No Words

I met him the day after Christmas.  He was a college student visiting a close friend of his, my roommate’s fiancé.  From our first meeting we were drawn together.  Soul mates.  We wrote letters.   We telephoned.  In those pre-Internet days, over an 80 mile distance, we courted.

And we fell in love.

The day he graduated from college, he proposed.  Foolish me, I thought he was joking.  I mean, I always just knew we’d eventually marry.  Why did he need to ask? Somehow, I was wise enough not to say so.  After a stunned minute, I simply said yes.  A planner, he later said proposing to me was the most impulsive thing he’d ever done.

Before we wed he had to answer Uncle Sam’s call to duty.  He did a tour overseas.  Daily letters helped bridge the distance and gave us time to deepen our friendship.  A month after his discharge, we married.

We saved for and bought a small home.  Later we became parents of a beautiful son.  In three years another fine son followed and I relished motherhood.  He worked hard and also earned his CPA.  He took a job transfer, 400 miles south.  When he went to grad school nights for his Masters, I typed his papers.  I gave birth to our third, another wonderful son.

Another job transfer, this one to the east coast.  A few years later we moved a final time, this time building a house, instead of buying an older one.  We were determined not to move again, to keep our sons in the same schools.  The time sped.  I returned to work.  Our sons entered high school then began to graduate and go on to college.

He continued to work, with a commute that grew ever longer as traffic increased.  During this time he also ran for School Board.  He served as Treasurer and won election after election over a period of 12 years.  He earned the title of fiscal watchdog, working toward financial responsibility, unafraid to cast a dissenting vote when one was called for.

We spoke the same language, liked the same movies, and music.  Though born of different backgrounds, we shared the same values, the same beliefs.  And we talked together, not just the necessary chatter of two people who live in the same house, but deeper conversation.  He was my best friend, and my one true love.  And yet, he could still surprise me.

Always we saved and found time for trips together, to the East (when we lived in the Midwest), to Florida, the Grand Canyon, Quebec, England, and other shorter trips.  It was important for us and our sons.  We loved the adventure.  We loved seeing new places, immersing ourselves in culture and history.

With our sons grown, in late 2010 we flew to Paris and spent a magical week wandering museums, dining out, attending a French mass at St. Eustache, visiting Versailles, cruising the River Seine.  Months later he spoke of returning in our retirement to play an i-Pad accordion on the banks of the Seine.  Other trips also lay before us – Rome, a train trip across western Canada, and a Baltic cruise to Norway and St. Petersburg.

In the pre-dawn hours of November 30th, I woke to a still silence in the house.  I found him laying on the bathroom tiles.  The coroner called it a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  I could not speak.  “There are no words,” said some, writers all.  No words for the shock, and grief.  No words for the unfairness.  His whole life he worked hard, giving of himself for the good of others.  No words, except it shouldn’t have happened.  He should have had more time.

Wrapped though I am in the comfort of family and friends, I feel I’m only moving through life, doing only what is needed. At times I think I’ll walk into the next room and find him there, reading his newspaper, talking to our sons, laughing.  The tears come and go but I’m learning to anticipate them, to sometimes even welcome their healing power.

He is ever in my thoughts.  On Thursday he woke me with a simple word, as he did so often on days he left early for work.  “Debbi,” he said.  And I woke, knowing he’d been there.

On Saturday, for the first time this season, I ventured into the stores with their Christmas mania.  As I roamed the aisles only pretending to browse, I listened and watched.  A mother tugged hard on her daughter’s arm.  A father sternly directed his son to follow his list.  A woman’s harsh voice spoke to her cell.  Part of me ached to tell them, life is fragile and so fleeting. Nurture and love it.  

Love one another.  ♥

Dear Mom

Among the family treasures Mom left behind were packets of her personal letters.  The earliest ones were written to her parents in the months after she divorced my father.  My brother was four; I was a toddler.  Mom was preparing to marry again.  Her new marriage would take her over a thousand miles from home.  Usually she wrote to both parents but one letter was addressed only to her mom, my grandmother.

