Travelin’ shoes

You’d think after the trip to England and Scotland I took  last April, I’d put up my suitcase for awhile. But no, I went to Wilmington NC to see my granddaughter graduate  from community college. Then I drove to Pennsylvania for a week to see my sister. After one day at home to mow the front yard and wash some clothes, I headed out for Decatur, GA, to see my youngest grandson graduate from high school. Proud to say he made honor roll all four years and is now headed for Georgia Tech.

Going away for a weekend is one thing, but a week or more is another. Luckily I have friends willing to check on the cats to make sure they have food and water, (and clean the litter boxes) while I am gone. And, with this heat wave and no rain, to water the shrubs and flowers I have added to the front yard.

I have one more trip planned for this summer to Louisville KY and maybe a jaunt to the beach. My motto is: Go while you have the chance and the stamina!

And need I mention the friends who make it possible? Of course I return the favor or show my appreciation in some way. We support each other.

That’s why I like to write books about women and their circle of friends. “Angels

For the past three years I have planted the Easter lily I got from church … look how they have multiplied!

Unaware” and “The Lunch Club” are my favorites in this genre. My work in progress is also about friends…the ones you don’t recognize until almost too late.

So in between travels and visits, I am slowly getting the pages written. It’s another way to travel, back in time and entering a world long gone, meeting people who become real to me as I learn their hopes and dreams and share their disappointments.

Whether you travel in “real time” or through the pages of a book you re reading (or writing), I wish you a happy journey.

 

 

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The (He)art of Journaling

Some years ago, my daughter-in-law presented me with a blank journal. I was pleased with the gift and vowed to use it to record only happy thoughts and experiences. I realized I had been a little negative lately (had she picked up on this?) and that I needed to change my perspective. Focusing on at least one good thing that happened each day would, I thought, condition me to look for the good rather than the bad.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There were days where nothing good seemed to happen at all. I learned that if I  wanted to write something positive, I had to look for it.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jim died unexpectedly and my world was torn apart. For weeks, months, I howled my grief and despair on the pages. I blamed the doctors who didn’t think his infection was important enough to follow up  on. I blamed myself for not making an issue of it. I blamed everyone and everything until I realized that blame was worthless and not helping me heal.

Then I started writing about all the little things I had to do, a check list of sorts. Insurance, deeds, titles, credit accounts, all had to be sorted and reassigned. Every time I accomplished something on my list, I made a note of it. Sometimes it was easy, and more often it was hard and complicated and frustrating. The more difficult it was, the more satisfaction I took in recording the task’s completion.

When everything was sorted out, I began recording the little (and big) jumps I made out of my safety zone. There was the first time I ate in a restaurant alone. I was on my way home from an appointment. It was noon, and I was hungry. I said, “Why not?”

Afterward, I wondered what had taken me so long.

I learned to drive the riding mower, something Jim had never wanted me to do. I guess he was afraid I’d turn it over or something. Now I use it all the time.

I learned to pump my own gas. Can you believe that?

There were many little and big things I had to do for the first time, and I managed to do them all. Not that I’m asking for a pat on the back, but it is surprising how we let our partners take sole responsibility for certain chores. I know of husbands who couldn’t for the life of them figure out the checking account or which bills are paid when when their wives died. Or who couldn’t cook a simple meal or figure out the washing machine. So don’t you men shake your heads at me!

I think all marriages should do a little cross-training, like companies do with their employees.

Now when I journal, I write down things I have done for the simple reason that I like reading back over the entries and remembering the visit, the trip, or the fun luncheon with friends. I also write down when I’m feeling blue or lonely, because those days still come. Not as often, but still … And writing about my feelings helps me understand them and accept them.

Many people journal for many different reasons. I think those reasons can change with life circumstances, as mine did. No reason is better or worse than another.

If you are a writer, you might want to try keeping a journal. You can start with writing down one good thing that happened today.

 

 

 

Progress of sorts

As I said last week, I am participating in a program for Black History Month that recognizes  the contributions of all people regardless of ethnicity toward the cause of equality.

I pulled together a costume that might be worn by a rather fierce mid-19th century abolitionist lady: long skirt, high-necked, long-sleeved pleated blouse, high black boots. I tried on a shawl, but it didn’t look right. Nor could I find a hat that looked right, so I opted to believe the lady was speaking indoors and wouldn’t necessarily be wearing a hat. With totally opposite reasoning, I tried to find a pair of gloves. I did find a pair in the back of one of my dresser drawers. I used to have many women’s gloves, but had donated all but this pretty pair to costumes for our outdoor drama. Alas, these are stained and I have been trying every remedy I can think of to remove the blotches.

Elizabeth B. Chace

The hardest part was my hair. I wear it short, so I parted it in the middle and combed the sides straight back. It makes a severe look, which I thought appropriate. I’m sure my character, Mrs. Chace, was kind to her charges, but I imagine her strong in her beliefs.

We had dress rehearsal and although I’d been practicing my little piece, it flew out of my mind when I realized there would be actual people there. I recovered quickly and spoke my lines with only a few minor lapses.

My friend Beverley and I decided to get a quick supper after rehearsal and went to a local pizzeria in our costumes. We raised nary an eyebrow. I may be getting a local reputation for eccentricity. As Eleanor Roosevelt, Beverley simply looked stylish.

I  haven’t been neglecting my writing. I sent out another query, and have written more pages.  Whether or not they are any good remains to be seen. Here is where I will rely on beta readers.

All this takes time. Time is something you squander when you are young, and try to hang onto when you are old. Alas, it slips through your fingers either way. I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency, which may be why I am sticking to my writing schedule more rigidly than I have previously.

So I am working and having fun in equal parts, which is not to say having fun isn’t work at times (memorizing lines) and working isn’t having fun (looking up from writing to discover an hour has flown by).

The program will be behind me in a few days. Hopefully, I can say the same about this book in a few months!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, writing, and weaving

My presentation went well last week. There was good attendance, although a few members were out sick. I tried to stay on course, pretty much laying it all out there and letting people take what was relevant to them (mentally, not physically).

There were some questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. My message was “There ain’t no shortcut to publishing” which sounds  good except one member got picked up by a university press without even querying. He was recommended, so there you are. Submitted, and wham! a published book. Followed by book #2 and if it weren’t for Florence and her shennanagins, book # 3 would be out about now.

So there are exceptions. I even named one: Diana Gabaldon, who was picked up after querying a half-finished novel one time. Which became a huge hit on Starz. Please don’t ask who she is. If you don’t know, you have been living in a cave.

This weekend was a little different. I signed up for another pine-needle basket weaving class. It was another beginner’s class, and I learned some things I didn’t know or hadn’t fully grasped the first time. I really went to have the instructor show me how to add embellishments such as beads or buttons. Success! She made it look so easy.

The first class I took had two participants, including me. This one had eight. It was a lot of fun. Most of us knew each other, so conversation flew from current books being read to politics (quickly shelved as we were all getting depressed), near-drowning experiences (how that came up I don’t know), and how women used to have to make about everything they used from clothing to candles to baskets. I hated when it came time to break up.

I have a busy week coming up three church meetings and one book club meeting. We are reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Meanwhile, I checked out every Louise Penny novel in the library that I hadn’t yet read. I realized I had read a couple, but re-read them anyway. So glad she is writing another Gamache story.

I know–I need to find time for writing my own novel somewhere in there.  I am on chapter four! So it’s coming along. I have it plotted out in my head, but darn, it is taking a lot of research. So most of my time is spent writing a sentence and then thinking, “I need to look that up.”  I’m thinking I need to have some information of 18th newspapers and printing. And publishing.

Why didn’t I start a nice contemporary where I already know how things work? Or at least have an approximate idea.

Sometimes writers are masochists, just sayin’.

 

 

 

This is what I know for sure

Today (Sunday) I am doing the program for our monthly writers’ club meeting. Many of you realize I write this post well before Sunday, when it is published. So today is Friday in the real world. You can see I have let it slide just a little.

But that isn’t quiet true. I have been thinking about it ever since one of our members asked if I’d mind sharing my publishing experience. What can I say about a journey that started 20 years ago and is still ongoing? I did confess last week how easy it is for the hopeful beginner to get scammed. And that’s because, as beginners, we know nothing.

I certainly didn’t. Back in the day, convinced I had written a great novel (it wasn’t), I sent off my manuscript to any publisher I thought would take a look. I got the names and addresses from the  Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market at the local library. I would go inside, pull the book, sit at a table, and copy addresses down.  I’d take my manuscript to the post office, weigh it with the required SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), and again without the SASE, and put the exact postage on each envelope. The SASE was so the publisher would return my ms. Although I painstakingly made a copy, if rejected I’d want to send the original out again. And again. Oh, how I hated seeing those manila envelopes pop up in my mailbox. What I wanted to see was a long, white business envelope.

Alas, rejections were roughly 100%. Okay, exactly 100%.

The advent of the home computer helped a lot. Publishers and agents began accepting e-mail submissions. That saved a lot of money, but didn’t alleviate the waiting time. Sometimes I heard nothing back at all. Other times it was a matter of months. And sometimes, within a week.

I’ve been fortunate in that in all these years I’ve had only two discouraging rejections. In fact, they were so hateful and mean-spirited that I was brought to tears. I can only think the recipient was having a particularly bad day and I happened to be the one to bear the brunt of their fury. Most editors are kind in their rejections (when they bother to send one) even if it is just a standard paragraph sent to everyone alike. Some were kind enough to say, “This isn’t for us, but do keep writing and try us again.”

I’ve had acceptances from small presses, and they were a pleasure to work with even if they weren’t one of the Big New York Publishers. I never expected to hit the NY Times Best Seller List with my first novel, although it has been done. I know my limits.

I worked with one editor for nearly a year before she reluctantly passed when we couldn’t agree on the ending. That story is now in the hands of another house, which has had it in “in review” since June.

I guess the best advice I can give is first, write the best book you can, ask beta readers to give their opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and if you can’t afford an editor, at least ask a friend to proofread it. This friend should have a good command of English. I am lucky to have a friend who was a newspaper editor and is gifted with a sharp eye for errors.

That done, you should write a query letter that explains what your book is about, what the conflict is, and what genre it falls into. Hint: No conflict, no sale. And write a synopsis. This can be from a paragraph to 10 pages, so check the guidelines of whatever publisher you are going to submit to as they all differ.

Only then should you begin submitting. and for gosh sake, make sure your target publishes books in your genre. Don’t send a romance to a Sci-Fi publisher. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to check the submission guidelines for each publisher or agent. A submission can be rejected out of hand if you don’t follow the rules.

In a nutshell, that’s what I know about publishing. I’m sending out queries now, and waiting, checking my in-box just as I used to check my mailbox on the curb.

Some things never change.

 

 

 

 

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.

www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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