The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Friday, December 30, 2011

Memoir, Anyone?

a painting of my granddaughter; the artist is her daddy,
Jason Reynolds

       A picture is worth a thousand words. And a well-written story paints a picture with words.

      Memoir (and) has a call out for submissions. If you are a writer who enjoys writing slice-of-life stories, get busy. You don't have much time. The deadline is February 16, 2012.

      To find out about the guidelines, go here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why Are There Samsonites Under My Eyes?

        The other night I babysat for my granddaughter. It was a late night; I did not get back home until 2:30.

         Now granted, I fell asleep on my daughter's couch after Riley was sound asleep. I drooled. I snored. I did my normal routine whenever I'm in a semi-reclining position.

        However, when I got home, I read until 4, and was tempted to read even later. What was the book that kept me up?  It was Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.

         Imagine you are being taken away for the afternoon by the police because you are Jewish...Imagine you agree to keep your brother safe by locking him up in a cupboard...Imagine you don't get back later that day--and you are the only one who has a key to the secret hiding place...where your brother is.

        I had to read--unmoving except for my fingers turning the pages--until I got to the end. I recommend this book. It highlights a moment in history that is not well known, it's the story of an American in France, it's the story of a woman becoming liberated in various ways. 

           Below is a video interview of the author. When I read this novel, I thought of how fortunate we are--in this country, at this point in history.  Have a marvelous holiday--if you are celebrating now--and have a great end of 2011!


Friday, December 23, 2011


       I just finished making four batches of fudge for neighborhood friends. They're not going to be packaged in beautiful holiday tins. The only thing that is festive about each plate is a brightly-colored bow on top of the plastic wrap. I'm a purist, and I know my friends. They will tear into the fudge so quickly, like a pack of wolverines into a moose, so what is most important is the chocolate.

     My mother used to make fudge, and it would take a while. The ingredients would have to come to a rolling boil, then to a soft-ball stage, or some similar nonsense. She had a candy thermometer, and I became an expert at making the delectable delicacy.

     Then I adopted a friend's recipe for fudge. It had to be on the stovetop for less time, which was a step in the right direction, but required a long list of ingredients. Some of the marshamallows had to be frozen (and some not), the fudge had to be stirred at one point until some of the "sheen" was gone...There were occasions when I would worry if the fudge was still glistening too much ('Do I need to stir some more?'), and other times when I would panic, since I had forgotten to put the marshmallows in the freezer and tried to "flash freeze" them.

     That fudge was extremely expensive to make, but delicious. Because of the cost involved, I only made it on special occasions.

      Unfortunately for my hips, but fortunately for my friends, I was given a fudge recipe by Holly, one of my team-mates. She knows how much chocolate third grade teachers need on an hourly basis * and for the past two years, it has been the recipe I've relied on, casting aside all others.

      Since I'd like to spread the madness, I'm sharing the recipe, in case you do not already have it.  Make a batch or two during this holiday season and share (or not).

1 bag of milk chocolate chips
1/2 bag (1 cup) of semi-sweet chocolate chips 
(Aldi's has the best price, and their chocolate is great)
1 can of condensed evaporated milk

Put the above ingredients in a glass microwavable bowl (I use a mixing bowl) and cook for 5 minutes at 50% power. Stop it halfway through (at 2.5 minutes) and stir. Then continue cooking.

When the 5 minutes are up, take out, put in a splash of vanilla, and nuts (if you want). I line a glass pie pan with plastic wrap, then I can lift it out easily and cut it up, or wrap up the "disc" of fudge and present it like that. One batch can be poured into a pie pan-sized makes a relatively small amount.

* In our teachers' lounge we don't have a soda machine. Instead, we have a chocolate fountain that is plugged in constantly and restocked regularly. 



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Friggin' Fairy Tale

            There once was a mythical, magical land, shrouded in spiritual s*#t. Viggo Mortensen (with his long, Lord-of-the-Rings hair) stalked around, searching for his perfect mate: a middle-aged woman (middle-aged, if she was going to live to be 106, that is) with overactive upperlip hair and a poochy belly. (His tastes must have changed since moving into this fantasyland, you say? I'm the blogger here. I should get some perks. After all, it is my fantasy!)

         On one hilltop was Lady Linda. She would have been working on another submission, but she was too busy zipping up Santa's pants. (Sorry. This is not a G-rated fairy tale.) Santa was  looking for a  saying, "Ho Ho Ho," causing Linda to be...preoccupied. If you want all the lurid details, check out her side of the story.

        Surrounded by swarms of supporters was Shay. She lived in a lovely valley, where life is fair and everyone is free to choose who they love. (Did you forget again? It's a fairy tale.)  Her 1,000th poem had just been posted, which meant 1,000 tired spirits had done all the work but Shay had gotten all the credit. Bosco was at her side, as usual, to keep up the pretense that swirled around Fireblossom's blog; in her lair is also Emily Dickinson, preserved in dry ice.   

Bosco, the Wonder Dog

     On another hilltop was Temptress T'Mara, singing her Siren's song. Who was she luring into the sharp-edges of her words--handsome young men, men who are Cougar-worthy? Alas, no, they were bandy-legged baldies, because she was culling the depths for stories since--after all--men with quirks and men with twitches are far more interesting than Viggo clones. (And if you need sustanence during your tour of this fantasyland, Tammy has some birthday cake, topped with cream cheese frosting, that she can offer to you to...oops, it was consumed by a coven of five bwitches. Sorry.)

      If you looked quickly, you could see Beth darting here and there, doing planks and push ups and her exercise instructor other exercises. She has time to write and work and raise kids and look fabulous. (She must be destroyed!) The walls of her writing den are covered with the snot she has snorted out in her frequent fits of laughter. (She must be silenced!)

       There was a pinnacle, where two quiet writers perch. One is Donna, who refuses to read her work aloud. Elusive, shy, and humble, you must purchase anthologies with her work in them--or win a copy of one of her stories--in order to enjoy the gifts of her writing. The other is Lynn, who--despite her immense talent--makes excuses about her pieces. Her stories are haunting, poignant, and her endings are brilliant. When she opens her mouth in self-denigration, shove some of Nora Ephron's spaghetti into the open maw. (That heavenly stuff will shut anyone up!)

      There is another pinnacle where a humorless writer writes. No sound is heard except the sssssh of the wind. Don't stop or tarry too long there. Anyone who lacks a sense of humor is not worthy of your time... 

     There are more places we will visit in 2011 as this fairy tale continues before the year ends...Come back so we can get to the "happily ever after" part.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hard Way is Sometimes the Best

         Revising is always one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Granted, I only write short pieces--1,400 words or under, usually--so I'm not like C. Hope Clark (in so many ways). She recently worked on revising her novel, soon to debut, which is gargantuan compared to the reworking I do.

     However, there are a couple of things I've discovered--one because of my daytime job, and one accidentally.

      When it comes to editing, there is no better strategy than reading your work out loud to yourself. The brain is a wondrous thing. If there is a word that's left out and you read it silently, your brain will slip it in, unbeknownst to you, but it will only get set into the mental version. It will remain absent on paper. If you scan your writing without hearing it spoken, you might not catch the  unwanted repetition, the awkward rhythm, the screwed-up tenses.

      (I expect my third graders to make their writing make sense. They are held accountable if they leave out a word because their mouth works just as well as mine, so when I grade their work, I read it quietly to myself.)

      A few years ago I participated in a writing retreat. Technologically, I am an idiot, so I brought along my husband's laptop, and a hard copy of the piece I was working on. Since I did not have the story on a flashdrive or in a file, and since I needed to have it saved some way so I could revise it during the weekend, I ended up typing it over, word by word. 

      When you are typing up something from a hard copy, you have to pay attention to every word, every bit of white space and every punctuation mark. You're seeing it with new eyes, revising as you go, and rethinking the choices you made. This works so well for me that often, when I have the time, I will choose to not send a piece to my work email, even though I know I will be working on revising it after-school hours. The simple, methodical process of retyping it works for me.

     What are some "backward" methods that work for you? What are some throwback strategies that you rely on? Inquiring minds want to know...

Friday, December 16, 2011

What a Writer Needs

          A couple of days ago was my twice-monthly WWWP meeting. The evening where a group of writers share their writing and get it critiqued. As I was thinking about how fortunate I am to be a part of this group, I was also contemplating what a writer needs from their critique group...And here is my list of a few requirements (at this moment):

  • Safety. Writing is a risky business. Even if it's fiction, you leave pieces of yourself between the lines. When you put yourself out there, vulnerable, it's crucial that you feel safe as you're doing it.

  • Crap detectors. If the dialogue sounds hokey, the other writers need to feel empowered enough to shout out, "That sounds like a Lifetime Movie script! Crapola!" If the writing gets boring and petty, the critique members need to feel comfortable saying, "That's pure drivel. I'm falling asleep here."

  • Laughter. Writing squeezes so much out of us. When you write something humorous, you definitely want genuine laughter from your audience. If you can make someone wet their pantyliner as they read your story, you've scored. And if you can poke fun at each other, if you can't help but laugh at the cute blonde who's snorting, you're in a great group.

        I hope--as many of us celebrate various holidays this season--that we are all able to count the gifts we enjoy. The gift of family, the gift of friends, the gift of words... 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Signing For a Cause

        Yesterday a couple of writing friends had a book signing at Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri. It was a food drive as well; if you brought in a canned food item, you got a discount--everyone was a winner.

      Linda O'Connell was there, looking lovely as usual, with her pen ready (and busy). Tammy Goodsell was right next to her, looking quite professional (and thin, the b@#ch!). Also there was Cathi LaMarche and Theresa Sanders. I ran into Lynn Obermoeller who got a trailer-full of books signed, as well as Dianna Graveman. A late lunch after the signing was over gave us more time to chat.

      Linda is working on a book-length memoir, along with her  17 weekly submissions (and 95% of them get published). Tammy is compiling a collection of her Senior Sex(less) in the City stories, and Lynn is working on a novel with letters at the core of the story. Dianna is busy with her  new writing and editing business that is now booming.

      Sadly, I did not have my camera with me (and no, I don't have one of those new-fangled phones that does those kind of fancy things), so I will have to pull up a couple of older photos I have of Linda and Tammy.

This is Linda O'Connell, circa 1995. She and her husband vacationed at the beach this summer;
apparently, she's always loved the ocean and embraced life by the sea...
This is Tammy a few years ago. Okay, so she had hair extensions during that phase of her life.
You can't blame a girl for wanting to feel "glamorous" once in  a while...

         If you have not gotten a gift for someone, a Chicken Soup for the Soul book would be a wonderful present. (And if you're sneaky like me, you'll read it first--carefully--and then wrap it up for the giftee.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Most Precious Gift

          Earlier in the week, I got a present from one of my students. It was in an envelope, so I figured it would be one of the frequent drawings they give me. (Some of them are pictures of me, and I am always tipped off when they have a crayon in their hand and they ask, "Mrs. R--is your hair orange?" as they are vacillating. That tells me I have gone overboard with the hair dye.)

      He's a hard little kid, too. At any given time you can see him slamming a chair around, glowering at me, or shouting at a peer (sometimes all three at once).

      I need to go back a little further. Just a little, I promise. Last week, we had our monthly "auction." The kids earn "money" through their behavior, work habits, etc. At the end of every month we take bids on dozens and dozens of things--stuffed animals, fancy spiral notebooks, bags of candy, and so on. One of the most popular items--two months in a row--was a giant (two feet in diameter) roll of bubblewrap. (I'm sure the parents were quite appreciative of that thing coming home...)

       One student (the kiddo who gave me the present) bid on and got a set of refrigerator magnet picture frames. I told them it would make a great Christmas present for someone. 

          So, I was surprised when I opened the envelope and there--framed by one of those magnets--was a little love note to me. Pencil on notebook paper, it was carefully folded so it fit into the frame. This little boy doesn't even have enough food to eat every day, but he managed to give me a present I will cherish for a long, long time.

        What is the sweetest gift you ever got--from a child or an adult?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Drunk Pays Off (For Me)

          Last night was the John Prine concert in St. Louis. The opening act was great (one singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar) and John Prine's group was spare and pared down--just another guitarist and a bass player/guitarist. No need for anyone or anything else...

      In spite of no Bonnie Raitt or Emmylou Harris or Iris DeMent making a guest appearance, it was an unbelievable evening.

      Here is one of Prine's more humorous numbers. At the end, he even pokes at Bush.

Your Flag Decal

     Prine did little talking. He let his songs speak for him. People kept calling out songs, like "Christmas in Prison' (he did), or "The Great Compromise" (he didn't sing that one), and at one point, he said, "I'm not gonna sing that, I'm gonna sing the next song," which got a laugh.

      My seat was in row Y; we had the two aisle seats. I had suceeded in finding a friend who does know who John Prine is, and she was thrilled with the last-minute opportunity. (My husband was sick and had to bow out, much to his dismay.) While the opening act was performing, the guy next to me said he needed to leave but insisted, "I'll be back. I promise." It was obvious he had enjoyed several beverages already. I wanted to tell him, "I'll be holding my breath until you return." 

     When he came back and rejoined his two drunk stooges music-fan friends, all three guys had a conversation during every song. They'd point up at the balconies several times; apparently something about those seats or something floating in the air (that only they could see) was quite fascinating. Or aggravating. It was hard to tell.

     I told my friend I had to leave, apologized, and went to the usher. I told her where we were sitting, and let her know that the three guys next to us were drunk, and would not shut up. She said she'd talk to someone.

      No one came to shine a flashlight in their face or slam it against their head.

      Then all three guys left--apparently their thirst needed re-quenching.  When the one next to me went by me, as we stood in the aisle (while the opening act was still performing) he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I'm so sorry."

       For the next few songs, I plotted my response if he put his paw on me again. "Put your hand on me again, and you'll pull back a bloody stump, and it might not be your hand that's missing."

      Sadly, I could only live that moment Walter Mitty-style, because he didn't touch me again, but he did return, along with the other two jackasses enjoyment-suckers. The conversations were loud enough for people several rows in front of us to hiss and call back for them to be quiet.

     When the opening performer sang a song about being on the road and missing home, the guy on my left turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "Gypsy."  I immediately thought, 'WWPD? What would Pearl do?' After all, she rides the bus every day, and uses the fodder for hilarious blog postings. I put on my writerly hat and hoped the fun would continue so I'd have something to write about.

      It did.

      I excused myself again. A different usher said she'd talk to the house manager. Probably, they came and listened/observed, but these guys didn't  talk nonstop. They would talk, then shut up, and then talk some more. And to add to the mix, the one next to me kept strumming an imaginary guitar, without a break.  (At least I think that is what he was banging away on. I tried not to look too closely.)
        The third time apparently was a charm. I got up when one of his friends got up as well. (He was really Mr. Thirsty!) The strummer chucklehead next to me had a bottle of beer he was drinking from and then hiding under his jacket. (I was hoping that was the ONLY thing he was hiding under there...) The friend was so far-gone, as I was at the door talking to the house manager, saying, "This is one of the guys," he just stood there. He didn't even have the brainmatter to run and hide.

      The house manager moved my friend and me to row K--primo seats--and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the concert.

      So, if you're a teenager and your parents tell you that getting drunk will lead to no good, don't believe them. It's a lie. It's not true.

      If someone else is plastered, it could get you into the seats where rich people sit...

This is an incredible picture book (quite meaty when it comes to the text) by Byrd Baylor. A kid in a family thinks they're poor, and the parents start adding up their "riches." The fact they get to work outside is worth so many dollars, and because they get to see the mountains every day is worth so many dollars, and so on. By the time the parents add it up, they maintain that their kitchen table--a table that is homemade and scratched up--is where where rich people sit, because THEY are rich and they sit there.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

John Prine is in the House

          Tonight John Prine is in St. Louis. My husband got tickets months ago but unfortunately, he is feeling under the weather, so I scrambled around to find someone who would enjoy the concert.

       "Who is the heck is John Prine?" most people asked.


        I have loved his songs since I was 16, when I asked for a John Prine album for my birthday. His "hit" that year was "The Great Compromise." If you only listen to it on a surface level, it sounds like the classic boy-loses-girl tale. However, this was the Vietnam era, and the lyrics are about so much more.

        Apparently he has a new album out, and on it is a duet with Emmylou Harris. (Shay--stop salivating right now!)

      Here's John Prine singing "In Spite of Ourselves" with Iris DeMent:

           "In Spite of Ourselves" is typical of Prine's lyrics--whimsical and wry, with an occasional sharp-edged point.

       If you are crafty, or into new recipes, go to Pinterest. However, don't blame me if you click on there, and 9 hours later, you finally emerge.

       I'm off to an evening of feeling like a teenager least until the last note disappears from the stage.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I WAS Trained by the Best

          You're dry. Not even a drop of a story in your veins. But then you peruse an editorial calendar and--magically--an idea comes to you.

        It's amazing how the brain works. It gets jogged by certain words, specific smells, particular sounds.

        That's what happened, resulting in my story in Sasee magazine.

        If you'd like to read a short memoir of mine, check it out here  .

NaNoWriMo and WWWP

        It was a WWWP night last night---Wild Women Weilding Pens--and the end of NaNoWriMo. As usual, the critique group made sure it was a rowdy and sometimes bawdy evening. (We're so glad Beth is back!)

        I tried to keep everyone on track and serious. I really did. I tried to prevent the group from veering off into gut-busting ruts. Honest. Unfortunately, it seemed like the rest of the women were determined to snort and guffaw. I just sat by and watched, as I shook my head in disgust.

         One of the writers shared a story from her childhood. That critique led to a serious discussion about the importance of wood in Jesus' life, but then the voices rose, and the talk went off in a whole other direction. I tried to remain rigid with my resolve, but failed...

       I will say I liked my idea for my NaNoWriMo novel, but it's going to take lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of revising before I'll show it to anybody. Even my dog Foley, who eats poop, got one whiff of my novel and has turned his nose up at the prospect of me sharing it with him.  (Have you figured out how I got to the 50,000 mark?  Are you really really really really really curious?) I began the story with my writing critique group, and started writing some short stories from the voices of the other women. I figured, it would be the best of both worlds: a novel and a collection of personal essays. A bathroom book (a book to read in the bathroom, when you only have 10 minutes to read*) and a bedroom book (a book to read in bed before falling asleep).

        That lasted for about three minutes. I found I could not cloak myself in the style of the other writers, and my writing quickly stumbled back to my own style.

        I have one of the characters surviving a traumatic event, and the women begin a part-time business together. That's the only "plot" I have going...Hence, the hot mess quality of the story.

       I submitted two Chicken Soup stories yesterday morning (the deadline was yesterday--hey, it was the morning so I was working ahead) and have a Sasse piece to submit next week; it was critiqued last night, and needs some revising, but then I'll send it off.

      Maybe in a few days I'll write a post about all the things I'm thankful for. The holiday came and went in a blur of family, food and gift-wrapping at our local Barnes and Noble.

       Have a great weekend. Hopefully I can return to commenting on my favorite blogs (I've been reading them) and life will get normal again--or at least as close to normal as I can get...

* Ten minutes in the bathroom? Okay, so perhaps I should stop considering chocolate (it comes from a plant) as a vegetable and hence roughage?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


         I am close enough to the end of NaNoWriMo to think, optimistically, that I will finish it. However, if I am able to cross the 50,000-word finish line, it will take some novel revising strategies to improve my "novel." (The quotation marks are used because at this point, it can only be loosely called a novel. There are lots of places I have a straight line across the page, signifying I have to put some "connecting" stuff in that spot. And not just a little something, either. No, I'll need to put big piles of something in many places.)

         In other words, it's a hot mess right now.

         But as I took a break this morning, I read Lisa Ricard Claro's post. It went up today (Wednesday, the 23rd) and is entitled "Good Gravy!" but if you go and check out her blog on another day, you won't be disappointed to find another post.)

         Yes, she lures us into her post with a photo of a gravy boat full of a fat-filled, delicious cargo. Don't be angry when you don't get to ladle some onto your potatoes. Lisa cannot help it. When you see photos of her, you realize that the only "gravy" she enjoys is the non-greasy type, the "my-kids-are-wonderful" kind of gravy...the "my-writing-friends-are-incredible, even-if-one-of-them-has-a-head-on-a-stick" kind of gravy...the "my-weiner-dog-is-the-best-dog-in-the-world" kind of gravy. In other words, the gravy of life...

        Lisa's story about her son brought to mind a story about my daughter when she was a kid--probably 3 or so. I used to have a long drive to work when she was young, and her daycare center was close to my work, so we spent a lot of time in the car. She learned to talk early because while I drove, I would chat to her about the weather, the plans I had for work, what we would get from the grocery store on the way home, and so on.

       I digress.

       I have always been fond of the horn. It is put on the car for a purpose. When a driver would do something stupid, I would give a quick toot and say, "Dammit!"  I realized I was teaching my daughter the wrong thing when I tooted the horn once to let a driver know they could go through an intersection ahead of me and my little girl said, "Dammit!" with the perfect inflection.

       This was decades before road rage became all the rage, so I no longer use my horn like I used to, and I've also learned to control my mouth--most of the time.

       Read Lisa's post. She has marvelous advice for writers, along with the heart-warming story about her son.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Death of BUS

       A pair of my BUS (Butt-Ugly Shoes) died a kind of death on Friday. At least they breathed their last breath as work shoes.

        A friend of mine, Darice, had a celebration to mark the occasion. She poppped open a bottle of champagne. She hired a caterer to prepare a delicious array of appetizers. And she jumped for joy.

       You see, she will not go anywhere with me if I'm wearing my Crocs. (The photo below is not a picture of my shoes. I have a tan pair and a black pair. I could only dream of orange ones like these.)

photo by PetiteFamily93

        Before you grab a handful of rocks and threaten to stone her for being unreasonable, I should explain that my Crocs are not new ones. I've had the two pairs for several years. And because I wear each of them 2-3 times a week, they are worn. Run down. Pathetic.

       I should also add that I wear them in the creation of some hideous ensembles. For me, they are not just for the ultra-casual outfits, like jeans and a t-shirt. Oh, no. I wear them with nice slacks. I wear them with skirts to work (because they are as comfortable as slippers) and (skip this next part if you have a sensitive stomach) I wear them without any kind of stockings. Bare legs. Old lady legs. A whiter-shade-of-pale legs, with the only "color" being supplied by the stubble of leg-hair scattered along my not-really-slim calves. However, when the weather gets cold, I wear them with jeans or slacks with socks. (No, even I would not wear them with socks when sporting a skirt! Give me a credit for having a modicum of fashion sense!)

      As I was walking across my classroom before the kids came in, I felt something flapping against my ankle. I looked down, and saw that one of the straps had gotten detached. (I never use the straps; they are always swung to the front, rather than the back.) In vain, I tried to reattach it. Unable to, I thought of stapling it back (that would hurt my ankle when the staple--as it was sure to do--would scratch my flesh) or using a glue gun (I doubted it would hold it permanently). I finally just cut both straps off, since I had no other pair of shoes to change into.

      When I told Darice about my beloved tan Crocs, she said, "Thank goodness they're in the trash now, where they belong."  Not so fast. In the trash?  Why would you assume I threw them away?

       After all, they're still in perfect shape for yard work or a walk in the park. I said they had breathed their last breath as work shoes. They're not completely dead...yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More NaNoWriMo Tips

          Every day, I learn something as NaNoWriMo progresses. And I want you to benefit from my experiences. Here are some handy lessons if you want to be sure and succeed at crossing that 50,000 word finish line on November 30:

1.  Contractions are bad.  Do not use them under any circumstances. (Use the more formal two-word version instead, to increase your word count.)

