GUEST AUTHOR: KARIN LAINE McMILLEN – THE BIRDFEEDER OPERA

I really related to this story! And I thought you might enjoy it too. Oh, the cleverness in the animal kingdom. We think we are so smart but sometimes, I really wonder.

Marilyn Armstrong


The Birdfeeder Opera – by Karin Laine McMillen

I lived at home during my first year of graduate school saving money by commutable proximity to the University of Iowa. It was an interesting experience. The redefinition of my relationship with my parents was a little bumpy.

I poured ice cold water on my mother in the shower one day, no doubt trying to recapture some of the fun dorm life with my college mates. Mom was not amused. My dad found out where my sometimes boyfriend lived and felt it was ok to stand outside his window yelling “Karin I know you are in there.”

But once we had our “come to Jesus” on that topic things went a little better. I also think it was that moment when I grew up and decided I should get a job and my own apartment in Iowa City.

I digress. This is really the story of animal life and the amusement that often comes from human interaction, underestimation of the cleverness of wild creatures, and their symbiosis with our larger world.

Our beautiful home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa had been a run-down, dark, very boxy colonial when my parents purchased it. By the time my mother and father were done with it, a two-year process, it was a light, modern, flow-through home with all the amenities required for luxurious family living with three daughters.

It was situated in the woods atop a large bucolic gully. This was fantastic as it meant that my dad had no lawn to mow. My mom, being an opportunistic feminist, has never pumped her own gas, let alone operated any type of lawn machinery. She uses her feminist views to simultaneously sit atop a “little girl on a pedestal” throne whilst insisting that just because she is a woman, she shouldn’t have to do all the traditionally female tasks.

In short, she made my dad a slave to her every whim, including attempting to orchestrate the nature outside for her viewing pleasure.

My parents are both very good designers.

In our home, where solid walls used to be, a row of floor to ceiling glass doors and windows lined the entire rear of the home, offering panoramic views. A patio was constructed by my dad and my mother purchased and ordered the placing of multiple bird feeders for her viewing pleasure of year-round bird frolicking. Her favorite bird feeder was an oblong, cyclonic, ceramic, cyan, Scandinavian, seed-filled feeder with a lid at the top and holes and perching sticks at the bottom. In order to fill it, the douli-shaped lid slid on the two hanging ropes and was supported by the friction of the small ceramic holes against the rough wool twine.

In winter especially, my mother made it her mission to keep this particular feeder full. She enjoyed watching the birds flutter around it as much as she enjoyed ordering my father to fill it. During this year at home, when the Iowa winter was in full bloom, the barking began.

“Larry, did you buy bird seed for the Scandinavian feeder?” (Because everything is more important and better when it is labeled “Scandinavian”.)

Before the vowel of the known answer came back “no,” my mom was already on him.

“You go to Menards every day, why can’t you remember to buy my bird seed! And get the kind that has such and such, blah, blah, blah and this and that. NOT the kind that you got last time! I like the kind that is multicolored so that when it falls on the ground it is pretty. “Laaaarrry, are you listening to me????!!!!”

“Yes, Diane!” would come back just as the door to the garage slammed. I listened to this with detached amusement for several weeks. So I barely noticed when the tune stayed the same — but the lyrics changed. The new chorus was “Larry, did you fill the feeder? It’s empty again! I swear you didn’t do it!”

This was followed by the drumbeat of slamming pots and pans and the response “Diane, I filled it! I’m halfway through that bag”.

“I don’t believe you! Why is it always empty? I haven’t seen any birds all winter! You’re lying to me!!!!”

“Diane, why would I lie to you? Do you want to see the bag?”

“Don’t you bring that dirty bag in here!”

“Do you want to watch me fill it?” He would grumble unintelligibly while traipsing out in the subzero temperatures with said bag.

Not a raccoon, but close enough!

This went on intermittently in the early winter weeks and was thankfully interrupted with the new barking orders in preparation for the Scandinavian Advent and Scandinavian Christmas celebrations. But in early January, I heard the familiar call and response continue. As daddy’s little girl, I wanted to defend my dad. But in truth, I knew that he often lied to my mom and I had other things to think about.

