No matter what you choose to do in life, there’s always going to be that guy.

Yeah, that guy. There’s always one, either at work, school or wherever you are, he’s there. Before I get to that guy, first a little backstory.

Five years ago I resurrected my catering company, Maggie’s Tapas, here in Los Angeles, mainly because my husband was sick with MS and then his employer, Fidelity Investments, let him go. The economy tanked and we needed to make a living. We hoped we could be successful together and grow the business. We needed to pay the bills.

Then in December, 2011 he got stomach cancer. That, in itself, is another story and one I’m working on as a book, mainly because I have a lot to say about how we got to that point in our lives, but suffice to say it is germane to this story as you will see.

It’s now February 19, 2012 and I get a catering call about a wedding in July. I’m struggling at this point with figuring out what I’m going to do. I’m kind of in crisis–do I keep up the catering when the very food I’m serving is what caused my husband’s cancer? I’m vegan at this point so can I still serve meat to customers? Isn’t that hypocritical of me?

I take the call and a few red flags started to go up right away. First there was lack of a full venue address, only an intersection, and then the quick, “oh, you’ll have to deliver the food outside since our venue doesn’t allow outside caterers.”

And that is where I made my first mistake with that guy, although I didn’t know at that moment he was going to turn out to be that guy. I should have stopped right there and said, sorry, can’t do that. It’s not the right thing to do as a caterer. No outside vendors means just that.

The final warning to me was his email request for six different tapas for 250 people (delivered mind you) for $1000 or $4 per person. To put it another way, this would have been $0.67 per person, per tapa. I could not give him what he wanted. I had not figured out the whole fishes and loaves to feed a multitude catering trick–and still make a profit.

But you know why I didn’t just tell him that immediately?

I was too preoccupied with:

1. Trying to get my husband on the PCIP or Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program, a stop-gap program before the full implementation of Obamacare and,

2. I was struggling with figuring out how in god’s name we were going to pay for Gleevac, the chemotherapy pill that had been prescribed to him. It costs $40,000 per year. That year anyway. Have no idea what it costs now.

I was worried for my husband’s health. I was worried for my sons. I was scared.

And here’s where the life lesson comes in. No matter what you choose to do in life from everything to work or attending a class in ceramics, you will always come across people like this; people unable to see past themselves.

It’s up to you to decide how to deal with them. I highly recommend keeping your dignity even though you may not want to.

I emailed back on March 14 that I could not help him for his price point and politely suggested he may want to consider DIY’ing his appetizers. I worked with many brides on a budget and my recommendation was meant with good will.

My reward for this was an email back wherein I was called a “piece of work,” and “greedy and unprofessional.” Not sure how turning down his business squares with greedy, but there you have it.

Seconds later, his Yelp review was online. Of course it was.

I was, naturally, very upset especially since his Yelp diatribe was full of untruths. I did offer him another two price points, $20 for everything as requested or $10 with some modifications. He just didn’t like them.

He wrote that “So many other quality caterers were willing to give me a respectable, transparent price within budget.”

Wonderful! Then why call me if he already had what he wanted?

I suspect he was not getting what he wanted from anyone, quality or not.

Now that my husband’s health has stabilized (cancer free as of last screening and no longer on MS meds, thanks to a vegan diet) and I no longer operate my catering business–I feel I can address what happened with some deeper wisdom.

The ultimate lesson in all this is temper yourselves. Our connected world makes it too easy to hit send or publish, whether it’s a book or hotel review or email. Take time and reflect. What will your words say about you?

You don’t want to be that guy. You really don’t.

What’s funny to me, and demonstrates the inability of some of us to see past our own navels, is that he owns a small business, right here in Los Angeles. Hope he doesn’t get a call from someone like himself.

Would you self publish if you knew no one would read your work?

I retweeted an article yesterday where I read a great observation. It was from Digital Book World dot com and it was about Amazon and their vision for the future of self-publishing. From Jon Fine, director of author and publishing relations at Amazon speaking at the Publishing for Digital Minds conference (part of the London Book Fair) this week:

“We’ve created this tsunami of content.”

