01 November 2016

WHY I TURNED TO CRIME—WRITING NOIR



Playa, Summer Lake, Oregon
Amidst an anxiety-inducing election cycle, the loss of some of our great musicians, an unstable world, and whatever is going on in your personal life (I know many of you have had a tough year), I hold onto the belief that art carries us, gives us means of expression (meaningful expression, the opposite of trolling), and fills us with hope.

Art in all its forms I believe is evidence that humans are worthy of existence. The only other evidence is our social contract to help others in times of need.

Right now, after a tough personal beginning to the year, I have the good fortune to be at Playa, a month-long residency in southern Oregon to work on Vida Flats my memoir that takes place during the early 70s on the McKenzie River. The memoir has been a work in progress over the years with journaling, scene writing, examining, researching—everything that memoir demands.

Writing memoir leaves me psychologically naked, heart cut open, old wounds surfacing, and ultimately in the end is a method of holding myself accountable for what happened to me.

For the first two weeks at Playa, I spread printouts on my bed of everything I’d written so far and went at them with scissors and tape, eliminating replications, combining scenes with notes, moving notes around, highlighting the most emotional scenes, axing bad writing and tirades—well you get the idea. I cried. New memories surfaced. I tried to have as much compassion for my twenty-four-year old self as I have now for others at that age. Memoir is not about blaming others, even if they’ve done you harm. Memoir is about writing truth, my messy truth, about my choices when I experienced harm or love, ignorance or awareness, failure or success. Memoir is mainly about recognizing that big conscious moment when I knew life had to change, or else. It’s about what I did, or tried to do to make that change. It didn’t happen on the first attempt, or even the second, but it did happen.

So what does this have to do with turning to crime?

This year I had one of those moments when I knew my writing life had to change. I’d written three novels, represented by three incredibly hard working agents, but none sold. This last one is still alive, but I was tired, burned out. I could indie publish all three, but I was too tired and burned out to do that. I knew I needed to change a few things in the third novel, but I just couldn’t go back to it, not yet. Plus I had this memoir. I wasn’t having fun anymore, not that writing a novel or memoir is fun, but I’d lost the passion I’d had for years and seriously considered giving up writing.


Then somewhere along the line, I had an idea. Why not write something fun and short. When I thought that, my shoulders relaxed. The pit in my stomach dissolved. I no longer had heartburn. Writing something fun sounded … fun.

But what would be fun to write? Lately, amidst reading memoirs and literary novels, I’d been reading Scandinavian crime novels, recently ones written by women. My husband liked to tease me because I was hooked on what he called “murder and sex” series like “The Tunnel,” “Rebus,” “The Night Manager,” “The Americans,” and “Shades of Blue.” I said, “No, not the murder and sex. I like the politics and the flawed characters.” As a writer, I think of myself as a behavioral diagnostician. What makes people do what they do? What are their motives? What personal demons or desires drive them? How do their actions affect world events, culture, politics, the economy?

When I was a kid, I read Nancy Drew stories and a mystery series my English relatives sent at Christmas.?

During my teens, I read in bed under the blanket with a penlight until one or two in the morning, stories by de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and O. Henry. Twisty, dark, atmospheric stories I sucked down like cherry sodas.

Mysteries. They would be fun to write, but they weren’t serious works.

Then I remembered Rick Moody.

Rick and I met at Vermont Studio while I was there on a month-long writers residency. He’s the author of one of my favorite novels The Ice Storm, also made into a movie.

The Ice Storm hit something deep in me. Rick and I were New Englanders from ultra-conservative families, instilled with a Puritan work ethic, and discouraged from following our creative dreams. I’d wanted to be an artist. He’d wanted to be a musician. We compared stories about our upbringing. He attended a prep school in New Hampshire near my hometown, but not the prep school in my hometown. The prep school in my hometown of Tilton, New Hampshire where I went to high school sat high on a hill overlooking the mill town and main street.  The “preppies” often hung out at the same pizza joint I did and preyed on the “townies.” I was not a popular target so I watched in fascination. I also observed what went on in the homes of our New England picture-perfect towns, something Rick depicted well in The Ice Storm. Something Grace Metalious captured decades earlier in Peyton Place.



In Vermont, Rick and I walked through a familiar stark winter landscape and, inside VSC’s library, he gave me feedback on the first twenty-five pages of my work-in-progress. When I returned to my room, I looked at the pages and at the top of the first page he wrote:

“You’ve got the chops, now loosen up.”

I’ve puzzled over this for years. At the time, I was so incredibly grateful for those words “You’ve got the chops,” that I didn’t realize I didn’t know what he meant by “loosen up.” Was he referring to my language, the voice? The way the story unfolded? Too structured? Too forced? And why, after these many years, am I remembering this now?

I noodled on that for a few days, finally admitting that my first novel was the one I loved writing the most, a dark story about a young woman’s coming of age in the claustrophobic controlled scary confines of a New England town run by her father who was afraid of the mysterious woman who moved in next door. It contained a mystery!

