ABNA – Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a contest sponsored by Amazon in conjunction with Penguin USA each year to discover the next best-selling author. In two categories, General Fiction and Young Adult, it is open to 10,000 entrants, 5,000 in each category. There are several stages of elimination, which go from February until June.

Each applicant submits a pitch letter, an excerpt and the full manuscript. The judges read the pitch letters first and they pick the best of the lot. You have to pitch your novel, as if you were pitching an agent. I never get past this point, because I hate writing pitch letters, and I’m no good at it and it shows. After the pitch letters have all been read, they pick 2,000 entrants to continue.

Second, they read the excerpts and 500 quarter-finalists are selected. Third, the whole manuscript is then read and 100 semi-finalists are announced. At that point, industry professionals read these 100 manuscripts and select the top 3 finalists in each category. Readers can now read the excerpts and vote for their favorite.

I like to watch the progress of the contest, and visit the forums frequented by the authors who have entered and read the comments of those who get to stay in and those who are eliminated. I’d like to try this contest again, maybe in February 2012.

There are six finalists, three in General and three in Young Adult. I read my first one today, called East of Denver by Gregory Hill. His is the first I’ve read, but Wow! I hope the others can compare to this one, I loved it. It’s quick, it sets the hook, it’s funny, and it looks like a great read, although it is kind of a sad, hopeless story in parts. I doubt it will be the most uplifting of tales, but that’s okay.

It starts with the story of a cat, who didn’t live with the main character, but in the same vicinity. An independent, unnamed cat eventually done in by, the main character (also unnamed, at least in the section that I read) suspects are evil children with time on their hands. The cat succumbs and the main character takes the dead cat to his father’s farm to bury it.

Dad’s senile. This is a direct quote, after Dad says some funny things. The main character buries the cat, with his father’s help, and realizes that his dad can no longer live alone. He moves in with his dad.

The author reminded me of E. L. Doctorow, who wrote Ragtime, among others. Short choppy sentences that are complete thoughts in themselves. Interesting sentences that make you want to get to the next one. Here are the first few of the novel:

I was driving from Denver to the farm with a dead cat in the back seat of my car. She was a stray I used to feed off my back step. She slept outside. She walked in the rain. Once, after a blizzard, she spend a month trapped in the sewers where she survived by eating baby raccoons.

To me, that’s a pretty good hook sentence. A dead cat?

And I liked this too:

I didn’t mind cats but I hate cat-lovers. I loved this cat.

I know I’ll read this book when it becomes available. It’s funny and sad at the same time. It promises to be a winner, no matter if Mr. Hill wins the contest or not.

Next week, I’ll have at least one more entry to review. And I’ll keep you posted on who wins!

Better Writing Through Reading

<— It’s a hook.

One good way to learn about good writing is to read more. That’s what the Writing for Dummies books advise, read everything: classic novels and new novels, novels in and out of your preferred genres, novels by known and unknown authors.

I decided to do that. I love the Kindle feature “Send Sample” and decided that if I enjoy this, then probably lots of others do too. The sample usually takes an hour or less to read, and is a good indication of the writing style of the author, and what the book is about, and whether it sets “the hook” or not.

The hook should be set from the first. The first chapter, the first paragraph, even the very first sentence should hook the reader enough that he or she is interested to continue reading. What will happen? What’s going on here? It should give that reader enough of a reason to devote ten or so hours to reading a book. There is a lot of competition for a reader’s precious time, so getting that hook set early is crucial.

The hour devoted to reading a Kindle sample should be enough to determine if the book will be worth reading. I decided to try reading novels that I learned about from random sources: readers on Goodreads, or word of mouth, or from author websites that I happened on, usually from a tweet that sounded interesting.

Reading outside my genre is a stretch for me though. I am always drawn to books that are about great characters, family life, maybe a little romance thrown in, but I am trying to be more diverse.

I have downloaded about fifteen reads in the last few weeks and decided to talk about a few here, and explain why it did or did not set the hook.

