Write Up a Storm

I’ve loved storms since I was a kid growing up in the hills of northern California. They were so dramatic, especially at night. Massive clouds driven before the wind would nearly obliterate the sky. Wind-slanted rain lashed against the flesh on my face, and threatened to knock me off balance. In other storms, a brilliant moon would shine high above everything and you could look upward and catch glimpses of it through breaks in the bulky darkness. Lightning flashes outlined trees and hills and cloud shapes, and I could count the interval between flash and the boom of thunder to estimate how far away the lightning had been. I’d fantasize that it was what being on a ship at sea would be like. I wanted to sail across the ocean. Later, I did.

When I came East, thunderstorms provided dramatic interludes to summer heat and humidity. You can sometimes predict a storm when you see maple leaves turn upside down and shimmer in the wind. Clouds hang low and mass heavily in the sky overhead and a distant roll of thunder will announce the storm’s approach. We were at a block party recently, trying to guess whether the storm would pass a little to the north of our location and allow the party to continue unaffected or we needed to seek shelter. A Torrential downpour announced the winners and losers of that speculation. Fortunately for a time, the rain came down straight onto the tent-like roof of the shelter we sat under and the party went on. Had we been caught in the rain, we would have been drenched in seconds.

I’ve seen eastern rainstorms pound heavily for a few minutes then suddenly stop, leaving the streets and sidewalks steaming in the humid aftermath, the rain not having managed to dry the air out. Sometimes, the other side of the street will still be dry and everyday activity unaffected.

It’s always dramatic watching, even enjoying, a storm. Lighting strikes pose a real threat, though. A neighbor of mine was hit by lightning that jumped across the room from her furnace and struck her. She was lucky, and walked away uninjured. A lightning strike split a fireplace chimney a few feet from me in a house I had in Connecticut. It nearly knocked me off the couch I was sitting on. During a storm in Oklahoma, the sky filled with lightning as though a strange meteor shower had erupted overhead. I was on a motorcycle, and thankful it didn’t rain until I reached my destination.

In the West, I’ve watched storms approach from miles across the open desert, hurtling lightning bolts earthward and wetting the parched land with rain from the moving column of moisture. It’s beautiful. It’s awesome, and humbling. I once raced an approaching storm on my motorcycle out west in an attempt to slip through a pass in the hills ahead of it. As I cleared the pass, another front struck violently from the other side of the hills. There was a motel just through the pass, so I bailed out, happy to have the opportunity to do so. Storms are dramatic, and I often love them, but not on a motorcycle. Of course, I have put my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, at peril in storms on several occasions, and he gets hurt in one.

When you think about it, a storm is a lot like a good mystery. Signs foretell a storm’s approach. The threat builds. Wind picks up, letting you know the storm is getting closer. Then thunder explodes and lightning flashes to announce the storm’s arrival. Wind and rain punish anyone out in the open. Humankind, thrown to the mercy of malevolent violence. It’s how we try to write mysteries. It’s how we should write mysteries. And, if we’re good at it, there will be something dramatic and memorable in the telling. I think that’s a worthwhile goal—to write up a storm.

Approaching Storm

Fair Time

 

Leaving Einstein’s theories aside, time seems a very relative thing. Like the cognitive maps people have of their communities that emphasize familiar and preferred places over others, the year is portioned out in terms of major events or experiences. For me, here in upstate New York spring is the sudden, lush greening of the landscape. It is also the time of weeding the garden and getting vegetable beds cultivated and planted. That said, this year spring was late. I know because we had to cover bushes against freezing temperatures and put off planting vegetables until the weather warmed up a bit. Not much springtime.

