Thursday, December 29, 2011

On friendship

This time of year usually finds me waxing philosophical. As 2011 comes to an end I’d like to offer my thoughts on friendship.

It occurs to me that Facebook threatens to dilute the very concept of friendship. Nobody has 200, or 500--or however many--‘friends’. ‘Acquaintances’ is more like it. Most people are lucky to have a handful of actual friends. Not that I have anything against Facebook--Facebook has helped me get back in touch with a good many folks who are very dear to me that I never thought I’d see again. Without it, I’d have a hard time keeping up with people I don’t see that often. I think Facebook is wonderful. In fact, I recently saw something on Facebook that neatly sums up the whole point of this post: “Life is too short to spend with people who suck the happiness out of you.”

Unlike family relationships, friendships are voluntary. I maintain that you don't really know a person until you've known them several years. This is true for platonic friendships as well as capital “R” Relationships, and I believe a lot of misery could be avoided if people would just give their relationships plenty of time before investing emotional energy in them.

2011 was a milestone year for me in many ways, and many life-enhancing and uplifting things have happened to me this year. The publication of my book springs immediately to mind. Another is getting back in touch with a long-lost friend that I’ve been trying to track down for over a decade. I consider myself lucky to have many actual friends. This year marks the 20th year that I’ve known most of my close friends. They stayed my friends even when I dropped out of sight for a while when I lived abroad. (For this I blame the former spousal equivalent, a jealous and extremely controlling man with few friendships of his own.) But this year I also took stock of some relationships and have come to the conclusion that spending time with someone does not necessarily equate to friendship.

Alas, most of us have had friends who turned out to be anything but. Friendship means different things to different people, so is hard to define. But I think it’s safe to say that the person who breaks their plans with you when they get a ‘better’ offer, publicly snubs you, belittles you or makes snide comments ("I'm kidding," they say--as if that somehow makes it hurt less!) is not your BFF. Of course, we all do unfriendly things from time to time, but when nastiness is deliberate and happens on a regular basis it’s time to examine the relationship. The opposite is equally true. It’s painfully easy to take for granted those people who are kind and supportive and have been there for you for years--or decades. Sometimes you realize that a treasured friendship means more to you than it does to the other person. Unpleasant, but it happens. It doesn’t mean you must allow yourself to be trodden on. Neither does it mean you have to break off all contact with that person. It may, however, require an adjustment to the relationship. Of course, being the perpetual optimist I am, I can always hope a damaged friendship can be repaired. In the meantime, my resolution this year, instead of the usual lose a few pounds or get more exercise, is to spend more time with my friends and less time with people who don’t enhance my life in some way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday madness

Is it just me or is there is an air of desperation about the Christmas advertising? It starts earlier and earlier every year. You can try to avoid the hype, but it takes a lot of discipline and isn’t always possible. By mid-November you can’t go out in public without being bombarded with increasingly strident demands to buy, buy buy. This year I saw Christmas decorations on store shelves in October. And television, well, do I even need to say anything? I don’t want to listen to Christmas music for weeks on end every time I go out of the house. I especially don’t want to listen to it in November. It makes me want to stay home. So I do.

Christmas presents--the concept is deeply engrained in us, from the time we're kids. Now there even seems to be an unofficial holiday devoted to Christmas shopping, Black Friday. Seriously, what does this say about us as a society? What can you say about a society where people riot, break down doors, are trampled to death just to stock up on cheap consumer goods? Does it ever occur to anybody just to stop the madness? Stop brainwashing your kids?

Imagine that you just say “No” to Christmas presents. You don't have to spend weeks endlessly shopping for stuff for other people that they don't really need, in turn for which they will give you stuff you don't need either. My family and I agreed years ago, and my ex after that, to stop buying each other presents. And you know what? It works. It makes for a much nicer holiday. It took me a while to train some of my friends, but my parents were all for it We all readily agreed that we have way more stuff than we need. Why spend more money to buy people stuff that they can buy for themselves? The money we would have spent on presents now goes toward doing fun things. We go out for a nice meal, have a party or simply save it. Now there’s a novel idea. I don't miss the consumerist madness, I and the people near and dear to me don’t end up with stuff we don't want, and I don't have to spend my limited free time trying to guess what someone else wants.

There have been a few who are resistant to the idea and insist on buying me stuff anyway, but I just remind them kindly that I don’t participate in the madness and they eventually get it. Try this, you’ll see. It’s probably easier if you don’t have kids. But seriously, step away from the hype and you’ll see how insane it is.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Stephen King moment

I recently had an bizarre experience. A couple of weeks ago, I met one of my characters in real life. I call this my Stephen King moment. In his book On Writing, King writes about the accident when he was hit by a car. He goes on to describe the maniac that had been driving the car. He writes, “ occurs to me that I have nearly been killed by a character right out of one of my own novels.”

A friend organizes events for a living and a couple of weeks ago I was helping her, checking people in to an art festival, when tall blond guy came up and shook my hand. His name is Mark. I’d exchanged emails with him but this was the first time we’d met in person, and it dawned on me later that he could be my character Sandy come to life. In my book, Sandy is the go-to guy for my team of ghost hunters. He’s resourceful, perennially good-natured and a bit of a mystery, his only problem being a morbid fear of the paranormal. I don’t know if Mark shares Sandy’s fear of ghosts, but he’s as laid-back and charming a person as you could hope to meet, with a cheerful smile and an unassuming demeanor. He’s also handsome, in a blond surfer-dude sort of way.

Sandy was one of my first characters. I created him years ago, before I even had a story. So to meet someone that looks and acts pretty much just as I’d imagined him was a little bit surreal, to say the least. I didn’t share this revelation with my new acquaintance for fear he’d take it the wrong way, but I imagine the opportunity for an author to spy on one’s own characters doesn’t present itself every day. So if he noticed me lurking about he didn’t seem to take offense. I wouldn’t want my real-life Sandy to think I’m some kind of stalker. But meeting him was enlightening, a lot of fun, and--happily--rather a more pleasant experience than Stephen King’s.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My book release party!

A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I had a wonderful party to celebrate the release of my book, The Haunted House Symphony. It was a wonderful evening and I’m thankful that I have so many wonderful and supportive friends. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A dark day indeed

There’s nothing quite like getting a blast of bad news first rattle out of the box. I overslept this morning and was groggy when I stumbled over to my computer. My Facebook page was still open and that’s how I found out that Steve Jobs died.
I can’t say it was unexpected. In the last photo I saw of him he probably didn’t weigh 98 pounds soaking wet. And I knew that he must be very ill indeed to step down at Apple.
I am vocally and unashamedly a Mac Moonie. Switching from Windows to Mac was like going from black and white to color. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that--at least in some ways--it changed my life. The specter of Apple sinking into the oblivion of Microsoftian mediocrity is almost too painful to contemplate.
By the way, if you use a computer, even if it's not a Mac, Steve Jobs still impacted your life. If it weren't for him, you'd still be using DOS.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The one writing tool every writer needs

I recently gave a copy of my book to my aunt, a sweet and very kind lady who’s getting on in years. She expressed astonishment that I actually sat down and took the time to write a whole book. It’s true that writing can be quite a chore. Writing requires discipline and dedication, and you have to be able to force yourself to sit down and just write, even when you don’t feel like it. But we have it so easy today compared to our literary predecessors.

Imagine the dedication, the drudgery, the sheer effort that once upon a time went into writing a book. Imagine a time when there were no computers or even typewriters. Does it not boggle your mind to think that some, possibly most, of the greatest works of literature--the books that we regard as classics--were written by hand? Let’s pick at random a well-known work, David Copperfield. According to Wikipedia it was first published in 1850. My copy, the Modern Library paperback edition printed in 2000, is 821 pages long. I can’t even begin to fathom the time and effort that went into writing this book, and it was but one of many! Dickens didn’t have a Mac, typewriters hadn’t been invented yet. Even the lowly ballpoint pen didn’t come along for almost another century. He probably didn’t even have a fountain pen--at that time, most pens were the kind that you had to dip into ink. The sheer amount of work that went into just about any writing effort is staggering. How did they handle corrections and additions? And not only did you have to write your draft by hand, but you had to write the whole thing out again, neatly and without corrections, for the fair copy that you submitted for publication.

Now think about all the fabulous tools we have at our disposal. One phenomenal application that no serious writer should be without is Scrivener, from a company called Literature and Latte. Once for Mac only, it’s been recently released for Windows. If I had to pick just one piece of software to keep, it would be Scrivener without a question.

It’s hard to summarize what Scrivener is exactly. I guess you would call it a productivity tool for writing. I use Scrivener to jot down my ideas for a story without text or dialog. Everything that happens gets its own synopsis on a separate virtual index card. Then I look at the story in Scrivener’s nifty corkboard mode and arrange everything into chapters, reworking or adding to the plot as necessary. Once I have the details down, then it’s just a matter of fleshing out each idea with plot and dialog. Because everything is compartmentalized, revisions, even major re-writes are manageable. I can’t imagine trying to write a full-length novel without it, but it works just as well for anything where you need help organizing your ideas. It comes with project templates for short stories, novels, essays, proposals, even poetry and lyrics. Scrivener also has script-writing features, if you’re so inclined.

There is a special folder for research, into which you can import all kinds of bits and bobs-- web pages, drawings, notes, basically anything that you might refer to later. I keep my list of story ideas, cast of characters and location notes in this folder so that everything’s right there in one spot.There’s a bit of a learning curve, mainly because there’s nothing else out there quite like it. But they have an excellent tutorial and plenty of resources on their website.

Scrivener is not intended to be a full-fledged desktop publishing or even word processing tool. Having said that, it does have some rather robust formatting capabilities. When your draft is finished, Scrivener can compile it into several different formats. And it will even compile directly to ePub, probably your best option if you’re going the Kindle-only route.

You can’t beat the price. The full version is only $45. Scrivener has way too many other cool features for me to talk about, so here’s a link to their website:

Monday, August 29, 2011

In print at last

I'm excited to announce that my book, The Haunted House Symphony is now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback, and for the Kindle and Nook!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Haunted House Symphony now available on Smashwords

It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’m thrilled to announce that The Haunted House Symphony is now available on Smashwords. The printed version will follow soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A recent investigation

Recently I went on a paranormal investigation at the site of a POW camp. The site wasn't at all what we expected. There aren't any actual buildings left at the POW camp, which housed German soldiers during World War II and migrant workers at other times. Some concrete foundations and a rusty water tower is all that remains. It's now the city park, complete with baseball diamond. The picnic pavilion and the concrete slabs, I've since learned, are foundations of the meeting hall and prisoner barracks.
I didn't expect to get anything interesting, since it was outdoors and there was so much background noise. We didn't get so much as an EMF hit, although there was an intermittent nasty odor around the playground. We searched the area pretty thoroughly and couldn’t find an organic source.

To my surprise when I listened to the recording a few days later and got several clear but faint EVPs. We got a response to a question, were told to get out, and got a rude noise. But what we were most interested in, however, was finding out whether we'd picked up anything near the kiddie playground where we'd smelled the funky smell. And we did. It's clear even without headphones. I thought it was a growl or a cough, but my friend Debbi was the one who recognized it as a death rattle. We picked it up right in the spot where we'd smelled what we thought was something dead. This is not the first time I’ve run across a negative entity, or one that communicates by smell. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. It’s a bit creepy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Although the paranormal is a subject I've always been interested in, I'll be the first to admit I was a skeptic. Shows like Ghost Hunter show us plenty of evidence, but any of it could easily be faked. It's television, after all. It's what they do. So I promised myself I would believe it when I got some solid evidence of my own. I lived in Europe for a long time, and folks over there just aren't interested in this kind of stuff. I had to wait until I got back to the States before I could find a group of like-minded people.
So I joined a ghost hunting group but went on several investigations before I captured some clear EVPs. I've since recorded several more and have had some other experiences. I'm convinced now that there's something out there that I can't account for. Exactly what it is I don't know. But just because I can't explain them doesn't mean I dismiss them. You shouldn't take my word or anybody else's, though. Don't believe anything until you have some evidence of your own that you know without a shadow of a doubt is real.
Remember that the word 'paranormal' just means 'not normal'. If you lived 200 years ago photography, radio and TV would all seem paranormal to you.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I'm Sue Latham, author of the forthcoming book, The Haunted House Symphony. This is my first novel and I couldn't be more excited. It's a ghost hunting mystery starring Margo Monroe, who recently left her boring office job to become a professional ghost hunter; her old pal Ernie, a slightly nerdy tech genius who works with her; Sandy, their phantasmophobic assistant; and some-time accomplice Elaine, with whom Ernie is secretly in love. They're working incognito out of a hidden lab at the local college, but their cover is blown when what looks at first to be a routine investigation turns into an adventure that catapults them into the spotlight.
With the help of the ghost of an unfortunate young woman, they make some unexpected discoveries that turn out to be a lot more than last century's headline news.
If you're into ghost hunting, you'll love my book! Look for it this summer.

Labels: fiction, ghost, mystery