I Hate Writing a Synopsis

Today, I went through the agonizing steps of writing the synopsis for OUT AND IN, my new mystery-thriller. I’m about to begin queries to literary agents. I hope this novel is commercial enough to get a better bite.

My family drama TO LEAVE A MEMORY is still with several agents but I think OUT AND IN is far more marketable. Problem is, that would trap me in the genre of murder mysteries, which my novel TO LEAVE A MEMORY does not fit. So I’ll probably put it in a drawer, although TO LEAVE A MEMORY is the better work. A conundrum.

My next murder mystery is ICE AND FIRE, set on the Big Island. Gotta go there to do research, don’t I? I absolutely love the Big Island.

Yes, you will get to read these exciting novels soon. If I can’t get an agent for OUT AND IN by March 2015, I will self-publish both novels like so many wannabes. Then I will bore you with my posts about my book signings, cover design, free downloads and Amazon ratings. So, cross your fingers that I can find an agent for OUT AND IN. That way you won’t have to endure the launch of another self-published book. Everybody’s a writer now, right?

Don’t Trash the Affordable Care Act – a.k.a. Obamacare

My son just signed up for insurance using the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). Although he has a pre-existing condition and has just moved to Texas from Oregon to look for a new job, he was accepted. Before the ACA, he would not have been able to get health insurance except through an employer-sponsored plan, and only then if he had proof of creditable coverage for his pre-existing condition. The plan he had in Oregon was a self-insurance plan—coverage only at a local group of providers.

My son is seeking full-time work in Austin due to Oregon’s poor economy. Problem is, many Austin-area companies hire part-time or contract labor as a way to “try out” workers before hiring them…also to limit costs for benefits.

Luckily for my son, there is “Obamacare.”

His case is just one example of the positive aspects the Affordable Care Act offers Americans, but I don’t think that message has gotten through—a communications failing of the Obama Administration. First, the Web interface was a classic federal F-up. The new and improved HealthCare.gov works smoothly and easily, according to my son’s experience.

The biggest failing in the communications about the ACA is that too many Americans resent paying for coverage for the unemployed and disabled. They don’t seem to realize they already were paying for the uninsured through rising health premiums and astronomical hospital charges. We just didn’t see the line items on our bills.

The ACA was supposed to help reduce insurance premiums and hospital costs, however, the unregulated insurance companies and hospitals have kept raising their rates. I don’t know how rates could have been regulated in a free-market economy, but insurance companies simply blame rising costs, while hospitals shrug. I wish there was a solution to rising health insurance costs, other than totally trashing the Affordable Care Act. I fear the newly elected Republican Congress will do so on Day 1, but will that make insurance companies reduce their premiums? I doubt it.

The ACA was formulated by insurance companies and healthcare providers, in cooperation with legislative input. This same plan has been recommended and even implemented by both parties; for example the state-sponsored healthcare insurance program in Massachusetts under then Gov. George Romney. The ACA is not just an liberal assistance program, it’s a national health insurance program to enable all Americans to have access to health coverage.

All of us should pay premiums if we can. Although my son is looking for a job, he is paying for his. Seven million other Americans (to date) are now covered under ACA policies, and most are paying at least basic premiums. What will happen to their health insurance if the ACA is overturned? I shudder to think that seven million people will lose coverage. Surely, even the Koch brothers would not want to see that.

Flying First Class is Not a First-Class Experience.

airlineseatsI’m an avid scrounge of American Airlines AAdvantage miles. I earn miles in myriad ways — Citibank AAdvantage purchases, AAdvantage E-Shopping, AAdvantage Dining and paying to fly when I don’t want to cash in miles for short flights.

I became an enthusiastic user in 1994 when I was creative supervisor on the American Airlines AAdvantage program, overseeing 12 versions of the AAdvantage newsletter, mailed worldwide to almost five million people. When you sell the benefits of a frequent flyer program to customers for a number of years, you become a believer in what you sell.

Since that time, I’ve used miles to fly free many, many times, although “flying free” costs a whole lot more than it used to, both in miles and fees. American Airlines now greatly limits the number of low-mileage seats on each flight. However, you can find seats easily if you spend double the miles.

That’s why I sometimes wind up in Business/First seats because those tickets, if available, require the same amount of “double” miles as the more available coach seats.

Business/First seats were available for a recent trip to Portland to visit my son. I had an enjoyable flight inbound, but coming home I found myself next to a man from Alaska whom I had seen before we boarded. He had wandered about the gate lobby, seemingly delirious, perhaps on drugs, maybe schizophrenic. He made all kinds of loud arghhhhhhs and talked loudly to no one, although some women in the lobby thought he was funny.

You can imagine my surprise when he presented himself as my seatmate in row five of First Class. My face fell, and I asked him if this was indeed his seat. Unfortunately for me it was. I was suddenly quite frightened.

Once seated, the guy made all sorts of noises that I cannot duplicate in print. He also kept asking if someone in my family had died. Maybe that was a joke about the frown on my face, but I think he was sincere. He rambled about his son, said the young man had died from a drug overdose because, “nobody was there to show him the way,” he said.

“Nobody, nobody cared!” the man shouted. Then he yanked the back of the seat of the lady in front of him. She leaned over and told her husband, “Someone keeps pulling my seat.”

When the attendant served my seatmate nuts, he threw them on the floor. When she gave him a drink, he threw that on the floor. Problem was, he didn’t do this while she was watching. I asked him to pick up the glass and ice that were rolling beneath his feet. I should have left the mess there for the attendant to see, but I was afraid the liquid would head toward my computer bag.

The man acquiesced and picked up his glass, then he passed out for a time. He fell into a deep stupor and leaned over on me. Suddenly, his snoring head was on my breast. I pushed him off. He again asked, “Tell me! Tell me. Just tell me if someone died.” Then he told me again, his son had died, but no one, no one, no one cared. And then he moaned an anguished cry that made me feel sorry for him, but sorrier for myself having to sit beside him.

So much for the first class experience I had looked forward to. The man’s disruptive behavior continued until I could take no more. We were still in “seat belt fastened mode,” so I could not get up and talk to the attendant privately. I pushed the button. When the attendant came, I asked her please to ask this guy not to disturb me or the other passengers.

She looked at me like I was the crazy one. I became distressed. I adamantly told her about the nuts. I told her about the drink. I told her about the mumbling, the shouting, that he had passed out on me. I told her he yanked the lady’s seat in front of us. I told her I thought he was on drugs. She did not seem to believe me. That’s because the guy had a very gamey way of playing asleep whenever she was around. He clearly knew how to hide his aberrant behaviors.

She leaned over and asked the guy if he wanted a meal. He played like he was asleep.

I told the attendant, “Don’t give him a meal. He’ll throw it on the floor.”

She said, “Do you know this person?” I said a firm no. She asked the guy, “Sir, what happened to your nuts? Why are they on the floor?” He didn’t answer. She went back to the galley.

I felt stuck. I poked at the soba noodles and teriyaki she had plopped on my tray. I couldn’t eat, but I needed to eat. This was to be my only meal over nine hours, but I was afraid this man might suddenly go bonkers. Attack me. Who knew? Nobody seemed to care. Should I demand to speak to the captain? What are you supposed to do in a situation like this?

To the Rescue

Suddenly I noticed a tall female attendant and a male attendant come forward to the galley. Aha! The tall female came to my seat and whispered there was a seat in coach that was available. Aisle seat; no one in the middle. I took it.

The attendant helped me transfer, but what teed me off was that I was the one who had to make the move. This trip had cost me 50,000 miles.

“Oh, poor Pat,” you might say, but I had looked forward to this experience. I don’t always get to fly first class, and I hate the cattle car.

So back I went to seat 18D. The attendant came by to give me first-class service, a.k.a., free drinks, and she chatted about the guy up in row five. She wanted me to know that they now believed me. The first class attendant had engaged him in conversation and there were a quite few wires misfiring. “Absolutely no connection with reality,” the attendant said.

I felt vindicated. My bet is the man was on drugs. When he awoke one time, he shouted, “Wheeeeehew, that was some shit!” And then he yanked the lady’s seat in front of him.

