Oops. Pardon my mug.

If obliviousness were a respected skill, by now someone would have awarded me an honorary doctorate in it.

Walking along the hallway of the home where I’ve lived for a decade. Stop in surprise. “Hey, how long has that wall sconce been there?”

I’ve spent most of my life living almost exclusively inside my head, so I am proud of my recent accomplishments. Nowadays, each day I experience the outside world, for many minutes at a time. (The minutes are not consecutive. But still.)

Several decades ago, a friend gave me a mug for Christmas. It was covered in cat drawings. (Drawings of cats, not by cats.) I was surprised, because that friend was not known for kitschy or cutesy. I glanced at one frolicking cat on the mug, forced a smile, thanked my friend, set it aside.

The mug sat in a cupboard for ages, until I came to appreciate the camp value of having a cat mug. I began to drink my public coffee in that mug. I carried the mug with me around offices, into meetings, probably even as a volunteer in my kids’ classrooms. It turned out to be a hell of a sturdy mug. All those years, all those trips out in the world, hardly a chip to be seen.

Only very recently, washing the mug, I realized.

Those cats aren’t frolicking. They’re having an orgy.

I can’t tell you how many people noticed. My obliviousness extended to other people’s reactions to my dirty cat mug.

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Ready for More Frame Travel?

I’ve just added another story to the Short Fiction menu of this blog. Boredom Fighter is a FRAMES story. It shares the narrator and worlds of that series of novels. However, Boredom Fighter is stand-alone (and turned out funnier than the novels). You don’t need to read the novels to understand or enjoy it.

Chronologically, Boredom Fighter comes after the first two FRAMES novels. So the order is:
Nica of Los Angeles
Nica of the New Yorks
Boredom Fighter
… several more stories
… two more novels.

At least 3 more stand-alone FRAMES stories are in the works*. I’ll probably finish those before I complete the remaining two novels in the series.

* That is, in my head and on various scribbled notes. With a bit of effort, one can even compose an iphone note as though it were scribbled.

Flash and Other Short Fiction: Git Some Here!

Lots of creative peaks for me these days. I’m writing daily, with results I’m excited and proud to share. I’m getting into drawing – and cartooning – and some of those pieces may see daylight soon.

I love the creating and I love the sharing of it.

But. Every day I wake up less enthused about marketing and promotion. As long-time blog followers can testify, these have always been sticking points, so by now my enthusiasm is in minus territory.

Until now, I haven’t minded the formatting demands of self-publishing. The list-making, i-dotting, t-crossing parts of me have enjoyed it, sometimes.

However, given my current creative spurt, I am way way behind in making my work available as ebooks or print-on-demand volumes and I don’t expect the situation to change any time soon.

And yet. I want people to read my writing. So. I’m going to post more of it here.

The Short Fiction menu atop this page has now got several stories and I’ll be adding more each week. Ish.

DDsE used to have its own daily blog. I’ll be re-instating that as soon as I finish editing the 7th in that 9-novella series.

Nica fans – coming soon is a FRAMES short story that takes place right after Nica of the New Yorks.

While I was writing this, seventeen bizillion other pieces of writing went on-line. Still, I hope you can find the time to read some of mine. And I hope you enjoy them!

Four Days Later…

When my beloved cat Leo disappeared, I got myself on a listserv that sends me photos of cats in shelters near where he vanished. Leo’s been gone more than 3 years but I still get those daily emails. I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe. I need to acknowledge the existence of all those cats. Few will get outside again. Locked in cages that reek of bleach and strangers. Not in my emails but in the shelters are just as many dogs, of course. Plus all the “exotic” animals.

I’m taking my first drawing class. (Teach old dog new tricks. Tap unused parts of the brain.) Our final project is themed This is the way the world ends. I put some of the shelter cats in my drawing, from my email dated November 25, 2018. When I went back to finish the drawing four days later, 1/4 of the cats were gone (the unshaded/white cats in my poster). No longer in the database. Maybe some of them got adopted.

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Heart-warming stories?… …(…) … Er …

Not long ago, I discovered how much I enjoy presenting my work to an audience (thank you, Out Loud Santa Barbara!) and I’ve been looking for other ways to do that. So I was jazzed to hear about a call for submissions for a couple story-telling events. Except.

Heart-warming. They want heart-warming personal stories.

I did much wracking of ye olde brain to come up with some. Any. Still trying. Heart-warming isn’t a tag in my memory filing system. I’ve missed one submission deadline; maybe I can conjure some heart-warming in time for the 2nd.

Meanwhile, I happened upon the last notice for a contest that would close in hours. Write a 500 word story using a theme of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Why, I had just been ogling the fantastic woodcuts by Lynd Ward in my own hardcover edition… I’d never entered a writing contest before but this sounded like fun.

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A story made a quick ascent from the depths and I got it written and submitted with an hour to spare. I don’t know details of the contest (when they decide winners, are there prizes, blah blah); for me the event made a terrific writing prompt and now it is over. (Lately I’ve been trying to separate my writing from outcomes.)

Below is the story I came up with.

Heart-warming… heart-warming … … … hmm …

The Open Gates

Dear reader,

You are in danger! Unimaginable danger. Run. Hide. Now!

I don’t believe in God or luck, yet here I pray to both: let someone survive to find this warning. If one survives, then others might and perhaps those few can keep it alive. It. Us. The human race.

Stop reading this until you’re safe. Get away from other people. Look no one in the eye. Let no one get close. They need to be close to take you over.

The first irony. The only hope of saving what’s left of the human race is to isolate every survivor.

Here’s another. I did what I did for the good of humanity.

My ambition was always to make a lasting contribution. I would dedicate my extraordinary intellect to do science so important that my name would live forever. My focus was the human mind, a stimulating challenge. Despite centuries of scrutiny, understanding of consciousness remains elusive.

I happened upon an obscure study. In it, the author detailed a modestly clever experiment to locate consciousness. What was remarkable was that one subject died during the experiment and the researcher tracked consciousness — after death.

An absurd claim, yet something in it spoke truth to me. I couldn’t believe it but I couldn’t let it go. Eventually, I tracked down the author, retired from a third-rate academic career. I still cannot confirm whether he was collaborator as well as victim.

I was not trained to respect instinct, so I dismissed the uneasiness that swept me when he answered his door. I now know that feeling well. It is the first sign that a gate is open nearby.

Within each of us is a gate to a beyond. I have not determined whether that place is our afterlife, but it is a wild treacherous place we cannot enter or survive. We can only live with our gates locked tight.

His gate was ajar.

Horrible things wait on the other side. They wait to cross over and take us. They are — evil. I have never used that word except to describe them.

Get too close to an open gate and your gate opens, too. Another thing comes over, another human is lost.

The author had long been a recluse, struggling to lock his gate again. His efforts to warn me away used too much energy and attention. They took him while I observed. His eyes went blank, swiveled, discovered me with a flash of hungry curiosity.

They’re slow when they first come through. I ran away that day.

I’ve studied them ever since. I’ve slept too little and learned so much. But not enough. Their spread has accelerated. Suddenly they’re everywhere.

Some of us seem to be immune to them. Perhaps we can hide, repopulate, come back against them.

If only I had sounded an earlier alarm. Perhaps someone would have believed. I thought I could solve this problem without destroying my work, my reputation. Instead, I kept their secret.

Forgive me.

Read Local (A proposal)

On Nov 12, 2018, I held a meeting to start a Read Local movement in our area.  About a dozen folks attended. I’ve annotated this post, and edited the ideas at bottom, to reflect discussion at the meeting. My original post is in black text, post-meeting edits in red.

 

Dear writers of Santa Barbara County (and thereabouts),

Last year I moved to Carpinteria and discovered that my neighbors include a great variety of interesting and talented writers. Too few people know this. I’d like to change that.

Many of you feel similarly and quite a few have already organized your own groups to build community among local writers. Let’s get your efforts more widely known, then grow them by developing a Read Local movement.

Purpose: To increase the visibility and value of local writers by sharing our art and entertainment within our communities.

Important: This group does not exist to promote or sell individual writers, but instead to connect writers with their neighbors; to make people aware of, proud of all our local talent. (Indirectly, of course, this can help individuals…) Well, some of our group do want promotional events. Some don’t. I think the solution is to have each kind of activity, but keep them separate.

Mantra(s): Whatever we wind up doing, it needs to be open and friendly, supportive and fun, honest and transparent, sustainable and consistent. Also, we share the workload or we don’t do it.

Models: We wouldn’t be the first such group. For example…

Next Steps:  We’ll next be meeting in small groups to finalize group mission, purpose, priorities, and scope, then plan and launch the activities that interest the most people. Everything about this proposal is still on the table, open to change. If you missed the first meeting we can catch you up!

If you want to stay informed about our Read Local, make sure I have your email. (If you leave a comment on this blog I will automatically get your email.)

Possible Activities: There are so many ways to take Read Local. Below is a starter set of ideas with simplest at top. (If you have other ideas, we want to hear them!) As you go down the list, the ideas take more resources (people, time, money). (I’ve included my guesstimates on resources.)

To make Read Local sustainable, we need to start small then grow only when enough people commit to tackling new efforts.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Finalize name, regional scope, and purpose/mission for this group. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time, revisit every couple years.

How many people to be sustainable?: I volunteer to lead the effort but welcome help, input and buy-in from as many as possible.

Set-up efforts and costs: 1-3 meetings, 90 minutes each.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create a Read Local brand, logo, book sticker. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time to create. Sticker printing will recur.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-2. 

Set-up efforts and costs: $2k-ish.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Find out what writers’ groups and kindred efforts already exist. List them. Learn their history, experience, words of wisdom. Over time, help to network them and broadcast them.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing curation of the information.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Canvas local groups, compile the results.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Maintain a Mailchimp database of emails to stay in contact with local writers and those interested in us. Write and send emails sometimes. Make sure recipients are only getting the emails they want to get (ex only send promotional emails to people who want them). Update email addresses as needed.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Learn Mailchimp. Input existing emails. Put emails in groups according to interests (ex, writer? reader? wants to hear about author promotions?)

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Live readings modeled after Out Loud Santa Barbara. Solicit then select submissions to feature 10 varied writers per reading, arrange venue and publicity.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional. Every 2 months, opposite Out Loud schedule?

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Purchase (then store and schlep) sound system, advertise for submissions, read and select (fairly! transparently!) submissions, publicize event.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Add bells and whistles to the live readings. Record the readings then post them? Let the performers sell books for cash-only? … Eventually add credit-card sales? Involve local TV?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: Depends. For recording: equipment? For sales: bookkeeping, bank account, credit card reader and app.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Write and email a newsletter. Include free excerpts of local writing. (Can recycle this content for web page or columns, see below…) Solicit contributions, monitor them to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: occasional — monthly? quarterly? annually?

 How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Provide free excerpts and short pieces of our writing, as well as blurbs about our writers. On a website/blog? In a newsletter? Maybe in a column in the Coastal View News?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: regular, on-going, once a week or once a month.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing and distribute it.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Publish an anthology of our writing. In print and as an ebook.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time or very occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing, format, edit. Cost of publishing (depending on length, about $5/paperback via Amazon’s print on demand services.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create and maintain internet presence Web page/blog? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus? This would include upcoming events, author info, free excerpts. Would likely have one set of content then link or copy to the other social media. Would have to monitor to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

 ===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Build, steward, and contribute to Little Free Library stands.  There are about 2 dozen stands in south SB County. If we want to add our books we should be good custodians of the system. Investigate coordinating with the littlefreelibrary organization? Maybe Carp Arts Center would fund and host a stand that features local authors? Maybe the books by Read Local authors could have a Read Local sticker?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with book donations from many authors.

Set-up efforts and costs: $… $$??

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Fun freebie events such as geocache treasure hunts with giveaway books as prizes; special themed events (ex a family reunion contest plus a showcase of local memoirs).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One-time.

How many people to be sustainable?: Each event needs 2 people.

Set-up efforts and costs: Wildly varied. Will always need publicity and freebies and venues.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Pop-up bookstore. How might we include ebook sales?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-4 + treasurer. Credit card sales require bookkeeping and bank account.

Set-up efforts and costs: Venue, publicity, signage. Solicit books and materials for sale. Permits and permissions. Book and equipment schlepping, set-up, take-down.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Annual Writers’ Fair like the spring 2017 event in Carpinteria. Add credit-card sales (which requires bookkeeping and bank account).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Once a year but takes effort for at least half the year.

How many people to be sustainable?: 4-6 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: venue, publicity (digital and hard copy), tables and chairs, sound system, planning, schlepping, credit card sales?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Become a non-profit or not-for-profit. Set up a leadership group? Appoint a treasurer? Open a bank account? Go after grants and other funding opportunities for our events and their marketing?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5?

Set-up efforts and costs: Considerable? Lengthy?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Have a table at local farmers’ markets. Sell books of local authors. Provide handouts that include excerpts, newsletter copies, links. Transparent bookkeeping. Establish a rule: If you want us to sell your books at a table, you need to volunteer to man the table and for every X hours that you volunteer, you get to sell your books Y days…

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One or more days per week?!

How many people to be sustainable?: 6-8 + treasurer.

Set-up efforts and costs: Schlep and store table, books, signs, printed materials. Handle money. Requires bookkeeping and bank account.

 

Kyle’s Underpants

Now that my kids are grown, with their beliefs and choices so clearly out of my control, I begin to acknowledge how big an illusion that was – my sense that I could control who my kids became. Oh, sure, of course I shaped and influenced and taught and trained. Through the things I did, the things I didn’t do, and the things I wish I could do over.

I still catch myself trying to influence. Here in my 60s, for the first time I’m discovering how to be peaceful and open – and I catch myself hoping that this will inspire my kids to try to get to this point earlier.

I’m discovering how to be grateful, and how to cut people a break. People including myself. I catch myself scheming about life lessons, how best to share these perspectives with my toddler granddaughter.

After I catch myself, I fill with peaceful futility. I can’t. They won’t. Not through me, anyway. They will live their own lives and come to their own realizations and it is through living step by step that they will get to wherever it is they are going.

The other day, writing at my favorite coffee joint, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a young family and got reminded how stressful I found it, being the parent of small children. The struggle to say no and don’t constructively. We don’t hit, sweetie… Let’s give that back, it belongs to him and he wants it back …

Which sent me on a stroll down an overgrown memory lane.

My ex-husband and I agreed that we didn’t want our twin toddlers to play with toy weapons or watch violent cartoons. But it turns out that anything could be turned into a gun or sword if you held it right. One day our son brandished some innocent construction toy, yelling, “I got you. I killed you. I’m Batman. I’m a Power Ranger.”

Baffled and frustrated, his dad demanded, “How do you even know about these things?”

Our son replied, “Kyle’s underpants.”

Kyle was another kid at the pre-school, which had a communal diaper-changing area.

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