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....

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!

1 comment:

  1. Very nice retrospective and 50 will arrive before you know it. I look forward to 100.