The Effect of Andrew McCarthy on the Female Brain, by Guest Author Katherine Valdez

Oh, Andrew . . .
My guest author, the talented Katherine Valdez, had an opportunity to chat with actor/director/author Andrew McCarthy earlier this year. I had also met him at the same event, and I think Katherine perfectly captured the essence of what it means to have “brain melt.”

Andrew McCarthy 719

As teenaged girls, we swooned over him and Rob Lowe getting into trouble in “Class,” romancing Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” and falling in love with Kim Cattrall in “Mannequin.”

We feel like we know him. We refer to him by his first name. And when we see him in real life, part of our brain melts.

This is the effect of Andrew McCarthy on the female brain, a.k.a Brain Melt. I know it’s real, because it happened to me.

Earlier this year, I attended the Northern Colorado Writers conference, featuring actor/director-turned-bestselling-author Andrew McCarthy as the keynote speaker.

I joked a couple of times with NCW Director Kerrie Flanagan about picking him up at the airport, a challenging task she had selflessly decided to take on despite her hectic schedule. I volunteered to put my heart on the line, too. “If you need help, I’m available,” I emailed, punctuating my offer with a smiley face.

Still, when I attended the volunteer training – a dozen of us answered Kerrie’s request for help as “ambassadors” – I was surprised to see my name printed on the assignment sheet next to the task “Book Signing.”

Kerrie requested one more volunteer for that task, and my friend Dori added her name. We chatted calmly about Meeting a Famous Actor, and pretended the teenybopper part of our brains wasn’t screaming and jumping up and down.

The big day arrived. I spotted him walking through the hotel lobby. In a burst of confidence, I called out his name.


He stopped and smiled.

“Hi, I’m Katherine. I’m going to assist you with your book signing tonight.”


“Your essay ‘Going Back In’ really spoke to me,” I said, referring to his first-person account of a young woman’s death years ago in Wyoming during an outdoors leadership backpacking trip. “I backpacked the Wind River Range once with my husband. I mean, my ex-husband. I’m divorced.” I realized I was babbling. “We saw a lot more people than we wanted to.”

“The Wind sees a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of time in Lander going on trips,” he said, mentioning the town where backpackers launch their expeditions.

“We hiked in about 12 miles and there were crowds,” I said. “We even saw a Paris Hilton-type girl carrying her little dog.”

He smiled, as though he sympathized with our quest for solitude.

“We went up Fremont Peak and there was only one other person, so it was nice to get away for a while.”

He said something about the mountain, but I can’t remember, because I was too busy thinking I’M TALKING WITH ANDREW MCCARTHY!

“You know Fremont?” I asked him. “You’ve been up it?”


“The summit is so exposed, like ‘I don’t want to look down,’ ” I said with an embarrassed laugh.

Aware that I was starting to make a fool of myself, I said in closing, “I hope you have a chance to explore a bit before you leave town.”

He perked up. “What do you recommend?

“A good hike with a view of the whole city is hiking up to the “A” above the football stadium. You go all the way west on Prospect…” I pointed in the wrong direction.

“This way is west?” He pointed in the opposite direction.

“Yes, all the way west on Prospect and there’s a gate and you walk up a hill that leads to the trailhead, and you hike up the ridge to the white “A” painted on the hill above the stadium, and you get a view of the entire city.”

“How long does it take?”

“If you hike at a brisk pace, about a half-hour one way. So, go all the way east on Prospect…”

“East or West?” He smiled.

The painful realization struck me: I was suffering from Brain Melt.

“I’m sorry, West,” I said. I need to stop talking, NOW.

Andrew wore a slight smile on this face during our entire conversation, as though he knows the effect he has on women. No doubt he’s witnessed Brain Melt many times.

The irony is I hate the idea of being star-struck. When I see ordinary people screaming and falling all over themselves in the presence of a celebrity, I think, “C’mon, he’s Just a Normal Person.”

What the heck was I thinking? Of course he’s not Just a Normal Person. He’s a Movie Star. He traveled to India in search of the perfect cup of tea, went diving for black pearls in French Polynesia, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and published articles about these adventures and more. And, of course, he’s the author of a best-selling memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down.

The best possible thing happened next. He turned away from my Advanced Brain Melt deteriorated state to talk with two female writers who waited patiently at his side.

I was so relieved. And just a tiny bit disappointed. But mostly grateful this episode of epic humiliation had come to an end.* Note to Self: Don’t ever talk to a famous person again. Ever.**

Later, Dori and I showed up at the book signing table, only to find that a vivacious redhead had appointed herself Andrew’s assistant, single-handedly corralled everyone into a line, and asked them to open their copies of Andrew’s memoir to the title page, ready for him to sign.

Dori and I swallowed our disappointment, and exchanged amused smiles. Brain Melt had claimed another victim.


