An Hour in Azio’s

In the mood for a little adventure, one of my daughters and I cruised up to Shallotte, NC for a few hours Monday. As usual, I came away remembering how much we all need a little variety, especially when there’s a pot of gold at the end. We visited a great bookstore with lots of ambience and hundreds of used books. CDs, and records. We browsed for an hour or so before deciding on our selections (3 for $6), and we both came away with some wonderful books, fiction and nonfiction.

Having never read anything by Primo Levi, I picked up Survival in Auschwitz (originally published as If This Is a Man in Italian) and have been reading it ever since. It’s powerful. Heartbreaking and disturbing, Levi’s remembrances and reflections have made me angry and sorrowful, angry at man’s inhumanity to man and sorrowful that cruelty is so widespread.

For the record, I started the novel Tuesday and am still not finished. The reason is simple. The horror is too much to understand, much less to process and absorb except in pieces. I took it to be beach to read yesterday, hoping that the sun, seagulls, and squealing, happy children would take away some of the darkness. My plan failed. I’ve been a sheltered WASP my entire life, fortunate enough to grow up safe from bullying, persecution, and hatred. While there were a few Jews in my sleepy little Southern town, I didn’t personally know them. They seemed shrouded in mystery and came to mind mainly when I passed the small synagogue

It’s not my purpose to describe genocide, Jewish or Rwandan or any other group, and outline its varied history. I just want to encourage you to read Levi’s remarkable account of suffering, endurance, and hope. He relates the facts of day-to-day living and his impressions and reflections about his surroundings, including people, weather, and the Lager. Instead of finding a passage about cold, sickness, hunger, beatings, or sleeping conditions, I’m sharing one in which Levi descries an image that encapsulates evil: “If I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would chose the image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man with head dropped and shoulders curved on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen.”

There’s no self-pity in Levi’s account, just the facts told from such a “real” place that all but the most cold-hearted among us could go away unmoved.

On a brighter note (I think Levi would approve of that), I also purchased a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet for my daughter. I already have a copy or two and wanted her to experience the beauty and truth of the poetry.  I read part of the passage “On Children” aloud. It was that kind of store.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s
longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they
belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not
your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

With a sly smile, she said, “You got that right.” I stopped reading and added The Prophet to my growing stack of books. It’s a wonderful book. Both of the above are. Visit a bookstore or your local library to check them out for yourself.

 

 

 

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A Refusal to Praise?

Like Solomon said, there’s a season for everything, and the last couple of months have been a season of reading—but not much writing. Seems like my muse mojo is MIA. That’s okay, though, because I’m learning and thinking and reflecting on so many things. On the Fourth, I began thumbing through Dr. Scott Peck’s Further Along The Road Less Traveled and was reminded of many truths. They resounded with me twenty-five years ago, and now Peck’s words are even more powerful.

Somewhere along the line, I took some counseling courses and remember the advice of several professors. When listening to a patient, client, friend, child, or anyone else, keep in mind that not everyone is articulate enough to tell you how he or she really feels. Or maybe the person feels shame or fear (of ridicule or rejection). That makes perfect sense. I mean, it was so obvious that I wondered why the professors kept telling us that. Common sense, right? But then you know what “they” say about common sense: it’s not so common. 

Here’s what I was advised/instructed to do. When a person is struggling to share feelings or memories or thoughts, look at him or her and imagine the individual saying, “Please hear what I’m not saying.” To me, that was profound, and I’ve tried to practice it in my family, in the classroom, with my friends…with everyone who wanted to “just talk.” 

Last night, I stumbled across something Dr. Peck wrote that was an eye opener. Following is a paraphrase from page 184:  What the patient says is not as important as what he doesn’t say. If he talks freely about the present and the future but never about the past, you can bet your bottom dollar that he has some problem, something that’s unintegrated from his past. If he talks freely about the past and the future but not the present, the problem is most likely to be the present—often a problem with vulnerability and the “here and now.” Or if he talks about the past and the present but doesn’t talk about the future, you can deduce that there’s a problem with the future—a problem with hope or faith. 

