Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview with Melissa Blue, Writer and Shark Expert.

Today we have a very different kind of post, for me at least. One of my “Imaginary Friends” (so dubbed because they are people I only know from “The Devil’s Playground” aka “The Internet” and have not actually met in person) has had her second book published today. Her name is Melissa Blue and she writes Romance, although she’s thinking about dabbling in YA just for a change of scenery, and possibly Erotica, but not combined into one book because I’m sure she could get in lots of trouble for that.

Mel also pens a great blog and includes tips for writers at Brain Clutter.

So, for a nominal fee (just kidding), I offered to interview her here because I’m always happy when one of “us” back alley writers claws their way into the light of actual real live publishing. Yay! Melissa!

Now, for your reading pleasure, here is our conversation. And if you like this, you should checkout her books over at Wild Rose Press, and if you don’t like it, blame me. I’m used to it.

Slave Driver

Slave Driver : You claim to write romance novels with a lot of sharks in them. Exactly what kind of sharks do you write about? Great White sharks? Nurse sharks? Tiger sharks? And what exactly qualifies you as a shark expert? Are you an oceanographer? Because I read a rumor on the internet that you're really a Slurpee Wrangler at the 7-11.

Melissa Blue

Melissa Blue : I never said shark, I said snark. Snark is a fine art form full of sarcasm and wit. The best writers serve it with dark humor, but it's not mandatory. Ask anybody who knows me I serve it well. You really don't see it coming.

Slave Driver : Your name is Melissa Blue. Is that a pseudonym? Or are you really Blue? And is it like a neon blue, a sky blue or a Smurf blue?

Melissa Blue : I'd call myself a nice Carmel color, but from reading my books one would think I don't accept my "blackness". Not quite sure what that is. Even in today's world people think there is a recipe to writing African American books. And if you don't sound "black" then you must be selling out. I sound like myself. I sound like my upbringing. Of course my characters are going to sound like me. The important issue isn't color, but having two characters meet and fall in love.

Slave Driver : Do you like the singer and PETA freak 'Pink' ? And if you say yes this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : I'm too poor to own real fur, but if I could...

Slave Driver : How hard was it to break into a field dominated by fugly middle aged women? Because I've seen the jacket photos for many of these authors and they're kind of dowdy looking to be writing such hot and smutty stuff.

Melissa Blue : I lucked out with having both brains and beauty. Just kidding. Not all romance authors are fugly. We all don't wear house robes, and eat bons bons. That's a myth. Romance authors come in all shapes in sizes. Many have very high profile professions like attorneys and doctors. Me, I'm going to school to become a paralegal. Come hell or high water, I'll be graduating in May with my certificate.
As for was it hard to break into publishing? Yes and no. I lucked out with my first story. I'd only submitted it once and on the second submission it was contracted. I didn't know what real rejection felt like, but trust me I've made up for those in spades.

Slave Driver : How many books have you allegedly written? Do they have titles? Can we get them at a book store or must they be purchased from a creepy guy on the corner wearing a trench coat, black socks and not much else?

Melissa Blue : I only count books I've finished, so since I started writing in 2004 I've written seven. Only two have been published with The Wild Rose Press, See Megan Run and How Much You Want to Bet? Since SMR is a new release you can get it as an e-book directly from their site. HMYWTB? (A mouth full of a title) you can find it on Amazon, the Barnes and Noble site, or download the e-book in varies locations. Truly, if you are buying it, I'm not picky.
Side note: My mother has said she'd be willing to sell it out the trunk of her car. She's not creepy, but she might feed you.

Slave Driver : How do you research your characters? Because I've seen a picture of a placeholder for one of your stories and he's yummy looking. Do you ever ask someone, say, me, to volunteer to take one for the team and do the research for you? Because I promise I'd turn over all my notes when I was finished with one of your boytoys character models. But you might have to take a hairdryer to it to dry all the drool off the pages.

Melissa Blue : I'm a visual person, but it amazes me finding a placeholder is the last thing I do when I'm researching my characters. I do free-writing sessions and write down what comes to me. I need to know my characters back story or I get stuck in the story. I truly believe a person is made up of everything they've experienced. How they dealt with it. Who they have as friends. Who raised them. And most importantly what's their profession. A cop will think differently than a librarian. But both would have chosen their jobs due to their personality.
Then the grand finale is finding their placeholder. That's the most fun part.