Katherine Valdez is the author of “Close Encounters with David Sedaris” and “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance.” If you subscribe to her blog and like her author Facebook page, she would be glad to entertain you with more embarrassing, true stories.


 *With a fist bump to Aisha Tyler, comedian and author of Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation

 **With apologies to Taylor Swift, “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”


A Writer’s Retreat a.k.a. Naptime


I just returned from the NCW annual writer’s retreat held at the Shambhala Mountain Center near Red Feather Lakes, CO. Maybe it was the soothing incense wafting about, the 8,000+ feet in altitude, or that the staff and other visitors seemed to peacefully float about with serene expressions on their faces, that I found myself to be rather sleepy on this particular retreat. Despite this, however, I only took one 90-minute snooze, which I chalk up to hours of vigorous writing, part of which, took place outside in the warm mountain air. Although my toasty room, equipped with a comfy bed, may have contributed.

Retreat1This was the first time the retreat had been held at the SMC, but I had visited the center once before. There were some rules to follow . . . one of which, was removing shoes when entering the housing facility. It took me two days, but I finally learned in the end, to strategically plan my outings to ensure the least amount of shoe removal. But up until then, I repeatedly forgot which entrance I left my shoes at. But I survived. The highlight of the center is of course, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya that stands 108 feet tall and took 13 years to construct. It is considered one of the largest and most significant pieces of sacred Buddhist architecture and said to “promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health and peace.” Sounds good to me.

Retreat2All zenful shenanigans aside; I did get a good amount of writing done. Even though I came there with a 20, 653 word manuscript and left with a 20, 875 word manuscript,  I still accomplished quite a bit: an outline (that otherwise did not exist) and I rewrote the first 4 chapters because originally, they sucked. I came away with a much better WIP and I was able to work out some plot issues so that I could move forward with it. Had I not gone on the retreat, I imagine the only writing-related thing I would have accomplished would have been playing Words with Friends and maybe a kick-ass grocery list, complete with clipped coupons . . . while burning incense. I needed this time away to focus on writing and get re-energized with this book I’m working on. Plus, it never hurts to be around other writers, snacks, and wine…just don’t forget your slippers.

20131109_083348A selfie with the Stupa.

2014 Top of the Mountain Book Award

TOM logo

The Top of the Mountain Book Award Contest is officially underway! This book award, given out at the Northern Colorado Writer’s annual conference in the spring, is  open to unpublished and previously published authors. Plus, the award money has been upped to $1,000! You do not need to be a member of the NCW, nor do you have to attend the conference to win (although you should really consider attending this highly-rated writer’s conference). Check out all the rules HERE and good luck!

Inspiration Passing You By


As writers, we often hear our fellow kind talk about finding material by eavesdropping on conversations in coffee shops, restaurants, etc. Maybe I’m too busy inhaling my latte while focusing all my attention on Pinterest actual writing. Sure, if I happen to overhear great little tidbits of potential story dialogue, great, but I don’t make it a point to listen. However, this weekend, I learned that I could inadvertently gather inspiration by just walking through a little touristy town, minding my own business. I didn’t have to feel bad about listening in on anyone; these are folks just passing by, or ones I walked past. They were worthy of jotting down in my little notebook.

“We’re tourists; tourists do stupid shit.”


“Remember that cotton candy phase you went through?”


Wife: “Honey, look . . . I found something I can buy.”

Husband: “Imagine that.”

Sometimes, some of the best stuff comes completely out of context from people passing you on the street. Use them as a writing prompt for a story, create a character based on one, or simply construct a conversation based on one and work it into your WIP. This made me think about if I’ve said something that caused a passerby to think, “Did I just hear that?”

Meet Jason Brick

Guess what? I found someone who actually makes a living writing! Really, I’m not kidding. And lucky for us, we can learn how to do the same from his new book, Mastering the Business of Writing: How to Earn a Full-Time Living as a Writer. Jason was kind enough to answer some questions and bestow some of his writer wisdom upon us mere mortals. Thanks, Jason!


1.) In addition to being an freelance writer, you’ve also published a travel book, short stories, and from what I hear, penned a young adult novel. Does your passion for writing reside with one more than the others?

It’s more a matter of what I’m passionate about at any given moment. One of the things I love about writing is I can bounce between one project and another as the mood suits me. I have lots (LOTS) of interests and this lets me chase them all down. 

 2.) You’re also a writing and a martial arts coach. Do you find many similarities between the writing clients and the martial arts clients? Is one group easier to coach than the other?

The process is almost identical for both, even though the details of what I’m coaching change. In both cases, what I’m really teaching is how to take control of your life and support the things that you hold dearest. Martial arts students are way easier to teach, I think because there’s more of a culture of listening and trying something out in the martial arts world. Writers resist more before trying stuff, and they tend to be a little more fragile. 