Bingo! Those few sentences clarified some things I’ve felt to be true, and they did so with more punch than, “Please hear what I’m not saying.” Peck’s insight put a lot of conversations into perspective for me as I try to figure out the why, how, when, and what of troubled people’s words and actions. Some of these folks seem depressed, and it’s not enough to peppily say, “Look at the fluffy clouds and blue, blue sky. Listen to the noisy (in a good way) cicadas and the songbirds. Smell the roses, for heaven’s sake.” You’re wasting your breath with such a person who wants the cicadas to go back to where they came from.

Dr. Peck shares a quote from Rumi, a twelfth century Muslim mystic, who, in his opinion, was “the smartest person who ever lived, never to Jesus.” I love the quote. “Your depression is connected to your insolence and refusal to praise.” Don’t you love it, too? Peck believes Rumi is referring to insolence as narcissism “or that kind of perverted pride which underlies depression.” Whoa. I think these men are onto something—truth. 

There’s more, so much more, to this fabulous book, but it’s time for a little fun, a day trip with one of my daughters. We’ll be noticing clouds and birds and trees, and talking about the past, present and future. 

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A Workshop with Clarity and Style

Last Saturday, June 22, I had the good fortune of attending a three-hour craft workshop hosted by the South Carolina Writers’ Association and am still pondering all the information I learned. Davis Enloe, SCWA board member, shared material on the importance of openings, and I left Greenville vowing to write a short story when I got home.

No story—not yet. I’ve been considering various possibilities though, and it’s going to happen. Soon. I keep thinking of the opening to one of my latest favorite books, In the Beginning by Chaim Potok: “Beginnings are always hard.” They are, but after attending the SCWA workshop last week, I have a better idea of how to make them work.

In the meantime, I’ve been going over my copious notes and the several handouts Davis gave the attendees. I’ve also been doing a little independent research for famous opening lines. Good openings draw the reader in and arouse his interest, yes. But they often do more than that. As Davis said, they can set up tension; impart vital information to the reader, create curiosity in the reader’s mind; establish tone, sense of place, and setting; introduce the main character; and point toward a germ of conflict and dramatic tensions. 

Here are two of Davis’s examples—and a couple of my favorites.

  • Most readers will recognize “Call me Ishmael” from Melville’s Moby Dick
  • Listening to Davis read the above brought the beginning of My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok to mind: “My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about whom you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion.” That sentence reeled me in and kept held me captive. 
  • Davis read, “You better not tell nobody but God” from Alice Walker’s The Color PurpleUh-oh,I thought, something bad is going on. 
  • During the workshop, I recalled reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel that begins, “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.” Right away the reader knows these two people are important characters.

To illustrate his instruction on writing openers, Davis provided dozens of examples from literature, including “Mr. Voice” by Jess Walter. “Mother was a stunner,” the first four words from “Mr. Voice,” generated a lot of discussion. After dissecting every sentence of the 136-word paragraph, Davis invited the dozens of attendees to write and share openings to potential stories. I wrote a little something, but it was frail (pathetic really), and I didn’t share. Others did, and all were encouraged by workshop participants and Davis. 

In addition to imparting an astounding amount (truly) of information and facilitating several lively discussions, Davis shared some of Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing” and added the eleventh: “If it sounds like writing, rewrite.” He provided “The Rules” by Lee K. Abbott, went over “Freytag’s Pyramid” about story structure, discussed ten questions related to story shape (Whose story is it? What’s at stake? Why should we care?), distributed copies of “Writing in the Cold,” and gave everyone a copy of Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. 

And that’s not all. As we began thumbing through our books, Davis handed out a four-page quiz based on Dreyer’s book, further proof of his solid preparation for the workshop. I’ve completed the quiz, and all I can say is that I earned a satisfactory score–proof that I need a refresher course in a few areas.

