The Flesh Thing

Yesterday older son and I were talking while driving back from Denver from looking at apartments for him, and we agreed this being dragged around in a vehicle of flesh is a pain in the behind.  Because with the drive to Denver and some duties still at the other house (such as being there for handymen and such) we’re netting about viewing an apartment a day.

In fact, he says, the whole apartment thing is a nuisance, because he should be able to just send his mind over to attend classes, of course.

In my case, this is more critical because of course the flesh thing is no longer working all too well, so it keeps giving out on me when I least expect it to.

This is to say that now that we punted back from working in the house 12 hours a day to about 3 hours in the evening, I’m slowly coming up from “stupidly tired.”

And yes we should be done by the end of the week. And the writing should start again today.

BUT I was shocked at how tired I was.  How tired?  Well, full dose ibuprofen was not DENTING pain. I still wanted to cry every time I moved.  I not only couldn’t concentrate on reading a book, I couldn’t stand on listening to a book.  And eating stuff with flavor was too much work, so I was living on milk.  We came up from this to being able to eat and read comics, and today interest in reading other stuff.

The thing is, I HOPE this is because of the surgery four months ago.  I mean, I’m not that old and I was never that bizarrely tired before.

Mind you my doctor told me two months ago I was healed and could live a normal life, but friends who were in the sort of shape I was in and who had the form of surgery I had (well, I actually ended up having both forms) say six months recovery is not unusual and a lot of it manifests as tiredness.

Anyway, what I find amusing and interesting is my mind’s assumption that it’s a separate entity from the body and that it SHOULD be able to overcome the body’s weaknesses just because.  It’s not possible, of course, and sometimes the body is VERY annoying.  Even if no one sends a rescue party into Plato’s cave.

This is totally not an excuse for a post.  It’s a serious thing.  But if you need more meat with your Hoyt post, my husband posted about writing today at Mad Genius Club.

And now the writer who is shamelessly typing this in bed is going to contemplate maybe getting up.  Or perhaps sleeping another hour.

A Certain Familiar Sense

When I was little, one of my favorite times in history class every year was when we studied the Spanish occupation.
From 1560 to 1640 and due to some truly gifted stupid actions of Portuguese kings, the throne of Portugal was occupied by the Philips. The first Philip was the famous Philip of the Armada.
Now the throne of Portugal was acquired as legitimately as any other succession at the time and more legitimately than most. Technically Philip was the late King Sebastian’s nephew. (And possibly first cousin, uncle and grandfather. There is no word on whether the royal lines of Portugal and Spain could play the banjo really well, but if they didn’t it was only because they didn’t have banjos.)
However by the time I studied the occupation or “usurpation” EVERY year of elementary school, great indignation was built towards the Philips. One of the reasons I really liked that lesson is that our prim and elderly school marm would instruct us to bring out our crayons and deface our pictures of Philip of Portugal and Spain. (And for those cringing about destruction of school property, in Portugal you buy your school books. You can sometimes buy them used or inherit them from a sibling — not me, my brother was much older than I and books had changed — but in general everyone from the richest to the poorest bought the school books. I rather suspect, now I think about it, that this keeps the Portuguese publishing system working.)
The reason they were hated, the reason we were instructed to deface the pictures was that while occupying the Portuguese throne, perhaps because they were sure it wouldn’t last, or perhaps because they wanted to reduce the proud and independent spirit of the Portuguese (from their perspective the last of the small kingdoms in the peninsula to be swallowed by the Spanish leviathan) the Philips seemed to go out of their way to destroy all Portuguese interests, possessions and wealth, as well as the Portuguese standing with their allies and the world.
It’s been a long time, and mostly I spent my time studying how to deface a picture, but I remember the Spaniards broke the Portuguese alliance with the English which had lasted almost since before there was England, and save for that interruption has lasted to present day. This meant Portuguese ships could fall prey to the British privateers. They also failed to adequately defend Portuguese colonies and gave some of them away as dowry to Spanish Princesses or perhaps party favors.
There were other things, and the rule must have been felt even at the time as disastrous because particularly in the North a cult of the “King who will return” (in this case King Sebastian, young and possibly nuts or at least a really good banjo player, since his mother was the upteenth Spanish princess the Portuguese kings had married in a row.) He died in a futile attack on the North of Africa (there’s taking the fight to the enemy and then there’s nuts) which left the kingdom without a king. Save the Spaniards.
For years, and then centuries, adding an element of fantasy, the legend grew that he had not died and would return “one foggy morning.”
I must have had a fantastical or romantic bend from early on, because one of my favorite songs was by a group called 1111 (Ah ah) which sang about King Sebastian and how they’d found his horse and pieces of his doublet, his sword and his heart, notwithstanding which he’d come back in a foggy morning to lead the half mad seers and witches of the foggy Northern lands. (Represent, I say, represent.)
However, no matter how bad the Spanish occupation was, in that morality tale it became the inflection point at which Portugal stopped being amazing and became beaten down and down and out. At that moment (even though colonies and empire remained) Portugal was broken in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.
Yesterday I was talking to my mom and she said the news from the States and the things “your funny critters” (pretty much how mom refers to governments in general!) are doing remind her of the Spanish occupation of Portugal. (She asked if perhaps one of Obama’s names, never mentioned, might not be Philip. As in “perhaps when he was adopted his name was Barry Philip Soetoro.”) And she said “May G-d help you and preserve as only He can.
Needless to say I have nothing against her last sentiment, but I want to say something about it.
Yeah, I too have the feeling of a government trying to reduce a proud nation, either because they hate it (no, don’t bother arguing, they do. Our intelligentsia consider themselves citizens of the world. Mostly because they know NOTHING about the world and think it’s a giant vacation resort and we the only political actors in it, while everyone is our hapless victim.) or simply because they fancy themselves as our perpetual rulers, and a proud and self-sufficient people are hard to rule. I suspect they’re doing what they’re doing in the happy notion it will make us “governable” and since THEY know exactly how to govern us, it’s for our own good in the end. We’ll be prosperous and happy just like France (rolls eyes.) Magically we’ll acquire hundreds of years old buildings which we can contemplate from our coffee shops while drinking ridiculously tiny coffees in our 385 nationally mandated days off a year while the government automagically makes sure no one starves.
However let’s not fall into the Portuguese trap. It makes a certain sense for Portugal, I guess, since it was a monarchy and therefore the king was supposed to embody the country.
But we’re not a monarchy. The president is just the president, and if you think this one is the worst… you might be right, but good Lord not by much. A cursory read of our history will tell you that while we’d never before managed to elect someone who actively hates us (I maintain because he blames us for his father abandoning him) but we elected people who were bound by ideas that would have destroyed us, anyway if they had had time and enough sway.
We are a republic of ideas and of people who believe in that idea. We’re down but we’re not out. I’m not going to lie to you, this one is going to hurt like a b*tch. Our grandkids are still going to be recovering from this clustercongress (congress, you understand in the Kama Sutra Sense.)
But it takes more than a Philip to beat us. We might catch a nuke, we might even lose one or two generations of prosperity, but Philip is just Philip. We’re the USA. Takes more than one man to keep us down as Fat George (the one who didn’t write GOT) found out.
Long after he’s gone we’ll be here and the ideas of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be resurgent.
Because this whole government by the people for the people thing? It’s an idea so spectacularly crazy and yet so gloriously daring that it has been lighting the world ever since it was first conceived.
And so it will continue, world without end.

