Ramona and Alessandro

So many books, so little time.

I don’t know when I first discovered the power of the written word. Not that I don’t like the oral tradition of story telling, but the written is special in that you can go back to it time and time again. If you need to be uplifted, edified, transported, scared out of your wits, live another life (vicariously, of course), identify with a hero, stretch your imagination, or simply learn, read something.

There’s nothing like fiction or creative nonfiction for enhancing understanding of self and others…and of this world and its many cultures and traditions. I enjoy other types of literature too, but tonight my focus is on a work of historical fiction that is both informational and inspirational.

I knew next to nothing about life in California during the late 1800’s. But then I read Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, and my eyes and heart were opened. I’ve been remiss in reviewing it until this afternoon. I’m sharing the review here, hoping something in it will encourage you to read this classic novel for yourself.

“I might not have discovered this amazing book had if not for Garrison Keillor and “The Writer’s Almanac.” After hearing him describe Ramona, I purchased the Kindle edition from Amazon that very day and enjoyed reading the painful saga of how Mexicans and Native Americans in California were treated during the second half of the 19th century.

“Ramona was but a small child when adopted by “the Senora” who raised Ramona and her own son, Felipe. From the beginning, Ramona is treated coldly and dismissively by her adoptive mother. Although it pains Felipe to see his adoptive sister so maltreated, he is powerless against his strong and manipulative mother. A love story develops between Ramona and Alessandro, a Mexican hired to work on the estate. Their romance is under a shadow from its beginning, and things go from bad to worse as their life together progresses. Anyone with a conscience will experience genuine heartache as he or she reads of the couple’s several trials and of the horrid treatment by the Americans.

“To me, it’s a book about man’s inhumanity to man and how some people are broken by it while others suffer and yet remain intact (at least on the outside). They go on. They persevere. It’s also a story of love and faith and hope. And it’s a history book, too. The facts, the landscape, and the culture—they’re all there.

“Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, there’s one little thing I feel I must mention, something that slowed me down in the second part of the novel: the dialect of the people from Tennessee. Page after page of their native speech was a bit trying to get through, and yet skipping it was not an option if I wanted to get the essence of

“Interestingly, the book has never been out of print, and I can see why. I just wish other people knew about it.”

I’ve never had to suffer like Ramona and Alessandro, but after reading this classic novel, I understand more about the nature of prejudice and the importance of culture in shaping one’s world.

What about you? What’s something you’ve read that has enlightened or affected you in some way?

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Persimmon Wilson

A few years ago, I was browsing through a bookstore in Myrtle Beach when I came across a book titled A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock. Curious, I picked it up and began spot reading, jumping from chapter to chapter and reading snippets of the work. Within thirty seconds, I added the book to my stash, and that was the day I became a Nancy Peacock fan.

Since that afternoon in Myrtle Beach, I’ve read Home Across the Road, Life Without Water, and The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson. I recently learned that “place” is as much a character as the human ones, and Nancy does a superb job of demonstrating that. Roseberry, the home across the road, figures largely in the lives of generations of Redds, and some of the interactions and events that occurred there force the reader (at least this one) to ponder the significance of actions and “things” in the lives of families, past and present. Suffice it to say that I purchased some abalone shells to distribute to friends to whom I shared bits and pieces of the narrative.

Here’s the review I posted to Amazon of Peacock’s The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson this morning.

“Thanks to Nancy Peacock and this intense and educational book, I now know much more about slavery, sugar plantations, Native Americans, geography, and American history during the Civil War era. I’ve also seen love, evil, friendship, pluck, determination, and several reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. The author is masterful in character development.

“When the book opens, Persimmon Wilson is in jail awaiting a hanging that is soon to take place, his own. Persy has been beaten, practically starved, nearly frozen to death, shot, and almost drowned. A former slave on a sugar plantation who later became a Comanche Indian, Persy has led quite an interesting and hard life. In jail, he’s writing his story, a story that needs to be told to set the record straight.

