Happy Hallowe’en!

At sundown tonight, we enter All Hallow’s Eve . . . the witches’ New Year by the Celtic calendar . . . the night when the Veil between the living and the other world is at its thinnest.

When the jack o’lantern’s shining
And the bats fly all about,
Grab your broom and let’s go flying,
‘Cause it’s ghouls’ night out!

The jack o’lantern chuckles,
Then winks his funny eye:
“I’d rather be a pumpkin face
Than be inside a pie!”

Don’t let the goblins get you!
Watch out for vampires, too!
And have fun every minute,
No matter what you do!

May no black cats or witches
Give you the evil eye,
And may your only goblin
Be gobblin’ pumpkin pie!
* * *
There is magic in the night
When pumpkins glow with candlelight. . . .

(Photo of our front courtyard window behind the cut)
Continue reading “Happy Hallowe’en!”

*A triolet is not a toilet*do not flush*unsafe in septic systems

A. E. Stallings, “Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther”

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night,
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?
* * *
The DEVIL made me buy this dress.

I was holding it up in the store and the DEVIL came up behind me and said, “That would look good on you,” and *I* said, “Get thee BEHIND me, Satan,” and then I realized, blushing . . . so I tried it on–and the DEVIL made me buy it!
Even though it’s GREEN.
–apologies to Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine”
* * *
Speaking of songs heard serendipitously on the radio (though I wasn’t), I just discovered that Dallas DJ John Summers is back on in the evenings. He used to be on the famed Zoo (KZEW) or Q102 (KTXQ) in their glory days, didn’t he? Well, he’s now on K-LUV (ugh, what call letter agony) playing the music of my life. I braved my mom’s snide remarks and made her listen to his program as we made her Lotto ticket run last night. “Your Mama Don’t Dance (And Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll)” came on.

Mama yelped, “I know who that is!” She grinned. “The Judds!”

I would’ve *facepalm*ed, but I was driving. “Loggins and Messina,” I explained.

“Well, they sound JUST LIKE The Judds!”

*headdesk* Okay, she’s old. But STILL! (I cannot abide those Judds. Bleah.)

My junior high/high school boyfriend Tim used to quote that bit about “Out of the car, longhair–Louise, you’re comin’ with me” whenever we pulled into a nice quiet place to stargaze. Not to make out or whatever. No, seriously–we were nerds, as you might’ve guessed. We were in the Science Club, natch. Yes, we had a rinky-dink little telescope. One I had made using lenses from a kit out of the old Eugene Science catalog. (Eugene?? That doesn’t sound right. . . .) Edmund! Edmund Scientific catalog. Boy, now I know I need to go on to sleep.
* * *
“I can’t understand why a person will take a year or two to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.”
— Fred Allen
* * *
He’s got a point.

We may never pass this way again . . . so horseman, pass by

Lately, we’ve been discussing whether books may be *good* enough to sell, and possibly even commercial as well, but still may not sell.

The general feeling in most circles seems to be, “If it’s good, it’ll sell. If it isn’t selling, you need to repair your writing style and/or the plot and voice of this novel.” My voice is in the minority here. In the belief that novels may be perfectly fine and still not sell (Confederacy of Dunces is just one example), or may be fine (as far as readers are concerned, though perhaps not critics) and just not commercial enough to sell (until they prove they ARE commercial–look at The Christmas Box and other examples of books sold out of car trunks until big publishing took notice), I have continued to defend the idea that perhaps a book doesn’t sell for reasons completely outside the artistic realm.

This is not to say that ALL books that don’t sell are in this boat. This is a very small boat. Most books that don’t sell do have flaws. But by no means do ALL of them have flaws that mean they won’t appeal to their audience.

Here’s a bit more evidence coming down on my side. The great SF/F author Lawrence (“Never Call Him ‘Larry'”) Watt-Evans, instructor at Viable Paradise and multi-published writer, has put up a website about his new novel in one of his series. The Spriggan Experiment is the new novel in his Ethshar series. It’s a novel that he couldn’t persuade the powerhouse publishers to put into print (albeit the decision was apparently made before seeing a line of the work and was based on the sales and sell-through of previous works in the series). This is obviously NOT a decision made because “he doesn’t have control of his craft” or (to quote people talking about, er, me) “he won’t change a line of his deathless prose even though it is hopelessly flawed” or “because there are plot holes.” The decision, I think, was probably not made in the editorial department, but by the bean counters. You can go to his main website for further details and to read some very good essays about writing.

Anyroad, his readers basically financed the writing of this novel. They were interested in reading it. I see that as the real reason for writing something. The publishing houses wanted the author to concentrate on something they felt would make more money. Whether this is the correct decision for them or not, I cannot say. But I think it was worthwhile for him to write the novel, and I know the fans are appreciative. Won’t a clever publishing house pick up the book now, knowing it has a track record of sorts and a built-in audience?

That remains to be seen, I suppose. I suspect it will be.

I hope it is.

