Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Necessity of Books and Blogs

Cartoon borrowed from Lena Roy's FaceBook page dedicated to her grandmother, author Madeleine L'Engle.
It was a 14 degree wind chill in some places locally last night and the dawn was brisk. However, the afternoon sun was wonderful and the temps warmed to a nice place. I had several errands and the schedule included a lovely lunch with friend Kathleen at her new home. She had wonderful chili which was just right for the day, and lunching while looking out her sparkling clean new windows was wonderful.

We taught for years in the same buildings. She still works part-time, and today she shared that the trend now is to teach non-fiction almost exclusively. She stated that less and less fiction is being taught. Oh, that is what is wrong with the world now…not enough great literature or appreciation of good story! Knowledge and facts are both good, but scholars should also know compassion, empathy, tolerance, and…you get the idea.

Many of us of a certain age formed our images of the world by knowing Miss Havisham, the big old dog Old Yeller, the Joads, the famous Charlotte of web fame…ah, and not web as in online! Where would we be without the lament and lesson of Scarlet’s “I will think about it tomorrow!” These were all great pieces of fiction.

On the blog, THE WRITE PRACTICE (http://thewritepractice.com/) by Joe Bunting there was a discussion a few days ago of good writers reading good books. “Reading teaches, inspires, motivates, transcends, transforms, stimulates, brings escape and comfort. Reading also irritates and questions; probes and provokes.”  How smart this author was to recognize how much we all need story, either by writing them or reading them or both.

Kathleen writes a couple of blogs herself. One deals with coping with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. She said today that a few readers have told her that the blog is painful to read. I, too, have wept on a few days after reading her words. But she doesn’t write for the comfort of others; she writes for cathartic release of her own feelings. While that she pours her heart out on the page may be hurtful to some, it must be solace to others besides herself. She surely must capture feelings and thoughts that others have… others that may not be able to write or express those feelings.

Although the blog deals with Alzheimer’s, readers can find food for thought here without having personal experience with this disease. For really what Kathleen addresses is losing our loved ones and how we can handle that loss. Her practical and positive approach to dealing with a slow deterioration in a relationship is thought-provoking guidance for all readers. Visit her and read a few pages at: http://stealingmother.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wrapping Up November

                      Wrapping Up

As I wrap crunching plastic around bird baths,
Tying down against future frigid winds,
Squirrels scamper across deck boards,
Claw up corrugated tree trunks
With no time to chatter.
I drain hoses, store garden tools,
Replace hanging baskets of dying blooms
With thistle seed filled bird feeders;
I miss the summer songbirds already.
Carrying flowers pot to the garden shed,
I feel fading rays of November sun,
Lukewarm, like leftover breakfast toast.
Overhead a gaggle of geese glides by,
Wings waving on their southbound journey.
Pulling off my work gloves,
I rub the blossoming ache in my back.
In the late afternoon air, a pungent smell
Of moistness, possible snow, winter approaching.
Stepping across spiked, brittle grass,
Stomping through the downed leaves,
I head to this day’s end
Envisioning a reward for my work.
Already I feel the warmth from good Kenya tea,
Solace, steaming mug in hand-
Maybe a cookie or two before night finally falls. 
(Printed in TEA, 2010)

It is still Turkey weekend, but like many others we are moving on into Christmas season. Our Thanksgiving was fun and less work than usual as we were invited to friends' for the big day. They shared their kids and grandkids with us.  I took stuffed mushrooms, and we all nearly overdosed on them before the meal. Then home for movie marathon with our son which meant sci-fi and action. Since those aren’t our choices, we were introduced to new things inb film while others shopped. Ah, our time was quieter and more restful.

My sister and nieces came by on Friday afternoon. They brought me a present! It was a hanging tea cup. It could be a bird feeder or a small planter, but I hung it on the front porch where it would take less weather beatings. Pictures are poor as DH hung it up for me; I am too short even with camera lens for great picture.

A few weeks ago I stopped at a garage sale and got a steal on a Nativity set. I only wanted the three kings. My own three kings are the chalky plaster kind and are I have left of a set belonging to my Great Grandmother. However, they are almost worn out so these three kings caught my eye. Bought the whole set though including wonderful stable for mere pennies.

Then Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a quick run into the local flea market produced this Southwestern angel. I love the Southwest and there is not one mark on her…I bought her for 75 cents…a steal. I am going to sit her next to a small water color print I got from a painter near the cathedral in Santa Fe a few years ago. I also got a wreath for 75 cents that is already on the deck chair with tiny white lights for night.

So while our son made his four drive home, I tore down Thanksgiving and put up Christmas. It always makes such a big mess. No way to do one without the other here due to boxes, closets, etc. Some boxes of Christmas I don’t even get down anymore. Our prelit tree—I like better without the fuss of ornaments, although I have many favorites. The best part of the decoration to me is a pretty table with friends around it for tea or food. Things are ready…now to cook and invite!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Something New

It is Thanksgiving and I have a couple of morning hours to myself. I recently learned of a new 100 word writing exercise where a picture is the prompt every Friday. Here is a link to Friday Fictioneers if you would like to write yourself. http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/23-november-2012/  Below is the picture this week:

My written response:
It was the most peculiar sign, a finger pointing the way and a laughing face, an inside joke. I entered the rock wall and headed into the castle. Despite bright sun, the stone walls were cool inside. Moisture clung to the mortar; darkness was relieved by candlelight.
I meandered through the chilly rooms admiring the fireplaces. I ascended stairwells with worn spots in the steps where centuries of feet had tramped before me. By evening I realized I was viewing the same rooms, the same heavy damask draperies. I was beginning to understand the sign, but I wasn’t laughing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving....Thanks for the Memories

Holidays aren’t what they used to be for me. I wonder if this is the age I am or the age I live in. I am sure both are factors. Once the new school year had begun in the long ago years, the autumn popped with one fun thing after another. Remember room parties? Those times when designated room mothers brought in cupcakes and punch…games were played…why even the teacher let her hair down for whatever current holiday…or maybe it was the thoughts of extra days at home with her own family that made her happy.

I used to look forward to Halloween. It was a little scary, but I loved the jack-o-lanterns and candy corn. Candy was not an everyday occurrence at my house, so a bag of Halloween candy would last me until at least Thanksgiving because I doled it out a piece at a time to myself each evening after supper. Then when I had children of my own, it was fun to dress them up, see friends, to experience the celebrations again through their own excitement. But over the years, the kids that began to show up at our door got rougher, bigger, and more demanding. Damage in the neighborhood to people’s pumpkins wasn’t expensive damage, but it did show a disregard for property of others. For years we put up a scarecrow named Jazzboe. He was fun; he was special. He wore Granddad Lambeth’s overalls, a neighbor who lived to be 99 or so. One evening he was pulled up out of our yard and gone forever.

Halloween never seemed the same after that, and I found myself celebrating autumn instead of Halloween with simple uncarved pumpkins and colorful mums. They were a natural to move us into Thanksgiving anyway. Somewhere along the way, you had to block out red and green images, to turn off your ears to Christmas carols to enjoy Thanksgiving though. I look for someday the end of year holidays to be renamed Thanksmas or Chrisgiving or some such nonsense.

My Thanksgivings were almost always hunting days and a big dinner at the paternal grandparents down the block. But occasionally, we made the trip to pick up the maternal grandparents and head across state lines to my mother’s people. Then the day was giant dinners followed by football, sometimes on TV and sometimes in an Oklahoma stadium. As I got older, I liked this because the kids were let go after lunch. A cousin near my age and I liked to take walks in downtown Claremore where you might run into boys who attended the military school. Even at fourteen, gals like uniforms! The boys were always so polite and well-groomed and this was the 60’s.

One year we walked to an afternoon movie, and this included all the younger kids due to our parents’ insistence. Oh, Kay and I were dressed in our pastel stretch pants, the stirrups (remember those?) tucked into our loafers. Our upper bodies were as poufy as our hairdos due to the huge mohair sweaters we were wearing. As luck would have it, some guys DID notice us during the movie. Easing into closer seats, they began to talk to us. That is when the younger bunch lost interest in the movie, began throwing ice and popcorn our way, and warned us, “I’m telling mom!” We were thrilled by the boys’ attention and humiliated by our siblings’ bothersome reactions. But it was a holiday to remember!

So I am thankful to have memories from a simpler time to look back on. This year there are blue memories lurking among the reminiscences, but I am not going to let them intrude. Our holiday will be smaller and lived adult-like with cooking and cleaning. Black Friday, the economy, and destruction of great men who let power destroy them will be topics discussed. But somewhere between canned cranberry sauce and store bought stuffing, I will smile remembering the first Pilgrims—the ones I heard about in third grade who wore silver buckles on their shoes and were near perfect, remember?—and those of quail hunting, football games, and big dinners in Oklahoma.


Friday, November 16, 2012

An Author Reads and Writing Life Is Good

                                                             Caryn Mirram Goldberg
Sometimes the extra push at day’s end is its own reward. Yesterday we traveled to the east for a doctor appointment and figured the scheduled PSU reading would have to be missed again. We had actually heard Caryn Mirriam Goldberg read her poetry, but last night she was to read from her novel, Divorce Girl. I had read the book and originally figured I would not whine about missing another reading due to life’s interventions; so I was pleasantly surprised when we could make it after all.

Laura Lee Washburn announces the reader
But we arrived home early, so after a little rest,  we pushed on to the west. This was so worth our time. Ms. Goldberg gave a fantastic reading! Writer/teacher Laura Lee Washburn introduced the author and the rest of the hour was just getting a good story from the author’s own lips.

One comment the author made resonated with me. The statement was about her main character who manages to survive her parents’ divorce in the 1970s. She said her teenaged protagonist survived her difficult times because she leaned on community and her art. (Her medium was photography.) Goldberg said artists often find art communities helpful because it is there that one finds people who make them feel like they belong.

My experience with writing community is exactly that. Of course, some writers are competitive and jealous creatures. There have been some famous writers who struggled and squabbled…say Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others. The writers I have met support one another and lead fellow writers to reach their goals. I have been helped and supported by many writers out there, especially in Missouri, who have shared their knowledge of things with me. I appreciate them all.
                                             Wonderful PSU food after the reading

A check and second place win the Past Loves contest made a writing success for me this week. The letter from the editors that called my essay “heartwarming and inspiring” was payment of another kind. So the week ends with some satisfying moments connected to the writing life.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Last of the Interview with Suzanne Waring

   Explain why you chose self-publishing and if this was an experience you would recommend for other writers.

 First I should tell you that I wrote this story as a children's book.  Then when I started giving away copies, it was adults who had lived through this era who were enjoying it.  Then I got worried that the book wouldn't appeal to children, especially when the children who would be reading it would be third to fifth graders, but the main character was only five.  However, when I did readings in libraries where there were children, those at the right age stayed with me as I read, and they giggled at all of the right places.  I almost stopped reading and said, "Oh, thank you!"

 That being said, I had read that everyone thinks he/she can write a children's book.  They think it is easier than writing for adults, (which, by the way, is not true).  As a result, publishers of children's books are usually swamped with submissions.  Then about the time I was ready to submit this book, I saw that the hot topic for many children's books was about people in the Middle East.  I felt my book didn't fit with what publishers were looking for at the time. 

 Two things happened next.  Anne Baack, whom I referred to earlier, decided to self-publish the letters that her mother wrote to her aunt who was in the military during World War II, and I watched as Anne went through the steps of self-publishing.  The procedure was so easy, and the minimum cost was for only one book to proof.  How could I go wrong!  Then I attended a writer's conference where I learned that it was no disgrace to self-publish.  Many authors were self-publishing and using companies that would print on demand.  I got busy and worked my way through the template at Lulu.  I now have that experience in my writing background. 

 The downside of self-publishing is doing the marketing.   One time I was interviewing an artist for a magazine article. She told me that daily she painted in the morning and she marketed her work in the afternoon.  That meant that she marketed 50 percent of her working time.  OK, I was willing to do that, but what exactly should I do?  To be quite frank, I'm not exactly certain of the way to do it.  So far I have done readings in libraries near to the area where I grew up.  I felt that was successful.  In the next months, I will be able to tell you more how the marketing portion of a self-published book is working out for me. 
Does anyone have any tips for Suzanne on book marketing?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Interview with Suzanne Waring

Today is part of a brief interview with  Suzanne Waring, author of Searching for a Special Place. The book is a story of a little girl moving from city to farm in the 1940's and how she wanted to find her own special place on the farm.


1.   Why did you write this book as a story as opposed to a memoir?
It's my understanding that a memoir is about a portion of one's life, so since my book covers one year of my life when I was five years old, it might have been written as a memoir.  In fact, at first, I thought I would write a memoir for my family only—I have two grandsons who, I hope, will someday be interested in my childhood. Then my husband urged me to think more broadly.  When I did, I thought I needed a story rather than the facts of that year, or the book would have been really boring.  As a result, I used incidents that happened at other times, and some that never happened at all.  Also, I wanted to include themes that all children have to learn such as patience, common sense, adjusting to change, and entertaining oneself without a lot of gadgets.  I felt I could do that through fiction. 

2. Your book interests readers in the SE Kansas prairie area, your home. What in your book would appeal to readers in the rest of the country?
 It was my hope that I could depict rural life throughout the United States in the late forties—before electricity.  When cities and towns were electrified, for-profit electrical companies were economically unable to run lines long distances into the rural areas to sparse populations.  Besides motorized vehicles, farming families' lives remained fairly basic.  It took the Rural Electrification Act (REA) of 1936 to modernize farms and ranches. This did not happen in our region of SE Kansas until almost 1950.  Once electricity was available, the way we lived our daily lives changed very quickly.
 I wanted to convey how we went about our lives during those few years after the war and what hand tools we used. I made an effort to take photographs of many of the common tools used by going to the History Museum in Great Falls, Montana, where I live and to the farm of Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Baack.  This family kept everything ever used on the farm for the last hundred years, so I had a great time doing the photography.    
 Most of all, I wanted readers, especially, children to see the life of a child who was surrounded by a loving extended family of a mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather.  They were people who sat down together three times a day to eat a meal.  They took time for an active, curious child.  Farm work was also team work.  Because of the way many people live today, the setting and circumstances of this story might, at first, seem foreign, but as they read the book, they will know that it really could and did happen.
Rest of the interview tomorrow....


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Author Reading in Kansas

Once we hit home from Kentucky, we washed, repacked and headed for Kansas to tend  family business. DH’s sister was in town from Montana, and she was promoting her book about a little girl growing up in Kansas during the 1940s. She hit several small Kansas libraries, and we caught up with her in Chanute. Kansas.

The Chanute library moved several years ago to occupy space in the old train station. The Osa and Martin Museum is also housed there. The building is still gorgeous, and it feels good to see the historic building not only saved for the future but being well used as well.

Suzanne Waring wrote her story based on her growing up years  in Kansas and called the book Searching for a Special Place. Here is what she says about her book:

  In this story for children of all ages, the little girl, who is the main character, wants to find a "special place" of her very own after she moves from the city to an unfamiliar Midwest farm during the late 1940s.  While she is looking, circumstances demand that she use her imagination to occupy herself as there's no television, not even radio, or store-purchased toys for entertainment.  She also helps her parents and grandparents do the work required before the advent of conveniences, such as electrical power.  Along with her family, she experiences the sadness and joy that are part of farm life.

Recently, Waring attended a writing conference where she heard that the trend for self-published books and e-books is escalating. This was good news for her since her own book is self-published by Lulu. She also writes for newspapers and magazines across the state of Montana.

Tomorrow, more in a short interview with Suzanne Waring.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rough Start to November

Darn, I hate to be sick! I simply don't have time for such. Then I should not complain because I have a warm house with lights to be sick in today! I hate hearing the stories of folks suffering anywhere, but right now along the East coast the stories are grim. Like the Joplin of tornado of 2011, the weather humbles us, brings us to our knees if only with compassionate pain for others.

Halloween ended quietly last week with pictures of my favorite little goblins emailed to me from Kentucky.

November started with a full day: exercise class, book club, and in the evening, I did a presentation on TEA for a local women's group. They got more than they ever expected on tea and the brewing of tea!

Friday morning was all mine and a real start to November. I took butternut squash and made fresh soup from a recipe a friend in St. Louis sent me. Oh, it was wonderful just like she said! (Esp. with Parmesan from The Hill!) But nothing else went right that day. Things just were out of step. Even reading in the afternoon on the deck did not go well. So I knew the next day when I got up that it was crash time for the old body.

Now, two days of sitting and aching...done with this. Tomorrow is Monday and still early in the month...I want to be raring to go!

**** Today's read was Castles in the Air, nonfiction about restoring a Welsh castle built in 1550 and now a home. If you long for details about stone walls, fireplaces, ghosts and gatehouses...read this.