Until one morning on my way to class …

As I walked towards our mudroom to retrieve my shoes, coat, and purse, my peripheral vision caught a large, darkish blob moving on the patio. It was sufficiently disruptive to my brain that I froze. Instinctively I knew it was an animal and any sudden movement could render the thing gone before I could ascertain what it was. I slowly turned and was able to fully observe a delightful little comedy.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) raiding bird feeder at 8 PM in the brush country of south Texas, October. (Wild individual in wild setting.)

Precariously hanging with the use of two back paws from a tiny single branch was the fattest raccoon I have ever seen. He (don’t ask me how I know it was a he; I’ve had far too much contact with raccoons at summer camp and knowledge I wish I didn’t have) had one front paw in his mouth and one front paw inside THE bird feeder. He was scooping out and eating the multi-colored feast as fast as he could swallow.

I thought to myself, “Oh, that is funny. Dad didn’t put the top back on the bird feeder.”

I watched Mr. Fat Racoon steal the feed as the little birds on surrounding branches stared unblinkingly for the few and far between scraps which fell to the ground through the little bottom holes. I glanced at my watch and debated if I should continue to observe the scene and risk being late to class.

I even, briefly, thought of opening the door and chasing the raccoon away so the birds could have their food. But my previous encounters with raccoons made me think twice about that foolish notion. I’m not sure why I didn’t just bang on the window which would probably have scared him away, but I think it was the curious and mischievous nature that I share with the raccoon which made me continue to observe, amused and statuesque.

When the little paw could be seen attempting to find more feed from the open holes at the bottom of the feeder, the raccoon put both front paws to his mouth, licked each digit hungrily and then did something I didn’t expect.

With his two hands — sans opposable thumbs — he held onto the opposite sides of the lid and slid it down to its rightful place atop the feeder, adjusting it until it was even. He looked at his work, nodded to himself and climbed up the tiny branch which had bent 180 degrees from his weight. He then proceeded to climb down the tree trunk and sauntered through the brush displaying his hindquarters to me like a woman comfortable with her hips.

When I next heard the “Larry, did you fill the bird feeder?” opera, I smiled to myself, shook my head and envisioned that animal disappearing into our woods. It was several decades, and long after that house was sold before I told the tale one night at dinner …

SURVIVING WHEN YOU CAN’T PAY FOR DRUGS – A GUEST POST

Case Management

When you are diagnosed with an illness for which there is no cure, but long time survival is possible, you quickly learn that the most important case manager you will ever have is yourself.  You need to learn everything you can to survive — legally and, if necessary, illegally.  You tend to drop your concern for law when your life is at stake, especially when you will “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), the oath of doctors and others helping people survive.

Support group members will urge you to not merely educate yourself about the disease, but to get a good case manager. After you understand all your treatment options and the decisions you will have to make, your case manager can help you navigate the maze of health care bureaucracy. This is important for everyone, whether or not they have a job or insurance. Anyone can be taken advantage of by the system.

Illustration: NBC News

Early after an HIV positive diagnosis, I was laid off from the job which provided my health insurance.  The fight to start COBRA coverage was immediate.  Many states have programs to help pay for continued health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).  There may also be other drug assistance programs because the cost of medication, even with insurance, may be out of reach for those without jobs and even those with minimal jobs.

While state help was being lined up, my well-known insurance company was deciding whether to grant continued insurance.  Their basic argument was they were headquartered in another state and therefore were following other guidelines. The case manager got experienced lawyers familiar with this sort of trick to deal with the insurance company.  They finally offered COBRA and the state came through with payments.  This was the value of a knowledgeable case manager, but the process took time.

A Re-Purpose

The interval during the battle for coverage brought other concerns.  I knew I might be able to afford the multiple drugs for a month or two, but the extreme costs would quickly wipe me out.  That is when I learned about “other” assistance.  This kind of assistance is spoken of quietly by those who are desperate, but can be trusted.  It is the kind of help that takes place all over our region, and probably across the country too.

My case manager told me he might be able to help with some drugs, but not all.  When I came for an appointment one day, he told me to wait. He went to a pharmacy and came back with some of the medication I needed.  He took a black marker and carefully crossed out a name and gave it to me. He said it was mine now and not to say anything to anyone about this.  Ever. I left and kept quiet for years.  The agency he worked at is gone now, and I don’t know what happened to the case manager.

He had gone to a pharmacy that had secretly offered help.  When a patient did not pick up their HIV drugs for over a month, they did not put the item back in stock, but held it on the side for emergencies. If the item had been covered already by insurance, and the customer did not pick it up, they felt free to hand it to another. The drug company was paid and the insurance company was none the wiser.  This tactic is illegal, but many will run the risk to save lives.

Helping One Another

Not all managers are so resourceful or willing to run such risks.  Strictly speaking, it is against the law — dispensing drugs without a license.  There are individuals in support groups who are willing to assist with drugs, when no one else can.  For a while, there was an agency here that had acted as a go between to pass drugs from one patient to another.

In support groups, some would mention how they could bring unopened bottles of HIV medicine to the agency and they would keep it for those in need. Then if a member could prove they had a prescription for a particular drug the agency had on hand, they would give a month or two of the drug to the client.  That agency no longer does this or will even admit they did it for many years.  They could be shut down just like the agency referred to above.

Drugs are collected in many ways.  If someone who has gotten a three-month supply of medication, but then the drug was changed by his doctor, he would bring the unopened bottles to the agency to lock up in secret. If someone passed away, a mate might turn in unopened items to help someone else.

The fear of being caught helping to save lives has led many away from this type of help. Patients are left to do what they can for each other via contacts in support groups — or even “on the streets.”  Those fighting the disease can not imagine throwing out drugs that can help others.  Turning in drugs to be destroyed seems a bigger crime than “dispensing drugs without a license” for those who hold a prescription for a life-saving drug.

“Healing those who seek my help”

With the loss of agencies willing to help patients get drugs, legally or illegally, some doctors are willing to fill the void. There are those who collect back unopened drugs so others who can not afford them will benefit.  A doctor knows the prescription of a patient and will generally learn in private conversation who needs help.  If the drugs have already been bought and paid for, it seems a humane thing to do. In this country, this kind of help is unfortunately necessary.

The High Cost of Drugs

HIV drugs come in several classes and a patient is likely to take one or more from each of 3 or 4 groups per day.  Few drugs have generics and even those are expensive.  The retail cost in the United States for three or four of these drugs could run 4 to 5 thousand dollars per month.  Patients receiving various assistance programs are terrified of health care “reform.”  Out of necessity, we help each other.

When I was in Germany and discovered I had miscounted a medication. Of course I was panic-stricken.  I went to a pharmacy, who sent me to a local physician who spoke English.  I told her of my plight. When she was satisfied I had demonstrated I had such a prescription (I always bring proof if I travel), she wrote a new prescription. I went back to the pharmacy, prepared to charge to my credit card an outrageous amount due to my miscalculation. I knew my insurance card would not be honored overseas. The drug was reasonably priced, about one tenth what it costs retail here.

Aside from one doctor I know of, many who would otherwise be willing to help with drugs and health care services have been driven away –or at least underground.  Americans do not have the protections other countries around the world offer. In the absence of legal support, we do what we can to help everyone — not just with advice, but with life-saving drugs denied to many because they can’t afford them.


People without insurance die.
This is not a political opinion. It is a fact. 

NOTE: Since the author isn’t available to answer questions, comments are “off.”  I can’t answer questions because I don’t have any answers, sorry.

DOING WHAT WE MUST: SURVIVING IF YOU CAN’T PAY FOR DRUGS – A GUEST POST

Case Management

When you are diagnosed with an illness for which there is no cure, but long time survival is possible, you quickly learn that the most important case manager you will ever have is yourself.  You need to learn everything you can to survive — legally and, if necessary, illegally.  You tend to drop your concern for law when your life is at stake, especially when you will “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), the oath of doctors and others helping people survive.

Support group members will urge you to not merely educate yourself about the disease, but to get a good case manager. After you understand all your treatment options and the decisions you will have to make, your case manager can help you navigate the maze of health care bureaucracy. This is important for everyone, whether or not they have a job or insurance. Anyone can be taken advantage of by the system.

Illustration: NBC News

Early after an HIV positive diagnosis, I was laid off from the job which provided my health insurance.  The fight to start COBRA coverage was immediate.  Many states have programs to help pay for continued health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).  There may also have other drug assistance programs because the cost of medication, even with insurance, may be out of reach for those without jobs and even those with minimal jobs.

While state help was being lined up, my well-known insurance company was deciding whether to grant continued insurance.  Their basic argument was they were headquartered in another state and therefore were following other guidelines. The case manager got experienced lawyers familiar with this sort of trick to deal with the insurance company.  They finally offered COBRA and the state came through with payments.  This was the value of a knowledgeable case manager, but the process took time.

A Re-Purpose

The interval during the battle for coverage brought other concerns.  I knew I might be able to afford the multiple drugs for a month or two, but the extreme costs would quickly wipe me out.  That is when I learned about “other” assistance.  This kind of assistance is spoken of quietly by those who are desperate, but can be trusted.  It is the kind of help that takes place all over our region, and probably across the country too.

My case manager told me he might be able to help with some drugs, but not all.  When I came for an appointment one day, he told me to wait. He went to a pharmacy and came back with some of the medication I needed.  He took a black marker and carefully crossed out a name and gave it to me. He said it was mine now and not to say anything to anyone about this.  Ever. I left and kept quiet for years.  The agency he worked at is gone now, and I don’t know what happened to the case manager.

He had gone to a pharmacy that had secretly offered help.  When a patient did not pick up their HIV drugs for over a month, they did not put the item back in stock, but held it on the side for emergencies. If the item had been covered already by insurance, and the customer did not pick it up, they felt free to hand it to another. The drug company was paid and the insurance company was none the wiser.  This tactic is illegal, but many will run the risk to save lives.

Helping One Another

Not all managers are so resourceful or willing to run such risks.  Strictly speaking, it is against the law — dispensing drugs without a license.  There are individuals in support groups who are willing to assist with drugs, when no one else can.  For a while, there was an agency here that had acted as a go between to pass drugs from one patient to another.

In support groups, some would mention how they could bring unopened bottles of HIV medicine to the agency and they would keep it for those in need. Then if a member could prove they had a prescription for a particular drug the agency had on hand, they would give a month or two of the drug to the client.  That agency no longer does this or will even admit they did it for many years.  They could be shut down just like the agency referred to above.

Drugs are collected in many ways.  If someone who has gotten a three-month supply of medication, but then the drug was changed by his doctor, he would bring the unopened bottles to the agency to lock up in secret. If someone passed away, a mate might turn in unopened items to help someone else.

The fear of being caught helping to save lives has led many away from this type of help. Patients are left to do what they can for each other via contacts in support groups — or even “on the streets.”  Those fighting the disease can not imagine throwing out drugs that can help others.  Turning in drugs to be destroyed seems a bigger crime than “dispensing drugs without a license” for those who hold a prescription for a life-saving drug.

“Healing those who seek my help”

With the loss of agencies willing to help patients get drugs, legally or illegally, some doctors are willing to fill the void. There are those who collect back unopened drugs so others who can not afford them will benefit.  A doctor knows the prescription of a patient and will generally learn in private conversation who needs help.  If the drugs have already been bought and paid for, it seems a humane thing to do. In this country, this kind of help is unfortunately necessary.

The High Cost of Drugs

HIV drugs come in several classes and a patient is likely to take one or more from each of 3 or 4 groups per day.  Few drugs have generics and even those are expensive.  The retail cost in the United States for three or four of these drugs could run 4 to 5 thousand dollars per month.  Patients receiving various assistance programs are terrified of health care “reform.”  Out of necessity, we help each other.

When I was in Germany and discovered I had miscounted a medication. Of course I was panic-stricken.  I went to a pharmacy, who sent me to a local physician who spoke English.  I told her of my plight. When she was satisfied I had demonstrated I had such a prescription (I always bring proof if I travel), she wrote a new prescription. I went back to the pharmacy, prepared to charge to my credit card an outrageous amount due to my miscalculation. I knew my insurance card would not be honored overseas. The drug was reasonably priced, about one tenth what it costs retail here.

Aside from one doctor I know of, many who would otherwise be willing to help with drugs and health care services have been driven away –or at least underground.  Americans do not have the protections other countries around the world offer. In the absence of legal support, we do what we can to help everyone — not just with advice, but with life-saving drugs denied to many because they can’t afford them.


