In less than one month, I will officially be the author of a published novel. <Obligatory promo: MISTRESS OF FORTUNE out on February 3! Pre-order your copy now>

One of the first rules of writing I learned was “avoid cliches.” And so I bow my head in shame as I’m about to commit to New Year’s Cliche #1: LOSE WEIGHT.

I’d tell you my goal isn’t actually to lose weight but to get healthy, but I’d be lying. And I won’t bore you with a long lament about how I found myself at my heaviest weight of all time. The only reason that counts is that I stopped exercising regularly and started eating ALL THE THINGS. Food is really good, ya know? And while exercise is good too, it takes a lot more effort than slathering a piece of bread with Nutella and shoving it into my mouth.

So there you have it.

What I will bore enthrall you with is a quick run down of my plan:

1) Adhere to the 80/20 principle (which basically means that 20% of the time I can throw most of the following out the window)

2) Eat a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal.

3) Avoid processed foods like cliches

4) Strength-training 30 minutes 3x a week

5) Walking/Running/Elliptical 30 minutes 5x a week

6) Whole grains only (or mostly)

7) Cut down on vino (this, alas, is the hardest one for me, as I LOVE my vino way too much)

Care to share your New Year’s goals? C’mon, you know you want to.

This was originally posted on 10/3/11.

First_anniversary
Mick and I celebrate our 1st anniversary

Today marks the 15th anniversary of my marriage to my partner in crime, Mick. We met through an online personal ad I placed in December 1996, and though I can’t find the text of the ad at the moment, I know I began it with Shakespeare’s sonnet #130:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
If have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more deight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
  And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
  As any she belied with false compare.

Deep, huh? I thought so.

Within 48 hours, I received nearly 100 responses to that ad of mine. I only responded seriously to three or four. I remember one of them was an Indian fellow, and another was a single father of two children who was also a Christian minister.

What would my life have been if I had chosen one of them, I wonder?

Mick’s response to my ad stood out for its subtle humor, and I also liked that he was English (after all, I didn’t have much to go on at that point). I later found out he’d written it after a drunken night out with the boys. We talked on the phone the next day and met in person the next day.

For those of you who haven’t heard the story, my roommate and I were having a New Year’s Eve party and I invited Mick. He arrived some time after midnight and my first words to him in person were “Here, drink this quick,” as I held out a plastic glass filled with champagne. The date was January 1, 1997.

We’ve been more or less inseparable since that moment.

I don’t believe in soul mates and I don’t believe people are meant for each other in any cosmic sense. But I sure am glad my path crossed Mick’s and that we decided to merge our paths, because this life is damned good.

UPDATE: This is a post I wrote back in September 2007. I’ve updated it to reflect the current year, 2012.

Orlin Neville Horn. How’s that for a name?

Today is my grandpa’s 90th birthday.  I’ll be heading up to Oregon soon to celebrate this milestone birthday with him.

I am very lucky to be 44 and still have a grandpa.  He was 46 when I was born, which is kind of young to be a grandpa.  But here’s the kicker–my grandma was 39 when I was born!  I can’t imagine being a grandmother at the age I am now, considering I can’t even imagine being a mother.  But I suppose it would feel very nice to know that I’d finished the hard work of raising my children and could now enjoy my grandchildren.  Here is a photo of my grandparents holding me (left) and my brother (right):

mary_neville_horn_holly_john_oneill_babies

Here is a picture of my grandpa when he was a boy (he’s the taller one on the left.  The one on the right is his brother Hollis, who passed away a few of years ago):

grandpa_hollis

Remember the old cliche “When I was a kid I had to walk five miles, barefoot, in the snow to school?”  Well my grandpa really did!

My grandpa grew up in Arkansas during the depression.  He was the oldest of eight children–four boys and four girls.  All four girls are still living, but my grandpa is the only remaining boy.  They were very poor.  My great-grandfather worked as a field hand and so did his boys.  During the depression, they were employed through the WPA.

My grandpa was a tractor mechanic for much of his life but basically did all sorts of ranch work during his entire career.  He is missing his right index finger up to the knuckle–the result of a work accident years ago.

This is my favorite picture of my grandpa:

neville_playing_guitar
He stopped playing the guitar when he lost his finger. I have his guitar displayed in my house (it’s not the same guitar as in the picture though. Wonder what ever happened to that one?).

Here’s a bit of trivia for you:  My grandparents used to bowl with Johnny Cash’s ex-wife, Vivian.  They didn’t like the movie “Walk the Line” because they didn’t like the way it portrayed her.

Another bit of trivia: my grandpa used to haul cattle on Slauson Boulevard from a ranch very near the property now occupied by LAX.

There are very, very few people in the world who I love more than my grandpa. He is an old man now, despite the fact that I still see and think of him the way I did when I was a little girl.  He taught me all I need to know to live to be 90:

1)  Smoke at least a pack a day for 40 years
2)  Drink at least one beer a day
3)  Drink a Carnation Instant Breakfast every morning
4)  Eat pinto beans at dinner every night
5) Watch a lot of Bonanza
6)  Never give up your love of the casinos
7)  Be married to the same woman for 65+ years
8)  Love your family more than anything, especially your first born granddaughter

My grandpa probably won’t ever see this, but I’ll say it anyway:

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

P.S. Here’s another funny Grandpa story.

Lenny Kravitz’s Mama Said album is one of my favorites of all time. I played the hell out of that sucker when it came out and for years afterward. It’s been awhile since I broke it out so maybe today it’s time. Let’s start with this:

When I first thought of this post it wasn’t supposed to be about Lenny Kravitz, but before I get to the meat and potatoes of it, I’d like to tell you a story from my archives.

Circa 1995 I lived in West Hollywood and worked in Mar Vista. My commute consisted of three streets: Right on Santa Monica Boulevard, left on La Brea Avenue, right on Venice Boulevard, reversed on the trip home. Easy, but traffic laden, so I generally spent about 30-45 minutes in the car each way.

Back then I had a fantasy that one day I would meet Lenny Kravitz, we’d hit it off, and fall in love. Okay, so I didn’t believe it would ever really happen (though at 25 I was nothing if not idealistic) but since I lived in LA and often had random celebrity sightings, it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea that I might actually see him one day. It was, as the title of the post indicates, “thinking positivity.”

So one day on the way home I was sitting in traffic on La Brea Avenue when I noticed a guy with long dreadlocks entering a furniture store on the right. It’s called Little Paris Antiques now but I’m fairly certain it was called something different back in the day.

There was no doubt in my mind it was Lenny Kravitz and it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. Fortunately I was in the far right lane so I quickly pulled over and parked in front of the store.

It’s worth noting at this point that I’d skipped lunch that day and had stopped by the 7-11 on Venice and Sepulveda to buy a snack for the ride home. I don’t remember exactly what it was but it was crunchy and oniony, and left a powdery residue everywhere. I’d placed the open bag on the passenger seat and had been digging into it the whole ride home, so I’ll let you do the math on how I must’ve smelled. Still, I wasn’t about to let a little onion breath stand between me and my destiny. I ran into the store and it wasn’t long before I spied the man I’d seen enter.

Now, if this was a work of fiction, this is where I’d add the twist: the man turned around and it wasn’t Lenny Kravitz at all–it was just some poser. Cue the womp womp music.

But this was real life y’all! I found myself face to face with the man who was numero uno in my book. My Lenny radar had not failed me. It was the man himself.

I remember two things vividly about that meeting. 1) He was about as tall as I am, 5 ft. 4. 2) He had the most beautiful flaring nostrils I’d ever seen. Seriously, I could not stop looking at his nose.

He looked a bit panicked when I approached him. I quickly allayed his fears by telling him what a big fan I was and how much I respected him for being vocal about his commitment to Christianity. I loved me some Jesus big time back then. He just nodded politely while I spoke and then thanked me graciously, told me how sweet I was.

Did you hear that? He told me I was sweet. Unsurprisingly, that was the extent of our romance.

Okay, so this post wasn’t supposed to be about Lenny Kravitz. It was supposed to be about positivity.

Recently I started writing at a coffee shop on Sunday mornings with a couple of fellow writers. I noticed that we seem to spend a good deal of our time (when not writing of course) berating ourselves for not writing more. For not being more dedicated. For being slackers.

