Thursday, November 12, 2015


Spoons are used as a metaphor for the resources and energy available to you when you're not feeling well -- see "But you Don't Look Sick" by Christine Miserandino. 

But today I am writing about real spoons.

When the kid was here all the teaspoons kept disappearing. I knew where they were going -- to school for lunch, only occasionally returning home. Not a big deal.

A friend with four teen-aged (!) sons mentioned that all her spoons disappeared too -- it was a sort of joke in the family -- until Thanksgiving ten years ago. She pulled the heavy wooden box with her grandmother's good silver out of the buffet and lo and behold, all the teaspoons were gone. Sixteen silver Oneida teaspoons costing eighty dollars each. She mentioned this to her sons, who shuffled their feet about and apologized, whereupon seven of the silver spoons were found.

My friend, a woman of enormous patience, decided to buy all of her sons spoons for Christmas. They got sixteen teaspoons each, and they had to make them last until the next Christmas, or use plastic spoons, no exceptions. Her sons did their darnedest to hang on their spoons, but they were usually all gone by summer. My friend delighted in buying her sons pink plastic spoons. Their aunt bought them Hello Kitty spoons one year, and to the boys' credit, they took the ribbing they took over the Hello Kitty spoons in stride. The Hello Kitty spoon might have even allowed one of the boys to win over his now-wife (another story for another post).

The boys are grown, all have graduated college, two are doing exceptionally well in tech jobs. Last week, on the occasion of my friend's sixtieth birthday, her sons presented her with a box containing one hundred and ninety-two teaspoons.

The math: 4 boys x 16 spoons each x 3 years of buying spoons = 192 spoons

And attached to each spoon was a slip of paper that said "twenty dollars" or $3840 -- which was the amount the kids had donated to a local youth program that supplies meals to homeless teens in their city.

And with that, the boys promised to keep donating to that program or any other of my friend's choice. My friend, having read Christine Miserandino's article, has set her children to creating a non-profit that helps those who need "spoons" to have extra ones if they need them.

Read the article, if you haven't already and that last paragraph will make more sense.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Slush Pile

Not the aftermath of a snowstorm, but traditionally the pile of unsolicited manuscripts on an editor's desk. For small indie publishers like us, it means manuscripts that don't quite make the cut, yet have promise.

Sifting through the slush pile is the traditional first job given to new assistants-to-editors or publisher's readers (also called "first readers", who are often freelance editors). If there's anything good in the manuscript the assistant/reader makes suggestions to the editor. In the very-best-case/ dream on scenario the editor is lauded for their brilliance for recognizing a great new talent, because the writer's true excellence only appeared in chapter twenty-two. And with a little judicious editing... voila, a best-seller, top of the charts.

Big publishers have editor's assistants to filter the slush. There are also web sites that are part self-help for authors and part slush pile filter: HarperCollins uses authonomy.  Random House, Orion Publishing Group and Bloomsbury Publishing use Youwriteon. Both are worth a look if you're a writer.

But we depend editors -- one person -- who can do substantial editing, proofread, and are willing to review the slushpile. (Sheri calls it the editor trifecta.) Any editor trifectas out there?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Old Dog

Joey is fifteen years old, a rescue dog, three or four when we got him. Until last July, he amazed us with his ability to go to sleep in three seconds flat, and sleep so soundly he seemed to increase his gravity. He soothed me on countless nights by hopping up on the bed, socketing himself in and falling asleep. If I was restless his steady breathing soon put me to sleep.

The only time he was ever anxious was on the Fourth of July, like many dogs, he didn't like the fireworks. He's pace,lie down, shake, pant. He didn't want to be in an enclosed space (which helps some dogs); he gets as close to me as he can, I assume protecting me (or him) from the loud noise.

