Thursday, August 21, 2014

There's a Picture of My Brain on the Milk Carton

I saw my neurologist last week. I have a new doctor, since my former brain tamer packed up and went off to Joplin. I might have gotten off with a renewed prescription for my medication, had a not asked, "Can you tell me why my sense of smell is so messed up?"

She stopped in her tracks. Game changer. More questions. More history to be taken. Yes, I smell smoke when nothing is burning. I love watermelon, but I have to smear scented cream all over my nose so I can eat it and not be deterred by the horrible smell. I opened a can of chili that smelled like mold. Canned salmon smells musty. Ick!


She ordered an MRI and an EEG...not just your plain old garden-variety EEG, but a sleep-deprived EEG. According to the instructions, this means I'm not supposed to sleep the night before. 

Yeah, right.

Sleep-deprivation is a big seizure trigger, so I guess this means they want me to come in full seizure mode. Oh, fun. At least I don't have tonic-clonic seizures (convulsions). I have temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), which has its own set of fun activities--like hallucinations. (Not all hallucinations are of the visual kind--they can also be distortions of smell, sound and feel. Mine stink--in more ways than one.)



I have to stay awake all night the night before so I'll sleep during the test. I'm going to lie on a hard table with electrodes attached to my scalp and go to sleep. Oh, fun.

Did I mention that there's a No Caffeine restriction for that night before? I don't like coffee, so that's no problem. I can skip tea for a night. But no chocolate? That's cruel and unusual punishment!

One patient suggested baking that night to stay awake. That would do the trick for me. Setting the kitchen on fire would keep everyone in the building awake all night!

My friend Carolyn suggested sitting up. That won't work. That's how I nap. Upright, leaning back against the couch. It's much more comfortable than it sounds.

According to the instructions, this is what I can expect:

  • You relax in a comfortable position with your eyes closed during the test. At various times, the technician may ask you to open and close your eyes, perform a few simple calculations, read a paragraph, look at a picture, breathe deeply (hyperventilate) for a few minutes, or look at a flashing light.

And I'm supposed to sleep? Isn't this all a bit contradictory?

Also in the instructions: Be sure to eat a good meal before the EEG. I can get on board with that. Can we stop at IHOP en route? 


  • Video is frequently recorded during the EEG. Your body motions are captured by a video camera while the EEG simultaneously records your brain waves. This combined recording may help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition.
 Does this mean it will be posted on YouTube?


And after all of this, I get to have an MRI. An OPEN MRI. No way would they get me to stick around for the other kind....

PS Hope you'll check out my works-in progress blogs, too: my memoir and Sam's Story over at Wordpress....




Friday, August 15, 2014

Crossing Over (No, NOT the TV Psychic!)

I just read a blog post by my friend, fellow blogger and author Mark Hunter. Mark has a new book coming out in October, The Notorious Ian Grant. Mark has an interesting idea: a series of short stories involving the people Ian encounters en route to the book's opening--fanfiction from TV shows and movies. 



Years ago, when I was writing romantic comedies for Silhouette, I and some fellow authors did crossovers. Our characters interacted with each other. For example, in Bad Attitude, Harlequin author Tiffany White had a character, an actor, pursued by tabloid reporters from the International Intruder, a tabloid owned by one of my characters from Something Old. (The International Intruder is currently a Facebook page written by myself, my son Collin, and my partner in crime, William Kendall.)








William and I have talked about the possibility of crossing over characters from my Unicorn's Daughter series and his not-yet-published Heaven & Hell characters. It has definite possibilities....

PS Hope you'll check out the latest excerpts from my memoir and from Sam's Story, too! And Mark's book is out now, much to his surprise!




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Making a Course Correction (Again)

For the past several months, I've been working on two projects outside the realm of my writing experience. One is my memoir, focusing on the darkest period in my life--a riches to rags account of my journey from bestselling author to homelessness and back. The other is a memoir of sorts of my parakeet, Sam, and his observations on life and living with humans. Though I plan to publish both as books, I've decided to test the waters first. Reader reviews on Amazon can be brutal, and I must confess that I don't have the requisite writers' thick skin with regard to these two projects that I've developed with my novels.