2.  If you really want to make a strong point, say "very, very, very, very, very, very..." The rules are 50,000 words. No one said they can't be the same 50,000 words.

3.  I cut and pasted a few lines of a Joni Mitchell song (The Last Time I Saw Richard) into my story.  Accidentally, the whole song popped into place. I looked at my word count increase a great deal, with just a few clicks. Figuring "more is better," I cut and pasted all of the Blue album into my story. And eventually, all of Joni's song lyrics got embedded in my novel. Next are the songs of Zamfir...

If anyone else has some helpful tidbits, please send them my way! I'm still way behind...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Donna and Linda and Lynn, Oh My!

            This past Sunday was the debut of the Storm Country anthology. A gala was held on The Loop, and several creatures--some usually not seen sharing their work in the close vicinity of humans--were captured on film.

        The oh-so-rare Donna Volkenannt was spotted, but one had to look quickly and listen hard. She darted up to the microphone, read a page or two of her story, and then scurried back to her lair.

                                       Donna Volkenannt, author

          Another elusive animal, Lynn Obermoeller, was there. She was cool as a cucumber as she shared her story with the audience. She was so cool in fact, scientists are speculating if she is a reptile rather than a mammal.

          Unfortunately, a photo of the Obermoeller cannot be posted. Currently, she is under the witness protection program.  Hundreds of death threats have been sent to her blog, due to her horrendously large NaNoWriMo numbers.

           Our last creature captured on film that evening was Linda O'Connell. Normally, the Linda is a little less reserved. Not as shy as the Donna or the Lynn, she makes the rounds, performing her poetry and reading her stories for the public.

                                           Linda O'Connell, author

           It was a wonderful evening. The cause is marvelous as well. The book is being sold to help restock the school libraries that were flattened during the Joplin, Missouri tornado. If you were unable to make the event, and would like a copy of the anthology, I'm sure you could purchase it from Linda, Donna or Lynn.

            That is, if you are able to spot them, as they hide behind stacks of published works or hunch over their keyboard...


Sunday, November 13, 2011

NaNoWriMo's Lessons

Okay, I admit it. I began NaNoWriMo this year because last year I crashed and burned almost instantaneously. I hate to lose, I'm stubborn, and decided to give it another try. And although I am hopelessly way behind, currently I am at 12,000 words. Yesterday before I began writing I was at 8,000 words. It's amazing what staying up until 3:30 in the morning will do. I wonder if I can do that every night?

Certainly, it's way too early to claim I will finish in time. I might be at the Thanksgiving table with my laptop in front of me instead of a plate of turkey and sweet potatoes. (Maybe this could be the NaNoWriMo diet plan? Write thousands of words instead of consuming thousands of calories...) But I have learned some lessons--already--from NaNoWriMo, and here they are:

1.  You can become a novelist. I write personal essays and occasional poems. I don't do fiction. However, once the risk is taken, I've found it's good to stretch my skills and write outside the box(I cannot promise it will be an entertaining story, but it will be a work of fiction. More or less.)

2.   If you know the characters, they will drive the story. I began on November 1 with no storyline or plot. Oh, do I need one of those? I figured I did. Unfortunately, I went for a week just fleshing out the characters and still without a plot. Thankfully, a life-changing event dropped into my lap, and my story is meandering towards it.

3. Crime DOES pay. Last night, I broke into Lynn Obermoeller's house and stole her computer. I also took all her pencils, her pens, her lipsticks, her empty journals and her external drives. She must be stopped at all costs. A criminal, a word hog and hoarder, she has written so much already, she has finished crossed the 50,000 word finish line 3 times already, and was on her fourth lap before I threw a loose bolt into her creative cogs. Fuhgedaboudit, Lynn. Three will have to do it for you.

How do I know she has turned to crime?  There have been reports that she decided to make some money this year off NaNo. Police have gotten calls about people lurking at street corners, asking Lynn, "Can you sell me some words? I'm hooked. I want the good stuff." 

Stay tuned. On November 30, the exciting climax: will Sioux crash and burn, or will she be victorious? 


Is that stink some burned turkey grease in the oven, or is it Sioux's NaNoWriMo novel?  

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Rare Sighting of the Donna Volkenannt is Expected

        There is a shy creature, indiginous to St. Peters, Missouri, who is often seen, yet the sound they make is hardly ever audible. Biologists have studied this elusive animal; some speculate this species is incapable of tooting the horn that is attached to its side. Other scientists claim the Donna is definitely capable of making noises with the horn, but only in celebration of others.

     What is the name of this animal?

             Donna Volkenannt
          And all you biology-buffs are in luck, because the Donna is going to appear at the event below, and rumor has it she is going to read her story (aloud) to us.

        The event benefits the Joplin tornado victims' libraries, and the anthology Storm Country will be available for sale (at $10, a bargain).  Other internationally-known writers that will be there are Linda O'Connell and Lynn Obermoeller.  

      So all you animal watchers, come to the Loop on Sunday (see below) to see the Donna Volkenannt read a piece of her own. It's rare indeed...

Sunday, November 13 • 7:00pm - 9:30pm

Regional Arts Commission

6128 Delmar Boulevard St. Louis, MO

Authors will read from their work and discuss their contributions to the anthology. Some of the authors scheduled to read include: Elaine Viets, Linda Austin, Lynn Obermoeller, Linda O'Connell, Donna Volkenannt, Anene Tressler-Hauschultz, Kelli Allen, Bill Hopkins, and others. Event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided by the Missouri Writers Guild.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

That Little Dickens!

         If you haven't found him yet, check out Doug Savage's daily post, where he plays "Chicken" every day.

        Obviously, Dickens never participated in NaNoWriMo. If he had, it would have been Tale of Forty-Two Cities. There would have been no talk of it being too  long.

        Sadly, I am still way behind but have not given up (yet). According to my stats, I have to write 14,638 words every day if I want to finish on time. Otherwise, I will finish on November 3, 2525. 

