Reading and writing and never enough time!

Between a couple of busy weeks at the Scorekeeper and an equally busy social weekend last week, I’m further behind than ever with reading, although I’m trying very hard to keep my head above water on writing.  In spite of my general need for more sleep, I stayed up late Thursday night to finish reading Colleen Thompson’s Phantom of the French Quarter, a nifty romantic suspense tale from Harlequin Intrigue.

When I finished Colleen’s book, I looked around at the shelves of unread books in my bedroom and went into my usual short-term mental paralysis.  Like the proverbial kid in the candy store, I find myself with too much to choose from.  I settled on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, at least in part because it was close at hand.

The overstock never stops me for long, at either reading or collecting more books.  Last Saturday Jo Anne and I went to a reception and booksigning for Haywood Smith (small world story here:  Haywood’s sister Elise, hostess and provider of truly lovely food, is the head office nurse for Jo Anne’s physician.  I find it extremely difficult to resist anyone who says, “Please, let me feed you.”).  I had met Haywood several years ago when she was guest speaker at a West Houston RWA meeting, shortly after the release of Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch, and I have enjoyed her books ever since.  The opportunity to chat with Haywood over chicken salad for an hour or so was a real treat; she is as charming and funny as her books.  I came away with signed copies of her new release, Wife-in-Law, and one that I had missed, Wedding Belles.

I also discovered that I had missed two of Haywood’s books along the way, so this morning I stopped at Half-Price Books and found a copy of The Red Hat Club.  Two or three books over I spotted a copy of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.  Dodie Smith was a British playwright and novelist who is best remembered as the author of The Hundred and One Dalmations, a book I read and loved when I was a kid.  I don’t remember reading I Capture the Castle, but apparently it has quite a following and comes highly recommended by J.K. Rowling.  So I brought that home–how far wrong can I go for seven dollars?–along with a copy of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, another book I’ve heard discussed on NPR.

Meanwhile, on the writing front, I’m on day 98 of my current streak, planning to finish Bathtub Jinn in time for this year’s Golden Heart deadline.  This evening I hung a new corkboard in my writing nook (replacing the giant three-dimensional macrame elephant’s head engineered and constructed years ago by my late father) and decided that the empty space above it was the perfect spot for my Golden Heart Finalist certificate, which has languished since July 1 in a manila envelope. 

Just to prove that writing contests are pretty much unpredictable, this week I received scores from one that Bathtub Jinn did not final in.  Translating the scores into percentages (to protect the innocent, as they used to say on Dragnet):  two judges published in romance gave the entry scores of 95 and 92 percent.  The third judge, published in some other genre, gave it 53 percent.  This was not a drop-the-lowest-score contest, so the coordinators sent it to a discrepancy judge (unpublished), who gave it a cautious 77 percent score.  I’m sure those results demonstrate something, but I’m never sure what. 

Nobody’s going to come knocking at my door, or even my email inbox, looking for a manuscript to buy, so this afternoon I sent Bathtub Jinn off to another contest.  If I throw the bait out often enough, maybe I’ll get a bite.  If I keep it in my computer, that’s where it will stay.

And I’ll only make day 98 if I do some writing tonight.

Life’s Minor Mysteries.

My phone has been out for a week, since we had an unexpected (but very welcome) two-and-a-half-inch rain last Thursday.  About 95% of the calls I get are from “Out of Area” or “Unavailable,” neither of which I bother to answer.  Tomorrow morning I have to stay home to wait for the repair tech, who will fix something in my backyard and restore the dial tone to the system.

The mystery isn’t why I have to be here.  I’m sure the phone repair people get tired of trying to get into fenced backyards, and they probably like having someone around who can go inside and check to see if the phone is really working.  The mystery is:  Why does the DSL line to my computer work when the phone doesn’t?  Same cable, same wall jack.  I’m not complaining, I’d rather have the Internet than sales calls from Unavailable, but it’s a mystery to me.

About a month ago I ordered six books through Alibris.  I wanted to replace my disintegrating copies of John Wyndham’s novels, largely out of print in this country but available in Britain.  Mindful of postage and shipping, I carefully ordered them all from one dealer, the Book Depository in the U.K. because (a) they HAD them all, and (b) they had them ALL.  I figured I’d get a neat package of six paperback books, and Alibris promised me a very reasonable arrival date.

Several days before the predicted date, the first book arrived, in a small padded envelope.  Two more arrived, individually packaged and mailed, on different days later in the week.  On the following Monday, the other three books were in my mailbox, in their separate padded envelopes, rubber-banded together by my mail carrier.  What’s up with the British postal system?  How could six packages possibly be more practical or less expensive than one package?  Another mystery.

Several months ago, TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation, which handles road signs among many other highway concerns) erected several of their giant electronic road signs along NASA Parkway, the main drag in my area, which I travel every morning and evening.  Signs of this type carry traffic advisories, travel time predictions, Amber Alerts and occasional Zombie Warnings throughout the highway system.

The signs along NASA Parkway sat unlit for months.  When some of them finally came on a few weeks ago, they said “Hurricane Season Is Here — Be Prepared.”  Trust me, people in southeast Harris County don’t need the highway department to tell us that.  Currently they say “Drink  Drive  Go To Jail.”  Good advice, but worth the cost of those signs?

   And how does Sam Spade, one of our office cats at the Scorekeeper, sleep like this? 

 (photo by Jo Anne Banker)

More Software, More Books.

More Software: I’ve been plotting out the second half of Bathtub Jinn, and by Sunday I had several pages of hand-written notes, scene sketches, etc.  I was thinking it was time to type it all into the computer so I could print it out, add to it, move bits around, and so forth, when what should show up in my email but a notice that the latest version of Action Outline was on sale for less than half price.  I used an early version of Action Outline years ago, and it may even be on the old computer gathering dust in the corner room with all the other stuff I don’t use much.  But it’s not on my current computer, and the new version, all tuned up for Windows 7, looked like just what I needed.  So I pulled out my only-for-writing-expenses credit card, and ten minutes later (oh, the instant gratification!) I was typing up my notes in outline form.

More Books: By the time I finished reading The Day of the Triffids, I was so nostalgic I wanted to read more Wyndham.  But the paperback copies on my keeper shelf are pretty much past reading, with brittle yellow pages coming away from the covers.  The oldest was printed in 1961.

Most of Wyndham’s novels are out of print, so I headed over to to see what I could find.  John Wyndham may be largely out of print, if not actually forgotten, in this country, but not in Great Britain, where Penguin UK has reprinted them (with odd, rather animé-looking covers) in paperback over the past few years.  By the time I hit the button to submit my order, I had racked up six books, all from a dealer called the Book Depository, and spent $75, but the order included the five books I wanted to replace and one, published posthumously, that I had never heard of (Plan for Chaos).  According to an email from Alibris, the books shipped yesterday (from the UK) and should be here next week.

I have other books around the house as old or older, in good shape, printed on better quality (perhaps acid-free) paper.  I don’t really expect a thirty-five-cent paperback, printed in 1961, to last forever.  But it’s made me think about the fragility of books, subject as they are to the effects of fire, water, insects and age.  As much as I enjoy my Kindle, though, I don’t think electronic storage is the answer.  I have cartons of old paper in my attic, and whatever the mice haven’t eaten is probably readable, although I have no intention of testing that theory.  I know I can’t read anything stored on five-inch floppy disks, and there are boxes of those up there, too.

Archeologists of the past cracked the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics and learned to read Sumerian grocery lists written on clay tablets.  Will archeologists of the future be able to decipher the contents of a well-preserved iPad?

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