Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dealing with Rejection

I'm not afraid of much, but I've feared rejection my whole life.

Logically, I realize that rejection is a part of being a writer; it's something we must all endure on the path to success. But knowing that doesn't lessen the sting any. No matter how many times people tell you that a rejection isn't personal, it's hard not to take it as such when it's happening to you.

It doesn't help that two of the definitions for "reject" in the dictionary are:
  • to discard as useless or unsatisfactory
  • to cast out or eject; vomit
Seriously. "Vomit." I realize that particular definition pertains more to a bodily function than a "no thank you", but it's still a harsh thing to think about.

Maybe it would be easier for me to deal with rejection if I were to view it as simply a difference of opinion: I like my work, but the agent (or reader) doesn't. I realize this is the concept that people try to share when they say "don't take it personally," but that phrase doesn't soften the blow quite like "difference of opinion" does.

I can easily accept opinions that don't mesh with my own; to each his/her own, and all that. So if I start to view a rejection as a mere difference of opinion, maybe that will help lessen the sting. Or will it still hurt because of the inherent need for validation that we all have? Is it the rejection itself that hurts, or is it the way in which the dismissal is delivered? Would my ego feel less bruised if someone explained why they didn't like my book, rather than sending me an impersonal "Thanks, but no thanks", or worse, no reply at all?

Maybe seeing the reasons my work has been refused would help me to understand said rejection better, and grow as a writer. For instance, if the issue is with syntax or grammar, that's information I could use to make the book better. If it's more that someone didn't like my protagonist, I'd be able to decide if I want to change that or not.

Granted, the bitter pill of "no thanks" might not taste that good - no matter what reason was given - but I still think I'd rather know the reasons behind a rejection than to receive some impersonal non-response.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Look, Up in the Sky!

Sometimes I ask myself if humans are really the most intelligent species in the universe. With wars, crimes and man-made disasters, I wonder. I hope not. I want to believe that there are beings who might be more evolved, rational and better caretakers of their planet. Then I recall an incident that makes me think maybe, just maybe, there is something or somebody else living among the stars.

In the 1970s, when I was young, my family lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. At that time there were small housing tracts interspersed with large, mostly empty stretches of desert filled only with cactus, quail, spiders and slithery reptiles. Some houses were located off dirt roads and many people owned horses. It wasn’t like modern day Scottsdale with its mansions, air conditioned malls, freeways and golf courses.

One evening shortly after sunset, my mother, the dog and I were sitting on the back patio. Suddenly, a large, bright white sphere appeared in the sky. I remember thinking it was unusual because it was completely noiseless. Even at that age I knew aircraft made loud sounds. It continued to hover for some time.

Then a second, smaller ball of glowing light emerged from the first object and slowly descended toward the ground. (The second ball of light morphing from the first looked similar to the movement of oil blobs in a lava lamp.) After the second object was out of sight, perhaps reaching the ground, the first object took off into the atmosphere in the blink of an eye.

At one point, there was a small plane headed toward the glowing orb but the object disappeared before it arrived. I think the whole incident took place over 20 minutes and remember hearing about it on the local news.

I’m not the only one who saw something unexplainable in the sky in the ‘70s. In 1974, then California Governor, Ronald Reagan, reported seeing an unidentified flying object while he was in an airplane. He told the Wall Street Journal, “It was a bright white light. We followed it to Bakersfield, and all of a sudden to our utter amazement it went straight up into the heavens.” His account was corroborated by the pilot and other passengers.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, in 1985 President Reagan met with President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. One result was that they pledged to help protect each other’s nations if ever attacked from outer space. What did they know about UFOs at the time? Did this frank discussion between two leaders during the Cold War help break down barriers? We’ll probably never learn the answers to those questions just as I will never know what that glowing object in the sky was hovering near my house.

What I do know is that it affected both my mother and me in different ways. During this sighting, our Dachshund was busy tearing up an outdoor patio cushion. My rather strict mother, who always kept a tidy house, was so absorbed in the unusual sight that she let the dog continue to rip up the cushion. After that, I think she became more relaxed about housekeeping in general.

As for me, I learned to keep an open mind, a sense of wonder and to think outside the box. Also, that life is the biggest mystery of all and that it will throw out a strange curveball occasionally. I find that I reflect those lessons in my writing.

While this clearly had an impact, I’m torn about what really happened. The skeptic in me wants to believe those lights were nothing more than experimental military aircraft. However, my inner dreamer can’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What if there are others?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Double Exposure

For the past five weeks, I’ve asked the bloggers at WWK about their works in progress. In this last installment, KB Inglee and I expose our WIPs. Please look at the previous four Mondays to read about all of our WWK’s WIPs.    E. B. Davis

KB Inglee

What is the title of your WIP?

Do you have a jacket blurb?
It is too soon to have one. It is set in a fictional town in Delaware in 1750s. A stranger is found dead in a Tavern. My protagonist, Hannah Pleasant helps her next door neighbor, Silas Cobb, solve a case including Colonial politics and slavery.

In what stage of progress is your WIP?
I have the first two chapters written and a lot of set up: maps, family histories, local and world history, pages of notes and the beginning of a plot. Someone killed him, but I don’t think I have even met the murderer yet.

How many hours per week are you able to devote to writing?
Daily: Minimum of one, maximum of four hours. Between four and eight a week of putting words on paper. I do a lot of work away from the computer, while cleaning the barn, rebuilding fences, and lugging sheep feed.

What is your aspiration for this work?
It is too early to tell if I will even finish the novel. My true love is writing short stories.

In what stage do you hope to be by the end of this year?
Finish the first draft.


What’s the title of your WIP?

Do you have a blurb about your WIP?
None since it will be in an anthology if it is accepted. It is a pre-police procedural set in the late 1880s when a French scientist discovered that the rifle marks on bullets are consistent with the weapon that fired it, not with the object it hit. Washington DC police have no established procedures, lab, or chain of evidence. A cop takes evidence to his friend whose wife is my protagonist.

At the same time I am doing a rewrite on a short story set in the early 1800s in Massachusetts.

In what stage of progress is your WIP?
I am doing my last read through of the Magic Bullet now.

 What are your expectations for this work?
To be accepted into the anthology for which I am writing it.

What stage do you hope to be in by the end of this year?
Submissions open in April, so I should have it ready to go by then. I’d like to have at least six more short stories by the end of the year. And finished the novel, too.

E. B. Davis

I’ve titled my WIP  TOASTING FEAR, after taking a course with Sally J. Walker. She also gave me a bit more insight into the genres in which I’m working. The manuscript has taken about two years to write, but while I’ve worked on it, I’ve written several short stories that have been published.

This is the third manuscript I’ve written. Those manuscripts took me about one year to write each, but then, although a few agents bit, they didn’t offer to represent me. I hadn’t intended to take as much time with this one, but then I’m learning more, layering and editing as I go. Another reason is that I started working with other writers.

As of a year and a half ago, three writers and I formed a critique group, The Mayhem Gang. The first year was turbulent because our membership changed. Two of us have survived and welcomed two more into our group, which has been stable now for about eight months. We are about to finish critiquing our first drafts and start revising.

Here’s my blurb (so far) for TOASTING FEAR: Abby Jenkins supplies champagnes for Outer Banks, N.C. weddings. But she hides a secret past. As a sexually abused twelve-year-old, she protected her little sister from their father’s molestation by luring him into a death by drowning. Twenty years later, her father reappears in demon form to seek revenge with the help of his fiendish teacher, the pirate Blackbeard.

Abby thinks she’s lost her mind when Demon Dad starts tormenting her. But when her high school sweetheart, undercover DEA agent Jerry McFadden, dies by a drug dealer’s shotgun blast and one of her customers keels over after a tasting, poisoned by wine in her shop, Abby knows that Demon Dad’s threat is real and her survival depends on solving the murders.

Heartbroken by Jerry’s death, Abby investigates while butting heads with Detective Thomas Bateman, who suspected her role in her father’s death. When Jerry returns as an angel to help her, he intertwines their souls in a loving sensual intimacy that Abby never anticipated. With a flute full of trouble, Abby must deal with heaven, hell and the authorities to save herself, overcome her father’s revenge and solve the murders. 