People without insurance die.
This is not a political opinion. It is a fact. 

NOTE: Since the author isn’t around to answer questions, comments are “off.”  I can’t answer questions because I don’t have any answers, sorry.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? LONG ODDS ON TRUMP – LARRY JOSEPHSON

Presidential Debate Odds: As time runs short, Trump faces long odds

trumpclintonwd

In the famous 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall’s character uttered one of the all-time great movie lines when he looked out at the carnage that the war had created and declared, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Figurative napalm is what Donald Trump has introduced to American politics, and if he is going to go down, he has made it clear that he is going to burn down his Republican Party and a good portion of the body politic itself in the process.

Unprecedented in U.S. presidential campaign history, Trump and his army of so-called “deplorables” stand pretty much alone. He trusts only his family, a few remaining party outliers, and his Twitter feed. And as he heads into his third and final debate against Hillary Clinton (Thursday, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas), it appears that the only variable left is the size of the defeat which is almost guaranteed on Nov. 8.

Vegas is the perfect backdrop for Trump. In casinos up and down the Strip, in the shadow of his own hotel/condominium complex on the north end, down-on-their-luck gamblers reach deep into their pockets for cash that will buy one last roulette spin, one last hand of blackjack that will start a winning streak.

The debate is Trump’s final roll of the dice.

How’s it going to play out? To the odds!


Presidential Debate No. 3 Odds


Odds to win Gallup’s post-debate poll

Trump: 4/5

Clinton: 5/4

The slight edge goes to Trump here primarily because Clinton’s cautious instincts will lessen the likelihood of an all-out brawl. More likely, Trump will come out firing and Clinton will counter with her version of Dean Smith’s four-corners offense. Trump on points in a split decision.

Over/Under on number of times Alicia Machado is mentioned by name: 0.5

Machado’s 15 minutes has been over for a while and she’s Clinton’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency talking point if Hillary feels she needs to say something to further secure the women’s vote.

Odds the Clinton camp questions the impartiality of moderator Chris Wallace: 7/8

If it happens, more likely that it occurs pre-debate in an effort to soften the tone of the questions that Wallace asks. Chances of a full-bore, Fox-imposed Wallace attack on Clinton were reduced dramatically when Roger Ailes was forced out at the cable network.

Odds Wallace asks Trump a question about his tax returns: 5/2

Wallace has pretty much avoided this issue on his signature Sunday morning talk show on Fox, so that’s an indication that either he was ordered to go silent on it by his bosses or he doesn’t think the issue is all that important. If taxes haven’t been mentioned by the 45-minute mark, Clinton may have to reach for her bayonet and do the job herself. But she’d much prefer that Wallace brings up the topic.

Odds the candidates shake hands on stage prior to the debate: 1/3

They didn’t shake before debate no. 2, but were forced to say nice things about each other at the end of that second debate and did shake in the aftermath. I foresee a pre-debate shake for round three, though it will be a grudging, insincere handshake between two fourth-graders who have been sent to the principal’s office for fighting at recess.

Odds on how many times the word “Wikileaks” will be said during the debate

0-2:  5/2

3-6: 4/1

7-10: 6/1

11 to 15: 6/1

Over 15: 3/1

It’s pretty much a lock that it will be the core of either the first or second question that Wallace asks. Clinton probably will not use it at all. Trump, of course, will use it as a hammer. The question here is whether or not Trump just uses “emails” instead of “Wikileaks” after the first mention.

Odds any of the women who have accused Bill Clinton of inappropriate sexual advances will be at the debate: 2/1

Trump used them as props at the second debate to divert attention from his “Pussygate” bus comments from 2005. Not likely that he’ll pay their airfare and expenses a second time.

See the original at: Pres. Debate Odds: As time runs short, Trump faces long odds

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART TWO – BY MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in Obfelden

Welcome back!

Today’s post is the second of three parts by the Martha Kennedy as she struggles with the ever-changing requirements of marketing a novel.

Many of us have trod this path. More will tread it soon. Each of us has one or more stories to share about the perils of publishing in a market that is constantly reinventing itself.

