Let’s Sing Some Songs About Hair

What songs would PD play? That’s the question I kept coming up against in my novels Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound, featuring piano player-singer PD Soares. Recently widowed, she has left her home in Montana and headed west, determined to be more than a church choir singer.

Although she does have a day job, PD’s music career is moving along. She’s singing and playing with a band called Seal Rock Sound that includes her roommate Janie and several other friends. Their repertoire includes everything from Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson, with a little Grateful Dead thrown in. At a rehearsal in Chapter 5, they go from “Ripple” to “Blue Skies” to “Peaceful Easy Feelin.’ ” Plus some songs that I had to find online because I am not PD. I am considerably older and tend toward country, bluegrass, gospel, and some new age piano stuff. That’s not going to work for PD and her band. She likes jazz, blues and rock. Her audiences are not going to go for “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

When a friend throwing herself a pre-chemo party demands “hair” songs, PD and Janie come up with a list. Who knew there were so many songs about hair?

“I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”

“Hair” (from the musical)

“Hair” (Lady Gaga)

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (South Pacific)

“That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”

“I am Not My Hair”

“Farrah Fawcett Hair”

“Hairspray” (the musical)

Do you know any others? Let’s add to the list.  

I had a blast writing the hair party chapter. If you want to know what happened, pick up a copy of Seal Rock Sound at Amazon.com or order it from your favorite bookseller.  

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

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New Novel, Seal Rock Sound, is Here!

Book cover for Seal Rock Sound shows a rocky shoreline, dark clouds reflecting on blue water at sunset.

Seal Rock Sound, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek, has officially been published. PD is back.

PD Soares survived the death of her husband, relocation to Oregon, and the disasters that occurred shortly after her arrival at her new home up Beaver Creek Road. Now she can relax and pursue her music career and maybe even a little romance, right?

Wrong. New challenges are coming like sneaker waves. Can you love a man who doesn’t love himself? What is wrong with her mother? And how do you recover when the town that calls itself “the friendliest” proves not so friendly after all? Our red-haired, piano-playing heroine is tough, but is she tough enough?

Book cover for Up Beaver Creek shows a creek running through dense bushes and trees, all very green and blue.

Of course she is, but it won’t be easy.

I’m already making notes for the third book in the series because I just can’t let these people go.

This is my 12th book. Does it get easier to produce a book?

No.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. “Oh, sure I just pop them out like pancakes.” Maybe not pancakes. My pancakes are always burnt or half raw. Let’s say muffins. I’m good with muffins.

Here’s the thing. With each book, I am more aware of the mistakes I need to avoid, more conscious of the pitfalls of careless editing or shallow research. With a sequel, it’s even trickier because every detail has to be consistent with what I said in the previous book. Were Donovan’s eyes blue or green? Which one of Janey’s boyfriends helped her move? Did the house PD and Janey shared have a fireplace, wood stove or radiator? Conflicting details can destroy a good story.

My years of newspaper writing make me a faster writer than many. I don’t agonize over every word or spend an hour writing and rewriting one sentence. I spent too many years knowing I just had to get the story finished by deadline. There was no time for angst or perfection. Now I’m learning to break that habit.

I used Allison K. Williams’ book Seven Drafts this time, and I think I will use it with every prose project from now on. Because I did the seven drafts, this may be the best writing I have ever turned out.

Each draft asks the writer to look at ONE aspect in depth. For example, one draft is devoted to making sure the story makes sense in the order it is written. Does every chapter serve a purpose? Is something missing? Is this chapter too short or two long? Does this scene belong in this chapter or another one or do you need it at all? Do the beginnings and endings of each chapter grab the reader’s attention and make her read on?

Another draft is devoted to characters. Are they all necessary? Who are they? What do they want? What conflicts are they dealing with?

We move on to setting. Can a reader who has never been there see it clearly? Does the time and place play a role in the story? Oregon coast winters are wet and windy. How does that affect what happens to PD and her friends?

After dealing with the larger issues, the drafts get down to unnecessary words, vague language, and words we tend to overuse. This is where we make the writing sing.

All these drafts take a long time, but they pay off.

Once the writing and rewriting are done, production begins: formatting, layout, cover design, drafts, proofreading. It is amazing how the human eye works. Several people proofread this book, and we all found different typos.

Finally the moment comes when you click “publish” and order author copies. You pray this book baby has all its fingers and toes, that the pages aren’t upside down and the cover looks as good in person as it looks on the screen, that the page numbers are where they’re supposed to be, and you don’t see any big ugly mistakes. When your first copies arrive and you see that your book is all right, you hold it to your bosom and weep.