I’m a sporadic in my writing. I try to write everyday and usually succeed working about four hours per day. When I have a spare day, I’ll write for eight hours. But thinking out the plot, breaking it into scenes and then focusing on what I want that scene to accomplish takes most of my time. Once I have that down, I write as a pantser, which then needs a lot of revision.

I hope to find an agent to sell this story, but I also realize that since it is a cross genre, something I’ve invented that I call a supernatural romantic mystery, finding someone to sell it in this adverse market may be hard. It’s a traditional mystery, which I present in multiple POVs, but it has supernatural and romantic elements. Abby, Detective Bateman and Blackbeard tell the story. I’m continuing to develop their voices.

By the end of this year, I hope to have a polished script that I will query. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll be torn in two ways. Write the second book or turn to a more marketable traditional mystery?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Neither Snow Nor Sleet Nor… Budget Cuts?

For many years, the United States of America had a public postal system that was the envy of the world. One of the oldest government agencies in the United States, it was established in the U.S. Constitution, and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster-general, a position that for two centuries was in line for the presidency behind all the others in the Cabinet in case of the President’s death. Our Founding Fathers thought the mail was that important.

A first-class letter leaving Los Angeles would be delivered in New York City three days later—or often sooner. Mail was delivered to each house and business throughout this giant country six days a week. In polls to determine the most trusted figures in daily American life, the letter carrier ranked first year after year, above doctors, lawyers, government figures, bankers, anyone.

In recent years, this has changed. The U.S. Postal Service is no longer a cabinet-level government department since privatization in 1971. The USPS has changed, especially in the last ten years, and in most locations of the country, the letter carrier is no longer most trusted—primarily because the homeowner gets little chance to know his letter carrier, who may well change from day to day.

Now, the USPS intends to close 264 mail processing plants, eliminating 35,000 jobs in a still weak economy, and to close over 3,000 small town and rural post offices in an effort to avoid billion-dollar losses. For example, in the state of Kansas, six mail processing facilities will be consolidated into only one in Wichita. USPS will end next-day and Saturday delivery, end first-class delivery, and raise the price of a first-class stamp from 45 cents to 50 cents. Mail that previously took one day to reach its destination will now take three days. Mail that previously took three days to reach its destination will now take five days.

All of this is extremely bad news for writers and publishers. Especially for aspiring writers who must submit countless query letters and proposals to potential agents and publishers. When you are making no profit—no money, at all—from your writing, you can hardly to afford to use the much more expensive alternatives, such as UPS and FedEx. Yet you must continue to try to get your work out there.

Our Founding Fathers thought a public post office was so important that it’s one of the few governmental departments or branches that is specifically named in the Constitution, so important that they went into debt for it. It remained a priority item for them as the years passed. As the country grew, they made a point of expanding the postal system to correspond to the expansion of settlement throughout the country. Now, the governments we’ve had over the past several decades have seemed bent on destroying this gem with the universal access and universal and timely delivery many other countries have envied and tried to emulate. These new proposed closings and changes will change USPS into something those same Founding Fathers would hardly recognize.

I would encourage everyone to contact your elected Federal officials to register your concerns about these plans. Is there anything else anyone out there can think to do to prevent or change these plans? How do you feel about this situation as the post office winds down into oblivion?

Friday, February 24, 2012

On the Other Eye


As you may know, I have had cataract surgery on both eyes. Multiple-focus lenses were implanted in both eyes. It may be too early to reach final conclusions, but I can share preliminary results. Colors look brighter.

I never knew how limited my peripheral vision was until I had the ability to look toward each side. My right eye was operated on first. While I wore glasses with the right lens poked out, I kept getting startled by cars coming from behind me on the left. Apparently, I had not noticed them before.

My brain seems less confused than when it had had one lens outside the eye and the second lens inside. I can read average-sized print. I can see in medium and far distance. I have to use a magnifier to read tiny print.

At least twice when I went to bed I reached up to my temples to remove glasses that were not there. My wife tells me I tilt my head to try to see better. That was sometimes useful with glasses. It doesn’t do a thing for implanted lenses.

