Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is a Small Business Best for Gift Giving?

Today is Small Business Saturday, a tradition that began several years ago to counteract the guerrilla-like shopping tactics of Black Friday. Small businesses can’t offer the deep discounts of most retailers, but they offer other perks you won’t find at the mêlée of the shopping mall.

My family never did the Black Friday thing. Maybe I was raised to be a bad capitalist, but even my sister-in-law, whose middle name is won’t-buy-it-without-a-coupon believes the discounts the day after Thanksgiving aren’t worth losing sleep over. Often if you wait a couple of weeks retailers will lower prices on comparable items.

After working on my manuscript, I only left my house yesterday to return books to the library and check my mailbox. No shopping was involved.

Today I had one trip: to the Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds, WA to purchase a gift for one of the kids in my family. (We adults have resolved not to exchange presents as none of us needs ONE MORE THING in our homes. We donate to charities in one another’s names.) Even the kids have more than enough toys, so of course writer and former librarian me gives books as gifts.

Edmonds, a charming town on Puget Sound north of Seattle, was teeming with shoppers, yet I managed to find a parking space close to the store. It had a fifteen minute limit. For me shopping in a bookstore, 15 minutes is a good idea, otherwise I might buy more than I need. The bookshop was crowded, and I sidled my way to the Children’s book section. Within a few minutes, a young woman approached and asked if I needed any help.

In a giant retail store, it’s unlikely a clerk will wander through and offer help. My experience with chain bookstores is you wait at a counter to ask, and the under-appreciated clerk, who has just dealt with a gaggle of rude shoppers, will point to a section of books and turn to help the next customer.

Since I am unfamiliar with books for the age group (which I won't reveal since I don't want the recipient of my gift to know just yet,) I took advantage of browsing through the young woman’s several suggestions. I chose two.

Cognizant of my time limit, I glanced briefly at other shelves, and stood in line to pay. After the clerk rang me up, she asked if I wanted my items gift wrapped. No charge. “Sure. That’s one less present to wrap.” I was even able to choose from three paper patterns.

As I waited for my gift to be wrapped, the store’s proprietor handed out canvas tote bags with Shop Small imprinted on both sides.

Even you missed shopping today, make it a goal to buy at least one of your holiday gifts at small business. It will make a difference to the man or woman who owns the business and his or her employees. 

Happy shopping.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dialogue with Myself in the Rain

I’m sitting in the coffee shop, not really writing, just messing around. It’s raining too hard to leave, though, and I have a blog I’ve ignored for almost two months. I’m trying to write a conference proposal for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association (PNWA) conference. It's a big deal. I’m not a big deal. Not yet, anyway.

One thing the PNWA wants on the application form is my ‘expertise with the proposed topic.’ I’m an expert in Being a Failed Novelist. Yet that’s no longer true. My book comes out in May, so I could skew my talk about How I Booted Out of the Epic Fails. But then my novel might be an epic fail.

How did I get that book contract again?
Oh yeah: Persistence and Plan B.
That title might work. My expertise is in continuing to write in spite of the astronomical odds against me.

There are innumerable reasons not to become a writer where you can avoid facing blank pages and blinking cursors, spend too much time inside your head, and end up writing in the rain.
One could have a life.
But what is a life without pursuit of what charges your batteries?

Like any ineffable passion, writers write in spite of the rain, in spite of the odds of success and money are so remote that being hit by a meteorite is more likely.

Another criterion on the PNWA for m is to list three things attendees will learn.

1)                  Writing the novel was the easy part.
2)                  Even if you have an agent, a book contract, or have begun a new project, you need to invest time in managing the details toward the book’s publication. It won’t get done for you.
3)                  Your friends and family don't mind that you write, but they don’t want to hear about the process. So the introverted writer must become part of a community of writers.

The PNWA also wants my life story in 100 words, a 50 word summary of my presentation, and worst o all, a photograph of me.

So here I sit next to a rain soaked window as high winds knock down tree limbs, contemplating persistence and Plan B, wondering if a photo of my cat will suffice.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Have a Permission Slip?

A writer spends hours, weeks, and sometimes years bending over the keyboard or typewriter, suffering over sentences, scenes, and characters, creating his or masterpiece. One day, this writer reaches the end of the story. The draft is complete, the hard work is done.

Not so fast.
If you intend to get this tome published, the work has only begun, you foolish, silly writer.  There are steps they don't tell you in writer school.

First, this mass of pages is not a book. It's a draft, and if it's the first draft, likely a grainy one. But here is your chance to revisit your characters and sharpen the focus. Here you will delete scenes, correct typos, supplant repeated use verbs and phrases, and make it readable.

Next you will need to find a trusted reader or readers who will truthfully tell you what works, what doesn't, and why. Find at least one reader who writes well and is willing to be brutally honest.

You will revise and edit. If you are a typo queen, as am I, you will be smart to hire an editor before you submit or pitch this novel. This is money well spent, because this editor can also offer critical advice.

You are now ready to sell it.
You've go through the revision and the dreaded submission process. You form a band called Query Street and the Screaming Synopsis… no wait, you don’t have time to perform in a rock band.
You get a book contract (yay, ego boost) and are working with an editor who loves your book and has great plans for you. You have a due date for your final mss and a publication date.
Now is not the time to lie on the beach, dreaming of the Yacht you plan to buy with your millions…..Okay, advances aren’t what they used to be unless you’re James Patterson. But still, the hard part is over now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

It is up to the author to secure Permissions. Unlike writing a research paper or master’s thesis where supplying a bibliography will suffice, if you quote from another work, say a song, a poem or a novel, you must have written permission from whoever holds the rights to the work.

This can be tricky, because sometimes the publisher holds the rights, but there are caveats as to how works can be used. Even though the Nobel Laureate died in 1973, he left no heirs, so the Neruda foundation in Barcelona, Spain handles this negotiation.

Permissions aren’t always free. The foundation asked for a thousand dollars to use one poem, and two lines from two of Neruda’s poems. My book is called Breakfast with Neruda, so I need at least some quotes, so we settled on a much smaller amount to use two lines from two separate poems. My original draft opened every chapter with a Neruda quote, which in retrospect would have cost me more than my condo. (Luckily an early reader said, while she loved the poems, she felt opening each chapter like that was heavy handed.)

Permissions can be a wild sheep chase. I quoted another author, and the publisher told me to contact the agency, so I wrote to him, and he told to contact the publisher. I ended up deleting this quote.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a song, but the record company doesn't own the rights, and had no idea who did. Scratch that. I just name the song.

The author of a poem I planned to use in the final chapter died three years ago, and I had no idea where to contact her heirs. I sent a condolence note on the funeral home page, but I’m not sure people check those after the first few months of the loved one’s passing. I didn’t after my brother and father passed.

Working on permissions isn't as soul wrenching as writing a query and opening the flurry of rejections, but it keeps me from writing, so it feels like work.

The benefit of permissions. Obviously getting permission protects you from lawsuits and possible scandal, but it also helped me reconsider some of my decisions. Rejecting some of my content opened me up to look at alternatives.

I’ve gone through revision and editing, and I have approved the cover art, (smaller houses sometimes give authors input on their covers. Big houses don't.) The next step is the dreaded author photo. I stumbled upon a photographer who claims she can make me look twenty years younger...

Writing the novel was the easy part.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Latest Writing Adventure

Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t have much sense, so it’s no surprise I signed up for an eight week course where I hope to have completed a draft of another novel. The final manuscript of Breakfast With Neruda is submitted, the draft of its sequel is tweaked, and book three is begging to be written. So why not?

How Writers Write Fiction is an annual event sponsored by the University of Iowa, known for producing noted writers such as Robert Olen Butler, Flannery O’Connor, and Rita Dove. The class is being led by poet and essayist Christopher Merrill and novelist Angela Flourney. Best of all, the class is free. (There’s an option to take it for a certificate of completion for $50.00.)

