Friday, April 27, 2012

Progress vs. Familiarity

  So, I was standing in line at the post office, wondering what I'd write this blog about. I get my mail at a little neighborhood sub-station so the clerks know you by name. You find out who went on vacation and whose dog is missing. The window closes for lunch from one until two, tedious, but that's just the way it happens. At  the line has formed three people deep and we chat. Strangers talking about how fast the snow is melting, how warm it is. After the winter we've had, fifty degrees in flip-flops and tee shirts...but I digress.
Times change, the things we take for granted change. I wonder how long I'll have my little post office. I use
email and internet I have bill pay and online banking. I don't use the post office for much except birthday and sympathy cards. There are parts of my business that are still handled with stamps and envelopes, but I’m part of the 'problem' if you want to call it that. All too quickly the post office will be phased out of our lives, but what then? There is a huge hole there called the unknown.

How does that relate to writing? The huge hole in our writing world is called ebooks and how they will impact that world as we have known it. If an agent or editor doesn't  'do' email they are dismissed as old-school and hardly worth pursuing. The opinions fly fast and furious as to the demise of publishing and distribution of paper books. I recently heard someone call a paper book a 'tree killer'. Hummm, I love my keeper books but I'm learning to love my iPad as well.

I like browsing in a book store and I like my post office. I'm not looking forward to the changes I see coming. On the other hand, I like shopping online in my jammies and I look forward to driving those seven miles to the post office, because I love opening mail. The emotional ties of funny birthday cards and hand written notes telling of the sad inevitability of friends who've passed don’t translate well electronically. I like the feel of a book and the loopy hand writing in purple sparkly ink.

Times change. I don't know how it will all play out so as usual I take notes.  I paid close attention at the post office. Lady number one had a package to pick up from Amazon.
Man number two had two large boxes to mail. The clerk asked the usual questions, "Anything liquid, fragile or perishable?"
"No, it's carrots."
The clerk looked up from the scale,  "Carrots?"
"Yes, and some beets."
The clerk measured the box with a tape measure. "Three feet by two feet, that's a lot of carrots,"
"Yeah, my wife’s sister is doing some kinda juice thing."
The clerk looked at the address again, "Oh, Nome." 
In Alaska, mailing forty pounds of carrots to Nome, or cement blocks to McCarthy is a common occurrence. Not so much in Dubuque.

I'm going to enjoy my post office until it's gone and I’m going to enjoy my paper books. 

Change. The post office has been around since the constitution was written and now it has to change. I wonder where ebooks will be in twenty years?

---DeNise Woods

Friday, April 20, 2012


I’m one of the lucky ones. In my life I’ve been some pretty spectacular places. I’ve lived in Germany twice. I spent a year in Canada. Perhaps most spectacularly of all, I lived for three years in Alaska. It was not hard to find adventures in any of these places. I mean, when you live in Anchorage you’re within sight, on a clear day, of the great Denali.
I’ve seen 900 year-old cathedrals, I’ve seen EuroDisney. I pet a kangaroo in Australia and took horseback riding lessons in Germany. And, I’ve been truly grateful for every new experience. So, you might think it would take a lot to impress me.  You’d be so wrong.
Believe it or not, when we lived overseas we had colleagues who hated being away from their familiar worlds. I was marveling over the size of German washing machines (think trash compacter) and they were literally whining that their Big Macs didn’t taste the same as in the U.S. (They so did.) I couldn’t help but think they’d be unhappy in a pile of gold because their eyes hurt from the glare.
I live by one simple rule: adventure is all around me. I remember a weekend business trip several years ago, when my job as managing editor for a farm magazine took me to a John Deere press conference in that globally iconic city, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It sounded so un-exotic that my hubby decided to accompany me. He sat through the John Deere thing patiently and afterward whisked me off for a getaway.  If you’re all going “oh, wow, that sounds sooooo cool. Not,” you’d be wrong again. Who knew Sioux Falls had so many interesting nooks and crannies? Who knew the namesake falls were so amazingly . . . exotic? We had a ball.
And I’ve seen Sioux Falls. That’s pretty cool!
I was equally enamored of Madison, MN, (the lutefisk capital of the world and hometown of Eloisa James), and Ames, IA (a great park for running), tiny Father Hennepin State Park (one mile to a hidden lake), or Big Lake, AK (where you might not want to have a discussion about guns in their tiny cafĂ©—HI DeNISE! – talk about an adventure!). 
My point is that whether you’re in Denali National Park & Preserve, AK or Granite Falls, MN there’s an adventure if you look for it.  As I’m writing this, DH and I are returning from a 360-mile round trip to a nursery in Wisconsin just to buy some apple trees, blueberry bushes, and raspberry plants. We’re driving in the rain but we found a little jewel of a place that we’ll always remember. On a potentially boring trip we had a ball, because we’re always up for an adventure.
How about you? Where do you find adventure? Do you long for the Eifel Tower or can you explore your own neighborhood and find fun? Or both?  Do yourself a favor today and find something adventurous in your own backyard.  There’s a great saying I remember that goes something like: “You can learn more by climbing one mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred mountains once.”  Go forth and explore!