“After a couple of hours of reading this novel, I came downstairs and announced that I’d been with Persy, “a black Indian,” when his friends died and when he was later captured by some Comanche warriors. My husband seemed interested so I continued with, “Cold, hungry, and often alone, Persy is on a quest to find Chloe, a former slave whom he loves dearly.”

“Does he find Chloe? Does he really hang? These and other questions are answered in this wonderfully written book. Except for my heartache when reading about the hardscrabble lives of many of the characters (all well drawn), I loved this book. From the dialogue to the scene descriptions and everything in-between, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson is a great read.”

Persy is a persevering, strong, memorable character whose story is powerful. Reading about him reminds me that there are untold numbers of people who live and die under harsh conditions and tyranny…then and now.


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Do It Anyway

I’d been waiting for the bomb to drop. Not knowing who would be the first to criticize or question the Camden Writers’ latest anthology, What I Wish I Could Tell You, I felt on alert and anxious whenever anyone brought it up.

I just didn’t expect the criticism to come from within my own circle.

“I don’t understand how some of these pieces got in the book. They’re not even interesting.”

Okay, thanks. I’ll take your opinion under consideration.

“Who is Annie Dillard? I’ve never heard of her, and I don’t think you should make references to people most readers have never heard of.”

I can’t believe you said that…and I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Annie Dillard either.

“What’s up with all those recipes? You can get them online, you know.” (This was said with a wink and a snicker.)

We were just trying to please the readers of Serving Up Memory who clamored for more. Silly us.

 Song lyrics? I think you tried to include too much.”

Well, it’s an anthology, and we thought these pieces would add something special, especially since they’re about South Carolina.

 At some point, I recalled these words: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” I’m attributing this quote to Elbert Hubbard, but I’ve seen Aristotle and others named as possible authors. I’ll leave it to my critics to track down the original source.

What’s ironic is that there is no way to avoid criticism and censure. There will always be those who call you out for being lazy, unmotivated, untalented, ignorant, liberal, conservative, or fearful. Not even Jane Austen escaped some severe judgment calls. Mark Twain seemed to loathe her work and once described a good library as one containing none of her books. “Just that one omission would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it,” Twain wrote in Following the Equator.

I have a friend who’s been hard at work researching and writing a book that I believe would be of value to many people. I’ve pretty much stopped asking her about her progress, however…not because I don’t care but rather because I don’t want to further pressure her. “I’m afraid of what people will say,” she’s told me on more than one occasion.

I couldn’t lie. I told her the truth, that people would most certainly have their say about whatever she wrote. “You’ve just got to believe in it enough to publish your book anyway.” For good measure, I added, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

 End of rant. Those of us who contributed to What I Wish I Could Tell You are glad we did. We had stories to tell, poems and recipes to share, and thoughts to express. Rather than wish and hope that someday we’d do something about the memories and ideas, we decided to follow Susan Jeffers advice from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. 

Jeffers’ #5 Fear Truth: “Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.” While scary, it’s much more satisfying and fulfilling to say yes to challenges, opportunities, and that little voice that nudges you to try something new.

Yes, the criticism is bruising. But yes, the Camden Writers would do it again. We’d rather be judged for what we did rather than for something we procrastinated about. What about you?

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A Chance Encounter


Hot chocolate in one hand and a shopping bag in the other, I navigated my way through the jam-packed coffee shop looking for two things: an electric outlet and an empty seat. Lucky me. I found an outlet right away, and after I plugged in my iPhone, I heard a sweet voice saying, “Let me move over for you. Come, sit down.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t want to crowd anyone.”

Not taking no for an answer, a pretty middle-aged woman with dark hair patted the seat next to her and gave me the most sincere, welcoming smile I’d seen all day. We began chitchatting, and I told her I was in the city with friends. An NYC native, she told me she’d been searching for just the perfect gift for her physical therapist.

“I don’t know whether this will help you or not, but I saw Sing with my grandchildren last week, and one of the characters said something like, ‘Let the gift find you.’”

