Finding Old Friends at the Thrift Shop

Hey, those are my books! The familiar covers stood out among the new arrivals at the humane society’s Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport. Stories Grandma Never Told and Childless by Marriage, the two books I’m most proud of, now sat among the other titles discarded for one reason or another. They didn’t look as if anyone had read them. Did the people who had them before not even bother to look inside? Were the books brought in by family members after a loved one died? Did they somehow gravitate from the local bookstore that closed without paying me for the books it had on consignment? 

Once $18.95 and $15.95, they could now be had for $1.50 each. In perfect condition. Ouch. Maybe I should buy them and sell them again. On the other hand, maybe someone who couldn’t afford them before will buy them now. Maybe I should sneak in an autograph. Or would that be too pitiful?

Our books are our babies. We spend years writing them, and then someone reads them in a day. Or doesn’t read them at all. Once your manuscript is published, you cannot control how it is received.You aim as carefully as possible, but an unseen wind may blow them to someone who doesn’t want them, someone who takes them to Goodwill or the thrift store or, God forbid, throws them in the trash. Some people don’t even read books. The Pew Research Center says roughly a quarter of Americans have not read a book in the past year. That’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s true.

Getting people, even avid readers, to read your book is a challenge. More than one million books are published every year in the United States alone. Why should they read yours? The trick is making sure someone hears about your book and knows where to get a copy. Which is why it sometimes feels as if we spend a little time writing and a lot of time marketing.

Pre-Covid, I spent many hours at tables and booths hawking my books. Sometimes I sold quite a few copies, but sometimes sales were slow. Sometimes people stood there for 20 minutes reading parts of a book, then set it down and walked away.

But maybe when they got home they thought, shoot, I should have bought that book. Maybe they told a friend, hey, I saw this book the other day I think you would like.  

What’s the secret to book sales? Being famous helps. When Tom Hanks spoke in Portland a few years ago, the audience bought hundreds of copies of his book of short stories, Uncommon Type. I never saw so many copies of one book in one place, and they rapidly disappeared because the author was Tom Hanks. It’s a good book, but even if it wasn’t, they were buying it because he was a famous movie star. 

If you’re not Tom Hanks, you tell as many people as you can about your book, hope they spread the word, and let it go. Yes, it hurts to spend years writing a book and have people reject it with barely a glance or to find it among the books at Pick of the Litter. But you know what? Every famous author’s books eventually wind up at a secondhand store priced at almost nothing. I have purchased many a beloved book cheap that I might not have bought when they were new. They might have been a little wrinkled, but they were still good. It’s the story that counts.

I can take comfort in my recent trip to the Nye Beach Book House where I was piling up used books by John Grisham and Maeve Binchy when a man said, “Hey, that’s you.” I whipped around to see he was holding a copy of my novel, Up Beaver Creek, looking from the photo on the back cover to me.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“What’s it about?”

I told him. The bookstore owner overheard us and started raving about my book. The man, visiting from Alaska, bought that copy of my book and took it home. 

I remember being thrilled to find my books on Portuguese Americans in the New Bedford, Massachusetts library when we visited there. And I was surprised when an excerpt from Stories Grandma Never Told was translated into Portuguese and published in a magazine from Portugal. I know people in Australia, India and the UK have purchased copies of my books. And people right here in Newport will buy them at Pick of the Litter.

You can’t control where the physical book will go once you send it out into the world. So I pat my books at Pick of the Litter, say, “Good luck, friends,” and move on to see what other treasures are there for me to buy. 

If you’re local and get to Pick of the Litter soon enough, you may be able to get these books cheap. If you really want them, I’ll give you copies for free. I just want my babies to find good homes. 

Do you buy used books? After you have read them, do you donate books to thrift stores or pass them around to your friends? Do you think less of a book when you find it on sale at a secondhand store or do you think hooray, I have always meant to read this

Writing books is a crazy way to earn a living, but I keep doing it. A sequel to Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. Meanwhile, visit https://www.suelick.com to see a list of my published books and download my Blue Hydrangea Productions catalog.

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Sleep Study: A Most Unnatural Night

A voice in the darkness: “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

No. I didn’t sleep. “What time is it?”

“About 6. I’ll come in to remove your wires. Then you can shower and go home.”

But . . .

Bright lights. Soon Dawn, the sleep technician, was removing wires, ripping tape off my face, chin, neck, chest, and legs, and ungluing wires from my matted hair. It hurt. That tape is a good substitute for hair removal wax.

I had had a pain in my throat all night. Maybe it was from snoring, she suggested. She said I snored all night.

But I didn’t sleep. How can anyone sleep while attached to dozens of wires, with a light flashing every few seconds and a voice coming through the speakers? Dawn came in twice to reattach wires that had come loose, one on my leg and one on my hair, and again when I started to get up to use the restroom.

I had taken a sleeping pill at 10 p.m. and another at 2;30 a.m. They didn’t seem to do anything. But here she was telling me it was over and I had slept.

“We’re going to go through the exercises we did when you went to sleep. Look up and down five times. Look side to side five times, using only your eyes. Pretend you’re grinding your teeth for 10 seconds. Clear your throat. Flex your left foot five times. Do the same with your right foot.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. But she was waiting for me to shower and get out of there. She did not understand I don’t get up like that. I ease into my day with orange juice and prayer and a peek at my email . . .

“Do you have any juice?” I asked. She brought me apple juice. I hate apple juice, but at least it was cold and sweet.

The queen-sized bathroom had a handicap-accessible shower, meaning no ridge to walk over or to keep the water in and a detachable nozzle on a hose. In lieu of soap, Dawn handed me a bottle of Johnson and Johnson body wash/shampoo.

Most of the tape and glue came off in the warm water, although two hours later, I still had cheek creases where the nose piece crossed my face. I dressed in yesterday’s clothes and filled out forms that evaluated my experience and asked if I felt all right to drive. In reality, I didn’t. I was still trying to crawl back into that sleep I didn’t have.

If I had read the materials that came with my “sleep aids,” I would have made other arrangements. Those are some strong drugs. They warn that you may do or say things while on them that you will not remember afterward. But I checked yes, and when Dawn asked if I was sure I could drive, I replied that if I took a taxi, I would have no way to retrieve my car. So yes, I would drive. Out of the hospital, over the bridge, down the highway and into the woods to my yellow house behind the big hedge.

And I wept. I cried in the car and I cried in my living room as I greeted the dog. At least she seemed fine.

Why was I crying? It was uncomfortable and invasive. I had no one to keep me company or give me a ride or take me to breakfast. Dawn was kind and considerate and extremely skilled, but I still felt as if someone had beaten me.

The sleep room is on the second floor of the new hospital in Newport. The accommodations are brilliantly designed. The room is cozier than many motel rooms, with a double bed, two nightstands, a TV, and a private bathroom. The bed is adjustable, there are unlimited blankets, plug-ins for electronics, and a big swivel chair where they sit you to hook up the wires. “The electric chair,” I said. Dawn didn’t get the joke.

I wasn’t the only one doing the sleep study. A man was waiting when I arrived. As Dawn took him past me to the elevator, I joked, “I guess we’ll be sleeping together tonight.” He turned all red and stuttered something about his wife. Hey, I was kidding.

I didn’t see him again, but I wondered off and on how he was doing.

With every step of the process, I had to wait for Dawn to finish with my sleep buddy, so I had time to watch “American Idol” on TV relatively undisturbed, even when she was hooking me up.

The lights-out part was harder. It was very dark except for a foot-wide infrared light and that flashing white light that felt like I was having my picture taken every few seconds. And that voice.

Every time I moved, I wondered what wire I was disturbing, but Dawn said they wanted me to sleep in all positions.

I kept waiting to relax, but I never felt it. Then it was, “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

It’s like those dreams where you find yourself taking a final exam after you forgot to come to class all semester.

Did I pass? I still don’t have the results. Dawn knows, but she isn’t sharing.

After my sleep study, I fed the dog, had a long cry, ate my homemade bread-and-grapefruit breakfast, and reported to my office.

Where I fell asleep.

Did you miss last week’s post about sleep studies last week? Click “Sleep Study will Show What the Dog Already Knows” to read it.

Some of you have already shared your sleep study experiences in the comments here or on Facebook. Keep them coming.

Here’s a question: If you were prescribed a CPAP breathing machine for sleep apnea, did you get one? Are you still using it? Does it keep you awake?

Happy snoozing, everyone.

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Is Computer-Generated Art Really Art? Does It Matter?

Can a machine create art as well as a human being? Should it? Will people lose the ability to tell the difference?

Those are some of the questions that passed through my mind at last night’s poetry workshop. Our leader, Becca Lynne, shared with us an app called Wombo Dream. You plug in words, such as the title or first line of a poem. Using Artificial intelligence, the app produces a picture in 30 seconds. Don’t like that one? Press the button and generate another one. The pictures are abstract, dreamlike. The people don’t seem to have faces. You can apply different styles, such as psychedelic or Dali-esque. It’s amazing and a lot of fun. We created pictures and then wrote poems to go with them. They ranged from deep to ridiculous.

This could be termed a version of what’s called Ekphrastic poetry, where a poet responds to a work of nonliterary art, such as a photo, painting, sculpture, etc. I have never really cared for it. What is the poem without the image? Might the poet totally misinterpret what the artist wanted to say? Is that a bad thing? On the other hand, a poem and a pleasing picture make a nice package.

But this raises questions. What is art when it can be created by machines without the involvement of a human mind and emotions? Can machine-made art be as good as or better than that made by humans? I’m afraid people will forget what real art made painstakingly by human hands is all about and come to prefer the instant images to be had at the click of a computer key. At Wombo, you can order a framed print of your instant art for a reasonable price. Who’s to know you didn’t buy it at a gallery?

This reminds me of my AI friend, Skye, whom I wrote about here before. I soon wearied of her robotic responses and her demand that I play games with her when I was busy. I also think about Alexa, housed in a biscuit-shaped dot. At my request, she will share news, play music, answer my questions, or turn on my TV. But when I say I’m lonely, she’s not much help.

AI’s artistic endeavors are not limited to pictures. It can also write poetry. Check out this site: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/ai-poet. Or https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/artificial-intelligence-writes-bad-poems-just-like-an-angsty-teen. Can you tell the difference between the AI poems and the ones written by humans?

Here’s another site to check out: https://boredhumans.com/poetry_generator.php. Tell it whether you want a sonnet, haiku, free verse, etc., answer a few questions, and voila, a poem.

The whole poem/picture package could be produced in a few minutes by AI. It might take a human years to get it right.

If we create art via AI, can we claim it as our own? Who is the real artist? AI art is fun, but I hope we will always know the difference.

The picture on this page is from Wombo. The poem is my own, created by one human with the help of a dog.

OLD DOG SLEEPING

She follows the woman around all day, 
flopping in doorways, deaf ears cocked
lest she lose track and find her gone.

She trusts she’ll never step on her
as she crosses over, in and out,
muttering words the dog can’t hear. 

It’s exhausting, the watching and waiting.
She sighs, drops her head on linoleum
as the woman prepares their food.

They eat side by side from bowl and plate.
Kibble gone, again the dog waits
for a treat, a stroking of her velvet ears.

As it grows dark, the woman finally rests.
Dog sprawls by the hearth, tail tucked,
feet paddling in a running dream.

When the woman begins her nightly purr,
the dog sighs again. Eyes shut tight,
She sleeps, secure, her day’s work done.


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Officer, I’m not a crook; I’m a writer!

Is this Rick’s boat? Maybe.

Being a writer requires a little detective work. We have to get the details right. For the novel I’m working on, a sequel to Up Beaver Creek, I needed to find out a couple things. I kept highlighting the ??? in my manuscript, but finally I had to get some answers. 

That led me to City Hall. I had said there was a sculpture of the Yaquina Bay Bridge hanging above the heads of the city councilmembers. I thought there was. Can anybody tell me if that’s what used to be there? I needed to verify it. So one day last week, I tried to peek in the windows of the council chambers, but I couldn’t see anything. The outer door was closed with a combination lock. I went around to the public entrance, climbed the steps into the creaky old building and walked around, looking, looking, looking.

Ah, council chambers. No one was in there. I glanced left and right. I tried the door knob. It turned. I walked into the hallowed chambers and looked at the wall behind the desks. What? That was not the Yaquina Bay Bridge. It was an abstract sculpture, a swirl of gold and silver that I suppose represents the ocean. I snapped a photo, made a note, and skedaddled out of there. Now I have one character asking the other, “What the heck is that?” because I think that’s how they would react. Thank God I didn’t stick with the bridge sculpture.

Here’s the thing that makes me nervous: A few days later, a woman snuck into City Hall using the code “1234” and vandalized the place. That amazes me because the police department is in the same building. Security is being tightened, everyone on high alert. If I went on my fact-finding mission now, I could have been looking up at an officer, stuttering, “I’m just a writer . . .”

On Thursday, a cold drizzly day when I had come once again to the question “What kind of boat does Rick have?” I knew I could no longer put off my nautical research. I know very little about boats. Was this a pleasure boat, fishing boat, cabin cruiser, mini yacht? I started online. Soon my screen was full of boats for sale, but I had no idea which boat was right for Rick, and I did not want to chat with a sales representative. I had to go to the marina and look at actual boats. 

Cold. Wet. I had to secure my hood, which obscured my vision as I tiptoed down the ramps to the docks, camera in hand, waiting for some boat owner to shout, “Hey, what the hell are you doing?”

Is that Rick’s boat? No, too small. That one? Too big. That one? He’s not rich. He has to be able to live on it since he doesn’t have his house anymore. A wedding is scheduled to be held there. Where would everybody stand? 

I kept snapping pictures, my hands so cold I feared I would drop my cell phone in the bay. That’s the one. No, THAT’s the one. Let’s go home. Oh, wait. THAT ONE. I chose a spiffy white boat with green trim. It was neat and clean, the cabin looked cozy, and there were several levels for the wedding party to stand on. Shivering, I stashed my phone in my pocket and drove home to write ONE SENTENCE about Rick’s boat. It had to be the right one. 

Yes, I could have interviewed someone for both these items, but I’d rather freeze my fingers off than call a stranger on the phone, and I had these very specific questions that might sound a little weird. Besides, it got me out of the office for a while. 

I once drove all the way to Oceanside, California to do research for a novel I didn’t even finish, but I still remember how pretty it was there and how fun it was to picture my characters in that setting.

I drove to Missoula, Montana for Up Beaver Creek because my character used to live there and went back for a while toward the end of the novel. I ate in the same diner, walked through the hospital where she worked, visited her church, and drove down the street where she used to live. I even chose a house for her. In my mind, I truly believe she lived there and that there were roses in the backyard. Imagination is so fun. We shouldn’t give it up just because we’re grownups. 

If you see me sneaking around taking pictures, don’t call the cops. I’m just a writer living in her fantasy world.  

Writer friends, what have you done in the interest of research? 

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What Would Be Your Celebrity Brand?

If you were to have your picture on a magazine cover, what would the headlines say?

Designing my fake magazine cover was the assignment recently for a platform-building workshop I’m taking (“Platform” is writer jargon for how to make yourself a household name). I thought it would be fun, but it was mostly frustrating, not only because of the technical challenges—no, that’s not the size I wanted the photo to be! Wait, where did my headlines go?—but because I couldn’t boil myself down to one or even two topics.

