Cringe-worthy confession

I started this blog as a way to share my writing journey and hopefully help my readers avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.  You know what they are: genre-hopping, revising a story so much I killed it …

Alas, the list goes on.

But one mistake I made very early on is one I seldom talk about because it makes me want to hide my head in shame. I should have known better, and yet hope makes fools of us all.

I had written a story I thought was very good. (It wasn’t, trust me.) I didn’t seek beta readers, I didn’t seek an editor. I was arrogant and thought I knew it all. Hadn’t I read every book on writing that Writer’s Digest had to offer?

I sent out a query and was thrilled when the phone rang and I had an offer of representation. The woman on the line had a cultured British accent and she seemed thrilled with my book.

Now, I thought I was no fool. Earlier on, another publisher acted thrilled with my submission, but when he quoted some lines from the book, praising them highly, I grew suspicious. I knew those weren’t the best lines and that he’d selected them randomly, which I took to mean he hadn’t even read the manuscript. I laughed and passed on the offer.

But this seemed legitimate. For a certain some of money, her company would send my story to X number of publishers. She almost guaranteed acceptance. She sent a contract which I took to an attorney to look over.

He said it looked good.

So I sent the money. It was a lot at that time, but I talked it over with my  husband and he agreed I should make the investment.

A month or so later, she called again. No one had responded but she had a new list of contacts and for an additional sum …

I asked which publishers she had sent the manuscript to. She said she couldn’t reveal that.

I thought long and hard and declined to pursue submissions with her company. Later, I came to the conclusion that she had never sent anything at all, anywhere, any time.

Lesson learned. Don’t be over eager. I makes you ripe for scams like this, and believe me, they are out there.

First, even thought the contract looked good, it never guaranteed a publisher.

Second, never ever send money to an agent. Ever. If they ask for even a modest fee, they are not your friend. Your book should stand on its own. It should be so good that they are thrilled to represent you because that means they will make money from the book and not from you.

Lots of italics, but I can’t emphasis it enough.

I am wiser now. I still make mistakes, but my hope is that I never make the same one twice.

I hope none of you make this one.




The journey continues

My hope is that everyone had a very enjoyable holiday week — or however long you celebrate Christmas, New Year’s or Hannaukkah

— and didn’t even notice that I hadn’t posted in two weeks.

I decided to go to Pennsylvania to visit my sister over Christmas. We are close in spite of the distance between us — 600 miles from my home in North Carolina to hers. I broke up the drive by staying midway in West Virginia.

I have made the trip many times since we moved south in 1977. Jim always drove while I admired the scenery. In those days, we made the trip in one day, with our kids and dogs in tow. Then it was just us. And then just me.

The first time I made the trip alone I was filled with trepidation. Or in non-literary terms, scared to death. I took steep mountain inclines (and declines) and hairpin curves at something like 40 mph, my knuckles on the steering wheel white with tension. It took me hours to relax once I got to my destination, my neck and shoulders seemingly frozen in that fear-filled posture.

This time, however, I was almost to Pittsburgh before I realized I had kept to the 70 mph speed limit, passing more cautious drivers. I had learned to trust that the highway authority wouldn’t have posted such a high speed limit if it wasn’t safe. I had learned to trust that my Malibu wouldn’t fly off the road and plunge me to my death on the valley floor. I learned to trust myself.

Here is my chance to post something clever about how the writing journey is like my trip: filled with unexpected curves, breath-taking mountain tops and frightening descents into doubt and despair. But I’m sure you already figured that out.

I’m starting a new novel and querying another.  I’ve self-published several books, out of sheer laziness. And fear of rejection. But like my driving, I need to over come that fear an begin the search for a publisher who believes in me.

I’ve gotten good feedback on “Riverbend” and “When He said Goodbye.” The first is historical and the second is contemporary, which shows you how I leap from genre to genre. I was feeling badly about that, but then decided that the stories come to me, not me to them, and I have no choice except not to write at all. Which isn’t really a choice.

Unfortunately, the comments are verbal and not on Amazon or Nook or Smashwords. I beg them to send their nice words to the universe so others can read them, but for some reason, people are reluctant to post online. I have not yet figured out the magic words that will convince them to break out of their comfort zone and post a review.

So that is where I am now. Back from my trip, facing  new year filled with possibilities, and eager to continue my writing journey.

I hope you are feeling the same.






Four and counting

While other people are decorating the halls, I am on my knees cleaning up cat barf under the desk. Oh, and some got on the AC vent, too. They never barf where it is convenient to clean up.

Sadistic monsters.

We have added to our household. My neighbor passed away and her cat showed up on my deck looking for a handout. She’s a sweet little black cat with white paws and bib. I think she must be under a year old, but unfortunately, she is also very pregnant.

I couldn’t just ignore her when she pressed her little face to the deck door and meowed pitifully. When the weather was nice, I fed her outside as my inside cats watched. They got used to each other that way, so when it got cold and I let her in, they weren’t too upset.

Except Spooky, who gets  upset at anything new. She used to be an only cat and she never adjusted to the sudden appearance of Jack, and then Frenchy. Spooky spends her life looking for a place to hide.

Jack is okay with Poppy (the new cat) but just so far. She can come into the kitchen and breakfast room, but the living room is out of bounds. If she goes there, he lets her know right quick she isn’t allowed. He’s bossy that way.

Poppy doesn’t mind. The toys are all in the breakfast room and she has been having the time of her life dragging them out of the basket and playing. She even plays with the mouse in a ball toy my cats are terrified of.

As for Frenchy, she gets along with everybody.

Spooky spends most of her time in self-imposed exile in her cube.

The problem with the pregnancy is that she looks as if she is about to pop out those kittens any minute now. And I am going to be gone for a week over the holidays. My cat sitter is great, but I can’t ask her to watch over new-born kittens. Also, I don’t trust my cats with them. Jack is very territorial (see above) and he may consider them invaders.

So we are off to the shelter next week where she will stay until the kittens are born and weaned. I will see her every Wednesday when I volunteer.

If someone wants to adopt her, I’m okay with that. If not, when she’s ready I will bring her home with a detour to the vet to be spayed.

I wish my neighbor had done it sooner, but … she didn’t.

I wish everyone would SPAY and NEUTER their pets. It isn’t cruel. They don’t really need to have a first litter before being de-sexed. They could care less. And, it’s hard to find homes for kittens and puppies, especially after they leave the “cute” stage, which is rather quick. Thank goodness for rescue organizations, but they can’t  take them all.

Sorry, I get on a soapbox sometimes. But as I said, I volunteer at the shelter, and it breaks my heart. The kittens find homes quickly, but the older cats wait and wait for a forever home.

So–we’ll see what happens.








‘Tis the season

About now many of us are saying “Bah, humbug” to Christmas.

I don’t mean the spiritual Christmas, which leaves us with  feeling of awe, grateful hearts, and inner peace. That Christmas is still two weeks and two days away.

I mean the days leading up to what Christians believe is one of the holiest days of the year. If you are reading this and are of another faith, please don’t be offended. I’m sure you are as aware of the Christmas frenzy as the rest of us. Unless you never shop. Or turn on the radio or television. Or drive down a street decorated with floating angels and trumpets.

I live in a small town with few retail stores. Not wanting to buy my gifts at the Big Box Store, I resorted to on-line ordering. And yes, I feel secure shopping this way. You can have your credit information stolen just as easily at the check-out counter of a “bricks and mortar” store. I did this early, comfortable in the belief that my gifts would arrive well on time.

Except one order was cancelled. I didn’t panic. Still plenty of time. So I ordered a similar gift.

That order was cancelled as well. Out of stock, just like the first one. I like to think that at least I have good taste.

But now my time-frame has narrowed and I am starting to panic.

And then there is the baking. I used to bake several kinds of cookies and candy. Not as many as my mother used to make. She started after Thanksgiving and baked up until Christmas Eve. The smell of molasses and cinnamon still bring back memories of coming home from school and being greeted with freshly -baked ginger or sugar cookies.

But I try. Alas, for the past few years, most of my efforts have gone awry. Most are stupid mistakes, or not reading the recipe carefully. I dread getting out the tattered recipe book that had served me so well when the boys were young and still lived at home. I secretly believe that my failures in recent years have conditioned me to expect future ones, and so I sabotage myself. But that’s a problem for my analyst. (Joke: I don’t have one.)

I haven’t decorated my house for three years. I didn’t have time or spirit when Jim was in the hospital. Since then, Christmas has been an unkind memory of his death. I visit one of my kids instead and admire their decorations and try not to show how sad I feel.

This year, though, I knew it was time to put aside grieving. I bought a small tree and adorned it with lights and colored balls. And straw angels. I dug out a lighted snowman that was my Mom’s and had been stuck away in a closet for far too long. I bought a poinsettia and put it on the coffee table. I put candles in all the windows.

I think Jim would be pleased.

So we embrace the season in all its variations: stress, good memories, sad memories, anticipation, panic, hope, and wonder.

Because it comes whether we have decorated, baked, and shopped–or not.




Hideous Art and the Horrible Person

IMG_2254This year, I have found great peace and stress relief in sketching. From my first drawings when I was a toddler (crayons on the wall do count!) through high school and art school. Even the painting classes I taught the officer’s wives in the evenings in the Marines, one lesson I’ve always tried to impart is the healing nature of art. I have spent a few years lately not creating art but instead writing. Only to learn, I need both. In our current kick in the gut political climate, sketching has been very effective in lowering my blood pressure and calming my soul. More

Memoir continued

Last week I attended a day-long workshop on writing the memoir.  Our teacher was fantastic, to say the least: Joseph Bathanti, Writer-in-Residence at Appalachian State University. Bathanti hails from Pittsburgh, which is near where I spent many years of my life before I, like him, found  my way to North Carolina. I won’t list all his honors and publications, but rest assured, the man knows his subject, loves writing, and enjoys imparting what he knows. I’m now reading Bathanti’s memoir, “Half of What I Say is Meaningless.”

Why do we write memoirs? Many of us want to or plan to, attested by the number of people who signed up for the workshop. Some have stories they need to share because of the lessons they learned and want to pass on. Some use memoir as a sort of catharsis. Me, I just want my grandkids to know how different life was when I was growing up.

Jack is more interested in getting a treat than hearing me talk about my writing.

One thing that kept me from starting, as I mentioned before, was revealing family secrets. Bathanti assured us that we didn’t need to tell everything, but if it is hurtful or painful, we can leave it out. “If you leave things out, you’re not lying,” he said.

That reminded me of another workshop leader who told our class, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was talking about fiction, but memoir writing is essentially creative non-fiction. It is subjective, and you can insert your opinion about events which you can’t do in journalism or non-fiction.

There are two things about the workshop that I’d like to point out. One is that as writers, we need to keep learning. Even if I never write a memoir, I took away a valuable tool that I can use in my fiction, which is to dig deep into my subconscious and bring up the emotion I need to make a scene live. The other is more prosaic: We are never too old to learn. I learn something new every day. Never mind that most of it I learn from watching Jeopardy!

And, I just thought of a third thing. Do we need to start with “I was born…” and end with some earthshaking conclusion about What It All Meant?

Bathanti’s book is a series of essays. I had already started writing a few essays on different themes, such as comparing play when I was a kid and what my grandkids do for fun. So now assured that I’m on the right track, I can continue.

Have  you ever considered writing a memoir? If so, what has kept you from starting? Or are you working on one now? I’d love to know how it’s going and what format you are writing it in — straight narrative, essays, humor, confession …?

Me, I’ll stick to short essays and hope it all comes together.









Searching for truth and other fallacies

I signed up for a workshop on writing the memoir. I hope it gives me the impetus to put together the little snippets I’ve written into some kind of order.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years, although I’m not sure anyone would want to read it — perhaps my grandkids on some distant day — but there are other reasons to look back and reflect.

For one, there is a need to sort out vague impressions and put them in some sort of perspective. What was important as a child might seem meaningless now.

My Dad, left, and my Uncle Herb. My dad was always a fancy dresser.

The opposite is also true. What seemed unimportant to a childish mind that can’t see beyond nuances looms greatly when you realizes its impact on your life years in the future.

How much of what we remember is absolute fact and how much is distorted? What did we really experience and how much is memory implanted later on and made a part of our own story?

When we had family get-togethers over the holidays, we kids were dismissed after the meal and the grown-ups sat around the table, talking, laughing, remembering. Of course we listened, soaking in the stories. We never dared interrupt to ask about a detail the adults shared with knowing smiles or grimaces, but never put into words. The stories were absorbed in our consciousness to become part of our memories, never experienced in actuality but so real that they merged seamlessly into the tapestry of our lives.

With the passage of time, our memories begin to fade or sharpen. Some details stand out, others are forgotten like the photographs I put away for safekeeping, never to be seen again no matter how long or hard I search. I recall one of my grandmother, dressed up  in a man’s suit and hat and acting the fool. I couldn’t believe that sour, bitter woman ever laughed, but here was proof that she was once young and carefree. Does knowing this alter my memory of her? Of course it does. In this instance, she becomes someone I wish I had known. It changes my perspective. I wonder what happened to change her so drastically, and I begin to sift through things I saw and heard over the years that now make sense.

Other events that I either never questioned or gave up asking about have come to light in the past year or two. I say, “I remember…” and my older sister replies, “No, here’s how it was…” We are talking about the same event, but seeing it through different lenses.

Some things she shared are things I wish I hadn’t known. They alter beliefs I have held to all my life, but also make clear what I didn’t understand. They are sad, heartbreaking, and yet explain so so much. In a sense, after eight decades I have finally lost my innocence.

If I write a memoir, do I write only of what I knew for certain at that time in  my life, or do I write from an older and wiser view, seeing now what I didn’t see then? And does it matter?

I suppose it does. To me.





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