Thoughts on the Twitter debacle and how I don’t think newsletters are the answer (still). Also, my new landscapes, why I surround myself with certain kinds of images and why they are NOT my framed book covers.
RITA ® Award-Winning Author of Fantasy Romance
Thoughts on the Twitter debacle and how I don’t think newsletters are the answer (still). Also, my new landscapes, why I surround myself with certain kinds of images and why they are NOT my framed book covers.
More on time management and my delightful discovery on managing my To-Do List with less – even no! – mental and emotional anguish. Also a bit on finding errors in books as young reader and what I learned from them.
Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee.
Um, today is Thursday August eighteenth um closing in on the end of August it’s a lovely rainy ish morning. We got some rainy rainy in the night. So. It’s a little. Damp and cool out here this morning I was going to come out and light the mosquito candle to sort of fume me gate before I came out here but I forgot so I see them hovering about wonder if it would help to light it now. Or shall we just stick it out as what comes and lands on me I suppose I better light it I’ll be right back all right? Probably a good thing I did that because as soon as I came out here about 5 of them swarmed my head. And 1 already bit my ankle. So I knew they were thick this morning because they were gathering on my bathroom screen as I was getting ready because ah mosquitoes are attracted to light I don’t know if you all knew that but mosquitoes follow light and they will come in towards the cities and stuff. Um, and they will light candles wet. So one of the wicks just went out. They’ll ah gather on the screen outside the window. Don’t go into the light Carol Anne
Well 1 wick is going anyway. So here we are then um, let’s see so I’ve Writer Coffee today. We’ll be heading for that.
And lots of stuff to do lots of stuff to do both today and tomorrow busy days tomorrow evening flying to Tucson oh my allergies are going too.
Paused just in time to spare you the explosive sneeze. Ah so um, so yeah, yesterday was good day I got a lot done I got everything done on my to do list.
So I mentioned on Tuesday that um, there are so many mosquitoes hovering around here I mentioned on Tuesday that ah that my friend Megan had been talking to me about a new way of doing to do lists.
So For those of you who have listened to me for a long Time. You know that I am a hater of Mosquitoes actually do Mosquitoes are like the only living creature I will gleefully kill trying to light this other. Wake again.
I think it’s not going to happen now at lights and goes out. Oh well. Um to do lists so those of you who know me well know I love my spreadsheets and I I do still love my spreadsheets. And in fact, one of the things Megan was talking about was like that this guy whose name I forget but I linked to in the last podcast and I’ll link to again recommends like a physical to do list so you could cross things off I get just as much joy from deleting and taking it off so I have a to do list. That’s um, a series of running columns that with dates on it. Um, my current to do list. Well I could tell you because I’ve got it up. It’s one of the first things I open in the morning go away ski to.
Okay, there sorry folks, not wanting to show me well this doesn’t seem right? Oh there we go. Okay, that was it was being funny. There’s something about this touch screen the way it does things. It like splits stuff out in a way that I don’t love. So ah, yeah, it mine goes out through I think it’s set for light end of the year we don’t need to spend a bunch of time looking at this. I think I have it going out to like January. Yeah December Twenty third oh no past that why is this doing this It’s been so weird all right now we’ve spent so much time on this that I need to look wonder if this is like being out on the internet. I don’t love that Microsoft office makes you be online I’ve got it scrolling out for like through March April ah, ah, okay, it doesn’t matter ah easily through April um.
And I have certain things that I put on it every day. Um that I haven’t um, sort of scrolled out um in an order to try to get some balance to my days where you you all know I’m a fan of working incrementally. Ah, so I work I try to move things forward a little bit every day so like I work on finances every day I would try to do like half an hour on that I try to spend like an hour on Sifwa and then stop it doesn’t always work out that way. But. You know so I have it divided out into things like um like the podcast is on there or the blog. Um business ah household things like that or if I’m teaching a class I need to remember to like go in and deal with. The class that day so ah mosquitoes mosquitoes. So um, it’s I’m always.
You know I do think that everything is an editorative process. So I’m always refining how I’m doing things and with the to-do list I mentioned this on Tuesday that you know there are those things that just slide down that I always move. From one day to the next as I don’t get to them and the thing that Megan said to me that was such a revelation was to keep an ongoing list but move it off of that daily list so that you don’t have this feeling of failure when. You move those things to the next day and the next day and the next which is really what I was doing and I was ending up with like especially under business or something like that I would have like 20 things and I knew I wasn’t going to get to all of them. In one day I knew that wasn’t even possible. But I knew that I would be able to um, maybe get to them. You know I always had this idea. Well you know like if I have time. This is why I’m gonna get to them and I had them arranged in order of priority. Well that meant the ones at the bottom of the list were just. Like some of them had been moving. You know from day to day to day since the beginning of the year easily possibly before and it did have more of a mental and emotional impact on me than I realized because.
Taking those things off of my list created this immense sense of lightness and relief. So now I have my ongoing list that’s on another worksheet and I have to figure out um a method or a schedule to. Go to that ongoing list and bring the things over to my current list. But so I’ve been putting since since I returned so just um, well really tuesday and yesterday but still I put. On my list for that day. Only the things that I thought I could get done that day and needed to get done that day and it and I did I got them all done and it was wonderful. It felt great. So. I’m going to try to keep doing that so I have quite a bit of um Erin stuff and so forth to do today and tomorrow because as I said we’re flying to Tucson tomorrow night. So I have things to do to get ready for that. Um, birthdays my aunt’s birthday. My stepdad’s birthday. Ah so and writer coffee I mentioned that yoga I’m going to try to go to inperson yoga this afternoon I’m committed to go.
Um, we will see tomorrow if I make it but I really really want to go in pro person yoga today. So I’ve kind of got my schedule figured out for that. So ah, there’s like I don’t there’s so many mosquitoes around I just can’t even.
They must have really burgeoned in the night. Ah so let’s see what else? Yeah I mean this just really has made a difference and I think that um what I need to do is like.
On the weekend or on Friday go through my ongoing list and put things on the list for the following week because one of the goals is to try to not move things from one day to the next to try to have it be only on that day and then ah. This one just dive-bombed me there.
You know have only on that day. What you think you can get done I have considered not having lists at all. Um, but too many things drop through the cracks if I do that? Yeah so I think. This will work I’m excited for this? Um I’m excited to see how it works on a weekend when I’m not traveling as I am for the next three weekends in a row. But after that if I have only a couple things on the weekend that I really need to get done. Then I will um yeah I’ll see I’ll see how that works and maybe that’ll help free up my weekend somewhat I oh I was I just about say oh you may have noticed when I mentioned my to do list I don’t have writing on there. Um. There are certain things and maybe this is telling that I do every day that are not on the list exercising getting my words in I think because those are givens those are just part of my routine. They’re part of what I do first thing in the morning I don’t have other things on there like eating something so tickling my face now there was a time in my life when I had myself so scheduled that I did have on there.
Like eating and sleeping grooming when I was really trying to get maximalia fishing efficient at my time but um, no now I only have the things that I want to try to move forward every day.
So um, so yeah, I’m really excited about how that’s working. It’s amazing to clear out the list for the day and then I delete that column at the end of the day when I’m done and shut down the computer then I’ve done for the day if it’s great.
Um, so I found one of the things that was on my list yesterday was to pick up my office which really needed to happen because it drives me crazy when my office is all messed up and I did get that done and I found. A note from a while back on something I had meant to mention and that was um and I can’t remember what made me think of it originally, but it was a. An interesting insight I was thinking about errors in books inevitably There are some and I was just thinking about when I was younger particularly when I was a very young reader and really starting to pick out and glom books on my own. And I remember in particular um, reading him McCaffrey’s dragons of pern books and finding mistakes I remember finding a continuity mistake and I nearly wrote to her about it. And now I’m glad I didn’t because it’s like now I know that authors hear about their continuity mistakes all the time and but I was so surprised that there was this mistake like where she um called a character 1 thing in 1 book and then something else in the next book.
Um, and then the other thing that was so interesting to me is like when they would do that teaser chapter at the end of the book and when I would get the actual book. Some of the words were changed. It wasn’t the same and.
And I was astounded by that and and I was young at this point. Um, probably I don’t know 1112? um and really starting to maybe I was learning at school some but also just starting to really analyze stuff with a critical eye. Really. Thinking about the text I was reading and putting it in context of the world and what those character those those mistakes revealed to me was this epiphany now I understand scrambled eggs I suddenly realized. That authors are human beings and I realize that this sounds kind of silly right? but you know of course authors are human beings. But that was I’ve realized now that many people never do quite realize that um you know that whole Kresley Cole thing. When I talked about you know someone dealing with health and family issues and how hard it it is to be creative dead and it’s like my most listen to podcast listen to podcast ever because um. Somebody like shared it to a bunch of Kresley Cole fans who were frustrated. She hadn’t come out with the next book which I believe she’s come out with since but several people commented to me. That’s how I figured it out like where were all these listens coming from and they said oh you know that they’d never really thought of it that way and and I understand because.
When you love books when you discover books they are these magical things and realizing that somebody created them and that that person is a human being who has health issues and who you know may be unhappy. You know that they’re not like. Some angel who just emanates books discovering that Anne McCaffrey my idol had made mistakes gave me great insight seeing how she changed those. Teaser chapters into the final version of the book gave me insight too on how a person might change things and she didn’t always change things the way I liked them? um. I did have some of that syndrome where we liked the first wave that we see things and tend to wet ourselves to that. Um, but I don’t know she also smoothed it in a way that um.
That’s hard to explain but it gave me lots of insight into our process and I was fascinated by that so I had wanted to mention that. And I don’t think I have a whole lot else to say today. Um yeah, all of my news happened on Tuesday yesterday was good day I am past 60000 words on shadow wizard. So that’s coming along well excited for that. Thank you for all the pre-orders on that one I hope that you all love this book and ah I think on that note I’m just gonna go get to work getting hour done before I go to ride coffee and I will talk to you? All you all take care. Bye bye.
Thoughts on author events and how much heavy lifting is placed on them to bring a readership – and financial support! – to the event. Also, on self-publishing, common mistakes, and how things can go wrong.
Good morning everyone this is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee. Delicious today is Thursday August eleventh and beautiful morning here in Santa Fe sunny sunny morning I’m also running a bit behind so it’s sunnier as than usual, we went for a walk this morning I also set up the cover reveal for shadow wizard. Yes, so this will be a book one. And renegades of magic and it’s um, Jadren and Selly’s story for those of you who have not been following along I didn’t light the mosquito candle this morning. So um, I’m doing the cover reveal on Instagram bit by bit. In fact, that reminds me I should have done another one but I haven’t yet I’ll do it as soon as the podcast is done. So um. So I had to get that all set up this morning. Got the preorders set up last night. It’ll be out september Twenty Ninth um fingers crossed I’m I’m past 50000 words on it I think it’s it’s going all right. Not sure how it’s going to end where it’s going to end. But um, that’s typical for me, right? All part of the I think it’s funny when authors say that that’s part of the fun for them that they ah the gardeners of the pantsersers. The ones who don’t pre-plot. Ah, say that the fund goes out of it for them if they do that and I’m like I don’t know I don’t know if it’s if I would call it fun but it’s it’s how it works for me sometimes as those of you who are a long time podcast listeners will know. It’s decidedly unfun for me now. So um, a few different things to talk about today I even have notes. So.
I’m trying to decide if I could talk about this one thing. Ah I’m kind of sorry I’m waffling let me pause all right I figured out a way I can talk about it. Ah recently I was asked to be. Part of a thing I mean that’s great. That’s I appreciate being asked to be part of things but then it came out ah I was asked I was actually not asked. This was part of the problem I was given instructions on how to share it on social media. And I was told that I must share it on social media in order to bring my platform bring my readers to this thing which I find very interesting and it’s not the first time this has happened and I may have talked about this before but. There are any number of events who ah I don’t want to say demand but they they sometimes they demand they ask an author to participate and then. Expect that the author will bring their readership with them to support the event which is if it’s like for charity or something like that understandable um, you know like that pixel project that was raising money to end violence against women. Yeah, sure I’m going to ask my readers to come and be part of that but there are other events where they’re totally depending on the authors to bring their readership in order to float their event. And this is partly what was amazing about Apollycon was Apollycon ah invited us to participate and they brought the readers I recently heard of another convention I think I talked about this but I’ll I’ll revisit it because I still find it so shocking. Another convention that has for a long time been famous for ah Nick and diming authors and demanding demanding. You know say more money and this particular story. It actually counts as a demand where an author who attended this paid. Upfront and it was a considerable amount that you had to pay up front to attend this convention. Um far more than the readers or attendees have to pay and then there’s all sorts of opportunities for sponsorships that cost more and more and more money and this author was pulled aside.
During the convention and told that she had not brought enough readers to the convention that her platform wasn’t big enough and therefore she needed to cough up a thousand dollars to sponsor something at the conference right? then and there and this author was devastated I mean. There are so many levels of awful and wrong about this this particular convention I’m not surprised that they did it I absolutely believe it happened the sources are impeccable. They might try to claim that there was a misunderstanding but the author in question was devastated. Ah, nobody first of all, nobody wants to hear that they’re supposed to cough up a thousand dollars especially if you’re a newer author and you can’t afford it ah and nobody wants to hear that that somebody thinks that you have like got. Shitty ability to bring readers to something.
Ah, so so it’s a thing um that this whole oh well, you need to bring your readership and in this particular case. Ah they were very specific supplied social media examples. And usually the right way to do this the right way to do this is people say um, hey here’s some graphics to share with love if you would share this on your social media boom they might give you some suggested stuff but you know you’re not required to do it. Um. Being told that I must do something that the event won’t be successful unless I do this thing is ah it gives me pause because as an author, especially if this is not a charitable event. Why am I doing this if. They don’t have the umph to bring their own readership to it. Ah you know I understand it’s hard. But yeah it um it it. It really bothered me it. It annoys me and. I talked to David about it and he said well you know can you imagine if somebody asked well he always uses big examples. He has an exalted idea of who I am but he’s like can you imagine if they asked Billy Givens to come play and then told him that oh but he needed to. Tweet certain things to make sure that enough people showed up for the event. Ah yeah, there’s just ways to do things and ways not to and um, you know one thing about social media and I know I say this often. Is even if you decide to schedule things or if you have people help you with it. Social media is about connecting personally right, it’s about doing things the way you do them. Ah and so you don’t I don’t do my social media like somebody else tells me to do it. Let’s let’s just say that’s a hard stop so that was something that was on my mind. Um, and then there’s been discussion. Um on Twitter and it’s interesting because I don’t follow enough on Twitter to. Always know the origins of things and I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of tracing back. So I’m not sure where all the conversation about gatekeepers has come from I know some of the things that I’ve been talking about in the last week about how much money authors do and don’t make on tread publishing so there was a.
Tweet thread from someone who said, um, talked about self-publishing and I will link to her Twitter thread. Ah, she’s gotten a lot of quote tweets and retweets and likes on it. Not an astonishing amount. But. Ah, she talked about her experience with self-publishing. Um, she said for her, it cost a lot and she earn very little and and I I think it’s great that she shared this. Um i’m. I’m glad that she ah you know gave the actual numbers and she says that the books were classified as new adult fantasy which is not really a thing in traditional publishing and they probably didn’t hit the right market in indie either because they weren’t sexy enough. Um, so I would kind of lie and then she goes on from there and she talks about how much money she spent. Um, she spent $5000 on the first book in its first six months which is a lot a lot to spend on a book when you’re. Ah, newbie self-publisher and I touched on this earlier this week where I mentioned that um if you don’t have a platform already. It’s hard to get started in self- publishing and and she did end up selling like the mythical. You know, average of one hundred and only to friends and family. But I think there are a lot of reasons for this and $5K is putting a whole lot of that money upfront into that first book without having the second one ready. Ah. And then the way that it sounded let’s see I won’t go into her whole thing. But.
Yeah, it took a long time for the second book to come out. She really invested a lot in trying to get that first book to happen which is just not how it works for self- publishing. Ah. She said when the second book launched she sold like 100 copies on the first day ultimately like one hundred and twenty nine copies of the first book and 112 of the second before she pulled them from the market and it’s not clear to me why she decided to pull them from the market. Ah. Once you have once you’ve invested once you have put them up. It doesn’t cost you anything to keep them up so it’s not clear to me why she decided to pull them. Ah, she does say at the end that you know her conclusion is um. There’s no easy way to publish. There’s no get rich quick path in this industry so that’s what she wants to warn people of and and that’s absolutely right? It’s a good take home message. She also says um, there are ways not to make the mistakes that she did. Ah, to make self-publishing a business and to succeed at it and I just wanted to talk a little bit about what I saw her doing she says um, $10000 she spent um, 2.5 years on these books. Selling two hundred and forty one copies of her books and netting something like $750 the transcript’s going to hate these numbers. It always hates numbers. Um, but 1 of the first things I notice I mean there are a number of things that didn’t go well. Ah especially if you are doing a series if you have both books ready. Maybe she didn’t but it’s really worthwhile to have that second book ready so that the people who do want to read can read right away once you have a readership they’ll wait if they’re still getting to know you they won’t wait. Especially if they’re not sure if you’ll finish the series and it’s a real thing if you’re an unknown quantity if there’s a you know destroy needs to be resolved with finishing the series or finishing the second or the you know second and third books. Ah, people want to know that it’s there before they commit because they’ve been burned before. Thank you George RR Martin um, the other thing that.
Is a real red flag at the beginning is when she said that it was new adult fantasy which isn’t really a thing in traditional publishing and I’ve mentioned this before self publishing is great for grabbing niche markets that. Traditional publishing won’t touch. This is so true it’s true for my books it’s true for a lot of fantasy romance. It’s true for a lot of science fiction fantasy and romance crossover. There’s not a great place for it on the bookshelf at the bookstores the brick and mortar stores. Because those are 2 different bookshelves right? So they don’t know which one to put it on if and as soon as they have to make a decision. They feel like it’s gonna be bad. They’re not happy if it’s young adult yeah, something just hit my face I don’t even know what that was ah. Felt like it was flung but there’s a little bit of a breeze. So maybe that was just liberated by the breeze a young adult has now become its own category and when people rant as I’ve seen various editors and agents do that young adult doesn’t count as a genre. Because you have all sorts of genres within young adult. Well, it’s true except that there are young adult shelves in the bookstore and once it’s a shelf then they know where to put it and it has a market in the brick and mortar stores. The online stores. Often reflect the brick and mortar stores they have more shelves and can put things in multiple places but still, there’s there’s some some correlation between the 2 so all of this is a long way of saying that if you want to publish your book that you love which. You know, bless you? Of course you do and you know do it? Definitely do it but know that if it’s a book. That’s not really a thing in traditional publishing. It’s going to make it harder for you to sell as a self-p publisher especially if you don’t already have a readership. Right? It’s um, it’s just it’s and and especially if you’re you know, not already a savvy marketer which not many of us are especially when we start right? So you, you’re stacking the odds against yourself. Why this gal pulled them from the market I don’t know and I almost want to ask her and I could follow the Twitter thread if any of you have the leisure follow the Twitter thread and see if somebody asks her or ask her yourselves. Ah there there isn’t a good reason to pull it.
And maybe she had one but otherwise the money is spent leave them up and maybe they will gradually gain a readership part of the problem with you know, spending money on advertising is. If. You advertise something. That’s not really a thing. How do you advertise it? What I’ve got and now it’s itchy on my face where that thing hit me wherever it was. You know if how are you going to advertise it if you don’t really know what it is and you’re. Not able to tell the readers what it is new adult fantasy um with and you know it’s that’s an a frequent I don’t want to say excuse but I hear authors say a lot like oh well, it didn’t do well because it didn’t have enough sex in it because. I didn’t want to I don’t know there. There’s always a little and I don’t know that she means this at all. She may not but there’s always a little bit of a sense of you know I wanted to maintain my standards and not put sex in that and therefore um because I didn’t kowtow to the. Ah. Sex loving masses. It didn’t do well maybe that’s not what she means by that. But there are plenty of books that do not have hot sex on them that do very well I’m reading one right now I’m waiting to see if there ends up being a sex scene in it. I’ve read a couple recently that um you know, slow burn romances don’t have any sex in the first book at all, you know, maybe there’s a promise of it later we we kind of know by authors. That’s part of having the reputation having the readership. But no, you don’t have to have it in there. Um. Yeah I’m I’m sorry that this went badly for her but she also spent 2.5 years on this. Um, that’s a long time to spend getting two books out in self-publishishing. It’s just it’s way too long and I know that not everybody has luxury of. Ah, time to spend on it and not everybody writes fast, but it’s just something to keep in mind. There were a lot of things stacked against her on this and you know it would be great if somebody would step in and help her out and say you know let’s put those books back up and let’s see if we can get them to go somewhere. The other thing is is if you are are a new author and you have not yet published anything. It’s hard to know if your books are good. Um, or you know good. You guys know that you all know that I don’t like the use of the word.
Good but you don’t know if the books will really grab people if you haven’t established a readership yet and it could be that those books should be trunk books I don’t know I haven’t read them. Not all books are gonna do well that’s just life. Um. There’s books of mind that you know, but the second novel I ever wrote I still love that novel. But if I’m gonna put it out there I’m gonna have to rewrite it because I I know a lot of the things that are wrong with it now and those are just things you learn with time. So. Just wanted to to talk about that. It’s it’s an unfortunate piece of self-p publishing that many many authors get into it because they decide to self-publish the book that they couldn’t sell the trat and. Certainly I’ve done that but I know at this point why it didn’t sell the tread. Ah you’ll have to know is it. Did it come close like was it really because they didn’t know what shelf to put it on. Or was it because everyone was like you know this book isn’t done cooking yet. It’s hard to listen to that feedback I saw meme the other day of somebody like showing like an author getting their ah feet criticism and like cutting up their heart on a plate and I it’s like well that’s probably. Probably you should um, have a little bit more objectivity than that. It’s not your heart. They’re cutting up. They’re talking about something you produced. But yeah, you got you got to listen to what kind of feedback are you getting on the book. Why why does traditional publishing not want it. And it’s not always because they’re messed up in the head which is tends to be the kool-aid on that note I am going to go get to work and write the book that I just put up the pre-order for ah, watch for the cover reveal. Taking shape today I think it’s kind of be kind of cool and preorder link in the show notes and I will talk to you all tomorrow you all take care bye bye.
This was my view from the bed this morning when I woke up. The mountain bluebirds love this water fountain – and they always feel like a good luck visitation to me!
Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Dealing with an almost willful misinterpretation of the text.” Come on over for my take.
Today I’m over at Word Whores, talking about the worst convention I ever attended.
I’m over at Word Whores today, blathering about how Rogue’s Pawn releases tomorrow. Oh, and about the stupidest mistake I made on the path to publication.
And, because I’m promo girl, I’m also over at the LERA blog, talking about what I learned from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ visit yesterday.
My mind is blurry today. Sometimes I think the mucus from a cold gets in between the neural spaces and inhibits transmission. Yeah – I paid more attention in Neurophys than that. Still, that’s how it feels.
I’m trying to embrace the mistiness of it. I do believe the teaching that conscious thought is only the tip of the iceberg of our thinking processes. I like to have precise, clear thoughts, but I’m letting go of the idea that it’s so very important.
Still – mist is, by nature, a nebulous thing.
I love the look and feel of it, but when I try to capture it, it never seems quite right. Like the fog rolling off the Jimez mountains in the pic above. So spectacular in reality. Kind of meh in this photo.
I notice when my mind is less focused, that I tend to substitute words in odd ways. Usually it’s a sound-based substitution. For example, I once typed “actually” instead of “accidentally.” This is clearly not a spelling error or me not knowing the difference between the words. Somehow the cadence of the words are matched in my brain. My right brain, with all her lovely impulsive mistiness grabbed for a close-enough word and it took a moment for the left-brain monitor to catch up and correct the error. I did catch it, before I finished the sentence, but the bizarre substitution amused me. Sometimes I even type “know” instead of “no,” which is just more work to make the mistake.
One of my writer friends does this, especially when she’s struggling with a migraine. She wrote a blog post that mentioned “an arbiter of things to come.” I gently suggested she meant “harbinger.” She was chagrined, but I could see it’s exactly the same kind of substitution I make – based on sound and cadence. She knows the meaning of both words perfectly well, but they’re twinsies enough to switch with each other.
In my family, we call this an Iggly Wiggly. This is taken from the internally famous incident when my grandmother told me she’d been to the movies. I asked what she’d seen and she said “Iggly Wigglies.” Without a pause, I asked how she liked Legal Eagles. (For the record, she thought it was silly, which is probably a fair assessment.) Some of this is knowing my grandmother. A large chunk, though, is affinity for words and language sounds. I understood perfectly well what my grandmother meant, what my blogging friend meant, even what I meant.
It reminds me of that game where they take the vowels out of all the words in a sentence, to see if you can still understand it. Which we all can. As much as we cling to precision in writing, with proper spelling and punctuation, the actual communication usually makes its way through.
Or the accidental communication. I forget which.
Last night, as we were having cocktails on the patio, David told me that a stinkbug was trying to climb up the iron leg of the patio chair to get me.
David and I, both children of the West, call them stinkbugs, although we’re apparently supposed to call them pinnacate or darkling beetles. At any rate, they’re these guys. They’re also the same beetles that I mentioned seem compelled to drown themselves despite my efforts to provide climbing platforms out of the rain catchments. The stinkbugs are drawn to everything moist. The day after a rain, they scuttle about everywhere, following sedate and determined paths.
I’m quite fond of them.
So when David says that the stinkbug that hard marched across the patio, to visit me, I claimed, was now trying to climb my chair leg, I thought he was making fun of me for that old story, about the cockroaches climbing the brass bed and how I did one of the worst things I’ve ever done.
Turns out he’d never heard that story.
It’s an old story, from my college days. I think it came to mind because I’ve been reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s really an amazing book, kind of a novel formed of sequential stories. We come to have ideas about Olive from the stories of other characters. They talk about Olive, or encounter her in various ways. We don’t really see into Olive’s mind until a story about her son’s wedding reception, when Olive overhears her new daughter-in-law saying how awful Olive is and what a difficult mother she’d been to her son.
It’s brilliantly done. The daughter-in-law is talking softly to a friend, in a place they shouldn’t be overheard. She’s not catty or cruel, but Olive is deeply hurt. And enraged.
The cockroach story is like this. It started with one of my college roommates being freaked out by cockroaches in our apartment. They were waterbugs, it turns out, but that’s no never mind. Only she and I were home. She melted down to the point where she refused to sleep on her mattress on the floor or my futon, for fear the cockroaches would get her in the night. Around 2 in the morning, I convinced her to sleep in our other roommate’s brass bed, even though the fearful one declared that she’d be able to hear the cockroaches trying to climb the brass legs all night.
See? I told you there was a connection.
I told our other roommates the story when they returned in the next day or so. It was a very funny story. And I can milk a story. I would culminate with making scratching noises on a piece of metal, to imitate the cockroach legs. Other friends heard references and begged to be told the full story, which took 15-20 minutes to tell.
I admit it: I loved telling this story. There’s nothing like having a roomful of people laughing so hard they can’t stand.
Well, one night, we had a 4th of July gathering at our apartment. The roommate in question was working. Ten or twelve of us, including my visiting mother, sat around the dining table — which was a piece of painted plywood on blue-painted cinder blocks — talking and drinking beer.
Well, yes, someone asked me to tell the story.
You know what’s coming. I demurred, since I was normally very careful not to tell it anywhere my friend could hear. but I didn’t take much convincing. I had just gotten to the part where I’m clicking my nails on the beer bottle when that cold silence fell over the room.
Of course, she was standing in the doorway behind me, having come in through the kitchen door to the alley.
She slammed off to her bedroom and the party broke up. Everyone was horrified. I felt awful.
What’s funny is, she and I never talked about it. I’ve never known how much of the story she heard. She was the type to yell at you if she was mad. This she never said a word about, which made me think I truly hurt her.
She reads this blog from time to time, so if you see this: I truly apologize for that. I should have said so sooner.
So that’s my second in a series about careless words. Funny how certain themes rise up, for no particular reason. Old stories come to mind.
Life lessons, all of them, I suppose.