Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Time Flies

Heh. Was looking through some photos and came across this one from 1979. That's my bunch at Grand  Canyon on a cool, damp August day. It rained most of the way as we drove up there from Phoenix where it was much warmer--hence the shorts on the kids. But the Grand Canyon cuts through a high plateau so the temps were much cooler.

A lot has happened since this photo was taken. The kids all grew up. The youngest, cradled in her daddy's arms is now a momma with a daughter graduating in a few short days. I look at this picture and remember this wild trip, 3300 miles, camping out every night, traveling the hot searing roads from Houston to Carlsbad Caverns to Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, back across New Mexico, Texas, to northern Oklahoma for a family reunion and then finally back home. We arrived in our driveway with about $3 and change in our pockets.

Our station wagon wasn't air conditioned so we rode with all the windows down. Somehow, we packed clothing for everyone (and bedding) plus camping equipment, a folding port-a-crib, and a high chair all in the back of that wagon. I have NO idea how we managed.

We had some adventurous times. High winds near the painted desert meant the kids all slept in the car while the hunk and I slept in the tent (and our weight was all that kept it from blowing away). In Oklahoma, a tornado touched down less than a mile from our camp ground. During torrential rains. When it passed, everything was soaked.

We encountered cactus, cows, snakes, rocks, scorpions, and horned toads. The kids learned to walk wary and keep a sharp eye out for unfriendlies. But we not only survived, we thrived. I'm glad we made that trip. It was the last 'big' trip we were able to afford.

As I think about it, the memories though misty and fragmented are precious. Time passes. Possibilities slip through our fingers. And before we know it, our children--and grandchildren--are grown, moving on to create their own adventures.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In The Beginning

Back in 2006 the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. I resigned my job, supervised packing up the house, and we moved--all in a four week span. Then I spent several months wandering our new apartment, wondering what I was supposed to do with myself.

Finally, my son (who was staying with us temporarily after leaving the Navy) became frustrated enough to...suggest that I take myself off to my 'office' and brand spanking new computer and write. "You've moaned and groaned for years about not having time to write. Now you have time. Go write."

So, I wrote.

When I finished, that first book was almost 300,000 words. When I started investigating publishing possibilities, I discovered no one wanted a three hundred thousand word book. So I went back to the drawing board, carved my masterpiece into several smaller chunks, polished the first one up...and polished...and polished...and...the hunk, seriously annoyed at my procrastination sneered, "You're never gonna do anything with that book."

"Hah," I sneered back. Little did he know, I'd completely prepared my submission, but just couldn't make myself press the send button. However, with him standing over me, shaking his head in disbelief...I pressed send. And wondered what the heck I'd gotten myself into.

Well, anyone who's submitted a book to a publisher knows you don't get an answer back immediately, so I began work on the sequel. Positive thinking, right?

Five weeks later, I received an e-mail asking for the entire book. Shortly after that, I was offered a contract. And by then the second book was finished, so I sent it off. And then the third...

In the meantime, I had an idea for an new series of books about three sisters who go to Camelot in search for husbands. I sat down to begin the first one. And immediately, the entire enterprise jumped the tracks. Nothing I tried served to bring the characters to their senses. They refused absolutely and categorically to behave. Finally, I threw up my hands and let them have their way. And when I finished, I had a strange farcical version of King Arthur's court that I titled, Chrysanthemum.

With a shrug, I sent it off to my editor, thinking it would be rejected, but at least she would derive some amusement from reading it. To my eternal shock, I was offered a contract for my farce. Now publishing schedules are inscrutable to the average writer. Heck, they might even be inscrutable to the publisher for all I know. But for whatever reason, Chrysanthemum ended up on the publishing schedule ahead of all the other books I had contracts for at that point.

So. On May 23, 2007, nine years ago, Chrysanthemum, my first published book was released. It's not currently available as the rights have been reverted and I haven't re-issued it yet. But in that process, I've re-read it recently, and yeah...I laughed. It's still fun. And I'm pretty sure a writer can't ask for more than that. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Book Within

What's the difference between a writer and a non-writer? The writer has that constant inner urge to write. It might be poetry. It might be a gossip column. Sometimes it's a book or a short story--or a blog. But deep inside a restlessness shifts until the writer sits down to write.

Back before I was a professional writer, I had a lot of misconceptions about the process. I thought all writers used outlines and plans. They wrote on a specific schedule. They led glamorous lives with TV appearances and interviews with the press. Hah. Boy, did I get it wrong.