Slave Driver : Vegetarian or Omnivore? And if you say Vegetarian this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : I tried to go without a beef when the tainted meat story came out. I live in the valley so we were the main target area. The day the ban was lifted I had a burger. Does that answer your question?

Slave Driver : Do you have any pets? Expound. And do you have pictures of them as long as it's a dog? No pictures of children please, you are, after all, talking to me.

Melissa Blue : I have children. That's enough.

Slave Driver : Have your parents read your novels? Many people who write sex scenes in their stories have some concerns about their Mother reading those sections, but has your Father tried to send you to your room until you change your wicked ways?

Melissa Blue : When I gave my parents my first book I told them, "Don't read it. You can brag, but for the love of all that is holy don't read it."

Slave Driver : Do you have a day job? And do they know what you do while you are 'On the clock?' Because even if you're not actually writing on the company dime you're probably thinking on the company dime and most corporations don't like that. They don't appreciate it when their employees think while on their payroll. And if you do think about a character do you punch in and out while you do it or subtract the twelve minutes you've been running a scene in your head from your weekly time sheet?"

Melissa Blue : Yes, I have a day job. If "thinking" on company time could get me fired than my boss would have gotten rid of me a long time ago. Though to be honest if I had all the time in the world to write I'd probably wouldn't. I have a lot of respect for authors who write full-time. I don't have the discipline to write every day from nine to five. But here's my secret: I write better (and more) when I only have 2 hours a day to write. Plus, all that isolation would get to me. I won't go as far to say I'm a people person, but I need human contact every once and while. So, in a perfect world. I'd work part-time and write part-time.

Slave Driver : When you die what would you like on your Tombstone? And do NOT say Pepperoni, that's already taken.

Melissa Blue : Well, first I won't be buried. I've never liked being large crowds, but if I did... Don't mourn. Celebrate her life with Cabana boys.

Slave Driver : To continue in this vein, Pineapple on pizza; Yummy or an affront to God that should be banned from Pizza Parlors for life, like Pete Rose and Baseball? And Cubs or White Sox. And if you say White Sox this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : Umm, so not a fan of sports. That's why I became a writer.

So everybody jump on over to Wild Rose Press and buy an e-copy of Mel’s new book, See Megan Run.
And for those of you who insist on buying it in actual paper form, it comes out December 12, 2008.

While you’re there buy “How Much do you Want to Bet?”
also. I’ve read it and it’s really good. And you can trust me on this because my personal philosophy is “Life is too short to read crappy books.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

More of my favorite people, uh, I mean Horses…

PART TWO (for part one, skip to "What's in a name", it's right there! Just below this one>)

Charlie Horse is a favorite amongst the drivers because of his funny and curious personality, mixed with his arcane habit of “exploding” for no particular reason. For example, with me he enjoys breaking into a gallop when we leave the parking lot of Little America and make a right onto West Temple. No reason. He just does. And I know it, so I’m prepared. Of course I wasn’t the first time. But we were okay. Charlie is all black with a strip and snip on his face which makes him look a lot like Cletus, but he’s shorter ( although w i d e r ) and is half Percheron Draft and Morgan saddle horse. He was the horse I was working with the night I had a mechanical failure, and we got through it just fine. He is a very oral horse, always trying to snatch your cell phone off of your belt or the barn phone we hang around our necks. His favorite snack is Starburst Fruit Chews, any flavor. And if you have snacks, and he knows it, he will continuously use his lips to tug your sleeve, or your wrist, to remind you “Hey, lady, I’m here and I’m starving and would you pleeeese gimme a treat?” Of course the joke is that Charlie is so fat he’s lucky to fit between the shafts. And to demonstrate that, here is a picture of what we have lovingly dubbed his “Apple Butt.”