 3.) During your years of coaching, what’s the toughest thing to teach writers?

To think of writing as a business. A lot of writers don’t seem to want to do that. Some are afraid of the organization, marketing and self-discipline it takes to run a business. Some don’t want to “sell out.” But I have to ask…what constitutes selling out your talent? Turning out a few hours of work for pay every day, or spending those hours working at Home Depot and writing nothing at all?

 4.) You recently e-published two writing books, Mastering the Business of Writing: How to Make a Full-Time Living as a Writer; and 9 Steps of Highly Profitable WritingDid you learn anything surprising during the process of writing those? And what’s one important thing you hope readers take away from these books?

Full Disclosure: I had a publisher — TKC Publishing out of Hawaii — do the actual e-publishing. Working with them, I learned that promoting an ebook is way more complex than I imagined. But TKC has it to a science — Mastering hit #1 on the Amazon chart for books about writing for a day an a half last week. The most important thing I hope readers take away from either book is that this is the best time to be a writer in the history of the written word. Don’t let Scott Turow or a bunch of scared agents tell you otherwise. The door’s wide open for anybody willing to put in the work. Walk through it, already. 


5.) You’ve also written some dark, yet humorous short fiction under a pen name that has received great reviews on Amazon. Wingman in particular is said to be “like [The] Hangover, but funnier.” You’ve proven that writers don’t have to stick to one genre or style of writing; do you find it easy or difficult to keep them separate? Do you recommend it to other writers?

I find it necessary to bounce between genres. Otherwise, I get bored. And being bored does not keep my coat glossy. I recommend it to other writers who feel inspired to write in different areas. If you want to, you should. If not, you shouldn’t. I should also say that the industry says it’s a mistake. You spend energy in areas you don’t already have a following, and have to duplicate a lot of effort. That’s changing with the new face of publishing, but it’s still something to keep in mind. 

 6.) What do you think is the most common mistake that writers make?

Not treating your writing like a business. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to approach it professionally. If you want to just write a little and publish from time to time, though, it’s probably not that important. 

 7.) What, in your opinion, are the downsides, as well as the advantages, of digital publishing?

The biggest downside is that print still has all the cache. There’s something to holding the finished book in your hand, or being able to give a copy to a friend, that’s really special. Other than that, digital wins. Selling one copy or 10,000 copies costs you the same amount of moneyIt’s easy to fix typos as readers point them out to you. And you don’t have to wait a whole damn year between finishing the book and seeing it up on Amazon. 

 8.) As a busy father of two, how do you make the time to write full-time? (I’m assuming that after twenty years of teaching martial arts you’ve learned to stay focused and disciplined).

First, it’s my full-time job. I write from home, and it takes me only 3 or 4 hours a day to write enough to make my living. That alone gives me 5 hours (plus a couple theoretical commute hours) I wouldn’t have if I punched a clock. The focus thing is sort of true. I did learn how to create and apply systems to keep my time on track, and the martial arts helps me stick to those systems. Being systematic is a huge part of both of my books on writing. It’s an important habit to succeeding in any freelance endeavor. 

9.) What’s next for Jason Brick? Or for your alter ego, Jake F. Simons?

Jason Brick has three things in the hopper. My YA book about quantum mechanics and the zombie apocalypse should be finished up in the next few months. I’m also joining up with SEOWiSE, an outfit that teaches writers how to conquer the web to support their careers. But what I’m really most excited about is Precious Cargo. It’s a book I’m working on with some top martial arts, close protection and law enforcement guys where we apply bodyguard doctrine to family safety while traveling. I think it will be important, and it’s really fun to research.

As for Jake…Wingman’s sequel Train Wreck hit Amazon on July 31st. The next story in the series, Cluster*&$k, should be out before the holidays…just in time to buy grandma the trilogy.


I encourage you to check out Jason’s website that is full of great information about freelance writing, writer’s conferences and more. Thanks again, Jason/Jake! (You can also check out my interview on Jason’s website)

Baby who? (And a book tour)

If you’re able to tear yourself away from The Royal Birth Coverage, I’d love to share with you the equally exciting news of Folsom’s 93 book tour thus far. Check it out HERE. You can see me chat on Good Day Sacramento and if you’re not sick of me by then, you can listen to a public radio interview as well.


(A bundle of nerves before the interview)

Book Launch and What I Learned


Before I head out tomorrow for the California launch of Folsom’s 93, I held a book launch here in Fort Collins in the Tasting Room of the Fort Collins Brewery. The idea was not to sell a bunch of books, but rather, to celebrate with friends and family the long-awaited release of my first book. I guess I’d consider it more of  a “book shower” after the birth of the darn thing. I didn’t expect everyone to coo over the book and buy, buy, buy. It’s okay to just hold it, look it over, and hand it back to the parent. Not everyone is into babies like this, especially creepy babies. It’s about celebrating. Having never done a book launch before, I learned a lot, so I thought I’d pass along my thoughts . . .


