Sunday, July 28, 2013

Silver Dollar Sam

Uncle Ah Sing; which is a pretend name, sort of like calling someone "Mister Mister". He went by many, many names: Ah Sam, Silver Dollar Sam, China Sam, Indian Sam. I met him the same summer or summers that my dad and I traveled the San Juans with a group of Lummi men who were searching out and mapping shell middens. I'm not sure if this was one summer or two: it was around the time my dad and I went to see Celilo Falls before they were flooded. (1956 or 1957?)

He lived mostly in Canada as an adult; never married. If he was in his teens in 1870 as he said he was, he was nearly one hundred years old when I met him; and that seems entirely possible. He was quite tall for our family -- a little over six feet. He said he came to the USA when he was about twelve -- he was already big for his age, never went to school, started working right away as a dishwasher in Seattle. He knew Chin Chun Hock and a few of the really early Chinese settlers in Seattle -- and in Olympia. Though most people don't know it, the early history of Olympia is essentially a history of the Chinese families and especially the Locke family.

We visited Uncle in Vancouver's Chinatown  before the island trip; he gave me a silver dollar, talked with dad about places he'd been. I got the impression that he and dad were not related by blood, but by village birth.

Uncle worked on the Union Pacific and then on the Northern Pacific he said he was a blaster; no way to verify except that a couple of his paper sons and grandsons were munitions experts and World War I and II.

Between railroad jobs he worked lots of odd jobs; he often traveled with the Samish or Saanich or both; and perhaps the Lummi too. He was rumored to have an Indian common-law wife; haven't been able find info on that. Among his many odd jobs were digging a ditch on Waldron and working in the lime kilns on San Juan, though not in Roche Harbor, I'm guessing the Eureka Lime Co. site, that would fit his timeline. He did a lot of work with loggers all over the islands and around Bellingham but not always logging; I'm guessing he was a cook.

He also ran traplines in Alaska, worked the fisheries up there, was disgusted with the gold rush...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Harbor Stories - Introduction

I grew up in Grays Harbor, Aberdeen, to be precise. The south side of Aberdeen, to be even more precise, a couple of blocks from the Chehalis River, in a neighborhood of houses with no basements because the Chehalis went over its banks at least once a year and flooded the streets. The combination of big rain and an ultra-high tide would do it; we could look at a tide chart and know just about when it would flood. As the water rose, all the stuff under our houses would float out: bits of wood and fabric, Wonder Bread wrappers, insulation, dead cats and mice, discarded toys and headless dolls.

I remember a family of beavers swimming down the street one year. My dad would tie our crayon-green rowboat to the front steps and we'd row around in three feet of water.

For the record, yes I know the house where Kurt Cobain lived. Yes, I know the places he wrote about and no, I didn't know him, I was long gone from the Harbor before his family arrived. And yes, the Harbor really is a gray and drizzly place all year 'round, almost perfectly temperate when I was a kid with very few sunny days but also very few really cold days. I can remember entire summers when there were maybe a couple weeks of semi-sunny weather. The result? I am slightly distrustful of too many sunny days in a row.

Grays Harbor -- or just "the Harbor"  was the first of many harbors, bays, sounds, ports, and inlets that I lived in (literally, in boats and houseboats) and still live on. Years ago I started writing about them, and now I have several bulging folders (real and digital) of stories; places and people that I've collected into a series called -- not surprisingly -- "Harbor Stories".

It's kick creating a amalgamation of everywhere I've lived and visited and populating it with people that I can't make nearly as quirky as the people I meet. I include myself in the "quirky" category. The best I can do is to combine quirks.

To make it all work I've created a fictional place; Salmon Bay, which just recently renamed itself, much like how the Queen Charlotte Islands are now Haida Gwaii. I've had to draw a map of my fictional place so I can keep track of where everyone's comings and goings.

The nifty thing about a blog is that I can post character sketches and such to see what to look like "in print" before integrating them into the book. It's a humbling experience: I think I've got a sparkling character only to see him or her fall flat after being filtered through the blog.

About Salmon Bay--

Salmon Bay has one store/gas station: the Mercantile, called the "Merc" by everyone because the "antile" fell off the sign in 1952 and was never replaced. There are tribal offices, a school, a post office, a harbor with four docks, mostly filled with crab and fishing boats. There are five churches and four taverns: the religious folks feel they have the edge on the drunks.

More about the Merc next week.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Me and the Wacom

Back after an intense two weeks getting three manuscripts through final edit and on their way to being published.


Carpal tunnel syndrome was doing me in. I've switched from one kind of mouse to another and used a big Kensington trackball for years, but even that was getting to me after six and eight hours of editing. (I use an ergo keyboard, which helps the typing part).

