Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa's Secret Shopper

Christmas Table

We all agreed: No presents this year! And then, in a fit and flurry of festivity, someone went to Target and picked up a dozen "soft" gifts (jammies, t-shirts, socks, etc), figuring "they don't count."

OK, so, we gave that person a pass because she spent hours gift wrapping and placed the goodies under our actually very pretty little Christmas tree. She even wrapped the ones from me to her! It was enormously festive, I never set foot in a mall (or even a store), the "shopper" loves all her gifts (because she picked them out), and there are no returns. 'Twas a Night Before Christmas win/win!

Happy Holiday to all our friends and families!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Hello, Olive

We lost a top branch of one of our beautiful Pepper trees by mid-morning, but they are (relatively) fast growers, and we were more concerned with our four olive trees, including, Olive, our first Olive tree, planted five years ago when we bought our new house. So far...all Olives are accounted for and surviving.

All my babies!

Just in time for SNOW DAY, I got a cold, Karyn had to try to save "the babies" (her trees and plants) in her snow suit while I played with the video camera from the safety and dryness of the garage. Isn't she cute! And Teddy! He's two on 12/25.

So Snow?

Last week it was 85 and sunny. Today? Even the old-timers say this is a record snowfall for the High Desert. Freeways closed, police escorts on the few open roads, officials asking for emergency vehicles only, telling people to stay home. Huh? I am so home!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Endeavour Has Landed in the High Desert!

I was about 75 miles from home, today, when a VERY LOUD BOOM rattled windows and nerves---we thought it was an earthquake, at first, and we were in a glass and steel building (far more glass than steel it always seems). So, I called home. For two days the land lines have been out, so when I call Karyn, I do it on her cell phone. I called: "Did you hear that?" I asked. She hadn't heard it...yet. But she did sound as though she were on the speaker phone in her car. She said she'd call me back as she was trying to snap a picture of the shuttle, but she neglected to say where she was (I'm thinking she's in the back yard). So she said she'd call me back in a few. Only after she quickly hung up did I wonder how she knew about the shuttle since she hadn't heard the boom!
Turns out she had just heard on the tv that the shuttle Endeavour was going to land At Edwards AFB, a half hour from where we live. The announcer said the shuttle would be visible from the corner of X and Z, so Karyn jumped in her clothers, grabbed her camera and drove out to the intersection of X and Z to snap a photo of Endeavour to surprise me with something to put on my blog! She met quite a few people with the same idea, and one of the men had a telephoto lens. For now, we just have the digital Canon, but, isn't it cool! This is almost as good as weather. As for the big Boom---Karyn did hear it about 30 seconds after she got off that phone call from me!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three Months Ago Today

Three months ago today (August 20,2008), it was the eve of our wedding. We forgot our first and second month anniversary and had to be reminded (thanks Azteclady!).

So for our third month wedding anniversary, I wanted to surprise my beloved, Karyn, (on the right, without sunglasses) with one of my favorite pictures from the actual day, August 21st.  On the eve of our wedding, we had our sisters at our home, and everyone was in such a state of excitement, I almost can't remember it. Just kidding---of course I remember! I think we did four or five dress rehearsals throughout the house. And then, the next day, when we went to the Beverly Hills courthouse, we got a very big surprise. The place was packed! We got a fabulous Judge who actually gave a 'sermon' of sorts. For a while I thought I was in a tent revival ("You will honor one another!). 

Why yes, yes, we will. Every day of our lives. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fire Report--All is well here.

Here's quick shot of the freeway this morning---dark smoke, sunshine and you can't see it, but huge flames behind that hill. The fire is 30 miles from us, so thanks to all who were concerned, including MzAzteclady. We are keeping a close eye on it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Do you want to see our rain?

"Oh, honey, no one wants to look at our rain!"

But see, it's not just "looking at our rain." It's the before, during and after of a desert rain, a micro burst really, with the fresh, vibrant smell of wet grasses that smell like wet hay fields in the Midwest, and it's the "Hi! I'm happy living here" attitude of the flowers, the plants and the trees in our yard. It's me loving weather and recording it for all to see. 

It's...OK, I'll go with no one wants to look at our rain, but how 'bout that desert, that yard, those colors and those big as icicles raindrops! Well, those big raindrops don't really show through (sorry!), but if you double click on the slide show, you can see the colors that the rain brings out in the high desert. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

4,851,132 Thank Yous!

Thank you to every one of the 4,851,132 people who voted No on Proposition 8 (with 99% of precincts reporting). To our families, our friends, our neighbors: Your vote DID count! We appreciate your support---you'll never really know what a personal victory it has been for Karyn and me to have our families behind us. And to our friends...well, you're the best!

There is more work to be done and more friends to make...I'm sure we can find enough new friends among the 5,344.012 who voted Yes on Prop 8!!

It was very interesting to see how the actual votes played out. In some places, we fared better than anyone would have previously thought. In little Mono County, we only lost by 553 votes. In Karyn's family's home county, Lake County, we only lost by a little over 1000 votes! And in our county of Los Angeles, we lost by only 20,806 votes.

A lot of progress has been made in the past 10 years, even more in the past five. A lot of hearts and minds have been won, and we need to build on that very strong base. I think it's fair to intuit that no one who voted No on Prop 8 was ambivalent---but I know many people who voted yes who were ambivalent. The money spent by certain religious factions, (including the one I was raised in, the Catholic Church, via its Knights of Columbus group), brought in far more money earlier than the No on 8 people; we should have anticipated that, and the fervor that went with it, and met the opposition with a stronger campaign. The lies that were told in those Yes on 8 advertisements have to be met with truth and education. We have our work cut out for us.

We were disappointed, but not demoralized; we are eventually going to have the right to marry legalized for all gay people because I believe the fundamental issue is one of equal access to civil rights. There may be a few really bad hair days between now and then, but hey, we've got all the best stylists!

Thank you, everyone, and stay tuned!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Our Wedding Day, 21 August 2008

TOP LEFT: TT and Karyn
TOP CENTER: Karyn with impromptu flowergirls, Liza and Emma
TOP RIGHT: TT'S sister, Mary, Witness, Cheerleader, Celebrity Greeter
MIDDLE LEFT: Love...and Bling. Yes!
MIDDLE CENTER: If that's my driver, I've so got a ticket to ride!
MIDDLE RIGHT: The lovely wedding party, with half of TT
LOWER LEFT: TT and sister Mary...see the resemblance!
LOWER MIDDLE: The ever lovely Karyn
LOWER RIGHT: TT needs to sit down for a minute.

And, above, to the immediate left: Kimberly, Karyn's sister, witness, partaker, makeup artiste, wardrobe coordinator, too much fun!
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Thought you might like to see some pictures from our special day. I believe if you double click on the collage, the pictures get bigger...or is that just my head? Thanks to everyone who was there and to all our families and friends who were there in spirit. We love you.

