Category Archives: Random writings

Spending a rest and recovery day well

Tree in the fog. Text: A good listener is far rarer than a competent lover. Travis McGee

THIS IS MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT A SHORT POST

As you know if you read this blog on a regular basis, short isn’t my strong suit, though I do have a few Drabbles (100 words) posted here and on Wattpad.

My intention is to do some daily posts with no special topic that deserves a thorough treatment, but to post what’s going on.

I used the ‘almost well’ day to create a new cover for Too Late

And drag out all my graphics skills for a polish. I’m not quite back to writing fiction (that requires my whole brain), but there are still tasks that have been on the To Do list too long, and creating a cover for the short story prequel to Pride’s Children, Too Late, was one of them.

I went through a huge archive of my photos, looking for one that spoke to me, and didn’t have one of my children right in the middle of the foreground, the way I usually take pictures. It also had to be taken with a steady camera at a decent resolution. I’ll put the cover up tomorrow. The intent is to publish Too Late within the next day or so.

Mostly stayed off Facebook and didn’t watch TV

Wasn’t too hard – other people weren’t on either, and TV news is something I never watch anyway: they say the same thing over and over and over.

I’m not feeling all that chipper yet, so just as well. Just a few comments here and there on the blogs I visit – probably more inane than usual.

Read a bit of Travis McGee

Nightmare in Pink is where the quote came from. I didn’t go check – I’m probably paraphrasing. I can read John D. MacDonald over and over and over, and a few bits are dated, but nothing much has changed. I did notice Travis doesn’t like NYC – but then he’s a beach bum, and doesn’t like cities much. He’s right, though. Most people go through life without being listened to properly and enough. It doesn’t count if your listening time is spent deciding what YOU will say next.

But reading was a pleasure, because I’ve been so sick with the stupid coughing that I literally couldn’t focus on a page.

Getting ready for an ebook newsletter sale Jan. 22

I finally managed to get The Fussy Librarian newsletter to accept an ad for PC, which will appear on Sunday, Jan. 22, so I put it on sale as of today – I haven’t been getting to things in a timely manner lately, and they want you to make sure your sale price is in effect on the day your ad is shown.

That’s long enough for a short.

What did you do special today?


Oh, and thanks to Quozio – I hadn’t been able to use their software for a while, and I tried again today, and it worked.

Writers: grab YOUR unique promotion opportunities

Woman in fur coat holding sparkler in front of lights. Text: Target Yourself. How are you like your audience?I’M FEATURED TODAY ON BOOMER CAFE!

Hey! That rhymes!

I am a Baby Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, by the Boomer Café definition.

We are the Post-WWII babies, and there are a lot of us. Many of us are getting to retirement age – and able to do as we darn please.

I’ve been reading Boomer Cafe for a while now (though not since 1999, their founding date!), submitted an article now titled, ‘A baby boomer writes the novel she always planned,’ and they published it today!

There are a lot of hard parts for beginning self-publishing novelists

One of them is the perennial question: who is your target audience?

Because the natural answer for newbies, even if they have written a baby board book, is EVERYONE! Which is not as silly as it sounds, since board books are not bought by babies, but for them, by siblings, parents, and relatives, of all ages.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, my debut novel, uses every technique I could learn to appeal to men and women of all ages, and teens mature enough to understand adult themes of love, marriage, work, jealousy, obsession (teens = fans?), getting what you want, and sacrifice. The sex and violence and language ‘rating’ is PG-13 (minimal) because I’m interested in story, not mechanics.

But wide POTENTIAL appeal makes it a bear to market: try planning an ad or outreach that will grab the attention of male teens and their grandmothers, and you’ll see what I mean.

Wide appeal for a book means no generic marketing

So you have to look at yourself, see how you are a member of the demographics you are included in, and figure out how to use that to present your book and yourself as author to diverse groups.

If you write straight Science Fiction, for example, there are oodles of promotional opportunities in newsletters, blogs, lists, sites, and at your online retailers. Your only problem (and it is a doozy) is how to make yourself stand out from all the other SF writers and their books).

I read and I learn. What I have learned since PC came out is something I suspected before I published: regular indie marketing strategies aren’t going to work for me and this book.

Which means one thing: diverse marketing, and a different marketing strategy for each group, with the understanding that there is no more homogeneity in the ‘groups’ than there is in my general audience.

Call it ‘trait marketing’: What do I have in common with Baby Boomers?

And that’s where the inspiration for this particular article came from.

First, to clear that away, I have no interest in writing non-fiction articles for magazines, online or in real life. I am a novelist, with books to write and sell, not a free-lancer looking to support herself by writing non-fiction. That’s a different calling, and I don’t have it.

To the extent that I do, this blog and the one for the books (prideschildren.com) are my non-fiction outlet, and I don’t expect them to pay for themselves or my time from what I write there. I get satisfaction from putting my thoughts in order, from the possibility of an eventual book or two if one arises from the posts because a bunch of people seem determined to write the same way I do (it could still happen!), and from the visitors and commenters here and on the blogs I visit.

But it is almost a cliché that many people think that some day they will write a book – and, until I actually finished one and published it, I was in that group. And that was the perfect topic to pitch to Boomer Café, it met with their approval, I wrote it – and it’s here!

Writing for exposure is not NECESSARILY a bad thing, is it?

Boomer Café doesn’t sell ads. The only way I can use their site to get my book in front of the other Boomers who visit there is to write an article which gets published. And provide something of interest for the subgroup of Boomers who might like to at least consider whether they should attempt that novel.

Anyone who writes to me after reading that article will get pointed in the right direction, and that will be a small partial payment for the advice and many kindnesses other more-advanced self-publishers have given me.

If people who read the article want to, Boomer Café has posted my cover, and a link to Pride’s Children: PURGATORY on Amazon, so readers can check it out and purchase if it appeals to them (or they want to see what it looks like).

And I couldn’t hope for any more than that!

I’m exploring myself and Pride’s Children for that kind of publicity opportunities

This past year, I’ve done a lot of hand-selling, to readers and writers I’ve met on Goodreads, Wattpad, Facebook, and via blogs such as ThePassiveVoice and the many others I follow and comment on. That will continue – it is a more personal approach, and has worked well in getting some awesome reviews. It is not a given that I will get a review or a new reader – my success rate there is about 50% for people who will try reading. More importantly I have found almost all of the blurbs for the book that way.

I’m determined to make this a career, rather than a hobby, so I expect PC to pay its own way eventually.

The question to take away is…

What is there in common – and how do I use that to entice people into reading the first few pages, a couple of scenes, or a chapter or two?

BEFORE that, I have the usual: book title, description, cover, editorial reviews, ratings, Look Inside feature, ebook sample, reader reviews, author page, numerical rankings within the various categories and subcategories (if you scroll down far enough on the Amazon product page for the book)…

Even price. Readers have their own opinions about what books are worth; I have priced at the lower range of what traditional publishers charge for ebooks and paper copies, but higher than what indie genre writers charge. And run a sale at least quarterly.

AFTER that, after TRYING, readers know if they might like a book or not. I trust readers as I trust myself to know what they like to read – and whether I’ve done my job to supply that.

I’ve already met some new and interesting people on the Boomer Café site – maybe some will turn into readers.


Thanks to Stencil for the image above and the ability to add my own words.


Readers: how do you like to be appealed to?

Writers: what special niche marketing do you do?

Looking forward to hearing from you (hint, hint)!

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY now collector’s item

pc1-collectors-item

FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF MY READERS IN PRINT

You have to love Amazon, and the people who sell there (caveat emptor), but treat them with care.

I keep track of things (okay, I look too often at the sales pages), and notice the oddities.

Which today included MY book, USED, for sale at $319.93 (plus $3.99 shipping and handling – sheesh! You’d think that at that price they’d throw in the shipping and handling for free).

So if you bought the paper copy, you can amuse yourself with the thought that it is now ‘worth’ (here defined as ‘being offered for sale at that price’) almost 15 times what you paid for it.

And I’m not even famous yet!

And if it’s one of the few paper copies I sent to reviewers, and the offer were real (which I highly doubt, being of a skeptical nature), someone just made some real dollars off me as a writer. I wish them the best of luck!

I’m sure if I pursued this ‘sale’ past the cart at Amazon (which I got to), something would go wrong, or someone at the other end would quickly buy a paper copy and have it sent to me, and there would be laughing all the way to the bank if it actually went through.

But it’s a funny little bit in a world which has turned funny, too, lately, so I got my five cents worth of chuckle out of it – and pass it on to the loyal fans.

I’m sure you writers out there have had this happened – it’s just the first time for me.

BTW, NETHERWORLD is coming along nicely – maybe it will be worth even more!

Censorship, prudence, peace-making, black-listing

nuanceIT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE VALUE-FREE WHEN WRITING

I’m having a very hard time blogging, commenting, and being a responsible citizen on Facebook right now.

Responsible, because I want to stand by my words online, even if you read them in a month when the craziness is muted. Not gone – the consequences of this election will haunt this nation for years.

Born in California, reared in Mexico City, and living permanently in the States since I went to Seattle U. to finish a college career interrupted by non-student communists shutting down the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1968-69, I have NEVER seen an election like this one.

Being an INFJ (sliding to an INTP depending on my mood when answering questions – it’s impossible to tell with older people who have adapted the world to themselves with practice), supposedly makes me a peacemaker who, according to one online site,

‘their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.’

and

‘Egalitarianism and karma are very attractive ideas to INFJs, and they tend to believe that nothing would help the world so much as using love and compassion to soften the hearts of tyrants.’

The problem is I’m censoring myself

I’ve always tried to express my own opinions, and not jump on bandwagons too quickly. I spend time writing comments, re-read before posting, and tone down things which might be taken as fighting words.

The touchstone: not saying anything online I wouldn’t be willing to say in person, with that willingness being tempered by having to achieve something positive, or what is the purpose of talking.