It was a long drive from Camden to Greenville, but the excellent workshop made every mile to and from worthwhile. Kudos to Davis Enloe and the South Carolina Writers’ Association for providing the experience. 

Posted in books, reading, short stories, story telling, Uncategorized, writing, writing life, Writing Workshop | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

From Newberry’s to the Dollar Tree

Has anyone read Rick Bragg’s book on cooking? I learned about The Best Cook in the World in my critique group last week and have added it to my queue of must-reads. From the discussion I heard last Thursday, Bragg doesn’t just list ingredients, he writes of finding them, making sure of their ripeness or readiness for cooking, and of preparing and sharing the mouthwatering results. “It’s the story, y’all,” my writer friend explained. “It’s all about the story, and he’s a master story teller. Who’d have thought cooking a mess of greens could be so captivating?”  

I love my writing group. Love is a strong verb with lots of different meanings and shades. In this case, I mean definition #17 in dictionary.com: to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in: to love music. After listening to the above book recommendation, I knew we were in for a lively meeting, one in which the submissions would be discussed and critiqued in a serious, yet animated, fashion.

When I first joined this group, my critique contributions consisted largely of spotting misplaced commas and misspelled words. I soon learned to look for holes in the story, overuse of passive voice, and misplaced modifiers. Oh, and I learned that I had a tendency (still do) to use “it” too often. I’m not alone in this. Someone has his or her its circled at every meeting. 

Here are a few things I’m still thinking about from last week.

In one story, an elderly painter with a lot of personality (you’ll have to wait for the book to come out to read the writer’s description of this crusty and endearing character) is in danger of getting written out of the novel.  Everyone in the group likes him and was disappointed to learn that the author is considering taking him out of the story. I don’t know whether he’ll get the axe or not. I do know we unanimously agreed with the member who said, “Leave Mr. L. in. I like him.”  

Another member’s novel is about spousal abuse, and we’re all feeling angst as the protagonist attempts to get away. Will she make it? 

“Please tell me that her husband isn’t going to find her,” I begged the writer. 

After a moment or two, she said she didn’t know yet. Some writers plot their entire books ahead of time, but many of the ones I know don’t know all the twists and turns until they progress in the work. 

As the brave woman flees her abuser, she has to stop for gas and provisions along the way, and she pulls in to a “gas station.” I’m getting better about recognizing things that might date stories and mentioned that I hadn’t heard that term in years. Today people might say truck stop or convenience store; they might even mention the specific name of such an establishment.

The writer seemed interested,, so I continued by telling her of one of my favorite stops between Camden and Myrtle Beach, the Markette outside of Florence. There’s food there…and a Dunkin’ Donuts, too. Often, a man wearing a straw hat stands near his truck filled with watermelons or sweet potatoes toward the front of the parking lot. From my observations while pumping gas at one of self-serves, he seems to do a brisk business. I wondered if the protagonist might also notice his presence on her flight to safety. 

The writer wondered aloud if it would be okay to mention the specific name of the establishment, and a discussion about libel ensued. The upshot was that it’s fine to mention it, especially since listing names of streets, businesses, and cars helps give a time and place to the story. Markettes weren’t around until a few decades ago, but gas stations were. 

As a follow-up to the above, I attended a craft workshop in Greenville Saturday in which the presenter read the opening lines of a story that mentioned three thriving businesses in Seattle at that time (1974): Bon Marche, Newberry’s, and the Crescent. That little factoid was quite telling. There used to be a Newberry’s, a five and dime store with a lunch counter, in my home town of Camden, but like so many businesses of that era, it no longer exists. Kmart came along, and now that’s becoming history, too. Now we have dollar stores and fast food restaurants. 