For the past seven days I’ve set up my account, joined a discussion group called Readers Writers, formed a discussion group I titled Not Your First Rodeo, and completed some of the short pre-writing assignments.  The course doesn't officially commence until Oct 1, but the organizers devised a series of Welcome Week activities which include instructional videos, readings, and writing exercises designed to establish writing communities and familiarize us with the course components.

. I like that the course has options for beginning and advanced writers. In both cases, peer feedback is part of the attraction. My recent move has left me bereft of my writing peeps. I have one local friend with whom I write, yet I’ve also been getting to know writers in my two discussion groups.

I chose Readers Writers because the level of discussion revealed participants who read at a deeper level than most book discussion groups. Also, the group was small. In a free course offered worldwide, it’s important to find a niche group. There are teaching moderators, but since I’ve not taken the class before I’m not sure this works. I imagine feedback won’t be live.

I also sponsor a group I called Not Your First Rodeo for experienced writers. I hope to find one or two people here with whom I can exchange meaningful dialogue and criticism.

In addition to readings and writing assignments, there will be quizzes. Only certificate seekers are required to take them, but I plan to participate. I may find I know nothing about writing fiction.

I’ll keep you posted.
Happy Writing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

10 Steps to Getting Your Novel Published

Sane people are not writing novels. They are spending their free time taking dance lessons, going to barbecues, learning how to golf, and having drinks or coffee with friends after work. But you're only marginally sane, and you decide to write a novel.  

Step One. Decide what type of novel you want to write. This part is easy. What kinds of novels do you read? If you’re drawn to romance or chick lit, perhaps that’s in your wheelhouse. Do you love danger and carry a gun? You should write a mystery. For years writers have heard “write what you know,” but good writing is also about finding what you don't know. A well crafted novel combines both.

Step Two) Write a draft of say 55,000 words. This could take as little as a month (see or several years. In any case, it’s not a bad start, but you know it’s not ready for publication. You just don't know why.

Step Three: Show it to someone. You have several options here. A) Take a writing workshop where you attend a First Pages session. The instructor asks for copies of participants’ first pages. (This is after he has just demonstrated how the first page should snare the reader, identify the protagonist, and reveal conflict. (For more on this read Hooked. The workshop leader projects these pages anonymously on a giant screen, where he deconstructs yours. Words you thought looked good on your laptop screen reveal too much back story, show no hint of conflict, and vaguely give the reader a picture of who your protagonist is.

Revert back to Step Two. Call this 2 A)You write two more drafts, where you restructure the story, refine characters, and flesh out details; the manuscript grows to 70,000 words.

Step Three B) Take another workshop with a Famous Bestselling Writer (FBW), whose work you admired. FBW treats you and your work as if it were stinking up the room. You stash the manuscript inside a suitcase and leave it there. Maybe writing isn't your forte. Several months later, you clean out a closet and find the albatross, and decide it’s not horrible. You make a few changes, and C) choose a writer friend who will provide honest feedback without shredding your ego. Keep writing. Why else can you do? Writing the novel was the easy part, but you don't know that yet.

Step Four: Hire an editor. Whether you self- publish or seek a traditional publisher, this step is critical, particularly if like me, ‘typo’ is your middle name. This editor will point out where you spelled a character’s name two different ways, repeated dialogue and actions, forgot names of minor characters, and used the verb ‘smirk’ too many times to count.

Step Five: Title it. The title is more than just a name. A book’s title gives the reader a hint of what lies inside. A book called Love’s Eternal Promise is clearly a romance. Kafka on the Shore begs for a reader who has read Kafka. In Game of Thrones you know kings and queens are involved.

I like a title that isn't too obvious, yet also not obscure. (Poets can get by with obscure titles, but fiction readers like the book slightly unmasked.) Shadow of the Wind conveys mystery, On the Road, and Gulliver’s Travels let you know the characters are not sitting still for long, Pride and Prejudice provides hints to the book’s major themes, and The Last Song emits clues this book will be sad. Catcher in the Rye is a weird title, and though you don't learn two thirds through the book why it’s called that, the phrase rolls off the tongue. Salinger could have called it Holden’s Weird Adventure in Dropping Out, but that reveals too much plot, and somehow weakens the book.