I think this type of experiment is well worth running and studying. My belief is that it’s more profitable in the long run to have many small hits than to gamble on the few big hits that may not even hit. The bean counters like the really big hits, but that’s like playing the lottery. You don’t get ’em every time. With midlist novels, you have a known quantity and you make money. It’s just that nothing’s ever enough these days for large companies (think of today’s announcement about record profits for ExxonMobil/ChevronTexaco/ShellTexaco this quarter, and of King Midas in “The Door Into Summer.”) “In the counting-house where nothing counts but more.” There’s nothing wrong with making a living and even making an honest profit, but when you push the market too hard, sometimes the bubble bursts and you get splashed, guys. The lesson of the film “Wall Street”: Maybe greed ain’t good, after all. This isn’t just about BOOKS, though, but about EVERYTHING. Have they not closed all the normal grocery stores to open big-box stores? Can a Tom Thumb/Kroger be smaller than a city block? Is there such a thing as a small store you can just pop into and pick up a few things without having to trek a mile? (sigh) “More, more, more . . . how do you like it,” as the song says.

Meantime, if you’re a fan of his series (or would like to become one), take a gander at the chapters and possibly make a donation if you can. Money is supposed to flow toward the writer (they tell me). . . .

For Dal C. Gerneth, Feb. 5, 1922-Oct 28, 1974

Elegy

I know but will not tell
you, Aunt Irene, why there
are soapsuds in the whiskey:
Uncle Robert had to have
a drink while shaving. May
there be no bloodshed in your house
this morning of my father’s death
and no unkept appearance
in the living, since he has
to wear the rouge and lipstick
of your ceremony, mother,
for the first and last time:
father, hello and goodbye

Alan Dugan 1963
* * *
This poem was introduced to me by my professor in a 1979 poetry workshop at SMU, Dr. John Skoyles. I’ll always be grateful to him for introducing me and the others in the workshop to poets like James Tate, Alan Dugan, Donald Justice, Frank O’Hara, and many others–not to mention explaining all those concepts and helping us figure out that a poem is a song around a central image. (Among other things.)
* * *
If my daddy hadn’t died that morning when I was only fifteen, maybe we could have talked about math. I think he would have enjoyed the study group and my nerd friends once I got into college; a lot of those guys were heavy-duty math and arithmetic nerds, whereas I am not a powerhouse but a dabbler and puzzle-doer. I think he would have loved seeing the personal computer become so dominant. I know for sure he’d have loved having one. He worked on mainframes and minicomputers, but he never really got to see any PC-like systems. Heck, back then the calculator was a big deal. The graphing calculator didn’t come along until some time after I got out of college (we spent hours graphing on graph paper, which is now unheard of, I suppose.) He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle at my wedding; I chose to walk the aisle alone. Not that people didn’t offer to “walk me,” but hey, that wasn’t their place. I suppose most non-clued-in observers thought I was making some kind of feminist statement. He isn’t here to take care of my mother and share the days with her. I think we really got ripped off.

But we’re certainly not the only ones. Yesterday, they marked the 2,000th American casualty in the Iraq war. Young people, some of them really only kids (this according to one mournful commander who was sending bodies home). How many will it take? Blowin’ in the wind, I know. I can sincerely say that I feel their pain, or that I have felt a similar pain. It’s all so sad.

The icon on this post is from a photo Daddy took of me around 1971 in our back yard.

The bypass was a new, experimental treatment back in 1974. The doctor had tried to get hold of my dad all weekend to warn him that his triglycerides had soared, and that he needed to come in for a check-up. He died on a Monday morning soon after I had left for school. Mama remembers poking her head into the door of the bedroom and calling to him. “Is it that time already?” she remembers him saying.
“Yes,” she said, meaning it was time to get up. But we now know that he was talking to the angel.

I sometimes think of the story/legend about the Land of the Dead, where as long as there is somebody who remembers you on Earth, you can keep watching and occasionally reaching out to help (kind of like in the last act of “Our Town”) . . . and then when the last of your friends and grand-relatives join you, then you all (those who are at last “forgotten”) move upward to the next level of Heaven or the afterlife (whatever you want to call it), where you have different work to do and a different focus. It’s a mythic reminder for us that we are all connected as long as we have our memories, for what are we except a collection of memories, hopes, and dreams?
* * *
“‘Tis the blight man was born for–
It is Margaret you mourn for.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Spring and Fall” (1880)
* * *
Cherish your time today. Think of the minutes as gifts to yourself, and to the ones who share your life’s walk. Just for today, think of the wonders and not so much of the little irritants. And spare a thought for your “balcony people,” the ones who have crossed over before you, and now watch over you and are sometimes allowed to send you help in various forms when you really need it. They’re always with us.

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart.
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

37 minutes until 31 years

And counting.

A little while ago at the grocery store, I was feeling pretty down about this upcoming event. The store PA system, which normally plays a combination of soul and pop in the background, started playing a song that didn’t fit into their program. Bobby Darin, “If I Were a Carpenter.” I knew it had been sent from the Other Side.

But instead of cheering me, it created a kind of bittersweet moment.

Ooo Mr Kotter Mr Kot-ter I forgot

Shoot, I almost forgot to tell you about Shanna Swendsen’s log over at about her adventures in book promotion.