Yeah, that's true for some writers. But for a LOT of writers, the struggle to find time to write, the fight for publicity and recognition, even the grappling with the unfamiliar tasks of synopsis and blurbs can be exhausting and discouraging. More--the solitary life can lead to depression and loneliness.

The single factor most readers don't understand is what hard work it is to write. I live with a complete non-writer. When we married, he read about second grade level and writing was...not pretty. So he had no concept of what it takes to write anything--even something as short as a blog post. When I'm in the midst of writing an actual book? Forget about it!

Once, I was so frustrated, I told him to stay away from me until he produced a one page document. "What am I supposed to write about?" he whined. I shrugged. After all, no one tell me what to write about. "I don't have time to mess with this," he grouched. Really? REALLY?

Well, he muttered and belly-ached and moaned and two weeks later he slapped one sheet of paper down on my desk. My friends, it was bad. But it was a full sheet.

I looked up at his mutinous expression and said, "Now do that a couple hundred more times."

"What!"

"Then check the spelling. Fix the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences..."

He stomped off back to his room. But he never asked me again why it was taking so long for me to finish my book. I wonder how the public perception of writers would change if every reader did the same exercise? Would they have more respect for their favorite writers? Or less? What do you think?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The ONE

The thing about illness is it allows you plenty of time to read. I confess I've taken full advantage. Part of having such time at your disposal is the opportunity to reflect on what you've read --and why you like (or not) a particular book.

When you've read as many books as I have, you develop a list of 'best' books by your favorite authors. Once an author has a few books under their belt, there is a real possibility to decide for yourself which you consider their BEST book. This is, of course, a completely subjective judgement. What I consider the best book by a specific author might be totally absent from another reader's list. But most authors I've read over time have written at least one book I consider their best. For those who still live...that 'best' book might change.

A best book isn't necessarily my favorite book of theirs. For instance, I believe Linda Howard's best book is Son of the Morning. But my favorite book of hers is Cry No More. Cry No More is a close second, but Son of the Morning has that indefinable something that rates it the best...a creative spark that is difficult to pinpoint.

With some authors it's easy to pick a best of show. LaVryle Spencer ~ Morning Glory. Mary Stewart ~ Crystal Cave. Georgette Heyer ~ These Old Shades. Louis L'Amour ~ Last of the Breed. Mercedes Lackey ~ Exile's Honor. Nora Roberts ~ Birthright. Dorothy L. Sayers ~ Five Red Herrings. Jayne Ann Krentz ~ Sweet Starfire. Robert B. Parker ~ Five Weeks in Spring. Elizabeth Lowell ~ The Wrong Hostage.

These are by no means the only books they've written. These are simply what I consider their 'standout' books. Another reader would have a totally different list. I can't even verbalize exactly why each book is on my list. But there you are. Some of the titles on my 'Best of Show' list.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Eat the Ice Cream

Long life. We pursue it with a vengeance. We diet, exercise, don't smoke, don't drink, blah, blah, blah. And what do we get? Pretty much the same thing we'd get otherwise living a life of moderation.

Moderation is the key. When I was in my forties, I climbed a mountain every weekend. It was an eight mile round trip, much of it straight up or straight down. I'm glad I did that when I could because now a flight of eight steps comes close to defeating me. Then I enjoyed and gloried in the view of the Hudson River Valley from atop a mountain. Now I enjoy the view from my second floor window. Life evens out.

My ancestors worked hard all their lives and lived into their eighties, only to face disabilities and pain. For every man or woman like Jack LaLane, there are a hundred wondering why they fought so hard to reach old age. We've all forgotten the simplest truth. However we live, we will still die.

Some like my mother who died at 31 in a car accident will have a short life. Others, like my lovely stepmother will work hard, walk, eat right and live long, only to find themselves confined to wheelchairs. She'll be 87 in a couple weeks and I'll enjoy every moment of her presence, but I wonder...I wonder about all the times she sacrificed an experience so she would stay healthier.

The destination is not the end game. The journey is. All my life I've struggled to do the 'right' thing so I'd be healthy. Instead of listening to my inner wisdom, I followed all the latest recommendations for the right foods, the right exercise, the right amount of sleep. Then I was diagnosed with diabetes. The first thing the nutritionist said was, 'get rid of all the diet junk.' Wow, what a revelation! No more diet candy or soda or any of that other crap. Eat healthy. Real milk. Real ice cream. Real food without preservatives and chemicals. And the only rule?

Everything in moderation.

Everything. No need to binge on a bowl of ice cream when you can have a small scoop anytime. No need to hike ten miles when you can enjoy a stroll around the block every day. We will all reach the end exactly when our time comes.

