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The bike, the ground, and standing still

I fell off my bike the other day.

Saying I crashed my bike would sound manlier, but the truth is I fell off the bike.

While standing still.

Now this is no easy feat. You’re standing, waiting to cross the road and … and … and then you go boom. On the ground.

I wrote the other day about going for a ride and 6,386 degree weather and forgetting my water bottle and turkey vultures that just wanted me to die and donate my organs to the TVFK – the Turkey Vulture Food Kitchen.

What I didn’t mention is falling off my bike.

Because, you know … embarrassment.

My bike pedals have cleats, which means I can lock my bike shoes onto them, which theoretically gives my foot and ankle a greater range of motion than traditional push pedals, or even stirrups.

That is if you’re not older than dirt and have ankles that are frozen as solid as the tundra in Green Bay.

So anyway, I’m clipped into the pedals. Every time I come to a road, or driveway, I usually give a little twist to my right shoe and unclip it so that I have one good leg to stand on.

I did this very thing as I approached a crossroad. I came to a stop. Stood there for a moment. Or should I say, leaned there. Against a street sign.

My left foot is still clipped into its cleat.

Now a smart man might have freed both feet, but, you know … stupidity.

I wait for cars to pass. And wait. And wait. Suddenly, my weight shifts. To the left.

I go to put my left foot down to steady myself , but you know … dead brain cells.

Suddenly, the ground is rushing up at me. Suddenly, it greets my derrière with a thump. Suddenly, I’m rolling around in the dirt. Suddenly, I can hear the guffaws of drivers in their cars as they whiz by.

Slow as a grizzly rousing itself from deep hibernation, I rise, dust myself off and am thankful I see no bones jutting out from my skin. I take a step and nearly fall from a pain in my groin that is unprecedented in the history of the world. The pain, not my groin. No jokes, please, about my groin.

Couple of years back, I had a hip replacement, and since then, I’ve had a knifing pain on the inside of my left thigh. I thought maybe it was a hernia. How I might have developed a hernia while in surgery, I didn’t know, but I had no other explanation.

I went to another doctor who did a bunch of tests – X-rays and MRIs and poking – and told me that it was likely that something was pinching a nerve ending. And not in a good way.

“To replace the hip, your surgeon had to lift and move a bunch of nerves. They’re like spaghetti. Did you ever pick up spaghetti and put it back on the plate? It never goes back the same way.”

“I don’t put spaghetti back on the plate,” I said. “Whatever comes off the plate goes in my mouth.”

So the pain is always there and my falling off the bike made it worse. Much worse. Much, much worse.

Still, because I’m a man, I continued the ride and it was later I discovered I had no water and that I was going to die.

Somehow, I survived and that night I told my life partner what had happened. I was, of course, expecting sympathy. Some cooing. Some sweet murmurs of compassion.

What I got was, “What the heck is wrong with you? You don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Well, at least, that much was true.

When it’s 6,386 degrees, never go riding without … !!!!!

I decided that it was time for me to finally ride my bike.

As all three of you who read my blog are aware, I recently moved to South Carolina, where the sun shines brightly every day, except on days when there’s a hurricane.

Free of gale force winds this day, it was the perfect opportunity to hit the road. This was around 11 a.m., right after I finished my part-time job. (Yes, I’m retired and thought I was done with work, until the person who insists she loves me said, “Wanna ever take a vacation? Go back to work.”)

Anyway, at 11:01 I put on my bike shoes, my helmet and went outside to the garage, where I removed my bike from the standing rack and proceeded to try and put air in the tires, which were flat because I haven’t ridden in three, maybe four years.

The air and the tires refused to cooperate. I have skinny tires. They usually take one look at me and go, “No, nope. Not gonna happen,” and refuse to accept any life giving nitrogen, oxygen and argon, otherwise known as air to you non-scientific types.

Now, in a garage, at the start of summer, in South Carolina, is like crawling inside an oven and closing the door. Within seconds, I was sweating. Seconds later, I was swearing. Seconds later, I was sweating and swearing at the same time.

But, I refused to give up and two hours later, the skinny tires had enough air to carry my considerable bulk and I headed out. I’d gone about three feet when I realized it was hot. I stopped and asked Siri how hot it was. Siri knows everything. Even how hot it is.

“It’s freakin’ hot is what it is,” Siri said.

“Yeah, but how hot?” I asked.

“Six thousand, three hundred, eighty-six degrees,” Siri said.

Siri is never wrong.

“Wow,” I said, “that’s hot.”

“Go back inside, you idiot,” Siri said.

I’m not one to let my iPhone assistant push me around, however, and I again set out. I rode, and rode, and rode until I decided it was time to turn back. I stopped. Reached for my water bottle. Came up with nothing but a clenched fist.

Oh, I thought. My water bottle is back home. On the kitchen island. With a post-it note saying, “REMEMBER TO TAKE WATER!!!!!” with 5 exclamation points!!!!!

Hmm, this is bad, I thought. It’s 6,383 degrees and I have no water. I’m going to die out here in the desert.

Then I saw a piece of cardboard. “Gadzooks! Eureka! Forsooth, a solution!” Yes, I said, “Gadzooks” and “Eureka” and “Forsooth” because I am a cultured man, even when I am dying of thirst.

With the cardboard, I thought, I can wet my finger, rub it in the dirt, and make a little mud and write, “Left my water at home Water bottle on the kitchen island along with a reminder note!!!!! Need agua!!!!! Please help a dying man!!!!!” with 5 exclamation points!!!!!

Excited, I put my finger in my mouth, but my mouth was dry as sand. As dust. As a bone. As … you get the idea. Had no spit. Not a single drop.

This is bad, I said.

“You’re darn right,” Siri said.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion,” I said.

“Well, I’m giving to you anyway, you big dummy.”

Grim faced, I climbed back on my bike and started back home. A couple of hundred yards in, a turkey vulture flew over my head. It looked down, saw my distress and obviously thought, “Lunch!!!!!” with five exclamation points.

It kept circling, lower and lower until I thought I could hear it say, “Die already you flabby sonavagun. I could feed the whole family for an entire year on your carcass!!!!!”

I took my phone out again and asked, “Siri, how much farther?”

“Too far,” Siri said. “You’re going to expire any minute now. We should have gone back inside.”

Determined not to let Siri or the turkey vulture win, I pushed on until, Gadzooks, Eureka, Forsooth, I made it home.

Where I promptly collapsed on the front lawn. I came to when felt the turkey vulture nibbling my earlobe.

I crawled inside. Reached the kitchen island. With great effort I rose up and grabbed my water bottle. It was empty. Fluttering down to the floor was another post-it note.

“BEFORE YOU GO, FILL YOUR WATER BOTTLE!!!!!”

With 5 exclamation points.

Tarzan and the quicksand of advertising

Recently, I received an email from my publisher, KDP, inviting me to a webinar on how to promote my most recent novel, “My Grave Is Deep,” and I were so inclined, the two previous books in the Noah Greene series, “Tears in the Rain” and “Tears of God.”

A nice woman led a throng of us writers not named John Grisham, Lee Child or George R.R. Martin, through what only can be described as the swamp of KDP advertising/marketing platform. I say swamp not in a derogatory way. I only mean that if you venture in, you’re likely to get sucked under in the quicksand of details on what it takes to set up a KDP ad campaign.

There are keywords to come up with, bids to make on those keywords to be competitive with other keyword bidders, metrics, dashboards and advertising cost to books bought ratio.

By the time she was finished, I’d gone under, like the nasty villains (is there any other kind?) in Tarzan and the Amazons, in which a bloated Johnny Weissmuller looks as if he swallowed an actual Amazon.

Of course, like Kirkus, which favorably reviewed “My Grave Is Deep” and the New York Review of Books, which saw that favorable review, KDP wants money for me to do, um, ALL THE FREAKIN’ WORK!

I can understand Kirkus and NYRB because they aren’t the publishers.

But KDP IS the publisher and, as such, takes a healthy cut of every book that gets bought. So healthy that if my last name was Grisham, KDP would look like Tarzan in the aforementioned film.

Sure, KDP built the advertising tools, dense though they are, but to ask an author to pay for the right to advertise a book they’re already making money on is taking a second, third and fourth bite of the Amazon … uh, apple.

I can set a budget for the ad campaign and decide how much my keyword bids are. (As a side note, KDP recommends at least 100 keywords for the campaign so that when readers do a search they can see your ad. 100? Beyond “mystery” and “please” and “buy” I’m having a hard time coming up with 10 keywords. “Starving?” “Broke?”) Based on sales, my budget for a one-month campaign would be about, $1.

Truth is, I’ve calculated how many books I’d need to sell to afford Kirkus, NYRB and KDP ads and it comes out to about 6 million.

The next sound you hear is me yelling “Tarzan! Throw me a vine!”

My “Interesting” author interview

I’ve be AWOL (Absent Without Leave for you youngsters, all two of you) for several weeks because I’ve been busy.

We’ve just moved to a new home in the South, and my loving partner cleverly left me alone to make ALL the decisions, which as we men in the crowd know will be changed the minute she arrives on the scene. Anyway, her excuse was she wanted to continue to work.

“How long?” I asked.

“Oh, you know,” she said. Translated that meant “Until all the work on the new house is done, boxes unpacked, everything put away, contractors finished with their work, all loose ends tied up.”

So, I’ve been here as a parade of contractors came through and fixed what should have been fixed the first time around. And, of course, they give you those windows of time that force you to wait on their arrival.

“We’ll be there sometime between tomorrow and 2022.”

I’ve also had computer issues. My Mac did NOT want to connect to my network. I’ve discovered that I now lead such a connected life that one blip leaves me cowering in a corner, in a fetal position, crying and slobbering all over the brand new carpet, for which I need to get a carpet cleaner who will give me a time window of several months between the hours of 3 a.m. and midnight.

But things are looking up and suddenly, this morning, my computer said, “Hello, where have you been?”

During my time away, I also did an author interview. No, really. I was interviewed by Tony Eames of NFreads.com, a general interest website with an emphasis on featuring interesting authors of both fiction and non fiction. I’ve never been called interesting before. Well, once, in high school, when a girl told me I had interesting eyebrows. “The rest of you, not so much,” she said with a smile.

Anyway, the interview is up on the site and can be found here.

Meanwhile, sales of “My Grave Is Deep” is picking up. Got a royalty check for two figures! Two!

Two figures here, two figures there and pretty soon, I’ll be able to buy lunch.

Of course,, I won’t be able to go out for lunch because I’ll still be waiting on the carpet cleaners.

How many books do I want to sell? Hmm …

“How many books do you want to sell?”

“How many books have you sold?”

Two questions, years apart.

The first was asked by my former publisher, the latter by all sorts of people.

Years ago, I contacted a small independent publisher located in North Carolina to see if they might be interested in publishing my second Noah Greene novel, “Tears of God.”

It wasn’t long before I received a call from the owner of Word Branch.

“What are your expectations?” she asked. “How many books do you want to sell?”

“I just want to see the book out there,” I said.

And that was true. Mostly. In the back of my mind, I harbored a hope that I’d sell thousands of books, that people would flock to book signings and fall in love with my second child, the first being “Tears in the Rain.”

(I had that whole crying game theme until someone told me to cut it out.)

But being a small publisher, Word Branch was unable to get much traction for my book – or any of the books in its portfolio for that matter – and eventually shuttered its doors. They tried hard, but being an independent publisher these days is difficult. Large bookstore chains, only want to inventory books from publishers willing to participate in a buy-back policy. Big publishing houses are more than willing to purchase the leftovers of, say, Stephen King, because they know there won’t be many books remaining on the shelves. A house the size of Word Branch just can’t afford to buy back the books of E. E. Williams.

Perhaps you’re wondering about independent booksellers. Independent bookstores want nothing to do with independent publishers. Why? No idea. But there was many a time when I wanted to sneak in to a Joseph A. Beth store and secretly insert a copy of my book onto the shelf and see what happened. I didn’t, but I was tempted.

So, with Word Branch not an option for my third Noah Greene novel, “My Grave Is Deep,” I went searching for a new publisher. It turned out to be harder than a Medicare patient looking for a new doctor.

I got lots of positive rejections. “Loved it, but …” “Wish all our submissions were as good as this, but …” “I really wish I could, but …”

Then there were the agents. Don’t get me started.

That left me with one option – publish the book myself.

Which I did on Amazon’s KDP platform.

Amazon has all sorts of tools and videos to help you market the book, but essentially, you’re on your own. Bad news for me. I’ve never been good at beating my own drum, or asking for help. I did ask a few friends and acquaintances to mention the book and John Scalzi, the best sci-fi writer working today, gave me a space on his very popular blog to promote the book.

The novel came out in January and since then, I’ve been asked a thousand times how many books I’ve sold.

The answer is, I don’t know. I’m afraid to look.

I did get a royalty check for $5.83 so I’m guessing sales are sluggish. Still, I was able to buy a cookie and a Diet Coke with that. Well, I had to come up with another 25 cents, but basically the royalty covered the cost.

I’m not sure how to feel about how things are going. I think I’m a decent writer. I think the books are good. They’re not winning a Pulitzer, I get that. Marilyn Stasio isn’t reviewing them for her popular New York Times Crime column. But they’re as good as some writers whose books are currently sitting on the shelves at B&N or Books A Million.

So, I waft between being encouraged — $5.83 was more than I made at Word Branch – and being dejected.

Writing is a lonely art, and it’s tougher than you might think. A lot of sweat went into these books.

How much is that worth?

Yeah, I know … $5.83.

The non-world book tour

I’ve been missing in action the last few weeks because I went to Paris.

Oh, an International tour for his new novel, “My Grave Is Deep,” you’re probably thinking. A book signing at the base of the Eiffel Tower. A reading at the Louvre.

Uh, no.

The only tour I’ve done for “My Grave Is Deep” is around my living room. I have managed to sell several books to my housemate, but she loves me and feels obligated.

I’m not certain she’s actually read the novel, but she does use the books as paperweights, so there’s that.

Truth is, I don’t think anybody in my immediate family has read my novels (“Tears in the Rain,” “Tears of God,” and “My Grave Is Deep”).

My mother prefers James Patterson’s books, or at least the books James Patterson puts his name on and others write.

My sister fears she would learn something about her big brother she’d prefer not to know, so she avoids them like a bunny rabbit avoids a hungry raptor.

My son … my son hasn’t read a book since “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.” Come to think about it, it was me who read it to him, so …

My cousins have read them. I think. I know one branch of my family bought my first book and passed it around, thus denying me significant royalties.

Anyway, Paris. It was a vacation. On a Viking river cruise. Which I highly recommend by the way. Great food. Great boat. Great staff.

Discovered a few things while I was there.

One, the French don’t hate Americans. They hate everybody.

Two, there’s about a thousand Notre Dame cathedrals throughout France. The fire that consumed Notre Dame in Paris was devastating, but there are plenty of others to look to, including Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, which is bigger and older than its Parisian brother. It took 500 years to build the church in Rouen. Richard the Lionheart is buried there. Or, at least, his heart is. His bones are over there in Anjou and his entrails over there in Chalus, where he died. Who knew?

Three, there’s something very wrong about crowding in to see da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and then turning your back to it so you can take a selfie that shows nothing but your big fat idiot head and a tiny corner of the most FAMOUS FREAKING PAINTING IN THE WORLD!!! What is wrong with you people?

Four, it was good to be the king. Or queen. Or emperor. The house where Napoleon and Josephine lived in wedded bliss until the bliss was gone and they divorced is a city block long, three stories high and has more paintings of Jo and Nap that you can count on your fingers and toes. One room had six portraits of Jo-Jo, none of which were a selfie by the way.

Five, people on a river cruise really don’t like it when you open your coat and pull out a copy of your novel and ask if they’d like to buy it.

Buy it, not read it. Can’t even get my family to do that.

Nature calling baby toilets

So the latest trend in hotel bathrooms is the baby toilet.

By baby I mean a toilet for a baby.

About three inches around and two inches off the floor.

Just big enough for a baby’s bottom.

I do not have a baby’s bottom.

I discovered these baby toilets a few months ago when staying in a Cleveland hotel.

Nature called in the middle of the night. I hate it when nature calls in the middle of the night. It’s almost never good news. But I answered anyway and stumbled into the bathroom and sat down.

And down.

And down.

I’d say I hit rock bottom, but my bottom hadn’t hit the rock yet.

Down, down, down I went until, finally, my derriere met the cold plastic seat of the toilet. Or, about 25% of my derriere did. The rest was on overhang duty.

Now when nature calls in the middle of the night, I mostly keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to see no nature. Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when I felt my knees tickle my chin. What are those, I asked myself? Squirrels? Burglars? Whatever, what are they doing in my bathroom? Had nature called them as well?

Eventually, my head cleared enough to realize that my chin was resting on another part of my anatomy. I felt below me and found generous portions of my derriere just hanging in the breeze and, below that, the floor.

I’m dreaming, I thought. Has to be a dream. Maybe if I stand up, I’ll wake up.

But, my butt won’t budge. I’m too low to the ground and too old to and my knees too creaky to get up from the baby toilet. I can barely get up from a normal toilet.

Now I’m starting to panic. What if I’m stuck here all night? What if nature calls again? And again?  This toilet is so tiny we could be talking dam spillway failure. I’d call someone, but the phone is out of reach, I can’t get up, and even if I could, I don’t anyone finding me on this baby toilet with nature all over me.

I did the only thing I could. I rocked once, twice, tucked my head between my knees and somersaulted through the bathroom door, which, I have to admit was pretty nifty, but, um, messy.

Satisfied, I staggered back to bed and fell sleep.

Until nature called.