Saturday, July 31, 2004

Cruising, purse trolls & garbage dump

Cruise ship today, gambling on the high seas. I forgot how much smoke exists in a casino. My lungs are clogged. We had a fun time…spent the $15 free tokens they gave us and won enough to keep playing for about 45 minutes. I think DH and I were the youngest people on the ship.

I took my Alpha Smart with me and managed to get some writing done on deck while DH and FIL were gambling (big spenders - $10 worth of quarters in the slots). I figured out a great way to make the Big Black Moment more dramatic and urgent for both Lucien and Ashley. Ashley must make a critical decision. Ah-ha! More conflict! I love torturing my hero and heroine, but as I once joked with a friend, I always reward them with plenty of good sex in the end.

Alpha Smarts are wonderful for travel. I fit mine into my big fish purse that looks more like a suitcase but has room for all the necessities in life, like suntan lotion and lipstick and a cell, and my address book, about 10,000 crumbled receipts, old gum wrappers, old gum, Advil, spare tube of make-up, Tiger & the Tomb bookmarks (they’re great for jotting down phone numbers if I can’t find a decent crumbled receipt to write on), and my wallet, plus all of DH’s stuff which he dumps into my purse. My purse could hold a whole flea market or smuggle an illegal alien into the country. Or two illegal aliens. Some days I think there is a troll in my purse. He likes to eat my pens because they always vanish. I collect pens. I even have an Egyptian pen.

We had to go through the metal detector at the port and then show picture ID. I hadn’t been on a day cruise in a while, certainly not since 9-11 and it’s sad because the days of going to Port Everglades and watching the parrot fish swim are over for good. It’s frightening to think about how vulnerable we are as a soceity. Metal detectors before you board cruise ships or airplanes are feeble security measures compared to the potential for damage in other areas.

I found an essay I wrote on my last trip to Jamaica on an old file on my Alpha Smart. I’m uploading it to this blog. The essay was written after I returned from a trip to a garbage dump. Sometimes, quite literally, my day job truly stinks.

June 10, 2004 - Kingston, Jamaica

I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Kingston with the bathroom door shut. The sneakers are in there, hiding like shy, errant schoolchildren. They still reek, even after acrubbing them with a wash cloth and soap like a frenzied laundry maid. They reek because we spent three hours today on the dump in Montego Bay. Most people come to Jamaica to Mo Bay to visit the beach. I visit garbage dumps.

And get stories of children eating from them.

We drove there starting at 6 a.m. Four hour drive. When we got to the dump, we waited. The smell wasn’t horrific… it’s odd to say that in my ten years of doing relief and development work, I know my garbage dumps. Thre’s the really really bad kind that gag you…and the politer, more delicate stench from better areas, such as the Mo Bay dump. I stood there in the broiling sun wearing my cap I got at my husband’s company picnic. I bet when they gave them out they didn’t expect me to be wearing it at a garbage dump. A baseball game, a day at the beach maybe. Not a dump with vultures circling overhead.

We talked to the people. Didn’t exactly get what we came for – children digging through the trash for the rice hotels throw away… found out they come after school. Change from their neat school uniforms into “play clothes” and come to the dump and get the rice and bread and meat the hotels toss out. And they eat it.

Some people would deny this. I’ve seen enough hunger, and children digging through trash cans in Jamaica, to tell them it’s true. Open your eyes and stop trying to deny what is true and real and do something about it instead of screaming out that it’s an exageration.

At first the people we talked to, a few adults and one or two children, said they never ate from the dump. But they saw we weren’t there to mock them or strip their dignity… and they went about their business.

The stench was… foul, but bearable. And the breeze helped. As a trash compactor pulled up and dumped its refuse…the men and women raked through it like looking for treasure. One man I talked with pulled out a few limes and one very round, very orange orange. He gestured to a 12 year old girl who had a knife, borrowed the knife and cut it, offering slices all around like a communal feast. Then he ate his half. He found a bottle of soda in the garbage and drank it.

