Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December Doldrums

Christmas sunrise from Natty and Nami's playground

Each year I vow I'll get a lot of writing done between Christmas and New Year. It seems the perfect time...the shopping, baking, gift wrapping, card writing are all finished. Lots of time to settle down at the keyboard. But somehow I don't seem to do it.

Now it's nearly New Year's Eve, and just like the past two Decembers, I've failed to get much written at all. I blame the cold weather, but I doubt that's the real reason for this odd end-of-the-year inertia. It's not as if I don't have ideas, or that there's no looming deadlines. It's more like a seasonal affective disorder with a touch of attention deficit peppered in for good measure.

I did get the story written about body image and sent it off. But since then, I've been stalled. I've written a dozen openings for my story about my first trip to London and discarded them all. I've rewritten a few orphan stories and submitted them to new venues. I've not been entirely idle. Oh, no. I've cleaned out some writing files, discarded some old call outs for submissions, and even dusted my desk.

Tomorrow's my last chance for the year...I'm going to finish the England story. If I get that done, I'll be ready to greet the new year with renewed vigor. Cheers!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Taste of Dickens for Christmas and 2012


I'm planning to start my Dickens Bicentennial celebration on Christmas Eve, even though the official onset isn't until New Year's Day. Charles Dickens, born in Landport, Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 2012, long has been a favorite of mine, and, of course, millions of others.

So next weekend I plan to settle down with some of the movies I've been taping from the Turner Classic Movies wondrous "Dickens in December" series, showing each Monday night. Here's my lineup so far for Christmas weekend:
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) with Claude Rains.
  • Oliver Twist (1948) with Alec Guinness.
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1947) with Cedric Hardwicke.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938) with Reginald Owen.
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1958) with Dirk Bogarde.
  • Little Dorrit (1984) with Alec Guinness.
Maybe I'll accompany this film fest with a little Dickensian punch:
  • "Punch, my dear Copperfield, like time and tide, waits for no man ... His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone in a moment. I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning spirit, and the steam of boiling water, as Mr Micawber did that afternoon. It was wonderful to see his face shining at us out of a thin cloud of these delicate fumes, as he stirred, and mixed, and tasted, and looked as if he were making, instead of a punch, a fortune for his family down to the latest posterity."--David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
In February I'm going to Philadelphia for the Dickens Fellowship and The Friends of Clark Park celebrations, and will be singing "Happy Birthday" to The Inimitable, as he dubbed himself, at his statue...the only one in the world...in Clark Park.
Then in June I'll be celebrating in London with Road Scholar's "The Best of Times." Kevin Flude, a Dickensian expert, will be leading this tour. Highlights include:
  • A private viewing and reception at The Charles Dickens Museum, Doughty House.
  • A pub crawl to Dickens' favorite haunts: The George Inn and the Prospect of Whitby.
  • An outing to marshy Kent to see Bleak House, Dickens' occasional holiday retreat.
  • A visit to Little Dorrit's church, St. George the Martyr.
  • A coach trip to the historic waterfront city of Portsmouth, to the site of Dickens' birth, where now is located the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.
I'm not a recent convert to Dickens. I've been a follower since I was 17, when I first read David Copperfield. Back in the early '80s I attended one of the University of California Santa Cruz's "Dickens Universe" celebrations, where we discussed Martin Chuzzlewit, the American novel. In August 2010 at the University of Cambridge International Summer School I took a course on "Criminals and Gentlemen in Dickens' Oliver Twist and Great Expectations." I followed up by seeing a staging of Oliver at one of Dickens' favorite theatres, the Drury Lane.
As 2012 progresses, I'll read some of the lesser-known Dickens' works, already downloaded to my Kindle:
  • The Seven Poor Travellers
  • Somebody's Luggage
  • Going into Society
  • Mugby Junction
  • The Haunted House
  • Doctor Marigold
But for this next week, I'm rereading one of the Christmas stories, The Cricket on the Hearth.
And finally in January I'll at long last undertake the legal novel, Bleak House, that I've put off for so long. It's waiting for me on my Kindle, as well.

I'll also be ordering Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, who wrote the wonderful book on Dickens' mistress, Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.

I'm anticipating that 2012 for me indeed will prove to be "the best of times." It's not only Dicken's bicentennial...it will be my diamond jubilee!

Monday, December 5, 2011

All's Well that Ends Well?



I haven't decided whether I've been afflicted with writer's block or if I'm just a lazy bones. For five days I've been trying to work up energy to write a story about body acceptance for an anthology that's focused on positive attitudes towards weight. Yes, it's a weighty issue, and one that's plagued me since girlhood. I have some strong beliefs, some mixed feelings and, apparently, some weak-willed hesitance about actually getting the piece written.

Every time I sit down at the laptop something else seems to shout out, "Attend to me, first!" Either Natty, my newly diabetic and nearly blind dog, or Harpo, the world's most narcissistic cat, want to go outside. Or come inside.

Or I decide I'd better look at my notes just one more time for facilitating this next Thursday's book group discussion of Shakespeare's "All's Well that Ends Well." Should I bake oatmeal cookies or take the apple gingercake out of the freezer to thaw for our refreshments? Can I buy marzipan in Colville or should I drive to Spokane? After all, everybody in the Elizabethan court gorged on marzipan. Would the group settle for fudge? Weighty and time-consuming decisions.

I glance around the house. Oh, dear. The tiled entryway certainly could stand mopping. Nobody's scrawled "dust me" on the coffee table yet, but anybody could and probably should. Is it time to change my bedding? What about cleaning out those closets? Or can that wait until spring?

Should I take the afternoon off and watch a few more episodes of the BBC mystery series, "Pie in the Sky"? Oh, wait...don't I owe Jim or Annie or Honey an email? Should I write my annual Christmas letter and get it reproduced at the printers? What about addressing the Christmas cards?

Why don't I just park myself at the laptop and write that story? I think I have a title. "Elephants Never Forget."

And while I'm at it...here's a few more stories still waiting to be born:
  • Black Friday madness in Arizona, for NYMB, "The First Time."
  • Samuel Johnson's ghost for NYMB, "The First Time."
  • Auntie Dorothy and the clergyman, for NYMB, "Sharing Secrets."
  • My search for assistance from St. Teresa on Seychelle's La Digue island, for an anthology about sacred or secular pilgrimages.
  • A senior high school year, joining my mom with the Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Staying at the YWCA in Chicago, 1957, for Midwest Stories anthology which tentatively is titled, "Sowing Wild Oats."

I'm heading for the laptop...I'm going to get the introductory paragraphs written on that fierce fatty tale this afternoon...and finish it and send it off tomorrow. I'm already a week late, so I owe the publisher!

Maybe it's neither laziness nor a block of any kind...maybe it's ambivalence about the topic. Do I really feel it's all right to be flabulously fat? I'll know when I write the piece. It may not make it into the book, but at least I get to express myself on a topic that's still weighing on my mind. So to speak.

Hmmmm. Shakespeare. I wonder if the good Bard of Avon ever found himself struggling with writer's block...and then I remembered his "lost years," those seven years between the birth of his twins and his emergence in the London theater scene. He may have been employed as a teacher or tutor, and lost himself in reading the Decameron...or he may have been simply stargazing. He might even have been a lazy bones, and made up for it in later years. Nobody knows.

I'm heading for the laptop...just as soon as I let Natty back in.




Monday, November 21, 2011

Not Your Mother's Book...On Sharing Secrets, and The First Time


It's no secret...I've become a "co-creator." For somebody who thinks "author" is a bit grandiose, I'm not certain how I feel about billing myself as such, but like it or not, that's my new title. So far in my literary career, I've been a writer, a journalist, a reporter, an editor, a teacher, a mentor, a coach, and a contributor. Now, however, I find myself elevated to a loftier status...co-creator.

I'm partnering with Dahlynn and Ken McKowen of Publishing Syndicate on two books in the new series, Not Your Mother's Book. My titles are "Sharing Secrets" and "The First Time." I've yet to write my own contributions for the pair...but have stories in mind.

The story submission guidelines for these books, as well as twenty-six other titles in the series, can be found here:

http://publishingsyndicate.com/publishing_syndicate/submissions/nymb_submit_guidelines.html


Here's some tips on putting together your stories for this new collection, courtesy of Lyndsey D'Arcangelo, who will be compiling My Story is Out, another Publishing Syndicate enterprise.
Not Your Mother's Book:

Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone knows how to write good story. Use the following Do’s and Don’ts to help you organize your thoughts and create the perfect story for anthology submissions.

Do make sure that your story is original, honest and a true account of real-life events.
Don’t write a fictional story.

Do try and explain what lesson you learned, if any, from your experience by weaving it into the story itself.
Don’t be preachy or judgmental—it’s the quickest way for your lesson to get lost in the mix.

Do mention real people that are relevant to the story.
Don’t mention your friend’s names just for fun or make up fictional characters.

Do address important social issues if they apply to you and your experience.
Don’t write a speech about political incorrectness or rants about inequality.

Do make sure your story is properly organized and that it has a beginning, middle and end.
Don’t ramble on without any structure or direction. The reader will lose interest.

Do write your story in the first person. (“I rode the bus to school.”)
Don’t write your story in the third person. (“She rode the bus to school.”)

Do write about your personal experience, whether it is a wonderful, courageous, difficult, joyful, funny or extraordinary situation.
Don’t focus on dark and depressing stories with agonizing outcomes. Even the most difficult situations can have a positive impact.

Do read through and edit your story before submitting it. It also helps to have someone else look at it and provide feedback as well.
Don’t submit your story without rereading it or checking it for errors.

Do try your hardest to create the best story you can.
Don’t give up if your story is not selected. It may not fit with this particular book, but might be a great fit for an upcoming book instead.

I look forward to reading your stories soon...don't be afraid to share your secrets.
Link

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Getting the Words Right"...Ernest Hemingway




Yesterday I learned that a story I'd had high hopes for, "Fun and Games," didn't make the final rounds for an anthology I'd hoped to be published in. Downcast at first, I reminded myself that there's reasons for rejection. I reviewed the tale. I found it fresh, funny and heartwarming. Then I realized that the book I'd submitted it to might be meant as something you'd buy for a bride, a newlywed, or for somebody celebrating an anniversary. In that context, my story wouldn't have been particularly uplifting...since I was reflecting on my relationship with my deceased spouse.

If I'd not been so enamored with my basic thesis, and had put this story away for a week or two, in revisiting it, I'd have realized it needed reworking for this particular market, or, better yet, that I should consider sending it elsewhere.

I won't give up easily on this story...I'm certain there's a home for it somewhere. But I remembered a valuable lesson I'd learned a long while ago. Never forget the reader over your shoulder. Will this sentence be clear to the reader? Will that reader find the prose harsh or harmonic? Will that reader understand the message you thought you'd sent?

This week I'm editing a novel aimed for the Young Adult market. The manuscript boasts some well-developed characters, a compelling plot, and some superb commentary on the meaning of poetry. But it's also cluttered with some clunky and confusing prose. I find myself making endless revisions, mostly minor deletions and insertions...all for the sake of that mysterious specter lurking in the background...the reader!

When I was an English major back in the early '60s, a professor recommended a book by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, The Reader over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. Hands down, it's the best book I ever read on how to revise. It emphasizes clarity and consistency, and better yet, shows its readers how to achieve these ends.

I used this book when I taught high school English and journalism back in the early '60s. I recommend it today...and, amazingly, over fifty years later, this remarkable guide to good writing continues to be still available on Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/Reader-over-Your-Shoulder-Handbook/dp/0394506154

One Amazon reviewer who calls himself Irritated, and who likely teaches English composition, says this:

"If your students refuse to learn how important it is to focus on INDIVIDUAL WORDS-- if they insist on thinking that it is sufficient to 'get their point across in a rough way'-- if their sentences are as a result sometimes nonsensical, suggest this book. And then make them read it-- including the appendix at the back.

"Among other valuable aspects, the book uses examples of bad writing from famous authors-- simultaneously reassuring the student that a mistake can happen to the best of us, and reminding the student that vigilance is always necessary."

Here's validation on the reason to revise from George Plimpton's The Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway:

INTERVIEWER

Do you do any rewriting as you read up to the place you left off the day before? Or does that come later, when the whole is finished?

HEMINGWAY

I always rewrite each day up to the point where I stopped. When it is all finished, naturally you go over it. You get another chance to correct and rewrite when someone else types it, and you see it clean in type. The last chance is in the proofs. You’re grateful for these different chances.

INTERVIEWER

How much rewriting do you do?

HEMINGWAY

It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

INTERVIEWER

Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

HEMINGWAY

Getting the words right.




Monday, October 31, 2011

Veteran's Day Tribute for 11/11/11


Half a dozen years ago when I began to write my memoirs in the form of narrative essays, I'd not realized how my early childhood experiences actually had shaped my eventual life's journey. In writing my story, "Daddy and Raggedy Ann," which appears in this new book about the home front, I became increasingly aware that even fleeting encounters...half an hour at a sick child's bedside, for example...can have everlasting repercussions.

This Veteran's Day I'll be thinking of my father, Albert George Burgess, and how he tap danced his way into my little girl's heart and across the South Pacific during World War II.

This book now is available from Amazon.com.


FIGHTING FEAR: WINNING THE WAR AT HOME

When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle


GREENVILLE, South Carolina – November 11, 2011 – When soldiers go off to war, they leave behind family and friends who are fearful for their safety. Kurt Hartley, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and now Baptist minister, says, “I can still remember the anxiety and fear that rushed through our family during my deployment.” Those left behind have their own battles to fight after those gut-wrenching goodbyes, but where do they go for help? Edie Melson’s newest book, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle, addresses these concerns. This devotional is not just for military families, but also for anyone who knows a soldier or veteran. “As a combat veteran and now minister,” Hartley says, “I was captivated by the premise of this book.”

Author Edie Melson says, “I remember our son’s first deployment, especially what it was like to say goodbye to my oldest son as he left for Iraq. Throughout the last couple of days, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Was this the last time I’d eat supper with him? The last picture I’d have of him? The last time I’d ever see him smile?”

Melson has collected encouraging stories from people who have sent loved ones off to war, from WWII to the current Afghanistan conflict. They share their stories of how they’ve dealt with the fear. Interspersed are devotions written by Melson that strengthen and enlighten the reader. She begins by sharing what it was like watching her son get ready for his first deployment and compares that to putting on the full armor of God. Cecil Stokes, award winning producer says, “Sometimes I forgot if Melson was talking about the physical war we are fighting or the spiritual one. This book folds between the two effortlessly.” Jeff Strueker, a Black Hawk Down Veteran says, “Melson gives readers a rare glimpse into the raw, intense emotions that military families go through when warriors are away serving our nation.”

Hartley says, “Many days, I prayed that the Spirit would comfort my wife, children, mother, and friends, as I walked ‘through the valley of the shadow of death.’ I was confident in my training, but never found the right truth from God’s Word to comfort those who were praying for me...Until now. Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home is just the kind of tool that the Spirit can use to comfort those who are batting to stay strong during their own time of adversity.”

Deborah Raney, author of the Hanover Falls novels and A Vow to Cherish, says, “This book...helped me understand the emotions my brother and sister-in-law were experiencing when my Marine nephew left for Iraq. What a great resource this book would have been for all of our extended family.”

As former missionary to Russia and award-winning writer Susan May Warren says, “The essential weapon of faith for the families of soldiers fighting the war at home. Edie Melson writes with the compassion, depth and poignancy to make this devotional a fixture on the bedside stand of anyone whose loved one is deployed. Deeply touching, empowering and healing, it guides readers to the Hand that will hold and strengthen them during this challenging season.”

Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home will be released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas on Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, 2011. It will be available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, as well as in local books stores.

Edie and her publisher are also excited to announce that a portion of the proceeds from every book sold will be donated to the troops, through Blue Star Mothers of America.

Edie Melson is a prolific writer, publishing over 700 articles in 2010, and the author of the bestselling eBook, Social Marketing for Writers. Her heart to help others define and reach their dreams has connected her with writers all over the country. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and Southwest Christian Writers Studio, in addition to serving as a popular faculty member at numerous others.

For more information visit: www.WinningTheWarAtHome.com


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Autumn Update


Me with son, Steve, Orange, CA, 10/23/11


When I'm stuck on a story, I bless my blog...I can always come here to exercise my fingers until my brain shifts back into its writing gear!

I've been so overwhelmed by medical issues this past week...mine with my disintegrating spinal discs and my canine companion Natty's with diabetes and an abscessed paw...that I haven't taken a deep breath and counted my blessings. So it's time to enumerate them right now!
  • My cultural immersion in Southern California replenished my spirits! Highlights included taking in a new staging of "The Trip to Bountiful" and the breathtaking show-stealing airborne pyrotechnics of the Bolshoi Ballet's Ivan Vasiliev in "The Kings of the Dance,"as well as sampling fried chicken at Mrs. Knott's 1934 restaurant and hiking around South Coast Botanical Gardens on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
  • My brother Joel and my friend Chris both are recovering well from cancer treatment!
  • My MRI, xray and ultra sounds didn't reveal any horrendous surprises, other than the $1000 that my insurance doesn't cover.
  • Most of the snags with the upcoming November 12 AAUW Coffeehouse musical extravaganza have been ironed out.
  • Tomorrow I'll lunch with friend Nancy and then see the classic British farce, "See How They Run," at Kettle Falls' Woodland Theater.
  • I've finished rereading The Great Gatsby for Chewelah book group, meeting at my house Thursday.
  • It's not snowing here yet, as it is in Colorado Springs where two of my stepsons and families live...and the other one is visiting with his.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul's picked up three of my stories as finalists: "The Unforgotten" for Messages from Heaven, "Twist and Shout" for Say Goodbye to Back Pain, and "Running Like Sixty" for Say Hello to a Better Body.

Friday, October 21, 2011

California Dreaming

Good news from Chicken Soup for the Soul while I'm on vacation. Two of my stories, "Twist and Shout" and "Running Like Sixty" are finalists for two books in the new health and wellness series with Harvard Medical School. The first will appear in Say Goodbye to Back Pain and the second in Say Hello to a Better Body.

I also submitted stories to a couple of other titles, but haven't heard yet if they've been picked for Think Positive for Good Health or How to Build Your Brain Power.

When I return to my regular schedule next week, I have more tales in mind:
  • Tsunami's mischief in her puppyhood
  • Facebook and the joys of reconnecting
  • Keeping old friends while making new ones
  • More ruminations on Charles Dickens
  • The first time I saw a ghost
  • The hardest secret I had to keep
But this week I'm not writing. Instead I'm hanging out with old friends, revisited Knott's Berry Farm...after forty years, and walked the tram road at South Coast Botanical Gardens. This weekend I'll see a new version of A Trip to Bountiful and go to the Orange County Center for Performing Arts for The Kings of the Dance. It's always wonderful to play tourist in the area where I grew up.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Home Front, Patterns and Daffodils


World War II may seem shrouded in the mists of time to some these days, but I well remember its onset and its conclusion. At age four and a half I huddled with the rest of the family by the Philco to listen to FDR tell the nation of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Later I cheered as the bells of the Friends Church in Scotts Mills, OR, tolled victory on V-E Day, May 8, 1945.

My father, Albert George Burgess, served as the oldest enlisted man on the USS Foote during this period. I've written two stories about him and his service to our country. One, "Foote Notes from My Father," appears in the recently published Silver Boomer Book, The Harsh and The Heart. It's about my dad telling me why he chose to join the Navy at an age when he would have been overlooked by the draft.

The story that appears in Fighting the Fear, to be published on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2011, concerns my dad's visit to me at Children's Hospital in 1941, where I'd been hospitalized with double pneumonia, when penicillin was not available on the home front. It's also about hope. It's called "Daddy and Raggedy Ann."

I've been spared from the tragedy of losing a loved one to war. My dad survived his duty stint. So did my first and second husbands, who both served during the Korean conflict before I met them.

One of my favorite poets, Amy Lowell, wasn't so fortunate. I admired her poem, "Patterns," so much I once named a program for women recovering from dual addictions after it. This poem commemorated the death of her fiance in WWI...and it's worth reading to the end.

Patterns

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

From Men, Women and Ghosts By Amy Lowell



I hope all my friends who have a loved one overseas find comfort from Fighting Fear. And from the hope that daffodils bring us each spring...for peace on earth.

Here's the link to the Fighting Fear website with more information:

http://www.winningthewarathome.blogspot.com/



Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rejection, Dejection, Perfection!



A couple of writer friends long ago told me that if they'd been rejected when they sent out their first story, they would have been too discouraged to continue to submit. I mentioned this to a realtor friend who started to laugh. He said, "That's ridiculous. I get turned down every day. But if I stopped showing houses, I'd never make a sale. You just smile and move on to the next potential customer."

I remember, too, my late husband's favorite motto, "Never, ever give up."

So I keep a little orphanage in my stories file. Here's where all my poor rejects dwell. Periodically I see a call out that reminds me of a story that's languished in the orphanage for years. That's what happened when I saw that the Writers Abroad group of ex-pats and ex-ex-pats planned an anthology based on a theme of food, drink and cooking from all over the world.

When I lived in Guatemala back in 1990 to 1992 I'd written a story, "The Marvelous Mexican Parsley of West 59th Street." I'd sent it out to some publications at that time, but it never got accepted. A few years ago I resurrected it and sent it out two or three times again. It didn't seem quite right, apparently, for some of the food-related collections I'd hoped would adopt it.

Then this morning I surfed through my junk mail and found a congratulatory note from Writers Abroad that says my piece will appear later this year in Foreign Flavours.

My story actually takes place back in the early '50s in a southwest Los Angeles neighborhood when a neighbor sent us some specially-seasoned chicken soup when everybody in our family had the mumps. I remembered the incident one evening when my old friend and roommate, Kelly Presley, and I returned from an evening at one of our favorite Antigua eateries where we'd feasted on caldo de real. I'd recounted the incident from my childhood and Kelly urged me to write about it.

Kelly died a few years back, so I'm disappointed I can't share my good news with him, that this story about cilantro, the popular Mexican herb, finally will see print! I'm delighted that my orphan finally got adopted. Kelly would have been, too. A talented writer, he continued to revise his three unpublished novels until he got too sick to sit long at the computer.

So, Kelly, this story is dedicated to you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time Capsules and Treasure Troves



In 1987 before I left Long Beach, CA, to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, I gave away most of my library, except for autographed books. I emptied out drawers, cupboards, and closets, destroyed old financial records, and stashed what I couldn't bear to part with in a filing cabinet and a few cardboard boxes, which I left with my son, Steve, thinking I'd retrieve it all when I returned home in a couple of years.

As it turned out, I didn't go home to Southern California, after all. Instead, I lived overseas for ten years, in Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Seychelles. When I came back to the States in 1998 I worked first in Little Rock, AR, and later in Washington DC. Finally I retired to the country near Colville, WA, in 2004.

Over the years I've visited Steve many times, and always remembered the stash in his garage. Finally, last October I located some of the things I'd wanted to keep, repacked three post office priority mail boxes full, and mailed them to myself. When they arrived, I stuffed them in a closet, promising myself I'd sort through them soon.

Soon doesn't always mean tomorrow. With obligations, deadlines, boards and commissions, three cats, two dogs and three and a half acres to look after, sometimes rummaging through boxes doesn't get to the top of my priority list.

It finally did today. I intend to write about my long love affair with London. Back in 1980 when I'd visited England for the first time, I wrote a piece, "Literary London and the English Countryside," that artist and Uncle Jam publisher Phillip Yeh beautifully illustrated. I thought I'd find it in those boxes in the closet. I didn't. Instead I found:
  • the October 1967 copy of Woman's Day, with my short piece "Rabbit Habit" in the Neighbors column...bylined Mrs. Robert L. Elders...as was fashionable in those days.
  • a framed check for $25, payment for the above article, the first piece of writing I ever sold to a national publication.
  • an essay, "Fitzgerald and the Plight of the South," about F. Scott Fitzgerald's haunting short story, "The Last of the Belles," submitted on May 20, 1963, with a note from my Modern American Lit prof that says, "This is an excellent explication of the story, and rings quite true. If I were you I should certainlly send this out," with a list of possible literary quarterlies, now long out of business.
  • a dozen novels by Herbert Gold, with his autograph.
  • a copy of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, together in one volume, autographed to me by Laura Huxley and dated Nov. '79, "For Terri, from her admirer, affectionately, Laura." I'd written an article about Laura and her Project Caress earlier that year for Uncle Jam, after I'd visited her at her home just below the Hollywood sign, and spilled coffee on her white living room carpet.
  • several autographed books by authors I'd interviewed in 1980, including Julia Braun Kessler and Herbert Cohen.
  • poems and short stories and about fifty pages of a novel I'd written for a 1961 creative writing class...some I don't remember writing at all.
  • a newspaper clipping of an interview with me when I was teaching journalism at Jordan High School, 1964.
  • copies of newspapers and magazines that had published the articles I wrote while I lived in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic from 1990 t0 1994...Transitions Abroad, Mature Living, International Living and the Costa Rica Times.
I'll have to go through the boxes again. I really need to recover that London article. If I can't find it I probably can recapture much of it, since my memory of that first trip to Europe remains fresh in my mind.

But it's hard to just plow through these boxes without getting sidetracked. I spent a good fifteen minutes rereading a paper I'd titled, "Structure and Meaning in 'Cliff Klingenhagen'." It's not dated, but it must be circa 1962. It still strikes me as a perceptive analysis of a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson, from Tilbury Town, which I'd long forgotten.

And even though I'm nearly fifty years late, I still think that analysis of the Fitzgerald short story needs to be published. Dr. Hugh Smith noted that there were some irregularities in diction and construction that needed to be cleared up, and a couple of lines that needed rephrasing. That would be a daunting task to type a fresh copy on my old Smith Corona portable. On my Toshiba laptop it should be a snap.

I'm gonna do it...soon.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Proud To Be a Public Servant

Governor Chris Gregoire

In July 2006 Governor Chris Gregoire appointed me as a public member to the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission. As a member of MQAC, I'm also a part time employee of the Department of Health, hence a government employee once again.

My first husband, a career police officer, used to say his entire family "fed at the public trough." His parents were nurses at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, CA for over 30 years each. He himself retired after 35 years of service with the Long Beach Police Department.

First as a school teacher, and then as a social worker, I worked for municipal governments, the city of Long Beach, CA, and the county of Los Angeles. As a Peace Corps Volunteer and Peace Corps health specialist at The Center for Field Assistance in Washington DC, I worked for the federal government. As adolescent and school health coordinator I worked for the Arkansas State Department of Health. Now I'm an employee of the Washington State Department of Health.

So when people rant about fat cat bureaucrats, well, I've fed at the public trough much of my life, on the home front and overseas, here, there and everywhere. I've never become rich, but I've always earned a living...and some of those earnings, in Peace Corps and AmeriCorps*VISTA, were well below the federal minimum wage. Nonetheless, I've tried my best to earn every cent, whatever my salary was, and have always remembered my real employer was not a fellow bureaucrat, but my fellow taxpayers, citizens just like me.

Today, as a state employee, I received a thoughtful thank you from Governor Gregoire which I'd like to share. It brings back my feeling of pride over a lifetime of community service, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve. Here's the note that Chris Gregoire sent to all Washington State employees.

Dear Colleague:

We all stood still on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 — 10 years ago this Sunday. In many ways we’re still catching our breath.

We awakened Sept. 12 somber and scared. Yet we also awakened to a new calling. We rose to a greater good, we vowed to rebuild New York, we pledged to travel again. We stuck together and felt closer than perhaps any other time in recent history. Countries around the globe rushed to our side as the world shared in our loss. For some, that newfound feeling of commitment and purpose changed over time. We settled back into our old habits, our old prejudices. The cloud of two wars, the ever-changing presentation of facts to the American public, the use of 9-11 for political gain changed what that day meant and what it should mean.

Today, 10 years later, we can change it back.

First, realize that the world is a much different place than it was. The nature of global threats, both natural and human caused, has intensified. Our best response lies in preparation. In the event of a large- scale emergency, it’s important to prepare yourself and your family to survive unassisted for 72 hours. While governments work hard to mobilize in advance of and during disasters, the events of 9-11, the Japanese tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and recently, Hurricane Irene have proven that the more prepared you and your family are, the more quickly recovery will take hold.

Second, know the neighbors in your area who may need help or special assistance during and after a disaster. An elderly person or the family with small kids may require checking in on or a little extra help.

Third, become involved in your community. Give back to local organizations, read at a school, organize a neighborhood event. Explore another culture, introduce yourself to a stranger. Realize that our strength lies in our diversity. Remember that feeling of civic responsibility you had 10 years ago — wondering what you could do to help your fellow Americans 3,000 miles away — and act on that now. The stronger your resolve, the stronger our communities become.

Finally, to repeat a simple message shared by our federal counterparts, “If you see something, say something.”

As state employees, each of you plays an important role in assuring the safety and security of our citizens: from the Department of Health, where we have stepped up monitoring and tracking of potential health hazards, to the Military Department, which has admirably served overseas as well as provided homeland security and domestic preparedness on the home front, to the State Patrol, which monitors our highways and ferries. The collective work and collaboration of every agency has not gone unnoticed in the past decade.

Our nation’s biggest weakness lies not in what the terrorists can do to us or what the economic markets may bear, but in our increasing divisiveness, lack of civics and general isolation. Today, take a moment to remember those who perished 10 years ago. Be proud of our country, and be just as proud of your neighborhood, your community and your service to the state.

Thank you for that service.

Sincerely,
Chris

Monday, September 5, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001




Suds and Solace

By Terri Elders

On September 11, 2001, I had just opened an HIV/AIDS seminar for Peace Corps Volunteers in a shabby hotel two hours north of Port-au-Prince. We paused that morning to stare in silence at a generator-powered television set in the adjacent bar, tears trickling down our cheeks. Several of us joined hands and whispered The Lord’s Prayer. The Haitian counterparts would be arriving the next morning, many walking miles across rugged rural terrain to bus stops. We prayed for strength to get us through the week.

Incredibly, the training went forward without mishaps, and US Embassy and Peace Corps managed to get me aboard my scheduled return flight to Miami the following Sunday. Even more improbably, American Airlines had rerouted an extra flight to Dulles, given that Reagan National, my destination, was closed for the duration. They assigned me the one remaining seat left on it.

As soon as the taxi dropped me off in Silver Spring, my husband and I hugged, shared our concerns about the safety of our nation, and then addressed an immediate question. Should we or shouldn’t we cancel our postponed honeymoon?

In our sixties, we had a millennial wedding the previous summer, but since I had to begin immediately my new job in Washington DC, we waited to schedule a honeymoon until I accrued vacation time. When I asked Ken where he’d like to go, he chose Germany. He pined to revisit the towns he’d lived in during his Air Force service in the ‘50s, and wanted to take in one more Oktoberfest.

“This would be my fourth, and the best, since you’ll be with me. And I want you to learn to love German beer, just as I do.”

Never much of a beer drinker, nonetheless I had agreed.

But now I hesitated. We were scheduled to fly out on September 22. Would we be safe? Would we be foolhardy to travel at such an uncertain time? On the plus side: our rental car would be waiting at Franz Joseph airport in Munich, and Ken remembered enough German to ask for directions as we headed for Neuweire, the Black Forest, Meersburg, Garmisch and all those other magical-sounding towns I’d heard Ken describe. On the minus side: new travel regulations were in effect and airport security lines would be long and arduous.

“Let’s do it,” Ken finally said. “We’d probably be safer in Germany right now than we are right here in the outskirts of the capital. Plus you’ve been working hard, and really deserve a break.”

So we went. And on October 1 we finally settled in at Oktoberfest’s Hofbrau Haus, socializing with young people from New Zealand and Australia, raising our litre mugs as we sang along with a brass band that pounded out “Stop in the Name of Love” and “Roll Out the Barrel.” We ate salted radishes and pretzels as big as our heads, and toasted every English-speaking nation on earth, including Belize, Guyana and Seychelles, countries that would have gone overlooked if I hadn’t a personal Peace Corps knowledge of them. Then the Aussies and Kiwis joined us in a chorus of “Blame Canada” when a trio from Ottawa asked to sit with us.

Ken and I listened appreciatively as our new friends poured out their sympathy for our country, and accepted their gracious good wishes for a safe return home. We left Oktoberfest carefree, flushed with lager and love.

A few days later, though, we learned that the United States had begun to bomb Afghanistan, and that all American citizens abroad had been warned to contact American embassies and consulates. We heard talk of terrorist attacks against tourists in European countries. I began to shiver.

“Should we try to return home early?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t want to leave Germany until you’ve seen Andechs,” Ken replied, shaking his head.

As he explained it, Andechs Abbey, just an hour south of Munich, is a Benedictine monastery housed in a castle that dates from the twelfth century. Its brewery or kosterbrauerei, produces lagers with an alcohol percentage ranging between 11.5 and 18.5, some as strong as fortified sherries.

“We need to sit in the beer garden, have a basket of the fresh-baked dark rye bread and monastery cheese, and heft a beer and contemplate the frescoes and stuccoes. We’ll get some perspective on historical awareness at Andechs,” he insisted.

We drove along the eastern shore of Lake Ammersee until we spotted the castle looming on a hill. For more than half a millennium it had been a cherished destination for pilgrims, and now as we headed up the hill that frosty morning I felt as if we, too, were on a pilgrimage.

The beer proved just as delicious as Ken had promised. Then after lunch, we toured the ground floor of the church and I sat for a while in the Chapel of Sorrow, praying for the United States, for Washington DC, and for our marriage. I especially prayed for a sense of serenity. As soon as I asked the Lord to instill peace in my heart, I felt an enormous sense of relief. The fear had vanished.

This chapel, originally consecrated in 1470, houses the grave of Carl Orff, the 20th century composer of “Carmina Burana.” Then we crossed to the St. Anthony Chapel, with frescoes by 17th century artists. I reflected on how past and present seem to come together at Andechs. As we prepared to leave I picked up a brochure that quoted the Andechs’ Abbot, Dr. Johannes Eckert, on the purpose of the monastery. One phrase hit a chord: “to relish the present and the moments which go by so quickly, yet indeed not forgetting that which went on before.” Exactly what I had been thinking.

Then I remembered that September day in Haiti, when we all decided to move forward, to avoid becoming paralyzed with fear. As we strolled to our rental car I turned to Ken. “In the chapel I asked the Lord for help in giving up fear,” I said. “There’s no room for it on our honeymoon. My prayer seems to have been answered. I feel more peaceful now.”

“Good decision,” he replied. Then he grinned. “But don’t ask Him to make us give up German beer.”

I agreed that I wouldn’t. Suds and solace seemed perfect mates. Just like us.

(This story appears in The Harsh and The Heart: Celebrating the Military, available now.)

http://silverboomerbooks.com/h-h-authors.html

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Who-Nami

Last November Marlene Moore Gordon published a story I'd written about my Akita, Tsunami, and the amazing escape-artist tricks she played on us when she was a puppy. At that time I couldn't find any of her puppy pictures. Recently my stepson, Rick, located the photo that my late husband took of her at ten weeks, just after she'd turned the backyard of our Silver Spring townhouse into a lunar landscape. Here she is with her "best friend," a stuffed toy she carried everywhere. Rick had a mouse pad made from it.

Nami will be nine on September 24. To celebrate I'm going to try to get a new mouse pad made from the photo, since my old one has faded over the years. Nami's mellowed, but not faded. She's as radiant as ever. Please check out my story, "The Great Who-Nami" at HandPrints on My Heart...and give it a comment and vote. Marlene's blog promises something new to feel good about everyday. And who doesn't need that?

I have two other stories on that blog that you could comment on, as well, "Light of My Life" and "Pop's Old Pedestal Desk."

Wishing everybody a glorious labor-free Labor Day!

http://blog.handprintsonmyheart.com/2010/11/07/the-great-who-nami/



Friday, September 2, 2011

Arrested Development



I love Pinchback Press, and the chance to cross over to the dark side. As much as I enjoy writing inspirational stories for series such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort, there's been some not-quite-glorious episodes in my life as well. So Pinchback gives me a chance to clean out some cobwebs. Tarnished, which appeared a couple of months ago, carried my story, "A Pair to Draw To," about my parents' best friends, people who led lives of deceit.

Now Pinchback has a call out for a new book that really appeals to me. When I worked as a psychotherapist I learned everybody had secrets. I'm not certain everybody's committed a crime, but I suspect from listening to people share their fears that most of us have nudged the letter of the law a time or two. I just finished reading Ghostwalk, a mystery set in Cambridge, that reveals that even Isaac Newton kept a list of dozens of sins, written in code because of his shame. He never got arrested, though. But I did. So I've got a tale to tell for Pinchback's new title.

Caught: True Crime Tales of Scamming, Scheming & Sliding By

Deadline: October 31, 2011

Whether you’ve stolen, conned, lied, or cheated here is your chance to come clean. Tell us about the times you’ve ripped someone off, the five finger discounts you’ve taken, the little white lies you’ve told. Confession is good for the soul and we want to hear every crafty detail of yours. Tell us the tactless, the tricky and the downright terrible and we may want to publish it.

We are interested in unique personal essays that will disgust and delight readers. We want to hear from everyone, from petty criminals to hardened cons. Submissions might play with the nurture vs. nature theme, could be mastermind masterpieces, or may even be ‘anti’ crime; the collection as whole will evoke strong emotion and stand out in this popular genre.

Guidelines
All essays should be nonfiction narratives, written in the first-person. Focus on one or a few selected events; do not send rants or political speeches. Stories should be titled. Essays should be between 1000 – 5000 words, double-spaced, paginated and word-processed. No funky fonts, please.

Please include a brief bio (1-3 sentences) at the end of your submission.

Deadline: October 31, 2011
Please send your submissions to: blue@pinchbackpress.com

Each contributor receives two free copies of the finished book.

Now I'll finally have the chance to tell the story about the night I spent in jail, thanks to my first husband who got a little too merry at a Christmas party when I was just 22. As a result I had to list this incident on every job application I made for decades...as I applied to be hired as a teacher, a social worker or a Peace Corps Volunteer, not professions usually associated with an arrest record. I'm thinking of calling the piece, which I hope to write this weekend, "Arrested Development."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Do You Want to Know a Secret?


When Dahlynn McKowen revealed that she and hubby Ken were about to launch a new anthology series, Not Your Mother's Book, and wondered if I'd be interested in co-creating a couple of the proposed 25 titles, I felt my heart go pitter-pat.

I've still got a few things I want to do on my "bucket list," and one of them is to someday read my name on the cover of a book. I've had my photo on the cover of Grandmothers' Necklace, and my byline on the cover of a couple of magazines, Uncle Jam and quint. But I've never written an entire book or helped to compile one.

Now I've got a chance. I'll be working on at least two of the collections, "On Sharing Secrets" and "On My First Time." It was while we discussed the concept of the latter that Dahlynn and I came up with the idea for the former. I'd mentioned that when I worked as a psychotherapist I discovered that nearly everybody had a special secret...and that some folks were just itching to confess.

I've yet to decide what I'll write about myself for "On Sharing Secrets" but I already have my story in mind for "My First Time." Though we suspect we'll get submissions about first attempts at athletic feats...surfing, scuba diving, skiing, roller skating, and coming-of-age landmarks...the first date, the first prom, the first kiss, et. al, we're hoping we'll be regaled with out-of-the-ordinary first time ventures, as well. My "First Time" story will involve my first visit to my favorite city...and a ghost!

As Dahlynn says, this series won't be as family-friendly as some other anthologies...it will be more PG13 and TV14, with edgier, sassier tales. So now's the time to write the stories you've been saving, the true confessions you believed you'd have to Bowdlerize if they were ever to see print.

Proposed titles for the new series: Not Your Mother’s Book…

1. Military Life
2. My First Time
3. On Alternative Lifestyles
4. On Being Actively Retired
5. On Being a Mom
6. On Being a Nurse
7. On Being a Stupid Kid
8. On Being a Teacher
9. On Being a Woman
10. On Cats
11. On College
12. On Dogs
13. On Do-It-Yourselfers
14. On Fishing
15. On Girls’ Night Out
16. On Golfing
17. On Grandparenting
18. On Horses
19. On Menopause
20. On Moms-to-Be
21. On Parenting
22. On Sharing Secrets
23. On Travel
24. On Weddings
25. On Writing

Tell every writer and wannabe writer you know about this amazing opportunity to get published. Hurry on over to Publishing Syndicate's website, check out the guidelines and start writing your stories today.

http://publishingsyndicate.com/publishing_syndicate/ps_home.html


Here's the link to the wonderful free WOW Principles Newsletter, with more information about the series:

http://publishingsyndicate.com/publishing_syndicate/newsletters/wow_newsletter.html


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wisdom of the Heart

Whether you've had a loved one go to battle or simply get a lump in your throat when you hear "America the Beautiful," you'll appreciate the heartfelt stories and poems in this wonderful new Silver Boomer book.

I've never thought of myself as particularly patriotic...I'm not a flag waver or a soapbox screamer. But I'm thrilled that three of my stories appear in this book, which is inspired by the impending tenth anniversary of 9/11. "Suds and Solace" directly addresses the fear I felt when my husband and I flew to Germany for Oktoberfest just ten days after the destruction of the Twin Towers. "A Taxing Topic" describes why I don't moan and groan on income tax day, and why I believe it's a universal obligation to pay for the protection our military provides.

But my favorite is "Foote Notes for My Father," which recounts the pride my dad had in being the oldest enlisted man on his ship, the USS Foote, which was torpedoed in the Solomons in WWII.

My father led a life of adventure. He operated a dancing school in Utah in the '30s. He ran The Beige Room at San Francisco's intersection of Bay and Powell in the late '40s and early '50s, a nightclub featuring female impersonators. He threw fabulous parties on the houseboat that he built himself and moored at Oakland's Jack London Square. He exhibited his meticulously restored 1946 Lincoln Continental at shows from Disneyland to Silverado. Yet, oddly enough, the only two stories I've written about him relate to his service in WWII.

"Daddy and Raggedy Ann" which will appear shortly in both Bernie S. Seigel's A Book of Miracles and in Fighting the Fear tells of his visits to me at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles where I languished with double pneumonia in 1941, just as he prepared to ship out with the Foote.

I hope it's clear that I admire my dad for his humor, his generous spirit and his ability to befriend everybody he met. But there's something more...he was a remarkable story teller. One of his friends recently told me he'd pay any price to spend an evening listening to a conversation between Al Burgess and Mark Twain. Yep...that Mark Twain, noted as one of the world's most entertaining raconteurs. Al Burgess would have held his own in that imaginary exchange and the two would have entertained one another well into the wee hours.

When I wrote "Foote Notes" I included a brief prose poem my dad wrote. Al Burgess secretly always wanted to be a writer, he once confided. Well...now that The Harsh and The Heart: Celebrating the Military has appeared, he's a published one.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Miracle: Closing in on The Fabled Fifty


For months I've lived in the past...plotting invasions and takeovers with Henry VIII, Napoleon and Franco. Now it's back to the present. When I returned from Cambridge I had several new books with my stories waiting for me:
  • Nurturning Paws, with "Oh, Fudge, Another Nudge."
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart, with "Our Great Expectations" and "The Bet."
  • The Harsh and the Heart: Celebrating the Military, with "Suds and Solace," "A Taxing Topic" and "Foote Notes from my Father."
More books with my tales will appear in September and October:
  • A Book of Miracles, with "Bats in Our Belfry" and "Daddy and Raggedy Ann."
  • God Makes Lemonade, with "No Longer a Nuisance."
  • Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home, with "Daddy and Raggedy Ann."
  • Thin Threads for Moms & Grandmas, with "She'll Know Me."
There's half a dozen others in the works with uncertain release dates, but I'm hopeful I'll have achieved my goal of fifty books with my stories by my 75th birthday next June, a bet I made with my late husband, Ken Wilson.

Me, From A to Z

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” ~William Wordsworth

“We’ll find something special to put between these,” Ken said, weighing the pair of heavy black A- and Z-shaped bookends in his palms. “What a gorgeous gift.”

The two of us toured the house, looking for a suitable spot to display this Christmas present from his youngest son.

“Maybe on top the entertainment center?” I asked.

I always deferred to my husband about grouping paintings or positioning the potted plants, knickknacks and bagatelles that crowded the shelves and tables of our airy home. I’d often thought that with his unerring eye for spatial relations, Ken would have made a successful interior decorator.

“Sure. We can put them there now, and figure out what books they’ll hold later.”

A few months later I received notice from Chicken Soup for the Soul that one of my stories had been selected to appear in their upcoming anthology, Celebrating Brothers and Sisters. Subsequently I received my contributor’s copy, the first book I’d ever held that contained one of my bylined stories. I’d been published in newspapers and magazines dozens of times, but this was different. This was a book.

I handed it to my husband.

“Look inside where I stuck the bookmark. It’s my story. I know it’s only one book, but can we put it between the A and Z bookends?”

“I’ve never heard of bookends holding only one book,” Ken said, with a chuckle that sounded like a blend of snicker and snort.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I replied. “I’ll soon have more.”

I walked over to the bookends and tucked my book between the bookends, and stepped back. It looked a little lonely there, like an orphan in need of a family.

“How many books do you think would fit up there on top the entertainment center?”

Ken cast a professional eye in its direction.

“If they’re all paperbacks, there’s easily room for fifty. But even two or three would look better than one.”

“Well, that one’s pretty special, since it’s my first. But I’ll conjure up some companions soon. Fifty sounds about right.”

My husband laughed again.

“Didn’t you tell me that these anthologies want true stories, things that have happened to you? Are you telling me that you really have fifty stories to tell? Fifty things that other people would want to read about?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of memories I’d love to share. You’re right, though. Fifty’s a lot.”

“Baby, make it easy on yourself. Try for a dozen.”

“No…you said there’s room for fifty.”

Ken shook his head and walked away.

So I sold a second story, and then a third. Ken began to ask from time to time, “How many books have you got up there now?” Sometimes I’d overhear him on the phone, bragging that I’d placed yet another story.

I’d always read them to him before I sent them out.

He’d scrunch up his face in wonder. “How do you remember every word your mother said to you when you were six?”

“I don’t,” I confessed. “It’s literary license.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be true?”

“They are,” I insisted. “But I fudge a little on dialog and write what I think sounds like what Mama or my brother or you would have said.”

Ken grinned. Unable to recall much about his own early days, he liked hearing about mine. So I continued to track down memories I could translate to tales.

One day I noticed Ken’s skin looked sallow. He’d complained that morning of lacking any energy. I made an emergency appointment for him with his doctor. Jaundiced, he had to be hospitalized for tests and an MRI, and the diagnosis turned out to be horrific. Pancreatic cancer.

Throughout the next few months I doubted I’d be able to continue to write. Sometimes I’d sit at my laptop, stare at the page, waiting for the words to come. Then I’d remember I promised Ken I’d appear in fifty books. So I’d write another. He’d nod approval as I’d read aloud.

By June 2009, when Ken died, eleven books nestled together between the bookends, a burgeoning family. On the actual date of his death, UPS delivered a box containing my copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People with two stories about Ken and our lives together. Now the bookends embraced the neat dozen he’d suggested as a fair goal.

Still I longed for that original fifty. At first, though, in my grief I feared my muse had fled. Soon, however, I found solace in recounting more of our adventures together, so once again I began to write and submit. I still could do it, even without Ken sitting in his favorite recliner waiting for me to read him my latest effort.

Right now I’ve lined up 40 bewitching books, with several more scheduled to be published over the remainder of the year. Fifty’s in sight.

Some people claim books are dinosaurs, relics of an earlier, more primitive age.

At a recent meeting of my book group one of our members, a little bit younger and a lot more tecky then the rest of us, held up a royal blue device no larger than her hand, and announced she’d read our current month’s choice on her e-reader.

“I’ll never return to physical books, if I can help it,” she declared.

Though I’ve got a Kindle, and download to it frequently, I’m still enamored of physical books. I grew up haunting the stacks in libraries. I’ve owned library cards in five states and four overseas countries. I’ve always got a book or twelve on my bedside table.

These days I’m happiest reading the anthologies that include my stories. How it cheers my spirits to see the volumes assembled in my family room, bookmarks saucily inserted at the pages where my stories begin. Where I used to start each day with a chat with Ken, I now begin by reading an anthology story as I sip my morning tea.

I doubt I’d ever find a publisher for my autobiography, should I write one. I’m not a celebrity. My name’s hardly a household word. Nonetheless, I’m blessed to have found a way to publish my life’s story, chapter by chapter, through these collections.

Earlier this year I conducted a workshop on writing narrative essays at my local library, “A Penny for Your Thoughts.” Sixteen people came to learn how to write about their lives.

“Nobody gets rich in writing for anthologies,” I admitted. “But look at all the other compensations. Your friends and family will be thrilled to read about themselves.”

“Yeah,” one man interrupted, “and you’ve got a published work!”

Not long after I received a thank you note from the librarian. She wrote, “It was such a treat to hear you read your stories…your tips and experience in the field were so valuable. Your audience was completely captive!”

I had read two of my Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, both about grandmothers, one about my grandmother’s funeral, and one about becoming a grandmother myself. The audience hung on my every word. And when I finished….they applauded. Even Ken, appreciative as he may have been, never did that.

What a gorgeous gift!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Newspaper Competition and Strawberry Cider


The war of the tabloids to pick up readership from the defunct Sunday News of the World is on. According to the Manchester Guardian, The People, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Express and Daily Star Sunday have launched aggressive campaigns with a mixture of extra marketing and price cutting to attract former NoW readers who on average purchase 2,670,000 copies weekly in June, making it Britain's largest-selling Sunday newspaper.

While readership of American Sunday papers diminish, Britain's remain faithful, per the following statistics:

Headline circulation of Sunday national newspapers – June 2011

News of the World: 2,667,428

Mail on Sunday: 1,927,791

Sunday Mirror: 1,087,796

Sunday Express: 539,478

The People: 474,549

Daily Star Sunday: 305,978

Sunday Time: 1,000,848

Sunday Telegraph: 474,722

The Observer: 288,928

Independent on Sunday: 151,229

As I read about the death of Amy Winehouse, the queues outside Buckingham Palace to peek at the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, and a solid editorial on why university education should be accessible to all, I sipped a Brothers Cider at The Snug, a pub next door to my Lensfield Hotel. Its label reads:

"It has taken four brothers and 14 generations of cider makers to create this unique strawberry mixed pear cider, served at the Glastonbury Festival since 1995. Enjoy it chilled, over ice or in a muddy field."

I chose "over ice," no muddy field in immediate sight.

Later I checked into my room at Memorial Court, Clare College, and then dined at Old Court, with Laurence from France, Ken from the US, Andrea from Germany and Paul from Holland.

Classes start tomorrow, with Henry VIII, Napoleon, plenary lecture on War and Peace: Frederick the Great and Napoleon and evening lecture on War, Peace and British Secret Intelligence.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Literary Limbo

Memorial Court, Clare College, University of Cambridge

I can't blame neglecting my blog totally on daydreaming of Cambridge, but it's an easy scapegoat. Sure, I've been preparing for my second consecutive summer, this year in the history track. For the past several weeks I've been immersed in Tudor England, the Napoleonic wars and the Spanish Civil War. Hanging out with Henry VIII and Napoleon takes a lot of energy... pondering Picasso's Guernica can be draining, indeed.

June and July hold so many so many beginnings and endings...both of my weddings, the birthdays of each of my husbands, plus my own, and the anniversaries of the deaths of my late husband and of some dear friends. So to slog through these days without collapsing into total ennui, I've watched 18 episodes of The Grand, the British television series set in 1920s Manchester. Plus I've devoted a couple of nights each week to So You Think You Can Dance, wishing I were 16 once more, pirouetting with the Pavlovettes.

But now, after a few weeks of literary limbo, I've written and submitted some new stories.

My latest narrative essays:

How a Peace Corps Medical Officer aligned my nose with my toes.
Why marriage can be all fun and games, given a good deck of cards.
When you can't be 100% positive, maybe 85% will suffice.
What devoting a minute a day to practicing Spanish can do for your mental health.
Where to start when you're feeling paralyzed with fear.

Now I've got to get back to Harry Houdini's pesky rodent. That rabbit's been on my mind for weeks.