Category Archives: musings

That Special Girl by John E. Stack

That special, one-of-a-kind girl showed up in my life a few years ago and totally changed my life. She had been badly hurt, even though there were few outward signs. You could tell by looking into her eyes that she felt unloved and was ready to give up on life. God had given my wife and I  a mission – to love. From the moment we laid eyes on her, we fell in love. I will call her Katherine.
My wife and I first met Katherine at a hospital about an hour away from home. Her room was at the end of the hallway. There was a nurse’s station right outside her room, but it was not being used. The lights were out and the hallway was dark. Even though it was daytime, her room was completely dark. Her bed was situated where she could not even see the door.
About the only visitors Katherine ever received were the nurses or the med tech’s coming in to check vitals or to draw blood. The doctors had given up on her and expected her to die, said they figured about three weeks. The nurses didn’t come in unless they had to because they didn’t want to become too attached. So, she was picked up in order to change her diaper, stuck with a needle in order to draw blood. She didn’t know many good touches. Katherine was four months old when we became her foster parents and became totally involved in her life.
My wife and I worked with the nurses and changed a lot of things, even to the point of having her removed from that hospital and transferred to one closer to home. Even if the doctors expected her to die, we weren’t going to give up. God had a different plan. There was something very special about Katherine. I went through a crash nursing course and the nurse supervisor had to sign-off that I knew how to complete certain tasks. It was tough but she was worth it.
Within a few days after having her airlifted to the new hospital, she was discharged and was able to go home with us. She was now six months old but only weighed nine pounds. When Katherine was less than two weeks old she developed a condition, which caused her intestines to die. The doctors removed almost eighty percent of both her large and small intestines. It took a while, but things started to improve, and her health started to improve. We fell deeper in love.
The adoption went through right after her second birthday. She was stuck with us forever.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago. Katherine was watching a video about kids going into foster care with her mom. As the kids were brought out of their homes they carried black garbage bags. “why are they carrying those black bags?” she asked. My wife explained that when social workers remove children from their homes, the kids don’t have much time to pack. They also don’t own suitcases.
Katherine was shocked, “What do you mean? Those kids have to carry their clothes in a garbage bag? That’s not right.” Katherine was upset about this when she went to bed.
My wife had been talking to me about finding someone that would supply some type of bag that social workers could have on hand to give kids if they had to be taken into custody.
The next morning Katherine woke up with an idea. She decided that for her birthday, she wanted her party guests to not buy presents for her, but to buy things that would fit in a string bag. She wanted to have people by tooth brushes with tooth paste, small blankets, small stuffed animals, toys for little kids, etc. She also figured her mom could make or buy some simple string bags and we could give these to social workers or police officers to give to kids when they were removed from their homes.
Her mom asked her about her birthday gifts and she said that those didn’t matter because we would buy her some things. So, on her birthday party invitations, we put a note explaining Katherine’s wishes.
More than anything we received a wonderful gift. We got to see a heart that was willing to give pretty much all she had and hoped to give to other kids that she didn’t even know. She’s my new super hero.
Happy 8th Birthday, to my beautiful, sweet, and wonderful daughter. We love you.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

8 Comments

Filed under John Stack, life, musings, writing

Honey-Do’s Part 2 by John E. Stack

Summer is coming to a close way too fast and I will soon return to school. After nineteen years of teaching math, this year I have the opportunity to teach 7th grade Social Studies, but that is a story for a different time. This is a continuation of my last post about my adventures in the remodeling of our master bedroom and adjoining bath.
First off, let me say that even if you pay fifty dollars a gallon for paint (with primer), there is no such thing as one coat paint. I guess if you prime the walls with a flat paint the same color, but that defeats the concept of one coat. Anyway, the job that should have taken about three days took about a week.  The eleven foot ceilings didn’t help much either.
We used a real cool paint called “Sandstone”. Feels like sandpaper. We used a light gray on three walls and an aqua blue on the fourth. I trimmed it out with white. I thought it was looking pretty good, and I was almost done when my wife suggested that we should also paint the ceiling. Did it need it? Probably. Did I want to spend another day cutting in the edges and then staring at the ceiling for a few hours? No. Did I do it? Yes, and it looks good.
I used an aqua semi-gloss in the bathroom, trimmed in white. I didn’t do the ceiling yet, but probably will before all is said and done. By this time, I was used to doing two coats, so no big deal.
About three years ago, my oldest daughter won a shower door. She could not use it, so gave it to me. She asked if I could take pics of the installation in order to show how easy the install was. Since we were re-doing the bath, I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to install the door. Well, I took everything out of the box and started looking at the instructions, only to find out that the maximum width of the door was one-half inch less than the opening we had. So, I placed it back in the box and ordered a new door. Maybe that one will be installed within the next month or so.
Before the paint was even dry, it was time to go look at flooring. We needed new flooring for the bedroom and for the bath. It started out with bathroom flooring, but I guess the bedroom floor was jealous, so we caved and purchased flooring for the bedroom first. We found an engineered hardwood that looks like weathered planks. It’s nice, and was very easy to install. It took about two and a half days. Since we had no place to store the bedroom furniture, it was move furniture – remove carpet – lay floor, move furniture – remove carpet – lay floor, etc. I got my work-out for those three days, but it looks pretty good with the paint scheme.
The next day, we went to pick-out/pick-up the flooring for the bathroom. We found a gray vinyl plank system that was waterproof. It looks similar to marble. It took about three hours to remove the existing vinyl floor. It consisted of adhesive tiles on top of sheet vinyl. It was nasty. It took another couple of days to place and cut into all the nooks and crannies, and then replace the toilet.
Over the next couple of days, I have to install quarter-round trim in both rooms.  After that, I get to build my barn door. This was the small project that started the renovation. I previously purchased the rail and yesterday I bought the wood. I really wanted to have all this completed before school started, but that might not happen since I only have a few days before I have to go back.
Once I hang the door, I will have spent a little over a month working on this. My wife keeps reminding me that a lot of people have volunteered to help, but you know, there is just something about saying “look what I did.” (Anyway, most sane people wouldn’t want to work with me, because I’m very particular about how things are done.) Maybe next time I’ll include pictures.

 

By the way, I know that some of you readers are used to me writing about foster care, and often about our last little boy, Bill.  We had Bill for almost three years.  I won’t place blame, but the transition to the adoptive home was absolutely horrible for us, for Bill and for his adoptive parents.  It took a while, but Bill seems to be adapting and bonding to his new mom and dad.  So, my wife and I decided to take a few months off from being foster parents, and are now trying to decide if it something we should continue doing.  I am still very passionate about foster care and adoption, and maybe one day I will include a few excerpts from the book I have been working on about real kids in foster care.

 

*** John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

5 Comments

Filed under blogging, John Stack, life, musings, writing

Masks from Travels

I guess most of us collect souvenirs when we travel and I’m guilty of that, as well. Along with photographs and pamphlets or coffee table books and gifts for friends, I also like to try to find a mask or face from each place I visit. I’ve been lucky over the years to be able to find the faces I’ve gathered together for a wall in my music room, especially since the places have been so diversified.

Mask Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For instance, one mask came from Branson, Missouri, here in the U.S. and next to it is a mask from the Isle of Malta and below it is one from Tulum, Mexico. Then there is a rendition of the death mask of Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae from 1550-1500 B.C.E. that I bought in Greece and below that a shell mask from Tarpon Springs, Florida, or a face of Vlad the Impaler from Transylvania, Romania near a classic Greek face from Athens. There’s a hand carved wooden mask from Bavaria and not far from it is a clay face from a craft fair in Montgomery, Alabama.

Malta Mask

Branson Face

 

All the faces have memories associated with them either of the place in which I purchased them or of the people I met along the way, so as I look around my home, I can relive those fond memories of my travels and of the wonderful friendships I’ve made throughout the years.

Tulum Mask

Agamemnon

 

Classic Greek

Mexico

Shell Florida

P1020555

 

I’d love to hear if you are a collector and if so, what do you like to collect? Do you have a regular place for your items? If so, are they where you see them and remember your experiences associated with them?

 

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

11 Comments

Filed under blogging, Coco Ihle, musings, Travel

Talking Trash

Do you have the new automated trash pick-up service in your neighborhood in which each trash container left at the curb gets completely automatically lifted, emptied and crushed, with only the truck’s driver present? No more three man trash guy teams; two for gathering and emptying and one for driving the truck? Well this service started here a few months ago and, call me old fashioned, but I miss my guys I waved to each week, and I worry about how many lost their jobs in the name of modern efficiency.

