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....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jilted, but not a Bitter Betty for long....

Yesterday I finished my spring cleaning and put up my summer sign, Ms. Sheeply, to ready my home and my spirits for at long last...summer. Even though we've yet to hit an 80 degree temperature here, that doesn't mean it's never going to get warm.

So even though I got some bad news yesterday about one of my favorite stories, that doesn't mean I won't see it in print ever. Over the past five years I've learned that in the give and take of freelance writing, sometimes it might feel like lots of give and little take.

Some writers deal with rejection by figuring the odds. Jay Neugeboren blogs beautifully today in Poets and Writers about keeping score of rejections and acceptances, and how he reminds himself that the scoreboard is his muse.

So here's what happened to give me the early summertime blues. Yesterday I received two email missives from an anthology I regularly contribute to. In the early afternoon I received a general call out, asking for a story for an upcoming book about how teenagers deal with difficulties. I immediately dashed down a reminder. I welcomed another fresh opportunity to explore a long ago event in my life, the time I'd had to drop out of college in my sophomore year because of an injury from an auto accident.

Then, a little later, I got an update on a book that's scheduled to be published next month, one that I thought would contain one of my favorite stories, about attending my grandmother's funeral when I was fifteen. This note informed that my story wouldn't appear in the book after al.

I sat there, stunned. I've had stories cut by this anthology series three times now this past year, after I'd already signed permission slips...but this is the first time I've been cut after I'd already OKed page proofs.

I'm not a quibbler, so editors generally find me easy to work with. I don't care if a title gets changed or an ending gets truncated. Just give me my byline and give me the book. But this time around I was so puzzled, I actually asked for an explanation. I got an answer. The editors had to include more stories by actual my bad luck, I got scissored.

Back in earlier years, when I used to write articles for magazines, most publishers at least offered a kill fee, usually 25% of the agreed-upon compensation. For anthologies, though, the author writes on speculation. You take your chances. Some publishers don't bother to send rejection notices, let alone any whisper of why a story isn't selected.

I can understand this. Sheer numbers can prevent a personal response. This popular series, for instance, generally receives two to three thousand submissions for each proposed title.

But yesterday I felt devastated...just as if my suitor had called off the engagement and jilted me at the altar.

Coincidentally, yesterday morning I'd sat in on a webinar on marketing memoirs, hosted by Writer's Digest. Literary agent Paula Balzer, who represents such diverse celebrity talents as Diablo Cody (Juno) and Randy Jackson (American Idol), warned us not to write as Bitter Bettys. Nobody wants to read rants about mean bosses, spiteful neighbors or evil ex-spouses. So apparently we're supposed to get over our broken hearts.

"Memoirs need to come from a place of resolution," she said.

I agree. Rants can be draining, and can keep us frozen in the past. So today I'll seek another home for my sweet little orphaned story. I used to say I was never certain of publication until I saw the page proofs. From now on I won't count my chickens until I hear them clucking on my doorstep.

In the meantime, for those writers of memoirs and narrative essays who missed Balzer's's her To Do List:
  • Write frequently.
  • Be marketable.
  • Find a hook.
  • Read memoirs.
  • Play with structure.
  • Find your voice.
  • Research carefully.
  • Build a platform.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

His Three Sons

Ken always claimed that he took little pride in any of his personal accomplishments, but felt overwhelmingly proud of his three sons, shown below on July 4,2000. (Left to right: Scott, Darren, Ken, Rick)

He believed that fathers needed to tell their children how much they loved them, especially sons.

"It's easy to be daddy's little princess, and know you're loved. But you've got to tell the boys that so they grow up knowing it's all right to say they love somebody," he said. Though Ken sometimes found it difficult to talk about his emotions, he could and did say, "I love you," and "I'm proud of you."

Happy Father's Day to all the dads! And tell somebody that you love them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18 Again...

Maybe life really is all about weddings and babies!

I can replay nearly every detail of only three days of my life, July 1, 2000, when I married Ken Wilson, February 22, 1958, when my son, Steve, was born, and Saturday, June 18, 1955, when I married Bob Elders. Fifty-six years later, the date falls on a Saturday once more.

I still remember:
  • Walking to the beauty parlor to get my very first professional haircut.
  • Arguing with my sister over a crinoline hoop slip that she wanted to borrow, and which I needed to make my wedding dress stand out all around.
  • Ironing my grandmother's wrinkled suit skirt after she arrived in Lynwood from Ontario.
  • Keeping my fingers crossed that the best man, Neil Widener, wouldn't produce a potato peeler instead of the rings, as he had threatened to do...but not quite remembering why this had been a running joke for several weeks.
  • Marrying Bob Elders in front of about a hundred family members and friends.
  • Forgetting my Uncle Howard's name in the reception line.
  • Changing into my going away dress, a sleeveless black sheath with zebra piping around the neckline.
  • Cutting the cake at the reception in the basement of St. Luke Lutheran Church.
  • Sneaking away from the second reception at Bob's parent's house in Downey to drive to Long Beach to spend the night at the Villa Riviera, when it was the swankiest hotel in town.
  • Worrying that I'd get seasick on the next day's seaplane flight to Avalon on Catalina Island.
  • Realizing that Bob had to be my legal guardian until June 28 when I'd turn 18.
  • Wondering where I'd be on subsequent June 18ths.
Today is my granddaughter, Kendra's, second birthday...I'll never forget the date.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Weather or Not

Imagination & Place Press seeks submissions for an anthology on weather, a subject much on my mind this month. Here in Northeast WA we've yet to see a day where the temperature has hit 80 degrees. The average date for the first 80 degree day is May 12. We're over a month late, and I'm guessing we've had fewer than a dozen days where we even got up to 70.

Ken and I moved here because he wanted to live where there were four seasons, in proper order, he claimed. He'd lived in Reno, where the seasons jumped around...snow could fall in every month but August. And we'd lived in Silver Spring, MD, where some years we'd have a winter that seemed to last just three weeks.

In the past few years here, though, winter has encroached on both fall and spring...this past year or two it seemed to last for five months. Summers have been so cool, they're almost nonexistent. Autumn last year stuck around for about two weeks...the first snow fell before the last leaf did. So some say we now have two seasons, winter and sprall, a seven month stretch of spring/fall.

I've just read Bill McKibbon's Eaarth, so wonder if our traditional seasons ever will return. Lots to think about while I begin to explore my perceptions of weather linked to imagination and place.

It's been raining intermittently today, so my pastures will remain unmown until tomorrow. The grass out there is lushly thick and thigh high. Natty hid from me in it yesterday afternoon. During the one brief break today, I captured some of the flowers in my yard before they fade. Here's color, color everywhere, just as Ken used to say he wanted to see. The daffodils are gone, but the iris have taken their place, and the Asian lilies will be coming along soon...and of course by late July and August, the zinnias.

Followed by five months of shades of white.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wising Up Says "Not Now"

When I saw the call out from Wising Up Press at Universal Table for reflections about good deeds, I knew immediately what I'd write about. Here's the call out:

We start with the best of intentions - opening our hearts, offering suggestions, good will, time, skills, food, money, a bed - betting this instinctual generosity will. . .well that's not always so clear. But however cloudy the immediate goal, the larger one glows. We're making a world we want to be part of, doing what we feel is right or just, or just expressing preemptive solidarity, acting toward someone in the way we would like them to act toward us if our situations were reversed. Often enough, our generosity leads to greater friendship, empowerment, optimism, reciprocity. But then there are those other times - with a different person or the very same one - when our actions and motives may seem consistent with whatever we did before, but the consequences, practical and social, are dramatically different and call into question some of our most cherished assumptions. We can feel like a trump, an easy mark. We can feel obscurely or openly responsible for whatever went askew. Or angry. Betrayed. Shamed. Defensive. But, for some reason that is as powerful as it is unclear, we are unwilling to stay in that state and, at the same time, unwilling to write off the consequences as an aberration, a bad bet. We invite writers to explore through poetry, fiction, memoir and creative non-fiction acts of generosity that have had unintended consequences and the sense, over time, we have made of them.

I wrote about a decision I'd made to help a former boyfriend for a few years while he wrote two novels. I had the time and money to share his life. He had the time and talent to finally write a couple of stories that had haunted him. Nothing turned out the way I'd envisioned it...but, I'd do it again. So I wrote my essay, "Needs."

Today I learned that Wising Up will not be publishing my story, nor the book:

Dear Theresa,

We regret to inform you that we will not be publishing the Good Deeds that Turn On Us & the Sense We Make of Them anthology. This decision has been made reluctantly and after extended consideration of all manuscripts.

Although we received many submissions and read them with openness and care, we did not find enough of them with the depth of characterization and emotional insight needed to make up a strong anthology that has those qualities we value in our Wising Up anthologies – warm, empathic, musing, and open to new meaning.

We are disappointed because we really liked this theme and thought it provided a good opportunity to reflect on the mysterious origins of altruism and is uneven consequences in the world, a very Universal Table theme.

However, if we had had more submissions like yours, perhaps the anthology would have pulled together. Please keep your eye out for other Calls for Submissions of ours and submit again if you feel you have appropriate material.

Best wishes,
Heather and Charles

Heather Tosteson, Ph.D.
Charles D. Brockett, Ph.D.
Wising Up Press

What kind words..."if we had had more submissions like yours."

I'll continue to look for a publisher for this story...I've sent it to Dream of Things as a possible tale for its planned book on stories about forgiveness. I think it might be a good fit.

Nonetheless, I'm disappointed that this anthology shall not be would have been an engrossing one indeed!

Universal Table has a welcoming philosophy that continues to resonate with me:

The aim of Universal Table is to promote tolerance and social trust along many dimensions of life - or those are the words we have been using in our official mission statement. But each time we use them, we realize we are trying to describe something far broader - something that encompasses welcome, difference, surprise and inclusion, truthfulness and authenticity, and an equal place for each of us and what we hold most dear. These are the true goals of Universal Table: Finding the We in Them, the Us in You.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Bad Hare Day: Tweaking History

All morning I've struggled with the opening of a short story about Harry Houdini's hare, Harriet, who brings a bereaved widow messages from the Great Beyond. So far I've figured out who my protagonist's definitely the messenger working on behalf of the Dearly Deceased.

But I'm going to have to buck history, I'm afraid. The title of this pictured framed art print is "Harry Houdini and His Rabbit Entertain Five Hospitalized Children 1925." It's a photo that my late husband, Ken Wilson, greatly admired and considered buying.

Rabbits and hares share the same kingdom, phylum, class, order and family, but they're from different genera. And hares, who nest above ground, rarely can be domesticated. I'd hoped Houdini pulled hares out of his hat, but this short-eared creature who seems so comfortable with children clearly is a dark-furred bunny, I fear.

Hmmmm. Maybe I can make Harriet a second cousin twice removed and a jealous rival of the bunny in this photo? Hey, it's literary license. I'm sticking to my story. In my Great Beyond Houdini's at home with his heavenly hare!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

True Romance (RIP)

Ken's been gone two years today...but his spirit still is strong here. This morning I had to rifle through a duffel bag of photos in search of a picture taken of my first husband's dad. But it took more than an hour because I paused so often to gaze at pictures of the life's journey that Ken and I of us in Reno, in Sweden, in England, in Colorado Springs, and here in the gardens of the house he loved so much.

I also looked at the old e-mails I still have filed under Kenny D, and found the cartoon I've posted above. Ken sent it to me in June 2008. I also found the prose poem below. Ken didn't write it, but he sent it to me just a couple of months before we got married in 2000.

Reason, Season, Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what
to do.

When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is
usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or
inwardly. They have come to assist you through a
difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support,
to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are
there for the reason, you need them to be. Then,
without any wrong doing on your part or at an
inconvenient time, this person will say or do
something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up or out and force you to take a
stand. What we must realize is that our need has been
met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The
prayer you sent up has been answered and it is now
time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON, it is
because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They may bring you an experience of peace or make you
laugh. They may teach you something you have never
done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of
joy. Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
those things you must build upon in order to have a
solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the
lesson, love the person/people (any way); and put what
you have learned to use in all other relationships and
areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but
friendship is clairvoyant

Thank you for being a part of my life....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Canadian Cowboys and Ken Wilson

For one who never crossed our northern border until my late spouse, Ken Wilson, and I were house shopping in northeast Washington in 2004, I'm getting some attention in Canada...and it's thrilling because it's from academia.

Several months ago I submitted a story about my late spouse's fascination with cowboy heroes for consideration for a collection, Cowboy Love, even though I doubted it was what the publisher, a university press, sought. Today I got this amazing response:

Dear Theresa: I'm writing to ask you for permission to publish "All of His Heroes" in an online quarterly, the quint, that I'm editing at University College of the North (The Pas, Canada). It's such a fine piece of writing I'd really like to see it get "out there" to readers (our readership is growing--it's a young journal--I'm afraid we can't pay, but we have some very fine creative writers publishing with us and we have an international readership). Would you be interested? As you noted, the Cowboy Love collection is too academically oriented for your piece to fit. Anyways, here's the link below (I'm not sure why they titled the URL the way they did, I'm always apologizing for it). Just paste it into your browser and you should be taken right to the quint's archives. Our June issue is about to go into production and I thought of your piece. My apologies for it being such a long time between you sending "All of His Heroes" in and this response--we've been so busy up here.
I hope things are going well for you down South and this note finds you healthy and happy.
Best wishes,
Sue Matheson

Of course, I gave permission. I think Ken would have been delighted to know that students at a university 400 miles above Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the University College of the North, will be reading about his fondness for western movies. I too was delighted, once I'd had a chance to browse the archives of this beautiful literary journal. Though the June issue will be available on the Internet, hard copies can be requested, and the editor has agreed to send me a few.

Additionally, Chicken Soup for the Soul informed me several weeks ago that my story, "Three Bowls of Borscht," about Ken and me in Grand Forks, BC, is a finalist for its upcoming O Canada. In this tale I managed to combine Ken's admiration of Paladin with Sasquatch mythology connected to Kokanee beer. Plus I reminisced about a couple of anniversaries, our fifth which we spent in Grand Forks together, and our tenth, when I drove up there alone, a year after Ken's death.

I'm keeping my maple leaves crossed.

So tonight I'll probably dream about Canada. Maybe I'll hear Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald singing "Indian Love Call" and see Ken's reaction as I tell him that those scenes in Rose Marie, where they sang together across the Canadian wilderness were actually filmed at Lake Tahoe, where Ken worked as a bartender when he first moved from Modesto, CA to Nevada.

He'd grin at that, just as he grinned when he asked me if "borscht" were somehow connected to "horscht" or "chickenscht." That was Ken...a man worthy of celebration in the frozen north!