Friday, April 24, 2015

The Never-Read Book

Some folks never re-read a book once they finish it. Others have a shelf of favorites they visit often. I have a room of well-loved books plus two readers and a computer file of electronic books. And I re-read more than I enjoy a never-read book.

I'll be honest. I don't understand folks who watch television when they could read a book. Just do not understand that. Probably it's because we never had television until I married. I never formed the habit of brain doping via the 'box'. Even now, forty plus years later, I grow restless after twenty minutes of television. But give me a favorite book...and I likely won't surface until I've finished it.

In the last few weeks, I've endeavored to read the works of new-to-me authors. Over the years, I've noticed readers raving about this author or that one and I thought maybe I should check it out. Maybe I should find out what the shouting was all about. After some research, I purchased the stories that sounded interesting--and also garnered the best reviews. Not the five star reviews necessarily, but the most coherent reviews, written by folks who had more to say than the book was 'hot, hot, hot!' I've read enough hot books for a lifetime, most of them written by more skilled writers than the new crop.

I wanted to try stories that spoke to a reviewer, that tugged on their emotions. After reading some of the books, I was inclined to wonder if I'd read the same book the reviewer did.

So...back to the tried and true favorites.

In the two past weeks I also re-read my entire Mystic Valley series with an eye to revisions/edits before re-releasing them. They were the first books I wrote. And I see the mistakes I made with them--the favorite words that crept in (that, that, that!) and the weird (mercifully short) bits of dialogue that occasionally popped up. Reading them straight through also showcased the few continuity errors, but those are relatively easy to fix.

The thing is...even after reading them with a deeply critical eye, I still liked them better than most of the recent 'new' books I've read. And that gave me reason to ponder why.

The number one reason was because the stories are the kind I like to read. Well, duh, you say. But you see, writers don't always write what THEY like to read. Too many of them write what they believe will sell well. When I wrote the Mystic Valley books, of course I hoped they would sell well, but first--long before I had any dreams of them being published--first, I wrote them for myself. I reveled in the fine details, the world building, and twists and turns of life in the valley. I thrilled at the karmic, kick-ass endings for the bad guys and the happy ever after endings for the reluctant lovers.

To tell the truth--I never expected to submit the stories. Nope. I submitted them on a dare. So, there you have it. I wrote them for me. And that's why I still love them, warts and all.

I think perhaps writers are so anxious to find that path to a bestseller, to hit that nebulous point where their readers consume their books with rabid gluttony that they forget the basic writer's truth. 

It's all about the story.

It's not about how many sex scenes are churned out or how many murders are committed or how convoluted the conflicts for the hero or heroine are. None of that matters if the reader doesn't connect with the characters, if the writing/editing is so sloppy they can't make themselves continue, if the writer is so intent on beating the few facts into the minds of the readers that they repeat them over and over...and over...

First write the story you want to read.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Planning, Planning, Planning

On my recent sojourn to the north, I had an epiphany. Yes, it was painful. I've been delaying a lot of projects by telling myself I'm planning. Not so. I'm about planned out.

Planning is easier than doing. Doing requires energy and...discipline. It doesn't require talent. Or knowledge. Or education. To be a doer, you simply have to 'do'. Planning is so much simpler.

I know folks who spend their entire lives planning. They plan to plant a garden. They plan to knit an afghan. They plan to change the sheets on their bed. They plan to call their parents. They plan to write a book. Somehow, none of their plans move forward because they never reach the doing stage.

The upside of retirement is you have time...or so they tell me. The downside is the lack of schedule. There's no core of events to hang your plans on so you just keep planning. And time rolls by with nothing accomplished. It finally dawned on me that I am responsible for designing a framework for doing. It's not enough to get up in the morning without some sort of schedule to meet. That's where the discipline comes in. If there's a schedule, I'm the one who has to stick to it. I used to have no problem with sticking to the plan, but something went awry last year and I frittered away my life.

No more time for planning. In Yoda's philosophy, it's time to 'do or do not'.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Aliens, Books, and New Babies

It's been awhile since I wrote a new post on my blog. Life has been zipping by, dragging me willy-nilly with it. I finally dug in my heels and refused to continue until I get a few personal things done.

It's been a busy new year. Already, we're in the middle of April and no writing has happened. Today that changes. I'm eager to get back to my story. Certainly, I've had enough 'thinking' time!

The rights to most of my books have been reverted to me so there are a lot of edits/revisions ahead of me before I can make them available again. Covers...oh, yeah, there's enough to keep me busy. At first, I wasn't even sure I cared whether I ever posted them again, or not. But time did the trick. I'm proud of my work. So as I can, I'll make them available.

With the reversion of rights, it was necessary to update my webpage. I FINALLY took a couple days and worked on it. The book page looks awfully bare right now. That will be an incentive to get cracking.

The rest of the last couple months have been spent cleaning, sorting photos, anticipating the birth of our fifth grandchild, traveling to see him and his family, and dealing with various medical issues. Heh, whenever we go to visit my daughter, we always see something interesting on television (she has cable) that we don't have available at home. This time we watched various shows about aliens. ALIENS.

Now, I am undecided about the theory of aliens visiting earth far in the past, though it seems logical they would. After all, IF they're visiting now, I can't believe they just suddenly developed the technology for space travel in the last couple hundred years. And if they visited in the far past, wouldn't they have found meddling with humans almost irresistible? If even 10% of reported alien visits are true, it's clear they don't subscribe to the Prime Directive of non-interference.

Anyway, the shows were interesting to watch--as were the ones on Sasquatch, survival, bull-riding, hunting in Alaska, and all the other weirdness we watched in our hotel room. I don't miss cable with it's potpourri of oddness and stupidity. Really. I'm ready to go back to my television fasting.

For those who don't see my Facebook page, I'll post one picture of the irresistible cuteness of my new grandson, Gabriel. That's it. One.

 Well...maybe just one more...
 Okay. That's it. He's pretty good lookin'. As are all my grandchildren, naturally.

Finally, I started a new book last night by an established NY-pubbed author I've never read. On the face of it, the story sounded interesting. I've read many reviews by readers who LOVED this author. I'm a third of the way through the book, still waiting for something to happen. So, meh. Which just goes to prove every book is not going to ring bells with every reader. I feel better.





Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chasing My Tail

This is traditionally the time of year when we embrace change. Time change. Weather change. Clothing change. Winter is almost behind us with the dark dreary days. Brilliant sunshine and longer daylight hours lure us outside to work in gardens and on lawns. We spruce up our living spaces and think of flowers and summer pleasures.

Some people plan vacations or short day trips. Everyone is looking forward. This season, more than any other is about anticipation.

For those who celebrate, Passover and Easter are right around the corner. Food preparation and religious observances are in the planning stages. Coloring Easter eggs, planning Easter baskets and all manner of other things are on the to-do lists. It's renewal time.

I've been thinking about this. Renewal. Even at sixty-five, there are adjustments, changes to anticipate. Somehow, I always thought about retirement as settling in, finally having everything 'just right'. And much to my surprise, I find there is more work to do. So what is this retirement people speak of? If anything, it seems I have more to do than I ever did in the past.

It's just 'stuff' no one talks about. Cleaning out and getting rid of junk so my children won't have to--in case something 'happens' to us. Don't you like that phrase? Not die, but happens. Because we don't want to discuss death on this beautiful spring day. We don't want to acknowledge the inevitable.

For over two weeks I've worked on one of those necessary tasks--sorting through photographs--and there's really nothing to bring the reality of reaching the end of life like looking at old pictures. Memories flood your mind. Memories of youth and optimism and wild chances. Memories of folks long gone and life stages celebrated from birth to old age.

But death is not yet. On this bright beautiful day there are still things to tend to, tasks that must be accomplished in order to live comfortably. Life goes on. When the photographs are all sorted and packed and mailed to their new owners, there will be a new task. Or two or three or...

Retirement? It just means I don't have to answer an alarm clock. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore

Back in the way-back, there was a song, You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore. It's all about the things 'you' don't do anymore. I've had reason to think about how things change as we age.

