The Magnificent Aschenbachs

Lately, many people have been asking me if I’m writing a sequel to The Gym Show.  While I think a sequel would be an excellent complement to what will always be (maybe) my favorite novel, I had already begun my second novel before The Gym Show became so popular.  So will I write a sequel?  Yes.  But first, my compulsive personality insists that I finish my second novel, The Magnificent Aschenbachs.

Would you like a peek?  Thought so.  Here is an excerpt from The Magnificent Aschenbachs.

   After that rather strange greeting, January’s initial reaction to Richard’s home was one of awe, but she fought the urge to appear wide-eyed and naïve, and tried desperately to appear as if it were an everyday thing to walk into a spectacularly furnished and appointed mansion like the main character in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.  And, like the nameless protagonist, January felt childishly out-of-place and wished she had worn something a little less showy (Gold lame, January, really?) and a little more conservative.

    Sadly, she didn’t have clothes in her wardrobe to match the splendor of the home, and she certainly was not dressed in the same manner as Richard’s mother, the formidable looking Angelika.  What did Angelika say to Richard when he had introduced her?  She knew it was German by the accent, but she had no idea what she said.  Richard had seemed rather taken aback, and even now, he was still somewhat quiet as if Angelika’s words had generated in him some meaningful response that he was still trying to piece together in his perplexed state.  January felt as if he was going through the motions of shepherding her through the house without really considering her at all.  This was turning out to be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable experiences she had ever remembered and wondered if all first dates were this excruciating.

The story is set in the mid-80’s in Indianapolis, and if you’re a Booth Tarkington fan, you might recognize that the title is a play off his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons.  Think of my interpretation, though, as another slice of life in Indianapolis, told mainly through the eyes of a young inner-city teacher who faces daunting challenges both in her professional and her personal life.

It’s going to be spectacular, I promise!  Estimated time of completion?  I’ll keep you posted.

The Fairy Tale of Working from Home

After nearly 25 years teaching in the public school arena (and if you think that’s a strange choice of a word to replace ‘school’, think again), I am privileged and happy to be among the ranks of folks who work from home.  It makes me happy.

Maybe it makes my co-workers in the actual office even happier.  Winning.

When I tell people that I work from home, their first question is, “What do you do?”  I tell them I work as a technical writer for a software company. Relieved (or not) upon learning that my job does not involve more nefarious work-at-home schemes, they subsequently conjure images of me sitting in front of my computer in a quiet, well-organized corner of my expansive kitchen, my sleepy face softly lit by the gentle glow of the computer’s monitor, glasses still on, hair in a messy ponytail atop my pretty little head, in my jammies and fuzzy slippers.  Let me take it a step further and paint for you the picture of what others undoubtedly think makes up the collage of my day:  I’m blithely sipping steaming coffee from a larger than normal-sized mug, in the background you can just about hear the tinkling laughter of Samantha Guthrie and Matt Lauer, and if these people hadn’t yet noticed that my sell-by date has come and gone, you’d see a couple of cute-as-a-bug’s-ear frolicking toddlers playing joyfully but oh so quietly on the spotless, wide-planked kitchen floor.

Well hells bells, who wouldn’t want to work from home?

The reality, though, is quite different.  Allow me to shed some softly glowing light on the typical day of the stay-at-home-work-from-home worker.

  1. It must be nice to work in your jammies!

Well, now, that depends.  I’m one of those people who usually fall into bed wearing the exact same thing I wore all day—leggings or yoga pants, a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, and socks if my toes are cold.  Kinda like what most gals my age sleep in anyway, so if you feel better calling my ’round the clock ensemble ‘jammies’, knock yourself out.

  1. You can work whenever you want!

Yes and no.  Yes, if I want to get up early and get a start on the day’s tasks; no if I’m expected to be present at a meeting via the various means of technological magic available for getting people from different zip codes together for a meeting.

As an aside, these technological tools that allow meetings to take place remotely are not all they’re cracked up to be.  For one, it’s often hard to hear the other people speaking, so to move things along, you have to either pay attention really, really well, or pretend you can hear everyone.  For another (and this can be most troublesome for someone like me who is always thinking that people are making fun of me behind my back), people can make fun of you behind your back!  They can roll their eyes, give you the finger, give you the finger with both hands, make crude gestures like a wild pack of eighth grade boys, or even write notes to each other about you while you’re in sitting at your kitchen table in another state, unaware of the mirthfulness at your expense.  When they laugh, you think they’re not laughing at what you or someone else said, they’re laughing at you—at your stupid question, at your stupid idea, or at the stupid but stunning likeness that someone drew of you in your jammies and fuzzy slippers.  While it is true that none of my coworkers would deign to commit such sophomoric antics, I’m just saying that it could happen, especially if one has failed to establish an easy-going, fun-loving rapport with his or her teammates, like I have.  Right, guys?  Right?

