Novelists And The Calendar: Rarely A Good Combination

Being in the Catskills for a few days also means the house needs attention. I had some painting to do. Today, my “anti-critter” cage also needs mending after having been buried under snow and coming off the house.

Other bits and pieces needed doing as well. We’ve also had lots of early spring “visitors” the last few days. We call them “time wasters,” because when you see them you get caught up watching them and time just slips by:

Across the driveway. Catskills. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Across the driveway. Catskills. [Photo by me, 2015.]
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A “Fan Email” Brightens A Gray Morning

The Catskills in early April: it’s certainly not Florida. I just took a few snaps out the back just after dawn. Yep, there’s still lots of snow against the house and scattered here and there in the woods:

Still some snow out in the trees. Catskills. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Still some snow out in the trees. Catskills. [Photo by me, 2015.]
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Marooned In The Catskills (For 24 Hours)

Hello once more! This is a ridiculously early post, New York time. It’s before 5:30 am.

Ugh! It’s also called “jet lag.”

Yes, yes, it’s great to be back in the Catskills for a bit:

Windham Mountain in the distance. [Photo by my, 2015.]
Windham Mountain in the distance. [Photo by my, 2015.]

I wrote most of two novels here. Now you see why! ;-)

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On Location: Long Island And The Catskills

It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.

The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:

As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”

“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.

“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.

Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.

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Merry Christmas

It’s almost upon us. If you celebrate, I hope you have a Merry Christmas. If you don’t observe it, I’d like to offer you best wishes for the coming year.

I almost forgot. You have to see it. Hey, you like our tree? The tree stand is doing its job well:

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh, Christmas tree. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Oh, Christmas tree. Oh, Christmas tree. [Photo by me, 2014.]
We spent yesterday in Bath doing last-minute shopping. It is one of the most attractive city centers in England. One of the possible reasons: some of the shops. For example, it seemed everything in the Hilfiger store started at £100 and only went up from there.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. Still, by comparison, £60 shirts at the shop in Bath would’ve probably gone for $45 at the Woodbury Common Outlets Hilfiger in upstate New York. Yep, they don’t call Britain “treasure island” for nothing.

In some ways it has been a very mixed year. Yes, I got Frontiers finished. And my Dad survived heart failure. Those are certainly positives.

On the heavily negative side, we lost someone who is utterly irreplaceable. An emptiness that will never be refilled will stay with us forever. This is the first Christmas without her and I’ve been trying not to think about that. Instead, when her absence crosses my mind (as it is now), I’ve tried to imagine that, come mid-January, she’ll just suddenly appear via a text or a phone message, saying she’d just got back from Rome, or Dubai, or Chicago, and her parents also introduced her to yet another man she’s not really interested in, and she wants to meet up for lunch at a brand new restaurant she’s been wanting to try. But I know that won’t happen of course.

There’s no law written anywhere that says a next year has to be better than the last. Sometimes it’s definitely not. But let’s be optimists anyway, not only about our own lives, but about the wider world as well that 2015 will be better for all of us.

We have some fun here too as you may know if you stop by regularly. We have to laugh now and then. I just wanted to use this short post also to thank you again for reading and following my modest, novel-writing site. :-)

A Legendary Author Graciously Sits Down With Us Again

Questioner: Hello. We’re back once more with the extraordinary R. J. Nello, interviewing himself. It’s now three months since his last self-interview, and comes shortly after the December 1st release of his new book, Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996. Mr. Nello, welcome….

R. J. Nello: Uh, thank you. You’re making me nervous. That was actually a reasonable introduction. How am I supposed to make fun of you now?

Q: I thought I’d throw you off a bit. It’s an old interviewer ploy, trying to make you comfortable before I go for the jugular. But I also did figure you deserved at least a little respect after another nearly 100,000 words. A second book makes you a real, ongoing novelist. Big stuff, you are. I’m trembling in your mere presence.

Nello: You got that right. After nearly another year of struggle. I suppose it’s also time for me finally to give in and appear on Jay Leno. When they ring, I suppose I’ll tell them I’ll do it. I don’t really want to, though. I’m very shy. Why do you think we’re doing this interview in the Catskills? Woodstock is just down the road. That town, wow, they got people walkin’ around who think it’s still 1969….

Q: Leno’s not on the air any longer. He left the show.

Nello: What? No Jay? What happened? Geez, you miss lots living in Britain.

Q: There are other people doing U.S. late night TV now.