---Lizbeth Selvig

Friday, April 13, 2012

Halfway Down a Drowning

George Guthridge

I remember the last moment after I drowned.
It happened last night.  The nearest water from our home here in Nontaburi, Thailand, other than a faucet, is the waterpark atop the mall, ten blocks away, and after that the river, three miles away.
It happened when I clicked on
I drowned in the verbiage. 
The numbers swallowed me.
2811 vampire/werewolf fictions.  Dracula probably needs no more blood, having been immortalized by so many words, unless the weight of adjectives bears down his wings.  6724 paranormal/horror.  That’s one hundred times more books than people who’ve had a real paranormal experience and lived to tell about it.  578 time travel.  Whew!  The odds are getting better.  1508 shapeshifter.  6621 sci fi/fantasy.    124 pirate novels.  (Don’t let that number out; people are bound to change ships from starfleets to ones in the Indian Ocean.) 
1916 westerns.  That’s more romantic westerns than unmarried adult males in some western states.  Just who are those women sleeping with?
9849 erotica.  I checked with  9849 happens to be exactly the number of orgasms in the last ten years in the entire state of Alaska.  An odd coincidence.  So I clicked on that link.  The first entry that popped up was Gangbang Volume I, an interesting redundancy.  I asked my wife if I could buy it.  The price was right: $0.00.  She said no.  “Why,” I asked smugly, “afraid I’ll want to write one and go do some research?” “No,” she said, “I’m afraid you couldn’t handle it when you’d have to watch me.”  She’s a quick wit, that one.
15,923 erotic romance.  Do the math.  That’s 6074 more erotic romances than erotica.  Which means that 6074 people got romance and only thought they were getting laid.
7316 gay entries (excuse the pun), but only 745 lesbian ones.  Assuming there are about an equal number of gays as lesbians out there (I have no way of verifying that, and if my making this blanket statement offends you, then send me a message in a bottle, via the ocean), then that means that either most lesbians don’t like to read or else they’re having too much great sex to bother writing about it.  I asked my wife if I could write about lesbians.  She said, “In your dreams.”  Now how is it she knows so much about my dreams?
From my friend Pete, a year after he married his boyfriend: “George, you know the difference between straight people and gay people? Straight people have great sex, then get married and stop having sex.  Gay people have great sex, then get married and stop having sex.”  That has nothing to do with this blog, I just thought I’d throw it out there.
The above figures are just some of the for-sales on just one website.  (One that I rather like, incidentally.)
So what’s my point?
Theodore Sturgeon, one of the greatest short story writers ever to grace the pages of American magazines, was once asked why so much science fiction is crap.  Without missing a beat he said, “Ninety percent of all fiction is crap.” I suspect that, given the Web, the number has gone up nine percentage points if not 9.9.
So how do we keep from drowning in the miasma of writing, much if not most of it amateurish, that is being foisted upon the Web? Frankly, I’m not sure.  I probably know six levels of relevancy less than anyone else about epublishing. But I suspect the way to rise to the surface is the same way you rose to the surface out of the slush pile in the old days: you write really well.  Or else you murder a dozen people, put their body parts in the refrigerator, and then they make a movie of your life; but my wife nixed that too.
The way I kept from drowning in slush (notice how cleverly I’ve circled around to my original metaphor), back in the days before personal computers much less epublishing, was to try to find a subject that is potentially highly interesting to my intended audience and then to research and research and research until I come across something that is what I call a “great aha!” (notice I just cleverly worked in the erotica).  (A truly middle-age guy is one who takes Viagra to get an erection over the centerfold of Better Homes and Gardens.)  Then I research to see if anyone else is doing stories about what I’ve uncovered and, if not, I start swimming. In other words, I work very very hard at not doing what everyone else is.
That way, when they maneuver the boats among the bodies lying face-down in the water, mine will be the one with the paisley lifejacket with Bechuanaland and Bhutan flags sticking up.
 --- George Guthridge

Friday, April 6, 2012

I am a Pet Servant


It’s my turn to BLOG – and since I’m now a full-time writer, my world revolves around putting words on screen/paper, changing those words, reading those words, putting more words out there, dreaming about words, wondering about those words…in other words: my life is all about words.

I have the perfect life – I know.

But, this perfect life includes something I didn't count on. I have three pets. I don't own them. They are in charge. Fully. And they know it. They're all male. Perhaps that’s why they all seem to believe my purpose in this house is to feed, shelter, serve, protect, and let’s face it, entertain them.

I’ll start with the cat. He thinks he’s in charge. And I’ll just state the obvious - he is. He’s very pretty. Very obstinate. Very stubborn. Very curious. He’s called a tuxedo cat – for his black and white markings. Oh! And lest I forget – he’s incredibly smart. He just cost us a pretty penny to save him because he didn’t want to go to the vet anyway. Apparently, he’s not only overweight, but he has asthma. One crisis later, and I’m now tasked to get a little steroid pill into him twice a day. Trust me – just giving them via his mouth doesn’t work anymore (it did, at first). Last time I tried that approach, I got it in eight times, and he spit it out all eight times. This is definitely taking time from my writing. I then tried the stubborn method. I powdered the pill, mixed it in with his food – I figured he’s fat, he will eat it sooner or later – right? What happened? He tipped the meal out, and put his bowl atop the mess, face-down. Jerk. I have now resorting to trickery. I am his drug pusher. He loves catnip. I crush that little pill, mix it with catnip, and voila! I got one very mellow and dosed cat. Exactly twice. Today he turned his nose up at his catnip and went back into his cat carrier box. He just got that carrier box for the vet trip. He hated it…until I left it in his room with the door open. Now, he lives in there and watches me with golden green eyes while he awaits my next move.

Then there are the dogs. I have a big Labrador named Coal. He started off black, but we call him gray-beard now because he’s…well, graying quite nicely. He’s a good time kind of guy, who gets a half mile walk every day. In the morning. At six am. In all kinds of weather. Even with a mama moose and her calf officially blocking the road and snorting at him – he still gets his walk. He’s oblivious to them. I had to walk him back to the truck because I then have to drive past moose in order to re-start our walk – Coal was annoyed and barking at me for curtailing his excursion. Not the big tree things in the road. Oh, no. It’s my fault. It’s obvious. The dog is in charge, too. He does not take no for an answer, and he’s got me trained. And now that I’m a full-time writer again, he is getting TWO walks a day. At least, the second walk is in nice, sunny weather, and I take Bosco, because he’s getting plump, too.

Bosco is our Boston Terrier. Adorable guy. He is definitely in charge, too. He tells Coal all the time. No matter how many dog toys I bring into the house, Bosco owns them all. That last one was a big fat head thing that squeaks. (I love to grab that one because I can get his goat just by squeezing it and he comes from wherever he is to challenge me for possession) There’s even a large rubber bone thing that weighs a quarter of what Bosco does. Doesn’t matter. Whatever the toy – it’s under my dining room table, which is his “stash”. That’s how I get his goat. I start a raid, and he can’t possibly get them all in his mouth at one time. It’s his fault, though. He starts it. If he sees me, he’ll grab whatever toy is handy and run circles around me with it, just daring me to try and take it.

Now, I realize I’m supposed to provide the food, shelter, health care, and the life style these pets seem to deserve, but I didn’t realize I was entertainment, too. But, I have to admit all it takes is one crisis at the vets to make me realize exactly why I have them and what they mean to me.

I love them all. Yes. Even the cat….who is onto me.