Sunday, February 28, 2016
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
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.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wag the Dog
It makes me wonder what the current parody of politics is supposed to be a diversion for. What are we not seeing because we're so caught up in the circus unfolding on our TVs night after night? How successful will the puppeteers be in the end? Or will we allow them to wag the dog until it's too late?
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Storm on the Mountain
My folks had a heavy canvas tent that always seemed to smell of mold. They pitched it near the lean-to that they used as an outdoor kitchen (and as necessary, a bathing room). Somewhere there are pictures of me taking a bath in an old metal washtub. I know I've seen them, but I haven't any idea where they ended up. Out in front of the lean-to, my dad would build a campfire. It always seemed to smell so good. When we were old enough, we would roast our hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire using straightened wire hangers.
One summer my Grandmother came from Indiana and naturally, we went camping while she was visiting. It was a beautiful morning as we chugged up the mountain in our old black car with the camping gear bundled in a tarp on the roof. I suspect we looked like one of the migrant families in Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, we settled on a spot and pitched the tent. I vaguely remember being assigned to gather some small sticks for the fire.
As the day wore on, the sky darkened, first fading into gray before finally turning black and foreboding. The treetops high overhead began to whistle and whip back and forth as the winds picked up. And then with a crash of thunder, the sky opened up in an Old Testament demonstration of the apocalypse.
Lightning flashed all around as we huddled in the lean-to. The tent collapsed in pounding rain. Thunder boomed and growled above us. Then things started to get really exciting when the great towering trees started crashing to the ground as water rushed down the mountain.
As I peer back at the misty memories, I think we probably would have been safer to stay in place, but the adults decided to get off the mountain in a nightmare journey to the valley below. This was long before such conveniences as long range weather forecasts and satellites or radar so they had no way of knowing we were in the tail of a tropical storm. After stuffing the car with what they could, the adults piled in with kids cowering on their laps and my dad started down the mountain. Trees fell. Water rushed past carrying boulders and debris. The rutted dirt road degenerated into a slickery, goopy mess.
There were constant stops as Dad roped tree trunks and boulders with a chain attached to the bumper and hauled them to the side so we could continue one. And all around, the lightning lit the dark in weird surreal flashes as the winds howled and the thunder drowned out the pounding rain. My main memory of that night was cowering beneath an old army blanket with my hands pressed against my ears.
Eventually, we reached the paved road at the foot of the mountain only to face terrible flooding. The water was over the running boards on our old car. I don't remember actually reaching our small home so I expect I finally fell asleep. But every storm for the rest of my life has been measured against that one. And thankfully, none have topped it...though some have come close.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
I wonder if we don't limit ourselves by trying to fit both our reading and writing into all those ticky-tacky little genre boxes instead of just writing or reading the story. I think about Dickens and Twain and Hardy and Huxley and yes, even Harper Lee. If they weren't considered 'classics', where would we find them? What section of the bookstore is the one labeled 'Damn Good Books'? Where is the shelf for the 'Fabulous Adventures of Outstanding Women'? Or the aisle filled with 'Hot Alien Gals in Shades of Blue with their Vampire Sidekicks'?
When I was in my teens, there were no books for young adults. You went to the library and picked a book either from the children's section (which I left behind in 5th grade) or you chose one from the adult section. It never occurred to me to read by genre. I read everything--biographies, histories, fiction, action adventure, how-to. During my senior year of high school, I decided to keep a list of every book I read. From September 1966 through June 1967 I read 472 books while completing majors in English, Math, Science, Language, and History...
I suspect when I graduated at seventeen I was better educated than most college graduates today. Certainly, I was better read. Reading stimulates creativity and thought. Reading introduces us to other viewpoints. And reading incites us to question our beliefs about the world around us. It broadens our vocabulary and by osmosis, it improves our spelling and grammar. If you can read, you can learn anything you want to learn. Reading is everything.