At this point my vision waxes and wanes. It should stabilize over time. I am definitely improving at not blinking when something approaches my eyeballs.

That’s what I call a mixed blessing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are You an Extrovert, Introvert or Ambivert?

A few weeks ago TIME had an article "The Upside of Being an Introvert (and why extroverts are overrated)" by Bryan Walsh. From the twenty question quiz in the article, I tested as an introvert, but not completely. There's a third category of ambivert for those who fall between the extremes, but I do lean more towards introvert.

Years ago my father commented that starting with me, the eldest, his six children alternated between being outgoing and more introverted. He said I was outgoing, as well as Elaine and Catherine because we enjoyed being with friends, while my other siblings, Jerry, Suzanne and Phil had fewer friends and spent more time alone than we did. But looking back, I realize we were all shy and introverted to some extent. Research is starting to show that our tendency to be introverted or extroverted is inherited. Our mother was rather shy, our father not as much, but he did prefer reading and being with family or close friends and didn't join social groups or go out with buddies.

On the quiz I answered yes to preferring one on one or small group conversations and activities. But I've had great times in group activities with a purpose, like those involving fun activities in college for teacher preparation, or mystery dinners where the participants had to solve a crime, for instance. I also enjoy going to concerts and plays, too.

But overall, I enjoy solitude, prefer to express myself in writing, dislike conflict and do my best work alone. And when I've spent the day away, even an enjoyable one, I feel more drained than if I had spent the day at home digging, planting, weeding or mowing (and not with a riding mower, either).

My favorite activities are those of an introvert: reading, writing, gardening and walks in the woods - all done alone. I'm not as shy as I once was,  but I still don't like being the center of attention. And yet I go to mystery conferences on my own and enjoy meeting new people and visiting with them.

"The key" . . . as Walsh writes . . . "is balancing three equal, but very different identities. There's our mostly inborn personality, the one that wants us to be introverted or extroverted; that's the biogenic identity. There are the expectations of our culture, family and religion - the sociogenic identity. And then there are our personal desires and our sense of what matters - the ideogenic identity." I have a feeling, though, that most most writers lean towards introversion like I do.

What about you? Are you an introvert, an extrovert or an ambivert?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interview With Lyn McConchie

New Zealand author, Lyn McConchie, is the subject of this blog. I was introduced to her via e-mail by our mutual publisher/editor Jean Goldstrom of Whortleberry Press. Lyn was kind enough to put my wife, Judy and me up for two nights at her home, Farside Farm on the outskirts of Norsewood , which is on the north island of New Zealand. Lyn raises “coloured” sheep, free-range hens and geese. She has had pigs and cows also.

Judy and I were greeted by her gander who alerted Lyn and possibly the entire town of our arrival. He looked us over suspiciously and only reluctantly tolerated us invading his farm. Lyn may yell but she also carries a cane.

Inside her personalized one-woman farmhouse we were greeted by Thunder, her Ocicat, who has an unlimited capacity to get love and attention from humans.

In 2011, Lyn won New Zealand’s Sir Julian Vogel Award for the best Science Fiction/Fantasy Adult Novel for The Questing Road and for the best Young Adult Novel for Summer of Dreaming. She has previously won the award three times and she has won several awards for her short stories.

Over the course of two nights we chatted about writing. My interview became more like a series of conversations than a formal interview.

Lyn said she started writing after a serious motorcycle accident in 1977 left her unable to continue to work in the competitive job market. Because of pain in her leg she is sometimes bed-ridden. She could only think of two occupations that allowed her to work in bed and that Thunder would disapprove of one of them.

Writing in science fiction fanzines started her career. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, humor, mysteries and western novels and short stories. In addition she is a frequent contributor to her local newspaper and writes poetry, or doggerel, depending on your point of view.

She is a voracious reader. Her personal library includes more than 7,000 books. And Lyn is a relentless writer. Lynn can write a 95,000 word novel in twenty two to twenty four days. She has developed a system of writing and resting suited to her health issues. She can program her subconscious (a male named “Subbie”) to come up with a short story or article on a particular topic with a general word count before she goes to sleep so that when she awakens she can write it down. She said she feels her imagination has a lively life of its own and sometimes she feels she is just a transcriber.

