Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Never Count Your Chickens....

A writer friend recently asked if I'd ever had a story tentatively accepted for an anthology, then not make the final cut.

"Yes, and I'm still trying to learn to not count my chickens before they hatch," I confessed.

Recent example: Several months ago I got a permission release for one of my favorite stories, "Choosing Shoes Blues," from Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was being considered for Family Matters. I'd not been in the Chicken coop since last year's What I Learned from the Cat, so was tickled, and immediately began to think of who in our family would love to receive this book for Christmas. Shortly thereafter I got an additional permission request for "From Nuisance to Blessing," for Think Positive.

"Wowser! Two books for holiday gifts!!"

Not quite. I began to realize I hadn't seen the page proofs for the Family Matters book and the publication date was approaching fast. Sure enough, I opened my e-mail one morning and there was an update: I'd been cut at the last minute.

Nonetheless, I continued to "Think Positive," and that book will appear in September. I've also been asked to sign permission slips for a couple of stories for Chicken's Grieving and Recovery, and will keep my drumsticks crossed.

I've had three other instances of making the finals for other prospective books, and then been cut. I've found homes for two of those stories, but still am looking for a place for my tale that didn't edge into The Ultimate Gardener. I've also had stories accepted by books that never quite materialized...some because of the recession, some because a similar collection had been published earlier.

Am I bothered by rejection? Well, nobody likes to get turned down. Nonetheless, I like to reassure myself that it's always a judgment call. What might be one editor's "not for me," might be another's "yes, indeedy." Others have shared that thought:

"I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, to hell with you."-Saul Bellow

"The vital point to remember is that the swine who just sent your pearl of a story back with nothing but a coffee-stain and a printed rejection slip can be wrong. You cannot take it for granted that he is wrong, but you have an all-important margin of hope that might be enough to keep you going."- Brian Stableford

"We keep going back, stronger, not weaker, because we will not allow rejection to beat us down. It will only strengthen our resolve. To be successful there is no other way." -Earl Graves

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great, Greater, Greatest

So...which was the best musical I saw this week on the West End?

"Avenue Q" is billed as the greatest musical of the decade. I'd say it might be the funniest. When the Miss Piggy parody character is hospitalized as Slut, Lucy The, I broke into laughter. Since I had a first row seat, the Gary Coleman character eyed me during "Give Us Your Money," and nodded invitingly. I shook my forefinger, Belizean style, signifying no. "How about a date?" he offered with a wink. I gave him a thumbs up. But a few minutes later I caught him cheating with Lucy The Slut, so I didn't wait at the stage door.

"Oliver!" supposedly is the most lavish staging yet of this perennial Dickens favorite. I'd say it well deserves that accolade and more. Gravelly-voiced Bill Hartley certainly gave me shudders and shivers...easily the scariest villain I've seen since Heath Ledger's The Joker. My only complaint is that the musical's ending is so different from the book's...the London bobbies really didn't carry pistols in those days, and Sykes didn't have Oliver with him when he met his end. Nonetheless, I loved the antics of the Artful Dodger and wept for poor doomed Nancy, who stood by her man.

And "Jersey Boys"? I didn't stop tapping my feet and pounding rhythm on my knees for the entire two and a half hours. I may have learned more about the Four Seasons performers than I'd ever wanted to know, though...and had no idea that they were all born before me. Apparently their promoter shaved a few years off their ages to make them more appealing to the teenage record-buying public back in the day.

My recommendation? See 'em all...and more if you have time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Murder, He Said

This morning I shared a ride with a fellow Dickens student to the National Express bus stop in Cambridge, arriving about an hour and a half before my scheduled 11 a.m. ride to London. I woke up with an annoying sore throat and sniffles, and hoped to get to my London hotel as soon as possible to spend the day resting before my friend arrives tomorrow for our whirlwind sightseeing spree.

The 10 a.m. bus soon arrived but the driver apologetically explained that his bus was fully booked, and he couldn't take me. Because I had a reduced "Fun Fare" rate I had to travel on the specific bus on my ticket. I'd have to wait for another hour. I wheezed, sneezed and nodded, smiling woefully.

A few minutes before 10, he stepped out and began to close the luggage compartment, then glanced my way. I was perched on the little railing, partially sheltered from the drizzle, reading "The Suspicions on Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House," by Kate Summerscale. This book recounts the true story of an 1860 child murder that captured the public attention in England the way the Lindbergh kidnapping did in America decades later.

"Good read, that?" the young man asked.

"Yes," I said, fishing for a Kleenex.

"Oh, hop on," he said. "A few people haven't shown up, and I can squeeze you in. You might as well read in comfort."

"Thank you so very much."

"My pleasure," he said, "I'm a big follower of murder mysteries."

We nodded at each other companionably as I clambered aboard.

Hey, I just love England.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Revels Now Are Ended....

at least at Cambridge for this summer. Today's the last day of classes, so we took group shots with the professors. In the photo below Ulrike Horstmann-Guthrie, the knowledgeable Victorian expert who taught "Criminals and Gentlemen or The Victorian Underworld in Dickens's Oliver Twist and Great Expectations," is the tall cool blonde in the middle...I'm the short grinning-like-a-loon brunette on her left.

In the photo on the bottom Dr. Sean Lang is seated at the right. I'm to his immediate left. He got a resounding round of applause at the conclusion of both "The British Empire in Film and Literature" and "The Victorians and Their World."

Tonight we have a formal dinner by candlelight and will receive our official certificates of attendance at the University of Cambridge. I'm meeting new friends from Switzerland, Australia, Germany, France, China and Denmark for drinks at the bar before...and we may conclude the evening with a trek to the Anchor or the Eagle for a final farewell pint.

With great pride I add the University of Cambridge's Selwyn College to the list that already includes Compton College, California State University at Long Beach and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Other part time gigs where I've taken up residence include The University of Santa Fe, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Loyola-Marymount. But there's something special for me to be able to casually mention that I've studied Victorian literature and history at Cambridge. Tomorrow...London!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

What the Dickens....

Above is the dining hall at Selwyn College, where I'm daily served scrumptious full English breakfasts, including the proverbial grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, and porridge so thick that it would make poor Oliver Twist sigh in envy.

Supper starters have included baked mozzarella with cranberry sauce, crayfish and mango salad and English summer soup, as light and feathery as a celery frill. Entrees range from salmon risotto to sirloin steak to tarragon chicken, all doused with ketchup by some of the international students from China. (I'm reminded of a colleague who drank his tempura dipping sauce at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles, thinking it was soup.) I've exhibited unusual dining habits as well, as I'm yet to be able to manage a knife and fork in the English manner, no matter how hard I try.

So far I've learned more about Dickens, the British Empire and the Victorians than I'd anticipated I possibly could in so short a time. For instance...
  • English gardens of the Victorian era took on geometrical shapes to show that nature could adhere to science, and be tamed and shaped.
  • Kipling wrote, "To be English is to win first prize in the lottery of life."
  • Cricket was a democratic game played in villages where the local blacksmith or butcher could bowl out the lord of the manor.
  • The entire idea of celebrating birthdays as momentous occasions was a European concept that England transferred to its colonies.
  • Queen Victoria was the first person ever to appear on a postage stamp, and the word "England" did not need to appear on these stamps, since her image was iconic.
  • David Livingston, the great missionary who carried "liberation" to the heart of Africa actually converted only one solitary person.
  • Millicent Fawcett, a Suffragist, used political power to get women the vote in 1918, unlike the militant Suffragettes who had taken to bombing empty buildings.
  • Public health became a matter of concern in 1842 after Edwin Chadwick, later knighted, wrote a tract called "The Report of the Sanitary Condition of the Laboring People in Great Britain," which became a huge best seller.
  • In Oliver Twist it's ludicrous that Dickens, who spent his career championing the downtrodden, devoted so much reflection to the idea that character can be read by physiognomy, "nature being written on his face."
  • The adoption law in England wasn't passed until 1924, so the "adoptions" of Oliver by Mr. Brownlow, and Estella by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations were informal philanthropic acts.
  • In Dickens lifetime the population of London increased 2.5 times!
Finally, today, after several days of clouds and rain, the sun broke through, so a classmate could snap this photo of me below in front of the flowers in the Selwyn College garden.

The rest of this week I'll be reading Jeremy Tabling's Going Astray: Dickens and London, and hope to do a Dickens walk while I'm in London next week...if I have time. I'll be seeing two musicals, Avenue Q and Oliver! as well as visiting the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and seeing the newly opened apartments at Buckingham Palace, all pre-booked by my friend Heather from Weston-super-Mare.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

British History for Dummies

I'm delighted to have two classes with Dr. Sean Lang, author of British History for Dummies, who sang a number of Victorian hymns to the class today, after enacting the roles of Catholic priests and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to contrast the differences in sacraments.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Secret Loves

What could be better than starting my day learning that my first attempt at fiction will appear in an anthology?

I'm delighted to read that Michy Devon of Twin Trinity Press will include "Secret Love" in her Expressions of Pain collection.

Here is what she says in her Accentuate Writers blog:

Secret Love, by Terri Elders – This story is sweet and sad at the same time, and while it definitely shows regrets, it’s also not shoved in the reader’s face. We see the lead character regret, and then we see her secret love with his regret too. The last line of this story made me snort out laughter, and that doesn’t happen too much. I loved the way we were expecting, “Ah! Finally!” but then only to find out, nope, can’t happen. LOL Great job!

Here's the first line of my story:

“You’re 15, right, babe? So you can catch grunion without a fishing license?”

Oh...and the answer to my initial question...what could be to down a full English breakfast in the Hall at Selwyn College, Ann's Court, University of Cambridge, then skitter off to back-to-back classes in the "British Empire in Literature and Film" and "The Victorians and Their World," both taught by the dynamic professor Sean Lang. This man, simultaneously erudite and entertaining, might be my new "secret love."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Room in Ann's Court, Selwyn College

Here's my room at Selwyn College, Ann's Court, where I'll be living for the next two weeks.

My room contains a closet with a few hangers…glad I brought three more from home, a bookcase, a red reading chair, a round table with a plug-in tea caddy, a spacious desk with three drawers and a table lamp, a bulletin board with the same red fabric as the chair, a single bed, a bedside table with a locking drawer, a bureau with three drawers, and a bookcase with three shelves, about the size of the bookcase Grandpa Elders made for me.

The furniture is blond, and the red and orange drapes match the bedspread. The bathroom has a large walk-in shower and an automatic motion-operated light. I spent five frustrating minutes searching for a switch to turn it off, then went in and flopped on the bed to read another chapter of Victoria R.I. and was pleasantly surprised when the light finally when out by itself.

The room is large enough that it could be pleasant to live and study in for a year, with paintings and personal belongings to brighten it. The large double window opens on to a view of the central court, filled with enormous shade trees.

Everything is bright and new at Ann’s Court, unlike me. I may be bright, but I'm far from new. Fortunately, I've spotted a dozen or more around the registration site who seem to be 50 or over...and met a couple who are nearing mid-60s.

Tonight after our inaugural suppers at our colleges about a hundred of us from Special Studies (my track), Shakespeare, and Medieval Studies, are marching up Sidgwick Avenue to the River Cam, where we'll hoist a pint at the Anchor Pub.