Please Wear Pants!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

With stay-at-home conditions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we’ve all adapted to different ways of connecting. My favorite new tool is ZOOM. Once I figured out how to use the safety features, I’ve had “meetings” with my family, fellow writers, and study groups. In fact, it seems like everyone, including politicians and TV personalities, have discovered the magic of the ZOOM option.

What some people haven’t caught on to is, you need to wear pants. Or use mute.

It’s so easy to have a meeting in your jammies. With a jacket or sweater, you look dressed—until you stand up and show off those ducky flannels, or in the case of Will Reeves, no pants. Guess he thought the scrolling titles at the bottom of the screen had him covered. Not!

Certain politicians who will not be named have stopped meetings mid-discussion when the rest of the group heard their loud “flush” after finishing personal business. Did you not realize you had a “mute” button, guys?

Also, in case you didn’t know, you can choose a “virtual background” so that people aren’t checking your bookshelves behind you to see if you’ve dusted. I like the Aurora Borealis. Maybe one day I’ll get to travel north to see the lights in person. At the moment, not likely. Too many COVID germs on the way.

Or you can pick a well-edited photo to post on screen during your meeting instead of using the camera function if you’re having a bad hair day. Or didn’t wash your ducky flannels.

My sister and her husband have hosted games with us and other couples over ZOOM. We’ve had several hilarious evenings playing QuipLash using screen sharing along with smart phones. Our cleverness, of course, increases with each glass of wine or margaritas. Mental stimulation and humor: win/win.

Grandparents have used ZOOM to read stories and chat with grandkids. Neighbors have had ZOOM dinners, happy hours, book clubs, and cooking sessions. It’s a bonus to connect with people once separated by geography. Plus, no more excuses like, “It’s too far to drive,” or “I don’t like driving at night.” The only good excuse now is either your ISP’s bandwidth is acting up or you had a previous ZOOM commitment. But who would not jump at the chance of visiting with humans other than the ones you’ve been on house arrest with for two months?

I’d like to give a shout out to ALL RISE, one of our favorite TV shows on ABC which has embraced the new normal in a big way by incorporating virtual screen meetings into their script. Actors themselves are having to learn to be their own set, camera, and prop people at home. Their characters on the show are struggling with how to try virtual court cases under restrictive conditions without violating people’s rights. Like all others in real life, show characters also are trying to juggle personal relationship challenges with social distancing rules in place. I love the creativity and resourcefulness of the writers and actors. Great job!

If you haven’t tried ZOOM, I highly recommend it. To understand security issues, take time to watch videos under their “Support” section. As with everything else in life, there’s a safe way to ZOOM.

Have fun, stay safe, use the mute button when appropriate, and please wear pants!

Karen Taylor Saunders

The Price of Flour

Welcome to Author Next Door!

For a month and a half now, most of us have been under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. When we’ve ventured out for groceries, we’ve witnessed extraordinary lines at local stores, with people standing six feet apart as they wait to get in wearing their face masks and rubber gloves. They’re usually holding wipes or hand sanitizer.

But getting inside the stores hasn’t guaranteed scoring the supplies you came for.

The first run was on toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies. People also stockpiled bread, cans of tuna, vegetables, and cartons of pasta. Whole aisles were empty, save for cans of beets.

The next run was on baking items like flour and yeast, because stores were out of bread and people were trying to bake their own. Amazon was no exception to being sold out. For weeks I tried to buy flour but couldn’t, even on Amazon, unless I wanted to pay a month’s salary for a bag as big as my living room.

So, next time in Costco when I saw a large bag of flour, I immediately wrestled that sucker into my basket, paid for it, then fought to lift it out of my basket and into the back of my car. All 50 pounds of it!

Yes, I bought a 50-pound bag of all-purpose flour. By myself. For only $10.49.

I didn’t read the fine print, though. The cost of taking the flour home wasn’t just monetary.

It was time needed to transfer the flour into smaller containers for storage in my garage freezer. And, since my husband wasn’t there to help me, the cost was a pulled shoulder blade muscle as well as a stress fracture in my left foot. A visit to the doctor. No playing pickleball for 4-6 weeks while my foot heals. Who knew?

