Monday, April 03, 2017

Opening Day

It doesn’t matter what the calendar says or what the weather forecast might be. The first day of spring, and the beginning of summer, is baseball’s opening day. Until then, the chill, gray skies of winter still linger, even in sunny Tucson where we’ve already hit ninety degrees.

It’s always been that way for me. Baseball and summer belong together. From the sultry afternoons during school vacations, when I lie in a hammock with the radio tuned to the Mets, to an April morning where snow fell up near Flagstaff, and I loaded the stream of the Red Sox game on my HDTV, the ritual of daily baseball games continues.

As I cheered the Red Sox win, I realized something was missing. At first I thought it was Big Papi, David Ortiz, who retired at the end of last season. And, yes, I did miss the roar of the crowd as he came up to bat as I struggled to recognize the new members of the team. But that wasn’t it.

I realized a part of me was waiting for my phone to ring, for that familiar voice to say, “Hello” and then ask if I’d watched the game. We were once close, but broke apart several years ago, our contact limited to Christmas cards and occasional meetings and the calls after Red Sox games. Not every game, but in Arizona, we knew there was someone else not too far away who would know what it felt like to win that game. Or suffer the loss.

My friend passed away last month.

A sudden trip to the ER, surgery to remove a tumor, a massive stroke a few days later. Although he’d had cardiac issues for several years, I think we both thought of that as just part of getting old. He saw his doctors regularly and neither of us expected him to die any time soon.

Until he did.

I didn’t mourn him until today. The end of the ballgame, the lack of a phone call, and the realization that not only would there never be a phone call again, but I never would have moved to Boston, never would have become a Red Sox fan if it weren’t for him, settled over me like a quilt filled with lead.

My usual reaction to something like this is to shut myself off from it, away from the ache, giving up something I enjoy because I can’t stand the pain. But the pain is still there, even if I’ve walled it off behind bricks of feigned apathy.

And so this year, even though it may hurt, I’ll watch every Red Sox game and remember Ted. I hope he can see the games in heaven. And maybe he’ll cheer along with me when they win.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time

I have 404 books in the TBR collection on my Kindle. In case you don’t know, TBR stands for To Be Read. I have three bookshelves of print books I want to read. I’m not including several non-fiction books I own for reference purposes that I’d really like to read in full “someday.” Nor am I including books on my private Amazon Wish List or on my For Later shelf at the library.

I figure that even if I gave up watching television, movies, and writing my own novels so I could read most of the day, it would take me four or five years to get through all the books I already own. That’s assuming I don’t add any more books to either my Kindle or my shelves, an almost impossible task since people, both in real life and online, are always recommending books that sound so good I want to read them as soon as possible.

I didn’t use to have this problem. Growing up, I didn’t see a bookstore until I was in junior high, what is now the upper grades of middle school, and I only saw one then because my English teacher wanted us to read a book we had to buy and told us where the bookstore was. My mother had to drive me there.

My mother took us to the library every other Saturday (my grandfather visited on the other weekends), where I checked out the maximum of six books at a time. Once we got home, all of us sat in the living room reading our “new” books. On very special Christmases or birthdays, we’d sometimes get a book as a present. That’s how I discovered the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew.

One of the best things about going to college was finding all the bookstores not only on campus but in town. I discovered the joy of casual browsing of new titles and then carefully selecting the one or two paperbacks I could afford.

When I got married and moved to a small town with an even smaller library, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, got the free books and bought the requisite number of paid books (and maybe a few more), then canceled my subscription. I reread those treasured purchases several times over the course of the next few years.

I finally got a job where I could afford to buy books of my own on a regular basis. And Barnes and Noble and Borders built superstores in the suburbs, often on my way home from my job, and I was back to browsing the tables at the front and the racks at the back and leaving with a shopping bag full of brand new books. But that tended to be self-limiting, too, because how many books can you take home at a time?

And then there was Amazon. And ebooks. Suddenly, there really was no limit. Add the indie author explosion and the ability to download books for free, and things got totally out of control.

I find it hard to read longer, more complicated books lately because of “Squirrel!” syndrome. If a book doesn’t grab me right away, or the pace slows down too much in the middle, I have a tendency to abandon it in favor of a different book because I have so many other books I want to read. This disturbs me because I’m sure I’m missing some awfully good books that I’d really enjoy if only I had the patience.

