Robo-Guy Just Doesn’t Understand Me

I’m writing this while listening to “on hold” music that sounds like the record is stuck and somebody needs to move the needle. I try not to do non-writing business during my writing time, but if I wait until later to call my insurance company, I’ll lose my courage, so now, while we have sun and hail happening at the same time (craziest winter ever), I dial the 800 number and encounter Robo-Guy.

Now, Robo-Guy and I have a problem. He does not understand what I’m saying. I think I’m speaking English. I’m enunciating as hard as I can. And yet he doesn’t seem to get me. He keeps spitting out a list of choices, none of which apply to my situation. Specifically, I’m turning 65 on Thursday, I have gotten a pile of stuff in the mail from Medicare and Blue Shield and I don’t understand how the two insurances interact. Do I have a Blue Shield “supplement plan” plus Medicare or what? This is not on Robo-Guy’s list, the same list I saw online before I decided I would have to use the telephone.

Every time I start to mutter to myself, he stops and restarts his list. I must be silent unless I can say something that’s on the list. BUT IT’S NOT ON THE LIST.

I take a chance. I say “Medicare supplement.”

“Did you say benefits?”

“No.”

“My mistake.” He repeats the list.

I repeat “medicare supplement.”

He says, “Did you say benefits?”

Head slap. “Yes.” I’ll say anything that gets me to a human being.

So I get one. I immediately forget his name. Dennis? We’ll call him Dennis. I give could-be-Dennis my information. He puts me on hold. The line goes silent. Am I still connected? Oh! There he is. My plan does not show me having Part D. Part D? But he’s not the right guy, which I knew because I picked a “wrong” choice to get to a human. Would I like to be connected to the other guy? Yes.

Commence the loud hold music. I start to scribble because I am unable to sit and do nothing and the music cannot be listened to. Why is loud annoying music considered better than silence?

Oh! Dennis. He’s still working on it. Hold on.

Why not give us news, information, quizzes, gossip, the Beatles, anything but this noise? How about, this is brilliant, how about employing professional “hold chatters,” friendly people who will talk to you while you’re on hold. You could talk about anything: work, kids, recipes, the weather, frustration with your in-laws. Kind of like therapy. I think it’s a great idea, as long as they’re live people.

Hey! Dennis has delivered me to Erica, who actually makes jokes. She’s going to check which is my primary and which is my secondary insurance. She giggles. “Who’s on first, who’s on second?” She actually remembers the old comedy routine. I love Erica.

Now I’m back on hold. The music didn’t miss a beat. For anyone calling government, insurance or financial institutions, always use the bathroom first and come supplied with coffee, tea, or whiskey and something to do because it’s going to take a while.

Erica is back. I’m listed as a “PPO retiree.” Okay. Blue Shield is still my primary insurance and Medicare is secondary. Is that what it’s supposed to be? Shouldn’t it be flip-flopped with Medicare primary? Somebody who is older than me and understands this stuff, please explain in plain English?

Erica offers to transfer me to another person. I can’t take anymore. “Not today,” I say. I may be over-insured, but going into my birthday, at least I am covered. I am double-blessed with insurance from my late husband and from Uncle Sam. I know a lot of people struggle to have any kind of insurance at all. I am lucky to have had Blue Shield all these years via Fred. On my own, I’d be at the mercy of the Affordable Care Act, which our president wants to abolish.

I’m still thinking about Robo-Guy. Oddly, I feel guilty, like I screwed up our conversation. He wasn’t even real, but he sounded so real, so anxious to please yet so perplexed by what I was saying.

So, tell me about your Robo-Guy experiences. Does he have trouble understanding you, too?

***

I wasn’t going to write about my upcoming birthday anymore. So I’m turning 65. Get over it, right? Right. But let me close with two important reminders about the upcoming anniversary of my birth (Thursday, Thursday, Thursday).

1) Some of my local area friends are joining me for lunch at The Chalet in Newport on Thursday at noon. Contact me if you want to come, too, so we can get a big enough table. No presents or even cards are necessary. I’m still thinking I will end the day at The Drift Inn in Yachats, where the music begins at 6 p.m. Let me know if you want to join me there, too. In between, I might go for a long hike if the weather is decent. If not, maybe I’ll do a little antiquing.