Mildred and Richard Loving: The History

Miscegenation: "The mixing or interbreeding of (people of) different races or ethnic groups, esp. the interbreeding or sexual union of whites and non-whites..." From the Oxford English Dictionary

Mildred Loving was 67 years old when she wrote the statement below. She died, a year later, on May2, 2008.

Ironically, Mildred Jeter Loving was part Rappahannock Indian and part Cherokee as well as Black. Her husband, Richard Loving, died when his car was hit by a drunk driver in 1975; in that same accident, Mrs. Loving lost the sight in one eye. The Lovings had three children, one of whom died in 2000.

Maryland had the first antimiscegenation statutes, in 1661, and a year later, Virginia passed similarlaws banning interracial marriage. At various times in our history, 38 states had miscegenation laws.

In 1948 the California Supreme Court overturned California’s law, although prior to that, in all states that had such laws, the State and Federal courts consistently upheld the miscegenation prohibitions. Anti-Miscegenation laws, which prevent interracial marriage, have an even more profound effect than any other segregation laws because they make the marriage void from its inception. Consequently, children from such marriages were considered illegitimate, spouses had no inheritance rights, and heirs could not receive death benefits.

Loving for All
By Mildred Loving

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn't to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn't get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn't allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn't that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the "crime" of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.

The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile. We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn't have to fight alone.Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," a "basic civil right."

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry.

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.


Thank you, we'd love to stay married!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Desert Weenie's 1:00 a.m. Guest(s)

Why am I sitting here, in the library, with both pugs, at one in the morning? Because Karyn is outside in the backyard with Animal Control looking for a very long, thick rattlesnake with a bunch of rattles on his (or her) tail about 4 inches long. Two years ago, almost to the day, we lost our CharlieGirl pug, 13 years old, pretty deaf and not seeing so good, to a rattlesnake in the same backyard.

Tonight, Karyn let Teddy Valentine, our young pug, out the sliding glass door for his evening romp in the grass and, oh, while you're out there, do your business. The pug takes off like a shot, out the door, scaring the snake into a rattling, hissing meanie with a bad attitude. Karyn is standing at the door and thinks she hears the sprinklers coming on...uh no, they came on at 8:30, just like they're programmed to do. She looks out across the spa and pool area, and out of the corner of her eye, she sees Mr. Slither's big bunch of rattles making a beeline for the side of the house.

Karyn, who is not a desert weenie, lets out a guttural-sounding howl, (OK, that's what it sounded like from my safe position in the library on the other side of the house surfing the web for something interesting---it's always right in front of your eyes, isn't it?). Actually, she was calling Teddy's name. He was so shocked that he ran back across the length of the backyard and into her arms, whereupon both of them hopped over the threshold, shut the slider and started shaking. By now, I've run to the family room, where the slider leading to the backyard is. Although my doggy's mama and my doggy play exuberantly, as a matter of course, this time I heard the roar of alarm in her voice when she called for the dog. She was afraid he'd run back toward the house, see the snake and try to make a new friend.

As Teddy was shaking (they both were), we checked him thoroughly for a snake bite and were grateful beyond saying that we found none. We had just scared the dog so much, he was a nervous wreck. As was I. Karyn remained fairly calm, but I believe I did notice a tremor in her voice. We had dodged a bullet, and we knew it. But...wither had gone Mr. Slither?

It turns out that the Animal Control guy doesn't come on duty until midnight, and our encounter with the snake happened around 11 p.m. So we waited, and called back at the stroke of midnight. He was on his way. But entering our property is no small feat because earlier this year, thinking we'd ensure our privacy, keep wild critters out of our yard, and not have to worry when the dogs were in the front yard and side courtyard, we fenced the property in. The fence is block walls on the sides and in the front, with wrought iron fencing across the driveway and across the entire width of the backyard. We put up netting across the lower two feet of the fencing in the backyard, but there's not much we could do about the small space between the driveway and the bottom of the electronic gate that stretches to nearly 40 feet. It was part of a major real estate face lift, a real curb appeal gesture to offset the steadily declining house values in Southern California. Botox for dirt, if you will. Lap band for berms.

Well, clearly, we have curb appeal because earlier in the evening, Karyn was sitting in the three-car garage, in the section devoted to sitting, looking out at the mountains, having some iced tea, giving the dogs some outdoor time before closing up for the night and talking to her sister Kimberly on the phone while waiting for me to get home from work. While sitting there, several events occurred that gave her a vague presentment of..."something." The only way I can explain it is to reference earthquakes. Some people claim their animals alerted them the day of or even moments before the earth began rumbling. As my dogs tend to sleep through all but the most remarkable of quakes, say, 6.0 or above, I cannot say the household pets have any such built-in alarm system for natural disasters, or other threats.

First, Pierre came back. Pierre is a frog who has lived in the pipe at the curb where our sprinkler system drains. Every summer, Pierre hangs out at our house. But last year, he took up with Pauline, and he hasn't been seen since. Until tonight. Karyn's chatting with Kim, and Pierre walks across the driveway as plump as you please, although sans Pauline. Later, Karyn said that now that she thought back, maybe Pierre was walking the perimeter, like a guard frog. Sort of.

Then the baby cottontail rabbits, the young, juicy ones and the wizened older (and faster) jack rabbits were hanging around the green grassy area near the fire hydrant across the street, and they all seemed especially skittish. Well, Dopey, Sleepy and Weepy were skittish; Jack was hyper-vigilant. But then, we have coyotes that have built various homes in the nearby hills under the scrub brush, about 200 feet from our fence, so, if you're a cottontail, especially a young one, you're skittish or you never grow old. Even a Senior jack rabbit, not as tasty to a coyote, but a decent meal for a rattler or a Mohave Green, can have the evening desert blues.

Then Karyn saw two preying mantis kids, one on the screen door that leads from the garage to the side yard, and one in the front courtyard. We haven't seen a preying mantis all year, and believe me, we've been praying for some as they like to dine on some of the less endearing spiders that live here.

Then, Richard, resident lizard, and Lord of the West Wall Manor, moved in bad stealth across the entire width of the three-car garage driveway looking for all the world like a Gila monster. You have to understand: Richard rarely leaves his West Wall Manor, unless his lizard wife, Liz, sends him to the pool for some deli. Dick does not go out for evening strolls. Something was up.

Earlier in the day, even Karyn was feeling a bit unsettled while sweeping out the garage. She picked up Teddy's toys and other garage decor that has a way of building up into small and meaningless piles. She said she did it because she had seen three black widows over the past week hanging out just outside the garage and near the front porch. And a tarantula on the warm wall (excuse me, Richard's West Wall Manor) in the zen garden, another area of the outdoors made pretty last year by Karyn with beautiful pepper trees, for abundant shade, Mexican river rock, for cool texture, and some potted Hollywoods, for the proverbial celebrity factor. I'm telling ya, this place so has curb appeal.