My novel takes place during summer, and the eighteen year old protagonist has a car he calls the Blue Whale, and I considered calling it Summer of the Blue Whale, but that sounded too juvenile and chirpy. (My snarky editor friend suggested I call it A Whole Lot of Smirking Going on).
My working title was Pagoda because initially my boy has a fake ID that names him Michael Pagoda. Later this is changed to Michael Neruda after the word ‘pagoda’ did not make sense to the plot or character. After many sleepless nights, I decided on Breakfast with Neruda. Why? You’ll have to read the book for the answer….

Now that you have named your masterpiece, you move on to Step Six: publication. (Success at self-publishing requires aggressive marketing skills, and since you’d rather write, we will stick with traditional publishing.) This step involves A) researching agents in Writer’s Market, or other online sources. Make a list of agents, and B) start sending out queries. Almost every novelist I know hates this part of the writing saga. I’d rather write another novel. Or get a root canal.

What is a query? It’s where you shrink that 70,000 plus word manuscript to no more than two paragraphs, share your publishing history or related qualifications, and hint your “brand.” You need to appear friendly without being obsequious, confident without being haughty. Most importantly, your words reveal you can write well. 
Six C): Many agents require a synopsis along with query. Take your 250-500 page manuscript and shrink it to two to ten pages, depending on each agent’s preferences.

Six D) Agents and editors claim they want something new and unique, but if you scan the shelves in the bookstore or library in the fiction section, most of what is published is derivative of what has previously sold. Or we’ve just published a book with a similar theme, or a similar setting, etc. I read a great piece today that addresses this issue.

Step Seven. A) You will get rejected, possibly more than 100 times. Most will either send you a generic rejection, or not even respond. The best rejections will tell you specific reasons why they said no. some will even supply you with names of agents they know who might like your work. These are rare, but golden people who have nice notes and smiley faces next to their names in my database.  Rejections can help you make improvement

Seven B) Prepare to get weird feedback. I attended a conference in Seattle on marketing your work that included “pitch sessions. . A couple of agents asked to see my manuscript. Neither represented me,) one agent I pitched to told me, “If you rewrite it and give him a superpower I’ll take a look at it.”

Step Eight. After about a hundred no thank yous, Start doubting yourself, and think maybe FBW was right; you suck. Your friends and family think you’re brilliant, so they have to say nice things about your work. But you want strangers to be honest. You reread the good rejections and confirm your work has merit; it just wasn't something they felt passionate about. Submitting work is like dating; agents and editors have to fall in love. Even though your submission package is dressed to the nines, your hair is freshly cut and you’re wearing your best cologne, if the chemistry isn’t there, he or she will not call you. You rename your email inbox the Daily Rejection.

Step Nine At this point you have two options: quit writing and be normal, or keep trying. But seriously, can a trapezoid like you squash yourself inside a square box?

You have exhausted the list of agents out there who are looking for your type of work. One day you’re reading an online trade journal and come across an article about a publishing house looking for contemporary realistic YA that describes your tale. This house also accepts un-agented materials. You sigh, and think, well why not? You send them a query along with the first 25 pages and a two page synopsis.

Step Ten: The acquisitions editor likes your manuscript, but asks you to rewrite two chapters before she will consider it. You suspected there was a flaw in your book, and this editor nailed he problem. You rewrite and resubmit a couple of weeks later, and a short time later an offer is made. Your work is done, right?

Ha! Writing the novel was the easy part. The work is just beginning.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Just Call Me MoeGyver

There are many advantages to living alone. I can leave a big mess and nobody will bark at me to clean it up, or I’m not picking up after anyone else. I can watch my own shows or listen to my choice of music. When I feel the need for company I go out with friends. Unless I lock myself out of my condo.

When I lived in Zanesville several of my friends had keys to my place, as I often locked myself out until I had a house with a garage. I usually kept the door from the kitchen to the garage unlocked. Even so, my front door key was on the same key ring as my car key.