I did everything right. I ate what I was supposed to eat, exercised when I was supposed to exercise, didn't smoke or drink, and yet I require meds for diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, GERDS, have arthritis in my spine and hips and I'm about 150 pounds overweight. When I complained to my doctor, she admitted what doctors have always known. Sometimes, you can't fight your genes. All you can do is keep battling a rear guard action.

So that's what I do. And somedays I eat ice cream.



Monday, April 4, 2016

Changing Stories

Literature is an endless sea with waves rolling onto shore, each bringing something new, sometimes treasure and other times trash. Whatever the result, readers decide the final disposition and value. From Shakespeare to Victorian Erotica, readers are the ones who keep the printed words alive--or buried in a midden heap.

When I was first published, erotic romance was just gaining a foothold in the literary market. Readers secretly read their books behind closed doors or hidden in the safety of the newfangled e-readers slowly finding popularity with the public. Then in a flash, it seems, erotic romance exploded like Fourth of July sparklers and the new genre was everywhere. The final salvo (Fifty Shade of Gray) ensured it would stay around for a year of two, at least.

By then, the authors who'd struggled for recognition moved on to other interests. Some found publishers of more conservative romances to work for. Others moved to the new YA or NA genres. And in that weird way these things work, suddenly erotic romance with the emphasis on romance turned into erotic romance with the emphasis on erotic. The lines blurred between erotica and erotic romance to the point one could never be certain which was which--just as the lines between romance (with a capital R) and erotic romance changed. More and more ROMANCE opened the bedroom door. What was once considered erotic romance just dwindled into that no-man's land of maybe, maybe.

Now there seems to be a surge of writers who are revising their books for self-publishing and in that process, they're removing ALL the sex, lengthening the stories, and then offering them as sweet romances. It's a head-scratching moment for me. I can understand lengthening the stories as many of them were short. It's the sex part that puzzles me. If they can remove the love scenes while maintaining the integrity of the story, then why were the love scenes there to begin with? If they weren't an integral part of the story, why include them? Or were they gratuitous as so many readers thought, just so they could be included in the erotic romance category?

I have the rights back to most of my books so I've been in the process of evaluating each of them, trying to decide what the final disposition will be. To that end, I've also considered whether to leave them as is, sex and all, or revise them. And this is what I've realized. For MY books, written in the past, there is no possibility of removing the love scenes without totally changing the stories. My sex scenes were integral parts of the stories. The books were explorations of that particular aspect of human relationships. It's a part we don't really talk about, you know. We skirt around the edges with dirty jokes and sly innuendoes, but the truth is sex is still private. And secret. In my stories, I dare to shine a small dim light on the rainbow of emotions and feelings possible in this most secret, private part of life. And so...there will be no changes, except perhaps some corrections of spelling or grammar errors. What is, is. If I change as an author, it will be in future work.

I'm not ashamed of my past work or where I came from. As I've said for years, it's fortunate that there's a story out there for every reader. If my stories make a reader uncomfortable, it won't bother me for them to not read them. After all, there are so many books and so little time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Burnt Oatmeal

Heh. I burned the oatmeal this morning. It reminded me of this post I wrote back in 2008. And it was a good thing as I unearthed it to re-read again. It's still true, so I'm gonna post it as a reminder to myself. Enjoy.

Yesterday morning I burned the oatmeal. This is not a new occurrence. Rather it is the norm. My friend Jane and the house hunk don't even find it a subject worth discussing as I always burn the oatmeal. You might ask why make oatmeal if you always burn it? Because I need to eat oatmeal. There's always enough unburned oatmeal to satisfy my needs.



Why does it burn? Mostly because I have too many things going on at one time. I set the timer and then immerse my concentration on some other project to the extent that I don't hear the timer. It burns. I scrape off the top layer and put the pot in the sink to soak. And move on.



Life is pretty full of burnt oatmeal. All those wrong turns and bad choices we make in life have consequences. How we handle the inevitable consequences determines what our life is like. We can wail and gnash our teeth and cry over our burnt oatmeal. We can beat ourselves up or blame some one else for calling us on the phone while our oatmeal was cooking. But the truth is that none of those things really address the fact that we still have burnt oatmeal.



Or we can salvage what we can, put the pan to soak, and move on. There will likely be a lot of pans of burnt oatmeal in our lives. If I waste time obsessing about the burnt oatmeal, that's time I've lost forever. Time I could have put to more constructive use. Oh yeah, and while I'm moaning and groaning the salvaged oatmeal is getting cold. Who wants to eat cold oatmeal?



