Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Still Digesting

I recently got some great news: I was selected as one of six finalists in the Reader’s Digest 100 Word Essay Contest! Let’s just say there was so much whooping and leaping that pets fled in fear.

I grew up assuming it was normal to have a copy of Reader’s Digest sitting on the kitchen table like a centerpiece, and I’ve dreamed of being published in that sacred little tome for well over thirty years. I remember only too well lugging my dad’s electric typewriter from his scary basement lair up two flights of stairs to prepare some submissions for their “All in a Day’s Work” and “Laughter is the Best Medicine” sections. Said typewriter was impressively large and encased in mustard-gold plastic with a handle for easy transportation like a Samsonite suitcase, if one had packed 60 pounds of scrap metal and a ribbon that sagged in the middle for a vacation to Writerville.

It wasn’t exactly a fun vacation, either. I had to set the whole thing up on my furry red bedspread with my beloved Webster’s New World College edition close at hand because I didn’t have a proper desk. Mistakes were such an ordeal to correct that the whole process was absolutely agonizing for a poor typist like me. The resulting piece usually looked like a minefield of tiny White Out explosions, like a small war had taken place on the page. Which it had.

Submitting meant more carefully typed envelopes and stamps, followed by ages of waiting. Endless waiting, since I didn’t get a response.

It took over thirty years. For me it was worth the wait. Please consider looking for it in the June edition.

Walking the wire is life. Everything else is waiting around ~Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas

Friday, March 21, 2014

One Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour: Where There Be Dragons

Many thanks to Sioux of Sioux’s Page for including me in The Writing Process blog tour! It was begun by Margo Dill, who passed it to the incredible Donna Volkenannt, who formerly took first place in the global humor category of the world famous Erma Bombeck Writing Competition and who this year won honorable mention in the global human interest category of that same contest. Sioux summed her up so well that I can’t add a thing except to say that everything Donna does and is has a kind of grace to it.

Donna then passed it to Sioux, who is a fierce spirit who can do pretty much anything (and then act later like it was nothing at all). Her wit is of course sharply, impishly wicked-clever, but it’s tempered by such generosity, kindness, and modesty that both she and her art are hewn into legend itself. As if that weren’t enough, she is a 2014 winner of the Saint Louis production of the national Listen to Your Mother event and will perform May 10 (YES, she performs, too) at the St. Luke’s Institute for Health Education at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

So here were the Writing Process blog tour questions:

What am I working on?

A young adult novel. Also some other stuff, such as possible submissions to various upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not going to answer this question exactly the way it was intended. Instead, I’ll say that my last creative nonfiction piece differed in that it turned out not to be the piece I wanted it to be. Sad, but true. I don’t think bad early drafts necessarily make us bad writers. I think not knowing they are bad does. That’s why I think a lot of writers perpetually do battle with both sides of that most fearsome of two-headed dragons: self-assurance vs. self-doubt. We’re led to believe that self-assurance is everything, but it can only get us so far. If it takes over too much, we’re liable to write stuff that isn’t our best. But when the latter rears its ugly head, the piece is in danger of never getting written in the first place. Odd that it doesn’t matter if someone accepts the piece or not—somewhere deep down we have to know it’s the best we could do, and it’s only when I’ve reached that point that I feel like I’ve slain the dragon. The greatest weapon in this battle is objectivity, which is why an honest critique group helps so enormously. Sometimes there’s only so much they can do, however, so some pieces are better left to sit a while. The aforementioned piece turned out not to be appropriate for the publication I had in mind, for example, so I may put it away to marinate. Sioux is so generous of spirit that she says things fall out of me. They don’t. They do often fall out of an old file where they’ve been marinating—and sometimes pickling—for a long time. The irony! Sometimes if I can forget the piece enough, I can later read it from the most objective place possible.

Why do I write what I do?

I try to capture a message that’s important to me, and I try to capture it in a way that I hope will somehow resonate with others. I think people who are interested in any kind of art in the first place have a need to make sense of the world. 

How does your writing process work?

Usually I have an idea of both the beginning and end before I ever get started, and writing is the process of making the journey. Being able to make the journey at a time when I can lose myself in it to the point that it feels like it takes over and writes itself is, of course, the eternal goal. And the confoundingly tricky part for me.

Time to pass this illustrious award to:

Lynn Obermoeller of Present Letters. 
Lynn is one of those other people who can do just about anything and make it look effortless. She is also incredibly gracious. She is a deeply conscious and fearless soul who never hides behind pretense. (Why do I keep envisioning knight imagery?) She is disarmingly honest, and it’s that very quality that makes her characters complex, fascinating and delightfully vivid. She is also a whiz at plotting.

Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff. 
I’ve never met Lisa in person, but her blog and writing are first rate. She blends wisdom and warmth with incredible grace. Her clever wit is legendary. She does a wonderful job of walking the line between being approachable and being the soul of professionalism. I can’t wait to read her upcoming book.

Thank you again, Sioux!

If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough.  Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration.  Writing is nothing if not challenging. ~Maxwell Perkins, editor

And, in honor of World Down Syndrome Day, here is a conversation I overhead at Target between a young male employee with Down Syndrome who puts carts away and his male boss:

Employee (after the boss said he was going home soon): Don’t forget to hug me before you go!

Boss: Well come here and let’s hug you right now, then! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Succinctly Yours #156: Not So Bright Idea

Once again it's time for SuccinctlyYours at Grandma's Goulash. The goal is to use the picture and bonus word to come up with a caption of 140 characters or 140 words. Mine this week is 137 characters, and the bonus word is loathe. 

To fair goers, nothing seems more manly than a mud derby. But to those manliest of menfirefighters who loathe cleaning up—it's nothing but a dirty car trick. 

Oh I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay
I sleep all night and I work all day
I cut down trees, I eat my lunch, 
I go to the lava-try....
~Monty Python, The Lumberjack Song

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Succinctly Yours #155: Youth in Black and White

Thank you once again to Grandma of Grandma's Goulash for hosting Succinctly Yours, a meme in which we are given a photo and bonus word as inspiration for a caption of 140 words or 140 characters. The bonus word this week was proverb. Mine is 140 characters. Lucky for me it doesn't look like I'm too late this week!

Proverb for our times: Youth, though precious, should never be worshipped.  It’s not an accomplishment, is known for its disadvantages, and is guaranteed not to last. 

I tried to run up the stairs, but I discovered you can’t do it in a skirt. Also, hair itches. ~Teenaged boy wearing a poofy red pageboy with a pink sequined skirt for a Homecoming event

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Mom and Succinctly Yours #154: Young ‘Uns

I would lovelovelove the Not Your Mother’s Book series even if I hadn’t penned a story or two for them. This series puts the “up” in uplifting, because the stories are fun and funny and upbeat in addition to being inspirational. I think the pictures at the end are a nice touch, too.

I have it on good authority that my story, “The End of an Era” (about a frightening entity which defies even games of twenty questions) is the last story in the upcoming book, Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Mom. The book was co created by Dianna Graveman and Ken and Dahlynn McKowen of Pubishing Syndicate. Please look for it April 8th and get your Mother’s Day shopping done early.

And here with a fitting theme is this week’s offering from Grandma’s Goulash’s Succinctly Yours, a meme in which the challenge is to write a story of 140 characters or 140 words. Mine ended up to be an unintentional poem that has 131 characters including spaces, and the bonus word was identical.

While in the tide pool, baby Bri went fishing. She could see her right toes, but the identical left ones had suddenly gone missing!

I suddenly felt ashamed that we only had one [child], as though we were dabbling in family, not really serious. ~Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon