Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another sample of Animal Cracker, my comic novel set in an animal shelter

Here's another sample from my comic novel set in a beleaguered animal shelter organization. Our feisty heroine, Diane, prepares for her first board meeting as the new Communications Director.

To read the novel's opening pages, scroll down two posts. And if you like it, would love a tweet or a comment here. Enjoy!

Chapter Three
My debut – my first board meeting - had arrived, and I was in the midst of an anxiety attack. Act like the senior management you are, I urged myself. Not only was I no longer the vassal I’d been at the ad agency, I owned my own fiefdom. So why didn’t I feel like the lady of the manor?

Dressing to impress might help. I requested Genie’s assistance with outfit selection. We were standing before a closet designed for a leprechaun. This was in fact okay since I possess a leprechaun-sized wardrobe. All my clothes have a story, and by the same author – her name is ebay.

Genie bit her lower lip, worrying her eyebrows as if pondering the secrets of black holes instead of which outfit in my wardrobe would be most likely to make our board of trustees - my boss’s bosses - think they had the next Hilary Clinton on their team. Genie had a theory. Actually, Genie has many theories, but that day’s had to do with the psychology of clothes.

“Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Who will you be in the future? I pick Senior VP for Marketing at Microsoft.”

“You sound like my dad. I want the job I have now. With more money.”

“Then dress like money.”

She thought she was Stephen Hawking at the moment. I gave myself over to her completely.

“Here, try this.”

She was holding one of my fashion mistakes. It had looked great in the picture, but the rust-colored suit I’d viewed online had materialized with a two-sizes-too-small jacket and tiny skirt in an unspeakable tan shade that made me look like a hooker with hepatitis.

“This is a joke, right?” I said.

"I thought it fit you like a glove.”

“Unless you want my money to come from guys yelling ‘how much, baby’ on a street corner, I think I’ll pass. In fact, give me that.”

I threw it in my bag of clothes designated for the battered women’s shelter, where my ebay mistakes became someone else’s help in getting a fresh start.

“Okay, this.”

Of course. My other suit. A striped number with huge buttons on the cuffs, and a knee-length skirt. Classy with a bit of pizzazz.

About half an hour before the board meeting, I was chatting with Betty, whose office lay just outside Hal’s, when I spied a plaid apparition, an eighty-ish dowager in head-to-to-toe Burberry – and I mean literally, from hat, to jacket, to boots - accompanied by a rat-sized yapping Yorkie in matching sweater, tethered to his owner by a leash of the same signature design. I thought even the Burberry people would’ve yelled “Stop!” at the umbrella.

As dowager and dog drew closer, I became nearly blinded by the woman’s left bosom, upon which perched a gigantic, in fact nearly life-sized replica of the clamorous canine, wrought in enamel with precious stones for eyes, mouth and nostrils.

Hal hastened to the door, ushered her in.

“Hi there, Sis,” he said, as she extended her hand for a wobbly shake. “You’re looking wonderful today. And how is my favorite Yorkie? Hey there, Puddinface.”

He stooped down for a cuddle and a lick.

“It’s lovely to see you, Mr. Mason, as always,” Sis replied.

As Hal rose from his crouch, he said “Diane, I’d like you to meet one of APA’s most outstanding board members, Sis Reade. Sis, Diane Salvi is our new Communications Director.”

Sis smiled, and we shook hands.

“May I…” I asked, gesturing at Puddinface.

“Of course, dear,” replied Sis.

There’s nothing sweeter than the feel of dog’s tongue on my hand.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

For Me and My Dog

I've written an essay about my relationship with my dog, 17-year-old Freddie. If you like it, I would love it if you posted a comment, and/or retweeted my tweet about it. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Love, Finally

I finally fell in love with my dog around the time he turned fourteen, about three years ago. By then, he was no longer able to leap onto my bed, and his days as an embarrassment who had to be walked wearing a muzzle lest he bite someone – again – were part of his fierce youth, now in the distant past.

We’d adopted Freddie from a shelter, a five month old half Bichon Frise, half Cairn Terrier who bore a passing resemblance to Toto in The Wizard of Oz. He was acquired to replace Sparky, cut down in her prime by a speeding car. Though when I was a child my family had always owned dogs, I no longer considered myself much of a dog person. The pets in my adult life were mostly for the kids, especially my daughter, who seemed to need a dog the way a fish needs water. To this overburdened mother with two challenging children, a full-time job and a rocky marriage, the dog was a “do I have to?” burden, becoming even more of a weight after my divorce,

True, he was adorable. A neighbor once remarked that he looked like a stuffed animal. But he bit people. More than once. Never a family member and never a family member’s friend. But plumbers and electricians had better watch out. (I always locked him away when they came.) He had a thing for men in uniform and yes, he hated our letter carrier.

He once chomped onto a disagreeable neighborhood gardener who called the cops – and then he bit the cop. He was quarantined for ten days, banished from the streets of my town for the safety of its citizenry. With a profound sense of shame – bad dog owner! – I did the tough, right thing. I bought a muzzle. We acclimated him to it by spreading soft cheese inside it, and he soon stopped resisting its placement over his mouth and nose when it came time for a walk.

When I began to take him out sporting the muzzle, I felt mortified, especially in my family-friendly neighborhood, home to dozens of dogs, all unfettered and free to lick and be petted. When kids approached, hands out for a kiss, I had to tell them “Sorry, he’s not always friendly.” Their parents looked on pityingly or disapprovingly.

I might have been able to conceal my parental shortcomings, but there was no way to hide my failings as a dog owner; my need to protect the locals from this vicious beast was obvious, My initial embarrassment at having to muzzle my dog gave way to something akin to pride; I’d had a problem, and I’d dealt with it competently. But most important, he couldn’t hurt anyone.

After a while, the censorious glances – or so I imagined them – were replaced with friendly sympathy. He was, after all, seriously cute.

With a biting dog on the premises, my homeowner’s insurance premiums skyrocketed. People wondered why we didn’t just get rid of him. But it was clear that the kids really did need him. When one of them was upset after a fight with a friend, or stressed about an upcoming test, they knew they could count on a snuggle with Freddie to make things better. So he stayed.

But I didn’t love him. Not then. I’d feed and walk him, annoyed by his whimpers signaling the need to go out at 7:30 on a Saturday morning when just this once, I wanted to sleep till nine. Or worse, the just-before-bedtime outings for one last pee in single-digit temperatures. I wasn’t totally immune to his charms, offering the occasional tummy rub, the appreciative “Good boy, such a good boy” but really, I gave him the minimum.

For years, Freddie was not allowed into my bedroom. I’d purchased an expensive set of bed linens in Paris, and no way was he getting his sharp claws into them. He alternately slept with one kid or another. But with my daughter no longer living at home, and my son spending more time at his dad’s, he had nowhere to sleep where he’d have some companionship. I relented and let him breach the barrier of my bedroom door and sleep on the rug.

But that wasn’t good enough for Freddie. The whining and the imploring eyes wore me down. And once he’d bounded onto the bed, he was there for good. For about two years now, he’s been my sleeping companion, the linens a bit worse for wear, and I don’t much care.

I became frankly crazy about this now-mellow elderly mutt. And I wonder why. Is it because I no longer worry that he’ll put his teeth into someone’s leg? Could it be that our physical proximity during the most vulnerable moments of our days – when we’re asleep – binds us in some primal way?

He’s now seventeen and somewhat infirm. A couple of months ago he experienced severe mobility problems and I feared we might lose him. I surprised myself with how worried I became and how tender my feelings were. He was diagnosed with and treated for Lyme Disease, and he’s actually a bit frisky again.

I know of some contentious marriages that suddenly shifted when one spouse became ill. A husband who’d been distant and cold became his ailing wife’s nurse, advocate, and thoughtful caregiver. No one would have predicted it based on past behavior, but there he was, messing up the kitchen for the first time in his life, washing his wife’s hair, shepherding her to and from doctor’s appointments.

Is it possible that people –and other animals as well – become both more loveable and loving when they need help, such as when they’re not feeling well? When my kids were little, I experienced an almost overwhelming surge of love for them when they were sick. I remember holding each of them in my arms during a few feverish episodes. Ordinarily, they’d allow only so much cuddling before they were ready to jump from my lap and return to play. But when they were under the weather, they’d allow me to hug and kiss them as much as I wanted to, which was a lot. And they hugged and kissed me back.

Perhaps we’re hard wired for the compassion gene to kick in when someone needs us. Or maybe, especially as we age and many of us no longer have day-to-day responsibility for children, we require someone to take care of in order to retain our full measure of humanity. And it could be that our noblest moments occur when we become caregivers to those we never much cared for.

I do feel some regret for having kept Freddie at a certain remove all those years. He missed out on my affection, though he did receive plenty from the kids. And I undoubtedly missed out on the affection he could have offered me, had I allowed it.

There exist several floral species that bloom for a single day. The evening primrose is breathtakingly beautiful, turning a buttery yellow for just one night; after its brief bloom, it withers away. So it might be might be with relationships, some designed for the long haul, others for a short but sweet interlude.

I love my Freddie with an intensity that continues to baffle me. Sometimes, near the end of the workday, I’ll start thinking about him, looking forward to returning home, where he’ll greet me, tail thumping against the floor, tonguing my hand under his nose. I’ll pick him up and carry him outside – he can’t manage the stairs too well - so he can take care of business. He now has occasional accidents inside which I matter-of-factly clean up, and which actually don’t bother me all that much.

I chatter at him incessantly: “Are you hungry, cutie? Mommy’s making you dinner right now” in exactly the same cooing tones I employed with my infant children. I don’t even think about the fact that I’m using baby-talk with someone who is ninety years old in human terms, old enough to be my father. In fact, I frequently address him as “Baby.”

He lies beside me while I read, watch TV and knit, sometimes snuggling up against me, sometimes wandering off for a bit of independence. But always, when it’s time to bed down for the night, we’re back to back and he’s right up against me. I feel him breathing, and I know he’s still with me, and I can sleep.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Animal Cracker, the Novel - sneak preview

Here's a first look at my unpublished (copyrighted) novel, Animal Cracker. If you like it, I'd be thrilled with a comment here and/or a retweet. Thanks and enjoy! And if you're not already, please follow me on Twitter.

Chapter One

I was sitting in my new boss’s office at the Animal Protection Agency, a twelve-site animal shelter organization, for our weekly supervisory meeting, surrounded by the entire contents of the Critter World catalogue. Pens shaped like goldfish littered his desk; a collection of mugs featuring a zoo’s worth of animals awaited their morning coffee on his credenza.

“So tell me, Diane, what are your dreams? For your life I mean.”

Hal leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.

I was twenty-five years old. I had more dreams than Don Quixote – yes, I was an English major - including saving every sad-eyed pup, paying off my student loans without selling my soul, and cuddling with a man-shaped specimen of the human species. I wasn’t about to confess any of this to my new boss.

“Well, I…”

“Diane, my dream is for a world that has respect for every living creature, from the lowliest field mouse to the majestic elk on the plain.” He paused, knitting his eyebrows. “No, wait, not respect. Make that reverence. Yeah, reverence for all God’s creatures. What do you say to that, Diane?”

“Hal, that’s a dream I can really get behind.”

“I knew we shared a vision the minute I met you. You have a passion and intelligence that fits right in here.”

So far, I was killing it.

“Now, about this press release,” he said, pointing to the document I’d handed him. “You need to blump it up.”

Blump? I made a mental note to google it later. Conjectured definition - to expand upon. Origin: from the Latin blumpere, to swell.

As he smiled like Mr. Universe, the sound of dogs barked from Hal’s well-tailored pocket. He reached in and withdrew his phone. I could hear squawking, then Hal.

“Joyce, we already discussed this, and I told you….”

More squawking, Hal drumming his hands on the table. After some eye-rolling and sputtering, he hung up.

“My wife. She’s a Harvard professor, a biologist who’s written extensively about the role of animals in our ecosystems. You may have heard of her. Joyce Carter?”

Hal was married to Joyce Carter? The Spider Woman?

Joyce Carter had been an obscure zoology professor specializing in arachnids of the American Southwest when she’d been tapped to host a public television show called Creepy- Crawlies and Friends. Boston’s Saturday morning TV screens are slithering with spiders and Joyce Carter.

“She’s a very impressive woman,” I kissed up.

“Got that right.” He leaned towards me. “I respect women, Diane. And I like to see them reach their highest potential.”

He paused. “You know, I’m a writer too.” His chest blumped up.

“You mean like articles on animal rights?”

“No, something else entirely. I’m working on a screenplay. Lots of folks gonna be mighty uncomfortable when this baby gets out there.”

He was gonna blow the lid off the animal shelter world?

“What’s it about?”

Again, he leaned forward and in a mock stage whisper informed me, “It’s about some evil goings-on at that famous university in town. I can’t tell you any more than that, except that those hoity snot-noses over there ain’t gonna like it. Not one bit.”

Hal’s face was nearly flawless, piercing blue eyes, firm chin, all topped by wavy dark hair and arranged in perfect symmetry save for the lines etched up and down and across his forehead in a sort of plaid pattern. He wore his love of animals on his sleeve and around his neck. That day’s tie, setting off his Brad Pitt-handsome face, featured raccoons scampering under a cascading waterfall, frolicking on an umbrella-decked beach, and, I’m not making this up, lobbing tennis balls, dressed in the formal whites of Wimbledon.

“I studied film in college,” I told him. “I mean, not how to make them, but I took a course on contemporary European cinema, and I go to movies all the time.”

Hal stared over my head and I almost turned around to see what creature he might have spied behind me. When he resumed speaking, his voiced had shifted into a sonorous tone, as if he were narrating a PBS wildlife special.

“My personal favorite is “The 400 Blows.” That kid’s bleak childhood, well, um, let’s just say, the movie speaks to me in a very profound way.”

He wiped his eye, and I feared my new boss, whom I hardly knew, would erupt into full-fledged waterworks.

“Oh my God, that’s one of my absolute favorites too. Well, everything Truffaut actually.”

“I’m all for cinematic technique and what not, but y’know, there’s nothing like a good story. Sometimes it can even change your life.” His eyes misted.

“And I’m guessing there’s one that changed yours?”

“Got that right. Late 50’s, Saturday afternoon when the movies cost about a buck.”

“So what was the movie?”

“The movie was none other than” – pregnant pause - “’Old Yeller.’”

“For some reason, I missed that one.”

“Diane, it is just about the most pungent movie ever made.” Did he mean poignant? “It’s about a family and a dog that heals their hearts. You go out and rent it and, guaranteed, you’ll see what I mean. ‘Old Yeller’ is why I’m sitting in this chair today.”

“Well, Hal, I have a movie like that in my background, too. Did you ever see ‘Homeward Bound?’”

He nodded.

“Yeah, “Homeward Bound,” you’re right, that’s another great one.”

He looked at his watch, and, for emphasis, at the chimp clock over the door. I took the hint.

“See you later,” I said, and returned to my office.

Back at my desk to work on the blump-up, having ascertained that there was no such word. So what exactly did he want? Longer? Bouncier? More hyperbolic? I rested my head on my desk for five minutes in an effort to psych myself for the task of turning perfect prose into something possibly less perfect.

And finally, after blumping and plumping, time to go. It had been a tough afternoon. I'd given Hal four versions of the release, each one of them progressively worse, until he'd proclaimed the fifth semi-literate one perfect.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Spanish dinner recipes - and more!

I'm now on Twitter. Check me out

And starting with the "more" - I have sent out 33 query letters to literary agents, received only six rejections, and a whopping SEVEN requests for either a full or partial manuscript. So I still have 20 left to hear from him. Crossing fingers and toes.

While I wait, tonight I'm having my annual Spanish dinner party,trying to duplicate fantastic meals I enjoyed in Spain. Here you go. Don't forget the Sangria!

Salmorejo (world's best cold soup)
(serves 4 to 6)
2 lbs. red, ripe, meaty, juicy tomatoes
3 cups cubed stale crustless bread
1 large garlic clove
coarse salt
pinch of sugar
1/3 cup cubed green or red pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsps aged sherry wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Optional: 1/3 cup thin slivered ham, preferably Serrano and 2 hard-cooked egg whites, finely sliced
1. One at a time, pierce stem of tomato with long fork and hold over high flame to char all over till skin blisters, or sear in dry cast-iron skillet. Cool, then peel, scoop out water seeds and strain over a bowl to collect juices. Discard seeds and cut up tomatoes.
2. In large bowl, mix tomatoes with bread and let stand at least 20 minutes.
3. Crush garlic to paste with 1 tsp coarse salt. Add tomatoes and bread, sugar and bell pepper to food processor. With machine on, add olive oil to form thick soup. Soup must be thick and smooth, add water if you like. Add vinegar. puree again until foamy, about 2 minutes. Return to bowl,cover, refrigerate at least 12 hours.
3. If you wish, garnish with ham and egg whites. Serve cold.

Spanish Tortilla
5 big potatoes
5 eggs
Spinach or broad beans, optional
Fresh herbs (thyme,basil, dill, whichever you prefer)

1. Chop onions finely.
2. Peel and slice potatoes thinly and unevenly.
3. Heat oil to hot, add potatoes, onions, and salt to pan and cover pan. Stir occasionally till soft.
4. Add salt and herbs to eggs, beat lightly.
5. Add potato and onion mixture to eggs.
6. Put more oil in pan. Mix everything well, add more salt and return to pan. Cook till firm, then turn over onto plate and slide tortilla back into pan. Cook till done.
Hint: To ensure that tortilla doesn't fall apart when you turn it onto the plate, be sure to use lots of oil and loosen the bottom with a spatula, making sure it's pretty firm.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Cliche

Succumbed to the hype and lost a few IQ points reading Book One of Fifty Shades.

Awful writing + glorification of an abusive relationship = trash. Fifty Shades is a spicier version of a good old Harlequin Romance, with all the tropes of the genre: sweet young woman falls for gorgeous, super-rich, arrogant man with a tragic past, boo hoo. She tames him and turns him into a better person. When Fifty Shades got to the backstory that explained why Christian was so messed up - his birth mother was a crack whore - I laughed out loud. Of course she was a crack whore!

I loved the Amazon reviewer who hypothesized that the book had been dreamt up by a couple of teenage girls. But what disturbs me about this book is that such a piece of garbage is being read and analyzed by some pretty smart women as if Christian Grey were a literary construct worthy of discussion. I CAN'T STAND IT. How can they not see that he - and this book - have less depth than a comic book? (Jughead's character flaws would be more interesting.)

Most disturbing - the abuse factor. Who cares what people do in the bedroom - it's no one's business. But his controlling her life, limiting her contact with friends and family, are the hallmarks of batterers. And her acquiescence in that kind of relationship - which is meant to be "hot" - is typical of abused women. I wonder how real women who have suffered mistreatment at the hands of a partner find this book. Not so sexy, I'm guessing.

And here's my least favorite passage: "It's (the domination and hitting) right for Christian. It's what he wants, and ...after all he's done (bought her a car and first class airfare) I have to man up and take whatever he decides he wants, whatever he thinks he needs."

Whoa! We should put up with men controlling and hitting us as long as they buy us expensive gifts??? What the hell year is this? Gloria Steinem, speak up about this piece of crap book. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On every dimension - artistic, political, psychological - this book is offensive, misogynistic junk, and I wish people would recognize that and shut up about it already!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New wisdom, new ventures

Last week, I attended a fabulous conference called The Muse and the Marketplace, sponsored by Boston's fantastic Grub Street, "where Boston gets writing."

It was a day of ricocheting from despair to, well, slightly less despair. The first of two purchased sessions with literary agents, to whom I'd submitted my query letter, plot synopsis and first twenty pages, was not a success. She focused mostly on my query letter, giving the book itself short shrift, because she didn't like it.

Then I attended upbeat session on self-publishing, which made it seem both doable and potentially hit-making. But I was brought low by a writer friend who assured me that "it's too much work, and no one makes any money." I rose from the depths listening to the incomparable Ann Hood explain how to edit one's own work. Inspirational and practical both.

The second agent seemed slightly more positive about my work, and also offered some useful advice.

Waiting for a session to begin, I overheard a newbie agent discussing her career change and thrust my query letter upon her...and a few days later she requested my manuscript! I'm sure she has few - or even no- other potential clients, but still....

The romance novel I'm working on with a friend is a hoot, and will compel readers to swoon, daydream, and escape from their quotidian droves, we hope.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I'm baaack (redux)

You're asking, "Why, Andi Brown, did you lie to us? You promised you were back, posted one lousy entry, and disappeared again.

Here's why. One night, after imbibing a couple of glasses of wine, and wearing sort of highish heels, I was carrying my elderly dog down the stairs and tripped. This led to a dislocated shoulder, broken bone, and torn rotator cuff. Which led to surgery, three months of pain relieved by narcotics that I feared would lead to addiction. Sum total: three months of hell.

Fast forward. I feel great, and, except for some limited range of motion in my right shoulder, I AM NORMAL. I was lucky to have some wonderful friends and family members who helped me during my recovery/ordeal.

Writing-wise, lots happening. I've purchased critiques by two literary agents via Boston's Grub Street writer's organization. I'll meet them and get their verdicts on May 5th. Do you hear the sound of my teeth chattering?

And...I'm writing a romance novel with a friend. This is also known as whoring for money. Who couldn't use some more? It's a blast, and if nothing else, it's given us tons of laughs.

And last, I'm tweeting! Check me out.
I may reveal a surprise there in a couple of weeks!