The Waiting Game

This week included a day when my wife and I had several appointments that involved a lot of waiting. It made me think about how much time we spend waiting and the many situations requiring that we wait. Those of us who have commuted to work in a large city are all too familiar with waiting in traffic or waiting for a bus, train or airplane. Anyone who shops in a supermarket knows about waiting in a checkout line. Most of us probably try to shorten the wait time by seeking the shortest line. If you’re like me, the shortest line gets held up by some glitch just after we join it.

And, how about waiting in a telephone queue? I’ve spent hours in this situation. Sometimes it seems like anytime I call a customer service number I’d better be ready to wait an interminable amount of time while the automated system runs through all the announcements and options available before I’m given a chance to seek whatever service I’m after. Then I must wait forever in a queue while some recorded messages assure me my call is important. Our ancestors had to wait for rain, or for the crops to ripen. That took months, but at least it made a lot more sense than the waiting we are put through today.

Of course, there are things I can do to make the waiting time more enjoyable or productive, such as taking a book along when I visit the doctor’s office. Of course, nowadays we have books available on our cellphones. That’s handy. But, waiting for highway delays to clear, or at traffic signs? That’s another story. Although, come to think of it, I’ve seen people reading while sitting behind the steering wheel of their car. I don’t recommend the practice. Unfortunately, people are all too likely to be texting on their cellphones while driving, walking, or even sitting at a table in a restaurant while presumably enjoying a meal with someone.

I hate it when the car in front of me fails to take advantage of a green light because the driver is on a cellphone. I hate it when someone sitting behind a desk or counter is texting on their cellphone instead of doing whatever their job calls for while I stand there waiting. I suppose I could just take out my own cellphone and busy myself while I wait. Maybe I could call the person on the other side of the desk or counter and let them know I’m waiting.

I used to look forward to reading magazines while waiting in a doctor’s office. They used to provide magazines. They might have been old issues, but they were still entertaining, and I might not have seen them. Now, I notice a lot of waiting rooms only have magazines offering information about available services. Sometimes there are no magazines, only a television with infomercials playing while you wait. I’d be happy to settle for an old issue of a magazine at this point.

With all my thoughts about having to wait, I suppose I should feel guilty about subjecting my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, to waiting. I do though, but not too often. I think he should have to wait in line at the supermarket occasionally just like we do. Years ago, I had nearly completed an all-day ride on my motorcycle when traffic came to a halt. Naturally, it started to rain. I got soaked. Needless to say, I’ve let Bobby get wet a time or two as well. It’s only fair.

What pet peeves do you have about waiting? Any favorite stories? And what do you do to handle the waiting game?

 

Where Have All Those Resolutions Gone?

It’s the middle of January, and my understanding is that half the New Years resolutions have been abandoned. I’m proud to say this is not the case with mine. I decided to be careful what I resolved to do and pick something I might have a real chance of accomplishing. To that end, I came up with a short list of things I wanted to resolve, but put off the final selection and commitment until now. That way I wouldn’t overshoot reality in the frenzied days of New Year celebration and set out to do something I had little chance to achieve. So, while others have given up already, I’ve just begun. Pretty clever, don’t you agree?

I really like making New Years resolutions. I guess I’m an eternal optimist, believing people can improve. Not that many seem to. This New Year season seemed to generate a larger than usual number of articles on how to make and keep resolutions. I have to say, no one I read came up with the approach I took, however. In general, advice seemed to center on laying out specific, attainable goals. I think that may be part of the reason people have already given up on their resolutions. With such specific goals to live up to, it’s easy to see right away that one has failed. If I had resolved to lose two pounds a week, I’d certainly be able to tell by now that I’d been a miserable failure. I gained a bunch over the holidays. No, I’m much better off resolving to recover the body I used to have, back when I could eat anything and not gain an ounce.  Instead of facing failure at not having lost a couple of pounds, I still have my goal to look forward to achieving—someday. In fact, think I should celebrate. Ice cream anyone?

That brings up another point, rewards. Those articles I read mentioned a reward system for good performance. In my case, being able to eat anything I want without gaining weight is reward enough. I love to eat. I don’t need other reinforcement. I admit I don’t have that ideal body back yet, but I haven’t given up. You see, I don’t have to say I’ve failed. Without specific, measurable goals I’m better able to maintain the vision and stay the course. Not that I don’t expect difficulties ahead. I am willing to be realistic, after all. I’m aware that I ought not to go clothes shopping just now, for example. A lot of the clothes I might like to buy are either too snug, or pooch out over my belly. Actually, I have lots of those clothes I’d like to wear already—in my closet. They’ve been there for years. I keep waiting. . .

I wonder what my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, would have resolved if he gave in to the New Year pressures to do so. Certainly, he wouldn’t need to resolve to take another great cross-country ride on his Harley. That is something that is just going to happen. And, resolving not to get involved in another murder investigation would be useless, too. You and I know that’s going to happen as well. And, he doesn’t need to worry about his weight. He manages to stay in great shape all the time.

 So, fellow New Years resolutionists, how are you doing? If you’ve had trouble keeping your resolutions, it’s not to late to take up the approach I used, and enjoy the success I expect to have someday. Share your thoughts?

A Poem for the New Year

It’s a naval practice to write the New Year’s log in verse.
That can be good.
Although, sometimes it’s worse.
So, I’m keeping the tradition,
Although I cannot say
Whether this particular rendition
Will carry the day.

It was not my intent
To leave out so many
Troublesome events
From the world and at home.
But that would amount to a book.
A very big tome.
I couldn’t stand to write it
Too long for a poem

And, it wouldn’t have read well
So, I did what I could
And, as for the rest, well…
You can read it. And comment
And I hope that you do.
And thanks for your visit
And sharing, if you do.

So, the new year’s upon us
The holidays about over.
But, despite the promise, we’re not
Knee deep in clover.
We can’t tell our children
Things soon will be better.
That floods will let up,
And dry places get wetter.
We’re just left with alternative facts to arrange,
And truth to deny
Like, the climate won’t change.

But, politics aside…
I know for many, this year’s been quite a ride.
I feel pretty lucky not to have died.
So, good people, I wish you all well.
And, those others I allude to, they can just go to hell.

‘Round the world it’s been Murder, rape and plunder.
Terror attacks from Europe to Down Under.
Victories exclaimed over cities devastated,
Children starving. Hordes evacuated.
People fleeing. Many turned away
From one wall or another
Father. Brother. Child. Mother.

It’s not peace and good will
We’re bringing to each other
When we even do battle
Over the definition of one’s lover.
So, lock your doors. Board up your chimney.
‘Tis no time to get jolly.
Not this season, by Jiminy
And stay away from Santa,
At the office soiree
He thinks he has privileges
And can do what he may.

Think about it. . .
When for strangers or brothers.
We show no respect,
When the keepers of our country
To the dark side defect,
It’s time to talk and to listen
Time to rekindle some light.
So good luck to us all.
And, for now, a good night.

Our cat asleep or at prayer

And Peace on Earth

The weather warmed up again here in sunny Florida where we are embarked on our winter stay. That means morning exercise walks are pleasant. Chilly sometimes, but usually not very. Other winter visitors are coming in daily to choruses of welcome back greetings, hugs and enquiries as to health and wellbeing. Holiday decorations are going up as well. That part always seems strange, even though we’ve spent so many years either in the desert or here in south Florida during the holiday season. When you’ve just put away your heavier clothes and donned shorts and short sleeved shirts to accommodate the weather, winter holidays seem unreal.

Even Thanksgiving seemed strange without a showing of fall foliage or bare limbs, dried cornstalks, and frosted pumpkins. But Hanukkah and Christmas? With the only snow on television or in news from friends and relatives up north, the only familiarity in the setting is the sudden explosion of ads trying to get us to buy gifts.

Then, people start putting up decorations, and we are induced to follow suite. Pretty soon, one remembers the annual boat parade, or golf cart parade, or other tradition. Here, people put up Candelaria, using plastic milk bottles with a little sand in the bottom and a votive candle. The streets will surely glow the night they are lit. It reminds me of the Candelaria in New Mexico, when we lived in Las Cruces. We have a friend who has made an annual tree ornament for over twenty years. Just got word that this year’s surprise creation is on its way. Bit by bit, it starts to feel more like the holidays, although I can’t help but think winter snow is needed to really set the atmosphere.

In this era of conflict and tension between so many people, groups and societies, I think it would be good if we had a tradition of winter celebration that did not have any particular religious base, just a celebration of life and a time of caring for each other. A time to bring peace on earth.

Enjoying Rural Florida

Up north, I’m sure Bobby Navarro has put away his Harley for the winter. I find that hard to picture as well. Someday I’m going to have to do the holidays with him in the story. Of course, that would have to mean murder somewhere as well, or would it? I wonder if I could write a good mystery that didn’t include a murder. In any case, hope you enjoy the season wherever you are, and whatever you celebrate. And, if you’re looking for a gift suggestion, don’t forget to put a good book on your list.

Values in Today’s Life

The other day I was talking with one of my sons, and he mentioned bingeing on 007 movies. His comments about them surprised me. He said it was incredible to see how women were depicted and regarded as mere objects. He had watched the same movies as a kid, but then saw the films as all about action, excitement and adventure. We agreed, the old James Bond movies had a lot of Playboy character to them. He commented they were so bad and blatant they were comical in a way. I hadn’t joined him in the binge, and haven’t seen a 007 movie in a long time, but could agree even from memory. He attributed his change in perspective to all the recent news revealing sexual harassment on the part of male celebrities and men in positions of power. I think that’s a good outcome of the attention these accusations have gained in recent news. We need to re-see the behaviors and values we grew up with, have lived with, and have taken for granted. Those old movies not only dramatized a sexist view of the world, they normalized sexist behavior. Seeing those old scenes as violating the rights and dignity of women is a great wake-up. I hope we men carry today’s condemnation of female harassment on the part of popular and powerful men into everyday life and relationships ourselves. I doubt any of us are completely guilt free. We have a lot of work to do in our society, and men and women must be onboard together to truly make progress. We are not going to get there by means of example from our public leaders; we must get there from a shift in our social values.

It should be no surprise that I enjoy reading mysteries; after all, I write them. Similar to cozies, I prefer mysteries that stay away from gratuitous sex and violence. I don’t care for drama that relies on piquing a reader’s interest through brutality, gore and raw abuse of others. Those things exist in life, but they don’t have to be accepted and we don’t have to normalize them in our literature. A good mystery has conflict. Murder is always violence against another person, but we don’t have to make that aspect the object of the story.  We have values opposing the abuse of others. That’s why people want to solve the mystery and bring the culprit to justice and restore the community to safety.

When I write my Bobby Navarro mysteries, I like to think my fascination with community comes through in my writing along with my love of the open road and wild, natural places. Those things should predominate. Bobby Navarro solves murders. That means people have suffered horrible abuse and their community has suffered the trauma of trampled values because the murders took place. In the end, however, decent values win. The victory of human decency doesn’t make the stories fiction. After all, good fiction reflects facts. Human decency is not a fiction, but it must be fought for and insisted on to make it dominate in our lives. But, that seems a reasonable societal goal and a good reason for writing.

 

 

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

When Wee Monsters Lurk

 

I’m in the process of revising my recently edited manuscript, and I’m running into old, familiar writing patterns (problems). I’m also finding some new issues. I have commas where they don’t belong and words I can’t explain. I think the latter result from new wee monsters in my fingers. I’m a touch typist, and rely on my fingers knowing where the keys are. It’s annoying when they get it wrong, and frustrating when my too-smart computer comes up with a word it thinks I must have had in mind, but didn’t.

The older problems are just as troublesome, but intriguing as well. My editor made several comments about sections of the manuscript I had sensed as problematic all along. It’s as though I was waiting for someone to point the issues out and not let me get away with sloppy writing. Now, my question is, why didn’t I take care of the problems earlier? Procrastination? Not this time. Laziness? No way. The worse one’s writing is, the more work it is to rewrite and push toward a finish. No, this is the work of some wee monster. It like when our male cat misbehaves (not unusual) and continues misbehaving even when we tell him to stop. He usually ends up running off to the bedroom for a little time out, and then expresses anguish over his punishment. He knew, and we knew, how the scenario would play out, but it’s as though it must be played to the end regardless.

In a related manner, I’ve often found a word or written passage bothers me. I read it, try to change the culprit, only to later return and find it still doesn’t work. When my editor says it’s a problem, it’s like having someone point out the obvious. Oh. Yeah, I knew that was a problem. It didn’t seem right all along. The strange thing is, once it’s pointed out to me, I can easily take care of it. Wee monsters. Definitely.

With editorial help, the wee monsters become exhausted and the writing improves. I should mention, I have never been able to read one of my published manuscripts in its entirety. If I were to do so, I know some wee monster would tell me I should change the wording here or the plot flow there.

I’m republishing Murder on Route 66, the first book in the Bobby Navarro series, and just received the updated cover. (I ran out of the old books at a recent writers’ signing event.) Working with the people doing the cover design, etc. has made me eager to start the publication process for Murder in Key Largo, my-work-in-progress. First, I have to get through the edits. Hope I can keep those wee monsters at bay—sometimes they can be murder.

At a Recent Book Signing

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.