But last July he stopped sleeping through the night. Frankly, in July at this latitude, it's difficult to sleep through the night, especially if the moon is half or more full. The sun doesn't set until nine-thirty PM, the moon comes up an hour so later, and sunrise is at four-thirty AM. I don't sleep much in the summer, sleep a lot in the winter and hope it balances out through the year.

Joey started waking up at three in the morning and wanted to go out. Not unusual. He can let himself in and out, chase deer and do other nocturnal dog activities. After he showed us he would not run away he's always been able to go in and out at will. But now he wants us to let him out and let him in. Out and in, out and in.

Then he started pacing at night, back and forth, up and down the stairs. His hips are arthritic, I was afraid he'd fall down the stairs. I thought perhaps his hips hurt and walking was the only thing that helped. He took aspirin, then started on Rimadyl at the end of summer. Some nights he was like his younger self, sleeping through the night. Some nights he was up and sometimes we figure out why: bright moon, noises outside. Sometimes Joey goes right to sleep if we leave a light on. In the summer he would park himself in front of the box fan and snore away.

Now he's up every night. Unless one of us is downstairs with him, he paces and paces and paces, up and down the stairs, back and forth. He'll do this until his legs are shaking and it's clear he's tired, but he keeps pacing. He's panting, clearly he's panicked; and yes, we know his heart is also starting to go.

One of us is downstairs with him all night, in three shifts. Luckily both my husband and I worked graveyard shifts for many years, we're both night owls. I prefer to work through the night, prefer the night generally. There's less static in the air at night when most everyone else is asleep. I can think.

I'm on Facebook in the wee hours; have many friends who are on opposite sides of the planet, awake to chat, others are here on the west coast. And they have many stores to tell about restless babies, children, elders -- and dogs, cats, and livestock.

--A friend whose chickens are in a panic every night, though she can't find evidence of predators --yet. She thinks the newest hen is a worry-wort.

--A friend whose mother sleeps peacefully during the day, but has panic attacks at night. She calls her five children during the night; she's also getting forgetful, and would call repeatedly. My friend has a newborn, she brought her mother to live with her and they all stay up together during the night. Her mother is much more focused with the infant to care for. My friend says she's amazed at how much younger her mother looks when she interacts with the baby. She also says her mother can get the baby to sleep when no one else can.

--My Auntie Wu, who lived to 102 and moved herself to a residential care facility when she was ninety-five. She was up often at three am and saw so many other lights on that she started the Night Owls Poker Club. The staff at the facility occasionally joined in on their breaks, Auntie Wu used to say if they'd been playing for real money she would'a made a killing.

--Another friend with two old dogs, who has tried everything to help them sleep: warm beds, night lights, radio on, melatonin. Right now, nothing works unless she's with them. Like Joey dog, her girls go to sleep around three in the morning, get up when they always had for breakfast, nap and play as they always have during the day. We're trying the Thunder Shirt next, I know it works very well for dogs who have anxiety attacks during storms, fireworks, and so forth, my friend wrote that she borrowed one and tired it on the more anxious of her two dogs and it worked. We will see.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Bullies

Bullies have a skill for making you feel like it's your fault you're getting bullied. If only you weren't so stubborn, stupid, ugly, Asian, such a b!@#$, I (the bully) wouldn't be compelled to put you in your place.  The story never changes. You deserve the treatment I’m giving you.

I was bullied through grade school: one of a very few non-white students, I wore a leg brace, I was natural-born target. Often the bullying took on psycho-sexual overtones, for instance, pinning me down and pulling off my underwear was the thing to do (age five, when I started wearing leotards instead of underpants). My mom was a turn-the-other-cheek sort of gal, my dad was a teach-the-kid some martial arts guy. I got suspended for fighting. So did the bullies.

Bullies don't seem to change, the tactics are the same, bells go off whenever I encounter one. Over many decades I think I've encountered many variations on the theme, from seemingly nice people to straight-up psychopaths, tinged with what I understand are standard variations (narcissism, passive-aggressive actions, etc).

The latest bully was a member of a design team I work with. We are literally all over the world, a cyber-team; we conference-called, worked and communicated on a Cloud platform. Our bully insisted we go at a problem like Sherlock Holmes. I typed that meant we already knew the outcome, one of the joys of writing fiction: Arthur Conan Doyle knew the outcome before presenting the problem.

Our bully posts this: "Oh, **I** know the outcome, just waiting for the rest of you to catch on."

Another person on the forum typed, "To slightly misquote Sherlock, he thinks we're spectacularly ignorant, but in a nice way."

Another, “Yes, thank you for your input.”

There are several more similar comments, I realize half the group are BBC Sherlock fans, we share trivia. Our bully posts something quite rude and demands a Skype call so we can see each other -- we were only a week into the project, hadn't seen each other yet.

The call: eight men and six women, various ages, ethnic backgrounds, our bully comes on last and -- oh golly, he's **this** close to a cosplay BBC Sherlock. The hair, the purple shirt, the steepled fingertips. He lectures us for holding things up, for being idiots, this and that should be painfully obvious -- does he have to draw us a picture? He draws us a picture -- a flowchart. It's the same flowchart we've been using, only with him in the lead. The team coordinators listen, we all listen, all we can do is listen, couldn't get a word in edgewise. He insists everyone but he and the team coordinators log off.

Later that day I get a group email reiterating the points he made in the Skype call. And a post on the forum identical to the email. I get a private email with an analysis of my character, based on his observations. He presents a list of bullet points and demands I respond to each, and ends with this, If you had any brains at all I wouldn't have to do this.

I don't respond. I suspect the others are also getting similar missives, soon enough other members of the team verify this.

Then... nothing. No activity on the forum, no email, I wonder if I've been fired.

This morning, a terse message, Mr. X is no longer working on the project, disregard all messages from (list of Mr. X’s email addresses). The old forum has been closed, the new one is at xxxxxxx...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Last night I had a heart-pounding, stare-into-space reaction when live version of Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young's "Chicago" played on the radio.

And I didn't know why.

It took awhile to drag the memory up, but up it came. My first husband was stationed at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. As a military wife, I occasionally flew on a MAC (Military Airlift Command) C-141A. In 1971-72  MACV (Military Airlift Command Vietnam) also flew to and from Hickam.

We were waiting to board our transport when the military honors (funeral) guys came in and went to the other end of the hangar. Everyone, military personnel, spouses, kids, stood quietly and waited as the plane was unloaded. Aluminum coffin after coffin (technically not a coffin but a "transfer case") was unloaded, each with respect, even gentleness. We could see each one for only a moment before it disappeared behind partitions.

Somewhere in the hangar a radio was playing very faintly, and the opening piano chords of "Chicago" are tied in my mind to this scene. Interestingly it's not the image of the coffins that is triggered by the music, but the reverence in which the men treated the dead.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Getting Here

Celilo Fall flooded by the Dalles Dam -- March 10, 1957

I can mark my first visit to Decatur Island by the completion of the Dalles Dam. My dad took me to Wyam (Celilo Falls) at least a year before the dam was completed and we went back the summer after they'd flooded the falls. Later the same summer I traveled with dad by boat, looking at shell middens in the San Juan islands. I remember the first part of the trip very well: a trip from home (Aberdeen) up Highway 101 to Port Angeles and then a trip on the Black Ball ferry to Victoria. There was a de rigeur trip  to Butchart Gardens, and thence to Vancouver and Chinatown.

I think we went to Bellingham and got on the boat there. My godmother and mother dropped us off and I realize now, drove to Seattle and waited for us, we ultimately ended the trip in Ballard, at Fisherman's Terminal. I remember the boat was a bit of a sensation wherever we went, a big fishing boat, freshly painted -- it seemed to me we dwarfed most other boats around the islands except ferries and other commercial vessels. I'd guess the "Baby"* was about the size of the Alaska fishing boats that still visit Mori Jones.

Crew: several Lummi men, I only remember one called "Lunchbox" who was dad's friend, a professor (and maybe a couple of students) from the UW or WWU, my dad, me. I think we were looking a shell middens and perhaps mapping the traditional fishing and clamming beaches for the Lummi and (maybe) the Coast Salish. Two of the older Lummi men spoke Lummi and joked that only Lummi could talk to Lummi -- and insisted on teaching me Chinook words, mostly place names.

As we chugged along, dad told me a story about how "elder uncle" had traveled around the islands doing odd jobs, he'd dug a ditch on Brown's Island, and did yard work on Henry's Island. A tidbit here -- apparently my elder uncles were inclined to call the islands by the names of the people they knew there, not the actual name of the island. (More on this in Part 2.)

In my memory are long sunny days, calm water -- must have been August! The captain let me "drive" the boat. I played jacks on the aft deck. A salmon was caught slightly bigger than me and thrown back because it was too small. I had some trouble learning how to use the head.

Places and people are mashed together in my memories: Roche Harbor, Deer Harbor (Orcas) and Fisherman's Bay (Lopez) became one place. The other confabulation was McKaye Harbor (Lopez), Reeds Bay (Decatur), and Blakely Island. I didn't sort out those last two until we moved here. In fact, I didn't figure out I'd been on Decatur Island at all until I stood on Karen Lamb's rickety old dock (were were anchored out front) and looked at where there used to be a road along the shore of Reed's Bay. I clearly remember bouncing along that road in a truck driven by a very nice man who gave me a caramel. He apologized that there were no kids around for me to play with, they were in town getting school shoes. (I'm sure he said "school shoes" because I remember telling him I had to wear special shoes.) Who was the man? I couldn't say -- someone who had kids around my age.

We walked where we live now and looked at shell middens, and here my dad said another interesting thing -- "elder uncle" had worked here, as here was the only shipyard in the San Juans. (More in Part 2.)

*I'm sure this was not her registered name; it's what the crew called her, but that wasn't the name on her bow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gimme a beat!

 I don't go all fangirl over actors, it's good writing that does it for me. Good scripts, good storytelling. Yes, I think about all writing as a script; even technical non-fiction. We all use the same beat sheet for writing, over the years our audiences have come to expect certain actions at certain times in a script. We play with that, of course, but I am always excited to find the beats pulsing under a particularly good bit of writing.

Iambic pentameter counts!

I've been reviewing Dr. Who episodes in preparation for editing a manuscript. My Whovian friends have recommended must-see clips and episodes, it's been a fun. I admit to not seeing an entire episode since at least 1986; and blushingly also admit to knitting a very long scarf like the fourth doctor's for a boy. :)

As much as the time lord idea intrigued me, I'm more of a Red Dwarf girl, but I digress.

A long, long list of writers from fifty years of Dr. Who; but I can pick out Douglas Adams' writing, even as "David Agnew"; and in the recent programs, can easily see Moffat & Gatiss's style. Though I can't quite tell one from the other, their cadence is unique. And switching over to the BBC's Sherlock, also written by Moffat & Gatiss, I'm intrigued that Stephen Thompson wrote the most- and least-popular episodes, gives hope to writers.

 I stopped watching Sherlock after that least-liked program, "The Blind Banker". It was saturated with racial stereotypes, made me cringe. I expected Charlie Chan to appear at any moment.

And shortly thereafter digital TV came in, that was the end of watching the tube for me. Wasn't until our DSL was stable out her until I could stream video effectively. Apparently I didn't miss much in the TV world. Realisty TV? Talk about not needing writers. Or paying union scale... oh, don't get me started...

All that being said, It'd be pretty spiffy to work with Moffat and Gatiss. Wonder what they would think about having a non-white, female writer on the team? Do I have a pitch? You bet, if anyone is listening.