That is the problem with addicts or schizophrenics. They do not have a grip on the world around them or any respect or care for the others who populate it. You can excuse that as mental illness, but when you have to put up with those behaviors, your patience runs thin.

When I headed off the flight, I tried to catch the eye of the first-class attendant but she was talking to the captain in a very animated tone. I overheard her say, “He absolutely refused to put on his seat belt!” I got a kick out of that. Now he was her problem.

I called the AAdvantage program after I got home and they returned 10,000 miles to my account for my bad experience. Not enough, exponentially, but at least something.

In the process, I learned that flying first class does not guarantee a pleasant travel experience. Too much depends on the person next to you, who may well be an addict or a nut. If he is, you are the one who will have to move. We cannot disturb the nuts, can we?

Married to a Night Owl Who Hoots at Blood Moons

041414-lunar-moonBill is a night owl. Stays up until 3 a.m. many nights. I go to bed about midnight (which is rather night-owlish in my humble opinion), but last night about 2:15 a.m., I woke with a start as Bill stood over me.
“What’s the matter?!” I shouted.
“Come outside to see the red moon.”
Gads, I’m pissed. I don’t wake cheerily, ever. So, I stumble around, find shoes and a coat.
We go out front and aim binoculars.
The moon is just glorious, a giant rusty pearl afloat on a dark sea. Mars shines brightly nearby.
We hold back our heads, stare and enjoy the peace of the night.
Although I could not get back to sleep for the life of me, I’m glad Bill is a night owl. I would not have wanted to miss that old rusty moon.
(Photo stolen from KVUE-TV at kvue.com. I hope they won’t mind.)

The Catch-22 E-mail

As you know, I’m querying literary agents to represent my novel To Leave a Memory. This has become a lengthy and arduous process, unlike the genteel and efficient procedures of yesteryear. In the “good old days,” you sent off for a pamphlet published by the Society for Authors’ Representatives (SAR), and inside were about 75 names. You sent each agent a letter with a sample chapter. These agents wrote you back. I received many rejections, but eventually I landed an agent with the effete Sterling Lord Literary Agency, now called Sterling Lord Literistic. Trouble is, that agent has left the building, and the remaining agents are already booked.

Computers are supposed to help, not muck things up

Today’s querying process is an overwhelming grind for both writers and agents, thanks to the advent of computers and the Internet. There are well over 750 literary agents listed on QueryTracker that represent my genre of women’s / literary fiction. And there are tens of thousands of wanna-be writers like myself who contact these agents by e-mail. I’m told by literary agents at conferences that about 95% of the queries they receive do not have any merit at all. In sort, 95% of those querying are rank amateurs who may not have written a thing but think they have an idea for a novel. As a result, literary agents receive 250 to 500 queries per week. Most agents do not even reply because they are so busy working with and marketing established clients’ work in a shrinking print market, where online sales predominate.

Catch-22

Many agents do not accept queries and only take clients via referrals from established authors, or via interviews at writers conferences. Many of my local writer pals have given up on this process and published online via Amazon and BN.com. I congratulate them on their independence and diligence, but for my first published work, I would love to have an established publisher. This makes sense from a marketing perspective. Because I am definitely not famous and still considered a debut author, self-publishing my family drama To Leave a Memory would be like sending a Tweet with no hash tags. My novel would disappear into the cosmos.

The Writers Conference

Two years ago, I signed up for two writers’ conferences in different cities in the hopes of either impressing agents or meeting an established writer who could refer me. This is no inexpensive thing. I worry about writers who cannot afford the $500-or-so required to attend a local conference where they can “buy” an interview with an agent or editor; or the $1,500 required to travel to another city. If one is without means, how can a debut author make these essential contacts? The literary world might be missing out on the next Salinger who simply doesn’t have any bucks or is such a recluse s/he would never attend a writers conference.