Sine moving here I’ve been locked out twice. The first time was when I did a load of laundry. I set the clothes in for washing and walked back to my apartment. Walked up the steps, pulled out my key ring, and all that hung there was my car key and the laundry room key. WTF? I know I had to have had the key to lock my door in the first place, so I retraced my steps to and from the laundry area, and luckily found my key on the ground.

I bought a new key chain/ so far so good. Today, though, my keys would not have helped me.

I had just come home from Office Dept after buying file folders. I noticed Henry was enthralled with a bug on the floor. On closer inspection I saw it was a bumble bee. Bees are growing scarcer, so in order to save it, I let it crawl inside a trash can and took it out to the patio. On reflex I pulled the screen door closed behind me. The bee flew off, and when I turned around to go back inside, the screen door was locked from the inside.

I had no keys, no phone. Nothing. Just me on the second floor patio. Henry sat on the other side of the door, looking at me as if to say why are you still out there? Pablo was asleep under the bed. I had to pee and it was almost lunch time.

Screen doors aren’t well constructed. How hard can it be to break in? Harder than I thought. I tugged, pulled, beat the latch. Nothing. This baby was well made. I thought if I had a Phillips head screw driver I could unscrew the latch, but the only items on my porch are a few plants, my tub mat, and a wash cloth.

What would McGyver do? I looked at my jewelry: a medical ID bracelet and several cheap bangles. I used the ID portion of the bracelet to unscrew the two little screws holding the outside handle on. It came off, but the inside latch still held. Sigh.

But that gave me a small space between the frame and latch to insert something. I bent one of my bangles to form a hook and worked in in until I finally popped the lock. “I’m a cat burglar now,” I said to my cat. Henry walked away and curled up on the couch, relieved to know the hand that feeds him isn't stuck on the patio.

My B&E tools....

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Breaking Up With Bubble Wrap

I've been slogging through the stuff I paid way too much to have shipped across the country. Old manuscripts that will never be published, an enormous amount of old photos, and miscellaneous items. I think of the organizer gurus you see on TV who proclaim keep only what you need and what brings you joy. The rest discard or donate.

Initially all those boxes cluttering my living room did not bring me joy. I felt I was living inside Susan’s house in my upcoming novel. Since my place came almost fully equipped, there are a lot of kitchen utensils I've already donated. And I'm also finding there are things I own I don't really have room for.

On Sunday I wanted to burn all my books. Boxes and boxes of them, cluttering my living room floor. But Monday morning my mission was to buy a bookcase. I couldn't do any more unpacking until I had to place to shelve my tomes.

Since I've been building (badly) cheap furniture, I wanted something ready-made. Seriously, I would have flunked shop class. Elizabeth tells me she loves building things. “It makes me feel powerful.” I feel powerless because I’m so inept. It took me six hours to put together the boxed night stand I found in the hall closet, and the bottom drawer still doesn't slide in and out with ease.

I found a book case first store out of the gate: Home Goods. And look how perfectly it fits in the space.

This book case took care of some of my books, but I still needed another. Today I went to Storables, and found shelving sold in pre assembled pieces. I bought three interlocking shelf pieces for fifty bucks. They were on sale. I think I need one more, though.

My living room no longer looks like a hider lives here. I can't say that about my didn't get room/office and bedroom. But my brother and sister-in-law are visiting me next Monday, so I need to haul ass and get ER done. (You can take the girl of Ohio, but she still remembers the indigenous vocabulary.)

The only furniture I need now is a dresser and I might be able to keep my clothes, which is a good thing since unclad, I resemble Buddha.

Each day I find basic items I need, such as today, while preparing meatball soup to share with Scott and Jena tomorrow, and I discovered I had no way to open the beans. While the onions simmered in the croc pot I ran to Wal mart and bought a can opener.

On a side note, my editor sent me a PDF of my book cover. It’s gorgeous.  I'll share it when I can.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Living Small

When I sold most of my belongings and moved across the country, I assumed I’d be moving into a blank space. I stuffed two director’s chairs, a fold-able table, and an aerobed in the trunk of my car, assuming these would be my furniture until I could buy some. I recently moved into my one bedroom condo.  What I didn't sell or give away I left for the young couple who bought my house. Included in that were a lot of my cooking supplies, some lamps, towels, furniture, my toolbox (I kept a few critical tools), and yard maintenance tools.

