One story I took from information on a death certificate concerned young unmarried woman who felt driven to end her child’s life and, with it, her own, because she couldn’t live as an outcast in the society of her era. But I explored (fictionally) who she was—her hopes and dreams, her ultimate betrayal, and finally her redemption several generations removed when a relative uncovered her story and saw to it that she was fittingly remembered for herself.
I wrote a fictionalized account of Walkin’ John, a more or less permanent transient in the San Angelo area, whose death in 1937 made front page news in the San Angelo Standard Times. I’ve been working on finding out more about him for going on two years now and hope to write his true story one of these days. The hopeful note is that someone who knew him didn’t want him buried in public ground (Potter’s Field, Pauper’s Graves) and provided a plot in a section of Fairmount near where my family rests. Though his grave is marked “Unknown”, he was well-known in his own way. We know where he is—but where did he come from and why?
Listed only as “Soldier, Unknown” in the roster of a Potter’s Field, my soldier came to life in another short story—with the honor he deserved.
But the one which tears at my heart is the sad odyssey of a family through several states. The mother died of TB (a common scourge in the past), leaving young children. Then, the oldest child died in a tragic fire in a home for the mentally challenged and was buried in a mass grave with other victims. Finally, the father died a few years later, also of TB, leaving his young family completely alone.
Granted, the death certificate started my search, but I used it to find other resources through genealogical websites, burial records, etc. This family’s story needs to be told. Though it will be fiction, the truth will come through triumphantly—I hope!
Lest you think this is dark matter, please consider the fact that only lives forgotten are really at an end. Each of the persons whom I researched walked in this world as a unique creation and a child of God. Somewhere in those lives, before the dark, there was light—which is the story which needs to be told.
Fiction? Yes, of course, but also a remembrance and a tribute.
Monday: One more blog on story sources...what I’ve discovered while doing genealogical research on my own family
One of the most heartbreaking events I’ve run across are all the young men aspiring to be pilots during WW II who died in training accidents. I’ve often thought of the pediatrician who took care of my children in the 70s who shared with me that, as a young doctor during the war, it was his job to go out to these crash scenes. I remember how his voice trailed off, and he shook his head sadly. So I think of those young victims and who they were in life, where they came from, who was waiting for them to come home, and how their lives might’ve impacted the post-war world.
Surprisingly, many places of death are listed as such-and-such a hotel—single men, traveling salesmen, retired men in residence, all of whom died alone and were found later by strangers. But I like to think of their lives—what were they like before they were alone? What legacy did they leave behind?
House fires, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the days before such was mostly preventable, burns caused by clothing catching on fire from outside cooking fires, and even murders...all of these make the lights twinkle in a writer’s mind.
People found multiple ways to end their own lives. I never realized that so many poisons were as available over the counter! These make me feel especially sad as I ponder what brought these people—young and old—to the point of choosing not to go on. So from these, I like to build an alternate scenario which shows a journey from despair to joy.
Friday: Stories I’ve written and stories I’d like to write
This week’s three-part series is on writing resources—specifically, where I find story ideas, which ideas I’ve used, and which ones I’d like to use someday...sometime…
Genealogists (which I am) use a variety of sources, hopefully primary ones, to trace their family trees. One of the best primary sources is a death certificate, although the information on it is only as reliable as the knowledge of the informant. I’ve been disappointed more than once to find that the person who supplied the facts about the deceased ancestor really didn’t know doodly squat!
You won’t find death certificates for all states in genealogical databases. There’s usually a cut-off date, but if the ancestor hunter is lucky, he/she can learn
birth and death dates
place of birth
place of death
current address at time of death
cause of death
profession/line of work
name of funeral home
name of informant (which can lead to other discoveries)
doctor’s name (sometimes the coroner)
check box for accident, homicide, suicide (not in the earliest documents)
parents names/places of birth if known
So what does genealogy have to do with sources for fiction? Just this: death certificates are one of the richest story sources around. Let me explain: when you read a death certificate as a writer rather than a genealogist, you’re looking at a microcosm of society at any given time.
For example: an era where women often died in childbirth; a time when people of all ages died young from the common scourge of TB or from diseases now curable if not preventable; the age-old tragedy of young people dying in accidents which shouldn’t have happened; and the timeless tragedy of suicide.
Death, of course, need not be the focus of a story idea sparked by a death certificate. Vibrant life can come from the cold, hard facts. To wit: What if the young unmarried professional man who survived World War II hadn’t shot himself only a year later? What if he had chosen life instead? That’s the story—life, not death!
In the next two blogs, I’ll be exploring story ideas I’ve used and have yet to use, all of which were sparked by what was on—or not on—a death certificate!
Wednesday: What’s in the folder of dc’s saved to consider writing about?
Post #3 in the series about "taking to the skies" during WW II and beyond...Be sure to read the previous two posts to get the most info from this one.
I’ve already forgotten the exact year with the Commemorative Air Force brought a B-24 to the Hot Springs Airport. But I haven’t forgotten my resolve not to let this opportunity go unseized.
First some history on the plane for which production began in 1942. Over 18,000 rolled off the assembly line before the end of the way. The plane could fly higher, faster, and longer than the B-17. It carried a crew of ten, an 8000-lb. bomb load, and eleven .50 caliber machine guns. See more.
Known as “the Liberator”, it was called “the flying coffin” by the crews who flew in it because there was only one exit at the rear of the plane. Nevertheless, it was the standard heavy bomber used in the Pacific Theater and also saw service in the European Theater. See more.
The plane I flew in, built in my birth month and year, never saw active service. There are only two airworthy B-24s left.
So I drove with determination to the local airport, plunked down the hefty fee before I could change my mind, and climbed aboard through that infamous single back door. Seated near a gun turret, I fought air sickness in the hot, cramped cabin throughout the flight. Thinking of the ten-man crews who had to endure much worse, I hung in there.
The flight, one of those impulsive experiences I’m known for avoiding like the plague, is one I’ll remember forever. I touched history I was too young to remember and almost felt at one with the young men who gave up all their tomorrows for our todays. Sometimes I ask myself if we were worth it.
1. B-17 Fortress at War (Roger A. Freeman)
2. B-17 at War (Bill Yenne)
3. Ghosts of the Skies: Aviation During World War II (Philip Makanna)
4. One Last Look: A Sentimental Journey to the Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Bases of World War II in England (Philip Kaplan and Rex Alan Smith—Forward by the inimitable Andy Rooney)
“Memphis Belle” (Information)
“Memphis Belle” (Movie)
If you haven’t read the previous blog post, you’ll need to do that now.
The highlight of the afternoon was 86-year-old W.C. McGinley who actually flew in a B-24 liberator rather than a B-17. He held court in the shade of the wing, sitting in a lawn chair with his scrapbook in his lap. He recounted how his plane was shot down on a mission, and the pilot and co-pilot were captured. Two of the crew were killed, and the others, including himself, escaped. For 71/2 months he was hidden by a woman in the Underground. She fed and clothed them and eventually got them to safety.
He showed us the telegrams his parents received: the first saying he was missing in action and the second confirming his death. The government paid his GI insurance to his parents. Official letters of condolence reached their mailbox. And then—he came home to his family and to the lovely girl he’d met at the USO in Little Rock. They’ve been married for sixty-four years now!
I stood in silent awe as he told story after story. A middle-aged man handed him the name of another B-24 crew member and, voice breaking, thanked him for his service to the country.
This afternoon was one of those special moments in time that will never come again. These warriors are leaving us daily. Only 50 B-17s remain intact, 10 of them airworthy.
Already the day is a memory, a moment in time which has passed forever.
A moment I will cherish and carry with me the rest of my life.
Friday: My flight in a B-24 liberator also built the year I was born and a reading/resource list for those of you who would like to pursue more on these miracles of the skies and their valiant crews.
The three-part blog series this week takes to the skies with the B-17/B-24 bombers and their indomitable crews—and those committee to “Keep ‘em Flying”! On Friday, I’ll post a reading list and some resources for those of you who’d like to dig deeper. But today I’m resurrecting a blog I wrote in 2008.
This afternoon I went to the local to airport to see the restored B-17G “Sentimental Journey” brought by the Arizona branch of the Commemorative Air Force. It was smaller than I’d imagined but daunting in its ability to call up the past and to evoke emotion.
Betty Grable’s famous legs and over-the-shoulder peek-a-book graced the nose. On older man sidled up to me and, slipping his arm around my waist, asked, “Is that your picture up there?” I laughed and replied, “I wish.”
Later I eavesdropped on some conversations and eventually intruded myself with questions. One man had been the top turret gunner on a B-17 in the European Theater. Another had been a tail gunner. They had come to remember.
Peeking under the plane at the ball turret compartment, I wondered how anyone could have willingly folded themselves up into such cramped, hazardous quarters and still do his job. Yet thousands of young men did. Somehow, I can’t see the young men of this “woke” generation doing the same.
The Norden bombsite, once so secret that before each mission it was carried to the plane under wraps, stood out plainly in the nose compartment. It was an innovation in the B-17G model, I understand.
Not being inclined to fork over $425 for a 45-minute ride (the plane costs $2000/hr. to operate), I stood with most of the other not so inclined and watched it taxi and take off. When it soared above the runway, I was hard pressed not to applaud!
“Sentimental Journal” was built in November 1944, so we are the same age. I think she may be in better shape than I am—polished and gleaming, preening herself in the September sun and the respectful attention of all who came out just to see her.
Tomorrow: The personal account of a man reported missing, then KIA, but now sitting beneath the wing of “Sentimental Journey” recounting his experiences.
I ran across a this photo in a book called Old Angelo by Joel A. Gibson. The name “Fisherman Jake” caught my eye because while doing some research on another local character, I’d found he was buried in an unmarked grave in the same plot. His date of death was given as 1905.
The book provided scant information about Jake except that he immigrated from Germany and made his living catching and selling fish and Concho pearls. He was living in his tent on the Dick Nasworth Ranch when he was “mysteriously” murdered in March, 1907.
Fast forward to a telephone call with the Fairmount Cemetery office where a most helpful person got back to me with the information that Jacob Schmidt was actually buried in another block, specifically Blk 6 Lot 17—in 1909.
Jake did his thing. He was a free spirit. No doubt he was a friendly, familiar face around San Angelo. I’d have liked to know him—and I intend to find out more about him if there’s more to be found.
Next: Who knows?
The Story of Three Jakes
Fairmount Cemetery in my hometown of San Angelo, Texas, is the final resting place of many souls. Each has a story. Recently I stumbled on three names—all Jakes—whose stories struck me as needing to be told.
Earlier, I told you about Jacob W. Wilks, who escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad, fought with the Union Army, and later became a Buffalo Soldier.
The second is Cook Second Class Jake Spurlock whose body actually rests beneath the waters off Honolulu, Hawaii, where he died on July 4, 1944, when the submarine on which he served went down with all hands on board. No cause of the training accident has ever been determined. He is remembered as well on a memorial in Honolulu. However, in 1959, his widow applied to the VA for a flat granite memorial marker. The application says it was placed at Delta Memorial Park, but his burial place at Fairmount is specific: Blk 86, Row 28.
