You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think— a book review

I’ve listened to Wes Moss for a few years now, but usually for just a few minutes at a time. His show, Money Matters, is on a local radio station on Sunday mornings, and I usually tune it in as I drive to church. More than once, however, I have sat in my van, in the parking lot, listening for just a few more minutes, because his show is interesting and his advice seems very sound.

So, after hearing him hawk it a few times, I downloaded the Kindle version of You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, which has a somewhat misleading title. The subtitle is very much the point of the book, “The 5 Secrets of the Happiest Retirees.” And, as someone who is married to a guy contemplating an early retirement, I really wanted the book to be about the main title. Still, I found this an easy and interesting read. According the Amazon listing: After conducting an intensive study of happy retirees to learn the financial practices they hold in common, Moss discovered that it doesn’t take financial genius, millions of dollars, or sophisticated investment skills to ensure a safe, solid retirement. All it takes is five best practices:

Determine what you want and need your retirement money for
Figure out how much you need to save
Create a plan to pay off your mortgage in as little as five years
Develop an income stream from multiple sources
Become an income investor

The retiring sooner part simply comes from the assertion that many folks who want a happy retirement belleve that a number of dollars, i.e. a million or two or even more, is the main way that retirees can leave the workforce. Instead, Moss uses his considerable research to point out that beyond a certain income that more is just more, but not a real factor in retirement bliss. He also includes the option of continued work, although scaled back, as something that modern retirees may want to use. Having known a number of people, mostly teachers, who have a full retirement from the state, and then just teach somewhere else, such as being an adjunct at the college level, I can attest to how well that can work.

His other points include how to manage the money you are putting aside for retirement, what to do in the years prior to retirement (such as paying down debt) and, perhaps most important, to have real interests to fill your time when you no longer work.

Some people do not want to retire. Cool. If a person is able, and wants to keep at it, then I think that is fine. But most of us have something else we want to do before we get too old and feeble, and Moss makes a good case for using multiple income streams to be able to fulfill those dreams. This is a good read, whether it affirms your game plan, motivates you to get your financial house in order, or helps you realize that you don’t need to be a multimillionaire to enjoy being retired.

Going, going, almost gone

TrinitycoversmThe Whiskey Creek Press version of Trinity on Tylos is about to become a bit of a collector’s item. When it was first published, I was mostly pleased, although the final edits were rushed and far too many mistakes made it into the print copy. The paperback was not of the best quality, either. The ebook, at least the one I got from the now defunct Fictionwise, was far worse. What few royalty reports I received indicated low sales, and even lower royalties. At one point, I was getting seventeen cents per ebook sale, and a typical quarterly check was about five bucks.

When the book came out, in 2006, I sought out speaking engagements, author-guest slots at science fiction conventions, and I did quite a bit of internet promotional activity, hoping to help Trinity find an audience, and to do my part to help sell the book for WCP. By 2007, I realized that the sales were not going be as good as my self-published debut novel, so I spent far less time promoting it. But, WCP continued to be a disappointment, too. Just to get Amazon to list it, WCP required that I purchase two copies at full price; then, initially, the title was misspelled on Amazon’s website. Eventually, the print book was listed correctly, and I did have a couple of very good reviews on Amazon, as well as several from other sources. When Amazon’s Kindle format began to take on increasing importance, WCP indicated that eventually all of their titles would be available for the Kindle. While Trinity on Tylos was available for the Nook, it was never converted to Kindle format. My original contract was for two years, but I did not ask for my rights back, in part because I hoped WCP would eventually pay me more royalties, and that they would support the book. And, to be honest, I was very busy with my adjunct instructor job, as well as being mom to teenagers, so I didn’t push either promotion or accountability from WCP.

After years and years of zero communications regarding sales, I can only conclude that either there were no sales or WCP kept all of the royalties. I will never know which. I’ve maintained a website, with promotional materials, links to vendors, and so forth, at my expense, and I finally came to the conclusion that WCP was never going to pay me anything ever again. Anyway, I did ask to have my rights back at the end of last year, via email, and there was no response. I asked again recently, via snail mail, and while I still have not heard a word from WCP, I noticed today that Trinity on Tylos is no longer listed for sale by Whiskey Creek Press nor by Barnes and Noble. Amazon still has it for sale, but they list the one lonely copy, and I do remember that I paid for it in 2006. I’ll bet it is quite shopworn by now!

Fellow WCP authors are in a bit of an uproar, because WCP has been sold to a New York firm, Start Media. Some of those other authors have suggested that I self-publish it, as they are doing with their own books, and I have talked with Booklocker about doing the formatting and cover. Since I don’t have a clean copy of the manuscript, I’ll be doing some editing before doing anything else.

In the meantime, Whiskey Creek Press is going, going, soon to be gone. Various interent sites have chronicled the demise of this small press, and much of the dirt is recorded here. For whatever reasons, I’m sad, which is illogical, because the publisher hasn’t been paying me or even bothering to respond to email. And there is little solace in knowing that I am not the only author that they deemed not worth a simple email.

Honor Harrington—revisited

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Quite a while back, when I decided to abandon the best seller list and read what I like and only that, I first read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. Back then, I had a membership in a “Science Fiction” book club, because the internet, as a commercial arena, was in its infancy, so I learned of new titles and authors via the club “magazine” which was, of course, a monthly sales brochure. I began with In Enemy Hands and, quite frankly, I didn’t like the book all that much. The author seemed to spend many more pages focusing on characters and events which were not about the intriguing protagonist, Honor Harrington, and there were so many concepts that I didn’t understand, such as why she had a “treecat” perched on her shoulder, and why everyone was so horrified when the bad guys tried to kill it. Clearly, there was more back story than I was understanding, so I used my dial-up connection and learned that I’d entered a series that was already several books long. I slogged through the book, thinking that I’d have to figure this out, and later I did order On Basilisk Station from Amazon, and met a younger Captain Harrington, as she takes her first starship command, into a backwater area with a bit of backstory, political intrigue, and lots to admire in the main character. But, that book didn’t make me stay up half the night, either. BTW, when I book robs me of sleep, I know its really good.

Still, this Harrington lady was undoubtedly worthy of more of my time, so I moved on to The Honor of the Queen. That one was a homerun, out of the park. When Honor loses her mentor and risks everything to save the beautiful yet backward plant of Grayson, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. Often, sophomore entries in series are weak, but not in this series. Weber’s heroine moves through space, time, and political intrigue in the next entries, The Short, Victorious War and Field of Dishonor, a weak book if read outside of the series, but important in the complete story line, then The Flag in Exile, which is my second favorite of the series, perhaps because Honor saves Grayson again. Or maybe its the scene where she cuts an enemy “from the nave to the chaps” with a later day version of a samarai sword, in front of the ruling body of the entire planet. Then, Honor revisits both friends and enemies from the debut novel in Honor Among Enemies, which also has a strong story line. Only after these six rather lengthy novels is the stage set for the rather dark entry, In Enemy Hands, which was my introduction to Honor Harrington. When I read it again, after reading the first six books, I liked it better, but it is still a dark chapter in Harrington’s long life.

Recently, I picked up the second book, The Honor of the Queen, as a Kindle Freebie from Amazon, and I was hooked all over again. In the past couple of weeks, I re-read it, plus books 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the series. Since I know how it all comes out, well, up until book 11 or so, when I quit reading the series, my zeal for Honor’s exploits is fading a bit. However, anyone who likes military science fiction, or merely a strong heroine, would probably enjoy Books 2-6 of Weber’s Honor Harrington series. As the series has grown longer, it has attracted more and more fans, so there are a number of reviews and sites where readers can learn more, such as the Honorverse Wiki. Honestly, there are few authors who have Weber’s talent, and almost none who have it plus his level of productivity, for in addition to the Honor Harrington series, he has other series, along with some great stand alone novels such as Apocalypse Troll and In Fury Born.

How can I summarize David Weber’s contribution to science fiction? To my pleasure reading? How about, “Wow!”

The College Classroom

I’ve mostly avoided writing about my adjunct instructor job, because it is a great job, with very little drama. In books and on the screen, I like drama, but in my own life, I prefer peace and a decent measure of quiet. Only a couple of times have I had a “drama” situation with a college student, but it isn’t pleasant. In college, presumably the student has choices: which major(s) to seek, which class(es) to take, and even which instructor is going to teach the class. With all of those choices, plus the fact that college is a voluntary activity, there are almost no discipline problems. That is wonderful! When folks ask why I left high school teaching for a part time college job, I just shake my head, because the only thing that is better in high school is the pay check. And, for me, it wasn’t worth it.

But, sometimes, even in college, a student does create a bit of havoc. First, it is uncomfortable, because the other students are not amused, because they have made their aforementioned choices, and the disruptive influence is messing up their own learning experience. Secondly, if the matter is not handled swiftly, the disruptive influence begins to change the atmosphere of the class, as the instructor strives to keep the ship moving on the right course. And that is why, most of the time, the instructor says, “Get out” to the disruptive student.

Recently, a UGA football player, was dismissed from the team. Although the coach’s statement did not specifically refer to it, the media has apparently affirmed that the student did indeed cause a classroom disruption. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the incident occurred in the early afternoon and by evening, the player was free to pursue new opportunities. Some of those “commenters” on the newspaper website basically said the UGA coach should lose the “holier than thou” attitude and cover up such incidents, in order to make his team more competitive. But, having been on the instructor side, I am cheering for the UGA coach.

After all, college is a privilege, and the disruptive student can make some more choices and learn from the situation. And, as the UGA coach said in his statement, that makes opportunities for good guys to get playing time.

Bluegrass, Gospel, Pinto Beans and Cornbread

 

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Moore Brothers band at Merlefest

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My sister invited me to go with her to an event known as “Merlefest” in North Carolina last weekend. We went, along with about 75K other folks, and it was a really amazing festival. She had told me quite a bit about it, and her pitch to get me to go (apart from a four day visit with her) was that I would learn a lot to help my son, the luthier. I did learn, although not so much about luthiery.

First, I learned that God is not out of fashion in the hills of North Carolina. One forgets how “politically correct” our world has become. At Merlefest, I heard all about God, via old-time gospel music (which I love) and many casual references. Here’s an example: In introducing a love song to “Mary” country super-star Alan Jackson said that his wife’s name is Denise, but that didn’t work in the song, so he figured that maybe she wouldn’t be mad if he used the name of Jesus’ mother. It was off-hand and natural. I liked his explanation as well as the song.

Second, I learned that it is possible to feed thousands efficiently with food that was both economical and reasonably healthy. There are several places for food at the festival, but the main one is the “food tent” across from the main stage. There was a booth that sold pinto beans and cornbread for $4. This meal was delicious and filling, and far better than the funnel cakes that I expected. Later, I ate a plate of grilled veggies and rice from another vendor, which was $5. And, my sister’s favorite was the booth run by the Boy Scouts, where they sold a “wing tray” of BBQ chicken for $4. All of these booths were run by local non-profits, so the food had “home made” flavor, too. Sister got a $5 ice cream at one of the commercial spots, but I preferred the more basic fare.

Third, I learned that some acts I would never have chosen to see were among the best. On the first night, I was looking forward to seeing Alan Jackson, but one of the lead in main stage acts was the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This string band was lead by one of the most gifted vocalists I have heard in years, and their performance was filled with energy and precision. Who would have thought that a trained opera singer would be fronting a bluegrass band? Other stand outs included a band (the Moore Brothers) who were 20, 16, and 11. And, my sister and I both loved the old-time sound of The South Carolina Broadcasters.

Lastly, I learned that the many of the festival folks were more tolerant of discomfort than I am. There was rain on day two, so we scuttled into an auditorium and stayed until the showers passed by, but others just found a tree or a tent for a few moments. On the third day, it was hot, and we left the “hillside” during the opening bars of the “album hour” because we didn’t like being fried. Apparently most of those perched on that steep hill stayed. Perhaps the oddest discomfort came from having the more expensive “reserved” seats. As the evening shows progressed, each group was louder than the one before. On the second night, our ear plugs weren’t enough, so we left early, and on the third night we ended up in folding chairs at the back, leaving our reserved seats empty. Some of the performers were asking people to move up to the reserved seats, so I gathered there was a sea of empty seats, which must have been disconcerting (pun intended) for the performers on stage.

The instrument sales tent was filled, with everything from high-end custom guitars to “vintage” instruments, such as a Silvertone guitar in need of a neck reset. I even met the owner of Deering Banjos, a company about to celebrate 40 years as the premier maker of banjos in this country. As for luthiery, two Virginia guitar makers, Wayne Henderson and his daughter Jane, did a presentation that was pretty darned interesting, especially  when he played his first guitar which sounds pretty good, despite the bullet hole in the back.

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles) review

Image A while back, I wrote a review of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which begins a series the author calls The Lunar Chronicles. After I bought it, I did not read it, but put it off for a while. I like science fiction and have no problem with YA titles, but it sounded kinda weird. Once I read it, I did like it. I really liked it, actually. And, once again, I bought the next installment, but put it off while I read another book (Darrell Bain’s The Frontier Rebellion). Then, a few weeks back, I clicked on the cover of Scarlet, and I will admit that I was not entranced after the first chapter, but I pushed myself, and the book did pick up. If you begin and wonder if it is book extolling the virtues of organic gardening, just hold on. Scarlet is a worthy tale, but I will offer a warning to readers—it would be quite confusing to a someone who did not read Cinder first. The story of Scarlet, who abandons the family farm to search for her lost grandmother, is so intertwined with Cinder’s continuing adventures that it is far better to begin with that book and then pick up this action packed story. If this were just the story of Scarlet and Wolf, I would not give it a five star review, but when I reached the end of Cinder, Meyer was clearly not finished, so I was expecting to see her again. Perhaps not so much of her, but that is actually a plus. Now, the character of Scarlet is interesting, and there is plenty of suspense as she struggles to find her grandmother before something really bad happens, but I especially like the multilayer enigma of Wolf. Even more than the first book, this one has the trappings of a gritty urban fantasy, with science fiction elements, and a bit of romance, too. Many times, I have stated that the best fiction is aimed at younger audiences, and this novel is more evidence of that. I noticed that Cress is now available, so I will buy it the next time I am loading up on Kindle titles.

Voyage Through the Stars—and Back in Time!

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My husband stumbled upon an episode of “Star Trek Continues” and after just a few minutes, we were hooked. This upscale “fan film” site is really something to see. There are only a couple of full episodes, but a fully funded Kickstarter campaign from last year should fund at least a couple more episodes. We really liked the loving homage of this effort. Seeing new episodes with the same music, similar storylines, familiar costumes and props, and amazingly original looking sets make this nothing like the “reboot” movies.

These free online videos, which do include some shorter “vignettes” are made by a not-for-profit-entity, filming in Kingsland, Georgia, in a warehouse with 10,000 square feet of sets built to look just like the sets from 40+ years back. The actors do not just dress and look somewhat like the original series characters, but add their own interpretations as well. And, get this: the actor portraying Chief Engineer Scott is James Doohan’s son, Chris. That casting choice is far more authentic than the reboot’s Simon Pegg. Kirk is portrayed by Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and director, and Todd Haberkorn is Spock.

At first, seeing these different actors portraying well known (and loved) characters seemed odd, but after a few minutes, we were more interested in the story line than the actor’s faces and voices. There are some new characters, too, as the premise is that STC is telling the tales from years four and five of the “five year mission” that was only three years long in the original series. Had the series continued, no doubt new characters would have come along, so this concept works well.

Fans of TOS should check out Star Trek Continues, because it is quite entertaining. My husband and I are hoping for many new episodes. And, as residents of Georgia, we are wondering if they are going to have another open house, as they did a couple of years back. I’d love to see those sets!

Little Girl Blue— the Life of Karen Carpenter

Karen CarpenterI’ll admit it, I am getting old. And, apparently, revisiting topics from one’s youth is an interest that older folks have. In the years right before his death, my dad would come home after a lively session at the senior’s center, watch a rerun of Gunsmoke on television, and take his afternoon snooze. While I remember Gunsmoke (along with Sky King, Fury, Roy Rogers, and even Bonanza) I have no desire to revisit them. However, I have a number of Carpenters CDs, because their music is still musical to me. I don’t like to watch the videos (and there are a boat load on YouTube) because their hairstyles and clothing remind me of just how long it has been since those tracks were recorded.

Because she knows how much I love the Carpenters music, some years ago my sister gave me the official biography of the Carpenters by Ray Coleman, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen the tv movie version of their story, which is also on YouTube, along with a PBS special celebrating their music.

Due to inclement weather here in the south, I’ve had more time to read lately, and I stumbled upon a “new” biography, Little Girl Blue— the Life of Karen Carpenter, which was actually published four years ago. This one is “unauthorized,” thus promising to shed some light upon the parts of their story that the Richard Carpenter would rather not have publicized. In some respects, Little Girl Blue delivers.

Most people will want to read this book to know more about Karen (and Richard’s) lives and their music, but some will want to know more about Karen’s battle with anorexia nervosa, a disease that was almost unheard of when she died. Non-fans will probably find it odd that anyone even cares, some thirty years after Karen’s untimely death, but I didn’t care if they weren’t cool in the 70s, and I don’t care now, so I’m interested in their lives, their music, and only a little in the disease that killed Karen.

I’m torn, because in some ways Randy L. Schmidt’s bio, a rather odd combination of the duo’s lives and their musical successes and failures, does succeed, but sometimes it reads like gossip. That is due to his reliance upon “those who knew her.” There are pages and pages of documentation, so there was quite a lot of research that went into this book. But the sources of “new” information are friends and co-workers, some of whom seem glad to finally be heard.

I’m not famous, so no one is going to write my biography, but if someone did, and used Schmidt’s approach, it might read like this: “Pamela J. Dodd did not even use her husband’s name on her books, which infuriated his sister-in-law, who had this to say—” or “in an email a close family member quoted Dodd’s son as saying ‘Rob once said, “Moms the boss…what she says goes.” ‘ In other words, well documented opinions are still, well, opinions.

On the other hand, there are some really interesting revelations about Karen’s financial situation, such as their mother had a trusted friend handle the money and basically put the duo on an allowance, as if they were still in high school. When they finally hired a money manager, there were bank accounts all over the place, because the mother would deposit the maximum covered by FDIC and then open a new account in yet another bank. Even more interesting was the portrait of Karen’s husband as exactly what Karen feared: someone who married her for her money, not for love. The scene where Karen is on the phone, almost hysterical, because the dealer was repossessing the Rolls Royce that her husband had “given” her, lets readers understand her naivete, as well as painting Burris for the gold-digger that he surely was.

Reviewers of this book often focus on the in-depth examination of Karen’s anorexia, especially her relationship with her mother and brother, and some have said that Karen’s mother was unable to say, “I love you” to Karen. That scene takes place in the office of Karen’s therapist, apparently the only therapist that she consulted during an eight year plus struggle with eating disorders, wherein Karen’s mother, Agnes, wouldn’t cooperate with the therapist’s directive to tell Karen that she was loved. In that situation, I might have been both angry and embarrassed, so I have some sympathy for the mom.

Over and over, Schmidt’s book explains the tragedy that Karen’s life became, even before the seemingly inevitable tragedy of her death. If fame and fortune come too early, there can be a terrible price to pay. The entire Carpenter clan was simply not prepared for the success that Richard’s brilliant arrangements and Karen’s amazing vocals brought the family. While Karen paid the biggest price, the whole family suffered, and that is ironic, as well as tragic.

Rise of the Warrior Cop— a review

 

Real life horror stories abound in Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

An 11 year old boy, lying on the floor with family members, guns of SWAT team members pointed at their heads, is the subject of a drug raid. An itchy finger, and the 11 year old boy dies. No charges were brought against the family, because no crime had been committed, apart from the “accidental” shooting of the boy. His family was ultimately awarded three million dollars.

A 43 year old man, Richard Elsass, is sleeping in a trailer near his place of employment. A SWAT team member, clad in black, shines a light into the trailer, frightening the man, who shoots the police officer. SWAT team members return fire, killing the man. This drug raid could have ended peacefully, if the police had identified themselves and allowed Elsass to come out and talk. Instead, five years after the incident, members of Elsass family were awarded 150,000 dollars for the wrongful death of their loved one.

According to Balko, every day in American, innocent civilians are raided, and some of them die. Others are maimed, such as the girl who is burned when a “flash/bang” grenade sets her blanket on fire. Dogs are killed at an alarming pace, because an officer can kill a dog and never face any sort of reprimand.

This isn’t happening in some third world dictatorship. It is happening in America, because American politicians are allowing it to happen.

The Rise of the Warrior Cop does an admirable job of tracing the history of policing from ancient Rome until today. Several misguided policies have led to this deplorable situation, from the “war on drugs” to the release of military grade weapons to American law enforcement.

Everyone should read this book. It is really frightening, and it should be, because Americans have one heck of a problem—their police. People should contact their elected officials and demand reform. Really.

What citizens shouldn’t do is contact the police. ‘Tis sad, but I can’t recall anything good ever coming from an encounter with a policeman. What I didn’t know is how the “us” vs. “them” philosophy has totally eroded the concept of community policing.

Gravity— A Big Step Forward in Filmmaking

Since Gravity was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, one of our local theatres has given it a second chance on the big screen. I admit, it took a bit of insisting to get hubby to go. “What’s it about?” He asked, and when I explained it is about an astronaut who is trying to get home after a space shuttle disaster, hubby wasn’t interested. Yes, I know, it has a been there, done that plot. Having seen Apollo 13, and some lesser films, all with that same basic plot line, I did understand his lack of enthusiasm. Of course, Sandra Bullock isn’t as young as she used to be. And, once you have seen Star Trek or Star Wars, the space shuttle is just so primitive.

Many (mostly amateur) critics have listed all of the stuff that just couldn’t happen, from the lack of diapers on Bullock’s bod to the detachable helmet on the cosmonaut space suit. The lists are lengthy and many of the assertions that “it just wouldn’t happen like that” are correct. Even with all of that, I enjoyed the film. It is in (almost) real time, which is kinda cool. There are some killer f/x showing how things are in a weightless environment, and I do think that is the groundbreaking aspect of this film. It will make you believe, if only for a few moments, that you are in space, right alongside the stars (take that either way.) The dialogue is rather sparse, and sometimes just plain silly, but in real life people can say the stupidest things.

Any film that can get people talking about space exploration again is worth a look. This one does a remarkable job of making a perilous situation quite suspenseful, but with a sufficient glimmer of hope that the audience can hang on for a “happy” ending.

Perhaps it doesn’t deserve a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it does deserve a look for any who wants to see what it is like in space.