I got home, about 10 p.m., we sat in the garage having a glass of iced tea because it was very hot, and I was off the next day so had the luxury of staying up late. Suddenly Karyn jumped up and said, "Wow! Did you see that?" No, I hadn't. She described "it" as a round light that moved across the desert sky just above the mountaintop horizon and disappeared into the dessert. It wasn't an airplane. It wasn't a shooting star. It was...the light. Karyn said if I talk about this part everyone will think I'm nuts, but that's exactly what happened. It was eerie. Even though I didn't see it, the air had a feel about it that felt heavy with...'it.' Well, OK, that does sound nuts.

Naturally, in between spotting Mr. Slither and Animal Control arriving, Karyn wanted to go outside with a broom and "scare" the snake out of our yard. I had to refuse. She was clearly disappointed. She negotiated a compromise. If she put on her thick-soled hiking boots, carried the strongest flashlight and a long stick, I agreed to let her walk the yard with Animal Control, if, and only if, he looked like he knew what he was doing.

OK, enough background. You get the picture. So anyway----------yikes!

BREAKING NEWS: A guy just walked past the window in the library with a four-foot long rattlesnake with four inches of rattles!!! Well, first I saw Karyn run past the window---that was to open the gate. Wow...Animal Control is so cool! He had this long stick with some kind of prong and the snake was, willingly it seemed, wrapped around the prong.

I got used to mosquitoes and bumblebees and wasps in the Midwest; I got used to seeing rats in the ever-damp Northwest; I even got used to cockroaches in New York City (well, 'got used to' might be an exaggeration); but you know, I can't quite get that warm cozy feeling about rattlesnakes in the backyard.

In case you hadn't guessed by now, I am the desert weenie that my beloved refers to when she endearingly says, "Margaret, snake charmer. Not!"

KARYN'S SIDE OF THE STORY: She waited in the garage, grateful that it was only about 92F this evening. ::eye roll:: She waited alone, with the garage door closed, waiting for AC so she could open the gates. She heard his truck pull up, so she opened the gate from inside the garage, then opened the garage door when he got out of his truck. He walked toward her, and said "Yep, that a rattler, all right."

She looked at him, stunned. "How could he get out of the back yard so quickly," she asked. Then she saw what he was referring to---and it wasn't Mr. Slither. Nuh huh. It was Mr. Slither's younger brother, resting in the gutter. Oh my. Chris, the AC guy, a wonderful young man, very cute with spiky hair, thick boots and a sweet smile, walked toward Slither Jr. with his prong. (NOTE: Despite what you've read from an earlier contributor, there is no rattlesnake that "willingly" wraps itself around the prong. The prong is a gripper contraption that Chris used to grab the snake around it's neck, close to its head. So, literary license and romanticism notwithstanding, Slither Jr. was not a happy camper when put into the bucket with the lid on it).

She told Chris she really didn't think that was the snake in our backyard, and he agreed to check the place out. They walked through the yard with flashlights. Nothing. They checked behind every pot, and there are about 20 of them. They checked behind the palm trees, the olive tree and even the Dracena that was originally an indoor plant we moved from Studio City, and which has grown to seven times it's original height since coming to the desert. We checked behind all the gorgeous grasses she planted this past spring. She began to wonder if that had been such a good idea as she looked around the yard and patio and pool and saw no less than 45 good places to hide, if you're a snake. She told Chris to please check behind the pool equipment (that had been Margaret snake charmer's best guess as to where the snake probably went after having been scared scaleless by Teddy).

Chris walked carefully back behind the cement walls that enclose the pool equipment. "Wow, you were right," he called out. "He's right here." (Please give Margaret a round of applause as she's feeling a bit queasy right about now).

Chris found our guy, and he was even bigger, thicker and meaner-looking than she originally thought. But he's not mean. They don't want anything to do with us, really, and they do send out a memorable warning with that rattle/hiss sound they make. Apparently, it's the cottontails that draw them. And the water in the pool on a hot August night.

Chris said it really looked as though we'd done everything to our yard that could be done to protect ourselves and the dogs. The only thing left was to close up one small space near the Dracena that might have been Mr. Slither's front door to our back yard. Also, stay alert, listen, and don't feed the jacks and the bunnies no matter how badly you feel for them. Karyn did not admit feeding wildlife on any kind of regular basis....but she has been known to take the old lettuce, apples, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and dead boxes of cereal up the hill and spread out a little buffet for the critters.

Those, most likely, were the good old days. Mr. Slither was...memorable!

(NOTE: All Efforts have been made to represent Karyn's side of the story accurately and judiciously. This may or may not have actually been achieved).

MARGARET'S SIDE OF THE STORY (Ending): I am not feeling queasy. I am feeling vigilant, alert, and scared to death. But not queasy. Additionally, I believe I bring up an important issue when I put this question to my seven readers: Should people (no names mentioned) give proper names to critters that they don't actually own? I'm just saying...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Desert Sage in Brilliant Bloom

This one's for our friend AZTECLADY....desert sage in the best bloom we've had in five years. What is Karyn doing to these plants to make them so happy?!? Lots of love! Happy summer to everyone.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day--The Slideshow

This is probably way too long to work properly. Cannes Film Festival it's not. It's not Rome, either. And the yard took 15 days to finish. It's gorgeous. I'm happy with it. Maybe you'll see it!

Because Rome Wasn't Built in a Day: The Story

It all started with "Let's go to Home Depot and get a couple plants."

If you hear this sentence at any time in the next four months: run. Run very fast. Run until you get a headache. And then, with complete truthfulness, you can say, "Not today, dear, I have a headache.

Do I say, not as I did.

So we throw on our jeans, our baseball caps and our "Vote for Hillary," and "I'm Your Girl," (another Hillary design) t-shirts, and head off in the German SUV we call "Buttah," which is Butter for all you who don't name your cars. Buttah is a most unbuttery Obsidian Black with a gorgeous buttery tan/gold leather interior. While Buttah is a lovely, sophisticated sled in which to go get "a couple plants," it's also the kind of luxury vehicle one doesn't want to get too dirty. Well, I don't. Karyn thinks of it as her own uber-stylish 'work truck.' You'll understand in a moment.

We arrive at the local Home Desperate, and we're barely through the gates to the garden section when, somehow, Karyn gets ahead of me. It's absolutely not because I'm dragging my feet. I stop to look at a very pretty Dorotheanthus bellidiformis, named after my dear friend Dorothy, I think. Of course you may know this plant by its popular name, Mezoo Livinstone Daisy or Mezoo Trailing Red. Dorothy has another name, too, but I forget, right now, what it is. I'm pretty sure it's not Daisy,, no. Definitely not Daisy...Mezoo would be catchy, though.

Anyway, as I'm serenely perusing Mezoo, the scent of a popular teen aftershave (Axe?) wafts across my scent-sensitive olfactory space and blends awkwardly with night-blooming sweet Jasmine just before it smacks my whole face with a tidal wave of overwhelm. I turn to my left and I see a 50-something person with a razor haircut, a plaid Pendalton-like, and yet, not, shirt, sleeves rolled up, in a pair of slightly baggy meant to be very baggy jeans. If she'd have had a Marlboro behind her ear, I would have thought: the spitting image of James Dean! She didn't see me, because she was making a beeline in the direction of Karyn. Trust me, Home Desperate does not usually have this level of customer service. I didn't see the crooked smile on her face or have a full-on appreciation of her soave bolla manner, but the sotto voco "Hi, there, can I help ya, young lady," told me this was going to be no ordinary trip through the tulips.

I gave her just enough time to exchange pleasantries, and then I ambled up to Karyn, who introduced me as her partner. James Dean stuck her big paw out to shake mine. "Dottie, but my friends all call me Dot."

Wow. She was so not a 'Dottie.' At some point Dot got called away by the PA System for some very important administrative issue on Aisle 9, and we wandered through the garden section. We headed toward Trees, but the pickings were slim, so we ended up in ground covers and climbing vines.

We had begun the morning outing with a single shopping cart, but thinking trees, we quickly switched to a giant flatbed on wheels. As mentioned, there were no trees to be had, but those flat-beds can easily hold $400 worth of things I could probably go through my entire life not knowing the names of...except I was about to own several dozen of these things, and they come with name tags, so, go ahead, ask me anything.

Euonymus Japonica!! No, I don't have botanical Tourette's---I told you: They have name tags.

As we headed tantalizingly close to the check-out counter, of which there are always two and one is always closed, Dot springs up out of nowhere with the crooked smile and a completely hyper- friendly "Didjafin'everythin'?"

Why no, no we didn't.'re low on trees, Dot.

"Lucy's," she says. "Gotta go to Lucy's if you want really good trees." She looks in both directions and leans in toward us, her voice becoming a whisper. "Better trees and cheaper too, than here," she says.

She offers directions. I say, "Nah, that's OK, we'll go some other time." Dot's face falls, although her sideburns remain intact.

She looks at Karyn with something resembling sympathy, as if to say, 'Oh, young lady, here you are all ready to give love and life and warmth to some tree, and this non-tree hugger you're with isn't interested. Don't'cha jus' hate that?'

OK, then, for future reference, where, exactly, is Lucy's? I could tell by the number of times she said 'just across from,' 'just down from' and 'about a half mile east of,' that Dot was no TomTom Navigation system, however much she might...nevermind.

With Buttah loaded to the tailgate with flats of groundcover and a couple dozen blooming plants, we drive to Lucy's in our own personal greenhouse. We miss it, we double back, and we see why we missed it. No signage and no sign of human life. Unless your line of sight took a sharp right at the non-existent signage, you'd have missed about two acres of all kinds of trees.

But wait! What is that little shadow holding a garden hose? That, my friends, is Maria. Although Maria spoke no English, she was a whiz at Arabic numbers. Every time I'd ask "How much?" Maria would pick up a small stick or a nail or just use her finger to write $350 in the dirt. Everything was $350, except for a couple of things that were $50. But they were dead or dying. So, OK then, $350 it is!

In fairness, I have to acknowledge that Lucy's had the best selection of healthy trees I've seen anywhere in the Antelope Valley. We found two olive trees, in 48-inch boxes, that stood easily 12 feet high and were only half grown, if that. In West Hollywood or Malibu or Pasadena where there are some darn good nurseries, those two olive trees would have been $600-700 each, or more. I got 'em for, you guessed it, $300 each, including delivery. What happened to $350? Uh, excuse me, I never, nevah, pay retail. My best friend Mezoo taught me that.

A white pickup pulled into the tree lot, and a very small man with a great big cowboy hat walked up to the make-shift table where I was writing directions to the house. He introduced himself as Jesus. Maria talked to Jesus, they nodded, and the next thing I knew, he was taking my six hundred dollar bills. As they walk us out of the tree lot (it was closing time), Karyn was talking and pointing excitedly at some very large rock. Jesus was nodding. We waved goodbye, see ya tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., thank you, have a good evening, take care of the the Benjamin Franklins!

We got in the car, and I said, "I didn't get a receipt."

"Oh, it's fine," said Ms. Congeniality, "I have a good feeling about them, and besides, he's going to bring those five rocks over too, for free!"

That's nice, I thought to myself, trying not to focus on the thought that the rocks are free if he shows up; if he doesn't, we just bought a half ton of air and two fantasy fruitless olive trees for six hundred bucks. For the sake of my own serentiy, I decided to go with her "good feeling about them."

On the way home, the plans for our new front yard were chattering away next to me, and my own personal earth architect and exterior decorator had some very nice plans, indeed, all involving trees, ("...oh, more than just the two olives..."), plants, "...oh more than just the boatload (my word) we got today..." and some real boulders ("...oh those were mere rocks we got today..."). Karyn's father was an agricultural biologist in northern California, but the real love of his work life was planting, landscaping, designing, growing, and nurturing little seedlings and snippets of things to full life. His daughter was so much like him, not counting starting with 5-year old olive trees instead of one little olive pit.

I smiled, encouragingly, because this makes her happy, and that makes me happy. Happiness notwithstanding, a wayward thought bounced across my consciousness, knocked up against the walls of resistance and came to rest beside a deliciously evil thought: Dot is so damn dead.

(TO BE CONTINUED, With Visuals)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Book Review

Phyllida and the
Brotherhood of Philander,
A Novel

By Ann Herendeen

Publisher: HarperPaperbacks

(Release Date: April 29, 2008)

It's London, it's 1812, and on page one of this outstanding novel, we meet Andrew Carrington, a rory-tory, hunky-dory heir to a fortune, who is gay. And that's only the beginning set of circumstances that launch this debut novel by Ann Herendeen who writes about romance and history with comedic timing and the kind of dialog that makes you feel you are in the room with the characters. It's a bonus beyond hoping for that Herendeen also has a writer's sense of what makes a great love story, which she unfailingly gives to her readers throughout this entire book.

And that's what I liked most about this book: It's a great love story, beautifully written, with a sense of life and a sense of comedy that is at once exhilarating and impassioned.

Tired of the endless Regency nights of gambling and debauchery, Andrew Carrington decides he needs to find a wife who will give him an heir and thus fulfill his legacy responsibilities. Finding a wife, he discovers, is far easier than actually having a wife. The situation is ripe for a comedy of errors, combined with a faux tragedy of (too many) manners, when the prospective wife learns she must share Andrew with his boyfriend. For most, that would be a deal-breaker; not our group!

Phyllida Lewis is the spirited, pretty, talented and very poor author of romantic novels. She loves to write, and that's all she really wants to do: write. Although every mother in England is frothing at the prospect of her daughter marrying Andrew Carrington, he sees life a bit differently than most. He prefers men, and he prefers everything about them: their company, their interests, their looks, their sex appeal...all of it. Still he does not take his privileged status lightly. He feels he has a duty to produce an heir. That, typically, would involve taking a wife. Carrington figures to find a woman who needs a husband, advise her of the situation and then proceed to live his life as he wishes, not counting the baby-making process.

Phyllida has her own agenda, though, not the least of which is that she doesn't need to get married. She could spend her entire life in her ratty old robe writing pages of Gothic romance, ink-stained fingers and all. Regrettably, her mother disagrees and does all she can to pander her daughter off to anyone who will have her. That Andrew Carrington might want her silly daughter is more than Phyllida's mother could have hoped for. As readers, though, we're thrilled! This is getting delicious.

For her part, Phyllida, contemplating this most unusual marriage proposal, reviews her options. She really is fine with the boyfriend aspect of Carrington's proposal, much to his surprise, (and perhaps her own) but her single condition is that she must be allowed to continue writing---not exactly the approved pastime for the wife of an Earl.

Immediately, Carrington disabuses her of any notion that his marriage to her is to be a democracy. But, Phyllida, sensing the delicate public position a gay Earl might find himself in, proceeds to hold firm until and unless her one condition is met. Reason (and a bit of expediency) wins the day, and Andrew Carrington, reluctantly gives his permission for Phyllida to continue her writing. And then, the real fun begins!

Matthew Thornby is the boyfriend, the honorable and handsome son of a Baronet. It takes Matthew to create a bridge of understanding between Carrington and his bride. It's also Matthew who comes to the rescue, along with Carrington, in the secondary story involving the blackmail of the Brotherhood of Philander, a high-end private club for gay men in London, modeled after several clubs known to exist during this era.

Herendeen's immanently readable and rewarding writing style takes an unorthodox, romantic relationship set among three people two hundred years ago and brings the spirit of the story and the people right into one's most contemporary world. Although Andrew Carrington gets to have his wife and his boyfriend, one senses that Phyllida and Matthew are getting no less a good deal in this comically triangulated romance.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good love story. The male/male/female configuration is not my personal cup of tea, but Herendeen and her story have transcended the usual squiggly wigglies regarding genders and gender preferences with this endearing, engaging and elegantly witty romp through the lives of three people who stumble, falter and throw themselves into the mix that is Herendeen's unequalled specialty. That alone is quite a feat!
I found myself rooting for our heroes, and heroine, to get to the Happily Ever After...and I was not disappointed.

So if you're not sure if you're reading a Regency romance, a Bi-sexual Romance, a Comedy or a Novel, allow me to help you out here: Call it all of that or none of it: It's a great read!

With a debut novel this good, I do imagine we could well see "based on the book by" coming to a movie screen in your neighborhood....conjure up, if you will, a young group of actors and actresses sharing a film with the comedic elements of Shakespeare In Love meets A Fish Named Wanda meets Victor/Victoria meets What's Up Doc? meets one funeral and several weddings! Trust me, this book is tons of fun, with tons of engaging characters and tons of Ton.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Happy Birthday Karyn!

Crowds Gather to Watch Karyn Celebrate;
Authorities Find Crowd Control of No Use At All
On February 4, 2008

I asked Karyn what she wanted for her 48th birthday, and she said, "A love letter." So I wrote one, but I didn't just write it.

No. It's a long, long letter that I've been writing for seven years, and I add a little bit every day. The individual words, the fragments of phrases, and the full sentences seem more like a streaming video in front of my eyes than a collection of words in my head. It happens throughout each and every day, and it's a 'letter' I never get tired of writing, feeling, seeing, thinking, being a part of. It's very visual and tactile, this letter, because Karyn is a world-renown space invader. She'll hug ya and kiss ya and hold ya just because you're in front of her, and once she's done it, you realize you didn't even know you needed it. You can be a lady at the market who can't reach the Ovaltine on the top shelf, an old geezer at Trader Joe's who says he likes her cowboy boots (yeah, right), or an actor past his prime and public recognition who gets recognized by her at the car wash. It doesn't matter who you are: You're a happier person when Karyn smiles, makes eye contact and says something sweet by way of acknowledging you as a unique individual. Your day is made, there's hope in the world again, and I'm pretty sure that whoever meets Karyn goes home and says, "I met the most wonderful person at the car wash!"

How'd it happen? How did she get like that? I have to believe it was the wonderful parents who raised her and the siblings who love her. Her dad's gone, but she's got his sense of adventure and a healthy amount of the Irish DNA. Her mom has the same dazzling smile, the pretty blue eyes and the warmest of hearts. Her brothers, Tom and Chuck, and her sister Kimberly are proud of her, protective of their baby sister and they seem genuinely happy that Karyn and I have the kind of love you'd want someone like her to have in her life.

So while I certainly hope you weren't expecting to read the love letter....I'm OK with you having a general idea of what's in it and why. The pictures above were taken during our trip to Europe last February...I took the one of her on the Bridge Sant' Angelo in Rome, and Kimberly took the portrait photo in the lobby of our hotel, The Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne. It was truly a Trip of a Lifetime, with stops in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and England, and though we have Paris and Prague on our agenda for the next trip, the Trip of a Lifetime will always be special because it was our first.

And that's the way it is with Karyn....even the familiar comfort and ease of living together is always new, always holds treasures, always repeats and reaffirms itself the way love was designed to do. She is my love and my life. No letter could ever capture the mysterious wonder of that, but I think what I've written here gives you an idea of what approximates the miracle of Karyn.

There's That Rainbow!

Super Bowl Sunday 3 February 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do You See It Now?

Life Among the Elephants...or
Living in a Red Section of a
Blue State With Rainbows

The mountains you see in the pictures, the snow covered mountains, is what I woke up to this morning. So beautiful. This is my view from the back of our home, and with both the family room and master located at opposite areas at the rear of the house, it truly is a million dollar view not only from the back yard and pool area, but from within the house itself.

We live in the Las Pelonas foothills across the valley floor from the range you see, known as the Tehachapi Mountains, home of the famous Grapevine (Interstate 5) that closes for hours and hours at a time when the snow falls hard. So, anyway, that light dusting of snow that I (and, apparently, only I) saw the other day was part of the decidedly heavier snowfall in the mountains you see in these pictures. Most of the snow from the recent storms only fell to about 3500 feet. We live at about 3400 feet above sea level and about 25 miles from the Tehachapi range, as the crows fly.

This is one of two areas in Southern California known as the High Desert. The other area is in the San Gabriel Mountains, specifically the towns of Victorville and Hesperia that one passes on the way to Las Vegas. The most famous Low Desert area would be Palm Springs, although it is usually called, simply, "the desert," because people who live there are under the sad illusion that it is the only desert. They do have better restaurants, the scenery in Palm Springs is gorgeous, and the place is a part-time favorite of snowbird retirees from places in the Midwest. The High Desert area grows Joshua trees, fields of wild poppies, the yucca, a fierce desert wind, and a fairly rabid, vocal, but small, group of racist and homophobic uber Conservatives. Palm Springs, on the other hand, grows Date Palms, golf courses, perpetual tans and...a stylish and eclectic group of residents and vacationers. So why live here? Because the makeup of this area is changing rapidly...and has changed for the better in the five years we've been here. More tolerance, more diversity. Things take time. And you have to agree, the views from our little slice of heaven are great.

The High Desert can be a tough place to assimilate, but we do smile at the frequent and gigantic rainbows that cross from one mountain range to the other after, and sometimes during, our desert storms and microbursts. Nature, it seems, not only abhors a vacuum but is also a big fan of symbolism. So you see, "Someone" is doing something about the weather.

Weather Captain,
Geography General and
Political Opinionhead Margaret, over and out.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seriously Seeking Susan Brown

When Is Something Not a Mixture?

There was a time in my life when I was free to write to my heart's content---no job to go to (I was seriously unemployed), no kids to take care of (unless you count my cat Rewrite), no place to go, really (the first Volvo was reliable but ugly), and no one to answer to (unless you count my Mother, who did occasionally wonder aloud about my getting a "real" job).

By virtue of my most recent job, I had met a film director who was impossible to work for and yet desperate to find a secretary/assistant who wouldn't walk off the job after three weeks as my predecessors had. The alliance with him lasted seven months, but I knew if I could stick it out, something good would come of it. It was not, however, going to be friendship: He loathed me and I despised him; only in that regard were we a good match. I believe he did fire me about five times, but as I kept showing up for work each day, each successive firing was laid aside never to be mentioned again. Later I realized he was happy to see me because he got to look forward, once again, to firing me.

One day, six of his very big-shot Hollywood Agents came in for a meeting, or as we say here, 'took a meeting.' They were from a really big talent agency in Hollywood, and the meeting was important. I was to deliver tea and coffee to the upstairs loft where the director had his office. Oh, and answer the phones, which rang off the hook with people wanting their scripts read. One of the agents, named Mike, came down the stairs just before the meeting began and asked if I could do him a favor. If his wife called, would I let him know right away---but I was to do it by slipping him a note when I came to refill the coffee. Mike was very nice, and so of course when his wife did call, I assured her he'd have the message in 10 seconds. I wrote him a small note on a very small Sticky: "Call your wife." I delivered it to his tea cup saucer as I went from person to person refilling coffee. When he came downstairs a few minutes later to call home, he thanked me and said he loved the way I stealth dropped the note on his plate, as it were.

As the agents were leaving, several hours later, this same agent was the only one to purposefully walk into my section of the office to say goodbye. I knew I only had one shot, so I took it. I told him I was a writer, and that I was writing a book and wondered if I might call him sometime to get some direction on who to talk to for a literary agent. As he was a talent agent, I knew he would not feel pressured to look at anything I wrote. He was completely at ease with my request and actually named the day in the following week that I should call him. I did call him, and he gave me the name of a literary agent in his office that he felt I would work well with---and he offered to give her a heads up that I'd be calling. Huh? An agent I could work with? Oh my G-d!

With a great deal of trepidation, I made the call to the agent Mike suggested. Her name was Cheryl, and although it was pretty obvious that she was taking the call more as a favor to Mike than because of any real interest in me, I just kept talking and ended by saying that I wrote much like I spoke. As I had made her laugh a couple times, she figured that was worth seeing. She said, "OK, send the book over tomorrow."

Oh dear. Thinking quickly, I told her that the book was only three quarters done, and that three quarters was "at the typist." I promised to get her the first five or six chapters the following week, and the rest sometime soon after that if she liked it well enough to read on. Of course I was playing for time, and if she knew, she never said. It took me another ten months to get the full manuscript to her, and when I did, it was 650 typed pages.

The truth: I had written about 100 pages of what was to be a 350-page novel. I was unemployed, so there was no "sending things out to the typist." The typist lived with me and I lived alone, not counting Rewrite. Rewrite? Oh hell, this 100 pages needs a serious rewrite, or if not that, then a good edit. I had to get Cheryl hooked on that first 100 pages. I had to do it.

I went down my short list of friends, and although all of them were intelligent, not all of them read much. They weren't literary. But one had a degree in English Literature. I dialed Susan Brown and told her my good news. She didn't even know I was writing a book. Naturally, I asked her if she'd like to read it. She'd love to. How about that evening? Perfect.

Susan Brown was someone whose first name was never said without also saying her last name. It was never "I saw Susan," but rather, "I saw Susan Brown." Susan was very educated, very well spoken and very savvy about how the world works. She also had a great big heart. "Can I bring you anything," she asked, after accepting my invitation. "How about some diet 7-Up and a pint of vanilla Hagan Daz," I said. After a notable pause, she said, "Sure, why not?"

Skipping ahead to the good part, I cajoled Susan Brown into being my "editor," for that first 100 pages, and she later assured me that she was only staying on the job for the entire 650 pages because she wanted to know how the story ended. It was a lie, and I was grateful. Although her editing skills would come in handy, we both knew I needed a deadline that incorporated just the right amount of comfort, trust and inspiration to get the book finished. We set up a daily schedule: I would write during the day, and in the evening, Susan Brown would come over to my apartment in Studio City to read and edit the previous day's pages. And to celebrate that day's literary output, we'd share the 7-Up poured over a huge dollop of vanilla ice cream in a big, tall, wide-mouthed tumbler. It is believed by people who know about such things that this period in my life was the beginning of the high cholesterol count which I'd have to work on years down the line. At the time, though, it was a delicious way to finish off an evening.

One Sunday afternoon, Susan Brown called and said she wasn't sure she could make it because her car wasn't running very well. Was it running at all? Well, yes, but it was making funny sounds. Having had a particularly satisfying day in front of the IBM Selectric (yes, this was that long ago!) I was far too selfish to let a little car noise get in the way of what I felt would be a most productive editing session. At some point, Susan Brown decided it would be easier to deal with her car than deal with my disappointment, so she agreed to keep our editing date, and yes, she would pick up the ice cream and 7-Up.

About two hours later, I began to look out my window and wonder what happened to my editor. I no sooner pulled the curtain aside when I saw and heard a red Ford turning onto my street in a gigantically wide arc, wheels squealing, motor sputtering and Susan Brown's hair blowing across her face and pretty much blinding her to oncoming traffic. As I started to laugh at the sight, one of Susan Brown's tires and wheel came right off her car, bounced up on the curb and went flying across the neighbor's yard straight at my kitchen window and me. As I ducked, I heard the tire hit the side of my building, right beneath my kitchen window, and I heard but did not see Susan Brown's red Ford screech to a stop as it fruitlessly tried not to jump the curb, where it landed perilously close to my ugly Volvo.

I ran downstairs and outside to see about Susan. She climbed out of her soon-to-be red-tagged sled, raised a grocery bag above her head and said, "I think the ice cream's melting." We knew the car was going to need some pricey work, if it were not a complete lost cause, but as it was Sunday, we couldn't really call the local fix-it guy until Monday morning.

We decided to have the 7-Up and ice cream while Susan read the pages, which she would always do once before getting out the editing pencil. As I was slurping away enjoying my slivers of ice cream iced into small sheets of tasty, crunchy deliciousness, Susan Brown laughed out loud. I saw that she was only on the second page of that day's work in review, and I knew there was nothing funny in that section of prose.

"What? What's so funny?" I said.

"This passage," she answered, handing
me the page.

I read it. I could see absolutely nothing wrong with the
section. In fact, it was one of my favorites. But it certainly wasn't meant to be funny.

"I don't see anything wrong," I sniffed.

"OK," she said, laughing, "let me read it aloud."

"Fine, go ahead." Slurp. Crunch. Smack lips.

Holding the page in one hand and her glass of vanilla float in the other, she read:

"He looked at her with a mixture of bug-eyed silence."

She laughed again. I did not.

"What's missing?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said. "Sounds just like I
meant it to sound."

"Really?" she answered, "Let me read it aloud

She read it. I starred at her. She laughed. I didn't. She
laughed some more.

I finally said, "OK, smartypants, tell me what's missing?"

She looked at the page and read:

'He looked at her with a mixture of
bug-eyed silence,' and?" she said.

"And nothing," said I. "That's what he looked at her with."

Susan Brown was seriously beginning to annoy me.

"Bug-eyed silence," she repeated "and what was it mixed with?"

"Nothing!" I answered righteously,

"It wasn't mixed with anything---should it be?"

"I think," she said, trying really hard not to spew her
ice cream all over my bug-eyed silence, "that you've mistaken a hyphenated word
for two words. A "mixture of" bug-eyed silence? No such animal."

I don't think I've ever felt quite so dumb. I had that deer-in-the-headlights look, and then I sprayed her with the big spoonful of 7-Up and ice cream that I had just put in my mouth. I laughed so hard, I fell over. I laughed so much, I...had to cross my legs. Then Susan Brown started laughing as hard. Then for some reason, the vision of Susan Brown sailing around that street corner with her tire and wheel flying off sent me into paroxysms of laughter and glee, and I felt the need to do a re-enactment. I had her on the floor, laughing, and by the end of the evening we both agreed her broken car was worth the price of admission, not to mention the utter embarrassment it saved me when I turned the manuscript in.

That novel was shopped around by my agent Cheryl to some New York literary agents, but the general consensus was:brilliant but flawed. Several years later I realized just how kind everyone had been to call it that. I re-read it, and I saw that it was entirely more flawed than brilliant. That agency never made a dime off me, nor did I by having signed with them. We let my contract expire, and I went out to get "a real job." How I got to be signed with a major Hollywood agency, how my book got shopped around to major agents in New York, and how the whole experience blew me away is the stuff, one hopes, of legends. It took me years to get over the notion that I had wasted my big chance.

I never realized how hurt my feelings had been that nothing ever became of that book, but not writing for a dozen more years would have been a clue to most people. Not surprisingly, it was Susan Brown who told me that I was a good writer, I just needed to practise my craft more and get great. That was so Susan.

The thing about writing fiction is that, at the beginning at least, your novel is your whole show. There's no additional fancy dance steps, no prettying up of one's outfit and no showing of one's sizzling personality(if one even has all that to add to the mix) to help your story and quality of writing. And if my experience is any indication, it's not, strictly speaking, even who you know. I didn't even know Mike, who gave me my first big break. No, it's all in the story and all in the way you tell that story. I basically decided that I had ended up a telling a pretty half-baked story in a decently skilled way, but that wasn't enough, I realized. Now, I think I have a wonderful story, and let's see if I can get it written well. I believe I can and will.

I lost track of Susan when she moved to San Francisco, but maybe the Internet gods will send this blog post to her or one of her friends. It's a long shot, but so was my getting back to writing, which I've done over the past few years. I do have a new book I'm working on, and I do have a new editor, who seems to have got as wise to me and my tricks as Susan Brown was. Fear of rejection is a terrible thing, especially when one thinks one is oh so very brave. ::shrug::

But I was onto something in asking Susan Brown to edit my work. Some people have critique partners, official ones, and that works great for them. I need a little more one-on-one attention, encouragement and...oh yeah, editing.

Karyn, my beloved, and, I think, my biggest fan, reads and loves everything I show her. If I ask her to, she'll even edit a bit, leaving me a few very soft, light pencil marks where something needs fixing. And she's always right---it might be a typo, it might be clarity needed, it might be one of my famous run-on sentences. But I'll tell you this: By the time Robin (known on this blog as Occasional Guest Blogger) gets it, there's not a single mixture of bug-eyed silence anywhere to be found. And that's a good thing 'cause there's no soft, little, gentle marks on the page when Robin gets done with it! I write and she edits in MS Word, and if part of being a good writer means never having to see another red cartoon balloon with the words "What the heck does this mean?" from Robin, then I'll not only be a good writer, I might just be an author! It could happen.

Thank you Susan Brown!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snow and the High Desert

Antelope Valley, Southern California -- No, it doesn't happen often, but it happened this morning: A lovely, light dusting of the white powdery stuff greeted me and my coffee cup. I can't exactly say that I "love" snow (and maybe that's because I trudged through mountains of it growing up in Illinois), but I can say I love the look of it. More snow is expected over the next couple days, and overnight temperatures are in the low thirties. If the days keep warming up like today, though, I'll have to snap the next batch of pictures at dawn because by 8 a.m. this picture was gone, and the melt off trickled down the foothills and onto our street throughout the day.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ad Lucem! Semper Ad Lucem!

PART II: The Ethics of Authorship

"Toward the Light, Always Toward the Light"

The Romance fiction genre's recent crisis of spirit, occasioned earlier in the week by the discovery that Romance writer Cassie Edwards has been plagiarizing other writers for decades, was ameliorated and considerably lifted yesterday. Popular top-selling author Nora Roberts pledged to match up to $5000 in donations to the Defense of Wildlife Fund, a group dedicated to saving seriously endangered species, including the imperiled black-footed ferret around which controversy swelled when it was discovered that a prominent nature writer, Paul Tolme, had parts of his article on ferrets lifted by Edwards for passages in her book called Shadow Bear.

Tolme wrote a delightful piece this week in Newsweek about his experience of seeing his words about ferrets copied in a "bodice-ripper." Although Romance authors and fans hope to reinvigorate and change Tolme's reference to "standard romance novel schlock," one other line of his article caught the eyes and interest of the thousands of loyal members and hundreds of new readers who read the blog Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books.

Although he said he is no longer angry at Cassie Edwards for stealing his words, Tolme added: "Ignorance of law and ethics is no excuse, however. Plagiarism victimizes writers. It betrays the trust of readers. It tarnishes the craft of writing. But there is another victim here that has been lost in the discussion: the ferrets."

Oh brother! Watch out, news media. Watch out, nay-sayers who think there's no such thing as viral networking with quantifiable, verifiable results. One cannot buy this kind of public relations and publicity. All hail the ferrets!

With that line, Mr. Tolme has probably saved a lot of ferrets because it wasn't long before the Bitchery group practically adopted the black-footed ferret as its mascot. One member put up ferret-oriented anti-plagiarism t-shirts on Cafe Press, and Nora Roberts posted that she would match donations to the Defense of Wildlife Fund. Within hours the Bitchery had tallied nearly $3000 in donations that came from its readers. Some commenters seemed more interested in adopting Mr. Tolme, although it is not known if he is available for same.

As of this writing, Candy Tan and Sarah Wendell, the two women who run Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, who initially alerted the world to the Cassie Edwards books that contain wholesale passages and paragraphs taken, without authorization, or credit, from other authors, have discovered dozens of examples of this plagiarism in a goodly number of Edwards' nearly 100 books. But it took another best-selling author, Nora Roberts, to help bring more attention to a discovery, originally made by poster Nikki, that Edwards had also stolen from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Without a doubt, Edwards steals from some of the best!

Comparing these two excerpts, one can easily see why Edwards is being accused of plagiarism:

SAVAGE OBSESSION, by Cassie Edwards, 1983, Page 284:
"The odors of the forest, the dew and damp meadow, and the curling smoke from the wigwams were left behind as Lorinda [...]"

SONG OF HIAWATHA by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1855: Lines 3-5 of the Introduction: "With the odors of the forest, With the dew and damp of meadows, With the curling smoke of wigwams..."

Earlier in a thread of the comments sections about the Edwards situation, a poster who has his own website jokingly wondered if Ms. Edwards had ever taken credit for the famous verse in Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha that begins, "From the shores of Gitche Gumee....[...]" The popular poster, TeddyPig, was astounded when he realized another had found alarming substance in the answer to Mr. Pig's lighthearted question.

Indeed, with this discovery at the top of a heap of discoveries of apparent plagiarism in various Cassie Edwards' books, discoveries made by both the head Bitches and a volunteer platoon of Bitchery readers (including Opinionhead), the list of original research from which Edwards lifted almost word-for-word, and sometimes, precisely word-for-word, sections, include Encyclopadia Britannica, National Geographic magazine and Pulitzer-prize winning author Oliver La Farge, awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Laughing Boy, which was written in 1929 and for which a valid copyright is still held. If you want to see some very good detective work, see page 34 in the Bitches PDF file (called a Centralized Document of the Cassie Edwards Texts), referenced in my blogpost of day before yesterday. These women have documented the comparisons between what La Farge wrote in 1929 and what Casssie Edwards wrote in 1990.

As well as Roberts, several other Romance authors have posted their impressions and opinions, including Victoria Dahl, J.C. Wilder (who also writes as Dominque Adair), indy writer Silapa Jurun, Arlene C. Harris and Laura Vivanco. Another posster on the Smart Bitches site, Lisa, who links to a blog signed by Elle, provided sufficient genealogy material to cause even the most casual observer to question the authenticity of Cassie Edwards' claims that her grandmother was a full-blooded Cheyenne. You can read her article here.

Edwards apparently later corrected this to be her paternal great-great grandmother, but the blogger Elle, who (like this writer) has more than a passing familiarity with genealogy, did some basic research and could find nothing linking Edwards to the Cheyenne nation via bloodlines. While Elle, at this point, merely questions Edwards authenticity and veracity on this subject, my reading of even cursory research efforts occasions me to strongly doubt that Edwards has 1/16th Indian blood, if she has any at all.

There were many very feisty Romantic genre readers who weighed in on the subject of Edwards---far too many to mention in one blogpost. Many of the posters are authors whose blogs and websites you might enjoy visiting. They include: SusanWilbanks; S. Andrew Swann (who also writes as Steven Krane and S. A. Swiniarski), Jennifer Armintrout, Kay Hooper, and Theresa Meyers. Other writers who have weighed in on the Cassie Edwards situation over at the Bitches site include E. Ann Bardawill, Australian writer Bronwyn Parry whose first of two books will be puslished this year by Hachette Livre Australia, author Diane Castilleja, Katrina Strauss and Ciar Cullen.

And the reason I mention any names at all is because I've really had my eyes opened in the past few days by what I've read in the Bitchery posts and comments sections (you must read the Comments section after the main posts to get the full flavor, and fury). The insight I've gleaned goes way beyond the subject of plagiarism (and even ferrets!) because these women are passionate about what they write, what they read, what they feel about the genre of Romance fiction, specifically, and writing generally. This is my way of acknowledging them.

You can tell from the Comments sections that the writers are good and the readers are sophisticated, intelligent, savvy, funny-as-hell big mouths with equally great big hearts. They're real people; I like that. The forums themselves can get introspective or crazy wild, but, amazingly, most seem to "course correct," as one poster put it, after some of the passion spends itself into a sigh, and the quieter minds come out of the shadows with reason and logic draped in soothing words and calming tones.

I've also been linked, via the Bitchery, to a couple other sites that I found very informative. One, Dear Author, is written by six devoted readers who specialize in reviewing books from the Romance, Fantasy and Manga genres and dish up some very tasty commentary on issues affecting authors and the publishing industry. Again, the Dear Author blogposts are nicely enhanced with Comments from readers of that blog. An especially moving blogpost titled The Many Faces of Plagiarism provided brief biographical notes on the Edwards' victims. In the case of the deceased victims (about a half-dozen that we know), there's something deeply upsetting about seeing names, faces and bits about the plagiarized authors' lives. I think another writer, author of the Mind Meanderings in a blogpost titled "Silence is the Voice of Complicity," put it best with these words: "It was bad enough that she did this while giving neither credit not attribution to the true authors, most of them deceased writers whose works had fallen out of copyright — which, to me, reeks of grave-robbing." Indeed.

A third site to which I have been introduced through my new associations with the prior two is Teach Me Tonight, Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective. This blog, written by Sarah S.G. Franz, Gwendolyn D. Pough, Pamela Regis, Sandra Schwab, E.M. Selinger and the above-mentioned Laura Vivanco, serves up a delightfully insightful, thought-provoking and well-written buffet of bon mots ranging from the deliciously esoteric through the abundantly fruitful to the frequently fecund---essays that reveal a depth of thought and the academics' eyes for detail and logic on a variety of subjects of interest to anyone who seriously intends to write Romance fiction and for anyone who enjoys reading good to great Romance fiction.

Oh, and don't forget the ferrets. If you go here, take a screenshot of your receipt and send it here---that way, Nora Roberts will have to cough up five grand in matching monies, and see, everyone will live happily ever after, unless of course you're a ferret-word ripper-offer.

To paraphrase a poster whose name I swear I cannot remember, you can't make this stuff up!