Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Writing with whimsy

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Ann Kaier. Best American Essays notable author, Anne has published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, and Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, an ALA Notable Book for 2012. Malade, a memoir about sexuality, disability, and the shrine at Lourdes, is forthcoming from: Anne lives in Center City, Philadelphia and teaches at Arcadia University and Rosemont College. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Anne's blog tour will continue through July 9. Look for her tomorrow at July 2


A lot of my writing is fairly serious. I try to unravel knotted relationships and describe tough family tussles. But now and then, I write for the pure fun of it, letting the words run with a subject until the topic sprints away. Often the subject is an animal, more particularly, a cat. And it’s always good to have a willing human friend in these word displays. Someone equally inclined to spin a little froth.

When my memoir, Home with Henry, was about to be published, I began to think about publicity. I didn’t know much about how to publicize a book and my nervousness spilled over into a series of emails with my friend, J.C. Todd, whose most recent book of poems had appeared to

glowing reviews. J.C.’s cat Lucia is a handsome calico with attitude. In my house, Coco reigns, flaunting her quite spectacular beauty. A gorgeous black velvet stripe runs down her face and she carefully tends her luscious calico coat, which, it has to be said, covers a very nicely rounded body. Coco is anxious, fat and somewhat bossy—and she makes excellent copy. So when I began to worry about publicity, my friend and I had some correspondence about an imaginary PR campaign in which Coco would be the lead publicist. I offer some tidbits from these emails. In the first, Lucia writes to me with instructions about Coco’s requirements:


Meow, Anne


Coco will be needing a few things before she launches her campaign. A comb-out at a chat salon in Paris. First class flight and limo service to the salon. In New York, a suite at a boutique hotel on Madison Avenue on the day of the media blitz.

She felt it would be more politic to pass this message along to you via me.

Whiskery yours, Lucia



Dear Lucia,


Did Coco put you up to this? Since you and she are clearly in cahoots, let me say that she has been telling me she’ll need a personal assistant for the duration of the PR campaign.  Qualities required: Beauty (the sine qua non), pizazz and chutzpah—not to mention contacts in Paris, NYC and at top flight hotels on the water in Tahiti where you both will have to tone up before the action starts.

Know anyone interested?

Do tell, Anne



Meow Anne, 


I suppose it might be me. I’ve engaged a colorist at Le Chat Salon. Or perhaps you would prefer to reserve the position of Coco’s assistant for yourself?

Whiskery yours, Lucia


You get the point. This writing was done late at night, purely for the fun of it. Of course the whole thing masked the fact that I worried about the publicity for Home with Henry—in which Madison Avenue media blitzes and Parisian hair salons would play no part. My fears dissipated, however, in the spray of words between me and the very confident Lucia Gata Todd.




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Busy days

Some in my family--one in particular whom I won't name--accuse me of leading too sedentary a life, indoors too much, because I spend so much time at my desk. In my own defense, I want to say that this morning I did an hour and a half at physical therapy, took an adventurous drive down a street I wanted to explore, went to the grocery, unpacked groceries, took out three loads of garbage, and fixed lunch--my low back was screaming at me, but, hey, I was in motion.
Today I officially began a hiatus from physical therapy. The therapist agreed that I had increased both my strength and balance, and he had no qualms about turning me loose. For me part, I want to see how I do in the outside world because I know I do all right in the therapy room. Also I felt I was focusing too much on how I felt, etc. I still have appointments to schedule, and I will go back occasionally but this is an experiment...and a respite from having to get up at six-thirty.
Yesterday I mailed the first edits of my Chicago novel back to the editor and am now ready to switch gears to the chili book--and that's a real gear switch. I also corresponded with the publicity person at the company that reprints my older novels--we were choosing cover art for the reprint of Jessie (Jessie Benton Fremont) which will appear as a digital book sometime this summer. So it's been a busy couple of days but I feel like I've really accomplished things.
Last night I was up several times with the dog and bathroom trips--Sophie was snuffling so that it woke me, and I got her a Benedryl. Then she wanted to go out. I went back to bed for an hour but then got up to see if she wanted to come in. She didn't. Looked at me like, "Really?" By then it was five, and I had to get up at six-thirty, so I left her. I do hope she gets over this middle of the night potty-call soon.
I plan to sleep soundly tonight. Sweet dreams, y'all.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stuff but no nonsense

I honestly don't know where to begin tonight. I've spent a lazy day at home--catching up on housekeeping matters like laundry, writing, napping. This evening friends came by for happy hour, and I was glad for company. I'm still basking in the glow of having spent about thirty-six hours with my four kids. There's a bond between them that is so wonderful--without spouses and children (all of whom I love dearly) it was like they were in college again--they laughed and giggled, they played pranks, they drank too much (but remained well behaved). I raised them as a single parent from the time the oldest, Colin, was twelve, and once again it was the five of us together--only better, because they have the maturity of middle age and family responsibilities. I too wish all sixteen members of my immediate family could have been in Lubbock with me, but I am grateful for this time with my four. I am always grateful for time alone with any one of them--and this was even better.
But while I was all wrapped up in my world, it's been a momentous and happy week in our country. So much has been written about the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality that anything I can add would seem superfluous, except I'm overjoyed for the LGBT community and for our country. A good friend named Winston helped me raise my children--taught them to drive, to ride horseback, and to misbehave. They adored him and called him Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob was gay as a goose and had a string of lovers, one of whom gave him AIDS. He died in 1994. When Jamie heard the news of the decision, he said, "I wonder how Uncle Bob would have felt." I wondered if it would have led Uncle Bob to lead a more monogamous life...or if he'd just have made a string of bad marriages. I did read where someone predicted that in a year all the hullaballoo will have died down and gays will begin divorcing just like the rest of us.
In the wake of the momentous marriage equality decision, it seems that the affirmation of ACA got overshadowed, and yet it's so important for millions of Americans. I saw a lengthy post on Facebook today of pictures with people standing in line to sign up. The poster claimed these were images the mainstream media didn't want the public to see--I'm not sure about that, but I do think the announcement may have spurred more people to sign up. I used to carefully avoid saying Obamacare and use the correct Affordable Care Act, but you know what? I think Obamacare is a fitting name--it may become our tribute to his presidency. Maybe now after who-knows-how-many failed attempts to dismantle the law and two SCOTUS decisions, John Boehner and his cronies will move on.
It's truly been a great week for America--and for me personally.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A short wonderful trip--amd so much for my expectations

I just had one of the best 24 hours of my life. As many of you know from my children's Facebook postings, we all five went to Lubbock on a whirlwind trip for my induction into the Western Writers of America Hall of Fame. It was a trip fraught with a few airline delays but marked by much joy and laughter and a couple of pranks on the part of my kids--well, at least one son.
I had been uncertain about this trip--don't like to fly, even though it's a 55-minute flight, unsure of who I'd know since it's been at least 15 years or more since I've been to WWA, uncertain of what to say at the induction (Colin told me I had to speak 30 minutes), and absolutely unprepared for my part on the panel Saturday morning. Yet it all went well. My personal cheering section assured me I was eloquent but brief. It didn't seem to matter that I dropped the trophy as I handed it to Colin or that I forgot the few things I had in mind to say at the acceptance.
It was nostalgic for me--many of the 41 inducted were not there, having either passed on or not in good enough health to attend. I missed some good friends (Who really expected Clint Eastwood to show up?) Others seemed to me to have aged a great deal. I was quick to ask the kids if I had aged that much and they were as always reassuring. But I did get to greet several people I was genuinely glad to see...and I think I acquitted myself well in recognizing everyone. For many years, WWA was a huge part of my life, and if I've had any success as a writer I owe it to that group and the people I met at their conventions. I served a couple of terms on the board and one as president.
The induction was at the Ranching Heritage Center, a lovely setting. After the formal ceremony, everyone adjourned to the patio.
Megan and Jordan on the patio
Jordan had saved us a table in the shade. The weather grew increasingly pleasant as the evening wore on--nice temperatures and just a hint of a breeze. Dinner was a typical BBQ--brisket, roast pork, beans, cole slaw, potato salad, and cobbler. After dinner, musicians played country/western music and one recited a poem by the late S. Omar Barker (SOB), long a beloved member, with his wife Elsa, of WWA. I liked a musician who sounded like he'd taken basic Scottish folk songs and put cowboy words to them, but the kids like another one better. Never mind that Jordan and Megan got the uncontrollable giggles--and never would tell me what they were giggling about.
Jamie and Colin
Back at the hotel, more wine, stayed up too late. But sound asleep when someone began to knock on my door. After a couple of times, I called the boys; Colin said he'd be right there but I never heard anything. Seems it was room service--and had the wrong J.Alter. Jamie ordered hot wings at midnight, and they were on the same floor.

Me. reminding Barry Corbin that
we really had met before--
in my living room.
This morning we had a long, leisurely breakfast and then I was on a panel at 10:30, to talk about the land as a character in Elmer Kelton's novels. I was in high cotton because my fellow panelist were Elmer's son, Steve, novelist and good Kelton friend Patrick Dearen, and actor Barry Corbin.
I felt like I was stumbling and bumbling but my personal cheering square said I was "awesome" and complained about my always getting so nervous when once on the spot I do very well, either flying in a plane or speaking in public.
The minute the panel was over, it was rush out the door to the loaded car and head for the airport--only to find our plane was delayed almost an hour. More wine and airport sandwiches--not my idea of lunch, but it was okay. And then, a little over 24 hours later, I was back home again, with the whole experience seeming like a dream.
I would never have enjoyed this experience without my four children. They know only too well that I am a bit shaky on balance--and this weekend my feet hurt, which made walking doubly difficult. Wherever I turned, there was one of them with an arm out; they dragged my suitcase; Jordan held on to my boarding pass and drivers license and took me through that process until I thought the attendant must think I was in my early dotage. They brought me wine. They beamed and laughed at me when I was onstage. They were absolutely wonderful, and I am so grateful to them and for them. This was one of life's moments to be treasured.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What are you reading just for fun?

I decided I want an escape reading book for the weekend--yes, yes, I have plenty of work on my desk, but it's time for a break. I keep a list of books to read but few struck me as right, so I turned to Amazon and searched for cozy mysteries by date of publication. First of all there were at least ten pages, maybe more, of books which I could pre-order. Some as far out as January 2016. I wish I could learn to post mine for pre-order, something I'll have to explore. The one mystery I self-published went live almost the minute I sent it in--which really wasn't what I had in mind.
Finally I got to the new books. I scrolled through perhaps another 15 pages recognizing only one or two authors. Since I really want escape reading for this weekend, I wasn't willing to order a sample chapter of an unknown--though I like to do that to support authors I don't know.
But I was surprised I knew so few--I'm an active member of Sisters in Crime and consider myself fairly knowledgeable about who's writing mysteries. What this tells me is that the field is so crowded that it's a wonder any of us sell one book--except to friends and relatives. No wonder marketing and social media are so important today.
But therein lies the rub. In such a crowded field, how do you make yourself stand out? Darned if  I know. I like social media, like blogging, spend way too much time on Facebook. But I'm a storyteller, not a marketer. I want to get to the business of writing and not spend my day on social media.
I  read several posts today from writers who were thinking of chucking it all. They run into a brick wall selling their work, they beat themselves up trying to keep up with social media--all for little or no rewards either monetary or audience reaction.
What's the answer? What if anything do you say to these discouraged authors? For readers, there are a couple of answers--write book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, spread the word. And email the author--you can find "Contact" pages on most authors Web site. Let them know you read and enjoyed their books.
As for quitting writing, I can't imagine it. I write because that's how I live. I don't think I could not write. I'd wake up in the morning and think, "Omigosh, what am I going to do with the day?" As it is I wake up thinking, "Okay, what's keeping me from writing today?" Too many distractions. I can see giving up social media--or some of it--but not writing. It's who I am.
So watch for a chili book and a new novel this fall. I'm trudging on--and trying to encourage my fellow authors.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down

I once read that there's a certain age where each of us remain in our minds. Mine is my early thirties--I had young babies and a happy marriage, or so I thought. Lately I've been coming to grips with the fact that no, I'm not thirty-three--I am about to turn seventy-seven. And at my back I do hear time's winged chariot. Not drawing too near I hope.
I think this awareness of my own mortality began with my fall in the driveway, a doctor's stern warning that I needed physical therapy lest I fall and severely injure myself. He was right and meant well, but his words planted fear in me (not hard to do) and I became even more uncertain about my walking.
His advice to get physical therapy, however, was right on the money. Ignoring his recommendation, I found a facility that specializes in teaching the elderly to avoid falls. I've lost track of how many sessions I have had, but I can certainly tell a difference--and so can the therapist who pointed out that he can tell I'm stronger because I do the exercises more slowly. When you have strength, he said, and are in control, you can do them more slowly. For weeks, he's been saying to me, "Slow down." And today I did.
Today was a good day. I woke up rested, feeling confident, and my success at the therapy session only confirmed my good feeling. Lunch with an old and valued friend, and I mentioned that I was walking better. As we left the restaurant he was behind me and said, "You are sailing right along." It was a day of errands, PT, lunch, nap, pick up Jacob, do odds and ends--and not one lick of work on the manuscript I'm checking edits on. Dinner at the Old Neighborhood Grill with neighbors was a happy occasion tonight, and even Jacob was mostly engaged and amused.
I wish all days could be like that, and maybe that's what I'm moving toward. But I do have down days when I feel shaky, uncertain, unhappy. I'm always looking for things to blame them on--falling barometric pressure, a chore or an errand I don't want to do, an extra glass of wine the night before. Maybe it's just the way the pendulum--or at least my pendulum--swings.
As I said in an earlier blog, my oldest son's statement that I may have ten good years left startled me. It could have given me a lot of down days, but I have decided to concentrate on up days--if only for ten years, so be it. Besides, I have so much work on my desk, it may take me ten years to get it all done.
So here's me--Pollyanna once again. Looking forward to the next ten years and not thinking beyond. (Oh don't worry, plans for my future are well in hand with my kids--we're not ignoring the future; I'm just not going to dwell on it.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who said what? A discussion of gun control--or not

Last night I inadvertently stirred the pot on FB by posting that I was appalled that Alabama was going to license children to carry firearms. Seems I didn't know all the ramifications--there are stipulations, such as age and parental supervision, but the bill is not aimed at letting children under 18 run helter-skelter with guns. It's for those who engage in competitive shooting, skeet, hunting. Not sure if it even includes handguns.
Today I read that Iowa is going to license the vision impaired. Now I know blind sports are a fairly big thing--people play basketball using auditory clues for that which they can't see. So I don't know the full story on the Iowa bill either and will refrain from my usual rush to judgment.
But my point here is the controversy I caused last night was of great interest to me because of the various points of view and what I know abut some of the people who commented. One friend I value is a policeman's wife, and she is militantly defense about her right to carry and to train her children with firearms. For her it's purely a matter of self-defense whether it be against an intruder, kidnapper or terrorist. That to me is a whole 'nother dilemma and I won't go into it except to say that today I read that most of us, being moral persons, would be hesitant to pull the trigger...and would thereby end up in more danger. Apparently it's a documented syndrome with service people and law enforcement.
Then there's the gentleman who frequently brings me up short for misquoting, misinterpreting and not checking sources. He seems to always know which web link to post for the latest statistics--more automobile deaths than guns, declining death rate in spite of increased gun ownership, and that kind of thing. He does this in an almost detached tone, not taking sides but claiming he wants the true facts laid out to quell fanning the flames of panic and fear.
There's another man, an old friend, who I can almost always count on to take the opposite stand--he supports guns and the military, dislikes Obama, but he was remarkably quiet last night.
I confess that I come at this from an emotional viewpoint, horrified by kids who kill themselves or their playmates with guns carelessly left around, by the massacres of which we have too many, and by the bizarre reactions of the far right to such tragedies. Rick Perry called the Charleston shootings an "accident"--that kind of reaction makes me rant and rave. So does the suggestion that ministers should be armed. While they preach the teachings of Christ? I don't think so. A friend posted that when that day comes, hate will have won out over love.
I was joined by a couple other women who also approach gun control from an emotional point of view and by at least one man who is clearly opposed to more guns, saying we have to control them.
Pretty much all these people agree that we need stricter gun control laws to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted criminals, the mentally disturbed, etc. and perhaps we need more education so that people don't leave loaded guns near children--can you screen for stupid?
The whole gun issue is a conundrum and nobody knows the solution. To me, there are several possibilities to consider--ban handguns and let people keep their long rifles? Increase education? Shut down the fear-mongering, panic-inciting NRA (don't know that could be done legally but they used to be a helpful organization focusing on teaching responsible use of firearms--pray that they would go back to that!).
Me? I'm going to continue to be anti-gun. I generally think with my heart involved. I want love to win out.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kidnapped by my sons

Jacob at nine--golf camp!
My sons kidnapped me yesterday afternoon. They came to pick me up for Jacob's "family" birthday supper much earlier than I expected them--I was napping, so they let me sleep for another twenty minutes. I was soon up and dressed--and Jamie was asleep. "I'm not going," he said, but I knew better.
Jamie drove and when he turned off the new turnpike, I kept saying, "Jordan's house is in the other direction."
Jamie: "I know there's a Fuzzy's around here."
Me: "We're not going to Fuzzy's. We're going to your sisters for fajitas."
We went to Fuzzy's.
Jamie: "Don't you want to have a drink with your sons?"
Of course, I did, and that's how I started drinking in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. We had a good time, though a bit too much talk revolved around how much time I have left in this earthly coil and what would happen when I can no longer take care of myself. I assured them I intend to stay for another twenty years and could we please change the subject.
We got to Jordan's a half hour after the stipulated time, and she demanded, "What have you been doing? Bar-hopping?'
Me: "Yes."
The mid-day swim/lunch birthday party was apparently a huge success, though even Jacob said it was a bit much. His parents were clearly tired last night, and Jacob seemed on the edge of falling asleep before he even opened his presents. But they all soldiered on. Fourteen of us (or so) ate fajitas, drank wine, and talked too loudly. Lots of fun and as always people I'm so glad to see--but I was exhausted when we got home, and Colin went right to bed, having left his children at Jordan's. I had done almost nothing all day and had no excuse for exhaustion except that afternoon glass of wine.
This morning we had play dogfights between Sophie and Grace, but Sophie growls with a realistic fierceness when she plays, and Grace, while tolerant, is so much bigger. It was too much for my nerves. I put Sophie outside, and she stared at us through the glass door, the perfect picture of pitiful. I put out sort of a buffet of breakfast choices--forgot waffles, pork roll, biscuits and gravy, so maybe that will be next week. Jordan did most of the cooking, and we fixed eggs, bacon, sausage and fruit plus lox and cream cheese on good deli rye toast. A feast.
And then they were all gone. A certain quiet settles over the house when grown kids and grandkids depart. A very still kind of quiet. Sophie's sound asleep in "her" chair, and I am at my desk, getting sleepy and ready to head off for a nap shortly. The party's over.

Friday, June 19, 2015

KIds, dogs, and good times

My house is alive with laughter and shouts and pandemonium tonight. At various times there have been seven adults, five grandchildren, and four dogs. The kids have played ball in front to the point of exhaustion, the dogs have hesitantly gotten acquainted with each other--each of us protective of our own dog(s), and the adults have occasionally risen above the clamor to have a civilized conversation over wine. Dinner was the most haphazard that's ever been served in my house--Colin arrived at three, went down the street to get pizza because he hadn't fed his children lunch; Jordan arrived at 4:30 and put out cheese, crackers, and hummus because Subie and Phil came by to see the kids--I think I scared Phil out of bringing his guide dog. Jamie arrived about 5:30, bringing food from Ernesto's. I didn't want any of that, so Colin went to Railhead and got me a chopped beef sandwich, and ribs for Jamie and himself. I knew in advance there was no sense trying to cook a family meal and seat us all at the table--Jamie and Colin ate their BBQ standing at the kitchen counter. So many many days I miss my parents but today I was glad they weren't here to see their grandchildren's idea of a meal.
The occasion is Jacob's ninth birthday tomorrow. There will be a swimming party at eleven and supper at five--I am bowing out of the swimming party and will pretty much have a quiet day at home. We are missing the Austin branch of the family and their absence--with two more boy cousins--leaves a whole, but they are enjoying Brandon's 25th reunion at Dartmouth.
Colin has now gone to take all five children to Jordan's house to spend the night. We were surprised the older girls (Maddie 16 and Eden 12) wanted to go but they did. I will admit that a nice peacefulness settled over the house when they left. But I will welcome them back tomorrow night.
There's something indescribably wonderful watching these children play together, considering they range in age from sixteen to eight. Maddie, who has often said she wants to work with children, has always been wonderful with each new cousin that came along, and each thinks he's her favorite. She's in that twixt and tween stage-part adult, having driven her own bright red jeep over here from Frisco, and yet playing as hard as any of them. I am not in touch with any cousins, so I marvel at the tight bond between all these children--and pray it holds as they grow.
Someone asked Jacob the other night if he was an only child, and he said, "I have cousins."
It's one of those times when I feel my cup runneth over and all the things that worry me about our world are temporarily banished from my mind.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Questions for Governor Abbott--and a bit of history

This is not a political post. I’m not attacking Governor Abbott or anyone else, but I am sincerely puzzled by two things I’ve been seeing on Facebook a lot.

The first is the new law limiting suits by communities and dollar amount against big corporations for pollution. With climate change and the environment one of the major concerns in this country and the world, I cannot see any advantage to this except protection of big corporations—and endangerment to the everyday Texans our state government is supposed to protect. I wish Governor Abbott would tell us his thinking when he signed this law—you know, transparency in government and all that.  I genuinely want to know, because it sounds like a disaster in the making to me. Once again, I am disturbed by what we do to Mother Earth in the name of greed.

The second questions has to do with all this gold bullion being stashed away to back Texas currency. What Texas currency? As far as I know we don’t have our own money. Does this hark back to Reconstruction when some Texans wanted to secede? I’ve heard that it’s a first step toward secession. Then I’ve also heard that the gold is safely stored in a New York bank, Why New York? If we’re stashing it, why not in Texas? If it’s an asset, why don’t we use it to help the poor with housing, medical costs, food, etc. Or schools?

The whole idea of secession has been around since we first became a state back in 1845, but today it make me shudder. Does anyone know the story of Van Zandt County’s secession? After the Civil War, that county decided to withdraw from the Union and from Texas. General Phil Sheridan was in charge of Texas during Reconstruction, and he stormed troops north to Van Zandt County to tell those misled farmers they couldn’t do that. But the farmers used a Revolutionary War tactic—they hid in trees and took potshots at the troops in formation as they marched up the road—and then turned around and retreated.

The citizens of Van Zandt County retired to Canton where they built a big bonfire and got out the little brown jug. Late that night, Sheridan’s troops surrounded the town, put all the men in a stockade where they kept them one long cold, wet winter. When spring came and the ground was muddy, the prisoners could push the poles of the stockade apart. One by one they disappeared into the night. Some never returned to Van Zandt County. I think it’s a cautionary tale.

Can’t resists getting in a plug: you can read all about it in Luke and the Van Zandt County War, winner of the best juvenile award for the year from the Texas Institute of Letters. Available from TCU Press, Texas A&M Press, or Amazon. Yeah, I wrote it. Maybe I should send the governor a copy—ya’ think?

If the guv answers my questions, I’ll be sure to let you know.