2) The Great $6.50 Birthday Book Clearance Sale will continue through the month of March. You can buy copies of Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, Childless by Marriage and the original edition of Azorean Dreams for only $6.50 each, including shipping. That’s less than half price. The next two customers will also get a free copy of my limited edition chapbook The Dog Ate It, my gift to you. Do not go to Amazon for this sale. This is strictly between you and me and Paypal.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Rocking the Book Table in Newport

Did you write all this? Which book is your newest? What are you working on now? Behind the book table again at yesterday’s  Celebration of Women in Newport, I felt like the old veteran as I watched people pick up my books, study the covers, and put them back dofbbc5-dscn2584wn—or sometimes even buy them. I have been doing this since Stories Grandma Never Told came out in 1998.

I have sat at book tables all over Oregon and California, including many stints at the annual Dia de Portugal in San Jose, bookstore signings, book fairs in the rain in Lincoln City, and street fairs in Stockton where the only person who bought a book was the fellow author sitting next to me. All too often, sales are sparse, the only purchasers being the other authors.  The truth is, if the event is not specifically about books or about the subject of your books, most of the people attending are not looking to buy books. They’re going to spend their money on food, carnival rides, and souvenirs. The writers are just a roadblock on the way to the fun.

Because I have published three books about Portuguese Americans, my books sold like linguica sandwiches—hundreds—at the Portuguese festival. At the Lincoln County Fair, not so much. Yesterday? Two.

So why go? Exposure. People see you and your book, maybe they’ll take a flyer or postcard, and maybe later they’ll think, hey, I should buy that book by what’s her name. Maybe you get a little free publicity in the newspaper. Plus it’s fun to hang out with other authors, people who understand what you do and can exchange information on how to do it.

Yesterday, I sat between Lee Lynch, author of more than a dozen novels and longtime booktable partner, and Lori Tobias, whose first book, Wander, just came out. Lee and I traded war stories while Lori gathered information and advice and vented about how this was not as much fun as she expected. No, but it could have been worse. We were warm, dry, and the wind wasn’t blowing. At the fair in Medford where the photo above was taken, it was 35 degrees inside and snowing outside. Nobody came.

You learn things over the years. Don’t bring every copy of every book. You only need a few. Have something for people to take: cards, bookmarks, candy, or trinkets related to your topic. Get a cart or a strong person to help you carry the books because they are heavy. Get there early so you don’t get the table least likely to be seen. Bring sunscreen and a hat if it’s outside. Don’t hog your space. Bring dollar bills and coins for change. Keep your book money separate from your personal money. Acknowledge every person who approaches with a greeting and a smile. Resist the urge to read or stare at your cell phone, even if nothing seems to be happening. Wear comfortable clothes; nobody cares what you’re wearing. Etc.

Lori kept saying she’d rather be writing. I was content at the table. It was Sunday afternoon. I had played three Masses at Sacred Heart Saturday night and Sunday morning, so I was too tired to do anything useful anyway. I was among friends.  There was music, wine and chocolate. You learn to ride the writer waves of private time and public time.

Besides, I had new editions of two of my books on their virgin outing. Stories Grandma Never Told, that book about Portuguese women that launched my book table career, has been updated, with a new cover and, for the first time, an e-book version. Azorean Dreams, my Portuguese American romance novel, also has a new look. What’s next? Another novel, a memoir, and perhaps a poetry book. Got to keep adding new merchandise to the table. Also, I’m going to move into the 21st century and start taking credit cards at in-person events for those customers who wind up emptying their purses and pockets to come up with enough nickels and wrinkled dollar bills for a book because they don’t carry cash.

Next time you see somebody sitting at a table with books, walk up and say hello. We’ll be glad for the company and delirious if you buy a book.

Portuguese-American novel lives again

AD new cover 6816 bigSummer 2016 is becoming the summer of revisiting and revising past writing projects. First I did a new edition of Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. Now I have a new edition of my Portuguese-American novel Azorean Dreams. This is the novel I wrote while I was still trying to sell the Grandma book. One of the women I interviewed, who had published her own book, convinced me that a novel would sell better than nonfiction. I no longer believe that’s true, but since nothing was happening with “Grandma,” I started writing a novel. Some of the people, places and events came directly from my experiences researching Stories Grandma Never Told. Others stem from things that were happening in the late 1990s in San Jose, California. And a lot of it is from my imagination.

