Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Community on the Upper Westside of New York

I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for about a third of my life and the rest in the suburbs of New York, except for college when I was in a Boston suburb.  I think it makes me uniquely qualified to see both sides of the spectrum—city folks and suburbanites and their impression each other. Sometimes it seems as if they are two separate worlds. But what they have in common – a sense of community that is most apparent in times of tragedy – came through this past week more intensely than usual.

I’ve lived for the last seven plus years in a sixteen floor pre-war building on the upper West Side, which, by Manhattan standards, means it’s old, charming and relatively small.  Although I don’t know most of my fellow tenants by name and have only made a few friends in the building, I recognize just about everyone. 

Our building is a real mix of ages and family situations.  We’ve got babies and teenagers, dogs of all varieties and single and married folks from twenty-something to a few close to one hundred. 

Last week, one of our doormen died suddenly. Larry passed away from a diabetic shock. The last time I saw him was the week before, when he was helping us load up our car, something he’d done hundreds of times.  Each time he’d wait with me while my husband went to get the car, chitchatting about plans for the weekend, the holidays or one of our vacations. Often while we were standing there, usually early in the morning, the other tenants would emerge from the building and before heading off to school or the office or an errand would stop and talk to Larry who would joke with them the same way he did with me, in a totally irreverent teasing manner, no matter who they were or how old they were. It was part of his charm.  

In the afternoons, when he was on duty he would take care of the new mothers, helping them carry their strollers onto the street all the while cooing and interacting with the toddler or baby.  If an older wheelchair or walker bound person needed assistance or simply a genuine interaction, Larry was there. 

We all loved him, though I’d say his biggest fan club were the kids.  Starting on the day he died, someone put a single white rose in a vase on the table in the lobby of the building.  Before long, a lit candle was added, and then condolence cards, along with a pen for all of us to sign our names and express our sympathy.  Most compelling were the handmade cards by the kids. I can only imagine what Larry’s family felt when they saw those.  But it also said something about city living and how one young man—he was only 35—touched so many people. 

City living is viewed by many as an anonymous existence where no one interacts or cares. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as evidenced by the impact the death of an Upper West Side doorman had on our building. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018


This is my frequent opportunity to write about thankfulness close to Thanksgiving, but a first for being able to write about Thanksgiving to be published on the Day itself.

Today, I will be celebrating with my eldest sister and her entire family of children, children of children, and children of children of children! Can there be a better opportunity to be thankful?

I last saw my sister when she visited to help my brother after the death of his wife. I last saw her children, my nephews and niece, when we visited them one gorgeous summer in Maine, when my youngest was five years old and full of spice!

My niece now has her own children who also now have children. Meaning that I have great-grand-nieces and -nephews that I have never met.

Although Thanksgiving is one day in the year, we make some of the most lasting memories with our families and I am hoping that all those little new relations will be a part of my life from this day on.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, wherever you are celebrating and with whom.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Do You Call A Group of Writers?

Some entities have special names when they are in a group, i.e., a gaggle of geese, a herd of buffalo, a flock of sheep, a murder of crows, a ... well, you get the picture. Writers, being obsessed with words, should have a catchy, witty collective designation of their own. Is there such a name? If so, I don't know what it is, but I can tell you a few things I've observed about writers as a group:

1. Writers are social - in a group, that is. Individually, they tend to be loners. At least most of them are; there are notable exceptions. Ernest Hemingway comes to mind and I'm sure there are many others. However, I think it safe to say that even the more gregarious ones need their alone time to ponder the angels and demons circling in their heads, to figure out how to make vague notions into stories, how to craft voices into characters, daydreams into plots. So much for writers as individuals, let's get back to groups of writers. Put a writer into a gathering of his or her peers and you have an entirely different kind of a cat. If you've ever been to a writers' conference or attended a program featuring a panel of writers, you know they can't shut up. They'll go on and on (and on) speculating about things that never happened, but that might - and what a great story it would be if it did.

2. Writers are curious. They need to know what if and how and why - the common elements of all books. Writers of mystery and suspense deal with these questions in a more overt manner than most, but all writers, regardless of genre, strive to answer these questions, even those who write non-fiction. We write our books to make sense of a puzzling world or sometimes to show an alternative to the world as it is and to create an example of what it might be. Non-fiction writers, in particular, choose situations and characters that show how taking a slightly different path created a different world, either for good or ill. Poets distill experience and emotion into a few well-chosen words. But even they are attempting to provide an insight into what if and how and why.

3. Writers care. When people meet a writer, nine times out of ten they ask: What are you writing now? Maybe they ask out of politeness, as a way to start a conversation; maybe they actually want to know. Writers really do want to know. Always! They want to know what's next and, of course, they want to tell what they're up to.

4. Writers are generous. Contrary to many professions, writers want other writers to succeed. As I said before, when a writer asks What are you writing?, they genuinely want to know and if the answer is Well, I'm kind of stuck right now or Actually, I'm thinking of giving up, they are quick to say NO!, to assure you that are a talented, valuable voice, and that the world would be a lesser place if you didn't write.They'll probably ask you why you feel this way and offer advice on how to get out of the pit. If a writer gets stuck on a plot point or doesn't know where to go for the research needed to fill in a hole, there's no better remedy than the sympathetic ear of a fellow scribe. I don't know a single writer who doesn't depend on other writers as a source of inspiration.

5. Writers love books - sometimes to the point of obsession. Some might accuse us of being hoarders. Maybe we are. I, for one, don't consider it a failing. Most writers consider fictional characters their friends, someone with whom they can discuss their most intimate thoughts. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: "In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends imprisoned by an enchanter in paper and leathern boxes." I think that's how all writers (as well as many non-writers) feel about books.

I've strayed far afield from my original question: What do you call a group of writers? Maybe there is a name and I don't know it. If so, I hope someone will tell me what it is. If not, maybe someone will come up with one.

These musings were inspired by the very entity I'm trying to name: a group of writers. Last weekend our local library hosted an Author Expo. I'm happy to say I live in an area that is kind to writers. There were 56 of us! It was an inspiring afternoon for me. I met some new writers and re-connected with some old friends I hadn't seen for a while. Here's a picture of a couple of local poets with some very sociable peers in the background.. On second thought, maybe there's no one name to describe a group of writers. Such a diverse group defies classification.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An October to Remember

By Karen McCullough

If you follow this blog closely you might have noticed that I missed posting last month. (I don’t fool myself. You probably didn’t notice. But anyway…) I have an excuse and that’s what this post is all about.

I live in central North Carolina. Early fall is hurricane season here and this one was a doozy.

In September Florence was the headliner for weeks as its course, even while a long way out, showed it making landfall on the coast and then heading northwest to pass right over us. We got ready. We laid in candles, batteries for the lanterns and flashlights, and foods that didn’t need extensive cooking. Stuffed ice in the freezer. Laid in extra canned goods. Put away the patio furniture and planters.

The first part of the forecast for Florence was right. The eye did come ashore over the city of Wilmington on the N.C. coast. But then it stayed there for a couple of catastrophic days, pouring torrents of rain on the eastern part of the state and creating historic floods in many places before it jogged south and lost oomph quickly over South Carolina.

Here in the center of North Carolina, we had rain (lots of rain) and some light wind, but nothing drastic. Many people here welcomed family and friends from down east who had to evacuate flooded homes and towns. After a few days we put away the candles and batteries and ate the extra food.

Then Hurricane Michael zoomed up across the Gulf of Mexico in early October and crashed into Florida. Forecasters told us it would pass well to the east of us bringing us rain and light wind, but nothing to worry about. No one in this area got very concerned about it.

Our mistake. Michael wiped out parts of the Florida panhandle, then raced north and east, losing strength as it went. But it moved fast. And it veered a bit off the center of the projected path. For a day we had heavy rain and light breezes as it approached. But Michael, still a tropical storm, stayed on the west side of the cone rather than in the center, and in the early afternoon, it hit us full on.

It wasn’t as horrible as many in Florida experienced. But it was bad. Frightening For several hours we hid from fifty to sixty mile per hour winds with some higher gusts. Some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen accompanied it, blown sideways at times. The noise was incredible – wind howled and screeched, the trees rattled, rain smacked, smaller branches ratt-a-tatted on the roof constantly, and larger ones hit with the occasional thud. Everything not fastened down blew around and often hit other things.

Our city has a lot of huge old oak and fir trees and many of them went down during the storm. Thousands of trees.  Several hundred houses were damaged. We were lucky ourselves. Though our trees lost a few limbs, they all remained standing and we had no real damage to the house. Probably thousands of cars were smashed.

The next day I went out for a walk with my husband. We counted more than two dozen trees down in just the six-block area we covered. Many of them were across roads and some had entangled power lines in their limbs. The pictures that accompany this were tall taken on the walk and are only a few of the downed trees we saw.

Our power was out for five days. It took almost a week and a half to get cable and internet service back.

Most of the city was without power for a few days. On the second day of the power outage we went for a hot dinner to the home of friends whose power had already been restored. Of the twenty or so traffic-light-controlled intersections we had to pass through to get there, only one had working lights. Some had police officers directing traffic, but they didn’t have enough personnel to cover all the dark intersections.

Our daughter lives in an area of underground power lines and hers was on, so after three days we packed all the meats and other things we wanted to save from the freezer and took them to her, where she made room in her freezer. While there we had the first hot showers in several days and got some time on the internet.

Nonetheless we were counting our blessings even as we sat in the dark in the evenings. My husband and I were both safe. Our house was secure and suffered no real damage. The weather was mild so the loss of heat and air conditioning meant only minor discomfort. We have city water and they have backup generators to make sure the pumping stations keep running. We ate what was in the refrigerator for as long as it remained cool and we had plenty of non-perishable food as well. We have an old-fashioned crock pot that uses sterno (and we keep a supply of sterno around) for heating water for coffee and tea and soups for lunch. We even blessed our backlit Kindles that made reading much easier than trying to do it by the light of battery-run lanterns.

A couple of points I’d like to make to finish up. Even a tropical storm is a terrifying experience. If you’re in a hurricane zone and the authorities suggest you evacuate, do it! Even if the storm goes somewhere else this time, it may not the next. Don’t be complacent.

Not a great picture. It's hard to see that there are actually two
trees down across the road. The second one is about 20 feet 
behind the first.
Second, be prepared. Before each storm, we took in all the patio furniture, filled the car’s gas tank, and charged all our devices, including making sure that the backup batteries for recharging phones and Kindles were completely juiced up. We took the ice the ice maker had already made, bagged it, and stuffed it into open areas of the freezer. When it made another batch, we bagged more until the freezer was just about full. We got out flashlights and lanterns, put batteries in them, and checked all were working. We made sure they were all in a handy place where we wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark to find them.

Supplies I like to keep on hand for emergencies include spare replaceable batteries for everything, which have to be checked and rotated periodically, and a good variety of non-perishable foods. We always keep extra cans of tuna, beans, chicken, fruit, vegetables and other tins with a long shelf life. As with the batteries, we rotate the stock periodically. We try to keep a five-day supply of sterno in storage. We have enough wood to keep the fireplace going for several days. (In truth, though, if the weather was really cold or really hot, we’d probably go somewhere else after a day or two.) We have a battery-operated radio, but we found we relied more on our smartphones for news and connection with others. They were slow at times because not all the cell towers were working, but enough were that we were usually able to connect. I have two portable battery chargers for the phones, a small one for my purse that will charge my phone twice and a bigger one that will provide up to five charges. We recharged the bigger one every chance we got and it kept our phones going throughout.

One other thing people don’t always think about is money. My sister the banker recommends keeping up to $1000 cash in small bills (nothing larger than $20) in a safe but accessible place. We found out why this time. Our local grocery store was open, running on a generator, but like everyone else in the city, they had no internet connection. They couldn’t process credit or debit cards. Transactions were cash only.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pirates, Tramps and Thieves...

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I’ve had it. Dealing with pirates has become too much of a part of a writer’s life. No, don’t think galleons and romantic figures in worn velvet and torn lace – these are modern thieves. They take books, books which writers have worked for months, perhaps years, on and post them on the internet for free. To add insult to injury, some even charge a ridiculously low price for them – money that the writer, the creator of the work, will never see.
A third kind of pirate is oddly becoming less and less rare – the plagiarizing pirate. This particularly loathsome specimen of lowlife merely takes another writer’s book, changes the main characters’ names and perhaps eye colors, and maybe – if they are conscientious – the name of the main town, then republishes the book under her own name with a new title and cover.
The first two kinds of pirates I can understand – if not condone – because both come down to simple money. The first kind just wants to hand the book around without anyone having to pay. The second kind wants some money for himself but without having to have to do anything to earn it. Both are despicable, but their reasons are obvious.
The third kind is a mystery. There are penalties for copyright infringement. Do they really think that no fan (the stolen books are invariably from popular and well-known authors) will notice the similarities? Due to the first two kinds of pirates books from unknowns don’t make that much, so it can’t be for the relatively small amount of money they earn. They are the ones doing the stealing, so they know they didn’t really write the book, unless they think just changing the names and eye colors constitutes writing. All that is left is that they want to appear to the world as a Published Author. Is that so wonderful that it is worth risking humiliation and legal repercussions? I guess so to them. Every so often there’s another one.
As pathetic and annoying as these egoist plagiarists are, though, they are small potatoes compared to the first two kinds. Their numbers are increasing exponentially and there’s very little that can be done about it.
Part of the problem began back in the days when paper was all you could get. It has never been difficult to find used copies for very little in a used book store, or for next to nothing at a garage sale. This too is blatantly unfair to the writer, but until recent years the technology for fair recompense was lacking. Nowadays the technology is there (think ISBN) but no one except the writer is interested in the writer getting paid for resale of their work. Paper copies have always been traded and resold and the modern naïf thinks that electronic books are no different. They refuse to acknowledge that there is a big difference – used paperbacks are self-limiting. Given enough time and enough readings they will dissolve. Ebooks can be copied with just a button-push or two, and the millionth copy will be just as pristine as the first. All with no benefit to the author, who created the story.
This ease of duplication was not lost on the second, money-driven type of pirate. To them each keystroke was the sound of a cash register as they made free money on the work of others. Every day writers spend valuable time – time that would be better spent writing more books – sending down takedown notices to pirates. Lucky writers have publishers who pursue takedowns. Others are not so fortunate and must do it themselves or hire a company out of their own pocket, as must self-published authors.
Sometimes the crooks comply, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes when their payment protocol is disrupted the site vanishes only to reappear a few days later with a very similar name and the same list of books. As so many authors have said, it’s like playing whack-a-mole and so frustrating and time consuming that some authors have simply given up, claiming that the pirated books are to be counted as free advertising.
I will admit that I have a number of free books on my Kindle, but a book given freely by the author as a promotional offer is a totally different thing from a book taken, i.e. stolen, without permission or recompense by a third party. Many authors have used a free book as a sales tool, but the important thing is that the choice to give the book away has been only theirs.
There have always been cheats, however, and there have always been thieves. Perhaps the most frightening thing about this uncomfortable world of piracy is the attitude of entitlement which surrounds it. On several ‘file-sharing’ sites I have seen posts where those who take these free files deny that they are doing anything wrong! If it’s on the internet, they say, it should be free. Others, more bold, decry the idea that copyright equals ownership. Copyright, to them, means only bragging rights for having written it – if that – and that it is greedy and wrong of the authors who are all obviously very wealthy to want to be paid for their work.
One man’s sublimely self-serving comments stayed with me. Roughly he said – “I pay for my entertainment as much as I can. I buy what I want until I don’t have any more money, but then my appetite for entertainment is so large that I have to take free stuff to get all that I want.” Wonder how far that philosophy would get him at the grocery or the hardware store?
And that brings us to the worst part of this unholy trade. There are penalties for illegally acquiring software. There are penalties for illegally downloading movies and TV shows. Books? Who cares? Apparently no one other than the authors who see their income being ripped away. Obviously not the thieves. The law doesn’t seem to want to be bothered.
So where does all this end? I postulate that it will end in chaos, as disintegrating systems usually do. Contrary to popular belief, most professional and popular authors write for money. Not for the feeling of self-accomplishment, not for the thrill of seeing their name on a book, but for money. It’s a job. A job they may love, but still a job. When that job ceases to be remunerative, they will stop writing and find something else.
Oh, there will always be books, but books written by those who do not regard it as a profession. Those who want to see their name on a book no matter what. Those who want the fame of being a "published author." And let’s face it, those kinds of books are usually lousy. The quality of books will go down as more and more professionals leave the business and eventually the glory-seekers will be pretty much the sole providers of novels.
Apocalyptic? Perhaps, but dentists don’t do crowns just for the thrill of being recognized as a dentist. Mechanics don’t give free tune-ups because they enjoy playing in an engine. I can’t think of any profession that gives away its product just because they have it. They expect fair recompense for their goods/skills. Why do people regard writers any differently?
It looks to be a bleak future, with one rather deliciously snarky exception. Something I’ve been noticing is a lot of the pirate sites have been exposed as simple phishing sites that take the buyer’s credit card information and give nothing but a big bill.
Karma, it’s wonderful!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Changing Seasons

 by Fran McNabb

It’s that time of year, the time when warm breezes switch to cooler, or in some cases, much colder winds. I don’t live in the north where brilliant colors on hillsides tell everyone that autumn is here, but even in the South we have little indicators that winter is on its way.

As I walked up our stairs with the morning newspaper, I caught a motion in the bayou. (Yes, I still like to read the news in paper form. Hubby reads online.) I stopped and watched as a small duck bobbed on the water, ducked under momentarily, then popped up close-by. I don’t know the real name of these little ducks, but they appear every year about this time and spend the cold months on our bayou. I called them “Mama’s ducks” because my mother used to sit in the sun room keeping track of what they were doing. They gave her hours of pleasure. Mom is no longer with us, but when I see her ducks, I can smile and remember how she loved them and the joy she had watching them.

This morning there was only one little fellow on the water, but as the week goes on, there will be a few more. I don’t know where they spend the summer, but I’m thrilled they choose my little corner of the world to get through the winter.

In the last Classic and Cozy Blog, Deborah Nolan wrote about Bucket Lists. My bucket list includes a trip up north to see the changing leaves, but whether or not I actually get to see the brilliant changes on the northern hillsides, I can at least know my year is changing with the appearance of my little ducks. The ducks may not be as spectacular as the changing of the leaves, but for me they give me a warm feeling throughout the cold winter.

What tells you that your year is moving on? Do you wake up one morning and suddenly feel the frigid air around you or even a sprinkling of snowflakes? Do you step outside and see the hint of a color change in the trees. Mother Nature can give us tragedies in the form of tornadoes and hurricanes, but she can also provide us with little things that make our days brighter.

Winter is coming so step outside and see what you can find that puts a smile on your face.

FRAN MCNABB lives on the Gulf Coast and uses this setting in many of her novels and blogs. She writes sweet romances and presently has nine available. A SOLDIER'S HONOR is her latest. Visit her at or at