Category Archives: Writing

Shaped by Choices

Writing a story begins with a choice. What does the writer-in-me want to tell? That is balanced with the question, “What does the target audience want to read?”

I’ve made a lot of good choices in my life—and a few that didn’t reach that level. Some of those decisions shaped me like homemade playdough in the hands of a preschooler. I was punched, squeezed, rolled, and manipulated. Just when I thought I had reached my destiny, slam, bam. More pounding.

Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a writing instructor, gathered short stories about choices for an anthology. She extended the competition to former students and writers who had been published in her previous anthology. She read each 500-word submission and suggested changes. No pounding, punching, or squeezing. Then the writers were given the opportunity to reshape their stories. Most were memoirs. A few were fictionalized.

My memoir, “Second Chance,” is about my submission to an anthology being published by a well-known New York publisher. The book theme was true stories about Christmas miracles. No problem there. I had a story to tell.  I submitted it. Hooray! It was accepted with minor suggested edits. The congratulatory email said the next step would be to sign a publisher release form. I waited a few days. No form. Instead, an email suggested I revise my story. Playdough again.

“But that isn’t what happened,” I wrote to the developmental editor.  She gently rolled my story into shape to keep the facts and told me to sign the forthcoming release.

Two days before the deadline to sign the release, I received an email from the main editor, the one whose name would appear on the book cover. He added more fiction. “It makes a stronger story,” he said.

Slam, bam. Playdough. Only this time, I had a choice. Accept the change or insist on keeping the story as I wrote it.

What did I decide? Read about it in The Choice Matters.

 

 

Disclaimer: Julaina doesn’t know I’m including her Amazon book link in my blog, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted. The print edition and e-book are on sale at introductory prices.

 

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Castoffs, Misfits, and Misused Words

Words, like clothing, become castoffs when they don’t fit, when they’re worn, or when style changes shift. Outdated words in a conversation may soon be forgotten. Misused words in electronic formats and print copies haunt the writer like a closet full of misfits.

Under wraps indicates a secret project or one withheld from the public, but “undercover” means a secret investigation involving spies.

Lay low means to intentionally hide or stay out of sight. Laid low (past tense) indicates that a person was out of action from circumstances.

Off the radar, often used to identify lack of presence or communication or action, sounds like a missing person’s report. Off the grid indicates one who functions without input from others, but some conversationalists—and writers—use it to indicate standoffishness.

Long, long ago I puzzled over “tootle-do,” when visitors misused the British saying of “tootle-oo” for goodbye to other travelers. It was our home. We weren’t leaving. They were.  I had no trouble distinguishing that saying from Toora-Loora-Looral, the Irish lullaby to sing a baby to sleep.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” has endured five centuries.  A catchy phrase, but who would do that?

“To each his own,” some say, but the English translation of the Latin Suum cuique to imply personal preferences was aimed at the disparity of wealth vs. poverty. Hmm. Perhaps that is fitting because some writers use worn out, trite phrases for current publications when there is a wealth of new words waiting to hit the page.

Words

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The Storyteller

During prep for a recent medical procedure, gowned and lying on a bed in the hospital surgical center, I listened as the attending nurse told me the side effects of the sedatives. “You may have slight amnesia when you wake up,” she said.

She rolled my bed to the procedure room. The last thing I remember is “I’m starting the medication now.” When I awoke, I was dressed, sitting on the side of the bed in recovery, and that nurse was putting my shoes on my feet. I still have no memory during the gap.

Later, I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the full scope of amnesia.

1) Loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness
2) Gap in one’s memory
3) The selective overlooking or ignoring of events or acts that are not favorable or useful to one’s purpose or position

My brother—I’ll give him the fictitious name of Josh—disappeared from California many years ago leaving his wife and children destitute. When a friend recognized him operating a business in Washington state years later, Josh’s explanation was that he’d been in an auto accident in Arizona and surgeons had removed a brain tumor. He’d had amnesia ever since. Or so he said as his explanation for why he had remarried in Oregon, moved to Washington, and had two more sons without divorcing his first wife.

Mother, a brother, and a sister went to see Josh, sure that would jog his memory. He was undergoing a federal clinical trial of shock treatments. It wasn’t working, he said. He didn’t recognize any of them. My mother was devastated.

I searched for the accident. No similar event in Arizona for the time and place he said his car went off the side of the mountain. But wait! If Josh had complete amnesia, how did he know the location when I couldn’t remember getting dressed after mild sedation? Josh had selective memory (Merriam-Webster definition #3).

My mother received a call from the treatment center after that distressing visit. Josh and his second family had moved. Did she know where to reach him? But wait! If he had no memory of his past, how did her name and phone number get in his secondary contacts when he registered at that facility? She couldn’t understand why Josh had always been a storyteller—her gentle word for liar.

The Social Security Administration notified Josh’s first (legal) wife of his death about thirty years later. Determined to find his burial place, I called mortuaries in the nearby towns.  Success on the third call. Josh’s ashes were still at the mortuary months later. I had his cremains returned to California for burial in the cemetery near his parents and brothers.

Josh was an amiable charlatan, a great main character for a mystery book. He hid his past and controlled the present with convenient lies. I’m a storyteller, so perhaps there is a bit of Josh in me. If the detective in the novel asked me how I skirted the mandate that Josh’s ashes could only be released to his youngest son, I would claim amnesia.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year’s Resolutions 2019

Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn something new. All these are popular New Year’s resolutions according to Peter Economy on Inc. Statistics show that many abandon their goals the first week. Some manage 21 days. Even some of the hardy falter after 90 days. The stalwart hang on but few accomplish their goals.

I’ve been successful at keeping my New Year’s resolution for many years. My secret to success? Skip the resolutions. This year, a few celebrities have expressed that mindset.

Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year. Last year, her word was grace.

Oprah Winfrey reminds us to be careful what we chose. With a twist of humor, she advises not to ask for courage because you don’t know what you’ll have to go through to get it. She says she “lives in the moment.” Instead of making resolutions, she has written five things in a grateful journal each night since 1995.

I began my grateful journal with three things each night on New Year’s Day 2017.  I made it through the next day. I skipped a week, then a month. The last entry on May 24, 2018, was a single line. “I am grateful for the stability of a cane.”

This year, after a thirty-month absence from my journal, I wrote my chiropractor’s name.  Those treatments have made it possible for me to walk cane-free on most days and to sit at my computer for longer periods.

Perhaps I will end 2019 with gratitude that my novel has been published. Along the way, I will be grateful for my novel critique group who have helped me over the rough spots.

 

 

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Thoroughly Broken at the ATT Store

Last week I blogged 2+2=5 at the ATT Store. This is the postscript, “Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.”

Slippy Pants looks at the screen where my name blazes alone. She approaches me but doesn’t sit as she had with all the previous customers. She looks down at me. “What can I do for you today?”

    Wikipedia

“My modem quit. I need to buy a new one,” I said.

Slippy Pants (SP) takes on a role similar to O’Brien, Winston’s interrogator in George Orwell’s 1984. “How old is your modem?”

Me: “Six years old. I bought it in this store in 2012.”

SP: “What kind is it?”

Me: “ATT.”

SP: “I mean what type?”

I hand her the note with the information I had copied from the Device Manager file on my hard drive.   She draws her heavy blackened brows together. Her ruby mouth painted larger than her lips frowns into a deep scowl. “I can’t read that.”

I stare at the associate young enough to be my great-granddaughter. “Oh, I guess  you can’t read cursive.”

SP: “Oh yes, I can read cursive. Just not yours. It’s messier than most.”

Chastised—broken—I read the details aloud.

SP: “Never heard of that modem.”

ATT probably stopped selling it when she was in ninth grade.

SP peppers me with more questions. “How do you connect? Is it dial-up? Broadband? Do you have to use the yellow cord?” Before I can respond, she says “One minute while I check something.”

SP stops Smiley, the other associate still assisting the puzzled man with the iPad. “A quick question,” SP says. She hands the cursive note to Smiley. “What kind of modem does she need?”

Smiley reads my written note, or perhaps she overheard the conversation and pretends to read it. “The standard modem.”

SP: “I wasn’t sure because she doesn’t know how she connects to the internet.”

Me: “Wi-Fi.”

SP: “Oh.” She turns to Smiley. “Does the regular modem work with wireless?”

“Yes, it should work with all connections,” Smiley says. She hands the note back to me without speaking, an apology in her eyes softened by wisdom.

“I’ll be right back,” SP tells me. She tugs her pants up, strides to the back room, and returns with an unmarked plain brown box. She processes my credit card and hands me a receipt, staring at my silvery hair. “Keep the receipt in case this modem doesn’t work, and you have to return it.”

Why wouldn’t it work?

SP continues her lecture. “But first you have to call the number on the instruction sheet.” Staring at my hair again, she says, “If they can’t help you, they will send a technician to your home. But, you’ll have to pay for that.” She thrusts the box into my hands and turns toward the exit. Dismissed like a misbehaving child, I follow. She pushes the door open and says, “Have a nice day.”

I leave not only convinced that 2+2=5 at the ATT store, but with my confidence to install a new modem thoroughly broken.

Side by side on my desk, the identical Net Gear/ATT modems remind me of an old perm commercial, “Which Twin Has the Toni?” With no curls to guide me, I’ll keep the twin with the green lights. The one on the left will go to the hazardous waste recycling facility.

Can you read cursive? I aced the test. (Could it be because my handwriting is so poor?) Let me know how you fared.

 

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Thursday’s Child

Thursday is blogging day for me. Fingers poised on the home row of a QUERTY keyboard, I stare at the blank white sheet my laptop screen. Thursday’s child with far to go hammers at me.

When I was a child—not a great hook, but true—more than a century after the nursery rhyme about fate  the day of the week a child was born, still brought accolades and commiserates.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for his living
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

“She’s beautiful. She must have been born on Monday.” Or, “That kid works hard. He was born on Saturday, you know.” The saddest day for births was Wednesday because the nursery rhyme declared that misfortunate baby to be a child of woe.

What about blogging? Do Monday’s bloggers produce the best looking blogs? Do Saturday bloggers struggle more to monetize their posts? Are Sunday bloggers happier than others?

I chose Thursday as my WordPress blogging day years ago. I try to post about lunchtime in California. I don’t worry about Google Analytics statistics because my goal isn’t about monetizing (Those ads you see are a WordPress tradeoff for a free site). I’m more interested in where you live than how many clicks. Now and then, one of my blog posts will resonate worldwide, but more often within the northern continent.

There are dozens of posts about the best day and time to blog. None seem to agree. For me, success is measured by your likes and comments that tell me how many smiles I created on Thursday.

 

 

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Too Much of a Good Thing

Family stories shaped my life in hand-me-down stories of my French and Native American ancestry. DNA proves the French but disagrees on the other. That doesn’t erase the historical moment my mother blurted two full sentences in Cherokee, part of a conversation she remembered from her young years in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. I can identify the colors and material of clothes my twin and I wore in aging black and white photos. Cloudy memories say I excelled in high school, but math transcripts disagree. I played shortstop a few times in physical education. I like to think I was good, but the truth is I was the last choice for the position.  True or false, these are part of my backstory.

My critique group often tells me to cut the backstory in my crime fiction novel. “But you need to know my character’s history,” I insist. “How else will you know why she reacts like she does.”

The most common statements my physicians repeat are backstory. “At your age . . .” and “With your history . . .” followed by how genetics and medical history affect a specific ailment now. Despite my poor athletic abilities, I jump like a pro reaching for a fly ball. I catch words preceded by high—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high heart rate.  Imagine my surprise when a specialist lobbed me a slow grounder.

 

“Your sodium level is too low.”

My mind raced to backstory ten years ago when physicians, nurses, and dieticians counseled me to lower my salt levels. No more pizza. Go light on the bread. Ditch the cheese. It was difficult after a lifetime of enjoying salt, but I followed the advice. I switched to organics, bought no-salt-added canned vegetables or rinsed regular ones to remove the excess sodium. I substituted Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns for my spice-of-the-day. No more salt on watermelon or fresh sliced tomatoes. My taste buds refused to cooperate at first but eventually acclimated to the new taste.

“But lowering my salt intake was the goal,” I countered, back in the present where my new endocrinologist didn’t know my history.

She turned the computer screen my direction and pointed to the < sign before the sodium level.

“Dangerously low,” she said. “Increase the salt in your diet.”

That reversal echoed advice from my critique group when I revealed the antagonist in the last chapters. “You need to flesh out this guy,” they said. “Give us some backstory.”

At home, I made a sandwich with cheese. I sprinkled the sliced tomatoes with salt and ate a handful of potato chips—rare foods in my kitchen.

Backstory and salt. How do I balance the levels to avoid too much of a good thing?

 

 

 

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