A little memory

It has been a long eight months since a knock on my door at 5 a.m. changed my world forever. I am still trying to get used to waking up to an empty house. People ask how I’m doing and I say I’m fine, which is not entirely the truth and not really a lie. I have come to terms with the fact that the emptiness will always be with me. Sometimes I pretend Jim is just outside working, and that helps. I picture him in that faded, shapeless hat he wore to keep the sun off his head. He might be barefoot and shirtless, but the hat was always on. (I gave his clothes away months ago, but I kept that hat.)

Another image of Jim came to mind while I was watching “Dancing on the Edge” the other night, and Louis and Stanley were talking. Each man was smoking a cigarette and I was idly thinking that the smoke alone would tell you that the story takes place in the past because no one smokes on TV any more.

Jim smoked when I met him. A lot. At the time, though, it didn’t seem like the vice we view it as now. It was just a habit.

I remember him taking out his ever-present pack of cigarettes, shaking a cigarette from the pack, and lighting it. His hands were strong and slender, and their movements were graceful. He inhaled, tipped back his head, and blew the smoke out. His body visibly relaxed. He was a very nervous person, always moving, and this was the only time he was still.

A cigarette was as much a part of him as his shirt or tie, an accessory of sorts. Sometimes I looked out the window to see the car gone, and knew that he’d run to the store for a new pack. It got to be a family joke, because he never told anyone he was going. It was both an impulse and a necessity.

Later, of course, when the Surgeon General’s report came out, we  knew smoking was a Very Bad Thing. The boys learned about the dangers in school and urged him to quit. I knew he wouldn’t–or couldn’t–and he didn’t.

Then he had a stroke. For six weeks he was housebound and not allowed to drive. No more quick runs to the store. He asked me to buy him a carton and I did the unthinkable. I refused.

He never argued or yelled or complained. He was pretty stoic about it, and when he could drive again he told me he had gone this long without smoking and might as well continue. He never smoked again, but used to say if he knew he was dying the first thing he would do is get a pack of cigarettes and light up.

I wonder now, if he had kUntitled-2nown he’d never leave the rehab center, if he would’ve ask for a cigarette. I think I would have given him one, or a whole pack, and let him smoke to his heart’s content, knowing it wouldn’t make any difference. He could have gone out in the courtyard and smoked as much as he wanted.

But maybe he didn’t crave nicotine any longer, not after 40+ years. I never thought to ask him, because I didn’t think he was going to leave us. I thought he was going to come home. But he didn’t.

And so I am doing fine, really, but sometimes little things bring back memories. And I think of him as young and vital and how graceful his hands were when he gestured with that ever-present cigarette.

 

 

 

 

That “dirty” word

We all know about the late George Carlin’s famous list of seven dirty words that can’t be used in broadcasting. My mom would say they shouldn’t be used at all. I remember when she innocently asked me what MF meant.

A word I want added to the list is “promoting.” Not that it is a dirty word, but it’s a word that makes me cringe as much as the words on Carlin’s list.

Unfortunately, it’s a word writers hear a lot. Writing a book is a stroll up a gentle slope, with the scent of gardenias wafted on summery breezes and Disney-like rabbits and birds accompanying you. Promoting it is like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard with no oxygen.

Some people love it and spend hours happily signing up for blog tours. I did that once and forgot the dates I was supposed to be blogging. Or they get their books on email lists or compose tweets or… Well, you get the picture. There are many ways to push your book, and to me, most of them are annoying.  I’d just as soon stand on a street corner and wave one of my books in the air and yell “Buy my book!”

Which is essentially what we are doing, only online.

But promotion is one of those necessary evils in the publishing world and if we want to be noticed, we have to do it. My businessman son tells me I need to look at ROI (return on investment). Early this year I ran an ad in InD’tale magazine. It wasn’t all that expensive, but it didn’t generate any sales either. However — and this is a big however — I also submitted the book for a review (which is free unless you want a thumbnail of your cover to go along with it), and the subsequent 4.5 star listing made me a finalist for the RONE award. So spending money doesn’t necessarily mean your book will get noticed. front cover

Like many other authors I am looking for that magic door that will lead to sales. I’m afraid there isn’t one, just hard work and patience.

All that said, I am willing to climb back on that horse and try again. All this week my first book, Angels Unaware, will be on sale at half price. It will also be the featured book on e-book Soda on Monday, August 15. It’s a site for free and bargain e-books, so it’s worth checking it out. I signed up for their newsletter because I love the words  “free” and “bargain.” Those words are on my A-list.

Anyway, we will see what my ROI is on this promotion. Maybe this time I will break even.

If you are a writer, how do you promote your book? What was your best ROI, if you don’t mind sharing? I think a lot of us would like to know.

Outside of course, having a fairy godmother wave her wand.

 

The next step

Believe it or not, there is something more difficult than sitting down and writing a book.

The writing is the fun part: creating characters, plots, and scenes in your head and translating them to paper a Word document.

No, the hard part is the query letter. This is the letter that MUST grab an agent/editor/publisher’s interest and prompt them to ask for a full ms. Just as the first paragraph in your book should grab the reader’s attention and get them to read on, the first paragraph of the query letter should state your heroine’s goal, how she means to attain it, and what stands in her way, and make them beg for more.

I’ve written query letters before. Some have gotten the desired results; others have done nada, no matter how much I tweak them. So I know how important this is. I probably struggle over this as much or more than I struggle over the opening paragraphs of my book.

Still, it is doable. What I really dread, even more than the query letter, is the synopsis. Some publishers or agents want a few paragraphs with a general idea of what the book is about. Others want as many as 5 or more pages of

Jim, me, and our three sons, taken before Jim passed away.

Jim, me, and our three sons, taken before Jim passed away.

detailed, chapter-by-chapter descriptions. I can’t blame them, they haven’t time to read the whole book. They just want to know if it is worth their time to ask for it.

I’m no novice at this game, but each time I go through the same agonies. I suppose that is natural. I  had three babies and the second and third deliveries were not easier than the first!

But the results were worth it. I have three fine sons and three grandchildren I love dearly.

So here goes the query letter. Wish me luck that the results are equally worth the effort!

 

You can’t outwit nature

Two big projects completed this week! A high five to me, thank you, thank you very much.

Actually, the two were the Alpha and Omega of editing. I finally completed my line edits of a dear friend’s latest novel. I wanted to do a good job, so took my time and tried to be constructive.

At the same time, I was revising my own novel by incorporating suggestions from the person who edited it for me. I think I have it together, but I am letting it sit for a week or so before I re-read it and (if it is ready) send it off.

So, with those two jobs behind me, I turned my attention to the yard. Not the yard, actually, but visitors   to the yard. Which are squirrels and songbirds.

The squirrels found it much to easy to reach the suet by simply leaning over.

The squirrels found it much too easy to reach the suet by simply leaning over.

Believe me, they are the Alpha and Omega of guests. I have been spending way too much on suet cakes, which have been disappearing way too fast. Yep, squirrels. I tried about everything including stepping out on the deck and yelling “Thief!” at the top of my lungs. Which works for about 15 minutes.

I finally thought of something I hoped would work. I took one of Jim’s fishing poles and stuck it in the back, away from posts, trees, or anything else an enterprising squirrel could use to leap to his favorite treat. It is limber enough so that the squirrels (I hoped) couldn’t climb it, yet sturdy enough so even the woodpecker could get a purchase.

Seemed like a good idea. Alas...outwitted again.

Seemed like a good idea. Alas…outwitted again.

I was delighted when the birds found the new location within a day.

Not so elated when the squirrels found it, although it took them two days. I honestly don’t know how they managed to do it, but I saw one this morning dangling from the feeder and eating away to his hearts’ content.

Dang.

Back to the drawing board.

It’s like writing. No matter how carefully we proof our work, those pesky squirrels (typos, grammar slips, plot holes) manage to ruin a perfectly good suet ball–er, manuscript. So that’s why we need a friendly editor.

Now if I can just figure out how to keep the squirrels from going fishing!

 

 

How Big is Your World?

