Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paris in the Spring


 S. Lee Manning: This round, all of us Rogues are individually answering the question: If I could be anywhere and do anything, what would it be? Well, in my case, I’d be exactly where I am now. I’m writing this blog ten days before my flight, but by the time you read it, I’ll be there.  Paris.

Assuming all goes to plan, I am spending my mornings writing in a café near the apartment that we’re renting in the Marais.  I am sipping cappuccinos and nibbling on pastries while scenes and dialogue flow from my mind through my fingertips and onto the computer screen.  Then, after getting down an astonishingly great few pages, I spend my afternoons and evenings exploring the city of lights and trying to improve my very basic French. I am with the man I love who’s been by my side, if you count the time before our marriage, for 36 years.


A bistro in Paris at night.
It doesn’t get better than this.

Oh, yeah, there is the question of reality.  I’m writing this before my arrival in the city. Will the pages actually get written, and will they actually be amazing? Or will I get up in the morning and say, screw writing, I’m in Paris. Will I spend a month eating French pastries and balloon up twenty pounds? Will I be trying to write at a table outside while Europeans light up and cigarette smoke blows over me? Will there be terrorism scares? Will the apartment we rented sight unseen actually be charming and not cramped and a little too small for two big people – and will the bed feel like sleeping on cement? Will my husband and I argue over whether we go shopping or go to the Louvre?

All is quite possible in the real world.

But screw reality. This blog is about fantasy fulfillment.

There is something about Paris and writing. Woody Allen explored it a little in his movie, Midnight in Paris. There is a certain – je ne sais quoi – about the idea of writing in a city where so many have written – a city with so much richness in culture and history.

At the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
There is something about just being in Paris. We were there just around a year ago, traveling with our  daughter, who flew out from LA to join us.  We visited the Tour Eiffel and Notre Dame in our winter coats, because that April was amazingly cold. But there was still the charm – and the magic. The cafes – the bistros – the pastries….

I didn’t even make a token effort to write last year. We were traveling every few days. I didn’t schlep my computer to Europe because I had enough to carry, and I knew I wouldn’t be writing. I did scribble some notes here and there, sort of a travel diary, although I wasn’t consistent even with that. There was just too much to do and too much to see.

Last year was something of a sampling menu. We took small bites of London, Paris, Beaune, Lyon, Arles, Avignon, Nice, Cannes, Dublin, and the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland. All wonderful, but not enough time to really feel a part of any of the places we visited.



Jenny and Jim last year on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

This trip to Paris is different. Three weeks should be enough time to get a real feel of what the city is like. Hopefully, I am relaxed enough about being here to be comfortable, and motivated enough, to spend time writing as well as exploring. After all, these are two of my favorite things to do.

And this time, it's just the two of us. It's different traveling just with my husband. I love my children, and I like traveling with them, but there's something about three weeks in the city of love with just my husband that is pretty damn good.

Of course, my next fantasy is about renting a castle in Scotland. In this fantasy, both my kids, with their significant others, join us. I spend mornings writing and the afternoons exploring Scotland with my family. I produce an amazing novel.  No one argues with anyone.  Everyone has a fabulous experience.

Aren’t fantasies wonderful?

Postscript: May 18. I'm in Paris in an absolutely charming apartment, with a comfortable bed and a view of the Paris streets and rooftops. We have been exploring the city non-stop, and I'm walking between 5 and 7 miles a day, so although I'm eating enough French pastries and French cooking to otherwise put on the pounds, my weight has been stable. We've had wonderful experiences, and we've managed to hold limited conversations in French. Yesterday, I holed up with my computer in a little cafe close to the Picasso museum, sipping espresso and nibbling on a heavenly piece of lemon tart dusted with white powdered sugar. I finished a chapter while jazz music played. Jim will be taking a cooking class at the Cordon Bleu today while I ensconce myself in a cafe close to the apartment and hope for another good writing day.  C'est magnifique.
View from our apartment in Paris.

Waving to you from Paris.







Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Going to Moscow ... Want to come along?

