Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

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Counting down

It seems I cannot stop making errors. I printed out out some bookmarks to bring to the book signing Sunday. Only after they were all printed and trimmed did I discover that somehow the most important information had been cut off at the margin.

The bookmarks are to advertise a promotion my publisher, Cleanreads, is doing starting Monday. My paranormal alternate history is going to be offered free in the coming weeks!

Maybe FREE is the most important part?

A Question of Boundaries September 9-13.

A Question of Loyalty September 16-20.

A Question of Time September 23-27.

Here’s what got cut off: Free e-book @ amazon.com

I do hope you will take advantage of this and get the books. Did I add, free?

Meanwhile, although I said I was through traveling for a while, I am going on another trip. In 2003 I wrote a book called “I’d Rather Go to California.” My doctor had calculated that it would be as many miles to drive to California as it would to drive to my radiation treatments 33 times. Hence the title. A few years ago my middle son and his wife moved out there, and they have invited me several times to visit. I finally said yes, and booked a flight.

Any burglars reading this, please note I have three attack cats and they are not declawed.

I am excited about finally seeing the Pacific Ocean among other sights. So, I am counting down the days until I arrive on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Dorian came and went and I am happy to say my Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina families are all safe. Please say a prayer for those in the Bahamas, though. My heart breaks for the people there and the devastation they are going through. If you want to donate to help out, prayerfully consider the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Every penny goes to relief and none to administrative costs.

Chapter headings and other catastrophes

I was determined not to let this week get away from me as last week did. Yet here we are at the weekend already.

I did get some yard work done, thanks to the cooler and less humid weather. I finally raked up all the pine straw in the corner of the yard between the fig tree and the creek–a project I would usually have accomplished by mid-May at the latest. Surprised a little toad that, instead of hopping away, sat there and watched. I guess I was his equivalent of a hurricane, destroying his habitat. I told him there was lots more pine straw on the slope to the creek that I won’t touch. because the last thing I want to do is fall in.

My writing is a lot like yard work. I plan to do so much, yet accomplish so little. I don’t know how other authors churn out three or four books a year. I only finish  book because people keep asking when the next one is coming out, and I have to say something. I prefer to work on the story in my head, not put it down on paper. Or keyboard, actually.

My upcoming book signing (2-4 p.m. on Sept. 8 at the Drake Gallery in Wadesboro, N.C.) spurred me on to get the book finished. I ordered a proof copy, made corrections. and uploaded the corrected version. Then I started on the electronic format, using Smashword’s guide. It wasn’t until I was linking the chapter headings to the index that I realized that in eliminating some nonessential parts of the story I had forgotten to change the chapter numbers. The book went from chapter 17 to chapter 20. People would think I had cut two chapters and wonder what they had missed. They would be right: I had cut two chapters, but they weren’t missing anything important. The story itself was intact.

I quickly made the correction to the print version, thankful I had not yet mentioned anywhere that it was available. I wanted the release date to be September 8, but Amazon insisted on releasing it a day after I uploaded Morven.doc. They don’t give you a choice, which I should have realized and held off until my preferred date. But what if it hadn’t been approved and wasn’t available on my target date?

That was the least of my worries. I had to fix those chapter headings fast because I had already ordered copies for the book signing! I admit it, I prayed over it. I had always laughed at people who prayed for things like an open parking place near the store. Surely God could not be bothered with such trivial requests.

But this wasn’t trivial to me. I asked God/Universe: Please let them not start printing the books until after the change was made. I had a two-day margin.

When the box of books arrived, I tore open the carton, opened a book, and flipped to the last chapters.

The book was the corrected version and the chapter headings were what they should be.

I did a happy dance and said another prayer of thanks.

So I am ready for the book signing. And this time a little ahead of the game as I am half-way through the next one. And with summer winding to an end, maybe I will have time to sit down and finish it.

 

A little rant and some advice

This is a world in which one has to be very aware and, need I say, suspicious of everything. You can’t believe half of what you hear, and even reliable sources can be wrong.

People  make a living from scamming others, preying on the most vulnerable. I watch the evening news in amazement as people recount how they willingly gave hundreds of dollars to strangers who tricked them over the telephone.

Today I have had (so far) four calls from “Apple” telling me there has been suspicious activity on my iCloud account.

I don’t have an iCloud account.

I think I am canny, but some day I suppose I will fall for a line. The caller would have to be a living human being, however. I don’t react well to mechanical, monotone voices telling me the IRS is out to get me. Or that my Microsoft account is 1) past due or 2) owes me a refund. (Refund for what?)

