Finish It

I’ve been stealing moments here and there to work on a family history, a project that I embraced wholeheartedly about a year and a half ago. Hmmm. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I embraced the idea of putting such a document together, complete with correct birth, marriage, and death dates and interesting stories about my ancestors.

But then the going got rough. Life interfered, and I veered off the path a bit. As I neared the end of what I considered the major part of the narrative, chapters chronicling my parents’ lives, I was seized with the certainty that my siblings needed to get involved. I could handle the past, but I needed their assistance in sharing their memories of parents and grandparents and of their own post-college goings-on.

That’s going well. Almost too well. We keep thinking of things we want to add about our parents, stories that hint of their personalities, character, and devotion. I’m loving the recollections of bygone days that my siblings are contributing. My brother Mike wrote of one day when Daddy accompanied him to his third grade classroom—and spent the entire day. Although Mike claims not to know the reason for Daddy’s visit, we both suspect it had to do with my brother’s behavior.

As I pondered this story, I recalled a day when I was summoned to the principal’s office. As the door closed behind me, I was surprised to see my father sitting there with the principal and my Spanish teacher. The teacher had reported me for cheating on a test the rest of the class had taken the day before. She had “seen” me cheating, but how could that be? I didn’t even take the test! It gets worse.

Knowing I had been absent because of tonsillitis, Senora Keaton had given me permission to take the test a day or two later.  “Just sit in the lab while everyone else takes the test,” she had said. But she forgot. When asked to go through the test papers, naturally there wasn’t one with Juana’s name on it. Throughout the “interview,” Daddy sat quietly observing and listening, ready to defend me if necessary but willing to allow some sort of discipline if I were guilty.

And Ann. I must add a story of my sister’s. When we were talking about my grandparents’ house on Haile Street, she told me the real truth and nothing but the truth about an incident that happened there around sixty years ago. I remember that she “fell” off the front porch and hit her head on the concrete. Blood was everywhere. Daddy took her to the ER a few blocks away, and Ann got a couple of stitches in her noggin.

When she and I discussed the incident, she said there was more to the story than that. Daddy had noticed her jumping off the porch and sensing the danger for such a young child, told her not to do it again. But surprisingly (to me), Ann did it anyway. She misjudged the edge of the concrete porch and BAM, her sweet little head slammed against the edge. She remembers being scared and comforted at the same time—scared because of all the blood and comforted because Daddy swooped her up in his arms and took her to the hospital.

Yesterday Ann told me she had thought of a couple of sweet stories about Mama. “Send them to me,” I said. “I’ll find a way to insert them.” Mike is going through photographs of ancestors. Will I add them? Yes, at least some of them.

So……I’m in the proofing, editing, and revising stage of the history, and at some point soon—very soon—we’ll have to stop adding memories and photographs. Tonight I’m rereading certain sections and asking if they’re good enough…or even necessary.

One if Neil Gaiman’s rules for writing comes to mind. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.”

Posted in books, family histories, memoir, nonfiction, stories, story telling, Uncategorized, writing, writing life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dribbles, Drabbles, and Flashes

 

I’ve wanted to write flash fiction since the first time I heard it mentioned. Problems were that (1) I’m not really a fiction writer and (2) no one could tell me exactly what flash fiction was. It was double trouble for me. And yet, there was this allure, this attraction to the genre that I couldn’t resist.

I asked around. And read blogs and articles about it. Some people said it like a short short story, always shorter than 750 words. Others said 500 words was the magic number. How, I wondered, could I work in plot, dialogue, character development, scene description, and the other elements I can’t remember into 500 words?

Still, the thought of writing a flash fiction piece dangled before me like the proverbial carrot before the donkey.

At the South Carolina Writers’ Association’s Big Dream Conference Writing Conference a couple of weekends ago, I was enlightened and encouraged—enlightened because I learned what flash fiction is and is not and encouraged because I think I can do it. Like the little train, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Luke Whisnant (first person on the left), author of  Down in the Flood and Watching TV with the Red Chinese, gave an excellent overview of flash fiction, including examples from literature. He began by saying there were exceptions to everything he says. I liked that about him right away. I mean, really, is there anything that’s absolutely absolute? I know people who debate the Oxford comma, whether internal dialogue should be italicized or placed in quotation marks, and whether exclamation marks should be banned entirely.

According to my notes copied fast and furiously from Professor Whisnant’s powerpoint and oral presentations, it’s a misconception to think a flash fiction piece is just a very short story. A short story is a character based narrative about a unique event, resulting in change. It has a plot, characters, a recognizable setting, and an arc. That can be daunting to think about. All that and an arc too? And believable dialogue?

Flashes (great word) are too short to have character development or plot. There’s not always a well-developed setting. Nor is there a change or epiphany in the character, at least not always. Naturally, there are many exceptions. I’m sitting up straight and thinking maybe.

 So what is flash fiction? What are its elements?

  • A flash story has a theme-controlling idea or concept, a unifying idea.
  • There might be an emphasis on form or language, thus making some flashes more like poems than short stories.
  • A piece of flash fiction is like an “art object made out of longing, and the language is arranged in paragraphs, not lines.”
  • There’s not a difference between prose poetry and flash.
  • Using artistic language is fine in this genre. Simile, metaphor, patterns (triplets), alliteration, and other effects of elegant variation are examples.

There’s more, but I’ll save that for another post. Right now I want to see if I can write a drabble (exactly 100 words) or a dribble (50 word story) without a plot or an arc.

Posted in books, flash fiction, stories, story telling, Uncategorized, writing, writing conferences, writing fiction, writing tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’ve Got the Magic

I should be working on my classes. I used to tell my children (still do), “We work and then we play.” But then, sometimes I remember Jack and Jill and fall back on another favorite platitude: “All work and all play make Jayne a dull girl.”

All that to say I’m taking a break from reading assignments about gender differences in communication to share a few notes from this weekend’s Big Dream Conference. Held in Pawleys Island, SC, the three-day event was so informative and inspirational that my head is still abuzz with the things I want to write, revise, and experiment with.

At The Petigru Review launch party Friday night, the keynote speaker, Peter Steinberg, set the tone for the next two days. Although I didn’t intend to take notes, I soon found myself fumbling through my conference bag for a pen and notebook. Every word he spoke was enlightening for this novice, but I’m going to mention only three points this morning. And yes, novice is the correct word to describe how I felt after exposure to so many different poets, writers, agents, and editors this weekend.

  1. Every page needs to be as good as the page before and after it. That might not resound with you right away, but think about it. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “It was slow going in the beginning, but then it picked up.”? (not sure about the correct punctuation there and am too preoccupied to investigate it)  A story, poem, article, story, or book should pull the reader in right away and keep her there. Incidentally, Peter wasn’t the only presenter who mentioned this sterling advice during the conference.
  2. Write, rewrite, and then rewrite some more. Admittedly, my personal acquaintanceship with writers is limited, but all of them stress this point. One friend says she’s a slow writer. Translation: “I realize the importance of every word and turn of phrase, and getting my story into the minds and hearts of readers is paramount.” A couple of speakers recommended putting the work away for a few days, weeks, or even months between revisions, sage advice that I’ve heard many times.
  3. Be a voracious reader. Put another way, be a voracious reader even while you’re working on a project. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. It’s that simple,” wrote Stephen King. I’ve always known this at some level, but until attending conferences I didn’t realize that it wasn’t enough to simply read. I had to study too. Sentence construction and variation, scene description, and language usage are all there to observe and absorb.

Do I feel daunted by all I learned this weekend, not only by the agents and editors but also by the 100+ attendees who have different voices and stories? Not really. Encouraged, yes. King also advises writers and would-be writers that “the magic is in you.”

It’s time to take a break from working and writing. It’s time to read, and I think I’ll start with a recent issue of “Poets and Writers,” a publication recommended by a couple of people on a panel yesterday. Then again, I’m looking at a stack of books I recently purchased at a Friends of the Library sale, and one in particular is calling my name.

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The Polka Dot Pumpkin

Yesterday was a fine day, an excellent day. We set up our table at the Habitat for Humanity Fall Festival and Craft Show and began hauling books and decorative items from the car. As far as I could tell, I (representing Camden Writers) was the only vendor without a tent. Who knew? Not I. No worries, though. My first customers said they had two tents and indicated I could use one next time.

Next time? Will there be a next time?

In some ways it would have been easier to leave the group’s books at our various homes, packed up in boxes, perhaps stored under a bed. But we had worked long and hard crafting (I had to get crafting in the blog somewhere after being asked what a book had to do with a craft) our pieces, and a few of us decided it was time to be bolder about sharing our stories. As luck would have it, I was the only person available to attend the event.

I was nervous, but things went well. Here’s why: I listened to story after story, a couple that verified the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” I asked questions and learned that there are many people out there who are slogging away on family memoirs and children’s books. I say “slogging” because I think that’s how many writers feel.

One of my props was an orange bowl of chocolate candy, and towards the middle of the day, two boys who appeared to be around ten or eleven appeared and asked about the books. I told them I wasn’t sure they were the kinds of books they’d be interested in, and when one of them asked what they were about, I said, “Stories, just stories people wanted to share.”

“I can tell you a story,” he said, eagerly tearing the wrapper from a Twix bar.

Delighted, I encouraged him. “Wait, let me get my pen and notebook before you start talking.” As he talked, his friend seemed spellbound as he listened to every word. The first draft of Matthias’ story is below. Maybe someday I’ll see him again and help with a second draft and maybe a third and fourth until he gets it just right. In the meantime, here’s what I hurriedly scribbled as Matthias talked.

“Once upon a time there was a tiny pumpkin, tinier than all the tiny pumpkins in the world. All of the pumpkins made fun of him. They laughed. They dumped him in water. He was different from all the other pumpkins. He was fragile. He was a white pumpkin that had orange spots.

“One day Halloween appeared. Halloween asked him if he could drive his deer sleigh. The pumpkin told Halloween, “You don’t want me. I’m just a screw-up.” Halloween looked at him and said, ‘No matter how big or small, you can always help.’”

“So the tiny pumpkin climbed onto the sleigh and gave the kids baskets, treats, and costumes. He gave them 3 Musketeers, Hershey bars, and all the other kinds of chocolate candy. All of the other pumpkins looked at him and knew that after that day the polka dot pumpkin would never be the same.

“The next day he went to see the other pumpkins, and they had a surprise for him. It was a birthday party. He was eleven years old. The pumpkins knew they would always take care of him and look after each other. No other pumpkin, big or small, was ever alone again.” Matthias Fox

Will there be a next time at a craft show, book festival, or community event? Definitely. Otherwise, I might miss hearing some cool stories and meeting some interesting people.

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Conferences, Critiques, and Contests

My path to winning 1st place in the Carrie McCray Nonfiction Contest began the year I first attended the South Carolina Writers Association Conference at the Myrtle Beach Hilton. I was a bit overwhelmed with all the activity, the number and variety of classes available, and the presence of agents and editors. In a fever to learn all I could about the craft of writing, I scribbled copious notes in every fascinating session.

During one of the breaks, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman standing beside a long table laden with cookies and beverages. Turns out he was the chapter leader of a writing group in Camden, my hometown. I didn’t even know there was such a group, much less that it was associated with SCWA (SCWW at the time). We exchanged email addresses, and Douglas promised to send some information about the organization and the Camden chapter the following week.

By Monday afternoon, I had all the information I needed to make a decision. I joined SCWA that day and attended a chapter meeting two weeks later. Nervous, I didn’t really know what to expect. Right away, someone asked what kind of writing I did, and when I said, “Mostly nonfiction,” the five people present just gave me a look that said, “Ooooo.”

In response to a question about what I had written lately, I happily said I’d just had an article published in Guideposts about a conflict with a co-worker. The title, “Is It I, Lord?” had already received some snarky remarks on Facebook. Shouldn’t the pronoun be me and not I, inquiring minds wanted to know.

“Let’s look it up,” someone said, and a Google search was on.

What? I thought. Are these people actually doubting the editors of Guideposts? Or worse, are they doubting me? Is this what it’s like to be a member of a critique group?

 The decision to stick with this group of writers is one of the best I’ve ever made. From them, I’ve learned to go sparingly with adverbs, to show, don’t tell, and that “fudging” with creative nonfiction is okay occasionally. They’ve taught me to develop characters, describe scenes, and write dialogue.

Our group is an active one. One day, we realized that many of our pieces had a common theme, and we decided to create and publish an anthology. And then we did it again. Some of us have had pieces published in The Petigru Review, SCWA’s literary journal, and other sources, a couple of us self-published books, and one member is writing her third novel. Some have won literary awards, an accomplishment that awes me.

One night a fellow writer handed me the critique of my story and suggested that I submit it to the Carrie McCray Nonfiction Contest. Others chimed in to ditto her encouragement, and I thought Why not? There was nothing to lose and possibly something grand to gain. It was a good story, after all, and one I knew people could identify with. I made the changes recommended by trusted members of my group and pushed “Submit.”

Three months later, I received an email from the editors at Petigru that began with “Congratulations.” I gulped and looked away from the computer at the yellow lantana near the driveway, buying some time. I took a deep breath and continued reading the email informing me about the award, the upcoming conference, and the need to keep the information private for the time being.

Stunned. Thrilled. This was the story of the birth of my grandson who had been blue, unbreathing, and limp at birth. The grandson with whom I communicated spirit-to-spirit as I coaxed him into opening his eyes and staring straight into mine. This infant, Seth Michael, crossed the threshold and “pinked up” before my eyes, a miracle I had shared with the judges and editors of Petigru.

Writing Seth’s story was a labor of love, an arduous one that involved work, not only in getting the story down but also in editing and revising based on suggestions from my friends in the Camden chapter. Seeing “Come On Sweet Boy” in print in The Petigru Review was worth every painstaking, time-consuming correction.

At last year’s conference, I had the opportunity to read some of “Come On, Sweet Boy” to the attendees. It was emotional, not because of nervousness but because of the subject, that mysterious crossing over to the land of the living. I took a deep breath and read the story as a tribute to my daughter, the young woman who gave life to this sweet boy.

I’ve heard that the people with the best stories are the ones who know how to tell them. What’s your story? Are you willing to tell it? Are you willing to work on the writing of it to make it the truest story you can? Do you have some writer friends who can suggest and recommend edits?

Like me, you could write a prize-winning story with hard work and a little help from your friends.

It’s not too late to join us at the South Carolina Writers’ Association Big Dream Conference at Pawleys Island, SC October 27-29. Check out the website for details. http://www.myscwa.org

 

Posted in Camden Writers, critique groups, generative writing groups, Uncategorized, workshops, writing, writing conferences, writing contests, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Louie and Alma

 

Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, can offer hope, provide inspiration, and even transform lives. Recently, someone told me what she did whenever she began feeling discouraged: “I think of Louie, the man in Unbroken.”

“You too?” I asked, delighted at the further confirmation of the power of reading to help and heal.

Our conversation sent me on a search to find, revise, and repost a long ago blog.

Years ago, I heard a great definition of mental health. It wasn’t scientific or packed with a lot of hifalutin words. It was more like an example, a visual of a person climbing a mountain.

Imagine yourself as that person and think of the ascent as your progression through life. You’re mentally healthy. Up, up, up, you go, and then BAM, something happens. Your heart is broken. Despair swirls all around you. You decide to sit down and have a good cry, a pity party of one.

But sooner or later, a mentally healthy person is going to get up, brush off her shoulders, and say something like, “That was awful, but I’d be crazy to let it continue to get me down. I am so moving on!”

Someone who isn’t as mentally healthy is more likely to lie down and really wallow in it. “Poor me,” she says. “No one has ever had it as bad as I do. No one has ever hurt like this.”

This long ago visual of mental health has resurfaced in my mind because of two books, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things. Unbroken, a story of survival, perseverance, strength, and resilience, tells the amazing life story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went from juvenile delinquent to Olympic track star to Japanese POW in World War II.

“Regardless of what befell Louie, he remained unbroken. The same is true for Alma Whitaker, the protagonist in The Signature of All Things. Though wealthy and intelligent, Alma was unattractive and ungainly. Her father even said so. The man of her dreams married another, and years later when she met someone else, their marriage was brief and tortuous (for Alma). After realizing some cold hard facts, Alma banished Ambrose Pike to Tahiti in anger and deep hurt.

“At one point in the novel, Alma is being held under the water, struggling for her life. Alma thought, ‘Lastly, she knew one other thing, and this was the most important realization of all: she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact. This fact was not merely true about the lives of human beings; it was also true of every living entity on the planet, from the largest creation down to the humblest.’

“Alma gained strength and pushed through to the surface of the water.

“I’m not as tough as Louie or Alma, but their stories have impressed and inspired me so much that I’ve been sharing their lessons with anyone who will listen. Here’s my takeaway from these two books:

  • Life is tough sometimes. People leave your life; sometimes they die. You must remain unbroken.
  • You might lose your job, the love of your life, your home. You must remain unbroken.
  • You will experience rejection, loss, loneliness, disappointment, and good old despair. You must remain unbroken.
  • Regardless of what befalls you, get up, brush yourself off, and start climbing again. Stay unbroken.

“These two people, one fictional and one real, have strengthened and inspired me. Who are some characters in movies or books who have influenced you?”

Posted in books, inspiration, Liz Gilbert, nonfiction, readng, stories, Uncategorized, writers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like Scarlett Said

I’ve been working on a family history off and on for the last year, more off than on. I’ll work feverishly on dates and names for a few days and then get distracted by experimenting with chalk paint or rearranging furniture. And sometimes life just calls me somewhere else, like to an unexpected event or an awesome opportunity.

But today has been like a gift. I’ve had time to read, paint, grade papers, edit parts of the history, and think. Although I’ve been trying to shut out the shootings in Las Vegas, they’re there. A friend said she thought she was having a nightmare when she woke up to the news. And then she knew the nightmare was real. There’s Puerto Rico too. And North Korea. There are crises and issues all across the globe.

I can’t think about that right now. Poverty, starvation, cruelty, madness, injustice, evil—it’s too much to think about today. Like Scarlett said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

What does this have to do with writing a family history?

About a month ago, I felt inspired to write a few things that were happening in the world during the year my parents were born, 1929. From there, it seemed like a good idea to include some happenings during their childhood.

“What was the world like, especially the United States, the year John and Margie made their appearance? Knowing that events, people, and culture influence the belief system and psyche of individuals, I’m including a few happenings that took place during their early lives.

“When piecing together the following events, I pondered how much our parents’ lives and subsequently ours would have been different if we’d been born in another country or time. I shudder to imagine life without electricity, electronics, and indoor plumbing…or to have been born in North Korea or Iraq. To quote Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: ‘Seems like we’re just set down here and don’t nobody know why.’

“The United States population reached 120 million in 1929, the year my parents were born, she on April 5 and he on September 21. Today it’s 326,474,013. Among other notables born that year were Anne Frank, Barbara Walters, Martin Luther King, Jr., Arnold Palmer, and Dick Clark.

“Herbert Hoover was sworn in as president on March 4, and the Stock Market crashed on October 28. The Crash ushered in the Great Depression, an event so devastating that it affected nearly every country in the world. The first few years of their lives had to have been tough ones with possible long lasting effects including an inclination towards frugality.

“It wasn’t all gloom and doom. As has ever been true, some good things happened, too. In November of 1929, MoMA opened in NYC, and in 1930 frozen vegetables became the first frozen food to go on sale. Yippee! Actually the advent of convenience foods was a mixed blessing. While meal preparation was streamlined, many forgot how to shell beans or shuck corn, much less grow their produce.”

Like my parents, I too am a product of my culture, including the era in which I was born, race, ethnicity, religion, and social class. Sometimes it seems easier to see another person’s “culture” and forget that we each wear our own like a second skin. We might point to others and find their views and behavior quaint, crazy, old-fashioned, weird, childlike, and perhaps unsophisticated.

What I’m realizing more each day is that my life and yours would be much different than it is had we been born in Burundi, Syria, Puerto Rico, or in a different geographic area within America. Skin color, gender, education (often determined by gender), age (life expectancy in United States is 79.8 years 50.2 in Chad), and a host of other factors determine a person’s perspective and choices.

When I was a child, we didn’t have a television until the mid-1950’s and even then, news was limited, spotty, and “late.” Now we can learn of events happening around the world instantly. I wonder if my parents would have become more jaded or pessimistic had they been assaulted on all sides by so much information. I wonder if that’s happening to me.

I don’t have answers, just questions. Perhaps by writing the history, I can gain insight into my ancestors’ thinking and behavior–and into mine.

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Read On!

 

Yesterday some friends and I had a round table discussion about aging, stories, relationships, writing, religion, more writing, hip replacements, and finally books. “What’s everybody been reading?” someone asked, and we were off to the races. With very little commentary, I’m listing the names of the books, their authors, and a few words about each.

Maybe you’ll something you’d like to read.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
From one of the reviews, “Harry August is a kalachakra, one who must live their life over and over again.” Hmm. Sounds interesting, and I’ve already learned a new word: kalachakra.

And There Was Evening and There Was Morning, Mike Smith
From a reviewer: “Mike Smith is a gifted poet, and his gift shines through in this story of love and sorrow. In these pages, we become acquainted with a life and we feel the loss of it for the writer, his family, and for ourselves.”

Life After Death, Raymond Moody
Moody is the father of the modern NDE (Near Death Experience) movement, and his pioneering work Life After Life changed the way people think about death and what lies beyond. First published in 1975, it’s now available in a special fortieth-anniversary edition.

Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
From Amazon: “The #1 New York Times bestselling account of a neurosurgeon’s own near-death experience.” Thousands of people have had NDEs, but scientists have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Alexander was one of those scientists…until it happened to him. On a personal note, I personally know individuals who’ve found solace by reading this book.

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, Phillip Newell
From a reviewer: “This book broadened by outlook on Christianity. It also fed my soul.”

The Princess and the Goblin, George McDonald
The friend who recommended this children’s book mentioned a similarity to the works of C.S. Lewis, and I quickly added it to my Kindle.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs
I had heard of this book earlier and knew it to be written by a young woman who’s dying. I’m still not ready to read it, but the reviews are beautiful. “I think every writer is just trying to find the words to say essentially: This is what life feels like.”

One Good Mama Bone, Bren McClain
McClain visited our area in the Midlands of SC last week, and I was sorry to have missed a signing. Fortunately, her book is available on Amazon. “This is a novel that just might break your heart, and it might well heal it too, but with both acts Bren McClain will remind you of why each of us is entrusted with a heart in the first place.” Mary Alice Monroe, from the foreword

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time, Andrew Forsthoefel
From the author: “Life is fast, and I’ve found it’s easy to confuse the miraculous for the mundane, so I’m slowing down, way down, in order to give my full presence to the extraordinary that infuses each moment and resides in every one of us.”

The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt
From Amazon: “Every active citizen in the US should read this book. You will better understand what’s happening with your friends and coworkers on the other side of the political divide, and, just as importantly, what’s going on with you.”

The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg
From Amazon: “World-renowned Jesus scholar Marcus J. Borg shows how we can live passionately as Christians in today’s world by practicing the vital elements of Christian faith” Me? I enjoyed this book, especially his comments on thin places.

Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott
The Chicago Tribune calls this “A clarion call to the better angels of our nature.” I checked this out of our local library a few weeks ago and soon realized that this was a book I’d want to refer to again and again, so I downloaded it to my Kindle.

I hope you found something you like in the above list. Do you have any recommendations? 

 

 

 

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This isn’t going to be the best organized, well-worded, perfectly punctuated post I’ve ever written. But I’ve got to get this stuff down and out before I forget about it. Or rather, before its raw sharpness loosens its hold on my soul. Sounds serious, huh? It is.

Friday morning I was up and out on the back porch before dawn. I wanted to read a little something on my Kindle and tweak a family history on my Mac. I settled into my wicker chair and said a silent prayer of thanks for my multitudinous blessings, including our home, the morning sounds, and the fact that I didn’t have to leave for work at 6:50 like I had for decades. I sent up some thoughts of gratitude for my children and grandchildren too. Then I got a little “gimme” attitude and asked for some things.

There’s no need to share all the private thoughts and requests I shared with my Creator. You’d likely either get bored or think that’s so sappy. The gist of the request was for guidance, inspiration, and protection for all my young loves. And then, I felt impressed to ask for one more thing: strength for my grandchildren in dealing with any sorts of unkind words or deeds that might befall them. I know kids get pushed and shoved and teased.

The occurrence of some kind of bullying is inevitable in our society. But can’t a grandmother ask for help in dealing with it? When I say “our society,” I don’t mean to imply that Americans have a premium  on it. I’m pretty sure it’s worldwide. It’s just that in recent years, the ways to bully have multiplied.

Driving to Myrtle Beach a few hours later, I listened to a couple of podcasts, one of which was “Stuff you Missed In History Class.” The episode was about Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black teen who was brutally beaten and killed for supposedly “wolf whistling” at a white woman in a grocery store. At first the woman said Emmett touched her; later she said she had lied. It’s too bad for Emmett that “later” was long after his horrific death.*

Two days after the alleged incident, Carolyn Bryant’s husband and another man kidnapped Emmett from his uncle and aunt’s home. They and others (unnamed) beat the boy unmercifully before shooting him in the head. I hope he died early in the process, long before they broke his pelvis. They then wound barbed wire around his neck and tied him to something heavy (a gin of some type) and tossed him in a river.

Emmett’s mother fought to have her son’s bloated and mutilated body brought home to Chicago for burial. His open coffin was covered with a glass shield, and many historians believe that his funeral focused attention on racism and gave the Civil Rights Movement a kick-start. Rosa Parks was reportedly thinking of him when, days after his death, she found the courage to keep her seat on the bus.

I could bring this to a close by writing about man’s inhumanity to man, racism, cruelty, injustice, and evil, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that while fear is fear, my fears for my young loves are more about taunts and teasing. Juxtaposed to Emmett’s mother’s ever-present anxiety about the safety of her son, mine is more of a floating thing. My fears are paltry beside Emmett’s mother. So is my strength in dealing with tragedy.

I’m still too unsettled and distraught over this sixty-two year old incident to even articulate my main point unless the point is love. If you and I prayed for other children in addition to our own precious ones, that’d be a start. Yes, love is the word. Love and care and compassion for all the children in the world.

*The podcast above mentioned a book by Timothy Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till. I want to read it…and probably will. But not today, not even this week. I’m still reeling from the injustice that occurred August 28, 1955.

 

 

 

Posted in books, Bullying, Civil Rights, love, podcasts, stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Untold Stories

It’s not an overstatement to say that I love my writing group—the members, the interaction, the energy, the critiquing—all of that and more.

When I first joined the group, we met a couple of times a month, one morning meeting and one evening one, the latter being primarily for those who worked during the day. We acted more as a critique group than a generative writing group in that we didn’t actually encourage, much less pressure, members to write, write, write.

But then something changed. About three years ago, we noticed that many of the pieces we wrote and critiqued had a similar theme: memories of yesteryear, most of which focused on family connections. The light bulb came on, and I suggested putting together an anthology. How hard could it be, right? We’d already done the writing; now we just had to put it together.

Our ignorance of the work involved was colossal.

Only now can we laugh about it. Little did we realize how grueling the editing, revising, and re-editing would be. And then there was the cover creation and the pesky but necessary pages like the copyright page, title page, foreword, and introduction (if not part of the text itself). And then there was the list of contributors that we wanted to add to the Back Matter.

Although all of us were avid readers, none of us had actually studied the parts of a book and the order they go in. I learned the difference between recto and verso pages and had the fleeting thought, Uh-oh, we’re in trouble.

 We pressed forward, and Serving Up Memory was published a little over two years ago. We felt so pleased with its reception that we created a Kindle edition. Fun times. We had a few signings and presentations, and then we were on our way to the next project, a local writing workshop that we called “First One Word, Then Another.”

Held on the downtown Camden campus of Central Carolina Technical College, the one-day workshop was (in our estimation) a huge success. We had classes led by established writers, a panel discussion, a delicious box lunch, door prizes, and a book sale.

High on the success of the workshop, we decided to put another anthology together. It’s not that we’d forgotten how much work was involved, but our thinking had shifted to, “We learned so much about what NOT to do last time that it’ll be a much more streamlined process in 2016.”

Wrong! I’ll skip the details.

What I Wish I Could Tell You was published in December, 2017 with the Waxing Crescent Press imprint. It includes some great pieces, and yet…….well, the overall theme seemed to go awry. We began chatting about what we’d do “next time,” but our hearts weren’t in it—yet.

Now we’re talking about the 2018 anthology in a tentative way, and here’s something we’ve discovered about our group. We like writing and creating and publishing, but we don’t like marketing. Or rather, we’re not that good at it. Projects are fun and motivating. Pushing the finished products are not.

Consider this blog post to be part of the marketing process for our previous books AND be on the alert for announcements to come about our next publication. All I can say for now is that we love stories, especially those from the past. “Everybody’s got a story,” Kathryn, a member of our group, often says, and we want to share some of the untold ones.

Posted in anthologies, book signings, books, Camden Writers, marketing, nonfiction, stories, Uncategorized, workshops, writing, writing groups, writing projects, writing workshops | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments