Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fresh eyes

First readers are an important part of my writing process. I’m not talking about preschoolers, or first graders, I’m talking about friends and family who read my novels before anyone else. Before it’s an actual printed book, when it’s still in process or finished (supposedly) with plenty of errors—typos, missed question marks, fuzzy wording, maybe even fuzzy characters or situations. After I’ve read the book at least a billion times it still needs reading by kind volunteers.

Readers are the people who “make it work,” as Tim Gunn might say on Project Runway. When I’m writing a novel I can be too close to see it as clearly as a friend who hasn’t been mulling this story over in their head for a couple years. Fresh eyes!

When I wrote Intentional, my first readers all got paper manuscripts. For A Bird in the House some readers said they’d prefer the book in digital form. I did that. After all, reading my blemished manuscript is doing me a big favor. But the problem with reading a book digitally is that errors found are errors that have to be written down somewhere (or not), and it turns out mostly Or Not applies. So the next novel will only be shared with early readers in printed form.

The exception was John (husband) who read it in PDF Expert on his iPad. He was able to mark it up in red on the screen with his Apple pen...he’s so fancy.

When I give a reader the printed copy of the novel I try to include a red pen. “Please,” I say, “write on it. I want to know where you like it, and where you hate it. If you see a typo, or what you think may be a typo—mark it.”

You see, I’m putting these friends to work. Help me, I’m begging.

However, sometimes readers don’t want to mess up the paper. Sometimes they use a pencil and write faintly to keep the manuscript clean. But how can I whine when they were nice enough to read the damn book. After they finish with it, they nicely tell me that they liked it. Thank you.

My own mother would be harder on me. Brutal. I miss my mother.

When Kristen Schoettle read Intentional she inserted little hand drawn emojis on the margins. Smiles. Frowns. Tear drops. Grammar corrections. “Ha-ha” here and there. She had suggestions for additions—especially climate related. It was wonderful. Exactly what I longed for.

When I was only a third into writing A Bird in the House, I reached a scary point where I was feeling vulnerable and exposed—frozen. So I asked Kim McLott, my friend since the third grade, to read what I had. The next day she called and told me to hurry up, “Get writing, and don’t come out of your room until you’re done.” (French author Colette was locked in a room by her husband Willy until she produced something salable.) Kim wanted to know what happened next. I might never have finished without her enthusiasm.

And then there were long phone calls with Lynn Bell, helping me solve the problem of a four-year old who was smarter than she should be.

Carol Winslow brought me a stack of research on social services, and read and reread scenes that I struggled with.

Ed Sharples, retired professor of literature, was as tough on me as my mother would have been, and I am grateful.

My daughter Sue said, “You write better than the author of Fifty Shades of Gray.” Whew! That’s a relief.

Ann Amenta said, “You can’t play Fur Elise if you’ve never had piano lessons.”

Barbara Aylward listed comments
on a sweet note with her grandsons photo.

There are many others—each finding a blip here or there, but all commenting in supportive ways.

They say that writing is a lonely endeavor, but its outcome is so much better with a little help from your friends.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Give That Woman A Fish

It’s a winter wonderland out there. Snow is snowing. Wind is blowing. All this snow, plus all the pretty lights on peoples’ house fronts, plus all the ads for sales—Amazon keeps flashing me images of forbidden treats, jiggling temptations before my computer illuminated eyes (could this be customer harassment?) all this Xmasy stuff leaves no doubt that it’s present giving time.

Santa will be coming soonI’ve known that since October when Costco had Xmas candles and Halloween costumes doing row dances for the holly/jolly days.

But, Hey! What happened to Thanksgiving?

Ahh, but Gobble-Gobble day—a sweet dream of a trip to the country, over the river and through the woods—is past, spent devouring my brother Tom’s turkey slathered in bacon. Family. It’s a good thing.

Black Friday is over too, and I duly supported Citi Cards. Now, as Xmas eve draws near, I look forward to the delight of another family gathering...and I’m thinking of my mother.

My mother was a bit of a Grinch. For many years she balanced herself on a tiny stool in the back of the Birmingham Post Office throwing/sorting mail on the midnight shift. Christmas involved everyone in the world sending everyone else in the world a card. She never got a day off from Thanksgiving to New Years, which tends to make a one cranky or go postal. She chose cranky. She slept days, and dreaded the holidays. 

I was already a grown-up with my own family then. She lived with my grandmother and my (way younger) brother and sister. She was a very overworked single mom, and adored by all of us, including our friends. She was a person you could talk to about anything.  She was funny (I got my weird sense of humor from her), sarcastic (I got that too), and loving (I hope I got that). 

“So, Mom, when aren't you working or sleeping so we can celebrate Christmas,” I’d ask.

Baa, humbug,” she’d answer. But she did get one day offChristmas Dayand we did get together.

Gifts were a serious problem. She didn’t like anything. I gave her some cute outfits, but at Easter they still graced the dining room table in their boxes. One year Tom gave her a beautiful down coat that she never wore.

She was compulsively frugal. Seriously. Clinically frugal. Maybe because of the Depression, maybe because most of the time she was the bread-winner and women didn't get paid all that well. 

Her greatest pleasure was finding good (not bulging) dented cans of food and day old bread. She liked brussel sprouts, so one autumn I gave her a stalk of sprouts from the Farmers’ Market. She called me a couple days later and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” The sprouts were too much work.

At Christmas, birthdays, and any, and all holidays, if you gave her a card it should be unsigned so she could give it back to you on the next holiday. Cards were not her favorite thing...remember, she worked at the post office.

So one Christmas, when I was at a total loss of what to get her, I bought her a whole salmon. A whole friggin’ salmon is more work than a stalk of sprouts, but I did it anyway. I was nervous. How should you wrap a twelve-pound salmon? In Santa paper? No, she wouldn’t want me to waste money on wrapping. So I just left it in the grocery bag, and when I handed it to her, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mom.” She took the fish. 

And then, shock of all shocks: it was the best present she ever got. She told me so.

So, Dear Friends, the lesson here is if you’re ever in doubt about a giftgive that woman a fish.

Merry Christmas, Everyone. 

I miss you, Mom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What's Left

I had a terrible headache last night. When I woke up this morning, it was worse. In bed, I reached one hand up to my head, analyzing where the pain was located. I opened my eyesno spots. I used to get migraines. This wasn’t one.

5:00 a.m. I checked my iPhone. NY Times News Alert...Donald Trump won the election.

After some aspirin and a mouthful of bread, I just wanted quiet. No news is good news right? But being a glutton for punishment, I pressed the TV remote’s buttons anyway. Someone said, “The educated coastal elites haven’t been paying enough attention to middle America... and that’s why Trump lovers were so mad” or something like that. That’s why Trump won. I turned the TV off.

I am a rustbelt-far-left-leaning-liberal.

I voted for Bernie, and then, without holding my nose, or thinking I was picking the lesser of too evilsI voted for Hillary. She had devoted her life to public service. Trump devoted his to acquiring: wives, buildings, debts he didn’t pay, a school that was a con, etc.

The first hours of grief are the hardest. The novel I’ve been working on for the past two years seemed worthless. Why bother. But there’s always eating, so I did quite a bit of that, then I decided to clean...something I don’t decide to do very often.

Next, I checked out what my liberal friends were saying on Facebook. There were several mentions of moving to Canada.

I thought again about the derogatory comment about liberals. So I asked myself what is a liberal? What am I?

Answer: I am a leftie. Right handed, left politically. Actually, I’m one of those dangerous extreme liberals.

As an Extreme Leftie:
  • I believe that we should treat each other with respect—whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, or financial status.
  • I believe that sick people should be able to get health care.
  • I believe that children are entitled to a good public education.
  • I believe in helping the less privileged.
  • I believe old people (especially those in physical jobs) shouldn’t have to work until 70 to get Social Security. 
  • I believe college should be affordable.
  • I believe in paying my taxes.
  • I believe people must have clean water.
  • I believe black lives matter. 
  • I believe that each woman should be able to decide whether or not she gives birth.
  • I believe that climate change is real.
  • I believe in kindness, caring and listening. (I’m trying to get better at that listening one).

Although Canada is a lovely country, I will stay here. I'm an American. And I will continue having (and expressing) my extreme views.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Dull Drums

I confess. I’ve been in the dull drums for months (yes, I intended to say dull drums, not doldrums). Feeling dull, my drums gone quiet. I’ve been pacing the house or sitting watching TV. Feeling old. Tired. Not in the mood for anything, even murder mysteries on the boob tube couldn’t hold my full attention. I was getting sick of myself. I did shower, and cook, and grocery shop, but beyond that I just wasn’t happy. Maybe “depressed” fits. Maybe it doesn’t.

My next novel, A Bird in the House, was sitting in the computer. Waiting. I thought about it often. What happens next? Who does what to whom? Couldn’t make up my mind. Too many pieces. Too complicated. Too hard.

One day I decided to clean a closet. There was a huge plastic garbage bag filled with fabric scraps that hadn’t been touched in at least fifteen years. It was a jumble of little squares, tangles of frayed thread, and odd bigger chunks of cotton cloth. I pulled the bag out and started sorting by colors. All the greens went into a zip-lock bag. All the beiges went into another. Eventually I had sorted all the scraps into their own little color coordinated homes. Bags of colors filled two wicker baskets. 

That was months ago. 

Recently, I cleaned out another closet. I discovered 18 inch squares of pieced together red and purple fabric that had been centerpieces for a dinner I organized eighteen years ago. Memories of that dinner aren’t happy, but the pieced squares were nice. I spread the nine squares out, side by side on my bed. If I added few more pieces (sixteen), it would be a whole quilt.

I moved the sewing machine into the room where I write and loaded it with red thread. For the past two weeks I’ve been buying more fabric and sewing my silly head off. No TV in the daytime. 

Three days ago I opened the laptop and read some of the novel.  I read pieces of story, events not fully sewn. I found lines that needed to be cleaner, straighter, more to the point. Dark sections needed more humor. Purple needs red. Short sentences need long ones to avoid boredom. Fabric combined in little squares and big chunks is more interesting. Words are little squares. Paragraphs are pieced together blocks. And what about transitions, how should I connect the pieces or paragraphs to create flow.

Yesterday, in the middle of quilting mayhem, the novel got 900 new words. Today I wrote another 800. Life is good. 

This afternoon, I have work to do. I have another idea for the quilt. One craft feeds the other.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Books! Hot dogs! Me!

Dear Friends, 

It's been awhile since my last blog post. Basically, I've been being a slug. It's nothing sad in my head, nothing to get excited about. Just being a slug. So I guess it's time to get up off my butt, do some jumping jacks, then sit right back down on my butt and write something. 

It's time.

I have a fun event coming up next Sunday. I've been invited, along with more than 50 other writers, to take part in Leon & Lulu's Book & Authors event. They'll have 25 copies of my book, Intentional, a novel, available. So, if you don't have a copy yet, here's your chance. Woo Hoo! If you already have one of my books, come anyway and say hi. And maybe (highly likely) you'll find a treasure by another writer.

Hope to see you.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Salad Bowl Mystery

On July 1st, I was in our backyard unstrangling bindweed from the Rose of Sharon bushes, when I discovered a very pretty shell stuck on a leaf. It was creamy white with a brown line twirling into the center. Our grandchildren, Megan and Jonathan were visiting from Georgia. John (Papa) was at the pool at the corner of our block watching the kids swim and dive. I took the interesting shell and put in on the back porch step to show the kids when they came home, and went back to weeding. But when I came back to the porch the shell had moved. IT WAS ALIVE! (Drum roll here, or imagine the music from Jaws).

It was a snail. It’s probably obvious that I have no snail experience on my resume. I gave it a new home inside a high walled glass salad bowl, with a bumpy rock set in the middle and some leaves for his lunch.

I haven’t had a pet since my old cat died in 1983, so I googled garden snails. They need dirt for calcium that helps them build I put dirt in the salad bowl. I fed him organic (from my garden) cucumber peels, basil, and strawberry leaves, and sprinkled in some water (you don’t want your snail to dehydrate).

One Google snail site was for kids. A boy suggested putting a lid on your snail jar with holes punched in it for air. But that seemed mean (the lid, not the air), besides Speedy Sam always went back inside the bowl after a little stroll. Also the nasty kid in the video poked at the tiny snail's horns to show how they retract when touched. I wonder if that kid will be out twirling cats by their tails some day? 

Jonathan named our new pet Speedy (oh, the irony!), and Megan named him Samthat’s how we knew it was a boy snail. Actually snails are Hermaphrodites, but still need another snail to reproduce (Thank you, Google).

Speedy Sam
I told my daughter-in-law about our new pet. 
Bonnie asked, “Are you going to eat him?”
“What? Eat Speedy Sam!”
“Snails are escargot,” she reminded me.
“Are you going to eat Archie?” I asked. 
Archie’s a Golden Retriever. They aren’t going to eat Archie.

Before dirt outside of the bowl
The kids went home to Georgia and I kept feeding and watering Speedy Sam, but I have to tell you—I often felt guilty watching him walk (slither) along the bowl’s rim. I’d say to John, “Maybe we should put him back in the yard. Let him be free.”

This is liberal guilt rearing its do-gooder head. I’m against the death penalty, against unjustified imprisonment. Shouldn’t this beautiful snail get to live in the garden? He didn’t do anything wrong. 

After dirt
But John liked watching him, and I admit, I did too, so he stayed in the salad bowl sitting on a high table on our screened back porch. We were family.


Five days ago Speedy Sam disappeared. When we checked his bowl in the morning, he was gone. We took out his celery stalk. Occasionally we found him clinging to it upside down—but not this day. We took out his half cucumber. We took out the rock and checked under it. We pushed the dirt around with the celery stick. No Speedy Sam. We searched the whole porch, under tables and chairs, ceiling, walls, screens. Gone!

Two days later I was weeding the vegetable garden and I found another snail. Is this Karma? 

I brought it in, put it in Speedy Sam’s cleaned bowl, and added the rock and some salad mix. This was a different snail. Darker. Smaller.

Two days later Snail #2 was gone. Speedy Sam hung out with us for about fifty days. Snail #2 was here just two days. Do snails have some telepathic means of telling each other how to get out of a screened porch?

Is Karma crap?

Snails can see, but their sense of smell is strongest, and they’re nocturnal. But how the heck did they get out of the porch? I’m open to theories.


As I wrote about a snails sense of smell, I looked around our screened porch. On the west side the screen is covered with ivy. That’s the way a smart snail would go—head for the foliage. The green outdoor carpet is a little longer than the concrete floor on that side, so it bends up about two inches. I moved chairs out of the way and lifted the rug. And there was Speedy Sam. Dead...I was sure. But then several times over the past weeks I thought he was dead. The phrase shouldn’t be, “Playing possum,” it should be “Playing snail.”

He looked wrecked. Dirty. So I put him back in the bowl with some cilantro I had just picked, and showered a half-cup of water on his filthy shell. He didn’t move.

Yesterday morning I checked the salad bowl. Speedy Sam was slithering around on the cilantro. Later John and I took him out to the garden and had a little ceremony. I put Speedy Sam back where I found him on a Rose of Sharon leaf.

I felt betterrelieved—I could quit feeling guilty...but it’s a little lonely. 

Several times during the day we checked and Speedy Sam was still clinging to the leaf. This morning he was gone, perhaps off to find a boy/girl friend.

PS. We still don’t know where Snail #2 went?