BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PICKENS

by Connie Ward
steve-pickens-200

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I started writing short stories when I was in the third and fourth grades. I can even pinpoint the book that put me on the path—John Bellairs’s The House with the Clock in its Walls. I identified with the main character, Lewis Barnavelt, and the story so pulled me into it that the entire outside world completely vanished. It was such a magical experience I wanted to be part of that world and realized that the way to get there was to start writing.

 What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, but I really just stumbled into it. I spent most of my teenage years writing horror stories or just flat-out weird stories—writing that goes under the heading of speculative fiction these days. I still write a lot in those areas, much of which is tied to folklore and legends of the Pacific Northwest.

Everything I write tends to be very character driven—far more than plot driven. I hope to create characters that are engaging and would be the type of people that readers would like to spend time with them—having a meal, going to the movies, or whatever. I think once you’ve got really good characters, you can have them do anything and the reader will follow along. That said, I do try to make sure I keep the mystery in the story tight. I have to follow an outline a little more closely with a mystery so I don’t get completely distracted on finding the way to whodunit. For Final Departure I had the idea, and it just lent itself to good mystery, and off I went. I loved my characters so much, it just spun out, and the first one was followed in short order by six more. 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My family and friends have been tremendously supportive of my writing. Point of fact, they were the ones really pushing me to get off my duff and send something in to be published. They’ve been following my main characters around in draft after draft for the last…wow, ten years and told me to get on with it. It’s a gift having that kind of encouragement and support.

 Where do you get your ideas?

Final DepartureWell, for Final Departure I’m sorry to say it was loosely based on a real case that happened where I grew up when I was a teenager. Right up to the part about suicide not being ruled out for the victim, but I took it a little bit beyond that for the book .For my mysteries, a lot does come from real life, and for my other work I draw a lot of inspiration from the landscape around here.

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

For the Finnigan mysteries, I have to outline. It’s too easy to step on my tail if I don’t. I keep the outline spare, so that I can move in any direction I want, but certain points I have to keep track of. That isn’t to say things can’t change—in one of the books the murderer changed from who I thought did it in the beginning. Turned out it still worked beautifully for the plot I’d outlined. Better, in fact. It sounds bizarre to people sometimes when I tell them that or that “My character did this today and I didn’t see it coming,” but that’s how it happens sometimes.

For the actual nuts and bolts, I have a pretty strict routine—up early, coffee, breakfast, exercise, and then writing. Usually ten pages or 3000 words or so, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. Sometimes if I’m on a roll that takes two hours; sometimes it takes ten. Just depends on how things are going, but always those ten pages.

What makes Final Departure special to you?

It’s the fruition of a life-long dream, getting a novel published. I’m still in a state of disbelief.

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

When I started writing Final Departure I had a heck of a time because the main character was far too much like me. I finally decided that in order to get into the story and make it work, I had to make him as opposite of me as I could, both physically and in personality. Jake’s nine inches shorter, an extrovert, and thrives on working out all the time. We share the same impatience, but that’s about it. I’m more like Sam in appearance, but Sam is like the eye of a hurricane in his serenity with the world, and that is so not me.

Several friends are characters in the books. They know who they are, too.

And well…all the murder victims are inspired by a long list of very real politicians and bigots and religious zealots. There’s something very cathartic about bumping people off who have nothing but hatred and contempt for their fellow man—in the fictional world, of course.

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

I have to give credit to Armistead Maupin and the Tales of the City books. I think he was the first gay author I read, and he created all those characters I just loved and wanted to know what happened to them in book after book. Big inspiration there. So many others in the years since, but I’m a fan of Anthony Bidulka’s mysteries. Some others off the top of my head…Patricia Highsmith, Steve Berman, Augusten Burroughs, Daphne Dumaurier…so many others! Oh, and for humor you can’t beat David Sedaris.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write. Write and write and write. Even if you can carve out only twenty minutes a day, just keep at it. And read everything you can get your hands on.

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Spring, summer, and fall when the weather is good you can find me working out in the yard and tending the flowers. (In winter I hibernate.) I’m an amateur photographer and historian, with a focus on (surprise) ferries of the West Coast. I’ve always got a couple of books I’m reading, and I’m a huge fan of old movies. And of course lazy afternoons with my husband and cats are always a preferred way to spend a weekend.

What do you do with a lovesick dragon horse?

BY D. JACKSON LEIGH

Tracker and the Spy 300 DPIFor those who joined me on the Dragon Horse War journey when “The Calling” debuted a year ago, the trilogy continues this month with the release of “Tracker and the Spy.” 

“The Calling”  told the story of First Warrior Jael who was ordered by The Collective Council to assemble an army of dragon horse warriors and stop The Natural Order, a dangerous cult gaining ground in their society.

The cult is a retro movement – not in a groovy 60s kind of way — that promotes belief in a single deity who has a propensity for torturing any souls who don’t worship him and declares men as master over the perpetual source of new human life, namely women. The cult’s leader, who calls himself The Prophet, isn’t a live-and-let-live kind of guy and intends to force the rest of humanity to conform to his belief by taking control of the world’s dwindling food supply. So far, his plan is working.

Jael’s mission, of course, catches a little bad air when she falls head over heels for her direct opposite, First Advocate Alyssa, a peace-loving empath. Alyssa has issues with Jael’s mission to prematurely cremate (as in before he’s dead) The Prophet so that his badly born soul will be purified to reincarnate and make restitution in his next life for his misdeeds in this life.

“The Calling” ends just after the Jael’s army of flying pyros concludes Dragon Horse War The Calling 300 DPIits first clash with The Natural Order. The dragon-horse warriors scatter The Natural Order believers in that first battle, but The Prophet and his second-in-command escape.

No problem.

Capt. Tanisha, one of the six warriors of the elite Guard who are Jael’s command staff, is an expert tracker. It’s just that Tan has a few quirks, a few guilt and anger issues left over from her previous lives. So, Jael assigns Kyle to help the complex and solitary Tan in her hunt for The Prophet.

That is a bit of a problem.

Kyle is an exceedingly powerful, but untrained pyro who just happens to be the daughter of The Prophet. She’s just joined the dragon horse army after escaping from her father and wants no part of Jael’s plan to return her to The Natural Order as a spy.

Also, Tan’s even more twitchy than usual because her dragon horse  has picked this inopportune time to get the urge to mate. Since warrior and dragon horse are bonded, Phyrrhos’ urgent need for love is driving Tan crazy with lust. The last thing she needs is to be distracted by an untrained sparkler – especially one with a hot body with eyes as blue as lasers – while she’s tracking.

But Jael pulls rank and orders the tracker and the spy partnership.

Then, when things can’t get any worse, Phyrrhos decides Jael’s dragon stallion, Specter is prime daddy material. Specter is willing, which drives Jael a little crazy.

That lights the First Advocate’s candle because she’s laid claim to the First Warrior’s sexy assets and isn’t about to let two horny dragon horses trigger a rerun of Tan’s and Jael’s former “friends with benefits” relationship.

Then there’s Phyrrhos’ sudden and baffling affection for Kyle – not in a mating, but in a motherly kind of way.

Sun and stars! This is no time for a meeting of the mile-high club. The Prophet and his henchmen are getting away.

 

Totally didn’t see this coming

I’ve always been a “plotter” rather than a “pantser.” Translation: I write from an outline because my writing time is jammed in around a full time job, the chores of living and a little time with friends so they don’t forget who I am. So, an outline lets me put a manuscript down for a few days or even a few weeks and pick right back up where I left off.

The characters in the Dragon Horse War trilogy had other ideas. I started it as a lark because I had an unusual spate of weird dreams about dragons. Then it became my personal commentary on the decline of current society into a culture of hate and greed, and, to my own surprise, an introspective journey of discovery.

Best of all, the Dragon Horse War trilogy is a wild adventure of pyro-gifted warriors, flying horses, and the discovery of many other less fantastic gifts we humans didn’t know we could wield. The good guys have flaws, some of the bad guys have redeeming qualities and the story has lots of bumps along the way.

 

Back on track

Meanwhile, “Tracker and the Spy” is the longest manuscript I’ve ever written, because the misbehaving dragon horses is the only the spark – its real importance emerges later – that starts Tan’s and Kyle’s personal story and their mission to track down The Prophet.

There are battle scenes, tragedy, unanticipated developments and new characters to love and hate. There’s also personal discovery, romance …and a set-up for the third book to come.

That final book has yet to be written, and honestly, while I think I know how it will end, I can only say for sure that the characters will let me know.

Editor’s Note: If you leave a comment on this blog, you’ll get a chance to win a free autographed copy of “Tracker and the Spy”

 

  1. Jackson Leigh

2013 GCLS Paranormal winner for “Touch Me Gently”

2014 GCLS Romance winner for “Every Second Counts”

2014 Lambda finalist for “Hold Me Forever”

BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW with LISA MOREAU

by Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

If one can actually make a major life decision in the third grade, then that’s when I decided to become a writer. I was a terribly shy, quiet kid and discovered early on that it was so much easier to express my feelings and thoughts in the written word than verbally.

The first story I wrote that garnered attention―other than from my mom―was in the third grade. We’d just moved to a new town, and switching schools in the middle of the year was pretty scary. One of the first assignments in English class was to write a story, and I wrote one about the hardships of being a new fish in an aquarium. Even after all these years, I remember the story well. It was witty, suspenseful, and overly dramatic…and a bit morose, since it ended with the new fish coming eye-to-eye with a very hungry-looking tiger fish. Despite the gruesome ending, the teacher loved it. I don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I do remember my third-grade teacher’s name. Thanks to Mrs. Foster, who encouraged me to write more, which I did, and haven’t stopped since―but I do have happier story endings these days.

What type of stories do you write? And why?

I write romance, which to my friends is hysterical considering my dating history. Let’s just say I’ve been unlucky in love. All right, to be completely honest, it’s been disastrous. I’m an ultimate romantic who has yet to have a happy ending, which is exactly why I love writing romance. Oftentimes, I take experiences from past relationships and rewrite the story so that my characters live happily ever after. It’s a cathartic, healing experience, and in a way it’s like rewriting my history.

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My friends are ecstatic and can’t wait to read my first novel, Love on the Red Rocks. Both my parents are deceased, and I really have no idea what they’d think about having a daughter who is a lesbian romance author, especially my dad, since the book is dedicated to him. I come from a strict Roman Catholic family, so I was pleasantly surprised when so many aunts, uncles, and cousins were excited and proud about the upcoming publication. My sister and niece are my biggest supporters, both of my sexual orientation and writing. Some family members, though, are judgmental, but I ignore them. That’s the beauty of the “unfollow” feature on Facebook.

Where do you get your ideas?

I get a lot of my story ideas from my own life, my experiences, fears, insecurities, challenges. Most times an inspiration starts with the location, which acts as a character in my stories. With Love On The Red Rocks, I wanted it set in Sedona, Arizona, which is one of my favorite places and the perfect backdrop for the book. The idea for the manuscript I’m writing now also started with the location.

For me, it’s best not to force anything but instead rely on instinct. Most brainstorms pop into my mind from the ethers or in dreams. If I purposefully look for story ideas, I usually come up empty-handed. With that said, I do remain consciously open throughout the day. An idea might spring from an overheard conversation in the supermarket, a news story, or something said by a friend.

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

My personality is a balance of creative and analytical, so I do both. If I didn’t outline first, I’d feel lost and the story would become disjointed very quickly, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily stick to the outline once I start writing. Before I ever begin the book, I spend quite a bit of time getting to know the characters and plotting. I devise the traditional three-act outline in which I brainstorm scenes and main events for each act. Once I feel like I know the characters well enough and the direction of the story, I start writing…and that’s where the fun begins.


 

love-on-the-red-rocksWhat makes Love On The Red Rocks special to you?

Love On The Red Rocks is a symbol that dreams come true if you have the courage to try, not give up, and release your attachment to the outcome.

I’d always wanted to write a novel but kept putting it off. It seemed like such a huge task, so I always stuck to shorter pieces. When my dad died unexpectedly, I was reminded of how short life can be. I began writing the book one month after his death. When I started, I wasn’t even thinking publication. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could actually write an entire book. Once I began, though, I thought, “Hey, this is really good. I should submit it for publication.” If I could make one of my dreams come true by writing a book, maybe I could achieve an even greater dream by having it published.

After submitting the manuscript, I literally forgot about it. The woman I was dating at the time would ask every few weeks if I’d heard anything. If it weren’t for her, I don’t think I’d have thought about it. Don’t take my nonchalant attitude to mean it wasn’t important to me. It’s just that I trusted the universe to deliver what was meant to be. So, imagine my surprise and excitement when it was actually accepted. And, of course, the dedication belonged entirely to my father. He was the catalyst as well as the inspiration. An interesting bit of trivia not many people know: the date of his death is used in the book as the date of the main character’s father’s death. It was just another way of acknowledging his presence and importance in my first published novel.

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Quite a bit, but I do write fiction and have a pretty wild imagination, so some of my characters are totally from my head. The two main characters, though, in Love On The Red Rocks are a pretty good combination of who I am. Malley for her fears and insecurities, and Jessie for her new-age and romantic side.

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

I’ve always been a huge Radclyffe fan. In fact, she’s the reason I submitted my manuscript to Bold Strokes Books. Not only do I love her writing, but she’s also an excellent role model of a strong, successful businesswoman. Some of my other favorite authors, in no particular order, are Melissa Brayden, Gerri Hill, Lynn Ames, Georgia Beers, and Lynn Galli.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. When reading, don’t just do so for pleasure. Pay attention to the mechanics and technique, such as hooks, plot, theme, characters, conflict, enticing incidents, beginnings, endings, etc. Pick out a novel you love and dissect it, study it front cover to back. Also, read books about writing. Some of my favorites are Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, and Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict by Cheryl St. John. Also, take as many writing classes and workshops as you can. The learning never stops. And most important, write. Every day. We all lead busy lives and it’s not always easy to carve out even thirty minutes in a day, but it’s essential to make time to write. We can’t call ourselves writers unless we actually do it.

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I love living in Southern California, where I’m close to the ocean and mountains. A perfect Saturday afternoon is lounging on the beach reading a book and then wandering down the shoreline. I enjoy taking trips to Santa Barbara, Cambria, and Big Sur along the Central California coast. Aside from Hawaii, Sedona, Arizona is my favorite place to visit, so I go there as often as possible. I like hanging out with friends, perusing used bookstores, and reading. In addition to fiction, I read a lot of nonfiction metaphysical books. I’m a big Hay House fan, which is a publishing company founded by Louise Hay and publishes new-age/spiritual books. I attend their conferences and author workshops. I also meditate every day, which helps keep me centered. All of this, of course, is when I’m not working my eight-to-five corporate job or writing. Life is sweet but busy!

Not Your Normal Book Blog

BY LISA MOREAU

love-on-the-red-rocksCan I be honest here? I’ve had a tough time writing this blog. So much so that I’ve perfected the art of procrastination from this one article alone. On the upside, my canned goods are alphabetically arranged and my sock drawer has never looked neater. So, why am I dragging my feet? I’m in a quandary of how to peak your interest in my novel, Love On The Red Rocks, without giving away too much of the plot. That’s easier said than done.

So, how about we start with a question: What do you get when you put a disappearing Indian, red rocks, a ghost town, and a bunch of lesbians together? No, this isn’t a Zen Koan or a weird, probably politically incorrect, riddle. These are some of the elements in my book.

Intrigued? Well, I see you want more, so how about I introduce you to the cast of characters?

Malley is a quirky, cool chick who whispered the book in my ear. This is her story, but I get the credit as the author since I did all that typing. Malley isn’t in my head anymore, but she’d probably want me to tell you that she’s self-assured, organized, and knows what she wants. That would be accurate from the outside, but inwardly she’s insecure, fearful, and a little clueless. Jessie is Malley’s love interest. In early feedback from the book, everyone wants to date―and frankly, do―Jessie. She’s sexy, romantic, and a bit of a new age nut. She turns Malley’s world upside down, making her question her desires and face her greatest fears. There’s also Lizzie, Malley’s selfish best friend; Nicole, a stuck-up lawyer; and Rhonda, the hefty, unrefined cowgirl. As a side note, most people are surprised to learn that my favorite character in the book is Rhonda. I found her uncultured, brash behavior delightful.

Interested in reading the book yet? Geez, tough audience. Okay, maybe we should talk about that disappearing Indian.

The prologue in the book actually happened, minus the disappearing act. Yes, I encountered a flute-playing , ancient Indian who gave me a heart rock by the Kachina Woman in Boynton Canyon. (If we’re getting technical, it was actually a rose quartz crystal, but it’s a rock in the book). Most of the novel takes place in Sedona, Arizona amidst the majestic, mystical red rocks. Sedona is a new age mecca where weird stuff happens, which made it the perfect backdrop for the novel. But don’t worry, there isn’t anything too weird. Just enough to make it interesting.

How’s that? More? Wow, you’re sorta greedy.

Well, in addition to the above, Love On The Red Rocks has a couple of steamy encounters, a lesbian resort, an accidental naked shower scene, the world’s only teal arches, scrumptious butterscotch cinnamon buns, and most of all a sweet romance.

If that doesn’t convince you to check out my novel, I’m not sure what will. Now I’ll excuse myself because I’m hungry, and thanks to this blog I can easily find the canned turkey chili which is alphabetically arranged under C…or maybe that’s T.

A BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH TOM CARDAMONE

BY CONNIE WARD

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I remember the moment so vividly. It was as if I were “literally” struck by lightning. As a child I was serious reader, forever with a book in hand, and then one day, not yet a teen, reading one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books at the kitchen table in my family’s cabin in North Carolina, the summer sunlight just streaming in, it hit me: “I’m going to do this, too.” I put his book down, grabbed some graph paper, and started mapping out my world.

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I have two settings: weird and dirty. Sometimes, if the mood strikes, I’ll write something primarily erotic. Being gay is a risk and a journey, so exploring the sexual nature of existence is, well, natural to me, but I also know that every story is a story of transformation. And no matter what our intentions or the intentions of others are, alchemy happens, and we either turn into gold or are stuck with bat wings that don’t work, so speculative fiction lets me work that stuff out as well. Often with a shudder.

 What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My family is somewhere on the spectrum between intensely horrified to mildly proud. My friends are always extremely delighted whenever I‘m sober and productive. And they’re very supportive. My best friend Kate designed the cover for Night Sweats. My partner Leo has done two of my book covers. My friend and old roommate, Jay, took my author photo, my college buddy Mike has been doing my website for years now…I think that’s New York City. Everyone is not only interested and interesting, but also there to lend a hand. I just hope I’m returning the favor.

Where do you get your ideas?

Drugs were good to me. And that’s not a pithy response, When I was younger I was fortunate enough to get into psychedelics with a reverential yet playful attitude, meaning the first time I tripped, I also read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but since the words kept sliding off the page, I went for a bike ride instead. But somewhere in those early experiences, I was able to learn to let my imagination off the leash. I still go for long bike rides, and I often walk across the Manhattan Bridge just before dawn. And sometimes I think about Poe. Didn’t he walk incessantly across a bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan, deep in thought?

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

Oh, all I think about is sex and money. Writing is what happens when I come up for air. So no plotting, no planning, very little research, just a lot of gasping before I sink back down toward the bottom.

Night SweatsWhat makes Night Sweats special to you?

This is my second collection of short stories, and I remember sitting in a bar in the panhandle of Florida, way before I came out. It was a live show, I think the band playing was Man or Astro Man?—and I’d spent several years working on a horror novel that I’d never shared with anyone. Nothing yet published, and I was telling my friends about this idea I had for a werewolf story, and I caught them looking at each other like “here he goes again.” Honestly, that moment deepened my resolve to become a writer like no other. Getting a book out there is a big fucking deal. And to repeat the process, to return to the mine again and find your own peculiar gems, well, it’s not a fluke then, is it? It’s a passion and a profession, and when you get to combine the two, well, that is a splendid moment, and that’s what Night Sweats is to me, a fantastical event. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that Bold Strokes not only decided to publish this collection, but that everyone has come at the project with such interest and care.

I would like to comment on the title. This book has more horror in it, hence the name, a symptom of the virus that causes AIDS. And that’s purposeful. There’s not one mention of HIV or AIDS in any of these stories, but as a community, we’re still in the midst of an ongoing plague. That horror consistently impacts our lives in ways visible and invisible—queer folk have a daily dread, and the resolve we muster to beat it down, well, maybe that adds that extra bit of sparkle I see in so many of us, and that’s also present in this collection, or so I hope, but most of the work here is dark, and for some of us, that’s the same thing as honest.

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Ha! One of my dear friends, John, who is also a great reader, likes to tease me. He says he likes my stories but particularly enjoys the ones that aren’t “Tom-in-disguise.” So, yeah, some stuff is autobiographical, or just me taking the easy route, so I don’t know what triggers it when I jump into someone else’s skin.

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

Tough question! I think I’d like to go at it this way: from childhood through college I was a voracious reader. I’m shocked at how much I absorbed. A small cadre of writers stood out. And before everyone was name-checking Philip K. Dick, he was a huge influence on me in the 80s, like when major books of his were actually out of print and passed around among the acid-heads hanging out in the school parking lot. John Varley was a huge influence, and the fluidity of his characters sexuality was earth-shattering for me. Funny story. A few years ago I got a very nice note from a fan, and I thought, “Well, I should return the favor!” So I looked up John Varley and wrote him an email, telling him how much his work meant to me as a kid struggling with being gay in the age of Reagan, and “boom!” He wrote me back thanking me for thanking him! Like in a few minutes, so I was doubly thrilled. But I digress. Octavia E. Butler, Alasdair Grey, Geoff Ryman, and Kathe Koja, all of them are my pantheon of originality and style. They have inspired me, and I’ve been lucky to interview two of them, befriending Kathe, and I heard Octavia give a warm talk in person, right before she passed. I’ll never forget that night. And I got to drink in a pub in Glasgow where Alasdair Grey worked off a bar tab by painting a fantastic mural. And when it comes to nonfiction, Edmund White is a light. There’s so much focus on his sparkling novels, but man, his nonfiction is immortal, too.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

The joy you felt in creating something is not automatically transferred to the reader, much less the editor and publisher. Worse, that joy is an emotional experience, so rejection doesn’t always lead to rational thoughts/decisions, like “I wonder what I could do better,” or “Maybe I just wasn’t a good fit for this publication.” If your goal is to write and improve, rather than just write, chances are you’ll have a better go at it.

In this field, all you have is your talent and your relationships, so how do you treat others? How do you treat yourself? I think these are decent questions to ask.

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I travel whenever I can. There are so many places I want to go.

The Amazon Trail

Aargh! Just Aargh.

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

In our town we have a small, out of the way thrift store, dark and not heavily patronized except by people who are very down and out. The owner— and who knows her story—sells what she can, but is always willing to help out the homeless with clothing or outdoor equipment that they need to survive in this wet environment where there are beaches for sleeping and woods for encampments, soup kitchens for food, tourists for panhandling, the library for web access.
It’s not just the homeless. Garage sales and thrift stores that once were a lark for drag queens and bull dykes are such a way of life now. If the 1% or the 20% are able to buy everything they want, the rest of us, in the current economy, are grateful to be able to buy their cast offs. The underground economy—helping the destitute, bartering goods and services, garage sales, web lists—by necessity isn’t so underground any more.
Dollar stores are crazy busy since the so-called Great Recession, and not due to recreational shopping. Their food products are often good buys if you’re in the habit of reading labels carefully and their books can be great finds for $1.00, though the authors get nothing for their years of work. I find it bewildering that dollar store corporations are gobbling one another up and making someone, somewhere, obscenely rich.
Goodwill does great work, but they’re huge now and their prices are getting out of range. I, along with many of my neighbors, regularly buy from the local, less expensive Humane Society thrift shop. For household items, we matronize the ReStore, thank you Jimmy Carter. Our local cobbler can’t keep up with all the shoe repairs he gets. If we can’t fix something ourselves, we employ handymen or women, rather than licensed, bonded, insured workers, to repair our roofs, our driveways, our plumbing.
We’re all what used to be called middle class people. Just try being middle class when the Social Security checks start arriving. There was no 2016 cost of living (COLA) increase in these payments, earned through lifetimes of hard work. Something does not compute. The inflation rate didn’t trigger a COLA, but I’m paying $50.00, $70.00 or much more for generic prescription drugs that last year had no or minimal co-pays. To use a phrase from Dorothy Allison, I also call it criminal capitalism when older Americans can’t afford good health.
I count my lucky stars that my financial issues are at a level where I’m concerned about the cost of medications, not their total inaccessibility.
Of course the pharmaceutical companies are blaming the Affordable Care Act. Once again, a tool created for the people is being used to increase profits. Drugs are not manufactured to relieve pain or cure cancer or to prolong lives, they’re manufactured to make money. The balance has gone out of any equation that included keeping people alive and come down heavily on the side of making a financial killing. Aargh! Just aargh.
Online there’s Craigslist, the middleman of bartering. There’s Freecycle where people give away what they can’t sell or don’t need. I’m seeing a lot fewer listings on Freecycle than I did pre-recession. One of our friends, an underpaid care worker, shops garage sales as much as we do. For birthdays and winter holidays we exchange boxes of garage sale goodies, mailing our lightweight packages if we can’t meet. Has anyone else noticed how you can prepare a meal for a family of four on what it costs to mail a package now?
Even petsitting, a perennial cash service, is getting all big business on us. There are pet care companies with actual employees and franchises. What ever happened to the neighbors? Word of mouth? Signs on the vet’s bulletin board? We’re monetizing every little bit of America. And the world. Uber and Lyft were great ideas until they started raking in the bucks and grew and grew, taking jobs away from regulated cab drivers.
Politicians want to squeeze cash from our national monuments. Oil companies can’t wait to guzzle up natural resources from wildlife refuges. Prisons are privatized, hospitals connive to get more money from Medicare. All of this drives up costs and takes what was once affordable out of reach.
The bigger the corporations, the lower the wages, the fewer the jobs. And the corporations swell each time they subsume another business and dump another thousand employees. I am astounded by the monopolizing going on in the U.S.. We have laws to prevent such boundless greed. Apparently we need more than brakes on businesses, we need an enormous emergency brake.
A phenomenon that seems to be more common is the return, after their divorces and downsized jobs, of very adult children in their fifties and sixties, moving in with aged mom or dad in senior housing communities and elsewhere. These sons and daughters have little or nothing left; the parent is beginning to need help around his small manufactured home. These now older workers don’t go out and find jobs, mom becomes the job. The kids inherit the property and have shelter as long as they can pay the taxes. The next step may be homelessness—and a visit to the kind thrift store owner.

 

Copyright 2016 Lee Lynch

 


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