It's been a while, but I've been struggling with publishing the new adult book, A New Year's Tale. Proofreading took weeks, going over the same material again and again. I wanted a print on demand edition for those who don't use ebooks (or who don't like them). It should be available on Amazon in a week or so. The bad news is that I'm required to charge $15. 50. At that price I don't make any profit. The publisher CreateSpace does, and of course they need money for actually printing and mailing it.
Harold thought the ebook would do better if we charged $2.99 and made it free to Premier Kindle readers. It didn't. As soon as I can I'll drop the price to $.99 again. The whole point is to get people to read the book. It means a lot to me.
Now I have some good news. Angel Garcia, this is for you. You asked for the first chapter of The Lord of Opium, and I asked the publisher whether this was legal for me to give away. They have agreed to print the first chapter on the following site: www.facebook.com/HouseoftheScorpion It might not be up yet, but will be in the next few days. Of course I have to warn you, Angel, that after reading the first chapter you are going to want the second. You can't eat just one peanut after all.
It is spring here at last and the animals are waking up. We started feeding the birds because the winter was so cold and they were struggling. We were warned not to do this because spilled birdseed attracts mice and mice attract RATTLESNAKES. But I couldn't bear to watch the poor little creatures peck at the frozen birdbath any longer. Now I have two suet blocks, one for big and one for little birds, a hanging feeder for everyone and a hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds are extremely aggressive, as little animals often need to be. They fight constantly with each other and dive bomb me when I go out to give them more sugar water. Just once did they seem to all get along, probably because they were too thirsty to fight.
They look angelic, don't they? Well, don't be fooled. These little javelinas are plotting to get into my greenhouse and eat chili peppers. They've done it twice, ate the leaves clean off the jalapenos and broke the main stems. But jalapenos are almost as tough as pigs. I watered the remnants and they grew back. They're like small trees now.
This blog is now linked to my blog on goodreads, but I don't think it works the other way around. What I write on goodreads doesn't appear here. I'm still trying to figure out what it means to have a friend on the new site. Or a follower.
Harold has almost finished working on the paperback version of A New Year's Tale. Now we are trying to see how cheap we can make it. Yes, I said cheap. The ebook sells for 99 cents. Sometime, if we get poor again, we'll have to put up the price. Right now, though, we have enough money to be happy. The publisher, Create Space, has a limit to how low we can go, but we can arrange a book giveaway once I figure out how this can be done. The other thing we might do is create our own publishing imprint, using Create Space. I think Scorpion House sounds nice.
Spring is here and I saw ten Gambel's Quail running across the driveway this morning. They were headed for a bush and huddled underneath to be safe from hawks. And boy, do we have hawks! I've been told we have the highest density of raptors of anywhere in the country.
Baby Gopher Snake
White sand, not snow
Me next to a tree in White Sands
We took a trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, and just as we were leaving town a road runner dashed in front of the car with a rattlesnake in its beak. It stopped on the side of the road because the snake was still fighting back. I don't know how these birds manage it. They EAT rattlesnakes. It has been so cold here I didn't think anything could slither. The snakes hibernate in the rocks above our house and don't emerge until Spring. First the young ones come out and then, when it is really warm, the older three-foot plus ones arrive. White Sands looks like it's covered with snow, but it is really powdered gypsum. It tastes sour and salty, and melts in your mouth. I don't suppose it's healthy to eat. I want to go back during a thunderstorm and see whether the whole desert dissolves.
To Julia Tiell: I think I met you at a conference in Phoenix or Tucson. I met someone from Ajo who asked me for a copy of my talk. I told the audience about how Harold and I rescued an illegal immigrant who was dying of thirst, took him to Ajo and left him with a bottle of water, a big chocolate bar and twenty dollars. This was while I was doing research for The House of the Scorpion. At that time we had no idea what to do with the man. We couldn't abandon him. Later, we were told to call the Border Patrol, but at that time we didn't have a cell phone. And it was Christmas. And you don't turn people in over Christmas. Unfortunately, the attorney general for Arizona was in the audience. One of the police officers turned to him and said, "You didn't hear that, sir."
