Fáilte / Welcome

I don’t keep close tabs on visitors. However, I have noticed over nearly the year this blog has existed that my “Top Five” countries of daily “regular visitors” clicking in through the web (as separate from those of you who arrive via the WordPress reader) have by now come pretty consistently to be ranked like this each day:

1) U.S.A. [almost always first]
2) U.K. [usually second, but there have been days they’ve outnumbered the U.S.]
3) Germany
4) France
5) Canada [in variations on that 3, 4, 5 order].

Visitors from Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, Italy, the United Arab Emirates (yes, really), and Hong Kong, also drop by regularly. [He waves.] Although some days none from those countries appear at all. So this snapshot yesterday afternoon was odd, to say the least, which is why I screen grabbed it:

Interesting stats on Tuesday afternoon, U.K. time.

Interesting stats on Tuesday afternoon, U.K. time. [Screen capture by me.]

That was a real surprise. No, no, and I don’t mean it was because someone from Georgia popped by. Rather, notice that the Irish had clicked through in abnormally large numbers – and I’ve not a clue why.

I wake up ridiculously early. So, curious, I had a peek again just after five this morning, UK time. So this is from the first few hours of today obviously:

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Interesting. Anyway, in that spirit I’ve posted this “ridiculously early” too. ;-) Regardless of where you are reading this today (including you insomniacs – like me occasionally – the world over), “Hello!” :-)

What Happened To Bobby?

Yesterday afternoon, an episode of Escape to the Country came on the BBC. In the background, we heard one of the househunting couple’s children’s names: “Hatcher.” With that, the fun began:

• Me: “There must be an American in this couple. Boys names in the U.S. have become ridiculous in recent years. Only an American would name a son ‘Hatcher.'”

• Mother-in-law: “It is odd. There’s an American golfer with the Christian name ‘Webb.’ So silly.” (Note: she is of the generation that still says “Christian” name.)

As Escape proceeded, we learned I’d gotten it right. They were an American couple, living in London, seeking to move to Surrey. It’s a well-to-do county that might be compared roughly to, say, Loudoun County, Virginia, or Putnam County, New York.

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Their home search had a major requirement: a house needed to be near a train station. Why? The husband admitted on camera that he didn’t have a U.K. driving license, so he had to commute by train.

• Me: [Thinking. There’s nothing wrong with the train. But, God, aren’t you embarrassed admitting that on U.K. national TV? Pass your bl-ody U.K. driving test, and stop embarrassing other Americans living here by giving British viewers the impression we can’t manage to drive in their country.]

While I had become distracted by the driving silliness, my mother-in-law was still on the issue of the boy’s name:

• Mother-in-law: “Over in Ireland, they often don’t have traditional names on children either. [She waves an Irish Independent at us.] Look at this? Apple iCloud. What sort of a name is that?”

• Me: [Thinking: Did I just hear her right?]

• My wife: [After a pause followed by a roar of laughter] “Mum, that’s not a name!”

Seems I haven’t yet entirely “escaped” my personal Seinfeld episode either. It continues on this side of the Atlantic too. ;-)

Among The Best 25¢ I’ve Ever Spent

Got a bit of a surprise on Monday in Key West. It wasn’t, as you know, at Hemingway’s house. I mean down at the docks behind Conch Seafood:

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

As I tweeted the other day, a manatee appeared seconds after we had fed the fish, resulting in a marine encounter the two kids – the 9 year old girl especially – loved, and which I later joked to my Irish friends was perhaps the best value for 25¢ I had ever gotten in my life. Yet the fish-feeding had proven itself to be an unexpected learning experience too. However, not in a way you might think.

It had all started when I had given our friends’ 11 year old son a quarter to slot into the dock edge (environmentally safe) fish food dispenser, which resembled an “old-fashioned” gum ball machine. Bear in mind he can no problem handle iPads and land 747s using Flight Simulator. Indeed, he is so sharp that early last year, after his mother, “Maureen,” had explained to us at their Dublin breakfast table how she was flying Emirates to Abu Dhabi on her way to India to join our now late friend Kam there, while munching his toast he flat-out contradicted her idea of her own travel itinerary:

Young son: “Mum, you aren’t on Emirates. You’re on Etihad. You’re going to Abu Dhabi.”

Maureen: “No, darlin’, I’m on Emirates.”

Young son: “You’re stopping in Abu Dhabi. You can’t be on Emirates. You would be going to Dubai.”

My wife grabbed her iPad and checked the web. Yep, sure enough he was the one who was right. “Good luck you didn’t turn up for an Emirates flight!” my wife laughed.