One conference featured a bevy of young literary agents, none of whom wanted to rep my novel. They liked the story idea and praised me on my presentation, but my novel did not fit into their preferred genres. I knew that going in, but I thought I’d give it a shot because the conference was in my hometown. One male agent was so impressed by my presentation, he volunteered to circulate my first 100 pages to an agency that later “boomed” me after deciding the work was not their cup of tea, either. That took six months.

The second conference focused on writers and writing, not agents. At that conference, I met a pivotal individual who has been a wonderful contact and great boon to my efforts. This contact was encouraging enough to suggest several literary agents, as well as an established author who might be willing to refer me to an agent. Aha! I thought the latter idea was a grand scheme and sent sample pages as requested. My contact forwarded these to the author.

This was back in October, and it is now late-January. Worried by the lack of response, I sent the author an e-mail directly to follow up, mentioning our mutual contact. I did not want to pester my contact for a third time on this issue. But evidently, I committed a publishing-world faux pas I have yet to understand. Turns out my e-mail beeped on the author’s computer or smart phone in the form of what the author perceived as an instant message at 11 p.m. This upset the author, although I had merely sent an e-mail. But I was told that I should have communicated only through channels, not directly, and this author was now a lost contact.

Although my e-mail congratulated the author and expressed how I looked forward to reading the author’s new work as soon as I could, my message turned into a Catch-22 and now I am never to contact this author or mention the author’s name in any query, and I should be totally chagrined for having done this terrible deed.

Clearly, I feel misunderstood. But I’ll push on and wait, wait, wait. Or, self-publish online and disappear into position 3,456,789 on Amazon.

Divide and Conquer Christmas

Every Christmas, I forget how the previous holiday went. Whether the task is to put up the “easy-installation” electric tree, where you plug A1, A2 and A3 into B1, B2 and B3, then plug B4, B5 and B6 into C1, C2 and C3, but you cannot find B4, B5 and B6, I’ve learned to write myself notes to remember these tricky things. So, this year when I opened the box that holds the tree, there was a note on top. “Dear Pat: String the long cord all the way up the pole to the top of C section.”

A hah! I remembered again, that’s how to plug in C1, C2 and C3 to B4, B5 and B6.

I also write myself notes about decorations. These appear inside the top of boxes when I open them. “Dear Pat: You need to get more decorative gold balls.” Or, “Dear Pat: You need to buy some wide burgundy ribbon if you can find it.” My little notes help me complete the thoughts of the prior year, so off I go to make a long list. Time to go shopping.

Kid in Candy Store

Bill loves shopping. As a boy, his family was “economically challenged,” so now that he is not in the same condition, Christmas gives him the chance to be a kid in a candy store. Problem is, my idea of shopping is to follow an elaborate plan that could win the war in Afghanistan. In spite of our differing objectives and methods, we brainstorm over breakfast about gift ideas for this person or that, and I make several lists. Then I carefully plot our many stops, and off we go to conquer Christmas together in one fell swoop.

Problem is, I forgot to write myself a note about shopping with Bill.

The moment we go to the grocery story to buy gift cards, Bill heads off to buy item after item “off list,” everything from two boxes of fire logs to a beer mug, bottle of sake and bottle of mead. We only make it to two stores before I speak up in frustration. “We’ll never get all the things on the list if you keep buying everything in sight.”

Budda in a bottle

Budda in a bottle

Bill growls, and I realize I’ve ruined his fun. But not for long. When we come out of Twin Liquors, Bill spies Madame Mam’s Thai restaurant, and off we go at his urging to have dinner and a bottle of Lucky Chinese beer with the funny green bottles that look like Budda. I joke that our lists are nowhere near complete. Bill just smiles. He’s full and happy, and he has his fire logs.

Divide and Conquer

Today, I will drop Bill off at the Hill Country Galleria to accomplish his brand of Christmas shopping. No telling what he will buy — luckily, there is not a Mercedes dealer there. Meanwhile, I’ll busily check off my war plan. I won’t have any fun, but things will get done. Perhaps Bill has the better way of doing things. Regardless, I’ve already written myself a little note for next year. “Dear Pat: Do not go shopping with Bill. Divide and conquer. Just drop him off at the mall.”