Nello: Who watches those programs anyway? 12:30 AM? Can’t be anyone with a day job?

Q: I think it’s mostly college students.

Nello: Figures. Then they become exchange students and represent America throughout the world among people who have never been to the U.S., and perhaps never met an American in person before. Then get themselves arrested and convicted of murder in Italy. Delightful.

Q: Not all of them are that bad.

Nello: I know. But still, if I see another 21 year old given a Guardian column I may jump through my skin. “People with more money than me suck.” That’s what passes for deep thinking today.

Q: But the young do tell us….

Nello: They’re allowed to be young. We all were. I remember being 21 and thinking, “Oh, I’ll put the world to rights! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” Within a few years, I grew up.

Q: What about idealism? Where would we be without it?

Nello: Indeed. But “Dude, everything stinks!” is a 5 year old’s worldview. We’re also blessed – if that is the right word? – with aging former comedians given cable shows. They can’t even fall back on age as some excuse. But eventually they say something so rude and over the line that they get fired. Until then, we learn from them the likes of, “God ain’t up there in the clouds,” and “the Pope wears a funny hat and doesn’t like birth control.” How groundbreaking! I’m supposed to pay HBO for those insights?

Q: If you’re talking about who I think you are, some think he’s funny and has interesting things to say.

Nello: Sorry, I’m more challenged by that porcupine that’s been chewing at the edge of our house. You’d think someone would’ve told me they like the salt in our wood stain? Ah, the Catskills. Some people also think Elvis is alive. Some also see aliens in woodwork. Here, this is in our house. Check this out:

A main support in our house. Catskills, New York. [Photo by me, 2014.]
A main support in our house. Catskills, New York. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Q: I don’t see Elvis. Sorry, I see an empty wine rack….

Nello: No, no, look at the post, not the rack. That’s right, you’re being watched. Two aliens are living in our woodwork. Definitive photographic evidence.

Q: What does this have to do with that guy on HBO?

Nello: Nothing. I just thought I’d mention it.

Q: Uh, very impressive….

Nello: Or that other guy on Comedy Central. Let’s be honest: he’s just like uncounted other back of the room smart alecks we all went to school with. Make a funny face at how idiotic ___________ is! Yippee! Pay me millions! Well, why not? As the Irish would say, in the long run we’re all feckin’ doomed anyway. [Shrug.]

Q: Hmmm, you aren’t some secret conservative?

Nello: Don’t get me started on the right. I just want to say one thing about Fox News. I remember over the summer seeing some woman on a group jabber show on there. She’s about, oh, maybe age 12, and she was lecturing millions of viewers around the world about the so-called “Islamic State” and how the Middle East is, you know, all so complicated and messy. It was like sitting through a 7th grader’s book report. Look, I’m sure she’s a nice person. I think I heard she has a radio show. Of course she does. Everyone has a radio show. Why not her too? Yet for all that I’d have given her a C+. True, I wouldn’t have pressed her on where Aleppo is on a map, or about Hezbollah’s intervention. But at least she seemed to know where Syria is. Yet it all makes you want to ram your head through a wall.

Q: So you’d never promote your books on TV?

Nello: One of my relations is a TV news producer on a program you might recognize. Like on “The Newsroom,” except it’s actually crazier than that in real life. Years ago, she told me her boss used to wake up and the first thing she did every morning was throw up. Does Emily Mortimer do that?

Q: That’s disgusting. Anyway, your point is?

Nello: “Pointless!” Not everyone wants to be on TV. I want to write books people will like, not mug for a camera. Besides I’ve noticed my hair is thinning a bit on the top of my head in the back. Oh, well, I’ve made it into my 40s. Not bad. Have you seen Mr. Armstrong on “Pointless” in Britain? A great voice. Pleasant host. But on no account should he ever turn his back to the camera. It’s thin back there.

Q: Yep, you’re evidence for sure that pen names are a good idea at times…..

Nello: They’re freedom. So is independent publishing. Don’t kid yourself. It would be nice to make some money, but you don’t write to get rich. So what I do is going to be mine. One of my proofreaders is a published children’s author. I had told her I was adamant that I would indy-publish because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to write. Like anyone told PBS TV painter, the now late Bob Ross, “Oh, put another tree in there, Bob. You know, it also really needs more spice? Hmm, how about a half-naked woman?”

Q: I can’t….

Nello: But writers are supposed to be edited? Really? In whose rulebook? You could give the same manuscript to ten different editors and be left holding your head at what each of them decided wasn’t necessary and what was.

Q: Editing is very important….

Nello: Yes, has its place of course, but leave me the hell alone about my story. Everyone tells you what to write. Damn it, write your own book then! Since books exist forever, I’m not going to leave behind my (pen) name on anything someone else wanted me to write, but probably won’t earn me lots of money anyway. Why do that? Sell one’s soul for nothing? No! No! Non! Last time: I will not make “Isabelle” a vampire!

Q: Please, Mr. Nello, here, have a sip of water….

Nello: Whew. Sorry. Thank you. [Gulp, gulp, gulp.] Wait. This is actually water!

Q: Uh, I said that.

Nello: I thought you were kidding. You saw that empty wine rack. I thought it was white wine. But I’d prefer a brandy. Sorry, I forgot. You don’t work for France 24. Typical prohibitionist American.

Q: Now, to the covers.

Nello: Yes, please. If we can’t drink to escape, let’s talk about my novels.

final-cover-2-december-2013.jpg

Q: Your covers are intriguing?

Nello: They are my photographs that I’ve taken over the years. I suppose I could employ someone to do photography or artwork. I promise if I ever sell millions of books, I’ll hire lots of staff. We should all help each other.

Q: Specifically, the back cover of the new book, Frontiers. There’s no photo description anywhere. Ahem, now, uh, that young woman pictured, she is….

FrontiersCoverPublishedDecember1

Nello: Nice try, pal. Not a chance. No way. I’m not saying who she is. Not ever. Not even if you spiked my water.

Q: Umm, you write about lots of people from various places. Can’t you at least tell us her nationality?

Nello: I’ll say only that she’s French. That’s all. Fin. Next question.

Q: And….

Nello: Stop now, or I’ll go all Gore Vidal on you. I mean it.

Q: Sorry, sorry, I forgot you have been practicing your authoring smugness and arrogance. You’ve much improved since September.

Nello: Ah, you’ve noticed. Good. I think I’ve about got it down now. I’ve also got pompous American expatriate down too. “Oh, daaaarling, everyone else does everything better outside of the U.S.” Actually, uh, they don’t. Take a train in central Brussels, and you’ll be wishing you were on Amtrak. Yes, they do some things better, but hardly everything. Like in The Winds of War….

Q: Please, not back to that book again. Mr. Nello….

Nello: I have vowed I will finish it! I will! All 1,100 glorious pages of it!

Q: In Frontiers, we learn a lot more about most of the characters. And “Uncle Bill,” well, he really makes his presence felt.

Nello: He deserved to. As you know, he is partly inspired by my real novelist uncle. But “Uncle Bill” is not him, you understand….

Q: Oh, yeh [wink, wink].

Nello: Don’t start with the wink, wink stuff. You suddenly turned into another know-it-all guy on HBO? I told you in September that no one in the books is a real person. They are drawn from people I’ve known over the years, but none are any one individual. These books are FICTION!

Q: There are some surprises. The beginning, well, with “Valérie,” wow….

Nello: Did it grab you? Good, that’s what I wanted.

Q: And by the end, you’ve got us all wanting to know what’s going to happen to them all.

Nello: Again, that’s the plan. That’s why it’s called “a series.” Geez.

Q: You do tackle some serious stuff. The fall of the Soviet Union. Israel. Lebanon. Racism. Immigration. And other things mixed in.

Nello: Fiction allows that in a way that isn’t necessarily preachy. The characters can get some facts wrong too. It’s not an encyclopaedia. My own views are not necessarily those of the characters. I try to write from behind their eyes. I actually disagree with quite a few things I’ve written.

Q: Gee, that was thoughtful. You aren’t as all arrogant, smug, expatriate author as you pretend to be. I think you’re hiding that you’re really a mush.

Nello: I just try to be realistic and, yes, I suppose, reflective. None of the characters are decision-makers, or heads of corporations or bazillionaires. They deal with the world the way we all do: Imperfectly. And this is supposed to be entertainment, after all. I remember reading about a famous director who was confronted by a fan who had spotted a minor inconsistency in one of his films. The director answered, “It’s only a movie.” Absolutely. We have to have fun too.

Q: It is the case that some people do take some things way too seriously.

Nello: Some of the new book is lighthearted also of course – like sharing a flight across the Atlantic and going through U.S. immigration. Always an “amusing” experience.

Q: So, on the whole, are you pleased with it?

Nello: Honestly? After I hit publish, I wanted to throw up. I felt a bit like a TV producer must feel. But I’d given writing it my best effort. When it’s over, as the Bangles sang, let it go.

Q: So it means a lot to you?

Nello: It does. A great deal. I know I have done three interviews with you often kidding about a lot of things. But when it comes to what’s in my novels, it’s no joke. I take what I do very seriously. I strive to do the best I can. Readers deserve the best you can give them. Yes, as with that director no doubt something must be “imperfect” in it. But that is life too. If I have one aim, it is to produce works I am proud of, and that readers will enjoy and want to follow in coming installments in years to come.

Q: Uh, that’s really two aims?

Nello: Sorry, I got a bit carried away. But you know what I meant.

Q: Just pulling your leg. Let me stop you there. Let’s end on a high note.

Nello: Oh, before I forget, one thing. No Good Morning America appearance. I won’t do it. I mean that. That program is in la-la land.

_____
NOTE: The first two parts of this scintillating interview started here, back on September 13. ;-)

NOTE 2: Indeed we so often have to try to laugh. Try to have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)

_____
UPDATE, December 5: Not everyone in Frontiers is fictional[ized]. One person was quite real and is portrayed in the book as herself. I explain why here.

Hey, He Got A Fire Started

I’ve been unwinding post-Frontiers publication. It snowed a bit late yesterday here on the Catskills, uh, “frontier.” I snapped this from our house just before dusk:

Dusting of Catskills snow yesterday. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Dusting of Catskills snow yesterday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I got a fire going too. (And yes, yes, in the fireplace!)

Our fireplace. [Photo by my, 2014.]
Our fireplace. [Photo by my, 2014.]

And I messed around on Twitter for a while. After polishing off a nearly 100,000 word novel, my brain currently feels like mush. 140 characters at a time on Twitter is about all I can manage. ;-)

My Twitter page yesterday. [Screen capture by me.]
My Twitter page yesterday. [Screen capture by me.]

By the way, if you use Twitter, feel free to follow me (if you’d like to). I’ll follow you back. I ramble on about, well, just about everything on Twitter (not just writing), and I also enjoy chatting and just having a laugh on it.

I then finished with a pizza. In the background, for a time some Sir Paul McCartney played. After, I watched the NY Islanders defeat Ottawa in overtime. (No matter where I live, having been young on Long Island when they were NHL champions four years in a row in the early 1980s, and never having forgotten that, I will always have a soft spot for that since mostly underachieving team.)

Yes, and as you can gather I really know how to live it up when the wife is not in town. ;-)

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Shopping Till They Drop

Our house in the Catskills has no internet. (When we’re in Britain, I suspend it.) That should not have been a problem. We knew we could rely on T-Mobile wifi.

But when we got there Sunday, T-Mobile failed for some reason (although it has worked before). Over the few days we were there we managed to get flashes of internet via our “suspended” line (and I have no idea how that could have been), but that was all. So I was “silent” on here for a few days. Sorry.

Although maybe you liked the quiet? ;-)

With a snowstorm due today, en route to my parents’ in Pennsylvania yesterday we did some Christmas shopping among the Woodbury Common crowds pre-Thanksgiving…. alongside half of Europe and half of Asia:

Screen capture of NYC tourist's Woodbury Common page.
Screen capture of NYC tourist’s Woodbury Common page.

Many of those shoppers are seen wheeling around newly bought luggage with which they will carry their purchases home. I’ve always found it hilarious: the existence of those shopping outlets in a non-descript location off of I-87 in upstate NY, about a hour and a half from our house. It is about as “international” a location you can find north of Manhattan. (A niece of a friend in Ireland has even been there during a visit to the city.) Hearing an American accent among shoppers is something of an oddity.

We’re now back with my parents in Pennyslvania. I may well stay for my Dad’s December 8-9 surgery. We are still talking about that…. as the forecast 12 inches of snow begin to fall.

With no internet of consequence at our house, I couldn’t publish Frontiers as I’d hoped. Moreover, it still awaits my toughest critic’s final approval: we’ve been unexpectedly busy and she has been unable to read the finished product, but once Mrs. Nello has given her nod, and now with internet again, I can wrap it up. I’m hoping to do that over Thanksgiving…. while we remain trapped visiting with my parents during a snowstorm. Ahhhh! :-)

“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….