Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Many of Me?

I always wanted to be one of a kind. Turns out I am.

A friend recently sent me a link to a website called How Many of Me. Put in your first name, your last name, and click. In a minute, you have the numbers.

According to this site, there are 333,110 people named Norma. I'm guessing they're all women. If not, there are some guys out there who have probably learned to fight at an early age (think of the Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue).

Not surprising that there are so many Normas. I've never liked the name. I seriously considered using a pseudonym when I sold my first novel, but my ego wouldn't allow it. I didn't want to be anonymous. 

Hindsight being what it is, I wish my ego had just shut up.

Anyway, Beishir is a much less common name. There are only 336 Beishirs in the US. This is also not surprising. My surname is French. The Beishirs come from the Alsace region of France by way of Lebanon.  (I'm told all surnames have some origins in the Middle East.) My genealogical heritage is mostly Scottish in spite of the surname, French, German and Native American.

I am a proud mutt.

According to How Many of Me, there's only one Norma Beishir in the US and only one Collin Beishir.

I guess this means I'm safe from identity theft. On the downside, it looks like I can't get by with using that lame old excuse, "It wasn't me, it must have been somebody with the same name." 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten Things I Love About St. Louis

Talli started it, William decided to give it a shot, and I thought...why not?

It should be easy to think of ten things I love about my hometown, right? I was born here. I grew up here. I know it pretty well...though I must confess that even after all these years, I know little about the city north of Forest Park....

1. Ted Drewes:  Located on the Mother Road, the original Route 66, Ted's has the best frozen custard on the planet, bar none. Actually, he calls his stuff concretes because it's so thick if you turn the cup upside down, it will take a while to fall out. No joke. I have a preference for the specialty sundaes, like the Cardinal Sin--named for our baseball team. It's vanilla custard topped with hot fudge and cherries. I was once accused of ordering it just so I could hear the order called out to the guys who prepared them: "Big sin!" or "Little sin!"

2. Toasted Ravioli: We claim the right to be called its birthplace. It's a St. Louis original, and I defy anyone to try it and not love it! 

3.  The St. Louis Zoo: Widely regarded as one of the world's best,  our zoo is spectacular, from Big Cat Country to the Penguin and Puffin Coast to the beautiful Bird Garden (and the aviary that's been around since the 1904 World's Fair). One of our past curators was none other than Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom fame.

4. Laclede's Landing: One of my favorite places in the downtown area, it's as if time has stood still there--cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and the Train Wreck Saloon. And that's just for starters....

5. The Central West End: Our artsy neighborhood. Galleries and fine dining. My personal favorite places there are the Silk Road and Culpeppers. I'm still mourning the demise of Balaban's, a French restaurant I've loved since my days as a student at St. Louis University.

6. The Delmar Loop: home to Blueberry Hill, the Pageant, the Tivoli theater, and the St. Louis Walk of Fame.John Goodman, Vincent Price, all the local celebs are immortalized there. No, I don't have a star there. That can be found on the soon-to-be-inaugurated Walk of Shame....

7. Ronnies 20 Cinema: It's huge--so big I think the ticket-takers are actually border patrol guards. I always expect to be asked for my passport. It boasts all the latest in film viewing, along with an enormous video arcade and numerous concession areas (don't ask me how many; I've lost count). There are a few larger cineplexes in the area, but I haven't seen any of them. I'm afraid I'll get lost.

8. Forest Park: Home to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Zoo, the Jewel Box, the Muny Opera, and the Planetarium. Bigger than New York's Central Park--so take that, Manhattan! (The Planetarium is always gift-wrapped at Christmastime!)

9. Merb's Candies: A legend in its own time. Seriously. Home of the Bionic Apple, the best caramel apples in the world. If you don't believe me, ask Steven Spielberg. He and Kate Capshaw have them shipped out to California every fall, the only time they're available.

10. The Gateway Arch: Last but most certainly not least, it's our most recognizable landmark. I've been to the top of the Arch (the view, for the uninitiated, is spectacular, especially at night). I've been in the observation deck during a thunderstorm, a minor earthquake.... Not to be missed if you're ever in the area!

Monday, November 22, 2010

George Clooney, Where Are You?

TV misrepresents hospital emergency rooms.

On TV, patients are rushed into the ER, and everyone gets speedy and caring treatment. Doctors take a personal interest in their patients and give 150%.

Not so in real-life ERs.

In the real world, ER staffs are often overwhelmed, overworked, and, as a result, too likely to be short on patience and compassion. 

One night, I received a series of text messages from a friend. She's been battling health issues--and the health system--for months now. She moved here from Texas via a town maybe thirty miles south of St. Louis.  Because she had just moved here and because she is on Medicaid, she does not yet have a local primary care doctor. She is in a great deal of pain and is suffering, but the system keeps her waiting anyway.

