Friday, April 23, 2021

Zoom? Or Voodoo?



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know how they always talk about “a hook” for a book? Or movie? And for us writers, when we heart a good one, we think: OHHHHHHHHH SUCH a good ideeeea.

(And it sounds just like that that. The writer’s moan of envy. And deep approval.)

Well, prepare to be dazzled. Listen to this:


Remembrance is the story of four women told across three centuries, beginning on the eve of the Haitian Revolution and moving through to the 21st century. All struggling to survive devastating circumstances, the woman share a connection with Mother Abigail, a Voodoo priestess who uses her powers to create a parallel universe that becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad.

SO GREAT.

I met the amazing Rita Woods on Zoom--I mean, of course, where else these days? And it was all serendipity. We are both authors at the fabulous Forge Books, hurray, and they asked me to moderate a panel of their authors. SO it was Julie Carrick Dalton, Heather Webber, and Rita Woods. Julie and Heather I knew, but not Rita.

What an amazing night! We could have talked for days. Weeks! And so of course, I invited the wonderful Rita to visit us here today.

And awww. She's talking about how we met.

And by that I mean: Zoom. Rita has a very special (and super-appropriate) nickname for Zoom, as you will see below.

(And she’s giving away THREE copies of her book! So three of you are big to have a very good day.)



The Devil’s Hand Mirror
By Rita Woods

I was ever the late bloomer.

Married at thirty. Nearly forty before I started a family. And **mumble** when my debut novel, Remembrance, came out last January.

Becoming a first-time novelist of a certain age was exciting, terrifying, wonderful, surprising and exhausting. In those first few months of 2020, I had a fantastic launch party, got to travel, discovered some amazing independent bookstores, and met the most wonderful readers and writers. And then came Covid, undeniably one of 2020’s absolute worst surprises. Like almost everyone, my publisher tried to pivot, turning as many of the already planned events, into virtual affairs.

Enter, Zoom.

AKA Satan’s hand mirror.

While Zoom has served to keep the world more or less connected, it has also allowed me to see myself in a way that has been as dismaying as it has been edifying. In event after event with other authors, (note: I have bras older than many of them), I found myself gazing in abject horror at my image on the screen. I mean . . is that what I really look like? Holy God!

Despite my best efforts, I was constantly distracted by that poorly lit doppelgänger floating there in the tiny window, my name posted across its chest.

In Remembrance, you have four strong women spread across three centuries, using their will power and their magic to survive in horrific circumstances.

Yeah, I know, but what the heck is going on with my neck? Is it melting? It looks like it’s melting. Should I move the camera? Should I turn off the camera?

The Haitian Revolution, New Orleans in the early 19th century and the 2010 Haitian earthquake all figure prominently in Remembrance and yet in the novel, these events are placed in the milieu of magical realism.

Uh-hunh. How come no one else has bags under their eyes? Is there an app for that? Does Zoom have an anti eye-bag app?

Do you think . . .?

How come she has a background that looks like she’s on a French terrace?


I keep hitting the button for ‘change background’ and mine still looks like a bargain basement version of the Matrix.

And this, dear reader, is the way that I have spent my last two thousand four hundred Zoom meetings.


Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly thankful that Zoom exists. It has given me the opportunity to stay connected with readers and libraries and other writers, but I have to be honest. I am also daily traumatized by the fact that, seventy five percent of the time on camera, I bear a striking resemblance to a re-animated corpse.

Currently, I am finishing book two, The Last Dreamwalker, and like absolutely every living, breathing human being on planet Earth, I am Zoomed out and desperate to return to in-person events.

But I have a sinking feeling that Zoom will not entirely vanish, and so in between researching the types of native birds found on the Gullah Sea Islands, I’ve been binging make-up tutorials and experimenting with camera angles.

So far, low lighting, turtlenecks and large coffee mugs seem most effective in making me look less used up and dried out, but I’m all about any and all suggestions on how to look fabulous in the cursed Zoom-sphere.

Otherwise, The Last Dreamwalker onscreen events may well all end up being done by a hand puppet.

