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Monday, April 3, 2017

Travels with Sydney -- Finale

Celebrating Chris's birthday
On the penultimate day of our cross country trip home, we stopped on the western edge of NJ to stay with our friends Gregory Anne and Mark. Mark runs a large estate comprising 400 acres, quite a bit of which is farmed. At this time of year, of course, all the fields are fallow.

And full of game.

Sydney: Oh Oh Oh My God. Let me the heck off this leash, I have WORK to do!!!

There's something moving in there...
And when she couldn't beg a trip outside (no way was she being let off the lead; she'd chase something into the next county), she was camped in front of the lovely French doors staring at the Great Outdoors. All over her face: Can I live here forever?

Just wait, we told her. We're almost home.

So the following day, on the first sunny day since we left California, we drove the final few hours to Southampton, arriving early afternoon. After we unloaded the car, I walked Sydney on a lead the perimeter of the back garden to make sure there weren't any puppy-sized gaps in the fencing that could be a problem. As we unloaded the suitcases, put all the laundry in the washer, and settled in, she sniffed out the house and figured out this must be her new home, it smelled like us.

Late afternoon, we walked into town for a coffee and a chance to people watch. Look, Sydney! There are benches to hang out here too!

This morning I walked her down to Gin Lane Beach and back - four miles - and then we turned her loose in the back yard while Chris and I each dealt with aspects of getting back to the swing of things here at A Butler's Manor.

Up unitl this point, Syd has been my little shadow, following me from room to room. But that was before she met the garden. She spent the entire day galloping around and through it, chasing squirrels up trees and flushing rabbits into the next county. And if there are any field mice in the've been warned.

I followed her on one of her forays, watching her tree a squirrel and then stalk the perimeter, waiting for it to come down (hahaha). And I heard for the first time what may be the Nova Scotia Duck Toller Retriever "scream" -- an odd, frustrated whine. It does sound like what I've found on YouTube, but she's definitely a mixed breed because thus far, she's run away from the surf and any water, whereas the purebreds seem to dive right in.

She followed me in once, just long enough to have a drink of water and then ran straight back outside to continue on patrol. She probably burned off all the weight we've tried to put on her since she weighed in at a measly 17-1/2 lbs. when we adopted her. Her eagerness to be outside reminded me of being a child, when we went out to play after school and didn't return until the streetlights came on. And coming in on command? Oh heck no. Nature is the Bigger Name on the Other Line.

Anyway, looks like we are defnitely going to have less wildlife in Chris's garden this year, with Sydney on patrol. She is on the job!! And boy is she happy!!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Travels with Sydney, part 2

Spotty Internet service and good company have interrupted my good intentions to post a daily update.

When we say that we have on six or seven occasions driven between California and Long Island, Chris and I often get asked whether we have taken the “blue roads” – those highways “off the beaten track” to explore the small towns and lesser-known byways of this great country.

Wind farm outside of Palm Springs
And the answer has been, for the most part, no. On our way from Southampton to Laguna Beach, we are eager to get there…and on the way home, we need to get back. So generally we don’t stray too much from the main roads when travelling from one coast to the other.

This trip, however, has been somewhat different. For a start, because we routed through Palm Springs, we chose to take a route that wound us up through Yucca Valley but then were forced to detour through the Mojave Desert Preserve, through undulating waves of Joshua trees before connecting with I-15 just west of the Nevada border.

Our thinking on that day was that we would push as far as Richfield, UT in order to shorten the drive to Denver, where we were staying with friends the following day. However, as we crossed the Utah state line near St. George, what started as a light rain quickly became increasingly heavy snow, so we stopped in Cedar City for the night. Since we’d left an 80+-degree Palm Springs that morning, I needed to change out of flip flops before leaving the car.

Sydney jumps out of the car into a snow drift. SNOW! What is this?--and what is even more interesting, what might be hiding beneath it?

(Note to self: In future hotel stays, avoid the ground floor room at the end of the hall near the exterior doorway. Traffic in and out throughout the night meant that each time someone passed downs the hall she startled and barked and found it difficult to settle. So two out of three of us didn't get much sleep.)

SO....What were we THINKING, that waiting until late March would ensure us better weather?!? So far we’ve encountered the worst weather of any of our trips cross country. On Monday we got sandblasted in a windstorm outside of Desert Hot Springs in California. On Tuesday we drove over Vail Pass (elevation: 10,662 feet) in a snowstorm so intense that I was following in the tracks of a motorhome just so I could find some asphalt to drive on…followed by another detour, due to an accident, onto Highway 6 through gorgeous but scary, Loveland Pass (switchbacks, no guard rails; sheers drops) also while it snowed…Wednesday and Thursday we forded blinding thunderstorms most of the day between Denver and Indianapolis, following semi trucks on Interstate 70 because they are big enough to see. (What is WITH drivers who don’t put their headlights on during inclement weather? Didn’t we all learn that in driving school?) I am in sad need of my chiropractor to relieve the tension in my neck and back exacerbated by these weather events.

Meanwhile, blessedly, Sydney just sleeps through it all.

So far, she has discovered that:

1)  Rain sucks when you have to pee. And forget pooping. Tomorrow will be better. (Cue the theme song from Annie: "The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun...)

2) There are such things as Fenced Back Yards where leashes are not required (!) which sometimes contain things even MORE interesting than lizards to hunt and chase. WOO HOOOO!!!!

In Denver, she flushed a warren of bunnies. In Topeka, she discovered squirrels. (Chris is thrilled, thinking about the effect Sydney is likely to have on our burgeoning population of rabbits, squirrels and deer in our Southampton garden.) Ever since, she has since been on point to find other things that will run and allow her to give chase. Alas, as we are averaging 550 miles per day, she isn’t given much opportunity during a potty stop every couple of hours en route. But she’s such a good sport about a change of locale every night, with lots of different people to meet and be petted by. Still a little shy, but learning to try. Good practice for being a bed and breakfast dog!!

Just a few more days....

Monday, March 27, 2017

Travels with Sydney

Doing my best to channel Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley" here.

Under the heading of "What I Did on My Summer (winter) Vacation" -- Chris and I adopted a dog. The thinking was that if we found our next dog while we were on sabbatical in California, we'd have some time to bond and train and accustom it to us before we returned to New York and the usual madness of bed and breakfast life was underway. So with this in mind, we again drove cross country so that we'd be able to transport a dog back without the potential trauma of air travel.

So six weeks ago today, we adopted four-year-old Sydney from a rescue in Baja California, Mexico, and she is a love. She's some form of mixed breed incorporating--possibly--Australian Shepherd, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Pointer, and who knows what else. She's little--24 pounds--about 16 inches at the shoulder. She's continually on the prowl for lizards and things she can flush out of the bushes while on a walk.We've been accustoming her to our vacation life of spending hours on Laguna Beach's boardwalk where the people (and dog) watching is sublime. Here's her getting the hang of it:

Today was the big day to begin our journey East. It will be a fairly leisurely week-long trip, affording us the opportunity to stop in with friends across the country en route. We've taken her on a couple of day trips (for instance, to Temecula Wine Country) and she seems to travel well. And we noticed that she didn't seem to have any paranoid "are you leaving me!?!?" associations with suitcases as we packed.

But as we loaded the last of the cases into the car, she jumped from her bed and ran back up the stairs where I found her curled up defiantly on the doormat of the apartment, and I had to carry her back down to the car.

Yeah, I know how she feels.

Today is a short jaunt, a warm up for the long days on the road, as we are only in Rancho Mirage where our dear friends Steve and Liz are vacationing. The uncommonly green foothills of Orange and Riverside Counties gave way to the snow-capped mountains flanking the clear deserts of Moreno and Indio Valley. Miles of wind farms waved welcome as we neared Palm Springs. Sydney slept through it all.

She may speak Spanish -- we don't -- but for sure when we stopped into a little family run Mexican restaurant called La Casita in Cathedral City, she was up for any dropped tortilla chips or leftover tostada we might put her way. And she evidences lots of interest in the ducks on the ponds here, which makes me wonder again about her DNA.

No problems with the strange hotel room, Interested and excited about all the unfamiliar territory. Mad props to the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa for an incredible pet-friendly experience!

Off to Utah today!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Clearing Rejections

This week I met a delightful woman who is a fellow writer of the same vintage as I am – i.e., we both worked when writing still paid (for example: HuffPost expects writers to contribute for free) and midlist authors weren’t being dropped by the Big Five publishers as they acquired smaller houses. We were reminiscing about back in the day--gaaah, that makes me feel old!--when we sent print queries via snail mail (don't forget your SASE!) to agents and waited weeks, sometimes months, for a reply.

I was recounting the story of seeking an agent for Blood Exposure, the first of my novels. 

Organized (compulsive?) as I am, I diligently tracked every query with a spreadsheet and saved every response. I used to segregate the responses in categories – Request for Full MS, Request for Partial MS, Rejection, Handwritten (getting a handwritten comment was almost as good as getting a request for a partial), Rejection, Form Letter. Far and away, the thickest file was the latter. If nothing else, I figured my paperwork would stand up to an IRS audit in case they questioned my status as something other than a “hobby” writer. I have all of these in neatly labeled files in my office.

In my previous life in corporate America, I had a boss I admired greatly.  One day, waiting in his office prior to a meeting, I noticed a neat grouping of about seven letters, matted and framed on his wall. Perusing these documents, I was astonished to find that they were all from companies with whom he had interviewed that had subsequently decided to hire another candidate. I was incredulous. Why would you not only keep, but display those rejections?

“It keeps me humble,” he said.

So when I began querying, I told myself that saving all that paperwork ensured my humbleness. Well, I was good and humble fifteen months and nearly one hundred (!) queries later when I found an agent who loved the story and wanted to represent it.

Discussing the subject with my new writer friend pointed up the absurdity of this thinking. In retrospect, I see that the need to prove myself  as “real” was my own insecurity. Far from keeping me humble, holding onto such negativity only substantiated this insecurity.  And, IRS or no,  I don’t need to hold on to anything that simply says “It isn’t right for us.” Which meant it wasn't right at that time...for that agent or publishing house...for that market...but that, deep inside, I translated as “YOU aren’t right for us.” I internalized the rejection by legitimizing it.

So in my ongoing quest to clear out what doesn’t bring me joy in order to make room for what will, why would I keep the negative paperwork of my past?  

Its's outta here. Today.

Oh, and that agent that I finally found? Disappeared without a trace after about two years, having never sold the book. As I never saw any physical proof of his efforts despite my requests for information (e.g., "okay, Putnam said it's not for them. Did they say anything specific? Did the characters not ring true? Any problems with the plot?") I have no idea to this day whether he actually sent the book out at all.

By the time I finished Net Stalker, I'd decided that I'd find another agent who would now have two books to market. Another year of queries, by this time updated to emails with a great tool, QueryTracker, that kept all my records without keeping the actual rejections at hand. The brilliant creators of the site must have known that writers are often far too prone to self-doubt as it is.

In the end, right or wrong, I eventually chose another path, that of self-publishing.

In clearing the files of rejections, I did come across another file I hadn't looked at in a while: my "YAY!" file of emails and notes from readers who have enjoyed and have been touched by my work.
Which certainly meets the criterion of "that which brings you joy." 

That's a keeper.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Many unhappy returns

Print-on-demand (POD) technology and, especially, has changed book royalty reporting and payment dramatically. A Butler's Life was first published by Frederic C. Beil Publisher, and as in most traditional publishing practices, I received a royalty statement twice a year, roughly three months after the end of the reporting period, to allow for returns by bookstores to be deducted from your sales. Bookstores, that pay roughly half the list price to begin with, are also given the option of returning unsold titles at little or no penalty. So if Barnes & Noble orders six of your title and after a set amount of time determines that your book isn't likely to sell out, they cut their stock losses and ship your book back.

What is greatest at? Data collection. So being able to generate a report that tracks sales, borrows, etc. is a no-brainer to them and doesn't require three months of sorting through invoices to tabulate. Amazon Kindle, which represents all four of my "main" books in e-book form, pays royaties monthly on sales lagging two months.