I'm currently reading 4 great books. Why the Post-its & paper scraps marking passages? Read on....

By Gayle Lynds.  Recently a fellow writer asked me to suggest a book to learn about espionage “so I can write more detailed, knowledgeable fiction.” 

What a wonderful question.  But my head reeled.  How do I choose?  And then, how do I explain about the wealth of books, magazine articles, online articles, and intelligence-gathering sources I use that’ll answer your questions and feed your curiosity for more answers? 

Plus of course there are human sources — humint — men and women in the intelligence field or retired from it who are generous with their insights and observations.

All of this available in one book?
Books & other research on espionage, in my office.

For me, writing about the spy field is a lifestyle, a constant intake of information, finding one nugget and pursuing it as it dies a natural death or explodes into more nuggets.  My only problem is knowing when to stop. 

The spy novel on which I’m working is set largely in Moscow, and I’m fascinated by the culture, the beauty, the depravity, the generosity.  I need to know about that and more....  Sights, odors, colors.  People.  Spassky Gate.  The bridges illuminated by twinkling lights.  Busy Komsomol Square where three rail terminals converge and a tall statue of Lenin stands nearby, watching as he holds the lapel of his coat with one hand while the other reaches for a back pocket.  Lenin appears to have just realized his wallet has been swiped.  That’s Komsomol Square.

Here’s an example of the variety research I find useful....  

History: “... parades in the Soviet Union were not something you watched, they were something you participated in.  The only observers were the members of the ruling Politburo atop Lenin and Stalin’s tomb in Red Square and a few invited members of the diplomatic corps in the bleachers alongside.” — Moscow Stories by Loren R. Graham

Traffic: “I soon learned that an ambulance stopping to pick up a fare in Moscow wasn’t unusual.  Every vehicle was a potential taxi.  Private cars, dump trucks, police cruisers — everyone was so desperate for money that any and all would take fares.”  — Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice
by Bill Browder
Books on floor shelves, with Soviet-era map above

Vladimir Putin, 2005: “... Putin pulled a pack of 3-by-5 cards from his inside jacket pocket — the Americans called them his ‘grievance cards’ — and began lecturing [President George W.] Bush about ... well, about how fed up he was being lectured to by the Americans.”  — The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia by Angus Roxburgh

Oligarchs at a swank nightclub: “New arrivals were greeted by women who were beautiful on a surreal level.  The interior design was out of Somerset Maugham, all dark woods and lazy ceiling fans.  Here a man could sip Johnnie Walker Blue, light a Cuban cigar, sip a brandy, unwind, and make more money.” — “Moscow Never Sleeps” by Martin Cruz Smith, National Geographic.

All of the above play roles in my new spy novel, plus of course the machinations of the FSB, the Kremlin, dissidents, apologists, old Communists, new democrats, the ordinary citizen just trying to get by.  They’re the heaving, striving, boisterous testament to a city fueled by ambition and guaranteed never to be boring. 

So in answer to my friend’s question of one book to fill out the details of espionage, how can I choose?  Instead, let’s all go to Moscow and find out for ourselves.  Guaranteed, we won't be bored.

With this post I begin the next round of Rogue offerings that ask the timeless question:  If you could go anywhere and do anything, where and what would it be?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I'M A WRITER?

by Chris Goff

The author at age 2
When I was little, very early on I learned how to tell a story. Both my mom and dad were storytellers. My mother could mesmerize a room. My father was a musician, who'd had his own radio show and loved community theater. Both were fearless when it came to entertaining a crowd. My biggest challenge growing up was to know how much of what they told me was true, and how much was a tad embellished.

As a little girl, my favorite story was about me, of course. It goes something like this.

When I was about two, and newly potty-trained, I sat down on the settee to "read." The pictures in the book must have been enthralling because I totally missed the fact I needed to go to the bathroom. My mother, who was talking on the phone, walking the house tethered to the 25' long telephone cord, came out from the kitchen and found me standing up and staring down at a giant wet spot on the velvet. She gave me a look, then watched the wheels start turning in my head looking for someone else to blame. The thing was, I was an only child. Finally, copying her look, I pointed at the puppy and said, "Vicky, naughty dog!"

