Sep 2, 2021

From Author to Caregiver (for a minute)

Caregiver colored rainbow word text suitable for logo design. Caregiver colored rainbow word text suitable for card, brochure or typography logo design stock illustration 

 I usually post here about reading and writing, which is my passion, but today I'd like to address care-giving. I've been a principal caregiver at two separate periods in my life. Recently, someone I love very much has been forced into a similar role. Her struggle inspired me to look back on what I learned and (maybe) draw some conclusions.

Care-giving is hard. That sounds like a no-brainer, but until you've done it, you can't imagine the myriad ways that "hardness" manifests itself. 

    Physical: I will learn to handle whatever I must, everything from changing a colostomy bag to cutting your toenails. All the physical "rules" that adults cling to will be broken. I will help you shower. I will feed you like I fed my babies, a spoonful at a time. I will wait outside the bathroom and do whatever you need help with. I will, somehow, learn to get a person the same height and weight as I am from bed to wheelchair and back without breaking either of us.

   Emotional: I will (try to) understand that your moods swing from hope to despair, from anger to gratitude. When you lash out at me, I will know it's not me you're angry at. When the doctor gives you the next bit of bad news, I will be strong for you. (I'll cry by myself, later, alone).  When your friends visit for too long and gush about how well you're doing, I won't scream and order them out. 

  Clerical: I will learn your bookkeeping system, pay your bills, write down the kind of cereal you like, and chart how your home is run, so that things are as you want them. I won't mention that checks don't need to be recorded in three different places, (though it will be hard not to).

   Personal: I will put my life on the back burner. If I continue to work or volunteer or even socialize, my thoughts will be on you when I'm away. I will make myself responsible for giving you every bit of happiness you can find in your remaining days, because those days are numbered.

  Intellectual: I will learn everything I can about your condition. I will count your pills and tend your wounds and monitor the machinery that helps keep you going, despite my ignorance and even fear of it. (Is it possible I might overdose you with that morphine pump?) I will scour the internet for genuine information on what's best for you. I will protect your from scammers who offer false hopes to the afflicted and the dying. At the same time, if it's fairly harmless stuff, I will listen as you tell me about the cure some doctor in Haiti has discovered. I might even help you investigate it, because I know that you need to believe something will take away your death sentence. The last thing before I sleep and the first thing when I wake will be plans to make your life better.

Conclusions: Care-giving can bring growth and satisfaction, but that often doesn't manifest itself until it's over. In the day-to-day actions, we become manic and focused on the next moment. We do what we must, but we seldom reflect on what the overall result will be. That's because the overall result is often bad. For me, those horrible times are over (for now). They forced me to do things I would never have dreamed I could do, both good and bad. They also created in me an urge to reach out to others in the role, to offer to listen, to give a short respite, to express both empathy and sympathy for their daily struggles. There's nothing like talking to a person who's been where you are to convince you that you will get through this.

Care-giving leaves us doubting ourselves. "Was I patient enough?" Probably not. Possibly yes. There's no standard to measure what you might have done against what you did. Your response, no matter how flawed, was the only thing you could do AT THAT MOMENT. Don't look back and second-guess yourself. Love yourself for doing what you could for someone you loved.

Though each situation is unique, those who've been there can help. I found this booklet helpful, though it's possibly a bit outdated (2015) 

https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Caregiver-Guide-Those-Thrilled-ebook/dp/B016KYIAVA


Jul 22, 2021

Choosing Your Next Book

 

Happy Cute Kid Girl Choosing Two Book Stock Vector - Illustration of  doodle, cartoon: 167740868 

Whether you open a website or walk into a bookstore, there's nothing like the feeling of choosing what you're going to read next. Sadly, I've been disappointed more often than thrilled this year, and at lunch with a friend the other day, she said the same. "Maybe we read too much," she told me. "We've heard it all and seen it all as far as stories go." While that might be true, I can still get pulled into a book if it's done well, as I have been with my current read, WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker. It's not an easy book, but when I find myself thinking, even worrying, about the characters when I'm not reading, I know it's because of good writing. Of course, reading is as individual as writing. I can't tell you the book will affect you the same way. I can only give you my reaction.

Choosing a new book is both easy and hard in our time. There are tons of books and tons of places to find them. Still, I've noticed that the traditional publishing world is very much centered on safe choices these days, and they often don't appeal to me. One safe choice is the trending topic. When a book is a success, you can expect a couple dozen similar ones will follow. The covers will be similar in mood and style. The titles will suggest the bombshell best-seller. I got sick of books with "GIRL" in the title some time back. And the time/setting/focus will be the same. Right now it's WWII stories. After some excellent ones (and there still are some out there), we have a host of pale copies, like the one I'm currently reading, which tells me how the protagonist feels as if describing what she had for breakfast and boils down to French people=good, Nazis=bad. Quelle surprise!

The other safe choice for traditional publishers is authors who already have a name. While there are authors whose work I always buy, smart readers know some of them don't write their own stuff anymore. Look for the "with ___" on the cover, which means in most cases that some unknown author wrote it and the "big" author agreed to put his/her name on it, equaling a nice paycheck for everyone. Then there's "franchising," a way of benefiting from an author's name when he's too old to write or even after he's died. It all comes down to money, but for discerning readers, that results in disappointment.

I also note with sadness that editing has suffered--not so much in grammatical things but with allowing big-name writers to do whatever they like. Length is stressed over concise storytelling, and I sometimes find myself paging through to find the plot. I skipped about twenty pages of a legal thriller the other night, and when I jumped back in, the SAME WITNESS was still testifying. Big authors are allowed more leeway to stretch credulity as well. In a book by a well-known author, a fifty-year-old male murder victim was mistaken for a young woman because the killer covered the corpse with flowers. ("Oh, right, guv, we can't move all those flowers. We'll assume it's a young girl because she's done up like Ophelia in Hamlet.")

On the other side of traditional is independent publishing. (In case you're wondering, I started out with a traditional publisher and am now independent.) The problem here is uncertainty as to the quality of the work. Anyone--and I mean anyone--can publish on a dozen sites without investing a single penny, and that means there's a lot of bad work out there. Conscientious writers (like me!) hire editors and test their books with beta readers many times in the process, so they are fairly confident they've got a story worth reading. For a reader, however, it's hard to tell the difference when book shopping.

The other problem with independent authors' work is finding it. Type in a keyword like "mystery" and you'll get a list of the big names. But what if you've already read everything your favorites have written? There's no way to find an independent author with a similar style. We depend on social media to publicize our work, and the results are spotty at best. Often people say things like, "I really liked KIDNAP(.)org. Have you written any more books like that?"  or "I read all your historical mysteries. Do you ever publish anything else?"

"Um, yeah."

So how can you find authors new to you who write good stories? It's not impossible.

Read the recommendations of bloggers/influences who like the kinds of books you like. Here's one: https://radio-joyonpaper.com/?s=Peg+Herring

NOTE: The cover was different back then. Here's what it looks like now: 



Check out the samples on Amazon or other bookselling sites or read a few pages in your local bookstore (They don't mind). I can usually tell with that much if it's my kind of book or not.

Talk to people, online or in person, to find out what they like. I met a woman in a bookstore the other day who recommended a book to me (WWII era) and I bought it. I also often take booksellers' recommendations. They read a LOT of books, so they know if a particular story rises above the ordinary. I have found that young booksellers aren't as helpful as those closer to my age, though. Kids think J.K. Rowling was the first writer to ever explore the idea of a kid learning he wasn't just an ordinary guy--sheesh!

Jul 15, 2021

First-World Trials: Then Dreaded New Computer

 Happy cartoon broken computer logo royalty free stock imagesA few months ago, my computer started acting strangely. It wouldn't connect to the internet, or it if did, it wouldn't go beyond the home page. It saved all files as Read Only, no matter how many times I told it not to. And moving from site to site took forEVER.

My husband, blithe spirit that he is, said, "Don't keep fighting with it. Buy a new computer." This is a man who hands me his iPad whenever something isn't the way he wants it and expects that I'll return it in working order. He has NO idea what buying a new desktop means. 

Still, the computer is old, as computers go, and I use it every day for many things. It got to a point where I had to admit it was time. I ordered a new tower.

When it arrived at four p.m. two days ago, Hubby was excited. "Are you going to open the box?"

"Tomorrow," I replied, and he seemed disappointed. I'm sure there was a man standing over Pandora's shoulder saying, "Aren't you going to look and see what's in that box?"

Yesterday early on, when my mind and spirit were fresh and optimistic, I started. When I plugged the cords in all the right places, I saw the familiar "HI" and thought, like Sally Bowles, "Maybe this time, I'll be lucky..." But life isn't a cabaret, old chum. It's error messages and pings of distress from a machine that doesn't get why I keep plugging and unplugging when the effect is the same every time.

At first it went pretty well. I downloaded my on-line resources like Dropbox and Office without any trouble. I chose my own browser and home page, and unchecked the boxes that automatically install stuff I don't want. But as Gilda used to say, "It's always something." This time it's hardware. The computer didn't recognize any of my printers, my wireless keyboard, or my wireless mouse. They'd sent along the last two items (wired), so I used them to get started. Eventually I made the B&W printer and the photo printer work. It took digging out the disk to add my fancy color printer, but now it's there. I also had trouble getting my external hard drive to show up. I'm not sure how, but eventually it arrived.

I started at six a.m. yesterday That happened around three p.m.

Each time I went downstairs: for snacks, for lunch, for a short brain break, Hubby would ask, "How's it going?" My answers were...in a word, terse. It's like when you're in labor. It's not really his fault, but yeah, it kind of is. He probably told the guys at golf yesterday afternoon that I was really grumpy, and I won't dispute that.

Every item mentioned above took between an hour and two hours to troubleshoot, and I still haven't got a wireless keyboard or mouse. Going online for advice is frustrating. They start with "Here's how to easily connect your wireless keyboard to your new computer," and then they lapse into some ancient tongue understandable only to druids. I write it down. I print it off. I do exactly as they say, until it comes to a point where the instructions no longer match what's on the screen or I've done each step and found that it changed nothing .

I have resigned myself to using a wired keyboard and mouse. I can learn to live with it. I know I can.

NOTE: Some of you are going to be tempted to send advice on how to fix my problems, but I advise against it. There will come a time when my new computer gives me joy and satisfaction. There might even come a time when my keyboard is again wireless. But leave it alone, because today is not that day.

Jun 16, 2021

You Gotta Love Suggestions...or Not



 People love to tell you what you should do. I guess it's part of being human. Many suggestions are horribly wrong, and they can feel almost willfully so. I saw a post on social media recently asking for book recommendations. The poster wanted to read about an era of history, but she specified she wanted a standalone book. She got no less than three recommendations for series that are "really good."

As my writing career lurches along, I get lots of advice on what I should be doing. My first books were historical, but then other ideas came along. I wrote contemporary mysteries and what I call 'vintage' mysteries set in the 1960s. As a result, Peg Herring's books are scattered through various mystery sub-genres, and of course there are fans who would like more of this type or that. "You should write more ---" Maybe some authors can churn out endless books of one type. I can't.

When I decided to try writing a cozy mystery, I invented a pseudonym, not knowing how well I would fare in that sub-genre. I didn't think about the fact that Maggie Pill would need her own social and IRW presence. I had to practice answering to that name at conferences and being careful to sign the right name when a fan hands me a book and a pen.  It's more work than I imagined to keep Maggie going, but she's fun, and she's very popular with readers. 

Last year, with Deceiving Elvera, Peg moved into women's fiction, which is considered more "literary" than genre books like mysteries. It's a story of a lifelong friendship, but social questions are interwoven: refugee relief, immigration, and people smuggling. Not exactly a light novel.

Peg is currently working on another women's fiction book, Sister Saint, Sister Sinner, and here's where we come to the advice thing. Twice now I've mentioned to acquaintances that I'm not sure how readers are reacting to this new, more serious turn in the Peg books. The breezy response in both cases "You should use another pen name."

That sounds simple, but because of Maggie, I understand what it would mean. Invent a third name. Make a Facebook page for that pseudonym. Then make a Twitter account, etc. Create a blog for her. Start building her a newsletter list so she can send out information periodically. Ignore thousands of readers who know Peg Herring's (and Maggie's) work and might buy the new book because they liked a former one. Not to mention the mental effort mentioned above, being three people at public events.

While it's fine to make suggestions, the decider is probably more aware of the situation than an outsider. So when people say, "You should--" I usually thank them for their input and move on.



May 6, 2021

The Ubiquitous--and Erroneous--"They"


A friend told me the other day she'd started a new British mystery and found it had tons of swearwords and name-calling. Her question to me was "Do you think they really talk that way over there?"

Talk of "they" bothers me. Yes, "they" had different beliefs than ours in 15th century Europe, but I don't for a moment think everyone believed they'd go to hell if they had sex on Sunday. If those people believed everything the Church said they shouldn't do, there wouldn't have been any sinfulness, but murder, theft, fornication, and other sins went on, as they do now. It simply paid to keep quiet about what you did, what with the Inquisition and all.

I once hosted a teacher from Moscow who was disappointed by our small town. In Russia, she'd been told that in America "they" go shopping every day and night-clubbing every weekend. Spending a year in a county with no mall and not even a stoplight wasn't what she'd pictured when signing up to visit.

The question in all of this is who is 'they'? Of course there are British people who swear a lot. There were once pious Spaniards who believed every word their priest said. And we know there are Americans for whom a Saturday night without being "out" is unthinkable. But every society has a range, and while "they" might represent the majority, they probably do not. 

Impressions we have of historical groups often come from sources that are either biased or uninformed. History was written by scholars, since they could write, but most scholars were monks, with definite views on sin and sinfulness. History often became more a moral lesson than a factual account. Scholars also had to worry about pleasing their masters (unless they didn't care if their heads remained between their shoulders). And new stories were built on older stories without any attempt to confirm the truth of the original. Consequently, there might be hardly any truth in a "history" at all.

My characterization of Macbeth in Macbeth's Niece for example, is historically incorrect. Shakespeare needed a villain to represent unbridled ambition, so he chose a rather ordinary Scottish king and turned him into a murderer. While I added notes at the end of my book to explain the truth of Macbeth's character, I'm afraid his name will always be associated with evil.

In current times, we get impressions from TV and form conclusions based on them, often wrongly. We see bands of screaming zealots and conclude, "The **s hate Americans." It's been proven, over and over, that the vast majority of people on this earth have no impression of Americans at all. We don't matter to them or their daily lives. Those who do hate us probably have their reasons, but they're based on the very practice I'm writing about: forming impressions with insufficient information.

When we see news reports, TV shows, and movies that reveal slices of life in other places, we should keep in mind that's what they are. The people you see aren't "they." Motives differ, and heaven knows we tend to become a little nicer when there's a camera filming. The reporter went there for a story, and he or she chose whom to interview based on ideas of how that story would go. If the neighbor next door had been chosen, the result might be completely different. Creators of content choose what interests them, and what they think will interest you. 

Before I actually visited an Arab nation, my impressions were mostly wrong. Once there, I saw people going about their lives, shopping, having coffee with friends, trying to keep up with their kids, all the things I see here at home. The clothing and customs were different, yes, but the bottom line wasn't.

What I'm saying is that people are people, no matter the time or the place. There are crooks who cheat, and honest types who never would. There are saints who'd die for you and sinners who'd steal your last dime. There are braggarts and truth-tellers. Distrustful types and friendly sorts. Silly asses and wise folk. People who'd talk your arm off and people of few words. 

Don't base your conclusions on what "they" say about what "they" do. Figure it out for yourself.

May 3, 2021

Audio...Again

 

Deceiving Elvera is now available as an audio book as well as print and e-book formats. Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/Deceiving-Elvera/dp/B093C89MC7

Let me say something about narrators in general, and Naomi Rose-Mock in particular. They take an author's baby and interpret it aloud, so others can enjoy it. To do this, they must be able to read well; that's a given. But in a book like Deceiving Elvera, there's a lot more to think about. The book is set in Michigan and Thailand, so I had to provide a pronunciation guide (provided for me by someone who lived in Thailand for a time) that Naomi could consult. A third setting is a cruise ship, and the crew comes from all over, so she had to switch accents from Norwegian to Australian to Texan and so on. I would bet that requires a lot of highlighting and pre-reading to be prepared for conversations.

Finally, the narrator interprets the characters and the action. Too much "color" and a character like Elvera can become so irritating that the reader is turned off. Too little, and her assertiveness--and her pain--doesn't come through. Narrators know to how speed up to raise tension and slow down to soothe the reader after an intense scene. They change their voices to suit the scene: comic, dramatic, tragic. They make decisions and take precautions I never thought about before getting involved in audio book production. Listeners shouldn't hear the turning of a page or perceive gaps where a correction was made. Narrators have to decide if they'll leave in or take out the sound of their own breathing. And they have to either attend to the technological aspects of recording or arrange for someone else to do it.

None of that sounds easy to me, so I'm thrilled that companies like Audible, studios like Cerny American, and narrators like Naomi Rose-Mock and Megan Scharlau are around to de-mystify the process.

If you're an audio-book listener, I have codes for my audio books, including this one. Authors are given them to encourage people to try their books in the hopes that they'll leave reviews when they finish. As I've said many times, a review is the nicest thing you can do for a writer, so don't be shy.


Mar 17, 2021

Another Newbie--Yay!

 Get it on Amazon HERE

Just got word that THE TROUBLE WITH DAD is now available as an audio book. When this happens, I get codes to give away (with the strong hint that a review would be nice). If you'd like a code, email me: pegfish(at sign)yahoo.com. Give me your email address, and it'll be on its way!

For those who don't know the Kidnap Capers series, it's a three-book story arc in which a young legal secretary becomes--kind of accidentally--the head of a gang that kidnaps bad people and "encourages" them to change their ways. All are available as e-books (all distributors), print books (Amazon & Draft2Digital), and audio books (Audible/Amazon).

Book 1: Kidnap(.)org Robin becomes a kidnapper and finds out she's good at it.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/KIDNAP-org-Peg-Herring-ebook/dp/B01NC3F8NV 

Everywhere else:  https://books2read.com/u/mZ58rl

Book 2: Pharma Con   Robin and the gang take down a pharmaceutical cheat.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pharma-Kidnap-Capers-Book-2-ebook/dp/B07RB6JZ79

Everywhere else: https://books2read.com/u/mKEOVE

Book 3: The Trouble with Dad  Robin faces her worst opponent ever: her dad.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08D3R4P5D

https://books2read.com/u/mqrOn6



From Author to Caregiver (for a minute)

   I usually post here about reading and writing, which is my passion, but today I'd like to address care-giving. I've been a princi...