The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

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?