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Learning To Be Me

May 15, 2017

Most of you who know me or who have been following me know I’m independent and stubborn. That’s a double understatement. So, three weeks ago when I fell and broke my wrist, I knew I was going to need a lot of help. My dear husband stepped up to taking care of me along with all of his own tasks. He had no idea what being me entailed.

I broke the right radius, the bone that allows the wrist to turn. I had surgery one week later.

Now, I’m profoundly right-handed, so I knew teaching my useless left hand to do anything would be a long and winding road, It was and is.

Let’s start with what I’m doing now: writing a blog entry. I’m typing with my left hand, backing up constantly to fix typos, and trying to keep my thoughts clear. Yes, my brain struggles to fend off the anesthesia muzzies. I figured out how to hunt and peck the letters. Then there was a contraption called THE MOUSE. I didn’t reset the mouse buttons, because it wouldn’t have done a darned bit of good. I’m better at mousing. I’m so proud of me. I’m feeling cocky enough to trying to cut and paste, but not until I feel like being bought to my knees in frustration.

Cooking is out of the question. I have a freezer full of homemade soups and stews. We laid in a stack of Lean Cuisine and plenty of fresh veggies for salads and for roasting on the grill. Terry is good in the kitchen. Normally, I cook and he cleans up. Now, he’s doing it all. I’m so lucky. Eating itself can be a challenge. As one of my friends said years ago about his toddler: “it’s not pretty, but it’s effective.” Only twice since the break have I wished for a bib. At least, clothes and hands wash. Speaking of laundry, I’ve never been good at folding fitter sheets, but at least I have an excuse. Wonder how long I can milk it.

Personal hygiene has been easier than I thought. A baggie over the mallet bandage, rubber bands to keep the water out, and an elbow to help with shampoo bottles. Pedicures take of toes and feet. Forget makeup. I’m out and about in native skin. And bless the people who developed battery-operated toothbrushes; they are my heroes.

To the people who have come to my aid in putting groceries in the car, adding lids to my coffee so I don’t pour slop hot liquids all over, and the sweet young girl who carried two lattes to the car. I appreciate your kindness. To Joesephine at the Westlake Library, the “scene of the crime,” who fetched ice, called Terry, and took me to get emergency treatment, you’re my hero for springing into action and not getting sick when you saw how out of alignment the wrist was. I promise to share your kindness forward.

Tomorrow I go back to the surgeon. I hope I get a smaller splint/bandage and go off to physical therapy. Keep an eye on Facebook for updates.

 

Featured, Writing, Writing Style

From My Spam Folder

April 10, 2017

Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, I actually look at what’s in my spam folder. I was gone for a few days last week to the practice rounds at The Masters. When I finally plowed through my spam, I found this delectable post.

Headline: YOUR SILENT IS A CLEAR PROOF THAT YOU ARE REAL DEAD.

Who can resist that hook? I couldn’t. I had to find out if I was real dead. After the “Dear Valued Customer,” address, the message commenced with:

“I need to confirm that this is realy truth before we release your total funds to this gentle man. This office was contacted by Mr. Richards Thomas who claimed to be your brother. He promised to pay the needed fee and claim the package as your next of kin.”

Other than there are a few typos in this opening, it’s wrong in one big area: I’m an only child, ergo, no brother.

Next, the writer continued. “He said that you were involved in a car accident last week and died. We need to confirm that your are truly dead…We believed that you are dead, but as a federal office [he signs the note with his title Director of (IMF)] we need a proof for record purposes…If this is true!!! May your gentle soul rest in perfect peace. But if its not true then get back to us immediately you receive this message to enable us to proceed…”

Well, now, if I’m truly dead, I can’t confirm I’m dead. If I’m not dead, then I could, but the director of (IMF) wants too much personal information. I had to make a hard decision. If I followed his last instruction, “And also reconfirm your full delivery information wile geting back ok,” I’m not sure what he wanted. I mean, I could send a pic with today’s paper to prove I’m alive. Or I could delete the message.

I chose to delete this man’s sincere concern about my health. I hope my brother, Mr. Richards Thomas, enjoys the $250,000,000US he will claim shortly.

So, for now, I wish him well.

I think I’ll have fried Spam for dinner. Seems fittin’ after this communique.

Hope you enjoy the giggle. I love these semi-literate spam-o-grams, don’t you?

###

Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery. She has a new short story, “Midnight in the Church of the Holy Grape,” in 50 Shades of Cabernet. Her works have appeared in several anthologies and on NPR.

Editing, Featured, Proofreading, Writing, Writing Style

Close-Ups

March 27, 2017

Have you noticed how cat selfies are taking over social media? Most bloggers know that if we want more people reading our blogs, we throw in cat photos or videos. So, in a blatant attempt to engage a host of readers in this blog post, I’m leading off with a close-up of my kitty, Smokin’ Mocha Java. Gotta admit, I’m prejudiced, but then again, I’m her human.

Mocha is here for a reason. It’s to introduce a mundane, nerdy post about one of the things writers HATE to do. It might be the most hated task in writing and producing a book. That final read-through, when you’re as sick of the manuscript as you can be, when you couldn’t see a grammo or typo if it scratched you on the hand, when you know that every word is perfect–until you get the galleys back from the publisher. Every error screams, “What were you thinking? Are you nuts? You think this is ready for the public? Sheesh!”

That’s right, final edits and proofreading are the bugaboos of most writers, me included. I call this “close-up reading.” Let me share my routine, if you will. If you are bored, I’m down with that. Thanks for stopping by. Catch you later.

What, you’re still here? You want to share my pain? Terrific. Here’s what I do for the last polishing of the manuscript before it goes to print.

  • I read the manuscript through from beginning to end with no pen in hand. This let’s me escape into the story and characters. It also allows me to ignore said typos and grammos.
  • Next, I read every word, every sentence, to see if it belongs, to see if it advances the plot, to see if it develops the character. I look for words I overuse, like like, just, very, anything ending with ly. All get the knife.
  • I listen to the dreadful computer voice read the book to me. Windows Narrator lets you choose a lot of options, but it still. sounds. like. a. robot. Mr. Robot also points all missing your brain know are there. Oh, wait, that should read “all missing words your brain knows are there.”
  • I read from the last page to the first, from the last sentence on the bottom of the page to the top of the page, and right to left. Are you still with me? I cut a mask that exposes a single line of text, which forces me to look at every word OUT OF CONTEXT. By looking at each word in its own right, I produce the best copy I can.

Even with all this, typos slip in. I think they sneak into the manuscript between sending it to my publisher and my publisher sending it to the printer. No amount of pest control strips or sprays prevents at least on typo from living through to the printed page. No matter how closely writers edit, there’s always something that gets through the close-up review. It’s so mortifying.

Mocha wants the last word: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

###

 Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery. She has a new short story, “Midnight in the Church of the Holy Grape,” in 50 Shades of Cabernet. Her works have appeared in several anthologies and on NPR.
Featured, Lifestyle, Stress, Writing

Frazzled

March 20, 2017

That’s the adjective that defines me right about now. As usual, I have too much on my plate, too little of me to get everything done, and too little time to finish my daily priorities.

I started the year with a reasonable to-do list and a clean desk. Virtually every day, some “crisis” pops up to derail the day’s tasks. Last week, it was Go Daddy calling to let me know that the version I’m on for my writer’s club was no longer going to be supported. Well, now. Okay. Hmm, let’s see. My last webmeister left the club two years ago. The one before that left three years ago. I dug through tons of files to find the password. Should be easy peasy to transfer the website to the new format, huh. At least that’s what the nice man at Go Daddy told me. All would have been well had the template we used fit ANY template in the new version. I tried several before realizing I had to transfer page by page, add pages to manage some of the content, etc. I figured that if I preserve the content, I can make the site workable when I have time to think about it. Yeah, right. When I have time to think about it. Like next century. And I will NOT stay as the webmeister.

I am the webmeister for an arts council. My problem last week was getting a button to display the right price for tickets to an event. No matter how I tried to fix it, the darned button kept displaying the wrong price. I finally asked a friend to see if he could figure out what was going on. Seems like an artifact from a different button stepped on the html — oh, hell, you don’t care about code and stuff like that. Leave it to say, I turned around three times, spit over my left shoulder, and scratched my left ear with my right big toe. Yup, things magically fixed themselves. That, and removing that errant fragment manually.

