A journey....through space....

Welcome...from launch sites to love, heat shields to hearts....join me as 20+ year rocket scientist transitions to the world of romance novel writing.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

#NaNoWriMo 2010 -- DONE!




Whew. That was close. 50,004 words written for http://www.nanawrimo.org/ before the deadline of November 30th. This is the National Novel Writing contest, where over 100,000 people worldwide spend 30 days writing as much as they can. Some works have become novels, and some authors have even been published, and not self-published, either.

I thought this year would be a breeze. Last year, I started three days after hearing about the contest. That's right. Less than 72 hours of prep time. And all I had was an idea: a diary written by a computer engineer who meets and dates a celebrity. I wrote 50,000 words well before the deadline, and in fact wrote close to 56,400 words by November 30, 2009.

This year, I decided to write the sequel. I had characters, personalities, histories, a storyline to build from. I also had an outline. This was going to be sooo easy. And I was sooo wrong.

I didn't write every day. We had problems on the Cassini spacecraft on day two. I had several performances the second weekend, which meant rehearsals the weekend before. At one point, I was almost 20,000 words behind. I ended up making up the time the last two weekends. Cramming to write was a new experience for me, since my college major was engineering. It turned out to be harder than physics.

I learned a few things this past month:

1) Read your first book before starting a sequel.

Duh, right? I hadn't worked on it for about a month, and I think the last time I'd read the entire manuscript was before the summer. You'd think I'd remember most of it, but I had to go back to it often to look up things such as names, events. I'm re-reading it now in preparation for editing it again, and to make a few corrections to the sequel.

2) Make and keep a character guidebook

Which would have saved me time to write, instead of searching through the manuscript. And THAT discouraged me a bit. "Gee, what I wrote last year was so much better!" I'd forgotten that I'd spent most of last year editing it. I was reading the current product, not what I'd written November 2009.

3) Having an outline doesn't mean you'll always know what to write.

I had pretty much every chapter/diary entry outlined: talk about this party, talk about that trip. But that was entirely too general. With all good writing, each scene needed a purpose: to move the storyline along. I hadn't thought that far ahead, which is another reason why I was cramming.

4) A little more action, a little less conversation.

I relied HEAVILY on dialogue for this draft. Maybe too much. In fact, not maybe: there IS too much conversation. But that can be fixed.

5) Editing, while discouraged during NaNoWriMo, actually helped me with my word count.

For example, I'd go back to an earlier chapter to read something, and realized that I'd left a thought half-explained. Something to fix! And I have a curious habit of typoing by running two words together likethis. Fix it and there's a new word!

So now that I've got this 50005 word draft, now what?

I put it aside and work on "November's Secret", which was my NaNoWriMo 2009 entry.  I'd like to finish this draft by January to have a friend proofread it.  Then I'll take another pass at editing, and start to look for an agent.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

They Say the Neon Lights are Bright....first time falling in love...

This is by far my most favorite story....for so many different reason....it was a very special day in my life, which I'd like to share. This event has basically shaped many of my decisions, and I'm positive that half of my friends today are because of this decision and this day. 

First, the story. My whole love of marching band and performing started in the spring of 1979, when I was a mere freshman in high school. And you can blame it on a guy, too.  I can't remember who told me that the band was having tryouts for tall flag girls. I decided to try out because of a little crush I had on someone in the band at the time.  I have no clue what happened to him. But the way Facebook is going, he'll show up in a week or two.

I digress. I figured if I tried out for tall flags, and made it, I'd have more reasons to talk to him, more shared memories, etc. A brilliant plan!

I was the girl who'd been picked last for teams for years. Who over the years didn't quite suck as badly in those stupid yearly Presidential fitness tests. Who actually wasn't very bad at soccer or tennis once we got to do them for longer than 6-8 weeks. Still. This was the first time I'd tried out for anything, and I barely made it; I think I was on the bottom 8 out of about 28-32 girls. All we had to do was march and do commands; there was no flagwork involved. But no matter, I was IN!

We then spent the summer of 79 at rehearsals. For the first time ever, I was not bored during summer vacation. Sometimes the instructor, who happened to be our drum major, didn't show up, but when he did, we learned quite a bit. We learned some basic flag moves after buying aluminum poles (read pipes) down at a local lumber and plumbing site. Now you can order a flagpole online and have it shipped to your door. Progress. We also learned some more marching and maneuvering techniques. Most importantly, I learned how to whistle through my fingers that summer. Fold your tongue back, and put your fingers on the fold and your bottom teeth. Thanks, Michelle!

All the while, I was waiting for the magical date of August 6th. This would be the day that we'd begin band camp with the rest of the band, and I'd get to see HIM. It had been fairly hot and somewhat smoggy all summer; that morning, it was foggy and almost cold. Our instructor Stacey had the idea of us marching down to the band room in rank, to show the rest of the band how hard we'd been working all summer. So we did just that. Once we broke rank, I had my eyes open. Nope. No dude. But a few people were at Bellis Music camp (anyone remember that? I hear they're still in business. Wow, huh?) and I figured they'd show up next week. And they did, but not HIM.

Again, I'm thinking no big deal. He'll show. And in the meantime, we started getting ready for the first football game, and when school finally started, I found out what happened to Mr No Show. He'd dropped out of band to join a sports team which met at the same time as band practice. Well Damn. But I was committed to the show, and there was no stopping me.

But fear not. Although there was no band member in my immediate future I discovered something else on Saturday, September 15, 1979--that I absolutely loved performing. And now, for your reading pleasure, I give you my diary entry from that evening, 31 years ago. It was the first football game of the season and at the Rose Bowl. How many HS kids can say their first halftime show was at the Rose Bowl? Pretty cool, I thought. The other interesting thing about this day is that there was a fire raging in the foothills about 10 miles away, and ash was being blown everywhere. It was a hot day, and a good one. The diary entry will be annotated with comments to explain certain things, as well as things that happened that I didn't write about.

******

Sept 15, 1979
Well, today was the day of the first game, and it's only appropriate that I scribble something about it.

Last night we had a practice to make up the marching parts and when to come in with the routines [now that I read this, I'm surprised how last minute we were]. Then we had to be at practice at 6am in the morning [note: this should have warned me of band practices to come at USC, what with us having to be on campus at 6:30am some mornings]! Stacey was late, but we did go over the routine. Then we went down to the band room to get our flags (white) and gloves.




When we got on the bus [to take us to the Rose Bowl, barely 2 miles away-- note: our Homecoming game against  was always played at the Rose Bowl, since it's both schools' Homecoming game and no one ever seems to leave Pasadena after graduation, so the game is pretty crowded. For Homecoming, we normally paraded down to the Rose Bowl], Stacey said to have the first five rows reserved for us, but the drum corps didn't want to get up. Finally, we all straightened up and were on out way to the Rose Bowl, cheering.

We arrived and got off the bus with our flags. Before we lined up, we prayed, and I laughed to myself the whole time. Then we lined up behind the band and strode into the Rose Bowl onto the field. We then marched into the stands.

[I know that we did a pre-game show and played the Star Spangled Banner. All of us tall flag girls were lined up alongside the band, but we didn't do any flagwork. What's odd is that I wrote nothing about it. Oh well. I'm also pretty sure that Blair's band did not show up. However, I do remember that their drum corps was there, as was ours. This is the group to which I now belong, and play strap tenor]

We were so nervous and I was totally confused as to what to do on the field. I was actually wishing that the first half wouldn't end. Since so many of us were confused, we left our seats with Stacey so he could show us what to do [The thing is, we were ALL brand new to twirling flag, except for maybe one or two people. A few of the girls had played flute in band the year before, but it was a very new experience for us] When we came back, we found we has scored a touchdown! [this is very reminiscent of USC games where I was a TA, and the team would score while I was escorting bandmembers to the bathroom...wow]

The second quarter was over, and we got ready to march out of the stands. I was scared!!! Then we marched to the other side of the field to line up. I heard my friends calling my name and I got so nervous. [I remember just wanting to pee so badly.] I was so nervous that I kept talking to Tonja [who stood in front of me] about how scared I was and that I wanted to leave. She told me later that I was making her laugh!

Anyway, Stacey had the band start, and we were marching and playing. "Superman" went by and so did "Mork and Mindy" [damn...this WAS the late 70s, wasn't it??]. Then we started "K-gee" [our feature], and my friends started yelling again--damn, did it make me nervous. We started the routine on the 8th beat, and everyone did okay. Afterwards, I started shaking. When it was over, we marched off the field and stood at parade rest. The band marched into the stands, and [the flag girls, led by Stacey] marched out of the Bowl.

*******
That was all I'd written. I think I was a bit tired, which is why I didn't finish. What happened after that was, to the best of my memory, is that Stacey told us what a wonderful job we'd done! We marched back into the Rose Bowl all proud of ourselves. During the third quarter, we were allowed to sit with friends. My mom and sister were there, too. They all said we did a great job. I was really happy, and jazzed. That was the day I got addicted to the fear and excitement of performing....and it's never really left me.

Third quarter, we were allowed to move about the stadium, and I went to sit with friends and family, who said we did well. I was really happy, and jazzed. That was the day I got addicted to the fear and excitement of performing....and it's never really left me.

As I said earlier, there was ash blowing around from the fires in the foothills, and the scent of smoke was in the air. It was rather warm, and we were drinking cups of water. For some odd reason, the Pep Band was also in the stands near me. One of my friends wanted some more ice, and my sister noticed that some had fallen down near the feet of the guy I had a crush on. So she said this classic line:

"Just reach down between his legs and grab it!"

Comedy. She was only 13.

You know, I don't think I ever talked to that guy again. I must have, but I just don't remember.

I went home and wrote it all down in my diary....and the feeling never quite went away. The season went well, and I think we actually won a trophy at a competition that year. I remember dark wet mornings on the field, the smell of grass, scrambling to get to second period on time. Music from movies that came out that year ("All that Jazz", which led to my dancing career), and big band music were the staples. This was the very first time I was involved in something at school other than just mere classwork or a club, and I loved it.

At the end of our season, I found out that there was an honor band for the Tournament of Roses Parade, made up of HS and college band members, that I could try out for....

...and I MADE IT! So I began 1980 in a very cute uniform of tuxedo tails and top, black leotard, fishnet stockings and black flat shoes. And after a 7 mile parade, almost passed out. But it was so very very cool. TELEVISED, people! All over the WORLD! My mother had set up 3 TVs in the family room, and when I didn't show up on any of them (this may have been the year we did NOT PLAY GOING AROUND THE CORNER....a travesty!), she drove down to the parade route, told the 30 people around her to yell when we went by, and I heard a chorus of my name close to PCC as we marched by. Thanks Mom! This was the first of three times I'd do the parade with the TofR band. Every year that I did it, more members of Muir were a part of the group.

So of course, I had to do it all again the following year at Muir, but they made a terrible mistake and put me in charge. Good performers don't always make good leaders. I remember staying up all night to make flags before the Turkey Tussle. On a whim, for one competition, I switched from tall flags to majorette. I don't know why we had a baton in the house, but my sister taught me one basic move and I figured out a bunch more. I ended up with a first place trophy in a Christmas parade, and I marched majorette my senior year. I spent a lot of time in July and August of 1981 sewing individual sequins on uniforms while listening to ELO (another tradition which picked up again when I joined Danse Magique). Hindsight being what it was, I should have just asked my father for money for a proper costume.

Senior year was great, as it should be. I think there were maybe 10 seniors in band at that point. We had a great time at Band Camp, breaking in a brand-new band director, straight from the high-up hills of Westwood. It's funny now because I was 17, he must have been 23 or 24, but he was "so much older" than us. A few days before the end of band camp, we got the brilliant idea to teepee his house (we can't be prosecuted now for this, can we?). We went to the Bobs Big Boy on East Colorado (it's now a Dennys), stole about 10 rolls of TP, and went to his house about midnight. I found out later that he and his wife were hiding behind the curtains watching us.

We did a lot of crazy, new stuff that year. We actually did a western show and played the Theme from Dallas. Our Drum Major, Steve Daniels, spun a rifle instead of a mace. After the Turkey Tussle, a bunch of us went to Shakey's Pizza to watch a tape of the game. Keep in mind that this was 1981, VCRs were a million bucks and recorders were thousands. I exaggerate. So it was very lucky for us to actually see ourselves on tape! There were about 10-15 Muir band members and about 10 PHS football players there. We were up by halftime, but what we were there to see was the halftime show, and it was damned good. Then we left, because we'd gotten our butts kicked in the second half. The PHS players taunted us as we were leaving "oh, where are you going??? you should staaaaaay". Hah.

We made it to the playoffs the following week, but lost that game. And I cried at the end of our last halftime show, because I thought it was all over. Silly me. I'd only just begun....

(an unrelated thought, and I'm not sure why I remember this, but "Turning Japanese" was playing on the bus as we rode from the stadium back to campus)

Part of the reason I picked USC was because they had a flag line (the other was that their Electrical Engineering department was ranked 5 in the nation). But I didn't join band my freshman year....which was probably okay in the end. I was too afraid of getting crappy grades and losing my scholarship, and thus was bored my freshman year, having nothing to do with study, party, and wish I was in band. But I did try out and got my first sunburn at band camp in San Diego. I had no clue what it was.

4 years of band included the Olympic Opening/Closing ceremonies in 1984, The Statue of Liberty All-American college band in 1986, trips to the Bay area, Chicago, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Orlando and Hawaii. AND...another Rose Parade. That felt like an old friend, marching in that parade again.

Those who know me know I haven't stopped. And why should I? It's fun, I'm good, and I can still do it. I'll be performing again on October 30th at USC's Homecoming game....just like I was still 19 years old...

Friday, September 10, 2010

"If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it"


Well, it isn't "Rockets to Romance" if I don't mention any rockets, right?

How about a spacecraft orbiting Saturn?  I've supported the Cassini program for a total of almost 10 years, first with pre-launch work on the programs that run when faults occur, and now supporting operations as the spacecraft went into orbit around Saturn.  I can't complain about getting on TV for that!

Plus, Cassini launched on my birthday.  And we always have cake at work to celebrate the launch.

This post is in honor of passing my 23rd anniversary at work!  Wow. That first day of work, September 9, 1987, I sat in a two hour meeting discussing the approval of adding a new, smaller antenna on the Galileo spacecraft to the back end of it.  This allowed us to continue to talk to and hear the spacecraft when the main antenna was pointed at the sun and away from Earth while the orbit took it around Venus.  Acronyms were flying past me like that asteroid scene in Star Wars.  Now they're second nature. 

Over the years, I've done spacecraft development, test, launch and operations, and the last is my favorite.
I've been lucky enough to work on two amazing outer planets missions, to Jupiter and Saturn. 

Saturn on National Geographic Channel

My favorite image of Saturn

Many many images of Saturn

Monday, September 6, 2010

Deleted Scene! San Francisco Lobby scene, "November's Secret"

Here's the scene....it takes place the second day that Jackie, the main character, and "Drew Smith", her name for the celebrity she's dating, are in San Francisco. Jump in!


November 10, 2009 – 5:30pm


Now I’m sitting in the atrium, typing this on my net book. Drew will text me after he’s showered, changed, and heading down the elevator, and that’s when I’ll go up. Ships passing in the evening. Then I’ll go downstairs and eat dinner in one of the hotel restaurants, or just have it sent up. We’ll see after I’ve showered. Oh wait, I forgot about the rooftop club. I should check that out. The Bay Bridge will all be lit up.

There is a bar in the middle of the atrium; that’s where I am now. It’s so low key that I didn’t even notice there was a bar here last night, and I was sitting not 10 feet away from my current spot while waiting for Drew to check us in. The woman next to me is crying. Not a good sign, I’m thinking.

8:15pm

I got up to the suite about 5 minutes after Drew texted me. Walking down the hall, a lot of commotion drifted up from the lobby. Judging from the badges I’d seen on the way to the elevator, the medical convention had just ended for the day and people were meeting down below. I decided I would take a shower. No, I’d take a bath, since I’d be undisturbed for a while. I lit candles and soaked, with jazz music playing.

After I got out of the tub, I heard an alarm in the hallway and a voice over the speakers in the hall. I was afraid it was a fire and dressed quickly, then opened the door to hear the announcement over the hallway speakers:

“Attention, guests. There is police activity in the lobby. Guests are requested to remain in their rooms. Please do not enter the lobby. If there is an emergency, please contact the front desk by phone. Thank you for your cooperation.”

What the hell was going on? I looked over the hallway balcony, which looked down onto the lobby, 12 floors down. I wasn’t the only one looking. Heads ringed the balconies on all the floors, peering down. Some snapping photos or taking videos, too. On the ground floor I saw tiny uniformed people cordoning off the area around the bar that I had just left about 15 or so minutes ago. Paramedics were working on a man lying on the floor, and another sitting by the wall. Even from the height, the blood-soaked shirts were visible. And I spied Drew, laptop bag on shoulder, surrounded by cops, striding towards the front lobby desk.

Something serious had happened. I turned on the TV to a local channel for the news.

There was a banner announcing breaking news in San Francisco. The shooting of a man in a hotel lobby about 5:55pm. More news was coming.

Drew sent a text to me at 5:45pm to come up to the room. Had I just dodged a bullet? Seriously?

I then noticed that I’d received a text from Drew: “Shooting in the lobby. Will probably be on TV soon, turn on the news, Channel 2. Stay up there, please.”

I texted back: “It’s on the news now. Just got out of the shower. Can see you from balcony.”

I wasn’t going down there.

The reporter stated that Drew was there, in the lobby at the time, an “almost witness” to the shooting. One other person was wounded.

I started pacing. A man was shot in the lobby while I was in the elevator. This was scary. What if Drew had texted me 5, 10 minutes later?? What if we got back to the hotel while the shooting was going on? I might have been hit. HE might have been hit. Then what? Drew was right; my father needed to know when I was out of town.

The suspect was staying in the hotel, the reporter stated, and that Drew would be on the air soon to describe the scene. I imagined news vans fighting rush-hour traffic to get to the hotel. The hills of San Francisco didn’t make it any easier.

Then I got another text from Drew: “Shooting happened right after you left lobby. Couple in the bar, did you see a woman in red?”

I did. I guess that made me a witness, right?

The hallway announcement changed: “If any guests were in the lobby between 5:30 and 5:45pm, you are encouraged to contact the hotel operator to help the police with their enquiries. Thank you. We recommend that you continue to remain in your rooms until we report the crime scene is released.”

I did not want to call. Were the police and the press going to learn that I was staying with Drew? They already knew he was at the hotel. I didn’t register for the room I was in, Drew did. And I didn’t know if he put me on the registration; it never occurred to me to ask. This was becoming messier.

I texted Drew: ”Saw them at the bar, heard nothing. Should I call the lobby? They might find out we’re together”

Drew’s reply: “I registered under a false name. Your real name on registration. We will be fine. Stay put.”

More news was available. The victim was in critical condition, and on the way to the hospital. The suspected shooter was described as a woman in her 40s wearing a red dress. The description matched the woman whisper-arguing with the man in the bar next to me. I’d barely noticed the man.

That’d be one interesting police interview:

“Were they drinking?”


She had a water glass in front of her. Based on the glass, it wasn’t straight rum or vodka. He ordered a scotch, Johnnie Walker Red, on the rocks.


(He was no Scotch drinker, that’s for sure. Red is paint thinner and is barely passable as a mixer.)


“Do you know either person?”


Never seen either of them before.

 
“Did either of them talk to you?”


No.


“Was she distraught the entire time?”


No, not at first. She seemed relieved to finally see him, but then grew visibly upset when he said he wouldn’t go to dinner with her.


“How did he act?”


Pretty insistent to get away, but he turned very solicitous when she started crying.


“Did you see either one of them assault the other?”


No. The only time I saw them touch each other was when he first arrived, and when she started crying.


“Did you hear them threaten each other?”


No.


“Did you see a weapon?”


No.


“Did anyone else talk to them, or did they talk to anyone else?”


No, they seemed pretty into their conversation. Except for when the man ordered that (ick) Scotch.


“For how long are you in San Francisco?”


“I’m leaving tomorrow. Will that be okay?


“The suspect confessed and there were plenty of witnesses to the shooting. I don’t think we’ll need you back for a trial, but we’ll take your information just in case. You were the only witness who noticed the victim and suspect prior to the shooting.”

12:05am

I stopped worrying about all the what-ifs of the timing of the shooting, and tried to relax. It’s now after midnight, and Drew’s not back yet. He never made it to the studio…guess they’ll forgive him. According to the TV news, he had not left the scene. I finally remembered to order pizza from room service, and continued to watch the news, alternating with peeking over the balcony. The detective advised me not to talk to reporters, since I was their ace witness before the fact, but I wasn’t going back down into the lobby unless it was absolutely required. I didn’t tell any of the other guests also standing in the hallway what I had witnessed. I didn’t want anyone else to remember me being there.

Meanwhile, on TV, reporters remained outside the hotel, talking to guests. They continued to talk to Drew in intervals. They reported that the other man wounded in the shooting was registered at the hotel for the medical convention. He would be fine. Sometimes I’d go out and look down from the balcony, but it made me feel a little dizzy.

In other news of the evening, that sniper guy who shot at all those people in gas stations on the east coast a few years ago was executed today, as well. I can’t imagine having to live like that those few terrifying weeks.



Tina: Hey, you shooting people up there?


Jackie: Not it, I’m miles away.


Tina: saw your boyfriend on tv, he’s hot


Jackie: I know


Tina: go to that hotel and say hi, I bet he’d remember you!

Only if she did know, eh?

She's back!

Back!  Miss me?

I'm not going to try to sum up the last few months.not today, anyways.

But....I promise at least one post a week.  Honest!  My next post will be a scene I've recently deleted from "November's Secret". 

I'm not sure how others go about their writing process, but for me, I need to visualize the entire scene before I can write about it.  There have been a few times where I wrote off the cuff and just ran with it, but those times are very few.  After I write it, I let it sit for a day or so, but I continue to think about it.  Did I get it right?  Is it interesting?  Does it fit?  Three YESes means it stays.

I had a murder in one scene, then I removed the main character from the scene and left the murder. When I decided to put her back in as a witness, I talked to a law enforcement officer a week ago to help me with the police procedure, but I continued to think about how I was going to change it. 

Then I realized the scene itself didn't fit.  The novel is a romance, not a mystery.  A murder doesn't belong here.  There was a specific reason why I wrote the scene, but that doesn't mean that another scene couldn't create the same requirement.  So I did just that.

Enjoy the deleted scene!  The new one is MUCH better, and it better fits the theme of the cult of personality and fame.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Up up and away!

photo credit:  NASA

My doppleganger, Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson, is onboard her third shuttle flight, STS-131, which launched on 5 April 2010.  I worked with her on the Galileo Mission to Jupiter in the 1990s.  She is the second black female to enter space, following Mae Jamison in the 1980s.







I'd hired on a few years before she did.  I was amused to learn that people were calling her by my name, since we looked similar.  The tables turned in 1996 when she was selected to become an astronaut; now people were calling ME "Stephanie".  It happened so often that one Halloween at work, I dressed up as her.  Stephanie laughed when I told her about it.

A few former Galileo coworkers had the chance to have dinner with her after STS-120, her first flight.  She said that she was so busy, she'd forget to look out the window.  One of the other specialists would point out "Hey, we're flying over Egypt".  I understand the sentiment; I don't always look out the window on a gorgeous Southern California day, either.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch of STS-131, but had to decline when the launch slipped into the time where I would be on call for work. 

Good luck, Stephanie!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Java Jive!

So, this weekend, I thought I'd play aspiring author in public for the first time.  After I ran my errands, I went into a Peet's Coffee shop to work on the novel.  With such a beautiful day, I figured it would be empty, quiet, a nice oasis in the sea of Pasadena Saturday hustle and bustle.

I was so wrong.

Found the last available table and borrowed a chair from someone.  So far so good.  But there was a live band in the corner--guitarist, keyboardist, reeds and a guy on conga drums.  Very hip and progressive, but I can't write when I hear music. Screw it, I can do this.  I pulled out my laptop and fired it up.

My computer battery decided to drain like a wide open tub with the stopper out. But I was on a mission to complete my first major rewrite before the battery died.  All I got done was cutting out the old text; the new will be moved to another day.  When my computer got down to 20%, I thought I'd better cool it.  Turned it off and put it back in the case.

Fortunately, I had my manuscript with me, so I could continue with editing.  I found more errors and a few more inconsistencies. It was hard, though.  Streams of people kept pouring in, and I couldn't help eavesdropping.  I was also sitting close to the cashier, who seemed to spend most of his time explaining the difference in cup sizes between Peets and Starbucks.  Poor guy. I was surprised it was so busy.

But I was cranking along. I'd been trying desperately to tune out voices, when I heard a familiar one.  A coworker came in with his wife and tried to sneak up on me.  Funny.  I'm used to doing tele-meetings at work and hearing his voice, which is why it stood out to me.

I was there for maybe 90 minutes.  I think I get more done at home, however.  Maybe next time, Starbucks....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The opening....

Well, it's only fitting that I share a little bit of the opening with my readers.  Some of you have seen this already.


Sunday, November 1, 1:57am

As the servers were removing our dinner plates, Tina, my best friend, stood up and tapped my shoulder. “Let’s go, dude!” She called everyone “dude”.

“Where are we going?” I stood up and looked around.

“You gotta fix your hair and makeup before your close-up. C’mon!” She steered me towards the nearest ladies room, picking up our purses.

I’m Jackie Walker, 44 years old, just your average single black female in the big city. This is my brand new diary. Beware; not everything you read actually happened. There’s a reason for that.

It was Friday night, October 30, at the Atlas computer industry banquet/awards ceremony held at my favorite hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I was fresh from the salon and the nearest makeup counter, wearing a simple yet elegant full length black gown with spaghetti straps, work-mindful cleavage (remember, this was a professional function) and a sexy side slit, not so high that my bosses would question me hitting the streets after the awards were over. High heeled black sandals, of course. Let’s not forget the white gold jewelry. I can accessorize with the best of them.

Everyone was there from Alexandria Computing, my company of the last 13 years. I was the first recipient of the Atlas Innovation award, to be presented after dessert and coffee.

I’ve programmed all sorts of computers for about 20 years. Now the profession is getting fancy titles: Systems Analyst, Coder, Software Engineer, but the simplest way to describe my job is that I write programs and spend months debugging other people’s code. I love it. The only thing better than a program running perfectly the first time is tracking down a bug that no one else can find. I considered myself lucky.

Tina, my 20-year partner in crime, partying and occasional trips about the country as well as my biggest cheerleader, hopped up onto the counter in the lounge area to fix my face. I towered over her 5’2” frame in my three-inch heels. Tina was the tallest person in her Puerto Rican family, too. I stood in front of her facing the banks of makeup lights.

She peered at my face. “You went to MAC, didn’t you?”

“Yep, I did. Right after my hairstylist fit me into a last-minute appointment. I love her. If I ever become famous, a shampoo bowl shall be named in her honor in my custom-built mansion.”

She giggled and pulled the compact out of my purse. “They did an excellent job. You don’t look like a drag queen. I know how they can be sometimes. Okay, stand still.” She eyed me. “You don’t need much, here, let me get you. You’re only a little bit shiny.”

“I can’t believe we’ve been at Alexandria for 13 years,” I remarked as Tina patted my face like a pro.

“Yeah, it’s been fun, huh? Better than NASA.”

“The work was pretty cool, but too much bureaucracy there. We spend more time documenting code than writing it.” Right after finishing my masters, I’d worked on two amazing flight missions to the outer planets. Data is still being analyzed by scientists worldwide, even from the mission that is no longer in flight.

