Category Archives: living

Books slowly read

When the mood strikes, I can inhale a book.  Lately, I’ve adopted a habit of one daily chapter with my lunchtime tome.  Or not so heavy, depends on what strikes me, also what’s good to read alongside a cream cheese bagel.  Not everything is, but enough literature swirls so I am usually deep into some wonderful story or non-fictional curiosity.  Right now the lunch read is Big Day Coming by Jesse Jarnow, a story about American indie music, but mostly about Yo La Tengo, one of my favorite bands.  The last lunch read was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, a fabulous, lyrical lit fic wonderland.  I took two chapters a day with that story, partially because chapters were short, and that I savored Mr. Nagata’s world set against Kafka’s, third and first POVs alternating perfectly.

But sometimes novels are read slowly because of the subject matter.  I don’t shy away from dark books; those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.  When I came across Andy Szpuk’s Sliding on the Snow Stone, I was a little hesitant, as I am a bit squeamish, but Andy noted the first chapter was the worst.  Still, I was faffing around, taking a chapter every few days, trying to get my head around the Holodomor, genocide enacted against Ukrainians by the Soviets during the early 1930s.  Then when World War II began, I ground to a halt.  The book sat untouched for days, while I tended other tasks, read about Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, founders of Yo La Tengo.  Easier to immerse myself in the late 70s and early 80s indie rock scene than face Nazis invading Ukraine.

I’ll get back to Ira and Georgia today, but last night my husband’s snores rattled, leaving me restless.  I got out of bed, then picked up my iPod.  Andy’s book was waiting, or rather his father’s life, tucked into a tiny device no one in the 1940s would have imagined.  But then, I have a hard time reconciling those years with my sedate, technology-crammed Silicon Valley world.  Coming on seventy years since the end of the war, eighty since the Holodomor, those events feel far more ancient, or I just wish they were.  Reading how the Soviets starved millions of Ukrainians, then how the Nazis were no better, I wondered how human beings can be so cruel, so brutal, so inhuman.  Yet, mayhem exists right here today, perhaps not reaching those levels of wickedness, or maybe it’s just less ugly.  Or that we see so much on TV and the internet, we are numb.

If you read Sliding on the Snow Stone, you won’t be left numb.

I finished the novel last night as my kids came and went, early twenty-somethings that while not ignorant of history, couldn’t fathom what Stefan endures.  Well, my twenty-two-year-old son is a huge WWII buff, but it’s one thing to read about in the safety of 2012.  It’s another to be there, where Andy Szpuk put me last night.  I wasn’t on my sofa, ceiling fan whirring above me.  I was trekking across Slovakia, trying to reach Germany, where Allied troops might take mercy on me.  I was covered in lice and filth from weeks without a bath, so hungry, wondering where I was, would I see my home again.  Feeling in the pit of hell, but, deep breath taken, a light shines, the tunnel ends.  But as one chapter closes, another begins.

Our attention spans are so brief, surfing to the next site or show or…  But just seventy years ago, which when a few decades are collected really isn’t that long a stretch, most of this planet fought an enormous war.  Battles have raged since, and will continue, yet not with that much carnage and ferocity.  I don’t mean the guns and bombs, but humans losing their humanity.  Souls were stripped, leaving fellow beings to suffer.  I’ll be glad when I sit in my sunny back garden in four hours, losing myself in young lovers trying to form a band.  But when I finish, heading back into the house, I hope I say a prayer of thanks; for Andy having written this book, for his father having survived those atrocities.  And that in my lifetime, hearts will grow less hard.  And that someone will read Sliding on the Snow Stone and find their own soul stirred.

What kind of published author I want to be…

I’ve given this a few days’ thought; I’m an indie author, okay, that’s very nice but…  What kinds of books do I want to release?

Well, I came up with two types of tales, and one manner of novelist.  I want to release relevant books.  Thoughtful novels.  Stories that for whatever reason grab me, don’t let go, even if they need the editing machete.  Okay, sounds good.

And I don’t want to work so hard.  That’s mostly due to my husband, who at forty-seven is already pondering retirement.  Not any more than sending me real estate listings from various locations: Honey, wouldn’t this be a great place to live?  Now, he’s not going to retire for several years, but it’s on his mind, while I’m just getting my publishing engines revved.  But I’m not young, and while I start early in the morning, no longer am I so driven to work until my husband gets home, four-ish most afternoons.  While it might seem odd, entering my second year of indie publishing, I just don’t want to work long days and weekends, unless I’m writing (like right now).

I’ve released a good number of books, eight indies, one with a small press.  Dianne Gray asked how many novels have I written.  Well, over forty.  The last four years have been full of words, just packed!  But as of right now I’m only planning on publishing maybe half of them, which includes those already out.  Just not enough time to sort them all, even if I stopped writing today.

Which I can’t, too many ideas teeming.  I came up with another around two thirty this morning, jeez!  The last thing I need is another plot.  (But it is always fun to make a new playlist for said idea…)

The books I culled weren’t inherently bad, just needed too much work, or weren’t relevant to me anymore, not thoughtful enough.  Those three are my manifesto, of sorts.  Not that I’m militant about it, just that sometimes decisions whack upside my head, that light bulb you know; aha!  I wasn’t actively thinking about books to publish or what kind of author, blah blah blah.  But my husband’s recent absence left gaping holes in my days, my evenings, my heart.  Time to ponder, time to write, time I should have spent scrubbing the shower.  Thank goodness that chap loves me.  I guess if I’m not working long hours as a writer, plenty of time will remain to clean the bathroom.

Maybe I’ll rethink that not working so hard clause…


Staying on track

I’ve been writing solidly since 2008, and as I’m somewhat prolific, manuscripts have collected.  Not all of them will be published, but I thought many would.  Revising would consume a decent chunk of time, but time seemed plentiful.  Right now I’m prepping the last three of a series; one of the themes is more time than money.  Usually that’s the case, but well into my forties, I have to reassess.  And as I do, I start looking at novels, wondering just where do some belong?

When we lived in the UK, we thought we would be there for ages, hence we did little travelling to the continent, concentrating on seeing the folks back home.  Those relationships were cultivated on holidays, and in letters.  I made (and I do mean by force of will) my kids write weekly notes to grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  The kids complained, it was a tedious ritual, sort of like writing a lot of fiction that might just sit in a computer until the end of time.  The kids didn’t get back many responses for their output, but sometimes it’s not what we receive in tangible manner.  It’s what comes from the exercise, whether it’s stronger family bonds or paragraphs and chapters, all from one sentence after another.  Older manuscripts have their strengths, but many weaknesses.  What I write now isn’t just cleaner prose, but a more disciplined craft.  And there is only so much time.

As a family, we enjoyed Disneyland Paris.  My husband and I loved Spain and Ireland and I adored Belgium.  While I never did hit Kettering or Leicester, I embraced Yorkshire and am glad for the rest.  Equally I’m grateful for every book I’ve written, but not all will see the light of day.  Sacrifices are made; my children didn’t explore Europe, but my daughter’s wedding hummed to the bliss of close family reunited.  Time is precious; I want to make mine count.

Blogging, Olympics, and Doctor Who

Two weeks ago the Olympics began, and as a former resident of Yorkshire, England, I watched the opening ceremonies with more than a touch of pride.  Danny Boyle pulled off a British extravaganza, Team GB has excelled, and while I don’t when I’ll get back to my second home, one day it will occur.  Several cuppas will be enjoyed in the process.

I started blogging in the UK; my eldest was in America, doing a year of high school, living with my husband’s sister’s family.  My daughter wanted updates from our northern English village, introduced me to Blogger, and I’ve been poking around blogs ever since.  Switching to WordPress during the Opening Ceremonies, I followed the excitement while adding posts and pages.  I like WordPress; building my website was far more easy than I imagined.  I will always recall trying to sort some techie detail while going between the LA Times, the BBC, and the NY Times, wondering just how was everything going to fall into place; the blog, Britain’s shine on a world stage.  So far, it’s all been pretty fantastic.

Now, as the Olympics wind down, the blogging well in hand, another topic tugs on my heart; Doctor Who will start up again, maybe by the end of the month.  We began our foray into Who-dom when my husband took our eldest to Manchester for her SAT’s.  We didn’t know all of us would be coming back to America, but she was, for university.  They watched the Ninth Doctor in Manchester, then brought him to our village, where Doctor Who took firm residence.  We lugged him back with us in plots and Daleks; my eldest has a Dalek in the guise of a now empty bubble bath container, and the sign for the newlyweds’ parking spot at the reception contained a Tardis and book of spoilers amid wedding rings and other pertinent info, like Parking Reserved, the big date, etc, etc.  It’s been a funny summer, what with her wedding, little writing (although it’s going well now, and will be attended to as soon as I wrap this up), Olympics, new blogging site, new website too.  And now, as it comes to a close, there’s Doctor Who.

Many songs from previous series’ soundtracks inspire my writing, I’ve felt the blessed hand of exquisite drama fall on my shoulder after watching more than a few episodes.  The writing is so often spot-on, a perfect blend of sci-fi and the heart.  Plenty of heart, as The Doctor has two.  It’s been a summer of heart-wrenching moments, from watching my eldest say I do, to the inspired and magical effort of all Olympians, but especially those of the host nation.  I am a Californian first, then firmly set in northern English soil.  Cut me and I bleed Yorkshire tea.

