Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Business Can Be A Pleasure

       Nice every now and again to combine business and pleasure. This past weekend, November 19-21, I was at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, a thoroughly enjoyable three days. I hadn't been in the building ten minutes when my friend Darwyn approached me with a chocolate bar in hand. When an event starts out like that, you know it's gonna be good.
       To dispose of the business first, the Ragtime Store sold a good number of signed copies of my three ragtime-based mysteries, some people buying all three of the trilogy. Nice.
      As to the music - I can say with truth that I've never attended a festival with better ragtime, as rendered by pianists, orchestras and small groups, string virtuosos, rhythm accompanists, and singers. To list all the terrific performers would take a whole page, but just to mention a few: the Ivory and Gold trio (pianist Jeff Barnhart, flutist Anne Barnhart, and drummer Danny Coots) were back for the first time in ten years, and infused the entire festival with their superb musicianship and great good humor. And pianist Larisa Migachyov's performance of Joseph Lamb's "Bohemia" rag was breathtakingly beautiful.
      The weather was wonderful, temperatures in the seventies and eighties, but of course there's always payback. I flew home in the midst of the big Seattle snowstorm; fortunately, son-in-law Peter Greyy, a Wisconsin native, was able to pick me up and get me home. Always better lucky than good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There's A Message Here

When I left medical work nearly 16 years ago, I swore that none of my novels would have a medical background. Never. I had walked out a door and locked it behind me.
For three books set in the antiques subculture, I held to that resolve, but then I realized that a mainstream novel I'd written, but never gotten published, many years earlier would work very nicely as a mystery - but only if it had a medical background. By that time, I'd learned that what a story wants, a wise author gives it, so I went ahead and wrote FIRST, DO NO HARM, which to date has received the best reviews (including a starred review in Booklist) of any of my novels.
Never mind. I went on to write three books with ragtime backgrounds, then came up against the realization that my idea for the next book needed a medical background. So I'm just now finishing UNFINISHED BUSINESS (take that as you will). And just this afternoon, it hit me that my thoughts for the next couple of books demand...that's right. A medical background.
Write what you know, know what you write, write what you love, love what you write. Nah. Just write what comes, and don't think too hard about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Typos and Copy-Edit Errors: One Never Knows...

     There's been a good deal of chatter lately about typos and copy-editing errors in books, and the headaches they trigger in authors. Here's my contribution.

     Toward the end of my medical-historical, FIRST, DO NO HARM, artist Leo Firestone poses a tough question to Martin, his medical-student son. Martin tries to wiggle away with a wisecrack. He recalls a quote from Oscar Wilde - "The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword," then tells the reader:  Quick-step from Wilde to Waller, cue from Fats. I think I smiled. "One never knows, Dad, do one?"

      That's how it read, from the first draft, through five rewrites, through two sets of galleys. But when my author copies arrived and I opened one, I saw, "One never knows, Dad, does one?" I never did find the perp.

      But one can always make lemonade. At my signings, I told the story of the last-second malfeasance, held up the album you see at the head of this post, and told the audience that in addition to signing copies, I'd be glad to correct the error and initial it. Over time, several people have told me they'd been uncertain whether to buy a book, but couldn't resist that last little incentive.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Post-Election Day Story

       Back during the 1950s, I read a short memoir by an elderly woman, a reminiscence of a striking childhood event in her life. I can't begin to recall her name, and I can't vouch for the truth of the account. But it's still a good story, and appropriate for today. My version is, of course, a paraphrase.
      The old woman remembered a day when she was quite young, I think seven or eight. She'd become angry with her parents, and determined to run away from home. Not long after she started her journey down a dusty country road, a large man in a horse-drawn carriage pulled up, and asked where she was off to. She explained that she was running away from home.
      "Well," said the large man. "That sounds like a long trip. Would you care for a ride?"
      The girl decided that sounded good, and hopped up beside the man. He questioned her about her situation, and she told him why she felt she had no choice but to do what she was doing.                 "That's a very big decision," the man said. "Don't you think you should perhaps reconsider?"
      "Oh, no," said the girl. "There's no more chance of me changing my mind than there is of Cleveland running again."  
      The man seemed surprised, and asked her to explain.
      "That's what my father always says when he thinks something can't possibly happen. Mr. Cleveland was the last president, but he lost the next election. Some people say he might run again, but my father says there's absolutely no chance of that."
      The man and the girl rode on a good way. The day was warm, the girl became sleepy, and she finally fell asleep, her head resting against the large man. When she awoke, the carriage was in front of her house. "You'd best go inside and talk that matter over with your parents," the large man said. "I'm sure they'll be glad to see you. And it's always well to resolve a dispute with honest talk."
       The girl felt sheepish, and not a little tired. It had been a long day. She thanked the man for his kindness, and for the ride. He smiled. "And by the way, you may tell your father that he's wrong at least about one thing. Mr. Cleveland will indeed run again."

Of course, the large man was Grover Cleveland, a neighbor of the girl's family, and our 24th president, who served from 1885 to 1889. After losing the 1888 election to Benjamin Harrison, Cleveland did run again in 1892, and won a second, non-consecutive term. To date, he's the only president to have done that.