Goodbye, Mr. Chaykin


Maury Chaykin died early yesterday, on his 61st birthday. 

 I’m going to miss him.

A actor of skill and poise—even when he was throwing a spitting tantrum on screen—he could carry a series, support a movie, or vice versa.

I’d seen him in various roles in various things, but I got to know him best as Nero Wolfe in the TNT series.   I wasn’t sure about his interpretation at first; I’m a Rex Stout fan from way back and had my own ideas.  But he won me over in an episode and a half.

The thing about Mr. Chaykin is that he’s never “Mr. Chaykin as This Character”, he is the character—he never appears to have phoned in his performance.  So much so that even when he appears in a show  where the guest star is always the murderer, I’m never quite sure he isn’t the red herring.  Or simply just the best-played custodian I’ve ever seen.

My movement in acting circles is confined to theater seats, the couch, and a couple friends who are members of the local theater troupe, so I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Chaykin—and wouldn’t have known what to say to him if I had, except maybe “Gulp, uh, wow—you’re Maury Chaykin.  You . . . uh . . . I loved you in . . well, everything. . . ”  But by all accounts, he was a kind, gentle man and a consummate professional who was not known for throwing spitting tantrums off screen.

We need more actors like that, and we’ve just lost another one.

In his honor, I will be re-reading my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries and watching my favorite episodes of the tv series.  I’ll see him either way.

Goodbye, Mr. Chaykin.  You will be missed.


Image borrowed  from The Wolfe Pack, the official (and ultimate) Rex Stout discussion site.   If you don’t understand why they say, “Write us—don’t contact us,” then get reading.  You will.


When Chapters Attack

Sat down to write last night once Sunny was in bed.  I made some corrections to the last chapter, glanced at the clock, and decided to outline the next chapter, maybe add some dialogue here and there. 

I’d knock off about ten-thirty, get a decent night’s sleep for once and be awake when I clocked in at the library the next morning.  Maybe I could manage with only one diet Pepsi (two tops) before lunch.

Around the ten mark, I  started making a few more notes just so I wouldn’t forget to add something the next day.  By eleven, I wasn’t looking at the clock anymore.  

I knocked off at one-thirty because my forehead was touching the screen and my nose kept bouncing off random letters.

I had very strange dreams.

But I read over what I’d written, and it makes sense, most of it—once I weeded out the extra g’s and h’s near the end—and I even know something I didn’t know before about the bad guy.  And it all ties in with what came before, so there won’t be much backtracking. 

I think—I should probably look at it a little later to make sure. . .

Regardless, while I could wish for better timing, it’s not such a bad thing when a chapter grabs you by the throat and forces you write it.   It sure beats the alternative, when you sit there in front of the screen trying desperately to write a sentence that isn’t locked in lead shoes. 

The rush is incredible.  ‘Course, the morning after’s a pain, especially when it starts a couple hours later.

And now I’m about to cause a stock jump over at Pepsico—you heard it here first.

Coping with Rejection: Strategies #2a and 2b

Remember that you’re in fine and brilliant company by reading through all the links posted in the comments  to the fabulous and incomparable Rejectionist’s essay uncontest:  What Form Rejections Mean to Me.   Bookmark them for later.

And then watch this:

Hard to be blue when you’re tapping your feet and bouncing in your seat. And wishing you were the one goosing Mr. DeLuise . . .

Half an Empty Nest is Better than None . . .

Jane, my seven-year old, is spending a week with my parents in Ohio, starting today. My husband drove through Illinois to Indiana this morning and handed her off to my dad at the Ryan’s Restaurant in Champaign-Urbana.

She visited them last year, too, and called me every day until Thursday. I just got off the phone with her ten minutes ago.  She said, “I’m here.  Grandma’s making dinosaur eggs.*  Can I get off the phone now?”  Click.

Um, sure, kid.  Love you, too.

This kind of thing is always a struggle.  She’s getting so big and independent . . . but she doesn’t even miss me!

But enough summer vacation has passed that getting one terminally  bored kid out of the house can’t help but be good for my blood pressure.  I asked my mother last week when I could ship down the other one.

But Sunny, our toddler, and I had a pretty good day.  We went grocery shopping, went potty,  had lunch at our favorite Chinese buffet (“I wuv bwown noodles!'”) with my mother-in-law, had a nice nap,** went potty, took a walk around the neighborhood, made carrot muffins just like in the Curious George episode she saw yesterday, went potty, and plugged in a Bugs Bunny DVD so Mommy could collapse for a bit until dinner had to be made.

That would be now, unless I can convince my family that carrot muffins and cottage cheese are a decent Sunday dinner.  Please stand by . . .

Nope.  Didn’t go for it.

But Jane doesn’t like pork and Sunny does, so there’s a blessing.  Pork and carrot muffins and . . . something. . .

