Retirement Diaries

Day 13 of Al’s retirement. Was not sure I’d ever write that sentence. But it happened and I finished my book, too. Sent to my editor and she replied that I can expect her notes end of March. So six weeks to relax and feel good. If the first two weeks are anything to go by, it will be a walk on the beach. Literally.

I didn’t know what to expect when Al retired. He’d been driving to the same building, stuck in the same rush hour, working for the same company, clocking seven days a week much of the time, for 47 years. I don’t know how he did it, but then, he had me to take care of everything else, so he could focus on one goal: work hard to retire in comfort. Job done!

So far, things have been really good. Friends warned me that it would be an adjustment. So far, it means adjusting to having a companion on beach walks and a special someone to talk to at coffee every morning. It means Al helps around the house. He made dinner last night and did the dishes! It’s all good. I expect the retirement road won’t always be smooth, but for now, it’s super nice.

Al is happy and relaxed. There are lots of things he wants to do, like finish the basement in Michigan, and some things I want him to do, like paint our Florida galley kitchen a very light blush pink. But these projects can wait while he just enjoys and adjusts to his new life. He keeps busy following the stock market, hitting the gym, and golfing. Plus walks on the beach with me. He even goes grocery shopping with me! Our house in Florida is a second floor condo, so it’s nice to have him haul the groceries upstairs.

This is the guy I married in 1985. Laid back, mellow, happy just to be alive in the moment. It’s a wonderful thing to see him relax again. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to, he’s been working so hard for so long, but turns out he’s really good at it.

As for me, I met with my Florida writing group last Friday. This group is very different from my Michigan groups. We don’t critique. We support. And we write a page or so from a weekly prompt to share at next meeting. Simple. Easy. Relaxed. I’m also thinking about a new design for the blog. Something that feels like Florida, since that’s where the upcoming book is set. I’ll keep you posted.

Kindle Math

Three months ago, I was going through my credit card statement and noted with alarm that I’d spent $400 on Kindle books that month. That’s more than $10 a day, which is too much. Books now cost more, especially new releases. I’ve seen them for $15.99! A big increase since I began buying books on Kindle in 2007. I don’t blame Amazon. The price is set by the publisher. I don’t blame them, either.

I blame my own out of control book reading habit. I often read a book in a day. I became a very fast reader when I was a book reviewer and an English teacher. Both those professions mean reading, reading, reading. Also, I like to read. I would rather read a good book than do just about anything else. Still. $400!!! I knew I was spending too much money on books. I decided to try to cut down. Maybe buy fewer new releases and more paperbacks. It worked! Last month I only spent $200 on books.

I even read a few of my old favorites plucked right from the many shelves of books in my house. This has been my plan all through my reading life, to read all my favorite books again. Now the time has come. Because even “only $200” is too much to spend on books. Although I don’t spend a lot of money on anything else.

I’d rather be reading than shopping. Reading a wonderful book is my happy place. But when you read as much as I do…not every book is going to be great. Lucky for me, every book on my shelves was a great read. Except. My reading tastes have changed.

There was a novel (it shall remain nameless) I used to read every year when I went back to school. It was about a college instructor who was smart and funny. She was single and went on dates that didn’t always work out. She loved her little house and somehow reading about her adventures set me up for the new school year.

I tried reading that novel again the other day and could not figure out what I ever saw in it. There was no conflict! No plot! It made me wonder how many of my 1000 books are going to disappoint me upon rereading. I’d estimate that I have started to read ten titles from my shelves and only one grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen. I’ve read it more than once, saw the movie, more than once, but still, young Jane just drew me in. Again. My Jane Austen collection is one of the oldest, although almost every writer I collect first pulled me into their orbit a long time ago.

This month, my book bill was $150. That is still too much, but it’s progress. I’m trying for $100 next month, which is only $25 a week. Hope I have not already spent that! It’s possible. I’ve purchased more than a thousand books on my various Kindles. They’re all stored in the Cloud. So I can re-read those too. But the difference is, I only kept the real books I loved. Kindle books, bad reads and all, are forever.

Kindle was invented for people like me. Book lovers with poor impulse control. But in other ways I’m a careful planner. I collected all my books with a specific goal in mind. When I was working, I’d look at my books and think “someday I’ll read you all again.” I looked forward to that time of my life, when I was retired, when life moved slower. And here it is.

A Mysterious Character

For years, more people than I can count, people close to us, friends and family, have told me my husband Al is a workaholic. That’s how they view him, but I never thought they were right. I didn’t reply to these remarks, maybe a short laugh or a shrug, but I never wanted to argue the point. I was certain I knew my husband better than anyone, and we were just fine, thanks.

In my current novel, Jane is a recent widow who is not mourning her loss. She’s not evil. She didn’t kill him. She just hadn’t loved him in a long time. Jane is one of those wives who stay “for the children.” I’ve always been curious about those women. How could they do it? I know I couldn’t.

What kind of marriage did they have? I thought I’d sorted these smallish pieces of character very early on. I knew everything about the dead husband that Jane knew. He was still one part mystery, even dead. In fact, his death meant she’d never know one crucial thing about him. And not knowing that affected everything about her behavior.

The NEVER KNOWING part really bothered me. I had to give her some justification for staying with this man who suddenly without explanation, cut off all marital relations when they were still quite a young couple. This behavior is not unheard of, but just uncommon enough, I thought, to be fresh.

Then I read Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and one of the women has just such a husband. He claims he doesn’t need or even much like sex. Three Women is reportage; it’s non-fiction. It’s also very, very good. I wasn’t going to lift that reason, which still makes me ask the question WHY anyway. Why doesn’t he like sex? Why does he refuse to kiss his wife? How can this marriage be saved?

You’ll have to read Lisa Taddeo for those answers because I am not going to use that reason. Still, I really wanted to do a version of “they stayed together for the children” because I am interested in people who are able to do that. I sure couldn’t. Curiosity about people who are unlike me fuels my fiction. I want to know what drives them, so I write to learn answers.

The problem I came up against quite quickly after discarding the Taddeo solution is Jane needing a new reason not to mourn. I thought a few minutes until the idea of a workaholic husband presented itself. I didn’t know much about workaholics except they worked all the time. I took a day for research yesterday and after ten pages of juicy notes, I knew everything there is to know about workaholics. I also knew that my dear Al is one of them.

The facts don’t lie. If it was just one Wikipedia article, or one of the “Top Workaholic Traits” I might have kept that open secret from myself a little longer. As it is, I have accepted that yes, I’m married to a workaholic. But he’s not the shade of workaholic I’m writing about. I found a treasure trove of disturbing workaholic behavior that will make Jane a merry widow, but my own worker bee is happily alive and wearying of his frantic pace. He’s ready to get out of the rat race and we have a date set in the very near future for unlocking those golden handcuffs.

Pitch Wars!

“Nobody wants to read women over thirty.” So Becky Masterman learned when she sent her first Brigid Quinn novel out to agents. That changed a few years later, at least for Masterman. She’s now published four Brigid Quinn crime novels, and I am hooked. Also, Masterman inspired me to try to write my own older character.

My current publisher has never said no to any of the six books I’ve published with them. I’m not sure how they will like Jane’s age (55). I would sure like to read more smart and strong older female characters like Brigid. I can’t find any. I wrote Jane as much for myself as I did for anyone. Since I’m almost finished with her story, I’ve decided on a pain-free way to show the manuscript to agents and editors.

Pitch Wars is new to me. Another member of Michigan Sisters in Crime sent out a call for someone to partner up with for this competition and I responded. It’s been a long time since I wrote a book proposal, which is what you do for Pitch Wars. I want to know, for better or worse, what the reaction will be to my older heroine. Is there still resistance to older female characters?

If so, I don’t get it. Baby boomer’s average age is 57. Many boomers are retired. More time for reading. We already know women out-read men by a wide margin. So the target audience for older female characters with grit and grace seems to be ready and waiting. I know I am. If you have any favorite older female characters (I already know about Miss Marple :)) please let me know in the comments.

Am I just quirky and out there? Or are other baby boomer readers also longing for main characters closer to their own age?

I’ll let you know what I hear about my older heroine from the publishing sector after Pitch Wars ends in late September. I’m interested in what they have to say about Jane. Interested and a little nervous.

Family Time

I am eating M&Ms smushed into a blob of peanut butter. This is my lunch. For anyone following my Quit Sugar mission, this is not part of the plan. But there are absolutely times when you have to drop the plan and pay attention to more basic needs, like chocolate. I have M&Ms in my house because I hosted a family barbecue on Sunday. My three grandkids were there! Hence, leftover M&Ms.

In the midst of celebration and connection, we had some tragic news about someone we all love. As much as I dislike teasers of this sort, I’m trying to protect the privacy of those involved. I’ll just say, we were thrilled to be together and crushed by this nightmare news. We kept it from the little ones, of course.

Still, people must be fed. Coffee must be perked. Wine glasses filled. I loved this weekend with my kids and grandkids and parents and my brother Bill. I’m trying to accommodate the more painful parts of events mixed in with the overflowing joy.

I don’t mean to trivialize tragedy by suggesting sweet treats help. They don’t. So I’m going to leave the leftover pie and ice cream alone and try to cope with this clash of opposites in more productive ways. For me, that means writing. No matter what the hard thing is, writing will ease the ache, at least for me.