Years ago I used a Wacom (and that's Wah-com, not Way-com) tablet. 1994 and I remember having to type in the code because I was doing animation on a Unix-driven system. I wondered if I'd imagined that, but no, here's the Linnux code for the ArtPad.

I now use a Wacom Bamboo Create, as my primary pointing device. There was a heck of a learning curve, I discovered I have a tapping my fingers on the  tablet surface when I'm thinking, which made the tablet respond in creative ways. (Mostly it thinks I want the screen bigger.)

The new tablet functions like a tablet computer or a SmartPhone with tap, touch,  and double and triple finger combos. There are also mouse keys on one side -- in 2001 the Wacom came with a separate mouse, it's all integrated now and that is cool.

I don't use either a tablet computer or a Smart phone, but figuring out the tap-touch-drag stuff is quite intuitive. What I've got is a touch screen-like-function attached to the big desktop monitor and that's kicky.

Two things you'll want to know at this juncture: I mouse left-handed. I draw and paint left-handed and write right-handed.


Sometimes I just do whatever I was going to do with whatever hand I picked up the pen with.

The Wacom default is left-handed mousing (as if you're using a laptop touchpad) with right-handed drawing.

My brain goes wonky figuring out what I'm doing with what hand. I find myself drawing and mousing left-handed just to keep the left side and right side of my brain from screaming at me. And oh yes, the pen also has left/right mouse poor brain does somersaults.

And occasionally I flip the Wacom to left-handed orientation--but don't change the orientation of the buttons and such -- and use the whole thing backwards.

If you've tried writing with your non-dominant hand, you may have discovered that you try to write from the opposite side of the page and backward. I'm pleased to report that the Wacom is perfectly happy with me writing backward; it appears forward on the monitor.

And now I am back to editing, because even with three manuscripts almost off my desk, there are others waiting for my attention.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Favorite words

I've got a long list of favorite words and phrases; I'm sure I use them all the time when I'm talking. They pop up in all my first drafts. The short list:

needless to say
as a result
per se
vice versa
furrowed brow
on the other hand
I think not
that (I find "that" everywhere in my drafts!)

It was fun looking through a first draft and picking out my pet words and phrases. I'm a "pantser": I blurt out everything I can think of in the first draft, globs of backstory, disconnected events, notes to myself,  text in different colors where I've inserted notes about the notes about the notes. No one but me can make sense of the first draft, nor the second. It's often not until the third draft that I have a story with a beginning, middle and an end.

And punctuation. I've been known to type long passages with no punctuation so I can get an idea on paper.

But I can be blind to my pet phrases; before I send my work to an editor I search for pet phrases using the search function in Word: occasionally a page with light up with yellow highlights when I thought I'd done a terrific job of excising the devils.

Want to see more? Squidoo has a list of commonly overused words. And my favorite, Lake Superior State University's list of banished words and phrases.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I should have known that you can buy Twitter followers. Celebrities real and manufactured are paid to turn up at functions; the fan magazines of yore were filled with studio-generated stories, and yet, I was fascinated by the sheer number of companies that sell Twitter accounts (two dozen or more). How does that work?

From the article Fake Twitter Followers Becomes Multimillion Dollar Business in the New York Times:

"...fake followers were typically sold in packages ranging from $1 to $1,000 for 1,000 to one million accounts. For instance, Fiverr sells 1,000 Twitter followers for $5.

Those fake accounts can be sold to multiple buyers — in fact, buyers prefer that the accounts follow others to make them appear more authentic. Web tools that try to tell fake followers from real ones often look at an account’s inactivity or its following-to-follower ratio. The more people they follow and the more active they are, the more authentic they appear.

'There is now software to create fake accounts,' Mr. De Micheli said in an interview. 'It fills in every detail. Some fake accounts look even better than real accounts do.'

The most coveted fake accounts tweet (or retweet) constantly, have profile pictures and complete bios, and some even link to Web sites that they claim belong to them. But in many cases, a close look reveals that some of the accounts were set up purely to retweet material from specific sites."

Are you wondering where the fake accounts are coming from? Doesn't someone somewhere have to fill in at least the basic info? There is name-generating and automatic form-filling-in software; but what about the more sophisticated sites?

In 2011, there was a flurry of headlines about Chinese prisoners forced to play World of War Craft to build up virtual credits that the prison guards would sell to gamers for real money. I imagine Chinese prisoners feverishly creating Twitter accounts; or a virtual maquiladora in Mexico or perhaps a sweatshop in the USA. I've seen a couple of interesting Craigslist data entry at home job offerings that fall that could be create-fake-accounts.

