Lessons Learned on Amazon.Com

17 Apr

It’s been nearly ninety days since I self-published my first novel on Amazon, and it’s time to take stock of what I have learned.

I have a lot of nice people in my circle of friends and family. Let’s face it; I haven’t sold much to anyone outside of that circle. But people have been so sweet about supporting me in this, from old school chums to distant relatives I’ve never even met. A few have even been brave enough to point out ways for me to improve my work for the next novel.

I should never trust myself to edit my own work. I’m a good editor on other people’s work, but I miss a lot on my own. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill typos or missing words; there were plenty of those, but I missed some biggies. Like the fact that I called my hero “Evan” in Chapter six.

Which would have been fine, except that I called him “Ethan” in all of the other chapters.

Whoops. Fixed that.

I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to marketing. ‘Nuff said.

I’ve learned lots of new words, like “Scamphlet.”  A scamphlet is a very short how-to guide slapped together and vomited into e-book format for the sole purpose of scamming people into wasting their money. It is copy-and-paste nonsense that helps no one but the author, which leads to my next lesson learned.

Fake reviews run rampant on Amazon.com. Holy cow, that situation is out of control!   Anyone who has ever purchased anything from Amazon is allowed to leave a review on any book, regardless of whether that reviewer purchased that book or not. This means that some of the scamphlets, along with some really terrible books, can have volumes of glowing but false 5-star reviews.

The flipside of this is that angry, jealous or just plain bored folks can torpedo a good book’s success by peppering it with false 1-star reviews out of spite. Authors who participate in the Author Support Forums have to be so cautious in everything they say, or their work pays the price.

Shortly after I published my book, I bought a “book” that was being pushed in the forums. Okay, now I know that he was “spamming” the forums, but I didn’t know that at the time. It was supposed to help me sell more books, but it was a poorly-crafted scamphlet with a lot of meaningless pie charts and useless rambling nonsense, and I requested a refund because it was definitely not the product that was advertised. I confronted the so-called author, and he and his friends hit my book with a flood of 1-star reviews. Amazon has since removed all but one of them, but he should never have had that kind of power to stop my sales cold.

Lesson learned: Don’t trust anyone in the Author Support Forums. Also, don’t ever buy a book based on good reviews, because reviews on Amazon are meaningless.

There is a lot of crap being self-published. I have to wonder if some of these people have ever actually read a book.   I don’t mean to come across as a literary snob; I know my work is far from perfect, and I hope to keep learning and improving until the day I scribble down my very last word. But some of these books . . . oy, vey. How can anyone think it’s okay to write a book with no quotation marks in the dialogue? How is it possible for any writer to not know what a paragraph is?

This is basic stuff, guys. Stuff that should have been learned by the second or third grade. Names are capitalized. Stories are broken down into paragraphs. Sentences end with some form of punctuation. Quotation marks are used to show that a character is speaking. Spell check is a real thing; use it.

And no, “textspeak” is not an okay format to use for an entire book. Just don’t do it.

There are a lot of pretentious, puffed-up blowhards out there. I remember these guys from college. Hell, I was one of these guys in college. You know the ones. We wrote “literary fiction” and smoked clove cigarettes and lamented the stupidity of a world that just couldn’t understand the glory of our work.

I’m not sure what the modern-day equivalent of these artsy-farts are smoking, but their work is the same: indecipherable stream-of-consciousness twaddle that says nothing and goes nowhere. And uses long, obscure, intelligent-sounding words to get there.

Anyone who dares to question these masterpieces is immediately dismissed as too stupid to understand. If the world does not “get” their work, then it must be a sign that the world is becoming dumber by the day.

The definition of “Book” has changed. I was always taught that a Novel is 50,000 words or more. Anything less than that is a short story, a novelette, a novella or something else along those lines. But that is just not so on Amazon.  Authors say they have published “twenty-one books in ten months,” when in fact they have published a handful of short stories and scamphlets. Maybe this is a symptom of a society that communicates via Tweets and status updates; perhaps the average reader no longer has the attention span needed to read a book-length work of fiction.

Or maybe it’s the result of people who view self-publishing as a modern-day goldrush. Type it out, slap a title on it, and throw it on Amazon, and hope to be the next Jasinda Wilder or E.L. James.

I’ve also learned that there are some fabulous self-published authors out there who really deserve to make it big. Tom Hobbs’ Trauma Junkie series is outstanding, sort of the literary love-child of Emergency and Rescue Me  Margaret Brazear is the author of some wonderful historical romances and Mae Martini’s Loving You is one of the hottest cowboy romances I have ever read. I’m not a fan of paranormal or horror stories, but M. Lauryl Lewis’ Grace Series puts an interesting twist on Zombie tales.

I think the most important lesson I have learned over the last three months is that I want to do this again. There is still the public perception that self-publishing is for writers who aren’t good enough to publish the traditional way, but that’s just not true anymore. The good ones are few and far between, but I hope I am one of those good ones, and that I can continue to get better with each book I write.

The one thing I still haven’t learned is how to write my books and my blog and still have a life away from my computer. The whole time-management thing is still a mystery to me, but that’s a subject for another day. When I can find the time.

I Do

9 Apr

Back in 1996, a friend issued an ultimatum when I was planning my wedding. “If you invite any of your little gay friends, don’t invite me,” she stated. “I don’t want to be around sinners.”

I met her through an adult Sunday School class, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. She, along with most of the people in that particular church, stood firm in the belief that homosexuality is wrong. Period. No questions, no discussion. In her mind, all gay people go to hell, no matter what.

Subject closed. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Game over.

It had been a sore subject between the two of us. I considered myself a good Christian, and I still do. I have friends who are gay, and some of them are good Christians as well. Some are Pagans; some are Atheist, and one is Jewish.   But those people all have two things in common: they are my friends, and they don’t need my approval of their sexual orientation.

I am proud to say that I told my church friend I was going to invite whoever the hell I wanted to my wedding, and it was up to her whether to show up or not.

She didn’t come to my wedding.

I am not a theologian. I am not prepared to sit down and discuss the words of the Bible and debate over which sins are worse than other sins. I don’t know. Maybe that makes me ignorant; maybe it makes me a blind fool to follow a religion without studying it in any great depth.

Gossip is a sin, but let me tell you which of my neighbors are heavy drinkers or are facing foreclosure.   Gluttony is a sin, but just watch what happens when I get my hands on a Toblerone. I can go straight to hell for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never gotten through a twenty-four hour period without uttering at least one hearty “God damn it!”

But do I believe in Heaven? More to the point, do I believe I am going there when I die?

Absolutely.

I also believe in same-sex marriage. I believe that two people who love each other should be together.

Why is that such a big deal?

I’ve heard the arguments that same-sex marriage makes a mockery of the “sanctity of marriage.” That it devalues “normal” marriage in some way.   That marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and that is all.  No exceptions.

But when I look around at the “normal” marriages around me, I see more divorces than long-lasting unions. The majority of my friends and relatives refer to their first marriage or first husband; I was the Big Guy’s second wife, and he has already given a ring to his future third wife.   The “sanctity of marriage” doesn’t seem to keep straight people from lying or cheating on their spouses. Maybe I’m just bitter because of the collapse of my own marriage, but it seems as though everyone around me has a tale to tell of infidelity or hurt.

Sure, same-sex marriages often deal with the same issues. I am not suggesting that one is better than the other. But as far as making a mockery of marriage? That ship sailed a long time ago, and it had nothing to do with homosexuality. Or Christianity, for that matter.

Marriage is hard work. Gay or straight, young or old, Christian or not, an average of 50% of all marriages today are going to end in divorce. Fifty percent.

When I married my husband, I didn’t expect to become a middle-aged single mother. I didn’t expect us to stop communicating; I never thought he could fall in love with someone else and leave me behind. I thought we were going to be one of the successful marriages, and I had visions of our spending our sunset years together. I loved him, and he loved me, and we were both naïve enough to think that was going to be enough.

It wasn’t.

But we tried. We really tried. And it wasn’t all bad; if I had the chance to go back in time and do it again, I would. In a heartbeat. Even knowing how much it was going to hurt when we went our separate ways in eighteen years, I would do it all again because the good parts of our marriage outnumbered the bad ones.   I am glad I had the chance to be married to him.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I believe everyone deserves a chance to try to make it work. If two people love each other and are strong enough to take that risk, to make that bet that they are going to be in the fifty percent of marriages that succeed, then why shouldn’t they have that opportunity?

One of my high school friends is going through a rough patch right now. Life keeps bitch-slapping her with one tragedy after another, one devastating loss after another. And through it all, my friend’s wife has been there for her. My friend and her wife are both strong, beautiful women who are raising a strong and beautiful daughter, and their love for each other will help them survive anything. There is not a doubt in my mind that they belong together.

How can anyone say their love is wrong?

I believe in God, but not a God who would doom these women to Hell. I believe God is just and kind, and that He gave us the capacity to love; I believe that the people who can’t see this are the ones who are truly doomed.

Love is just . . . love. You find it or you don’t.   Gay or straight, the luckiest people in the world are the ones who find it and keep it.

1522066_590329487723752_1828091176_n

Horrible Things

4 Apr

I never understood what the big deal was about horror movies. Sure, I like a good scare as much as the next person. But what is the point of stories about blood and gore, with severed limbs and spurting blood and all of that mess?

I remember sitting on my Aunt Marian’s lap to watch made-for-TV movies like Scream Pretty Peggy and One of My Wives is Missing when I was far too young to be watching things like that. When Elizabeth Ashley raised her blood-streaked face to the camera, I stood straight up on my aunt’s lap and very nearly plunged through the picture window in pure, delicious terror.

db_10870

I won’t even discuss Sian Barbara Allen and those plaster mummies full of bones. Holy crap, my heart is pounding just thinking about it, thirty-odd years later.

That kind of fear is fun.   That’s the kind of fear that made my sister and me huddle together on the couch to watch Terror in the Wax Museum and damn near piss ourselves when two neighborhood boys reached through the living room window to grab us from behind during the movie. It’s the kind of fear that made my friends and me scream at stupid moments during The Amityville Horror or jump right out of our seats when the alien burst out of John Hurt’s chest in Aliens.

It’s the kind of fear that keeps me from ever putting a scarecrow in my garden, thanks to Dark Night of the Scarecrow, because I just know that Larry Drake is going to pop out of somewhere and moan, “Bubba didn’t do it!” But would I watch those movies again? Absolutely. Just let me buy a fresh box of Depends first.

MV5BMTY2ODE4MTE1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDA4OTk2Mw@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_

But there’s a line between Scary and Horror. I don’t know exactly where that line is, but I know I don’t like crossing it.

I don’t want to watch a movie that makes me throw up. I don’t want to spend the entire two hours with my face buried in my date’s shoulder. (Oh, okay, we all know I never have any dates, so let’s say I don’t want to spend the entire two hours with my face buried in my hands.)   I want to wonder about the whodunit and whydunit, not isitoveryet?

I like movies with ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I get a thrill out of movies that make me jump and squeal and sleep with the light on for the next few nights. Even those cheesy old flicks about giant ant invasions or Africanized honeybees taking over the Earth can be fun. I can overlook swamp monsters with visible zippers, or aliens with obvious rubber masks as long as the plot makes some kind of sense.

But movies with brain-slurping zombies or killers who want to wear their victims’ faces for no apparent reason? No, thank you. If a psycho killer is going to hang mummified teens on a wall in a church cellar, at least give me the satisfaction of telling me why. “He’s just evil” isn’t enough for me. Tell me why the killer is slashing all of the town’s promiscuous teenagers; don’t just roll their disembodied heads down the stairs because it’s a cool special effect.

I just don’t get it.

My kids watch horror movies late at night when they think I don’t know about it.  They are part of the modern generation of viewers who get into Saw and Jeff the Killer and Slenderman; they have grown up in an era of movies that spoon-feed them everything with expensive special effects and CGI blood that looks like the real thing. They simply cannot understand older movies that tell rather than show.

Psycho made them ask me when the “good stuff” was going to start. They were unable to sit through the build-up that led to the shower scene. They wanted the blood and mayhem to begin immediately and screw the story behind it.

But I plan on changing that. One day soon, I am going to find a copy of Dark Night of the Scarecrow or One of My Wives is Missing and watch with them in a darkened living room. And if all goes well, I just may recruit a couple of neighborhood boys to reach through the living room window and scare the living hell out of them just at the climax of the movie.

Because I like scary movies, not horror movies, and I’m that kind Mom.

If you are a fan of horror movies, please check out the upcoming series The Tome of Terror by Chris Workman and Troy Howarth, which is described as “a series of books dedicated to the history and evolution of the horror film, from the silent era to the modern day.” It was co-authored by a friend of mine who is an outstanding writer with an eye for detail, and I am sure that these books won’t leave out a single thing.

Everything Has Changed

26 Mar

maltese_iron_cross_009

 

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.” – Goldie Hawn

 

I always wanted to be a writer. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first hero. I felt that God had given me something special; I was sure I had a gift that was going to make me a great writer someday.

I thought it was Fate.

Meant to be.

Then I grew up and realized that Fate wasn’t going to pay my bills. I took a detour that became a bigger detour, and then an even bigger detour. I got married, started a career, had a family, and decided that writing was a pipe dream. A cute little hobby. Something I might do again someday when I retired.

I barely missed it.

But Fate can be a real Bitch sometimes.

In my blog, I refer to my husband as The Big Guy because he is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a big heart and a capacity for greatness. When he became a volunteer firefighter in our small community, we very quickly became a part of the fire department family. He rose up through the ranks by doing the job well, not by campaigning or maneuvering for promotions.

So he was blindsided when small-town politics forced him to step down. He was hurt, as he should have been; those men and women were his brothers and sisters, and he felt betrayed. And while he is good at many things, forgiveness is not something he has ever mastered.

It was a bad time for everyone. We lost our friends, our extended family. He lost his sense of purpose, and I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. And in a town this small, there are always going to be rumors and ugliness when something like that happens.

Which is why I believe it was Fate that my car accident happened when and where it happened. One more mile, and I would have been in the next township. One more mile, and my life would have been in the hands of strangers, not his former “brothers.”

From underneath the maple tree, I recognized the chief’s voice right away, despite my head injury and pain. Of course I knew his voice. He’d gone through training with my husband, and they had served together for over a decade. He sounded calm, efficient, professional. The perfect chief.

When I called him by name, he got a funny look on his face.   He didn’t recognize me.

That was my first clue that it was bad.

“It’s Amy,” I told him. “Ken’s wife.”

His face changed then. He closed his eyes and lowered his head and said a few choice words that I don’t think I was supposed to hear. The calm, efficient professional fire chief was gone for a split second, and our friend –our family member – fought for control.

That was my first clue that it was really bad.

I learned later that when he turned away from me after that, he gathered his men and told them, “Everything has changed. It’s family.”

Everything has changed.

They would have saved anyone as efficiently as they saved me that night. They did their job, and they did it well. But I was their family. I was one of them, and I could see it on their faces.

One of the other guys, a Paramedic, told me later that he had been on a leave from the department while he debated quitting, but something told him to respond that night. When he saw my van with the tree on it, his first thought was, “Nobody survived that.” Then he noticed my skin tone and thought, “She’s nearly gone.” Then he looked at my face and thought, “Okay, God, I get it. I won’t quit.”

Everything has changed.

In the months following the accident, I tried to hug and thank every one of the men that responded that night. It was harder than you might think; it was nearly impossible for me to find a balance between thanking them for saving me and remembering that they hurt my husband. I didn’t want to betray him by letting them off the hook when he still hadn’t. Couldn’t.

While I healed, I started writing again. I wanted to write about what I had gone through, exorcise some of the fear and pain and sadness by using my God-given writing skills, but I just couldn’t.  Everything sounded melodramatic and overwrought. I tried to go back to my original dream of writing a Young Adult mystery series. I ended up writing fanfictions in which I put my favorite TV characters in cars and dropped trees on them.   I wrote poetry. I joined an online critic’s group and tried to feel like a writer.

Everything has changed.

I began to write a romance novel. The first thing I did was drop a tree on my heroine’s head and break her neck.

I started blogging. At first, I told funny, superficial stories about living in the country. Then I shared some more personal bits about myself. I talked about my accident, and my kids, and about losing my parents; I shared advice I had gotten from my Aunt Marian, and I even found a way to work in the phrase “whippoorwill’s ass.” I made people laugh and cry, and somewhere along the line, I started having fun again.

In an ironic twist of Fate, the Big Guy and I were falling out of love while the characters in my book were falling into love. He asked me for a divorce exactly three days after I typed “the end.”

Everything has changed.

“Her House Divided” is a dream come true for me. It is the culmination of my life’s dream of becoming a writer.  I did it; I wrote a book. I am proud of everything I put into it.

I can say that I am a writer.

And until yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to write next.   So of course, Fate just had to step in again.

Yesterday, at a time and place when I least expected it, I ended up face-to-face with the one firefighter I had not yet thanked. I hugged him, and he hugged me, and he told me about the chief’s words to his men that night: Everything has changed.

You know what?

He’s right.

Everything has changed.

I’m still a single mother and scared to death that I’m going to screw it up. I am still sad that my marriage failed, and I miss my husband. I’m scared of maple trees and thunderstorms, and I sometimes wake up screaming because I’ve seen the tree falling again in a dream.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But there are a few things I do know: I am a survivor. I am loved. I am stronger than I ever realized.

I know what to write next.

I have a story to tell, and I know how to tell it.

I’m ready to start the next chapter.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/prompt-que-sera-sera/

Wagon Boss

19 Mar

my90fL9aIii9I28DuGLxybQ

It hangs on my living room wall because I am the only one in the family who couldn’t say no.  It hangs there and it mocks me, and I hate it.

“It” is a Charles Russell painting.  Or to be more accurate, among my family members it is the Charles Russell original.

According to family legend, it was my Grandmother’s prized possession.  I don’t remember Grandma Hyde, but I remember the stories of that painting.  How Grandma fell in love with it on a visit to the Charles Russell Museum, how the family all chipped in together to “invest” in it for her, how it would someday be a great inheritance for my sisters and me.  Every time we heard the story again, we nodded and promised to cherish it forever.

We gave our word.

Later, our inheritance was expanded to include figurines from Gorham, Grossman and others.  The aunts’ house became crowded with curio cabinets stuffed to overflowing with Norman Rockwells, Hummels, Lladros, Andreas, and Swarovskis.  Chubby pink-cheeked children in lederhosen peered out from behind graceful nuns in soft pastels; a cheerful cardinal sat on a porcelain tree branch beside a scene of small-town Americana.

There are Hallmark stores with fewer figurines than my aunts had in their home.  Aunt Marian also dabbled in Precious Moments, Fannie-kins, Snowbabies, and Royal Doultons.   She hung collectable plates from the Danbury Mint and Bradford Exchange and spoke of every new addition in a hushed voice, reminding us that these treasures would all be ours someday.

Someday came, and my sisters and I were left with a collection of useless tshotskes for which there is no resale market.

I sold some on Ebay. Traded some on Listia.  We set up a display in the back of the church at Aunt Marian’s memorial service and invited her friends to take one with them to help remember her.  And still, I have hundreds of figurines boxed up in the back of my closets.  Thousands of dollars’ worth of useless figurines that mean nothing to me.

And then there’s the painting.

It’s called “The Wagon Boss.”  My sister and her husband put on white gloves, wrapped it in a sheet, and took it to an expert to find out just how much it is worth, only to discover that the cherished Charles Russell “original” is a poster.  A beautiful poster, carefully mounted and framed, but a poster.

The fifty year-old frame has more value as an antique.

And there it hangs.

On my living room wall.

I hate it.

It is dark and dreary and it makes me sad.  I don’t want it, but I can’t seem to let it go.  When I think of dropping it off at the GoodWill, my heart aches. I get teary-eyed at the thought of it ending up in a Dumpster somewhere.  It has value.  It must have value to someone, somewhere.

I can’t just let go of something that I promised to love forever . . . can I?

I gave my word.

A promise is supposed to be forever.  I made a promise, gave my word, made a vow.  Going back on my word means I was wrong.  Gullible.  That I was fooled into seeing value in something utterly worthless. That I believed in a lie told by someone I shouldn’t have trusted.

Kind of like when I said my wedding vows.

I am fool.  A gullible, divorced fool surrounded by boxes of Norman Rockwell figurines and a dusty old Charles Russell poster, and nothing else.

Daily Prompt: Linger

17 Mar

We have a saying in my family that is repeated every time there is a death in the family:  “A Foote good-bye lasts longer than the visit.”

Technically, I am not a Foote; my grandmother was a Foote before marrying my grandfather.  I’m a little shaky on all of the details about how many siblings she had, or where she fell as far as birth order.  I wasn’t raised in a Foote-friendly environment, but I heard plenty of stories about them from my father and his four sisters.

With a few exceptions, we only saw the Footes at funerals and visitations.  And since they all live in the same small town, the visitations tend to be the kind that take place in those old, homey funeral parlors that used to be someone’s house.  None of those sleek, modern funeral homes with the coordinating décor and multiple viewing rooms for multi-funeral gatherings.  No, my family prefers the places with mismatched Victorian-looking chairs and over-stuffed sofas, with candy dishes and discreet tissue boxes on the coffee tables.

“They do such a nice job here,” someone will inevitably say.  “Remember Mom’s funeral?  What about so-and-so’s?”

When we go to the visitation for a Foote funeral, we all behave as expected.  We make polite chit-chat with relatives that we only vaguely recognize, move through the line to pay our respects to the deceased, shake hands or exchange hugs when it’s over, and then we head out to the parking lot, where the party begins.

Another saying among the Footes is that we should just plan on holding funeral visitations in the parking lot because that’s where we all end up anyway.  By the time we finally leave, we will have spent twice as long in the parking lot  saying good-bye than we spent inside the funeral home.

We cluster around the cars and talk, but not necessarily about the person we’ve gathered to mourn.  We play catch-up on those of us who are left.  “I’m Dean’s daughter,” I’ll say.  “I’m Lee’s son,” someone else offers.  Which segues into a discussion of the family tree and just how we are related to each other.  There are stories to be told, phone numbers and email addresses to be exchanged, promises to be made about staying in touch.

Promises that we know will not be kept.

We aren’t a close family.  My father’s generation was close; they all grew up with their cousins and aunts and uncles living near each other.  But by the time my sisters and I came along, it had already begun to fall apart to the point where we only saw the relatives at funerals, visitations, and the occasional holiday or family picnic.

When the older generation began to pass away, there was a Domino effect.  While we might have gone a year or two between funerals before that, it seemed to pick up pace as soon as we lost the first one.    And always, after each one, there was the gathering in the parking lot to reacquaint ourselves with each other.

I don’t miss most of the Footes, because I really didn’t know them.  But I miss that sense of belonging, of being a part of something.  A member of a family.  I miss the after-visitation conversations out in the funeral parlor parking lot, where I was more than just Amy; I was Dean’s daughter and Ethel’s granddaughter.  Esther’s great-niece.  Tony and Jenny’s cousin.    I looked like the people around me, and felt like the “Bee Girl” in the old Blind Melon video.

As strange as it may sound, I’m looking forward to the next Foote passing, just so I can have a chance to catch up one more time, standing around the parking lot with relatives I no longer know.

And when I die, I want my visitation held at one of those big, old-fashioned funeral parlors that used to be someone’s house.  I want Blind Melon’s “No Rain” playing in the background, and I want to make sure there is a great big parking lot, where my friends and relatives can stand around and swap stories and phone numbers to make sure that the good-byes always last longer than the visits.

 

http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/489937/70892/

Totally!

14 Mar

My favorite decade was the eighties, of course!  The fashions, the music, the TV shows – what wasn’t great about the eighties?

Okay, I could have lived without seeing Don Johnson’s rumpled white suits and bare ankles.   And George Michael’s suntanned lips were pretty creepy.  And I could seriously contemplate self-harm if I ever have to watch a Toni Basil video again. But we also got MTV, Max Headroom and REM.  The eighties gave us Moonlighting and launched Bruce Willis on an unsuspecting TV audience. The eighties gave us leg warmers and pegged jeans and slouch boots.  Slouch boots!  Who didn’t feel gorgeous in slouch boots?

I wore earrings in the eighties that could have doubled as fishing lures.  Seven earrings up the left side, one super-long dangler on the right.  A big gold hoop with a spare key dangling from it.  The true question of the eighties is how on earth I managed to come through both earlobes intact.

And the colors.  Jewel tones and bright geometric prints.  Socks that matched the collar that matched the ginormous earrings that matched the bejeweled hairclip.  Color-coordinated matchy-matchy outfits that worked perfectly for someone with my fashion-impaired sensibility.   It was so easy to put an outfit together, like Garanimals for grown-ups.  I wore royal blues and vibrant reds and shades of fuschia that could be seen from outer space.

But my love for the eighties isn’t just about the fashions and the music.  It’s more personal than that.  The 1980’s were the decade when my life really started.

I started and finished high school in the eighties.  Started college, but didn’t finish.  I got my first real job, left home, got an apartment.   Lost my first job.  Hated the apartment and moved into my sister’s basement, got a better job.

I lost my Aunt Ida and my mother and my grandmother in the eighties.

I sold my first article in the eighties, to a now-defunct magazine called “Amazing Heroes.”

I became an aunt in the eighties.  That moment is still right up there as a close second or third behind becoming a mother (a nineties event, not part of today’s post).  Some of the most wonderful people in my life were my aunts; I still find it hard to believe that I have been lucky enough to be an aunt to eight little people.  Not so little, actually; only one is still shorter than I am, and I expect him to pass me in about three years.

And only three of them were born in the eighties, but I’m the kind of aunt who can never brag about just one niece or nephew.

We make fun of the fashions of the eighties now, but the truth was that I felt beautiful then.  Maybe it was because I spent my late teens and early twenties during that decade, and most women begin to recognize their own beauty at that age.

The big, big hair was perfect for me.  Even now, I still have enough hair on my head for a small village.  I wore it long and spiral-permed and pulled it back with scrunchies and bow-shaped barrettes.  And don’t forget the banana clips!  Oh, the banana clips!  Decorated with faux pearls and rhinestones and enough flash and sparkle to blind anyone in a ten-mile radius.

I only stopped wearing a banana clip when I realized LeVar Burton wore one every week as a visor on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

No, LeVar, that's not how you wear a banana clip

No, LeVar, that’s not how you wear a banana clip

Make up in the eighties was totally awesome.  Anybody remember the blue mascara?  Paired with blue eyeliner, it made my small, close-set eyes actually look big for once.  And the lip gloss.  Bonnie Bell Raspberry Lip Smacker was my go-to flavor.  Glosses and roll-ons with fruit-flavored glitter and sparkle that glistened like drool on a teething six-month old.

My sister referred to that look as “Cum-Lips.”  I didn’t understand that in the early eighties, but I caught on somewhere around 1987.  Yes, I was a late bloomer.

My sixteen year-old recently had to dress up for “Eighties Day” for her school’s spirit week.  I wanted to coach her in how to peg her jeans and do her make-up, but she seemed to figure it out just fine.   I wish she would have let me give her “Mall Bangs,” though.  They would have made the outfit.

I'm not sure if I should be proud or afraid

I’m not sure if I should be proud or afraid

Looking Up

13 Mar
It's not nice to blog about Mother Nature!

It’s not nice to blog about Mother Nature!

When I was a kid, there was a popular commercial that proclaimed, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Well, apparently it’s also a bad idea to write a blog post entitled “Up Yours, Mother Nature.”

About two hours after I posted that, my kids got home from school and came rushing in the back door nearly bursting with excitement.  “You need to go look at your car, Mom,” said the oldest.  “Your car may be blocked in,” the middle one told me.  “It’s awesome!”  my youngest crowed.

I’m not exactly known for my ability to move quickly, but I think I broke a few personal speed records hauling ass to the driveway.  And there it was:  the slab of ice from the roof had finally come loose and fallen.  At least six feet long, probably three or four feet thick at its deepest point; the “ice-jam” buildup that had been causing our roof to leak.

I don’t even want to try to estimate how much it weighed.  Suffice it to say that the thing was huge.  Massive.  Enormous.  Even when it broke into chunks on impact, the chunks it left probably weighed more than some of the people in my life.

I think we all know where it landed, right?

IMAG0084

In our eighteen years in this house, we have never had an ice-jam as large as this one.  In eighteen years, any ice chunks that have fallen have landed easily in the flower bed, nowhere near the driveway.  For eighteen years, I have parked my car in exactly that same spot.

As I stared at the ice and my poor little car, I had a sudden flash of memory.  About twenty-five years ago, I drove my very first brand-new car up to Mount Pleasant to visit my friend Michelle.  I parked my cherry-red Plymouth Horizon (don’t judge me, I was young and stupid) in my friend’s usual spot close to the house, where a sudden gust of wind sent a tree branch through my windshield.  Never mind that the tree had been standing for close to one hundred years, or that Michelle had been parking her vehicle there for nearly a decade.  My car sat there for less than ten minutes, and Mother Nature dropped a tree branch on it.

Almost three decades later, she dropped an entire tree on my Ford Windstar.  Gotta give her props for that one:  my vehicle was a moving target that time, and she still managed to hit it.

This time, it’s a ton of ice.  Literally.

You know, I’m kind of over this whole “let’s drop things out of the sky on Amy’s car” business.  What’s next, a satellite?  A randomly-falling sperm whale or bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

Yup, that pretty much says it all.

Yup, that pretty much says it all.

But this time, the joke’s on Mother Nature, because she missed.  That’s right; she missed my car this time.  The ice landed less than an inch away from my trusty little Ford Focus, close enough to cover it with snow and ice chips, but didn’t even leave a scratch.

Maybe things are looking up.

Or maybe I should just start looking up more often.

Up Yours, Mother Nature

11 Mar

Mother Nature is trying to prove something.  But really, she’s preaching to the choir.  Beating a dead horse.  All that good stuff.

When my husband and I decided to divorce, there was never any question about who would get our house.   It’s a great big farmhouse on forty acres, with a brand-new barn/man-cave.  The house is nearly one hundred years old, and it requires the same kind of constant care that anything that old requires.  This was never a problem before, because The Big Guy can fix anything.  Everything.  He is sort of Broken-Thing-Whisperer.

So naturally, as soon as he left, the front of the bathroom cabinet fell off.   The mudroom roof starting leaking.  The Man Cave refrigerator stopped working.  The kitchen sink backed up.  The pipes froze.   The shed roof collapsed.   The washer broke.   The furnace stopped working.

Keep in mind that it has only been three months since he left.  Three months.  All of these things have broken in three months.

But none of that can be blamed on Mother Nature.

No, she’s being a bitch about everything else.  She hit us with the worst winter this state has seen in more than thirty years.  Snowfall of historic proportions.  Subzero temperatures and wind chill for a mind-boggling number of days.  I’ve shelled out hundreds of dollars for plowing, faced my claustrophobic fear of basements to fight with our old furnace, slogged through thigh-deep snow to drag a frozen dumpster to the street.  Nearly ran out of propane and fuel oil because the snow was too deep to get a delivery, and I simply don’t have the physical strength to shovel three feet of that nasty white stuff to make a path around the house.

Hey, Mother Nature!  You have nothing to prove — I already know I can’t stay in this house!  The Big Guy just moved out until I find my own place, and then the house is his.

Oh, but that wasn’t enough for her.  Oh, no, of course not.  The old broad hit me with a two-pronged attack.  She used the weather to wear down my defenses, and then she unleashed the wildlife.

It began one morning around four a.m.  I woke up because all three of my cats were having a rather energetic romp all over the foot of my bed.  I scolded them and tried to kick at them, but they seemed to be unusually determined to stay on the bed.

When I finally turned on the light, the first thing I saw was the dead mouse in Minnie the Cat’s mouth.

On my bed.

While I was in the bed.

Folks, this kind of thing simply didn’t happen when the Big Guy was in the bed with me.  It just didn’t.

I didn’t want little Ms. Minnie to eat her prey on my nice white quilt or drag the little corpse under my bed, so I used a washcloth to pick up the poor dead critter by the tail and headed downstairs to throw it outside.

I was about halfway down the stairs when I realized that Mousie was, in fact, not dead.  Mostly dead, perhaps, but definitely alive enough to start struggling as it dangled from my hand.

Now, I like to think that I am a relatively brave person.  That I can remain calm in a crisis.  That I am not the kind of wimpy woman who comes unglued at the sight of a mouse.

But I am not prepared to deal with a live and struggling mouse swinging around from under a washcloth in my hand.  What to do?  Let go and take a chance of it running up my sleeve?  Throw it and then spend the next few days wondering where the hell it ran to?  There just aren’t handbooks or instruction manuals out there outlining what to do in this situation because, let’s be honest, I’m probably the only person in the world who has ever been in this situation.

I flushed him down the toilet.

Don’t judge me.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, although I was afraid to pee for the next three days.

I asked the Big Guy about it a few days later, posing it as a hypothetical question.  “So, just for snicks, just randomly wondering,” I began, “let’s say somebody flushed a live mouse down the toilet.  Would it damage the septic at all?”

He thought about it for a moment.  “No, I don’t think so.  It should be fine.  Why?”

“Do you really want to ask that question?”

He just sighed.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done with the wildlife.  She upped the ante.  I drove up our icy driveway a few days later, nearly lost control and ended up missing the barn by about two feet before swerving toward the house.  And drove directly over a possum who just sat there blinking at me.

My daughter screamed.  We hopped out of the car and looked back at the lifeless gray body.  I swore I hadn’t felt any kind of a bump under my wheels, but he had to be dead, right?

Ever hear the phrase playing possum?  Well, now I know where it comes from.

I headed that way with a shovel, thinking that I would scoop it up and toss it into the woods where my youngest child wouldn’t see it and freak out.  But when I was just a few inches away, it suddenly sat up and hunkered down, staring at me.  My screams didn’t seem to bother it. Neither did my shovel against its head.  No, it just continued to sit there and blink stupidly at me.

I fled, spending the rest of the afternoon staring out the back door at it and praying that it would be gone by the time my boys came up the driveway after school.  After about two hours, it finally lumbered away into the woods.

Then Mother Nature unleashed the raccoons.

I am you worst nightmare.

I am you worst nightmare.

They have moved in and made their home on the brick ledge of my house, swinging from the screens of the living room windows.  We can hear them all night long, squeaking and chattering as they hook their little paws around the corners of the screens and start rocking them back and forth.   There is a giant wasp nest above one window that the Big Guy had planned to destroy this winter; apparently, the raccoons are eating that nest.

There is something indescribably unsettling about pulling back the living room curtains and seeing a wall of raccoon bellies and paws as they hang from the window screens.   All three windows.    It’s like they are swarming my house.   An invading raccoon horde.

Hey!  Can we come in?  Hey!

Hey! Can we come in? Hey!

It’s like a low-budget 1970’s made-for-TV horror movie.

These things just didn’t happen when the Big Guy lived here.

On my way to the grocery store yesterday, I hit a turkey.  In my own driveway.

Nailed a woodchuck when I came home.

Someone else hit a skunk right in front of my house last night.

My yard is littered with animal corpses.  Corpses that are going to start stinking as the weather finally begins to warm up.  Corpses that my poor children have to step over and walk around on their way to and from the school bus.

If all goes well, I will probably be moving into an apartment soon, where there will be a manager and a management company to take care of snow and wildlife.  But in the meantime, I am going to find the humor in this.  I am going to have fun with it.

You see, I just sent the Big Guy an email, asking if he can stop by one day this week to help me dispose of some bodies.

Let him stew.

After eighteen years with me, he knows me well enough to worry when I say things like that.

Have Merson

24 Feb

I have no sense of direction.  Zero.  None.  My old college roommate was fond of saying that I could get lost in a revolving door, and I have to admit that she was right.

It runs in my family.  Aunt Marian called it our “Family Disease”  because most of us have very little idea of just exactly where we are at any given time.  Put a handful of my relatives in a car and it’s anybody’s guess where we are going to end up, although it’s a safe bet that we aren’t going to reach our intended destination.

Dad tried to teach me.  He showed me how to look for the moss on a tree to figure out which way is north, or how to follow a stream to find my way around.  He made every effort to help me understand the compass points on a map.

None of which is even remotely helpful when I’m screaming through the S-curves in Grand Rapids during rush hour, trying to figure out if my upcoming exit is going to be on the left or right.

Still, it was manageable when I lived in my hometown.  The streets have names there.  Lexington Avenue.  Schuring Road.  Julie Drive.  Names.  Identifiers.  Logical tags to help the directionally-impaired find our way around.

Now I live in the country, where nobody bothered to name the roads.  We use numbers out here.  County Road 665.  M-43.  54th Street.  And they complicate matters by throwing in half-streets.   That’s right, 51 ½ Street.  52 ½ Street.  The real kicker is that there is no 51st, 52nd, or 53rd Street.  Just the halves.

Just in case that isn’t quite enough of a mind-screw, some of the roads out here have different names, depending on what part of the road one is traveling on.  County Road 388, for example, is Phoenix Road in South Haven, 46th Street in Berlamont, Kalamazoo Avenue in Bloomingdale, and 388 again for the next few towns until it becomes D Avenue somewhere near Kalamazoo.  It may change names again, but I’ve never followed it beyond that.

Because these are all small towns, there has to be another twist to make it that much harder to find my way around.  The locals have nicknames for certain roads or locations, nicknames that make no sense and don’t show up on any map.  Trowbridge Flats, for example, is nowhere near Trowbridge Township.  There is no Armstrong Road anywhere in the vicinity of Armstrong Corners.   I have no idea who or what a “Kibbe” is, but I drive through Kibbe Corners every day.

And then there’s Merson’s Corners.

I hate Merson’s Corners.

The hate began between my freshman and sophomore years of college, when I was staying with my Aunt Verna for the summer.  I wanted to visit my Aunt Ida’s grave at the family cemetery in Trowbridge Township, so Verna gave me detailed directions for what should have been about a 45-minute drive.  She used lots of numbers and nicknames, and the biggest part of her instructions involved my traveling along the Pullman Road.

There is no Pullman Road.  It is not on any map.  As far as I can tell, it goes nowhere near Pullman, Michigan.  Which is fine, I guess, because I don’t think Pullman, Michigan is anywhere near Trowbridge Township.  Or Trowbridge Flats, for that matter.

I saw parts of Michigan that day that I had never seen before and quite possibly have never seen since.  Or maybe I have; after a while, the trees and corn sort of blend together and start to look alike.  By the time I ended up at Merson’s Corners roughly three hours later, I was hungry, tired, hopelessly lost and bawling like a baby.

The town consisted of a sign that said “Merson” and a convenience store.  There was another sign advertising a business selling “local herbs and honey” but I decided to take my chances at the convenience store.  This was before cell phones, and the sole payphone was out of order, so I had to ask for directions from the goober at the counter.  A goober who, as luck would have it, had never heard of the Pullman Road or Mallory Cemetery and wasn’t too sure about the Trowbridge Township Hall, but happily told me about the time he got his car stuck in the mud at Trowbridge Flats.

Which is nowhere near Trowbridge Hall, Mallory Cemetery, or Merson’s Corners.

In retrospect, I think there is a strong possibility that Goober might have been sampling some of the “local herbs.”

I know now that a simple left turn at Merson’s Corners would have taken me to the family cemetery in about five minutes.  I have a theory that I have so many ancestors buried there because most of them died while driving helplessly around in circles trying to visit the graves of other ancestors.

But on that particular day, Goober sent me in the opposite direction to Armstrong Corners, which I recognized as the intersection of M-40 and M-43.  Where there is no Armstrong Road.

My odyssey should have ended there.  But in the years that have passed since that day, a strange thing has happened.  Every time I get lost (which is pretty much every time I get behind the wheel) I end up at Merson’s Corners.  It doesn’t matter what town I am aiming for; as soon as I realize that I have no idea where I am, I relax and start looking for Merson.  Once I end up there, I can find my way home.  Or I can find Armstrong Corners or Mallory Cemetery, although I have still never located the Pullman Road.

Merson has a nice, big church at the corner now.  We met there to meet with the pastor about my father’s funeral, and we use the parking lot as a good halfway point to meet other family members on our way to the county fair.  My brother-in-law and his wife even attended that church for a while.

I’d like to try that church, but I have a confession to make:  I can’t find it.

You see, Merson’s corners is still not on any map.  I can find my way home from Merson, but I can’t get to Merson unless I am trying to get somewhere else.  Anyone else could simply flip the directions around and backtrack, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I start wondering why there’s a place called Merson’s Corners when there’s really nothing in Merson but a church and a convenience store.  Then I start to wonder if there’s a an Armstrong family at Armstrong Corners, which leads me to question the existence of a Kibbe Family, at which point I wonder if the Armstrongs and Kibbes were wiped out of existence while stuck in the mud of Trowbridge Flats while looking for the Pullman Road.

My husband recently asked me if I would meet him at Merson’s Corners so he didn’t have to drive quite as far to bring the kids home.  He must have seen the panic on my face.

“You can find it,” he assured me.  “Don’t aim for Merson.  Look for the Pullman Road.”

I made it to Merson’s Corners with five minutes to spare.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,288 other followers