And yes, by some writers’ example, perhaps we are. But spending so much time talking about how we fail keeps us from being proud of how much we’ve achieved. With that in mind, I started reflecting on what I’ve accomplished since 2012 began:

1) Finished a major revision of DIARY OF BEDLAM, thereby greatly improving the manuscript
2) Started querying agents again
3) Had a flash fiction story published online
4) Contributed one short story to an upcoming anthology (a story, by the way, that I’m very proud of)
5) Been asked to contribute a second short story to a charity anthology
6) Hired a professional editor to edit DIARY OF BEDLAM
7) Begun implementing the suggestions of said editor
8) Started a new WIP
9) Started working with a critique group

Not too shabby!

This isn’t to say I can’t improve my work ethic, but sometimes it’s good for me to step back and look at what I have accomplished instead of dwelling on all the ways I don’t live up to my own expectations.

Lenny Kravitz would be proud.


Naming one all-time  favorite book is like choosing your favorite song–nearly impossible. Even as I was thinking about this post I thought well, really, it’s a toss up between two. Then I stopped myself and said NO. You get one and only one.

Sometimes I can be really hard on myself.

So I thought about it a little more. It became pretty clear what the favorite was, and so I shall name it:

MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR by Herman Wouk

It’s about as far from crime fiction as you can get, but I so dearly love this novel that I kinda-sorta get choked up just thinking about it. The ending is so bittersweet that I’ve never read it and not cried. And I’ve read it many, many times.

It’s not a sad book, not at all. It’s the story of Marjorie Morgenstern, a 17-year old, beautiful Jewish girl growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s. Her Russian immigrant parents have worked hard to make certain she has the perfect future: marriage to a prosperous Jewish boy and a family. But Marjorie has no interest in living the dull life her parents lead and has a different idea; she wants to be an actress on the Broadway stage. The book is a chronicle of her road to the stardom she dreams of, her struggle between what she thinks she wants and what society expects of her, and what, ultimately, she really wants out of life and love.

I so wish there was something brilliant I could say to make you understand how great this book is, but alas, I feel I’ve failed.

I first read MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR when I was around 15 years old. One could argue that I still view it with the idealistic eyes of a teenager and thus it might not be worthy of the title MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. I’d concede that might be true but it doesn’t change the fact that Wouk’s characterizations, his portrayal of pre-war New York City, and the world in which Marjorie lives are so vivid and charming I can only say “idealization be damned, this is a kick-ass book.”

What is it Liz Lemon says? I want to go to there. In Wouk’s deft hands, I can.

I’m turning 44 tomorrow so perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic, but MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR sums up much of what life is all about–endeavoring to achieve our dreams because we think that’s what will bring us happiness but realizing when it’s time to leave them behind.

See what I wrote there? Realizing when it’s time to leave your dreams behind.

I get misty just thinking about it.

But enough about me–I want to hear what your FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME is. And none of this toss-up crap. You get one and only one.

On Tuesday we celebrate the one year anniversary of living in our house. To celebrate, I thought I'd post pictures of my office space.

John Hornor Jacobs started this "trend" of writers showing their office a couple of months ago. It took me that long to clean up and rearrange my office, but over the weekend I finally got it in some kind of working order.

Here is the wide shot:

WIW_overview

The room is pretty big, but since it's got to function as both my office, my gym, and our guest room, space must be used wisely.

Well, maybe not so wisely, because my desk is huge, and I love it. I got it from a Craigslist ad about four months ago.

WIW_desk_books
There are actually no bookcases in the room since I've got a big one in the hallway right outside the door. But these are the books I use on a regular basis or that inspire me so I keep them close.

WIW_desk_chair

WIW_desk_front

I know three monitors seems excessive but really, they are very useful.

The picture below is my treadmill desk. It's really not very high tech–Mick just built me a little wooden platform I can rest my laptop on. I try to go 10,000 steps a day, and most days, that means I have to spend a little quality time on the treadmill.

WIW_treadmill_desk
I was going for a Mad Men vibe with my furnishings. Didn't quite acheive it, but I'm very happy with it just the same. I got this chandelier for less than $100 on Overstock.com.

WIW_light

Another Craigslist find. This dresser is actually one of my favorite pieces of furniture in the house.

WIW_dresser
So I mentioned my office is also the guest room. This is actually a trundle bed that pulls out to make a king-size bed. Buying this was one of the best decisions we ever made because it saves so much space but allows our guests to be comfy.

WIW_bed
Finally, this chair (another Craigslist item) doesn't serve much of a purpose other than to be awesome (it's partner is in the living room).

WIW_chair
I still need to paint since the mint green doesn't quite do it for me, but that might not happen for awhile.

So this is where I work most days. If I'm writing a first draft I use a yellow legal pad and write all over the house. Sometimes I sit at the dining room table too because for some reason I find it hard to sit in the same spot all the time.

Wanna see more writers' offices?

John Hornor Jacobs
Daniel B. O'Shea (He inspired the treadmill desk)
Keith Rawson

Apple_pie I know I've said this before, but there are very few people in the world I love more than my grandfather. He's 88, and he's old. I ought to know: he never stops reminding me, and everyone else, of it. Born in Blaine, Arkansas in 1922, he's the oldest of eight children and they were a poor family. Like barefoot-in-and-living-in-a-one-room-cabin poor. He recently told me they ate a lot of meat growing up, then proceeded to regale me with tales (again) about hunting possums and squirrels, even a hedgehog once (he admitted they might not have eaten that).

Above all, though, my grandpa is a man of simple tastes. I only point these things out because they provide important context for the story I'm about to tell.

On Sunday, we went to the local casino to play bingo. It's one of my grandpa's favorite pastimes, and I try to take him whenever I'm able to. It was a fun group: me, my uncle, my aunt, my grandma, and my grandpa. With daubers in hand, we sat down with a mind to make that bingo parlor our bitch.

(And indeed, we did. I bingoed twice, back-to-back, winning a total of $600, and my grandma bingoed a couple of games later and won $500).

Bingo_receipt

As family tradition dictates, the winner must buy the losers dinner. Since I had pocketed the most, I said I'd pay. We sat down and my grandpa, who is not a great eater on his best days, looked at the menu and said "I think I'll have Belgian waffle." Breakfast for dinner? Awesome.

It came time to order and my grandpa said what he wanted. The waiter said "I'm sorry sir, we don't have waffles." Apparently, the casino restaurant stops serving breakfast at 11am. Disappointed, my grandpa quickly looked at the menu again while the rest of us ordered. When it came his turn, he ordered the salmon. My grandma raised an eyebrow.

"Soup or salad, sir?" the waiter asked.

"Salad," said my grandpa.

"What kind of dressing?"

"What kind do you have?"

The waiter listed the options and my grandpa chose bleu cheese. My grandma raised another eyebrow.

While we waited for our dinner to come, I played keno and mention was made of how surprising grandpa's choice of entree was. I figured he just had a hankering for some fish. What did I know? My grandma, now with both eyebrows pointing toward the heavens, just sat and shook her head (they've been married 65 years; she might know a thing or two about him).

The salad came and my grandpa began eating it. At some point he asked "Why'd they call it blue?" and my uncle replied "It has little blue specks in it sometimes." This seemed to satisfy my grandpa and he finished the salad without incident.

When our entrees came, the waiter placed my grandpa's salmon in front of him. My grandpa said "Why'd he bring this?"

That's when the trouble began.

Grandma: "That's what you ordered, honey."

Grandpa: Silent

Grandma (to me): "Ew. I can smell that fish from over here." (she's notorious for her dislike of seafood).

Grandpa: Silently cuts up his salmon

As more conversation about the salmon followed, my grandpa reached for the salt shaker and began sprinkling it all over his fish.

"Dad!" my uncle said. "You're not allowed to have any salt."

"Salt is good for you," grandpa replied.

"That's one thing the doctor said, you can't have any salt."

My grandpa returned to silence as the rest of us began eating our own meals. A few moments later, he placed his fork over his fish and pushed the plate away from him.

"Father," grandma said. "Aren't you going to eat that?"

"I'm not hungry."

"Well you ordered it, you have to eat it."

"It's okay," I said. "He doesn't have to eat it if he doesn't want to."

Meanwhile, my grandpa began tearing the lids off of the thimble-sized containers of half & half and drinking them.

"Grandpa," I said, "Do you want me to buy you a glass of milk?"

"No, these are good," he said.

Now I have to stop here and mention that normally, this sort of wanton display would have mortified me. And yet, as the waiter approached us, watching with horror as my grandpa sucked down the mini-containers of cream, I felt totally okay with the situation. This, I think, is what parents must feel when their children act out or do otherwise embarrassing things. You love them, and you just deal with it.

I addressed the table. "I kind of feel like somehow, this train has run off the tracks."

The waiter looked at me, then at the salmon, apologetically. "You want me to take this?" he motioned. I nodded. Before he left the table, my aunt spoke to my grandpa.

"Daddy, do you want some apple pie with ice cream?"

"Sure," grandpa said.

"Will you eat it?"

"Yeah, I'll eat as much as I want of it."

This could have meant one bite or the entire plate. I decided to take the chance.

Me (to the waiter): "Do you have apple pie?"

Waiter: "We sure do."

Me: "Bring him some apple pie and ice cream, please."

Waiter (taking the salmon away): "I'll take this off the check for you."

Me: "Oh, and can I have another glass of wine?"

My grandpa did, in fact, eat every bite of his apple pie and ice cream. At one point he did begin eating it with his fingers and my aunt said "Daddy, use your fork." Having had enough I said "Really, who cares how he eats it?" And my grandpa piped up and said "Fingers were the first utensils!"

Gpa_maddie
My grandpa with my cousin Maddie

I just realized I haven't posted once in the month of August. This is my half-assed attempt to remedy that.

Lately, I've had a lot of trouble shutting my brain up. It's always a problem, but for the last few days, it's impossible. My mind is going a mile a minute, jumping from one thing to the next, and I'm unable to concentrate on the task at hand, which of course, is the book.

Of course, Restless Mind Syndrome is not new to me. In my early twenties, I wrote a poem that included this line:

"Even in the center of the bustling crowd, the screams in my head remain ever loud."

Right now those screams are pretty much blocking out everything else.

I used to go for a run when things got this bad. The fatigue seemed to have a calming effect. But at the moment I'm unable to do any sort of exercise that demands that much physically. A glass of wine helps, but frankly, I have to drink more than a glass to get the desired effect.

So I turn to you, gentle reader, for advice on how to turn off those voices. What do you do when you're having trouble concentrating? A hot bath? A shot of whiskey? A run on the treadmill? Tell me what works for you.

The one thing I've been told over and over again since having my ACL surgery is "You can't fall." Doing so would mean the delightful new ACL they installed might fail, and as my surgeon told me, "I've never had a fail, and I don't want you to be the first." Thanks, dude. Way to put the pressure on.

I've pretty much lived my whole life trying to avoid falling, and have been largely successful (the ski accident that caused the ACL tear in the first place notwithstanding). But there's something about being told you absolutely cannot do something that makes the possibility that it will happen seem so much more likely.

So these days, most of my time is spent making sure I don't fall.

Of course, I only mention this because I wanted to post this video of Colin Farrell (my boyfriend) and Jeff Bridges (my sugar daddy) performing this great song from the movie CRAZY HEART:

But what about my writing, you ask? I've been a busy bee! Somewhere in the midst of my revision I realized I'd lost control of my plot so I took a few days to write up summaries of each chapter so I'd have a quick reference as I go forward. In retrospect I should have done that earlier in the revision process but luckily, falling down while writing a manuscript is a lot less risky than when you've just had surgery, as long as you pick yourself up and keep going.

The summaries are basic. At the top of each page I put the date, time, and location of the scene, then followed up with a brief description of what happens. I ended them by including who is introduced in each chapter and who is referenced (not actually in the scene, but mentioned by another character). I'm hoping this will make it easier to keep track of who is mentioned where since I kept finding myself putting notes in my documents that said "Check when this character is introduced" or some such thing.

So that's it. Time to get to work!