All the Debs are very happy to welcome popular mystery author Cynthia Baxter to The Debutante Ball!
Cynthia is the creative genius behind the “Reigning Cats & Dogs”series (featuring vet-turned-sleuth Jessie Popper) and the “Murder Packs a Suitcase” series, featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe. Cynthia currently resides on Long Island where she is hard at work on her next pair of mystery offerings. Cynthia is also proud to announce the birth of her brand new book! - ”Crossing the Lion” is being released August 31st. Click here to pre-order your copy! Both series are published by Bantam Books. For more information, visit: cynthiabaxter.com
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Hello everyone, I am honored to be a “Deb for a Day” and I thank you for having me be part of your wonderful blog. Since I’m here to talk about trash, I’ll tell you I am practically an expert. Just look under my bed, where you’ll find boxes of fabric, from postage stamp-size scraps leftover from quilting projects to hot pink paisley double-knits from the 1970s. Open a closet and you’ll be impressed by the collection of out-of-style clothing, some featuring Joan Crawford-size shoulder pads, others with sequins from a long-forgotten and ill-conceived Madonna phase. Take a peek in my garage, where cartons of housewares that will one day be donated to charity — mugs with cute sayings and toasters that only toast one side of the bread — patiently await the moment I’m finally able to cut the cord.
It’s hardly surprising that my inability to part with things also extends to my writing. For example, I just finished writing a book that’s nearly 300 pages long. During the six months I worked on it, I literally saved every single piece of paper that was involved in its creation. I’m talking about every page of every draft. At least twenty versions of the outline, which kept evolving as I wrote. Even scraps of paper – junk mail, used envelopes, coupons printed off my computer – upon which I jotted down an idea, a line of dialogue, or a descriptive phrase that at the moment seemed inspired. (It’s worth mentioning that most of the time these handwritten gems are pretty much illegible.) Even though I finished the book, that didn’t mean it was time to throw out all those thousands of pieces of paper. Instead, after typing “The End,” I followed my usual ritual: stuffing them into brown paper grocery bags. Three of them are now sitting in a corner of my home office, just in case I ever need to sort through all that paper until I find that one sentence, the one phrase, the single perfect word, that I’ve felt compelled to go back and look for. The number of times this has actually happened? Zero.
I’m fully aware that my inability to part with even a scrap of paper is rooted in insecurity. I can’t help imagining the panic I’d feel if I ever did have to go back and add something I deleted somewhere in the writing process. What if I suddenly realize that a piece of sparkling dialogue I once cavalierly tossed out has turned out to be the one thing I need to make my book fabulous? How would I feel then? That’s the problem with having a good imagination – which is common in pretty much everyone but is even more pronounced in writers. After all, we make our living by thinking up crazy stuff.
Another ritual occurs once one of my books has actually been published and I’m holding a copy in my hand. At that point, it’s finally time to dispose of those shopping bags packed with notes and earlier drafts and obsolete outlines. Actually, the word “disposing” may be too strong. What I mean is, I move the bags of paper to the garage, along with the mugs that try too hard and the toasters that don’t try hard enough. And then I keep them there. Indefinitely. After all, one day some archivist or historian or even just a devoted reader may consider them a treasure.
As you know from previous posts, I’m not that in to stuff. If it becomes even remotely trash-like, out the door it goes. And other people’s trash is never my treasure. I used to watch those shows where they’d find an old picture frame and distress it and add a mirror and glue on some flowers and everyone would oooh and ahhh and my only reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
However, I do have one downfall, and I bet it will surprise you. Trashy food. Yes, I love it. That disgusting orange, gloppy cheesy stuff they put on nachos? Yum. Those frozen pizza eggrolls with strips of something passing as pepperoni and 58% of your RDA of saturated fats. Serve it up. Rice Krispy treats? I’m your girl. Before I saw the light (the Energystar green hippie health food light), I would seriously eat this stuff. One of my favourite things to do was to get a fun, trashy book – a foodie mystery or a chick lit YA – run a bath, and settle in. But before I got into the steamy water, I would make a tray of junk food to rival a high school student’s midnight 7-11 run. Then I would soak, read, and munch until the water was cold or the food had been demolished, whichever came last.
I still love a bath and a trashy book, but alas, the junk food is gone from my repertoire (so are the headaches caused by preservatives). Now when I take my special bathtub height table into the bathroom and set it up, the snack looks more like this: A pot of creme caramel tea, salted cashews, rice crackers with goat cheese or artichoke-sundried tomato spread, a pickle, and some organic chocolate. In a way, this post has made me nostalgic for the old trashy food ways of my youth, but on the plus side, after I take my bath, read my book, and eat my snack, I don’t feel like garbage anymore.
Instead of talking about actual trash (composed of milk cartons, banana peels, and smelly tuna cans—UGH) I’d like to discuss the very high-brow topic of trashy novels. Stay with me.. you know you want to. After all, this IS a blog for writers and readers, so I think it would be appropriate. For some reason, the second I think about trashy novels and/or trashy novelists, the first name which pops into my head is Nora Roberts. I’ve probably read more of her books than I care to admit (Mom, I hope you are not reading this) and it all started with a copy of “One Summer” that I picked up for 75 cents at a yard sale. I remember being way too young to be reading such “filth” -as my mom would refer to it- but I knew I was immediately hooked like a kid on rock candy. My other Roberts favorites include “Hot Ice,” and “Affaire Royale” (Lord knows if it’s still in print!) Dominick Dunne’s novels are also a guilty pleasure.. particularly “An Inconvenient Woman” which I will still pick up from time to time, especially when I’m suffering from writer’s block and I need a seductive distraction. Let’s face it..we all need a little glamour, sex, and cheesy suspense from time to time.
Now when I’m looking for a really trashy “jolt” I pick up some Roxanne St. Claire. I’m always quite amused by her covers featuring men’s nude torsos (“Hunt Her Down,” “Make Her Pay”) but it does go along with the territory. “Take Me Tonight,” (which unfortunately doesn’t feature a nude male chest on its cover) left me utterly transfixed (and needing a tissue for my drool).
No, I am not proud of myself for reading junk when I should be learning something important about politics, finance, or the environment. But oh..it feels so good to be naughty.
First, a couple brief announcements …
The talented Dave Tavani produced and directed a super-cute, enticing book trailer for Simply From Scratch. Thank you so much, Dave. And thank you to the lovely Lola Culp-Osborne for lending her voice as Ingrid. Turn up your volume & enjoy!
If you’d like to read the first chapter of my book, visit the Book page of my website, and click “Excerpt.”
And now, onto this week’s theme: Trash.
I learned more about life while yardsaling with my friend Jen than I did in four years of high school. Accompanying Jen on her hunt for the perfect coffee table to decoupage was a lesson in perseverance, character (both a person’s and an object’s), quality, map-reading, map-folding, and usefulness.
In my opinion, Jen’s most impressive score of all time was a door handle for her used Jetta, which she found after roaming through rows of wrecked cars in a junkyard. As you might guess, she comes from a long line of fearless and thrifty Yankees.
South Jersey also boasts a fair share of brilliant yardsaling sharks, including my mother-in-law, who once staked claim on a set of pristine woolen Ethan Allen area carpets, and haggled the seller down to $30, right in his own driveway.
I don’t have that kind of tenacity. However, I am proud of one item that I trashpicked during summertime in college. I was driving home (coincidentally, from Jen’s house) when I spotted — on the curb next to a row of trashcans — an old wooden letterbox that had been antiqued. After inspecting it in my headlights, I tossed it onto the passenger seat and headed home. One man’s trash ….
I scraped the gunk off, sanded the wood, and stained it a warm oak color. Then I crafted little velvet pillows for the inside, and voila: the letterbox was transformed into storage for Matt’s chess pieces.
In Simply From Scratch, my narrator, Zell, treasures the very last items that her beloved, Nick, trashpicked before he died. But you’ll have to read the book to find out what those items are ….
On the top of my computer armoire is a stack of writing books. One of my favorites is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s part memoir, part “toolkit,” as King calls it. The horror master reveals his tricks of the trade, and talks about how the love of writing gripped him as a child.
But my favorite anecdote in this beautifully-written book?
It’s the story of how King began the book Carrie. He was dead broke, married with a few kids, and working as a schoolteacher. He wrote in every spare second, like a lot of us do. The idea for his novel about a teenager girl who had the power of telekinesis came to him, and he typed up a few pages – before realizing they were awful. In frustration, he crumpled them up and threw them in his overflowing trash can.
Later his wife, Tabitha, spotted the pages. She brushed off the cigarette ash, smoothed them out, and began to read. Then she handed them back to King. “You’ve got something here,” she told him. “I really think you do.”
Carrie launched King’s career and proved that wives really do know best. Er, I mean that before trashing a work in progress, it’s always a good idea for a writer to get a second set of eyeballs on the page.
In my second novel, Skipping a Beat, my main character, Julia Dunhill, sees bits of her life in scenes from the world’s great operas. One is Cavalleria Rusticana. The backstory to the tale of tenor Turiddu and his love Lola is just as fascinating for me as the actual opera. Composer Pietro Mascagni was a dirt-poor piano teacher when he wrote it for an opera competition, hoping a win would reverse his fortunes. Like so many artists, he was incredibly self-critical, and he ended up despairing of his work. But his wife believed in him, and she secretly mailed it to the judges (again the wife!) He won, and just like that, in the snap of a finger, his life turned around.
The moral is clear: Don’t trash your work. Set is aside. Re-read it another day, or better yet, ask Stephen King’s wife to read it for you. Sure, the work might belong in the trash can. But you also might be sitting on something pretty spectacular.
Growing up in New Jersey, we had “junk week,” I think twice a year. It was when you could put anything you didn’t want anymore out on the curb, and the city would come pick it up. It turned the whole town into one giant free yard sale. Amazing!
My two favorite junk week memories:
1) My elegant mom dragging a mattress across the road calling triumphantly “It’s a Beautyrest!!”
2) Our next door neighbors, rumored to have some association with the Rite Aid drugstore chain, throwing away a mountain of still-in-wrappers cosmetics. I am not kidding when I say the mound was as big as the kind of autumn leaf pile kids gather to jump in, or those drifts of snow made on the side of the road after the plow goes by. Mascara, blush, coconut scented sunscreen, hairbushes, all brand new and untouched. Treasure, I tell you!
It’s not on the same scale, but I like when a whole street gets together to do garage sales all on the same day. That way people who don’t have enough stuff to bother doing a sale of their own still get to go for it, and for buyers it’s fantastic. Twenty years ago I hit one of those for my first apartment, and I still use the baking sheet I got there for 50 cents.
Just yesterday we bought two used DVDs for cheap in a local charity shop: Alien and Spiderman. Movie night tonight!
What are your favorite finds from stuff that other people have discarded?
Simply From Scratch is a bestseller in Germany! Weiß der Himmel von dir entered the Spiegel Bestseller list at number 35 last week. Additionally, Thalia, a German bookstore chain, chose it as its Book of the Month for August. Simply From Scratch‘s official sale date in North America is August 5. To pre-order, click here. And to view the German trailer, click here. (The text reads, “Two happy people/An unhappy accident/The end of the world/A new beginning/With a special ingredient: friendship/For all fans of P.S. I LOVE YOU.” The music is a loop from “Hawks in the Orchard,” a song off Alicia’s second album, Orchard.