My neighbors were sympathetic. I did email to let them know I’d let them borrow flour if they needed it. Some already have taken advantage of my offer. This is a very good year to be on my nice list!

I can’t blame the pandemic, or Costco, or my husband. I made a choice. I will say, I’d do it all again, except next time…next time time I’d track down an employee and get help!

The flour went in my freezer. The picture of that flour is going in the same drawer as what’s left of the 10-inch round, three-wick Y2K candle I bought twenty years ago.

What can I say? I like to be prepared!

May you be safe and healthy,

Karen Taylor Saunders

Social Distancing Humor

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Friends on our block came up with the idea for a contest: suggestions for social-distancing activities. Here are a few my husband and I came up with:

  1. Play a game of Jenga using your hoarded stack of toilet paper.
  2. Count how many bounces of a tennis ball it would it take to walk around the block.
  3. Play a game of Scrabble scoring under 100 points/over 100 points/exactly 100 points.
  4. Using a sheet of printer paper and only office supplies found on hand plus glitter from your saved 2019 Christmas cards, make a worthy birthday card for Liberace. As a bonus, listen to the YouTube video of Liberace playing Chopsticks while you work. If you are a Millennial, make your card for Billy Porter.
  5. Engage in a weed-pulling contest with your neighbor. Later, commiserate with texted pictures of appropriate-only body parts–depending on your relationship with your neighbor–soaking in Epson salts next to a disappearing margarita. The person claiming the larger number of sore muscles from different body areas wins.
  6. Speed-read through your Amazon buy history page and mark items either as 1) life-changing or 2) what was I thinking?
  7. Stick toothpicks into a square of Styrofoam or the side of an Amazon cardboard box in your garage and wrap dental floss around them to make an art picture. Extra credit: first tie-dye the floss several different colors of food color.

I expect our list will get longer as the days/weeks/months drag by…stay safe and healthy!

Karen Taylor Saunders

Zombie Apocalypse Now

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Two days ago, my husband and I entered Costco and were met with lines of over-loaded carts that stretched from check-out counters across to the side aisle and disappeared toward the back as far as we could see. We walked out.

Yesterday, we tried another Costco further out, thinking to go early. At opening, the line outside the building still stretched half the block, with streams of people joining the queue as they poured in from the parking lot. We kept driving.

Next stop? Walmart. Turning the corner on the toilet paper aisle, all I could see were tall, empty steel racks stretching to the far aisle and a woman standing by her grocery cart telling her husband, “I TOLD you so!”

I finally found a stocker to ask about the toilet paper. (I’m not hoarding. Some of us really do buy toilet paper on a regular basis!)

Poor Millennial said, “Tuesday we sold out of 11 pallets in 2 hours. Yesterday they only sent 1 pallet. Don’t know whether we’ll get any more any time soon.” Bemused, he continued, “I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life! It’s like the Zombie Apocalypse without the Zombies!”

Besides the obvious run on toilet paper, water, canned tuna and guns—we certainly need guns for all the Zombies—today’s COVID-19 or Corona Virus pandemic has initiated closings, lock-downs, and “social distancing” for those who are able to stay home. In no way do I intend to make light of the serious nature of this health emergency. I’m happy to see that most people are taking wise precautions to help lower the curve of infected people so that health care services aren’t overrun and so that fewer people become ill.

Unfortunately, any kind of crisis—stock market, natural disaster, terror, or health—triggers our panic mode. It is especially in these stressful times that we need to celebrate our human ingenuity and sense of humor:

—I love that kids made homemade “hand sanitizer” to sell at drive-by stands—see internet for recipes.

—I love that my husband and I made a “Wish List” of fun things to do in our self-imposed quarantine or “found time.” I’ve even gone all day working around the house in my jammies. Freedom!

—I love @JenMonnier’s Twitter thread listing her favorite songs to sing instead of “The Birthday Song” for timing hand-washing:

@JenMonnier thread about Songs to Wash Hands By

—And, I enjoyed reading other responses in the above thread, such that I’ll never hear “My Sharona” again without singing “My Corona!” thanks to @jdkattar.

We can be serious and take precautions, which I hope you are. And we also can use our ingenuity and humor to help us stay mentally and emotionally balanced.

Stay safe, pick a song to sing while washing hands, and watch out for Zombies!

Karen Taylor Saunders

Father, Forgive Me!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

I told the greeter that both of you
were parking your cars,
since wait time was twenty minutes
and you’re usually both on time.
But the blinking red lights flashed
and the small black square
vibrated its summons after only five minutes,
so when he asked if you were still parking,
I said, “yes.”

I don’t know where that came from.
I could have told the truth–
that neither of you was here yet–
and waited, like the rest of the crowd at lunch.
But–I lied.
It just came out
much too easily
for someone who complains
about speeders in the school zone,
students who say they were sick when
they really stayed home to finish a project, and
parents who are willing to fire a cannon
into a teacher’s face to cover their golden child’s latest misstep.

So, I ordered queso for the three of us
and waited…
and waited…
and the waitress asked–
again–
if the two of you had gotten lost in the parking lot.
She must have known.
“Maybe they’ve given up.”
I should have, too.
But I pulled out my cell phone,
left a message on Clare’s, and got a startled “hi”
from Jan, who told me why you both weren’t there.
Disconnecting,
finally I was truthful. Sort of.
I told her I thought my friends had ditched me,
changed my order to go, apologized for taking up a table,
and left a three dollar tip.

It helps if you write a meeting down in the correct month.
And have girlfriends who fall off their chairs laughing when you admit what you’ve done.

Karen Taylor Saunders

#copypastecris Update

Welcome to Author Next Door!

After writing my last blog, I remembered that in Courtney Milan’s comment section for her blog post that another Brazilian writer, Lucas Mota, asked Milan to contact him as he’d like to cover the Serruya issue in his blog. I Googled him, found his website, and read his article. Very interesting!

Mota does two new things:

First, after managing to make internet contact with Serruya–quite a feat since many of her accounts have been taken down–he succeeds in getting her to respond to specific questions he asks about the plagiarism allegations and he then includes her answers in his own blog. Mota states his intent is for readers to reach their own conclusions.

Second, Mota examines book reviews listed for Serruya’s book and a book she is accused of plagiarizing. Noticing that the number of posted reviews for her book is higher than expected under certain circumstances, he uses a program to run diagnostics on the reviews for each book to see if they are likely authentic or fake reviews. Mota explains what the program looks at to make this determination. Serruya’s book reviews get a rating of “F” while the other book’s reviews get a rating of “A.”

To read for more detail than the summary above, the link for his 2/23/19 blog is https://www.supostoescritor.com. By the way, I read this in my Chrome browser, which thankfully offers a “translate” button since I don’t read or speak Portuguese.

Karen Taylor Saunders

#copypastecris

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Perhaps you missed getting scorched by heat emanating from Romance blogs and Tweets this last week. The one group you never want to mess with is a group of writers, especially if you’ve screwed up or screwed them, both of which Brazilian Romance writer Cristiane Serruya royally has, pun intended.

Several have questioned if Ms. Serruya actually exists as a real person. That aside, whoever she is or whoever constitutes what she is has been shown to have plagiarized 34 authors and 51 books, including Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts. For specific details, see websites for Milan www.courtneymilan.com and Roberts www.fallintothestory.com (numbers from Roberts’ blog dated 2/25/19).

After publicly being outted as a plagiarist, Serruya supposedly posted her “surprise” and blamed it on her ghostwriters! Yes, she’s a writer who doesn’t write. Her own books. And while she isn’t the first or the last plagiarizing bookstuffer on Amazon, she’s today’s very visible poster child for the dirty underside of e-pubbing on Amazon KU.

The fallout is phenomenal, hence the humorous quip on https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com  that “When I saw ‘Nora Roberts’ [on the list of plagiarized authors] my first thought was, ‘Everybody, get underground NOW.’”

Keeping a sense of humor—gallows humor counts—helps. If you haven’t already been on Roberts’ website, read her 2/24 blog (LOVE the last two sentences!) as well as the blogs before and after that. Nora Roberts is such a classy lady.

Many other eloquent writers have offered spot-on reflections regarding Serruya, ghostwriting, bookstuffing, marketing, and pricing in the downside of dealing with Amazon KU.

Because this is a such an important industry issue, I’ve spent days reading websites, blogs, Twitter #copypastecris, and back blogs addressing related issues and, in the process, learned a LOT about e-publishing practices and promotion, especially regarding Amazon KU. Information I have found is disheartening, especially in light of my hopes of e-pubbing this year.

There will be consequences. There should be consequences: legal, personal and public, singular and collective. Cristiane Serruya, readers, writers, ghostwriters, marketers, and especially the Amazon publishing machine need to face hard facts about what they do and how they do it.

Insert chorus of Billy Joel singing, “Honesty.”

For those interested in further reading, in addition to blogs mentioned above may I also suggest:

https://www.kilbyblades.com

https://www.thefussylibrarian.com

https://kriswrites.com

www.jakonrath.com

Sadly, there always will be cheaters, and the damage that cheaters do often outweighs any amends they can make.

We all have choices. We’ve all lamented that the energy some people put into their bad choices could otherwise have been funneled into much more constructive venues.

Here’s a salute to those who choose to do the right thing, especially when it’s the hard choice to execute.

Like writing your own book.

Karen Taylor Saunders

Out of the Abyss

Welcome to Author Next Door!

This last year I’ve crawled out of the gaping sinkhole I’ve lived in for several years.

Highlights only:

My mother died after a long fight with ovarian cancer, softened only by the birth of another family member the following year. I attended grief counseling sessions along with a sibling.

Around then, my second novel failed to gain traction when pitched at a national conference with partial submitted as requested. Queries weren’t answered or acknowledged. Beta readers and published friends gave divergent opinions on revising, including ditching parts I thought crucial to the premise of my novel. Despair set in: who was I kidding thinking I could be a writer? I must be an imposter!

If that weren’t enough, I suffered Frozen Shoulder—yes, that’s a thing—where I lost the ability to perform some of the most basic tasks with my dominant arm. Only after shots, physical therapy and months and months and MONTHS of exercises could I gradually resume regular early morning exercise with my neighbor buddy/writer and life as I had known it.

Like Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny, I had begun to wonder what, if anything else, could possibly be piled on top of all of this?

Fortunately, things got better again, as they do with time, and throughout it all there were pinpoints of light, such as travel with my husband on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. I read fiction and non-fiction. Friends encouraged. I did a spiritual reset to learn that Surprise! my factory setting turned out to be different from the way I was raised, so I’ve learned different choices and habits.

Darkness receded. Pulling up and out of the abyss, I propel forward, energized. Bits and pieces of writing and notes/research eked out during that time now can be revised, enlarged. New research has fueled novel number three.

Thank you, thank you to everyone who kept asking how things were, who gave me great hugs, and who encouraged me to keep going.

I appreciate you more than you know.

Karen Taylor Saunders

 

Write Like You Sudoku!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

I love Sudoku! I have the app on my phone, and my sister-in-law keeps me supplied with pocket Sudoku books for plane trips or sitting on the couch to wind down at night. My method of play is very methodical, although sometimes when I exercise my logic to eliminate numbers, I out-think myself or just plain write the number in the wrong box, usually in the box next to the one where it was supposed to be. That means eventually I end up with two of the same numbers on the same line. So I erase and start over. And over.

Sudoku challenges me because I’m so not a math person. Combined with the quirk that I don’t like looking at the answer key and I write in pen—hey, pencil is messy when it smears—I tend to go through a lot of tape erase. Working my way through easy and medium level puzzles to get to the hard ones, I leave behind completed pages sporting white measle-like patches over-written with pen, some often several layers-of-tape deep if they were challenging puzzles. When I finally solve an especially difficult one, I feel victorious!

As I finished one the other night, it hit me that writing utilizes many of the same skills it takes to solve Sudoku puzzles. Here’s the way I see it:

  1. Start easy, work toward hard. Having problems beginning that major fight scene? Don’t attempt it first thing when you sit down. First try describing weapons kept in the arsenal, or gear/clothing characters will wear and how that reflects inner emotions or connects as a symbol to their character arc or main story theme. Make a list of snappy phrases or come-backs for characters to utter as they do battle. Jot down what your major characters’ five (or six) senses register at the scene of the altercation. As you tackle easier tasks you’ll find yourself segue into the harder scene sooner than you think.
  1. Fill in what you know before tackling the gaps which are left. Write obligatory scenes necessary to span the conflict or character arc, even if you don’t know how you will get from one to the next. Plotters with story boards still run up against times when the next “door” won’t open because it’s locked shut for some reason. Give yourself permission to write out of linear chapter progression, knowing you’ll come back to add details for foreshadowing or complexity. Trust your subconscious to help you later with logic to make connections.
  1. You can begin a puzzle without knowing the answer. Honest writers often create a conflict without knowing exactly how it will be resolved. They only know it’s what they need to write. Trust yourself to write in whatever direction your story takes you. Writing is organic; tales change as they are spun—usually for the better. Some solutions materialize only after you’ve solved a previous one, since each solution creates new and different parameters. Your subconscious will help you figure out the answer to the puzzle, although just like Sudoku, that might make you crazy for a while.
  1. If trying one path leads to a dead end, start over coming from a different direction. Don’t be afraid to start over or to try out a different way of approaching an issue. Write a scene from another POV, start at a different point on the timeline. You’ll eventually figure it out as long as you keep putting yourself in the chair with the puzzle time and time and time and time again. Have patience and keep the faith.
  1. You don’t have to finish one difficult puzzle before starting another. Stuck? Write a few paragraphs for the synopsis. Draft a query letter. Write the back blurb. Take a break. Write a scene before or after the one you’re trying to figure out. Allow yourself to start another story without guilt. Bake cookies. Again, your subconscious eventually will clue you in and everything will fall into place. Important: don’t give up entirely—commit to going back at some point!
  1. Buy more tape erase if you need it. There’s no shame in trying something that doesn’t work out. Who hasn’t written three chapters only to find the third chapter is where the story should begin? Those other two weren’t wasted: they got you to chapter three. Allow yourself to write whatever appears on the computer screen as you type. You can erase/save/edit another time, but the important idea is to try, to give yourself that opportunity for magic to happen! As long as you’re in the chair writing, starting over isn’t failure. Failure would be not writing.
  1. Share good news when you complete a hard task. That’s what family, friends, critique partners, and writing group buddies are for. They appreciate your accomplishments, and they’re usually willing to help you celebrate over chocolate or wine. Be ready to encourage them, too, when their time comes.

Start with a plan, dare to start over or venture a wild guess, have patience to stick with it even when you can’t see a way to finish, and then celebrate your success when you do.

In other words, write like you Sudoku!

Until next time,

Karen Taylor Saunders

Won’t You Be Mine?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband hates buying Valentine cards. He’s a free spirit who doesn’t like other people telling him to buy things on certain occasions so they can make money. Since he’s an artist, he draws and watercolors his own cards for me, which actually is far better than a store-bought card. Over the years we’ve been together, he’s framed several cards he’s made so I can admire them.

He’s the same way about buying romantic gifts for February 14th. Flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries? Sure, just never expect to receive them on that specific date. The nice thing about that, though, is that he brings me spontaneous gifts throughout the year, which I consider so much more romantic. Nice surprises always guarantee good results for the home team.

It was inevitable, then, that the artist turned to me one day and said, “You’re a writer. Write me!” So I did. I wrote a poem for each of the first twelve months we dated, including in each poem some of the challenges we faced at that stage of growing into a couple.

One of my favorite poems is “Two Months,” which I used in my ninth grade classroom as an example for analyzing poetry. Until we finished, the students didn’t know who wrote the poem or the circumstances which inspired it. Upon finding out I wrote the poem, they always wanted to know the story behind it. It’s one of my favorite stories, too: As we were talking on the phone one Saturday before going out later, my future husband was planting flowers in his backyard. I told him that I wasn’t good with plants, that I had two bronze planters on my porch sitting empty. When he showed up that evening for our date, he brought with him potting soil and planted Sweet William in both planters. The vibrant colors were beautiful! That’s when I knew that my own William was sweet, and if the other shoe didn’t fall, he could be “the one.”

This year we will celebrate twenty years of marriage. The time has flown by, which means we’ve been having fun. Here’s to my sweet William, my very special valentine, and to twenty more happy years together!

Karen Taylor Saunders