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LESS IS MORE – THIS WEEK

Great Expectations: Weekly Writing Challenge

I used to have expectations. Now, I expect little, but am grateful for anything that falls my way. If I wake up and am not in severe pain … if I can breathe in and out without coughing and choking. Finding Garry breathing softly beside me.

The future will have to take care of itself. Being alive and being with those I love is the center of the world. Given one thing and another, most of the things I used to want or expect seem trivial. Even nonsensical. Certainly meaningless.

Being alive, being loved, breathing air and having a future as a living person? That’s meaningful. The rest is commentary.

And that’s how I feel today. Ask me the same question again in a few weeks or months — and I know you will — and maybe I’ll feel entirely different. It’s magic!

 

SEARCHING FOR A GOOD BOOK

Royalties?

Every once in a while, to my shock and amazement, Amazon informs me I’ve sold a book or three. Wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a genuine reader. Cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any significant money from this. Hell no. The Kindle version of my book yields a whopping dollar something per sale (or loan) (I’m actually not sure the precise amount). Amazon has changed the rules, so almost every month I get 20 announcements of an impending direct deposit into my bank account. Then I get another set from my bank. So far, my biggest month yielded almost $12. This month, it was $3.70.

I have no idea how they calculate amounts and have stopped trying to figure it out. Overall, I figure a year of book sales might just take Garry and I to a big night at McDonald’s — if we order from the dollar menu.

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I still get buzzed when anyone buys or reads my book and delighted when they let me know they enjoyed it, but next time, I think I’ll write about dogs.

Doing PR

I wrote it in 2007, though it didn’t “hit the market” until 2008. I did author things — television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got some nice local press. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

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In total, I sold a few hundred books which isn’t bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks large enough for a cheap dinner at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a very minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed to materialize. So much for Hollywood.

It’s hard to market a self-published book. When it first came out, I admit I had dreams of glory. My husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as time passes, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

When you write a book largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the New York Times bestseller list. Not unless you are already a celebrity and even then, memoirs are not usually big sellers. Books like this become popular only if they reveal scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a perversely sexual nature, or if someone pumps it up on national television — which didn’t happen to me and doesn’t happen for most authors.

Unless you have a recognizable, salable name, there’s no market for this genre. The ones that get published because they were written by celebrities go from a display in front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s unlikely me or you, unknowns that we are, could convince a publisher we’re worth the ink and paper for so much as a trade paperback. And don’t bother to dream of getting an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

A while back, I had the honor of reading (and to some degree, judging) a bunch of fiction deemed among “the best of 2013.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of that year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask “What were you thinking?” There are okay books amongst the dross, a couple of good ones plus a few that make it all the way to “better than mediocre.”

Unfortunately, there are many dreadful ones, books so bad it’s hard to imagine how they could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing at all in any form. Who did the authors have to sleep with to get that contract? There had to be sexual favors involved. Nothing else could explain it.

Most of these books are — at best — okay. Maybe someone might like them, but I find it hard to imagine who it might be. Maybe under the influence of heavy drugs? Some may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. A couple had redeeming qualities, but not enough to get me from cover to cover.

Which brings me back to my book

I will say, in advance, that it is not deathless literature, but it’s not bad — a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2013.

And my book has features that used to be traditional features in books like characters, humor, a semblance of a plot, a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you could learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever and wherever you are, you’d enjoy having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at jobs, raise children who don’t have magical powers or access to time travel and are unlikely to pop off into space to explore other universes, are becoming rare.

Do we no longer find the real world sufficiently interesting to write books about it?

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason so few good books are set in the real world because we find our lives uninteresting? Are the day-to-day battles regular people go through so dreary we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Having someone buy a copy of my book today was a big deal. If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe a half-dozen or so people will buy or borrow an electronic copy or a trade paperback of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage load on our backs when we are too young to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos.

Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also hard to proofread your own manuscript: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is there.

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

12-foot teepee Amazon

You can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. I get the same royalties whether you buy it or borrow it. Go figure.

I have serious concerns about the state of publishing. I am convinced there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who get published. With the opportunities offered by electronic publishing, I would think the potential profit has increased exponentially.

Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until it has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we published more good books?

Perhaps publishers should consider taking a chance on more newcomers who don’t write in trendy genres. I love science fiction and fantasy more than most people, but I also enjoy books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I fear the best of America’s writers are being lost in the scramble to publish only best-sellers. It doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just like they always have. From what I’m seeing, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the nose. Or care.

It’s not that I’m such a fantastic author and couldn’t get a reading, publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that does get published is so awful. It’s not a healthy sign for literature or the publishing industry.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – AN AMAZON REVIEW

Obviously I didn’t write this.I would be embarrassed to say this much nice stuff about me, but I have to admit I’m delighted. In the midst of the craziness of my life, all of a sudden I’m getting wonderful reviews of the book I’d pretty much given up on. It never went anywhere. I’m not even sure I know how to find my publication website … or have any idea what my password is. Or anything.

If nothing else, it’s humbling that there can be such a huge disparity between my perception of the book I wrote and other people’s view of it. That I might not be the best judge of my work goes without saying … but to be 180 degrees out of alignment forces me to wonder what else I’m completely wrong about.

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In any case, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting the review here because I have no idea how one reblogs a review that isn’t on a blog. And this is on the Canadian Amazon site, making it even more inaccessible. The title of the book is also a live link to the source, so please visit that site too. The author deserves your support.

I’m beyond grateful for this review. I’m touched and encouraged. This is a difficult time for me, for obvious reasons. Having something so nice happen right now makes me feel (sorry about the pun) heartened.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE

5.0 out of 5 stars

The fascinating construction of a life Jan. 30 2014

By Jiibo Dyallo

Format: Kindle Edition | Amazon Verified Purchase

Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, teepee12 dot com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this book, and I think that that keeps the book current. A life contains its own archaeology, and what is an autobiography (as I assume this is, in essence) if not a tell?

Protagonist ‘Maggie,’ as a child, was sexually abused by her father. That revelation is how the book begins. I worked for an LGBT newspaper in the 1980s and kept current on feminist and lesbian literature during the period when the magnitude of familial incest was first being disclosed to the world. I’ve read many dozens of accounts – brief, elongated, literary, plain, agonized, detached – by people who endured this experience. Also, I’ve read numerous complex bestsellers embedding the theme, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I noticed right away that Marilyn was somehow overcoming the saturation factor and writing highly readable text. Perhaps it was her style of writing – plainspoken enough to be nodded at by Hemingway, yet subtly full of craft. Her approach was fresh, and witty at appropriate moments. Perhaps there was some engaging mystery, too, in the enigma of her father as an inconspicuously, but almost incomprehensibly, evil man. I’m not sure if I would even have credited Marilyn with restraining herself from exaggeration if I hadn’t read M. Scott Peck’s monograph on such folk, People of the Lie. I knew that such individuals really do exist. In any case, Marilyn’s way of telling the tale with judicious truth but without a show of anguish, and without the jargon that is now often used in such accounts, made the difficult events completely readable.

The book then progressed through subtly interwoven anecdotes to the unveiling of related tales: the construction of a knock-off Sioux-style teepee as a project for self-healing and for spending quality time with a lively granddaughter; the concurrent battle with spinal problems and surgeons of greater and lesser competence; and the challenges of new-found poverty for Massachusetts people caught up in the tech bust of the 1990s. This all sounds daunting, not to mention rather random and terribly personal, but Marilyn makes it as vivid and coherent a piece of writing as you will find anywhere. She wins your heart. The feeling that you want things to go well for her (I don’t know her personally at all apart from a couple of emails back and forth among fellow bloggers) turns out to be a waterslide of suspense that runs you right through the book from beginning to end. She also integrates a spiritual journey from secular Judaism into Christianity that is neither dwelt upon nor glossed over – it has its time and place in the story – and it also arouses interest – regardless, I should think, of the personal persuasion of the reader. The bottom line, though, is that Marilyn is a writer who can captivate you with a tale of how her son pieced together PVC pipe sections to make wobbly teepee poles. I can’t imagine what topic she couldn’t make interesting.

I think that this book deserves more attention than it’s had. Marilyn is not sure that it does – she says in her email that she has, to some extent, returned to religious skepticism in recent years. Life has gone on. The tell has mounded up further. Where a church once stood in her psyche, a big community teepee for comparative religion and degrees of religious belief now stands, pole on pillar. Its architecture is newer than the book.

If you have a sense of discovery, though, you still need to know how it got there, and this book is the only dig that’s been done.

Combing the Archives

Some updates from a pinch-hitter, by Rich Paschall

While Marilyn is “out of office,” I have the opportunity to go back through the archives to repost some of Marilyn’s earliest works here on Serendipity.  Like the name of the blog suggests, you should find these to be a “pleasant surprise.”  If you have followed along from the very beginning, you will delight in seeing these posts again.  If you are a more recent follower, you will get to see some gems you have missed.

logitech sealed keyboardAs I am posting these with my login, there could have been some confusion with my name appearing at the bottom as “author.”  That seems to be part of the software and something I could not edit.  Therefore, I did something Marilyn would not do.  I added her name to the title.  She would naturally feel that you would know whose blog you are reading.  This is the only edit I have made in the reposts.  Marilyn will be back at her keyboard soon.

In the meantime, Garry will appropriately be playing the role of “reporter” to bring us updates on Marilyn’s progress at Beth Israel’s Cardiac Care Unit.  Although it is taking longer than had been hoped, Marilyn has finally been up and walking.  This certainly means I will be bumped soon from my temporary role as editor and back to Sunday contributor.  I will be pleased to be knocked off this chair by its owner.

I have added tags and categories to Garry’s posts when he is not looking.  Each of his posts carries the tag “Marilyn update.”  I have also tagged the reposts as “Best of Marilyn Armstrong,” but since it is all good, the tag seems a little strange to me.  I have already started using it, however, so I will keep right on with that plan.

There is no way I could explain how grateful I am that Marilyn has given me space here on Sundays for some short stories and totally random articles. She has been advisor, editor and illustrator of the writing I have submitted.  It provides me with an audience that I have not found on my own space.  So I am pleased to sit in the editor’s chair for a few days so that you may continue to have the work of Marilyn Armstrong each day.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE OTHER PEOPLE IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S AMERICA – JANE ALLEN PETRICK

This beautifully written book about Norman Rockwell, the artist and his work focuses on the non-white children and adults who are his legacy. The book will be an eye-opener for many readers despite the fact that anyone who goes to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — or seriously looks at Rockwell’s body of work — can see that Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This country’s non-white population have always been there, even when he had to more or less sneak them in by the side door.

These people — Black people, Native Americans and others — are not missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. It is merely that the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via a form of highly effective selective vision. Despite their presence, many people choose to focus on the vision of white America and eliminate the rest of the picture. Literally.

The author tells the story not only of Rockwell’s journey and battle to be allowed to paint his vision of America, but also of the people who modeled for him, both as children and adults. She has sought out these people and talked to them, getting their first-hand experiences with the artist.

It’s a fascinating story and I loved it from the first word to the last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.

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From the Author

Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold.  Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.

Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is because, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogues by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.

Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”

“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”

The America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.

This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.

One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again.I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.

OVER AND OUT

A short story by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

It was not like Billy’s dad to just walk into his room. At 17 years old he really expected his parents to knock first. He quickly closed out of his chat and turned around to see what his father wanted.  “What’s up, dad?” Billy began.

“Son, I think there is something you should tell me.” Billy’s father paused and waited for a response. Billy was clueless. He could not think of a thing he should say so there was this long awkward silence as the two of them shot puzzled looks at one another.

Billy’s father had noticed over the last two month’s the nature of his son’s friendship with a handsome young classmate named Josh. They went everywhere together. They studied together and they spent hours on the phone together. Going to the movies on a Saturday night was just like the dates Billy’s dad had with his wife when they were teenagers. Billy would spend a lot of time getting ready. He picked out his best date-night type clothes and he absolutely lit up when Josh appeared at the door. Dad felt he could not be mistaken.

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“No, dad, I can’t think of anything,” Billy finally said in his best “I’m innocent” voice. “Are you gay?” his father shot back. All of a sudden something heavy fell on Billy’s chest. It must have been the weight of reality hitting him. He was unprepared.

“Yes dad,” Billy responded as boldly as he could after the truth was already out there anyway.

“And this Josh fellow, is he your boyfriend?” Billy did not want to out Josh to his father but he figured that he somehow knew so he gave up that truth too.

“Yes, dad.” Once again they stared at one another until Billy could finally throw that weight off himself and speak up.

“So, it’s OK then?” Billy asked. His dad did not want to say “yes” because it was not alright with him, but he did not want to say “no” because he recalled how difficult teenage love could be and just figured that gay teenage love was even harder. After a few moments deep in thought, Billy’s dad had a course of action in mind.

“Son, I want you to tell your mother this week. Am I clear about that?”

“No dad, please,” the boy replied in horror. “Can’t you tell her?” If his dad was not all “open-arms” about this he could not imagine his mother’s reaction. She was far more right of center than dad.

“Billy, if you think you are old enough to be making out with another boy, you are certainly old enough to man-up and tell your mother exactly who you are.” At that, Billy’s dad left the room and quietly closed the door on the way out.

For the rest of the week, Billy was a nervous wreck. Every time he saw his mother he could feel a knot in his stomach. His father started shooting him angry glances for failing to tell his story. Billy did tell two people though, Josh and his sister, Mary. The latter was a tactical error, to be sure.

One night when they all happened to be at the dinner table at once, a rare occurrence for two busy parents and two teenagers, Mary could not hold her brother’s secret any longer.  “So, little Billy, did you tell mom yet that you’ve been kissing boys?”

Billy’s mom immediately looked like she had seen the ghost of her dear departed mother glaring at her. “Robert, did you know about this?” Billy’s mom shouted across the room at her husband. He did not respond but she could tell after twenty-three years of marriage what the response would be. “How dare you!” she screamed at either Billy or her husband, neither was quite sure, and then she stormed out of the room.

Over the next few weeks Billy parents argued often about why the boy was gay. Each thought the other had a hand in it, but only mom was mortified and angry beyond reason.

“If you had been a stronger father,” she took to telling him almost daily, “this would not have happened.”

To which he frequently responded, “I tried to discipline the boy but every time I did he would run to you and get off the hook. I would say you are the reason he’s a mamma’s boy.” From there it only got worse.

After one particularly stormy session, Billy’s mom finally declared she was through. “I want a divorce.  We can not continue these fights in front of the children.” Robert agreed and went to their room. A stunned Billy, eavesdropping in the next room, began to cry.

Robert called his brother and asked to stay a few days. He packed a bag and prepared to leave when Billy ran into his room. “No dad, please don’t leave. I am sorry, it’s all my fault.  I’ll change, I promise. I won’t be gay any more. Please.” Billy buckled at the knees and went down to the floor. His dad helped him up and sat him on the edge of the bed.

“Look son, my marriage was over years ago. It took something like this to point that out.  You can not change this anymore than I can change who you are.” At that he reached over to hug the boy. He planted a kiss on his forehead, got up, grabbed his bag and walked out the door.

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

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GETTING THE ANSWER – RICH PASCHALL

His 20′s seemed like an absolutely magical time.  Bobby began them with frequent social activities with his high school and college friends.  There was softball, touch football and sometimes bowling.  There were concerts and plays.  There were house parties and gatherings at local sports bars.  Every weekend was an adventure and Bobby was a willing participant in all of it.  If nothing was happening on a given weekend, Bobby would organize something.  He would have people over for a beer tasting event and purchase several different types for people to taste and judge.  He would gather up a group to watch an important sports event at a neighborhood bar.  He would organize a group to go to an Oktoberfest or other festival.  Bobby would not let a weekend go by without something happening.  In this regard, Bobby was quite dependable.

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As he reached the end of his twenties Bobby found it a little more difficult to keep the parties going.  Some friends married, started families and were not free every weekend for a Bobby social event.  Others moved away and were no longer nearby to jump into neighborhood activities.  And some were just tired of the Bobby social calendar which began to rely more on drinking in bars than anything else.  Bobby, however, did not slow down and always found someone to participate in his weekend outings, but the numbers had dwindled and Bobby could no longer command the attention of his many friends.

As he marched into his 30′s the lack of friends was barely noticed by Bobby.  He continued his assault on neighborhood bars.  The bartenders of his favorite places knew his name and usually had his beer poured by the time he sat down.  Regular patrons of these bars knew Bobby by name as well.  This made Bobby feel at home whenever he went out to the bars.  It was nice to have friends here, he frequently thought.  It did not dawn on him that all these people were just drinking acquaintances and not really friends, until he reached his middle 30′s.

By that time he found all the partying was wearing him down.  He was no longer in the fine athletic shape he enjoyed when he was just twenty-one.  He did not participate in sports or work out as he once did.  Bobby was handsome and had been quite desirable to many of the young women and perhaps even to some of the guys when he was 30 pounds lighter.  He had paid no mind to that, however, as the social calendar was the most important part of Bobby’s week.  There is no telling why Bobby did not, or could not, develop real friendships.  He was totally clueless as to the reason all the friends he had 15 years earlier drifted away from him.  Perhaps he had drifted away from them.

Headaches and hangovers became the frequent companions to the rapidly approaching middle age Bobby.  It was starting to take him all week to recover from one weekend so he could start up again on the next weekend.  He had taken notice of that and started to give serious thought to getting into better shape.  “I really need to start working out again,” was the thought that began filling his week days.  As a result he joined a health club and actually made a few week day stops there, but his run down feeling generally prevented him from becoming a frequent patron of the club he passed every weekday on his way home from work.

When he was not too hung over, Bobby resumed going to church on Sundays.  It was a practice he abandoned in his early 20′s, since it just did not fit his social calendar.  Now he was asking for guidance.  He desired to change his lifestyle and felt he needed God’s help to do that.  So he prayed often but with little result.  On several Sundays a month he now begged and pleaded with God to help him break free of the cycle of drinking and partying and replace it with something meaningful.  Bobby was smart enough to realize that the weekend bar hopping would never just end without something else to do, and Bobby could not imagine what that might be.

Finally Bobby decided to give up the weekend outings when the New Year came for as long as he possibly could, with or without God’s help.  He figured a New Year’s resolution to stop the weekend madness until at least St. Patrick’s Day would be a great idea.  With a little perseverance, he might give up drinking for lent too.  Imagine no weekend outings until past Easter.  Actually, Bobby could not imagine that but he thought he might give it a try.  While this might seem a reasonable resolution, it terrified Bobby.  He thought he might go stir-crazy during the party break.

Since Bobby had planned that New Year’s Eve was the last night out for a while, he was disappointed to learn there would be a lot of snow.  He ultimately decided not to go out in a storm and he watched New Year’s Rockin’ Eve instead.  It brought back memories of old Dick Clark counting down the old year.  “There are too many drunks on the road anyway.  I can go out anytime.”  So the new year started on a new note.

When the next weekend came, arctic cold arrived to dissuade Bobby from going anywhere but home on the weekend.  As a mater of fact, January had settled into a pattern of snowfalls and subzero temperatures.  Each time Bobby was tempted to go out, he feared losing his nice parking spot on the snowy street or being stuck in sub-zero weather.  By the third weekend, he wanted to hit the local sports bar for the play off games, but the deep snow and bitter cold forced Bobby to reconsider such a plan.  Now all Bobby was seeing was his apartment, his workplace and the snowy roads in between.  After many weeks of this unusual weather pattern, Bobby began to wonder why God was torturing people with the snow and cold.  Surely something was wrong that the awful weather did not just go on for a few days or even a few weeks, because now it had gone on for over a month.

On a February Sunday, Bobby felt pretty good and decided to return to church.  Weather had forced him away from church as well as the bars.  He hardly got out at all for weeks, and then just to the store for a little shopping.  Bobby felt he should point out to the Lord that his weather was keeping Bobby away from church.  Although he did not really expect God to answer, he thought he would just ask him what is up with that.  So he started down the right aisle of the big old church and went half way up toward the front where he picked out a seat he had often chosen.  “Well?” Bobby said to God once he sat down.  He stared at the large stained glass window behind the altar for several minutes before Bobby realized that God had indeed answered his prayers.

FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE – RICH PASCHALL

Rich Paschall – SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG

What is the best way to relate something?  When do you communicate well?  What is it that gets your point across?  When does your voice stand out in a sea of voices?  How can you be heard?  I like to think that I can write about anything, but the truth is some stories and essays are more widely received than others.  Why is that?  When you tell a story or try to make a point, when are you at your most effective?

75-FadedBooksFloatingWordsNK-004

Certainly those with debating skills know how to line up evidence, organize their material, give weight and structure to their arguments and drive their points home.  For some that comes rather naturally.  They can readily see how point one leads to point two and on to point three.  They can see what supports each point along the way.  They understand when something needs extra support.  If they have a particularly effective quote, they know whether to play that card up front, or hold it back for a rebuttal in such a way that it is not “extra topical” but right on point.

For others this skill is acquired through study of argumentation as well as study of opponents.  If I say “this,” what is the likely response?  Will it be more effective to address this audience in a bold, out-spoken manner, or a soft and persuasive one?  Does my voice sound sincere?  Combative? Rude? Respectful?  When am I at my best?  When are people listening?

What if it is not an argument at all, but a simple point that is to be made?  When are you at your most interesting?  How do you capture the imagination of your listeners or readers?  There is not much point to advancing an argument if no one is listening, or reading, as the case may be.  What do you need at the open to get people’s attention?  Whether you are speaking to an audience or writing your point for Word Press, a good opening line is essential.  What is it though?  How do you find it?

Perhaps you wish to tell a short story.  Certainly there is a great oral tradition of story telling.  The earliest written stories were likely those that were passed along from generation to generation verbally.  If you sat down to write Beowulf out for a newly literate segment of the population, how would you begin?  Is the same opening effective on paper as it was sitting in the mead hall with your friends, having a glass of whatever (really, who knows what the heck that was), listening to a tale and wondering if that was Grendel or the Rolling Stones making noise outside?  If you were to make Beowulf into a movie…no don’t.  It’s been done, and so have many stories.  How can you make yours stand out?

By now, you have noticed that I have thrown out a lot of questions. I suppose you might think that this is the part where I start answering them.  OK, wait for it … Sorry, I don’t have the answers. I really don’t.  What’s effective for you, may not be effective for me and what is effective for me …

You get the idea. Different people are successful in different ways. What works for one is not necessarily what works for another. That’s because we are unique.  St. Paul would have told you in his unique letter writing style that each has his own gift. It is up to us to find that gift, that voice, if you will, and use it to be your most effective voice.

In looking back over recent weeks on Sunday Night Blog, where I have written for a lot more than just Sunday Nights, I wanted to find the most read and most commented upon pieces.  Of course, it is true that everything on Serendipity gets a lot of attention while only some things resonate on the other space.  What voice is heard there?  If we go by numbers than the recent “Return of the Polar Vortex” caught the most interest.  I can certainly imagine that may be because of our interest in the harsh weather. Perhaps those doing searches were expecting to find a serious piece of scientific news, rather than a piece of satire that was more political and humorous than anything scientific, unless you are counting science fiction. I do find that these little satiric stories with a serious point or two, work well in that space I call my blog. Is that then the best way for me to communicate with the reader?

Whether you are writing a blog or telling a story at a family gathering, you will probably find your voice and it will be good. It may take a long time, years in fact, but don’t stop telling your story.  Some day you may be the best storyteller at Aunt Martha’s Christmas party and every gathering will bring friends and relatives to your side to hear your voice.  Or you may some day be the best writer in the blogosphere, and I will be reading you faithfully.  By the way, if you have answers to any of the questions above, please leave them in the comments below.  I really want to know them myself.

A MEGA THANK YOU TO MY GOOD FRIENDS

field-of-flowers-award2

FIELD OF FLOWERS AWARD

The creative and marvelous Cee Neuner has graced me with not one, but three awards, none of which I’ve gotten before.

First, I want to thank Cee at Cee’s Photography She is not only a wonderfully creative photographer, she’s a truly supportive friend. She puts a lot of effort into supporting the work of others. Always willing to share the credit and help us find our own fans and followers. She creates prompts that are fun, low stress and aim at getting lots of people involved. It’s been a real joy getting to know her.

I’ve been trying to avoid awards. I have so many. It seems there must be other people who need attention and the “lift” an award brings … but saying no makes me feel like an ingrate so I’m doing this … a mega thank you, long overdue.

But after this, no more, okay? It’s an embarrassment of riches and there are so many young, relatively new blogs out there where some attention and an award would make them feel that they are finally appreciated and noticed!

inner peace award

INNER PEACE AWARD

The three awards from Cee are THE FIELD OF FLOWERS AWARD, THE INNER PEACE AWARD, and THE LIGHTHOUSE AWARD. Each suggests I name a bunch of other blogs to honor, but everyone I connect with is full up with awards. So you are welcome to choose to come and accept an award, responding on whatever level makes you feel comfortable.

I more than understand if you just don’t want to deal with it. Our lives do get busy and full. It can seem less of an award and more an exercise in playing creative “tag you’re it”! Let’s not make it stressful!

About Me, First Go Round

LIGHTHOUSE AWARD

LIGHTHOUSE AWARD

I’m a writer, first and foremost since it was my profession for my entire working life, now my joyous avocation too

A photographer second– but not far behind. I’ve been a serious amateur photographer since I got my first camera the year I turned 22. I think I’m finally getting good enough to feel I’ve made progress

I have a ton of medical problems. I am going in for some big deal heart surgery at the beginning of March. I will be in hospital for about a week and get (oh joy) to spend my birthday (again, third time) in hospital — but hopefully, not the ICU. I don’t think I’m going to die. I do firmly believe I’m going to really hate this — but who likes major surgery, right?

With a teensy bit of luck, will be back annoying everyone in short order.

I started blogging for no particular reason but, to paraphrase something everyone says, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I’m conscientiously unstructured, unfocused and free-wheeling.

I never want blogging to feel like work. I want to be able to surprise myself and everyone else with variety, wild mood swings, and abrupt changes of subject.  I’m happy that my two co writers – Rich Paschall of Sunday Night Blog and my kick-ass husband, Garry Armstrong — are as free-wheeling as am I. They will be carrying on here to the best of their ability while I’m down for the count.

Regardless — if you want predictability, to know what’s coming? There are lots of blogs that fill specific niches. This is not one of them.

More Honors (I am truly humbled!)

DRAGON LOYALTY AWARD

DRAGON LOYALTY AWARD

From the fabulous Alienorajt, I am honored with the Dragon Loyalty Award. I think I may have really earned this one. I am nothing if not faithful to other bloggers whose sites I admire and who I feel spread “The Good Stuff” around.

There are so many nasty, miserable sods out there … then … there’s Alienora! Thank you my good friend!

Alienora is a writer. She writes bawdy, honest posts. Sometimes fiction, often funny, almost always deeply touching. A woman of integrity, with great heart, please visit her.

Stuff About Me – You really want MORE?

I’m supposed to come up with 7 more things. Okay, if you insist:

  1. Born and raised in New York city.
  2. Married first time at 18. Bore my son at 22.
  3. My grandchild was born in 1996 and when she isn’t making trouble, she’s the light of my life. Okay, even when she is making trouble.
  4. Writer since forever.
  5. Photographer since a few years shy of forever.
  6. Collect old hard plastic and antique dolls as well as ancient Chinese pottery.
  7. I’m a hard-core reader. Take away everything else, but leave my books. And a few tunes.

Four More? Yes, more!

FOUR AWARDS!

FOUR AWARDS!

From my good and loyal friend, Sharla Shults at The Catnip of Life and Awakenings, comes this collection of awards. Like me, Sharla accepts and offers, but doesn’t feel obliged to make anyone do a lot of work. Getting an award is supposed to be fun! From Sharla, it always is!

Sharla writes about life, love, this country and those we honor. She writes poetry, short fiction, and just …. rather like me … about stuff she find interesting and fun. Music, holidays and the great people who are part of our history.

Visit her. She’ll charm and delight you :-)

Versatile Blogger that’s me!

versatileblogger11Almost forgot and I do apologize. I’ve been collecting all these awards in a file, always planning to do something about them and never quite getting around to it. But here’s the final award — one I’ve gotten previously a couple of times but which seems more appropriate than most.

This award comes from Great Blue Herons, a beautiful photo blog with pictures that make me drool and wonder how come I never get the wild things to stay put and pose for me! You will not, I promise, regret visiting her sight. It’s an inspiration!

I’m (Sort of) (In A Way) Passing Out Batons!

YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO A DAMN THING. i JUST LOVE YOUR BLOG!

YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO A DAMN THING. I LOVE YOUR BLOG!

Everyone to whom I would give awards has already given me awards and mostly, I’ve returned the favor. It has begun to feel a lot like a chain letter. So many of you have honored me, it’s truly humbling. I give to all of you a most heartfelt thank you. ALL of you, the people I follow, those about whom I comment … I hear your voices loud and clear. You have supported me, been there for me for two years and you know who you are.

This is my gift to you, originally from Sharla. It’s the award that says it all, the one you can proudly display without worrying about paying anything forward or back. Come and get it! If you are reading this, you’ve earned it!!

Come take an award. Pick one you don’t have. Take them all :-)

YOU ALL DESERVE THE HONOR and I’m proud to know you!

WRAPPED IN PAPER

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words - Contemplation

contemplation

I am not by nature contemplative. All my ideas become pictures or stories … even this one. Yet the other day, I got to contemplating how I express love. Why so many people don’t understand my way of showing it. Why my granddaughter has a zillion dolls and too many cameras, my husband has a ton of stuff he doesn’t need and my best friend has half an antique pottery collection (I have the other half).

Blame it on my upbringing, the odd traditions of my mother’s family. Basically, we say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said “I love you.” I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

Over the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry (not nearly enough), carpets, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe). No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. And I wore it. For many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth a fortune – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it. Of course I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love en passant were the dishes. It was my fault. I started it. I bought them from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition, all for $30.

They were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them. One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need any more, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years. Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given away as a sign of love.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – A REVIEW I DIDN’T WRITE MYSELF

Obviously I didn’t write this.I would be embarrassed to say this much nice stuff about me, but I have to admit I’m kind of delighted. In the midst of the craziness of my life, all of a sudden I’m getting wonderful reviews of the book I’d pretty much given up on. It never went anywhere. I’m not even sure I know how to find my publication website … or have any idea what my password is. Or anything.

If nothing else, it’s humbling that there can be such a huge disparity between my perception of the book I wrote and other people’s view of it. That I might not be the best judge of my work goes without saying … but to be 180 degrees out of alignment forces me to wonder what else I’m completely wrong about.

teepee book shelf

In any case, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting the review here because I have no idea how one reblogs a review that isn’t on a blog. And this is on the Canadian Amazon site, making it even more inaccessible. The title of the book is also a live link to the source, so please visit that site too. The author deserves your support.

I’m beyond grateful for this review. I’m touched and encouraged. This is a difficult time for me, for obvious reasons. Having something so nice happen right now makes me feel (sorry about the pun) heartened.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE

5.0 out of 5 stars

The fascinating construction of a life Jan. 30 2014

By Jiibo Dyallo

Format: Kindle Edition | Amazon Verified Purchase

Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, teepee12 dot com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this book, and I think that that keeps the book current. A life contains its own archaeology, and what is an autobiography (as I assume this is, in essence) if not a tell?

Protagonist ‘Maggie,’ as a child, was sexually abused by her father. That revelation is how the book begins. I worked for an LGBT newspaper in the 1980s and kept current on feminist and lesbian literature during the period when the magnitude of familial incest was first being disclosed to the world. I’ve read many dozens of accounts – brief, elongated, literary, plain, agonized, detached – by people who endured this experience. Also, I’ve read numerous complex bestsellers embedding the theme, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I noticed right away that Marilyn was somehow overcoming the saturation factor and writing highly readable text. Perhaps it was her style of writing – plainspoken enough to be nodded at by Hemingway, yet subtly full of craft. Her approach was fresh, and witty at appropriate moments. Perhaps there was some engaging mystery, too, in the enigma of her father as an inconspicuously, but almost incomprehensibly, evil man. I’m not sure if I would even have credited Marilyn with restraining herself from exaggeration if I hadn’t read M. Scott Peck’s monograph on such folk, People of the Lie. I knew that such individuals really do exist. In any case, Marilyn’s way of telling the tale with judicious truth but without a show of anguish, and without the jargon that is now often used in such accounts, made the difficult events completely readable.

The book then progressed through subtly interwoven anecdotes to the unveiling of related tales: the construction of a knock-off Sioux-style teepee as a project for self-healing and for spending quality time with a lively granddaughter; the concurrent battle with spinal problems and surgeons of greater and lesser competence; and the challenges of new-found poverty for Massachusetts people caught up in the tech bust of the 1990s. This all sounds daunting, not to mention rather random and terribly personal, but Marilyn makes it as vivid and coherent a piece of writing as you will find anywhere. She wins your heart. The feeling that you want things to go well for her (I don’t know her personally at all apart from a couple of emails back and forth among fellow bloggers) turns out to be a waterslide of suspense that runs you right through the book from beginning to end. She also integrates a spiritual journey from secular Judaism into Christianity that is neither dwelt upon nor glossed over – it has its time and place in the story – and it also arouses interest – regardless, I should think, of the personal persuasion of the reader. The bottom line, though, is that Marilyn is a writer who can captivate you with a tale of how her son pieced together PVC pipe sections to make wobbly teepee poles. I can’t imagine what topic she couldn’t make interesting.

I think that this book deserves more attention than it’s had. Marilyn is not sure that it does – she says in her email that she has, to some extent, returned to religious skepticism in recent years. Life has gone on. The tell has mounded up further. Where a church once stood in her psyche, a big community teepee for comparative religion and degrees of religious belief now stands, pole on pillar. Its architecture is newer than the book.

If you have a sense of discovery, though, you still need to know how it got there, and this book is the only dig that’s been done.

AWAKENINGS: THE LOST SPIRITS – SHARLA SHULTS

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

Today is a quiet day…a co-o-o-old day so definitely a day to stay inside simply enjoying the warmth of hearth and home. Just finished reading The 12-ft Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong (featured below) and thought I would take some time to visit blogs I am following. How surprised I was upon coming across The Lost Spirits @A Misbehaved Woman.

What better topic to revisit than that of the American Indians?

Disturbing, however, is the fact this story is not totally past history…it is tied to history, yes, but it is also right here, right now, in America, in New York City.

Read the rest of the story on Awakenings!

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

So much good stuff to read in this post … including (blush) the best review I’ve ever gotten of my little book.

See on awakenings2012.blogspot.com

DAVIS WAY IS BACK — DOUBLE DIP, BY GRETCHEN ARCHER

Double Dip is the second mystery starring the intrepid Davis Way, written by intrepid author, Gretchen Archer. Even better than Double Whammy, it’s fast, funny, witty and complex.

double dip in bookcase

Something is rotten at the Bellissimo casino where Davis Way works high level security. Employees are double dipping all over the place, including at the slot machines. It’s slot tournament season. How better to catch a cheater at slots that be part of the action? Davis Way’s has never seen, much less played in a slot-tournament, but duty calls … this time as a competitor in the tournament. Good news? She gets to wear really great clothing and stay in the finest accommodations Bellissimo has to offer.

Bad news? She working day and night until further notice. Her personal life is going down the tubes. Even on the job, she’s in the deep end of the pool … and swimming isn’t her best sport.

Of course nothing is what it appears to be. Nothing is simple or straightforward. Work is driving her crazy. Her personal life is running off the rails and working all the time is not helping.

The boss’s wife’s personal assistant is missing after bullets are fired. A mousey elderly church lady appears to be the key to a suspicious series of slot machine wins. Meanwhile, after Davis faints dead away in the arms of Bellissimo’s hugely popular emcee, he seems to be gaga over her — not exactly what Davis needs while trying to track down where that slot-playing church lady came from — and what her real motives are.  And what does the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church have to do with all of this? Everything is linked to everything else and it’s going to take all Davis’s sleuthing skills to untangle this Gordian knot.

dbl dip cover

Where’s Bradley Cole during all of this? Working late with Mary Ha-Ha, that’s where. The class action suit on Bradley is working is as suspicious as the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church … and maybe connected. What’s worse? Davis is pretty sure her persistent upset stomach is not the flu. If only their respective jobs left them some time to talk. If only her sleaze-bag ex-ex Eddie Crawford, would stop showing up where he is so unwanted!

acknowledgement

Complicated? It is indeed. Yet the author carries it off with aplomb, style and humor.

Plots within plots, entwined with subplots and back stories. Ms. Archer juggles all the complexities while keeping track of at least a dozen characters, then ties all those dangling threads into a beautiful bow. Nothing is left hanging by accident. At the end of the book, all that remains are tidbits designed to lure you into the next adventure.

All my favorite books make me laugh. There’s nothing I value more in an author than a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. Gretchen Archer has these in abundance. I admit I got more involved in this book than usual and had a small part in an early edit of the text … which changed enormously afterwards. I’m delighted to have taken part in the project and grateful to Gretchen for giving me more credit than I deserve.

Read Double Whammy and then read Double Dip. You will absolutely be glad you did.

LUNCH IS MOOT IF YOU DRINK ENOUGH COFFEE

Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Posts

Lunch hour.

Hm. When is that, anyhow? I stopped working for good and all 6 years ago, so I get up when I get up. More accurately, when the phone rings. Or the dogs howl. Or I have to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I go back to sleep for a couple of hours, but usually, once I’m awake, I stay awake. This morning was a little different. Garry got up to take care of the early morning stuff and afterwards, went back to sleep.

I woke when he did, but was able to go back to sleep. For an hour. Until the dogs thought it was time to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in four-part harmony. Admirable, really. They eventually finished and I drifted into a near sleep, a twilight state where I’m not awake, yet am aware of things going on. I started a dream in which I was completely naked but no one seemed to care except me. I was trying to decide if having no nipples made being naked more or less important when the phone rang.

I scrambled to get the phone, but when I answered, there was no one on the line. The phone set the dogs off and they began another chorus, longer and louder than the earlier one. I lay there, listening. They’re pretty good, for dogs. They each seem to know their part, when to sing, when to wait for the cue. It’s perfect canine harmony. Then, miraculously, I fell asleep for another hour. When I next woke up, it was a bodily function in need of immediate attention. Ten-thirty. Good enough.

Got dressed, got out of bed. Ran a comb across my head.

And then I greeted the musical canines, turned on Mr. Coffee. Proffered biscuits, then more biscuits. Coffee was almost ready. Almost, not quite. So I put the dishes away, washed a cup or two and then coffee was ready and I poured myself a cup. Carried it to the office and sat down, here, in front of the monitor where I’ve been ever since. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m nursing my second (very large) cup of coffee. I have nibbled my way through half a protein bar. Nan, the Norwich, is snoring on the floor behind my chair. She’s a heavy sleeper these days. Her age is catching up with her.

Nan in my office

It’s a shiny gray day. Not raining, though it looks like it’s thinking about it. Am I eating lunch? Have I eaten? Is this protein bar lunch? Breakfast? Does it matter?

I called the doctor’s office, but they aren’t working today. Martin Luther King day is apparently a medical holiday. I want the results of last week’s EKG. I’ve been patient, now I want to know what’s going on. Do I need open heart surgery? Is it all a horrible misunderstanding?

Nan’s snoring is getting loud. I think her hearing is going because she sometimes doesn’t answer the supper call. Even though she’s getting on in years, she remains food driven. If she misses the call to supper, she didn’t hear it. She has episodes of dementia where she doesn’t seem to know where she is or who we are. She’s 11, almost 12 and so cute. And in good physical shape, except for minor back problems that come and go … but mentally, she’s slipping. Sad because she’s only been with us a little over a year and I would have liked a few more of her good years.

I eat another bite of protein bar. Is it lunchtime yet? This is my second post of the day. I think I’ll make pasta with meat sauce for dinner. I suppose I could go and get it started. Nah, not yet. An hour or so.

I think it’s officially after lunch now. Did I miss it or eat it?

Other Entries:

WRITING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

I wrote a lot of posts before getting Freshly Pressed.

In the beginning, I didn’t think about it because I didn’t know about it. After I became aware that such a thing existed, I figured I’d get noticed eventually. My turn would come. I’m insecure about a lot of things, but not about writing, probably the result of doing it every day for 50 years. Eventually you become comfortable and know you’re really a writer. You have proved it to everyone, even yourself.

freshly-pressed-circle3x3So I waited for that email to come. As almost everyone I knew seemed to be getting awarded — except me — I started to get worried. Then hurt. And I started to brood on injustice which is always a bad sign for me … a very bad sign.

Finally, after airing my grievance — mostly in comments on other peoples blogs about how bad they felt about being overlooked … I took a deep breath and realized I was being stupid and self-destructive. I was letting this thing get to me. It was sucking the fun out of blogging. I’d become focused on winning a prize rather than enjoying writing.

I don’t even remember when I knew I was I writer. It wasn’t something I decided. Writing was part of me as long as I can remember. It has been my therapy. Catharsis. My hobby, my profession, my dreams. The best part of me has always come through when I write. I was letting this thing … this award I didn’t get … take that away from me.

I went cold turkey on expecting recognition. I didn’t stop wanting it. I can’t help wanting recognition. It’s part of that type A personality thing, the competitive piece of me. And I’m sure a little teensy part of my brain nurtured an itsy bitsy hope it might yet happen, but to the degree I could control my feelings, I quit thinking about it, hoping for it, expecting it.

Most important, I gave up being angry. Because holding on to anger is bad for me. It messes with my head while leaving the object of my anger unscathed. It’s one of the few life lessons I’ve learned and accepted. I can’t go there.

I’m glad I kept writing. Most of all, I’m glad I didn’t keep writing only to win a prize, but because I love to write.

A thousand or so posts later, I got the letter.

There is a moral to my tale. Do what you love. Maybe the rest will follow. Maybe not. But when you’re doing what you love, you are a winner.

And the post that finally did it is: GONZO GEORDI HAD AN AX