She said she has 23 books published; 29 books sold and 40 books written. She has also published more than 250 short stories. She said she has been published in at least six countries both in print and electronically. Lyn said her personal “slush pile” allows her to avoid deadlines and the sometimes punitive consequences of not meeting a contract deadline. She said she has known writers who were not able to fulfill publishing contract and faced significant penalties. Other authors sometimes are forced by contract deadlines to publish books that clearly need additional work.

Writers, especially new writers, need to keep in mind that publishers are in the business of making money, not of supporting writers, no matter how sympathetic they sound.

We discussed research and Lynn agreed with me that writers of all genres need to do research. She depends on books by authors who have devoted their lives to learning about a particular civilization or culture for researching her books. The internet is useful for learning about markets and publishing in general. Her life experience, riding horses, hunting, and farming have given her insight into the activities of her characters. She also has a collection of weapons that she knows and uses including a cavalry sword, a long bow and a cross bow.
She explained to me the danger of an inexperienced cavalry soldier swinging his weapon too close to his horse and cutting off its ear which tends to make a very large and powerful animal unhappy with its rider.

Lyn sometimes writes a short story and then edits it to two smaller word counts so she is ready for whatever requirements a market may have.

Lyn does not worry about someone “stealing” her work. She said in New Zealand writers group may be as large as twenty or thirty people, all of whom throw out ideas and questions. She is a story-teller at heart.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writing Down the Hard Stuff

After much urging I have decided to start my seventh novel. It is set in a fictional town in Delaware in the 1750s. After some poking around in historical sources, I realized that I couldn’t write about Colonial Delaware without including slavery. In the 1700s half of the slaves in Delaware were born in Africa.

Delaware ran hot and cold on the issue of slavery. The colony was divided between the Quaker north, where slaves were house servants or worked small plot s of their master’s land, and the south, where larger plantations demanded free labor to survive. While there are no slaves in Delaware today, that division still exits.

Early on, people of color, free or enslaved, were not allowed to leave the state or return to it. This kept them from being sold south to the harsher work conditions on the large cotton plantations. If they left the state and were gone more than three days they couldn’t come back. This kept slaves from being purchased elsewhere and brought into the state, but it also meant that people were not allowed to return to their families.

Delaware was a Union state during the Civil War, but at the time there were 1800 slaves within our borders. Not a single one of them was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, since it freed only slaves from the rebel states.

Newspapers offer useful details about runaway slaves or indentured servants: clothing, patterns of speech, country of origin, education, and the amount of the reward. Books by Delaware scholars provide understanding of laws, living conditions, and social interactions. It’s harder to find a narrative that tells what it felt like to be uprooted from your home and live the rest of your life in servitude.

The more I read the more I realized that slavery was going to be central to the plot, not just something to be mentioned in passing. How is a novelist supposed to deal with this? I need my main characters to be likable but they have to be slave owners. How can I strike that balance? I’ve read plenty of good books where the writer tackled cultures not their own. How does a 21st century white, middle class woman write about 18th century slavery? I will be working through this problem the whole time I am writing, and rewriting.

My plight reflects a split that has been present since the beginning of the colony, and is evident in the paper this morning. The black community is disputing the right of the city to award a grant to the Delaware Historical Society (run by people like me) to set up a black heritage and cultural center.

The other day I ran into this quote by James Baldwin: People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they cast upon the water comes back poisoned.

Seems like a pretty good basis for a novel.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eyes on Bull—An Interview with Warren Bull

This all started several weeks ago when I got nosy about my fellow blogger’s WIPS. Check out my last three blogs about the WIPs of our other bloggers. This week, I’m interviewing Warren Bull, who is an accomplished story teller with many works in publication. I’ll let Warren tell you about them in his own way.

Please tell me about your work in progress: the title, blurb, cover, and where you are in the process of writing it.

