Category Archives: Books

The Water Knife (A Book Review)

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The Water Knife
I first heard of the novel The Water Knife (set in the American Southwest, primarily in Phoenix, AZ from a blurb in Sunset magazine (http://www.sunset.com/). The description intrigued me, and I wanted to read the book. Thanks to a kind BookMooch (http://bookmooch.com/) member, I had my chance.

In author Paolo Bacigalupi’s Phoenix, water is precious and scarce, and society is divided according to who has it and who doesn’t. The rich have water, of course, The rich live in lavish “arcologies” where all waste water is sceientifically filtered clean and reused. The rich have plenty of water to drink, can bathe whenever they want, have their clothes cleaned regularly, and even use flush toilets. The poor have limited water resources. The poor live in squats built from salvaged materials or abandoned houses; neither type of housing has running water. The poor buy their water one gallon at a time from pumps with fluctuating prices. The poor are dusty dirty because they can rarely shower or wash their clothes. Needless to say, there are no flush toilets for the Phoenix poor.

Not every place in this distopia Southwest has the water problems Phoenix does. Things are much worse in Texas, and refugees have poured into Arizona via New Mexico. The good people of New Mexico wanted nothing to do with Texas regugees and sent them on their way, sometimes violently. Life isn’t so hard in California and Nevada, and those states want to keep it that way by limiting who crosses their borders to use their limited resources. In this world, coyotes still guide people across borders, but the borders crossed are into states with water.

The most important thing in this world are water rights, and the water knife of the title makes sure his boss gets the water rights she needs to stay wealthy and priviliged.

There’s a lot of dark action in this book: shooting, torture, murder, death. Young women (called “bangbang girls,” usually Texans) sell their bodies for money and, hopefully, the chance to wash their panties in the sink while the rich man sleeps. A man who controls a neighborhood and demands a percentage of the money the area residents earn uses hyenas as part of his enforcement plan. Dams are blown up and precious water is diverted. People are tortured for answers. This book is so dark, in fact, that I put it aside for four months after reading the first nine chapters. The book was good, but it had me on edge, knowing all the characters were facing terrible fates. When I picked it up the second time, I must have been in a better state of mind, because I was able to enjoy the story without letting the violence get to me.

The action of the novel just keeps coming. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what would happen next or who would doublecross whom. I did, however, figure out the story’s key mystery long before the characters did. (Of course, I had a big picture view the characters were lacking.)

I also enjoyed the characters. I was pleased to see two of the three main characters through whose eyes the story is told are women. The women aren’t damsels-in-distress women either, but strong, ass-kicking, gonna do what has to be done women. Even though the book is primarily an action/adventure/mystery story, there is also character development, which I appreciated.

The social problems the book examines are not easy to look at. What happenes when modern life as we know it breaks down? What happens when one of humankind’s most basic, most necessary resources becomes so scare people are willing to kill for it? What happens when the environment changes to the point people may no longer be able to survive on the surface of the earth? The Water Knife raises these questions and offers only bleak answers.

Still, I’m glad I read this novel. It was difficult to get through some parts of it, but those hard parts really made the story ring true. It’s a good book, but maybe not for readers who can’t handle the dark side of humanity.

The Best Dog Park Ever & a Little Free Library

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The Man and I were in Santa Fe, and Jerico the dog had been spending a lot of time in the van.

Jerico’s a puller when he’s on his leash, so he’s not much fun to walk with. His leash is attached to a harness instead of a collar so he doesn’t choke himself with his pulling, but still, The Man has to keep an iron grip on the leash so Jerico doesn’t drag him around.

One day we put Jerico on his leash after we ate our lunch, and we walked with him around The Plaza. Jerico enjoyed being outside and meeting other dogs, but it was embarrassing when he ducked under the ropes cordoning off the lawn and took a giant dump on the lush, green grass. Also? It wasn’t much fun for The Man to feel as if he were risking having his arm pulled out of its socket while Jerico tried to go his own way.

The next morning, after The Man had his coffee, I reminded him that we’d talked about taking Jerico to the dog park. We decided to do it, to let Jerico have some special doggie fun.

As I drove us to the park, The Man told me it was the biggest, the coolest dog park he had ever seen.

How cool could it be? I wondered. Aren’t dog parks just a patch of grass where dogs get to run around off leash? A big patch of grass would make a better dog park than would a small patch of grass, but a big patch of grass is still just a patch of grass.

However, I was surprised and pleased when I saw the Frank Ortiz dog park.

First of all, it’s huge. According to the City of Santa Fe website (http://www.santafenm.gov/district_1_parks), the dog park consists of 135 acres.

Secondly, the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is not just a big patch of grass. The 135 acres consists mostly of natural terrain. Juniper trees dot the sandy, rocky land. Trails criss-cross the area and while there are a few benches scattered around and a large, flat, empty area good for playing fetch, most of the park is the way nature made it.

(Are you wondering–as I was–who the heck is Frank Ortiz? I couldn’t find much information about him, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mayors_of_Santa_Fe,_New_Mexico, he was the mayor of Santa Fe from 1948 to 1952.)

We were at the park around eight in the morning, and it wasn’t very crowded. Of course, the park is so big, dozens–maybe hundreds–of dogs could be running around, and the place wouldn’t feel crowded.

The Man strapped on Jerico’s harness so he could grab the dog and pick him up like a suitcase if a fight occurred. Jerico might not start a fight, but he’d get into a scrap if another canine tried to boss him around. Once he was harnessed, Jerico was let loose to run around and sniff and scratch around in the dirt.

Usually, when The Man and I are on a nature walk and the dog’s off-leash, Jerico stays several paces behind us. During those times, The Man and I periodically turn around and call Jerico to catch up with us. Less frequently, he’ll run ahead of us and stop, then look back as if pleading for us to catch up with him.

On the day at the dog park, The Man and I had turned around a couple of times and urged Jerico on. We were plodding up a hill when Jerico shot past us, crested the hill, and disappeared over the top. The Man called him, but Jerico didn’t stop.

Come on, Honey, The Man said to me. We have to run.

I’m not running, I told him. I’ll meet you on the other side.

The Man jogged off while I continued up the hill. At the top, I found The Man snapping the leash onto the rings on Jerico’s harness.

Oh, the shame, I told Jerico, of having to wear a leash in the dog park.

We continued to walk around, and Jerico successfully made friends with other canines. One lady started talking to me and The Man while her dog and ours sniffed rumps.

Does your dog run away? she asked.

We admitted he did.

Mine used to run away too, she told us. But then one day I hid behind a tree. She looked around for me like she was worried, so then I came out from behind the tree. I told her no more running away from me, and she never did again. You have to treat them like little kids.

After we walked away from the woman, we decided Jerico probably wouldn’t even notice if we hid behind a tree while he was fleeing the scene. We thought we shouldn’t experiment with the woman’s technique to curb runaway dogs.

We walked around another ten or fifteen minutes, then let Jerico off the leash again. He behaved at first but then decided to ignore The Man when he called. It was back on the leash for the headstrong Jerico.

We went back to the van and loaded up.

I want to stop at the information board, I told The Man. I thought it might offer, well, information about the park or at least some sort to photo opportunity for a picture to go with this post. Alas, the only information was a couple of flyers announcing lost dogs and a couple of signs giving the name of the park and park rules. However, next to the non-information board, there was a Little Free Library. Yippie!

I love Little Free Libraries. This one at the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is only the second one I’ve visited in person. (You can read about my first visit to a Little Free Library here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/26/little-free-library-los-gatos-edition/.) I was enamored with the concept of Little Free Libraries long before I visited one. I love both books and gift economies; Little Free Libraries combine both of these loves.

According to what was painted on the side of the library, this one was constructed by the SFCC Youth Build group. According to an October 2015 post on the YouthBuild USA Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/YouthBuildUSA/posts/10153055926341610),

Students from Youthbuild at Santa Fe Community College [were] building mini libraries to install around Santa Fe, NM. Their work will add to the growing list of Little Free Library exchanges currently in 50 states and 70 countries!