There are things I can do to "pretty up" my oatmeal. I can add nuts, raisens, peanut butter, brown sugar, nutella, or cream. All of those make the oatmeal more palatable. And unless I tell someone, they'll never know that I burned the oatmeal. See? Life is what you make it--even burnt oatmeal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Identity

I've been pondering all the ways we identify ourselves. The primary identity is by gender. From the moment we are born--maybe even before we are born--our gender is the over-riding identifier. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue. Why? Is there some inherent reasoning there? If a male wears pink does it change his gender? Why pink? Why not orange or turquoise?

From birth we are surrounded in the trappings of 'male' or 'female'. Everything around us is appropriately color coded from coats to blankets to shoes to wallpaper and paint. Toys are gender appropriate, even when we are too young to know our own identity. Parents never say to their daughter, "When you grow up you'll be a fireman or a soldier." They don't urge their sons to be nurses or nannies or secretaries.

Later, gender identity determines behavioral expectations. Females are supposed to be modest, quiet, submissive, retiring, cooks, servants, baby makers with no opinions. I speak this truth from my position as a female. Sixty-seven years experience allows me to say this is not the veriest tip of the iceberg. Even at my age, there are expectations that I will cook, clean, do laundry, service my husband's pleasure--though we are both retired and have no commitments. It is a testament to his love that he doesn't sit back and do nothing, but pitches in to do his share.

Males on the other hand are supposed to be rough and tough, play sports, hunt, fish, learn carpentry, car repair, get a job, demonstrate their maleness by making inappropriate advances to women and drink beer. My goodness, that last is so important. When a male fails to reach one of the benchmarks, he is ridiculed and may have to defend himself physically because God knows having a brain is dangerous.

I wonder what would happen if we had one set of expectations for every child, regardless of gender? What if every child learned the same basic skills, played with the same non-gender specific toys, took part in the same types of sports? What if aggression was not acceptable behavior just because the child was male? What if females were encouraged to use their brains and leadership skills? How many generations would it take to reach the point when our gender identity wasn't our primary identity? Ten? Do you suppose ten generations would be long enough?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Vanishing Words

Those who follow me on Facebook know I'm currently reading through my collection of Georgette Heyer's novels. After finishing eight of them, I've reached certain conclusions. First, I miss the leisurely development of the story in modern romances. By modern, I mean the last fifteen years. Prior to that, most novels had a thorough development of the story--that meant not only a longer book, but a cast of characters the reader was invested in. In the current book I'm reading (Black Sheep), the entire cast of characters wasn't even introduced until Chapter Six. Contrast that with modern novels where the hero/heroines are already in bed with each other!

Second, I'm totally enjoying reading a book that doesn't dumb down to the reader. Over the years, so many women (in particular) have recalled reading their first Georgette Heyer book when they were in their early teens. Yet, there are many instances where both vocabulary and descriptions might be totally incomprehensible to the average young adult today. The point is...if you don't understand, then there is an opportunity to stretch your knowledge by looking it up. Do readers still do that?

Finally, I've been struck over and over by how many words we no longer use in our everyday vocabulary. I'm not referring to words like balderdash or lollygagging, but words like cross, dawdling, daresay, venture, and fritter. Everyday words. It seems to me our vocabularies are steadily dwindling as we strive to write for everyman or everywoman. Instead of tossing in the occasional unfamiliar word or phrase, we go out of our way to simplify it as much as possible. No wonder the modern romances are less and less satisfying. There's nothing that requires thought. I submit that just as we wouldn't want a diet of baby food, neither should we seek reading material that doesn't challenge us with new ideas, new vocabulary, and introduces us to the unfamiliar. How are we to stretch our vocabularies and our minds if we only read what we already know?

 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Drinking the Koolaid

In November 1978, 909 people (part of the James Jones cult) drank poisoned Koolaid and died. 304 of them were children. That's where the expression for blindly following an insane leader came from. Folks just shake their heads and wonder what kind of idiots would do such a thing. Who would blindly put their fate in another person's hands?

Well...the American people, apparently. Based on the voting so far and the fervent posts across social media, the people are anxious and eager to embrace the whole Koolaid scenario. I've studied each of the candidates (both Republican and Democrat) and except for the flavor of Koolaid they're pushing, there's not a whole lot of difference.

No one has stopped to ask what they're adding to their Koolaid. Instead, they're choosing their favorite flavor and going with the insanity. Unfortunately, I fear our children and grandchildren will once againa pay the price this time without having a vote. When did we turn into such a stupid bunch of sheep?