Couple in the release of an anthology last week and I’m behind the schedule for getting my signings set up. I have several, but need more. I’ll be busy calling locations where I usually sign books to get some time.

And I’m in the last readings/edits for my next novel. All comments are back from beta readers, my editor has offered final suggestions on places that don’t work, and I am almost, but not quite, on schedule to deliver the manuscript to my publisher.

After all that, I’ll tackle the in-floor, where all the things from the clean desk ended up.

Hope you are having a good day.

 

Anthology, Featured, Marketing, Mystery, Writing

50 Shades of Cabernet

March 6, 2017

For the longest time, I’ve avoided talking about my books, interviewing authors, writing about what I read. It’s time to weave more of these stories into my personal posts.

I’m starting with an anthology to which I had the honor of contributing a short story. More than a dozen writers got together virtually to write light-hearted mysteries around a wine theme. Called 50 Shades of Cabernet, the story had to have mystery elements, although not necessarily murders, and at least one mention of Cabernet. When I was first invited, I had no idea what I’d write. It had to be original; it had to meet a certain word count; and it had to be funny.

I don’t write humor. My first self-published book, which will come out this year, is about a female serial killer. In first person singular. From her perspective. That’s right–a female serial killer telling her story. The closest she gets to humor as sarcasm and snark.

I found writing a lighter story a great challenge and a welcome relief after spending months inside the head of a psychopath. Or should I say, she spent several years inside my head. Whatever.

Wine, huh? I like wine. I love Cabernet. I love thinking of ways people can get themselves into and out of jams. I sat several times to write, only to run out of ideas after a paragraph or two. I pushed the story aside. One day, when I was driving back from one of my writing groups, the epiphany hit. Why not do a send-up of New Age religions? Why not build one around celebrating wine? Why not layer on a few Neo-Druid trappings? And thus a story was born.

My story is “Midnight In the Church of The Holy Grape” is just such a send-up. Ryan, a member of this non-church church, wants his wife, Lucy, to go with him to the Winter Solstice meeting where he hopes he will be chosen to move up in the non-hierarchy hierarchy. His wife wants nothing to do with it. He persuades her finally, but she’s not a happy camper. Until she actually gets to the Gothic building and into the basement where they meet. Add moody music, elaborately laid tables waiting to groan with food and wine, and a crone sitting at the head. Well, Lucy becomes intrigued.

The layers: gothic setting, odd music in the background, the crone at the head of the table, and a battle between sects.

Oh, where does Cabernet come in? The crone is the Wrong Reverend Ruby Cabernet. Her leadership is challenged.

Did we have fun writing our stories? I sure as heck did. I only wish we could say we sat in a room and written together. We didn’t. In fact, I haven’t met half of the writers in the anthology except virtually. I hope you like the book. As soon as it is available, I’ll have a link to it on my web page and will be offering signed copies. For in-person signings, please check out our Facebook page.

Okay, enough about me. In a later blog, I will offer an interview with an author of my choice.

Editing, Featured, Writing, Writing Challenge, Writing Style

Entering the Death Throes of Editing

February 27, 2017

For the next month I will be heads down editing a manuscript to send to my publisher. If you’ve never been in my shoes, er, chair, er, sitting on my ball at my desk, you might not know what death throes of editing  means.

It starts with a complete read of the manuscript. I print it out first and read it from start to finish. Somewhere along the way, I pick up a red pen and begin marking sections that need work. Or words that need changing. Or chapters that were once brilliant and now have no home in the book. This is what I think of as the first rough cut, the first time I start at page one and read straight through to “the end.” This read can lead to a flip flop from despair to elation. “It’s junk.” “It’s great.” Usually, it’s somewhere in between.

I find places where I need to fix the story line. I may have glitches in hair color, time line, characters’ names. Yes, I have goofed on characters’ names, going from Eric to Alec, from Beth to Annie. No matter how many tables I have of the characters’ names and what they look like, overeager writing can create chaos. This continuity fix takes time, but it’s the most fun, because it’s where I finally polish the story line.