In a way you could say I paid it forward, because the condo I put an offer on came with a bed, two lamps, a couch, two chairs, a set of dishes and other kitchen/cleaning supplies. The couple who owned it didn't actually live there; it was a weekend and occasional residence when business brought them to Seattle. They are retired, and no longer needed the space, and generously left the contents. I am slowly filling in the gaps of what I need.

I don't need to steal any of Jena’s knives because the owners left me a nice, sharp set, along with other spoons and cooking tools.  When my shipment from storage comes some of my own utensils will get donated to Value Village, which is a local second hand store.

I didn't want to share my bathroom with cats again. Three weeks in the hotel stepping over cat boxes to use the toilet were enough for me. Across from the bathroom is a utility closet, which after I moved the vacuum cleaner and step ladder, (The bedroom closet is huge and accommodates these) I had enough room for the boys’ boxes, even though a potential issue in a small space like this is cat litter odor.

I went to Pet Smart to buy more cat litter I discovered a Litter Genie. It’s Similar to a diaper Genie, which I had thought of buying until I saw this. You scoop the poop or clumps of pee into the chute, pull a lever, and it disappears, No odor. Allegedly one bag lasts for three weeks, but because Henry pees several times a day. Poor old kitty. I have a feeling I will be cleaning the unit out once a week.

Because the couch is ultra modern in white leather, accompanied by a white and a black leather chair, I wanted to add pieces that complemented them, but also acted as storage. I bought two red naugahyde foot stools that double as storage and the lids can be flipped over to form serving trays.  I also found a red bookcase that fits on a short wall, and paired it with a sea green glass lamp.

I’m trying to select pieces carefully that coordinate with existing furniture, but also serve a function. I also bought an oak (well, processed oak) desk and bookcase to match the kitchen cabinets. Hauling the pieces upstairs took several trips. Once built, these will go in the dining room next to the small oak dining set the owner’s left. (Next blog post will be about why I would have failed Shop Class.)

Until my storage stuff comes I’m on hold from any more large purchases. I know there’s a cedar chest coming, as well as my crock pot, wicker foot stool and cobalt blue lamps, but I’m not sure what else is in there. Books, of course, yet not as many as I once owned. (I probably sold or gave away 80% of my books.) I also shipped Fall and Winter clothes, several paintings, art supplies, and a few miscellaneous items, yet some of what’s arriving could end up at Value Village.

Because I am living small, I need to be cognizant of being well organized, and learn to live with less. My old desk held lots of stuff, and the roll top feature provided instant hiding for the usual messy surface if company came over. I no longer have that option. I love office supplies, but from now on I will need to second guess buying packages of cute paper clips. I don’t have anywhere to put them.

Luckily the bedroom closet is ginormous because all seasons of clothing will have to go in there. I live close to a Half Price books, and every time I finish a book I don't plan to read again, I will trade it in on another.

In a way I’m changing my personal style. I’ve always been a fan of patterns and pillows, but that just won't work with my new modern decor. I’m okay with that. I had way too much stuff for one person anyway. How much do we truly need?

 Interesting footnote. when I went to get something out of  my car earlier this evening I smelled pot smoke. In Ohio the toker would get busted, but it's legal here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"That's My Spot."

I’m still trying to find my “ spot.” I am revisiting a Starbucks I disliked the first time I was here. It has an odd set up, the tables are squeezed together, and there are very few plugs, but I’m hungry and I have a free reward on my card. Also, it’s freezing in here, but the Starbucks in Zanesville is always cold, so maybe this is my new spot.

Starbucks has been a chief source of my meals on this journey. Several people gave me Starbucks cards as going away gifts, and out here I can buy Protein Bistro boxes, which comprise of a hard-boiled egg, grapes, apple slices, a multigrain roll, a couple wedges of cheese, and a packet of natural peanut butter. There are other types of boxes, and they cost five bucks, but each is a healthy choice. Today I am using my reward for a free one.

