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 30, 2012

Do The Write Thing...My First Time

In 2000, just a few days before I married my late husband, Ken Wilson, I'd picked up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul at an international conference on self-esteem in San Francisco. I'd presented on my work with adolescents in Arkansas, Belize, and Seychelles. Maybe twenty people dropped by, mostly to ask whether I  knew of any cheap hotels for backpack travelers in the tropical paradises where I'd worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer. A few wanted to know what the folks in Arkansas really thought of Bill Clinton, who seemed to be fending off endless scandals related to his way with women.

Thousands crowded into the room next door to hear Jack Canfield, one of the founders of the popular Chicken Soup anthology series. My soon-to-be spouse kept tilting his head towards the partition dividing our group from the revelers next door. After I concluded my remarks, Ken and I joined the throngs waiting for Canfield to sign one of his books. I selected the pet book because Ken loved Akitas.

Ken read the book, and commented on how heartwarming the stories were. I'd never read any of these books. They'd become popular during '90s, the decade I'd lived overseas.

Not long after we retired to Northeast Washington, one winter afternoon I decided not to risk the icy roads to drive to the Colville library to pick up something to cheer me up. I'd been sneezing and sniffling, and sought a little sunshine. My eye fell on the Chicken Soup book.

Coincidentally, I'd made homemade chicken soup that afternoon, and while Ken and I spooned some up at supper I observed that I'd been reading this book.

"You know what? I think I can write something for that series," I announced, full of bluster.

"Go for it," my amiable hubby responded. "I double dog dare you."

Ken Wilson was no bluffer. He meant business. So I located the Chicken Soup for the Soul website, and saw a call for stories about brothers and sisters. That week I wrote "Easter Bloomers," about my little brother when we were kids over half a century earlier. Months later I got a letter from the editors that my story had survived the selection process, accompanied by a contract. The book came out in September, 2007, Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating Brothers and Sisters: Funnies and Favorites About Growing Up and Being Grown Up. Dahlynn and Ken McKowen were the co-editors of this particular title.

Later I learned about the WOW Principles newsletter that their company, Publishing Syndicate, issued monthly for free, and I subscribed. It was always full of tips about how to write for anthologies. It's archived on the Publishing Syndicate website, dozens of copies of back issues.

Subsequently I became an in-house editor for Ken and Dahlynn, and now a co-creator for some of the titles in their new series, Not Your Mother's Book. A couple of years ago I became their first featured guest editor. Yesterday I drafted my fourth contribution to WOW Principles, "So What About Once Upon a Time," which will be published in the September issue.

It's been only five years since that first story of mine appeared in an anthology. I now have 57 anthologies between and A and Z bookends atop my entertainment center. There's another dozen or more to be published in the next several months, and an additional eight or ten pending "maybes."

When people ask me where I get my ideas or how I find time to write, I think of Henry Miller who had 11 commandments for writing. I just have one. Mine is "Don't wait for the muse. Sit down at the keyboard and start poking keys. The muse has been wondering where you were."

Don't wait. Start writing your true story now for Not Your Mother's Book: My First Time.

And if you're in need of more prompting, here's Mr. Miller on  how he structures his writing day:

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Obsession, Instability and Malignant Coincidence"

Once again I've been living in the past, this time the English midlands in the early 19th century. I've skipped half a century, from Dickens to D. H., and am revisiting the world of the young Lawrence of Eastwood and Nottingham, as he struggled to make sense of the world around him. I've been reading John Worthen's D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. Identifying with Lawrence, I've asked myself how different my life might have turned out to be if I'd never succumbed to the lure of literature, if my family hadn't left rural Oregon to return to Los Angeles, if I'd never continued with my education beyond high school.

I've just emerged from a lost weekend, too debilitated with pain from degenerative discs in my neck to clean house, weed the yard, attend to editing obligations. All I've managed is to sleep, eat and read. Consequently I've allowed myself to carry this book from room to room as I've fed the dogs, let the cats in and out, prepared shrimp creole and washed up after. My plans went awry, in a way I rarely allow them to do. I'd good intentions, but no. Instead I read, dozed on the sofa in the family room, read some more, dozed again, ate, read, dozed, read...and the weekend disappeared.

Today I'm anticipating a call soon from a local physical therapy department. I hope to learn some exercises to chase some of this pain away. In the meantime, I'm inspired by Lawrence's perseverance in tending to his writing and revising. Never mind that he spent a good deal of his life incapacitated by assorted ailments attributed to what, in those days, was called "a weak chest." Never mind that his truces with the women in his life never were long-lasting. Never mind that he teetered always on the brink of poverty. Lawrence took care of priorities: he wrote.

So today I'll revisit that neglected "to do" list, achy neck or no. Then tonight I'll finish the Lawrence biography.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I do...I've preordered for my Kindle Ruth Rendell's new psychological mystery, The St. Zita Society, to be released tomorrow. The cover contains a blurb from Stephen King, "Nobody surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, instability and malignant coincidence."

I've been reading Rendell's novels since 1975. When I recommend her to other mystery fans, I've frequently received negative feedback.

"Nobody behaves like her characters," many claim. "Her plots and characters simply are unbelievable."

No? Having just reread Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, not-so-loosely based on the author's early romantic attachments, I'm not so convinced. That novel reflects those very qualities that King attributes to Rendell. Look at the life of its protagonist, Paul Morel. Obsession? Instability? Malignant coincidence? Think of his mother, his indecision when it comes to the relationship with Miriam, and lastly...meeting Clara, all, of course, mirroring actual events of Lawrence's life.

Perhaps some themes indeed are universal...and timeless.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Late last summer I wrote a story, "Arrested Development,"  for a proposed Pinchback Press book, Caught: True CrimeTales of Scamming, Scheming and Sliding By.. Earlier this week I received an email from the publishers that the press was closing down. "This is a difficult letter to send," they wrote. "Independent publishing is a costly endeavor and one we can no longer afford to continue in these tough economic times."

I'd been saddened...first, because I'd so much enjoyed Pinchback's earlier effort, Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost, and that it had included my story, "A Pair to Draw To." I'd looked forward to more books in this series. And second, because I didn't believe I'd get this particular effort published anywhere else. I dashed off an email to my writing partner and confidante, lamenting the loss of this venue...and griping that mine was a such a hard-to-place story, and regretting I'd spent so much time on fashioning it. She suggested I could revamp it, give it a happier spin, but I declined. I'd wrestled with this story, tried to tell it honestly, and didn't think I wanted to tamper with it. I'd resigned myself that it would languish forever in what I call my orphanage, the tales I can't find homes for.

Then, this week I received an email from a Canadian publisher, Inkblotter, that a story of mine, "Elephants Never Forget," would appear in its upcoming anthology collection. Though this story already had been accepted for Seal Press's upcoming Hot and Heavy: Fat Girls Dish on Life, Love and Fashion, I'd sent it to this particular publisher that I suspected might have a different readership. The callout had suggested:

Think “Chicken Soup” with an edge. No gentle epiphanies while strolling on the beach or contemplating cloud formations. We’re looking for in-your-face, kick-in-the-teeth lessons learned—the kinds of stories you’d share with your friends over coffee.

I wrote in my last entry that sometimes it's tough to write about the hard stuff. Sometimes it's even tougher to find an anthology that's looking for material that isn't necessarily cheerful or upbeat. So when I read at the close of the email from Inkblotter that it still had room for a few more tales, I remembered "Arrested Development." I decided it just might fit the bill, and immediately mailed it off. Late yesterday afternoon I learned that this story, too, will be published in the new book, A Cup of Joe for Woe.

I've urged writing novice friends before not to despair if a story fails to make it to print right away. Last year I recounted on this blog, in my September 17, 2011 entry, Rejection, Dejection, Perfection! how "The Marvelous Mexican Parsley of West 59th Place" finally got published 21 years after I originally wrote it. I see I have to remind myself to pay heed to my own advice, and to remember that life, and anthology opportunities, are full of second chances.

Remember that old song....who knows what tomorrow may bring?