How am I doing?

I have been a widow now for a year and a half. I’m not sure if this means I should be “used to it” by now or if I should be still actively grieving. There aren’t any rules to follow, so I’m not sure what is normal. People say I’m “handling it well” so I guess I’m doing all right.

I’m reading On Second Thought by Kristin Higgins. One of the characters, Kate, is suddenly widowed when her husband of less than a year trips and hits his head. Her reactions are funny and poignant, and I see myself in her, even to the morbid humor when she thinks at least now she has more closet space. I never went to the store and realized I’d forgotten to put on shoes, but I did do some very strange things that first year. I look back now and wonder what I was thinking.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking. I was on auto-pilot.

I still make  decisions and wonder if Jim would approve. (Or I make a decision knowing full well he wouldn’t approve, such as painting the living room walls, with a sense of defiance and yes, a little guilt.)  Or I accomplish something and exult aloud, “Look there! See what I did?” as if he would suddenly appear and give me that approving grin.

But, I did manage to finish two novels, one published in May and one looking for a home. People handle their grief in different ways  and mine was to lose myself in someone else’s world and someone else’s problems. Neither are not about being a widow. I’m not sure I could write about that, but then…

I already did. Long before Jim died, I wrote a story about a woman who is struggling after the death of her husband. I re-read it now and realize I didn’t know a thing. I’m going to re-write it and hope the story will reveal some true things that I have learned the hard way.

So we go on and the people we loved and lost are still a part of our lives. I pretend sometimes Jim is just in another room, or outside working and will come in and ask if I want to go get lunch.

I know it’s pretense, but that’s what I do. It helps get me through the day.

Maybe, just maybe, it will help me get through the next novel.

 

 

Start ’em early

One of the goals of our local writers’ club is to promote literacy.  I guess we’ve said this so loud and so often, it wasn’t a surprise when someone actually took us up on it.

A summer camp for kids needed someone to lead a class on story writing. Guess who they called?

So Kaye and I set out last Monday morning for the camp, which was held indoors. Given the 90+ temperatures we’ve had lately, I considered ‘camping’ in an air-conditioned room a perk.

How did it go? We had a blast. We had two groups of kids, the first from 4-8 years old and the second from 8 to about 14. Talk about enthusiasm! Once they grasped the idea of creating a story from scratch, the kids were falling over themselves to contribute their ideas.

They  knew the basics of story writing: Beginning, middle, end. They knew there had to be a problem and a solution. They knew a story was better when it contained details to set the scene. So our job was made easier because we just had to build on what they already had learned. We tried to steer them away from retelling Hansel and Gretel or The Parent Trap and get them to thinking on their own.

The first group’s story was imaginative even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. It didn’t have to follow a perfect story arc, it just had to entertain. And that it did.

The second group of older kids had a rocky start as the tweens and teens argued about the plot and where it was going. I had some doubts, but I needn’t have worried. They settled down and began backing up each other’s ideas, cooperating beautifully. Their story was heartfelt and had a satisfying conclusion.

I took my notes home and wrote down the stories they envisioned. I’ll print them out, a copy for each camper and a few extra, and take them back to camp next week.

I think the kids had a good time. I know Kaye and I did.

Who knew giving back could be so much fun?

 

 

 

 

the not-so-fun part of writing

I finally finished my WIP.

I can’t write that with a straight face. I keep tweaking my stories until I send off the final galley proofs. I never feel it’s done as well as it could be. But we all have to call quits at some point and get one with it.

Now comes the part I hate: writing the synopsis and query letter.Image result for finished meme

I wrote a synopsis and my critique partner told me gently it needed work and then lowered the boom: “I love the novel, but, sad to say, I would not have read it if I had to depend on this synopsis to learn what the story is about.”

Maybe I wasn’t sure what the story was about. I had to re-read it to see where it was going. So I spent several days re-writing the synopsis.

Then I started the query, and believe me, it has taken a LOT of time to come up with three paragraphs that set the hook, tell a little about the plot, and leave the reader panting for more. I honestly think I could write a whole new book in the time it’s taken me to write those paragraphs. And I’m still not satisfied.

Once I am, though, the next step is to start sending said query and synopsis to agents/editors/publishers (I’m not choosy). I decided not to self-publish this one, although Riverbend is doing better than I thought it would on Amazon. I checked today and there are two new 5-star reviews and one is not from a friend or relative, but a perfect stranger. I want to hug her.

And, I forgot to mention, it took me days to come with a title. I had a working title, but it didn’t work. I created a list of titles and then sat down and looked them up on Amazon. Some were taken, several times over. I know titles are copyrighted, but I didn’t want to duplicate another book. For example, there are several Riverbends out there, and quite a few Angels Unaware. I wanted one that no one else had taken. If you are are curious, the title is To Love a Liar.

So it’s going to be a busy summer as I try to find this book a home.

 

 

 

 

 

The journey to “the end”

Our writers’ club instituted a new challenge about a year ago. We make goal for the next month and throw in 25 cents each. Winner of the draw, if he or she accomplished their goal, takes the pot.

No one has won in the last six months. Maybe our goals are too lofty. I’ve had to confess I missed my goal (but I don’t confess by how much) the last few times.

Image result for goals, the end

In May, I wrote that my goal was to finish the edits on my WIP.  I was fairly confident I would be able to do this. I’m pleased to announce I did.

I will be even more pleased to announce it when we meet this afternoon.

It seems that when I begin a a story I procrastinate. I can find more excuses to do something else — anything else –than sit down and write. It’s achingly slow. I delete more words than I write. I moan and groan and decide this story was a mistake and I will never finish.

But somehow, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, it grinds its way to the end.

Then I start the second draft process. The bare bones of the story take on a new life. I add conflict, flesh out the characters’ backstory, add a few twists just for the fun of it.

I’m not creating the story any more. I’m just hanging on for the ride. Instead of forcing myself to sit down at my desk, I am looking forward to it. Phone calls are no longer a welcome interruption, but a distraction. I love how my characters lead me down new paths of discovery.

I know this is the opposite of what I hear from other writers. For them, it is the first draft that comes easily, and the re-writing that becomes the chore.

The trick is not to become so engrossed in re-writing that I spend the next 10 years rearranging paragraphs and adding and subtracting plots and characters. I have to know when I’m done.

So when I’m asked if I reached my goal, I can say yes. But the truth is, the goal was never the point.

It was the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sins of my youth

When I was young, a hundred years ago, I thought I needed three things: a gorgeous tan, blonde hair, and adoring boyfriends.

I got the blonde hair from a bottle, and the tan from hours of lying in the sun in my teeny-weeny bikini. No, it wasn’t polka-dot.  And sometimes the sun tan turned into a sunburn, with accompanying blisters. The boyfriends came and went, not all adoring but faithful enough for brief periods of time.

Image result for sunburn meme

Then I married and had children. No time for tanning, no time to redo the roots of my hair. I let it grow back into its mousy brown.

As I got older, I began avoiding the sun. In the past few years I do my yard work protected by sunscreen, a floppy hat, and long pants. I get my various moles and other blemishes checked periodically by a dermatologist. I became especially vigilant after my younger brother died of a melanoma he’d had 20 years previously. They thought they got it all, but during those years it had metastasized, unknown to him and his loved ones.

So just before I went on my annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit my sister (my excuse for no blog last week) I got a call from my dermatologist. She’d removed a suspicious mole during my last appointment and sent it for a biopsy. The results were melanoma in situ.

It wasn’t that big of a shock. I knew the risks. I knew that in spite of the care I’d been taking, my foolishness 50 years ago had more than  likely set me up for something like this.

Of course, we didn’t know back then of the danger. Baby oil and iodine? Slap it on for a deeper, browner tan. Hours spent on the beach or on a towel in the back yard. A sunburn was a small price to pay. Sure, it hurt, but the blisters eventually went down. And then we did it all over again.

I went back Tuesday to have more tissue removed to make sure that all of the cancer was gone. It wasn’t fun. The area was numbed and then I lay on my stomach, my arms slowly falling asleep, trying not to twitch as she cut and cut … and cut. The the stitches. I didn’t ask how many, but it took a long time. The wound is covered with steri-strips, so I can’t see the damage. Yet.

And I’m waiting for word of the second biopsy. She was cheerfully confident it would come back clear, but I’ve heard that song before. I had to go for a third surgery when I had breast cancer because the margins weren’t clear the second time. Hopefully, that won’t happen again.

My back is sore and it hurts to stretch or move suddenly, but I tell myself that’s a small price to pay if the threat is truly gone.

Now I must be ever more vigilant because what happened once can happen again. I told my three sons they also must take care. We now have a family history of melanoma. I’m sorry to pass that on to my children and grandchildren. Fortunately, the grandchildren’s parents have been more cautious than I was, and slathered on sunscreen whenever the kids went outside.

I’m writing this as a warning. If you have children or grandchildren, please, please, make sure they are protected. They, like me, won’t think ahead. They think they will always be young and anyway, who cares what happens then they are “old.”

They will care. And it’s up to us to protect them now.

 

We’ve come a long way, baby

Among a box of goodies I received for Mother’s Day was a book: The McGraw Hill Author’s Book, copyright 1955.  I think it was intended as a curiosity from my daughter-in-law, who is an antique/collectibles dealer and who comes across curious items in her search for treasures at flea markets, yard and garage sales, and estate sales.

Just reading the “Foreword to the Author,” I realized how far we’ve come since the mid-2oth century. We are all familiar with galley proofs and making changes. To us, this is minor. Back then, revisions were (and I quote) something “we devoutly hope to avoid, for after-thought is time-consuming and very costly.” Evidently it took the work of 4-5 “highly skilled and commensurately paid” printers to make changes, even small ones.

I guess all those printers are retired, or as the British say, redundant, now. I hope they got commensurate retirement benefits.

The book was written so the hopeful writers submitting their work to McGraw-Hill would know exactly what was expected of them. Clean copy is not a new thing, every publisher hopes to see it. But back then it was more of a necessity than a courtesy.

The first chapter, Preparing the Manuscript, tells us that the submitted copy will be handled by as many as 25-30 people, and so must be printed on good quality paper, and a black noneradciable ribbon should be used on the typewriter–a ribbon that should be replaced often to ensure a good impression.

This brought me back to the days when I had to write term papers and that stricken moment when I realized I’d made a mistake, and the work had to be painstakingly re-typed on a fresh sheet of paper.

Then Betty Nesmith Graham invented a typewriter correction fluid she first called “Mistake Out” in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper. I know I am not the only one who kept a bottle handy on my desk…and said a daily prayer of thanks to our benefactor.

The chapter goes on to admonish the writer not to use mimeographed, ditto, or photostatic copy “which cannot be corrected with ink.”

I haven’t seen a mimeograph machine in ages. We had one in the school office and I recall running off copies of  worksheets for my elementary age students. Purple goo that got all over your clothes and hands…ugh.  And ink? Can you even buy ink in a bottle any more? I still have–somewhere–a pen with a refillable cartridge, but I’m pretty sure it’s an antique.

Then the writer is advised to be sure and make a carbon copy of her work. Oh yes, I remember trying to line up the carbon paper with my white typing paper, only to have to it go awry when I rolled it in the cartridge. And again, the purple ink on my fingers, ink I had to be sure not to smudge on the paper. Carbon paper, like the typewriter ribbon, had to be replaced often. I suppose someone somewhere still uses it.  I simply hit hit “copy” and “save” on my computer. No mess, no waste.

I’m eager to continue my walk down memory lane, reading this book chock-full of antiquated advice. It makes me realize how much easier we have it today. I’m sure some of the  advice still holds. Some things never change.

But thank goodness the mechanics have.

 

 

 

The week that was

As weeks go, this one can best be described as … There are no words strong enough. I want to say it sucked, but long ago I forbade my sons to use that expression, so I can hardly use it now, in case they read this and say, “But Mom…”, dragging it out in a moan like they did when they were teenagers.

First, the weather.

I hate wind. Always have. Wind makes me break out in nerves. I keep thinking a tree will fall on the house. In fact, trees fell on several houses in the area, but mine was spared. So far. It’s still windy.

Then, a dear friend died unexpectedly. We are all still reeling. He was so much a part of our community and especially our local writers’ club. Where do we go from here without his guidance and leadership?

And, I’m having trouble with my book cover. I keep uploading it, only to discover CreateSpace has cropped off part of the title or some other essential copy. I thought I knew how to do this. I couldn’t remember how to make a .pdf from a .jpg. I finally figured it out, but it shouldn’t have taken so long. Maybe my mind is going. Something else to worry about.

Then Thursday, when I got home from paying bills and grocery shopping, Frenchy got on my lap. I looked down to pet her and discovered she had dug her ears raw. I called the vet and was told I could bring her in if I could be there in 15 minutes. I’ll just say I drove home at the speed limit.

So now she needs drops in her ears twice a day for two weeks. It’s a struggle, as she is certain the drops and/or I am out to kill her. First, I have to corner her, then somehow capture her and wrap her in a towel to prevent scratches (I already have enough battle scars from previous attempts). Then spend time calming her down and getting her to forgive me.

Most of these complaints are trivial, except for the loss of our friend. That’s major. All else falls away. My heart goes out to his wife, also a dear friend. I know what it is to be suddenly widowed. You aren’t ready. You’re never ready, but here it is, and you have to learn how to play the new role convincingly. So say a prayer for her.

Her week really sucked.

And I realize my petty concerns mean nothing at all.

Let the wind blow.

 

 

 

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