Listening and watching some of the reactions to Hillary Clinton’s character and campaign, I wonder about perspectives. The world is really big now but it wasn’t always big, it used to be very small. I watched clips of Hillary giving an interview in grainy 1970’s footage and to be fair, also the clips from Trump’s past. It’s easy to look back at the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s –to see them as clichés and movie tropes. I often hear people say the Breakfast Club defines the 80’s for them, but what about how others define the same time? Some of us were young adults, middle-aged or toddlers.

My world, Hillary’s world and even Trump’s world were much smaller in those years. As we got older, went to college, served in the military (me) and started our careers -our world got bigger -not much, but it expanded. Unlike today, where I can go to youtube and watch Irish people sample American fast food, watch their reactions and laugh. I can look back on my life and see it from today’s perspective and think, wow! Everything has changed. I am not a big fan of wishing we were back there, life was not better. Yes, movies give glimpses of hair and clothing styles, humor and opinions. But, I also remember those days from being there.

I grew up wondering, like many other teens, if the guys who wrote Archie Bunker knew my Dad? Dad called people all those racist, misogynist labels originating from hate and ignorance. My grandfather, who was my go-to hero for all things good, refused to talk to my grandmother for a week because she wore a pantsuit! Women were threatened with divorce for any ‘woman’s lib’ nonsense. My role models for strong women were in books by Harold Robbins… groan! Then there was my father, a mean, abusive drunk and oh, all the world owed him, the world was so unfair to him and yet, he was also well-liked by other men. His therapist told my mother to quit her job as a legal secretary at the Supreme Court because she was emasculating her husband! The priest told her that it was her fault Dad drank and if he was abusive, she had to take it and pray for him, because her reward was in heaven. Nothing seemed fair for women but it was all too common for our neighborhood. And even on television, women spouting woman’s lib were tough, unlikeable ‘broads’.

Even though my father was constantly spouting racist hatred, no one really listened, or so I thought, I certainly didn’t. Which was why I never mentioned to them that the Woman Marine roommate I was driving up the east coast with to spend Christmas in N.H. –was a black girl from rural Texas. My sister came down the stairs in the morning and screamed in fear when she saw Helen sitting at the table. I was taken aside and asked why I hadn’t ‘warned them’ and what would the neighbor’s think? After watching my father try and fail to drive into the garage drunk for years, I doubted the neighbors took much notice. I was ashamed. When my grandmother greeted her by saying she was happy to meet my little colored friend, I apologized. But, Helen said, “Your grandparents are loving people and so what if they don’t use the ‘correct’ words… it’s those damn scary silent sisters of yours that make me sleep with my eyes open.”

I sat in restaurants with Helen and watch no one wait on us. I’d get up and ask if there was a problem? Helen would explain that we were Marines and had heard this restaurant had the best barbecue in Virginia. Suddenly, the racist owners saw us as ‘fellow Marines’ and we’d get a free meal, a tour and their tales of their wars. I felt self-righteous but Helen told me that they still won’t feed blacks -they only fed Marines. I still like to think we opened a small crack?

Yes, my world was small, yet expanding it was an ongoing adventure. In high school my boyfriend was going to the University of Miami, we talked on the phone -it was a nice safe relationship for me. One day he described a local treat, it was a jewish thing but so good. I told my mother and that Saturday my mom and my sisters sat at the table eating bagels and sour cream… we weren’t so sure what was so great about it. Later, on the phone my boyfriend told me I was an idiot, he’d said, Bagels and Cream Cheese! Ah! We tried again and all agreed it was delicious. I though it was pretty cool to try a jewish sandwich. I wasn’t sure what Jews were, as a local Jewish kid, Adam Sandler, said in his comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live, ‘jew’ is a verb in NH. Albeit, the nuns had taught us, they killed Jesus and are pagans… will be going straight to hell. I grew up thinking she meant the ancient Jews because WWII movies showed us they had been persecuted.

Jews… much later I almost converted, I still occasionally spend a Sabbath Saturday . But, in those early days of my young adulthood, I knew little about Jews. I do remember bringing home a few bottles of Nouveau Beaujolais for Thanksgiving. My grandfather was shocked and declared no one was drinking pinko communist wine at his table! He said we were going to drink good old American wine – Blackberry Manischewits wine! Funny, twenty years later he moved to Florida and told me that his new friends were Jewish and that wine is kosher! Even my grandfather could adapt to a larger world and my grandmother wore pantsuits all the time!