My protagonist, Chelsea Faust, is a newspaper reporter working for a local weekly but with ambitions to move up in the business. She’ll do anything to prove herself as a great reporter. Although her mother’s side of the family is Portuguese, with roots in the Azores Islands, she doesn’t know or care much about her heritage. Then an assignment sends her into Little Portugal, and she meets the handsome Simão Freitas, who has not been in the U.S. very long. Romance blooms, but they disagree on many things, plus an incident from Simão’s past threatens to ruin everything.

I never imagined anyone real could have the name Chelsea Faust, but there is a real Chelsea Faust, with whom I connected online. She’s okay with her name being in the book. I have not met a real Simão (sim-OW) Freitas, but there probably are several men with that name because it’s pretty common.

Anyway, my Portuguese-American mother got a chance to read Azorean Dreams before she passed away, and she loved it. For that alone, I’m glad I published it when I did. The first time, I went through a company called iUniverse, that offers “print-on-demand” publishing, meaning when an order comes in, they print a book. There are not boxes of printed books sitting around somewhere. You pay for the service and—here’s the catch with these companies—you pay for copies of your own book. Their designers decide what the book will look like. They also determine the retail price.

To be honest, I never liked the look, the size or the price of the iUniverse version. I have seen the same cover art photo used in advertisements for several products. The background is not even the Azores. I’m pretty sure it’s Italy. The print inside is huge, making the book itself huge. And they charged $20.95 a copy. Who would pay that much for a paperback novel by an unknown writer? Judging by my sales, almost nobody. But I had signed a contract and thought I couldn’t get out of it. I was wrong. As of last month, I am free from iUniverse. They’re not all bad, but it didn’t work for me.

A few years ago, I revised Azorean Dreams a bit and published it as a Kindle e-book. Same stupid cover. But now I have a new cover for both the e-book ($2.99) and the new paperback version. I used Amazon.com’s CreateSpace program, which allowed me to design the whole book myself, so now I love the way it looks. It’s a more reasonable size and price, $14.95. I feel so much better about it, and maybe a few new readers will take a look.

Now I’m immersed in another project that I will tell you about soon. Happy summer, everyone. Get some books and start reading.

 

This is my kind of tea party

IMG_20150131_150700963[1]An ocean of hot tea, plates of itty-bitty sandwiches, sugar cookies shaped like teapots, and sorbet eaten with doll-sized spoons, plus books–what’s not to like? Saturday I was one of the guest authors at the annual Samaritan House tea in Newport Oregon. The tea raises funds to support our local homeless shelter. The ladies who organize it go all out, and it shows. The tables and walls were decorated with books and antique tea cups. The programs, thick with ribbons and more teacup images, included recipes and bookmarks to use on our next reading adventures. The beautifully crafted treats included cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, orange lavender polenta cakes, black olive and rainbow chard bars, and little teapot figures created with green grapes and frosting.

IMG_20150131_152111126[1]Held at First Presbyterian Church, the tea sells out early every year. Middle-aged and old ladies and young moms bringing their little girls jam the fellowship hall. They doll up in flouncy dresses and big hats decorated with feathers, flowers, and lace. It’s a scene right out of Great Gatsby–if it was cast with our friends and neighbors. The atmosphere is loud, giddy with too much sugar and caffeine, and generous. In addition to the tickets, the tea-goers bid on a silent auction, buy the books and teacups decorating their tables, and donate cash to the cause.

The theme varies. This year as part of “Tea and Tomes,” six authors were invited to display and sell their books and give brief talks about their work. We shared a table and swapped stories from our publishing adventures. It was fun getting to know each other and showing off our books. Besides me, the authors included: M.C. Arvanitis, author of middle grade and young adult fiction; Patsy Brookshire, author of the novels Threads and Scandal at the Willamina Quilt Show; Deborah Lincoln, author of the historical novel Agnes Canon’s War; Deborah H. Trusty, author of The Kid from Valsetz, a biography of former Newport city manager Don Davis; and Karleene Morrow, who wrote a novel titled Destiny and How to Write a Novel. Morrow passed away recently, but her friends brought her books and told her story.

Many of the people at the tea knew me only as the girl behind the piano at  Sacred Heart Church, which was where I had to go right after the tea, to play for the 5:30 Mass. They were surprised to see how many books I have published. I had five at the table, Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. Info on all of them at http://www.suelick.com/Products.html.

For those who think I’m amazingly talented, I tripped over the microphone cord after my talk. I also dropped one of my little sandwiches face down on the carpet. Nobody’s perfect.

The photo above shows me on the right and my friend Pat Stern in her fancy hat.

Have a cup of tea and read a book. It feels good.