Living in Paradise

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My Hero Colleen Hoover

I was recently attending a Zoom meeting about book publishing when the speaker announced that the author with 8.5 percent of all books sales in the U. S. last year was Colleen Hoover.

Who? I thought I had misunderstood. Surely, the speaker meant that the top book sales in the country went to someone like Stephen King or James Patterson. Or a hundred other authors I have read and could name.

I’d never heard of Colleen Hoover. Maybe it’s because I stopped checking The New York Times best-selling list when someone told me, with great sincerity, that the numbers can be rigged.

“She’s some kind of romance author,” a writer friend of mine said after I mentioned the author’s staggering sales figures. By the way she said it, I could tell that my friend thought Colleen Hoover wasn’t to be put in the same class as other contemporary authors who routinely arrive on The Times list.

Not wanting to dismiss her accomplishments so quickly, I looked up Colleen Hoover in Wikipedia. She started out self-publishing, her bio said. Those words reached out to me like a flashing neon sign on a dreary night. Hadn’t my Zoom class speaker just said, to my dismay, that NO publishing company would ever pick up a book that had been self-published?

Turns out that Colleen’s first venture into writing, a book named Slammed that was written for her mother, was given a five-star review by a book blogger and ended up at No. 8 on The Times list. Shortly afterward Slammed and its sequel Point of Retreat were re-published by Atria Books.

After the success of her early novels, Colleen quit her job and devoted herself to becoming a full-time author. And the rest is literary history. By 2022, she had sold more than twenty million books. I’d be happy to sell twenty thousand.

Three weeks ago, Colleen Hoover, a 44-year-old mother of three who lives in Texas, became—if not my hero—certainly someone worthy of my reading time. I downloaded her novel Verity on my Kindle. Verity is about a female writer who is hired to finish a series by a famous author who is in a coma following a horrific automobile accident. The writer ends up moving in with the bedridden author, her husband, and young son and finds the woman’s unfinished autobiography, which contains twisted and horrifying secrets.

I read a scathing and somewhat humorous review of Verity a couple of days ago. “The story was captivating . . . everything else sucked,” the reviewer began and then wrote thirteen more paragraphs of complaints. I laughed at the review but found the book entertaining. Who am I to criticize a book that sold three million copies globally?

So, as I prepare to publish my next mystery—Under the Sand—I’ll be hoping to channel my inner Colleen Hoover. Not so much her plot lines or writing style, but her determination. Oh, and her success.

 

The Print’s Too Fine

Being a reader isn’t easy. I was trying to work my way through the latest mystery for my Sleuth Book Club meeting later this month when I gave up. The book, Descent by Tim Johnston, is well-written and riveting. The darn print is too small.

I feel like Amazon should warn you about the type size when you order a book. Or give you the option for larger print than the bottom line of the eye chart. Since they did neither, I ended up ordering a second version through my Kindle. Tim can thank me anytime he wants for buying two copies of his book.

Several years ago, a friend told me that one of my newly published books had print that was too small. He has trouble seeing out of one eye, so I was sympathetic to his dilemma. I took note for my next mystery. At least if the print can’t be larger, the spacing between lines can be bigger, I reasoned. I guess my next book worked for him because he didn’t complain. However, since he is a pre-reader and receives an advance copy in 12-point type, maybe he stuck the published version on his shelf unopened.

I get it that publishers and printing companies want to squeeze a book into the smallest possible space. Paper and printing are expensive. Big books can be intimidating to some readers. The smaller the book the less you have to charge. Since the average author can expect to receive less than 25 percent from her or his labor and everyone else splits up the rest for doing little or nothing, what do the non-writers care if I have to squint to see the fine prose.

Why not try an audible book, you say? For Christmas I crawled out of the Stone Age and ordered myself a pair of AirPods. I haven’t opened the box. I want to use and enjoy them like all those folks you see with white things sticking out of their ears. But I’ve been busy and just a little intimidated. Maybe this weekend.

And, frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about having words blaring into my ears for the better part of a day. I like my quiet. My hearing has always been among my best features. As my eyes give out with age, I can at least count on my ears. If iPhones and computers have ruined my eyes as my doctor likes to imply, should I let AirPods do the same to my ears?

I see that Descent has downloaded to my Kindle. Chapter 4 here I come.

My United Healthcare Debacle

To Brian Thompson, the CEO of United Healthcare. Sir, your company needs to get its act together!

For years I have been on the Medicare Advantage plan and have had no issues. When I moved to Sarasota in December, I decided to “upgrade” my Medicare supplemental plan. Advantage has been lovely and cheap, but I worried that it would not be helpful if I should have a major health event—similar to the stroke I am about to experience after dealing with United Healthcare for the last two weeks.

I chose Plan G and paid for it in full for 2024. When I went to the United Healthcare website on January 2 to check out my new plan, it informed me I had no medical coverage. Five calls later I was assured it was just a glitch in the system. No worries, five people told me, you have medical coverage.

Today, my dermatologist office called to say that I had no medical coverage for my Wednesday appointment.

“Oh,” I responded. “I just changed to Plan G. Here’s the new number from my card.”

Silence, then “still doesn’t show you have coverage,” the woman required.

Grumbling on my part, followed by “I’ll call and get back to you.”

Today, is Martin Luther King Day. If the revered man had lived long enough to deal with Medicare and United Healthcare, I’m guessing he would have had issues at one point. It’s part of the great medical conspiracy to add suffering to whatever illness we are experiencing. Since he’s no longer with us, we celebrate and honor his memory and United Healthcare is closed as a result.

No problem, I thought, as I called back my dermatologist office and explained the situation.

“I’ll just pay for the appointment myself until we can get this straightened out,” I said.

“Can’t do that,” the woman said. “We have a contract and if you self-pay we could lose our contract.”

“You have to be kidding me?”

“We can cancel your appointment and you can reschedule,” she continued.

“Look, this is already a rescheduling of the appointment you said I didn’t have when I showed up at your office three months ago,” I responded. It’s a good thing I went to Zumba this morning because my blood pressure was surely on the rise. “I’ll call their office tomorrow and get this straightened out. Don’t cancel my appointment!”

I hung up, pounded on my desk, and screamed obscenities, scaring my man who was down the hall. He appeared quickly at my office door.

“It’s United Healthcare, Medicare, AARP, doctors’ offices . . . are these people put on Earth to make our lives a living hell?” I asked. He had no answer for me. I didn’t need one.

So, Brian Thompson, whatever you are doing on this holiday, I hope you are relaxing and enjoying yourself. When you get back in your office tomorrow, I expect you to straighten out the mess that your company has created to ruin my day . . . and possibly the days of other of your 48 million customers. Please get your act together.

 

 

A Fateful Day in Sherwin-Williams

Alex, the paint store manager, and I shared a moment today.

I was returning from a visit to our new home in Sarasota when I decided, on impulse, to stop at the Sherwin-Williams store nearby instead of driving to my usual paint shop, now 90 minutes away. We are getting ready to sell our condo, and I wanted to do some touch-up.

I would have had buckets of leftover paint from our recent remodeling. But after Hurricane Ian, when everyone was in the mood to get rid of “stuff,” I pitched about eight gallons from our storage area in the garage.

So, now I needed small cans of colors that were at least two years old. In these days of rapid obsolescence, two years is the equivalent of 20 in product life. Who knew what I would find.

I only wanted one can of “satin.” The other two had to be “flat.” Alex was helpful, but I could also tell he was skeptical about being able to produce what I needed when I couldn’t even give him paint numbers.

“How about I call my former store in Port Charlotte? They’ll know,” I said.

To my amazement, the store’s number was still in my phone and was workable even though the business had been sold and undergone a name change. Soon I was on the phone with Bill. I explained the situation and told him I was sure he would have a paint record for our condo. And if he did, I needed him to share it with the manager at the new store. He agreed, and I handed the phone to Alex.

There was a minute of conversation when all of a sudden, a strange look crossed Alex’s face. “Is this my Bill,” he said, shocked and apparently delighted at the same time.

I didn’t hear what Bill had to say because Alex put the phone to his ear and chatted for several minutes.

When the paint issues had been resolved and the call ended, Alex told me the story:

Bill had mentored young Alex when he started working for Sherwin-Williams. The two men had been close and then one day Bill left, saying in his resignation letter that Alex should have his own store to manage. Time had passed and the two had lost track of each other. Until today.

Alex told me that he and Bill would be talking later. As he prepared the cans of paint for me, he could barely contain his enthusiasm – and his gratitude. He thanked me profusely for reuniting him and his mentor and for bringing back a meaningful part of his past.

I was moved by his story and glad to be a part of it, although it was not my doing. “I would say fate had a hand in this, wouldn’t you?” He grinned and we shook hands. It was a good day.

Channeling Tracy Bennett

I and three members of my extended family start off each day trying to figure out what is on Tracy Bennett’s mind. Or more specifically, what word she has selected for the popular Wordle puzzle in The New York Times.

Since the game occupies about 10-15 minutes of my morning and keeps me in touch with my daughter, son and ex-husband, Wordle has become an important part of my life. I share the results and comment on my successes and occasional failures with the family and some friends. We bolster each other when a Wordle attempt goes south. And share in the joy of a success – defined as three guesses or less.

Some of my friends post their results on Facebook every day. That seems a little extreme, but who am I to judge what brings them pleasure.

I’d been playing the game for about a year – thanks to my daughter – when I was suddenly curious about who comes up with the daily words. A quick check of the Internet gave me the answer: Tracy Bennett.

Tracy, the article said, had worked as a copy editor for over 20 years and constructed crosswords as a hobby. She applied to be an associate puzzle editor at The New York Times in 2020 and got the job. In November 2022, the Times announced Bennett would be the editor of Wordle, the viral word game.

The accompanying photo was exactly as I would have envisioned Tracy to look. A pleasant face and subdued smile. Gray hair. Glasses with a half-red frame. Late 50s.

I passed the story and photo around to family and friends. We all felt as though we knew her, at least the type. Yesterday, I had a disturbing thought. What if Tracy isn’t a real person but a member of the artificial intelligentsia. I was relieved to discover, based on a couple of interviews, that she is as described, a human being.

A January interview by Erin Clements was a fun read. Check it out. A couple of highlights include the following:

Tracy researches the word choice to make sure it doesn’t have a derogatory secondary meaning that would be hurtful or offensive.

Many of her complaints come from people whose streak has been broken by what they see as an unfair or obscure word. I seem to remember a hue and cry about the word ennui, which I guessed. There were complaints that it was not English but French.  Parer, as in a paring knife, and rupee got the most complaints. Condo was also a problem for some, she reported.

A friend suggested that I start with the word adieu. I tried it this morning and guessed the word on the third try. Tracy says it’s a good strategy but not one she would use. Hmm. When she played the game, she started with trace.

It’s nice to put a face with the game and fun to start my morning channeling what Tracy might be thinking about on any given day. For the upcoming Halloween celebration how about ghost, scary or ghoul? We’ll have to wait and see.

DeSantis’s Unintended (?) Consequences

Before July 1, there were scores of workers replacing the roofs on our condo complex in southeast Florida following Hurricane Ian. Today I counted two.

After four months we are still without a metal roof. Every time it rains our upper-level neighbors, who hail from Canada, get another round of leaks. They’ve been gone all summer and are coming back the last week of October. We’ve already notified them of the situation several times.

“Time to get mad about all the delays and contact the HOA,” we told them six weeks ago. I don’t know if they did, but I can guarantee they will be complaining when they return. Unfortunately, it will probably do no good.

The contractor overseeing the remodeling of some of the condo units told me this morning that the workforce has dropped by 37 percent since Governor Ron DeSantis’s new immigration law went into effect July 1. I don’t know if that’s an accurate number. I couldn’t find confirmation on the Internet. But it’s obvious this law has had an impact – and not necessarily a good one if you are in the construction, farm or landscaping business.

The law put heavy legal requirements on immigrant workers, threatening deportation if an employee is found to be an illegal. No surprise that many of the scattered. The contractor I spoke with knew of three painting crews that disappeared, with some headed for Nebraska.

Not only have the immigrants suffered, but many in Florida will be paying a price for what a governor running for president thought was a good idea on paper.

One can argue that these people shouldn’t be in our country and shouldn’t be hired by companies. But I get it. Try to find people in the existing workforce willing to do these often-unpleasant jobs.

I could go so far as to say that I watched the roofers being taken advantage of before the law took effect. They were being worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day in hellishly hot conditions. But I’m guessing those abuses weren’t taken into consideration when this new law was passed. The bill wasn’t intended to do them any favors.

Perhaps a more thoughtful proposal would have considered the needs of Florida businesses and residents while getting the illegals documented as being in the country and providing them with work permits. Couldn’t there have been a win-win worked out?

Yes, I’m upset about the number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border. Yes, I blame the current administration for the 7.5 million who have invaded the U.S. since President Biden took office. I am also critical of past administrations and Congress for not tackling this complicated issue sooner.

Turning a blind eye to country-critical problems is something the House and Senate are good at. Resolving dress code issues they can handle in a week.

It’s always been that way. It only hits home when your roof starts leaking and almost everyone paid minimal wages to fix it has vamoosed.

 

That Pesky Covid’s Back and We’ve Got It

Thank you Covid for making a return visit after our first introduction to you. We are so excited to see you and the baggage you bring with you: headaches, runny nose, nagging cough and that general feeling of ennui.

Your first visit was three summers ago. The construction worker remodeling our condo informed us that he had a “cold” but kept on working. We were naïve. We believed him.

That visit from you resulted in the same uncomfortable symptoms plus a lot of panic. The local clinic recommended an infusion of Regeneron, which we received free of charge at the Venice hospital. We followed that with two vaccinations and three booster shots, plus a lot of mask-wearing.

We have been convinced we are home free. Then this new variant struck and to our surprise all those precautions were for naught. At least that’s what the nurse at the clinic told us yesterday when she called with the test results.

My man was the one who tested positive. Obviously, I can’t be far behind.

Since we tend to stay at home during the long hot summers in Florida, I think I’ve figured out where he picked up this newest unwelcome visitor. The gas station down the street is the meeting center for local workmen looking for coffee and a snack. Ian paid the establishment a visit the other morning to grab a cup of coffee. He noted that the woman behind the counter coughed all over him. My guess is that she was in denial, and now we are paying the price.

The diagnosis meant a cancellation of the rest of this week’s slim activities and maybe next week’s too. As well as a call to the church to let them know that Sunday’s ushers — that’s us — were probably infectious. I told the pastor to use our names when notifying the other members of the congregation that Covid came to church on Sunday. She decided to keep us anonymous. I’m not embarrassed about having Covid again; just annoyed.

I’m still wondering why big government, big pharma and big blowhards can’t seem to get this pesky virus under control. And why people who feel sick don’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. If you figure it out, let me know.

***

While I’m lying low, I’m going to be reading Tangle, the newsletter by my new friend Isaac Saul. It’s a throwback to the good old days when media covered both sides of an issue. You may not agree with Isaac’s view, which he throws in at the end of his coverage of both sides of an issue. Then again, you may. He’s not predictable but always fair. To check him out, go to www.tangle.com.

Banishing Emails, Hillary-Style

I just finished cleaning out 16,271 sent emails quicker than you can say Hillary Clinton.

I’m not sure what motivated this housecleaning of 10-plus years of email responses. Earlier in the week I got rid of more than 4,000 emails – all read I’m proud to say. That’s how it goes sometimes. You start on one closet and before you know it have moved to another. The domino effect.

How did I accumulate so many sent emails, I asked myself when I started the process? I guess it’s like the little things you gather in life that you don’t really notice until they sneak up on you. Like perfume and face cream samples that date back at least 15 years.

Sometimes it’s tough to part with things you think you may need one day. What if I want to go back and re-live a discussion from eight years ago with a friend who died in 2021? It’s satisfying to re-visit, if just for a minute or two, that conversation. In the course of the cleaning, I saw the names of at least 10 people who are no longer with us. It made me sad, but as in real life they were also deleted — though destined to remain in my heart.

I was glad to see some of the names in my emails go. The so-called buddy from 2012 who stopped speaking to me shortly after I moved to Florida. Or maybe I stopped speaking to her. After 11 years, I can’t remember. Anyway, those few “we will be best friends forever” emails have vanished just like our loyalty to each other.

And the man who had big construction ideas for our historic church? The emails imploring him to look into the background of our little island before making changes are now gone. They didn’t do much good at the time. He left the church before his building project was finished. Good riddance to his emails…

At this point, you may be expecting me to produce some particularly poignant or meaningful email that didn’t make the chopping block. Sorry, when I’m in the cleaning mode, nothing is sacred.

What I do know is that within the next several days I will surely regret having chucked an email from 2018 that is particularly relevant to some piece of information I need today. Tough luck for me.

I’m now thinking about tossing the 150 interviews I did for a corporate history book more than a decade ago. At the time the boss suggested I should dump them when I was through with them, which is why they are still on my computer. You never know when you might need something like that. A cleaning project for another time.

***

Under the Sand, my newest novel, is in the hands of a couple of different editors. Early readers, including my partner and my ex-husband, say it’s my best book ever. But you’ll be the judge of that sometime later this year. Have a fun summer.

The Aha Moments Make Life Easier

My son and I were exchanging Wordle scores this morning as we do every day when I experienced one of those aha moments.

It’s amazing how often we track. On occasion, he gets the word in two or three guesses and it takes me five or six or vice versa. But usually, we’re on target. The fun part is the reaching out to him and the little bits of conversation we exchange in the process.

Today’s word (I won’t reveal what it was) was easy once you got it. This time of year, and with temperatures soaring, it wasn’t the first word that came to mind, which is why it took me five tries to figure it out.

I texted my answer to my son with the comment, “Some days when you finally get it, you think gosh that was easy how come I didn’t get it sooner? It’s kind of a metaphor for life, isn’t it?”

It also took him five tries to get the wordle and his response to me was: “Totally a metaphor for life.” To which I responded with a laughing emoji. Funny but true.

I think about those aha moments that stick with you as part of the joy of living. Once you get it, everything seems to go better. Like realizing that you can’t ever talk politics with family members whose point of view is totally different from yours. After that epiphany, it’s all milk and honey.

The second thing that happened this morning that reinforced the value of the aha moment was the weekly boiling of eggs. It was probably 20 years ago that I learned the art of the egg boiling from Gethin Thomas, who at the time was the chef at Cummins Inc. where I worked.

Gethin and his crew prepared delicious meals for the company’s big customers or other dignitaries visiting the Cummins headquarters in Columbus, Indiana. If I was working late, which happened quite a bit, he would bring me leftovers. Fine dining on a desk full of draft press releases.

One evening as he was dropping off a perfectly plated dish, we ended up discussing eggs and those ugly green rims that form during the cooking process.

“Why would you want to serve your family something that looked like that when doing it right will make it so much better?” he asked.

Not waiting for my answer, he proceeded to tell me how to cook the perfect boiled egg. Boil the water, letting the eggs sit out to get closer to room temperature. Stick the eggs in the boiling water for 12 minutes; no longer. When the time is up, pour out the hot water and shock them with ice cubes and cold water in the pot.

The last time I saw a green rim was when my neighbor, who was leaving town for the summer, brought me three boiled eggs she had left over. I’m trying to figure out how to tactfully tell her the Gethin Thomas story when she returns.

Another of my favorite aha moments came during the Tom Hanks movie, Bridge of Spies. It’s a 2015 story, based on fact, about the release of Frances Gary Powers – a convicted CIA pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 – in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a convicted Soviet KGB spy held by the United States.

During the exchange process, the Hanks character says to the Soviet spy, “Are you worried about what will happen to you?” The spy, a likeable character in the movie, says to Hanks: “Will worrying change the outcome?” Or something to that effect.

Sitting in the darkened movie theater and watching that scene had an impact on me. The spy was right. Worrying never changes the outcome. Action might but sitting around and stewing certainly won’t. I’ve tried to adopt that as my mantra: if I can’t change it, I won’t worry about it. Sometimes that even works. Aha.

 

 

 

The Brain Eaters are Here

The lack of rain and with it the growing particles and pollen in the air have made my head feel as though it’s going to explode. I’ve tried pills and nose sprays and nothing is doing the job. My head feels heavy, out of sorts and occasionally dizzy.

Some people might say I’m always a little dizzy. But this time I’m attributing it to my sinuses.

When I had Covid two summers ago, I used a nasal wash that helped me breath even as I felt like I was drowning. I thought I heard that someone did actually drown using a neti pot. It doesn’t sound reasonable but stranger things have happened.

I used an untouched bottle I had left over, and it appeared to do the trick. But in two days it was gone, leaving behind a packet that I could refill myself. Easy-peasy those of you not living in Florida might say. But not so fast. Three or so weeks ago Charlotte County put out a warning, noting the presence of brain-eating amoebas in the tap water. We also have flesh-eating bacteria in our paradisal waters.

Stop laughing. I’m not kidding.

The Florida Department of Health said that one person in the state had contracted the microscopic, single-celled amoeba that can cause infection of the brain and is usually fatal within 24 hours. The amoeba, which is commonly found in warm fresh water, enters the body through the nose. Charlotte County reminded its residents that it was okay to shower as long as they didn’t get so aggressive when they were rinsing off the soap that some of those nasty buggers got up their nose.

My next trick was to goggle the question: Can brain-eating amoeba be killed by boiling water? If I could use boiled tap water and the packet to refill my nose cleaner, I might be able to breathe for another two or three days. Short of that, I’d be seeking a refill from Amazon.

Yes, it said, as long as water is boiled to a temperature of 173 degrees F.

Next question because I must have been looking at the cute guy two desks up when we learned about this in high school chemistry: At what temperature does water boil? 212 degrees F. was the answer.

Wait a minute. Me to my man: “This thing says I can use the tap water as long as it boils at 173 degrees. But the boiling point of water is 212 degrees.”

“Maybe one is Fahrenheit and the other is Celsius,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I responded. “Both numbers have an F after them.”

It struck me that not just on the issue of brain-eating amoebas and boiling water but on so many other things these days we are being led down the old garden path.

Did Covid originate in a lab in Wuhan? Apparently, it did.

Did Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and Mike Pence all have classified documents in their possession when they should not have had? It would seem that way.

Do many elected members of Congress become millionaires in Washington D.C. even though their annual salary only amounts to about $174,000 a year on average? Yep.

Did Bill Clinton have sexual relations with that woman? Umm.

Am I going to use tap water from Charlotte County to treat my sinus condition after I boiled it to beyond 173 degrees? What do you think?

Amazon says my order is on the way.