Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Moments That Remind Us . . .

There are important people in your life and then there are IMPORTANT people. Unsung heroes.  Your hairdresser, your nail tech, your dog sitter. Not much stands in the way of my hair appointment, little stands in the way of a manicure but nothing, and I mean NOTHING gets between me and our dog sitter.  She is an esteemed part of our family.  My dog loves her.  He happily prances out to her car and never looks back even after spending days moping because the suitcases are out.  Jan's here?  See ya! The same could be said of our neighbor's dog.  She loves Jan, too. So, when my dog sitter's husband passed away recently, it wasn't a shock but still a surprise.  when we got word from her sister-in-law that there would be an open house to honor Jan's husband, John, at our community clubhouse, neighbor Carol and I decided to go up there, pay our respects to Jan. I didn't really know John but he loved my dog so. . .

We, Carol and I, decided we'd go together.  So, we dressed, put on make-up and made our way to the clubhouse at the appointed time.  The plan was to seek out Jan, extend our sympathies and then get out of the way so that others who are really closer to her could socialize.  That was the plan.

The clubhouse was packed.  Recognizing almost no one, we assumed it must be family and scanned the crowd looking for Jan.  Near the food table? No, but there were some delicious looking cheese and meat spreads and desserts. Near the beverages? No. Near the 4 men standing in uniform near the door? Uniform? Hmm. John was former Navy, perhaps they were there to pay respects, too.  Finally we spot Jan holding court at a large table and she is delighted to see us, encourages us to get some food and take a seat, "They should be starting soon."

Starting? Carol and I are perplexed. Starting what?  Is this a memorial service?  Collectively we went through the gamut of options. Certainly we don't belong at John's memorial service. Do we sneak out the back door? Squeeze past the uniformed men? What do we do?  We aren't family. We didn't really know John.  And so we stood awkwardly, with smiles plastered across our faces, talking through our teeth:

Me:"What do you want to do?" Smiling, smiling.
Carol: "I don't know." Looking around, smile firm and toothy, "Lets go get a drink."
We shuffle in synch across the room to the beverages and get some iced tea. I never know how to naturally place my arms in these situations, so holding a cup of tea seems like a good fix.

Me: "Now what?" Ever smiling.
Carol: "I don't know." Looking around and pointing with her eyes to the far wall, "I think that's a guest book. Let's go sign it and then slip out the door."

Collectively, we walk stiffly back across the room, in synch, toward the table with the book.  Only it isn't a book, it's a memorial card with John's information. We each pick one up. 

Me: "Now what?" Smiling, smiling.
Carol: Smiling, "I don't know."

Just then, a man kindly urges us to take a seat, he would, he said, be starting in a minute.  I looked at Carol and she looked at me and our smiles, still plastered on our faces said it all, "We're staying."

And so it began with a few words from Jan's brother-in-law. He reminded us that John was a veteran, a career man in the navy doing the jobs that don't garner bravado but most certainly keep that well oiled machine going; the jobs below deck that are necessary for keeping the whole vessel afloat. He traveled the world, served our country faithfully and then he settled in California where, the speaker said, he tried to become a gentleman farmer.  Always a gentleman, John was, apparently a lousy farmer.  His final years were spent at Ralph's Grocery Store - he worked the deli and had a list of regulars who would only allow John to cut their order.  He was that well liked.

The Veterans who had been standing along the side of the room were now beckoned forward.  They marched up in synch (now THEY know how to look natural doing it) and solemnly snapped a crisp flag out and then carefully, methodically, each movement made with full intention and perfection, folded the flag
into the familiar, revered triangle before then presenting it to Jan who was seated, surrounded by family.  I looked at Carol, a tear forming in the corner of her eye and knew I was sunk. 

The veterans then stood at attention while one of the men slowly, methodically raised a trumpet to his lips.  I turned to Carol and said, "They are going to play taps."  She shook her head, "I can't watch.  I'm going to lose it," she said.  "Lamaze breath," I replied.  I've found that Lamaze breathing has done more for me in the control of crying than it ever did in childbirth.  So now I am breathing, hee, hee , hee as the crystal clear notes of Taps resonate through the room. Hee, hee, hee.  It wasn't working. Carol, by then has given up. The veterans, well oiled in their minuscule movements then march off the floor to the chant of one of the men. Hee, hee, hee. Now I know exactly what to do with my arms because I have to wipe the flowing tears from my face. It was short and sweet but, it was powerful.

Awkward standing, unnatural arms, feeling like a voyeur at someone else's private moment - all of that disappeared when I realized that this kind man who loved my dog had spent a good part of his life in service to our country. He is a true unsung hero and deserves honor and an audience.

Happy Veteran's Day to All Veteran's and Thank You For Your Service.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Am I Working on Any New Books? Or, How Marketing Killed My Muse

I'm often asked if I am working on any books right now.  My guess is that people ask this for several reasons but most likely because it's a nice way to make conversation. Or, they are interested in the elusive "writer person" they know who rarely discusses writing in social company or and this is one is guided by my own conscious - they wonder why in the hell I haven't written (and really I mean publish) anything new since my last book which is now 3 years old.  My pat answer is yes, I have works in progress (WIPs to those who speak the lingo) but the mojo just hasn't been there.  And that would be the truth.  What I don't tell them is that my brain is going all of the time.  I have more great beginnings than even I realize but somewhere between five or 10,000 words in, I lose focus.  I get side tracked.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about this recently because I've got some really good ideas and it's time to get moving.  So what stops me?  Again, my default response would be to lean toward humor - my muse lives at the beach while I live in the desert.  We aren't on speaking terms right now.  Something like that.

The truth is and it dawned on me just recently is two fold.  The first is marketing.  When a writer signs with a publisher they often receive an advance check followed by royalties (pennies per book) on sales. Unless you are John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell or some other famous author, the amount of time and money spent marketing your book by a publisher is best summed up as "not much." Many of us have opted to go independent, publish on our own. There are benefits to that, the most important being royalties earned on every book - paperbacks maybe $1 but the ebook market is 70%.  I always encourage people to buy ebooks whenever possible.  It is environmentally sound. . . and I make more for my work : ) The downside is that an independent author is responsible for their own marketing.  And that, my friends, is the rub.  Marketing is time consuming.  Where are the best places to advertise?  Spend time researching it. What is the return on a marketing dollar? Spend time on spread sheets. Does your book fit in the parameters of said market? Spend time researching best avenues for your genre. The digital age has thrown even more curve balls because the algorithms change constantly. Algorithms - look it up. Keeping up with that is important for keeping sales afloat and it takes a lot of time.  By the time I have completed my marketing homework everyday, I'm ready to toss my computer out the window. So, basically marketing has killed my writing muse.  Today I decided I am done marketing.  Sales have been good for all of my books, I can't lie but, I'm done.  If I'm going to write, I have to get to it - whether sales remain constant or not. Ok. Gosh, that feels good.  Now on to the next reason and full disclosure - this gets kind of heavy.

My last book, No Such Thing, was based on a deeply disturbing time in the lives of the community in which I was raised. A serial killer, a pedophile preyed upon young kids in a very small area, abducted them, held them hostage, abused them and then killed them.  Something like that sends deep ripples through the community in which it occurs. It anchors its vile tentacles to every single person who becomes aware of the crimes and shapes how people live the rest of their lives- sometimes in subtle ways for which we are often unaware. For me it was even closer because of who the "final" victim was, Tim King.  Tim was the youngest brother of my friend and the friend of my youngest brother-in-law.  Still, I AM NO ONE in comparison to the family members who lived on after their children or siblings were abducted and murdered. I wanted to write a book that told the real story. I wanted to write it true to what was known but what was known has inflated, changed shape and become bloated by lies and lore.  And, the worst is that there is still no ending.  It's still an open case because none of the suspects have been charged.  So, I had to go with fiction because I needed an ending.  It sucked the life out of me to write it and it's taken awhile to dissipate the consumption that this case causes in me. I don't know that it will ever go away but, it's time to allow these other characters to live the life they have been living in my head for so long.

Thanks for asking, my friends, because it forced me to face some truths and thanks for listening but I've got to go. . .there's some writing to be done.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wake The Kids, Phone The Neighbors! El Nino Is Here!

Rumors of snow in the mountains, unseasonably warm temperatures in the Midwest and almost no hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean all point to the arrival of the feared and dreaded El Nino. What does that mean for us desert dwellers? Cooler temperature and even some rain.  Real rain  (which is desperately needed to assuage the drought) and the most unique and overblown weather reports I’ve heard yet.  With a mixture of heightened adrenalin-driven giddiness and tempered seriousness, our weather people spend a good portion of the news show describing and reminding us of what El Nino is and how much havoc it brought the last time, followed by how it will effect us as well as other parts of the country in the coming days. And I will give them this; it can bring weather related disasters to many areas. . . just not here so much. Yet, these driven and hard-hitting professionals will level their eyes and look into the camera and deliver the forecast that by all accounts, should send us running and screaming, tying down trees, bringing in outdoor furniture and hunkering down. Example?Rains are called monsoons and generally equal about .2 of an inch, if that. Sometimes it has been no more than a spattering of drops on my windshield - IF I'm in the right location at the right minute. A winter storm might bring some winds and cooler temperatures and snow in the mountains – which, by the way, is exactly where I like my snow; pretty to look at. . . from a distance. By comparison, the California weather people – ours especially, who report on these major weather events with the accompanying bluster and bravado still don’t have a clue what real weather is like. Yesterday we had some cloud cover, with the cloud bank surrounding the tops of the mountains while our temps were hovering in the low 70s yet this was the weather headline,  delivered by an  attractive weather caster (because I’m not sure if she is a meteorologist or not) wearing a darling little sleeveless dress, “Major Winter Storm Barrels (BARRELS!) Through." To prepare, I wore blue jeans. . .and a light long-sleeve top.

Come on! I’m from the Midwest; give me something to justify my new adorable winter jacket and cute boots.  That’s all I’m saying.