Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28, 2015

I don’t understand it. I’m the one who lives above the 49th parallel, for crying out loud! I’m the one who’s supposed to be up to my assets in snow and frigid temps. I’m the one who’s supposed to be house bound due to record snowfalls. Not all my friends in the US Southern States!

And yet, it is indeed my friends south of the border who seem to be suffering the last couple of years with way too much snow and far too many days of cold temperatures. When I see Texas and Virginia and Georgia digging out, I know there has to be something terribly wrong in the world.

If I were egocentric, I’d feel guilty about this weather situation. Let me explain why. To do so, I have to start at the beginning.

I’m Canadian and we have a currency called the Canadian dollar. Very similar to the currency south of the border that is called the American dollar, structure-wise. We had pennies, (no more), and we have nickels, dimes and quarters. Four quarters is one dollar here, just like down there.

And about, oh, six months after my first book came out—somewhere between my first quarterly royalty payment and my second, (back in 2007) the Canadian dollar did something it hadn’t done since Prime Minister Trudeau let it float—not, in fact, since I was a child. It gained strength and value against the U. S. dollar. And with each successive royalty payment (that I received in US dollars) the exchange rate got, for my purposes, worse, and worse, and worse.

Everyone I knew joked that they were saving big time, turning their Canadian dollars to US dollars for travel, thanks to me. I agreed with them. It was just exactly how my luck usually went to have the exchange rate reverse just when I started to be paid in U. S. funds. 

I should have become suspicious last year, about the weather, when the cold crept south. You see, my beloved and I were discussing our winter options for the coming years. He has COPD, and breathing in the frigid temperatures of our traditional Canadian winters is very difficult for him.

An acquaintance of mine, a couple years ago, took two months down in Texas as a personal writing retreat. She told us what she paid for a condo on the gulf coast. It was amazingly reasonable—far less expensive than that other Canadian Snow Bird destination, Florida.

“We can do that,” my beloved said. “We just save half of our vacation money, take fewer trips—why, we could go down to Texas ourselves for two months—January and February!” The weather where we were looking to go averaged in the 70s for those months. And, we’d be on the ocean—something that my husband particularly wanted. His employer of 35 plus years had already agreed to let him have a 2 month leave of absence whenever he wanted it.

As for me—well, I can write from anywhere as long as I have my laptop and the Internet.

“Let’s do it!” he said.

“When? Next year?”

I knew we couldn’t really swing it that fast.

“No. I realize we have to plan more. We’ll make it 2016.”

“All right. Let’s do it!”

Those words were spoken in December of 2013.

My beloved and I would like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere apologies to the people of the southern United States, especially the residents of Texas for the cold weather they have been enduring for the last two years. If it’s any comfort to y’all, we have been re-examining the premise of our decision, in view of the temperature adjustment you’ve experienced.

But, on the bright side, the exchange rates have finally reversed again, and that’s good for my payday.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015

My father was a writer. That was something I knew about him as I grew up—not from him, as he was gone. But my mother told me, as did a friend of the family, a man who’d grown up best friends with my dad.

This man was a lawyer. My dad, on the death of his own father when he was a young man of 17 or so, had to leave school and go to work to support his mother. It was the 1930s and that was just what you did. But for all of the rest of his life, this man remained a good friend to my dad, despite the differences in their educations, and vocations.

I recall, when I was about ten or so, seeing a small sample of his writing—just a half page, and I had never been able to recall what it was. As I grew older, I just assumed that nothing of what he’d written remained.

Fourteen years after his death at the age of 46 in 1962, my mother passed away—at the too young age of 57. I was married at the time, with one child. Yet I remember thinking that even though I was a wife and mother, I was also now an orphan.

I raised my kids and worked, and then, just as we were about to become “dinks”—double income with no kids—I had a heart attack. I was 48 at the time, and I survived. Three months later, I began to have angina attacks and it was determined I needed angioplasty. At the last minute, that turned into triple by-pass. I recovered, and was told by my beloved that I was now a “retired” person. Being idle isn’t me, and when I wondered aloud what I would do for the rest of my life, he told me to go after that dream of mine.

