The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What's Your Dream for 2014?

       It's almost the end of 2013. Of course, the older you are, the faster time passes. When we were kids, summers seemed never-ending and now a season passes by so quickly, you'd better not blink or you'll miss it.

       New Year's resolutions are silly (in my opinion). They don't last for very long before they (along with our resolve) crumble at the wayside, forgotten.

       But dreams and goals are different. You can think about and fantasize about and work toward fulfilling a dream or achieving a goal.

       What are your goals/dreams for 2014? Inquisitive minds want to know...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Have You Been Naughty, Or Have You Been Nice?

       At the end of 2012, Donna Volkenannt wrote a post chronicling her year as a writer. She listed her submissions and her acceptances/rejections. It inspired me to keep a planner and I faithfully mostly remembered to make a notation when I sent something off.

     Hey, Donna! I just bought my new planner for 2014. Hopefully I will submit something in the first week of January to start things off.

     And now, here is how my year went: (And if you want to avoid all the writer mumbo-jumbo and go straight to the earth-shattering revelations mildly interesting details, scroll past the bullet points.)

In January I submitted: 

  • a story for the NYMB law enforcement anthology. (I haven't heard yet)
  • a story for the moms-to-be NYMB anthology.
  • a story for NYMB about the first meeting of the WWWP's (no news yet)
  • a guest post for writingwithoutwalls--it was published
  • a guest post for WOW--The Muffin called "Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." (it was published)
  • a story for the "Cupid's Quiver" collection--was published
  • a story for Sasee's March issue--rejected
  • a story for Chicken Soup's Just Us Girls anthology--published
In February I submitted:
  •  a story for LTYM--was rejected
  • a story for Chicken Soup's "Lemon to Lemonades" collection--was rejected
  • another story for CS's "Lemon to Lemonades"--rejected
  • a story for Chicken Soup's Holiday Stories--rejected
  • a piece of flash fiction to an ultra-short competition--rejected
In March I submitted:
  • a piece to Sasee for their May 2013 issue--rejected
  • a story for CS's "Miraculous Messages from Heaven"--rejected
  • a short story to Bayou magazine--no news...still
  • a story to Chicken Soup's "The Dating Game"--accepted
  • a memoir piece for NYMB on Cats--???
In April I submitted:
  • a story to Silver Boomer Books' "Longest Hours" collection--rejected
  • a story for CS's book on cats--???
  • a story for Gloria Gaynor's anthology--rejected
In May I submitted:
  • a story to Chicken Soup's "Just Us Girls"--published
  • two stories to "Thirty Days to Sanity"--both rejected
  • a story to the NYMB on Dieting--???
  • a story for CS's book on holidays--???
In June I submitted:
  • a story to CS's "Multitasking Moms' Survival Guide--published
  •  a story to CS's "Positive Kids"--accepted
  • a manuscript to Guardian Angel Publishing--rejected
  • another story to CS's "Positive Kids"--rejected
  • a story for NYMB on Special Occasions--???
  • a story for CS's "Rebooting" anthology--???
In July I submitted:
  • a story for Chicken Soup's book on dogs--???
  • a story for NYMB on Moms--accepted
  • a guest-post for WOW--The Muffin--published
  • a story for NYMB on Family--rejected
  • a story for Sasee's September issue--published
  • a story for NYMB on Moms--rejected
  • a story for CS's dog anthology---???
In August I submitted:
  • a story to NYMB on Moms--rejected
In September I submitted nothing. Yikes.

In October I submitted:
  • a story for CS's "Overcoming Challenges" piece--???
In November:
  • I worked on my NaNo project from 2012 and got into the mid 70,000's
  • I submitted a story for CS's "Home Sweet Home"
In December I submitted:
  • a guest post for WOW--The Muffin--published
      I discovered several things. One, I know there are pieces I forgot to jot down. I will try to be not as naughty next year and instead be more meticulous.

       Secondly, there were some months where submissions were sparse. April, May, August, September (none), October, November and December. I am going to try and be more vigilant and look at my planner, week by week, and see if I need to ramp up my submissions. For some of those months, I can make excuses rationalize why I didn't submit much. April is a busy month for me, teaching-wise (state testing). May is a crazy month for me, teaching-wise (the end of the school year/report cards). August is back-to-school month and September is parent-teacher conferences. October? Perhaps I'm too busy gobbling up Halloween candy before Halloween...November I completely understand. My priorities were with my NaNo (still not done). December--another crazy month teaching-wise (report cards are looming).

      Third, (I already knew this) my rejections far, far outweigh my acceptances. Donna Volkenannt did a nice job of tallying up her rejected pieces vs. her published pieces. I'm too full of Christmas crap right now to do that. However, I think for every 942 pieces that got rejected, 3 got accepted. It seems I've been a lot naughtier as a writer than I've been nice.

         Do you keep track of your submissions digitally, via a calendar/planner or some other way? Do you have a bit of advice to kick some (like me) in the butt?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

This Day Will Go Down in History

      Thirty-four years ago, minus one day, I was in great pain. But after gathering together my family and close friends, the pain stopped.

      "What should I do now?" I asked my osteopath. He said, "Walk. Walk as much as you can. The act of walking with begin things again."

       It was unseasonably warm on December 20, 1979--just like it was yesterday during the day. I walked the streets around my Maplewood home and eventually, things did start up again. The contractions returned and again my family and friends were summoned. When the evening of December 21 arrived, so had my beautiful daughter.

     After my baby girl was checked out and declared perfect, the doctor and my mom--along with my mother-in-law and my adopted grandma--had cake and coffee. I cuddled up with the best early Christmas present anyone has ever gotten. *

     Happy birthday, Virginia. You're the most wonderful daughter and the best mother.

* Note: In the 1970's, I worked at St. Anthony's Hospital and discovered that women were shaved (not their armpits) and an enema given before delivering. This was standard operating procedure.

Since I wanted to be a little more control of what happened, I chose to have my baby at home, without drugs. An incredible osteopath, Dr. Fred Duhart, did home deliveries. He delivered my daughter and eight years later, delivered my son.

 And if you want to take a break from holiday shopping on Monday (Dec. 23) and you live in the St. Louis area, Lynn Obermoeller and Linda O'Connell will be reading their "I will survive" stories from the Gloria Gaynor collection. It's at the Gelateria, 3197 S. Grand and begins at 7:00. 

Ice cream and some great writing? What can be better than that...  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Brain and the Heart

       There are books that have--at their center--a character that is the heart of the story. That character is the conduit of the emotional current that runs through the book.

       Currently, I am working on writing a story and have--as the main character--a woman with a bruised heart. She has some twisted schemes up her sleeve. I'm hoping that as the tale evolves, the connecting thread will hold it together...

       A week ago, I saw the movie Twelve Years a Slave. One reviewer said that the Solomon character was the brain of the movie, but the Patsy character was the heart. I could not agree more...

       Imagine you are free. You have a family--a wife and children. You are respected in your community. And after he makes a single choice, he ends up enslaved...for the next twelve years.

       I highly recommend this film. It is emotionally draining. It focuses on a dark period of American history, and is based on a true story. But the acting and the cinematography is impeccable. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

A New Shout Out, Along with An Extended Old One--And The Joke's On Me

      Chicken Soup has a new call out for submissions. The Power of Forgiveness. This is something I've wrestled with for years. My brother and his wife are both addicted to Oxycontin--have been for over a decade-- and they've done some pretty heinous things. Things that are stranger than fiction. Things that I'm actually incorporating into my manuscript as "made up." Perhaps I will put a disclaimer at the end stating, "The events you read about were based on actual people and real-life events. The names were changed, in spite of their guilt."

      I know the drill. The bitterness only hurts me. I'm poisoning myself when I don't forgive...or at least release.

       Maybe I can work on getting healed as I work on a CS submission? Weirder things have happened...(The deadline is in June.)

       Also, the Chicken Soup folks have extended the deadline for their upcoming Alzheimer's collection. You have until December 12 to submit a story. Because my father was slayed by Alzheimer's, along with a close family friend, I've submitted two stories. I had a third one, but the necessary revising didn't come easy, and the deadline passed before I could finish it. Now, I have the time especially since the god of all teachers, the ice god, blessed us today.

      Yesterday, I got an email from the publishers at Chicken Soup. A month or so ago, I had gotten word that one of my "Multitasking" stories had made it over a couple of hurdles. The title of the tale, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," was a nod to one of my musical favorites.

      The email I got yesterday got me extra excited. My story, "All in Good Time" was being considered for the same collection. Two stories in one book. That would mean I only need to get 42 more CS notches on my publication belt to catch up with Linda O'Connell.

        Wait. My memory had really turned to Swiss cheese. "All in Good Time" did not ring a bell. What story was that?

        After opening the attachment, I realized they had changed my Meatloaf-y title. It was the same story, but now the decision was final. I was grateful to know I was for sure being included in the anthology, but felt a little silly counting an extra chick without even hatching it in my brain.

        How about it? I know everyone has a story about forgiveness they can craft and send off...Right?



Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Divorce

         A popular term writers use is "married" when it comes to our writing.

      "Are you married to this part? I think the story would be better without it."

      "I'm not married to the ending. I know it's weak."

      This year I've been working on a NaNoWriMo from 2012. In fact, I was a 2013 NaNo rebel. And now that November is officially done, but my manuscript is not, I'm still working.

      My story is about writers. A group of rowdy women writers. And until about six months ago, there was no thread to make non-writers care. Really, there was no connecting thread, nothing really weaving the story together. But then I found one, and started adding pieces here and there as I revised while I also wrote.

     Something was still missing, however. My "thread" was coming in too late--I thought. The major story layer needed to make an entrance earlier, in my opinion.

     The problem? I had a beginning that I considered snappy--and engaging. Even though my tale is part humor and part darkness, I almost always lead with the self-denigrating foot. I use lightness to compensate when sadder times threaten to slay me.

      Yesterday, I finally divorced the snappy beginning. Actually, I didn't get rid of it, but I did write a new first part...And I kind of like it.

      Now, I'm still not finished. I haven't gotten to the ending yet. But I'm closer to the end. And, it's a more cohesive story than it was two days ago.

      What part of what story was the most difficult for you to divorce? What part did others tell you need to get a divorce from, but you stayed with? Writerly minds want to know...  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Be Thankful

        Later today I'm enjoying a meal prepared by my mother-in-law. I'm thankful I don't have to cook.

     I'm also thankful I have a healthy, happy son. He's home for a few days, and I've gotten to make some big batches of food to fill his bottomless gullet.

     I'm thankful I have a supportive husband who tells me my stories are good ones if they appear towards the beginning of an anthology.

     I'm thankful for my daughter, her fiancee and my granddaughter, Riley. They're healthy and happy and caring. They're celebrating with Riley's grandmother (I'm "Grammy"), another person I adore.

     I have work friends I rely on every day. I have blogging friends whose posts I look forward to reading every day. I have writing colleagues who help me immeasurably. A lot of "riches" surround me...

