To everyone I love, Happy Valentine’s Day. To everyone I like, Happy Valentine’s Day. To everyone I don’t care a hoot about, Happy Valentine’s Day. To everyone with whom I vehemently disagree, Happy Valentine’s Day. To everyone who pisses me off, Happy Valentine’s Day. To everyone who has ever been all of the above, Happy Valentine’s Day. I would not know life’s delights or disappointments without people like you.
My husband and I recently went on a road trip to Sarasota and stopped halfway in Biloxi, Mississippi. Hubby had been stationed there during his internship and residency in the U.S. Air Force and wanted to do some memory-lane sight-seeing. So we stayed two nights.
We chose Motel 6 because it was on the Gulf and allowed dogs; we were on our annual “dog-cation” with Meryl and Byron. We brought portable kennels because the hotel rules required dogs to be kenneled when we went out. We walked the dogs three times a day and were never gone more than several hours, zipping the pups in their super-sized kennels with their toys while we were gone.
We rented a suite with a kitchenette. At Motel 6, this means a spacious room with a small kitchen space. This cost $50, which we thought was an amazing value. We joked to ourselves, “We always get the suite at Motel 6 and spend our money on dinner and wine.” We did just that, visiting Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant for a delightful late lunch with fabulous service and lovely wine choices.
But then, it was back to the dogs at the Motel 6, where we walked them again then settled in to watch TV for the evening.
In spite of some issues with the stench of cigarette smoke — Motel 6 allows smokers in the same hallways as non-smokers — we decided to book there again for our return trip. It was a clean room, spacious, and the beds were great. We made dinner reservations for our return trip at Anthony’s Seafood and Steak in Ocean Springs, joking again to ourselves about spending more money on dinner and wine than .
Trouble was, when we arrived at Motel 6 on a cold, wet and misty day, the desk clerk who was the same one from our first stay, told us we could not have our confirmed room. According to Motel 6′s records, we had “created a disturbance” during our previous stay.
Hello? This was news to us.
Nobody from Motel 6 said a peep to us about our creating any disturbance, not during our stay or when we checked out. Even my call to Motel 6 customer relations department was not enough to remove the “do not rent” label on our account, although customer relations did offer us rooms at other area properties. I told them we would file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and would find a room elsewhere.
During all this, the desk clerk was so noncommittal, I started wondering if she was the one who put this “do not rent” label on our account. She was efficient and did her job, but both Hubby and I thought she “had it out” for us. Maybe she doesn’t like anybody. I might not either if I worked at a Motel 6.
By the time I got off the phone with customer relations, my husband was so angry, he really was starting to make a disturbance. I was angry, too, more hurt than angry. Here we were, two senior citizens, very weary after a long drive. Somehow, some way, we had been blamed for something we did not do.
I think this was simply a mistake and we/our room was tagged for something other guests did. There were two schizophrenic men staying at this property, and one of them was bothering me at the front desk, telling me about his son, and then telling me and the desk clerk not to pay any attention to another guy who was his roommate, because the roommate was crazy. I was a bit frightened by this fellow and told myself, “That’s what you get when you stay at cheap hotels.” But then, I also was trying to be egalitarian, telling myself that if they continued to bother me, I’d speak up.
Now I wonder if the complaint was about them, not us. I guess I’ll never know, but my husband has joked, “I’ve been kicked out of better places than Motel 6.”
Another disappointment was that we had to cancel our dinner reservations, which we had looked forward to after such a long drive. It took us an hour to find another room. At La Quinta we got a lovely “suite” for $100 with a wonderful bed. I am now a La Quinta fan. We were were delighted with their service and welcoming attitude, which was night and day from the Motel 6 desk clerk who didn’t seem to like us. Dinner that night was at Applebee’s, which certainly wasn’t Anthony’s, but it was right across the parking lot. By that hour, we had succumbed to our frustrations, weariness and the dreary weather.
After we got home to Austin, we filed a Better Business Bureau report with the Biloxi BBB and hope to get the “do not rent” removed from our name. I guess I have too much pride to be kicked out for a disturbance we never made. Other than going in and out motel doors with two dogs, the only noise I can think we made was if the dogs barked while we were gone. But the hotel takes dogs, and dogs do bark, although ours were zipped in their kennels. I bet we were the only guests who actually complied with that hotel rule.
I had intended to make this a humorous post, but I think it’s more of a rant. I don’t like being treated like some trouble-maker and want our record cleared. Will our BBB complaint do the trick? Will we once again be allowed to stay at the Motel 6 on Beach Blvd. in Biloxi?
I’ll update you as things progress.
The other day, a seasonal Christian commented about the pseudo-war between the terms “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” I’m paraphrasing this celebrant’s words, but this is pretty close: “I haven’t heard so much of the ‘Happy Holiday’ stuff this year. What I’m hearing is, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and that’s how it should be. What do ‘they’ think all this is about, anyway? It’s about Christmas!”
In spite of my horror at this person’s solipsism, I did my best to reply in a matter of fact tone. “Well, it depends on the person’s religion. My hair dresser is Hindu, so I’m not going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to her.” I had intended to say more, but my husband interrupted to remind me that my hairdresser is from Iran and therefore Muslim, not Hindu. So my point was lost in the aftermath. I was not able to add that I don’t wish “Merry Christmas” to my pet nanny, who is Jewish, nor do I send Christmas cards to associates from India who are probably Hindu.
Last year, the president of a local women’s club with 450 members sent an e-blast to the entire membership, wishing them “Merry Christmas” with an embellished sermon about Jesus Christ’s blessed birth, faith in God’s righteousness, and so forth. I was amazed at her “in-your-face” religiosity without concern for the 20 percent of the club who are probably not Christian.
But this is Texas. Sigh. Yes, this is Texas.
I often hear Texans complain about having to be “politically correct,” like the acquaintance above who insisted that the birth of Christ is what the holidays are all about. She, like many are ill-informed. The date of our big winter holiday, actually, all Northern-Hemisphere winter holidays, stems from ancient celebrations surrounding the winter solstice that falls between December 20 and 23.
This is a time when nights are long and days are short. In ancient times, if you believed gods, goddesses and even the sun reigned over your life, you probably thought it wise to plead for the return of the light. And when it came back, oh, the joy. You’d want to honor the gods with a great festival and gifts to celebrate the sun’s rebirth.
Nowhere in the Bible is the date of Jesus’ birth stated. Biblical scholars, academicians, historians and astrologers disagree vehemently about the true date. Some say late fall, some summer and others say spring. Some even insist that Jesus was born several years before he supposedly was born, placing his birth in the year 5 or 6 B.C.
Regardless of the actual date, the world celebrates the birth of Jesus, along with many other religious holidays, around our winter solstice, which has been a time of joy and feasting ever since humans discovered a reason to have parties.
Winter Solstice Holidays
The following incomplete list of winter solstice holidays was taken from http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/winterholidays/p/WinterHolidays.htm, but please do your own research. If you stay off religious sites that dispute historical facts, and focus on proven data, you’ll find similar information and even more holidays than these. To me, the most interesting one below was the Iranian holiday called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the unconquered sun). It was celebrated on Dec. 25 as the day of the virgin birth of a god called Mithras. Gee, what a coincidence to the birth of Jesus, eh?
“The Saturnalia was a major holiday for the ancient Romans, with drinking, gift giving, bonfires, candles, role reversals for slaves and masters. It lasted a variable number of days from 3-7 or more, depending on how successful the emperor was at legislating. Saturn (Cronus in Greek) was the original creator of man in the Golden Age, when there was no winter and everyone was happy. Saturn was ousted by his son Jupiter (Zeus) and life took a decidedly downward turn.
“Hanukkah (Hanukah / Hanuka / Chanukah) is a festival of lights that is symbolized by the candelabrum known as a menorah. Hanukkah celebrates a lighting miracle when one night’s worth of oil lit candles for 8 days. Special foods and gift giving are also a part of Hanukkah.
“Mithras was an Iranian Zoroastrian god who was popular with Roman soldiers. Mithras was created by the chief deity, Ahura-Mazda, to save the world. The day of the virgin birth of Mithras was December 25 (the solstice) it was also referred to as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means the birthday of the unconquered sun.
“Brumalia was a Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. By the time of the winter Brumalia, the wine was ready to be poured into jars for drinking. Although a Greek holiday, the name Brumalia is Latin, bruma being the Latin for Winter Solstice.
“Christmas — In A.D. 354, the birth of Jesus Christ was set on December 25. The date is not believed to be accurate and is the same as the birth date of Mithras. Like the other holidays, Christmas is celebrated with festivity and gift giving. It seems to have taken over Mithras and Saturnalia traditions.”
Note: any disputes in this above list should be referred to the list author at http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/winterholidays/p/WinterHolidays.htm.
May I Repeat? Happy Holidays. Plural.
Clearly, I’m no religious scholar, but Jesus’ birth is not the only reason we celebrate the year’s end and return of the light. It’s one of myriad reasons. In our land of E pluribus unum—even Texas, where so many assume I believe what they believe, and my differing opinions are not expected or allowed—I prefer to say, “Happy Holidays” or “Have a Wonderful Holiday,” or even better, “Happy New Year.” Seems to me, that’s what this time of year is all about. The year’s end, the return of the light, the joy of giving to those we love of all faiths, even the righteous Christians who seem upset that others have holidays this time of year, too. Do any of them remember that Jesus was a Jew?
I see and hear so much blame falsely placed on “Obama Care.” Some of the best tenets of the new law already are in place, like making sure preexisting conditions are covered, getting a rebate if your insurance company charged too much in the past, and making sure young adults can stay on parents’ insurance until age 26, when they finally figure out how to support themselves.
Are these bad things? Although most of the law doesn’t begin until 2014, people are posting hysterical lies on Twitter and Facebook, sending me extremist e-mails that blame Obama Care for whatever ails their lives or wallets. Consumer Reports did a great job summarizing the Affordable Care Act in this article and at lengh in a PDF you can download by clicking the following text: The_Affordable_Care_Act-You_and_Your_Family. Health insurance is something we all like to complain about, but I learned a lot from this report and hope you will gain something from it, too.
Why Are “Facts” Considered Bad Things?
Quite honestly, I’m so weary of extremists disputing the findings of “fact-checkers” like PolitiFact, weather scientists, Snopes or any non-FOX news report. I even had a guy next to me in a swimming pool shouting how FOX News was the only source of “truth” in this country. Sure, Bill Moyers of PBS is a screaming liberal, but he is almost poetic in his approach. Sure, George F. Will is a screaming conservative, but even I agree with some of his views and I’m a screaming “Blue Dog Democrat.”
For our nation’s political sanity, please educate yourself on all sides of an issue. Then use common sense to make your judgments. E-mails and Facebook posts are not solid news. I’m old fashioned and get my news from print newspapers, not so much TV. I read opinion columns by Righties and Lefties. I love Kathleen Parker, a conservative, and I also enjoy Ramesh Ponnuru’s slant, especially his wit. I occasionally watch TV pundits to see what they are ranting about. I get so angry at Bill O’Reilly, although he has his charms. I thoroughly enjoyed his interview with Hillary Clinton. MSNBC pundits are sometimes too liberal for my views, but Rachel Maddow hits a home run most nights.
“I Absolutely Hate Obama! (but I Have Absolutely No Idea Why.)”
I heard one gal screaming at a recent cocktail party how much she, “hated Obama.” But when our hostess asked this Obama-hater why, the gal had no intelligent reason other than, “I don’t know, I just do.”
The hostess said, “Well, you’ll have to give me a better reason than that.” I admired that matter-of-fact comeback. I myself was so stunned that someone was violating Rule Number One of social interactions, a.k.a., no politics or religion, I couldn’t even manufacture a reply. Give me a reason and I might try to understand, but just standing there screaming about hating our president, well, I think maybe she’s listened to Sean Hannity too often.
Lately, I’ve heard so many remarks about “Obama Care” in fearful tones or rants that blame the Affordable Care Act for the economic debacle that began when Bush was in office. That’s why I’ve posted this Consumer Reports article. Reading it will not hurt you. Facts do not hurt you. Solid information helps you make informed decisions. Then, when you complain about something, I might actually value your opinion because I know you’ve educated yourself based on FACTS.
I am publishing this without proofing or links, so my apologies if there are typos. I’ll fix this up after I get back to Austin.
Today started with freelance editor Jean Jenkins on editing do’s and don’ts in today’s competitive publishing world. So I’ll call this “Jean’s Rules” and give her the credit. Jean has shepherded to print both genre and mainstream novels for publishers such as Random House, Avon and St. Martin’s Press. I’ve paraphrased from my notes, but this is what I gleaned from her presentation. Jean, please let me know if I’ve goofed on any of these.
- To be a commercial success, your main character (MC) needs another character in the scene to reflect off or to oppose. Your MC should always be after something, so another character in the scene must be in opposition to or a reflection of the MC’s quest.
- Prologues are OUT. There are exceptions, but you should avoid them. (I hope mine is an exception.) I discussed my novel’s premise and beginning chapter with Jean, and she said mine is not a “prologue” but a gosh darn flashback, which I’m also supposed to limit and never use to begin a novel. But Jean says I should consider mine a possible exception. There I go, always breaking the rules.)
- Flashbacks are passe, but might be okay if they are short or if there is a reason for them. (I’ve got even more flashbacks in my novel when my MC has a stroke and goes into a dream state, but Jean encouraged me to keep these sections short. That’s hard to do, as I’m so fond of my MC’s memories.
- Jean suggests that before writing your next novel, you should spend a goodly amount of time keeping a journal about your character’s daily life. Thoroughly know that character before you begin. She suggested a year. I don’t know about that, but it might be something to try.
- The “had” rule. I’ve always struggled with when or not to use “had.” Jean says there’s a way to handle talking about the past without using a lot of “hads.” For example, in a flashback, simply use one “had” going in and one “had” going out. Other than that, you keep to simple past tense. That was the most popular tips of the day.
- Don’t tell too much about your MC up front. Tease your readers with your MC’s back story and reveal key parts later.
- Know your characters’ motivation, mood and history before beginning. Put yourself on the stage with them, play all of the parts, react realistically.
- Know who wants what and why they can’t get it. Then turn that on its ear and turn the screw.
- Characters act and react. If all your MC does is act without reacting, you don’t have enough depth to your story.
- When using internal dialogue be sure to focus on the MC of that scene. It disrupts the flow of the story if you have a supporting character suddenly jump in with an internal thought. You don’t need to use italics for internal monologues unless it’s absolutely necessary. If the thought works without italics, don’t use them.
- Exposition is a no-no. Jean says “exposition” is when two people talk to provide information for the benefit of the reader. An example she used was having two characters fill in background using dialogue. Simply use narration instead.
- For long chapters, use scene breaks. Today’s reader wants information broken up. Chapters should be under 10 pages.
- Dialogue should be brief, sharp.
- Don’t distance yourself. You need to know what your character feels, knows, thinks. If you are not on stage with your characters, you have too much distance. You need to “pull on the cloak” of the story. (My former writing professor used to say, “Fiction is character. Fiction is feeling. If you’re not crying all over your keyboard when your characters are in pain, you’re not writing.”
- There’s an old adage, “Show, don’t tell.” We’ve all been taught this but Jean says “telling” is good these days for setting the scene.
- Control your characters. Remember, you are in charge. If your characters start saying and doing things you didn’t plan, whip them into shape. Yes, characters sometimes have lives of their own. Jean says control them from the start, and I think that’s wise. But sometimes, it’s good when the characters evolve. It’s not efficient, but it might be more realistic. (As an example, I’ll use my MC’s wife Lizzy. I thought she would become the pivotal character to challenge my MC Andrew to do what he needs to do, but Lizzy did not develop that way. She’s an old-fashioned girl and simply could not ever stand up to Andrew. Next, I thought Andrew’s brother would do the trick, but he turned out to be a flat character, an arrogant ass who was unable to change, too. So I’m going along writing the last third of the novel and realize the daughter character is suddenly taking over. I had to rewrite the entire first section to accommodate her strength. It wasn’t an efficient way to write a novel, but I do think it was evolutionary and taught me something along the way.)
- Do not repeat. Once you’ve said something, trust your readers to remember it. Exception: if something major happens in Chapter 1, you may want to mention it again briefly when things come to a head on Page 275.
- Use vivid verbs and gestures that say something about the character. Avoid empty gestures like taking a sip of coffee or a bite of meatloaf. Avoid bland verbs like chuckled, laughed, walked, stood, said. Avoid strings of verbs, like, “He sipped his coffee, wiped his lips, waved to the waitress, put his napkin on the table, then walked out.” All verbs and all action, even leaving a room, should speak to character.
- Paint the most vivid pictures in the siimplest forms.
- If writing in first person, avoid using “I” as much as possible so it doesn’t sound egotistic. For example, you don’t need to say, “I thought Walter was a schmuck at that meeting.” You can simply write, “Walter was a schmuck at the meeting.”
My final workshop “starred” a panel of screenwriters with amazing credentials, who gave us an overview of “the business” today. Glenn M. Benest, Christine Conradt and Tommy Swerdlow were the panelists, and the event was moderated by Laurie Lamson, author of Now Write: Screenwriting. Each gave us tips for making the script a “good read,” and offered insight into why the business of making movies is the way it is today. I won’t paraphrase or quote, because this was a writers’ session, and the panelists spoke with candor. But I came away realizing that novelists have far more creative license to write. Movies are made by committee of producers, studio execs, actors and more; and not all members have equal say. I found it interesting that two of the screen writers now plan to direct.
After the conference, an afternoon drive down the PCH topped things off. I only wish I had the right gear with me to stay for a sunset on the beach. Thank you California for your lovely weather, creative community and glorious Pacific Coast.
