Saturday, October 24, 2009

You Scream I Scream

My nineteen year old son has been staying with us while he works on clearing out the mess of ugly overgrown plants so we can put down some sod in the backyard. He decided he wanted to make ice cream, (it got hot again and he was out there dreaming of milkshakes while he toiled away in the hot sun), so we went to Kitchen Fantasy, (a nifty store if ever there was one), and purchased an ice cream maker. He's become a mad scientist! The first batch was chocolate hazelnut, made with Nutella, and roasted hazelnuts, yummy. Last night we went over to his brother's house and he made coffee ice cream, (he used Starbucks new Via microground coffee for flavoring), with brownie bits, (gluten free so I could eat them), and slivered almond sprinkles. Next on the menu: pomagranate sorbet! Have a fabulous weekend I know we will!

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coffee House People

For those of you that don’t already know, (I’ve written a bit about it here), I used to own a coffee house in Southern California. I sold the business though, and the new proprietor ran it into the ground. Now, it’s a Starbucks.

Owning such an establishment suited me to a “T”. I loved everything about running and operating the place, especially the cast of characters that flocked to the long bar I had built. I hired my two nieces and other family members and friends. We literally had a full on European-style espresso bar where clientele could watch the barista at work.

Today I’ll tell you about a strange ranger named Paul; he used to come in at least three times a week for breakfast. I knew to make his hash browns extra-extra crispy. He drank our JOLT! Blend coffee straight up, cup after cup, with no sugar and no cream. As time went by Paul grew comfortable and became more outgoing. One day he surprised my niece when he dropped by in the afternoon and ordered a smoothie. More talkative than usual, he informed her that he had been in the CIA, but was now retired. His name wasn’t Paul at all. He had been sworn to secrecy by the powers that be, he must keep his true identity under wraps, and consequently hadn’t seen a single-family member in over thirty years. He had no friends. No people. It was a lonely life.

When my niece told me what he’d said, including the revelation that he’d been responsible for the deaths of many an evildoer out to do our country harm, I told her he was surely nothing but a crackpot. “He’s just an old guy trying to impress a pretty young girl,” I insisted. “I think old Paul’s read too many spy thrillers.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think he’s telling the truth.”

Paul, I suspected, knew that I would have presented a more skeptical audience, because in the morning when I was within earshot he never talked about the CIA, or mercenaries, or Russian spies, or any sort of subterfuge. He saved his tales of intrigue and terror for the afternoons, after I had left to pick my kids up from school. My two nieces and their friends made for rapt and gullible listeners.

“Auntie,” my niece divulged, in the most concerned voice, “Paul has stomach cancer. It’s spreading too.”

“No way!” I blurted out. “He wouldn’t be able to drink all that coffee or eat those extra-extra crispy hash browns the way he does.”

“Why are you always putting him down? Why don’t you like him?” I’d hurt her feelings and I hadn’t meant to.

The next day I whipped up Paul’s breakfast, and after serving him I took a seat on the next stool over. He told me that he was preparing to travel to Mexico, to a spa where they cured seriously ill people with great success and regularity. For a man with stomach cancer he didn’t look all that sick. He was thin, but not gaunt. His coloring was fine. I felt certain he was full of baloney and making stuff up to gain sympathy and attention.

Meanwhile, the girls were growing closer and closer to their new friend. They went over to his little house for dinner, where he served them lobster lasagna and homemade garlic bread. At the end of the evening, as they were preparing to depart, he informed them that he was leaving for Mexico the next day, and…if he didn’t come back he had left a will with his lawyer stipulating that he was leaving the two of them everything he owned. Naturally, they broke out in tears and assured Paul that they just knew he would get better.

When my nieces told me about what he’d said, I kept my reservations about the credulity of his trip and the reasons for it. Positive he was merely going on a vacation and playing the sympathy card to the hilt.

Paul returned a month later. Pronounced he was cured and cancer free. He kept right on eating crispy hash browns and drinking black coffee and telling his tales. All these years later I hear he’s still alive and well.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


See the red picture? That's how your non-writing family and friends live their lives. They face a ladder leading where they want to go and simply climb up rung by rung.

See the yellow Picture? You writers reach that much-sought-after summit, after you've begun the book, introduced your characters, added in the spice of complications, action, conflict. Now you reach the climax at at long last! You stand at the precipice, feeling high on power and accomplishment.

But, you haven't written the hardest part yet kiddo. You face that final descent, the reader must encounter an engaging but believable turning point. And, you absolutely must create that crucial final suspense before bringing them home to a satisfying ending.

(I won't even bother going into the fact that you must re-climb the ladder for re-writes and editing, God knows how many times. That goes without saying.)

When, at last you've finished, it's whew-I-did-it-jubilation-time! Yay! But hold on now, look ahead, you face another daunting ladder leading up. You must find readers. That's the point, finding willing souls to read what you've written. Mercy, now that's another whole ball of wax. Hope you have strong legs.

I want to let you know I am a guess blogger over at K.'s place. She's a wonderful person, a doctor, a mother, and she finds time to write and post Fine Art Fridays on top of the bargain. Here's the link, K.'s Blog.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For The Love of McCorkle

I can't imagine how it happened, or should I say didn't happen? But, I had never heard of Jill McCorkle until I was in bed a few nights ago, (where I do the majority of my reading), poking through Amazon on my Kindle, looking for a short story collection of interest. I found Ms. McCorkle's Going Away Shoes and promptly downloaded the first chapter for free. (My favorite part of owning a Kindle.) After reading that incredible first paragraph I thought, who is amazing Jill McCorkle, and why don't I know about her? I bought Going Away Shoes and read it in two nights. Then I bought, Creatures of Habit, and the second book was as good as the first. Yay! I just bought her novel, Ferris Beach, and I'll start reading that one tonight. Have you ever done this? Discovered an author and fallen head over heels, so much so, that you read everything they'd written that you could get your hands on?

Jill McCorkle is the author of eight previous books—three story collections and five novels—five of which have been selected as New York Times Notable Books. She is the winner of the New England Book Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She teaches writing at North Carolina State University and lives with her husband in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The World According to Flexible Old Me

I was listening to a woman this weekend and was struck by how adamantly she voiced her fervent preferences to a room full of strangers. Opinions flowed from her mouth in a steady stream without any constraint. Opinions, such as: she would only EVER drink red wine—never white! Huh? While I will admit, there are many lovely reds; I could never discount a nice glass of chilled Chardonnay, or a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio on a summer day, no way.

Nobody could EVER convince her to travel outside The United States of America. EVER. For any reason. Huh? Not even Canada? And she’d deny herself The British Isles, France, Italy, Africa, Australia, and the Far East? Just because she wouldn’t feel safe? Hey, I don’t feel that all-fired safe in certain parts of L.A., and I still venture there. Isn’t playing it safe an illusion anyway?

Her most outlandish statement—the one that I couldn’t help but respond to—she made mention of visiting a friend of a friend’s house in Pasadena, a Mid-Century home above the Arroyo Seco. “Why,” she said, scowling as if she were discussing decomposing garbage, “anyone with so much money would buy THAT monstrosity is beyond me. I mean those people could afford any number of the historical homes available in the area, like a Spanish stucco, or a nice craftsman, a Victorian, anything but that modern, boring, stark, cold box.

I took a breath, considered keeping my nose out of the conversation, but wouldn’t you know it, I ignored my inner Miss Manners and said, “But…I could see why they’d choose Mid-Century. In fact, I know The Husband and I would have a hard time making our minds up. We have such a great appreciation of so many differing types of architecture. I guess we’d have to make our decision based on setting, location, and personal fit, rather than what particular style the house was. Well…that is…I’m going with the premise that cost would not present such limitations. Wouldn’t that be something?”

She looked at me as if I had said I might move into a trailer park, (and what if I had?) “The thing is,” I said, continuing on, in an attempt to drive my point home, “I wouldn’t EVER say never about moving anywhere. The older I get, the more open-minded I’ve become. I’m more flexible.”

“Not me,” she said adamantly, her mouth reduced to a tight, thin, albeit glossy line. I felt kind of bad. I could have kept my thoughts to myself. I could have let her hold court and keep her illusion of how it should be intact. My response had triggered a deluge of emotion. She threw her head back in defiance and declared, “Sorry. But, I know exactly what I want and I won’t take anything less. I know what I like and I’m not about to waste any time. I stay focused. It’s important to be focused! That’s how I see it.”

Perhaps her use of the word focused was inappropriate? Maybe she meant fixed? If anything, I am a focused human being, but ultimately flexible. I remain open to re-interpretation when it comes to pursuing and bringing to fruition goals and desires. My objectives aren’t set in stone.

This applies to writing too. I begin with an outline. I almost always know exactly who my main character, or secondary characters are, and what the events necessary to set the story in motion will be, and I usually know the outcome, but I’m willing to let events unfold that I didn’t anticipate. I won’t hold the plot or characters to my previous vision just because I am too fixed to see beyond my original framework. I have to say—some of my best stuff materializes when I least expect it. Why fight the feeling? The best part about writing, (especially with a computer), is that delete key. Just because I come up with something doesn’t mean I have to keep it. In fact, sometimes the unexpected leads me somewhere I wouldn’t have ventured otherwise. The story is a journey, and I’m willing to travel down side roads, just as long as I get to a desirable, if not stupendous destination.

(That’s a picture of my eyeball at the top of the page, sans make-up (sorry guys), taken way up close with my cell phone just now, because I knew it would come out all blurry. I wanted to illustrate the focus/fixed theme with a picture. You know, the world as I see it kind of a thing? All imperfect and ambiguous, liquid and full of possibilities.)

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.