Essays, general essay

Looking for Beta Readers!

My latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, is ready for beta readers. Basically, it’s just test-reading the novel to see what needs fixing before it gets released next spring. Why so far in advance? It needs to be ready several months before the May release date to give reviewers time to read it and post their reviews.

The story is set in Los Angeles in 1870, a time when the small town was very violent and impossibly corrupt, with the most corrupt being the Zanjero or water overseer. When Zanjero Bert Rivers’ body floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja, winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox finds herself defending the person accused of killing him – the town’s most notorious madam. To save her, Maddie must find out who killed the despicable Bert Rivers, without revealing how she knows the madam is innocent. It’s a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

I’m really excited and proud of this novel and hope you’ll like it, too. If you want to read it, there is one small catch – you’ll have to read it in .pdf and send me notes on what you liked and didn’t like. There are limited spots available, so be the first to email me via the contact form to the right or below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and your comments!

Essays, general essay

I’m a Font Freak

I love fonts – what we used to call typefaces back in the day when people actually set type. I love going through the bazillions out there, testing first this one, then that. Debating whether I want to go with serifs or without. And I do have some absolute faves.

Now, I am aware that it is not normal to have a favorite font. It’s not normal to have a favorite Shakespeare play, or a favorite character (Puck) from my favorite play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And if you really want to see someone’s eyes glaze over in record time, start getting excited about file folders. I’m a strict third cut tab person, by the way. Normal has never been my thing.

So I’m cool with loving fonts. The only thing that makes me sad is that I can’t usually use my favorite fonts on my business cards or as website headers because most people can’t read them. Kind of works at cross purposes, you know?

But you wait. One of these days, I’m going to find a way to use Diploma on something that isn’t a diploma. I will. I will. I will.

Essays, general essay

Preaching in the Streets

Evangelizers on Hollywood Blvd. recently, and, yes, they ignored all the homeless people nearby.

Several months ago, I was waiting for a bus across the street from the L.A. City Hall when I saw a group of about five or six young women, all wearing the same bright green t-shirt, surrounding an old Hispanic woman sitting on the next bunch. One of the green-shirts was seated next to her, talking earnestly at the old woman. You could tell the old woman was nervous – as who wouldn’t be? Another group of green-shirts, guys, was nearby and I saw the small pamphlets on the ground and realized what this group was up to.

They were evangelizing – as in trying to get people to convert to Christianity. It’s bad enough when someone is being kind and sincere about sharing his or her faith. It’s bad enough when I tell these people that I am a Christian, and that, yes, I’ve said the magic prayer, but they still keep at it. What really got me torqued off at this group was that right across the street, the north lawn of City Hall was dotted with homeless people. Were any of the green-shirts over there, handing out sandwiches and clean socks? Maybe sitting and listening to somebody? No. They were all gathered on the side of the street I was on, molesting an old lady.

I got mad and called them on it. One sweet young thing told me they were praying for the homeless people. I made an allusion to the Epistle of St. James, chapter 2, verses 15-17 (you know, what good does it do tell someone naked to dress warmly and be well and walk by him) and got on the bus.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about the incident with the compassion and love I was really not feeling for these people ever since. See, the thing is, most people out there stumping for Jesus are doing so thanks to their pastors, who are playing the guilt card, big time. They tell their flocks that if they really cared about people, they’d make sure they heard the Gospel, how unkind it is not to evangelize, etc., ad nauseum. And you can’t entirely blame the pastors. Not only are they hearing the same message, they’re looking at their shrinking Sunday collections and either consciously or unconsciously (I suspect the latter) figuring they’d better put the pressure on to bring in some new bodies.

The problem is, that same zeal is exactly why those Sunday collections are shrinking. People simply don’t believe in churches anymore. We can go into the whole Millenials are disaffected routine, and that does play a part. But I strongly suspect another part is the narrow-minded self-righteousness of people like the green-shirts, talking about the love of Jesus, but completely ignoring the hungry people across the street.

This bothers me because I happen to think that this planet would be a great deal better off if Christians (including me) really tried to practice the love of Jesus instead of talking about it. And it is practicing. None of us gets it totally right. Practicing the love of Jesus is about being present to other people, not quintuple-teaming an old lady until she says your prayer. It’s not worrying about the state of other people’s souls, but staying focused on the state of your own. If someone is genuinely searching and wants to hear about your faith, great. Be ready. But Jesus’ final directive of making disciples of all nations may actually mean he wants multi-cultural representation (in which case, we’ve met that goal – there are Christians pretty much everywhere), not that he wants everyone to become a Christian.

I can’t say for sure. All I can do is keep trying to be kind and present and loving to everyone, from my husband at his most annoying to the smelly bum sitting next to me on the bus. And give money to the poor. Maybe remember to buy an extra package of clean socks for the local homeless shelter. Carrying a few extra fruit bars in my backpack to share with anyone who asks. And probably a few other things I should be doing. And I’ll keep praying for the green-shirts, too. Why not?

 

Essays, general essay

Post Re-Visit: Born on July 4

fireworks[This is actual a re-post I wrote two years ago, but since today actually is July 4 and trust me, nothing’s changed, I thought why not re-post it again. Enjoy and have a happy Independence Day.]

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew niece of my Uncle Sam,

Born on the Fourth of July.

(George M. Cohan)

Yeah – that’s my theme song, at least this time of year. I actually hesitated to even mention my birthday because, frankly, I’ve already gotten my share of good wishes from the Facebook crowd. But then my mother said I needed to write about it.

Well, it is both a blessing and a curse to have a birthday on a major holiday. It can be kind of cool and distinctive to be born on July 4. I have never worked or gone to school on my birthday. People always grin when they hear what day my birthday is.

But there are also some significant downsides. Like, birthday parties. Ever try to do a princess party in red, white and blue? I did get the Cinderella cake when I turned 6 (or was if 5?), but the majority of the cakes and decorations were fireworks, flags and buntings. Mom said there wasn’t much else available.

Worse yet, while my school mates and friends could have their birthday parties on their actual birthdays, I never got to. Everyone was celebrating with their families. Even now, when most adults have to wait for the weekend to celebrate their birthdays, I seldom get a birthday party. When am I going to have it? Folks still celebrate holidays with their families. And if I do get invited to a party, it’s about the holiday. Which is fine. It just makes the few parties I’ve had that much more special.

I think the jokes are the worst, though. Any idea how many times I’ve been called a firecracker? By my parents? (Thanks for dropping that one this year, Mom.) One wise-ass even suggested my pigtails looked like fuses – so should have blown up on him. And, yes, it is true that I briefly thought the fireworks were for me, but I was four. That’s four years old, barely old enough to understand the concept of a birthday, let alone a whole nation. It’s been a few years. I’ve figured it out.

It could be a lot worse. I have a friend whose birthday is on December 25. Now that one seriously sucks, with all the two-for-one presents, and talk about your birthday getting lost in all the celebrating. She turned 50 before she got her own birthday party. Blech!

So, I’m not complaining. Just pointing out that having a distinctive birthday is not all sunshine and lollipops. Ultimately, being born on July 4 is more fun than not.

In fact, I’ve got a song about my birthday. Cool, huh? This is from the movie they made about composer and songwriter George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as Cohan. And I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip from the film:

Essays, general essay

My Latest Novel Came Out…

Actually, it came out two weeks or so ago. I was going to do an ad campaign. A special post with a big cover reveal (ooh-aah). I was going to be all over social media.

I was going to be a good little author and do the whole Blatant Self Promotion Thing. I was going to be confident but pleasant, letting folks know without being annoying about it. I did do a couple author events, which fortunately cropped up right around release time. But otherwise, I dropped the ball and let it roll into the street and under a bus.

I know – the wags say that if you’re not confident in your work, no one’s going to be for you. And everytime someone does, I realize just how utterly screwed I am.

It’s not that I’m not proud of The Last Witnesses. It’s the third in my mystery series set in the 1920s and featuring Freddie Little and Kathy Briscow. Freddie’s sister, Honoria, finds a body in her apartment and plunges all three of them into a conspiracy so unbelievable it almost gets them killed.

I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out. There’s enough action. The story is interesting. The characters came to life really nicely. The history is sound, well, except for the parts I played with for the sake of the story. And the conspiracy is based on a real conspiracy theory going around at the time.

But, see, that’s bragging. And the last thing on earth that I want to be is a braggart. Seriously, this is one of those childhood shame-based lessons foisted on me by the rotten little monsters I went to school with. Which was plenty long ago, and certainly long enough ago that I should be over it. Except that the only difference between grown-ups and kids is how we express those same attitudes. Because, trust me, the attitudes don’t change as we get older.

Worse yet, I’ve run across some pretty aggressive self-promoters and I really, really don’t want to be like them. They are so annoying.

