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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IWSG October 2014. The Truth of it



This is my October post for Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group and guess what?  Amazing Alex and his minion of helpers will be publishing a free eBook to benefit all writers - The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond and it will include posts from this month.  The eBook will be free and available for all eReaders by early December.

Five years ago, corporate America and family occupied most of my time.  When the grind of the day job got to me, like millions of people, I’d muse, Gee, wouldn’t it be cool to write a novel?  I imagined myself working in a café part-time, so I had time to write the book, which was kind of like thinking it would be cool to win the lottery. And, well,  I don’t play the lottery.

Then, in a workforce-reduction, expense management strategy, corporate-downsizing or whatever buzz-phrase suits your mood, my employer dropped-kicked me across the parking lot, and within twenty-four hours of that pink-slip event, I started writing.  Not a novel. Nothing like a little layoff to call that bluff. No, I wrote personal essaysunemployment therapy I suppose, but so much more.  I wrote blog post after blog post having recognized within hours of my job elimination whatever I did next in life had to involve writing and the only way to get better at writing was to write.

It wasn’t fiction though.

Curiously, during those first butt-in-chair years, I did stumble into a part-time job in a café.  Well, not a café, but pretty close.  A gourmet food and cheese shop selling prepared items and made-to-order sandwiches.  And on the days I wasn't standing on a cement floor preparing panini's, serving up carrot hummus, or lugging cast iron pans to the sink, I planted myself in front of my computer and wrote.
 
But still.  The idea of fiction drifted out there, mist at dawn—until an acquaintance recommended Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, a book of twelve week-long lessons subtitled A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Don’t worry.  “Spirit” is subjective, and if mine happened to be the ceramic vase sitting on my window shelf, it would have worked in context of this book.
  
As I plowed through the program, each chapter forced me to confront my creative future, to challenge myself to make my dreams happen.  THE ARTIST'S WAY works for anyone, but in my case, each lesson said, you want to write fiction?  You are the only one stopping yourself.  Before I’d finished the exercises in THE ARTIST’S WAY, I began writing a novel, to see if I could get to the end, which happened, though the result was so awful it was impossible to fix. So, more butt-in-chair.  Plus, I read writers on writing.  I gave myself timed writing exercises and scene-stormed.  I wrote a second book and submitted it to agents and received a request for one full manuscript that went nowhere, form rejections and lots of cold silence. I took a Grub Street novel-in- progress course.  And then another.
  
I know.  We’re well into this piece and you expect to read I’ve got a novel coming out. Nope. Not yet.  Lovely word, “yet.” We needed better insurance, so I’m back working in an office, almost full time.  I get up early every morning to write.  If I can, I write after work too.  I’m getting ready to submit my third novel to agents with this perspective. There’s no winning the lottery to it. Standing up in a café all day is brutal work, and writing a good novel is even more difficult.  But thanks to Julia Cameron, I get it.  The only person who can give up on me, is me. 

So, butt-in-chair.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Spell Me a Story



There’s some Facebook meme that’s gone around featuring a paragraph in which the spelling of every word is shuffled and folks are challenged to read it anyway.  From the comments I’ve seen, it appears most people understand it, piece of cake.  The exercise demonstrates how the human brain doesn’t read letter by letter, but word by familiar word.  As a fast reader, I assume that's how I do it, and it's no help at all when I’m trying to catch my own terrible typos.


I spent the last week reading the latest draft of my current work in progress out loud.  If you are a regular reader of Middle Passages you surely probably most likely absolutely may have noted that typing, spelling and punctuation are not my strong suits. I can’t tell you how many times I go back and read a post I wrote then edited, edited, edited and published, only to discover typos.  Argh.  Drives me crazy, because I know you see them, too.  So, anyway, I am aware of my challenges in this regard and trust me.  Over the course of an eighty-three-thousand word draft, there’s a lot of proofreading to do.


Since we don’t speak as fast as our eyes devour a page, reading out loud forces us to slow down, to concentrate on each word, which is when the booboos percolate up.  When I read out loud, I find where I’ve used the wrong tense, forgot a word, or plopped in the wrong spelling.   This week, it also helped me to identify spots where the story is weak, where I need some interior thoughts to help to spell out what is happening in my characters' brains. So I add a sentence here and there. That means more proofing. Ugh.


I want so much to be done.  But I’m not there yet.  Soon though.   I say that a lot.  It’s the only way I can sooth my typo-ridden punctuation-challenged awful spelling will-I-ever-finish-with-this soul. 

What tricks do you use to edit your own manuscript?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Congratulations!!


A winner has been chosen for the Old Broads Blog Fest.  Stephen T. McCarthy wrote two lovely stories about his favorite old broad...his mom.  His entry can be seen here:
 http://susan-swiderski.blogspot.com/.

and  his blog can be found here,

http://xtremelyun-pcandunrepentant.blogspot.com/.

Here's the thing.  We're old.  It's poetry.  But, you guys, this book is so good.  It's life.  It's real.  And if you doubt you are going to get old...well, God willing, it's going to happen to you, too, and when it does, you'll still be human.  You'll still count.  You will still be you.

To order OLD BROADS WAXING POETIC, click here.  For a good cause.  Or for you.  Whatever works...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Food Families II



As I write this, it’s Saturday night and I’m home alone.  My husband is enjoying his delayed Father’s Day present from our daughter and they’re at the Red Sox game, if the black clouds muttering on the horizon don’t rain them out.  We’ve had our hottest days of the summer over the last week, and since we have no AC, I took refuge at the movies, to see The One Hundred Foot Journey.

I went without knowing the storyline and discovered the film featured clashing cultures, Michelin star restaurants and old family recipes.  I was sold when a few minutes into the picture one of the main characters said, “Food is memory.”  During my year-and-a-half working at a local gourmet food/cheese shop, Mary, one of the owners, used to say the same thing.  There, Robert, her chef/husband made bread pudding and corn chowder that catapulted me back to dinners elbow to elbow with my five siblings at the drop-leaf table in the kitchen where we grew up.  At the cheese shop, I'd close my eyes and moan a little at the emotions these tastes evoked.

But there’s a reason seeing this movie was right for me today.  The story is all about food and passion, and we're living some of that in our family right now.

You see, our daughter took a break from college after two years, arriving home in May of 2013, subdued and struggling.  Two days later, at age 19, she began a grown-up job, working in a well-respected seafood restaurant opening in a new location.  Hired as “line cook,” she started off making salads and desserts.  A year plus later, she’s learned so much, they place her wherever they need her.  She shucks oysters, grills, sautees, bakes, steams and deep fries.  She worked sixteen hour shifts during the restaurant opening, and later, twelve hour shifts, often for days in a row.  She’s arrived home with more burns than I care to contemplate, once with several inches of her arm scalded by blueberry compote when someone in the kitchen thought it would be funny to turn her blender on high.  She’s watched chefs get transferred, people walk off jobs, staff members arrive at work drunk or high, and she’s climbed behind the pile of dirty plates to get things moving when the dishwasher’s fallen behind.  In spite of all that (which I've come to understand can pretty much be the norm in the restaurant business), now when the place is short-staffed, she juggles two stations with competence…and self-assurance. In spite of the heart-attacks her worry-wart mama has had along the way, it’s clear as glass that via this demanding road, our daughter has grown. 

And perhaps, rediscovered herself.  At the beginning of July, she sent in an application to culinary school in Rhode Island and she's been accepted for their baking and pastry program. She’s planning to commute, and today we went down there and picked up her knife set.  By the time you read this on Monday, after a nine-to-nine shift at the restaurant the day before, she’ll  have started this next phase of her life. 
 
So, this post is a tribute to her.  For establishing her own path.  For learning to stand up for herself.  For gutting it out through the aching back and knees, the double shifts on Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.  For getting up and going to work after the nights she came home thinking she never could.  For proving to herself what she is capable of.

Here’s the truth.  Wherever her path leads, all I hope, is that this next experience helps her to know food in a way that delivers sublime memory, and that she comes to understand, as her mama always has, that preparing something delicious for those you care about is a declaration of love.

And to Tim, on our 30th wedding anniversary, I’ll cook for you any day.



Don't forget the Old Broads "Broad fest!"   Comment about your favorite "old broad" on one of our blogs by September 12, to earn a chance to win a copy of OLD BROADS WAXING POETIC. Click here for more information.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Drum Roll, Please




A group of...ahem...mature women banded together to create...

Isn't that a cool cover?

To celebrate the release of Old Broads Waxing Poetic, each "old broad" (we use that term loosely, our ages range from 40's to 70's) featured in this book is blogging about her favorite old broad today.  To join in the festivities, we invite each of you to tell us about your favorite old broad in the comments. Oh, and if you get a little ruffled by the term broad, you can tell us about your favorite older woman... how's that? One lucky person who comments about his or her favorite broad will win a free copy of our book. The more blogs of ours you comment on, the better your chances.  And, by the way, creativity counts. Cool, huh? (It really IS cool ... not only is it filled with fun poetry, but all proceeds from the sale of this book are going to  CARE International). The winner of this mini-blogfest will be announced next Friday, September 12th.

It's a great cause, so we'll love you even more if you blog about the book, the contest, and help spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.

Now then, let me introduce the other broads,

Oh, right. Michael isn't a broad. He's a guy. A very nice guy who used that lovely image from Francesco Romoli to create our cover for us, so you could say, as an important member of our team, he's an honorary broad. With hairy legs.

Thanks for helping make this a very (ba da bum) broad celebration!

Here's my tribute: 

For Grandma C.


A charm,
sterling silver
hangs,
alone on a loop.
A church.
Used to be
I could squint,
through a pinprick window,
see The Lord’s Prayer,
the words
no longer visible,
or, my eyes too old to see.
A bracelet, big
for my six-year-old wrist,
this gift sits in my jewelry box
fifty years later,
and sometimes
I open the box,
touch the trinket,
an amulet,
a talisman,
but mostly,
a connection
to another wrist.
Tapered fingers,
long nails with ridges,
that found their way up  
to rub our scalps,
and always
scratched
the itchy spot
underneath
our shoulders.

September 2014

Now, if you haven't done so already, click here to get to Amazon.