When I was in my forties, I led an extremely busy life. My children were at the teenage to young adult stage. I worked full time. I went to school full time. I played taxi-mom full time. And when my parents were able to visit us (a long trip from Texas to New York), I enjoyed spending time with them. We were too broke to work it the other way around, so we saw them when they came to us. I talked to them on the phone. Called on their birthdays. And, with my busy, busy life, took them for granted.

Then we entered a new phase. Traveling became more difficult for them. I retired and started a new career as a writer. We traveled to see them--and our children (who are spread out over half the country). Travel was a novelty for me and an opportunity to see the country. Royalties helped pay the expenses. And we had a great time. It was lovely while it lasted.

In the last couple years, travel has greatly diminished. Part of that is due to the precipitous drop-off in royalties. There's no longer money for travel. A bigger part is the great discomfort of travel itself due to ill health and arthritis. And my parents chide me...you don't visit us anymore. And my children chide...you don't visit us anymore.

When we are young, we're all tied up in the busyness of life. There's always going to be another day, another month, another year when we can do all the things we dream of doing. And then it's gone. When I was forty, I climbed a mountain near where I lived every weekend. I stood on the top and looked out over the Hudson Valley and considered the emotional mountains I was dealing with every day. It was a difficult time in my life, but expending the effort to climb that mountain afforded me thinking time. And time to ponder the fact that I COULD climb it. Time to prove a doctor who had predicted I would be in wheel chair by that time was all wrong.

Now, I'm happy to walk around a couple parking lots, cane in hand. STILL not in that wheel chair! But I admit with great sadness...I don't travel anymore.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Secret Identities

All over the Internet, folks lurk in the shadows, hiding behind their secret identities. At work or church or with their friends, they're thoughtful, caring, tolerant, cheerful and fair. Then they go home, hunker down in front of their computers and the real folks emerge. Safe in the anonymity of the World Wide Web, they let down their hair, spewing hatred, ignorance, and stupidity. They stalk children, women, men from their lair. In roaming gangs, they attack anyone who has a difference of opinion, anyone who dares to speak out against evil.

This is not a new phenomenon. From the time broad use of the Internet gained acceptance, nasty trolls have slithered from their hiding places under the bridges and dared to bombard anyone who disagrees with them with foul language, name calling, and if possible, boycott the individual or company. If you don't believe it's possible to boycott an individual, think again.

Some of my Internet friends are choosing to shut down and withdraw. The insidious negativity, bigotry, and rage is spreading like toxic waste, poisoning everything and everyone it touches, infecting folks with depression and discouragement.

What to do?

I see a time when like-minded people will go back to their own little groups. Social media isn't very social as it's structured now. I expect folks will find a few others who believe as they do--whether politically, religiously, or oh, how they spell or punctuate their sentences--and they'll withdraw to the security of their group. That's a sad commentary on our humanity. It's not new. From the dawn of history, we've organized in little conclaves of 'them' and 'us'. 'They' are always the bad guys. Always.

I've spent a good part of my life working to eradicate this mentality, but even I am about ready to toss in the towel. I'm just not willing to let rabid politics, religious fanaticism, and incredibly foul-mouthed morons invade my living space. Yes, for many of us, this is part of our living space. And I say, "You're not welcome if you can't demonstrate a modicum of civility."

I believe the folk hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet are revealing their TRUE selves. Here they're demonstrating their idiocy, their stupidity, their lack of morals and judgement. They spew personal information as though they truly don't understand how the Internet works.

Maybe they don't.

Whatever. Fair warning. If you can't be civil, pass on by.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lessons

Occasionally, I play a world building game--especially when I want to mull over the direction my current work in progress is going (or not). The game is billed as a 'world building' game, but in truth, it's mostly a war game. Try to accumulate wealth and resources, build a town, all while fighting off the surrounding towns.

It's just a game.

But there are lessons to be learned from the game. The lessons apply to life, writing, dealing with all of life's annoying issues. I jotted down a few of them. Take them for what they're worth.

In most of life's wars, banding together to fight the invaders is a logical step. BUT, never depend on the team to keep yourself alive. Some may not fight when you expect them to. Know that ultimately, you are responsible for your own survival. Be prepared, as much as possible in all areas of your life--physical, mental, financial.