There were other submissions that morning, but I’m over my self-imposed word count. I’ll get to the story based on dialogue with Siri, the flash piece about appropriate restaurant attire, and a poem tomorrow. For now, I’m thinking of how to incorporate time and place into a little something I’m writing. What about you?

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Lost Bird’s Story

Fathers’ Day conjures up memories of my father and all the fabulous others I know and have known—my children’s father, husband, son, stepson and sons-in-law. I better stop there lest I leave someone out. Fathering a child is easy, but being a dad who stays the course and provides, sacrifices, and serves as a worthy example for his children is something different. 

I was fortunate, as were most of my friends. Being a loved child is a privilege denied to many. 

Here’s a story, one that I learned about last week in South Dakota. When we walked up the hill to the cemetery at Wounded Knee, the first gravestone I saw said “Lost Bird.” Interesting name, I thought, glancing at the birth and death dates, May, 1890 and February, 1919. I walked around and saw other curious names and graves adorned with rocks, flowers, stuffed animals, feathers, American flags, and statuary. I felt something on that hillside, an overwhelming sense of senseless loss, cruelty, and sadness. 

We walked down the hill toward the car, each of us absorbed in our thoughts, affected by all we’d learned.

“Did you see a tombstone with Lost Bird on it?” my husband asked.

“Yeah, but I didn’t linger there. Didn’t seem like there was as much memorabilia on her grave.”

“Emerald told me her story. He showed me a picture in an old newspaper of a Cavalryman holding her when she was a baby. Said when the civilians came to bury the Lakota in the mass trench they’d dug, someone found her alive and covered by her mother. There’d been a blizzard, and it was four days before they could even bury the dead.” 

“Oh my gosh, was the mother alive too?”

“No, just the baby. The mother was frozen, but her body protected the baby. That’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“It is. It really is,” I said, pondering the miraculous possibility of that. Four days after a massacre and a blizzard?? 

“Emerald said the man took the baby home with him and apparently adopted her.”

“So at least she lived. I mean, that was kind of him, right?”

“Not so sure. Not according to what Emerald said.”

“I’m waiting.”

“He got someone to take care of her until he went back to California, and from what I could pick up, she had a rough life and died young, 29. The Lakota found out where she was buried and brought her body back to Wounded Knee in 1991.” 

“That’s a horrible and beautiful story, both at the same time. It’s almost unbelievable.”

That night I looked up more details. Zintkala Nuni was a four-month-old Lakota Sioux infant when she was found among the victims at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The man who adopted her, General Leonard Colby of the National Guard, introduced her to the folks back home as a “most interesting Indian relic.”

By all accounts, Lost Bird was a sad and lonely child who suffered abuse and racism. Her father was a scoundrel who left his wife, a suffragette who loved and cared for Lost Bird. As she grew older, Lost Bird went to live with her father for a while, and during this time, she gave birth to a stillborn child. Some believe it was General Colby’s baby.

From what I understand, it wasn’t unusual to remove Native American children from their parents. But this story is especially sad. She was a person, a baby, a Lakota baby robbed of her family and her rich culture, and “raised” by a man who viewed her as a relic.

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Cardinals and Feathers

Stories abound. You just have to be on the lookout for them and be willing to record one or two of the most meaningful. The moments don’t have to be over the top, complete with a full orchestra or the heavens parting. They just have to be something that you experienced or observed.

Here’s a quick example. One of my daughters and I had brunch together at Chick fil-A on my mother’s birthday, and as she told me about her early morning walk with a friend, she said a red cardinal had appeared off and on throughout her walk. To my daughter, the bird’s appearance represented a visit from her grandmother who had passed away nineteen years ago. As she talked, I could see a chirping little bird flying ahead of Carrie, alighting on a wall or shrub as my daughter approached. It was a beautiful image, and to Carrie, the redbird’s presence said, “All is well.”

