Sunday, September 14, 2008

Guest Blogger Jane Cleland

Jane Cleland has to be one of the smartest and hardest working women in the mystery community. I first met Jane at a Mystery Writers of America/NY Chapter meeting. Jane is the current president of MWA/NY as well as an Agatha-nominated writer (of the Josie Prescott series), business writer and speaker, and marketing exec. There doesn't seem to be anything Jane can't do, and that's why this story is such a good lesson for the rest of us mere mortals. Enjoy!

Lessons From A Trash Can
by Jane Cleland

The first time I spoke in public professionally, I fell upside down in a trash can. There were seventy-six people in the room. This is true.
I was walking backwards up the center aisle in a hotel’s meeting room holding an example of excellent graphic design high above my head when I ran into an oversized garbage can that one of the hotel workers had forgotten to remove after the noontime refresh. I was wearing a skirt and high heels, and I hit the trash can at just the right place to tiddlewink myself into the can head first.
I recall the moment well.
My first thought was for my hair. I have baby fine hair that's hard to style, and all I could think of was how awful and unprofessional I'd look once I got out of the trash can.
My second thought was for my suit. It was a soft gray wool suit, the first I'd ever bought and the only one I owned. I had another seminar scheduled in Dayton the next day. What would I do, I wondered, if I couldn't salvage my suit?
My third thought was for my carefully mounted example, which had frisbeed somewhere to my left as I’d flipped upside down. It was a really, really great example of an important principle relating to eye path design, and now, as far as I knew, it was gone. How could I make the points I needed to make without it? How could I possibly replace it by the time I got to Dayton?
Time seemed to stand still. Truly, I have no idea if this nightmare lasted seconds or minutes or even longer. At first, I thought I could handle the situation with aplomb. Then, as panic set in, I stopped thinking. I suddenly realized the true horror of my situation. I was upside down in a trash can with no hope of getting out.
People weren't laughing, but I didn't take this to be good news. I figured they were stunned, and thus silent; mortified, and therefore ignoring the situation; or so embarrassed on my behalf that there was no comment worth making. I decided to stay in the trash can until every single one of those seventy-six participants left the room. I figured that eventually someone from the hotel would arrive and haul me out and I could skulk away, never to return.
Two men seated nearby approached the can, peered down, and with a quiet “you take the thigh, I'll take the hip,” hoisted me out and set me upright. They stepped back. I smiled and thanked them politely. Then I thought of my hair and my suit. The trash can was filled with dry goods: discarded newspapers, crumpled napkins and unwanted advertising flyers, that sort of thing.
This was good news. My naturally buoyant optimism leapt forth as I realized that I wouldn’t have to worry about clumps of cherry Danish matting my hair or staining my skirt. It was my lucky day – I’d fallen into the dry goods trash can. Can you imagine how awful it would be to do a header into the discarded coffee bin?
During those first few seconds of recovery, I had the presence of mind to thank my rescuers, smile broadly as if everyone knew this was nothing more than a really clever goof on Jane and they should therefore relax and share the joke, and accept the offering of my beloved, nicely mounted example of excellent design from the woman six rows back who assured me that the bruise she'd received when it struck her shoulder would soon fade from memory. I went on with enormous (if I do say so myself) savoir faire. The seminar was a success.
Which goes to show you that sometimes things that start out bad can end up good. My protagonist Josie Prescott, for example, got chased out of her high-powered New York City job because she was the whistle-blower in a price-fixing scandal, and ends up owning her own company in beautiful, business-friendly New Hampshire. The trick is not to panic, and to show grace under pressure. Remember that the next time you fall into a trash can.

Jane's newest Josie Prescott mystery is Antiques to Die For. Visit Jane (and Josie) at


  1. Wonderful story Jane--that is grace under fire. And thanks for visiting Jungle Red! We're grateful for all you do for MWANY.

    The wonderful thing about terrible gaffes is that you can use them in your books. A couple of years ago, I was on the Yale Golf Course with some friends. I'd taken the cart down a path through the woods and as I emerged, I turned to look for them on the fairway. I glanced back just in time to see the fence in front of me, stamped on the gas (NOT the brake,) and crashed through the split-rails.

    You can bet I used that one! What about Josie, has she had an altercation with a trash can yet?

  2. But has Josie Prescott fallen head first into a garbage can...or is that in her future? Actually, that's the kind of thing that, if you put it in a book, no one would believe.

    My husband slipped on a banana peel. Twice...the same peel...coming and going. Can't take him anywhere.

    Welcome, Jane!

  3. Hi Jane,
    I think that story, and your entertainining use of that story illustrates why you are so successful -- in both writing and public speaking.
    What a great anecdotal lead to a career! What a great metaphor for life.

    Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Brilliant story, Jane! It's so nice to start the day with a good laugh--and I'm sure my keyboard will recover from the coffee shower!

  5. Thank you all... No, Josie hasn't fallen in a trash can. She is way more coordinated than I. But you're a 100 percent right... no one would believe if you wrote about it.

  6. Welcome Jane! How hilarious..and you did handle it with aplomb. (I can't imagine you any way but elegant.)

    My most embarrassing moment is SO embarrassing, it's too horrible to share or to put into a book. But let me just say the conversation ended like this:

    HANK: Oh, are you his mother?
    WOMAN: No,I'm his wife.

  7. Jane, now we know that you and Josie are both graceful as gazelles. Do you share any other traits?

  8. Funny, funny story, especially the way you tell it here. This revived me from my 3 p.m. slump (which lasts from approximately 1 to 4:30).

    See you at Bouchercon, I hope. I will reconnoiter for trash cans before you get there if you like.