Thunderstorms

I had a little time to do some actual writing in Maine while I was there. It felt good to exercise those muscles again.  And it also led to the writing of some vignettes, like the one here.

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A Maine thunderstorm is not like a thunderstorm in California.  In California, the gray clouds gather for hours before they begin to weep a misty drizzle that eventually might turn to more persistent streams.  The booming clouds are loud but faithless.  They roar a couple of times and then they turn back to the drizzle they were born of.

In Maine, a thunderstorm comes in.  The gray fluffy clouds roll across the blue, blue sky, groaning in warning.  In a matter of minutes the sky is all cloud, the wind chimes ring out their warning peal, the rain falls in a sheet.  The booms seem to echo in the sky around you, and the lights of the house flicker.  Sometimes the house lights go out and you are left grappling for your flashlight.  The clouds continue their persistent roll and roar even after the rain has passed.  A Maine thunderstorm means it.

I sat in the living room of my mom’s cottage with my husband and watched the storm come in over the ocean today, wondering if it would wake up my napping son in the room above.  And in the way of children and mothers, it pulled me into a different memory.

It was surely not my first thunderstorm in Maine. I have been a slightly legitimized summer person since I was born (since many of my family lives here full time). But it’s the first storm I really remember.  We were staying in the big cottage, the one Grampy’s father made for his mother (as opposed to the tiny cottage that Grampy himself had built – maybe 600 square feet?)  The black “Juanita” sign still hung in the living room in the big cottage amid the iron stove, the rag rugs, and the furniture from the 1970s with holes in all the upholstery, stuffing flying free – deftly covered by Juanita’s granny square afghans of many colors.  We were serviceable at the beach.  Despite the bucket of clean water at the door to wash your feet as you came in, there was a fine patina of sand on everything.

I slept next to my sister Cody under the eaves in a bedroom upstairs, white lace curtains at the window.  The noise woke me up and  I was frightened, but too old to admit it.  I couldn’t remember a storm that loud, even though I remembered Maine thunderstorms. My mother was up too.

“Case, can you help me close the windows?” she asked, flitting from room to room.  The sheet of rain had already started, and the window sill in the hall was already wet.  I shoved the pane down, and moved downstairs to the next.  A peal of thunder shook the house.

It took forever for the two of us to manage the window on the stairwell, too high to grip tight and slippery because of the rain.  But finally my mother managed it.  I was still scared, though the purpose of the moment had turned my adrenaline to excited.

“We did it,” said my mother as we turned to each other.  Another peal, and when the house shook I also shook.

“Mumma!” Cody called from the bedroom upstairs.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to sleep tonight,” said my mother.  “Have you ever watched a storm over the ocean?”

I shook my head.

She climbed the stairs to get Cody.  “Grab a blanket, and we’ll all watch together.”

We settled in on the couch, Cody on one side of my mom’s lap and me on the other, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans.  My mom had pulled the couch over so the big picture windows were perfectly in front of us, like a TV.  The lightening danced over the dark waves of the ocean, sparking the clouds in purple and forking down to the water.  No two zig-zags alike.  The thunder shook us at intervals and it seemed like it all must be right on top of us.  Cozied in like that I felt safer, though.

“How far away is it?”  I asked.

“Count,” said my mother.  So my sister and I counted one-mississippis between light and sound,  and my mother did the math.

“About a mile away,” she said.

It felt more present than that.

“Could the lightening ever strike here?  Would it strike the rocks?”

“I don’t think it will tonight.  It’s very rare, but it could.  It has.”

“It has?”

“Yes, you know the hollow on the rock you were pretending to make seaweed stew in the other day?”

I nodded.  The rock was a larger than the footprint of the small cottage, an almost perfect 30-degree angle of dusky, weather-beaten granite that dipped toward the shore, ending in a collection of smaller rocks that created tidepools when the tide was out. At the top left of this rock was a perfectly round indentation, like a black melamine bowl.  This room was always our kitchen when we played house, because it already had a sink.

“That wasn’t there when I was a girl.  Lightning struck the rock, and created the hollow.”

In the world where we are both adults and we have talked about this again, I know my mother never saw the lightning strike happen.  It was winter, and no one was at the beach then.  They came next summer and the hollow was just there. But I could see it so vividly in my mind that I was certain she had for many years.

It would have been a night like this one, and maybe Aunt Nancy would have come to snuggle with her on the couch cushions.  I never could quite picture my mother with her mother, who died shortly after my mom’s marriage and whom I never knew.  And Grampy wasn’t a cuddle with the kids during a storm kind of guy.

The two of them, Kathy and Nancy, would be watching the storm, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans, and the lightening would bolt down from the sky.  There would be a huge cracking sound as the electricity hit the rock, sparks flying, the rock burning for a time before the rain put the flames out.  And in the morning was our sink, too hot to touch for weeks.

We were outside time in that moment, those two girls and my sister and I. Parallel. Same house, same sky, same blanket, even to some extent the same sisterly love.  I have had so many Maine moments that run parallel that perhaps I can be excused for believing in this one for so long.

I still live in California, where I grew up.  Despite what they tell you, there is history there.  It just isn’t your history.  I live next to an orange grove that was planted and picked by someone else forever ago, to my south an irrigation ditch dug in the 1820s by local rancheros.  The local church has done a Las Posadas every Christmas for a hundred years, the 4th Of July Band plays Sousa all summer long, and the epithet “without vision a people perish” has presided over concerts in the park since the 1920s.  I can even visit Teddy Roosevelt’s chair at the Mission Inn, if I want to.  The tradition is there, but it doesn’t pull in the same way.  It doesn’t belong.

History in Maine is rooted, sweeping you into the past like the rolling of the clouds over the ocean, dropping rain sheets of the lives of others over your modern veneer.  In a moment it doesn’t matter what year you are in, and time moves in a circle like it does in theoretical physics.  You are tangled with the generations before you, whether you like it or not.  Mostly it’s comforting, that sense of being both outside of time and inside a memory.  In Maine, history means it.

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Jetplanes and Laundry

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Tomorrow is The Plane Trip.  It is capitalized because it has become an entity of it’s own.  How will the baby fare?  No one knows.   I have planned for every eventuality I could – plenty of bottles for him to suck on during take off and landing, Earplanes so he doesn’t have to suck on anything to be fine, crystallized ginger and Seabands in case it turns out that he’s like his mother (I get violently ill on planes without mass quantities of Dramamine), an entire toddler-sized backpack full of new toys in case it turns out he won’t sleep on the red eye… I’m as prepared as I can be.  And now it just looms, out there, waiting for a verdict.

One of the things I’ve been working on in my personal life is not to overwhelm myself.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had as long a to-do list as I had today.  The baby was not pleased.  He’s used to being able to bring me a book, snuggle up in my lap, and insist that I repeat the whole thing four times.  He’s used to dragging me into the guest room where I play him an improvised “Baby Beluga” on the keyboard as he bangs along on the low keys.  He’s used to a playmate.  And regular meal and snack times.

But Mom had two giant suitcases to pack, four loads of laundry, and massive house organization to get through.  Which meant he was relegated to the periphery, entertaining himself.  Not the best for general morale, but even amid the crankiness there were moments.

Like this one:

I transferred laundry from the washer to the dryer.  Behind me, the boy skittered out of his room and down the hallway, disappearing into my bedroom while doing his silly dance-run and yelling “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!” And then two seconds later, he ran back the other direction into his room again, yelling and swaggering the whole way.  Back and forth, back and forth, yelling only as he passed through the hall, knees flying.

The absurdity of motherhood is my favorite part.

So now we go on a Great Plane Adventure, and see what happens.  If nothing else, at least we’ll have that verdict.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a little writing time on this vacation.  Don’t laugh, it could work out.

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Filling Up Soon

Before the actual blog entry, I just wanted to remind everyone that Blue Gentian is officially $0.99 as of yesterday.  Go get ’em! 

I have started a blog entry about ten times in the last two weeks, and always feel like it isn’t fancy enough.  You know, not up to my regular standards of pretty language and interesting anecdotes.  I almost scrapped this one, too. Most of my stories now involve small boys who say “EIEIO” to all questions, or losing a small shoe at the local diner.  And the truth is that I don’t even have the energy to turn those things into something more interesting than they are.

I don’t know why this semester has felt so terribly draining.  I wrote a paper last night that I’m very proud of, but it has never taken me 4 1/2 hours to write a five page paper since I was an undergrad.  I feel like I’m probably losing my touch.  The days when I used to regularly crank out seven papers a week are too far behind me to be helpful.  (On second thought, maybe I should be glad about that…)

I’m also feeling demoralized about student teaching, and my lack of classroom management.  I had a breakthrough realization, though, that procedures aren’t actually for the students.  They are for me – so that I have a clear line on what is being done when and I don’t have to sit in class and think to myself “is that offense bad enough?  But I haven’t warned them…  Maybe I should just let it go?  Or…?  If it gets worse I’ll definitely address it.  But how much worse…?”   If I have a policy, I don’t have doubts.

See?  Demoralization and exhaustion are not the fodder of a good blog entry.   And the above is deceptive.  Professionally I might be demoralized, but I spent a full half-hour yesterday throwing my son into a pile of pillows while he shrieked with glee, and unhappiness in the face of that is basically impossible.  Not to mention, I am flying to the home of my forefathers next week. Maine, land of mosquitoes and white sand beaches, where everyone takes their ice cream VERY seriously, and it is possible to eat one’s weight in lobster and/or clam chowder.  Which, believe it or not, is all secondary to how much I’m looking forward to seeing my dozens of cousins.

My cup has been poured out, but it’s getting filled soon.  I really can’t wait.

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Happy Birthday to Me (and you…)

It’s my birthday next week, and I’ll be thirty seven years old.  Hurrah?  I guess?  I’m at the point where I understand my father’s disinterest in birthdays.  My most anticipated birthday gift is the one where I get to watch the baby’s face when Brian and I take him to the Teppan grill near our house.  I’m planning on spending any birthday money I receive on some reviews for Blue Gentian via either Netgalley or a blog tour.  (And maybe get a pedicure in prep for that vacation…)

Speaking of Blue Gentian… I’m going to do the thing where you bring everyone cupcakes on your birthday.  And by cupcakes, I mean discounted books.  Blue Gentian will run for $0.99 from June 2 to June 9.  If you haven’t picked up a copy and are interested, here is your chance to read good stuff for cheap.

Happy reading!

 

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That Was Fast…

Well, student teaching was over much faster than expected. I’ve talked this to death, but basically there was a huge tragedy in the family of the teacher who was supposed to be supervising me. In the interests of giving everyone a little space – her to grieve and me to complete the million assessments they’re requiring of me during student teaching – we’re calling it a day. I’ll do fifteen weeks next semester instead of five this semester and ten next.

So, this is basically to say that I find myself with unexpected time.

I’m using it to get re-caught up in my classes. And then I’m making a big Easterbay push.

I haven’t talked much about how Easterbay is going, because it’s a weird thing. I have been told that second books are particular beasts that seem never to behave. I’ve been told it’s because you finish the first book because you do – your overwhelming desire to be an author, or to exorcise your inner demons, perhaps just sheer stubbornness – but that second book is something you need a writing process to finish. And here is where you get one, trial by fire. I think I’ve managed that piece.

The piece I haven’t quite managed is the one where I finish the book. Every time get to the end and I think I have it figured out, something happens and it turns out that I don’t. The beginning of the book is shaping up nicely. It has a few characterization problems, but altogether it’s flowing and making sense. And then it just stops. I need to just write it, but therein lies the problem. How do you write something you don’t know?

Anyway, that’s what I intend to spend the summer on. I’ll wrench the ending of this thing out of me somehow, edit up the rest, and hopefully be in Beta reads by the end of July. That goal feels especially attainable now that I’ve gained three weeks of my time back.

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Student Teaching

This semester has kicked my ass, pardon my language.  But there really isn’t a better word for how overwhelmed I’ve been.  Kicked my butt just isn’t vehement enough to really express the swamp/quicksand feeling I’ve been experiencing as I try to complete 16 weeks of assignments in 10.

As some of you know, I’m studying to become an English teacher.  This week, the rubber hits the road.  I start Student Teaching.  This is not good news for regular posts on the blog.  I haven’t done any real writing in months anyway, though, so I suppose it’s no different than it had been.

In the spirit of keeping things compartmentalized (and because I’m hoping it might be instructive), I’m keeping a different blog that’s strictly about my teaching experience.  I intend to write about my student teaching and my first year as a regular teacher – MAYBE the second year too, though no farther. It’s called the English Lady Apprentice (ELA – get it?  English Language Arts?  No one…?) That’s where I’ll be posting for the next five weeks.  Link: https://theenglishladyapprentice.wordpress.com/.

If you’re interested in hearing from me during this time, that’s the best place to find me.  My last student teaching day is at the end of May. If you’re just here for the self-publishing insights and/or the slice-of-life writing (no judgement, I’m glad you’re here!), you may want to wait until I start this thing back up in June as that’s not likely to be your cup of tea.

Lastly, I just watched Brene Brown’s Netflix Special and found it magical.  I also just bought Abby Wombach’s book Wolfpack on Kindle and am falling in love.  If you’re looking for something to do in the meantime, can I recommend one of those?

See you in June.   Cross your fingers that no kids throw things at me in class…

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Five Minutes of Perfect

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The semester has started for both Brian and I, and it’s a doozy.  I never thought I’d be one of those people who have a sit down meeting on Sunday nights to discuss the week ahead.  We schedule it all down to the minute, figuring out where to shoehorn two hours for me to run errands, another few somewhere for writing, or being horrified at just HOW MUCH homework Brian always seems to have.  Sigh.  I thought my stuff was difficult… (and it is, just not as bad as his.)

I don’t know how we did it last year, except that maybe it was easier because the baby slept more?  That’s the only thing I can think of.  He’s big now, dropping slowly down to one nap and demanding my time when awake.  I think I read Good Dog Carl (ie, explained the pictures) twenty five times today.  That’s a low estimate.  I read Busytown Cars and Trucks from A to Z probably ten.  He used to stand on his counter-height stool and yell at me when he wanted milk, but now he brings me his empty sippy and says “cup,” urgently.   He’s growing up in rapid form.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this except to say that we’re filled up full over here.  Some days it’s too full, but mostly it just is.  And at least we love each other.  I was cuddled up on the couch with Brian for a few minutes this afternoon, my head on his shoulder, when the baby noticed and dived in to laze between us.  It was a single perfect five minutes before the small boy couldn’t sit still anymore and squirmed away.

And then Brian had to leave to make it to his concert tonight, and I had to grab the kid a snack, and the classroom readings finally downloaded on my phone, and we were all off on the chase again.

But there will be five minutes of perfect in my future again, I’m sure.  As long as I don’t expect any more than five minutes…

 

 

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More Tweaks, and some Thoughts on Pricing

Self Publishing Update

Well, it’s been three weeks since the new cover for Blue Gentian launched.  It’s been a wild success.  I’m selling out my Amazon ads almost every day, and I think I’ll keep it.  Trial and error begat success this time (law of averages?  Who knows, but there was bound to be a success eventually).

Whenever my ads sell out, Amazon sends me an email notification and suggests that I up my daily budget.  Right now, I’m telling it no more than $2 a day.  I have not increased this.  Why not, you ask?  Because sales still don’t warrant it.  I’m still in that tenuous territory where I’m ALMOST breaking even, but not quite.  Which means there’s still more work to do.

What am I tweaking next, you ask?  I’m glad you did.

During the $0.99 sale I ran, I sold a grand total of 17 books.  That’s A LOT for me, you guys.  I’m extremely lucky if I sell 17 books in a month, and I was able to do it in 7 days during the sale.  Which suggests to me that I might be able to sell more books if I dropped the price a little.

I want to discuss price, because it’s a complicated issue and I don’t think I’ve explained how I got to my amount for Blue Gentian.  But in case you just want the nitty-gritty and don’t want the whys and wherefores, Blue Gentian will be on sale for $3.99 as a permanent price, down from $4.99, in a few days.  We’ll see if that tweak works in favor of more sales.  I’ll report back.

Now some thoughts about pricing in general:

I considered price carefully when launching Blue Gentian.  I’m a relatively unknown author, and therefore my works will probably not sell at the same price as an established author.  I have to be real about it.  That being said, price also implies quality.  If you’re attempting to give your book away at $0.99 when it’s not sale time, it leaves me wondering if it’s cheap for a reason.  Sometimes the reason is because it’s the first of a series.  I think that’s fine.  But if I don’t know the author and can’t figure out why their book is cheap, I assume it’s because it’s bad.  This has also borne out from my experience.  I’ve downloaded some truly terrible books, guys.  Almost all of them were insanely cheap and by self-published authors.

I’m not denigrating self-publishing.  First of all, I’m a self-published author and take great pride in my work and my business.  Second of all, I have read some AMAZING books by self-published authors.  The difference between the good and the bad?  I have found that good authors expect me to pay a decent, fair market value for their work.  I’m happy to do so.  But price then becomes correlated with quality.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this perception.

This means that how I price Blue Gentian will tell people how good it is.  Also, I know from some research that it’s MUCH easier to price a book down if you make a mistake than to price a book low at first and raise it.  Better to overestimate yourself than to underestimate.  So I decided I would go in at semi-established author rates and cut as needed.

I did a lot of research on well regarded books by self-published fantasy authors and their manuscripts of about the same length (62,000 words in case you were interested).  Most were priced at $4.99.  That’s how I got the starting price of Blue Gentian.  And now that I have some data, I’m going to cut to $3.99 and see how we do.

I might cut again to $2.99 if I see no better outcomes in the next couple of months, but I don’t see going lower than that.  Most other people don’t, even bad authors, since they’re trying to take advantage of the 70% royalty KDP offers on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.  Blue Gentian is supposed to eventually be part of a series, so it will also eventually go to $0.99 for good when the next books are published (a LONG way off). Still, that means I’m not feeling terribly precious about the price of it.  Whatever gets me the sales, man.

And that’s all I’ve got right now.  Thanks for listening to me about a complicated subject…

 

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Rain

It has been raining, raining here in California.  I don’t remember it raining for days like this since I was a little girl.  We lived in a house that was mostly windows back then, and the sound of the rain would drip off the eaves and make it sound like you were under a tree instead of safely tucked under the warm down comforter on the blue and white striped couch, book in hand.

I have sweet memories, but I’m really ready for the rain to quit at this point.  Asher and I have not been walking Brian to work in the rain and I wonder if we’re going a little stir-crazy.  Also, I have class tonight.  The first one of the semester.  I will be driving for 45 minutes each direction on the wet freeways in a deluge, crossing my fingers that no one gets crazy on me like they do so often in California.

Am I excited to be back at school?  I don’t know.  The CSET has wiped out most of my classmates, so there will be fewer familiar faces than there used to be.  We did a poll by hand last semester and there were only three of us who were definitely cleared to go on, of a class of eighteen people I was fond of.  More will likely have passed since then, and we’re getting an influx of people who didn’t pass the year before.  But it will not be the same thing.

Still, I enjoy learning about teaching.  And I enjoy having a few hours a week where I don’t have to watch the clock, keep the schedule, and meet someone else’s needs before I meet my own.  I get to be a professional adult.  Or, you know, as professional as one can be when wearing a “When in doubt, go to the library” t-shirt, oversized men’s sweater, and saddle shoes.  I get to be my weird academic self, and it makes me feel human again.

If only I didn’t have to drive through the rain to get there.  I know we need it, and I know I’ll enjoy the beautiful vista of snowy mountains once it’s all over, but a little sunshine would be much appreciated.  We’ll get it eventually, I guess.

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A Fence Fiasco

 

We moved into this strange house in the middle of the summer, knowing that the house had been beautifully flipped but the yard was a travesty of epic proportions.  I pulled cactus and dead rose bushes for months.  Almost five years in the making, and the front yard is looking decent.  We haven’t touched the back yard, except to put in two raised beds amongst the weeds so I can have tomatoes.

Although we have had the funds to do small projects, the fence has been beyond us.  Every time we think we’ve finally saved for it we get some sort of a disaster.  The car needs a whole new transmission, and the stove broke, and, and…

I think now this was probably fate.

In the week long rains of two weeks ago, the world softened.  The rusty nails holding the fence together slipped free, and the fence collapsed – revealing a rather beautiful hedge of cypress trees that the neighbors had erected.

Brian and I looked at the glimpse of elfin style we had beyond the weeds and decrepit fence and saw potential.  It looks like we’re just going to take down the back fence and enjoy the trees, since the hedge is a solid screen and we don’t have to worry about keeping any pets in.  It will help us when we go to replace the rest of the fence too.  That back stretch was the longest and most expensive.  Bonus!

Now to find the time to take the old one fully down… Which I’m sure I’ll manage in a fit of tomato longing in the next month or so.  This year, now that I don’t have to spend 20 hours a day holding a baby, there is produce in my future.  I’m determined.  And the baby can dig in the dirt with me.  Just as long as I get the fence down first.

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