Monthly Archives: November 2017

My funny 2017 Thanksgiving Day story


The only excuse for this is that I’m pretty isolated, the kids are too far away for travel and for various reasons we two just don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving any more (except that husband has opted to have me make his traditional pizza – I get the crust ready, he piles on everything he loves).

Out of the blue

My dear friend Sandy called this morning, to invite me out for lunch for my birthday. It’s a tradition we’ve had for a long time. As she has moved from New Jersey to Vermont (though her youngest is still here), it is an unexpected pleasure because she is here to celebrate the day at her old home.

I was delighted, and we quickly agreed on a time and place. We eschewed our old ‘writing partners’ traditional restaurant because, the last couple of times we’d been there, we both agreed quality had dropped.

I enthusiastically agreed to The Cheesecake Factory. They’re a bit noisy, more at dinnertime though lunch should be okay, but their food is good and has a great variety, and they have low carb cheesecake!

Write it down, Alicia!

I write the information on a Post It!, being as I am getting forgetful and don’t want to make her wait tomorrow, even changing the refill on the gel pen to make sure the note was nice and dark. I stick the note where I can’t possibly not see it several times today, which is what I need for it to penetrate.

I’m sitting here at the computer wasting time, as I do in the mornings, thinking about the posts I’ve read this morning, and the general concept of being thankful for what you have, and grateful in general. I turn to erase the message on the answering machine which is blinking in my peripheral vision’s range.

Suddenly, the slow-moving cogs in my brain finally do something. I stare at the note. I start laughing.

I call Sandy, startling her (I’m sure she’s probably up to her ears in cooking or something), and say, “Do you realize what day tomorrow is?”

She said no, and I pointed out it will be Black Friday. She still doesn’t get it. I said The Cheesecake Factory is in QUAKERBRIDGE MALL.

We agree neither of us do Black Friday – and I said, “But other people do.”

Disaster averted

We had a good laugh, picked a different place far from any shopping venues tomorrow, and will have a great lunch catching up.

I can only imagine what it would have been like if clueless me had gotten into the car and tried to drive to the Mall tomorrow for lunch, late as I usually am at that point.

I hope ONE of us would have noticed by then.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Me, I’m just grateful I’ve received so many things today to make me laugh.


I write today in Uttar Pradesh


Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.


A white rose for my memories

Bouquet of white roses and other blue and white flowers Alicia Butcher EhrhardtMEMORY TRIGGERS?

Things stay with you.

My Mamina, my mother’s mother, lost two boys. One, my uncle Joseph, was her last child, and lived only a day. The other, my uncle Billy, named after my grandfather Papa Memo (Memo is a nickname for Guillermo – William), came down with encephalitis at eleven.

My mother told me the story of how she rode in the taxi with my Papa Memo to take Joseph’s tiny coffin to the cemetery because Mamina was too devastated to go, and still dealing with the birth.

But she was only sixteen, and she missed her little brother Billy enormously, as of course they all did. A child of eleven is not really a child any more. It must have been very hard for my aunts Alicia and Betty, who were even younger.

Families cope with these catastrophes because they must, but it is to their credit that none of them became embittered in any way. My grandparents were some of the warmest people I have ever known, and showered me with love (and possibly a bit of favoritism) when my parents moved us all to Mexico in 1957.

I’m going far afield in a bit of background, but something has come, in an odd way, full circle, and I’m stopping to record it. I’m afraid if I don’t, I might forget.

Mamina told me one day in the garden of the house at Adolfo Prieto 1225, Colonia del Valle, Mexico City, of how, after Billy died, a day toward the end of the year, she came out to the garden to find a single white rose on one of the rosebushes, long after the end of the season, even in Mexico. And she knew, immediately, that Billy was at home in heaven, and safe.

They are with him now, as is my mother, Pepita. Yesterday I received a completely unexpected sympathy gift from, of all people, my financial advisers at Vanguard: a bouquet of flowers, blue – and white. With white roses.

Life happens in between story moments


Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?

What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!

How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.