        Keep thinking good thoughts for me. And here's a message for those word hogs out there (and Lynn,you know who you are!): Loan me some words. Scratch that. Don't loan them to me, give them to me.  


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's Raining!

         Yeah, I know, it's really raining outside. If you spend hours and hours on your coiffure like I do (ha), this is not enjoyable weather for you. But you might not know this:  it's raining inside (for me) as well.

        These "droplets of joy" fell down on me today, when I am (now) thousands of words behind in NaNoWriMo. I am in such a state of desperation, when I revise a sentence I just wrote a moment ago, if it involves getting rid of a word, I sniffle and whine and cry a tear or two.  I'm trying to think of myself as the Little Engine That Could...IthinkIcan, IthinkIcan, IthinkIcan...and I tell myself that if I stick with it, when I emerge victorious on the other side, the process will have made me stronger.

        Right now, it's killing me.

        But as I checked my email this afternoon (it's a professional development day, which for teachers, is like a day off--at least from kids), I found not one but two emails that said "Yes."

        Who said "yes," you say?

                              Chicken Soup for the Soul

       Of course, the Chicken Soup for the Soul collection might be a no later on, but right now, my story "The Ones From Zirconia Are Just as Nice" is in the final round for their Here Comes the Bride anthology,  due out on May 15, 2012. I'm keepin' my fingers crossed.

      It's a definite "yes" from Sasee.  My story about my money-making endeavors when I was a kid will appear in their December issue.

     And who do I have to thank?  The Coffee and Critique Group (especially Alice with her notorious red pen) that I met with a few times this past summer, for one. Even though some of the grumpy old men looked down their noses at the schmaltz of Chicken Soup-type essays (Doyle, I'm not talking about you), the suggestions I got from Donna, Marcia, Becky, Lou, Doyle and the rest of their gang really got me into the mood to submit. Merci!

    Also, the writing group that I am currently in is due some chocolate. (Or, maybe another cream cheese birthday cake? How about it?) They are a bit too subdued and dry and boring for my tastes, but what the heck--I'm not in it to be entertained and to get my pantyliners damp, I'm in the circle to improve my writing. Beth M. Wood and Linda O'Connell, both published in Chicken Soup and Sasee, encouraged me to send the childhood story in; Tammy and Lynn gave me wonderful suggestions to improve it as well. (The Chicken Soup one I did completely solo, which is a scary thing to think about, considering it is me we're talking about.)

    Barbra had it all wrong. DO rain on my parade.  I love this kind of rainfall...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

WWWP Critique Group and SD Society or Beth M. Wood is Missing

         Yes, last night was another night of our Wild Women With Pens gathering, where we make suggestions and disturb...well, you know.

         Usually we're a rowdy group. Twice already, the police have been called on us; the neighbors reported loud snorting and guffawing, squeals of laughter, and strange screams, like:

  • "I'm gonna get the top of George Clooney's head tattooed right here!"
  • "Fargo him! Put him in the chipper and chip-chip-chip him away."
  • "OMG! That story on flatulence was...explosive!"
  • "I've never heard of a workout being!  Show me his picture again."
     Last night, we were subdued. Restrained. Proper. However, I can't figure out why the evening was so different. 

     Anyway, in spite of the low decibel level and the still-dry-at-the-end-of-the-night panties, I learned some things and was reminded of something.

1. Six or seven heads are always better than one. Even if someone makes a suggestion that you disagree with, the act of going back and rethinking and rationalizing your word choice/arrangement (usually) strengthens the piece.

2. Working for little or no money is not always a bad thing. If an author writes for an anthology that only pays $5 or $10, it's a way to support the editors/publishers, it's a notch on our publication belt, and you never know what connections you can make.

3. If you eat four pieces of birthday cake with cream cheese frosting, due to the high protein content of cream cheese, you're getting four servings from the "meat" group. Really. I'm serious.

4. When an integral cog in our wheel of fun is missing, it's just not the same...

      Hopefully our next meeting will find us back to normal. Oh, that's right. It'll be another one full of whispered advice. I suppose someone else could step up to the plate and take charge of the bawdy revelry. Linda O'Connell? You've been known to clear tables--at least of full glasses of soda. Are you up to the challenge?

      Just wonderin'... 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Magpie # 89

      Every week, Tess Kincaid provides a bit of visual inspiration. Those who participate in Magpie Tales create a vignette, a poem or whatever their muse dictates...

     After your piece is completed, you thank Tess and comment on her piece, you get linked to all the other pieces via Mr. Linky, and comment on the others. A fun time for all.

      So, without further ado, here is the photo and my poem:

she began with an old fashioned pen.
safe inside
was a tube of ink,
as black and glinting as her eyes.

the audibleness of it,
the scratching sound
of pen on paper,
was comforting.

pure crap!
she wadded the paper
and dropped it in disgust.
she hurled the pen.
it hit the wall, a splatter of writers' blood
sprayed and splayed in protest.

she then turned to a pencil.
its point broke as soon as she touched it
in contemplation.

dropping into onto the floor,
she ground it into pulp with the heel of her boot.

turning to the contraption, 
electrified and eager,
she whispered,
"third time better be a charm,"
as she caressed the keys...  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Franklin Finds Hope

       A couple of posts ago, I wrote a book blurb for Lisa Ricard Claro's Book Blurb Friday. The book cover "blurb" was about a real-life 4th grade boy (Franklin) and his 2nd grade sister and kindergarten brother. They live in another state; they are students of a friend of mine.

     Franklin and his sibling were being forced to perform unspeakable sex acts on each other and the boyfriend of their mother. Franklin had told his teacher last year; this young boy's behavior was off the chain, and justifiably so. It was then reported to the principal, and the appropriate officials were called in. When the boyfriend denied it (what a surprise!), the authorities closed the case. And the boyfriend resumed picking up the children from school...everything back to "normal" for these no-longer innocents...

     This young man felt like he had been tricked...duped. He had done what everyone tells all children: tell someone you trust. Keep telling them until someone listens. People had listened, but still nothing had happened.

