Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.

Covid Marketing

Jane in St Pete has a release date: November 2. One day before the USA elections. I’m happy to have a long pre-pub to-do list so I don’t dwell too much on the election, the pandemic and the state of the world. But the question remains: how to market my new book during a pandemic? I usually set up signings with writing or reading groups at the local library or a conference. Not happening in 2020.

My publisher has given me electronic ARC (advance review copies) of the book, so instead of going into the world, I’m sending an open invitation to book reviewers and book bloggers to contact me at cindy@cynthiaharrison.com if you’d like to review the book. I don’t usually market this way, writing a blog post about reviews. But a Twitter friend gave me the idea and, in these strange times, I thought Why not?

I have electronic ARCS for ePub (Nook) and Mobi (Amazon). If you want a copy, I’ll put you on the list for a free ARC. I checked this morning and the pre-order link is not up on Amazon, so reviews can’t be posted there yet. Should be any day though, then I’ll send your ARC. That’s the deal: a free e-book for an honest review. And the review needs to be posted on Amazon.

The novel is about a widow (Jane) who upends her life completely (quits her job, moves from Detroit to Florida, sells her house and gives away its contents) when her husband dies unexpectedly. In St. Pete she befriends an artist who is killed a day later. The police are interested in talking to her about that.

So what if that sounds interesting and you want to read the book but you’ve never written a review before? That’s fine. Here’s a quick how-to-review. You will have to google getting the Mobi code onto your Kindle. It’s easy but I don’t do it all that often so am not confident instructing you. But I’ve reviewed hundreds of books so I’m confident there.

The review need not be long or use special book reviewer jargon. You can pretend you’re talking to a friend. Put it in your own words. First you have to find the book on Amazon with the search bar. Then decide on how many stars. 1-5 with 5 being the best. Then somewhere near the stars are the words “Write a Review” and there’s a link that takes you to a text box. Your review can be as short as “I really liked this book because (fill in blank). Typically people will talk about the character, plot, or setting. Many reviewers summarize the plot. You don’t need to do that, and please don’t give away the ending: “I was surprised the murderer was X.”

And do say that you were given the ARC by the publisher (The Wild Rose Press) in exchange for an honest review. That’s it!

Doing it Different

Al just got back from a long weekend of golf up north, a yearly trip he takes with some of his friends. I used to dread these weekends, because Al worked so much and didn’t often take a whole weekend off. I worry about him like a Mother Hen when he’s gone. This year was different, because he’s retired. He’s here every day. I can spare him the odd weekend with the guys. I still miss him, but this past weekend in particular, I was about to burst with wanting to do nothing but write.

I’m one of those writers who likes absolute silence when I’m working. It’s always been that way. It might be the only thing that has not changed in my writing life. I’ve written a dozen books, ten of them novels, and the process changes every single time. It annoys me when what used to work, doesn’t. But only slightly. I’ve read enough interviews with writers to know that every book is different, and every book feels like an impossible thing at the beginning.

Which is where I am with the second book in my Jane series. I had 25 pages and I wanted more. Maybe 25 more. I’ve done it before, 12 pages (or more) in a day. Well, this weekend I may have gotten two or three new pages, but they were not pages that advanced the plot much. I added several lines and one important clue. But before that, I had to figure out where I was at.

Organizing myself took all day Saturday. There are a few things on my writing stove. I was cooking with all burners Saturday. I had another note from my editor about galleys for Jane in St. Pete. That was easy enough, just check off the task bar in my TWRP cubby. Then there was the free short story. It is something I have wanted to do for awhile and I finally got it up on the landing page. I want to change the end…just a little bit…but I decided not to do that.

Then I had to sort out what my critique group has seen and what I needed to send. We’ve had a month off, so it’s been awhile. None of that was “real” writing, but it took time. I had to clear the decks before I could move forward.

One organizing tool I use each time early in a draft is to write down a short reminder of every scene and the page numbers. You wouldn’t think it would take an entire day to do that. But then I got the really good idea that didn’t add up to a lot of words but will be very useful. I find if I just go into the story, sometimes gems appear.

So I felt lucky with that gem. With Saturday’s writing done, I was happy but tired. I treated myself to a subscription to BritBox. McDonald and Dodds! Set in Bath! I had a Traverse City Cherry Bourbon while I watched and relaxed, knowing my work was ready to dive straight into the next day.

Sunday morning I woke up determined to advance the plot. The good, useful idea from Saturday did advance the plot, or rather it added complexity. Of course I was greedy for more. As is my habit, I read through the pages I thought so perfect the day before. I was going to send them to my critique group and I didn’t want anyone pointing out editing or spelling mistakes. I like a meatier opinion.

With that in mind I worked and worked on the pages I’d already done. I added a few more lines here and there. Switched up new, better words. One problem I always hear about from my group is that I don’t describe enough. I tend to gloss over description and even character in favor of plot. Gotta keep it ticking. This time I did add some character description and a few other logistics, but no new scene. And it was already getting dark out plus I was tired and hungry.

So much for my weekend of progress. It was certainly a weekend of writing (and BritBox) but not a whole lot of progress. That’s okay. I remember Louise Erdrich saying that she goes over and over every page until it is as good as she can make it. Then she goes to the next page. I’ve never done that. Until now. And it wasn’t a choice. I felt compelled.

Looking back, I think it was a good thing. Less revising down the road. Maybe. Who knows? This is a new road. And I’m excited about both the turn the story and my technique have taken. One thing I have learned about writing mysteries is that you really can’t be a pantser (as I have been all my writing life). You need to plan. Not everything, but some things.