HANK: I love that idea! We will all use puppets! And I know we should be walking about Zoom--do you have special lighting? Are you business jackets and yoga pants, like I am?

But wow, wouldn’t you like to know more about Rita’s book, too? So--and I never thought I would be offering this particular choice: Zoom tips? Or Voodoo?

(And don’t forget to leave a comment here to be one of the three lucky winners!)



Rita Woods is a writer and Board Certified Internal Medicine physician serving as Medical Director of a Wellness Center for one of the nations largest Locals in suburban Chicago.

Her debut novel, Remembrance, received the African American Literary Award for Best Historical fiction, was a SIBA Winter Okra Pick, one of NPR's Best books of 2020. And was included on Essence, Vogue and PopSugar's lists of Best Books of 2020.

She is an elected Trustee of her local library board and is currently a mentor for Cinnamon Girl's Inc, and organization that fosters the love of writing in high school girls of color.

Rita lives outside of Chicago with her husband, children and house full of cats.
www.ritawoodswrites.com
Twitter: @RitaWoodsAuthor
IG: ritawoods723



Remembrance is the story of four women told across three centuries, beginning on the eve of the Haitian Revolution and moving through to the 21st century. All struggling to survive devastating circumstances, the woman share a connection with Mother Abigail, a Voodoo priestess who uses her powers to create a parallel universe that becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad.

114 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your debut novel, Rita . . . “Remembrance” sounds so intriguing; I’m definitely looking forward to meeting Abigail, Margot, and Gaelle . . . .

    I love how Zoom has allowed us to be together for book things, but I am appalled when I look at myself on camera [so I usually just turn the webcam off] . . . .

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  2. We all need zoom tips! It is completely impossible! xxxx

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  3. Rita, you look gorgeous - just saying! Your book sounds fabulous, too.

    Oh, Zoom. Last night I was the featured author at an event (thank you, Hallie!). The light outside changed during the hour, and the indoor lighting that had looked fine at 6:50 suddenly looked terrible at 7:30! Gah - too late to fiddle with it.

    Hank, I've noticed you always sit farther away from the camera than most do (and you always look gorgeous, too). But then, you're a pro.

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    1. Oh, that’s funny Edith! I don’t think I sit far away… Now I will look!

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    2. Awww the light! And Hank DOES always look gorgeous!

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    3. Aww...xoxoo Yes, the light is the whole key. For better or worse..

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  4. RITA: Congratulations on your book! Having to launch Remembrance via Zoom events as a debut author is an additional challenge but I am sure you are just being too hard on yourself. As a reader, my video is usually not turned on. Most of the events occur in the evenings so the lighting is not such an issue for me.

    But I have stopped wearing any (foundation) makeup during the past year so you do see me "au naturel". We have been in multiple stay-at-home lockdowns (we are in one right now in Ontario) and then I wear a mask outside, so what's the point? But my clothing has not changed at all from pre-pandemic days but I wish I had a better background. The maroon curtains and balcony view in my apartment are not that interesting to look at. Have you been looking at people's backgrounds as I have?

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    1. Backgrounds? Oh yes, GRACE. For sure. So interesting to see into people's lives that way. I'm always disappointed when someone has a canned background from Zoom.

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    2. AMANDA: Yes, it is so fascinating to see other aspects of a person's life that we can discern when we see their background during a Zoom event. Some authors have large posters of their book covers or book shelves with their books that are clearly visible, and others are basically doing their Zoom calls in a blank white hallway! But so far, I have not seen anyone use a canned background.

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    3. Oh, so funny! I am constantly looking at backgrounds! Last night on CNN there was a lawyer who had Dash – and this is hard to describe – – on a desk behind him there was a plastic or ceramic laughing shark in a little plastic bathtub. As you can hear, it is hard to describe. But it was ridiculous. And riveting.

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    4. And I, of course, I am endlessly thrilled at my 10 out of 10 from ROOM RATER.

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    5. On a recent Google call a friend had a canned background, and every time his daughter passed behind him you could see her, but in a ghostly way. It was quite comical.

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    6. Those fake backgrounds almost work. But just… Almost.

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    7. HANK: You totally deserved that 10/10 score from ROOM RATER!