And he found bottles to sell. He told me with this wide, white –toothed grin, “I got something to eat and something to drink and something to sell today.”

I thought of the enormous waste, the huge amounts of bread and food I saw tumbling out of the foul end of the truck with a wash of gray water…and part of me wanted to scream.

I saw a champagne bottle amid the garbage and all I could think of was maybe some happy couple drank that … never knowing its final destination… recycled by a person too poor to eat at an all inclusive.

We rode back to Kingston, four and a half hours, reeking of the dump. We joked about it. Made songs about it. I mean, what else can you do when you’re riding in a truck with two other people stinking like garbage? As soon as we returned to Kingston, we dashed for our respective rooms and showers. I scrubbed and scrubbed. And all the while I’m thinking of how this was one day… smelling of rotting filth in a dump where a typhoid breakout occurred not too long ago… and I have hot water and soap.

And I think the stench I cannot get out of me is inside. It’s not in my hair or clothing… but something deeper. A smell of wasting food… of tossing it out and knowing that what is one woman’s trash is another woman’s meal. I’m just as guilty as the next person.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Dinner is over

Okay, trying this again. Dinner was very good. Hey, maybe I can cook after all. DH offered to do dishes. I said, "No, I'll do them," and then he goosed me. I told him, "Never goose a woman with a knife in her hand."

Back to the beginning... I decided to start blogging today after reading entries in the MSNBC blog about the Democratic National Convention. It was very absorbing. Plus my friend, romance author Jennifer Ashley, has a blog. I guess you might say I'm surrendering to the cultural pressure (egads! what is next? A pair of Vera Wang slingbacks? Not with these Vienna Sausage toes!)

Short synopsis of my life: I'm Bonnie. I live in a middle class neighborhood in a house with my husband of (nearly) nine years, Frank, two Shih Tzu dogs named Tia and Tiger and a smart alerk parrot named Cain. Cain talks and loves to insult me. Yesterday he called me "butthead." I don't know where he picked that up.

I write romance as a hobby and I've published two novels. Both are set in Egypt. I work full time for a charity as a writer and travel to poor countries. While there I interview poor people, usually get dysentery, and then I return to the United States and write about the people I've met to raise money to help them. I've been doing this for 10 years and I've traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guyana, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guatemala, and probably a couple of other countries I've forgotten. I sometimes travel about one week out of the month.

I'm done with travelng for the summer and in the office a lot right now. I work with a group of people in the Creative Department. We Create. Today one of my co-workers brought in muffin tops. I told her, "Hey, it's an Elaine thing from 'Seinfeld.'" But they weren't REAL muffin tops. Because there were no bottoms. They just baked the tops and saved dough on the bottoms. I told my co-worker, "I'm going to visit the bakery and protest. This is false advertising. How can you have tops without bottoms?"

Life just doesn't make sense some days.

Now, back to blogging. What's been going on with my romance writing? Not much. I don't have another contract or an agent yet. I have a couple of Egyptian historicals with my editor. One has been there for seven months. I also have another book under consideration with another publisher. And another book, my weird vampire dark comedy, under consideration with a couple of agents. I'm in the process of revising it to resubmit to an agent I really like who wants to see it again. My good friend Renee, was nice enough to take a look at the entire book and make suggestions. Wow! It was like the light came on. I got really energized by her critique and I started writing again! Nice feeling. Rewrote the first chapter of the vampire book and I'm slowly going through it to make the other revisions.

Today I sent another plague email to my editor. I've embarked on a journey I call the Ten Plagues of Egypt Email Campaign. It's one email a week I'm sending to my editor asking if he read my Egyptian book yet. Today's Plague of the Week was Hail. It read like this: "And Moses sayeth to Pharaoh, "The Lord will send a hailstorm upon Egypt, destroying all manner of things if you do not let my people go." Pharaoh thought long and hard about the hail and realized, hey, I live in a freaking DESERT and hail is nothing more than ice which melts in the sun and we could use a shower or two, replied, "Go to hail." And the saying became popular throughout the land but the letters became slightly altered so that to this day, "Go to hail," has become a far different meaning than the original except if one has a Southern accent."

