Not a Country of Immigrants

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats (and non-citizen residents who are the descendants of expats). The 20% who are citizens benefit from a wide variety of benefits involving land, housing, healthcare, and education, among other things. They run the country.

The UAE is a modern nation, newly built out of an almost uninhabited desert. Over the past sixty years, oil wealth and air conditioning have allowed thriving cities to spring up where only a few thousand people once huddled along the coast.

Visitors can’t help but be impressed with how clean and safe Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. Everything seems new and shiny, and helpful people abound.

Yet, if you begin to ask questions (something I have a habit of doing) you will find that most if not all of the friendly people serving your coffee and carting your luggage are not Emiratis. They are from Indonesia and the Philippines, or from India or Pakistan. Most (but not all) are Muslim, and they are in the UAE seeking a better life, just like your Uber driver in most US cities. The big difference for them is that they know they and their children will never belong.

So, why do they come to an Arab nation that is so determined not to be a country of immigrants? Well, the UAE is arguably the richest land of opportunity near their original homes. They appreciate the clean and safe environment, too. For many, the common religion is a big factor. They like the lack of income tax on money made here. In short, it is the best alternative for them.

Expats are held to a high standard of good behavior, here, and if deported they can never come back. Our guide brags about how the UAE led the development of retina scanning. Ours have been scanned and recorded when we entered the country, we are told. I find the fact chilling. They have the right to do this? I guess they do.

The point of the retina scanning is that no fake passports will work for those who are not welcome to come back. The UAE makes sure all expats know this.

I’m from a nation that has a horrible history of having overrun those who originally lived there. It’s something to be ashamed of, but after its ignoble start, the USA did become a land of welcoming opportunity to many and I was raised to be proud of that. So, I find the clearly articulated nativism of the UAE disconcerting.

I remind myself that one travels to learn about other lands, and other lands do not have to have the same philosophy as my own homeland.  Of course they don’t.

I look up the definition of “nativism” to make sure I am using it correctly. It is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Yup, I’m using it right.

The UAE is full of wonderful sights and wonderful people. I’m so glad I visited, and I’d recommend the trip to others. However, I prefer the messy but welcoming enthusiasm with which my own homeland once greeted others seeking a better life, and I look forward to the day when the USA returns to being that sort of country.

 

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

We have Groucho Marx to thank for this witty line. It pops into my head every time I think about how time flies.

Most of my life I’ve considered time, not money, to be my most valuable resource. Maybe I should have put it second to love, or joy, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t. Maybe I always thought I was going to die young. Lucky for me, I’m getting a little too old to do that ….

If you cherish your minutes like I do, you tend to be busy, focused and impatient. Friends marvel at how much you get done. They also wish you’d learn to relax more.

This last year has been more intense than most, as I seized the day, the week, and the months to re-release new versions of my six novels.  I was often up at dawn (not my normal), driven to get through one more chapter. I had to make these perfect. I had to get them done.

Then, I did. And, I was exhausted.

I had expected to finish a month sooner, and had scheduled some travel to unwind after my big push. Instead, I ended up rushing off on my trip, finally catching my breath on a five-hour cross country flight that was running over three hours late. Sort of like me. I woke up somewhere on the Pacific coast and thought now what?

Now what, indeed. I ate lunch at the beach. Put my feet in the ocean. Went to a party, saw a live show and a movie, and went wine tasting. I even tried my hand at some virtual reality game involving light sabers and music.

There was pizza and french fries for dinner, lots of ice cream, and plenty of wine. Sometimes that wine was drunk in the middle of the day.

I relaxed. I enjoyed myself. I had fun.

Wow.

Should I have wasted all that time?? You bet. You see, time flies like an arrow. Best use some of it to recharge your batteries and enjoy this wonderful gift of getting to exist. As the fruit flies will tell you, there’s no reason part of it shouldn’t be fun.

So that’s what he really looks like?

My vision of main character Alex was always more emotional then physical.  He was solid, dependable, someone to rely on and hang on to. Okay, he was also tall and blondish, but that was about all I knew.

My first cover for Twists of Time (originally published as z2) showed an outline of the man, and I sort of liked the vagueness of this portrayal.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Alex really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

I decided to tolerate the model they selected for Alex, even though I wasn’t crazy about him. He really didn’t look like Alex to me, but I felt like I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted and if I gave it some time then maybe this one would grow on me.

Lucky for me, my sister disagreed. She didn’t know what Alex looked like either, but she was so positive it wasn’t this that she went to Shutterstock and emailed me photos of several other models.

Okay, it looked like we’d have to find another Alex. Option one she sent was clearly too young, but the other six could work. I went searching for any of them.

Man number four was easy to find, and I asked the fine folks at DDD if we could use him. Back came the new Alex and I knew he was right.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Alex to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately most of them had one of two expressions. Alex was either grinning, or looking puzzled. (Or both.) And on this cover, we needed Alex to be a bit menacing.

The first attempt worked for me, but I got a lot of push back from others who thought Alex looked sneaky because he was looking away. Well that wasn’t the intent, so I asked DDD to see what they could do. I was pretty pleased with the eye surgery they performed, and when I saw the final product, I knew this was what Alex really looked like.

 

All Done and I’m Still Not Sure

Arrrghhh. Working with a professional designer on a cover is great fun, but it also can bring out the worst in me. I’m a perfectionist, at least about the things that matter to me, and my books matter to me a lot. I’m also a people pleaser. I hate to be a pest. The result is I tend to say I’m okay with something, when I’m really not.

You can see how these two impulses could combine to cause a problem.

My first two covers went pretty well. With the first one I accepted some things I didn’t like (Lola’s red lipstick, Somadina was supposed to be tall) because overall I liked the direction we were going and I wasn’t sure how many changes I could request. Plus, how much does lipstick and height of a character on a cover really matter?

On my second one I pushed harder to get Zane exactly right, and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky that Afi was perfect on the first try and the background was beautiful by attempt number two. The nice people I was working with seemed okay with my persisting on a single issue (Zane), and I couldn’t be happier than I am with the cover we ended up with.

I feel like I’ve strained the relationship, however, with cover three.  Two variables were perfect right from the start. I loved Xuha, and loved the Maya ruins the designer had found for the background.

But I wasn’t happy with Alex’s head or his body (two different elements with this designer.)  I was really unhappy with the first circle of yellow light that looked too much like the first book. My problem was that I tried to complain about only one thing at a time. (It seemed more polite.) So as the designer fixed one thing and thought she was done, back I came with something else I wanted different. I can understand her frustration.

She varied the light. I didn’t really like it. She changed Alex’s head. That was good. Then I didn’t like his body. She did new forms of light. She suggested five different bodies. She made the light swath different colors. More transparent. She added more white light behind the men. The more she dinked, the more I didn’t know what I wanted. Finally I decided it was time to stop whining and call it good.

But is it good? I do like the background, Xuha and Alex (now) but I’m still not happy with the use of light. The swath in front still looks too much like a feather boa, and the light from behind doesn’t have the power I wanted to see. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it.

So I finally said “This will do.”

Now I’m having buyers remorse. I opened up an editing program and tried to cartoon in what I wanted to see. Then, when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done I realized I didn’t really like it any better. Arrrghhh. Here is the final cover, followed by my two attempts to improve it. What do you think? Do I go back and offer to pay to have revisions made? Or do I tell myself to take a few deep breaths, maybe go have a glass of wine, and decide this cover is just what it’s meant to be?

Final cover

I add more light

I play with the light

z2 will die

What prompts an author to kill her own book?

In early 2019 my third novel is scheduled to die. I admit the prospect makes me sad. This book, with its sunny yellow cover, has been part of my life for a while.

I finished it in late 2012, and released it on Kindle on my husband’s birthday in January of 2013. Physics teacher turned superhero Alex Zeitman remains one of my favorite creations.

As with my first two books, x0 and y1, I’ve never totaled up the exact sales, because it’s not easy to separate a sale from a give-away. I’m pretty sure I’ve been paid for at least two hundred copies, and have gifted at least as many more. I’d hoped for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.

Times change. Sales of z2 have gone from small to nearly zero.

A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This professional writer pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.

I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I do need a new ISBN number (no problem). I also need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 400 humans who already read this story.)

And …. I need to kill z2. That is, I must take it off the market completely. No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve eliminated all the hyperlinks in the book, and the text that went with them. I’ve made corrections and done minor clean-up. Why not. But I’ve refrained from doing anything major.

Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I have. The original z2 came in at almost 132,000 words. I’m not sure what the leaner new version will be, but I’m targeting under 110,000. I’m in the process of breaking the chapters into smaller chunks. I’m giving more attention to point of view. I’m taking the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’m doing my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.

It is still a work in progress, but so far I’m pleased with the result.

So while z2 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel. I’ll be blogging all about it here soon,

Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home

I left Kansas when I was 17 years old, and I remain surprised at the number of Wizard of Oz references I still get when I tell someone where I was born and raised. Today I am off the road, enjoying the town I once called home. To my delight, it remains surprisingly familiar.

There is lunch with a childhood friend at a restaurant my family frequented when I was a kid. There is a visit to a small parcel of land my sister and I still own, and to the little oil well on it. I say my thanks for the dribble of extra income both provide

It has been six years since I’ve seen my parents’ graves. I put fresh flowers there, knowing the Kansas wind and August sun will reduce them to nothing by the end of week. It’s the thought that counts, or at least I hope it is.

My cousin takes me on a tour of the town. The college is bigger, there are more hotels and restaurants which he proudly points out. He wants me to know the town is thriving and growing. He doesn’t understand that I’m so happy to know it is still much the same as I remember it.

We drive by the building that used to house my fathers shop, a small electronics business. It was turned into a run down pawn store after his death, and I winced whenever I passed it. But look! It has a new life now, as a pet grooming shop. The grounds are clean and the building looks well cared for and I acknowledge some changes around town can be for the better.

I knew before I began my day what my Rule of the Road #8 would be. Get off the road once in awhile, and look around.

I also knew what my song of the day would be. It really was no contest. Yes, I know it has been overplayed, but trust me, if you had listed to as many dumb jokes about Toto and Auntie Em as I have, you’d want this song here too.

It comes to you all the way from Hawaii, the beautiful home of this artist.

 

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

Day 7. Cry

Didn’t think to look at the weather forecast, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I needed to get from Omaha to Hays Kansas today and the drive was going to get done, rain or shine. It turned out to be rain, and lots of it. At least today Google and I agreed on the best route.

I put Hays into this trip because it is the deepest of my roots, the place where I was born and raised, where I came back to be married, and where both of my parents are buried, along with any other ancestor who died after arriving in the U.S. It’s been six years since I was here, and as I cross into Kansas on Highway 81, the rain and the destination combine to form a sense of melancholy.

I have a playlist called 26 songs for sad times. (Yes, I really do like making playlists for everything.) Starting it is a good call; everyone of those 26 speaks to me behind the steady thwank of the windshield wipers, and in that odd way, their sorrow eases mine.

I end the medley the way it began, with Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. It helps me understand Rule of the Road #7. It’s okay if some of your travels make you sad. Go ahead and cry.

The rain lets up as I turn onto Interstate 70 in Salina and as I head west, the sky turns blue. As I approach Hays. I coax myself out of the car to a take selfie by an old limestone sign. The truck whiz past me and I know; tomorrow will be a different sort of day.