only takes a few of us, at five thousand dollars each, to make the promoters famous. No, wait . . . they don't care about famous. They care about RICH.

By now, my five thousand dollars is gone. And yes, I've probably sold a few books.

But my husband is reminding me it might be another few years before I've sold enough books to pay myself back all that promotion money. I've finally seen the promoter's catalogues and realize my book is one of hundreds--or thousands. NO ONE will single me out to purchase my book.

A writer friend recently bought a $2000, full-page ad in a catalogue. She has yet to see a single sale.

If any of you out there know some way to promote yourself the slow, old-fashioned, inexpensive way, please let me know. I'm all ears. But for now, my wallet is closed

Monday, April 20, 2009


This morning I was turned down for a corporate speech. Another rejection. I should be used to rejection, but I'm not. You never get used to it. You never just pass it off. Not entirely.

Still, you don't scream and yell. You don't run around telling people how bad you feel. Instead, you tell yourself, I won't let this ruin my day, and you give yourself a few minutes to feel rotten, and then you think about something else.

But the rejection is there, like a thorn, from time to time giving you a small stab. No, we never get used to it. But above all, we never "get even," we don't turn on the people who rejected us. We thank them and go on. If you learn anything in life, it's the futility--the stupidity--of burning bridges.

When rejection overwhelms you, and it does occasionally, you think about Abraham Lincoln, who was rejected endlessly--who "lost" at least once, in nearly every political office he aspired to, yet became such a venerated man his inspiration has lasted over a century.

My response to rejection works for me. I say to myself, "What do THEY know?" and tell myself--actually communicate with my soul--that some day that person will wish he'd taken me on, that eventually I will surprise him and he will regret the day he turned me down. I take the "long view." And you know what? Most of the time the "long view" comes true.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just discovered your computer can turn into the cyberspace version of a ninety-year-old's junk-filled house. Old e-mails, old newspapers, old, forgotten messages, all piled in a corner waiting for a spark to ignite them. Spent two days "cleaning out" my old stuff, some dating back to 2001--and in the process discovered people I'd forgotten ever existed . . . and other people who absconded with my time--more time than I ever should have given them.

The whole process was exactly like house-cleaning. Felt kind of creepy while you were doing it, but gave you that freshly-washed feeling afterwards. Got rid of 2000 messages in all. (Did I really need all those old Washington Posts? And all those old rants about old President Bush?) Maybe now my computer will run faster. Whether it does or it doesn't, my clean computer house gives me a good feeling, kind of like starting a new day without all the junk left over from yesterday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Have You Ever Noticed?

Have You Ever Noticed?

Even big corporations don’t always produce good writing.

Try reading Annual Reports. Some are so dense the meaning is entirely obscured by . . . well--garbage. Words that have no meaning. It seems almost every corporation has members who can learn to write better.

I’m here to make this happen.


Good technique is difficult to see in a well-written piece because the better a story is done, the less we notice how it’s done. What the author says becomes more important than how he says it. Technique is the mortar that holds the stones together, but in good writing all you see is the stones.


Do play your key scenes: This means milking the drama--enlarging scenes to capture and “play out” important moments. . . .giving key scenes the lines, the pages, they deserve.

Do hint at some bits of action: Not every moment of every scene needs to be described in detail. We describe some and leave parts for the reader’s imagination to fill in.

Do be specific instead of general. Say, “pine tree,” or even “aleppo pine,” instead of “tree” . . . “tulip” or “tiger lily” instead of “flower.”

Do pause for reaction time: A big, dramatic moment must be surrounded by lesser statements of lesser importance so the reader has time to absorb, or react to, the important thing.

Do keep transitions simple: Transitions can often be accomplished with a simple, “Next morning, he . . . “ or, “Back in Paris . . . “

Do vary your sentences: Vary them both in length and in structure. The reader quickly tires of sentences that are all the same length. An abundance of long sentences feels stuffy, whereas too many short ones make the work seem childish. Likewise, the text gets monotonous when all sentences are constructed alike--subject, verb, object.