Then I asked my editor, "Have I become a blip yet on your weather radar?"

No answer yet. I still have hope the book will be read. Some day.

In the meantime, there's the vamp book. I set aside the Revolutionary War romance I was writing for the fun of it and sank my teeth (ha ha) back into the vamp book. Back in February, I started writing a vampire comedy just as a joke. I wrote the first draft in five weeks and then decided to send it out to agents just as a "what the hey" kind of deal. I got some bites (ha ha bad vampire humor) and then some rejections and some asking to see the full m.s. The adventure continues.

Rejections stink. There's no way around it. Some days I handle rejection better than others. But they're sneaky little things. Like lint balls. They always pop up when you aren't looking. They arrive when I'm feeling down. Or have a raging case of PMS. Or when I return from a very exhausting trip abroad. I got one rejection after I returned from a grueling trip to the Domincan Republic (hey! That's another country I forget about!) We worked 15 hour days, climbing mountains and stayed one night in this nun's house where red ants infested my suitcase. I had to shake out all my clothing and repack. The poverty we saw was horrible, these sweet kids with their coarse hair and huge guts from starvation. I saw this teenage girl who must have weighed barely 10 pounds more than my female Shih Tzu. She was 17 and came up to my chest. I wanted to cry when I left there. I barely made it through customs without collapsing from emotional and physical exhaustion. All I wanted was some uplifting news. And when I got home, there sitting on the kitchen table was that awful white envelope with my name on it.

Maybe next time I'll put someone else's name and address on the SASE.

I really like the vamp book. Lucien is a cool hero. He's dark and moody and very sexy. He wears Armani suits but deep down, he's a blue jeans vamp. The book is very odd and features my quirky sense of humor. Yesterday I fleshed out Ashley some more. I nailed her internal conflict and wow! It already makes for a much more powerful opening. I think I created Ashley with a lot of me in her, the first heroine I've ever done that with. Ashley is searching for meaning in her life. She was drifting before, which was, as Renee pointed out, the problem. Now she has a clear goal and is pursuing it.

Go Ashley, go. Because I have NO idea where I'm heading.

The most frustrating part of the waiting game in publishing for me, being contractless (is that the same as being braless? Nope. It's not very comfortable), is feeling like I'm disappointing readers who liked/loved my first two books. When they write and ask, "When is your next book coming out? Are you writing another?" I feel good and bad at the same time. Good they were nice enough and cared enough to write. Bad that I don't have good news to share.

I got an email this week from a very nice reader named Gloria. She asked if I have another book coming out. And I wrote back and told her that I have projects under consideration. I also got a fan letter from a reader named Cynthia in Oregon. It was a very uplifting part of my day. I'm going to write her back this weekend, but it's going to be typed. My penmanship looks like someone is zapping my hands with a Taser as I scribble. I should have been an M.D.

Tomorrow is Saturday and we're heading out on a day cruise with my FIL and a group of senior citizens. (Note to self: Bring quarters for slot machines). This should be interesting. Senior citizens gambling fascinate me. At the RT convention in Reno, you had to walk through the casino to get to the workshops. I saw a wizened little old lady who was hooked up to a portable oxygen tank at the slots. She was smoking. And the local funeral home sends ME their literature about planning for the future? Uh-huh.

Until later.

The roast beef is burning

Darn.

I can't cook. Really. I just logged on to create this blog and I smell something smoldering in the oven.

Oh dear.

Once I cooked a pork roast and set the oven on fire. It sort of exploded. I screamed. Frank, my electrician hubby (DH), just calmly switched off the circuit breaker. Then he said, "Let's go out to dinner."

It's good being married to a man who knows his way around power.

Okay, just checked. Dinner is okay. Must run and eat. Will try this later.

Bonnie