Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A MODERN DAY SEQUEL TO "REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE"

"Time had taken on another dimension; no one had enough of it anymore. Details led to more details, and were it not for Eric's past experience as a contractor and his friends and connections in the construction business that pulled strings and moved things along, the renovation of the empty restaurant would have taken longer. Eric pushed hard for things to happen quickly, but unexpected delays were unavoidable. The days whizzed by at warp speed, and then it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving." ~ page 228 "GOOD FORTUNE"

This is what I wrote when Michael was working part-time and getting ready to open his new business. He and his partners were overwhelmed with details and trying to get everything done in time. Indeed, "time had taken on another dimension" and no one had enough hours in the day to get everything done.

For the last two months this accurately describes what my life has been like as I've been getting ready to release my new novel, "VANILLA GRASS." The title is derived from the wild-growing sweet vernal grass that grows in the woods of Western Washington, and smells like vanilla. Five rounds of edits and a final read-through, working with my cover designer to make everything just right, formatting the manuscript, getting the Library of Congress Catalog number assigned and the  Publisher's Cataloging-In-Publication Date and a CIP number assigned so libraries can purchase and catalog my book--these are just some of the details I've been attending to!

When I wrote "GOOD FORTUNE" my heart was immediately connected with the story and characters. I wasn't sure if I'd feel the same way while writing "VANILLA GRASS" because for the first few chapters it felt more like the start of a "project" than something meaningful. Then as often happens while writing, things shifted, my story took a direction I hadn't planned, and I found myself totally immersed and emotionally invested in the characters and plot. 

"VANILLA GRASS" is a book about a Vietnam Veteran suffering from PTSD, a subject I've researched and learned a great deal about in the last year. Rather than attempting to explain the plot, I've decided to post the synopsis that appears on the back cover:

"Suffering from PTSD, Vietnam Vet, John Carrows lives off the grid in self-imposed exile. Battling daily with violent war memories, he is forced out of hiding when pot-smoking teenagers make a failed attempt to rob him at gun point. Teenagers and the town at large aren't prepared for the consequences.

An abused dog will become the catalyst to heal John's deep psychological wounds. When he saves the dog's life, John begins to emerge from years of recurring nightmares and deep depression -- setting forth a chain of events that affect his entire community."

As with "GOOD FORTUNE" I did countless hours of research while writing this book. Part was taken from memories of my ex-husband's post deployment after his return from serving two tours in Vietnam. Some was based on a friend's experiences while serving there. Much of it came from interviewing Vets in my writer's group, reading numerous blogs and articles, and watching YouTube videos of wounded combatants suffering from PTSD. Many Vets go decades suffering with trauma and flashbacks until they get paired with, or go to a shelter themselves, and rescue a "comfort dog" that works miracles helping them cope and heal.

What about the teenagers? Perhaps I was destined to write a book about juvenile delinquents because my father, Irving Shulman, wrote "THE AMBOY DUKES," a novel about an actual street gang in Brooklyn, New York, that was made into the film "CITY ACROSS THE RIVER" starring Tony Curtis and Rita Moreno. He also penned the original screenplay for the iconic film "REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE," starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. His book based on the film is entitled "CHILDREN OF THE DARK." Later, he wrote the first book to be released concurrently with a film. That book was the paperback version of the play that was then made into the film "WEST SIDE STORY."

Am I trying to follow in my father's footsteps? Perhaps. Every writer dreams of writing a best-seller. But at first it didn't occur to me what I was doing was carrying my father's torch by writing about this generation of teens until I'd completed half a dozen chapters. My teenagers aren't much different from the ones my father featured in the 1940s-1960s. My present day delinquents are sexually promiscuous, talk slang, smoke pot, carry guns, and have no goals. They lack motivation and compassion until a Vietnam Vet shocks them into reality.

"VANILLA GRASS" will be released by mid-November. Watch for it on Amazon and I'll announce it here. Until then, you can follow and "Like" on its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Leslie-Bratspis-Vanilla-Grass/1459047377684683?ref=hl



I look forward to having you join me!

