Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Than Enough

We're supposed to be on the road to Arkansas right now to spend the holiday with my family. That's not going to happen, though, because we woke up this morning and stepped into a pool of water when we got out of bed. A pipe in the wall broke and our bedroom and the guest room were flooded.

We've had a team of plumbers here since early this morning, and an emergency water damage company has set up a giant humidifier to dry out the rooms that got wet. It is going to cost a FORTUNE to fix. The new wood floor in our bedroom is completely ruined, plus the plumbers had to cut huge pieces of sheet-rock out of the wall in our room to find the pipe that was leaking. And the thing that's particularly galling is that the leak was caused by the people who installed the floor in our room. Apparently when they were replacing the quarter-rounds, they hit a nail into the pipe. It didn't start leaking until cooler weather caused the pipes to contract, and then it was a gusher.

We have already learnt several new things, like the fact that our homeowners insurance doesn't cover the cost of the plumbers. So, even if the insurance covers everything else, we're still on the hook for $4,000. The floor installers are sending someone out on Monday, and we're hoping that they'll cover at least part of the cost since they're responsible for the damage. We're certain of that because we found the exact nail that caused the breech.

It would be easy enough to have a real melt-down at this point because in addition to this little nightmare, we have a lot of other sudden financial setbacks (who hasn't in this economy?). But I still have so much to be thankful for that I'm not going to flip out (yet). Instead, I'm just going to think about the good things and not worry. DH and I have each other, and we have our dogs (and kitty). We have some excellent steaks in the freezer we can defrost for our dinner tomorrow. We have our families.

That's more than enough.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Halts Acquisitions

According to Publishers Weekly, HMH has temporarily stopped acquiring new manuscripts. I suppose it's not surprising considering the doldrums in the economy, but wow...

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Right. Wow...

... a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. “I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back,” said agent Jonathon Lazear. “But I’ve never heard of anything so public.” Lazear added that, in the past two weeks, business has been more “sluggish” than it had been all year. Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it's indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh. My. God.

I was evangelized yesterday. By three very nice people – two ladies and a man – who apparently live nearby and who wanted to tell me that if I had not yet found a "church home" in the area that I was welcome to attend their Baptist church. I was a bit taken aback, but rather than slamming the door in their faces, I decided to stand out on the front porch and chat with them for a while. I'm fascinated by religion and it seemed like a good opportunity to either learn something about my new neighbors or to convince them that I ought to be burnt at the stake!

"I am Catholic," I told them, and then I shut up and waited to hear how that would be received.

One of the two nice ladies whose names utterly escaped me said, "Oh! Well that's good. Catholic is good. We are the same in many ways. We all believe that Jesus Christ is our savior."

"Uh huh," I said.

The man looked at his shoes.

The other lady piped up. "Even though you're Catholic, we believe you'll go to heaven, as long as you're saved. We believe you have to be saved; you won't go based on good works alone. Are you saved? Are you sure you'll go to heaven?"

Am I sure I'll go to heaven? If I don't lie, the only answer to that can be, "Hell NO! I'm not sure I'll go to heaven." Of course I'm not going to say that to them, so, naturally, I lied. "Yes; I'm sure I'm sure I'll go to heaven," I said.

"That's good," said Lady #2, nodding vigorously. "That's really good. It means you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior."

"Uh huh," I said. I considered mentioning that he was here just yesterday, and that I had told him that yes; he was indeed my personal savior, but that seemed like overkill, so I shut up and nodded along with Lady #2.

The man smiled vaguely and looked at his shoes again.

In spite of her assertion that "We are the same in many ways," Lady #1 seemed a bit doubtful about my confidence in being heaven-bound. Unless she is good at spotting liars, or is a bit of a liar herself, I'm not sure why since I wasn't dressed like a hooker and I wasn't openly drunk. "My mother is Catholic," she said. "She thinks good works are enough. You don't think that, do you?"

Uhhhhh. WTF? Okay, I admit it; this is the kind of thing that brings my inner witch to life. Remember that scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when they open the Ark of the Covenant and the holy spirit pours out and turns everyone who looks at it to ashes? Well, that's about the closest I can get to describing the temper that her question incited in me.

If her mother is Catholic, then she knows good and well what she is asking – even though I've acknowledged a fundamental agreement in beliefs – i.e., Christ as savior -- she's attempting to get me to disavow a cornerstone of my faith: that what you do matters.