       The family then decided to move--to a new school district where no one would know what to keep an out for--and last Friday was going to be their last day at my friend's school.

      Just this week, my friend reported that her principal had called in the police and threatened to call the local news channel. When that didn't have an immediate impact, he promised he would kidnap the children and take them to his own home. When the police said, "We would have to arrest you if that happened," the principal replied that it would be on the news then, which would be the desired result. 

     It appears that the mother had told the children to lie when the authorities originally investigated; this caring, loving mom protected her kids by promising them she would beat them if they told anyone. Sadly, children who are abused remain strongly connected to their parents, because even sexual abuse and beating is attention. Neglect is what severs the connection, screwing up a kid's ability to bond...The children said nothing.

     Right now, the children are still at my friend's school. They are living with another relative. I would not call them permanently "safe" because anything can happen with parental rights and lying sacks of shit and court dates. However, Franklin knows that--finally--someone really listened to him.

(Author's Note:  The names, location and details have been changed to protect the guilty--those who are guilty of blogging about something that could cause them to lose their job.

And who do I hate worse--the mother or the boyfriend? The mom, hands down. I despise perverts, and I know they are all around us. But a mother who has given birth to children and then condones her kids being forced to perform oral sex on each other and an adult male? I just wish I had three minutes alone with the two of them. I could kill two birds--birds that are nastier than pigeons, more damaging than hawks, more ugly than turkey buzzards--with one stone.)


Monday, October 24, 2011

Monet Monday

photo by Lauri Johnston

       This evening I went to a special class at our city's art museum. About fifty of us--teachers, artists, writers--were going to explore Monet's art in depth.

       The museum was closed to everyone else. We had a quick meal in the cafe, then began our workshop.  At one point I needed to use the restroom; another woman and I went at the same time. A guard was there when we got on the elevator, and a guard was there when we got off and went directly into the bathroom. The rest of the museum was off-access.

       The cloak of darkness was upon us. The elevator was large enough to comfortably accomodate a painting or two. For a moment, the Walter Mitty in me came out...What would it be like to try and lift a priceless painting? Probably more exciting than wrestling with my students and their stuffed animals (It's "Hugs Not Drugs" day tomorrow.)

        Of course, I did not conjure up Pierce Brosnan ala "The Thomas Crowne Affair," nor did I branch out on my own and become an art thief. But I did think about it for a split-second.

        This evening we looked at Monet's Waterlilies using homemade viewfinders (an index card with a small rectangle cut out of the center) and decided on a spot of our own, we drew what our spot inspired in us, we chose a sound that we "heard" at our spot and created a symphony of sounds, and we wrote poetry about the paintings. Even though I did not get back until close to 9 (making it a 14-hour day for me), it was a marvelous night.

       The bit of writing advice I got out of this experience:  look from afar, and then look closely (make your own handy-dandy viewfinder), and then back up again and look from a distance. If you're writing about a character, and you know a person who has the same hair as your character, ask to look at their hair with the viewfinder. You'll see things differently. You'll see the variances in color, you'll see more texture than you would otherwise. Look at your house with the viewfinder. You'll be focusing on parts, which will nudge you into thinking in unique ways.

      Try it. You'll be surprised... 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #34

     It's Book Blurb Friday (even though it's Saturday right now; I wrote this post yesterday, but I wanted to get a little bit of mileage out of my post on Linda O'Connell's arrest--since that is really serious business--before it got "lost" in the blog shuffle.)

     Every Thursday (for the early birds) Lisa Ricard Claro provides a photograph for our inspiration. Our mission? To write an enticing book "blurb" in 150 words or less. Writers then comment on Lisa's blurb (and say a big "thank you," please), and link their blurb to everyone else's, via the handsome Mr. Linky.

     Here is my blurb. It's dark, but goes along with the mood I was in this week.

     The Slow Death of Hope
       by Sioux Roslawski

Franklin saw that framed picture when he went to his school library. A peaceful scene. The road curving…to another place. A better place.

Full of anger and hatred, he was finished. Finished with trying to get help. He wrote a letter to his teacher about the unspeakable things he and his brother and sister were being forced to do by Mom’s boyfriend. He told his principal. They had reported it. People in suits came over, but the boyfriend denied it; the case was closed.

Now Franklin and his family were moving. To a school where no one knows what happened last year…what’s still happening.

Will anyone with any power ever help Franklin? Will Mom ever get some sense and start protecting her precious kids? Will Franklin’s former teacher hunt the boyfriend down and slice off his testicles in a fit of rage?

Read to find if Franklin ever finds peace…

(150 words)

(Note: Unfortunately, this story is true. The name is changed, and it involves a friend of mine who works in an out-of-state school district. But sadly, the rest is true...And I'm pissed. And heartbroken.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Linda O'Connell: Arrested

        (For all of Linda's blogging friends, be assured that Linda is being treated with the utmost of care. Although the orange jumpsuit is not particularly flattering--considering her complexion--the guards have allowed her to use her laptop during her incarceration, so have no fear: Linda's blogging will continue uninterrupted.)

photo by gloomy50

      Ironically, the crime scene was the same place where Linda was assault, a couple of months ago. Coincidence? I think not...

      For those who have not read the story on CNN yet, you're probably wondering what Linda did that landed her in the slammer. After a jackass man called 911 to report an incident of over-exuberant WOMEN (Writing Outrageously, Mimicking, Eavesdropping and Nudging), the police arrived, sirens wailing and lights flashing. The other three perps scattered, too wily for the police to apprehend. Linda had remained on the scene to try and bash some sense into the jackass' victim's girlfriend/wife. Her efforts were in vain...

      Witnesses claim they saw the four women sitting for a couple of hours in overstuffed chairs, immediately outside the Barnes and Noble cafe. Part of that time, sporadically, they were silent, hunched over pieces of paper. At other times they seemed to be passing each other notes, and would then be observed gesturing (with nods of their head, and widened eyes) towards the jackass victim and his female companion, who were directly behind them.

     Some of the statements from the witnesses made the incident murkier, rather than more clear.

       "They seemed to be concerned with the punctuation of a particular term of endearment--one that is reserved for those who are overly-adoring of their mom...Was it one word, was it hyphenated, or was it two words? Apparently one of the women is an expert with the phrase, because she insisted it was one word," one woman in her twenties said.

       "There was quite a lot of cackling and snorting about doing things 'with no strings attached.' I think they were talking about embroidering, or tatting...I'm not sure. Whatever it was, they were getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. The heat at Barnes and Noble must have really kicked on then, too, because one of the women kept pulling at the neckline of her sweater and complaining about it being 'too hot' right then," a blue-haired elderly woman reported.

       "One of the ladies passed around a photo of a trailer to the other members of her gang. It was appalling. I happened to be walking by at that exact moment, and caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye. It was positively frightening. I am--shudder--going to have nightmares about that thing, I just know it," a middle-aged man claimed. "It was obviously a place where horrendous things had taken place," he added, and then scurried away, still visibly shaken.

      "I don't know why they chose those overstuffed chairs. One of the women--she had short hair...I think they called her 'Sue'--had enough cellulite back there, she sits in first-class style wherever she goes...What? Okay, I'll stick with the facts, just the facts...I got the impression that one of their gangmembers was missing. They kept saying how they wished 'Lynn' was there. I'm not sure...I don't know if that's an alias or what," a trim-figured woman stated. 

     In the only statement Linda made to the authorities, she claimed that she was there for her regular critique group. According to her, they meet every two weeks; they gather together to improve their writing. They also nudge each other to submit with greater frequency. When asked specifically about the alleged incident, Ms. O'Connell's calm, professional demeanor disappeared. She began to gesture, and her facial expressions became quite animated.

      "That girl does not know what she's gotten into. He's asinine. She actually was asking his permission to have her friends over. HE has his friends over twice a month for poker. I sure don't think he asks HER permission, do you? AND, he was all effusive about one of the players who is female. 'She's so good...She plays so well.' I know who's getting poked and I know all-too-well what game they're playing. That poor thing needs to wake up and..." 

      The officers had to cut her off; the spray from her excited spitting had soaked their uniforms. She was then taken from the premises and dragged off to be processed.

     For those who are interested in contributing to Linda O'Connell's legal fund, they may go to her November 13 book signing and buy a copy of the Storm Country anthology. More details can be found on her blog. The police are planning to be in attendance with their SWAT team. There are rumors that a person of interest--only known as "Obermoeller"--will be there. This "Obermoeller" character is wanted in connection with the October 19 Barnes and Noble incident...      

Friday, October 14, 2011


This book will go on sale in March, 2012.

     Yesterday I had an exciting phone call, but I tried to keep my hopes dampened down a bit. A story I had submitted a while ago made it to the "semi-finals" for a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. What an honor to make it that far, I figured. I had heard from several people--Linda O'Connell, for example--about how being "chosen" was sometimes a temporary high. Once the final selections are made, some stories get kicked to the curb.

     Why let the news spread like wildfire, if I'm only going to be disappointed later?  I rationalized. I've got time to savor my little scrap of success before the final cut is made.

      Today, I got another email. My story "No More Ditches" has made the final cut and will be in the collection Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters, due out in March of 2012.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bloody Blogger!

      I am still having trouble posting on some blogs. I cannot understand why some are easy sailing, and others are impossible. (I cannot even post a comment on my own blog!) So if I have not posted on your blog--and I usually do--it's because I have done everything Mr. Blogger has asked, and still he snubs me.

     These are the steps I have been asked to take by Mr. Blogger:

1. Sign in under my Google account. Redirected...
2. Sign in as "anonymous." On some blogs this works.
3. If anonymously sneaking in a comment does not succeed, I get the following request:
  • Pull your hair up to show the true color.
  • Pull your shirt up, and make your belly fat into a "puppet."
  • Pull your upper eyelids up, to see what you'd look like if you had the money to get a much-needed face lift.
4. Then, Mr. Blogger laughs, and "redirects" me nowhere.

Does anyone out there have a solution?  Are there others like me? Are you having trouble (still) as well? SOS (Save Old Sioux).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's Thursday TMA (The Morning After)

      Lately, a couple of times a month, I binge on Wednesday nights. I get wildly drunk. I revel. I carouse.

      Of course, since one glass of wine loosens my tongue to the point of embarrassment (mine) and amusement (everyone else), I'm not talkin' 'bout booze. Since my after-hours life is so pathetically sucky, the level of the revel is not too high.* And since I'm so menopausally and sleep apnea-sleep deprived, the carousing is not too late ("Yikes! It's quarter after 9!") nor does it ever result in a call to the police. (However, there's always that frozen leg of lamb or the wood chipper...that just might end up getting the cops' attention!)

     A couple of Wednesdays a month, I meet with a group of wild women with pens. The laughter, the kinship, the sharp barbs...that's the whipped cream, because why we're really there is to hone our writing ability and increase our submissions.

Here are a few things I've learned so far from my "chicka peeps":

  • When you're tempted to wait for a friend to get out of their car so you can knock on the door together, and the friend has a bunch of flowers in hand (and your hands are empty), race to the door, and make sure you make your own entrance. That way, your lack of thoughtfulness will not be so evident. 
  • Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes women can be thin, young, cute and talented in the area of writing. They can also be genuinely wonderful people.  It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, I've found I like them in spite of it.
  • When faced with self doubt...when you get a rejection letter...when you're worried your writing sucks...Think WWSD.
          What would Sioux do?  Sioux would say, "_____   _____." (It's one of her favorite phrases.) It just tears and wears you down if you obsess over the opinion of others. Work your craft. Let your talent shine. And let doubt fall to the wayside.

      What charges your battery? Who are your "chicka peeps" (or your "scratch and sniff pals," if you're of the male persuasion?) What snappy comeback do you give--at least in your mind--when you get rejected? Inquiring minds want to know... 

         (How did I do, Hope?)

* Although my husband got us tickets to see John Prine in December, and I'm shrieking with delight. Shay, eat your heart out.