March 23, 2015

When I was a young writer, I found very little to help me on the journey.  There were no critique groups, no other writers, aspiring or otherwise, in my circle. All I could do was read books about writing, and believe me, those were few and far between. I would have loved to know a bit about what goes on in the everyday life of an author. It seems to me that readers and other writers might be interested in that too, so I’ll be journaling a few times a week about this writer’s life.

MONDAY MORNING, MARCH 23, 2015

Weekend? What weekend? I have a to-do list longer than my arm, and the arms of many of my friends.

Here is a list of what I need to get done within the next few months, not necessarily in this order:

  • Outline the class I’ll be teaching at the local college next month. (four weeks, 90 minutes a session)
  • Work Thursday at the local library. (I am the on-call person because I have a lot of library experience. Besides I need to get out more.)
  • Outline the next book I will be writing for Annie’s Publishing, tentatively titled “Candy From Strangers”. That outline needs to be on the editor’s desk by July.
  • Outline the first book in my new series, The Cassidys. Here’s the thing. That book, completely written has a deadline of August, and I haven’t even started. All I have is two pages of “probably plot”. Yikes.
  • Outline the fifth “Confessions of April Grace” (now called “Further Confessions of April Grace”). I don’t even have a book title yet.
  • Teach that class next month.
  • Work on revisions of Pink Orchids and Cheeseheads (April Grace #4) when I get it back from the editor.
  • Collect information/schedules/kudos/etc. for the Ozarks Writers League Newsletter and have it ready for submission by the end of April.
  • Work on the edits of another book, which I’ve written under a pen name, as soon as the manuscript comes back from the editor.
  • Give yet another alter-ego written book the final polish after it goes through the second editorial pass.
  • Meet with my editor and publisher for two photo shoots for the cover of two books.
  • Finish my author intake form for Oghma Creative Media. (I sorta kinda forgot that)
  • Did I mention I need to clean this house?
  • I’d love to spend some quality time with my hubby and my girls.

Thank God my hubby likes to shop. I haven’t seen the inside of a store in months. Probably since November when I did a bit of Christmas shopping.

Busy much?

 

That Voice You’re Hearing…Maybe it’s Mine

One thing in my life that has driven me to the brink of screaming bloody murder is when someone interrupts me while I speak. This is one reason I dislike social functions so much. For me, indulging in conversation at a party is like trying to put a leash on air.

I’m not sure why people think the practice of interrupting someone in mid-sentence is all right. Maybe they believe what they have to say is more important than what I’m expressing. Maybe they can’t hear me. Maybe I’m invisible. But when it happens, a red hot arrow shoots through my blood and impacts every cell in my body.

Here’s the thing. I am not much of a conversationalist. I prefer to listen and learn rather than spout.two women talking In my silences, I form thoughts and opinions which I am often reluctant to contribute for a variety of reasons. When I do finally choose to actively participate in, or initiate, a conversation, it’s not just to blabber about the first thing that pops into my brain. I am sharing something that means something to me.

When I’m talking and someone blurts, “Oh, look at that bluejay in the tree across the street!” Or, “I need to call my husband.” Or, “My goodness, isn’t the rain nice?” Or, “I have an overdue library book.” Or, “Oh, that reminds me of something… etc.”, not only do I lose my train of thought (which alone annoys me to no end) but being cut off tells me that whatever I was offering was worthless, meaningless, and boring. It hurts my feelings; it makes me angry. I also find that people often hijack the subject, take over the conversation and leave whatever I had to contribute hanging loose and undone like a half-hung shirt on the clothesline.conversations
When I am cut off more than two or three times within five minutes, I just stop talking. I tell myself, “They aren’t listening anyway, so why waste my breath?”

Maybe this happens to you. Or, maybe you’re on the other side. Are you a chronic interrupter? If you have something to say, can you contain it, or must it come spewing from your lips in the middle of someone else’s sentence? difficult_participants

If people clam up and walk away from you, it might be that you aren’t allowing them to share what’s on their minds. If they are like me, interruptions are like a knife to the heart.

So, if you value these friends and others, stop interrupting them. For once in your life, just be quiet and listen. That voice you hear? Maybe it’s mine.

Flowers For Isabel

If you know our neighbor Isabel St. James at all, then you realize she’s the most whiny, gripey person in the whole entire world. Honestly, if you gave her 18 dozen red roses growing on stems of pure gold, she’d complain about the thorns made of diamonds. She thinks she’s the Queen of Egypt or something. queen isabel

And speaking of roses, ol’ Isabel decided she wanted a flower garden. You see, she’s from California, and when she lived there she “had fresh flowers galore, absolutely everywhere in my house, darling, not one room without them.”

Here’s the thing. Flowers grow pretty much all year round somewhere in California. At least that’s what I learned when we studied geography. We live in north Arkansas, in the mountains, where flowers grow plenty, but only in certain seasons, and not in the middle of February, which was when Isabel was going on and on and on about how “perfectly dreadful” life could be sometimes. If she wants to know dreadful, she should live where the sun hardly ever shines and ice covers the ground all year round. That would be dreadful. Perfectly.icy image
“I’ll dig you a flower garden, lambkins,” said her husband Ian, who is a transplanted banker and now a goat farmer. (Isabel doesn’t like farming. Or goats. Or even Ian, sometimes. Also, she wants to live in a Big City.)

“Oh, will you, darling?” She gave him this mushy-smoochie look.Not five minutes ago, when he was talking about getting another pair of goats, her eyes got all red and fiery, and I was pretty sure I saw steam oozing out of her earholes.

Now she sighed and looked around at everyone, smiling all over her face. Which is nice, because her face will never win her any awards, believe you me, but when she smiles, it’s like someone turns on a light.

“Sure. You just tell me where you want it, and I’ll fix you up.”

“I have some seasoned barnyard fertilizer that will make those flowers grow like crazy,” my daddy added. We have a dairy farm and always have lots and lots of barnyard fertilizer. barnyard dirt
Well, ol’ Isabel’s eyeballs got bigger than the plates on which we were eating our supper. You see, she’s a Miss Priss. She’s almost as bad as my sister, Myra Sue, who is the Biggest Priss in the known universe.

“I…I…I …” Isabel laid one scrawny hand on her scrawny chest and declared, “I couldn’t possibly … I’ll use Miracle Grow, thank you very much.”

Now a few months ago, when this woman first came into our lives, she wouldn’t have been so polite. You see, she and her mister lost everything they owned out in California and bought this awful little farm just down Rough Creek Road from us. The old house on that place wasn’t fit for anything but spiders and rodents, so my mama, who lives her life the way Jesus said to, invited them right into our home and let them live here for a few months. It was not pleasant, let me tell you, but we all got through it. Somehow Mama’s kindness and gentleness rubbed some of the sharp edges off Isabel, who’d never really known anyone like my mother and father, and by now, she’s softened up considerably. But let me assure you, she’s still a pain.

So good ol’ Ian, who has had a much easier time becoming a country person than his wife, dug her up some flower beds. Grandma and Mama helped her order seeds from Gurney’s big spring catalog.seeds
One Saturday morning in mid-spring, I was in the old rocking chair in the living room reading Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Myra Sue sat on the floor in front of the coffee table painting her fingernails—for the seventeenth time that week. Isabel burst through the front door without knocking, wailing like she’d fallen off the monkey bars at the playground.

Without so much as a howdy-do to Myra or me, she streaked straight into the kitchen, crying out, “Lily! Grace! Look, oh, look at this!”

I dropped my book, Myra Sue dropped her nail polish, and we both dashed into the kitchen.

Isabel stood in the middle of the room, her hands spread out in front of her, as wide as duck feet.

“Look!” she shrieked again.

Mama and Grandma were gazing at those skinny hands. They looked at each other, clearly puzzled.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Grandma said.

Isabel blinked about twenty-five times all in a row.

“Don’t you see?” she gasped.

Myra Sue gawked at Isabel’s hands, then screeched like a pickled owl. “Isabel-dearest! Your nails. Your gorgeous fingernails!” Myra Sue thinks Isabel hung the moon and painted all the stars, that’s how much she admires her.

Then I saw what had set the woman to howling. Her long red fingernails of which she was so proud and so protective were now dirty and chipped and broken, as uneven and snaggly as Billybob Teeth.dirty hand

“Mercy sakes!” Grandma said, reaching into the pocket of her slacks. “Here. I keep these handy all the time, especially when I’m working outside. You never know when you’re gonna need ‘em. Keep these. I have more.”

Isabel shrank back.You’d think Grandma had just offered her a toad on toast instead of a pair of fingernail clippers.

“Grandma!” Myra Sue hollered. “You cannot use clippers on your nails!”

Isabel moaned, waving her hands back and forth in front of her face like they were windshield wipers.Mama went out to the service porch just off the kitchen and came back with a brand new pair of gardening gloves.

“Here you go, Isabel. They won’t do much to stop your nails from breaking when you’re working in dirt, but they’ll keep your hands clean and maybe you won’t get blisters and callouses.”

“Blisters?” Isabel looked Utterly Horrified. “Callouses?”

I’m only 11 years old, but I have learned a few things in my life. One of which is this: when Isabel St. James gets in a state, you have to take care of her and calm her down because, believe me, if you don’t, she gets worse. And right then, Isabel was fixin’ to get in a state. I gave this whole situation a good think. AG gardening
“Come here,” I said, taking her hand. It was actually shaking. Poor ol’ Isabel. I led her to the kitchen table and pulled out one of the chairs.“Sit down before you fall down,” I said, and she sat.

I poured her a nice tall glass of iced tea. We always keep a small pitcher of unsweetened iced tea available for Isabel because she usually pops in once a day or so. All the rest of us want sweet tea or coffee.
“Here you go, Isabel,” I said, putting the tea on the table in front of her. “This all isn’t as tragic as you might think.”

That woman gave me an odd look then she picked up that glass and guzzled like she thought drinking iced tea was the latest fashion trend and she had to get in on it.

Grandma patted Isabel’s shoulder and sat down nearby. Mama filled her glass, then poured sweet tea for the rest of us. Isabel looked at her hands silently for a long time. We waited, and let me tell you, when you’re waiting for Isabel to react it can be scary because you never know what she’ll do.

“You should know …” she said, finally, “besides ruining my manicure … in that dirt at my house … I actually saw … worms. Wriggly, squirmy, slimy worms!” She raised a wretched gaze and passed it around like she thought we’d all scream in horror or maybe faint dead away.

When we didn’t, she said, “Well? Well?”

“Sounds like you got some good dirt for your flowers then,” Grandma said.

Isabel jerked like she’d been poked with a sharp stick.

“Oh, Grace, how can you say that? Worm-infested dirt?”

Oh brother.

“Isabel, worms are good for the soil,” Mama said. “They keep it from getting hard-packed and unusable.”

“And they keep it fertilized,” Grandma added. Which probably wasn’t the best thing she could have said, knowing Isabel’s view on natural fertilizers.

“Oh my goodness!” she said faintly. “It isn’t enough that I break my nails scratching around like a rodent, but I also had my hands in … in worm fertilizer.” wormsShe rested her forehead against one hand.

“Well, good gravy, Isabel,” I finally hollered. “All winter you’ve said how much you wanted fresh flowers, and now here’s your chance to have ’em. What do you want, clean hands and long fingernails or fresh flowers? You’re gonna have to decide because it’s mighty hard to have both at the same time around here.” flowers for isabel

“April Grace,” Mama said, reprovingly, and I hushed. Mama knows how I just blurt things out sometimes without thinking, but this time it needed to be said. Of course, I could have said it in a softer voice and in a nicer way, and if I’d thought about it, I probably would’ve.

“I think what April Grace meant to say,” Mama said in a soothing tone, “is that—”

Isabel held up one hand. “Don’t scold her, Lily. And I know what she meant to say.” She looked at me, and I saw a soft light in her eyes. She didn’t look quite as upset and wild as she had a little bit ago. In fact, she sat quietly for a long minute or two, and you could see she was thinking.

She gazed down at her snaggle-toothed fingernails and shook her head, wriggling her fingers.

“These nails get in my way so much of the time, and they keep me from doing things I’d like to do,” she murmured. She looked at Grandma and held out her right hand, palm up. “Grace, may I borrow those clippers?”

Myra Sue gasped in pure-dee horror, but Isabel smiled at her. “Don’t worry, Myra-darling. I have what I need at home to smooth out the rough edges.” She gave us all a smile, brightening the room. “Just think how lovely those flowers are going to look in my house this summer!” mason jar flowers
-the end-

It’s Pure Sterling!

Everyone loves Winnie the Pooh. His fuzzy rotund body, his waddling walk, his enormous appetite for honey. Er, excuse me, hunny. And that voice. That incredible, funny, lovable voice. Who can look at an image of Pooh without remembering it? winnie 2
If you’ve ever seen actor Sterling Holloway in a movie or on TV, the first thing you notice is his voice. His is the original voice of Winnie the Pooh! winnie
Sterling Holloway was born in Georgia in 1905. His father was a grocer, but there was a distant relative in England who was an actress of some renown in her time. Holloway left home young to start his acting career, and he traveled with an acting company, performing The Shepherd of the Hills. Of course he eventually went to Hollywood. His first movie was The Battling Kangaroo, a silent, released in 1926. He made other silent movies, and at once point was told by a director he was “too repulsive” for the screen. He quit for about five years. sterling silent
When the talkies came out, it seemed Holloway’s voice might be a huge stumbling block to his continuing in movies. But with a somewhat goofy face, scrawny build, curly shock of red hair, and that high-pitched voice, he soon found himself cast in a variety of comedic roles. He co-starred with actors such as Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, and Joan Crawford. At one point, he turned down a contract with Louis B. Mayer “because he didn’t want to be a star,” but stardom didn’t bypass him. He became a familiar face and voice to generations. moron than off
In 1933, he was the voice of the frog in Paramount’s version of Alice in Wonderland. Nineteen years later, he was the voice of the Cheshire Cat in Disney’s version of the same story. He was the voice of the snake in the Jungle Book and the adult Flower in Bambi.
In July of 1942, Holloway was drafted in the Army. His records affirm that he was 5’9 and weighed all of 124 pounds. After the war, he returned to acting in movies.
During the Golden Age of television we were able to enjoy Holloway’s presence. He played a regular on The Life of Riley, and at least one episode of many sit-coms, including Hazel, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Show, Gilligan’s Island and, my personal favorite, The Andy Griffith Show.
Holloway was in his last movie, Thunder and Lightning in 1977. In 1991, he was named a Disney Legend.
In November, 1992, at the age of 87, the world lost the voice, the look and the unforgettable character that was Sterling Holloway. sterling older

Slogging Through the Mire of the Unnecessary, Unneeded and Unwanted

I am slogging my way through a novel to glean a few necessary tidbits of information buried somewhere within the text. When I say slogging, I mean slogging. I’m forced to read things like, “She turned on the light. Then she turned on the furnace.” OK, not so bad, really, but then the author shows the character doing every little detail when simply writing She got the house ready for company would have been far shorter than the two pages of dish-washing, bed-making, vegetable-chopping, table-setting, etc etc etc.

There is also a lot of this type of snooze-fest:
“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m fine.”
“Please come in.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Please sit down.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”

 

This is not what you want your reader to do when he’s reading your book.

None of this led to anything other than a guest coming into the house. If you are going to go to this much trouble with so many mundane bits and pieces, there needs to be poison in the soup, or a long-lost relative waiting on the sofa, or some other reason to build tension. If you’re going to spend time turning on each light and the furnace (and I mean more than a passing mention) then the furnace needs to blow up or in the now well-lit room we should see something significant, new, or frightening.

Most of us write this way, especially when we are first finding our way. I am guilty of it myself from time to time. And there is nothing wrong with it in a first draft. But if you leave these details in rather than edit them out, you will bore, bore, bore your reader until they put your book away, never to pick it up again – or anything else you ever write. When you edit, please think of your reader and double-think these details.