  “Mother, I know what I’m doing so don’t worry.  I am very happy…and I’m sure everything is going to work out perfect.  (He) loves me and thinks a lot of the kids.  We have very nice plans for the future.  We are so happy when we’re together and we have talked everything over, and we seem to feel the same way about everything.”

Mom, Tim, and Grandma

A twenty-five year old daughter, writing to reassure her worried mother.

A few weeks ago my dear aunt sent me another letter Mom had written, one I had never seen.  This one was written in southern Wisconsin and mailed to my uncle in northern Minnesota.  It was written five years after the letter mentioned above.   By then my brother and I had been joined by two younger siblings.

“The children are going to Sunday School here now at the Faith Lutheran Church….We have been going to church there too, every Sunday since they started Sunday School.”

I know my uncle cherished his sister’s letter.  In those pre-Internet days when phone calls were only for holidays or emergencies, letters were how people communicated, how separated families kept in touch.  Letters were eagerly awaited. Receiving one was a gift.

“We had another letter from Jim and one from his fiancé…Elizabeth.  They are going to be married August 15th.  She sent a clipping of their engagement and her picture out of the paper.”

Just as my uncle had when it was new, I enjoyed receiving this letter, so many years after it was written.  It brought back precious memories from days gone by.  It gave me a glimpse into our family’s history, written in Mom’s fine penmanship.

“(All of us) went for a picnic in Palmer Park on Sunday.  Really enjoyed it.  The (kiddies) went in the pool.  We roasted wieners and marshmallows.”

This picture is from another Sunday, in another park, but the same year, and with the same people.  Along with Sunday School, picnics became a regular event, an inexpensive way to gather with family, and enjoy each others company.  I’ve had a copy of this picture for years but when I read Mom’s words about the picnic, it reminded me anew of those warm, carefree days.

In the letter my aunt sent me, Mom also wrote about my little sister’s illness, and of my step-dad’s still fledgling business, how much money he’d earned the week before, and his hopes for a city contract.  These small details make this particular letter even more priceless, more poignant.  More poignant still is what she could not write in it.  Just over a year later, an unforeseen accident would take the life of her youngest son, my brother Tim.

I believe in the value of holding on to old family letters.  While some details may seem insignificant now, in a few years time they’ll refresh treasured bits of memory, and serve as a part of family history.

The Internet has pushed letter writing into obscurity.  For the wordier among us, it has been replaced by e-mail.  Others rely on Facebook or Twitter for rushed messages. Twitter only allows 140 characters but a lot can be said in a few words.  I can almost see a snippet from one of Mom’s letters tweeted to the masses “Baked a chocolate cake today.”   Those words alone would remind me of her.  Of course, it wouldn’t be in her handwriting, on the prettiest stationery she could afford.

I do like aspects of the new social media.  I love the ability to almost instantly see pictures of my grand-nieces and grand-nephews blowing out their birthday candles.  I love the shorthand way of sending an animated electronic greeting card.  And I know how very much military families treasure frequent e-mailed messages from loved ones serving overseas.  I do hope they think to print them, or save them in some manner, for the future.

Tucked away, tied in ribbon and stacked in a sturdy box are letters my husband wrote to me when he was stationed overseas.  In another box are those I wrote him.  We haven’t looked at them in years, but each one was received with as much joy as any e-mailed message.  In old age we’ll sit down and re-read these letters written and mailed with love, and loneliness.  Memories will awake.

Do you save old family letters?  How long has it been since you received a handwritten letter in the mailbox?  How long since you sent one?   ♥

Thanksgiving Blessings

As we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let’s each take time to reminisce on holidays past, and those blessings yet to come.  Finally, may we rejoice and be grateful for the good in our lives today.