However, fake accounts may be the ultimate best way to make money on Twitter, to wit:

--$1 million: how much fake-account businesses claim they can make in one week.
--1,000: A typical batch of fake follower accounts is sold between this and one million.
--$18: the average price for 1,000 fake followers.
--$30: the highest amount some sellers brag they make per fake account.
--125: how many daily retweets you can get for $150 a month. On the cheaper side, $9 will get you five retweets a day.

The funny thing about me musing about Twitter is that I don't Tweet. I know I can have an account and see what my friends are Tweeting. I am intrigued with the 140-characters-at-a-time poems, stories, novellas and novels. And no doubt I'd be tweeting away if I still lived in town and had a cell phone... but there you go, live on an island...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Stage IV

What your cancer story?
When did you realize something was awry?
Did you find it yourself or did your doctor tell you?

And what did you do?

I'm working on a story in which multiple characters are diagnosed with cancer and I those voices must be authentic.

The crux of the story is a friend who knew she carried both BRCA 1 and 2 and who had many women in her family of breast cancer. Grandmother, mother, sisters, cousins, a daughter.

She ate well, exercised regularly, raised her family, and tried to live each day to the fullest all the while knowing that she might be diagnosed herself the next time she was in the doctor's office. Her diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer -- came when she was 55. She opted for no treatment. After seeing so many women in her family through chemo and radiation she decided it wasn't what she wanted. She lived for three years after her diagnosis, a year longer than any of her family members who had treatment. (Which is another story.)

She asked me to write her story, and I agreed. My first step is to listen to the stories of other people who have had cancer: all of you who are willing to share.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fifty pounds of flour and a Kindle

There's no store on the island I shop online; heck I browse online, especially on eBay.

What isn't on eBay? I found my favorite boots (no longer in production) and bought a slightly used pair for $20.00 plus shipping ($230.00 new).

I found the last two rucksacks (daypacks) that I've owned: covering nearly thirty years of daily use. I had to retire my old Eddie Bauer rucksack when it was no longer waterproof; the Gregory Apex is semi-retired because the zipper pops open. I'm tempted to buy the Eddie Bauer pack because it was my all-time favorite, but I know my  Osprey Talon 11 is a superior daypack. Besides, I don't carry a daypack around every day like I did in town.

I usually don't have anything I need to carry on the island. No wallet, checkbook, keys or phone. It's quite different when I have to go off-island. We all have a mantra: wallet-keys-phone. That's the bare minimum. If I forget the garbage and recycling I can get to it next time: three months of garbage and recycling for is two small bags. I also have to find the town underwear and hopefully clothes that aren't too terribly muddy.

Remember, we live on an island with no ferry service: bringing a car back and forth is $300 a pop on the barge. Some of the summer residents load up their trucks for the season and barge it over, then barge out with their garbage at the end of the season.

Full-time residents keep a car in town and one on the island; we get a lot of exercise lugging our supplies. For me it's supplies from the store to the truck, from the truck down the dock to the boat, from the boat (often rowed in via dinghy) up the beach to the trail, up the trail to the house... and finally I get to put everything away. Fifty pounds of dog food, fifty pounds of rice, you get the idea. On the up side, I only got to town four or five times a year.

Well, it's come to this -- yesterday I didn't buy several books because they weren't available as eBooks. Maybe I saved myself a few dollars, and maybe I really didn't need the books (ha!) but I'm definitely falling prey to the "have it now" syndrome. Or maybe not, since we can wait weeks for "next day" UPS. (If the runway is a mudhole, the planes won't land. Our packages pile up in a warehouse eight-ten  miles by air or eighteen-twenty miles by water from us. Even our mail occasionally goes awry because we have no streets or street addresses.

Life on an island...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Could'a Been a Librarian

I didn't like Dr. Suess.

Oh, except for The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and One Fish Two Fish. Truthfully, by the time his books were really, really popular in school libraries I was older than the target audience. I remember my high school biology students blinking at me in disbelief when I told them I hadn't read The Lorax because it was published when I was in high school.

So what was I reading as a child back in the Pleistocene? The World Book Encyclopedia  -- I am not kidding! I only had two "American" books: a children's book about a spaniel and hollyhocks (not The Poky Little Puppy, which I didn't read until I was a teacher); and an alphabet book -- I recall imitating my immigrant father's accent on the V and Y.

No fairly tales -- I didn't know a thing about Mother Goose until I started school. My parents, realizing there was a cultural gap, signed up for the Best in Children's Books series and I received five or six books -- after which I think the subscription ended.