I also reminded myself how much I enjoyed writing “The Hotel Deluxe.” I’d been on assignment for an upcoming online travel magazine where I’d been sent to Portland, Oregon to write a travel piece. I was told to let my imagination fly and encouraged to write something “different.” So I embedded a travelogue in a mystery. I didn’t kill anyone, but the voice was pure noir.


Noir.

I got goose bumps. Always a good sign. I also had to laugh. Mom once described me as “a good girl who wanted to be a bad.” Writing mysteries was for good girls. Noir was for bad.

Why it took me so long to figure this out, I have no idea. During college I’d studied film noir in a course titled “Film as Literature.” We watched and dissected films, and Matty Walker, Catherine Tramell, and Lynn Bracken, characters motived by hypocrisy, love, betrayal, and money, captivated me. Flawed, intriguing, greedy, messed up characters. No one you’d want to be friends with, but damn! I sure could have fun writing them.

But the book marketplace was flooded with mysteries and thrillers. What could set my short noirs apart from the rest? The travel noir piece I wrote gave me an idea. Why couldn’t I set each noir in a place Dan and I had traveled? Weren’t there people who would love to know more about the setting, the places mentioned in the story, if they knew they were real? I could add a back section to each short story with links and photos and. … More goose bumps.

Plus not everyone had the time to read or even focus on novels. My short noir-travel stories could be read while sitting in the car waiting for the kids to get out of school, during the inevitable long wait at the doctors, eating pie and drinking coffee at a café while their car was being fixed. With the back travel section, the reader could plan a trip to the setting or just live vicariously off the photos and links.

Sometimes life works in your favor. Over the 2015 Holiday season on a two-week vacation in Paris with Dan, I’d kept a journal and saved every receipt and brochure. Gold! I fleshed out a character and a plot, and wrote my first Noir Travel Story “Revenge in Paris.”

And that’s why and how I ended up writing crime, or more accurately noir.

My first e-story in the series “Revenge in Paris” will launch December 1 to coincide with the holidays, and the story will be FREE to download to your e-reader. I’m giving it away to celebrate my launch of the NOIR TRAVEL STORY SERIES. Plus, you’ll have access to a gift card to print out and insert in your holiday cards so you can give this free NOIR TRAVEL STORY to everyone you know.

Because you’ve been with me a long time, you get the first peek at the cover—before I reveal it on my social media!

Thanks for following me. You’ll receive an announcement when the e-book is available.

And, please, if I end up in jail, post my bail. I’ll mention you in the credits of my next noir.

Au revoir,

Val








For more fun with NOIR click on these links:

WOMEN CRIME WRITERS ARE NOT A FAD




01 May 2016

April is the Cruellest Month: Loss, Suicide, and Finding Joy During a Tough Month

Tia--a good day on the canal
Simon and Garfunkle's "April Come She Will" has been playing in my head since April 11th, the day we lost our pooch, Tia Maria, to liver cancer. It was a rough five weeks from diagnosis to the day when we had to call the vet.

Dan and I loved that little dog. Never having been without dogs or cats, our empty house seemed to echo the time when I lost Dad to suicide and our family had no anchor. I also haven't been able to get T.S. Eliot's first four lines of his poem "The Waste Land" out of my head either.

April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.

I remember Mom often saying, "I hate April," that month when you expect birth from winter, the land greening with newness, the flowers and trees blooming, the sun finally remembering it needed to shine. Warmth, birdsong, goslings waddling behind their parents, calla lilies spiking through dirt.

April seems a schizophrenic month that promises a new start, a leaving of winter and a thriving of all living things but tests everything and everyone. Sometimes after seedlings burst, April will deliver a frost. Birds are wild with mating, but lose their head and smash into windows. Frenetic energy brings mistakes. The season is full of beauty and the stirring of desire--from sexual desire to a need to garden. It's all about planting of seed and escaping winter.

And this brings me back to suicide and the seasons.

Many believe the rate of suicide peaks in the cold and dark months of winter, but that's not true according to research. Suicide is prevalent in late spring and early summer months.

My theory on this is that the holiday season keeps us engaged and filled with interaction with loved ones. My dad made it through pain and emotional suffering the winter of 1969 surrounded by family and celebration. There was hope. Then the need to carry this through with New Years and the idea that something would change, a better year, a different year. By March it's pretty damn clear that nothing has changed for the person suffering, and when April comes, so does the frenetic energy, never mind taxes and the responsibilities of clearing, growing crops, pruning, weeding, the long hot summer ahead meaning work, maybe the craziness of not being able to mate or let go of that pent up energy, and like a bird flying into the window, the mistake is made. 
Dad, me and my brother Kent working in the garden 1955
So today, on the anniversary of Dad's death, I offer this letter to you, one I wrote to him today in the hope that I can pass on more info about the pattern of suicide. I have no idea if any of this will help anyone, but I do know the rate of suicide is brutal for the men and women in our military. Maybe, just maybe, if we understand more, have more information, and keep a list of resources handy, we might keep someone from leaving us, someone who if they live might invent something amazing or give birth to the next great leader. Who knows? I am ever hopeful.

