Friday, July 31, 2015

David the Pool Guy

Last time, we took a trip to the pool store to consult the professionals about whether we could actually put a pool in our little backyard. We asked the kid some questions, and his answers were essentially, "You'll have to ask David." Apparently David is the guy who actually builds the pools. The pool store mostly sells chemicals and floating noodles, while David is the man who gets you to the point where you need chemicals and noodles. David is never actually at the store. He works mostly in his truck, from what I could tell. We were given his card.

My husband called David on Monday and arranged for him to come out to the house. He needed to tell us if our yard was large enough and flat enough for a pool and whether our gate was wide enough to allow the huge earth-moving equipment through.

Elliott pondering the pre-pool yard.
David showed up a couple weeks later. Our yard is fine. He said we might need a retaining wall unless we were willing to let them distribute a pant-load (technical term to measure large amounts of messy stuff) of dirt that will be dug out of the hole that will eventually become a pool. I was not willing to lose ALL my grass to this adventure, so retaining wall it will be. The gate into our yard might be wide enough for the excavator, but if not, they can take down a little of the fence on either side of the gate and replace it when the project is done. It would not affect our neighbor's fence, according to David. That would have been a deal breaker.

David gave us an estimate of approximately $965 billion dollars to build a 12 X 24 foot vinyl salt water pool. That included "free" start-up chemicals, courtesy of the pool store. Like drug dealers, they know that if they get you hooked with a freebee the first time, you'll keep coming back for more.

My husband said the multi-billion dollar quote seemed fair. He really wanted the pool, and the fact that it cost more than an aircraft carrier was irrelevant. He also wanted it immediately so he could swim for at least the second half of this summer. 

I asked David if the massive price tag was correct, considering that 12 X 24 is about the smallest in-ground pool in existence. David pondered the paper copy for a moment then said, "Oh, I did make a mistake! I forgot to add in the retaining wall. That could be anywhere from an extra $50 million up to $2 billion. We'll have to wait and see." Thanks, David! Way to be a team player.

So my husband signed us up, we gave the man a pant-load of money for a deposit, and David promised to get the pool ball rolling. He said that once they got the necessary permits, they could start by the end of the month. It would take six weeks, weather permitting. Hilarious. I came to learn that David has a really twisted sense of humor.

Next time: Preparing for Digging Day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Pool Store

Once we decided to pursue the thoroughly impractical plan of installing a pool in our backyard, my husband insisted that we had to do it now. He hoped to have a couple months to swim before the thing covered over with ice this winter. I pushed to do more research and price shopping. My argument was that the pool might be cheaper in the off-season, so we should wait until Christmas. Or maybe Christmas 2025. But no. My husband has never been much for comparison shopping. It was off to the pool store. 
It's strange to recall what my yard used to look like. I miss grass.
We liked the idea of buying from a company that had a physical location where we could get a feel for what's available and where we could picket in the parking lot if things go horribly awry with our project. Spoiler Alert: There have been many times throughout this project when that fact has given me comfort and allowed me to fall asleep.

This pool store we visited had actual pools installed on the property. They were beautiful, clean, clear, and made you want to jump in. However, the sheer size and scope of the pumps, filters, gadgets, and other assorted knobs and hoses gave me pause. If anything, the complicated set-ups made the pools more attractive to my husband. He's a guy, after all, so he's attracted to bells and whistles on a genetic level. 

While admiring the displays, we learned about the joy of pools with vinyl liners. We'd only been in public in-ground pools before, so we were used to the scratchy concrete-feeling sides. But vinyl is smooth and it has a little give to it. It feels nice on your hands and feet. The fact that it's also cheaper than the gunite and fiberglass options was a huge bonus. And don't get me started on the advantage of not having a crane lift a fiberglass shell over my house. Apparently that's how you get a fiberglass pool into a suburban backyard. No matter how careful they are, I envision that thing breaking free and landing in my living room.

The only question that remained was to find out whether our yard was actually able to support a pool. It's a small yard with a slight slope to it, so we weren't sure if it violated the laws of the city, county, or gravity to install a pool here. It was time to consult a professional. 

Next time: We consult a professional.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pool Party

What have I been doing all summer? Glad you asked. I've been living in a pit of red mud, arguing with contractors, and paying exorbitant sums of money to do it. Yes, that's right: I've been having an in-ground pool installed in my Georgia backyard.

We did this as a compromise. My husband has always wanted a pool, but when we were moving down here, we couldn't find anything we liked in our price range that had a pool. After surviving two scorching Georgia summers (State motto: "Sugar with iced tea, and heat with humidity") we decided to buy a new house. I wanted a bigger yard, my husband wanted a pool. After wasting several weekends looking at places that would send the Property Brothers running with their twin tails between their gangly legs, we decided it would be easier to stay here and have a pool installed. Yeah, we're new.
The BEFORE photo. The yard wasn't a pit of red mud yet.

 Come back often to follow the Pool Party Saga. We'll all squeeze into our swimsuits and plunge right in!

Monday, March 9, 2015

I co-edit a nonfiction book review blog called with my cousin Annmarie Ortega. The following blog originally appeared there recently. It's on one of my favorite topics this spring. I hope you're inspired!

The global climate change movement howls about the evils of carbon in the atmosphere, but most ignore how important carbon is to the soil. It's vital to the health of plants and, in turn, to the health of everyone and everything that eats those plants. In other words, it's vital to us all. But humans have spent thousands of years taking lousy care of the soil, and we've only gotten worse as the centuries have passed. As a result, the carbon content of our soils has been severely depleted. So what to do? Read books, of course! This is a book review site, after all.

Organic is so last year. Sustainable isn't enough. We need to take action that regenerates the planet. That's a substantial part of the message in Kristin Ohlson's book The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. Yes, organic and sustainable are good, and they're certainly way better than factory farming and pesticides, but there's more to it than that. We need to heal the soil by replenishing carbon, which will help heal the environment. The idea is that when carbon leaves the soil, it must go somewhere, which means it ends up in the atmosphere. Ohlson points out that even without burning fossil fuels, the carbon build-up in the atmosphere will persist if we don't change our damaging farming and land use practices. We need to put that carbon back in the soil where it can help us instead of kill us.

Want more fuel for your carbon fire? Try Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country by Courtney White. For the animal lovers among us, pick up a copy of Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth by Judith D. Schwartz. An advantage of these books and others like them is that they leave readers feeling hopeful. We're not at the mercy of polluting mega-corporations or factory farms or genetic engineers. Individuals can take meaningful action in their own backyards and at their local grocery stores.

Start planning your spring regenerative gardens now and be optimistic about our planet's future!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stay in Your Lane

The problem with other people is that they make me feel inadequate. Totally not their fault, of course. It's all on me. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Of course, thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt makes me feel inadequate, too. Did you know she was married to a president and was a staunch advocate for civil rights, women's rights, and human rights? She gave her own press conferences!

Anyway, regardless of Eleanor Roosevelt's awesomeness, the fact is that I often start my day feeling pretty good about myself. When my shoes match, there's gas in my car, and the kid at the coffee shop calls me Miss instead of Ma'am, it seems like everything's coming up Kim. But then I make the mistake of striking up a conversation with someone – at work, or writing group, or the coffee shop. That person tells me about their excellent promotion at work. Or how they sold their house in 12 hours for more than the asking price. I notice that not only do their shoes match each other, but they also match the handbag and belt.

Suddenly I'm deflated. So what about my stupid matching shoes? This kid serving me coffee and calling me "Miss" just sold his late grandfather's 1964 Mustang for $50,000.

Logically I know that if someone else is successful or looks good or has generous dead relatives, it doesn't diminish me, my choices, and the great things I have. But logic doesn't have any bearing on feelings. I'm still left with a case of petty jealousy and second-guessing every decision I've ever made that led me down a path to not buying the matching handbag or finding a valuable 50-year-old car in my garage.

The other day I was at the coffee shop – again. Don't judge. I've seen you there, too. At the next table was a young woman complaining to an older woman who appeared to be her grandmother that some girl she had gone to high school with had just gotten married to a successful lawyer and bought a house.

The grandmother said, "You want to get married? What about college?"

"No, I don't really want to get married now," the girl replied. "But I'm living in a dorm room the size of a refrigerator box and spending half my life studying at the library. Meanwhile a girl my age – who was always a jerk in school, by the way – married a guy with money and gets to decorate her new four-bedroom house. It's crappy."

Grandma smiled and patted her granddaughter's hand. "Stay in your lane, sweetheart."


"Stay in your lane. Keep your eyes on what's ahead of you and work toward your goals. If you focus on what everyone around you seems to be doing, you'll go crazy."

"That's easy to say, but I'm staring down the barrel of two more years of dorm food and a date with the library every Saturday night just to get my bachelors degree. Then more years for dental school, then paying back student loans. By the time I get around to finding a husband, we'll have to spend our honeymoon in the retirement home."

"Think of the money you'll save on the reception if your guests only eat Jell-o and Ensure," Grandma said with a chuckle.

The girl groaned, and Grandma added, "Like I said, stay in your lane. You made your choices and they're good ones. They're not easy to accomplish, but they're worth accomplishing and you'll be so glad when you're running your own dental practice. Meanwhile, this friend of yours might not be so lucky in the future. I hope things work out well for her, but you never know what's really going on in someone else's life. What if her lawyer husband is an arrogant pain in the neck? Or the roof on her new house leaks? What if the place is built on an ancient burial ground and it's haunted?"

"Haunted? Seriously?"

Grandma shrugged. "You just never know what's going on in someone else's lane. It could be haunted. The important thing is to keep your eyes on your lane and don't worry about what's going on in someone else's."

That's about when I thought I should stop eavesdropping on the conversation. Grandma seemed pretty smart, and I didn't want her to notice that some strange woman in the coffee shop was hanging on her every word.

No, the irony isn't lost on me that by eavesdropping I picked up some great advice about staying in my own lane and not focusing on what other people are doing. But irony aside, Grandma reminded me that I'm not in some imaginary competition with the rest of the world. It's better to ignore everyone travelling on either side of me and just focus on my road ahead. There are 7 billion ways to live a life in the world today, and I can't do all of them. It doesn't matter if the people travelling on either side of me are driving $50,000 inherited Mustangs or carrying Coach bags or are speeding to their literary agents' offices to sign multi-book contracts. Stay in your lane and be grateful that I have a car, was able to pull on a pair of shoes – matching or not – and had enough gas to get on the freeway.

But still, that classic Mustang would be a sweet ride.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Third(ish) Time's the Charm

New Stones cover!

The third time's the charm. I certainly hope so. At least when it comes to book covers for my novel Stones of Abraxas. Technically, Stones has had four covers, which means "Fourth time's the charm," but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Plus, one of those four covers never actually landed on a published copy of the book. It was a shame, too, because that was a cool cover. Unfortunately, the publisher who had commissioned it went out of business before the book ever came out. Such is the horror lurking around the corner for every author.

Original 2006 cover
Anyway, back to my third time's the charm book cover. Stones of Abraxas is my first published book. It's a funny, exciting young adult fantasy novel that was released in 2006 by Medallion Press. Its cover was an awesome original oil painting that depicts one of my favorite scenes from the book. Days before the book's release, though, that nameless horror lurking around the corner jumped out right in my face: Medallion Press announced that they were ending their young adult line. I ran around like a woman possessed, arranging book signings and author visits, but without a publisher to help with promotion or to publish the Abraxas sequel, there was little hope. The book was out of print quickly.

That's when I found Publisher #2. They wanted to re-release Stones, and they were going to publish the sequel Heroes of Abraxas. Much rejoicing ensued at the Sullivan household. One morning I received an email from Publisher #2 with a beautiful cover for the new edition of Stones. We needed new cover art since the first Stones cover belonged to Publisher #1. The new cover was beautiful, though, and the rejoicing at chez Sullivan continued. Then, that very afternoon, another email arrived. This one said that Publisher #2 was going out of business. My book was losing yet another publisher – and this one before the book was even released. The rejoicing ended abruptly.

First self- pubbed cover
 Shortly after this literary tragedy, I got the bright idea to self-publish my Abraxas books. I was still getting the occasional email from people who had read Stones and who wanted to know what happened in the sequel. So I researched cover artists and chose one who wasn't insanely expensive. The resulting covers were colorful, and the finished books from Create Space, Smashwords, and Kindle Direct were high quality. I was even able to edit Stones just the way I wanted it since I was my own publisher. But sales were disappointing.
One day I was browsing Twitter and read a Tweet from a company called SelfPubBookCovers. It said that if you've got a good book, but it's not selling, maybe the cover's to blame. I liked my colorful self-pubbed Abraxas covers, but in truth, I had always suspected they looked too young for the books. These are young adult books with main characters who start off as 12 and 14 years old. The kid on the cover of Stones looks like he's in kindergarten. 

Abraxas sequel

That Tweet got me thinking, so I asked my writing group what they thought of the covers. Frowns around the table. Suggestions about where I could get a new cover. Ideas about what the covers should look like. The next thing I knew, I was pouring over the zillions of book covers that artists have for sale at I ended up selecting two by the artist diversepixel, and she even helped me customize them for my books at no extra charge.

Check out the phenomenal results here and at the top of this blog. Better yet, visit my website for excerpts of the books.

The moral of this story is: You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but since everyone does, yours better be awesome.