Thanks for asking, Elaine. Since I have four books published, part of my work as a writer involves promoting sales and increasing readers’ awareness of those works. I would include  promoting those works as part of works in progress since promotion is part of being an author.

I have one talk/reading scheduled for Abraham Lincoln for the Defense on Valentine’s Day. It was published in 2003, and I am down to the last few author copies of the paperback first edition. I am considering self-publishing a second edition because I still sell a few copies from time to time. It is available on Smashwords, Amazon and Kindle.

The publisher of Murder Manhattan Style has decided to go out of business. I am trying to get a business license so I can sell through my website I have not done that before so as it goes along I’ll be able to blog about it. I am in negotiation for two additional potential signing/speaking events. Murder Manhattan Style is available at I Love a Mystery Bookstore, on Untreed Reads, Smashwords, Amazon and Kindle.

Hmm, I guess I’ve been neglecting Death in the Moonlight. It is a second mystery involving Abraham Lincoln. It deals with the Lincoln-Douglas debates and his most famous murder trial. It’s up on Smashwords, and Kindle, but I don’t have anything scheduled on its behalf. I hesitate to bring it out in paperback since no publisher has expressed an interest. It would be a lot of work to do it entirely on my own.

With my newest published work, Heartland, I am seeking reviews, applying to for it to become a Kansas Notable Book, and I have scheduled two talks/readings in March. I Love a Mystery bookstore sold out of the first batch of books (Yah) so I have taken more in. It is available at Avignon Press, on Smashwords, Amazon and Kindle. I have a few guest blog scheduled where I will give away free copies.

As for works in progress, I am having an editor look over a small noir short story collection, tentatively titled SALVAGE.. Once I get it in shape so that I’m willing to have it published, I will send it around to see if I can get blurbs from other authors. I have to decide if I want to self-publish or to offer it to a publisher. I have to decide if I want it to be a small paperback or an e-book. It’s the sort of book that Snub Nose Press might consider, but they are not open to submissions right now. There seems to be a market for dark fiction. Both Untreed Read and Trestle Press are possible markets. They have published my work in the past and done a good job with editing and promotion. This is very different from most of my published work.

I am also working on an untitled novel trying to do more planning than “pantsing.”The hero is a psychologist working in a small town, which I know something about but which has never interested me enough to devote the years it can take me to write a novel. I may have a new take. I’m trying to use Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Hart as guides.

How many hours per week do you work at writing?

At present, I had a cataract removed from one eye so I cannot read for more than a few minutes without getting a headache. I can barely type; I close one eye or the other and make lots of mistakes. So I am  not able to write much at the moment.(You should have seen the first few drafts of this blog.)

What are your aspirations for your work?

I want to continue to publish work I’m proud to have written. I want to entertain and to express my opinions and values through my work. I may never have a  “major” publisher. I haven’t been required to write a novel per year and I honestly don’t know if I could.

Where do you want to be a year from now in terms of your writing?

My immediate goal is to get surgery on my other eye so I can work. My general goal is to continue to write and publish and  gradually build up a “presence” in the writing and reading community. I don’t have a particular writing goal for the calendar year.

When I was in New Zealand for four months, where the phone did not ring, and I had few social responsibilities, I was able to sit at the computer and make mistakes, try again, make different mistakes, try again, make new mistakes and repeat the process getting closer and closer to what I wanted to achieve. I need to develop a different rhythm now that I’m home, and I would like to accomplish that as soon as possible.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Newest Endangered Species, Your Local Public Library

Countries around the globe have quite properly admired and respected the United States for several things. Two, in particular, have long been the envy of other nations and the sustenance of our writers—our postal system and our public library system. Since the Reagan years, we have worked hard at downgrading the quality of the U.S. postal system, which was once the world’s finest. Now, there are proposals under consideration in Congress that will virtually destroy it, but that’s another blog. I’ll take up the postal service next Saturday. Today I’m talking about our glorious public library system and the threats it faces.

The day hardly passes without a news story or an alert from some writer friend on Facebook or Twitter of another library branch closing or library system cutting hours, days, and/or staff. Throughout California, the public libraries are under siege. The New York City Public Library, world-famous, is in deficit. In all the states between these two, the same story in differing severity is evident.