And I did.

My first taste of success was winning a short story contest hosted by the Canadian Writer’s Journal. This was a literary publication. I was so excited, of course I had to share the news with my big brother.

And that is when he gave me the most unexpected and precious of gifts: an envelope containing samples of my father’s work. It thrilled me even as it saddened me. My father stopped writing when he left school. He had to work, and I guess he considered it time to “put away childish things”.

These glimpses into my father’s writer’s soul were ink on paper, the paper yellowed with age. I transcribed what I found there, and put it on my computer, in a file I called Legacy, and distributed it to my family.

There were poems, mostly, and one short story. One poem in particular spoke to me—written in 1931, when he was a young man of 16. It was as if he knew that soon he’d join the work-a-day world. It’s called Childhood Play, and I’d like to share it with you:

When the little children play 
Happy beings night and day 
Grown up folks look sadly on 
And think of childhood that has gone. 

Just a little simple noise 
Animates their very toys 
A little motions fascination 
The rest comes from imagination. 

A piece of string, a little board 
Some coloured glass oh what a hoard! 
“Tis junk” the grown up people say 
Tis treasure to a child at play. 

A ditch with muddy water filled 
Delights a little pilot skilled 
Who, over rapids safely guides 
His little bateaux through the tides. 

And thus in early, joyful life 
When yet each child has met no strife 
Each simple article contains 
Some hidden joy adults distain. 

In childhood beauty reigns supreme 
And innocence the only theme 
Would God our thoughts would so remain 
Tis true that thus we’d miss much pain. 

His poems and story serve as an echo from an earlier time, and provide a connection—not from father to daughter, but from writer to writer.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 14, 2015

January 14, 2015

There is a lot of hate in the world today. I’m not just referring to the acts of terrorism that have taken place so recently in France. That is heartbreaking, and criminal and an outrage to humanity. It is always tragic when hate becomes institutionalized as a movement bent on destruction. I believe that what is happening in the world in this regard today is not the product of the true heart of Islam. Before you denigrate an entire religion because of the actions of a few fanatics think on this. There have always been small minded and evil people who eagerly use the excuse of religion to terrorize those they consider lesser or evil, or just “other”. If you think this behavior is unique to what we call Islamic terrorism, then I would suggest you look back to the 1950s and 1960s. Those KKK members would have sworn they were doing the Lord’s work when they terrorized their victims, bent on denying them their rights, and even for some, their very lives. If that doesn’t convince you, go back further in time to the Spanish Inquisition and the “Crusades” that were directed against those who were not “Christian”. This is not to excuse these crimes against humanity. Just to let you know they’re nothing new.

All this is more than bad enough but there’s another indication of hate in the world that is very worrisome to me. It is is the hate I am seeing everywhere from ordinary people, people you might think were mild mannered, regular ordinary citizens. If you have FaceBook, then I am sure you’ve seen it. Check your news feed, and look at some of the memes that have been making the rounds for the last several months. Haters abound. It’s very sad and very scary, and sadly, very true.

I remember how, in years past when there would be elections and, no matter how invested you were in the process, at the end of the day, if your guy or gal lost, you put it behind you, recognized the legitimacy of the government elected of the people, by the people, for the people, and carried on until the next election.

No more. Now, if your guy or gal loses, the thing to do is to spread hate about the one who was elected, to do your best to stir up fear and loathing of this individual.

Here’s what saddens me about this. You see, hate breeds hate. And those who fill their lives with hateful messages and ideas and memes are filling their hearts and souls with hate, too. You can’t help it, you can’t keep it out. Every ounce of hate you take in and celebrate displaces an equal measure of love. The more hate you fill yourself with, the less love you can hold and—the absolute worst part—the more miserable you yourself are bound to feel.

I challenge anyone to tell me that they simultaneously hate particular politicians, or religions, or groups, or various movements and still honestly feel good about themselves deep inside. You can’t do it because hate and love don’t co-exist. You can’t love yourself and your life and your neighbor, while you are busy spewing hate all over the place.

You cannot love, while you are busy spewing hate.

Too many people in today’s society demonize those with whom they have philosophical differences. They are sowing a bitter, bitter harvest for themselves.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do all we can to thwart those who would terrorize innocent people in the name of ideology. Of course we should. We need to take action against those who would break our laws and disregard the rights of others. We need to stand firm, and refuse to be afraid to live our lives, and we should urge those in positions of authority to investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, those guilty of crimes such as bombing, kidnapping, and murder. We should stand up and speak out about injustice.

However, what we absolutely must not do, is lose our humanity in the process. Because the truth is that if you surrender completely to the hate you do in fact lose your humanity, and you do one more thing as well.

You accomplish the terrorists work for them.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January 7, 2015

Happy New Year!

How is 2015 treating you so far? My biggest surprise has been that the few times I have had to write the date, I’ve gotten it right! It usually takes me more than a few tries to get the year correct. I don’t worry that there’s something Freudian in that—that usually, I want to cling to what was instead of embracing what is. My daughter will tell you I’m afraid of change, but isn’t true—at least not in this case.

It’s more that I can be a bit of a dolt when it comes to some things.

Life has returned to normal in the Ashbury household. The Christmas tree and trimmings have been boxed up and put away, and the man of the house has returned to his job, leaving the woman of the house....the house. We enjoyed spending the three weeks together, of course. I was glad to see my husband take that time and totally rest. And I do mean totally. There were many days when he did nothing but read and sleep.

After the previous two years of having no overtime at work at all, this past year, my beloved had a lot. He really was tired by the time December 12th arrived. Yes, it was difficult writing while he was home. I find it nearly impossible to get into the zone when someone is in the same room with me. But the writing didn’t come to a complete standstill, and it was the holiday season, after all.

Routines are useful, and humans by and large like routines. I’m certainly no exception. I like my schedule, and am most productive in all areas if I am on track.

 I got to see all of my family except for one grandchild these last few weeks. That, by definition, is a good Christmas. And while the last few years I’ve battled colds and flu and other upsets at this time of year, this year was much better for me, health-wise. I was even able to eat a few “seasonal” treats, something I hadn’t done in a couple of years.

And now it’s time to figure out what the year ahead will hold, and what needs to be accomplished. For me, of course, it’s always the next book. I don’t write as quickly as some writers do, especially the younger ones, so I have to keep plotting on. On December 19th, my publisher released my 40th title! That is a lot of books, when you consider that the first one was published in March of 2007.

Thanks to the incredible increase of available books due to authors who’ve chosen to go the self-publishing route, coupled with new seemingly reader-friendly marketing strategies on the part of on-line booksellers, the marketplace is lively indeed. One needs to keep writing and producing more books in order to try and keep up and keep one’s head above financial water.

The reading public can be capricious, and each consumer only has so much money to spend. The onus is on the writer therefore, now more than ever, to ensure that the reader gets what they want, when they read their book. Knowing who your readers are, and what they want, is the first responsibility of all who pen stories. You have your art, and you have your message, and yes, those are important. But if no one reads what you write, then what do you really have?

I have been most fortunate to have readers who are willing to plunk down their hard earned dollars to visit the town that first lived in my imagination, and now lives between the pages of twenty-four novels—twenty-five, come January 23rd.

Thank you to all who’ve visited Lusty, Texas, for your loyalty, and the part you’ve played in making my life’s dream a reality. Thank you, especially, for taking the time to write to me. I adore hearing from readers!

And as I’ve said to all who’ve asked, yes, there are going to be more books written about that small, unique Texas town—as long as you, the reader, keep reading them.