1.) First, I learned (well, was reminded) that I have the most amazing friends and family in the world. A BIG thanks to all those who came and supported me!

2.) Picking a venue: Free is usually best, but we decided to splurge a bit and rent out a section of a local brewery. Some things to consider: when they require a minimum in food purchases, find out if tax and added gratuity is included. (I was taken aback a little when they tacked on nearly a $100 gratuity to the bill for 2 bartenders even after they had put out 3 tip jars that were already filled). Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with tipping—I insist upon it—just be aware of what will be expected of you in this type of venue. We purchased beer and appetizers for guests, so it was great to see them drinking, eating, and mingling. If you don’t mind paying a little bit, this is a great way to go, especially since all you have to do is show up. I also considered buying a keg and hosting the event at my house, but the added stress of hosting (including cleaning up) just wasn’t appealing.


3.) Invite ‘em right: I figured Facebook was a good place to start by creating an event that goes out to the friends you invite. It was probably the easiest, fastest way, but it was the least reliable method. Many people didn’t see that they were invited because FB alerts people once or twice and events are posted in an out-of-the-way spot and can easily be missed. Plus, lots of people use this tool and if you have some very social friends, your invite can easily get lost. I suggest using Evite. It’s free and a lot more reliable. You’ll need everyone’s email address, but for those who don’t post theirs on their FB page, send them a personal message.

4.) Get an “event planner”: This may be your spouse or best friend who’s not afraid to run the show a little. People seemed to show up all at once, so it was a bit overwhelming. I had planned on saying a few words and thanking everyone for coming, but there was never a moment when I could get everyone’s attention. I was in constant greet-mode. This makes it hard when it’s a friends and family event—at a public reading or signing, it’s a lot easier to say your shpeal. Before the shindig, designate someone who won’t be afraid to let loose a whistle or tap a glass to get the crowd’s attention—and yours. Also, have a friend take lots of pictures, because you will not have time to! This reminded me of my wedding reception, so it will be helpful to have others in charge of making sure things get done and go smooth. They also need to make sure you have something to eat and a drink in your hand.

5.) Pass the Buck: If you’re selling books yourself, designate someone to handle all of the sales. My husband, obsessed with finances, was the perfect choice for this job. I suggest getting the Square so that you can take credit cards via your smart phone or ipad. The device is free—they’ll mail it to you—and all you have to do is download the free app. It takes 2.75% of each swipe and that’s it; no additional fees and the moolah is deposited the next business day. This is ideal because you should have a box of books in your trunk. (If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you, or you’re a NY Times best seller and you don’t need to). With the Square, you can take payments from anyone, anywhere, including the barista who you see every morning who you’ve developed a friendly rapport with who  will be delighted to now be serving the greatest local author ever. Also, make sure you can easily make change for those paying with cash. For example, I sold the book for $15, so we had lots of fives on hand because people paying cash were likely to pay with a twenty dollar bill.

6.) Say whaaat?!: Most people, when having a book signed, especially by someone they know, hope you’re going to do more than just sign your name. First, sign the title page. Always ask who they want it signed to and make sure they tell you how it’s spelled. (there are those few Apryls out there . . .) Find some signature phrases such as Many Thanks, Best Wishes, Much Appreciation, All the Best, Hope you enjoy the book . . .you get the idea. And think before you write. We had a small gathering a few weeks ago with good friends and one suggested I come up with something that has to do with prison, so I wrote “Stay on the straight and narrow . . .”  . . . to our gay friends. After I handed it to them, I realized how stupidly inappropriate that was, but we all had a really big laugh about it.

7.) Get Creative: I had taken in a CD of the mug shots, as well as the book cover, to a print shop to have them enlarged and mounted on foamcore. (Thank you, Megan from Print Cafe. And thanks for coming to the launch!) These were great for displaying on the tables. I propped up the book cover on the signing table. Be sure to bring book stands for stuff like this. (Thanks, Kerrie!) They were a hit, particularly Felix, who made his way around the room . . .


8.) Open any gifts right away: If someone gives you a gift, particularly if it’s from your wonderful sister (who flew in from out-of-state to surprise you for the book launch), open it right then and there because it could be a beautiful, engraved pen that would have been perfect to use for signing the books. Things were busy and I didn’t open it until later. Don’t wait.


Overall, have a good time and enjoy yourself.


The company my husband works for is based out of San Francisco, so I decided to tag along this time. My son and I get to tool around the city while he works, then we’re off to Sacramento where I’ll be at the Folsom Prison Museum from 10-4 on July 20th. Next, catch me at Time Tested Books on July 24th in Sacramento at 7pm. Then it’s back to San Fran on the 25th to Modern Times Bookstore at 7pm. Wish me luck!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers

%d bloggers like this: