This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When Book Clubs Read Your Book

            In the past couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to two book club meetings that were discussing one of my mystery novels. It was a great experience, and one that gave me a bit of an insight into how the books are being read by typical readers.
            The first book club met on January 10 and was discussing my second novel, Wash Her Guilt Away. The meeting began with the playing of the video trailer for the book, and, since he had a cameo role in the trailer, the retired local police chief was also invited to the event.
            About a dozen people were on hand, and it turned out a couple of them were fly fishermen. As the book is set during a fly-fishing vacation, that gave something to talk about, and they showed pictures of fish they had caught. They were bigger fish than I usually catch, but let’s skip the sour grapes.

The Question I Didn’t Expect

            A certain amount of the discussion at this meeting (and at the other, as well) had to do with questions about how I write the books and where I get my ideas. My general answer to that question is that as a writer I’m always stockpiling material and ideas and that once I start to map out a story line, things begin to fuse together into a semi-coherent whole.
            Even so, there were questions I wasn’t expecting. One that threw me for a loop came from a man in the group who said he didn’t understand why a successful 55-year-old businessman would be attracted to a 27-year-old woman. (They were already married when the story began and were two of the key characters.)
            Of all the things in the book that I never expected to have to explain, that would top the list. As I sat there trying to formulate a tactful response, one of the women in the group came to my rescue.
            “Oh, come on,” she said, and made a hand gesture with an unmistakable meaning. I thanked her under my breath.

Just Among Rotarians

            Last week, I went to the second book club. It was formed by members of a nearby Rotary Club (not the one I belong to) and was discussing my first novel, The McHenry Inheritance.
            The club has ten members, but on that blustery, rainy winter night only four showed up. I knew them all, and it was a convivial experience. They had some good questions and comments.
            The lone man in the group analyzed the ending of the book, using the Rotary Four-Way Test: Is it the truth; is it fair to all concerned; will it build goodwill and better friendships; and is it beneficial to all concerned. It was a way of looking at the ending that hadn’t occurred to me, but at the same time showed that he had been considering the moral complexity of it.
            And there was a make my day moment, too. One of the women in the group said that when I published the book three and a half years earlier, and sent out emails to everyone I knew, she decided to buy it, even though she’d never bought an e-book before. It took her a while to get it on her iPad and be able to read it, but she persevered and said she loved the book.
            Now that’s what I call a loyal customer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When a Major Organ Lets You Down

            There’s been a long period of radio silence in this location, for which I apologize. Unexpected medical emergencies can do that to a blogger. It’s all good now, but if I could offer one bit of advice before moving forward, it would be this: If anyone offers you a collapsed lung, don’t take it.
            On the positive side, there’s nothing like a serious malfunction of a major organ to clarify a man’s thinking about what’s important in life. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’d like to believe I’m contemplating it more, and more clearly.
            It began innocently with a trip to the heartland. On Monday Jan. 11, Linda and I flew out to Nashville, and from there drove north to Ft. Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The occasion was our son’s return from an overseas deployment, during which he was almost daily flying over hostile territory in a Blackhawk helicopter.

Cabin Pressure Decreasing

            The homecoming was great. The troops flew in on a chartered 767, marched into a hangar, and had to stand at attention for about 10 minutes of speeches and band music. After that, everyone was dismissed to spend the rest of the day with family.
            We spent pretty much a day and a half with Nick, catching up on what his deployment had been like and helping him get set up in his new quarters (nicer than before). We also took him shopping at the PX, the commissary and WalMart. We had dinner at a burrito joint he favors and at Blackhorse Pub in downtown Clarksville, TN, which was a bit more posh.
            Thursday, we flew home, little knowing what would happen when we arrived. As I’ve subsequently learned, the sharp decrease in cabin pressure as a plane descends for landing is one of the leading triggers for a collapsed lung. The descent into San Jose is apparently what pushed mine over the edge.

But It Doesn’t Hurt

            When we got off the plane in San Jose, I suddenly found I couldn’t walk more than 150 feet without feeling as out of breath as if I’d just finished a marathon. With no training. I’d had some shortness of breath in Tennessee, but had attributed it to the cold weather constricting breathing passages. And there was no pain; I’d always heard that a collapsed lung is intensely painful.
            So I talked Linda into going home, with a promise that I’d call the doctor first thing in the morning. The doctor was not as copacetic about the situation as I’d been and ordered me to the ER, where I was a) quickly diagnosed with a collapsed lung, and b) informed that in a small percentage of cases, there’s no pain. Just lucky, I guess.
            On the other hand, the lung had collapsed in an area where I had some damaged tissue from a previously diagnosed and treated pulmonary ailment. A look at the cat scan convinced the doctors it needed to be cleaned out, and the sooner the better, so at 7 p.m. on Friday night of a three-day weekend, I was wheeled into surgery and remained in the hospital until Monday night.
            No fun, but a month later, I’m nearly 100 percent again, and there were two positive side effects. One was that the surgery knocked me out for 13 hours and wiped out my sleep debt from the trip. The other is that the surgery means there’s a fair chance the repaired lung will be good for the duration, and I won’t have to go through this again. I sure hope so.