The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Monday, December 29, 2014

Out With the Old?

      For Christmas I had the opportunity to throw away my reliable Crocs. Here is a picture of Ol' Trusties if you missed my earlier post featuring these stylish shoes.

Warning: The photo below is not intended for all audiences. Only the strong of heart and sturdy of stomach should gaze at the picture below.

        The reason why I was tempted to toss these still-good shoes in the trash? I've gotten new Crocs--leather-topped Crocs--from my husband, and I received a gift certificate for a Crocs store from my daughter. (Hi, I'm Sioux and I'm a Croc-aholic. I can't help myself. My addiction is out of control because my family are enablers.)

         I would show you a picture of the new ones, but they are so dazzling, your eyes would be blinded by the sight of them. And Sioux is all about the concern for others (unlike the son of her blogging friend and fellow Croc-lover Val, a young man has no concern for anyone else).

          I'm not a big resolutions kind of person (I never keep them) but I do have some goals in mind--goals that I'd like to achieve.

  • finish my WIP/NaNoGoneWrongo from a few years ago
  • stretch a little as a writer (which means submitting to varied publications and writing in different genres)
  • complete some digital writing pieces (this is mostly for work)
         But if the title of this post made you catch your breath--if you were terrified I was going to throw away Ol' Trusties--have no fear. Those shoes will still be chosen to put into service when I have to tromp across our muddy backyard... or when I simply want to be reunited with a couple of old friends.

       What is something old you'd like to get rid of/you've already gotten rid of? What are you going to replace it with(if anything)? Minds in denial want to know... 


Monday, December 22, 2014

AllI Want for Christmas is

      These are the things on Radar's Christmas list this year:

  • a bigger yard (he's already dug so many holes in our yard, we're getting lost tourists who wonder if they've finally found the Grand Canyon)
  • owners who plan on overindulging in spiked eggnog (so they will take lots of naps, which means he can dig without getting interrupted)
  • a broken bathtub (so when he does get especially muddy, he doesn't have to suffer the indignity of a bath)
    Have you noticed a theme?

This is Radar--not quite nine months old--at a Purina event.
The last time we weighed him, he weighed 66 pounds and 6 ounces. 666.
What an apt number to pin on him...

As for me, I got a book not long ago--Jodi Picoult's most recent novel--from Half Price Books. It was a gift to myself, since it's new and I had a coupon for a 50% off discount. If I get a book store gift certificate or a couple of other books, it will be a perfect holiday because I'll have my husband and kids and granddaughter together, along with my in-laws.

What are you hoping for this holiday? Festive minds want to know...


Thursday, December 18, 2014

I'm an Old Dog...

      I began teaching during the chalkboard days. When I switched school districts after 9 years of teaching, there was a dry-erase board bolted on top of a blackboard. I almost put in a written request to have the dry-erase board removed.


      Now, dry-erase boards are old-school. Smartboards are the thing. And even though they occasionally act up in ways that chalkboards never did, I enjoy working with the new technology.

      Last week I got 5 new chromebooks. I already had 3 desktops. Sometime in early January, I will be getting 16 new chromebooks. (I have 27 students so it's still not 1:1 as far as technology is concerned.)

       And so the paradigm shifts yet again. I'll be doing more things without paper (which is a good thing) but also with my own low-tech skills (which is a hilarious thing).

         Do you consider yourself an old dog or a new one? What sort of things are you trying or planning on trying soon? Bumbling minds want to know...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are You a Digger?

       The other day I let our puppy Radar out. (He's almost 9 months old.) Five minutes later, I open the door to let him in, I look out, and I panic. The way he's splayed out in the yard, it's obvious something terrible has happened.

       One of his legs was gone! Had he broken a leg galloping across the yard?  Had he fallen in a horrible way?

        No. In those brief five minutes, he had dug such a deep hole, one of his front legs was completely buried in the canyon he was working on.

He tries to look  innocent, but his brain is always working on a scheme...

        What do you dig for? Radar is so determined, he not only digs with his paws, he also uses his nose.  What are you feverishly working on--physically, mentally or emotionally?

         (And do you need a foundation dug? I have a one-canine construction crew that's available for hire...He works for treats and petting.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Fine Farewell

       I have trouble--most of the time--with endings. When I'm writing short memoir pieces, I usually don't put enough oompf in at the end... Without the help of my critique partners, my presents would be sent off wrapped up, but no ribbons and bows to really make them alluring.

       So it was with sadness when I watched the last episode of the last season of Sons of Anarchy this week. Would the ending be satisfying?

       What's that you say? You've never watched it? You don't have any idea what it's about?

        Think The Sopranos on motorcycles. With better-looking guys. And better writing...

This is Charlie Hunnam, the star of Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam was originally chosen
for the starring male role in Fifty Shades of Grey but luckily bowed out before it was too late...

        Kurt Sutter (the creator and head writer and minor character) is one crazy guy, and his wife Katey Sagal (as Gemma) is a universe away from her work on Married With Children. The characters were incredibly flawed, the things they grappled with--at their core--were things we all could relate to and the connections they had with each other were ones we all understood.

        The last moments finished up the series the only way it could be finished. Lots of brutal (but justified) acts. Lots of sacrifices. Lots of joy in uniting the past with the present.

         The good thing about my WIP which may end up being my FWIP--my forever work in progress--is I know exactly how it's going to end. Now, if I can only add 40,000 words to the 35,000 I currently have, so I can get to that ending.

        How about you? How are you with endings? What are some of your favorite movie or television series endings?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

David Berner--Guest Post

The publishing world is basically the Wild West these days. There are myriad ways to get your stories out there, but some ways are better than others, like some parts of the west were wilder than others. Even the self-publishing route has several levels of involvement for the independent author, depending on the money you want to spend and the risks you want to take. And of course the entire e-book approach has put another spin on the process. Some writers have said they see this new world of publishing as a threat somehow to the art of storytelling. I don’t see it that way. I think this day and age might be the best time to be an author in the history of the written word.

 There is no doubt traditional publishers are no longer risk takers. Some of the small presses might be to some extent, and I applaud them for this. But so many of the great books of the 20th century, if they were being submitted to publishers today, would not be published traditionally. Traditional publishers–the big publishing houses–are not taking the chances they once did with authors. Do you think a big name publisher would publish a book like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road today? I doubt it.

However, if it were written in 2014, Jack might have self-published it, put it out as an e-book, sold it on Amazon at the holidays for 99-cents. I don’t believe that’s diminishing art as some might argue; I think it’s democratizing art.

My memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons (Dream of Things. 2014) did not start out as a book-length story. It began as a series of small, short essays about being a father and a few early versions of specific parts were published in small, independent journals, some online as stand-alone essays. What an opportunity! These kinds of outlets for authors didn’t exist just a few years ago. Some might argue that you can’t make any money publishing in those journals. Maybe not, but it is a way to get your work out there, to offer your stories to a new and motivated audience and reader.

My first book, Accidental Lessons was published by what is now commonly called a hybrid publisher. They did everything like a traditional publisher, but asked me to contribute to some of the initial expense. All in all, the publisher was essentially a traditional publisher and handled the book’s release quite well. Any Road Will Take You There was initially self-published, but not after first hiring an agent who believed in the work and then a year of more than 30 rejections, 20 of those labeled by my agent as “good rejections,” meaning the traditional publishers loved the story, loved the writing, but couldn’t take it on for one reason or another, far too many reasons to list here. I got restless and published on my own.

A few months after the book was released, Mike O’Mary and Dream of Things publishing in Chicago came to me with an offer. Mike liked the book and wanted to re-publish it under his press, plus he also said he was fond of a collection of essays I was working on and thought he could take on that project, too. I couldn’t pass up the chance to get both projects out to readers under Dream of Things. Plus, I knew Mike, loved Dream of Things’ other books, and knew this small press was a class act, putting out strong stories and great voices. 

If you write and are looking for a way to get your stories out there, take time to explore all the many options. Look hard at each one and invest time to study and investigate the platforms. Don’t rely on or get stuck in the old world process of finding an agent, submitting to traditional publishers, and waiting around until they decide whether you are worthy. Take your own steps, but do it with the knowledge and understanding that you must be an advocate for your own work. Hire a good editor if you’re self-publishing. This is essential. Everyone needs an editor. And if you are going the hybrid route, read the fine print. Some hybrid publishers are wonderful; some are shady. And if you decide on the traditional route and a publisher shows interest, understand that they may wish to make a lot of changes to your work to fit their needs. If that’s okay with you, fine. But I would suggest being absolutely certain of how you feel about this. And through the process, do not ignore the small presses. They are generally writer-friendly, will give you a big hug when you need it, and they understand the artistic process. Dream of Things is one of those wonderful small presses. It will take some work, but you can find one that fits your style, needs, and your comfort level with any level of risk taking. I did, and I’m happy, honored, and grateful.

In the best tradition of the great American memoir, "Any Road Will Take You There" is honest, unflinching, and tender. A middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip, the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story - Jack Kerouac’s "On the Road" - and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit. However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.

Monday, December 8, 2014

White Space

         Yes, Lisa, I did miss out on posting on Thursday. I know. I feel badly, because I had marvelous intentions (as I walk down that paved road to not-heaven) but was busy with some Christmas craftwork that had to be ready by Friday--the Friday that just flew by.

         What was Sioux busy with, as she trotted around in her Crocs and neglected to post? 

  • gluing 1,476 little jokes and snide remarks into each of 4 date books
  • creating 158 pieces of hand-crafted stationary that will get used up in--at the most--4 days because the recipient sends out dozens of hand-written letters every day
  • sleeping around with a couple of hairy, hunky blondes (okay, they are indeed hairy and there were probably hunks of leaves and... well, other things--hanging from their legs and tails. And they most definitely are blonde. My husband was out of town, so I had a few nights of golden retrievers gone wild.)
  • making fudge for a gift (okay, that only takes 5 minutes, but when I scrape the bowl clean--straight from the spatula and into my mouth, the calories last a lifetime)

       More importantly than what I missed out on delivering was what I missed out on receiving. So yesterday afternoon I busily read up on my favorite blogs...right after I saw an episode of "Well Read" on PBS, and got all jazzed up.

        Anthony Doerr, with his book All the Light We Cannot See, was on. It sounds like an interesting novel. However, it was how he came up with the title and something in particular he said that got me hyped.

         He said he was in a train, and when it went through a long tunnel, one of the passengers got quite incensed because they no longer had use of their phone. (Duh!) This guy cursed and kept hitting his phone, to no avail. Doerr thought to himself what a miracle it was to be able to communicate, via a system of towers, and what an incredible (unseen) power it was. (He said it much more lyrically and intelligently.) He came up with the title from that encounter. So, what can we learn from that? Be open. You never know when you'll get a title or a first line or some dialogue or a bit of inspiration from what's going on around you.

         Then he slung off a line that hit when it ricocheted back at me, so I've (again) screwed up the wording. Doerr said something like, "White space is a gift to readers." I like the white space. I like super short paragraphs (a super short sentence that stands by itself.) I like mixing it up with a few dense paragraphs and then some dialogue, and then back to the dense paragraphs. In my WIP, I've broken up the writing into little chapters/scenes, with accompanying snarky or pointed or poignant titles (but not like formal chapters... if this piece-that-is-one-of-Dante's-circles-of-hell ever sees the light of day, there for sure won't be a table of contents. White space is ultra-important to poets, but storytellers and novelists should be mindful of it as well.

          Because it's all about the space, 'bout the space, 'bout the space, no lyin'...(Sorry--I couldn't resist. Now is that song in your head for a while?)


Monday, December 1, 2014

The Good, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

          I'll do the bad first. Several individuals broke into our school last week and stole a bunch of ipads. My school is the closest one to the rioting and looting and burning that has been going on in Ferguson.
         One of the good things that happened is one our neighbors saw the stealing taking place. He drove to the National Guard station to alert them. Some of the electronics have already been recovered. I don't know if the thieves were apprehended. What I do know is this man risked his life doing the right thing. (The guys doing the stealing were quite visibly armed.) This hero was appalled, saying, "They're taking away from our kids." That is truly low...

       One other good thing is I began a couple of projects with for some laptops. Both projects got fully funded, due to the generosity of people all over the world. (I even had a couple of donations from Sweden!)

      And now for the truly ugly. For those who have a weak stomach, avert your eyes. For those who have a delicate constitution, close this tab immediately. For those who are easily disgusted, unfollow me... now.

        (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

        What's that you say? You're wondering if that's a trick of light or a tear in the Croc? It's a tear. There are also some permanent stains the camera could not capture. (And they claim to be the kind of shoes you can hose off and they're good to go. I have a mind to sue 'em.) Don't Crocs have straps, you ask? Yes, but Foley (who only gnaws on MY shoes) chewed one of the straps off, so I cut off the other one. As horrible as the sight of these shoes are, the real horrifying thing is this:  I still wear these shoes out in public. (Hey! I figure the bottom of my pants covers--for the most part--the tear and the stains. And they're soooo comfortable.)

       Today the gods have smiled on me. Sleet has come. The cancellation of school has come. As Martha used to say, "It's a good thing." 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Being Thankful

        This has been a rough week for us. My school is in Ferguson. And even though horrible things are happening, there are some uplifting things happening as well.
         Tuesday morning, after a night of looting and many fires and total destruction of some businesses, I drove through to check on a particular restaurant. Cathy' Kitchen was started by Cathy and Jerome Jenkins. It has the best fish tacos in town, and their apple pie makes me (a hater of apple pie) smile and purr when I eat it. Cathy and Jerome spent months renovating it (the décor and the menu have a Route 66 theme), eventually expanding  to serving breakfast along with lunch and dinner, and have been doing well.

         However, they are located right next to the Ferguson Police. This was a place where large groups of people congregated--and not all of them were peaceful.

          What happened to their restaurant--when some angry protesters threatened to destroy it--is miraculous. Here's a link to the CNN article (and I think the video is there as well)  Cathy and Jerome Jenkins

        Today I am giving thanks for my family and my friends. I'm hoping my sister-in-law, who is in the hospital, recovers quickly and completely. And on a lighter note (although it will probably end up being a heavier note), I hope I can display a bit of restraint when it comes to the mashed potatoes, the homemade gravy and the pie.

       Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a wonderful day today... and keep peace in your thoughts.

Monday, November 24, 2014

This School is On Fire...and How My Chickens Never Did Hatch

      On Friday I almost set my school on fire. For the last week, I had been storing a few pencils in the microwave in my classroom. Before you call me "crazy," I did have a semi-logical reason for it.  Our pencils are communal, and my students have been going through 913 sharpened pencils every day.  A week ago, when I was collecting pencils at the end of the day, a student had 3 pencils in their desk instead of the normal 1. When they claimed the two extra pencils were from home--all three were different brands--I explained that pencils are always sold in multi-pencil packs, so if they would bring the "matching" pencils from home, I would gladly return the pencils to them. They never did, and the incident was forgotten...and so were the pencils. In the microwave.

      Flying into my classroom on Friday morning, the only thing was on my brain was a whole bunch of popcorn I had to microwave for the two 3rd grade classes...and it needed to be done by 10, so I was in a hurry. Shoving the first bag in, I started to sharpen the first of 913 pencils when I smelled something burning.

      It's only been a minute. That popcorn can't be burning already.

       I looked through the door, and saw a fire--a real fire--going on in my microwave. All trace of the pencils (with those accompanying pesky metal ends) were gone. I carefully carried the glass plate--the plate holding the bonfire--into the teachers' lounge (it's thankfully right next to my classroom) so I could immerse the whole mess in the sink. As I transported the pyromaniac's paradise along the hall, only one fiery bit floated up into air but I was fell down onto the floor instead of igniting something on a bulletin board. All of the teachers in my building are desperate for a day off, but igniting the school? Not the best way to get a break...

      So that's lesson # 1 for you. Don't microwave pencils. They don't end up being a tasty treat. But there's more in store from Sioux's School today. Here comes lesson # 2 ladled onto your plate:

       Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Let me go back a couple of weeks.

       Getting to school extra early one morning, I checked my email. The Chicken Soup people were wondering if I would be interested in going to New York. To be on the Dr. Oz show. The taping would be done on December 4--prime time for craziness when it comes to elementary school kids. Someone--Chicken Soup or Dr. Oz--would pick up the transportation and hotel bill. Was I interested? If I was, I should let them know and they would put me in touch with the PR people.

       I most definitely was interested...

       The horse donkey was out of the barn at that point--too late to rein her in. By the time the PR department emailed me late in the afternoon, I had told a few colleagues at work, my principal, my husband and my sister. My husband galloped out of the barn, too, prancing around the pasture with the news.

        The cavorting ended when the reins were pulled back with firm, reasonable hands. Things were still in the preliminary stages... The PR rep would need a head shot from me, and I'd have to interview over the phone. Then they would relay the information to Dr. Oz's production people, who would then make a decision.

          At that point, I figured it was not going to work out favorably for me. But I tried my hardest and hoped for the best.

          A head shot? Yikes. They were probably trying to ensure I was not a Cyclops...I'd have to turn my head to make it appear I had two eyes. An interview? Shudder. What were they looking for?

        For the last week and a half I sat on pins and needles. Late Friday afternoon (the same day as the fire, by the way) I got the news. Unless someone breaks both their legs and develops a horribly disfiguring--but curable--disease, they probably would not have a need for me. (Look for a show that features some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel authors sometime in December. If I find out the exact air date, I'll include it in a post.)

       For the few hours when I thought a trip to New York was a sure thing, this is what was happening:

  • Yahoo! I was going to get my hair and make-up done by a TV stylist. Oh, I know, panel guests probably don't get that kind of star treatment, but once they got one look at me, a dozen make-over experts would converge, create a plan, and work furiously to make me semi-presentable.

  • Since bundt cake is not allowed on Dr. Oz's show, I'd probably get fitted with a foundation garment, too. I'm way past the muffin-top. It's a full-blown bundt cake now...

  •   I was going to get a change of pace--a day or two off work!

         And that's your bonus lessons today. Fantasizing--even if it's fleeting--is a good thing and prepare for the worst, so if it's good news, you're pleasantly surprised.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I Learned From Publishing My Memoir

       Linda Appleman Shapiro generously agreed to do a guest post. Without even reading her book yet, I feel we have many things in common, even though my connection is more genetic than environmental... the old nature vs. nurture conundrum.

      My birth mother and her mother (the mother of my birth mother) were both mentally ill. My (biological)  maternal grandmother died at a young age under suspicous circumstances. She was pregnant with her second child, and had been in and out of mental institutions before her death. My birth mother had three girls--giving both my older sister and me up for adoption as soon as we were born--before committing suicide (with a gun). She left a heartwrenching note, saying she was ill and didn't see herself getting any better.

       Thankfully, I had wonderful parents. More or less, I've escaped the "nature" minefield, because I had a nurturing mom and dad. I'm a mother and grandmother and writer. And I love memoirs. 

       Please read Linda's story. She has great advice for anyone wanting to publish a book. After all, she does know about birthin' babies--book babies, that is. (And you can find out more at her website:

         At first, I thought my greatest challenges were where to start, what to tell, what to omit,
and what I, ultimately, wished to accomplish. Early in the process of writing, however,
I learned that what was most difficult was how to write without my therapist’s voice
dictating the narrative. I also had to learn how to write creatively. That is, if I ever wanted
to engage a reader’s attention, I knew that I couldn’t just report the facts of all that had
happened, I would need to describe each of the members of our family, how we dressed and
appeared, how we spoke or didn’t speak to one another, how our four room apartment
was furnished and decorated, and – not least of all – how it felt to be “the girl,” treated
like a second class citizen in an immigrant family where most of the attention and
expectations for success were placed on my brother, the prodigal son.
       To further answer your question: I suppose it is always daunting to wonder if anyone will
ever publish one’s book, let alone to think of all that has to be done to find a publisher.
Yet, for me, because I was 70 when I completed the first draft of this memoir, I didn’t
feel I had time or the inclination to send out 100 or more query letters. I knew myself
well enough to know that I was not prepared to receive letters of rejection one after
another, which I expected to be par for the course. It’s not that I thought I would be
unable to deal with rejection – especially if I were given intelligent, constructive reasons
for why my writing didn’t work. And I would encourage other authors to do what feels
right for them, what they feel they could best benefit from and have the energy to endure.
       First and foremost for me was to find a publisher I could trust, one who would be honest
and have faith in me as a writer. In feeling that urgency of time, I did try self-publishing.
I had a wonderful experience years before with a Press that was no longer in operation,
but the group I then chose for this book (which looked great on paper) turned out to
be unethical and was forced to shut its doors. So that was a waste of nearly a year of
my time. Luckily, I then thought of Madeline Sharples. A few years earlier, she had
mentioned finding a small publishing house that had published her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of  Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. I emailed her and she readily gave me contact information. I, thereby, gained an introduction to her
publisher, Mike O’Mary at Dream of Things and will remain forever grateful to her for
opening a door I would not have had access to without her generosity.
           After sending a query letter and hearing back from him immediately, I sent a BOOK
PROPOSAL that I had learned to create and worked hard to present in a professional and
elaborately informative manner.
         He responded positively from the start. Then, after agreeing to publish my book, he asked
me to trust that he would select the right editor to work with me to reorganize some parts,
edit others, and help to change my working title and cover. It was clear to me that he was
both a man of integrity and one who respected my story. It had resonated with him and
that is what every author wants and deserves. My editor, Amy Merrick, understood me
from day one. Her sensitivity to my style of writing, my use of language, and my story
itself, was totally obvious and reassuring.
        What I learned next was the importance and need for the PR that would have to be done
after the actual publication. I was determined not to be timid about self-promoting, even
at the expense of having friends and colleagues see my posts about the book too often.
Also, in agreeing to be a part of this blog tour, I knew that it would require many hours of
writing time but, in the end could – with luck and a prayer – attract the attention of many
more potential readers than I could ever do on my own.
        Currently, I’m also in the process of contacting libraries across the country, offering to be
a part of their AUTHOR SPEAKS series, local newspapers, magazines, and TV stations,
in the hope of gaining even more visibility. It always helps to have a personal contact, but
when you don’t it’s still worth the try, as it’s impossible to predict who may or may not
be receptive.
         I am only two months into the process (post my book’s release), but I remain hopeful.
I’ve had a few very encouraging speaking engagements, a very positive professional
review from US REVIEW OF BOOKS, and many wonderful comments from readers on and elsewhere. I continue to plug along, learning as the process continues,
doing what seems comfortable for me and what seems to work for my story to reach
people. Learning what is necessary to keep the book in the public’s eye is what we,
as authors, must be willing to do once we have birthed our book. It is worth whatever
energy we’re able to spend to promote it.
          With the hope that I have whet the appetites of many who will now want to read my
memoir, I wish all authors (who may be on the brink of deciding whether or not to write a
memoir) the courage and the belief in the universal appeal of their story so that they, too,
will feel propelled to do whatever it takes to write it. Begin with a Book Proposal, decide
on a theme that shows your family’s dynamics, your responses to all that surrounded
you, and learn how to bring the reader into your life in ways that make him/her want
to keep reading, having gained a vested interest in each of the people whose lives and
experiences fill your pages.
           Please be assured that once published, there are few feelings more exciting and rewarding
than holding that “baby” in your hands!

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Writers Need

        In the years that I've been writing, I've discovered some things that I need as a writer. Please feel free to add what you need as a writer...

  • Quiet. Or instrumental music. I love Paramore. I love Regina Spektor. I love really loud funk and disco and Jethro Tull. However, I can't write when music with lyrics is playing. I get distracted. (I probably need Ritalin.)

                                           This isn't as quirky as Regina Spektor usually gets,
                                                                        but it is lovely...

  • Food. I love hearty soups--stuff that I can ladle into a bowl, slurp up, and get back to writing. Pistachio nuts are also great--it takes me time to shell one, and while I'm doing that, my brain gets a break, and sometimes an inspired event occurs.
       Here is a soup my husband makes. It's one of my favorites. He does most all of the cooking at our house.

BLT Soup

1.  Cook one 12-oz. package of center-cut bacon.     Cook until well done.
                   2.  Remove the bacon from the pan. Drain half of the grease (leaving 3 tablespoons).
                   3.  Add one 18-oz. package of romaine hearts lettuce. Cook until well-wilted.
                   4.  Chop the cooked bacon into half-inch pieces. Add the bacon to the lettuce.
                   5.  Add 4 cans of tomatoes (fire-roasted ones—by Hunts—work well), liquid along with
                        the tomatoes.
                   6.  Add 4 cups of chicken stock.
                   7.  Add 2 tablespoons of “seasoning for greens.” (You can find this in most spice shops.
                        It's optional, but it does add some kick to the soup.)
                   8.  Add 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke.
                   9.  Bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat. Stir in one cup of grated parmesan cheese. Simmer
                        for 30 minutes.

Adjust spices as needed. You can serve with some croutons in each bowl of soup.
  • Honesty. I appreciate my critique group. They tell the truth. When my beginning stinks, they tell me. When my story is confusing, they say, "Huh? You lost me..." When my ending falls flat, they give me suggestions to help pick it up. Writers who want their writing to grow don't need a fan club to surround them--they need honest critique of their work.
What do you need as a writer?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Would Be YOUR Mash-Up?

      Tonight there was book-selling (by everyone). There was stalking (by me). And there was salivating (by me, again).

       Here are some of the writers who were there:

Cathi LaMarche--memoir-writer extraordinaire

Marcia Gaye--she writes memoir pieces, she writes romance, she writes poetry.
(And everything she does she does well.)
Doyle Suit--a more humble, a more generous writer, you'll never find.

Margo Dill--She has a new picture book out.

       A large group of local authors (65, I think) gathered together tonight in O'Fallon, Missouri. I sat a few feet across from an author named Shannon Yarbrough. His book cover intrigued me.

      Yarbrough's novel is a mash-up. Emily Dickinson meets Frankenstein. Okay, they don't literally meet each other... but you get the idea.

      Here is one Amazon review of Dickinstein

There's something about a book that doesn't live up to your expectations - especially when that book and its author have expectations of their own that blow yours out of the water.

I originally heard of Shannon Yarbrough's Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson - Mad Scientist from Jerry Wheeler of Out In Print: Queer Book Reviews. He ranked it as one of his top 13 for 2013. Intrigued, I marked it as a To Read on Goodreads. Surprisingly, Mr. Yarbrough contacted me, offering me a copy of the book for an honest review. So note to self: you never know who's looking at what you post!

Other than watching the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I've had little experience with the monster mash-ups released over the last few years. While they seemed right up my alley, I just hadn't gotten around to reading them yet. I envisioned campy, tongue-in-cheek narrative where, in a fit of machismo, Mr. Darcy pulls out a weed whacker and goes to town on a bunch of the walking dead. That's what I expected from Yarbrough's Dickinstein, too. Well, not so much Mr. Darcy, but maybe Emily Dickinson running around like Madeline Kahn at the end of Young Frankenstein. Instead, what I got was a thoughtful, intelligent, and beautiful exploration of life and death, and faith and science.

In the book, a young Emily Dickinson receives a copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and is fascinated by its premise. She decides to make a machine of her own - a "second life apparatus" as she calls it - to bring back the small, dead creatures she finds in her regular walks through nature. Successful with her experiments, she confides in a few close acquaintances. A couple of these confidants suggest that, with the help of her device, she might bring back a human being, something she'd not really considered before. This was her gift to nature; she'd not given much thought to playing God. But when a close friend dies unexpectedly, she finds herself willing to do anything to save them.

Yarbrough wrote Dickinson like he knew the woman - intelligent, witty, peculiar, and reclusive. I could easily envision the Dickinson in this novel as the prolific woman of letters history has shown her to be. Her love of nature, her fascination with death, her idiosyncrasies - they are all deftly handled by Yarbrough in his eloquent and poetic prose. His writing made me feel as if I was one of the fortunate few that Dickinson let in to her small circle of friends, walking the garden paths of the Dickinson Homestead with her and exploring the town of Amherst, Massachusetts by her side. It had the feel of a very private memoir. And each time I opened its pages, I felt as if I'd been given admission to her personal world. Dickinson's joys and fears, her insecurities and secret desires all played out beautifully on its pages.

Not satisfied with one style of prose, Mr. Yarbrough threw in a second, something more in the vein of Shelley's Frankenstein. I was surprised when he went all gothic on me for several chapters toward the end of the book as the plan to bring a human being back to life unfolded. It felt as if he was channeling one of the romantics for several thousand words. Then he finished the novel by returning to the quieter, more contemplative style from earlier in the book.

     I kept gazing at that book until I could stand it no longer. I had to buy a copy.

      What would be your mash-up? Twisted minds want to know.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Punch and Ponies and Progress---Oh, My!

Local Author Open House
Thursday, November 13 5:30-7:30
at the Middendorf-Kredell branch of the St. Charles' library district
2750 Highway K--O'Fallon, Missouri

Are you looking for some books for Christmas gifts? Would you like to actually put your hands on some books before buying them, to see if they're what you're looking for? Do you like punch and cookies? 

This event involves lots of local authors, lots of books (for adults as well as children) and refreshments. And it's free. (Of course, just try leaving a book event without at least one book purchase under your arm. I dare you!)

(I am going to be stalking a publisher while I am there...) 

That's Radar (the puppy) in the foreground and Foley (the senior)
in the background. Radar is almost eight months old and Foley
is 13 years old.

We thought we were getting a dog, but this canine has morphed
into a pony.

          As far as my NaNoWriMoCrocIt progress, I've added 4,500 words to my story, which means I've met my goal so far, but just barely. This is a busy week, and the slogging is slow, but hopefully, I can write extra long at least one or two nights to make up for some already-booked evenings.

(And by the end of the month, I will either have a story about the cheepcheepcheep sounds I keep hearing or I will be telling you all about the chickens that never hatched.)

What kind of plans do you have this week? What do you hope to accomplish during the week?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Get Schooled About School (And Teachers)

        There is a dark, murky underlayer when it comes to teachers and education. Sometimes the revelations will make you gasp. Sometimes what is revealed is so horrifying, you would love to gouge out your mind's eye... but you can't. It's too late. So, don't say I didn't warn you.

*  Teachers are a loud, peace-disturbing group... when they get a call through their "snow chain" informing them they have the day off. Especially when it happens the night before. And especially when it happens on a Friday or a Monday. (But really, they'll take one in the middle of the week and be giddy about it, too.)

* Teachers don't get three months off anymore. The norm now is June (or most of it) and July. This is not vacation time. It's a mental health break--a time when they can check into a rehab facility. So, if you want to have your carotid artery yanked out of your neck, say to a teacher, "You have three months off every summer. What a lucky duck you are!"

* Schools are not good places to find a mate. At the elementary level, there are few men and even so, as Carson McCullers said, "A good man is hard to find." If you're hunting for a husband/boyfriend, work at one of those big box places giving away bacon...

* Horrible sounds emanate from school buildings. Have you ever heard 25 students--at one time--at their first recorder lesson?  The noises that come from those recorders as the kids torture those instruments... it makes me shudder just thinking about it.

* Teachers are easy. All it takes is the rumor that there's a half-empty box of stale Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the teachers lounge, and a dangerous stampede occurs.

* Teachers--at least elementary school teachers--get excited about crazy things. A nice long pencil (one that still has an eraser) that's been swept up by the custodian and is sitting amidst a pile of dust and paper scraps in the hall. A free pen from an insurance rep. Post-its that are stolen from the school vault.

       What kind of sinister things can you share about yourself or your job? Shuddering Sioux wants to know...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nina Guilbeau Tells It (Creating Characters) Like It Is

Nina Guilbeau has several novels under her belt (which already makes me envious, since I'm slogging along with a NaNoGoneBaddo from a couple of years ago). She was generous enough to do this guest post for me. When I read her bio on Amazon, I realized she and I have something in common: we both have stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.

Please read what she has to say about creating characters... and I'm going back to that Chicken Soup collection and check out Nina's memoir story. (I'm hoping a smidgen of her success will rub off on me as I'm working on my manuscript.) To find out more about Nina, go to

Character Inspirations   by Nina Guilbeau

Authors are often asked about the origins of their fictional stories or characters. I personally believe that our imaginative writings are always a little autobiographical in nature. Not in the literal telling of our life’s story, but from our individual perspective of life and the people who have crossed our paths. Ideas for stories and characters can come from our daydreams, night dreams or nightmares. They can come from our present life, old memories or our new visions of “the what ifs” and the “why nots?” Some say there aren’t really any original stories, only original storytellers. However, to be original in any way means we must pull from within to give the outside world something new and personalized.

In my novel God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same, the beginnings of Vera, the old homeless woman, were similar to my grandmother’s. They were both of mixed-race, born around the same time and both of their fathers drowned before they were born. However, the rest of Vera’s story was inspired by my perspective of the strength, determination and sacrifices that develop through motherhood. Was she a successful character? The answer to that questions lies with the individual reader. However, for those who were moved by or related to Vera’s fictional tale (enough to write me), I have to believe she was a successful character for them. So, the answer to the frequently asked question about character inspirations isn’t just about where the inspirations originate, but it’s also about how to use inspirations to define the characters. Here are a few tips to help shape or create new fictional characters:

Write from your feelings – Emotions that have become fused with the character’s personality, such as anger or sadness, need to be authentic. The most successful way to do this is to write from personal, true feelings. That may mean dredging up old memories, but the end result will be felt through the pages. If it’s difficult to relate to what your character is feeling, it’s okay to put your story on the shelf for a while. Just keep coming back to it until it feels right.

Focus on one character trait – Sometimes important characters originate from people you know in real life. Concentrate on the one detail in their personality or behavior that intrigues you. Use only that one behavior and build the rest of your character’s personality around it. That allows your imagination to continuously create new characters and not recycle personalities into different stories because they originate from the same general source.

Develop a back story -Depending on the type of story, one dimensional characters can get old fast. An antagonist meant to be disliked is sometimes devoid of any redeeming qualities. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why the character is such an awful person. The reasons don’t have to be relatable or of any consequence to the outcome of the story, but exploring them from a writer’s perspective can help sharpen the overall character development and create interest for the reader.

Pull from your dreams – Keeping a notepad by your bed is cliché, but it’s still not a bad idea. Waking from a dream with a fresh perspective for a story or character can be priceless if you’re able to capture it. Try to note why the character seemed interesting and not just a visual description or list of details. This helps later when the visual image and details begin to fade.

God Doesn't Love Us All the Same  by Nina Guilbeau

Janine Harris never really thought about homeless people. She barely even notices them as she passes them by on her way to work in downtown Washington D.C. All Janine can focus on is the shambles of her own young life, afraid that she will never be able to get past the painful mistakes she has made. However, all of that changes on a snowy evening in December when Janine unexpectedly finds herself alone with Vera, an old, homeless woman who seems to need her help. Now Janie wants to know what could have possibly happened to Vera to leave her so broken and alone.

As Vera shares her life story with Janine, the two women form an unusual bond and begin a journey that changes both of their lives forever. Reluctantly, they each confront their own past and, in the process, discover the true meaning of sacrifice, family and love. Although to truly move forward in their lives, they must fast the most difficult challenge of all – forgiving themselves.

NINA GUILBEAU is the Siblings Editor for BellaOnline The Voice of Women and writes weekly family articles for online magazines. Her e-book, Birth Order and Parenting, is a popular pick with students studying the Alfred Adler birth order theory.

She is a member of the Florida Writer's Association and the author of women's fiction novels Too Many Sisters and Too Many SecretsA winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award, Nina's work has been published in the short story anthologies From Our Family to Yours and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. An excerpt from upcoming novel Being Non-Famous was published in the Orlando Sentinel as a Father's Day tribute.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The End of Freedom

        A post by Lisa Ricard Claro brought back a flood of childhood memories. She wrote of the crazy things that kids used to do (and surprisingly more of them weren't maimed or permanently scarred) compared to the overprotected kids of today.

      When I was a kid, the world was a different place. In the summer I ran the neighborhood all day. I crossed railroad tracks and explored creeks and rode on buses to a local outdoor mall where I waded in the fountains and imagined what furniture I would buy when I was grown up. I spent all day there when my friend and I went, and we spent no money except at lunch: a soupcon of French onion soup and a fountain coke. I played in my friends' backyard until the fireflies came, making clover necklaces and playing Red Rover.

     I also went to the pool--by myself. I got there when they opened and left in time so I could get home for dinner.

This is a picture of the Carrollton Pool before it was completely destroyed.
In fact, the whole community was destroyed for the airport expansion...which really never happened.

We went to the neighborhood IGA and when my brother and I were old enough, we were allowed to walk by ourselves (probably a 30-minute trip) to get a loaf of bread or something else that two kids couldn't mangle too badly.
This was our IGA store. There was a little "movie theater" --a tiny booth that sat two or four kids--at the front of the store. In the same strip mall was a Ben Franklin--a magnet for kids with a few nickels to spend on penny candy...

On Halloween this year we had exactly one family come to our door. Sad. I remember running to houses, my pillowcase in hand and when it got so full it slowed me down, I ran home, emptied it, and continued my quest for chocolate. (What were those things wrapped in the orange and the black paper? I always threw them away.)

My childhood home is gone. The whole neighborhood is now a deer park. With the houses gone, the driveways have disappeared and the large expanses of grass have attracted deer.

The craziest thing I did as a kid was wish for a broken arm or leg. The next summer, I ended up falling off the high diving board--I went under the guard rail somehow--and when most of me landed in the pool but part of me landed on the concrete, I ended up with a broken arm. It was not fun.
(I ended up with a dozen plastic iced-tea spoons broken off in that cast as I tried to scratch the unreachable itch.)

What is the craziest thing you ever did as a kid?

Thursday, October 30, 2014


       Linda O'Connell came up with the winning name. Her prize?  A vial of James Patterson's toe jam (certified, for certain). Lucky, lucky Linda.

     Her creative name is a nod to my favorite brand of shoes (only the ones that can be hosed off. Those fancy, frou-frou fleece-lined Crocs are an ugly smear on haut couture). It's also a nod to Miami Vice, an incredibly inane television show that so many of us watched--so many decades ago.

      I've decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, but since I am not starting from scratch and since there is no way in not-heaven I will add 50,000 more words to what I have so far, I needed a name. Maverick...Rebel... (which is what I was last year)...NaNoWriMoDoDo (that was another of my favorites).

      Renee Roberson told me to eat all the mashed potatoes I want. She also suggested I do NaNo, set a goal and broadcast it so I can't weasel out of it deftly sidestep it. 

     Okay. Pass the potatoes, and take a gander at my goal--15,000 words during the month of November. I figure that word count is better than a trickle of ink... and without the prod and prompting of NaNoWriMo, a pathetic trickle might be all I get.

     That's around 500 words a day. I'm hoping that's do-able.

                              "The Proclaimers" singing "500 Miles."
                              It's from one of my favorite movies--
                              "Benny and Joon."