But that same lad in Key West the other day didn’t understand he needed first to slot the 25¢ coin into the machine and turn its handle until the coin was swallowed…. and that he needed next to position one cupped hand below the chute to catch the falling feed…. as that feed would be sliding out and down into that hand the second he raised the chute’s cover with his other hand.

Stumped by how to operate it, he hesitated. I bravely took charge of the archaic technology. Oh, and, by the way, it is “technology” that had once been commonplace in the Republic of Ireland too.

Good grief, young people these days. ;-)

Sharing Champagne

One of them has already arrived. My wife’s Irish long-time friend‘s mid-twenties niece took a coach to us from Orlando, via Miami. She got here to the Keys two days ago.

I knew her, although not very well. As we three have spent the last couple of days together, I’ve discovered she’s an absolute dry-witted riot: “I texted my friends back in Dublin, ‘Ah, sorry, I can’t go to see a film tonight. Oh, I’m busy by the poohol.'” (Note: You have to read that in an Irish accent.)

Next, having (we believe) just about worn out their two kids – a boy 11 and a girl 9 – for the last week at Disney, Universal, the Kennedy Space Center, and who knows where else (we’ve been receiving intermittent WhatsApp updates), our Irish friends’ contingent are due to descend upon us in full later today.

However, on a somber note, someone else won’t be here of course. And I’m now getting somewhat upset thinking about her while typing this short post.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

“We’ll have a glass for Kam,” my wife’s friend has already decreed.

I have to admit, it is going to be an exceedingly difficult moment for me when we open the Champagne on her behalf. We are determined to remember her with smiles – even if coupled with tears. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Before the big group arrives this evening, I’m going to try to take the opportunity to get some more writing done. I awoke with some further revisions in mind. And I doubt I will have much time for tinkering, to say nothing of composing, for at least a few days after today.

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UPDATE: And the U.S. plays Germany at lunchtime today. Have to work around that too. Another distraction. ;-)

Presumably it won’t be on ABC. It’ll be Univision once more. We have to watch Spanish-language TV to see the U.S. national soccer team in World Cup action….

Write! Write! Write!

Earlier, in response to a post by Cas Blomberg at her excellent novelist blog, yeh, maybe I got a bit carried away. ;-) But I think my reply ramble is worth reproducing here in full:

Cas, that is a stonking good post. Much of what you write sounds familiar – especially the rewriting and “fixing holes” and the 39th book by age 18, and the British vs. “American” spellings. (In early drafts, I fell into that latter trap!) I won’t even begin to try to address all you note. You’ve delved into the issues so fully already.

I will say I don’t know that there’s ever been a time when a “good outcome” has been out there for authors. My uncle is a long-published HarperCollins fiction author. (He does NOT know I have written a novel and intend to write more of them; but that is another, decidedly personal story.) He has an established readership, but much of his back catalog is out of print. He wants to get the rights back to many of his earlier books; and I’ve suggested he get them on Kindle when he does. They need to be available or no one can buy them! He knows what the Kindle is, but overall, technologically, he is an author “of the 1980s/1990s.” He’s also now in his young 70s – he doesn’t even have an author site. He doesn’t “quite” understand that, nowadays (as with so many other businesses), in many ways your author web site is your “shop front.”

Myself, I wanted to write the books I wanted to write. And I work hard to make them good ones for readers. If anyone desires similarly to write (via self-publishing or chasing a traditional publisher), my best advice is…. write the book. Don’t worry about the other side…. yet. Fretting over publishing is a waste of time when you don’t have a manuscript. Write! Write! Write!

There had once been those “gatekeepers” preventing us from reaching any readers whatsoever. So there had been “vanity” presses. Today, we may self-publish and we will reach readers, even if only a few. But that’s how journeys begin: with a first step.

My wife has told me that I must consider myself an author; that that is now my career (for now, at any rate). Just because I don’t sell Stephen King levels of books does not mean I am not an author. Nor you. Thus far I’ve sold more of my first novel than I had thought I would – not thousands of course, but enough that I feel positive about where I’m headed.

Based on what I’ve heard over the years from my uncle, I’ve decided to try to find an agent. Authoring is sales. Success in sales in any field is about piling ups (sic) “nos” until someone finally says “yes.” I well-know I will have to keep at it and be tough-minded about it. If one says “We’ll pass,” or doesn’t reply, find someone else. Keep at it.

Can I support myself writing? Absolutely not. But does that mean doing so [is] impossible someday? Who knows? Achieving anything worthwhile requires work. Above all, the product needs to be something people want to buy. Many people won’t buy books any longer; but many people still do. Hundreds of millions of them around the world.

No one is going to hand us money. Anyone who seeks to write needs to remember that reality at the outset, and manage expectations. If we keep them low, as we exceed them we’re thrilled! :-)

On reflection, that does broadly speak to what I believe about authoring in the current publishing climate. It is not very different, really, to what musicians now face. Or actors.

Which reminds me. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a production of Big Maggie outside of Dublin. Written in 1969, it is a much-produced play in Ireland.

The actors at the performance we saw were (in my humble opinion) excellent, and the show flew by. While we learned one had been in small roles on RTÉ television, most were P/Ters or amateurs. None had (so far) hit the “big time”: meaning, for instance, London’s West End or Broadway. Nor were most likely ever to do so.

So what? They were on stage and doing what they loved. And all of us, their audience in the small theatre, appreciated it greatly.

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That is what matters also for us as writers. Yes, it would be wonderful to “hit it big.” However, doing what we love, being proud of what we do, and reaching our audience – no matter how small or large that “crowd” may be – is what this is about.

And the absolute bottom line is there is no hope anyone will ever read your superb novel…. unless you finally write it!

“I’ve driven an automatic only once.”

Quiet morning outside of Dublin. I thought I’d get a post up before our friends’ two young children (11 year old boy and 9 year old girl) wake up. Once they do, that’s it: there won’t be a free moment after! :-)

In a recent post, I semi-joked about various driving differences between the U.K. and the U.S. In the book, I raise this other reality:

About to leave, standing next to the car luckily parked in the only good road spot she could find anywhere near the apartment, Isabelle double-checked. “You can drive a manual car?”

As we know we Americans love automatic transmissions. Since the 1970s, most learn on them, and most drive them. If you rent a car in the U.S., it is assumed renters expect an automatic.

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Ireland is much the same as the U.K. in terms of driving rules and mentality. In fact, by chance yesterday I had a laugh with “Maureen’s” husband over just this issue. They’re visiting Florida with us in June, and he has reserved a rental car.

He noted that an automatic transmission is not his thing at all. (His words here are best read aloud in a friendly, Dublin accent.) “I’ve driven an automatic only once,” he said. “From Hertz at Heathrow. For some reason when I turned up they didn’t have any manuals. Can you believe it? I didn’t know what to do with my other foot. I had to drive around inside the airport for a while to get the hang of it.”

For Florida, I suggested he phone the rental place and make sure in advance his booking is a manual. He realized his potential oversight when I said it. I reminded him that, in America, a rental car is by default an automatic, so if he feels uncomfortable with an automatic, he had better try to make sure the one he rents isn’t one.

To many Europeans, who learn on manuals and drive them regularly afterwards, automatics simply are not real driving. It’s cheating. It’s like sitting in your lounge…. and hurtling forwards. :-)

Have a good Saturday!

Strangers In An Airport

Christmas “flying season” is ending once again. Airports are among the most remarkable crossroads of our times, aren’t they? In them, regularly we encounters strangers transiting…. to wherever.

Yet rarely do we more than brush shoulders with most of them. Indeed mostly we say little to each other. Usually we just pass each other by wordlessly.

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There are exceptions, of course. Waiting recently at JFK for a flight to London, an older British woman sat next to us at the gate. The flight was full and seating area was mobbed. Watching stand-by passengers at the desk obtaining seats on the flight, the woman decided to tell us about a chaotic experience she had had flying from Moscow. She made a few lighthearted comments comparing that to what we were seeing, asked our final destination, shared hers, pointed to her husband – who was reading and sitting several seats away – and that was pretty much that.

Before our flight from Dublin the other day, near us two young boys and a little girl were kicking around a small ball, laughing and running around harmlessly in the departure area between the gates. As everyone readied to board, the little girl rejoined her mother behind us. As the line of passengers moved slowly forward, the girl asked her mother for permission quickly to rush over to say goodbye to the two boys: the boys were with families flying from the opposite gate.

We tend not to think much about that sort of thing…. until we do. I suppose I am one of those “romantics” who remains amazed when considering the flight departures and arrivals screens. So many today seem to take global air travel almost for granted. In contrast, for our “great-grandparents,” a train journey was often a huge deal.

Plans For 2014

Happy New Year. If we make them, we face New Year’s resolutions with varying degrees of trepidation. This year, I know I am for sure.

Time to begin to work towards the self-imposed production deadline: I want the sequel to be available for Christmas 2014. So my planned “break” is finishing. Back to the keyboard….

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