Sunday, December 28, 2014

When OK isn't okay

Back when dinosaurs roamed the planet, I worked as a graphic designer and shared a room in a graphics studio with Nancy Massa for about twenty years. Nancy’s nickname was Half-Point, because she would send copy back to the typesetters and ask them to reduce the spacing by a half point—that’s like a hair’s difference. She's a meticulous designer. 

So, of course, Nancy was the person I wanted to help me when I was working on my book's cover. We spent hours together nudging the elements (title, post-it notes, chalk, chalk crumbs, bullet, etc.) into position.

I remember how Nancy used to squint at paragraphs of type. It should look consistently gray—never blobby or bumpy with some letters looking thinner or thicker than the rest. The way black type colors up on a white page matters.

A couple weeks ago, my novel came back from the copyeditor. She fixed my misuse of commas, found misplaced words, removed the extra “L” that I consistently added to the word cancelled, oops, I mean canceled. One L is common in American English, while two L’s is common in Britain, Canada, and Australia. She broke up my run-on sentences. She corrected my tenses, “been there, done that,” “is there, doin’ that,” “will be there, and do that.” I’m getting tense just thinking about it.

She also changed “okay” to “OK”. 

I went through the manuscript and made the corrections she suggested, but the “OK’s” haunted me. “OK” seemed too loud, the capital letters almost acted like bold type. OK jumped out of the paragraph and yelled at me. Whereas, “okay” with it’s lowercase letters, was quiet, more passive and colored up better on the page. It merged with the other words and didn't draw special attention to itself.

The word “okay” is easy, calm, not excited. Well, unless you’re in a pissed-off mood, and someone’s bugging you to do something that you don’t want to, and you have to yell, “Okay, already!”

In many publications, okay is not OK. Only a third of publications use “okay.”
  • The Wall Street Journal and The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition uses OK.
  • The New York Times uses O.K.
  • Reuters uses okay.

Well, too bad. I don’t like the way "OK" colors up on the page. Nancy would agree. "OK" is just too loud. So I went back through the manuscript and typed “ok” into the search box in Microsoft Word. I changed all the "OK’s" back to "okay" (consistency is important).

There are creative liberties to consider here. In her wonderful novel, The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin wrote the dialog without quote marks. It added a sense of quiet to the pages.

My novel has people who talk with quote marks around their words, maybe not as creative as Coplin, but that's okay. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Help me choose a cover

Tis the Season: shopping, baking stars and gingerbread men, trimming trees, decking the halls and voting.

Voting, yes!

Please help me pick the best cover for my novel. Imagine you’re in a bookstore and these three covers are in front of you. Which would you pick up? All have the same elements. It’s just the backgrounds that are different.

Then email me at In the subject line write 1, or 2 or 3.

You can say more in the email if you want, but I know you still have shopping to get done. And wrapping! Oh my gosh, there’s so much to do. Forgive me for bothering you, but I really want your opinion.

Thanks, and Happy Holidays to you all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


When I was six, Santa brought me a cocker spaniel, and I liked building houses out of cardboard boxes.

When my husband, John, was six, his parents brought him to the US on a ship from Austria. Before he could speak any English, he liked exploring Chicago on his way home from school. He still likes exploring Chicago.

When my daughter, Sue, was six or seven, she got her first pair of glasses, collected feathers, and loved animals. She now has two cats.

When my son, Jim, was six, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Mrs. Santa made him a huge flat moon on a piece of plywood with heavy gesso craters, Santa brought him little space ships and astronauts. He still likes looking at stars.

Jim Schoettle, Sue Schoettle and Teddy

When John’s daughter Alison was six, she liked helping her Grandpa Perring with his rose garden.

When John’s daughter Laura was six, she liked ballet dancing and Strawberry Shortcake dolls.

When our granddaughter Kristen was six, she loved music and making potpourri from flowers in my garden.

When our grandson Ryan was six, he went on a cruise of the Mediterranean Sea with his sister and parents.