May you and your loved ones enjoy a peaceful, memorable Thanksgiving. Happy Turkey Day to all! ♥

 

🙂

Self-Publishing – A Cautionary Tale

Wikipedia defines a vanity press as “a publishing house that publishes books at the author’s expense.” The term vanity is apt.  A book from a vanity press is most commonly born from a writer’s need to be published, whatever the cost. There are no gatekeepers at a vanity press. The only limits are the size of the author’s wallet and the amount that author is willing to spend on a dream.

Early on in writing, I learned that vanity publishing was to be avoided. English teachers, critique partners, and other fellow writers all spoke of self-publishing as the bad boy, the guy from the wrong side of the tracks – undesirable for one pursuing a respectable writing career.

The birth of the Internet then e-publishing and e-readers blurred that definition. Suddenly anyone could self-publish, regardless of the size of one’s wallet.  The limits were lifted.

Joe Konrath at WisRWA 2010

I first heard Joe Konrath speak at the WisRWA Conference in Spring 2010, but I wasn’t ready to hear his gospel. I don’t remember much of his talk (but I did take a great pic at the book signing; he signed a peanut for me :wink:).  Guess I still hoped some traditional publisher would recognize my brilliance and wave a favorable contract before me.  But e-Publishing?  Wasn’t that the same as vanity?  No thanks (sorry, Joe).

Then came the RWA National Conference in New York City in June 2011, and the buzz about self-publishing. At dinner one night, author Mary Stella mentioned Joe Konrath’s name. Her zeal touched me.
When I returned home, I looked up his column, The Newbies Guide to Publishing. I started educating myself.

Was self-publishing the right path for my full-length novels?  Could I do it freely?  Would it harm my reputation?  Then I realized, what reputation?  I wasn’t published. Despite some contest wins, at the rate I was writing and submitting, I wasn’t likely to be. Publishing something, anything, would give me a stake in the new world. I could learn the ropes until my novels were ready.  For the first time in ages, I grew excited about writing.

So a few months ago, using free guidebooks, I formatted and self-published two little e-books.  I paid $10 each for an ISBN from Smashwords but that was my only cash outlay, and it wasn’t technically necessary.  You don’t need an ISBN to publish on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  And yet now these little books are available on Kindle e-readers, the Nook, on Smashwords, and other e-reader sites. I’ve even had some sales. It can be done.  More important, in a few months time my first novel will go online.

I believe there’s a huge difference between independent self-publishing and vanity publishing. Both may have the same result – a published book.  But in indie publishing the author is empowered, working freely.  In vanity, the author pays someone else for the opportunity to work.

This past week I read that Penguin Books has created a company called Book Country Fair.  For a premium price of $549, Penguin’s Book Country will format an author’s book and publish it on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on.  There’s no editing.  No cover.  You’ll need to provide those at your own expense.  Oh yes, in addition to the $549, Book Country also takes 30% of the book’s royalties, for life.

By publishing through Book Country, on an e-book sold by Amazon for $2.99, an author earns $1.47 (plus pays the initial upfront fee of $549).  By comparison, if an author totally self-publishes on Amazon, each e-book sold for $2.99 earns the author $2.05.

Why would anyone want to publish through a vanity press?

I urge you to read more about this issue on the following sites:

I’m adding my voice to the chorus.  If you choose to self-publish your work like a growing number are doing, please do NOT pay out a large upfront fee AND royalties, such as those charged by Book Country Fair and other vanity publishers.  It’s simply not necessary.

Finally, please share this with others by clicking the button/s below.  All comments are welcomed.   ♥

The Times They Are A Changin’

       “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

On Saturday, October 29th, those of us living on the U.S. East Coast were pummeled with a pre-Halloween storm. “A fifty-year storm,” one weatherman called it. By early evening over a foot of snow had fallen. Our trees, still holding tight to their brilliant autumn leaves, were quickly blanketed with wet, heavy snow. Branches began to droop dangerously low.