     3.   You don’t have to put up with the office politics!

This is only true if you never spend any time in your office. But I do—I travel once a month to my office in another state and I’m there for a whole week.  Now, for me, it’s a nice change from the usual kitchen-chair-kitchen-table office I have at home.  Furthermore, I really like my co-workers, I love the company I work for, and my week in the office is made even more pleasant by the company’s generosity with regard to my lodging and meals.  I really don’t know if my company has its share of office politics; however, if they do, I’m not privy to any inside information.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  You see, at first, I felt like a visitor in the office, like, “What’s she doing here?  What does she do?”  Once I had been there a while, it was like, “What’s she doing here again?  And what is it that she does?”  I solved that problem by starting the practice of treating the entire office to doughnuts on the final day of my monthly sojourn.  That shut ‘em up.  Now it’s, “Oh, Kelly’s here!  Doughnuts on Friday!”

  1. Isn’t it nice that you can stay home with your kids?working at home

Now, I haven’t personally experienced this one, because my kids are almost grown, but if anyone ever says this to you—all you young mothers and fathers out there with young children—the correct response is, “Are you flippin’ kidding me?”  Look, I have two Labrador retrievers, and I still find it difficult sometimes to juggle the demands of my job and the demands of two poorly trained and rabbit-motivated canines.  I cannot fathom doing what I do here at my kitchen-table-desk cum workspace with even one child at home who requires my attention.  Young mothers:  If you are considering a career that allows you to work from home and take care of your children at the same time, you are a victim of incorrect thinking and modern-day “I can have it all!” -ishness.  Unless you can put them in a dog crate, throw them a bone now and then, and walk them up and down the street during your lunch break, it truly is not a good idea to work at home with a child, or even worse, children afoot.  Hire a nanny, a mother’s helper, or just resign yourself to working at night while they’re sleeping because ain’t nothing gonna get done that’s worth anything if you’re trying to earn a living and take care of a child at the same time.

  1. Isn’t it hard to stay on task?

No.  It’s a job, and I take it very seriously.  I operate as if there are hidden cameras all over my house that follow my every move between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM.  If I need to go out or run an errand, I let someone in the office know or I make sure I that respond to every email via phone during any unexpected absences.  Additionally, I’m given certain tasks that require completion by a deadline.  That makes the whole work-at-home experience very real.

Okay, so that’s my experience.  And because it would be mean of me to leave you empty-handed, here’s a slice of advice for those of you embarking on a stay-at-home career:

  1. Get up every morning and get ready for work, just as you would if you were going into the office. Okay, you can skip the pantyhose and hurty heels, but shower, dress, put on makeup, shave, do both (I’m not judging), do your hair, and arrive at your workstation at the same time that your colleagues are entering the office.
  2. Eliminate distractions. As much as you’ve been dying to see that rerun of Dr. Phil where the aged cougar can’t understand why her boyfriend is still texting from Nigeria asking her for another $20K, turn off the TV.  Do the people in your office watch Dr. Phil during work hours?  And stay off Facebook.  Reposting that cat video at 10:33 AM on a Tuesday morning doesn’t reflect well on your work ethic.
  3. When someone calls to chat, tell them politely that you are working and that you will call them back after 5 PM, but at least answer the phone so they won’t think you’re dead. If you’re too spineless to tell it like it is, lie and say that you’re getting ready for a meeting, in a meeting, or meeting a deadline.  They’ll get the message.
  4. Form familial bonds with other work-from-home employees from your company. Often, pesky, problematic technological issues arise and you can’t access your VPN.  Chatting with another remote worker can confirm or refute whether the problem is with you or the company’s network.  I speak from experience (so I can tell you that most of the time the problem is with me).  Wouldn’t you rather have your sister-in-remoteness making fun of you for not knowing how to work around the VPN than your manager?
  5. Be available. Answer every email immediately, even if you have to postpone the actual task the sender is asking of you and simply reply, “Got it.”  Sync your phone with your work email so you can travel to another room in your house and not miss a beat.  (I would advise, however, from making or answering any phone calls while on the potty.)  Yes, I realize that not even your coworkers in the office do this (respond to emails in a timely manner, not take or make phone calls while sitting on the john), but it is important to instill confidence in your management that you are always available even though you might be 306.5 miles from the office.  And pooping.

Thinking Outside the Book

The Gym Show

I had a wonderful conversation with Mary LoVerde yesterday.  Mary is quasi-related to me by marriage, and I had the privilege of meeting her at my nephew Lynn’s wedding.  Remember?  The wedding I never made it to?  Luckily for me, though I never made it to the wedding, I was able to meet Mary at the reception.

After our chat yesterday, I’m so glad I didn’t get lost on the way there.

I wanted to ask Mary’s advice about the publishing world.  Having published four bestselling books, who better to ask?  My question was simple:  How do I get a mainstream publishing company to read and review my book The Gym Show for publication?  The underlying question:  How do I make The Gym Show a bestseller?

Her answer was surprising.  She asked me why I wanted a publishing company to take over the sale and distribution of my intellectual property.  I told her that I thought this was the only way to get millions and millions (yes, I think big) of people to read my book.  I was wrong.  Apparently, according to Mary, the publishing world is changing, and more often than not, writers are opting to publish their own work under their own terms.  The writers, not the publishing company, the literary agents, nor the publicists, are the ones in charge of their own destiny.

So I am putting myself in charge of my destiny.  I’ve written a terrific book–I think it’s terrific, and a whole lot of others who have read it agree with me.  Over and over I hear, “I couldn’t put it down.”  That, to me, is the mark of a good story.

Sure, there are naysayers out there, some who have already made their opinions known.  But you know what? Unless it’s constructive criticism, I don’t give a fiddler’s fart about what they say because I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

The Gym Show is a great story, it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Am I going to write another novel?  Already in the works, my friends.  Am I going to write a sequel to The Gym Show?  I don’t know …tell me what you think.

Blowing Out My Candles

Tomorrow marks another year I’ve blessed this planet with my presence—what year, you ask?  Silly you, I’m no good with numbers.  Let’s just say I’m somewhere north of 39.

Satisfied?

So today, I’m taking this opportunity to write down my birthday wishes in no particular order.  Know that, since all but one of these are wishes and not hard and fast goals with a clear purpose and a timeline, I reserve the right to embellish and, well, dream a little.

So here they are, the five things I’d like to do before my next birthday:

  1. Build a time machine. Once I’ve programmed the time machine to transport me back to the mid-1960s, I’ll travel to New York City’s Madison Avenue where I, dressed and coiffed in my best Pucci-designed mini-dress, white go-go boots, and bouffant hairdo—accentuated by aquamarine eye shadow and frosted white lipstick, of course–will walk in front of the building that houses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wait for Mad Men’s Don Draper to emerge from its monolithic edifice for no other purpose than to light my cigarette.  I don’t smoke, I am not planning on taking up smoking, but before I die, I want to hold upright between my pink lacquer-nailed fingers an unlit cigarette and watch Don Draper whip out that old school Zippo and light me up.  That’s all.  After a long and thoughtful inhale, I will look up smolderingly through thickly false eyelashes and thank him in my best sultry 60s voice, and without taking my eyes off the candy, be on my way.  Once I’ve turned a corner and know that he is no longer looking back at me, I’ll carelessly toss the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot.  It is the mid-1960s after all.
  2. While I’ve got the use of a perfectly good time machine, I want to go back even further to 1924’s Downton Abbey and shake some sense into that Droopy Dog of Downton Edith Crawley. Poor Edith (Do we ever utter Edith’s name without prefacing it with the modifier ‘poor’?) bears a bastard child and has to watch it being raised by the farmer in the dell and his shrill-voiced wife while sister Lady Mary (who really is no lady, let’s be honest) has not only ****** a Turkish diplomat to death (To the death!), but has just recently taken poor Lord Gillingham out for a test drive and found him to be somewhat unsatisfactory. That Lady Mary had enough foresight to protect herself from the fate of her sister (what her Granny calls “an unfortunate epilogue”) doesn’t endear her to me at all.  She practically forced her lady’s maid Anna to go into CVS, embarrassed and shamefaced, and buy the rubbers she used on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (you see now why Julian Fellowes didn’t allow us to be privy to that scene), which further proves that she has no intention of marrying the poor bastard.  Mary wasn’t even woman enough to take a chance on making another baby.  Edith, hold your head up high, girlfriend.  While your less than virtuous sister looks down her nose at you—even without knowing your shame—she herself is busy breaking every rule of Edwardian society.  Be a woman and go get your baby back.
  3. Sit down with Lena Dunham (writer-producer of HBO’s Girls and author of an awful memoir) and tell her the things her mother should have told her years ago, like, “Lena, you’re somewhat on the chub-chub side.  No one wants to see your naked body.”  Or, “Lena, no one cares about your twentysomething angst.  You really don’t know what angst is,” in addition to, “Just because you were drunk and high and he didn’t call you afterwards doesn’t mean that it was rape.”  And most importantly, “Lena, some things are better left unsaid.”  You see, whereas I think Lena Dunham is somewhat intelligent and may have talent as a writer, apparently no one’s loved her enough to tell her that most of the country doesn’t want to see or hear about her weirdness, her “unwanted sexual encounter” at the hands of a made-up boogeyman, her courageous “alternative-ness”, or her dabbling in pedophilia.  Give it a rest.  You don’t seem to realize that the east coast salon society is but a thimble-full sampling of the rest of the country.  This goes for all you other creatives out there who think it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s a thing to wallow in multiple sex partners and be proud of it, live off your parents, experiment with bisexuality, cry rape when a random hookup doesn’t go your way, and chronicle it all because people will think you’re so “brave”.  It’s not a thing.  It really isn’t.  It’s just disgusting.
  4. Become a software engineer.  I won’t go into too many details, but just understand that if I became a software engineer, my day job would be a whole lot easier.
  5. Now this is a real goal, not a dream or a wish, and the one thing that I want most to actually happen:  Have someone out there in the world of publishing read The Gym Show and see it for what it is—a compellingly good and solidly written story that should be published by a mainstream publisher.  A story that could potentially be made into a movie that people will actually want to see.  Maybe an indie film?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  How do you get the powers that be to read your work—do you have to be a Lena Dunham? Because if that’s the criteria, forget it.  Write a better episode of Downton Abbey than Julian Fellowes?  At this point, it wouldn’t be that hard, let me tell you.  Don Draper is a marketing and advertising genius, maybe after he lights that cigarette for me I can pitch him my novel. Bottom line, it’s going to happen, and I intend to make it happen before my next birthday.

So wish me luck.  And a happy birthday!

Have you read THE GYM SHOW?

Sometimes, a girl just has to toot her own horn …

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Have you read this yet?  If you like small-town intrigue, a puzzling mystery, a little bit of humor, lots of gossip, and a great ending, then you need to.

The Gym Show tells the story of a man faced with a seemingly impossible set of circumstances.

The social structure governing America’s youth experienced a stark transformation near the end of the 1960s, but change came late to the small town of Mercyville, Pennsylvania, where the rules had yet to be written. When high school principal Jim Adamson discovers two of his students engaged in an activity that can only be described as taboo, he is at a loss as to how to manage the situation. His efforts to do right by the students involved in the incident begin to uncover a wickedness that threatens the entire community.

Jim’s own demons compel him to re-examine his values and ask himself to what extent he should be protecting his students from the depravity residing within his beloved school. He challenges the powers in Mercyville, who simply want to sweep these troubles under the town’s rug, and with the help of a most uncommon ally, he finds a solution, but in doing so, he risks everything.

Against the backdrop of the high school’s annual crowning event, The Gym Show takes the reader through seven months in the lives of Mercyville High School’s students and teachers, the community and its leaders, and the man who does things his way—thoughtfully, but without regret and without apology.

The Gym Show is 415 pages of fascinating characters, complex relationships, and a tapestry of events that culminate in an ending you’ll never forget.  I am looking to broaden my audience because I know that I have told a good story, and I want the whole world to read it. I have been extraordinarily pleased with the feedback regarding The Gym Show—the majority of the reviews (see The Gym Show Reviews) have been positive.  Several Indianapolis-area book clubs have featured my title and have subsequently invited me into their circles, eager to discover where I found the inspiration to write this compelling tale.

This is my first novel; however, it is a story I have been writing in my mind for the past thirty-five years.  I think …no, I know you’ll enjoy it–just as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Buckle up, because it’s quite a ride!