When our granddaughter Julia was six, she liked calamari and olive tapenade, and writing and drawing in her journals.

When our grandson Jonathan was six, he liked basketball and helping his dad with yard work.

When our grandson Tristan was six, he liked puzzles and performing in school concerts.

Our granddaughter Megan IS six. She likes singing the Frozen theme song and hanging from monkey bars.

What were you like at six? I imagine that you were special. Unique.

What if your life had ended then?

Two years ago tomorrow—on December 14, 2012—twenty children aged six and seven, and six adults were shot and killed in Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

What has changed since then? 

Were we inspired to create new laws banning automatic weapons? Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle made by Bushmaster to blow through the locked door of the school.

Manufacturers of automatic weapons (gun makers are the backbone of the NRA) are subsidized by violence. Their coffers are filled by hate. And to keep their businesses flourishing, they fund the campaigns of our elected officials. After Sandyhook they told us the way to stop school violence is to arm teachers. More guns equals more sales.

Most of us are fine with hunters, but no hunter I know would consider using an automatic weapon to gun down a herd of deer. No one should ever be able to gun down a classroom of little (or big) children and teachers (or a theater filled with people just out to see a movie).

How do we stop them?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being Steven King

So you’re a creative person who likes to make things with words or paint. You’re also a nice person, or anyway, you usually think you are. There are love stories in you, flower petals to paint, and poems to your new baby or grandchild. You make pretty art; you paint sweet words; you kiss butterflies on the nose.

Then again...

What if you’re a nice person who also wants to cover a canvas in thick black paint, or fill it with naked bodies writhing in erotic passion? Can you allow yourself? What will people think? What if, in the story you’re writing, the bad guy—or worse, the good guy—licks the spit-up off the baby’s face. Ick. That's totally gross.

What if what comes out of your keyboard is unintentionally mean, revengie, and/or disgusting? Or worse...what if it’s sappy, stupid, preachy, or boring. What if it’s bad and you’re humiliated for life?

But what if it’s good and no one sees it?

Insecurity is having a party in my head, self-questioning is dancing a polka, doubt is twerking it’s fat butt at me. I just finished a final—I can’t say “the final”—revision of my novel about a suicide and what happens to the survivors, and I’m trying to be brave.

You can be creative without being brave. Your can hide your manuscript in a drawer or in a file folder on the computer, your drawings can be held captive in the closet. If you never expose your work, no one can judge you.

When Steven King writes one of his scary novels do you think he worries about whether anyone thinks he’s nice (which I’ve read, he is). He just does what he does, and then has a few trusted friends read it before going seriously public. 

So the first step after writing the book (which is really the first step) is imposing your masterpiece on some of your friends. 

The reviews of my novel (if graphed) would look like bad teeth.
  • Barbara, John, Ann, and Joy all said they liked it. Were they being nice, or did they really like it? Maybe I should ask them again?
  • Pat hated it (but loves me), and emailed, “I thought the characters were too black and white. Lacking nuances.” She was disappointed not to see the sly humor of my blog, which—since I’ve been working on novels—has been neglected. (The sly humor and the blog.)
  • Carol wrote, “So intelligent and perceptive—a flowing, delightful writing style. The characters were very real.”
  • Kristen, my environmentalist granddaughter, loved it and interspersed the manuscript with post-its of “Fun Facts,” most of which I added.
  • Louise read two pages and returned it, she didn’t have time then, but never asked for it back.
  • Jim DeLorey, who wrote an exciting thriller, Scream Cruise, took the time to write pages of valuable positive and negative comments. 
  • Ed, retired professor of literature, had some helpful suggestions, but, bottom line, he said it deserved to be published. 
  • My daughter, Sue, liked it, and I know she always tells me what she really thinks. 
  • Bonnie said, “Ehh.” 
  • Colette thought I should write a sequel. 
  • Mary Cay said she liked it so much that she read it twice.
  • Alison said, “The way you interwove the environmental issues felt very much like what Barbara Kingsolver does in her work, and I thought you did it equally well.” I immediately reread Flight Patterns. Alison’s comment was a stretch, but fun to hear, especially since I’m a fan of Kingsolver.