To Rya: Fani and Benito both died at El Patron's funeral. Her father, Glass Eye Dabengwa, is an African drug lord who appears in the sequel. He's 99 years old and lives by harvesting clones, but parts of him are machinery. He's called Glass Eye because he never blinks. He's totally scary.
Wow! I woke up this morning to the story about the meteor that exploded over Russia. I didn't think such things were possible, but it probably happened before in 1908, also in Russia. Something exploded over the Tunguska forest in Siberia and knocked down about a billion trees. The current explosion happened in a part of the country that was already cursed. Not long ago the Soviets made nuclear weapons there and flushed all the excess radiation into the local rivers. People back then didn't know how dangerous radiation was. I remember bomb drills in high school where we were told to hide under our desks, as if that was going to save us. When I was nine I used to climb to the top of my parents' hotel to watch A-bomb tests in Nevada. I hope the wind was blowing the other way.
I got Advanced Reader Copies of the Lord of Opium, but the book won't come out until Sept. 3. But I have another little announcement to make. I am going to publish an adult book on Kindle. Harold is putting my earlier books on Kindle because the publishers don't have electronic rights to them. They asked for the rights and offered me 10% royalties, but Amazon pays 70%. Well, duh. So far we have put out The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, to be followed by The Warm Place and Tapiwa's Uncle (the African version of Do You Know Me). My adult book is called A New Year's Tale. It is an OA (OLD Adult) novel and suitable for ages 65 and up, although 40-year-olds can read it with the permission of their parents.
It really isn't for young people. That's not because it's loaded with sex and curse words, but because you look at things differently when you have had years of experience. It takes place in the near future. The U. S. government has discovered that it doesn't have enough money to cover Social Security and Medicare, so plans are made to make the survival of anyone over 65 difficult. This has alarmed the spirit world, from which our ancestors watch over us. They can do nothing, being spirit, but they recruit five seniors to correct the situation. These five have to elude capture and figure out a way to take over the government before the next election. New Omega Laws are planned to cleanse the country of the elderly and to seize their bank accounts.
In spite of the serious subject, the story is up-beat and funny. One of the new laws is the Diminished Culpability Act. If you murder someone aged 21, you go to prison for life. If you kill a 65-year-old you only get two years, and an 80-year-old gets you two weeks of community service.
If the book sells well, I'll put it out for print-on-demand. I'm so excited about the new shape of publishing. ebooks have opened the door for all kinds of authors who are good, but appeal to a small audience or are too unusual.
Now, to answer a couple of your letters: To Paula Sabato, the best thing is to send the letters to the publisher, as you suggested. I don't know your email address, so I can't send you my home address. I'm delighted that your kids liked the book, and especially that they are in Arizona. They would have a good understanding of the issues. One thing I should mention is this: The House of the Scorpion and The Lord of Opium are actually one long novel. Only a few hours separate the end of one and the beginning of the next. The story changes as Matt grows up. It starts from the viewpoint of a six-year-old, which is very different from that of the fourteen-year-old at the end of Scorpion. The Lord of Opium takes Matt to age 15. 15 is an age of great changes where boys become adults. Matt has been handed ultimate power and wealth as well as danger, and he has to mature quickly. That is why the Lord of Opium is listed as a YA, not a children's book.
To Mr. Collins, my heart warmed when you said the book was enjoyed by reluctant readers. It was designed for them. My son was a reluctant reader (and dyslexic, as am I). If I tried to read him a book he didn't like, he threw it out the window. Once, he even tore one in two. (Only once. I don't take kindly to destroying books.) I learned very quickly what interested him. It seemed to me that most of the novels he got at school were not aimed at boys, especially the kind who need frequent breaks to let off steam. I wanted to reach that audience.
A New Year's Tale will go on Kindle as soon as I get permission to use the lyrics of a song. Now I will go back to the internet and read about that meteor over Russia.
