Friday, January 31, 2014

A Good Idea at the Time

Some things were a good idea at the time:

  • those to die for red shoes, a half size too small, that were on sale,
  • that dozen Krispy Kreme donuts on the way home
  • trying that home perm they advertised on TV
  • attempting a difficult 15 step French souffle recipe the first time I ever cooked and inviting my in-laws
  • promising my daughter I would make her an Ariel mermaid suit for Halloween (despite the fact I didn't know how to sew) 
One would think by the time I reached this age I would have learned my lesson. 

Or not. So, now I am considering publishing a book, . . . that I wrote,  . . .about my mother, . . . with no writing experience? How much was I drinking when I thought this was a good idea?  

But, then I have spent many hours writing, editing, formatting, these words. Is all this for naught? I hope not. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

August: Osege County, a movie review

If you ever sought a seriously troubled family, August: Osege County revolves around one. Even though the scenery is of flat grassy plains they call Oklahoma, my God, this a southern saga if there ever was one. The dull color tones of the plains make a perfect background for this family where all the problems are hidden in the muted earth tones of the land. Then suddenly the family comes together after their father's death and the screen in colored with raw emotion atop the monotone hues.

Before the movie is over the plot has involved love, marriage, divorce, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, 3 daughters, 2 sisters, a funeral, an intervention, and possible incest. And, I am not giving anything away. Most of this one learns in the first ten minutes or so, if not in the trailer of the movie. The cast is deep with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Durmot Mulroney, and Abigail Breslin to name a few. 

This is not a movie of tender moments or touchy feely memories. This story is as real and funny and pretty and ugly as life is. Emotions run high but the movie is not out of control. It never drags. And, it is not a predictable story, at least it wasn't to me. With a cast of this many talented actors you can be assured there are plenty of interesting characters to the story.

Streep and Roberts carry their weight - as always, but the story is much more than them. Streep's character, the matriarch of the family, is a role that only an actor as talented as Streep could pull off. She becomes Violet Weston, a mother dealing with cancer, the vanity of aging, and relationship issues with her daughters. Years of dependence on prescription drugs has taken their toll. 

Roberts is well cast as the oldest daughter. She is a wife with personal issues herself who finds she is suddenly the one tasked to deal with her mother, someone she has not had the best relationship with in the past. Suddenly she sees that some of the characteristics she loathes in her mother, maybe be coming out in herself.

I did not walk out of theater feeling I had just spent $11 and 121 minutes of my time to be disappointed and depressed by another story of people going through a bad time. Nor did I come out whistling a Disney tune, on the sunny side of the street. Rather, I walked out knowing I had just seen a seriously good story, with a well written screen play, played by an extremely talented cast, and a family that had more problems than we did (and it is always refreshing to know things are not as bad as you think.) 

I highly recommend this movie. Both Strept and Roberts received Academy Award nominations for their roles, which they justly deserved. The movie itself should have been considered for Best Picture. In my opinion it was much better than one or two that were nominated. And, there were other categories that the Academy overlooked. But, then maybe 3 hours of watching money and debauchery on Wall Street is more entertaining than a cerebral story that brings realty with so many issues, everyone finds a few too to close to home. Perhaps not.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Sky is Falling

The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The ice storm cometh. Oh, God save us all. Quick get to the store, I'm sure there will be a run on Moon Pies, white bread, and beer. It always amazes me that our eating habits change when a storm approaches. Our diet, which is infamous enough for covering all three food groups: butter, bacon, and fried chicken suddenly makes a left turn for a more international theme. Chips and salsa become a staple. Pretzels and beer run short.

I was a little puzzled several years ago when the last disaster was upon us. The TV and radio news people were advising folks to stock up on can goods. Now, please explain to me when you do not have any electricity, just how a can of beans, diced tomatoes, or condensed soup is going to be palatable. But, what was I thinking. How could I forget down here they must have been referring to cans of Vienna Sausages, sardines, and Spam, Duh!

So, not unlike a lemming off a cliff, I got up early this morning and went to the grocery store. I wanted to avoid the mobs of hysterical shoppers running in fear that the distributors had not restocked enough Bud Lite or the Little Debbie aisle may already be picked over. God forbid there are not enough Banana Twins or Swiss Rolls, and I would not want to be anywhere near that part of the store when someone grabbed the last box of the Pecan Spinwheels - oh the injustice.

I was more concerned with pedestrian items like bottles of water, bags of ice, meat and cheese for sandwiches. However, I will admit there was a can of nuts, a bag of trail mix, and a box (or two) of cookies in my buggy. Who knows we could be out of commission for two or three days.

And, the number one (this is a fact, based on hard data) food product that sells the most prior to a weather emergency - Pop Tarts - go figure. I'm not even sure what aisle they are on. Who in the world still eats Pop Tarts? Who ever ate Pop Tarts? Of course, if the world were ending,  I would appreciate someone saving a box or three of frosted strawberry ones for me, not that I would ever eat them. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

A US Regional Memoir - Who Knew?

I live such a sheltered life. When I decided to write my book and publish it as an eBook on Amazon I started some research about how to go about it. Writing the book I knew was going to be difficult. Oh, the idea was there - trust me, I had lived it. Putting it down on paper was a blast from the past, although I will admit there were some tears during some parts - not to be melodramatic. Spoiler alert - the main character dies three fourths of the way through, but you may have already figured that one out. I digress.

So remembering all I learned from Mrs. Mirmow's English my freshman year in high school through my independent study on Faulkner with Professor Morrison at college, I put pen to paper (or rather fingers to the keyboard) and started composing. Then there was the editing process . . . and it went on.

Next was research into how to get it to Amazon. Email the text? Not so fast, it needed to be formatted, but not any way, in the precise exact specific only way Amazon would accept it. So I read on about that. Meanwhile I was still editing with help from a loyal group of friends working for gratis and a paid editor - God Bless her. And, as that still goes on,  I am trying to work on the format.

Then I read on and found that if I wanted to sell this thing of beauty I have toiled on - ie not just have it languish at the bottom of  page 179 of the Fiction List on Amazon there is more work to be done. Seems the New York Times is not going to immediately take my freshman work with bated breath, greet it with rave reviews, and send it to the top of their list. Fancy that. There are ways to manipulate the system, indulgences to be purchased as it were.

This is where I found it most interesting. First one has to find a genre that both the book fits in but has fewer titles than most. For instance Under Contemporary Fiction  there is American Fiction and there is Women's Fiction. So the under "Contemporary American Fiction" there are 4,570 titles. And under "Contemporary Women's Fiction" there are 18,279 titles. That means if my book falls in either of these categories I will have to compete (or claw my way up) with this number of titles. However, a little more research on my part shows that under Biographies and Memoirs is the category - Regional US (Voila'). Should my book be listed as that genre it would only compete with 58 titles. Therefore the genre of Sterling Silver is such because it is the story of  " . . .My Southern Mother". There is a God. I can play this game.

I read on. There are more moves to make. An author needs to make sure that folks know the book is going to be published and have an idea of what it is about. No problem there if you have been keeping up with my unabashed self promotion. (If not check out the Blog  Sterling Silver and Dollar Stores daily, please). 

Wait, wait, there is more. And, here is where you, my gentle readers come in. 

  • The day it comes out on Amazon, I need as many of you, your friends and relatives (both dead and alive), neighbors and co-workers, and even the odd man you pass on the street, to download the eBook with in a two hour period of time. 
  • After you have read through it, please wait until after you have read it, I need you to go back to Amazon, give it an honest 1-5 star rating and if you have time and wish to, a written review. I am not asking you to rave about it, I would appreciate your honest thoughts.
So stay tuned. Hopefully in the next week or so, this pup will be out. Then what I'm not sure of. 

And like a glutton for punishment I have started the draft of a second book about southern weddings, dresses, and trumpet players. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit, Movie Review

OK, right up front I'll admit I love the Jack Ryan film series. I cannot remember reading a Tom Clancy novel, but most likely I have sometime or another. And as any Clancy fan knows there have been many "Ryans", some better than others. There was Alec Baldwin in Hunter for Red October, Harrison Ford in The Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, and now we see Chris Pine playing Jack Ryan in the newest incarnation, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Yes, I am showing my age, because I have seen all of these in theaters when they were first released starting with Red October in 1990. But I digress.

What do you do when you have a great character who have has run his course, saved the world multiple times? He has out smarted the super powers of the world as the junior man in a big organization, usually as the little guy, quick to pick up on what is going to happen before any else does, and thankfully sometime with a bigger pay grade takes him seriously? You do the ultimate prequel and show how it all began, but put it in present day. 

Chris Pine does a good job as Ryan, although he doesn't seem quite up to the part. During the movie, I could not tell if that was an issue with Pine not being up for playing the part of Ryan, or the character himself being up for the big leagues. Whatever, it works. Although, speaking as an older adult, Ford was better in the role, but then again that was when the character was more developed.

Kevin Costner plays the role of Thomas Harper, the CIA agent who recruits Ryan. And he does it so well, but what doesn't Costner do well. (Come to think of it why was he not cast as Ryan in the earlier days?) Kathy Muller, Ryan's fiancee, is played extremely well by Keira Knightley. Muller, a doctor moves with the correct amount of effort and emotion through her role as doctor, lover, then decoy. 

The film is 105 minutes and moves along smoothly. The story line is clean and well played out. I found nothing (well almost nothing) unbelievable. I do recommend the movie. However I think every movie goer should keep in mind this is the prequel and like all stories, though well played, needs some developing. As I said, I never could figure out whether it was the character or the actor playing the character - but Ryan was a little off his game. But, that's OK, because I know all is well since I saw the next story in the series in 1990. Wait, since this Shadow Recruit was done in the present time (2014) does that mean we are back to the future?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Entourage

Buying real estate vicariously through my friend has been an adventure. There were actually 3 of us with her. One who knew the area, had lived there for years, and knew what she was talking about. The other two, including me, were along for the ride - a great excuse to get away from the cold and visit sunny Naples.

When the realtor, a 75 year old lady, showed up to pick our friend, the buyer up , she was a little taken aback to find, not one but 3 additional folks with her buyer. We were quickly introduced as her "entourage". She was a little rattled to say the least.And, it only got worse, because she soon learned that we all had opinions we had no reticence about giving and lots of questions, we had no problems asking. And, we did not necessarily always agree. 
There was little doubt the realtor had never encountered such.There was an open house at one home we looked at. Let's just say, a buyer and her entourage of three makes a statement By the time the afternoon was over, "we" had looked at 7 properties, and an offer had been made on one. This morning after one counter offer, the deal was done. 

Sometimes it does take a village. After all, what are girl friends for?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Houses on the Prairie - in Florida

Last week I was at a delayed holiday gathering. While talking with some ladies I had just met the topic of storms came up. I commented on my opinion of the people in our hometown who assumed the sky was falling and therefore all the trees were going to come crashing down on their house, so they took immediate action and clear cut their yard. Wasn't that the point of homeowners insurance? To repair the house? However, no insurance was going to replace that 75 year old tall pine or the 100 year old live oak (you are going to die in Hell for) that you removed.

One of the ladies laughed and said,"Honey, I just cut all the trees down in my yard." Before I could decide if I had had enough wine to tell her she was an idiot or politely ask her if she had lost her ever loving mind, she added,"my husband just loved them." I asked, "Do I sense some marital disharmony here with this herbicide?" 

"Oh, you better believe it. I called the yard man on the way home from the courthouse and told him I wanted all those trees gone!" "Please tell me there were no magnolias?" "Sweet heart, those are the worst. And, I got him to pull up all the azaleas while he was at it." By this time, another lady standing there was ready to step in between us.

"Azaleas, what do you have against them?" "Honey, they only bloom once a year, the blooms don't last that long, and the bushes are just ugly." I suggested we change the subject to something a little less controversial, say politics or religion.

Then this week I am in Florida with friends visiting these huge planned communities that resemble 1500 little house on the prairie. My friend from last week would be in heaven, very few trees to worry about. I did notice that there was ONE huge old live oak in the front yard of the friend we were visiting. It was hard to miss. 

Actually, I say "notice". By the time we had driven what seemed like miles through the streets, avenues, circles, and traces around the golf course of homes all with one of four floor plans (I would soon learn): the Glory, the Bay Breeze, the Blue Sky, or the Mystic, it was hard not to miss the trees. Oh, there were palm trees, but the community is not on the coast, so it doesn't strike you as some place that should only have palm trees. 

When I commented about the lovely lone oak in my new friend's yard, she laughed. "Well did you notice the other tree we have?" I had not. She went on to tell us that a requirement of the developer was that each homeowner plant a "tree" in their front yard. And, as I looked down, the street, sure enough in each yard there was 6 to 7 foot sapling of some sort stuck in the ground, supported by guy wires. 

They resembled token trees offered by each homeowner to some god as if the homeowner as penitence. Then she added, "This area was covered with lovely old moss laden oak trees and they cleared them all because they didn't fit into 'the plan'."

Later as we were riding around, the topic came around to family furniture, closing out our parents' homes, and downsizing. One of the ladies lived in this planned community, one was in the process of buying a hone here, and a third one was very interested. Although the 70 degrees and sunshine as opposed to the January weather at home was tempting, Stepford housing was not for me.

My ears perked up when two of the ladies commented about giving away the family's silver. Why was I not surprised? And, folks want to know why southerners have issue with Florida being called part of the South?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Looking for the Shuffle Board Court

I always questioned why the Yankees went to Florida for the winter. I have my answer. I am in Naples for several days with a friend, house hunting (her, unfortunately not me). The weather is sunny and in the mid 70s. At home it is any where between the 50 and 60's with rain. People are on the beach here and the daily attire is resort wear. Maybe I just attained the age of the blue plate special. It is almost like another world.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Clare Comes Through for Me

Writing a book is a learning process, trial by fire. I'm not sure whether it is more akin to jumping into a mosh pit, into the giant net of balls (in every McDonalds Play-yard), or jumping off a bridge. Everyone has the "best" way to do it. Learning the ins and outs of publishing is more painful than actually writing the book. 

I am now at the point of a cover. What the hey? Where to go? Oh, sure there are  services for $1500 that will produce you the best, eye catching, sale fetching, book cover God ever thought about putting on Amazon. OK, maybe they do not promise all that, but close to it. Given, I don't even think I will make that much profit off my book, I do not think that is in the budget. 

First Lesson - there must be a less expensive alternative. So, Plan B - I find ravsingh from India (who speaks English), a graphic artist who produces covers. I send him the information about my book. He asks a question or two and within a day I had the first draft. I requested two changes and in 15 minutes they were made, a little lost in translation, but made. So I better explain what I wanted, and sure enough in 10 minutes, I am sent what I asked for. 

One problem - it comes in a 2D version (see below). Funny, that is not what I see on Amazon.

Lesson Two - I explain my question and I learn that I need a "Flat" image - who knew. But, no worries, Mr. (or Ms.) ravsingh comes through with a flat image in an hour or so.

Given my investment in this prospective cover was not that expensive and it wasn't exactly what I had in mind, I search on. I find Clare from the UK. I hire her services and once again start the process. Her web page says she has a 2 day turn around and I feel that is reasonable. She immediately sends sample photos. In 15 minutes she sends two sample covers. I choose and ask for some revisions. No problem, 30 minutes later Voila there is the cover. 

Granted it is not a $1500 fine art piece, but it meets my needs for now. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Author's Page

I wish life were easy. In getting my book on Amazon, I have read umpteen articles on how to market it. There is a certain way to break through the millions of titles to get yours "up there" so it will be noticed. One thing that is a "must do" is create an "Author's Page". This was a no brainer - just show me the link.

I find the link, enter the data, and start the process. I am going along swimmingly until it says that I cannot develop a page because I do not have a book listed on Amazon. This is obviously the 'Chicken and the Egg' syndrome. Then I remember that I did list two of my photography books on Amazon, why are they not showing. I go back, find that the books are listed as "Unpublished". That will not get one very far.

So I go through the process of getting them 'published', which takes all of a minute. In doing so, I choose the "Select" program. I'll spare you the details, but part of the agreement is that you 'swear' that the book is not listed for sale any where else on the internet. So, I go back to set up my author's page. Then it dawns on me, wait, the book is for sale on "Blurb". So I go to the Blurb site and take it down. Then I realize that when I translated it into an eBook format it was listed on iTunes.

I begin to feel as if I am chasing a rabbit. So off to iTunes I go. Naturally, I have a problem loading iTunes. When I do finally get it loaded, I see that the book is on the site - Drats! Off to iConnections to remove it. Once again Apple issues (did I mention I despise Steve Jobs, Bless his soul). For some reason, it will not take my password. After going through the "reset your password" process three times I give up. I search Google for "Cannot access my iConnections account" and find I am not alone in this quandary. And, alas there is a solution. I access the account and remove the book.

By this time I am exhausted and have some responses from some of those dear friends who agreed to slog through the draft of the book to give me their thoughts. This is when I ask myself, how much was I drinking when I thought this was a good idea?

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Peaceful Easy Feeling

Every once in awhile I hear a song that takes me back to high school or college. For two or three minutes I am taken back to those carefree days of fun and frolic. Then I suddenly feel old. The music sounds so young. It is static, I am not.

Last week I found a documentary done on the band the Eagles. This was the band of my senior year in high school. Although, I loved (and still do) Carolina Beach music, these were the tunes playing on the radios in our cars and on the tape players (8 track no less) of the guys I was dating my senior year in high school and freshman year in college.

I downloaded it on my iPad. It was 4 hours long. And, it was fascinating. The film covers the members of the band before the band was formed through their famous breakup. Then, the best part was it covered their comeback. It was so refreshing to see those men 6 or 7 years my senior playing those songs. They, too, had aged! The music was just as good. But, they were human. 

If you ever cared for their music, I recommend the film. Even if you did not care for their music, but you want to feel more comfortable in your "more senior" body, I highly recommend this film. It is so refreshing to see that those rockers of our youth are not immortal after all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Her, a Movie Review

Working with IT for the past 3 or 4 years, I often hear folks say they have a love hate relationship with their computers or their software or an operating system. But the film Her elevated a love relationship with your OS (operating system) to a new level. Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a socially awkward writer at the end of his marriage with an almost unrecognizable Roony Mara (as in signing the divorce papers end). He feels much more comfortable in the world of his video games.  Things get interesting when he purchases a  new OS designed to intuitively adapt and evolve to the person operating the laptop so as to become more integrated into their life. The OS takes on a persona of a female human named Samatha (with the voice of Scarlett Johansson  - no less). Theodore finds he is falling in love with his OS and they develop a relationship.

Since Theodore is socially awkward, "dating" an OS that is two steps ahead of his thoughts suits him very well. However, things get a little interesting when Samantha decides to bring a surrogate in to make the relationship physical. Eventually, in the story the audience suspends belief and forgets that Samantha is nothing but the voice coming from speaker. 

Amy Adams plays the part of  Theodore's friend Amy who confides in him that she has developed a bond with the OS on her estranged husband's computer. Yes, there are more of the OS's about.

"Her" has been nominated and won several awards already for "Best Film" and "Best Screen Play" in some of the critical award ceremonies already held. It is touted to be one of this year (as in the 2013 award year's) big films. 

While Phoenix carries 98% of the scenes and gives a strong performances, personally, IMHO, it is Johansson who deserves a Best Actress Award for her role as Samantha. She is the story, the glue, she is what drives Phoenix. Does the Academy give a Best Actress Award for a part that was only a voice? I see that she has already garnered 5 Best Supporting Actress Nominations by other Film Critic Awards and was given a "Special Honorary Award" by the Austin Film Critics Association for "Her Outstanding Voice Performance in 'Her'". The Academy should take note.

This is an interesting film and I think Spike Jonze did an excellent job with the screenplay. That said, I tired of it. 126 minutes is a long amount of time to watch Theodore romance his earpiece. I do not see this as Best Film of the Year. However, given the Academy has widened the field to 10 nominations, there may be room in the race. After all Hollywood loves Joaquin. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dah, Dah . . . The Book's Blog is Up

As of this morning I have launched the book's Blog.  I have been told by those who know that "real" authors always have a Blog for their book, so far be it for me to deny my book a Blog.

The link is Sterling Silver and Dollar Stores. As always, please let me know what you think. And, no, I will not publish the book piece by piece (or at least that is not the plan now) on the Blog. The idea is to keep potential readers up-to-date with where the book stands, give bits and pieces of the text, ask for advice, etc.

Humor me.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lost - Again

We came home last night from a short trip to Charleston. After we unloaded the car, we let the dogs in the house. Sure enough something was missing from Ellie - her harness. Not just any harness, but the last harness we had for her. Given it was 40 degrees and raining, I was not inclined to take a flashlight, venture into the yard, and search for the missing piece. And, Lily was no help. 

This morning, it is 32 degrees outside, Ellie has no ID on and I have no harness to put on her. There are two issues here: Can I locate her harness? And If I do, will it still be in one piece and still in functionable shape? Yes, Ellie is microchipped, however I would feel better if she had a name, phone number, and address somewhere on her. Not every yaywho these days knows to take a dog they picked-up to a vet's office to have it scanned for a microchip. 

I guess I could send the second peacock colored harness back to Lupine with an explanation of our dire situation and beg them to replace it with one made of chainmail complete with a homing signal so if (and when) Lily does remove it, we can easily locate it in the back yard. Or, not.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Survived the Holidays, Now What . . .

After four Christmas dinners; two families, one step family, and the immediate one you can't do away with; three gift exchanges, and Santa, I think it is safe to say the party is over. The tree is down, the boxes are back in the attic, and I have already located that one decoration that I forgot to pack - there is always one.  

I did learn a valuable lesson - if when asked to handle the family gift exchange and you leave one person's name out, you will be excused from that delegation of duty for life. My New Year's Resolution is to find other onerous duties I can be discharged from by a similar  offense. 

I guess now would be a good time to send out the Christmas cards. They could be interpreted as 2013 "Holiday" cards or damn early 2014 "Christmas" cards. Given my track record, I best go tomorrow, by a box of Valentine's Day cards and start addressing them. Perhaps by February 14th most of them will be ready to mail. A good plan - at least.

Today is the beginning of 2014 and with it the reality of seeking employment. I must return to my senses and realize that I am of the working class. And since the lottery has not come through yet, I best hope that there is a vocation out there that will have me. 

And, to think I am still searching for the Christmas spirit, maybe next year. Or, is it this year?