Monday, January 30, 2012

10,000 Books In January

Never in my wildest dreams, when I began publishing ebooks, did I ever think I would sell 10,000 books in a year! So selling that many in a month just takes my breath away. I had read that all predictions indicated that ebook sales would skyrocket after Christmas 2011 because over 4 million e-readers had been shipped as Christmas gifts and I suspect quite a few of them came with gift cards. Beginning Christmas Eve I saw the sales figures climbing. November and December had been good sales months anyway but on Christmas Eve the sales figures went ZOOM!

My custom is to check my sales figures every morning and then try to ignore them for the rest of the day but when I logged on Saturday morning and saw how close they were to 10,000 I admit I spent much of the day checking and re-checking until about 4:00pm when they hit the magic number – 10,000. That is over 16 titles but the title far in the lead is The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic. Still it is fascinating to me to see what other books are doing well. They top five sellers of my books are:

  1. The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic: a 15k word novelette that is listed under both horror and psychological thriller. There are people who have taken issue with those categories but I tend to think they are people who are accustomed to reading more gruesome and brutal horror stories. To me the story's horror is in the gradual, slow realization that Mattie comes to as she uncovers secrets from her past. By the end her sense of her history is completely shaken by the realization that what she thought was a cute, funny comfort was, in fact, something cruel and unimaginable. As a lifelong fan of Shirley Jackson and Henry James that is the kind of horror I aimed for in writing that story.
  2. Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter: a 20k words novella it is a ghost story set in the off-season in a beach town. I thought this a very dark, disturbing story as I worked on it. Neither of the two main characters are very stable people. Layla is a lost soul trying to be what her husband wants her to be and Joel, her husband, has aspirations as an author but it may well be he wants to be an author more than he wants to actually write.
  3. The Old Mermaid's Tale: a 132k word novel that is, I think, my best published work so far. It is a complex 1960s era coming-of-age tale about a young woman who longs for romance but who is fascinated by the dark side of the seaport in which she lives. It has received very, very good reviews so far which makes me happy. Baptiste, the man she finally loves, seems to capture a lot of hearts.
  4. Arthur's Story: A Love Story: this 12k word novelette has really picked up a lot of sales in the past month which is gratifying because I think it is a very warm, tender, uplifting story with a feel-good ending. I hope more people find it and enjoy it. Arthur himself is hard not to love.
  5. Each Angel Burns and The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelts' Wood are tied for fifth. The former is a 123k word novel and the latter a 23k word novella. Each Angel Burns has garnered a fair share of controversy because of the combination of strong religious themes and strong (though not explicit) sexuality. The Belsnickel story is a warm, charming story about a wounded man who finds his way back into the world through an ancient cultural tradition.

So, these are the books that contribute most to the 10,000 sales. I also have a bunch of knitting booklets, my cookbook/memoir, and some anthologies all of which had enough sales to make them worthwhile.

This is an exciting time to be an independent author. I have no idea how long the e-book market will stay brisk but with hand-held devices selling at the rate of a million a week the future looks promising. I am just grateful and thrilled.

As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

#SampleSunday: Danse Avec Moi from "My Last Romance"

This is a fragment from the short story Danse Avec Moi from my short story collection, My Last Romance and other passions. It is the featured book for my participation in Book Lovin' Babes Valentine's Blog Hop. Click the link to register for the prizes!

Danse Avec Moi

Jean-Luc has powerful arms. He is not a large man but every bit of him is steely and intense. Just now his arm around my waist crushes me against him and the pressure of his thighs against mine are determined and single-minded. I gasp for breath and he tilts his head back to look at me with those ice blue eyes. He whips me around effortlessly and smiles. I am not a small woman but when he holds me like this I am a child, a rag doll, a puppet on the strings of his private rhythms.

His face is inches above mine and I can smell the intoxicating fragrance of him—a mixture of pine boughs and leather, wine and fresh air. He looks as though he is going to kiss me. It is a maddening habit of his that he will let his mouth come so close to mine that I burn for its touch—then he pulls back and looks at me teasing. The one thing he knows—more than any truth on this earth—is how much I yearn for him.

He tightens his grip on me and turns again, carrying me with him. He throws back his head and laughs with the turn. It is so hot here. He doesn’t seem to notice the heat but I am not accustomed to these steamy tropic-like nights. I find the air thick and suffocating.

The music stops. My feet return to the ground. He steadies me then guides me to the open door. Outside lanterns hang in the giant pin oak trees creating dozens of little moons orbited by thousands of tiny night creatures.

Old women sit on the porch fanning themselves with dried palmetto leaves, chattering in the exotic staccato of this beguiling music they speak. I have only heard this language since coming here with Jean-Luc. Now that I am his wife he can bring me with him to visit his family and the people he has loved all his life. During all the years we lived together in the Northern city that is our home his rare trips home were solitary ones. Whether his family knew that he shared his life and his bed with a woman I did not know but now that we wear matching rings I am welcome among them. To me this is an unimaginable world.

When he walked into my office and my life years ago I could not have envisioned this elegant, reserved man with his portfolio of sophisticated illustrations and softly accented voice in this remote and torrid swamp land.