Only if you refuse to be limited by artificial genres. How many folks have never read a Louis L'Amour because it's a western? Or a Mercedes Lackey because she's shelved with the fantasies? Or a Nora Robert because she writes romance. What if bookstores were stocked, not by genre, but by author's last names only like a library? Heh, I used to browse...and browse...and browse...until the librarian would limit how many books I checked out. Because, really, there was always just one more that looked interesting, right?
Don't fall in the genre trap. Don't limit your horizons. Read everything.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Between the Tracks
I've recently been considering where to put my writing skills to work. Do I continue to write romances few people read? Do I pen vignettes from my childhood? Where, oh, where do I wield my sword? I don't know.
But it occurs to me, little is written (possibly even nothing is written) about segregation from the the white viewpoint of someone on the outside, looking in. My early childhood was spent in rural Arizona. I could count all the black folks I'd ever seen on one hand. Then when I was ten, we moved to a small town outside Gary, Indiana. Even back then, there was a high black population. I was fascinated. I had so many questions, questions that turned out to have no answers in 'polite' society.
I wanted to know how they got their hair so kinky. And if their dark skin felt the same as mine. How DID they get such dark skin, anyway? Did they stay out in the sun longer? What kind of lives did they live? Where did they live? It never occurred to me they were people just like me. And then Ora came to work for us.
My mother had died, leaving four motherless children. My grandmother worked as a school teacher so she wasn't available to 'do' for us. So they hired Ora to clean and cook and do laundry and keep a wary eye on us. Sitting in the kitchen, watching her bake cookies or make dinner, I asked her all the questions that bubbled up within me, never imagining the incredible rudeness I was inflicting on her. I will say this. She never failed me. She allowed me to touch her hair. And tried to explain why the palms of her hand were pink when the rest of her was so dark. She told me about the little house and the neighborhood where she and her friends lived.
Summer came and my grandmother was at home so the chats with Ora became a thing of the past. Naturally, my brothers and I played more outdoors and so it was we discovered the Red Train.
That's exactly how we pronounced it, with awe and a little anticipation in our voices. The red train was an abandoned section of passenger cars, rusty and barren, but we thought it was the most fabulous discovery. It sat on a derelict section of track a couple blocks behind the house where we lived. I suppose I should explain our town was a strange spot where about twenty tracks all came together. We lived south of the tracks. Town which included the schools, churches, stores, etc., was north of the tracks. Anytime we went to an event in town, we always had to plan an extra twenty to thirty minutes travel time in case a train was crossing Main Street. That was a frequent occurrence.
Anyway, one day when we were playing in the train, I met Bobbie Jo. Now Bobbie Jo was...a girl, a black girl, my age. We immediately hit it off because we both liked to read and had vivid imaginations. She invited me to her house--and that was the beginning of a wonderful few weeks for me. Her family lived in a small house between the tracks. I thought it was the most fabulous thing I'd ever seen and at once I began trying to think of a way my family could also have a house between the tracks. Her daddy worked for the railroad and her mama had just had a baby.
I was enchanted when her mama entrusted me with Bobbie Jo's baby brother. She actually allowed me to hold him while I sat in the rocking chair. Life was complete. At every chance, Bobbie Jo and I found time to play and read and talk about the strange world we lived in. We speculated about all the things young girls discuss when they're on the edge of womanhood. And never dreamed our friendship would ever end.
Now my daddy was the preacher at the Baptist Church. And the deacons summoned him to a meeting one day where they informed him he would need to deal with severing my friendship with the little black girl. Our church was considered quite progressive because it allowed the children in Bobbie Jo's family to attend the Sunday School. But. Bobbie Jo and I had crossed a line because we actually dared to be friends. That was something the deacons and church board wanted nipped in the bud at once.
