A New Year, A New Book

A new project to get my year off to a good start.

2013 was the first year since 1991 that I did not publish a new book.

There are several of reasons for this, none of which I want to get into here. That would make interesting fodder for a future blog post. Don’t worry; I won’t leave you hanging for long.

But it isn’t as if I haven’t been writing — I have been. In addition to this blog, which I’ve tended to quite faithfully since I started it in October 2003, I’ve been working on another book project since late 2012, when I found myself with an outrageous personal story to tell. Unfortunately, I’ve had to put that project aside; I hope to finish it when I know the ending.

Papillon HelicopterToday, however, I started work on the book I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so. Tentatively titled Flying the Canyon: My Season as a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour Pilot, this book will share my experiences from one of the most interesting summers of my life.

Here, I’ll let the book’s draft introduction tell you more:

In the summer of 2004, I realized one of my dreams: I became a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon.

I was 42 when I got the job and I worked with a bunch of young people — mostly men — some of whom were young enough to be my kids. I met the challenges of working in a sometimes difficult but usually breathtakingly beautiful flying environment, dealing with the personalities of co-workers and management, and trying to please passengers from all over the world. The work was rewarding, frustrating, and enlightening. The flying experience was something I think every helicopter pilot should have.

I also had a very odd experience on one of my flights — an experience that would leave the lingering scar of PTSD on me for many years to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but by the end of the summer, the novelty had worn off. Friction inside the company made the job less pleasant than it had been. I realized that I was a square peg in a round hole. My real work as a freelance writer was being neglected and my editors were beginning to lose their patience. I was sad to leave, but it was time.

This book is the story of my season at the Grand Canyon. It begins before the beginning by sharing the stories of when I decided I wanted to learn how to fly and the things that I did to gain the skills I’d need to be a tour pilot. It then goes on to tell about my experiences as a pilot at the Canyon — including the unusual occurrence on June 10, 2004 — and my direct interactions with fellow pilots, management, and passengers. Finally, it shares how my feelings about being a Canyon tour pilot changed as the summer came to a close and the events that affected my decision to leave.

Because I’d blogged many of my experiences soon after they happened, much of what I share in these pages is rich with details. But rather than just restate my blog posts, I’ve filled in the gaps between them with the behind-the-scenes stories that I couldn’t make public at the time.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon? Here’s what it was like for me.

As I write, I’ll be pulling a lot of my blog posts about those days offline, probably for good. In a way, my blog has acted as a temporary archive for these stories. Once the book is complete and published, the book will be the permanent archive. I hope to do this with much of the contents of my blog.

Captain MariaToday, I churned out over 4,000 words, completing the introduction (which I just shared here), a Prologue, and Chapter 1, which briefly covers my experiences learning to fly and getting my commercial pilot rating. My goal is to have the entire book finished by month-end — a goal I know I can reach if I can stay focused on my work. (With little else do do this winter, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to find time!)

I’ve toyed with the idea of shopping it around to a mainstream publishing house but will likely self-publish under the Flying M Productions “Real-Life Flying” imprint. The book will be available in print and as an ebook in Kindle, Nook, and iBooks formats. I had quite a bit of success with one of my three self-publishing projects back in 2012, so I’m pretty confident I’ll meet or beat that success with this book.

Of course, since I need to work on the book each morning, that might cut into my blogging time. So expect to see fewer posts here over the next month or so as I write, edit, lay out, and publish this book. More information on where to buy it will be available before month-end.

Comments? You know where to put them!

Twitter and Writing

Some thoughts on a New Yorker essay.

Twitter LogoI read an interesting essay on the New Yorker magazine’s website yesterday: “The Ongoing Story: Twitter and Writing.” It was one of those pieces that, as you read it, you realize that you and the author are sharing the same thoughts about something that you thought you were alone in thinking. As I read through the piece, I found myself wanting to highlight different passages of it — the parts of it where the author put into words what I’d been thinking or feeling for a long time.

So I figured I’d blog a little about it to store those thoughts here.

For example, the author of the piece, Thomas Beller, writes:

Most great writers could, if they wanted to, be very good at Twitter, because it is a medium of words and also of form. Its built-in limitation corresponds to the sense of rhythm and proportion that writers apply to each line.

And that’s the challenge of Twitter. Sharing a complete thought in 140 characters. I wrote about that back in October 2010 (was it really that long ago?) in my blog post titled “How Twitter Can Help You Become a More Concise Writer.” After all, anyone can write a string of tweets to tell a story. But how many people can convey that story in just 140 characters? How many people can be interesting, funny, provocative, witty, sarcastic, ironic, or insightful?

Yes, it’s true: I do tweet photos of some of my meals. (Don’t we all?) But occasionally I get more serious. Occasionally I dig deeper and come up with something witty or profound, something that other people find worthy of retweeting or, better yet, favoriting.

(Ever wonder how the word favorite became a verb? I did, too. Then I asked all-knowing Google and it pointed me to this article that explains it. It shouldn’t surprise you that Twitter is involved. But once again, I digress.)

And sometimes — just sometimes — I can paint a visual picture with those 140 characters that’s as clear as a glacial stream on a spring day.

Two more passages touch upon why and how I use Twitter:

Does a piece of writing that is never seen by anyone other than its author even exist? Does a thought need to be shared to exist? What happens to the stray thought that drifts into view, is pondered, and then drifts away? Perhaps you jot it down in a note before it vanishes, so that you can mull it over in the future. It’s like a seed that, when you return to it, may have grown into something visible. Or perhaps you put it in a tweet, making the note public. But does the fact that it is public diminish the chances that it will grow into something sturdy and lasting? Does articulating a thought in public freeze it in place somehow, making it not part of a thought process but rather a tiny little finished sculpture? Is tweeting the same as publishing?