I wonder, are they going to keep her waiting until it's too late?

She was in so much pain Saturday night, she turned to alcohol for relief.  She didn't want to go to the nearest ER. Past experience had taught her that they weren't likely to do anything for her anyway. I was worried about her drinking--she was alone in her apartment. What if she fell and was seriously injured? It would take a lot of booze to ease her pain.

Her text messages were becoming more difficult to read--she was running misspelled words together. "You're drunk," I texted her.

"How can you tell?" she wanted to know.

"You're slurring your words."

By the next day, I had foolishly convinced her to call 911. After being chewed out by an EMT en route to the hospital, she was taken into the ER, where she was seen, not by a doctor, but by a nurse practioner, whose bedside manner was less than stellar. She refused to contact the PCP my friend had seen in her former town of residence, or the neurologist who had advised her to go to the ER.  She asked to speak with a social worker. This request was also refused. My friend was discharged with nothing done to help her.

I couldn't believe the triage nurse had actually asked her if she was in pain. Why else would she BE there? Not a place I would go if I had another option.

"Tell her no, you're just traveling the country, checking into ERs in a bid to make the Guinness Book of World Records," I told her.

"With my luck, they'd believe it and kick me out of here," she objected.

They did anyway. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Write Like Your Life Depends Upon It!

Carrie didn't see the man who abducted her. He'd grabbed her from behind, hand clamped over her mouth, restraining her with one arm as he propelled her forward, forcing her into the trunk of his car. Terrified, she had the presence of mind to see if her cell phone was still in her coat pocket. It was--she could call for help!

As the car began to move, she fumbled with the phone in the darkness. Could she make a call? Would he be able to hear her?  She looked at the bars. Her signal was down. But maybe she could send a text message to her roommate....


Now, if you were kidnapped and had your cell phone with you, what would you do? If you knew your abductor couldn't here you, you'd call 911, wouldn't you? Of course. 

But if you couldn't make the call without being heard, then what? Send a text message to someone you knew would see it immediately. That would encompass some 80% of the country's population. We all but have our phones surgically grafted to our hands. And since almost all mobile phones can be traced by emergency personnel, you'd make the message short. After all, your kidnapper could catch you at any time. Carrie, however, tried to give a lot of unnecessary details, wasting precious time. The man could have killed her and disposed of her body in the time it took her to compose that message!

And this is what many new writers do--use too many words. Never, ever take twenty-five words to say what can be said in ten. Your literary life may depend upon it!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Autumn of My Life

I'm the photographer here. The photos may not be professional, but I was blessed with four real supermodels....

The Autumn of My Life...I think that was a song title from the sixties. Bobby Goldsboro. He had a few big hits. This was one. Honey was another. He was known for sad songs about love lost.

But that's not what this blog's about, as you can see. This blog is about my favorite season, autumn. I love it! Moderate temperatures. Spectacular colors (if we're lucky). Hayrides. Thanksgiving. I love taking a walk in the crisp morning air...the leaves falling, the wind blowing them around my feet. 

Okay, I confess. I don't love it when the wind blows those fallen leaves through my front door and I have to sweep them up and dispose of them....

The arrival of autumn heralds the year winding down, coming to an end.  When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for one year to end and another to begin. My dad used to warn me, "Don't wish your life away." Now I know what he meant. Now I wonder how much I'll be able to accomplish in whatever time I have left.  

Why, I wonder, does time seem to pass more quickly with each passing year?

The Blind Date

Those are blindfolds, in case you're wondering. Blindfolds, blind date...get it? Anyway....

Talking with a friend recently reminded me of my genetic disability to be a normal human being. At one booksigning, someone referred to me as "quirky." To which two fellow authors responded, "Quirky doesn't begin to cover it."

I've been called worse. Usually by friends.

Anyway, the conversation brought up one particular incident involving the kid sister of a good friend. I'd gone by her house one day, and little sister was getting ready for a date. It was a blind date, but she was wildly enthusiastic. (This was a girl who, as a child, got overly excited by the little piece of crap in the Cracker Jack box.)

So as I was headed toward the front door, a car pulled up to the curb. I didn't have a clue as to who it was. Just for laughs, I yelled out, "Hey, Cindy, your date's here." What happened next was priceless.

Eager-beaver Cindy came flying out of the house, down the walk, through the gate, and jumped into the car. Her sister, Kathy, looked at me. "That was mean," she said.

"It's a nasty habit. I'm trying to quit."

"No, you're not."

"Okay, you're right. I'm not."

Car door opened again. Cindy came backing out slowly, stormed up the walk, looked me in the eye and said, in a menacing tone, "I don't care HOW long it takes, I'm going to get you for this one."

"Good luck with that."

She hasn't so far. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mars, Anyone?

Heard on the morning news: two scientists suggested Mars should be colonized by older astronauts...who would only be getting a one-way ticket to the red planet. 

One-way? Yikes!

I can imagine what that recruitment speech might sound like: "We need a few good men to colonize Mars. We will not be sending any women, as the men we're looking for will be too old to have sex--if they even survive the trip. Populating the new world is not part of the plan at this stage. None of you will be coming back. Our senators have informed us that budget cuts to the space program were necessary, so we can send you to Mars, but we'd be a little short of funds to bring you home. Why do you think we're only asking for geezers? That reminds me. We'll need anyone who's selected to sign over any and all assets...."

When I mentioned the news item to William, he expressed doubt that there would be many volunteers for this particular mission. Fortunately, NASA vetoed the idea, so the older guys on the team can breathe easy.

I've always had a fascination with space. If I weren't a writer, I'd want to be going off into that new frontier. Note that I said NEW frontier. No offense to William Shatner, but space is not the final frontier. That comes after we die. Okay, okay...space could have been the final frontier for the space cowboys who would have ended up on the Mars Or Bust budget plan....

There could be certain advantages to being part of a very small colony on a distant planet. Think about it...no pollution...no crowds...no noise. No long lines at the Starbucks drive-thru. (You think there are no Starbucks on Mars? I'll give you odds.) No waiting for satellite installation. No telemarketers...no politicians..no televangelists...no terrorists...no morons (okay, that was redundant).

Wait a minute! Maybe I should rethink this. Mars just might be paradise..if we could really be alone there.... 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

And the Survey Says....

One day last week, I was listening to a discussion on the radio. It seems a survey has declared American women to be inexcusably wimpy. Normally, I'd take exception to that. I don't consider myself to be at all wimpy. But this survey had to do with dating practices.

According to the survey, only Ecuadorian women are less likely to make the first move with a man than are we Americans. As William pointed out, they must not have included Arab women in the survey. If an Arab woman made the first move, she'd be beheaded--or at the very least, stoned to death.

Not all American women are shy about making moves on a man. I know some who are downright predatory. They could be featured on Wild Kingdom, in fact. And I am not exaggerating, not even a little!

William recently suggested that in our collaborative writing effort, Same Time, Tomorrow (written under pseudonyms Scarlett Martin and James Morgan, for those who don't already know our alter egos), Chloe should propose marriage to her lover, Gabriel. I wasn't so sure at first. Chloe's history with men does not lend itself to such boldness...but on the other hand, for her to do so would be a significant indicator of her security in the relationship, in Gabriel's love for her as well as hers for him.

In the end, I agreed. It would say a great deal about Chloe's character, so it was a smart move.

Would I make the first move on a man? Only if I were absolutely sure of his interest in me. And I'd have to see it in his actions, not just hear the words. Men will say "I love you," and then later insist it meant nothing. They usually say it to get a woman into bed, but not always. This makes me think of a running storyline of The Nanny. I've been watching it in syndication on Nickelodeon when I can't fall asleep immediately. Poor Fran tried for years to make her boss Maxwell fall in love with her. Finally, in a tense moment, he confessed that he did love her. She was elated--but later, Maxwell, began to worry that his children, who adored Fran, would be hurt if the relationship failed and they lost her. He told Fran he didn't really mean it.  

In one subsequent episode, Fran was on jury duty and the trial involved a scorned woman's revenge on an ex-lover. When the woman testified that he had told her he loved her, then took it back, Fran wanted to lynch the guy!

But I'm getting off track here. Would I propose marriage to a man? Again, only if I were certain of what the answer was going to be...and then only if I was just plain tired of waiting for him to ask me. Chloe, you can do that. You've got your guy and he realizes he's right where he belongs. You go, girl!

I may be bold in other respects, but I am a born and bred Midwestern girl. Conservative. Traditional. In most things, anyway....

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sexy Boys!

Okay, maybe it's a little much, but Talli already got Literary Hotties. Talli's list wasn't all literary, nor all fictional--last I heard, Colin Firth wasn't the product of someone's imagination. I'm going to go with the fictional guys first, and then a few real guys....

To start, any novelist who doesn't love their own characters first and foremost is doing something critically wrong. If you don't love them, no one else will...so, at the top of my list is my own trinity of men who are the kind of guys I could love for real: Connor Mackenzie in Chasing the Wind; Jamie Randall in Final Hours, and Alex Stewart in the upcoming An Army of Angels. Anyone who's read my work will tell you that there are many common traits shared by these three. I won't tell you what they are. You'll have to find out for yourself!

Now to the guys who kept me reading past page three (or watching past the first half hour)....

Gabriel Miller (Same Time, Tomorrow by Scarlett Martin and James Morgan, not yet in print): now this is a guy any woman would be damn lucky to have in her life--if he really existed. He's smart, sexy, fiercely loyal...Gabriel is a one-woman man and doesn't mind showing it. And he can cook!