Born in Madisonville, Texas, he was living and working in San Angelo in 1934 as a bus boy at the Naylor Hotel Coffee Shop. In 1941, he is listed as an employee of the Roberts Hotel Coffee Shop. In 1943, he married Opal Downing in Dallas. The next year, he died in the service of his country at the age of thirty-two, one of millions who gave up his tomorrows for our todays.
The rest of the story needs to be told also: Mr. Spurlock served in a segregated military which fought for rights which at home he had never fully possessed.
I've heard many combat veterans say, "I'm not a hero. It's the men who didn't come home who are the heroes.
Thank you for your service, Jake Spurlock, late of the United States Navy, an American hero.
Next: Jake Schmidt aka Fisherman John
Fairmount Cemetery in my hometown of San Angelo, Texas, is the final resting place of many souls. Each has a story. Recently I stumbled on three names—all Jakes—whose stories struck me as needing to be told.
This Jake has two listings at Fairmount—one as “Jake” with a tombstone which reads Gone but not forgotten" and the other as 1st Sgt. Jacob W. Wilks. The story on Find-a-Grave, apparently written by his great-grandson, is one you shouldn’t miss. Briefly, Mr. Wilks was born a slave in Kentucky in 1841, escaped the plantation with his family via the Underground Railroad, and later served in the Union Army. When the war ended, he enlisted as a Buffalo Soldier.
In reading his story, don’t neglect clicking on the names of his wife and children for pictures and other information. This family belongs in a novel and/or on screen—but not as fiction. They were real people with real stories—and their legacy should live on in the city they decided to call home.
I feel richer for coming to know 1st Sgt. Jacob W. Wilks even if only on paper. Click, read, and so will you!
Next: The Jake Who Came After
My New Year’s Wish for You
January 1, 2022
I found this piece among some old papers. There is no author, but I remember hearing it recited once on a 78 RPM record belonging to my parents. So, with apologies to the unknown composer whom I am unable to credit, I would like to share this with all of you.
The sun will soon be rising on the morning of another day---
The first day of the New Year.
What can I wish that this day, this year will bring?
Nothing that shall make the world or others poorer,
Nothing at the expense of other men.
But just those few things which, in their coming, do not stop with me,
But touch me rather as they pass and gather strength;
A few friends who understand me and yet remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value, and without which the world would feel the poorer;
A return for such work small enough not to tax unduly anyone who pays.
I wish this New Year to bring me a mind unafraid to travel,
Even though the trail be not blazed;
A heart that understands, and in understanding
Better able to help you carry your load in life.
May I understand the meaning of the tears that sometimes dim your eyes.
May I never be the cause of the deep hurt that I've seen in your eyes.
May the New Year bring sight of the eternal hills and the unresting sea
And of something beautiful the hand of man has made.
Bring me also, and this is important,
A sense of humor and the power to laugh;
A little leisure with nothing to do but spin my dreams
When the day is done, and evening descends
And cloaks us in her robes of deep velvet.
I wish those who are away a speedy and safe return,
And for those who return not,
The reward they sought in the house of Our Father.
I ask also for a few moments of quiet meditation
And the knowledge of the presence of God.
May I never be the cause of one tear to fall,
One heart o ache, one friend to lose.
I ask for the patience to wait for the coming of these things
With the wisdom to know them when they come.
And that is my New Year's wish for you
She invited the sunshine inside that Christmas morning and thought about how the heat hadn’t kicked on in a while, which was good. As soon as the blinds went up, the cats sprang in unison to their separate cat trees. Their regal posture reminded her of Egyptian deities. She scratched under Sugar’s chin, rubbed Spice’s upturned belly and considered they were worth every penny she’d spent since rescuing them from the streets five years before. I should live such a pampered life.
Leaving them to bask in the second bedroom-turned study, she skirted the desk too large for the room and crossed the narrow hall to her own room where the bed’s rumpled covers guilted her. Well, I slept in, and the kitties were late enough getting breakfast.
She made the bed and returned her slippers to the closet. It’s the same thing every morning. I need a change. She raised the blinds on windows which overlooked at a parking lot four stories down. I say that every year, and every year it’s the same old thing.
In the kitchen, she washed the dishes both cats had licked clean of their expensive canned food and set them in the drain rack. Opening the refrigerator, she considered what to feed herself. Was it too early for lunch at nine-thirty? Then she laughed. I don’t have meals. I inhale food. I need a regular routine, but I’ve said that before, too. At least my bad habits don’t show on me.
Before she could remove the milk, which she noticed had expired two days earlier, she heard her cell phone ringing in the study. A spam call today of all days? That’s about all I get these days. But she dashed across the tiny living area to grab it anyway.
“Is that you, Renata?” She recognized the voice of a friend she started to school with too many years ago to count.
“Who else would it be?”
“I keep hoping you’ll take a lover or something.”
“Oh, please, Jane Ann.”
“You know I’m not serious.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“I don’t know. Just being silly, I guess.”
“Why did you call?”
“To see if you’d changed your mind about Christmas dinner.”
She sighed. “I knew that, and no, I haven’t.”
“Scott will come after you.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.”
Back in the kitchen she sniffed the milk and decided it was palatable. With three butter cookies on a napkin she sought out the study again. The cats didn’t even raise their heads to acknowledge her presence. Ungrateful little freeloaders. She booted up the computer and checked her email, deleted most of it including the spam, and moved on to the news sites where she got all the information she wanted from the headlines.
Nothing new there either. I keep hoping for a breath of fresh air to blow through at least one network, but it never happens.
She opened the novel she’d almost finished writing and read what yesterday’s words. With a few tweaks, it should work as book two of a three-book contract, and her editor was breathing down her neck even though she still had a month left before deadline. She knew how it was going to end. All she had to do was kill the villain, and she was good at that. This time it would be a car going over a cliff, but she had to stage it so the reader didn’t see it coming.
She leaned on her elbows to consider how to proceed, feeling annoyed when an email notification popped up and dinged at the bottom of the screen. Switching back to her inbox, she felt an electric shock go through her when she saw the sender and read the subject: Renata, do not ignore me!
Moving the cursor to delete, she let her finger hover over the mouse. I set you to spam. Why don’t you go there?
Finally, she opened the email
Renata, I need you to call me. You know the number. You’ve known it for five years. Use it. Today. Now.
She shook her head. When hell freezes over. I told you five years ago I was done. But inexplicably she reached for her cell phone and called the number she couldn’t explain why she had never deleted from her contacts.
“Renata?” He sounded out of breath.
“I still come up on your screen, do I?”
He ignored the question. “Are you at home?”
“Where else would I be?”
“I want to talk to you.”
“Not on the phone. In person. If I come over there, will you let me in?”
“Why should I?”
“Hang it all, Renata, you’re stubborn as my grandfather’s mule and almost as stupid!”
“I didn’t do you the favor of calling to hear you insult me.”
“You make me so angry!”
“That’s your problem.”
“I’m coming over, and if you don’t let me in, I’ll cause a disturbance in the corridor, and somebody’ll call security. Do you want that?” He hung up on her.
She hit end call and set down the phone. Great. Just great. What can we possibly talk about? Everything that needed saying was said five years ago. She moved to get up. I won’t be here. I’ll find something that’s open and get a cup of coffee or just drive around.
She was still sitting in the second-hand office chair when she heard his knock. I won’t answer it. I don’t care if someone does call security. It would serve… She realized she was on her feet. I won’t do this again. I can’t. She stopped with her fingers on the deadbolt.
“I’ll call the police.”
“I am the police, Renata.”
“That’s the problem.”
“You’re the problem.”
The click of the deadbolt surprised her. This is a mistake. She opened the door to the familiar face she thought she’d never see again, even in her dreams. He stepped through before she could close it again. “That’s better.” He glanced around the small room. “Nothing’s changed.”
She turned her back on him, but he caught her shoulders with a strength she’d forgotten. “Don’t.”
He didn’t let go. “I should never have let go before.”
“I didn’t think you gave me a choice.”
“I gave you a choice.”
“Giving up my profession isn’t a choice.”
“You nearly died.”
“Nearly being the operative word.”
“I told you I couldn’t live with that.”
“It’s part of the package.”
“Not for me.”
“So you shut yourself up here and sulked because you didn’t get your way.”
“Scott says Jane Ann doesn’t even get you out for lunch once every six months, and you turn down every invitation for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“It wasn’t me being a cop you couldn’t live with. You couldn’t live with the reality that it’s not all about you.”
“That’s not fair.”
“For whom? You?”
His fingertips dug into her flesh as he turned her around to face him. “What do you think Jane Ann’s lived with for twenty-four years? Scott was a beat cop when they married and for seven years after that. He had the roughest part of the city because he knew how to handle himself.”
“Good for him.”
“Good for them. They made a commitment and stuck to it. You didn’t.”
“No, you didn’t. I accept you’re a writer and need your space, but you live in a fantasy world where everyone lives happily ever after.”
“It’s better than not living at all.”
“And you call this living? One arm swept the room. “I was ready to sign papers on that house you liked.”
“This works for me.”
“Really? Look at those sloppy jeans and that sweatshirt three sizes too big for you. No makeup. Did you even comb your hair this morning? I remember when you always looked like you stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine.”
She shrugged again.
“Is this how you want to live the rest of your life? There are other men out there in other jobs.”
“I don’t want…”
“What do you want?”
She shook her head. “I want you to go.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”
She tried to pull away. “It’s been five years.”
“I called you everyday for a solid year. Twice a day. You never answered the phone. I’ve emailed, texted, and called on a regular basis, even after I took that job in Texas.”
“You should’ve stayed in Texas.”
“Maybe so, but I’m back now. I’ve been back for a year.”
“Why did you pick today to get in touch with me?”
“It’s Christmas Day, remember?”
“The twenty-fifth of December.”
“Right. Our anniversary.”
“How do you figure that?”
“We were going to get married on Christmas Day five years ago. It was all planned. You and me and Scott and Jane Ann. They were going to stand up with us after the morning service and host a reception at their place the next day before we left on our trip to Cancun. You backed out with just hours to go.”
“I had time to think about things while you were in the hospital.”
“That was in July! It took you that long?” He seized her left hand waving aimlessly in the air.
“I guess so.”
She jerked her hand loose.
“What the...” He examined a few drops of blood on his palm. “You developed talons?” Then he grabbed for her hand again. “You’re still wearing your engagement ring.”
“I like it.”
“It’s an engagement ring, Renata. A promise. A promise you didn’t keep.”
“Do you want it back?” She slid it off and held it out to him.
He pushed her away. “No, I don’t want it back. I don’t even know why I still want you, but I do.”
Her hand closed around the small perfect diamond. “I don’t know either.”
He shook his head.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I’m serious, but I’m beginning to see it’s pointless. Five years. We could’ve had a home, maybe a couple of kids. We’d have had a life together anyway.” He put his hand on the door knob. “Well, I gave it one last shot anyway.”
“One last shot,” she murmured.
“Bad choice of words.”
She hadn’t cried when Scott had called to tell her to get to the hospital. Or when she’d spent two nights in the ICU waiting room. Or when she called off their wedding twelve hours before it happened. She hadn’t cried in five years, but now she thought she might die from the sobs that wracked her body and made it hard to breathe.
He scooped her up and carried to the sofa destined for the thrift store after they were married. He’d said it was like sitting on a cactus, but now he settled into it holding her against his chest. “You wouldn’t marry me because you were afraid I’d die, but you’re the one who’s been dead all this time.”
She pounded his chest with fists too weak to make an impact.
“Dead is easy. Comfortable. But you want to live. I know you do, and it hurts, doesn’t it?”
“Shut up!” Her words sounded muffled. “Just shut up!”
“Nope, like a good cop, I caught you. You’re talking. Singing like a bird. Spilling your guts.” He chuckled. “Oh, yeah, you’re going down, Renata.”
She wasn’t sure how long it took to get herself together. Maybe she’d strung things out a little just because his arms felt so good, and he smelled of the aftershave she used to say made her willing to throw caution to the winds. Not that she had, but he liked to hear her say it.
Finally she wiped her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her sweatshirt, but she didn’t move out of his arms.
“What are those?”
She realized Sugar and Spice had come to investigate the disturbance in their normally quiet environment. They sat side by side on the ragged ottoman she’d been meaning to buy a cover for. The tips of their tails twitched.
“You know I hate cats.”
“That’s why I got them.”
“You got two worthless cats to replace me??”
“I guess I did.”
“That’s lame.” He smoothed her tangled hair away from her face. “I really do hate cats.” He pried the ring from her hand and slipped it back on her finger. “But you can keep them if I can keep on being a cop.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “You taste like sour milk. How long will it take you to put yourself together so we can go out for Christmas dinner?”
“The pizza place down the block is open.”
“I don’t like pizza. You know that.”
“Two strikes for incompatibility. What do you suggest?”
“Jane Ann called this morning. She said they were going to eat at two. You could go there.”
“I’ve already been invited.”
“And they told you I wasn’t coming.”
“Sure, they did.”
“Not without you.”
“Go put yourself together. Brush your teeth.”
She slid off his lap and pointed toward the front door. He pointed toward her bedroom.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind her, Spice jumped down off the ottoman and curled himself around the unfamiliar long legs.
“Dear Lord, I hate cats.” He reached down and held out his hand for the cat to sniff. “Bite me, and I’ll put you away for life for assault and battery.”
Spice flicked his ears, lifted his tail, and stalked off.
“Good riddance,” he murmured as Sugar followed her sibling.
Then he heard the shower running in the bathroom and smiled.
Posted December 24
With NaNoWriMo over for one more year, excuses for not doing this or that—especially not blogging—have flown away. I made my NaNo Goal of 50K words, both finishing The Legacy of Diamond Springs and beginning Miracle on Mary Street. The first needs editing and preparing for publication—and the second needs a total rewrite and a conclusion. It’s possibly the worst hodge-podge of words I’ve ever put down anywhere!
Gleanings from the newest issue of The Writer
Today I finally got around to looking through the latest issue of The Writer, this one focused on YA literature which I don’t write. However, several other articles look promising: “Your Best Year Yet—Seven Ways to Build a Writing Habit in 2022” by Melissa Hart and “Juggling Multiple Points of View—Tips for Knowing How and When to Use Multiple POV Characters in a Manuscript” by Jack Smith.
I’m always on the look-out for building better habits in all areas, especially writing. I can be lazy. Very lazy. Multiple points of view have plagued me ever since someone (who was supposed to know these things) critiqued a piece I’d done using multiple POVs and told me to get rid of them. Since then, I’ve learned that no rule fits all.
Being part of the writing community
Meanwhile, I’ll continue with “Shut Up and Write” on Tuesdays and have been introduced to a new group through the Central Arkansas Library System, the Writing All Year Workshop Group, led by the young woman who was our regional liason for NaNoWriMo this year and hosted the Saturday and Sunday write-ins. Online is a plus.
So, 2022 is going to be a busy year. I like busy, and there’s always time to sit back and just be.
~~Posted December 6
Do something for yourself? Give yourself a gift? Do it guilt-free?
“Gifts to Self: Ideas for what to give the most important writer on your list: you” by Anica Mrose Rissi is a must-read. You’ll find it in the latest issue of The Writer: The Freelance Issue. All you writers out there, find yourself a copy like yesterday!
The first gift suggestion is not hesitating about calling yourself a writer. I blogged on that very topic just last week. But it’s the gift of letting go that I want to expand on, because that’s what spoke so clearly to me. Obviously, I’m not going to quote the author—or even attempt to paraphrase. You can read that for yourself—give yourself the gift of reading the whole article! What I want to do is talk about what giving this gift to myself means to me.
It means put in the hard work of writing, editing, and proofing, then submitting and, hopefully, working with an editor if your manuscript is accepted. Or it could mean going the indie route, which puts even more responsibility on your shoulders.
It means accepting rejection as part of the writing game.
It means accepting that not all stories will—or should—see the light of day.
It means not spending money you don’t have to promote your work and keeping yourself glued to the computer promoting yourself on social media.
It means understanding that few authors find themselves on the New York Times Best Seller List.
It means understanding why you write—which brings me to the most important lesson I’ve learned since getting into writing for publication: Write because you love it—not because you want to quit the day job or be recognized wherever you go.
Just let go of the small stuff, and then let go of the big stuff.
Write because you want to write, because you have something to say.
In the end, you’ll either be remembered or forgotten. Who knows which it will be?
But don’t worry about it.
~~Posted October 25
“4 One-Sentence Writing Tips: Advice for anyone who writes anything” is a quick worthwhile read. I guarantee you’ll read it more than once and ponder some of the tips which seem to speak to you. Find it here.
Number six advises, “There’s no such thing as an “aspiring” writer — if you write, you’re a writer and if you don’t, you’re not.”
It’s true. Write—submit--hold that first rejection in your hands and feel validated. You wrote, you submitted, and you are a writer. Now keep going for that first acceptance, and you’re still a writer!
Somewhere along the line, however, you’re going to have to decide why you write. Do you want to write for a living? For recognition? For the sheer pleasure of writing?
I recommend the last. You can still earn a living and be recognized, but if you ever stop writing for pleasure, you’ll crash. Like any “job”, there’s burn-out involved.
Despite writing all my life, I only got serious about it after I retired. I’ve earned some money and attained some (minor) recognition—but it’s the pleasure of crafting a story that’s kept me going.
I always wanted to write. I am a writer.
What do you want? From my lips to your ear: Go for it!
~~Posted October 21
“Will I find a place...a little space...that’s meant for only me?” we sang out our senior assembly in college.
Since retiring, I’ve struggled with finding the perfect writing spot when I need a change from my study. I love my study—it’s got everything I need and more: a wonderful desk with the top shelf decorated in Texas memorabilia, a file cabinet, a small desk that I used for homework when I was in school, comfortable recliner for reading, watching a video, or using the laptop, and a huge (full) western-style book shelf found by my son as a give-away from a friend.
But sometimes it’s just nice to write in a different place.
For a while, I enjoyed a particular sandwich shop in town, but they kept CNN blasting, and I don’t care for that. Sometimes I’d drive to Lake Ouachita in nice weather, take a comfy lawn chair and picnic lunch and set up shop on the shores of the lake. Unfortunately, being a fall risk these days, I can’t safely manage the steps down to the picnic area with all my necessities. I love being outdoors and near the water, but for now, I’m taking care of my “holey bones”.
Another sandwich shop—Schlotsky’s, my favorite—is a great place after the lunch rush thins around 2 PM. And a really fun place is the Ohio Club in the middle of town—a favorite of Al Capone in his heyday. Again, after the lunch rush when I’m not taking up room, I can set up shop, and the wonderful staff keeps my diet Coke full. (Al sits outside on a bench keeping watch.)
The library used to be a nice spot, but with all the Covid restrictions instituted it just doesn’t seem as friendly these days. I dash in to pick up a book on reserve or check out a video or visit the book sale room, but I don’t linger.
I did find an outdoor spot that had possibilities here in this (entitled) gated retirement community. One cool, rainy day I parked the trusty Trailblazer and crawled into the back seat with the lappy and snacks. The tinted windows provided me privacy while allowing me to enjoy the scenery. I was busy being creative when a knock on the window startled me. Some old geezer had left his fishing buddies and pressed his nose against the window.
I responded by soundly smacking said nose from the inside. He jumped a mile. “What?” I demanded.
“I just wanted to be sure you were all right,” he mumbled.
What did he think I was doing? Knocking back a fifth of Jack Daniels and contemplating self-harm in the middle of the day? And with witnesses for Pete’s sake? Please.
“I’m fine,” I said in an icy voice. He retreated. But I’ve never been back.
With cooler weather coming on, I’ll be looking for cozy places and revisiting others like Schlotsky’s and perhaps the Ohio Club even though I have to hike from the parking garage. I’ll find that place...that little space...that’s meant for only me.
~~Posted October 13
First grade instilled in me a love of coloring. Another classmate and I would spend our extra time drawing and coloring in “war maps”. News of the Korean War/Police Action filtered down even to kids.
By the time I had a few grades under my belt, I still loved coloring and desired beyond anything a box of 64 Crayola Crayons. That was as big as they got in those days. Now they go to 120!
However, my mother was adamant: Though she felt 24 were plenty, she’d spring for a box of 48. I had to be at least outwardly satisfied with that.
My bicycle arrived sometime in those early elementary years. I’d learned to ride on a somewhat battered hand-me-down from somewhere, but the new one was bigger and brighter and sheer delight. We rode freely around the neighborhood in those days, and later I rode it to sixth grade until a boy knocked me off and tried to plant a smacker on my cheek.
I rode less and less as junior high ramped up. Then the rage was mouton coats for the girls. I just had to look up the definition of mouton, but it seems it’s processed sheepskin, sheared and dyed to resemble beaver or seal. I wanted one desperately.
So my parents presented me with a deal: Sell my rarely-used bicycle and pay part of the cost. I didn’t even have to think about it.
I adored my silver mouton! We wore them everywhere except to school and felt like true princesses. The luxurious coat hung in my closet until I gave it to the young daughter of friends sometime in my fifties.
So what do any of these items—a 64-count box of Crayolas, a bicycle, and a mouton coat—have to do with each other or anything else?
Just this: We didn’t live in a consumer society. Our parents came through the Depression and the rationing, shortages, and impossible-to-gets of WW II, and it filtered down to us. You made do, settled for the possible (not necessarily what you wanted), and only threw something away if it couldn’t be repaired. I’m appalled at the attitudes I see these days.
Just the other day, I decided not to buy a large bunch of bananas (they came as a bunch, banded together) because, I told the person urging me to get them, “There are too many and will spoil before I eat all of them.”
To which the person replied, “Eat them until they go bad, and throw the rest away.”
Of course, I won’t toss them. I’ll make banana bread instead.
But that’s today’s agenda, and it makes me wonder what these folks would do if suddenly the items they wanted—or the money to buy them—weren’t available.
It’s a scary thought—or should be anyway. Me, I’ll be making banana bread and wearing the jeans I bought ten years ago, carefully budgeting a trip, and driving a seventeen-year-old car which purrs like a kitten.
