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I never saw a project I wouldn’t raise my hand and volunteer for.
That’s how I became editor of HoTXSinC’s newsletter, HOTSHOTS!
The official story is that Sylvia Dickey Smith forced the job on me. It’s true she gave me several long, hard looks, and we were sitting in church at the time, and that’s a lot of pressure for a sensitive soul such as I to endure.
But Sylvia didn’t make me do anything. The little imp that resides in the back of my mind leaned forward and hissed, “It might be fun.” And I agreed and raised my hand.
I might as well admit I like the job. It’s grown on me.
Volunteering is also how I got into A Round of Words in 80 Days. I’ve forgotten how I found the blog, but the minute I saw it, that imp emerged again, and I signed on to set goals and to post my progress twice a week. Lately, twice has been a relative term—I sometimes get my days mixed up—but I’m still in the fray. Because it looked like fun.
According to Totsymae, if I join, I might get some notoriety.
Notoriety has never been at the top of my list, but ever since I saw that movie, Cary Grant has been. If there’s even a chance that someone Cary Grant-ish might happen by, I’m in with all four feet.
Further, says Totsymae, “You’ll also get a chance to meet like-minded folk, and that’s always fun, interesting or tiresome, depending on how you feel about yourself and which sides you’re liking or disliking on a given day.”
Note the word fun. I was on it like a duck on a Junebug.
(Not that I didn’t see interesting or tiresome, which I take to mean I might have to settle for Claude Rains, but that’s okay, because I think he’s cute, too.)
Anyway—even though I don’t really approve of the word platform as it applies to writers, platform being something of which there are three in The Scarlett Letter—I’m doing the same old thing, voluntarily latching on to one more project.
Blogging about the Third Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign is step #3 in the latching-on process. Including a link is step #3.1.
In step #3.2, I’m supposed to encourage my followers to join the Campaign. So consider yourself encouraged. But that’s all. I’m not going to force anybody.
This could be fun, interesting, or tiresome, or you might come out on October 1 with who-knows-what kind of reputation.
But you will build your platform on a strictly voluntary basis.
Names are important. That’s an error I really didn’t want hanging around on the web for the rest of the millennium.
So many thanks to my friend for bringing it to my attention.
Said friend, whose name is Nita Lou Bryant, and I have been reading each other’s stuff, off and on, for six years now. We met in a workshop sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas. Nita’s writing has won several awards, including the WLT Novel Manuscript Contest and the Mozelle Memoir Contest. Her work has also been published in the Austin American-Statesman.
Now Nita is exploring other aspects of her creativity at Sedbi Design Studio. Among her creations so far are scarves, camisoles, purses, pillows, wall hangings, Fabricollages, Fabricards, even a Fabrimandala. Her portfolio appears on video at her website.
But for a closer look—and for the adventures behind the art—visit her blog, Studio Nita Lou.
A pleasing development: Story Circle Network has awarded a star to To write is to write is to write.
Story Circle Network is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives and to raising public awareness of the importance of women’s personal histories.” It sponsors publications, workshops, writing contests, reading circles, writing circles, and other programs, many of them online. There are SCN chapters worldwide.
Membership is open to all women who have stories to share. No writing experience is necessary–just the desire to record life experience and to read about the experiences of others.
Over one hundred SCN members are bloggers. For a list and links, click here.
My Crock-pot and I have just produced an absolute travesty of a pot roast.
No details. The experience is still too painful to discuss.
The short story course I’m taking online began today with a lecture regarding structure, followed by a brief exercise. So far, instructor Kaye George has managed to tear me away from Hamlet and set me on the road to genre fiction. Thank goodness.
Since yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking more about retro words and phrases that must be saved. One that comes to mind is dreckly.
When my mother said, “Stay right here. I’ll be back dreckly,” my six-year-old cousin, a California native, asked me how long that would be. I was six as well, and I’d never thought about it. We worked out that dreckly probably meant ten minutes.
I thought we were the only ones who said dreckly, so at the age of thirteen, I was surprised to discover Scarlett O’Hara saying it. Margaret Mitchell, or perhaps her editor, spelled it terreckly, I believe.
That was about the time I realized the word was a mangled version of directly. Quite an epiphany.
I count myself fortunate to have lived among people whose language strayed outside the bounds of Merriam-Webster. I also appreciate having known people whose lives reached so far back in time.
Ethel Waller, my father’s aunt, once traveled with Cousin Tom McKenzie from Fentress to Fort Stockton, 365 miles, riding on a buckboard. That fact has always fascinated me, not just because of the means of transportation and the distance covered, but because someone I knew made that trip.
My grandfather knew an old man who, when he was a boy, saw General Robert E. Lee sitting astride Traveler. Dad told me that when I was ten. He didn’t have to emphasize its importance. We were Southerners. Knowing someone who knew someone who saw Robert E. Lee was a very big deal. Having that connection to Traveler was an even bigger deal.
Years ago I heard a scrap of a program on NPR about—I’ve forgotten exactly how it was, but it went something like this: Alice Roosevelt Longworth employed a gardener whose father knew George Washington.
That’s not even six degrees of separation. And consider the span. Washington was born in 1731. Alice Longworth died in 1980.
Taking my cue from Mrs. Longworth, I worked out how far and wide I could range. It’s a fun game to play.
My grandfather, Frank Waller, knew someone who saw, or for my purposes, knew, Robert E. Lee. General Lee married Anna Mary Custis, who was great-granddaughter to Martha Washington, who was married to George, who knew John Adams, who was married to Abigail Adams…
I could go in another direction, to Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, perhaps, and come out who knows where, but Abigail Adams makes a fine journey’s end. (If only the Founding Fathers had listened to her.)
On the other side of my family—my grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, was kissed by President William McKinley (that’s another story), and President McKinley knew Theodore Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt was uncle to Eleanor Roosevelt (another sensible woman), and Eleanor (aside from being married to Franklin) knew Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill knew King George VI, who knew King George V, who knew Queen Victoria, who knighted Sir Arthur Sullivan (although she was probably not amused), who knew William Gilbert.
As in the previous case, if I were to branch off in other directions, I could bring in Lawrence of Arabia, Disraeli, Tsar Nicholas II, Rasputin…
But if I have my druthers, I’ll stick with Gilbert. Not a charming man, I’ve read…
To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock, In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock, Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock, From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!
I have no business being awake this late—early, rather—because Wednesday will be a most taxing day: Kaye George, author of Choke: An Imogene Duckworthy Mystery, will teach me everything I need to know about writing the short story.
Actually, it’s going to take her four days to teach me. Kaye knows a lot, and I’m a bit slow on the uptake. Combined, those conditions require extra time.
The only reason I’m still awake is that on the way home from Austin Mystery Writers critique group, I shopped for groceries. Then, after putting them away, I had to sit down and cool off before preparing for bed. Showering while you’re still sweating like a mule is not productive.
(I apologize for the indelicacy of the previous remark, but when the thermometer reads 90 degrees after midnight, there’s no sense in mincing words.)
And then I checked my e-mail, and the rest is history.
Anyway, before I retire, I want to mention that yesterday, The Daily Postlisted “Ten Important Things I’ve Learned about Blogging.” It’s a good list, and I’m especially taken with #6: “Bring back retro phrases like hanky-panky.
I’m going to bring back three retro phrases right now:
I consider those three even more important than mulomedic (see Endangered and Underused Words), because people I loved said them, and now no one I know says them at all.
I don’t remember anyone in my old circle saying much about hanky-panky, but my mother occasionally referred to necking.
How much help I can give that phrase is debatable. It’s kind of specialized.
I will, however, do my best.
A further note on light bread: When I was a child, Mrs. Baird’s bread wasn’t available where my family lived, but it was sold sixty miles away, in San Antonio, where my grandmother lived. My father, a bread connoisseur, occasionally mentioned to my mother, “the bread your mama buys.” He always sounded slightly wistful. We had to do with Rainbow or Butterkrust, good enough bread, but no match for Mrs. Baird’s. The links below to two articles about Mrs. Baird’s bread appear here as a nod to that pleasant memory.
Image by Ddgonzal (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
FTC Disclaimer: This post appears as a favor to my readers. Kate had no idea I was posting it, and she may not know to this very day. Consequently, nothing she has said or done, or could say or do, has influenced what I have written. Inclusion of this disclaimer may not be necessary here—that rule may apply only to reviews of books and not of blogs—to stay on the good side of the Federal Trade Commission, I’ll gladly write the extra paragraph.
Allegory of Vanity–Pandora media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.
We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. ~Rejection Slip from a Chinese Economic Journal, Quoted in The Financial Times
A writer friend e-mailed that her novel has been rejected for publication.
The editor declining the manuscript wrote a personal letter explaining the reason for rejection. The editor also encouraged the writer to query again when her next manuscript is complete.
That’s a good rejection. Not so good as the one quoted above, but better than a standard form letter—”Your manuscript does not suit our needs at this time”—which leaves the writer without a clue.
Is it the quality of the writing? The subject? A poorly developed plot? Too much graphic violence? Not enough graphic violence? Overuse of dialect? A boring first line? A typo on page 3?
Or that the manuscript really didn’t suit the publisher’s needs at that time?
The truth may hurt, but it at least leaves you knowing where you stand. And possibly the direction in which you should go.
I’ve heard that in the context of submission and publication, rejection isn’t an appropriate term. Editors who reject manuscripts are really bowing out and allowing other editors the opportunity to accept.
To me, that’s a bit like calling a scheduled test date Opportunity Day. But whatever works…
I haven’t received many rejections, not because my submissions for publication are universally accepted, but because I haven’t done much submitting. There are several reasons for that, among them that I haven’t written much short fiction and I haven’t completed a novel, so I’ve had little to submit. I’m working to rectify that.
If I’m successful, by this time next year, I’ll have rejection slips all over the place.
Every writer—and that includes all of us, not just those who’ve been published—has read about authors who have received negative word from editors before finally reaching print. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was turned down by twenty-six publishers. J. K. Rowling received a dozen rejections for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected twenty times.
Sometimes, editors’ comments stray into the personal.
On Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
On William Faulkner’s Sanctuary: “Good God, I can’t publish this.”
The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, was rejected sixty times before a publisher picked it up. Acceptance came after five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection. The movie adaptation of the book is slated for release this week.
“…I can’t tell you how to succeed,” says Stockett to others aspiring to see their works in print. “But,” she continues,
I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
Stockett racked up rejections because she was industrious enough, and brave enough, to put her work out there.
Instead of invoking the Muse, I’m going to start invoking Stockett. First thing tomorrow, I’ll print out her picture, clip it, and tape it to my monitor. When I’m working–or not–hers is the face I need to see; hers is the voice I need to hear.
Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, stresses the importance of both writing and playing. At the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, Karleen Koen reminded students of Cameron’s Artist’s Date—a weekly solo “adventure” to feed the soul and allow for continued creativity.
Since leaving the retreat, I’ve been thinking about possibilities for my Artist’s Dates. A visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a candidate, though it’ll probably wait until spring. Central Texas affords plenty of potential for adventure.
But having just returned from a week-long Artist’s Date, I decided to concentrate first on writing.
I designated yesterday, my first day out of post-retreat depression, a day for writing.
Here’s how it went:
I rose at a reasonable hour and prepared to leave for my coffee-shop office.
Downstairs, doling out catfood, I realized that in the half-hour I’d been up, I’d seen no cats. This had never happened. William often sleeps late, but Ernest is up with the chickens and frequently makes sure I am, too.
I called, ran upstairs, searched, called. William, draped across his pagoda, opened his eyes and blinked but offered no opinion as to Ernest’s whereabouts.
I ran downstairs, called, searched, dropped to my knees and peered under furniture. I ran back upstairs, etc.
Finally dropping at the right place, I found Ernest under the bed. He was sitting in that compact way cats have, with all his feet neatly tucked in. His look wasn’t warm and welcoming. When I tried to drag him out, he wriggled loose and ran into the hall and thence into the guest room and under that bed.
At that point, I remembered a get-well card I sent my great-aunt Bettie: On the front was a drawing of an orange-striped cat, looking bored, and saying, “Feeling poorly? Do as I do.” Inside, it said, “Crawl under the porch.”
We had no porch, so Ernest crawled under the next best thing.
I put batteries in the flashlight and girded my loins. Negotiating the guest room is not a task for the faint of heart. There’s stuff in there.
Back on my hands and knees, aka standing on my head, I again located Ernest. He was lying, neatly tucked, in the corner near the wall. Stretching out on the carpet, I reached under and scratched his ears. He didn’t protest. His big green eyes, however, told me I’d better not make any sudden moves.
Then I did.
Ernest is heavy and muscular. His twenty toes are tipped with talons. He has teeth.
Like Barry Goldwater, he believes extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
I believe in keeping as much of my blood as possible on the inside of my skin.
I also believe extremism in the pursuit of getting my children to the veterinarian is a necessary evil. This evil was necessary.
Ernest suffers from what might be termed a sluggish constitution, which is aggravated by his habit of putting foreign objects into his mouth. And swallowing them. Mainly bits of string and thread. They don’t have to be on the floor. He pokes around on tables and steals anything that strikes his fancy.
The first time he withdrew from society, two years ago, I had to authorize X-rays, ultrasound, and a simple procedure he really really didn’t like. It seemed best, this time, to seek medical attention before a minor problem became major.
Well, to summarize: Ernest hid under the bed from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I spent a goodly portion of that time supine on the floor trying to regain his trust. I spent the rest of the time downstairs, sneezing my head off because of all the dust bunnies under there with him.
In desperation, I took his jingly collar, the one he refuses to wear, and lay down by the bed and jingled at him. He purred and gnawed on the collar. Then he flopped over onto his back and I administered belly rubs. He had a lovely time. I went back downstairs and sneezed until my throat was raw. Then I coughed. I couldn’t stop coughing.
Having neither cough drops nor unexpired cough medicine, I poured a tiny bit of some extremely aged Jim Beam (my mother bought it to put on her Christmas applesauce cakes over twenty years ago) into a glass and added the dregs of David’s hummingbird sugar and drank it from a spoon. The first sip tasted pretty bad, and it didn’t do much for the cough, but by the time I was finished sipping, my concern for Ernest had eased considerably.
Anyway, as I sat in the living room taking my medicine, Ernest appeared downstairs. He sashayed into the kitchen. I heard him crunch two or three bites of food. Then he doubled back. Sneak that I am, I lured into my lap. Then I grabbed him and stuffed him into the waiting crate and headed for the vet’s.
Ernest protested, of course, at first. But as soon as the two big dogs in the vet’s waiting room charged up to his crate to pant hello, he decided confinement had its advantages and shut up.
Getting his weight was the first order of business. I was not surprised to learn he weighs 17 pounds. My spine had already intimated I would be making a trip to the chiropractor in short order.
After some poking and prodding and determining this was indeed the result of ingesting thread, and addressing that problem, the doctor said cats like linear objects. I said I’d noticed.
He gave me three choices: take him home and give him meds and watch him for 24 hours; leave him there for meds and the procedure he really really doesn’t like and pick him up at 5:00 p.m.; or be referred to another vet for X-rays because he’s moving his office up the street and his machine was all to pieces.
He said choice #1 would have been fine for his cat, but I told him I liked choice #2. Leaving Ernest would ensure he was unclogged. If I took him home and he crawled under the bed again, I might never get him out.
I hated sentencing him to a procedure. But if he hadn’t eaten something unacceptable, he wouldn’t have been in this fix.
As agreed, David and I picked Ernest up at 5:00 p.m., bought a tube of Laxatone, and hauled him home. He’s fine now, thank you, and appears to have forgiven me. I assume the scratch I got trying to remove him from my person in the middle of last night was unintentional.
That is the story of my day set aside for writing.
I’m trying to decide whether it qualifies as an Artist’s Date.
As I’ve no doubt made abundantly clear, I spent last week at the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine, Texas.
The seat of Brewster County, Alpine, population 5905, lies at an altitude of 4485 feet.
My altitude, during the retreat, was about double that of Alpine’s.
I was enrolled in Karleen Koen‘s Writing the Novel: The Basics class. Karleen, author of four historical novels, is an inspiring teacher. I won’t attempt to replicate her class here—couldn’t anyway, if I tried, because I have neither her expertise, her experience, nor her personality, all of which are necessary for the full effect.
I don’t have any little bells, either. There must be bells.
I will simply say that Karleen kept us writing and loving it for five days straight. She reminded us that to make art, we must play. And play we did.
On the last day, however, she reminded us of something decidedly un-playful: On arriving home, she said, we would fall into depression. And we must quickly find our way back to writing.
That was not news to me.
Long ago, I learned that retreats are like Disneyland—great to visit, but impossible to homestead.
After every one, I come home, embrace my family, babble about the glories writing, and the next morning wake to discover that, in addition to rapturous fervor, I’ve brought back a suitcase filled with a week’s worth of dirty laundry. And awaiting me are grocery shopping and cooking and all the responsibilities I’d set aside while I was away being an artiste.
Just a glimpse of the Crockpot is enough to take the oomph right out of me.
Oh, Auntie Em, I want to say, there’s no place like Oz, and with three clicks of the ruby slippers, I’m back there in a flash.
So it goes, and so it has gone.
I spent yesterday on laundry detail, surfing to fill in gaps made by wash, rinse, spin, and dry.
Today I turned on Netflix and watched an old PBS Mystery: P. D. James’ The Black Tower. All six episodes. With sound and video badly out of sync. Then I started episode one of Devices and Desires.
But things are looking up. Last night I went to critique group.
In the morning, if all goes as planned, I’ll swim for a half hour, then head for a coffee-shop office and transfer words from brain to hard drive.
If things don’t go as planned, I’ll save the swimming for later.
Climbing out of post-retreat depression is a delicate activity. Too much vitality too early in the process could prove a shock to the system.
Karleen Koen is the author of four historical novels. Her latest is Before Versailles.