When she gave me a quizzical look, I said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard. But since you’re in Macy’s, why not get her a gift card? That way she can pick out something she really likes.”

She laughed. “I was making it so hard when really that would be perfect.”

We then moved on to her damaged shoulder, the one the therapist was helping her with. A work injury had necessitated rotator cuff surgery, and weeks of therapy followed. I checked my phone for its charge and the time before asking how the tear had occurred.

Our light banter ended, and the conversation took a serious turn.

“Twenty-five years of lifting patients caught up with me,” she said, adding, “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”

“You probably just need to give yourself more time. How long has it been?”

“I don’t mean physically. I just don’t see how I can go back to the oncology floor. All that suffering….”

“It takes a special person to work with cancer patients. My mother died of cancer, and she was a trooper. She fought hard for five years, and then three weeks before her death, she told us  she was ready to ‘go.’”

“Did you argue with her? Tell her not to be foolish?”

I winced at the recollection of that morning in my mother’s kitchen when she delivered the news. “You didn’t argue with her. She was a feisty lady who never put up with back talk from her kids.”

“Sometimes family members just won’t let loved ones go. Even if they can’t walk, talk, or eat, people try to hold on to them. I’ve seen patients in so much pain they go from one morphine drip to the next, and still, someone stands around the bed talking about a new drug or an experimental treatment.”

“But it’s hard,” I said. “Giving up hope and watching someone you love die is, well, it’s horrible.”

Was I really having this conversation with a stranger in Starbucks?

The gentle stranger leaned towards me and said, “What’s important is that you keep your spirit strong. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, you have to have faith.”

She pointed to the ceiling. “You have to have faith in our Heavenly Father who created us and loves us.”

She continued. “He’s helped me so much in my life. I have four children that I raised by myself. Every week the Yogi Bear truck would come to our neighborhood and bring treats for the children. But first…first, they had to listen to the word of God.”

“Sort of like a church on wheels?”

“Something like that.”

My new acquaintance scrolled through her iPhone photos until she found one of her four children, all beautiful and smiling at the camera. She touched each face gently with her forefinger and told the child’s name and current occupation. One was a college grad working in the city, one was in college, and two were in high school.”

While I was admiring her children, she repeated, “Remember, you must keep your spirit strong. Stay away from negative people, people who bring you down.”

“Hey, you’re singing my song,” I told her. “Two of my favorite phrases are ‘detach with love’ and ‘sidestep negative energy.’”

She nodded before continuing. She had seen a seven-day-old infant with a chemo bag attached to his tiny body. “He died anyway,” she said. “I just can’t watch it anymore. The drugs, the false hope. It’s more than I can bear.”

We chatted a few more minutes about keeping our spirits strong, having faith in God, and loving others. We hugged before parting, and she told me her name was Yvette with a y. I told her I was Jayne with a y, and we hugged again before going our separate ways.

I walked down the curved staircase to Macy’s main floor and quickly found my friends at the Michael Kors counter. “Ya’ll wouldn’t believe what happened to me,” I said. “But it’s too noisy to talk about it here.”

We slid on our gloves, adjusted our scarves and hats, and walked out among the holiday shoppers in Herald Square.

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Keeping the Tennis Court


It’s one of those days when I can’t seem to get my mojo going. I have lots of thoughts and ideas, but—wait, maybe that’s my problem: too many memories and thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head to narrow something down and focus, focus, focus. And then there’s the fact that I need to finish preparing a lesson for tomorrow, tweak my classes for next week, and do a little something to promote What I Wish I Could Tell You, the anthology recently published by our local writing group.

I think I’ll zero in on the anthology. It’s our second. The first one, Serving Up Memory, was published in November, 2014. It was so rewarding to compile, revise, edit, and produce that we decided to do something along the same lines in 2016. Group members submitted poetry, song lyrics, stories, and recipes for critique and revision—for months.

I’m not sure whether this is the usual modus operandi, but for us, the process took much longer than we originally thought it would. People submitted late. Some balked at suggested revisions. Speaking of balking, it’s a natural and expected reaction. Very few people accept constructive criticism (even if it’s merited), and in the end, the editors decided to defer to the wishes of the individual writer to preserve the integrity of his or her work.

Quick example of the above: One of my stories involved moving out of a home, one loved by every member of our family. There was a neglected tennis court on the property, and although the children never used it in a serious way except for playing basketball, the court was still there, an ever-present component. We even held a yard sale there one year to help raise money for a Team-in-Training marathon in Alaska.

But I digress. Some fellow  writers thought the mention of the tennis court in the story was unnecessary, perhaps even pretentious. How many homes in “regular” neighborhoods have tennis courts? In my heart and mind, I saw the fenced-in rectangle with its pushed-up concrete and weeds as integral to the story. We loved every inch of that property, and to exclude the tennis court seemed disloyal to our years there. Sounds crazy, but ‘tis true.

The process of actually putting the work together began in earnest in late September, a month later than anticipated. And still, stories trickled in. Kathryn Lovatt, Douglas Wyant, and I began the concentrated tasks of proofing, editing, and formatting…many times. From Serving Up Memory, “When there was a disagreement about whether a comma should stay or go or whether a word should or should not be capitalized, a phrase separated by a dash or a colon, we used Google and referred to sources such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Already a fan of Mignon Fogarty’s podcast, Grammar Gal’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Better Writing, I ordered her book by the same name. Later, I purchased The Grammar Devotional and referred to it often during the editorial process, an activity that was indeed a balancing act between absolute correctness and respect for the author’s voice. Using slang was okay. Leaving two spaces after a period was not.

We’re happy with our communal work and hope you’ll take a look at it. From the cover to the recipes and poetry and the stories to the photography, it’s a great read—and perfect for a day like today in snowy South Carolina. And by the way, whether you’ve ever had a tennis court on your property or not, “Moving On” is a story that could apply to everyone reading this post. So could the other selections.

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And Pictures Too!

People have been asking whether the Camden Writers’ 2016 anthology is similar to the one we published in 2014, Serving Up Memory. Yes and no. Both have stories, poems, recipes and photographs, but What I Wish I Could Tell You has more—more of everything, especially recipes. And there are other subtle differences too.

Serving Up Memory has a slightly more nostalgic feel to it. All of the stories take place in yesteryear, and while most of the narratives in the 2016 anthology occur in the past too, there are several that aren’t in the far distant past. Many relate to the writers themselves, including childhood memories of shelling peas, acting up in church (breaking the Eleventh Commandment), and taking the rap for an older sibling’s misdeed. Three tales occur while the writers were in either high school or college. Their messages are of adjusting to change, making friends, and starting over.

Knowing how the past can affect the present, we included several stories about people who had not only an influential effect on their families but also on everyone who knew them. In fact, after reading “The Pioneering Spirit,” I find myself thinking about Marian Murphy Lovatt each time I bite into a potato, especially a boiled one. “If I don’t eat a potato every day, I feel like I haven’t really eaten.” Wish I could have met her—and J.E. Horton, Emma Marie Remmes, Megan Bevan, Aunt Minnie, and all the other special people honored by those who loved them.

As in Serving Up Memory, poetry is scattered throughout the book. Even I who have little understanding of how poetry “works” can appreciate and enjoy the lines of “Southern Heritage,” “This Is the Day,” “Neighbor Lady,” and several others. Also included are lyrics from Jasmine Rhythms, a work commissioned by the Columbia Choral Society and created by the creative collaboration between Paddy Bell and Dick Goodwin.

And recipes—there are several. Although we were tempted to omit them, several Memory readers requested them and we did our best to comply. Several treats created from the recipes, ranging from speckled butterbeans to Emma’s fudge, will be available at December book signings.

Haven’t you ever read a story, especially a memoir, and wished you could see what the person in the narrative looked like? I sure have. To satisfy our readers’ curiosity, we’ve added several photographs of people, places, and things that relate to the accounts. There are photos of parents, children, the beach, Abe Lincoln’s kitchen, a bowl of marbles, the Boykin Country Store, the Grand Canyon, signs, and many, many more. All add visual interest and were added for your viewing pleasure.

Our first signing is at The Elephant Ear in Sumter, SC on Thursday, December 15 from 6 – 8 PM, and our second is scheduled for the same time on Friday, December 16 in Camden, SC at Books on Broad. Sure would be nice to see our book-loving friends there.

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Pesky Errors

At some point in the late 1980’s, I wrote a chapter for a human relations textbook. I had been working on a text of my own and had pretty much completed the chapter on prejudice and discrimination. That’s what we called it back then. Today material like this is titled multiculturalism or cultural diversity, but at that time, we weren’t as politically correct.

Back to the story. Through a series of events, I was asked to embellish some of my already written material and add examples of what some organizations were doing to address the ever increasing challenge of working with and for people perceived as being “different.” The two men who were writing the text were on a strict timeline, and they and their publisher felt pushed.

“Hey, why don’t we find some instructor at a technical college who knows the subject matter and ask her or him to do it for us? We’ll make it worth the writer’s time and acknowledge the contribution within the text itself.” I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone  who knew I was writing a human relations text of my own, and that person conveyed the news to the editor of the behind-schedule book.

I said yes. It was $500. Christmas was approaching, and I had visions of gadgets and gewgaws that Santa could bring down the chimney.

It was hard work, no doubt about it. My saving grace was that I’d already written quite a bit on the topic. I was captivated by the changes I had witnessed and was continuing to witness in our society. While many of my fellow Americans perceived the transformations as threatening, I saw them as inevitable and welcome.

But here’s what happened. The book came out, and I received two complimentary copies. I can’t recall whether I got the monetary reward before then or at that time. What I do recall was eagerly looking at the TOC for my chapter location and feeling thrilled when I found the chapter itself. There were my words in print. It was a miracle and proof positive that I could do it.

Heart fluttering with excitement, I found my name and acknowledgement. My name was misspelled. I was stunned. How could a big name publisher misspell a person’s name? But there it was: Jane P. Crolley. The Crolley part was right, but the Jane should have been Jayne.

Shortly thereafter, a book rep dropped by the college and offered to take me to lunch. We ate at the Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach. We ordered our Avocado Seafare, and then she asked me what I thought about the book. Wasn’t it exciting?

 “Yes, of course,” I told her. “But my name is misspelled. Is there any way that can be fixed?”

The book rep was a charming person with tons of tact and diplomacy. She basically said No. Thousands of copies had been printed and sold all across America, and they couldn’t be recalled for one little missing letter. She patted my arm and smiled as she confided that it was impossible to catch every single error. Before lunch was over, I had begun to feel grateful that my last name was correctly spelled and that my first name was listed as Jane and not Janet or Jean.

In the grand scheme of things, the misspelled name was/is of little consequence. The major takeaway is that most books have some little something that’s amiss, something that isn’t caught until after the final printing.

What I’m leading up to is that our anthology, What I Wish I Could Tell You, will be available next week, and although we’ve gone over it dozens and dozens of times, there may be still a teensy little error or two. Pretty sure we have everyone’s name right, though.

Has this been your experience with writing? Have you ever read something on Facebook or in an email, story, essay, book and realized you’d made an error?

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What I Wish I Could Tell You

I’m loving the final proof copy of What I Wish I Could Tell You, the latest anthology produced by the Camden Writers. I say “final” proof, but by this stage of the game, I realize that nothing is ever really final when a person is writing a sentence, paragraph, story, poem, essay, or anthology. The same probably holds true for novels and screenplays, too, although I wouldn’t know anything about that. Not yet anyway.

But back to the anthology. Two years ago our local group published Serving Up Memory, a collaborative work of stories, poems, photographs, and recipes. It was a daunting task and a labor of love. Writing, submitting, and revising our individual pieces were challenging tasks; so were reading, proofing, and critiquing members’ contributions. Still, we persevered.

This past January, we decided that yes, we would create a second book, one very similar to the first. The deadline for submissions came and went, and revisions had begun taking place. And then a poem or photograph would appear, something so beautiful that it begged to be included. Even as I write this, I’m waiting for a photograph for the Contributors’ section.

Still, the editors quickly saw that despite the delays and overall messiness of the project, we were well on our way to creating another quality collection. We persevered. I’m skipping right over the whining and crying sessions and fast-forwarding to two weeks ago when we received the first five proof copies. Five members went through the tedious process of proofreading for errors of all sorts–from spacing to backwards apostrophes. Note to self: No more recipes! They’re the most vexing type of contribution to include.

I corrected the errors, dozens of them, and returned the manuscript for yet another proof. That’s what we’re looking at now, and y’all, it looks so good I almost want to cry. The pagination looks okay, the headings are fine, and the photographs are behaving themselves. By that, I mean, they aren’t moving down the page or jumping to another page when I leave one section for the next.

Best yet, the stories and poems are so good. I’ve read them all and have found myself smirking, laughing, weeping, and holding my breath; feeling gratitude, admiration, awe, and anxiety; and wishing I had known some of the people whose deeds and contributions are included. For the thousandth time, I’ve also been thinking of how everyone has a story, lots of them in fact, that need to be shared.

From the preface to What I wish I Could Tell You: “What I Wish I Could Tell You shares its title with a poem included in these pages, because, after considering many titles our common theme seemed to echo the sense of longing expressed in these words. Our aim in this anthology is to use our voices and our stories to say what—and who—we remember, what has touched us, grieved us or given us joy.”

Here’s a teaser: “Already in her seventies, she looked not so much her age as ageless, like she had been salted down and seasoned by the elements. A lifetime of glacial winds and harsh weather scored her skin until fine lines crisscrossed her face like roads on a well-used map. Unlike my own mother, who pampered her delicate skin and resented every wrinkle, Marian never grumbled about the signs of time. She knew better than to resist what couldn’t be changed and saved her energy for what could.”

I’m glad someone loved Marian enough to share her story. The same goes for Emma, J.E., Aunt Minnie, and little Seth. There are stories about love, friendship, courage, change, illness, and complexity in relationships. Some are happy, some are sad, and all are guaranteed to touch your heart.




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South Carolina Writers


Let’s hear it for South Carolina writers! Recently I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to read books by authors residing right here in the Palmetto State, Sandy Richardson and Roger Newman. Richardson is a retired educator who lives in SC’s Midlands.  Newman, an M.D. living and working in the Low Country, has been selected as one of the “Best Doctors in America” by Woodward and White for the past two decades.

Since I know the importance of reviews to writers, I took a few minutes to review each of these books and am sharing them in the hopes that you’ll (1) read these books and/or (2) write one of your own.

His Mother, Sandy Richardson

I’ll never eat potatoes again without thinking of Kathryn Etters Lovatt’s mother-in-law, a Westerner who said she didn’t feel like she’d really eaten if she hadn’t eaten a potato every day. That was just one of dozens of things I learned about this remarkable woman and many others in His Mother, a delightful collection of essays and stories written about one of the trickiest and most important relationships in American culture, the one between a man’s mother and his wife. I say American culture because as Richardson points out in the introduction, other cultures such as China and Pakistan have different perspectives about this cornerstone relationship.

Regardless of race, social class, religion, educational level, or knowledge of which fork to use at a dinner party, the married women in His Mother learned to navigate the territory of this “complex and sacred union” with humor, grace, and awe. Their stories are entertaining, insightful, and well-written. Sometimes I find myself smiling as I think of lines like, “In my next life, I’m going to be a cowgirl.” The lesson behind “Isn’t it incredible that we both love blue?” is one I’ve already put into practice.

Bottom line: Great concept and wonderful stories.

Occam’s Razor, Roger Newman

A suspenseful page-turner that held my attention to the last page! Not only is Occam’s Razor spellbinding, it’s also educational. Rarely does a book give me heart palpitations wondering what’s going to happen next AND teach me about so many things about hospital politics, doctors’ daily rounds, drug rings, misused power, courage, and love. The icing on the cake was the mention of numerous sights in South Carolina’s “low country” and coast, especially Garden City.

Whether the incredible events in the novel could happen “in real life” doesn’t matter. What matters is that the reader gets caught up in the story and is zooming with Declan and Helene as they travel from Charleston to Garden City. What matters is that certain people (no spoilers here) get what they deserve and justice prevails. What matters is that the reader is both entertained and informed.

I love that these authors reside in South Carolina. What really impresses me is that they, like all writers, began their journey towards publication with an idea. Unlike many, however, they followed through with their work. Despite the agonizing process of revision, the fear of criticism, they pressed on.

What’s your story, and why are you waiting to tell it?

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Tell Me A Story

There are advantages to getting older. If a person plays her cards right, she has more time to reflect, more time to right some wrongs, more time to meet with old friends and reminisce about the days of yore. Sometimes getting together with friends and acquaintances from the past and listening to their stories can help you better understand your own life and perhaps get a glimpse of the magic that binds us as human.

My writing group (mine in the sense that I’m a member of it) is revising and editing and formatting material for its second anthology that’s being launched next month. As we work on it, we’re reminded of the importance of “story” in our lives. We all have them, several in fact. According to Pat Conroy, the words “Tell me a story” are the most beautiful words in the English language.

Since our anthology is on my mind even when I’m asleep (seriously, I’ve awakened thinking about a member’s poem or story or our looming deadline), my ears perked up when I heard a high school classmate sharing an incident with some friends at a luncheon last week. She was talking about the homes that had been damaged in The Flood last October and remarked that she knew someone whose floors had been irreparably ruined. The flooring had come from an ancestor’s home, and the homeowner wanted them restored.

It wasn’t happening. Finally, the contractor said, “That story’s over.”

That story’s over. Time to move on. Just like thousands and thousands of others, that story is a part of a person, and stories can live on in hearts and minds and souls without physical proof. You don’t need flooring to remind you of your grandmother, not if you have memories and stories.

Our many stories, even of those who came before us, can continue to affect us, in both positive and negative ways. For example, as a teacher, I heard so many tales of woe that even now I’m haunted by some of them. Depending on the student and her (it was almost always a female) current state of readiness to change, I’d tell her that just because her family’s narrative had always been sad, destructive, or pathetic, it didn’t have to remain that way. “You can be a transitional person for your whole family,” I’d say.

But back to the luncheon. As I looked around the table at the ten other “girls,” I saw them all as they were once upon a time as little girls. I knew a little about most of their parents, siblings, addresses, quirks, piano playing ability, singing talent, athletic prowess (or lack thereof). As adults, all had eventually married, and some had divorced and remarried; two were widows. Many had grandchildren. Some had health issues.

All were walking, talking repositories of stories.

Here’s the best one. A friend who had lost her husband over fifteen years ago told of actually dying after a serious surgery. She described what she perceived as heaven although there were no pearly gates or people of flesh and blood. It was light, very light, and peaceful. She felt essences of people, including her husband who had predeceased her many years ago. He embraced her.

My friend awakened to the sound of the doctor speaking to her and began crying. When he asked her why she was weeping, she told him she didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to stay with her beloved husband. I listened to this story and thought If only those who are grieving for loved ones who have gone beyond  heard and believed stories like this, it would make this vale of tears more doable and less painful.

Even if the story doesn’t have to do with death or loss, it can still teach us something. It can still help us make sense of our own experiences. And it can reinforce our human connectedness.

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