Am I happy with all that? You betcha! Every night, I repeat the words of an old hymn and know how true they are in my life!
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
I am blessed.
Question of the Day: Are those Crayolas mine?
~~Posted September 25
If you asked someone what the year 1944 brought to mind, most would respond, “D-Day, the Sixth of June” when the allied armies successfully—although at a terrible cost in lives—invaded Europe at Normandy.
Probably the best known book about the heroic/tragic even is The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. It was turned into a blockbuster movie full of big names in 1962. Then in 1998, Saving Private Ryan gave us a more realistic look at the sheer brutality of June 6 and the days that followed.
Many vets have shared their memories in documentaries. Perhaps the one story which affected me most was hearing how tanks had to keep going on the roads, right over the bodies of the dead (and perhaps still dying) servicemen. With no place to pull over or turn around, and with the necessity to continue the advance, the drivers did what they had to do.
But other things happened in 1944, too. Anne Frank and her family, who had successful hidden from the Nazi occupiers in Amsterdam for 25 months, was taken from the Secret Annex to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she and her sister Margot died before the infamous camp was liberated.
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was re-elected for an unprecedented fourth term. He died the next spring without completing it.
The war would grind on for almost another year with the Germans surrendering in May of 1945 followed by the Japanese in September.
I don’t remember the year, but I was born in late November just as it came to a close. In a sense, I was among the last batch of war babies who flooded the public school system in 1950. In a way, the war never ended for us. Most of us had fathers who had done their bit either in the military or related civilian efforts. Some had to bear the burden of keeping things running on the home front. Some never came home.
We graduated less than 20 years after D-Day and took our experiences and perceptions into adult life, understanding we had the opportunity for that life because of the sacrifices of so many.
Personally, I think I'm a better person because of when I was born and how I grew up.
What major events occurred in your birth year? Stop and think how your birth year affected your life.
~~Posted September 13
A FB author acquaintance posed the question, “Have you ever considered quitting writing?” Folks posted a variety of answers, many similar to my negative one. No, I never considered quitting. It’s my happy place.
Despite the edict that writers should write every day, I don’t. Sometimes I go for days without adding a single word to my WIP. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about what I’ve already written and how I want to move ahead.
Right now, I’m preparing to take some printed chapters of The Legacy of Diamond Springs, read through each one carefully, and make a “clue list” to be sure I don’t jump ahead without laying the groundwork. Once I do that, I already know where the next chapter is going, because I’ve “written” it in my mind.
There’s “writing” and there’s “writing”.
It’s important to BICHOK (Backside in Chair Hands on Keyboard), but there’s more to it than just pounding out the words for a specific daily count. You don’t want to have to rewrite ALL of them, do you?
A little forethought and planning goes a long way.
~~Posted September 6
IMO, you don’t need a fancy computer, a professionally-decorated she-shed (or a he-shed), expensive writing programs, one hundred books on writing, or a marketing layout in four figures.
You just need to write because you want to write. Because you think you have a story worth telling or something worth saying/sharing.
You aren’t working toward a far-off goal. If you write, you are a writer. If you want to be a published writer, submit, submit, submit, and learn from your rejections.
You don’t need lists of advice from New York Times best selling authors. I’m not saying their advice isn’t worth paying attention to, but one size doesn’t fit all.
If you want to quit the day job and earn a living with your writing, that may be another story.
But mainly—you just need to get started, armed with the following:
1. Motivation to explore your idea(s)
2. Deaf ears to the self-important writers around you
3. Understanding that you will need to rewrite and rewrite ad infinitum
4. Subscription to a writing magazine without any agenda except writing
5. Time (make it!)
6. Patience with yourself—this isn’t a marathon
7. Discrimination in choosing a writers’ conference (and a ho-hum attitude if it’s not all you
8. A comfortable place to write—and a comfortable chair
9. A list of places for a change of scenery
10. Understanding that a rejection isn’t the end of anything
Write because your want to. Because you love it. Because you want to make a difference in just one life.
Reference #6 about: It’s not a marathon. It’s not life or death. It’s writing.
~~Posted September 3
In light of current events, blogging on something trivial as writing-related topics or personal blog prompts seems somehow petty.
Thirteen young soldiers needlessly died in Afghanistan.
Americans are being left behind in that country to face fates too horrible to contemplate.
A hurricane of epic proportions blew into New Orleans, taking one life and destroying property.
Violence continues to ravage cities around the country.
Politics has become the Number One sport, specifically “Get _______” (fill in name of choice here).
Families already struggling to make ends meet are further challenged by higher prices at the gas pump and in the grocery story.
The unborn are routinely slaughtered on a daily basis.
An open southern border threatens to overwhelm the resources of the country—and perhaps admit someone already planning another 9-11.
We’ve been given implicit permission to hate and abuse anyone who doesn’t agree with us.
Our children are in danger of being taught to hate themselves and each other with CRT filtering into some schools.
With weak (or no) leadership in the United States, we are all in danger.
A gloomy list with no solutions in sight.
But wait—perhaps there are 330 million solutions. 330 million people who could stand up and say
“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”
We are the government, of the people, by the people, for the people, and we have to help ourselves.
~~Posted August 30
It was nine-oh-eight exactly. I knew that because the southbound train always came by at the same time every night. I waited a few seconds for the blast of the whistle. I liked to think it was just for me. When it came, long and loud, I turned over on the sagging mattress and snuggled under my grandmother’s blue and yellow-sprigged quilt. Closing my eyes, I could picture the people on the train bound for untold adventure. Someday I’d be with them. It didn’t really matter where it was going.
It was getting harder to remember when my daddy left on that train. My mother and I saw him off very late one chilly autumn night. He hugged and kissed us both and waved from the steps of the train as it pulled away. “See you, girls!” he called.
Mamma didn’t cry, and neither did I—but, of course, I didn’t understand. A year and nine months made a difference, so I did understand her tears when the telegram came. A long time later, after the war was over, Daddy finally came home. When two men began to slide the metal casket from the baggage car, I buried my face in my mother’s dress and wailed.
The southbound became part of my life soon after that, but unfortunately for me, passenger service was discontinued before I finished high school. Now the train—strictly freight, my grandfather said—came by at eight-thirty, and the whistle didn’t blow for me or anyone else. But someday...someday I’d go somewhere on a train...somewhere...someday.
My mother met Colin the summer I finished high school. It was love at first sight for all three of us. They were married the next summer, and Colin declared it would be a family honeymoon—a month in Europe riding the rails, he said.
I loved hopping on and off the Eurail trains. Somehow, though, lying awake in my bunk on an overnight trip, I thought about how it wasn’t really the same as the nine-oh-eight southbound which blew its whistle just for me.
~~Posted August 26
On Friday I had to take the kitties in to the vet to have their little murder mittens attended to, so while they were there, I enjoyed a drive-through breakfast and then decided to run into Books-a-Million. I try to stop in once a month to check out a writing magazine to which I no longer subscribe. If the cover articles look interesting, I buy it.
The reason for the stopped subscription was that the magazine had become so political and agenda-driven. My writing isn’t. So rather than waste the money, I just declined to continue receiving it. Unfortunately, this issue was extremely full of articles on writing politically correct themes.
However, I did spot two other magazines I hadn’t seen before: The Writer’s Chronicle and Writers’ Forum, both of which look extremely promising. I’m anxious to get into them. They may be new publications, or it may be I just haven’t seen them. One article in the latter-mentioned magazine is “Time Savers: 12 ways to free up your day and start writing”.
Don’t ask me why an old retired person has to free up her day, but I get up many mornings with visions of sitting in the recliner with the lappy and working on the WIP (Legacy of Diamond Springs, now in its umpteenth re-write)--and the day will pass without a single word on the screen.
But that’s good. I’m grateful for full days in which I’m never bored. My day planner may look relatively empty on Sundays when I set it up for the following week, but one project after another gets added until some often spill over into the following week. I couldn’t wish for more!
~~Posted August 23
Have you ever heard anyone say, “She talks with her hands?” It’s true—most of us do. Consider the three prompts for today:
Taking one at a time, what emotion does flapping hands suggest?
being at a loss for words
are three I came up with. How about waving dismissively?
pretending not to care
uncertain of how to respond
Finally, clenched fists. That’s an easy one.
attempt at gaining control of emotions
preparation for attack
So what could you do with those three body language prompts in one exercise? How about…
Her hands flapped aimlessly as she tried to process his words. Failing to find words to answer him, she waved dismissively, hoping the gesture would end the confrontation. Only when she saw his face suffuse with rage and let her eyes drift to his fists clenched at his sides did she realize it was only the beginning.
~~Posted August 19
Time for another journal entry/story starter-middle-whatever before I finish up the series from Master Lists for Writers. (As an aside, be sure to check my FB author page for the link to a great article, “37 Ways to Write About Anger”.)
So the theme was “Evocative Images”, and this is entry # 2 about an old road map.
The road traced in red pen was almost a straight shot from ______ to _______. It’s straighter now than it was when the map was published in 1949. She knew that for sure because she’d driven it every two weeks for the past twenty years.
Refolding the fragile paper, she returned it to the drawer in her grandfather’s desk. “You kept your secrets, didn’t you, Grandpop. If Dad hadn’t stumbled on the truth, Evelyn might’ve starved—quite literally. He didn’t expect her to outlive him, but he made me promise I’d take up where he left off, and I did. Gladly.
“Why did you keep her a secret all these years? She didn’t deserve that. You were free. You could’ve married her and brought her here to this lovely house. Made a life for the two of you. But I guess we’ll never know. You’re gone, she’s gone, and you both took your secrets with you.”
She turned at the sound of the heavy study door swinging open.
“I brought some boxes.”
“We’ll never get this house emptied.”
She hopped onto the massive desk and sat swinging her feet.
“You don’t want all this stuff anyway.”
“I guess not.”
“Hire someone to have an estate sale.”
“I probably will.”
“Oh, and I talked to Evelyn’s sister again.”
“I don’t even want to know what she said.”
He circled her with his arms. “Let’s go have dinner and go home.”
(Now, entry #3 continues with Eve finding a faded snapshot and a pink swizzle stick...and telling how her father found Evelyn and took care of her, leaving the responsibility to his son and daughter at his death. At her funeral, her sister will only say, “She made her choices...” which doesn’t provide answers but may be what Eve has to live with now…)
So Evelyn made her choices. Why? Any ideas?
~~Posted August 16
Moving on from body language (we’ll get back to that tomorrow) to facial expressions suggested in Master Lists for Writers, I chose
his eyes glinted
his eyes blazed
his eyes darted
William Shakespeare said, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” (Disclaimer: The quote has been attributed to others, but I digress.)
We’d all agree that the eyes speak volumes even when we manage to keep out mouths shut! I have to work on keeping a neutral facial expression since my real feelings have too often been guessed at right. Sigh.
So what can we do with those three eye actions? Let’s see.
Her eyes darted around the room, catching the eyes of the others waiting for the coming explosion. They’ll wait in vain, she thought. It’s not going to happen.
Then she caught sight of their host whose eyes glinted with anticipation. He liked nothing better than a good brouhaha, especially a public one. He’s absolutely salivating, she reflected.