Summer is a season of mowing the yard and taking on outdoor projects. It’s also a time to string up my hammock and enjoy lying out under a canopy of willow leaves, or raise the umbrella on the deck and enjoy meals outside. Well, I have managed to spend a few sessions in the hammock, and we’ve had a meal or two on the deck, but we haven’t bothered using the barbecue grill as most afternoons have been wet or cloudy. Am I complaining? A little. I enjoy some rain. A rainy day is a great opportunity to kick back and read a good book and then take a break with a good cup of tea. But summer is supposed to have a lot more sun than this year has produced. Events like golf, hikes through the woods and long rides on the motorcycle have become distant memories. Summertime was waiting for it to happen, then realizing it probably wouldn’t.

My favorite season is fall. Harvest time. A growing chill in the air. A drop in humidity. And, I associate the end of summer and beginning of fall with the annual county fair, going on now. Fortunately, opening day did not produce the expected thunderstorms, but it did get blanketed with heat and high humidity. We walked around and enjoyed the exhibits anyway. It’s how we grew up, and I still love it. The fair gave me a break from the grind of manuscript editing and also provided a good excuse to ignore the diet and eat some fair food. Life can’t be all work. Late summer is fair time. Love it.

When I wrote my second Bobby Navarro novel, I had him enjoy walking around a mountain man rendezvous in Arizona. It’s not a county fair, but it has some similar elements—booths offering things to buy like barbecue, and fun-seeking crowds. Bobby enjoyed the rendezvous, and I’m sure he would take in a county fair if one were available. I see fairs as a celebration of roots for many of us, including some people who grew up in cities but can still relate to the village and agrarian foundations of our country. Of course, I know not everyone enjoys walking around to see the animals and other fair exhibits. And not everyone can walk through the livestock barns and come out with clean shoes, which may be a deterrent for them. Last night, there was a demolition derby. I don’t yet know how Bobby would react to that, but a lot of people love them

. How about you? Are you a fair goer?

Finger Lakes and Freedom

We recently paid a visit to the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. You often hear it talked about as wine country, and the vineyards and wineries provide a good reason for visiting. Small distilleries have grown up in the region as well, the same way they’re popping up in other places with a healthy micro-brewery industry. The area has a lot to offer beyond scenic enjoyment and a glass of wine and good, local cheese though. This time, we visited the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Senaca Falls, where the Suffragist Movement began. 

What struck me about the display, which was thought provoking and moving, was the way the suffragist cause was linked to other causes such as anti-slavery in America and the plight of people seeking asylum from war and oppression around the world. Part of the exhibit consisted of a cluster of bronze statues of people associated with the suffragists’ movement. I had my picture taken next to Frederic Douglass. While some people in the larger society opposed the Suffragist Movement as a violation of an order they took to be natural and sacred, and others sympathized but didn’t want to anger the men in their lives, Frederick Douglass responded by recognizing the oppression of women by men. White men. The same men who defended  the slavery of blacks.

I am a white man, and while I’ve sometimes been treated badly as a member of some category or other, being a white male has had its advantages. The exhibits made me take some time to think about that. It didn’t put me on a guilt trip. It just made me take some time to be more aware of the negative effects of forcing people into categories and excluding them from basic rights we tout as inalienable.

The inclusion of materials from the WWII Japanese American internment camps  was a reminder of the tenuousness of ‘secure’ social position. Economic vulnerability leaves many people in contemporary society without effective social rights as well.   Without any blatant harangue, the exhibits left a clear message: we all lose something when a group is denied basic rights and liberties, and none of us are safe when some of us are denied.

I don’t intend to turn my series protagonist into a traveling civil rights crusader, although I am glad he cares about others he meets on the road, even to the point of risking his own wellbeing to address the rights and needs of a murder victim or victim’s family. Well, I guess that does make him something of a crusader, doesn’t it? To Bobby, it’s just trying to do what he thinks is right.

It was a fun trip in a picturesque region of upstate New York. I enjoyed it. We all need a break once in awhile. Any comments to share?  