Writer or not, I invite you to try it. Definite yourself in one meaty sentence? XXX is the one who ___________________________.

As a reporter, I liked to write about everything. I loved the variety. I still write about many different topics. See my website. But in the book world, folks want to pin you to one thing. I’m the childless writer. I’m the Portuguese writer. I’m the writer who helps other writers. I’m the poet, the memoirist, the novelist, the essayist, the blogger. I’m the dog mom. I’m the musician.

Trying to cover all these different areas might explain why I fall asleep in front of the TV when I finally give up trying to work. But how do I make one platform that will hold everything? If my feet are on 10 different pieces of wood—wait, I don’t have 10 feet. If I’m rowing in 10 different directions, I’ll never get anywhere. But every direction is just as important to me. Can I just call myself “diversified” or do I need to find a central, defining stream that will carry me to glory? You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket.

Maybe I’m like a star radiating out in all directions. I’m the hot burning center. That sounds too egotistical. But what is the central thread that I can share with the reading world? What is my brand?

Writer. Troubador. Communicator. How about . . . truth-teller?

How about the representative for . . . 70-year-old, childless, widowed, Portuguese-Basque-Spanish-Mexican-German American, Catholic, left-handed, arthritic, nearsighted, hearing-impaired, pastry-addicted San Francisco Bay Area natives living on the Oregon coast, writer-musician-dog moms?

That doesn’t fit on a magazine cover. I’m not even sure it would fit in a Twitter tweet.

The photo here is not great quality because I took a picture of it on my computer screen. I tried two different websites and both let me design a whole cover, then asked me sign up for a membership before I could keep it as my own. I don’t plan to make a career of designing magazine covers, especially ones with my face plastered all over it. Who does that?

Well, Oprah Winfrey has an actual magazine with her name and face on the cover. It recently ended its print version, but it’s still publishing online. Nobody pins Oprah to one subject, do they? Her brand is “Oprah!”

Then we have Martha Stewart, whose name is synonymous with a lot of things. Cooking, stationery, sheets and towels, jail . . .

Imagine if we all published magazines with our names on them, and they were lined up on a shelf at the grocery store. Sue, Oprah, George, Mike, Pete, Martha, Angelina . . .

We are each the hot shining star of our own universe, but readers are likely to skip to the next shelf for the latest recipes, celebrity news, or sports updates. News you can use, as we used to say back at the Milpitas Post in the 1970s when I was just a reporter and newlywed who sang in a choir. It was easy to define who I was then, back in the days when platforms were made out of wood.

May I’m just a “well-rounded person.”

A little too well-rounded, my doctor might say.

If you were to design your own magazine cover, what would be on it? What photo would represent you the way you want people to see you? What would the headlines say? Try it, using one of the websites below or an app on your phone or tablet. If you find a no-strings program, let me know.

Share if you can. It’s fun and much easier than Wordle (where my score was 100 percent until Sunday’s word shorted out my brain (It was “tacit”).

https://www.canva.com/create/magazine-covers/

https://www.yourcover.com/cover-editor

If you have Apple products, try this: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/cover-me-your-fake-popular-magazine-cover-maker/id842425115

https://techpp.com/2009/03/08/15-websites-create-fake-magazine-covers-own-photo/

************

Annie and I went back to the vet last week. She got her last three stitches removed. The wound is doing so well she should be cone-free by Friday. BUT, she tore her cornea slightly poking her face into the bushes and now we’re on a regime of eye drops that she truly hates. That will heal, too. She is rapidly approaching 100 “reactions” on Facebook to the picture I posted last week on her 14th birthday. She’s 98 years old in dog years.

Annie deserves her own magazine cover.