Yours in good fortune,

Leslie Bratspis,
Author "GOOD FORTUNE" and "VANILLA GRASS"






Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RHYTHM OF LIFE

Often on my “GOOD FORTUNE” Facebook newsfeed I come across posts that relate to things I wrote in “GOOD FORTUNE” and I share them with my followers. Today I decided to share this one on my blog. It’s about being in touch with the changing rhythms of our bodies.

Zen Heart writes: “There is a right time for each of the things you do. If you try to live counter to your personal rhythms, you will expend more time and energy to get things done. Body and soul suffer when you force yourself to wrestle against your own rhythms. Listen to your rhythms and follow them.”

Page 161 of “GOOD FORTUNE” aged Tong is speaking to his son, Wu, who is alarmed at his father’s aging. Tong attempts to reassure Wu that he’s fine:

"Life has its own rhythm that conforms to our daily existence. It changes with us as we grow and mature.
For most of my life I have worked hard, and now, I am getting ready to slow down my pace and take the needed time to rest. I have earned that right, which did not come easily. Do not deny an old man the reward he has labored toward his entire life.

Page 162 the conversation continues:
Occasionally my joints ache, but I have nothing hurting me in the way you fear. I’m slowing down, so if I work less and keep myself warm, that will be my best tonic. My biggest comforts in life now are a bowl of hot noodles and watching my grandsons tumble on the floor the way Cho and I once did when we were boys.”




Monday, August 25, 2014

WISDOM WAITS

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and your mind is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?” ~ Lao Tzu

This is a question that presents a challenge because we live in a modern age where everything happens in an instant. If our computers are slow or our texts aren’t answered immediately we feel impatient. The instant the red light turns green if we don’t take off right away we get honked at. We hate to wait in line for anything. Cultivating and practicing patience takes . . . patience! Often, I’ve had to remind myself of the advice a friend gave me some years ago, that has prevented me from making snap decisions I’d regret later. Her two words are simple: “wisdom waits.” The theme of practicing patience and waiting for the right moment to act appears throughout “GOOD FORTUNE.” Here are two examples:

Page 32 - Grandfather is instructing young Tong on the virtues of patience and quiet thoughts as a way to settle his mind so he can “hear” what he must do.

“Listen for your inner voice to guide you. Trust your instinct.” As if it were yesterday, Tong remembered Grandfather’s voice instructing him when he was ten. “It may be no more than a whisper, but if your intent is pure, you will hear the voice clearly. Follow where it leads you.”

“I’ve tried, Grandfather, but I hear nothing,” Tong insisted with frustration. “What am I doing wrong?”

“If you try too hard, the noise from your thoughts will obliterate all other sounds, thus making it impossible for you to hear your heart speak.”



Pages 160-161 - Much later in the story, Tong’s son, Wu, enters his bedroom to share an intense dream where he actually sees his Great-grandfather whom he’s never met. At first this seems like the perfect opportunity for Tong to have an important discussion with his son that has been on his mind for years. With Tong’s advancing age his declining health, he feels the urgency to pass on the wisdom Grandfather taught him. Tong is bitterly disappointed when he realizes the conversation he has waited for years isn’t going to take place. Patience is his only solace.

“In that instant, Tong's hopes shattered like a crystal vase that fell to the floor and splintered into a thousand tiny shards of glass. Bitter disappointment replaced hope when he realized the conversation he had so often prayed for was not going to take place that morning. He was so close to saying the words he’d kept bottled up inside him, and they were almost out of his mouth when he was forced to swallow them. Tong knew that in order for Wu to fully comprehend what he wanted to teach him, his son would first have to have an open mind or his words would fall on deaf ears and be wasted like spilled water. Now, any further attempt to pursue this line of thought or explain that the dream foreshadowed Wu’s future would be futile. Above all else, Tong desired to teach his son what he still lacked in perception and values, but once again, he would have to be patient and wait for the right moment.”


Some reviews:

"Synchronicity, life lessons, multi-cultural, patience, acceptance and much, much more ... all woven together into a masterfully told story ... what's not to love ... I did and I think you will too."

"...one will find him-or herself reflecting upon their own life experiences. Finally, it is a pleasure to read a book with a positive and uplifting outcome. Definitely recommended!"