Okay, now that I’ve fixed the continuity problems, I need to read for word choice.  That is the tedious read. Does every sentence fit? Is every word the right one to convey the sense I want conveyed? What do I need to change to maintain the voice of the narrator? Every word has to be as perfect as I can make it. This is the director’s cut, where everything I think should be in the book will survive.

Finally, I pull out the Chicago Manual of Style and make sure that my grammar conforms to the norm. I read for missing words. I read for missing, or, too, many, commas. I look at punctuation! because? hey…We all #need; punctuation.

When that is done, I read from the last page to the first, right to left, bottom of the page to the top. Line by line, word by word, gray hair by gray hair I work through the manuscript. And lastly, I use Microsoft Narrator and listen to the book. This is the final cut, the best I can do.

AND STILL I MAKE MISTAKES. STILL I MISS TYPOS. STILL I DON’T KNOW THAT THE U.S. HAVE NEVER USED CORDITE IN GUNPOWDER.

Sigh.

 

Featured, Mad Max, Uncharted Territory, Writing, Writing Style

Questions From A Book Club

February 20, 2017

I recently spoke to a local book club about writing my Mad Max series of mysteries. Their questions were so astute that I wanted to answer some of them here. Hang on.

  1. Why did you set Uncharted Territory in post-Katrina Mississippi?  Max is entering uncharted territory as a grandparent raising her grandchildren full time. I wanted a landscape that resembled the situation she was in. Post-Katrina Mississippi, especially the area along the Gulf Coast, was barren, without landmarks, much as Max’s life is. Mississippi is an objective correlative where what is going on inside Max is manifested in the land she sees around her.
  2. How did you get the idea for the home-school teacher, Stuart Duxworth-Ross? He came through a discussion with a friend who had read the first book and decided the story was about him and his son. (It wasn’t, although two scenes came from his life and divorce.) Ducks rather defined himself. I knew he’d be gay, partly because this man who thought I was writing about him was adamant about “his” son being taught by a gay man. Challenge accepted, and Ducks was born.
  3. You have more than one character with second sight, or ESP, or some other paranormal traits. Do you know anyone with those traits? Do you have them yourself? The answer to the first question is easy. Emilie (who started life as Emily, but that’s another story) is modeled after my goddaughter. A triple Pisces, she’s spookier than Emilie is. The second question is yes, but not as well developed as some.
  4. Where did your themes of human slavery, child abuse, and racism come from? I like to work social themes into my books. I want readers to think while being entertained. Human slavery came to mind when I read a small story in the newspaper about a family held hostage to be breeders for a pair of men. I modified it but kept many of the overall events. I wanted to remind readers that racism isn’t always about black on white but can be on black on Hispanic or white on Hispanic. Most of all, it’s “them versus us,” when traditional ways of life are threatened.
  5. What about child abuse? That is very personal. I could not have written the rape sequence had my mother still been alive. I was abused by a stepfather. I told my mother who couldn’t handle it. It took years to forgive her for putting me in peril.
  6. Did you really stab your stepfather in the ass? No, but I wish I had. That’s the only part of the scene where I giggled. Actually, in all honesty, the entire rape sequence made me so ill that I couldn’t write for a few days after I finished it.
  7. Are you writing another Mad Max novel? Yes. Unsafe Haven is nearly done. Max, her boyfriend Johnny, and Alex are featured. I don’t know when it will come out, but it should be out before the end of the year.

Those readers were so interested in my books. I can’t thank them enough.

Featured, Lifestyle, Mothers, Poetry, Writing

Three Weeks

February 15, 2017

Every year on February 15, I run this poem somewhere. It might be on FB, on Wattpad, here on my blog. Why? Because on February 15, 2004, my dear mother passed away after a short illness. Her small-cell lung cancer was swift and painful. The hospice nurses and doctors took good care of her and allowed me to stay with her day and night. I held her hand the day she passed.

I’m a writer. It’s how I make my living, how I express myself. And yet, I couldn’t write about Mom’s death. It took six years and 24 minutes to write this poem: six years to get ready and 24 minutes to put the words down on paper. In the years since, I changed a single word. I’ve been lucky. Two anthologies, Voices from Smith Mountain Lake and Candles of Hope chose to publish it. NPR encouraged me to read it on the radio.