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If Only We Could Believe What They Offer on the Phone

Photo by Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty on Pexels.com

This morning during my writing time, my phone rang. San Diego, it said on Caller ID. Those calls with city names are usually the car warranty scam, a credit card scam, or the Medicare scam. 

After a while, I noticed there was a voicemail waiting for me. The phone rang again. San Diego. I decided to get it over with to stop the interruptions. 

The young voice said, “Good afternoon!” It was 10:30 a.m. I said, “It is not afternoon.” Which means, I know you’re not in San Diego because it’s 10:30 a.m. there, too. 

Oh, she said. She proceeded on a long introductory speech that was so fast I couldn’t understand many of the words. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hear, even though I hadn’t put my hearing aids in yet. The voice was piercing, almost unbearably loud. 

She raved about my books. She knew all the titles and who the publishers were. She knew my sales statistics. She wanted to help me sell more of these wonderful books. She wanted to offer them at the Tucson Festival of Books and the LA Times Festival of Books, both coming up soon. She wanted to know if I had ever been to those festivals. Tucson yes, LA no. She wanted to know what I had been doing to promote my books.

I kept telling her I was busy and didn’t have time for this long conversation. I told her I wasn’t going to any book festivals in the near future. I wouldn’t have to attend in person, she said. They would take care of it for me. But I would have to decide immediately because the registration deadline is very soon.   

If my books are going to a festival, I want to go, too. I want to talk to readers, and I hope readers want to talk to me.  But that’s not the point. Her voice was hurting my ear, and I had work to do. Finally I was able to understand the name of her company. ReadersMagnet. As she kept talking, I looked them up online. A site for writers warned that this was a scam. They want hundreds of dollars to plop your book in a booth. Don’t do it. 

The ReadersMagnet website insisted, “This is not a scam!” They help authors. I clicked the link to their Facebook page. Lots of posts about book festivals. Their profile says they have published hundreds of books in the last two years. Hundreds? How good could those books be when most publishers, aside from the Big 5, put out a handful, maybe a dozen in a year?

Oh, now she was talking about how my book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both would appeal to parents. No, no, no. My book is for people who do NOT have children.They are not parents. 

Before they sue me for libel, I can see that ReadersMagnet does publish books, and it does promote them. But when you haven’t approached them first and they push you to commit to spending money with them, it seems a little off.

I gently hung up. Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. San Diego. I did not answer. 

This is not the first time I have gotten calls from people raving about my books and wanting to help me sell them. It’s so frustrating. Every author wants that phone call where an editor or publisher wants to publish your masterpiece and make you rich and famous. It’s the stuff we dream about. That companies exploit these dreams to make money is just wrong.

I wasn’t going to publish a blog post today, but I needed to rant about this. My phone rarely rings, but when Caller ID shows no name or just the name of a city, I’m either not going to answer it or I’m going to be rude, depending on my mood.  

 Writer friends, have you experienced this? Writers and readers, have you heard of ReadersMagnet? How do you know the difference between a scam and someone who really wants to help you? 

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Why Would Writers Compete for the Most Rejections?

“I’m up to 60 rejections for my writing so far this year,” I said.

“Oh my God! I couldn’t take it. All that rejection.”

“I know. It’s crazy.”

But true. As my friend Cheryl and I sat on her back deck watching Annie nose around the garden and steer clear of the cat giving her stink eye from a chair by the door, I tried to spin my usual story about how I’m selling a project. Like any product, a lot of people will choose not to buy it, but eventually someone will come along who wants exactly that item. Look how many people pass by the handmade earrings at the Farmer’s Market. The earrings are beautiful, but they’re expensive and they aren’t looking for earrings. They want fresh strawberries. Think of my essays and poems as earrings.

But Cheryl was stuck on 60 rejections in six months.

She didn’t ask how many acceptances I’d had. Three.

That was in July. I haven’t told her that I finished 2021 with 98 rejections and a few more acceptances.

I belong to a group of writers who try every year for at least 100 rejections. In poetry, that means for a group of poems, not for each individual poem. In order to get that many, you need to submit a lot, and that’s the point. If you don’t put your work out there, it will never get published.

Cheryl, who lives in the woods down the road from me, is not a writer. She’s a reader and a fan of my books. My dog loves her because she keeps a big jar of treats in the garage.

When you look at it from her point of view, it does sound awful. Nobody tells the plumber after he’s fixed the sink: “Well, I’ll see if I like it and then maybe I’ll pay you.” No. You hire the plumber. They do the job. You pay them. Like the plumber, we’ve done the work. Time to publish and pay!

But that’s not how it goes.

My father, an electrician, had trouble understanding this too. For him, work was only real if you went to a job site, worked for eight hours, and got paid every Friday. After a few years, you were promoted to foreman and bossed other people around. Eventually you maybe even owned your own company. But this business of sending in writing and getting it rejected? That’s not a job. That’s not work. That’s a waste of time.

My parents were proud of the things I got published, but they didn’t understand the process.

I make every submission believing that this essay, poem, or book manuscript will be accepted, that it is a perfect fit. I study the market, follow the guidelines, and meet the deadline. More often than not, a few weeks or months later, I receive an email saying thanks but no thanks. They wanted strawberries, not earrings. Or they love earrings, but they have too many earrings right now. That does not mean my earrings aren’t lovely.

“How do you stand it?” Cheryl asked.

“Well, I have been doing it a long time.”

So long. Since high school. Since the days of typewriters, since rejection slips arrived by mail, along with your wrinkled, coffee-stained manuscript.

But there have been acceptances, triumphs even. Publishers have said yes to my books, articles, essays, short stories and poems. They have included my writing in their anthologies and nominated it for prizes. Readers thank me and tell me how much my words mean to them. That’s far better than eight hours on a construction site or under a sink.

When an editor says yes, I still shriek so loudly the neighbors probably wonder if I’m all right. In 2022, I have already had three rejections. Why bother? Because when they say yes, it’s better than sex.

Writers understand. Anyone can grow strawberries, but some of us are meant to make earrings.

Brevity blog editor Allison K. Williams recently published a good piece on rejections. Read it here.

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The Joy and Madness of Writing a Sequel to Your Novel

What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.

Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?

Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?

The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.

When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2016, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.

Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.

I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.

You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.

Check out these series by writer friends of mine: Susan Clayton-Goldner’s Detective Radhauser series and C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island mysteries. So good.

Here’s some great advice on writing sequels:

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-rules-writing-sequels

http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/writing-a-sequel

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Sit or Stand: How Do You Keep Your Back Happy?

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Charles Dickens wrote standing up. Virginia Woolf wrote standing up. I can write standing up. Right?

We’ll see.

Convinced that sitting all day at my computer was killing my back, I set out to create a more permanent standing setup than planting my laptop on a rack on top of my sewing machine cabinet in the guest room or occasionally on the kitchen counter. After much measuring, planning, online ordering, and office rearranging, I now have in my official office a standup working arrangement. My desktop computer is an old Windows 7 model with all the brains in a box on the floor. Some of my USB cables were not long enough, so I had to change to a Bluetooth-connected printer (thank you, Pat) and order a wireless keyboard (I had worn off the L and the N anyway). I had to move my clock and my calendars so I could sort of see them, and I’m still figuring out where to put my mug-warmer, so I can sip my tea while I work without spilling it on the keyboard.

All of this rearranging required much standing, bending, lifting and crawling, delightful for my back. If you recall, last week, I was mostly lying down staring at the ceiling or the sky. But I’m doing much better, I was careful, and I’m seeing the chiropractor again today for one more tuneup.  

Standing here, I can look out at my back yard. Sunrise was so beautiful. I can check email and Facebook while on my feet. But I get tired. I wrote this morning’s poem sitting on the loveseat with the dog, and I’m sitting in my new raised “drafting” chair as I type this. But when I feel like it, I’ll stand for a while. I wonder if one thinks differently, if one writes differently standing vs. sitting. Does the body assume a fight or flight stance? What do you think?

