STILL STANDING

Object Lesson – Sherlock Holmes had his pipe. Dorothy had her red shoes. Batman had his Batmobile. If we asked your friends what object they most immediately associate with you, what would they answer?


Interesting subject.

Depending on when they became a friend. Some of my earliest friends … like my cousins … see me as that weird, overly intellectual kid with buck teeth and frizzy hair. They would think of me with my nose always in a book — and they’d be right.

The local little girls with whom I grew up would probably remember the piano — and the books. If I wasn’t playing Chopin or Beethoven, I had my head in a book.

indian corn kitchen windowThen, we get to college. I was first a music major and the people I met then think of me as a musician — and remember the piano. But a couple of years later, I found the radio station. That group is likely to think of me as the other half of my first husband, who was a very popular guy and the Fearless Manager of the radio station.

Then, I was off to Israel. A confusing time, but call me a deck of cards. We played bridge obsessively, often until the sun rose. And the bread baking too. And the computers, which were just beginning enter my life. Israel was the bridge between old and new me.

Back to the USA and add some stuff: the omnipresent briefcase because I was always working. A computer. And most important, Garry. Then, after a while, hospitals because for the past 12 years I’ve been in and out of them. Still there are the computers and bless his heart, Garry.

Throughout this entire time, you would always finds lots of animals — cats, dogs birds — children. And cameras.

Life changes. We change. Our technology and tools evolve. But there is an essential “us-ness” that stays, forming a core which makes us who we are. I hope that’s mostly what people who really know me recognize.

I’m not my computer, my blog, my books, my collections, or my husband. I’m just someone struggling down the lumpy road of life, hoping to get through it still on my own feet. Getting to the end still standing would be an achievement.

WHY YOU HAVEN’T BEEN FRESHLY PRESSED (MAYBE)

freshly-pressed-circle3x3I got Freshly Pressed last January. Since then, I’ve put some time into figuring out why I didn’t get it earlier — and why I finally got it after all. And why I’m unlikely to get it again.

1. Freshly Pressed is not an award for general excellence. It’s not an award for your blog. It is an individual award for a specific post. The posts that win are almost always in response to a Weekly Challenge — and happen to grab the attention of one or more editors.

2. You can write superb content every day, year after year. But if you don’t respond to the weekly challenges and/or don’t write something that makes an editor’s brain go jingle-jangle, you will never be Freshly Pressed. Think of it this way: WordPress supports millions of bloggers. The editors can’t scan them all. The challenges give them a manageable number of posts to consider. If you don’t participate, you are unlikely to get noticed. It really isn’t personal.

3. What the editors think is special will probably not be what you consider your best work. I’m embarrassed at the post that got me Freshly Pressed. It isn’t — in my opinion — my finest work, nor is it representative of my writing in general. I don’t even like it. That’s why I haven’t linked it to my Freshly Pressed badge. Many other awardees feel the same way. What inspires an editor versus what inspires you can be very different.

4. Alternate theories: You don’t write as well as you think you do. You use a lot of texting abbreviations (WTF, LOL, IMHO etc.) instead of real words. You don’t understand grammar, don’t use the spell-checker, and don’t punctuate sentences. You write to a very narrow audience and your high school classmates are probably the only people who know what you are talking about. Sometimes, the problem is you, but no one wants to hurt your feelings by telling you.


Before I got Freshly Pressed, I had no idea why a blogger did or didn’t win. It has taken me all the time between getting the nod and now to figure it out.

Why I Doubt I’ll Get It Again

These days, I rarely like the weekly writing challenges, so I usually don’t participate. I check them out, but if the prompt leaves me underwhelmed or uninspired, I don’t do it.

It’s Nice To Be Recognized, But It Doesn’t Change Anything

I got my badge and rather than making me feel rewarded for my best work, I realized it was totally random. My best work is never going to be recognized because it isn’t written in response to the weekly challenge. It won’t make some editors brain go BING!

If You Really, Really Want To Be Freshly Pressed

For those of you who wonder how come you write so much and so well — yet never get the editors to notice you, this is the answer. Stop writing what you feel like writing and start writing what they want to read. It’s also possible that your style is just not what they’re looking for. It isn’t a judgment of your writing and again — it isn’t personal. Consider that William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe would probably not have made an editor’s brain tingle. Blogging is what it is and has its own parameters.

Afterglow

The best part of winning is having the badge to display on your site. It’s like getting into an exclusive country club, then realizing you don’t play tennis, don’t like the food and have little use for the other members. You can brag about membership, but you don’t really want to go there and hang out.

TECHNOLOGICALLY UNTETHERED

Writing Space – Where do you produce your best writing — at your desk, on your phone, at a noisy café? Tell us how the environment affects your creativity.


If you’d asked this question a year ago, I would have said “my office,” because that was where I did everything. These days, I do everything on the laptop in the living room, often with the television in the background and dogs jumping on and off the sofa.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2This probably doesn’t sound like an ideal arrangement for a writer but it suits me — at this point in my life. As recently as a year ago, I would not have been able to write like this. Even now, I can write much faster in a less distracting environment … but it seems I can write anywhere if I have a:

  • Computer
  • WiFi
  • Comfortable chair.

Note: If it’s morning, I also need coffee.

You’ll notice the list is bulleted, not numbered. This is because I don’t want to imply an order to these requirements. I need all of them, but not necessarily in sequence. (Once a tech writer, always a tech writer.)

The rest of the stuff I need is in my brain, which is convenient because I don’t have to remember where I left it.

WiFi and laptops changed everything. As long as I had to be wired to the network and the only powerful computer I had was on the big oak desk, that was where work had to be done. I worked at home much of the last 15 years of my professional life and built a structure at home to accommodate it. I also needed a door to close when I had to work without interruption.

The world, my life, technology … everything, really … has changed. I’m not on anyone’s clock, not even my own. I don’t have deadlines except for those I create for myself. My granddaughter grew up. My husband settled into retirement and developed his own rhythm, avocations and interests. The phone stopped ringing.

It’s a quieter life, even with televisions and nutty dogs. WiFi and a laptop let me do whatever I want anywhere it’s comfortable.

We used to dream about “a portable office.” I was working at Intel while they were refining wireless technology. It wasn’t entirely reliable yet, but I was assured it would be very soon and then, everything would be wireless. I was dubious, but here we are. Aside from needing to plug into an electrical socket, we are free to roam.

Roam was not built in a day, but it’s here. Now, if we can develop a way to get electricity without a cord or build batteries that work like the battery Jeff Goldblum had in “Independence Day,” we will be totally untethered.

I would also like to grow wings and fly. Is Intel working on that?

FIVE DAYS OF BLOGGING – PROMPTS TO CHALLENGE YOU

There is a trend here on WordPress to give titles and themes to each day of the week, thus heralding the nature of that day’s post. I’m a big fan of challenges and prompts because well, they prompt and challenge me. I thought “Gee, Marilyn, why not dip your oar in those waters.”

Here are five great themes for you. Or should I call them challenges? Prompts? Challenging prompts? All to help you, my good friends, get through your blogging week without ever encountering a moment of writer’s block.

Calendar_0

Mawkish Monday – I dedicate Monday to overly sentimental remembrances of the past, especially childhood and former marriage partners. Omit anything bad that happened. Everyone, everything was perfect. It never rained on your summer picnic. Your parents were fantastic. Your relationships were stress free. You were always amazing.

Because we’ve all had that kind of life, right?

Tantrum Tuesday – Rant day! Whatever you are pissed off about, let’er rip! Don’t hold back. How do you really feel?

Whiny Wednesday – Today I encourage you to rake up all the self-pitying bullshit you suppress the rest of the week. If you suffer from baseless feelings of entitlement and believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that life has cheated you, this is your day.

Complain how everyone else gets the good stuff while you get the dregs. Full details of any appalling thing that’s happened to you are welcome.  Let me wallow in your misery because I don’t have nearly enough angst of my own.

Thankful Thursday – Praise the Lord! Forget what you said on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Today you praise God (or whoever, whatever) for the wonderfulness of your life, friends, family, marriage, job, shrink, unemployment benefits and social security checks. And food stamps. You can get back to sniveling next week. Today, you are full of joie de vive and want everyone to be jealous of your extraordinary life.

Freak-out Friday – Whatever your mental illness, this is the day to discuss how crazy you are. The bizarre shit you do that you would never tell your closest friend, but given the anonymity of the Internet, you can tell everyone in the electronic universe everything and it won’t come back to haunt you. You can be as weird as you want. I will understand.

After the bragging you did yesterday about your terrific life — you made me feel like crap, but that’s what you had in mind, right? — today you can tell me what a load of garbage it was. Because really, you’re a sociopath, narcissist and maybe a serial killer.

Whatever secrets you’ve been hiding, this is your day to let it all hang out.


I’ll leave weekends unstructured because frankly, I’m exhausted from the last five days. Aren’t you?

BLAH BLAH BLAH

Verbal Ticks — Is there a word or a phrase you use (or overuse) all the time, and are seemingly unable to get rid of? If not, what’s the one that drives you crazy when others use it?


Were “very” banished from the language as well as “that” and “which,” my writing would be more elegant. Much of my editorial efforts are spent removing the aforementioned words after inserting them in nearly every sentence.

FIXING TYPOS IN MY LIFE STORY

Worlds Colliding –There’s work you and home you, café you and hospital you, friends you and strangers you. In this week’s writing challenge, tell us about a time when two or more of your “yous” ran into each other.


When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, blame it on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

Marilyn and BonnieMy narrator remembers everything. He fills in my back story. I’m in charge — technically — but he never shuts up. He is my third person perspective on life. In real time. I’m so accustomed to the nonstop running commentary, I’m not sure how I’d understand my world if my narrator left.

As long as I can remember, my narrator — who remains nameless after all these years — has filled the holes in my story. Adding “he said” and “she said.” Describing action and scenery. “Fictionalizing” reality.

Mr. Narrator is distracting and does not respect “the moment.” No respecter of persons, he can suck the fun out of parties, or if I’m not careful, make me laugh at the worst possible moments.

I’ve also learned from my narrator. Learned to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope and despair.

My job is to live and fix the typos. The narrator takes care of the rest.

A TUESDAY MYSTERY – RICH PASCHALL

The continuing story of  The Case With The Missing Egg

Tuesday started out like every day for the perpetually prepared Harold. The morning shrill of the alarm clock announced the beginning of another well planned day for the Premier of Planning, the Overlord of Organization and the Lord of the Library. After his normal morning duties, Harold looked forward to his next reading selection from the local library.  It was the standard Tuesday plan.

96-KitchenWindow-405

He arose promptly and went straight to the window, as was his normal practice. He grabbed his glasses off the nearby dresser, opened the blinds and surveyed the weather.

“What a beautiful day,” Harold announced to himself and went on to brush his teeth, stare in the mirror a few moments and jump in the shower. Harold included shaving on the days he was to go out of the house. He always felt better if he looked better to himself. He did not really give much thought to what others may think of his appearance.

All through his working career, and right into retirement, the only one Harold ever tried to please with his appearance was himself. He felt perfectly comfortable at work with a pocket protector in his white shirt pocket. He gave little thought to whether his socks clashed with the rest of his clothes as he only purchased white and black socks. There were no colors to worry about. His shirts were solid colors as were his pants. There was little chance that he could wear anything that would clash. As everything was rather basic, he had little concern about clothes going in and out of style. It seemed like the most practical style tactic for the very practical Harold.

After donning the proper underwear, shirt and pants for the day, Harold went back to the dresser for his socks. As he stared in the drawer a moment he decided that something was not quite right. He felt instinctively that the items in the drawer were not as neatly stacked as usual and decided to take out the stacks of black socks so that he may return them to the drawer in neater piles. When they had all been removed Harold was surprised to spy something that certainly did not belong in the back of the drawer. You can not imagine the unpleasant feeling that ran through the body of the sultan of socks’ stacking when he made the curious discovery.

There is was!  It was in the back of the drawer, hiding behind the socks. Was it there since Sunday? Could it possibly have been there from the Sunday before that?

pottery Qianlong-1736

Harold carefully reached into the back of the drawer and removed the Chinese porcelain egg. He placed it softly on the bed and went to get the step-ladder. He used the ladder to get the special box of porcelain collectibles down from the closet shelf and took the box and the egg to the living room.

As if it was Sunday, the day the lord made for Harold to clean house, he set the box down on the coffee table. He then set himself down on the sofa and studied the egg closely, just like it was the time of day on Sunday that was set aside for such things. Clearly Harold introduced a piece of the Sunday schedule into Tuesday morning. The discovery of the egg was both pleasing and perplexing.

Try as he might, and he did, Harold could not imagine how the egg got into the drawer. There would seem to have been no point in time over the previous 10 days that he could have accidentally placed the egg into the drawer. Was it out of the box or even in his hands the last time he was folding and putting away socks?  Could he possibly have dropped it into the drawer when he put away underwear? No! He would never have underwear and his precious porcelain out at the same time. What in the world happened?

Many minutes of mystery manipulated the thoughts of Harold, normally the master of minute manipulation.  He reran the tapes in the back of his mind that held all of the activities of the past ten days.

96-VishnuOnGaruda-HPCR-1

The previous two Sundays seemed like the most probable times to have inadvertently placed the egg in the drawer, but how did he do it?  Nothing in his highly organized memory banks gave him a clue to the mystery.  Nevertheless, the beauty of the item also held the riddle Harold wanted sincerely … even desperately … to solve. How could it be that the vault of knowledge Harold secured in his brain failed to hold the key to this riddle?  Why couldn’t Harold recall how this had happened?

After too much time had passed staring at the egg, Harold knew he could not let Tuesday morning’s plan turn into Sunday afternoon’s activity. So, he placed the egg carefully in its box and returned the box to its shelf.

What should have been a happy Tuesday for Harold ultimately resulted in more than a bit of concern.

The mystery of Harold’s Missing Memory remained unsolved.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER

Futures Past

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

How close or far are you from that vision?


I wanted to be a writer … although I wanted to be a cowboy first. By the time I was old enough to sort out fantasy from plans, cowboy had morphed into “I think I’ll take riding lessons.” Writer was a goal.

My first professional job was writing copy for a local radio station. In short order, I started writing print advertisements for an ad agency on Long Island. Then, the big break — a job at Doubleday where I wrote promotions for the books sold through their 13 clubs.

I was the editor for two of them — Romance Library and Garden Guild. All we writers were called editors. Real editors were also called editors. Fortunately, we knew what we were supposed to be doing. I had pseudonyms for each of my clubs plus pictures of some model who was supposed to be me.

Then, I was off to Israel . At first, I free-lanced for the Tourism Ministry. Fun times! I drove all over the country and wrote about beaches, interviewed people and took pictures. Have camera, will travel. Shortly, I realized I was losing money. The gasoline cost more than I was paid per job. I had to find something more lucrative.

I became Senior English-Language Editor for the Environmental Health Laboratory of the University of Jerusalem (a mouthful, more so in Hebrew). I took scientific studies written by Ph.D.’s whose native language was not English and prepped (rewrote) them for publication in the U.S. and England. It was a government job, so I could have stayed there forever and they would have been glad to have me. It was as secure a job as anyone could hope for, but paid poorly. That’s the trade-off. Job security won’t earn the big bucks. It’s pretty hard in Israel to get big bucks for anything, but the private sector pays close to a living wage. Sort of.

12-foot+teepee

Briefly I was Managing Editor of a weekly English-language features newspaper. I started writing an astrology column. When the paper ran out of money, I got “promoted.” I never had more fun at a job than when I ran the paper. I interviewed cabinet ministers and victims of crime. I wrote using a bunch of nom des plumes. We didn’t want it to look as if I was the only writer on staff, though I was. A cooking column, astrology column, the front page feature plus sidebars and a second feature. I even created the crossword.

Lack of money caught up with us and we closed. Without advertising revenue, the publisher couldn’t keep us going.

That’s when I became a technical writer. As I browsed through want ads, I noticed there were listings for tech writers. I didn’t know what tech writers did but I said: “If tech writers are what they want, I are one!” Via judicious resume editing, I nailed a pretty good job.

Back to tech writing. I tech wrote myself through 9 years in Israel, then back to the States doing the same for another 20 until some blockhead decided manuals for software and hardware were unnecessary since “no one reads them anyhow.”

The economy fell apart. By the mid 2000s, dot coms had gone bust. Venture capitol dried up. And I was ill. Eventually work was out of the question. Today I’m retired. Just as well because the whole health thing hasn’t gone well. But old writers never stop writing. They just change venues.

First, I wrote a book, The 12-Foot Teepee, after which I discovered blogging. Today, with co-authors Garry Armstrong (aka The Husband) and Rich Paschall, I write for me — and you. Blogging is fun. Connecting with people all over the world makes me feel I’m part of the world, not gathering dust in storage.

I never got a statuette or a major award. In my business, the award was called “a paycheck.” That’s the only part of working I still miss.

SERENDIPITY STRIKES AGAIN!

A Name for Yourself

Some writers’ names have becomes adjectives: Kafkaesque, marxist, Orwellian, sadistic. If your name (or nickname, or blog name) were to become an adjective, what would it mean?


Lucky me. Smart me. Far-seeing me. Pat, pat on my back, back!

When I picked my blog name, it already meant something, which is “to find something for which one is not looking.” A serendipitous discovery is pretty much a happy accident.

ser·en·dip·i·tyˌ noun
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “A fortunate stroke of serendipity”. Synonyms: (happy) chance, (happy) accident, fluke.

I suppose you could talk about my pithy, ironic commentary as Marilyn-isms, but there are more than enough existing words to describe pithiness, irony and wit without making up a new one.

Let’s just stick with serendipity. It’s a good word, a happy word. When chance takes you someplace pleasant and surprising, if you unexpectedly happen upon something that tickles your fancy, think of me.

Serendipity strikes again!

ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE, PLEASE

A Form of Flattery - Write a post about any topic you want, but in the style of an author or a blogger you admire.


It’s hard to get up a real head of enthusiasm on a day when you doubt the post will ever actually show up on The Master Post. WordPress, please bring back regular vanilla ping-backs. The technology is tried and true. It’s been working for more than 20 years and clearly, whatever you are doing has, as my granddaughter says, “issues.”


 

Mr. CoffeeWrite in someone else’s style? To be honest, most of us don’t have styles all that distinctive. I certainly don’t or if I do, I’d appreciate someone explaining to me exactly what that might be. I write the way I talk, but with a lot more typos. I hope my speech typos are undetectable. I’d hate to think everyone actually sees my words flying through the air, misspelled and mispronounced. Egads.

So … just in case the WordPress people get the Daily Prompt back on line and connect us all up to form the much-touted “family” — I think I speak for many of us — and if I don’t, I definitely speak for myself — when I say “Which ‘other bloggers’ style? Who has such a distinctive presentation that I could flatteringly imitate it? Maybe I am suffering a caffeine deficiency that I need to quickly remedy?

I suppose I could get ambitious and pretend I’m William Faulkner or maybe Edgar Allen Poe … but it’s Sunday. Sleepy peaceful quiet Sunday. I will get myself another cup of coffee. Yes, I think so. Uh huh.

And, for my finale, I’ll stick with my style (whatever it may be). May your day be peaceful and include sunshine and lots of coffee.

IF YOU WANT TO GET HIT

Note: I break my own rules all the time. So the most important rule — the ring to rule them all, so to speak — is do your “thing” whatever it may be. Have fun. The rest will follow.

Or not, but regardless, at least you’ll have a good time.


As far as I can tell, there are a few things I’ve found that work well. They aren’t really rules, just tips. You are more than welcome to ignore me.

  • Keep posts short (500 words or less)
  • Make it funny if you can
  • Pretty pictures get lots of hits
  • Post often.

75-Swans-May2014_028

It’s often said that “Less is more.” In a post, fewer words is good.

Fewer posts is not so good. If you give people more to look at and read, they’ll look and read more. On the other hand, beware of posting so much you become a spammer minus the agenda.

So. Take good photographs. Write stuff to which people can relate. If people identify with you, they become friends and supporters. Be entertaining, even when your material is serious. You might make a real difference. It happens and it is deeply satisfying when it does.

And it helps to have a bit of luck!


Note 2: The picture of the swan has nothing to do with the post. I just wanted to use the photograph.

 

Audio

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.

cropped-jun07-tipi-043.jpg

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.

75-Books and stuffNK-1

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.

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.

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.