Skinwalkers (A Leaphorn and Chee Novel)
As soon as I saw the Little Free Library, I started rooting around in the van hoping to find the Tony Hillerman novel I’d recently finished reading so I could donate it. Success came between the wall and the food of the bed, and I happily placed the novel among the other free-to-new-home books.

I didn’t find any books I was excited to read in the Little Free Library, but The Man took a couple. I wasn’t really even looking for free books because I currently have plenty of reading material. My pleasure came in spontaneously finding a Little Free Library and being able to leave a book I hope another reader will enjoy.

The entrance to the parking lot of the Frank Ortiz Dog Park is on the southwest side of Camino de las Crucitas at Buckman Road.

I took the photos in this post, with the exception of the cover of Skinwalkers. That’s an Amazon Associates link.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Learning About Self-Publishing a Book

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Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
I recently self-published my first book, Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s a 200+ page collection of short essays about my experiences as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a popular trailhead in a National Forest. Some of my readers have expressed interest in publishing books of their own, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about self-publishing so far.

#1 Writing the book was the easy part.

Confessions of a Work Camper includes 15 never-published-anywhere-else essays, as well as newly written introductions to each chapter, and some fun lists, but the bulk of the book has appeared in blog posts. For the most part, the book was written before I decided to self-publish it.

The steps that came after writing were the more difficult parts for me.

#1a Proofreading is a pain.

Believe it or not, I edit my blog posts several times before I schedule them. I thought I’d been doing a great job proofreading until I put the texts of posts into my book document and found typos all over the place. So I did more proofreading and editing. Then I did more proofreading and editing. Then I took a friend up on her offer to help, and she read the entire document and offered some corrections. Then I read the entire book aloud and found more mistakes. So when it was time to approve the proof of the book, I did so without reading it one more time. That was a mistake.

When I started reading my essays again in preparation for reading them aloud to an audience, I immediately found more errors. I’m not talking about formatting problems. I’m talking about wrong words in sentences. Since the words aren’t technically misspelled, the spell check didn’t alert me to them, and my eyes glided right over them. Sigh.

Every typo is an embarrassment to me.

The first edition is barely complete, and I already need to work on the second edition.

#1b It took me a while to figure out how to use CreateSpace.

I needed some form of Adobe to use CreateSpace’s cover creator. I couldn’t get Adobe to work with Firefox. I had a telephone conversation with a CreateSpace representative in South Africa. He was exceedingly nice and very helpful, but Firefox and Adobe still wouldn’t work together to let me use the CreateSpace cover creator. I ended up using Google Chrome to do anything on CreateSpace that required Adobe.

I put the text of the book in a Word Starter document. (Word Starter is the word processing program my laptop came with. I never upgraded.) When I transferred my text into the document formatted for CreateSpace, any words in italics transferred to all caps. Since I use italics to indicate thoughts or conversations, this glitch made it seem as if all the people in my book were YELLING AT EACH OTHER. I had to go into the CreateSpace document and manually change each instance of capital letters into italics.

When it came time to approve the book’s formatting online, formatting that looked fine in the CreateSpace Word document looked all wrong in the examples of the actual book. I spent an entire morning working on the formatting, and it’s still not perfect.

I’m not saying CreateSpace is impossible to use. When I got frustrated with it, I reminded myself that people many people use CreateSpace to self-publish every day. However, there is a learning curve when using CreateSpace. (The Poet had warned me of the learning curve when she first told me all she knew about publishing with CreateSpace. Read that post here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/19/self-publishing-books-online/.) Until a writer learns the ends and outs of CreateSpace, getting a book ready for publication may take more time than expected.

#2 That book’s not going to promote itself.

Again, writing the book was easy, compared to getting people to buy it.

My book was first released as an ebook. In the first day the ebook was available, it sold nine copies. This is great! I thought. From there, sales dwindled. Once my friends who read ebooks bought their copies, I had to figure out how to get strangers to buy it.

#2a Public libraries aren’t so keen on buying self-published books (and sometimes they don’t seem to want to buy any books at all).

I had the idea to get all my friends across the country to ask their local libraries to buy my book. To make it easier for them, I researched different libraries to find out how my supporters could go about requesting a book for purchase. Many libraries have an online form for such a request, but while some library systems (I’m looking at you, Las Vegas, NV and Richmond, VA), say sure, patrons can suggest a book for purchase, I found no indication of how to do so.

I filled out an online request for the purchase of my book with a library system in a major U.S. city where I happen to have a library card. I received a response saying they don’t even consider buying a self-published book unless it has at least 50 reviews on Amazon or GoodReads. (I currently have seven reviews on Amazon and none on GoodReads.)

#2b I’m not much of a hustler, so figuring out ways to promote the book hasn’t been easy. I’m encouraging folks who’ve read the book to leave reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads. I’ve set up an author’s page on GoodReads. I’ve announced the book (repeatedly) here on my blog and on the Rubber Tramp Artist (https://www.facebook.com/Rubber-Tramp-Artist-1582864462007151/) and Blaizin’ Sun Creations (https://www.facebook.com/Blaizin-Sun-Creations-291317231259583/?fref=ts) Facebook pages.

I’ve done two readings so far, and have another scheduled for the day this post runs. The two readings were at the RTR and both were small. Making a reading a success seems to take a lot of promotion, including hanging flyers and sending emails. I haven’t given up, but it’s a lot more work than I expeted.

#2c It takes CreateSpace a while to deliver 100 copies of a 200+ page book.

It was Christmas before I was able to approve the book for publication and order the 100 copies I wanted for promotion. I thought I’d get them by the first week in January, which was based upon absolutely no concrete information. Instead, my estimated delivery date was January 17. I was hesitant to schedule reading where I hoped to sell copies of the book when I had no copies of the book to sell.

#3 Lots of people want to write a book.

When I mention I’ve recently self-published a book, the person I’m speaking to often says s/he has written a book or wants to write a book. I try to be encouraging while also making clear that writing a book is only the first step in getting it read.

 

Book Review: Don Coyote

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Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned America
I’d never seen or heard a coyote until I lived until New Mexico. Until I was in my 4os, my sole experience with coyotes was Wile E. Coyote from The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show. But when I spent three summers and parts of two winters in Northern New Mexico, and heard coyotes and sometimes even saw them.

During my first winter in Northern New Mexico, I found a copy of Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned American Original by Dayton Hyde in a free box. I read the book and learned more about coyotes than I ever thought I’d know

One night, while reading , Don Coyote I had the pleasure of hearing real live coyotes yip, yap, and howl in the distance. I thought this book and that far off canine conversation might be as close as I ever got to a coyote.

Dayton Hyde has been up close and personal with coyotes. Don Coyote is the story of how he befriends a wild coyote, then has friends in the East send a captive mating pair to his Oregon cattle ranch. Hyde ignores the necessary coyote permits and finds himself in possession of eight coyotes when the female gives birth to a litter. Since his plan is to tame the pups “to the point where [he] could release them on the ranch and observe their everyday life without their being concerned about [his] presence” he snatches two of them from the parents before their eyes open. Days later, when the pups’ eyes are opened, he steals two more from their family and brings them into his human world where they stay until each decides to move on into the wild. (Strangely, from that point, he never again mentions the parental coyotes, and the reader is left to wonder what happened to them.)

By the end of the book, Hyde is a rancher and naturalist, but he was not always both. This book chronicles not only his fascination and love of coyotes (the ones he tamed to varying degrees as well as wild ones), but also how that love and fascination caused his transformation from a person who tried to mold nature according to his human whims into someone who observes nature and notices that often the natural way is the best way. As he stopped fighting nature, he began to feel more of a responsibility toward the earth and all nonhuman creatures.

Hyde writes, “What made me so different from my neighbors was that they figured we humans had dominion over the land while I felt we had a responsibility for it—for the soil; for every plant, bird, and animal that shared this planet with us; for the rivers, and for the air.”

Hyde’s writing style is accessible, although his vocabulary is sometimes of an age prior to the book’s 1986 copyright date. He’s a thinker and not just a doer, and his prose is lovely and evocative.

This book came to me via a free box, and I’m glad to have read it. It is a must read for every environmentalist and for anyone who thinks killing predators is a good idea.

My Creative Dream Guidebook

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I’ve adored SARK for years.

I can’t remember which of her books was the first I read, but I know I knew about her before the 21st century. I remember decorating a post card and writing a fan letter on it and sending it to her in 1999 or 2000, so I certainly knew her work well by then.

If you’ve never heard of SARK, I’m glad I can be the one to tell you about her.

Succulent Wild Woman
SARK is her acronym name; the letters stand for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. On her website, Planet SARK (http://planetsark.com/about-sark/), she says about herself,

Throughout the course of my life and career as an international expert in personal well-being and transformation, my name has become synonymous with transformation, color, healing, movement & FUN.

I’ve written countless books and created programs that I offer to provide a powerfull [sic], grounded and practical approach to feeling glad more often, transforming what hurts into what helps and living a life of joyfull creative expression. No matter what!

I’ve read a lot of SARK’s books over the years, including Succulent Wild Woman, Eat Mangoes Naked, A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit, The Bodacious Book of Succulence: Daring to Live Your Succulent Wild Life, and Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book.

The books are full of colors and wisdom and love. Even though I live in a van and have little space to hoard books, I own copies of both Succulent Wild Woman and Eat Mangoes Naked. Sometimes when I am sad, I reread one or both of the books for the umpteenth time. I like browsing through the books, skipping around, reading bits and pieces here and there. Reading SARK’s kind and gentle words always lifts my spirits, cheers me up, makes me feel better.

Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day
In 2004, Touchstone books released SARK’s book Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day. (Yes, I WOULD rather sleep all day, as a matter of fact.)

I’ve had my eye on Make Your Creative Dreams Real for a while now, but I was never in the right position to acquire it. I don’t like to spend money on books since there are so many free ones out in the world, but I never found this one in a free pile or offered on BookMooch.

I was house sitting for a friend from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve. She had a $10 voucher at an independent used bookstore that expired on New Year’s Eve. She didn’t have a chance to use the voucher before she left town, and her plane didn’t land until late on December 31. Since she couldn’t use the voucher, she left it for me. (Super big thanks to this generous friend who also left a Chick-fil-A gift card for me!)

Before I went to the bookstore, I didn’t really know what I wanted to get. I wandered around in the store for a while before I thought, OH! SARK!

So I sought out SARK in the store’s self-help section. (SIDE NOTE: I couldn’t find the self-help section, but I was too embarrassed to ask any of the workers to direct me. How silly is that!?! I was too embarrassed to let strangers know I wanted to self-help myself. Sigh.)

The Grapes of Wrath
There were quite a few titles by SARK on the shelf. Then I saw Make Your Creative Dreams Real. Oh, yes, that would do. I checked the price. It only cost $8! Score! (With my remaining $2, I bought a battered copy of The Grapes of Wrath, which I’d decided to revisit.)

Although the word “plan” is clearly in the subtitle, I didn’t realize Make Your Creative Dreams Real is a how-to book. I started reading it and realized it’s a twelve month, week-by-week guide. Every week SARK presents a new project, exercise, game, or suggestion.

I’ve never been good at sticking with how-to books that require weekly exercises, but I figured since I already had the book I should stay the course.

The exercise for the first week was to make a “creative dream guidebook” for myself. I had a visual journal I’d bought with a gift certificate The Lady of the House gave me a couple years ago for Christmas. I’d bought two journals and only used part of one, so I thought the second one would do just fine.

I made collages on both covers. (One of the best features of this particular journal is that you I can open it completely and lay it flat.) I went for a blue theme, which I thought gave everything a dreamy feeling. Coyote Sue had just given me an old children’s dictionary she’d bought at a thrift store, so I cut out and pasted on the definitions for “create/creation/creator” (since there was no entry for “creative”), “dream,” “guidebook,” “blaze” (because, you know, the dictionary doesn’t include “Blaize”), and “sun.” I think it turned out great.

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I took the photo of my Creative Dream Guidebook collage. The other images are links to Amazon.com. If you click any of those images, they will take you to Amazon, and I will get an advertising fee from anything you purchase.

Happy Birthday, Dolly Parton

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Today is the birthday of Dolly Rebecca Parton. I’m sure everyone knows who Dolly Parton is, so I won’t even bother with autobiographical details. Instead I will share a review I wrote of a Dolly Parton biography I read last summer.

Dolly Daughter of the South
The book in question is Dolly: Daughter of the South,  written by Lola Scobey.

Where to begin?

I picked this book up at a thrift store for a dime. I wouldn’t say I’m a big Dolly Parton fan, but I do like some of her music and when I’ve seen her being interviewed on TV, she seems like a really nice person. So I figured, what the hell?, and forked over the dime to buy the book.

Several things about this book are suspect.

#1 It has no ISBN. Did books in the 70s and 80s not have ISBNs? What does it mean that this book has no ISBN? I dunno. (Oh, wait. I did find the ISBN, in tiny print on the spine, and again in tiny print on the right side of the front cover, right next to the price of $2.50)

#2 There are photos in this book, but no photo credits. Don’t most reputable authors give credit, if not to the photographer, at least to the person who provided the photo? No one is credited with the photos in this book.

#3 The following disclaimer is given on the book’s credit page: Sections of Chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, and 18 are dramatizations based upon facts about the characters’ lives and/or attitudes they have expressed. Dramatizations? As in made up? As in fiction? Ok, the author made up some of the shit in this book, and while she admits to making up some shit, she doesn’t tell us what shit she made up. So how can the reader really know what is true and what is not?

#4 The author never says where or when she actually interviewed Dolly Parton. At the end of the book, she does “acknowledge” some “fine people of Sevierville” (the town near where Dolly Parton grew up). Throughout the book, the author does mention situations in which some of those “fine people” told her about Dolly Parton’s past, so I do believe the author interviewed and got quotes from those “fine people.” And although the author presents the reader with many direct quotes attributed to Dolly Parton (with quotation marks and all), I think the author read a bunch of other interviews other people did with Ms. Parton and cobbled together quotes and included them here. For some of the quotes, the author of this book even says who did the interview and in what magazine it appeared (but no dates or issue numbers). I think this book is akin to a term paper, where the author read a lot of other people’s writing, then put it all together hoping for something bigger than the sum of its parts, but without any endnotes or footnotes or citations of any kind. I think any of my high school English teachers would have called that plagiarism.

This book is has a copyright date of 1977, with a first printing in October 1977, and additional printings in January 1978, August 1978, August 1979, January 1981, and February 1981, so I guess it sold a lot of copies. I’m sure Dolly Parton had a lot of fans at the time who wanted to know all about her and were willing to shell out a few bucks to get all the info in one inexpensive, paperback package. (I thought my mom had a copy of this book lying around the house when I was in middle school, but nothing in this book seemed the least bit familiar, so if my mom had it, I somehow didn’t read it.)

Great literature, this ain’t. Consider the first sentence of the book: “Kicking the damp, sticky sheets away from her legs, Avie Lee stared with plucky brown eyes into the sultry morning darkness that still filled the hot rooms of the cabin.” “Plucky brown eyes”? “Sultry morning darkness”? I haven’t seen such overwrought use of adjectives since 10th grade English class. I suspect this is some of the stuff author Lola Scobey dramatized, since I doubt she was in Dolly Parton’s parents’ bedroom before Ms. Parton was even born to experience for herself how sultry that morning darkness was or to witness the pluckiness of Ms. Parton’s mother’s brown eyes. Sheesh!

I like trashy biographies. I really do. But this one was kind of disappointing. I didn’t get swept up in the writing, and nothing really juicy is shared here. I did learn that Dolly Parton has been working as a singer ever since she was a little girl of nine or ten years old. That was interesting.

Really, the best thing about this book is the cheesy photograph of Dolly Parton on the front cover.

To really celebrate Dolly’s birthday, let’s watch a video of her singing “Jolene,” circa 1975.