Friday, July 30, 2010

Brains and skulls and ringing bells

Here's another #Fridayflash story. Please comment and critique. Constructive criticism is always welcome. So are compliments, of course.
JJ’s headache started behind her eyes and spread out sideways and upwards feeling like a swimming cap two sizes too small. Her face didn’t hurt so she concluded that her sinuses were clear. There was a history of headaches in her family but her health had always been great with the exception of the burst appendix last year, and that could happen to anyone. Besides, you only had one appendix and when it bursts and the mess is cleaned up, if you live through it, you never have to worry about it again. A head is a whole lot different than an appendix. You need it every second of every day. If it explodes thinking is no longer a problem.

Every sound was amplified. She lay in darkness in her bed hoping for absolute silence. Then she heard a fire alarm ringing. It stopped. It rang again and stopped. Oh my God, she thought, why is a fire alarm ringing in the house? We have a smoke detector. Each time the alarm rang her pain sent streaks of lighting from one ear around the lower back of her skull to the other ear.

It took four rings before JJ realized it was the telephone on the table next to the bed. Glancing at the clock, she tried to get her voice to sound normal as she picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” From the inside her voice sounded chirpy but the rasp of sleep and pain was not completely hidden.

“Hello, is this Jane,” the voice said.

Without thinking she said, “Yes.” Immediately she wished she had said “Jane’s not available” because in fact, she didn’t feel available for a telephone conversation at the moment.

“Hi Jane. This is Nellie, your neighbor across the back yard and one house over. I’m sorry to bother you but I know I didn’t wake you.”

How could she know that? JJ thought. Although her bladder felt like it would burst, she had fought the sensation and held it so she could finish her dream and then that damned fire alarm—oh no, the phone—started ringing.

“Hi Nellie. What’s up?”

“Your dog has been barking for over an hour. You know I wouldn’t normally complain but Nate woke up with a terrible headache and the sound is driving him crazy. Could you bring her inside and quiet her down?”

“Oh, Nellie. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize she was out on the porch barking. It must be the squirrels on the screen. You know how she gets when they stop still and she can’t get to them. I’ll go get her right now. I hope Nate feels better.”

As JJ dragged her body out of bed she reached down and picked up the pair of shorts on the floor and pulled them up over her wide hips. Thank God for elastic waistbands. The throbbing continued but at least the ringing had stopped, she thought. Her footsteps resonated so she carefully shuffled her feet toward the sliding glass door. Indeed, the dog was barking continuously. For a 9 pound dog, Sadie could register high on the decibel ladder but how she was able to keep at it without taking a breath was astounding.

Opening the door, JJ called to her, “Sadie, get in here.” Her own voice was like that of a soccer announcer speaking through a microphone at a World Cup Championship game. The dog looked at her. This time she whispered, “Sadie, you come in here right now.”

Sadie sat on the hard cement floor, looked at JJ and tilted her head staring into JJ’s eyes, trying to understand the language. That’s when JJ remembered something she had seen on TV, the Dog Whisperer. He had made a sound like shushing a baby, but with a p in front of it. JJ tried it.

“Psssssshhhh!” Sadie stared at her, but at least she wasn’t barking anymore.

“Psssssshhh,” JJ repeated. “Come,” she whispered. The dog put her little white fluffy head down and slinked through the doorway silently. She went directly to her crate, stepped inside and laid down on the towel that served as her mattress.

The lack of sound immediately caused the muscles around JJ’s scalp to ease. How long did Nellie say Sadie had been barking? She noticed that her headache had slipped away, perhaps exiting through her ears which was exactly where it had entered.

Then she pondered her decision to install a doggie door in the slider. Whose brilliant idea was that?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photo Album -- #fridayflash

The photograph is old—black, white and a million shades of grey. The date is written in ballpoint ink on the white frame around the edge of the photo. Apparently that was the way photos were printed back then, with white borders on glossy paper. This good-looking young couple would become parents in about three years but in this picture the glow of newlyweds shines through their eyes.

In the next picture the woman is standing in the doorway holding a baby wrapped in a huge blanket. The bunting covers the entire infant except for the tiny face with narrow eyes and chubby cheeks. Her mouth is a little round dark grey circle. The snow on the ground is on both sides of the steps but the stoop is clear.

On the next page of the small album the man stands next to a smiling little girl on a shiny tricycle. It must be spring time. The grass is a dark grey and the child is wearing a sweater and pants but no coat. The man also wears a sweater with a large diamond pattern on the front. Opposite this one is another picture of the girl in profile with her foot on the pedals of the trike looking toward the woman whose hands are outstretched in a welcoming gesture.

From that page forward, all of the photos include only two people—either the woman and the girl or the man and the girl. Color is introduced in the next pages. The child’s short red hair is highlighted in the sun. It is a little darker than the woman’s long locks. The child is smiling but the woman’s mouth does not look natural. She is posing for the camera.

A story is evolving with each turn of the pages. According to the date on the white border around the photograph the girl is about five years old. She stands next to the woman. They are showing off holiday dresses, looking at the camera. The joy of the season is not evident in their faces.

The child is alone now, sitting on the brown porch steps. In the picture you can see her head resting on her little hands, elbows on knees. She is fatter than in previous shots. Her face is barely visible as she looks down at the steps below her feet.

The final photo in the album is of the smiling woman dressed beautifully. Her red hair is coifed in an upswept style. Her lipstick is a darker shade of red. She poses coquettishly in her fashionable dress and the full shot shows her high heeled shoes with thin straps across the ankles. All of these details are more evident because she is alone. But more disturbingly part of the photograph is missing. The left side was squared off with the white border but the right side of the picture is ragged. The photo has been carefully cut right along the edge of the woman’s silhouette so that the gorgeous, happy expression has been captured but the person who once shared this scene is surgically removed. In the border is written “Patricia’s 30th birthday.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Agent->Publisher->Self publisher->E-publisher

About a year ago I was polishing off my manuscript. I had made a deal with a small self-publishing house with years of experience and an excellent reputation. Friends with agents and professional editors who had been published by major publishing companies warned me: "Don't do it! Self publishing is the death knell of a successful writing career. Once you're self published," they said, "you will never be taken seriously in the industry."

Since my book was a memoir of Leroy 'Hog' Cooper, bandleader and baritone saxophone player for Ray Charles, I knew that it would only appeal to a niche audience. My market was limited and the likelihood that an agent or major publisher would be interested was miniscule. I had no writing career to ruin so I was going forward with the project as a labor of love. I would probably print only 1,000 copies and be happy to sell those.

I repeat, that was about a year ago. My manuscript was due at the publisher's on September 1. The wheels were in motion (I hate cliches), I had a professional cover design, had used an editor who was a friend and the book release party had been scheduled to take place at B.B. King's Orlando Blues Club. Over 300 people had RSVP'd and I had 3 bands scheduled to play in Leroy's honor for free. And then someone put the breaks on and the wheels came to a screeching halt. Since then, needless to say, the book did not get published. due to legal issues with the verbal contract (boy was I stupid--verbal contract with a 78 year old man whom I loved, expecting his word to follow after his death).

Back to the point. By the end of the year, self-publishing was becoming so popular that the NY publishers were starting their own imprints for writers without agents to take advantage of the market. Why lose out on their cut? If we were going to publish our books anyway, they wanted in on the action. Ah, but perhaps they were too late.

The fire behind Kindle had already started burning soon to be followed by Sony's e-reader and Nook and others. E-publishing became the new way medium. People can download books by Pulitzer Prize winning authors as well as those with niche markets for a relatively small amount of money. For a few bucks you might find a book that an agent would never have paid attention to but SHOULD have.

Let me recap. One year ago I was told that self-publishing was the worst thing a new author could do. Then I was told it was the best way for me to get my book published as long as I was willing to market it, which I would have to do even if an agent sold it to a publisher.

And then came e-publishing. Could it be that the green movement got to somebody high up in the government and convinced whichever czar is in charge of such things that printing books was destructive to our planet? To create books you have to cut down trees, create inky chemicals and glues. Surely this is bad for the environment. And so the story goes, like so many others, technology has solved another problem and will save the baby seals near the polar ice caps.

Gee, I wonder how many forests were leveled to print Al's book. Hmmm. Al, how could you? His publisher printed and sold a whole lot more than mine would have. What an 'inconvenient truth.'

Friday, July 16, 2010

Peaches - #fridayflash

Alicia thought she recognized him from somewhere but couldn’t quite place him. And then it hit her. The guy always made a spectacle when he arrived at the little blues bar on his Harley. He went through a ritual of dismounting, taking off his helmet, then his leather gloves and making sure his vest hung open just enough to cover his beer gut and minimize its appearance at least at first glance.

He was fondling the peaches in the produce aisle. Alicia thought about how odd it was when she saw someone outside her frame of reference and their persona was shed as they became just another human being. In this case, he wasn’t the macho biker but a man buying groceries. He was intent on choosing the fruit that was not overripe but almost ready to eat. He hadn’t noticed her watching him.

Alicia turned away and picked up a bell pepper, inspecting it for flaws. Then she placed it on the scale. Grocery shopping was part of life. She was a coupon clipper, careful with her money. Working at the book store was her dream job but it paid just above minimum wage. Her job had its benefits the best of which was being able to bring the books home to read as long as she reviewed them for the “staff picks” shelves.

As she tore the plastic bag off the dispenser and placed the pepper in it she almost bumped into him. He looked at her blankly at first and then a glimmer of recognition crept into his eyes. He was trying to remember where he had seen her before.

“Hi,” he said. “I recognize you from somewhere.”

Alicia was just about to respond when he continued talking.

“You work in the book store, don’t you?”

She couldn’t hide her expression of bewilderment. How did she not notice him at the store? She was there 40 hours a week, sometimes more, and yet her mental association had gone directly to the blues bar.

“Yeah. I do,” she said. “I’m Alicia.”

“Nice to meet you Alicia. Name’s Marv. I’ve noticed you there but you always seem so busy. That other lady with the short hair helps me find what I’m looking for most of the time.”

“I’m sorry, Marv. I thought I knew you from someplace else. I didn’t realize it was from the book store,” Alicia said. “I do keep pretty busy there and I don’t normally run the register so I can’t keep track of who’s in and out unless they have a question.”

“Well, you’re not usually in the economics section. I kind of hang out there most of the time. I’m a financial advisor so I try to keep ahead of the trends. I see you around fiction and literature,” Marv said.

“Yeah, I’m a fiction reader so that’s what I know. It’s always better to help people with questions in my area of interest. I wouldn’t know how to recommend an author in economics,” Alicia said. “You know, I thought I had seen you at a blues bar a few weeks ago. Do you have a twin?” She laughed as she said it.

“No twins in the family. That would have been me. I’m a big blues fan. You really go to that bar, too?”

“Yup. I’ve been going there for years. I’m a writer. I like observing people at the bar and I love the music. I love working at the book store. Being around books inspires me. Every time an author debuts her first book it gives me hope that someday people will be handling mine.”

“Wow, that’s really cool. Makes sense to me. Writing and reading go together.”

“Are you going up to see that new band this weekend?” Alicia asked.

“Probably not. My Harley’s in the shop. I’d look stupid driving up to that bar in my Beemer. I’ll wait ‘til I get my bike back. Don’t want to ruin my image.”

“Stop in the book store next week. I’ll let you know if they’re any good.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll stop in. Nice meeting you. I’ve got to get home to feed my dog. Boy does she love peaches.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I think I've traveled back in time...40 years later

And now for something a little bit different...This picture is of Arlo Guthrie (registered Republican with Libertarian leanings), his children and grandchildren in 2009. Doesn't look that much different than a family from 1969 does it?