The funny thing is that I'm not a good Catholic. In fact, I'm hardly Catholic at all. I was raised Protestant, and I identify most closely with the Episcopal faith. But this idea that "good works" are irrelevant is infuriating to me. I absolutely reject the idea that I can gabble some bullshit about Christ being my Saviour, and then go out and murder somebody and because I am "saved" I will go to heaven, no problem. I believe in atonement. I believe in redemption. However, I do not believe in this bizarre "I can snort coke and knock off a liquor store, but as long as I accept Christ as my personal savior, I'm cool and all is well," stuff.

I suspect the man on the porch may have seen the first Indiana Jones movie and recognized the signs of the holy spirit rising within me because he suddenly spoke up. "Do you or your husband play tennis?" he asked. "We're always looking for new members here at the club."

He meant the neighborhood club, not the church club, so he was obviously trying to stop the train wreck before it happened. I decided to help him stop the train wreck because it's such a pointless one.

I gave him my best smile. "My husband does. He was just talking about it. You'll probably see him there soon."

He turned to the others. "Ladies, I think we should be going. It's getting late." He smiled back at me. We were in collusion.

It was good.
I thanked them for stopping by and told them if I was ever in the market for a new "church home," I would certainly consider stopping by their church, but that was a lie too.

I have a lot of Baptist friends and family and I have nothing but the highest regard for them. But apart from cursing and the occasional lie, I really am Christian and I have deeply held beliefs and practices that only fit within the Catholic or the Episcopal/Anglican churches because of their historicity. My faith is abiding; I don't pick and choose, so even though it would be convenient to decide to accept Jesus in this easy way and not have to worry about "good works," for me, that would be a bigger lie. I definitely believe that God would judge me harshly for that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

That Old Hedonic Treadmill

My grandfather's sister, Marion Barber Crawford, died on Monday at the age of 91. I'm not noting this because I want sympathy; I wasn't close to her and I didn't know her well, and I don't intend to display some kind of inappropriate crocodile tears. However, she was Papa's sister and Auntie and Daddy's aunt, and I had been hoping to interview her for my upcoming project on Arkansas history, and I am sorry she is gone.

I considered going to the funeral, which will be held in Warren, Arkansas on Saturday, but it's a long drive and we're planning a trip to Arkansas in a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, so Auntie and I thought it was best that I just send flowers, since DH wouldn't be able to go with me and I'm not quite ready, health-wise, to make a drive that long (9+ hours) on my own.

It's just as well that I don't go, since, as I said, I hardly knew Marion, and it's a really long drive, but also because my publishing business is about to cause me to pull my hair out and I probably ought to go wig shopping instead. (How's that for shallow???) Really, I don't think the stupidity of the FEMA hurricane recovery efforts have anything on what small publishers have to go through on a daily basis.

e.g., The company who used to do my covers have gone out of business. Arrgghghh, I have the artwork I want to use for my next book. I have the back cover text. I FINALLY have the ISBN. I've nearly got the typesets. Final edits to come (Sorry Gillian). But now I need someone to put the cover together in a decent-looking and acceptable format. I do NOT want to deal with some a$$hat artist who wants to charge me $10k for a 15 minute Photo Shop job. Sigh…

It's a good thing I'm an essentially happy person, or I'd never get through it all. What? You didn't know I was a happy person? I suppose you wouldn't based on the stuff I write since it mostly comes across like chronic misery. But oddly enough, I think that's how it works. It's like that hedonic treadmill thing. Big ups and big downs only affect me for a little while and then I return to my baseline, which is generally happy. And when I write about my ups and downs and annoyances, I return there faster.

In fact, I'm about to return there now. With a margarita. I have wireless and a cellphone. There's no reason in the world that I can't pull out my hair in my new backyard, which is … not half bad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let it Rain

It's raining. There's a first time for everything, and this is the first time it's rained since I've moved to San Antonio. It's a nice, soft, pattering rain that immediately reminded me of the frequent comments I heard about Washington state from silly people who live in non-rainy climates. "Oh, I LOVE rainy days," they'd say. "You can just stay indoors and curl up with a book."

Right. You can do that if you live in a place where it doesn't rain almost every day for nine months out of the year. If you intend to wait out the rain in the Pacific Northwest, you'd better be retired, independently wealthy, and stocked up with a LOT of books! If not, I can pretty much guarantee you will not be able to spend all the rainy days curled up in front of the fire. I think you would probably go mad, and at the very least, your muscles would atrophy. You have to go outside and live. In the rain. It gets old. Fast.

Here, however, this nice, soft, pattering rain is a lovely break after weeks and weeks and weeks of perfect sunny weather. And yes; now that I don't have to deal with endless rainy days, I like them again. I may even resort to curling up with a book myself since I'm having one of those days where I wonder if I'm not going to lose my mind.

I'm not sure how it works that I can get a confluence of events that is so maddening; I think it must have something to do with my horoscope! My cat, for example, has conceived a fatal attraction to the plant my mother-in-law sent me when I was in the hospital. It's pretty thing in a basket, and even though I'm usually a plant-killer, I thought I would try to keep it alive. Part of it is a fern and part is something else, probably poison, and apparently, Tabitha NEEDS to eat it. She has never been a cat who would jump on the table, so after noticing her interest, I moved the plant to the table, thinking she'd stay away from it. Not a chance. I walked into the kitchen this morning to find her sitting in the middle of the table, breakfasting on my plant. She was sick shortly thereafter, so I assume that whatever she ingested is not a worry any longer. I think I'll give the plant to DH to take to his office.

That was just one of the maddening bits of the day. Bowker, the keeper of the ISBNs was the perpetrator of another one. I, well, my company, owns a block of ISBNs. We paid for them ages ago. I'm ready to register two new books that we're about to publish. All very straightforward, no? Of course it couldn't be straightforward. I haven't yet unpacked all my moving boxes, and probably won't be able to get to them for a while, and I'm not sure where the paper copy of the list of ISBNs is located. I'm a registered member of Bowker, so I thought I'd just look them up online.


When I signed into Bowkerlink, they would only show me the ISBNs for books I'd already published, unless I paid them $25. Even though it is the same site I use to register the books under the new ISBNs, they hide those damn numbers unless I pay their extortion. Isn't that helpful? I paid the $25. Under protest.

The final maddening thing has left me flummoxed – sort of like Elmer Fudd trying to get the best of Bugs Bunny (never going to happen). It's so peculiar, it's difficult to even explain. The week before we went to Lake Charles, I got a call from the real estate agent who sold our house there. She said the people who'd bought it had received a box that was sent to me and wanted to know how to get it to me. Of course it's been three and half years since we moved and I couldn't imagine what was in the box, but I told her we would be in town and we'd pick it up when we were there. And we did.

After marveling over how amazing it is that we were able to stay in touch and still receive this box, we opened it. It was a box of returns. Book returns. They didn't enclose a packing slip or original invoice. They were from Amazon. GAHHHH!

Several questions come to mind. Say, like, why did Amazon order 43 copies of this book in September and return 9? Those are strange numbers. Also, if they were able to sell 32 copies, then why not hang on to the other 9? They turned around and ordered 22 copies in October! But I have to eat the shipping. That's seriously galling.

The Elmer Fudd part of this is trying to figure out how to fix the shipping address used for the returns. My God. Somewhere in "the Internets" my address is wrong and I have no idea where. I have looked at every place I can think of to change it, and none of them list my old Lake Charles address. Where in the world did they get this and how do I fix it?

I feel half-demented trying to solve this, so I think I'm going to give up for now. Instead, I'm going watch my favorite stupid movie, Les Visiteurs. I found it on youtube and I intend to justify this by telling myself that watching a French movie, even one so incredibly puerile as Les Visiteurs is a good way of improving my French.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Arrgghhh -- Make it STOP

Spending last week in Lake Charles was wonderful. I played the slot machines exactly once and I won $130. I then proceeded to make myself sick with a terrific hamburger and a HUGE double-margarita -- totally worth it. I learned that Hurricane Ike flooded our old neighborhood. That made me feel really sad, but also relieved that it never happened to us once while we lived there.

We saw quite a few old friends. In every case, we somehow ended up talking about -- surprise -- politics. I had forgotten how different politics are in Louisiana; I can't explain it, but they just are. In the course of four enthusiastic ... um ... discussions, I was told by two people that Barack Obama is not a natural born American citizen and therefore, should not be eligible to become president. Unlike most of what seems to be the rest of the country, I'm not a huge Obama fan, but even so, I thought those comments were stupid and I didn't hesitate to mention it.

Regardless of who is elected, and I believe it will be Obama, I will be SO glad to have this damned election over and done with. I admit that I don't like either candidate, but it really doesn't matter what I think because I was in the hospital on the deadline for registering to vote, so I don't get to vote anyway. It will be the first time in my adult life that I'll have missed voting in an election. I suppose it shouldn't bother me much anyway because if I still lived in Washington, my vote either way wouldn't have mattered because Obama is certain to win there. And here, in Texas, McCain is almost certain to win, so my vote wouldn't have mattered here either. It would only have mattered to me.

Tomorrow night Gillian and I are going to have a virtual election party with virtual election cake and then, I can sigh and say, Thank God it is over -- except for the bitching and moaning, which is bound to last at least four years!