I can still see Carrie’s “visitor” in my mind’s eye. If she hadn’t shared her walk sightings, I never would have known about them and their association with my mother (Carrie’s grandmother). Sharing the morning’s impressions also told me that my daughter, like me, sees beyond this material world in which we move about.

Here’s my moment, my story. It happened last week in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. On the way to the Wounded Knee cemetery, I stopped to chat with a woman named Cathy who was selling dream catchers and jewelry late that afternoon. She had several bracelets for sale, all beaded and hand crafted, and I had no problem choosing the one I liked best. It was small, beautiful, and unpretentious. Beaded, there was also a tiny piece of wood with a feather painted on it.

Cathy saw me looking at the feather and explained, “My people believe feathers help carry messages to the Great Father.”

“I love that way of thinking,” I said as she fastened the bracelet around my wrist.

We walked across the road to the cemetery where nearly 200 slain Lakota Indians lay buried in a mass grave (marlajayne.com), and when we left about an hour later, Cathy and Emerald were gone. We felt fortunate to have shared a few moments talking and listening to them and were gratified that we had arrived in time to do so.

As we rode the long way out of the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the largest in the United States, our minds soon turned to dinner. Tired of paying for overpriced but mediocre food, we considered our choices and quickly realized there were few (if any) restaurants on the way to Rapid City, nearly two hours away. No Wal-Marts or Targets either.

“What do people who live here eat?” I pondered aloud.

“What do you mean?” my husband asked.

“Just that. And to be specific, what will someone like Cathy eat tonight?”

“She doesn’t eat like you do. She lives off what’s around her.”

A little annoyed, I said, “You mean, like WE do, not just me.”

I looked at the views all around me and saw lots of grasses, tall and short, and a few hills—but no trees to speak of. I saw the ubiquitous cow everywhere; some were munching grasses while others stood stock-still. There were horses, too, and on several occasions, we saw two or three standing near a fence, their heads and noses touching.

So what would Cathy eat that night? I was still wondering about that as we went through a Sonic drive-thru in Rapid City a couple of hours later. He got a burger and Coke. I waited until we got back to our room where I nibbled on a leftover baked potato, a banana, and half a bagel, saddened to realize that Cathy would probably have none of those choices at her disposal.

A few days later as we sat in the MSP airport waiting for our plane, the hubs said, “I hope Cathy had a good breakfast today.” Me too. I can’t remember what the life expectancy is on Pine Ridge Reservation, but it’s the lowest in the United States. Ninety percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line and can’t afford healthy food.

Today I’m back in my Wal-Mart, Target, Chili’s world. But I’ll never forget our hours on the reservation or my conversation with Cathy. And I’ll never whine again about leftovers.

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Rabbi or Psychologist?

 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat on the sidelines with my son and daughter-in-law watching my seven-year-old grandson play baseball. I felt my chest tighten when he came up to bat and wondered about my anxiety. Ethan got his stance just right and stood confidently facing the batting box. Things went well. As I recall, he ran to first base and was able to score a run before his team took the field.

Of all the games I’ve watched in my life, that was the most riveting. And I think it was because I had just begun reading Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, a novel that begins with a game between young Orthodox and Hasidic boys living in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn toward the end of World War II. From their coaches and uniforms to their seriousness about the game, I knew this was no ordinary game and that the entire scene from start to finish was a metaphor for what was to follow.

Wearing their “regular” clothes, the Orthodox players watched with wary amazement as the Hasidic team marched to the sandlot dressed completely alike, all wearing white shirts, dark pants, and black skullcaps covering their closely cropped hair. The fringes of their traditional undergarments showed above their belts. The Orthodox boys were coached by a gentile athletic coach who was intensely involved in the game; the Hasidic team was accompanied by a young rabbi who basically sat on the sidelines reading a book—that is, until the game got intense.

I finished the book two weeks ago, and the baseball scene remains in my mind like a memory. I can see, feel, and hear everything as if I were there. When Danny Saunders pitched a fast ball hitting Reuven Malter’s glasses and knocking him down, I gasped. I’d heard that all sports could be brutal, but this was different. Did Danny intend to wound Reuven so viciously? Was he going to lose his eye?

Reuven is taken to a hospital, and before he leaves a few days later, the reader has learned a lot about the central characters. Danny’s father is an Hasidic rebbe who led his congregation out of Russian bondage to America. Reuven’s father teaches Talmud at an Orthodox school. Little mention is made of their mothers or of women in general. Reuven’s mother is deceased, and he and his father have a woman who cooks and cleans for them.

While Reuven is in the hospital ward, Danny comes to apologize for hurting his eye, and although Reuven is angry at first, a friendship between the two boys begins to develop. The rest of the novel centers around the friendship between the boys, both Jews but each different in their relationship to their fathers and in their religious beliefs and practices. Although one is Orthodox and one Hasidic, both live within insulated Jewish communities. There are no outsiders there.

Is The Chosen a coming of age book? Yes, but it’s much more. Is it about fathers and sons and the imparting of generational wisdom? Yes again. It’s also about culture and how it affects all of us—Jew and Methodist, Hispanic and European, male and female, royal or common.  We tend to think of our culture as “the one,” and are often surprised, perhaps even aghast, at the way others conduct their lives. Interestingly, when Potok goes to Korea as an adult, he finds himself in a culture that didn’t know or care about Jews or Judaism. How can that be?

There’s competition and striving, not just to win the game but to win at life, one’s own life and not necessarily the one others have chosen for us. You’ll have to read the book to find out whether the two friends follow the paths their fathers have chosen for them. All I can say is that whether they become a rabbi, psychologist, yeshiva teacher, or storekeeper, they adhere to the principles of traditional Judaism.

Not only is Potok a marvelous story teller, but he’s a great teacher, too. I was with Reuven in the hospital as he lay wondering about whether he’d lose his eye, with him and his father drinking tea together, with both Reuven and Danny during the sessions with Reb Saunders, and many other instances too numerous to mention. But the icing on the cake was how well Potok introduced his readers to another world. He gave me a peep into the world of Judaism and taught me about practices and beliefs and terms heretofore unknown. I like knowing what gematria, yeshiva, apikorsim, and Kabbalah mean even if I never have a chance to use them outside of a blog.

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Crepuscular or Dim?

I should have known I had some serious editing to do when my friend and grammar guru suggested that we meet to go over her proofed copy of my family history. I’d been working on it for a year and a half and thought I was DONE.

After self-publishing the volume with CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Publishing) in March 2018, I vowed to take a breather from another such project for a long, long time. As far as I could tell from spot checking several pages, the finished product looked fine. People, especially the younger generation, enjoyed reading it, and one of my daughters even posted about about it on Facebook while on a cross-country road trip.

Then one day I succumbed to the temptation to check the accuracy of a date.  After that, a cousin told me a story about our grandfather, and I had to find a way to include it. That one teensy weensy paragraph wreaked havoc on the formatting, but if I wanted to include the story, I had to pay the price. The story told of a tender father/daughter moment and was too sweet to ignore, so I included it…and corrected the inaccurate date. I also changed the font size of a poem and added three photographs. All those changes were good, but there were repercussions. Print jumped from the middle of one page to the top of another, leaving blank spaces.

When I sent for proof copies, I accidently ordered two, and a friend generously volunteered to proof a copy for me. Family events and a serious sinus infection postponed our meeting, and I wondered if we could just talk on the phone. I mean, how involved could the editing be? I could tell from her query about where we could meet that there was more to take care of than a phone call could master.

We met in Georgetown, SC, and after lunch at one of our favorite restaurants on Front Street,  we spent about an hour sitting on an outside bench painstakingly going over each page of the book. Each page. Painstakingly.

Feeling the gentle breeze and watching the world along the waterfront made the work less grueling—more pleasant. One of the river cruise ships docked in the harbor, and dozens of happy, chatting passengers walked by us leaving a whiff of sunscreen in their wake. A motley crew, they had learned a lot about rice plantations and visited a small island. Daunted by all the things my friend suggested that I fix, I soon became distracted by a busy pigeon atop the restaurant.

“Do you really need to use crepuscular?” she asked about a twilight scene in a cemetery.

“I guess not. But I really like the word.”

“I like it, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best word for the scene.”

Most of the suggested edits involved missing commas, American rather than British spelling (meager vs. meagre), too many colons, spacing issues, missing words, repeated words, and hyphens. Easy fixes. It’s just that they were indeed fixes, something I’d have to work on to get as perfect as possible. Although I’d been saying it was “just” a family book, I realized I needed to strike through just. Families are important, not only the ones about whom my siblings and I were writing but also the future generations who might have an interest in a pistol-packing grandmother or a great grandfather with a sense of humor.

I procrastinated a few days, but Monday I began the revisions. They took all the livelong day and added two pages to the final page count. Monday night I reuploaded the manuscript to KDP and decided to change the cover. Why not? That took another hour or so, but as the midnight hour approached, the latest edition was ready to be proofed. I proofed the changes with an online reviewer but opted to order a physical proof, too.

Writing is a process, a hard one, and you need more than one set of eyes to read your manuscript. While we might balk at suggested changes, keeping our readers in mind will nudge us to do the right thing, to go the second mile. I hope my resolve stays strong  when I look at the Friday’s proof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in books, editing, family histories, nonficion, self publishing, stories, Uncategorized, writing, writing life, writing projects | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Cinderella

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A few weeks ago, a couple of friends and I had an interesting and enlightening discussion on feminism, and at the beginning of our thread, terms like glass ceiling, the second shift, and benevolent sexism were bandied about.

I mentioned an article I’d read decades previously in which the author said she wanted a wife. Even though it was a tongue-in-cheek piece, I got it. I got it loud and clear. Forty years later, I can still recall my reactions. Caught somewhere between amusement and annoyance, I stopped reading and sat quietly thinking about all the things Jessie Bernard had written about the differences in perception of a woman’s marriage and a man’s.

I didn’t have to be a researcher to know she was right. All I had to do was look around—at the people I knew and at the ones on television, in books, and in music. Remember the catchy lyrics about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan? And how aboutth-2 innocent little Snow White cleaning up after those little dwarves? Pretty sure she cooked for them, too. With just a little scratch beneath the surface, that becomes a weird story. Did I actually read that to my daughters?

 

Speaking of reading to children, one night after story time and nightly prayers, I tucked my four-year-old little girl in and prepared to leave the room. Her words stopped me before I got to the threshold. “Mama, you’re just like Cinderella,” she said with the sweet innocence of a child. I turned around and sat down on the side of her bed.

“What do you mean?” I asked, halfway afraid to hear her answer.

“She does all the dirty work, the stuff no one else wants to do.” She said.

“You mean like cooking?”

“And folding clothes and washing dishes.”

“Yeah, but I’m the mommy, and that’s what mommies are supposed to do.”

“What about when she married the prince?  Did she have to wash his clothes, too?”

“Who?”

“Cinderella.”

“Look Babycakes, I don’t know. It’s just a story. Time to close your eyes and go to sleep. Night, night. Love you.”

From that night forward, I was “woke.” I wasn’t a radical feminist, just a woman who became increasingly aware of the traditional gender roles of men and women and the shifting mores of our society.

When my friends and I had our recent messenger discussion, one of them said she hadn’t read much feminist literature but that she had read widely about intersectionality. I told her I’d have to get back to her on that because at that moment, it was a new term to me. Although there are several definitions, here’s the one I like best. Google provided it.