So I’m out here trying to find a balance. If I still don’t have it right here, would you mind doing me a favor, please? Forgive me and buy my book anyway?

Essays, general essay

The Lie of All Happy, All the Time

Last week, I looked at how I have to face and work through my anger to get to the point of being able to forgive. And one of the things I pointed out is that we, as a culture, are really uncomfortable with anger. We don’t have any really solid ways of dealing with it, which is really a problem because anger drives a lot of negative thinking.

I’m not a big fan of negative thinking and struggle with it constantly. It’s not fun. I assume people hate me. I mentally call people names who don’t deserve it.  I assume the worst motives in everyone who crosses me. This is not healthy or good or anything like the person I want to be. But how to stop it? Aye, there’s the rub.

So, I’m reading this article by someone I won’t name, a) because I tossed it already and b) the author was a freaking idiot (which I will explain). The good points this person made were that negative thoughts have a nasty way of happening, whether you want to think them or not, and that one of the best ways we can deal with them is to confront and analyze them. And he suggested asking whether the thought is true and then reframing the thought if it isn’t.

The first problem is that he insisted that at the moment a negative thought occurs (and he was very insistent about this next bit), the reader should stop immediately and write it down, along with the analysis. I don’t know about you, but negative thoughts don’t hit me when I’m at my desk with pen, paper and several minutes to spare to think them through. They come at me in the shower, in bed in the middle of the night, while I’m driving or walking. In short, when stopping to write the frickin’ thought down is next to impossible, let alone analyze it. And it didn’t occur to the author of the article that this might be the case for most people? How stupid is that?

The second problem is that in the examples he gave, the thoughts were all untrue. Well, gang, there are some people out there who really don’t like me. There are plenty of people who by their actions give me good reason to assume that their motives are the worst. There are certain social situations (thank God, not many anymore) that if I didn’t go into them mentally armed to the teeth, I was going to get kicked and kicked but good. And there are people out there who do deserve the names I think up. Like the idiot who wrote the article.

The author wrote multiple times in one article that if we keep thinking negative thoughts, they will ruin our lives. I admit, negative thinking is not fun. I want to dump a good bit of it. But my life is not ruined by a long shot and I do have good relationships. If you have to use that kind of hyperbole to make your point, my first thought is that you don’t have much of a point to make.

But, see, this is where the author and a lot of the other folks out there who want to help us form happier thoughts fall into a trap. They create the impression that we’re supposed to be happy all of the time. That if we’re feeling sad, fearful or especially angry, that there’s something wrong with us. That we shouldn’t feel these things or that we should be able to control it and get back to happy.

Folks, All Happy, All the Time is a big, fat, freaking LIE. When somebody hurts you, you are supposed to feel angry and sad. In the real world, shit happens and you don’t have to rationalize your angry feelings. In fact, rationalizing those feelings can lead to you being hurt even worse. For example, women in abusive relationships will often explain away their hurt and anger by excusing their abusers. Instead, they need to be angry so that they can get the fuck out of the relationship. Sometimes the problem really is that your boss is a control-freak sociopath and your angry feelings are a vital clue that you need to do something about getting out of that workplace or reporting the jackass or whatever.

The bitch is that there are far more people who genuinely like me than who hate me. Most people I meet are fairly intelligent and at the very least do not deserve to be called idiots. The vast majority of people out there are not trying to actively cause me harm, even if, occasionally, their behavior is pretty trying. I don’t need to be obsessing on the few people who are a real problem. I just need to find a way to deal with them effectively. Or, if there is nothing to be done, then find a way to use the resulting angry feelings to fuel something else good and holy.

Because even if it were good for me to scream at people call them names, which it isn’t, calling someone an idiot, no matter how much that person personifies the label, is not going to get that person to change the behavior. However, there is one thing that can and that’s forgiveness. I just have to get through the anger, first, and that is not easy.

Essays, general essay

The Path to Forgiveness – Through the Anger

This started because I got sick last fall. Literally. And if our bodies’ illnesses reflect our emotional states and/or needs, then it became readily apparent to me that I was hanging onto shit that I need to let go of. With me, it’s easy to figure that part out. I’m angry. I’m pissed off, enraged, fed up, you name it.

So why write about being angry here? Well, I suspect I’m not the only person on this planet who is dealing with anger issues, even if we’re reluctant to admit it. Most women I know are. We’re trained to be nice and being angry is not nice. Which gives a lot of us tremendous incentive to hold onto and suppress our anger until it turns inward on us and becomes depression.