Over the past few months, authors were notified by Amazon that their Kindle Unlimited program (for a set monthly fee, you "borrow" the books for free) will begin paying authors by number of pages read. (We don't even want to think about the creepiness of the level of data collection that allows Amazon to know exactly where, and when, you quit reading that ebook.)

July statements were the first to reflect this new system.  On one hand, it's gratifying, because due to their algorhythms, someone who borrows and finishes Choice will actually make me a few more cents than someone who buys it outright.

On the other hand, someone who doesn't finish a book sets off all sorts of author insecurity. What happened on page 40 that stopped the reader in her tracks? Was it the topic? The writing? The characters? WHY DIDN'T YOU LIKE ME?!?!?!? (sob)

But the real gut kicker in Amazon's monthly royalty report is the column labeled Returns.

Wait, what? Isn't one advantage of ebooks that there won't be any returns? I mean, you're transferring data, no trees have been cut down, etc., right?

Um, no.

In the traditional publisher's distribution model, you had no idea which bookstores returned your book, but the "why" was clear: It didn't sell (fast enough). Now that decision is made by an individual, and the presumed reason is simply that they didn't like your book enough to pay even a paltry $4 for it. Or--equally likely--they took advantage of a little known policy that allows one to return an ebook within a set amount of time even if already read. (Kind of like the woman who buys a party dress, saves the tags, wears it to the wedding, then returns it the following day. Really, who does that?)

Recently, there was an article about how a Michigan bookstore, Brilliant Books, offered a refund on Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman. This unprecedented move was not because the store thought it a disappointing book after all the hype, but rather because the the owners felt the public had been misled about the book's origin. Go Set A Watchman is not, as the publisher's website had trumpeted, a "new" manuscript unearthed among Lee's things but rather her originally-submitted manuscript, suggested revisions to which became To Kill A Mockingbird.

If bookstores took back books that disappointed, there would likely be a far fewer copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in thrift shop racks. But ebooks, as we continue to learn, are a whole 'nother animal, still in the evolutionary stage. While ebook authors make a larger percentage of royalties over trad pub contracts, it's evident that e-publisher will still find ways to chip away at those pennies. The winner will not be the author.

I need to grow a thicker skin...

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I wrote last about decluttering with an aim to opening up some literal as well as mental space in my life. Well, things are progressing.

After much research, I managed to find a vinyl collector for the majority of Dad's old jazz albums. Armed with a special turntable that records straight into a computer music file, I spent a whole weekend copying some early folk and contemporary trad jazz that will never be sold on iTunes or found on YouTube. It was a rainy weekend, perfect for soaking up the memories that bubbled up in me as I sang along with the old music. Then I catalogued and uploaded the tracts to my iPod, packed up one hundred pounds of vinyl record albums, and shipped them to Tennessee. On tax day. It was, quite literally, a weight off my mind.

Next up? A doll collection.

I was never the sort of child who played with dolls. But I spent my college years working at Disneyland in the gift shops in Fantasyland. I became friendly with Elyse, the Doyenne of the Doll Department in Tinkerbell Toy Shop (alas, the shop is long gone). Elyse was British, and I admit I first made her acquaintance in order to hear her beautiful Sussex accent. Soon, though, I became fascinated by Elyse's knowledge of her stock and began to love her charges as she did, and to request the department on my shifts. The Doll department was tucked into the quiet back end of the large shop, near a back door that wound around the side of Sleeping Beauty's castle...far from the counters selling t-shirts and pencils and rulers and pens with a Monorail that floated from one end to the other when tipped. Everything in our end of the shop was expensive: we sold what are nowdays called the Princess dresses (Snow White, Cinderella, etc., sized 2-6x), and dolls by Effanbee and Madame Alexander.

The Madame Alexander dolls were by far our best sellers. Yes, we occasionally had some truly special (read: $$$$) editions such as a 21" Scarlett O'Hara in the deep green "drapery" dress, or lifelike, life-sized baby dolls, but the biggest sellers were the 8" dolls. The word on the street at that time was that Madame Alexander herself was 85 and in very poor health, and that when she passed away the molds that produced the dolls would be broken. For this reason, we were allowed to sell no more than two dolls per person, we were not supposed to alert our many collectors to a new shipment, and we weren't allowed to specify what we wanted to order. The company simply shipped us what they felt like shipping us when they felt like shipping it to us. We inventoried then sold it...often selling out in a matter of days.

So given that level of exposure and excitement, I started to grow interested in collecting them too. I started with some of the Storybook dolls (the Little Women series, Scarlett O'Hara) and moved into the International line. True to my training, I kept every box, the packing material, and often even the hang tags, carefully stored in an old footlocker. I've added a few dolls to the collection over the years, but for the most part, it's remained static, not least because there is limited room in the glass cabinet I display them in.

But...the dolls are of a period my life from which I have grown away. It was time to find them a new home. So I started doing my research on eBay and elsewhere. And found, to my disappointment, that all that hype back in the late 1970s was just that--marketing hype. Madame Alexander sold her company a couple of years before her death in 1990, and there hasn't been so much as a slowdown in the production of dolls since. The average closed auction price for one of the dolls was one-seventh of what I'd paid for them in 1980.

Still, I kept reminding myself, the point was to rehouse these lovelies where they could be more fully appreciated. And thus, the exodus. As of today, all but four of the Madame Alexander dolls have left for new lives in new places.

Which left me two nice empty shelves in my display cabinet, located in the dining room at A Butler's Manor. Hmmm. What to fill the space with?

Ah hah! Simple. Something representative of where I am now, what I do now. My "grown up" self.

I set up a display of all of my books for sale.

Yeah, I've still got some porcelain dolls to find new homes for. But instantly, what a change it made to the feeling of the room. And to my heart. This is who I am now. This is what I do now. This is my past...AND my future.

And sure, perhaps my books will remain "collectible" only to me. But they're my best sellers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


It's often said--and I believe--that decluttering frees up blockages, and allows the Universe to send you what you might truly need.

I hope so. I feel I've been at an impasse lately with my writing. I need to clear whatever junk is in my head that is blocking me from moving forward.

The bigger picture is that I want to declutter my life in order to be able to more nimbly move forward into whatever new opportunities may arise. And frankly, I just have way too much stuff.

My project last fall--proudly accomplished--was to convert my boxes and boxes of snapshots to DVD, which in turn I categorized and saved to Dropbox. Doing so cleared out much of a cupboard. Every so often now I open that cupboard just to admire its emptiness.

The next cupboard has the record albums.

My parents, especially my dad, were aficionados of Dixieland jazz, a.k.a classic or trad (traditional) jazz, and through immersion, I too became a lifelong fan. From the time we were small, my siblings and I were taken monthly to the Sunday afternoon meetings of the Los Angeles-based organization called Jazz, Inc., and to regional Dixieland music festivals, especially the Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee. After my parents passed away, I took the majority of Dad's LPs home, thinking I would somehow accomplish what he never got around to doing--transferring the music to an easier-to-store medium. (His medium of choice was his beloved TEAC reel-to-reel.) Alas, though I did acquire a turntable with the capability to transfer LPs to my computer, I found, as I think Dad did before me, that it was quite a task if you wished to be thorough in doing so (e.g., not only the name of the band, album, and featured tunes, but band personnel, record label, and label number). And then there are those fascinating and evocative covers and liner notes...

Music is a huge source of memories for me, and even researching online for potential new homes for Dad's collection, I found links like this that allowed me to go back in time to those days when I used to sip my cup of Coke and dance in the aisles to a live Dixieland band. Those were such good times.

But I have to accept that I am not slated to be the archivist of this collection; trust that someone else with more passion for documenting the past will love these albums as Dad did. So my project to rehouse them begins today as I start cataloging what I have, consoling myself that nowadays, almost anything is findable online. (Thank you, YouTube.)

Let me clear cupboards of that which doesn't serve me anymore, and thereby create space to fill up with what I need in the way of new findings, new ideas, new words.