Sunday, August 17, 2014

Harpers Ferry National Park

Recently we had to head up to Brooklyn to attend a birthday party and a funeral. On the way up we decided we would stop at Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia.



 I knew the story of Harpers Ferry and Jim Brown,


but didn't know much about the national park. I figured we could check it out as part of research for my book, and then spend the night in Charles Town, doo dah, doo dah, and check out the racing track and casino. I wish we had gotten to Harpers Ferry earlier because it blew me away.


What a gorgeous national park. It has a bit of everything...it's really a step into the past amongst a scenic natural setting. We had lunch as this quaint restaurant which was not part of the park, but it was in the park on High Street. I think it was the Coach House. Very pretty, and the food was excellent too.



Unfortunately the pictures I took inside the museums did not come out too well so the rest of these are just outdoor shots. If you look on the face of this cliff you will see a faded sign on the mountain.


This is the walking bridge underneath it.


I had seen a bird which I think is a heron in the river and wanted to get a closer shot. Once I looked down, I began to get a little dizzy and felt like I needed to get the heck off of it, but not before I got a pic....


When my husband told me not to look down, but up instead, I thought I saw something through the fence on the cliff...


When I zoomed in I saw two climbers...

And this guy is barefoot!


I climbed a bunch of stairs to the church and was disappointed to find out it was closed.





They were having a ghost tour later that evening and I wished we had gone to that instead of the lousy casino! I could have spent another day in Harpers Ferry, I would have liked to see the actual city,  but responsibilities prevented that. The park closes at 5:00pm so make sure to get there bright and early. Wear walking shoes, bring a camera, and take bottled water with you too. It's the best $10 you'll spend!

Monday, August 4, 2014

18th Century Encampment in Elliston, VA

On Sunday we drove to Elliston to check out an 18th century encampment. I was thrilled I stumbled upon the event via a tiny blurb in the Salem Times, which I never read, but happened to read while at the library on Friday. The book I'm working on begins with early settlers emigrating from England. I've been having a hard time with this era because there's just not as much written about it as there is about the Civil War. I had hoped one of the re-enactors could shed light on The Great Road. From what I've read there seems to be two, maybe more "Great Roads;" one north to south from Pennsylvania through the Appalachians, and the other west to east from Virginia's coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Unfortunately, I never found an answer regarding The Great Roads, but I did learn other things. Here are some pics...

 
Very knowledgable fellow who was portraying a fifer. Lots of info from him re. women who stayed with their husbands while they were in the army, and what happened to them if their husband died. He also showed me how to load and fire Brown Bess, his musket.

Didn't get to talk to these folks. If you want more info on spinning check out The Wheel & Distaff blog.

One of my characters is a Blacksmith so this set-up really helped me. There was a young fellow there who wanted to become a Blacksmith so I was able to piggy-back on his tutorial.



I really enjoyed speaking with this lady who was displaying children' toys from that era. Shirley Boone is from Boones Mill and her husband's great X5? grandfather founded the town. Shirely's husband died a couple of years ago and she was telling me how hard it was for her alone, especially with all the problems she has with light bulbs. If she had lived closer I would have given her my husband's number to call whenever she needed help. Shirley let me know that there are going to be many positive changes in Boones Mill's tourist area. It would be nice to know that town for something other than a speed trap.

Do not call this cornhole or you will upset Shirley! This is bean bag toss, and not that "silly game that was invented by Virginia Tech a couple of years ago."

The medical tent

They tried to gross me out with the details of how certain ailments were treated. This girl is holding up a device that was screwed into the skull to remove some flesh, etc. to relieve the brain.

I don't know if he was a leather worker or he  just sold leather goods, no leather workers in my book, but his style of clothes helped me.
The following photos are the backdrop of East Montgomery Park. The mountains and beauty of Southwest Virginia,  still fill me with awe. Even though wires, towers, or poles and splattered throughout them, it's easy to look beyond them and imagine a time when they were gazed upon the first time by settlers. I remember the feeling this first time NYC pioneer did 19 years ago...simply stunning. How lucky I am to live amongst such beauty...




When I zoomed in all the way I discovered there was a house hidden in the mountain. Now, this is what I would call the perfect writer's retreat...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Inspiring!

This morning while I was flipping through Netflix options I stumbled upon a documentary from 2011 entitled, "Juro Dreams of Sushi."

I couldn't have found a better choice to glide and bike with. I never heard of it; it certainly did not play at my local theatre, and maybe if I didn't like sushi I wouldn't have loaded it, but luckily I did. What an inspiring film!

According to the website, it's "the story of 85 year old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar."

The film is way more than sushi,  very "Zen-inducing." Sprinkled with quotes from Jiro, you can't help but admire his ambition, determination, skill, humiliation, and wisdom. He's the youngest 85 year old I've ever encountered. I highly recommend this film. Even if you don't like sushi, you might just love this film.



Here's a couple of quotes...

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."

"I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is."

"When I was in first grade, I was told "You have no home to go back to. That's why you have to work hard." I knew that I was on my own. And I didn't want to have to sleep at the temple or under a bridge so I had to work just to survive. That has never left me. I worked even if the boss kicked or slapped me. Nowadays, parents tell their children, "You can return if it doesn't work out." When parents say stupid things like that, the kids turn out to be failures."

"When I was in school... I was a bad kid. Later, when I was invited to give a talk at the school, I wasn't sure if I should tell the kids that they should study hard... or that it is okay to be a rebel. I wasn't sure what advice to give the kids. Studying hard doesn't guarantee you will become a respectable person. Even if you're a bad kid... there are people like me who change. I thought that would be a good lesson to teach. But if I said that bad kids can succeed later on like I did... all the kids would start misbehaving which would be a problem. Always doing what you are told doesn't mean you'll succeed in life."

"I've never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I'm eighty five years old, I don't feel like retiring. That's how I feel."


Are you doing what you love? Did you give your life to it? Would you, at 85 years old, love what you're doing so much you would not feel like retiring?

Hmmm, I have to do some thinking...

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Cash Penalty


I like cash. I mean, who doesn't? But I like actual cash, a pocket lined with cash, not a wallet stuffed with plastic cards, one with bills and coins. I like paying with cash. I like collecting cash. I like Johnny Cash too, but that's a post for another day. This one is about cash, or should I say, the stigma that has now become associated with using cash.

When I get gas, I pay first with cash. I've never swiped a credit or debit card at a pump. It's inconvenient in that I usually have to make two walks to the little window so I could get some money back from the gas that didn't fit in my tank, no matter how much I shake the car up and down, but I could use the walk, so I don't really mind. At least I'm offered the option, but there are some places where cash is no longer an option.

There's been many times driving up to a toll booth I'll get stuck in the long line of other cash-carrying cars at the only "cash" window available, while the E-Z-Passers fly through their empty lanes. It's particularly irksome at the bridges entering New York where there is literally only one cash booth, while there are many E-Z Pass ones, some of which have no cars flying through. On a recent trip to Virginia Beach I had to drive through a tunnel and was faced with something I've never encountered before, no cash toll booths at all, only Ez-Pass.

I was befuddled as to why no one wanted to make my money, until I found out I will be billed for the toll, and an additional $1.50 each time I used the tunnel would be added on. Yesterday I received the actual bill from Elizabeth River Tunnels. There's even a little photo of the front of my car on the $4.75 invoice which will jump to $29.75 if I don't pay it within two weeks. There's a blue box on it telling me I would have saved $3.00 with E-Z Pass. Apparently the toll also changes depending upon what time of the day you use it. An additional $.25 is added if you use it during rush-hour. I don't know what they consider Peak times, but when you have to use the tunnel, you have to use it. Now I really don't have a need for E-Z Pass since I do not encounter toll booths during my two mile commute to work each day, but I do travel a couple of times a year so I thought I would check out what getting an E-Z Pass would entail, and if it was worth it for me.

It seems you know longer have to "buy" the transponder. When you pick one up you have to put $35.00 on it, $15.00 of which you could use immediately. The remaining $20.00 will be available after you register the box. You also no longer have to pay the $1.00 monthly maintenance fee. From what I see on the site, the only place a Roanoker could get a transponder locally is the AAA office. For automatic replenishment, a credit card or checking account is linked to your device so when the money gets low, more can be added. I don't know if you can pay cash at AAA or somewhere else to add money on instead of using a credit card link. If you get a quarterly statement there is no charge, but if you want one monthly, it'll cost you $1.00/month.

So, I have a couple of questions. Is it easy enough to move the transponder from one car to another? Do I get a discount when I use it out of state? I would love to have that $15.00 Verrazano Bridge toll reduced, or is it even higher now, but I bet the discount only applies to New York residents. Do thieves break into the car to steal the transponders like they do for GPS systems?

For now, I'm not rushing out to open an E-Z Pass account so I will take the cash penalty, however, if/when I do relocate back up to New York I just might have to. Those tolls are ridiculous!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

Yesterday authors who have books on Amazon received an email to let them know they are offering a new subscription service called Kindle Unlimited.

"Hello,

Today we are excited to introduce Kindle Unlimited--a new subscription service for readers in the U.S. and a new revenue opportunity for authors enrolled in KDP Select. With Kindle Unlimited, customers will be able to read as many book as they want from a library of over 600,000 titles. KDP authors and publishers who enroll their books with U.S. rights in KDP Select are automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Inclusion in Kindle Unlimited can help drive discovery of your book, and when your book is accessed and read past 10% you will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund. For the month of July we have added $800,000 to the KDP Select global fund bringing the total to $2 million."


For those who don't know, once upon a time Amazon's KDP Select program was a Godsend for authors, especially for unknown authors. In the beginning, offering a book free equaled many downloads which equaled a nice top spot in the charts once the promotion was over whereby your book became highly visible to the masses. This in turn equaled sales, a nice amount of sales. Then one day Amazon decided it would change its algorithms. No longer would one free copy equal one sale. The buzz is, and I don't have cold hard facts to back this, that it now took ten free downloads to equal the ranking power of one sale. After a promotion ended, the "bounce" became a thud. Many authors, like myself, questioned if it was worth keeping a title in KDP Select. What harm would it be you might ask, and don't you get some royalties if someone borrows the book? Well, the problem is in order to enroll a title in Select your title cannot be sold ANYWHERE else. "Strangely" this exclusivity mandate only applies to independent authors, not big published authors.

A lot of independent authors bailed so Amazon came up with another plan -- offer a new promotion tool -- the Kindle Countdown Deal whereby you can lower your price for five days, say starting at 99 cents for two or three and upping it as the countdown clicked onwards. I never bothered with it so cannot say if it's a successful endeavor or not. I'm guessing probably not so successful as Amazon has come up with yet another plan -- Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is being called by some the Netflix of books. If a reader wants to join this program they pay $9.99 a month and then can "read as many books as they want." But here's some of the fine details...not every single book Amazon carries is enrolled. You can have up to ten titles at a time on your Kindle, which you can keep for as long as you want. If you're a voracious reader this service might be worth the $120 a year. As a reader, I already subscribe to a similar service...it's called my local library, and it's a free service. True, not every book is available for my Kindle, but every book is available in a hard copy. All I have to do is request it.

Now as an author, how do I feel about this new program? First and foremost, unlike the major publishing companies, I would still have to make my books exclusive to Amazon. Now maybe if I was a prolific author and had dozens of books I'd give it a shot, but I'm not. The first book I wrote, Fractured Facade, took years to write and the one I'm presently working on has taken me years to research, and I've just begun writing it. Sure, I could whip out a short story in a week or two, or a monthly erotic novella, but I don't want to.

I have one short story, The Valentine's Day Curse, originally 99 cents, that I was able to make Perma-Free. One might ask, well, why don't you put your short story in Kindle Unlimited? If someone borrows it you can make some cash. True, a borrow on a 99 cent book is worth more than a 35 cent sale. But, if I did that I would have to remove it from everywhere else. My plan has been that if someone likes my short story enough they might seek out my novel and actually buy it for $4.99, the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee, depending upon the size one chooses. It has been a pretty successful idea, (not bestselling top of the chart one) as I've gotten sales from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. From Amazon? Not so much. I'm beginning to think Kindle readers don't like to part with cash as easily as Nookies and iPeople, and maybe expect every book will become free at some point so they'll just wait it out until it does.

So I have to ask myself, would I get more borrows which would equate to more revenue than if someone actually bought my novel. I don't know. The borrow royalty varies from month to month and is good for a 99 cent short story, but would never be higher than sale of my novel. Of course in order to even get credit for the borrow, the reader has to read at least ten percent, which I hope wouldn't be a problem. But say I had put my full length book in it and the reader was someone who had a problem with an expletive or two, and once they got top the 8% mark was offended by my use of the word F*ck or Bitch, and returned it before they reached the golden 10%, I would get zilch. Oh, and if they were really offended they'd probably would leave a bad review as well which would suck, but has been known to happen. And on the other hand, say they really liked the book and decided they wanted to keep it. They could without paying for it, and still have 9 other slots to borrow books. Believe it or not, there are folks who will only "buy" free books. I'm not one of them, but I also don't have $28 to buy a new hardcover every time one comes out that I want to read. In fact, I will not spend $14.99 on an eBook either. That's just crazy. I hope the author who wrote that book is getting a huge percentage from their publisher, like $10.49 per book which is the 70% Amazon pays in royalty at that price, but I doubt it. Anyway, I digress. So, although I really want to read this book, I will wait for one of two things, whichever comes first...the paperback version, or a free copy from my local library.

Well, there you have it, my thoughts on Kindle Unlimited. Clearly, as a reader I won't be paying $120 a year, and as an author, I won't be enrolling my books, but I'm curious as to what you think, both authors and reader...worth it, or not?
And here's my blatant sales pitch...check the side bar for links to my two books, one of which is free, everywhere.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Ramones Are Gone and I Feel Like Crying

I've been depressed since learning the last remaining original Ramone, Tommy, passed away from cancer at the age of 65. He lived the longest of the four. Three passed away from cancer (wtf is in that Forest Hills air or water?), and one from drugs (would have thought the 75/25% split would have gone the other way around.) The Ramones are gone, and I feel like crying. Sure, I'll shed a tear, or four, for them, but I think I'll be shedding more for myself...for my memories.

When I first heard the Ramones I had recently burst out of the disco days of Bensonhurst, and landed straight into what would be later called punk rock in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was raw. It was real. And it had four beats we could dance to. And dance I did at every one of their shows. I'm not sure if I've seen Patti Smith more times live, or the Ramones. Either or, it produced the same euphoria. It was the first time in my life I felt as if I belonged somewhere. It was the best time of my life for friendships.

I turned a lot of folks onto the Ramones. Most of them are still friends, even though there are decades of years and hundreds of miles between us. I associate certain songs with certain people in my past. Although I cry more for some of them than others, every one of them will have a place in my heart. Reminiscing makes me sad, yet glad, I have those memories. Thank you Ramones, you have no idea how much your music touched my life. So with much respect and love I will now post a couple of your songs to bring me back home. Ramones, you always were and will always be New York City. I feel so far away from home. Lost youth deserves a tear every once in a while...

The following song reminds me of my brother...I turned him onto The Ramones, and from there...well, let's say, the rest is history. Rather than try to explain here's a link to his website Hardcore Punk Beyond.



Yeah, my cousin JP and I would sing it to him while pogoing all around him wielding an invisible bat. That's what you did to younger siblings in Brooklyn.

Speaking of JP, my partner in crime, my dance partner extraordinaire -- you'd be surprised how the floor opens up to a 6 foot 7 inch guy -- my, my, my, I miss him so much. This is for him...

"Gabba gabba we accept you, we accept you one of us!
Gabba gabba we accept you, we accept you one of us!"




My friend, former guitarist, fellow punk rocker, who was by my side as we were chased with baseball bats while departing the elevated train in Bensonhurst by a couple of zipper heads, just because we were "different", talented artist - Velardi Arts -  and one day will be the subject of a future book of mine - he's a Real New York Story, Johny V. We still speak almost daily, this is his song --Blitzkrieg Bop.



And for someone I do not speak with any more, my first ex-husband, from when he was just my boyfriend -- a much better time, this song reminds me of him...I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.



For my friend Jane, my female dance partner, who I know longs for those days past...this is our song. Another New Yorker, although living in Long Island sorta diminishes her NY status, only kidding Jane, living in Virginia is far worse! We still are friends. We will always be Sheenas...



For my friend Barbara, who has suffered the pain no mother should ever have to suffer by losing a child, from a time when we only worried about ourselves, for all those crazy nights we wound up in the darkened cavern of her basement...we usually spent the beginning of the night dancing to this, and by the end of the night were, sedated. Sedation has taken on a different meaning now...love this song and this girl. Another forever New York friend...



And me, my song lately...because I just don't.


Monday, July 7, 2014

A Functional Office


I've finally settled down into my office, but have yet to establish a writing routine. Life keeps getting in the way, and I think the only way for me to accomplish anything is to "force" myself to lock myself away from it all behind the sanctuary of a closed door. It took me a while to make my office functional, but I think I'm finally at the point where I have no more excuses.

The Reading Chair, aka, Bella's chair

The view from the Reading Chair

It's a small office, but now that I've thrown out the old and brought in the new, I really love it.


The star is that desk. Just look at that baby. Once I got rid of the moths in it, yes, moths, I lovingly polished and cleaned it. It's about twice the size of my old one, which was a kiddie desk. Look at the top of it, it's huge. And as if that wasn't enough, there's two pull outs above each top side drawer. They really come in handy. The drawers are so deep and long I was able to fit most of the files I had piled all around my office, my technical equipment, and office supplies, and I still have room. My legs fit easily underneath and I can't even reach the back wall when I stretch out. When Bella's scared she'll curl up under it and there's so much room she doesn't bother me at all.

So, now that I have the desk, the next piece of functional equipment is the MacBook. How have I adjusted from PC to Mac? Wonderfully! I love it. It took me a little bit of getting used to it and now I'm not so "afraid." One thing that's really helped is watching the videos from PC Classes On-line. David Cox has really helped with the transition and I highly recommend checking them out, even if you're not a newbie like me. I'm sure there are some tips that will help you.


Okay, so I have the office, the desk, the MacBook. Now that I was comfortable enough with the Mac I decided I needed to add a functional word processing program to the mix. Although my first inclination was to buy Microsoft's Word, I did a little more research and spoke to a couple of other writers who use a program called Scrivener. It's really more than a word processor, and it only cost me $24.99. With this program I am able to "outline, edit, storyboard and write" as their tagline claims. At first it was daunting. I watched a couple of Youtube videos and read the entire on-line manual. I was still unsure, but once I jumped in and began applying what I learned into practice I am happy to report, I love it!

As you may or may not know, I've been researching my current work in process for years, yes, years. During that time I've accumulated so much data, which in turn became notes, that it has almost become unmanageable. Frankly, it was overwhelming and I think one of the reasons I kept procrastinating. Now that I've begun using Scrivener I don't feel so out of control. I've been able to take those notes from my real cork board and place them in a virtual cork board instead. I am able to create character sheets, research notes, and time-lines which I can simply reference with one click instead of having to shuffle through pages and pages of "stuff." I'm now able to edit before I even write, and I don't have to be so concerned about duplicating either.


Rather than worry about going from point A to B to C, with the way the program is designed I can now write whatever chapter I want and move it around later on. Since my book starts from the late 1700's up through the present day, I can separate each "era" as a chapter and each character or event as a scene in that chapter. For instance, I've got everything set up and organized for the 1763 tale and can now begin writing it. Once that draft is done, I can "forget about it" and focus on compiling everything for the 1800 one, and work my way up through each era. After everything is written I should be able to "compile" all the chapters into different formats including eBooks and print books. I'm nowhere near that point and I'm sure I will be watching more Youtube videos when I eventually get there.

Anyway, that's what I've been up to. My office is functional...let's hope I am too!

By the way, although I am not blogging as much as I have in the past, I have not abandoned it, so I hope you stick around.