Throughout my childhood I remember them telling stories about our escapades.

There was the time my father taught me to sing "The Cat and the Mouse." Mind you, I was five. His version goes like this:


Oh, some liquor was spilled on the barroom floor
The bar was closed for the night
When a little mouse crawled from a hole in the wall
Out in the pale moon light
He lapped up the liquor on the barroom floor
And on his haunches he sat
And all night long, you could hear him roar: "Bring on your G--damn cat!" 

I practiced, and practiced, and then on Sunday, when the Sunday school teacher asked if anyone knew any songs, I proudly stood and shared my ditty. As my mother tells it, the teacher's eyes grew wide, then she cleared her throat and said, "That was lovely, Christy. Now let's all sing 'Jesus Loves Me.'"

And there was the time my mother and her college roommates thought it would be funny to drop water balloons down the stairwell of the dorm—and their timing was perfect. Just as my mother dropped her balloon, the dean's wife crossed the foyer in a black crepe dress and pearls. In case you don't know, crepe shrivels when it gets wet...

And the time that my dad and his best buddy, Vic, went down to Michigan Lake, at night, when the smelt were running. They came home with a huge tub full of the little silver fish, way too many for our families to eat. After a day of offering smelt to friends and neighbors, the fish began to smell and Dad and Uncle Vic soon realized they needed to think of a better way to dispose of their catch. It was my mother and Aunt D who came up with the plan. The next day was Sunday, so while everyone including me was at church, my folks slipped out with Uncle Vic and Aunt D, and they left small, smelly pails of smelt on the doorsteps of all the parishioners.

I loved all types of stories. My dad had a book of poems from when he was a little boy, Silver Pennies, a Collection of Modern Poems for Boys and Girls by Blanche Jennings Thompson (The MacMillan Company, 1925), and I remember memorizing the poems as he read them aloud, me curled up on the sofa while he balanced on the bongo board. My all time favorite in the collection was a poem by Oliver Herford: 


The Elf and the Dormouse

Under a toadstool crept a wee Elf, 
Out of the rain to shelter himself. 
Under the toadstool, sound asleep, 
Sat a big Dormouse all in a heap. 
Trembled the wee Elf, frightened, and yet 
Fearing to fly away lest he get wet. 
To the next shelter maybe a mile! 
Sudden the wee Elf smiled a wee smile, 
Tugged till the toadstool toppled in two. 
Holding it over him, gaily he flew. 
Soon he was safe home, dry as could be. 
Soon woke the Dormouse " Good gracious me! 
"Where is my toadstool?" loud he lamented. 
And that's how umbrellas first were invented. 


The first book I remember was Pinocchio. When I turned six, my dad began reading me a chapter, sometimes two, every night at bedtime. After we finished the book, we read The Wind in the Willows, followed by The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse. My dad loved to read, and he passed that love on to me.

My mother loved to write.

When I was nine, I wrote my first real story. It was a class assignment, and supposed to be short, but mine turned into a mini-novella. It was called The Haunted House, and it was about a group of neighborhood children who discovered a haunted house inhabited by a witch. They would spy on her, and soon realized that every night she would go out flying around on her broom.  One night, wanting to know what was inside her house, the kids waited for her to go out, and then they snuck inside and messed around with her Eye of Newt. It was a great story, and I got an A, but that "book" never sold.

Nor did the one that followed. 

By then I was a working journalist, married and living in Frisco, Colorado. At a library presentation one evening, I met a bestselling romance writer who had recently moved into town. When she agreed to mentor me, I decided to tackle writing a novel of romantic suspense. I set the book in Breckenridge, CO, and told the story of a handsome ski instructor and the woman who fell in love with him. After uncovering a counterfeiting operation, my heroine found herself the target of gangsters. The hero wanted to help her, and the two of them fell in love. There was lots of skiing, romance, danger, mystery and snow. I called it—wait for it—Frozen Assets.

That book never sold either. Nor did the one that followed it. But I eventually did sell a book. Actually, I sold a few books. I studied the craft of writing, got better at telling my stories, and then sold even more books. Today I am the author of six books in a Birdwatcher's Mystery series and two international thrillers, Dark Waters and Red Sky. 

Quick pause for a moment of Blatant Self Promotion. Red Sky comes out in June and tells the story of U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent, Raisa Jordan. When People’s Republic Flight 91 crashes in northeastern Ukraine with a U.S. diplomatic agent on board, Jordan is sent to the scene to investigate. It quickly becomes apparent that the plane was intentionally downed. But why? As international relations crumble and more lives hang in the balance, Jordan must race to stop a new Cold War. Catherine Coulter called it, "Breathtaking suspense." It is currently available to Pre-Order. And, if you haven't had the chance to read Dark Waters, the eBook and hardcover are currently down-priced.

Back to becoming a writer....  Even with eight books published and a new one in the works, I've never really thought much about it. You see, I've been a storyteller all of my life. I guess putting the words on paper was just part of a natural progression.

What did you become, and how did you decide to become it? I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

by Sonja Stone

Mother's Day Binge-Watch Lineup. For those of you without imminent deadlines.

Eventually my manuscript will be finished and I’ll have the chance to take a walk, pick up a book, cook a meal. But until then, my free time consists of thirty minutes a day on the elliptical. 

I don’t mind the indoor workouts, provided I have a little entertainment. I write in silence, so Netflix during my downtime serves as a nice distraction. There a few shows that stand out for me—so much that I might even call them “research.” I just finished re-watching BONES, but rather than pick up a new series (I can’t get involved in a new series until AFTER I’ve turned in my manuscript), I revisit old friends. That way, I can come and go without feeling the obsessive drive to find out what happens next

THINGS TO WATCH WHILST PRETENDING TO WORK

Here are a few suggestions, in no particular order:

For a STUDY OF PLOT, I suggest PRISON BREAK. The first season is remarkably well-crafted, and unfolds like a game of chess between two masters.

Prison Break

For a STUDY OF CHARACTER, go with LOST. The series includes flashbacks of all the main characters, illustrating what their lives were like before their plane crashed on a tropical island. Each character’s story is so compelling; it’s a great reminder to me (as an author) that no one is a secondary player in his or her own life. The writers develop complexity and nuance, and brilliantly weave the strangers’ lives together, on and off the island.

LOST show
Watch LOST for an excellent illustration of the effective use of backstory.
For a STUDY OF DIALOGUE, try WEST WING, NEWSROOM, or, if pressed for time, FRASIER. The first two, written by Aaron Sorkin, are marked with his trademark rapid-fire banter. I find the later seasons of FRASIER to be wittier than the first few.

Newsroom cast

For those who prefer a more laid-back viewing experience, might I suggest British television. My mom likes anything by the BBC, and now that I think about it, DOWNTON ABBEY nails character and dialogue. The plot was fairly riveting, as well. 

Speaking of mothers, this Mother’s Day I’m sending my mom a book: Stephanie Barron’s (aka Francine Matthews) Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. My mom’s a huge Jane Austin fan, and I think she’ll really enjoy this series.

AND SPEAKING OF MOTHER’S DAY

I’m a few months away from becoming an empty nester, which makes this Mother’s Day bittersweet. I miss the days of wet kisses on my cheeks and sticky little hands on my arms. I miss the movies with small children—especially 3D films at the IMAX. My oldest would reach through the air to touch the tropical fish swimming out of the screen; my youngest would inevitably climb into my lap twenty minutes into the film, regardless of genre.

Before you extend sympathy as I go through this phase of life, please know that I’m not wading in self-pity and nostalgia. To ease my malaise, I’ve decided to convert one of the kids’ bedrooms into a reading room. Or maybe a meditation space/yoga room. Or a craft room! 

How’s that for silver lining?

For those of you who’ve been through this, what’s the appropriate length of time to wait before converting the bedroom of a college-aged child? You know, so I don’t look completely self-involved…

Sunday, May 7, 2017

PUT UP OR SHUT UP: WRITING ON A DARE


By Francine Mathews

Twenty-five years ago, my husband Mark and I were celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary on a weekend out of town with friends. We'd spent those four years in Washington, DC--he as a lawyer with the Justice Department, and I as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. That Friday we'd both cut out of work early and were driving south to a bed-and-breakfast in the Shenandoah. We'd rented a convertible just for the hell of it, and the top was down. We had no children yet. We were unaware just how young we were. And we were talking about the future.

I risked telling him the truth.

"I hate working in an office," I said. "Sometimes the world is ending and it's important that I'm there. But most of the time, I could be doing something much more useful than pretending to be busy." Which is, in my view, what most of us do in offices. We're required to be there for eight to ten hours of the day in order to earn our salaries, but we're probably only truly productive for half that. Why dawdle around looking purposeful when we could be gardening? Or getting exercise with our dogs? Or helping a child learn to read? Or mastering a new cooking technique? I found the sheer waste of available hours excruciating, every day. 

Plus, I hated having to wear stockings. Which, in that era in DC, was still a thing.

"Everybody works in offices," Mark said patiently.

"I want to work at home," I replied. "I want to write fiction four hours a day, and have an integrated life." This was a phrase I'd come up with the explain my dream schedule: Time for everything, not just work. A conscious balance among all the pursuits I loved. I felt, back then as an intel analyst, that the only true hour of the day I owned was the one right before bed, when I could pick up a book and read in silence before turning out the light. The paucity of time to call my own felt like a slow-motion tragedy. "I wasn't born for this," I said.

Mark was astounded. "You're paid to think. Do you know how rare that is in this country? You should be down on your knees thanking God for that job."

He had a point. But those stockings. And all the silly, wasted hours...

"Look," he said. "Here's the deal. If you can begin, middle and END a book--not just get sixty-five pages into a great idea and stop--we'll talk about you quitting. But you're not going to quit for a pipe dream."


Mark hates it when I tell this story, because it makes him sound like a jerk. But nearly thirty years of marriage later, I can attest that he's a very wise person. He was challenging me to put my money where my mouth was. To take my dream seriously. To honor it with commitment, discipline, and purpose--rather than cop out of a situation I found onerous, and drift for awhile looking for meaning.

From that point on, I used his words--what I came to think of as the bet we'd taken between us--as incentive. I'd walk into the headquarters at Langley each morning and say to myself, "You're going to write after dinner tonight. It's your ticket outta here." Don't get me wrong--I loved so many aspects of the intelligence world. I had a deep fascination with the complexity of security issues that I sustain to this day--but it wasn't my dream to sign over my life to the pursuit. And so it became a daily practice to acknowledge my real dream.


This brings me to an important point I'd like to stress for anyone interested in a creative life: It requires the acceptance of risk, obviously--you have to put your soul out into the world for judgment, and that has a price both psychic and economic--but you also have to back that risk with commitment. All too often, would-be writers are viewed by the people closest to them as feckless, indolent, wishful dilettantes. The time they need to carve out for disciplined work is the very last time they're accorded. The spouse or the friend says, "Oh--you're working on your book....Come on. You can do that later. Come out for a few hours with me!" The implication being, that the book isn't serious. It's a dream.

Just a dream. Nothing real. Nothing that's actually going to go anywhere. In fact, a waste of time better spent at a bar.

Dreams don't become reality unless they're taken seriously. Which brings me back to my first novel.

I sat down and thought hard about what I should attempt to write. This was just an exercise in my mind--tangible proof that I could begin, middle and end a book, as Mark said. So I should weight the scales in my favor. The project of conceiving a manuscript felt so immense that I figured I needed some sort of framework. An inherent structure I could appropriate. It didn't occur to me in my writer-infancy that all good backs have structure; I was looking for the obvious: a template I could follow. I pounced on the detective novel.

I had been reading mystery fiction most of my life. I was a huge aficionado of Golden Age detectives and contemporary voices alike. I eschewed brutality and suspense, I admit, for the psychological development of characters. I was aware that the novels I loved showed the progression and maturation of their protagonists through confrontation with conflict, and its eventual resolution--a conflict in a small social circle that rippled outward to disturb the characters' lives. 

Plus, there was the puzzle plot--the clockwork gears at the heart of the story. Craft the puzzle plot, drape it with interesting people, and bingo! I'd have a book.

I indulged myself for a few weeks. I reread every mystery novel I'd ever adored, from an analytic standpoint, and took notes about why they worked for me. I tried to figure out other authors' successful techniques in revealing information to the reader, or to the sleuth, and how that timing was essential for the revelation at the end. I considered point of view--whether the book was written from the omniscient third-person, or the more intimate first person--and decided omniscient was much more useful for the manipulation of clues. Then I thought about location.
Available on Amazon

There is an enduring appeal to the small English village with a few related people caught up in a nightmare. But I didn't live in England. I didn't think my bet with Mark would extend to several weeks of research in situ. So I considered, instead, a place I knew and loved that felt like a small English village. Which brings me to a final point I'll offer nascent writers: You'll spend a long time embedded in your manuscript. Make sure it's a place you love; you'll be living there mentally for months. And make sure that place is populated with interesting people. If you're bored, your readers will be, too.

My place was Nantucket Island.

I first saw Nantucket when I was four. My family spent each summer on Cape Cod, and ferry trips to the island were an annual ritual. Later, as a teenager, I worked as a nanny for a wealthy family with a grand house on Orange Street. It was a second marriage between a Washington Power Couple, and they entertained constantly with a rotating roster of house guests. They dined out every night. They weren't much interested in seeing their three year-old; my job was to keep her amused and out of the way for the entire summer. They rented me a bike with a baby seat and Elizabeth and I spent hours trekking all over the island. 

I didn't realize it at the time, but that single summer infused me with a lifelong intimacy with trails through dunes, hidden coves, incredible and lonely vistas, and a passion for the changeable island atmosphere that can shift from vivid sunlight to impenetrable fog in the space of minutes. Nantucket entered my soul that summer, and ten years later as I sat down to write my first novel, it was the natural place to go.
Available on Amazon

It took me nine months to write DEATH IN THE OFF-SEASON.
But it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Remarkably, I found an agent--who is still my agent, twenty-five years later--and he found a publisher. I quit my job. Mark quit his. We left Washington, and both our dreams took us to new places. I wrote four books in the Meredith Folger Nantucket series, returning again and again to the island with my two young sons to do research--and the series gave me the courage to attempt other dreams: My Jane Austen mysteries, and eventually, my standalone spy novels.


Last year, Soho Crime approached me with a request to reissue the Merry Folger books. They had gone out of print during the years I'd turned to other projects. They had never been digitized for eBook downloads. Soho also wanted a fifth book--a new one--in the series. But twenty years had elapsed since the publication of the fourth novel. Twenty years is a large gap in the lives of characters, and so much about criminal investigation had changed since the 1990s, the original time period of the series. Nobody has paper files anymore. Google exists. DNA has changed the world of forensic science. Blackmail is no longer confined to a letter, but can go viral.

I agreed to reissue the series, but on one condition: That I be allowed to revise and update each of the original books before writing the new one. I wanted the transition between novels to be seamless for readers who'd never met Meredith Folger before.
Courtesy Nantucket Book Festival 2017 https://nantucketbookfestival.org/


The fourth and final revised book, DEATH IN A COLD HARD LIGHT, comes out this Tuesday--May 9th. The newest Meredith Folger, DEATH ON NANTUCKET, debuts in hardcover next month, on June 6th, and I'll be posting my signing schedule here on Rogue Women Writers for anyone interested in a little beach reading.

But first, dear friends: What's your dream? What are you willing to wager on it? Share with all of us here--we'll help you commit.

