Monday, November 21, 2011

Reader and Writer Nightmare

I'm at that "certain age" that has me expecting words like bifocals and stronger reading glasses. So when I went in for my annual eye exam I was expecting to get a new prescription. After all, my eyes were getting tired faster and highway signs didn't come into focus quite as fast as they once did.

What I was not expecting was the eye exam to become an adventure in abstract art. Really, those little letters on the screen did things I had never seen them do before. Instead of E, A, F, B I saw an artistic study in black and white worthy of a museum wall. Letters bulged in places, narrowed in others, jumped on top of each other, appeared angled in odd ways, and created patterns. Crisscrossed black lines formed designs across the screen and stars flickered through my vision. My left eye was unable to distinguish a single letter on the entire screen.

Maybe, it was the point where I couldn't tell her how many fingers she was holding up or the topographical map of my retina that looked more like the mountains of West Virginia than the surface of a lake that turned eye appointment into an a frantic search for a retina specialist. It is scary when a specialist starts looking for a more specialized specialist to consult with while I'm still in the office. My exam really wasn't going well.

The retina doctor scheduled surgery at the first available date. Now, when I think of surgery I think of being put to sleep and waking up with whatever the problem is fixed. That isn't exactly how retina surgery works. They use twilight sleep, which means that I vaguely realized that someone was there and a big needle is moving around inside my eye, but I couldn't do anything about it. I didn't feel any pain but it did creep me out. I realized how much it bothered me when I work up whimpering like a puppy.

It is going to be a while before I know how successful they were at removing Mt. Retina from my eye. The world around me is brighter but not any better focused. The doctors tell me that recovery will be a process of gradual improvement just like the loss of sight. In the mean time, I have lots of eye drops and more doctor appointments to get through on the road back. There is also about a 30% chance that I will have to do this again one day. I'll try not to worry about that.

You might think that eye surgery is the nightmare, but it isn't. The real nightmare is the possibility that I would be part of that small percentage of people that surgery wouldn't help. I was legally blind in my left eye. For a reader and writer blindness is a horrible thought. Where would I be without my eyes?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

I began reading this book because Carolyn Wall and I were going to be on a historical mystery panel together at Bouchercon 2011. Though I love American historical mystery, depression era ones are not my usual read. Wall surprised me with vivid characters trapped in a harsh situation in a troubled community.


I was drawn in quickly and held tight to the end. I would not want to be Olivia: from childhood through her experience as a grandparent, life was harsh, impoverished, and filled with pain. There are moments of happiness, small treasures in a world of misery; the greatest of these is her grandson. Together they find hope, friendship, and love in their small Kentucky community. They also find a world of troubles. Most of their problems are no mystery.

The only reason I gave Sweeping up Glass four stars instead of five is the mystery. The plot is excellent, but for mystery readers, the puzzle is weak. In talking with Carolyn, I discovered she did not write this book with the intention of marketing it as a mystery, but the book was picked up by Poisoned Pen, a mystery publisher. They took it on the strength of the writing and the fact that the search to find out who was killing Olivia’s beloved wolves was a mystery element in an otherwise literary novel.

Whatever you think of the reasoning, I am very glad the book was published and would like to see more from Carolyn Wall. If you come to the book without the expectation of untangling a great mystery, I’m sure you will be delighted with the story. I highly recommend you read this book.