Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sharing reviews today!  First up, thanks to Jennie Hansen for reviewing my new comedy novel, SISTERS IN THE MIX, available at Amazon and  You can read that review here:

And thanks to the gifted director, Gina Bikales, for the recent production of "IN BED WITH CHUCK AND LOIS" in Rancho Mirage, and for writing this in her Director's Notes:
"I have such a good time directing Joni Hilton's work and the reasons are simple.  Joni is a writer who knows how to write the truth.  There is not a situation she tackles that doesn't ring true.  Every single one of us can relate to something in her plays, whether it is the relationship of spouses to each other, how we see our children, or if our bodies measure up to the Hollywood standard of perfection.  She nails it every time.  Joni is also one of those rare writers who can elicit gales of laughter without ever resorting to the dropping of "F-Bombs" or other assorted questionable language.  Her humor works without cheap tricks or shocks.  Ms. Hilton writes real sentences with well thought out vocabulary.  It's a rarity these days..."

And thanks to Bruce Fessier of THE DESERT SUN who wrote of the same play, "... her humor was effective because it resonated with truths that bonded the audience... the split second timing directed by Gina Bikales gave the dialogue extra bite, but it was Hilton's observations of how men and women think that had my wife and I laughing so hard we were almost embarrassed by what it revealed about us.  Bikales says it will that $6,000 to $7,000 to get this one-set play mounted at a legit theater.  That's a wise investment.  This play can have a life in stock theater."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Eye for an Eye

            This is not a blog about personal, intimate information.  Honest.  So, Men, stay with me here, because you are going to be represented in high style if you keep reading.
I recently had a “female” procedure.  Women, you will have no qualms about this story because we can meet a stranger in the elevator who asks us for a tampon and suddenly we’re all about helping and hormones and hugs.  A man will not tell his own brother so much as his underwear size, but we share nursing tips, hot flash remedies, and mini-pads with women we met two seconds ago.
            Cutting to the chase, my OB thought I should have gone through menopause by now, and suggested an outpatient surgery that could help it along.  Did you know there was such a thing?  It’s called an ablation and, had anyone suggested it to me 15 years ago, I would have been all over it.  So thanks for that one, medical team. 
Simply put, they use lasers and other instruments to destroy the uterine lining.  This is a great thing if you’re through having kids yet still have heavy periods.  In half the cases, you get catapulted gleefully into menopause.  At the very worst, you have lighter periods, so it’s a win-win.  Bob lost no time asking when I was going to be “obliterated.”  
            Naturally, since you go under anesthetic for it, there are pre-op tests and pre-op appointments. In the last one, the doctor said to me, “Now I just have to tell you this.  There’s a small chance I could puncture the wall of your uterus, and if that happens, you’ll need further surgery.  However, it’s not very likely, it hardly ever happens, and I really wouldn’t worry about it.”  But of course.  The standard warning to prevent law suits.
            So I go home and casually mention this to Bob.  Bob looks at me and says, “Next time you see him, tell him that if he punctures my wife’s uterus there’s a small chance I could come over and beat the crap out of him.  But tell him it’s not very likely, it hardly ever happens, and I really wouldn’t worry about it.” 
            And that is why men don’t share intimate information in elevators.

Monday, February 25, 2013

15 Minute Play Festival

What an honor, to be chosen for a production in Times Square!  Manhattan's American Globe Theatre will be presenting my comedy short, "GIFTED" on April 28th.  Thank you!  And huge thanks to Jason Marr for directing!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Year's Supply of Testosterone

            All you clever, prepared people who have every possible emergency supply in case of disaster, I have passed you by.  I have a year’s supply of testosterone.  See?  You forgot that one, didn’t you?  You need to follow me around.

            Here is how I came by this marvelous motherlode.  I was innocently shopping at Walgreen’s (you notice I only go to the best places), and had just finished checking out.  The clerk says to me, “You know, you can get a ten-dollar coupon if you buy one of these.” She points to a stack of white boxes on a display at the counter.  These boxes are about six inches square.  “All you pay is the sales tax, and then you get a ten-dollar coupon.”

