Monday, October 29, 2007

Battling Bastards of Bataan

Bataan Memorial Statue, Las Cruces, New MexicoLess than a mile from where I live in Las Cruces is a small park honoring those Americans who suffered so much in the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in World War II. The captives included a large contingent from the New Mexico National Guard. Frank Hewlett wrote a poem that begins:

We're the battling bastards of Bataan
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam...

We owe our freedom to such men, and I won't forget them.

Of memes and things

My friend Ruth posted about memes, a word that sent me scurrying to my dictionary without success. A Google search found me frEdSCAPEs 0.1, which defines a meme as "an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. Although the term encompasses much of the natural flow of communication in the Blogosphere, there are active bloggers and blog sites that are dedicated to the creation of memes on a regular basis."

Pronunciation? Who knows? My guess is "meem," but maybe it's "me me," as in a little boy clamoring for attention, or Mimi the seamstress in La Bohème. Either way, I won't be using it in conversation anytime soon.

So Ruth has tagged me with a meme, to write about my writing strengths. Ummm, well, the usual, you know, like my way with words and stuff.

Discipline is a strength I wish I had. Oh, the butt-in-chair part is easy enough. The question is, what then? Does endless checking of email get the writing job done? Reaching down to pet the cats? Rearranging the papers on my desk? Stopping to write a to-do list? In my pre-computer days, I used to come home from work with multiple lists stuffed in my shirt pocket. Now those lists go on the computer, and I won't hesitate to stop whatever else I'm doing to add to a list.

Anyway, my real strengths. I am always open to improvement and willing to accept constructive criticism. My writing process is slow, because I tend to edit on the fly. How does that sentence sound? Can someone take it the wrong way? Is it grammatical? Is there a better word? I'll write a sentence or two, then go back and read the paragraph. Long bursts of creativity? Not from me.

I am a nitpicker, which works both for and against me. Against, because it slows down my work. For, because my work is better. All in all, it serves me well.

Whom to tag? Let's try Kathy, Moni and Richard.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ArtForms of New Mexico

My writing friend Cheryl Fallstead is also a talented artist and photographer here in New Mexico. Recently I spoke to her art group about how people can create web sites for free. I must say, she's done an excellent job with the information. Here is the website she created for ArtForms.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of book sales and book reviews

Is it my hard but intermittent promotional work finally paying off? The last time I'd checked, my novel's Amazon ranking hadn't budged much from the million-one, million-two mark, a fairly pathetic sales ranking that had lasted for months and required no small rationalization on my part. And I checked tonight to find my ranking at 165,000. Lordamercy, someone bought When Pigs Fly online. Bless you!

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Most of my sales have come from signings and (can you believe it?) a restaurant and a gift shop. Last Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours at Coas Bookstore in Las Cruces, where foot traffic is greatly enhanced by the farmer's market in the pedestrial mall. My table by the front door was a great venue for people watching: tall, short, fat, skinny, plenty of exposed skin with tattoos—ankles, arms, necks, faces, on the exposed breasts of low-cut blouses; a Chinese woman with a handbag from "The Forbidden City"; a handsome African couple; children; retirees with canes; browsers carrying huge bags of popcorn with an aroma that triggered my salivary glands. Anyone who looked in my direction got a free smile, which they usually returned. Most kept moving, eye contact or not, smile or not. Women were more likely to stop and chat than men, and they were slightly more likely to buy. In the past, it's seemed that if someone picked up a copy, flipped through it and we conversed about it, I got a sale. Today was different—I had a nice chat with a woman and her husband for about ten minutes before she finally walked off, saying, "Well, I don't have any money." On the other hand, there was the woman who said, "Oh, it's funny? I'll buy it." A man stopped by to tell me that one of the vendors outside had a winged pig built out of a propane tank, but I never got to see it.

Thanks to the inspiration of Carter Jefferson and no small amount of work by him, Ruth Douillette, Gary Presley and Yours Truly, The Internet Review of Books has launched. We plan to publish a wide range of thoughtful reviews to help you, dear reader, find books worth your valuable time. We're rather pleased with what we've done in this first issue, and we plan to get bigger and better from month to month.

By the way, we four are all members of the Internet Writing Workshop, a terrific online place for writers of all skill levels. If you're a writer, check it out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pigs do fly

Halloween haystack outside Johnson City, TexasHere is a Halloween hay bale in some scary part of Texas.

We’ve made a couple of trips to Austin recently to see our son, a recent emigre from Boston. On our way home last month, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant where I noticed that they had locally published books for sale at the counter. The boss wasn’t in, so I emailed her when we got home, proposing that she offer my novel for sale as well. What a delight when she promptly replied that she’d take a whole carton—26 copies—which I promised to deliver on my next trip through town. So I delivered them this week, along with an invoice.

Later that same day, we drove through Johnson City, the boyhood home of LBJ, where I sold another seven to a gift shop. What drew me to the place was the banner on the side of the building. The proprietor said she'd been told pigs would fly when she started her own business, so she proudly announced to the world that pigs do fly.

All told, I sold 34 copies over the weekend. It feels good.

The Denton Writer’s League had me as a guest speaker at the local library on Saturday. Denton is a small city north of Fort Worth with an appealing downtown area and a good-sized modern library, the Emily Fowler. My audience was small and receptive, not to mention kind enough to treat me to a local Chinese buffet.

By the way, in case you think these trips are little spins around the block, prepare to be disabused. Las Cruces to Austin is about a 1300-mile round trip. And Austin to Denton is another 450 there and back.

Did I mention that Texas is a big state? Believe it, y’all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Writing practice

Our Mesilla Valley Writers met today, and the speaker, Susan Long, presented us with a brief exercise. We were to pick out a photo or postcard from a stack and write a brief story based on the picture. I happened to pick a postcard with an old photo of a swimming pool surrounded by lots of sunbathers. There were a few tall palms, and I guessed the photo to be from the 1940s or 50s. The large pool was empty except for one person in the middle. The idea was to scratch out whatever we could in ten minutes. This was my take:

We all stood aghast as the body floated in the swimming pool. The gunshot had seemed to come from nowhere. It seemed just fantastic luck that the victim was the evil maitre d' whose repellent squid soup had so recently brought us all such gastric distress. We were all innocent of the deed, but on reflection we all wished to buy the killer a margarita.

Lord, that's bad writing. It was fun, though, and the most creativity I've shown in days.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Southwest scenes

Part of the Organ Mountains, within sight of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Nearby, a highway rises through a mountain pass and descends toward the White Sands missile range and the White Sands National Monument. That’s not my house; would that it were.

A few weeks ago, we drove with friends to White Sands to watch a balloon festival. Hundreds of people showed up, only to learn that the wind was too strong—and blowing in the direction of the nearby mountains. The children didn‘t seem to mind the event's cancellation, because they got to climb and slide on the soft gypsum dunes. They often use plastic sleds.

A daisy outside the T or C Public Library, which hosted a book signing for me. T or C is the area's shorthand for Truth or Consequences, which renamed itself in honor of an old television program. T or C used to be known as Hot Springs.

The long, lonely road from Marathon to Fort Stockton, Texas. Most of the road looks just like this: straight and empty. Behind me were a fence, a field, and a small family of longhorns. Dad’s picture is in the previous blog entry.

Crape myrtle in bloom, Austin, Texas.

A drive through south Texas

Longhorn steer outside Marathon, Texas
We recently took the long way from Las Cruces to Austin, heading south to Alpine and Marathon and the Davis Mountains. In Marathon we stayed at the old Gage Hotel, dating back more than a century. Floors creaked, the bedroom door barely closed let alone locked, and the floor had a common bathroom down the hall—unless you paid extra, as we did. We had no television and no telephone, and across the street, freight trains rumbled through the night on an hourly basis.

The next morning, we drove the lonely road up to Fort Stockton. Often we’d see no other humans for long periods. But there were hawks and eagles, deer crossing the road and leaping a fence, and a family of longhorns.