Archives for category: Life

My husband, Tom Robinson, and I live in a wonderful neighborhood with a variety of shops that carry a variety of specialized items we like. So when I go shopping, I often visit three or four grocery stores, plus a pharmacy. Over the years, I’ve made friends with several check-out clerks who have stayed at their jobs.

Check-out clerks don’t stay long at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but they do at Piedmont Grocery and the Grand Avenue Safeway. I make a point of learning their names, they recognize me (though they surely see hundreds of people every week), they learn and remember my name. Often I learn a bit about them and their families. It makes the shopping-for-groceries experience a little more personal. For me and hopefully for them. Over the years, I’ve befriended several grocery checkers until they’ve retired.

I know very well that grocery check-out clerks have an unglamorous, mind-numbing, boring job. Most shoppers treat them like automatons. They have to touch lots of stuff. They have to touch paper money, which is very dirty and can cause a skin irritation or an eye infection. A clerk whom I knew (a Filipina who went from black hair to white) usually wore plastic gloves and often a brace on her wrist for carpal tunnel syndrome.

A new late twentyish early thirtyish clerk showed up at Safeway about a year-and-a-half ago. She’s still there, which is a record for check-out clerks these days. I did my usual—catching her eye, smiling a friendly smile, saying hi, asking how she was. She’s Hispanic with long dark brown hair she sometimes wears up in a bun. She wears eyeliner on her brown eyes and sometimes a gold-tone necklace of praying hands on a chain.

And, to all appearances, she HATES her job. Always in a bad mood. Always a scowl, always bored out of her mind, never responding in any way to my friendly overtures (or anyone else’s). If she doesn’t have a bagger helping her out, never bagging the groceries.

Which, technically, check-out clerks are supposed to do. I mean, I don’t work for Safeway or Whole Foods. I’m there to spend high prices for food and goods and, yes, I expect service from their paid staff. (I sent an email to Whole Foods about an especially hostile and abusive check-out clerk; WF acknowledged that was part of the job of the check-out clerk, to bag the groceries if a staff-paid bagger wasn’t at hand; WF sent me a twenty-five dollar gift coupon after my complaint. But that’s another story.)

One time—and this was a slow day, there weren’t scores of customers to deal with—the scowling Safeway check-out clerk literally threw a package of toilet tissue at me across the card-swiping stand. I’d just spent over a hundred dollars, I was in a bad mood, and I threw the toilet tissue into my shopping cart. The store manager hurried over and asked, “Is something wrong?” I said, “You better improve your customer service or I won’t spend money here anymore.”

After that, I avoided her check-out stand. I’d rather wait in a longer line than deal with a hostile clerk. I maintained that policy until the last time I shopped at Safeway when everything changed.

Now. A few years ago, I developed a skin irritation on my back. Neither witch hazel nor calamine lotion helped. What did help was medicated talcum powder, which healed me right up. Then I saw the Internet news that a woman was suing the talcum powder company because she had ovarian cancer and she claimed the talcum powder was to blame. It turns out that talcum powder may contain traces of asbestos, an extremely carcinogenic substance.

There had been a decades-long class-action lawsuit by war workers who had worked in the World War II shipyards, installing asbestos in the warships as anti-fire protection (it’s very good for that), and who had contracted lung cancer. The big law firms representing the war industries (I worked at one of those firms as an associate attorney, so I saw some of the documentation) sought to prove the war workers had gotten lung cancer because they smoked tobacco. Not because they’d breathed, without face masks, dust from the panels of asbestos they’d installed in the warships.

The talcum powder plaintiff won her lawsuit for millions of dollars. The talcum powder company appealed; the appellate court overturned the verdict. The plaintiff’s attorneys have appealed that decision but, in the meantime, the plaintiff had died of her ovarian cancer.

I stopped using the medicated talcum powder at once, even though I loved it, and switched to what is a new product offered by the talcum powder company in the wake of the much publicized court case (which is still undecided as far as I know). Pure cornstarch baby powder, with Vitamin E and aloe. This is a truly wonderful product, so silky and fragrant. I love powdering my back, feet, and other body parts after a shower, which dries any residual moisture and thus prevents skin irritations.

I usually buy baby powder at my local pharmacy but that day—the day everything changed—I found this product at the Safeway. (Since the stiff competition from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts in my neighborhood, the Grand Avenue Safeway has just gotten better and better.)

I bought the baby powder. I also bought two packages of cuetips, since they were on sale, two for one, and I go through a lot of cuetips. I bought our usual Safeway groceries—vegetarian meat substitutes that are totally delicious, low-fat yogurt salad dressings, three-color coleslaw, a package of toilet tissue—and went to the check-out counters to spend another hundred bucks.

There were only two fifteen-items-only counters open and the hostile clerk’s.

So, okay. One more time. I was not going to let this ruin my day. I caught her eye, I smiled, I said hi. I handed her my two L.L. Bean canvas shopping bags and she swiped my purchases through. Then she got to the baby powder and, after that, the two packages of cuetips.

Suddenly, her eyes flew up at me and she said, “Why don’t they want you to use cuetips?”

It took me a second or two to process that and then I said, “You mean for cleaning ears?”

She said, “Yes!”

I said, “Well, some people jam them too far into the ear canal. That could potentially damage your eardrum.”

She nodded gravely, still fixing her eyes on mine. “I just took my daughter to the doctor. She’s got a lot of gunk in there. It’s ugly, I don’t like it. But the doctor told me, ‘Don’t use cuetips.’”

I said, “Hmm! I guess the doctor doesn’t trust you to clean your daughter’s ears carefully. Just be careful, don’t jam the cuetip in too far, clean the gunk out, and you and she should be fine.”

Relief flooded her face and she said, “Thank you.” I reached for the package of toilet tissue to pack it in one of my bags and she said, “No, no. I’ll service this for you.” She carefully packed my groceries in my two bags and carried them around the end of the check-out counter (they were heavy!) to my shopping cart.

I thanked her, she earnestly thanked me, and I pushed the cart out to my car, marveling over the miraculous transformation of Sandra (Safeway printed out her name on my receipt. I will remember it).

What had happened to change this woman’s behavior toward me, her perception of me?

The baby powder said I was helping a woman take care of a baby and the two packages of cuetips completed the image of a care-giver. I obviously don’t have a baby of my own, so I was helping my daughter, who had a boring, mind-numbing job and a baby who needed her ears cleaned.

Inside of two seconds, Sandra imagined this new story about me, this new image of me, and created her new attitude toward me. She imagined who I was and that image made her suddenly connect with me in a way she hadn’t done before. There she was, earnestly asking my advice about taking care of her baby daughter across a grocery store conveyor belt.

I hadn’t sought out this connection. It had happened randomly, fortuitously. I couldn’t have made that happen if I’d tried. Because I didn’t know the facts of the situation. What would change Sandra’s mind about me. And usually in marketing, in trying to connect with customers, with readers, you don’t know who they are. What pushes their friendly button. Their buy-button. Their loyalty button.

This is from an article in the AdWeek of April 30, 2018, “Smart brands will think about ways to capitalize on the relationship opportunity to drive loyalty.”

WTF does that mean? you and I are saying. That’s ad-speak for all I’ve described to you above. Ad-people make a full-time living—and movie marketers and book marketers—trying to figure out how to connect with people, to lure them into buying products, movies, books. By connecting with the baby-powder effect.

Here’s the problem! No one really knows—I didn’t know—what the effect is until you stumble upon it. Publishers exhort writers to connect with their audience, with their readers. To identify what your audience wants and write for them. If you’re a woman writing formula romance or a man writing space-opera science fiction, I suppose that task—identifying your audience and writing to their expectations—is fairly easy.

But I’m a woman writing idiosyncratic, character-driven speculative fiction, both of the science-fictional variety, fantasy, and urban fantasy. I’m an old-school feminist, which basically means I believe in equal pay for equal work. That women should be respected, their thoughts and opinions should be given equal consideration as men’s. I’ve written elaborate time-travels that mash-up far-future projections with exhaustively researched historical periods. I usually have Something To Say—not preachy, I hope—but observational. Insightful. Sometimes political. But don’t be too sure you know what the politics are. I’m an independent thinker, going way back. I don’t march to any party’s orders. I like to challenge conventional thought.

How do you or I utilize the baby-powder effect? It was random, accidental, coincidental. A minor miracle but, in the end, I just don’t know. I’ll tell you this, though. When I go shopping at Safeway again? I’ll seek out Sandra’s counter, I’ll catch her eye, smile, and call her by her name, and I’ll ask if she tried using a cuetip to carefully clean out her daughter’s ears. I’m looking forward to her answer.

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I was walking on Lakeside Drive yesterday—past Lake Chalet, a beautiful waterfront restaurant in the restored Boathouse—when I heard a loud, insistent, “CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP.” A row of ten-foot saplings are planted in a tree lawn next to the sidewalk. The cheeping was coming from one of the saplings.

“Bird nest!” I thought and stepped closer to the tree, peering up into the foliage. The cheeping continued but I didn’t see anything. I moved around to the other side when, to my startlement, a little bird plummeted out of the tree, landed on my left arm just below my shoulder, and clung there, cheeping like crazy.

At first, I thought it was the mother bird defending her nest. Once a mother blackbird swooped down and dug her claws in my scalp when I’d advertently walked too close to her nest on a low-hanging branch.

But I saw that this bird was a fledgling with a creamy golden breast and pale olive-green wings. Her bright birdy eye stared at me as she continued to cheep. I didn’t want her to soil my sleeve since I had another three miles to go, so I nudged her with my right hand and she flapped awkwardly to a boxwood bush on the other side of the walkway.

There, she continued to stare at me and insistently cheep. I stood with her for a moment and told her, “Your mommy isn’t coming back to feed you. You’re on your own.” Then I walked away.

I’ve had a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences like that while walking around the lake. On the day that Alana, my pure white Turkish Angora, died peacefully at home at the age of eighteen, I encountered a Chinese-American couple with their cat on a park bench. The cat was a pure white fluffy Persian with golden eyes like Alana’s. I’ve never seen the couple and the cat before or since. On another day, a painted lady butterfly landed on my left hand and stayed there an entire five minutes. (I’m left-handed so I consider these things good luck.) On yet another, a ladybug landed on my jacket over my heart and rode all the way around the lake with me.

My little golden bird of summer reminds me how unique every moment is, no matter how ordinary or routine, and how ephemeral. It’s important to make peace with your past and plan for your future, but it’s also important to be mindful of the present. Each moment of Now is all we really have.

Today the fledgling was gone. I’ll never see her again.

Today, October 15, is the last day for The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle until midnight Eastern Standard Time, 9 P.M. Pacific Standard Time

The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle includes Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist), Life by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist), Points of Departure by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner), Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist), Summer of Love by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist), Frontera by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist), Acts of Conscience by William Barton (PKD Special Citation), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist), Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist).

Thousands of purchasers can’t be wrong! But you must act now because once this bargain is gone, it’s gone! Download yours today at http://www.storybundle.com/pkdaward and enjoy world-class, award-winning reading right now and into the holidays.

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It should come as no surprise that other famous authors and their books have been Philip K Dick Award Finalists or Winners over the years since 1983.

The list reads like a Who’s Who of Science Fiction, such as Carnival, Undertow, and Chill by Elizabeth Bear, At the City Limits of Fate by Michael Bishop, Mindplayers by Pat Cadigan, Voyager in the Night by C.J. Cherryh, Artificial Things by Karen Joy Fowler, Neuromancer by William Gibson, Neon Lotus by Marc Laidlaw, The Remaking of Sigmund Freud by Barry N. Malzberg, Memories by Mike McQuay (deceased), The Scar by China Mieville, The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson, Subterranean Gallery, Carlucci’s Edge, Carlucci’s Heart, and Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo, Green Eyes and Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard (deceased), Leviathan, Vol 3 edited by Jeff VanderMeer, Millennium by John Varley, and Elivissey by Jack Womack.

So there you have it, my friends. We’ve acclaimed famous authors aplenty in The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle, which includes:

Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist)
Life
by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner)
The Cipher
by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist)
Points of Departure
by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner)
Dark Seeker
by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist)
Summer of Love
by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist)
Frontera
by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist)
Acts of Conscience
by William Barton (PKD Special Citation)
Maximum Ice
by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist)
Knight Moves
by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist)
Reclamation
by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist)

The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle lasts only until October 15 midnight East coast time, 9 P.M. West coast time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! Don’t let this incredible bargain, a unique and historic collection of books, slip away. Download yours today at http://www.storybundle.com/pkdaward and enjoy world-class, award-winning reading right now and into the holidays.

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What the Authors and books of The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle share is the award itself, whether the book was a Finalist or Winner.

Above and beyond the prestige of the award—and the superb quality of the work—you will find a diverse array of protagonists to root for and startling worlds to visit.

In Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand, come to Araboth—the majestic, domed, multi-tiered city of the Ascendants as the once-in-a-decade Aestival Tide approaches and destruction looms.

In Life by Gwyneth Jones, meet Anna Senoz, a scientist who makes a momentous discovery about the X and Y chromosomes. Anna’s discovery provokes shocking reactions and impacts her career, her marriage, and her child.

In The Cipher by Kathe Koja, join Koja’s artists of the modern-day demimonde as they experiment with the mysterious, dangerous Funhole in a storage closet down the hall.

In Points of Departure by Pat Murphy, meet a chimpanzee whose brain is implanted with the personality of a young girl who has died, a farmer who grows a spouse from a packet of seeds, a fortune-teller learns that there’s a difference between seeing the future and changing it, and more.

In Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter, root for the survivor of a lethal Manson-like cult as he searches for the son he once believed was dead and has reason to believe is still alive. Will he find the boy? And what will he find if he does?

In Summer of Love by Lisa Mason, run away to the Haight-Ashbury of 1967 where a teenage girl holds the key to the survival of the future. With the help of a half-black, half-white Hip merchant, a time-traveling young man from five hundred years in the future must find the girl and protect her life during the dangerous Summer of Love.

In Frontera by Lewis Shiner, travel to the lost Martian colony of Frontera with Reese, an aging hero of the US space program, as he discovers a secret so devastating that the new rulers of Earth will stop at nothing to own it.

In Acts of Conscience by William Barton, have a brewski with a politically incorrect orbital mechanic who must confront his own conscience and decide what, if anything, to do about the systematic destruction of a planet’s intelligent species and his discovery of another species’ own plans for humanity.

In Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon, return from space after two-hundred-fifty years to an Earth nearly swallowed by a peculiar crystalline, icelike substance and figure out how to survive amid Ice Nuns, snow witches, and renegade cannibals.

In Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams, visit a depopulated Earth eight hundred years in the future as Doran Falkner confronts his lost promise, his lost love, and his lost humanity, aliens dig among ancient ruins for old comic books, and the creatures of legends walk again thanks to modern technology. Will Doran make the right move?

In Reclamation by Sarah Zettel, explore a far future where human groups have colonized the galaxy, but seek their mythical “Home Ground.” Eric Born, a lapsed priest, has escaped to the stars but discovers the shocking secret of the Home Ground. A classic science fiction tale told in Sarah’s award-winning witty and fast-paced style.

So there you have it, my friends. The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle includes Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist), Life by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist), Points of Departure by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner), Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist), Summer of Love by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist), Frontera by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist), Acts of Conscience by William Barton (PKD Special Citation), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist), Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist).

The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle runs only four more days until October 15. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Don’t let this bargain slip away. Act now and download yours today at http://www.storybundle.com/pkdaward and enjoy world-class, award-winning reading right now and into the holidays.

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It should come as no surprise that the authors participating in The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle and their books have received recognition and awards in addition to the Philip K Dick Award.

Elizabeth Hand has received the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopeoic, Tiptree, and International Horror Guild Awards, and her novels have been chosen as New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. She’s been a Philip K Dick Award Finalist three times.

Gwyneth Jones has won two World Fantasy awards, the Children of the Night award, the BSFA award and the Pilgrim award for Science Fiction criticism.

Novels of Lisa Mason have been chosen as a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Public Library Recommended Book, and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book.

Kay Kenyon has been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and chosen twice for the ALA Reading List.

Pat Murphy’s Nebula Award-winning story “Rachel in Love” is included in Points of Departure and she won a Nebula for her novel, The Falling Woman. Her fiction has also won the World Fantasy Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Seiun Award.

Stories and books by Lewis Shiner have frequently been short-listed for the Nebula and the Hugo Awards.

Walter Jon Williams has appeared on the best-seller lists of the New York Times and the Times of London, won a Nebula Award for his novelette, “Daddy’s World,” won the Nebula again for “The Green Leopard Plague,” and was nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and a World Fantasy Award.

William Barton has been a Philip K. Dick Finalist three times.

And Kathe Koja’s The Cipher not only placed as a PKD Award Finalist but also won the Bram Stoker Award and was recently named one of io9.com’s Top 10 Debut Science Fiction Novels That Took the World By Storm.

Sarah Zettel won critical acclaim and the Philip K. Dick Award for her novel BITTER ANGELS (written as C.L. Anderson). RECLAMATION was her debut novel, was a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and won Locus Magazine’s Best First Novel award.

So there you have it, my friends. The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle includes Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist), Life by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist), Points of Departure by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner), Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist), Summer of Love by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist), Frontera by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist), Acts of Conscience by William Barton (PKD Special Citation), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist), Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist).

The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle runs only until October 15, midnight East coast time, 9 PM West coast time, so you must act now. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! Download yours today at http://www.storybundle.com/pkdaward and enjoy world-class, award-winning reading right now and into the holidays.

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I first became acquainted with Gwyneth Jones via her incisive and award-winning criticism of science fiction. What a treat to discover her own incisive and award-winning science fiction.

Life is a tale of feminism and courage that asks difficult questions about women and society and a splendid example of what science fiction may achieve beyond conventional genre tropes. I’m pleased to include Life in the Philip K. Dick Award Bundle. –Lisa Mason

For more information about Gwyneth and her books, go to http://www.gwynethjones.uk/

So there you have it, my friends. The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle includes Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist), Life by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist), Points of Departure by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner), Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist), Summer of Love by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist), Frontera by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist), Acts of Conscience by William Barton (PKD Special Citation), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist), Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist).

The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle runs only until October 15 so you must act now! Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Download yours today at http://storybundle.com/pkdaward and enjoy world-class, award-winning reading right now and into the holidays.