I get snippy occasionally – everyone does – but tend more to pour oil on water than light it up for flames.

But I can’t tell you how many times lately I’m deleting entire comments, leaving challenging statements unchallenged, NOT saying something I really think should be said.

And not just about politics, but on Goodreads, in private FB groups, and even on that bastion of even-handedness and civility, ThePassiveVoice.

And it’s causing me some real discomfort.

Firebrands exhaust me

I’m not the best person for defending or advocating for anything – my energy is too limited.

I have the comments. I WRITE the comments.

And then I delete them, because the climate seems fraught. Everyone’s temper is short. People who claim to be Christian use language Christ would blanch at to impugn someone else’s ancestry.

Racism, sexism, ableism – all are alive and kicking. And punching. And screaming.

I blocked someone on my Facebook page I’ve homeschooled with, and known for twenty years (not close lately, but still).

We used to paper over differences, not mention differences in beliefs where it was not important, strive to find the common ground. Our homeschool group had several Jewish families, at least one Muslim one, ours (the Catholics), and a large collection of mainline and evangelical Protestants – and we coexisted and went on field trips together.

Nuance, thesauri, satire

It’s easier to stay out of the fray.

Indie publishing and traditional publishing long ago developed into separate camps with entirely different belief systems. I read, formed my own opinions, chose the indie camp and don’t regret it.

But, as a writer, I know perfectly well how to slant word choices to make a subtle point. Except that the subtlety seems gone, and everything said seems to lead to an assault on the castle walls.

I hope to hell it’s temporary

And that I won’t be ashamed of anything of said during the proceedings.

But I’m shaken. And unhappy. I’ve always thought it was a great thing to be an American, and that, regardless of problems, this is where I want to live. I’m looking forward to when diversity is even greater in our country, and education serves ALL our kids well, so they have futures.

And now we’re going down a possible black hole. And even the possibility of the black hole has done huge damage with its gravitational force.

Surely we can do better than this.

What to do? What to do?

I’ll gird my loins, go back into the fray, keep attempting to use reason while understanding there is always injustice.

And hope the rest of us are shaken enough to look seriously at ourselves and make sure we’re not making things worse. Platitudes, all, but I intend to try.

This can’t be, as someone said, ‘the end of the American experiment.’

Have you had a similar experience?

The new impostor syndrome: redefining the literary genre

Single perfect yellow bloom with the words: Quality - who decides. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtRANTING ABOUT CATEGORIES GETS YOU NOTHING

It is funny how the meanings of things change, and with the change, a whole cascade of other meanings change.

Critics have quoted a ‘tsunami of crap’ as coming from the new self-publishing authors; defenders have responded with versions of Sturgeon’s Law: ‘90% of indie/SP/SF/… is crap, but 90% of everything is crap.’

The percentage varies according to the viewpoint and attitude of the critic.

Is literary the new mainstream?

But I digress from the point I wanted to make, and which I’ve mentioned before: that the category my writing used to fit into naturally, mainstream commercial fiction – set in the present or near past, with realistic settings, dealing with current human problems – has disappeared, leaving me with no category to put my non-genre fiction in – except General Fiction.

General Fiction covers too much ground, and makes no implications of complexity or quality.

Those of us in this position who aim for complexity and quality are thus, perforce, labeling ourselves ‘Literary Fiction.’

And ‘literary fiction’ is now considered a genre, much like science fiction or paranormal romance or mystery/thriller.

Who are the ‘literary’ writers?

Which puts me in an odd position of ‘competing’ with the likes of Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie – who are highly literate types of the kind who publish in literary magazines and are pushed by literary small publishers and not expected, necessarily, to sell much. But who may aspire to Nobel prizes in Literature, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Or with the likes of Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch, a ‘literary’ anomaly in that it sold millions of copies.

I feel like an impostor when compared with what I used to assume were the literary writers. I feel less of an impostor when compared with the books that have done the same as mine, crowding into the literary category, but not necessarily supported by the MFA or the professorship in English Literature which used to be de rigeur, credentials I don’t have.

What the ‘real’ traditional practitioners of literary fiction think of this travesty, I can only imagine. It was hard enough competing against all those MFA graduates for the limited number of poorly-paying slots in literary magazines with tiny distribution but with prestige, and now they have to compete with all those upstarts who should have been weeded out firmly by the editors at the publishing houses who were known for publishing literary works.

But, HISTORY…!

Possibly, I am reversing an earlier unfortunate trend, in which authors such as Charlotte Brontë wrote ‘a novel’ such as Jane Eyre, which has now become a ‘literary’ classic. They used what they knew: an education in the classics, including Greek and Latin, would have been natural for a parson’s children; their writing reflected who they were, what they’d read, how their world was organized. They were not aiming for ‘literary’ – but simply wrote with the care and knowledge that would be common to their position in society and their level of education.

That education would have been based on reading widely; there may lie the root of my comfort with the idea of classifying my writing as, among other things, literary. My youth was spent reading everything I could get my hands on – including much of what is now considered literary canon.

