Friday, May 19, 2017

Making It Up As You Go

When knitting (or crocheting) any item, most folks follow a pattern. So many rows, so many stitches. There are an adventurous few who dare to add little flourishes to the pattern. Some may use more than one color. Or try different stitches in place of the ones indicated in the pattern. If their size requirements differ from the pattern, they might add or subtract rows, use a heavier or lighter weight yarn or perhaps change the size needles or hook they employ.

But this crafter is still within the standard parameters of the pattern. The changes they incorporate are minor and within the normal ranges for the item they're producing.

Then there are the others--the ones who never learned to color in the lines. That would be me. Oh, I put in my time learning how to knit from a pattern and produced plain, serviceable ho-hum socks. They're comfy and keep my feet warm. Unfortunately, they're not 'me'.

I love colors--the more the merrier--and frills. Give me cables and twists and polka-dots. I love texture and bobbles. So after learning what I needed to learn, I finally burst the confines of the pattern and embarked on my own journey, secure in my skills. I started my own make-it-up-as-I-go socks.

Writing is much the same. In the beginning, you start out with a learning curve. You gather the technical skills you need to write. Things like spelling and grammar rules and voice. After a while, you add flourishes. Interesting characters, off beat locations or even new worlds.

But you might reach a point when you just explode, creating new genres, occupations, cultures, and even new creatures. Maybe you'll want to write about blue people or giant carnivorous shadowdancer spiders. Who knows? You might even imagine a world where King Arthur and his co-horts are still creating mischief, where he plays cards with talking dragons and his nephews are firebird shifters.

Staying on the sane, safe path is perfectly acceptable. Many writers have had successful, financially secure careers by writing within the accepted parameters. We need those writers because there are readers who aren't ready for the more offbeat paths.

Then there are the readers who seek something wildly different, who need a new adventure between the covers. Those are the readers who need that writer who might not color within the lines, the writer who might say, I wonder...

If you're a make-it-up-as-you-go writer, then welcome to my world. Creativity and color and the odd character or three can capture the imagination, allowing readers to have their own 'I wonder' moment.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Mountain

Trestle View by Paul Gould

I married in my teens, had four children, moved from Chicago to Houston to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, and finally, in my forties went to college. Full time. While also working full time and wrangling four teenagers. It was a turbulent time in our household. On weekends, I climbed the mountain in the painting. 

There was a series of marked hiking trails that criss-crossed the mountain top. The route I used was about eight miles long. Up one end, across, down about mid-way, and then back along a rough track to the tiny parking lot where I left my car. I had a backpack of supplies--first aid kit, food bars, water, a book, and a rain poncho--and carried a sturdy five foot long walking stick.

The trail wasn't really a trail, but rather a rough directional aid that was partly stone covered stream paths, vertical climbing, flat granite slabs, and wild laurel. Overall, it was quite a bit more challenging than walking a loop around the neighborhood where I lived. Every week I arrived home at the end of the day with aching knees and sore muscles.

You might wonder why on earth I would do it then...week after week? Because it was the one place I was guaranteed solitude. The first time I climbed this mountain, when I reached the summit I looked out over the glorious Hudson Valley and felt this tremendous sense of accomplishment because against all expectations I'd beat my doctor's predictions. I wasn't in a wheelchair. I climbed that damn mountain on my own two feet.

But there were other benefits to my hikes. I desperately needed some alone time. There on the mountain top with only the birds and shy animals for company, I had the space and peace to deal with all sorts of issues that beset me on every side. I had time to pray or meditate or read a book or just look out over the valley. Each week I went back home fortified for another stretch of chaos and pressure from my job, my family, my school work.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure I would have survived without my weekly climbs. 

A few weeks before my graduation, on a whim, the hunk and I stopped at the Bethlehem Art Gallery not to far from where we lived. And this print was hanging on a wall. I fell in love with it, but it was far out of our price range--even unframed. 

Graduation day arrived. All of my children came home, even the one in the Navy. My parents drove up from Texas. My brother and his family came from Chicago. And in the midst of family and friends, the hunk hauled out this huge flat graduation gift. 

I ripped off the wrapping, wondering what it could be. And there it was, a beautifully framed and matted print of Trestle View by Paul Gould. It hangs over our bed now. We live far away from the mountain and I'm way past the capability of such a hike. But each time I look at it, I'm reminded of the summer I spent on the mountain top. 

Peace and temporary tranquility.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Worth the Price

I was playing a computer game this morning when I paused to marvel at the intricate artwork. And then I wondered, are the artists receiving the pay they deserve? Really?

That led me to another thought. Why do so many authors sell their books for next to nothing? Don't they have faith in their work? Don't they believe they are worth every penny? Oh, I know all the reasons authors list for under-selling their stories, but do they really make any money?