Big things will occur in Series 7; Amy and Rory will depart, a new companion revealed, great music from Murray Gold and the National Orchestra of Wales to absorb.  I probably won’t blog much about Doctor Who, unless I come here raving about the top-notch scripts or the fate of Mr and Mrs Pond.  But I wanted to note, as the Olympics herald their last medals, as I feel quite at home here on WordPress, just a little of what makes my heart sing.  Blogging, as I just can’t stay away from it.  Sport, which even at its darkest moments revives the soul with athletic grace and stamina.  And of course, The Doctor.  He doesn’t use a gun, often doesn’t have a plan.  But somehow, usually the best occurs.

And when it doesn’t, those two hearts ache more than we humans could ever know.

Sunday mornings

My life is filled with routines; Grape Nuts nearly every day, alongside several cuppas.  A bagel, with cream cheese, for lunch.  Writing occurs in an orderly fashion, one chapter a day when I’m noveling, always in the morning when my brain is most engaged.  My son has Asperger’s, and sometimes I wonder if I gave it to him, or he lent it to me.  Autism touched our lives who knows how, but on some planes I am pretty OCD, or just plain anal.  It leads to a comforting schedule that can be broken, to provide relief.  And when I return to my happy zone, I’m even more pleased.

One of the best habits is shared with my spouse; Sunday mornings we travel to Los Gatos for breakfast.  Usually (again my routine flares) I have a Belgian waffle with fruit; summertime sees fresh strawberries, autumn and winter I prefer bananas.  Today French cakes were on special, with vanilla pudding filling, topped with homemade granola and strawbs.  I chose a full order, aware that one third would go home to my daughter.  (She inherits half the waffle every week.)  My husband ordered his usual eggs over medium, bacon, spuds with extra grilled onions, wheat toast.  It’s taken him five years to stop asking for brown bread, an English trait.  We chatted with a lovely gentleman who arrives as early as we do; it starts off the week, or ends it, with perfect harmony.

I’ll spend the rest of this morning writing the fourth chapter in the WIP, while doing laundry.  Perhaps some baseball this afternoon (SF Giants and Colorado Rockies), then maybe some American football this evening.  It’s just preseason, but I’m a dedicated fan, and it’s the lark of the first game of 2012.  Soon Sundays won’t only mean The Los Gatos Cafe (downtown), but a day filled with gridiron action.  Being early August, footie dreams are still a few weeks away.

Then for the next few months my Sundays will teem with excitement.  For now, that breakfast stands as a slice of heaven.  Life is very very good…

Now it’s late

This has been a long day; I rose at five a.m., am still conscious at eight fifty-four p.m.  In the meantime, I’ve written the second chapter of Splitting the Sky, edited a couple of chapters of the last Alvin’s Farm novel, um…  What else did I do today?  Chatted with my kids, sat in the sun while eating a bagel, watered plants, savored a crit partner’s astute comments, oh I know!  I imported my year of publishing blog to WordPress.  That’s how comfortable I’ve become with this site, that in the space of less than a week, I’ve sorted this website and blog, and imported two others.  One is about Splitting the Sky.  The other was started last December tracking one year in indie publishing.  I think it looks okay, or maybe it’s just so late that my brain’s fried and tomorrow is another day.

Good thing I had a leaded cuppa at two this afternoon.  I was gonna need it…

Amazon might not be cordial with Smashwords but…

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have put their money where their hearts are, donating two and a half million dollars to defend the gay marriage law in Washington State.  I don’t distribute my ebooks through Amazon for two reasons; they don’t have a deal with Smashwords, and they aren’t keen on free ebooks.  Even if I charged for my novels, I just don’t have the time to format them for Kindle, when Smash already does that.  One of these days Amazon might become copacetic with Smashwords, but that’s getting away from what I wanted to note today.

When I read about this on the BBC, I was actually on a hunt about the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.  Sort of nice being eight hours behind, catching up as I drink tea, come to consciousness.  But this article was pretty much front and center, and while I sniff at Amazon’s attempts to take over the world, I am so pleased that when it came down to brass tacks, Bezos did more than Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer, way more.  Maybe it was an email written to him by a former employee from the early days.  Maybe this just struck some chord.  It does with me, a couple of my books noting this issue.  Not sure why I thought about it this morning, was just waiting for the kettle to chime, thinking how lucky I am to do what I love, and be married to whom I adore.  Sometimes those things get taken for granted, but they really are a priceless treasure.