Well, here I went again. After swearing off writers’ conferences, I’m at another one, the Southern California Writers conference in Newport Beach. This is quite different from the Writers League of Texas (WLOT) Agents Conference I attended this summer in Austin, as the focus here is a wealth of workshops about writing, not about literary agents. This conference has some strong presenters, both from the sales side (agents), the editorial side (editors) and the self-published and published authors’ side, although not all presenters were as strong as others.
The main message I got from the WLOT conference was you need an editor, and a good one, not just someone who checks for typos. You need the kind of editor you would have if a big-six publishing house decided to publish your book. This is because editors at publishing houses do not have the time they once did to edit your novel. Even a famous editor for Viking Press at the WLOT conference said writers should have their books edited by developmental editors and copy editors prior to submitting.
This same theme continues at the LA Writers’ Conference. In fact, one workshop was titled, “Premature E-Publishing,” a play on words for the absolute glut of fiction that is being posted on Amazon. Bad fiction or, rather, fiction that should have had a strong editor, is glutting the market to the point buyers are becoming wary. So if you are going to DIY and self-publish, you need a stronger editor than you think to cut through the clutter.
All that is fine and dandy if you want to spend $1,500 to $4,000 or so, but it begs the question, “Will publishing now be the privilege of the well-off?”
“There are more people making money off writers today than writers making money,” is the lament here in L.A. Then again, I attended a workshop led by romance author Laura Taylor, who professed to know nothing about social media until 14 months ago when she re-published her romance novels under her own name on Amazon. Since then, there have been 450,000 downloads of her work. So, somebody’s making money, and I think I should look into writing romance novels!
Hey, Writer, How Much $$$ Do You Have to Spend?
There are many different services to DYI authors, from book cover design to e-book formatting, and what are called “micro-presses” that do everything for you. You give them your manuscript, they do everything that’s needed, and bingo, you are a published author but with a publishers’ imprint. This differs from self-publishing or “vanity presses” only if the books are distributed by authorized book distributors like Ingram. This enables you to get your books into libraries and bookstores (what bookstores?)
My friend Cindy Stone, author of Mason’s Daughter, and her partner Laura Chavez are forming a micropress called Violet Crown Publishers, although it is my understanding they will not print and distribute books but offer services for DIY writers. More to come on that. One of the stigmas of being an “indie” writer is that you are self-published, so having a publishers’ imprint gives writers a leg up in being reviewed in the media.
Things Are “Still Shaking Out”
Sally Van Haitsma, a literary agent who sells books to traditional publishing (legacy) houses, says the industry continues in major flux and things are “still shaking out” and will do so over the next few years. Sally said that major houses are now looking at e-books in the same way they used to think of mass paperback versions of their hardcover novels.
Sally says that the sheer quantity of e-books out there is the major hurdle for any “indie” author. She mentioned that the New York Times now lists best-selling e-books, and the largest percentage are published by major houses, not by independents. Again, the sheer glut of e-books makes it difficult for authors to sell their work.
Sally encourages all writers to understand that e-book readers no longer turn pages and lanquish over the prose. They want books that are quick and easy to read on a variety of devices, from computers to Kindles to smart phones. This doesn’t bode well for my novel To Leave A Memory, because (sigh) it’s literary fiction, a genre that lies in the vast black-hole of about 80,000 novels on Amazon.
Author Bridget Hoida presented a workshop on Straddling the Line — Micro-presses. After bailing out of a major publishing-house deal in disputes over the book cover, she used a micro-press to print 500 copies of her debut novel So L.A.. She has spent the last year of her life hustling books to media, reviewers, bookstores, book clubs and online. In spite of rave reviews in California media, she has made a whopping $4,000 for all her effort, but money doesn’t seem her object, since her husband is an attorney.
Again, this begs the question, “Will only the financially secure be able to be published authors?”
Who Buys Books?
In a Women’s Fiction workshop we talked about what we already knew. Most of the books, in fact 62% of books in this country are bought by women. Women’s fiction is a very broad term for fiction either about women or about issues of interest to women. The presenter was Janis Thomas, author of Something New, a debut novel published by Berkley Books. Her workshop focus was on the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist, and my next novel is going to have one. Writing for women is where the market lies.
Between workshops, I’m editing To Leave a Memory. It’s off to another agent this week. Wish me luck.
Several years ago, we bought an HP Officejet 6500A Plus, thinking we were getting the world’s best wireless printer for both Mac OS and PC/Windows. I’m the Mac user in the family and have been an HP user for many years. I had always had good results. So I felt confident in HP products and, in fact, would buy no other brand when we decided to go wireless.
Although the machine works fine with hubby Bill’s PC, this supposedly wireless HP printer simply would not “speak” to my iMac unless I hard-wired the two via cable. Even then the printer spent five minutes whirling about before a print utility window would pop up on my screen with red exclamation marks telling me I was out of ink, which I was not. I manually had to dismiss all warnings before the printer would print one friggin’ page. The problem was that HP’s print utility could not “see” my printer so it could update the ink levels.
No Twain Support
Even worse, I could not scan documents on this so-called “all-in-one” printer. “No Twain support,” HP’s scan utility kept telling me. To fix the problem, I downloaded printer driver updates and firmware updates from HP, and twain support from a Mac-user site in an effort to get the printer and my iMac to “see” one another, all to no avail. I eventually resorted to using my iMac’s native “Image Capture” application for scanning, but each time I had to reboot the Officejet so it would “see” Image Capture, even when hardwired.
I’ve been under the impression for 65 years that when you push an “off” button a machine should turn off. But on HP’s piece of American technology, when I pushed the “off” button, it spends five minutes computing the distance to the outer reaches of the universe before telling me with frantic flashing lights that in order to turn the machine off, I had to push the “off” button. And then, to reboot it, I had to push the button again. This is a stunning inconvenience and I wonder who in the world thought this up. After I pushed the “on” button, I then had to wait while the machine started whirling and spewing again before asking me if I wanted to realign my print cartridges. Not!
I Was Not Alone in my Angst
I went on HP’s user forum to see if I could find a solution to the scanning problem and other communication issues — there’s no way to talk to anyone at HP; you are supposed to glean answers from posts of other users — but I only found posts by frustrated OS/Mac users like myself, questioning HP for the Officejet’s inability to scan on a Mac, whether in wireless mode or hard-wired.
Last week, Hubby was watching me try to print 50 pages of my novel To Leave a Memory to send to a literary agent. I was hard-wired to the Office Jet, but again, it didn’t see my iMac. So I went through the reboot steps above, “Chose Printer” on my iMac again, and even then, the wanna-be printer kept whirling about with its mysterious computations, opening several print-utility warnings that exclaimed I was out of ink in all four colors. And then it scolded me for not using authentic HP print cartridges. (Lately, I’ve been using refilled ones from OfficeMax.) Even after I had dismissed all warnings with an “Okay,” the printer’s internal workings spun about for several minutes before it finally spat out 50 pages at the rate of about five pages per minute, not the zippy number promised.
Print Text in Black and White, Fast
Hubby was horrified at what I was going through, and this is the difference between our personalities. I will stubbornly keep trying to fix something, find the solution, re-install printer drivers, go on user forums, write scathing product reviews, install firmware updates, download Mac fixes, yhadda, yhadda, but good ol’ Hubby simply will say, “Let’s buy a printer that does what you need it to do. Print text in black and white, fast.” God, I love this man. Off he went to Consumer Reports to find the top-rated black-and-white printer for Mac or PC and found the Brother DCP 7060D. We ordered it via Amazon Prime (free shipping).
My new Brother DCP 7060D arrived Thursday. Bill took it out of the box and plugged it in, leaving me to do the Mac thing and install the software, which was nothing more than gleefully uninstalling HP’s malware and installing the Brother driver. I didn’t even have to reboot my iMac and “Choose Printer.” The printer simply printed. It didn’t whirl for hours. It didn’t tell me I was out of ink or scold me for using non-HP ink cartridges. And I especially liked that it didn’t tell me I had no “twain support,” because, guess what, Brother included that. I can even scan.
What a novel idea for printing a novel. A black-and-white printer that prints, fast.
Hold the Presses — Update on this Post
Weeks after I uninstalled all HP printer drivers, using MacKeeper to remove all evidence of any HP product on my iMac, period, lo’ and behold, I printed color to the HP without realizing it. For some reason, my computer “saw” the HP and the dang thing printed the document fairly quickly, without a lot of whirling about. I have no idea why or how, since there is no HP driver on my iMac. There may be a native printer driver that speaks to HP. The good news is, I now I can print color to the HP, and using “Image Capture,” I also can scan from the HP. But the Brother also scans in color just fine, although it’s a black and white printer.
Against my prior pronouncement that I would not attend the Writers League of Texas Agents Conference in Austin this weekend, I decided last minute to go. WLOT dropped the price, so I thought I might learn something, even if I could not have my pick of all the literary agents. But I did meet with two delightful agents and two exceptional editors, and we’ll see if anything comes from that.
The first day of the conference was a bit boring, without much new information, but the second day was worth the price of admission. Most of the discussion from publishing industry experts centered on self-publishing via the Internet, called “indie publishing” by those who favor jargon, or whether to go the traditional route of pursuing a literary agent and being published by a traditional house, called “legacy publishing.”
I’m in a quandary about which way to go for my novel. TO LEAVE A MEMORY targets an audience of mature female readers and sentimental male readers, so it falls in the category of “women’s fiction.” Problem is, my protagonist is male, and most literary agents prefer strong female protagonists for “women’s fiction.” But, I have an angle; my protagonist’s daughter is a “leading lady” role in the book, and at the end she becomes the conduit for helping her father achieve his grand moment of absolution. In addition, the daughter reaches a few grand revelations herself. We’ll see how this worm turns.
Self-Publish and Hire an Editor
The keynote speaker at the WLOT conference, Alan Rinzler, was adamant about the viability of selling many thousands of novels via Amazon, as I hope my brother in law Tosh McIntosh does with his “indie” novel PILOT ERROR. But then Mr. Rinzler, a brilliant man who has edited and published Toni Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, Shirley MacLaine Jerzy Kosinski and more, has quit the hardcover publishing world at age 73 to be an independent consulting editor. So he’s got motive in promoting “indie” publishing because writers need editors. I wish I could afford him.
In my recent research as a member of a local ladies’ book club, most mature female readers still buy physical books because many are not all that tech savvy. Also, they like to hold books in their hands and turn pages. So I’m still holding out for a traditional publisher who would handle book cover creation, formatting and sales — getting the book into bookstores, which is a key piece missing from “indie” publishing. I’m told publishers do not spend much time editing anymore, so it appears I do need to hire an editor before I query or submit to many more agents.
Time to Buy the RV?
Bill has not yet retired, so we cannot simply buy an RV, pack up the dogs and travel to promote my “indie” book. Sure, lots of promotion can be done online via this blog, tweeting, Facebook, etc. But to reach mature female readers, there’s no substitute for a physical presence speaking at a local club or activity center, signing books, shaking hands, etc. I’m good at that; that was my profession for 25 years. But if I’m not able to land an agent within six months, I’ll investigate going “indie” after Bill retires. This does not excite me, as I’d then be marketing a self-published tome that is not on bookshelves and available only on the Internet, except for specimens I haul around myself or others buy online. As far as Amazon goes, my novel would start at the bottom of a huge pile of 21,000 “literary fiction” Kindle e-books.
Almost anybody who writes can self-publish. In fact, the term “vanity press” comes from a self-publishing concern by that same name. So there’s still a bit of stigma to self-publishing, although that, too, will diminish over time. Many major authors are going “indie” to gain a bigger piece of the action. Publishing houses had the opportunity to invent online publishing but they didn’t. Amazon did. Whether there even will be physical publishing houses and bookstores in the next ten years is in question.
A “Day Spa” for Writers
Although I’m told that publishing-house editors no longer have time to edit books developmentally and be a writer’s creative guru, as Beena Kamlani, longtime editor for Viking Press did for Saul Bellow for years, Beena’s talk at the conference was so inspirational I regretted that I did not live in New York so we could have lunch and talk literature now and then. She describes her editing as “a day spa” for writers. Now that’s the kind of editor I’d love to hire, no matter the cost.
One other good thing happened at the conference; I met a fellow writer who lives just west of me. She writes women’s fiction, and we are delighted to have made the connection.
Yesterday, hubby and I went for a bike ride. This may sound like an ordinary thing to do, but I’m 65 now, 50 pounds overweight, and this was my first time on any bike in a long time, much less on my “new” bike we bought last June. It’s a Cannondale Quick 6 that I’ve avoided riding because of my “good Celtic stock,” as my husband calls my body, which is equipped with short legs. Most bikes are made for longer-legged humans, and it takes major effort for me to fling my Celtic thigh over the bar of these contraptions.
Once positioned, getting the bike moving becomes the primary concern…positioning the right pedal so that I can push it forward with my foot while retaining enough momentum to keep the bike (and me!) moving forward and upright, all the while giving my aging brain and body time to coordinate how to get the left foot onto the left pedal and push it forward, too. Thankfully, I retained enough childhood athleticism to accomplish these things, so I proudly pedaled up the street where Hubby awaited at the stop sign. I had told him to go ahead as I did not want him behind me. He rides his bike with boyish abandon and has fallen several times, much to my concern. In fact, I didn’t want the man anywhere near me for fear he’d run us both into a ditch. So, he waited at the corner, while I madly pedaled, but then it dawned on me that I now needed to stop.
Backwards in a Whirl
My childhood bike had pedal brakes…you pressed backward to stop. This movement has been engrained in my psyche for 60 years, so the first time I tried to stop my new bike — I was well-aware it had handbrakes — I pushed backwards on the pedals, which went around in a whirl while my hands squeezed the handbrakes in a death grip and the bike managed to stop.
Uh-oh, that meant I now had to put my feet on the ground to keep from falling over, so that meant I had to slide off the high seat while also getting my feet off the backward whirling pedals onto solid ground. Again, I retained enough innate body memory to accomplish these things without tipping over, but, after we got going again, I started to wonder what I was supposed to do with all these gears? I hollered to Bill to stop and we analyzed the situation. The thought of reading my bike manual had not occurred to either of us before trekking out to ride.
An Algorithm of 1,000 Gears
My bike has three settings on the left and six settings on the right, and you can click both sides into a combination of any of those settings, an algorithm that boggles the mind. Hubby admitted he didn’t have a clue, as his bike is different from mine, but he told me to find low gears for the hills. (Hills?) So after I got going again, I fiddled with the clickers, figuring out the various low, high and many gears between. All of that was fine and dandy, but suddenly I was flying downhill in the rec lane on a very busy Lohman’s Crossing Road, heading toward Hamilton Greenbelt. As I soared, I realized the gears had nothing to do with slowing down, so I got another death grip on the brakes. I imagine real bikers thrill at going 30 mph downhill, but I was in a panic.
Fear is an excellent way to raise your heart rate to aerobic conditioning levels. The thought of falling on asphalt has scared the hell out of me ever since childhood when my little dog Putter ran in front of my bicycle, and I flipped over the handlebars onto the pavement. I still have a tiny scar from that fall, and the post-traumatic stress disorder returned as my bike raced downhill. Luckily, at the bottom of that hill, there was a flat area where Hubby awaited to cross the street, and I could again stop.
“It’s Tricky,” Hubby Had Said.
Hamilton Greenbelt is a long cinder trail that runs mostly downhill (yes, more downhill stuff) toward Lake Travis. In spite of hubby’s admonitions that this trail was “tricky” for biking, I chose it for my first outing, thinking it would give me plenty of room to practice, would not have any cars, and would be less painful to fall on than on asphalt. But after I got there, I kept thinking how painful it would be to fall on those cinders. And there were lots of people around, people with kids and dogs, whom I kept trying to avoid as I sailed toward the lake, applying my brakes cautiously so I would not cause the bike to slip … I did not want to slip!
Mostly, the first leg of the trip was an exercise in controlling the bike in a downhill run. At the end of the trail before it winds further down to the lake, Bill waited for me. Luckily that portion was somewhat flat and I was able to stop easily. He said with a wink, “I told ya, it’s tricky,” and we laughed, taking a breather. Then it was time to turn back to the entrance, all going uphill. I reiterate: uphill.
A Tisket, a Tasket, a Watermelon in Your Basket
Uphill is where having 1,000 gear options becomes important. Finding the right gear at the right moment to mount a hill without losing the speed and momentum needed to keep moving is a tough thing to do, especially, as it suddenly occurred to me, when one is carrying the equivalent of a 50-pound Black Diamond watermelon in one’s bicycle basket. Lance Armstrong is skinny for a reason.
The first hill defeated me because, (a) I wasn’t in the lowest of the low gears at the right time, and (b) I kept pedaling when changing gears, which is a no-no. You must stop pedaling while changing gears, but when you are in a panic and trying to build momentum, you keep pedaling and gripping the brakes which don’t help at all when trying to go uphill. I kept chanting to myself, stop pedaling, stop braking, find the lowest of the low gears and pump, pump, pump that watermelon up that hill. But momentum kept running headlong into the wall of inertia. I asked myself how Lance Armstrong could possibly think this is a fun sport. So I stopped, got my feet on the ground and walked my bike uphill to a flat area where I could get going again. This cycle of resistance continued for the remainder of the journey. But I did get better as I went. In fact, hubby said he was amazed that I managed to get back up the hill at all.
As we made our way home, the rec lane we had soared down before was now uphill. As I looked uphill to judge which gear to try, a family of six on bikes came roaring down toward us, not yielding an inch. I quickly pulled over and got off. Hubby was miffed, but I understood their quandary: it was impossible for them to be courteous when in a panic.
As we made the final trek to our house, that too was uphill. I kept trying to find the lowest of the low gears that would get me home. I pumped and pumped, breathing harder than I may have ever, but I made it, thinking I might even be able to bike up the steep hill that is our driveway. But again, the huge watermelon in my basket prevented me from having enough momentum. So I walked the bike uphill to the garage, determined to lose a few slices in weeks to come and learn more about my bike before the next outing. I’m also determined to listen to hubby more and find a less tricky track.
I’m taking a bridge class; I’ve joined the board of a group that raises funds for the only mental hospital in Austin; I’m in a ladies’ book club; I’ve re-begun to swim laps, a much-needed exercise; I’m a longtime supporter of Austin’s symphony; and I spend a lot of time with Bill when he is off work.
He sees his days off as our time together. In short, he’s a dream husband. So it’s difficult for me to tell him, sorry, dear, I have to blog when he wants to have a picnic, play golf, swim or sail. Besides, I would rather do the latter than blog.
Where is This Tending?
My UMKC writing professor James C. McKinley once marked this note on a chapter in my first attempt to write a novel, “Where is this tending?” Just like today’s post, I have no clue.
I will add something that may excite you: A literary agent is reviewing my manuscript for To Leave a Memory. That in itself gives me hope for publication. In other posts, I’ve ranted about the difficulties of querying literary agents and the rather dismal opportunities for new writers to break into publishing today. I’ll let those who are more informed tell you about this, such as this article by NPR about the rise of e-publishing, and another by Bloomberg about why traditional book publishers can indeed survive the digital age.
As for the agent who is reviewing my novel, there’s no way to predict if I’ll get that wondrous phone call instead of an e-jection.
Until that time, I’m mapping the outline for A Merry Little Opera, the working title for my next novel. It’s a “who done it” set in Austin, starring a the widow of a Ponzi schemer who leaves her holding the bag for his financial downfall and blamed for a murder she didn’t commit. It should be a fun work, and I hope a commercial success.
But right now, I’m blogging, which begs the question why keep this up? I receive a lot of spam. I’d prefer to hear from followers, but that requires I blog about something worth your comments. As you can see in this particular post, I’m not saying much…simply adding fresh meat, although I fear today’s blog begs another question, “Where’s the beef?”
Food for Thought
To feed this blog, I came up with low-cholesterol and low-salt recipes in one section, but the tedium of entering recipes bores me. However, the recipes get the most hits, which is understandable. Food is a popular topic. Who searches on Google for “musings; rants and raves; or ramblings about writing”? Who even wants to read such things, except my friends and family? God bless you all.
Initially, I thought one’s blog might be something like a journal, a diary, although my attempts to express thoughts and feelings on certain topics have lead to push back. It seems I’m not supposed to say certain things that others might read, so I’ve had to stick with somewhat generic ramblings or rants, too often political.
On the subject of politics, I no longer know if I’m a Democrat but I’m certainly not a Republican. The current climate of the Republican Party frightens me, especially the pandering to the evangelicals. There was a reason our nation was founded on the principles of separation of Church and State. The pseudo-Christian Right’s insistence that we force pregnant teens and poor women to give birth scares me far more than the fuss about homosexuals marrying. If gays want to marry, why should I care? Would Jesus? I doubt it. I think Jesus was probably a Democrat.
I’ve tried to be a Democrat, and I even participated in Democratic politics as a Hillary delegate during her run for the presidency. But I realized how skewed the Texas Democratic primary is with something they call the “Texas Two Step.” First, the public votes, but then Democrats vote again at precincts after the polls close to determine the number of delegates a candidate gets for the county convention. (See this Houston Chronicle article for a more complete explanation.) In 2008, Hillary won the Texas primary popular vote, but lost caucus delegates to Obama. I found this process sneaky. No wonder my very Republican mother always called the Democrats “dirty.”
Time to turn off the oven. The meat is done.
There’s no way to end this blog without adding another completely off-subject topic, so for now, I say, enough musings and ramblings … I’m signing off to outline A Merry Little Opera and I thank you very much for visiting my blog.
Ron Paul says he wants to get government out of people’s lives, but it appears he only wants to get government out of men’s lives. His web site says he’ll immediately “repeal Roe vs. Wade” (not sure how he can do that all by himself), remove abortion from federal jurisdiction, pass “Sanctity of Life” legislation and ensure that no federal tax money goes to pay for “family planning,” as though family planning is akin to abortion.
So my question to Ron is, who is going to feed and care for all those babies and their mommas, since the daddies who sire them tend to drift off to the next warm place to put it? Ron, will you pass legislation to prevent men from siring children out of wedlock? No. That would be putting more government into men’s lives. Will you pass legislation to ensure that men understand that sex makes babies, and if they make a baby they are responsible for supporting the child? Probably not. That would be putting more government in place.
Nope, but Ron will make sure some teenager or poor woman has that baby. Wealthy women can always find an abortion, but the poor, the young, the frightened … no, they must have those babies, according to Ron and his alter ego Rick Santorum.
Rick Santorum goes right out there and says that contraception should be banned. He has long opposed the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling that invalidated a Connecticut law banning contraception and has also pledged to eliminate any federal funding for contraception if elected president. As he told CaffeinatedThoughts.com editor Shane Vander Hart in October, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” the former Pennsylvania senator explained. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Sounds a bit like the Pope in my book. Be careful, women of America. Ron Paul, Rick Santorum…these guys want to make sure sex is for making babies, and you must have those babies. What’s next, burkas?
I was going to blog on the same topic but Bob Ray Sanders says it far better and with a much nicer tone than I ever could. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Islamic New Year, Happy Festival of Pancha Ganapati, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, Happy Holidays … just be happy we are still free to practice the beliefs of our choice. Click the link below to read Bob Ray’s full piece.
Milestone birthdays are a lot of fun when you are young. Sweet 16 gets the driver’s license, you can vote at 18, buy booze legally at 21. Then the years start flying. Before you know it, you’re about to turn 30, so you start partying even harder, imagining that having any sort of fun after age 30 is unlikely. But that foolishness quickly passes, and you find that your thirties are nowhere near as awful as you surmised. So you have even more fun until the forties approach and grocery store checkers start calling you, “Ma’am.”
A card that turns into a shriek
By the time you turn 50, men no longer give you the eye. You’ve gotten the message that you are not as attractive as you once were, but life continues to fly by. What to do?
I remember my Aunt Sally Kennedy telling me that when she turned 50, she said to herself, “Now’s the time to start getting this life stuff right.” Aunt Sally was way ahead of me. It took me until age 60 to start aiming life in the right direction, perhaps because I was able to escape the dysfunctional corporate world and focus on managing my own life and writing.
Now that I’m 65, I am officially a senior citizen. Surely this means something more than getting a dollar off at the movies or going on Medicare. When I received my Medicare card in the mail, it came in a white envelope that was so plain, I almost threw it away as junk. Then I opened it, saw my card and burst into a hysterical shriek that made my husband stare at me with a question mark etched in his forehead.
Some do unto others and get what they want
I’ve always been reflective on birthdays, seeing the day as time to take account. Sometimes that brings joy, often regret, sometimes wishful thinking and a lot of “if only’s.” I’ve made a lot of innocent mistakes. My parents were good Midwestern folks with solid Episcopalian values. They were very trusting, too trusting, and I grew up with the same innocence, raised to believe that good things happen to good people who do their best and try hard. Unfortunately I put my future in the hands of people who did not share my mother’s same idea of what “do unto others” means.
Yesterday, I read a fascinating article in Vanity Fair about Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, Averell Harriman‘s daughter. Her grandfather ran a railroad and her daddy was an ambassador, a governor and a cabinet secretary. She married the grandson of an oil baron and was a first-rate equestrienne, who rode amazing cavalry horses that were gifts from Joseph Stalin. In her early twenties, she went to London with her father at the start of World War II. Her father had gotten his daughter a job with Newsweek to report on the lives of English women during the war, but Kathy proved herself observant enough to do real news as she learned how to make “this reporter thing” work out.
Kathy played the role of hostess for her father whose wife stayed in the States. As U.S. ambassador to England, Averell and daughter Kathy entertained and charmed the likes of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. During this time, Kathy became friends with 21-year-old Pamela Digby Churchill, who was Winston Churchill’s daughter-in-law. Pamela soon became Averell’s lover and, years later, his final wife.
Both Kathy and Pamela were privileged young women, Kathy privileged by wealth, connections and education, and Pamela privileged by beauty and a conniving drive that catapulted her in and out of relationships with powerful men to the degree she wound up U.S. Ambassador to France in her senior years.
Count your blessings, dear
As I look back on my rather average American life, I admit to being quite jealous of the Kathy and Pamela Harrimans of this world. How is it that some people get to lead fascinating lives on the edge of history while my type muck along in the great middle class, always wishing for, wanting more, in spite of the knowledge we have so much more than the majority of the people on this planet.
That was one of my mother’s constant reminders. “Count your blessings, dear,” Mom would say to me whenever I expressed woe at what I did not have, whether that be money, an elite profession, a famous name or major accomplishment. Trouble was, I had no idea how to get these things, and at 65, I have not yet achieved all I hope to. I’m not giving up, but as the taxi driver said, “the meter is running.”
Time is both my enemy and ally, but poor use of time is my flaw.
Resolutions upon reaching senior citizenship
When you reach 65, you are supposed to retire, but from what? I cannot see myself fully retiring from the effort to refine myself as the person I’ve always hoped to be. Therefore, on this 65th birthday, be it resolved that I do my best to make better use of the time I have left. Along the way, I also resolve to “count my blessings” more often, too, with gratitude for the memorable times I’ve had with my three children, four grandchildren, devoted husband Bill, his children, and the in-laws, family members and good friends who give definition to the term, “having a life.”
No, mine has not been the glamorous life of a conniving Pamela Harriman or a privileged Kathy Harriman Mortimer. But as another diva Shirley Bassey—one of my favorite singers of all time—belted out with patented fervor in her signature song, “This is my life, and I don’t give a damn for lost emotions…” If you click the link and listen, you’ll notice that Shirley is pushing 65 herself in this video and has a certain attitude. In a much earlier version of the same song, Bassey appears to be in her twenties or early thirties, much more innocent and trusting at that age, like me. Like you?
So it appears for all of us, reaching age 65 is not a time to retire from anything. For me, it is an age to keep trying to get things right.
“Turn on the TV,” my daughter Stacy said anxiously when she called. Staring at our separate TVs, we watched the towers seethe in fury.
“That’s going to go down, it’s going down,” I kept repeating, and when the first tower went down, I screamed so loudly into the phone, Stacy says she still remembers.
Later, my phone rang again. Brent Baldwin, music director at First Unitarian Universalist Church, was cheerily returning my call from the day before.
“Brent, turn on your TV,” I shouted. He hadn’t heard the news, so I frantically updated him while we watched the remaining tower shudder and burn. When it imploded, I screamed so loudly, Brent’s ear may still ring.
We three shared one of those cataclysmic moments: Where were you when Kennedy was shot, when the Challenger exploded, when the towers fell?
Each time Stacy Livingston VanBecelaere recounts the day, she says she remembers the sound of my voice. Each time I see Brent Baldwin, we hug. Neither of us will ever forget the other when we remember 9/11.
What were you doing on 9/11 when …
Sara Jane Kennedy was my Aunt Sally, married to my Uncle John who was baby brother to my mother. All were from Michigan, and for most of her life, Aunt Sally lived in Rochester. Although I could not be there for her service, I felt “there” after reading the eulogy (below), written by my cousin Kathy Kennedy Levinson and delivered by her husband John. Kathy said that John was voted the family member least likely to break down.
My own memories of Sally are gilded by childhood awe of a lovely young woman with long blond hair and a delightful smile. Although my family left Michigan in the 1950s for Texas, Aunt Sally always remembered my sister and me on birthdays, holidays and later even wedding anniversaries. Aunt Sally wrote us notes several times each year on small cards in a fine, tight hand. When we were young, her notes often included small gifts like a dollar bill or a hankie … treasures to two distant nieces.
Aunt Sally was an inspiration for her thoughtfulness, sense of duty and love of nature. One of the most treasured gifts she gave me was A Field Guide to the Birds of Texas. My sister and I sent her a basket of yellow roses (from Texas). May you always be surrounded by nature’s beauty, Aunt Sally.
Eulogy of Sara Jane Kennedy
by her daughter Kathy Levinson
delivered by Kathy’s husband John
Sally Kennedy was born in Detroit on June 9, 1924, the first of three daughters for John and Fandira McFadden. Her happy childhood was interrupted by the unexpected death of her father. Sally would later remember with sadness her mother’s numerous trips to Probate Court to secure funds for the three girls.
Her life changed for the better when she enrolled at the University of Michigan and pledged Sorosis, a local sorority. One of her sorority sisters set her up on a date with John Kennedy. There were actually two John Kennedy’s in the student directory—one from Grosse Pointe, and one from Ypsilanti. She was hoping her date was the one from Grosse Pointe, but he actually turned out to be the one from Ypsilanti. That date must have gone really well—they were married the following spring, on May 11, 1944. He was 20 and heading to Europe to fight in World War II, she was still 19. They honeymooned at her family’s cottage in Harbor Beach, Michigan.
John returned from the war and continued his studies at Michigan. Sally left school in order to help support the young family. John and Sally were the first couple to move into the university’s family housing apartments. After John’s graduation from Michigan, they moved to Royal Oak, then to St. Louis, back to Royal Oak, and then in 1960 built a house in Rochester which is still the family homestead.
During this time, a friend of Sally’s family offered to sell the young couple an old farmhouse north of Harbor Beach, an offer that was too good to refuse. This became their favorite place on earth, despite (or perhaps because) of all the hard work that was required. Early baths required heating a tea kettle on the stove and adding it to the cold water in the old cast iron tub. The oil furnace was located in the dining room, and it only heated the downstairs rooms. Water came into the house from a lake well. I am glad to report that the cottage now has city water, a hot water tank, two bathrooms (including a shower), a furnace in the basement and even air conditioning!
Sally loved Nature. She liked to putter in the garden and kept vases filled with her own daffodils in the spring and wildflowers the rest of the year, although there was a constant battle with her cats to keep the flowers in the vases. She was an avid bird watcher who tracked the seasonal arrivals and departures of the birds, calling her family members with excitement when the first hummingbird or rose breasted grosbeak appeared in the spring. Her love of birds even extended to the seagulls and she would save stale bread to toss to them from John’s boat. Boat rides were also a favorite activity, as long as fishing was not involved. Watching the antics of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons and even skunks also brought her great pleasure.
Sally was the consummate letter writer and card sender, keeping track of everyone’s birthday and anniversary, making sure they were remembered on their special day. She also enjoyed reading and working puzzles, again battling with her cats to keep all the puzzle pieces in place. With respect to those cats, she would say “They’re a lot of work, but they make me laugh.” She doted on them and especially loved to join them for an afternoon nap in the sun.
But mostly Sally loved her family—John (her husband of 67 years), Scott (her first born), Kathy (her favorite daughter), Sara (her first grandchild), Michael (her first grandson), and Susie (her great granddaughter). She eventually warmed up to their spouses as well—Michele (who shared her birth day), me (I was nice to elderly women) and Erin (her first grand-in-law, a Texan no less). Her favorite times were spent at family gatherings at Harbor Beach, especially when she no longer had to plan or cook the meals!
On the morning that Sally died, the hospice nurse called Kathy to tell her that Sally still had some awareness but the end was coming soon. Later that morning, Kathy told Sally that she loved her, that she, Scott, Michele, Sara, Mike, Erin and I would take care of John, and that we would also take care of her cat MacDuff. However, Kathy also told her to rest well, because when John and MacDuff leave this world and rejoin her, they will be back under her care for the remainder of time!
John, Scott, Sara and Michele came a bit later to say their goodbyes and I came in around two o’clock. I told Sally we would remember all the good times and that I would take care of Kathy. With these assurances, Sally passed away around six that evening.
It is so hard to lose our wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, in-law and friend. We know we were lucky to have her as long as we did, and we know she is in a better place, free from her illness of the past year.
Several years ago, Sally began to end her phone calls with family members with the phrase “bye for now.” So that is how we’ll end our remembrance—good-bye for now, we’ll see you again in better time and place.
Will this happen to all of us someday, or am I simply a focus group of one? I’ve HAD IT with Facebook, well, not so much “had it” as I have become extremely frustrated by my experiences with it. I signed up for Facebook to see what was going on in my children’s lives, then found myself lured into posting this or that on an almost twice-daily basis. As a writer, I was waxing philosophical or political. My goal was to share something I thought was brilliant or witty and sit back and enjoy the “likes” and “LOL’s” from my growing list of Facebook “friends,” along with their witty repartee.
Problem was, “friends” with an opposite view would roar back with a vengeance. My goodness, there is anger out there. I quickly found out to avoid political posts. One “friend” whom I have not seen since my last high school reunion 15 years ago became furious when I posted a humorous quip about Sarah Palin, a joke someone else sent me: “Here’s a good use for Sarah Palin: plug up the Gulf Oil spill with her.” What follows is my “friend’s” exchange with me via messages (only the name has been changed.)
High School Friend: “I tend to agree with Ms. Palin on a lot of things. Does that mean that you would want to include those like me in the plug?”
Pat Dunlap Evans: “Not you, pal! I’d never plug up an oil well with a former classmate. ;>)”
High School Friend: “Pat, I am going to delete you from my friends list. Because questions of faith and politic are so volatile, I carefully avoid them in my correspondence. My intention is avoid contention in social contacts. I find the name calling and incivility very offensive. I would love to be your friend, but it is quite obvious that you and I live in two very different worlds.”
I blocked him. I wasn’t upset that he disagreed with me, but that I was subjected to his overemotional resentment. My gosh, I went to elementary, junior high and high school with this fellow and haven’t seen him beyond a reunion. So why do I have to appease him on Facebook?
Another high school acquaintance posted that she had proof Obama was born in Africa and is a practicing Muslim. I commented that this was absolute B.S., and then blocked her. I had a similar “de-friending” experience with a former college pal who “de-friended” me after I made a comment about having to “hide” warmongering posts like this, “Muslims are out to kill us Christians and we have to get our AK-47s and shoot them first because Obama is one of them, too,” paraphrased from actual posts on his page. Do I really want “friends” like this in my life?
With “friends” like these, who needs Facebook?
One might surmise that my problems stem from the fact that many of my former schoolmates live in the Dallas area, land of the arch-conservative and apparently angry. But another acquaintance in Oregon went ballistic about Obama to the point I blocked her, too. She’s a distant in-law I have never met. Why do I have to deal with her private rants to me about Obama? Not. I blocked her.
You might ask, what’s the difference between my “friends”” rants about Obama and my re-posting a joke about Sarah Palin? Here’s how I see it. Outright lies about Obama’s birth origin, religious faith and patriotism smell of ignorance, hatred or racism. In contrast, Sarah Palin isn’t president of the United States (I shudder to think) and no one is quite sure what she aims to do for a living, other than make big bucks preaching to the Tea Party base. It’s her intellectual floundering that makes her fair game. I think Obama’s politics and leadership skills are fair game for satire or criticism, too, but let’s be truthful. Stop the lies.
If you don’t believe in Jesus … just tellin’ ya.
Politics aside, the next bunch who frustrate me are the “friends” who seem to have little going in their lives beyond evangelizing, praying fervently or posting Biblical quotations. These are “friends” I simply hide with the “hide” button, but part of me wants to block them. Facebook is not church, and I’m uncomfortable with the antagonism of what I call the “Über Christians.” One recent post of yet another high school “friend” said, “If you do not believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you don’t have a chance … just tellin’ ya.”
It’s not this “friend’s” beliefs I object to; it’s his admonitions. Please do not threaten me with Jesus. I do not think that’s what the Man would do himself.
Contrary to what I might think …
The next group of “friends” who drive me nuts me are what I call the antagonists. Whatever you post, they disagree with it. I posted what I thought was an interesting New York Times article about the world’s top climate scientists opinions on climate change, and a family acquaintance quipped back that climate change had been declared bunk in a survey of TV weather reporters, who think climate change is something dreamed up by Al Gore. Let’s see: the views of TV weather reporters vs. the world’s top 200 climate scientists. Which group would you believe?
I posted another link to a story about how Ford Motor Company paid back 100% of its government bailout with interest. My quip was, “Buy a Ford!” I meant that comment to be a supportive “rah rah” for an American auto company that actually paid we citizens back, but some of my “friends” posted comments that were so negative about Fords, I tossed my hands in frustration because their comments were completely off subject.
And, you are who?
Almost daily I receive a “friend” request from people I do not know. Most went to my high school in Dallas and I did not know them then, either. We had about 500 in our graduating class. I was an officer in the drill team and dated and later married our “star” athlete, which seems to have made me a curiosity to some. So, decades after high school, I receive a “friend” request almost every day. The odd thing is, many of these people don’t bother to enlighten me about who they are and expect me to figure out that we went to high school together. I’ve had to get out my old high school annual to look people up.
Why going to the same high school makes us “friends,” and why these people should be allowed to come digitally into my living room and see my family, dogs and furniture, I’ll never know. I’ve taken to blocking some of these “friends” if they were not in my class, or if their profile reveals that they “like” Sarah Palin and they have a photo of Christ on the cross for their profile picture (actual examples). I don’t think we’d have that much in common.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…
Perhaps something about being at a computer makes people more antagonistic or aggressive than they would be face to face. I may be guilty of that myself. I doubt my Facebook “friends” would walk up and threaten me to believe in Jesus, tell me lies about Obama or encourage me to kill Muslims. There’s more consideration when talking in person. Perhaps my “friends” listen to too much conservative talk radio or only watch FOX News (“fair and balanced,” my fluffer-poodle) and consider Facebook as a way to spout off like Bill O’Reilly. Or perhaps some of my “friends” are deeply unhappy or disappointed and use the computer to vent.
Passing fad or leading Internet portal?
I hope I’m not alone in my Facebook frustration, as I do not want Facebook to become the portal by which we all sign in. Facebook management has proven time and again that their security measures are faulty. Just as an example, Facebook will not allow you to delete your account but simply deactivate it, so Facebook still uses your information whether you are active or not. When you first sign up, Facebook’s default settings are to have your information open to everyone unless you change these settings, which are quite mysterious for the average user to do so. And Facebook sells your “interests” and profile information to advertisers who bombard you with ads on other sites, especially if you login to those sites via Facebook. (You can opt out of doing that, and I encourage you to do so.)
And then again, there is the fun of Facebook …
If I stopped “Facebooking” entirely, I would miss the fun of seeing my oldest daughter’s bright red face after playing golf, my granddaughters in action climbing a wall, and my son standing in front of some burger joint in San Diego. And I’d miss the chance to reconnect with an old friend who just played poker in Reno or a long-lost relative who just headed off to Tahiti.
Perhaps the dust will settle and the “friends” who are not really will fade, and the antagonists will find a different cause or get a brain. In the meantime, I’m doing less Facebooking these days. So if you want to reach me, please shoot me a text, e-mail or give me a call. Remember the telephone?
After a big hassle, I’ve moved my blog to this URL at patdunlapevans.com. (If you don’t know what “URL” means, it’s “universal resource locator.”)
I was on Google’s Blogger for a year but Blogger has problems with comments. Visitors would leave comments on my site, but Blogger wouldn’t post them. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t enjoy interaction from visitors, especially since my blog had visitors from all over the world?
I went to Google’s help section to figure out the problem but, instead of help, there was a “user forum” (don’t you just love those?) where hopefully another blogger had the same problem, figured out the solution and took the time to answer my question. But all I found were more problems posted by other bloggers about how their visitors’ comments were not showing on Blogger.
Some said it was a browser issue, some said it was settings (meaning “my” settings). I double checked everything, and I think the problem is Google’s Blogger. Of course, there is absolutely no way to contact Google, because that is what Google is best at: not providing real, live customer service. Why Google thinks it is the world’s greatest at everything it offers beyond its search engine, is beyond me. So, here I am on Word Press, trying to figure out this new system. Wish me luck.
This has been a tough week, reminding me again that life comes at you. On Monday, I had three upper teeth drilled to receive porcelain crowns. Having had a lot of dentistry, I thought nothing of this exercise, but I was wrong. I was in the chair a good three and a half hours, and by Monday afternoon, my jaw was throbbing. I called the dentist to get a pain reliever.
Right after that appointment, my hubby and I headed to see our new financial planner. On the way, we stopped for gas and my husband somehow splashed gasoline all over his arm. He and our car smelled like petroleum for the 20-minute trip to the planner’s office, where hubby dashed into the men’s room to wash off the gasoline, but absentmindedly left his watch on the counter and didn’t discover it was missing until later. Watch gone?
Back to the financial planner: Our previous planner “left the building” in February 2010 after selling off $45k in losses to hubby’s IRA. After that planner left, we “inherited” another who revealed Monday a personal tale of woe about having been taken to the cleaners financially by a spouse. Should we trust this person?
Monday evening, I went to a Women’s Symphony League meeting and faced 100 glamorous women with one hand held over half of my inoperative mouth from the injections that morning. Luckily, frozen margaritas, queso and guacamole soothed my pain.
When I got home, my husband was having a fit about his lost watch. I decided to take one of the dentist’s pain meds and simply go to bed.
If You Think You’ve Been Poked, Think Again
Tuesday a.m., I went to see a surgeon for follow up after surgery in December. I won’t gross you out with details, but my visit met with what I would call some penetrating poking.
After that tense exam, I took my sore, poked self to eat Chinese food, something I do when I’m feeling blue. A glass of wine also seemed like a good idea. In fact, two seemed like a plan.
After lunch, I went to see my regular gynecologist. You might think I’m a glutton for probing, but this appointment was made months earlier for my annual exam. I simply had to endure more poking. My gynecologist laughed when I told her that I’d had two glasses of wine at lunch and a NORCO the night before.
Watch Found! A Chipmunk in a Fist Fight
After my morning and afternoon with probing doctors, my hubby called to apologize for being a grump and told me that someone had turned in his watch. Yea for honest people! This might have been the only positive thing to happen this goofy week. That afternoon, I drove home and took a nap. That’s about the only thing I could do that didn’t hurt. I didn’t want to take a pain pill because that would have knocked me out, but one of the dentist’s pain meds sure came in handy at bedtime.
