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We Interrupt the Grimness of the Writing Marathon to Bring You . . .

Views from the Inside of a Homeowners' Meeting


I've had a couple of pretty productive days -- 3600 words Sunday and 2500 yesterday -- so when our annual Home Owners Association Meeting popped up on my calendar, I couldn't come up with a good excuse. It even stopped raining. So off I trudged to the clubhouse last night to get a good look at my neighbors, hear the bad news about our finances, and vote for three new board members from a slate of  - - - three candidates.

Wow! If I were a scientist, I think I would have seen the room as a group of petri dishes, in each of which  a separate cluster of germs have been incubating for an entire year.

There were the "old-timers," of which I happen to be one. We moved into this condo community together back in 2004, just as soon as our buildings were ready for occupancy (six buildings, 24 housing units in that first batch.) There aren't many of us left. The half-life of a "retirement" community is not very long! But those of us still hanging around were clustered in the back row, many wearing hats to hide the ravages of disease or the disinterest that was leading us to nap through the formalities. We've heard these complaints and arguments a time or two before and know they are not going anywhere.

There was a row of widows and divorcees -- women newly single, inheritors of property they knew little about -- ready to ask the resident men trivial questions they used to ask their husbands. I could belong to that group, too, but the back rows were more fun.

There were the independent women, many long-time residents, who were not about to see their opinions trample on by a small group of "know-it-all" men. They were busy exchanging gossip, reports on who had died, and which units were coming up for sale. The self-appointed Neighborhood Watch mavens were a part of that group.

There was a gentleman in the back who announced that he wanted to run for office so he could find at least a few "like-minded individuals" in the group. That set off warning signals for me. "Like-minded" is usually a code word for "those who share my own particularly vitriolic group of prejudices." Fortunately he was not elected to office.

And finally there were the newcomers -- mostly young-middle-aged couples, looking around wide-eyed at their neighbors and wondering if that back door was really an exit or if it would set off an alarm if they tried to sneak out. (Note that we have no age-restrictions here, but the units are not designed for family living. They appeal to newlyweds who need to make due with that bargain set of "furniture for a whole apartment," to grandparents who are tired of babysitting the grandkids, and to singles of all ages who are just looking for comfort and privacy.)

At the front of the room sat the current board, at least one of whom was asleep.  A mixed bag of conclusions resulted from the meeting. The usual suspects were elected (re-elected) to fill the slate of offices. The sprinkler system still isn't working right, it's too expensive to put a cover over the pool for the winter, some trees need to come down because somebody planted them to close to foundations, and it may take up to two weeks to fix a water leak from a roof although it's quicker if the water is coming up through the floor. The good news was that our monthly assessment is not going to increase and the budget is finally in the black.

And so to bed, safe in the knowledge that our little community will survive for another year without our help!

The Week in Review

What have I been up to this week? It certainly hasn't been blogging, and I apologize to all of you who keep checking back, only to find the same old stuff. Better days are coming, I promise.

This week my only postings had to do with the publication of my boxed set of the early South Carolina books. That's mostly taken care of now, and I can report that pre-orders  are available wherever you prefer to shop --Kindle, B&N Nook, Kobo, or iBooks. Just look for "The Civil War in South Carolina's Low Country."



I was also busy this past week with two Lions events--both were important. First, we attended a Southern College of Optometry meeting for "Dining in the Dark."   The SCO Lions are finishing a drive for new members -- 81 recruits from the First-Year class so far. This experience of what it is like to be blind may inspire others to join.







Then yesterday we spent the morning at "VisionWalk," a Memphis-wide fundraiser for retinal diseases. I spent the week recruiting among the Germantown Lions and had signed up some of its members and friends as part of our mission to help fight the causes of preventable blindness in the world.  We joined a dedicated band of supporters -- all races, all ages, sighted and visually impaired, children and parents accompanied by strollers, babies in arms, and dogs in Halloween costumes.  (Note a little girl using her white cane in the picture below in the lower left corner.) We had 16 participants and raised approximately $620.  Here are a couple of pictures.














