Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Conferences: What's Not to Love?

Writing conferences--what's not to love?

Several things, but let's start on a positive note. When writers get together to listen to/learn from knowledgeable speakers, ask questions, share ideas, visit one-on-one, exchange business cards, learn about other authors' books, commiserate about everything from finding a publisher to marketing--all those are good things.

After having more or less turned my back on writing conferences in general, I drove up at the last minute to attend the Northwest Arkansas Writers Conference on Saturday. What did I like about it? For one thing, it was free, although that's not necessarily a prerequisite to liking these get-togethers. There are, after all, expenses involved--a meeting room, refreshments, remuneration for speakers, and so on. I'm willing to pay a reasonable price and usually leave feeling I've gotten my money's worth.

But back to free--somehow that set the tone for a comfortably casual day. My book table was also free, and I shared it with another author (more on that later) and had the chance to visit with others nearby. Now, it's been my experience that books don't fly off the tables at these conferences, and that's not why I take mine. It's exposure. For example, I downloaded a couple of authors' books for Kindle after the conference, and hopefully some of the folks I had the chance to talk to did the same with mine. In contrast to a formal sit-down dinner, attendees had the option of a box lunch or bring-your-own.

Greg Camp and Casey Cowan of Oghma Creative Media covered a variety of topics during the morning. In the afternoon, Duke and Kimberly Pennell of Pen-L Publishing let us in on "the dirty little secret of writing" which is, "Writing is writing. Business is business." Finally, Velda Brotherton clued writers about how to become an overnight success in 20 years! Dusty Richards wound things up with Writing 101. All the presenters handed out good hard facts interspersed with humor and entertained questions during their presentations, giving the whole day an interactive touch.

I have to say, my faith in my fellow writers took an upward turn--which leads me to the negative side of (some) writing conferences.

Conferences longer than a day, maybe a day and a half, often (not always) become tedious. Some writers take more than their ideas, questions, and books with them; Mr. Ego sits at their tables and follows them around, dominating their conversations. There's a fine line between letting folks know where you are along the writing road and making sure they know you're ahead of them whether you are or not! Contests can be a good thing, but competition doesn't necessarily promote camaraderie. (Mr. Ego likes it, however.) Sometimes I get the feeling the chance of placing in a contest is the only reason some people attend.

Book tables are good for exposure, but I don't like staying with mine so much as mingling and meeting other authors. I don't take my books to make a killing, and being tied to a book table interferes with my main purpose for attending a conference.

So--in summation--I give the NWA Writers Conference five stars--and I'll be back next year!

Authors Blog Chain

The author with whom I shared a book table invited me to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Blanche Day Manos tagged me. Visit her blog at blanchedaymanos.com  Blanche Day Manos has written for many years and had numerous articles, children's stories, fiction, and poetry published in periodicals and newspapers. Her first two books, The Cemetery Club and Grave Shift, written with co-author Barbara Burgess, are cozy mysteries, as is her third book, Best Left Buried, due to be released within the year.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pollyanna

    Encounter for good or ill

      Lenore often accompanied Judge Sutherland into court, so she was knowledgeable of judicial proceedings and comfortable in that setting. Alan Ashley, however, was not. His barely-concealed anger on the first day of the lawsuit interfered with his carefully cultivated authoritative demeanor. That fueled the fires of his anger to burn even hotter.
     "Would you like to walk out and stretch a little?" Lenore asked during a recess at mid-morning.
     He jumped at the sound of her voice in his ear. "You startled me. Be kind enough to announce yourself before you speak."
     "I'm sorry, Mr. Ashley. I did tell you before we began that I was sitting next to you at the table." she hesitated. "I was thinking of going to the porch at the end of the corridor. Cortrooms are rather stuffy sometimes."
     "Yes, all right." He rose. "I'll have to take your arm."
     "Certainly." She offered a slender arm. "This way."
     "Perhaps you're wondering where my white cane is," he said abruptly as they exited the courtroom.
     "I didn't know you had one."
     "Every blind man has a white cane."
     "I see." She pushed open the door at the end of the hall. "We're at the porch. There isn't a step down."
     They moved outside into the warm autumn sunshine. "We're on the west side of the courthouse. Are you familiar with the large red brick building across the street?"
     "It's the bank," he said promptly. "My great-grandfather founded it."
     "So the Ashleys have been in Rumers Crossing for a long time."
     "Since before the Revolution."
     "How interesting."
     "Is it, really?"
     "Oh, yes, I love history. My father used to read aloud from A Child's History of the World when I was a little girl. I always wanted to travel and see the places he read about."
     "But you didn't."
     "Not yet, but I hope to someday."
     "Travel requires money."
     "Have you traveled widely?"
     "I spent six months on the continent before entering Harvard in 1913."
     "Is the Acropolis as magnificent as it appears in pictures?"
     "More so, actually."
     "I should love to stand there and soak it all in."  Lenore sighed. "The sun is nice this time of year, isn't it?"
     "A hard winter is predicted."
     "Yes, but until it comes, we have this lovely weather to enjoy."
     "Are you always so optimistic?"
     She laughed. "My brother Teddy calls me Pollyanna. That's the name of the title character in a children's book for girls, so I'm sure you're not familiar with her. She always looked for the good in everything.:
     "And you follow suit?"
     "Not always, Mr. Ashley, but I'm happier when I try to find some good in every circumstance."
    "I suppose you think I should try to find some good in my blindness?"
     "Not at all, but you have a great many advantages despite that, and Judge Sutherland  feels that this lawsuit will be thrown out."
     Sam Bernard put his head out the door. "It's almost time to reconvene," he said. "I'm going to find the facilities, Alan. Would you..."
     Alan dropped Lenore's arm. "Yes, thank you, Sam. I'm sure Miss Seldon would be mortified to lead me there."
     "Alan..."
     "Lenore smiled at Sam and shook her head to stall his defending her. When the men had gone, she closed her eyes and turned her face to the sun, breathing in its warmth.

Follow me here at The Word Place for more background blogs about 

  • Finding Papa's Shining Star
  • The Showboat Affair
  • Dancing with Velvet
  • The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall

all coming soon.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Is he willing to fight?



PROLOGUE

France



September, 1918

He remembered a flash of light. Blinding brilliance like the sun reflecting off the snow in the mountains where he’d skied with his college fraternity brothers. Searing heat. A burning more intense than he’d ever felt from the early afternoon sun on the sandy beach where he’d frolicked as a half-naked boy. He forced his eyes open in the light of midday, but there was nothing. The darkness, blacker than any he’d ever experienced, terrified him. His mouth felt full of cotton. “Water,” he begged hoarsely. “Please...in God’s name... water!” The tin cup pressed against his lips was warm, and so was the water that trickled onto his tongue. “Who is it?”
“Rycroft, sir.”
“The others?”
“Dead.”
“My God.” Shock gave way to pain. He groaned.
“I thought you were, too, but then you moved. Rest easy, Captain Ashley. Help’s on the way.”
****
Brookston, New York
November, 1918

She sat unmoving, her rigid back pressed against the wooden slats of her mother’s low sewing chair. Her father caressed her small, delicate hands. “I’m so sorry, Lenore. I wish I could tell you that it’s a mistake, but here’s the telegram Mrs. Broome sent over.”
The young woman shook her head, gently at first, then so vigorously that her glossy black hair loosened from its pins and fell over her shoulders. “No. No!” She had been nineteen a few minutes ago when her father led her to the chair. Now, though she rocked her body rhythmically, reminiscent of her early childhood, her youth had fled.
****
Barnwell, Texas
May, 1920

“She’s a beautiful baby, Roberta. Just look at her.”
“I don’t want her. I never wanted her! I thought I was going to die. The pain was terrible!”
The man transferred his gaze from his new daughter to his wife. “Dr. Smithwick said you did very well.”
“Dr. Smithwick wasn’t lying here being ripped apart, and neither were you.” The woman’s
attractive face twisted in anger.
“Roberta...”
“Get out, Albert. Get out and take her with you. And send in the nurse.”
He did as he was told. Cradling the infant in his arms, he walked into the nursery he had furnished alone and laid her in the white wicker bassinet. “You’re my best little girl, you know, my shining star. Never forget that, sweetheart. Never.”
The doctor paused at the door. “She’s a fine, healthy girl, Rycroft. Your wife’s all right, too.”
Albert Rycroft didn’t look up. “Thank you.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow to check on both of them. Meanwhile, the nurse can handle things. Roberta says she doesn’t want to feed the baby.”
“No, I’ll take care of it.”
The doctor sighed. “Well, it would be better if...oh, maybe not. I don’t know. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He watched the new father bending over the cradle. “My beautiful little girl, my best little girl. You’re my shining star, you know. You’re Papa’s shining star.”
****

