I frequently heard “Hurry up and wait” as a Navy wife in the 60s. This routine saying applied to everything military and a few civilian-related events. There was no commissary in San Francisco so we battled the traffic to buy groceries. We waited in long checkout lines. A few years later at Long Beach, we gave up saving a few dollars in commissary shopping in favor of civilian grocery stores. The long checkout lines were not much different.
During the COVID pandemic, Hurry Up and Wait lines stretched for blocks with dozens—sometimes hundreds—of people standing outside essential stores such as groceries and pharmacies. Gas prices fell to half in the San Francisco East Bay area because of the Stay-at-Home order. Short waits at the gas pumps, but the price per gallon was higher than in other states because the gas tax is between 75 and 80 cents a gallon, depending on the county. Food prices doubled. Apartment and home rentals doubled, sometimes tripled, in the Bay Area. Gas increased to almost $7.00 a gallon when the Ukrainian War began. The Federal Reserve System raised the prime rate to encourage people not to borrow to combat inflation. Need a loan? Hurry Up and Wait fits there too.
There is one bright spot in this Hurry Up and Wait inflation syndrome. Interest on my tiny savings account has risen from a penny to three cents a month.
When I was in grammar school (now called elementary), the local library had a 1940s unabridged Noah Webster Dictionary. Because it was so heavy, a metal rod across the center held it in place on a small, round table where the pages could be turned without lifting. Alphabetical order made it easy to flip the pages backward or forward searching for a particular word. Now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary can be searched online free without flipping pages.
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) published in 1891 went beyond Webster’s spelling and pronunciation with do’s and don’ts for writing. The hardbound 17th Edition is 2 ¾ inches thick with 1,144 pages. In my early years, Webster’s taught me to spell. Add that to phonetics I learned for proper pronunciation, then sentence diagramming when I reached higher grades. Fast forward to 2022. I’m readying my mystery novel for publishing and editing books for other writers between times. All need to conform to the CMOS 17th Edition. It’s available by online subscription, but I prefer heavy lifting. The Dewey Decimal System is complex, so I have sticky notes on the pages with the most common mistakes made by writers—including me.
A book blurb of an FBI crime story set in the Louisiana swamps enticed me to download the eBook to my Kindle tablet. The story begins with the intensity of a female FBI employee in the criminal profile division in Washington, D.C. who mastered perfection in firearms qualifications. That, added to her criminal profiling studies, garners her first field assignment with her profiling idol. These characters take a direct flight from D.C. to Monroe Regional Airport in Louisiana.
Mistake #1: The only direct flights to Monroe are from Atlanta and Dallas.
Mistake #2: Why not send agents from the New Orleans office?
The Mobile Parish sheriff meets their flight. The author got the parish part right (Louisiana is the only U.S. state where counties are known as parishes), but Monroe is in Ouachita (Say Wash-i-taw) Parish. Much of the story takes place in Starkville.
Mistake #3: If the airport name is genuine, the parish name should be too.
Mistake #4: The author borrows the name of a thriving Mississippi college city for the Louisiana swamp small-town crime scene.
The agents split to cover both places where the next crime might be. The younger agent confronts the suspect. She wins after a psychological and physical battle with the suspect. Exciting, but when she conquered the killer and removed his mask, he was an unfamiliar resident who had moved to the area a year earlier.
Mistake #5: The FBI database had no profile for the killer, not even a traffic ticket, but they responded to the sheriff’s request for assistance after the second murder (The FBI does not investigate routine murders).
I’m a freelance copyeditor/factfinder. My novel critique group dubbed me the factfinder because I notice mistakes like these. Bolstered by that nickname, I researched the pen name website to see if this writer needed my experience, but there was no bio or headshot, only a list of books. I’ll wager more than three dozen years in Monroe and Baton Rouge that the person who wrote this book in 2020 had not visited Louisiana. Maybe one of the other writers using this pen name should have written this book.
I slid out of the driver’s seat, weary from a long day at work. My feet crunched on the gravel driveway beneath my high heel shoes as I headed for the back door. My next door neighbor lifted her head, her smile genuine.
“Where ya’ll been keepin’ yall’s self?’
I translated her Southern Speak to mean she hadn’t seen me in a while.
“Busy, working my day job and our side business,” I said.
“Ya’ll gotto stay around more.”
This wasn’t meant as criticism, more like a concern that we were losing touch although our one-acre property touched at the line of pine trees. She waved and returned to picking up pine branches from a recent storm. “Y’all come see me some time.”
That neighbor and I are separated by 2,000 miles now, but her advice, “Ya’ll got to stay around more,” echoes in my ears as I visualize her picking up pine branches in her yard long ago.
I’m back to blogging from memoirs to murder mysteries. “Ya’ll come see me some time.”
Huge oak trees on the sprawling grounds of a downtown Baton Rouge historical home shaded the Civil War camp reenactment where peaceable uniformed men representing both sides and ladies dressed in period costumes mingled. I swished my bell skirts through the crowds, chatted with friends, and met new historical reenactors at this event. I talked with school children who were there to learn about historical clothing, cooking, blacksmithing, and other living skills from that period.
People were still arriving as a few left early. On my way out the ornate gate, Governor Edwin Edwards approached me. His face glowed with his political charm. He smiled at my attire and handed me his campaign card. “I hope you will vote for me,” he said.
“Oh, sir,” I replied with my Civil War demeanor, “Women can’t vote.”
Notes: This picture of me portraying a Union soldier’s wife amid the tents was taken at a different camp, but it’s the same costume I wore the day I met Governor Edwin Edwards. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920 more than 50 years after the Civil War period I represented here.
Fourth of July was a special celebration in our family. Flashbacks to my younger years bring images of picnicking beside the San Joaquin River in the days when it was a flowing stream. Our large family climbed out of several cars parked on the roadside above the river. The men and older boys unloaded fishing equipment and an ice chest filled with bottled soft drinks. The women carried food. All descended to the river in a single file on the narrow trail. The women kept watchful eyes on their children.
I never understood why the guys insisted on fishing—they seldom caught any fish—when the ladies had prepared more than enough fried chicken, bologna sandwiches, potato salad, and dessert. My oldest brother’s wife always made a plain-style birthday cake for James, their youngest son.
One year when July 4 was on Sunday, there were no picnic plans. When told there would be no holiday celebration, young James protested. “But we always have a fun day on my birthday.”
The puzzle confounded him more when his mother told him that July 4, Independence Day, was a holiday celebrating America’s freedom. “We will have your cake after lunch here at home,” she said. “First, we will celebrate our freedom of religion by attending church.”
James lifted his face upward with a puzzled expression. “A holiday? You mean like Thanksgiving when we get to stay home from school?”
“Yes, like that,” she said.
“You mean everybody didn’t get the day off work because it was my birthday?”
Many years before the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, my father set gardening examples using biblical principles and the Farmer’s Almanac. The earth—a lot surrounding our modest two-bedroom home—was our responsibility, he said. He toiled the ground somewhat like Adam may have done in the story of that downfall in Genesis in the Christian Bible. Only my father had more modern tools like a shovel, a hoe, and a rake. Spring and Fall, he worked the ground behind the house and planted vegetables around the existing fruit trees. He grew a variety of berries to top our cereal when fresh or for Mama to can for fruit pies and cobblers in the winter. He also cared for the nectarine and apricot trees in the front yard that gave us fresh fruit in summer and canned fruit for winter. The black walnut tree responded well, but cracking those nutshells took muscles more toned than mine.
He revered the Farmer’s Almanac second to holy scripture and searched the worn pages for planting times to yield the best crops. He followed the guide and planted aboveground vegetables in the light of the moon and root vegetables in the dark of the moon. His garden flourished while others failed.
I stopped gardening when I downsized from a home on an acre of ground and moved into an apartment. Now I buy my vegetables from a farmer’s market or grocer and depend on NASA to tell me when to enjoy a full moon.
After listening to Martha Alderson speak at Tri-Valley Writers, I realized my latest novel has plot holes that could double as train tunnels and I have no idea how to fix them. The answer is simple on the surface – keep going. Keep writing notes. Try approaching my muddle-in-the-middle by envisioning the end. Throw in more sensory detail until I really understand the scene and let logic take its course.
But what if I don’t wanna?
What if I woke up in a grouchy mood (for no good reason, mind you) and I can feel my heels start to kick against the floor and a long wail growing up from my toes? The Calvinist in me says get my hinder back in the chair and my pudgy fingertips on the keyboard and write anyway. The coward in me says I should just go back to bed because it’s hopeless…
Long before the widespread Coronavirus outbreak, an imaginary conversation between two people during a pandemic became the opening paragraph of my first Sci-Fi short story. Laura, a travel writer, wanted to leave a protected environment to photograph the Mississippi River, but she was declared terminal and denied government permission to travel. That made her more determined to accomplish her goal. Her wish beyond photographing her travels was to eat fresh blueberry pancakes again, but fresh fruit was absent during the seclusion because of restricted trade with the outside world. Nathan, a governmental appointed live-in assigned to keep her quarantined, became Laura’s ally and planned her escape from a monitored world. Blueberry pancakes became Nathan’s code phrase when he had new information to share with Laura.
The draft languished on my computer until the 2020 pandemic until the California Writers Club High Desert Branch announced a statewide anthology for members. My objective was to be published, but my entry was awarded first prize in Survival: Tales of Pandemic.
A major portion of the prize was a $410.00 donation from the anthology proceeds to Open Heart Kitchen in Livermore, California, my chosen charity, that provides groceries and nutritional hot meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blueberry pancakes may not be on the menu, but this contribution will help families in the Tri-Valley escape hunger.