Beyond that? Well, I've now completed the initial draft of the first seven chapters of "Yankee Reconstructed," the sequel to "Damned Yankee." That's almost 15,000 words, and I'm starting to see the story taking shape.  The historical period in which it takes place, however, is not one I'm really up to speed on yet, so here's a  lot of research involved.

For example, today, I needed an undertaker, and I wanted him to be as authentic as possible. So I spent yesterday afternoon reading SC newspapers from 1867, looking for ads for undertakers and reading obituaries to get a feel for funeral practices (Yes, someone dies early in the new book!)  I found one, too! That's what makes writing historical fiction so much fun. You can't make these details up.

Thomas E. Dalwick had a shop located on King Street, just across from where The Ordinary stands today.  He advertised his carpentry skills and his upholstery business, and then in small print mentioned that he was an undertaker (using his skills to produce caskets). He also offered 24-hour-a-day service in body removal and disinterment, in case someone needed to move or dig up a body. Look for him when the new book comes out!



Wine and Cheese, Because Writers Deserve Them




Today I am posting a new board on Pinterest to complement my book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese. No, I don't think a book club would be interested in reading this handbook on "How To Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing," but individuals might do well to check out some of the advice given here.  And writers' groups may want to fortify themselves as they wrestle with the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.  I'm available to discuss self-publishing with those who are considering it, and that's as good an excuse to throw a party as not. This new board lists some of The Second Mouse's favorite wines and pairs them with appropriate cheeses and other snacks.

How do you go about setting up a wine and cheese party?  Ideally, you want your guests to enjoy light refreshments, not eat (or drink) themselves silly. You also want to offer them some new experiences -- some unexpected pairings -- a taste of an unfamiliar food or drink. And you want to control what food they eat while drinking a particular wine, so as not to have one overwhelm the other.

With those precautions in mind, you can plan to set up three or maybe four sampling areas.  Let your guests start off with one of the white wines, with their mild cheeses and fresh fruits. If you have a large crowd, you may want them to move next to a rose or zinfandel 
accompanied by a rich pate or some mild cured meat products like a summer sausage.Then they can move on to a more substantial red, with their accompanying hard, sharply flavored cheeses, dried fruits, olives and nuts. The last and finishing wine can be either a powerful red or something like a port or sherry, and your guests may be happily surprised to find chocolates accompanying them.

The board offers some of my favorite wines, although it is not intended to push one winery over another.  For example, there are many versions of pinot gris, including the Italian pinot grigio, which comes from exactly the same grape. Start by choosing the kinds of wine that you enjoy, find ones you can afford, and then look here for suggestions on their pairings.  Be adventurous. Don't like apples? Substitute pears. Not a fan of walnuts? Use pecans for crunch.. Don't want cracker crumbs in the carpet? Offer thin slices of a French baguette, instead.

Now, go throw a party to celebrate something -- a new book, a new pen, or a new idea. It doesn't really matter WHAT you celebrate, so long as you take the time to relax, enjoy the company of lovely people, and explore a new taste or sensation.  Your writing will profit!



Catching Up

I've been gone for a couple of days because events suddenly caught up with me.  I felt as if I haven't moved from this keyboard in 36 hours, but nothing I did translated into a blog post.  Sorry. So what have I been doing?

Well, first of all came the launch of Left by the Side of the Road.  Contrary to popular opinion around here, a book does not just magically appear. There were announcements to send out, websites to update, new Tweets to schedule on Twitter, Amazon set-up for the paperback, Smashwords revisions for the e-books, and physical copies of the books to be ordered so that I can take them with me on next month's tour of South Carolina.

Next, in the middle of a scheduled meeting with a hotel that we were considering for our next Mid-South auction, my phone rang. Now, some of you will remember that last year about this time, I was trying to negotiate a connection to the Penn Center on St. Helena Island -- the setting of my book The Road to Frogmore.  At the time, we failed to reach an agreement, and I've been a little spooked ever since.  If they didn't like the book, I thought, maybe there was something wrong with it. (That's a typical author-nightmare reaction, by the way. One rejection gets magnified out of all proportion to the other positive sales figures.)  Anyway, on the phone was the purchasing agent from the Penn Center, telling me that they had decided to carry the book in their very limited bookstore.  She needed pricing information, shipping, etc. -- all information I did not have at my fingertips.  Finalizing those arrangements took several phone calls, but all is well, now, and the books have been ordered and shipped.  The book will be seen by all those who visit the Museum and Visitors' Center there on St. Helena -- and just in time for this year's Heritage Days, which draws some 30,000 visitors. [Sign of relief!]

Next, I had to deal with another looming deadline.  Next April we are hosting the annual Tennessee Lions Convention for around 250 people, and there is already pressure from attendees and high-priced help to get the registration materials ready before the end of this month. I had a skeleton website up, and we were working on the details of meetings, meals, speakers, and entertainment.  Bu registration? Nope, we weren't ready for that.  It involves  paper registration form, but also an on-line registration option -- which in turn required a specialized new PayPal account. After tearing my hair out all day yesterday, the website AND on-line registration form are ready to go.  [Lions who have been waiting for this: Click here.]

You may also remember that a few days ago,  I was optimistically planning to get in some 22 days of writing that I was going to count toward this year's NaNoWriMo extravaganza. All I needed was 1667 words per day for three and a half weeks. The first week, I was actually a bit over quota, But this week? Uh . . .only 4,816 words for the week, just a little over half of what I planned. I'm going to try to catch up over the weekend.

With luck, I'll be back to blogging next week, with a series of posts about all the new programs that are cropping up on the internet. Among them are "Series," "Collections," and "Pre-Orders."  See you then.


Might as Well Laugh about It!

They say laughter helps everything, right?

That's sort of how I feel as I look ahead to the coming week.  It's not terribly busy, in terms of meetings or appointments, but it's full of unexpected and unusual activities.

Let's start from the outside and work in. First, the county has finally decided to repave the 4-lane road that runs past our condo complex. They're scraping it down to the base before they start smearing tar around, so they're predicting tied-up traffic all week. Hot, noisy, and smelly is the forecast.

Once inside the entrance way and away from that construction, we'll find house painters.  Our building is one of the ones scheduled to have all siding and trim repainted.  I'm glad to see it done, but the process is always messy and full of the need to move porch furniture, plants, etc. And then we get to have people peering in the windows.  They're working on Building 4 now.  We're in Building 6, so they'll be here in a couple of days.


So . .  safe inside the house?  Nope! Our master bath needs major repair. Faulty construction has allowed the tile in the shower to shift slightly, thus causing tiny leaks, which in turn, become petri dishes for mold spores,which are now causing paint to peel and walls to blister. Fixing involves tearing out all old tile and shower pan, repairing dry wall, and replacing shower stall with an all-in-one liner.  The contractor just called to say he'll be here this afternoon, with major demolition to start in the morning. How long will it take? Nobody knows until the old stuff is removed and we can see what kind of mess lies behind the wall.

Sounds like I need a project to keep me busy inside my office and out of the way of the mess on the other side of the house.  How about two?  I've been working on the second edition of Left by the Side of the Road, which involves a new introduction, 12 new stories, and a major re-organization of older content.  The first edition only appeared on Kindle Select.  The second edition will come out in paper and be available on all e-book sites as well, so publishing it becomes more complicated. I've reached the point at which I start turning the manuscript over to the book designers, but that doesn't come without a lot more detail work.  I need to get that underway this week.

Meanwhile, Parts 1 and 2 of my new book, Damned Yankee, have been to the editor and are now back for a second pass. The good news is that she says she loves it; the bad news is that it came back marked up with over 1600 little corrections.  Some of those are rather significant plot elements that need adjusting. The majority are little details, like an apostrophe that is turned the wrong way, or two spaces where I only need one. Big or small, each one needs to be addressed, so that is going to be time-consuming.

In other words, I have much to keep me busy, and enough distractions to keep me from accomplishing any of it.  Please wish me luck.