He who races to the front will not necessarily win. More than likely, he will be the first to die (or lose). When you race to be the frontrunner, you leave the team behind. Who will have the opportunity to back you up? Don't stick your neck out too far. No matter how skilled, how strong, how rich, when you're completely alone, you're more vulnerable.

Don't climb on someone else's bandwagon. It's one thing to be a team member, it's another to be a sheep. Think for yourself. Just because everyone else is writing about vampires, doesn't mean you have to. Sing your own song. Lift your own sword. When the bandwagon collapses from it's burden, you won't be taken down with it.

The support team should never be despised just because they aren't warriors. Without support, there are no resources. Without resources...no life. Take care of, and respect your support team. Warriors need the folks back home to provide for their needs. And the home team needs protection and security.

Maintenance is an on-going job. If you ignore your buildings, car, farm, church, the enemy will knock them down with little effort. They're more expensive to replace than repair. Wasting money is a losing war tactic. Be conscientious in care of your possessions.

Attacking your neighbor out of greed is foolish and counterproductive. Stay on your own property or area. Prepare for the day when an enemy might invade. Don't irritate those passing by. Be vigilant. Be a good neighbor until you have no choice other than conflict. Good sturdy fences and walls can delay the inevitable attack.

Finally, don't depend on one strategy. Don't copy the other guy's tactics. He's already seen them and knows the counter. Surprise can never be underestimated. Don't blab about your plans. Don't signal your intentions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

sliced bread

"The last best thing. An American inventor named Otto Rohwedder devised a machine that sliced a loaf of bread into individual slices. First sold in 1928, it was touted as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” which led to popular phrase “the best thing since sliced bread.” All of which raises the question, what did people say before “sliced bread”? “The best thing since indoor plumbing” was one phrase. And before that?—“since powdered wigs?” “Since moveable type?” “Since fire?”
See also: slice
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price"
 
Heh. Of course, I always understood this expression. Truly. But until recently, I didn't really take it to heart. As many of you know, the hunk bought me a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook so I could make bread. My elbows and shoulders protest vehemently when I try to knead bread by hand now.
 
I'm very picky about how my bread tastes and for several months I've been spending my mad money on artisanal breads because I pretty must despise the gluey taste of most commercial breads. Anyway, I've been making bread. A small loaf doesn't last long, even with two people so about every three days, I whip up a new loaf. And of course, every loaf has to be sliced by hand.
 
I'm pretty good at slicing bread. But the hunk? Oh, brother. His slices are fat, skinny, slanted, broken...Well you get the idea. So I can truly understand how wonderful a bread slicing machine must have been. Just imagine how many more slices of bread were possible from a loaf, when every slice was the same thickness!
 
We won't be investing in a bread slicer. But I definitely appreciate the inventor, Otto Rohwedder. I wonder if he had any notion how much he changed life for millions of people? It's not always the huge inventions that make life easier.
 
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inner Peace

"Try to lead a life with less stress." That was the advice my doctor gave me a few years ago, right before discharging me from a hospital stay for acid reflux. Quite frankly, I couldn't see how I had any control over outside factors like my job, my children, the too many bills with too little money. All I saw was the complete lack of reason in his directive. If things had continued on that track, I suppose I would have been dealing with a bleeding ulcer by now.

But the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. In a little over four weeks, every single obligation I had was gone. Vanished like the wind. I resigned my job, resigned my church position, moved my kids (all adults) out of my home, and ended up in an apartment with no responsibilities. It took me six months to finally settle down, finally unwind.

This is what I learned. The world didn't end. My old job went on with someone new performing it...possibly she was even better at it. No one missed me to any extent. All the other folks I was absolutely sure were depending on me...weren't. All the tasks I was positive were life 'n' death important...weren't.

A friend I've met since that part of my life once asked me how I could live without worrying, without anxiety. How could I be so darned ZEN? I ask myself two questions. Do I own this problem? No? Then I move on. If 'yes', then the second question comes into play. What can I do about this? Sometimes, the answer is not a thing. If there's something I can do, then I try to do it.

About 90% of the time, I don't own the problem. Really. I might wish I could help out, but most of the time my help is NOT needed--or wanted. Too often, we want to meddle when we shouldn't. Too often, we try to control events and lives that are not ours to control. Too often, we should smile and move on.

If we do all those things, then we will have time to put our efforts into helping where it's really needed. Inner peace.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Olde Blaguer

Heh. And we thought blogging was something new. Apparently, it's been around for a while. 

A lot of people ask questions about blogging, as though there is one true way to blog. Like religion, there is no one true way. It all depends on what you put into it, what you expect to receive from it, and why you do it to begin with.

What should I write about? How often should I post? What if no one reads it?

Yeah...what if no one reads it? Or, if they read it, what if they don't respond? I would say that all goes back to your reason for blogging. Are you blogging so a zillion folks read it and post controversial comments? Or is it more of a sharing-your-thoughts kind of deal? The truth is most people don't comment on an informational blog or a sharing thoughts blog. They read it--and then usually go on their way. 

The best you can hope for as a response is their continued patronage. Let's face it, there are a million blogs out there. If someone chooses to read yours, then that's pretty cool. If they also write a comment, then that's even better. But the days of your average, non-controversial blog attracting a long string of comments are past. 

When I first started blogging, I used to have around ten readers who commented. Now, the post has to really strike a chord with readers to attract more than one or two comments. 

I try to comment when I read other writers' blogs because I see a response as a form of appreciation for the time they spent putting the post together. Whether it's informational or promotional or even an interview, it took time--time that could have been invested in some other pursuit. Therefore, I want to let them know I value the time they invested in reaching out.

My blog is a sharing-your-thoughts kind of blog. At the end of the day, I hope that readers go away with something new to think about. And maybe even a smile. 

Blessings.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Never Happy

Some folks are never happy. Never. If there is any possible negative viewpoint on any life event, they'll find it. I'm not referring to those who are in a temporary life slump due to illness or catastrophic circumstances. I'm talking about those folks who are so determined to view everything through the worst possible lenses.

In the past, I had a neighbor--we'll call her Minnie--who came over far more frequently than I really wanted her to so she could share the latest familial disaster with me. When I resorted to not answering the phone or the door, she stood on the landing outside my door and yelled, "I know you're in there!" Well. Yes, I was, but it's not illegal to not answer your door--or phone.

I've noticed there are people who are never happy with the actions of others. When they have the opportunity for constructive action, they don't do anything. But they're really noisy with their opinions. Our President (love 'im or hate 'im) cannot not do anything. Anything, that doesn't bring down an avalanche of criticism. If he just sat in his office twiddling his thumbs, someone would criticize that.

A well-know author resorted to explaining her viewpoint on her writing and career because there's always someone who isn't happy with her books. Really. WHO held down these clowns and made them read her books? Quite correctly, her reply was, "Bite me." If you don't like a book, song, TV show, movie, the most effective way to express that is never spend your dollars on whatever has your panties in a twist.

I have nothing against protest or dissent. Most folks involved in protesting one thing are positive about other things in life. But there are a few, very negative, very bitter people who are unhappy about everything. If it's raining, they want sun. If the sun is shining, it's too hot. If someone offers them cake, it's too sweet, too chocolate, too dry, too moist, or the frosting is the wrong flavor.

Here's my philosophy. I woke up this morning. Every morning I wake up is a good day. Whatever happens today, I will cope with it because I'm alive and that's good. If it's raining, the grass will grow. If the sun is shining, the grass will grow. If it's snowing, it will eventually melt...and the grass will grow. Life is good.

Oh, yeah. Coffee makes life better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Instructions for Dummies

 I don't know...Seems like it would save time if you just wash it with the kid still dressed...Sort of a two-fer, ya know?
 And yeah, most Moms know how to do it, but what if we don't wanna? I mean, I have other things to do than someone else's laundry. Right?
Hmmmm. I don't believe I want it to be my job. If you can't follow the instructions...then go naked. Actually, don't worry about the instructions. Just skip all that crap and go naked from the beginning...