“The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

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I like it. The term resounds with me. It’s not sufficient to look at someone and think of her gender as being the only role or status. Is the woman black, white, polka-dotted, Jewish, brown, mocha, old, young, transgender, wealthy, and/or ___________ _____________? Fill in the blanks. All of our roles overlap to describe who we are. While I don’t see it as a novel idea, I have to admit that I’ve been focused on gender without consideration of how the other descriptors could work to broaden or restrict a person’s self-image AND the way others react to her.

My new goal is to write a short story about intersectionality without spelling it out. I can’t say writing fiction with feminist undertones is easy. Writing, to me, is never easy. BUT, I know more about feminist issues and am only now exploring intersectional ones. Wish me luck. Better yet, toss me some ideas.

Posted in feminism, fiction, intersectionality, lifestyle, story telling, Uncategorized, writing, writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Be Teachable

 

 

I’m delighted to have a story accepted for publication in moonShine Review. It’s an honor, something I’ve been working toward for a couple of years at least, maybe longer. More than once, a friend told me I should send some photographs since each issue showcased the work of just one photographer. I didn’t have the courage to ask her whether she kept suggesting photography instead of writing. Was it because she didn’t think my writing was good enough?

Whatever the reason, I buried that idea somewhere just below the surface while looking through old issues of moonShine, confident that I’d learn what the editors were looking for. I also began experimenting with fiction and tried out different attempts with my critique group.

Before working with a writing group, writing fiction was a mysterious process  I perused textbooks and “how-to” books and articles galore. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, Neil Gaimond’s advice, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Then Annie Dillard blew me away with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I went back to nonfiction. How could I get past such beautiful phrases as “I am a fugitive and a vagabond, a sojourner seeking signs. This is our life, these re our lighted seasons, and then we die.”?

Still, I wanted to write fiction, and with the encouragement and advice of my critique group and a lot of effort on my own, I improved. There were challenges.

1. I couldn’t conjure up an imaginary scene, much less piece together a story-full of them. When I mentioned this to a writer friend, she said something like, “Just take something you’ve written in first person and change it to third.” Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

2. I would start writing willy-nilly without an understanding of the beginning, middle, or end of the story. My critique group was a huge help. “That’s your end,” someone would say about a sentence or paragraph a few sentences before the end. I couldn’t always see it right away and would sometimes say, “But I wanted to end it this way.”

“Go ahead. I’m just telling you what I think. You don’t want someone to finish your story and be disappointed,” she might say.

Without knowing it, I was following the advice of Neil Gaiman. “Show your story to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that it is. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.”

While our group “mostly” adheres to that philosophy, we also feel that the writer has the last say. If one person suggests something is just not right (in his or her opinion), you can listen or not. But if two or more pinpoint the same lame word, dangling participle, or weak sentence, you might want to sit up straight and pay attention. 

3. I wasn’t very descriptive or specific. Here’s s sentence taken from Where the Crawdads Sing: “Waves slammed one another, awash in their own white saliva, breaking apart on the shore with loud booms—energy searching for a beachhead.” I’m a beach lover and have spent thousands of hours on the shore, always feeling the energy in the roar and power of the ocean. But could I write like Delia Owens? No. Not now. Maybe never. But I can try to learn.

4.  Dialogue was tricky. It’s great if used correctly. Does it move a story along or merely take up space?. I’ve tried to make mine realistic without overdoing it. Enough’s enough. Every word counts. No uhs and uh-uhs or you knows. Something I often recall from taking counseling classes is to let the client, troubled person, or patient talk and to pay attention to what they’re not saying. “Please hear what I’m not saying,” advised my professors.

Writing fiction isn’t easy. It’s doable, though. Be teachable. Read a lot and write a lot and get your writer friends to critique your work. Then revise and write some more and read some more–even at times when you least feel like it.

 

 

Posted in Annie Dillard, books, books on writing, critique groups, editing, fiction, Uncategorized, writing, writing fiction | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment