Monday, January 24, 2011

Some ups and downs. But mostly, ups.

There is a saying that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window.  This is supposed to make you feel better when you get fired or your husband leaves you or the manuscript you've been working on for ten years gets burned up in a house fire.  As trite as it is, I believe there is truth in this platitude.  But I can tell you from experience, it's a damned lot harder to crawl through a window than it is to walk through a door.

Oh, don't worry!  I haven't lost my life's work in a fire, nor has Robert left me.  But I did lose my job--again.  As little money as it brought me, my daily dog-walking job has been important to me, as it is good to have some kind of daily schedule and responsibilities.  I was bummed when my puppies' daddy told me he won't be needing me now because he'll be working from home instead of traveling into NYC everyday.  But actually, the news is not so dismal.  His new job sends him off to different cities and he'll be on the road ten days a month.  I'll still be taking care of Casper and Annabelle, but not as often, and not on a regular schedule.  What to do?  I immediately set out to find other things to do with my time, and specifically, other things to do with my time that might be sources of income.

So I applied for and got a part-time freelance copywriting job for an advertising company.  My first task there was to write catalog entries about cheese.  Here's an example of my artistry:

Scamorza means “beheaded,” and refers to the shape of this classic cheese, the result of it being hung “by its neck” to ripen.  Naturally creamy white, the cheese takes on a delicate almond color when smoked.  Made of cow’s milk, it is a chewy-textured pasta filate, or stretched curd cheese, delicious paired with smoked meats and mushrooms.     

Doesn't that just make you want to run out and get yourself a pizza?  It pays fifteen bucks an hour.  I'm also writing copy for a friend who is starting a company to cater to people who need help moving around in their homes.  He'll do things like widen doors to make them wheelchair friendly, and install non-slip floors and walk-in-showers.  All I have to do is describe what he does.  Although copy writing sounds easy and I can certainly do it, it is daunting because I'm always second-guessing myself and thinking I'm not doing a good enough job.  I could write a whole short story in the time it takes me to eke out one silly paragraph about sturdy titanium grab bars, or olive oil infused with the essence of the rare tuber magnatus truffle!  I'm waiting for my next assignment from the ad company.    

Another thing I have been doing is selling stuff on eBay.  I think my experience of emptying the homes of two elderly mothers in a short period of time has me looking at almost everything in my house and thinking, "Do I really need that?"  I have collected all sorts of things, like antique glass bottles and dolls, because I know they're valuable to somebody, though I'm not interested in collecting them myself.  I was shocked when I sold a little paper booklet of Halloween decorations from the 1920s for $65.00, and even more shocked when I sold my cheapie ceramic coin banks shaped like the Beatles in their Yellow Submarine outfits!  Mom bought them for me from the close-out shelf at the Felspauch grocery store in Williamston, in 1972.  They cost her $2.75 each, and had originally been twice that much.  But the movie had come out in 1969 so they were already vintage by the time I received them.  I didn't care.  I cherished them, particularly because 1972 was the worst year in my parent's financial life.  By that Christmas, nobody in my family had owned a single new article of clothing for about two years, so I knew they were a dear splurge. 

In any event, I really didn't want to let go of my Beatle banks but I had no place to display them and they had ended up in my attic.  I contacted a memorabilia broker to find out how much they might be worth, thinking I'd put them on eBay.  He offered to sell them for me and two days later they sold for three thousand dollars.  Yeah.  THREE-THOUSAND DOLLARS.  That's what I've been living on for the past four months.

In any event, my experiences selling things on line caught the attention of my friend, Ralph.  He was a very successful antiques dealer until illness and a divorce knocked the stuffing out of him.  He has tons of things to sell (mostly music and books) and he asked me if I will go into business with him, selling his stuff for a little commission.  So I'll give it a try! 

My other means of making money is to sell more of my own books.  I have recently spent days and days and days getting the final polishing done on THESE WEE BONES.  It's the first in a series of novels I wrote that are based in the Cass Corridor and Woodbridge districts of Detroit.  I've written three of them (including DRY AS BONES and BREAK SOME BONES), but dratted perfectionism (or insecurity) always hangs me up.  I even acquired a literary agent at one point, but I never sent the entire manuscript to her because I thought it needed more polishing!  ARGH!  It's hard enough to get a manuscript published through the traditional process, and even MORE difficult if you never actually submit it to anybody.

So I finally started my own press (Pen-in-Hand Press) last year and published NEVER LOOK A GIFT HEARSE IN THE GRILLE.  It has done very well, inspite of the fact that I never arranged to have it sold on  Because of the European Union, if you can believe it, in order for me to sell books on Amazon they have to be trade-book size (6 by 9 inches) and on a certain grade of paper.  No matter what they tell you about penises (and people are ALWAYS telling you things about penises, aren't they?) bigger and thicker is not always better when you're talking about a book.  They are more expensive to produce.  Also, selling on Amazon and in major bookstores there is a required percentage mark-up over production costs.  The cheapest I can sell THESE WEE BONES is $22.00 (they suggested $26.00).  But I found I could also publish it in a smaller format that I like better (about 8.5 by 5.4 inches).  It's less expensive, but only available to me through Pen-in-Hand Press, and you have to pay me for it by check (until I get my stupid web site set up).

I know it's confusing.  If you'd like to have my book, you can buy it from or (I get a lot more money if you get it from Lulu, because Amazon doesn't take a cut) it will cost $22.  If you buy it from me you can get the smaller version for $15 and I'll autograph it, but it will take a little longer for me to get it to you. 

Anyway, here's the cover: 

On the back it says:

"In a vibrant inner-city Detroit environment, it's a struggle for Callie Sadler and her assortment of odd-lot housemates and neighbors to keep their heads above water, let alone solve murders.  Callie's myriad good works--from coordinating the local art fair to caring for her elderly neighbors and her chosen career as a legal aid attorney--keep her busy and help her cope with her history of failed romances and lost opportunities.  But when a neighborhood clean-up project unearths a sad secret, her special eye for human value where others have overlooked it makes Callie an unusual, intuitive detective, in spite of herself. 

A buried garment.  A blind woman's vision.  New flowers on an old grave. 

Clues from unexpected sources pull Callie Sadler back in time to unravel an old mystery, ultimately to discover that she is not the only one living in the past--and that her life is in danger."

Well, enough of this for now.   It is FRICKING FREEZING here.  I went to the bank this morning to deposit a couple of checks.  I had been wearing gloves and my hands had been in my pockets, but when I got there, I couldn't take the paper clip off the checks!  The teller had to help me!  He said I wasn't the first that morning to discover that cold fingers don't work!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to Spend a Snowy Saturday when You are not John Backus, and you are not Vacationing at a Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado

1.  Make a pot of coffee. 
2.  While getting the coffee milk, remember that you paid $1.99 for that that celery that has now gone limp, and you really ought to use it up.
3.  Get out your soup pot and a package of bacon.  Cut up a third of the bacon into little pieces and start to brown it.
4. Put on boots, a coat and hat and gloves, then slog through a foot of snow to get to the newspaper that the paperboy threw into the middle of the yard.
5.  Fill up the bird feeder while you're out there.
6.  Sweep off the porch while you're out there.
7.  Give the snow shovel a sideways glance, then dash back into the house before it sees you looking at it!
8.  Decide to put your snowy coat, gloves and hat into the dryer for a few minutes, and realize it is full of laundry that needs to be folded and put away.
9.  Check the bacon and get rid of any grease buy running a paper towel around the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Then chop up about two cups of onions, all that expensive celery (about two cups) and half a carrot for color, and throw it all in the pot.
10.  Empty the dryer, fold the laundry, notice that the hamper is full. Throw a load in the washer.
11.  Put four cups of water in the soup pot.  Peel two big potatoes and cut to a 1/2 inch dice.  Throw them in the pot and if you've got some, add a teaspoon of "Better Than Boullion" Clam Base in there, too.  (If you don't have some, put it on your shopping list.)  Let the soup simmer.   It should look like this:

12.  Take the ornaments off the Christmas tree and put them in boxes.  Fuss about whether or not it is worthwhile to even bother to try to find the one damned light that has caused half the tree to be dark
13.  Check the soup again.  Add 1/2 c. powdered milk, two small cans of minced clams, a 7 oz. can of corn, 1/2 T. of cracked black pepper, 1/4 t. white pepper and 1/2 t. dried thyme.  Turn the heat down as low as possible.  
14.  Put in another load of laundry.  Take the tree down.  Wrestle it into its storage bag.
15.  Check the soup again.  Dump in a cup or so of whole milk.  Turn off the heat and cover.
16.  Haul all the Christmas junk up to the attic.  Notice how you haven't put the off-season clothes away properly.  Spend an hour straightening up.  
17.  Finish the laundry.
18.  Warm up the soup, but don't let it boil, because the milk will scald and the clams will get tough. 
19.  Get out the bowls, spoons, and the oyster crackers.  Ladle up a nice bowl of chowder for yourself and your spouse, who has just finished shoveling the driveway, and is grumpy and hungry. 
20.  Sit down, put your feet up and watch "House" re-runs for the rest of the day!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Getting back home.


A New Year's Essay

In some former life I was probably a wrinkled old woman dressed in rags who predicted people's futures by searching for omens.  I believe this because I feel an innate calling to look  for them, especially around the New Year.  There is usually some event that sticks in my mind as important, and then I watch it play out during the year.    

The event this year was our trip home from a much-too-short but excellent trip to Michigan.  Though Robert had requested Thursday through Wednesday from work, there was an error, and his office demanded that he be back in the office on Monday morning. There was nothing he could do about it.  So our vacation consisted of two full days in our car, and two days crammed with short visits with good friends.  It also meant that we were forced to be on the road during the terrible blizzard that hit the Northeast.

On Sunday, we got up and on our way early.  I took advantage of any dry pavement to speed as fast as I dared to get as far as possible on our 700-mile journey before the snow hit.  We did pretty good.  It started snowing when we reached Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, but the last fifty or so miles were the worst.  The snow was dry and light and flew around, so that all we could see in the headlights were the changing patterns of white dust in the air, and the painted lines on the road were only visible in sporadic glimpses.  Many drivers had given up and had pulled to the side of the highway, but I didn't think that was a good idea.  Snow drifts were piling up around them and they looked like igloos with headlamps shining through.  I wondered when and how they would ever be able to get back into the traffic flow.   

I got in as close as I could behind a big oil truck, and panicked a little when it took an exit about 18 miles from Beacon.  My hands cramped from gripping the steering wheel, but we finally made it to our peaceful little town at about 10:00 p.m..  The streets were completely deserted but for some rumbling snowplows.   We only had about four inches of snow on Beacon Street proper, but 20 inches in our driveway.  Our neighbors were vigorously trying to dig out a car parked in front of their house.  Robert had to jump out and slog through that to get the snow shovel on the back porch, and I had to keep driving around to keep from getting buried.  It was scary every time I came to an intersection, because the snow plows left berms in their wake that were taller than the underside of the car, and I was terrified of getting stuck.  I had to turn the wheel and "gun it" to get around corners.

And poor Robert was having a worse time than I was, shovelling as fast as he could.  But he finally made a space large enough.  Because of a fence, we have to make a very sharp turn to get into our driveway.  I aimed, prayed, and stepped on the gas.  The car slid sideways, bumped up against the huge snow pile that Robert and the neighbors had made, and slid right into place!  How good it was to turn the key in the door lock and to feel the warmth of our pleasant home!  How nice to be greeted by the twitching tails of two grumpy cats, who were not happy to be left alone for four days, thank you. 

So I think the theme for this new year is about how it is sometimes hard to get back home, but wonderful to get there, and how thankful I am for my homelife.

A homelife is not just a house and a family and friends and what objects we own and what good works we have to do--it is a state of mind.  It is the life that we live within ourselves.  And mine has been a little "off" for awhile.  I generally have an upbeat, can-do attitude, but sometimes (but not always) I have felt as if I am just pretending to feel that way.  Then I remembered something my mother said when one of her best friends begged off coming to my wedding ceilidh, claiming it was too near the anniversary of her husband's death, and she didn't think she would fit in amid a bunch of happy people.  Mom told her that it had taken her three years after my father died, to feel like herself again. 

This is the third year after the trauma of my mother's slow death, and I feel better now.  I don't know if that's the reason why I feel I am back to my real self again.  I don't know if there is any way one can speed up that healing process.  I know that my blackest days have been trifling to those of others, who have so much more to worry about, and so much more to grieve.  But it is good to realize that even if you are not in your "home" where you feel you belong, you are on your way.  And even though it is hard to get back home, it is worth the white-knuckled, scary drive in the dark to get there.  

Robert, the next morning