Finally she let her gaze drift back to the target of the accusation. The woman’s eyes blazed, but her lips didn’t move. Placing her half-empty glass back on the nearest tray, she met her host’s eyes for a brief moment—though not her accuser’s—and, gathering her untattered dignity around her shoulders, glided out of the room.
What happened before? What was said? What might have happened if she’d chose to reply instead of leave the party (you got it was a party, didn’t you?)?
These few lines drip with potential. They tell a lot about the characters character, and the rest can be built on. Anyone want to give it a try? I’ll publish it here at The Word Place...
~~Posted August 11
The section from Master Lists for Writers on body language is a treasure. What a character does can speak louder than his words.
Here are three which can “say” volumes:
he loomed closer
Don’t you love the last one? He loomed closer. Closer to whom and to what? Probably a whom, and if I were that whom, I’d be making tracks.
So what can we make of those three body language statements? Well…
He felt himself tensing at the sound of the door closing behind him. For a moment he stood motionless. Then, soundlessly, he pivoted on the balls of his sock-clad feet. The blackness beyond the open door appeared empty, but then a subtle movement caught his eye. His heart seemed to stop as a dark figure loomed closer…
Give it a try! Take those three “body language” cues and twist them, work them, use them...and come up with your own brief scene.
If you want to write, you have to do it. Start small and build. These little writing exercises work in your favor.
I’ll be back Wednesday (I hope) with three facial expressions.
~~Posted August 9
I can’t remember if I’ve recommended this book before, but if not—here it is: Master Lists for Writers: Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and More by Bryn Donovan. It’s available at Amazon--$4.99 Kindle, $12.99 paperback. I splurged on the paperback in 2016 and haven’t regretted it.
When I’m planning my writing journal for the week, I turn to this book, often choosing a theme. For example, I may do three free-writing entries based on “negative emotions” with the prompts “She gave him a frosty look...”, “He glared...”, and “Her forehead creased...”. They may be individual vignettes or woven into three parts of an unfinished short story which I can flesh out later.
I try to start each piece with the prompt. Here’s a short example I wrote months ago, but hopefully it has potential. The theme is “negative character traits”, and the free writing features “anxiety”.
She held out her hands and spread her fingers, allowing the liht to play off the nails. Coral Passion, the name on the bottle, reflected a new feeling stirring inside her.
Remembering the ragged nails she’d kept hidden in gloves, pockets, the folds of her school uniform skirt, or fists folded in on her palms, she smiled at a passing pedestrian outside the salon.
“Take care then.” The woman slid past her and through the closing door of the salon.
I won’t put up the rest, but one gets the idea a nice manicure is a new experience for the unnamed character and hopefully wonders about the previous “ragged nails”. I also try not to use names in these vignettes unless needed for clarity. One of two characters isn’t necessarily the limit, but few entries have more than three.
A writing journal needn’t be an ankle chain. I set up for three days, but if it takes two weeks to do those three days, who cares?
The other part of the daily entries are miniscule: “Writing Reflections” chronicling where I am on a project, the problem with it, or even the victory over it; and “My Reality Today”, which just lets me voice who I am in relationship to the circumstances of the day. It’s not a diary by any means, and if you snuck a peek, you wouldn’t know any more than before you read it! The point is—I know.
I’ll probably be setting up Journal Number Four in the fall, so I’ll blog then about what I do to create my focus on writing—and how I expect the journal to help.
~~Posted August 3
Frances Caballo, one of my favorite people to follow, wrote an article/blog on “57 Boards Every Author Should Have on Pinterest”. I printed it out for future reference since I do “do” Pinterest and marked the boards I already have—but there are tons more I could have!
For a variety of reasons, I’ve been off-schedule this summer, but one of my August goals is to create a couple of new boards and clean up some others. One quick and easy board would be one of my blog images since they’re all saved nicely on my website.
Another one might be pictures of all the characters in my books. Her suggestions are more specific—the kinds of clothes, jewelry, etc. they wear. But for now I’ll stick with pictures of how I see them.
I used to get pictures of my characters from Fotolia for a minimal investment, but that’s shut down now—and I really miss it! It’s merged into Adobe Stock now, and they’re pricier.
But I enjoy Pinterest. Perhaps my next blog will list all my boards including the new ones. I particularly like old abandoned places: houses, hospitals, buildings, theaters, churches, and prisons. If walls could talk…
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in what’s up there now, feel free to cruise on over.
~~Posted July 26
Getting back into one’s routine after an extended trip is problematic. First of all, the discipline is gone. What needs to be done is still there, and the body is willing, but the spirit is weak.
I’ve been home three weeks after spending the previous three weeks in my hometown, seeing old friends and classmates, hugging necks, and mainly working on the archives in the church where I grew up. That’s another story for another day. Briefly, the deed was done—long may it last!
So okay, I could expound on an excuse or two or three for dragging my heels, but so could everyone else. However, my daily planner is ready for tomorrow and the rest of the week, and now there’s no excuse.
Writing a blog is one of the neglected tasks. Somehow, it’s getting harder and harder to come up with a weekly topic of any interest whatsoever to any reader out there. I try to pass along writing ideas, but you can find those at my author page on Facebook. Whenever I see a good article on writing, I post the link there. Some weeks I come up dry, but it doesn’t happen often.
I did manage to make it to the Tuesday night session of Shut Up and Write and look forward to this week’s opportunity to work on a short story for which I managed to do a rough draft last week. It’s about “Thunder Mesa”, an old mesquite tree several blocks from the house where I grew up. Despite the lightning strike who-knows-when, it’s still thriving almost 70 years after I used to sit on the curb beneath it and feel I’d begun an adventure!
Also stay tuned for the latest development in the search for “Walking John”, too! I met someone who knows things about the history of our hometown that I never dreamed of, and she tracked down the old railroad bridge by which he used to hole up and live his solitary life. Now that was exciting! Plus, completely by accident while driving back towards town from a cemetery run, I noticed I was passing over a bridge where the first county seat was washed away by a flood, and from the sign naming the “arroyo” I realized I’d found where his body was recovered after another flood. So—I have the beginning and the end located—and now I just need to fill in what happened between if I ever find out!
So—a successful trip, a treasure trove of new facts/locations, and plenty of fodder for the writing mill—and I’m running out of excuses to be a slug.
~~Posted July 19
Hot diggety-dog! A brand new issue of The Writer in my mailbox yesterday, and it was jam-packed with great articles and ideas.
I really enjoyed the article/product listings on “Outdoor Office 2.0” although I didn’t find any products I’d invest in—at least until the oil well in my back yard comes a gusher—but things like a laptop dome which doubles as a case was intriguing.
Moving on to the summer book previews, out of ten fiction listings, at least two hinted of subject matter I really don’t want to read, and out of five YA graphic novels, there were two I definitely wouldn’t recommend to my fourteen-year-old granddaughter.
But “Pencils Down!” (The art of not writing is a key tool for writers. Here’s how and when to use it.) by Anica Mrose Rissi contained two pages of great suggestions. Her paragraph on “breaking routine” is one I routinely use—pun intended! The others have definite possibilities.
Newly “published” authors, usually those of the pay-to-play variety with boxes of books in their garages, are fond of spouting, “Show, don’t tell!” at newbies. It’s a way of calling attention to themselves as “experts”. But Jack Smith’s somewhat lengthy article “Show and Tell” gets the low-down from six authors on balancing this advice for the benefit of a good, readable story.
Always included at the back of an issue, in the “Markets” section is a listing of agents, publishers, conferences, or other writing-related information. This month is focused on publishers. How lovely to see “my” publisher—The Wild Rose Press—listed among many including university presses and imprints of “the big five”.
TWRP recently celebrated it’s fifteenth anniversary and continues to thrive due to editor-in-chief Rhonda Penders and RJ Morris, vice-president, two friends who took a leap of faith to begin this independent press. Their founding goal was to treat authors right, and they have certainly succeeded. I’m proud to be a rose in the garden.
If you’re not familiar with The Writer, this newest issue is one to plunk down your shekels for in order to get acquainted. You can find it on the newsstand, of course, but a subscription is the best value. I renew every single year.
~~Posted May 31
Why do writers go on writing retreats? The obvious answer is to write, but there’s more to it. We can write at home if push comes to shove. But writing at home isn’t always the most productive venue, so we determine to go on a retreat. Just getting away from jumping up to put another load in the washer, give the kitties their treats (they can tell time, of course!), walk to the mailbox, even drive to Sonic for Happy Hour—all of these are distractions.
It’s been a while since I went on the last retreat to Ft. Smith, a wonderfully historic town. With points to cover my hotel stay of three nights and groceries to “eat in”, it was a pretty cheap trip. However, the writing I got done was worth a million.
One has to have a break, of course, so I did some sightseeing. Actually, it included research for a novel I intend to rewrite one of these days. I only went out one day and came right back to the hotel and the computer.
Whenever I see a writing magazine with an article about writing retreats, I snatch it off the stand. There are so many ways to discuss the subject, and I always find something useful. So I’ll try my hand at imparting my personal ideas about such a retreat, both from what I’ve read and from experience.
What to take
Writing materials (computer, legal pads, whatever)
Notes, outlines, research material
“The comforts of home” (pillow, noise machine, book)
Munchables or even full meals like soups, pre-packaged dinners
Comfortable clothes (sweats, lounging pajamas)
What not to take
Any other project besides the one you’re working on—this is important!
Dressy clothes which might tempt you outside your hole in the wall for time-consuming events
What to do
Pre-think a flexible schedule to include getting up in the morning, meals, breaks for a walk or reading a book or magazine, maybe listening to a writing-related podcast, going to bed at night
What not to do
Binge in front of the television even if your favorite series is on
go on social media except at prescribed times and for a limited time
Set a goal
Do you have a deadline for a piece of work (freelance article, edits)
How many words a day do you want to attempt?
How much of the work in progress do you want to complete?
What amount of writing would make the time and/or expense of the retreat justifiable?
Like anything else, a writing retreat must be personalized to the writer. Think of it as a vacation with a purpose. Ask yourself if you’ve lost your enthusiasm and need to get it back.
I always come home feeling I’ve accomplished something worthwhile. Okay, maybe I could’ve gotten the same amount of work done in my home study, but I needed to get away. Itchy feet. Wanderlust. Call it anything you like.
Then pack up again, go back to your home writing place, retrieve any pets boarded (they won’t speak to you for a few days, of course), and gradually ease yourself back into routine.
Meanwhile, plan your next retreat!
~~Posted May 25
Random selection of the March 2020 issue of The Writer tells me I can overcome writer’s block forever, make a game plan to promote my book(s) in 2020, get said book(s) in front of a crowd, and look at the pros and cons of blogging. The regular “Markets” pages feature listings of agents, contests, publishers, self-publishers, and magazines looking for articles. In addition, the “Literary Spotlight” is on The First Line, a magazine which gives you the first line of a story and asks you to run with it. (I submitted to them once, but it wasn’t very good—and so, of course, didn’t go anywhere! Still, it’s a good exercise and pays!)
Bottom line, not so random, is this: What some people call “writer’s block”, I call being stuck or being just plain lazy. I’m not much of a book promoter—maybe I’d sell more books if I worked at it—but I just write because I enjoy it, and if I get a few royalties along the way, that’s good, too. Also, I already blog, though I’ve cut to once a week now. Three times was way too many.
Still, I find value in my subscription to the magazine. It’s reasonable, and it’s always exciting to find a new issue in the mailbox once a month.
Can I use everything in it? No more than I could cook up every recipe in Better Homes and Gardens. But if I pick up an idea or two along the way, it’s worth the money (and also cheaper than hauling into town to buy it off the stand).
It’s one of those nice things I do for myself.
The older I get, the more I understand being nice to myself doesn’t equate being selfish.
That lesson didn’t come out of a magazine—just remember, you saw it here!
~~Posted May 18
Should you dredge up an old flame?
Actually, this is the focus of an article from the March 2021 issue of The Writer Magazine: “Rekindling an Old Flame—Should you dredge up old, abandoned work?” by Jack Smith. I found it intriguing because a lot of my old flames are safely tucked away in my computer—and sometimes they still flicker hopefully.
The author quotes Leonardo daVinci who proclaimed, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
So why do we abandon our darlings?
He explains several factors which figure into why writers find it difficult to take up old stories again and also makes several suggestions about turning these lumps of coal into diamonds.
Probably thirty years ago, I began writing Blest Be the Tie, a novel about six high school friends during the dark days of the Great Depression and how over the years their unbreakable bond makes them true family:
Tank: only son of wealthy rancher Dutch and his wife Grace
Francie: fatherless, who lives over the laundry where her immigrant mother toils to keep food on the table
Vic: only surviving child of the town drunk
Peggy: sent to live with an aunt-by-marriage when her mother enters the TB sanitarium nearby
Bix: whose father was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and died in the state prison
Marion: crippled physically by polio and emotionally by cold parents who have as little to do with her as possible
The first “professional” critique came back with ideas which didn’t deter me but made me re-think the POV and how to condense six lifetimes into a readable novel. The original story opens on the day Tank’s wife, Francie, is buried in the family cemetery on the ranch. He’s not keen on going back up to the house to mingle with the others, so he drives into town to the old now-unused football stadium around which their lives centered more than half a century before.
He reflects on how he’s the only one left now of the “old bunch” but how his memories seem brand new.
They were children of the Depression, born during the war to end all wars, thrown unwillingly into two more and heartsick witnesses to a fourth. They’d held on tight to each other through good times and bad, known desperation and despair, seen dreams and children die. Vic always said that a body did what he had to do to survive, so they’d stuck together and survived.
I think my greatest problem has been becoming so attached to each character and not wanting to say goodbye. When I “killed off” the first one, I literally shed tears over the computer!
The story began with each character telling his/her story, but the professional critique advised choosing one POV and sticking with it. That made sense and still does. So I chose Peggy and Vic, two “orphans of the storm” who as adults find home and family at the ranch. Then I though, “Wait. I know them all right, but I know Marion (aka Peaches) and Bix better.
So, I started over.
Today, I have enough material for a book and two sequels, but I can’t seem to bring things to a close.
Maybe I never will.
~~Posted May 10
A new issue of The Writer arrived today. I highly recommend the feature article, “What Is It with Writers?” by Dana Shavin. It’s well-researched, well-organized, thoughtful, and well-written. The subtitle sums up the theme: What external and internal factors make self-doubt so prevalent among writers? We asked authors, editors, instructors, and psychologists to find out.
While there is value in all the points made by the contributors, I read it from a slightly different perspective. Writers do struggle with self-doubt, but so do most people in whatever field of work they choose. I think the problem is not so much self-doubt as it is self-focus. We’ve all heard of artistic temperament, but perhaps it’s time to consider the unique temperament of every person and how he/she handles it.
I’ve mentioned before how articles on “how to handle rejections” abound and how I don’t bother reading them. I’ve had my share and will have more. They don’t define me as a person or as a writer. They’re part of the writing game—and yes, it’s a game. I can read award-winning stories and come away unimpressed. I like what I like. So do editors, publishers, and agents.
If writers are part of the me-me-me culture, they will suffer from self-doubt and perhaps worse. You have to like what you do—even love it—to keep on keeping on. So while I believe the above-mentioned article is well-worth purchasing the magazine to read, I feel it has to be read from several perspectives.
Mine is, quite simply, it’s not all about me.
~~Posted May 4
Photo: free clip art
JJewel Ainsleigh, a college graduate who teaches two classes at the private college founded by her family—and acts like she’s five instead of twenty-five. She’s the female protagonist of The Legacy of Diamond Springs which needs to be finished and published! But she’s causing me one heck of a lot of trouble!
I found some notes I’d made on her from an online guide.
Stress triggers a full-blown asthma attack, but she can’t seem to find/use her inhaler
Situations which others might find worrisome don’t tend to bother her.
Pulls at hair, which is unkempt
Looks like she just rolled out of bed
Doesn’t look anyone in the eye
Tics and Tells
Fight flight, freeze
Flies off the handle at real or imagined slights to her family but not to herself
“I don’t know”, “I can’t”, “I never”
Passive aggressive reactions
Getting information from her is like pulling hen’s teeth!
Says one thing, means something else
Leaves sentences unfinished
This girl is a mess! But the online writing group presentation last Saturday helped me look at her a different way:
What is her secret internal goal?
What is the misbelief standing in her way of achieving that goal?
What will drive her to examine that misbelief?
So I’ve been working on her this week, and I think she’s coming along. (At least she’s putting herself together better—and investigative reporter Mitch Whitney, who’s been conned into “babysitting” her in an unexpected crisis appreciates it!
~~Posted April 26
Photo from Death to Stock Photos
Author Sharon Davidson and I met twelve years ago at a writing conference in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. She had yet to be published, but now, writing as SM Davidson, she has four books under her belt:
Emily’s Locket and its sequel
The Travelling Corpse
The Haunting of the Southern Belle
In addition, she has been published in Diverse Voices: An Anthology of Short Stories and Poems and Bridges by authors of The Heritage Writers Group from McDonough, Georgia, of which she is a past president.
Having wanted to write since her teens, Sharon pulls her ideas from many sources, including her imagination. For The Haunting of the Southern Belle, it only took one look at an old paddlewheel steamer on the lake at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia to start the ideas churning. They all came together in a fast-paced book that, in my own review I wrote has everything: history, mystery, romance...a nasty villain, a strong heroine, and a sympathetic hero--not to mention a surprise ending!
Another reviewer wrote: This mystery captured my attention from the first line: “Mr. Dixon dead STOP." The reader is hooked as the female protagonist learns the devastating and puzzling news of her grandfather's sudden death. Then begins a series of adventures to understand her grandfather's financial records and the sudden death of the man handling his estate. it becomes clear that both men were murdered, but why? A lot of the story takes place on a derelict paddlewheel boat with a handyman/ professor that her grandfather had hired to do repairs on the boat. There is a sleazy character who won't leave her alone, a back story about the paddleboat and a couple of ghosts who know stories of its past. Warning: once you open the cover, you will be hooked until mysteries about murder and family treasures are resolved.
Like all serious writers, Sharon understands everyone goes through “dry spells” but personally tries to move on. She has even taken up painting to get the creative juices flowing when they’re sluggish! The notebook of ideas is close at hand, too.
A little bit pantser and a little bit plotter, Sharon loves to write her first drafts the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. Though she splits her time between genealogical research and writing, she hasn’t found anyone else in her ancestral past who wrote. However, she is creating a legacy for her own grandchildren as she continues to spin her tales.
Visit Sharon’s Amazon Page
When my new issue of The Writer Magazine arrived yesterday, I homed in on an article by Ryan G. Van Cleave, author of 20+ books and head of a college writing program. “The DIY Writing Retreat” had the subtitle/hook, “Sick of staring at your own four walls?”
Mercy Maude, yes! Sick sick sick!
I’ve read these kinds of articles before—all good, all from a different perspective—but this one speaks of a retreat that’s a little bit more structured than just going somewhere and writing—or, Heaven forbid, staying home to do it! However, these suggestions could work for both scenarios—a combination of designated writing time, personal relaxation, and interaction online with other writers.
From relocating your writing environment at home to creating a mobile writing kit (think café with plug-ins near your table or booth) to redecorating your study with a (temporary) theme to (wonder of wonders!) actually leaving home temporarily—any itchy-footed writers out there will want to get themselves to the nearest newsstand/bookstore and purchase this magazine, then turn immediately to page 26!
I’m thinking of the approximate four-hour drive to one of my favorite places, Eureka Springs, and basking in the spring sunshine for three or four days. I’ve done the sightseeing. All I need is a ticket on the trolley from my hotel to the downtown area and a promising outdoor café where I can set up shop. I don’t even need a plug-in because I recently purchased a power bank for my devices!
But Mr. Van Cleave’s suggestion of making a schedule is a good one. There are many writing-related podcasts which can replace the television in the hotel. A good book from the library will go along with the lappy. The nice thing about a “schedule” is that it can be tweaked to fit the convenience of the person/writer.
And as retired teacher, I’m good at schedules…and even better at tweaking them!
Be sure to get a copy of the May issue of The Writer and read the article. Who knows what adventure it may inspire?
~~Posted April 16
Here’s a good prompt for a few words: What have you always been good at?
Truth be told, not much. But, I’m a good listener, and I know how to keep my mouth shut. I’ll take a lot to the grave, as they say!
I’m not much on “letting it all hang out”. There is a small circle of friends I can confide in if I just need to get the words out of my mouth, but mostly I just keep my own counsel.
Once I inadvertently found myself in a group where, under the guise of a “Bible Study”, we were encouraged to “share”. A lot. They even had little flyers lying around about not repeating what we heard. First time there was the last time, and I did the study on my own. (I’d paid good money for the book and wasn’t going to let it go to waste!)
Women talk. They talk too much and usually about other women. I don’t think they mean to be gossips, but there’s a lot which doesn’t need saying. I find that 90% of the stuff that comes out of my own mouth could go unsaid just on principle. Not that it’s mean or gossipy, but words aren’t the only way to communicate.
Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Most of the time you can answer no to at least one of the above—usually Is it necessary? Besides all that, I find listening to people to be enlightening. People are interesting. I usually always take something new away from a conversation.
If someone wants to go more in depth, that’s okay. It won’t go anywhere else unless, of course, it’s something really positive that’s meant to go elsewhere and encourage others. I like to pass on positives from and about other people.
On the other hand, I’ve been known to say things like
“If you tell anyone what I said, I’ll deny it.”
“If I hear this anywhere else, remember I know where you live.”
“Tell anyone, and I’ll cut your tongue out.”
I think the last is my favorite, and people always laugh. But they don’t tell anyone either!
It’s not that I want to be the repository for someone’s deep dark secrets. They’re none of my business. But if they all come spilling out, well, I’ll dig a hole and bury them.
~~Posted April 13
A page from my writing journal based on the prompt, “You know...”
“You know, that was really boring.”
“I thought it was nice. Maybe not exciting, but nice.”
“They were all stuffed shirts.”
“I don’t want to be like that twenty years down the line.”
“I’ll remind you of that if you ever edge that way.”
“I hope you will. Seriously, we weren’t raised to be elitists.”
“We were lucky.”
“We’ve come a long way, but we’ve worked hard for every perk.”
“You have anyway.”
“You’ve been right there supporting me every step of the way. I know your family didn’t approve, but…”
“They said you’d toss me over when you didn’t need me anymore.”
“I’ll always need you. Nothing would matter without you.”
“Well, my family has been known to be wrong about a lot of things.”
“Like your brother, Dirk.”
“Maybe he died too young, but he died doing what he loved. I can’t regret that.”
“You miss him though.”
“And they were wrong about us, too.”
“Yes, they were.”
“Not changing the subject, but I’m going to drive your car tomorrow and drop it at the garage. You said you’d been smelling the exhaust. That could be dangerous.”
“I hope it won’t be too expensive.”
“Your safety doesn’t come at a price. Anyway, next year we can get you a better car.”
“You need one, too.”
“I need you. Just you.”
Thinking cap on...
Who is this an exchange between?
How old do you think they are?
Where have they been—and why do you think they were there?
Do you get the idea that they’re both sincere?
Do you get the idea they’re secure within themselves individually as well as together?
Have they been together a while?
What do you think Dirk was doing that he loved but which caused him to die too young?
Do you think things will change between them?
How might things change and why?
Would a complete story be more interesting if things actually changed?
The first email to answer at least five questions wins a book from my website. If you choose a series, only the first book is a freebie...but maybe you’ll like it and want the next one! email@example.com
~~Posted April 5
Skipping to #120 of Thomas W.P. Slatin’s 130 Journal Writing Prompts, ‘Did you ever have your own special place as a child’ takes me back to the room I grew up in from age five through college graduation.
I can’t pinpoint the measurements, but it had corner windows through which the West Texas wind blew the scent of rain as well as dust to be removed from the furniture on a regular basis. The two windows on the other side were less interesting. One held the swamp cooler which would be hooked up every summer, and the other looked out on the back porch/breakfast room where we ate meals year-round. A door accessed that room, too.
My parents bought the furniture when they married, and five years later it became mine: a double bed, a highboy, and a dresser with a round mirror and four drawers.
In addition, the long closet had double doors and, at one end, two large drawers under two shelves. When I was small, I’d climb to the top shelf and feel hidden away.
The hardwood floors sported a rug, not carpet, and additionally two large white cotton throw rugs—one on the far side of my bed and the other in front of the gas space heater which provided plenty of cozy heat on winter evenings. (I still have one of those throw rugs, and it’s as sturdy now as it was over fifty years ago!)
But the blue-and-gray wallpapered room was my special place because it was just that: mine. It had all the things I held dear: a record player, a desk, a small bedside radio, and a red vinyl chest housing my favorite doll and her wardrobe. Later it became my “hope chest” for college with towels and miscellaneous supplies. Writing, music, and make-believe have always been central to my life. I could close the door and be alone and busy for hours. Being alone didn’t mean being lonely. I learned an important lesson in that room: to be good company for myself. It’s a lesson which has carried me through many chapters of my life.
One more note: on my sixteenth birthday, a blue telephone (extension, not private!) appeared on the table beside my bed. Just listening to the dial tone thrilled me.
I can still hear it now.
~~Published April 1
Don’t you just love lists and ideas? I found, downloaded, and printed out this fantastic one: 130 Journal Writing Prompts by Thomas W.P. Slatin. This lovely sunny afternoon tucked into my favorite parking space at Sonic with diet vanilla Coke in hand, I made some notes for blogs. (My “journal” consists of writing prompts which form the “bones” of short stories.) So today I’ll begin with #98:
How would you classify your ideal living or working situation?
O-boy, o-boy, o-boy, o-boy! If I could magically apparate out of this stifling gated retirement community, I’d spend part of my year in two separate places:
A downtown loft apartment
Traveling in a luxurious motor home
How exciting could it be to wake in the morning to the sounds of life stirring on Main Street USA (no matter the size of the town) or to go to sleep with the sound of crickets chirping outside the motor home, heralding the next day’s adventure?
Just the idea makes me smile. Unfortunately, it will never be more than an idea…or maybe it will. Maybe I’ll write a story about someone who escaped the confines of her life and lived happily ever after….in that lovely loft and marvelous motor home!
~~Posted March 29
Shelby Foote, American historian and novelist with an emphasis on the Civil War, left a prolific legacy of books, one of which I want to spotlight today. While he believed the current era of political correctness has skewed the truth about the struggle and said he would fight for the Confederate cause today, he was also not pro-slavery.
Disclaimer: While born and raised as a Southerner, I personally feel the war was a tragic mistake and declined membership in the Daughters of the Confederacy. However, I am also against tearing down monuments and thus hiding history be it good or bad. And, it goes without saying, that I believe as most intelligent, educated (not indoctrinated) people do that slavery was evil and the Jim Crow segregation which followed was even worse.
That said, I am “one in the spirit” with Shelby Foote on the topic of preservation of what we are losing to neglect, namely architectural treasures. Gone: Heartbreaking Story of the Civil War/A Photographic Plea for Preservation has a copyright of 2011, six years after Foote’s death. “Pillar of Fire”, his essay (both fiction and non-fiction) is illustrated by preservationist Nell Dickerson.
The pictures are indeed heartbreaking—grand homes left to rot. They were built to last forever and house generations of a family. Some suffered major damage from Union troops during the war. Others survived and endured only until there was no more money for upkeep. Families died or moved away, and nature took over these once-beautiful homes.
My own short story, “Good Bones”, which will be published in the Twentieth Anniversary Anthology of the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow (Eureka Springs AR) is based on an old home which met such a fate. Deep in the overgrowth of Mississippi, Bel Rėverie (French for “beautiful dream) sits deserted and crumbling—but there is hope for her! I’ll post when the story is available online.
If you’re interested in history and old houses, find the book at your local library or order from Amazon. Even the used hardcovers are expensive, but a Kindle version is available for $12.99. I can’t remember where I bought my like-new hardcover—possibly from our library book sale room—but I know I didn’t pay a huge price for it! But the Kindle version will do for browsing.
I think of all the beautiful old homes in the town where I grew up. Most of them are gone now to make way for parking lots and banks. A few were saved and preserved. Some are in poor condition and won’t last much longer.
Check out my Pinterest Page for boards about old houses.
~~Posted March 25
Eighteen-cent-a-gallon gasoline? In our dreams! But it was a reality (give or take a few cents) once upon a time long, long ago!
Time-Life Books published a series called This Fabulous Century, and at a book sale somewhere I acquired Volume IV: 1930-1940. Many of my short stories and books are set in this period, so it makes a perfect research tool.
Besides great B&W pictures of the era, there are charts with information about annual earnings, a Depression-era shopping list, and weekly radio programs. You’lll find sections about the popular movies and entertainers of the decade, the criminals whose exploits made the news, FDR’s alphabet of programs to bring back the country from financial ruin, and, of course, the political movements which seem to spring up in every circumstance.
If you were a Congressman, you made $8,663 a year and could afford, for example, a new Pontiac coupé priced at $585 or perhaps a new mink coat for your wife at the same price.
A live-in maid, however, raked in only $260 and would be lucky, I expect, to get a cloth coat for $2.69—and it had better last!
You paid $1 for a dental filling, a fountain pen, a briefcase, and a small bottle of L’Aimant perfume. But food took priority: for example, rice at 6 cents a pound and sugar a penny cheaper. These were the days of bread lines and near-starvation, failed crops in the Dust Bowl, and mass migration west where things weren’t much better.
And I paid a single dollar for this fascinating look back at the decade before I was born. Worth every penny! (Especially when I see it priced for as much as $100 on other sites!)
~~Posted March 15
Writers are weird people.
They didn’t use to be—I don’t think. I don’t consider myself weird now, but I can’t seem to find anyone else who writes who thinks along the same lines. Is it just fashionable/politically correct these days to embrace certain topics? When did we stop writing to inform and to entertain? When did writers become activists? Or was I just naive about the whole concept of writing?
I get an almost daily newsletter with information about places to submit.
Maybe out of a list of twenty, there’s one I could consider. Sometimes there’s not even one. I can’t write about some of the topics these journals, magazines, and ezines want. Not only do I not know anything about the topics, but the bottom line is, I don’t want to know! And I won’t even detail what they are—most people reading this can guess.
Writers abound “out there”--those who really can and those who think they can.
The latter category is full of egotists who often pay big bucks to vanity publishers and then tout themselves as the next Hemingway or King. I’m not knocking on their doors—and because I’ve gone the traditional route (as well as some self-publishing) and had some success, they steer clear of me. I’ve had my share of writing rejections and lived with them, but I guess they don’t want to risk being told no thanks.
So wanted: one writer-friend.
Notice I didn’t say personal friend. A divide isn’t a bad thing. I just need someone to call and exchange ideas with. Someone to lunch with, hole up and write with, whine with when either of us is stuck. I don’t want to argue politics or ethics. We don’t have to agree on everything—even most things. I’ve had one excellent writing partner, and we were polar opposites. However, we worked well together, and I credit her with making some really positive suggestions which bettered my writing. I hope I did the same for her.
I write because I want to.
Yes, I’ve made some good money from time to time, but that’s not necessary either. I don’t want to be famous. I’ve never dreamed of book tours and being wined and dined by the literary world. Sometimes I even have trouble sending a press release to the local paper—and I’m a couple of books behind on that!
I love the research, crafting the characters who become my friends—and sometimes my enemies, struggling with the best place to take the action, and then feeling satisfied with how everything ends up.
If you feel good when you finish reading something I wrote, that’s great. If you think ho-hum, that’s okay, too. I write for myself—not selfishly but as anyone with a hobby does something because she enjoys it.
So for now I plow ahead alone. It’s doable—but it would be more fun with a friend.
~~Posted February 6
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
On March 4, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these works in his first inaugural address which came in the midst of the Great Depression.
Americans had plenty to be afraid of: no jobs, no money, no way to feed their families, lost businesses, a stock market which had crashed in ‘29, lost homes, and much more. It seemed the end of the world for many—and for many it was. Suicides weren’t uncommon. Bread lines weren’t plentiful enough. There were no food stamps and no stimulus payments. Without local taxes coming in, schools often had to pay their teachers with vouchers which could be discounted for necessities at local stores. Now many children aren’t even allowed to go to school except “virtually”. They miss their friends, and their education is lagging behind.
It was a dark time.
Most Americans who remember those days are gone now. We can read about it, but until now, perhaps we never understood the hopelessness into which people were plunged back then.
Now we can.
The “Pandemic” restrictions are coming up on a year now. Social distancing, masking, closed businesses, lost businesses, joblessness, fear (in some cases unreasoning fear) of becoming a victim of Covid19. Some governors, enjoying their power, have even turned their personal vindictiveness towards the hallowed institutions of churches, flying in the face of the First Amendment giving us freedom of religion. Despite court rulings, they are digging in their heels and finding new ways to keep people from coming together in faith.
Some scholars feel the Great Depression didn’t really end until the wartime economy kicked in after Pearl Harbor, twelve years after Black Friday on Wall Street. The media and certain medical “authorities” are telling us Pandemic restrictions won’t end soon either, despite vaccinations being available. Executive orders from the White House regarding restrictions are flying left and right (mostly left). It’s even rumored that domestic airline passengers soon can’t fly without testing negative for Covid19. The possbilities for expansion of that order are frightening.
I read about/hear from people who are hunkering down even now. The old quote “no man is an island” is apt. Emotional depression is rampant. Suicides aren’t uncommon. We are afraid, some much more than others.
This morning I went for my monthly shampoo and haircut. I stopped at the local grocery store for perhaps ten items although I do my “big orders” via the convenient Walmart pickup. I was doing that long before March 2020 because I don’t like grocery shopping. Then I went into the local pack and mail to drop off two letters and buy a book of stamps.
Basically, I do what I have to do. I refuse to be dominated by fear. I wear my mask and choose relatively uncrowded places to go in to shop and only for necessities. Browsing is on hold. Most of all, I get out of the house on mild, sunny days and drive to Sonic for “Happy Hour”, taking with me something to read or to work on. The rest of the time, there is always something to keep me busy at home. Some semblance of “normalcy” is imperative.
Being afraid is no way to live, and I know that from experience. In four years in Congo, I lived with the knowledge/fear I could lose my life, especially when trouble broke out again in this third-world country. For several months, I slept with my passport under my pillow and a small evacuation purse beside my bed—knowing full well the chances of making it to safety at the airport in an emergency were slim. Diseases for which there were no vaccinations—maybe a pill that worked or not—rampant. I often had to stay alone with no electricity—and trust me, Congo nights were darker than dark, at least in my mind. A break-in wasn’t unheard of, so at first I stayed up at night when I was alone and slept during the day. That abnormal lifestyle didn’t last long, of course.
During that time I was stopped on my bicycle by police with a rifle swinging from the handlebar. Was it loaded? Was it safe? Who knew? I managed to talk my way out of being fined or arrested. Later soldiers came into the house where I was staying and took our only means of communication—the shortwave radio. I managed to hide my regular radio so at least we’d get news. Despite carrying rifles on their backs, they walked out holding a BB gun used to scare off animals at arms length. Go figure.
I got back to my regular city the day the Belgian embassy had been stoned. There was no one to meet me at the airport that night, and I wasn’t about to take a taxi into the city. The people at the desk refused to let me use the phone. Only through the kindness and insistence of two European men who’d had a protective eye on me was I able to telephone for transportation.
I was 22 years old, and I knew fear.
Now I’m 76, and I swore years ago that I’d never live in fear, a death with no resurrection, again.
And I won’t.
~~Posted January 28
Here’s an interesting random blog topic plucked from a list I found online and keep handy: How much money have you ever had at one time?
The quick answer to that is, “Not much”, but the follow-up is, “I had a father who taught me to manage what I had/have.”
When I went to college, Daddy took me to the bank in Denton to open a small account. I forget how much he put in it, but it was minimal, because (1) I had a job at the college and (2) he and mother were doing well to send me to school anyway. Then, in front of the bank officer who opened the account, he turned to me and said, “You know how to keep up with your checkbook and reconcile a bank statement. If you overdraw, don’t you come crying to Daddy.”
Boom! I’d have lain down and died first!
But he was right—I knew how to keep up with money. In junior high and high school, I received a small allowance on Monday mornings. Out of that, I was expected to buy school supplies, lunches, tithe, pay for any entertainment like a movie, and hopefully save a bit toward Christmas shopping for others. I learned quickly.
I can squeeze a nickel until it begs for mercy.
When Jim and I came home from Congo and basically started over (we didn’t make much as missionaries anyway!), it was tighter than Dick’s hatband to quote an old adage. Every two weeks, I spent thirty dollars—not a penny more—at Safeway for groceries as well as needed cleaning supplies. I washed and hung out cloth diapers—no disposables in our household! Everything was made from scratch, and that wasn’t just because Jim preferred it that way. He gave up milk, which he loved, because what I bought was for our baby and cooking. Jim got clothes because he worked; Brian got clothes because he was growing fast. I did without—and not necessarily with a smile.
Jim told my Daddy once that if I hadn’t been taught to manage, we’d be up a creek. But I had, and we weren’t.
Do I regret the really lean times? Sure. Being young, there were “wants” which took a backseat to “needs”. But every year, I have fewer and fewer “wants”.
Someone once said to me, “It doesn’t take much to make you happy, does it?” I guess it doesn’t. What a blessing!
~~Posted January 22
Regrets? We all have them. Most of the time we learn to live with them, and I guess I have. I couldn’t make a list of my personal regrets, but they all fall into one category: I regret I didn’t know who I was and didn’t live accordingly.
One of my mother’s favorite adages was “Be yourself.” That’s fine, Mother, but who am I? She also used to say regularly, “You don’t know...you don’t understand...you can’t...” all in one breath with no explanation. I never asked for one.
Is it any wonder I never knew who or what I was?
One of my favorite scriptures is from Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. KJV
Only when I stumbled on those words and began to think about them did I find the answer to the question Who am I?
Asked to write a brief author bio to post various places, I had to think about it. I put in such things as widow, mother, grandmother, genealogist, traveler, writer, senior citizen having her adolescent rebellion 50+ years late. All of it is true. Yet, are those words all I am?
No. I’m myself. For good or ill, I’m who I am and never dared to be previously. I often say, “I’ve paid my dues in this life.” Actually, it’s something one of my characters said in a story, but it’s true. I did what I was supposed to do, not always as well as I might have wished, but I stayed the course. Some thought my best wasn’t good enough—but good enough for what and for whom?
So what does a broken and a contrite heart have to do with who I am—after all these years? I’m a child of God, and God doesn’t make mistakes. (I used to think He did, particularly when it came to me.) Contrite, repentant, resting safely in His love and care, I am a person of worth—not more than anyone else, of course, but finally open to allowing God to do with me what He wants to do. I’m not finished yet.
I thank Him every morning for life and health and ask Him for whatever needs I have that day—whether keeping my mind clear of thoughts displeasing to Him or something simpler like safe miles on an errand I have to run or accomplishing everything on my to-do list for the day. The words of the old hymn run through my mind daily: All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided...Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. We are who we allow God to be in us. That’s who I am.
Another old adage, “It’s never too late” is true. I won’t have one more day of life than God planned on the day of my birth nor one day less. And now I can live each day as the person He created me to be.
~~Posted January 18
Here’s an interesting topic to ponder: Thunder storms—inspiring or scary?
Lightning and thunder never frightened me when I was growing up. I remember standing with my father on our front porch watching the sky light up (in the far distance) and counting time until the familiar roll of thunder reached us.
Then I moved to the middle of Africa where thunder and lightning could strike fear into the soul of any sinner or saint. With corrugated tin roofs on most places, the constant bombardment of rain, accompanied by roaring thunder, set my teeth on edge every time.
However, one can always find the humor in the worst scenario.
After I’d married and moved up-country, I monitored my pilot-husband on a small Messavia radio. The antenna, strung in the trees outside the house, made a good target for a lightning strike (or so I was warned). So, when a storm came up, I disconnected the radio from its battery and waited things out.
This particular afternoon I dutifully disconnected, but then I returned to the kitchen where I was baking. However, something inside me said I should vacate the kitchen for the dining room, so I moved everything and got back to work.
At one point, I needed eggs. Now eggs were hard to come by out there. Sometimes you could only buy 3 or 4, so you were very careful and never ever wasted one. I pondered the need. The refrigerator ran on kerosene, not our practically non-existent and sporadic electricity, so I reasoned I could dash into the kitchen, retrieve the eggs, and be none of the worse for the wear.
After another round of lightning and thunder, I made the egg run. On the way back, about the time I hit the door between the kitchen and the dining room, lightning struck somewhere extremely close outside one of the kitchen windows. (Most of the houses in town, built during Belgian colonial rule, had metal bars on the windows.)
My dash turned into a dead-heat run as I picked up speed for the bedroom. Though the bed was too low to the floor to crawl under, I threw myself face down on it, arms outstretched with a precious egg in each hand.
I waited out the storm before returning to my baking—with both eggs safely intact. And the moral of this story is: Never lose two scarce eggs to anything, even a lightning strike.
~~Posted January 12
Middlin’ is the way I’ve always described myself. Not that I haven’t wanted to be outstanding. Some people are, and some people aren’t.
For example, I’ve always wanted to play the piano like the late Anthony Burger of the Bill Gaither Gospel shows and videos. Instead, I played for various small churches who couldn’t get an Anthony Burger. But when someone called my offerings “heart music”, I glowed.
As a writer, I’m no New York Times best seller, and I’ve had my share of laughably bad reviews. But there are those who like what I write, and that’s good enough. I don’t like book events because I find it difficult to sit behind a table and look important. I’d much rather make the rounds meeting other people and chit-chatting.
I’ve been pretty good as a Mimi to the Small Person and the Bear Cub. They still like to hang out on occasion, but they’re growing up, so my role is changing somewhat. Still, I believe I’ll leave them some good, important things to remember.
But the thing I’m best at is keeping my mouth shut. I’ve had people blurt out dark, intimate secrets with no warning and then beg me never to tell. And I never will. I’ll take those secrets to my grave, not because I said I would but because they’re not mine to tell—and because someone trusted me to keep her confidence. It’s the right thing to do. Adding that to the list of wrong things I’ve done wouldn’t be something I could live—or die—with.
There are things I’ve never told and never will tell about myself. Things which have hurt or even damaged me. No one else needs to know. There are people I might trust with the information, but why would I even let it pass my lips? Keeping one’s own counsel, tending to one’s own business—good advice however it’s phrased. And if someone else tells me her business, it falls into the same category.
I’ve forgotten more than I remember being told, and that’s probably good. And what I remember is buried deep and forever.
~~Posted January 8
And into 2021...
The final two months of 2020 were a wash for me due to a fall and other issues. It’s difficult to get back on schedule, but that’s the goal for this week…or next…or the one after that! It will happen, however. Of that I’m sure.
Also, January is the month I do an annual cleanout of every closet, cabinet, and drawer. That may stretch into February, but it, too, will happen! My goal this year is not so much to make a yearly to-do list but rather to prioritize what needs to happen when.
Some projects I intend to finish and/or make progress on are:
v Finish The Legacy of Diamond Springs
v Continue to record family stories on tape for my children and grandchildren
v Organize a mound of genealogical research
v Submit one story a month for publication somewhere (rejections count!)
v Travel to my hometown to work on the archives in the church where I grew up (this is a biggie!)
No, these aren’t New Year’s Resolutions. Somehow we always manage to break, forget, or simply shove aside those solemn promises. I just want to accomplish—or at least make progress on—the above-mentioned projects.
A side note: I’m cutting back on blogging from three times a week to two. Hopefully this schedule will be more manageable, since I also make entries in a writing journal (also cutting back to twice a week) which includes free writing from a prompt, writing reflections, and a short paragraph on “My Reality Today”.
Blogging, journaling, and finishing Diamond Springs will keep me happily busy.
And, I hope the next list of projects in January 2022 will reflect life settling back to normal at last.
~~Posted January 4