I’ve always been a writer, starting before kindergarten when my mother gave me a pencil and a scrap of paper. Sometimes writing comes easily, when I can sit and spew forever and a day. Other times it would be the ultimate struggle: I knew I should be writing something, anything – but I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. Real life, stress, too many things to do, self doubt, laziness, sickness – you name it, I’ve used it for an excuse.

For the last month or so, I’ve been going through a MASSIVE housecleaning. (This is my current excuse for not writing.) It would have started out a huge undertaking anyway. We have three bedrooms that we never use and 2000 square feet of house that we don’t live in. Add to that 14 years of stuff accumulated by four humans and we are talking major decluttering. Thank goodness I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV. I’d just have to run away from home instead of clean.

The basement was one of my last jobs to tackle because it was the grossest. The attic wasn’t bad – it’s a walk up and dry, and my spare bedrooms aren’t bad because I clean them once a year (or before company comes to call). But the basement…yuck. Kind of damp, very spidery, and home to ancient centipedes. Plus it’s a HUGE mess, bigger than the rest of the house combined. And it’s dusty.

As I’m chucking out toys and enough Christmas accoutrements to open my own store, I found a box of my writing. Two novels that I knew I’d started but never made it past the first hundred typewritten pages. More than a few poems. Some other writing I didn’t recognize as my own, but I’m sure it was mine.

My mother had given me an antique (yes, in 1974 it as an antique) Remington manual typewriter for my high school graduation. She must have thought I was going to make a living with my words (ha ha…). I lugged it around from place to place for ten years, until I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had no finger strength to press the keys down. When I moved from St. Paul to Detroit, I gave it to my best friend at the time. I retired from typing, but still wrote poetry by hand, mostly to my husband. After the kids came twenty years of writing not much more than notes to teachers.

I’d also unearthed an enormous box of cards and letters from that period. Ah, pre-Internet, when the cheapest form of communication was via US Postal Service. Long distance phone calls were expensive! Trips out of town were too. There were tons of newsy missives from friends and relatives, years and years of back and forth. Many were mundane musings of daily life, sometimes the talk was deep. I found a letter from a truly nasty woman giving me 15 handwritten pages of what a terrible person I was. (I tossed that one, but I did keep some of the others. AND all of my fiction.)

Why did I keep that awful letter? or any of it?

Rereading my past was eye opening. These words brought back memories of myself as a young woman. My novels were mostly narrative (it took me 30 years to write dialogue!) but the voice was sassy and fresh. I’d never thought of myself as sassy and fresh at the time. My friends were interesting and led compelling lives, even though now none of us is where we thought we would be all of those long years ago.

As for me, I’m nearly finished with the Massive Purge of 2017. There might be one last garage sale in the future; I’ve given or thrown away everything else. Also in my future: old characters resurrected and given new life. Story lines I’d forgotten getting another chance. I’m starting right now.

Revive your past. It may pave the way to the future.

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We live in times where choices are made in black and white.

If you’re not a Democrat, you’re a Republican. If you question global warming, you must be a gas guzzling denier. If you love God and believe in him, you must be a bigot toward everyone who doesn’t believe. If you can’t see peace, love and understanding in everything, you must be shallow and stupid. Such contests of black and white make for interesting fireworks, but they also draw red lines of demarcation. Cross it, and you are dead to me.

Believe me, this has happened to me more lately than I’d care to think about. Make the wrong choice, and you lose friends, online and off.

The thing is, people are complex and flawed beings. We are more than black or white. A lot more.

I was thinking about this very thing this week as I completed the final modules of the short story course I’m taking online. (Have I mentioned before how much I love taking courses online?  🙂 Gets my brain in gear and thinking.) I learn so much from these courses. Thank you, Michelle Richmond.

Stories are much more than beginning, middle, and end. Once you get that concept into your head and begin branching away from stream of consciousness writing and into something that makes logical sense, you can begin to incorporate the other necessities of a good story, like dialogue, plots, themes – you know, the parts of a really good story.

I wrote a short story during this class, hardly original since I’d started something like it seven years ago and never finished it. (Maybe now I will.) But with a novel half-finished, some of the things I learned in the class I’ll now use in that work.

I thought about how I used to write my characters – the long-suffering female protagonist who at first comes off as too needy and without backbone. Or maybe she’s shallow and materialistic and not the brightest bulb. Or the antagonist who is a textbook slimy attorney, ruthless and mean. Bad guys without a vein of gold, or good girls who live the straight and narrow and never think beyond the box.

They were all black or all white.

They were also all boring. Re-writes change that, and add depth and interest. Characters are far more likeable if their layers are revealed slowly.

This is where I thought about black and white.

In my current WIP, I see where my main characters are coming out of worlds that are all black or all white, in their own way, of course. When we first meet, they are frozen, locked into course, as if they don’t choose black, they automatically choose white. They can’t see anything else. Real life isn’t like that, and as the story progresses, they each begin to see their lives as more than two choices, as black smears into white resulting in shades of gray. In my head I see them coming out of that monochromatic world and bursting into color, something with hope and promise at the end, like a rainbow.

Isn’t it great that humans are more than one thing or the other!

Remember this as we traverse the great wild Internet (especially) and the world at large. People are so much more than the public persona, of what shows on the surface.

I know. This is not very interesting and kinda preachy. But in developing characters, it might be something to think about.

 

🙂

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My husband and I don’t watch most “network” TV. We are totally unaware of anything new or trendy or hot or with it. With the possible exception of crime shows on HLN or ID (and of course, Snapped on OWN and Celebrity Autopsy on REELZ), we can’t stomach “reality” TV either. The “news” (I refuse to call it “fake” because I’ve known for 20 years that it is and a decade ago even hosted a web site of NonNEWS) is depressing and serves no purpose besides propaganda, but I digress. We watch series, not binge watch but one episode a night. We wait until a series shows some value or positive reviews and then we latch on. We’ll watch them over and over too. Good TV, like good books, never goes bad. Besides, if you wait long enough you can stream or buy the DVDs and don’t have to contend with pesky nuisances like commercials.

We started with Leave it to Beaver back when the kids were little, hoping to impart some wholesome values as we are not regular church goers. Every one of those 239 episodes had a moral to the tale. We moved on to That 70’s Show, which was funny and irreverent and so like the 1970s that we grew up in – upper Midwestern mayhem. The Wonder Years is also a great series for such nostalgia. I’m sure my husband sees himself as Kevin Arnold, much like I see myself as Winnie Cooper. (We were, after all, the same age at the same time.)

Then we started on House of Cards, which was entertaining but also like real life. And scary. And hot.

Finally we began watching Mad Men. This series hooked us from day one. The splendor of the photography, the perfect ensemble of actors, the plots exploring relationships and race, fast living and heavy drinking, the accurate depiction of the 1960s. (I love when Sally and her brother are playing with a dry cleaning bag – over their heads. I did that!) Turbulent times reflected just as I remember them as a kid, even though I grew up mainly on the High Plains and was miles and worlds away from the swank of NYC.

Last week, we watched the final Mad Men episode. If you haven’t watched the show, too bad; it’s too old for a spoiler alert. This was the end of the line, folks. The 60’s had ended, Sterling Cooper was no more. While parts of it were satisfying (Roger finds love – with a woman HIS age, Peggy and Stan get together, Pete gets his family back and scores a job at Lear Jet, Joan makes use of her Rolodex and reinvents herself) where most of the characters seem to find some sort of resolution, a huge part was not. A very huge part.

And that part of was what happened to Don Draper. You know, the handsome main character? The original mad man? At the very end, we see him in what I assume to be Big Sur meditating with a bunch of  hippies with a smile on his face.

But is he really smiling? Meditation is the polar opposite of Don Draper, womanizing, high stakes guy that he is. Is he really content with the Northern Californian alternative lifestyle? Grinning like a Jesus freak?

For some reason, Don Draper’s denouement didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sit well with my husband either. We’re still talking about it, and it’s been nearly a week.

I remember feeling the same way about certain books, The Horse Whisperer and Gone Girl being two that come to mind. I was so disturbed by the endings that I couldn’t stomach seeing the movies.

There are two points of view to endings. A pleasant, sensible one ties up all of the loose ends. Without sounding too much like a romance writer, you would like to see resolution. I personally do not subscribe to “happily ever after” as I enjoy watching my characters suffer, but hope for the future, a definite maybe. You like to leave your readers with resolutions but further possibilities. I like to hear that my characters are believable and when people ask me what happened to them.

Then there is the unexpected, highly dissatisfying ending. Like “Yay, I’m so happy I solved this problem but now I’m going to jump off a bridge for no reason at all.” No. That kind of ending is jarring, the kind that leaves your stomach in Maalox knots.

However, there is an upside to the unexpected ending. After all, we’re still talking about Don Draper, as I’m still talking about Gone Girl.

Thinking about this further, I might change some of my endings to the unexpected, dissatisfying type. What can it hurt?

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If you believe I do that (easily), I’ve got a huge piece of commercial property on the east side of Detroit I would love to gift you. But, it’s not enough to tell yourself that every day (I do), you have to follow through with actual words. On a piece of paper (or computer, but I find the paper and pen/pencil more compelling). The words have to make some sort of sense, so that you can string them together later to make a much bigger sort of sense.

I’m a world class procrastinator. We all know that. There are stories in my head bursting to get out. In addition to the art form, I have tons of Things to Do with regard to the business end of writing. Getting my publishing company started. (Look, Mom, I finally have a logo – after a year! Now on to the purchase of ISBN numbers. Wonder how long that will take?) Writing blog posts (which used to come so easily, now feeling like a molar extraction). Writing my newsletter (I have failed – temporarily – miserably!). Social media. (For the unsociable, a true hurdle.) Getting the web site(s) fixed up. Editing the two novels and one proposed book of poetry/shorts. (I know. I should have been finished so long ago!)

Of course, there are Real Life distractions. Many Real Life distractions, some of which hold promise, and others I should discard. Big, life-changing ones, like planning for retirement. (Promise.) Teeny-tiny ones, like Words With Friends. (Discard!) Snow. (It’s snowing today.) People calling in sick when it’s snowing. (What can you do? In my case, you tell the sick one to stay home and YOU take over.)

Writing every day takes a great amount of will power, the kind to say NO to distractions.  (Example: I’m trying to work on this while the phone is ringing. A challenge.) This is very difficult to do, especially if you’re like me and your eyes follow every shiny object that comes into view. You must tell yourself “NO” and commit to filling a page, even though some days you’re at a loss for words.

This year, I bought a Hobonichi Techo Cousin, which is a fancy Japanese planner/calendar. The pages are graphed, which I prefer better than lined. I use a graphed Moleskine too. The Hobonichi is a bit smaller, but the grid boxes are smaller too. I find myself adjusting my writing to fit into the boxes. These are shiny facts that have no value in this paragraph, but the point is that I try to fill out a page every day. If I miss a day, I use the next to fill the pages and catch up.

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Another way to stay on the writing track is to commit to classes. I’m a great proponent of online classes. I’m so busy, I can barely fit in my jewelry class on Tuesday mornings. Online classes are nice, not just because you don’t have to get out of your PJs and brave the snow and cold, but also because you can work around your schedule. You’ll want to choose an online class with some interaction, and homework. I’m currently taking Michelle Richmond’s short story class. I think I’m not so good at short stories, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve also taken classes with authors who mostly write fantasy, or prescriptive non-fiction, or romance.

Classes are all about honing what you know, or learning something new. If you think you know it all and have no need, you’re wrong. You can always learn something. Classes mean deadlines too; if you have homework niggling at the back of your head, you’re more likely to take writing seriously. I’ve gotten so many good, fresh ideas from taking classes

The last year and a half were so difficult for me in the write-life. It was hard to find my motivation, and even if I managed to whip some mojo up, the results were half-hearted and half-assed. It is now the middle of March and I can say truthfully that this year’s efforts are far stronger than last year’s. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m making a valiant effort to write one blog post a week.)

And now, for a non-writing moment, I will leave you my heart.

Good luck my writer friends, and keep writing!

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This is not a slam. Dude, I love San Francisco!

I spent a third of the month of February in San Francisco. First, to visit my son (it’s always reassuring to know that 50% of the offspring is still in reasonably good health), then to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Unfortunately, I was met by rain on my arrival. It had been raining there for nearly six weeks straight. The clouds parted on the second day and stayed that way for a few more days, which was nice. Thank you, God. The rain reappeared in time for my last four days indoors.

Rain is nice for California. They haven’t seen a lot of it in many years. Because of this, many Californians cannot drive in wet. On previous trips, I’ve seen the people of San Francisco freak out over momentary wet. Heavy rain is another thing altogether. I’ve seen this type of terrible driving here in Michigan. Every year. The first real snowfall, and the place goes berserk.

California has another problem with too much rain. There’s literally no place for it to go. After seeing photos of 25′ high and higher of the snow in the Sierras, there’s going to be huge problems once spring comes and that melts on top of the record rain.

So…we were driving back from Santa Cruz one day, and the main drag out of town and onto the South Bay was closed because of mud slides. The long, circuitous detour up and down mountains wasn’t much better. Parts of the road had washed away, leading me to wonder why I’d decided to drive down there in the first place. But it was an adventure, all good.

Another hazard is that of overindulgence. Wine, food, you want the best, most decadent and creative things to put into your mouth, California is the place to go. Except for no wine this time, I kept my eye on good food. Everything from Hog Island oysters for breakfast to Mexican to Chinese to seafood, to the room service at the Mark – believe me, it was all good. I tended to overdo, meaning when I got back to Michigan, it was time to diet.

Except because I was gone for eleven days, I had a mountainous pile of Things to Do at the house and office. You know…laundry, payroll, the refrigerator full of mystery food, taxes. Two days at the artist market. Catching up with my short story homework. The daily filling out the Hobonichi was about all I could handle.

Yesterday, I ran for the first time in three weeks.

Remember, before you take a trip to San Francisco, the aftermath can be hazardous.

🙂

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It’s been a week since I’ve returned from San Francisco, partly to visit one of the offspring, and partly because the middle of February is time for the San Francisco Writers Conference, held at the incredibly luxurious Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. I’ve now completed my ninth (!) year (and signed up and paid for the tenth next year), and I have to say it again – this conference never grows old or tired. I learn something new every year!

This year, since I had no completed manuscripts to pitch, I skipped the speed dating with agents. By next year, I hope to have at least two manuscripts finished from the every burgeoning files on my laptop. Can one suck up the storage with Word files? You betcha! I’ve had this particular computer for five years, and it’s bursting at the digital seams. Anyway, with no impending nervousness building, I decided to concentrate on the conference.

I like to absorb all the information I can; after all, this is a once-a-year event. I’m either too busy or too broke the rest of the year to attend anything else.

This year, I decided to hang out with the poetry contingent, lead by Dr. Andy Jones. I have pages and pages of poetry, but never considered publishing them until last year’s SFWC, when I won the contest in that division. This caused me to look at my poetry with new eyes.

My poetry is the most hidden of my writing, because I view my poetry as truly a piece of my heart – not for general consumption. I’ve only shared them with a few people; the occasional contest, my husband. That’s it.

My writing developed because I’m not much of a public speaker. Writing (and reading) made me brave, a person who I wasn’t in real life. Ask anyone who I knew in school. I was *shy* i.e. quiet. A bookworm. A nerd. (What a change from now: boisterous AND loud.) I’d never thought of my words as being spoken before this conference.

The poets are all about performance. Words are good, pretty words even better, but beautiful words accompanied by touching exposition is like a sumptuous meal.

With a little prodding, I decided to sign up for open mic poetry reading, which was to be held right after the gala cocktail party (which is always a smashing get together). How hard could it be, right? To read a poem? In front of real poets? Really…I’m the queen of karaoke, even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I chose a poem from the good old days (college) and a flash fiction piece from my online classes with Meg Pokrass.

Dr. Andy starts the proceedings.

Thankfully, I was third in line so the wait was brief. In my apprehension, I had consumed one too many cocktails (2 is my limit). I’d gained bravado, but with the jet lag and lack of a full meal, along with the heat of stage lights, I completed the task at hand but not much more. I went right upstairs to my room before I could pass out from exhaustion-anxiety-a slight buzz and really make a fool of myself. I have no idea if my performance was good, bad, or ugly, but if I can find a local open mic, I might try it again.

The rest of the conference was of course a blur of information. I finally figured out what is wrong with my web sites; whether or not I can fix my problems is another matter, but at least I have help if I need it. Linda Lee is so knowledgeable about WordPress, it’s scary. While waiting for my plane ride home, I changed my jewelry site so that it’s current, and am trying to get it into shape in the next few weeks.

I love San Francisco, I love this conference, because it comes at the right time – deep in the bowels of winter, when my enthusiasm is most apt to flag. Now I am stuffed full of ideas and information, enough to kick start me forward. And of course, the venue is wonderful, the weather cooperated for the days I wasn’t attending (thank goodness, that area has had a lot of rain!), and I love seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

This is what a good conference will do for you.

 

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Page from Hobonichi

I have been moderately silent online, but not without writing, or editing, or plotting and planning future writing in my Real Life world. I bought a Hobonichi cousin and have been writing in it faithfully every day. (Whee!) (Sometimes I draw, but that’s still creative.)

Unfortunately, I have had some other issues to attend to, ones that required way too much of my personal attention. Let’s put it this way, if you buy a brand new washer/dryer combo, you expect it to last far beyond three loads of laundry, dozens of phone calls, five service calls over an eight week period of which only ONE counts as a “real” call since only one had a beginning to end resolution, and a two month shelf life.

I happen to be a master at business letters. I used to write answers to union grievance letters and rebuttals to workers’ comp claims. If you get me riled up and going, my complaint letter will burn the hands of everyone who must touch it at the Post Office. (I hear that it ignites the fiber optic cables via email.)

I have been an unhappy camper regarding this washer/dryer since Christmas. I wanted to jot off a quick and scaldingly hot letter weeks ago, but my husband (who has a much cooler head than I) suggested I give them a chance.

So I gave them a chance. Then another. Then another. And another.

Finally, I hunted down the addresses for the CEO, CMO, the national customer service office, and wrote them a letter, sent on January 28.

Certified.

Return Receipt Requested.

This got me entree to a customer service agent in our country and not in an offshore call center. She assured me this past Friday that everything would be taken care of.

Except it wasn’t.

They were late. The current occupant of my hopefully-one-day retirement home had to get her kids from school, so the repairman left a nice little note on the door. “Sorry we missed you.” (!!!) You were 45 minutes late!

So here is the product of my ire, the best thing I wrote in the month of January (names blocked – for now – I might go full metal jacket next week and post this everywhere online):

Dear Sir

This letter is serves as a formal complaint regarding the washer/dryer combo unit I purchased from the XXX Livonia, Michigan store on October 8, 2016.

I had purchased the unit in Michigan, but it was to be delivered to my second home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The unit was delivered on October 17, 2016 (I was present) and set up. It appeared to work at the time of installation. In the meantime, I have short term tenant who moved in November 1, 2016.

After three successful loads of laundry, the unit began to leak profusely. I have a water alarm on the washer/dryer which is tied to our alarm service. The leak was so bad that it shut off the water completely.

My tenants went out of town at the end of November to mid-December. When they returned, the washer portion of the unit was in terrible shape. She attempted to call XXX service, but as she did not purchase the machine, they would not schedule a service call. I had to call them. When I called, I asked the customer service rep to take down her cell phone number, as I cannot help her or the XXX technician from 1,400 miles away. I also do not know her schedule. Customer service took this information and informed me that she could make the appointments if she had the sales check number, the phone number of the primary account, my name, and the address of the primary account. I gave her all this information.

Unfortunately, when the tenant called, the person she spoke with would not make an appointment. So I ended up making all of the phone calls.

Here is the history and a partial list of the calls I have made:

12-22-16        Set up customer service (3x*) / repairman came 12-23-16

12-28-16       Washer stopped working / repairman broke the door (!) door ordered

12-29-16        Called for service, informed the door was sent / repairman came 01-06-17

01-07-17        Called for appointment / repairman did not show up

01-09-17       Called for service (4x*)

01-11-17        Repairman showed up to fix door / told tenant the entire back of the machine needed to be replace so they ordered that (2 week). Repairman suggested a replacement.

01-13-17       Went to local store. No store manager. Salesman called customer service 3 times in one hour. (Kept getting hung up on. Tried to see about getting replacement.) Nothing resolved.

01-14-17      Called for service / part had arrived

01-18-17      Repairman came / said it was just a loose wire / fixed it and took away the new part

01-19-17      Washer leaks again / called for service (2x*) Second call I tried to get a replacement. Agent (I was transferred to) said I had only called once and the service man had only been out once, basically saying that I made up the entire thing. He said he would transfer me to service, but instead I was hung up on.

01-20-17       Called for service / was told someone could come out that day

01-20-17       Repairman calls me / says he can’t make it before the tech support closed at 7 p.m. Also said he didn’t think he should fix a problem when he was there the day before but the other guy “fixed” the problem. Said the other repairman should fix it.

01-25-17      Repairman came (I guess the first one who broke the door?) / ordered the part the other repairman took away. (He could have fixed it had the part been there.)

*Denotes the times I was cut off, disconnected, or hung up on so I had to call back.

(By the way, when I get email from XXXX saying when the service is scheduled, it has my name, the address where the unit is located, and my TENANT’S phone number. Why customer service will not allow her to make appointments when they obviously have her number is a mystery.)

In the meantime, I looked online and posted to community.XXXX.com, where my post was just one of thousands of other unhappy customers’ posts. I received an email saying they were working on my problem. Six days later, I made another post on the web site, just a nudge thinking that maybe I was forgotten, where I found this comment made by Wendy:

I do apologize that contact had not been made and greatly appreciate the update. Your concerns have been forwarded to our weekend team, Sears Service team, for assistance.
Thank you

There was some back and forth, as Wendy indicated that someone had worked on my problem before. I told “Wendy” I was sure she was a very nice woman, but no one had contacted me. I am still waiting for the weekend team (last weekend) to contact me. I’ve been waiting for anyone to contact me.

It is now January 26, a full seven weeks since the washer broke down. I am beside myself over this. My tenant has three small children and NEEDS a washer. She is finished with dealing with this and will buy her own (not from XXXX), which unfortunately cannot be delivered for a week to ten days. I will have another appointment, hopefully before then, to fix it. In the meantime, I am paying for her laundry of the last two months which far exceeds the cost of the unit. Instead of “fixing” it, I would rather you take it back and credit my account.

I have been a staunch customer with XXXX for the last 35 years. You used to offer well-made and reliable items, and your customer service was second to none. We have bought everything from TVs and appliances and furnaces to having all of our cars (company cars, more than a dozen) serviced at your auto center. This last purchase, a washer/dryer combo, is the straw that broke my back. I might NEVER buy another appliance from you.

I just want to also note that I have called the 800 number any number of times in the last month trying to get this issue resolved. The store employees are great; your customer service number is not. Here are the issues:

  1. They can’t find you by telephone # half the time, but do the rest.
  2. They can’t find you by name half the time, but do the rest.
    (By the way, I know we have a massive account and I’ve seen all the names and addresses and phone numbers associated with it and I understand, but STILL.)
  3. If you give the address of the primary account, they can’t find you.
  4. If you give the delivery address, they find the person who owned the house before me.
  5. If they do find you by any of the above, they will reference a washer you bought in 2014 that is in Michigan, which is not the same make/model.

By the time they’ve located your purchase (by using your sales check number, which works most of the time) the original person who gets the call can’t help you so this happens:

  1. If you get transferred to another person, you will either be on hold for the rest of your life, or your call will be dropped. Or in many cases, you can hear the agent but they can’t hear you so they hang up.
  2. If you call back you have to go through the entire process again. Which means I have to endure  #1-5 and someone else has to listen to my story again.
  3. If you call back the Philippine call center and ask to speak to a customer service supervisor, you still have to go through all these steps. And THEN be put on hold by THAT person just to have the call dropped after 20 minutes.

I know the 30 day refund/exchange period is over, but I’ve been calling on this issue for 7 weeks. This is a BRAND NEW washer which has only seen 3 loads! If you can fix it NOW, I will accept that. An exchange would be most helpful. If you come and take it back and refund my purchase price, I will not be displeased. Otherwise, I might have to resort to legal action in small claims court.

*sigh*

I’m sorry that I cannot report that I finished five chapters of my current work-in-progress during January, but February looks promising and March looks even better.

By the way, I am available to write complaint letters for the general public. I charge by the level of irritation.

🙂

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