Friday
Feb202015

 TRAVELS

Recently, while going through a few boxes of accumulated
“stuff,” I came across a trip diary that I had written in the spring of 1980.  Jerry and I and a five year old Jason pulled a borrowed travel trailer from Commerce, Georgia to Juarez, Mexico and California and back on a journey that took us twenty-four days and totaled 5,909 miles.  We drove and camped and drove and camped some more.  Some days we battled torrential rains, some days blistering heat and then, we encountered snow and ice, not necessarily in that order.  Within those few days we managed to endure all four seasons, not to mention broken camper parts, worn out hoses and plenty of gas stations in the middle of nowhere.  As much as I complained in the diary I know I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the trip.  It was an adventure.

                Our excuse for this journey was that we could make stops along the way and do some interviews for publication.  My thinking was that we could make enough money to pay for the entire trip and then some.  I was young and naive and Jerry, excessively gullible to my charms.  We started the trip with the brakes not working too well and sunny skies and our first night in a campground worrying if we were going to disappear in a Mississippi mudslide as we were parked on the side of a hill and endured rains that just kept coming.

                We did interviews with some custom knife people who graciously entertained us and introduced us to their family members.  Jason especially enjoyed visiting a certain knife maker who had a three month old puppy.   Along the zig-zag route our trip took we had a really good time visiting with Dan Delavan of Plaza Cutlery in Costa Mesa, California and with John Bianchi at his holster factory and Western museum in Temecula, California. Housed in his museum were everything from stagecoaches and wax figures to Bill Cody’s saddle and rifle to John Wayne memorabilia; one of which was Wayne’s rifle which Jason got to hold. We were able to visit with some author friends, getting to actually meet them face to face after years of phone calls to each other. 

                The highlight of our trip for Jason was stopping for a day to visit Disneyland.  What made the entire trip over the top for Jerry was visiting Tombstone, Arizona.  Being an Earp fan for most of his life, standing where Wyatt and his brothers and Doc stood facing the Clanton gang in that vacant lot on Fremont Street, otherwise known as the O K Corral, was a dream come true.  It did take a little bit of the awe out of him when he saw the gigantic neon sign showing us the way to Boot Hill, though.  An unexpected pleasure there was a chance meeting with one of the outdoor writing greats, Don Shumar, who at that time owned a local gunshop located inside a saloon.  We had a wonderful time with him as he regaled us with historical facts of both Tombstone and of the Earps.

                Two of the stops we made during out trip influenced the first book in the Survivalist series which we were just getting underway.  We found a great pizza place and a not so great RV park in Benson, Arizona and named the courageous flight attendant who helps our hero, Sandy Benson.  Obviously the Benson part came from the town and we gave her the first name of Sandy after the landscape surrounding it.

In TOTAL WAR, John Rourke and his new companion Paul Rubenstein trek from the location of their crashed airplane to Albuquerque, New Mexico where they encounter a priest trying to help some of the wounded and dying residents seeking shelter inside an old mission church.  We actually visited this church during our travels and spent some time talking to a priest who was understandably proud of his historic house of worship.  San Felipe de Neri church was built in 1793 after the original church building, erected in 1719, collapsed.  If you’re in the area, it’s in the Old Town Plaza area and worth taking a look at. 

We came home with a lot less money generated than we wanted to but got to visit parts of the country where neither of us had ever been.  We met lots of great people, learned how to repair frozen water and sewer lines, and had plenty of time to just talk to each other with no phone or doorbell to interrupt us.  Those were some great days!

Here it is thirty-five years later and I realize we are encountering the same fluctuating weather without leaving home.  I recently made the mistake of telling a friend of mine that daffodils were starting to break through the ground in my front yard and that usually signaled an ice storm.  Yep!  We’ve gone from warm weather to record breaking cold, ice storms and snow and high winds in less time than it took us to drive across America.  Bring on the dust storms and tumbleweeds!  Spring will be here soon enough.

Sharon

Sunday
Jan182015

SHELBY REVISITED



Almost three months ago I told you about Shelby and how she was sent to me to try my patience.  She’s still working hard at it.  In fact, I don’t think she even has to try, it just happens naturally.  When I first wrote about her I mentioned that she still had a bit of shyness and insecurity to deal with.  Forget it!  That’s all over with!  She runs the house and all its environs with an iron paw. 

                No longer does she steal into the bedroom, click, click, clicking across the floor, removing a slipper to put near her while she sleeps on the couch at night, senses alert and still watchful for any lurking danger.  I do miss that for some reason.  Nor does she hide some of her body parts under the bed when she feels guilty because she now never seems to feel guilt.  Her actions are justified because she is who she is.

                Shelby has taught me to not leave anything on kitchen counters or the stovetop that I don’t want removed.  She is a good trainer.  I have lost little lately but for one exception.  A few days ago I returned from the grocery store, emptied the numerous plastic bags and put my purchases up and away, leaving out just some produce that I normally don’t refrigerate.  Needing to make a living to pay for my next shopping trip, I went down to the office and continued working on a project.  By the time I came back upstairs, the sun had gone down and the house was settled in winter gloom.  Halfway up the stairs I noticed something in the middle of the living room rug that had not been there earlier; it was brown and roundish.  A potato?  No, I hadn’t bought any.  I gingerly picked it up to take a closer look, and then I thought about turning on a light.  It was brown but as soon as I started peeling back the skin, realization hit me.  OMG Shelby ate the avocado and left the pit!  My suspicion proved correct as I found a small scrap of green, bumpy skin.  Shelby had bypassed the bananas and tomatoes and chose the avocado as her dog treat.  I figure she must be Irish, stealing peas, broccoli, lettuce and now avocadoes.

 

        Remember the evil devil puppy across the street?  The puppy has grown and is now larger than Shelby.  Though they’ve never been formally introduced, his presence has given Shelby many hours of joyful barking, growling and posturing.  Sadly he and his family are in the process of moving, leaving their house and yard vacant.  She will hopefully soon encounter another adversary of equal stature to keep at bay.  I thought she had one but things just didn’t work out that way.

                A day or so before Thanksgiving a cat started hanging around the house, peering in through the windows and trying to get inside any time a door was opened.  I have had cats in the past; past is where I want them to stay.  She was driving Shelby crazy and doing a good job doing the same to me.  Beside the hassle of getting through the doors there were the late night walks when there’s no creature stirring except me and the dog that I’m encouraging to do what has to be done quickly. We could feel these green, glowing eyes staring right at us.  Shelby is not alone, I’m sure, in not performing well with an audience and this just added to the time spent in the cold and wind.  I checked throughout the neighborhood but nobody claimed missing a cat.

                As the days grew shorter and the temperatures drastically dropped I resigned myself to making a little shelter under the front stairs so the cat would at least be able to get out of the wind.  The cat which my youngest grandchild named Oreo, took this as a sigh of permanent residency.  Having a cat living outside my home with a dog that wanted to eat it became commonplace.  Sometime during Christmas week though they made a truce which still holds.  When I take Shelby outside Oreo greets us and she and Shelby nuzzle and sniff each other’s behinds.  Once this ritual is over Shelby walks the outside perimeter of the property while Oreo follows but nearer the house. Shelby doesn’t try to kill and eat the cat and the cat has given up on jumping on the dog’s back.  I don’t know if they will be BFFs but it’s a start at world peace.

Sharon

 

Wednesday
Dec312014

A NEW YEAR

It’s the evolution of being; the continuing cycle of life.  Some say that no matter what happens, our existence goes on in some form or another. Our lives are conceived and brought into the world and then when the time is right, according to some grand scheme of things, ushered out.  We rush into love and then we grow apart as it fades or grow closer as it strengthens.  We dedicate ourselves to a cause we see greater than ourselves then stop in midstream, shedding one set of colored banners for those of another we wish to follow more.  Life is full of changes and as Emerson taught us is, “a perpetual instruction in cause and effect.”

                Each new day is shrouded as a mystery, waiting to unfold.  Will we find what we seek or will a new passage take us far from our original path?  The three FATES from Greek Mythology took responsibility for this cycle of life and left little to one’s own destiny.  Clotho’s duty was to spin the thread of life, sometimes allowing knots and magical bonds to be woven into the thread thereby changing the course to be taken.  Lachesis measured the thread of life which was allotted to each individual and chose the manner of death.  Atropos, with her shears, cut the thread when life’s prearranged time was up.  I certainly hope that we follow our own paths but I also wonder if those three ladies know more about life than they’re admitting to.

                We are told that when life gives us lemons we should make lemonade, follow the straight and narrow path, don’t step on the cracks in the sidewalk and keep our noses out of trouble.  These were some of the rules we were taught as kids to make a good life for ourselves and to hopefully stay out of jail.  Well, I’ve had a pretty good life and so far I’ve managed to dodge the law.  Some other pointers for a good life would include, don’t believe anything a politician promises or an auto or insurance salesman.  Remember that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  According to what Samantha has heard, in Alabama, during a tornado or a divorce you’ll lose your trailer.  Oh yeah, don’t forget the one that says that it pays to plan ahead.

                2014 has been a year of tragedy for many throughout the world; deaths, political unrest, virus outbreaks, recalls of potentially hazardous products, just to name a few.  We have a lack of faith in our government and those we elected to serve us.  We have a lack of faith in our police and judicial system.  We have a lack of faith in our school system’s ability to teach our children what they need to know to excel in their fields of endeavor.   We have a lack in faith in ourselves to possibly be able to make things work better. 