Boat Houses on Seneca Lake

A Moment With Frederick Douglass

Tip For a Curmudgeon

 I don’t hate tipping, I hate the institution of tipping. It seems too reminiscent of a class structure that treated workers and alms beggars in similar manner. I think workers, minimum wage workers, should be paid enough to live above the poverty level. But, we all know that isn’t the case. Many of us also know that service workers are sometimes paid below minimum wage on the expectation that they will make up for the deficiency in tips. That means a tip, or gratuity if you prefer, does not amount to rewarding good work; it means the business isn’t even paying its employees the minimum wage normally required by law. Doesn’t seem fair.

I had lunch in town, not our village, recently at a popular sandwich and salad place. The food is good, and there isn’t generally a long wait. Of course, you pick up your food order yourself, and bus you table when you finish your meal.  So, while the staff is usually friendly and processes your order quickly, no one waits on you at your table. That’s fine. What bothers me, is this particular place has become pretty aggressive in trying to get customers to tip as well. Tip for what? You serve yourself. Tip because the staff is underpaid? There are tip jars at each cash register where you stand to place your order. In addition, if you use a credit card there is a screen on the card reader that requires you say “yes” you want to leave a tip, or “no” you do not want to leave a tip before your transaction is complete. At that point, you haven’t even picked up your order. It just seems pretty pushy to me. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon. I’ve nothing against the staff. I just hate the idea of tipping, let alone tipping under coercion.

When I tip, I think I’m fairly generous. I had a friend once who didn’t like to leave much of a tip. In fact, you had to kind of watch him because he would wait for everyone else at the table to contribute their share and then cover the bill with his credit card, pocketing the cash. What you had to watch out for, was whether he left an adequate tip for the wait staff or lessened the total due as a result of the generosity of others. I’ve also been in too many situations where a group of coworkers ate together and someone didn’t even leave their fair share, let alone a tip. These are cases of people simply being cheap. Dishonest might be a better word.

I think my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, always leaves a decent tip when tipping is expected. He’s a down-to-earth, generous guy. He would never stiff a waitress, or a coworker. That just would not be in keeping with his character. I like that about Bobby. I just hate the business of tipping though. How about you? Have you ever read of a private detective or amateur sleuth who didn’t tip well? What’s your take on the whole thing?

By the way, in case you were wondering, I just think it’s good to gripe about something other than politics once in a while. Not that minimum wage isn’t a political issue. Maybe I should be more like Bobby Navarro, just tip well and never mind the rest. But then, like I said, he’s a generous guy, and not at all a curmudgeon.

Paint Like a Writer–Write Like a Painter

I used to enjoy painting landscapes with watercolors. I find the creative process of painting is very similar to that of writing. A good painting does not come from a recipe, formula, or set of instructions. A good painting does not spring from prescribed colors laid down on a pre-constructed, numbered pattern. It comes from the successful transference of thought to canvas.

A painting likely starts with a few light pencil strokes to make a rough outline of the major objects intended. However, in a form of Japanese ink painting called Sumi-e, the artist is encouraged to sit before the intended subject and meditate before making any brush strokes in order that each one then fully captures the essence of the subject. No pencil outline is needed.

Writers vary as to whether they use an outline, or write from the seat of their pants. In either case, I think most writers have at least a mental outline of where the story is headed, and I think major story ideas have been tried out in the writer’s mind. I like to think story outlines are tentative suggestions to help the writer get started. The creative work comes later.

 If the painter is satisfied with the rough outline on canvas, the painting begins. Heavier, bolder strokes begin to express the intended subject. Suddenly, there is a spark of life to the work. There is form, shape, even the suggestion of movement, if needed. Each stroke is critical for they express the concept the artist is attempting to communicate. They cannot be blotched, too heavy, too tentative, or shaky rather than confident and knowing. They must be just right.

Once the subject has been determined by these initial strokes, the background, shading, and form can be layered-in. Shapes are completed, objects are given greater depth, details are added to give the work authenticity. This is like the middle work of a story, the details that support the plot events and character-defining statements of the story are layered in to support the main plot and character points. The desired object is fleshed out and the work approaches closer to completion.