I need to learn about twenty new languages so I can eavesdrop on conversations here. Right now I’m in a middle seat surrounded by people chattering in various tongues. But since I can’t follow their dialogues, I can’t use that as a distraction from writing.

This location is only twenty blocks from my condo, which I will be moving into Saturday morning. Technically I can walk here, but most likely I won't since I will also be hauling a backpack containing my laptop.

My table faces the parking lot, and I’m getting glare from windshields. I could move to the facing chair, but it’s bad feng shui to sit with one’s back to the door if you are alone.  

The other day I met my fiend Cat at Third Place Books. I arrived early in case I got lost, which I didn't. Since I was inside a bookstore I knew I may as well peruse the volumes before Cat and I sat in the cafe area to write. Writers work alone, yet sometimes sitting with another writer optimizes productivity, as if we emit some shared creative energy.

At one point I got up to use the bathroom, and left my belongings with Cat. As I was walking back through the store, a woman stopped me and asked where she could find the James Lee Burke novels. I said, "I don't work here, but I'd be happy to show you."
She eyed me, and said, "You look like you should work here."

I've toyed with the idea of working in a bookstore part time, but two things come to mind: One, I might just have to sign my check over to the store from all the books I buy. At least that was the case when I was younger and allegedly supplemented my income with a second job in a bookshop. The other caveat is I like hanging around bookstores. If I work in one, will that omit a potential hangout spot?

Eventually I will find that elusive spot, or since I’m in a large city, many spots where I feel comfortable and welcomed. This Starbucks might make the list. The baristas are friendly and seem to enjoy their work.  (I’ve been to a couple where some or all of the employees are rude or indifferent.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taking Circuitous Routes

My friends in Zanesville, noted as the being the fifth worst city in Ohio, often complain about the traffic on Maple Avenue. For about two miles from I-70 and Colony Square Mall, cars clutter both north and south bound lanes. Throughout the rest of the city one can drive with relative ease.

Traffic in Seattle is like that strip of Maple Ave. magnified 200 times. A five mile trip can take an hour depending on the time of day and road construction. Freeways are best traveled between 10 and 2 pm. Traffic is heavy, but it moves, sometimes even at the posted speed limit.

Traffic is going to get worse. High rise apartments and condos are springing up quickly and being squeezed onto lots that once held single family homes. The bus system in Seattle city is fairly efficient, but the light rail is limited, and if one lives in a suburb, he or she needs a car. My cousin Jena says traffic tends to keep people in their neighborhoods.

You’re wondering why I moved here.

I tend to use maps or landmarks to find my way. My GPS using friends and family think I’m nuts, but I think it’s good for my brain to discover my route on my own. If we become too reliant on technology to steer us in the right direction we don't truly learn the path, or its alternatives. I found this when students did internet “research.” Most used Google to find a site or two, and stopped there. They skated the surface of wisdom, avoiding the narrow back roads that may lead to a treasure.

I’ve grown comfortable knowing where to drive in Zanesville and Columbus without a map. Now I have to pay attention to detail to keep from getting lost. Sometimes I think those details change. I have yet to find this Barnes & Noble without getting turned around. Until I find a permanent place to land, the bookstore cafe has become “my spot.” I swear the landmarks change just to screw me up each time I drive here.

I use my GPS app only when I am deeply lost. The other day I tried to drive to Lake Forest Park. I followed the freeway sign for the Lake Forest exit, and thought I was headed in the right direction. After a half hour of driving and a couple of turns, I ended up right back at my hotel. I burst out laughing. I pulled into the parking lot, got directions from the app, and tried the trip again. I saw what my error was; I turned left in a spot where I should have gone straight. It looked vaguely familiar. (Of course it was familiar, it was near my hotel.)

My target on this venture was Third Place Books. I had come here several times when I house sat for Jena and Scott last year, and knew the route by heart from their house. One of the reasons I moved here is the city still supports independent bookstores. Zanesville is an hour’s drive from the nearest bookstore.

Every day I am here I get less lost. Today I am meeting my friend Cat at Third Place Books, and I’m pretty sure I can find it again. I’ll leave early just in case they move the landmarks.