At least I won’t have to make any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this week.

Sniff, sniff . . .


*Dinosaur eggs are what you get when you close both ends of pigs-in-blankets in a effort to fool your kids into thinking you’re serving them a brand-new food instead of being lazy.  I don’t mean you, Mom—you’re a grandma.

**She had a nap.  I watched the two-part season finale of Leverage for the nth time, but  with the commentary turned on.  Because I’m a huge geeky fan.  There, I said it.

What Form Rejections Mean to Me: an Essay

To celebrate The Rejectionist’s first blogoversary,  she has asked us to write a prompted essay:  “What Form Rejection Means to Me.” 

If you’re visiting from her blog, welcome!  If not, go check it out—I’ll wait!


Form rejections  mean that I  have the courage to send my stories out there; that I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide; that what did not kill me has made me stronger.  Form rejections aren’t a personal attack or about respect or the lack thereof.  They simply mean that mine is not included among the small percentage of queries or stories that caught the attention of this particular agent or this specific publisher at this time.

That is, once I’ve recovered.

A form rejection first opened is a kick to the heart with pointed, poison-tipped shoes.   A meaningless kick, the kind someone might give to something in their path when they’re too busy fiddling with their Blackberry to pay it any attention.

Form rejections are impenetrable.  They’re dismissive.  They’re soulless.  They are the hope-killers, the little deaths that bring despair and writer’s block.

In the moment\hour\week\month between the opening of the envelope and the philosophical sigh, they hurt like hell.  And pain can send even the most reasonable of us over the edge.

I speak from experience:  I almost divorced my husband over a form rejection.  

Several years ago, I sent out my first query for my first novel, to an agent—no, no, to The Agent, the one who graced the top of my list after much research and reading of blogs and client work.  I knew about multiple submissions, as well, but wanted to send this one out by itself, a kind of ritualistic maiden voyage of my hopes.

It was also—and this is where I admit to a major mistake—an effort to show my husband-the-non-writer that I wasn’t just a wannabe, that writing fiction wasn’t a waste of my time.  By his lights, I hasten to say, not mine.

I know, I know.  Classic set-up.  But not being completely naïve, I didn’t tell anyone about the query.  If I was rejected, I could pretend it hadn’t happened, or share whatever encouragement or suggestions there might be.  If I was accepted, I could pretend I’d known it all along.  Try a little nonchalant modesty, maybe.   A satisfied nod.

Fast forward past six weeks of what if dreams to a certain Thursday. 

I met my family at our favorite neighborhood restaurant after work.  Once we’d ordered,  I asked, as I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do, but always did, whether I had any mail waiting at home.  My husband said no, but that he’d opened this letter of mine that had been sitting on the bench by the front door for a whole week.

“It’s from some literary agency,” he said, passing it over.  “They don’t want your book.” 

As I said, I wasn’t completely naïve; I’d had my share of non-fiction rejections.  One would have to be on the hubris side of self-confident to assume one’s very first query was going to hit it out of the park.  And obviously, my husband didn’t have any idea I’d written to an agent or the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the reply.

But damn, it hurt.  Especially because it wasn’t a private pain:  someone else took it upon themselves to open that rejection—the one addressed to me— and share its contents.  In a public place.  In front of my children.  In front of my mother-in-law.  And then, a little later, asked me what was wrong.

There are special adjectives for people who do things like this.  Once we were alone, I believe I used them all.  Twice.  

And I cried.  And dragged myself to the computer and researched Illinois divorce forms and tried to calculate how difficult it would be to divide our books and DVD collections.  I knew I wasn’t being completely fair, but I also didn’t give a rat’s ass.

But things calmed down, as they do, and I was eventually able to admit that I’d been hit upside the head with yet another learning experience–the kind you get when you don’t get what you want.  There’s a valid argument for saying that form rejections are useless as learning tools.  They don’t teach much about writing, no, but for the stuff that you didn’t want to learn  . . . yeah.

If you ever need to use an outside object for personal validation—and trust me on this, you don’t, for anything—never use a query letter.  Because sure as the devil made dieting our national pastime, a form rejection is sure to follow.

But—but—I took a deep breath and sent out the rest of those queries.  Mostly to show The Agent, true, but I did it.  And I kept sending out my work.  Not all of the replies were rejections, and not all the rejections were forms, but it still hurt.  It still hurts, present tense, to get rejections. 

But none will ever hurt as much as that first one. 

I’m still writing.  I’m still married to the same man.  I’ve developed as a writer, he’s developed some sensitivity, and we’ve been working on our communication skills.  He leaves my mail alone and  I no longer offer excuses for being an unpublished fiction writer.  I don’t need any.

My time will come.   Because I have the courage to send my stories out there.   I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide.  I’m not dead yet and I’m getting stronger every day. 

That’s what form rejections mean to me.  Eventually.