I’ve even tried to reread a few books I read years ago and thought magnificent—"Captains and the Kings", "Hyperion", "A Tale of Two Cities"—and not been able to get too far into them. We live in a Twitter world and are too easily distracted when thoughts are longer that 140 characters.

This disappoints me. I know those are good books. I really would like to read them again and have the same reaction as I did decades ago, although that might not be possible. I’d like to tackle something a little deeper than a cozy mystery, which is what I tend to read most now. But the older I get, the more conscious I am of how little time I have left. I want to whittle down that TBR collection, not feel I’ve missed something by staying too long with a book that doesn’t intrigue me.

I have no answers to this dilemma. But I wonder how many of us are reading as fast as we can, conscious of our Goodreads yearly reading goals more than of the actual books we’re consuming. And if I’ll ever have the patience to read an epic novel again.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, no matter how much resolve one summons, it’s impossible to follow through on a plan.

Last December, when I was setting my goals for 2016, I blithely assumed I’d write another 50,000 word draft of a mystery novel during NaNoWriMo. After all, I’d done it three years in a row, so why wouldn’t I be able to do it for a fourth year?

Life, that’s why.

After I published Royal Purple Murder, I sat up and looked around me. I’d been so wrapped up in launching the African Violet Club Mysteries, I’d pretty much neglected the house and yard. As it is with indie publishing, with a house you can either spend time or money. I didn’t have the money to hire a landscape service to maintain the yard or a cleaning service to maintain the house. Furthermore, I didn’t have the money to have the house painted inside and out, replace the worn carpeting, or think about new furniture.

My only option was to spend the time to do it myself—as much as possible. Painting the outside of the house wasn’t something I was ever going to tackle. But I’m not young any more, and a couple of hours weeding in the yard would often result in a couple of days with aching muscles and an arthritis flare-up, leaving me with no energy to keep on going.

I also realized I had enjoyed my months as a full-time author, where my first priority each day was to work on my novels, schedule promotions, study writing craft, and figure out how to design book covers and advertisements. It was what I really wanted to do with my life, not shampoo carpets or paint ceilings.

There was one solution: sell my house if I could and downsize into an apartment. I wasn’t even sure this was possible, but I had to try. So I spent a month of preparation, hiring those cleaning people and getting the yard weeded and decluttering to some degree. And then I called a real estate agent and asked what I could sell the house for. By this time, I would have been happy to leave the house debt-free. When she told me I could get more than I expected (although not as much as I’d paid for the house), I put it on the market.

There followed two months of showing the house, negotiating the offer, packing, looking for an apartment, and moving. I have been in my new location for a month now, and I still have boxes in my office and the living room. I haven’t hung pictures or done any decorating. And I’ve had multiple issues with the apartment and many visits from maintenance to resolve them.

But I thought I could still do NaNoWriMo this month. It turns out, I can’t. The outline has been a struggle. I have eight new characters (four of them suspects) who need to be fleshed out. I have at least two new locations that I’ve had to envision so I can describe them for my readers. I could easily spend two more months on preparation.

But I won’t. At least, not right away. I seem to reach a point in starting each novel where preparation isn’t enough. I have to start writing the story to know where it’s headed. I reached that point this week and wrote the second scene in the novel. It took me two days because I’m rusty. But I’ve got 1100 new words this week, and I’m comfortable with what I wrote.

That’s hardly NaNo speed, which is why I haven’t been posting my progress. With any luck, I’ll have the first draft done by the end of the year. Well, not luck, but work. And maybe next year I’ll be ready to write a NaNo novel again.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

NaNoWriMo Days 3, 4, and Probably 5

I'm still working on planning and outlining. I'm getting good ideas, but it's going to take a while to put a complete outline together. Tasks always take longer than I think they will.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 2

So this morning I hinted at what was going on with my NaNo novel. I decided I really needed to create at least a cursory outline in order to write this book. So I spent several hours brainstorming and making lists and looking at the story structure guidelines I've picked to use for this book.

Then I decided I needed to tackle some more boxes. I must be about at my limit of unpacking because after three boxes of kitchen stuff (which required climbing on the stepstool to put in overhead cabinets and bending over to put in the under-the-counter cabinets) my arthritic back was killing me. It hasn't hurt this bad in years.

So I took Aleve and sat in my recliner and read. Then it was time for the World Series (which is in a rain delay as I write this).

So a lot of explanation to say:

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