Sunday, October 31, 2010

So many words to write, so little time.

I’m here to explain why I won’t be blogging much for the month of November. As all you writers know, this is National Novel Writing Month, the time for NaNoWriMo and I’ve signed up. Yep, I’m committed to writing a minimum of a 50,000 word novel in thirty days, or at least 1,667 words a day.

At first I thought, wow! That sounds like a Herculean task. Then I stopped to consider how many words a month I generally write. Between novels and articles, my monthly out-put must be twice that… Well maybe not, but more than that, at any rate
So, on a whim, an impulse if you want, I said, “WTF, go for it.” And I did.

You see, I’ve had a novel on the backburner since a least last October that I haven’t had the opportunity to get down and bang out the dreadful first draft. Not that I’m that much of a procrastinator – I’m not. Just, other things kept getting in the way, or shone with greater allure at the moment.

NaNoWriMo seemed the perfect opportunity to get down to it. The rules are perfect:
  •  Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people's works).
  •  Write a novel, a novel being defined as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too! 
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
That’s it. Not too many. Quantity, not quality. Kill the editor that lives between the ears, that mean-mouthed, disparaging, sharp tongued harridan. Just write – bash it out and get it down. I can do that. Sounds like a vacation.

So what am I writing on this marathon venture you wonder. I’m going to tell you. I’m writing the third in a series of novels starring my favorite character, Bria Connelly. Can’t tell you much more than that without spoiling the story for you, and I won’t. I won’t and you can’t make me.

Looking back on the past twenty months, I’ve gone through a real productive period and written three novels and a hundred (give or take) articles (many of which you can read by clicking on my hubpages widget to the left up there).  In fact, I’ve astonished myself. Could this be that fabled post-menopausal zest I’ve been reading about?

Or is it the blessed freedom I’m enjoying, having divested ourselves of the big house, the kennels, the ten acres, the business --  How did I ever do all that? – And turned our one-time vacation house (a little two bedroom that’s a snap to keep up) into our full-time home.

Whatever the secret, it’s been great for my writing. True. I spent the afternoon ruminating on the novels of the past twenty months.

It all started with my beloved novel, This Bird Flew Away, a story that lived so long between my ears, all I had to do was sit down and let it pour out. This was a transcendental experience. In four months of isolation, all alone in the Florida house while poor hubby, Jim, slaved away up there in the ice and snow of a Canadian winter, I lived, breathed, dreamed and wrote This Bird, as I affectionately dub the work. It pained me to be away from it. No one wanted to see me, because all I talked about was the story, and the characters became more real to me than anyone of flesh and bone in my life. All too soon, it was over and off to my wonderful editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis.

While she had it, I worked on the pitch. You know what I mean.

Genre: Literary fiction
The one liner:
 A funeral, a crime, secrets and the friendship between a girl and a man.
Then the “back cover pitch”:
What is real love?
The whole world wants to know.
They should ask Bria Jean, because she has it all figured out. Opinionated, stubborn and full of woe, Bria would tell you real love is having one person you can always count on through thick and thin. For her, that’s Jack. And it doesn’t matter to her that she’s nine and he’s twenty-three -- not one bit.
When, at the age of twelve, Bria disappears, he and his Aunt Mary search for her, and when she surfaces, injured, abused and traumatized, Jack fights to become her guardian with no idea of the trials ahead of him. By then, Bria is thirteen going on thirty, full of her own ideas on how her life should run and with some very fixed notions about who is in charge.
And now, come January 27, this labor of love will rest in my hands as a printed book, exactly twenty-four months from when I first began.

No sooner was it done, and even before the editing and revision process, I went to work on the sequel, Fly High, Fly Blind. This one too was effortless, a delight. But being back in Canada, I wrote it around work and business demands. Even so, in four months I had a 150,000 word first draft. (Yes I know; trimming is big come the revision
And I worked on that pitch too.
Child advocate and lawyer, Bria Connelly, sits at her desk one May morning in 1989, tying up loose ends for one client, preparing to plea in court on a motion for sentence reduction for another, has yet to read an important report for one more, can't see her desk for the files strewn about and she is already late in her appointment with a new client waiting outside, another battered woman, another abused child -- a normal day in her chosen line of work.
The phone rings.  Little does she suspect when she picks up the phone, this call will set in motion a whirlwind of events that will change her life forever. She'll find herself flying high and blind in a murder trial that will take her from her practice in Calgary to the criminal courts of New York City.
 Well out of her element, there is only one person she knows who can help save her client: Jack -- once her guardian, once her best friend but now estranged. Six years have passed since she last spoke to him, seven since she saw him, but for the sake of her client, she calls him.
 Once again he does not let her down. In fact, he seems eager to renew their complicated relationship. The girl from this Bird Flew Away is back, grown up and carrying another secret, a secret that will shatter Jack's world.
 Against the back drop of a controversial defense strategy, one child in trouble, another child  a key witness in a public trial and  a scandal mongering press, she finds herself  and her future and finally puts the past to rest
Like it? This one is currently in edit and revision and coming along nicely. If all goes well, it should see daylight late next year or early the following.

Then, as I was about to start on the third – untitled then, another project came up and this one was pushed to the dark recesses of the storage cupboard in my head.

I was approached by an editing client, Dallas Thompson, to help put together a novel based on an interesting idea of his, and we co-authored a novel. He provided the premise, the technical information and the main ideas. I drew up the plot, the character sketches and wrote the first draft, emailing each day's installments back and forth with Dallas. In four months, we had an interesting and powerful political sci-fi thriller in reasonable draft form but I’ll leave the story of The Agent of Change for another blog.

This one is now with Kathryn, editor supreme, and will return for rewrite and revision in a few more weeks.
But, fulfilling as writing the departure from my normal genre was, the third in the Bria Connelly series ate at my brain, demanding to be let out. But by now, I was up to my ears in article commitments, student writer coaching and editing, and poor Number Three languished. 

Then, along came NaNoWriMo, and the perfect excuse to clear my desk, tell everyone to leave me alone for thirty days, and limber up my fingers, ready to go. I won’t cheat. I won’t write a word of it till 12:01 AM tomorrow. 

But I did come up with a title, Finding Emily – and a cover. I always start out with a cover; makes the book seem real and motivates my writing. Here’s what I plan to get out in a 50,000 word skeletal form in the next 30 days.
The inspiration for this tale came to me following a news clip on the CNN streamer that never  made it as a news story and I often wonder why. It related to a crackdown on "child prostitutes" though a better, more appropriate term is child sex slaves. 52 children were recovered from a life of hell, and sixty pimps and several hundred other people were arrested -- yet it didn't make it to the TV screen. I wrote an article about this phenomenon, linked here.
I researched and dug around and got as much information on this crackdown as I could, and thought, what if law enforcement decided to cooperate yet again and this time concentrated on I95, running along the east coast of the U.S. (For those that don't know these parts.)
Then I went further:  Bria, now in her fifties is a renowned child protection professional, and she lives in Florida for the winters (who wouldn't) and finds herself involved with one of the recovered children.
 Then I  came up with this idea: A friend of hers from Alberta has brought her three children to Orlando for a vacation (Disneyworld and Universal and all those places.) They've come down in a group of families and each has rented a house. Well, through a series of unfortunate events, the 12 year old daughter disappears. Bria involves herself for her friend's sake, but in spite of law enforcement's best efforts, and though Bria and Mom work hard to try and keep the story alive, two years go by with no word. Then this "Operation I95" takes place and the girl is recovered.
What state would a girl be in after two years of forced sex slavery? Can you imagine?
 Will Bria's skills be adequate to the task?
Don’t you love the cover photo? See this obviously adolescent faceless girl, back against the wall, trapped, dressed for ‘the trade’…  Yes, the photo was great inspiration. Once I have a cover, the story’s half done.

So, that’s why this is likely to be the last blog you’ll see for a few weeks, though I might come in and tell you how it’s going. Can’t promise – once I get going there is nothing else in life. 

See you in thirty days with the rough first draft of a new novel under my belt.

Sincerely Yours,


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Petra Vlah Interviews lmmartin (Lynda M Martin) Hubpages 10/27/2010

"A talented writer
and editor reveals her
rich background and 
exciting endeavors"

(PV) Through your work on HP, but no less, because of who you are as a person, in just one year you have gained a loyal number of followers and well deserved respect of the community. Could you highlight your best and worst experiences? 
(LM) First, let me say thanks to my followers and friends on hubpages who have made the past thirteen months so much fun. I’ve given your question a lot of thought and I just can’t pinpoint either a best or a worst experience. It’s all been good – wonderful. What I’ve enjoyed the most? The people I’ve come to know, for sure. I do not write on hubpages for income – can’t. I’m here to write, to share and to network, not for monetary gain. That makes a difference in the approach taken to the writing, I think, and one that seems to pay big dividends in reader appreciation.

(PV) European by birth, growing up in Canada and eventually moving part-time to US, you have brought a wealth of experience and a fresh prospective to all of us. How did those different cultures shape your personality?

(LM) What an interesting question, and one I find impossible to answer in twenty-five words or less, but I’ll do my best. Shall we start at the beginning?

I was born in Scotland, moved to the south coast of England and then immigrated with my family to Western Canada at the age of six. The British culture component of my life came to me through my parents and extended family, rather than first hand life. Relatives and friends “back home” sent me books at each holiday, so I grew up with the British literary classics of Rupert the Bear, and Enid Blyton’s the adventures of The Famous Five. Outside our house was Canada: inside was a part of Britain – and I fought it! I worked very hard at adopting my new accent, and becoming thoroughly Canadian.

As a young woman, I attended the University of Montreal, a French language university, and earned a Bachelor degree in Business Administration. I loved Montreal and stayed in Quebec for eight years. As a business consultant based in that great city, I came to know more of the U.S. My first audit in ‘the States’ took me to the tiny town of Demopolis, Alabama. That was an experience! Even more so than New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta … The same career took me to Europe: London, Paris, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Dublin…

Twenty-five years ago, I attended a business conference in Denver and there met my husband, Jim, from New Orleans. After five years of a cross-border affair, we married and he moved to Canada – Winnipeg, Manitoba and Calgary Alberta.

Now, we live in Florida, and this year, as Jim was offered an excellent professional opportunity in Florida, we are in the process of getting my resident status – legal at last. I enjoy life on the Gulf coast very much, as anyone who reads my personal hubs knows.

How has this affected my personality? It’s made me into a person who can’t answer a simple question about her past with any efficiency of words. It’s also kept me poor. (Rolling stones gather no moss.)

(PV) Your soon to be released book deals with the tragic problem of abused children, a cause which you took to heart and made it your mission in life. Please tell us more about it.

(LM) “This Bird Flew Away” does deal with the life of a girl made vulnerable through neglect, trafficked and exploited, but abuse is only one minor component of this story. It is a tribute to the courage and strength of children, to their ability to reinvent themselves, to go about the business of being children no matter what goes on around them. It is primarily a story of love, the real meaning of love and its healing power. It pays homage to the family, the need for that safe refuge and strength we find there, no matter what form the family takes. It is not a dark book.

My thirty years in child protection gave me more reasons to celebrate than to despair, and I dedicate this book to those girls it was my profound honor to befriend and the voyages we took together. They have my undying admiration.

 Why did I write the book? I answer that question in my blog, Sincerely Yours, Lynda. For those wanting to know more about my background in child protection, you can read about it here on hubpages.
(PV) You have posted fragments of this book on HP asking the community to give an honest critique. What has been the response and to which extent did that help you or motivate you to continue the project?
(LM) The hubpages community played a great role in affirming my belief in this story. Most comments were positive and complimentary, which was a soothing balm coming at a time when the agents were busiest at slapping me down.
A group of hubbers volunteered to be my beta readers. Can I take the space here to thank them? Thanks papajack, Amanda S., itakins, Peg Cole, RebeccaE, resspenser, Tammy Lochman, Mr. Happy… (If I forgot someone, I apologize.) A special thank you to Morten Rand (Fiction Factory) who critiqued the work, and offered excellent advice. Another special thank you to Rafini, who took her editing and critiquing duties very seriously, and offered many helpful insights and discussions.

(PV)  One of your most admirable qualities is your willingness to share specific knowledge and life experiences with the community. What was the response and what are your plans on continuing such helpful activities?

(LM) I assume you are referring to my Good Writing Is… series, and yes, I plan to continue. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to study with some really great writing mentors over the years. I am an education junkie, love to learn and so I am still taking seminars as well as teaching them. With my ‘students’ (for want of a better term,) it is easier for me to say, ‘Go to hubpages and check out #5 or #7’, rather than rewrite the same points over and over.

I hope to eventually end up with an on-line primer for new writers. My next hub will be on pacing, as I have a couple of writers I’m working with who need help in that regard. That many readers find the series helpful – and say so – is a side effect of a completely self-serving goal, and a delightful one. There it is; my confession. Thanks to all who’ve made that series a success.

(PV) With incredible ease you can switch hats and go from powerful and sensitive creative writing style to a pedagogic and clear writing manner meant to teach others; just the same you can use sarcasm and humor in other hubs. Which writing style is most comfortable to you?    
(LM) When you’ve spent years writing such sparkling works as Financial Reporting – the Case for Consistency, and the XY Corporation Internal Auditors’ Handbook during the day, and editing such literary gems as Forbidden Desires, and Paula’s Pillow Talk under contract at night, while writing Dick and Alice’s Big Day Out (a short story about two dogs lost in the big city for a day – for Owl, a children’s magazine) on the weekend, and juggling all this with articles like Low self-esteem and promiscuity in the adolescent girl and Follow-up on five case studies – the reunification of the run-away and the family, acted as editor-in-chief to a couple of journals for charitable organizations and written short stories for women’s magazines, it’s safe to say not only do you acquire the ability to write in any voice, you also have to become very organized to keep your various personae straight. What writing style works best for me? Whichever one I need to use at the moment.

(PV) As busy as you are with your own writing you have always extended a hand to others and offered one on one tutoring and editing help. How did that enrich you as a writer and as a person?  
(LM) I’ve never been sure whether I’m a writer who loves to edit and teach, or an editor/teacher who loves to write. Either way, one supports the other. I learn more about writing from teaching, and become a better teacher by writing. There it is.
(PV) Anything else you would like to add?  

(LM) Hubpages has enriched my life more than I can express. I am grateful to those who’ve chosen to follow my work, and honored by the opportunity to share with so many, all around the world. Thank you for asking me to give this interview.

I wanted to share this interview with you, and I hope you enjoyed it.
My thanks to Petra, and the wonderful team over at hubpages. 

Sincerely Yours, 


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More truths about twelve-year-old girls

Last month, (September)  I wrote a blog entitled The truth about twelve-year-old-girls which highlighted girls of twelve in the news from around the world. That blog was sparked by the following comment left on my website.

“At twelve girls are still children. They act like children, talk like children and think like children. And they are helpless like children. You grossly misrepresent the abilities of twelve year old girls, and portray them as older than their years. It is stories such as yours that destroy childhood as a time of innocence. No twelve year old should have to think about this stuff.” – a comment left by Marta on the Your Story page of my website.
This commenter may think girls of twelve are helpless children, but judging by the news, the world does not. 
“Girls Rule,” a pair of twelve year old girls took umbrage at the above comment and contacted me through my website. Their big argument with me was that my book, This Bird Flew Away, is not just suitable for women eighteen and over, but is just as suitable for girls like them. They wrote the following:
"We loved your blog The Truth About Twelve Year Old Girls. We are not 'children' and we have plenty of abilities… My mom and I talked about the rape scene, and I wanted to tell you that you did a great job of explaining her feelings without giving a lot of detail. So you know, it is a really good story for younger girls too. Bria was so cool, so strong and honest. I felt like she was how I'd like to be. We girls can and do understand these things. I don't think there is anyone my age that doesn't know about sex and rape and what can happen in the world. Would you write some more about girls of 12 or 13 in the news? We, I mean my friend and me really liked that." – the first comment left by “Girls Rule” on the Your Story page of my website, shown here to the right. The are aged 12 and 13 (barely.)

The first question to fly off my fingers – after "How did you get a copy of my manuscript?" – was "Does your mother know you’re writing to me?" She did: she was one of my advance readers.

“I would suggest that any mother of an adolescent girl share this book. Not only did my daughter completely relate to Bria, her adventures and her trials, but the rape scene was so well written and showed us the fear, pain and confusion of the poor girl, it gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss rape, the dangers we face and all the attendant issues. For this I thank you" -- mother of one of "Girls Rule"

And that’s how it began, my roller coaster ride with “Girls Rule", and a guided exploration of the world of the 21st century girl.

Even though I’m getting on in years – I can see sixty without squinting – unlike most 'mature' adults, I’ve never had a blind spot when it came to twelve-year-old girls: who they are and what they are capable of. I don't see them as young children, nor quite as young women.Twelve is never land.
The term 'girl' no longer seems adequate -- yet they are not adolescents. Some seem to be twelve-going-on-six, and others twelve-going-on-thirty. And even more disturbing, we can see all ages in between in the same girl in the space of half an hour. One thing is sure: they are complicated.

No, I never look at a girl of twelve and see 'just a kid.'

Thirty years of child protection work can do that. I've seen girls at their most vulnerable, and at their most admirable – seriously. Twelve appears to be a risky age. I’d say close to half the girls I came into professional contact with over the years were first victimized at the age of twelve. 

Why is that?

Is it that particular stage of metamorphosis common to many girls of twelve, that budding into womanhood, the incipient curves, the promise of what is to come… the allure of the girl/woman? Is that it? Having escaped until puberty from the attentions of those who prey on children, the girls now seem to be at risk from those that like a touch of womanliness in their young prey. So it seems…

77% of all rape victims are under the age of eighteen. According to National Victim Services; of which 33% are between 13 - 18, 30% are aged 11 or 12 and 17% are under age 10. 14% of victims are older than 18 but under 30. Only 6% of victims are over 30.

So, if there were 90,427 reported rapes in the U.S. in 2007, that would mean 30% or 30,142 girls of 11 or 12 years of age were raped --- or would it? Law enforcement estimates only 1 in 6 rapes are reported overall, and the rate of reporting drops the younger the victims. 

We seem to have a terrible blind spot when it comes to this age group of girls. We have some strange need to see them as innocent little girls, and we do our best to keep them as we want them to be... and fail. Instead of preparing our girls to deal with the world we've made for them, we extend our own denial over them -- and leave them defenseless.

I think 12 year old girls are possibly the highest-at-risk group of females out there.

I felt so strongly about these truths, I wrote a full length article about the reality of twelve-year-old girls. (What you've read here is the introduction.) And "Girls Rule" helped me.

I challenged them to go research the news, the net, magazines (both paper and online) and come back to me with three stories they though were important to girls of their age group.

They did, and I was surprised. Why don't you come and read the full length article, and see what these two twelve-year-old girls have come up with. I guarantee you, you will walk away with much food for thought.
For the whole article:

Sincerely Yours,


Thought for today: 
"The difference between a smart person and a wise person is that a smart person knows what to say and a wise person knows whether or not to say it." -- Quote found on the wall of a recreation center office in Berkeley, California and later attributed to Olivia, a twelve year old girl. (2/12/02).

Monday, October 18, 2010

We're mad as hell, and we're not "putting up with it" anymore!

The other day, I went to Staples to buy some computer supplies. While I was there, that little voice that lives between my ears shouted, “Pens. Get some pens.” And it was true, I was at the point of searching high and low for one whenever I needed to write something. Where do they go?
Over in the appropriate section, I found a wide selection of pens in different quantities and prices. Now I’m not the kind of idiot who spends big money on something that has a life expectancy of a day or two at the most in my house. I suspect there’s a peculiar burglar in the neighborhood who sneaks around while we’re all asleep, gathering up the pens from the jars we keep by our phones. What other explanation for their disappearance can there be?

So in keeping with my frugal nature, I opted for the bargain pack of twenty-five stick pens in a pack, with the promise “writes first time every time” emblazoned on the packaging. $9.95 for the whole lot – not a fortune, but still a ten bill out of my somewhat limited monthly budget. I congratulated myself on having solved the chronic pen shortage for at least a few weeks, and took them home.

Not a single one wrote anything. Their nibs scratched dryly across the paper, leaving no trail of ink in any color. Twenty-five out of twenty-five turned out to be duds. And in what is truly a rare occurrence, I was enraged enough to take them back to Staples and vent my anguish.

“How can you market such rubbish to the public?” I demanded of the poor clerk who just happened to be within reach. 

“We don’t do the buying,” she explained. “It’s done centrally and we stock whatever they send us.”

“Well, what genius decided pens that don’t write were worth buying?” I fumed. “I want the email address of your central buying office so I can get an answer to that question.”

“Uh-um-uh – wait a minute.” She ran off, and returned with a gentleman wearing a suit.

“What seems to be the problem?” he wanted to know.

I explained that none of the pens in the package worked, and I wanted to know why such useless trash was on market to the unsuspecting and already financially beleaguered public. I repeated my request for the email address of the corporate buying office so I might satisfy my curiosity on that score.

Needless to say, the gentleman did his best to soothe my ire, and made it clear my reaction was entirely out of proportion to the scale of the problem. And the sideways glances from the clerks in the vicinity communicated that they, too thought my anger excessive. 

In the end, I received a refund, a glib, insincere apology and a refusal to give me the information requested. I went home to my penless house, to find the email address of Staple’s corporate offices on the internet myself. When it came time to jot it down on my notepad, I used a mechanical pencil. (The lead broke several times and then ran out – but at least it wrote long enough.)

Was my reaction excessive?

Perhaps if the expenditure of good money on shoddy goods had been a one-time thing, I would consider myself ready for Valium or some other medication. But it wasn’t.

Just two days prior, I needed a bookshelf for my little office alcove, and went out to buy one. No matter which store I went to here in North Port, all I could find at a reasonable price was the put-it-together-by-yourself-made-in-China–and-good-luck sort. I bought one, and took it home.
Now I consider myself a handy person. I’ve built sheds from scratch, a dog kennel building, framed in rooms, built fences – in other words, I know my way around tools and the elements of construction.

But this simple bookcase tried what little patience I could muster – missing hardware, predrilled holes that didn’t line up, locking devices for those metal pins that couldn’t be inserted in the supposedly precut destinations, dowels that couldn’t be inserted. Oh, it was a nightmare, and one that ended with me throwing away the instructions (written in very strange English), pulling out my electric drill and building the thing my own way, with my own hardware (which necessitated a trip to Home Depot.) For $79.99, I basically purchased twelve sheets of particle board, and spent another $11.00 buying hardware.

On Saturday, I went to Walmart (I know, but my options are limited in this neighborhood) to purchase a new phone. By Sunday, the display screen stopped working. I took it back to Walmart and received another phone. Today the display screen is lit up, but with strange characters I cannot decipher. I’ll take it back later today. For $69.99, and two trips to Walmart, I have a phone that refuses to tell me who is calling, leaving me vulnerable to all kinds of marketing calls. More trash handed out to the public at a ridiculous price.

While there in the Walmart parking lot yesterday, I watched a young mom try to comfort her little boy whose new action figure toy hadn’t survived long enough to get to the car, hadn’t even survived removal from the packaging. The little tyke was heart-broken.                                           

“Take it back,” I told her, sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong.

She was a quiet, soft-spoken kind of person and shied away from the idea. I offered to go with her. In fact, I insisted. I was in that kind of mood.

“My little grandson here,“ I began, knowing when a lie was both acceptable and necessary, “just purchased this toy not ten minutes ago. It fell apart when he tried to take it out of the packaging. What are you going to do about it?”

“We’ll exchange it. Go and get another one,” the clerk said, with that minimum wage glaze in her eyes.

“Why?” I shouted. “So that one can fall apart too?”

“Please lower your voice,” the clerk said.

“Why? So others won’t hear how you prey on children, selling them junk you know won’t last? Look at him – he’s traumatized.”

And indeed the little fellow was the picture of misery, with his chubby cheeks streaked with tears and his tiny body still shuddering with suppressed sobs. 

“And for the record,” I said, still louder. “$8.99 may be a drop in the ocean to Walmart’s bottom line, but to my daughter-in-law here, it represents a major slice of her budget. She can’t afford to buy much for her child, but to spend her limited money on a treat for her son to have it fall apart before he can even play with it – shame on Walmart!”

The frustrations of the past few days had finally found an outlet.

My newly adopted daughter-in-law looked like she’d rather run for the door, but stood her ground. Of course, the iron grip I had on her arm may have had something to do with it. While the clerk grabbed the intercom mike and desperately hailed a manager, I whispered “What’s your name and his?”

She told me and together we waited for the manager, along with the audience we’d attracted.

When the manager arrived, I continued to orate on the perfidies of a multi-billion dollar corporation that exploited consumers by knowingly selling shoddy goods to the children of financially strapped parents. I was in fine form, ready to filibuster until a suitable solution and appropriate compensation was reached.

It was.

My “daughter-in-law” and “grandson” received a $25 Walmart card; I felt the relief that comes of venting a long-held gripe and our audience enjoyed themselves and applauded when little Joey walked off with his mother, to pick out yet another disappointing and poorly made toy.

I left Walmart -- much to their relief -- and joined the girls (aged 55 to 72) for lunch on the patio of our favorite neighborhood hangout. I shared my adventures of the morning. That set off a whole chain of consumer gripes.
  • Coffee pots that dribble when they pour.
  • Packaged fruit with a top layer that looks delightful and mold growing on the lower layers.
  • Books purchased for top dollar with missing or misplaced pages.
  • Crossword puzzle books printed in China that don’t make sense.
  •  Lamps purchased that have poles that don’t screw together.
  • Women’s clothes made in Asia that don’t allow for the ample bosoms of many North American women.
  •  Small appliances that give up the ghost within weeks.
  • An electric drill purchased for $59 and the shaft bent on the second attempt to drive in a three inch screw.
  • Clothing with seams that unravel on the first laundering
  • .Reading glasses priced at $15 and up, and the lenses fall out.
  • Put-it-together-yourself kits missing parts and the store that sold them doesn’t sell the missing parts, and will order them but it takes six weeks.
  • Printers that need new cartridges and the store where you bought it doesn’t carry that type of cartridge.
  • CDs and DVDs that won’t play.
  • Anything sold in packaging that requires tools and an engineering degree to open
And then the eldest among us delivered the coup de grace:

  • Pet food purchased in good faith, of a well-known and trusted brand that poisoned and killed her beloved cat, Butterball, a few years ago.
And we all agreed, it was time to stop ”putting up with it.”

Brave but impotent words; don’t you agree? 

Sincerely Yours,                                    

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The mortifications of a computer junkie

The power of the pen?  No thanks.                               
Give me the power of the keyboard. Please!


My computer just up and quit a couple of weeks ago. For a while I blamed the afternoon thunderstorm that had disrupted the power (yet again) because it was directly after that I found I couldn’t boot up in Windows. I could in safe mode, which meant only the bare basics of my computer system worked. No internet connection, no way to back up files, no way to access files, no way to get the latest versions of three novel length manuscripts off the hard drive …Aak!

In other words, it was a code red emergency.

Of course, I turned to my husband for help. He couldn’t. “Take it in for repair.”

I did. I took it in to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. I had to leave it there. They would, they promised, back up the three manuscripts I needed, including the final version of This Bird Flew Away, newly edited for the final time by my wonderful editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis and now ready for the publisher. (Thank God! I’d hate to have to redo all that work.) “Two to three days,” they said.

The first day was the hardest. Full-fledged withdrawal, complete with shakes, sweats and stomach cramps, I swear. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I almost cleaned my house; the emptiness, the lack of purpose and direction was so bad – almost.

A nightmare.

It was the first day in years I hadn’t sat in front of the screen, hands poised over the keys, waiting on inspiration and I couldn’t handle it. I pulled out my now powerless keyboard, the impotent cord dangling limply to the floor, going nowhere. My loyal companion of many a late night, slave to my writing obsession… sob!  I let my fingertips caress the keys, so well-used and worn most of the letters and some of the numbers had long rubbed away. If you weren’t an accomplished touch-typist, you’d be lost.

To distract myself I called a friend.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have taken your computer there,” she said. “You should have called me. I have a computer guy….”

I arranged lunch with another.

“Those stores overcharge, and those kids don’t know anything. What a shame! Now, I know a fella, a real IT guy, went out on his own when he lost his job …”

Everyone I know had someone I should have called and said I shouldn’t have called the ones I did. Their dire predictions didn’t help. I began to panic. My life stretched out before me as a barren, desolate, computerless wasteland. I couldn’t stand it.

I met Jim at the door that evening, teary eyed and frantic. “Give me your password so I can check my emails. Please!” I held up my trembling hands in supplication.

“No. I don’t want you using mine.” He tried to sound firm and manly, but his inherent good nature got the best of him. “Okay, don’t look at me like that. You can check your emails – but...” With a sigh of resignation, he walked away. “Just don’t mess with my settings.”

In his defense I should add we once had only one computer, a period we refer to as ‘the troubles’ in our personal history. I don’t share well. I take over. It’s my nature.

The sight of my inbox crammed with messages eased my pain, my growing discomfort now far more important than any possible threat to domestic peace. My breathing returned to normal; my heart rate slowed and I no longer fought the urge to scream, even if most of the mail was spam. But the relief didn’t last long. In fact, that little taste of what I craved only led to a need for more.

More – yes, more.

An hour later, an unhappy Jim dared to ask, “Any plans for dinner?”

A completely unreasonable rage rose up in my breast. “What’s the matter with your hands? They can’t cook something for once? Why is it always up to me to … “                    

He shook his head and backed out of the room.

I was vaguely aware of the front door closing as he went off in search of nourishment.

The next morning, shame and remorse kept me pretending to be asleep until Jim left for the office. I spent a long time examining the face of the strange woman I saw in the mirror. I had tamed my addiction to carbs, to fats, to sugars. I had quit smoking. But this? No, this dependence was one I could not manage.

I didn’t have the inner fortitude to do so. No! – nor even the desire to try.

Twenty-four hours without a computer was enough. I showered, dressed and jumped in my car. Ten minutes I later, I strode into Best Buy, resolute purpose in each step. I had capitulated completely, abdicated any semblance of personal restraint.

I needed to score!

“I’m sorry Ms. Martin, but we haven’t had the opportunity to look at your computer yet. We’re doing our best, our very best, but I doubt we’ll get to it today. I see you’ve asked for a file back-up -- sorry, not until --”

“Listen,” I said, motioning him closer. I spoke in low tones, a hand cupping my mouth. “If I buy another computer, right now” – I waved my credit card in his face – “would you transfer certain document files from the old hard drive to the new one – today?”

The Geek gave me a speculative look, sizing me up, instantly understanding that beneath my assumed position of credit-enabled strength he had found another junkie, servant to her compulsions, a slave to her uncontrollable cravings. He smiled as he picked up the phone. “Let me call a sales consultant.”

My new best friend approached, an oily unctuousness about his manner with his mouth curved up in a pleasant greeting but his eyes measuring his new quarry. “Ms. Martin, how can we help you?”

I grabbed the pusher’s arm. “I need …”

A lap-top seemed the best choice. After all, I already had a desk-top, and with this new computer, I could take it with me anywhere. I’d never again have to be without access to my files. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’ll take it. And the new MsWord2010, too. How much for you to load everything for me? Good – I want to take it home and use it, not waste anytime setting up.” And here’s where I lost any semblance of dignity. Is there anything more pathetic than an almost sixty year old woman cajoling, begging, crying – yea, I admit it -- even seducing? “Can you do it right away? Can you? Please? I’ll pay extra …”

They could. But they needed two hours. Wouldn’t I like to go somewhere else while they readied my new system – please?

I gave them my credit card, praying the charge would go through. It did.

I called Jim at his office, wanting to break the news of my prolific spending spree while he still had the commute home to get used to the idea – money’s been tight lately – only to be surprised when he said, “Thank God.”

I was back at Best Buy the next day to buy a wireless mouse and keyboard, 'cause let’s face it; lap-tops have their limits for those of us who live on our systems. My pusher waved as I walked in and then hurriedly found someone else to help. That’s okay, I found everything I needed. The Geeks offered a fleeting smile and pointed to the long line of people waiting to be served. I didn’t need them, so I wasn’t offended.

I was a different person at that point anyway. Junkies are only dangerous while in withdrawal.

You’ll be glad to know This Bird Flew Away was electronically transferred to my publisher, on time and ready to go. Thanks, Kathryn, for everything.

My desk-top? Three days later they called me to say they couldn’t figure it out and had to send it to Lexington, Kentucky for repairs. (Which seemed a strange place to locate your computer experts for some reason.) Another week passed, and the folks in Kentucky called to tell me my computer required a new mother-board, and at the age of the system, it was not worth-while to repair. Considering I’d already paid a few hundred dollars, almost the price of a new computer anyway, I had to agree.

Yesterday, Jim and I went back to Best Buy and priced new desk-top systems.
The Geeks, who did their best to smile as I approached, have agreed to down load all my research files, my image libraries, my documents – all, for a reasonable sum. Soon, it will be as if this terrible catastrophe had never happened. Throughout the negotiations, Jim smiled and nodded in encouragement, much to my surprise.

He agrees with me now – money is not that important. Far more essential to ensure I never again find myself without a computer.

Sincerely Yours,


Thought for today: 
Writing is like prostitution. You start out doing it for yourself. Then for a few friends. Finally, you ask for money.”

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