The Red Couch

If you have read my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, you might remember the Red Couch, formerly, the Green Couch. Things are breaking down in her timeline, and the couch is only one of the things that is changing. Red is our symbol for Danger! Warning! Halt!, and we can see that in stop signs, circle-with-a-slash signs, signal lights and brake lights, and the “don’t touch” sight of a cherry-red electric burner. In the movie, “Sixth Sense,” M. Night Shyamalan added that splash of color in ominous moments (the sweater) and as a flag for a scene where something is not as the main guy thinks he knows (his wife’s dress at their anniversary dinner). 

This couch lives at the Turtle Bay Museum in Redding, California. They may change the exhibits around regularly, but you can always count on finding the Red Couch somewhere, a place to kick back if your feet are tired, or you want to watch the kids enjoy the fun without you hanging over them for a bit.

My mother-in-law didn’t care much for couches. Her ideal living room was full of rocking chairs and recliners. But I grew up with couches, and I love them! Sometimes Mom called it a “divan,” a fascinating and exotic word. Like you’d say “parlor,” or “dinette.” Or “range” instead of “stove” or “oven.”

I like the way you can change your position in unlimited poses. Reclining, half reclining, feet tucked, legs crossed, feet out on footstool, sitting on the back, sitting on the arm, sleeping…

When I was a kid, a couch was more than something to sit on; it was also a prop for play. One game we played was “Chair.” One kid would sit on the couch, very stiffly, with legs down and arms straight out in front. She was the Chair. Then the other kid would sit on her. The sitter would explore all the “buttons” on the Chair arm, pretending to be shocked at how willful the Chair could be in its mechanics. Imagine an electric recliner going haywire! The footrest would go up and down; halfway, all the way. The back might recline. Sometimes the Chair’s seatbelt would lock up tight, and the sitter couldn’t find the release button. The game always, always ended with the Chair’s eject button being accidentally pressed, sending the sitter flying across the living room!

My favorite couch game was “Sea Hunt.” The couch was the big boat, and the easy chair might be a smaller boat. We would pull our socks down so they flopped in front of us. Those were our flippers. We would fall backward out of the couch-boat, just like Lloyd Bridges did in the show. Then we would wriggle along the floor, on the carpet, “swimming,” and doing all the things we saw the scuba divers doing. Spear guns were a favorite. Getting back to the couch-boat and climbing aboard could be tiring, if you’d just had a close call in the sea.

Another game I played was Superman. It was best played in the matching easy chair, which looked just like the big, square, heavy couch, only not as wide. I wasn’t actually Superman, I was Lois Lane. For some reason, I imagined that the most exciting thing in the world would be riding in Superman’s outstretched arms as he flew through the sky, like in the Superman comic books I bought.

So I sat stretched across the chair, legs hanging over one arm, head resting on the other, my arms clutching the back while my imagination flew over the city, dodging danger.

Our brown, scratchy couch was probably old and used when we got it. Mom had to keep something wedged under one of the feet so it wouldn’t rock when someone sat on it. She finally set it and the chair outside by the road with a sign on it for $25. The neighbors bought it. Then Mom bought a lovely tufted gold velvet set to replace it. The couch was comfy and came with a recliner and love seat. We liked it, but I never remember playing any more games on it.

Disease—What Were They Thinking?

Sometimes I think about the history of human knowledge and discovery of the sources of disease. I muse over all the strange and bizarre ways that people from past times believed caused illness. 

There was lots of weirdness. At least from our current place of knowledge.

The easiest place to lay blame is on the sick person. “Divine retribution” for living a sinful life is an easy diagnosis to make. 

Bad air was another logical choice for the cause of illness. “Miasma theory” was an attempt to pin down a cause and effect.

“In miasma theory, diseases were caused by the presence in the air of a miasma, a poisonous vapour in which were suspended particles of decaying matter that was characterised by its foul smell. The theory originated in the Middle Ages and endured for several centuries.”

Because curbing the stinky air also tended to remove bacteria, it was helpful, in a sideways manner. It lasted until germ theory gradually replaced it.

The theory of “Humours” was the first attempt to separate out disease from the spiritual realm to the physical one. The four generally accepted humours were blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. An imbalance of your humours caused illness, and there were ways to restore that balance, such as purges, bloodletting, and emetics. Foods and medicines were given that corresponded with the desired balance. If you were hot and wet (with a fever), cold and dry substances were prescribed. And don’t let hysterical women eat beef! Much too hot and red for calming effects.

I should respect humorism because it was a scientific method rather than superstition, but I have a hard time. Mostly because it lasted so long, not completely dying out until 1858. It amazes me that medicine accepted it for about 2000 years, not really testing it out, just hanging on to it, respecting that important people had brought it to them. (Hippocrates, Galen) And perhaps they were enamored because it is a lovely theory with lots of impressive things you can do for treatment.

It doesn’t take us 2000 years to shift medical theories anymore; we respect science as the institution that can find physical cures, without the conflict of spiritual beliefs or non-tested attractive ideas. 

But I do wonder…what do we do today, what do we think that is totally wrong? That people a thousand years from now will shake their heads in disbelief over? Perhaps we can’t even imagine what that could be, because we don’t have the tools, just like the people from the middle ages had no device to see germs.

I’m sure there is something…

An Interview

Did I look ok? Hair? How was my backdrop? Books, yes, good idea! My first Skype author interview about my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time. And the questions were coming from one of the most challenging groups—a class of 5th graders.

One of my best friends from grammar and high school had taken a career as a teacher, back home where we both grew up in Tulare county. To my great delight, she enjoyed my book and presented it to her students. They also enjoyed it, and my friend used a great tool, Skype, to get them a real interview with a real author. They posted their reviews of the book on Padlet, so I had an inkling of what questions might come up. 

After a bit of technical wrangling, the interview was on! I looked out over a classroom of bouncy happy kids, some cutting up in front of the camera, some waving their arms in the air. (Pick me! Pick me!) They had printouts of questions they had come up with earlier, so they wouldn’t go blank. Ready, set, go!

I was surprised at many of the questions. Yes, some were about the book. But they wanted to know things about me. Here is a sampling, and a version of my answer.

When did you start writing?

I remember the first time I had the thrill of writing a story. It was in the 3rd grade, and I filled one and a half sides with cursive and decorated it with a crayoned picture at the top. However, no one told me that when you wrote a story, it needed to come out of your own head. I had basically plagiarized one of the stories in our reading book. I think I remember it so well because it was not too long afterwards that I did have that realization and was mortified. But I still saved it because of the joy I had in writing it.

Did what happened to Valeria happen to you? Is she you when you were younger?

Because I wrote the book in the first person, I can see why it might seem that way to a 5th grader, especially because I did take so many snippets of my life and transform them into book elements. But no, she is a made-up person. 

How long did it take you to write the book?

The whole process was about a year and a half. I wrote the edited first draft in a couple months, and then set it aside for almost a year before I revisited it with fresh eyes. Then I began revising it, which took another few months. Final editing and compiling the draft for self-publishing was another intense step that took a month or two.

How old are you?

I’m the same age as your teacher. (Kids look at teacher. Teacher says, “I’ve told them before, I’m as old as dirt.”)

What advice do you give on becoming a writer?

Write a lot. Read a lot. Take classes on writing when you can. Don’t be afraid of learning grammar. Write some more.

Where did you get the name “Valeria?”

I met a little girl with long black hair who was my daughter’s age while we were living in student family housing in Davis, CA. That was her name, and I’d never come across it before. It struck me, and I kept it filed away in my mind.

What was your favorite part?

I really like the section where Valeria is on the bridge, trying to keep the thug from stealing their horse. She is driven by desperation, a fierce loyalty to the little girl she is trying to protect, and an uncompromising resolve to complete the task she has been given. She is a worthy opponent to the unsavory character trying to best her. (Hint: there are knives involved.)

And then the question I knew would come up:

Why didn’t you have Theo tell Valeria what happened to him when he disappeared? 

Because if I didn’t write the words of him telling her, then the reader doesn’t know either, right? Honestly, I had planned on doing that. But when the time came, I had the sense that it would slow down the momentum. In a book, most of the writing needs to exist for a purpose. To advance the plot, to reveal more of the character’s personality, to help the reader visualize where and when the action is taking place, to fill in pieces of the puzzle that are important for the reader. By the time Valeria and Theo got back together again, the reason why he disappeared really wasn’t important anymore. To have stuck it in would have been like, “Okay, hold on, let’s just pause here for a moment and explain something that, really, if you had to guess what happened, 90% would get it right.” I’m sure Valeria asked him what had happened, and he told her. But of course I could never waste the words to write down all their conversations!

The most rewarding thing to find out is that now my friend’s students want to write their own books!

Monsters!

I had a lot of fun writing about Valeria’s Enemy, her monster. The best monsters are human-like, but not really quite there.

I’ve liked monster books and monster movies since I was young. Maybe most kids with imaginations did. I liked monster movies, like “20 Million Miles to Earth,” aka “The Beast From Space,” and “The Thing,” aka “Who Goes There?” In “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” I liked the cyclops the best. Oh the horrors when he was turning a man tied to a spit over a fire! 

It was kind of fun being a little scared when you knew it was all make-believe. But being scared of the dark was real, and not very fun. The worst monster of all was that thing that lived under the bed. No, I never saw it, but then again, I never looked. THAT would have been a mistake! It would have known that I knew it was there. Instead, we lived a sort of uneasy co-existence. It existed, and I was uneasy. I wonder how many other kids did “the leap” on to their bed to keep from letting their feet get too close to the dark place right underneath the bed frame? 

Digging through some of my files the other day, I came across this little piece. I think I was probably about Valeria’s and Theo’s ages when I wrote it, but it’s not dated. Maybe 6th grade? I’d forgotten all about it, but my toes still curl when my bare feet walk up a little too close to the edge of the bed. Especially in the dark.

Under The Bed

By Carolyn R. Roberts

It was there, but no one knew it. Everyone felt it, and all were afraid of it, because it lived there. They knew it was there when they got up in the morning, they felt it when they rested in the afternoons, and they were afraid of it when they went in their rooms to sleep at night.

Yes, they all felt it and were afraid of it, but no one believed it.

The family sat down to dinner. “Soon it will be time to go to bed,” the mother said.

“I don’t WANT to go to bed!” young Tommy wailed. “It’s there in my room waiting for me!”

“Don’t talk such nonsense,” the father reproached. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said, although the prospect of going to bed gave him a slight uneasiness himself.

“But Daddy, I can feel it,” Carrie said. “Even Joan does. And it’s getting worse. There’s something there, waiting for us. It’s a feeling I can’t shake off, and…every time I look under the bed, it’s not there,” she added, as though an afterthought.

“Hush! You’re scaring Tommy!” the mother said. “He won’t be able to sleep tonight. And neither will you. So get along to bed.”

I don’t like it, Carrie thought. Something is going to happen, I can feel it.

It waited there, hearing her come in. It chuckled silently, even though silent, it was horrible, a repulsive and chilling laugh. Only a few more seconds now…

As Carrie walked by the bed, she felt icy slimy fingers clutch her bare feet, and jerk them, pulling her down. She grabbed at something, anything, but the horny nails dug down into her flesh, pulling her further and further under. She fought, but to no avail, for now she knew what lived Under the Bed.

The End.

Bullet Journal

My brain is exhausted.

And why would that be? you ask. Is it because you have been concentrating hard on the next Valeria Book? Yes, I did work on that this morning, but that isn’t the reason. Is it because I have been brainstorming? No, not today. The reason is because I have jumped on the latest organizational trend. Two words.

Bullet Journal.

I used to be a paper mini-calendar carrier. My life depended on it. I counted on being able to delete items out of my meat computer because I had stashed them on a paper back-up, which I referred to daily. That left my busy brain time to do other fun things instead of worrying, “Are you going to remember your dentist appointment? Will you remember to bake that cake for the potluck?” When I got an iPhone, I gradually shifted over to the electronic calendar. It was really handy. And I always have my phone with me, so if I need to check a date, there it is! Not like the disaster when I lost my paper calendar. (I tend to lay things down and forget where I put them.) I also used to use a steno book as an ongoing list pad. (Until I would lose them)

So what is wrong with my current system? Actually nothing, really. It’s working ok to help me not miss appointments, etc. And I have a stack of Junior legal pads so I can willy-nilly make lists and lose them without too much fuss. I use Apple Reminders to handle different kinds of keep-up-with lists. But…

They have no soul.

They aren’t a tangible item, for holding now or looking at in the future. When you are paying your salon bill and juggling your phone calendar for the next appointment, you don’t have time to type in and enter everything you’d want to. There is no room for creativity or random thoughts, unless you juggle multiple apps to enter what you want. Umm… Ok, I just wanted a nice, pretty, bound book with all my stuff in it! And margins to doodle in! Visions of my bundle of gel pens floated across my mind.

Once I decided to do it, (and January is THE month to change one’s system!) I couldn’t sit still until I went out and got a book. I chose a L-1917 sky blue book with dots. (Its actually a Leuchtturm1917, but I like to be able to pronounce words in my mind when I write or read them.) I ripped open the plastic, admired the sleek blue cover, the elastic band closure, the double ribbon bookmarks, and I gathered up some gel pens, my favorite roller ball pen, and my set of pigment art pens, and then I sat there, frozen. What do I do first? 

I had gone over multiple instructions on multiple websites for how to set up the journal. The first I remembered was the index. And then the “future log.” But I couldn’t put my pen to paper. What if I wrote “page 2-3 Future Log,” and then “Page 4 January,” and then realized there was something that should have gone in between them? My book would look messed up from the very first entry of the very first bullet journal I had. I would have to look at a mistake for a whole year.

What pens should I start with? The art pens? Black? Should I color code anything? If I decided to later, I couldn’t come back and color-code anything I had already done in black. I very seriously considered making a streak across the index page with a pen, to say, “Nothing worse I can do to it now!” And then I could just dive in. 

(I know; it sounds stupid. But there are people out there who will identify!)

Finally I wrote “2-3 Future Log,” and then stared at it for another 15 minutes while I tried to remember how to do the next part EXACTLY RIGHT. 

I tend to be a perfectionist. (Really?) No, I’m not saying I’m perfect, or that I think I can be perfect. But I pay a lot of attention to excruciating details, and sometimes that’s good, and sometimes it’s paralyzing. After telling myself multiple times, “It’s okay to mess up. It’s just a blank book that no one will see but you. Who cares if it isn’t perfect? It doesn’t matter!” I was able to dive in. 

I ditched my art pens for my black gel pen which didn’t show up as much on the other side. Eventually I switched over to my black roller ball pen, which was better. I made the “January” page, but decided I’d rather have done it differently. So that’s what I’ll try in February.

I know, I know. It’s all pretty silly, that it took me a couple hours to just get the first page done! But I’m hoping that it will help me be more creative and do the things each day that I purpose to do.

Free, Today Only — Sweet Danger!

Merry Christmas! For today only you can download my kindle mystery novella, Sweet Danger, from Amazon for FREE! Take advantage of this and enjoy a couple of hours entertainment while you are enjoying your recliner and the warm glow of 2 pieces of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

If you read it and like it, I would really really appreciate a nice rating and/or review on Amazon! (It is an easy thing to do)

Beekeeping and Books

Another chance to get “Sweet Danger” free! 

Even though my mystery novella is only 99¢, there is something about “free” that has a nice ring to it. As a Christmas present to my readers and potential readers, I want to give out free downloads of my story on December 25. Just go to Amazon and get the Kindle version for free that day. Even if you don’t have a Kindle device, it’s easy to get the Kindle app for computer or mobile device and read it there.

“Sweet Danger” is about a 17-year old beekeeper, Jessica “Jesse” McConnell who discovers, on one fine day,  a horrible murder in her beeyard. Yes, you guessed it, stung to death by bees! It isn’t a horror tale of “killer bees,” but I just couldn’t help using what was there for the killing! A lot of interesting information on honeybees is woven into the story.

As I say in the author-info section, I grew up in a beekeeping family. We were “Roberts Honey Company,” and also “Roberts Apiaries.” You might have heard of an “aviary” as a place where birds are kept. An apiary is a location where bees are kept. Apis mellifera is the latin name for the European honeybee, so that is where the word “apiary” comes from. When we were younger, we worked in the honey-extracting house. We also helped paint, repair, and move equipment around. Soon we were also accompanying Dad and Mom out to the locations and working with the beehives. 

There were things to do out in the beeyards all year long. During the couple months of winter, we mostly left them alone except for feeding them sugar syrup. But come the first of February, they had to be strong and ready to go into the almond groves for pollination contracts. Unlike Jesse McConnell, I didn’t take ownership of the operation; I was a more passive participant. But even though I didn’t take responsibility of managing what came next, or what was needed, I was highly interested in all the parts of the work. 

One of the jobs that came up in the spring was re-queening. Perhaps you already know that baby chicks can be ordered and delivered through the US Postal Service. But maybe you didn’t know that queen bees are also delivered that way. Each queen bee comes in a little wooden box with a screen across the top and a hole in the side, plugged with candy and a cork. She may have 3 or 4 worker bees inside with her. The queen boxes are all bundled together in flat crate. When the queens arrive at the Post Office, one of us would drive down there and pick them up. They would have to be kept at a good temperature and watered periodically, with a cotton ball swiped across the screens.

Image-Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

When a resident queen gets old, her egg-laying pattern becomes haphazard, and the hive bees start the process of replacing her. But the beekeeper wants to be in charge of that, perhaps introducing a better genetic line, and definitely not waiting until the hive begins to suffer from an aging queen. When we went out to a location to re-queen, we took the crate of queens, covered them with a damp cloth to keep them cool and reduce the scent (bees are drawn to the smell of a queen), pulled the cork off the candy plug, and then shoved the queen box in between two frames of honeycomb. The workers of the hive would then sting her attendants to death (since they were strangers) and chew through the candy to release the queen. By the time she was freed, they would be used to her and help her get started in her duties. 

Image-McFarlines Apiaries

But the very important step in the process was locating the old, previous queen in the hive and killing her. If we didn’t do that, then she would smell the interloper, run over, and kill her in her little box. To find her involved pulling frames of bees out and scanning each side. My veiled face would be inches from the bee-covered frames, staring, scanning, looking, flipping the frame and seeking again. Frame after frame. And then another round, if I had missed her. When I went to bed at night and shut my eyes, all I could see was a solid layer of crawling bees. That was a very persistent image!

Valeria Rocks!

I’ve been back down to my old hometown visiting friends and relatives. Lemoncove and Exeter (California) is where my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time is set, even though no particular town names are mentioned. My good friend (one of my besties from school) has helped me promote the book and has introduced me to her rock-painting group, Exeter Rocks. These are a wonderful group of ladies, and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to make a couple of their meetings. (Having the meetings at A&W restaurant is a big plus!)

I was astounded when one of the women, Denise, painted me a rock “to hold my papers down” when I would be selling my book. I am fascinated by how exactly it matches the cover of my book, but even better, the globe GLOWS IN THE DARK! 

I am touched, and it makes me want to do something nice for someone else. Every time I look at it, I’ll be reminded of this sweet woman and Exeter Rocks. 

Denise’s artwork can be found at Hometown Emporium in Exeter, if anyone wants to check out what else she is working on. 

Black Friday Free Books!

I’m very happy to be able to offer 1 free book and 1 free novella tomorrow (Black Friday) AND “Cyber Monday!”

My Mystery Novella, “Sweet Danger,” and my very new book, “Ozark Heritage,” will be a free download both tomorrow, “Black Friday,” and Monday, “Cyber Monday” on Amazon. 

You don’t have to have a Kindle to read these, just download the Kindle App either on your computer or mobile phone or device, and then start reading!

“Sweet Danger” was a really fun novella to write, and I know you will find it enjoyable to read! A 17 year old beekeeper, Jessica, “Jessie,” has a murdered person dropped in her very own bee yard and gets caught up in finding out why her bees were used to murder an innocent man.

“Ozark Heritage” is my mother, Mildred Roberts McConnell’s memoir. She sat with me in front of a video camera several years ago and reminisced about her growing-up years. I took that material and created a memoir for her, “in her own words.” Recently, I wanted to make a really nice book for her, in memory of her, and for her nieces and nephews. There is some new material and a couple of corrections from the early stapled-together versions, and I am really pleased to be able to make it available. I know her friends, family, and others will enjoy reading this little book. 

“Ozark Heritage” is also now available in paperback! I have priced the paperback and the Kindle version as low as possible and am not intending on making any money off them. My goal is to have anyone who wishes to be able to read them and know more about who my mother was.

I hope you enjoy them, and if you want more from CR Roberts, please check out “Valeria & The Enemy of Time,” my book for middle-schoolers (adults like it too!).

If you like what you read, please rate on Amazon; that is very helpful to me!

New Today! “Ozark Heritage” — Mildred’s Book

I am so pleased to announce the publication of my latest book. This is a different kind of book than you have seen, and probably will see from me. It is my mother’s memoir. You can find it here.

Several years ago, she sat with me and a video camera and talked about her youth and her family. I transcribed it, sorted it out somewhat chronologically, added a few old pictures, and photocopied a few booklets for family. When my mother, Mildred McConnell Roberts Criswell, passed away in September, I decided to revisit the project. She was the last of her siblings, and I knew that many of the extended relatives were interested in owning a copy of her “Heritage Book,” as we called it. Her story of how she grew up and life in Missouri and Arkansas were interesting enough that I also thought that other people would enjoy reading it. So I decided to make it available on Amazon, both paperback and on Kindle.

To the memoir and the photos, I have also added a few extras in this second edition. My sister, Sharlene, has done some genealogical work on our family history, and within the last couple of months, she has unearthed some previously unknown connections. I included a couple pages of that information. I also added a brief follow-up of Mildred’s life, since her memoir is from her early life and ends when she got married. 

This is from the book description:

Mildred McConnell Roberts was born in Birch Tree, Missouri in 1937, the middle girl of nine siblings in her family, of Scotch-Irish-Cherokee ancestry with roots back to the 1700’s. Mildred’s story, told here in her own words, details a life of musical awakening, hardships, and love of family against the backdrop of life in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozark Mountains.

This book was a labor of love, and I do not intend on making a profit from it. I will be offering the paperback on Amazon for the price it costs me, and I am selling the Kindle book for the lowest amount of 99¢. I can also make the Kindle book free periodically. I am planning on running a free promotion of “Ozark Heritage” on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I hope you pick it up and give it a read. I am anticipating the paperback will be ready on Amazon today or tomorrow, and I’ll make another announcement when it is.

If you read it and enjoy it, please rate it on Amazon! That will help more people be able to find it, and it will help me also.