Now, I’m sharing it with you.

THREE WEEKS

I thought we’d have more time.

 

She lived with us after it was too hard to live alone.

She had her chores, self-imposed.

She laughed, chattered, kept us happy.

She was a pain in the ass, sometimes.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

She said she didn’t feel right one afternoon.

No, she’d never felt exactly like that before.

Is it pneumonia?

No.

Is it bronchitis?

No. It’s different.

Do you want to go to the emergency room?

It’s icy out. I’ll see how I feel in the morning.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

It’s still icy but I think we need to go, she said.

Okay. I put the ready-bag in the car.

It’s pneumonia, they said.

Let’s get some x-rays.

Yes. It’s pneumonia. There’s fluid.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

The biopsy said different.

Dr. Elizabeth called it cancer.

Too far along. No real treatment.

Too tiny at 81 pounds.

Too old at 81.

How long, she asked.

Not long.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

One option, Dr. Elizabeth said.

Hospice.

She thought about it and decided.

Hospice. No heroics.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

We were together every day.

I read to her when she couldn’t hold a book.

Role reversal from childhood.

I listened to her stories, told so many times before.

I told her my dreams, my hopes.

She told me hers.

Wayposts to guide my way forward.

We shared more deeply than ever before.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

Days passed.

Stories, until she couldn’t speak.

Then hand squeezes.

Smiles in between lengthy naps.

I stored the moments to turn into memories.

Later.

I told her I loved her.

Hand squeeze.

I told her she’d done a good job.

Hand squeeze.

I thought we’d have more time.

 

I told her, her job was done.

Tight hand squeeze.

I told her she could go when she was ready.

Double hand squeeze.

She opened her eyes and looked at me.

One last smile, one look upward.

She was gone.

 

Three weeks from “it’s cancer” to death.

 

Mom,

I

thought

we’d

have

more

time.

 

I miss my mother every damned day. If your mother is still with you, hug her. Tell her you love her. She’ll never forget it.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Rejecting What I No Longer Accept

February 6, 2017

Last week I wrote about the conundrum I faced growing up. I loved my dear grandmother, but as I came to adulthood, I realized how she didn’t like anyone who wasn’t white. No other way to say it. She didn’t like minorities. And she didn’t like me having minority friends. On the other side was my mother, who had also grown up under the influence of that same woman and who didn’t care what color someone was if she was a good person. True, she mostly lived in white communities, but she also had a black brother-in-law, a wonderful man whom my grandmother never accepted into the family.

At college I came into my own where race was concerned. Yes, it was in the Sixties when the world was set on end. We all had our causes: feminism, racial equality, ending the war in Vietnam, saving baby seals. When we were marching, I didn’t realize how many different ethnic groups marched beside me until I saw pictures of the crowd in the papers or on television. We were united by our causes, not divided by our racial or ethnic backgrounds.

My grandmother had been long gone when I dated the rainbow coalition in college. Japanese. Chinese. Vietnamese. Black. Mexican-American. Apache. I’m sure she would have banished me from the family as she had her own daughter. It was my choice. I didn’t consciously decide to date non-whites, but I hung out with them all the time. From study dates onward, we were thrown together. Sometimes romance happened; sometimes lust happened; other times friendship happened.

Fast forward to today. A month ago I was listening to a piece on NPR about racism. Three colleges were offering courses in the subject. I nearly drove off the road. In a political climate where anger is seemingly the new normal, I couldn’t fathom anyone teaching or taking a course in racism. Was it a how-to course? The more I listened, the more fascinated I became. These courses were a combination of self-awakening, New Age philosophy and a bit of a 12-step program. The goal was not to teach us how to be racists, but how to recognize our own racist tendencies.

On the first day of class, the teacher stood before his students and declared, “I am a racist.” He proceeded to talk about things he did routinely that show some kind of bias. Students told their own stories. The goal was to open minds to what we do or think that is subtle. Once we were aware of what we do, we could change or not. The choice was ours. I raced into the house and wrote down several things I do that are racist without me being aware of them.

  • In large cities, I cross the street if I see a group of young black men with pants dragging on the ground coming toward me.
  • When driving through poor or minority neighborhoods, I remember to lock my car doors when I seen a young man walking along a sidewalk.
  • I take pride in “having friends of all colors and nationalities.”
  • I laugh at people who make racial distinctions. One example, a man talked about an Indian shop. Another man asked if he meant dots or feathers. I thought it was funny until I realized it wasn’t.
  • I look at working men wearing camouflage jackets and think “redneck,” as if being a redneck is someone I wouldn’t want to know.

I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Until I listened to that NPR story, I might never have consciously been aware of how racist some of my actions are. Yes, you’ll say I’m keeping myself safe or just being prudent, but I know that if I saw a group of white young men with their pants on the ground, I probably wouldn’t cross the street.

I have a wise Facebook friend, Ron LeBarton, who writes about some of these issues in The Good Men Project. His latest article is about white people becoming part of the solution. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/being-part-of-the-solution-wcz/

I’m ready to be part of the solution. Grandmother, I reject your early teachings. You were wrong, but I still love your memory of everything else you taught me. Mom, you showed me color didn’t matter. My friends at UCLA reinforced this. And now it’s time for me to stand with other white people for equality for all.

 

Featured, Freedom of Expression, Lifestyle, Mothers, Writing

Conflicts

January 30, 2017

I missed last week because I was away on vacation. No, I don’t announce it on social media or send pics from places I visit while I’m gone.  Just don’t, because I don’t want to advertise when I’m away and my house is watched by neighbors and my alarm company.

I had a lot of time to think about whatever floated across my mind. One thing that kept coming back was memories of my childhood and youth when I was growing into an awareness that people are different. The fact that different people are pretty cool came later.

Going way back, my grandmother used to walk me to kindergarten every day. One mile each way (in California, so not walking uphill in snow both ways barefooted), wide sidewalks, and plenty of other parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters walking the kids safely to the elementary school. My grandmother was a warm woman who would speak to fellow parents and grands. Over that first year, however, I gradually realized she never smiled at or spoke to the few black parents whose children went to my school. One little girl was my friend in kindergarten, but I don’t remember my grandmother ever greeting her mother.

When I came home and chattered about my day to my single, working mother, my grandmother would raise her eyebrows if I mentioned  the black girl’s name. Her frown, her slightly pursed lips, her averted eyes told me that she disapproved of something. At four and a half, I didn’t know why what I said upset her, but something did. I tried to be a good girl, but it was so hard when I realized she didn’t like my little friend.

Elementary school gave way to junior high (now called middle school) and eventually to high school. By then, we no longer lived with my grandmother, but her disapproval stuck. Living in California is like living in a huge ragout of races and ethnicities. My classrooms had a lot of Hispanics and Asian kids. I just thought of them as friends, not as my Japanese friend, or my Mexican friend, or my black friend. But, somewhere in the darker recesses of my mind, my grandmother’s disapproval remained.

By high school I was no longer living in Southern California but is a smallish town in Colorado out on the prairie. I cannot tell you how out of place I was. I entered a structured community that had two, count them two, Japanese families and three Chinese families. The Chinese families were stereotypes, running laundries and restaurants. All Mexicans were assumed to be illegal and were looked down on, even though they might have been the third or fourth generation ranchers on this prairie land. I talked with two girls on the bus my first day, only to be taken into the counselor’s office and told that I needed to watch who I sat with. There seemed to be an unwritten code that white girls didn’t sit with brown girls. Well, now.

And that was my exposure to racism in my formative years. I didn’t really perceive it as such, but it was there. I didn’t embrace it, but I didn’t play by the rules set up by teachers, grandparents, and others in my life. Thank goodness my mother didn’t care about those distinctions. She taught me that people were people and to be enjoyed for all their differences. And that set up a conflict between the teachings of my beloved grandmother and my dear mother. Which was right? How was I to find my way? How was I to chart my own path, to decide what I believed?

And then came the Sixties, when I saw the older rules bend, break, and morph into new rules. Was I going to embrace the inadvertent racist teachings of my youth? Or was I going to embrace and love differences? Talk about conflict.

To be continued next week.

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