Cheers,

Francine
www.francinemathews.com

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Someone Rains On Your Writing Parade -Part II

A promotional disc of Love's Gonna Find You
Mother's Day is around the corner and I wanted to both pay tribute to moms and to follow up on my last post. That last post dealt with the rain that some pour on the creatives of the world for reasons that elude me. This post deals with some of the fall out that can occur when your joy is stifled-- and parts of the story are not mine, but comes from one of my favorite writers: Pam Houston. I discovered her writing during her tour for a book called Cowboys Are My Weakness. This collection of stories about women, men and life really caught me. I recall heading to an author event to have my book signed. I wasn't writing then, but I was always an avid reader. My girlfriend went with me to the event and I went home wishing I could write as Houston did.

Last night I read this essay she wrote in Elle magazine and was struck by how our mothers were the same: creative women forging a career in an industry that can be brutal, but also more fulfilling than anything put before them otherwise. The creative world is that way. And with mother's day approaching, I thought it appropriate that I write about my mother's experience as well.

Houston's mother ran away as a teenager to New York and Broadway and made a living on the stage, even touring with Bob Hope. At a late age she met Houston's father and started a life as a wife and mother. Houston recalls that her mom often mentioned the life she'd left behind. Her mother sounds like a woman who did work that she loved most of her life and missed it terribly toward the later years, and Houston credits her mother for giving her ambition. It certainly sounds as though she did, because running away to New York and making it work is quite an achievement. That took courage and determination.
Worth buying!

The difference between our mothers was that mine began her career after starting a family, and so we were around for the ride. After my first brother was born my mother soon realized that the life of a homemaker was financially out of her and my father's reach. She decided that if she would be forced to work, then she'd do something she loved. She started singing in clubs shortly after, progressing to recording, producing and finally movie acting and did it all as a divorced mother juggling four children. For her the issue wasn't that she gave anything up for us, but that she hit many, many walls erected by a mostly male establishment that often attempted to manipulate her and her career to fit their needs. But for as many that tried to block her, there were some that attempted to help and her mantra to us was: You can do anything. You want it? Go for it.

It's a mantra that is an invaluable lesson for anyone going into a profession as tough as that laid out for a writer, musician, actor or artist. My mother didn't just say it, she showed us how to do it. When she wanted to be the leader of her own band she was brushed off and when she wouldn't give up was told that she'd have to join the musician's union to do it. She couldn't play an instrument, but she took a tambourine into the offices of the union and banged away at it until the man couldn't take it anymore and signed the form and waved her out.

When disco arrived and the clubs closed and the opportunities for performers who sang jazz were replaced by a spinning disc and bright lights, she looked for other options. She headed to Second City to learn acting, dragging us to sit on the side because she couldn't afford a babysitter. And during that time she had a side gig booking punk rock acts, an interesting development for a woman who sang the standards. She loved Sinatra, yes, but to her, music was music and all types of performers were welcome and interesting. She booked Iggy Pop and I recently found an old contract. It mentions a poster. I wish I could have found it in her things after her death, but I suspect she gave it to Iggy after the show.

When she wanted to record a demo and was turned away from the bigger companies, she filed for a record company license (controlled by another set of gatekeepers) and bought studio time. Her demo turned the big companies around and she landed a contract with Warner Curb. She did the rounds of radio stations without any real money for promotion and when her song started trending it was quashed for another's who was pushed ahead. That performer had that one hit only and disappeared from sight. She, though, kept going. She put her Second City training to work and started landing roles in movies and television shows.

And through it all she showed us that going for it was the base line. Failure was always around, rejection too, but forging ahead is better than living with regret. I'm glad she showed us that, because it's a lesson that usually only comes with age and wisdom and I was lucky enough to be taught it as a child.

When my mother died one of her oldest friends came up to me at the funeral and said, "Your mother showed us what was possible." It was a lovely thing to say, and it sums up her life perfectly.

And so for those who struggle in this creative world that we love, keep going. The walls are real but so are the ways around them. In the words of my mother:

You can do anything. You want it? Go for it.