Brookston, New York
1921

Judge Amos Sutherland, recently retired from the New York State Supreme Court, turned the pages of the thick file on his desk as he contemplated his first case since returning to private practice. The will he had just finished reading for the second time was straightforward; the pending litigation seemed without merit. He had known Alan Ashley, Sr. and disliked him intensely. He wondered if the son, to whom everything had been left, was anything like the father, though it didn’t really matter. It was for Samuel Bernard, a former student and clerk, now counsel for the son, that he had agreed to serve as co-counsel when Ashley Senior’s nephews decided, belatedly, to contest the will. “I won’t argue the case for you,” he told the younger attorney. “Turning this over to me would be a clear admission that you don’t feel competent to represent your client.”
“I don’t. Frankly, I’m terrified at the idea of going up against Trotham and Dunbar.”
“All you have to do is prove your case.”
“I’m not in their league. I didn’t even go to law school.”
“You read law with me and passed the bar on your first try. Don’t sell yourself short, Samuel.”
“I’m just being realistic.”
“The will is straightforward. Everything belongs to the son.”
“I know that, but they’re saying he can’t successfully assume the directorship of Ashley Enterprises because he’s blind.”
“Can he?”
“Of course. He studied business at Harvard and graduated summa cum laude, then took an advanced degree before enlisting in 1918. He’s spent the past two years at the Institute for the Blind, learning Braille and every other method that’s available for adapting to a sightless world.” Sam pounded his fist into his palm once, then again.
“Is he as angry as you are?” The judge sat back in his cracked leather chair, his faded eyes boring into Sam’s.
“I’m sorry. I lost control.”
“Not a good thing to do, especially in the courtroom.”
“I know, and to answer your question, yes. Yes, Alan’s angry about everything. His blindness, the fact that his fiancée broke their engagement because of it, how my father has betrayed him...and I don’t blame him.”
“Perhaps not, but you’ll counsel him against displaying his emotions, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“All right. I’ve looked at the will. Now tell me why they think it can be broken almost ten years later, and how they plan to do it.”
“Percy’s and Geordie’s father was Alan’s uncle and a partner in Ashley Enterprises until 1910, when he sold his interest to his brother. My father moved up as second-in-command. Two years later, when Mr. Ashley and his wife were killed, Father took charge because Alan was still in school. He was also Alan’s guardian. That was eight years ago. But he should have known that Alan would step up as soon as he could.”
“Perhaps he didn’t want to know.”
The quick mottling of Sam’s neck crept into his face. “My father has always liked being in charge of everything and everyone.”
“He opposed your marriage, I understand.”
“That’s putting it mildly.
“But you married Ellen despite the opposition.”
“I have no regrets. She’s everything to me.”
“I’m pleased that you’re happy. Now about the cousins.”
“Their father died two years after Alan’s parents, and they ran through their inheritance within a few years. Now they see an opportunity to recoup their fortunes. They told my father that if they were in charge, he could remain in the directorship, but they’d draw the lion’s share of the profits after expenses.”
“Those profits are considerable?”
“Ashley Enterprises is worth several million dollars—without the subsidiary holdings.”
“How do you know?”
“Alan requested the books when he came back, and Jerome Vannoy, the comptroller, thinking that Alan was going to step in immediately, produced them. Alan and I went over them carefully before my father found out and told Jerome to get them back.”
“Were there any irregularities?”
“I’m not an accountant, but they seemed in order to me.”
“Tell me about Jerome Vannoy.”
“He’s a few years older than Alan. In fact, they knew each other slightly at Harvard. Alan seems to think he’s honest. I suppose I trust him as much as I trust anyone at this point.”
“So your father and the cousins are going after Alan on the grounds that he’s incompetent because of his disability.”
“I don’t want it to come to trial for a number of reasons, among them the fact that it would be an additional humiliation for Alan, in view of everything he’s experienced already.”
“I don’t think they have grounds to bring it to trial.”
“Their attorneys, Trotham and Dunbar, seem to think so.”
“Well, the legal-beagles will profit, in any case. What do they bill an hour?”
“I couldn’t begin to guess. More than I do.” Sam ran his hand through his hair. “I really need your help.”
“Young Mr. Ashley is willing to fight?”
“To the death, he says.”
“All right. I’ll speak with him. But remember, this is your case. Because of the Ashley name, it will get a great deal of notice all over the state. When you win it, your career will be assured.”
“Don’t you mean if I win it?”
“Unless these men know something we don’t, they haven’t a prayer.” He glanced at the young woman sitting a few feet away with her stenographer’s pad. “Did you get all of this, Miss Seldon?”
“Yes, sir, I believe so.”
“Make a typewritten copy and a carbon. I’ll want you to go with me to Rumers Crossing tomorrow. If your mother is concerned, assure her that Mrs. Sutherland will make a proper chaperone and that you won’t have time to get into any trouble.”
Lenore Seldon’s normally pale face took on more color. “I’m sure Mother won’t have any concerns, sir. How long will we be there?”
“A week, perhaps. I don’t think it’s going to take that long, but we’ll prepare for all
eventualities.” He lifted his spare frame from the chair and addressed himself to Sam again. “Go back and tell young Mr. Ashley that he needs to decide on something for your father, whether it be a settlement or outright dismissal, and I’d advise you to learn whatever you can about where the loyalties of the others in the executive offices lie. If Ashley Enterprises needs to be restructured, it will fall to your friend to do it. He’ll need an independent audit of the books immediately. I’ll subpoena them if necessary.”
“I can’t tell you what a relief this is, sir. I was in well over my head.”
“Up to your eyebrows, perhaps, but not completely over your head.” The judge chuckled. “Don’t worry, Samuel. You were one of my brightest clerks on the court. I was sorry to lose you. Your practice is going well, I take it?”
“Ellen grew up poor, so she knows how to manage. We aren’t starving.”
“You’ll appreciate good times more, having experienced the lean ones.” He extended his hand. “All right. I’ll see you in Rumers Crossing tomorrow. There’s still only one hotel, I suppose.”
“It’s not elegant, but you’ll be comfortable enough. I’ll make your reservations as soon as I get back this afternoon.”

TOMORROW:

Alan and Lenore meet for the first time under less-than-optimal circumstances. Has he finally met his match in this quiet, unassuming young legal secretary?

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What is she hiding?



Meet Lenore Seldon


Interviewer's note:  Miss Seldon entered the room almost as if she were afraid of something. She is a slender woman, with pale, porcelain-like skin. She wears no makeup, and her dark hair is pulled back into a severe knot worn low on her neck. Her dark navy suit and white blouse are unadorned with any accessories. She might be attractive with some education in style. During the interview, she kept her eyes down, hands in her lap, and spoke almost too softly to be heard. It was difficult to know if her demeanor is due to her upbringing, which I understand was a most sheltered one, her desire to reflect a totally businesslike manner--or fear of something or someone unknown.

TWP: Today we welcome Lenore Seldon, administrative assistant to Alan Ashley who was with us a few days ago. Tell us about yourself, Miss Seldon.

LS:  There’s not much to tell. I graduated from business school and worked ten years for retired Judge Arthur Sutherland until his death.

TWP:  Then you went to work for Alan Ashley, right?

LS: Not right away.

TWP:  Can you explain that?

LS:  I’d rather not. Those intervening years aren’t pleasant to remember.

TWP:  But now you have a good job.

LS:  Yes.

TWP:  What is it like to work for one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in America--and one of the wealthiest and most eligible bachelors?

LS:  I’m grateful for employment. So many don’t have work. The Depression, you know.

TWP:  Right, but back to Alan Ashley…he’s quite handsome—and very rich!

LS:  He’s my employer.

TWP:  Can’t he still be good-looking? Have there been other men in your life?

LS:  Not really. I was engaged briefly to the boy next door, but he died in France during the war.

TWP:  And Alan Ashley lost his eyesight in the same war.

LS:  Yes, but he manages very well.

TWP:  He says you’re a great help to him.

LS:  I do my best.

TWP:  Since you live in, you must spend a lot of time with him outside of the workplace.

LS:  I don’t know how it happened, but we have breakfast together and then dinner every night. Sometimes after dinner I read aloud to him, or we listen to music. But I’m well-chaperoned. His housekeeper Mrs. Swane lives in. And I’m going to get my own place when I get a bit ahead.

TWP:  He won’t like that.

LS:  It’s for the best.

TWP:  Is he easy to get along with?

LS:  For the most part. He still bears some bitterness about the loss of his sight…but mostly because it was the reason his fiancée broke their engagement.

TWP:  Have you met her?

LS:  Briefly. It was unpleasant to say the least. However, she’s very beautiful…very elegant.

TWP:  Do you see your working relationship with Alan Ashley transitioning into something more personal?

LS:  Oh, no, it can’t! I have…responsibilities.

TWP:  Can you share what those responsibilities are?

LS:  No. No, I can’t, and if he thinks this interview will get him the personal information I have a right to withhold…

TWP:  Nothing like that, but be honest. Aren’t you the least bit interested in him, woman to man?

LS:  I can’t be. You don’t understand. He’d never understand either. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to excuse me. I must transcribe some notes into Braille before his meeting tomorrow morning.

TWP:  All right. We understand. Thanks for stopping by.

Interviewer's Note:   In speaking with Miss Seldon's colleagues here at Ashley Enterprises, I learned she is respected as a hard worker and liked for her kindness to others. No one seemed to agree with my conclusion that she is secretive.

Tomorrow:  Read the Prologue from  Where Is Papa's Shining Star?

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Keep going--we can't take care of our own!

Black Tuesday

Tuesday, October 29, 1929, marked the official beginning of the Great Depression when the stock market "crashed". Bank closings followed, and the suicide rate rose. Within a year, a cloud of despair and hopelessness had drifted across the country only ten years removed from 'the war to end all wars'.

Dust Bowl to New Deal

On the Great Plains, drought and dust storms decimated family farms, and people packed up what they could carry and began to flood toward the west coast in hopes of jobs and a new start. Many people, especially teens, took to 'riding the rails', and hobo camps sprang up as well as Hoovervilles (named for then-President Herbert Hoover), shantytowns where folks tried to survive. Often these unwilling migrants walked past billboards advising them to "Keep going--we can't take care of our own." Soup kitchens tried to feed the hungry; back-door handouts became a way of life.

Then in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt replaced Hoover and instituted the "New Deal" with work programs to stem the tide of unemployment. Still, it wasn't until the country geared up for a second war in 1941 that the cloud of Depression finally began to lift.


Enter Lenore Seldon

Gently brought up and completely sheltered, Lenore Seldon expects to become a wife and mother until the boy next door dies in France. Her father directs her to business school, and after graduating, she becomes the personal secretary to retired state supreme court judge Amos Sutherland who later finds himself defending Alan Ashley's right to head his family's business.
Despite his cynicism, Alan is drawn to the quiet young woman who accompanies Judge Sutherland to Rumers Crossing for the duration of the legal battle. In the flush of victory, he offers her a job at twice the salary. To his astonishment, she walks away.
Ten years later, he finds himself astonished again when she walks into his study to interview for the job of personal assistant. Though he's made up his mind to hire a previous applicant, something in the weariness of her voice changes his mind. 

A casualty of the 'crash'

Like so many, Lenore Seldon was a casualty of the economic nightmare which paralyzed a once-vibrant nation. And, like so many, she knew she had to do whatever necessary to survive. Alan Ashley dangled the job like a carrot, but he imposed certain conditions. Now Lenore had to make a decision--as well as keep the secrets accumulated since she had last seen Alan.

Tomorrow: 

Lenore guards her secrets, but reading between the lines of the interview may tell you what you need to know.

 Links

The Great Depression

Images of life in America after the crash

The Dust Bowl

Riding the Rails

Hoovervilles

FDR's New Deal

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