Friday, December 2, 2016

Singing in the Dawn

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”
We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.
There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Now it stand to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.
Still no reaction.
The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.
Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.
Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on. During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.
After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.
A miracle.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Exploding Turkey

One year--I think it was 1984--we moved into a new house the day before Thanksgiving. This was after spending four weeks in a hotel with four kids, three of them teenagers. It was a move from Houston, Texas to upstate New York. The kids were out of school for that four weeks because we didn't have an "official" address.

So finally, we moved in on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. That year it was also my birthday. The next morning when we woke up we had no water because the pipes were frozen. Nothing was unpacked, but we'd had the presence of mind to pick up several aluminum roasting pans. For the turkey, we doubled two pans and plopped the turkey in the oven while we rousted out the necessities from the jumble of boxes that were piled high in the living room and dining room.

It wasn't the first time I had moved. Actually, it was move number forty. So the morning-after chaos was not something new. There were the usual shouts of "Mom, where is...?" and the usual jockeying for space and attention. My husband was trying to figure out why we had hot water in the toilet. Just the little things in life.

When is was time to take the turkey out, the pan collapsed, burning my husband's hands. He tossed it on the top of the stove and it exploded. In a instant we had turkey, dressing, and broth everywhere...on the ceiling, on the walls and counters, down in the innards of the brand new stove...on the floor. Everywhere.

The househunk took the stove apart and carried it outside to wash the worst of it off with the hose in the yard. The boys got in an argument and my younger son "ran away". I remember kneeling on the floor trying to mop up that greasy mess and crying, "I want to go home!"

And my husband leaned down and calmly pointed out, "We are home."

Heh. Well, the runaway came home. My daughters helped set the table and my sons helped wash walls and counters. Amazingly, we sat down to dinner, thankful to be in a home instead of that hotel. And every year, we retell the story of the exploding turkey dinner.

I've grown older--and hopefully wise enough to understand how blessed we were that year.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Compassionate Giving

Yep. It's the season of food drives and holiday baskets and all that other stuff for the poor and disenfranchised. Kids come home with notes from school asking for canned goods. Workplaces and churches urge us to give, so we take a couple cans from our pantry, send them off with the kids or drop them in the receptacle at church or work and move one, feeling like we've done our part. It's quick, impersonal and doesn't involve us in the messy work of getting to know the folks we think we're helping.

My family has been the recipient of many a food basket...among other offerings. For over a year I helped box up food for home deliveries from a food bank. Since I've seen both sides of the deal, I thought I'd add a few pointers. Some folks have never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from. So I figure they may not know some of this stuff.

1. Please don't use this opportunity to empty all the crap from your pantry you will personally never eat. You know what I mean. If you and your family won't eat it, what makes you think someone else will? As grateful as my family was for the food we received, there were times I just had to shake my head in wonder. Why would I need six cans of artichoke hearts and three cans of hominy?

2. If you're putting together a holiday box for a specific family, make sure all the necessary ingredients are in it. You know...butter, milk, eggs. Giving a can of pumpkin and a pie shell might not cut it if the family doesn't have the other things in their pantry or fridge.

3. While I am not picky in general, try to find out if your recipient family has any food allergies or religious restrictions. I know of a very poor Jewish family that received a lovely ham... A little compassion goes a long way. That year we swapped our turkey with that family and everyone was happy.

4. There are other things you can stick in the food basket that would make it special. Paper plates and napkins. A small bottle of dish soap. Homemade cookies. Ziploc bags to store the leftovers. A can opener. Aluminum foil. Let your kids decorate the box and write a personal note. Always remember your food basket is going to a family of real people with real feelings.

5. Consider inviting those needy folks over to share your Thanksgiving. Don't tell me you won't have a pile of leftovers. Be prepared to bag some of them up to send home with your guests. Don't forget there are a lot of older folks who live alone and may find the effort of preparing anything too difficult. Or too lonely.

Being on the edge of poverty sucks all year long, but it sucks more when your kids are listening to other kids talk about the great meals they're looking forward to. It sucks more when parents have to face the terrible awareness that they can't provide for their family like they want to. And the elderly often find it too humiliating to admit they need help. Whatever you choose to do, be compassionate and loving.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reaching Out

One of the things you don't realllllly understand about being an author (when you begin) is the reality of the minuscule number of authors who become well known/popular. You have visions of being the next Nora Roberts or John Sandford or Louis L'Amour. The unpalatable truth is that's not going to happen. At least, not immediately. That level of recognition is the reward for perseverance and hard work and craftsmanship. And time.

Even then, the likelihood of joining that tiny group of the top authors is vanishing small. But that doesn't mean you quit. No, you do your best work, every time.

I once had a conversation with a beginning writer who told me she was 'practicing' with her early books until she had her bestseller. And then she would really work at writing. Until that time, arrived, she wasn't going to worry too much about those pesky things like typos and misspellings.


Here's the way it works in the real world. Someone reads your book. If they really like it, they go looking for other books you've written. And guess what they'll find? All those books that you practiced on. All those books you didn't think were important enough to edit. Yep. That's what they'll find. And they'll never look for another of your books.

Wherever you are in your writing journey...make sure your end product is the very best you can do. You never know when a future reader will be basing all their book purchasing plans on the impression you make.

Be all you can be.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

They are THEM, We are US

I've been contemplating the rabid, racist, hateful world we live in. It mostly boils down to one thing. They are not us. We are not them

It's irrational. But it's also instinctual. One of those senses deeply buried in our DNA from a past so ancient we only have a dim glimpse of it. In that day, they were the enemy. Every one that wasn't us was the enemy. I suspect that was the entire basis for the enmity. Color, sex, appearance were merely ways to identify the enemy and confirm that they were not us

Animals still have some of these instincts. And children. Children know who the enemy is. How many times have we heard or read about children who rejected an adult, wanting nothing to do with them, only to find out later the adult is a pedophile? Children know. They reject bullies. They reject those who would put them in danger. But they don't reject them based on color or gender or appearance. Children are colorblind until an adult teaches them otherwise.

The hunk was raised in an extremely prejudiced, racist household. But he was capable of learning and changing. Heh. We have three grandchildren who are 'half' black. And two who are 'half' Puerto Rican. Although, I'm not sure how you can be half anything. Of all the things in life, race and color of our fellow man is the least important...unless we choose to believe otherwise. 

I have a picture of my grandson and the hunk 'working' on something, their heads together as Poppy explains what they're gonna do. I don't see color in that picture. I see love. 

But then, that picture bears out my original thought. The color of skin isn't nearly as important as the relationship. Our grandchildren are us.

When we reject others based on color or religion or gender or sexual orientation, what we're really saying is we don't want them to be part of us. As long as we draw that line, we will always have enemies. Always. Until THEY are US.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Billionaire Shifter Alien Cowboy Alpha Seal Vampire Prince

Soooo... I'm in search for an ordinary hero. Someone who has an ordinary job. Maybe he paints houses or cleans gutters or collects trash. He's not rich. He has no extraordinary skills or talents. He has no paranormal capabilities. He just gets up in the morning, gets dressed and goes to work. He doesn't drink expensive wine. He hates football and likes to read.

He's one of the men who live around us, next door, upstairs, or in the next neighborhood over from us.

If I can't have ordinary, at least make him unusual enough to stand out. One of my favorite heroes was a calligrapher. Another worked for the phone company. And a third was a hunting guide. None of them were tortured souls searching for redemption. They were guys.

I'm tired of all the super alpha, super rich, super unrealistic heroes. I don't want one who is out there on top because that was his place in life from birth. I want some fellow who rises above the mundane to become something extraordinary.

Give me a real hero.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Art of Protest

So-called protests have become very popular this week. Regardless of the candidate or winner, folks aren't happy. Now the ones who didn't win are protesting. And the ones who won are demonstrating what they perceive as new power to do as they please. None of them are right. And none of them are really accomplishing anything effective...except pissing off their fellow citizens. Yeah, they're certainly angering the rest of the populace.

There's an art to an effective protest. And rules. Once you break the rules, you've lost all chance at getting your message out. If you want to see really effective protests, check out some of the marches led by Martin Luther King. THEY were effective. No one is gonna hear your "I have a Dream" speech if they perceive you as rioters and rabble-rousers.

1. Know what you're protesting. I would venture 80% of the protesters this week are just folks who want to let someone know they're unhappy. So what? A good percentage of the people in this country--or for that matter, the world--are unhappy. You have to narrow it down to the sharpest possible goal. Just marching around, yelling about the election outcome is not effective.

2. Control your actions. There is a vast gulf between peaceful dissent and rioting with vandalism. Often, silent, peaceful dissent speaks so much louder than rioting. I remember a vivid image from the sixties/seventies when people were protesting the Vietnam War. The Nation Guard was called out and there they stood lined up with their weapons drawn on their own people. One young male protester walked down the line inserting carnations in every single rifle barrel. It was a sharp contrast war vs. peace. And totally non-violent.

3. Make sure your protest doesn't harm the innocent. A woman died this week because protesters blocked ambulance access to the hospital. In what world is that ever okay? Ever? Another family was prevented from reaching their loved one before she died because protesters wouldn't let them through. Again, this is never all right. Never.

4. Consider the effectiveness of a protest vs. some other action. This week was a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of voters. I will not debate here the extra side issues such as popular vote, electoral college, or the third party vote. I WILL say the vote demonstrated just how unhappy a large part of the population was. There is nothing more terrifying to the members of congress than an angry populace willing to get out to the polls.

5. Much of congress has been hanging out in Washington, D.C. for most of our lifetimes. Think about that. We can swap out Presidents every four years until we die. But if we never vote out our congressional delegates, nothing will change. Do you want to know who's really running our government? Look at the Congress. And think about this...if you never write or call your congressman or congresswoman to express your displeasure with the way they're doing their job, then you don't have the right to bellyache about it.

6. Elections do not magically happen. They require people. Polling places require workers. When was the last time you did your civic duty by participating in the election process? When was the last time you offered a ride to an elderly voter? Or babysat so a young mother could go vote? If you're not participating, then you have no right to be unhappy about the outcome.

If you want to protest, do so. It's still your right. But ask yourself if this protest is the most effective use of your time, efforts, and voice.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Media Truth

There is no such thing. Never has been. Never will be. From the time of the town criers 'media' was controlled by the powers that were...usually, the current ruler. And so it is, even today in our techie world. Only the foolish expect it to be different.

Facts are always filtered through the folks in power. They decide what the powerless will be told. State secrets are just another name for facts someone has decided not to share with the general public.

In the past, news was disseminated through newspapers and broadsheets, but never think they weren't slanted to share the views of those who owned them. That's true today.

Then radio became widespread and proved to be a wonderful tool for disinformation and propaganda. It might be shellacked with the palatable coating of music and weather, but it's still controlled by whoever owns it. A few years ago, a singer made the mistake of stating his opinion about something that didn't agree with the general view. And he found it tough going to get his music played on the radio. Retaliation for stepping out of line was swift and long term.

Now television presents news hours in the evening. However, little news is served up. They're actually closer to entertainment. What news leaks through the jolliness of the presenters is mostly accidental and carefully screened by behind the scenes censors who decide what the general public should know.

So. What's this all about? Think about the elections going on. Consider how much 'truth' might actually be suppressed by all candidates. No one lives a blameless life. And the media owners have no interest is presenting truth in any form. Truth doesn't pay. Sensationalism does. If you want to know the truth, stop getting your information from Facebook and television. Research your candidates like grownups. Pretend, just for once, you're really responsible adults.

Then vote your conscience.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why? Who? What?

Sigh. I've been working on the concept of reading new-to-me authors without much success. You know it's bad when you can quote your favorite authors' dialogues from memory. Hence the attempt to find new authors. Here are my observations:

1. It's difficult to get into the story when you don't give a damn about the characters. Not even one little damn. They aren't engaging. Their dialogue is stilted or childish. They have no redeeming qualities...or they're too precious for words...including their cutesy names. Give me a Bob or Harry or George. Please.

2. Learn to spell. Learn the difference between utter and udder. Believe me, 'he was udderly desperate' is a startling image. I used to keep a list, but after six pages, it just wasn't worth the effort. And no, these weren't self-published authors. They weren't even small pubs. These books came from the 'big NY pubs'. Yuck. Don't depend on spellcheck to catch your incompetence.

3. Provide some hope for an HEA. The last three books I started had odds so stacked against the hero/heroine they made me ill with anxiety. I have enough anxiety in my life. I don't need more from my reading material. Also, when there is no glimpse of hope, the eventual happy ending is just unbelievable. Really.

4. Maybe place that black moment near the end. Geez, if the whole damn book is one long black moment, what's the point? You never get an opportunity to root for the good guys, cause they're just miserable. Why? Why would you do that?

5. What is wrong with some nice, normal people? Why do all women have to hate cooking? And all men are slobs? Why can't the heroes have normal cars instead of souped up jobbies? Why are all the women willowy or BBW? Aren't there any in the middle? And really...isn't there anyone over thirty in the entire world?

6. If you're gonna have a cat or a dog or a hamster or a goat, then dammit have it! I'm thinking of starting a digital rescue for all the lost romance pets.

Anyway, that's my take. And now I'm back to reading some of my long-time favorites. I reckon it'll be a couple years before I take that leap into the unknown again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Perspective the Second Time Around

A while back I received the last of my book rights back from a certain not-to-be-named publisher. And quite frankly, I was in a bad place in my life and at that time I didn't care if I ever repubbed them again. I also was thinking iffy thoughts about the subject matter/erotic content. So I put them on the back burner to simmer.

Above is the cover for the first book. I had strong thoughts about completely rewriting it or expanding it or... well, if you're one of my fellow authors from there, you know where I'm coming from. But today, I finally sat down and read the darn thing for the first time in about a year. And found myself chuckling and smiling. And I decided this was where I was in 2007 and it wasn't a bad place, you know?

So hopefully by the end of the week, I'll have it back up at least on Amazon. If you like your romance a little steamy, maybe you'll give it a try.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mean Girls League

In the past two or three weeks, a number of posters on my facebook timeline have announced they have 'unfriended' folks for various reasons ranging from political beliefs to some vague personal reasons. Now I don't care if an individual unfriends the entire list of friends. What disturbs me is the secret glee--and self-righteousness--peering out from the posts. That 'I paid you back!' attitude says more about the poster than it does about the unfriended.

The internet, and in particular social media of any ilk, has a long memory. What you post today will come back to take a chunk out of your backside in the future. Trust me on this. I learned this lesson much to my cost more than five years ago when I sunk my writing career with careless words.

At the time I had more than fifteen books contracted with a certain unnamed publisher. I was unhappy about various issues (covers, publishing schedule, etc.) and discussed it on what I considered to be a private group of friends/fellow authors. Within weeks, I was assigned a new editor who not only didn't want the additional burden of a new author, but also didn't think much of my writing skills--and wasn't shy about stating her opinions. Several weeks later, I was assigned a different editor who briskly informed me it was going to take several months for her to read through my previous books so she could get 'up to speed'. In the meantime, I should fill out the attached forms. Seventeen pages. She would get back to me when she was ready to deal with me.

My royalties tanked. Seriously. They dropped from over 2K a month to less than two hundred dollars.

Fellow authors and friends vanished into the internet ether. Like the old-time Amish, the shunning began. It was pervasive and total. No one wanted to know me.

And my royalties sank to nothing. Checks failed to arrive. Editor e-mails went unanswered. I was officially persona non grata. I had committed the unpardonable sin of mentioning the small short-comings of my publisher.

I was among some of the first who faced the unfair practices of a publisher.

Eventually, my editor sent my most recent submission back with a detailed five page letter explaining all my shortcomings and noting she would be willing to reconsider it if I made the changes noted, thereby substantially changing the book. I declined. And submitted another story I had written in the interim to a different publisher where it was accepted.

And life went on for a short while. I found myself in a smaller, constricted circle of friends as one after the other drifted away. My next four submissions were rejected out of hand. And I stopped writing, convinced I'd never been more than competent to begin with.

I have all my book rights back from that publisher, but I'm not sure I'll ever re-pub them. The three books I currently have on the market net less than $10 per quarter--total.

And the 'friends' and 'fellow authors' I enjoyed sharing with so much earlier in my career? Well, most of them have discovered for themselves the real sorrow of dealing with that publisher.

All of my troubles can't be blamed on that initial transgression in that 'private' group. But certainly, some of them started then. I wonder if the individuals who hastened to pass on my feelings really understood how damaging it was for me? There's no way to tell.

But since then I've adopted a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy everywhere on the internet. If someone bothers me with their post, I quietly unfriend them and move on. It's no one else's business. I learned an expensive lesson back then. I hope others won't have to learn that lesson, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hope and Dreams

Unless you live in a cave somewhere in the deepest, darkest Amazon, you know a little competition (the Olympics) is taking place in Rio. By their very nature the Olympic Games are totally about hopes and dreams. Just taking part in the world wide arena is a major hope and dream, whether you are at the top or the bottom group of competitors because wherever you're from YOU are the best from your country. I think some of the observers forget that.

Yes, on one level, it's all about gold and silver and bronze medals. On an entirely different level, it's about competing against the world's best and performing at your peak ability. How many opportunities does any individual have to do that? In any arena? And it all begins with a dream and high hopes.

If you're not the best does that negate your dream? No. Someone will always be better. I think about Usain Bolt, 'fastest man on the planet'. That's what the sportcasters are yelling, but who knows? Likely, somewhere in the world, quietly going about his life is another man who could give Bolt a run for his money. So, in truth, Bolt is the fastest at this particular competition. The same is true for all the competitors in all the various arenas. Winning--while exciting and wondrous--is not what the Olympic Games are about. Politics, doping, and all the other scandals are not what they're about either.

No, they're about hopes and dreams. They're about a 41 year old gymnast with the guts to go out there and compete on the world stage against young women half her age. Or the 38 year old volleyball competitor when dared to go for the gold. They're about all the men and women who sucked it up, worked like stevedores, put their futures on hold so they could represent their countries.

For those who thumb their noses at the men and women who didn't win gold, I say shame on you. Shame on you. What have you done with your life that gives you the right to badmouth them? Winner or loser, the Olympic competitors went out and tried. They got up off their couches and recliners and worked for their dream. Who cares whether their outfits were attractive or their hairstyles were up-to-date or they placed their hand over their heart during the National Anthem? They earned the right to stand on that podium.

As an American, I'm proud--and thankful--for all the men and women who went out there and worked to represent me. Competition in the Olympic arena was never my hope or dream, but we all have some hope, some dream we strive for. May we continue to work for our dreams undeterred by the naysayers in the world.