So, I’m a storyteller, even before I started writing books, I told stories and I am going to start posting little bits of my history, the history I saw first hand. Yes, from today’s recliner, my past was full of ignorance and stupidity, people were politically incorrect, –but as my world grew larger I changed, my family and friends changed. I can only ask you to think when you look at a clip from someone’s past, did they evolve when their world got bigger? Or did they hold firmly to a past that wasn’t all that great for those who were there who lived it and remember it?

Just the facts, Ma’am

I am trying to not get involved in politics. It’s pretty tough.

Today, at  birthday luncheon, someone mentioned the Republican Convention. Now, these are all gray-haired old ladies. Does the fact that we were celebrating one of our member’s  94th birthday tell you our approximate age? (Okay, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I wasn’t born yesterday.)

Immediately, someone said…well, never mind. Then someone disagreed. Then a third person suggested we not talk about politics during what was a celebration.

Silence reigned. Then someone said…

You know how it goes. Everyone has a opinion and no one is willing to listen to anyone else.

I’ve been keeping my head down and writing. But it’s hard not to pay attention to what is going on. In fact, we should all be paying attention.

One thing you learn fairly quickly if you are a writer is to check the facts. This is especially important when you write historical fiction, but it’s true in any genre. Get a fact wrong and some alert reader will be sure to fire off an e-mail pointing out your error.

Yet facts seem to go flying off the page this electoral season. Yes, there are fact checkers who try to keep us all on the straight and narrow, but it seems to me the only people reading the results are the few whose minds are not so closed that any fact that disagrees with their mindset rolls off them like butter off a hot biscuit.

At least in my crowd we are trying to be civil and not throw a punch (not that any of us could without seriously injuring ourselves). A sniff and an eye-roll suffice.

My hope is that once the election is over, we can step back and accept victory or defeat gracefully and join together to address the real problems that face this nation–inequality, poverty, health care, a crumbling infrastructure, and the price of e-books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter the dog (or cat)

I had a book rejected by a publisher once because the main character wasn’t “likable.” Well, to be honest, she wasn’t. My goal was to have her become more likable over the course of the story, when her inner “niceness” came out.

I learned a lesson then that was reinforced during a workshop when the speaker talked about the need to have your reader connect with (like) the main character. One way to do this, he said, was to give your hero a pet, preferably a dog. People who have dogs, apparently, are instantly likable.

I never thought to add animals to a book. No pets show up in my previously published works. The book I am writing now does have a dog, but it is a minor character’s pet and not mentioned very often. I do have the heroine trust the hero early on because she notes he is gentle with his horse. My editor says she is not “strong,” i.e., someone the reader will cheer for during her struggles and be happy for when she finally achieves her goal.

I am wondering if I shouldn’t give her a pet. Maybe a little dog that annoys everyone else but she loves it dearly. Hmmm.

I can’t think why I haven’t had animals in any of my stories before. I’ve always had both cats and dogs, and usually more than

Bubbie, the shelter cat

Bubbie, the shelter cat

one of each. Right now I have two rescue cats. One just showed up, so I guess she adopted me. The other I got at the shelter where I volunteer one morning a week. It’s dirty work, dumping out litter boxes and washing them, cleaning the cages, and seeing that the cats and kittens have fresh food and water. But I feel that I am doing a little something to make their lives better while they wait to find new homes (the preferred outlook). This week I took home a cat that had been in the shelter too long and was slated to be euthanized. I’m fostering her until I can get her to her forever home (and yes, I found an adoptive family). My two aren’t happy with the newcomer, but I tell them it’s only temporary.

So, since animals are such a big part of my life, I think I might be wise to make them a part of my heroine’s life, too. Maybe being a pet owner hasn’t made me more likable, but I have been assured it will work for my fictional characters.

(The photo  is of my foster cat. She is so sweet. I hate to give her up except I know she will have a wonderful new family to love her.)

 

 

 

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