29 December 2011

Ketchup or Catsup or Catch Up?

When I was a child, there was only one kind of red tomato stuff in our house: Heinz Ketchup. True, we did live north of Pittsburgh so we might be a little biased. After all, the Heinz Factory was a compulsatory field trip for every elementary school in the entire Western Pennsylvania region and everyone had one of those "pickle pins" by age twelve, but their ketchup was the best. (Still is, in my humble opinion.)

When I was very young, I thought catsup was "cat soup" and I wouldn't touch it. Now according to a number of sources on the Internet, there is no discernible difference between ketchup and catsup. Both are made from tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and other spices. But there is a difference in taste, at least to my mind: catsup always seemed more watery, tasted more vinegary, and never stayed on fries well enough to not drip down your shirt.
Oh and by the way, what's the best way to release ketchup faster from the glass bottle?
Apply a firm tap to the sweet spot on the neck of the bottle— the cicle with "57." Only 11% of people know this secret (from Heinz.com).

What's all this got to do with anything? Playing catch up at the end of the year always reminds me of ketchup, ketchup reminds me it's not made of cats, and Soup is wonderful to have for dinner in cold weather because it can cook all day in a crock pot, allowing you to catch up on all the stuff you've put off till now. See? Full circle.

To catch up with the month is a tough assignment this year. I'm closing my office after thirty years of chiropractic practice on Tucson's southside. Oh, I'll still see patients on occasion--by appointment only, please--but I'm slowing things down to slide into semi-retirement. It's rather depressing to see an empty office. Friday, December 30 is the last open day and we've been moving things out all month. My extra bedroom looks almost ready to be featured in an episode of Hoarders with all the artwork, reference books, shelves, filing cabinets, and furniture we've crammed in there--with more to come with the final haul on Saturday. Plus the usual holiday bustle, company, baking, etc, has me more than a little frazzled.

So thank you for your patience, Dear Readers, and I hope to blog more regularly in the new year. May 2012 be a good one for us all, even if the Mayans are right. (Personally, I think they just ended their calendar on December 21, 2012 because they figured people would know how to extrapolate future dates by then!)

Celebrate safely, responsibly, and enjoy ketchup on some tasty fries!

05 December 2011

As the Light Fails

http://www.crystalinks.com/wintersolstice_fibonlady.jpg
It's the last month of the year and while it's not unusual (Tom Jones' voice is now ringing in my head...) to be busy, I'm frazzled and it's only the fifth. Could use a fifth, but that's another blog.



Is it the waning daylight that makes everyone in the Northern Hemisphere feel so rushed? Less daylight so less time to get things done "in a day." There are still twenty-four hours in one, so you really still have the same amount of actual tick-tocks. Waking at the normal six a.m. feels forced, a chore to drag one's self out of the cozy warm bed while the sun remains below the horizon. Working the nine-to-five, it's dark as you're driving home, wanting to hurry to get into your Snugglie and light the fire logs. In contrast, during the "lazy days" of summer the light lingers and we enjoy our leisure until the last few hours before midnight.

Or is it the media rush with the "End of Year Extravaganza" of sales pitches and "last minute deals"? "Hurry and buy before it's all gone!" We're pushed and prodded earlier each year to skip right to the Holiday Rush. "Black Friday" started the week before Thanksgiving this year. Watch out--next year the stores will likely start the madness on Halloween!

Can't we linger and enjoy the end of the year a little? The Celts celebrated Yule as the end of the shortening of days, knowing each day would hold the light a little bit longer from the winter solstice onward. It's a happy time, knowing the dark won't last forever--though when that alarm goes off at six a.m. and you can't find the bathroom light switch, it certainly seems like it will.

We also pack the last month of each year with BIG expectations. Family gatherings should be Norman Rockwell Perfect even if your biological units definitely put the funk in dysfunctional. The perfect gift alludes us, giving or receiving, and depression rears its ugly visage at this time like no other.

Everything deadlines on the last day of the last month of the year. Paperwork has to be finished, inventories taken, tax receipts and donations documented. Doesn't mean you have to file, mind you, so why get all hyper about it?

Physician, heal thyself, as my friend the EMT is fond of quoting to me. (Yes Rogue, this means you.) I'm as guilty as the next person of getting into a tizzy this time of year. But after this week, after Saturday in fact, my calendar empties out just a bit and I've promised myself not to fill it up. I have an office move to complete, and company coming for the holidays, so I'm cutting back on other things. My house won't be as brightly lit, and I may not have every room decorated, but as long as the furnace works and we have food to eat, who cares? My days will be shared with family and friends--and those trump decor every time.
 
We should slow down, not dive headlong into the blitz. Take a moment to enjoy being with the people you love during the festivities that abound this time of year. Don't fret so much about buying "stuff"--give a gift of your time. It doesn't have to be right now this minute, but give a certificate for an afternoon chat, a matinee movie, a coffee and scones break. Then choose a date and mark it on your calendar and just do it. What memories you make can last a lifetime, far longer than anything that requires batteries.

Pink Floyd (Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour) said it best in their song "Time":
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines ...

Time is the most precious commodity of all. Don't be afraid to use it to create wonderful gifts: happy memories of laughter and stories shared.

Happy Holidays,
~Jude

26 November 2011

On Being Thankful

A bit late for the official Day of Thanksgiving as originally suggested by George Washington in 1793, but I think one should pause and be thankful more often than annually. Keeping a Gratitude Journal is a great exercise in positive thinking: you list five things you are grateful for daily. The list can change of course, but the idea is to focus on the good things in life.

How important is it to have a positive attitude? Some health experts indicate it adds years to one's life. Being in the healthcare profession, I can see how those who are proactive get the best results. Two words that immediately irritate me to the core are "I can't":
"I can't go walking because my husband won't drive me to the mall."
"I can't exercise because it makes me short of breath."
"I can't walk outside because it's too hot, cold, dry, sunny, wet, rainy, windy, still, humid..."

Yes, there are times when one actually cannot do something. But so often is isn't a question of ability as lack of willingness to try.

Let's look at making that list: five things you are thankful for today. What's on mine? Well, I'm grateful my son came home for Thanksgiving and has had a happy week. I'm thankful I can move and exercise and walk to my heart's content. I'm happy to have a means to make a living. I'm thrilled for the rain and the sunshine we've had in the past three days. And I'm grateful for wonderfully encouraging people in my immediate circle of friends.

What's on your list today?

13 November 2011

Cactus Cymry Released!

Cactus Cymry: Influential Wlesh in the Southern Arizona Territory has been released. I received my first shipment of books and they look wonderful!

Opening a box of books you've written is a far different experience than opening a present. The anticipation is one more of expectation than wonder. Yet there's a thrill to see your book in print, to hold it in your hands and smell the ink...it's totally cool.

I have to say that working with Paul Burt and Min Gates of Open Books Press has been a delightful exercise in professionalism. Communication has been open and quite frequent, and I could not ask for faster service. They have assured me that Cactus Cymry will be listed on their homepage as soon as their webmaster can do so, and they've already listed the book on Amazon (though Amazon has yet to upload the book cover) and Barnes & Noble so you can order a copy whenever you're ready.

Friends know how excited I was to initially have my manuscript accepted by Anaphora Literary Press back in August. Unfortunately, the situation devolved into a nightmare of delays and it was a mutual decision to sever the relationship.

This is my first foray into writing nonfiction. It's a collection of biographies of different men either born in Wales or born of Welsh descent who affected life in Southern Arizona prior to statehood in 1912, all part of the research I've done to compose my Dragon & Hawk historical fiction series. Some of them were good men, some were con artists, but all made an impact on the area. There are photos from the Arizona Historical Society, History Raiders, and my own collection scattered throughout the book. It's a short 114 page read, so if you like your history in bite-sized nuggets, this book will be just about perfect.

And of course, it would make a lovely holiday gift for the history buff in the family!

Happy reading!
Jude

06 November 2011

Beauty Around Us

Approaching the ranch and yes, the sky IS really that blue


I had the blessed privilege yesterday to be part of "The Centennial Celebration of the Cowboy" at the historic Empire Ranch near Sonoita, Arizona. Situated amid the rolling grasslands at the feet of the Santa Rita Mountains, this location was used in the movie "Red River" starring John Wayne, and the 70's tv show "High Chaparral". Driving in, the urge to mount up and canter across the flat hit hard. I haven't been on a horse in a decade (at least) but man, you never forget what it feels like to ride in open country.

This is a vanishing way of life in a threatened pristine landscape. Snow dusted the Santa Ritas in the morning like confectioner's sugar. Brisk and cold, the wind held no hint of car exhaust or tar. Alfalfa scented the air when we arrived at the ranch, just to the left of the hill in this photo.

What angers me is the very notion that the Rosemont Minining Corporation of Canada is pushing very hard to build and operate an open pit copper mine just northwest of this ranch. Stripping the mountains down to nothing and poisoning the groundwater with arsenic and other toxic chemicals is only the start of what an open pit copper mine would destroy in this area. There is a petition to stop it, to voice opposition, and if you are a registered voter in Arizona, I urge you to sign it. The "economic boost" this mine would supposedly bring is minimal and transitory at best. We can do better to preserve this land, this lifestyle, this heritage.

Okay, off my soapbox for the moment. The event included mounted Cavalry Troop B who demonstrated with saber and pistol what these Army riders were expected to do. With wind gusts of 40 and 50 mph, it wasn't easy to hit a balloon while riding!
Lots of folks dressed in fancy and not-so-fancy Western duds. The ranch house, which is now uninhabited and in need of restoration, is on the list of National Historic Sites. A silent auction helped raise donations to that cause, with extremely tempting baskets of wine and cowboy gourmet goodies, striking photographic prints, bronze sculptures, jewelry, and more all up for bid. 

Mary Ann Hutchison and her display
Fellow Gecko Gal Ink writer Mary Ann Hutchison and her husband (who made and brought a batch of totally out of this world brownies--yum and thanks, Doug!) joined me and sixteen others in the Authors Pavillion where we writers offered their books for sale, with a portion of our proceeds donated to the Ranch House Fund. We set up early in the morning, completely unused to the chilly temperatures. Thank the stars the Foundation provided good ol' Arbuckles' Cowboy Coffee for free. I must have had eight or ten cups just to warm my hands now and then! Soon an enticing waft of kettle corn popcorn and charcoal wafted over as the food vendors cranked up the grills to offer BBQ beef, beans, hamburgers and other cowboy chow to the hungry masses. There was a good-sized crowd there to partake and listen to Mariachi Apache from Nogales High School, a cowboy balladeer from Sonoita, and a Western band that sounded quite like the Sons of the Pioneers. I learned something from them: Country music is about indoor happenings, Western music is about the outdoors. So "Home on the Range" is a Western song while "Behind Closed Doors" is a Country tune. Hmm, who'da thunk it?

All in all, it was a fabulous day. And yes, I sold some books, which is always the best icing on the cake.
Mary Ann and I at the end of the day. Yee-Haw!
And please, consider signing the petition to Save the Santa Ritas: http://www.scenicsantaritas.org/

30 October 2011

The Slippery Slope

We're on the slippery slope to the end of the year. Just today the cashier at the grocery store reminded me, "Thanksgiving is in just a few weeks." At least she didn't skip straight to Christmas. I've always wondered why retailers want to rush us through to the end of the year. They put Christmas trees up in August--"Don't wait! Get your ornaments now!"

We should savor autumn. Poor East Coast folks got snow already. I remember one Halloween in particular as a child where we slogged through drifts of white in costumes woefully inadequate for cold. Ruined a pair of moccasins that year... In Arizona, we worry that costumes will be too hot. Here we sit at 81 degrees--not favorable for Darth Vader or hairy monster outfits. I dressed my son as a skunk when he was three (wish I had a photo scanned, have to dig one out of the old album) and we had to make sure the black part wasn't fake fur but a thin knit so he wouldn't overheat.

What I recall about autumn in the East is the aroma of the leaves. Brilliant red maples, orange oaks, yellow birches--when they fell and began their transformation into rich compost, the tart and earthy smell perfumed the whole region. The scent of fallen leaves immediately brings a memory of apple cider and white powdered donuts, for that was what the volunteer fire departments served at their costume parties for the children. Each little town had their own, and it seems to me they staggered them to allow the kids to attend every one--and they all had apple cider with donuts.  Going to those little parties was one of the treats of growing up in a rural/small town area. We didn't have neighbors close enough to walk door to door to trick or treat so Mom would drive us to one of the small towns and/or the firehouse. And everyone knew who everyone was: you knew Old Lady Smith gave homemade popcorn balls, the Hendersons made the caramel apples, and the Riches handed out full-sized Hershey bars. Homemade treats were the norm; it was an idyllic time, long before anyone had heard of child predators, sickos with razor blades, or product tampering.

And no one pitched a fit about what Halloween meant. If you had a problem with it, you shut off your porch lights and no one bothered you. Do some historical research, which includes the traditions of the ancient Romans, Picts, Celts, and Druids who celebrated the harvest, the culmination of the growing season/farming year at Samhain, and recognized the beginning of the fallow season of winter. If you want to read an excellent explanation of the holiday, check out Lette's Chat .

All in all, we should savor the days before Thanksgiving. Celebrate All Soul's Day, El Dia de Los Muertos, Gay Fawkes Day, and Veteran's Day. Breathe deep, enjoy the scents of pumpkin and leaves. Stroll in the morning chill, lift your face to the fading sun, and relish the warmth of the fireplace or bed of blankets. The end of another year is close. Enjoy what's left.

17 October 2011

Interviewi: Author Rosemary Gemmell

This week we're heading across The Pond and featuring an interview with Scotland's Regency novelist Rosemary Gemmell (aka Romy or Ros). Her first novel, Dangerous Deceit, is a delightful foray into the life of Lydia Hetherington, a young woman chafing at the social restrictions of her time and hoping to avoid not only the arranged marriage her family has proposed for her, but the institution altogether if she can. I liked her feisty attitude and I loved the way Ms. Gemmell added so many wonderful details to bring Lydia's story to life. This is a fun journey into the days of Jane Austen and Beau Brummell, with a dash of Naopleonic espionage to give the romance a definite kick! I highly recommend this novel for everyone who loves stepping into the Austen universe.
[Purchasing information is at the end of the interview.]

   So, Romy, what is it about writing history that intrigues you?
 Part of my interest comes from reading historical novels and the Classics when younger, and being transported into a completely different life and era. Our contemporary world is so fast-paced and technological that it’s difficult to keep up! Writing about history allows me to step back and create scenarios and characters from a different perspective. Of course, we can never fully understand another time but writing about it means we can interpret events in a fictional way.  

How involving is research for you? And do you research before you begin, or as you write?
 I studied history as part of my university degrees, covering European history of the 16th century, 18th/19th century, Victorian, First World War and Second World War, plus the culture and society between both wars. Being an ardent fan of Georgette Heyer, who wrote Georgian and Regency fiction, and Jane Austen, who was actually living and writing at the time, I chose the Regency for my first historical novel as I already had good background knowledge of that period. I also subscribed to the Jane Austen Regency World Magazine from the second issue many years ago and absorbed much of the finer detail from those articles, as well as specific history books I own. I’ve used some of the other studied periods in short stories and I’m hoping to set a few novels in different eras.

Unlike a lot of writers, I get bored if I try to research too much before I begin, although it’s important I have a grasp of the particular background period. But I write historical romance, rather than straight historical fiction, and I’m a character-led writer. So I prefer to get the story started, let the characters play until I see where they’re going, then I fill in any research gaps as and when needed. Otherwise, I’d never get started! One thing I did learn the hard way is never to assume I know more than I do – that’s partly laziness on my part. I am now very careful to double check any facts.

2)      Short story versus novel: which do you find most satisfying to create?
Good question! For many years, I only wrote short stories (and articles), getting many of them published in magazines. I always had ideas for novels, and started a few, but lacked the self-discipline for full length writing. I love the immediacy of short pieces and even enjoy the shorter flash fiction. However, the urge to write full length became stronger and I joined the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer Scheme (for unpublished novelists). That allowed me to send a complete novel for a professional in-depth report between January and the end of August some years ago. It was the incentive I needed as the deadline kept me more focused. That first novel was finally published as Dangerous Deceit. The novel I entered the following year is now seeking an agent.

I guess I get equal satisfaction from creating any piece of fiction now, but I still have to fight that slight lack of application for finishing novels, whereas I have no trouble writing short stories.

Your Regency novel, Dangerous Deceit, involves possible intrigue during the Regency era. Which historical figures of that era are a) most fascinating and b) most frustrating to write about?
For many years, I was fascinated by Lord Byron as a poet and a Regency figure as he seemed to court controversy wherever he went, much of it scandalous. Since I’d already written an article about him, I decided he must have a small scene in Dangerous Deceit! I’m also fascinated by the Shelleys and Beau Brummell, so they might figure in a story one day. The most frustrating historical figure was the Prince Regent and I only to refer to ‘Prinny’ in passing. By all accounts, he was decadent and a complete wastrel, although he was also cultured and a patron of the arts.

What one lesson in your writing journey do you wish someone had warned you about? Or was the lesson one of those experiences that only made you stronger?
I do wish I’d known how much dedication is needed to make a success of being a writer! I think I played at it for too many years, writing and publishing a short story or article now and then, never giving my writing the priority it needed. But to be a novelist definitely needs far more application to keep going. It’s also more difficult because I’m a butterfly writer, enjoying the variety of flitting from one type of writing to another, hence the slightly different forms of my first name. But I’m trying to be more focused now!

Where in Scotland would you send someone who only had one day to get a true feel for your homeland?
Being born and bred in the west of Scotland, it would have to be Glasgow and Loch Lomond. Although Edinburgh is the capital (situated to the east), and certainly worth a visit, Glasgow is a very friendly city, with the most wonderful Victorian (and older) architecture. Wandering through the city centre often introduces visitors to the unique Glasgow humour and patter. Taking an open-top bus tour out to the university area gives a good sense of our historical pride – the University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the 4th oldest university in the English speaking world.

Loch Lomond is easily reached from Glasgow yet it’s a thousand miles away from city life. This area encapsulates the magnificence of the Scottish landscape, with the largest freshwater loch in Britain, bordered by some of our highest mountains, including Ben Lomond, one of the famous 283 Munros, mountains over 3,000 feet. It must be one of the beautiful and romantic spots in Scotland, and yes, it is featuring in my mainstream novel!

More about Rosemary Gemmell
Based in the west coast of Scotland, Rosemary Gemmell has been happily married for 36 years, with a grown-up son and daughter. She has been a student nurse, a business travel consultant, an education/business liaison officer, a mature student, an adult literacy tutor, and has dabbled in various other part-time work. She much prefers being a writer! Rosemary’s first novel (as Romy), Dangerous Deceit, (historical romance and intrigue set in Regency England) was published by Champagne Books in Canada in May 2011. Her first Tween novel, Summer of the Eagles, which is set in Scotland, is being published by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada in March 2012 (as Ros).
Her short stories and articles are published in UK magazines, in the US, and Online, and her children’s stories are in three different anthologies. One of her short stories was included in the fundraising book, ‘100 Stories for Haiti’ in 2010. A historical short story was published in ‘The Waterloo Collection’, launched by the late professor Richard Holmes in April 2011. As a fun experiment, Rosemary has published a kindle short story collection of eight previously published stories, ‘Reshaping the Past’. She has won a few competitions and will be a short story adjudicator at the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in March 2012.

Dangerous Deceit is available in kindle version from www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com and all other e-book versions from www.smashwords.com
The print version (and e-book) is available from http://champagnebooks.com
You can find Rosemary at:
Romancing History Blog: http://romygemmell.blogspot.com
Reading and Writing Blog: http://ros-readingandwriting.blogspot.com 
Flights of Imagination Blog: http://rosgemmell.blogspot.com
Twitter: @rosemarygemmell


06 October 2011

Keeping Up with Keeping On

Have you ever wondered where the day goes? You think you're keeping up with all the little chores and suddenly, WHAM! There's a great big something you forgot about. Or you don't remember for two days that you were supposed to attend a certain business luncheon, or register for a seminar.

My dad's mother used to say, "I'm so busy all day and when I go to bed, I don't know anything I've done." I used to think she was ditzy. Sorry, Nana Opie. You weren't ditzy, you just had more input going in than registering. Now I know what you meant!

Maybe you have the same tendency...thinking you can schedule this group or that meeting in a sandwich with real life bracketing the ends. I'm finding myself overwhelmed at times trying to keep up with keeping on. Something has to go and I think the first has to be me saying, "Okay, I can do that." Because honestly, I can't. Not all of it.

I hate those words: "I can't." They whine like a petulant child. Which is probably why I usually respond to requests for my participation in something with, "I'll give it a shot." But when you find yourself scrambling to schedule twenty minutes to visit a sick friend, maybe it's time to back off and practice saying, "No." While that still sounds better than "Waaa, I can't", I find it difficult to say. But I need to, for my own sanity and quality of time with commitments I've made already.

How about you? Do you meet yourself coming down the road, or wake up in the middle of the night when you remember you missed that class you wanted to attend? Don't feel alone. I'd say join me for a cup of coffee and we'll talk about it, but I don't think I can manage it this week. ;-)

27 September 2011

Festival Fun

Original Festival poster created by Lorin Morgan-Richards
The 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod - Festival of Welsh Arts is over. It was three days of concerts, competition, booth manning, and hobnobbing with fellow Cymru-philes.

The best thing about festivals is the relaxed atmosphere. Everyone is there to have fun, look at everything, and eat. Delicious Welsh food abounded, from Welshcakes (little pancake-like sweets) to fish & chips to lamb cawl (stew) and curry. Generally, folks go walk around first, see what is for sale, what might be for free, and what they can afford. Welsh corgis paraded through the grounds, gorgeous little dwarf dogs (that's what "cor gi" means in Welsh) full of confidence five times their size. A giant Ddraig Goch strolled through now and then, his handler warning festival goers to mind their sheep and children, though I only saw him bite a couple of heads (including mine). A Pirate Bar sold mead, ale, and wine. Sir Nathan's Red Dragon Lemonade Stand provided the delicious beverage and shaved ices. Nathan is one incredible young man, and I am honored to have met him. His stand raises money for children like himself diagnosed with cancer: http://www.alexslemonade.org/mypage/73333.
Wishing you all good things, Nathan!


Tile and promo materials for "Cactus Cymry"
I saw some gorgeous artwork and shirts by Jan Delyth, Celtic knotwork at a number of booths, and beautiful ceramic tiles by Illite-ful Images. Check out the incredible Celtic knot designs and other works of beauty on their site. They created a customized tile for my nonfiction book due to be released this fall by Anaphora Literary Press. --->

But the best thing about festivals such as this one is the interaction with talented and creative people. I met a wonderful storyteller named Peter Freeman, the aforementioned Jan Delyth, and "The Voice of Welsh Rugby" Paul Child. Finally coming face to face with people you've only chatted with online or emailed is a delicious experience: you already know each other so it's like a homecoming. BBC producer and author Jon Gower and I have emailed one another for seven-plus years and finally met during Saturday's lectures. Americymru folks Ceri Shaw and Gaabriel Becket, Lorin Morgan-Richards, Swansea Jack, Tarw Lloyd, Margo Lloyd Beckham (married to David, but no not that one lol), and the effervescent Mona Everett made those  "okay I'm here now what" awkward moments evaporate with smiles of recognition.


Rae, Jude & Lety and a poster for "That silly Dolphin movie."
Even better is attending a festival with dear friends who are game for standing in line for hours to watch Craig Ferguson's show taping [where Morgan Freeman made fun of his "Dolphin Tale" movie and we got to see Gerard Butler in real life], throw impromptu poolside wine parties, find cheap Hollywood home tours, and share The Best Cosmic Gnocchi Ever. My "minions"-- Rae and Lety--hauled books, set up, packed, tolerated plane delays, and shared laughs all weekend long.  And now that I have blackmail material...ahem. You guys are the best. Seriously.

These are the times that nourish an author's soul. Thanks, everyone.


P.S. If you'd like to see an album of photos, here you go: Jude's 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod Album.

18 September 2011

Finding Encouragement

"Do you ever feel already buried deep? Six feet under, screams, but no one seems to hear a thing?"
 ~ Katy Perry, Firework

Some days I swear I'm Clara Peller in that old "Where's the Beef?" commercial: "I don't think there's anybody back there." Announcements, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, trailers, tweets---sometimes you honestly have to wonder if it's worth all the time invested when you don't get feedback.

"Where's the Beef? I don't think there's anybody back there..."
That's when a live event can really boost your spirits. Interacting the Old Fashioned Way: face to face. Sales can be good, great, or flat, but chatting with folks can bring all sorts of inspiration. Especially the folks who march to their own different music. I'm amazed at the variety abounding in the human race.

Example: Yesterday I participated in the TAWN Fall Fest with two other Gecko Gals Ink authors. I took it as a good sign when I sold a set of my three novels while I was still setting up. There were young, old, singles, couples, and families. Some had incredibly detailed tattoo work, some had piercings all over. There were old, young, and middles. One amazingly intelligent man stopped by to chat. At first look, most would have pegged him as a rough and worn biker dude maybe battling drug addiction. But no, he's a professor of ancient history and world religions who has lived in Southeast Asia for a few decades helping Habitat for Humanity. An extremely articulate man, I would like to sit in on a few of his lectures, listen to what he's seen and observed of different cultures. He enthused about how the common themes in world religions could be traced to the ancient Persians, and it started me thinking about what a great character he would make in a story.

I saw a colleague I hadn't seen in probably twenty years and we chatted amiably, catching up. Then I went to check out one of the other vendors, a wonderful local custom tile designer who had many Celtic symbols and sayings on colorful tiles of all shapes and sizes. I had purchased a few of her tiles before to donate to raffles for the Welsh League and for gifts. Don't we get to chatting and she mentions she will also be at the 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod in Los Angeles this coming weekend? We were both quite excited and have decided to collaborate on some custom designs that she will bring to LA. I'll add some to goodie bags for folks who purchase my series set. Win-win!

I came away feeling energized and reaffirmed. Yes I sold a few books, which was great, but the recharging effect also came from interaction with other human beings.

Sure I'll continue my involvement with social media. You have to these days. But real interaction sure beats Tweets.

10 September 2011

Saturation month

I didn't plan this well. I didn't plan it at all.  But September is one packed month!

Starting tomorrow it's my giveaway week on The Writers Vineyard, and here's what you can win:

1). Be the first person to answer the trivia question correctly and win a print copy of Dragon & Hawk.

2)  Be the second person to answer the trivia question correctly and you'll win a little goodie bag of surprises.

* [Unfortunately, these first two prizes are limited to the US & Canada due to postage rates, sorry.]

3). Click to "Follow" The Writers Vineyard blog and you'll be entered for a drawing to receive a free PDF of my short historical fantasy, Within The Mists.


Also starting Monday, September 12th I will have seven consecutive days of interviews on Novelspot's Behind the Scenes blog about my experiences becoming a writer--the ups, downs, twists, and serendipity that have brought me to this point. It hasn't been an easy ride.

There are a number of Champagne Authors interviewed so far on Behind The Scenes --such as Carol Costa, Ashley Barnard, Linda LaRoque and many wonderful others-- so please check out their journeys as well. And feel free to email me with feedback. My email's in the upper right corner. Or send me a Tweet or a Facebook comment.

And then there are the events: Saturday September 17th I'll be with Carol Costa at TAWN Fall Fest at the UU Church of Tucson, 4831 East 22nd Street (just east of Swan), from 9AM until 7PM.

Friday, September 23 through Sunday September 25 I'll be in Los Angeles at the 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod, a Festival of all things Welsh at the Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California. This promises to be an incredible event, with concerts Friday night involving Paul Child (The Voice of Welsh Rugby) and the Tom Jones tribute band, Sexbomb. All outdoor events on Saturday and Sunday are free, and I'll be speaking /reading on Sunday at 2PM so if you're in LA come on down!

04 September 2011

Contest at The Writers Vineyard


Starting Monday, September 5, the Champagne Authors of The Writers Vineyard will celebrate the blog's Fourth Anniversary with a huge Giveaway Contest! This is your chance to check out some of the coolest books available, from sci-fi and fantasy to action and intrigue to historical romance:


Contest! To celebrate our fourth year, the authors at The Writers' Vineyard are holding a Mega contest to give away over twenty of their top rated novels. From Sept 5 through Nov 28, we will be holding a drawing once a week. The Monday post at TheWritersVineyard.com will announce which book is being given for that week, the rules, and who won from the previous week. Come join us. Lots of ways to win, and while you're there, scan through our posts. We discuss the good, bad, and ugly of writing and the publishing experience.

All you have to do is check out the blog. Some of the giveaways will involve answering a trivia question from an author's website, some will only entail clicking on the "Follow" button, but each week will be a different challenge with a different prize from each author.  Print copies as well as ebooks will be awarded so check it out starting Monday.

My week starts September 12th when visitors to the blog can win either a print copy of my historical Welsh Western ("Welsh-tern"?) Dragon & Hawk,  an ebook of my short historical fantasy, Within The Mists, or even a wee grab bag o' goodies.

30 August 2011

Nine Things...

I received this email from a friend this morning: 
9 Things That Will Disappear In Our Lifetime

Interesting to note...Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them. But, ready or not, here they come...
 1. The Post Office
Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term.  Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.
2. The Check
 It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.
3. The Newspaper
The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. 
4. The Book
You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.

5. The Land Line Telephone
Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they've always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.
6. Music
This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it.  To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."
7. Television
Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. 
8. The "Things" That You Own
Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services." If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider.

9. Privacy
If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone. It's been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7, "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. "They" will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again.
****
My first reaction to this is "how depressing." But I disagree with the majority of the claims here. I have no idea who wrote it, an author is not named in the email as it's one of those forwarded forwards.
1. The Post Office will change, drastically, but it will not disappear. Delivery will be cut but the government uses the USPS on the cheap and cannot afford Fed Ex.
2. The check may actually be discouraged, yes. And now Wells Fargo has announced they will charge its customers a fee every time they use their plastic debit card. They're going to gouge you every bit they can for you to use their machines. The alternative? Cash. (Which will tie in with number Nine...)
3. The paper-print newspaper will indeed probably be greatly reduced. Already USA Today has cut back on the number of copies distributed to stores and a good many venerable papers have closed their doors after more than a century in business. But will everything go digital? I'm not so sure. 
4. The Book. NO NO NO NO NO. Call me old fashioned but I firmly believe in real books and their permanence in society. Digital readers are handy, yes, but how long will they last into posterity? Books have survived since the Egyptians used papyrus, and anything truly worth saving will be put into print as well as electronic formats. Cost will be a publisher's deciding factor so in the future you won't see crap like Snooki's in print, but is that really such a bad thing?
5. The Land Line. Cell phones don't work everywhere, especially in the rugged mountain ranges along Arizona's border with Mexico. Land line phones are more reliable and we went ahead and reinstalled one in our house since Verizon thinks everywhere other than the fourth tile left of the refrigerator is a dead zone.
6. Music. Are you kidding me? Music is exploding into independence! People can put out their own videos on YouTube and make their own CDs. Artists will always find a way to share music. What hogwash to say music will disappear! Pah.
7. Television Change does not mean disappearance. People will still have televisions, networks will still show crappy shows and sporting events. Not everyone on the planet owns a computer, iPad, or smartphone.
8. Owning "Things" This is pure unadulterated fertilizer. Again, not everyone owns a computer, nor do they want to store things in "the cloud" that can evaporate at the first blackout of the electric grid. I would never store precious photos other than on CD or hard copies I have in my immediate possession. In my opinion, anyone who relies totally on "The Cloud" has their head up there too.
9. Privacy Yes there is less of it, but you can safeguard what you have left. CASH MONEY works wonderfully to keep corporate America from tracing your every purchase. You don't have to do everything on a computer. Don't get a smart phone or a GPS if you don't want to be automatically tracked. Don't use plastic for everything. You don't have to make it easy for "Them." 

I may be an old bat and you can call me stuck in the past, but I firmly believe that at some point in the future all the electronics we are encouraged to rely on so heavily will crash. Maybe when the electronic grid crashes, or some wild sunspot activity will throw an electromagnetic pulse out there to screw it all up. Call me crazy but I'll stick with my real books, cash, and stupid phone.

16 August 2011

Odious August

I hate August. There is nothing redeeming about the month. No matter where you go in North America, it's hot, sticky, slimy, humid nastiness. While Arizona doesn'tt have as many flying insects as back East, the ones we do have come out in August.



August truly is a psychological hurdle for me in the same way some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder--the lack of sunlight causes depression for them. This month does the same thing for me.

As a child, August meant impending doom: the start of school. You spend the entire month girding your loins for battle. Shopping for material to make new clothes (store-boughts were too expensive and never fit Hobbits like me anyway), buying new shoes and sneakers for gym class, finding out who your teachers would be. (Eww, you got Mr. Greasy Hair for math? Nooooo!)

August meant baling hay at its worst. The chaff would stick to your already sweaty skin with the first step into the field. Every little bit of dust hung in the air, clogged your nose, burned your throat. Then the bugs would come in hordes, mosquitoes and deer lfies the size of Stealth bombers, leaving huge welts wherever they bit.

The good things in August had begun in July: fresh watermelon and sweet corn, swimming at the lake. But now they were foreshadowed with the clouds of portent. Mr. Greasy Hair would make you suffer for what your sister pulled in his class last year...

August's final hurrah was the start of the Fair season. Friends showed their livestock or maybe you had entered something in the crafts competition at various country fairs or small town events. The Fair started the last few days of the month and always ran through Labor Day, the first Monday of September. Candied apples, fresh pulled taffy, Ferris Wheels and Tilt-a-Whirl rides, the smell of roasted peanuts and the carnival barkers hoping to garner your nickels and quarters. Politicians started their campaign stumping: the Republicans and Democrats at opposite ends of the walkway between the exhibition hall and the midway of rides and games. They all sounded the same to me: promises, promises, shrill and desperate. Nothing's changed as far as that's concerned.

Still, there was a bittersweet tinge to the Fair. School would start the day after it ended and already the social strata system was in full evidence. Cheerleaders with football players, greasers with other "bad" kids, the nerds and socially awkward: layers never truly mixed. You were forced to in school; invisible barriers kept you apart everywhere else.

Now August is still sticky and humid, but I no longer go to fairs. Besides, the Arizona State Fair isn't until November and the Pima County Fair is in the spring.

Someday I hope to go to Australia. I think I'll plan to go for the entire month of August. Yeah! Now, to win that lottery...

07 August 2011

Procrastination Isn't Evil...

Procrastination can be the bane of writers, true enough. And yes, I am delaying the finish and submission of my nonfiction mss at the moment. But one thing we have to realize is that sometimes it pays to put things off for just a bit.

I've had a lovely unscheduled, unscripted morning with a dear friend. We had a lovely light breakfast (yogurt & granola, thank you), went on to a nearby Farmers' Market to get chilies for salsa making, and came back to my house to watch a couple of new episodes of Torchwood. Got to totally relax, revive, and reset. Now I'm ready to tackle the last bit of that Manuscript with energy. Yes!

What recharges your batteries, and do you ever feel guilty about it?

01 August 2011

Off the Radar

I'm off the feds' radar. Yep, I'm underground, off the charts, nonexistent in the computer files.

I found out I have no credit score.

An interesting phenomenon amidst the national debt debacle is the discovery that the determination and ideal to pay all your bills is now considered bad. You are "rewarded" with a high credit score if you amass loads of debt and keep up the the payments. You are punished with a bad credit score if you amass loads of debt and are late or default on the payments. But here's the kick: You are punished by having no credit rating at all if you pay every one of your creditors in full and stay out of debt for more than seven years.



Why is this a big deal? Credit ratings are what banks and lending institutions use to decide if you are worthy of a car loan, a house mortgage, a business loan, and other loans. If you pay them all off, these institutions make no money from you because you aren't paying their interest rates. I've learned that my car insurance company charges me a higher premium because I have no credit score. They punish me with a higher rate for paying my premiums in full every six months as well. Uh, isn't that backwards?

This same insurance company also recently denied coverage to an author friend for house insurance because... he writes a blog and someone might read his blog and may do some nefarious thing he suggests (like take a walk through Sabino Canyon), twist their ankle and then might decide it's all his fault and maybe sue him. Therefore "Flo" (who isn't very progressive at all) totally refused to underwrite a house insurance policy for him.

If you're scratching your head and saying, "What the hay?" you aren't alone. I'm thinking their lawyers were smoking hookah when they wrote that clause, or maybe the agent had funny mushrooms for lunch. Do you mean to tell me they would refuse a policy to Stephen King or Nora Roberts because they blog? That's just silly.

Some credit card companies charge a fee if you pay your entire balance each month. Needless to say, I made sure to shop around and get one that not only doesn't do that, they don't charge an annual fee just to have the damn thing to begin with. 

What is up with the "debt is good" notion? Whatever happened to the ideal of financial responsibility? Did you know that the main selling point for life insurance is that it might pay "most" of the debts you leave your loved ones when you're gone?

It takes discipline to resist impulse buying, to choose not to buy into the media hype of purchasing a new everything every few years. If the cash isn't in the pocket, the purchase can wait most of the time. It's called "Living Within Your Means." And what the Establishment doesn't want you to know is that it's doable. Honest.

No, it isn't easy to run under the radar. But I feel rather subversive, a little rebellious in not having a credit score. Like, I'm underground, man. 

23 July 2011

As the Hippo Wallows

There comes a time in everyone's life when mortality slaps you in the face. Either you face a health crisis yourself or a family member does, or you have a milestone birthday. Perhaps it is the death of a parent or an older friend. In any case, you start thinking about how you would prefer to die.

No, I'm not ill and no one in my immediate family is ill, either. But I've been fat for too long and I'm now rolling down the hill from fifty-three. I don't want to be decrepit when I'm seventy--the way things are going, I might get to retire about then and I want to travel. And you can't go walkabout in the Outback if you can't make it up a flight of stairs.

So I have started Crossfit workouts. This morning was the end of my first full week. The first day was an introduction to see what I can and can't do. Oh. Mah. Gawd. I am a slug. The trainer, Jenna, is encouraging and understanding and firm. I am so grateful she doesn't bark at me like a drill sergeant. I've been to gyms like that and you know what? I'm too old for that crap. You yell in my face and I'm taking my fat-ass money back home, buddy. 

Anyway, Intro Day involved these things Jenna calls 'burpees." I call them "Knee Surgeon Cash Cows." You crouch down, lay out, do a push up, crouch your feet under you, then jump up into a jumping jack. Piece of cake...no no no.  I promise to never, ever, ever eat any kind of cake again if you eliminate burpees from my workouts as long as my lungs draw breath. My anterior quadriceps-- the muscles down the front center of the thighs--screamed for three days and my surgically enhanced left knee kicked my butt. It wasn't Jenna's fault--pride goeth before a fat girl's knee giveth out. I could barely walk the next morning.

But I still showed up for class the day after. I'm going to get thinner and fitter if it kills me. At least I'll look better when they go to cremate me. Saturday wasn't too bad. Lots of squats and weights. And instead of burpees I did pull ups. Yeah, I can handle that.

Tuesday and Thursday I'm thinking, yeah, getting better. I can do this!

Then this morning I arrived to see a couple of real crossfit enthusiasts in the class. Oh crap. And first thing announced is we're going to run to start warm ups.

Running and I have never been friends. I've always had large mammary glands and when you get fat and old, they get fat and keep your stomach warm. When you run, they blacken your eyes and bruise your knees. And that's if you have a really supportive running bra, which of course I don't.

I trotted out behind everyone and race-walked. Pride? Pah! Down the toilet. I arrived back about five minutes later than the group and jumped right into the rest of the warm up. At least now I can do the thirty sit-ups without rolling off to one side and the lunge walks are cool.

The Workout of the Day was a progressive shoulder/chest/core muscle usage consisting of pull-ups and Handstand Push-ups. Yes, handstand push ups. You bend over and put your big fat butt in the air, prop your feet up the wall, touch your head to the floor, and push up.

"HA HA HA HA HA," the old fat woman (that would be me) laughed nervously.

"No problem," Jenna offers, "we're going to modify these for you." Luckily there was another beginner in the class today, so she and I tried doing these things with our feet on the jump-up boxes, which are about thirty inches tall. What's sad is that's waist high for me...


oh hell no, I did not look like this.
Anyway, I'm game. I'm going to get fit! The workout is to do 21 of each exercise, then 18, then 15, then 12, then 9, then 6, then 3 and try to finish within twenty minutes. I did it. I grunted and sweated and shook but by gum, I finished the whole workout in eighteen minutes and some seconds. Had to resort to regular bent knee pushups instead of the handstand ones for the last three sets, and when I got off that box I looked like a hippo rolling off a muddy log, but I did 'em.

My shoulders feel like jelly. But hey my quads don't hurt!

I'm doing this for a month. If I survive and decide I like it, I'll do another month. Just don't make me do those damn burpees...

11 July 2011

Slogging

Have you ever felt like you're slogging though quicksand as you write? Every word is extracted from your brain like an impacted wisdom tooth, grinding, tugging, yanking, and jerking its way onto the page. That's when I think that perhaps now is time for a break, be it a hike or a trip to the dollar store or even a mindless foray into TV Land.

Then the guilt slithers in on greasy ooze. "You procrastinator! Sleezeball! You need to get this manuscript finished! How dare you allow yourself to be distracted by John Barrowman and Torchwood!" 

So I return to slog through another four or five pages of uninspired wordage, hoping that when I finish and go back over it, new insight will spark and revise it into masterful prose.

Garbage. I seem to be spewing garbage onto the page. But I know that eventually, I'll run out of crap and something decent will emerge. But the discipline to keep plodding on is elusive. I think I'll just go to bed and hope sleep will recharge the batteries for my muse.

Or do I simply need to repeatedly sing Oscar's theme song, "I Love Trash?"

02 July 2011

Within The Mists about to be released!

My new e-short story set during the Napoleonic Wars, Within The Mists, will be released on July 4th! It is the tale of Lt. Edward Putney, an arrogant officer in Nelson's Navy, and the lovely selchie who rescues him when he is blown overboard during a ferocious storm:

An excerpt

He muttered to himself when she had gone. “Nonsense. None of this is real.”

“That’s what you humans always say.” The faerie perched on the window sill. “You’d rather believe a fancy and call it a faerie story.”

“How did you get here?”

“Window’s open.” She leapt down and sat cross-legged on the end of the bed. “Now let’s give you a simple first lesson, shall we? My name is Mab. Queen of the Faeries. The person who saved your disbelieving hide is Sioned—say, ‘Shaw-ned.’ This is her cottage. She’s a selchie.”

He frowned. “She’s a what?”

She squinted at him. “You are more ignorant than the average seaman, aren’t you?”

“I beg your pardon! I’ve had an extensive education—”

“In all that counts for nothing!” She pointed a sharp finger at his nose. “Now be quiet and listen. A selchie is a human on land and a seal in the sea. Some say they can see the future. Females are especially good at reading hearts and intentions. The males may wreak havoc and summon storms.” Mab smoothed her tunic around her knees. “All sorts of magic folk live on this island to stay safe from humans. Your kind destroyed our homes in the woodlands and desecrated the stone circles, so this is the only place we have left. It is a world of its own hidden in fog. Twice in our year, the mists part and a door opens to the human world—on the equinox at spring and autumn. You arrived here on the spring equinox.”

He stared at her.  She gestured with an open palm. “Come, come. Arrived on the spring equinox, so—?”

His heart flipped in his chest. “I can’t return to the human world until the autumn equinox?”

Mab clapped her hands and flew to the window sill. “Very good! You should get a treat for being so quick! I’ll have to remember to bring you one later.”

She flew away.

Edward sat very still, thinking. Then he carefully got to his feet to search for his clothes.

Within The Mists will be available from Champagne Books on July 4, 2011!

25 June 2011

Keeping Up

Lordy, law! More than a week has passed since my last post...I've been a Baaad Blogger!

Time is so liquid. It oozes by on lazy summer days then gushes past, sweeping you into a new month and all too soon, a new season. I can work on writing, absorbed in crafting just the right expression and suddenly four hours have evaporated. Why can't we just move the hands on the clock back? Probably because all the clocks have gone digital!

Absorbed into writing...immersed under the surface of a different lake of time. I've been in the nineteenth century these past ten days, composing a nonfiction compilation of my research for Dragon & Hawk. Putting the Welsh movers and shakers of the Southern Arizona Territory into one book for a bit of a reference guide is quite a challenge, my first nonfiction work for possible publication. There is a small niche market for this, namely those of Welsh heritage who may be interested in how many of their compatriots made significant differences in the Old West.

But writing the tales of these folks sets me back. I have no idea of what's gone on this week in the news, nor do I care. (Well, I do care, just not at the moment.) I get obsessed with getting this finished, setting all the words on paper, getting the resources noted and credited correctly. To footnote, or not to footnote, that is now the question. Whether tis distracting to check the bottom of the page for a numbered resource or flip to the back of the book. Lately the trend heavily leans to no numbers at all, just marking the quote and source at the end.

So consider this post an advisory: if you don't hear from me for a few weeks, don't panic. Check Facebook, I may post a "I'm still alive" status, but otherwise I'm diving in and diving deep. I want to get this manuscript finished.

Have fun everyone!

~Jude

16 June 2011

Joys of Summer

Summer officially begins on Tuesday but everyone knows the season starts with the crack of a wooden bat connecting with the red-stitched hardball.  Heat has nothing to do with it, not here where the desert can start shimmering as early as the Ides of March. No, summer is an attitude, the smell of freshly mowed grass, the sound of sprinklers shh-shh-shushing and cicadas buzzing in the trees.

Ah, those Little League days...
Summer is baseball--the more unprofessional, the better. Little Leaguers squealing with excitement when they hit the ball past an infielder, jumping up and down when a teammate crosses home plate, or best off all, standing out in right field watching a butterfly flit over the fence while the game goes on beyond their reach. Even in defeat, the resiliency of acceptance comes with juice boxes and cupcakes.

Now the older boys play as the sun sets and the temperature drops into the range of comfortable. The rich green of the outfield against amethyst mountains, a lone green umbrella of a tree just beyond the right field dugout, the hum of the lights slowly growing brighter all mix with bird and boy whistles and the scent of disturbed dirt in a summertime memory cocktail. These days will flit over the fence all too soon as well, until the next generation picks up a ball.

For now, I'm savoring these evening outings. Yes, the intensity is quite different; losses are no longer easily soothed over with ice cream. But the music plays on: a classic melody of children laughing, mothers cheering, girls giggling, and fathers yelling encouragement while the boys of summer pound out the beat with bats, balls, and gloves against the dirt. 

So chill that watermelon and pack the cooler with bottles of Gatorade. The rhythm of the season is in full swing.