This situation truly hit home when a local library system, the Johnson County Library, announced the possible closing of three branches, including the small one where my Sisters in Crime branch, Border Crimes, holds its popular book dissection and writers writing groups.

 Cedar Roe Library is a quiet but busy library in a working-class neighborhood in Kansas City. Faced with severe budget cuts, the Johnson County Library gave a range of options that all weighed heavily on Cedar Roe and two other small library branches. The best of outcomes would see each of the three libraries losing 27 hours per week. The most extreme would see each of them closed.
Public libraries are the heart’s blood of communities. They offer paper books, e-books, audiobooks, CDs, movies, and art for patrons to check out, and computers, copiers, and wireless internet for use in the library. They offer classes of all sorts and levels and groups gathered around all kinds of books and movies. They also offer quiet table space, that boon to studious schoolchildren and hardworking writers.

 Again and again, I have read interviews with writers in which they speak of the library’s importance in their lives as children and as they’ve grown to adulthood. Again and again, my writer friends and I have told each other about the pivotal role libraries played in our becoming writers. For many children in destructive and abusive homes, as mine was, the library was the sanctuary, the safe place.

The free public library was one of America’s best inventions and one of the keystones of our democracy—for democracy requires a literate citizenry who have access to information on the history and the current issues at stake in that society. Why would we ever want to put this gem of an informational, educational system in jeopardy?

The Cedar Roe Library received a reprieve after citizen protests. Its hours will be cut, but it will remain open. For now. Libraries all over the country are in danger. We citizens who value them must step up to the plate and speak up about their value and necessity—before we lose them altogether.

What have been your experiences with public libraries? And how is your library system surviving this modern crunch?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Small Acts of Kindness

Small Things
Our everyday actions seem to make shallow, transitory changes in the universe like the ripples in a pond after you toss in a stone. That’s how it looks to the thrower. The pond may have a different point of view. On a number of occasions, strangers have stopped me on the street to ask, “Do you remember me?” I rarely do. It’s usually someone I saw in therapy some time ago. Consistently what people remember from therapy is not some blinding insight, sudden epiphany, or intellectual discovery. What people remember is that I was kind.
When I was at my lowest emotionally and physically during recovery from a bone marrow transplant I remember a cleaning lady in the hospital who went out of her way to be comforting and reassuring. At the time I could not stand on my own, or pay attention to anything as complicated as a half hour television program. I knew time was passing because my wife wore different clothing over time; medical staff came and went. The day and date written on a white board in the room changed. The sky got lighter or darker. I came to look forward to her mopping the floor.
After I was released from the hospital, I attended a cancer center every day. One day a nursing aide who saw me shivering brought me a warmed blanket. That day I had uncontrolled diarrhea. I had soiled the clothes I wore in and several patient gowns. I would have felt thirsty and hungry if my entire digestive tract didn’t rebel at the very idea of ingesting water and food. The medical staff discussed putting me back in the hospital. I did not want to go back. I had no particular interest in continuing to live in unrelenting misery either. But I felt her kindness and it was one of the reasons I wanted to keep living.
We seldom know the consequences of small acts of kindness.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Art of Detection in Winter

A part of my daily routine is a morning walk in the woods with Maggie, my collie. On those days when I'm unable to take those walks, I feel my day is incomplete. It's where I get many of my ideas for poems or mysteries. I already have an idea for one of my characters discovering a body while she's walking in the woods in a future book. I know the victim, the murderer and the reason for the murder. I'm just waiting until my series has a book taking place in the winter.

Every season offers something of interest to an amature naturalist like me, and winter is no different. In winter my deduction skills are honed as I try to solve real life mysteries. Fortunately, nothing involving murder or an actual crime. While Maggie uses her long nose for clues on what has passed through the woods in the night, I use my eyesight and knowledge of animal tracks. I observe deer tracks and know if it's a doe or a buck that's briefly followed my paths. A doe leaves neat clean tracks, while a buck tends to not pick his hooves up as high, thus leaving a dragging mark behind. Was it a dog, fox or coyote that went through last night? Dogs like Maggie travel erratically following scents while a coyote or fox is heading somewhere, and their tracks show this by little or no deviation from their route. The size of the tracks will determine whether it's a fox or coyote. Squirrels, raccoons, possums and rabbits are easy tracks to identify.

Several winters ago, I had a real mystery to solve. Human tracks appeared following my trail. They came from the directions of homes bordering the north side of my woods, followed the length of the back of my property and then veered west. In Holmsian deduction, I surmised it was a man - larger footprints than mine. Also, in the more than twenty years I've walked here, I've rarely come across anyone, and the several times I did, they were male hunters. So this was a logical deduction to make. Another reason I surmised it was a man, and not a woman, is because few older women like me go for solitary walks in the woods. I noticed the man had a dog on a lead. The dog tracks were close to the man's and did not veer off roaming like any loose dog would. My next deduction was that he was an older man and probably retired. His tracks appeared later in the day and on week days when most people are working and teenagers are in school. The tracks appeared on a daily basis, and I started following them beyond my my property so my morning walks became much longer into areas I'd never covered before. I saw the signs he used as markers - a broken branch here, the empty case of a shotgun shell on a twig where the trail turned, etc. - so I knew he must have been walking my woods and beyond for some time before the snow fell exposing his tracks.

Finally, one day when I'd been delayed and went for my walk later in the day, I met him. Yes, it was a man, a neighbor I'd never met. He was retired and had a beagle on a lead. We talked a while and then went our separate ways. I never got his name.

This year I didn't see his tracks. Of course, snow was late in coming, and we haven't had much this winter. I wondered about him. From his back yard, most mornings his beagle barks at us, and Maggie answers, but I've seen no signs he's been walking. Was he okay? Had something happened to him so he wasn't able to walk? Was he even still alive? And then last week, I saw him walking down the road in front of his house with his beagle. Another mystery solved. Well sort of. Why was he walking on the road instead of in the woods? Had he had a heart attack and had to take shorter walks? Was he deterred from walking in the woods because with the record breaking rain we've had this past year, parts of the trail are quagmires of mud, especially in the woods beyond me. Even with my rubber barn boots it's been rather unpleasant walking in spots, and I'll admit, most of the time I've skipped the paths beyond my own, too this winter.

Have you ever had a mystery to solve? Were you able to solve it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Itching to Travel

I'm itching to travel.

I can't imagine a time when I didn't want to go out and explore this great, big world of ours. Different cultures. Different people. Different languages. All of them were fascinating to me.

England, Wales, and Scotland were where I went on my first overseas trip. While there, I discovered my love for interesting architecture. I discovered my love of photographing those buildings at interesting angles on the same trip.

My first few photos (well, to be honest, first couple hundred) were straight-on pics. Then one day I cocked my head and looked at a building in a different way. That photo wound up being my favorite and most interesting one of the entire trip.

Since then, that's about all I do when I go on trips. I will take one or two shots head-on, just so people can easily recognize what they're looking at (myself included), but most of my camera's disk space is chock full of angled pictures.

So, what does this have to do with me being itchy to travel?

I think it's to do with the sameness of my daily life. Each day I get up, head to work, come home and get ready for the next day's business. I do see some cool things along my route that I'd like to take pictures of, but I'm so caught up in making sure I get to work or home, that I don't stop and take the time to do so. Even when I do think I'd take the moment to capture it, I'm not fully prepared, having left my camera at home.

When I go on trips, however, my camera goes with me everywhere. It's wonderful to have it along, so that I can capture a particular glint of sunlight on a building, or shoot a secretive alleyway that most people would simply pass by. Sometimes it's even as simple as the mood I happen to be in at that moment.

Take the two photos above, for example. The next time I'm in London or Paris, I might not even look at Parliament or La Tour Eiffel (respectively) in the same way. Next time, the photos I take will show a different side of the structure, as well as where my mind is that day.

So I'm itching to get out of my daily routine. Ready to explore sights and sounds that I've yet to discover; even if they're in places I've been many times before. Craig and I will be going to Greece this year for our honeymoon, so that will work.

It just means that I’ve got to wait until then to scratch my itch.