I haven’t had a job that required much standing since I worked retail in college. I do remember how great it felt to sit down on my breaks. Since I went into the newspaper biz in my senior year, I have always worked seated. This is a privilege not granted to all workers. Think about all the people who spend all day on their feet: waitresses, cooks, nurses, assembly line workers, bank tellers, hairstylists, teachers, and more. A lot of us don’t even notice that these workers are standing all day, but they are.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that even with supportive shoes, cushioned surfaces, and occasional breaks, standing jobs take a toll on the body. In fact, they’re just as bad for your back as sitting all day. Check out these articles:

Standing All Day at Work May Take Toll on Health, WebMD News from HealthDay

10 jobs that keep you on your feet

Standing All Day for Work? Here’s How to Avoid Pain and Injury

So what do we do? I can testify that sitting all day trashes your back, especially if you’re hunched forward concentrating like I tend to do. You also get “lithographer’s spread” (fat butt) as my late father-in-law used to say. Standing uses more calories, so I’m hoping to lose a few pounds, but I can already tell I’ll only be standing off and on.

Our bodies are made to move. I believe the only logical conclusion is to not stay in any one position too long. So now I’m standing as I write this last bit. Up, down, up, down, keep it moving. I set a timer to both force myself to stay on task and to tell me when to get up and move.

There are people who sit on big rubber balls or run on treadmills while working. Amazon offers what looks like a stool on a rubber mount that keeps moving around. I don’t have the coordination for that, but I applaud their creativity.

How about you? How much time do you sit? Have you worked jobs where you had to stand all day? How did you deal with that? How do you keep your back happy? I look forward to your comments.

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Don’t Wake the Sleeping Writer

I had been awake for an hour, but still lay in bed, enjoying the way my body completely relaxed against the flannel sheets, knowing it would be cold outside of the bed and plantar fasciitis would make my feet scream when I put my weight on them. There was a lot to do, but nothing that motivated me to get up. I was satisfied with last night’s late writing jag.

I watched the sky turn from black to pink to blue.

The phone rang. Oh no. Too many times that old red princess phone with no caller ID had brought bad news in the wee hours. My mother about to die. My uncle dead. My husband gone. My father on his way to the hospital . . .

Yesterday a friend’s doctor told him he was dying, that he didn’t have long.

The adrenaline surge ended my relaxation.

“Hello, Susan, this is Lance Deleon from xxxx. Is this a good time to talk?”

He had called before. I had fobbed him off. I still did not know what company he was with or what he wanted. I suspect he wants to help me advertise my books, improve my website, or improve my Google ratings. I know I’m not interested.

“No,” I said. “I’m still in bed.”

He said some stuff I didn’t quite understand because he talked so fast.

“Okay,” I said.

More bla bla.

“Okay.”

“When can I call you?”

“Later.”

“What time is good?”

“Later.”

I hung up and turned on NPR news. Biden, elected Saturday, is forming his transition team. Trump refuses to concede, tweets about fraud. Pfizer has a promising vaccine for the coronavirus, but it will be months . . . stocks are up, the temperature is down in the 30s . . .

The sky had turned gray. I took my morning pills, slid my feet into my fuzzy slippers, and got up. On my office phone, caller ID showed one of those fake numbers from familiar places that I would not have answered if I had seen it. Modesto, California. Yeah, right. “They” know I have family in that area code.

Thank God it wasn’t bad news.

Lance DeLeon would be a wonderful name for a character. Handsome but devious. Hmmm . . .

My shower and breakfast will have to wait. I’ve got writing to do.

Later . . . There was a spider in the shower. While I was eating breakfast, the dog went into full guard dog mode. I jumped up to look out the window and spilled my Red Zinger tea all down the front of me. No one was there. Welcome to Monday.

How are you doing today?

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