FIRE AND FOX
The Lord of Opium is moving through the publishing machine. It has been proof read, a galley printed and checked, and we aren't too far from having Advanced Reader's Copies printed. These are sent to newspapers and reviewers. They get to read the book long before the rest of you see it. Of course if you ARE someone who writes book reviews, you can ask for an advanced reader's copy from Atheneum. You might have to prove it. The cover will, I think, be a shadowy picture of Matt with his hand in light. He will be wearing a scorpion ring. This is still being discussed.
Harold and I were in Tucson for a doctor's visit when our hotel room caught fire in the middle of the night. An explosion woke us up. The lights in the bathroom had blown out and the extractor fan over the stove was in flames. Burning plastic dripped onto the floor. Our smoke alarm did not work and the telephones were partially disabled. Harold managed to call the night desk and the girl in charge asked whether we wanted the fire department. Harold said, "Yes, since your hotel is on fire."
The police and firefighters asked us whether there was suspicious activity and at the time we didn't know of any. Later we learned that there were three men in the room next to us. (A room with only one bed) A patron told us they had been there 42 days and that people came and went all night long. She asked to be moved because she thought they were dealing drugs. We heard them fighting and shouting at one point. During the fire, although there were two fire engines, two police cars and flashing lights they didn't come out to see what was going on. I suspect the men weren't sleeping in that room, they were COOKING in it. The manager of the hotel also acted strangely. He refused to come out of his room even though there was a fire and left the inexperienced young woman on night shift to deal with the problem. And he hid from us the next day.
Unfortunately, plastic smoke is extremely toxic and Harold didn't get out before damaging his lungs, so we have been back and forth to Tucson to deal with that. I thought there might have been a meth lab in the room next door and left a tip with the police. In case you want to know, the fire happened at the Best Western Hotel at 6201 N. Oracle Rd. in Tucson.
A gray fox, a beautiful animal, lay down in front of my kitchen window yesterday and gazed out at the valley beyond. We were very quiet all day, so as not to frighten him. It was only at dusk that Harold suggested that the fox was not sleeping, but dead. And he was! I had found a dead bat outside the kitchen door recently and disposed of it carefully because I thought it might have rabies. Bats are the only mammal that has some immunity to the disease, so they can spread it around. Now I feared that the fox had rabies -- some animals get paralytic and don't go mad. I couldn't leave the body out all night because the coyotes, of which we have many, would eat it. If the coyotes crunched into bone and cut themselves they, too, could get rabies. It was a long shot, but one I didn't want to take. A biologist friend took the fox away and will have it tested. Gloom. I include a picture of a healthy, young fox (as ours seemed to be) and the one that perished in our yard.
Some of you have asked for my address, want to correspond with me directly, or want a picture. I can't publish my private address on this website because I no longer have the energy to answer more than a few letters. I haven't had a picture taken for years because age has not improved my looks and I'm sensitive about it. If you have something urgent and important that you don't want to put on a public website, please add your email address. If you don't, I can't get back to you.
Thanks to all of you who wrote and said you were eagerly waiting the Scorpion sequel. Alas, the machinery of publishing moves slowly and the book won’t be out until Fall, 2013. I had hoped it would appear this year. Here is what happens when I send a book in. First, the editor (Dick Jackson) reads through the manuscript and tells me what mistakes I have made and which things are unclear. I may have got someone’s age wrong or had plants growing at the wrong time of year. There are usually very few mistakes. Then he tells me to write scenes to clear things up. This time he only wanted two scenes and I did them in an afternoon. We argued about the title. God’s Ashtray was too provocative, he said. He suggested some titles and I said they were wimpy. We finally agreed on The Lord of Opium. So far so good. This is the stage we are at now.
Now the manuscript goes to a copy editor who picks out the spelling and grammatical mistakes. Spelling is my weak point and so there are usually a lot of those. She also tries to rearrange my writing to make it look like everyone else’s style. This I refuse to do. I have a reason for word order, usually because of how it sounds musically. I also put in punctuation marks for musical reasons. A long pause gets a period, a shorter one a semicolon, still shorter gets a comma and shortest of all gets a dash. To hell with grammar. The manuscript is sent to me with little yellow post-its all over the pages to tell me where I messed up. I hate getting the little yellow post-its, but I have to do it anyway.
The manuscript goes back and forth to the publisher, gets read several more times until everyone is satisfied. I get the final copy before publishing. Meanwhile, the marketing department is discussing how much they will spend on advertising the book. They will send out advance copies to reviewers to get the buzz going. The Lord of Opium will be, as they put it, the crown jewel of the Fall, 2013, catalogue. Everyone is very excited about it. I am pleased.
The timing of publishing is important. Books that publishers are unsure of get published in Spring. Beach books are produced in Summer and seasonal books come out just before a holiday. Prime time is Fall. Sometimes a publisher will decide a book can’t make money and CANCEL the printing. This is devastating to an author, but it happens. Adult books have only three months after publication to get noticed and sell. If it doesn’t do well right away, the books get pulped. This is also devastating to an author. Children’s and YA novels have about a year to prove themselves.
This is probably kind of boring information, but some of you might want to know why it takes so long for The Lord of Opium to come out. I worked extremely hard on this book – eight hours of actual writing with cooking and housework to do afterwards. I did this seven days a week for three months without a single break. And it was bad for me. I didn’t know people could work themselves to death. The Japanese call it karoshi, which means work-to-death. The problem is common enough there for them to have a word for it. After I finished the book I had a slight stroke and wound up in the hospital. The doctor told me to spend three weeks in bed and I slept for five days straight. When you create stuff all day you can’t sleep at night and I was sleep starved. It has taken me a while to recover, but now I’m okay.
The Arizona monsoon started early and while the rest of the country swelters, we have lovely weather. Bugs, snakes and lizards have appeared from nowhere. Flowers bloomed. Javelinas, coyotes, deer and rabbits have shown up. And the thunderstorms are spectacular! I love thunderstorms. I’ll end this note with a couple of the birds in our yard.
The sequel to House of the Scorpion has been finished and handed in to the editor and publisher. The working title is God’s Ashtray. The editor doesn’t like the title, but I do. I sent the book in, via email, on Friday, May 18, and at 5:30 AM on Monday got a reply back from the publisher.
“Brilliant. How else can I put it. Simply brilliant. I’m speechless.”
Now this kind of response is unheard of. I’m very, very happy. I worked eight hours a day every day for months. The only breaks I took were to do fun things like laundry and cooking. Usually, authors only manage a couple of hours of work without flaming out. The brain doesn’t shut off at the end of a long writing day and if and when you do fall asleep, you DREAM about the characters. Housework goes to hell in the last stages. Family and friends get their feelings hurt. Dust bunnies get as large as pit bulls. The writer looks like she’s slept in the gutter for a week. When the book is handed in it takes a few days to recover. The work is actually physically exhausting. For two days I didn’t even want to touch a computer. Yesterday I was invited to a party and spent the time slumped in a corner fast asleep.
It is now up to the publisher as to when the book gets published. Many little chores remain to be done. I hope the process goes quickly and frankly I don’t see why not.
On another topic, look what we found in a neighbor's yard. A friend was walking her two little dogs and this mountain lion swooped in, caught the smaller one, broke its neck and climbed into a tree to feed
(Photo Terrie Gates)
Many of you have been asking when the book will be finished. I can now say that I’m in the home stretch. I will be finished in three months. After that, it goes to the editor and publisher. I don’t know how fast they will be, but I believe they really want this book out. Many of your questions will be answered in the sequel – why did Tam Lin kill himself? Was there a love story between him and Celia? Will Matt and Maria get together again? Will the Lost Boys move to Opium? And how will a 14-year-old boy handle having untold wealth and power, as well as thousands of zombies, a Farm Patrol army and enemies on all his borders. Remember that Matt doesn’t even know what lies within his own country. There will be surprises.
I wish I could say there’s a movie planned, but so far nothing has happened. There have been an amazing number of YouTube entries advertising it. Many heartfelt thanks to those of you who created a YouTube about the House of the Scorpion. I only recently became aware of them, and I am impressed with your skill. I haven’t the slightest idea how to do a YouTube video, living as I do somewhere around the year 1950 in the Chiricahua Mountains.
For a long time I worked slowly. There was so much else to do – packing, moving, eye operations, cooking from scratch where there are no stores or restaurants. Provisioning took a while to learn. What keeps and what spoils. Keeping packrats from eating the inside of the car. Surprises like the whole electrical system blowing up. I learned that I have few basic skills. Harold has more, but both of us are dummies where electrical wiring is concerned. Putting in water pipes is another mystery. A lot of people here have built their own houses. They know how everything is done, but we are babies compared to them. I can cook, clean and write novels.
Then, as I mentioned before, I rediscovered music. I have to say that music is so enthralling that I never dared to listen to it while driving. I have walked out of bookstores because of background music. For me there is no such thing as background. I couldn’t even read the book titles. But I can write to music. More than that, I can write like a demon.
So thanks to all of you for being so patient, for writing encouraging emails, and for making YouTube videos. Mil gracias, amigos y amigas!
January 26, 2012
The pictures above are of sandhill cranes. We didn't take them. They are from a blog called The Fire
We got a wildlife camera for Christmas. You tie it to a tree and wait to see what shows up overnight. It uses an infrared flash so the animal (or person) doesn’t know he is being photographed. Someone not far from us caught a picture of a drug mule carrying a bag of marijuana, but fortunately all we’ve go (so far) is animals.
First we saw one of the neighbor’s bulls emptying our water ponds. He sneaks in by walking carefully at the edge of the cattle guard on our gate. He’s a handsome creature. Then we saw a grey fox, a coyote, a beautiful fluffy skunk, and the usual herd of twenty javelinas that keep trying to eat our prickly pear. On another night we saw both the male and female coyote. He came first and gobbled up the over-ripe pear and stale bread we left outside before his mate could get to it. She’s smaller. I’m sure she’s feeding cubs somewhere and I hope we get to see these. She walks in front of our front porch in daylight. It’s generally a bad idea to leave food out for animals, but it’s tempting to get rid of food we don’t want. Last week we left out an over-ripe watermelon. Daniel (our son) chopped it into pieces. Unfortunately, it rained and we had to bring the camera in, so we don’t know who had the feeding frenzy that night. In the morning not a seed or shred of skin was left.
On the other side of the mountain is a marsh where sandhill cranes gather this time of year – over 30,000 of them. We made an expedition to see them. It was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing, but the cranes come from as far away as Siberia so it was like summer to them. When we got there, we couldn’t see any, though there were a lot of ducks floating around. Then we heard hundreds of birds calling, both near and far, but we couldn’t see them. Daniel spotted them in the sky. Vast flocks of them circled in and out of low clouds, slowly drifting closer. It was really beautiful, like listening to angels sing. Gradually, they floated down and at the last minute spread their long legs and fitted themselves into a mass of gray birds already on the ground. They only sang in the sky. Possibly, this is how they stay together as a flock.
On the way to the marsh we saw many border patrol agents, some in cars and others on a kind of three-wheeled motor bike for going over rough terrain. A group of them had surrounded a twelve-year-old girl who must have been terrified. It was out where no one, let alone a child, should be. But she was lucky to have been found. Groups of illegals cross through the desert and are met by a pick-up car or truck at an assigned spot. The car only passes once and if the illegals miss it, they are on their own. In some cases the slowest persons in the group are abandoned, as I think happened with this girl. Then they might very well die. This time of year it’s below freezing at night and a lot of people don’t realize how cold it gets and aren’t dressed for it. The girl had no sweater. She will survive because she was found.
When Daniel was coming to visit us, he saw a group of border patrolmen surrounding a car only a few miles from where we live. Two men were driving the car and in the trunk was a body. The patrolmen laid him out on the ground. Daniel said his skin was blue and he was clearly dead. We don’t know whether the man froze or whether he was murdered, but so far nothing has appeared in the news. This kind of thing goes on all the time along the border.
As for the sequel, I am writing as fast as I can. I think you will like it, because I sure do. I discovered that music helps me write faster. For years I haven’t been able to listen to music because it disturbs Harold when he is working. We lived in a very small apartment. Now I have a whole office with sound-proofed walls between me and Harold’s office. The first time I put on a CD I almost passed out it was so beautiful. I wrote for five hours without stopping.
I will answer letters very soon. I do read all of them and thank you for sending them. They keep my spirits up. I wish I could help some of you with your papers, but I simply don’t have time. If you look over my website you will find a lot of information you can use.
Our son Daniel came home recently from doing pirate ops with the US Navy off Somalia. It sounds more exciting than it is. If a US Navy patrol boat sights a hijacking they have to get permission from (I guess) Washington before they can do anything about it. It takes a day, by which time the pirates are gone and are laughing over the latest haul they’ve made. Fortunately, not every country is so slipshod. The Turks, Chinese, Indians and several others have gone into battle and rescued endangered merchant ships.
One of the neighbor’s bulls got loose and got into several yards. We have a cattle grid, but the bull learned how to walk along the edge of it and get in. He emptied the ponds we keep for wildlife. Harold went out to block the grid and found a deadly coral snake at the bottom. They are much more toxic than rattlesnakes. But they are shy creatures that come out at dusk and their mouths are so small they can’t bite anything larger than a finger. Of course you don’t want them to get your finger because it’s lethal.
One night Harold discovered a giant centipede in the bathroom and called for me to catch it. I managed to curl it up in a cup and take it outside. Harold looked out the kitchen window and saw a fire explode among some mesquite trees not far way. It was dark and we couldn’t see what was burning. Harold called 911 while Daniel and I got hoses to wet the house down. Then Daniel said he thought Eric Hayes' house was on fire. Eric is a disabled veteran and so Harold immediately drove over to try to rescue him. He arrived at the same time as the fire engine. Eric was fine. But his workshop, which contained three vehicles, was a write off. While this was going on I could hear explosions as though ammunition had been stored in the shop. Eric says he didn't have an arms cache, and maybe he didn’t.
We ‘ve been having some expensive problems here. Just before Thanksgiving Harold tried to plug in a strobe light under the car. He uses it to scare away pack rats. Pack rats like to make nests in car engines. They chew the insulation and wires, drag in seed pods and have lots of babies. They can absolutely wreck a car, so we have been leaving the hood open and a strobe light underneath.
When Harold plugged in the light it exploded in his hand, made him partially deaf in one ear and turned his hand black with soot. The lights in the house started to blink and burn out. The power surge melted the surge protectors, the modem, the telephone, the answering machine and the electric toothbrushes. It burnt out the electrical controls on the stove and dishwasher, and almost fried the refrigerators, TV and computer. You don’t realize how many electrical appliances you have until something like this happens.
It took us a week to find the problem, during which we were afraid to turn on anything. We had no internet and no telephone. We put the local repairmen to work, plus a local electrician and an official electrician. They finally found two wires that had fused, and a fuse box that wasn’t properly closed (the javalinas had been using it to mark territory), and an electric pole that had collapsed farther up the mountain because of last summer’s fire.
In the middle of this came Thanksgiving. We turned off everything and headed for Tucson to be with Jim, a fighter pilot in our old writing group, who was visiting his son. They threw a great party. On the way home we crossed the Cienega Wildlife Reserve, which is a river that cuts deep below the surrounding countryside. All the cottonwood trees by the river had turned gold and since they were at the same height as the mesquites above them, it looked like a river of gold cutting through a forest.
Yes, I am working steadily on God’s Ashtray in spite of interruptions. I will answer letters in the next blog (promise!).