Happily Ever After? by Benison O’Reilly, Life isn’t always the fairy tale we were promised. “…and they lived happily ever after.” This novel deals with what comes next, after all the problems are solved, the wicked stepmothers, the sleeping potions, the imprisonment in castle towers, and the beautiful maidens are rescued by the princes who ride up on white horses to carry them off so they can live a life of bliss and domesticity. The author wonders what actually happens after the prince and princess rode off into the sunset. She does a good job of it, and her voice is honest and compelling, and I thought the writing very good. I would have happily downloaded this book, but I must admit, I’m still a bit put off by this author’s bloggery bad manners. She wrote an interesting blog, on a subject that I had written about a few months back, about how not everyone is going to love what you write. I left her a comment and told her about my post, hoping for some interest and a response. After all, we’re both new authors, right? Maybe she’s been a little more successful than I have, but still we’re not exactly talking about Anne Tyler here, we’re talking about an author who is just beginning her career, and trying to establish fans, and a blog readership. If someone leaves a comment, it’s considered in poor taste not to comment back, and I left her a comment and a couple of others after me and Ms. O’Reilly never acknowledged any of them. So I’m not buying her book, even though I might like it. But for the sake of this exercise, was I hooked? Yes.

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille. This is about what’s left of The Gold Coast of Long Island, home to fifty-room mansions built at the turn of the century and inhabited by the “old” moneyed, and the social elite. John and Susan are married, and both descended from prestigious families, but now live in the guest house of her family’s estate. The mansion itself stands empty, unsellable, and Susan’s parents have retreated to Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach or somewhere and John and Susan can’t afford to live in it. I also liked the voice of this author, funny at times, irreverent, and he has a way of telling a story that flows, and you go on and on with it, and get caught up in it. It was interesting, the discussions about country clubs and snobbery and how that sector of society views itself and others. It’s written in the first person, as John, and John’s wife Susan is very beautiful, and deep, and sexually adventurous, but when she gets together with her friends, can fall into elite-speak, and her husband notes that when the women do this, they talk without moving their lips, which I found hilarious. It’s good, I was hooked. And this author hadn’t done anything to offend me, so it was a Yes for me.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This book was recommended to me by three friends, and when I saw it as a Goodreads pick, I decided to try it too. I downloaded the sample. It’s delightful. I had wondered how a white woman would dare write a novel like this, how could the author presume to know what it’s like to be one of “the help”, such that it comes across to the reader so genuinely? But she does a great job of writing in the first person point of view, as the maid, and in my opinion, all the rave reviews of this book are spot-on. I was hooked on this one too. Another Yes.

The Last Romantics by Ruth Harris. This is more of a romance novel, but it takes place during that period of time between World War I and World War II and I was intrigued by that. But from the first page, I could see I was in for a lot of telling (as opposed to showing) and a lot of head-hopping as the point of view switched from the guy to the girl with no warning. Romance novel characters are always beautiful, or handsome, depending upon the gender. The first page starts out with over-sentimental flowery thoughts from the man’s POV as he first spies the heroine (“glowing, golden, ravishingly perfumed”) and then immediately switches to the heroine’s POV as she spots him (“lean and tall, elegantly and extravagantly handsome”). Meh. I couldn’t do it. Not hooked. A No.

Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda. Despite this rather hokey title (perhaps inspired by Eat, Pray, Love?), I liked this. It is faintly comedic, subtle, not over-the-top slap-stick, like so many humorous novels tend to be. I like stories like this a lot, humor is good, but more is not always better. Notwithstanding the fact that it takes place in Columbus, Ohio, and that is where I live, and there are many references to areas I am familiar with, it could be about life in any city. It’s about mid-life crisis, about a woman who is thirty-nine years of age whose sons are near-teenagers, and how she struggles to re-invent herself, and turn her life in a new direction. I haven’t read any more than the sample yet, but I was hooked from the first by this author’s delightful voice. This is a Yes for me.

The Ballad of Bob Dylan by Daniel Mark Epstein. I’m sure this novel about Bob Dylan will be interesting to many readers, but I was hoping for more of a biography of his life. Instead, it is clearly written by a musician and the music-speak is above my head. There is a lot of details about D chords and frets and descriptions of lyrics, and is very well-written, but it didn’t hook me. It did make me want to listen to the early music of Bob Dylan to try and figure out what the author was talking about. Maybe this book should be sold with a supplementary CD because I didn’t recognize the folk songs described here. I am sure this will be very interesting to some but for me, I have to give it a No. No hook.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy. This book was mentioned on Goodreads, and the reviewer said “despite the wide swing in reviews for this book”, she liked it. I happen to know a bit about the author of the review, that she is about my age, and we have a lot of the same tastes in reading, so I was interested. I looked at other reviews of the book on Amazon, and they were widely varied. I am always intrigued with books like this, which have the love-hate thing going on. It’s not out on Kindle, so I couldn’t get a sample, but I reserved this at the library and read enough that it would count as a downloaded sample. I think I’m going to keep reading at least for awhile, but there was a lot about this book I didn’t care for. I didn’t connect with the POV character, and the language… Here is an example. “Rome was both sublime and imperishably beautiful, a city that melted into leafblown silences…”. Leafblown silences? To me, this tries too hard to be literary genius. It sounds like the author might have come up with this phrase while under the influence of some substance or another and figured his readers would be amazed by his artistry, but really, when I read something like this, it’s off-putting. Pages later, I read, “She granted me a beauty I did not have and my soul turned proud in the fury of her centered wanting of me.” I don’t think so. This book is nearly 800 pages and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to devote that much of my life to it. No hook.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) For Your New Blog or Website

Once your blog or website is established, how do you generate traffic to it?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, and more will come, as I get better at SEO. I thought I’d publish this in a learn-as-I-go mode, so anyone who is just starting out can take advantage of what I’ve learned. I’m a beginner too, and I’ve been interested in this topic – Search Engines and how they work – and have done some research. If you need further information, there are hundreds of blogs and articles about it, but I found very few that weren’t over my head.

The first thing I discovered is, you can’t rush it. Search Engines take their own sweet time getting to know you, that is, your site or blog. They will not be forced or manipulated into recognizing you before they are good and ready. But once they’ve crawled around a few times and see your site, they’ll start to recognize you and examine your content.

Make your titles, descriptions and keywords relevant to your content. Keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, but they’re still helpful. Your pages should have titles which match what people are searching for. Put the most important words first. I chose “SEO (Search Engine Optimization) For Your New Blog or Website” for the title of this post, because “SEO” is what most people will probably search for, and if not, they’ll spell it out – “Search Engine Optimization”. I might have liked to call it “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about SEO” but that puts the important part too far back in the title. Get it out there. One, two. SEO and Search Engine Optimization. That’s what this is about. But the whole title will be displayed, so I hope people who are beginners, like me, will see the “For Your New Blog or Website” part, and think “that’s for me” and click on it.

You can’t fool Mr. Search Engine. Years ago, you could, by establishing hundreds of keywords, and they didn’t even have to have anything to do with your content. That’s why back then sometimes you’d search for the most innocent of topics and porn sites would appear. That didn’t last too long, and once you’ve been banned by Mr. Search Engine, you’re pretty much finished with that site. There’s no way to redeem yourself. You’re banned, banished, and you have to start over.

I have no idea how they do this, but the web crawlers examine your pages, and what is on those pages, and they will know if you’re trying to pull a fast one. So don’t do it. But if it crawls over your site and decide it likes what it sees, it will store information about your site that will be used when users search for topics that it thinks are related.

So your content is ready, and you have a good title and an accurate description and a few keywords, and you’ve waited the allotted amount of time. You can now start searching to see how your site fares. Of course, it’s a chicken-and-egg thing because the more people who visit your site, the better your statistics will be, and the more Mr. Search Engine will love your stuff. So it’s a slow process, and patience is absolutely required here. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed it up, or guarantee first page prominence. It’s out of your hands.

I, personally, am not burning up the airwaves with the number of hits I’ve had on either my website or my blog. Depending upon a number of other things (i.e. the weather, my mood, whether it is a full moon or not), I alternately stomp around and slam doors and say to myself, Screw This. Other days, I shrug and think, oh well, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. Everyone says it won’t be overnight. I have never been a particularly patient person, so this second alternative is sometimes a challenge, but I’ve become a bit better at the patience thing, at least as far as blogging is concerned.