Liberty Con After Action Report – David Pascoe

*Apologies to older adopted son for this being so late.  We are done with the “Robert and Sarah Show* of 12 to 16 hours of heavy labor.  The house isn’t ready to go on the market, because there’s stuff other people need to do, and also the kitchen is still somehow full of unsorted stuff, as we reached the time when I went “ARGH I don’t know what to do.”  So we’re going over after (Dan’s) work for the next three days a few hours a day and all sorting things into ours, Robert’s, trash or donate.  To make the difficulty clear, we have about 10,000 (okay, maybe 50, but it feels like 10,000) porcelain spoons with little spoon rests in the form of koi fish.  These are not things I bought but gifts — mostly from mom — so I feel bad getting rid of them (and I haven’t) but sometimes…

Anyway, so I woke up late, and all my limbs (and my butt.  I swear I didn’t polish floors with my butt.  Not fair.) still hurt, so today I’m doing not much.  Some laundry and the litter boxes because those are urgent.  The rest will wait.  Oh, I’ll probably write, if the head is up to it.  Or we might end up driving to Denver to find the boy an apartment.- But it’s an easy day.  And the day this house lists, Robert and I (if he’s still here, and not at medschool) are flipping off low carb and getting doughnuts. – SAH*

Day the Third

Ok, I have to come clean. I’m breaking this up (and going into excruciating detail) partly to spare Herself. The house-prep may or may not be coming down the home stretch, and I may or may not be attempting to remove one thing from Mum’s plate (a more overflowing vessel cannot be found except in the dining hall of Unseen University) so she can devote more energy to the set of all things that will get the writer paid.

Saturday was, full. Very, very full. Breakfast we managed on our own, with supplies brought from home, and we showed up at the Choo Choo just in time for me to scramble for the Planet Mercenary play-test. For those who aren’t aware, Howard Tayler, creator of Schlock Mercenary was the MC this year. Well, he brought along his oldest, Keliana Tayler (who did the cover art for the Unquiet Gods stories) and a mutual friend, Alan Bahr, with whom he is creating – and recently completed a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for – a pen and paper RPG set in the Schlock Mercenary (“epic science fiction told four panels at a time”) universe.

I was a few minutes late (hence the scramble) but right behind Alan, who was running the session, so I didn’t feel at all bad. Howard, Keliana, Guy-I-Don’t-Know, and Steve Jackson were already sitting down, and we even had a small group of onlookers, rubberneckers, and skylarkers watching us like geek-shaped hawks. Oh, right, I should back up a little. Steve Jackson (of the eponymous gaming company) was the Special Guest this year, and as he and Howard are friends, he sat down to play Howard and Alan’s game.

The primary conceit of the game is that the players are running a mercenary company in the 30mumbleth century. Each member of the group is an officer somewhere in the chain of command of this company. So, we divvied up pre-made characters, and got to it. Yours truly ended up as an AI, occupying a mobile combat chassis, affectionately labeled ToG, short for “Tons of Guns.” I was, I think, the XO, or at least the captain’s second for the mission. Said captain played by Steve, was an Ob’enn of o’erwheening pretentiousness. Howard played the company medic (a human variant with purple skin), Keliana played the Chief Engineer (uplifted polar bear with a bad attitude) and Guy-I-Don’t-Know (Elijah played the company attorney. The company – along with many other mercenary companies throughout Known Space – were attending the annual MercCon. The convention was set in one of the absolute worst cheapest space stations imaginable. The place was an accretion of derelict ship parts and obsolete habitat modules held together with space tape and hope. It was such a good place to hold a gathering of noble officers and their barely-leashed bloodthirsty, trigger-happy grunts. I was glad I didn’t have to breathe air like the colloidal intelligences in the company.

We started off strolling the dealers room, soaking up ambiance and swag. Our attorney, ever the calm and cool head (really, he was a creature with a small body and four all-purpose limbs) started taking the free stims and jabbing random passersby. This led to a tense moment when the Neophant felt it, and nearly threw the lawyer through the nearest booth. It didn’t help that the ChEng encouraged this behavior. The captain offered the offended party half of the attorney’s earnings from selling recordings of his antics to the stim makers as “product testing.” Nothing like not getting in a fight with an enraged, uplifted elephant in the middle of a crowd of tetchy – and very well armed and poorly disciplined – mercenaries, none of whom owe allegiance to anything greater than their company.

Fortuitously, as we were on the way to the opening ceremonies (how meta) I received notification that a truly stupendous bounty had been placed on the head (and other parts: worth more alive than dead, as it happened) of a particularly notorious arms dealer located somewhere on the planet below us. Unfortunately, we’d already entered the hall, and exiting precipitously would have been … untoward. Our purp medic, thinking quickly, made noises about the ChEng having a potentially disastrous case of Smutto-rhea.

With the advance notification I pulled off the network, we were able to formulate a plan to get us to the surface in an armed vessel and cause enough chaos at the convention to give us the necessary head start at collecting the bounty. I found an unarmored (but guarded) transport shuttle whose IFF was cleared for planetary descent (our assault shuttle was most definitely not cleared) through the station network I’d hacked earlier (as terrible a virtual mishmash as the station was an actual one).

The ChEng was all for assaulting the shuttle and taking it down, but the captain insisted on offering the guard an opportunity to, ah, recognize the activity of a greater intelligence at work. Or at least to display greater intelligence in the face of overwhelming force. The poor grunt at the hatch immediately saw the wisdom of Captain Steve’s (not his actual name) words, and signed a contract with us. He then immediately allowed us access to his former company’s shuttle. With a little elbow grease, the ChEng removed the IFF from the shuttle. But not before the lawyer (I’m still not sure who would willingly give that joker a license to practice anything, let alone law) made off with her supply of Boomex, and, ahhh, explosively liberated the contents of the shuttle’s lock-box. The Boomex would have liberated his internal organs, as well, but for the timely intervention of one of his combat paralegals, who received a posthumous promotion.

Once we had the new IFF installed in our drop shuttle, it was time to implement the second phase of our distraction plan. Piloting the unarmed shuttle via remote access, I found the biggest, slickest, most upgraded battlewagon and nudged it just enough to jam the airlock, causing enormous chaos on the station as mercenaries ran every which way trying to get back to their respective transports, finding said transports, ah, indisposed, and trying to avoid the possibility of catching the highly contagious, weaponized Smutto-rhea rumored to have been released in during the opening ceremonies. I was so busy admiring my mayhem, I missed an amazing opportunity to make a “bumperships” quip. Mrs. Dave took care of that for me (best wife evar).