With details in place and the desired form and shading accomplished, there is still more work to be done. This is a particularly delicate stage because a single stroke too many can ruin the intended effect. An accent stroke left out can leave the final work lacking. A bit of hesitance, a sloppy addition and the work is ruined. But, amazingly, these few, final brush strokes bring the work to the point of perfection. It is finished, and nothing more can be done to improve it. Similarly, in a written story, a small wording change can bring a desired thought or action into bolder view. A single line of dialogue can better capture the intent of the conversation from the writer’s point of view. A stubborn sentence can be reworked to get rid of an awkward expression or fix a tempo-robbing pace. Beyond that, nothing can be improved. Of course for many of us writers, the written work is never completed to perfection. We are always tempted to try another minor word change. And that says nothing of the myriad changes an editor is likely to suggest, but the ideal remains.

So, the story must spring to life with the major plot elements. Our hero’s character must be developed and nuanced with meaningful dialogue and thought description. The plot must unfold as a live experience. It cannot be accomplished by forced and clumsy assertions and explanations. When you view a finished painting, every element is simply there, awaiting the viewer’s emotional reaction. A good story is simply felt. It is not necessary for the reader to first dissect the work to understand and experience the writer’s intent.

I think one can paint like a writer, and write like a painter, but how about living like a work of art. Is that even possible? I think some people do it. I ask myself whether my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro’s life would be like that. What are your thoughts? Now, I’d better get back to work in the garden while the sunshine lasts.

Springtime in Upstate New York

We’ve been hearing Canada geese flying overhead, mostly in the mornings and evenings. They come in low, in two’s and three’s, circling toward the pond nearby. I don’t know if they are early arrivals, but they don’t seem to be part of the larger flocks we saw in the fall heading south. In any case, their sounds are welcome. I’ve missed their music over the winter. One large goose was in the creek, taking a bath the other day, apparently enjoying a clean-up after a long flight. Robins are back in healthy numbers hunting worms in the yard and crows are out and about. I assume the crows have been here all year. A couple of days ago I saw about a dozen large birds circling over the village. I think it was a kettle of migrating hawks, vultures, or both, circling to gain altitude and then moving on.

We’ve been here two weeks now, and it’s a joy to see the birds coming back, as well as all the plants coming to life. I’ve already mowed the yard twice, and it needs it again. That will have to wait, though. It’s promising to rain for the next several days, and threatening snow sometime during the next two. Springtime in upstate New York. Time for boots, sweaters and waterproof jackets, putting away the shorts and summer clothes we started off with when we left Florida. I’ve been busy setting things straight, like cleaning the back room where we store a lot of things we need to move inside when we leave in the fall. Then, there was the light switch I had to replace on the stairs, aka puttering about. There’s always work to be done after a move, even a seasonal one. I need to get back to my writing.

Speaking of writing, from time to time I’ve asked myself why I had my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, living in New York even though his debut book was set in the Southwest. So far, no one has asked that at a program or signing. Hopefully I can make it understandable when I get to the next story, set in the Adirondacks. There are times when the forests of Upstate impart a feeling that Bobby could readily capture in the open, lonely stretches of highway in the Southwest.

If you can put up with or avoid the blackflies, Upstate is an area rich in woods, rural farm scenery, ponds, lakes and streams. Lesley thinks my enjoyment of the cold and rainy weather can be attributed to having too much of the North Sea in my DNA. I even like the bleak scenes from Wallander  or Shetland. I think they offer a mood rich in possibilities for murder mysteries. But, that’s another story. Anybody else like spring rains and gloomy days? Assuming, of course, there aren’t too many of them in a row.

