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....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

"Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said; 'one can't believe impossible things.'
'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.' "--Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

This morning I scrolled through several websites listing calls for anthology submissions. Then, while I weeded and sowed zinnia seeds, I came up with ideas for half a dozen projects:
  • A short story about a magician's rabbit who can carry messages back and forth to The Great Beyond.
  • An essay about how my temperament calmed down in the tropics.
  • A confessional on how AlAnon helped me deal with my first husband's alcoholism.
  • A short story about a woman's regrets on missing out on motherhood.
  • A story from my father's point of view, when he was torpedoed in WWII.
  • A narrative essay on the running gin game I had with my late husband.
These six projects should keep me busy at the keyboard through June.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Telling Tales at the Library

Last night at the Colville Public Library I talked about writing for anthologies. I'd fretted that nobody would show up, but a nice group of around fifteen people came. All appeared eager to discuss the delights of what used to be called putting pen to paper. Like me, most had been writing tales since childhood.

Though I'd called my presentation "A Penny for Your Thoughts," and indicated I'd focus on memoir, on crafting narrative essays for anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, I discovered that many in the group had other interests. Many wrote fiction, so we discussed today's market for that, especially genres such as fantasy, horror and sci fi. One gentleman has assembled an expose of the martial arts industry which he claims "isn't pretty." Another man would like to get a writers' group going and suggested a sign-up sheet for those who would be interested in periodic discussions.

I summarized the essential elements of narrative essays, provided a handout listing paying and non-paying markets for slice-of-life stories, and read two of the stories I've sold to Chicken Soup, "Pansies, Painted Ladies and Pink Polka Dots," which will be published this August in Just for Teensagers, and "Ready for Stardust," which appeared earlier this year in Grandmothers. I divulged my biggest secret for the former...learning to stay in the voice of the teen, rather than my usual voice, an aging woman reflecting on her youthful experiences. This is something I'd overlooked before...neglecting to remember who the readers of the book would be. Though plenty of grandmas will read a book called Grandmothers, they are NOT the ones who will read Just for Teenagers.

Although the group politely applauded at the conclusion of my readings of my tales, I got my biggest laugh when I mentioned something editor Colleen Sell had blogged when she was still producing the Cup of Comfort series. She'd been astonished to receive certain submissions for a book on fathers that had a publication date timed to attract Father's Day shoppers. Many contributors sent in diatribes about hateful, abusive, neglectful, foul-mouthed and even fouler-smelling alcoholic oafs whom they wholeheartedly hoped would roast for eternity in the Lake of Fire. The half dozen men who attended last night roared.

That wasn't the only laugh, though. Yesterday afternoon I'd received confirmation of the receipt of a story I've submitted for an upcoming book, My Funny Valentine. I shared what the editor had written: "Wow, Colville. I'd snicker about 'hick NE WA town' except my father is from Hunters, and I used to work ranches there in the summer. Colville and Davenport were my idea of hitting the big city."

Hey, Colville is the county seat of Stevens County and boasts a population of 5000. And even here, in the remote northeastern corner of the state, just below the Canadian border, people show up to talk about the art and craft of writing. Just as they do in the big different from Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.


Monday, May 9, 2011

2-4-6-8, Who Do I Appreciate?

(Rick and Angela in my front yard the day they got engaged, 12/25/04)

Dream of Things publisher Mike O'Mary claims your notes of appreciation will make the world a million times better! He's on a mission to enlist a million people in The Note Project, encouraging us all to give voice to appreciation for the people who enrich our lives.

Visit his Note Project blog, and learn how writing notes of appreciation can promote literacy, and make you and somebody else feel better right now!

Here's the note of appreciation I posted today, thanking Angela Wilson, my stepson's now-American wife!

I’m writing to thank my step-daughter-in-law, Angela Wilson, who this past week became a United States citizen. I met Angela in 2003 when I went to Moldova to do a Peace Corps health project review. She then worked as the executive assistant to Van Nelson, the Peace Corps director in that little Eastern European country. Already Angela had embarked on the first of a series of adventures, leaving her hometown of Serpenti to work in the bustling city of Chisineau.

My husband of three years often mentioned he hoped his middle son, Rick, would find somebody to share his life. Rick at the time worked as a meat packager at Costco while he went to school to get a master’s degree in teaching. He additionally taught as a substitute in various elementary schools in the Reno area. He didn’t have much time for dating or any social life at all.

Angela expressed interest in improving her written English and Rick, fond of the Internet, had corresponded with a number of women overseas. I linked the two together. Romance didn’t blossom at first. But after a couple of years of corresponding, Angela invited Rick to visit Moldova. He countered with an offer to pay for her airfare so she could see the United States.

On Christmas day, 2004, they took a long walk in the falling snow around my neighborhood in Northeast Washington, and came back engaged. Rick and Angela married in Serpenti in 2005, honeymooned in Moscow, and she came to the States that autumn. In June 2009, two weeks after my husband, Ken, died, Angela gave birth to my granddaughter, Kendra. My husband knew the baby would be a girl and would be named for him.

Though they now live in Casa Grande, Arizona, where Rick teaches third grade and Angela studies for a nursing degree, I’ll be seeing them this summer. I can hardly wait to congratulate citizen Angela in person.

Tomorrow’s Angela’s birthday. Happy birthday, citizen Angela Wilson! And thank you for enriching the lives of the entire family!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Evening Shadows Make Me Blue

On Tuesday I'll be talking at the Colville Public Library about writing for anthologies. I began writing my life's stories nearly five years ago. It's a never-ending endeavor. But I'm glad I've chosen to do it in snippets, in small chunks, for anthologies, not for a stand-alone autobiography.

I'd bet that would be a futile effort. I've benefited from the experience of others. For instance, back in the '70s, a friend confided that he'd drafted the first several chapters of his autobiography and sent it to his agent, the very woman who had helped him reach success as a his special area of expertise, solar energy. Did she give him a thumbs up? No way. He showed me the terse note she'd sent him in those pre-computer days.

"Ted, you are not a household name. Nobody wants to read about your upbringing in Lahore, nor your views on current affairs, either in Pakistan or in your own checkered life."

Ted was dashed with this news. He'd published half a dozen books that had sold well to environmentalists and engineers. He thought he had what today is known as a platform.

But his readers were interested in his expertise, not in him. He abandoned trying to market his life story and embarked on writing a novel. Of course it was based on his life...a thinly veiled recounting of his marriages and divorces, mistakes and triumphs. His agent didn't like that either. Abashed, Ted gave up and settled down to write a book about windmill power.

He'd found his niche. But I think he'd have a best seller today. Times have changed. His recounting of his woes and troubles, loves unrewarded, fortunes lost through reckless gambling, stints in rehab for alcoholism. The very stuff of reality TV and celebrity bios.

Though I've chosen a different path in telling my story in snippets to inspirational anthologies, I, too, have a shadier, edgier side. My life's not all mirth and sunshine. So these past few months I've targeted other markets. I've written about:
  • My undiagnosed childhood anxiety disorder for an anthology of women's stories of struggles with mental illness.
  • My failed first marriage for a book on how women successfully survive toxic relationships.
  • My favor for a writer friend that paid off, but not in the way I'd anticipated, for a collection of reflections about good deeds.
But today I'm back to drafting another story to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul's upcoming book on finding happiness. I'm bombarding the editors for this book! I've already sent them five other tales for consideration. By now they're probably cowering under their desks when they download yet another piece from me.

But, hey, I've always believed that happiness is a choice. So I'm determined to shove and shoulder my way into this book!

So far I've written about building a friendship with a penpal, paying thankful homage to the IRS, revisiting a childhood home, celebrating a birthday in the Dominican Republic and delighting in a tasty snack on the shores of Lake Naivasa in Kenya. Now I'm tackling a new topic, why I'm still happiest with a book, even though I appreciate my Kindle.

Will I be happy if all my submissions are rejected? Not overjoyed, but I'll still be happy. As I'll tell my audience on Tuesday, I always let my turned-down tales incubate in my story orphanage for a while. Then I spiffy them up and send them to knock on other doors. Rejection may sting...but it doesn't mean the story's not worth resubmitting.

Nor that I can't call myself... like Anne Boleyn...The Most Happy!

Anne knew what would make her happy and she got least for a while.