Rex has been described by Wease as “The first horse who will try to bite you when you enter the pen.” I don’t know if I’d agree with that, but he does tend to be sullen. Maybe it’s because Marky-Mark makes him wear a hat when they work together. And although I am not Rex’s biggest fan, I have asked to work with him on the occasion when I have some weird assignment, because he is willing to go anywhere and do anything you ask. Rex is a red Belgian Draft, so his color is a little unusual compared to a horse like Tony.

a Clydesdale, is the newest addition to our work force. He came from a family that kept him as a pet. When he first started his employment with us he occasionally decided he was “done”, like a lazy teenager, and simply sat down, once in the middle of a busy intersection. He was the horse Em was driving who rubbed his headstall off and took her for a leisurely walk around downtown, looking at stuff like a tourist, until Em got a man to grab his halter and stop him. Ralphie isn’t naughty, he’s just…different. When Ralphie is standing his upper leg bone ties into his hip about five inches above my head. He is very tall.

Jerry is one of the most beautifully colored horses we have. A Percheron Draft off of an Amish farm, he is a beautiful Dapple Gray. Jerry came to us with a partner named Ben, who looked identical to him. Ben, sadly, died of cancer. Jerry mourned for weeks, and when a driver would take him through The Gateway mall and Jerry would see his reflection in the store windows, would whinny, thinking it was his long lost buddy Ben. When they first arrived they had no idea what pets or treats were, but Jerry has since become attached to humans, and will follow you around the pen, attempting to stick his face into the halter you are carrying to get the horse you are working with. When he realizes that you are not coming for him, he stands by the gate, because whether or not you’ve come to get him, he’s leaving with you, like it or not!
People often ask if his dapples are real. We’ve started saying “Oh, no, it took me all day to paint those on.”

Some of the horses that live at the carriage company have never worked for us a day in their lives. One of those is Picaso,
a beautiful Black and White Percheron. He's a paint. His name is Picaso. Get it? When he first arrived he was called Hutch, and he came with Starsky, a gray Percheron, who also never works.
But they get fed, and wormed, and spend all day long with the other horses in the pens, mostly doing this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's in a Name...

Slave Driver. Yes, that’s how you know me. Google it and you get some, ah hem…strange links which have absolutely nothing to do with me. Many of them more than a little kinky… It is the name of a Bob Marley song, and also the name of a heavy metal band from Chicago. So, you might ask, why Slave Driver? I have explained to a few people that the name comes from what one would deem an unlikely source— Anti-Equestrienne Eco-Terrorists, or, as TheWiffleTreeNYC likes to call them, the “Humaniacs”.

But you see, I do not look upon the horses that pull the carriages around as my slave, or even as a beast of burden. I consider then my co-workers.

Just like you, I work with all kinds of individuals, each with their own unique personality. So I have decided to let you meet a few of them today so you too can get to know them.

First we start with my favorite. His name is Cletus
and he’s a black Percheron Draft with two white socks (both on the right) and a blaze that turns into a snip down his face and a white chin. Cletus is my favorite because of his work ethic. He is all about the business. Don’t cuddle him, don’t bother with endearments, just brush him down, tack him up, hook him to the carriage and lets go! His dislikes are balloons and the open back doors of box trucks. His favorite treats are Oreo cookies.

has a sway back. He also is a black Percheron Draft who was saved from the killers by the Carriage Barn owners when he quit bucking in the Rodeo. He would lie down in the chute and refuse to get up, so the rodeo people would twist his ears to make him stand. He’s had an additional 13 years of life because the owners outbid the killers at auction. Tom blows raspberries with his lips. Not the normal horse “snort’ you hear, but raspberries. He also likes to play “tag”. Every time you walk by him he is compelled to touch you with his nose, as if you need to be reminded he is still here.