Today is the first day of May. Yay! May brings birthdays, my oldest granddaughter and mine. May also brings new life. We're so excited because on May 19th we bring little Stevie, our new Havanese puppy, home.

Stevie at four weeks
Embrace life. Love and light to you all!
Val

* * * * * * * * * * *

                                                                     30 April, 2016 


Dear Dad,



On this day forty-six years ago, April 30, 1970, you committed suicide.

I understand why you did it. You were in pain, struck down from an autoimmune disease that hit in 1944 when you were an officer during WWII. You spent a year in a Texas Army hospital that couldn’t diagnose your illness. Later it would be called PTSD.

April 3, 1970 was your 54th birthday. You told us not to buy you any presents. You were gray-haired, skin and bones, and physically worn out. You still had two kids at home, a 17-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. I was going to have your first grandchild in July.

But you couldn’t wait. And as I said, I understand.

You were always self-sacrificing. You thought your family would be better off.

The truth however is something you didn’t understand and I didn’t discover until much later—the idea of suicide is addictive like a drug. The pattern is the same, the same spikes and plateaus, the ever-shortening relief brought on with the bigger the need. The idea of suicide brings relief at first, but then needs to be fed more and more to get ever larger doses of serotonin, the calming, happiness-producing hormone.



I don’t know when you first thought of suicide as a possible way out. It could have come rather innocently.

Maybe it came when you had to call into work sick because your body felt aflame. Perhaps a bill came due that you couldn’t pay or it was the day you scraped your beloved new blue Oldsmobile against the side of the garage and realized you no longer had control. Maybe it was from me dropping out of college, getting pregnant, and marrying a Vietnam Vet with his own demons who I thought I could save. Possibly it was when your business partner bailed and your business failed.

The day I drove you to the VA Hospital in Vermont for tests, you thought you might have cancer. You hadn’t felt good for three years you said. Because the hospital had no doctors on staff that day or over the weekend, they said to go home. We went for coffee. You seemed calm and relaxed. In an unusual confession, you told me you had never wanted children because of your condition, knowing you wouldn’t be a good father, even admitted to being too controlling, like your father was. Later, I would realize that this was your way of saying sorry, and goodbye. Thank you for that. Later, it would give me understanding and closure.

           

Whatever first put the idea of suicide into your head, you thought of it and experienced your first hit of serotonin. You were back in control and had a way out if need be.

That didn’t last however.



The next time you experienced stress and your body was wracked with pain, you thought of suicide again, and that brought relief, only this time not as much. When the pattern repeated, relief came when you started planning your suicide. Now the relief was stronger and longer.

The family doctor had given you painkillers. That’s how you’d do it. A big surge of relief this time. You functioned for a while and felt back in control.

But it didn’t last long, and the next time some incident brought back the pain, you were ready to be done with it. You calmly took that bottle of pills and laid down on the bed, waiting for relief. Instead, you slept for three days. Probably you’d built your drug tolerance too high. Mom had me go over to change your sheets and I found you in the bed, and you were breathing, but wouldn’t wake up. Only nineteen and scared, I called Mom, but Mom said let him sleep. He’s tired. He sleeps a lot. So I covered him and left.

After the failed attempt, you no longer felt a big surge of serotonin. So this time you started carefully planning, took your time, and made sure your business was in order, from making sure your insurance policy had no suicide clause to figuring out how much paint it would take to finish painting the garage. The serotonin surged. You were acting happy around that time, even for your birthday on April 3rd.

By the end of the month, you’d finished writing a love letter to Mom and telling her how and why you were doing what you were doing. You’d convinced yourself that since you couldn’t provide for your family anymore and no one could help you medically, you’d end up being a financial burden on your family. You said you hadn’t felt good for three years and didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I wondered if you cried as you wrote that four-page letter. I can imagine you also felt relief. You felt free. You’d done the right thing for your family. You gave Mom instructions on everything she’d have to do after you were gone, including having me paint the rest of the garage. You told Mom how much you loved her and the best days of your life had been with her. You said how sorry you were. You even apologized to me for not being there to see your first grandchild and made a joke that we would probably not name our baby after you, Albert Horace. You also told Mom where the police could find your body. You didn’t want Kent and Wendy coming home from school and finding you.

You folded the letter, sealed it in an envelope, and left it along with a copy of your insurance policy standing against the fruit bowl on the kitchen table.

Then you drove to town, bought a new license for the dog, paid all outstanding bills, got a haircut, drove home to leave the license and pick up your gun.

At one of your former favorite hunting grounds in Sanbornton, you parked your car. That beautiful blue Oldsmobile that you loved so. The day was sunny. A lovely flood of serotonin hit. You no longer had to worry about your family or the burden you’d become. You’d no longer be in pain. The gun felt familiar in your hand. I don’t know if you were crying or smiling or just ready to go. Then you shot yourself.

