Category: On the Blog


One of the most consistent comments/compliments I’ve received on Between Here and Gone is what a striking and lovely cover it has. And looking at it, you can’t imagine the book with any other cover, can you? It just so perfectly captures the essence of the story. BetweenHereAndGone_coverLARGEWith one glance you know it’s a female-centric period piece, likely involving a journey, whether metaphorical or literal (or in the case of BHAG, both). One would think it was easy to arrive at this cover and yes, once we found the perfect image, it was. Getting there, however…

Lemme ‘splain.

As many of you are aware, Between Here and Gone began its publication life on Wattpad, the online publishing platform that allows writers of all stripes to post their work. At that time, BHAG had been out on the submission rounds, had received many rejections, some decent feedback, and I was absolutely convinced it was never going to see the light of traditional publishing day. But I didn’t want what I felt was a good story languishing on my hard drive so I decided to perform an experiment. I would revise, based on the notes I’d received in rejection letters, and post the story, a chapter a day, on Wattpad, and see what sort of response it could garner.

So I set up my profile, prepared the first chapter to load, and…well, I needed a cover, didn’t I? Something that would give readers a hint of what they were getting, yeah? I’m no graphic artist, but I figured I could throw something reasonably decent together with the tools at hand. I scoured the internet for appropriate pictures, played with layouts in, of all things, the iPhoto card program, and came up with this:

BH&G1

Pretty, innit? I loved the wistful expression on the model’s face and the dreaminess of the background. The title font I was less fond of, but given I was working with limited options, it was sufficient. It was elegant and readable and didn’t distract from the overall effect.

Flash forward almost three years later. Between Here and Gone had sold to Diversion Books and we needed a cover. Both Marketing and Design loved my Wattpad cover and wanted to know if they could use it as a springboard for the new cover. (I mean, really, it is a gorgeous image, isn’t it?)

One teeny, tiny problem, however.

The image I’d used, which I had thought was an out-of-copyright image from the annals of Look magazine, was in fact, not. Umm… whoops? And when I contacted the art gallery that owned the rights to the image about the cost to acquire usage, they never even responded to me.

Double whoops.

So we had to start from scratch.

No problem, right? I provided the Diversion team with a slew of images of the sort I could imagine working for the cover. I knew I wanted a female-centric cover and one that conveyed travel or adventure or movement. After all, Natalia and her journey are the absolute emotional center of this book, with the time period setting the background for the events.

Time passes—we get the first prototype.

Between Here and Gone_coverpreview

It was…not right. Mind you, I can see exactly what the designer was going for and I can’t say that it was a bad idea, but its execution was all wrong for the tone of the book. The bright colors and cartoon-like graphics suggested a light, classic-era Shopaholic-style chick lit, rather than a more dramatic women’s fiction/coming-of-age story. And certainly, nothing, other than perhaps the shape of the glasses, suggested the time period. Certainly not the font—and if you discount the importance of the correct font, just take a look at titles like Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset or Helen Simonson’s  The Summer Before the War. 51btTR4u4eL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_
51XIiJqwlmL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

One glance and you have an immediate sense of the when of the time period. Even if you can’t pin it exactly, you know it not to be contemporary. Of course, the graphics aid considerably, but the font supports the graphics. In the case of the first BHAG cover, the font didn’t do much to support the graphic or the story. It was serviceable enough, but like the cover itself, not right.

TL;DR It didn’t work. Armed with constructive critique that the colors and images needed to be a bit more period/locale specific, the cover designer returned to the drawing board.

And lo, we got Cover 2.0:

Between Here and Gone_preview2

Well, then. We were on the right track. I did love the color scheme. And the geometric graphics definitely had a mod 60s sort of vibe to them. I liked the idea of the NYC skyline although I was a bit disconcerted by the visual of One World Trade Center—but I knew that was something that could be dealt with in production.

Unfortunately, however, the legs threw me for a loop. I know the image was supposed to convey the sense of walking (the motion I had requested), but just having disembodied legs didn’t work for me (and the fashion hound in me felt that the shoes gave more of a 30s vibe than 60s). And while a period font might have made a strong argument to support of the cover, the one used was again, nice, but somewhat generic and unremarkable.

By this point, I was concerned the designer and the team in general wanted to strangle me, but I knew in my gut we needed the perfect cover for this book and moreover, that the perfect cover was out there waiting to be created.

Luckily, the Diversion team was exceedingly patient and tolerant with me and once again allowed me input into what I thought would make the perfect cover. So I set to work, searching out images and cover examples—finally, I stumbled across a stock photoset that seemed to capture everything I was looking for. On a wing and a prayer, I emailed off the links and…they loved them. A few weeks later, I received these:

Needless to say, I lost my tiny little mind with excitement. Here was the cover I’d been longing for—two of them, in fact! Now, to choose. While I loved the font on the all-turquoise cover and liked that you could see more of the car, it was the coral/turquoise ombré shaded cover that whispered, “Me. Pick me. I’m the right cover.”

And it was. I loved that the young woman was the focus of the cover. That she was staring off into the distance, whether it was looking back to where she’d been or looking forward to where she was going, who knew? It was up for interpretation. I loved that while her expression was wistful, there was still a focus and determination about her. And I loved that you got a distinct sense of the when of the piece. It didn’t have to be exact, but it was enough for the reader to be able to ascertain that yes, this is a mid-20th century set story.

It was perfect.

And judging by the reactions I’ve received since it was revealed back in October, you all think it’s perfect, too.

Let me just thank the Diversion Team and my wonderful, wonderful cover designer again for their patience and for allowing me to be such a big part of the process. Most authors, we’re never given that gift and to have had it, for a book that means so much to me, defies words, really.