Now, I’d love to go into further detail, but for two things. Firstly, and mostly importantly, Alan told us the scenario we test-played is going to be written up and included in the final game, and I don’t want to give too much away. Secundus, most of the best parts happened on the station, at least from an onlooker’s perspective. Third, and lastly, this is already getting long enough, and I haven’t even gotten past noon.

When we wrapped the session, the final scene was of the medic hard at work stemming the bleeding of our target, wounded by our captain’s excellently terrible sniper shot, of our attorney handing out hiring contracts to said target’s erstwhile minions, while grunts picked flechettes from the hide of the engineer, all under the watchful guns of the AI. It was glorious.

I hoofed it to the meeting rooms just in time to meet up with Herself, the Redhead of Doom (or the Other one. Still not sure), and the Impaler, and crash the How to Write pa-workshop-nel. The first half, at least. I think I was mostly the comic relief, as the ladies had matter well in hand without my presence. After the first hour, I slipped out to man my table along Author’s Alley. I think I spoke with one person I didn’t already know, which is either a comment on the whole “LC is a family affair” notion, or suggests that I really need to develop my in-person marketing copy. And write more.

After, there was the Baen Traveling Roadshow, hosted by Editrix-in-Chief Toni Weisskopf and featuring, well, an enormous chunk of the attending professionals. John Ringo talked for a bit, and brought KC Ezell up to discuss her story in the upcoming Black Tide anthology (despite what she’ll tell you, KC did just fine) which was selected to provide the cover image. He also announced that Chris Smith (a good buddy) would have a story appearing. It was possible to read by the light shining from those two for the rest of the day. (Aside: I mention those two by name, as I went to their joint reading session on Sunday. I’ll describe it in the next wall of text, but the take-away is this: lodge their names firmly in your skulls, as these two are new authors to watch.) Many books were given away, but I spent most of the time standing near the door, cracking wise with Eudyptes Diabolicus, and so wasn’t paying terribly close attention to what was happening on the stage.

Thereafter, I shot the breeze with several other attendees, and took a spin around both the art room and the dealers room (I confirmed that the only things I really wanted were all too expensive, for now * shakes fist *) until it was time to gather in the lobby for the Baen dinner party. While waiting for the bus, I had the opportunity to chat with David Weber, where he described the process of adopting his daughters from Cambodia while Oleg Volk took some excellent pictures. The dinner itself was a low key affair, and I spent most of the time chatting with the Hoyts and – later – David Weber, again. As well as MadMike, Chris Smith, KC Ezell, Kelly Lockhart, Dr. Tedd Roberts, and various and sundry others.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel room to put the Creature to bed (he’s only Wee Dave when he’s cheerful and pleasant. Otherwise he is The Creature, energy-vore and notorious in myth and legend for devouring muses). Then, I made the, ahhhh, questionable decision to return to the Choo Choo to * coughcough * network. (Yeah, that’s it.) Eventually, across any number of conversations, I ended up in John Ringo’s suite, or as I tend to think of it, the All LibertyCon Party. Not so much because it’s open to everybody, as because it never seems to stop. Eudyptes was there. Speaker brought scotch, as Speaker often does. Much conversation was had. The Insectress and the Dragon arrived at some point (different points, I think) wearing their battle corsets. Docfather sported a natty Imperial X-Wing pilot’s uniform. Later, Robert and Jeremy arrived to begin the Saga of Rick Astley the Magnificent, Bard of the Way of Al and wielder of the masterwork accordion. They played an increasingly for laughs session of Pathfinder that ended with the cleric racking up the most kills, the bard getting resurrected the most, and ultimately with the rogue betraying the party to a greater demon before getting killed by the cleric, in an effort to avoid eternity with said bard. It was great fun just to watch, and all may have been an attempt (successful, as it happened) to rickroll a bestselling author at his own party.

Stories were told, new friends were made and old friends introduced to each other. Hooch was consumed, along with munchies of various stripes, and ultimately, our hero trudged home (temporary though it was) before the sun arose Sunday morning. Just barely. Not a feat I intend to repeat any time soon. Not voluntarily, at least. In the next installment, we find out if two hours of sleep is sufficient for a convention (hint: it’s not. Really) and what can be done about such a disastrous state of affairs. Stay tuned!


The Problems of Abundance



The house is done for values of done. By which I mean all that’s left is cleaning the remaining living room floor (about one fourth) and polishing the wood in the back hall, and then cleaning the kitchen. However, the painting, flooring and heavy lifting is done. I might need to help the guys paint the fence, but we’ll see.

However, what I’ve found is that we have way too much … stuff.

Most of the stuff we have too much of are cleaning implements and tools. How many jigsaws can a woman have? This woman, at least four. Three sanders. Five stapleguns. This is not counting the endless packages of special cleaning cloths, the FIVE count them five glass cleaner bottles, the…

You get the picture, right. So, how did we get here?

We got here mostly by having large storage spaces for both tools and cleaning implements. (And food. More on that later.) Oh, and lousy memories.

Because I spent so much time busy and overworked and sick, I’d TOTALLY forget I’d bought a saw or a sander. OR more commonly I knew I’d bought it, but I couldn’t find it when I needed it. This was made worse by carrying things from house to house. For instance, I have sheers for every imaginable window, except the windows at this house.

The saws, mostly were because I never unpacked boxes from the other house and decided the saws were lost in the move.


We’ve found a similar problem with the deep freezer.

Before we had the kids we made do with the freezer in the fridge. Then a year after Robert was born, my inlaws drove from Ohio to North Carolina bearing their old freezer as a gift.

At the time I was flabbergasted by the idea. You must understand that at that time we rarely could afford more than one meal at a time. Of course my inlaws had also brought us several blocks of Pennsylvania cheese. Which went into the freezer.

Over the next three years, though, the freezer was often clean and empty. Notwithstanding which, out of a sense of obligation, we carried it with us from house to house.

Then life got a little better, and I discovered sales. Things like the week before Thanksgiving, we’d buy all the discounted turkeys we could and I’d chop them into faux veal scallops, and stuffed thigh roasts and… and we’d live off it for three months.

The problem came when the writing became a job, rather than a somewhat paying hobby. No, I’m not complaining, but it was a disaster for my housekeeping.

You see, I could no longer take three days to cut up a turkey or that great roast at a great price into smaller meals. So I’d shove them in the freezer and forget them.

The forget them was the big problem. When I started looking at moving stuff from the freezer a lot, if not most, of it was freezerburned and past its prime.

So we didn’t move the freezer and I don’t hit the meat sales. Weirdly, that means we’re spending less. (Well, not this last month, because we’ve been eating out, because there is no strength left to cook. THOUGH I’m a cheap date. I get so tired I can’t eat, so I just have a glass of milk before bed.)

The problem with the cleaners and tools is similar. It’s okay to have storage and keep a lot of stuff when you are doing primarily cleaning and fixing. But my job now is writing (again not complaining.) This means I will clear forget from one year to the other that I even have a staplegun, or more likely where the heck I put the thing the last time I used it.

So part of the clearing up is going to be “pick one of the thing I use every once in a while” ONE and put it in a place we remember and where all the tools are.

As for the deep freezer – almost brand new – it will stay. Particularly right now, at the cusp of the boys moving out, and with this sort of internal feel that my writing is about to become way more important/demanding, I don’t see much use for it. I had the fleeting thought that I could cook once a week and freeze the meals, but then we’ll just forget them. Better if I do that to keep the meals in the fridge, where we’ll remember them.

And that’s what’s left: other than the fence and finding someone to build two steps and a little platform in the back – reevaluating our lifestyle going forward.

Weirdly, abundance and trying to save money can cost you more money and infinitely more time/clutter. It’s time to change that.

So today we go over and clean. And tomorrow we start looking for a place for older boy.

And then I can write.

A Little Bit of Promo – Free Range Oyster

*Before I give floor space to the ambulatory mollusc: Turns out we have ONE MORE DAY at the house because… reasons.  Maybe two, but if two it’s because tomorrow we might have to do highly specialized stuff we’d pay to have done if we could find anyone to do it.  But if two, for Sunday most of what I’ll do is hand over stuff and let the guys work.  Today I have a room and a half left to wax and set up.  The only problem is that I calculated right before and my energy gave up last night.  Ah well.  I’ll pound my gut into a new heart, and I’ll go on because I have to.  And with apologies to Oyster, I’m inserting my husband’s book up top because it comes out today and because Hoyts need to recover from the sheer fortune we’ve spent on paint and building stuff.  – SAH*

Dan Hoyt
9th Euclid’s Prince

Welcome to New Rome!
The far-flung heirs of the empire have been called home to the capital of worlds. In these mean streets, no wife is above suspicion, and no man above assassination. With the Emperor poisoned and prince Oswald in jail, Ninth Euclid, a mathematically gifted secretary from a rural backwater, must solve the knottiest problem of all: How will he keep his liege lord safe from daggers in the back and politically scheming trollops in the night?

Alma Boykin

Tales from the Uplands

Uncanny things haunt the high country, where mountains bring justice and men tell mysterious tales. A place where churches seek the lost and deadly forces lurk below the peaks.

Contains eight short stories drawn from locations and legends of Central Europe, including the Drachenberg version of a famous folk-tale, and an excerpt from the next Cat Among Dragons novel.

Mary Catelli

The Wolf and the Ward

Charity had thought it dreadful, being sent like a package to a man who might refuse to take her on as a ward. But when a wolf comes to look her up and down in the woods, and the man she is sent to greets her, making her wonder if she remembers something that never happened, she finds that there are problems far worse than that in the duchy.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

The Princess Goes Into The Forest

In the home of a wealthy but vanished family, four young people, inventorying the household, find the props for the family’s amateur theaterics. But a few minutes of donning them to play at roles has consequences that none of them could have guessed. One plays a subtle courtier, one a brave swordsman, one a powerful enchantress… and one takes up the role of a princess, and goes into a forest.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

The Lion and the Library

The library holds many marvels. Lena and her betrothed Erion had found things that helped the beleaguered Celestians of the city. But when the king’s caprice decides to sacrifice Erion to protect himself, Lena can only hope a legend can help her. A legend of just kings. And lions.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Magic And Secrets

Tales of Wonder and Magic

A woman, sent to a far off duchy, finds a mysterious wolf haunting the forest, and learns there are secrets no one even suspects.

Playing with props for amateur theatricals has more consequences than any of those doing it dream… act with care.

A king’s tyranny sends a woman searching desperately for a legend of lions, there being no other hope.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Michael Kingswood

Glimmer Vale

Glimmer Vale Chronicles Book 1

Lydelton, a small fishing town in a remote valley called Glimmer Vale, is the perfect place for two fighting men on the run to stop and decide on a plan. But when Julian and Raedrick arrive they find the town besieged by a ruthless band of brigands. Worse, the brigands have taken up station in the mountain passes, blocking the two friends’ escape. With no way around the brigands and no option of returning the way they came, Julian and Raedrick accept an offer of employment. Their mission: defeat the brigands and restore peace to Glimmer Vale.

They are outnumbered at least twenty to one, long odds even if they recruit help. But that help may not be enough when the specter of their past rears its head, forcing Julian and Raedrick to openly face what they are fleeing or risk losing not just their freedom but the lives and fortunes of Lydelton’s inhabitants.

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Selling Books To Real People

This post has been prompted by my friend Amanda Green’s post on Amazon.  To whit, by the implication that Amazon killed Borders that others have flung up.

This is a touchy subject, because although I was informed that nice ladies don’t discuss politics, religion or coitus in public, I’ve found that the touchier subject is money: making it, keeping it, wanting it.

We’ll start by all the cries of greed that are so fashionable.  People decry greed in stentorian accents, and are usually the very people who, if they had the slightest understanding of how to do it would be soulless, greedy rich people ala Scrooge.

But let’s establish there’s such a thing as too much concentration on making money.  When Dan and I were young and very broke (as opposed to middle aged and merely broke) we had a friend who belonged to a money-making group.  He invited us in.

This group didn’t focus on stocks, or real estate, or… it was just “how to make money.”  They shared deals, encouraged each other, etc.

We went to two meetings and then reluctantly each of us told the other that’s not what we wanted to do.  I mean, we wanted money, don’t get me wrong.  We wanted money so we never had to make it two days on an egg, a handful of flour and some dried mushrooms; so that a  cat illness or a broken car were not the end of the world (we’d still like those last two) so that we had security.

But spending the whole time, all the time, just plotting how to make money and how to make the money grow?  Um… no.  It was like making money was an all-consuming interest to these people, and we had others, like music and writing.

The other time I found the limits to my greed was “when we were rich” — Dan made about double what he makes now, though still under the “very rich” of our president’s obsession. We had money to go out to eat every day if we so wished.  We had money to go to movies and amusement parks, to take our kids on historic tours of other cities and to just have fun.

But the job required Dan to travel five days a week.  If he were offered something like that now?  Sure.  I would just pack the cats and go with him.  The cats (soon to be only three) can stay at certain hotels.  We’d be fine.  BUT back then we had a six year old and a nine year old, and it didn’t occur to us that we could just homeschool them around the country (it seems like a very difficult thing until you actually try it out.)  So I had to stay with the kids.  And it was killing us.  We decided we didn’t need that money as much as I (and the kids) needed Dan at home.

So, yes, at least for me there is such a thing as “too much greed” but I would not judge for other people.  Our friends in the investors club — who are probably now multimillionaires — were wonderful people and in fact got us out of a really tight corner a couple of years later.  We lost touch with them, and I’m sorry for that, because they were good people.  It’s just making money was their interest/hobby.  It’s not for me to judge anymore than it is for anyone to judge the fact I like to make stuffed animals.

However, in certain circles wanting to make money is the ultimate sin.  Of course, people who think that way are also people who have unlimited greed for power, including over who gets to make money, so I’d like them to gaze lovingly on my middle fingers while I discuss how to sell.

My background for this, other than writing which is a weird field (though the rules still apply) is of growing up with tradesmen and observing my grandparent’s best friend across the street, who ran THE general store.  Also, in various ways, I sold several things because my parents didn’t believe in allowances and believed in ingenuity.

So when, at four or five, I told mom I wanted to sell as much as I could of the crop from the tangerine tree (instead of the extended family making themselves ill on tangerines and still losing half to rot) she not only approved but gave me tips, like to put on a dress and act nice while selling the tangerines from our stoop.  Others of my commercial ventures, like publishing a neighborhood newspaper (handcopied.  I DREAMED of a mimeograph) puzzled them more.  And by the time I started “rapid language courses for travelers” they’d given up on being surprised, and just did things like consult me on the furniture they should buy for the receiving room I used for the lessons.

Anyway, the point being, I’ve ran businesses and I’ve seen people running businesses, and I know what — other than an ability to lick miles of tape, metaphorically speaking — it takes to make it.

So we return to Amazon vs. Borders, or let’s face it, Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble who is on the same butter-greased merry slide to h*ll with less excuse.

Did Amazon kill Borders?  Well, only if you look at it as assisted suicide.

Borders grew and became very big by having a system.  The system was ordering to the net.  They ordered only proven sellers.  The way they did this was by looking in the computer at the author’s name, and seeing how many of his hers or its (must be post binary) book they had sold.  Then they ordered just that number.

This system worked magnificently while Borders was a small bookstore, in a small town, and before the publishers tumbled onto it.  Two things Borders didn’t take into account: the variety of regional tastes and the violence corruption inherently possible in the system.

The publishers did.  Oh, they did.  You see, NYC publishers had for a long time wished to be able to forecast exactly how much a book would sell.  This because after the eighties round of mergers, they were run by corporations that didn’t understand books aren’t widgets and that it was impossible to say something like “the last historical mystery sold 100k copies.  So this one will sell that” when the periods, characters, authors and writing style are completely different.

For middle managers in publishing houses, it is necessary to forecast how much a book will sell so you can calculate an advance, and I understand selling too much is about as bad as selling too little.

So. They latched onto the ordering to the net system.  Particularly since in a couple of years every chain bookstore and a few independents were using it.

What it was first was a good way to have disposable writers, who never earned out their advances, which doesn’t mean that the book didn’t make money for the publisher, because that’s another matter.  (I pride myself in the fact that while in this role at Berkley I STILL earned out advances, though they usually took the book out of print right after the first earnings check.)

If you didn’t “push” a book onto the shelf, (And there were ways the publishers would PAY for the push — say for 100 copies per store, which the stores thought was just more free money) the default stocking was 2 books.  This meant even if you sold all the books, you could only get two on the shelf next time.  But given increasingly short shelf times, the more common things was one of two: either the books were never unpacked (these were low priority books, why should the staff bother?  Neither of my two first books ever made it onto shelves locally, though they were in the system) stayed in a closet and were marked as “didn’t sell” which means next they ordered none, or the books went on the shelf but due to low visibility sold only one.  The other one might even be shoplifted, it still showed as not having sold.  The end result was the same.  Next book you only stocked one.  And one book in a shelf of books, good chance of not selling, means your career was over, at least under that name. (And you could ride this carousel several times.  I did it at least three times.)

If you were lucky, your “career” lasted three books.

The way to beat the system was to stock so many that you couldn’t fail.  If you had fifty to a hundred books per store, you were going to sell a large amount, regardless.  The code for this, btw, was “the publisher has high confidence in this book.”

The trick was that no one was reading the books.  Well, maybe someone at the publisher’s, but certainly no one else.  (And I wouldn’t bet on the publishers.  I know several books of mine were only “read” on proposal, except by copy editors.)

And the problem is that this is a lousy way to sell books to real people.  Real people who read are, yes, influenced by externals on a book.  There are names I’ll buy sight unseen, and time periods that I’ll buy without much thought.  There are certain characters that appeal to me.  None of these require reading the book.  BUT in the end I’m buying the book to READ.  As are most if not all (!) readers.

So in the end the style, character construction and FEEL of the book count.

But they didn’t in the push model.

What we noticed as readers was that suddenly it was possible to go to the store and come home without a single book, disconsolate and upset saying “I guess no one has our tastes anymore.”

And let me tell you, even while utterly broke (which is worse than just very broke and happened a couple of times while Dan was unemployed and we had little ones) we set aside money for books, according to RAH (genuflect)’s plan to budget luxuries first.  When the world was an endless shower of sh*t, I remember walking home from a grocery store gloating at a book I’d found and couldn’t wait to read.  It lit up the whole week.

But we found we could no longer discover books to read.  A lot of our old favorites were no longer on shelves and we stupidly assumed they just weren’t writing anymore.  And we didn’t find any new ones.

Then there was Amazon.  While packing I found the thermos cup Amazon sent me at their one year anniversary, to thank one of their best customers.  Mind this is one of the two years we were “rich” and I put the knife into our bank account to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

The search was pokey, and you couldn’t read a sample online, and I couldn’t have the book right away, but I found a few hundred books (when going full clip and not, say, rebuilding a house from the foundation up I can read six books a day.  I used to pack a separate suitcase of books for vacation) I didn’t know existed, some published three, four years ago.  And I could read.

I never looked back.  When Borders collapsed, I realized I hadn’t been inside one for years.  The last time I was at Barnes and Noble was to buy gifts for friends.  Not books.  Little diaries.  We still have all the Barnes and Nobles in Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins on our GPS (I found while looking for the hazardous waste disposal site.  Chill.  Not spent uranium, just excess paint.  Yeah, I know.) We just never visit.  (We don’t call or send flowers either.) Particularly now when I could be “reading this book in seconds.”  And I am.  Often.

So, did Amazon kill Borders?  Well, kind of sort of.  In the same way that Amazon, if not killed, dealt a big blow to traditional publishers.  Which is why they’re hated.

But this is not killing.  It’s more like if you were sitting on top of a powder keg and a spark from your neighbor’s barbecue set it off.

Look, the whole “push” model was so enchanting — and in the hands of humanities majors took no time at all to become a “let’s push worthy books” whether “worthy” meant “agrees with my politics” or “flatters me by being incomprehensible, and therefore I must be very smart to read it” — so alluring, that I understand why people caught in the corporate grind fell for it.

On the other hand they forgot the essential thing: selling books to real people.  You know, people who read.

They forgot that the customer had a say on what they bought or not.

No wonder all of these people decry the “capitalist” system.  They want to tell people what they can and can’t buy.  For their own good, of course.

But capitalism is NOT a system.  It’s simply the way humans trade, as natural to us as trading shiny pebbles is to some penguins.  Even in the deepest, darkest communism, free trade appears in the form of a black market.  Sometimes the ONLY flourishing thing in the whole d*mn mess.

So, the one thing you can’t forget, if you want to survive as a commercial entity, is that consumers count.  That what people has to buy matters.  That you can, yes, try to package some of those tangerines everyone is sick of in silk paper and some people will buy them, but the backbone of your system has to be something people want and are looking to buy.

And the only way to find out what people want is to make it available, and then get more of this if it sells like hotcakes.

NOT to keep the stuff people might want away from them and telling them they can ONLY buy the stuff you want them to have.

