Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rain City Blues




It hasn't rained this much in Seattle, they say, since 1961. And I'm of two minds about that. It's a tough choice at the moment between:

Jerry Seinfield
“Seattle is a moisturizing pad disguised as a city.”


and

Tom Robbins
“In the deepest, darkest heart of winter, when the sky resembles bad banana baby food for months on end, and the witch measles that meteorologists call ‘drizzle’ are a chronic gray rash on the skin of the land, folks all around me sink into a dismal funk. Many are depressed, a few actually suicidal. But I, I grow happier with each fresh storm, each thickening of the crinkly stratocumulus. ‘What’s so hot about the sun?’ I ask. Sunbeams are a lot like tourists: intruding where they don’t belong, little cameras slung around their necks. Raindrops, on the other hand, introverted, feral, buddhistically cool, behave as if they live here. Which, of course, they do.”


It should feel more like spring now. Why?

--I've completed and published my new Boss MacTavin mystery, Seattle Red.
--On Wednesday, March 22, I'll be interviewed by Pam Stack on her live podcase, Authors on the Air.
--I've nearly finished laying the foundation for my next novel.
--I've joined a great local, affordable gym a few blocks from my apartment.
--Hold Fast Press has just issued a beautiful print version of Southern Scotch.
--Print plans are in the works for the three remaining Boss MacTavin mysteries.

And yet...



My brain's swimming in rainy day thoughts.
--I should have accomplished more at my age.
--Thinking of time, I feel a growing sense of urgency.
--Within six months, my workplace will move to distant Renton, requiring a far greater round-trip commute.
--The new job site is an isolated office park sending out smothering corporate vibes.
--Goodbye to the gym if I go there and goodbye to the writing time before or after work.
--Goodbye to my benefits, though, if I go and return to temp work.

Yeah, yeah. Boo-hoo, boo-hoo. When it rains, it pours, Reb. But why don't you also remember:



And Caesar wept, recalling that Alexander had ruled the earth before he died at 33.

So even the greatest had rainy day blues. And the blues may hold keys for an excellent spring.

--I can accomplish more if I find a new job in the city, either part time or an easy commute.
--I can reap more from my efforts if I can set up a schedule allowing time for both writing and savvy promotion..
--The sense of urgency is good....as long as it includes more attention to personal relationships.
--And where it belongs, near the top of the list, the time's come around again for:



Years have passed since Juliette died. It's time again for a kitten--for which I'll need a lot more time.
So you see how it all comes together: from rainy day blues...to thoughts of elusive Success...to loneliness and the need for more time...

Yes, I see a spring kitten coming...so I'd better get cracking again on my work.






Saturday, March 11, 2017

It's Bi-Way or the Highway When It Comes to Books

A lot of writers out there prefer the other expression:



And, let's be honest, so do a lot of readers.

A My Way writer expects crowds to follow wherever his book wants to go--screw any and all expectations or rules. So readers run into undisciplined books filled with boring or madcap digressions...promising scenes that peter out or veer off in other directions...characters that disappear or are completely inconsistent...Or the novels seem unending--hundreds of thousands, even millions, of words. Literary circuses of font colors and typographical stunts.

A My Way reader wants a book that resembles other books written the way s/he feels books should be done. I met a lot of My Way readers in the ten years I worked in two book stores. In the Mystery section, some readers were ultra-specific. They wanted books by either male or female authors only: Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman, Sarah Paretsky, Robert Crais. Or they wanted mysteries set in particular cities with male or female heroes who work in their own professions: banking, advertising, etc. Furthermore, they wanted books written in the Right Style: cozy or hardboiled, slowburning or quick, character or plot-based.

This isn't meant to ridicule either My Way writers or readers. Still, the extreme My Way writer resembles a delusional online game tyrant. In the 80's, when Horror was huge, a few of the bigger names liked to proclaim: Screw your agent and/or your publisher if they give you any grief--write whatever you want and then move along if you have to. Some writers took it to the next level: screw the reader too--our job's to write, their job's to read. There's no read to wonder where such writers are today...or their books. The real world, including the real reading world, simply doesn't work that way,

But don't stop there. The extreme My Way reader resembles a porn aficionado.



Extreme My Way readers can't get into a novel that fails to meet all their specifics--from the hero's height to where s/he works to the style of the prose. A repeat experience is the supreme goal...just as it is with adult films. Take your pick from endless lists: black, white, Asian...oral or anal,..soft or garish lighting...splashy or unsplashy...

Getting back, though, to writing and reading: Bi-Way or the Highway offers more elegant kicks and rewards.



A Bi-Way writer finds freedom in following--and occasionally breaking--the conventions of his/her art. When s/he breaks the rules, it's with the reader in mind, a shock-enhanced experience. Whether s/he writes plainly or likes to ride the purple page, again it's with thoughts of the reader's delight. 

A Bi-Way reader seeks a fresh, not a repeat, experience. This reader has a comfort zone that s/he likes to indulge. There are types of rides that s/he likes best. But s/he is always open to something totally different...so long as it's done well. The style may be plainer or packed with more word play, more thoughtful or thought-free than his/her usual fare. S/he doesn't mind. S/he only cares that the writer does ask with his/her pleasure in mind:






Sunday, February 12, 2017

Re-Reading: Those Beautiful Big Dipper Books



Recently I asked on Facebook if other readers had books they'd returned to over and over again. I'd been thinking, in fact, of nonfiction: especially books so dense in wisdom that a single reading is nowhere near enough. Our understanding of some books is too 'heady' and not in the blood or the bone. So we reread certain books to come a little closer to 'getting' what they teach, instead of a 'Yeah, okay' reaction. Or, another way of putting that:



My FB post attracted some interesting responses: from John Molloy's New Dress for Success to Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, from a martial arts combat manual to a writing guide. Two readers voted for one book I know I've got to read: The Power of Now by Eckhart. With one exception we all agreed that some books be reading more than once...and some books can be revisited again and again through our lives.

But the one exception stunned me: This reader claimed that in his adult he has never re-read a book. He gets what he needs from a book, then moves on...and can recall influential passages from books he read fifteen years ago. The key phrases there would be getting all he needs from a book--and recalling influential passages.

Could anyone who's read The Prince, The Art of War or The Book of Five Rings--all tiny books on strategy--claim to really 'get them', in the most meaningful way, after just one reading? Limiting our sights to nonfiction, surely there's a huge difference between understanding something intellectually and having mastered the subject. I could write a detailed review or essay on Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Yet, after all these years, I still have miles to go toward mastery of its lessons.

I have a handful of life study books--and I find that when I return to them I bring something new to the table each time....and walk off with something new.

Expanding our sights now to fiction as well:

You know when you hear a piece of music once, you haven’t heard it properly, you want to hear it again. A well-made book will reward you in exactly the same way as music does, in that you will understand and love a piece. You’ll feel the cadence and depth of it and hear things in it all the time. If you pay it a little more attention, it will reward you, like all art. Like everything, actually.
--Ali Smith

A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
--Italo Calvino

Thou shalt not let a day pass without rereading something great.
--Stephen Vizinczey









Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Art as a Confidence Game

Today I sent the fourth Boss MacTavin mystery off for formatting. And I plan to launch it around March 1, to prepare for a radio interview scheduled for March 22. At the same, Hold Fast Press is preparing the first print edition of Southern Scotch...then The Alcatraz Correction...and on.

So, all in all, it would be natural for you to think that I'm dancing on Cloud 9.



Actually, though, I'm of two minds. Yes, I'm on that groovy cloud--and I'm also here:



All the old anxieties surface again as I prepare to begin the next book. Which of the several ideas in my head shall I go with this time? Is my mojo still in order? Do I have the energy for another grueling siege directly after the last one?

As always, the process begins with what I call a war book.

For weeks, or months, I'll fill my war book with assorted Q&A's about setting, themes, possible plot lines, characters, etc. In this particular instance, I'm considering a sort of spinoff on the MacTavin series--with one of his partners setting up a branch in Seattle, dealing with insurance scams and retail theft (the plot line in the last book).

Setting these occasional spinoffs in Seattle will spare me the need for location research. And finding a simpler style for the different narrator will allow me to write these more quickly. I hope.

The main thing is, it's question time. And there's stress but no failure at this point--except failing to ask enough questions. If the old process holds true, my confidence will begin to rise again.






One day like any other day I'll start to fiddle with opening lines, one of which seems right to me. And I'll soon feel an intolerable itch that compels me to start writing. Once I've started, there'll be no stopping, though I well know the murderous struggle ahead through draft after draft after draft.

No complaints. I love it all. The part of it, though, that's a confidence game is always a struggle for me. That said, let it begin again.

Yeah, let it begin today!



Sunday, January 22, 2017

Then and Now...Or, Helloooooo, 2017!

Three weeks into the new year, I can't believe the difference made by 29 months and a cross-country move. These two years, I believe, will always stand out in my mind:




and




2014: Charlotte, NCk
  • A has-been author whose career had gone up in flames
  • Arrived in EbookLandia under a cloud of defeat
  • No real presence on Social Media
  • Job: third shift for close to the minimum wage
  • Out of shape
  • Lived in a grade C apartment
  • Felt trapped  in a city that I'd come to hate
  • Daily commute: 2-3 hours a day




Somehow I found the guts, the wherewithal and faith to do what needed doing: namely, at a rather advanced age, to pull off one last cross-country move. This time, I'd go to a place I'd never been but which fascinated. And I'd move with limited cash, no definite job and no idea where I'd live. Best of all, I'd move by train.





Departure: September 2014

2017: Seattle, WA
  • Author of 12 ebooks, a thirteenth coming in March
  • A strong sense of having found my writing A Game
  • Arrangement with Hold Fast Press for print editions of my Boss MacTavin mysteries
  • Am booked for a March radio interview
  • 1900 Facebook friends and 60,000 Twitter followers
  • New job, M-F, with full benefits and a decent salary
  • Regular workouts and a healthy diet
  • Living in a decent studio in downtown Seattle
  • Next up: a 1-bedroom apartment in my ideal neighborhood
  • Daily commute: a half-hour each way to work


And, hey, the year has just begun!







Sunday, January 15, 2017

W.A.R.! First Monthly Acid Reflux Report




The foe I thought I'd vanquished in skirmishes over the years came back in full force with the new year. And I was left prostrate and groaning in misery. But why? I hadn't done anything different. And I'd made some real lifestyle improvements.
--I'd quit drinking and smoking.
--I'd completely given up coffee, even decaf.
--I drank no carbonated drinks.
--I ate little meat, mainly chicken or turkey. A hot dog or a burger once or twice a year.
--I'd pretty much given up dairy.
--I was in decent physical shape.
--I avoided extra-spicy foods.

And yet, here it came bigger than ever. And I still didn't know what to call it. Indigestion? Heartburn?  Gastritis? (God forbid anything worse.) I began with the three things I did know:
--The attacks were worst at night, starting as soon as I climbed into bed.
--Then, when I turned from side to side, I felt...well, something moving within me. Liquid? Gas? Acid?
--Acid made a lot of sense since I'd come to realize that I could eat grapes, melons, apples without any discomfort--but citrus fruits hit me hard.

So...where would Google lead me on a search of acid + indigestion?

            THE FOE DECLARES ITSELF







I was shocked to learn how many of the reported symptoms had my name.
--Violent attacks of hiccups.
--Combination hiccup-burps.
--Heartburn,
--Intolerance of high-fat and spicy as well as highly acidic foods (even those I loved the best: e.g. spaghetti, chicken parmesan...)
--Difficulty swallowing.
--Hoarseness.





Seriously? Come on, now: how could recent hoarseness and the feeling of food being blocked in my throat possibly be linked to Reflux? 

Turns out the extra acid shooting back up the esophagus can splash the larynx and throat, damaging their tissues.

I had a choice to make and did not make it lightly. I could submit to a battery of ruinously expensive tests from a slew of specialists. Or I could declare W.A.R. (War Against Reflux), starting off with a stringent food elimination list.

At all costs I would avoid:

                 THE BADDEST BULLIES OF THEM ALL


Coffee--regular or decaf
Tea, except herbal...and taken very weak
Chocolate
Citrus
Acidic comfort foods: spaghetti, chicken parmesan
Processed foods
Any food after 5:00 p.m.



                        A Day in the New Life




As of 2:00 p.m. I've had:

1 cup of ginger tea


1 bowl of blueberry oatmeal


Two-thirds of a bottle of water:

 


And, just now while I write: Apple slices with wee dollops of almond butter.


At 3:00 I'll enjoy a small salad:


Then, finally, at 4:00, the last food I'll take for the day: a cup of Vegan, non-tomato-based soup:



Don't cry for me, Argentina--I plan to sleep like a baby!

This is my report.

       W.A.R. WILL RETURN IN FEBRUARY

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Phone Call That Changed My Life





You may have believed you had limits...that turned out to be not as you'd thought. Today I'll tell you of one that I dealt with  and how it opened a door to new worlds.:



Over the years I'd developed a powerful aversion to phones. Powerful? I avoided them at almost all costs, preferring to send and get emails, even from family and friends.



Let me add one major qualifier: The last three jobs I've won came about from successful first phone interviews, lasting up to half an hour. So in a pinch, I knew, I could do phone business, even sound relaxed. But that isn't what I felt at all. I felt a lot closer to this:



I had a few reasonable grounds for my fear:
1) I felt more confident and relaxed in the other person's presence, believing--sometimes wrongly--that I could 'read' them more clearly.
2) I'd learned that on the phone smooth-talking agents or writers could unfailingly get me to say things or reveal plans far better kept to myself. And, with nothing in writing, I had no recourse if they chose to run with an idea.
3) I'd worked in three call centers, subjected to daily abuse...and the humiliating awareness that others were 'making their by numbers' while my job was always in peril. I'd come to believe they had better personalities or phone skills--when they were simply more manipulative and ruthless.
4) Silence on the other end compelled me to nervously blather.

My feelings about phones were best summed up in my notorious quip:
I hate cell phones. I've never been able to use one without wanting to shower with someone I loathe.

But something incredible happened this year. I struck up a Facebook friendship with Pam Stack, a well-known radio talk show host for authors online. At some point Pam dropped by my jaw by suggesting that I appear on her show. Immediately, I grew frantic. I wanted to do but couldn't--I thought. As it happened, though, I had a cold and she was facing throat surgery. So we had no way of talking for at least a month or so.

Even so, I agreed to do the show and began to prepare for it. First off, I needed to finish the fourth Boss MacTavin mystery and to put on a bit more speed than I felt sure I could. This I began to do. And, oddly, while Pam healed and I wrote with new passion for far longer hours, my confidence began to grow.

Well, the time came when we had to talk. It would be at once a friendly chat and perhaps an informal audition. How did I handle myself on the phone? Was I all talk and no listen? Was I warm and outward-bound...or cold and self-involved?  Did I stutter? Did I ramble? Did I have a high, squeaky voice?

The day came for our talk. So I dialed...and learned:

.

We ended up talking for nearly an hour. By the end of that hour I found I'd overcome my Telephonophobia.
--I didn't need to see Pam Stack to know that she cared about writers, a class including me.
--Nor did I need to see Pam to feel a burgeoning interest in her.
--Pam had no problem when I asked if we could steer clear of one thing on the show. And this taught me that I might have spared myself much grief if I'd known how to ask years ago: If you've already rejected my nonfiction proposal, why do you want more details on the platform-building part ? Or: If I tell you my age, will you tell me how often you and your lover have sex?
--The conversation with Pam was an adventure in spontaneity and harmony. The less I thought about what I'd say next, or worried about what she'd ask me, the more fun I had doing Stackphone.


Now I love my Samsung Galaxy Note 4.



And for that I thank Pam Stack and our upcoming interview. Further details TBA.