Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Friends

Procrastination, or Why I’m a Bad Friend

Over the years, I have purchased a remarkable number of items that were intended to be gifts for other people. I have one such item on my desk right now — a white owl I purchased at the end of September. I intended to mail it to a friend whom I believed would enjoy it, yet here it sits. I promised another friend a pan of brownies months ago…I hope she understands when they show up around Christmas. I suppose this proves that I am, in fact, a terrible friend.

I have stacks of greeting cards purchased for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy, and “just thinking of you.” Does it count that I have thought of these people without actually telling them? I tend to think it doesn’t. On the plus side, my lack of follow-through means that I automatically assume that everyone else is equally forgetful about actually mailing their greetings. I will never sit around wondering why this or that friend failed to send me a card; instead, I am thrilled to get any cards at all!

For those of you who still consider me a friend, please know that I think of you more often than you could ever realize. I reminisce about Ella and Emma at least once a week. I even think about calling — but then I look at the clock and know that they are working. Every time I step into a drugstore, I peruse the cards and find something perfect for one of the many women who have impacted my life — and I usually buy it with the intention of sending them a nice note. But it’s easier to hop on Facebook and read their posts, to leave them a “like” or a comment just so they know I’m still paying attention. The card is added to the stack in my desk drawer. Someday, when my niece clears out my house after I’m gone, she is going to think that I collected blank greeting cards.

I’d like to think that there’s a reason why so many of my cards don’t actually make it to the people I intend them to reach. Maybe those people would think I was ridiculously sentimental. Maybe they would even think I was stalking them. I’m not, of course. Who has that kind of time? But maybe their kindness made a bigger impression on me than it did on them. Maybe those items bought for others are really for me to keep and remember them by after they have left my life.

Probably not. But I think I’m keeping the owl.

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Who knows?

Why I Love the Boss

As I occasionally mention here, I’m a novelist. I have a small but loyal publisher and a small but loyal following of readers. I’m not the kind of novelist who gets a lot of attention these days — primarily because my genre of choice tends to be something called “literary fiction.” Most people, when they hear those words, immediately put my books in the “only read when suffering from insomnia” category. They are wrong of course, but they won’t know it until one of my books has kept them up all night.

The main reason I’m mentioning my avocation today is to point out that very few writers ever achieve the status of self-supporting novelist. That’s not to say it’s not a worthy goal — it’s just unlikely. It’s a little like winning the lottery, though the pool of players is considerably smaller.  For an indie author, the burden of finding editors and artists can be ridiculously time-consuming and expensive, which is why so many of them opt not to pay for those services. Instead, they do their best to edit their own work and rely heavily on their (usually limited) artistic skills to create the cover art. When their book reaches Amazon, it looks and reads exactly like what it is: amateurish. And then they are surprised when their book doesn’t immediately become a best seller.

The best that most of us can hope for is to win the support of a publisher — a group of people who will make it their goal to see our words in print. The greatest benefit of having a publisher is knowing that someone else is worrying about the details of prettying up your manuscript — including editing and layout. The support they provide allows you to move on and start writing your next novel.

The biggest myth about publishers of any size is that they have a team of publicists devoted to selling your book. THEY DON’T. Simply put, no publisher has the budget to assign a publicist to all of their authors. Ninety percent of the burden of building an audience always falls on the author — unless you happen to be Stephen King. And even Stephen King wasn’t always STEPHEN KING.

So, thank you, Jo Lowe. You made my dream come true. As the founder of Inknbeans Press, you accepted my novels and have continued to be one of my most vocal cheerleaders over the last several years. Thanks to you (and my readers), I continue to write. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a lottery winner one day soon.

In a perfect world…

Meandering through the Last Days of Summer

My parental units are finally off on their long-delayed summer vacation. Mom’s arms are sufficiently healed for her to get in and out of their RV and she hasn’t fallen in a few weeks, so I’m crossing my fingers and toes that they will have a nice trip. Of course, their original destination of Alaska is on hold for now — the window for Far North travel has closed for the season. Nevertheless, they are making the best of things and planning to visit family in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, Dan and I continue to dream about a trip to the British Isles. Our previous trip abroad only whetted our appetite for more foreign vacations. Years ago, just after my first trip to Italy, I purchased a round-trip ticket to Heathrow. I was going alone — I figured I’d be fine since I understood the language. Unfortunately, about a month before I was supposed to go, my maternal grandfather died. I just didn’t have the heart for the trip after that. I ended up spending a week with my best friend Ella* and her family in Florida instead. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t go; when Dan and I eventually make it there, the city will be new to both of us. With any luck, we’ll be able to carve out the funds for the trip within the next year or two.

Fall is nearly upon us. Beta Sigma Phi has started again, and I’m glad to see my sorority sisters. In a week and a half, I’ll be at the Beta Sigma Phi convention being held at Casino Arizona. I’m going to sell some books to support my chapter. Nikki and I are the only two attending from Eta Delta, but I know we’ll have fun — we always have fun when we’re together!

My apologies for this meandering, newsy post. I’ll try to come up with something more cohesive next week. Until then, Dear Reader, live life like you mean it.

*Not her real name. 🙂

One of Dan’s and my favorite paintings.

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

So, a year ago tomorrow I set out to write a blog about…well…as it turns out, being me: a forty-something Arizonan who writes novels. The biggest surprise to me is that I have actually met my goal of writing posts twice a week. In fact, this is the 104th entry. If you’ve been reading me since the beginning, thank you for spending a few minutes each week with me. I appreciate it. Even if you’ve never commented, you are still a valued reader — and I hope you think of me as something almost like a friend.

Unless you really are my friend, in which case you should continue to think of me as an actual, real-life friend.

I spent this ridiculously hot summer day (118 degrees, y’all — that’s sidewalk-skillet heat) in Scottsdale with my lovely friend, Nikki. We went to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Camelview 5 before doing a little shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square. By the way, if you have the opportunity to see this little Joss Whedon-directed gem, do so. I have to admit that the modern-day setting did create a bit of dissonance for me, but the talent of the actors and the quality of the film itself more than made up for that. Also, having seen the Branagh film many times as well as a stage performance or two meant that I spent part of the time mentally comparing the Whedon version to the versions that came before. Nikki, who was unfamiliar with the Shakespearean comedy, enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

I’m also pleased to note that my family has recently taken on a new business endeavor. I’ll tell you more about that later. Tonight, take a moment and watch the trailer for the Branagh version. It’s still the best version I’ve ever seen — sorry, Joss.

Birthday Dental Appointments are a Bad Idea

My grandmother turned 86 yesterday. She also scheduled a dental appointment that made her mouth hurt.

“Why did you schedule a dental appointment on your birthday?” I asked when I finished singing to her (I always call and sing to her on her birthday — you’d think she’d stop answering my calls on June 25th).

“I forgot.”

Really? Does that happen? I mean, I frequently forget how old I am (I’m either 41 or 42…I think), but I always remember when the actual birthday is because of, well, the presents. It’s not that I’m greedy, but I do love to get presents. There are exactly three days during the year that I expect presents: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and my birthday. Therefore, it seems incredibly unlikely that I will ever forget my birthday.

In any case, Dan and I will be taking her a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza tomorrow night. Mom and Dad are bringing a rum cake. That’s right — we’re party animals.

***

I think it’s only right to acknowledge this historic moment. Anyone who has read my books has probably figured out that I support the gay-marriage movement. I believe everyone should have the right to promise to spend forever with their partner — in any combination of genders that works for them. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees. When will we as humans learn that it’s never a good idea to step on someone else’s rights in an effort to enforce a (insert religion here) agenda? We don’t live in a theocracy. No matter what the Founding Fathers had in mind, the United States of the 21st Century is a multi-cultural democracy with no “official” religion. I thank God for that — and, if you live in the U.S., you can thank the same deity or any other one you might prefer.

Love is in bloom.

Fat Girl Running

Nearly 25 years ago, I had the great good fortune of being assigned to the same college dorm as Kristann Monaghan. I was a fairly quiet, naive sixteen year old from Arizona. She was eighteen and, at least from my perspective, quite the opposite. She had a big personality, even back then. She always played the best pranks, had the wildest adventures, and told the most exciting stories. And, on top of it all, she had — and still has — the most joyful smile of anyone I’ve ever met. At the time, I wished I could be more like her; failing that, I wanted to be her roommate.

So, in our second year of college, we were roommates — for about two months. As I recall, she had the best collection of posters, including a Murphy’s Law graphic that took several minutes to read. It wasn’t long before our differences became too much for either of us to bear. When a single room became available, I moved out — but, thankfully, we remained friends.

Fast forward a couple decades. Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with quite a few of my college friends, including Stann. I became an author — a profession some would say is perfect for an observant, if occasionally gullible, woman. Kristann, a former ballerina, is now a slightly heavy PICU nurse with one of the most consistently funny blogs I have ever read. Her words routinely make me giggle uncontrollably. In many ways, she is the living embodiment of that Murphy’s Law sign that used to grace our shared room in college: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Hilariously wrong. But it’s only funny because Kristann — our heroine — can laugh at herself. And no matter how wrong life goes, she just keeps on running…because that’s the only way a self-proclaimed “fat girl” can get to where she ultimately wants to be.

Congratulations on your first book, Kristann. I’m so pleased that you are sharing your wild adventures and exciting stories with the world.

Run, don’t walk, to buy this book. Visit the Inknbeans website for the links to The Running Experiment: A Weekly Walk Away from the Sofa.

It's a Cottey thing...

It’s a Cottey thing…

Crista

A few months ago, my sister-in-law asked me if she was in any of my novels. I answered, somewhat cryptically, that everyone I know shows up in my writing somewhere.

“Where?” Crista demanded. “Which book? I want to read it.”

“Nowhere specific. Little pieces of you are probably in everything I’ve written.”

She glared at me in frustration.

“Would you prefer that I create a character exactly like you and call you out by name?”

“Yes.”

Crista has been a part of my world for a number of years now, though we only started growing our friendship within the last six months or so. I admire her for a number of things, not the least of which is her initial choice to date my brother-in-law in the first place. You see, Dan and I live next door to his brother Dave. In a lot of people’s books, that’s just one crazy-town step away from living at home — and everyone knows you shouldn’t date anyone over 25 who still lives at home. Honestly, it might have given me pause if Dave had been Dan’s neighbor when we first started dating. But she knew a good guy when she saw one. She’s also the best hostess I’ve ever known personally. She makes me look like a rude b*tch…okay, probably not that difficult, but still.

In April, she and I went to Disneyland, sans husbands. The Bennett boys aren’t exactly Walt’s biggest fans. Crista had only been once, long before she met Dave. We had a great time (I wrote a bit about it here). Recently, when I was visiting Mom in the hospital after she broke her second arm, I ran into some friends of my parents — a couple who have known me since I was a child. Apparently, the wife had spotted someone who looked like me in Disneyland, but I was with “some Asian chick” she didn’t recognize instead of Dan. She put it down to a doppelganger until my parents mentioned I had recently been there.

Excuse me? That’s no Asian chick — that’s my sister-in-law!

So there you are, Crista — called out by name. Happy Birthday, “Coach.” Love you lots.

She's the one in the middle, if you're confused.

She’s the one in the middle, if you’re confused.

Saturday Morning

Saturday morning and it’s growing light.
I look out my window and remember the night.
The story is starting and this story ends
And I feel like I need you again.

The verse above is from the song “Saturday Morning.” This is the song that’s playing on a loop in my head today. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just been that kind of a month — a month when I am missing people who are no long accessible to me. (And yes, I am a huge Harry Chapin fan, despite the fact that he died a few years before I even discovered his music.)

One of those people I am missing is a youth minister named Jerry. He and I once lived together — along with half a dozen other people, including my first husband. No, it wasn’t like whatever you may be thinking, unless you are imagining a really crowded house filled with some of the funniest and best people I know. Scott and I had our own bedroom, but I don’t actually remember where Jerry was sleeping. The living room sofa? The bedroom that was eventually used for Ella’s baby? I just don’t know. Anyway, at some point Jerry realized that I couldn’t walk past the chess board that sat atop on old piano in the dining room without straightening the pieces. After that, he made it his sacred duty to give me something to straighten, just so that he could laugh up his sleeve at my OC tendencies. One evening I came home late to find everyone in the dining room eating dinner (or playing a board game — I can’t remember for sure). One of the pieces on the chess board was on its side; naturally, I stopped to correct the problem. Everyone burst out laughing, since Jerry had guaranteed them that I would stop and straighten the chess pieces. I’m sure I must have blushed when I realized that he was right — I couldn’t leave a chess board messy. After that, I averted my eyes from the board whenever anyone was around.

Jerry has been gone for years now. He left a big hole in the lives of those who knew him. I’m starting to recognize that every death leaves a hole. I’m worried that I’ll feel like Swiss cheese in a few decades.

Cameras Will Steal Your Soul

One unexpected consequence of joining Beta Sigma Phi has been the proliferation of photos of me. Now, for a woman who has spent much of her adult life staying out of pictures, this can be quite distressing. I am not the prettiest woman in the crowd, but I have carefully honed my mental image of myself. I think I am elegant and interesting; photographs, however, generally make me look like Andre the Giant’s ugly sister.

Nevertheless, I have obediently stood up or sat down for pictures at least twice a month since September. The best angle for me — as with most people cursed with a double chin — is from above. Unfortunately, the Beta Sigma Phi photographers are almost always at least six inches shorter than me. Since I am so tall, I am invariably made to stand in the back, where my chin and I hover over everyone else.

In a few years, there will be enough pictures of me to create a flipbook of my aging process. But that’s okay as long as every once in a while, a good picture is accidentally created. At the swap meet a few weeks ago, once such picture magically appeared. And it happens to be a good one of my sorority sisters too. Go figure.

 

Most of Eta Delta. For those of you who can’t figure it out, I’m in the center.

Foodie Heaven

On Saturday, Nikki and I went to the inaugural Food Truck Festival at Park Central in downtown Phoenix. I’d been wanting to try a food truck for a while now; Eat Street makes them look so appealing! I wasn’t sure how Phoenix’s offerings would stack up against those showcased from different cities, but we were both pleasantly surprised.

About twenty food trucks and carts were arranged along the perimeter of the tarmac set aside for the event. We took our time and checked each menu before making any decisions about what we wanted to eat. The trucks sold everything from fry bread (a Native American specialty) to Filipino food. After our first trip around the circle, we had our choiced narrowed down.

We both started with a single street taco from the Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos cart. Mine had pork carnitas topped with a sweet potato and pineapple chutney. Unbelievably great! Nikki chose the vegetarian option, which featured marinated mushroom pieces. She was equally impressed. If you have a chance to try Carte Blanche, we highly recommend it!

My main course was a pork curry from the Spice It Up truck. It didn’t disappoint either. The curry had just enough kick and the flavor of the coconut really came through. The only problem I encountered was that the hot dish made me even warmer than I already was. Nikki had a fry bread concoction called D$. It had white beans and a mild green chile chicken topped with salad greens. She said it was good, and it must have been — she ate the whole thing! Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of that truck. If you see a bling-y fry-bread truck on a Phoenix road, that’s probably the right one. (I’m pretty sure this is the right one: Emerson Fry Bread.)

For dessert, we bought fruit popcicles from the Paletas Betty cart. Paletas Betty has quite a reputation in Phoenix — I’ve read about them in at least two local magazines. They didn’t disappoint, either. I had the coconut and Nikki had the pineapple. Both of them had plenty of actual fruit in them and were the perfect ending to our foodie indulgence on a hot spring day.

There were only two disappointments. One was the lack of seating provided for the event. There must have been a few hundred people there at any given time, but only a few awnings and tables were provided. The second was that the arts and crafts portion of the event didn’t live up to its potential. Apparently, the organizers were only able to sell space to two or three vendors in that vein. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes.

I look forward to attending next year!

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