What to do? After giving it some thought, I've decided to launch both as blogs, posting a couple of chapters per week. If reader response is positive, then they'll also be published as books via Amazon.

 
As for my novels, I've found that The Unicorn's Daughter is far and away my best seller, selling more than twice as many books as all of my other novels combined. Even a recent free ebook promotion that included four of my novels yielded similar results worldwide.

For some time now, I've been looking for an idea that would provide me with the opportunity to write the type of books Janet Evanovich writes: novels full of action and humor, with protagonists who can carry a series...and I think I've finally found them.

I've already developed plots for two novels focusing on Jaime from The Unicorn's Daughter and Darcy from Chasing the Wind--both divorced photojournalists, one a spy as well--using stories taken from today's headlines. 

This should be fun....

*****

Here are the links to the new  blogs. They're at Wordpress, and comments are welcome!

My Memoir 

Sam's Story


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Missouri Norma and the Fast Food Restaurants of Doom

A few years ago, a medical study showed that people who live within walking distance of a fast food restaurant have a 40% higher risk of developing heart disease and/or having a stroke.

I'm screwed. Big time.

 
We live within walking distance of 42 of them. Well, that's 42 restaurants. Not all of them are fast food joints. Some are...others are family dining or more upscale establishments. Four are buffets--five if I'm allowed to include Golden Corral, which isn't really within walking distance--but very close. 

Anyone who knows me knows I can't cook. The only thing I do with any level of expertise in the kitchen is set it on fire. I do takeout. I'm great at takeout. And nuking food. Without a microwave and a can opener, I'd starve. 

 
It's a good thing Collin works in a restaurant.

It's a good thing he brings dinner home most nights. Or is it?


(There's one thing I don't understand about the growing fast food options, however. Is there really such a high demand for spicy food? Jack in the Box, for example, recently introduced the Hot Mess burger. I didn't try one, even when a buy-one-get-one-free offer showed up in my text messages. Nor have I tried their newest offering, the Jalapeno Ranch Ultimate Cheeseburger. Years of living with acid reflux has taught me to steer clear of such things. McDonald's also has a couple of hot/spicy sandwiches on their menu, like the Buffalo Ranch McChicken and the Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder. Last Saturday, Collin brought home some takeout from Taco Bell--including a new item, the quesarito. Had I known it had chipotle sauce in it, I would have avoided it like a vampire faced with a basket full of garlic.)

 
Today is my birthday. Collin signed both of us up for every rewards club for every participating restaurant within a ten-mile radius, so my email box is currently loaded with emails for free birthday meals, most of which will have to be used within the next two weeks. That's not going to be easy.

Angioplasty, anyone?


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

I think I'm jinxed. When we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in April, the movie was stopped for fifteen minutes because a tornado was reported on the ground in nearby Webster Groves. In early July, we attended a seventeen-minute free preview of Guardians of the Galaxy. We were hit by a storm so dangerous, we couldn't walk home from a bus stop three blocks away. Today, we saw the movie. All week, it's been sunny and warm--as it was when we left home that morning. We left the theater to very different weather conditions...again! 


When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, I didn't think it was going to be something I'd want to see. A talking raccoon? A humanoid tree? A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? (I couldn't resist the Star Wars comparison, since Disney also owns Lucasfilm and is producing #7 of the Star Wars saga.) I was ready to pass on it...until I saw some early trailers. 

The movie more than lived up to the promise of the trailers...and I can't wait to see it again!

The film starts with young Peter Quill at a hospital on earth (to be a bit more precise, Missouri in 1988). His mother, Meredith, is dying. Cancer has ravaged her body; she's lost her hair. She wants to see her son, to give him a gift. He never opens it. Angry, scared and confused, as she passes away, he runs from her room, from the hospital. Outside, alone in the darkness, he is almost immediately abducted by a group of alien rednecks led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker).

I questioned the timing of the abduction; it seemed contrived at first--but the explanation comes at the end of the movie.

Flash forward twenty-six years to another planet, to ruins in which one might expect to find Indiana Jones. An adult Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is dancing in the ruins, moving to the music on his Walkman, searching. The object of his search: a mystical orb (think of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark--in fact, later in the movie, Quill makes a comparison to the Ark of the Covenant). He finds it, only to be confronted by the minions (no, not those Minions!) of Ronan (Lee Pace), a Kree radical who's supposedly in league with the mad titan Thanos.

 
Quill escapes, only to find himself the target of an assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos' adopted daughter (who has her own agenda) and two bounty hunters, Rocket (a genetically-engineered cybernetic raccoon with a bad attitude and an itchy trigger finger voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot, a humanoid tree who can only say three words: "I. Am. Groot." (Voiced by Vin Diesel.)

All four are apprehended by the Nova Corps, led by Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) and sent to the Kyln, a maximum-security prison. There, they, along with Drax (pro wrestler Dave Bautista), discover they must work together to escape--and prevent Ronan from using the orb to destroy the planet. This leads to a wildly funny prison escape led by Rocket, unquestionably the smartest member of the team (under different circumstances, Rocket could have been a major supervillain).

As with every Marvel Studios film since Iron Man, the casting is flawless. Pratt as Peter Quill portrays a boy in a man's body, a big kid who never got over the loss of his mother and the life they had on Earth. Saldana's Gamora is tough but also dealing with a loss: a family murdered by the monster who "adopted" her. Bautista's Drax is a tragic figure consumed by a need for revenge for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Rocket, behind the tough-guy facade, is surprisingly sensitive. "She called me a rodent. He called me vermin. Well, I didn't ask to be made!" (This, my friends, is what happens when man is arrogant enough to think he can improve on the original design. Just saying.) Groot is both a gentle soul and a fierce fighter, willing to sacrifice himself for his friends.

 
James Gunn's writing and direction gives us a Marvel film unlike any of its predecessors. Though the Avengers films give us healthy doses of humor and flawed, broken characters, they're still heroes, still good guys. The Guardians are criminals who find themselves unexpectedly thrust into their hero roles. Though starting the franchise with the group rather than individually, as was done with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, doesn't allow for as much in the way of character development, we get to see enough of each of the Guardians to understand and empathize with each of them. They start the film as orphans, loners by necessity, but by the end are a family of their own making.

One of my favorite scenes involves Quill going back for his Walkman as they're escaping the Kyln. He's willing to risk capture to get the one thing he has left of his life on Earth, and that speaks volumes about him. The other, well...it involves a message Quill sends to Corpsman Dey, identifying himself as "one of the A-holes" and indicating he's "not a total dick."

"Can we believe him?" Nova Prime (Glenn Close) asks.

Dey hesitates. "Well, I don't think anyone's a total dick...."

Guardians of the Galaxy is more of a comedy than Marvel's previous films. The jokes--good and bad--work. Drax and Gamora don't get earth humor and metaphors ("Don't ever call me a thesaurus again!" "Who put the sticks up their butts?") The CGI is so impressive, I forgot there were actors' voices behind Rocket and Groot. It's one of those movies that everyone, even a couch potato like myself, should see for the first time on the biggest screen available.

It's already far exceeded studio expectations--our theater had 22 showings yesterday, adding some of them after ticket demand necessitated it. Fandango reported sellouts in many theaters. And the sequel has already been scheduled. I'm counting the days....

My partner in crime, William Kendall, has also reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy. Check out his review at Speak of the Devil!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Adventures at Comic-Con (Online)

No, we didn't go. We wanted to go, but as in years past, we just didn't quite make it. Next year, we tell ourselves. Next year, we'll go.

We'll get there. When the Cubs win the World Series. (Oh, now that's depressing.)

 
Comic-Con started out, once upon a time, as a comic book fan convention. Founded in 1970, the first three-day convention drew three hundred people. Today, it's so much more. With an estimated 130,000+ in attendance, the 2014 Comic-Con International had something for everyone: comic books, toys, games, a costume competition, an art show, portfolio reviews and movie screenings. They bring together comic book creators, sci-fi and fantasy authors and publishers, and TV and film producers, directors, writers and actors.  

And for those of us unable to attend, there's a live feed of information, a Comic-Con blog, and a multitude of videos of the various panels. Last night, Collin followed the live feed and we watched videos of some of the panels, like the Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man panels. He was proud of himself--he predicted the release dates of some of the movies on Marvel's Phase 3 and 4 schedules.

 
Guardians of the Galaxy won't be in theaters until Friday, but they already have a sequel on the schedule. Kudos to local boy turned hot director James Gunn (yep, he's from St. Louis--why didn't we get the premiere?).

The Avengers: Age of Ultron panel featured five of the six original Avengers (Scarlett Johannson, aka Black Widow, was unable to attend due to impending due date), new cast members (including James Spader, who voices Ultron--a busy man, as he was also on the panel for his TV show, The Blacklist) and Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios head guy Kevin Feige. 



We really have to wait a year for this movie?

Wasn't I just whining a few weeks ago about having to wait for Guardians of the Galaxy?

What if I get hit by a submarine in the middle of Market Street before they're released?

Don't laugh. My agent said it could happen. Not to anyone else...just to me. I wonder what she meant by that?

*****

And here's the Guardians of the Galaxy GIF I created for Collin--it's a first effort, and I need a lot of practice with the tools, but....


PS After much consideration, Collin and I decided to go back to publishing exclusively with Amazon KDP Select. The sales (and other advantages) there are good enough to warrant such a move--so tomorrow through Thursday, The Unicorn's Daughter will be free. Chasing the Wind will be free Thursday through Saturday, Angels at Midnight on August 4-6, and Alexander's Empire on August 7-9. Within the next month, paperback editions will also be made available through Amazon.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Taking a Vacation...From the Internet?

No, I haven't been on an internet vacation. Not yet, anyway. But I've thought about it. Have you?

We all know how much fun the online world can be.  But it can also be a huge time-suck.


My favorite online hangout is Facebook--it's fun, and, Mark Zuckerberg's all-too-frequent "improvements" aside, mostly easy to use. I belong to several writers groups there--but I've found that's not going to sell books. No...I make my sales elsewhere on Facebook. I go make an ass of myself on a couple of soaps' pages (I watch The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful with some regularity--and the storylines on soaps give me much to ridicule) and my sales invariably increase. Then there are the movies and TV shows I love--The Blacklist, Agents of SHIELD, The Big Bang Theory, any Marvel superheroes and my beloved Minions. The more active I am on those pages, the better my books sell. 

Take a vacation from that? Why? 
 
The jury's still out on Google +...though I did get followed by The Blacklist there. Could be interesting. Think I'll stay with it!


Twitter is good for keeping up with what everyone else is doing. One of my Tweets was recently retweeted by Bronx Zoo's Cobra. Seriously. Anything can happen at Twitter!
I left LinkedIn a while back. It's a great site if you're looking for a job, but not so useful for authors. Waste of time. As for Goodreads and Shelfari, well, I couldn't come up with a single good reason to stay with either of them! 


Email, for me, is the most time-consuming. I have five email accounts--one used solely for archiving purposes, one for coupons and newsletters, two for business, and one for personal email. I had seven accounts, but my two oldest accounts, both at Yahoo, had been hacked so many times, I finally deleted them.

I deal with so much email, I often get confused as to what I'm responding to whom. I used to think not answering one's email was inexcusably rude--but these days, I find myself struggling to keep up with mine. And I confess, long, chatty emails are often put aside until "later," when I have more time. "Later" never comes. And I apologize to the friends who sent those messages!

Blogging, for me, takes the least amount of time. I blog 1-3 times a week, and the list of blogs I regularly follow is a fairly short one.

What takes up most of your online time? Would you consider taking an internet vacation?