And:

I had always thought of Twitter as being a good place to work out ideas: a place to mull things over in public, and a way of documenting a thought to make it more likely that I would remember it. But is it like a conversation or is it “talking it out?” Is it a note to oneself that everyone can see, or is it, like iPhone photos, an attempt to offload the responsibilities of memory onto an apparatus that feels like an extension of ourselves because it is always in our hands? I sometimes wonder if I might ever be accused of stealing my own idea.

And that’s how I use Twitter: as a sort of running list of my thoughts and the things going on in my life. (That might explain why I’ve tweeted more than 44,000 times since I joined Twitter back in 2007. I think a lot and keep pretty busy.) It’s easy to whip out my phone or iPad and tweet something that’s on my mind — or to save a picture of what’s in front of me in a place where it’ll be forever (or at least a long time). It is an offloading of information so I don’t have to remember things.

Mr Beller wonders whether articulating a thought in public freezes it in place somehow. It does. It freezes it in the Twitter archive, which I can download for my account and search at any time. (How do you think it was so easy for me to come up with the tweets you see here? Imagine that archive in the hands of a paranoid and delusional stalker!) That makes it possible for me to go back in time, to see what I was thinking and doing on a specific date since my first tweet in March 2007.

I can’t think of any easier way to make life notes. Stray thoughts can be captured before they drift away, to be pondered at my leisure. And sometimes — just sometimes — they become the seeds for blog posts or conversations with friends.

Twitter was introduced as a “microblogging” service and that’s exactly how I use it. I assume other writers do the same.

But is tweeting the same as publishing? I don’t think so. It’s more like standing on a soapbox in a crowded park, making random remarks. Some folks who know you’re there and find you interesting might be there to listen. But otherwise, your words go mostly unheard. You can argue that the same can be said for publishing, but publishing seems to be a more legitimate form of communication. Or maybe that’s just old-fashioned thinking on my part.

Managing the anxiety of composition is an essential part of writing. One must master the process of shepherding the private into public. There are bound to be false starts, excursions that turn out to be dead ends. But these ephemera—notes, journals, drafts—are all composed in a kind of psychic antechamber whose main feature is a sense of aloneness. They are the literary equivalent of muttering to yourself in a state of melancholy, or of dancing in front of the mirror with music blasting when you are alone in your room. Both of these are best done when no one is home.

I’ve never found it difficult to write; there is no anxiety for me. That’s not to say that I don’t have false starts and wander down to dead ends. Or, more often than I’d like to admit, write crap.

There is an aloneness to all writing, including Twitter. And yes, tweets are like talking to yourself, but with the very real possibility that (in my case) 1600+ people are listening and may respond. No one is home here except me — I’ve been alone for a long time, even when I supposedly wasn’t.

Almost everybody who is a writer these days gets, at some point, a lecture on the necessity of being “on” Twitter and Facebook. It’s a tool of selling and career building. It is, for writers of all ages and stages, not so much required reading as required writing.

I also got this lecture from one of my publishers. I didn’t need to be sold on Twitter — I took to that like a bird takes to the sky. It was Facebook that I avoided for as long as I could. So long, in fact, that I lost a contract because I wasn’t involved enough in social media. Imagine that! An early adopter of Twitter with tens of thousands of tweets not being involved enough in social media.

Twitter gives writers the ability to put ourselves out there for the world to see. Does it help my writing career? Perhaps — to a point. It certainly helps attract blog readers and give me a steady stream of intelligent people to communicate with.

After five years and more than 44,000 tweets, I know one thing for certain: Twitter has become a part of my writing life.

On Heavy-Handed Writing

When the author’s voice is so loud it distracts you from the story.

One of the things that I think clearly identifies a good author is his voice. Simply said, when I read fiction, I expect to be drawn into the story, with each word, sentence, paragraph, and page feeding my imagination with clear and smooth descriptions of the characters, settings, actions, and dialog.

Seems pretty simple, huh? Unfortunately, not all authors are able to pull this off. Some try so hard to paint scenes or describe action that their heavy-handed writing prevents readers from getting into the story. Instead, the reader hears the author’s voice, often shouting for attention about how clever he is.

The Silent SeaThe best way to illustrate this is with a passage from a “Clive Cussler” book I just finished. Let me present two versions of the opening paragraph and offer a critique before I explain why I put Mr. Cussler’s name in quotes.

A Bad Start

I bought the Kindle edition of this book from Amazon after reading a synopsis written by an acquaintance. The book had the elements I like in a good fiction read: a mystery, action, suspense. And the fact that it was (apparently) written by an author I knew didn’t hurt things either. I was eager to pick up a book that would keep my mind off the other crap going on in my life so I bought it without first reading a sample. I somewhat regret that.

The truth of the matter is, if I’d read the first paragraph of the book before buying it, I probably wouldn’t have bought it.

A golden blur leapt over the small boat’s gunwale just as the bows met the rocky beach. It hit the water with a splash and plowed through the surf, its tail raised like a triumphant pennant. When the retriever reached land, it shook itself so that drops flew like diamond chips in the crisp air, and then it looked back at the skiff. The dog barked at a pair of gulls farther down the beach that took startled flight. Feeling its companions were coming much too slowly, the purebred tore off into a copse of nearby trees, her bark diminishing until it was swallowed by the forest that covered most of the mile-square island just an hour’s row off the mainland.

This is just one example of the heavy-handed writing I found in this book. The author is trying to show off, trying too hard to show what a great writer he is. All he succeeds in doing, however, is calling out his voice to the reader, who has to stumble over his awkward sentences to get the visual the author intends.

Want some specifics? How about these?

