Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Good Old Days?

Today I welcome my friend and fellow author, J. L. Greger to tell you about her inspiration for her new book, The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories. I had the privilege of editing this one, and I loved her tales.

Intertwining Facts, Memories, and Imagination to Create Fiction

After I read several nauseatingly glowing accounts of the “good old days,” I asked friends about their memories of their childhoods and teen years. Then I began to write short stories and published fourteen of them in The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories.

Memories need to be supplemented with facts. Although I took copious notes as friends spoke of their past, key details, necessary to make the tales believable, were missing or garbled. I found these details were “hooks” to readers. For example, in the story, “Dirty Dave,” I mentioned the nested Pyrex mixing bowls in yellow, green, red, and blue. Several readers noted I’d gotten the sizes right. The yellow bowl was the largest; the green was the next size. I was glad I had researched the subject. (By the way, these vintage sets often sell for over $100 on eBay. I’ve seen them sell for more at antique shows in New England.)

Memoires help to create a mood. I wrote my stories in the idiosyncratic way of memoirs. Although my vignettes are fiction, the auras of my friends, but not their physical characteristics, are infused into my characters. Thus, some of the characters are playful, and others are cynical or grouchy. I modified the tenor of the stories by telling some of them from the point of view of a child and others from the perspective of an adult. A five-year-old’s view of department stores in the 1950s (e.g. The elevator operator wore gloves. Everything was fastidiously arranged by color in the Notions Department.) in “Questions” is funnier than an adult’s observations.

Memories are snapshots of history. My stories are snapshots of major historical events and societal problems during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Nostalgia is fine, but honesty about the past is important. One aspect of several of these vignettes—child abuse in so-called “nice” homes—is not funny. I hope these tales will encourage older readers to remember the past honestly and will let younger readers realize most social problems aren’t new.

Here’s the start of one tale. “How Old Is the Earth?” in The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories.

This story is based on reminiscences of a friend. He mentioned the Golden Book Encyclopedia, but couldn’t remember any particulars, as he told me about the limitations of his grade-school education. My research supplied all the details about this hot promotional item for A&P Stores in 1959 and 1960. The geological facts are also correct. However, the George in the story is fictional. My friend doesn’t look like George, isn’t a professor, and has never enjoyed a Friday afternoon on the patio of the Wisconsin Student Union. He does like a beer occasionally.

I hope you enjoy this intertwining of facts and memories in fiction.

How Old Is the Earth?

“You’re a scientist. How old is the earth?” My friend, an art professor, looked around the rather raucous crowd on the patio at the University of Wisconsin Student Union on a late summer afternoon. When he waved his tanned arm, I noticed thin, white scars crossed the back of his hand. “What do you think these students would say?”

“First off, I’m no geologist. I don’t know the current scientific estimate, probably several billion years.” I nodded at the students as I sipped my beer. “I doubt any of them could give you a better answer, even if they were sober.”

George pulled his hands through his longish gray hair and then stroked his much darker short beard. “Four and a half-billion years. The most painful and maybe most important fact I ever learned.”

I blinked. “Really? Somewhere in grade school, I accepted the earth had a long history, but I was never fascinated by paleontology or geology.”

“You’re not from a religious home.”

I frowned. “We went to church most Sundays.”

“I mean a home steeped in strict interpretations of the Bible.” He leaned back in his yellow, sunburst metal chair and chewed a handful of popcorn. “Did you know church leaders calculated the earth to be six thousand years old on the basis of the book of Genesis?”

I threw a couple of kernels to nearby birds. “You must really like the Discovery Channel and PBS nature specials. What got us on this line of conversation? I expected you to be reliving your years as a professor of photography this afternoon, one week before your official retirement.”

George took a long swig of his beer. “Today would have been Mum’s birthday. Made me think of the day I was most proud of her. She was your typical stay-at-home mother of the fifties. Well, except Pop was afraid other men would notice her. So, she wore her long dishwater blonde hair in braids wrapped around her head. She looked like a Norwegian immigrant just off the boat in the old daguerreotypes. Didn’t matter to us boys. We thought Mum was pretty.”

He gazed out over the lake for so long I interrupted his thoughts. “What did your mother do on this special day?”

“Be patient. I was remembering how it all began. Do you remember when A&P offered the Golden Book Encyclopedias as a sales incentive in fifty-nine and maybe sixty?”

I pushed my green starburst metal chair back. “Vaguely. I can’t remember the deal exactly. Let’s see...if you bought twenty dollars of groceries, you could purchase one of the volumes in the Golden Book Encyclopedia for an additional dollar or two. Every month, they offered another volume. I think there were…fifteen or sixteen volumes all together.”

George smiled. “Yeah, they had shiny covers in bright colors, not like the standard encyclopedias, World Book and Britannica, with their fake leather covers and gilt-edged pages. Okay, I’m ready to tell my story.”

For the rest of the story, read The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories. Available at Amazon (paperback and Kindle): http://amzn.com/1537743813

J. L. Greger usually writes mysteries and thrillers with "sound bites" of science and travel: Murder… A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers Assoc. [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards) I Saw You in Beirut, Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA contest) Coming Flu, and Ignore the Pain.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Happiness Essentials

I just watched Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture video again, for at least the twentieth time. And I laughed—and cried—again. (It is the very best video I have ever seen, and if you haven’t watched it, do so now.)

Randy was a forty-seven-year-old professor at Carnegie Mellon University when he received the diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. The college had a tradition of inviting professors to give the lecture they would deliver if they knew it was the very last one they would ever give. In Randy’s case, it was in fact, his last lecture.

I was struck, once again, about the joy he exuded, even as he knew he was dying.
I’m a happy person. I grew up in a family of dour Scots, and I never felt I fit in. So I decided to share what I know about happiness.

Before we were married, my mother-in-love said something I’ve never forgotten. “No one else can make you happy. You have to decide to be happy.”

It is a personal decision. If you aren’t happy where you are, you can’t be happy anywhere. As Randy said, “I’m dying, and I’m happy.”

I begin each day with gratitude. After all, I woke up. Then I give thanks for my husband and family and friends. Then I sit up, stand up, and walk to the bathroom. And I give thanks because I slept without pain after months of constant pain from my knee. I can walk, and some of my friends can’t.

Throughout the day, I find small miracles to give thanks for. It makes a huge difference.

It is nearly impossible to feel sorry for myself if I’m helping others.

Years ago, a trend began based on this statement: Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty. I had it on a sweatshirt and on the mug I kept on my desk at work. I still believe in making sneak attacks of kindness—especially when the recipient isn’t aware of the source. These acts bless the person receiving them, but provide far more blessings to the giver.

I have worked for a couple of companies, which closed. Everyone was to be laid off. But each morning, I smiled at everyone I greeted. After all, I cared for them and wanted to savor every minute we still had together. (This was in the days before Facebook, and when the doors closed, I feared we’d lose each other.)

One day I met one of our hardware engineers coming down the hall. I smiled and said, “Good morning.”

He stopped. “I look forward to seeing you every day because no matter how sad I am about what’s about to happen, your smile makes me feel better.”

He made my day.

We are now friends on Facebook—along with many others I worked with there. We still repeat the same old jokes, and I haven’t lost the friendship.

Remember to smile. It can make someone’s day.

Anger takes energy. Life is short. The best way to defeat your ‘enemies’ is to make them your friends.

One of the takeaways from the video is this: Never give up on people. Just be patient, and they will surprise you. It’s something I sometimes have to remind myself. But I rarely give up on people. I sometimes have to distance myself from them if they are toxic, but I stay in touch. I keep waiting for them to change. Sometimes I’m the one who needed to change. And there’s another lesson.

You, too can be happy. Make up your mind to be thankful today, and tomorrow, and the next day. See if it doesn’t make a difference.

Don’t wait to be asked for help. See the need, and respond.


And watch the video again.

What are your secrets to happiness?

Monday, September 19, 2016

My dear friend and one of my favorite authors, Marilyn Meredith, is launching the next book in her Detective Tempe Crabtree mystery series, Seldom Traveled. Detective Crabtree is one of my favorite characters, and I love this series. Tempe is a Native American. This is one of the reasons I’m fascinated by her. For this post, I asked Marilyn to tell us a bit about the real reservation and the Tule River Indians who live near her. Marilyn and I met at a conference ten years ago and have remained friends since then.
What Eagle Mountain Casino has done for the Tule River Indians

Lorna asked me to write about how the casino on the reservation has changed the lives of the Indians who live there. For those of you who might not know, the Yokut Indians and others who live on the reservation have been the models for the Indians in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree books.

The reservation was established in 1873 and covers 85 square miles of rugged foothill and mountains of the Sierra. Where the residents live, work and play is in a narrow valley. Though picturesque, for many years, life was hard. There was no electricity until the 1960s, and no jobs. The only employment available was in nearby Porterville which had to be accessed by a vehicle—and not many jobs were available to Indians.

In 1996, Eagle Mountain Casino was established. Along with the casino came many jobs, not only for Indians but also for people from the nearby area. Revenue from the casino made it possible for many new developments like a Health Center, Child Care Center, Education Department, a new Fire and Police Department, and more.

Eagle Feather, a gas station and large convenience store was built on Highway 190, along with a large automotive shop to maintain the casino buses. Eagle Feather 2 is located halfway between Porterville and the Pacific Coast.

The Tule River Aero Industries is located at the Porterville Airport and does major engine and airframe repair and has a sales department. The tribe also has a print shop, and owns and operates the Oak Pit Steakhouse in Porterville.

The tribe generously contributes to many different local charities and youth groups.

Though life may still not be perfect on the reservation, the casino has definitely made major improvements not only for the Indians but also for all of us who live nearby.

Seldom Traveled
The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

Buy directly from the publisher in all different formats:

Marilyn Meredith has had so many books published, she’s lost track of the count, but it’s getting near 40. She lives in a community similar to the fictional mountain town of Bear Creek, the big difference being that Bear Creek is a thousand feet higher in the mountains. She is a member of Mystery Writers of American, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, and is a board member of Public Safety Writers of America.

New Contest:
Winners will be randomly picked from those leaving the most comments on the blog posts. Each winner can choose one of the earlier books in the series as either a print book or e-book.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Indelible Memories

Some events burned themselves indelibly in my memory. The day my father died when I was seven. The day President John F. Kennedy died. And 9-11-2001.

I remember every minute, how I felt, what I said and did. Mostly I remember how helpless and confused I felt. The reality was simply too overwhelming to comprehend.

February 16, 1954
I got off the school bus and saw cars parked in our driveway and in front of the house. I recognized some, but others were strange. I walked inside, the rooms were filled, and the blinds were drawn. This had never happened before. The greatest surprise was seeing my paternal grandfather with his arm around my mother. As a rule, they avoided each other.

Mom said my dad was dead. I couldn’t grasp what it meant, and part of me didn’t believe it. Except Mom was crying. My aunts were crying. Heck, even Grandpa was crying. I decided I should cry, too, so I did. It took a long time to accept the reality of his loss.

November 22, 1963
The PA system crackled at lunchtime one day during my senior year of high school. This never happened. Gilbert Strother, our principal, announced the president had been shot in Dallas. I don’t remember what else he said, but we simply couldn’t believe the news.

JFK was “our” president. Even though he was the same age as my mother, he represented youth and change.

We had just returned to class when the PA came on again. Mr. Strother’s voice broke as he announced the death of our president. Nearly everyone began to sob. I think a couple of girls screamed. Classes were shortened for the day.

When I returned home, Larry was there already. He had heard in class at Cal Poly Pomona, where he was a student. They had cancelled classes. We turned on the TV and began the marathon coverage of the funeral and burial. Grief engulfed the nation.

September 11, 2001
We woke early as usual since we both kept early hours. We turned on the TV to get the weather and traffic report. I had taken the day off because we were expecting the contractor to do repairs following an earlier water leak.

Just as the TV came on, the scene switched from the local feed to the New York coverage with the announcement of a plane crashing into a World Trade Center tower. Smoke billowed from the building, shown behind the network anchors. As we—and they—watched, a second plane hit the other tower.

I immediately turned to Larry. “We’re at war.”

At the time, no one knew exactly who was responsible or why. Larry left for work and I continued to watch the live coverage. I saw the emergency responders arrive, and experienced sheer horror as the towers collapsed. Iconic clips played and replayed throughout the day. Added to the footage from Manhattan, the feeds from the Pentagon were added, including a live audio report from inside the building as the plane hit. More and more reports came in, some accurate, and some speculative.

Unreality overwhelmed the country. During the next few days, just like in the days following JFK’s assassination, the news coverage was unrelenting. And our country stood together.

Like all our neighbors and most of our friends, we flew our flag for days, beginning on September 11. Our old flag finally shredded, and we bought a new one.

The flag flies again today as it did fifteen years ago. These memories do not diminish over time. They are still too raw and too real. What do you remember this viscerally?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Small Blessings

This morning I have been thinking about small blessings. These are the ones I receive every day and often don’t notice.

I woke up this morning. In itself, this is a blessing. I get another day. Another day with Larry. Another day to live in this glorious place. More of my friends are taken as time goes on, but I am still here. So what if I have a cough? So what if I don’t feel 100%? I’m awake and alive.

I rolled out of bed and stood up. What a gift. I often think about my friend Renee. She is paralyzed and can’t turn herself over without help. She needs assistance to sit up, move, dress, do her morning routine, and everything else in her life. She is not my only friend with physical disabilities. I’m grateful to be able to stand and brush my teeth and shower and dress by myself.

I took a hot shower. I have been grateful for hot running water for many years. I relish standing beneath the stream as I wake up and begin my day. When I think about it, a hot shower truly is a miracle.

I live in a place where many people pay a great deal to visit. We get to be here every day. The weather is close to perfect, and we truly enjoy it. Whenever we are at the marina, we remind ourselves of the gift of living in this special place.

We own a terrific house, one we never in our wildest dreams imagined we’d ever live in, much less own. It is big enough to share with others. Our daughter and my mother have both lived here. We have hosted several foreign students, and have housed various others over the years. We still love hosting company.

We are retired and, unlike so many of our friends, can afford to live in the same manner as we did when we were working at our careers. We have a second career as authors, and other people seem to enjoy our books. I have a third career as an editor. I’m busier than I would really like to be at this time in my life, but I’m grateful for a functioning brain and the ability to contribute to others.
The greatest blessing in my life is Larry. We dated for the first time when I was fourteen. I was crazy about him, and a few years later, he decided we should be together. We just celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary. We still have fun together, and he still makes me laugh.

The secondary blessing is our daughter, Kimberly. She brings us such joy, and we are proud of the adult she has become.

Sometimes I forget how truly blessed I am. Then I look around and realize all the wonderful things in my life. How could I not feel blessed?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Write Book Reviews?

It seems I’m always begging people who like our books to post reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads. Yet most don’t. Why not?

Actually, all it requires is a couple of minutes and a couple of sentences. The star rating counts the most.

5-stars = Excellent read
4-stars = Good read, but not outstanding
3-stars = Just okay (On Amazon, it’s considered a negative review. On Goodreads, it’s neutral)
2-stars = Not great, but may have a quality or two worth reading
1-star = Should never have been published

I almost never write anything less than a 4-star review. I recognize tastes vary, and what may not appeal to me may appeal to someone else. I’ve only posted two 1-star reviews. One was so badly written I couldn’t get through the first page. (Amazon subsequently removed this one because of all the negative reviews and comments. I was far from alone.)

The other was by one of my favorite writers, but this book was dreadful. Quite a few others also hated it. I had previously written many positive reviews for this writer. This book had many reviews, and I felt obligated to warn others away from this title.

The vast majority of my reviews are 5-star.

You don’t have to write a treatise. One or two sentences will do. You can always start with: I liked this book because… Then list a couple of reasons you enjoyed it.

Amazon.com (and now Goodreads since they are now owned by Amazon) will not allow friends of the author to post reviews. How Amazon is aware of our friendships is beyond me. But it's worth writing one, even if Amazon removes it. You and the author will know in the future. (And Amazon may not realize you have a relationship.)

So why should you—and I—post reviews on books?

It may seem strange, but the number of reviews a book receives affects how it shows up in Amazon listings. The algorithms by which Amazon makes these placements is arcane and confusing to nearly everyone, but the more reviews, the better the placement. A well-reviewed book will show up on the suggested books list for other books and may be suggested as a bundle with other books.

Publishers will feature their well-reviewed books more often in their publicity. Since they do little of it anymore, good reviews give the author a boost.

Some other sites which feature authors and books require a minimum number of Amazon reviews before they can be listed. These sites have large followings and can give a listed book greater visibility. But if there aren’t enough good reviews on Amazon, they won’t be considered.

Readers looking at books to read on Amazon or Goodreads often use reviews to decide whether or not to purchase the book. Good reviews generate sales—always a positive for authors.

So, if you enjoy books, please follow up with a positive review.

And if you’d like to post a review on one of our books, here are the links:

We would appreciate your reviews, especially if you have enjoyed them!

Do you write book reviews? Why or why not?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Roses

The other day I looked at our roses. We have five bushes in the rose garden out front.
One is for Larry. He wanted a Sterling Silver, a pale lavender. Those weren’t available at the time, so we have a Stainless Steel—another light lavender.
One is Kim’s. It’s a JFK because she has been fascinated by the president since she was a little girl. It’s creamy white, but occasionally a streak of red appears on the petal. These streaks look like blood.
I don’t have one of my own. I let John, our landscaper, pick one out. He chose a Marilyn Monroe, since he is obsessed with her. (He has photos of her all over his house.) Marilyn is creamy pale rose to peach in color.
We planted a Double Delight for Larry’s mother. It was her favorite, and Dad always planted them for her. Looking at the blooms on her bush the other day, I realized how like her it was.

Letha was tiny and cute. She wore lots of prints and ruffles, jewelry and scarves. She never wore one bracelet when three would do. Her accessories—including shoes and bag—always matched her outfit. Oh, and her earrings did, too.

She resembled Betty White. Whenever she entered a room with her ever-present smile, the whole place lit up. She wasn’t a comedienne, but she always smiled and made anyone in the vicinity feel better. I was blessed to have had her in my life.

The Double Delight bloom is large and showy with a strong, sweet fragrance. The color varies. Just like Mother, it seems to be bored if it stays in the same outfit for too long. (She used to change clothes from head-to-foot at least five times a day.) The rose blooms early and continues to flower late into the season. The color can vary from nearly white, through rose, to deep red and varies from center to tip. The deeper color appears on the edges. We planted one in the church rose garden in memory of Mother and Dad. The first time we went to see it, the large, showy open bloom had a double center. Completely appropriate since it was in memory of both of them.
My mother’s rose is a Mr. Lincoln. It is a long-stemmed single blossom with a slightly tart fragrance I love. When I looked the other day, a single bloom stood tall and straight and proud, just like my mom. And like Mom, the rose is stubborn. While the Double Delight sends out dozens of blossoms all season long, Mr. Lincoln shows only one or two at a time, and usually when few of the other bushes are in bloom.

Mom herself always stood tall. Although she was only 5’4” everyone thought she was much taller. She always wore high heels and dressed in simple business attire—suits and dresses. She preferred a nice brooch to necklaces and rarely wore bracelets. She favored simple, conservative earrings, and her shoes and bag matched.

As I look on their roses, I am always reminded of the two most influential women in my life. Even though I miss them very much, their roses are a reminder of these special ladies.

Have you ever noticed how flowers reflect the people who love them?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lessons Learned

One of the great benefits of getting older is you actually learn stuff. Here are a few suggestions I made to a younger friend when she was frustrated in her job. I think they hold up pretty well.

Start every day by listing the things you’re thankful for. No matter how bad your situation, it always contains blessings. Find and acknowledge them. (Try the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge. Each day, list something you are grateful for. It’s a good way to start the day.)

Start your conversations with everyone at work by thanking them for something—verbally if possible, mentally if not. Don’t be fake about it, but each time you see someone, try to think of one thing you like about them, one thing they have done for you, one thing they’ve helped you with. Then say it—or at least think it. Take the time to do this before rushing into other conversation. It will change your perception as well as theirs.

Continue to pursue doing what you love—whether where you are now or not. What is your real passion? If this is the most important thing to you, you shouldn't have to hunt for time to do it. You’d make the time, and the work itself would renew and refresh you.
Let me repeat: NO job is perfect. You’ll enjoy some more than others, but EVERY job has its issues. No boss is perfect either.

I vividly remember wanting to be a Department Head or VP early in my career. By the time I reached my early thirties, however, spending my days doing something I enjoyed made far more sense.

Everyone needs balance in their lives. Even if you have to put it on your calendar, start setting aside time to spend with friends. What is play for you? DO IT.

At least twice during my performance reviews I was told to lighten up. I was so intense and driven I made the people around me uncomfortable. I never expected as much from anyone else as I did from myself, but I didn’t suffer fools lightly—and it sometimes included the boss. I didn’t think I was conveying this, but I had to have been. Work became much more enjoyable when I really got to know the others around me as people. I recommend it.
Work is a bargain between you and your employer. No one in the organization is obligated to help you in any way. If some do, consider it a bonus. But don’t carry any false expectations about how far or how much they can or will do. They are each fighting for their own positions. Particularly in a failing department or division, those from the top down are fearful for their own spots. And they probably know quite a bit more about what’s going on behind the scenes than they can or will tell you.

Get your expectations in check. Do the best job you can, given the resources and authority you are allowed. YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. Others are. And they make the decisions. Work as well as you can within those parameters.

Do what you are asked to do, and do it well. But don’t take on responsibility or expect to receive kudos for stepping on toes to take on more. Always try to make your boss look better, even if she is a real jerk. It will pay off in the long run.

Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God” has haunted me for years. I am woefully short on patience. I want to act and get things done NOW. The truth is control is an illusion. We can only do what is in our sphere to do. But we can’t control the outcome.

It’s a hard lesson and one I don’t always totally embrace. (I’m getting better about waiting, but I still don’t like it.)

Maybe your next position isn’t even available yet. Maybe you have to be at the nadir in order to accept the next offer. And it won’t be perfect either.

I can promise you this. Ten or twenty years from now, you will look back at your current place and say, “Oh, now I get it. This was what I needed to learn.” Or “I can see now I was being prepared for something better.”

What life lessons have you learned? Can they be helpful to others?