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    8. Room rater! Personally love to see the cat draped on bookshelf in the background and the sullen teens walking by

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    9. Thenk you! I was SO HAPPY!

      And yes, Rita, so agree, anything real is fabulous.

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  5. Rita, welcome to JRW and congratualtions on all of the acclaim your book has garnered in spite of the pandemic. Remembrance sounds very interesting traveling through history and using multiple protagonists. I'd love to hear about where the idea for this story came to you and how you integrated all of the timeframes. I am fascinated.

    As for ZOOM, (Satan's Hand Mirror) ha, remember that noone, no one, looks at you as critically as you look at yourself. Your photo is stunning, so your starting point is better than most of us, just saying!

    Hank, thank you for the introduction. This book sounds wonderful and we all needed to meet Rita!

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    1. I guess the bottom line is nobody knows how we wish we looked. Or something like that.

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    2. Thank you Judy!And Hank, that's deep!. . . I think! LOL

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    3. Yeah, when I thought of it, I thought--huh. SO very true, Hank!
      And then I thought--HUH?

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  6. Welcome to JRW's Rita, where you can chat about your book without that pesky camera. I use Zoom almost every day, without having a video link. I tell people it is because I am a very shy unicorn and my horn gets in the way. I am waiting for Hank to produce a Zoom tutorial, then maybe I will show up. Really looking forward to reading Remembrance, this country has always intrigued me. I am certain your book will add to its appeal.

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    1. That is so sweet of you, Coralee. I am picturing you as a unicorn. Very cute.

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  7. Rita, you look amazing! And congratulations on the debut.

    Zoom. Ack. Talk about a blessing and a curse all wrapped up into one. It's bad enough to look at your image in that tiny thumbnail, but then I think, what about the people who are watching in Speaker View? And then there are the screen shots folks post on Facebook the next day when I've been caught in the middle of animated conversation and look like I'm having a stroke. Oh, wait. That happens when people post pictures from in-person events too.

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    1. Screenshots! Oh, you are so right. There is absolutely no way to get a good one. Even if you say OK, everyone look at the camera. Someone doesn’t.

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    2. Annette, you always, always look gorgeous. Just sayin'.

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    3. Ha! Karen, you are too kind.

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    4. ANNETTE: You have always looked fab on the virtual events I have seen you participate in (and in person).

      As someone who take screenshots for most virtual events, it is really hard when there are more than 4 people. The chances of a shot of everyone looking at the screen with their eyes open and no blurring is almost nil, lol.

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    5. NIL is right! But we all LOVE when you take photos, Grace. It's such a lovely sweet thing to do. xx

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  8. Welcome Rita, and congratulations. I look forward to reading your book. As for Zoom, I think it has saved my sanity this past 14 months. My partner and I attend lots of virtual events now, and, truly, I think everyone here looks great. We are our own worst critics.

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    1. Agreed, Ann. Connecting via online has enabled me to not miss a beat with my full-time job. We look as we do. Period. On-screen and off. What will be interesting to see is what we do with ourselves when we are next able to meet face to face: Will we still dwell on our looks or will we have moved past that hang-up?

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    2. I think this is so interesting! With masks and everything, no one really sees us as much as they did before.

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    3. Thanks so much! I want so much to be a bigger person but have accepted vanity as (one of) my fatal flaws :-)

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  9. Rita, you're hysterical, and we all need a neck and an eye bag app! And the book sounds fascinating. I would love to hear more about voodoo...my second book ever took place in the Dominican Republic and it involved voodoo. I think it's best that it never saw the light of day!

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  10. Rita, Remembrance is going on my TBR pile and I'll be watching for The Last Dreamwalker--so don't get distracted by stuff like make-up tutorials! I can't Zoom, but I do have several mirrors--some of which I avoid.

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    1. Isn’t it crazy that there is such a thing as a make up tutorials? And well, there are lots and lots of them!

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    2. Thank you Flora! And there are at least 100 tutorials on the perfect smokey eye alone! Lord help us!

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    3. SMokey eye. I remember once working on that in the 1960's--and I was so pleased with myself. I strutted out of the bathroom, and my mom said: Oh! Honey! What happened? How did you get a black eye?
      And I said...what? It's eye shadow!
      And she said: Well, you made a PERFECT bruise.

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  11. Congratulations on publication! On my TBR pile. Good luck with #2.

    After living the life on Zoom for over a year, I have a routine. I have a small stack of shipping boxes on the dining room table, ready to elevate my laptop above my face. The chandelier has a dimmer. Turtleneck under the perfect blue sweater. Makeup...what's that? Lipstick...always. Wine glass for evening zooms, coffee mug for daytime. Already pondering a summer switch to perfect blue T-shirts with a subtle choker.

    My standard poodles come running when they hear a zoom session start. They check out the screen before settling down on the floor.

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    1. Yes, it is so nice to have the routine. The way you know it works. It can it can be very complicated, and it seems as if you have this well in hand!

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    2. Love the dimmer, the coffee mug (with wine?) and the poodle

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  12. Satan's hand mirror!! So perfect. It's a humbling experience, ain't it? A little better now that I've gotten my shots and been able to get my hair cut. Still...

    Going to get your book right now... because THAT is an irresistible premise.

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    1. Hallie, soooo humbling! I mean not EVERYTHING can be learned on Google (at least not learned well) like coloring, cutting and highlighting ones own hair . . . and car repair. ;-/ And so hope you enjoy the book!

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    2. How about REPAIRING the hair coloring? :-)

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  13. Congratulations, Rita, on book #1 and best wishes for happy writing on book #2. Your mix of multiple centuries and magic realism sounds really intriguing. Do tell us how you came to write your story this way.

    My very favourite Zoom moment every morning is when my younger colleague's twins stop by his home desk and fling their arms around his neck to say goodbye and give him a kiss before heading off to school. Such a touching and natural moment of family life intersecting with work from home life. Bring on the kids and cats and dogs to your Zoom screens: they are all natural enhancers of the online world in which we're living.

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  14. Satan's hand mirror. I love it. Rita, you look marvelous and your book sounds amazing. I spend some (most?) of my events with the same thoughts - adding in "Where do I look? At the camera? The people? Ack!"

    I keep hearing "put natural light in front of you" but the sun moves, you see. So what was in front of me at the top of the hour isn't in front thirty minutes later.

    I have also heard simple, bold colors work best.

    But the where to look - it gets me every time!

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    1. On zoom? Always always always look at the camera. Then it feels like you’re looking at the people. It is strange, but look at the camera.

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    2. I can never figure this out, Hank. The camera lens is never where I think it is, and especially using my huge monitor where the camera is above, it never looks like everyone else's. I'm just resolved to have my eyes wandering around like Mad Eye Moody on the Harry Potter movies.

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    3. The camera! I remember the camera for about 90 secs then the wandering eye begins!

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    4. I bought a new iPad Pro and the camera is amazing - so much better than my laptop. But whereas the camera on the laptop is right above the screen, the camera on the iPad (when it is in portrait mode for Zoom) is...off to the side. Such a weird thing.

      Karen, Mady-Eye Moody - LOL

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  15. Absolutely no Zoom advice. I wonder who that lady is who takes over my box whenever I attend an event. Here's to a back to the future date with in person appearances! Remembrance sounds amazing. Looking forward to reading it.

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    1. True! And we look very different in the real mirror— and in real life – – than we do on zoom !

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    2. I hope so! Sometimes the Zoom Kait resembles that lady I see in the sideview mirror running along side the car. Can't figure out who she is, but she must be in good shape to run that fast :)

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    3. And I think I have that same weird lady!

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  16. Wow, Rita, you are a force - Satans hand mirror- so clever. Remembrance sounds intriguing and I have been fascinated by Haiti since Graham Greene's novel read when I was much much younger. As for Zoom; well I realised that I lacked eyebrows as I started on Zoom. One of many lacks with pale thinning brows due to age and color. Why did this particular lack catch my attention, it wasn't the only one. A never forgotten anecdote from my mother's childhood in the '20's. One of her aunts came back from the beauty parlor having had her eyebrows plucked. My great gramma looked at her and commented, "you look like a bare faced deer!" Why a deer, but family legends live on. So me on Zoom? Well comfort is key, and I do try to remember to add eyebrows beforehand and a little lipstick for all but Church! I think Zoom is one more, most useful, but terrifying tool tool for women showing us "warts and all". But Rita I am still dwelling on your beautiful hair. How I envy you, but I won't get started on that right now but I shall chase down your book. Lots of luck with book 2, and have you really done those thousands of Zooms? I'm impressed.

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    1. Bare faced deer!!! OMG!!!! now I'm going to be staring at my eyebrows!
      And maybe not a THOUSAND Zooms! Maybe just dozens and dozens LOL!

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  17. Apologies for grammar misses. My phone won't let me edit

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  18. Celia, as I've greyed the eyebrows have faded here, too. Between that and the face masks it's impossible to convey emotion facially these days, isn't it? With three daughters, two of whom practically lived on Zoom this past year in their own business lives, I am not allowed to have any vanity, either. Our Zoom calls have been, shall we say, instructional.

    Rita, you made me howl with laughter this morning. Thank you! It's all true, too--except that your neck looks fine, and there are only discernible eye bags to you. Your self-talk was spot-on, though. Begone, Satan!

    I'm super curious about how you came up with this plot for Remembrance. It is an amazingly original idea, and could you please speak to where the inspiration came from?

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    1. Idea?: Actually started from Quantum Mechanics. The idea that time/space are relative. Think 2 trains sitting side by side on parallel tracks and one starts to move. But that sensation of which one. And what if a person had the power to manipulate this.

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    2. This just gets better and better...

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    3. But to then apply it to the Underground Railroad! That's the genius part.

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  19. I am laughing! I have never zoomed and your observations are part of the reason why. I have a post-it over my laptop's camera eye and it will stay forever! And I am horrified any time I hear a recording of my voice. I sound like that? No way. If I ever do zoom it will be as a fly on the wall, watching and listening. Remembrance sounds so good. I love the idea of parallel worlds. So now I have to read it and find out if the women flee to one for a while or for their lifetimes. How different is that world? Can they bounce back and forth between worlds? And so forth. So many questions!

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  20. Thank you Thank you Thank you! I needed that laughter this morning! I will now be asking my colleagues for all future interactions if we are talking on the phone or meeting through Satan's hand mirror.
    The book sounds wonderful and I'm popping over the TBB (to be bought/borrowed) list right now. I've been to Haiti for work and have wished to be able to stay and learn more about the history and culture.
    Also - being of a certain age, vision level and pandemic haircut status, I'd taken to orienting my camera towards whatever furry creature was curled up on the floor nearby as I talk. It worked wonderfully as long as I remembered not to bring the fuzzy slippers into the room and leave them beside my desk.

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    1. Haiti is an endlessly fascinating country!
      The slippers will however, get you kicked off Room Rater. (though I think that's unfair LOL)

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  21. Zoom tips ARE Voodoo! Congratulations on having such a smashing debut, Rita - Hank is right, it really does have a Damn, I wish I'd thought of that! premise.

    And I totally sympathize with you on the devil's hand mirror. I always thought my silver hair was a bright compliment to my face and eyes, but on Zoom? I'm an all-white blur. I look like Frosty the Snowman's grandmother. Plus, of course, my hair's only been cut once in the past year+, and I literally have to press my hands together to keep from fiddling with it while I watch myself on the screen. Will it look better over my shoulder? Behind my shoulder? Maybe I should fluff it. No, no, that looks like I'm massaging my scalp! Argh!

    I have a friend who sticks a Post-It note over her picture when she appears in her Zoom box. I think she may have some up with the best solution of all.

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    1. Oh GIRL!!!! You are my tribe. You start out thinking you look FABULOUS then open the Zoom call and go: WTH!!!!!!

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    2. Julia, you can hide your own view of yourself! It's an option when you click those three dots in your picture.

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    3. SO different in the bathroom mirror than on the Zoom. SO DIFFERENT!