  • Using the word bows instead of bow to refer to the front end of a boat. While this is technically okay (either word works), bow is more commonly used. (I honestly thought it was a typo until I looked it up.)
  • Putting a tail on a “blur.”
  • Referring to a dog as “it” and then clearly indicating its gender later with “her.”
  • Identifying the thoughts of a dog.
  • Using five different words to describe the same character: blur, it, retriever, dog, purebred. (Purebred was over the top for me; it’s a snobbish way to refer to a dog.)
  • Overall awkward sentence construction for several sentences. I was especially bothered by all the geographic facts jammed into the last sentence.

I also had a problem with a dog swimming with its tail straight up, but I resolved that by looking at photos of a retriever in water; one in particular seemed to illustrate what the author had written. Still, it bothered me enough to want to look it up. Most dog breeds known for swimming skills use their tail as a rudder in the water.

I started wondering how the author could have presented the same information without his voice shouting out to be heard. As an exercise, I rewrote the paragraph:

A golden blur leapt over the small boat’s gunwale just as the bow met the rocky beach. The retriever hit the water with a splash and plowed through the surf, her tail raised like a triumphant pennant. When she stepped onto the beach she shook herself, sending drops like diamond chips flying through the crisp air. She looked back at her companions in the skiff, then barked at a pair of gulls farther down the beach, startling them into flight. Impatient, she tore off into a small grove of trees nearby, the sound of her barking soon swallowed by the forest that covered most of the mile-square island just an hour’s row off the mainland.

I identified the blur as a retriever right away so she (not it) could logically have a tail. I liked the visual of the diamond chips, but not the construction of that sentence, so I changed it. Copse reminds me of corpse so I used the more common small grove; I also took the adjective nearby out of the middle of the noun phrase and put it at the end. I couldn’t do much with the geography lesson without moving it to another paragraph, so I left it.

I don’t know…is it better? Or just more to my taste?

My point is this: a well-written sentence/paragraph/page/book should not make a reader want to rewrite it to remove distractions.

By or With?

And that brings me to the author, Clive Cussler. The reality is that Mr. Cussler did not write this book. It was written by Jack Du Brul. On the cover (see above), the word with is used instead of by. Mr. Cussler’s name is in huge letters — indeed, as large as the book title’s — and Mr. Du Brul’s name is added in tiny letters, almost as an afterthought.

This, in my opinion, is misleading.

Unfortunately, this is very common. An author writes a few bestsellers, perhaps with a series character. For whatever reason, the author stops writing. But because the author has a huge following, his name has a ton of value to the publisher. The publisher either actively searches for a writer willing to publish additional titles under that author’s name or simply considers proposals by authors to do so. The result: the famous author’s books continue being published, but they’re written by someone else.

Clive Cussler is not the first author to do this. Tom Clancy has done it. So has Robert Ludlum. And I’m sure there are dozens of other bestselling authors who are allowing their names to appear on books written by others.

As if readers can’t tell the difference.

You can argue that a reader can clearly see who the author of a book is by simply looking at the cover. After all, the real author’s name does appear there. But when a “name brand” author’s name appears on a book cover, I expect to get a book that would meet the level of quality of that author. I don’t think Clive Cussler would have written an opening paragraph like the one I quoted here. And I don’t think the book would be full of other examples of loud author voice as this one was. So I don’t think his name should appear on the cover at all.

About this Book

What’s interesting about this book is that although it had plenty of examples of awkward author voice, there were plenty of times when the author’s voice faded into the background and the story just came out. Almost as if there was another author involved — maybe Mr. Cussler after all? — or a very good editor. Or maybe the author just couldn’t keep up his screaming throughout the book.

Overall, the book was readable, even for a picky reader like me. I could overlook the writing problems because of the interesting plot twists. And although the plot itself was outrageously unbelievable at times, I was able to overlook that, too. In the end, it gave me just the kind of distraction that I needed.

If I had to rate it, I’d give it 3 (out of 5) stars. Worth reading, but get it from the library.

The Divorce Book

An opportunity to earn back the money spent on my divorce…and refresh my writing career.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook or are a close friend, you probably know by now that I was contacted by an acquisition editor for a publisher on Friday afternoon. She told me that they’re interested in me writing a book about my divorce ordeal based on my blog posts and tweets.

Holy cow! That’s what I tweeted only minutes after getting that call. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then — indeed, it’s difficult to think of anything else.

I thought I’d take some time to blog about how all this came up and what I think about it. Blogging helps me organize my thoughts and this whole thing definitely needs to be organized in my mind. Ironically, if I decide to move forward with this project, this blog post will become part of the book.

About the Blog Posts

The Divorce-Related Blog Posts (so far):

I started blogging about my divorce back in July 2012. My husband had called me on June 30 (yes, my birthday) to ask for a divorce and, in all honesty, I didn’t think he was very serious about it. I thought that once we’d talked in person and I’d had a chance to show or tell him about how I thought we could move forward together, he’d realize that what we had was too good to throw away. I while I waited for him to come see me — I was stuck on contract in Washington state — I wrote “29 Years Ago Today,” a narrative history of our relationship since the day we met on July 10, 1983. I wrote that as a tribute to our relationship, as a reminder to him of what we’d been through and what we had.

We met in mid July. I did a lot of crying and he did some, too. He claimed he still cared about me. He assured me that there wasn’t another woman. But when I took him to see the 10 acres of view property that I hoped we’d build a summer home on, I could see in his eyes that there was something else he was more interested in. Something that wasn’t in Washington. Yet I believed him. I trusted him. When he told me he wanted a fair and equitable divorce, I believed him. When he said he wanted to stay friends, I believed him.

I was a fool to believe him.

But how could I blame myself for trusting the man I’d trusted with my life for 29 years? Especially when one of my close friends was assuring me that my marriage could be fixed if I worked hard on it when I got home? I didn’t know that this friend was one of several friends and family members my husband had called to tell that he still loved me and worried about me. My friend thought that meant he wanted reconciliation and he pushed me to believe it was possible.

I was a fool to believe him, too.

Although I’d told my husband that I didn’t want to talk about the divorce until I got home, he pressed me several times after our meeting about a settlement. I was trying to finish a book and my state of mind was making work nearly impossible. (I finished the book two months late — the first time I’d ever missed a deadline on that title — and lost out on $5,000 of advance money.) I couldn’t understand why he was in such a hurry when he’d told me we could wait. I responded angrily and he cut communication not long afterward, going completely dark. I blogged about that on August 8 in “How I’m Doing.”

I later found out that behind the scenes, the woman my husband had been sleeping with since June was already pulling his strings, emailing him lists of divorce lawyers to call with instructions to call as many as he could so I couldn’t call the same ones. When I emailed him in August, telling him when I’d be coming home, he began plotting with his lawyer to get exclusive use of the house, effectively leaving me homeless when I returned. When I learned about his girlfriend and saw the lingerie photos she’d sent him as part of her seduction routine and realized that he planned to keep me out of my own home, I reacted by (finally) filing for divorce. I discovered that he had already gone through my personal files and given copies of my tax returns and investment statements to his lawyer. Clearly, he didn’t care about me at all and was planning to use my delay to maximize the amount of cash he could claim under community property laws. After all, I make 80% to 90% of my income during the summer; every time he forwarded my mail with a check from a client, he was likely thinking about how half of that check would soon be his.

From that point forward, my blog posts were explorations of my feelings about what was going on, trying, for the most part, to remain upbeat and positive. “Freedom without Guilt” discussed one positive aspect of cutting ties with my husband: I was finally free to do what I wanted without having to deal with his attempts to make me feel guilty for making the most of my life. “My Experience with Aging, Weight, and Medifast” talked mostly about dieting and didn’t really discuss the divorce at all. By that point, I’d lost 28 pounds. (I wound up losing a total of about 45 pounds by mid October.) But the post is remarkable because I posted my own version of a lingerie photo, which, admittedly, was pretty lame. (I’m not stupid enough to put a photo of myself in lingerie online — or to email it to a married man.) In all honesty, I think I still believed that if my husband and I could sit down and talk again, we’d be able to patch things up. (It was — and is — very hard to let go.)

Early Morning Helicopter Flight: Wenatchee, WA to Hillsboro, OR” briefly mentioned how I wished I could share the joy I felt from an amazing dawn flight over the Cascade mountains with my husband. It was hard to believe that I’d never go flying with him again. “Boating without Mike” talked about a boat ride Penny and I went on at the end of August. It was my last ride in the boat for the season; I sucked up some milfoil (weeds) as I returned to the dock and the engine wasn’t running quite right. I was lucky to get it back on the trailer. (I’m not looking forward to getting that fixed when I get back.) In that blog post, I listed many of the boat trips I’d been on with my husband over the years. It was one of many reminiscent posts, things I wrote that I hoped he would read — possibly to jog his memory about everything we had that was so good. To shake some sense into him.

But as I learned more and more about what was going on at home, I began getting angry — which is actually good for me. “The Pain of Betrayal” introduced readers to my feelings about discovering my husband’s lies without actually mentioning his affair. Thinking that my husband had left me for a younger woman — the woman in the lingerie photos — and knowing quite a bit about her financial situation, I wrote “Gold Digger.” At the same time, I was overcome with pity for my husband’s decision to turn his back on the amazing lifestyle we could have had together. I wrote “Pity for the Foolish” to express my personal joy at watching a beautiful sunrise from my doorstep and my remorse that my husband had trapped himself in the “box” he couldn’t think outside of.

By this time, I’d realized that a lack of communication — mostly on the part of my husband — had caused all of our marital problems and the breakup. “Communication Breakdown” presented my thoughts in a hypothetical situation. It was the closest I could get (at that point) to letting the world know that my husband left me for another woman. Most of my friends were able to read between the lines and understood what I was saying.

I explored the topic of my problems with self-esteem during my final months with my husband and the breakdown of our marriage, still not mentioning his affair, in “On Broken Marriages, Self-Esteem, Divorce, and Victoria’s Secret.” My emotions were all over the map. I was home at this point — after having had to break in while he was away because he’d changed the locks — living in the home I’d shared and built with my husband over the past 15 years. I kept expecting him to walk in the door and life to go on as usual. As I did things alone that I used to do with him — soak in the hot tub, enjoy breakfast on the back patio, look for satellites and shooting stars from the lounge chairs on the upstairs patio — I felt his absence sorely. I thought a lot about him doing the same things with his replacement for me. It hurt me deeply and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t hurt him. But, at the same time, I simply could not get over the change in my appearance because of the weight loss. The master bathroom in my house has big mirrors along one wall. Ever time I stepped out of the shower and saw my new, youthful figure, I was amazed. Seriously amazed. (It took months for me to get used to the sight of my new, slim body.) A new wardrobe, Victoria’s secret, and a later makeup consultation at a Clinque counter completed my transformation from dowdy, middle-aged woman to the new attractive, active person I’d become. So I was amazingly upbeat, despite my feelings about being home alone. Any damage my husband had caused to my self esteem was completely repaired, just by my own actions and being free of his disapproving attitude. The blog post also, again, voiced my pity for my husband, who I was convinced was going through some sort of midlife crisis, possibly triggered by hormonal changes — a sort of male menopause. I mentioned his irrational behavior, but at that point I still didn’t know what was driving it. I thought it was a purely psychological problem. I’d learn the truth a while later.

How to Tell if the Person You’re Dating is After Your Money,” was an exploration of what I hoped my husband had considered when developing his relationship with the other woman — again, without mentioning the affair. I’m not sure why I was still keeping it under wraps.

On October 3, my husband and I testified in court at a temporary orders hearing. That’s where he made some outrageous claims about me, under oath, in an attempt to get me kicked out of our house and the hangar I’d been leasing for my business for more than 10 years. Seeing and hearing him on the stand was profoundly painful to me. He was not the man I knew; he was some cold monster who tried to do everything in his power — including lying and stretching the truth beyond all recognition — to hurt me both emotionally and financially. He was living with his girlfriend (and our dog) in Scottsdale and had a condo in Phoenix, but he still wanted to keep me out of my own home. I was reeling with pain and anger during the proceedings and relieved beyond belief when the judge found in my favor and allowed me to stay in my only home.

I wrote “The Man I Fell in Love with is Gone” the next day. It was my attempt to convince myself that my husband was as good as dead to me. My loss was affecting me emotionally in very negative ways and I’d soon begin seeing a grief counselor to help me get through it. I found it extremely affective to imagine that he was dead and that I was mourning that death. The post refers to his desire to seek revenge for “imagined offenses” — indeed, at the court proceedings he made a wild claim about me preventing him from buying the company he worked for 12 or 13 years before. (I had no idea what he was talking about at the time and my testimony put my understanding of the matter on record; I now think this delusion is what he’s using to try to justify his recent treatment of me.) This was also the first post where I openly stated that my husband left me for another woman and that he planned to put that woman in my place in our home.

Saving the Cape Honeysuckle” was a reminiscence of planting these bushes in the back flower beds before I’d left for my fifth season in Washington state and my desire to maintain the few bushes that were still alive. He’d neglected the house over the summer, leaving behind an overgrown vegetable garden that was mostly dead because the irrigation system had been shut down.

I didn’t blog much about the divorce for a while, but I did write “Grief Counseling: A Note to Friends.” This was my attempt to communicate to close friends that I needed their understanding and support. I cried an awful lot in those days — I still do — and it was making some people uncomfortable. I needed them to understand that my grief was something that wouldn’t just go away and that I needed their support.

The Woman Scorned Playlist,” shared two embedded music videos with songs that applied to my situation. I had just heard Adele’s Rolling in the Deep for the first time and I couldn’t believe how the song so perfectly voiced my anger and sorrow. Like Adele, I felt that my husband had thrown away our life together when we “could have had it all.” I still can’t even think about that song without crying. Hit ‘Em Up Style is a lighter song that makes me laugh — except one line: “There goes the house we made a home.” (Damn! I’m crying again right now.)

I was going through some old papers while packing and discarding my things when I came upon a birthday card my husband had made me in June 1998 when he was 42 and I was 37. I included a photo of the card and my thoughts about it in “What Happened to this Guy?

Life Lessons” talked primarily about a blog post I’d read about things people learn too late in life. In it, I talked about how some of these lessons applied in my life, including the differences between me and my husband.

On November 30, I saw my husband again. We had to swap trucks and although we didn’t talk, he left copies of email messages I’d written as long as four years before in the truck for me to find. “Communication Breakdown, Part II” discussed my anger and frustration about how he’d chosen to communicate with me and my thoughts about it. I still couldn’t understand why he now apparently hated me. What had I done to him to deserve such hatred? This post marked a turning point in the way I talked about my situation. From that point forward, I had no qualms about talking opening about his girlfriend in my blog posts. I was beginning to see the big picture: she was calling all the shots for his divorce. She had begun communicating directly with his lawyer, providing him with inaccurate information about me, my actions (based on her paranoia-driven misunderstanding of my tweets), and my possessions. She was telling his lawyer what actions to take against me. (How I know this is not something I can share because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I have two good sources that I trust.)

It was around this time where it became impossible to pretend my husband was dead. When I refused to accept his absurd and financially damaging settlement proposal and he refused to consider my counter proposal, he and his girlfriend went on the offensive and began a campaign of harassment that continues to this day. My lawyer received a stream of demanding letters — some of them quite threatening — and outrageous claims from his. Then he changed lawyers and they went on a new campaign of terror, beginning with an expedited hearing in front of the judge (by phone) that wrongly accused me of disposing of and destroying his personal property. All this was based upon tweets I’d shared about scanning and shredding my own personal documents and giving away two fish tanks I’d purchased prior to marriage.

This is when they made the first big mistake in their strategy. While they apparently thought they could “wear me down” by subjecting me to a constant stream of harassment, all they really did was make me angry. When we failed to reach any agreement at mediation — for some reason, it was “all or nothing” for him — I hunkered down and prepared for our appearance before a judge, originally scheduled for January. Their lawyer subsequently had the court date pushed back to April — I think they mistakenly believed that their harassment campaign would succeed if I thought it would go on until April. I still have trouble believing that my husband could make such a mistake — where did he think I would go if I gave into his absurd demands? I had no other home and was in no hurry to leave the one I was able to live in for free. But perhaps he wasn’t the one doing the thinking about this.

In the meantime, I did see my husband again and did get a chance to speak with him alone. It was when I was permitted to retrieve some (but not all) of my possessions in the condo he had gotten exclusive use of in Temporary Orders. That’s when he accused me of not allowing him to buy out that company he used to work for and owned a piece of in the late 1990s. He was absolutely convinced that I had prevented him from making this important decision for his life — a decision I honestly knew nothing about. How could I not remember this when it was a life-changing decision? The reason is easy: I had never been part of the decision-making process. My recollection is that he was not given the opportunity to buy the company, that the other buyer was a done deal and he was forced to sell his share. Whether that was true or it was just something he told me at the time was unclear at that point. I realized then that he was truly delusional and was basing his hated of me on something that had never happened. I sobbed for the entire the two hours it took to gather and pack my possessions in the condo. He was justifying his infidelity and his treatment of me with a lie. I touched upon all of this is “What is Truth?.”

