My work in progress novel is up to 53,000 words. I’m excited about the progress, but even more by the way the story is fitting together. I’m tempted to post the first chapter here and see what people think of it.

I have a collection of poetry I wanted to release, but I’m still looking for the right photo for the cover. It deals with the different phases of personal relationships from an existential perspective.

My book of short stories is being held up by the fact that two of the longer stories are going to require a great deal of reworking, and two others are just hopeless. The best thing to do would be to delete the bad ones and come up with something better to replace them. My friend Dan had a writing prompt a year or two ago about walking an unusual pet. I started a story and it developed into the beginnings of a romance, but then it stopped.

The Rosemary story I have been working on is waiting to see what I do with this other novel I’m working on. Always juggling many projects.

The rains are back, and this weekend we are expecting a deluge. Perfect writing weather.


Going Somewhere

I am usually working on several writing projects at once. One of the projects I am working on got a massive overhaul and is suddenly moving in a very cool direction. I literally took every chapter I had written and gave it a date. I pulled every chapter out of the manuscript and put them back in order of when they happened. Bizarre, I know. What that accomplished was to let me see where the holes were. I found a few. And now it’s moving forward again. This time logically.

Book Review: Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick


Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick is a novel about family set against the backdrop of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Upper Big Branch mining tragedy in West Virginia, both incidents from 2010. In some families, unless the right protocols are followed, an accident is just a misstep away.

Caroline Carlisle is a 45 year-old freelance environmental writer who had given up on looking for love until her sister Amy passes away, and her husband Simon, the love of Caroline’s life when she was a teenager, realizes he married the wrong sister. But in the Carlisle family nothing goes unnoticed. Caroline’s nosy aunts and Simon’s brooding daughter object to Caroline and Simon getting married, so nothing is easy for the new couple. And the family’s penchant for keeping secrets is a logjam to Caroline knowing the truth about her late mother.

When the twin energy-related tragedies grab the attention of the nation, Caroline is called upon to report on the saving of a large number of endangered turtles, and attorney Simon helps his family in West Virginia seek recompense from the mining company for the loss of a loved one. But it is the deep secrets they uncover about their families that drive this story, and compel the reader to keep flipping pages.

One thing I really liked about this 400-page novel is the sense of being there where the action is. From making contacts with the Associated Press to the bureaucracy of state wildlife departments, Zick brings the reader into this complex world and makes these interactions seem very natural.

But since this story is really about skeletons in family closets, I also have to say that Zick dives deep into the inner workings of a proud southern family and digs up enough dirt to bury a mansion.

One thing that didn’t work for me is the tactic Zick uses of switching points of view from chapter to chapter. Even though she starts most chapters by telling the reader whose point of view is up next, it was still confusing at times. She also switches from first person to third person and back multiple times, which was distracting for me.

Still, this story will keep you guessing what really happened as Caroline follows the turtles from nest to sea, and turns over a few rocks on the way.

Your World Extends Beyond Your Front Door

I see a connection between random rude behavior in public places, and internet trolls – people who say nasty things somewhat unanimously in Facebook or blogs or as responses to news articles. I believe that many people feel the world on the other side of their front door, or on the other side of their windshield or computer screen is less than real. It’s no more real to them than the characters in their video game.

As I have been out of work for a few months, it has become my duty to walk our second-grader to and from his bus stop. In the mornings, after he gets on the bus, I go for a four-mile walk through our residential streets. And today it occurred to me that I think of that whole area as my neighborhood. All of those people are my neighbors, even the ones two miles away. Some of them recognize me and wave, even though I don’t live next door to them, or even on the same street.

What if all of those rude, trollish people just don’t think of anyone as their neighbors?

They just need to get out and go for a walk every day.

It seems to me that most people feel they have no power or influence over what happens in their communities, their schools, their places of work, even their lives. But how can they influence something they never invest in?

No one is going to read a blog entry and suddenly change their life or change the world. No one is going to read this and suddenly start taking walks. But if you do, say hello to your neighbors. Maybe they’ll start walking, too.

Other People Are Real

I was backing out of my parking spot at Costco a little while ago. I saw the gigantic black SUV 100 feet away. I saw that the vehicle was moving probably three times the safe speed for a parking lot. But I kept going because I thought this person might snap back to Earth and slow down, maybe even stop. Instead, the driver laid on the horn and sped up. I planned for this contingency, so there was no collision. As the SUV sped past and came to an abrupt stop in line to get out of that lane, my wife said something like, “This younger generation doesn’t have any sense of Other People.”

Turns out the driver of the SUV was a woman in her 50’s, about 20 years older than my wife.

It’s not a new problem. It’s not even a modern problem. The truth is that few people recognize the humanity of other people. To her, my Subaru was just an orange blur on her monitor, only slightly bigger than a bug splat. Her shopping, her inconvenience at having to navigate a parking lot, and her cell phone conversation were a thousand times more important than, well, that orange blur.

It’s not just an SUV thing, either. At the beginning of our errands, we stopped at a local shop to get hair cuts. As we got close to the shop we go to, a young man in a tiny black car stopped about 50 feet ahead of us and put it in reverse. So I stopped to see what he was going to do. A woman in her 60’s was crossing the lot right between us, but he gunned it and almost hit her, missed her by about two feet, and kept going, nearly hitting our car.

He never apologized or even said “My bad.”

We parked farther away and gave him a wide berth.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When you go out in public, say to yourself: Other people are real. Other people have feelings. Other people have agendas. If you prick them, do they not bleed?

They do.

Please send this to anyone that you suspect of lacking this sense of Other People. Let me know how quickly they flip you off when you do.


Actual Conversation with a Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider

My bill went way up today, and I don’t like paying more for the same thing I was already paying less for. So I got on the Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider website and used their chat service, which allowed me to record everything that was said. I changed the names to protect the people who work for said Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider. Let me know what you think.

analyst Rep 1 has entered room

Rep 1: Hello Customer, Thank you for contacting Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider Live Chat Support. My name is Rep 1. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Customer: My Issue: My bill should be $79, but it’s $106. Why?

Rep 1: Hi! It’s great to have you in chat! I hope you haven’t waited so long to be assisted and that you are having a great day.

Rep 1: I know how important it is for you to know what you are paying for. I’ll pin point what the problem is, and make sure that this would be the last time that you would contact us about this. You’ve reached the cable troubleshooting and billing inquiry department. I’m sure we can work together to get this answered.

Customer: I’m having a great day, Rep 1.

Rep 1: I will go ahead and review your account for us to address this issue. Please give me a minute or two.

Rep 1: “Thank you for providing your account information on the chat initiation form. For security purposes, may I please have one of the following:• Account Number• Box Serial Number ”

Customer: XXXXXX

Rep 1: Thank you. New Charges Summary: Additional   Internet Services 7.00,

Rep 1: Sorry about that. Let me repeat it.

Rep 1:   Bundled Services 79.99

Rep 1: Additional   Internet Services 7.00

Rep 1: Partial Month Charges & Credits Changes were made to your account this month. See the following pages for more details.7.44

Customer: We haven’t changed anything about our internet services, just the cable.

Rep 1: Other Charges & Credits 6.99

Rep 1: Taxes, Surcharges & Fees 5.00

Rep 1: Total New Charges $106.42

Customer: When I switched to the digital upgrade promotion, the person I spoke with assured me that my monthly bill would continue to be $79 a month. That’s why I made that change.

Rep 1: Additional   Internet Services 7.00 has been charged ever since. This is the rental for the modem.

Customer: It was supposed to be a 6 month promotion.

Rep 1: The   Bundled Services Package is $79.99.

Customer: So why would they deceive me?

Rep 1: I am sorry for the possible misunderstanding with the representative. As you can see the package is $79.99 but the other charges are minimal charges for rental of modem which was already there before and taxes, which is government mandated.

Customer: I asked the representative what the bill would be, not how much the package cost. The consumer only cares about how much they will pay, not who gets what fees.

Customer: I was promised the bill would be $79.99 a month and it is $26.43 more than that. That is unacceptable.

Customer: I was paying $58.50 a month for 6 months for basic cable and internet, and then the promotion ended and the rate went to $79. This representative offered me the digital upgrade so I could watch my college football games, and I agreed it was worth $79 to me. But it is not worth $106.42.

Rep 1: I am sorry for the inconvenience. Would you like to change it back to the previous package you had before?

Customer: Will the bill be $58.50 a month?

Customer: We don’t even watch tv. I only added basic cable to lower the price with bundling.

Customer: So the way I see it, your company is asking me to pay $106 a month for internet and a couple of football games. That’s too high a price.

Rep 1: I can transfer you over to the Sales Department again for this. Would you like that?

Customer: Please do.

Rep 1: Okay.

Rep 1: I understand the urgency of your issue. However, this department handles cable troubleshooting and billing inquires. Please do not worry as we have a chat group that handles your request which is the Sales Department.

Rep 1: Are there any other issues that I can address before I transfer this chat?

Customer: No, thank you, Rep 1.

Rep 1: Good day! Please stay connected to the chat for the next available representative. It may seem like I have left the room. That is perfectly normal. Please wait for the next representative. Thank you for choosing Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider for your entertainment needs.

Rep 1: Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

analyst Rep 2 has entered room

Rep 2: Welcome to Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider Order Entry Department. Hi Customer, this is Rep 2. I will be glad to assist you with your concern.

analyst Rep 1 has left room

Rep 2: I can see here that you have a question about your bill. Is that correct?

Customer: I use Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider for internet. I was paying $58.50 a month on a promotion. When the promotion ended, the price went to $79, which I felt was high.

Customer: So I called and a sales rep said that if I added basic cable, the rate would drop. So I did that.

Customer: Then that promotion ended and the rate went back up. So I called again.

Customer: This rep said if I added digital the rate would still be $79, but now I could get the channels that have my football games. So I did that.

Customer: But the rate was not $79. It was $106 because of $26 in fees.

Rep 2: Let me check on your account.

Rep 2: Please provide me your account number.

Customer: I do not want to pay $106 a month for internet and two football games.

Customer: XXXXXX

Rep 2: Thank you for providing that information.

Customer: I want internet and I don’t think $79 a month is reasonable. What solutions does Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider offer?

Rep 2: Customer, I see here that your monthly rate is at $79.99 + $7 for modem rent + $3.67 for taxes. The current bill that you have now is at $106. 42 because it reflects the old rate before until the new promotion was applied.

Customer: So why are there $16 in additional charges this month? I paid the last bill on the due date and it was $79.

Rep 2: However after that bill the next bill will be at $90.66.

Rep 2: $7.44 on that bill is for the days that the old rate still applied in the billing cycle of that bill and there is a $6.99 fee for the upgrade made.

Rep 2: Your incoming bill on the next 5 months will be at $79.99 + $7 for modem rent + $3.67 for taxes.

Customer: I was not notified that there would be a charge for that. No service call was made.

Rep 2: I can transfer you to our billing team for applying credits on that upgrade fee.

Customer: If you can credit that $6.99 and the $7.44, and if the bill in future will remain at $90.66 with service as it is now, I would be satisfied.

Customer: The billing department transferred me to you.

Rep 2: You were transferred from cable support

Rep 2: Customer my access here does not have the option to apply credits.

Customer: And they did not explain the $6.99 and the $7.44 as you did.

Customer: If they can apply these credits, then please transfer me to them.

Rep 2: Customer, I will note here the issue that you were not informed about the $6.99 upgrade fee. However $7.44 is a valid charge on the account since it is for the days during this billing cycle that the old rate still applies.

Rep 2: Shall I transfer you to billing now?

Customer: If they can fix this, then yes, please.

Rep 2: Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

analyst Rep 3 has entered room

Customer: My Issue: My bill should be $79, but it’s $106. Why?

Rep 3: Hi, Customer!

analyst Rep 2 has left room

Customer: Hello, Rep 3. A lot of text to read here.

Rep 3: I understand that you wanted to know why your bill increased, is that correct?

Customer: Rep 2 explained it. However, Rep 2 said there was a $6.99 upgrade fee about which I was not notified when I agreed to the digital upgrade. And the sales rep (not Rep 2) who sold me on the upgrade assured me my next bill would again be $79, even after the upgrade, due to a promotion.

Customer: I told Rep 2 that I would be satisfied if your company could credit me the $6.99 upgrade fee and the $7.44 residual charge, as long as the bill stays at $90.66 for service as it is now.

Rep 3: I understand that you have questions with your bill. I appreciate that you raised this concern to me. I know how frustrating it is not have a clear picture when it comes to the services you’re being billed for. Let us work together to have your issue resolved.

Rep 3: To better assist you, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

Customer: Sure

Rep 3: For security purposes, can you please verify your account number?

Customer: XXXXXX

Rep 3: Thank you for the information, Customer. Please give me 1 to 2 minutes to access your account.

Rep 3: Thank you for waiting.

Rep 3: Upon checking the account, I see here that you have a charge of $7.44 which is actually a charge for the services you have added.

Customer: Jennie, does your screen tell you how long I have been a Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider customer?

Rep 3: Yes, however the $7.99 charge is a valid charge since you made changes in the account.

Customer: So Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider would rather have a dissatisfied customer rather than credit that customer $14 for unusual charges, after said customer had been with them for four or five years? Is that how Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider feels about this?

Rep 3: This is a prorate charge of the service added from the 08/21 to 09/22.

Rep 3: I can credit the $6.99 charge as it’s a one-time fee.

Customer: Your sales rep did not mention there would be additional charges. I was very specific in asking about that.

Customer: I ask again, is that how Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider feels about long time customers?

Rep 3: Customer, I do understand how you feel.

Rep 3: However, this is a charge for the service that you have added from 08/21 to 09/22 which is not a part of the billing cycle.

Rep 3: It’s a prorated charge applied in the account.

Customer: Here is what I am seeing: Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider is perfectly happy to pay employees to spend 30 minutes telling customers No, when it would have been cheaper to say yes quickly and keep customers satisfied.

Rep 3: Customer, this is supposed to be a valid charge.

Rep 3: Since I value you as Gigantic Cable/Internet Provider customer, I will guarantee you that this credit you are asking for will be applied.

Customer: I understand what you are saying, Rep 3. But your sales person did not mention an upgrade fee or a pro-rated fee. They simply told me my bill would stay the same because of the change they offered to make, and so I agreed to the change.

Customer: You will be able to authorize the credit of $6.99 and the credit of $7.44?

Rep 3: Yes. Please give me 2-3 minutes to process the credit for a total of $14.43.

Customer: Thank you, Rep 3. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf.

Rep 3: You are most welcome.

Rep 3: Just to let you know, at the end of this chat there will be a short survey. I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to complete it so we can continue to improve the service we provide to you.

Customer: I will.

Rep 3: Thank you.


Man Bites Dog

I’m doing better at staying organized these days. I have set aside an hour a day for reading and three hours for writing. As I get more set in this schedule it will be more like four hours a day writing.

I’m still reading PC Zick’s Trails in the Sand. I’ll have a review for it when I’m done. Then I’ll be reading Mark Paxson’s book Weed Therapy. Check them both out!

In working on my next novel, I was trying to think of a slogan or motto to use to keep the focus on this story. My novels always appear to be about one thing, but when you get into the text you find that what you thought was the primary subject matter is really just the setting. So the slogan my main character uses to keep herself focused on her work is Man Bites Dog, which refers to the journalistic idea that no one cares if a plane took off from Baltimore and landed just fine in New Orleans a few hours later. But if something unusual happens, then that is news.