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