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Introducing Grace, Fully Living

It’s Christmas Eve and thirty-something Grace Tyler just can’t find what she’s looking for… on the store shelves this close to closing time, or in the men in her life. And while it seems like all those close to her have people in their lives to hang stockings with and successes to celebrate tonight, she’s planning to spend her Noel alone. After all, isn’t “alone” just an anagram for “A Noel”? At least it gives her plenty to time to look back over the year. And what a year it has been… misadventures on the ski slopes, the suave, talented yet creepy and threatening photographer, the art gallery parties and the male stripper the gallery’s owner tried to fix her up with. Trips home to see her school BFF’s new business venture , admire her Dad’s growing internet savvyness and try to un-hear her mother’s unwavering criticisms. All that and the driver who couldn’t get over himself, the boss called “Horrors”, the apple of her mother’s eye, namely her day-trading brother Roger and who can forget that unwanted surprise in her toilet one day? Certainly not Grace! And of course, there was Doug… enigmatic Doug, the mysterious northerner she never quite could get out of her mind…nor into her arms. If only her life was more like her “Friends” Monica and Chandler!

In the tradition of Bridget Jones Diary and The Holiday, it’s the story of finding love and finding yourself in the modern world. Join us as we tag along with Grace as she maneuvers her way into a new millennium, and a new life.

Life for the modern single lady isn’t always graceful… but with our heroine, it is Grace…fully living!

I’m pleased to announce my first novel, Grace, Fully Living is finally available! Currently it’s available as an e-book in all popular formats so you can enjoy it on your phone, Kindle, Apple device, Kobo, Sony Reader or even your PC!

Grace, Fully Living as the prologue above suggests, is a lively modern-day rom-com following the adventures of Grace, a single Gen X lady finding her way in a new life and new millennium. I try to bring a sense of fun and hope to a story many of us will find relatable while bringing back memories of our not-too-distant past. Merging the attention to detail and pop culture of Douglas Coupland’s novels with the great romance and lovable heroines of Nora Ephron’s screenplays, Grace will make you laugh and believe in love again. And maybe bang your head on the wall once or twice as well!

Grace, Fully Living is available for download now at many popular retailers including Barnes and Noble, or through the publisher Smashwords.

I hope you enjoy meeting Grace as much as I did bringing her story to you.

No Freaks, No Economics, Just Good Reading

So an update on my year’s reading… not long ago I finished reading the famous (some might say “infamous”) Freakonomics, a 2005 non-fiction work by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Actually, I should say “re-reading” as I read it many years ago when it was on the Current Releases shelf at a library many miles and years away from here now. It was a pleasant reunion for me.

The first thing you should know about Freakonomics is that despite the title, it has very little to do with economics as we know it. In fact, that has been one of the criticisms of the book by the more scholarly types. Noted economist Ariel Rubinstein for instance says “economists like Levitt have swaggered off into other fields” and the book’s “connections to economics, none.” The second thing you should know about it is that this fact makes it eminently readable! The third thing you need to know about the book with the orange-inside-an-apple cover is that it was wildly popular and influential. According to Publisher’s Weekly it was the 9th best-seller of 2005 and #12 again in ’06. It’s sold over 4 million paper copies to date, which if books were rewarded like records, would surely make it multi-platinum.

The fourth thing you need to know is that if you’re interested and haven’t picked up a copy before, skip the next couple of paragraphs which have spoilers!

Levitt, the economist by trade, and Dubner and newspaper journalist combined to put out a book of interesting anecdotes and studies which make us challenge some of our preconceived notions and ways of looking at things. Not unlike Malcolm Gladwell and his books, which I’ve mentioned are big favorites of mine. They show evidence that sumo wrestlers, despite the Japanese emphasis on honor and integrity, frequently “throw” matches to help out friends within the sport, and that teachers will cheat as readily as their students if the kids test scores can influence their own job appraisals. A fast-moving and wide-ranging book, it touches on subjects as disparate as the downfall of the Ku Klux Klan and if Black people name their kids differently than other parts of society, as well as if so what effect that has,  to the structural organization of a drug-dealing street gang. Among the surprising findings there were that at least one large gang they studied had a college-educated, peace-loving, overpaid boss, a board of directors and a ton of poorly-educated, subsistence-wage street operatives who flummuxed the bosses by going rogue and shooting people.

The most controversial , and thus memorable, finding of theirs was that Roe Vs Wade – i.e., easy access to abortion – had more impact on reducing murder and violent crime rates than the effects of putting more police on the streets, longer jail sentences for criminals and a booming economy combined. Their suggestion is that with abortion legal, the majority of women who took advantage of it were likely to be single, poor, young and quite probably dealing with substance abuse issues which would have made them unfit parents and created unsuitable households for kids, who in turn would have a greater probability of turning into criminals when they hit their teen years. Not something popular among a good swath of the public, but an item worthy of revisiting in these times when numerous states are doing their best to outlaw abortion once more – and an interesting example of how the apparently differing objectives of hard-core right wing law and order types may actually align with those of the opposite, left-wing liberal segment of the land.

I loved the book, and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to be surprised, or to simply open their minds to new ways of looking at things.

Part two of the story though, is that I then watched the documentary movie of the same name. I found the DVD Freakonomics in a dollar store discount bin. There was probably a reason it was there. The big problem with Freakonomics, the movie, is that if you’ve read the book, it’s going to be… well, boring. And if you haven’t read the book, a movie with a fruit on the cover and a tie-in to economics isn’t likely to catch your attention.

The movie highlights some of the book’s sections, with the authors on screen a fair bit of the time. Both Levitt and Dubner are intelligent and seem nice enough, but neither has that special something that make them rivoting personalities on screen. And the little doodle cartoons and interviews they use to illustrate their points seldom do much to elevate the film. They scan quickly over a lot of material from the book, while spending too much time on the Sumo issue and adding only one new “chapter”, a look at trying to bribe kids to do better in school, which also drags and leaves the question unanswered anyway!

In short – Freakonomics book good, movie not so good and neither has much to do with economics. Which is fine with me, since about all I can really remember from university economics 101 is supply and demand. Which would tell us that with demand for cable TV dropping and supply of competitive options (Roku, streaming services, Netflix etc) increasing, prices should drop. Have you checked your cable bill lately?

So I suggest to Mr. Rubinstein, no the book has nothing to do with economics. But maybe economists should read it anyway, since it guides one to look at the world differently!

Summer Reading About Some’s Writing

If I was going to pop open a bottle of the bubbly to celebrate, it would have to be a small one. Very small. Because it was hardly like Pete Alonso winning baseball’s home run derby yesterday or being awarded a platinum record. But it was something. For the first time in two years or more, one of my e-books sold today. I’d almost forgotten I had them available on a website, it had been so long.

Tiny as a victory it was, it made me feel good. Largely because I know something I wrote connected somehow to someone else, which is really the ultimate reason to be partaking in the usually solitary task of writing anyway. It also reminded me earlier this year, I’d mentioned I’d been trying to read a bit more, so I thought I’d give you an update on a couple of the books I finished recently. Both tie into that last thought directly.

One was The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates. She classifies it as a “memoir”, and describes within her book the difference (as she sees it) between a “memoir” and an autobiography. the former is more selective and focused, the bio more all-encompassing apparently.

I must admit, I had never read any of her work before. I knew of her, but had little idea what it was she wrote to become so popular. I grabbed the book when I saw it at a dollar store, it catching my attention because A) I knew she was a respected writer and I find it interesting to see the insight those types have and what drives them, and B) flipping through it, I noticed she grew up in western New York and mentioned a lot of names of towns I heard growing up just across the border in Canada. Turns out she even lived a decade on my side of the border, “ten years in exile in Ontario – a fruitful and altogether wonderful decade” as she describes it, but one in which she was still aware she was an outsider. Worse yet, one driven there mostly because her old home – at that point Detroit during the race riots – had become too perilous to stay in. It spoke to me as a Canadian who’s spent time on both sides of Niagara Falls.

She had some interesting reminiscences of the ’50s and ’60s and the changing landscape, which applied as much to southern Canada of the ’60s and ’70s, from the role boxing played in male culture in times of yore to the farmland being turned into strip malls and subdivisions. As well, her insight into how events in her life shaped ideas in her fiction resonated with me. So, all in all it was a useful and enjoyable read and one which just might make me pick up some more of hers. Even though it was on the discount rack and thereby didn’t make her a whole lot wealthier, hopefully she too has the appreciation of writing something that makes a connection with someone else.

The other similar book I just finished is On Writing by Stephen King. While known for his horror, King has a way with words and can write quite a range of things, including this non-fiction. Part auto-biography, part college-level writing course, King looks back at his life and his path into writing, his near-death experience being hit by a truck while out walking in 1999 but also devotes a good part of the book on his advice for aspiring writers and how they can write more effectively. An odd mix perhaps, but very readable and itneresting.

I went through a phase, when I was young-ish and working night shifts, where I read a lot of his novels. It, Salem’s Lot, Pet Semetary, The Body… you name it. I probably went through ten of his books in the two years I was up all night. I grew tired of the gore and began to find bits a little repetitive in terms of dialog and so on, but I always admired his way with words. He’s a talented writer who has great attention for detail and can spin a yarn that keeps you turning pages. So his advice carries weight as well.

Perhaps the things which spoke to me the most in his story was his willingness to keep believing and keep putting words to page even when times were tough and he was an unknown and to tell the story as it should be told. The biggest quagmire a writer can get bogged down in is worrying about what others might think. As he points out, there will always be someone who objects to something and if you try to self-edit to placate all of them, you’re never going to finish a page, let alone a book. Good advice and in my own experience, the biggest hurdle to jump on the road to putting out a good story.

So halfway through 2019, I’m also about halfway to my reading goal for the year. And, soon will have some news about adding something to the possilbe reading lists of lovers of romance and comedy…

Book Suggests We Coddle Our Kids…And Minds A Bit Too Much

One of my resolutions this year is to read more than I read last year. Last year, I read 15 books by my count, so obviously the goal is 16 or better this year. I figure if Dec. 28th rolls around and I’m at 14, it’ll be time to break out Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham. Seriously though, the actual reason isn’t to rack up a score (and if it was, 16 wouldn’t be all that glamorous albeit it could be a lot more than many people do these days), it’s about just reading. Exploring new ideas, be they fiction or non. I’ve always enjoyed reading since I was young; just as with so many of us the “busy-ness” of life makes it harder to put aside a chunk of time to do more than a magazine article at a time.

Anyway, I just finished my second book of ’19, a non-fiction current near-best-seller entitled The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The subtitle really caught my eye when browsing the new releases at the store a couple of months back : “How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.” And the basic premise is just that – that we (Gen X-ers primarily) are raising kids hopelessly incapable of dealing with the real world.

They speculate the problem arises from three great untruths we are somehow brainwashed into believing and teaching the young ones (especially the I-Generation as he calls it, the ones just hitting the colleges in the last year or three). One, that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you weak; two, that they should always trust their gut, so to speak and never, ever doubt what they feel is absolutely right, and three, that the world is a battle between pure good and pure evil. These of course fly in the face of everything science, psychology and what we used to call “good ol’ common sense” have taught us. We know that some problems and adversity will in fact help us think, be more creative and more resilient. We know that sometimes our feelings get in the way of what’s real, create biases and stop us from examining thoughts or people that might possibly conflict with what we want to believe. And we know that the vast majority of us are capable of both good and bad and that few people are purely evil demons out to “get” us. Why then, they wonder, don’t we teach our kids that?

They outline the effects including kids who are immature and have never had their opinions even questioned and feel anyone challenging their thoughts is akin to a physical assailant.

Although they try to cover a broad range of topics – arguably too many – discussing what is wrong with society these days, they do zero in well on some main themes. Our over-protectiveness of kids spurred on by Amber alerts and hysterical media reports about the rare cases of child abduction by a stranger, the pressure on kids to do well and get into prestigious schools, their overuse of computers and phones at expense of making real contacts and real friends. They also venture into the increasingly obvious terrain of how social media is only making us less social and more antagonistic towards anyone who thinks a bit differently than we do.

Their arguments are by and large convincing and their conclusions about the problems – hate speech abounding, colleges eliminating readings and speakers who might be even a wee bit provocative or unpopular from the curriculum, etc – are obvious but need repeating. They see hope for the future with changes coming; I’m not so sure we’ll wean kids off their phones or that social media is going to suddenly enable users to hear, and appreciate all kinds of differing political or social opinions. But I have hope in those who have hope!

The book is a bit dry… it’s in the genre of Malcolm Gladwell but not such a rivoting page turner, but it’s well worth the read. Particularly is you have kids of your own.

I grew up with a mom that I thought was over-protective. But even I spent many a happy afternoon on nice days riding my bike here there and everywhere with school pals, once in awhile played some road hockey in the street if it wasn’t too too cold and walked to school (or rode my bicycle if the weather was good.) Walking to high school was over a half hour each way, and that was cutting across a park and , yes, cutting across a railroad line surruptitiously. To have done it along the actual roadways would have added a good ten minutes or so to each trip,day in day out, snowy or sunny. I grew up fine.

Or at least, grew up physically ok, not obese and not averse to exercise, and although often a bit pissed-off by people whose thinking is quite different than mine, not feeling like I was in physical danger listening to them. And I grew up reading. Books, novels, bios, history and geography texts, magazines, daily newspapers. I still try to do that. So I bid you a good night and for me…

14 to go this year! Don’t be surprised if you see a Cat in the Hat review here come December…