Tina agreed. “I like the freedom we have at Alexandria. I’m glad you came along with me when Roger told us about it.” Roger is her husband of 15 years. Tall, blond, ex-Marine, a total contrast to her dark skinned petite frame. Both of them are funny as hell.

Earlier that evening, Bruce Cofield, the chairman of the Atlas awards, introduced the celebrity guests and gave a short speech. He praised all the companies present for their continued support of the industry. Blah blah blah. A canned speech year after year.

Roger, who had provided us several bottles of high quality Napa’s finest, stage-whispered “I swear, he says the same thing every year. I almost have it memorized. I’m taping it next year. I’ll send out copies so we can say it along with him.”

Tina hit him in the ribs. I giggled. The woman sitting in front of us turned around, glaring. She didn’t find them as funny as I did. She was in for a long night.

Tina finished patting on powder. Shine all gone! “Okay, lipstick.”

“Tina, I can do this.” I pulled out the tube of lipstick. I think the color was called “Pinot Noir”. It looked good, though, a dark reddish plum.

“Relax, lemme get you. First impression, up close--you wanna knock him out so you can hook up!” She applied it carefully.

“Him” was my favorite celebrity, presenting my award, according to the programs on our chairs when we entered the ballroom. I know I sound like a silly teen, but here was my chance to meet him and take a photo with him. This was something to look forward to, even with all the rumors about his sexuality. Perhaps I was being na├»ve, but I saw no basis for the rumors, yet they persisted. Just because you don’t see him with women doesn’t mean he’s with men.

Besides being a very good looking man, he’s always seemed so knowledgeable. He participates in many discussion panels, mostly political. A rock. Intelligent and listening. What can I say? I like nerds, and he was one of the most famous.

His autobiography fascinated me. It explained his estrangement from his father, who currently lived in France. He finally opened up about the death of his sister in 1995, throwing himself into his work to forget his losses. I felt for him. I couldn’t imagine losing my brother. Hard enough not having my mother around anymore.

I bought his book when it first came out, watched interviews whenever available, but then chickened out when it came time to attend one of his lectures in town--I felt like a creepy stalker. I regretted not going to it.

“Don’t turn me into a hooker up there, Tina.” I warned.

She took the tube of lipstick from me. “You won’t, trust me. Hmmm. Lips look sexy. You got any gloss?”

“I left it upstairs.” Alexandria had gotten us all rooms in the hotel for the night. We’d also been given us the afternoon off. Plenty of time to drive down from the San Gabriel Valley, northeast of downtown LA to get ready at the hotel.

“Did you see how he looked at you when you first came in?”

“I saw it. He stopped talking and just stared at me, as if he knew me. But why would he know me? I’m just another programmer.”

“He’s been watching you all night. Every time I turn around, he’s watching you. He wants you. You’re so hot, chica…I still don’t get why John left you.”

John isn’t his name. I’m just calling him that in my diary. My ex-boyfriend, of 4 months ago.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you. He’s engaged now.”

“What?” She stopped primping me.

“Yep, it’s all over his Facebook. Engaged to a woman named Amy. This girl my brother dated years ago, before he married Olivia. Between baby daddy number two and number three.” Really, John? After a friendly, fun 6-month relationship, with rarely a disagreement, you dump me and then get engaged four months later?

“Damn, dude. Donald dated her? How many kids she got?”

“Five.”

“Whoa.”

“Whoa is right. Plus, Donald says boxes of rocks are smarter than she is.”

What was even worse was the reason why we broke up. I still had a hard time admitting it. He told me that he didn’t like being the second fiddle. “I’m not used to being considered the dumb one.” His words, not mine. He’s a brilliant physicist, doctorate degree. Honors from multiple universities, excelling in his research, with numerous papers to his name. There’s even a theory named after him! How did that make him second fiddle to me?

If he’d been an uber-nerd, I might have understood. But you wouldn’t have a clue about his job if yu just saw him. He’s quite attractive, and he actually has a personality. I know many people feel that those who are extremely intelligent are married to their work, and can’t function in society let alone look people in the eye, but he was fun to be with, easy to talk to. He’s as big a 80s music fan as I am, plays soccer and can function with people outside of a lab or away from a computer. WAS fun to be with. Sigh.

Yet he didn’t like the fact that his friends and family said I was good for him because I was so intelligent. I honestly don’t get it. My friends have tried many times to explain to me the phenomenon of the male ego, but with all he has going for him, why would he feel so threatened by me? I only have a master’s degree. Dude teaches OTHER PHDs!!! Did I mention the theory named after him? That was right up there with Einstein.

“Yep, she’s got five kids. Soon to be six kids.” I scowled. “She’s pregnant again.” This is the guy who wanted to wait until marriage before having sex. Not that he did wait with me; it was just his mindset. I wanted to throw up.

“Damn, dude. Just forget John.”

“Working on it. He’s been unfriended on Facebook.” After I got the news on Monday, I fumed. Then I got mad that I was mad. Now I was done being mad. I decided that moping around was not the answer. John didn’t matter any longer. He certainly didn’t deserve any more emotions from me. I needed to go on with life. Be more positive. I had too much going for myself.

I have to be honest; until I saw his Facebook on Monday night, I thought he was just mad I wasn’t always available, and we’d eventually work it out. Usually when one of my relationships ended, it was a mutual thing, with the two of us coming to the same conclusion. I’ve only initiated a breakup one time; it wasn’t fun. Neither is being on the receiving end.

“Good. You’ve got bigger stars in your future.” Tina kept eyeing me. “Well, okay. Your hair is perfect, as usual. Hmmm.” She kept peering into my face. “Something is missing… Hmmmmm.”

I was getting nervous. “Tina, I look hot, let’s go. If they call my name and I’m not out there, I’ll look stupid and Steve will lynch me.”

“We’ve got time. They haven’t served the coffee yet. Anyways, forget about John. You’ve met other guys since him, right?”

Heh. Funny you mention that. “When I went to the mall this week to buy this dress, I met a lawyer looking for a Halloween costume for his daughter, who was about 10 years old. He gave me his number.”

“See, told you!” She high-fived me.

“Wait, this is the cute part. As they walked away, I heard the daughter say ‘She’s pretty, Daddy. Take her someplace nice, Daddy, like Red Lobster. Let her get extra biscuits, too. “

Tina cracked up. “Aw, that’s so sweet! Oh, I know!” Back to the matter at hand, Tina dug into her bag and pulled out a large compact. “Check this out, bronzing powder. You’ll be all sparkly. “

“Okay,” I said, eyeing her dubiously. “Don’t get it in my dress.”

“I won’t…hold your arms out.” She opened the compact, dipped the brush in and lightly dabbed my face, chest, arms. My skin a medium dark tone, now glowing outside. Wine and excitement were making me glow inside.

“Speaking of your brother, how come they aren’t here? You told your father about the award, right?” Tina asked as she worked.

“I forgot to tell him about it when we talked last weekend. Besides, I think he's doing something with his golf kids.  'Ghost Golfing' or something like that.”  After all, Halloween was tomorrow night.

“You still talk to him on Sundays?” She was still busy with the makeup brush, highlighting my cheekbones, occasionally stepping back to admire her work like a master painter.

“Yep, pretty much.” My father lived in San Diego, a 9/11 widower who was now retired and passionate about golf.

“Okay, all done, check you out.” Tina hopped off the counter and we walked over to the set of angled full-length mirrors by the exit of the ladies room.

I looked great. Why did I never buy a dress like this before? In the mirror posed a socialite ready to stroll down a red carpet, smiling for the cameras. My job is fairly casual, but I never pass up an event to dress up. If I want to scare my coworkers, I’ll show up in a dress; my boss always assumes I’m interviewing when I do that. Otherwise my usual wardrobe consists of jeans, or in a pantsuit or slacks if I’m meeting with a client. My stylist pulled part of my hair up and secured it with a braid wrapped around a pony tail. She’d straightened the rest of my hair to match the ponytail and gave both a slight flip for fun. Pure elegance.

No one’s been able to guess my age accurately since age 18; nowadays, they typically guess anywhere from 25 to 35. It amuses me. I’m 5’7”, a curvy size 12. Weight…well, I don’t need to write this here—isn’t my dress size enough? I typically don’t do my nails, but I make sure they’re buffed with cuticles trimmed. Tonight, both fingers and toes were sporting a French manicure..

“Woo hoo, sexy mama! Let’s go, chica,” said Tina, pulling me outside. “Your man awaits! If you don’t hook up tonight, every man in that room is gay!”

Tina took a quick photo of me by the entrance before we walked in and sat back down to applause from my tablemates. The ballroom was decorated with gold balloons, and a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) played in the corner. 10 chandeliers illuminated the room, as well as flickering sconces on the walls. The floral arrangements on each table were done by Tina in white and yellow roses, with gold metallic streamers.

The servers were in the middle of the coffee service. Tina didn’t let me get any, because she didn’t want the act of drinking to mess up my lips. I begged for a straw, and got one, to sip my water. The awards presentation started soon after.

The chairman stood up to begin the awards portion of the evening, and introduced his first presenter. HE stood up. HE walked over to the dais as if he was going to take over the world. HE was smiling and looked happy to be there. HE took the microphone and looked directly at me.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Atlas Awards. We are here to honor….. who has made significant leaps in the development of …. Her expertise and leadership have resulted in a software program that… an African American woman, a native of California, she….”

HE was talking about me! I was star-struck. I didn’t hear half of what he was saying. This reminded me of a friend who asked James Earl Jones to say his name when he met the famed actor. JEJ obliged. My friend said it was completely awesome.

HE continued to look straight at me as he spoke. I know the speech was prepared for HIM, probably by our CEO. I’d have to thank him later.

“….Jackie Walker!” I was being nudged by Tina. HE’D stopped talking. It was time for me to rise and approach him to receive the award.

The trip to the podium took a month or two. Everything was slow motion. I saw people applauding, but I couldn’t hear the applause; it was a muffled roar. The trio was playing, as well, but I couldn’t hear that, either. All I saw was HIM smiling at me. Everything else faded into the background a little. I was slowly floating, not walking, to the stage. The whole time I was thinking, “If I trip, I’d better pass out at the same time. ” (I’d spent an hour in my apartment walking in those sexy Jimmy Choos hoping to prevent that embarrassment). When I reached the podium, I held out my hand. HE moved to the front of the podium and took it.

And we stood there for about a million years.

I’d seen him many times on TV, but now with him face to face, it was just so much more. A brilliant smile shining down on me. His eyes were smiling at me, too. A fallen star on stage, glowing in front of me. His hand felt warm, strong, comforting. I know I was smiling, too. But I couldn’t hear a thing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Love....exciting and new...." Or not. Not yet...



I spent the weekend with friends and had a great time.....so this post is a little late...

Bur first, a confession: I don't hate Valentine's Day. I'm not bitter. I just want to celebrate, too. Kinda hard when you're single.  So I'm jealous of those who can celebrate with that special someone.

I suppose I could secretly send out flowers to every guy I liked. Or beer. Or pizza. Something. For you see, this isn't about me getting stuff. I just miss the giving and planning.

The first time I was able to celebrate Valentine's Day with a significant other was in 1988. We'd just started dating, and were still getting used to each other. Boyfriend #1 bought me a nice single rose, and a bottle of perfume. I believe I still have that bottle; it's shaped like a pair of lips.

I've had some fun ones in the past. Me trying to make a gourmet dinner with Cornish game hens for the very first time, and I ended up with a really weird stomach ache. We were supposed to stay at the Disneyland Hotel that night, but didn't drive down until the next day.

That same Valentine's Day, I'd bought a set of black satin sheets. I warn you all: never wrestle on satin sheets. Not even play-wrestle. I went flying off the bed. I wasn't hurt. I was laughing too hard.

Another year, and I believe it was the last with boyfriend #1, was when I hid rhyming notes all over the house, clues that led to the next note and clue. The last note led him to the freezer, where I'd stashed an ice cream cake. We went out for sushi that night.

My last celebrated Valentine's Day with a significant other was in 1996. A two-hour drive out to the Inland Empire to receive a box of long-stemmed roses and an Applebee's dinner. I think he got
And so, I deleted my Valentine's dinner idea emails quickly. I ignored the looming heart-shaped balloons stationed at the front doors of supermarkets. And I continue to hope things will be different next year.
But I did buy myself a tennis bracelet. I love me some me. :)



Readers, how was your day/weekend?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All she wanted was a loving man....

Dating a celebrity: glamour, fame, a jetset life, wealth, dreams come true?

Or is that just the surface?

Join Jackie, a 40-something single black female software developer and dance instructor/performer, as she meets her dream celebrity, known in her diary only as "Drew Smith", at a computer industry awards dinner. Not only did sparks fly, but he's always wanted to meet Jackie?

What? Really?

Really.

"This November" is her diary, describing her life during November 2009. Jackie and "Drew" learn their first night together that they share a common past, and it's the beginning of an interesting month. Drew, good-looking as well as knowledgeable, a world-famous celebrity, has always been reclusive, to the point that the paparazzi are on a mission to out him as a closeted homosexual. His relationships have always been private.

Will the paparazzi find out about her? What about Drew's stalkers? Can Jackie lead a normal life while hiding someone who is known world-wide? And what about her diary? What if someone finds it? What if Drew finds out she's writing it? Could this ruin their relationship?


This is my novel. The idea began as a conversation several years ago, when someone suggested that I find a way to meet a certain celebrity, since he was less likely to reject me for being intelligent (that has continued to be a rather huge block in my quest for a first date sharing a McDonald's happy meal). The argument ensued over this particular celebrity being gay or not.

The idea fascinated me for more than a few years, I'd play out various scenarios in my head. How we'd meet, our first date, what we'd do together. I thought of blogging the story as if it were really happening, but that was just a dream that didn't happen.

Then a friend tweeted about NaNoWriMo -- writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Since it required that one start a brand new unwritten story, here was one ready to write. Bingo. Thanks, Lisa. I started writing on November 1st at 1:57am. Away I went!

And I did it! By January, I had over 97,000 words written. I hadn't scribbled anything as much as a paper since 1985, except for a few blogs posts. Now I'm editing. Not as much fun as writing, but equally as important. I printed out the manuscript and I'm still marking it up. I don't think I'll be hitting the computer again to do rewrites until March.

I left the editing alone for about a week, not touching the manuscript at all. That gave me enough distance to look at things more objectively when I picked it up again two nights ago. I'm slashing and cutting more now than when I first started editing a month ago. This is good.

That's my status as of today. It's been hard to do it in the evenings after work, but I'm getting better at it. I'll have more time this weekend.

I'll keep you posted, and will throw out an excerpt or two. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Twitter: #writechat, with your host @WritingSpirit

One of the things I'd like to do with this blog is highlight some of my favorite blogs and Twitter followees.

Every Sunday from 12-3PM PST, Julie Isaac, aka @WritingSpirit, hosts #writechat on Twitter. It's a friendly running chat of all things pertaining to general writing. Julie usually asks a discussion question, but participants are not restricted to these topics.

The rest of the week, the #writechat community is not dead; plenty of other writers contribute to the cause. I'm thankful to everyone who joins in. I have found a number of links and bloggers that have been quite helpful.

Check out Julie's blog here! She is a writing coach and author.

And thank you, Julie. :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hello, it's great to see you once again!

Welcome!

Some of you have known me forever, some just from twitter/FB/aol/whathave you.... now, here's the scoop:

Who: Denise L. Canyon. Quite the snappy psuedonym, eh? I'm trying to start a trend:

First name: Your middle name
Middle initial: First initial of your favorite food (mine is lobster)
Last name: The street you grew up on.

Notice that the middle name/street combo also works as a stripper name. The middle initial adds some class. Try it yourself.

I chose a pseudonym because I'm not comfortable putting my name on the web. And there we go!

I've been an engineer for NASA for over 20 years, working in spacecraft development, test, launch, cruise and encounter operations, and extended mission operations. I also have a ton of hobbies: performing color guard, drums and dance; gourmet dining and wine-tasting; trivia, urban legends and linguistics; attending live sporting and music events.


What: My very first novel is in the works, and my ultimate goal is to have it published. It's currently called THIS NOVEMBER and I'm in the editing phase. It's a romance novel, hence the name of the blog. More about the novel in another post.


Why: A few reasons--
-- It's time for a grown-up blog, not the mess I've been posting anonymously on a social networking site that is currently on life support. Well, it's not all mess.
-- To get the word out about the novel.
-- To learn the craft of writing, and use whatever resources are available online. The last time I wrote anything was a paper about the jazz song "Birdland".

I won't just be blogging about the writing. You'll get a bit of the "rocket" part of my life as well.

I twitter as DeniseCanyon and I also have a fan page on Facebook. I'd be honored if you followed me.

I'm looking forward to the journey...and would be pleased to have you along for the ride.