Books are the gateway to imagination

Books are the gateway to imagination
Morgan welcomes you to her personal blog

Friday, December 16, 2011

Only in Las Vegas

Ready for a good laugh and a whodunit filled with twists, turns and backfires?

Vanishing Act in Vegas, the latest Silver Sisters Mystery is so much fun, I decided to share the chapter where Flossie and Sterling Silver, the twins' 80-year-old mother and uncle decide to "go undercover." Former vaudeville magicians, themselves, they know they can talk their way backstage at the Glitz Palace and pull off a little investigation. If you would like to read the rest of this fun-filled whodunit, you can find it at Amazon, many online bookellers or order it from your favorite local bookstore. This is CHAPTER 13.



59
CHAPTER 13

At nine-thirty the next morning Flossie stood behind a pillar in the lobby and watched her twin daughters leave the elevator arm in arm. She smiled to herself as she marked the contrast in their fashion sense: Godiva in her stylish taupe pantsuit and Goldie in her eclectic layers of castoffs.
Flossie often told herself the difference in her girls’ personalities was written in the stars. Even though they entered the world only an hour-and-a-half apart, in the realm of astrology that meant a lot. By being born on different days, in different months, different years and even different decades, their aspects were poles apart. Flossie shook her head. Boy that was some New Year ’s Eve, the night they were born.
The twins exited through the main doors, climbed into the waiting limo and were whisked away to the Whopping World of Antiques Expo. When she was sure the girls had gone, Flossie sidled up to the concierge desk. The woman on duty said, “Good morning, Ma’am, my name is Margie. How can I help you?”
Flossie flashed a sweet smile. “Hello dear, I was just admiring your beautiful hairdo, what a vibrant shade of magenta.”
“Why, thank you Ma’am. May I assist you with tour information, show tickets, dinner reservations? It’s my job to help you sort out all the possibilities.”
“Yeah, it can sure make your head spin,” said Flossie. “What Ideally would like is a recommendation for a good breakfast place. Somewhere near the Glitz Palace, if possible.”
Margie smiled broadly. “Oh, you’ve gotta go to the Peppermill. It’s incredible! All the locals go there. It’s farther up the Strip—right across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Glitz Palace.”
Flossie’s mind raced. Right across the street? What could be better? “Thanks for the tip, dear,” the old woman said over her shoulder. She bustled away to find Sterling and talk him into her plan.
Flossie dragged her brother-in-law out of his room while he was still wiping the shaving cream from his chin, and hustled him to the elevator. “Listen, Sterling, instead of making that limo driver wait for us while we eat an overpriced breakfast here at the hotel, I’ve got a better idea.” She pointed toward the concierge desk. “That cute girl with the day-glo hair—her name is Margie—said we shouldn’t miss eating at the Peppermill. So, why don’t we take the limo there instead? We can have our young man come back for us after we eat. I’ll call him on that cell phone Godiva gave me.”
Sterling narrowed his eyes and harrumphed. “Okay, old girl. I know you wouldn’t wait for that first cup of coffee just to check out this Pepper Pot place.”
“Peppermill.”
“Pepper, schmepper. Don’t dodge the question. What are you up to? Spill the beans.”
Caught in her attempt to pull the wool over his eyes, Flossie played it straight. “Okay, you got me,” she pouted. “Here’s the deal, Sterling. That restaurant is right across the street from the Glitz Palace. Now, I’ll bet the girls told the chauffeur to be careful where he takes us. I wouldn’t even put it past those watchdogs to tell him the Glitz is off limits.”
Sterling rolled his eyes. “Wait a minute! Something tells me we’re about to bite off more than we can chew.”
“Well, I want to find out more about how that poor boy died, don’t you?”
Sterling hesitated as he scratched his chin. “Hmmm, yes, darn it. I’m very curious about the way that body fell. Something was off, and it couldn’t hurt for us to poke around a bit.”
She nodded. “So we’ll eat a quick breakfast, then go across the street to the Glitz. Ask around, see what we can find, and hot-foot it back to the Peppermill where we call the driver to pick us up. That way, no one’s the wiser. If we find anything out, then we tell the girls what we did. If not, our lips are sealed. Piece of cake.”
He patted her on the shoulder. “I think you’re right. That Floyd fellow won’t think anything about taking us to a coffee shop. Particularly if it’s known to be a good place for breakfast. But, just keep your trap shut about the Glitz Palace, okay?”
Oy vey, Sterling, don’t you have any faith in me? Do you think I’ll get on the P.A. system and broadcast our mission? My lips are sealed. But before I seal them, I’ve got an idea.”
Sterling folded his arms across his chest. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
“Well, you know I brought that whole bag full of costumes. I’ll go back to the room and put a couple of them in that big flowered tote bag Goldie gave me.” She rubbed her hands together.“We can try to get backstage in disguise. Say we’re an opening act or something.”
Before he could protest, Flossie pushed Sterling Silver into a cushy chair. “Why don’t you sit here in the lobby and wait for Floyd? Tell him I’ll be down in a few minutes.” She flashed her dentures, and hoped it was a seductive smile.
A big grin tweaked the corners of the elderly man’s mouth. “Gotta hand it to you, old girl. You may not get it right all the time, but you sure keep that thinking cap on.”
“You betcha. I may be pushing eighty, but I’m not ready for the rocking chair yet. Still got plenty of good tread on these old tires. We’ll be in and out before the girls are any wiser.”
He nodded. “Then can we have the driver take us over to the Liberace Museum for the rest of the day? I want to see all of those costumes of Lee’s. I’ve heard it’s quite a display. He sure knew how to dress.”
“Yeah, he was a nice guy, too. Remember back in 1978 when Harry was still alive?”
“You mean when we were appearing at the Flamingo?”
 “Yes! We took the night off to see Lee’s show at the Hilton. When he came on the stage wearing those red, white and blue sequined hot pants, riding in a jeweled Rolls Royce, it was—”
“Yeah, he was the consummate showman. No doubt about that. But no long stories, old gal. We’ve got to hustle if we want to do everything today. Go ahead and get that tote bag with the costumes. I’ll wait for the chauffeur.”
􀀮
They settled into the comfortable circular booth and discussed their caper while they waited for their order. “I figure it shouldn’t be that hard to get backstage,” said Sterling. “I’ll find someone I can pump for information. After all, we’ve been in show business most of our lives.”
“Yesiree,” Flossie chirped. “Like I always say, we walk the walk and talk the talk!”
The Peppermill was everything the concierge said it was. There were mirrors on the ceiling, faux dogwood trees forming a canopy above the booths, a fire pit in the bar, waitresses in evening gowns and neon everywhere.
“Eating here is almost like being on stage,” Flossie said, “with bright lights and mirrors and all sorts of schmaltz.
Sterling was attacking his huge farmer’s omelet. “The only schmaltz I’m interested in right now is here on my plate.” He smacked his lips. “This food is great. It would’ve been worth coming here even if the Glitz Palace wasn’t across the street.”
The oldsters finished their breakfast quickly and went outside. They looked across the wide, teeming boulevard and realized that “just across the street” in Las Vegas translated into a very long trek for seniors. Just then, Sterling spotted a cab dropping off some passengers at the restaurant. Before the driver could pull away, he opened the passenger door and said, “Young man, I’ll give you ten bucks just to drive us across the street to the Glitz. Whadda you say?”
It didn’t take a minute for the driver to answer, “Okay. Hop in old man.” And off they went. Across the street in a cab.

Pigs & Gingerbread---what more could a pig collector want?

Many of you know that I collect pigs in all sizes, shapes and forms from ceramic to stuffed, wood, glass and more. In fact I have over 200 from all over the world. You can see some of them on my webpage, www.morganstjames-author.com.

That said, how could I resist posting the photo of this charming gingerbread house inhabited by the infamous "Three Little Pigs"...however, if they'd really had one like the, the Big Bad Wolf would have eaten it instead of blowing it down.

Just click the link to the article to see a collection of  fabulous creations. Happy holidays! MORGAN


Location: The New York Botanical Garden's 2009 Gingerbread Adventures (Bronx, NY)
For her fairy-tale-themed confection, Cake Power's Kate Sullivan constructed an 18-inch-tall gingerbread house featuring three little pigs and a wolf all made of fondant (the original versions, made of modeling chocolate, melted in the Botanical Garden's greenhouse).http://www.delish.com/entertaining-ideas/holidays/christmas/gingerbread-house-pictures-fw2010

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yesterday @ the L.A. Auto Show

I've been a car buff for years. There's no question that it was more fun when every car had a distinctive look, but even though it's often hard to know what car you're looking at these days, there are still a few standouts.  
Three Morgans---Me and two cars

Of course I was drawn to the Morgan display. Back in the early 80s my then-boyfriend had traded for all kinds of classic cars, and one was a beautiful Morgan that looked much like this one. After it sat in his driveway for months he lifted the tarp only to find that squirrels had eaten the interior. This is a 2003, but is retro and more like the one the squirrels viewed as a feast.
 
Unfortunately so many people were milling around the Cadillac hybrid Ciel convertible concept car , I couldn't get a picture, but here is one I found on the web. It was an eye-catcher. The model at the show was a beautiful bronze metallic. In my estimation, it's sleek styling set it apart from the pack. I looked more like an Italian or German status car. Cadillac says this won't be the design for its new flagship car, but it well could be.

Moving on, I stopped to look at this Ferrari. There's no way it wouldn't turn your head as you cruised along Rodeo or the PCH. As a former interior designer, high peformance cars have always intrigued me. They look more like a beautiful objet d'art than a car.
Hubby particularly liked the A6 Audi, but I found it a bit strange that in this day and age a luxury car with a base price only a few dollars less than $50,000 didn't include a navigator. Other options plus the almost $7,000 package that included a navigator, brought the sticker price for the car at the show to a little over $60,000. Yet, many other manufacturers whose cars had base prices in the low $30,000s included a navigator.

Oh well, Sales 101: I guess if you can get those add-on dollars, go for it. After wandering around the convention center for a few hours looking at cars in every price range, our feet informed us it was time to go home. Since I'm a Mustang owner and aficionado I dragged him to the Ford display to see the 2013 model before we trudged back to our own car.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving with Barbie and Warren

My Mom, stepdad Max and  the aunts and uncles we thought of as the older generation...are all gone now, and my cousins and I have replaced them. We've become the older generation and now we are the keepers of long-held family traditions.

I remember the days when we called Mom and her two sisters "The Three Graces." Well into their elder years they gathered in the kitchen to cook the dinner and clean afterwards. I can picture their synchronized dish washing team as though it was yesterday. No one ever would have thought of using paper or plastic plates. It was china and glass or crystal all the way though to dessert time. Our family was big back then and sometimes we'd have as many as 30 or 35 at our dinner. That was only the L.A. branch. There were many more in Chicago.

The "kid's" table is gone now. Only my cousins David and Audra bring a tyke to the table, so Kai who is nearly 3 sits with the big folks.

The numbers have dwindled, but we always try to at least get together for the holidays. Generally I take Christmas and my cousin Barbara and her husband Warren take Thanksgiving.

This year Barbara hurt her back and we explored the possibility of having our dinner at a restaurant. Somehow it seemed too foreign in comparison to the wonderful dinners of the past. Our zany dinners are always filled with antics, laughter and joy, so it just didn't seem like something you could recapture in a restaurant.

Some of the family at our Thanksgiving table
Ralph's Grocery and potluck additions to the rescue. The turkey and ham were purchased fully cooked and spiral sliced from their local Ralph's. The package included side dishes. With contributions of desserts, yet more side dishes like my husband's killer cranberry/ sausage stuffing and lots of cheer and, yes, the requisite laughter, our Thanksgiving tradition continued.

To those who have family, try to keep the bonds strong. Reach out to friends who find themselves  without family, particularly during  the holiday season. It can be a lonely time for some. For us, our friends Judy and Kitty have become part of our extended family and we welcome them right along with cousins and their offspring. You can often find them at our Christmas table.

Holiday cheer to you and yours. MORGAN








Friday, November 18, 2011

My bad!

I ran a whole column about blogging and how it is important to post at least three times a week if you want visibility. Well I do that on Writers Tricks of the Trade, but when I looked at this I saw I hadn't posted since September. Shame on me!

Look for posts in the next few days.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bugger! My Australian adventure is almost over

A little bit of Aussie Fashion Sense

I've been in Australia since September 5, and tomorrow I head back to the US. It has been a wonderful experience, filled with beautiful scenery, a truly cosmopolitan city (Sydney), a visit to villages in the Blue Mountains and best of all a wonderful visit with my son Scott and daughter-in-law Barbara. Last Sunday I gave a presentation about Writers' Tricks of the Trade to Partners in Crime, the Sydney chapter of the international mystery writers' organization Sisters in Crime. This was a great group, and I really enjoyed meeting mystery writers from another continent.
Me with my son Scott at the Government House in Circular Quay
We've taken ferries, buses, walked...walked...walked and taken in an awful lot in a short time. It is amazing how fast fifteen days passes. Luckily I was able to book a direct flight from Sydney to Los Angeles on Virgin Australia, so the trip back is just around 14 hours. I'm not sure why, but it was 15 hours from L.A. to Sydney. I found Virgin Australia to be an excellent airline and would certainly fly with them again. One of the advantages of taking a "red-eye" is that I slept a good portion of the trip. The return leaves at 10 a.m. so that may not be the case on the way back.


I will write more when I'm back on my own computer, probably Wednesday, because I'm pretty sure I'll be jet-lagged tomorrow. After all, I arrive back home before I leave Sydney due to the time difference.

G'day.

MORGAN COMIN' AT YOU FROM SYDNEY




Playing like BatGirl at Paddy's Market in Sydney/Hay Market

Saturday, August 27, 2011

MY HURRICANE BIRTHDAY

Yesterday the threat of Hurricane Irene dominated a good portion of the news and that continues today. Yesterday was August 26---my birthday.

Roll back the hands of time to August 25, 1949. I was a very unhappy 9-year-old living in Miami, Florida. My parents had moved to Miami from Chicago several months before and I was still struggling to make friends and covercome the image of the smart Yankee who wore shoes to school, wore thick glasses and couldn't play sports.

Although I wasn't Baptist, I'd made some friends by joining the Baptist Bible Class after school. I told my mom I'd joined an after-school social club. My 10th birthday was approaching and Mom said I could have a big party and I was really excited as plans were made, invitations handed out. Almost all of my new friends said they would come and at last I was a happy camper.

The hurricane warnings were broadcast on the radio on the afternoon of August 25th. There were few little black and white TVs back then. Instead of setting out party decorations, I helped to tie garbage cans to palm trees while my dad secured the storm shutters. As a kid I didn't understand the impact of what was about to hit--only that my long-awaited party, my acceptance into the clique of Southern kids who finally admitted the Yankee, might never be.

On the morning o August 26 the hurricane struck. We lived in a fourplex, and our neighbor next door was a wonderful "earth mother" from the hills of Georgia. I still remember her name 62 years later--Agnes Shattler. She had three kids. A daughter Ida Mae, my age, and her little brothers Johnny and Donny. She knew how devastated I was and offered to make a chocolate birthday cake and have me sleep over as a subsitute for my gala party. Agnes could make a cake like no one else. It was a handful of this and a smidgen of that...never a recipe, but every slice was a piece of heaven.

Mom, dad and my younger sister Phyllice went to the Shattler's apartment for the makeshift party, while the strong winds of Hurricane Two whistled and torrential rain battered the building. It didn't even have a proper name like Hurricane Cleo, the one that hit on August 26, 1948. After the cake, they went home and I huddled with Agnes' kids chattering about the sleepover.

About 2:00 in the morning I awoke on fire. I crept into the bedroom Agnes and her husband John shared and said I didn't feel good. She took my temperature and gasped. It was 104. "We got to take you back to your Mama. She's got to find a way to get a doctor." Lights flickered as Agnes led me across the hall between the apartments and banged on their door. I swayed, on the brink of passing out just as my dad opened the door. He took one look at me and paled. I could barely focus, I was in such misery.

We hadn't lived in Miami long enough to establish a relationship with a doctor who would venture out in the lull of a hurricane to make a house call and Agnes and John were just making ends meet and didn't have a regular doctor. However, Dad's uncle was an influential jeweler on Miami Beach  and Uncle Sam had that kind of juice. The phones worked, and my dad called him. Sure enough Uncle Sam performed magic and called back to say his family doctor had agreed to venture across the causeway during the lull as a special favor to him. Again, as a child I didn't know what an amazing thing my great uncle had pulled off.

Mom kept me in a cool tub, while she and Agnes alternated soaking with alcohol rubs in an attempt to lower my temperature. By first light there was a lull in the ferocious storm and lo and behold a very handsome doctor appeared at our door. He'd made it across from Miami Beach and told my mom he wouldn't have done this for many people, but loved my great uncle. He produced a syringe from his black bag, gave me shots of God-knows-what, and then he had to stay with us until the storm blew over and it was safe for him to leave.

I was pretty sick for a few days, but my parents let me go outside to see coconuts strewn all over the broad front lawn along with other damage the storm ravaged on Miami. The following week, we had an "after-birthday" party and Agnes baked one of her special cakes for me.

That's why I'll never forget my 10th birthday. The image I've had all these years is fright, loving parents who calmed me, the kindness of a caring next-door neighbor and a great uncle who convinced a doctor to brave a hurricane to treat his great niece.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The interesting language of politics

A thought occurred to me this morning while watching Michelle Bachman on "Meet the Press." The woman is an expert at sidestepping a question. Over and over David Gregory asked whether as President she would appoint people to to the Supreme Court and other political jobs if they were gay, aethesists or a variety of other attributes that differ from her publicly documented position.

Over and over she answered with the same statement designed to make her appear objective. She alluded to basing choices on qualifications, the person and track record. That sounded fine, but the last qualification said it all. She added to each response, "and, if they agree with my views." Hmmm. Sounds pretty much like a President who would stand firm with "my way or the highway." What do you think?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

VANISHING ACT IN VEGAS

SIN CITY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!   Former vaudeville magicians, 80-year-old Flossie and Sterling Silver, try to unravel the mystery surrounding their grandson's new girlfriend Mara the Magnificent, a magician who performs at the Glitz Palace with a white peacock act. Silver Sister twins Goldie and Godvia try to convince their mother and uncle to just enjoy Las Vegas and let them be the sleuths. But Flossie and Sterling enjoy putting on disguises and working "undercover." It almost earns them a couple pieces of real estate six feet under instead.

The Kindle edition of VANISHING ACT IN VEGAS was just released on Amazon and the paperback will follow soon. BarnesandNoble.com has a great presale price on the paperback and they will release it August 28.

A MONTH WITH TWO NEW BOOKS

After lots of hard work, WRITERS' TRICKS OF THE TRADE (the book)  is finally available as a Kindle on Amazon. Look for the eBook and paperback to pop up on most online bookseller sites nationally and internationally by the end of the month.  The paperback will also be available for order at your favorite local bookstore.


My greatest thrill is when someone emails me to say that something I wrote in my Writers Tricks' of the Trade column helped them or got them past a bump in the road. Yesterday I received thanks from a few fans.

Writers' Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing is a handy reference about 39 things a fiction writer needs to know in a field filled with challenges.

In addition to my columns in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas editions of examiner.com and this new book, I've also launched a new blog: Writers' Tricks of the Trade at http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com. Every month on the 15th the latest issue of the new Writers' Tricks of the Trade newsletter will be uploaded to the site with the debut issue on August 15.  SUBSCRIBE to the blog for all the postings and the newsletter.

I'm delighted that many people in the industry have jumped on the bandwagon, and the blog and newsletter will feature several guest contributors in addition to many of my own articles. SO PAY A VISIT AND CHECK IT OUT.

As if having one book release wasn't enough, the third comical Silver Sisters Mystery VANISHING ACT IN VEGAS also releases this month with the Kindle and eBook first, followed by the paperback. And, my sister Phyllice Bradner and I are already working on #4, DIAMONDS IN THE DUMPSTER.

When Beverly Hills advice columnist Godiva Olivia DuBois' son Torch, an Academy Award winning FX expert, moves to Las Vegas to work on a new show about imploding buildings, his 80-year-old grandmother and great-uncle, former vaudeville magicians, fire up their '59 Caddy and take a road trip to Sin City. Flossie is determined to make his new condo at the High Rollers Plaza feel homey.

When they introduce him to beautiful magician Mara the Magnificent, star of the show at the Glitz Palace, the comical crime caper begins. Filled with typical high comedy from Godiva and her over-the-hill flower child twin Goldie Silver, the quartet is led on a merry chase when a mystery surrounds Mara. Don't miss this one!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I AVOIDED CARMAGEDDON BY STAYING IN LAS VEGAS

Well, the worst has just about passed, and early Monday morning the Carmageddon panic will have subsided. Just to be safe, I scheduled my time in Las Vegas to avoid it, but how would it have affected me if I stayed?

Since I didn't have commitments in the Valley for work or entertainment, at the worst I would have been confined to my side of the hill. Not so bad. Marina Del Rey isn't such an awful place to be with its beaches, cafes, entertainment venues and more. It might have been rough to venture downtown, but then I really didn't have a compelling reason to go there. Many events were rescheduled in view of the impending closure which lightened the traffic load for those who had to traverse the Santa Susana mountains.

Okay, call me chicken for fleeing town, but actually being in Las Vegas was a bonus. I was able to drop by the Public Safety Writers Association conference yesterday and join them for lunch.

It was fun seeing many of the people I met last year, and even though I couldn't stay because of other commitments, I was glad I went. In the process, I donated a copy of my new upcoming book, Writers' Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction as one of their drawing prizes. I'll mail an autographed copy to the winner when it is released.

Back to Carmageddon. As with similar concerns when the Olympics were held in L.A., the traffic many thought would be a nightmare was much lighter than normal. According to the news---yes, it made the Las Vegas news--- as Los Angeles entered the second day in the shutdown of the 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 405 — one of the country's busiest highways, work was so far ahead of schedule this morning that officials were planning to reopen the freeway later in the day.

They were elated that the public appeared to get the message to avoid "Carmageddon" by staying off the roads, though some were concerned the lack of gridlock would make drivers complacent and spur them to return to the road before Monday's scheduled reopening.

Isn't it amazing what efficiency is possible with some cooperation and a threat of a $72,000 penalty for every hour the repair work lagged behind schedule?

Special note to Congress - Hey guys---This is what working together means! Quit jockeying for political position and work out the current debt ceiling crisis instead. This isn't about how it will play in 2012 or which party will prevail. It is about addressing the impending Government shutdown as the intelligent lawmakers we hoped we elected.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why the premise of Larry Crowne doesn't grab me

I spent some time trying to figure out what would motivate me to want to see the latest from Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. I like both of them as actors and it's always refreshing to see a good comedy. However, the operative word is GOOD.

I'd seen so many promos for Larry Crowne before all of the disasterous reviews began to rain down in buckets that I could probably repeat the trailers and ads word-for-word. At this point I have to say the opening of the trailer turned me off immediately.

Hanks' character is a valued employee for nine years. Heck, he snags the employee award every one of those years. Then he's fired because he doesn't have a college degree? It just doesn't make sense. I can see something happening that gets him fired, but if he was so valued would the company make no effort whatsoever to keep him on board? What does this say? That someone who is excellent at their job doesn't deserve to keep it without having the academic endorsement?

And the bit with the scooter. How has he been getting to work for all of those nine years? Does he not have two nickles to rub together and no credit whatsoever and therefore is forced to ride a garage sale scooter? Sorry, it doesn't fly for me.

Now if he had labored at the same job for nine years, giving it his all, and he is finally fed up with earning chicken feed while the bosses get fat, that might be a beginning. Maybe this honest guy suddenly isn't so honest, gets caught and gets fired. Now he's out in the cruel world, and that world has changed in the last nine years. He's been living it to the max with credit card payments and car payments he can no longer hack. The car is repossessed, he moves into a tiny apartment and realizes he has to get more education to land a job. The story unfolds from there.

That is an example of a scenario I could believe. Many people are tempted to go to the "sort of dark side." Of those that do, many get caught and pay the consequences. It could be funny, and it is only one possibility for a story line.

I guess I wasn't the only one who felt that way judging by the dismal boxoffice reports. What a shame to waste talent like Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts on something like this. I might watch it when it gets to DVD just to see what happens after the contrived opening, but I can't see myself shelling out up to $12 dollars to see it.

On the other hand, take something like Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's latest. Brilliant writing, brilliant acting, totally entertaining. I'd rather pay the same $12 to see that movie a second time.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Have a great weekend.

MORGAN ST. JAMES
www.morganstjames-author.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

There is more to it than meets the eye!

It is a definite given that our country is in a slump. Unemployment is high and in a totally normal reaction we search for the cause and solution.

Well, there are some obvious givens and politicians on both sides add their spin so they can justify pointing the finger at the other side. That's also normal--nothing more than business as usual. Let's face it, we've been through two wars, corporate bailouts of a proportion that no one would ever have imagined, both sides of congress at odds with each other resulting in a stalemate, i.e., absolutely nothing gets done quickly or without lots of yelling, accusations and logjams. We have elections on the horizon so it appears the main agenda is to make sure the other guy doesn't get elected.

Somewhere along the line I thought Congress was supposed to support the good of the people, but that seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream. Fat cats are getting fatter, the "thin cats" are on forced diets and the normal sized ones--what used to be the backbone of America--are present in smaller and smaller numbers every day.

So, with all of that said, here's what hit me like a sledge hammer on Sunday. Sure, we have sent so many of our technical and manufacturing jobs to emerging or thriving nations while ours wallows in unemployment, but there is another factor no other president had to contend with to the degree it is present today. No other generation was faced with this. Think Industrial Revolution, then hype it so many times you'll lose count. The name of the other culprit is AUTOMATION.

On Sunday we drove to The Grove shopping mall and took our ticket from the machine. A real person used to be in the booth. We checked out automatically, too. Many times when we go to the movies we get our ticket online to speed things up and make sure we have a seat. High school kids used to depend upon jobs in the movies to earn expenses. Not now. Most of it is automated.

We went to the grocery store where the scan lines were busy. Less checker's jobs. We made it a point not to use the scan, but waited for the person who was hanging onto their job. Then we filled up at the gas station and inserted a credit card. How many remember the days when gas stations actually had attendants who checked your oil and washed your windshield?

The list just goes on and on. Try to make a list of all the jobs that have been lost that will never come back. Sure we still need people to do the new customer service functions, programming, and all the other things attendant to commerce, but most of them are no longer in the U.S. Once you count the jobs that are now done electronically and multiply that by the number of stores or services across the entire country that replaced real people, it becomes scary. When you only look at one automatic checkstand, for example, it doesn't seem like that much, but what about putting that into the context of over 200,000 supermarkets in the United States. The picture looks a lot different. The big question, of course, is how do we retrain people for jobs that we can then keep in our own country?

Everything we see daily in the news is of great concern, but it is only part of the problem.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I LEARNED FROM MY OWN BOOK!

How strange is this? I had to go through the galley of the Writers' Tricks of the Trade book so many times in a quest to find even the smallest errors, that  I discovered yesterday I'd actually learned from it. What a concept~learning from your own book.

Yep. It is true. I'm happy to say that I  think the galley is now error-free - hallelujah -  of course if Murphy's Law kicks in, the minute it's in print some obscure error will suddenly become as brilliant as the marquee on a theater. I'll deal with it if it happens.

Anyway, I'm back to working on the new Silver Sisters Mystery Diamonds in the Dumpster and my "coming of age at 42" book Confessions of a Cougar.

I got to thinking about how I started my writing career with how-to articles and in writing the book I've come full circle. I must say I loved the luxury of being able to take the time to tightly edit and add to the content of many of my examiner.com columns in creating the 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction. I truly appreciated the ability to present sometimes complex concepts in simple, entertaining language.

So now let me tell you how I realized I learned in the process. Phyllice and I plotted the entire story of Diamonds in the Dumpster while I was in Oregon last month, and I was only waiting to finish the Tricks of the Trade project to begin writing. I'd sent her the preliminary Chapter 1 and she felt that should be Chapter 2 so she wrote a new introductory Chapter 1. I love her style and humor when she writes, but as I was reading back through the new Chapter 1 and the now Chapter 2, some of the "things" I'd been reading ad infinium in my book invaded my thoughts.

I found myself picking up slight glitches or faux pas that would have slid past before. I don't know if was my brilliant style (LOL) or if repeated reading drummed it into my already crammed brain, but were those little things that could be improved or occasionally deleted, daring me to fix them.

I'm having lots of fun with writing Diamonds in the Dumpster. It's always fun to write about my favorite twins and their feisty 80 year old mother and uncle. This time since the oldsters have a much bigger role, it is particularly fun to invade their heads and thought processes.

All that is left now for Writers' Tricks of the Trade to go to publication  is for the rest of the blurbs to come in and the final cover design. This is exciting. More to come.

MORGAN
www.morganstjames-author.com

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Working on the "Writers' Tricks of the Trade" book

After I read through the plotting notes for the new Diamonds in the Dumpster Silver Sisters caper, I realized we needed to add a scene to Chapter 1. Phyllice has a slightly different idea, so I'm waiting for her to wrap her head around it so we can begin writing the book. It is so great that we decided how we would treat different approaches or ideas when we first began writing together. It is truly a delight to write with my sister.


Writers Tricks of the Trade
39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction
This is the rough of the cover by the very talented illustrator Scott Garrett. Can't wait to see the final

The manuscript is back from the editor with a few corrections. She offered a couple of very valid suggestions that I agree with, so I've begun to read through it again and make some minor adjustments.

The book is moving along on schedule and I really feel confident it will be out before the end of the year. I've said this over and over and even devote some space in the book to the necessity to allow a manuscript to get cold. It is so important to reread it before commiting it to the final draft.

As I read through Tricks of the Trade, I spot those places where it could be one bit better, maybe something that was repititious and should be cut or adjusted or changing an example because I've found a better one. Maybe just a little tightening. Yes, there has to be a point where you stop, and I'm rapidly approaching it, but just this one more time...

Another thing. When I put the manuscript through spellcheck before sending it to the editor, I was really amazed at how many valid things were caught. Like double words, missing letters and transpositions. It is so weird how the eye doesn't always catch these. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The eye often sees what the mind thinks it should see. While some spellcheck suggestions are way off base, it's invaluable to have it catch the little faux pas you dont really see.
Okay, that said, I've got to get out of the house today! Since I got back from Oregon, I've been at the computer working on a myriad of things nonstop. I planned to do things on Tuesday and Wednesday, but all of a sudden it was evening and I was still at the keys.

Right now my mouth is watering for a Jewish delight - a nice lox and creamcheese sandwich on a good bagel. I'm heading to Noah's because theirs is wonderful and half the price of a deli. Then, back to working on Tricks of the Trade when I return.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

BACK IN THE "BIG" CITY-PRAISE FOR SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

My sojourn to McMinnville is over and I'm back in Marina Del Rey CA. This is the first time in many years I've flown with Southwest, and I have to say they definitely get it right. At least for this trip. By paying a modest $10 fee each way, they automatically check you in which gives you a preferred position in line. I was number 22 coming back from Portland and got exactly the seat I love: Row 6 on the aisle. They don't charge for luggage---BTW today's L.A. Times reported that luggage fees now account for about $3.4 BILLION dollars a year.

I always look for non-stop flights, but this time I took one with stopovers in Oakland CA (don't get off the plane) in each direction Why? It was more than $200 cheaper than the competing airlines, and don't forget the lack of fees for luggage. These people have the efficiency of Disneyland when it comes to moving crowds. Within 25 minutes the Oakland passengers were off the plane, the Los Angeles ones on and we were in the air. We arrived in Los Angeles at 10:23 p.m.--7 minutes ahead of schedule. Kudos to Southwest!

This morning after setting up my laptop I realized the thing I missed the most while at my sister Phyllice's house was typing on a keyboard rather than directly on the laptop. Talk about frustration. I'm simply not used to using the keyboard on the laptop and the cursor kept jumping around creating some very unusual words like seboardtting-- see what I mean. Anyway, it's always good to go and good to come back, particularly when I'm able to come back with 30 outline pages of a fully plotted Silver Sisters mystery. We actually managed to stay on point despite gossip sessions, rerun episodes of Law and Order, Numbers and Bones, and the insanity of Phyllice's house with people coming and going. Yep. We have our plot.

When we are together, it always reinforces how much alike we are in some ways, even to the extent of events in our lives paralleling, and how different we are in other ways. As Phyllice sometimes puts it, she is the country mouse like Goldie Silver and I'm the city slicker like Godiva Olivia DuBois.

We also spent some time reminiscing about our Uncle Sol, the perennial youth. In his seventies, Uncle Sol was still going on 17 in spirit. He was the spot of sunshine in a day and could make generations of kids and adults laugh. Some of the humor in our books comes from his antics and we both agreed that as kids we didn't realize the gift he gave us of looking at situations with a positive eye, always infused with laughter. After my father died when Phyllice was 12 and I was 17, he was sort of a surrogate dad for several years. He used to call himself the voice of reason and that's what we gave the Silver Sisters' uncle Sterling Silver.

That's all for now.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

SMALL TOWN EXPERIENCE

I've been in McMinnville Oregon since last Tuesday so Phyllice and I can plot the next Silver Sisters Mystery, "Diamonds in the Dumpster." We have been putting in lots of hours and today she is in her booth at the Saturday market so I have time to do some catch-up.

I'm a big city person, splitting my time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and being in a small town like McMinneville Oregon is always a relaxing experience. Life goes at a slower pace. Phyllice lives a block from the main drag, 3rd Street, and the gallery where her artwork is exhibited is just a block and a half away. It's nice to be here during the time that she is the featured artist for the month. Her wall comes down just after the time I return to L.A. and then her work will be dispersed throughout the Currents Gallery and another artist gets the big wall.

Last night we took a nice walk from one end of the main street to the other, stopping along the way at a brew pub to have some dinner. The only movie theater in town is an intimate back room of a restaurant where they show second or third run movies. Life is definitely a different pace. There was an actual theater at one time, but I guess it didn't make it. Tonight we plan to go hear some music at the hotel on 3rd.

In addition to everything else she does, Phyllice has turned her big old house into a guest house so there are always an assortment of characters present, from the wine distributor who lives in the garage and takes care of the garden, to the cop in the attic. The house is about 4,000 s.f. and over 100 years old, and totally wonderful. She has turned the downstairs into a small boutique shop called Katz and Dawgs and uses the huge dining room as her art studio. Occasionally, people who come in to browse also buy one or two Silver Sisters books. Yesterday a couple from Astoria WA bought A Corpse in the Soup and Seven Deadly Samovars. They now have rare copies autographed by both of us. That's pretty unusual since we're not together that often.

McMinnville is the home of Evergreen Aviation and the Evergreen Aviation Museum. If you ever get into this area, that is a must see. It's where the Spruce Goose has been housed for the past several years in a building designed specifically for it. The Museum has now expanded to 3 buildings and they just added a water slide like none in the world. They hefted a 737 to the top of the building and it is the entrance and part of the slide. Imagine that. It will be a huge attraction. They take some of the vintage planes to the airfield across the road sometimes and fly them.

Well, time to get myself together and walk over to the market to see what my Sis is up to. She's a big fish in the little pond in McMinnville, and many people in town know her. I'm lucky if my neighbors on my own street know me! When we went to dinner the other night a Silver Sisters fan approached us saying she recognized us from our website photo. She had seen Phyllice at art shows as well. Ah. Celebrity!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I was not meant to get up at 4:45 in the morning!

Yesterday I got up at 4:45 in the morning to catch an early flight to Portland OR. I'd decided to try Southwest because not only were they almost $200 cheaper than the other carriers but they also didn't charge for checked luggage. For an extra $10 each way I was able to buy priority check in so they automatically check you in when the flight is available. Let me state here, without qualification, I AM NOT AN EARLY MORNING PERSON.

Once at LAX, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The check in was swift--I was number 40 and able to get my preferred aisle seat, the flight attendants were courteous and had a great sense of humor and we arrived on time. Wow. What a concept.

Anyway, I arrived at 10:30 because we had a stop in Oakland. I was met by my sister Phyllice. How great to see her. I'm here in McMinnville OR because we are plotting the next Silver Sisters crime caper, but of course we tooled around Portland yesterday after meeting my nephew for lunch. The servings were so big at Gravy, that we also had unknowlingly purchased our dinners.

Back here at Phyllice's 100+ year old house in the cute town of McMinnville we continued our sister catch-up since we hadn't seen each other in almost two years. That's a long time for us. However, by about 8:30 that evening my ass was dragging. Still, had to watch America's Got Talent and White Collar. Somewhere in the middle of the night I realized that the warm form next to my legs was Phyllice's Bengal cat who has taken a liking to me and now follows me around.

Today it is time to work and begin to figure out who does what to whom and why. Ah, pursuit of the crime and mapping it all out. It is a good thing we decided early on what the ground rules would be because I see we have slightly divergent ideas for Diamonds in the Dumpster. This afternoon will be interesting as we figure out what will be happening with Godiva's new boyfriend, how Flossie and Sterling get invoved (and as always, in trouble) and what the title is really hinting at.

More later about how this is all progressing. It is such a change of pace to be in a small town. I'm a big city girl and can handle small towns for a week or two. This time it's for a week.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

THE CURSE OF BEING A WORKAHOLIC

Being a workaholic is both good and bad. The good is that you really get things done. Not feeling that hot? It's midnight and you're still not done? What a beautiful day for a drive, but the article isn't done? Workaholics are driven to finish what they start. They truly believe their own commitments. I should know. I've been one all my life. Nope--haven't even been sober for a day!

Back when I was an interior designer, my partner always made time for the things she wanted to do. Me? I kept hacking away until the job was done. Then I would have time for the other stuff. Never mind that it was 8 or 9 o'clock. I'd finished the floor plan, or drawing or whatever other thing compelled me to keep working.

I kept the same discipline when I became Director of Design for a developer. Ten hour days were the norm, and somehow I managed to make time for my kids, too. I set up a design department from scratch, developed all of the systems and procedures, hired, trained and supervised staff and in the process designed some damn good model homes.

On to  sales and marketing of design projects --- I worked on projects for a variety of companies, involving anything and everything from fast food restaurant interiors to major office jobs. At one point I covered the 11 Western states for a Canadian firm, one of the five approved interiors suppliers for McDonalds. I was design liaison for their eateries from the beaches to the mountains, and flew into some city 3 to 4 times a week. My neighbors thought I was a flight attendant, albeit one dragging a huge portfolio. A typical day, including travel time, averaged about 15 hours. Occasionally I made an overnight trip to Windsor, Canada. I'd fly from Los Angeles into Detroit, rent a car, and drive through the tunnel to Canada. Then I'd have my meeting the next morning followed by a flight back to L.A. Needless to say, my internal clock was really messed up by all the time zones in such a short time.

 Later I changed to representing a comany in Irvine, CA. and worked with other concepts like Burger King, Denny's, Tony Roma's, Pollo Loco, Arbys and more. At least corporate meetings were in California.

I won't bore you with the details of my journey from interior design, sales and marketing to writing but there were several more stops along the way. Suffice to say that the habits linger. Yesterday wasn't one of my best. I really felt a little punk. But my manuscript for Writers Tricks of the Trade called to me.

The voice in my head screamed, "Hey, it's me, your manuscript. I'm supposed to go the editor by June 15. That won't happen if you don't finish me." So I forced myself through eight hours of working on it. I must say, and this sounds strange, I'm learning from my own manuscript.

Sometimes as writers, we put the words on the paper without absorbing the full meaning of what we've written. I'm glad I didn't let up the guard yesterday, because as I re-read a few of the chapters, I realized I had to follow my own advice and make some changes to a manuscript.

Today I'm feeling great. Wonder how many hours I'll put in. It's a beautiful day for a drive. Hmmm, I still have to write my column, the manuscript beckons, and--- what the heck --- maybe I'll take the drive after all.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Woody Allen is back with a great new movie

Over the weekend I saw Midnight in Paris. I've been a Woody Allen fan for years, and my husband went to school with him, so seeing this film was a natural. It didn't disappoint.

We were enthralled from the first scene through the last, and so was the audience. As one would expect from an Allen movie the direction was perfect. Owen Wilson, in particular, was a standout. Okay, he is the star, but Wilson played his character so well we were with him every step of the way. Until the last line in the movie, you don't know if it is his imagination or not propelling him back in time. The celebrities he meets all pull it off in such a casual manner, it could be real---but is it?

Wilson has had his share of bad parts in recent years, and this one should put him back in the star ranking. I can't think of anyone who could have done it better.

The Paris scenery is captivating, and for anyone who has been to Paris it is right on. I enjoyed memories of walking the Champs Ellysees, eating mousse at a sidewalk cafe and just being immersed in the experience that is Paris. A quick flash of the Arc du Triomphe reminded me of the time I climbed to the top via a winding staircase comprised of what seemed like 500 stairs. I was panicked, wondering how I would get down when the person I was with, a fellow who was familiar with Paris, admitted that he'd played a trick on me and there was an elevator.

The story unfolds beautifully to a somewhat predictable conclusion. I highly recommend this movie because Woody Allen can still make a film that transports you to the world he creates. Allen doesn't need high tech devices and so many special effects the story gets lost in the process. All he needs is a good story, skilled actors and his superb direction.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Growing up in a happy family

Here's to my mother, Rosetta Lachman, whose brilliant smile guided us through the good times and the bad.

Some of us are fortunate---others are not. Every day the lucky ones read about horrific family situations and wonder how anything like that could ever happen.

But the people living in these disfunctional, sometimes violent families know all too well. I remember a fellow I dated back in the 1980's. His was an alcoholic family, given to vicious arguments at family dinners once his parents and siblings had consumed more booze than they should have. He only indulged in a glass of wine now and then. Once he said, "I can't stand going to those family events because I know all too well how they end."

My sister and I were so lucky. We had a wonderful mother and a wonderful extended family. Our dinners were filled with humor, horsing around, love and everything that goes with the sort of families depicted on the old "Father Knows Best" show of the 50's. I was 17 and my sister was 12 when our father, only 49 years old, was felled by a heart attack. We never knew of Mom's struggles to keep her head above water financially because she soldiered on. There was little insurance, as Dad had his first heart attack when he was 44 and was never able to get more insurance after that. Still, our apartment was filled with laughter and we were raised believing we could do anything we set our minds to.

Until we were adults with our own lives and families, we thought everyone had families like ours. The old Three Musketeers motto "all for one and one for all." We did lose track of the aunts, uncles and cousins on Dad's side after several years, but Mom's family remained close knit---they were always there for each other. Some in Chicago, some in Los Angeles and one in Phoenix. Mom, born in 1909,  was the youngest of ten children. Her brothers and sisters were all dedicated to each other. Many lived into their mid and late nineties, including Mom who nearly reached 97.

I remember the first time I witnessed the back-stabbing possible between siblings. I was in my thirties when I experienced the treachery that existed in my second husband's family. The stories I heard about why they were not in communication with each other seeme so foreign to me. Apparently, his grandfather had been notorious for not trusting banks. The family figured he had a minimum of $25,000 stashed in his apartment in the 1960s. The old man died and while the funeral arrangements were being made, one of the sisters stole the money, then embarked on conspicuous spending within a few weeks. The others stopped speaking to her. His mother's brother cheated her in a real estate deal, then sued her for commissions due to him for selling her an apartment building she lost because of cooked books that he was aware of. One more scratched off.

His mother's younger sister borrowed money to cover her husband's gambling debts. When it wasn't paid back, the two sisters never spoke again. This was so shocking to me, but my ex was used to it and accepted it as normal.

Today as I sit at my computer, time has passed and all of those older members of Mom's family are gone. I reflect upon how much it meant to all of us to be raised in a loving, positive atmosphere and how it helped to shape our lives. My cousin and I remain close, I write books with my sister and consider her my best friend, another cousin just told me they're moving to Las Vegas and I stay in touch with another cousin in Chicago. But the days of those crazy fun-filled family dinners with up to 40 people at a clip are gone, too. I miss them.