Because that’s not how commerce works.  It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in education to obliterate humans’ instinctive trading skills.

So, Borders.  Yeah, Amazon helped it kill itself, by existing.  But it wasn’t murder.  At most it was assisted suicide.

Get Rich Slowly

My older son, who is about to start medschool, supposing he ever has time to get an apartment and stuff, in between helping me scrape and wax floors, and clean tile, was talking to me in the car on the way to the other house about some creative project of his, and said “It’s another strand in my grand weave of ‘get rich slowly.'”

Years ago when talking to a colleague who is a friend (okay, somewhere between friend and mentor and squee, but never mind) he told me of one of the biggest writers in the field, now deceased that “he always ran scared” monetarily.

It might astonish the people outside this field because that author at one time got the biggest till then advance ever for a book and it was in the tens of millions, but those advances are tricksy.  Some of my friends have got “millions of dollar” advices that in the end translate to a median salary a year (broken up into tiny pieces) and then get cut off when the book fails to sell better than the bible, or whatever.

For many years that was the way writers lived.  And even those of us who were doing well — turning in stuff, getting advances — could be brought low by an illness or a long silence.  Particularly int he nineties and the oughts, backlist was often ignored, while being jealously held onto by the publisher.

When we embarked on this and Dan gave up his music so one of us — me — could pursue her artistic thing while the other one — him — had the steady income and the 9 to 5 job (and I’ll confess to you it probably never would have happened if we hadn’t had the kids.  I couldn’t justify staying home to write and sacrificing him, knowing my chances of success were zilch.  But, working a little harder and building a career while the kids were napping and then at school?  That I could do.) we agreed the odds of ever succeeding at any level were very low.  Realistically, I’m an ESL speaker, with iconoclastic reading (and viewing) tastes, an unsociable disposition and ABSOLUTELY no contacts in the field before I broke in.  Oh, yeah, then there was the political thing.

Well, it did take me 16 years, but I broke in, and when I’m working steadily I make about as much as I would make if I got a job as a secretary (even an international secretary.  Doesn’t pay very well in CO) or an assistant lecturer.  (Okay, that might make just a little — a very little, depending on the college — more money, but I also would be billiard ball bald by now from filling all the forms.)

The problem is that working steadily part.  It’s not just the health issues that swallowed the last two years.  This isn’t even a #waronwomen thing, because I hear the same from writing friends who are male.  It’s a #workingfromhome thing.  When you work from home, by default, you end up getting all the debris of family life tossed at you.  Cleaning and cooking (which are much easier in a suburban house than in a big, ramshackle Victorian) but also stuff like “We need to get the house ready for sale” which has eaten the last two and a half months.  It’s probably worsened in my case because I know some carpentry and am a jack-leg almost everything.

Between one thing and the other every writer I know has interruptions in their output and we have no pensions, nothing that pays when we’re not giving 100% to the job.  So it seemed to be every writer’s destiny to “run scared” until one day suddenly they had enough property accumulated that, when they died, it was just enough to cause a big fight amid their kids for the additional income.

This has changed with Amazon and publishing indie.  I can see a path to having enough to actually retire on eventually and the creek don’t rise.  (Not that I intend to retire, but you know what I mean.  Enough to look after me when I’m older and even more sickly.)

Of course, the problem now is getting done with the house and all the other stuff, and being able to write.  Yes, it’s happening, slowly. Hopefully, please G-d, these are the last two days.

But it’s not just writing.  My sons have dipped toes in art and gaming, and some of their friends are making money from podcasts and indie music.  The point is that if you are a creative, this is a great time to be alive.  You can reach the public directly and because “the public” is so large, even a small success is enough to live on, more or less.

Hence the older son’s “get rich slowly” streams which include starting work in many small fields and running it over many decades, so eventually it amounts to something.

Not to say everyone will succeed.  It still requires concentration and effort.  But it is, at least a possibility.

And eventually I’ll get done with this, and I’m starting to think “A novel a week.  Has to be easier than waxing floors.” (yeah, yeah, I know, but maybe finishing one a month? I mean a lot of them are started.)

I got back the rights to Sword and Blood last week, and the next book is a couple of days from being done.  I don’t know when I’ll have time to do the third, and since the three are an integral whole, I wouldn’t expect them before next year.  I’m also still editing the Heart and Soul books.

I must get done with the house, so I can write.  We are also now at the tipping point when getting someone to do things while I write to pay for it MIGHT work, since they’re things I don’t know how to do, like tiling.  I could figure it out, but it’s probably CHEAPER to pay someone to do it and write to pay for it.  So, two days.

Part of the problem with two days is that I set Dan’s first book on pre-order for the 19th and I intended to do a full-court press for it leading up to release, as well as typeset it, and of course none of it has happened.

And I need his book to do well, or he won’t write anymore, and I’ll be left alone to manage the “get rich slowly” stuff.

Really, it would be much easier if there are two of us rowing this galley.

So anyway, his book is not political at all, and it’s just fun, if any of you are interested.  (I am trying to forestall here the “Husband of libertarian writer hankers for the return of Rome.”  Mostly he wanted to create a messy intriguy — totally a word — environment that could get his characters in a heap of trouble. It’s not even very Rome accurate.  It’s “idiots try to recreate Rome in the future, but only get the strange parts.”)

And no that’s not — precisely — a copyrighted ship.  I modeled it.  And I made the cover, so deal with that too.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, order or promote, I’d like to push up its rank before official release.

As I said, I want it to do well, so he’ll write more weekends and evenings (and btw, considering this is his first novel, he’s way better than I.  My first written novel, I’ve just destroyed every copy of that I could find.  Think For Us The Living.  No, seriously.  Only worse.)  Because with both of us on getting rich slowly, we might get to the point I never have to paint a wall again.  (If I want to it’s different but I don’t want to HAVE to do this again.)

And now — hey, do you hear a drummer keeping time? — I’m going to go clean/wax so I can return to rowing this unwieldy boat this weekend.

Universal Stories or: Were the Brothers Grimm Jungians? – by Alma Boykin

*Yes, I have posts by others of you, but they have the potential to be controversial and since I’ll still be mostly out of pocket today and tomorrow, I don’t want to post those.  (Yesterday’s, btw, should have come with a note that it was written as I was contemplating coming out of the political closet and what it might mean about what was going on in my life at the moment.  I never expected it to become an argument on faith and religion.  Don’t you guys know already where you stand and that you’re each as stubborn as … the most stubborn thing on Earth [ Probably youngest son, really.]  For the record when I said if nothing existed after death what I did today wouldn’t matter I meant WOULDN’T MATTER TO ME.  I’m a nervibore and the condemnation I’m most afraid of is always my own.  Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t care about the people who come after me.  I have kids.  I might have grandkids.  AND I think you should behave as if you’re going to live forever anyway.  Anyway — floors to wax (yes, the infinite painting is done, except for the stairs to the basement) and things to do.  Sarah out.*

Universal Stories or: Were the Brothers Grimm Jungians? – by Alma Boykin

Many years ago, shortly after the planet cooled, when I was in Junior High and the Dead Sea was only sick, I found a book of folk tales and fairy tales from Vietnam, Korea, and China. I was fascinated to discover that Cinderella, the Little Goose Girl, Sleeping Beauty, and other stories had Asian parallels, and in some case almost identical stories, down to the wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters. Gee, maybe there was something to this idea that all people really are identical under the skin.

