“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.

In Barba Gwen31′s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,’” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

It was widely reported the other day that when Facebook went down for a time, some of the web site’s users actually dialed 911. The L.A. Times noted:

Officials at one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station were not happy after getting calls from residents because Facebook went down Friday morning.

“#Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please don’t call us about it being down, we don’t know when FB will be back up!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley station wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said an unknown number of people called 911 about the outage….

Notice how the Sheriff dealt with it? He went on Twitter. But if this from Media Bistro is accurate, that would not have helped:

The Smartest People Prefer Twitter To LinkedIn And Facebook, Research Shows [STUDY]

Meaning the Sheriff would have been addressing the wrong audience in terms of, err, brainpower. ;-)

I love Twitter…. although I’m not a genius. And I do also use Facebook – but primarily as a keep in touch with family and friends sort of thing; and I’m not on it much. (I’m not on LinkedIn at all.)

Which led me to thinking about where we are here: WordPress. When I first used it for another blog about 10 years ago, I had found it refreshingly straightforward.

However, when I returned to it last autumn to start this blog after several years’ break, I felt far more out of it than if in my absence someone had merely moved the furniture around. It seemed more like I had been dropped into another technological era. To borrow from Catskills literature, it felt rather Rip Van Winkle-ish.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\'s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\'s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\’s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\’s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

On the Dashboard, very little was where I remembered it. There were vast changes throughout the site. Trying to navigate, I sat there utterly lost at first.

“What is that blue screen for? How do I get back to the Dash? I clicked on that, and it’s leading me here? And what the heck does THAT symbol mean?” (Uh, I didn’t always say “heck.”)

What happened to my Atari 800?

That was then. I now have matters under control. Well, mostly anyway. :-)

Have a good [grumble, grumble] Monday….

We All Love Free Stuff

Sandra Wheeler, whom I’ve mentioned several times recently, has been blogging her erotic novel, Falling In Cascades, for free. In a post yesterday, she tackles this question:

Why on earth are you blogging your novel?

Her answer’s worth a read. She addresses the issues anyone who writes finds familiar. “Confidence” is perhaps the biggest one: I don’t feel what I write is good enough to ask for money for it.

I dropped in my 2 cents (no pun intended) over at Sandra’s blog. You may click here to read it in full at her site. (Note: if this is your first visit to my blog, “my uncle” is a HarperCollins-published novelist.) I’ve reprinted my main points below:

….I had this same debate with my wife over a year ago. I had thought I would simply toss my “Passports” on the net. However, she – businesswoman she is – was adamant it warranted something back for all the effort I’d put into crafting it. “Don’t you dare give it away,” she assailed me. “There’s tons of junk out there that sells loads. Yours is much better. And it’s not just me saying that.”

The others who were saying that were its proofreaders – people we knew read it, and also passed it to several trusted friends or other family (who didn’t know me) who also read it. The gist of my wife’s argument was one I agreed with, but I needed her to reinforce it for me: if you work hard, you deserve to get paid for what you produce.

Giving away a novel for free is entirely a personal decision. Myself, I’ve sold more than I have expected so far. When I check and notice sales, it always spurs me forward as I work on the sequel. I am pleased I self-published. I control it all. Every word of it is mine and mine alone: I am intensely proud of it. No one tells me what should be in it, or what should be left out, or when there should be sex. (Would a painter have an editor?: “Oh, there needs to be a house in there, top right, among the trees.”) It won’t be “stolen.” Above all, who knows, at some point I might sell lots?

Just because your writing is imperfect does not mean it is not publishable. No one’s writing is perfect. Repeat: no ones. My uncle can’t spell. He’d be doomed without an editor. I’ve also read numerous books that had “professional editing” jobs, and which also still had obvious typos.

I took the view pre-publication (and which I maintain as my basic position) that I know I have not written “War and Peace,” but, by the same token, it’s more than a decent read. Several proofreaders absolutely loved it. So while my book(s) may not change the world, I believe they are worth something.

Writing is no different than being a plumber or a lawyer. You have a skill in storytelling and entertainment. It is like being “self-employed.” You really deserve to set yourself up so as to eventually perhaps see some (even just a tiny) return for your creative struggles.

Be confident about what you do! It is uniquely you! No one else writes exactly what you do!….

I believe that’s all pretty rational and reasonable. Come on….

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

….don’t look so surprised!

All kidding aside, I took that photograph of a deer looking in through our Catskills lounge sliding door a few years back. I’m not planning on ever publishing a book of cute, spontaneously taken, upstate New York wildlife photos. If I were, though, I probably wouldn’t have blogged that on here for free. ;-)

Have a good Saturday!

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns - Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.

image

Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!

In Kinderhook

In “I Love NY” TV ads, Hyde Park gets mentioned regularly. FDR, FDR, FDR. Always, FDR….

President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Yesterday, we visited the estate of the first, and thus far only, U.S. president not to have spoken English as his first language. (His was Dutch.)

About an hour and a half north of Hyde Park, President Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald, on Route 9H in Kinderhook, is a relaxed place – and a pleasant learning experience. It’s also inexpensive. The extensive grounds are free (and there are also walking trails), and it’s only $5 for a 50 minute National Park Service guided tour of his beautiful home.

Yes, we all know FDR is a huge deal. So of course his Hyde Park home is a “must see.” But, hey, let’s not totally overlook the 8th president…. who was also the first president born as a U.S. citizen (in 1782), as well as the first to come from New York! ;-)

Afternoon In The Catskills

A view of Windham Mountain, in upstate New York, just after 3:30pm Thursday, local time:

image

You know that bit on Euronews where they do that video offered with “No Comment” thing?

That.

Uh, sorta. :-)

I’ve suffered from occasionally absolutely cracking headaches since I was a teen. I’ve never really understood why: they have no “obvious” trigger. Today had been “one of those days.” Terrific pain hit this morning and has been with me all day.

I gave James my headaches in the books. Nice of me, eh? As writers we have control literally over everything our characters do… and endure!

Finally feeling a little better, I ventured outside. Hence, the photo.

“I Love New York”

I tweeted a Catskills post and photo the other day. I Love New York’s official Twitter account found it, “favorited” it, and tweeted @ me:

I Love New York on Twitter.

I Love New York on Twitter.

Hilarious. Always remember, you never 100% know who’s going to stumble on what you have uploaded to the web. ;-)

Morning Mist

Happy Saturday! How about an “uplifting” photo?:

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I grabbed that about 45 minutes ago. I’m a “morning person,” as you may know. Even on the weekends!

There’s still plenty of snow visible on the ski runs on both Windham (left) and Hunter, but brown patches are increasingly obvious. Spring has arrived. Skiing is finished until November.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)