Falling to Pieces

Old_book_bindings Wikimedia Commons

–photograph taken from Wikimedia Commons

One recent Saturday afternoon I settled down in an easy chair with a stack of saltine crackers, a glass of orange juice, and an old friend, the friend being one of my favorite novels. When I opened it, however, the binding cracked like stale peanut brittle. Pages sailed out and hit the floor like giant flakes in a literary snowstorm. Horrified, I reached for another novel and found that it, too, was on the verge of giving up the ghost. At that point I put my crackers aside, checked my bookshelves, and found several more favorites that were barely clinging to life. I had literally read these books to pieces.

A (partial) roll call of the dead:

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, the true story of a woman and her daughter forced by her then-husband to live in his native Iran, where her rights as a woman became basically non-existent. Her efforts to survive and her dash for freedom with her young daughter make for a very exciting read.

The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, an oldie but goodie, as I dearly love 18th century melodrama. I sympathize with the heroine’s struggles, and I also find it an interesting study of the confining gender roles prevalent in English society at that time.

The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell, one of the finest horror anthologies I’ve ever read. Many of the greatest names in horror fiction have stories in there including Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy”,  Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks”, and “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hichens, to name just a couple. I am very sorry to lose this book, and this is probably the first book that I will replace when my book-buying budget permits.

Sometimes I go into denial about what I want to preserve. Among the books that have traveled at my side since my girlhood is one box of original Weird Tales magazines. I have read them in the past, but I don’t dare even open that box any more because those ancient and eldritch mags will disintegrate at the first touch of fresh air, so those precious issues remain safely tucked in their box, where they are of no use to anyone at all.

I will buy replacements for my much-loved books. Used copies for sale are often as fragile as my originals, so I will buy modern reprints where I can find them. I know it’s what’s inside that counts the most, but I will miss the old covers anyway. Some people will tell me, why don’t you get the digital editions? I could, but I won’t. I want the smell, the feel, the look of that book when first I discovered it and added it to my collection of old friends.

Remember that old Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you, may wind be always at your back…?” Well, I have come up with a blessing for the book fiends among us: May the bindings on all your books remain intact and flexible, may your pages never splinter and your covers stay strong. May all our favorite books live forever!

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Are You Amazing?

Swiss Army nail clippers THIS ONE JPEG

*Disclaimer: There is no such tool in real life as a Swiss Army nail clippers, but I wish there were.

Can you hush a crying baby instantly? Play a piece of music perfectly after hearing it only once? Know immediately what is making that weird noise under the hood of your car? Throw any old rag on your back and look like a picture-perfect model? Is there some talent or skill you are especially good at that you like to wow people with? Here are a couple of mine:

I can steer a canoe. I mean I don’t just think I can, I can really do it. Once during my dating days I went on a canoe trip with someone who claimed he was an expert steersman. He paddled us in circles and got us stuck on a sandbar in the middle of a highly polluted river. I had to get out and push us off, and I don’t know why that filthy river water didn’t dissolve my feet on contact. After I escaped from both the canoe and the date I vowed that if I ever got into a canoe again, I would be the one doing the steering.

I can do anything with a nail clippers. It functions as my own cheap Swiss Army knife. I can unknot a hopelessly knotted shoelace. I can untangle the worst tangle in the chain of a necklace. I can perform minor surgery on hangnails, skin tags, and hanging scabs. With an ordinary, everyday nail clipper I can leap the tallest building at a single bound. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s me and my nail clippers!

I can type on a keyboard while holding a conversation with the person standing in front of me. Now, I don’t tend to do this every day because it freaks people out, but I can continue to type, accurately, while carrying on a completely rational conversation. When challenged to repeat what that person just said I can give them chapter and verse, and it blows their mind. I do feel smug about this special ability, but like I said, I don’t do it very often, and sometimes I get the feeling that people would feel more comfortable about it if I weren’t able to do it quite so well.

So, I’m asking you, what are your special skills and talents? The world wants to know!

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The Dark Side of Information Addiction

telescope oboe music

I am an information junkie. I have a lust for information so powerful that it would probably qualify as one of the seven deadly sins. No matter how remote the possibility of usefulness, I cannot, simply cannot, pass by an opportunity to make a note of something that may come in handy to me within the next hundred years or so. This addiction to collecting information used to take the form of paper. My black filing cabinet was crammed with spiral notebooks, grocery slips, and random sticky notes scribbled with “irreplaceable” data.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, in recent years my lust for information has gone digital. Gone are the spiral notebooks and the bulging manila folders of sticky notes. In their places I have collected…internet bookmarks. I have an avalanche of bookmarks saving my place on hundreds of web sites that I just might remotely have a use for someday. I have so many bookmarks on my massive (and growing) dropdown menus that I have defeated the very purpose of creating bookmarks, for I can’t find a single thing easily any more. It’s embarrassing when I know I have marked an interesting web site for future reference, but can’t find the site again without Googling.

One day last week I sat down and forced myself to sort through my gigantic menus. Of course, I can’t get rid of the Chambers Book of Days online. Even though I own a print copy that I haven’t looked at since 2010, what if I lose it? Then there are various colleges and universities. I have never gone to those places and don’t have plans to, but what if I should change my mind and want to take a class? Those survival skills web sites, I haven’t read anything on them since I marked them three years ago. But what if there was some kind of natural disaster and I had to learn how to start a campfire with an AA battery and a shoelace? I certainly can’t delete information that could save my life one day. Odds are I will probably never need to know how to lay joists for a log cabin floor, but what if I have the opportunity to do so? I know how to garden, but what if I want to raise a lemon tree indoors? I’ve always wanted to teach myself Icelandic, learn how to pilot a light aircraft, raise milk goats, play the oboe, build a solar-powered bake oven, learn chemistry the easy way, compile a family tree, make my own sky telescope, find the esoteric meaning of rose quartz, create homemade jewelry, dig my own swimming pool, locate the country of Bhutan…

Clearly, I need help. But not today, for I have made some progress. I started with 1000 bookmarks and now I have 998. There’s nothing like a good “housecleaning!”

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Hill Magick released on Kindle and CreateSpace

Hooray! My horror novel Hill Magick (second edition) has been released on Kindle and CreateSpace:

HillMagick_Kindle jpeg

Buy Hill Magick on Amazon:

Hill Magick

View the trailer for Hill Magick on YouTube:

Hill Magick trailer

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The One That Didn’t Get Away


…but boy, did I wish it had.

When I was a teenage girl I would sit on a tree stump in the shade of the riverbank on a lazy hot summer afternoon, teasing the fish with my bit of raw bacon on a makeshift hook, watching the insects flitting over the brown surface of the hot liquid that was my hometown river in July. I never caught anything and didn’t know what I would do with it if I had, but I loved the peace, the quiet, and the shade, and with my homemade fishing rod it looked to any passerby like I was actually doing something, which I wasn’t. Not at all. That was the beauty of the whole thing, kid-fishing at its finest.

All of this changed when I became an adult. I was expected to use adult-type rods and reels and grown-up bait. Instead of settling in and enjoying the quiet, I was expected to shift from less productive fishing areas to more productive ones, tramp through the woods, force my way through bushes and trip over vines and weeds. Even worse, I was expected to – catch something.

We were on a fishing trip, the first adult fishing trip I had ever gone on. We took two cars: my boyfriend’s, and our married friends’. We’d stuffed both trunks with our fishing gear, various blankets and sweaters and other comfort items, and a huge picnic lunch including an enormous bowl of chilled fried rice, a large package of ham and cheese sandwiches, and beer. Lots of beer. It was a long pier which jutted way out into the bay – no vines and bushes here! We toted our gear and our food to about halfway along, bypassing other fishermen and women dangling their lines in the water. When we found a spot we liked we spread out our food and drink and baited our hooks. Initially it was fun. All of us alternated our fishing activities with digging into the yummy chilled fried rice, sandwiches, and beer. Lots of beer. But after two hours of nobody catching anything, I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this activity. Why not just dump the rods and continue on with the beer part of the afternoon?

Then it happened. Something struck my line. The rod jerked almost out of my hands and the tip of the rod bend almost to the water, but I hung on and battled that fish heroically. When those powerful tugs on my line grew weaker I started reeling in my catch, and I will never forget what was on the end of that line. A tiny, four-inch smallmouth bass. My friends’ howls of laughter must have scared the rest of the fish away, for the other fishermen on the pier shot us dirty looks. If only I hadn’t caught anything at all! But my little bass was mockingly dubbed the Catch of the Day, and the resulting photographs were searched out and destroyed by me when I and my boyfriend broke up a year from that date. Thus went my first, and my last, adult fishing trip, but my infamy lives on. That day I learned that the joys of grown-up fishing are nothing compared to the embarrassment of success.

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Safety nets

safety net jpeg

I’m not afraid of mice or snakes. I’m not timid about eating at restaurants alone or going to the movies by myself. I can come through a public speaking experience relatively intact, and I can face a tornado or a raging editor with aplomb. But there is one thing that scares me to death – writing without an outline.

“Outline” is a two-syllable swear word for many people, but to me that word means security. Direction. A beacon in the night. Even if I deviate from it, which I almost always do, my safety net comforts me. When I have one in place, I know I will never become totally lost in a morass of random words. Whatever happens in the course of my story, I can always go back to my outline and find my way home.

To me, not using an outline is like shooting an arrow into the air and hoping it hits some target somewhere. Flying blind through the fog, hoping to find an airport. That being said, outlines give me security but they don’t give me freedom. I envy those free spirits who can go wherever their creative powers take them and end up with a magnificent, well-written piece of work. That is something that I cannot do, it’s simply not in my nature. Having an outline is as important to me as it is for other people not to be limited by one.

So, give me my outlines, no matter how far away I might wander from them! And don’t make fun of me or pity me, I just can’t help it. It’s in my DNA.

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Embarrassing Confessions

It’s Embarrassing Confessions time:

  1. I don’t always have good taste in TV shows. I love shows like Modern Marvels and X-Files, and I was gripped by Lost fever just like everyone else I knew. But I also like Gilligan’s Island. As an adult comedy show GI is hopelessly ridiculous. However, if you watch it from the standpoint of “children playing they are lost on a deserted island,” then the show works perfectly. Try it once, you’ll see what I mean.
  2. I don’t have a sophisticated palate. When I was a child I would pick and eat white clover blossoms (yes, I washed them first). I would go into the garden and pick a mess of mustard greens and boil them up for a snack, or I would munch raw potato sticks dipped in mayo (mmmm!). In early summer I would shuck the wings off ripe maple seeds and fry the seed heads up in an iron pan with a little salt, like parched corn (double mmmm!). My adult taste isn’t much better. One of my favorite comfort foods is hamburger and chopped onions fried in a pan with lots of salt and black pepper until it turns into little dry crispy bits. High-end food items like balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese are wasted on me, sorry!
  3. I really like…wait for it…drum roll…watching heavy earth-moving and construction equipment. Not driving it, although I would if I could, but watching them at work. There is something about these machines that hypnotizes me, a sort of nonthinking, meditative activity. If I were wealthy I would buy a backhoe, a front-end loader, or a repaving machine, hire someone to run it, and sit on my comfortable patio for hours watching it do its thing. I often drive out of my way to pass spots where I know construction or pipe laying is taking place, especially during rush hour, because the slower traffic gives me more time to watch. I do searches on YouTube for bucket wheel excavators and walking drag lines. Sometimes I download and save the videos.

Here is a cool YouTube video (not mine). I like that the natural sounds are left in rather than adding a music track, and those demolition shears at the beginning are one of my favorite pieces of equipment:

Before summer ends and the snow starts to fly, seek out some construction or demolition site and watch that wonderful metallic feast of precision movement. As any gourmet chef would say, enjoy!



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