One interesting thing I’ve noted is the blog post I did called “Design Your Own Book Cover”, has been my top read post. I can see statistics at WordPress.com, which is where my blog is hosted. I can’t see who is clicking, but I know for any given day, what blog posts were read, and how the posts themselves were reached. And one really helpful thing is that if my blog was reached because it was searched for and clicked on via a search engine, they tell me what search criteria was entered.

So it’s interesting but I see some very strange search criteria used. Here are the top search criteria used which directed people to the Design Your Own Book Cover post:

Black book covers with flowers
Black background designs for photo-editing
Design your own book cover
Sun shining clouds
Cover book
Black design page background book spine
Special background roses

I used both Google and Yahoo search engines, and searched for all these terms. I went through 10 pages of results for each. I don’t know about you, but I rarely navigate off the first page when I search for something. I figure if it isn’t on the first page, it can’t be anything I’m looking for. So after going through all of these search terms, only one – “design your own book cover” – actually showed up for me. It showed up on page 1 (Yay !!!) on Yahoo and page 6 on Google.

How did these people ever get to my site based on these other search criteria? I confess, I can’t answer it. I’m still researching. But what it did show me, was that “Design Your Own Book Cover” worked.

I think probably people don’t care what my views are on euphemisms, and clichés, and corporate buzzwords. What they are looking for is something that will help them, or answer some questions. So I should probably stick to that.

Picking the right titles and keywords: I have always titled my genre “Baby Boomer Fiction”. I figured that was a good, meaningful description, so I used that as my title, and as keywords. I googled “Baby Boomer Fiction” and, whoa, I’m on Page 1 for both Google and Yahoo. That’s got to be good!

Not so fast. I then heard about a cool tool called Google Ad Keywords. You enter keywords to see how many searches there actually were for those keywords. Look at this!

Gah! No one has searched for baby boomer fiction. Not one search. No wonder my blog and website come up on the first page, there is no competition, because no one else is using these keywords. And the reason no one is using them is because no one is searching for them!

So I checked results for different, closely related keywords.

These are the results:
It appears “books about baby boomers” is being searched for a decent number of times and when I see the list of topics that is returned, I think it is appropriate for my books. I have updated my blog and website titles and keywords accordingly. We’ll see. I’ll have to wait until the engines crawl again, and get my updates, to determine if it made any difference.

I’ll be monitoring these changes closely. And I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’d like to hear from you.

A Nicer Word for Euphemism

A euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague term for one considered to be harsh, blunt, or offensive”. Sometimes called doublespeak, a euphemism is a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unnatural seem natural, the unpleasant seem attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought.

Doublespeak was one of the central themes of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, although he didn’t use that term, instead he used the terms “doublethink” and “newspeak”.

Here are some particularly amusing examples, except where downright offensive.

If you are offered a career change or an early retirement opportunity, a career or employee transition, or you are being involuntarily separated, or if personnel is being realigned or there is a surplus reduction in personnel, or the staff is being re-engineered or right sized, or if there is a workforce imbalance correction then: You’re fired!

(Cartoon by Kipper Williams)

You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.

You aren’t broke, you have temporary negative cash flow.

You do not live in a slum but you might live in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally-deprived environment.

If you are managing company stakeholders, that means you are lobbying, which is really the same as bribing.

When you get an unwanted phone call just as you are sitting down to dinner from a representative of the Republican party (and you are a Democrat) or vice versa, this is called a Courtesy Call. Only courtesy has nothing to do with it, it’s just freaking annoying.

In light of the recent demise of Osama bin Laden, several politicians have stressed that it was the Enhanced Interrogation Methods which caused the informants to squeal and give up the nickname of the courier, which we then followed around until he led us to the compound of OBL. This is one of my personal favorites, not the process it refers to of course, but the absolute ludicrousness of this particular phrase. The ultimate of euphemism. It’s torture, folks! Torture, and you can’t sugarcoat it, and you can’t make it sound nice. Torture.

Since we’ve been involved in two wars for ten years, stuff happens, stuff that we don’t want to happen. When you come into a country and break it, for a variety of good reasons, you might cause some collateral damage, which are really deaths of civilians. Women and children and old people. Accidental death. Accidental – but you can’t quite escape the “death” part.

When a geographical area is neutralized or depopulated that means the CIA killed people, just because.

On a lighter note, intelligent ventilation points, when speaking of a garment are – armholes!