 

Between Here and Gone is on sale now!

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So a long, long time ago (okay, three years), in a galaxy far, far away (well…Wattpad) I put up the first chapter of a manuscript I loved an awful lot, but which I thought had no chance in hell of being traditionally published.BetweenHereAndGone_coverLARGE

I had no real audience or platform, and the genre wasn’t one that lent itself well to self-publishing so that wasn’t a viable option. But I was tired of having stories I knew were good sitting under my metaphorical bed. I’d seen other already-published authors use Wattpad to share excerpts or stories they loved with their readers as well as just starting out authors use Wattpad as a sort of informal publishing platform, so I figured, “Why not?”

I also figured maybe about sixteen people would read it, but hey—that’s sixteen more people than who would have seen it had it stayed safely tucked away on my hard drive.

I posted a chapter a day for the next month. Slowly, readers started finding it. And by the time all was said and done, BETWEEN HERE AND GONE had nearly 300,000 views. Paltry by some genre standards, but for a sort of women’s fiction/coming-of-age/culturally specific/mid-century modern set story? Might as well have been an entire universe.

I’m pretty much of the opinion that having the story up on Wattpad and having all those views is what ultimately brought BH&G to the attention of Diversion Books. (Well, that and an agent who just will not give up, bless her stubborn heart.)

And now, on January 12th, 2016, BETWEEN HERE AND GONE will be published, with its beautiful new cover. But in the meantime, we’re going back to our roots as it were, and with my publisher’s blessings, I’ve posted the edited first chapter—which is now the Prologue and I can hear Jenny Crusie swearing at me from Ohio. (Sorry, Jenny—that was one edict that needed to be broken.)

To get to the Prologue, you can either click on the cover (SHINY!) or Right Here.

As a writer, one of the most common questions I get—if not the most common question—is “Where do you get your ideas?”

Those of you who follow me on social media know I have a habit of posting outrageous/interesting/sometimes horrifying news articles with a sub-title of Writers Are Such Ghouls, Part…

Generally followed up with some commentary along the lines of “If I ever submitted anything like this to an editor, it would get rejected because it’s just that unbelievable.”

But as most of us know, sometimes, life really is too unbelievable. And oftentimes, art skirts uncomfortably close to the truth. Both sentiments I encountered a great deal over the course of submitting BOTH SIDES NOW. It’s no great secret that book had a very long road to publication, most of the rejections consisting of “This is beautifully written but…” and from there you could insert variations on a theme of “It’s difficult to believe something like this could actually happen.”

Sometimes the “this” had to do with the idea that the spouses of cancer patients could fall into a comrades-under-fire affair (ironically, a story element I got from an actual news article), but just as often, the “this” referred to the fact that a marriage could very nearly fall apart, stretched to the breaking point by a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments. I think we, as a society, have these romanticized ideals of what it’s like to Deal With A Deadly Disease—a trend I suspect may have begun with publication of Erich Segal’s LOVE STORY (and we won’t even talk about the movie version—oy!). There’s this idea that the sufferer must, you know, suffer bravely, yet quietly and elegantly, and the spouse/caretaker must Gracefully Bear Up Under Pressure.

Yeah…not so much.

When I wrote BOTH SIDES NOW, I wanted to not only write Nick and Libby’s stories as the so-called “healthy ones” in their respective marriages, but I also wanted to show snapshots of how two very different relationships dealt with the intrusion of this horrific disease and how it has a way of utterly upending everything you know. To that end, I read—a lot. I spoke to a lot of people, especially nurses, about what they saw and experienced. And in the end, I tried to craft a story that wasn’t particularly glamorous or sexy, but that was human.

And yet, I got “This is kind of unbelievable…” responses.

Then days like today roll around, where I’m lazily perusing headlines as I have my second cup of coffee (See: Writers Are Such Ghouls, Part…)  and very nearly do a comical spit-take over a decidedly not comical moment. Because today, I saw this headline:

Amy Robach and Andrew Shue: Cancer Nearly Destroyed Our Marriage

Amy Robach is a Good Morning America anchor who, a few years ago, underwent a mammogram screening on-air as part of GMA’S October Pink Initiative. Because of that screening, she discovered she had breast cancer, underwent a bilateral mastectomy, and several debilitating rounds of chemotherapy. At the same time, she was newly married to actor Andrew Shue. To say that all hell would broke loose would apparently be putting it mildly. (See: Headline above.)5105h7hlSTL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Now Amy has written a memoir called BETTER in which she describes her experience with breast cancer, from the decision to undergo her first mammogram in such a public fashion to how it affected her children and yes, her marriage. How it very nearly fell apart and how they painstakingly put it back together.

For me, it was like bringing everything full circle. I was inspired to write BOTH SIDES NOW in part because many years ago I read an article about a young woman who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer less than a year after her wedding. The strain on her marriage was such that she offered her husband an alternative—she gave him permission to have an affair if necessary, to find physical and emotional comfort with someone else while she worked on putting herself back together. He didn’t take her up on the offer, but their story stayed with me. And served as the spark of “What if…?” that serves as inspiration for so many writers.

Then I got told how unbelievable it was. Until I found the editor who found it believable.

I’ve had readers tell me it’s kind of unbelievable. I’ve also had readers tell me it’s most assuredly believable.

And then I saw that headline. And had Amy Robach and Andrew Shue tell me, even if indirectly, that it’s definitely believable. And real. And human.

That’s all I ever really wanted to do, you know. Write a human story.

Regardless of any future outcome, I’m content knowing that on that level, I succeeded.

(And yes, I’ll be reading BETTER in the very near future.)

‘Cause I’m good like that.

So.

Today is the release day for the Sassy Seven Boxed Set of which I (and my book Lucky Thirteen) are a part. It’s a collection of seven full-length romantic comedy-esque novels from some great authors (and me) all for the low, low, low, low price of .99!

(Handy clicky-buy links go HERE)

Amazon Kindle
Barnes & Noble Nook
iBooks
Kobo

There’s also a fun Q&A on USA Today’s Happily Ever After Blog where all seven of us confess why we love romcom so much, who our favorite romcom couples are, and what each of our books is about. I compared mine to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Of course, I didn’t have the time (or column inches) to talk as extensively about Thirteen as I might have otherwise. Let’s see—interesting tidbits.

This was the second full-length manuscript I wrote, close to ten years ago. (The first one lives under my bed and will never see the light of day.) If you know anything about me as a published author, then you might find yourself asking, “But Barb, this is an adult book—not a young adult.”

Yes. Yes it is. Remember how I’ve always said writing young adult was kind of a happy accident? I not only had this manuscript completed before I ever published as a young adult author, but two more featuring the same extended cast of characters. I had hoped that publishing in young adult would help pave the way for the adult stories, but it didn’t quite work out that way. But that’s all right. Because now I can bring it to you myself!

To whet your appetites, a small excerpt, in which our heroine, Isabel, is having a heart-to-heart with her best friend Ciara in the wake of a most unexpected encounter with a man who a) works for her and b) happens to be thirteen years younger. To say she’s conflicted would be putting it mildly. Thank goodness for Ciara.


“Oh. My. God. Then what?”

I shrugged as far as I was able to while reclined over a shampoo sink. “Nothing. I let him make the escape he so clearly wanted to make. Haven’t seen him since.”

“Which was?”

“A week ago.”

“And why not?”

I winced at the imperious tone—and at the increased force of the scrubbing of my scalp.

“Well, for one, I really did have the mother of all colds, so I holed up at home for a few days and now he’s called in sick the last few days. Probably figuring out some graceful way to quit. That way, he won’t have to worry about being the leading man in the next serial installment of Attack of the Crazed and Probably Hormonal Woman—ow!”

Ignoring my yelp, Ciara continued to scrub my scalp vigorously. “Okay, refresh my memory. Which waiter is this again?”

Stretching my arm, I was just able to snatch a towel from a nearby stack so I could wipe away the trickle of shampoo currently threatening my left eye. “The young one,” I sighed.

“They’re all young, babydoll,” she drawled. Water began sluicing through my hair, hot nearly to the point of pain. “Which young one? And how young, exactly?”

I spluttered as she not-so-accidentally ran the spray across my face. “I’ll never get a chance to tell you if drown me, Ciara.”

“Fine.” With a click, the chair popped upright from its reclined position, making the blood rush to my head. Dizzy, I opened my eyes only to rear back from Ciara’s narrow blue gaze, hovering entirely too close.

“I’ll give you condition and rinse time to collect your thoughts, then—all of it.”

Pfft.” Like the death stare was supposed to impress me after twenty -five years of best-friend-hood?

Parked in the chair at Ci’s station I meditatively blotted my hair with a towel while she arranged her tools. As she began combing through my damp hair, our gazes met in the mirror.

“Well?” But her tone and look were both less demanding than they’d been a few moments earlier which was exactly what I needed to loosen up. She knew me too well, the bitch. “Let’s start with something easy—how young, exactly?”

“Twenty-five.” Not like I’d checked the employee records I had on file or anything. Praying that I was recalling his age incorrectly even though I already knew better.

“Hmm,” she hummed. “Nice. Let’s move on to the physical—how tall?”

I thought back to how, even at five-seven, I’d still had to rise slightly on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Just about six feet, I guess.”

Separating a section of hair, Ci started snipping. “Okay, then. Tall enough you can wear your Louboutins comfortably. This is good.” She winked at me in the mirror. “Eyes, hair, distinctive features?”

“Brown and brown and young.”

“Oh come on, Isa.” Ciara’s voice took on a decidedly annoyed edge again—even her tiny diamond nose stud seemed to glitter impatiently under the fluorescent track lights. “You have to give me more than that to work with.”

Sighing, I pulled up a mental image of Josh’s face—not difficult, since it had been on my mind a whole lot more than I was comfortable admitting, even to Ci. “Well… his eyes are the exact color of dark chocolate ganache—deep and rich. Great lashes. Not girly long, but thick.” Yeah, I’d done more than my share of surreptitious glancing during dinner. Don’t ask me why. It’s not like I hadn’t seen him most every day for the last three years.

Ci kept snipping, but looked up long enough to catch my gaze in the mirror again. “Okay, keep going—because I’m still not quite picturing who this is. What about the rest of the face?”

I started to say ‘young’ again, but Ci’s hard tug on my hair warned do not annoy the woman with the sharp scissors. Sighing, I tried to keep it quick and painless. “Wide cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes that turn down slightly at the outside corners—”

Okay, maybe not quick, because I liked mentally revisiting the sleepy, very sexy appearance that particular feature gave him and which had left me going more than a little warm every time he’d turned that intense dark brown gaze on me. However, not sharing that tidbit. That was mine.

Finally, I got to the one thing Ciara could relate to. “His hair’s nearly as dark as his eyes, kind of longish and somewhere between wavy and curly.”

Yep. That got her. Should’ve just started there.

“Wait a minute—that waiter with the gorgeous hair that women come in here begging me to give them, regardless of cost? That’s Josh?”

“Um hm.”

“Oh sweetie, you should’ve just said so. I’d have recognized him from the description of that head of hair alone—I’ve been dying to get my hands on it.”

“Don’t you dare,” popped out before I could stop myself. Didn’t have to look in the mirror to know I was blushing like some adolescent twit.

Not one more word. Even if she snatches you bald-headed.

She laughed as she combed my hair out once more, holding my head steady between her hands and studying the results, then snipping a bit more here and there. “Relax, darling. Just to shape it a bit—maybe rethink the sideburns. Nothing drastic. So, what about the bod, proper?”

I turned to look directly at her, scissors be damned. “Jesus, Ciara, it’s not like I saw the boy naked!” Only nearly shirtless and well, my hands had gotten intimate with his fly and Lord, was it getting hot in here? “I thought you wanted to figure out who he was? Now you know.”

One narrow shoulder rose, the gesture elegant even given the black baby doll tee with “Bite These” scripted in rhinestones across her chest. “Color me curious.”

Color her sadistic. Forget it. The battle was lost. She was going to keep asking and honestly, I wanted to keep talking.

But only to purge myself—get him out of my system.

Yeah, right.

“Kind of long and lanky, I guess… but not in a ninety-eight pound weakling sort of way. Nice shoulders.”

Shifting in the chair, I took a deep breath that whooshed out on a sigh. “Oh, and his chest—”

“Whoa. Hold up.” Ci leaned forward and grabbed the hairdryer. “I’m guessing with that head of hair….” I watched myself turn beet red as her reflection leered and her eyebrows did a truly horrific Groucho Marx thing.

“My, my… I guess so. And since my chests of preference are neither hairy nor flat, you can keep that tidbit as the little private fetish I know it to be for you.”

“Tit slut,” I muttered beneath the whine of the dryer.

“I heard that.”

Sticking my tongue out at her reflection, I remained slouched in the chair until she none-too-gently prodded the brush handle between my shoulder blades, forcing me to sit straighter. Thankfully, the task of drying and styling my hair brought a temporary respite in our never-ending game of Let’s Dissect Isa’s Love Life. Not that I didn’t do the same to Ciara when opportunity arose—especially since she actually had a love life worth dissecting. Had to be why she was pressing so hard for the dirt given she’d been after me to date… well, since Chris and I had decided not to stay together.

Ten years ago.

One could say it’d been a dry spell.

But who had the time? Or inclination, come to think of it?

And honestly… I was perfectly good without a man. I had Alex, Mae’s, friends, family; why did I need romantic entanglements? I didn’t. Yeah, the physical urges got pesky from time to time, but no big.

I was nothing if not self-sufficient.

Ci shut off the hairdryer and fiddled a bit more with my hair, snipping a few stray bits here and there before finishing it off with a fine mist of spray.

“Long bangs, layers for movement, but not so much that you can’t put it up in a sharp, sophisticated ponytail or twist for work if that’s what you want. You like?”

I looked in the mirror at Ciara’s slightly anxious expression. As if she really needed to worry. Not like I’d let anyone else touch my hair since we were teenagers. Grasping the hand she had on my shoulder I reassured her, “You know I love it.”

Her expression relaxed. “Good. It’s so fun to play with your hair now that you’ve let it grow out again.” Unable to help herself, she rearranged it again. “I think last time you wore it this long was high school.”

“Well, you know, Ci, once you hit forty it’s time for Sensible Hair. Two more years and that’ll be all she wrote..”

“Oh, bullshit.” Ci’s hairbrush hit the rolling cart beside her so hard it skidded a few feet away. Good thing I’d come in before the start of her business day, otherwise, she might be scaring off customers. “Girl, I swear, you are getting on my last gay nerve with this nonsense. I don’t know where the fuck you’ve been getting these crackpot theories of what women our age are or are not supposed to do, but they’re about as outdated as organdy aprons and pearls and heels while you vacuum. ‘I can’t have long hair. I can’t fuck a younger man,’“ she mocked in an acid sing-song. “It’s pure, unadulterated crap, Isabel.”

I spun the chair around to face her. “Always so nice to see the breadth of your Columbia University education shining through.”

“It is crap. My mother’s latest boyfriend, courtesy of CougerStalk-dot-com, is seventeen years younger than her and she says it’s the most amazing sex she’s had since her twenties.”

I shuddered. “Dear God, talk about TMI.”

“Tell me about it, but the woman won’t stop calling me at ungodly hours and conveying all the gory details—in glorious living Technicolor. Thank God she hasn’t figured out how to upload videos to YouTube or else I might have the visuals to go along with.”

She paused as we both contemplated that horror.

From Lucky Thirteen ©2014 Barbara Ferrer

So my first official involvement with G.I.S.H.W.H.E.S. (or the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) has come to an end.

First off, as some of you might be asking, “What in the ever-loving hell is G.I.S.H.W.H.E.S.?” Well, it’s the brainchild of actor/lunatic Misha Collins of Supernatural fame. The idea is for teams to compete in a scavenger hunt that’s comprised of both finding items, creating items, or committing random acts of kindness, many with a very silly/absurdist bent to them. Ultimately, the idea is to stretch your boundaries, step out of your comfort zone, recapture childlike joys, and maybe make some new friends along the way.

When all is said and done, I’m of… mixed emotions.

The positives:

My team, Inevitable Innuendo, was absolutely spectacular and I got to know several people I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

I got to enjoy the week with my daughter, since she was also a team member.

I discovered I have a far higher tolerance for personal silliness than I might have imagined.

I learned something about the depths of creativity (and sheer abandon) that seemingly normal people have. (And I mean that in an incredibly complimentary way.)

I saw a lot of people really going to Herculean effort to help each other out (like the amazing lady who created TWENTY papier mâché heads and took them to a meet up for pictures with actor Osric Chau).

 

The negatives (and it really boils down to only one):

I wasn’t really crazy about a lot of the items on the list. I get that a good deal of my dislike stems from my own nature, which is introverted and more than a little cynical to begin with, but that first day, as I scanned the List, I had a sick feeling that several items had the potential to go somewhat pear-shaped.

And boy, did they.

The one that’s received the most publicity was the item requesting a published Science Fiction author to create a 140-word story starring Misha and the Queen of England. Now, let me be clear—many GISHERS who made the request did so in an incredibly polite fashion and many authors who were unable to comply, replied in kind.

However…

Some requests were framed in less than polite fashion (dudes—don’t demand); some responses to an author’s polite decline were met with less than gracious responses (dudes—they said no, it’s not a personal indictment, move on); and in some ways, worst of all, some authors, even when presented with a polite request, responded in such rude, overbearing, condescending, and downright mean fashion, it made me embarrassed for my profession. Because seriously, there is no call to tell someone, who is contacting you because they are presumably a fan of your work, to “kindly go die in a fire.” (Yes, that was a direct quote from a response to an incredibly polite request.)

All I can say is, if Neil Fucking Gaiman can decline politely, then so can you.

Side note: I found it particularly fascinating that the lesser-known the writer, the more vitriolic the response seemed to be and the more resentful that they were being asked to “write for free,” with additional snarking about the disrespect Misha was showing towards authors and forgetting that we’re professionals, too, and hey, would he consent to starring in multiple short films without pay? Guys, guys, guys… this wasn’t exactly a Harlan Ellison moment—

Also, I found it ironic that most of the vitriolic responses consisted of far more than 140 words. Just sayin’.

Obviously, this is the item that stood out to me the most because of my personal investment in it, but there were others that I felt skirted some very sketchy territory for me, in that they posed a potential professional issue for someone by intruding on a workplace, or caused disruption to someone’s personal space. Again, could just be me, though.

I’m also seeing a fair bit of resentment for the celebrity participants. This mystifies me as in the rules, it was clearly stated if a celebrity team won, a non-celebrity team would also be chosen for the Grand Prize. How is this a bad thing? It means you get double the fun if you’re the winning non-celebrity team. And why should someone be excluded from the event just because they happen to be well-known?

It’s this sort of behavior that tends to make me froth at the mouth and want to back slowly away.

Actually, too, now that I think about it, there was one other thing that bothered me about the List and perhaps, about the intent of G.I.S.H.W.H.E.S. to begin with—the idea is that we’re supposed to push our personal boundaries and step out of our comfort zones, yada, yada. See, to me, this list represents someone else’s idea of Comfort Zone (and let’s face it, Misha has no personal boundaries, so…). I mean, every time I step onto a ballroom floor, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Every time I go to an event where I have to meet strangers, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Hell, every time I submit a new manuscript or story, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Who the hell is anyone to tell me that’s not enough pushing the envelope?

Now, I will fully admit, I have a knee-jerk reaction when someone tells me I must do something, which generally involves hissing and spitting and backing away like a cornered badger. But despite the occasional flashes of resentment, I acknowledge that there are always new boundaries to conquer and that even repeated stepping out of a comfort zone can, in and of itself, take on the feel of a comfort zone. (Devil you know and all that…) Which is probably why in the end, G.I.S.H.W.H.E.S. is a good thing for someone like me.

Now, reading over this, I realize I must sound like a total Negative Nelly and that’s actually not my intent at all. As I said, my emotions were mixed and I suspect  a good deal of that has to do with the timing of this year’s event which, from my perspective,  was not good, seeing as it came directly in the wake of a ballroom competition, meaning I was already physically and mentally exhausted going in. Plus for this classic introvert, my people tolerance, after having to be “on” for nearly four days straight, was more than a little tapped out. Generally, post-ballroom, I strip off the makeup and fancy dresses, put on my pajamas and avoid people for at least a week. I didn’t get to do that this week, so I felt stretched pretty thin and rubbed more than a little raw. Also, I felt as if I wasn’t capable of contributing as much as I could have to my team, which makes me feel twitchy and uncomfortable, as I hate letting people down.

Especially the people on my team who were the most amazing, creative, lunatic lot I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. The extent to which these individuals were willing to push themselves makes me wish I’d done better for them and yes, will bring me back next year because if there’s anything I hate, it’s not feeling as if I gave it my best effort.

To Team Inevitable Innuendo—I Heart You Guys mightily.

148- Parental Advisory Album

Reacquainting myself

One of these days, I’m going to  believe I’m actually pretty good at this writing gig.

Where I left off in Dorian:

Faubourg Marigny

 

A mournful blues slide greeted Alex as she made her way up Ma Mère’s curving wrought-iron steps to the intimate rooftop patio where Mac sat on a small raised platform, head bent over his beloved Gretsch. The hands that during the week dissected bodies with cool efficiency, attempting to draw from them the secrets of their demise, now caressed the strings of the vintage guitar, drawing from them an aching pathos and sorrow that resonated down to a body’s bones. A true bluesman. All it had taken was a few notes from his guitar that first day, and Alex had understood here lay the real Mac. Had understood that his invitation to “come hear me play for a spell,” amounted to far more than casual politesse.

That first Sunday, so long ago now, had been the real beginning of their friendship.

“Well if it isn’t the good doctor herself.”

Hell. And here she’d simply been looking for an afternoon immersed in good food, good music, and good company. Hoping to banish, if only temporarily, those haunting images of mournful gazes and the lingering headache with its relentless, agonizing heartbeat. Wanted to forget she’d imagined whispered entreaties to dare—to open herself.

She didn’t want to open herself, dammit.

Any more than she wanted to acknowledge the greeting, delivered in its typically mocking drawl.

However, it was difficult to ignore a lifetime’s worth of good manners—much as she might want to.

“Afternoon, Gabriel.”

Curly wrought iron scraped across the weathered brick pavers as he shoved a chair away from the table, the invitation clear. Alex stared from the empty chair to Gabriel’s seemingly disinterested expression, debating. On the one hand, she could simply acknowledge the summons with a “No , thank you,” and the polite dismissive nod learned at Nana Louisette’s knee. On the other, if she declined the invitation, she stood to get an earful from Mac regarding her chronic muleheadedness, as well as giving Gabriel further fodder in their not-always silent battle of wills.

“Bloody Mary, please,” she said to the hostess who’d returned when it became clear Alex wasn’t following.  She dropped into the wrought iron chair, shifting to allow for a better view of the stage. That it kept Gabriel safely contained at the edges of her peripheral vision was just an added bonus.

“Now that’s a bit rude, Doctor.”

“You’re the one who asked me to join you. Should’ve been prepared.” She took a slow, deliberate sip of the potent red cocktail that had appeared with the preternatual efficiency for which Mère’s bartenders were famed, then sighed.

“I’m sorry.” She pushed the drink away, not even sure why she’d ordered the damned thing in the first place. For God’s sake, she didn’t even much care for Bloody Marys,.

Muleheaded.

Mac’s taunt echoed in her head as she turned the chair back toward the table—enough to keep the stage in her line of sight yet bringing her back within the realm of decent manners. “That was rude.” Knowing damned well even though alcohol had never seized hold of him same way the smack had, Gabriel still viewed anything harder than a beer as something to be treated with respect and generally avoided.

He shrugged and gestured at a passing waitress, lifting his bottle along with two fingers. “I take it’s been a difficult morning?” His voice was surprisingly neutral.

“No more so than usual.”

“Isn’t there some rule where Sundays shouldn’t be difficult?”

“If there is, my family didn’t get the memo.”

As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them, fully expecting some scathing retort, likely involving silver spoons and apron strings. Then she’d snipe back, something completely inappropriate and ugly, and so it would go until she’d up and leave, only to return home cloaked in the nausea and vague sense of unease that had dogged her ever since this morning’s bizarre episode.

Episode—that’s how she’d chosen to denote it. A brief, surreal moment brought on by too little sleep and not enough coffee.

Or booze.

Again, however, Gabriel surprised her, merely tapping the neck of his fresh Abita against hers with a murmured “Santé,” and relaxing back in his chair to listen to Mac finish out his set.

A good part of Alex remained tense, unable to completely shake the feeling he was just trying to lull her into a false sense of security because… well, because. It would be just like him, wouldn’t it? Almost against her will, though, she relaxed, soothed as always by the music and the beauty that was Ma Mère’s. The smoky aromas of blackening spices butting up against the cool, loamy scent of weathered brick all wrapped in the steady hum of an early Sunday afternoon. Quiet, compared to the tourist traps down in the Quarter, but that’s just how the regulars around here liked it. Not to say it didn’t have its noisy, raucous moments—catch it on any given autumn Sunday when the Saints played—but even so, Mère’s belonged to the locals and those they trusted to keep the secret of the best brunch and blues in New Orleans.

Initially, it had been the latter, by way of Mac and his weekend hobby, that had drawn Alex to the venerable Marigny landmark. Still relatively early in the post-Katrina recovery, he’d suggested she drop on by. Listen to him play his guitar and if she had a mind to, maybe even lend a hand because at Mère’s, in those days, they’d needed all the help they could get.  It’d been that rarity: never once closing because of the storm, surviving on generators, charcoal grills, and a wing and a prayer. A loosely organized host of volunteers had cooked, cleaned, and procured supplies from God-only-knows where—best not ask what you really didn’t want to know—while overseeing it all had been Mama  Earlene and Lucille, her trusty twelve-gauge.

She’d offer food and drink to any who needed, take what payment could be offered and if none could, simply scribbled out an I.O.U., assuring the customer she was confident the debt would be paid. Even now, five years on, folks regularly eased in through the palm-shrouded entry, bearing their tattered half of a ticket along with payment, while at least once a week an envelope would drop through the mail slot,  bearing postmarks from as nearby as Slidell or as far away as California. There was even the memorable instance  of a case of fresh-smoked salmon from Alaska that had landed on the doorstep with a simple “Thank you, Mama” scrawled on the side.

One gesture of generosity in exchange for another—one that may well have saved a life.

That was the thing—people remembered.

Even if they no longer lived here—forced out by circumstances beyond their control—they remembered their city and the people in it.

This city, it had a way of holding a body’s heart. And Mère’s itself embodied the very heart of the New Orleans Alex had never been able to escape, no matter how far she’d run.

“Well, now… look at the two of you, playing nice in my little corner of the sandbox.”

“Fuck you,” Gabriel retorted, but there was no real heat behind it. He raised his hand again to summon the waitress while Mac pulled a chair up to the table and drained what was left of Alex’s Turbodog.

“Didn’t mess around, did you, girl?”

Alex shrugged. “Gabriel ordered.”

Mac’s sandy brows rose. “You let Gabe order for you?”

“I don’t let Gabriel do anything—he simply did and I felt it bad manners to argue.”

“As if niceties and proper behavior have ever stopped you before.”

“Just trying to take your repeated suggestions to heart.”

Mac made some unintelligible noise deep in his throat, before turning his attention to the newly-arrived waitress. “Three more Turbodogs, darlin’, along with the large bucket of Frenchman’s wings and a couple baskets of sweet potato fries.”

Alex felt her arteries hardening while Gabriel grumbled, “Why yes, Mac, you presumptuous son of a bitch, wings and fries would be great, thanks ever so for asking.”

Mac snorted. “Pot, meet kettle or was that some other Alex Lacorbiere telling me you’d ordered beer for her without so much as a by your leave? Besides, y’all had your chance to order whatever the hell you wanted while I was up working my fingers to the bone.”

“What can I say? You played such an engrossing set we forgot about eating.” Alex said with only minimal acid.

“And I remain stunned y’all quit arguing with each other long enough to actually listen.”

Gabriel leaned back in his chair the fingers of one hand restlessly playing with a worn silver lighter, sparking a flame and flipping the cap closed several times in quick succession. Remnants of yet another vice left abandoned in the ashes of his past, Alex knew, yet some habits remained deeply ingrained.

“Again, weren’t you the one chastising us to get along and all that Rodney King peacemaking bullshit?”

“Yeah—just never imagined either of you stubborn mules would actually listen.”

“The credit for this one actually goes to Gabriel,” Alex found herself saying, though for the life of her, she couldn’t figure why, exactly. “I would’ve been perfectly happy to find a remote corner where I could hide for a few hours and lose myself in the music.”

A knowing eyebrow rose. “And what kind of fresh hell did Miz Louisette inflict today?”

“Nothing fresh—merely more of the usual. Gossiping about who at church has had what done, being barely civil to Teddy Beckett because she can’t stand the man and wants to make certain he knows it, although I got the distinct impression he could give less of a shit. Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “and giving me hell about not wearing stockings to church.”

No need to go into the episode. Especially not in front of Gabriel. Not as if it was pertinent to the discussion at hand and besides, it was nothing more than an anomaly. Brought on by that lack of coffee. And booze. God only knew, that fresh beer couldn’t arrive soon enough.

“She’s lucky you put on a skirt.”  Mac’s glance took in Alex’s battered jeans and the worn to butter-softness Oxford button-down that had belonged to Daddy and that she’d pilfered from the bag intended for the Saint Vincent de Paul charity drive.

“Choose your battles.” Oddly restless, she stood and wandered to the rooftop’s edge, hoping for the warm spring breeze to sweep away the vestiges of the headache that the brief memory of this morning had resurrected.Gretsch-610x250

From A Tempestuous Noise by Barbara Caridad Ferrer ©2013

Where it began (Dorian)

After more than six weeks of semi-voluntary writing hiatus, I’m finally ready to get back to it. I’ve got several projects I could work on, but the one that seems to be poking its head up out of the ground most often is Dorian. I’m pleased, actually, because I love this project and I’d feared I’d come to such a screeching halt (multiple times) that I’d never actually finish it, which made me sad.

So sometime this week I’ll be opening the most current file (I can practically hear Lovely Agent cheering) and assembling my notes and trying to decide if what I have is really as good as I recall and if it inspires me to go forward.

In the meantime, this is what was once the original opening to the story, scribbled in a notebook in the wee hours of September 12, 2011. The fact that it still makes me shiver is a good sign, I think, because even though it’s no longer part of the story (it was a darling that needed to be killed), it did set the tone for everything that’s followed.

***

“Don’t look back, somethin’ might be gainin’ on you.” ~Satchel Paige

palm tree bent hurricane EDITED*304

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

August 28, 2005

His entire life he’d heeded those words.  His daddy’s mantra, borrowed from the great Satchel.  “That’s as good advice as any given by a man, no matter what color his skin is.”  So no, he’d never looked back.  Always looked forward.  Always forged ahead.  But the joke was on him now.  Because that thing that was gaining was coming from ahead, rushing headlong towards them with speed and fury and an unforgiving wrath that roared and howled at the injustice, but refused to let up, to divert its course.  Oddly, he wasn’t frightened.  God knows, he should’ve been.  Even old timers had the sense to be good and scared of the fearsome beast that snarled and spit and breathed righteous fire.  But not him.

No, if anything, he was hopeful.  Hope.  A simple word holding so much weight.  There was hope it would all be swept away—the dirt and filth. The lack of decency and morals and basic humanity.  Hope that the demons and monsters would be swallowed whole and erased—leaving nothing in their wake but perhaps the merest spun sugar dust sparkling in air washed clean and new.  Evidence that once, they’d been good.

Despite appearances to the contrary, they’d all been good.

Once upon a time.

It had all once been so very, very good.

Subtitled: what happens when Barb is operating on 2.5 hours of sleep and sees a photograph that captures her fancy. The photograph in question:

Vintage Hollywood

All credit to Arlene Wszalek (@Wzzy) who had posted a lovely full color version of this image taken during a walk around the newly reopened Hollywood Reservoir. I mentioned that it seemed the sort of  image that evoked a sense of Old Hollywood and that I’d love to see it manipulated in a sepia-tint. A while later, voilà—the Lovely Arlene had tagged me in a post whereupon she had applied a sepia filter to the photograph and isn’t it lovely?

My first thought was, “There’s a story there.” (Go on, look surprised, I dare ya.) And lo and behold… a wee drabble emerged.

This is that drabble. Please, keep in mind, 2.5 hours sleep.

With many thanks to Arlene for indulging my idle whim.

Vintage Hollywood

New Year’s Day 1957

No one remembered what it used to look like.

The fruit orchards and citrus groves bisected by wide, quiet avenues and lined with modest Craftsman bungalows and Mission-style houses

Back before Bill Mulholland built his dam, and Woodruff and Shoults had erected that damned monstrosity up on Mount Lee designed to draw people to their “superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills.” Hell, he hardly remembered himself—he hadn’t been that long out of short pants when the sign went up and not long after, the dam was built, changing the landscape forever.

Of course, it didn’t help—or hurt—depending on your point of view, that as the popularity of the talkies grew and the industry along with it, his quiet, sleepy town had also gone along for the ride—huge swathes of acreage giving way to studios and shopping centers.

He still hadn’t quite forgiven Chaplin for that.

Even so, the area had remained fairly sylvan and peaceful for quite a long time, removed as it was from the City of Angels, proper. Especially up in the hills themselves, lots of trails for a body to take a bracing walk or where a horse could still be ridden in peace. Up there, a body could get lost for days—weeks even—almost forgetting the hustle and bustle that invaded and wouldn’t be beat back. Not unlike a particularly insidious strain of poison-oak.

The one invader he hadn’t minded was the Observatory. There was something so regal and serene about it, clean and white and set at a remove from the ugliness. One could sit up there and feel just a little bit closer to the heavens and that was a fact.

There had been that scare some years back—that lunatic, Hughes, making noises about building up on Cahuenga Peak—something about how his princess deserved a castle so she could oversee her subjects.

Man was loopier than the yarn his grandmamma used to spin.

Then again, same argument could be made for City Council, since they actually voted to grant him permission to build.

Thank God, Hughes had all the restraint of a chickenhawk let loose in a henhouse. Ginger had caught wind of his indiscretions—not that he went to all that much trouble to hide them—and had the sense God gave a goat to give the narcissistic bastard the old heave-ho before she got in too far over her head.

Granted, he might not care for the sign much, but for better or worse, it was a landmark and a damned sight better than whatever that crackpot Howard would’ve seen fit to put up, no doubt overshadowing if not obliterating anything in his path. When one took into account that his next big project after Ginger cut him loose had been the Spruce Goose…

Well—everyone knew how that had turned out.

He paused for a breath and to regain his bearings. It was all changing so fast and yet, at times like this, the setting sun bathing everything in a warm gold glow, he could squint his eyes and it almost—almost—had the look of the sepia-tinted photographs so carefully preserved within the leather-bound albums that were his pride and joy.

They told a story, those albums did.

Just not the story everyone assumed.

They thought he was merely the family historian. The dotty uncle trying desperately to cling to a past about which no one cared.

Oh, but they’d care all right.

If they were smart enough to put together the clues he’d so carefully preserved on those bits of celluloid and painstakingly affixed to the heavy parchment sheets of those leather albums.

Of one thing he was certain—by the time they put it all together, that is, presuming they ever did—it would be far too late to do a damned thing about it. He’d be long gone and the biggest secret of all, gone with him.

Something about that—much like this place he loved so much—made him smile.

With that, he picked up the shovel and began to dig.

I’m sitting here with my first cup of coffee of the morning and mulling over a book I finished last night, Gracefully Gone, by Alicia Coppola. Honestly, I’ve been mulling over this book and writing this post since I first started reading it last week.

gracefully-goneNormally, I don’t write reviews—I might leave one on Amazon, as I did for Gracefully Gone, because I know those ratings and reviews can definitely help, but in terms of writing in-depth reviews on books, it’s not something I particularly enjoy doing. Maybe it’s because I know how much effort and sweat and tears and heart go into the creation of a book for me to turn what’s often a very critical eye on it. Call me a softy, but I can’t do it.

But Gracefully Gone has proven to be an exception almost from the get-go. Not simply because it’s prompting me to write about it, but because I even read it in the first place. You see, memoirs generally aren’t my cuppa—odd, since I actually love biographies, but I am a contrary creature. (Go on, look surprised.) But Gracefully Gone isn’t simply just another memoir either—it’s equal parts memoir, journal, and epistolary account. It chronicles the journey of Matthew Coppola, Sr. and his daughter, the young girl/woman who would grow up to become actress Alicia Coppola, as they navigated his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventually, the last months of his life.

It was a tremendous read—and yet, I still can’t review it, not in any traditional sense. It would… cheapen the experience, if that makes any sense. So I beg your tolerance as I record my reactions in the manner in which I heard them in my head as I read, which was… a chatty, conversational letter. Kind of apropos, no?

All right, then, here we go.

Dear Alicia,

Well, fellow writer, I finished reading Gracefully Gone last night. And as it has from the first moment I started reading, it has stayed with me. For various reasons—the style (since you are a wonderfully evocative writer), the story, the events, but most of all, because of a line you used more than once and that resonated: “There but for the grace of God…” Continue reading

Just a few random observations on Between Here & Gone noted this morning:

I’ve received more reviews and “votes” (1228) which, let’s equate them to ratings on amazon or Goodreads, and “comments” i.e. reviews (104)  than I’ve ever received on any of my traditionally published novels. Hell, I think on all three combined. Including the negative/lukewarm reviews because yanno, Goodreads—where not reading the back cover copy and realizing you’ve bought a book featuring a love triangle when you hate reading love triangles is cause to give the book a one-star review. (I’m so not kidding about that.)

Even if I only look at the stats for Chapter Thirty (89 votes & 27 comments) they amount to more than I’ve gotten on any single novel.

And this isn’t even taking into account the comments left on my profile, which generally tend to refer back to BH&G as well.

I’m not trying to make any specific point here, other than idle curiosity. But I do find it interesting that more people found the book once it was listed as a feature title—a little thing, really, but it was giving the book a little piece of spotlight that seemed to bring it to readers’ attention. Maybe a lesson there for traditional publishers?

All right then, carrying on.