Yes indeed, self-publishing has created a tsunami of content. So much so that most all self-published books barely see the light of day. For authors without a built-in audience (say, formerly with a traditional publisher) it’s all about how to get noticed, how to get read once you’ve pushed the Publish button.

Many self-published authors believe the case of getting widely read is not insurmountable. Some just don’t care and just want to fill their blogs and ebook shelves on Amazon with anything they’ve pounded out on their keyboards. And this brings in the great debate of whether or not you (the esteemed self-published author) should even bother since no one has given you critical approval–like an agent or book editor.

Unfortunately, the few self-published titles that do manage to get noticed, make good sales and receive good reviews are just that–few. And it could be due to a tsunami of material to wade through. Others say it’s because there’s a lot of crap out there.

Fine went on further to say that this “discoverability” problem is the next big challenge. I agree.

How that is going to be tackled, I believe, will be through a further narrowing of genres and tastes vis a vis various platforms. Think about how you try to discover something to read when you open your Kindle. It’s kind of maddening. Goodreads helps narrow things down a bit as do other reader-oriented sites. Reader reviews are somewhat helpful too, not so much for what they say as what they do to help move the title further up in the food chain of the internets–discoverability.

Just like sci-fi has many sites for its fans, I think we’ll see further distinctions in sites like Goodreads where readers can immediately find what’s new in self-published mystery, erotica or thrillers. Maybe Goodreads will have separate curated sites for all its genres. Fine also said it won’t be called self-publishing anymore. So maybe we’ll call it micro or quantum publishing. Time will tell.

50plus1

Hey UCLA, this isn’t helping 50-somethings with the job hunt.

I'mnotasenior

I got this in the mail yesterday. I’ve ranted a bit before about being a 50-something and I’ve wondered how in the world we came to be lumped in with Senior Citizens. Last I checked, Senior meant retired. Retired meant 65 and receiving your Medicare and Social Security benefits, because well, you’ve paid into them all your working lives so you’ve earned them.

Can’t do any of that at 50.

As far as retiring at 65–people in our age range, roughly 48-58, can’t. For many in our age group it simply isn’t an option, thanks to those esteemed fellows (aka blood sucking jackals) on Wall Street.

So, what’s UCLA’s Fifty Plus program got to do with the job market and blood sucking jackals on Wall Street?

When they (UCLA) decide to promulgate the idea that people in their 50′s need or want or even CAN (because we have tons of free time) attend workshops like, “Street Smarts for Seniors,” or “Get Connected: A Technology Fair for Older Adults,” then they are playing into the notion that we are ancient fucking idiots who can’t walk down the street let alone operate an iPhone or gasp–get hired in IT.

Technology fair for older adults? See this blog, it’s WordPress. I can code too, let alone needing or wanting this:

This free event includes computer workshops for beginners on using the mouse, basic internet and email; lectures for more advanced users on social media, how to shop safely online and mobile devices and apps; special one-on-one assistance in “gadget garden” (bring your own device for individual help) and “information stations” (one-on-one assistance on applications and Websites).

technocrap

Come on over to the Gadget Garden, older adults over 50, and learn how to flip open your phone.

You read that right, Gadget Garden. Who wrote this, the pre-kindergarten program director?

See UCLA, by lumping 50 year olds who need to find a job in today’s ever increasing youth oriented job market, all you are doing by calling your service Fifty Plus Program is killing our chances. You are playing into the minds (and hands) of employers who see us as less than worthy because of our age. Never mind our experience, our full CVs–according to programs like this, we can’t even figure out how to operate the Like button on Facebook.

But UCLA, we are not the same as someone who is 65 or 70 who may not know how to tweak the code in WordPress. We bought stock in Amazon (and stupidly Excite too) so we already know how to shop online. We aren’t feeble (yet) so walking down the street at 50 or 51 isn’t in our breadth of concern.