To that end, our family moved to a house way out in the country, far from the temptations and delights of Bobbie Jo's family. And I was informed by the head deacon if I persisted in the friendship, my father would lose his position as preacher. From the perspective of adulthood, I'm pretty sure my dad didn't know about the little meeting between the head deacon and me. But the consequences were clear.
I wept many bitter tears over the loss of my friend. And that was when I lost a deal of innocence, too, because until then, it never even crossed my mind that such hatred and bigotry existed, masked behind the sorrowful smiles of religion. And my heart still hurts for the loss of Bobbie Jo.
Author's note: This story takes place in the very early sixties...
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Should We Care?
"Beauregard Barker was in hell. He was positive no place on earth could be any worse than where he was. He bit through his lip and turned his head, holding back a scream when jagged agony ripped through his shoulder. Something, a deep, primitive sense of danger, strangled his cry."~~Phantom's Rest by Anny Cook
Over the years since I became a published writer, I've talked a lot about how much I treasure a book that captures my interest from the beginning. Captures and holds it in the author's clenched fist right to the end. Publishing is in the throes of chaos and disorder. It might even be on the brink of extinction. If so, a large part will be borne by the authors who don't care. They don't care to craft a story. They don't care to spend the necessary time to shape an arresting beginning, an interesting middle, or an amazing, satisfying conclusion.
Instead, they're banging out a book-of-the-month, bragging about how quickly they write, how many zillion words they write a day. To what purpose?
In the last few weeks, I've read a bunch of books. I admit I'm a very fast reader, voraciously devouring books at such a rate that I usually read over 500 books a year--in addition to the other responsibilities that make up my life. Unfortunately, only a minuscule number of those books are new.
When I was younger, I took pride in finishing every book I started, certain to do less was a failure. But now, from the increased wisdom of hardwon years, I know finishing a terrible book is a waste of precious time and effort. So. I don't read them.
Make no mistake. I'm not talking about a book I find uninteresting. No, the books I reject commit the worst of sins. They're so boring I don't care to read past the first paragraph. I usually persevere to the end of the chapter, but no more. If the author cares so little to capture my interest that they can't write an engaging first chapter, then I feel no guilt in setting that book on the reject pile.
I suspect some authors believe the genre will make or break their book. Not so. An accomplished writer can make anything interesting from math texts to geography to rocket science. One of the best books I've ever read was a history of the Mayflower. Some of the worst I've read were romances. I reiterate it wasn't the subject matter. It's the delivery.
Dammit. Take the time to write. Pounding the keyboard is not necessarily writing. Any cat or dog or toddler can do that. When you finish the first paragraph, read it and ask yourself, "Do I care?" If not, then walk away and find some other occupation. Please.
Friday, February 19, 2016
Oddly enough, I discovered one of the main principles in this class was also applicable to general life and worked well for managing general peace and tranquility, especially as I tended to be one of those people who tries to micromanage everything--and everyone--around me. Are you ready? Here it is. When encountering a frustrating situation, stop and ask yourself the following questions:
Is this my problem? It might be. It probably isn't.
For instance, you ask your child to make his bed. When you check on it later, you find a minimal job with wrinkled sheets and crooked bedspread. Stop. Think. Is this YOUR problem? Did he in fact make the bed? So, the problem is not his obedience, but YOUR standard. Will you be sleeping in this bed? Does it affect you in any way other than your pride? No? Then walk away. NOT your problem.
A second example for those who have adult children who are struggling. You know they are having trouble paying their bills. Your first instinct is to rush in and help out. STOP. Is this YOUR problem? Are they your bills? Or is it your desire to manage your child's life that urges you to 'help' them. Actually, if they're adults, then they've already managed things just fine. My experience is, they'll find a way to deal with THEIR life. NOT your problem.
One last example we live every day. Politics, crime, poverty and homelessness...or any other issue you can think of. Anxiety and stress are killers. Worrying about things YOU cannot change do nothing about the issue AND make you sick. So again, apply the test. Is this my problem?
Idiot politicians--ultimately dealt with at the polls. What can I do about this problem? Nothing until it's time to vote. Worrying in the meantime is counterproductive and silly. Research (NOT by reading facebook posts!) and be prepared with knowledge when the time comes.
Crime--everyone's problem, but what can I do? Be observant. Be aware of your surroundings. Do what you can to make sure you are not a victim. Be there for other victims. If appropriate, report your observations to the police or appropriate authority. Worry? Not appropriate.
In every case, for every issue, stop long enough to ask yourself 1) Is it my problem? and 2) What CAN I do about it? 3) What SHOULD I do about it? See example two above. Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD.
If it's truly not your problem, walk away. Heh, that's easier said than done, isn't it? Because the truth in the end is most things around us are not our problems. They're things we take on because we believe down deep that we can manage them better than the other guy. We itch to put in our two cents worth, to lord it over the other guy, to tell them how to live their lives, when in reality, we aren't doing such a hot job of managing our own.
So tell me...is it your problem?
Friday, February 12, 2016
I wonder what would happen if the voters had no information about the candidates other than their public records? You know...basic info. Education, congressional voting record (if they have one), public service record. No info on age, gender, family, ethnicity, skin color, religion, appearance. No info on personal beliefs. No info on income or personal fortune/or lack of.
How would we vote, then? What would we base our decisions on?
I remember what a brou-ha-ha there was when Kennedy was running for president because he was Catholic. Hoo, boy. The country was gonna come to a nasty end if he won! He died and we ended up with Johnson. Was he any better? What about Tricky Dicky? Or any of the other presidents we've saddled ourselves with the last fifty years?
Probably the greatest sleight of hand has been the notion that the President has autonomy and can make wide sweeping decisions without the consent of the Congress. Everyone blames the current incumbent and ignores the truth. For every issue We the People are concerned about, we SHOULD be blaming--or crediting--the Congress. Money? War? Public programs? Social Security/Medicare? Veteran's benefits?
ALL, I say all of those are controlled by the Congress.
Here's the scary part. Most of them have been in Washington more than twenty-five years. Some as long as forty plus. Tell me, my friends...what has changed during that time period? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We hang a new hat by the White House door, but we change nothing in Congress--and then we wonder why we have the same old, same old.
Until we start looking at the voting records and affiliations of our congressmen/women, NOTHING will change. Electing a new individual to sit in the White House and look pretty isn't gonna do it. The good old boy network isn't there. It's over in the Capitol, playing Monopoly with our money and lives.
And we're blindly believing anything the media serves us. Perhaps...we're gonna get what we deserve.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Hair of the Dog
I've had plenty of time to mull over all sorts of topics. But this blog's topic is one I've wondered about for quite a while. It's about the management of body hair. Two people arrange to go out to dinner. Here's how the play-by-play stacks up:
HE: Shower, shampoo, shave face/or NOT, dress.
SHE: Shower, shave legs/underarms/other pertinent parts (including her face if she's my age!), shampoo/blowdry/or NOT, dress, makeup, etc.
How is that fair? Who decided women had to do all this crap to be attractive? Probably it all started with the safety razor. But if books--especially historical romances--mentioned the hairy legs, etc. of their heroines, what do you suppose that would do to the story?
You might wonder why I'm even asking, but recently I watched a rerun of a fairly popular TV show. The male character met a female character he found very attractive and proceeded to try to engage her interest. Then...he discovered she didn't shave her underarms and legs and suddenly he couldn't get away fast enough. So. Why do American men (in particular) demand hairless wussies, yet expect women to find their hairy baboon bodies attractive? If de-hairing the body is so important, why don't the guys do it? And I'm NOT just talking about the manscaping some models do.
In the interest of equal time, guys should have to ALSO shave underarms, legs, pertinent parts...heck if they're really hairy, whisk that razor back and front. How long do you suppose it would take them to get ready to go out?
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