This is for all of us who have written books, are thinking about writing a book, or are attempting to market a book in a world where none of the old rules apply.



SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART II – AGENTS AND REJECTION
by Martha Kennedy


I once heard an agent speak to a group of writers. She said, “You have no idea how difficult our jobs are. We have to read all your manuscripts on our own time. We stay up late at night to get through all that.” Seriously. She said that.

This was at a well-known writer’s conference. I was listening to what had been billed as a presentation on, “Finding the Right Agent.” Hearing her, I thought, “Listen, Sweetcheeks. Your income comes from our work. If you don’t like your job, quit, but don’t insult the goose — geese — who lay your golden eggs, your Manhattan apartment, your travel allowance, and keep you in Manolo Blahnik shoes.”

At that same writer’s conference, I made appointments to pitch a novel that had once had an agent. That agent had not performed, so I had fired her and moved on. I knew the book was a very good book (it’s since won two awards). I signed up to talk to three agents during that conference at $40 a pop. My novel is about a man with leprosy. It’s set in the 13th century. The protagonist is an artist. Each agent had confirmed our pitch session and asked for a synopsis and a chapter or two so they would be prepared.

Here’s how that panned out.

One agent was sick of being an agent and sick of talking to authors, so I never got to give a pitch. She talked to me about the problems she was having with her teenaged son, then asked me to send the manuscript and never responded.

The next listened to my pitch and asked, “Have you done any research? Lots of you historical fiction people just make things up.” She asked for the manuscript and a list of sources.

The third listened to my pitch and at the end said, “So what happens to this guy? Does he get married and have kids? Or what?” (This story is about a leper, remember?)

I’m sure there are other kinds of agents. I just have not (yet) met one. Agents are the gate-keepers. To get access to major publishers, you must be an agented writer. There are almost no publishers available who will even consider a manuscript that is not submitted via an agent … and that means the agent must see your work as a future money-maker.

REJECTION


The advice you will get is inevitably “keep trying.” With rejection, you often get a note which says something along the lines of: “We accept new clients based solely upon the current needs and interests of this agency and we simply didn’t see a good match. Given that the publishing industry is admittedly subjective, no doubt another publisher will feel differently.”

“No mea culpa” it says. Not our fault. Annoying as that is to hear, it’s also true.

It means, “The market has little or no interest in this thing you’re trying to persuade us to represent. If it did, you can bet we’d be on it like piranhas on steak.” The only lie is that the publishing industry is “subjective.” It really isn’t. You can be sure they do good market research. While some publishers do not publish, say, “self-help” another publisher might. That’s the limit to the “subjectivity.”

That rejection, by the way, came from a small press who, the year before, had wanted to publish that very book.

When I got into this game there was no Internet. We had to use paper and envelopes and send everything with a(n) SASE. I actually found one of those in my file drawers last week with a hugely expensive return stamp on it and an address for where I lived fifteen years ago. “A relic,” I thought, “of forgotten times.” Though, truth be told (and why not?) a few agents will only accept paper queries. Hassle, yes, but they are possibly more likely to read your pitch for REAL. Here’s why…

My favorite rejection (and I can’t find it now that I want to quote it) was being told that when a particular agency ran my project through their computerized manuscript screening system, the algorithm responded that my work did not have the qualities deemed necessary to be a publishing success. I laughed at first, having been rejected by an algorithm, then I realized that with online submissions, a writer’s work is likely to be evaluated by a computer program designed to measure its probable marketability.

Which isn’t to say “don’t try.” Just know the cards are absolutely, certainly, 100% stacked against you unless you are keyed into the market; you are Dan Brown ahead of Dan Brown, so to speak. The downside to success (and it might not appear to be much of a downside) is that it’s very difficult for J. K. Rowling to write anything but Harry Potter. She wants to; she has a nom de plume under which she writes other things — none of them have had much success.

When you’re work is accepted by a publisher, you can get screwed in new and amazing ways. Many are the stories. Here’s mine. Last year I did the work of submitting my latest novel, The Brothers Path, to the available pantheon of agents and publishers who might be interested. I kept a spread sheet that helped me stay on top of the progress of the queries I’d sent.

The great day and jubilation came, and my novel, The Brothers Path, was accepted by two small publishers. I had to choose. My editor said it was an “embarrassment of riches,” but I didn’t feel that way because I had no crystal ball. Most other things being equal, one was closer and offered an earlier publication date, so I chose them, but with mixed feelings.

I was sent a good contract, signed it, prepared to move forward, still with my mixed feelings and the knowledge I’d have to talk to this publisher about one thing in particular …

You see, when I looked at their list of publications I saw Richard Wagner’s face on the cover of a book about Victorian England. I love Wagner. I figured “A book about Wagner!” and I checked the book out on Amazon. The story had nothing to do with Wagner.

Summoning my courage (after all the great big publisher was doing me the honor of publishing my book, right?) I told the publisher I was worried about the cover of my novel because, well, Wagner. He said he hadn’t known it was Wagner. He’d looked for free images of faces of 19th century men, and there was Wagner. He then let me know that he had since bought face recognition software (an algorithm?) so that wouldn’t happen again.

“And really,” he said, “how many American readers would recognize it?”

To myself, said, “I did.”

Things moved along fine until he went out of business. At the time, I was crushed. He sent me the formatted manuscript (a real boon to someone who knows she will be self-publishing). I set it up on Lulu and Createspace. Ordered some copies. Got them back and saw that this idiot had changed some of the words in my novel so that one or two important passages no longer made sense. I know I should have checked earlier, but…

If he’d read my book, he hadn’t understood it. He changed the word “fall” to “autumn” when it was used in a conversation between two clerics who are discussing the Garden of Eden and the discovery of human sexuality:

“Tell me, Brother. How many men and women come to you with stories of carnal desires and sin? And how many of those are members of your own order?”

Hannes answered honestly. “Everyone does. Everyone.”

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Fall Autumn, Brother Leo.”

He had changed “After the Fall” to “After the Autumn,” thus rendering the passage to mean that people couldn’t have sex until after December 21.

Since then there has not been a day I have not felt grateful to the fates for the way things turned out. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered ones.” St. Teresa of Avila, but hey. I read that in Truman Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers.


Jonny Geller is a literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown, the world’s oldest Literary and Talent agency, based in London looks at what lies behind some of the most successful books of recent years. He explores the patterns and trends underlying their popularity and describes what a literary agent looks for in a writer.


72-The Bros Path Cover PromoThe world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

If you haven’t read part I, you will find it here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I


Come back next Saturday for part III of “So you want to be a writer.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to Historical Fiction by Martha Kennedy. Her daily blog is Where’s the Windmill? 

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I – GUEST BLOG BY MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in ObfeldenToday’s post is the first of three parts by the fabulous Martha Kennedy as she struggles with the weird world of marketing a novel. Many of us have trod this path and even more will be treading it soon. Each of us has a story (or many stories) to tell about the perils of publishing in a market that’s been reinventing itself continuously for decades.

This is for all of us who have written books, are thinking about writing a book, or are attempting to market a book in a world where none of the old rules apply.


I write literary historical fiction, so everything I have to say is from that perspective. People who write different things, in other genres for different audiences are likely to have their own stories about this process. My novels (so far) all are set in the rather dim past in Switzerland. I suspect the ONLY genre less appealing to publishers than historical fiction might be poetry.

But that’s okay.

Before I submit a manuscript, I hire a professional editor. Then, I scrupulously follow the requirements of each agency to which I submit my project. There is really nothing more any writer can do. I write well. I know this because my work has won awards. And, strangely enough, I’m OK with the system as it is. It hasn’t worked for me, but I understand why. Here’s what I’ve learned.

YOU NEED A BIT OF LUCK

You can be the best writer in the world. Ever. Objectively the best. Yet it does not mean your work will sell to a publisher, get printed, or distributed to the public. On the flip side, you can be a not-so-good writer and wind up with a bestseller.

To detail the whole long road of what it takes to get your work commercially published these days, you have to know from the get-go that it might actually be (oh my god!) a crap-shoot.

It’s an inscrutable equation that leads to a bestseller. The right story. The right voice. The right time. Taken objectively, Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is not a great work of art. It is, as Brown himself says, “An entertaining story.” A manipulative page-turner with a provocative, captivating theme. It was exactly right for the moment it was published. Dan Brown is a good writer, but a lot of what propelled his book into the stratosphere, was luck.

Another historical novel that’s not great literature (or even good literature, or good writing) is New York Times bestseller, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.” The author, Jennifer Chiaraverini, had a solid following based on the Elm Creek Quilts series and the book hit the market exactly as the United States elected its first Black president. There is much wrong with the book, including plagiarism, yet many people (not me) found it to be likable and readable.

This advice for authors about the advantages of being nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award is telling:

Being nominated for a Goodreads Choice Awards is the result of several factors:

A book needs to have gained traction on Goodreads with people rating and adding the book to their shelves. As always, getting your book into the hands (and e-readers) of as many people as possible is key. Goodreads has many tools to help authors and publishers promote their books to readers. These include our giveaways program, targeted advertising, Ask the Author, editorial interviews, and more.

Keep the moment going by sparking discussion about your book through Ask the Author.
Consider advertising the book on Goodreads to keep reminding people about the book (and mention existing ratings/reviews to reinforce how readers are loving it).

Write a really, really good book!

Writing a really good book is at the bottom of this list for a reason.

IT’S ALL ABOUT MARKETING

More important than your book is a query letter that stimulates literary agents to salivate while imagining the big bucks they’re going to get when they sell your book to a publisher. And maybe Hollywood.

Books have been written on how to write a query letter. I have written successful ones, I think. Honestly, I’m not sure if my letters were great or the person on the other end of the message liked the idea, or their boss said, “Hey, if you get a query for a book about leprosy in the 13th century, ask for the manuscript.” I have no way to know. Regardless, there are a few basics that apply:

  • It must be grammatically perfect. No typos (if you can swing it; I’m incapable).
  • It should be written with a degree of panache. You need to generate some excitement.
  • I learned to study my audience and followed instructions, skills every writer needs.
AGENTS

Love them or hate them, selling your book is a lot easier if you have one. That being said, agents are (in my experience) petty little gods and goddesses who deign to recognize the work of writers who they regard as fools.

Why do I have such a cynical view? Experience. I’ve queried hundreds of agents. Pretty much universally, I have gotten little but arrogance and rudeness in return. Lucky for me, I think it’s funny.

72-The Bros Path Cover Promo


The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.


Come back next Saturday for part II of “So you want to be a writer.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to Historical Fiction by Martha Kennedy. Her daily blog is Where’s the Windmill? 

A NEW VOICE FOR SERENDIPITY! INTRODUCING ELLIN CURLEY

I was delighted when Ellin offered to write some pieces for Serendipity. Good friend, passionate animal advocate, gourmet cook … a women who has done a lot of living and has made the best lemonade out of life’s lemons.


CHANGING THE PAST

by Ellin Curley

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time travel. I’m particularly fond of the fantasy of going back in time, knowing what you know now, and changing some pivotal moment in your past. I used to wish fervently for this fantasy to become a reality so I could undo some of my Top 10 “mistakes” and bad judgement calls. Many of those involved my first husband – like deciding to marry him and deciding — multiple times — to stay with him when reason told me I should leave.

72-Ellin_11

I’m a logical person. The problem with this fantasy is I would have to accept the drastic changes in my personal time line which would inevitably flow from new and improved life choices.

The biggest and most obvious change is obvious: if I didn’t marry my ex, I wouldn’t have my children. I can’t imagine life without them, so, scratch that option.

If I leave him after I have my kids, life still changes so dramatically the odds of my ever meeting my current husband are virtually nil. I’m not prepared to give him up. He’s the best piece of luck I ever had, the best decision I ever made.

What this adds up to? I seem to have reached a point in my life I never thought I would achieve: at peace. Knowing all the crap I went through led me to where I am now. Made me into who I am.

My husband and I often talk about how, without the angst in our past, we wouldn’t have appreciated each other when we did meet. We’re pretty sure we wouldn’t have gotten along nearly as well without having had to pass through the sturm-und-drang of our first marriages.

It turns out I don’t really wish my past would go away. Not anymore. I wouldn’t have minded it being a bit easier, leaving fewer scars. Even so, I’m content with where I am and who I’ve become. Whatever the price I paid, it was worth it.