                2015 is still a clean slate.  We can’t change everything and erase the past but we can try to make this a better year.  Let’s make a concerted effort to tug and pull as many of the kinks out of the thread of life and to fight like hell to make every moment count.  Happy New Year and may you all be blessed with strength and happiness.

Sharon

Monday
Dec152014

MAGAZINE AND NEWSPAPER WRITING TURNS TO LOTS OF TOMES

Yep, those were the days!

Note:     I’ve been avoiding commenting on the political scene – at least on this website – because unless I’ve misjudged you, I’d be preaching to the choir.                          

  These days it doesn’t seem to matter which way our elected representatives in Washington are leaning because they all appear to bend toward stupidity.  The only person that could be comfortable with this crew would be the fictional character of Alice after she disappears down the rabbit hole; silly twaddle and not a thought amongst these people as to what common sense dictates as responsible resolutions to strengthen and improve this country.  They might see things differently if they had to live by their own rules.

Having a lot of respect for anyone who chooses law enforcement as a career, I’m getting annoyed at all the demonstrations, marches and most of all the destruction of neighborhoods over alleged police brutality.  Yes, I agree that there are some cops that are hot-heads, prejudiced and downright working in the wrong profession but, there are so many others who start their shifts with the resolution to serve and protect those people under their watch and they do so admirably.  Sure, there needs to be improvement in some areas and stronger guidelines set in others, maybe a culling of certain personal, but let these protesters remember that when they find themselves in a bad situation, who are they going to call?

By the way, if a large, militant group of radicals destroy my community, kill thousands of my fellow citizens and we are fearful for what they have planned to do next, you better believe I want my government to do whatever it takes to gather information from our enemies.  What we do to them is nowhere close to what they want to do to us.

OK.  Back to writing.

Having established the Ahern byline in magazines, predominately in the sportingoods/firearms field, the lure to string more words together loomed large on the horizon.  Jerry wanted to write a book but he had so many story ideas that he didn’t know where to start.  Being new at the game, Jerry would pick out a dozen or so ideas and send them to a likely publishing house and wait for an editor to call him, asking where to send the money.  It never happened.  We did get quite a few nicely worded rejection form letters though.

Our next plan to get published worked a little better.  We would drive into Athens, which was the closest city that actually had book stores and scour the racks for books that might have a similar bent to what we wanted to sell.  We’d see who published it and go from there.  Jerry had no fear of the telephone and would call publishing houses to see how far up the corporate ladder he could climb and sometimes he hit paydirt.  Once in a while Jerry would end up speaking to the head honcho who in turn, not really knowing anything about our glorious background in nonbook sales would put us through to one of their acquisitions editors.  Usually a book deal didn’t come out of this but Jerry learned a lot about what publishers were looking for a picked up other useful information.

An editor at one of the publishing houses introduced us to one of their prolific writers who told us that the best way to break into the business at that time (1970s and early 80s) was to write porn.  Many of your well respected writers of that era got their start in that genre and continued to write it for the quick money involved.  We thought anything was worth a shot and contacted a publisher our writer friend had suggested.  We received a package soon after with some examples of their best sellers.  We read a few, laughed a lot and realized that there was no way we could do it.  We were probably too young and immature to handle the gasps and groans and prostitution in the Frozen North.

                Some things were a little different back in the 80s.  Manuscripts were written with a typewriter and a copy was made using carbon paper and a sheet of yellow paper.  Mistakes were caught while the sheets were still in the typewriter, hopefully and corrected with correction tape or liquid White Out.  White Out always looked like you had made a mistake and correction tape, if you tried putting the page back in the typewriter, never matched up correctly.  So in either case everyone knew you had screwed up.  We had a manual typewriter and Jerry could type up a storm using just two fingers.  He wrote fast but was not known for his accuracy.  Once we started doing a lot of writing it was decided that an electric typewriter was a necessary expense and along with it a typist who could produce clean manuscripts to send off to publishers.   Laverne and then Dot were angels with fast fingers and good imaginations, deciphering corrections and changes we had written in the margins.

                I think we all have a tendency to take computer technology for granted, I know I do, until I start digging around in a box full of old manuscript pages.  Those were the “good old days.”  Sure!

Sharon

Tuesday
Nov252014

SOME WORDS TO HEED FROM A PROFESSIONAL BOOK REVIEWER

Since we’ve been discussing writing lately, I thought it would be a good time to ask long-time friend and book reviewer, Gary Roen, some questions about the book industry and to hopefully give some advice to newer writers based on his many years in the business.

 

SHARON:  Please give us a little background on yourself.

 

GARY:  In the 1970’s my parents and I started Chateau Publishing to publish my father’s book Murder of a Little Girl.  I sold books, set up press tours and as we expanded worked with authors to market their books.  I also was asked to do a radio show on WPRK in Winter Park Florida about sf and fantasy.  Pat Flannigan and I did the show for two years and branched out into print media as well to promote books.  It was there in 1979, that I began as a reviewer and have been constantly expanding where my reviews appear.  Now, they are in Midwestbookreview.com, West Orlando News, Sodo News, and Natchez Sun to name a few.  I later sold Murder of a Little Girl re-titled A Little Girl Is Missing, Evidence of Murder and several other titles to major publishers as an agent but stopped because authors were too hard to deal with so I became a reviewer and consultant to help authors better. 

 

SHARON:  On average, how many books do you receive in a month?

 

GARY:  It varies each month the number of books I receive but it can be as high as 100 at times.  This is because of the way books come to me.  Here are some of the ways that happens.  I receive titles from publishers each month that are delivered to my home through the many delivery companies.  I also have authors, who contact me by e mail, or to the publications, or authors just find me somewhere on the internet and send me a copy.  Also other ways are local publishers and I go to lunch and I am handed copies of books and if I speak at writer’s groups or conventions like Spooky Empire in October, Megacon in March and Oasis in May and  book events like St Pete Times Reading Fest in October or UCF book festival in April where authors also hand me copies of titles or see that a copy is sent by their publisher.  I network with authors who tell me about other writers who I make contact with or I contact publishers because I have seen something about a book or through the radio programs I do. 

 

SHARON:  What do you look for in a book?

 

GARY:  A book is sent to me for me to make a comment.  We should not forget that a review is nothing more than how the person feels about the book that has been presented.   I do not speak for other reviewers but what I look for is the author has to present a story with a beginning middle and an end.  I look for characters I feel something for and writing that is easy to read and enjoy.  I also look for covers that make me want to read the book.  So often that is not the case. 

 

SHARON:  What do you do if you think the books basically sucks?

 

GARY: If the book is bad I try to find something about it that was good by saying something like I know what the author was trying to do here but it doesn’t work for me. 

 

SHARON:  Do you ever have situations where your review is not appreciated by the author or the publisher?

GARY:  Yes, authors are very bad about negative reviews even though I am trying to tell them what I think is wrong with it.  They forget it is a personal opinion but they also don’t want to hear anything bad.  I say something in the hope they will try to do better next time.  Publishers are more understanding because they know I am not going to like everything I read. 

 

SHARON:  When we first got into book writing there weren’t a lot of choices except going to the New York publishing houses and hoping that they would like the story enough to invest a small sum of meney I getting it into print.  There are so many alternative ways of getting a book published today that were not available years ago where now the writer is the one in control of the editing and cover art and even manner of publication.  Do you think this has been good or bad for the business?

 

GARY:  The publishing world has been both good and bad for authors and readers.  For readers there are more choices than ever before but there are more things published that need work before they are in the hands of readers.  There are lots more places for books to be printed and put on as e books or on the internet.  Main stream publishers in New York are merging with each other, creating fewer places for writers to get published by the majors.  POD (print on demand) publishers are also good and bad.  Create Space and Outskirts are two good ones who work with authors to promote and sell books.  Publish America and some others have bad reputations and will only take money from the writer and not do much else.  Amazon is both good and bad.  Good for readers because they can get a book cheaper than the bookstore but bad for writers and publishers because the money they receive is less than before.  Like any other business there are good things and bad.  You just have to weigh what’s best for you. 

 

SHARON:  Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

 

GARY:  Donald E Westlake who wrote so many funny mysteries, James Patterson, who writes fast paced novels and is working with other authors to present adult and kids novels and get more people to read, Ben Bova for his hard science fiction that has great characters, tense situations and are believable.  Jeffrey Archer for his family sagas including Mightier Than The Sword and the Aherns for the great storytelling in action adventure.   These are just a few of my favorites.  I have lots of them for different reasons. 

 

SHARON:  Any advice to someone who has written a book and his family and friends are telling him to go for it as it’s bound to be a best seller?

 

GARY:  Stop thinking you will be the next Patterson, Stephen King, or Clancy.  Just tell a great story as best as you can.  Have it edited by professionals who are there to help whip it into shape.    Learn to network, go to book events, sf conventions, comic conventions and do not be afraid to talk to people.  If need be, hire someone to edit your book, help promote it and or find someone who does consultant work in publishing.  Have also a thick shell and listen to criticism that is being done.  Do not take it personally unless the person says you should not write again or something unkind like that because that is uncalled for, but it happens. 

 

Thanks for your advice Gary.

 

Gary can be heard live on the My Home Town radio show at www.1520wbzw.com between 4:00 and 5:00 EST on the first Tuesday of each month and can be contacted directly at gsroen@aol.com.

 

Sharon