In the shadows of the night he takes my face in his hands and kisses me as no one else in the world can kiss me. His kisses stir rivers in me that I never knew I possessed before him.

"Ah, Bebe," he whispers brushing aside my hair and letting his breath cool my ear. "You are so exquisite." And he kisses me breathless.

The old women stop rocking and there is tittering. Jean-Luc releases me saying he will get us wine. I lean back against the wall gulping sweet night air and he strides along the porch flirting with the old women in the odd music of their language. They laugh and slap his legs and backside with their fans. I watch his solid, compact body in fine white shirt and tan trousers until he disappears into the room filled with heat and light and laughter. No one from our world, from the publishing house where I spend my days surrounded by technology and academics, from the design studio where he creates as ably with PC and stylus as with pen and ink, would imagine him in this environment.
Read the rest....

Thanks for reading.

The Windy City Author (now in Maine) Sends Kind Words...

Maureen McDermott Gill, formerly of Chicago but now living in Maine, is the author of an excellent police thriller, January Moon, and an avid blogger with two excellent blogs, Tides & Currents and The Windy City New England. Yesterday she posted a lovely and generous plug for my forthcoming novel Depraved Heart. She and her husband Al, who is an excellent book critic, are beta-reading the manuscript and this is what she had to say:

...books, obviously, deserve to be savored... and one of them is Kathleen Valentine's third novel, "Depraved Heart," which I'm reading as a beta reader. She's hitting it out of the park with this one. My husband read it before I could start it; he enjoyed her two other books, "The Old Mermaid's Tale" and "Each Angel Burns," but said he thinks "Depraved Heart" may be her best yet. 

Kathleen's lyricism blows me away, as well as her strong story telling skills. I think "Depraved Heart" is an outstanding achievement. 

I have other friends who write great stories (my friend Nicole Daines Gibeaut comes to mind) and I've learned wonderful things from each of them, but Kathleen is teaching me something special about focus and discipline. She's been laying it on me pretty thick... chiding my ass for spending too much time on Facebook and not enough time writing fiction. I'm very flattered that she thinks I'm a gifted writer -- which is part of the reason she rides my butt (and we're going to talk more about that in another post!). Today, though, I want to direct your attention to Kathleen. 

Kathleen's Kindle sales are soaring and I can't think of a writer who deserves success more than Kathleen. Last summer she decided to hunker down and get very, very serious about finishing "Depraved Heart" while also devoting herself to promoting herself as a writer. 

Kathleen's as gifted with short stories as she is with full length novels. In a blog post she wrote this past Wednesday, January 25th, Kathleen describes how she's unbundled some of her short stories from their prior book formatting and sold them separately and how that has proven very successful; those short stories have driven sales for all of her books. Kathleen's determination to focus on her career as a writer, eschewing almost all other distractions, coupled with her talents as a writer and keen business acumen have all come together. In her post on Wednesday, Kathleen wrote that so far in this month alone (3 weeks!) she's seen over 9,000 books fly "off the digital shelves...." 

I spoke with Kathleen last week and we discussed in more detail how her shorts have enjoyed explosive sales and those sales continually beget more sales. I have at least twenty short stories in various states of completion -- some have been in my files for thirty years and I never even showed them to anyone. Now I'm eyeing them like possible buried treasure.

Kathleen Valentine is going to be one of those highly successful indies who prove indies are a mighty force to be reckoned with -- gifted writers who not only write beautifully but have also mastered the business end of the deal and found clever ways to market multiple talents. 

Thanks, Maureen! Now get to work on that next book!!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Crazy Old Lady [Commentary Version]

You know how a lot of DVDs come with a Bonus Feature called the Commentary version? I love those things. Sometimes I love them more than the movie. I have learned a lot about process and creative innovation from them and about how really creative people think. I have a couple of DVDs that have such excellent commentary versions on them (“Legends of the Fall” and “The Usual Suspects” come to mind) that I re-watch the commentary from time to time just to jump start ideas of my own.

Since the runaway success of my little novelette The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic I have had a lot of reviews from readers which say they wish it was longer. Of course those words are always music to a writer's ears but I do understand that the difference between what a writer writes and what a reader reads is sometimes vast. I am one of those writers who is constantly striving to keep my story interesting and moving forward. Especially if the story contains an element of suspense, you don't want to lose the momentum. I remember when I was writing The Old Mermaid's Tale there was one scene I worked on for WEEKS! I wrote it over and over and over trying to make it tight and clean and gorgeous (for those who have read the book it is the one where Clair asks Baptiste to dance with her in the little beach bar.) Anyway, after sweating blood over that scene, and shedding no small amount of tears, I gave that whole section of the book to one of my beta- readers. She was giving me feedback and I asked her about that scene. She replied, “Oh, yeah, that was a sweet moment.” I was flabbergasted because, of course, to me it represented weeks of toil. But the reader was correct, it was just a moment to her.

So, thinking about the reactions to The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, I thought wouldn't it be interesting to do a “Commentary Version?” I would let the story stand as it but then go through it and insert my own commentary – either in italics or in indented text – telling what I was thinking at that point and why I wrote it the way I did. In fact, it might even be interesting to add some “deleted scenes”, too. I know I wrote a rather sweet love scene between Mattie and Stan their first night in Boston but then cut it because I felt it broke the momentum. I also wrote a much more lengthy version of Mattie's first meeting with Trent in which she remembered him and her feelings about him when she was in high school.

Would such a thing have appeal? I don't know but I think I'm going to give it a try and see what happens.

One thing I know is that I have learned an awful lot from those DVD commentaries. I especially love it when they talk about having to improvise on the spur of the moment or improvisations that work their way into the script by accident. It reminds me of a film project some classmates were working on when we were back in college. It was a student film with a pretty lame script, I was just an observer, and one of the actors had a very, dry, witty sense of humor. He kept injecting dialog that was so good the guy who wrote the script kept adding them for subsequent shoots. However they always feel flat and at one point the director said, “You know the ad libs just aren't as funny when you write them down.” No kidding.

Writing is a mysterious process. Sometimes I labor over a few simple sentences and sometimes I start typing and the words come pouring out in such a cascade my fingers can barely keep up. You never know what will happen. This week I have been giving myself a lot more time to write. Now that the royalties from my books are lightening the burden of earning a living I want to take writing books as seriously as I have always taken my design business. I love both of them but it's nice to have the freedom to chose what you will work on next.

Well, I’ve learned a lot from my readers' comments and I'm taking those to heart. I have 2 more short stories that are about murders and I want to work on them, flesh them out, build on them and let them blossom into something larger if I can. And I'm going to work on a new version of The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic [Bonus Features] which includes commentary and deleted scenes. you never know what might happen....

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's An INFP Good For?

Thanks to a discussion on an internet discussion board last night, I wound up taking a Myers-Briggs Personality Test and discovered I am an INFP. Below is what they had to say about INFPs. I guess I pretty much agree with that... it's certainly sounds like me. I think it is kind of interesting that 2 of the quotes used in the analysis below are from 2 of my favorite books, Moby Dick and The Velveteen Rabbit. I've always said that the moral of The Old Mermaid's Tale, if there is one, is the same as that of The Velveteen Rabbit -- and heaven knows that book owes plenty to Moby Dick:

Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving
by Joe Butt
Profile: INFP
Revision: 3.0
Date of Revision: 26 Feb 2005
"I remember the first albatross I ever saw. ... At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king's ghost in super natural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets not below the heavens. As Abraham before the angels, I bowed myself..." --(Herman Melville, Moby Dick)
INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say they see life through rose-colored glasses. It's as though they live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities.
INFP children often exhibit this in a 'Calvin and Hobbes' fashion, switching from reality to fantasy and back again. With few exceptions, it is the NF child who readily develops imaginary playmates (as with Anne of Green Gables's "bookcase girlfriend"--her own reflection) and whose stuffed animals come to life like the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse:
"...Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand..." (the Skin Horse)
INFPs have the ability to see good in almost anyone or anything. Even for the most unlovable the INFP is wont to have pity.
Rest you, my enemy,
Slain without fault,
Life smacks but tastelessly
Lacking your salt!
Stuck in a bog whence naught
May catapult me,
Come from the grave, long-sought,
Come and insult me!
--(Steven Vincent Benet, Elegy for an Enemy)
Their extreme depth of feeling is often hidden, even from themselves, until circumstances evoke an impassioned response:
"I say, Queequeg! Why don't you speak? It's I--Ishmael." But all remained still as before. ... Something must have happened. Apoplexy!
... And running up after me, she caught me as I was again trying to force open the door. ... "Have to burst it open," said I, and was running down the entry a little, for a good start, when the landlady caught me, again vowing I should not break down her premises; but I tore from her, and with a sudden bodily rush dashed myself full against the mark.--(Melville, Moby Dick)
Of course, not all of life is rosy, and INFPs are not exempt from the same disappointments and frustrations common to humanity. As INTPs tend to have a sense of failed competence, INFPs struggle with the issue of their own ethical perfection, e.g., perfo rmance of duty for the greater cause. An INFP friend describes the inner conflict as not good versus bad, but on a grand scale,Good vs. Evil. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars depicts this conflict in his struggle between the two sides of "The Force." Although the dark side must be reckoned with, the INFP believes that good ultimately triumphs.
Some INFPs have a gift for taking technical information and putting it into layman's terms. Brendan Kehoe's Zen and the Art of the Internet is one example of this "de-jargoning" talent in action.
Introverted Feeling
INFPs live primarily in a rich inner world of introverted Feeling. Being inward-turning, the natural attraction is away from world and toward essence and ideal. This introversion of dominant Feeling, receiving its data from extraverted intuition, must be the source of the quixotic nature of these usually gentle beings. Feeling is caught in the approach- avoidance bind between concern both for people and for All Creatures Great and Small, and a psycho-magnetic repulsion from the same. The "object," be it homo sapiens or a mere representation of an organism, is valued only to the degree that the object contains some measure of the inner Essence or greater Good. Doing a good deed, for example, may provide intrinsic satisfaction which is only secondary to the greater good of striking a blow against Man's Inhumanity to Mankind.
Extraverted iNtuition
Extraverted intuition faces outward, greeting the world on behalf of Feeling. What the observer usually sees is creativity with implied good will. Intuition spawns this type's philosophical bent and strengthens pattern perception. It combines as auxiliary with introverted Feeling and gives rise to unusual skill in both character development and fluency with language--a sound basis for the development of literary facility. If INTPs aspire to word mechanics, INFPs would be verbal artists.
Introverted Sensing
Sensing is introverted and often invisible. This stealth function in the third position gives INFPs a natural inclination toward absent- mindedness and other-worldliness, however, Feeling's strong people awareness provides a balancing, mitigating effect. This introverted Sensing is somewhat categorical, a subdued version of SJ sensing. In the third position, however, it is easily overridden by the stronger functions.
Extraverted Thinking
The INFP may turn to inferior extraverted Thinking for help in focusing on externals and for closure. INFPs can even masquerade in their ESTJ business suit, but not without expending considerable energy. The inferior, problematic nature of Extraverted Thinking is its lack of context and proportion. Single impersonal facts may loom large or attain higher priority than more salient principles which are all but overlooked.
Famous INFPs:
Mary, mother of Jesus
St. John, the beloved disciple
St. Luke; physician, disciple, author
William Shakespeare, bard of Avon
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Evangeline)
A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)
Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie)
Helen Keller, deaf and blind author 
Carl Rogers, reflective psychologist, counselor
Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers' Neighborhood)
Dick Clark (American Bandstand)
Donna Reed, actor (It's a Wonderful Life)
Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis
Neil Diamond, vocalist
Tom Brokaw, news anchor
James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small)
Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
James Taylor, vocalist
Julia Roberts, actor (Conspiracy Theory, Pretty Woman)
Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap)
Terri Gross (PBS's "Fresh Air")
Amy Tan (author of The Joy-Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife)
John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Lisa Kudrow ("Phoebe" of Friends)
Fred Savage ("The Wonder Years")
Fictional INFPs:
Anne (Anne of Green Gables)
Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)
Deanna Troi (Star Trek - The Next Generation)
Wesley Crusher (Star Trek - The Next Generation)
Doctor Julian Bashir (Star Trek: Deep Space 9)
Bastian (The Neverending Story)
E.T.: the ExtraTerrestrial
Doug Funny, Doug cartoons
Tommy, Rug Rats cartoons
Rocko, Rocko's Modern Life cartoons

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On to Plan B...

One of the first things you learn when you get into the wild,wild world of indie publishing is that indie marketing is going to make you crazy. There simply are not enough hours in the day for all the things that you want to try and, no matter how much you do, there is no absolute assurance that any of that will work. The old rules are passé and the new rules change daily. But you need to remember two things: 1. indie publishing is a marathon, not a sprint and 2. the best way to promote your work is to make more of it -- every book you write and publish should promote the rest of your books.

A little over a year ago I had the idea to bundle together 8 short stories that I just happened to have around and sell them as a collection called love, murder, etc. Though it got favorable reviews from the people who read it the collection just never took off. Some months back I took one of the stories in that collection and published it as a stand-alone novella, Arthur's Story: A Love Story. I offered it for 99 cents and sales have been, if not spectacular, a whole lot better than they were for the collection. They are picking up and I'm happy.

So then I took out 2 stories from the "murder" section of that book -- Home-made Pie and Sausage and Killing Julie Morris. Both of them are chilling stories about revenge so I bundled them together and offered them for 99 cents, too, and the same thing happened -- sales weren't stunning but they were much, much better. So, it seemed that the logical thing to do was offer the other stories in the book in smaller lots. Today I just finished work on Mardi Gras Was Over: Three Love Stories and it is now on Amazon.

I have 2 more stories from this group to go.

I also finished drawing the charts for the next knitting instruction book the Mermaid's Garden Shawl and hope to have it on Amazon by next week.

Kindle sales have been wonderful. I'm so impressed and I want to keep this going. Over 9,000 of my books have flown off the digital shelves so far this month and I could not be more surprised or happy. So I am continuing to write and knit and design and promote. It is a full-time job but, at present, it seems to be worth it. I have 2 Amazon Select promotions coming in February. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest Blog from Ray: Some Fall Adventures

Another guest blog from our buddy photographer Ray Beimel in St. Marys, Pennsylvania:

            In October this past year, I did some travelling in south central Pennsylvania on a lovely fall weekend. These are some of the interesting things I saw. In 1997 the Travelling Circus hiked the Appalachian Trail from Old Forge State Forest Picnic Area to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. In doing the necessary car switch, we went past the South Mountain Restoration Center. A huge building loomed out of the foggy rain and I always wanted to go back for a better look. This finally happened. Originally built as a tuberculosis sanitarium in the 1940’s it is little used today. There is a large campus with lots of buildings, some of which are in use. The biggest one was the hospital.

             The day I was there I could see no activity whatever. There were two cars parked nearby and not a soul to be seen. It was kind of spooky actually and probably much more so at night.
            Away from the big building was another one that once was a protectarium for children who were exposed to tuberculosis. This closed in the 1980’s and has been dormant (nice word for rotting away) ever since. Apparently the roof leaks. If you could get inside, it would be some interesting ruins. There is a website of pictures of the place in its ruined state. It’s kind of sad actually. A large well built building that serves no useful purpose any longer is never a happy sight. The grounds are still well kept.

            My next stop was Caledonia State Park. I have camped there many times but I never did any hiking there except for that cold rainy day when the Circus came by on our way to Quarry Gap Shelter. We did over 12 miles that day with rain the whole time. That happened to us a lot. Thaddeus Stevens, a well known abolitionist and Congressman had an iron furnace there until Jubal Early came and destroyed everything on his way to the battle of Gettysburg. The Park has an interpretive trail that takes you past a number of sites associated with the furnace. This is the mill race that brought the waters of Conococheague Creek to the water wheel at the furnace. It was carpeted with pine needles and made for pleasant hiking on a nice fall day.

             After some looking around there, I went over to the Michaux State Forest. I wanted to get a picture of the walls of the Hessian Barn that we passed so often while hiking the Appalachian Trail with Chris’ Backpacking Classes. The trail has been rerouted away from it and there is a nice little parking area adjacent now. However, there are no interpretive markers in place yet.
             I had a notion to come back at night to take some pictures of it lit by flashbulbs but that will have to wait for another time. From there is it just a short drive to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. As luck would have it, this was the weekend of the Furnace Festival. Always a sucker for festival going, I spent a few hours wandering around to see what was going on.
            There was the obligatory blacksmith but the authenticity was disturbed by his talking on a cell phone. Keen eyed pedants (like me) would also note that he was working with mild steel and not wrought iron. But of course, since no one makes wrought iron today, he and others of his trade have little choice. There also some charcoal making going on at a much reduced scale compared to historic times. Being a collier had to suck. You did a lot of manual labor to create the pile then got dirty covering it in mud and leaves. Then you had to keep an eye on the thing for days which meant you were camped out in a rude shack and didn’t get a lot of sleep because you dare not let too much air get in because that would start a fire. And you were surrounded by smoke the whole time.
             Most of the rest of the festival was the usual mix of demonstrations, craft booths, food sellers and such. One display had alpaca, the somewhat calmer cousin of the llama.

            There was a display of old tools there and I saw this little girl trying to do something with a bellows. After a few fruitless tries she gave it up as bad business.
             I always feel sorry for the entertainers hired for such events. This poor fellow has an audience of four and two of them are more interested in rassling around on hay bales. The real draw at festivals of this sort are the trailers like below. It is not really a furnace festival without your chocolate covered bananas and your hot sausage sandwiches.

             There were other mildly interesting sights. The Ironmaster’s Hostel was refurbished and they were holding open house. It looked a cut above most of the hostels I have seen. There was kettle corn and funnel cake and bottled water and baskets and cute stuff and a lady selling semi-good “art” photos. I tried to talk shop with her but I discovered she was getting her prints made at Walmart, didn’t have Photoshop, didn’t have a printer, didn’t cut her own mats, and wasn’t selling anything.
            After a few hours and another visit to the Appalachian Trail museum to see the decent docent I met there before (she was not on duty) I wandered back to the car. I saw this in passing. I had never encountered recycling cans lettered this way. I thought I knew what commingle meant. It was something I tried to do with a girl back in high school and got slapped for my efforts. Not sure what it means in this context. There were lots of people carrying aluminum things around and putting them in the hole but I saw not one person carrying any commingle.

            The next day I was in Gettysburg on my birthday. I spent little time on the battlefield and lots of time seeking out the real tourist draws there these days, ghost tours. Look forward to a rant coming your way soon. Meanwhile, I am wishing all a happy and prosperous New Year.   Ray

Saturday, January 21, 2012

#SampleSunday: Lacy Dove's Revenge from "My Last Romance"

Valentine's Day is coming and what could be a more perfect Valentine than this collection of eight love stories? On February 12, 13, 14 this collection will be free for Kindle. It is also available in a lovely little paperback and at $10.20 it's not much more expensive than a card and packed with romance!
Ruby was a chanteuse with Silvio Santini and the Silver Saints back in the day. In this excerpt she reminisces about the way things used to be. From "My Last Romance" in My Last Romance and other passions.

I watch the kids today with their confused morality and their predictable sexuality and I feel sorry for them. Everything is accepted and nothing is fun. Look at them! Jogging along in the hot sun, sweat pouring off of them. Look at their faces! Do they look happy? Nobody in my day would dream of jogging. We danced. We mambo-ed and we cha-cha-ed and fox trotted all night long. We tangoed and tangled and drank and kissed and felt each other up and never wanted to stop. Look at these girls—thin as teenage boys! Like little pretend men.

Women in my time had chests—the bigger the better—straining against lace brassieres and bouncing under whisper thin silk blouses. We had hips a man could get ideas about and we knew how to use them, too. I could change the course of a man’s life just by turning around in my pink charmeuse evening dress—the one with the cute V dipping all the way down. And then there was that gold tissue faille that was so low in back and so artfully draped in front that men would stare at me and say, "Darlin’, what do you have on under that?"

I’d tilt my eyebrow the way I’d practiced in the mirror—maybe a thousand times—and say, all innocence, "Why, rose-scented talcum powder, sugar. What else?"

Oh, we were women alright. A man could have just about anything he wanted, he just had to figure out what it took to get it. He had to work a little bit. Talk sweet. Make you tingle. The other day I was listening to this relationship expert on the radio. Relationship expert? My lord. She said that she "advocates a mutually beneficial relationship with latitude for individual development." What the hell is that? No wonder these poor girls go running down the streets in this ridiculous heat! It’s a genuine wonder they aren’t screaming.

I say you are either going with a fellow or you aren’t. And God help him if he doesn’t treat you right. I remember this one girl—Lacy Dove Chaldefonte from Sweetwater, Georgia. Whew. She was five feet eight inches and one hundred and fifty pounds of creamy pink, orange-blossom scented female. She drove them crazy with her big doe eyes and mile long legs. There was this one fellow—a trumpet player from one of those Cuban rhumba bands everyone was so crazy about then. Let me tell you he got one look at Lacy Dove in a white sequined halter dress dancing the samba and thought he’d go blind or get seasick from all that glitter and motion. You could see the smoke rising from his bright pink satin trousers.

He and Lacy Dove took up together. That’s what we said back then—"took up together". We knew the same words the kids know today—we just had naughty imaginations and didn’t need to spell everything out. We didn’t have to fuck because we could make the earth move.

That’s another thing today. People just love to be honest, have you noticed? They say something that would get their mouths soaped good and then say, "I’m just being honest." I say honesty is for the unimaginative.

For awhile Lacy Dove and her trumpet player did just fine. They’d come staggering into the club in the middle of the afternoon still sleepy-eyed and love-weary, hands all over each other. She loved to show off all the little silky unmentionables he bought her. He liked her to do strip-teases for him in his hotel room between sets and he spent tons on the kinds of things he liked to watch her peel off. Then the rumors started about him and this red-headed waitress from another club. Lacy just marched right into that club, grabbed that girl by the hair and slapped her silly till the poor thing admitted they’d been carrying-on. That was all it took.

Lacy had it all planned that night. She waited until they got back to his room and she wasted no time getting him undressed and on the bed. Then she started her strip.... First she undid her Midnight Fantasy stockings, one at a time and rolled them down the length of those never-ending legs of hers. She knew what he wanted. She leaned over within a kiss’s distance of his face and tied first one wrist and then the other to the bedposts with those stockings. That guy thought he was in for a grand evening—so excited he was shaking like a wet dog. And she took her time wriggling out of her candy pink silk slip. She teased him with it—drawing it nice and slow across his thighs and belly. She had him squirming something awful. She let it puddle down on the part of his anatomy that was fixing to burst. She did the same with her ribbon-trimmed 36DD brassiere and her rosebud embellished garter belt letting the dumb bastard shiver in anticipation. Finally she turned her back to him and ran her hands over her backside as plump and luscious as a sun-ripened peach as she wiggled out of her spider-web thin panties. Turning to face him—letting him have one last gander at that heavenly body—she licked her lips with her pretty pink tongue. Then she leaned over and took his cigarettes and lighter from the night stand. She gave him her best come-hither gaze as she touched the blue flame to the tip of her cigarette. Then with a sweet smile she dropped the lighter into the silky pile in his lap, picked up her coat, turned and sauntered out closing the room door on his shrieks.

Oh, now don’t get all upset. The trumpet player thrashed around enough to put out the flames and escaped with only minor burns to the former Pride of Havana. Lacy Dove moved to San Antonio and married a roughneck who made it big in the oil-boom of the Seventies. The last I saw of her she was on the cover of Southern Living in front of the gazebo she had just had built in her garden for one of her daughters’ Coming Out parties.

Well, not every girl that got cheated on was as crazy as Lacy Dove. But we were bad and sex was dirty and it was all a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

'Pritneer' Time to get to Work...

I have been hard at work lately on my cycle of Marienstadt stories and I am loving this. After I wrote The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood I was so in enthralled with creating the town of Marienstadt and its quirky, peculiar and yet oh-so familiar characters that I wanted to keep going. I absolutely loved several of the characters in that story. Father Nick was someone I wanted to spend more time with and Gretchen Fritz and her Calico Cuckoo Fabrics & Quilting Supplies shop just begged for further exploration. I loved so many of the townspeople, especially Andy and Annie Kneidl who own the sausage store, and Bob and Mandy Herzing who own the Maple Sugar Shack. And, of course, I was completely in love with Oliver and was in no way ready to be done with him. So I decided to keep on writing.

I sat down and sketched out a list of stories I wanted to try writing about all within the town of Marienstadt and with many of the same characters making appearances. Some of the stories would be funny, some sad, some romantic, some spooky. Each should stand on its own as a story but all will share settings, characters, etc. As I have been working on this more and more stories keep popping into my head.