I'm going to go out on a fragile, moldy old limb here and speculate. If an author sells their work for pennies, aren't they sending a message they might not intend? Here's how I feel when I see a lot of books by the same author that are all listed at rock bottom prices:

A) The books are likely backlist so old the author no longer believes they are viable, but what the heck, whatever pennies they bring in is better than nothing,

B) The books are 'throwaway' stories, just banged out to keep the author's name in front of potential readers,


C) The author has zero belief in the worth of his/her work.

There's a lot of conversation out there regarding book pricing. Many authors blame the readers, assuring other writers that readers won't spend the money to buy higher priced books. And therefore, the authors are FORCED to sell their books dirt cheap. Well, there IS a certain group for which this might be true.

But for a true reader, a true fan of your work, price will not be an issue. And word of mouth from true reader fans is the most effective publicity. Think about the years prior to the internet and social media. How did readers discover new authors? Through word of mouth. One reader telling another, "This is a fabulous book." 

And once one book is sold, if it's a quality well-edited story that captures the reader's imagination, then they'll search for other titles by that author. Regardless of price. Because the story is worth it.

So. Back to the beginning. Why are you under-selling your books? Are you worth the money? Or are you a cheap throwaway story? Only the writer can decide that. And the decision he or she makes can affect all the future books he/she hopes to sell.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Misty Memories

Every once in a while, I'll remember something specific about my past. Usually, that memory will be initiated by something specific. This morning for no apparent reason I thought about these two bookcases and wondered whatever happened to them. Why can't I remember?

The top one was what is called a barristers bookcase. The one in this picture has three sections. Ours had four individual sections that could be stacked in any configuration. During the early years of our marriage, we use this case to store linens and our clothing as we had very little storage and very few books. I loved this case. It had glass doors that slid up into the top of the case. And each section was huge.

The thing is...I have no idea what happened to it. For such a large piece of furniture, wouldn't you think I would remember who I gave it to? Or why we don't have it any longer? Sometimes, I think aliens take things in the middle of the night.

The smaller bookcase is similar to one I had in my bedroom in high school. Tall, skinny, and just deep enough to hold paperbacks or CDs. Of course, paperbacks weren't in my world. No money to buy so I used the library. Thank goodness for libraries. I would have gone insane in high school without books to keep me calm. And there were no CDs at that time. There weren't even any computers except the giant room sized ones that used punch cards. So, no CDs. But I had a few smaller hard-backed books the size of Nancy Drew mysteries. They fit on the shelves perfectly. And later, after I married and had babies, baby supplies filled the shelves.

So where did these two important pieces of furniture go? I have absolutely no idea.

Except aliens. Definitely aliens.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Civil Discourse

Facebook. Twitter. Messenger. Civil discourse isn't so civil anymore. Here's how I imagine it going with several friends of mine. I freely apologize for using their names...

Anny: Did you see that peach pie recipe on FB? They used raisins. Ew! Raisins!

Amarinda: What's wrong with raisins? Maybe some people like raisins.

Jane: That's right! Raisins are just dried grapes. They're fruit!

Anny: But peach pie. Gross. That's worse that apples and cranberries.

Cindy: I happen to like apples and cranberries and nuts.

Amarinda: Nuts? What kind of nuts?

Cindy: Uh, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts...

Amarinda: Huh. I'd rather eat mangoes. And pineapples.

Jane: Bananas are good.

Cindy: Apples. Apples and cheese.

Anny: Colby cheese.

Jane: Mozzarella. Maybe cheddar.

Amarinda: Why would you ruin good fruit with cheese? Don't rodents eat cheese?

Anny: Not if you keep it in the fridge. Besides, a good cat will take care of a rodent.

Jane: I'm allergic. I like dogs.

Cindy: Me, too. Dogs. BIG dogs.

Jane: Little dogs.

Amarinda: Chooks. Chooks are the best.

Jane: Well, I have to go feed the pony.

Amarinda: I have to go to work.

Cindy: I have to go write.

Anny: I have to go bake bread.

Helen: Frogs. Green frogs. And green grapes...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Things I Don't Understand

Why do we call Wednesday 'hump' day? Why not Thursday which is exactly half way through the week? Or are we implying only work days count? And if so, what about all the folks that don't work? Is Wednesday their 'hump' day, too?

Why do the football players announce their name and what college they attended? Some of them are in their thirties, so how is that relevant? Do doctors say, "I'm Doctor So-and-so and I attended Johns Hopkins"? Or firemen say, "Hi, I'm Mike O'Hara and I attended MIT"? What's up with that? Am I the only one who finds it weird that grown men tell you what college they attended? Isn't their current performance more important than something they did way back when?

Why, oh, why do people click on the like icon on Facebook? Are they signaling they were there, like Kilroy? Is their time so valuable they can't take a moment to choose some other button, at the least? And what do they like? The cute kitten meme? Or whatever the poster had to say about it? What about the sad posts? Why do they like them? What if they were never there...and Facebook is clicking on the posts for them?

Does Facebook count how many likes we get on a certain posts? And why don't they list how many people stopped to read a post like they do on my 'author' page. Wouldn't that be more useful information that wondering if anyone read my post?

The other day I googled a bunch of stuff and almost immediately ads started showing up in the sidebars of my Facebook and Yahoo pages. All except...when I googled fast acting poisons and exotic ways to kill an enemy. So does that mean there are no products available? Or are the powers that be afraid someone will actually purchase their products?

Every Thursday the hunk and I go to Weight Watchers. The doors open at 5:30 PM. Sometimes we leave at five to five. Sometimes we leave at fifteen after. No matter when we leave, we arrive at 5:28. How does that work? Is there some Supreme Being watching me drive down to Weight Watchers?

Why does it take twice as long to dry the clothes as it does to wash them? Shouldn't it be like the same amount of time so you can keep the whole cycle going? Instead, you have wait...and wait...and wait with a full washer load for the dryer to finish.

What things do you wonder about?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Anny's Commandments

The life of a writer is beset with trials and pitfalls. For the new writer, they are compounded by ideas about what a real writer does. So these are the rules I've devised for myself over the years I've been writing. As always, every writer has to devise their own.

For writers:
1. Write. Write. Write. There are a few--very few--writers who are disciplined, possibly even anal, who sit down and write a preset number of words every day. That's okay...for them. Then there are the rest of us who work full-time jobs out of the home, or are busy raising children/grandchildren, or are dealing with the devastating effects of medication, stress, and/or illness. For us, it's sometimes a struggle to set aside five minutes to write. So make it count. Whatever it is. It doesn't have to be a book. Write a letter to your mom or dad. Or your children. My father wrote to me once and I have that letter framed. Write a blog. Keep a journal. We write our truest thoughts in a journal. Write a grocery list. Just write. It stimulates the brain so it remembers what writing is all about.

2. At a certain point, writers finding sharing their work irresistible. If you just want to share, that's fine. But if you're looking for a critique of your work, be prepared to accept what you get. I will tell you a secret. 99% of the folks who read your work will never, ever tell you whether or not they liked it, hated it, or didn't even finish it and that is because they don't want to hurt your feelings and they don't want to lie and say they never read past the first chapter. So. Choose a person whose opinion you truly value, be up front about what you want from them, and ask them to be honest with you. When they are, pay attention to every word. Otherwise, you're just stealing their time.

3. Write only what engages your passion, your heart, your soul. No one--I say, no one can please everyone else. Hell, no one can please 1% of the reading population. Really. So you don't write for anyone else but yourself. Write the book you'll be happy reading over...and over...and over. And for those writers who say they never read their own work? Why not?

4. Set your own ruler. Don't base your expectations on what anyone else does. If you were a painter you wouldn't only paint Van Goghs or Rembrandts. Write your story. That's the only one that matters.

For Editors/Critiquers/Beta readers:
1. Don't whitewash the work I've struggled to produce. If it's crap, then say so--and tell me specifics. I can't fix what I can't see. And if it's reached you with problems, that's because I can't see them. Because I never share any work until I've edited it to death.

2. Having said that, don't change my work. Use tracking to mark the iffy sections and then make a note in the margins..."What the hell were you thinking???" I can't learn if you do all the work.

For Friends/Fellow Authors looking for someone to read their stuff...
1. Expect me to be brutally honest. If there's something I should know before reading your work, tell me. A fellow author who I admire very much once asked me to read her story. I commented that I was somewhat disappointed with the story as it was fluff without much substance and I knew she was capable of much more. What she failed to tell me was this: Her life had gone to hell and she just needed some fluff in her life. I wish she had said that. I really do. Instead, she withdrew from me and didn't 'speak' to me for more than a year.

2. Never, ever, ever slough off my comments about spelling and vocabulary. We, the writers are the last bastion for civilized discourse. If you don't know the difference between hostel and hostile, look it up!

For the Readers/Reviewers:
1. Here's what I ask you to remember. There's a real person behind the writing. There are many, many ways to say the book wasn't my best without shredding my soul.

2. And take responsibility for actually looking at the blurb. If it says the story is short...then it is. If it states there is sex, then believe it instead of acting shocked. If it's science fiction or fantasy, don't get all bent out of shape because it isn't contemporary or historical.

So, there ya are. My personal rules about writing. What are yours?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ponders for Second Week January

Recently, during a conversation with my Dad, he said, "I believe this will be the last election in our country." I thought surely not. But, now...yeah now, I suspect he might be right. I never thought to see it all roll out like this. I never thought to see my fellow citizens so concerned with their one or two issues that they would throw out the entire country's future, but there ya are. It's happened. Here's the roundup for this week of our fabulous congress...

The federal week in review:
1. Trump fires all Obama-appointed Ambassadors and Special Envoys, ordering them out by inauguration day.
2. House brings back the Holman rule allowing them to reduce an individual civil service, SES positions, or political appointee's salary to $1, effectively firing them by amendment to any piece of legislation. We now know why they wanted names and positions of people in Energy and State.
3. Senate schedules 6 simultaneous hearings on cabinet nominees and triple-books those hearings with Trump's first press conference in months and an ACA budget vote, effectively preventing any concentrated coverage or protest.
4. House GOP expressly forbids the Congressional Budget Office from reporting or tracking ANY costs related to the repeal of the ACA.
5. Trump continues to throw the intelligence community under the bus to protect Putin, despite the growing mountain of evidence that the Russians deliberately interfered in our election.
6. Trump breaks a central campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the wall by asking Congress (in other words, us, the taxpayers) to pay for it.
7. Trump threatens Toyota over a new plant that was never coming to the US nor will take jobs out of the US.
8. House passes the REINS act, giving them veto power over any rules enacted by any federal agency or department--for example, FDA or EPA bans a drug or pesticide, Congress can overrule based on lobbyists not science. Don't like that endangered species designation, Congress kills it.

So. Y'all keep on being entertained and distracted and amused by Mr. Trump's tweets. Keep ignoring the steps the congress is taking to remove your rights and liberties. Keep posting your tweets about celebrities and unimportant movies/tv shows/etc. while our country dies. Maybe I'll be back next week. Or...maybe not. In the meantime, I suggest y'all re-read 1984. Or watch Running Man. Maybe you'll pick up a hint or two.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I spend a lot of time contemplating odds and ends. I suspect most people do. Of course, pondering stuff serves no purpose if you don't communicate or share your thoughts with others. That's something we don't seem to do much of anymore. We don't read. We don't talk. We walk around with electronic devices, trusting the keepers of the truth to tell us what we need to know instead of seeking out the truth ourselves.

I wonder if I'm the only one to speculate about what the President-elect is hiding/covering up by sending out all his wild tweets. No one is THAT stupid. Therefore, there is something he and his team don't want us to pay attention there's the wild diversions of idiocy. What are we missing while we're huffing and puffing with indignation? Yeah...that. Diversionary tactics are as old as the hills, but we're too busy looking at the shiny to see the shadows.

I wonder if I'm to only one to see the 'media' is entertainment news. If you listen very carefully, you'll note there's only one--or rarely, two--actual news stories. The rest is fluff and filler. The average news story is approximately two minutes. How much information can be disseminated in two minutes? And why do the news readers (no they're NOT journalists) all smile? It's creepy, you know? What is there to smile about? Their salaries, maybe?

My great uncle Bill didn't get past 5th or 6th grade, yet he was one of the most educated, thoughtful men I ever met. He read everything. Everything. He was a sheep rancher in west Texas but he knew what was going on in Washington, D.C. because he read. Does anyone read anymore? You do know we are the authors of our own downfall, right? Ask the next ten people you meet if they can tell you what the first ten amendments to our Constitution are about. I bet most of them don't even know we HAVE amendments. Some of them think the Constitution is the same thing as the Declaration of Independence.

I believe our lackadaisical attitude has been carefully engineered. Seriously. I mean, how can you account for the rise of the Kardashian/Duck Dynasty/Alien Mystery/Alaskan Bush People? Who, in their right minds consider these programs entertainment? Yet, someone approved them. Someone promoted them. And someone out there keeps generating stranger and stranger program content. That's not some accidental occurrence. It's a deliberate campaign to deaden our brain cells.

The rise of Twitter/Facebook/whatever has far more to do with the spread of racism/misogyny/ignorance/gender bashing/religion than anything else. Where else can you go to communicate with other people who believe the same things you do--or don't? There is power in numbers as we found out in the last election. There is power in organization and communication. And guess what? You don't have to have a brain to use Twitter or Facebook. You don't even have to be literate. All you have to do is click on 'share'. That's right. Click.

Here's what I think. Just because you can legally do it...whatever 'it' is...doesn't mean you SHOULD do it. Maybe, just maybe there should be an occasional thought or two, first.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2016...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's thirteen this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted.

A miracle.


As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.
Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.
Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.
Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.
In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.
Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!
Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.
Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so much that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody!"
Copyright Anny Cook 2007