Some writers are speculating that promotion really doesn’t make that much difference. You’d think that with all those books in the bookstore, it’d be mandatory that you do some promotion to get your title into people’s minds. But there’s so MUCH blatt and hype that sometimes it just gets lost in the cacophony. I don’t know what’s true. But it doesn’t look as if it does much good to drive around and sign all the copies in every bookstore in the area when you visit an area (for example), and that’s a lot of energy to expend. (I’ve lost the link to the blog of the author who was doing that, but I’ll find it and post it.) It may still do some good to have a website and an e-newsletter.

But it’s still all mostly a crapshoot.

You mean this mic is live?!

Thank you all for your kind responses to my last post. I was worried about being obnoxious, like all those parents who tell you that their kid is an honor student (just kidding!)

I do know people who feel threatened even by those honor-student bumper stickers. (Which doesn’t make sense to me, but so much about people doesn’t.) Y’know, it generally is better for the parents to be proud than not, and it’s better to be an honor student than a slack-off. It’s socially acceptable for people to have logos of sports teams on their vehicles, shirts, bodies, etc., even if they have no connection at all to the team and don’t play on it or have kids who play on it . . . and that doesn’t bother anyone. I even get a kick out of the “My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student” stickers, though I wouldn’t want anyone to take that one at all seriously. Happens too often already.

I had thought there must be more people who are secure enough that it doesn’t bother them for Cousin Idgie to say, “I brought the potato salad to the Mensa picnic” (“We prefer red potatoes and dillweed up here”), or for Uncle Rascal to write, “I have a circle of great friends who support my efforts, and I got a pony for my birthday!” And it turns out that there are. I think the snotty ones who go around making snide asides to others are the ones who are spending too much time worrying about appearances and making themselves feel better by putting others down. That doesn’t work for very long, really; why not try feeling better about yourself by being unexpectedly gracious and nice? You’ll get used to it. As Charles Schulz said through Lucy Van Pelt, “Smile . . . it’ll drive people crazy wondering what you’re up to!”

Sometimes people *do* use this stuff to intimidate others or shut them up. I can think of one useful example.

My mother’s previous diagnostician used to preface important statements with, “When I was at Hopkins. . . .” I’d always come in with questions and various suggestions as to what might be helpful and what worked for her before, and he’d always fix me with his gaze and say, “When I was at Hopkins, we saw a few cases of pernicious anemia like this, and we found it’s best to [zamma zamma zamma].” This was, I’m pretty sure, meant to put me into my place as the Mere Patient and let me know that he knew best, and sometimes that certain natural remedies were dumb. I still liked him. He was by far the best-looking doctor we have had (he was a playboy, too), and he used to snap your bra when he was listening to your cough.

The point was, though, that he had done his internship back East at a research facility and he’d gone to Johns Hopkins . . . he wasn’t just making this stuff up. I got the message, but I still thought it was funny (humorous). He did agree that it was OK for us to take green tea and bilberry supplements, though.

Nowadays, when Mama keeps asking me if so-and-so is thinking *this*, or why would Cousin Flaky do that awful thing–she has this terrible habit of asking me to tell her what other people are thinking, and I can’t read their minds any better than she can, so she gets mad when I can’t give a definitive answer, *grin*–I just say, “When I was at Hopkins, we didn’t study that,” and she gets it.

The doctor we have now was a National Merit Scholar (another no-no to mention, yet I defy convention) and relates to patients differently. He listens to the stuff about natural cures and says that if they don’t interfere with what he’s recommended, go ahead and do ’em. He put us on CoQ10 because it forms a synergistic partnership with other drugs we’re on and helps the heart. (Mine breaks so easily that I figure it needs all the help it can get.) I tease him about looking like Shakespeare. (I mean, like the most widely accepted portrait of the Bard.) We have too much fun at our three-month check-ins for type II diabetes. His wife came to both of my book signings. We bring his kids little presents from the Dollar Tree on occasion. He’s smart, too.

Everybody has different ways about ’em. That’s what makes life interesting.

But if your “way” is to be snide and sarcastic (and I’m not talking about in fun, like Miss Snark, but deadly serious, like others), maybe it’s time to try on a new way. Is it really reflecting positively on you to announce that you “hate some people on sight” and that you’d like to “put that person in his place”? A goodly number of people see that stuff as revealing more about who YOU are than about the person you are putting down. Because the way the “correction” is presented makes it obvious that you are merely heaping scorn and derision on whatever it is that hasn’t struck your fancy. On the other hand, there are people who get called “Sunshine” for a reason, because they have a positive way of looking at things. “Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by that,” is one of Sunshine’s reactions to a perceived snub or slight. Sunshine is happier than Putdown Guy.

But you don’t have to take it THAT far. Just moving the dial over a few notches from dark to light can make a lot of difference in the taste of the toast.

I *try* to keep my meter needle near the middle. But if I slip, well, that’s what we keep the Extra Strength Formula 409 spray bottle around for. The “unscented apologies” flavor. Taste better now?