I went to Florida to stay with my family for the Christmas holiday. It was great to be away from home for an extended period of time. I got melancholy, though, and wrote “THIS is What Life is All About.” The post mentioned that July flight to Oregon and my sorrow (and pity) for my husband’s decision to live inside the box he’d built for himself when there was so much more to life. “I Love My Life” was a similar post, rejoicing about the lifestyle I’d built for myself, recounting how I’d gotten where I was in my career, and lamenting about my husband’s broken promises and failure to get with the program that would make his life just as good.

In January, I found an old journal from 1991-1993. In “Found: Journal from the Past,” I blogged about one of the entries that hinted at the problems I was already having with my future husband. The journal will be a gold mine for future blog entries about my life back then. I even prepared for the series, although I set the book aside for a while.

Lost in the Desert” was mostly about a search job I’d done with my helicopter. In it, I lamented about how my client had lost a husband who loved her and I was being tortured by a husband that hated me. Why couldn’t my husband be the one lost in the desert?

The shit hit the fan at the end of January after I made a very brief visit to my husband’s condo and found both him and his girlfriend there. I spent less than a minute trying to talk to him about a telephonic court appearance he’d missed earlier in the day that had cost him more than $3,000 in legal fees payable to my lawyer. When I discovered he knew nothing about it, I left. But that was enough to trigger a fresh assault of harassment against me. My husband complained to the Phoenix police that I was harassing him. (Keep in mind that I hadn’t seen him in nearly two months or attempted to communicate with him for over a month.) That sent a Wickenburg police officer to my door the next day. My evidence clearly showed that there was no harassment and they dropped the case. They even apologized for bothering me. But the next day, my husband and his girlfriend had the nerve to show up in Wickenburg at a restaurant where I was meeting friends for dinner. Turns out, they’d come to town to bring an Injunction Against Harassment that his girlfriend had managed to obtain at the beginning of January. They’d sat on it for three weeks and then decided to spring it on me when his harassment complaint failed. I was served a while later. The officer told me that she’d tried to get the court to force me to stop tweeting and blogging about her — I think my “Get your own life” and “#DowdyBitch” tweets had gotten under her skin — but this is America and speech is protected. What she did manage to get was a court order for me to destroy the photos. Another mistake. She should have let sleeping dogs lie. Not only did I decide to fight the injunction, but I brought the photos to court. And even though they showed up with their lawyer, I won. That must have been a pretty costly experiment with the justice system for them.

Her birth date on the injunction is where I learned the truth about her age — she was 64 years old. That’s 8 years older than my husband and 13 years older than me. Hell, it’s only 6 years younger than my mother! Suddenly, it all made sense. My husband, a weak and confused man going through a midlife crisis, had been captured by a desperate old woman who would do or say anything to avoid spending the rest of her sorry life alone. My husband hadn’t left me for a younger, sexier woman. He’d left me for a dowdy old witch who had become his mommy. What did that say about him?

I pitied him even more.

For a month, I didn’t blog about the divorce. I shared the recipe for “Aunt Rose’s Dolmades” in a protected blog post. I found the recipe on a faded index card while packing and I wanted to put it in a safe place. What could be safer than the Internet? I protected it because I simply didn’t want my husband and his girlfriend to have it. (Petty, yes. But I think I deserve to indulge in pettiness once in a while. I look forward to making the recipe for my next life partner.)

The whole time, my husband’s weakness and the fact that he’d thrown away everything we had to spend the rest of his life with a vindictive old woman was nagging at me. I finally did something I didn’t want to do: I talked to my husband’s brother. I wanted to know if I was the only one who saw what was going on. I wanted to know if the family really thought this woman was better for him than I was. For 90 minutes, I sobbed to him about the situation. I got some confirmation of what I believed to be true. And my brother-in-law promised to talk to my husband, to ask him to meet with me and a mediator to resolve our problems. He called back a while later to report that he’d made the call. Unfortunately, my husband said he needed a few days to think about it. That meant he needed a few days to ask his mommy and a handful of friends who had likely encouraged him to leave me. It came as no surprise when the answer came back as no.

My husband was afraid to meet with me without his mommy to hold his hand. Although I didn’t think it was possible, I pitied him even more.

That marked the beginning of a new stage in my blog posts — from that point on, I would blog frankly about everything, sharing all of my thoughts and feelings about the situation and the parties involved. The posts would be painful to write but they would make my position clear. “Wanted: A Strong Man,” discussed my husband’s weaknesses in no uncertain terms. “My Desert Dogs” lamented about my dog Charlie, in my husband’s possession, living in a walled-in yard in Scottsdale and being boarded every time my husband and his girlfriend traveled. “On Marital Infidelity” talked about how my father’s and husband’s affairs had affected me and my family.

On Right, Wrong, and High Horses,” was my response to a comment on the marital infidelity post that had been signed with my niece’s email address. I was shocked that my niece should make such a semi-literate and harsh comment — I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in years and I thought she was better educated than the comment indicated — and I was harsh. But when she responded with a well-written and rightly outraged comment, the truth came out. Her father had posted the comment with her email address. Yes: he’d dragged his daughter into the matter without even letting her know. I revised the post to correct the attribution of the initial comment and apologize to her. The rest of the text still applies. (I need to write a new blog post about the dysfunctional family I’m leaving behind in the divorce. Boy, have I got a lot to say about that.)

Suicide, Revisited” talked about my August 2010 post, “Suicide,” and my new understanding of what might drive someone to take his own life. I admitted that the shock and grief I’d experienced over the past eight months had helped me connect the dots between misery, the desire for relief, and suicide. (Again, I need to remind readers that I am not suicidal; I just understand suicide better now.)

Lingering at the Crossroads” presented several quotes from a book I’d just finished reading and discussed how they applied to my divorce situation. I realized that my husband had been at the crossroads of our relationship back in the summer of 2011 — without me. I lamented that he took his problems to a stranger instead of me. I also talked about my own crossroads.

On Becoming Homeless” recounted my history as a home owner and my successful efforts to pay my current home off by the age of 50. I talked about financial stability and the freedom a person has when there’s no mortgage (or rent) to pay. And I talked about how I would be losing my home and possibly the financial security I’d worked for my entire life. Along the way, I reminisced about time spent working with my husband to turn our house into our home and the time we’d spent together there. I still can’t understand how it could be so easy for him to replace me with another woman there.

Although I haven’t blogged about it (yet), just last week, his lawyer claimed that they wanted to try mediation again. When I agreed, provided that we meet with our lawyers in the same room, they backed down.

He’s afraid to sit in the same room with me, even with his lawyer present. How can a man be so spineless?

Is he going to be able to face me in court? His mommy won’t be holding his hand when he’s sitting on the stand.

How can I not pity a man like that?

About the Call

The call came early yesterday afternoon. I was on my way home from a morning hike with a Meetup.com group. The caller was an acquisition editor with a publisher I’d heard of but never worked with. When I realized that the call had the potential to change my life, I pulled over to give the caller my full attention.

It was the “On Becoming Homeless” and “Wanted: A Strong Man” posts that triggered the call. The woman who called me, Jean, had been speaking with another editor I’d worked with in the past who was still a good friend. That editor had mentioned my divorce and blog posts. She said the post about losing my home to another woman was particularly moving. That got Jean to my blog. She read a bunch of posts. She shared them with others at their weekly acquisitions meeting. They liked my writing style, they loved my frankness. But what blew them away was the fact that my husband had left me for an older woman and that he’d stepped aside and was letting her direct his side of the divorce. She even used the word bizarre in our discussion — although she might have picked it up from one of my posts. And she said that based on what she’s read, this has got to be one of the “ugliest” non-celebrity divorces she’s ever heard about. (And she doesn’t even know all of the sordid details.)

The long and the short of it is that they’re interested in me doing a book about my divorce with the blog posts as a sort of base. I suspect it will be a lot like what I’ve written above, with more details of the behind-the-scenes events intermingled with the blog posts and even — their idea — my tweets. (Jean was pretty amused by the fact that his girlfriend/mommy reads my tweets and submits pages of them as “evidence” in court.)

I have to admit that I had my doubts about the idea. Although a Facebook friend of mine had suggested a book (in a private message) less than a month ago, I didn’t really give it serious thought. But these people have. Very serious thought. They did preliminary market research based on what’s selling now — memoirs are big, online dating is becoming a hot topic, women overcoming life-changing problems has a strong niche market — and ran numbers.

They even brought their legal department into a meeting to discuss the legal aspects of my “tell all” account. Their conclusion? I can not only tell all — including names — but show all — including photos. And with the power of their legal department behind me, I wouldn’t have to worry about any lawsuits or legal action against me. They’ve handled — and deflected — challenges to other authors’ books like this.

She talked a little about promotional opportunities. Unlike my computer book publishers, this publisher has a very active publicity department that arranges author appearances on talk shows and at book signings. They even have a travel budget. A lot of their authors have appeared on NPR and they’re sure they could get me on there, too. She suggested a segment of how online dating is being used by men to cheat on their wives.

It was pretty clear, by the end of our 23-minute conversation, that they not only think the book could sell, but they think it could sell well. We’re not talking millions here, but even the advance she suggested would help cover some of my legal expenses for the divorce — expenses that have already drained my savings and are starting to eat away at my business reserves. This would help me get on firmer financial ground to help me keep my business alive and rebuild my life elsewhere.

Next Steps

To say that my mind is reeling from that 23-minute conversation is a complete understatement. There’s so much to think about here. But I still don’t have all the information I need to make a decision. That’ll likely come on Monday, when we have a conference call that includes the acquisitions editor, her boss, and the publisher’s general counsel.

At this point, however, I’m torn. While my friends are telling me unanimously to go for it — and are even speculating about who’d play me in the movie adaptation they’re optimistically predicting — I’m not quite as enthusiastic.

Yes, I definitely want (or need) the money the project will generate. Even if the book flops, the advance would be like manna from heaven. And if the book did well, the benefits would go beyond financial reward. The project has the possibility of reenergizing my writing career, giving me an opportunity to branch away from computer books and start writing about something more interesting — and more marketable in today’s Googlized world.

But, at the same time, I am concerned about my husband and the potential heartache he might suffer from the publication and success of a book that clearly identifies his shortcomings, bad decisions, and betrayals. Each of these blog posts get a few dozen hits a day — a book could have thousands of readers. Right before we split, he’d finally gotten his dream job and I assume he still has it. How would this book affect him and his future with that company? Or any other job he might want or get? I’m sure a lot of people would start snickering behind his back. Although I need to leave this marriage with what’s rightfully mine, I don’t want to cause him any more financial hardship than he’s already earned through his (and his girlfriend/mommy’s) own actions. As I’ve said again and again in the blog posts referenced above, I still love the stupid bastard. I feel sorry for him. I don’t hold him entirely to blame for what he’s done to us and to me.

But I have no such feelings about the desperate old woman who seduced my husband, fed his delusions about my intentions and our past together, and spearheaded their efforts to make my life miserable since July. Revealing her by name and sharing her absurd lingerie photos with the world would make me very happy indeed. The kind of revenge I’d only dreamed about now seems well within my grasp.

In the end, I have to do what’s best for me. As so many people have reminded me (again and again), my husband brought all this upon himself by failing to communicate with me as part of our marriage counseling efforts — efforts that he initiated! — and then using online dating to actively search for my replacement. He brought this woman into our lives, he allowed her to make decisions that would affect us, he allowed her to start the campaign of harassment that has made this so painful and costly to both of us. My friends keep telling me to stop worrying about him, to stop letting my pity keep me from doing what’s best for me.

And they’re right.

So I’ll listen in on that conference call on Monday and get all my questions answered. And I’ll talk to my lawyer to see what he thinks. I’ll also talk to him about our latest efforts at settling out of court to see whether he thinks there’s any possibility of my husband taking control of his side and resolving this fairly without a courtroom experience that’ll be painful and costly for both of us.

And then I’ll make my decision.

One thing’s for sure: I’m about ready for a new book project. This is one topic that is consuming me, practically screaming for me to write about every single day. It’ll be painful yet extremely satisfying to complete.

Apple iBookstore: Understanding Payment Requirements

It’s a royalty agreement, folks.

The other day, I received an unusual email on my Flying M Productions email account. Flying M Productions is my little publishing company, the one I use to publish Maria’s Guides and other books. Its website isn’t much to look at; just a lot of promotional material for the items it publishes and sells. There’s no support for any book there; all support for Maria’s Guides can be found on the Maria’s Guides website.

The Question

Here’s the message, in its entirety; I’ve only omitted the sender name:

I am looking for understanding of this financial requirement for ibooks author:
(Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.)
Apple was not able to explain this and said I had to contact you.
Please explain.

This is obviously a lie — or a big misunderstanding — I seriously doubt whether Apple even knows of the existence of Flying M Productions — especially since I’ve been waiting over a month for it to approve two titles for the iBookstore. The idea that Apple would refer someone to me about one of their policies is truly laughable. The idea that a tiny publisher with just four titles in 20 years would provide support for the most valuable company in the world is a real joke.

And that explains why I didn’t reply.

What’s This About?

But I wanted to know what she was talking about so I did a little search. I wanted to see whether the text she’d included in parentheses was actually present in any Apple agreement. I picked “payment requirements” and “Apple-approved aggregator” as my search phrases.

First I searched the most recent version of the 37-page Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement that I’m required to sign to create books for sale on the iBookstore. No joy.

Then I searched the license agreement for the current version of iBooks Author. No joy.

Then I went online, and followed a bunch of links on the Apple and iTunesConnect websites. I eventually wound up on the requirements page for the Paid Books Account. And there, in the third bullet under the heading “Financial Requirements,” was the full text she’d put in parentheses in her email message.

Apple’s Stand on This

Before I go on, you need to understand two things:

  • Apple does not want everyone capable of typing a sentence and turning it into an epub or iBooks Author document to publish on the iBookstore. Think I’m kidding? Why else would they require ISBNs for every title sold on the iBookstore? That’s just another hurdle for authors/publishers to jump. Why does Apple take this stand? Because Apple (1) doesn’t want to publish crap and (2) doesn’t want to hold the hands of hundreds or thousands of author/publisher wannabes to walk them through the publication process.
  • “Apple-approved aggregators” exist primarily as a support mechanism for Apple. If an author/publisher is too clueless to publish on the iBookstore, Apple wants a way to graciously hand them off to someone else. Thus, they approve aggregators who apparently don’t mind holding hands with clueless authors/publishers in exchange for a fee.

The Requirements page linked to above is another hurdle for authors/publisher to jump. It lists requirements to further weed out the folks they don’t want to deal with. Hell, you have to have a relatively new Mac to publish on the iBookstore — if that doesn’t weed out a bunch of people, nothing will.

What are the Payment Requirements?

But what the person who contacted Flying M Productions was concerned with was the “payment requirements.” Of all the requirements, this is the least onerous. All this means is that Apple won’t pay royalties until you’ve reached certain minimum sales amounts. Why? Well, Apple doesn’t want to deal with thousands of tiny payments every month. Instead, it holds your royalties on account until you’ve earned enough for them to make it worthwhile to pay.

This, by the way, is common. Google has always done this with Adsense. Amazon.com does it for the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

While this may seem to suggest that you need to reach a threshold for each individual territory to get payment for that territory, that’s not what I’m seeing. In fact, I was just paid today for February’s sales. My royalty earnings on sales in each of six territories ranged from a low of $38.73 to a high of $659.40, and I was paid for the total amount earned.

Paragraph 5(c) of the Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement states (in part):

After deducting Apple’s commission from eBook Proceeds, Apple shall either remit to Publisher, or issue a credit in Publisher’s favor, subject to Apple’s standard business practices, including minimum monthly remittance amount thresholds determined by Apple (e.g., $150), the remaining balance by electronic funds transfer (“EFT”) no later than forty-five (45) days following the close of the previous monthly sales period.

This tells me that you need to earn a certain amount of royalties before Apple will pay you and they’re required to pay within 45 days of the close of the period. That’s why I didn’t get my February earnings until April 5 — which is still a hell of a lot better than I get from my traditional print publisher contracts.

The $150 is an example. In looking at my past statements, for periods when I only had one title listed in the iBookstore, I was paid $28 one month and $31 another. Clearly Apple is not waiting for me to earn $150 before it pays me.

How Apple-Approved Aggregators Fit In

In re-reading this Requirements page, I’m thinking that Apple is using this scary sounding “requirement” as a way to encourage authors/publishers to use aggregators. But will aggregators pay more quickly? I can’t see how. Unless Apple uses different thresholds for different publishers? Or aggregators are willing to make payments for very small amounts? Or aggregators are willing to pay before the 45-day period has gone by?

Either way, it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered about.

But I do agree with Apple: if you can’t meet their requirements, use an aggregator.