You’re not buying a used car, you are purchasing a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle.

If you are a bank, bad, crappy debts are non- or under-performing assets.

Ah, genuine imitation leather. That new car smell. But really, it’s cheesy vinyl. 100% virgin cheesy vinyl.

If you want a raise and you deserve a raise, but there’s no money or the company just doesn’t want to do it, you might get an uptitle instead, which is a fancy name for what you already are. Uptitles are fancy job names given in lieu of monetary compensation. An example: Assistant Supervisor of Things Beginning with the Letter “A”.

Watch out if the company you work for says it is levering up, it means they are spending money they don’t have. See “uptitle” above.

If you say you committed terminological inexactitude, or you relayed misinformation, misspoke or were economical with the truth, well that means you just told a whopper. A bold-faced lie.

If you are a politician in Arizona, people who run across the border are illegal aliens, unless they are employing these same people to tend to their children or flower gardens, then they are known as undocumented workers.

We consume adult beverages which are booze drinks, beer and wine and hard stuff. Adults also drink things like water, coffee and tea but these aren’t called adult beverages, just beverages. There’s adult entertainment too, and we know what that means. So attaching the adjective “adult” to a noun, must mean the same as “sleazy” or “bad for you”.

If you get rejected for a job because you are partially proficient, that means you are just plain unqualified. This happens a lot to the middle class, as they attempt to find employment in other areas because the areas in which they used to work no longer exist. See my prior post about corporate buzzwords for the explanation of Outsourcing. But don’t despair because you are probably totally proficient to be a greeter at Wal-Mart.

Here’s the one that really hurts. When you’re called postmenopausal, or mature, or senior – that means you’re old.

What is your favorite euphemism?

Mother’s Day Thoughts

I thought about blogging about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and keywords this week, and I will do that in the near future, but (1) I need to organize my thoughts a bit more about the subject, and (2) I decided to use this weekend before Mother’s Day to express some views about the particular holiday (if it is a holiday) and an imagined conversation between myself and my deceased mother (32 years this October).

One of the writers on our collaborative Boomers and Books blog wrote a post yesterday entitled Mother’s Day: Bah, humbug, which caught my attention. She was pitching her book but talked a bit about Mother’s Day, and why we feel the need to celebrate it, and what about those out there whose mothers are no longer with them?

It is a day of sometimes false, you-must-do-it-or-feel-guilty attention to Mom in the form of flowers and cards and Sunday brunch. “Make your Mother’s Day reservations early!” the signs in the restaurant advise. Yes, we wouldn’t want to be caught reservation-less on Mother’s Day. And get your Mother’s day cards now(!), so you aren’t left with the picked over lot. Visit your local CVS or Walgreens or Target card aisle early to avoid being left with the card whose sentiment in no way matches the particular relationship you might have with your Mom, or whose envelope is bent, or mismatched, or worse yet, missing altogether.

It has become a bit of a cheesy holiday to me, right up there with Valentine’s Day and Sweetest Day, which are blatant attempts to sell stuff: Jewelry and cards and flowers and candy and “pajama-grams” and dinners out. Sweetest Day, never mind that it might be the dumbest-sounding non-holiday name ever coined, was probably dreamed up by Hallmark as a means to sell more cards, and the florists and restaurants and jewelers picked up on that. Genius! If it catches on, we got us one more day to guilt the men folk into buying “stuff” if they want to incur favor with the women in their lives. I will leave it to the individual reader to define the term “incur favor”.

My mother is long gone, and I don’t ever spend the day with my daughters, so I, for one, am glad when Mother’s Day is over and done with. It makes me feel a little melancholy, so maybe the hoopla and false sentiment encouraged by retailers is working on me.

It brought to mind something that I think about quite often, and that is, what would my mother say, if she could come back and visit me for one afternoon. I’d have to explain things to her, how things are so much different now than when she was still living, in 1979. We might discuss the family stuff, what happened to this person, and that person, her husband, her grandkids, or maybe she already knows all that, depending on what really happened to her. She was a good person and very religious, so who knows, if anyone is in heaven, I’d think she would have had a good shot at it. Here’s how the conversation would go.

“What is that thing?” she’d ask, as the cell phone between us started to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major.

“That’s my default ringtone,” I’d say. “I have different ringtones for my husband, and the kids, but this is the one I use for everyone else.”

She looks confused. I realize she wouldn’t have a clue what a cell phone is.

“It’s the way we talk on the phone now,” I say.

“You mean you don’t have the phones that sit on the desk, or hang on the kitchen wall any longer?”

“Some people still have them, but if you use them, the telemarketers will call during dinner and that gets people upset.”

“What’s a telemarketer?”

“That’s a person whose job it is to call you and sell you stuff. They want you to donate money or give them money for some other reason.”

“Oh. Where’s the cord?”

“It only uses a cord when I need to recharge it, when the battery runs low.”

“A battery? Well, okay. I guess I understand that. Can you hear a person’s voice on that thing?”

“Yes, and lots of other stuff too. I can talk on it, and get my voicemail, and get email on it, and listen to music and play games on it. I can access the internet on it, and…” I think maybe I should not have said all this.

“What’s voicemail?”

“That’s where people leave you a message if you don’t answer the phone, and you can listen to it later.”

“Sort of like a tape recorder then?”

“Yes, only we don’t use tape recorders anymore. You remember 8-track, but then we had cassette tapes, then CDs, now we download music directly from the internet.”

“Oh, yes you mentioned that before. What’s an internet?”

“It’s servers all connected together, in a network of networks, so anyone with a computer or a Smartphone like this, can have access to all those servers which all have different information on them. And a person can then Google anything they want to know about and the stuff all comes back in a list and then you can click on the one you want and learn about it.”

“Google? What’s that?”

“It’s a search engine.”

She looks confused by this.

“It’s a piece of software that keeps track of keywords and when people search, Google knows which places to go to get stuff that is all about that keyword,” I say.

“How does all that get onto that little thing?” She points to the phone.

“It comes through the air,” I say. “But, to be honest, that part is a mystery to me too. I don’t think I will ever completely understand how it works either. Men seem to understand it, and maybe some women too, but I don’t.” I say this, hoping she won’t ask me any more questions I can’t answer.

It works. She contemplates all of this.

“What’s that?” She points to the flat screen TV.

“Well, that’s a TV,” I say. Surely it can’t be all that different from what she remembers. “They have bigger pictures now, and they aren’t as heavy, and they are flat so they are called flat screens.” I reach for the remote and click it on, to show her.

“What’s that?” She points to the remote.

“It’s a universal remote, which you can program with your computer, to access all your equipment, and you set up activities and so when you click on an activity, it knows what to turn on.”

“Oh, my,” she says.

“Yes, it’s a bit different from back then,” I say. “Now we can access the internet from the TV, or the DVD player and stream movies and TV shows, whenever we want them.”

“Oh, my,” she says again. “That’s quite lovely.”

“Yes,” I say. “Some things are much nicer now, but other things, not so much. There’s more crime now, and we’re worried that the earth is warming, and the weather is much more severe, and we have financial crises and nothing seems to get done in Washington, because the Republicans and Democrats hate each other so they spend all their time fighting, and making each other look bad.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” she says.

“Yes, and we’re involved in two and a half wars, and ten years ago we had an attack in New York City where two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and both buildings fell to the ground.”

“Well, you know, that was bound to happen. It says so, in the Bible.”

“Yes, Mom, I guess it does say something like that. But I think you could interpret it a lot of different ways.”

“Who is the president? The last one I knew of was Jimmy Carter.”

“Ronald Raegan was president after Jimmy Carter. For eight years. You remember him, the actor?”

“Oh yes! I remember him in Dark Victory, with Bette Davis, do you remember?”

“No, not really. Anyway, after that, we had George Bush for four years, then Bill Clinton for eight years, then George W. Bush for eight years, and now Barack Obama.”

“That’s a strange name for a president, Barack Obama.” She looks puzzled.

“His father was born in Kenya. Lots of people are trying to say he was born there too, but he really wasn’t. It’s another example of people fighting today. It’s a lot different now, Mom. It’s not so nice as it was back when you were here.”

“Well.” She picks up the cell phone. “You have these wonderful inventions. This phone and that nice flat screen TV. These things are very nice. One thing I know for sure, you can’t have everything.”

“I guess that’s true,” I say.