I found, though, that I did not like a lot of the more modern work. I read Toni Morrison and The Color Purple and Seize the Day and hated their preciousness in focusing on language to the exclusion of plot and characters I could identify with (yes, that makes me a heathen). I read Down and Out in Paris and London, which I liked, but can’t get past page one of Ulysses.

Categories change; we change with them

So I’ve decided not to worry about impostor syndrome and calling myself literary, and assume that the category is broadened, by necessity, to accept us johnnies-come-lately who actually may be hewing to the earlier, classical meaning of novelist – one who writes stories – without going so far as to kick the others off the high end of the island (those who write stories I can’t read because they seem to be missing the ‘story’ part).

De gustibus non est disputandum (no accounting for taste). There’s room for all of us, and, in this day of algorithms, we must make some accommodation for others so we may all be found at Amazon.

We indie literaries probably escape the notice of those who are firmly in the publishing grasp of the real literary publishers, anyway. But I’ve stopped worrying about being an impostor – because I care about the results.

Are you categorizing your writing as ‘literary’? Do you find reading material with ‘literary’ as a keyword? What do you believe the literary writer promises the reader?

Writing a DRABBLE got me banned

A pair of small empty canvas sneakers between two sets of lower legs with sneakers; the word NO is in a yellow circle and the word BANNED is below.BANNED – FOR WRITING FICTION?

New milestone: my writing got me banned permanently on a site.

The reaction to a fictional drabble (100-words) was swift and disproportionate.

I was writing for FREE for a site which publishes a drabble a day (or none if they don’t have any they like). The reason: because, if they included your drabble on their newsletter, they would, by way of payment for your work, put up a link to your books.

Writers shouldn’t write for free, should they?

IF they choose to, and have a reason which makes business sense to them, now.

It’s fair enough: I write something you can choose to use, you give me a tiny bit of promotion by

1) letting me publish a sample of my work (NOT my book, just my writing), and

2) providing a link a newsletter reader can choose to click on to my Product Page on Amazon, where, as it happens, I have one single book up – 167,000 words of fiction (see that – I can write at more than one length!)

Drabbles? Is that like a haiku for prose?

Drabbles are an interesting story form. You get exactly 100 words and are supposed to tell a complete story, beginning, middle, and end, in that space. Obviously, you get little room for backstory or description, and editing a short story down to an even hundred word is an art in itself. I have written a few fiction ones before, and a whole book of non-fictional drabbles on Wattpad (64 at last count, I believe, mostly about the process of writing, editing, and publishing a novel).

Back to being banned, please!

I submitted some drabbles to the site as time permitted; the first five were, in due course, published.

Then I realized I had two available there which had not been published, and that the daily newsletter had been appearing for a while with no drabble in it, either.

So I thought it reasonable to go investigate; sometimes software somewhere between the site and your home computer resets, and the defaults need to be changed.

I was totally surprised when I attempted to log into the site and received the message:

Totally barred for unprofessional behavior

or was it?

Permanently banned for unprofessional behavior

(didn’t get screen shot; can’t now)

Excuse me? Huh? I hadn’t done any behavior at the site for a while, much less anything I considered unprofessional – all I did was post a few drabbles a while back for their consideration (no obligation – they warn you at the beginning that your drabbles may not be posted – I was fine with that when I started submitting a few, after noticing what other writers had created with their 100 words). These drabbles were in the site’s SUBMISSION queue, posted to my account while waiting to see if they would be published or used.

Pause: If I had been informed at this stage that something was unsuitable, I would have removed or changed it. You can hardly afford, when sending work anywhere, even for free, to get upset if it isn’t published.

What do you do when something like that happens out of the blue?

Through a back channel, and assuming something technical had gone wrong somewhere along the line with them, and expecting an apology!, I cautiously sent the email:

I went to the site this morning intending to post another drabble, to find that I have been permanently barred for ‘unprofessional behavior.’

This mystifies me – the only behavior I’ve committed at the site has been to post a few drabbles, some of which have been published in the daily newsletter.

Would you please tell me what my next step should be? I would at least like to retrieve the unpublished ones – or see a list of them.

I’m assuming this is a mistake. If not, could you please let me know what I’ve done, so I don’t do it again?

No answer came over a several day period; I assumed the person I had written to was busy (it had happened before that I didn’t get a response, prompt or otherwise).


CAUTION

Before I do this next bit, PLEASE NOTICE I AM NOT NAMING NAMES! I’m making the information vague ON PURPOSE: I believe this site and every other has the right to control what they publish, to remove contents and comments they find objectionable (as I have at my site), and to not be publicly indicted for their behavior because of it. In fact, I consider TROLLING and FLAME WARS very unprofessional, and do not participate.

In addition, brain fog and extremely limited energy and awake time due to CFS, make it really not worth my while. I actually assumed I had missed something important in this whole event simply because I didn’t read something or understand it right.

So why post at all?

BECAUSE it is MY first banning anywhere for writing FICTION, and I choose to write about the experience on my own blog. That’s what writer’s blogs are for. It may even serve as a cautionary tale for other newbies.

