Soft Smiles and Smart Phones

crocheted bagA few weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. Like every other non-techie, I bitched and moaned for years about the dehumanization of the world. The only people who paid any attention to my griping were other technically challenged individuals. The world just kept right on changing, leaving me further and further behind.
In a conversation with my 85 year old aunt, I listened to her bemoan the fact that no one ever sent her pictures anymore and heard myself say, “Get a computer. It’s not that hard to check your email and open attachments. I’ll send you a photo of me and Jack and the dog every day of the week.”
“How ‘bout just you and the dog?” She released a long, guilt-inducing sigh. “Well, but it’s too late now. I don’t want to have the whole house rewired just so I can get pictures of the grandkids.”
“Do you have an electrical plug?” I asked.

I hung up and bought a smart phone. Time marches on, waits for no man, abandons those who won’t change, leaves them on the side of the road choking on the dust of progress.

All that crap.
I’ve had my Iphone a month or so now. Yesterday, in a crowded medical office, waiting for my name to be called for my appointment, I took out my little electronic wonder. Scanned through Facebook, checked my messages, even thumb-typed a text or two. Then I looked up. The office was crowded. The woman next to me was kneading a frayed, multicolored crocheted bag, fussing at a loose end.
“I like your purse.” I dropped the Iphone back in my own bag.
She smiled. One of those big grins that go all the way to the soul. “My granddaughter made it for me.”
“It has just the right amount of color,” I said. “How old is your granddaughter?”
“She. . .uh. . . she’s.” Tears welled. “We lost her just over ten years ago.” The woman’s shaky hand touched her own chest. “Heart.”
I laid my hand, palm up, on the arm of her chair. A soft, warm hand rested in mine for just a moment. She wiped her eyes, smiled.
My Iphone rang. I let it bleat.

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Daddy’s Girl

dad and daughter dancing

It has been pointed out to me that the women in my novels often have a special and wonderful bond with their fathers. Oh there’s plenty of tension and flaws on both sides, but the father-daughter relationship is strong. Goo Goo Barr in Redneck Goddess has been raised by her farmer father. Samantha, in Bigfoot Blues, was brought up by her Bigfoot hunter dad. In Ridgeline it’s Adeline’s muleteer father who provided her with that feeling of being special and valued.
I’m currently in the middle of edits for Noisy Creek, the prequel to Redneck Goddess. Ruth Barr, Noisy Creeks point of view character, is certainly a daddy’s girl. The editor of this book, Greg Camp, is who pointed out to me my penchant for these warm and special bonds between fathers and daughters.
In a podcast interview by Oghma Creative Media, which will be available for your listening entertainment next week, I mention the three practice novels in the back of my closet. You know the ones. Most writers have them. These are the 200,000 words, 10,000 hours where we honed whatever God-given talent we have and taught ourselves to write. These first novels do not have good father daughter relationships in them.
Not at all.
You see, I was a daddy’s girl. There’s no doubt of that. But my dad was not the healthy, balanced, loving man you see in most of my novels. Dad struggled with his own issues his entire life. But I never once doubted he loved me and there came a point when it occurred to me that I could create the relationship I always wanted with my dad.
Let me show you want I mean.
The week Dad died I had one of those vivid dreams that wake you with the sure knowledge that you’ve been traveling from one world to the next. In this other world, Dad and Jesus walked hand in hand up a verdant green hill. I watched them from the holler below and knew, just knew, that for the first time since I’d known him, Dad was happy, joyous. Jesus’s love had simply touched his heart and burned away all the crazy, all the pain, all the struggles.
I ached then to run up the hill and into the arms of Jesus and Dad, but Jesus shook his head and pointed behind me.

I turned to see a casket set on saw-horses. I twisted away from this coffin and looked back up the hill, but my view was empty. Frightened, knowing I did not want to see my father’s body stretched dead in that box, I nonetheless, approached as instructed.
Inside was a little girl laid out in her best party dress. I stared for a long time before realizing that this dead child looked just like me. In that moment of recognition, I understood that my job was not to grieve for my father, he was already healed by the love of God. My job was to grieve for the little girl in that coffin, for all that I might have been if Dad had been able to love me the way he wanted to love me instead of the way his own mixed up childhood prepared him to parent.
Writing about fathers and daughters is one of the ways I grieve for what might have been, it’s how I glory in my dad’s love. Writers open a vein and bleed all over the paper. That’s a fact. But by exposing our pain, revealing the truth through fiction, we also heal.

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The Cowboy

Ridgeline_rev-01Five years ago, when someone asked what I wrote, I said,
“Contemporary novels and a few short stories.”
Then, in an attempt to explain once and for all just what possessed my husband, Jack, and me to strap two 150 pound Post-traumatic Stress service dogs to our wrists and emigrate to The Republic of Panama, I wrote Clueless Gringos in Paradise, a humorous travel memoir.
Then, at a point in my marriage when Jack and I couldn’t even be in the same room with each other without shouting, in an attempt to heal myself and help others by telling the honest-to-God truth about living and loving a combat veteran, I wrote My Life with a Wounded Warrior.
After that, when people asked what I wrote, I said,
“Contemporary novels, personal essays, humor, and memoir.”
Then, an image came to me of a man on horseback looking down onto a cabin in a hollow below at a woman, one hip resting against the door frame, a thumb-sized bottle in her hand that flashed blue in the early morning light.
Since I didn’t write westerns or historical fiction, I ignored the man on the bay mare.
“You’ve confused me with someone else,” I told him. “I don’t write westerns. Go and visit my brilliant writer friend Velda Brotherton. She’ll put you in a story to knock your boots off.”
At that point I was writing Bigfoot Mamas, the sequel to Bigfoot Blues. I was deep into the Pacific Northwest. The contemporary PNW. I did my best to ignore the man on the horse.
That confounded cowboy appeared to me each morning as I woke. His craggy face was the last thing I saw each night as I fell asleep.
Finally, with the first draft of Bigfoot Mamas finished and needing to let the book rest a while before the first serious edit, I faced off against the persistent horseman.
“Okay,” I said. “How about this? I’ll write a western short story. I’ve done that before.”
The man smiled, introduced himself as Jeremiah Jones, a civil war veteran who served with Arkansas’ 3rd Regiment. His hand was calloused. His eyes were those of every combat veteran I’d ever known.
“Since the war, I’ve been supporting myself as a saddle preacher,” he said.
I swallowed hard at the gravel and tremolo in his voice. A clear vision filled my mind, made my typing fingers itch–a man balancing on the Ridgeline between God and the devil.
I had the title.
“Just one short story,” I told him, but I was already writing

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Publisher/Author Love Affair

fourth-slide-fireworksThe love affair between small press publisher and author often begins with emotional fireworks and an emotion that sure-as-shootin’ feels like true love.  The author is ecstatic that their work is appreciated. 

“They like me!  They really like me!”

The publisher basks in the glow of making someone’s dreams come true. 

It’s a match made in, well, maybe not heaven, but some close suburb.

The honeymoon generally lasts until the author’s dream comes true, their very own book is clutched in their hot little paws.

Then all hell breaks loose.  Or, rather, nothing at all happens. The author reveals her wonderful, perfect, glorious book on Facebook, and Twitter, and to every single neighbor and family member.

“Oh, honey.  I am just so proud of you.”

and

“If I’m in that there book, y’all better send a copy on down here now along with my share a that big money y’all are makin’.”

And

“I lent that copy you sent me to every single person in my book club and they just love it, though Wanda Jane did want to ask how it was you could put her in that book as the, ya know, love interest, without getting’ her per-mission.”

And so on and so forth.

At some point the first-time author realizes that there isn’t going to be any big money.  No matter how many book signings and fairs and assisted living centers and libraries she travels to. With the costs of travel to all these wonderful opportunities to showcase and sell her books, the author might break even. But probably not.

And here, right here, our author begins to look around for someone to blame for the heartbreaking fact that, if she’s very lucky and the book is very good and she works her butt off making appearances, she may sell 500 books.  For those of you who don’t know, that means that for the writing and marketing of this masterpiece, the author will earn approximately two cents an hour.  Approximately.  Give or take.

The author decides, and this is guaranteed, that the publisher is to blame for this lack of sales.  The stupid small press used an inferior quality paper, or the cover was never as snappy and eye-catching as it should have been, or there were errors all through the book.  Editing problems.  Misspelled words and misplaced commas and like that.  And on and on and on.

Because it simply cannot be the case that a person can write a wonderful book, find a publisher for that book, and make next to no money.

Except that’s exactly the case.

Here’s the bitter truth.  Suck it up and pay attention.  Here’s the antidote for this publisher/author bitter divorce.

Understand and accept that a small press will do nothing to help you promote.  A good one will provide you with everything you need to market the book yourself, but do not expect them to set up one single book signing or print a solitary poster or make one phone call to a book store.  That’s the job of the author. 

Here’s another secret:

Every small press that has ever existed would be out of business in less than six months if they didn’t mark-up the books they sell to their authors.  If you do not have the money to buy a hundred or so of your books from your publisher and schlep them around to book fairs and launches and readings and signings, and independent bookstores and farm supply stores and bakeries, well then your book is going to be read by your friends (probably), your family (maybe) and one or two neighbors who are stupid enough to engage you in conversation within a year of your book being released.

Yes, yes.  I know.  Your book is going to sell like hotcakes on Amazon.  Well, I hope so, but just how are you going to distinguish yourself from the ten million other wonderful authors whose books are also offered for sale on that medium.  Blog?  Well, sure, we all do that.  Post your book cover on Facebook until everyone in the known universe unfriends you?  Sure, been there, done that.  Ah, maybe Twitter?  Sure, none of the rest of us have thought of that.

So, the honeymoon ends, the book isn’t selling, the dream is dead, the publisher must have lied to you.  OR, just like in any successful marriage or business partnership, you roll over one day and realize, “Well, hey.  I love what I’m doing.  My partner’s doing the best they can.  Let’s move forward and have some fun with this.”

Now I am not telling you that all small publishers are created equal.  We all know better than than that.  Heck I teach a full-day workshop in how to separate the wheat from the chaff in small presses.  Some partners really ARE cheating, some are simply not good at what they do, some just aren’t a good match for you.

But before you stomp away in anger, file for divorce and look for another publisher, remember that publishing with any small press is NOT about making money.  It’s about doing what you love and having the time of your life doing it.  And, yes, maybe, just maybe, if you keep writing and keep promoting and keep giving back to the writing community, maybe one day, after your tenth or eleventh brilliant book, you may make minimum wage as a writer.

I dream of those days.

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Old Lady Ruminations

9e696_OldPeopleHoldingHands1I have recently been taken to task for referring to myself as an old woman.  It’s time to define terms. 

By old lady I mean I have come to a time in my life when I know the following:

  • ·         It’s pointless to give a rat’s ass about what anyone thinks of me.  I have a difficult enough time deciphering what will help ME be happy, why on earth would I waste time fretting about what others think?
  • ·         A smile and kind word are easier to accomplish than a frown and a rebuke.
  • ·         Every dog I ever loved will be waiting for me when I cross over into the next world. 
  • ·         It is neither my responsibility nor my mission to change anyone else.  Therefore, I am delighted to exchange opinions in the sure knowledge that the truth is far bigger than either you or I can possibly imagine.
  • ·         Everything I’ve ever thought, dreamed, or struggled for is a fleeting absurdity and a vanity. 
  • ·         I’m under no obligation to be consistent in my thoughts, words, or actions.  I’m serious.  Consistency truly IS the hobgoblin of small minds. (Yes, I misquoted Emerson.  Gave you excuse to Google the correct quote and now you get to feel, if only momentarily, superior.  Don’t thank me.  It’s my little gift to you.  And, just so you understand.  I KNOW how you feel because I do the exact same thing and experience the exact same feeling of superiority.  Again.  You’re welcome)
  • ·         Love really is the only thing in the world that matters.
  • ·         Aeschylus was right.  No matter how deeply buried we may be in despair, the awful grace of God finds us.
  • ·         Humor is the best teacher.
  • ·         My dog understands every word I say and every thought that flits through my brain.  He may translate the meaning somewhat differently than I, but the dog GETS me.
  • ·         Being either afraid or guilty is an incredible waste of time. 
  • ·         Being old is far better than being young.  Being old is wild freedom and untarnished joy and the growing anticipation of being with God.

So, when you hear me call myself an old woman, do not picture a rocking chair and a shawl.  Imagine, instead, a wild woman, purple-streaked gray hair flying, arms lifted to the sky, a grin as wide as joy and one harebrained plan or another flooding her brain.

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Snow Day

snow and cardinal

I did not grow up with snow. 

Fog wrapped redwoods.  The cold and roaring Pacific Ocean.  Fast, clear rivers.  But no snow.  If it snowed even once when I was a child in Eureka, California, I do not remember the event. 

Now I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains, and we have occasional snow.  Usually.  This year, we are experiencing atypical weather patterns.  At least, I sincerely hope and pray this cold, snowy, icy winter is an anomaly.  Because I am not a lover of cold.  No.  To me, hell is not fiery-hot but bone-cold.

There is a surreal quality to snow.  A dream-like sense of whimsy.  As though anything might appear out my window as I sit and watch the flakes fall.  That heap of white against the fence corner might well hide a troll and there, at the edge of my snow-blurred vision, is that a white witch tucking her dark hair under her ermine-trimmed hood?

snow

Tomorrow it may well ice and the roads be impassable and I will cuss this winter and the inconvenience it pours on our heads.  But for now, for just today, I will simply sit and watch the soft white flakes cover every imperfection, blanket the earth, and transform my world into a place of cold beauty.  

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Resolution, Smesolution

scalepicHow’s that New Year’s resolution coming? 

Me?  I’ve lost two pounds. 

Or, you know, it’s possible that what with my eyes not fully recovered from cataract surgery, I may have fiddled incorrectly with that little knob that sets the scale to zero.

As for the cussing.  Well, you know how that went.

Still, I believe resolutions can be good and powerful.  It’s all in the definition of the word.  I think of them more as goals, an opportunity to examine my life and make a clear delineation between those actions I want to encourage and those I want to discourage.  We all know the parallel about feeding the wolf we want to prosper.  Right?   A goal is something to aim for, not a point at which we have already arrived.

So, I don’t beat myself up for failing to keep my resolutions.  Well, okay, I beat myself up a little, but I do my best to dust myself off and continue to stride, stumble, crawl toward the long-term goal.

A long time ago, I overheard a conversation between my husband, Jack, and a good friend of his, Tim.  At forty years of age, the two men were comparing life goals.  Tim brought up the subject.  No surprise there.  Jack’s more of a short-term, day-to-day kind of guy.  So, Tim, with a doctorate in education, shared how he’d like to make a difference in the equality of the educational system in our country, to change the way we evaluate intellect and the way we teach, to make education less culturally biased.

Jack studied his friend while Tim ruminated on his life’s work.

“My life’s goal,” Jack said, “is to sleep with a woman from every country in the world.”

Twenty-five years later, it’s a bit of a toss-up as to which man has come closer to meeting his life goal, but my point is, the goal, the resolution defined the trip, and that’s what life is all about, right?  Not the destination, but the journey.

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