The tales my dad told me were about women warriors who wrote poetry and vanquished ghosts... and Fu Mu Lan ( and NOT the Disney Mulan, please!) a teenager, an expert in martial arts, sword-fighting and archery; who passes muster as a man in the army. To do this she UNBINDS HER FEET! And after the battles, she goes back to being a woman. And she gets married, apparently still a virgin after twelve years in the army.

The unbinds-her-feet part of the story is where mom would interject that her mother was sent off to America as a picture bride because she refused to have her feet bound.

This was cue to make my not-that-story-again face and go bury my face in a book--from age 8 to 10 on it was horse books: Black Beauty, King of the Wind; the Black Stallion series.

I  read Steinbeck's The Red Pony in the fourth grade -- which started my lifelong admiration of librarians.

The librarian knew the story was a little rugged for a nine-year-old and gently suggested that I wait to read it. I wouldn't be put off-- it was a book about HORSES, for heaven's sake. She asked we could read it together after school. I lived just behind the school and my parents agreed that it was OK for me to read quietly in the library for an hour after school.

I galloped through the first chapter. The pony dies at the end of the first chapter! Wait, this wasn't right, the pony couldn't die! The librarian was there to discuss this disturbing thing with me. I don't remember what we discuss, I do remember she asked if I wanted to read more, explaining that the book was made up of four short stories.

Were they all sad stories? Yes -- and no, she told me. I chose to keep reading, every day after school for two weeks, followed by a discussion with the librarian.

After that I wanted to read more Steinbeck -- and she guided me first to the Log of the Sea of Cortez and then recently-published  Travels with Charley, followed by The Pearl. By the time I finished sixth grade, I read all of Steinbeck that the librarian could find for me.

I've always wanted to be a librarian and somehow didn't end up as one, diverting into teaching and then moving out here. I took a stab at earning a MLIS, but what would I do with $50,000 of student loan debt on an island with no library?

Tiny Library, that's what!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Did an early run to the mail shack this morning to mail bills. No lights except my headlights, no signs of life at all, even though there are a couple of full-time residents down where I live. Nothing except the arrow-straight rain-shiny dirt road which used to be the airstrip.

There are houses all over the island; but most of them are not occupied this time of year. The folks here fall into a variety of categories: full-time residents (there are maybe 30 of us); snowbirds who live in warmer climates November-April; homeowners who come out for a few days every month year-round; folks who come only in the summer and stay most of the summer; and summer folks who come and go; and oh yes, folks who used to come up a lot but only appear for a few days in summer.

The island is filled with houses that are unoccupied most of the year. When there are lights on, we can not only tell who's here, but often how many people (if a family is here with the kids or grandkids, the lights upstairs and down are on...etc). I can even tell who's here from across the bay, tiny points of light -- "Oh, the so-and-so's are here!"

A place filled with mostly vacation homes is an interesting place in the off-season. The houses aren't abandoned, but they aren't occupied. They are watched after and kept up (by myself and others); but empty. Some houses are dust-sheeted for the season, others look like someone might come home at any minute.

Although folks don't have complete freedom as to what they can build here, most built the house they wanted, which means there are houses of wildly diverging styles are scattered hither and yon. Architect-designed houses with granite counter tops, open plans, wood beams Eames chairs or French Provincial dining tables...compounds with interconnected buildings, "ski-chalets" with huge stone fireplaces left over from the 1960's, airplane hangars with living space, trailers, yurts, stacks of containers on their way to being a dwelling, "freeway houses"  bought for a dollar and barged to the island when I-5 was being built; and a hundred variations on the "cabin" theme.

But unless you know where to look, there doesn't look like there's much on the island at all.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Persistence of Memory

I like to do photo-a-day or do art-every-day prompts: this month it's photo-a-day and the prompts for yesterday and today were "key" and "lucky". Tempted as I was to riff off my name for "key", I decided to combine the two prompts and snap a pic of this combination lock -- with the very amusing brand name "Sesamee".

I've had the lock among my things for years: it was on the door of various spaces used for the Computer Giveaway and it belonged to my friend Ellen. Of course, I knew the combination by heart: Ellen explained shy she'd chosen the numbers.

So when I went to open it I was surprised that the combination that I was absolutely positively sure was the right combination -- wasn't. I tried it several times, in different combinations. I knew there were two ones, I was positive the combo was 3-1-1-7 or 3-1-7-1, or 1-7-1-3 had to be.

It wasn't. I made a list and tried every version of the three numbers. Then I realized -- nope -- 3-1-1-7 was my door code for another place I worked. After that I realized that the combo was something else altogether, it was two numbers that meant something to Ellen, but Ellen is gone, she passed away in 2006.

I thought, "I opened this lock every day for years, I know it's an easy-to-remember number, I know there are doubled numbers and if I let my my brain go, I'll remember."

And I did, after a couple of days of trying various combinations, during which I recalled five sets of four-digit access codes from Ivey Seright and my locker combination from high school.

I was very proud of myself, having groped through a lot of number combinations. But I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I'd remembered that Ellen's birthday was April 26!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I admit it -- it took me several minutes to find the book that had the stats on how many times various authors had their manuscripts rejected before having them accepted. I'm working on a stack of twenty books and as many magazines. OK, "stack" is a misnomer, as the reading material is everywhere, in heaps.

Ah, but the quote I seek was in a book about probability and randomness: yes, I read math books. I've been a math teacher, I am fascinated by numbers. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (pages 9 and 10)

"Suppose four publishers have rejected... your manuscript. [do] the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good... could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable... that numerous publishers could miss the point and send... letters that say thanks but no thanks?"

John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces was deemed not much by editor Robert Gottleib (!!!) at Simon & Schuster; an opinion also held by Hodding Carter. Toole committed suicide in 1969, his mother badgered publishers for years, the book was finally published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

 The Dairy of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was rejected by multiple publishers.

Sylvia Plath: "...isn't enough talent for us to take notice."

George Orwell, Animal House: "...impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S."

Tony Hillerman was told by his agent to get rid of the "Indian stuff" in his novels.

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess) had his first children's book rejected by twenty-seven publishers.

John Grisham's manuscript A Time to Kill was rejected by twenty-six publishers. His second manuscript, The Firm, was only picked up only after a bootleg copy was optioned for $600,000 for the movie rights.

And famously, JK Rowling's first Harry Potter Manuscript was rejected by nine publishers.

The point is -- PERSISTENCE. Successful people in every field, not just writers, are those who don't give up. Keep shopping that manuscript around: if you keep getting the same comments from publishers, take a hard cold look at your writing; revise if needed, but be persistent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Proofreader's Marks

I miss editing on paper and I miss proofreader's marks.

Back in the olden days, manuscripts came to me in plain text on long rolls of newsprint. I worked for a typesetter and each hunk of text of paper maybe two feet long:  about as big as I could get on my desk, about a half chapter in plain text. The length of the paper was determined by the vicissitudes of the Merganthaler VIP which I won't go into here.

The text was not easy to read because it contained all the coding (bold, italic and so forth)  and we read for content and for code. Nonetheless it was easy to find misspellings, punctuation errors and such. Theoretically the text would have been through a substantive edit before it got to me, but I often found many other errors -- verb tense disagreements. I still find myself trying to put proofreader's marks when I edit today in Marked Changes.

After a couple rounds of editing we would call for the manuscript in format -- the galley proof, and only then would we see the text in page format. A final read, very through by me and the author and the corrected manuscript went up to Production to be pasted up. I was luck enough to be able to proof and paste up a number of books, occasionally even running the press.

Enough of the olden days. Frankly, it's much faster to edit in Marked Changes and faster for all manner of writing (for better or worse) to be published.

I leave you with some fun proofreader's marks:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Banquet ("Where's the Duck?")

The largest (contemporary) annual human migration on earth is now: when Chinese go home for the New Year. This weekend I joined the migration; journeying off the island and to Seattle for my family's annual dinner. The dinner has been on the Sunday closest to the new year for ages -- always on a Sunday because our dads worked in restaurants and had Sunday off. (Or so I presume -- Sunday is also a slow-in-the-evening restaurant day, good time to take over for a family banquet.)

We tried having the dinner President's Day weekend a couple of times, but that was no good. We're a couple of generations in now and President's Day weekend is a skiing weekend for a lot of folks.

When I was a kid, there were at least twelve courses, often more; we'd start eating at 3:00 and end around 9:00. Many of the "courses" were mere bites, nibbles, something to go with the alcohol. There was a lot of toasting. Every table had a centerpiece of bottles of mixers (7-Up, Club Soda) and a bottle of Four Roses. My parents would bring a bottle of Seagram's VO or Seagram's 7, often both. My godfather favored Crown Royal. No one drank beer or wine, and someone always had a bottle of Ng Ga Pay.

A toast, a nibble, another toast, another nibble. A fair number of rather racy jokes. Stories about life in China. All in Chinese, I understood about every tenth word. I got to drink soda, which was a treat.

When I was very young, usually after we had duck -- not Peking duck, Cantonese duck -- I'd be sent up to our room in the Milwaukee Hotel to sleep. The old folks who lived in the building would check on me every hour (I remember them quietly opening the door). Some would leave sesame candies on the table for me.

The halls of the Milwaukee smelled like gas, the old elevator was simultaneously scary and cool. My godfather's rooms were just behind the flashing hotel sign. My godfather's restaurant, the Little Three Grand, was right next door. (Hmmm, a quick Google of the restaurant's name revealed a teacup from the restaurant that just sold. Drat.)

My folks would party until the wee hours, come in giggling in the wee hours. They went over to the Wah Mee Club after the banquet for a nightcap and a little gambling. The Wah Mee closed in 1983 after fourteen people were killed in the club. But when it was open, it was one of the few places where Chinese could go with white friends; where mixed-race couples could order a drink. (My godfather was Chinese, my godmother white.)

This year dinner was pared down to eight courses; and most of the traditional foods were there, at least in spirit. Sharkfin soup was replaced with fish maw soup, crispy chicken instead of duck. But there were straw mushrooms, black mushrooms, prawns, a whole steamed fish. No toasts, just firecrackers, and a raffle. We always have a raffle: for years the top prize was a TV.

We don't ask all the guys who immigrated to stand up. There are just a couple left, but each table used to be proudly filled with so-and-so and his family, so-and-so and his family. Fifty guys, maybe more; a toast for each. But we still introduce ourselves by saying who our father was and where we lived; for the younger generations it's grandfather, father and where you live.

Signing off, Terri Locke, daughter of Hank Locke, Aberdeen.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Inner Critic

Oh, my inner critic: wondering whether or not my writing is any good. Apparently Amanda McKittrick Ros was untroubled by doubts. She wins the dubious title of "Worst Novelist in History" in a Slate article about Mark O'Donnell's eBook "Epic Fail". I'd download it in a minute if  I wasn't already backed up to my hairline in other things that must be read.

Our January submission period just ended and there are fifty proposals for us editors to review. Fifty proposals that cleared the first hurdle: can the author follow instructions and send us what we asked for?

We see a fair number of proposals that don't -- (1) complete manuscripts with no cover letter; (2) complete manuscripts with a cover letter and a note indicating the ms has already been professionally edited and is "ready to publish"; (3) queries for manuscripts as yet unwritten or just a few chapters written; (4) titles already published elsewhere with the note "I want to change publishers".

(1) A cover letter is standard. Who are you? What is this story about? We will request the complete manuscript if we are interested. Subset: manuscript with cover letter telling us that the story "takes time to develop, therefore I am sending you the whole manuscript." These stories usually take five chapters to describe the wonderful magical fantasy world we are entering. This is called backstory, writers.

(2) Cool that your manuscript is already edited and "ready to go". What do you mean by "professionally edited"? Copy-edited? (I do appreciate correct spelling and grammar.) Substantive? Do we get to go any additional editing or is your prose untouchable? Occasionally I see a manuscript that is too polished and I wonder if it's already been published; there's a difference between a raw well-crafted manuscript and one that's been published.

(3) If you're an established author with a long-time working relationship with a publisher you might be able to write a couple of sample chapters and sell the book. However, most of us want to see the finished manuscript. We want to know that you can write the book, not just polish the first few chapters. We often see manuscripts with the first few chapters polished and the rest in dire need of substantive editing. But if you've got a great story with compelling characters, we'll take it on.

(4) Really? Your other publisher is cool with you shopping your manuscript to other publishers? "It's just for the eBook. The print book will be with Publisher A." However, when we check Publisher A's web site we see that this isn't true. Publisher A owns your book. Sorry that Publisher A doesn't publish eBooks. That was in the contract, wasn't it? Read that contract. If it says that the publisher has exclusive rights, they have exclusive rights as outlined in the contract and supported by law. (Not your interpretation. Imagine yourself in court saying that you signed the contract but you took it to mean...)

(And see #2 above.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Editing Myself

The manuscript I've been working on (my own) got really bloated somewhere in the middle of NaNoWriMo. I love NaNo, love the exuberance of cranking out 2000 words a day and not worry a bit about my inner editor. My gosh I wandered all over the place with side stores, character studies, odd endings and stranger beginnings.

Today I cut 20,000 words out. Some of those are really great words and turns-of-phrase. But off they go into my drawer of writing that doesn't fit anywhere. Did I say drawer? I meant drawers. Nay, banker's boxes full of writing that doesn't fit anywhere.

Some of it is so old that I cringe when I re-read it. For instance, the generations-spanning novel I tried to write when I was 23: I hadn't spanned a generation myself and I was arrogant enough to think I could write meaningfully about people growing old. Oh, and not from my 23-year-old perspective -- this is what I think it'll be like. No, I knew what it would be like. (Wow, was I ever wrong.)

But some of it is funny -- when I managed to get over being pretentious and self-consciously writing.

I have an unintentionally a hilarious journal I kept while trying to deliver a five-hundred-pound, eight harness loom for a friend. The trip required dismantling the loom, carrying it down four slights of stairs, and loading it into my nine-passenger station wagon. One flat tire and a ferry trip later we unloaded the loom and carried it piece by piece a quarter mile across a muddy field to its new home.  We ate pizza.

And we decided to drive across Canada. No passports needed in those days, just a driver's licence. I left one passenger in Vancouver, another in Glacier and a third in Toronto. I picked up a couple of passengers from the University of Toronto, dropped them in Ottawa and picked up three more from the University of Ottawa and drove one person all the way to PEI -- Prince Edward Island.

I'd never read Anne of Green Gables -- actually, I still haven't. But part of PEI were like an Anne of Green Gable theme park. (I wrote the theme park bit in my journal.)

Then I drove  back; west to Toronto and south to Chicago. I had a itch to drive Route 66, and in 1976 you could still just about do it. I kept on giving rides to various folks -- about thirty total. I'd left Olympia, Washington with twenty bucks and a gas credit card; I came back three months later with twenty bucks and only fifty dollars charged to the card. My passengers had paid for most of the gas; we were having a gas crisis, gas was sixty cents a gallon.

Wonder if I could do it now?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peace, Love, and Power*

Occasionally I get email from friends who have passed away -- spam, of course. Today I got an email from a friend who passed a year ago that was a real email. The time stamp was today; the email was written five years ago, before early-onset Alzheimer's took my friend away.

My friend was a programmer; he helped develop a great deal of the infrastructure that supports email and IM. Before my friend's memory was gone, he composed an email to his friends, put it in the equivalent of a "hold" folder with a timer set to release today.

I imagine he could have written something to us and asked a friend to send it a year after his death, but he says in his email -- no -- he couldn't help showing off his programming skills; and also by reading the email that he could guess accurately when he would die. (He was an arrogant that way: he was  really good at anything concerning time.)

He didn't write a treatise on how much he loved us all or how we all should life each day as if it were our last or any such treacle.  He wrote:

I hate you all for living, I hate you all for going on when my mind is going off. I hate your  idiotic cheerful messages and inspirational sayings. I hate the flowers. Send flowers to your aunt, not me. I hate that I'll be wearing adult diapers soon and I'm happy my mind will be gone before that happens.

I'm going to die angry because I am angry. I'm going to be hell to take care of in my final days because all that will be left of me is anger. Don't go off on me about acceptance. I've accepted Alzheimer's, but I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. There is nothing in the literature that says I have to go all enlightened on you, give you a reason to be comforted because I'm accepting of my fate.

To hell with you: I'm not dying the way you want me to. 

I'm not giving you a chance to weep at my funeral, there won't be a funeral. Dump my ashes anywhere you'd like. I suggest under a tomato plant, I love ketchup. Don't contribute to a charity in my name, and by Jove, you will NOT plant a tree in my honor. The hell with me, I'm dead. I won't be there to give you a pat on the back because you're so damn noble and caring.

Contribute to a charity in your own name, plant a tree in your own honor. Get that? Honor yourself. 

Peace, love, and power my pretties.


*No lectures about the Oxford comma, please...

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Writing - Writing On

I write all the time: at least 750 words a day, usually more. I like the 750words site because I can babble away about what I had for breakfast, who I saw, how the dog skinned his nose and bled all over the house. And trust me, with only thirty people on the island right now, I don't see many people.

After babbling I can get down to the work of the day, which presently is editing four manuscripts and working on my own book. Which, now that I've written it, appears daunting, but isn't. My book is stalled while I mull over a couple of plot points. I just tossed out 6000 words and a character, now the story can move, but I have a pile of dangling ends to discard or re-weave into the story. Hm.

Reading other people's work is great when I'm stalled; usually I sort out what to write next as part of the process of editing another author.

I recently had to buy a new copy of  Strunk and White -- print and Kindle. Accordingly, my Kindle has suggested that I might want to read Stephen King's "On Writing", Anne Lamont's "Bird by Bird", Nathalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones"... even a recommendation for Peter Elbow's "Writing Without Teachers", which we called Writing Without Elbows" back at my alma mater, The Evergreen State College.

However, I don't think I can read another book on how-to-write -- for now. They're like diet books: how do you lose weight? eat less, eat healthy, exercise more. How do you write? Write. And read. And write. Every day.

But another Eats, Shoots and Leaves will come along and I'll order it up. Come to think of it, I loaned my copy of the book out nine years ago and haven't seen it since... time to download another copy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Easy Street Records in Seattle is closing; however it is always the Tower Books building to me. I lived and worked in the neighborhood for twenty years; Tower was one of the bookstores I'd wander through at lunch, after work, when I was bored, when I'd just fallen in or out of love... etc.

I can envision the stores: one side was non-fiction, the other fiction. The magazines and best sellers were in the front. Non-fiction categories were biography, languages, history, religion, science, travel, crafts; fiction was short stories,  mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, western. I know there are many more genres; but when I imagine books, I see them in a room, with title cards above. And even though I've been a book editor for some years, I often forget how many genres and sub-genres there are.

My Kindle -- OK, Amazon -- is always suggesting titles for me to download. Right now it is Best Books of the Year. Last night it was romance novels -- and wow, I'd forgotten how many romance novel sub genres there are. Depending on where you look there are either  nine major sub-genres or forty-plus. I was surprised to find a whole Navy SEAL series listed among the Amazon titles (military sub-genre) and yes, even one I found mildly interesting -- a historical title.

My godmother subscribed to several Harlequin and Silhouette of category romances; I'd visit her and find books stacked everywhere. She read them all and part of my yearly visit was to box up the ones she'd read and take them to senior centers, the hospital gift shop, two dentist's offices... she had a regular route. Every now and then I'd read one of her books -- took all of an hour, she liked fast, light reads. I'd be cringing by page ten, but they were so easy to read.

My students had the option of writing a short western, mystery, fantasy or romance story as their final exam. We studied the formulas behind each genre and so forth. Some of the stories were quite good, but most weren't. Even with a formula it is hard to write a good story; most of my students copied something they liked. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big and there were a bunch of Buffy/Angel/Willow-like characters.)

Oh, and I saw a "vampire" section in the paranormal/fantasy aisle of my favorite bookstore...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bricks and Om: A New Year's Eve Story

Years ago, I lived behind a Masonic Hall, though the Masons no longer used the whole building. I took dance classes a big downstairs room, various arts organizations had offices upstairs. The Masons met in rooms on the top – the eighth -- floor. There was a separate elevator and staircase at the back of the main hallway that presumably only went to the eighth floor. 

Heavy wooden double doors hid the elevator doors and I could hear their elevator from my apartment. I spent a fair amount of time, Rear Window style, looking at the top floor and wondering if there was a hidden floor or floors. All I could see was the brickwork was more ornate about the seventh floor. Trompe d’oeil?

I knew next-to-nothing about the Masons. My only knowledge were high school classmates who were Rainbow Girls; they'd get their pictures in the paper wearing a cape. 

When I was a little kid I thought Masons had something to do with canning, the only masons I knew were canning jars. My dad set me straight – a mason was a bricklayer, someone who worked with masonry. A capital M-type Mason was something else; the only comparison dad had was the Elks. Or the Lions or Rotary – a club. Oh, and the Shriners were Masons, white men in Ali Baba costumes. But a neighbor kid had gotten  free care at the Shriners Hospital,  if they wanted to parade in satin pants and a fez, that was fine.

A friend from Japan -- let's call her Kiku -- came to visit. She had been my translator on a recent trip to Buddhist temple sites in Japan.
"Listen," she said on New Year’s Eve. "I hear chanting."

I listened carefully.The chanting seemed to be coming from the top floor, where the Masons met. Except it wasn't quite chanting, it sounded like male voices learning how to do the Ahhhhhhhhooooooooooommmmmmmmmm sound of an Om.

"It's up there. I will join," Kiku said.

"Er, I don't think those are Buddhists," I said.

“I will go,” Kiku said. I followed her up the stairs of the Masonic Temple. We could hear the ersatz om-ing on the floor above us. 

Kiku squinted up. “Secret door?” she asked.

I showed her the double doors that led to the elevator
Kiku looked at them. “This is a good mystery.”

Months later she sent me a page copied from a Japanese book on Freemasonry; with a translation and a note. “I read that Masons do tests, learn different secret things, one of the secret things they learn is Om, but they spell it IAOM. They learn this one letter at a time. This is very funny, I think."

Kiku was studying anthropology and she followed his with several paragraphs about the role of ritual in society, ending with, “…secret societies need bigger and bigger secrets as members go higher in the organization.  I think someone visited Japan, India, China and saw Buddhist monks and added the ‘Om’… very secret eastern philosophy, who would know this in the USA many years ago, yes?

“..there are Masons here in Japan, I wonder what they think of this? Many here are also Christian, so what would secrets be? I think it does not matter, they pay money to achieve rank, rank is what matters.”