I finished the first draft of one of them last week. It is a sad story and I found it hard to write but it is also an important story about something that really happened back during the Depression. I called it “The Confession of Genny Franck.” In it Father Nick gets called to visit 103 year old Genny Franck, the great-grandmother of Trish Ritter (from the Belsnickel story). Genny tells Father Nick that she has a story to tell him and then she'll let him decide if he wants to give her absolution or not. I'll admit I had a terrible time while I was writing it because there is so much pain in it but I think the ending is beautiful and uplifting so perhaps it is worth it.

I needed a complete change from that so I started a second story which I am calling “Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snow-Plow” and I've never had this much fun writing anything in my life. I'm sitting here laughing as I write about a Marienstadt “character” who gets in trouble with the law and high-tails it to a hideout in the woods. Chief of Police Henry Werner, a gorgeously handsome but troubled man, recruits his old friend Oliver Eberstark to go into the woods and hunt for Peeper. Nobody should have this much fun writing.

There are several more stories on my list including one about a competition between two of Marienstadt's oldest families over how to make a proper dumpling and a saga about Jubal Winter, one of the town's earliest, and most mysterious, residents. This story is based in a story handed down in my own family.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to call the completed collection The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Marienstadt Stories. Trying to capture the true flavor and sense of the place in which I grew up is more challenging and yet more fun than I would have imagined. While writing the other day I remembered how my Dad and many of the other local people used the word “pritneer” - a word I've never heard used anywhere else. He would say, “it's pritneer dark out” or “the tomatoes are pritneer ready to be picked”. The word means “almost” and is probably a corruption of “pretty nearly” but in my mind it is such a local word.

This morning I read a post on the St. Marys Facebook page about the way dump-trucks loaded with cinders would come out after a snowfall and 2 guys with shovel would stand in the back and spread cinders on the roads to make them less slippery. I remember that so well as well as how many kids had tiny black lumps in their knees from falling and skinning them and getting cinders under the skin that never left.

It surprises me how memory works – the smells, the flavors, the sounds, the feel of what it meant to be a kid in a small Pennsylvania Dutch town in the fifties and sixties. Writing about it is pure joy – even with its sadnesses and shames.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Blog: Ray's Best Hike in Penn's Woods

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania sent this for today's blog:

The Best Hike In Penn’s Woods

            For being a populous eastern state, much of Pennsylvania is still wooded and wild. This makes for a lot of good hiking trails. I have walked many of them with my fine traveling companions Brad and Chris. This is the story about our most recent hike on the best of all possible trails. I am speaking of the Falls Trail in Rickett’s Glen State Park. It is in the northwest corner of Luzerne County, north of Bloomsburg, west of Wilkes Barre, just in case you want to go there.
    I first hiked it in 1996. Chris got there in July 2011 and liked it so much that he thought we really needed to get Brad there. Thus our November trip took us to Luzerne County. Chris had reservations at a campground about a half hour away from the park. I got there just a few minutes after he did. We got the RV set up and just as the welcome mats were put out, Brad showed up. We set out from three diverse places over a hundred miles away and over 130 miles apart and still managed to meet within a half hour of each other.  We are good that way. Here’s our campsite on the frosty Saturday morning.
 Friday night we had a nice dinner of Brad’s chili, my salad, and of course, beer. I won’t bore you with the details of the inevitable Cinch tournament that night. In the morning Brad made French toast and then we were off to the park for an all day hike. 

It was a sunny day but not all that warm. We were wearing hiking boots, carrying packs, and using trekking poles. We walked past a ranger in his truck and after a cursory nod, he looked at our feet. The trail is steep, muddy, and can be dangerous and the park strongly recommends good footgear. I guess we passed. Of course, even this little bit of inspection brought out a minor rant from me. It went something like this.
            “Bleep. What’s with that ranger? Couldn't he see that we were very serious well-equipped hikers? Hell, I was probably hiking this trail when he was still in high school.  Bleep. Where does he get off checking us out? Bleep bleep."  My anti-authoritarian rants never cease to amuse the guys.  They try really hard to keep me away from rangers. There was severe flooding there recently and much of the trail had been rebuilt with that last week judging from the fresh gravel and the Bobcat tracks that were still obvious.
            This is what is called a “lollipop” trail. That means you hike up the “stick”, loop around, and come back down the stick. It is flat to start with easy hiking in a forest of virgin hemlocks. Then you have a choice of taking the high road or the low road. Unlike in Scotland, taking the high road gets you there faster.  

The two trails converge just below the first of the falls. From there it is alternately flat and steep. And it is very very scenic if you find waterfalls pleasing to look at. And who among us does not like looking at waterfalls? There are 22 of them on this hike, hog heaven for the falls enthusiast. Given the recent rains, they were all running quite nicely full. In a dry summer the flow is somewhat less than that provided by a Super Soaker. In winter only registered ice climbers are allowed in the gorge.

            As we passed each falls, Chris or I would take a picture. I was packing the beater camera so my stuff was not wall hanger worthy. I also shot some video so I can hear the falls when I want to.  There are three falls on the “stick” part of the trail.  Just before we got to Waters Meet where the two glens come together, we passed a number of stacked rock cairns.   

While we made some pictures, a couple of guys came up and asked what that was about. They would not know me as a historian who deals strictly with facts so I gave rein to my inner storyteller. I explained that there had been some serious flooding in the area recently and there was a small group of New Age believers who felt that the erection of such cairns, the burning of incense, and the chanting of the proper incantations would keep the stream from flooding in the future. I explained it was quite a colorful ceremony and that dozens took part with even more looking on because the culmination of the ceremony was a young couple conjugating in the stream.  The guy’s response to this pack of preposterous lies was “really?”   
            There is a wooden map at Water’s Meet and this picture might make it more clear about what the trail is about.

   The trail is in red. The falls are all named.  I wonder who Murray Reynolds was. You might expect Indian names like Oneida and Mohawk, but not Sheldon Reynolds. We decided to take the left fork so we would be going uphill on the steeper side. The highest waterfall, Ganoga, is on this side. It is 94 feet high. So if the creek falls 94 feet the trail must rise 94 feet. The trail is narrow, rocky, and wet in many places. We were happy to have the trekking poles. Only a very few were using them.  Since it was later in the season and a bit on the chilly side, we didn’t see the kind of hikers you will find in summer. I have seen Gucci loafers, gold slippers like old female urbanites wear, Chuck Taylors, flip flops, Doc Martens, even barefoot. Evacuating an injured person out of the glens has to be a real chore. For my part, I would let the ravens and buzzards clean the carcass and then pack out the bones in spring. Well, you know I don’t really mean that but I am sure that the chore is difficult enough to require a designated curser, hundreds of feet of rope, a Stokes litter, and a Coast Guard Boatswain's Mate to accomplish.
            Brad took a picture of Chris and me in front of a falls. You can see how we were dressed and geared. I think one might guess we had hiked a bit. Or as Bill Eppright might put it, we looked like we had true crust.

             Given that it was sunny there were a fair number of other hikers on the trail. Many of them seemed to be students from nearby Bloomsburg University. There were also many Asians, mostly Koreans. We saw their vehicles and it looked like a Republic of Korea Marine Corps veteran’s group with spouses. Some of those ladies were doing some fast paced hiking. Of course, it is easier to get 100 pounds up the hill than it is to get 240 pounds up the hill.

            Dogs too. And small children.  We saw one way too cute little girl, couldn’t have been more than four, gamely ascending Glen Leigh. She was all in pink and I have no idea how she was going to deal with the big rock steps ahead of her. I suspect the pink would be replaced by mud before she got to the top.

            The other side of the gorge was sunlit and there was enough colorful foliage to make for some pretty scenes. Chris found one near the top. Once at the top, the trail across is mostly flat. Still, it is not a good place for very large people as the photo below will show.

            This is the aptly named Midway Crevasse. Just a short way down the train we found a very large flat rock just off the trail. We settled in for lunch. Brad made a bowl of Rachael Ray’s tuna with artichoke hearts, celery, Greek seasoning, black olives, and olive oil all wrapped up in a tortilla. As I am wont to say, it was tasty stuff. And the traditional bag of spice drops for dessert. You might ask, what about the Little Debbie Nutty Bars. Of course we had some of those. They take on the character of emergency rations and if there is no emergency, we eat them.

            After lunch we played a game of Cinch. It was fun to watch how the passing hikers dealt with seeing us there. Most walked by with just a furtive glance. Some gave us friendly greetings which we returned. Despite it looking like there was a scenic vista (there wasn’t) only one couple came over to see what they could see.  I believe Chris won the card game.
            From there it was largely downhill into Glen Leigh. This gorge is narrower and there are several bridges, none of which I bothered to make a picture of.

            It’s all downhill to Water’s Meet and on a couple of occasions I was very happy to have the poles to keep me upright.  Toward the end of the hike I photographed the guys on top of one of the Reynolds waterfalls.

            Arguably, this is the most photogenic one with an aesthetic marred only by the two guys standing at the top.
            Back at the campground we had a hearty dinner of goop mélange followed by more cards and lots of conversation. In the morning Brad made his legendary pretty and yet tasty omelets and then it was time for the obligatory group shot.

            Chris’ RV is a Winnebago Minnie Winnie. We decided that we will refer to it as the Tin Can instead.
            I cannot speak too highly of this hike. If you are wandering about Penn’s Woods and looking for a natural site you won’t find anywhere else, you can do no better than Rickett’s Glen State Park. And just to connect my favorite hike with my favorite Civil War site, Rickett was an artillery captain in the Army of the Potomac whose men held off a Confederate charge by whacking the Rebs about the head and shoulders with rammers and other implements. They have a fine monument on Cemetery Hill under the watchful eye of General Hancock’s equestrian statue.
            Speaking of which, the next story to come will be an extended rant about a famous American battlefield being encroached upon by forces of evil commercialism. Do I speak of Walmart’s desire to build on the Chancellorsville battlefield? No. Perhaps I am thinking of the suburban sprawl encroaching on Bull Run Battlefield? No. I refer to the Ghost Tours that have become omnipresent in Gettysburg.
            Until then, be safe, enjoy.  Ray