Tom Stryker (Heaven & Hell by William Kendall, not yet in print): call it loyalty to my partner, but this guy would be hot even if I didn't know his creator personally. Smart, charming, a bit of a daredevil, all male. He's not like James Bond. He's better. He gets stirred but not shaken. At least not very often.

Ranger and Joe Morelli (Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series): every woman should be in Stephanie's enviable position--between mysterious, sexy, noncommittal Ranger and down to earth Joe. Morph these two together and you'll have the perfect man!

Julien Mistral (Mistral's Daughter by Judith Krantz): He was a self-centered genius, a great painter whose devotion to his art led him to commit some unforgivable acts during the occupation of France...but the two great loves of his life inspired his greatest body of work as he learned, almost too late, the most important lesson of all.

Nick Muncie (Lunch by Karen Moline): not normally my type at all, he's a dark character with a taste for sadistic behavior--but Moline has done such a splendid job of creating this character that it was possible for me to feel sympathy for him and even like him in the end. Too bad he killed himself. He had real potential.

Jamie McGregor (Master of the Game by Sidney Sheldon): though I've been a fan of Sheldon's books since my college days, and he does a wonderful job of creating memorable female characters, I've never been all that impressed with his male characters, except for Jamie. He's proud, stubborn, a survivor who built an empire against all odds. If only forgiveness had been in his vocabulary....

Indiana Jones: do I really have to explain? It's Indy!

And then there's there the real-life guys who make my heart skip a few beats....

Ewan McGregor: Scottish accent, those incredible eyes, a combination of adventurer and loyal family man. 

Gerard Butler: I'm a sucker for a Scot, what can I say?

Harrison Ford: He's Indy, for crying out loud! Enough said!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The St. Louis Mafia

Once upon a time, three local authors were all under contract to Berkley Publishing, and a delightful fellow named Ed Breslin was the editor-in-chief. Ed may have been an executive, but he sure didn't act like one. He was what one might call an anti-suit. He was funny, whipsmart, and could tell a story as well as any of us who did it for a living. And he nicknamed us--Karyn, Eileen and I--the St. Louis Mafia. It kinda fit, really.We decided it would be fun to have a special photo made for his Christmas card--us in fedoras, dark glasses, the whole nine yards. We enlisted the services of a local reporter who would do the photo, and arranged to meet for lunch at Fedora's at Union Station. Eileen was to reserve a limousine, Karyn was in charge of the carnations for our lapels, and I was handling cigars.

As usual, I arrived early, Karyn was on time, and Eileen came rushing in late. We should have realized this meant she was the last person who should have been put in charge of the limo. 

Sure enough, she'd forgotten to make the reservation. She'd made inquiries, but no confirmation. We decided we'd head over there after lunch anyway and beg if necessary to get a car. When we left Union Station, Suzanne made a U turn in the middle of Market Street--which was a really crazy thing to do, but indicative of the kind of day this was going to be. We followed Eileen to the place she'd called--in the worst neighborhood you can possibly imagine.

"Did she try to get a car from a chop shop?" I wondered aloud.

Karyn had somehow gotten separated from the rest of us, and was parked on an adjacent street--on the other side of a barricade. There she was, a tall blonde girl in a bright yellow car, trying in vain to lay low. I went over to her car and leaned against the bumper."If you're trying to blend in, you're failing miserably," I told her.

"Go away," she responded.

"Okay, if you insist." I headed back toward Eileen and Suzanne, who had spotted a big bruiser of a guy with a fat chain slung over his shoulder--headed in our direction. They started yelling, "Get in the car!"

Okay, if you say so.

We went off in search of a car elsewhere. Our next stop was a funeral home. They had a huge garage at the back of the property--presumably, where they kept hearses. And limousines. There was Eileen, standing on cinder blocks, trying to see inside. "Planning to add breaking and entering to your resume?" I asked.

She couldn't see anything inside, so we finally gave up and left. We were driving down Hampton Avenue when we spotted something with potential at a garage: an old hearse. "I'll go talk to them," Suzanne volunteered. "I'm really good at lying."

There's a big surprise.

So while Suzanne headed off to presuade the owner of the shop to let us use his hearse, we got ourselves ready. Eileen had even brought a violin case. Suzanne's mission was a success, and we began the shoot. She shot 24 photos, different poses. At one point, Suzanne wanted to get a shot with our jackets open. She reached up to undo Eileen's button, and all Eileen had underneath was a camisole."I feel naked," she joked.

"You are naked," I told her.

I had a minor problem with my cigar. Never having smoked before, I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Fortunately, the mechanics had come out to watch the shoot, and were happy to clue me in."You've got it backwards," one of them pointed out. I didn't know which end was up. I'm not sure it would have been noticeable in the photo, but I made the correction anyway. Ed got a big kick out of the photo....