We lost our power around 1:30 PM. I was at my desk writing on my computer when the lights flickered on…off…on…off, in rapid bursts, as if struggling to hang on. Finally the power failed altogether. Lamps, computers, and all things electrical went out.

The electric igniter on our gas range didn’t work, but that’s what kitchen matches are for. For a late lunch, I heated chicken rice soup on the stove top instead of the microwave. And instead of completing another chapter on my computer then watching Bride of Frankenstein on the television as planned (it is almost Halloween), my husband and I spent a few hours engaged in deliciously quiet conversation.

After a time, a dear friend called from Wisconsin and we caught up on her life, and mine. Then my brother and sister-in-law called from their nightmarish vacation in Hawaii. (Yeah, nightmare…in Hawaii, but that’s another story.) More talk. I’m glad we still have a non-electrical land line. My cell phone battery never would have lasted.

Our power was restored before nightfall. We were lucky. As I write this, many in the East are still without electricity as diligent linemen work non-stop.

Youngest son called home around 11:30 PM. His bus from New York City had been cancelled so he took a different line but it didn’t go to where he’d left his car. So, around 1:00 AM middle son and I drove to a Park and Ride to bring him home for an unexpected overnight visit. On the drive there we skirted four fallen trees.  This morning revealed cracked branches in our own backyard.

Such were yesterday’s small adventures, courtesy of the changing weather patterns. But global warming and changing climate, if that’s what it was, isn’t the only change going on in the world. Change is constant, and it is everywhere.

“The only thing constant in life is change,” wrote French author François de la Rouchefoucauld in the 17th century. Given the times he lived in, the man well knew what he was writing about. So, too, did Bob Dylan. His classic 1964 song, “The Times They Are A Changin‘” became an anthem during the Viet Nam peace protests of the 1960’s as well as the Civil Rights movement. It maintains its popularity.

This morning I watched a news story on CBS Sunday Morning about Asian carp that have escaped from Arkansas to the Illinois River, and the havoc these vicious leaping fish are wreaking. The story told of other invaders to the U.S., the Kudzu vine creeping across southern states, the Burmese python slithering through Florida, and others. A sign of our changing world as species once unknown in this country flourish in a landscape with no natural enemies.

Gunpowder caused massive change in the Middle Ages. The invention of steam engines heralded the Industrial Revolution. In today’s world, along with weather and environmental changes, the primary element of change is technology and its many ramifications.

Earlier technology – telephones, radio, and television gave way to computers, microwaves, cell phones, i-pads, e-readers. The list grows daily. Keeping up with hardware, software, and applications is not always easy, especially for this aging baby-boomer.

As writers, the change in most minds is the transition from traditional publishing to e-publishing. The issue is more complicated than it might seem to those unfamiliar with the topic. What is happening is creating a far greater change than if inventors had simply built a better printing press for established, traditional publishing companies.

E-readers and companies like Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble, have given writers (not just publishers) the ability to publish electronically and distribute that work easily, efficiently, and cheaply – all without the need for traditional agents or publishing houses. For the first time in history, writers have become empowered, in charge of their own careers.

Will a lot of rubbish be published? I imagine so, but doesn’t that already happen in print publishing? How often have you paid good money for a print book by an author everyone raves about, only to toss it aside? There will be bad writing in e-publishing, but I believe good writers will also emerge, outshining the bad. Professional writers will create stories that today’s editors and agents, many barely out of college, now reject simply because “it won’t sell” or “it doesn’t rock my boat.”

Writers will win, and so will readers as stories of all lengths, all genres, all topics, become available. And traditional publishing?   Change, my friends, is constant.  Plunge in, move with it, and join the dance.  ♥

NJRW – 2011 Writers’ Conference, Day 1

This weekend I’m attending the Put Your Heart in a Book writers’ conference sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers.  Three hundred plus writers, agents, and editors are gathering to celebrate writing. It’s a much anticipated, much loved regional conference. Many arrived Thursday to hit the ground running early Friday morning.