Libby, AKA Liberty is the only mare. Tony thinks that she is his girlfriend, but that’s because Tony is a ladies man, and you’ll see why in just a minute. Libby is a Clydesdale, and yes, like the Budweiser horses but no, nothing at all like Stace’s mare Klein. Klein is not a Clydesdale! Libby doesn’t like to be touched by strangers, but she’ll take a treat if you’ve got one. MBA and The Fabulous Todd are the two people who work with her the most, and she can be a handful but they both love her because she is so sweet.


is my man, although Bill likes to think that Tony belongs to him. But since Bill doesn’t actually drive anymore, I guess that makes Tony mine. Tony, or “Fat Tony” as Ro likes to call him is a gorgeous hunk of Belgian Draft. Tony’s previous jobs included competitive puller and wagon hauler in a reenactment group out on the Oregon Trail. Tony likes any and all treats, but is a big ‘fraidy cat, despite his size. He’s also a natural blonde, something you don’t see too often these days. In the summer we try and find shade for the horses to stand in at South Gate, but Tony prefers to stand in the sunshine. I think he was, like, totally a surfer dude in a previous life.

And, yes, I could never forget Stace’s favorite, Wesson.

Stace left us for the Air Force but we continue to give Wesson the treats she got him hooked on, Nature Valley Oat and Granola bars. It’s his favorite. Wesson came to us from an auction with his teammate,


Both are Belgian Drafts. When they were a team, some believe, that they shared a brain, but after they were broken into singles it is my opinion that Wesson got custody of it and never, never gives Smith brain visitation. Or so it seems.

Well, that’s all for today. Adding the photos has made this post very long, but never fear, I have more, and there are other fascinating individuals for you to still meet. Next time.

Tony again.

And of course I had to add more pictures of Tony He's the best looking one of all!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The importance of cross training...

I’ve been a carriage driver for over four years now, and in that time I have done a number or fun, weird, wacky, and interesting events. I usually drive a Vis-à-vis (the style of carriage you typically see in the carriage trade) but I have also driven a wagonette on occasion. A Wagonette is a much larger, taller vehicle with a higher center of gravity (Translation: topples easier at high speeds and sharp corners, but luckily never with me driving) and it can hold 8-12 people, depending on size and how much grease you use to pack them in.

This month I have been working at Gardner Village, a quaint old mill once owned by Archibald Gardner. The property was turned into a series of boutiques that sell everything from Christmas ornaments to home furnishings and accessories. There is also a yummy but overpriced restaurant and a bakery that sell the best damn chocolate cake donuts I have ever eaten.

And if you’ve ever seen me then you know, I’m a donut connoisseur.

Anyway, October at Gardner is Witch Month. They do a great job decorating the village with witches, and the store employees get into the spirit too. We (the carriage company I work for) have been contracted to provide an amusement entitled “Ride with a Witch”, where, for a very nominal fee, you and your children (and twice now, a dog) can go ‘round the village and be entertained by one of four witches. Some tell a story or sing a song, one makes the wagonette occupants perform in a “Rat Choir” (my personal favorite, especially when I get to yell “More rat! More rat! Like some people want “More cowbell!) And one tells terrible jokes.

We do this on Monday, Friday and Saturday nights, but this past weekend was Witch-a-Palooza
and we had to run a hayride pulled by a tractor out in a field because the parking lot was too jammed full of cars and people to drive the horses and wagons in.

Originally Ro, barn manager extraordinaire, and her boy toy Steve were to be the people running this gig, but then it was changed to Ro and I. I was elected because besides being able to drive a carriage I know how to drive a tractor.

You see, I had a farm once, and the tractor I had was almost identical to the one we used to pull the hay wagon around.

I owned it when I lived in Missouri, and every female friend of mine either owned a pickup truck, a tractor, a horse trailer, or all three.

So, instead of having time off, I got to work at Gardner with Ro all weekend. Yay! For me.

Now, several thoughts about driving a tractor:

First, for the life of me I cannot imagine how any farmer was able to do this mind numbing crap for hours on end without an iPod. There are only so many cartoons I have stored in my brain that I can pull out and watch during times of coma-like activity. And never could I have imagined going through my entire Ski playlist in a single day.

The difference between driving a tractor and driving a carriage is that after about the fifth time around the horse “gets” it, and you can pretty much go on autopilot. A tractor, no matter how many times you go around, never does. You still have to steer it.

Some people would probably disagree with me but I prefer the smell of horse exhaust to tractor exhaust. At least with a horse it’s not a continuous emission, unless you’re driving Cletus. But at least he has good rhythm.

My triceps are going to have a very nice cut to them, except the right one will be huge so I will look freakier than I usually look.