By adding our age group into an already pre-defined group of people, you are not adding to our wellness, UCLA, you are adding to our stress.

So please UCLA, do us 50-somethings a huge favor and go back to calling this service what it is, a program for people who are retired and/or over the age of 65.

craigslist

Craigslist mash-up, writing/editing jobs.

I present to you, from the writing/editing jobs section of Craigslist, a variety of sentences that people (looking to maybe, actually ? hire a writer) had the audacity, stupidity, cluelessness, or combination thereof, to put into their job descriptions. Enjoy!

We are looking for people with at least 10 pimples to try a face mask made of natural home products. 

We are looking for someone who is passionate about digital media and getting the right, most up-to-date and attractive content across the online world.

Sort and prioritize incoming mail. Bachelor’s degree required.

Position involves researching and writing extensive descriptions on historically significant manuscripts. $15-16/hour + commensurate with experience. 

Because copy writing is hard. . .it takes a full year to learn to be AMAZING. . .and most people don’t have that kind of desire within themselves to be great. and when your writing DOES start making sales you won’t rest on your laurels. . ..you will
STEP IT UP and improve it once more in order to CRUSH IT!

You will have to sign NDA/Non-compete agreement, and a warranty of non-WGA membership. You will also sign a ghostwriting agreement that signs all copyright/rights of authorship over to the client. 

And my favorite, because misspellings for writing jobs just CRUSH IT:

Must have or be on track for a B.A. — M.F.A. a plus. Must be good with characters and [sic] dialog.

I’m over 50, not dead, stupid or on AOL–geesh.

Two 50-something women. Note lack of gray hair and walking assistance devices.

Two 50-something women. Note lack of gray hair and walking assistance devices.

That’s a picture of me (redhead) and my friend Cristi. We’re both now over 50. I don’t think we look dead or stupid–Cristi is a high school math teacher. I know neither one of us uses AOL.

Have you done any internet searches on being 50? You know, maybe you were looking for job hunting tips (hah) or fashion hints. What I found was that none of what’s written out there in internet land pertains to me. Or my husband. Maybe you have found the same thing. I feel like the website authors are writing to an imagined audience of 0ver-50-somethings. Ones on the verge of breaking a hip or who haven’t been in a clothing store in over 30 years.

Do you guys forget the ’80s? If the answer to that is yes, then congratulations, you had a very good time. If the answer to that is no, then keep reading.

Let’s start with the AARP website–American Association of Retired Persons. Come on, that’s for when you turn 65, right? No longer. They needed to open up their demographics. But a YouTube tutorial on make up–at my age? Sorry, I’ve been putting make up on long enough to not need or want a tutorial.

The Menopause Makeover website. Pluck me, to paraphrase Gordon Ramsay. 10 Household Chores for Burning Calories! Sorry, I run three to four times a week, go to the gym and do yoga, and I do that with a 51-year old body–one that hasn’t been in this great a shape since my early 40′s. There doesn’t seem to be a place for women like me online.

I’m also NOT a Boomer no matter what MetLife says about the Boomer tag being a “demographically correct affiliation.” That generational title got debunked, finally, last year. We’re Gen X. Time Magazine dubbed us The Lost Generation sometime back in the ’80s, but now we’re back to X. What this means, to me, is that a whole group of us have been ignored or lumped in with a group with which we have few, if any, commonalities. So yeah, we get ignored and there’s a lack of community. At least we have Jon Stewart.

Ageism. Let’s talk about that because it’s what at the heart of everything for people our age. We have children entering or already in college, we have workplace experience, sometimes as much as 25 plus years, but we’ve been dubbed the new ‘unemployables’– say researchers at Boston College, my husband’s alum.

Well no wonder,  according to what’s out there on the internets, we don’t know how to put on make-up (see above) or use said internets, see here. And we may still use AOL (seriously).

Where does that leave us? For my husband and myself we are learning that whatever comes next, it’s got to come from us. We aren’t still hoping to find that next job, because it’s not out there, not once the recruiter or employer sees our college graduation dates on our CV’s.

Ever been on a Google campus? I have, right here in Venice, CA. I spent about five hours there and no one, and I mean no one was over the age of maybe, 32. No one.

I think it’s high time we 50-somethings band together and use our experiences to forge a new business and community frontier–one where we don’t discriminate against others because of their age. We’d be welcoming to all, based solely on experience.

Hey, Eric Schmidt, at age 58, aren’t you waay too old for your own company? Or maybe Google should consider hiring someone, anyone over the age of 49. Go on, I dare you.

rottenheart

Review of Rotten at the Heart.

4.5FrenchFryBaskets

No spoilers ahead–you’ll want to read this one all on your own. And I give this book, four and a half French Fry Baskets out of five.

Bartholomew Daniels (Dan O’Shea) has taken Shakespeare and turned him into a private eye. When I first read the description at NetGalley (where I did receive a free Kindle edition of the book) I knew I had to request a copy–so very glad I did.

The book begins with how Daniels comes into possession of an old trunk of British books and a surprise tucked away at bottom of the trunk–an even older wooden box. Inside the box he discovers a letter written by the original owner of the trunk (Lt. Thomas McBride) who found the wood box in a bookstore torn open by a bombing raid in WWII. The box was saved by the owner of the bookstore who himself did not survive the raid.

Already a great opening to the book and we, the readers, haven’t even gotten to what else is inside the box.

And this is where the book begins, with the found papers of William Shakespeare where Shakespeare details his adventure beginning with being called into service to help Lord Carey figure out who may have murdered his father–the Bard as an unwilling PI.

O’Shea then takes us on a great, Elizabethan ride complete with Shakespearian language. It took me until chapter four to get into the groove of the writing or O’Shea hit his stride with the language–not sure which. Either way, by that point, I was completely hooked.

And kudos to O’Shea for being able to keep up the language so well and in keeping with its formalities. The insults thrown about are so very well done.

Historically, O’Shea kept it clean and tidy, not hitting me over the head with too many factoids that would get in the way of plot. Of course, because of the time and setting, we do have a torturer and they always make such detestable characters. O’Shea’s torturer, Topcliffe, is one you’ll want to reach into the pages and kill yourself.

What made this book so enjoyable for me overall was its taking on of themes like religion, status, gender and ‘Wall Street’ combined with a whodunnit–that ensnares the Bard as well. And he’s no saint–what shamus (or actor) is? It’s Shakespeare’s personal failings that give the book depth and a good plot device as well.

My only regret about reading this is not having a real copy, but having to deal with the digital edition. It’s one of those books you’ll want to read on paper because you’ll want to flip through the pages, back and forth, easily. Looking forward to more of Mr. O’Shea’s work.

NetGalley: Digital Galleys & Book Review Copies 2014-02-15 10-19-29

A glimpse into the world of publishing at NetGalley.

NetGalley: Digital Galleys & Book Review Copies 2014-02-15 10-19-29

As a voracious reader, hence consumer of books, I was ecstatic when I found the site, NetGalley.com. You join, give some bio information, tell them what kinds of books you are interested in reading and in return you get free digital copies of books. Yes, FREE. It was music to my ears.

NetGalley is a go-between site that helps publishers get buzz going about upcoming books and gives people like me a much-needed reading fix–all that’s asked in return is to promote the works sent by posting reviews.

The limiting factor at NetGalley is that you don’t get all the galleys you request–it’s up to the publisher to decide. How they do that is not clear, but NetGalley prompts you to write a decent bio so I suspect the more information you provide, the more likely you will receive books. To keep getting your requests filled however, you must send feedback. My tally thus far is one invitation (sent to me by the publisher), three approved (books I requested and read) and two feedback (I sent my thoughts), so it’s clear I’m new to this.

Two observations as a writer:

1. If you have the money in your budget as an Indie Author, I recommend using NetGalley to get the buzz going about your book. You also get much needed feedback.

2. I am beginning to realize how much in the publishing world is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. And proximity.

All the books I have requested so far have all been from New York writers. What else is in New York? Literary agents and of course, publishing houses. It doesn’t hurt to live and work close to where the action is. It’s why I went to NYU. But I didn’t stay in New York and even with our highly connected digital world, it still matters who you meet for happy hour or who lives in your apartment building. Connections get made that way.

Make that three observations as a writer:

Even though these books were all accepted by an agent to try and sell to a publisher–and then purchased by a publisher–and may have even gone through more than one formal editing process, I am seeing some work, in my humble yet well-read opinion, that should not be released–even as a galley copy.

I clearly state in my bio at NetGalley that I will not publicly review any book I do not give four or five stars to because ripping apart someone’s hard work ain’t what I’m about. But please know, there is work I am being sent that needs some serious editing. I’m not talking typos, I am speaking of substance.

Here’s what I mean. One work I read was part memoir part slice of life. It was written by someone with an MFA. And an open thesaurus. Seriously, the language got in the way of everything, and for the topic of this book, it was a ridiculous exercise in showing us how many words the author knows. The metaphors, that probably made the author smile, were just odd. Adjectives were thrown about to give insightful detail, yet I was left with many, many questions about that detail. A kind of WTF does that even mean? feeling permeated every other page.

In another book, the plot is jumbled and I blame that on pacing. The author is a really good writer and the author’s resume (and age) probably play a big part in their technique–it’s good, enjoyable, funny and I would really like to read more of what this person has to offer. However, a relationship that is crucial to the plot is not believable because of the way the plot has unfolded–the pace in which things have been revealed. Surely the seasoned and professional minds at XYZ publishing house (it’s a big one) saw that too?

But my guess is someone played around with this author’s work and they did not have the experience necessary to do so.  Because the book is only being released as an ebook (as far as I can ascertain based on the information sent in the e-galley copy), I am guessing that not a lot of money is being spent on this work and that’s a real shame.

Another book, by an author who is making their publishing house money, was thin on plot. Good writing style, but bereft of conflict, so it wasn’t all that interesting.

You are probably better than you know.

If you are a struggling Indie Author, who has spent time honing your craft, do not give up hope. These books tell me that traditional publishing, while being what most every author wants–a contract to see their work in PAPER in bookstores!–doesn’t really have it going on. As to why that is, my best guess is that the people involved in the process are woefully inexperienced. Money is not being spent where it should be, on hiring experienced editors. Agents are too busy trying to find that magic bullet of a book instead of courting a larger array of authors. Who to blame for that–the big publishing houses–of course.

I really believe that big publishing is its own worst enemy. They have writers throwing themselves at them and this is the best they offer a reading public? Agents out there–stop Tweeting about how horrific the query letters were this week and get to work reading. Good work is out there if you know where to look. Is there bad work out there too? Yes, and some of it is on my Kindle sent to me by the publishing houses.

Indie Authors out there, keep writing and keep self-publishing.

amazon4

Amazon sees fortune in everyone’s (sort of) cast-offs.

amazonstudios

Amazon is at it again and I say good. Like all those mid-list authors discarded by their publishing houses and picked up by Amazon where they are seeing a new life and making (gasp) money, Amazon Studios is launching ten new pilots by some big name creatives–shows that may have never been put into production otherwise.

Who are the creators of these new shows? Chris Carter of The X-Files fame along with Eric Overmeyer of The Wire to name but two.

Along with giving you, the viewer, some new and different shows that may have never seen the light of day otherwise, Amazon allows its customers to rate the episodes. It seems they actually do want your feedback, you know, since you are paying for Amazon Prime.

Are Mr. Carter and Mr. Overmeyer Hollywood cast-offs as my title suggested? Absolutely not. But–are the executives in charge of the traditional production companies willing to do what Amazon is doing and allow these talented people’s work to come to fruition? Emphasis below is mine:

Jill Soloway, creator of dark comedy ”Transparent” about an L.A. family forced to confront their secrets, said she brought the project to Amazon because the deal combined production and distribution in one package. “Going to Amazon and recognizing that they were willing to do this quickly, and make a decision quickly, was awesome,” she said. “I know if I sold it to HBO or Showtime, there was a possibility it would not get made.” Among other credits, Soloway was showrunner for “United States of Tara” on Showtime and won the 2013 Sundance Film Festival dramatic directing award for “Afternoon Delight.”

Let’s see: forward thinking in terms of production and distribution in one swift deal. Check. Allowing the customers to rate and give feedback and not just letting the possibly out-of-touch executives decide which shows move forward? Check. Fast moving production times so shows can get to customers faster? Check. It seems to me that everyone involved wins.

Netflix is another non-traditional producer of new content like Orange Is the New Black–although they tout House of Cards as original and it is original in that there’s an American version now, it’s a re-do of a British program or programme–which I think may be even more dark than the Netflix version.You can stream that on Netflix as well.

Hulu is in there too with a mix of new series and foreign transplants. Hulu is probably my least favorite in terms of interface, but I am a Daily Show and Colbert fan, so…

While the big, traditional publishing houses bemoan their fate (you guys are still King in terms of paper!) and NBC blasts us with Olympic games that no one really cares about all that much, especially since it’s being broadcast from dog-killing Sochi, I will turn to Amazon, Netflix and Hulu for my reading and viewing pleasure–oh, and they’ll get my dollars as well.

Review of The Hangman’s Daughter.

I give this four and a half french fry baskets out of five.

4.5FrenchFryBaskets

20140203_104719I found The Hangman’s Daughter, sitting all alone on a top shelf of bargain books on my last trip to Barnes & Noble. Intrigued by the title, cover and Mr. Pötzsch’s jacket bio, (He is himself a descendant of the Kuisls, the well-known line of Bavarian executioners that inspired the novel) I bought it with a middle-of-the-road expectation, you know, a nice, comfortable weekend read.

The Hangman’s Daughter was much more than that.

Set in 17th century Bavaria, the story centers around Schongau, a fortified village filled with people who do things most people do when only motivated by self interest, that is, they act out of greed, fear, ignorance and are willing to use their fellow townspeople to further their own agendas.

The story follows Jakob Kuisl, the hangman (the town’s executioner and torturer), his brilliant daughter, Magdalena, and her love interest, Simon, the town doctor. Jakob is a hangman with a conscience and one who is interested in science and fact. He reads! He has books in his house. He taught Magdalena to read.

Those in charge of the town, the rich and powerful burgomasters, are quite the opposite. Think about the scenes from Monty Python and The Holy Grail where the men folk of the town want to burn a “witch.” That sums up the amount of enlightenment inherent in most of the townspeople of Schongau.

Children, orphans specifically, are being murdered and disappearing from Schongau. Who to blame? A woman, naturally, and a poor one who cannot defend herself; the town’s midwife. What follows is Jakob’s, Magdalena’s and Simon’s path to prove that the mid-wife is not responsible for ‘consorting with the devil’ or for the murdered and still-missing children.

The themes that then play out as part of their quest (rich vs. poor, science vs. superstition, patriarchy vs. matriarchy) are what makes this book much more than just a mystery in an historical setting. We see these same themes playing out in front of us today like the abuse of power and privilege, a willful ignorance to scientific fact and a war on women’s rights and issues. We even see some of the powerful today accuse those without that power of attacking them in the same way the Nazis attacked and murdered their fellow Germans in 1938. That’s as ridiculous an accusation as blaming ‘witchcraft’ (as if that’s a real thing) for human-made problems. We humans have a strange history.

Overall, Mr. Pötzsch’s writing style hit on the right notes, his language and descriptions were fast-paced but with the right amount of detail to tantalize my imagination yet paint a vivid picture. His characterizations were well-developed and consistent. The one exception was Magdalena who I thought remained one-dimensional until almost the very end of the story, which was a shame. It’s possible that the character of a strong woman, a daughter caught between what her father has taught her and how she is supposed to behave, would have to remain somewhat under-developed as to allow the plot to move on at high speed–which it did. Only then did we see her true resolve.

As for the historical references and facts, I was glad that they felt natural and not at all forced. Too many times I have tried to read a piece in a medieval or ancient setting only to be bogged down or hit over the head with descriptions or tidbits of information that screamed, “Hey, I’m really historical because I’m chock-full of not-important-to-the-plot details.” Not so here at all. Mr. Pötzsch hit the perfect balance.

I highly recommend The Hangman’s Daughter as both a good mystery and piece of historical fiction.

crit1

The history of the critique.

It’s hard to call it criticism because the word itself denotes something we don’t want to hear, but that’s what a critique really is by nature. And criticism has a long history.

Plato is considered the first theoretical critic. The Romans then built upon the works of the Greeks, like Cicero. By the time the church came around, well, let’s just say pagan fiction got a Christian make-over and everything had to be viewed or discussed in that light. With the Renaissance criticism was revived, along with some new forms of literature like the novella.

But what is criticism really? It is a reasoned and systematic discussion of the arts, primarily literature. Criticism relies on time and space, it’s relative. As an example, anyone these days can be a critic thanks to the easy publishing tools, internet and websites like Yelp–as an example.

But it begs the question, shouldn’t the person offering up the critique be capable of replicating that which they criticize?

The answer, for me, is yes. Let’s take a piece of art. Like this one by Kandinsky. I cannot replicate what he has done here on canvas; I could try and I’d have a lot of fun doing so, but this is not my medium of expression. Could I then offer up a reasoned and educated discussion of his work? Maybe, but since I am not an artist like this nor did I spend any time studying art and art history, my critique would be shallow and mostly opinion. I like Kandinsky, his work makes me happy–that’s not exactly worthy of publication in any journal, but it’s my opinion.

The same is true with any criticism from food, to dance and music to the first draft of your book; the critic should have some background knowledge and ability in the subject which they decide to critique.

Which brings me to my critique services. Please let me help you with your manuscript. I have years of study with two degrees in writing. I am a lifelong reader and lover of fiction and I’d be glad to read your work and offer up my sincere, well-reasoned and educated advice.

Maggie'sFood

What My Years as a Caterer Taught Me About Food and Our Food(ie) Culture.

My husband and I used to run a small catering company in Los Angeles, Maggie’s Tapas. We made fresh foods to order and we prided ourselves on the fact that nothing ever came out of a box–except for what was delivered by the fresh produce company.

Had my husband and business partner, Paul, not gotten ill, I’d probably still be catering today. But nothing really exemplifies the old adage, “You are what you eat,” than a diagnosis of stomach cancer, and that’s what put Paul in the hospital in December of 2011. Bleeding internally from a  Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumor or GIST, Paul was rushed to the hospital with a hemoglobin count of 3.4 (13 is in the danger zone) and about 24 hours left to live before blood loss would have killed him. I would have been a widow at age 48 and our two teen-age sons, fatherless–not in the life plan.

I’m happy to report that my husband’s surgery was very successful and only a portion of his stomach was removed, along with the cancer. And while Paul was convalescing, he had the come-to-the-revival-tent meeting about how he got to that hospital bed. He decided to go vegetarian in January of 2012. I joined him. A few months later, he decided to become vegan and so did I.

I had just started a specialty lunch delivery service as part of my catering company called Maggie’s Meat and Bread—and now I was a vegan?

And what I came to learn in those first few months of our new lunch service is that we, as a culture, place a strange and great premium on meat. We celebrate it, but not in the way our ancient ancestors did by thanking the animal for its life. We make dresses out of raw beef and elevate bacon to the same status as the polio vaccine. We really believe we need it to function, live and be healthy.

The perception that meat should cost more, because it’s meat, but fresh fruit and vegetables should be dirt cheap was common. After all, growing fresh fruits and vegetables is not the same as raising live animals, feeding them, watering them, removing their waste, giving them routine antibiotics and growth hormones (they cost money) and finally slaughtering them and processing them in a clean environment, that should cost more, so it made sense.

But we live in a world where a value menu burger costs one dollar and that truly plays with our perceptions.

How did the burger get to be a dollar?

See, most, but not all, of what you buy at restaurants or from caterers or food trucks, started out frozen, and in all likelihood already prepared to boot. Those burgers or filets you enjoy at the chain restaurant or your local bar, from Denver to Bar Harbor, are probably processed and made by the same company. They’re sitting in the frozen aisle of boxed meats at the local wholesale food distributor next to the frozen and prepared beer battered onion rings, fries, garlic bread, clam chowder, calamari, jalapeno poppers, chocolate-ganached desserts and pretty much everything else you see on the menu. Yes, those quesadillas you were served last night are already folded over with the the grill marks on them, right out of the box. They’re filled with a laundry list of non-food ingredients added to stabilize and enhance flavor, color, smell and appearance.

They’re made with ingredients from all over the globe, purchased at the cheapest, possible prices because they’ve been dumped onto the market by countries desperate to rid themselves of the excess products. Why else could I walk into my local cash and carry and see an eight pound bag of whole, peeled garlic imported from China for just $3.19?

You see the choices restaurants and other food services face to stay afloat: buy this cheap garlic (of questionable quality and freshness) so I don’t have to raise my prices or buy the better, locally grown garlic and hope my customers will appreciate that and keep coming back.

Fresh food does cost more because it can spoil before it is used (a loss for any food service business) and, well, it’s not prepared. Someone has to be paid to actually clean, cut and cook fresh food; not just heat it up.

We are very disconnected from our food to the point that we have no idea what’s in most everything we consume. Most of us don’t prepare any food daily, know where it comes from, how it was grown, how it was harvested (or slaughtered) and how it got to us.

It’s all too easy to delude ourselves as we walk up to the food truck at lunch time, that we are getting humanely-slaughtered, antibiotic-free, organic, grass fed beef for $9.00 in the form of a gourmet, hand-crafted burger–made by someone who was paid a living wage. Do you really think there are black truffles on that too? Not when black truffles cost almost $800 per pound this year, $1200 in 2012 due to weather, nope, not even at $16 per burger is that feasible.

After Paul and I went vegan, we decided to shutter the business. I could no longer in good conscience sell people maple-soaked, blue-cheese filled, bacon wrapped dates. Plus, I knew the paying public would think twice about shelling out the same amount of money for a quinoa salad as they would a chicken Milanesa sandwich because our perceptions are so warped. Nevermind that quinoa, per pound, is more expensive than chicken breast, we want to believe that our meat is farmed in ways that are not riddled with cost cutting and dangerous practices, harmful to the us, the animals and our planet.

The pork we eat is filled with far too many drugs like Ractopamine, which is banned in 160 other countries, including China, but not here. I did not want to be part of our nation’s heart disease epidemic by making beef and pork albondigas, wine-braised beef shank bocadillos or chorizo and rice stuffed tomatoes. I could not bring myself to be a participant in that cycle any longer.

S0, before you go out to eat again or the next time you are at your local grocery store, take a few moments to stop and think where all that food came from. It really is an obscene wealth of food considering how many people, even here in our own country, go without. Think about how much meat is processed in this country alone, every day, to fill every canned, fresh and frozen aisle in every convenience store, supermarket chain, fast food restaurant and wholesale shopping club all over our nation. Before you take the next bite, think about what that means for your body and for our planet.

And if I can persuade you (and I really mean this): go home tonight and use whole foods like dried beans, put some in your slow cooker, add some fresh diced tomatoes (or canned if not in season) onions, garlic, fresh jalapeños, soy crumble for texture and a bottle of your favorite beer and make yourself some vegetarian chili.

A little thought could help keep you, and our small planet, in good health. As for my husband, Paul, his last scan was completely clean and as his oncologist said to him, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”