You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now you have to sell it. And that’s a whole other chapter.

Next time you pick up a book, whether it’s in a bookstore, at the library, or in a bin at the thrift shop, consider what it took to turn an idea into this product you hold in your hand. If you’re a writer, don’t let that stop you. Just take it one step at a time.

You can order both Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound in paperback at your favorite bookstore through Ingram, the distributor used by most booksellers, or in paperback or ebook formats at Amazon.com. I am available for readings and talks live or online. Tell your friends.

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As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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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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Am I the Only One Who Still Eats Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

Photo by Rania alhamed on Pexels.com

I’m a dinosaur. I eat three meals a day at approximately 7 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m., just like my parents did. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If any of those meals does not happen, I am not happy. And it drives me nuts that groups I belong to keep scheduling activities at meal times. Clearly I’m out of sync with the rest of the world. 

According to numerous sources, including this article from the New York Post–“Nobody Eats Three Meals a Day Anymore”–my habits are passe. I’m so old, I still want three square meals. Get over it, some might say. But I like my three squares, and I’m old enough to declare that I refuse to give them up. I also thank God I am able to buy all the food I want in a world where that’s not true for everyone. 

Do you know how the term “square meal” came about? It comes from the British and American Navy sailors back in the 1700s and 1800s. They were served their meals on square trays, hence three squares. I’ll bet there was some serious complaining if they didn’t get those meals. 

In my house growing up, you could set your clock by breakfast, lunch and dinner, same time every day, never skipped and always together. In his later years after my mother died, my father spent half his time preparing meals. When I was visiting, he’d look at the clock. “4:30? Aren’t you gonna start dinner?” Later, in the nursing home, meals were the main event of the day. People wheeled up to their tables early.They didn’t have much else to look forward to.

But nowadays, somewhere between half and three-quarters of Americans don’t go by the three-meal plan. Instead they eat one or two big meals at some point and snack the rest of the time.The Post article explains that they’re too busy for extensive meal preparation or to sit down with family and eat. The meal most likely to be skipped is lunch. Instead, people snack in the afternoon. Many eat while running errands, even while driving their car. How is that satisfying? 

Lunch is my favorite thing! I need that break and that boost of calories and caffeine. 

I don’t do snacks. As a compulsive overeater whose snacks can quickly get out of hand, I need to eat my scheduled meals then get away from the kitchen. When people host events that include brunch or eating in the middle of the afternoon, I don’t know how to fit that into my schedule. Is it a late breakfast? An early dinner? I’m confused.

Dieticians tell us it’s best to spread our eating throughout the day. Breakfast is essential, but then if we could do four or five smaller meals, it might be better than three big meals, but those meals can’t be chips or a burrito devoured on the run. 

I’m beginning to understand why so many activities take place at noon or 6 p.m., times I normally reserve for eating. Sometimes I eat during Zoom meetings, but I keep my camera off because watching people chew on Zoom is disgusting. How is everyone else content to meet when it’s time to eat? 

In this, as in many other aspects of life, I think dogs make more sense. I got home a little late on Saturday, delaying dinner, and my Annie followed me around the house barking until she got fed. It’s chow time. No excuses.

How about you? Do you eat three meals a day at approximately the same times? Why or why not? When do you eat? If you used to eat “three squares” and stopped, what caused you to change? If you have grown children, is their eating schedule different from yours? I look forward to some meaty comments. 

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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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Sometimes You Just Need Another Set of Hands

After our walk last Saturday, I unleashed the dog and left her alone while I sprinted to the restroom. Normal, right? Not when the dog is recovering from surgery and can NEVER be without her big plastic collar when she’s off the leash. For a moment, I forgot.

When I came out, she was twisted around in position to lick whatever she could reach on her back end, including the conglomeration of stitches, drains and healing cuts I had been carefully guarding for 10 days. In a second, it could all be destroyed, and we’d have to start over.

I lost my mind, running down the hall, shouting, “No, no, no!”

It was okay. Maybe she didn’t get to it, or maybe she saw her incision for the first time and paused, thinking, “Holy cow. What happened here?” Maybe God grabbed her and said, “No!” I don’t know. I put the collar on and burst into tears, hugging Annie’s plastic-shrouded face. “It’s hard. It’s so hard,” I sobbed as the dog sniffed my wet cheeks.

As I calmed down, I discovered my new mascara is not waterproof. I had black stuff all over my hands and face. I didn’t check when I bought it. Why would they even sell mascara that melts when you cry? (Here’s why).

Why was I wearing mascara during Covid? Before our walk, I was on Zoom for a four-hour workshop, and when you have to look at your own face for that long, you do the best you can to make it tolerable.

After I calmed down, I left Annie alone while I went to the grocery store and the pharmacy, but I still felt the weight of being the only human in the house. I have only felt comfortable leaving her for short trips for a few days, and I pray hard that her wound will be okay when I get back. If someone else were here, they could watch the dog while I take care of other things. But it’s just me and Annie.

Thinking about it later, I decided it’s okay if sometimes I cry or curse or even throw things because being alone is difficult. Ask any widow living by herself, especially if she has no adult children nearby. You’re responsible for everything, whether it’s fixing the car or cooking dinner, figuring out the health insurance or cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn or walking the dog. I love my independence, but some things are just easier with other people around.

After I finish the novel I’m working on, I plan to write a book about living alone. I want it to be upbeat, with more emphasis on what we can do alone than what we can’t. I hope it will make people laugh.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for ways to make living alone easier. Should I rent a room, move to a senior community, try online dating or what? I love my home in the forest, but it’s a bit much for one person who would rather be writing, playing music, reading, or enjoying nature than doing 101 chores.

If anyone knows a handyman (or woman) in the Newport area who is skilled, dependable, and doesn’t make me afraid to let them in the house, let me know. I have tried several who were worse than no one.

If you live alone, please share in the comments what you find the most difficult to handle. Let’s see if we can help each other figure it out.

Back to Annie. She is doing fine. We go back to the doctor on Thursday to remove her stitches. Annie being Annie, she will still have to wear the cone for a while to keep her from licking the area, but relief is coming. The tumor was not cancer, just a really ugly benign fatty lipoma, so she should live to drive me crazy well past her 14th birthday next week.

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We Survive January’s Storms and Carry On

No shame in wearing the cone of shame

It’s the last day of January. The holidays are already a fuzzy memory. What did I do for Christmas? New Years? Um . . .  

So far, 2022, despite the mellifluous sound of its numbers, has been a rotten SOB. 

  • Storms, storms, storms, with wind damage, roads collapsing, landslides and a lot of wet feet and wiping off the soggy dog. See earlier post.
  • Much worse storms elsewhere in the country causing destruction from which it may take years to recover. 
  • Insane Covid numbers and some people still refusing to get vaccinated. 
  • My brother-in-law died. My friend’s sister died. My sister-in-law’s uncle died of Covid after that branch of the family’s  Christmas celebration sent him and two others to the hospital. The others are okay now. 
  • Eight writing submissions have been rejected. (But two were accepted, so maybe that’s okay).
  • A tumor on my dog’s hip was diagnosed as cancer and then not and then maybe. After a month of blood and ooze from the ugliest-looking bump ever–think blood sausage–it was surgically removed. Her heart nearly stopped under the anesthesia, but the doctor was able to bring her back to a safe pulse rate. Now she has a huge, oozy incision with drains and smaller cuts around it. She has been wearing the big collar, aka cone of shame, for over a month and will continue for at least two more weeks. We are $3,000 into this now, but she’s worth it. Annie will be 14 on Feb. 16. That’s 98 in dog years.
  • My hot tub cover slipped while I was closing it one icy night and clobbered me in the head, giving me a headache and a two-inch cut from my hairline to my nose that just missed my eye. This led me into all kinds of dark thoughts about the danger of living alone. 
  • My annual doctor visit resulted in another pill to take and referrals to three different specialists. None of it is life-threatening, but it is all annoying and takes away from my writing time. Getting older is a drag, but there are still so many great things to do that I am not ready for the alternative.

So January has sucked, BUT there are good things. 

  • The cut on my forehead is healed and fading away. I did NOT get badly hurt by the hot tub cover. Since that incident, I have taken steps to make the cover much safer to deal with.
  • Post-surgery, Annie and I may finally see the end of this oozy mess and get rid of the cone of shame.
  • I have not gotten Covid. So far. With all my shots, if I do get it, I believe it won’t be too bad.
  • My new air fryer arrived on Thursday and I’m having fun trying new things in it. It’s pretty slick. I welcome your recipes and suggestions.
  • I am making great progress on my new novel, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek. Dare I confess that I love this book? I think you will, too. 
  • The bulbs are sprouting in my garden, which means spring is coming. 
  • I have wonderful friends, in-person and online. Annie does, too. She has more Facebook fans than I do, with over 100 reactions to my post about her surgery. 
  • A new episode of “The Gilded Age” will appear on HBOmax tonight. 
  • The tsunami that drifted over from Tonga Jan. 15 did not damage the Oregon Coast.
  • I’m still here, writing by the fireplace, dog at my side, guitar and piano nearby, forest out the window. Two hummingbirds just hovered at the window. God is good. 