     No matter what we don't have that we would like, we're far better off than a lot of struggling people. And when we compare our lives to the lives of people in some other countries...well, we have quite a cushy life.

     So if you have some family or friends around you today, celebrate. Tell each other what you're thankful for. And enjoy...

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Stand(s)

        Yesterday I participated in an event in another country city. A library graciously hosted an evening with local authors. Since I had eight books I was bringing to sell, I wanted to make some bookstands.  

         My idea: take three pieces of dowel rod, put a "spot" of hot glue at the top to hold them together at the top, tipi-style, and put another spot of glue on two of the legs and attach a horizontal piece of wood, to act as a "ledge" to hold the book in place. It was going to be so easy, and would result in an extremely functional product. Or so I thought...

         I had to modify my design, because my tipi bookstands needed a fourth leg to keep them stable. I got that. I had vacillated between 3 and 4 legs at the hardware store, but decided on 3 for frugal reasons. So...modifications made.

         The three "spots" of glue didn't really cut it, either. I needed at least eighty-four several hot glue sticks for each stand. I would squirt blobs onto the top, and when it was more or less set, I'd turn it upside-down and squirt out another fifteen gluesticks' worth of glue glue stick into the inside of the pointy top part. They held together, and worked, and because of all the hot glue I had to use, they only cost approximately $63 apiece.

        While I was working late one evening this week, my husband took my visually-interesting bookstands as a challenge. He made stands with screws and nuts and bolts. (I think that's what those things are called.) The legs were adjustable, they were more stable than my stands, but each one looked like the others. Their uniformity was boring. I appeased him, and took his bookstands to the event. But deep inside my heart, I knew my stands would have attracted more crowds...When the clamoring hordes of book buyers would have caught sight of my stands, their mouths would have gaped open. I just knew it.  

          Here is a picture of the two stands having a stand-off. You be the judge.

     My husband's plain-Jane-all-the-same stand is on the left. Mine is on the right. What the camera could not capture is the enormous and numerous globs of glue glistening on and hanging from the rods. But don't let the camera's limitations sway you--you will have to use your imagination.

      And how was the event? It was fun. I chatted with several writing/publishing friends, including Marcia Gaye, Jack Zerr, Mary Horner and Robin Tidwell. 

       My next post--Marcia Gaye's "best" writing, and a book giveaway...And if you're a child of the 60's or 70's, you'll want to check it out.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

NaNo Hospice

     Okay, it's official. My condition is terminal. My word count--as far as NaNo--is half of what it should be right now...However, I think I have determined the problem, and have rectified it.

     I previously had a character in my story--my husband who I named "Dennis"--who looked exactly like Viggo Mortensen. LOTR Viggo. Hidalgo Viggo. Not the Viggo who played the guy undercover as a Russian and got into a wrestling match/fight with a guy in a spa, resulting in a bit of fleeting full-frontal male nudity. Not that Viggo. (And no, Val, I still have not seen the Viggo movie you keep touting. I apologize profusely.)

     I kept a photo of Dennis/Viggo in front of my laptop to keep myself immersed in the story. But I would find that hours and hours would pass, and all I would have to show for it would be a puddle of drool on my keyboard. No words...for hours and hours.

     Perhaps my "inspiration" is too distracting? I deliberated, and decided I should transform the "Dennis" character, changing what he looks like, and see if that makes a difference.

     Here is the new Dennis:

     What do you think? Do you think (the late) Victor French-like Dennis will keep me more on track?

       Help me. Please. I'm drowning in an empty swimming pool of words...

(Currently, my NaNo word count--since November 1--is 14,139 which might seem quite anemic, but those are words added to my 2012 NaNoWriMo, bringing it up to a grand total of 70,650. Of course, after November ends, I will be slashing and burning and revising, but I am getting closer to the conclusion of this story...and am spackling up some of the plot "holes.")

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Death by NaNo

     Right now, I am over 10,000 words behind. NaNo is winning and I am losing. Will I make it up over the weekend, even though I have mid-quarter report cards to do (and first I need to grade an 18-wheeler full of papers organize some student work)?

     Probably not. However, right now I am 6,000 words further along on my "longish piece" than I was before I began NaNo 2013. And, I've turned a corner. Not the corner, as in the-end-of-this-novel-is-right-around-the-corner, but I think I've figured a way out of a mess I had created for myself. We'll see... 

     Another plus: my husband has hacked into my computer looked over my shoulder as I've written, and is intrigued that he is a character in it, although his name is "Dennis" in my story. Little does he know that "Dennis" also looks exactly like Viggo Mortensen. Not "Eastern Promises" Viggo but LOTR Viggo or Hidalgo Viggo or even GI Jane Viggo. I'm not terribly particular...

     So, here is a sneak-peek at my novel hubby:

       And now, back to NaNo...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writers! NaNo-ers! Rebels!

        I went to the St. Louis Writer's Guild workshop yesterday. Donna Volkenannt and Linda O'Connell spoke about how writing about our lives is a smart way to go. (This is such a lame description of what they talked about, but I cannot spend too much time on laying out the highlights's NaNoWriMo!)  Linda and Donna are both award-winning writers and have been published in many different collections. Their talk was inspiring and funny and spot-on.

          Then two writers spoke about NaNoWriMo. Several people I spoke to are crazy brave enough to do NaNo this year. Kim is working on a intriguing novel that revolves around an earthquake...and what happens next. (Do I have it right?) Donna Volkenannt is working on...well, she's keeping it a secret, I guess, or she said and I was in a menopausal moment. Linda O'Connell's working on--her 142 soon-to-be-published Chicken Soup story, so no NaNo for Nicole's Nana.
Lynn is doing NaNo, so I have someone I can wallow in misery with cheer on in my critique group.

       I'm a NaNo rebel this year. Last year I made it to the 50,000 word finish line, but now have 50,000 words which means it's only part of a novel (and a hot mess of a story it is, indeed). This year, I'm trying to add 50,000 more words to my 2012 project. However, I'm already behind, so we'll see...

      The suggestion came up to avoid all contractions while doing NaNo (I figured that out last year on my own) and reward yourself with chocolate after meeting small goals.

       Chocolate is always a good incentive... If you're doing straight NaNo or if you're a NaNo rebel like me, have a great month...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friends + Fun = Wealth

       Nothing is louder. Nothing is wilder and results in more snorting and panty-dampening. Nothing is more fun...than a group of female friends.

      My box of the soon-to-be-on-sale Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Just Us Girls arrived today. And I'm in it...twice.

      Okay, to be more accurate, I have only one story ("My Circle of Friends") that is part of the anthology, but in another story, I am one of the featured characters. That story is called "Wild Women Wielding Pens" and is written by the Chicken Soup Queen Linda O'Connell. It's a warm, well-crafted story about the critique group I'm lucky enough to belong to. 

       But hold your horses! Linda is not the only writer-friend who has a story published in this collection. Lisa Ricard Claro has a story about a friendship that seems first. Her tale made me think of the unlikely friendships I've formed over the years, and made me consider what I would have missed out on if I had just gravitated towards people who looked and acted like me...

       A group of women who are good friends...There is nothing rowdier or more supportive. And there's nothing that enriches our lives more...

         Who is one of your best friends? Share a story about them or tell why they're such a good friend. Nosey people like me want to know...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Some Soup for You!

       Yes, don't be alarmed by the exclamation mark in the title. It's so rarely used by me (I must leave ample room for ellipsis) and so over-used by some. (I try to convince my 3rd graders that unless an ambulance is about to run down their brother or sister, or unless they won the lottery, stick with a period or a question mark.)

      However, this soup is worthy of an exclamation mark. (And it will appease the Seinfeld fans, although my friend does not pattern herself after the Soup Nazi. She does not keep her recipes hidden in a wardrobe--she willingly shares her culinary secrets.)

      My friend the "chef" calls this delectable dietary bombshell "Orange-Scented Carrot Vichyssoise" but I call it simply "Better Than --- Soup." (It's not better than great --- but is way better than mediocre ---.) She made it for one of our WWWP dinners, and we each left that evening with scratches and gouge-marks on our arms, as we tried to fight each other over the last spoonful several pounds heavier.

      I refuse to name her. That would be unfair, because if I did, she would be flooded with requests for the recipe. You will just have to troll the internet in search of the recipe...

       The title of this post was going to be "Tumeric, Anyone?" because as I was making it, I was thinking if I could leave out some of the ingredients or substitute some. Leeks? Couldn't I use onions instead? Tumeric? I don't have any and I've never even used that spice...couldn't I leave it out? How about using milk instead of heavy cream?  (Okay, I admit it. I was all about the cream, and didn't even entertain the notion of substituting milk for it.)

        But when I tasted the one bowl I allowed myself (I poured the rest into a container for my daughter, to avoid the temptation), I swooned over the layers of flavors. The leeks, the carrots, the chicken stock...the tumeric...the orange zest...the honey, the nutmeg...And I realized that without just one of those ingredients, it would have fallen flat.

        Can we leave out the passion we have for our art--whether it is painting or photography or writing--if we're having a lackluster session? Can we leave out some of the complexity of our characters when we're writing fiction? Can we omit some of the emotional layers in order to shortcut to the end if we're crafting nonfiction? 

        Of course not.

       And now, I'm off to lick my bowl clean...


Monday, October 21, 2013

Why I Write Creative Nonfiction

       Last Friday I was off. Off on a mission. Off my normal schedule. Off work. (And no, I wasn't playing hooky so I could drive to our state's capitol and deface the Rush Limbaugh bust. My whole school district was off.)

      I took advantage of the fancy-free day to deliver a copy of the newest Chicken Soup book that has a story of mine. And I was delivering it to a very special young man.

       Last year I had an exceptional 3rd grader in my class. He did something quite thoughtful, and after interviewing him, his mother, writing a rough draft, getting it critiqued by the wonderful WWWPs, I submitted it to Chicken Soup. It made it over the numerous hurdles and--yahoo!--it was chosen as one of the 101 stories.

      This young man transferred to a neighboring school district this year, and so I decided to drop off a copy of the book on my day off. The most I hoped for: to have them call him down to the office so I could hand him the book. But what I got was so much more...

      The secretary called the principal into the office, the principal took me up to Timothy's classroom and after speaking to the teacher, the students stopped what they were doing to listen to my spiel. Tim is a humble kid, so when I said, "Timothy, do you want to tell them your story, do you want me to tell your story or do you want me to just shut up?" he said I could tell his story.

      Along with putting in a plug for the revision process and the importance of sharing their work with other writers, I told the class they had a famous kid in their class...that people all over the world would be reading about him. Their jaws dropped open, they clapped for Timothy...and the principal and the teacher both wiped tears from their eyes. (I later told my husband I made a principal and a teacher cry. He asked, "Did you want them to cry?" not knowing what had happened. He knows that sometimes I get spitting mad and sometimes I cry over my work. But this time, I was thrilled with the tears for a different reason. A writer is validated if tears are shed over sad or uproariously funny pieces.)  I also told the class that it was important--to me--to tell Tim's story because lots of people say kids today think only of themselves and don't do charitable things. Timothy grinned, accepted the anthology, I gave him a hug and breezed out.

       That is why I write creative nonfiction...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Art? What is it good for? Absolutely somethin'!

       What is art? Is a canvas that is simply painted black, but with some texture that art? Is a large, mounded-up circle of rocks--is that art? Is a chair art?

       According to the St. Louis Art Museum, all of the above is considered art worthy of a display. And if you were to engage in a hands-on activity to create a bit of modern art, perhaps your definition of what is "art" might be transformed...

      Last Saturday I spent four hours at the museum with my granddaughter. A huge addition to the museum is no longer particularly new for our city but it was new to me. One of my favorite pieces--"Keith"--is too large to have always been displayed in the past, but now has a permanent place to hang his head on. I was eager to see him again.

     Oh, you've never met Keith? Here he is.

"Keith" by Chuck Close

      This snapshot that I stole off the internet because I cannot find the USB cord for my phone and I've tried a multitude of cords, trying to jam them into the phone's orifice, to no avail does not do the piece justice. It's a self-portrait by Chuck Close (yeah, I know, I'm not sure why it has that title) , is huge-huge-huge and looks like a photograph. You can see the pores of his skin, individual whiskers--it's amazing. (Chuck Close is now paralyzed--a quadriplegic, I believe--but still creates art. It's different, but cool nonetheless.)

       Before dragging Riley to the new wing so we both could spray spittle all over the place in excitement, she did some sketches of pieces that caught her eye. Anselm Kiefer's enormous sculpture titled "Breaking of the Vessels," inspired by Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass" in Germany) was the first. She spent almost half an hour painstakingly recreating Kiefer's work with pencil and paper.

      Oh, you haven't seen this piece, either?  Take a gander...and then keep on reading.

Anselm Kiefer's "Breaking of the Vessels"

       What you cannot see (very clearly) is that this sculpture is surrounded by broken glass all over the floor. Kiefer came and installed it, after questioning their choice of placement (museum muckety-mucks had chosen a spot on an upper floor, and this piece is massively heavy). "Are you sure this is where you want it?" he asked. Once in place, the officials (probably all men ;) determined the piece needed more support and needed to be moved to the main floor. Kiefer refused to fly back, (I imagine he at least was thinking, 'I told you so.') so the staff had to meticulously diagram where every shard of glass was on the floor and then rearrange it in the same way in its (now permanent--whew) new home. 

     I used to think that ultra-modern pieces like paintings made simply with squares of blue and red and yellow arranged on a white canvas--I used to think they weren't really "art." I mean, how hard could that be? If I had a ruler or some masking tape, I could do it. But when I took a "Teaching Art" class to become a teacher, the instructor took our scoffing selves and gave us each an envelope full of construction paper rectangles and squares--red, blue and yellow ones--and told us to create a piece of art. My snarky self thought it would take seven seconds...and yet twenty minutes later, I was still arranging and rearranging the pieces. It certainly wasn't as easy as I had thought.

      It was a wonderful way to spend our day, and perhaps some day, when I find the cord that can be properly jammed into my phone, allowing me to retrieve the pictures I took, I will share my own photos.

     How do you define art? 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

THIS is Why I Belong to a Critique Group

        This is a follow-up to my previous post, where I wrote about why I teach. If it was Pulitzer Prize material, I'd provide a link, but it's not, so if you're burning with desire  mildly curious  interested bored out of your gourd, meander around my blog and check it out. I'll be here when you return...

         Why do I belong to a critique group? Why do I stay out late every other Wednesday? (Our writing critique sessions go from 6:30 to 9:30 or 10:00, and none some of that time is spent on shenanigans and rowdy-ness.) Why do I give up a fun night of grading papers to get my writing criticized? Here's why:

1.  I'm working on my circus act...soon, I'll be ready for Barnum and Bailey. The words that are thrown my way on critique nights are razor-sharp and so cutting, I could fill in for the female assistant in the knife-throwing act...and I'd have no fear. (Okay, their words ARE sharp, but sharp as in witty. I've never felt like I needed to thicken up my skin when it comes to the WWWPs.)

2. I've joined a 12-step program, the EA, and I'm making progress. In fact, the last piece I shared had no ellipsis...None...Nada...Zilch...As an ellipsisholic, I must mutter the serenity prayer on a regular basis: Grant me the serenity to accept a short story without insisting it needs at least 14 sets of ellipsis... Last Wednesday evening I got my "1 story chip" and I'm looking forward to earning even more...

3.  When my critique members are not around, it's as if their spirit is. There are times--not often enough, unfortunately--when I'm revising a piece and it comes to me. I know exactly what I need to do to improve the story, I know what needs to be cut, I know how I can punch up the beginning...because I've heard it often enough from the other WWWPs.

4. Pantyliner producers need my support. The four fierce women in my critique group are HE. LARE. E. US. Only one of them has a trouble-making twinkle in her eyes--the other three look prim and proper and oh-so-serious, but that is just a clever ruse.  All of them have mischief and mayhem bubbling right under the surface. Laughter is good for the soul...damp underwear, not so much.

5.  In this part of the season, when the bugs are having their last flings, every fly-catcher is welcome. There are times when my mouth gapes open in amazement. Lynn has the ability to create an authentic voice of a character...and she keeps it up for the whole novel. Beth can do the same. Both of them are working on novels with a teenager as the centerpiece--and every word the characters say and every thought that goes through their head is spot-on. Linda consistently writes warm and witty and snappy. She can paint a picture and pull you back to a moment in your past with just her written words. And Tammy... Everyone hates to follow Tammy. Tammy can (and did) transform a story about a hamster into a lyrical piece that dances across the page. The images she creates are pristine...and phenomenal. When their stories are shared, my mouth drops open and I have to shove it closed...

        And what about you? Why do you write or dance or paint or shop or cook or bake or zentangle or take photographs? Nosey people (like me) want to know...

Friday, October 4, 2013

This is Why I Teach

       A few days ago I got an email from a former student. Kendra had been in my 4th grade class; now she's a freshman in college. It's been years...

     Most people think teachers remember the "challenging" students the most--the kids who made them buy hair dye every six weeks every month every afternoon. Perhaps some educators do dwell more on the tougher-nuts-to-crack than the rest of their students. In my opinion, though, something happens in the classroom that's similar to what happens when a woman gives birth: some magical liquid courses through her body, ensuring she does not remember the excruciating pain and thus rendering her willing to have another child somewhere down the road.

      Teaching is like that. Full of expectations. Exciting. Sometimes painful. And the changes that happen to your body are downright horrifying...The students who never leave my head or my heart are the gifted writers, the kids who overcome incredible obstacles, the students who are exemplary role models...The tough times shed away, leaving me excited about each new school year.

        Kendra was in my 4th grade class the year I did a research project with the National Writing Project. Even at the age of 10, she wrote stuff that had such depth, and yet it seemed to be effortless for her.

        She's beginning a nursing program. I only hope she makes the time to continue writing...

         What friend or colleague has recently contacted you, like a blast from the past? Tell, please.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Paddling Along

       Sometimes the waters push at you, and you must expend a great deal of effort to stay your course.

       Other times, you are able to coast along. The waters are tranquil--perhaps even shallow--and you can lie back and relax.

         Right now my "real" job is pushing and pulling at me. The waves are rough, leaving me exhausted most of the time. I have time to--sometimes--work on my writing, but it's only in small spurts. Lacking stamina, I am letting my "longish" project coast along. However, I am doing some mental writing. Small currents are meandering around in my brain. At some point, enough will accumulate to form a swell...

       The kayak pictured above belongs to "Doc" Savage. This summer he paddled 340 grueling miles along the Missouri River, from Kansas City to St. Charles. He paddled to raise money. He paddled for puppies. (Half of the money that was pledged went to Love a Golden Rescue. The other half went to a charity in his hometown.)

      If you'd like to read about this event, go to MR340. It was beyond tough...

      And now--what kind of "tough" things have you tackled lately? Sioux's nosey nature wants to know...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Second Bite

         Sometimes I go into spasms of pleasure when I take the first initial bite of something new. Tammy's BLT bites. Anything (and I do mean anything, from her Orgasms to her quiche to her spaghetti) made by Lynn Obermoeller. My grandmother's gravy. (Every time she made it, it was a little different but those brown, fat-laden pools never failed to make me swoon.)

      When something edible is that good, I have to take a second bite. (Or a second helping. Yikes.)

      This morning I was taking a second bite at a story idea. There are two stories I am driven to get published, to honor the people who are at the heart of the pieces.

      One slice-of-life story I am yearning to see in print is about my friend Darice's son. He is the same age as my son, and you will never meet a friendlier, more polite kid than Aaron. He is the kind of young man who could talk to a lamp post and he'd get a response. Now in his mid-twenties, he got his Master's degree, and was enrolled in chiropractic school when someone broke into his house while he was sleeping. Aaron now has a bullet in his spine as a reminder, and has been living as a paraplegic for over a year. (I've submitted a story about him to Chicken Soup, but no news is bad news, so I am going to write another story about him from a different angle.)

      The other story I'm taking another stab at (See? It started as a "bite," but now I'm getting surlier, so "stab" seems more apt.) is about a friend named Ruthie. She and her husband Jim had an unwavering optimism. Jim had Alzheimer's, and they had more than their share of obstacles, but their sunny outlook remained intact. (I submitted an absolutely fabulous story, worthy of a Pulitzer Prize second look, but no. Again, no news means no publishing agreement...)  I'm writing the story from a different perspective, will beg my critique partners-in-crime to read it ("OMG! Another Alzheimer's story?" they'll cry out in protest.) and after it's all polished up, nice and shiny, I'll send it off.

      What are you taking a second (or third) bite of?  What (or who) are you taking a second stab at?  Inquiring minds want to know...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What is Faux About Your Life?

           A few weeks ago, I sponged-painted my once-yucky kitchen counter. It now looks like granite--sleek and mottled with browns and black and tans. And it looks like a brand-new $5,000.00 countertop, and all it cost us was $70.

        Every morning I use an eyelash curler, in an attempt to override my drooping eyelids. 

        And as evidenced by all the skin cleansers and skin sloughers and skin creams that hog up space in my hall closet, it's obvious--I'm trying to be something I'm not (which is older than mud).

         As writers, we specialize in what is faux and what is not. Even if we're writing nonfiction, we're putting our own spin on things, and filling in with details that we forgot long ago.

This collection will be on sale on December 24, 2013.
My slice-of-life story, "Still Dishing It Out"
is going to be one of the 101 story offerings.

I received word yesterday that my story has made it to the final round. I also received a letter yesterday from a epistolary addict  letter-writing maniac  writing friend, and what she wrote made me think... Am I a creative nonfiction writer? Am I a novelist? Or am I whatever I'm dabbling in at the moment?

What is the thing that is most faux about you or your life? Don't be afraid to share. I won't tell a soul... 


Tuesday, September 10, 2013


          I've been tagged. Yes, that's what happens when one is fat and slow-moving--it's easy for them to lose a game like "Tag."

       But wait. This is the kind of game I can play while I am procrastinating mulling over a current work-in-progress.

       Cathy C. Hall tagged me. Or maybe it was Cathy-on-a-Stick. (You never know about that one...) Cathy answered some writing questions, and then passed the torch, for a burning inquisition...

What are you working on right now?

        Right this moment, I'm working on a submission for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I also used to have a pet snake--several, in fact--and am planning on writing a piece to send to Publishing Syndicate for possible inclusion in their Not Your Mother's Book...On Pets.

          As far as something lengthier, I began a "longish" piece last November during NaNoWriMo. It's a little more than 60,000 words long right now, and is currently the object of much colorful language called "The WWWP Critique Group and SD Society."

How does it differ from other works in this genre?

      Well, for one, it's not finished. (Duh.)

       It's a mash-up of novel/cookbook/collection of essays. It's part marathon and part sprint. It's been dormant for a month or two, but I think I've found the thread I need to weave throughout the whole thing. Only time will tell...

Why do you write what you do?

      I began this novel monstrosity longish piece with just a kernel of an idea at its core. It almost immediately morphed into a vehicle that could honor an endless parade of people---my close friends, my granddaughter, my critique group, the authors I adore, blogging buddies--because the story centers around five fierce women writers. With my clumsy deft hand, I could manipulate the characters to rant about Rush Limbaugh, to stalk Jean Ellen Whatley as an ardent fan, to drool over Khaled Hosseini. 
     That's why I was writing it...And at some point, the story took over, and I'm no longer in control.  

What is the hardest part about writing?

       It depends on the project. Sometimes it's the title. There's lots of times I come to my critique group and have to beg and plead for a title. There are other times (like with the piece I'm bringing tomorrow) where the ending is suckola. (And I know that odor when I encounter it, believe me.) Sometimes (very occasionally) the hard part is keeping up with the story. On rare, magical moments, the piece tumbles out all by itself. I wish that happened more often...

       Now it's time for me to tag three people. Tammy. You're it. Val. You're it. Lynn. You're it. Oh, and along the way back to the "safe" spot, I brushed past Shay. You're it, too.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'm Wise to You...

      Yeah, you can try to hide your fascination with my gracefulness, but it's no use. I know it. You can't lie. Don't bother. You are obsessed with my dancing ability. I've even heard you say, "Sioux, your dancing is unlike any dancing I've ever seen." Remarks like that make me bust my buttons with pride...

      Over the years I've endured grueling dance lessons from the best of the best--Elaine Marie Benes.  In case you've just crawled out from under a rock, check out one of her stellar performances. After decades of practice and recitals, I've reached the pinnacle of dancer-hood--now I'm resting on my cellulite-riddled butt laurels... 

      And check out my story in Sasee magazine. It details my climb to the top--of the heap (it's a pile of something, that's for sure).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

They're a Brick! House!

         Okay, I admit it. Disco is my favorite driving music. It keeps me awake and alert and energized.

       In fact, in the September issue of Sasee magazine, a story of mine ("Still Dancing") is going to appear. It chronicles my horrific unbelievable past attempts at dancing.

                                                         These are plates. Don't you think any food
                                                  placed on it would boogie-oogie-oogie right off?

        Tomorrow, some local writers are going to be guests at a private event, featuring Gloria Gaynor, the queen of I Will Survive. Cathi LaMarche, Alice Muschany, Lynn Obermoeller, and Linda O'Connell will be dancing under the disco ball--and they each have a story of theirs published in an anthology about surviving.

                                                      This is the cover of the anthology inspired
                                                     by Gloria Gaynor's song "I Will Survive."

         Please send them congratulations and if you're older-than-mud "seasoned" enough to remember the disco era, give them your best dancing advice...

         ...'Cause they don't need no stinkin' writing advice. They're solid writers. Each of them is a Brick! House! of writing skills.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Be Careful What You're Hating On

       When I was in high school, I hated crab ragoon. My sister Virginie, Charmaine  (the 3rd Musketeer of our group) and I would go to a local Chinese restaurant almost weekly. They had crab ragoon and I waited patiently while they crunched away, because after their appetizer-turned-entree, we'd have fried ice cream. That I loved...

       The fact was I hated crab ragoon, despite the fact that I had never even tried it.

photo by wintersoul1

        Now, of course, I adore it. If there was a swimming pool full of crab ragoon, I'd happily dive in and eat my way out of it. And then I'd be renamed Shamu.

        A couple of weeks ago, I got word that a publisher liked a story of mine but it needed tweaking. They wanted to include it in the Not Your Mother's Book...On Family--if I did some revising.

         I looked at the story several times and felt no inspiration. I began to hate the story. I had written it in a whirlwind session of submissions, and not only felt the ending "fell flat" but thought the whole piece was dead...and I wasn't in the mood to beat that dead horse.

         Yesterday (thankfully) I found out it was a different story they wanted. Also, (thankfully) the talented Linda O'Connell, the co-editor of the book, did some magical work on the story that I had never hated.

         What have you hated/resisted, until you tried it and found out it either wasn't too bad or you found out it was positively addicting?

          And pass that plate of crab ragoon. I'm in the mood for another one...   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Power of Ad-Libbing

          This morning I saw the story of George Raveling on the "CBS Sunday Morning News" show. Decades ago, Raveling showed up--at the last minute--to the march on Washington, volunteered to help with security (there were lots of celebrities, like Marian Anderson and Sammy Davis, Jr. in the front rows) and when Dr. King stepped away from the podium and was beginning to ball up the copy of his I Have a Dream speech, Raveling asked if he could have it. At that moment, a rabbi stepped up to introduce himself, and King handed George Raveling the three typewritten pages and the moment was over.

         For several decades, the copy of the historic speech stayed where it had been stashed--tucked in the middle of an Eisenhower biography...until someone asked him how it felt to be the first black basketball coach of something-or-other (my eyes glaze over when it comes to sports) and the interviewer asked him if he had gotten involved in the Civil Rights movement. Raveling mentioned he'd heard King's famous speech, and had the copy. Ever since he realized its importance, it's been framed and is protected. He's offered it to museums, stipulating that they sign papers stating the speech belongs to him...They've refused. He's been offered 3.5 million for it. He's refused. He's since given the speech to his son, with the stipulation that it never be sold.

         Sorry. I've spent a lot of words telling the "back story" and now I'm finally to what blew me away.

      The words "I have a dream" are nowhere in those three typed pages. Nowhere.

       There are, however, several spots where an asterisk was penciled in. And those were where King took off, adlibbing, making a four-minute speech into a sixteen-minute speech...transforming a powerful piece into an unforgettable moment.

         If your story is moving along, in a certain direction, but then veers off in another...perhaps it's a good thing. Embrace the spontaneous moments. Make use of the ideas that suddenly and unexpectedly burst in your brain.

       After all, it might transform your tale into something even better...  

          By the way, I just got word that my stories in two upcoming Chicken Soup books---Think Positive For Kids and Just Us Girls--have made it to the final round and will be included in those collections. Without my critique group, the felonious (at least in our daydreams) WWWPs, these slice-of-life stories would not have had a chance of getting published, so not only do I believe in the power of spontaneity, I also believe in the power of critique...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stories Retold...and Reworked

          I am a firm believer in taking left-overs, adding some ingredients, and coming up with a new creation.

       Today was my first day back to school with kids. I have my old teacher resource books, the activities we do every year but added to the mix are new things I learned from the summer workshops I attended, along with a new group of kids.  (I think I have a super group of students. I can already tell that some of them are great writers.)

       After school was over, I checked my email. A story that I had written, submitted to another anthology with some of the sassier (and seedier) elements included, and then reworked (with a great deal of help from my critique group, the notorious WWWPs) has made it over the first Chicken Soup hurdle.

       It's a dating story, one that happened when I was a waitress.  Some guy was a SA (smart-a**) and whenever I waited on him, he would specify "only small onion rings" and would be a PITA (pain in the a**) about other things as well. And not one thin dime did I get from him as a tip. (He was the manager of the restaurant. I ended up marrying him.) 

Helpful Hint:  Do not EVER tick off your server until you've had all the food and beverages served. Even refills can be tampered with.  Waiters and waitresses can do evil things to your food, and you'll never know...but they will.

      What new creation have you come up with, using old stuff? Or, what sort of dating horror story do you have to tell? Inquiring minds want to know...


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Public Readings--Do's and Don'ts

        A group of writers (poets and story-tellers) got together at a restaurant/bar recently, and I went to their public reading. I've compiled a list of (hopefully) helpful hints.

1.  If you are nervous and tend to mumble/not enunciate clearly, shave off your beard and mustache for the occasion. (Ladies, that goes for you in the hairy menopausal phase, too.) We can't read your lips with all that hair obscuring our view, and as fast and mumbly as you present, we need all the help we can get.
Give the audience what they want.

2.  You may think your twenty minutes of rambling introduction. About. Each. Poem. is engaging, but look at your audience. Their eyes are closed. Drool is coming from their mouths. They're snoring. Be aware of your audience.

3.  If you're nervous, and alcohol is available, have a drink. A glass of wine might help out with #1. Drink.  (Sorry. That's all I could come up with for that one.)

4.  Be passionate/involved in your piece. Speak with expression. Pepper your piece liberally with Sioux's favorite word. Make the crazy redhead happy.

5.  Be humble. Come up, give us a tidbit of an introduction, and then read, darn it, and when you're finished, leave the microphone. That's why we came--to hear you--and if you're good, your words will speak for themselves. Give the audience some credit.

What tips do YOU have for writers who read their stuff in public?

By the way, Linda O'Connell has almost reached her Chicken Soup goal. Is it a gross of stories (144)? Is her goal equal with her age? Find out what her next goal is, since she's about to hurdle over her current one...(Ask her.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Creating Engaging Characters

       Meth. The science behind it is intriguing. The business of it is fascinating. And thanks to Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, I get to immerse myself in the life of a meth-maker. All because of the show Breaking Bad. On August 11 the final (sixth) season begins. (Sigh.)

       This show begins with a high school chemistry teacher--a very nice guy who never breaks the law--and after finding out he has a horrible cancer and mere months to live, decides to make meth (really pure meth) to take care of his wife, his high school-aged son (who has cerebral palsy) and his not-yet-born daughter after he dies. What began in season one with just drug manufacturing and distributing has spiraled out of control. Murder. Horrible choices. And lots and lots of lies.  

      As writers, we have to create interesting people when we craft fiction. We can't just have a person in our story go instantly from calm and rational to homicidal. Internal things have to start percolating. Tiny fuses have to be lit so when the explosion comes, the reader is left charred right along with the character.

         What shows or movies did you love (or do you love) that immerse you in a different life?  (And if you do watch Breaking Bad, don't tell me about how it ends. I don't have cable/satellite, and will have to buy the DVD once it comes out.)