If someone I know very well wants the information, I will be happy to supply it; I have warned some writers already. PRIVATELY.


When you got no response, what did you do next?

Next step, try the front channel. I sent the following email to the site directly:

Dear XXX site:

I had been happily supplying drabbles; you published four or five of mine for the daily newsletter.

Then drabbles didn’t appear for a while, when I knew I had two left that hadn’t been used.

I went to your site to find I’ve been ‘permanently banned for unprofessional behavior.’

Since I’ve done nothing on the site, much less anything that might be considered unprofessional in my book, I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look.

If I did do something you objected to, would you please let me know what it was? So I don’t do it again?

Really clueless here – no idea of what I did. They had even actually published a somewhat similar drabble of mine before.

The response was swift and abrupt:

[Short pause here: because the sender of a letter/email owns the copyright to the words, while I could show a friend the actual email, I may not publish it exactly as is, and it doesn’t come under the concept of Fair Use. So I’m going to paraphrase it, and try to be accurate, but you’ll have to trust me on the content. Of course, the owner of the copyright – the sender – would have to own up to it and make a big deal of it if I did publish exactly what I received – but I’m well read in copyright law, and not about to give that a chance, since I’m trying not to identify the person, but only write as to how this affected me, okay? Also, too bad, because there was a lovely typo.]

It’s not professional to request help, dislike the help offered, and write about murdering the person who offered the advice.

[I didn’t request the kind of unsolicited advice the drabble was writing about; it was sent by a marketing firm without being asked for or wanted. Especially not wanted. And the number of writers who have use an incident that happened to them to choose their next murder victim in their stories is Legion, to the point where it’s a meme for beginning writers (I did it myself when I started) to get rid of some hostility that way. It’s FICTION, folks. What else do you call The Silence of the Lambs or Misery?]

This is rubbish.

[The opinion of the site owner is valid on their site. It was an intense drabble, and it took me an hour to get it to say exactly what I wanted it to say, with no room to qualify or maneuver. I have the feeling I hit a nerve somewhere, but have no idea WHAT nerve, unless the responder has had unpleasant experiences – and how would I know that?]

It’s a permanent banning so don’t bother me again.

[Not bloody likely. Excuse me for asking when you provided no information at all, and I didn’t think that much of your site anyway, nyah, nyah, nyah!]

I asked a writer friend whose response was, “Banned for fiction? That’s absurd.”

What should the response have been to my original email?

Any one of the following, singly or in sequential emails (if I was insistent), would have been the professional response of a site open to the public. And remember, the drabble was never published by them. It was in their SUBMISSION queue. Something like:

Your drabble does not suit us at the present time.

We don’t think drabble X can be rewritten to be appropriate for our readers, so we have deleted it.

Your drabbles are too dark; please don’t send us any more. We don’t think we are the right publisher for them.

We find your work too disturbing for our site. Please do not send us more. And we don’t think we want to associate with your work. Thank you for your previous submissions. We have closed your account. Please do not open another account.

In other words, just about any formal rejection you’d get from a publisher after submitting, oh, say, Carrie. Or Hannibal. Or Cujo. Or any slasher thriller or novel with Jack the Ripper in it.

What next?

Nothing, really. No action is necessary on anyone’s part, least of all mine. I know where I’m not wanted, and would not return even with a very good quality formal apology (which I’m not likely to get). The drabbles are mine (those were the terms – they merely requested you not post them elsewhere until they had been used on the site – IF they were used on the site). I always intended to publish them myself later.

I’ve put them on a new drabbles page; note that the drabble You Do What You Have To Do has a similar punchline and was published on the site (without ‘advice being offered’ by the victim, of course – which should make it worse, not better, as the results were applied without provocation).

I will put these on MY site, under MY control, from now on – it’s easier. I have apparently thin skin, probably too thin for indie, and it bothered me. I have now written the bother out, and it’s a closed matter as far as I’m concerned.


That all said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a writer to consider her words before putting them out into the wide world. Words have power – words can hurt.

Have you any experiences of being banned? With or without provocation? How did you react? (Not talking here to those who make a habit of being deliberately confrontational to get attention – you know who you are.)


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make images for posts.

And, if you like the non-fiction and/or short fiction, consider purchasing and/or reading the long fiction – see sidebar. They’re written by the same person.

Incident at Caleta Beach – a persistent memory

INCIDENT AT CALETA BEACH

You tell me who was right – after twenty-four years the day is as clear in my memory as yesterday. And after all that time, I still don’t know what to believe.

Caleta* was Acapulco’s morning beach in my grandfather Papa Memo’s day. My grandfather was the epitome of the Mexican gentleman, warm, family-oriented, and a man of absolutely unwavering integrity.

In those days you saw everyone who was in town at Caleta in the morning. Then, at a suitable time, you went back to your house to bathe; to have that meal known as “la comida,” the food, which could be lunch or brunch or even an early dinner, and which was being prepared by the cook; and to lie in a hammock through the worst heat of the day. Late afternoons, you went to Playa Hornos. I barely had a few years to do this as a child transplanted to Mexico before my beloved grandfather passed away.