Enough of me and mine. How has January been for you? 

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Genealogy Search Yields Another Author in My Family Tree

I have always believed I was the only writer in the Fagalde family. I was wrong! Looking for a missing in-law led me to Genealogybank.com, which led me to discover May Eliza Frost, aka Mrs. Glenn Fagalde, who wrote pulp fiction under the name Eli Colter. And she wrote it in Oregon! Our names have both appeared in the Oregonian!

In a clip from the society pages of the March 29, 1936 Oregonian, the columnist writes about a gathering of authors that included Mrs. Fagalde. “Eli Colter (Mrs. Glenn Fagalde) is just as individual a personality as her many novels. Although she is known for her western stories of characteristic flavor, she has also distinguished herself in the writing field of the supernatural. The titles alone of her novels intrigue all ages from 8 to 80. Bad Men’s Trail, The Adventures of Hawke Travis, and Outlaw Blood are typical examples of this unique woman writer doing westerns with a swagger.”

Back in the olden days, many women writers felt the need to take male pen names in order to get published and respected. I imagine readers would have trouble believing Wild West and supernatural stories written by a woman named May Eliza. It’s such a sweet name. But Eli’s characters are anything but sweet. 

It’s fascinating to realize she was spinning her tales in the years when my dad was young, reading those old hardcover westerns with blue or green covers. He might even have read something by Eli Colter, with no idea she was married to one of the Oregon Fagaldes. 

I just finished reading The Adventures of Hawke Travis, originally published in 1931. This is a real Wild West tale. Hawke Travis is a roaming gunman and gambler who doesn’t mind breaking the law for a good cause or killing a man who deserves it, but he will never double-cross his friends or kill for no reason. If the law ever catches up with him, he’ll probably hang, but he has a gift for slipping away just in the nick of time. Hawke claims to have been a teacher, a lawyer and a few other things, changing like a chameleon to fit in whatever place he wanders into, but beware those black eyes and the Colt 44 he keeps tucked in his waistband. Is the story realistic? No. But it’s pure pleasure to read. The old-time language trips off the tongue. It feels as if the narrator is sitting right next to you telling the tale. And if they appropriate Spanish words–calling each other “hombre” and such–and use “that’s mighty white of you” as a compliment, well, we have to consider the era in which the stories were written and let it go. At least the few women we encounter in Hawke’s adventures are feisty and damned good shots. 

When I first read about Colter’s books, I thought they would be difficult to find. But Amazon.com has them. So do various other booksellers, thanks to Colter’s estate and publishers keeping the books in print. I may have to read some more. This is very exciting to me, even if the Fagalde name isn’t mentioned in conjunction with her work. 

In addition to westerns, Colter wrote stories of the supernatural for pulp magazines like Weird Tales. Black Mask Magazine, and Strange Stories. Through the miracle of the Internet, I downloaded “The Last Horror.” Shiver. Look out, Ray Bradbury. 

In a bio of Colter at the Weird Tales website, the writer says Colter’s tales in Strange Stories alternated with those of an author named Don Alviso. Both sets of stories came from the same mailing address because Don Alviso was actually Glenn Fagalde, her husband. Alviso was my great-great-great grandmother’s maiden name. 

The couple eventually left Oregon for Azusa, California, where their household became the center of a writer’s colony. Glenn Fagalde died in 1957, and “Eli” lived on to 1984. By then, I was writing my own stories in San Jose. 

Times have changed. I feel no need to write under a man’s name, although I like the sound of “Sam Lick” or how about “Slick Lick.” Very macho. How about Dona Fagalde? At most writers’ gatherings now, live or on Zoom, most of the participants are women. But I’m proud of May Eliza. She had spunk and could spin a damned good yarn. 

You know what else? In her younger days, she played the piano and pipe organ in movie houses to make her living. We have the piano in common, too. 

We tend these days to think everything that happened before the turn of the current century is too old to pay attention to, but there’s gold in them thar old books. 

Read any good old books lately?

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