Monday, August 31, 2009

Never Thought I'd Say It: Teenagers Rule!

Maybe it's something in the water the kids drink along the Treasure Coast of Florida.

I had the pleasure over the weekend of teaching the Teen Writers Workshop , a half-day seminar in Vero Beach. I feared the worst: eye-rolling, unmotivated, smart-alecky students who made it abundantly clear they'd rather be hanging at the Indian River Mall. Hey, I remember myself as a teen. I'm surprised my mama still speaks to me, almost forty years later.

Instead, I got the opposite end of the spectrum. Talented, motivated, SMART high school writers who renewed my faith in Teen Nation. Most were from the surrounding area, but some came from as far as Miami and Orlando. And two sweet English girls visiting their grandma spent their afternoon writing instead of cruising the beach. Amazing.

Honestly, these kids were so good, they should have been teaching ME. I laughed. I cried. Really. One girl's poem, written from a prompt I provided for a quick, five-minute exercise, was so heartfelt, I burst into tears in front of all 60-plus students and some parents. Very professional, I know. I'd blame it on hormones, but it was really just good writing.

And it wasn't just their creativity that impressed during the three-hour workshop. It was also the support they offered as fellow teen writers ventured, bravely, to the front of the room to read what they wrote. The other students listened, applauded, validated. I only had to do the shushing gesture once to some overly talkative teens. In three hours. I've seen far worse behavior from some adult audiences. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Arrogant Cell Phone Man).

As an author, I'm watching over my shoulder. I guarantee you, several of the students I heard read on Saturday will have book contracts someday. They'll probably sit on Oprah's couch and sell a zillion copies. Their work will be optioned for the movies and TV. They won't remember the little people, like me.

I wonder if the utilities department in Vero Beach would be interested in bottling up some of that Treasure Coast water?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tattoo You?

I should have known what kind of night it would be when I saw the booth set up next to the authors' table on Fort Lauderdale Beach: Save Your Tattoos.

I'm sure there are some areas of the country where tattoo aficionados are also big readers of light, funny mystery novels. Fort Lauderdale is not one of them. Along the famous ''Strip'' in my hometown, tattoos tend to go hand-in-hand with pit-bull walking and F-bomb dropping, not with trading sparkling bon mots about books.

Coming up this fall on my one-year anniversary as a published novelist, I've compiled a pretty good list of what works and what doesn't when it comes to selling books. Conferences and conventions where mystery writers and readers gather, like Killer Nashville, where I'm speaking this weekend? Good.

A book-signing on the Strip? Not so much. Despite the best efforts of city leaders to recast Fort Lauderdale Beach's image, it's still known for its raucous heyday as the beer-guzzling, wet T-shirt-contesting, college spring break capital of the world. We authors warred with bands, beer and bikinis for the attention of passers-by last weekend. Guess who lost?

Nonetheless, I'll be back on the beach next Saturday night, Aug. 22, just south of the famed Elbo Room, across from the ocean. I'll go because the beach is an amazing resource, right in my backyard. I applaud the city leaders trying to make a go of this August festival, Saturday Night Alive. They hope family entertainment lures back those of us who've forgotten how beautiful Ft. Lauderdale Beach can be at night. Colored lights glow from the graceful, curving Wave Wall. The moon shines on a dark ocean. Palm fronds rustle in a sighing breeze.

I also appreciate being asked by Well Read Books to be among writers representing south Florida. On Aug. 22, I'll stand alongside the well-known Elaine Viets and Jilliane Hoffman, which ain't too shabby for recently minted me.

Come by and visit, if you're in the neighborhood of the intersection of Las Olas and A1A. I'll reveal tales of my own misspent youth on the Strip. Bring me a beer, and I might even tell you about my stint as a teeny-bikini contestant at Fort Lauderdale's once-notorious Candy Store lounge. Just look for the tattoo booth. We're right next door. And if business is slow again next Saturday, maybe I can finally get that Born to be Wild tat I've dreamed about.

Monday, August 3, 2009

If You Can Make it Here . . .

Killing an afternoon in New York before my big interview tomorrow on the Today show. I should buckle down and write, but I'm far too wound up: How will I do? How will I look? Will I make any sense? So, instead, I do my favorite thing: take to the city's streets and people-watch.

Here's why I love this place ... at least to visit. In the span of a couple of hours, you see it all here. And more:

A man in a business suit and tie stands shouting in the street, exploding multiple F-bombs and using the universally understood New York City hand gestures for a traffic dispute. The delivery guy whose big truck is blocking the road shrugs and ignores the screamer.

Two young guys dressed like kitchen workers play chess outside with a plastic board, speaking occasionally in Mexican-accented Spanish.

A well-preserved blonde saunters past on Madison Avenue, chattering into a cell phone in French. A shopping bag dangles from one arm. The leash of a pampered white Maltese is on the other. Her tight Bebe t-shirt is bright green, the same shade as the bow on the little dog's

A group of men play a rolling-ball game called petanque in Bryant Park. The best player has on a t-shirt advertising Vieuve Cliquot champagne. Another guy is in droopy blue jean shorts and a sideways ball cap with lots of bling. I'm amazed to see a third in a camouflage hunting cap and a shirt with a logo from the world bull-riding finals. Then I realize this is New York, so he's probably wearing that redneck outfit ironically.

Mama, we're not in little Himmarshee anymore.

Still in the park, I look longingly at a merry-go-round with French music, Le Carrousel. I'd love a ride, but I pass by, too uptight to ante up my $2 and join all the kids. I continue my walk, and see a dozen more New Yorkers carrying on in their unusual manner without regard to what people might think. I circle back to the park. I'm in New York to go on TV and promote my book to a national audience. If that's not taking a shot at the carousel's brass ring, I don't know what is.

I pay my money and choose my horse. A palomino, with flowers on its pink saddle and hooves painted gold. The bell rings, the ride starts. And as I go up-and-down and round-and-round, I realize not a single New Yorker bats an eye at a middle-aged woman on a magical horse.

It's the best 2 and 1/2 minutes I spend all day.