Friday, July 10, 2020

P.S. Yes, I Quit Social Media and Forgot to Tell You


It's been about five months now so this is old news. I quit social media before COVID-19 first locked us down in the USA. Can you remember back then? 

Leaving Facebook/Twitter/Instagram had been on my mind for about two years. I'd delete the apps from my phone, and promptly put them back on. I liked seeing what everyone was doing and its an excellent diversion from things I should be doing—like really writing. It's extra tough to stay focused on work when you always work at home. You all probably know this since so many more people now have experience with working at home. 

There was an inciting incident. Someone stole photos of a preschooler in my family and used them online. It was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I thought who knows how many other seemingly innocent interactions happen online everyday that someone takes advantage of? Plenty, I'm sure. 


As a writer I've been told countless times that I have to have an online presence. My online presence helped me promote my first published book back in 2013 up to the more recent  memoir on Alzheimer's. It helped me interact with other writers. Many good things have come into my life online. As far as an online presence helping to sell books, I kept track of my sales and my online social media posts about my books for nearly a year and found absolutely no correlation. So I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all my YouTube videos despite losing my blue checks. I've kept my monthly newsletter,  this blog, and my website

After I left social media behind, COVID hit and I worried about people. I did some online stalking. I wish I could say I spent less time on my phone. Total hours on my phone dropped some. It dropped even more when I deleted my YouTube app and stopped entertaining myself with those via my phone.


What I can say is that by being off social media I've gotten more productive. I've taken online classes, webinars, and attended countless ZOOM meetings. I've written an entire book since then. It's in its third draft and will head for story edits soon. Every day I walk for miles. Most days I talk to real people, social distancing but still. Not to mention: writing letters, planting herbs, yoga, language and diction lessons, and I make art. 

Recently a friend asked if I miss Facebook and when am I coming back? I miss people I'd gotten to know online but I definitely don't miss Facebook—not even a little. I've never been a good fit on Twitter. I'm entirely too happy and it reminded me of mobs with pitchforks long before we started talking about Cancel Culture. Instagram, dang, I do miss Instagram. What's not to love about Instagram? Do I feel more in control of my life? Hah, I don't think anyone can say that in these times. I'm content and productive. It feels good. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Time Travel and Screenplays—Life in the Days of COVID-19

The Best Time Travel Movie

The Lake House is on Netflix. It's the one with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. I like to rewatch time travel movies. Trying to keep the story straight is like doing a Sudoku puzzle. It shouldn't be that hard, but neither should daylight savings time.

Usually we're only talking about two timelines. In The Lake House I have trouble following. Wait, she's from the future. Follow. Kate's from the future. *ten minutes later* Hold up! If Kate is from the future by two years and Alex is from two years ago and they share the same dog how does that work? And why are Kate's doctor co-worker friend with the Dutch accent, and her mother with the Israeli accent so easy for me to mix up? The first time I saw it I thought it was the same person and I was so confused.

The thing about time travel movies is some focus on the how and some like The Lake House go for a cause and effect situation. This happened. Is it the mailbox or the magic dog? Don't ask questions. Focus. The doctor friend has great hair, the mom has great lines. Pay attention. After The Lake House I had to watch About Time for the umpteenth time. The time travel isn't fancy. It's dark closet, close eyes, clench fists and voila. That movie is about what you DO with the ability, not HOW it works, or even whatever The Lake House is about. Plant more trees?

My favorite time travel movie is the Terminator. All that action totally wins time travel movies. T2 and Arnold's whole, "Come with me if you want to live," in the psychiatric hospital with Sarah Connor and young John Connor, is stellar. I never have trouble following those time changes and updates but throw in the dog paw prints in The Lake House and I'm all, okay so her dog from the future goes to the past and walks through the paint. No, her dog from the past goes to the future and his paw prints match the old paint ones? 

Is the mailbox a wormhole?

It must be. They never get any mail other than from each other and people still sent mail in 2004 and 2006. I know. I was there. I pay more attention to movie screenplays now that I've been writing them. Screenplays are mostly action and dialogue. They're fun to write but you have to plan them carefully. By nature I'm a pantser. A story idea hits me and I open a new document and start writing. It unfolds in some ways for me as if I'm reading it. I love first drafting a novel.

A few drafts in I want to set fire to it but I'm stubborn enough to keep at it and change things that aren't working. Many writers write a plot outline first. I've done that. The problem is I don't follow them. I like to be surprised and there's a school of thought that if the writer knows what's going to happen as she writes that the reader will know too.

Let's not get into that argument. I figure write the way it works for you. It's your baby.

Screenplays are different 

Screenplays are much shorter than a book. Pretty much every action and word is forwarding the story in some way. Books are supposed to be like that mostly. The difference being they're fluffier. There's juxtaposition. Thoughts. Philosophies. Description. You can have some of those things in a screenplay but they must be lean and purposeful right out of the gate and there isn't enough ROOM to show everything the book says.

I don't get the same meeting of the minds in a movie like I do in a book. There's a voice in a book that's absent in a movie. An author cozies up with you. When it's done right you don't even notice the voice in your ear. That meeting of minds is absent in a movie. It's possible I am missing it. I do get stuck contemplating the dog, the mailbox, and occasionally mixing up actors. I still like The Lake House. I'll bet that screenplay was written by a pantser. I see vast creativity weaving through it that an outline would abhor.

We're talking films here not books

If we were to talk favorite time travel books, I'd lean toward Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. NOT the movie. The book. There's a huge difference. The only thing they didn't change was the title. The book is gritty and punk rock. The movie is practically Hallmark. I say that but I've watched it and enjoyed it several times. It's simply not in the same league or category as the book.

I get why books change when they're made into movies now that I'm writing screenplays. They're being translated and things are lost in translation. Readers go to movies and whine about what is different and missing in the book to screen adaptation. I see why that's inevitable. You're showing showing showing in a movie. In a book you are transmitting feelings with far more words and abstract thoughts than you can use in a movie. Inner monologue is completely gone.

In a movie or television show someone is putting out vast amounts of money that has to be recouped on. Financiers expect a return on their investment. There are more cooks in the kitchen tasked with making that happen. As I see it movies are made for market. Books are secrets, whispers, and revelations. There's older, deeper magic there.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Diversity in Reading—and Black Lives Matter

Keep Going by Austin Kleon: I've read this several times and now keep it on my read pile.

We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union: Because it caught my eye in a bookstore months ago.

when they call you a terrorist a black lives matter memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele: This too caught my eye in a bookstore a few months ago. Also, diversity in reading helps make sense of the world.

A Journal of the Welsh Experience by Bailey Karfelt: This is a privately published little gem and not available for purchase. It's about wild outdoor adventures during a study abroad in Wales. 

I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi: This year I promised myself I'd read books on finances and economics. I don't want to be rich, just not financially stupid.

Dark Energy Poems by Feirstein: A few months ago I went to a bookstore in Cambridge, MA and this little gem insisted on going home with me. 

War with the Newts by Karel Capek: Twice now I've read this book halfway through. It was given to me by a Czech friend (she said it's a good translation). Karel Capek is the writer who coined the word robot. It's absolutely my thing which is why I have to start over every time I put it down and don't pick it up again. A sea captain finds a group of underwater humanoid creatures to help him in an economic endeavor. Circa 1936.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan: A fictional story about an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. He's given to his master's brother who is a naturalist and abolitionist. 

Written in History letters that changed the world by Simon Sebag Montefiore: This book though! I picked it up at the Harvard bookstore in Cambridge, MA. It contains letters of people throughout history. Alexander Hamilton to Augustus. Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera. Hitler to Mussolini. Roosevelt to Churchhill. GANDHI to HITLER. And on and on. It is brilliant. I read it a couple letters at a time. 

Boundaries by Cloud/Townsend: I've reread this book at least twenty times. It's time for another go. It's all marked up and full of bookmarks. Highly recommend. 

The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky: It's heralded as an energetic and hilarious novel made more important by the final thawing of the long Communist winter in the country once known as Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic). It came highly recommended, a gift from a friend.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Let's use Toni Morrison's description, "The language of BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, like Coate's journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading."

Becoming by Michelle Obama: I read most of this book when it was STOLEN by a friend and I recently had the opportunity to steal it back. As you can see from this list and photo, I like to read physical books. 

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson: I love this book about Da Vinci. We all know of him but the details really grab me. He finished almost nothing and had such enthusiasm for everything. I find him fascinating and I read half of this months ago. It fell behind the shelf and I just found it again.

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo: "Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism." This book was recommended in a screenwriting class I was taking. I couldn't get a hard copy so I put it on my kindle app. 

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith: A Novel from Hell's Library. A friend wanted me to read this so we could talk about it. The tagline is "Join the Library. Raise Hell." It's on my kindle app. My friend wanted me to read it so much she sent it to me. I love having friends who book. 

As you can see, I love to read. My TBR list is much larger than this, but these are on my immediate read pile. I don't know how long until I finish them because I'm also second drafting a novel I'm writing and I put my writing first. Soon. I'll review some here. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Keening Under the Strawberry Moon—Life in the Time of COVID-19

COVID 19, travel, travel cancellation,
Nina's Pansion Alonissos, Greece

Today I won't be leaving The Shire here in New York to fly to Detroit to then fly to a different airport in New York and on to Athens, Greece

Tomorrow I won't be sleeping at the Sofitel Hotel that's only a quick walk from baggage claim. I won't be grabbing a taxi into downtown Athens to walk up to the Acropolis. I won't be darting into the Acropolis Museum to see the Caryatids or to pick up a notebook from the gift shop.

Tomorrow night I won't have a Greek Salad for dinner in my favorite taverna in Plaka. I won't have a glass of retsina and see the Strawberry Moon—the full moon in June—rising over the Acropolis. I won't meander back to the Sofitel across from the Athens Airport and sleep the deep untroubled, pre-COVID 19, sleep of a woman heading for her favorite writing retreat.

The day after tomorrow I won't wake up early and hurry back to the Athens Airport. I won't greet the barista behind the counter of Starbucks with Kalimera and enjoy a chai latte and banana before boarding my flight on Olympic Air to the island of Skiathos. 

The day after tomorrow I won't crowd into a taxi with four strangers and race to the port to catch my ferry to Alonissos. I won't sit outside on the deck in the sun and wind and watch the ice blue ferry wake, hoping to see dolphins in it.

The day after tomorrow I won't arrive in Patitiri, the Port of Alonissos, that quiet magical island that I dream of all year long. I won't drag my suitcase down the ramp dodging trucks and cars and hurrying to hug some of my favorite people in the world. I won't be greeted by Chrisoula. I won't see Julie's white hat. I won't haul my suitcase up four or five flights of stairs to my favorite room in the pansion overlooking the port. 

I won't walk up the steep hill to the shops for vegetables, olive oil, olives, and feta. I won't buy a pot of fresh lavender to put on my balcony where I won't write every night. I won't sit with the women writers I call my kula every day and write, or listen to them read their writing out loud. 

There will be no carrying bottles of water up all those flights of stairs every day. There will be no greeting familiar faces with Yassos. There will be no hiring a taxi to take me to Leftos Gialos, my favorite beach on the island, no welcome dinner at Elenas with tables scattered inside an olive grove while the Aegean touches the shore. I won't greet Yaya who makes the spinach pies and sits beneath a giant olive tree in her scarf and wishes a friendly kalisperra to every guest.

There will be no donkeys, no hikes up the donkey trail to Kali Thea, no massages or yoga with Bibi and Lee. There will be no sunsets in Old Town. No writing tucked in chairs beneath cascades of bougainvillea. No losing track of time and staying so late I have to call my favorite taxi driver and ask please, parakalo, don't make me walk the donkey trail in the dark.

Billy the Seal may very well slide up onto the port beach and steal someone's lounge chair but it won't be mine. There will be no thundering music at The Drunk Seal, no gathering with friends at Carolis for olives and sparkling water, no midnight gelatto. 

Yet, I've had that, because despite COVID-19, I am the luckiest writer you never heard of. Next year maybe I'll go back and I will once more wallow in my perfect paradise. Only not this year and for today, tomorrow, and maybe the day after tomorrow, I'm going to allow myself to miss that. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Gluten-Free Crustless Quiche Recipe—Life in the Time of Coronavirus

writer, cooking, fast, hack, karfelt
My gluten-free crustless quiche

Cooking doesn't interest me like writing—though eating good food admittedly does—so if there is a hack or a shortcut to be had in the cooking world, I've probably found it. I've been making a quiche nearly every week since lockdown began. It lasts several days making a quick breakfast, lunch, or even dinner with a side salad.

This is a crustless gluten-free quiche recipe I've had for years. Long ago I had a handwritten recipe for it from someone somewhere, but it's been lost for ages . For some time I've been winging it using only my memory. You can put whatever you like inside for fillings. For this recipe I'm making Quiche Lorraine using Gruyere Cheese, bacon, chives (freeze dried), and a pinch of nutmeg. 

The amount of eggs you'll need depends on the size of your pie pan (does it have higher sides making it deeper?) and the size of your eggs (small, large, extra large). Guesstimate lower so you don't overfill your pie pan. You don't want it to cook over.

My Quiche Recipe

8/9 large eggs
1 Cup 4% Cottage Cheese
2 Tbsp. melted butter

Preferred Fillings & Spices

~8 oz of other cheese (grated)
Five slices cooked chopped bacon
Chives (I use freeze dried)
Spray pie pan with cooking oil.
Preheat oven to 350° F

Mix the first three ingredients in a blender.

Eggs. Cottage Cheese. Melted butter.

Blend on liquefy.

After you've blended the eggs, cottage cheese, and melted butter in the blender, gently and briefly blend in your spices. For Quiche Lorraine I add three heaping tablespoons of freeze-dried chives and just a pinch of nutmeg. Nutmeg can be a wonderful secret ingredient or a hideous what were you thinking one. Less is more with nutmeg. 

Pour just enough of the mixture from the blender to cover the bottom of your sprayed pie pan. Add your cooked, chopped bacon.

Add shredded cheese. 

Sometimes I'm a cheese snob and grate my own. Sometimes not. For Quiche Lorraine I use Gruyere or Swiss.

Slowly add the rest of your egg mixture over your fillings. You want to cover all of the cheese rather than leave it on top. This prevents extreme browning. Since you're not using a crust you have to use caution to prevent over-browning. 

(I used 8 eggs here.)

Check your quiche several times during cooking. Normally I set a ten minute timer, a twenty minute timer, and a thirty minute timer. Cooking it at 350° F, if it's browning in ten minutes reduce temperature to 325° for the duration (though you might have to add another ten minutes if you do lower the temperature). It does tend to poof up a bit like a souffle while cooking. It'll flatten during cooling. Using the same oven at the same temperature I've had to alter the timing/temperature, go figure. It tends to overcook rather than undercook and sets up nicely.

If anyone finds out I'm making this I usually wind up making two, one to share even in the time of a pandemic. 

It's yum. I promise.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reading All Seven Harry Potter Books in a Row—Life in the Time of Coronavirus

Writer brain, braincation, thinking, story
Sweet Escapism my friend

Escapism is why I decided to reread all of the Harry Potter books in succession. It didn't take me very long to read them on account of the fact that I did little else, plus I didn't have to wait for J.K. Rowling to finish writing them this time.

The virus chaos has been taking its toll around here, so I decided to get OUT of that mess by going to Hogwarts again.


It worked. I'm happy to report the series by J.K. Rowling has as much magic as it ever did. I liked whatever book I was on better than the last, and I didn't want to do anything else while I was deep into them. If I had to do anything else the past two weeks, I did it with a book in hand. It wasn't easy. My copies didn't all hold up to the test of time. Broken bindings dropped clumps of pages in my path and so what if I burned more dinners than usual? Who can eat in the middle of a war against evil anyway?

Chocolate isn't food. It's magic. 

The most important thing about reading the Harry Potter books is that once you get to the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, you need to have a bar of chocolate! It's just WRONG to read that book without any chocolate. I suffered.

It's also wrong to endure a pandemic without any chocolate to ward off those Coronavirus Dementors. By the time I got to the last book, the Easter bunny—looking a lot like an Instagram shopper coming from Target—brought me a Lindt dark chocolate bunny (it's the only gluten free one I could find!).

After I finished reading all the books, I reread the last couple chapters of The Deathly Hallows (the seventh and last one) a couple of times. I did NOT want it to end. Despite all of the information provided I needed more! For instance, what happened to Voldemort's body? SPOILER ALERTS FROM HERE ON OUT! They left it separate from the other bodies at Hogwarts, but my mind kept going back to things like, they'd better be careful not to bury him somewhere so Death Eaters can make a shrine of it.

Details matter!

In my mind I decided to fan-fiction an ending for my personal satisfaction. It was much more satisfying than leaving Hogwarts only to return to Coronavirus. After much thought on how to get rid of Voldemort's body, I decided that Professor McGonagall should transfigure him into a toothpick, pick him up with a handkerchief (she wouldn't want to touch him even as a toothpick), toss both the toothpick and handkerchief into the air and cremate both with a flash of fire so hot that not even ashes would remain. It is a waste of a perfectly good hankie, I admit.

From there I thought about what Harry would do next. After everything he's been through, he's got to be worn out completely. Hermione will probably want to head for Australia and fix her parent's memories, remember she altered them by wiping all memories of having a daughter and sent them away to protect them from the Death Eaters? Maybe she could spend a year down under snorkeling the reefs and visiting New Zealand with Mum and Dad. Once I got thinking about these things I thought there's likely to be a reward from The Ministry of Magic for capturing Voldemort. I'm thinking a million galleons would be a tidy sum. Harry, being the fair soul that he is, would surely split it with Hermione and Ron. Let's face it, they helped and it would mean a lot to Ron.

Avoid Reality!

Something that stuck with me about the books is the wrap up chapter. Remember nineteen years later Harry and Ginny are taking their kids to catch the Hogwarts Express? Hermione and Ron are there with their kids. We all wanted that happily ever after ending, but after reading that I was left with feelings of hmmm. They all married their person from school? I get it. Even after investing a whole lot of time thinking about that I decided that ending makes sense.  After all the main characters have been through maybe no one else would really understand them after enduring that war on Voldemort. Harry, who's never wanted fame, would never be able to trust that future friends are real or influenced by his reputation. No one else will really get them.

But in my mind I wanted to give them time in those nineteen years before they wind up all together together, to think about things, explore options, and make sure it's what they want.

That's how I ended up deciding that Malfoy would run a chain of coffee shops.

Yeah, my Harry Potter friends are already ripping into me about that one. But once the name Starlucks hit me, it became Draco's financial empire. After the Ministry had their way with his family fortune based on ill-gotten gains, he had to do something for money. Sure, he may have stolen the idea from Luna Lovegood, but he's making a fortune on Butter Beer with a Froth of Felix Felicis.
S.R. Karfelt
It gives you about ten minutes of good luck and makes Starlucks stores popular to hang around due to their cheerful atmosphere. Even Hermione, who still can't stand Malfoy even years later, frequents the Starlucks off the lobby at The Ministry of Magic. She likes the non-magical but ridiculously strong coffee called the Muddud.

Draco came up with that one himself.

Yes, I've put a whole lot of thought into Malfoy's wildly successful chain of coffee shops. Several locations, Diagon Ally/Hogsmeade/Beaubatons have evening hours. They offer such popular specialties like the Parry Hotter. It's popular with young men because it makes men temporarily hotter than they really are. The Hairgrid is big with bridal parties. It gives the drinker a lovely unmanscaped face of facial hair for a couple of hours. Young women out for a night with their girlfriends like it because they get hit on less, and they can enjoy their friends' company for the evening.

Sometimes a writer brain comes in handy during a stay-at-home pandemic, even when we're not using it on our OWN stories. I could do this for the next two weeks, except I'm running dangerously low on chocolate and Froth of Felix Felicis is nowhere to be had what with all of the Coronavirus Dementors here in New York.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Why I Took A Hammer to a Bottle of Opcon-A Bausch + Lomb Eyedrops—Life in the Time of Coronavirus

how do you open a bottle of Opcon A Bausch + Lomb eyedrops

It's not like it's getting to me (it is), the whole COVID-19 Coronavirus thing. I'm in the current epicenter, but I'm deep in the forests of the shire. It's far from New York City. It's a nice place to be on lock-down, if you have to be on lock-down. I can get Instacart here, so I don't have to venture far very often. Plus, I write, so I can do that from home no worries—except I'm deep into rereading the entire Harry Potter series and not writing a thing.

Escapism, just do it. Fantasy has never been more crucial than now. 

My other big stress reducer has been yoga. I'm not very good at it. In fact the only pose I know I can do properly is the Corpse Pose. It's what it sounds like, sprawling flat on your back and not moving. I do that pose a lot. Sometimes I do it for half of my allotted yoga time.

Whatever works for you.

For the first time in weeks the sun has shone here in the shire. I spent hours outside. Most of it was spent dragging dead tree limbs out of my yard and throwing them into the woods. At some point I wondered why all those tree limbs were in my yard. There's always some in the spring, but this was a bit absurd. I noticed that the bark was falling off a good many of the trees. It lay in strips around the base. I asked google, wtf is up with my trees? Google said, they have a fatal Ash Tree problem. They'll need to be cut down. Your Elm Trees are goners too. Sucks to be you. There goes my personal backyard forest. It's like Sauron going through the shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings series (in the books, they skipped that part in the movie) and killing all the green things.

After realizing my trees are dead, I got a cold drink and sat outside looking at my doomed woods. That's when I realized that about a trillion little black bugs were crawling all over me. I took it well (totally freaked, all I can say is that I didn't light myself on fire, but I did consider it).

It's always the little things that break you.

You know how you think you're handling things just great/not so terribly? You may even have been cleaning and organizing your house with all this extra time on your hands? Then you walk into the bathroom in the middle of the night and there's a FREAKING cockroach in there? So you calmly think, well, I've been cleaning so much that's how you get cockroaches (I've always suspected this). Anyway, you're a together person so you pick up a bottle of shampoo and slam it down onto said roach so hard that:

  • The bottle cracks, blows apart, and shampoo flies everywhere.
  • So does said roach.
  • Your entire arm goes numb.
  • Your husband wakes up and yells, ARE YOU OKAY? WHAT WAS THAT?
  • Since he's up anyway, you discuss the possibility of moving RIGHT NOW.

At least it's spring, nice and early thanks to climate change.

The thing is, spring hates you. Every year spring has tried to kill you. You can't breathe in the spring. You sneeze into your elbow all day and at night you try not to drown in your own sludge, and there are no tissues left to be had in the world. BUT, Wegmans has allergy eyedrops so you can at least stop scratching the eyes out of your head.

You order them on Instacart. It's popular now so you have to wait a couple days for delivery. That's no sacrifice, I mean big deal boo hoo, you have to wait for your groceries. That's such a first world pandemic problem. You are not allowed to bitch about it. Wow, do you look forward to those eyedrops arriving though. Yay, Instacart, because they end up coming an entire day earlier than expected!

That's when it happens. 

I'd ordered the tiny multi-pack of eyedrops. That way I could have an extra for my office. Life is so good. I made myself put the groceries away first. My husband helped. He's the best, even though he was doing it all wrong. I mansplained the proper way to unpack groceries in the time of a pandemic to him. (If you think a woman can't mansplain, well, I beg to differ and I think he'd back me up on this one.) He didn't hold this against me when I later found where he was hiding and asked for his assistance in getting my eyedrops open. 

Keep in mind that I'd already been at it for a good twenty minutes, including using pliers and getting on google. Google is a know-it-all BFF sometimes. This time google said, here's the reviews from tons of other people who can't get it open either, stupid. Those reviews said things like, "it can't be done" and "good luck with that".

My long-suffering husband stopped what he was doing to help. This is a guy who does NOTHING half-assed. If he's going to close a bottle or jar he's going to close it like a freaking OLYMPIAN. That means he can also open them with no effort. It's both embarrassing and helpful when he uses two fingers to easily open a bottle I can't and pats me on the head. (I'm joking about the pat, but he might try it if he didn't know he could lose a finger.)

My Kahtar-like husband couldn't get it open either!

That's when I got the other bottle of eyedrops. After having gone at the first bottle with pliers and my personal terminator, the cap was striped and not going to open without a saw. I was thinking about a saw, but decided to try the other bottle first. Same thing. Rinse and repeat. 

By now I was saying all the words. Hubby had disapparated or gotten his invisibility cloak out (Harry Potter reference). Something like that. For some reason he vanishes when I start saying all the words. I slunk off to my office and was mad for a minute. Then I looked at those bottles and thought, like hell dammit. I went back out, got my hammer—yeah, just like Thor—and I went out back on the stoop and beat the ever-loving IF YOU SEE KAY out of it. 

When liquid started splashing onto the concrete stoop, I knew I HAD WON. HAH! The cap came right off. No worries. If you need help opening your Opcon-A Bausch + Lomb eyedrops, be sure to rotate the bottle as you beat the hell out of the lid with a hammer. The plastic is mallable and won't give, you're flattening whatever is holding it down on the inside of the cap. 

It was annoying, but rather satisfying to hammer that cap off.

Maybe I should add hammering stuff to my mental coping with a pandemic list. By the way, the product seems to be helping quite a bit. The bad thing is it dilated my pupils and now I can't see up close very well. I may have overdosed on it by squirting way too much into my eyes during my victory celebration. The other problem is that I guess I need to store it in the refrigerator now. For some reason the cap won't close tightly. What's up with that, Bausch + Lomb?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Nothing Normal to See Here—Life in the Time of Coronavirus

My eye has been twitching for two weeks now. How's yours? Today I left my cellphone on the charger and I'm not looking at it or the news. Unplugging has become mandatory. I'm on lock-down here in the shire. This is week number three. I'm in as good of a position as anyone can be. I live deep in the forest. There are places to walk where I don't see anyone else. But I am living in the epicenter. The shire is in New York. 

During the first week of lock-down I cleaned more than usual. I ordered stuff on Amazon so I could organize my life. I had grand plans. I bought the stuff and WAXED MY OWN ARMPITS. Don't do that. I destroyed a bathroom. The wax got rock hard. I couldn't yank it back off. I mean you only have one hand, the other is in the air with wax under it. It's an angle thing, not to mention the fear factor. I chased my husband down. Help. He's great and very scientific no matter what weird thing I throw in his path. But he didn't want to hurt me so he pulled it off nice and slow. Yeah, ouch.

It's been a big writer thing that an NPR article promoted a National Emergency Library offering free ebooks. Isn't that nice of them? Writers everywhere were like, er, did you just pirate all of my books and give them away? Free stuff is great and I'm all for free stuff. My books are available at the library. The difference being that the library buys your books to give them away. This story is the tip of the iceberg on why so many writers/artists give up. This is why I've known authors with multiple books on the New York Times bestseller list who sell Plexus on the side or quit to take a job at Office Max. We have bills too. Though I looked over the list and was like, WHAT? Why aren't my books on here? They're on all the top pirated sites! What am I? Chopped liver?

Nothing makes sense right now, but I have found a few things that have helped. Instacart is epic for having your groceries delivered right to your home. It makes life easier and I tip the shopper big for working through this tough time. They definitely have earned hazard pay. I am reading, not the piles of non-fiction I have waiting, but I'm rereading Harry Potter. I didn't download it for free. I dragged out the copies my kids read. I'm on the Order of the Phoenix now. These old Scholastic copies sure did not stand the test of time! The softcovers are yellowed and brittle and the spines on the hardcovers have fallen apart. It doesn't matter much, they're still full of magic and escapism. 

I'm doing yoga and working out lightly. My energy level is too low for much else. So I'm allowing myself to do what I can and let everything else go. I'm rereading the unpublished fourth and fifth FOREVER, The Constantine's Secret. It is available in softcover and ebook. 
Covenant Keeper books I've written. Eventually I'll clean them up and move the big slow wheels along to get them to you. I love that some of you have asked about them. I've not forgotten. I know exactly what Kahtar is up to at all times. I've tried to shove him to the back of my mind as I worked on a big Alzehimer's project the past months. Now that project is on hold due to the virus. It's easier to spend time with Kahtar now anyway, rather than Alzheimer's, so once more I've turned my writer energy to that world. The third book is out if you haven't read that one.

I hope you've found something that helps you endure, and that you're not putting too much pressure on yourself. This pandemic is traumatic. Be nice to you, and each other. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today I Spent Five Hours on Hold with United Airlines to Cancel My Trip to Italy—Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

saffi karfelt, stephanie karfelt, italy, travel, coronavirus

This past weekend I flew to visit a sick friend. The airports were business as usual. Other than if someone sneezed. Then they got the death glare and hisses of indignation. A woman asked to borrow the little hand sanitizer I keep hanging on the side of my purse—it's a mom thang—telling me someone had sneezed on her. In a shuttle going between terminals in Washington DC a pilot sneezed on me. He tried to cover his mouth but it was one of those kind that sneak up on you. I get that because I have photic sneeze. It might be a blue-eyed thing and according to 23andMe DNA results it's a genetic thing, but if I look into the sun or get the rays hitting my eyes sideways it induces a violent sneeze. So I realize that sometimes it happens.

Still, dang it, cootie boy cover your beak!

All in all I follow coronavirus math, try to be smart, and always remember Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Death of the Red Masque. Moral of the story? You can run, but you can't hide, and like it or not we are in this together.

That last part is why I decided in the end to cancel my trip to Italy. For a good part of the past year I've been prepping to attend a writing workshop there. It's one that I was so lucky to get into. I've been spending a good amount of time huddled in my office writing away in preparation for it. Hours went into shopping for a cheap flight, hotels before and after the workshop, ferries, etc. Eventually I got it all done.

My round trip flight to Italy only cost just over $100. That's on account of my poor husband saying, "Hey, Saff, you can use my airline miles if you think it'll help." What I heard was, "Hey, Saff, let me leave you alone with my airline miles HELP YOURSELF." That's how I wound up with several "free" flights, two of them international.

Life does not get any better than that.

I just hadn't figured coronavirus into it. 

Because they cancelled my writing workshop. In a world where people are sick and some are dying, I know it's not a big thing but it was for me and I had to grieve about it for a few days. At first I thought I'm just going to go by myself to Italy. I'd purchased insurance, but it wasn't going to cover my prepaid non-refundable hotels or my "free" flight. Then I read some articles on protecting the herd. Namely, just because you're one of the healthy people that the virus probably won't hurt much, you're still spreading it. That means you could spread it to your sick friends, your grandmother, or someone else.

We're in it together. Like in The Masque of the Red Death, we can go on with our lives and ignore it, but it's still going to be there. So I spent my five hours on hold with freaking United Airlines, three in the morning and two more in the evening when they didn't actually do what they said they were going to do in the morning. I went to my favorite hiking place after and hiked for a couple of hours, waved at fellow hikers, and admired their doggos and grieved the loss of Italy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe—by Heather Webber

The Glitter Globe

Magical Realism is a delicious little genre. I have a slightly scientific background and a respect for logic so it suits my tastes. It's a type of story set in a real world setting with fantastical elements and there are four or five characteristics a book is supposed to have to be called Magical Realism. For our purposes let's say it's realistic with fantastic or mythological components to make a point.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber reminds me of Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns—if it was mixed with the slightest sprinkling of the fantastical, like cinnamon atop a pie and less is more in this case.

Doctor in training Anna Kate has been left the Blackbird Cafe in Wicklow, Alabama by her recently deceased grandmother. In order to be able to sell it and get back to her medical training, Anna Kate has to work there for a couple of months. 

It's a popular cafe in a dying small town. Residents have been going there for generations for a slice of the famous blackbird pie, which is made of fruit NOT blackbirds.


At midnight exactly twenty-four blackbirds fly out of the mulberry bushes and take to the skies before settling to sing for precisely one hour. This is not normal blackbird behavior. 

Anna Kate is a descendant of the Callow women whose cosmic job is to bake the locally famous pies. She'd never been to Wicklow before her grandmother's death, but Anna Kate had known her grandmother, Zee Callow. During visits over the years, and under the disapproving eye of Anna Kate's mother, Zee had discreetly passed on necessary knowledge and the secrets to baking the magical pies. 

The magic of eating a slice of the pie is that the night after consuming a piece you receive a message from a loved one who has passed away. Sometimes they remind you to pay the taxes, sometimes it's far more. 

Anna Kate believes in her family legacy. She knows only she can make the pies work properly, and she pushes away the thoughts of what will happen to the people of Wicklow when she sells the place so she can return to medical school. 

In some ways I held a grudge against this book as I read it. You know the Hallmark movies where a career woman finds Real Love and Meaning in a small town and realizes her Big City Dreams aren't worth pursuing? I was worried it was going to be like that. 

Also, in some ways, SPOILER ALERT, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is exactly like that. Anna Kate promised her mother that she'd finish medical school but we find out that it isn't her dream to be a doctor so much as it was her mother's. I had to forgive the story because this book is about Anna Kate discovering her purpose and allowing herself to lead a life she wants in the way that will lead to her happiness and fulfillment. 

Who can argue that? I can't argue it, but deep down I'm formulating a story where a woman's purpose and happiness is found in the Big City with her Big Career and not back in her hometown, because that's a thing too, Hallmark Channel.

Yet I enjoyed Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe with its southern small town 'Bama cast of characters. Anna Kate's priorities and life changes with her SPOILER ALERT undiscovered-until-now family (when she had felt alone in the world) and SPOILER ALERT—no, no. I'm not going to tell you anymore. You have to read it yourself. Don't worry, I didn't even tell you about the Natalie story line at all or Bow and Jena, the mysterious kitchen help with a couple of big Magical Realism secrets.

If you read it, let me know what you think. I especially want to know what you think about the ever-popular Big City Dreams life versus the homey small town life story line. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Pride & Prejudice with Dragons—FLAME BRINGER, A Heartstone Novel


Flame Bringer by Elle Katharine White is the final book in the Heartstone novel series by Harper Voyager. Heartstone is the first in the series, followed by Dragon Shadow, with newly released Flame Bringer being the last in the YA trilogy. 

In the first book, Heartstone, Aliza Bentaine's family of Merrybourne Manor has secured the funds to hire esteemed dragon rider Alastair Daired to battle gryphons. It's a story about war, kingdoms, class lines, and hearts. 

The Greater Lindworm is dead in book two, Dragon Shadow. Aliza and Alastair are a happy couple in the Daireds' fortress, safe from the Tekari. Unfortunately their happily ever after is soon interrupted by the reality of the mutilated bodies of humans and Oldkind creatures. 

Book three, Flame Bringer,  starts with Wydrick, sworn enemy of the Daireds, back from the dead. My favorite thing about these books is the fantastic world-building. These stories are far more Lord of the Rings than they are Pride and Prejudice, but in a world where women hold their own in a satisfying twenty-first century style. They're stories for this generation of young adults.

Young Adult dragon stories aren't often my go-to read, but I was drawn in by the first book's Pride and Prejudice with dragons tie-in. What I've enjoyed most is that Aliza is her own person and partner with Daired. If he's battle worn and weary riding his dragon Akarra, Aliza is usually with him.

What worked most for me were the wonderful details from the angry hobgoblin in the opening of the first book, to the Mermish in the second, and onto Master Gargoyle sliding through the walls to follow Aliza in the third. 

Elle Katharine White
reading at Bell's Country Coffee Elmira Heights, NY
Elle Katharine White grew up in Buffalo, New York where she learned valuable life skills like how to clear a snowy driveway in under twenty minutes and how to cheer for the perennial underdog. I'm looking forward to her next book The Book of Dragons, which releases July 7, 2020. Harper Collins lists her with the "Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy writers working today", and I couldn't agree more. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay—How Great is This?

Photo Credit: S.R. Karfelt

This is a book I picked up at the library. I couldn't resist the title. An elevator pitch is what you call the pitch writers give to garner interest in their book. It's supposed to be a quick thirty second pitch that you can give if you happen to be in an elevator with someone.

Elevator Pitch starts off with just that. A screenwriter stalking someone he hopes will help him. Like with any stalking situation, it doesn't work out as planned. The elevator pitches to the basement.

The scenario is in the vertical city of New York where someone is messing with elevators. It's deliciously terrifying and can do for elevators what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean. I loved it and found it hard to put down. 

If I was going to give it stars, it would rate a solid five out of five stars. It's captivating, clever, original, and surprising. Mind you I read with half a cynical brain running in the background watching for clues and red herrings and what will happen next. 

This book surprised me. I LOVE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS.

I won't say more about that because I don't want to spoil it for you. Read this one and let me know what you think. 

Lately I have been taking out library books. Since I can't keep them long they don't wind up living in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years. I usually choose two fun reads and one educational. 

So, get out of your wintery house and go to the library. Get books. Borrow books. Buy books. They're the antidote to too many memes sugar-coating your brains. At least they are for me. If you want to recommend any books, leave a comment below. I like pretty much anything except Amish Romance or Erotica with no plot or contractions in the entire book. I'm still scarred from judging a Romance Writers of America contest a couple years ago. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch—Book Review FIVE STARS

"Are You Happy With Your Life?"

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before his abductor knocks him unconscious. He wakes up in a world where everyone knows him, but he doesn't know them and his wife and child are missing. 

Dark Matter is Science Fiction and explores a multiverse theory and the question of what's more important, love, or dreams and aspirations. I found it hard to put this book down and tore through it in a day. I love to read when I have a deadline bearing down and I'm feeling anxious about how my own work is going. It's like taking a break in an alternate universe, a good one.

Physics fascinates me, and I've explored dark matter and string universes in my own writing. (In a Fantasy setting, see Bitch Witch or FOREVER The Constantine's Secret.) There's heart and soul in Dark Matter and I loved the twists and turns as Jason Dessen tries to keep up with reality and find his way. 

For me this book presented a fresh take and new theories. I'm far behind in my theoretical physics books, and I don't understand half of what I read anyway, so I love exploring the process in fiction.

Few books truly surprise me, and I'm so thrilled when they do. Dark Matter surprised me, several times. It stressed me out page by page too. I've never read Blake Crouch's work before. I happened upon this book in The Book of the Month Club and I have to say I've enjoyed most books I found there. 

I don't want to give anything away, other than to say this is the kind of work that took some serious blood, sweat, and tears from an author. I'm impressed, and if you enjoy Science Fiction on any level, you'll enjoy this book. 


Friday, January 17, 2020

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind—by Jackson Ford

The only thing that could inspire me to step away from writing is the threat of a government fine. So I stopped writing long enough to pay my taxes and get my car inspected. While waiting on my car, I walked to the library. Yes, in January. I'm impressed too. It's cold. I froze. 

It's probably been ten years since I went into a library. I love libraries. I'm one of those people who always votes to increase their budget because I want it to be there when it's time for my ten year visit. One of the perks of being a writer is people give me books. Sometimes they're from other writers for a review or promotion, and sometimes they're simply gifts. Also, the local bookstore has chai tea and I go there too much and I buy books there. It's not a financially sound process to buy books with each cup of chai, and to give them away after I read them. But I have to or I'd need a bigger house.

It's really not a surprise, if you've ever seen my purse, that even after ten years I'd still have my library card in there. I also have a card for a taxi driver named Stephanos in Athens, Greece, a stone from Stonehenge, a piece of amber with a bug in it, and a one dollar Egyptian coin with King Tut on it. If I had the chance to take an unplanned trip to Greece or Cairo, I could get a taxi driver I know or skip converting my money because I have a coin worth a good eighteen cents.

What is a surprise was that the ten-year-old library card still works. It was nice and warm in the library and I could have free books for about three weeks which makes good fiscal sense. I grabbed the newest Margaret Atwood novel and a book on coding written for someone about ten years old. I learned more about coding in the few minutes I perused it than I ever knew, so I checked it out. 

I also picked up a book by a writer I'd never heard of before. Jackson Ford. He wrote The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind. I love titles that tell you what you need to know. There's a book I loved called The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. It's by Jonas Jonasson. You have the synopsis in the title with these kinds of books. 

I'd bet that The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind will become a television show/movie (the 100 year old man book did). I could sense that as I read it. It's about a woman named Teagan Frost, who was genetically altered by her science-minded parents to have the ability to move sh*t with her mind. She gets taken by the government and forced to work for an agency called China Shop. By day they move furniture, and on the side they're spies. At least they're the kind who break into buildings and take information. 

It's an action packed novel and nothing goes right for Teagan. Her powers are limited and hurt her, and you can't help but feel sorry for her forced into a life she doesn't want. Teagan wants to run a restaurant. Her hobby is eating. She's rude and swears a lot. You can't help but like her when she's getting tasered, punched in the face, or jumping out an eighty story window. 

The book is set in L.A., and I'm not familiar with L.A. other than passing through a couple times. The setting didn't sound like the place I'd passed through, and at the end of the book the author admitted he'd never been there. Someone more familiar with it would have to make the call on the authenticity, but who cares? It was escapism. My only other criticism is that they use the word kerb for curb and somehow they use that word a lot. That may be a translation issue, I don't think it was written in English originally.

As a nitpicky writer little things like that bump me out of a story. I know it's dumb, but it does. Mostly I think things like OMG, is this a new writing thing? Has curb officially become kerb? Because sometimes there are weird little writing rules, like having to capitalize dumpster (I refuse. I hate other people's nitpicky rules, especially when they look like errors to the reader when technically they're correct. Dumpster was/is a brand name). I only like MY nitpicky things, not other peoples. I can be annoying like Teagan. 

Anyway, I'd give this book a solid four out of five stars for pure escapism, but no depth. I tend to be generous with my stars. As a writer I'm aware that someone took the time to do all that work and transform this story into a fast-paced exciting read. I'm not going to poo-poo it because it's not what I'd have written. 

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind ends by opening up the story for the next book in a series, which is a thing series writers are supposed to do too. So kudos to Jackson Ford. But I'll be moving on to my ten-year-old level book on coding now, and I'll wait for the movie or the series. If it never happens, and I spot the next book in the library someday, well, I'd definitely pick it up. Maybe, maybe, I'd buy it to read with a chai too—that depends entirely on the cover.