I average going in the same elongated figure-eight 50 times a day. I’ve memorized where all the rocks are. Just like downtown, where I’ve memorized all the potholes.

When the price of something is “per head” that’s exactly what it means. If it has a head, you must pay. On the upside, headless children are free. It is, after all, a Halloween-themed ride. I chided Ro for not charging the people who brought their dogs.

My rides are slightly shorter than Ro’s because she’s afraid to take it out of 1st gear into 2nd. But she’s learning; she’s already found out how important cross training can be.

Ro driving the Farmall. One day she will make the jump into 2nd gear...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hell for the technically challenged.

I got a new printer. It’s a laser printer. I got it because it was recommended that if I’m going to be sending out sample copies of my manuscript I need to have nice, crisp print on the paper. That’s a must, or so I am told.

I’ve been told a lot of things. They include but are not limited to this criterion:

An agent will not read your manuscript if it has any of the following No-No’s:

Spelling errors. Punctuation errors. Margins that exceed 1 inch all around. Font that is not 12 pt. Times New Roman. Stained pages. Wrinkled pages. Dog-eared corners (because that proves that someone else has read and rejected it so why should they bother?). Staples. Paper clips. Holes. Red marks, blue marks, green marks, coffee marks, the orange stuff Cheetos leave on your hands, or spit.

So, I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago because my former laptop was old. And I woofed the operating system. Yes, I am talented. So I got a new laptop with wireless. I managed to set that up with my thing. I think they call it a modem. But not before I messed the entire “network’ up and had to call Qwest to be bailed out of connection jail.

So now I can sit on the couch and write, or surf the net, or play spider solitaire. I wanted my laser printer to be wireless also, so from my ass plant on the couch I could print the pages of my masterpiece. I waited to purchase one that would be inexpensive, so when a big box computer store close to my home had one on sale, I bought it. It was small, wireless, and inexpensive, all things I wanted. I even researched it online, checking reviews of previous owners of the printer. They all said it was great. Fabulous, even. So simple even a caveman could do it.

Oh, yay.

So, I liberated it from its box, followed all the step-by-step easy instructions, and went about connecting the laptop to the printer.

Needless to say I was hopelessly lost. You see, I’m a carriage driver. I drive a carriage, attached to a horse. It’s kind of low tech. Bill Gates I am not. Of course I’d like to see Bill Gates pilot a 17-foot vehicle whose engine has it’s own agenda around Temple Square during the Christmas traffic cluster f*ck.

That would be fun. I’d pay a dollar to watch that shit.

My laptop’s wireless capabilities couldn’t “see” my wireless printer. So, being that my laptop has a web cam, I lifted the laptop and “showed” it to the printer.

I said, “Look, there it is! Isn’t it pretty? And it has a great personality. I bet it’s a good dancer, too”

Nope, still not working.

I waved the laptop over the printer, hoping some magic voodoo might help them connect.

Nope. I got nothing.

The instructions, which were in Engrish, said I could use an Ethernet cable to connect my printer to my modem thingy and then once they were connected, I could disconnect them and POOF! The wireless part would work. So, I hunted for my extra Ethernet cable, but I put it away several weeks ago when I connected the wireless laptop to the modem, wirelessly. I put it in a “Safe Place.”

Apparently my “Safe Place” is in the same location as my “Happy Place.” I can’t find either of them right now, so I unplugged one of the desktops and poached the cord. I connected the modem thingy to the printer and followed the Simple Step-By-Step instructions which were as follows:

“Simply saunter down the Congo, pass a funnel cake stand and rub the solution in your follicles. Rename your phlebotomist “Weezer” and wash, rinse, repeat.”

I followed the instructions and got the modem to recognize the printer, even though I did not lift the laptop and “show it” to the modem. Happily I disconnected the cord and POOF!

They lied.

Finally, digging around in a drawer full of cords and other technical gee-gaws that belong to who knows what I found a USB cable and connected the printer to the laptop. It is not cordless, but it does print. And the print is clean and crisp. But the laptop has to sit in a chair next to the printer.

Maybe they’ll get to know each other over time, build a relationship of trust and mutual respect, and eventually, connect.