Saturday, March 31, 2012

Car Story #4

The last thing you need after a morning of shopping is a car that won't start. Grrr! But check out another Car Story today from my writing bud, Marion. I hope your car woes are solved from on high like this!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Little Language Lesson

How often do you get all excited about punctuation? Probably about as often as you say, “howdy friend”, to a root canal. Of course, you want to have your writing properly punctuated, but it can be a real drag during a sudden burst of creative energy to have to worry about whether your commas, hyphens and semi-colons are all in the right place. Still, your use of punctuation can make a big difference in the eyes of the editors you approach, and the last thing you need is bad punctuation distracting from your work and branding you as a newbie.

Although punctuation rules are changing all the time, don’t let that notion release a floodgate of questionable practices and sabotage what you know deep down to be proper.  Then again, you may think that since you’re the one crafting the story, you should be able to punctuate in your own way, as a sort of style stamp. Ask yourself if you would do that with other aspects of your writing, say, spelling. You wouldn’t begin a letter “Deer Sis” simply because you like Bambi, and your sister reminds you of a little fawn. That would be a ridiculous bending of the rules and would serve no purpose. It’s far better to follow the basic rules of punctuation and show consideration for reader and editor alike.

As an example, take a look at these identical sentences with their distinct separations.

We had one dilemma; only Teddy could understand how to fix the slingshot.     
We had one dilemma only: Teddy could understand how to fix the slingshot.

In sentence one the semi-colon joins two complete sentences too closely related to be separated by a period. There’s a dilemma—Teddy is the only one who understands how to fix the slingshot. In sentence two what follows the colon explains what precedes it. Teddy can understand how to fix the slingshot and we infer that’s a bad thing because Teddy has homicidal tendencies. Your reader needs to know which it is.

Next, check these two out for apostrophe use. Are they both correct?

The dog wagged its tail.
It’s late and we have to go home.

Both are correct. The word ‘its’ shows possession in the first sentence.  In the second ‘it’s’ is a contraction of it is. Burn that difference into your brain.

And for good measure, which of these would you prefer to read?

We had a wonderful time at the show! It was awesome! You should go sometime!
What a show—awesome! You should go sometime.

The second sentence is much easier on the eyes and conveys the same excitement as the first. Overuse of exclamation points will mark you as a beginner. 

Of all the things that writer’s have to worry about punctuation probably isn’t at the top of many lists.  A misplaced piece of punctuation here or there will not sink your boat. But it does show a certain level of professionalism when every little black dot is where it’s supposed to be, and isn’t that what we’re all shooting for? 

Image:   Free Digital Photos

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Garden of Verses

I found the most amazing little book at our hospital auxiliary tag sale many summers ago. It was dog-eared and tattered, but I let out a little gasp when I read the title; A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I gently thumbed through the pages and the beloved verses rose up to me from my childhood; “when I was down beside the sea a wooden spade they gave to me to dig the sandy shore..” or  “how do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue…” I closed it quickly, clutched it to me and went to pay my quarter for this treasure.

My mother recited Mr. Stevenson's poems to me and I’d almost forgotten they existed. You see, I got lost in the gap between mother and grandmother for a good fifteen years or so. These days it is considered wise to wait for childbearing often into the thirties. And so the delightful world of babies and toddlers gets closeted in some cozy place in the back of the mind.

I didn’t become a grandmother until I was 50. As the saying goes If I’d known how much fun it was to be a grandma, I would have done that first. It took some getting used to. As the years rolled on more precious little ones were added – we’re up to six now. I’m on intimate terms with the Fresh Beat Band, Capri Sun, and fund raiser cookie dough. The oldest, at fourteen, is all about The Hunger Games. When Elaina was a toddler I remember her tears when I couldn’t pronounce Caiou. It’s Ki – you, in case you didn’t know – a popular toddler cartoon character. How swiftly the years pass. But with each new baby I’m drawn back to the hundred acre wood of Winnie the Pooh fame. Dimpled hands and happy giggles have led me into that quiet, enchanted place and I just love it. I often wish I could stay, leaving the more troubled adult world behind.

I long to share every good thing with my grandchildren; especially those old poems. I also want them to know Mother Goose, Wilbur the pig, Peter Pan, and Henny Penny. And I hope they want to go with me to the book store to choose some treasures of their own. Our only grandson, Sam, has read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Good for you, Sam! Our youngest, Sierra, is only fourteen months old, but she already loves lift the flap books. It’s a great start.

When they are older and no longer sit on Grandma's lap for a story, preferring their own comfy chairs, I know they'll understand what my beloved poet wrote so long ago…”Who hath a book, has friends at hand and gold and gear at his command . . ”

Mr. Stevenson had it so right.

Image: Three of our darlings

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How Do You Cope?

I learned at my mother’s knee that certain attitudes and thoughts do not serve us well in life. Her tutelage only re-enforced what I already knew, that it’s wrong to lie, steal, cheat and carry tales about our neighbors. But I still have a vanity that requires me to put on make-up every day. Greed rears its ugly head when I’m looking, bucket in hand, at a lush field full of ripe strawberries, and sloth regularly overtakes me when I’m confronted with the prospect of scrubbing yet another dirty toilet. The Titan of all my struggles, though, is envy. There have been rough times that really put that brutal monster to the test and it’s always a struggle. When envy rears her ugly head the sun is nearly blocked out.

Not liking this thing about myself  I set out several years ago to find some kind of coping mechanism. I did some research and learned that the literal meaning of the word philosophy – phylo sophia in the Greek (love of wisdom). Working the idea over for quite a while, I wondered if wisdom would do. Here was something I could fall back on when envy peeked at me from behind the bumper of my girlfriend’s new car. Trouble was, until the philosophical rubber actually hit the road that wisdom had a hard time showing herself. Here’s why.

My battle with the envy probably started when I was five years old. I adored (and envied) two girls in my kindergarten class who were taking ballet. They had the dainty shoes, the rainbow colored tutus, and the lessons. Our family was unable to provide things like ballet classes for me, but even at that tender age my envy was intense. In fact, over the course of my school years I had ample opportunity to let envy rule. Other girls seemed smarter and prettier than me. I didn’t have beautiful clothes or braces, and I constantly endured the criticism inspired by my very naturally curly hair. Envy, like anger and hate, feeds itself on our insecurities and there was always lots of food for it in my life. But I tried.

This wisdom I began to struggle for would take years to bloom and it was some time before I could finally put it into one concise sentence. One incident, above all others, brought it to the forefront of my understanding, and I shake my head when I think of it.

We have a local Greek restaurant that employs young woman as wait staff. They’re all young and attractive in their tight t-shirts and short skirts. I had heard about one waitress who really wowed them. One afternoon she waited on the table where I lunched with a friend. Everything they said seemed to be true. She had a pretty face, a gorgeous figure, and charm. She was quick and efficient, and probably had several men after her. No doubt she was also brainy and attending some college to study medicine or the law. She probably had rich parents who owned property on our local lake—okay—maybe my thoughts were a little over the top as she served dessert. Anyway, several weeks later, I was picking up a pizza in the same restaurant. There she was again, the ideal woman. But before I could think another thing, I saw her grab a fellow worker’s hand and pull her quickly down beside her behind the counter.

“Get my purse,” she gasped.

Her friend grabbed the purse from under the cash register and shoved it towards her.  My waitress then dug frantically through the purse until she found her atomizer and fought for every breath as she began to use it.  She was in the throws of a severe asthma attack. What a shock! This lovely young girl had a problem after all, and a big one, too. I was in a tailspin. How foolish of me to assign to her the responsibility of being ideal.  Whatever it was about her imagined life that I envied, my guess is, at that moment, she would have traded all of it for a set of fully functioning lungs. Fortunately she was able to continue waiting tables a short while later, but I was deeply affected by the event. God had opened my eyes wide, letting me see the frailness of someone I’d envied. From that day forward I was able to state my succinct philosophy; never envy anyone his or her life.  

Looking back, the thing that had been blooming in me came to full flower with that event. It comes to my aid and shakes me by the hair whenever I’m tempted to envy another person. It will always be a struggle but that single observation and the remembrance of the event were the hammer and tongs that forged my philosophy into a solid coping tool. The sun is not blocked out so easily now. There will never be a time when I will be beyond envy. Old habits die hard and the attending emotions of self-doubt, anger and fear, make it hard to drive out the monster. But I am now, more than ever, aware of the futility of envying others.

You see, we’re all in this earthly boat together. You know that. And all the physical, intellectual, and material comforts in the world won’t protect us from the pitfalls of life. I’m learning not to envy, and I see that my own life truly has been blessed with friends and a supportive family that keeps my life good.  Now, when I see the beady eyes of that monster envy heading my way, I remember that day. I know that, unwitting though she was, it’s by the grace of a stricken young waitress and a loving God that I have a fighting chance at fending it off.

Image: adamr                     Free Digital Photos

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Book

It’s Autumn in New York
A Great Time for Murder!

Hey, I wrote a mystery. And someone is going to publish it. I’m so stunned that I haven’t made an announcement about it on my blog until this very day. I keep waiting for someone to tell me it’s not true, but . . .

On November 1, 2012 my comic-cozy, The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, will be published by Mainly Murder Press, LLC. They are a small, independent,  royalty paying publisher out of Wethersfield, Connecticut.

I’ve been looking for a publisher for many years and have been rejected all over the place. Each time one of them said ‘no’ I went in and re-worked my story. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve revised it. One of my long time and dearest friends, Karen, spent hours on the manuscript and gave me many hand written pages of comments and corrections. I’m keeping them forever and gave her a nickname – the comma queen. Another reader, equally diligent, didn’t care for the last name of my protagonist. Originally she was Minnie Minerva. At Mimi’s suggestion I changed it to Minnie Markwood. Some criticisms I ignored, some cut to the quick and some I’ve taken to heart and rectified. It’s been quite an experience!

A lot of the process of writing a book and finding a publiser is B.O.R.I.N.G.  if you’re not a writer and sometimes even if you are. Suffice it to say that when Judith Ivie, the publisher, emailed and said – Im delighted to inform you that our beta readers and I agree that we would like to publish The Red Shoelace Killer in November, 2012 . . .

I stopped right there – no really – my heart actually stopped. Then there was a long gasp and I held my hand over my mouth as I read the rest. Judith attached the contract which I printed, read (kissed), signed and returned. More instructions followed and I now  have all kinds of things to figure out like back cover blurbs, a log line, ideas for the cover and more. It’s fun, scary, and challenging.

I’m as afraid of failure as anyone else. I’m a little afraid of success, too. I’m not good at tooting my own horn. But I’m eager to enter this new phase of my life. I realize I may never be famous or rich (dang!), but I’ll have had the dream. I hope people will like my story. It’s cross-generational. My Minnie has two nutty twenty something sidekicks, Rashawna and Joel, who bring some youthful bounce to the story.  It’s light and fun – okay, okay, it’s about a murder – but it’s character driven and that’s where the fun comes in.

So enough for now. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next.

Mainly Murder Press, LLC

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Morning Moon

I'm an early riser. Up at six and ready for my coffee. Except now that we've moved the clocks ahead it's pretty dark at six. But I trip down the stairs to get my day going anyway.

One morning last week, I walked into the kitchen and it seemed lighter than it should be. Through our ten foot picture window I could just see a sliver of the bright moon, still shining gloriously over the near dawn landscape. I had to go outside. I stood on the patio and breathed in the cool morning air, knowing the sun was just on the other side of the house waiting to pop over the horizon. But for a few beautiful moments the early morning belonged to that moon and the poet in me rose up. I hope you don't mind.

Morning Moon

This morning I saw the silver moon
kissing the night away;
winking through spidery arms
of trees as they gently swayed.

A little chill caressed my cheek
to let me know that soon,
the sun would rise and bid her go
to some other darkened room.

There to give her light away
on the other side of the earth,
until she wanders back again
with her gentle golden mirth.

Image: anankkml                   Free Digital Photos

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For Writers

Channel the Bloodhound

One annoying phenomenon that plagues many writers is the inability to focus. Whenever this occurs, we would do well to take a lesson from the mighty bloodhound. Once these droopy-faced pooches pick up a scent, they will follow it to its source with the iron-willed determination for which they are so valued. Nothing distracts them from the relentless pursuit of the prey. Taking their lead, when you have an idea, you must stay on the scent until your curiosity and persistence rouse up a successful story.

Think about the following scenarios.

  1. You wake from a dead sleep with an idea burning. The pad next to your bed awaits your scribbling, but what you write makes little sense by lunchtime. You recognize the seed of a good idea, but the comings and goings of your busy day threaten to overcome your desire to pursue it.
  2. After days of intense research and setting up two expert interviews, the latest issue of your favorite  magazine lands in the mailbox and—THERE— is an article on the exact subject for which you’ve just done so much work. Your query to that very editor was nearly written, shining in fact, and now it seems for naught. You can’t shake your black mood for days.
  3. You have decided to do an in-depth analysis of your various works in progress. You have six chapters of a crime novel, two and three quarter kids' picture books, three half finished essays, and four non-fiction, half researched articles in the mix. Uh, oh.
Each of the aforementioned situations has a number of fix possibilities. That fix finds a parallel in the inbred traits that make bloodhounds such useful animals. They follow a scent, even a weak one, until all avenues toward a resolution are thoroughly snooped out. Consider these fixes for the above.

  1. You know there’s substance in those scribblings, don’t you? Something wonderful came to you in the small hours and then slipped just beyond your reckoning.  Keep the writing pad near you all day. Using your heightened awareness, look for signs in your waking hours that may have informed that subconscious thought. Gather the clues and bits, then, as soon as you are able, pound the idea out on your keyboard. Your brain is a marvelous machine. You'll be amazed at what comes to the fore.
  2. Strike the word “black” from your vocabulary and write the article anyway. Pick up the scent of some aspect in your original story and research that angle until it hurts. Get out there and find some other publication with the same editorial bent. Go down any promising new trail. Pick over the bones of those interviews for scraps that may have escaped close scrutiny or approach your experts for an additional quote or two. Spit polish your query. 
  3. Pick one! Finish it.
Bloodhounds when young are independent and willful. The ability is there but without proper training, they lack the focus needed to get the job done. They are brought along by the consistent hand of a trainer and the stimulation of reward. Heightening your own writing senses to mature bloodhound proficiency is a skill and a habit that develops like any other. It takes practice and a keen awareness of your surroundings. Even the best writers pick up a dead end trail now and then, but with your eventual success you will perhaps lend a grateful nod to the example set by man’s droopy faced but highly focused best friend.    

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mishaps - St. Avacado Day

So there I was all excited, bipping around my suppertime kitchen, whipping up a great salad feeling all kinda Bobby Flay.  I grabbed some lettuce, asiago cheese, banana peppers and the  half an avacado I had left from the day before. I thought of how Bobby and some of the other Food Network stars like to show off  their skills with a nice sharp machete-sized knife, whacking that avacado pit right outta the middle. A ‘whack” a smile, a twist and that pit is toast – ready for the old garbage can. Simple.

Except – my avacado had begun to go a little black around the edges with tinges of slime here and there. Hmmm. Well, how hard can it be I asked my silly self. So I take my nowhere near machete-sized paring knife- the one I’ve had for ten years with the broken tip – and attempt a Bobby.

Okay, you know that little cute little winged cherub who’s supposed to have your back especially when you're about to do something really, really stupid? Well, I think the little trollop was out on the patio having a green beer with her favorite Leprechaun just then. Because no warning came! as I raised that knife and sent it flying with full force . . . past the pit and right into the tender flesh between the first two fingers on my left hand. Gaaaahhh! I was flayed!

Now how many times do you think you need to call yourself a Dumb A** before the bleeding stops? Hundreds, my friend, hundreds.

Bleep – bleep – bleep and bleed. I peeked at the carnage with one eye. Pulled away with visions of hacked and bloody chicken joints dancing in my head. Along with the thought that I probably only had those cheap little Snoopy band aids from the Dollar General in the bathroom.

Then I heard the hiccup out on the patio. Grrrr – Leprechauns!

The upshot is – I had hubby staunch the flow with a gauze pad and some white adhesive tape we found – Yay!- and then went out to speak with Cherub.

“I love avacados,” I said to her sloppy, grinning face. “And you let me down! You should have warned me. It’s not the avacado’s fault!”

Then I turned to the Leprechaun. “As for you my green friend – no more St. Patty’s around here. I’m starting a new saint's day, St. Avacado Day! Now Out! “

I felt better after that. I was going to take a picture of my flayed finger, just so you wouldn’t think I made this all up, but I thought it might make you toss your own green beer. The kind made from avacados.  It’s really good.

Happy St. Avacado Day!

Image: My new paring knife

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Here's another one

Ready for another car story? Take a look at #3 in Car Stories. My brother, Tim, dictated it to his lovely wife, Elizabeth, and submits it on behalf of our two brothers who are no longer with us. Jim and Dave had some strange adventures in their day and this story illustrates one of the strangest.

If you can think of a title for the story send it along to me or post it in comments on the home page. Would love to see what you come up with - I for once - was at a loss!

Image: From Tim

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For Writers

Keep That Pipeline Full

Not long ago I hit a high water mark in my writing career by receiving five payments for writing work in the space of a few days. It was quite delightful, but the result of lots of hard work, too. As in any business I invoice or sign contracts with the expectation of payment within a certain time frame. I routinely keep between fifteen and twenty pieces out to markets and as a result those five payments all happened to hit at once. Maybe there was a harmonic convergence going on or something or maybe it’s because my pipeline is always full. That fullness results in a pretty steady flow of payments and is a model for every writer to follow. It also helps to keep a ratio of about 60/40 of submissions that pay on acceptance and those that pay on publication. I offer these tips.

  1. The “evergreens” – Keep track of these and keep the rights to them. I have a whole backlog of once sold essays, kid’s crafts, poems and fillers that I re-visit regularly to see where I can make a second or even third sale. A kid’s online magazine that regularly bought from me folded in 2008 and suddenly I have those pieces to put out there again. I know of at least one writer who sold a non-fiction piece five times garnering him over nine thousand dollars tallied out over several years. He hit it big on the “green.”
  2. Quick Sales – We all have these. There are editors who have become fans of your work and will usually take almost every piece that you write. You know what they want and with a little diligence you can keep your submissions fresh, timely and directed at the readers who probably like your style, too. Do these up when you’re dragging your heels on that novel and need a break. I’m slogging through my second cozy mystery but have recently written three poems (one out for a second sale), an essay and a devotional just to keep my mind engaged and the pipeline fat. Each piece is submitted.
  3. Branch out – Challenge yourself. Have you secretly penned a killer idea for a greeting card or written a witty limerick, but never did anything with them? Of course you were just fooling around or blowing off steam and probably nobody would want them. Right? Well, get over whatever’s messing up your thinking like that and find a market for them. You may think that if you can’t go full tilt in some area of writing that it’s never going to amount to much. But I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. I’ve sold dozens of poems and sold four greeting cards and the nice little checks that arrive as a result are great ego boosters. So what if it’s only bread and butter money – it spends.
  4. Think Big – Yesterday I submitted an essay to an in-flight magazine that pays a dollar a word. Deep down I know my chances are sketchy for publication, but deeper down I’m proud of myself for getting that puppy out. I’ve flown this airline many times and I wrote to the eclectic mix of passengers I’ve observed and interacted with over the years. I think many of them will love the essay if only I can get the nod from the editor. Rumor has it that stories and article published in in-flights are considered real plums. I also read somewhere that writers should submit starting at the top and work down. Well, gosh, I’m game for that idea, how about you? Might as well have a few fat ones in the pipeline and hope for the best. I’ve already got a second market in mind should that editor pass.
Never let a good piece of writing sit for long. Get it into your pipeline as soon as it’s polished. Not too long ago I read an article in The Writer by a man who sold 101 articles in the space of seven months. And he’s only been writing since 2007. The mix of topics he writes about is astounding. His pipeline is full to bursting and yours can be, too. If you’re a crazy workaholic writer like I am, it should be easy. If you’re like the guy I just mentioned, I hope you have a heart like a race horse. But whatever you can do to keep your many writing balls in the air, do it.


Monday, March 12, 2012

New Car Story

My friend and writing buddy Marion Tickner was so taken with my sister Sharon's car story, she sent me some of her own. I've posted one today in Car Stories. Enjoy - there are more coming!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's the Promise

We don’t have a yard, we have property. Oh, part of it is yardy, but mostly it’s mossy ground, stony walkways, a long gravel driveway, sticks and stones and plenty of weedy areas.  So when hubby and I walked the property this afternoon, I got a little bummed. There wasn’t a place we looked that didn’t scream Hard Work lives here. The barn is a mess, the stumps from old trees jut from the wood pile, paint is peeling on the house, mud abounds over by the grandkids sandbox and part of an old fence is down. Ugh.

But then I stopped myself. What in the world was I doing? Here it is, the middle of March, the sun was shining, little birds were darting about and I was looking at all the negatives. Mental head slap. I took a lungful of air. We kept walking, got out to the end of the driveway and noticed our one and only little clump of snowdrops reaching for that sun – and begging us to take a look. We did.

And then I ran and got the camera. I think I was head slapped from on high, too, and it changed my point of view. Sure there’s crud, Hard Work and chaos out there. Hello? It’s the end of winter. But there’s lots of promise, too. Let me show you what it looks like.  

My beautiful snowdrops will be gone soon. I can't look at them hard enough.

The soldier moss stood up to say "I saw a bluebird yesterday!" Part of a kids poem I wrote. Fits, huh?

And here's the Big Daddy of all the promises - John's plowed and waiting garden plot. Mmm - tomatoes!

Then, just as I walked down from the garden, thinking there were no more suprises anywhere,  I spotted these little darlings on the slope. We call them Bluettes around here and they keep their promise every year. These few are the vanguard. Soon they'll be everywhere - a lush blue field spread out at our feet.

Thank you, God!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Almost Garden Time!

Yesterday was so beautiful and warm around here it put thoughts of spring into everyone's mind. Hubby and I even ran some errands together; mostly because he wanted to check out gardening supplies at the local Ocean State Job Lots. He got some peat pots, a bag of lime and some twine for row setting. This picture is from his sweet pea rows last spring. He's already got watermelon and cantaloupe started in his little greenhouse in the barn. The garden will be huge this year.

The early warmth also put me in mind of a poem I wrote for a contest last year. Didn't win or place, but I still like it and share it here with you. Maybe the rhyme scheme isn't perfect but the sentiment is there.

By Susan Sundwall

In my sunny garden
with my rake and shiny hose,
breathing deep the springtime air
sent a mayfly up my nose!

I flailed around, I blew it out,
and stumbled all around;
but didn't see the doggie poop
behind me on the ground.

Stubbornly, I shook my fist,
"I'll get this garden in!"
Above my head, observing,
sat Ms. Spider with a grin.

She waited, oh so patiently,
to get her timing right;
then slowly dropped, without a sound,
into my line of sight.

I sprang up like a rocket;
my foot caught on the rake.
It clonked me in the noggin,
and then I saw the snake!

Some gardening days are diamonds,
and some — well —not so much.
I had to go back in the house,
or soon I'd need a crutch!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


So I have this new vacuum cleaner. It was on sale at Sears last fall, in my color – white and turquoise – and number of horsepower - four. A nifty little canister job. I read online reviews and they were good, too. Before I could even say “here’s my gold card” I had it humming around the house sucking up all kinds of stuff.

As with all my previous vacuums I use it for little tasks one might not ordinarily think of. Like grabbing up flies – in mid-flight - and whisking dried leaf and twig bits out of hubby’s shoes. Now, just to the right of where I’m typing there’s a small file cabinet, almost against the wall. I happened to look between the cabinet and wall a few days ago and reeled back – aghast to see a Dust Bunny Village on its way to becoming Dust Bunny Vegas. Good grief!

“I’ll get you!” I thought and scooted downstairs for my vacuum. Only the nozzle attachment was too big to reach the village. Dang! So I went for second best- my Swiffer duster. You know the one with the duster part you slide onto the yellow handle? Yeah, that’s a picture of it up there. It worked great on the village, but when I pulled it out it was overloaded. Every bunny in the village had hopped on – blech! A lot of over-breeding in Vegas this winter.

I do not know what prompted me to do what I did next. But my trusty vacuum was right there beside me so I turned it on and applied it gently to the end of the Swiffer.

Sluurrrrppppppppp! In two nano seconds the whole duster thingy was a goner. I heard dim echoes of shreiking bunnies.

I quickly shut the vacuum off and popped the top. You guessed it. The duster wasn’t in the bag, it was stuck half way up the hose. Visions of straightened metal coat hangers danced before my eyes. What moron would think she could suck a glob of dust off the fluffy end of that wand dealy bob? Am I four years old or something? Yeesh.

Not to be too hasty about remedies, however, I decided to give trusty vacuum one more go before I broke out the hanger. So I closed the top, turned her on and quickly heard the satisfying “thwock” of the duster being pulled into the vacuum bag. It’s still there.

I love my new vacuum. It really sucks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For Writers

Why Write for Anthologies?

Some say writers should stay away from anthologies but for me, and my writer’s group, writing for anthologies is an all time favorite. It may be true that an anthology is an editor’s dream. There are often hundreds of personal stories and editors have the opportunity to choose only the best of the best for their book. In addition, the relatively modest one time payment per story and a contributor’s copy of the book are usually the only compensation to the writer. But there’s an upside for those writers, too.

ü  No research. The material is all there, tapped from personal experience.
ü  Writing time is short and word count is low
ü  Writing out our memories helps keep them alive
ü  A writing credit is gained

My friends and I have learned the ins and outs of writing for anthologies and, while our daily writing discussions tend to stay on the surface, with this kind of writing our kinship only deepens. When we critique a story, we learn about some of the life affecting moments that helped shape that person’s personality and life view. Four of us actually landed in the same children’s story anthology a few years ago. What a joy filled shout fest it was when we each got an acceptance! Our group experience in writing for anthologies has been nothing but positive, and we’re among the first to be notified by editors when new categories in a series opens up. Bonus!

Nearly all anthologies are themed. This saves the writer from having to come up with a topic. When a series of anthologies becomes very popular, like the Chicken Soup books, the market probably won’t dry up any time soon, increasing your chances of selling one of your stories. Best of all, you’ve got a short piece that’s focused. There’s a beginning, middle and an end, encompassing all the elements of a good short story. The beauty of that is, should your attempt to sell to a particular anthology fail, you have a story in the wings for another market or even a different anthology series.

For example, in response to a call for submissions for a “life lesson” anthology, I wrote a short essay about a pumpkin pie I made as a young girl. The story didn’t make the cut for the anthology, but, undaunted, I sent it along to a regional paper in South Carolina that takes personal essays. The editor snapped it up. Her theme for the autumn issue was memories, so my story was a perfect fit. Not too long after another anthology, I Didn't Get Old Being Stupid, also bought the story.  

We’re a story telling nation. Anthologies take our love of story beyond the break room, over the back fence and away from the dinner table, rounding them up for the wider audience that these books reach. I like it. It’s a good feeling to know that a schoolteacher in Iowa or a retiree in Florida has had a similar life experiences to mine. My writing friends and I seek out anthologies and it just might be a market that appeals to you, too.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A New Tab

Today I'm introducing a new tab titled Car Stories. For many years now, around the dinner table, out in the driveway, on snowy afternoons when the kids are over, the conversation will often turn to cars. When my husband and sons start telling their stories the memories and laughs roll. We have so much fun!

So, I've put out the call among family and a few friends to send me some of those stories and we'd like to share them with you. Our first contribution is from my sister, Shari. If you had to assign an earth symbol to her I guess it would be fire. And you'll see why when you read her story, Gassin Up!

Please let me know if you enjoy this new aspect of my blog. And don't be shy commenting on this or anything else you've read here. I love to read those comments - really I do.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where We Live

Where did you live before? Like when you were a kid or right after you graduated college or got married? Think of those places and where you are now. Think of how you got there. Here's our story.

After five years of suburban living in central New Jersey my husband and I were hankering for a change. And this time we wanted no part of city life. His folks had a small home on a pretty lake in Columbia County a bit south of Albany, New York, and we set our sights on re-locating near there as soon as a job opportunity presented itself. One evening in the late spring of 1977 he came home all excited. The company had openings in two places, one in Albany and one in Columbia, Maine. Wow, Maine. The rock bound coast, lighthouses, cranberry bogs and lobster. They all came to mind and the idea of moving there had a sort of romantic aura about it. As much as we loved the idea of Albany, we began to investigate the Maine possibility with an adventuresome spirit.

“I’ll get as much information from work as I can,” said husband.

And I’ll see if I can get a hold of some real estate information,” I answered back. It wasn’t long before we were poring over newspapers and real estate listings from the area where we’d possibly be living. We were a growing family with three small boys, and like most young couples we had to be price aware. We’d have a tidy chunk from the sale of the Jersey house, but we hoped the very rural location in Maine would get us something a little nicer than what we were leaving.

“Oh, here’s one,” I said, “only two bedrooms but it’s on forty acres!” I kept reading, getting excited now. “Here’s another on ten acres.” Oh, to have land!

My husband had the Atlas in hand and we got our bearings in relation to the Maine coastline and the nearest big city. He ran his finger up past Portland, past Brunswick and Augusta. When he reached Bangor and traced the road east to Columbia his eyebrows shot up. “Good grief, there’s not much out there.”

“This brochure says the population is about 400 hundred people,” I said. Now it was my turn for raised eyebrows. “Are you sure you have the name of the town right?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said thoughtfully. “Hey, Hon, look at this one.” He showed me another listing and we read it together, swallowing hard when we saw, easily accessible by snowmobile.

I had visions of myself, three kids and a load of groceries dashing through the snow on the backside of a Ski-doo. Probably trying to outrun a bear in the bargain. I laughed. “Well, I guess that one’s out.”

Unfortunately in our price range the more we looked the worse it got. Many houses boasted, with electric or near phone lines. Such a bonus! One listing even highlighted a small airstrip. But I think the one that made us realize we’d probably forgo our Maine adventure and stick with the other, more familiar Columbia, was the country cottage that included a year round road. Gosh, it had sounded so perfect otherwise.

We eventually found a 200 year old home in Columbia County, New York, on four acres (land!), and have remained there for almost 34 years. I recently did an Internet search for Columbia, Maine. Seems there’s been a population boom over the years—about sixty new citizens. Even thirty four years later I think I’m glad that doesn’t include us.     

The picture you see up there is from a Father's Day picnic in 2010 in our side yard. I think we chose well.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reeeeecipeeee Day!

One of my most popular articles ever was written about our family recipe box. One of the publications was Sasee. You can read it here. 

When it appeared in Buxmont Living I got a very nice email from a reader who loved  it but she lamented one thing – that I hadn’t included the recipe for hamburger soup. That recipe was given to me at church by a beautiful 70 yr. old, Kitty Johansen,  who was about to move to Alaska to live with her daughter. I've used it for 30 years. And - yes - I sent that reader the recipe.

The editor at Catholic Forester asked for all the recipes in the article, but when I sent them she found she didn’t have room in her publication after all. She said she’d keep them on file. Hmmm – that crafty editor is probably making the homemade granola right now!

If you read the article and want any of the recipes I’ll be happy to send them to you. Just check my contact page. But for today you’ll be getting the one for hamburger soup in Susan’s Extras. If you want some awesome homemade bread to go with it I’ll send you the recipe I found in Grit for salt bread. Easiest recipe in the world! The bread is superb. Right, Karen?

Hungry yet?

Image: Simon Howden                                        

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I have five sisters. Our births were interspersed with the birth of our three brothers resulting in a generation gap of sorts. So there are three older and three younger. Stephanie is the youngest and I am the oldest. We are separated by twenty years. She calls me Alpha and I call her Omega. The other four just smile at us.

Last October the six of us took a trip. I live on the east coast and they’re all in California so it took some wrangling but we got it done. The first trip we’d organized was to happen in May of last year but was deeply disturbed by the death of our mother. My sister Shari had come to visit me before our “big trip” and three days before we were scheduled to get on the plane heading for Charleston, we got the call that Mom was stricken. We booked a flight out of Boston to go back and help, but as we boarded that plane our sister Wendy called to say Mom had died. Last Mother’s Day was filled with sorrow for her passing and joy in knowing she’s with the love of her life, Jesus.

By the time we finally took our big trip we were more than ready.  Over the course of four perfect weather days we had long conversations that tackled the ills of the world, the complaints about husbands, the woes of weight loss and the possibility of seeing an alligator on the lawn outside our town house. We prayed for poor Liz who was suffering with a bad bout of vertigo. Right in the restaurant, The Pirate's House, we bowed our heads while Shari led us in a power prayer that shot straight through the roof and up to God. The waitress, Sybil, stood quietly with our baskets of hot fluffy biscuits and fried dill pickles until we said "Amen!" Those pickles were almost as good as the prayer.  

The picture above is of Stephanie, me, and Pamela. They are twins, the eighth and ninth children of our parents. We’re sitting on a bench outside a small roadside (and truly authentic)  market where we stopped for a potty break - and exquisite pumpkin fritters - on our way to Savannah.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we’re that much closer for all we endured and enjoyed in 2011. I wrote this poem in tribute to them. If you have a sister perhaps you’ll find meaning in it also.

For My Sister

Sister, you always took my side
even when I was probably wrong because
something binds us that goes beyond what
may or may not be the truth.
I’ve counted on
your unqualified support in so many areas of my life,
for so many years of my life.
I look at old pictures and smile; then sadness rears,
because we haven’t become everything we always
said we wanted to be and do. Yet here we are still,
giggling, sighing and raging over all the
troubles and triumphs of our lives.
What would I ever do without you . . .