Do use setting to enhance mood: References to external stimuli--activities, odors, sounds, weather conditions--can heighten the emotion of what’s going on in the scene itself. Rain, wind, hail storms . . . the sounds of battle, the smell of lilacs . . . all heighten and build on the scene’s emotions.

Do choose strong nouns and verbs: Use words like “sprinted” “rushed” “loped” to substitute for “ran.” Describe a mountain as a “crag,” “peak” “spire” or “precipice.” The more strong verbs and nouns you choose, the fewer adjectives and adverbs will be needed.

Do handle your inconsistencies by pointing to them: As long as someone in your novel points out that yes, this is an inconsistency, the reader will know that the writer understands what he’s doing and is not just making a mistake.


Don’t rely on an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs. They can be useful, but strong verbs and nouns are better. Some writers adverb their material to death . . . things are never just “said,” they are “said haughtily,” “said defensively,” “said angrily.” Instead of writing, “She walked out furiously,” use a better verb. “She stomped out . . . “ “She banged out.” Same with adjectives. Don’t call it “a large, dark, warehouse,” better to say, “A tomb--a cavern.”

Don’t let your dialogue be repetitive: People do speak repetitively, but it makes for dull reading. Our characters may be irritating, but they’re never boring.

Don’t repeat an action over and over: If the action really was repeated . . . summarize.

Don’t use “was” and “were” as helping verbs: They merely weaken the action and produce a passive voice. “He was rubbing his eyes,” is weaker than, “He rubbed his eyes.”

Don’t use repetitive words: Duplicated words make for boring text. Word repetitions are sometimes hard to detect, even harder to avoid, but they can be caught by reading aloud. Re-writing invariably makes the prose fresher.

Don’t be wordy: As writers, we’re trying to go in two directions--saying more and more using fewer and fewer words. All unnecessary words should be removed. Anything that can be said in 5 words becomes tedious when it’s said in 10. For instance, your hero never “Proceeds” to do something. “Proceeds” adds nothing. He just does it.

Don’t get into ping pong dialogue: long dialogue passages with no bits of action, no reference to emotion, can become hard to follow, and dull. When occasional bits of action or emotion are interspersed, the reader hardly notices, but life and interest are added to the scene. These unnoticed bits are more of that writer’s “mortar.” (Caution: too many dialogue interruptions, however, can be distracting. We don’t want to focus the reader’s attention on the unimportant things the character is doing instead of the vitally important things he’s saying.)

Don’t use “it’s” unless you mean “It is.”


1. Extraordinary Vision: A thought worth expressing: An observation, a mental image, an analysis, an emotion, a storyline, a description of a person or situation.

2. Finding unusual, even startling, ways to express your thoughts, so your reader is constantly surprised: “He was making me crazy, this maverick rolling through my life like an escaped tire.”

3. Great Dialogue: Using dialogue as a tool . . . to add a sense of immediacy, but also to illustrate offbeat thoughts or a unique character. (Dialogue never mirrors dull, common, everyday thoughts, like “Have a nice day.”)

4. Great, appealing characters: In fiction, or in nonfiction profiles, finding ways to illumine characters so they come to life. One remarkably easy way is to have one novel character describe another.

5. Using varied sentence lengths . . . at times letting your thoughts roll on, like a river. At others, pulling the sentence up short and making it abrupt, like the splash from a rock thrown into the river.

6. Great Drama: A feel for drama and a willingness to squeeze out every last drop from your scene—until it’s dry, like a squeezed lemon.

7. Use of the exact right word: A willingness to search endlessly until you find that one perfect word . . . either traipsing through your own mind or thumbing through your thesaurus.

8. Understanding the rhythms of language: A sense of the ebb and flow of prose—its rhythms, and yes, its poetry. Ability to create a “forward rush,” so the reader can’t stop reading.

9. A relentless search to make scenes vivid: a constant search for the words that seem to “lift off the page.” One trick: finding comparisons between what you’re describing and other, unrelated objects or situations.

10. Vowing to stick with what you’ve written when you know in your heart it’s right.