#TBT Karen

KarenGinaOnce upon a time, I was a 14-year-old girl who lived near UCLA in a small three-unit apartment building with my mother and brother. I was friends with the UCLA students who lived in the front apartment because they had the kind of place where people came and went in a free-flowing haze of marijuana, and (although they never shared the marijuana with me) I became one of the people who came and went. That’s where I met Karen. This picture is from that time. She was twenty-two, and had recently returned from Europe with her new husband, Taylor.

We had no way of knowing that forty-seven years later we’d think of each other as sisters, or at least a close approximation. Since neither of us had a sister, we were never sure.

It’s appropriate that I write about Karen on this Throwback Thursday, for it is Christmas Eve, and over the years Christmas Eve came to belong to her. But I’m jumping ahead. First you need to know that thirteen years after I met her, I married her ex-husband.

In the interim, Karen and I developed an artistic friendship whereby we spent the occasional Saturday or Sunday holed-up in a closet developing film and photographs. That was back in the days of Tri-X and Plus-X, stinky chemicals, and darkroom magic. Although we shared creative interests and had similar aesthetic values, we were not natural friends. She came from Bible-quoting people in small-town Texas, and I came from a bohemian mishmash of cosmopolitan no-longer-Jews.

When I married her ex, it would have made the most sense if I’d never had anything to do with her again. But it wasn’t that easy. There was my stepson. I had come from a broken home and one of my greatest tragedies is that I never got to have my parents together at the same time after they divorced, so I wanted to give that to him. And it turned into the most marvelous thing. Because once Karen understood that she had my support as a parent, and knew that I saw us as collaborators, that is just what we did.

We ruled together in a partnership that started with going to Back to School Night together so that my stepson had a representative from each household. But it was during holidays that we had the most fun because we not only had Thanksgiving and Christmas and maybe Hannukah (depending on what mood I was in that year) we also had Birthday Season. That was a one month period beginning July 21 (her birthday) and ending August 21 (my stepson’s birthday) with EVERYBODY ELSE’S birthdays in the middle. That is until my son (a November baby) came along, but since he was the youngest he always got presents during Birthday Season too.

CIMG0200Together, we’d plan and produce these events. When it came to Christmas, it was always Christmas Eve at her place, and it became a tradition to have starters for the meal. For dessert, we’d eat garishly decorated Christmas cookies that we’d all helped make in the days leading up to the holiday. Sometimes we did charades, and sometimes we’d just yak and be jolly, but it was always a treat.

Both of my kids adored her. She introduced my daughter (who goes by the web moniker “eatrawfish”) to sushi at the age of eight. They also went to gallery openings and art shows together, and did some traveling. She introduced my son to snails–as in escargot. When he went off to Europe for five months after high school, she treated him (long distance) to escargot while he was in France, and made sure he had enough cash to indulge his palate on several more occasions.

When Taylor and I moved out of Los Angeles, we settled in an area that Karen loved to visit. It was natural for her to follow us here a year later. It was closer to the stepson and his wife and the granddaughter. We got the big house so that we could host, and she found a little apartment not far away where she could run her business and live a fairly quiet and simple life, which she needed as much as we did but for different reasons.

karengina2Twenty years ago both Karen and my mother came down with lung cancer. We lost my mother, but not Karen, although the doctors pretty much wrecked her to get the cancer out. Even though it worked, it left her with a number of physical challenges that added up to a body that gradually stopped working.

And that is what happened three weeks ago today.

So, since today is Christmas Eve, a day she was planning to host again this year, we are doing it Karen-style, but the easy way by ordering starters from a nearby Thai restaurant. And I will raise my wine glass and toast her (my wine-tasting partner), and be thankful that I found someone worthy to adopt as a sister. I miss her so much.

Gifts for Writers

Yes, it’s that time of year again! Let’s put up those trees, polish our menorahs, don our kaftans, and search out gifts for our loved ones. It isn’t always easy to find something for the writer in your life. They spend so many hours staring at a computer screen, drinking coffee, and muttering, it’s hard to see what they need (besides hours of therapy). In the past, you’ve bought them clever writing mugs and t-shirts, and now you want to get them something more practical. Herewith are some of my suggestions.

aquanotesAqua Notes for writing down ideas in the shower or bath are such a cool idea. I got myself a pad several months ago and have used them to capture many slippery ideas that otherwise might have gone right down the drain. As ridiculous as it may seem, I got them for myself without even considering that I CAN’T SEE WITHOUT MY GLASSES. And what happens when you wear glasses into the shower? You need windshield wipers (and a defogger). Still, while not always easy to decipher, I can usually figure out my handwriting much faster than I can remember what it is I’ve forgotten.

A showerspeakerWaterproof Bluetooth Speaker is another good gift for the water writer in your life–you know, that writer who gets in the shower or tub when they’re searching out plot threads. With one of these, they can easily take their music with them. They can even listen to their computer read them their story. These speakers come in all sorts of marvelous colors, or simply black for that sleek look. They attach to the tile (or wall) with a suction cup and contain a rechargeable battery.

fountainpensFountain Pens are a writers’ best friend, and Jet Pens is the best place to buy pens on the Internet. Their fountain pens come at all levels, from the disposable Pilot Petit1 Mini Pen set of 8 (they are also available as singles) to my favorite Kaweco fountain pens. They also carry fountain pen inks in myriad gorgeous colors. If you can’t decide what to get your writer, you can always give them a gift card to this place.

clairfontaineTo go with those beautiful fountain pens, your writer is going to need Clairefontaine Notepads. They are made of what is simply the nicest paper to write on. Fountain pens (and markers) don’t bleed through and glide smoothly across the sheets. These notepads come in all shapes and sizes, but my favorites are these and these.

paperwhiteAll writers–including self-confessed luddites–should own an e-reader, and in my opinion the best one out there is the Amazon Kindle (Paperwhite). Whether your writer is  traditionally published, independently published, or not published yet, embracing electronic reading is a necessary thing for a writer because that’s how so many readers read books. I prefer the Paperwhite because it is small and light, and I especially love  how it glows at night so I can read without an additional light source. It can also be used in bright sunlight with no glare. Plus, for traveling with books, nothing beats taking them on a Kindle. While a case isn’t necessary, it will protect the device. I got this one, in the floral red and I just love it.

So… if you’re stuck on the mug idea, you could also get something to go in it. Harney and Sons and Seven Cups both carry exquisite teas.

And, of course, if you just have to get the writer another t-shirt, there’s always this one.

Finally, the writer in your life is sure to enjoy these useful Shakespearean Insult Bandages. While they may not help with plot points or characterization, writers who have been encouraged to bleed onto the page will find them very useful.

Gina Black Friday thru Cyber Monday Sale!

Raven_200For those of you who would rather stay home and read than contend with the Black Friday Sales, I have decided to do a Gina Black Friday Sale.

And, for those of you who don’t heed caution and brave the sales on Friday to return an exhausted shattered mess who needs to recover with a good book, I’ve left the book on sale for the rest of the weekend.

Finally, for those of you who like to take advantage of Cyber-Monday sales, I’ve included the book because–hey–you can buy it online!

So, for four days, THE RAVEN’S REVENGE ebook will be on sale at both Amazon US (99¢) and Amazon UK (£ .99) from Friday, November 27 through Monday, November 30.

Jolly good.

The Volunteer Cat

This essay was sent out with my Christmas cards. I meant to post it for you not long after and here it is almost May…


When the kids were little, and they got bossy and demanding, we’d tell them, “Sorry but the servants are off today.” Of course, the DH and I would declare that to each other as well, embellishing whenever possible. “That scullery maid! Last I saw she was on her way to Brighton, she was. I don’t think she’ll be back,” we’d exclaim, in our best Monty Python delivery.

Sad to say, every once in a while the rejoinder was not comically rendered. Instead, it would come out with the full despair of one who has washed a zillion dishes, a billion loads of laundry, and too many floors. “Servants?” we’d say, “You want servants? Well don’t we all.”

One day it got serious. “I am NOT a servant,” was to be heard…loudly, imbued with years of pent up indignation. “Well of course not,” came the immediate reply. “If you were a servant you would be getting paid. What you are is a volunteer.”

We haven’t stopped laughing yet.

“Is there a volunteer?” has quickly become the most frequently asked question around here, and “No, I am not volunteering” the most frequent response.

Which brings us to Dude, the cat in the picture. When we bought our home five years ago, we would sometimes see him lurking in the backyard. Our cat Pooh did not like him there and chased him away while he was still fit enough to do so.

After Pooh passed on, Dude (because that’s what you call someone when you don’t know their name) started lurking again. We didn’t pay him much attention, especially since the DH had vowed we’d never have another cat and we assumed he lived near by. We enjoyed him from afar until one fateful day when the DH fed him… and before we knew it, that cat was volunteering to be our cat.

We believe he was abandoned, although it’s possible he’s severely neglected and likes us better. While he isn’t feral, he is a bit wild and he doesn’t use a cat box. A great hunter, we don’t need to feed him (or at least not so much–he’s put on several pounds).

It’s no surprise that he likes having servants–especially someone to open and close the sliding glass door whenever he wants. Because he doesn’t use a cat box, it’s rather imperative that someone do so, even if it’s 2am, a situation that existed for several months before the servants got so tired they decided they had to do something.

Something turned out to be a sequence of cat doors that led from the kitchen to the garage then out of the house (and back in again), which is handy for when it’s raining or we’re gone. The new doors required a nose-push to get through, and for that, someone had to be trained with kitty treats.

But, like the servant thing (and the volunteer thing), it turns out it wasn’t Dude who got trained. While he quickly learned how to manipulate his new doors, these days his devoted slaves can be seen dispensing treats on demand as well as opening the sliding-glass door even though he has two perfectly good cat doors that only he can fit through.


More Pictures of Dude can be found on Instagram

Adventures with the ACA

In California,  we have until December 15 to renew  health insurance through the new marketplace. Last week I logged on and ended up in a Gilliamesque warren of bureaucratic malfunction that I’d hoped would clear itself up. But, alas, that sort of thing never does.

Just for fun, I’ll give you the highlights….

Somehow…my DH is listed as the primary holder of the account. That means they wouldn’t talk to me (there was this little problem of needing my password reset) because I wasn’t authorized. They would only speak to him even though HIS insurance is NOT through CoveredCA. He had to get on the phone and name me me an “Authorized Representative” so I could talk to them. (Yes, there is a chance that last year when I was filling things out on their convoluted and confusing website I put him first which is how they picked him up but they tell me THEY CAN’T CHANGE IT. *ridiculous*)

Somehow…even though there is basically NO change to our household income the website is showing that my eligibility for subsidy has disappeared.

Somehow…their online mailbox–that contains a message about my eligibility–is corrupt and won’t display messages. Instead I get a screen and a half of error codes.

So today when I saw that hadn’t automatically righted itself, I called in and spent almost 45 minutes on hold with Milton (what a great name) while he took that same time to speak with the “customer relation team” to finally report back that my account has been messed up by a “glitch” (imagine some slimy Seuss-ian beastie). Having worked in television for thirty-two years, I have a familiarity with glitches and their unpredictable and destructive nature. This one is also affecting some other customers and they are working on it. It should be fixed in TWO WEEKS.

If all goes well, I’ll still be within the renewal window.

Gina’s Authorized Representative

A Rose by Any Other Name

georgelleLast week I discovered that an old friend had died. We’d gone through long periods of being out of touch, so that in itself, was not a warning that she was gone. I stumbled upon the information of her passing when I was looking for her on Facebook, hoping to get back in contact. There I found a reference to her in the past tense which is never a good thing.

A large person with an even larger personality, it’s unfathomable that Georgelle has been gone four whole years and I didn’t know it. Stranger yet that mother nature let her go without an earthquake, a violent tempest, or some explosion to mark her passing. But perhaps after a life of drama, Georgelle managed to simply slip away.

I met her in 1976 when she was calling herself Sima, refusing to use her own name. Before that she’d been Gentle Rain, a joke in itself because there was nothing gentle about her, and—as she said—she was definitely more like a storm. I’d just started a job at KCET (at the time LA’s PBS station) when one morning she swept into the accounting department looking to borrow some coffee. She was significantly older than me—late thirties to my twenty-one. A gypsy free-spirit, she became notorious for sunbathing nude on the roof when her boss—a man responsible for large corporate gifts who had the bearing and looks of an undertaker—was out of town. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen two people more mismatched. She was full of life and wit and laughter, and an impeccable dry sense of humor. We became more than work friends the day she called to tell me she was out sick and required groceries. She dictated a shopping list and the directions to her place and I did her bidding. She was brazen, bold, and demanding, and I fell for her.

It was under her tutelage that I started reading tarot cards and developed an interest in astrology. I was never very good at either while she had a true talent. We were both writers. She always thought I had a gift. I’ve always appreciated that she was one of the good voices in my head rooting me on and supporting my creative soul.

Preparing to write this, I tried to put together a chronology of our relationship, but it’s all jumbled. There was a Thanksgiving we enjoyed together, the first time I cooked a turkey, managing that in my tiny apartment and even tinier kitchen. She taught me how to make gravy, for which I have always been grateful. One morning she surprised me by showing up with eggs and bacon and making me breakfast in bed. For a time she and a friend were a performance art group, the “Art Tarts.” They sold poetry on the Venice Boardwalk.

Toward the end of the 1970’s she left California because of a prediction that it was going to fall into the Pacific. Seriously. That’s when she called to tell me to get her things out of a friends house in Eagle Rock and “take care of them” for her. Since I was living in that little apartment with no storage I put them in a basement room that a bunch of the tenants were using for overflow. One day the management decided to clean out the room and there went Georgelle’s boxes. She always felt that I should get restitution for them even though she just left them there to rot.

On a phone call one day when I bemoaned my mother (as I often did), Georgelle  proclaimed that “her neurosis is her genius.” To this day that’s one of the best explanations (and descriptions) of my mother I’ve ever heard. This, by the way, was before Georgelle’s stint as the Writer in the Window. After she left LA she set herself up in a bookstore window in Santa Fe with a sign that said “Help Me Cure My Writer’s Block” asking for questions. People did. She answered with pithy one-liners and traveled the country doing so. Later it became a book: Dear Writer in the Window.

The last time I saw her and spoke to her it was over Skype, less than a year before she died. She was back in Santa Fe and I’d moved out of LA, but we found each other on the internet. I was recovering from some chemo-like medication and she was complaining about a backache that her new ergonomic chair was not abating. We were two old crones kvetching. She told me her daughter was dying of cancer and that she didn’t want to go see her. Georgelle was probably the least maternal woman I’ve ever known. She never understood my need to have children and my pleasure with them.

Georgelle Cynthia Hirliman: June 11, 1936-January 29, 2010.  In reading her obituary I learned things about her she never divulged. I knew she’d been adopted but she never told me her parent’s names or anything about them. I knew she didn’t like her mother with a bitterness that was far greater than my feelings toward mine. She never mentioned her father at all. It turns out her mother had been an actress and her father produced the classic, Refer Madness not long after Georgelle was born. It wasn’t til I saw his name that I realized she’d been named after him. She’d never told me her middle name was Cynthia.

Odd that I didn’t know basic things like that, but I did know her TM mantra—a secret one isn’t supposed to divulge to anyone. “Sham,” she’d told me and then burst out laughing with that great musical chuckle of hers. “Can you imagine?” I think we laughed ourselves to tears. Sham sham sham

As it turned out, I knew the important things about her…that she was marvelous and creative, temperamental and insightful, petty yet magnanimous.

And she’s gone. The world is a quieter and dimmer place without her.


Georgelle’s books at Amazon.com. And a link to the movie Bank Alarm, produced by her dad and starring her mom.

March Sale

I  put the ebook of The Raven’s Revenge on sale for the month of March–and then I forgot to tell anyone! So, consider yourself told. It’s 99¢ Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and all the usual outlets. Links —->.

In other news, there really isn’t much other news. I’m still working on The Unsuitable Earl and  have a date for it to go into copyediting, but I’m not announcing a release date until I’ve sent it off. I’ve got the next book formulating, and also a novella that chronologically will occur before The Raven’s Revenge. I’m real excited about that. It’s going to take place before Charles II returns to England and might even have something to do with getting him on the throne….

Hope everyone is adjusting well to the time change! We loved the extra hour of daylight today.

How to Listen to your Manuscript on a Mac

This month I thought I’d blog about something practical and helpful for other writers. It came about when one of my author friends mentioned that she was using her Kindle to listen to her work-in-progress. I’ve done that, but it’s ever so much more convenient and pleasant to do that with my Mac. Knowing she also had a Mac, I looked on Youtube to see if I could find a decent tutorial on how to use the text-to-speech function. I was surprised that there was nothing recent, and nothing geared to writers. So, I decided I’d have to do produce one myself…et voila!

You might need to embiggen it to see what my mouse clicks are doing.

Feel free to share, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

Embracing . . . and Letting Go

I have never been able to touch my toes, ever.

When I was in the fourth grade, there was a famous incident where my teacher (a Mrs. Buffum who haunts my nightmares) sent me to the Principals office. We were doing exercises in PE and she thought I wouldn’t do it when the truth was that I couldn’t do it. We’ been at loggerheads over other things so she just assumed that I was (not) doing it to spite her.

Over the years I’ve worked at loosening my very tight hamstrings without much success. I have long legs relative to the length of my torso, and I’ve never been able to touch my toes without bouncing (yes, I know you aren’t supposed to bounce). I simply gave up on it. After all, it is possible for a person to live a long and healthy life without touching their toes, and I’m really not much of an athlete. I’d rather sit in a comfortable spot with a book or my computer than move my muscles into a sweat.

Then, about three years ago I started to take yoga.

One of the things my teacher says is that yoga is about letting go. I have always found this a difficult concept to grasp because I am usually all about embracing–even desperately grabbing on. But I attempted to apply that concept not only in class but also to other parts of my life including my writing.

Obviously in yoga we do a lot of bending and stretching and core work and balance. It’s been a really good discipline for me and I’ve benefitted in many ways, but those toes have remained just as far away from my hands and fingers as they ever were. I talked to my yoga teacher and she said that it wasn’t my hamstrings it was my lower back. I didn’t believe her. After all, my hamstrings are short and my lower back is loose and I still wasn’t touching those toes.

Then, one day I visited a different yoga class. We did some seriously intense work on the hamstrings. I had my heel up on a chair (because they use chairs and blocks and straps in this yoga class) and I had to lean over and reach for my toes and I had a startling thought.

Later that day while standing in my kitchen, I leaned down and . . .


. . . I let go . . .

. . . then I let go a bit more . . .

. . . and I touched my toes . . .

. . . because I realized <cue lightning sound efx> that for the past FIFTY YEARS I have been trying to touch my toes by bending at my waist when I needed to do the bending from my hips.


Sometimes long held beliefs need to be rethought, reimagined, re-explored and ultimately let go so that we can move on.


In case you are wondering what I’m doing when I’m NOT writing these days, I’m being my usual Don Quixote self, tilting at windmills–or in my case (always) bureaucracy. Today I was trying to deal with CoveredCA.com, the portal for Obamacare here in California.

(taken from my Twitter postings)

Gina Black
35 mins
Waiting to “chat” wtih #coveredca … last time I did this they disconnected me twice. What are the odds?


Gina Black
32 mins
Number 29 in the queue . . . #coveredca . . . I applied in November and am still waiting to find out what is going on . . .


Gina Black
31 mins
Yes, that was *early* November #coveredca and you have not yet given me Heath Insurance . . .


Gina Black
30 mins
One thing for sure, dealing iwth #coveredca is not good for the blood pressure . . . or anxiety . . .


Gina Black
29 mins
After more than a half hour wait #coveredca . . . this is completely unacceptable . . . pic.twitter.com/xE435r6YcE
Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 10.11.22 AM


Gina Black
24 mins
Now they hung up on me #coveredca . . .


I then called twice and they hung up on me twice. I sent an email–at least that got a response that they would get back to me within two days and they suggested I call, probably because they want to hang up on me again.

Now I’m on hold somewhere else 51 minutes and counting . . .

Richly Textured Historical Romance