Also, as I began to sort out the issue of anger (not necessarily what’s pissing me off), it occurred to me that one of the healthiest ways to get past the anger is to forgive. But how many of us really know how to forgive someone? We know how to say the words, but it doesn’t always play out in our lives. We are freshly wounded again. We don’t believe it’s possible. I’ve heard and read all kinds of different things. So, maybe, if I share my own struggle to learn to forgive, really forgive, then maybe we can struggle along together. Maybe we can build each other up, even when we’re so angry, we’d love to do some serious tearing down.

And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. There is a whole boatload of people in my life right now that I’d just love to slap around. Yeah, I know the standard advice is to keep those people out of my life. Well, that’s not going to work here. Some of them I’m related to, and they’re not so bad that I’d want to take that drastic a step, at least, not yet. A lot of them I have no direct relationship with – as in they are the masses of fucking idiots out there whose combined stupidity is conspiring to fuck me and mine up royally. You know, self-righteous, knee-jerk reactionaries (liberal or conservative – they come in both flavors); tech support people; doctors who can’t take their noses out of their formularies long enough to see me as a whole human being and understand that I don’t always conform to their medical cookbooks. (Seriously, three months of telling them I don’t react well to psyllium and they kept telling me to take it.)

Actually, it’s not the stuff that I can do something about that tends to get me all riled. It’s the stuff I’m powerless against. I can’t even write about some of it because of certain people, who will assume I’m writing about them when I’m actually writing about someone else. Of course, I won’t hear about it until years later after a suspicious silence and since they’re not going to admit anything is wrong, I can’t do anything to fix it.

This is about me learning to deal with things. I am not interested in outing anyone else’s neuroses. So, if I write about something, kindly assume it’s not you that I’m writing about. And if you do think I’ve misunderstood something, for God’s sake, TALK TO ME!!!

Because here’s the thing that makes forgiveness so insanely hard. You have to deal with the anger, first. You can’t gloss over it. You can’t pretend that whatever didn’t hurt. You have to stare it in the eye and admit you’re pissed.

The problem is, I do not believe that in our culture, we have any good ways to deal with this most unpleasant of emotions. Ranting doesn’t work. Hurting other people back doesn’t work – trust me, I’ve tried that one. Brooding about it doesn’t help. It doesn’t really matter how many times I admit I’m angry, there has to be something I can do with this boiling up of emotions.

In fact, maybe it’s not letting go of the anger that I need to do. Maybe I need to find a way to let it fuel something good, something Holy. Oh, by the way, I will be coming at this from my perspective and a Catholic and a Christian, or someone who is trying to live out those ideals. That does not mean that I believe that’s the only perspective, just that it’s mine and that I find a great deal to appreciate in this tradition. Not necessarily in the way a lot of folks practice it, but that’s yet another thing that I am angry about and powerless to fix.

Uh, back to the problem of anger. I hope this helps in some small way. As it happens, I can only write what is in my heart. I want good to happen. And I want to find a healthy, purpose-filled way to move through this crap, forgive the assholes and focus on building up my fellows.

Essays, general essay

My SmartWatch

smart watch, smartwatch

My personal smartwatch (with well-worn and stained wristband.)

I have a Moto 360 second generation smartwatch. Now, this is the sort of gadget that only a geek would wear. And while I do have to cop to the geek label, I have to concede that I scoffed at them. Scoffed, I tell you, because they were a solution in search of a problem. Then I got one last year for Christmas. After almost a year of wearing one, I must conclude that a smartwatch still is a solution in search of a problem. But it’s a really cool solution!

Today being the original feast of St. Nicholas, the precursor of Santa Claus, I thought it might be fun to share this. After all, everyone else is getting out the gift guides. And you might want to know if a smart watch is worth giving someone. Or buying for yourself.

It’s a good question to ask. I suspect that one of the reasons smartwatches aren’t catching on faster is that they really don’t do a lot, per se. The utility of a smartphone was pretty obvious the moment they came out. In fact, most technology is like that. Video calling has actually been around for decades and even as it’s gotten easier and more trustworthy, the only two applications I regularly see for it are video conferencing and calls between loved ones separated by distance. On the other hand, it seemed like overnight, everybody was getting a smartphone, once the prices came down.