Well, once you start reading more widely (I typed “wisely.” Interesting, that) you discover that despite major similarities, there are also enormous differences, particularly in the unexpurgated versions. And in what gets left out. Sarah the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess has talked about Portuguese tales and what is missing, and some of the tales that strike modern, north-of-the-Alps or Across-the-Pond readers as brutal, misogynist, or just flat bizarre. Some things do linger though, like the power of a supernatural force to punish the unjust or badly behaved.

If you visit the main square in Klagenfurt, Austria, down almost on the Slovene and Italian border, you will find the statue of a dwarf. He has a large keg under one arm, and raises his other hand in warning. According to regional legend, he is responsible for the creation of the Wörthersee, the large, narrow lake just south of Klagenfurt that is beloved of Austrian vacationers (and gamblers). According to the stories, once upon a time, the people of the valley enjoyed all the blessings of soft rains, good weather, and fertile soil. They prospered, and the lords of the valley had a large, rich hall where people gathered to celebrate. The people began to ignore what had made them so prosperous. They continued to celebrate during the days before Easter, dancing and enjoying rich meals and fine music.

The dwarf appeared in the hall and warned them to stop dancing and to prepare for the feast of Easter. But the people ignored him, instead laughing and inviting him to dance. He vanished. He appeared a second time, and the third time, this last time with a cask under his arm. The dancers again refused to listen, instead insulting and teasing the dwarf. “You have been warned,” he said, turning the tap on the cask. Water poured out of the cask, unending streams of water, as a storm broke over the hall. When the sun rose on Easter day, nothing could be seen but a lake where once the rich hall and prosperous fields stood.

Now, if you replace Wörthersee with Bala, and the dwarf with a bard, and failing to heed the laws of religion with failing to heed the laws of hospitality, you have the story of Lake Bala in Wales. Add another twist and you have the Lost City of Ys off the coast of Brittany (or Cornwall). It’s easy to see where Carl Jung and other folk-tale and fairy-tale researchers came up with the idea of a group unconscious and archetypes. That some researchers then proceeded to dive off the deep end, and I’m glaring at you, Bruno Bettelheim, is also understandable. I had a phase where I thought Frazier’s Golden Bough explained Shakespeare, especially King Lear, and wrote a lengthy English lit paper about the fertility imagery in King Lear, using Medieval animal and botanical symbology. Yes, I got an A+ on the paper.

As an aside, Katherine Kurtz used Jungian ideas beautifully in her Adept series. The protagonist (and his mother *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*) is an adept in a magic system that uses past-life regressions and initiations, along with other forms of magical practice. He is also a psychiatrist, as is his mother. She studied with Jung, and he’s a Jungian. Kurtz did a magnificent job with her world-building and magic system, which makes room for a number of esoteric traditions as well as Christianity.

Back on the main topic, what catches my eyes now are the differences between fairy tales and folk tales, not the similarities. Sarah mentioned that there are no fairies or spirits in Portuguese tales, but that the saints intervene instead. To my surprise, the stories I read from Carinthia and Styria are full of mountain spirits, vengeful dwarves, water spirits, and other creatures. The devil, the Virgin, and a few angels also appear, but usually in disguise. Quite often, when someone tries to get out of a bargain with the devil, it is “an uncanny old woman” or “a mysterious stranger” who provides the clue as to how to outwit Old Scratch. None of the creatures are called fairies, and there is no unified fairy realm like the Irish (and Welsh and Scottish) stories describe. I would have thought that I’d find more saints’ stories, like all the tales I read from New Mexican folklore, and Italian. But no, mountain spirits and ghosts predominate. The Wild Hunt also appears, especially around St. John’s Eve (the summer solstice) and the twelve nights of Christmas (an especially uncanny time to be out after dark.)

Now this area is a mining region and has been since, well, at least the early Bronze Age. I have not come across anything yet like the tommyknockers, the little warning spirits that helped miners and warned of pending disaster. Instead there is the mountain king, all in grey, who insists on proper moral conduct by the miners and puts limits on what they will find. And mountain spirits that must be appeased (usually by good behavior and humility) or they allow scalding water into the mines, or collapse the mountain. St. Barbara and other overtly Christian figures don’t play any role in those stories.

I’m sure someone will say that this is because the stories long predate Christianity, and what remains are the pagan gods converted into mountain and water spirits. It is certainly possible. It could also be that by the time these were collected (late 1800s), people didn’t want to mention church things in folk tales. And the miners, mine-managers, and others, had been among the first to convert to Protestantism (Lutherans). Most of the miners had left, along with the regional nobility, when the Ferdinand III of Inner Austria terminated the edict of toleration, terminating a large chunk of his tax revenue in the process. It took over a century before the regional economy recovered, if then. Much of the area remains rural and lightly settled, looking back to the golden years of 1300-1550s. It could well be that the Protestants jettisoned the saints for mountain spirits. Or “yes.”

The other interesting thing is the lack of earthquake stories. I say this, because the region has been hit several times in the last 1000 years by massive quakes. You are hard pressed to find large walls that predate the 1360 quake, and others in the 1600s knocked down buildings farther north. But very few stories try to explain earthquakes, aside from very local tales about a specific mine, or a particular meadow (alp/alm) that was buried in debris because of someone’s misdeeds and greed. Did the presence of the Church prevent the development of earthquake folklore that lasted long enough to be collected? Or perhaps later disasters (the Turkish raids in the mid-1400s, the exodus of the 1500s and the woes of the 1600s) overshadowed the quakes.

Folk tales are fascinating things. I grew up reading them, and I enjoy authors who can take fairy tales and turn them into longer stories, if done well. They are a vast field to mine for ideas and world-building material, as well as to read for pleasure.

What Matters Most When All Is Said And Done – A Blast From the Past, October 2008

Thought out of nowhere — or perhaps not since I’ve “faced” this in many books and stories, from Tom in Draw One In The Dark facing the Great Sky Dragon and knowing there’s no way he walks out of there alive, to the girl in Something Worse Hereafter — in the Wings collection — who knows she’s dead, but there’s a second death and not how permanent, to probably countless others I’ve forgotten.

Those last few minutes fascinate me.  Oh, people die in their sleep, people die without knowing they’re going to die, but I suspect most of us are starkly wide awake for the end and we know there’s no return, that this time there will be no save.  We come into the world without knowing ourselves, and all the time we’ve known ourselves we’ve been alive.  How is it to face the undiscovered country?

This is wholly separate from religion, btw.  I’m one of those for whom faith requires and effort and a silencing of the mind.  I know what they say is on the other side, but is there?  Curiously I never doubt those I love or have loved go on, cats and dogs and people alike.  The world would have to be a nonsensical thing and life less than sound and fury for death to erase my beloved paternal grandmother, my flawed maternal grandfather or the childhood friend who died much too young.  It would have to be a strange place to have forever destroyed Petronius the Arbiter, cat from Hades.  No, somewhere I’m sure they’re alive and still integrally themselves, as is Pixel the “speaker to the humans” orange fuzzball I miss everyday.

But those people — yeah, cats are people too, got a problem? — were special individuals, in their own way saints of heroes or… bigger than life.  As for me, who am none of those, who can tell? I have a vague idea life continues in some form and hope there will be books and cats, if I’ve been very, very good, but the preferred outcome might be that there is nothing but oblivion.  Perhaps this makes me morbid, but my secret wish is that there is literally nothing on the other side.  Just… as though I’d never existed.  After life’s fitful fever (s)he sleeps well and all that.

Once I came  close enough to those final moments that it seemed a sure thing.  In fact, during an eleven day stay in hospital I came close to crossing that gateway at least twice.  (Might have been three times.  My blood ox was so low most of the time, that I don’t remember very clearly.  Brain damaged, I tell you.)  So… what was there?

Well, like the prospect of being hanged in the morning, coming face to face with your mortality at 33 does concentrate the mind wonderfully.  There are so many things I want, so many things I think, so many things I am.  And then when it all came to the end, in the silence at the eye of the storm, it all settled down and simplified.  I regretted leaving my husband and was sure if there was something on the other side, I WOULD miss him; I worried for my boys, then one and five.  But above all, around all, I felt as if the novels and stories I’d never written — at the time I was unpublished and had only written five? novels — were screaming at having to die with me.

Yes, my life changed after I got better and left the hospital.  At many times and places people have told me I need to close the office door.  I need to keep the kids out.  I must swat the cats off the keyboard.  I can’t stop in midst novel to go cuddle my husband.  Pardon me but… poppycock.  What comes after is a mystery, but one thing I know and that is that if any form of awareness or thought or memory subsists, I’ll miss my family and friends.  I’m not a good person, but those I love — and not just in terms of sexual love, but my friends too, those I refer to as being “within the magic circle” yes, even my e-daughters and other friends that I’ve only met online :) — I love deeply and I enjoy their company and I will do so as long as I can.

The other thing is that I started taking the writing more seriously — without neglecting my family or friends.  It went from being a whishful, sort of hobby that might one day be a job, and it became a driving passion.  And the reason I write as much as I do.  I don’t want those stories to die unread, in my head.  Life is too important to waste, unlived.  And stories are born to be heard.

Other than that?  I don’t know.  I’ve faced it so many times in writing — what will it be like in real life, and how will I feel when it comes?  One thing I know — it will come.  It sounds like one of those sixties truisms, like “we’re all naked under our clothes” but life TRULY is a fatal condition, and everyone dies eventually.  To pretend otherwise robs our life of urgency and strength.

All I can hope is that if I’m required to face it before I expect to, I’ll do so with courage, because whether there’s nothing on the other side; whether the dreary dust-world of the ancients lurks; whether ressurection and eternal life looms…  in all of those, I’m sure that for those left behind the manner of one’s death will count.  For some reason — probably the movie — I’m thinking of the Greeks at the Hot Gates.  The manner of their death sure as hell mattered.

And for the rest, I’ll leave it in the words of one of those men long dead who I’m sure is alive and vibrant somewhere, and probably still writing:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

Go to college, my parents said, you’ll never have to do hard manual work, they said.

Don’t follow your grandfather — and every construction worker — around while he’s working and ask how it’s done, they said.  You’re smart enough you’ll never have to work with your hands and you’re a WOMAN for heaven’s sake.

A) They were wrong.  B) We all are.

Their advice was absolutely right for their time and place.  I get a kick out of going back and listening to my friends being called “doctor” by their nannies and live-in maids and what not.

No, they’re not doctors, but in Portugal there are so few doctorates awarded and through my time it was so difficult to get my degree (the rough equivalent to a bit past the masters here, at least when I tried to finish out my doctorate I had a year to go — then I got pregnant and had pre-eclampsia, one of the ways in which Himself kept me from wasting money getting real credentials when ALL I really wanted to do was write.) that people just called you “doctor” anyway.  I don’t know if it’s the same now, because now there are private colleges which are easier to get into and get through (failure rates of 2/3 after a selective process that cut out 99% of applicants was normal in my time.)

However, my friends get called “doctor” even with degrees easier than my own (fact, it was easier to get into geography, philosophy or a dozen other degrees) and never have dipped their hands into dish soap.

I chose to come across the sea, and regrets?  Well, sometimes, while fixing the fence or painting a wall, yeah.  But on the whole no.

What I got in exchange for having to do some of the “rough” with my own lily-white hands (more like golden, really) is that I get to break out of class stereotype, which I couldn’t have done in Portugal, as a college graduate, of my year.  I’d have had to be a lady and dress just so and talk just so, and the heck with that, I was never good at fitting in.  As for doing the rough, I always enjoyed a good day or manual labor.

So, worth trading my birthright for a bunch of hard work.  BUT OMG, not days on end of it, no.  I’m too old for this, and I’m starting to think that if I wake up and nothing hurts, it’s a sure sign I died.

So — I will not do this again.  Once the house is finished (please G-d, before the end of the week? Though the fiddly details at the end are proving harder than I thought) I will write like a demon so next time we move (what not moving?  Not an option, unless everything comes out just so and both boys end up in CO, something that’s less than probable) I DON’T HAVE TO FIX THE FRICKING HOUSE WITH MY OWN HANDS.

Also, from this day on I will buy no more Victorians, forever.  I’d like to live in the 20th century for a change.  The 21st can wait.

The advantages of this, though?  Days of 12 hours of writing will seem easy.

On the wider application of all this — my parents couldn’t tell what would face me, even if I hadn’t moved — I understand even in Portugal, right now, handymen and manual laborers aren’t as easy to find as they once were, and people have to do manual labor who are unsuited to it.

So under “Change is coming faster and faster, here is my “teach your children well” advice:

1- Teach your kids all types of work you possibly can.  Manual, intellectual, and just fiddly craftsman.

2- If you have  a specialty in something pass it on, even if you hope your kids never have to do it.

3- Teach them work is work and nothing is beneath them.  Even the loftiest of minds can sometimes need to be kept alive by manual work.  Do it.  Don’t repine. Work is work, and adults work for a living.

4- Teach the kids that change is normal and learning is fun.  I learned to use a computer for my job and didn’t throw fits, because, well, change is normal.

5- someone did a test in which the probability of success in life was strongly correlated to ability to lick tape.  Licking tape is not harmful and doesn’t hurt, but it’s unpleasant.  The more tape you can force yourself to lick, the better the chance you’ll get where you’re aiming to go.  Teach your kids (and yourself) to lick miles of tape.  I don’t care how talented you are, in the end every success story I know that remains a success story (not a flash in the pan) licked miles and miles of tape getting there.  Persistence is 99% of success and sometimes it’s d*mn unpleasant.  Do it anyway.

And now I’m going to lick tape scrape and wax floors.