Step away from the Koolaid...before it's too late.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Diminishing Returns

Articles about Disney's hiked prices hit the media yesterday with folks declaring Disney would soon be out of reach of the middle class customer. And... so what? The truth is people spend money on things they value and they deem everything else 'too expensive'.

I once had a conversation with a former supervisor about this very subject. The hunk and I had invested a considerable amount of our income on a new computer set-up. In my excitement, I was describing the components with loving detail. And then she said rather doubtfully, "But isn't that a lot of money when you have so many other things you need to buy?"

Well, yes. It was a lot of money. But everything in life is about perspective. So I asked her what she thought her monthly output on the family skiing hobby would amount to. Condo at the ski resort. A specially outfitted van for travel. Ski paraphernalia and equipment. Ski clothing. After a moment she just smiled. My family didn't go for ski holidays every month. We had a computer for entertainment.

The expense for something is directly related to how interested you are in acquiring it. If you don't like movies, then paying to see one is 'too expensive'. If you don't read, then books are out of your budget. There is a price on everything in life. Everything. What you are willing to spend in time, money, effort is proportional to the return you receive. The reward. No return or reward = prohibitive expense.

For the vast majority of people a visit to one of the Disney parks has been and will always be a fantasy. So are trips to Europe/Africa/Australia/Asia...heck, even Hawaii. For a lot of people just having enough money to pay for groceries this week is a fantasy. Disney price hikes fall firmly in the category of a First World problem.

Reality is knocking on the door. How much money we have and what we spend it on will always be determined by the law of diminishing returns.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Throwaway Story

On more than one occasion, I've mentioned I'm a passionate re-reader. At the moment, I'm working my way through my Georgette Heyers. In the recent past, I've re-read books by Alistair MacLean, Barbara Michaels, Louis L'Amour, John Sandford, and Nora Roberts. That's the recent past.

I'm a very fast reader so when I tell you I've been reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer for the last three days...and I'm only halfway through, you might conclude I've just been too busy to read. And you'd be wrong. Nope, I'm just savoring the book, enjoying the vocabulary, the sparkling dialogue, the leisurely unfolding of the story, and the complete development of the wide cast of characters, no matter how secondary.

In recent years, there has been an enormous change in the publishing industry. Some people blame the publishers, others blame the big delivery systems like Amazon, and yet others blame the technological advances such as e-readers and the Internet. But in all my research, I haven't found anyone who blames the authors.

Say what you will...it's a new standard out there for writers. Thanks to social media sites such as facebook and twitter, writers are free to share their daily production goals and their completion rates. I've noticed you can find many instances of a writer bragging about the three or four thousand words they wrote, but none where a writer is excited about writing the best paragraph they've ever done. No one brags about locating the perfect word they needed to convey the exact image they've been striving for.

I remember posting once on facebook something about finding the perfect word. There were a lot of commenters on that post--all negative, all pooh-poohing the idea of searching out the perfect word. The general consensus was, "Who cares?"

Well. I do.

Let me slap on my READER hat here. I care about what I read. I care about the attention the writer showed in their 'production'. Story is important. Spelling and grammar are important. But my friends, craftsmanship shines through. What makes the difference between a well known writer and an unknown? Craftsmanship. Fewer and fewer books are being crafted.

The driving force in the book market now is not craftsmanship, but more, more, more! The conventional wisdom in the publishing world isn't 'write the best book you possibly can', but 'you must produce as much as you can, regardless of quality'.

Tell me, honestly, how many books have you read in the last year that touched your soul? I don't mean inspirational books. I don't care if they were flaming erotica or books about repairing motorcycles. How many? What was the last book you took the time to savor because the language was so lovely, because the writer was passionate enough about his craft to draw you into his/her world?

This week another publisher announced their closing due primarily to poor sales. I submit that at least a portion of the blame rests on the current attitude that more is better. It's false. More is not necessarily better. Harper Lee wrote one book. Margaret Mitchell wrote one book. We still buy them. We still read them.

Here's my confession for the week. Unless an individual I trust recommends a book, I will not buy it. That's right. I buy only books by authors I'm familiar with--and know they will spend as much time and care as possible to produce a book worthy of my dollars. And when I do buy, the price is the least important consideration. Did you catch that? The price is the least important consideration, because I plan to read that book many times over the years. I plan to savor it, finding new bits, new views each time I read it.

The book industry is crashing not because there aren't enough books...or even because there are too many books. It's crashing because most books were written to be throwaway books. Read once and discard.

Stick that in your pipe and think about it.