Friday, March 27, 2020

Ten Things You Can Do to Make Yourself Feel Better Now

Hey there, boys and girls!

Like you, I'm worried and uncertain. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and in theory, so long as I'm able to work, I should have a paycheck.'s hard to work right now. The kind of focus and prolonged concentration it takes to write good fiction is similar to that required of an accountant at tax time. It's mentally exhausting, and right now...

My adorable stepdaughter is currently working with COVID19 patients in Quebec. My nephew (youngest of the beloved kidlings) has just been hired to fight wild fires. My mom and dad are in their 80s and in not tip-top health. And on and on my list of worries goes: the SO, my B-I-L, my niece... Heck, ME. The girl who spent all of last year catching every cold and flu circulating. :-D I'm not worried really for myself, but I am so frightened for the people I love, it's hard to catch my breath sometimes.

But you know what? One day at a time.

So here are my Top Ten Things You Can Do to Make Yourself Feel Better Now

1 - Get informed. Ignorance may be bliss, but it will also get you killed. If you think this is all a hoax or being blown out of proportion, okay, but I'm guessing that's because you haven't bothered to actually get informed. You're suffering from Preconceived Ideas. Why not take a few minutes to check out a neutral news source and then see what you think? It's not going to hurt to look, right?

AT THE SAME TIME, if you're glued to your TV, watching the numbers mount, STOP. I'm now limiting my news watching to first thing in the morning--I want to know where we are when the day begins--and the Rachel Maddow show in the evening. And Rachel is not the last thing I watch at night.

You don't want to go to sleep with death and disaster on your mind.

2 - Go outside.
Go for a walk. Work in your garden. Sit on your balcony. YOU CAN DO THIS AND STILL MAINTAIN SOCIAL (PHYSICAL) DISTANCE. You need fresh air. You need sunlight. If you can't go outside, pull back the drapes, open the blinds, open a window for a few minutes. At the minimum, LOOK out the window for a few minutes. I go out in the garden every day and do ONE thing, one chore. Maybe it's straighten out some tangled lights, maybe it's re-pot a plant, maybe it's feed the roses. One little thing. Ten minutes, tops.

3 - Bathe. Groom. Change your clothes.
Hey, you don't want to be dragged off to the ICU looking horrible, right? But seriously, you'll feel better if you make an effort to preserve appearances (I love that phrase: preserve appearance). Play with makeup. Try on clothes you haven't worn for a while--what a great time to clear out your closet. I have learned to do the perfect silver smoky eye--and I have two boxes of clothes to donate.

Speaking of which...

4 - This is the time to tackle all those Home Improvement chores you've been putting off.
I've been meaning to reorganize my bar area and my secondary bedroom closet and the laundry room cupboards and my office. This is a good time for that. (Although, to clean out my office may require the length of two pandemics).

5 - Use your good china.
I made lasagna last night. I don't do a lot of cooking, but I've committed to doing the cooking at least once a week now. It gives the SO a night off--well, two nights off because we're also doing Door Dash once a week to help out our favorite restaurants--and it allows me time to get creative in the kitchen. I served dinner on our good china, crystal, silver... I mean, what AM I preserving all this for if not for us to enjoy? We are eating yummy meals, drinking wine, having dessert, using items that are beautiful and that we love.

6 - Indulge in candles, flowers, reed scent diffusers.
Create a sanctuary for yourself as best you can. I have a fireplace in my bedroom, and I'm using it for an hour or so every night. I'm burning Jo Malone candles. I'm playing soothing music. I'm treasuring my moments of quiet calm. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some attention. You deserve it.

7 - Stay healthy.
Exercise. Eat right. Take your vitamins. Exercise again. Expand your lung capacity. No, none of this will keep you safe from the virus, but if you're in better health, you have a better chance of beating it without developing secondary infections. This virus is a respiratory illness, so the stronger your lungs, the better for you. As tempting as it may be to eat every cookie in the house, you want to make healthy choices right now.

I mean this literally and figuratively. Read new things. Watch new things. Cook new things. Try something new. Open a coloring book. Fill your brain with new images and new ideas. Hey,  why not take the opportunity to learn about something you're curious about or something you wish you knew how to do. This is the perfect opportunity for armchair travel.

9 - Give to a worthy cause.
Instead of giving into the temptation of retail therapy, I've been donating to various charities or organizations I support. I can't sew or I'd be making masks. But what I can do is donate to the causes I believe in. Like No Kid Hungry. Doing something for someone else is a sure way to make yourself feel better.

10 - Keep a good thought. 
It's scary out there, yes, but you know what never changes a damned thing? WORRYING. For most of us, the most helpful thing we can do is Stay Home. Stop the Spread. Try to make the most of this time. Try to stay positive. Not in a gosh-it-can't-happen-here! kind of way but in a Make Every Day  Count. A lot of what is happening is outside our control. The one thing we can control is our attitude. So let's keep a good thought for ourselves and for each other.

Friday, March 20, 2020

What Do We Think of Fanfic Now?

A conversation between Dal Maclean and Nicole Kimberling

Good morning, Gentle Readers! 

I have a special treat for you on the blog today. Two of my favorite writing buddies are here to help promote Dal Maclean's new release Blue on Blue, but instead of doing the usual HEY, IT'S HERE, PLEASE BUY IT approach, Dal and her editor Nicole Kimberling (who happens to be one of my fav mystery writers, by the way) thought it would be a lot more interesting for you (and them!) to know...CHAT about stuff. In this case, about Fanfiction, which is where I first met Dal (The Professionals fandom, for them what cares to know).

And honestly, I love that idea because--let's be honest--we're all starting to blend into the white noise of a million authors trying desperately to hawk their wares at the same moment. More and more, I think that old school approach of personal connection and actual conversation, might ultimately serve us all better.

What do you think?

Anyway, without further adieu, my writing pals Dal Maclean and Nicole Kimberling!

NK: So, DM, when I was in the process of acquiring your first novel, Bitter Legacy, we exchanged several letters about your style, inspirations and approach to fiction writing in general. One thing you mentioned at that time was that you were drawing your inspiration from a “fanfiction tradition.” I thought it was fascinating that you had identified fanfic as having its own style and specific goals so that even when a person was writing original material, such as your novels for Blind Eye Books, it could be said to be derived from the aesthetic of fanfic. This was in 2015, when participation in the fanfic community was still considered déclassé and I found it refreshing that you’d represent for that writing community so boldly. So for the benefit of Josh’s followers can you run down your basic concept of the fanfic aesthetic?

DM: Well… I’m a big admirer of fanfic, and it’s where I started out. As you say it’s always been looked down on  a bit and mocked, maybe because it’s such a  female space, maybe because it’s by definition ‘amateur’, maybe it’s the ‘fan’ bit.  But I suppose I think of it as almost pure in its ethos of creativity for the sake of it - and actually I suppose, a bit culturally subversive in the way it takes an official, sanitized narrative and makes it what it wants. It can definitely be invasive, it can cross too many lines, but I think my basic concept of the fanfic aesthetic is freedom. It’s kind of red in tooth and claw, often reeking with angst, untrammeled by rules or ‘thou shalt nots’. Like a literary wild west with vanishingly few sheriffs.

It used to be that ‘kink shaming’ was one of the worst things anyone could be accused of in fanfic and as a result fanfic erotica went to some incredible places. As I understand it, commercial M/M was sort of the love child of slash fanfic and conventional MF romance and maybe that fanfic legacy explains the popularity of shifter and MPreg in M/M?  In fanfic that was everyday stuff for a long time. This all sounds very idealized and we all know there is some truly, truly terrible fanfic. But some is glorious, and all produced from and for love.

I think the marriage of slash fanfic with MF romance though probably brought the Romance Rules to ‘slash’ and with that, several lines that can’t be crossed by writers. I’m definitely in tune with some of that -- for example I love HEAs because I personally really disagree with the idea that good writing somehow requires unhappy endings).  But I also adore the fanfic attitude to angst and emotional/romantic challenge and redemption. Characters in fanfic are allowed to have genuine flaws and behave badly (in and out of their relationships) for whatever reason, and still remain heroes who can be redeemed. I think the fanfic audience tends to factor real and flawed heroes into the equation from the start, perhaps because the original characters showed flaws.  

Anyway, that–recognizable coherent character imperfections, and genuine mistakes which have to be overcome to reach the HEA, have always been, I admit, catnip to me as a reader and then as a writer. Angst and genuine redemption and none of the ‘but darling she’s my sister’ (full credit to Josh Lanyon for that perfect encapsulation of what fanfic would see as copping out on dramatic conflict). I think the love of a genuinely hard road for characters created partly by their own mistakes and natures, not just external obstacles or ‘misunderstandings,’ comes from the fanfic aesthetic.