            Okay, I hate story problems.  In fact, I hate all math problems.  I cannot understand how this is going to work, but she convinces me to purchase one of the boxes for a few cents, and then promises to give me a coupon worth ten dollars, which I can use against my cart full of purchases.  First she has to void my purchases and start over.  “While you’re at it, you may as well get a couple more,” she says.  “But each one has to be a separate transaction.”

            Well now even I can see that I will soon have thirty dollars deducted from my bill.  This is bargain-ese, my favorite language.  I glance over at the white boxes and then I realize what they are.  In GIGANTIC (unnecessarily gigantic) lettering on one side it says, “TESTOSTERONE” and on the side it says “WEEKEND WARRIOR.”  I cringe.  Does it really have to be testosterone?  I glance around.  I am one of those women who convinces her husband to buy her tampons, so I am waaay out of my comfort zone with these boxes.

            But thirty dollars is thirty dollars, so I quickly stack three of them on the counter, and wait for the magic to happen.

            Except that it’s dark magic.  The clerk's computer jams and she has to call her manager, who apparently has to finish an entire season of Downton Abbey before he can come to the front, but who finally gets there.  By now two more people are in line behind me.  While the manager and the clerk pull receipts from the machine and try to untangle the three refunds, I notice two more people have gotten in line now, and they’re starting to crane their necks around to see why there’s a hold up.

            The boxes, meanwhile, have grown to the size of shoeboxes, and from fifty feet away you can read “TESTOSTERONE.”  I consider turning them, but “WEEKEND WARRIOR” will show if I do that.  I can feel heat creeping up my neck and blooming crimson on my face. 

            I force a chuckle.  “Boy, my husband is really going to laugh when he sees these,” I say.  No one believes me.  I am a middle aged woman in obvious desperation, loading up on the one item that can save my marriage.  In public.  At Walgreen’s.  With a growing line behind me.

            There are now twelve cash register receipts on the counter, and the clerk--- no longer my bargain buddy, but my mortal enemy—is trying to match up which receipts go with which purchases, and which enormous white box, each one now the size of a television set, can rest atop each of the three piles.  The lettering of “Testosterone” is now blinking in red neon.  I can feel sweat dripping down my back.

            People are shifting from one foot to the other now, sighing and wishing they hadn’t gotten in line behind a crazed woman in the throes of unrequited passion.  I think about turning and saying to the lady behind me, “This is such a good deal,” but then I realize I have no idea how to explain the mathematics, and she’ll just think I’m making it up.  Actually I’m beginning to wonder if the clerk is just making it up, as well.

            Finally they get all my purchases into bags, including the oven-sized testosterone boxes, and I dash from the store like a robber.  I am already dreading Bob’s reaction when I show him the novel way I saved us thirty bucks, but hey.  At least we’re ready for Armageddon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Think You Know Cold?


            We are in the midst of a record-breaking winter, and two thoughts come to mind.  One, don’t even talk to me about global warming.  And two, welcome to my childhood.

            I grew up in Cache Valley, Utah in the days when little girls had to wear dresses to school, after which we would all go home and sit in bathtubs of water to thaw out and melt the frostbite on our knees.  Utah’s record low recorded temperature is -69 degrees.  I kid you not.  The average winter temperature in Antarctica is -30.  My dad would spend hours shoveling a tunnel of fresh snow from our front door to the car, through which I would walk, with white walls of snow piled far above my head.  We used to laugh when people would say Eskimos had seven words for snow (a vocabulary hoax you can Google anytime), when we had a dozen or more.  There was slush, powder, dust, wet snow, packed powder, drifts, sugar snow, crust, corn snow, pellets, grains, and crud.  Folks routinely dealt with frozen pipes, frozen car locks, and frozen milk bottles.  Why penguins were not an indigenous species there escapes me.

            Then we moved to Salt Lake City, still cold but not record-setting, and finally to sunny Southern California where I couldn’t believe the high school didn’t have a ski club.  But it took me approximately 2 minutes to adapt to this new, subtropical climate, and I vowed never again to live in a frozen tundra.

            And then, a few years into our marriage, Bob and I moved with our four kids to Iowa.  Bob was hired as the lead evening TV news anchor.  Our dog, the only family member with the proper reaction to this, promptly had a stroke.  We bought our house on the one autumn day they have each year, when the leaves are ablaze and the turquoise sky is filled with bouncy white clouds.  And then winter comes slamming in with ice storms and frigid blasts that knock the -40 temperatures down to -70 with the wind chill.  And it lasts for 9 months.  Winterfest is cancelled.  Outdoor hockey games are cancelled.  Radio reporters tell you how long you can be outside before flesh freezes, and nightly newscasts are filled with photos of dead livestock heaped up in piles.  Bob was on the news, of course, so the kids would watch during dinner and howl with laughter when the weatherman would say, “Well, we’re colder than Alaska and colder than Siberia again.”  Evidently a jet stream would pass over North Dakota and Minnesota, then swoop down over Iowa to dump a fresh load of snow and ice before rising again and heading out over Illinois.  Iowa was the coldest spot on the map.

I would glance over at the dog’s water bowl, frozen solid. It was inside the house, but next to the doggie door through which icy wind would blow.  I wore gloves and a knit scarf to cook. Like my neighbors, I began using my patio for extra freezer space. I gave hot chocolate to my daughter when she went out to build a snowman and came in ten minutes later with waxy-looking frostbite on her cheeks.  I saw icicles in my children’s hair after they cleared the driveway with the snow blower.  I watched as the snow plow came by and piled all our freshly-shoveled snow into a mountain blocking our driveway, big enough to go sledding on.  I listened to locals brag that these ridiculous conditions built character and wondered why Jesus never advised people to seek out harsh climates in order to develop virtues. 

After three years in this deep-freeze we finally headed back to California, settling in Sacramento.  No more snow for the Hiltons, no sir.  And then my daughter decided to serve a mission for our church.  Up she went to Utah to the Mission Training Center to learn a new language.  In two weeks, guess where she’s going?  Norway.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Am I Seeing Things? Yes. Wrong Things.

It’s no secret (well, maybe from the police) that I went over to the local high school, in the dark, and corrected a sign using a black Sharpie.  Had I been caught, we don’t know that I would have been arrested for vandalism.  I contend that I would have been given a medal. Cops drive around with medals in their glove boxes, right?  If not, they should, because they never know when they might run across a do-gooder such as myself.

The sign had said, “Slow Students Ahead.”  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how insulting this is to one’s children.  So I added a semicolon after “slow.” And now the universe is one of improved order, don’t you think?

I don’t need to bore you with the other tales of my community service.  Instead I wrote a book about a crazy lady (NOT me) who has a cooking show (NOT me) and who corrects grammar and spelling on public signs (sometimes me).  It’s called Sisters in the Mix and it’s available for peanuts on Kindle.  The paperback version, at CreateSpace, is also super cheap (the price, not the writing).  Check out the reviews.

Anyway, my efforts do not seem to be educating the unwashed masses, because on a recent trip to Ross, I found not one, but two misspelled signs for sale in the home goods area. (Scroll down and you'll see them.)  Now you’re thinking, “Hey, it was Ross—what did you expect?”  But I like Ross.  I expect their merchandise to be… okay, I don’t expect much from Ross, to be honest.  But misspelled home accent signs?

Lest you think I am making this up, I shall post photos of the offending signs.  What gets me, besides the fact that someone designed them with glaring errors in them, is that at least 10 people had to see these mistakes and nobody caught them.  First you have the doobie who thought up the phrase and wrote it down misspelled.   Then you have a boss who nodded and said, “Yeah, okay, we can make those.”  Then you have the person who painted the sign.  Then someone who framed it.  Then the buyer at Ross who purchased it.  Then you have the sales staff who unpacked the box, tagged it with a price, and put it on the shelf (this could be three separate people), and then a store manager who  theoretically walks by the merchandise from  time to time.  So a small village of people who are ruining America one letter at a time.

Let’s look at the first sign, obviously designed to hang over a bathtub.  BREATH SOAK ESCAPE, it says.  Not breathe, but breath.  And don’t tell me they’re made in China by non-English  speakers.  China or no China, they still have to pass through American hands to get on the shelf.

Now check out the second one:  ALL MEN ARE IDOTS AND I MARRIED THEIR KING. Really?  Idots?  First of all, even if it had been spelled right, this is a stupid, sexist statement that would infuriate women if it were said about us.  But to “go to press” with the missing "i" is inexcusable.  Or should I say nexcusable?  Granted, anyone can have a typo in their work—I find them in mine all the time.  But a sign is short and easy to proofread.  Plus, as I said, it goes through many sets of eyes.  Something tells me that the person who wrote this, married to the Idot King, has actually found her perfect match.

I called my husband, Bob, over to see these signs and asked, “Do you think I should take them up front to the cashiers and show them the mistakes?”

He shook his head.  “No; all you’ll find up there are other idots.”  I fear he is right.

Not Just Any WalMart Story

First of all, I wanted to save money.  Why else would anyone subject themselves to the ambiance of WalMart, right?  Well, that and the fact that they have no dress code so it is truly a Come-As-You-Are party.  So I jump into the car with the suddenness—and the outfit—of a person who ran out of paint in the middle of a job.  My makeup has slid down onto my neck because God chose not to restrict Satan’s ability to crank up the heat for menopausal women, and one good hot flash can send it sliding down onto your feet.

But I don’t worry about this.  I just load up my cart with groceries and get in line.  And here is where I remember that I am actually a good person, and that a key to enjoying life is to take an interest in others, even help them if you can.  I see a heavy-set woman in front of me and decide to give her a sincere compliment and brighten her day a bit.  I actually like the color of her knit top, and choose to tell her so.  It’s the exact color of the crayons we used as kids, which said carnation.

“That’s a pretty pink,” I tell her.

She whirls around.  “Oh, you know,” she says, in the tone of a long-time friend, “I just love this top.  And it’s lined!” Here she lifts up the outer layer to show me the lining underneath, then says, “So no one can even tell I’m not wearing a bra!”

Well, no, not until now. 

She continues.  “My bra rubs my skin and I get such awful chafing.” She describes the redness, the flaky skin.

I try to look sympathetic instead of horrified but am not sure I am succeeding here.

“So I just throw this top on, and then I don’t have to worry about it!” she says.

I am sputtering, trying to think whether to say, “How wonderful,” or “Oh, lucky you,” or “My, my,” and find myself just nodding and smiling like someone who doesn’t speak English but wants you to think they do.  And I am in fact wishing I did not speak English.  I am also wishing I could be in another store, or at least another line, but two people are already crowding in behind me and if I change lanes now my ice cream will melt before I can get to the car.

I am stuck with the Pink Top Lady and her medical history.  From what I can tell, she has never had another living soul strike up a conversation with her, so she is going to make the most of it.  After she talks about her latest bout with bronchitis, she advises me to purchase all the items she is now loading onto the conveyor belt, and tells me the reason for each one. 

I am hoping she will not tell me why she is loading various pharmaceutical creams onto the belt.  I am praying she will not wait for me and want to walk out to the parking lot with me, see my license plate, trace it to my address, and become my new best friend/stalker. Luckily she has to pay before she can finish the show-and-tell festival, and then she leaves.

“You attract weirdos,” a friend of mine tells me later.  She is not the first person to identify this phenomenon. “Look,” she says, “stop trying to do missionary work at WalMart—it’s just duck and cover, and get out as fast as you can.”               

Monday, February 18, 2013

He Said, She Said

One of the hallmarks of an amateur is the way they handle dialogue. They can't believe that "said" is enough, and they have their characters blurting, exclaiming, postulating, and retorting. If you've done your job right and given your readers well defined characters and believable things to say, you shouldn't need to tell the reader HOW the line was said. When a woman walks in on her husband having an affair, we don't have to be told how she delivers the line, "How could you?"

Some writers feel they get into a rut using "said" all the time. This happens for two reasons. One, they don't realize that "said" is a great little word we don't mind seeing frequently. The other is that they don't know how to show which person is speaking any other way than to keep repeating, "Joe said" then "Sam said," then "Joe said" again.

First of all, when only two people are speaking, it's often obvious whose line it is, and you don't have to spell it out. Also, you can establish the speaker by using action. Here's an example of both:

Joe turned back. "You coming with us?"

Sam looked up from the television, then back to the show. "I don't think so."

Joe threw his jacket across the leather wingback. "You never go anywhere. You can't just stay here like a hermit."

"I go places."

"The mailbox doesn't count."

Sam clicked the remote. "I like it here."

"Whatever." Joe grabbed his jacket and headed out.

See how the dialogue flows without anyone having to retort or exclaim? And you know who's speaking because you're describing their actions. Mentally immerse yourself in the scene and you'll see what they're doing. Then describe it and the question of who's speaking will answer itself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Write What You Know

I was sitting in a class at USC, in the Professional Writing Program, when a young woman confessed that she had a hard time writing because she was "young and hadn't experienced anything yet." How wise she was to recognize the importance of experience. And how smart we would all be, as writers, if we realized that everything we go through is grist for the mill. Even our bad experiences teach us something and give us wisdom. Our trials, our adversity-- it can all work its way onto the printed page.

So my message for you today is to use your experiences and write what you know. From the city where you grew up, to the jobs you've had, to the people in your world-- these are the elements that will give authenticity to your work.

I just listed a YA adventure romance with Kindle and CreateSpace. It's called "JUNGLE" and it takes place on an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean. Now, I'm not an anthropologist (though I loved those college classes), and I'm certainly not a cannibal, but I used life experience to create villains, heroes, and real romance. Research helped fill in the details about sailing, botany, language, and primitive cultures.

In another of my Kindle books, "SISTERS IN THE MIX" I drew heavily on my actual life. This is a humorous chick-lit novel about an obsessive-compulsive woman with a cooking show, whose flamboyant sister moves in and creates all kinds of chaos for the main character. I don't have OCD, but I've lived long enough to know lots of people who do, so that made writing about it easy. I used to host a daily TV talk show. I've won tons of recipe contests. I like word puzzles and sometimes correct the grammar on signs. I have a husband and kids. So my actual life experience helped me include those details and write about these people in a setting I know well.

Look at your life and take a stab at a story that incorporates the elements you know best. That's how to best write a story that will ring true to your reader.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Of Heroes and Villains

Lots of writers love their protagonists so much that they can't bear to be hard on them. This is a huge mistake. You will not have a good story if your hero is so superlative that nobody can match him. Whether it's a hero or heroine, the same rule applies: Your villain must match in strength and wits.

Think about it-- your hero conquers whatever or whomever his challenge was, but it was a man of straw, someone anybody could have defeated. Not much of a story, is it? You need to make your villain as vile as your hero is wonderful. Make him even stronger if you like. Make him relentless, formidable, diabolical. Make the reader wonder how the hero will ever prevail against such a terrible opponent. Now you have suspense and the interest of your reader.

Even in a comedic chick-lit book, you have to remember to balance the protagonist and the antagonist. In "Sisters in the Mix," I created a woman who has OCD, hosts a cooking show, corrects grammar on public signs, and wants a world of neatness and order. Who descends into her structured little world? Her nemesis--a flaky, bohemian artist sister who undermines her parenting and even wrangles her way onto the cooking show. Each is as strong as the other as they butt heads.

And remember, nobody is all good or all bad. Give your hero flaws, and give your villain virtues. Then it will not only ring truer, but it will give each character room to grow and change, for better or worse.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Do You Have the Discipline to Write?

Besides being a writer, I'm a foodie. I love cooking and have won many cook-offs and recipe contests. When I read a recipe I can tell immediately if it will work. This is far more crucial with baking than with cooking, because baking is an actual science. If you leave out the flour, say, it won't work. If you leave out even SOME of the flour, it won't work.

What does this have to do with writing? Flour is like discipline. You can have all the other ingredients (raw talent, ideas, an eye for detail, etc.) but if you lack discipline, you will never succeed at writing. Or singing. Or dance. Or art. Or sports. There are so many talented people out there WHO WILL NEVER MAKE IT because, despite being phenomenally gifted, they don't have the discipline to take their craft to the next level.

You can't just like writing. You can't just love writing. You can't just have a bucket full of terrific ideas. You must be someone who can roll up their sleeves, ignore the flu, hunker down, and work hard. Every day. Even when there's a chocolate silk pie in the fridge. Even when your best friend wants to go to lunch. Even when a new movie just opened. Even when it's a beautiful day to go sailing. All the talent in the world will not make up for the inability to sacrifice. And, oddly enough, a mediocre writer can actually surpass the talented one if he simply has that dogged determination to complete a task. Writing success, like baking success, requires the right ingredients. And discipline, like flour, is not one you can leave out.