Sunday, June 30, 2019

June Words of Widsom

There is nothing so bad that politics cannot make it worse. --Thomas Sowell

When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. This misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth...just like you did. --Jill Blakeway

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. --Buddha

Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. --Gustave Flaubert

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself. --Hermann Hesse

One of the most pathetic - and dangerous - signs of our times is the growing number of individuals and groups who believe that no one can possibly disagree with them for any honest reason. --Thomas Sowell

All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.
--Ernest Hemingway

He lived a life of respect and kindness and graciousness and gentlemanly manners and thoughtfulness all the time, regardless of whether or not he thought someone was watching. --Peggy Grande (on President Ronald Reagan)

Friday, June 28, 2019

This is why you need to live at the beach. Because vacationing at the beach is dangerous.

21-year-old South Bay woman killed by sharks in the Bahamas. What an awful way to go. I feel so bad for her family having to witness that.

Death toll for American tourists in the Dominican Republic up to twelve.

Marina del Rey

Venice Pier, Venice Beach

Playa del Rey

I've never been much of a travel buff, mainly because for most of my adult life I couldn't really afford it. But even now, unless I'm going to a writer's convention, I like staying close to home. Good thing too, because it's probably safer that way.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Recent Reading: "I'll See You Again"

I'll See You Again by Jackie Hance with Janice Kaplan (audiobook read by Jackie Hance with the prologue read by Janice Kaplan)

A couple years ago I stumbled across the horrific but compelling 2011 HBO documentary There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. It dealt with a deadly July 2009 car accident on the Taconic State Parkway in New York State that killed driver Diane Schuler and four of the five children in her mini-van (her two-year old daughter and her three nieces) along with all three men in the vehicle Schuler struck. The only survivor was Schuler's five year old son Bryan. In terms of fatalities it was the worst accident in New York State since 1934.

The accident was caused when Schuler entered the Taconic via an offramp, going the wrong way (southbound in the northbound lanes) at high speed for almost two miles before striking the vehicle carrying father and son Michael Bastardi (aged 81) and Guy Bastardi (aged 49) and their friend Daniel Longo (aged 74).

Author Jackie Hance is married to Schuler's brother Warren Hance, and the three nieces were their daughters: Emma, aged nine, Allyson, aged eight, and Katie, aged five. The girls had joined Aunt Diane, her husband Danny (who drove home separately), and their two young cousins for a weekend camping trip. At some point during the drive home Emma called her parents, frightened and crying, and told them that there was something wrong with her aunt and that she was driving erratically. When Diane got on the phone her speech was slurred and Jackie and Warren feared she had suffered either a seizure or a stroke. She was supposedly at a rest stop and Warren told her to stay put, that he would come to them. Not only did she keep going, she also abandoned her cell phone, meaning that she and her vulnerable passengers couldn't be contacted or tracked.

Diane was a supermom, dedicated and trustworthy. Her survivors assumed she had been disoriented due to some sort of medical episode and the accident was initially viewed simply as a terrible tragedy. Then the results of Diane's autopsy was released and everything changed: she had a blood alcohol content of .19 (double the New York legal limit) and also had marijuana in her system. Suddenly the accident was considered anything but and Diane became one of the most hated women in America, the despised drunk-driving mom who killed eight people.

I don't remember hearing about the accident or the media attention that followed it at the time. Maybe because it was on the other side of the continent, although it received quite a bit of national coverage. But I can see why it generated such interest and emotional responses. It's an epic tragedy.

Of the four families impacted by the wreck only the Hance's declined to participate in the documentary. The title in particular galled them, having come from their terrified child. While I think the film is well-done I can understand why they didn't want any part of it. Their grief was unfathomable - all of their children dead, and at the hands of a family member they had loved and trusted. Then there was the constant media coverage, which they hated and only added to their misery. They weren't about to invite cameras into their lives.

Without the Hances, the film focused on Diane and her background (her mother abandoned the family when Diane and her brothers were kids, Diane was an overachiever and perfectionist) and Danny Schuler's refusal to accept the results of the autopsy and therefore Diane's culpability in the carnage, with a big assist from his sister-in-law Jay Schuler, married to his brother Jimmy. Diane was the model of a dedicated, hard-working wife and mom, so the results of the autopsy were tough for those who knew and loved her to accept. But Danny and Jay take it to another level and in doing so stubbornly refuse to accept reality, constantly looking for other imaginary reasons that would have triggered Diane's uncharacteristic behavior despite being repeatedly told that even a medical event (of which no evidence was found in the autopsy) wouldn't explain the alcohol and marijuana findings. In doing so, they also compound the damage done to the other families. You will hate Danny Schuler by the end of this film.

Because of the Hance's absence in the documentary, I was interested in hearing their side of the story. I had read online that they had eventually had another daughter and seemed to have triumphed over their misfortune and I wanted to know how someone could overcome such an overwhelming loss. It wasn't what I expected.

Jackie Hance had the perfect suburban wife and mom life. Her days revolved around her children. Summer camp, gymnastics, play rehearsals, soccer games, birthday parties, holidays, her schedule was her children's busy schedule and she loved it. And suddenly it was gone through no fault of hers, although she often unnecessarily worried that she hadn't done enough to protect her girls.

It would take over two years and the arrival of a new baby to finally push Jackie to a point where she could allow herself to be happy and look to the future without feeling guilty that she was being disloyal to Emma, Aly and Katie. She also had to deal with her conflicting feelings about Diane, who she had loved and trusted, and her constant thoughts of suicide. Despite being Catholic (for whom suicide is a mortal sin that will prevent you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven) she still often entertained the thought because of her desperate desire to be with her daughters.

Just a warning - if you decide to read the book, you may (like me, God help me) reach a point where you begin to lose patience with Jackie after a while. I was expecting a story of how she and Warren banded together to fight the devastation of their loss, but she lashed out at him time and time again, partly because it was his sister who inflicted this tragedy on them, and also because, as Jackie eventually comes to terms with, they grieved and dealt with their loss differently. If you do get to that point, my advice is to stick with it until the end. Jackie does eventually emerge from her darkness to finally reach a place where she can move forward into the future and allow herself some much deserved happiness, with a big assist to Warren (who deserves sainthood for what he went through) and a close-knit, dedicated network of friends who went above and beyond to support the couple.

Another warning, if you buy the audiobook - I didn't notice this when I ordered it, but it's read by Jackie herself. When I realized this I was almost afraid to listen to it, not sure I could bear hearing this horrific story from the woman who had to live it. But Jackie reads with a stoicism that betrays none of the overwhelming emotions she experienced and then had to relive during the writing and recording of the book. By the time it was finished I was glad I'd listened and got to hear this part of the story that didn't make it into the film from Jackie herself. Despite the dark days, it's ultimately a story of love and survival.

Highly recommended, but damn it's tough to look at those three innocent, beautiful girls on the cover, especially since next month will be the tenth anniversary of the crash.

"They're okay, they're okay, they're okay," I said, continuing my chant. "I know they're okay." 

Then I saw Brad on his cell phone and I heard him say, "Warren?" Fear and concern resonated in Brad's voice, as if the person he was talking to on the other end was hysterical.

In the frenzy of the last couple hours time had sped by, but now it came to a grinding halt. My eyes were fixed on Brad and all the buzz around me seemed to stop. As he listened to Warren try to give the full report, Brad stood straight, then slumped against the wall. I saw him drop his head once, twice, three times. The wall could barely hold him up. Then he put down the phone and came over to me. His face looked stricken. 

"Jackie, they're all gone," he said.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Auto Club, you're the best

So after doing some shopping at my local Costco today, I grabbed lunch and ate in my car while listening to the radio and checking email. It's something I do often. The only difference today was when I was done and turned the key...nothing happened.

Well something happened - the car made clicking sounds. What it didn't do was make starting sounds and I realized that my battery was probably about five years old. The car hadn't previously given any sign that the battery power was waning and I just hadn't thought of it.

Luckily I feel pretty safe in a Costco parking lot, plus I have Auto Club. I've been through this before - the now-dead battery had been installed by Auto Club in the parking lot of a salon after it quit without warning (apparently a Solara thing) while I was taking my Mom around to run errands.

I've had Auto Club forever and they've always been reliable, and the guys who come out to save the day are unfailingly nice. So thank you Auto Club and to Hilario, who arrived and installed the new battery so quickly it made my head spin.

According to my phone I called Auto Club at 3:34pm. Hilario drove away - having arrived in record time, tested the old battery to confirm it was DOA, installed the new battery, and processed my payment - at exactly 4:00pm. So from the time I realized my battery was no more to the time it was all taken care of was all of a half hour. It was probably the most stress-free car trouble I've ever had.

As I told my brother, my annual membership payment is the one bill I never mind paying. If you only have one incident per year, it still pays for itself. And they couldn't make it easier - you call and they take care of everything. And everyone is always so incredibly nice.

I'm always quick to bitch when I receive poor service and there are times when customer service seems to be a lost art. So I wanted to give props to Auto Club and the wonderful people who work for them. If you don't have an Auto Club membership you need to get one right now. It's one of the best investments you'll ever make.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"Harvey" at the Laguna Playhouse

About nine months after purchasing my ticket, I finally got to behold the wonder of Mary Chase's "Harvey" on stage last weekend at the historic Laguna Playhouse, with French Stewart in the James Stewart role. At least that was the idea.

"Harvey" premiered on Broadway in 1944 and resulted in a Pulitzer for Chase, a four year stage run, and an endearing classic film. Here is the synopsis from the play's Wikipedia page:

Elwood P. Dowd is an affable man who claims to have an unseen (and presumably imaginary) friend Harvey — whom Elwood describes as a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch (192 cm) tall pooka resembling an anthropomorphic rabbit. Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets. His social-climbing sister, Veta, increasingly finds his eccentric behavior embarrassing. She decides to have him committed to a sanitarium
When they arrive at the sanitarium, a comedy of errors ensues. The young Dr. Sanderson mistakenly commits Veta instead of Elwood, but when the truth comes out, the search is on for Elwood and his invisible companion. When Elwood shows up at the sanitarium looking for his lost friend Harvey, it seems that the mild-mannered Elwood's delusion has had a strange influence on the staff, including sanitarium director Dr. Chumley. 
Only just before Elwood is to be given an injection that will make him into a "perfectly normal human being, and you know what bastards they are!" (in the words of a taxi cab driver who has become involved in the proceedings) does Veta realize that she would rather have Elwood the same as he has always been — carefree and kind — even if it means living with Harvey. But the only reason Veta hears from the cab driver is that she can't find her coin purse and has to get the cab fare from Elwood. That is when the cab driver sees what is happening and goes into his spiel. Later Veta realizes that the purse was there all along, but Harvey hid it from her.

As a longtime fan of the film version, I was so looking forward to seeing "Harvey" onstage, but it just didn't meet my expectations. So at the risk of being a Debbie Downer, here are my gripes:
  • James Stewart - at least in the film version, for which he received an Oscar nomination - played Elwood with a sleepwalking gentleness that rendered him ultimately harmless despite his alcoholism and invisible giant rabbit friend. As the audience we can't help but hope he outfoxes the forces that want to lock him up and undo who he is. To me, French Stewart played him with an offputting hammy weirdness that made me understand why his own family might justifiably want him kept away for the greater good. I understand that stage acting is very different from film acting and have no way of knowing if James Stewart played the role differently on stage than he did in the movie. But the difference was jarring. Film Elwood has a sweet sadness that makes him endearing and non-threatening, while Laguna Elwood was at times kind of unnervingly creepy.
  • Josephie Hull played Veta Louise on stage and in the 1950 film, and both her performance and physicality are much different than how the character (portrayed by the star's real-life wife Vanessa Claire Stewart) was essayed in this version. Hull, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, portrayed Veta as a truly dotty old woman whose already existing eccentricities were unhelpfully exacerbated by the problems her brother and his invisible rabbit friend inflicted on her attempts to launch her daughter into society. The Laguna version of Veta came across as more of a sophisticated society matron swatting at flies. It also didn't help in the scene where Dr. Sanderson decides that Veta, not Elwood, is the one who is nuts. Hull's Veta is easily mistaken for someone in need of professional help, while the Laguna Veta just seemed like someone you would hand a valium to while rolling your eyes at the idea that her first world problem is a weird brother.
  • Then there's Myrtle Mae, Veta's daughter and Elwood's niece. It is Veta's attempt to launch Myrtle into a society that will eventually send her down the aisle with a desirable husband that sets the play into action, only to have Elwood unexpectedly arrive home and wreck the party by "introducing" Harvey to the guests. As portrayed in the film by Victoria Horne, Myrtle is no great beauty, nor is she terribly refined and therefore needs all the help she can get, making Uncle Elwood and Harvey a genuine threat to her future. It also makes her attraction to Wilson, the coarse, no-nonsense sanitarium muscle entirely plausible, because on a certain level they are equals. As played in this production by the adorable Lily Gibson, Myrtle is a blonde Betty Boop. Baby voiced and vacant, she does have her looks going for her, so despite having Uncle Elwood and Harvey in the family, you don't worry that at some point this baby bombshell will manage to land a husband. Plus, the disparity between Laguna Myrtle and Wilson (well and faithfully played by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) makes his pursuit of her creepy, as she doesn't seem to quite know what to do about his attentions, as opposed to Horne's Myrtle, who swooned over Wilson the moment she laid eyes on him. In the film they seem like a natural pairing (albeit to Veta's dismay) while here it makes his attentions to Myrtle seem unwelcome and feel unsettling. 

But apparently I'm in the minority here, because the reviews I found online praised the production and raved about French Stewart's rendering of Elwood Dowd. Go figure. It just didn't do it for me.

There were three things that I did get a kick out of: First, in addition to Mongiardo-Cooper, I also loved Teresa Ganzel in the potentially thankless role of the ditzy Mrs. Chumley. I thought she was delightful. Next was discovering via the program that Carole Ita White, who played Mrs. Chauvenet, is the daughter of Jessie White, who played Wilson in both the original Broadway production as well as in the film version. Finally, when the cast came out to take their bows, Harvey was included. The door of Dr. Chumley's office opened to admit him to the stage, he took his applause, and the cast left a spot open for him when they took their final bows.

But it says something about the production that the high point of the show is when it has just ended. I'm glad I saw it because I would have felt like I'd missed out if I hadn't. But it wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for. But I would be open to seeing another staging of "Harvey", if for not other reason than to see how it would compare to the classic film and my expectations, especially since reading the play didn't prepare me for a staged version that differed greatly from the movie.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there

Father's Day #9 - NINE - without my Dad. That is boggling to me. Time really does fly. I wonder, is there a point at which you stop counting?

Pulling pictures for this made me realize that there's a whole chunk of family photos from my childhood and early adulthood that I haven't scanned. Maybe I'll have those ready to go by the time his birthday rolls along.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Another California Crime Writers Conference is in the books

California Crime Writers Conference is a bi-annual co-production of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. While shorter and smaller than conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, it gets a lot of the same writers as the bigger conferences. Plus it was good to spend the weekend on the westside. Cool weather, ocean breezes, even the 405 wasn't so bad.

I got to reconnect with a couple of people as well as my editor from LAst Resort. I also learned who will be writing the forward for Crossing Borders and I was thrilled by the choice. It hasn't been announced yet, so I'm not going to jump the gun here.

My two favorite panels were the TV writers and The Dark Side: Thrillers, Suspense, Noir. From the TV panel I learned that not all TV writing staffs have a room, which surprised me. I thought all shows had a writer's room. I also gained a better understanding of the current rift between the Writer's Guild and talent agencies. From another panel I learned that if you're looking for an agent, Thrillerfest's pitchfest is the place to go. Apparently it's a pitchfest on steroids.

I came home with six new books, although in my defense one was in my book bag and two were from the freebie room.

One of the neat things about CCWC is that lunch is provided both days. Both lunches were pretty good, but it was the desserts that really impressed. The cakes were very rich and they gave us huge slabs. I was only able to finish about half on both days and considering my appetite, that should give you an idea of how substantial the dessert servings were. This was from Sunday:

Objects on plate are larger than they appear.

All in all, a great weekend. Looking forward to 2021.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Okay Facebook. Whatever.

I am a woman, a writer, pretty conservative and live (and with the exception of all of two years of my life have always lived) in my native Southern California. I love books, cats, horses, the ocean, cooking, and classic films. And this is what Facebook recommended to me:

Yeah. Right. Not weird at all. Of all of the accounts on Facebook, they chose this. Nice algorithm you got there. Not.

And just in case it isn't obvious, no, I'm not interested in following this account. Thanks anyway, Zuck. Ya schmuck.

I hope the People's Daily didn't pay for this placement, because talk about throwing your money down the toilet...

Monday, June 3, 2019

Submitted for your approval...and acceptance!

It's been too long since I had news like this to share: I'm being published again!

My short story "Like Deja vu All Over Again" will be part of Crossing Borders from Partners in Crime, the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime. They decided to do their first anthology in conjunction with next year's Left Coast Crime Conference, which will be held March 12-15, 2020 in their beautiful city.

It's been a long journey since I was first published in LAst Resort, and to be honest it was getting discouraging. I was really starting to feel like a one-hit wonder. Also, "Deja vu" is a story I've had kicking around for a long time, so it's nice to finally be able to put this one to bed. Ironically, it was rejected by a Sisters in Crime Guppies anthology just a couple months before I got the acceptance for LAst Resort, although it also has been edited and tightened up a bit since then. I'm so happy it finally has a home in print and can retire from competition.

Crossing Borders will be published in March 2020.