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Heartfelt Thanks

Thank you.

Because of you – my friends (online and offline), my family and my readers – I was honored with the title of “Best Celebrity Bartender” for Evening in the Stacks: Sparkle and Spurs.

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But the real winner is the Howard County Library System, which is as it should be.

Because of your generosity – and the generosity of those who gave to the other incredible (and formidable) Celebrity Bartenders – we doubled the amount raised by this aspect of Evening in the Stacks.  Last night we raised over $2,200 to help support  A+ Partners in Education (which includes the STEM Program, Battle of the Books, Spelling Bee and Rube Goldberg Challenge) and Project Literacy, a wonderful and successful adult literacy education program.

My hat is off  to fellow Celebrity Bartenders Tom Coale, Victoria Goodman, Dick Story, Kristi Simon, and Paul Skalny. They made this fun, and I mean a LOT of fun! Shooting the promotional video was hilarious, even at silly o’clock in the morning in the snow. They didn’t even laugh at me when I almost fell down the stairs. They showed up last night dressed to the nines – vests, badges, cowboy hats,

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boots and bolo ties – and they worked HARD. I am not kidding when I say that they were all about raising money to support the library, and it showed.

Thanks to the library staff – especially Christie – who made it remarkably easy to participate. So much work goes into this event – I can’t even begin to imagine – and she answered every call and email with extraordinary patience and good humor.

The decorations last night dazzled, but I was way too spazzy to do anything like take photos. Decorations abounded on both floors of the Miller Branch, and the Antler Bar (where we served drinks for 45 minutes) was everything I’d hoped and more (“Omg, an ANTLER BAR!”).

The folks who assisted us behind the bar were rock stars. All we had to do was serve wine and sodas and water – they kept us in glasses and opened the wine bottles for us. People who know me well realize that this was A Very Good Thing. The thought of me trying to open a bottle of red wine in a hurry is pretty chilling, right? Can you imagine? “It was a festive event until one of the Celebrity Bartenders slipped while opening a bottle of wine. We’re still not sure exactly how the bottle broke, but she needed 127 stitches and we never were able to get the blood stains out of the carpet.”

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There was a margarita bar, too, and libations were provided by The Wine Bin and the Ale House of Columbia. The music, by Dave Chappell and the Lone Stardusters, set the scene perfectly.

I bought my hat and badge at Carol’s Western Wear, and the staff could NOT have been kinder or more helpful. Mr. Bob even taught me the proper way to put on my cowboy hat (front to back) and how to sit it down when you take it off (hint: brim side up).  He also told some great jokes and sounded exactly like the character Hershel Green from The Walking Dead.

As promised, there was a horse (“But not a REAL horse!”) in the lobby. I managed to snap a photo of it on the way out.

I really don’t know if I’ll return next year as a Celebrity Bartender – if I’ll even get invited to return, because I think part of the fun is changing it up, you know? What I’d really like is to be a Celebrity Librarian (or maybe an Honorary Librarian). I have no idea what that would entail, but it sounds like something right up my alley. Surely they could find SOMETHING I could do that wouldn’t mess things up too badly

Thanks again, everyone. Your support truly did make a real difference to two exceptional programs of my favorite library system, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

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An Open Letter to Dave Barry

Dear Mr. Barry,

Where to begin? I suppose the most logical place is this: I swear I am not making this up.

I’ve been a fan of yours since I lived in Miami in the 90s. Your ability to sum up the absurdity that is South Florida while maintaining an air of unwavering loyalty always brought a wry smile to my face: It might be crazy, but it’s OUR crazy.

I saw you play as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders one year at the Miami Book Fair. The show was in what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse on not-yet revitalized South Beach. It still ranks as one of the most enthusiastic live performances I’ve personally witnessed. There is no denying that you were having a blast, power strumming chords to that perennial crowd favorite, MacArthur Park. Hahaha – just kidding! It was La Bamba. And possibly Wooly Bully.

I’ve taken part in the Tropic Hunt and the Post Hunt. One of the only overt exhibitions of civic pride I ever witnessed in Miami happened when the crowd united in anger against a team from North Carolina that won the Tropic Hunt one year in Coconut Grove. I’m pretty sure the winners were ferried to an undisclosed location across Biscayne Bay in order to give them a head start in fleeing the city ahead of an aggrieved yet highly motivated mob. Woohoo, Miami!

I proudly (word choice?) performed as part of the Kazoo Processional that led guests to dinner at our local Chamber of Commerce Signature Event the year that you were the Guest Presenter. Let’s just say I am not one of the world’s naturally-gifted kazooers: to this day I have no idea if my cheeks hurt so much afterwards from steadily sustained laughter or from honking out “When the Saints Go Marching In” eighty-seven times in a row.

I’ve read several of your books, most recently Peter and the Starcatchers. I’ve laughed out loud at your columns, especially the Year in Review and the Gift Guide. However, if forced to choose one of your most notable literary achievements, it would have to be the naming of the title character in Naked Came the Manatee: it’s hard to go wrong with a manatee named Booger.

Recently, a friend wrote to tell me that you were coming to Annapolis, Maryland for a book signing of your newly released Insane City. I was excited all the way up until I remembered I’d committed to making a presentation that day, clear on the other side of the state. Even though Maryland isn’t Florida, where travelling across the state can take up to three days depending on traffic in Orlando, it was still enough to prevent me from making the event. My friend magnanimously offered to get a copy of your new book signed for me.

The following Tuesday, I entered my office to discover the book sitting on my chair. I was elated and extremely grateful. Rumors suggest I may have run a celebratory lap around the first floor of the office with the book proudly held over my head.

On Thursday I brought the book home. I took it out of my bag – worried about it getting crushed or torn there – and placed it in the middle of the dining room table. The large dining room table. My husband and I went to dinner and returned less than ninety minutes later to find the book laying open on the floor. The cover had been removed and – how shall I put this? – artfully redesigned by Shiloh, Mischief Dog. He even ate part of it.

Here’s a photo of Shiloh refusing to look at the camera when confronted with the Evidence of the Crime.

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Now I don’t mean to start any trouble, but the copy of Stephen King’s Wind Through the Keyhole sat on the same table for several days, untouched. Shiloh also ignored a copy of the Post Magazine, temptingly opened to the column Gene Weingarten wrote for the 2012 Post Hunt. In Shiloh’s defense, we’d only had him for about a month at that point, so it’s entirely possible that he wasn’t yet aware that the table existed.

Even so, I think you’ll agree that the evidence is crystal clear: he loves your writing SO MUCH he decided to eat it. In the words of Maurice Sendak, “I’ll eat you up, I love you so!” He’s a pretty deep dog with what appears to be a rare appreciation of excellent fiction.

It is, however, equally plausible that he loathes your book. Alternately, he may have confused it with a dog treat. Or a plush squeaky toy.

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He’s kind of difficult to interpret, when you get right down to it.

Sophie, our Main Dog, was appalled by the entire episode. If she had opposable thumbs, she’d waste no time in contacting her congressional representative and formally requesting legislation to reclassify Shiloh as a cat.

The good news? You’re in excellent company. Shiloh has also eaten a paperback  and nibbled the corner of Terry Pratchett’s Nation audiobook cover, both on loan from my the Howard County Library System.

That brings me to my request. No, I do not need you to send me another signed copy of your book. I’d be delighted to buy myself a replacement solely for the cover, or even to enjoy the copy I have sans cover but lovingly drooled upon by my misguided yet well-intentioned rescue dog.

If you happen upon this message and are so inclined, I’d like to ask you to consider helping to promote our local libraries. They are top-notch, but – as with all libraries – there are programs that need support in order to continue. I’ll be raising money this weekend as a Celebrity Bartender during Evening in the Stacks, their annual fundraiser that supports two exceptional programs: A+ Partners in Education and Project Literacy.

And who knows? Maybe one day Shiloh will be ready to take part in their DEAR Program (Dogs Educating and Assisting Readers), in which third graders improve their skills by reading to attentive dogs.

But only if we can keep him from eating the books.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for the laughter. It’s made a world of difference. According to this Alert Reader, at least.

And I swear I’m not making that up, either.

Sincerely,

Mickey

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Evening in the Stacks: Sparkle and Spurs

I walk in the doors and inhale, smelling the slightly sweet, dusty scent of old paper. I walk straight to my favorite section and stop in front of a particular shelf, pull down a book and smile at the soft crackle of the plastic-cased cover as I ease it open and begin to read. An hour later my parents  wander into the crowded maze of ceiling-high shelves to find me sitting right there on the linoleum floor, my nose inches from the pages, utterly absorbed.

I’ve always loved reading. For as far back as I can remember, I’d routinely walk around reading, completely unconcerned about bumping into walls, objects or people. I couldn’t travel without at least two books: a main book and a back-up book (being caught someplace with nothing to read ranks somewhere between “trampled by a herd of rabid cows” and “forced to listen to Kevin Costner attempting a British accent” on the Avoid-O-Meter scale). I was one of the only kids I knew whose parents would encourage her to put the book down to go outside and play.

My first library? The Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System.

It looks a lot different these days, but then it should. It’s been rebuilt twice since I was little to keep up with the growing and ever-changing needs of the community. I firmly believe that my overdue fines alone helped finance the second building – checking books out was great fun. Returning them? Not so much.

So why am I telling you all of this? Simple. This year, I’ve been asked to return as a Celebrity Bartender for Evening in the Stacks: Sparkle and Spurs being held at the Miller Branch of the library. How cool is that? I’m definitely going to need your help, though.

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“But Mickey, we didn’t know you were a celebrity!”

I’m not, but I’m happy to perpetuate the myth for the purposes of supporting the Howard County Library System. I’m selfless like that.

“But, Mickey – do you even know how to bartend?”

Yes, of course! And by “yes” what I actually mean is “no.”

I’ve never worked in the service industry, preferring to focus on retail during my formative years because, let’s face it, retail is far more forgiving of sarcasm. If you want to know about  pressure treated 2x4s or how to fold a shirt for a shelf display, I’m your woman. The good news (for me, anyway) is in order to level the playing field, we’ll only be pouring beer and wine. Even I can’t screw that up too badly. Right? Right? Hello?

If you can join us on Saturday, February 23 from 7-11 pm at the Miller Branch, it’s sure to be an amazing evening.  During the first hour, all six Celebrity Bartenders (Dick Story, Vicki Goodman, Tom Coale, Pam Klahr, Paul Skalny and I) will be serving drinks simultaneously at the Antler Bar. I have no idea what that means, but I have to admit I’m intrigued. And it will all be in good fun, because we’re really not all that competitive:

Okay, so we’re a little competitive.

If you can’t join us, you CAN virtually tip your favorite bartender by going to the Evening in the Stacks page, clicking on the “Donate” button under Celebrity Bartenders and filling in the name of choice when you click “Add special instructions to the seller.” I think I speak for ALL of the Celebrity Bartenders when I say that the name you MOST want to virtually tip begins with Mickey and ends with Gomez. Just a thought.

Hahaha! I’m joking!

Kind of.

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In all seriousness, the most important aspect of the event is supporting two outstanding programs: A+ Partners in Education (which includes the STEM Program, Battle of the Books, Spelling Bee and Rube Goldberg Challenge) and Project Literacy, a wonderful and successful adult literacy education program. So please consider donating – it really would mean a great deal to me.

To get you in the mood, so to speak, here’s a photo of spurs (not mine), boots (mine), my dad’s Akubra hat from Australia, the guitar I need to start playing again and two book recommendations:

Territory by Emma Bull, a retelling of the events that unfolded once upon a time in Tombstone, Arizona.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King, a series featuring the ultimate gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead.

If I make it through this year’s event, perhaps next year I’ll ask if I can return as something far, far cooler than a Celebrity Bartender: a Celebrity Librarian.

Stay tuned!

And thank you kindly for considering my request to support my favorite library system.

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The Walking-Faster-Than-You-Think Dead

Three seasons into it, I just started watching The Walking Dead. I adore the films of Frank Darabont – you may know him as the director of The Shawshank Redemption, the one movie that makes almost every single person I’ve ever known’s top list of all-time favorite movies.

“What movies do you like?”

Princess Bride and Shawshank.”

Anchorman and Shawshank.”

Seven and Shawshank.”

The Manchurian Candidate and Shawshank.”

Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Shawshank.”

It’s pretty remarkable. He also directed The Green Mile and The Mist. All three are adaptations of Stephen King stories, which is notable because King is one hell of a storyteller. Darabont’s extraordinary skill at bringing these tales to life lies not in the element of horror, but rather the element of humanity – strength, weakness, kindness, wit, nobility, frailty, good and evil – that he portrays so beautifully.

So basically I’m a fan.

Which is why I have NO IDEA why I didn’t start watching the series when it first came out. Was I living under a rock?

I continued on, blithely ignoring season two. Yes, Frank Darabont left prior to that season’s beginning, but one has to imagine he left a great foundation to build upon. And it’s based upon a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.

Also? It’s a series about zombies. Post-apocalyptic zombies.

While not a fan of zombies per se, I do appreciate creative premises. Something unique and different and intriguing. Something, let me be honest, that is the diametric opposite of Honey Boo Boo.

The other night, I watched Facebook EXPLODE (not literally, I hasten to add) with posts about the season 3 premier.

“Self,” I said to myself, “Could we be missing something here? It appears that an amazingly diverse array of people we know on Facebook are watching and enjoying this series that, for all intents and purposes, could have been written with us in mind. Also? We’re talking to ourselves again, and we’re doing it in the plural. We’re either royalty or should begin to get really worried.”

What can I say? I’m very honest when talking to myself.

So we got the first two seasons and started watching. Here is a picture of me 10 minutes into the first episode:

One of the stories I read about why Darabont left the series was struggles over the high costs of production. Based upon my reaction, he could’ve simply recorded the sound and released the whole thing as a radio series. My eyes were SEALED shut. I wasn’t even peeking through my fingers.

Okay, maybe I peeked a little.

We ended up watching episode after episode, spellbound, straight through to the end of season one.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers (and PLEASE don’t do so in the comments, thank you kindly). I did jot down several observations that I feel are general enough to squeak by without revealing the entire plot.

  • Don’t ever go to Atlanta. (Hey, look, I didn’t write the series.)
  • Pizza delivery builds mad tactical skills.
  • Life post-apocalypse features gorgeous skin, hair and a luminous natural beauty that can withstand extreme close-ups despite desperate living conditions and limited running water and soap (this phenomenon is also evident in the series Lost). I can’t manage to attain a luminous natural beauty with a cabinet full of lotions, soaps, make-up, hair products and running water. It seems sad that I’ll have to wait until after an apocalypse to finally achieve a clear complexion and shiny, lustrous hair, but I suppose it’s something to look forward to.
  • Never underestimate the power of a tiny little abuela.
  • If you are a horse, trust NO ONE.
  • While gross beyond all reason, a severed hand in a backpack can be a deceptively powerful negotiation tool. Strangely, this method is not mentioned by either Stephen Covey or Dale Carnegie.
  • The Walking Dead are like cockroaches. If you see one, you can be certain that thousands of others are just out of sight,  waiting for the first one to be noticed before they lurch into the open. This can happen in a city, a town, or a field in the middle of nowhere.
  • They are also sneaky. Despite having the motor skills of a diseased pumpkin, they can seemingly navigate a forest filled with fallen leaves and twigs without a single sound.
  • If you haven’t figured this out yet despite Avengers and The Hunger Games, LEARN TO USE A BOW.
  • When living in a post-apocalyptic world in which every second is fraught with danger and terror, if it’s important enough to post a lookout during the day, you might want to post one at night, too.
  • Keys are very important. Don’t leave them in a vehicle that you may need later. Hang onto them tightly, especially when running (and tripping, and falling). Don’t throw them, EVER.

And the most important lesson of them all? The dead can walk a LOT faster than you think. I know I’m not the sportiest of all Sporty Spices, but I do feel that I’m in decent physical condition. The thought that a creature missing half its face, part of an arm and several internal organs shuffling along on a BACKWARDS LEG fast enough to catch me and rip my face off is demoralizing, to say the very least. I’d argue that the show should be called the Walking-Faster-Than-You-Think Dead, or the Jogging Dead, or perhaps even the Eight-Minute-Mile Dead.

We started in on season two already, but I’ll save that for another post. Suffice to say, I’ll be watching the rest.

And quietly training to run a mile in under eight minutes. Just in case.

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Well Worth Watching

Recently I stumbled upon two videos well worth watching.

They’re part of the TED series called “Best of the Web”, which collects  insightful, inspiring and engaging talks not specifically given as part of any TED event.

They also happen to come from two of my favorite authors, J. K. Rowling and Douglas Adams.

The first is from J. K. Rowling, given as a Harvard commencement address and entitled, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.” I’ve linked to the original post on the Harvard Magazine site, because it also provides an excellent transcript of her speech.

We do not need magic to transform our world.  We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already:  we have the power to imagine better.

Rowling’s speech touches far less on Harry Potter than expected, instead focusing on the meaning of failure and its implications.  She also discusses her early work with Amnesty International, and lessons she learned while interacting with people who’d been the targets of human rights violations.  One of the most incredible gifts of our imaginations, she shares, is our ability to empathize with others.

The power of human empathy leading to collective actions saves lives and frees prisoners.

Those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters, for without ever committing and act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.

She finishes with a quote from Seneca, a Roman philosopher:

As is a tale, so is life:  not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

Her speech is a call to action, a spoken belief in human goodness and the triumph of the imagination of the human spirit.  It is also a vivid reminder that, more often than not, success cannot be achieved without failing (and learning from that failure) first.

The second is from Douglas Adams, given at the University of California and called, “Parrots, the Universe and Everything.”

This is a much longer presentation, but worth taking the time to watch (or even simply to listen to in the background while working on something else).  It delivers, in Adams’ inimitable witty and engaging style, reflections on evolution, the natural world, and the cost of ignoring the impacts of humans on the earth.

It was also given shortly before he died, which makes it even more precious.

Some snippets from the talk:  here is some advice that the team received prior to the final stage of their journey from a world-renowned poisonous creature expert in Australia:

Well don’t get bitten, that’s all I can say.  And if you do, don’t come running to me because you won’t get here in time.

Regarding the Kakapo, a flightless parrot found in New Zealand:

Sadly it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly, so a seriously worried kakapo has been known to run up a tree and jump out of it. . . It flies like a brick.

The mating call of the male Kakapo actively repels the female Kakapo, which is the sort of behavior usually found only in discotheques.

And on to more serious reflections:

And if we think that the world is here for us, we will continue to destroy it because we think we can do no harm.

Maybe we should be looking after it [the earth] just a little bit better.  We don’t have to save the world – it’s big enough to look after itself.  What we need to worry about is if it’s capable of sustaining us on it.

I hope you’ll take a little time to watch either or both of these videos and let me know what you think in the comments section below.  And, in the words of Douglas Adams, please “Share and enjoy!”

Photo credits:

Photo of J. K. Rowling:  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.  Attribution:  Sjhill

Photo of Douglas Adams:  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  Attribution: Michael Hughes

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