In Friday’s three-hour Pre-Conference workshop, NY Times and USA Today best-selling author Brenda Novak spoke on Emotion: The Heart of the NovelA few highlights from her talk – Creativity happens in a series of tiny sparks, she said.  The more ideas we have the better.  Take risks.  Expect to make lots of mistakes.  Develop a network of colleagues.  More than anything, she said, creativity is about hard work and sticking with it.  I especially enjoyed her words on subtext in our writing.  We write who we are, she said then told of a writer who’d written a stellar lighthearted contemporary; every part was technically perfect – the plotting, dialogue, character development.  But the inherent negativity of the author bled through and the manuscript never sold. Subtext, she said, will leak through.

After Brenda Novak’s superb presentation, I joined up with three writers I’d met last year – Laura Thomson, Marta Bliese, and Laurel Wanrow.  All are members of the Maryland Romance Writers.  We stepped out into the chilly October air and across the parking lot to the Kona Grill for lively conversation over lunch.

Friday afternoon was divided into three forty-five minute workshop sessions.  Each time slot provided a choice of six workshops to attend.  For my first session, I chose to hear Brenda Novak again, this time speaking on Networking: Sowing the Seeds of Success.  The equation for writing success, she said, is to present a quality product (our writing), have an eye for opportunity, a credible source (can you deliver?), and the right networking mentality.  She gave pages of helpful info in a short amount of time.

My second session was given by award-winning author Annette Blair who writes single titles and vintage magic mysteries.  Annette spoke on Stuck in the Middle – A Life Raft of Solutions.  She recommended reading Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY (several times), and referred also to workshops by Barbara Wallace and Deborah Hale.  The more conflict in your story, the more pinches and twists, she said, the stronger your middle will be.   She passed out a worksheet that she advised using as a template for our sagging middles and which we reviewed in detail.  Incredibly helpful.

My third and final Friday workshop was NY Times bestselling suspense author Laura Griffin.  Her topic was How to Make Any Book a Page Turner.  We need to open our book with a character the reader can care about then immediately introduce conflict into the story.  One of her many suggestions:  Each chapter must end with a hook.  Beyond that, she said, end each chapter with a powerful and vivid word.  Instead of “a pool of blood on the floor” write “on the floor was a pool of blood.”  More vivid, more emotional.

At 6 pm we all gathered outside the Diamond Ballroom for a cocktail reception before the awards ceremony.  Midway through wine and pasta, fire alarms blinked and blared, although the sound was muffled by our conversations.  We were asked to vacate to the parking lot and front lobby area.  Fire trucks arrived and firemen trooped into the building.  The adventure sparked some writers’ imaginations and provided fuel for some future scene. 😉 Within several minutes, though, we were allowed to return and resume our reception.

Each year, NJRW honors its contest winners in an awards ceremony.  The Put Your Heart in a Book award is for unpublished writers.   This year’s winners:

Put Your Heart in a Book

  • Short Contemporary – Judith Wherett – RUNNING FOR HER LIFE
  • Single Title Contemporary – Jeanell Bolton – PASSION
  • Historical – Dianna Quincy – TEMPTING BELLA
  • Paranormal – Dawn Groszek – ROSE OF HOPE
  • Romantic Elements – D. B. Schuster – BREACH OF CONTRACT

The Golden Leaf is awarded to those contest winners who are published with an RWA recognized publisher.  After each category’s finalists are announced, an intriguing snippet of the winning entry is read by sultry-voiced Anne Walradt.  This year’s winners:

Golden Leaf

Hall of Fame Inductee, Cara Summers

When authors succeed in winning three Golden Leaf Awards within a category, NJRW inducts them into the Golden Leaf Hall of Fame.  Friday’s ceremony was crowned by inducting two such authors – historical author Hannah Howell  for her award-winners in the Novella category, and Cara Summers for her award-winning Short Contemporaries.

After the awards ceremony I was invited to attend a late night gathering hosted by the group from Maryland Romance Writers.   Several of us sat talking, laughing, sharing our stories, and working through two pitch sessions.  Saturday would be another full day.

Writers, what did you find most valuable about this conference or another you may have attended? Please share your comments.   ♥

Listen to the Universe

That whisper you keep hearing is the universe trying to get your attention.    ~Oprah Winfrey

The past months have been crazy-busy.  While trying to keep current with day-to-day tasks at my office day job, I’ve had new projects and programs to learn.  At home I’ve been writing steadily, preparing my work for launching.  Through it all, I’ve been desperate to read and absorb all I can about the ever-changing world of Indie Publishing.

Still, this week I’ve had moments when I’ve heard the whisper of the universe.  They’ve jarred me from intense focus and opened my eyes to a sense of the world’s wonder.  None of the moments were huge. No weddings or childbirths.  No grand championships, or lottery wins.  Just everyday events that softly nudged my soul.

On Friday at work, a new mom brought her seven-week old son to the office to see his grandfather.  I was just coming back from lunch when I saw them walking toward me in the hall. We stopped and talked. Smiling, I watched mom hand the babe to her dad.  He lifted his grandson (his first), cradled him against his shoulder, and gently rubbed his back.  A few co-workers gathered round ooohing and ahhhing, as we women tend to do when we look on a new baby, especially a cutie like this little guy. And while I watched the proud grandfather hold his sweet, sweet grandson, I felt a tiny tingle as the universe whispered. This is life.

Friday night we attended our high school’s football game. Both teams were undefeated. In the chilly October air, hubby and I sat close on the metal bleachers, atop a red plaid stadium blanket that pre-dates our thirty-something sons.  From the booster clubs’ refreshment stands, the scent of hamburgers and fries drifted our way. The bands blared, crowds roared and feet stomped shaking the stands as plays were intercepted, players were tackled, and finally took the ball in for a touchdown, and then another.  Final score – 20 to 16.  We’re still undefeated. 🙂  We don’t go to games often, but when we do, I hear the universe whisper.

Saturday evening, four in our family went out for an early dinner to celebrate son #2’s birthday.  We sat at the table sipping coffee, munching simple food, licking our lips over ice cream desserts.  Throughout the meal we caught up on each others’ lives, and reminisced about earlier times.  They talked of the time son #2 cut his younger brother’s hair.  “You cut his hair?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “You wrote a column about it.”  Funny, I had no memory of the event, or my article.  “How old were you?” I asked.  “Young enough that I was using those little kid’s safety scissors.”  Still no memory, not even of the article.  He shrugged.  “Maybe I cut it up with the safety scissors.”  More talking, laughing, savoring our time together.   And as we parted with warm hugs outside the restaurant, the universe whispered again.

We drove home, passing broad farm fields filled with brittle cornstalks.  Off in the west the sun was setting in a brilliant yellow-red glow, radiating off the clouds.  I wanted to take a picture but was afraid we’d be too late to catch it at home.  My husband turned and drove up to the old Indian Tower on a hill high above our town so I could capture some of the fading brilliance.  And once more, the universe whispered.

It is easy to let precious moments slide by in a rush of daily routines – going to work, cleaning, laundry, shopping.  But as writers, and as humans, we must pay close attention.  Such little moments are gold to claim and commit to our stories, not only to make them real to the reader, but also to live on in our memories.  The velvet feel of a baby’s silken skin.  The proud love in a grandfather’s face.  The blare of a high school band after a touchdown.  Laughter at family stories.  Aroma of strong coffee. The fading brilliance of an October sunset.

I’ve read that the secret to good writing is to just write.  But in our writing we must also learn to pull raw emotion from our daily lives, to transfer those feelings to the written word.  No heightened soap-operaesque overkill, just simple human emotion.

We must listen to the universe.   Thank you, Oprah.  ♥