Wednesday morning we had a photo session at the Austin American-Statesman. Hubby and I donate to the newspaper’s Swim Safe program, and a marketing person picked us to feature in an ad promotion. Trouble was, my left jaw had swollen overnight from Monday’s dental nightmare, and a bluish bruise had emerged on my cheek. Should I cancel or go, knowing that I will resemble a bludgeoned chipmunk?
I didn’t want to disappoint the young marketing person, so I dressed up and headed downtown, fat, bruised face and all. I dread seeing the ads, as I know I will look as though I’ve been in a fistfight.
The More Painful and Harrowing, the Better
After the photo session, hubby was obsessed with getting his Genoa jib back on his sailboat. A Genoa is a HUGE headsail, and ours was in the shop to be fixed. The shop owners said they wouldn’t put it back on the boat until the wind died down, but even a gale would not deter my sailor husband. We picked up the sail and, in spite of my pleadings to do this another day, we headed out to the lake. True to form, Lake Travis was quite gusty.
Hubby asked me to hold down the Genoa while he inserted its leading edge on its pole. Well, the sail wouldn’t simply go up, it had to be hoisted by wench. So, hubby barked at me to man the wench. I’m an athletic woman, but I’m no spring chicken and this task required quite a bit of strength. In fact, I don’t know many women my age who could have hoisted that sail into place. Thank heavens for all those years of lap swimming.
After my strenuous wench duty, hubby asked me to hold the Genoa by one line while he attached the sail to two tacking lines. Well, the moment he handed me the line, the Genoa took off in the gale toward the other side of the boat. This meant I had to hold onto the sail while also getting out of the sail’s way. So I hit the deck on my back, still gripping my line. Hubby could see I was struggling and took the line from me, but he didn’t understand why I was perturbed.
I told him, “There is always some sort of cluster !@#$ related to you and this boat.” He laughed in disdain. Hubby thinks nothing of being flattened by an out-of-control Genoa. “It’s all part of sailing!” he said. Yes, my husband simply loves being on the sailboat, the more painful and harrowing the experience, the better.
I took one final NORCO Wednesday night and again slept like a baby.
My Cleaning Lady’s Loan Officer
Thursday, my cleaning lady came. I love Maria, but it’s like I am Maria’s personal loan officer. She always works off her advances, i.e., cleans my house for no pay until each loan is paid off, but one gets weary of being another person’s source of financial aid. Still, I care about her and want to help, so I guess it’s my own fault that Maria keeps borrowing.
Also Thursday morning, the bruise on my jaw had become a fifty-cent-sized black and blue spot. I decided to simply stay home; after all, I have an article to write for the Texas Super Lawyers, that is if the attorney I’m supposed to write about will call me back. Hausfrau appointments were the air conditioning man, who was supposed to come at 3 p.m., and the propane guy who was due sometime … not sure when.
The only thing I could think of was more Chinese food, so I left to get take-out for me and Maria, taking the dogs in the car with me. When I got home, the propane truck was blocking the driveway, so the dogs and I drove around the neighborhood for 15 minutes until the propane truck finally left. The dogs were looking at me like, “Didn’t we already go by that house?”
Maria and I did enjoy our Chinese lunch, chatting in Spanish and English. I told her, “Maria, es posible que me español es mejor que tu inglés.” This meant, “Maria, it is possible that my Spanish is better than your English.” She knows that’s true.
Dinner by Osmosis
By 5 p.m. Thursday, the attorney I need to interview had not called, so I decided to query one literary agent, then walk the dogs and try to get something good out of what had been another goofy day in this perturbing, painful week.
When hubby arrived, I started a quick-fix meal of low-sodium teriyaki beef that comes in a pouch you insert in boiling water. Trouble was, I must have poked a hole in the pouch, and so hubby’s teriyaki beef went through osmosis in boiling water, and I had to use all my culinary powers to salvage the mess. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. I told him, “Stop eating.” I don’t think he liked that answer.
What’s Next? Life’s Blessings or More Bruises.
It is Friday morning as I write. I await the Super-Dooper lawyer’s call-back and may do one query to a literary agent. After that, I’m going for a good long swim, followed by a LONG hot tub. Me thinks I deserve a break after a week of dental mangling, gynecological probing, out-of-control sails, photos of my chipmunk face, loans to cleaning ladies, phone calls not returned, and major culinary messes.
All things considered, none of these events was more than a bruise. Far too many people have life come at them in much worse ways. I think it’s better to count life’s blessings instead and look forward to next week. Who knows what’s next? Oh, I forgot, I have to go back to the dentist to get those crowns seated.
When hubby told me that he’d gotten a news-text saying Osama bin Laden was dead, I didn’t know quite how to feel? Happy? Elated? Celebratory?
My good Episcopalian, Midwestern upbringing would not allow me to feel happy about someone else’s death, and yet, our military finally “got him,” the guy who led an attack on our soil and killed almost 3,000 people.
My first thoughts were, “Oh, I hope we didn’t kill any children.” Just a day or two before, NATO forces had bombed a house in Libya that another dictator nut, Muammar Gaddafi, was supposed to be in, only the bomb allegedly killed Gaddafi’s son and three grandchildren instead.
I was mortified about the death of Gaddafi’s grandchildren. No matter who granddaddy is, children should not die for his sins. As for the son, I felt sorry for him, too. What chance did Gaddafi’s son have to be a good guy if Poppa is a psychopathic killer?
What amazes me is that after our military goes into the so-called mansions of the mujahideen, we see the purported terrorists in their underwear or PJs. We see their unmade beds and clothes strewn about. We see them rousted from sleep at midnight with their hair sticking up, or rutting around in a hole in the ground, or bloodied and shot in the head.
Mostly we see that these extremists, mujahideen — whatever you’d like to call them — are what my mother called “white trash.” My apologies for the phrase, but my very Anglo-Saxon mother was from a different era. When she called somebody “white trash,” that meant they were lower than any other race or status of human being.
Moreover, these fringe terrorists are gangsters. Low, low, low-class individuals who aim for cruelty, power, glory and money by destroying the lives of others. Clearly, they are mentally misguided, as well as morally misguided, and they’ve given Islam a bad rap. True Islam does not preach the behaviors these aberrant mujahideen employ to defend their religion. They’ve taken a few lines from the Qur’an and run amok with them far too long.
“White trash,” Mom would call them. Yes, Osama bin Laden was definitely that. There’s no better word for him, except maybe “dead.”
I wish I could say that my former literary agency remembered me from 22 years ago and jumped at the chance to read my novel To Leave A Memory, but I’ve received NO reply in eight weeks. I think my submission was recycled unopened. Yes, my former agent is not taking unsolicited queries anymore, but I thought I’d give her a shot.
So, it’s onward to the hoops most new authors jump to contact hundreds of New York literary agents. These are exceptionally bright people, mostly English majors (LOVE ‘em ’cause I’m one of ‘em), who know the right editors and publishing houses. If you want to be published, you need an agent, that is, unless you self-publish electronically through Amazon or somewhere. I’d much rather have a real, physical book myself.
Enter the Internet
There is an excellent online application called QueryTracker.net that my brother-in-law Tosh McIntosh told me about. Another good site is AgentQuery.com, with information supplied by agents themselves. Both sites enable writers to research potential agents, click through to their Web sites or profiles and review each agent’s do’s and don’t's.
On Query Tracker, you can read bitter or joyous comments from writers who have been rejected or accepted. The writers’ main complaints seem to be the impersonal nature of rejections they receive, either form letters or cut pieces of paper with a “To Whom it May Concern” at the top. More often than not, writers don’t receive a reply at all.
That’s because literary agents get between 10,000 and 20,000 queries annually, now that everybody and their brother are writers. All it takes is a computer and Word, right? In this electronic age, more agents accept e-mailed queries (EQ), which are easier to do, but you wonder if it’s not also easier to reject them. There is something about the written word on paper that pulls me into a story. I’ve never been a fan of electronic books … not yet, anyway.
Rejection with a Gray Hair
I remember a rejection slip from long ago in response to a query I sent. The cut piece of paper had a hand-scribbled note, saying, “I don’t think anybody would want to read this.” The note arrived with a gray hair stuck to it. Needless to say, I was wounded and a bit repulsed. I will not contact that agency again, no matter that this is 22 years later and I have a completely different novel and last name.
My goal is to send one query a day. There used to be the same standard pitch, a one-page letter, a two-page synopsis and the first chapter, but now each agency has their submission procedure. You send this or that, but you dare not send the one thing they have detailed on their Web site or profile. You have to research each agent diligently, or your costly snail-mail submission will be recycled unopened or your EQ deleted with no reply.
Many agents don’t want to see any of your manuscript, just a one-page query letter OR a synopsis of the novel OR both. One agent requested I write the marketing copy for the book jacket, not my well-hammered query letter/synopsis. I guess that’s because agents need to know how a potential reader would peruse the product in the bookstore. The manuscript itself seems to come secondarily, as in, “Oh, that sounds like a great idea for a novel, but can she write?”
Onward I forge through “the slush pile,” as submissions are called. I’ll keep you posted.