The thing is, I am very wary about handing over money. It goes fast enough paying bills I am sure about, and I’m not about to pay for something I’m not 100 percent positive I actually owe.

Several years ago, I almost fell for a call from my “grandson” saying he needed money because he and some friends had been arrested in Canada for possession of marijuana. The voice sound just like him. The tip off was that he called me “Grandma” which he never has. The grandkids have another name for me. And, after I got over my shock, I realized there was no way on Earth his parents would have let him go to Canada with friends no matter how much he pleaded.

So I know how easy it is to be scammed when it comes to family. We all have our weak points, and these people know how to reach them.

Even writers get fooled. I got a very nice comment on this blog. I was flattered and decided to reply and thank the person. Thank goodness I had some errands to run, so put it off until later. When I returned and clicked on the email, there was a huge red banner across it , telling me that this was a dangerous email and not to click on any links. I deleted it immediately, feeling a little sad that I didn’t have an adoring fan after all. Yep, flattery will get you in a whole lot of hot water.

We are aware of the most popular scams, and most of us know enough not to give out personal information, i.e. bank account or credit account numbers, over the phone unless we initiated the call. But every week, it seems, we hear of a new, clever scam. And every week, some poor man or woman loses their life savings.

So be careful out there. Remember, you can’t win a lottery if you never bought a ticket. That money dangled before you by an unknown caller is just a lure to relieve you of your savings.

 

A Little Side Trip

Me at Churchill Downs

Like the rest of you, I can’t believe summer is flying by so quickly. I had so many plans!

Three weeks ago, my sister came down from Pennsylvania for a visit. Sister time is so special, and we made the most of it, including a “side trip” to Kentucky.

We both had complete sets of china that needed a new home, so we  asked our grown children if they wanted the dishes before taking them to a thrift store or trying to sell them  on eBay. Nancy had Mom’s good company china, and I had my kids’ great-grandma’s set. (My ex-husband’s grandmother, not mine.) One of my sons asked for both sets. He and his wife run an air B&B in California, so they would be used and not stuck in a closet. None of our other offspring showed any interest, so he got them.

So, how do we get all those dishes to California from Pennsylvania and North Carolina?

Nancy brought hers with her, and we loaded her boxes and mine into the trunk of my car and set out for Louisville, where my ex-sister-in-law lives.  We often joke that I divorced her brother, but not her, and we have remained good friends. Meanwhile, my son flew into Louisville to meet us. Obviously, he  could not fly back with various-sized boxes of two sets of antique china, but his plan was to take them to his mother-in-law’s house until she and her husband drove to California some time this fall.

A round-about answer to the problem …

We had a lovely time in Kentucky, including a tour of downtown Louisville and Churchill Downs. I was amazed at the display of Derby hats, including one worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We also toured a couple wineries. I tried Java Vino, a coffee-flavored wine. It was so good I bought a bottle. I may wish I had bought more.

Meanwhile, I plan to fly to California some time this fall. I have never been, so I am excited. It will be a way to celebrate the release of my latest historical novel, “Morven.”

 

 

 

A little push called a deadline

I know I slipped up last week by missing my post. This is what happened.

I was at the arts council returning the books I had “borrowed” to take to a meet-and-greet in another county. Yes, our local arts council sells my books in their gallery along with paintings, jewelry, baskets, pottery and other works by local artists. Well, the meet-and-greet was a bust in that no one came, which was a big disappointment to the organizers.

So the director at our gallery said, “We really need to have a book signing for you.”

I told her the arts council had hosted a signing for my first book, “Angels Unaware” when it came out and I’d love to do it again.

”Have you got a new book?”

”Yes,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back.

Prior to this, I had been asked to do a reading as a program for a women’s club, and I had agreed. I could read from my work in progress, that was fine. But at a book signing, I’d have to have real, actual books in hand to sign.

So, I have been busy trying to get the manuscript in publishable form. After cutting scenes and characters, I needed to make certain stray names or references to the cut material didn’t surface. I also had to create the cover, and that wasn’t easy. I’ve done it before, but this time I couldn’t get everything aligned in the template, creating many frustrating attempts before it looked right.

(Before you wonder why I didn’t hire a professional, let me say I have a BFA and feel competent to do this.)

I have ordered a proof copy and if I remember correctly from”Riverbend,” I will no doubt find errors on every page. Things look different in print than on a computer screen.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. There is nothing like  a deadline to get you moving on a stalled project

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

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