Most of these folks (likers and dislikers alike) had suggestions—excellent, helpful, and wise. 

Then five agents rejected the book.

After six months, with only an auto response saying they got it—the agent I was most hoping to work withemailed, “We would be pleased to consider your manuscript, INTENTIONAL, for possible representation.” 

Woo Hoo! Yippee! Yay! Can you believe!

Nine weeks later—NINE WEEKS LATER!—that agent sent a rejection email, a nice one, but still a rejection. Six months plus nine weeks, that’s a lot of waiting time, and I’m aging quickly.

Friends say, “Hey, listen, five rejections is nothing. You know how many times Harry Potter was rejected?” The reassuring legend grows; the last I heard J.K. Rowling was rejected twenty-seven times.

Steven King is, from what I’ve read, a nice person, a gifted literary writer who writes terror in black paint. “Carrie” was rejected ten times.

But I’ve decided I’ve had enough rejection. Years ago self-publishing was a huge no-no, but times have changed. I’m going to be brave. I want people to read me. If they like me, great, if not, that’s okay too.

Two weeks ago I sent my book to a professional copyeditor. I should have it back in early December. Then, after more editing by me, and more fussing with my cover design, hopefully, by January (two and a half years since I began) it’ll be a real book. 

PS. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (my much appreciated readers). I want to be able to ask them to read the next one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Love, Luck and Language

In my last blog post I told you about my husband, John, having open-heart surgery, but that wasn’t the whole story. 

On Monday, September 8th, we left the farm in Wisconsin, where John had been helping his brother Walt reroof the garage. We drove through miles of cornfields and the dead zone—no Internet, heading to Chicago where we’d spend the night with John’s mom. The next day we planned take his great aunt to lunch before heading back to Detroit.

Since John’s mom has Sanka and no internet, we decided Starbucks was our last stop before her place. We’d get ourselves fueled up, and check our email.

The first email message I saw was from Jake. Jake lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve never met him or spoken to him, but I know who he is—my friend Ann’s son. As soon as I saw his name I was overwhelmed with emotion, and tears blurred my vision, Jake sending me an email couldn’t be good news. And it wasn’t.

On Sunday, Ann had been visiting her family in Birmingham, Michigan for her other son Jesse’s birthday. After dinner, she was feeling tired, and said she was ready to drive home. Her granddaughter Alyssa begged her to stay longer, so she did—she’s a very good grandma.

She was in the kitchen talking to Jesse. They hadn’t sung happy “buttday” (as she likes to say, instead of birthday) or had his vegan cake yet, when suddenly he took her by the hand and quickly lead her out to the car. She had been speaking garble, making no sense, and Jesse realized that she was having a stroke. He drove her to Beaumont Hospital. He drove Fast. He knew the FAST signs of a stroke.

            F...Face drooping
            A...Arm weakness
            S...Speech difficulty
            T...Time to call 911

Lucky. Lucky Jesse knew the signs. And lucky too, that Alyssa asked her to stay longer. She could have been driving home alone when the stroke hit.

Jake had flown in from Pennsylvania. He was in her hospital room with her when he emailed me on Monday. The only thing that was affected by the stroke was language. Lucky. She had no paralysis, and her motor function was fine. Lucky. He emailed his cellphone number and said that she wanted to talk to me.

I didn’t understand most of what she said on the phone, but she sounded chipper.
We left Chicago early on Tuesday, skipped visiting John’s great aunt, and by 2:00 that afternoon, I was in Ann’s hospital room. She was as beautiful as always, smiling, gracious and talking. The words she said weren’t always the right words—usually not, but she was alive.

Ann’s beautiful, oh yeah...I know, you think I mean pretty, and that’s very true, but she’s a beautiful person inside. She gives homeless people money, when others won’t even give eye contact. She’s loyal to a difficult friend (not me, I’m easy—relatively). She has a very generous heart.

Ann was an opera singer, and a few years ago she lost the quality of voice that she had cherished. Sometimes she dreams that she’s singing, but as she says, “My voice is only a shadow of what it once was, even in dreams.” It makes her sad.

Ann paints lovely abstracts with colors that make you want to travel to New Mexico.

When I think about her, I always try to sit up straight, because she has wonderful posture. She can get up out of a chair without the help of her hands. I can’t. She does a little ankle crossover thing and rises gracefully into the air like a ballerina.

She’s ten years older than me and sometimes (irrelevant of age) she reminds me of my mother—when she’s being cynical, bossy and opinionated. Don’t tell her, but I actually like that about her.

When John went into the hospital a few days after she did, I went back and forth between their rooms. She got out of the hospital several days before him.

Ann Amenta
Last week she was able to start driving again. Yay!

She’s getting speech therapy three days a week, and her speech is improving every day. But it’s hard. In the hospital she was very jolly, laughing at her own wrong words, but now the happy drugs have worn off, and learning to read and speak and write again are hard work and stressful. But she’s brave and determined.

John was lucky. If he hadn’t gone to the doctor when he did, he could have died. Ann’s lucky. If Jesse hadn’t recognized that she was having a stroke she could have died.

And I’m the luckiest, because I still have these two special people in my life. I love them both.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The potted palm snotted on the curtains

If I hadn’t been rearranging furniture, months could have passed by before I discovered the sticky residue on the curtains, the carpet, the chair, and the table. The damn palm tree in our bedroom gave me no signs of distress, no yellowed fronds, no brown tips, no smell of rot.

But I don’t have time for sick trees right now. The boy I love had his breastbone sawed apart, his naked heart held, and rotated, and jiggled in the hands of a surgeon, and a vein from his leg used to bypass two clogged arteries.

The above was written September 16th, as I was sitting in John’s hospital room watching him sleep. Now On October 25, I’ll go back in time and then forward...

Over three weeks in August, my husband John had four incidents of chest pain. He didn’t mention it. Hey, what? Just a little tightness. Just a bit of sweat on the forehead. No big deal. Instead he and his brother Walt spent five days re-roofing the garage at the farm in Wisconsin—nearest city, Madison, fifty miles away, past a lot of milk cows and corn—forty-five minutes from an ER. One night, he woke with the same discomfort in his chest that lasted about ten minutes. The next day he was back on the garage roof. He didn’t mention the chest tightness when we spent eight hours on expressways driving back to Detroit—driving at a steady 70 MPH (in case any law enforcement agent is reading this).

Two days after we got back home, he was doing a little mall walking (something he does everyday—two miles at a brisk pace). He was just a quarter mile into his walk, when the tightness in his chest made him stop and get out his cell phone and call our internist.

That night he said to me, “We need to have a talk.” I thought he was joking. We need to have a talk is something I periodically say to him, when I’m agitated about something he’s doing or not doing. Emulating his usual response, I said, “So what did I do wrong now?”

He told me to sit down. Bad sign. He told me he’d made a doctors appointment for the next day, then he told me about the four incidents of chest pain, then I cried.

But still, I don’t think it felt like a real thing to either one of us.

So Thursday morning after he left for our internists, I didn’t worry because it was just a blip, indigestion maybe, he never gets sick—well, maybe a cold every two or three years. It lasts a day and then he’s fine—it wasn’t going to be anything bad.

That morning, while he was off seeing a client and then at the doctor’s office, I decided that I’d better cook some of the zucchini that we brought back from my sister-in-law Katie’s garden in Wisconsin. While we were at the farm, she made lasagna with Italian sausage and zucchini instead of noodles—delicious. I had three huge zucchini and some lovely, fat, juicy tomatoes that Katie sent home with us. I went to the market and bought half a pound of bulk Italian sausage, fat speckled, not looking like the healthiest thing in the world. Then I came home and composed the layers of healthy zucchini and tomatoes and unhealthy sausage.

The lasagna was still on the kitchen counter unbaked when John came home. He told me that our doctor had called a cardiologist, who said that he should go to the emergency room...sooner rather than later. I drove him to the hospital, where they did blood tests and x-rays. Then they scheduled a cardiac catheterization for the next morning—they’d run a line up his arm and shoot dye into his arteries hunting for blockage.

They weren’t letting him go home.

They kept him in the hospital Thursday night—plugged in and wired up to heart monitors and IV tubes—not taking any chances with the widow maker. We were both stunned, how could this be? He looked healthy. He'd been hauling shingles up onto the garage roof just a few days before. Sitting in John’s room while he slept, I busied my thumbs texting his daughters in Colorado and Georgia, our friends and the rest of the family.

We were convinced that they wouldn’t find anything. But on Friday the procedure showed two arteries with blockage. The surgeon called one of the arteries a widow maker, and open heart surgery was scheduled for the following Monday at 7:00 A.M.

“The girls want to know if they should come home?”
“No,” he said. “They don’t need to do that.”

We spent the weekend walking the hospital floor—him in his hospital nighty dragging the pole with the IV, and me being cheerful, optimistic, but meanwhile stressing about everything my imagination could think up. The nurses brought me pages of new rules for his life after surgery: no lifting anything heavier than a half gallon of milk; no lawn mowing; cut out sugar (he was pre diabetic); lower salt and fat (cardiac diet). Oh, and he had AFib—so no spinach, kale, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils or foods high in vitamin K (he was on blood thinners and K has a thickening effect). That last one made him smile. No greens, Yay.

Friends and family softened the long weekend before surgery. Barbara and Dennis came to visit. Dennis had had the same heart bypass surgery eight weeks before. Dennis said the one thing he really wished he’d had was a recliner, especially in the days right after surgery.

So now there was a mission. Instead of stressing about the scary surgery, I stressed about how to get a recliner before John got home...and what to do with the lasagna (that I had just stuck in the refrigerator), and what about the lawn with foot high tassels that hadn’t been mowed since before we left for Wisconsin (I’ve never been able to pull the cord on the mower hard enough to start it), and what about the air conditioner still in the bedroom window (weighing a lot more than a half gallon of milk), and piles of laundry still waiting after our Wisconsin trip. If I tried taking the AC out of the window by myself, it’d probably fall down a story and land on the barbecue. And how would I do any of these things when I was at the hospital from 8:00 a.m. till almost 8:00 p.m. and coming home wiped out. And why was I so tired? I’d been sitting all day, except for walks to the cafeteria.

But then, if you’re lucky, you have wonderful people in your life. My neighbor Cyndi took the lasagna to her house, baked it and froze it in portion size packets for me. Her husband Jim mowed our lawn. My son Jim helped me get the air-conditioner out of the bedroom window.

The night before surgery Barbara and Dennis brought us dinner from Panera (John’s favorite place). Afterward I watched John nap and worried about everything but the surgery, which was way to frightening to think about. The doctor said to be there at 5:30 to be sure to see him before the operation.

At home that night, I put myself into an ice cream comma. Well, I had to get rid of all the bad stuff before he got home, right? And then I couldn’t sleep because I was all sugared up, and cold, and couldn’t get comfortable, because the heater I sleep with was in the hospital.

The next morning I was knocking on the hospital door at 5:00 a.m. Yep, they lock the hospital at night, so terrorists and old women can’t get in. A guard opened the door. When I got to John’s floor, they said I’d have to wait in the visitors' waiting room until he woke up. The room was dark and a man was sleeping across three chairs. Finally a nurse came and said John was awake. We had time for some kisses and hand holding, and then he was rolled away. I followed the gurney, and then was told where to wait.

Barbara was there at 7:00 a.m. She had been through all this just weeks ago. Dennis is alive and doing well. John would be fine. They had the same surgeon. She was a great comfort. We sat with our coffee in the cafeteria, then she left and I went back to my waiting station.

Families filled the cardiac surgery waiting room. An Indian family was in the hallway (standing, waiting, ten or twelve people, women in saris); another family of eight, were speaking Arabic. A few twosomes sat around the room. I was conspicuous in my aloneness. Both my kids were working, and John’s girls were out of state. The person—who would normally be sitting waiting with me in a hospital—was in some cold room having his chest cut open. But then my dear friend, Joy, arrived and waiting was much easier as hours dribbled by.

“Surgery went fine,” Dr. Tepe said, “Wait an hour for him to get set up in recovery, then go see him.” Then he added, “After you see him go home, and don’t come back until 9:00 tomorrow. He’s going to be out of it, and you should rest.”

John was okay! I saw him, and yes, he did look like he’d just been run over by a truck, tubes were coming out of him and emptying into boxes on the floor by his bed. I kissed his head, but he was in a drugged Neverland. His nurse Autumn was dedicated and attentive (also pretty, sweet and fun).

All the way to the parking garage, I said a silent mantra of thank you’s to the surgeon—John was alive and being well cared for, and THE DOCTOR told me to go home and rest. The doc said it, so I could be guilt free.

I hadn’t been home in the afternoon in days. Testing for space for a recliner, I moved a chair from the living room up to our bedroom. That’s when I discovered that the potted palm in our bedroom had evidently been sneezing all over everything.

I watched TV and saw a furniture store commercial—Big Sale Now Through Wednesday. KARMA. Just do it. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I’d find some time to go to the store and buy John a recliner. Just as simple as that, I’m so old that the government says I have to spend some of my 401K every year, so what better thing to do than buy my sweetie a recliner.

Tuesday morning I arrived in his room a few minutes after 9:00. He was awake and upset. He had expected me to be there at 8:30. He was going to wait and have breakfast with me, but I was late. This wasn’t the independent man I married. My reaction was defensive and guilty. But later I realized, that this really wasn’t the man I married. This man was needy and fragile. He told me that when he woke up and felt the awful pain in his chest, he was happy. Pain equals Still Alive. He might have died, and he knew it. He needed me, just like the many times when I’ve been sick and depended on him to just be there.

On September 22, John came home from the hospital. He looked at the recliner, said, “Hmm, it sure is puffy.” Translation: Ugly. Then he sat on it. Then he slept on it for two nights. Then he napped on it every morning and afternoon. This afternoon he was stretched out watching football with his eyes shut and his mouth emitting a buzzing sound. Shhh....we won’t wake him up.

John on the puffy recliner
On Monday it will be six weeks since his heart surgery. He’s been driving himself everywhere he wants to go for the past two weeks. He’s lost 22 pounds. He’s grown a beard. He walks two miles a day, and best of all...he’s ALIVE. Yay!

The sticky mess is in the bedroom is cleaned up, the curtains have been washed and ironed, but all the news isn’t good. The potted palm died.

The dishwasher's been repaired. Yay!
P.S. There are so many people we want to thank for their visits and flowers and treats. So here goes: Thank you, Sue and Jim and Bonnie and Ryan and Judy and Cyndi and Jim and Alex and Diane, and Terry (John still laughs when he squeezes the giggle toy), and Barbara and Dennis (he has a recliner thanks to your good advice, and our night before surgery dinner was awesome), and Gurucharn and Patrick and Ivy and Shayla and Dave and Dennis (the bouquet was gorgeous), and Joy and Keith (the azalea was beautiful and chocolate yummy), and Johnny and Carolee and Betsy and Nancy and Ray (for two beautiful and delicious edible bouquets). There were many cards and Facebook well wishes too. Thank you all!