In our day, Bill’s and mine, Caleta had lost its uniqueness to population booms, but it was still close to Albemar, my family’s home. We settled on our small plot of sand, to people-watch, to keep our three small children from following the wavelets too deep, to watch for that occasional big wave which still washes up all the way to the base of the hotel which has stood, bare concrete, unfinished due to legal troubles, for as long as I can remember.

The umbrella was set in the sand. Our baby daughter dug happily with her bucket of ocean water to fill the hole. The white-shirted waiter with the rolled up pants and bare feet had brought us two white-painted slatted wood lounge chairs, and would come later with sodas for all, ceviche for Bill if he dared.

People walked by as they will on a beach, vendors of shell necklaces and mangoes dipped in chile piquín, waiters with coconuts. Not crowded, not empty. Just right.

A lone lounge chair twenty feet to our left, ten closer to the water’s edge, sat in isolated splendor – no umbrella, no beach table, no thatched hut – in a patch of sand. A Mexican family, father and three boys, moved decorously – in sand it is hard to do otherwise – between us and the water, and the trailing small boy sat for a moment on the edge of the chair. The father turned to hurry his brood on, the boy stood up and continued trailing along.

All at once, in the middle of this idyll designed to dull the mind to pure lazy observer, came shouting from the waves. Caleta is a tranquil beach, half of a tiny bay, divided from Caletilla by the causeway that goes to the island, but people still drown here. So shouts are heeded.

The words were unrecognizable, guttural, but it could have been the distance. The man charging out of the water had a big belly. It is hard work to charge out of the water. He came slowly until the water cleared his chest, then moved up the beach as fast as his bulk would allow, yelling all the time. He switched to English, and my ear pulled the sound out of the soft murmuring Spanish background. The word he was yelling was “Thief!”

My Spanish-challenged husband said “Stay out of it.” He went back to helping the baby dig to China.

The Mexican gentleman came to a stop, the very portrait of affronted dignity. The German tourist – for he could be no other – gesticulated wildly and switched to his limited Spanish, bellowing “Policía!” I see the small group yet, rooted unyielding in the sand of memory.

There is a tiny cement hut at the end of the causeway where a contingent of blue-uniformed policemen discretely supervise the goings-on of the glass-bottom boats bobbing along the causeway, and the occasional beach drunk. One appeared, notified by the grapevine. He attempted to calm the tourist, assuage the wounded pride of the Mexican gentleman called a thief in front of his children.

El policía had little English – and his set and the German’s didn’t overlap. I, born nosy and American and bilingual, approached, and gingerly asked if I could help. Bill, in the background, shook his head, and dedicated himself to keeping our boys, just as nosy, 3 and 5, but NOT bilingual, well away from the tableau we must have made.

The German tourist latched on to me, explaining loudly in his limited English. I translated. The Mexican father shook is head slowly, consented only to explain gravely, because he had been accused, that he was looking for a place to settle his brood, with their bags and toys, on the beach. The policeman looked baffled and attempted to be conciliatory: there must have been some mistake.

But the evidence was incontrovertible: the smallest of the Mexican boys, the one who had perched briefly at the end of the German’s carefully isolated chair, held in his hand a plastic bag containing the German’s wallet and hotel key.

The German gentleman’s story: he had come to the beach alone, and fearing thieves, had set the chair well apart so he could watch his belongings from the water. His fear had now been confirmed.

The Mexican gentleman’s story: he was looking for a piece of beach for the day; the children were dawdling; he had spoken sharply to the one who sat for a moment, to pick up his things and stop falling behind. The father was thoroughly mortified, but it was clearly a mistake, and his son would now hand the German back his property.

The policeman was baffled. I translated all into English for the benefit of the German gentleman, and his comments into Spanish for the Mexican gentleman and the policeman.

The child was admonished. The policeman clearly wanted the matter to disappear. The German was asked if he wanted to press charges. I was asked what I saw, which was very little – I did not notice whether the child had anything in his hand when he sat down, and I did not see him pick the bag up when he moved on.

The impasse settled like the baking sun on our little group. Finally, I asked the German whether he would be satisfied with an apology. He reluctantly agreed. I translated into Spanish: the dignified Mexican gentleman was affronted – he had already apologized, according to his lights. The policeman saw a resolution, pressed his co-national.

The Mexican gentleman, clearly unhappy, asked me to translate his formal apology to the foreign tourist. The German nodded his head brusquely. Neither man offered a hand.

The policeman went off, the matter dealt with to his satisfaction. The German tourist thanked me roughly, and went back into the water to our left, leaving his plastic bag now carefully tied to the lounge chair. The Mexican gentleman chose a section of thatched hut to our right, called a waiter, requested a drink. The three little boys dashed off to the water.

And so we sat in face-saving splendor. The German stayed in the water long enough to prove he was unbowed, then ostentatiously retrieved his bag and left the beach. A while later we gathered our children and their toys and sandals and towels, and headed out to get a taxi back to Albemar on the hill. We left the Mexican gentleman still in possession of the battlefield.

But I have wondered all these years whether the Mexican gentleman, so poised and so middle-class, and so offended, was not a Fagin with the perfect excuse for his small accomplices to pick up bags left carelessly unattended on the beach by foreigners, even in cahoots with the police. I don’t know why I think that.

And I wonder still whether I did not do the German tourist a terrible disservice because the Mexican gentleman, dark-skinned, balding, self-possessed, was the perfect reincarnation of my beloved Papa Memo.


*This image, courtesy of Wikipedia, is from 2009. In 1992, when this incident occurred, there would have been far fewer chairs and thatched umbrellas and people. There were fewer hotels, and an unfinished one behind the beach. Caletilla is to the right, past the causeway from which this photo appears to have been taken.

What the writer does when bored

HARD AT WORK. REALLY. MAKING PROGRESS. SLOWLY.

Cover design is fun. And hard exacting work. With pixels. And typography. And photographs.

It doesn’t look like anything until it’s done. You will see it then. Right now, it’s a pile of mostly things that haven’t worked. Yet.

If you want to see how it’s done by a pro, read JM Ney-Grimm’s posts: go to the site, and type ‘cover’ into the search box. Read everything.

For your entertainment, and because my eyes are closing and I can’t write a real post but I miss doing it, a blast from the rather recent past:

My notes dated March 18, 2015 at 2:58 PM.

I’m sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for someone. Not for me – it is the someone’s doctor’s visit.

Me, I’m bored.

I just went through the process of finishing the most significant step of a project I was forced to undertake (civic duty and all that), and have gotten it to the point where I email the whole thing (in painful detail) to those who need the information to fix THEIR problem.

I was worried that I might be wrong – but going THROUGH the process and writing it all out showed me that not only was I RIGHT, but that the problem was way bigger than I had thought, and they had all the additional stuff WRONG, too.

So, vindicated for having undertaken the project, finally (it has been HANGING OVER my head for TWO YEARS), I feel pretty good – and I can get back to my writing.

Tools make it easier

Only all I have is the computer (no big external monitor), and the chiclet keyboard that comes with the MacBook (which I only use when FORCED to), and I can only see one page at a time or so, and that is not how I usually WORK, so I’m antsy.

I’ve done everything on the WIP that I can – and that’s saying a lot, because I’m writing/revising/editing the next-to-last scene, which is heavy. I need time, concentration, a nap first, and two hours in which I can let my brain assemble the pieces into a whole.

And I CAN’T do it here.

So I reread everything, and then put it away until I can get back to my desk.

I can’t sleep, work, go anywhere – and I will be interrupted in less than 15 minutes, so what do I do? I write this – and you guys get a post about what a writer does when totally bored?

The answer is: write.

If not on the computer, in a notebook.

I have been known to borrow paper and pens from a hospital nurses’ station and from the chaplain in a different hospital, to ask for writing materials in a hotel or a store if I didn’t bring anything.

Get the thoughts OUT of the HEAD, capture them on the PAGE, and the brain is happy and entertained.

The doctor comes out – I close the laptop. The doctor disappears again – I open it back up.

Really, this is a total core dump. And there’s nothing in the core!

Aaargh!

Normal people play games on their smart phones. I don’t have one, and I’m not normal!

What do YOU do when totally bored? Are you a reader or a writer?

Writing, death, intellectual property, and me

WHY THE FOCUS ON DEATH AND WRITING?

We are losing our older artists. Which means none of us is immune to Death. Fancy that.

Not that long ago, we lost both Elmore Leonard and Leonard Nimoy.

Sir Terry Pratchett, 66, just died of ‘complications of a chest infection and Alzheimer’s,’ according to the news, and was an advocate of the ‘right to die’ movement. May he rest in peace.

I am fast approaching the same age.

And we all know of writers whose fans are desperately hoping they will finish X before kicking the bucket.

So what do we do about it?

Other than not plan to die (I understand we are subject to the event, but had assumed, in my case, an exception would be made)?

In the same day, I run into, again, Neil Gaiman’s recommendation to write your will so it protects your intellectual property.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch have nagged unceasingly (thank you both) for having a tidy intellectual property disposal set up before you die, partly as the result of having had to deal with a huge estate, and partly because they will each leave a huge literary estate.

We need to update our wills. Most people do, even if they wrote one once. And many writer’s wills were written before they had much IP to protect.

I have no published works yet, so I have no actual intellectual property of that sort. But I am approaching publication for the first book of Pride’s Children, and I have a heck of a lot of notes.

What happens to an unfinished story when the writer leaves this mortal coil?

This bothers me, because I have barely approached the end of Book 1, and though I have a very rough draft of sorts for Books 2 and 3 (and 4, if you consider it separate), I worry about leaving people who like the story (a tiny contingent) and the characters without knowing what the end is.

Unless I get to write the remainder of Pride’s Children, it has no real value as intellectual property; it is unfinished, and not important enough to leave to someone else to finish.

Once it IS finished, it will be important for any monetary value my work has, to designate a proper executor for my literary estate, and have it managed to maintain any value it has.

If my disease progresses faster than expected, I hope to have time to leave things tidy.

But in between, if I get hit by a truck, no one will know how Pride’s Children ends. Worse still, I have promised a certain kind of ending, and it is not the least bit obvious how to get from where the last scene is, to this ending. I believe in happy endings, earned.

Solutions?

I have been thinking I need to publish a TV-synopsis-like list of the future episodes, subject to change as it is reworked, or give it to someone as the final post on my blog.

Or better still, publish it on my blog by SCHEDULING it in advance, and moving that publication date forward frequently, so that IF I die unexpectedly, and stop moving it forward, it will get published automatically before someone has the chance to stop my blog from going forward.

I am committed to the story – I know how it ends – what do you think of this idea?

What am I surfing for tonight, Internet?

Insomnia keeps me up, or  wakes me up after an hour or two. I ask myself what I am looking for as I go voraciously reading wherever I can.

There is no capacity for actually doing something useful right now. Trust me.

Answers

Someone to talk to.

Someone whose blog has interesting things on it – that I haven’t read yet.

Readers on WordPress or Wattpad who have read my stories and leave a comment, especially one that says how well I write and how much they love my characters.

There ARE a few others, but fewer than 10% are even partially negative.

But there aren’t enough to keep me in nightly happiness.

Something to read that I absolutely have to read right now, or the world will come to and end.

Something that will coax me toward writing or work during the day, sleep at night.

Reader love.

Intelligent co-stroking.

A place to leave intelligent comments that hasn’t barred me.

Funny stuff.

I have no idea.

I’ll know it when I see it.

What are YOU looking for tonight?

Unexpected writing gifts: blocked internet time

*

Are people blogging less?

I am aware that over the past month or so my blog posting has gone down in frequency, to the point where I’ve basically been putting up a post every Tuesday with a bit of a chat and the next scene in Pride’s Children, and nothing more.

Part of it is simply end-of-the-year-itis: there were a lot of things to do, many more than usual, including a trip to California to welcome a wonderful young lady into the family and celebrate with her and eldest son and lots of family. Add Christmas and New Year’s to that, and I defy you to continue exactly as usual.

But it’s been more than that. I notice far fewer posts on the blogs I follow, and far fewer comments, and wonder if the day of blogging is somehow taking its natural turn in the evolution of online communication: all things come to an end and are replaced by other things. Which begs the question: What will the new thing be?

What’s next?

There are podcasts and video blogs – I doubt I will be joining that revolution. For better or worse, I am of the print generation.

And as a raging aggressive introvert: ain’t gonna happen.

I do plan to try my hand at audiobooks – and give the weary world the ‘read by the author’ version of Pride’s Children. Why? Because I’m a ham.

But I’ve missed posting my thoughts and the things I figure out about my writing and my own observations of the world we live in. Heck, I’ve missed gathering the herd of wild sheep that IS my thoughts, and making it go into the corral one thought-sheep at a time in a line.

So I intend to do better, and spew forth more of whatever it is shiny that attracts my attention.

The unexpected gift of the day: blocked internet time

This morning’s gift was a 15-min. chunk of time in which my internet was not available, my morning B1 and caffeine haven’t kicked in yet, and in which, rather than get started on today’s writing (Pride’s Children, Book 1, isn’t going to finish revising itself), my brain decided to write about writing – and throw the results up for the world to see (‘marveling at’ is optional) JUST because I can. You don’t have to read – that’s the marvelous part – and I don’t have to do it, but we can if we want to, and I find that entrancing.

I can’t say what length will be natural for this Year of Our Lord 2015 – I suspect the pieces may be shorter – but I’m raring to go, looking forward to the end of the revising, and the work of finishing up and posting the first book of the trilogy, and exercising and eating right (okay, better) and reading and blogging and… whatever 2015 holds in store.

And that was how I chose to use my present this morning.

How about you?

*Thanks to Quozio.com for the quote software.

Spring story: a writing challenge

This was the challenge:

In 250 words or less, describe a Spring setting

But here’s the catch–you can’t use traditional Spring words or images. No flowers, no bright green, no new growth. Look for the unusual and personal way your character would describe the setting they’re in.

The result was… interesting.

Rather than lose these forever, I will throw them out to make a reader go hmmm and wonder about the way my brain works:

The rains came early that year – and stayed long. The river rose almost to the level of the 1936 flood, and hung there for days, taking with it the beginnings of the crops, seeds that hadn’t but set out the tenderest of rootlets: they were no match for the onslaught, were washed away in wide swaths. Blossoms that had started to open were knocked off their branches by a careless hand. We had no beauty that year. I don’t know how the birds made it, sitting waterlogged on bare trees. Their food must have been impossible to find, insects pounded by the driving rain as much as we were. Continue reading