You were free. But we had to suffer the burden that suicide leaves on a family.



I’ve had many years to heal from losing you. I still write letters to you and one year I even bought a Father’s Day card for you. This year I want you to know one thing: I don’t blame you, Dad, for what you did. Many forces were at play.

I blame war and our stupid fixation on what is heroic. I blame a system that hadn’t identified PTSD as real or the health system that failed you and still fails others in our military. I blame the Greatest Generation’s belief that they could control everything and valued keeping an outward appearance of perfection vs. recognizing when a family or person was in trouble. You couldn’t ask for help. It was too embarrassing and would be a sign of weakness.

Suicide is not painless. We would have rather had you alive even if it meant hard times, because suicide caused rough years for all of us. Twenty years after your death, like a gateway to grief, when my two dogs died in one year, I finally felt your loss and grieved so hard I thought I’d never stop crying.

I love you. And as I said, I understand your decision. I don’t even look at it as the wrong decision. It was the only one you thought you had at the time, and who knows? I cannot see into the parallel universe that would have been if you had lived.

All I can say is you were and are deeply loved and missed. I forgave you years ago for leaving so soon. You missed so much joy with Jason and his girls and the two great-grandsons.

Yes, there is pain in life, but joy is always around the corner. You just need to be patient and keep the light on.



Love always,

Valerie




01 April 2015

5 Ways to Inexpensively Create a Standing Computer Station—and Add Years to Your Life

Long before I heard “sitting is the new smoking,” I knew I was killing myself. As a fiction writer, I’d sit for hours, immersed in a story with no sense of time. When I did take breaks (to make a cup of tea or hit the bathroom), I’d stretch and do breath work, but I still had to go to a massage therapist to work out the kinks. But as time went on and the computer became even more of a shackle with the internet, webinars, and research, I found my muscles not as easy to use in dance class and my ability to stretch shortening.

When I started having trouble rising from a sitting position, I knew I had to change my habits, so I looked online where I found a number of great tables that converted to standing, but were too expensive.

The solution came when I started writing in a Barnes & Noble cafe and moved from the short tables to the tall. I found I could stand, on and off, for the five hours I was there. That gave me ideas, and now I stand and work more than I sit. Standing also reminds me to stretch and breath and move. An added benefit is I don't hunch over.

Here are five ways you, too, can create standing stations or find places to write with standing capability.

CAFES
I often write in cafes as it takes me away from phones, laundry, dog, husband, etc. The first photo is of me standing at one of the B&N tables. The second photo is at Cafe Vero, an old Victorian house, where Sonny the owner put in a shelf along a hallway and included a strip of plugins. The chairs are high, the counter just right for standing.


At B&N
Cafe Vero
Tip: start out standing for a short, comfortable time period and increase as you get used to it.

REGULAR TABLES
Everyone has a regular table at home. 

I often attend writers retreats at Oregon Writers Colony’s Colonyhouse. Because I was desperate to stand while working, I first stacked oversized books from their library on the dining table for a pedestal effect, but the books were cumbersome and not sturdy.


Then I remembered my mom’s lap desk we’d stored at the house. This is the easiest conversion as it’s portable, folds up, and goes with me to Colonyhouse. Bed Bath & Beyond carry them for around $12-15. An additional feature of this lap desk is that the top adjusts for a slanted surface, perfect for writing with pen and paper, say for example, when you’re editing hard copy or writing in a journal. Also works when reading a magazine or book.

Tip: to make standing easier on your feet and back, buy a gel pad for the floor. You can find these in the kitchen section of many stores as they are usually used on tile floors in front of a sink or food prep area. Mine is a GelPro.

EXISTING SHELVES OR COUNTERS
I fortunately have a shelf in my writing room that’s perfect for standing and gives me a beautiful view out the window of our front yard. I use this when I’m working on my laptop and don’t need two monitors. Almost any shelf can be used like this if one is available. 


A shelf under a window can easily be constructed out of shelf brackets and a board. At your neighborhood home improvement store, they may even have something already available. Look for, say for example, a shelf that normally holds potted plants. Or ask for help on something that could easily be anchored to the wall.

REGULAR COMPUTER TABLE
If you’re working at a regular computer table, one that has a back shelf for an external monitor and a pull out extension for a keyboard, you’re in luck. This type of computer table is usually  inexpensive to buy or can be found at second hand stores like St. Vincent dePaul. I often need to use both my laptop and an external monitor when creating a blog, doing research on my novel, or watching a webinar while taking notes.
 

When I'm sitting

When I'm standing

I was at a loss, at first, as to how to convert this area for standing. But then I thought that, if I had a way to raise my laptop on the pullout shelf, I could stand. Unfortunately, the lap desk was too big for the keyboard-size pullout, and piling books would be too heavy, BUT if I had a smaller version of the lap desk that would fit the pullout shelf, I could make it work.

With my husband’s help, I drew up dimensions for what looks like a little footstool, and my husband made it in his shop. It’s even a bit fancier than what I’d asked for, but if you have a handyman or woman around who can cut out plain shapes and screw them together, you can do this, too.

As you can see in the photo, I use my laptop on the pullout with the mini-table, and I change the external monitor’s slant so it slants upward. Now I can see both monitors while standing, although I have to use my laptop keyboard instead of the ergonomic.

Tip: To make up for not being able to use my ergonomic keyboard, I found a great accessory that helps with my hand position and keeps my laptop from overheating. Made by Road Tools, the Podium CoolPad goes with me everywhere. It adjusts in height and swivels, letting you use it slanted up or down. At the B&N tables, which are high, I use it slanted down so I don’t crimp my hands.


OTHER POSSIBILITIES
Search websites for "standing computer stations." Im not familiar with this site, BizChair, but they offer this inexpensive laptop table thats portable and moves. My only concern would be the rollers causing it to move, something that I wouldnt want, but might be OK if the rollers locked or the table was on carpet.

If you like your standing station solid and made of wood, podiums, like the type used in classes or for presentations or even churches, are often the right height for a laptop. They also usually have a nook for storing small things, something I need when working as I usually need pen and paper and my cellphone. (I use my cellphone for a timer as it keeps me aware of how long Ive been writing and standing.) If you frequent second hand shops, ask the owner to keep an eye out for a podium or computer desk and to call you if one comes in.

Drafting tables or graphic design tables, although large, can be adjusted to a standing height. I don't think theyre as popular as they used to be because most drafting and design are done on computers, so its possible there are a number of them out there no longer in use. Maybe a school or college would be worth checking out?

Dont forget your friends and family. Let them know what you're looking for, either via Facebook or email. Check sites like Craigslist. If you have a friend who works in wood, maybe a swap is in order.
A panorama of my writing room

Tip:  I bought my Mac ergonomic split keyboard from the folks at The Human Solution and their service is beyond compare. They sell amazing desks and chairs, too. Even for my simple questions about a keyboard, they responded quickly and checked on me after they responded. Someday, when my ship comes in, Ill buy a set-up from them.

ONE LAST SUGGESTION
Keep moving! I love to dance and my body loves me for it. I keep a few YouTube videos for taking a break. Since Im already standing, its easy to play one and move for ten minutes. My feet always say thank you!

I Love Zumba: One of my Favorite YouTube Channels

WHY SITTING WILL TAKE YEARS OFF YOUR LIFE
If you
re wondering what all the fuss is about sitting, this article explains the research behind the perils of sitting for long stretches of time.

7 Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You

Sitting will kill you isn't exactly a happy message. But just as with the days when we used to smoke, ignorance is not bliss. So I leave you with this.

Keep dancing, keep writing!
Hugs,
Valerie

Whats next on Gobsmacked? A peek at my writing life and a giveaway, with an emphasis on Paris.

05 January 2015

Different New Year Resolution & Why Writing Makes You Healthier


Did you know that of those who make resolutions (45% of us) only 8% successfully achieve them. For more fun facts and statistics click on this link:

New Year Resolution Statistics and Fun Facts


THE POWER OF IMAGES
 

This year, I found a different way to approach resolutions. In my Christmas stocking, Santa left my annual  Marilyn Monroe calendar. (Isn't he a sweetie to remember what I want?) When I saw January's photo of the great MM, I knew how I would use the image.

Look at that expression! All joy and hopefulness. I'm using that image for my 2015 emotional rudder. She’s lit up and gorgeous, isn’t she?

TO MAKE NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS OR NOT?

Ok, some of you feel compelled to make resolutions. I understand. If so, read this post. I think it will help. Oh, and btw, it's ok to change your resolutions, refine them, ditch them, or even map them out over time. Whatever works. Just remember: be good to yourself, be kind, be reasonable. Ask yourself, would you want your son or daughter or mother or father to make resolutions like yours? Can you really achieve that? Or do you need to break that massive resolution (Publish a novel!) down into doable parts (write a chapter a month).

Resolutions Best Served with Humor


WRITING TO FEEL BETTER? YOU BET! PLUS, WRITE TO HEAL FASTER. NO KIDDING!

For those of you who don’t consider yourselves writers, I have news for you. Maybe you should try it. Not for publication, heaven help you, but to increase your life span and improve mental health.
   
In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15-20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

Another study proved that wounds healed faster and cancer patients improved the quality of their life. Here’s a link to one article about the studies:

Science Shows Writers Have a Serious Advantage Over the Rest of Us

Grab one of those lovely journals or, if you hate messing up a lovely journal, a pad of lined paper. Dabble, scribble, pen your thoughts, your dreams, the ideas that you never want anyone else to see. You’ll be amazed when you let go of that perfectionist streak that keeps you from being messy. Face it! Thoughts are messy.

When you’re not worrying about what other people think about your writing, you don’t have to contain, perfect, or edit what you write. Just gloriously stream-of-consciousness get it down on paper. Or in the sand, on a wall (yours preferably), or across a roll of brown wrapping paper. I’ve written on napkins. (No to phones or laptops. You have to connect directly with pen, crayon, or pencil with any other surface.)

Wow. Doesn’t that feel good?

WINNERS OF NADINE GORDIMER & PD JAMES NOVELS

Congrats to Tonya Rice who won the Nadine Gordimer collection Life Times  and to Judith Watt who won the detective collection that includes PD James. What a great way to start the new year!

Hugs to you all,
Valerie

Coming Up! 
Sitting is the New Smoking: How to convert your writing space for a healthier you

15 December 2014

The Concert VIP Experience with Fleetwood Mac—What It’s Really Like


Rocking Out with The Mac—Back Together Again

Fleetwood Mac is my all-time favorite rock band.
Through their early years, especially the Rumours album years, I’d fallen in love and out of love and in love again. I’d made a mistake with a married man, spent a lonely and scared winter in a wild land far from home, had forsaken love and grown cynical, and then ended up with the love of my life. 


No, not him!


Him! Dan's the love of my life.
No better soundtrack fit my life then. Fleetwood Mac’s music also echoed the life I wanted to live, a life with creativity at its core.
When the band announced that Christine McVie was back after a sixteen year absence and they were going on tour, I knew I had to see them again. I’ve always sat in upper sections for their concerts, having to see them through binoculars or on giant screens, their bodies but miniatures moving around on stage.


When VIP tickets went on sale, I thought how lucky those people were who bought them.

Me

But why couldn’t I be one of those people? This could be the last time they played together. If I had a bucket list, this would be at the top. Could I push past my Scottish freak-out no-impulse-buying self, and then overcome a scarcity consciousness guilt trip? (What about the homeless, the old kitchen sink that needs replacing, my 92-year-old mother in Florida?)
I went online. I filled in the necessary information. I put in my credit card info.
I went to click on the BUY button.

I closed the tab instead.


VIP TICKETS

Here’s the deal on VIP tickets for concerts. Most people buying these tickets know only the essentials, the info given online. The online info for this VIP ticket promised a seat in one of the first five rows and a meeting onstage with Mick Fleetwood who would talk and answer questions. I would also have a photo taken with him and be given tour mementos. 

But what I wanted more than anything was a front row seat with standing access to the stage during the concert. Would the cost be worth it?

A little info about VIP tickets in general:  VIP tickets can include 1) meeting the whole band, 2) only meeting one member as this one did, or 3) just front row seats and some trinkets. VIP tickets sell for as much as or more than $1500; the lowest I heard was $350. A regular ticket on the floor at this Fleetwood Mac concert cost $179. Add on another $500 for the VIP privilege.
I’d be paying a whopping, heart-stopping $700.

So I did what I do when faced with a decision like this. I pictured myself sitting in the nose bleed section again. I pictured myself after the concert. I tapped into how I would feel. I cried.When I got home, I bought the ticket.
Front row. Seat 8.
I had a moment of panic. Then I jumped up and down, let out a yelp, and cried in relief.

THE CONCERT
Jump to the Saturday morning of the concert.
Dan and I had overnight reservations for the Marilyn Monroe room at the Jupiter Hotel. We packed the car—suitcase, pillows, drinks, concert clothes. When I couldn’t find the paperwork for the reservation, I called the Jupiter.
Didn't happen
I’d screwed up. The reservation was for Friday night. We not only had no room, we now had to pay for a night as a “no show.”
That no show flipped me out. Was this a bad sign? Dan said not to worry, we’d drive home after the show and get in around 2:00 a.m. No big deal. We headed to Portland without unpacking.

3:00 We arrived at the Moda’s box office lobby early. Following the email instructions that arrived three days earlier, we waited at the box office for the VIP guide who would arrive at 4:30 with our tickets. A crowd of forty people slowly amassed and I talked to a few. One couple our age took Rock Legends cruises; a young woman, Stephanie, had been to a Fleetwood Mac VIP meet and greet and told us a little about what to expect; a woman in a Stevie Nicks ensemble came over, gave me a hug, and told me she loved my outfit. Justin, our guide, showed  up at exactly 4:30, had us line up for our tickets at the box office, handed out lanyards with Mick Fleetwood’s photo and with good humor and a scripted intro proceeded to tell us how the VIP tour would go. Dan waited with me. I had bought him a ticket on the floor, but he wouldn’t be able to go in with us. I’d text him when the VIP tour was done. I needed to change for the concert and figured I had enough time between the VIP event and the 8:00 concert to dash out to the car to change. 


Justine said to follow him and we headed to the entrance, where he informed us once in the Moda Center, we will not be able to re-enter if we left. Great. Now I wouldn't be able to change into my new concert jacket. Also, at that point, I didn’t want to let go of Dan. Seeing other couples go in together, excited and talking, made me wish I’d bought him a front row ticket, too. At least we could be together just before the show. We kissed good-bye.


Inside, Justin gave us a bathroom stop. Then we followed him down to the front rows, took seats in the middle section, and were told that we would go onstage to meet Mick Fleetwood.


“Some of the instruments onstage,” he said, “are older than the band members, so please don’t touch anything and stay together in a cluster at stage left. Leave your coats and purses, all cameras and phones, on your seat. You cannot use audio or video during the meet and greet. Ready?”


I took off my coat and shoulder purse, and left them on the seat. We climbed metal stairs and stood on Lindsey’s side of the stage, stage left. I was on a mission to get a good photo of him for my fourteen year old granddaughter Maddi, who called him her “older man.” She sent me videos of her rocking out to Fleetwood Mac. The whole family would be there tonight, but up in the nosebleed section. I wouldn’t see them, but I knew they were there.
I stood next to Mick’s 18 carat gold coated drums. Blindingly gorgeous. So was the inlaid Koa wood kit. More like jewelry than drums. In an interview I had read in "The Sunday Express," Mick said he’d probably be a crazy old man busy melting down all the gold drum stands, as he had a warehouse of them. He called it “the new rock ’n’roll retirement plan.”

Mick Fleetwood's interview on the Express 

MICK
Then he appeared, tall, still skinny, wearing a sapphire blue jacket that looks vintage and a scarf with colors of the Hawaiian Islands (gold, blue, orange). He was accompanied by Robert who I called a “handler”and who Mick called his assistant.

Mick said hello with a big smile. He was laid back. His white hair was messily pulled back in a ponytail. Because we weren’t allowed recording devices, I have to paraphrase. Most of what he said has to do with the excitement and rejuvenation of the band with Christine being back. Mick was generous with his energy. He told us about
his drums, said one of our VIP members was a friend from Maui who had designed the inlay for the wood drums. We applauded. Mick made us laugh when he said John McVie wouldn’t do a meet and greet if his life depended on it, that John didn’t even like a light on him while he played during the concert.
Mick’s assistant brought out shiny black leather loafers. Mick explained that he was wearing his red drumming shoes and if he stayed standing in those for very long they’d cripple him. At Robert’s prodding, Mick sat down on the drum platform. He was three feet from me. The loafers were so close, I could see their high arch supports.

“This is a first,” he says, as he changed shoes in front of us.
Then photos with Mick began. Justin with a professional digital camera called people up to stand next to Mick. Photos would be posted online. Our instructions had given us a link where they could be downloaded. Stephanie, the girl I met earlier, asked Mick if she could have a hug for her picture and he said, “Yes, of course!”

Unfortunately, when it was my turn, he was distracted by his friend from Hawaii and I didn’t get to ask for a hug. But that was fine. When I left the stage and descended the metal stairs, I said hi to the cute little girl, Mick’s granddaughter Isidora, and asked how she was doing. She rolled her eyes like, “Oh, god, this is so boring.”
Instead of sitting down, I stood with a couple I’d talked with earlier. They were dancing in the aisle. “Warming up,” they said.

When photos were done, Mick joined us off stage to answer questions. He was asked about his “balls.” For those who don’t know, Mick had always gone onstage with a set of wooden balls about the size of golf balls, attached to and hanging from his belt. They were his good luck totem.

He told the story about the early days with Peter Green while playing the blues in small joints in Europe and hope the band made the Sex Pistols look tame. I thought he said that Peter Green actually let his balls, his real ones, hang out of his pants while playing. One day Mick had gone into the men’s toilet and taken down two of the chains with wood balls at the end that were pulled to flush the toilet. That had been the first time he wore them on stage. He lost that pair, but he kept others in a safe backstage. He wouldn't go onstage without them.

Mick talked about Christine being back with the band, technical drum stuff that I’m not educated enough to pass on, the blues influence on their music, and, with self-deprecation, his drumming accolades. (This interview with the CBC Q program covers most of what he talked about onstage.)

When he finished and went backstage, most of us headed to

concessions to buy food, cocktails and water. I met Dan when they let the rest of the ticket holders in around 6:30 and we grabbed something to eat. I also had to fork out $45 for a t-shirt because our VIP mementos, given to us earlier, were a drum cover with Mick Fleetwood’s initials and an autographed photo of him. Our meet-and-greet lasted about an hour and a half.

THE CONCERT

This is what you pay the big bucks for.
Around 7:40 Dan and I headed into the arena where we kissed good-bye again. When I joined the other VIPs, I put my jacket and mementos under my seat and looked around. I wanted to be in front of Stevie who had always been an icon in my life for so many reasons (poetess, goddess, mystical, mythical, Gemini, tough survivor), but a number of unexpected things happened.


When I tried to move over toward where Stevie would be, one of the security guards stopped me. “Where’s your seat?” I pointed. He told me to stay at a spot at the stage near my seat. Then he forced everyone standing who didn’t have a front row seat to return to their seats. These people had paid the same amount of money as I had. Stephanie, the young woman I'd met earlier and who told me what to expect, was forced to take her second row seat. They weren’t polite.
Then two beautiful young women moved in next to me. They were squealing, hugging each other and saying, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” Justin our VIP guide was “beautifying the pit” as the guy next to me called it. “What the fuck!” As the two young women moved up to the stage, I leaned on the stage and took up as much room as possible. This was bullshit. More young, attractive, mostly blonde women moved into our midst. I was pissed until the the opening notes of “The Chain” signaled the concert had started.
Screw it. I turned to the stage and the magic began.

FLEETWOOD MAC
How do you describe an experience that is so personal and electric that you just want to keep it to yourself and relive it every so often by playing the music and dancing in your living room?
I can tell you this:
“The Chain” is the only way to start a Fleetwood Mac concert. It starts slowly and builds. The words perfectly describe the group and its members’ connections.
Even though Christine was back and the crowd demonstrated its excitement for her, Lindsey and Stevie owned the stage. Lindsey played like he was never going to play again. Phenomenal guitar.
 



Stevie wasn’t going to let
Christine steal   her spotlight and rocked it for “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She moved more than I’d ever seen her move. Even on those six inch heeled boots. The setlist showed all the individual members' strengths. The music made me forget the young shrieking women next to me. The music made us all one and if Lindsey needs young blondes to spur him on, so be it. He was sweating buckets and rippin’ it. I honestly don’t know how musicians do it night after night.

Once again, there was a frostiness between Stevie and Lindsey, and he was all charming and sweet to Christine. Maybe I’m reading into the body language, but when Christine, Lindsey and Stevie came out together for the first encore, Christine broke away and Lindsey and Stevie walked onto the mid-stage holding hands, but it wasn’t warm and he turned away from her way too soon.

My one small experience:
When Lindsey first approached his mic, he looked exhausted. For a moment, he looked around, caught my eye, and I lifted the corners of my mouth with my index fingers in a smile. He smiled back and then laughed.
I’m always helpful.

Since all the videos I shot are larger than the limit I can post here, I will put them on my Facebook page periodically.



And here's to you making a dream come true.

TIPS FOR A CONCERT & VIPs:
Bring water. You’ll be hours near the stage and in the arena.
VIP lanyards, even with Mick’s photo on them, will not give you entry to anything. Keep your ticket handy at all times. You’ll be checked constantly, especially in and out of the VIP area.
Don’t assume that cell phones will connect you with anyone you’re meeting. It’s sometimes impossible to hear your phone over the din and roar.
Do NOT put your things under your seat. Mine were almost ruined. People put plastic cups of beer on the floor and then kick them over. My jacket was almost ruined.

Thanks for reliving the concert with me.

Val
All photos Copyright Valerie J. Brooks

30 November 2014

A THREESOME: Much Gratitude, Random Literary Fun, and Giveaways

Welcome back, Posse!

A massive, heart-felt thank you for hanging in there with me. I so love you and appreciate you. To celebrate the return of my blog, I’m making this post about you and dishing up a three-count fun adventure.

First, a flashback:  I left off blogging in order to concentrate on writing my novel. I did finish, and I’m into the next phase of working toward publication. I’ve also taken on writer clients, am working on novel two in the STEALING PARIS series, and am writing a memoir. More about all that in a later post.

For now, however, let’s start with you. Call it an antidote to fear-inducing news and relief from holiday shopping, daily pressures, and technology's over-stimulation.


Fun Fact—Hilary Mantel on Morphine

Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, recently admitted to writing her latest, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, on morphine. No, it wasn’t an experiment. She was in the hospital receiving treatment for endometriosis. She must have liked the morphine, however. Click on THIS LINK for the whole story.
 

A little Hilary Mantel advice I love:


Who are You?

You may have already taken this personality test, but for those who haven’t, find out which classic literary character you are by clicking on THIS LINK.
 

This is my classic literary character. I'm honored!


— Two Giveaways —

P. D. James

Nadine Gordimer

To celebrate the lives and works of two of my favorite writers, Nadine Gordimer & P. D. James, who both passed away this year, I’m giving away 1) Nadine Gordimer’s Life Times: stories, 1952-2007 and 2) The Detection Collection, an anthology of British mystery writers that includes P. D. James.



To enter to win:

1) leave a comment on this post with a suggestion of what you’d like to see on my blog. More about my writing projects? My dreams and nightmares? (My husband says, “Don’t go there!”) Jokes? (No, I’m English and French; we’re not known for our humor.) Observations about life in general? Recommended reads? Photos that have something to do with my new novel? Places where I write? Places I set my novels? Interesting, obscure, fascinating, crazy facts about writers, artists and musicians I love? Memoir pieces?

2) at the end of your comment, put NG for Gordimer’s book or PD for James’ collection.

I will randomly select a name from the posts that are left on this blog and post the winners in the comments and on my next blog post.

Again, thanks for sticking with me. You’re the best!

In the meantime:
Let yourself breathe. Listen to music. Laugh.
Love,
Valerie






Upcoming post:

The Concert VIP Experience—What It’s Really Like
Rocking Out with Fleetwood Mac

Me and Mick Fleetwood, FM's amazing drummer
If for some reason your comment won't post, email me at ValinParis@earthlink.net