Indie Novels Are Like Organic Apples

Gentlemen Harvesting Hops and Stories

Gentlemen Harvesting Hops and Stories

Wednesdays at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm where I worked were packing days when no matter the weather or the raspberries left rotting on the bush, we met in the cool, dark room to sort and pack pesticide-free, non-migrant labor harvested produce to be delivered to starry-eyed customers in the morning.

Our Harvard-educated, Russian-Lit major boss told us not to worry too much about dirty garlic as the customers were customers because they wanted to feel part of the farm-to-table process.

new camera 083Some customers visited the 200-year-old farm to see up close the dirty business of nutrition. They gazed in wonder at the strawberry fields alive with jewel-toned fruit only a day or two away from collapse and decay. They enjoyed getting pricked by the thistles as they reached for a berry and tossed the juicy, warm fruit into their mouths. Misshaped berries delighted the customers as much as the perfect ones (they were rare) for it was taken for granted that despite their imperfections the berries were more nutritious straight from the garden.

Too shiny.

Too shiny.

And so we might see our independent authors. Have you ever seen organic apples? Sometimes they’re not perfect. In a chain store they’d be thrown in a dumpster–edited out by committee and the corporate shopping experience. Until recently most of us were unaware of the difference (remember the red delicious apple in the brown bag lunch?).

Most of us have spent lives buying books and peanut butter manufactured by a marketing team. Everything tastes the same and we’ve grown fat, dumb and bored, always surprised when the Cheetos and vampire novels leave us empty.

When a book doesn’t have a committee of consultants, editors and proofreaders it may be rougher around the edges (like life). There may be some dirt left on it and the snide corporate-led critics and public may remark on the blemishes and miss the nutrition.

But why do we organic writers listen? Most CSAs don’t eventually want to be Monsanto. Why are we cowed by one bad review pointing out too many commas? Would we spend our time in a redwood forest looking for crooked limbs?

Let’s face it, most writers aren’t going to be celebrities and quit our day jobs. Most writers throughout history had day jobs. Even corporate, committee books don’t make authors big bucks, in general.

A farmer worries about the weather. His story, his life is a force of nature, dependent on nature. Most things are out of his control. Yet the satisfaction for the farmer who snubs Monsanto is in his integrity. It’s in his deciding how to write his rows in the earth. Every day IS the satisfaction. His fruit, his friendships, his nourishment–these things only a small segment of society will taste. So be it.

My farmer boss took 15 years just to reach the point where he could be semi-confident his eggplants would grow. He had back surgery from lifting ripe squash. Being independent can feel back-breaking. Maybe we don’t have the editorial staff as writers to cut the heart out of our rugged individualism. Maybe that’s a great thing.

Lots of us sell something sweeter (with a few too many commas). We give our stories our soul. There may be blemishes that bitter critics will harp on, but like people drunk on cheap wine, they miss the nuances, the many voices, the good years and the independent thoughts that make life and art worth living for.

So to all of you independent writers and farmers, the harvest is in the doing. Blemishes come with freedom.

Can You Write Stories for These Pictures?

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

I’d never heard the term domestic genre stories but I LOVE it. These are the great stories of the late 19th century that spoke to the trials and travails of ordinary life and often with beautiful illustrations. I assume they’re the works that some people deem “of no literary merit” but I disagree. Any book with illustrations like these I know I will enjoy.

If the stories are a bit sentimental who cares? Why is that any worse than the ones about monsters or post- apocalypse? Who gets to decide literary merit? If a book sells then a bunch of people find merit in it.

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Back to domestic genre stories. The average person is not in love with a vampire or on a desert road strewn with radioactive debris from World War Three. Why are we so interested in the weird? Are there domestic genre stories out there today? My books are about families. I’m not sure how sentimental they are but I certainly wouldn’t mind having Alice Barber Stephens illustrate them!

Alice Barber Stephens

http://www.plasticclub.org/index.shtml

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Books I’ve Known and Loved

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

Can we all agree that men polish up quite nicely in uniform? Why else would we have cop groupies? My father had a charming charisma, but the uniform brought the groupies. Anyway, men look good in uniform–especially late 19th century military uniform–I happened to notice this at all the Civil war re-enactments–when the weekend was over and some of the men came into camp dressed in modern jeans and dorky t-shirts commemorating a Gettysburg anniversary and white sneakers.

So here’s the sort of book/eye-candy I feast upon when I’m too damned tired to figure out what’s happening in Saratoga 1888 and in finance in my latest rough draft. If you like cute guys, or like uniforms or like military history or like illustration–okay, you know what I like.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

I’d probably have to steal the trousers with the yellow stripe down the side. I don’t want to be a soldier but the tailoring of the clothes–to die for. Many women felt the same way and so even though women loved their skirts the fashion world, then as now, always threw out a few military-style garments for the ladies–no camo please.

Bad-boy punishment.

Bad-boy punishment.

We like the bad-boys with the good hearts hidden beneath the uniform–though when Richard Gere started sobbing like a baby in An Officer and a Gentleman I got kinda repulsed–but then I’m no Richard fan so . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

And a bonus Sound the Charge picture of my hero General George Crook who helps save John Weldon’s ass a few times in  The House on Tenafly Road:

Frienemy of the Indians.

Frienemy of the Indians.

 

Books I’ve Known and Loved (2)

She looks happy, right?

She looks happy, right?

Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to be popular. This is what General Ben Grierson must have said to console himself. A hero of the Civil War, Grierson commanded the Buffalo Soldiers out West against Victorio and his Apache warriors after the war, but do you think that would have gotten him some respect and a few honors? No.

His wife Alice was pretty pissed about it and said so in letters. She said a lot in letters that might make a Victorian pretend to blush. At one point she left poor Ben to spend time in Chicago admitting after he begged her to come back to him that she knew they would have sex again (which she greatly enjoyed), and didn’t want to have any more children (I think they had 7 at that point). She felt contraception was a sin against God, loved her husband, but was afraid with her depressive tendencies that she’d end like her mother did–a used up mental case.

General Ben was such a decent guy and openly affectionate, devoted and supportive when Alice spoke about women’s rights and the stuff she’d read in The Revolution (I must admit, though I’d hate to be judged by my private letters and emails, that I found Alice’s constant complaining a bit annoying–I don’t think Ben deserved that. He just wanted her by his side. Sigh).

Ben was no  slouch in the warrior department, but . . . and this is my opinion–one shared by General Sherman at the time–he was a bit too lenient with the Indians who used his kindness to screw him over (we don’t like to admit that being a doormat you get walked on but it’s true). He had kind words for his black soldiers though most people thought black recruits were less capable of the mental tasks of military life at the time, but again he may have in his easy-going way not pushed them quite hard enough–so says one of my characters in The House on Tenafly Road.

Anyway there’s much to think about–sex, war, mental health, relationships, Indians, military politics in these two companion volumes. You get the historian’s version and then the wife’s version and that’s fun.

Real life people--flaws and all.

Real life people–flaws and all.

Books I’ve Known and Loved

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Okay, don’t be disturbed by the man’s weird stare and ugly hat. While On the Border with Crook is about the Indian fighter General Crook it’s more about the erudite and humorous John Gregory Bourke— the dashing military man and entertaining writer. Invariably the military men of the late 19th century had such enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and good humor under sometimes very harsh conditions you’d have to admire them–but Bourke and Crook were unique in their sincere respect for the Indian.

I make Bourke have a brief flirtation with Katherine Weldon and Crook command and admire John Weldon as a good soldier in The House on Tenafly Road.

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Books I’ve Known and Loved

My heart beats a little quicker for this extremely fun and informative gem, The Look of the Old West

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Lieutenant John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road took his family to a western military outpost after the Civil War and this book helped make that possible. Scholarly research is a great thing but Foster Harris (whose writing style is so familiar you feel like you know him personally) brings the post-Civil War period alive with its mix of old and new, Confederate and Yankee, weapons and women.

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I love the idea that this book was written in 1955 and that Foster-Harris interviewed Civil War veterans and old cowboys. I imagine the wistful look the old men got in their eyes after such a fast paced and changing bunch of years.

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I loved this book so much I made William Weldon in my upcoming novel travel back west as a young man to do what young men did in the Wild West. Stay tuned.

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Hey, would you like a old western shirt? Check this out: http://vintrowear.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/get-your-old-west-on-real-cowboys-and-the-shirts-they-wore/

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.

Only one man, Doctor Graham Crenshaw with some hidden mental war wounds of his own (his family blames him for the deaths of his brothers) recognizes Weldon’s problems, but he’s a quiet man. I thought after so much medical research he’d eventually get a good medical novel of his own but it’s in his character to work quietly in the background, allowing others to form their misconceptions about him and the bloody work he did during the war as a brilliant young surgeon.

With a name like Graham Crenshaw he deserved fame but instead served a higher purpose–he had piles of children with his wife, one of them being Buck Crenshaw. I think I’ll still get more medical one day (most of the Civil War medicine was cut from the first two novels) and I look forward to it because blood and guts and misplaced emotions are what I’m about as a writer.

By the way, Civil War Medicine by Alfred Jay Bollet, MD is fantastic even if you don’t like blood and guts.

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Is It Possible To Write About Happily Married Couples?

Happy?

Happy?

The problem is happy people are alienating. They’re annoyingly complimentary to their spouses. They remember birthdays and endlessly talk about fond memories from high school where they met and instantly fell in love. They find charm in their spouses maddeningly gross habits. Their children settle nearby and come over for dinner on Sundays.

The perfect past for the masses. 1876

The perfect past for the masses. 1876

But happy is a stupid word. Get happy. Okay . . . but here’s what I’ve found. They may be a struggle to write about at first because we assume happiness is some sort of lucky, kinda boring gift that some people get–damn them! But it’s a lie. Here’s the truth–there’s a lot of interesting things going on under the surface with happy couples. Things are more subtle. The crappy mood that kills a night and maybe a relationship in a novel is apologized for in a real marriage. How do we write about that complex mix of pride and humiliation that comes with knowing you’re wrong, admitting it and then making up for it? It seems boring on the surface when a good brawl or morphine spree will do the trick. And I LOVE a good morphine spree as much as the rest of you.

Have you noticed that people hate the word work? Strange. Work suggests to me that you actually care how something will turn out. Some people wait to be inspired–what a crazy way to waste life. If you’re a good husband or wife when you feel like it, have fun at the divorce court! John and Katherine Weldon probably still wouldn’t have gotten a divorce in The House on Tenafly Road even if it was acceptable because they’re workers. Screwed up workers, but still. Thank God, happiness comes and goes. It’s a shame that most movies and books stop at the kiss or the wedding. Crushes are like cheap candy, but marriage is an acquired taste–worth the effort in the end. For more on marriage visit :http://ladyinthehouse.net/2014/02/11/somehow-in-love/

This week is John and Katherine’s week–a week about screwed up love. If doing it right was easy we’d have short novels and no war. In honor of imperfect relationships I’m having a $.99 Kindle eBook sale on The House on Tenafly Road this upcoming weekend Feb 15-16 (the day after Valentine’s Day makes you begin to wish you had a morphine-addicted spouse–or maybe  realize, damn, you have it good).

So gather up your pennies (c’mon it won’t break the bank) and buy the book. Tell your friends, too–you know, the ones who like really falling in love with screwed up characters who redeem themselves. Or the ones who like page-turners with military heroes. Or the ones who like big books with maps. Love, death, maps and redemption–who could ask for anything more?

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Codependency Rocks

Too Near the Warpath

Too Near the Warpath

Okay, it doesn’t really rock, but it’s good for fiction. It’s not even considered a real condition by some mental health professionals. It used to be called “passive dependent personality.” But I thought that was the ideal of womanhood? Men, this is why we too are confused by constantly changing definitions of mental health! Sitting in a diner a few years back I overheard (because I was eavesdropping) a man telling his friend that what he really wanted was a good old-fashioned codependent relationship. My son and I laughed about it knowing how he felt. Throwing ourselves under buses for others and then resenting it were long family traditions we were proud of–until I went to an Alanon meeting and listened to the people who had been attending for years and recycling all of the abuse and heartache they’d experienced. It was kind of sickening.

My parents both came from alcoholic homes but managed to escape full-blown martyrdom but it’s a slippery slope when the addicts and alcoholics march back into the circle and you watch in your passive way as your kids fall for the charm of the druggie. And there is a charm. My father could sniff a heroin addict a mile away. I’d still be insisting he was cute and misunderstood.

Thank God Katherine McCullough came along as a character before I read Codependency No More which basically assigns every caring emotion, every angry emotion and every weird emotion to codependency status. Yes, Katherine is maddeningly passive as a young wife and mother, but give her a break, will you? Her parents are pleasant and abusive and controlling. Her husband is secretive, aloof and loving. Any girl would be confused.

He could be Katherine's father.

He could be Katherine’s father.

And she could quite easily be Katherine's mother.

And she could quite easily be Katherine’s mother.

Someone asked me why Katherine is so blind to her husband’s addiction. When writing Katherine my ideal man was an addict who finally sees the light and reforms–not a man who never was an addict. We codependents or passive dreamer types are an odd lot of screw-ups, but I’d rather write novels than sit in a church basement crying into my coffee. Sure, I cringe at some of Katherine’s familiar antics, but it’s with the knowledge of 4 more books for her to grow through. She was on the right track going  for the military guy though. I did that the second time around and discovered a sane, self-sufficient man can be oddly less boring than I thought.  We’ll just have to see if Katherine gets that lucky with John.

This week is their week–a week about screwed up love. If doing it right was easy we’d have short novels and no war. In honor of imperfect relationships I’m having a $.99 Kindle eBook sale on The House on Tenafly Road this upcoming weekend Feb 15-16 (the day after Valentine’s Day makes you begin to wish you had a morphine-addicted spouse–or maybe  realize, damn, you have it good).

So gather up your pennies (c’mon it won’t break the bank) and buy the book. Tell your friends, too–you know, the ones who like really falling in love with screwed up characters who redeem themselves. Or the ones who like page-turners with military heroes. Or the ones who like big books with maps. Love, death, maps and redemption–who could ask for anything more?

book cover createspace