Still Beating up on Jane Fonda

I went to a “very important ladies” social event yesterday. One of the more vocal in attendance quoted a litany of urban legends, including a tirade about Jane Fonda giving the North Vietnamese secret information about the POWs she met there. So I looked that up on Snopes.com. The POWs in attendance have said this was not true. You can see their comments, by going to his link. Please read the facts before spouting urban legends.

I think Fonda was a fool to go to North Vietnam, but she naively thought she was doing something to stop the war. She has since said that she regretted doing what she did. (Again, see Snopes for Fonda’s exact words.) But she has never apologized in a way that will ever appease many veterans of that war, and for that, she remains a woman with as many detractors as fans.

Please keep your politics out of my fun.

I was once young and foolish and did a lot of stupid things. But the “very important lady” at the party yesterday must not have done anything wrong in her entire life. As she blathered on, the term “Self-Righteous Ninny” came to mind. This topic goes to my mantra that social events are not the time or place for political rants. Did this 70-ish woman ever think to ask the others in our conversation circle about our lives, our hobbies, our families, our husbands? Or tell us a bit about hers?

Another thing she ranted about was “political correctness.” That is the secret password around my community. Her rant was that her high school mascot, the Redskins, had to change their name to something else. Although this woman is 70-ish, she was very upset about this, as if changing her high school mascot would traumatize her in some way.

I wanted to ask how she would have felt — that is, if she could remember that far back and had the emotional depth to put herself in another girl’s shoes — if she were a 14-year-old native American girl who had to attend a high school that called her a “redskin.” But then, my comment about “native Americans” would have included a “politically correct” term, and I can just imagine the gasps.

One must be careful what one says in my community, or one will not be invited back to the “very important ladies” social events. After yesterday, I’m beginning to think that’s just fine with me. And perhaps another community might be a better fit.

I See Dead People

“Best All Around Boy,” South Oak Cliff High, 1964, Dallas, Texas

Forgive me if I steal a line from “The Sixth Sense,” but people come to visit me after they die. This does not happen often. In fact, the visits are more rare than I would like. Then again, I shouldn’t hope for more visits because that would mean more people have died.

The most recent visit was from my Dallas school chum James Lee “Jimmy” Lemmon. We were very close during junior high and high school, close the way boys and girls can be without any romantic interest. We wrote passionate notes and told each other how to live our lives. We counseled each other about our love crushes. Although we attended the same college, our adult friendship suffered from our combined poor decisions.

Out of the blue the other night, Jimmy appeared in a dream. He was college age, dressed in jeans, wide belt and a starched shirt, very handsome, like the photo here. He smiled and told me, “I’m all right now.” Because of some previous experiences, I worried perhaps Jimmy had died. So I did some research and discovered he passed away in July 2011. I was very sad to see this but 20 years had passed since I had seen Jimmy.

My Father Used the Same Line

My father told me the same thing when he visited me after his death long ago. He didn’t appear in a dream like Jimmy, but I simply heard my father’s voice, high and clear. I was not thinking about much of anything. A blank slate. Then came his distant voice, “Patty, I’m okay now.”

Since this is almost the same line as Jimmy’s, each may be wishful thinking on my part. I don’t claim to be psychic. But I was relieved to hear from both, because my father struggled in this life with alcoholism. His death was not easy. I heard through rumors that Jimmy struggled…not sure of the details. But one time when I reconnected with him in Austin as adults in our 40s, he was so agitated and over-the-top rude, I shouted at him, “What in the world happened to you, Jimmy!?” Those were my last words to him and I felt sorry later.

Mother Got In a Word and a Few Pennies, Too

After my mother died, she sang to me when I was peeling potatoes for dinner. Like the time my father’s voice appeared, my mind was a blank. I simply peeled potatoes when mother’s voice soared into my brain just as clear as anything I’ve ever heard. She sang that old lullaby, “Tura Lura.” And I felt so comforted.

Mother also leaves me pennies in places you could not possibly expect to find them. Before she died, she told me, “If I can find a way to come back, I will.” So after her death, I continually found pennies in the oddest places. Inside my bedsheets when I turned down the covers. Out on my back deck. Inside my shoes. Extraordinary, since I don’t carry change in my pockets. But Mother always said, “Pick a penny and put it in your pocket for luck.” She left off the word “up” in “Pick up,” perhaps a colloquialism. So I always “pick a penny” and tell Mom thank you.

So, Why Are You Here, Anyway?

A long-time hairdresser and good friend once came to visit me after he died. His name was Michael. I didn’t see him in a dream or hear his voice, but he entered my life in the manner of an inexplicable compulsion. I had just moved to Austin and could not find a decent hair stylist. I ranted to Michael about this long-distance during one of our phone conversations.

One day after a class downtown, I had a weird urge to go inside a shop I saw. The only sign said, “Aziz.” I didn’t know it was a hair salon, or even why I had walked in. I jokingly told the receptionist that some “force” had made me come in there. He smiled and told me, “You want David.”

So I made an appointment. A week later, David cut my hair exactly the same way that Michael had cut it. I was so thrilled, I called Michael to tell him that I had found a stylist, but his roommate answered the phone. He told me Michael had committed suicide the week before. I told the roommate, “Well, he was in Austin this past week, I can assure you.” I so appreciated Michael’s effort to let me know he had died and his help to find a stylist. Now that’s a spirit you want around.

Are You Dead People?

Sometimes when I close my eyes and reach that spot between awake and sleep, I see people’s faces. Lots of faces, not all at once, simply one by one, each face flashes by. I don’t recognize these people, and from their dress and hairstyles, they appear to be from many eras. I suspect they are spirits. Dead people? Instead of being frightened by them, I am comforted that they are “out there.” Makes me feel I will be out there someday, too.

I wish I could predict or control mystical moments or glean some monumental truths to share with you. When I try to see dead people, I get nowhere. They come on their time and terms, like my buddy Jimmy. I had no clue he had died, but he arrived in a dream to tell me that he’s all right now. The image of him looking so young and handsome was a true comfort. My friend was himself again. Rest in peace. Pass me a note, huh?

A Humanist’s Valentine

ValentinejpgTo 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.

Kicked Out of Motel 6

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 hotels.

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.

Happy Holidays. Plural.

colorado sunsetThe 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?

Please, Folks, Get Your Facts Straight on “Obama Care”

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection an...

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Wrapping Up — L.A. Writers’ Conference

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Don’t tell too much about your MC up front. Tease your readers with your MC’s back story and reveal key parts later.
  7. Know your characters’ motivation, mood and history before beginning. Put yourself on the stage with them, play all of the parts, react realistically.
  8. Know who wants what and why they can’t get it. Then turn that on its ear and turn the screw.
  9. Characters act and react. If all your MC does is act without reacting, you don’t have enough depth to your story.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. For long chapters, use scene breaks. Today’s reader wants information broken up. Chapters should be under 10 pages.
  13. Dialogue should be brief, sharp.
  14. 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.”
  15. 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.
  16. 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.)
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Paint the most vivid pictures in the siimplest forms.
  20. 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.”

Screenwriting 102

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.

Live from the L.A. Writers’ Conference

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.

Premature E-Publishing

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.

Thank You, Brother!

HPOfficejet6500A Plus: Do NOT buy this printer if you are a Mac user.

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

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.

Writers Conference Overload: Which Way to Turn

Self-Publish or Perish?

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.

Saul Bellow

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.

Like Riding a Bicycle

Pat’s Cannondale Quick 6

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.

Where’s the Beef?

English: Beef Wellington.

Image via Wikipedia

I have not fed this blog in a month. My rationale is that I have little time, as I’m focused on querying literary agents for my novel To Leave a Memory. I’m also starting to write a new novel while continuing to take care of Meryl, Byron, the house and Bill, while also managing a life too full of activities and interests.

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.

Independent Thoughts

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.

Say, Ron and Rick, how about getting government out of women’s lives, too?

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?

A multi-faith America is worth celebrating, not boycotting | Bob Ray Sanders

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.

A multi-faith America is worth celebrating, not boycotting | Bob Ray Sanders | Fort Worth, Ar….