"Bratspis tells the story of two young men from different cultures who face challenges in their lives. An elderly Chinese man who learned ancient wisdom from his grandfather is the human instrument who influences both of these men in working toward life-changing goals."

#Patience #LaoTzu #Listen2YourHeart #BePatientAndWait #GoodFortuneByLeslieBratspis #LifeLessons

Leslie Bratspis, Author
"GOOD FORTUNE" is available at Amazon.com & Kindle, Barnes&Noble.com & Nook, Smashwords.com
By request from your local bookstore

Monday, March 31, 2014

MY LIFE INFLUENCED ME AS I WROTE “GOOD FORTUNE”


Recently I was approached by a book club that selected “Good Fortune” as their monthly read. The members inquired if I’d be willing to attend their meeting and of course, I answered I’d be delighted. It had been two years since I’d read my manuscript and I thought it wise for me to refresh my memory. I started reading it again and at once it became apparent how much I loved my characters, but also how much of my own life was revealed on the pages. At the time I started writing “Good Fortune” my father was dying from Alzheimer’s. Once a brilliant author, scholar and teacher, he was deteriorating rapidly and I was experiencing grief at how he’d radically changed. As I read about the conflict between Wu and his father, Tong, I realized I was writing about my yearnings for my father to be well.

 
The complicated relationship between Wu and Tong as Tong's health declines runs prevalent throughout “Good Fortune,” but there is much more from my life captured on its pages. I've heard it said an author writes about what they know. Chapter 8 tells about a letter that foretells the future. I wrote about an actual letter my husband received from his grandfather while he was anxiously waiting to find out the results of an important state exam relating to his position as pastry chef for a major hotel. Somehow, the letter got tucked inside a book and was forgotten for six years until once again, my husband was waiting to learn if he’d passed his state exam to become a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist. Back then things weren’t computerized, so he had to wait three months to learn the outcome. One morning he dreamt about his grandfather with whom he’d had a close relationship. He woke up missing him, wishing he could talk to him one more time. Without knowing about his dream, I watered the plants per my usual weekly routine and noticed a letter protruding from a book. Curious to see what it was because it hadn’t stuck out before or I’d have noticed, I slipped it out and read it. When I saw it was from Grandfather, as a surprise I set it on the reading table for my husband to find next time he sat there to read. At the end of this blog is a photo of the actual letter which predicts my husband is going to pass his exam. The reproduction is small, but it reads: “Your father keeps informing me of your progress. I trust and feel confident that you will pass your state exams with flying colors…” When he read it that morning, he knew he had!

 
Another example from my life is written about in Chapter 17. The ballerina painting Jenny shares with Michael was the first oil painting I ever attempted. I came across a photograph of a prima ballerina after her final performance and was struck by the beauty of her pose, her long hair flowing down her back. I’d taken many figure drawing classes with live models and I thought the pose so beautiful I wanted to paint her. When I showed the finished painting to a friend they remarked it was “so sad.” Until that moment, I hadn’t seen the sadness, only the beauty that inspired me to paint her. Page 97 Jennie is talking about herself to Michael as they are getting to know each other:

While I was still in school, an artist friend gave me a beautiful gift. She made an oil painting depicting a ballerina after she danced her final performance…She's seated backstage with her torso bent over and her head resting on folded arms across her knees. Flowing down her back, her long black hair makes a graceful veil…When I hung it on the wall, I only saw the dancer's sadness. My friend viewed it strictly from an artist's perspective. Her eye appreciated the shape and form of the dancer's body draped in the chair and she painted what she saw, but I felt as if I were seeing into a mirror reflecting what could be my future… The painting showed me the depth of the dancer's sadness after her final performance, and every time I looked at her I felt her pain, too. I knew I didn't want to end up like her…Then one day, I found myself looking at the painting in a different way. I realized I was also an artist, and I had the power to paint my future. My life was a canvas and the future my work of art. Once I came to that realization, I was able to take the steps to protect myself from such a heartbreaking fate. That changed everything. Now, whenever I look at the sad ballerina, all I see is a beautiful painting.”

These are just two examples from my life I incorporated into writing “Good Fortune” while attempting to share some personal experiences of synchronicity, wisdom and learning. There are too many to include, so I will only list twelve of them. The names are fictitious, the incidents all true.

1.         Discovering how to actually open a fortune cookie without breaking it. My friend described how her daughter received her engagement ring the day before I wrote Chapter 7.

2.         Learning about Chinese culture and customs from unexpected sources wherever I went such as the conversation coming from the next table while dining at the commissary at work. A magazine delivered in the mail with an article about Shuikou noodles after I’d just begun writing Chapter 40.

3.         Brothers Andy and Michael fighting and ruining their mother’s new lamp.

4.         Pretending to be pirates and fighting with swords made of cardboard.

5.         Chapter 18 - Michael’s reflections about the hurdy gurdy man in Monterey, CA, how he respects this man for being independent and his own boss.

6          Contemplating the universe while star gazing around the fire pit at Nepenthe. A silver fox appeared and scared the diners.

7.         Michael standing all day and being exhausted from working so hard on Valentine’s Day. As a floral designed, I experienced such fatigue.

8.         Meditating by the ocean and hearing a voice in the wind.

9.         Creating a beach sculpture from driftwood, shells and seaweed.

10.       Referring to “A Dictionary of Symbols” after waking up from a dream.

11.       Jennie studied ballet and jazz. I took ballet 6 years and lyrical jazz for 25 years.

12.       Grieving over the death of my father. The poem Wu tucked into his father’s breast pocket is in the grave with my father tucked inside his breast pocket.

13.       Achieving a state of enlightenment during meditation.

 I hope you enjoy reading “Good Fortune” as much as I loved living it and writing it.


Yours in good fortune,
Leslie Bratspis, Author
 



 
"GOOD FORTUNE" is available at Amazon.com & Kindle, Barnes&Noble.com & Nook, Smashwords.com    By request from your local bookstore
 

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

AN AMERICAN AND CHINESE THANKSGIVING

It’s almost Thanksgiving. Time to eat too much turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pumpkin pie. We celebrate with family and friends and pay homage to the pilgrims who made it through the first harsh winter in their new home with the help of the local Native Americans. It’s a time for reflection and giving thanks for all our blessings and good fortune throughout the past year.

In “Good Fortune” I wrote about Thanksgiving from two perspectives. The first is when Michael and Jennie go to Eric and Susan’s house for dinner. The second is what’s happening in the Chow household across town.

Thanksgiving is the first time Eric and Susan meet Jennie, Michael’s newest girlfriend. Michael is a confirmed bachelor who never commits to any relationship. When he senses things are becoming serious he breaks up with whoever he’s dating. The mere fact he’s bringing someone he’s recently met to meet his best (happily married) friends is a big step for him.

For Anna living in Chinatown, her husband Wu is treating Thanksgiving like any other work day. He leaves her alone all day to care for his father and their two young sons who were born in the United States and are completely Americanized. Dennis and William are excited about Thanksgiving and Anna’s hopes to have a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with her family are crushed because Wu refused to stay home from work.

Page 246 begins:

Susan and Jennie took an instant liking to each other and within minutes of their introduction, chatted in the kitchen like old friends. Their compatible personalities, similar style of dress, sense of humor and shared worldview made them an instant hit with each other. As kindred spirits, they discussed their respective careers while they worked side by side completing preparations for the holiday feast.
The turkey received a round of applause when it came out of the oven, and Susan took a well-deserved bow. The small group gathered around the candlelit table resplendent with all the traditional mouthwatering Thanksgiving fare. With full hearts and hearty appetites, they toasted the holiday, their plans for the future and each other. Then the feasting began. Nearly an hour later, after shamelessly stuffing themselves with generous second portions of everything followed by Jennie’s sumptuous pumpkin pie and coffee, the ladies retired upstairs to the room set aside for the nursery.
Rubbing her full stomach, Susan showed Jennie, who was loosening her belt, the wallpaper swatches she had selected to choose from.
“I like the one with the cloud border around the ceiling,” Jennie said.
“That's my first choice, too.”
Now they were away from the men and couldn't be overheard, Susan confided in Jennie.
“The other morning Michael was talking about you, and I could tell he really likes you a lot.”
Jennie smiled. “I like him, too.”
“He hasn't been involved with anyone since he broke up with his last girlfriend a couple of years ago. The women he dates are usually gone before you know it. But I know he's getting serious about you.”
“That's good because I’m very attracted to him. I think I could get serious about him, too. How did the three of you meet?”
“Eric and Michael knew each other years before I came along. They were college roommates. From the stories I’ve heard, during their hippie days they were a wild pair. Back then you probably wouldn’t have given Michael a second glance. I know I wouldn’t have looked at Eric twice.”
“I can just imagine those two with long hair and tie-dyed shirts and bellbottoms.”
“Don’t forget the love beads.”
They shared a good laugh.
“As to how we met? Would you believe on a blind date?”
“Really?” Jennie’s eyes widened. “I’ve never gone on one of those, never wanted to.”
“Me either, but my friends were so persistent they wore me down until I agreed to do it. They must have known Eric and I would be good together because I was hooked on our first date.”
Jennie lowered her voice to practically a whisper. “I'll tell you something in confidence, but you must promise not to tell Eric.”
“I promise,” Susan said, crossing her heart. “I love secrets.”
“When I opened the door tonight and saw Michael standing there smiling that sexy smile of his, I felt butterflies in my stomach.”
“Oh, I love that. I remember those butterflies when Eric and I first began dating. Why is it they don't last? Now instead of butterflies I look as if I've got a beach ball in here.” Susan clasped her hands beneath her expanding belly.
“What are you two ladies laughing about up here? What's all this girl talk anyway?” Eric chided, barging in from the hall.
“Oh, you know, the usual. We were talking about men, what else?” Susan shot back.
“I should've known. Well, these two men request your company downstairs. We want to play Truth or Dare. Are you both up to the challenge?”
“You bet!”
When the evening drew to a close and it was time to leave, Jennie and Susan hugged each other and promised to keep in touch. As Michael bent over to kiss Susan goodbye, she whispered, “She’s a keeper. Don’t screw this up.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
During the drive back to Jennie's apartment, Michael had visions of making passionate love to her until the sun came up. He was aching to live out the fantasy he’d been having about her since the night they went dancing. Jennie had been having her own similar thoughts, so imagine her surprise and dismay when her younger sister flung open the door at the sound of their approaching footsteps.



Miles away in Chinatown, Anna’s Thanksgiving isn’t going well. She’s angry and frustrated with her husband:

Page 250:

Thanksgiving in the Chow household was not much different from any other night. Good Fortune was open for business, and Wu was there to manage it. Alone in her kitchen, Anna roasted a turkey and prepared Chinese stuffing of soy sauce, ginger, mushrooms, chestnuts and sticky rice. She also prepared traditional American side dishes of cranberry sauce, peas, and mashed potatoes and gravy for Dennis and William who were completely Americanized and excited about the holiday. At school their class learned about the Indians and how they helped the settlers get through the first winter. They made Thanksgiving turkeys for the table from pine cones and construction paper.
The boys could barely wait to eat and while dinner cooked, they complained it was taking too long. Now seated at the table, they wolfed down their food while Tong picked at the turkey and vegetables on his plate until Anna noticed he wasn't eating. She brought him a dish of beef and noodles hastily warmed in the microwave. He thanked her and picked up his chopsticks. Wu never made it home in time to join them at the dinner table.
Anna was torn between two worlds. Her sons were born in the United States and knew only this country and its ways, but like Wu, she had been born in China. She still retained fond childhood memories of her affectionate aunties far across the ocean, and her sparrow-like elderly grandmother who grew all her own vegetables and cooked everything over hot stones in the backyard. Leaving them behind had been hard on her, especially on holidays.
Anna never doubted that Wu was a devoted husband, yet he never seemed to be able to spend enough time at home anymore with her and the boys. Over time she grew used to it, but that night she felt especially lonely and resentful because she knew of other Chinese families who, like other Americans, were assembled and celebrating Thanksgiving with their children. While she was alone in the kitchen putting away the leftovers, Anna longed for her mother who moved to Los Angeles so her father could be near his brothers, with whom he jointly owned a bakery and two laundromats. It wasn't often she felt this way, but why couldn't Wu have stayed home tonight just this once?
By the time he finally did arrive, it was late and the boys had been put to bed hours ago. Anna was seated at her dressing table brushing her hair and was still feeling annoyed, as her image in the mirror clearly reflected. Upon entering the bedroom, Wu immediately noticed the anger etched on her face and was confounded to see it, because one thing he could always count on when he came home from work was that Anna would be happy to see him and greet him with a kiss and a smile.
Sensing that something was vexing her, he braced himself for an argument while attempting to act casual. He came up behind her and kissed her gently on top of her head where her hair parted; this gesture annoyed her beyond words.
How dare he!
Angrily, Anna removed his hands and got off her stool, wheeling around to face him with an angry scowl.
“Why couldn't you have stayed home with us just this once?” she accused. “I tried to make it a nice Thanksgiving for the boys, but how nice could it be without their father here to celebrate with them? The restaurant didn't need you tonight, but they did. You've got your priorities all mixed up!”
“You know I always work on Thanksgiving. It's not my holiday so why shouldn't I be at the restaurant?” Wu defended himself. “I’m not the only one who isn’t celebrating. The restaurant was busy tonight.”
“Because your sons don't share your feelings, that's why. They were born here, and they know all about the Pilgrims and the Indians and the first Thanksgiving. Their teachers taught them that our people are just like the Pilgrims who crossed the ocean and came here to make a new life for themselves. Tonight I fixed turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and . . . oh what's the use!”
Anna flung her brush down and stalked off toward the bathroom to have a good cry, but Wu came after her and held her at arm’s length.
“I had no idea how strongly you felt about this. Why didn't you tell me before?”
“Do I have to spell out everything for you? You knew I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner and the boys brought home those cute turkeys they made at school from pine cones. You could have scheduled someone else to run things tonight, or better yet, you could have stayed home all day with us.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“See what I mean?”



Michael and Wu’s lives parallel, but from opposite directions. Michael never commits to anyone he dates. When Susan whispers in his ear “don't screw this up” she suspects he will do the same thing with Jennie.  He has no desire to get married and has always been candid about that. In contrast, Wu is married and has a loving family, yet he’s letting work interfere with his relationship with his wife and sons. He doesn't appreciate what he has and takes them for granted.

Will Michael and Wu change? Both are driven to succeed, but at what price? Purchase "Good Fortune" and find out what happens. For the past few weeks it has been in the top 100 on Amazon in the genre of Visionary Fiction. If your library doesn't have it let them know it's in other libraries and can be ordered from the catalog.

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WISHING YOU AND YOURS A HAPPY VERY THANKSGIVING AND GOOD FORTUNE!

Leslie Bratspis

Friday, August 30, 2013

SMASHWORDS INTERVIEW

It's been much too long since I've added a new post, but I've been busy writing another novel. Will you please forgive me? The working title of the new book is "VANILLA GRASS" and I've completed the first 18 chapters, but I've got a long way to go before it's finished. This is going to be a totally different genre than "Good Fortune." My fellow writers at my weekly writer's group were a little shocked at first because the characters are "bad" teenagers. There's slang, profanity, sex, drugs and crime. What a stretch for me as a writer!

I recently took the time to publish an in-dept Q&A interview at Smashwords.com that I hope you'll read.

https://www.smashwords.com/interview/LeslieBratspis

Please let me know your comments and let me know if there are more questions you'd like answered.

Yours in good fortune,
Leslie







Saturday, February 2, 2013

HOW PATIENCE TEACHES



From his years of experience, Tong knew even when one intrinsically comprehends what is right, taking action is not always the best course. Sometimes, not by doing, but just by being who you are and practicing patience leads you to your goal. By allowing the way of all things to show you the turn of the road, the mystery of how one ought to proceed will be revealed. The learned and spiritual ones he'd met throughout his life seemed to know this, never speaking it, but by their actions one could trace it.

"GOOD FORTUNE" page 191


This is only one of many life lessons "GOOD FORTUNE" shares through the vehicle of Tong, my favorite character. Watch for more.

Yours in good fortune,
Leslie Bratspis

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“GOOD FORTUNE” is available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes&Noble.com, Nook & smashwords.com. Your local bookstore can order it,  request it from your library and tell them it’s already been cataloged.