I think M/M romance though even with its fanfic antecedents increasingly wants unflawed, perfect characters and chafes against heroes who fuck up or aren’t always ‘heroic’ in the strictest sense? Maybe those heroes break the Romance contract?

NK: I think the trend toward the utterly blameless romantic leads comes from the rise of YA, tbh. It’s putting that classical ethically unsullied YA hero/ine into an adult storyline. YA as a genre is really about coming to terms with (or violently rejecting) the moral ambiguity of adulthood. The reason that those sorts of characters can become tedious in romance is that romance is about learning compromise in order to find adult partnership and proceed to build forward into the world. In traditional het romance that’s manifests as having children and building the next generation.

I’d argue that MPreg is a simple extension of that first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage progression. A softer version of this can manifest as a chain of mentoring where, say, the primary couple in book one of a series rotates into parental “established couple” mode to help the romantic leads from book two get together, and so on, eventually knitting together large, extended families of choice.

In other M/M romances you’ll see the proverbial baby carriage replaced with teaming up to create something different, like a business, or sports championship  or to seize the crown of a fantastical realm or gain leadership of the shifter pack—or whatever. J

DM: Interestingly I once read advice from a (mainstream) author that out of all the pieces of advice I saw, stuck with me: if there’s a bad situation in your story and you have the chance – *always* make it worse.  Always up the ante for your readers. That’s a fanfic dynamic and I do sort of miss it.

NK: Sure—I mean it’s a dynamic of good storytelling in general. In fanfic though you’re allowed to jump the shark in spectacular ways that—even when kinda dumb—can be really enjoyable on a, “woah, you really went there . . . bold move, my friend!” level.

DM: Of course with fanfic you’re playing with other people’s toys in a ready created universe which your audience already knows and loves which is a different starting point to original fiction. But I think that – writing fanfic - does give you the drive to know your characters inside out, and that moves on to the ones you subsequently create. In fanfic you’re using characters you already know inside out – other people did the work on that - so you have a fair idea what they’d do in any situation. Maybe that helps drill fanfic writers to prioritize character integrity over plot because a fanfic audience will always know what each character would do in a given situation? Or maybe I’m romanticizing it? I think its good training anyway.

What do you think as largely a non fanficcer? Do you see anything left in M/M romance of fanfic antecedents?

NK: I think the main thing I see is the urge among fanfic writers to humanize flat, one-dimensional or perfunctory characters, especially characters who are presented as villains. That’s come through very strongly into M/M where we see characters who are much more morally ambiguous than we’d normally see in mainstream romance.

DM: That’s a really good point. Often the characters that fanfic authors start out with have potential that isn’t realized in the original work. Or those morally ambiguous characters or complex bad guys can be the ones that capture the imagination of writers and make them want to probe deeper and expose new layers to them, like… The Penguin and The Riddler in Gotham for example? Or Chevalier de Lorraine and Monsieur in Versailles – morally complex.

NK: God, I loves me some good nygmobblepot  fan art . . .

* drifts away briefly to search the hashtag on Tumblr for new stuff *

Er . . .  ahem . . . anyway, back to fanfic: what do you think An Archive of Our Own’s recent Hugo win means for fiction writing going forward?

DM: Well… I don’t know. I mean I think it’s a brilliant achievement . And its mainstream recognition for the power and reach of fanfic, but maybe that’s not what fanfic’s about. I think what MM has shown is that the mainstream embrace *can* overwhelm what fanfic is, rather than the other way round.  

Do you think it’s a good thing – that it increases respect or credibility for fanfic?

NK: Well, the Hugo is awarded by a popular vote so what it shows is that fanfic participation has grown to actually BE mainstream—at least in the speculative fiction community. We all have either written fanfic or had a dozen friends who did.

Fun Fact: the first piece of fiction I ever edited was a K/S slash piece for the “First Time” zine. So in a way I got my start in fanfic too, just as an editor, rather than a writer.

DM: Robin Hood!!!! I remember reading those!

NK: Yeah, I was pretty terrible at constructively communicating then—I had yet to develop my charming bedside manner. (lol)

DM: Well you’re bloody good now. And your bedside manner is just what this fanfic dilettante needs to whip her into shape. Actually… that sounds a bit fanficcy.

NK: Now that you’re an author and you have fans of your own pitching ideas for your characters has your perspective changed?

DM: I honestly can’t think of anything more flattering as an author than creating characters or a universe that readers love and are inspired by sufficiently to want to write about them or draw them.  I don’t think there can be a greater complement than that as a writer.  It's certainly what spurred me to write fanfic – and write creatively for the first time – falling in love with certain characters and universes, and becoming frustrated by having their story limited to what was handed down by the writers and actors.

To answer your question properly, a couple of people who read Blue On Blue early on and understood that the story as I told it was now largely over instantly came up with some amazingly clever storyline ideas for some of the side characters. Not least a fizzing start of a fic with Pez (from Object of Desire) and Mark Nimmo (from OOD and Bitter Legacy). I absolutely love all that.

But then some (usually very big) authors do get upset by fanfic. Can you understand that? I’m asking because I struggle to.

NK: I think probably its because there are fan writers who overstep or even reverse the intention of a story. And because there is a tendency among fanfic writers to equate fanfic that is based on a television show which has several writers, in addition to producers etc., and is therefore already a shared-universe kind of model, with stories written by a single author for a single intent.

After bearing the burden of single-handedly creating those hundred thousand words or so, it can be insulting to have somebody show up and essentially say, “your version of your story was okay but look! I made it better by undoing what you did!” (Especially if the fanficcer is particularly tacky or lacks social skills in the first place.)

And there is the ever-enduring question of ownership of a fandom, as we’ve seen played out in the Star Wars universe and more recently the Harry Potter fandom.

But I think that most fanfic is written from a place of admiration and a desire to participate in an author’s world. So, if an author cringes at the notion of another person impuring their undiluted concepts and vision with fan stories, fan art, video homages, mood boards, character alignment charts and the like, then that author must ask themselves whether they are ready to participate in public storytelling. Because if you have success, you will have all these things in addition to reviews, criticism and even . . . the dreaded specter of editorial input.

DM: Ha! Yeah that sounds fair.

NK: So, Gentle Readers, do you have thoughts about fanfic? Please comment below! We’d love to have a chat with you!


Dal Maclean comes from Scotland.  Her background is in journalism, and she has an undying passion for history, the more gossipy and scandalous the better. Dal has lived in Asia and worked all over the world, but home is now the UK. She dislikes the Tragic Gay trope, but loves imperfect characters, unreliable narrators and genuine emotional conflict in romantic fiction. As an author, and a reader, she believes it’s worth a bit of work to reach a happy ending. Agatha Christie, English gardens and ill-advised cocktails are three fatal weaknesses, though not usually at the same time. Her first book, 'Bitter Legacy' was a 2017 Lambda Literary Award finalist (Mystery), and was chosen by the American Libraries Association for their 2018 Over the Rainbow Recommended Books List.

Nicole Kimberling is a novelist and the senior editor at Blind Eye Books. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award. Other works include the Bellingham Mystery Series, set in the Washington town where she resides with her wife of thirty years as well as an ongoing cooking column for Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. She is also the creator and writer of “Lauren Proves Magic is Real!” a serial fiction podcast, which explores the day-to-day case files of Special Agent Keith Curry, supernatural food inspector.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Happy St. Paddy's!

It's a quiet day today. We are, er, Celebrating in Place. ;-)  I'll be working, the SO is playing his favorite Irish bands and bringing me Irish coffees when he thinks of it (one more coffee and I won't be sleeping for a month).

I'll just leave it with this very lovely poem by one of Ireland's most famous poets, William Butler Yeats.

Lake Isle of Innisfree

 I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Friday, March 13, 2020



I'm a kidder.

But I won't deny I'm a bit anxious right now. I mean, remember when I injured my back? Imagination can be a curse at times like these.

But anyway, time for an update.

I can't deny that I'm having trouble writing. It's not that I undervalue the service I provide by offering quality entertainment at a time when people desperately need distraction and comfort.  What I do matters, and that's a good feeling. No, it doesn't matter like having enough respirators matter. No, it doesn't matter like having strong, sensible leadership matters, but hey. We take what we can get. In this case, mystery and romance with a few laughs.

I'd set a very ambitious schedule for myself for the first part of this year, and although I landed those first two jumps, the third is beginning to wobble, and I don't know about the fourth and fifth. It's not easy to make a souffle during an earthquake, you know what I mean?

My parents are elderly and not in great health. The SO has a couple of health issues that keep me awake at night. But then again, EVERYTHING keeps me awake at night right now.

And yes, I know I'm lucky. I can work at home. So long as I can work, we will have some kind of income. We have a freezer full of food and cupboards full of essentials. Like most even minimally educated people, we've known for a very long time PANDEMIC was a real risk and we're reasonably prepared. But reasonably prepared only takes you so far in a country where the agencies created to handle this kind of situation were dismantled because who needs the federal government when the private sector could be making money on things like tests and medical equipment?


Of course I'm angry. Anyone with a brain is angry because while the Pandemic was unavoidable, being woefully unprepared--so fucking unprepared we're getting called on it by the World Health Organization--was not.

Even the reflection that natural selection is about to kick in doesn't comfort me because a Pandemic is not choosy about its victims. In a Pandemic, we all pay the price for the stupidity of a few. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, people.

And yet, I'm trying to stay positive. Trying to keep my sense of humor. I mean what the hell else other option do we have? California is now in a state of lockdown--and that's the good news! I'm relieved to hear it, because if we can't contain the spread of this thing, we're going to be toast. So yes, it's disappointing not to go to Paris this year, not to go to Catalina, disappointing not to celebrate all the things there are to celebrate in person with friends and with family, and it's sad that so many of my favorite businesses--restaurants, coffee houses, salons, bookstores, aren't going to survive this, but thank God our state and local government is kicking it up a notch. It's really heartening to see so many good, kind people reaching out, so many smart, determined people racking their brains for solutions. We all love a challenge, right?

Anyway, this is not nearly as cheery an update as I'd intended. I guess I'm more angry and more frightened than I like to acknowledge. People I love are liable to die--heck, I'm liable to die--because back in 2016 a minority of numb-skulls thought it was time to Shake Things Up.

Shaky enough for you now?

So far I'm still on schedule, but that could literally change any minute. The temptation to pull the drapes, crawl into bed and turn on the Hallmark Channel for a month is strong. But on we go. One foot in front of the other.

One word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time...

Friday, March 6, 2020

Author! Author! Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday when she's at 'ome
Good morning! I haven't done one of my Author! Author! interviews in quite a while, so this morning I'm excited to put aside my banking woes and introduce you to a terrific author of historical mystery (and intrigue), Jess Faraday.

I first became aware of Jess when I read The Affair of the Porcelain Dog (Ira Adler #1) back in 2011. I was immediately struck by her attention to exquisite detail, the refreshing lack of 21st century values and attitudes, and her ability to create memorable, three-dimensional, as in really interesting characters. I was thrilled when Blind Eye Books announced she was doing a new series with them. That series is now the wonderful Simon Pearce Mysteries.

If you're a regular follower of the my blog, you know I like to ask the hard hitting questions of the day. NOT REALLY. I like to ask goofy questions along with the writing questions because, honestly, I think you get a better sense of the person behind the promo machine. ;-)

So without further adieu, Jess Faraday.

JL - Hi Jess! I'm so happy to have you on the blog this morning. Instead of the usual TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, I like to ask authors to describe themselves as if they were characters in a book--except the book is your life story. So give us the book jacket description of the enigmatic émigré Jess Faraday. ;-)

JF - Haha I always feel dorky when I talk about myself, 'cause I'm actually pretty boring. But here goes.

Jess Faraday grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and spent much of her adulthood in Los Angeles. She worked as a high school English teacher, a Russian translator, and a lexicographer before realizing that she always hurried through her work in order to have time to scribble stories at the end of the day. Her first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, was published in 2011, and she hasn't looked back.

She currently lives in Scotland with her family.

JL - I don't think that's so boring--I would kind of give my eye teeth to live in Scotland for a year--HOWEVER I'm disappointed you left out the meeting-a-handsome-and-dangerous-stranger-on-a- train part. But I understand. THEY MAY BE WATCHING. ;-)

What's the last piece of music you listened to? Did you sing along?

JF - The last piece of music I listened to was "Ca Plane Pour Moi" by Plastic Bertrand, which people will probably recognize from any number of commercials advertising products to Generation X. I didn't sing along, but I did dance along =)

JL - I love that. :-D So...why historicals? Why mysteries? Why historical mysteries?

JF - It sounds like a cliche, but I've always felt drawn to the 19th century, especially in Britain and the U.S. Writing about it gives me the chance to dwell there for a bit.

My first novel-length scribble was a swords and sorcery story. The problem is, I don't read a lot of S&S. It's not my thing. So that made the job harder, I think, because I hadn't absorbed fantasy authors' techniques and genre conventions like I would have, had I been an avid S&S reader. Mysteries came a lot easier, as I read a lot of them and learned by osmosis what readers and publishers are looking for in that kind of a story.

I also find it fascinating to think about how people went about the business of life, love, making a living, and so on, given different technologies and social systems. It's easy to think that people in the past weren't as intelligent or as reasonable as we are, but given the same knowledge bases, technologies, and cultural influences, I'm pretty sure a lot of "modern" people would do things in similar ways.

JL - That's such a great point. And honestly, I think historical fiction feels most real when the author is able to do what you do so well: capture that universality. That shared humanness. Next hard hitting question:  Moriarity versus Irene Adler. Who takes home the tiara? How about Irene Adler versus Ira Adler?

JF - I think Irene Adler is the more interesting character, at least in the original stories. She's complex and has backstory. Moriarty, on the other hand, is intelligent and evil, but there's not really a lot more character development beyond that. Perhaps that's why recent TV adaptations have tried to flesh that character out a bit more. Moriarty was Holmes's equal, but the only one who ever *truly* got one over on the Great Detective was a woman, and I love that.

JL - I love that too! So tell us, what do you love most about writing? What do you like least?

JF - Beginnings are the best! Bright, shiny new ideas and limitless possibilities!

The middle is the worst, because that's when I start to realize the limitations of the work, and of my ability to produce it.

JL - Oh my God. Truthiness. ;-D Then what do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

JF - It's important to remember that we're all human underneath our layers of age, gender, sexuality, race, education, class, etc. Instead of writing a character like *you think* this kind of person would act, step into their skin as a human being, and try to honestly assess how *you* would react, given a different set of limitations and privileges. It's difficult, and you won't always succeed. But it's honest, and honesty is paramount.

Also, never, ever, EVER attempt to write in dialect unless it's *your* dialect. Just don't.

JL - Why, Miz Jess, I do declare! Have you ever broken a bone?

JF - Not one of my own!

JL - (Now I wish I'd put in a follow up question. :-D :-D :-D) I'm enjoying reading your blog on your adventures in Bonnie Scotland. What would you say was your biggest misconception of the, er, auld country before you arrived?

JF - Aside from a couple of wonderful visits many years ago, I hadn't really spent a lot of time in Scotland, though I had spent considerable time down south. I won't say I had things wrong, but there were some things that hadn't occurred to me.

First, just because Scotland is (currently) part of the UK doesn't mean that it's the same as England. Culturally, it's quite different. On top of that, there are a number of regional cultures that are equally Scottish, but different from one another. The different waves of people who settled here -- Celts, Vikings, Normans, English, etc. -- have all left impressions that we still feel today. There's a lot of ethnic diversity from waves of people from outside of Europe as well, though, at least in the cities people seem very well integrated and get on very well with one another.

Overall, I would describe people as more community-minded and inclusive than in other places I've lived. Folk are generally kind and helpful, and there's a real effort, systemically, to help people to become and stay involved in society if they want to be. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ folk and racial minorities is also front and center here. There is a strong government campaign promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and racial and religious abuse are punishable by law.

Scotland is also very eco. Edinburgh gets its electricity from recycling food waste, for example. Scotland is also well ahead of the rest of the UK in becoming sustainably-powered and carbon neutral. And woe betide you if someone catches you littering!

On a lighter note, people really do wear kilts. It's mostly for special occasions, but I've also seen older gents walking around in their finery for no reason that I could discern, other than it pleased them to do so. And that makes every day a little brighter, IMO.

JL - I must concur. ;-) Anyway, I was reading an article about how women's sense of identity can be strongly tied to their hair (seriously, I read that) so much so that cutting their hair or drastically changing hair styles can be super stressful. When was the last time you drastically cut or changed your hair?

JF - Haha! About a month ago.

It wasn't intentional.

What I had envisioned was a chin-length angled bob with layers and stacked in the back. I explained this to the 16-year-old apprentice haircutter with the sleeve tattoos and shaved sides of his head. I showed pictures. To which he responded by saying, "You mean like mine?" "No," I said. "Nothing like yours." I showed him some more pictures. However, the idea must have stuck in his mind, because before I could say "Number 5 clipper head," he'd mohawked me on the left side. We both kind of sat there, horrified for a bit, until I said, "Perhaps you could leave it longer on the other side, so I'm not completely bald in the middle of winter." The poor kid glanced around to see if his boss was looking. For a moment I thought he might cry. Then I said, "It's all right. It's only hair. It grows back."  "Really?" he asked. "Really," I said.

JL - hahahahahahahahaaha

JF - In the end, I was mohawked on one side, with a big, layered flop on the other side, and half of a stack in back. It was *a bit* more daring than I would ever have attempted, but I kind of like it now.

I made sure to thank him in front of his boss and give him a tip. When it starts to go shaggy, I'm going back to do it again.

JL - Word to the wise. If your hair person ever says the words FIRE ENGINE RED to you, decline. FORCEFULLY. Like you, Jess, I also tipped GENEROUSLY for the assault. Which I suspect is another feminine trait.

What are you working on now?

JF - Right now I'm struggling with a novel that's a departure in a number of ways.

First, instead of a single first-person point of view, it's 3rd omniscient, with several main characters.

Also, there's an *actual* monster instead of a Scooby-doo type villain who's just after someone's money.

Finally, there are two romances -- a female couple and a male throuple. I've written m/m and f/f, but I've never done a three. It wasn't my intention going in, but sometimes characters *tell* you things. There's also a werewolf, but that isn't the real monster. Ugh.

I used to pretend I was an outliner, but this book has forced me to admit that I'm the pantsiest of pantsers. At least right now.

JL - Oh my gosh. These all sound right up my alley! But it is time now for another hard hitting question of the day. All time favorite dessert. Do you have the recipe?

JF - There was this little Italian restaurant in Pasadena that doesn't exist anymore. They used to serve a martini glass filled with booze-soaked dried fruit, topped with a very small amount of homemade vanilla ice cream that was so rich it was *this* close to being actual butter. That remains my all-time favorite dessert.

JL - Oh. My. Gah. YUM. Describe your writing process. 

JF - Initial rush of enthusiasm.

Scribble out an outline while finishing up the previous project.

Start the new project, realize the outline doesn't work, and pants it for a bit.

Get to about 10K and flail.

Try to outline again.

Rewrite the earlier stuff and flail some more.

Go out for a run.


Maybe start training for a race.

Try the outline again. Flail. Curse my choice of profession.

Pants a bit more and realize this book is AWESOME

Realize it's doomed but try to outline the next section anyway.


JL - LOL. Are you a full-time writer?

JF - Yes. I support myself as a web content writer and editor, while working on fiction as much as I can. It's all freelance, so I have quite a bit of latitude for scheduling.

Little known and highly depressing fact: viral web articles that you know you shouldn't click on but can't help clicking on anyway make literally five or more times more, per word, than painstakingly hand-crafted award-winning fiction. My highest-paid (per-word) piece of writing thus far was entitled "2018's Most Boopable Noses". I wish I was joking. It was a fun article to write, but I ask you.

JL - Yeah, I believe you. A life in the arts is not for the faint of heart. What's out next? Are we going to see more of Simon Pearce? Ira Adler?

JF - On March 10, all of the Simon Pearce stories that were released on KU are coming out in an omnibus in print and all e-book formats. The title is Shadow of Justice. I'd love to write more stories with these characters, but there's nothing contracted yet.

I kind of miss Ira, and have been fiddling with a novella-length book with him.

The next book after Shadow of Justice has the working title "The Fiend in the Fog," but I'm thinking about changing it. It's on schedule for 2021 from Bold Strokes Books. It looks like a monster story on the outside, but is actually about different kinds of relationships and coming to terms with one's own power and responsibility for it (oh GOD that sounds so pretentious. Sorry. But that's really what it's about.)

JL - Well, no, it kind of sounds like an updated approach to Frankenstein. It sounds fascinating. All these projects sound terrific.

Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

JF -It is impossible to find decent Mexican food in Scotland. Either it's not decent, it's not Mexican, or it's not Food. You can get one, sometimes two, but never all three. Sometimes more than one of these is true. But they try, God bless 'em, they try. And they're not shy with the jalapenos, which *almost* makes up for it. On the other hand, fried halloumi seems to be most restaurants' favorite meat substitute, and how can you go wrong with that?

JL - Having been to Scotland, I can concur--and commiserate. Jess, thank you so much for stopping by the blog. Honestly, I'm a huge fan and wish you every success. Next time you're in LA, let me know, and we'll go find a decent Mexican restaurant. ;-)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dear Bank of America: Why Bernie's Message Resonates

I don't typically go online to do my complaining about business transactions because nothing works perfectly all the time and I honestly don't expect that. I can put up with a few inconveniences or screw-ups. I AM A PATIENT PERSON. NORMALLY.

But we're not talking about apathetic customer service or Williams Sonoma sending the wrong cake. We're talking about hundreds of dollars of late fees and a damaged credit score.

So here's the story: once upon a time when I was in high school, my mom went with me to Bank of America to set up my very first checking account. And, of course, she had to co-sign for that account because SEE ABOVE: kid in high school (i.e., no money).

I think setting up the account was pretty much the first, last and only transaction my mother made, but who knows? Maybe she covered a bounced check or two when I was in college. I WAS NOT ALWAYS THE FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE PERSON YOU SEE BEFORE YOU NOW. Anyway, she's had nothing as in NOTHING to do with the account for probably 40+ years. No debit card, no checks, no online ID, nothing. NADA. ZILCH.

But apparently, a while back, BofA sent out a notice asking her to update her info or...? Who knows. Her access to the account would be limited? Well, you would expect that, I guess, and it wouldn't be a problem for her since it's not her account. Anyway, she claims she never received the notice. Even if she did, I'm sure she would have had no idea what to do with it since it was referring to a bank account she wouldn't recognize.

Last night at 7:00ish PM I received an email telling me my scheduled payments had all been canceled. Then I received an email telling me my debit card had been canceled. Then I received an email telling me my Zelle account had been canceled. I didn't see any of this--and what would I have done anyway after hours?

This morning I went into B of A to pay some bills, and I noticed it was going to pull the money from my business account. UH NO. Paying personal bills with business funds is not okay. Nor is there enough money in that account to cover all these bills. So I kept trying to figure out what was going on, I pop over to my email and  BOOM. I see a long list of canceled transactions and the notice to call B of A if I believe there is a mistake.

Naturally, I believe there is a mistake.

I phone and learn--after waiting TWENTY MINUTES ON HOLD--that, yep, my account has been frozen, my bill pay has been wiped out completely, and no, I wouldn't be notified ahead of time--NO WARNING WHATSOEVER--because the communications only go to the person whose profile is under review. NOT THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY USES THE ACCOUNT, WHOSE MONEY IS SITTING IN THE ACCOUNT, WHOSE NAME IS ON THE CHECKS AND DEBIT CARD AND PAYROLL.  NO TEXT, NO PHONE CALL, NO EMAIL to let me know what was happening with MY account and MY money.

Why in the name of heaven would the other person on the account--the person who actually uses the account, who is depositing money into the account, writing checks on the account, not be notified? No one could tell me. Or rather, COMPANY POLICY was the uncomfortable answer. But why would there be such an idiotic and illogical policy??? I'M SO SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE was the response because of course there's no good answer. This isn't a security precaution, it's not a safety precaution, it's completely illogical not to contact the person who will be affected and who could maybe even solve the problem.

So the second customer service rep says she can take the freeze off for 72 hours so that I can go in person to my bank and try to figure it out. Oh, but if I want to take my mom off the account, they'll have to close the account and open a new one. WHAT???? WHY????

Also she couldn't re-link my debit card to my account because my card was canceled. But she did think she had straightened out the bill pay situation, although I would have to go in and redo all those payments--now late--from scratch. And yeah, BofA was probably not going to cover all those late fees coz COMPANY POLICY, SORRY.

Except, I couldn't. When I went into the account, it was still pulling the money from the business account. So guess what that means? Let's say my mom WAS a bad guy. BofA JUST GAVE HER ACCESS TO MY BUSINESS ACCOUNT THROUGH THE PAY CENTER EVEN THOUGH SHE'S NEVER BEEN ON MY BUSINESS ACCOUNT. THAT 80 YEAR OLD FIEND COULD HAVE CLEANED OUT MY BUSINESS ACCOUNT,

But honestly, it's not funny. How is that even legal?

So I called BoA back and...yeah, whatever the last one did was wrong and the new one says he's fixed it but it's going to be 24 hours before anything takes effect, meanwhile, yeah, all the old info is gone and has to be redone, SORRY NOT SORRY COMPANY POLICY.

The moral of the story? I'm figuring out what to do with my SIX Bank of America accounts. Is it more trouble to update my mom's info and let her remain on the account OR should I move all the accounts elsewhere OR just some of the accounts? I don't want to reward BofA for horrible and irresponsible business practices (and lousy customer service) with my continued business but who the hell has time to deal with all this bullshit? Not me. Asking me to go in person to my bank to sort out a problem of BofA's manufacturing? Is adding insult to injury. Or vice versa. Anyway, this is why most of us ordinary folks--your customers, BofA--think you are out of control and need to be reined in. We feel we need to be protected against your irresponsible and indefensible COMPANY POLICIES, and if it's not  Bernie, it will be someone else because You're. Out of. Control.