Sunday, January 25, 2015

Household Saints by Francine Prose

What better start to a story than, Joseph Santangelo, the butcher, wins his bride, Catherine Falconetti, in a pinochle game with her father and brother.  During a heat wave, Joseph bets a walk into the meat freezer and Lino bets his daughter's hand.  A bet is bet in the close knit Italian neighborhood in New York City.  The next day Catherine is told to buy the best cut of meat and cook a meal for Joseph and his mother, an introduction of sorts.  A cook, she was not, the meal a disaster, and Mrs. Santangelo leaves dismayed by the whole idea of this girl becoming her daughter-in-law. 

And so their married life began as an unlikely pair.  They became the butcher who puts his finger on the scale for a few extra pennies and his wife, who spends her days under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law learning the fine art of sausage making.  Soon, a daughter, Theresa, comes along and everything they thought they knew, changes.  Theresa felt very early on that her calling was to the convent and to God and nothing her parents did could change her.

I love Francine Prose for her beautiful writing and her quirky stories.  I'm a big fan of Blue Angel, another novel by Prose which I've also written a review.  The thing that always strikes me is her ability to write male characters so realistically.  Joseph and Catherine's father, Lino pop off the page as if I was sitting beside them eaves dropping on their conversations.  Catherine, Mrs. Santangelo and Theresa are equally as interesting but Ms. Prose is one of the few writers I know who can give each of the sexes equal footing as characters. 

What I learned from Household Saints is that all of us may feel we are living an ordinary life, but within each of us lives a little piece of God.  Never underestimate the power of a good gossiping grapevine.  And under every roof lives a saint.  Who is the saint in your household?

Monday, January 19, 2015

I've Lost My Fingerprints and I Can't Get Them Back!

I've taken a full time job in the securities business. As part of having that job, I had to take the Series 7 licensing exam.  Ugh.  I passed, but the agony of studying for and actually taking a test at this phase of my life was pure and simple torture.  And it's a topic for a blog post all of its own. 

My fingerprints were required in order to receive my license.  I guess my life of crime would now come to a screeching halt if my fingerprints could be identified.  First I went to the sheriff's office, paid $20 cash and had digital fingerprints made.  So twenty-first century doing it digitally!  And no muss no fuss. 

A couple days later, the regulatory agency came back to me and said the prints were not acceptable.  They wanted prints from ink.  I called the sheriff's office.  They don't do ink, only digital.  With no one to refer me to for ink prints, I set off making phone calls to every police department around.  No.  No and no was the answer each time.  Finally I found a police outpost at the local mall, staffed with volunteers that could do ink. 

The man took my $20 cash and carefully rolled my fingers in the ink and printed the cards.  He sprayed my hands with some kind of special ink remover and allowed me one paper towel to wipe off the mess.  Needless to say I left with two fresh fingerprint cards and dirty hands. 

Again, the regulatory agency informed me the prints were no good.  Back I go to the mall.  This time a different volunteer is there.  I explained to him that my prints keep getting rejected.  First he took my $20 cash, thought for a minute and said, "Do you wash alot of dishes?"

Anyone that knows me will know the answer to that is a resounding no!

"What kind of work do you do?" he asked. 

Without overdoing the details I said, "I work on the computer, and I'm also a writer."

"Ah.  Typing wears off your fingerprints.  I'll give you a letter that says these are the best prints available."

This time I left with dirty hands, two fingerprint cards and a letter.  This time my fingerprints were accepted.   

Now my life of crime is back on!  Ha!  Or maybe I should start writing murder mysteries.  I'm sure I can make some kind of story line out of a writer's tired and worn out fingerprints.  How about a best selling writer by day and cat burglar by night as the prime suspect?  And a tenacious detective who is brought to the brink by the lack of clues to the crime. 

Inspiration for a writer can strike in the strangest situations. I can't wait to wear down my fingerprints some more while I write it!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Dreaded Performance Review

If you've read my novel, One Clown Short, you know about the chapter on performance reviews at work.  Every company has them and after you have more than two or three in your working life, you may have come to the realization of how ridiculous they can be. 

I recently returned to work full time in a supervisory position.  I only have two direct reports but I hit the jackpot and had to write a review for one of them after only being on board for a couple months.  The new company's form had all the standard categories, customer service, productivity, conduct and the like.  Each section had five boxes for me to check, labeled left to right, one through five. 

This person is doing a good job and so I gave her mainly 3's and 4's for average and above average.  I told her I was sending the review, she works in an office in another part of the state, and would she please read it, gather her thoughts and then we would discuss it.  Fine.  Off it went. 

Later that day the phone rings, "Can I ask you something about my review?' she asks.

"Sure," I say. 

"On the overall rating, how did you rate me?" she asked with hesitation.

"Let me look."  I ran my finger down the page to the spot. "I gave you a 4 which is an above average."

"Oh.  Can you look at the last page at the ratings and their meanings."

I scrolled to the very last page.  In tiny little print were the ratings.  One is outstanding, two is above average all the way down to five which means unsatisfactory.     Oops!

I have written hundreds of performance reviews over the years.  Never has a 1 been the best score a person could receive.  What happened to the good ol' on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest?  I apologized profusely for subjecting a good employee to that kind of panic.  Nothing will ever undo how she felt she was being treated.

For me, the lesson was learned.  While writing, I enjoyed making ridiculous fun of the dreaded performance review.  I created ratings of "You Suck" and "You suck less than the other guy".  Maybe those would work better than a backward scale utilizing numbers.  But in real life the performance review managed to come back and bite me in the shorts.  What goes around, comes around.

I call it a book worthy moment.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty

Ellen is a hypnotist with a thriving private practice.  She takes her work quite seriously even though many people around her don't.  Tired of being alone, she dips her toes into Internet dating and finds Patrick.  Patrick has all the qualities Ellen is looking for in a man.  Unfortunately, he also comes with some pretty heavy baggage.  He has a stalker.

Saskia, his stalker,  is obsessed with Patrick and his son Jack.  Never having been able to get over their breakup, she follows Patrick everywhere. Ellen becomes fascinated with Saskia and her fascination grows at the same pace as her love for Patrick and Jack.  She has found her soulmate, suitcase and all.

Ellen believed in mind over matter which she practiced daily . Saskia complained of debilitating leg pain which no doctor had been able to cure.  Once Ellen found the opportunity to work her magic on Saskia, her pain disappeared.  I too, suffer from sciatica but after I read The Hypnotist's Love Story, the pain seems to have lessened.  Maybe I've been hypnotized too! A good novel can have that effect on me.

The Hypnotist's Love Story is filled with twists and turns and subtle hints that make this story an intriguing puzzle.  Lingering behind each scene is the question of whether Ellen is using her skill as a hypnotist to make things go her way or letting life happen naturally. That is the mystery of the novel. Ms. Moriarty is expert keeping the reader turning pages.

Lots of people I know like to read all the books by one favorite author.  I'm not much of a serial reader really.  My tastes in books are pretty eclectic, the classics, the hottest best sellers, a few indie titles and just about anything that's selling for $3.99 or less in the Kindle Store.  Since I've read three Liane Moriarty novels and enjoyed them all, she might just be turning me into a serial reader. The Hypnotist's Love Story didn't disappoint and left me dreaming for more.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Hey!  Did you miss me?  We've got lots of catching up to do.  2014 was a year full of changes and at times I found it tough keeping up.  A new year, 2015, gives me time to catch my breath, reflect and dump all the baggage  I've been carting around.  Here's what 2014 had in store for me.

I spent the first three and a half months giving tax advice.  I loved this job even though for most of that time I was glued into my office chair.  People ask a variety of questions, which I am happy to answer.  And the best one for 2014, is "I have a cafeteria plan.  Does that mean I can deduct my son's lunch money?"  I put the phone on mute before I laughed out loud. 

May saw the release of my story, Under a Lucky Star, in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Home Sweet Home.   I also entered a story in the Florida Writer's Association contest which ultimately was selected to be published in their annual collection. 

In June I returned to work full time.  I was offered a job at a small brokerage firm as a sales assistant.  And it was an offer including benefits that I couldn't refuse.  It meant getting my Series 7 license which I grossly underestimated.  After all I'm already a CPA, so how hard could the test be?  Let's just say it was hard. The older you get, the more difficult taking a test becomes.  I got over that hurdle however, and now I'm moving on to an insurance license. 

In August, Richard and I headed out on vacation in Maine.  I'm just in love with Maine so we made a return visit this year.  Did you know it is the only state with only one syllable in its name?  Maine has the ocean, lobster, mountains, lobster, boats and more lobster.  We visited Acadia National Park, went lobstering and hiked out to a lighthouse.  What's not to love? And the lobster is cheap!

My step mother, June fell and broke her hip in September.  I have been in a fog of worry, doctors, hospitals, Medicare and nursing homes ever since.  What I have been through trying to make sure she is properly cared for is a story for another day.  Let's just say the system is broken. 

Now I have arrived at 2015 wondering what this new year will bring.  My hope is that I will lose 20 pounds, write the next great American novel, and live in a world of peace and harmony for everyone.  I say thank you everyday for all the blessings in my life.  My outlook is rosy.

Happy New Year to you all!  Sending love, peace and joy.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...