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  22. Rita, thanks for stopping by JRW. Your comments about Zoom are spot on and had me chuckling. I remember my first Zoom encounter wondering who that person was in my box; it certainly wasn't the person I see in the mirror every day ... or was it? I must say though that I really enjoy all of the author Zoom events across the country that I am able to attend that I otherwise would have missed pre-pandemic. I think you look fabulous as does Remembrance - I can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thank you so much!!!! And you're right. It does allow attending author events anywhere in the world!

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    2. Yes, so agree...that is such a great thing. xxx

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  23. Rita, you are fabulous! And you made me laugh so hard I snorted my coffee. The Devil's Hand Mirror! I take some comfort in how funny famous actors look when you freeze-frame them. Faces are meant to be moving, folks. And I absolutely love the concept for you book. Parallel universes are my cup of tea. Off to order now!

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    1. <3 Hope you enjoy! (and if Angelina Jolie can look weird. . . LOL)

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  24. Congratulations on the debut and wishing you good word searching while creating your second book. Crossing three centuries must have been challenging. Was it difficult keeping characters in the correct time?

    As for Zoom.... My Kindle didn't have enough volume. My phone's screen was too small. Purchased new laptop so I could be a part of my non-working world without struggling. I'm still trying find the correct distance from my face and camera, especially if I want to type a send a private message during the meeting. My arms are long but not that long. And then there is Teams at work that I need the phone to use because my desktop computer isn't equipped with a camera.....

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    1. OMG! Teams. Make. It. Stop!!!!! And the correct distance to look good is in stark contrast to the distance needed to type a message! LOL

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  25. Rita you look marvelous. Love the hair. I don't have tips but I do like the idea of puppets.

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    1. Totally. (and you two should know each other...Rita, Dru is a truly brilliant (and influential) reviewer.))

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    2. Hi Dru! Wonderful to meet you. Are you on twitter or IG?

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  26. Rita, before I rant about Zoom, let me say congratulations on your debut. Remembrance sound wonderful! Definitely added to my TBR list.

    Boy, did you hit the nail on the head with the Zoom complaints! Satan's hand mirror indeed. I am 62 years old, an age where one begins to face irrefutable evidence of aging on a regular basis anyway. But I have been horrified by my appearance in the little thumbnail on screen for most of the past year. Like Grace, I actually wear a lot less makeup now, thanks to masks that would smear it all up anyway. So I get less camouflage. And currently, it is spring allergy season, so on top of the sagging neck and the bags under the eyes I have swollen, puffy, pink eyes. That's attractive. (NOT) Perhaps hand puppets are the answer....

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  27. Bags above the mask, sags below. Sooooo pretty. LOL!!! Hand puppets forever!

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  28. Camera on the side? Side eye then?

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    1. Look straight on into the camera...is that what you mean? ALl that matters is where the camera is, not how it looks on YOUR screen, because if you look at your screen to check, you are not looking at the camera. Try taking a screen shot of where you are looking to see if you have it right. xoxo

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  29. " In event after event with other authors, (note: I have bras older than many of them), I found myself gazing in abject horror at my image on the screen. I mean . . is that what I really look like? Holy God!"
    Honey, you are my kind of woman! Scratch that. My kind of person!

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  30. Congrats on the new book! I absolutely love the plot. I don't know much about Zoom, never really having used it, but I definitely find the history and practices of voodoo very interesting.

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  31. “AKA Satan’s hand mirror” - I just spewed soda all over myself. What a wonderful post!!! And now I have to buy this fabulously original, brilliant and amazing book! Congratulations, Rita!

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    1. Thank you so much (and sorry about the spewing, LOL)

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  32. Rita,

    Welcome to Jungle Reds!

    Your novel looks wonderful and I will look for a copy at my library.

    Diana

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  33. Rita, you've expressed every tiny horror we of a certain age feel in the age of Satan's hand mirror. Loved your post, and I'd love a copy of your book. I look forward to reading it!

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  34. So funny. In my last Zoom meeting, I couldn't find the button to turn the video on. I'm pretty sure I hid it subconsciously.

    I was thinking of wrapping a scarf around my neck, but I would settle for a turtleneck dickey. Do they still exist? I haven't seen one of those since high school.

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