The Mockingbirds’ Nest

This is our last weekend in Okeechobee for the season. This coming week we will join the many others trekking north in the semiannual shift of location. That means we are in the throes of packing things away, loading the pickup, checking out the trailer for the bike, and attending to the many little things that must be done before departure. One of the jobs I took on this week was to prune one of the bushes next to our house. If I don’t, it goes wild and starts to overtake the house. Unfortunately, I discovered a mockingbird’s nest in one of the larger branches I cut off. When I looked, it had three eggs in it. With the damage done and not being sure what to do next, I propped the branch against the house and finished the pruning job. As I did, I became aware of a pair of upset mockingbirds sounding an alarm over what was happening to their happy home. Now what?

The best I could think of under the circumstances was to tie the branch with the nest still in it to the standing bush and secure it enough to hold the nest in place in its modified location. To our amazement the mother came to the nest as soon as I walked away, and started tending her eggs. Mockingbirds are feisty creatures, and the ones around here are used to having people all around. While she flies off if someone comes too close, she isn’t overly frightened and quickly comes back.

Of course, the newly relocated nest was considerably more exposed than in its old spot, both to the sun and to predators. I had to do more. The solution was to cut a couple of palm-like fronds from a nearby tree and tie them in position over the nest to provide a little shade and some protection against predators. Again, she came right back to tend her renovated nest once I was finished. What a role model for hope and endurance.

I don’t know if the attempt to set things right will work well enough to result in the hatching of a healthy brood , but now it’s down to waiting. In the meantime, we peer out the window frequently to see whether she is still tending the nest. So far, so good. Now we can finish packing and loading things up for our own relocation. Looking forward to spending more time on editing my latest Bobby Navarro manuscript. Hope the work awaiting me up north is not so extensive as to slow my writing down too much. It’s easy to lose the feel for a story if you are away from it too long. That worries me. Anyone else have this problem?

The Mockingbird’s Nest

A Moment in the Wild

This week I introduced Lesley to the Du Puis Management Area. The entrance is about a half hour drive from where we live in south Florida. When you pass through the gate, there is a signboard with a few notices and map of the area, and that’s about all. A narrow, crushed-shell road leads off into the brush for a seven-and-a-half-mile drive to a pond and picnic area. I think Lesley’s reaction was similar to my first visit. At first, there is an eager anticipation for what you might see—after all, it is a wildlife management area, there must be a lot of wildlife. Then, you are struck with all the brush and scrub pine surrounding you, and seemingly few areas that would appear suited to grazing cattle. We have a lot of cattle here, and everywhere you drive there are miles of flat, open grazing land, dotted with a few palms or a distant copse of oak trees. The open land reminds us both of Texas, except that it is greener. But, here in the Du Puis Management Area, you can only see a few yards in any direction—not miles. It starts to feel slightly foreboding. No sign of life anywhere, just a dusty path leading onward through the brush.

The road has become heavily washboarded since my earlier visits on my motorcycle. Luckily, we are in my pickup, although I can’t help but hope nothing falls apart from the constant vibration. On my motorcycle, I hoped I wouldn’t hit a soft spot in the road where dust had accumulated heavily in a deep rut. Motorcycles can easily dig out in that situation, and you can dump the bike before you realize what’s happening. If you do, it isn’t easy getting a bike weighing nearly a half ton back upright. And—you’re on your own.

Actually, there are other visitors. We encountered one or two other vehicles each way, but after a cautious passing with both vehicles pulling partway off the road to allow passage, the sound and sight of others is swallowed up by the grass and brush and quiet. You’re alone again. There are the droppings left by someone’s horse, bicycle tire tracks in the dust on the roadway, a spot where a hog has rooted in the dirt off to the side of the road, or a narrow trail leading off through the tall grass into the brush. It’s tempting to get out and check for tracks to determine whether the trail belongs to deer, hogs, or something else.

By the time we reached the picnic area we are already hungry for the lunch we brought with us, but first we have to walk around and explore. Several Tiki huts have been erected to shade picnic tables. We have our choice of any of them. No one else is around. A pier has been built out into the pond, and the sign at the entrance told us fishing is allowed. We walk out onto the pier, trying to see down through the murky water for any fish, but don’t see any. A couple of large alligators lie on opposite banks of the pond, watching us, or ignoring us, I’m not sure which. A green heron stands statuesque on the bank between the two gators. Some other bird makes an unfamiliar call in the distance. Time to pick a table and have lunch.

We brought sandwiches and a thermos of tea and a bag of chips. Everything seems especially delicious. The air is pleasant, the quiet relaxing. After a while, I notice a broken piece of chip has fallen on the ground, and ants from a nearby mound swarm over it. Then, unbelievably it starts to move. Two or three dozen tiny ants have combined to haul the prize off to their mound. Even when they reach intervening tufts and tangles of grass and dried leaves and twigs, they are undeterred. Moving an object which in comparison to our size would be like half a football field, they soldier on—and finally reach their mound. For a while, it seemed they might be stymied, but eventually they managed to chew a large chunk off and maneuver it into the hole leading down into their nest. A truly fascinating event in the wild,  and just a few feet from our Tiki hut and picnic table.

The drive out seems shorter, as is often the case. Still no sightings of deer or wild pigs, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve seen their sign, and know they are in the area. As I watched the road unfold through the pine woods and brush before us, I became aware that the earlier foreboding we felt had long since vanished. In its place, for me, there’s a sense of peace and contentment I find difficult to leave, except for the part about the rutted roadway. I consider the possibility the area might have reminded me of the hill country where I grew up in California. Both areas are hot and dry, covered in dried grasses and brittle scrub brush, and accented with gnarley pines. But it isn’t that. It’s the wildness. The comforting sense of solitude—being in a land filled with life and beauty, but not developed by man.

I have an explanation for that earlier foreboding as well. I’ve felt it before, when I’ve spent too long submerged in human affairs and man-made development. It’s as though civilization, with all the claptrap of everyday existence, is threatened by this venture into the wild and real. Once the transformation is complete, the experience becomes restorative, and one can feel rested and at-home in the land that so many of us so seldom get to see. The Du Puy Wildlife Management Area was once a working, south Florida cattle ranch. Its preservation allows a glimpse into the past and presents the land as early cowboys saw it, and the way it was before them. I look forward to another visit.

I’m sure this is why my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, craves an open road, experienced from the back of his motorcycle. You can see, and sense, and feel and smell the land as it stretches away into the distance. It is restorative. It is where he can feel most at home. And, I understand that.

 

 

A Taxing Time

They say nothing is certain except death and taxes. Of course, progress is being made on the mortality thing. This year I am using a tax accountant to do my taxes. That means I had to send in my materials, which I did yesterday, which is much earlier than usual. I believe in procrastination, after all. The good thing is, it’s done and in the mail. The bad thing is, I just discovered a number of additional deductions  I could have claimed, but missed. You see, if I had just waited…

Last night I tried to picture various fiction heroes facing tax time. I came up with Mickey Spillane pulling a forty-five and emptying a magazine into his scribbled-up tax forms. And, how about Jessy Stone? Trying to keep control over one’s drinking and tax time are two incompatible forces. From my own experience this past week, I know which force wins for me. And my own hero, Bobby Navarro? What better reason to take off on one’s Harley than a bunch of tax form instructions telling you to add this and subtract that from the who-knows-what-that-means reported figure from the previous year? Fortunately, I’m an ex-sailor, and have the appropriate vocabulary needed to curse my way through tax season.

Now, if I were just wealthy enough, I could have all my assets off-shore and not have to pay any taxes. Not that I would be figuring them myself if I did. I’d have my accountant handle all that.

“It’s tax time, sir.”
“Don’t bother me with that nonsense. Take care of it.”
Would that approach work for death as well taxes? I could designate an off-shore undertaker to handle everything.
“I have some bad news for you, sir, I’m afraid you’re dying.”
“Don’t bother me with stuff like that, take it up with my off-shore undertaker.”
No, I don’t think that would work.
As a sociology professor, I taught a wide range of students, including prison guards, prisoners, some former prisoners, police officers, probation officers, an internal affairs police officer, a private investigator, and an IRS auditor. Guess which one I thought was the most terrifying? I was so relieved when the IRS auditor earned a high grade. I never saw him smile. Not once. But, at least he didn’t leave my course with any threats of future contact to be expected in the mail.
I think I should write a new series. I’m not sure whether to call it a horror series, suspense, or mystery. My protagonist would be a tall, dark tax person, dressed in an impeccable black suit. He could be known as 00-1040.
Or, maybe she could be a female protagonist wearing leathers and carrying a whip. “Hello, I’m-Audrey-the-Auditor. Want to feel some pain?”
Well, fortunately, I’ve survived quite a few years of tax preparation, and hopefully will continue to do so. But, I do have to consider whether I should inflict the tax thing on my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro. After all, I make him confront death and violence in other forms, why not taxes? He does have his own business as a blaster. Hmm, would he use dynamite to get through those troublesome tax forms? I wonder.

When a Writer Needs Help

 

I’m a writer, and I need some support. No, this isn’t a plea for help, but rather an attempt to express appreciation for the supportive members of some of the writers’ organizations I’ve enjoyed being a part of. I can’t think of any other organizations I could contact 24-7 as a writer in desperation and expect them to offer help—not anything nice anyway. And those I can think of who would even try to sound polite would require me to first give them my insurance information and fill out a health history form. Guppies and Sisters in Crime have been different. When writers have needed help, they were there, and no forms to fill out. That’s not something we should take lightly. We writers all need support from time to time.

I’ve also been impressed at the positive and supportive attitudes of many of the well-known writers I’ve enjoyed meeting and listening to at conferences I’ve attended, such as SleuthFest. I’ve appreciated the supportive camaraderie of other writers I’ve encountered at conferences, who like myself, are not big names in the industry.

Where is this coming from? I suppose there are many reasons. For one, I’ve worked in situations that were competitive, petty, and nasty, at times making the whole world seem that way. I suspect many of us have. I like competition, the other stuff—not at all. Lately, I’ve been reading some of the experiences other writers have had regarding critiques and reviews that sometimes turned out to be unpleasant, contradictory, and confusing. I’ve had those experiences too. Not everyone who picks up a book is considerate, let alone kind, or necessarily helpful. I had to stick a manuscript on the back shelf due to an overload of well-meant commentary that nearly did me in. It’s still there. But, in addition to sharing the sad stories of real-life writing experiences, the writing groups on the positive side of my experience deserve appreciation for simply being there, and available and supportive. Those seem worthwhile values, in a very tumultuous time.

As writers, I suppose the most rewarding thing we can hear is when someone loves our writing. The thing most helpful when we stray from perfection, is good criticism enabling us to see where to go with our writing. But there is another thing of vital importance, and that is knowing we are not in isolation. There are others out there who share our love, our passion, and our dedication to an undertaking that is all too often kind of brutal when it comes to social recognition and reward—especially monetary reward. There are so few who reach the top of the ladder that it seems audacious to call oneself a writer, but I was told that was exactly what I needed to do when I attended my first writing conference. I found it’s much easier to do that when joined by others.

This weekend, Lesley and I are taking some time-off in one of our favorite southern locations, Key Largo. I’m anxious to go there, partly because my current Bobby Navarro novel is set there. I’ve been fighting to kick a flu bug this week, and look forward to a change of scene. I also want to double check some of the places Bobby goes to, even if the names have been changed in the story. The weather looks good, and I’m sure the food and music will be as well. The photos this week are not from Key Largo, but they are definitely Florida.