A smartwatch can’t do a lot. It’s mostly an accessory to a smartphone, and you do need a compatible smartphone to make the watch do anything. Some can make calls, although I can’t see having an extended conversation with my wrist to my mouth. I can see, however, being able to tell my watch to call somebody, then talking to that person through my phone’s headset. And I can do that (and have) with mine.

In fact, I was surprised at how much I can do with my watch. And how much I actually use it. The few times I haven’t been able to wear it, I’ve felt a little lost not having it.

Things I can do with my smartwatch

I can text someone or dictate a quick note. The watch tracks my steps and cheers me on like a fitness tracker. I can set a timer or an alarm on my watch. I can pull up a generated code for some of my web accounts that require one. Citymapper, the app I use to tell me when the bus is coming, can put my directions on the watch if I’m using it to figure out how to get somewhere. Google Maps does the same and it’s great when I’m driving, since I can look at my wrist on top of the steering wheel, rather than down at my phone. I can start a workout on my walking app (and when it’s working) track my mileage from my watch, which is a lot easier than digging the phone out of my pocket. I can supposedly use the watch to start listening to music on the watch, but I don’t.

Most of my notifications come through the watch and I can read texts and, while it’s a little tricky with long ones, I can read most of my emails and even respond to them. The nice thing about that is that I can be working or walking and something comes in. I can see right away if it’s something I need to pay attention to or can ignore.

Of course, I could just look at my phone. And I can dictate texts and other stuff on the phone. But I have to say, the watch does make all that easier. I can also customize it – I tend to keep pictures of past and current pets on my devices, and my watch lets me see my beloved and recently passed dog, Clyde, on the face.

Oh, and it tells time, too.

Essays, general essay

#ImWithHer and Sick at Heart

I am sick and hurt, and even physically ill over this election cycle. I keep thinking I need to write about what’s going on in this country and all I feel is fury.

Just this morning, I was complaining about the Republican Party in what I thought was a safe, though public, environment.

“I’m a Republican,” said the woman behind me. “I’m a Trumper. I’m a business woman and I want him to run the country like it should be.”

And I almost told her that if she was a business woman and found Trump a good model, then I absolutely did not want to do business with her. I almost called her an idiot, too. Actually, I did later, behind her back.

The trouble is, that’s not me. I do not aspire to that kind of meanness. My values are firmly entrenched in live and let live. In respecting perspectives, values and ideas different from my own. I believe in being kind and understanding. I try to choose love over anger and fear.

And yet, right now, I am so angry and hurt and frustrated. I’m sure there are folks out there who cannot fathom how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton and feel at least as frustrated as I do. But I cannot understand it for the life of me. I’m trying, folks, but I just can’t.

Maybe it’s because I know what it feels like to have people constantly assuming the worst of you. I’ve been hurt by that kind of thinking more times than I care to count and have only recently found some safer people to hang with. So when I see Mrs. Clinton being routinely vilified on no evidence, called evil even by people who are supposed to be on her side, yeah, that hurts. It hurts badly.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Mr. Trump in person, at at least two different press conference, back when I was a TV critic. I found the man’s values so skewed, I felt like I needed to take a shower after each conference. His greed, arrogance, and contempt for anyone who does not think like him, those are the kinds of values writers assign to villains. They are traits that are universally labelled bad or even evil. And yet, there are people who find that kind of evil a better alternative to Mrs. Clinton, who is no saint but still works for things like childcare and justice and other things that most people find admirable.

This boggles my mind. Worse yet (and this is why I was cursing the Republican Party when I met Trumper lady, not Mr. Trump) certain Republicans are already saying that if Mrs. Clinton wins the election, they will not work with her. Oh, that was bad enough when President Obama was elected. But even worse, these Republicans are going to keep investigating her and attacking her on all fronts. Never mind that in 30 years, they have failed to find anything on her. Like it would kill them to work with her? What is wrong with people who have to stay so stuck on their own rightness that all they can do is find fault and attack others when maybe compromising would be for the greater good?

I know that love is the answer, and I feel like I’m failing badly, which also hurts. I want to be compassionate, to assuage the fears of people on the Right. But they are simply not listening. They refuse, and that hurts, too. I am willing to listen. I am willing to consider that maybe I’m not right, that I don’t necessarily have the one best answer. But you can’t work with people who only see one perspective and that is their own. You just can’t, and I don’t know what to do about that. Except pray.

 

Essays, general essay

Labor Day

Thanks to all that hard work I did celebrating unions and workers in America this past weekend, I’m taking a week off from blogging.

See you next week!