Rejected

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

I read the new book written by Melania Trump’s former best friend this weekend. I have not read any of the books about DT; a new one seems to come out every week. I read enough of his tweets and listen to him speak and have got the measure of the man. He’s thin-skinned and can be quite cruel. He knows no boundaries and nothing about his job.

But Melania…she’s mysterious. And those cheekbones! You can look at her forever. Unless you are her former best friend. I decided to read it after seeing the author on Rachel Maddow’s show Friday. She was really upset and flustered, crying and so on and I couldn’t make out exactly why she was behaving that way on a book tour. So out of curiosity, I bought the book and read it.

Was a definite slog through the first half to three-quarters. This friend was in charge of the inaugural ball right down to pulling a top designer for Melania’s dress and then she stayed on to help Melania transition. She decorated the offices in the East Wing, wrote Melania’s speeches, and all this without pay. At first she had a title and a paycheck, but the West Wing left her department so little money, she gave her paycheck to another person she brought on to help with Melania’s “Be Best” initiative.

I’d wondered about “Be Best” and sure enough author/friend tried to get Melania to use “the” but no, Melania doesn’t let anyone to tell her what to do, so Be Best stands. Up to this point that’s about all I know about Melania except she likes emojis and is a devoted mom. I almost stopped reading several times as all the minutia of the inaugural and assistant to First Lady duties didn’t interest me.

I’ll be honest. I was looking for dirt on Melania. I just can’t dislike her despite that gold digger title she’s been tagged with. It’s extremely difficult to support yourself as a woman alone unless you’ve had a whole lot of support (like a stable home and an excellent college) from your family. Even beautiful women without a man will not be safe. Along the way, most single women will experience some form of workplace harassment. Just because they’re single. So to me Melania was only doing what women have done though the ages. She paired up with a strong man who could protect her.

It shouldn’t be this way but it is. So I had never disliked Melania because she married DT. She’s so private, though. Ask any writer. They want to know more. What makes Melania tick? According to her former best friend, Melania is a taker, not a giver. She gave plenty of examples but I was not convinced. It seemed to me this author has a grudge against the dysfunctional administration, and rightly so, as they tried to pin the massive inaugural budget on her. But she didn’t know where the money went. She was paid close to half a million, but they were saying she took many more millions.

Her gripe seems to be Melania didn’t stand up for her. The court cases are still pending so it’s all a bit murky. I came away from the book knowing Melania a little bit more, but through the eyes of a friend who felt betrayed. So you have to take that for what it is. The book humanized Melania. Showed what a good friend she could be, and showed that she had a mind of her own and didn’t really care what people thought of her. Which is good because so many people (including Ivanka) seem to hate her.

I wrote a short version of parts of this when I rated the book on Amazon (gave it 4 stars). I sometimes do review books on Amazon. I’ve never had a review turned down but this one got the thumbs down almost immediately. Yes, Amazon rejected my review! Even though I was a “verified purchaser.” I’m not upset. This kind of rejection, I can handle. I still can’t figure out, however, how you can write an objective book about politics without mentioning your own politics.

What’s Your Lane?

Choices: I’ve made many of them. I have a problem staying in my own lane, which, when I think about it, doesn’t really seem like a problem. It seems interesting and fun and adventurous. Or as adventurous as you can be when sitting in a chair typing in a room all day.

Looking on my book page, I see the variety of genres and forms of writing I’ve tried through the years. And I don’t even have my poetry chapbook or my dozen or so literary short stories on there! I never published those early stories, except a few in magazines, and the poems were privately printed.

Early on, I decided I was not a literary writer, at least not in the way publishers define literature. Maybe (I thought) I could write women’s fiction (in my mind, so much women’s fiction IS literary) or romance or mystery or fantasy. I ended up writing in all the genres where women writers are most likely to be offered publishing contracts.

I tried on each genre like shoes, and (briefly) loved them all. This is a lot like my love life before Al. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in love. Or on a diet. Or changed jobs. Or the color of my hair. It’s just life, or at least my life, anyway.

Still, somehow, with each new book, I’m always hoping I’ve finally found my sweet spot. A place to rest and get to know the view. Mostly the new genre-love turns out to be the good place for now, for however long it holds my fickle interest. Luckily I have settled down to one lasting human love, because the other way was too much drama, which I save now for my characters. Let them go through all that. I’m done, got my one and only.

I see this flirting with different genres, falling in and out of love with “the one” in a read-through of the free short story (now on my website forever) “The Charming Criminal.” Sometimes I try very hard to hit a specific target, like I did with Lily White in Detroit. I really wanted to write a psychological thriller. What I wrote was a crime novel. That’s fine; I’m still proud I was able to finish it and my dad liked it. But the violence of it, while true to Lily’s story, was the end.

I made what for me was the good choice. I don’t write to torture myself. I write for satisfaction, and I really didn’t want to go down Procedural Road anymore. I wanted to get cozy. And yet when I read through my story, the end didn’t feel like The End. It feels like What Happens Next? So I kept my criminal and FBI agent going into a new book and now into my second series. Along the way, I dodged about a million FBI bullets.

Editing is done (as of last week) on Jane in St Pete. Just waiting for a release date. And messing around with getting this short story, which like my other short stories, was never meant to be published, online. If you read it and like it, maybe you’ll like Jane, too. At the very least, you’ll find closure. Until the next book.