Homeowners here in my town received advance notice that one new trash receptacle would be delivered to each household and a schedule of pick-up days would be included along with the additional schedule for items for recycling. When my new container arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was huge! A gargantuan, blue, heavy, plastic, wheeled, garbage can that could comfortably hold several of me inside, it had a handle across the top rear surface so one could tilt it back on its wheels and roll it to the curb. I pulled out my yardstick and measured it: 30” x 30”x 45” deep, it came up to just below my shoulders. Maybe for a family of five or seven, it would be adequate with the two times a week pick-up schedule, but for me, that was WAY over the top! And my poor little 100 year old next door neighbor wouldn’t be able to get it to the curb at all since she used a walker. I solved that problem by putting them both out at the same time.

That got me to thinking, though, about when I lived in Germany. We had garbage pick-up once a week and the container we had was one small circular can approximately 15” wide at the top, tapering some to the bottom, and it was about 35” tall. I have no idea how other larger families managed. It was tough for us, three people. The main problem we had was the American packaging of the products we bought at the military base. We Americans love to put lots of packaging around small objects to fool ourselves into thinking we’re getting more for our money. We often don’t bother to flatten or break down boxes that things come in, either, because here in the U.S. there aren’t always restrictions about this. We’re a large country with the room, we think.

It’s actually rather comical watching me with American packaging even today, all these years later. For instance, I buy my orange juice in a half-gallon waxy cardboard container and when it is empty, I squeeze it in the middle with my fingers and then step on it to fold up the bottom and down the top, and while I’m stepping on it I reach down and screw the top back on the carton so no air can expand it even a smidge. Only if it is perfectly flat will it see the dark interior of my garbage can. I’ve caught my son looking at me with that, “Are you out of your mind?” look, complete with matching grin.

Now, I put my perfectly flat trash out once every three weeks unless an odor requires it go out sooner. I’m one person, I don’t generate much trash, but when I do, it’s FLAT!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

16 Comments

Filed under blogging, Coco Ihle, musings

The End Times by John E. Stack

We are in the end times and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. What? No, not THOSE end times, but kids are out of school and report cards come out next week.  Teachers are still working.  The end of the year is full of surprises for students and teachers alike.  I do many things like writing, foster parenting, drawing, woodworking, helping take care of a seven-year-old, and the list keeps going.  But, out of the many things that I do, my main job is that of a middle school teacher. 

I have observed many things.  Some kids will find out that they are not as smart as they think they are.  And, some parents will find out that their kids aren’t as smart as they thought they were.  Some will find that their child was smart and could do the work.  Others will find out that their smart child doesn’t work up to their potential.  And, a lot of this will be the teacher’s fault.

Now-a-days, almost everyone gets promoted, whether they need to or not.  Sometimes the child is just too old be with younger children.  I think fifteen is the maximum age for kids to stay in middle school, so off they go to become someone else’s problem.  Sometimes those children have an epiphany in high school and realize that their free ride is quickly coming to an end and making minimum wage is not enough to survive on.  Others never get it.

I was blessed this year and taught some super kids and I will miss them.  I had an unusual assortment of teaching positions this year.  On one day I taught math study skills to multiple classes of middle school boys and on the next day I was the in-school suspension teacher.  At the end of the second quarter, a teacher went out on maternity leave and I was asked to take over her classes.  Job Change!!!  I became a sixth grade math teacher.

I’m in my nineteenth year of teaching math and I have never taught sixth grade more than one day when another teacher was absent.  It scared me to death.  These were little tiny sixth graders, except for the couple of eleven-year-olds that stood over six feet tall.  I was told I needed to tone down my personality.  But, no matter how hard I tried, that 8th grade teacher inside of me (yeah, the loud one) kept sneaking out.  But I made it to the end, and some of the sweet children actually cried when I had to leave.  They were either tears of joy or sadness, I’m not sure which.  I’ve always said that I bring joy into the life of everyone that I meet, some when I come into the room and others when I leave.  I choose sadness.

But, just like children get promoted, so do teachers.  I spent time in sixth grade and next year I get to spend time in seventh grade.  I don’t get to teach math, though, I get to teach Social studies, American History, to be exact.  Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in the social studies classrooms, usually to harass the other teacher, but never to teach.  That is unless you count my student teaching nineteen years ago, when I taught two math classes and two social studies classes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve lived through a lot of US history, not most, but a lot.  In all actuality, a friend of mine retired and my school lost a math position, so in order to keep me at the school I was selected. Therefore, I still have a job.  There are few things better than a regular paycheck.

So, now I’m out for the summer and real work begins.  Don’t start on how teachers are so lucky, because we get two months paid vacation, ‘cause we don’t.  We are employed for 10 months, so we can elect to have those checks paid over twelve months or we have to figure out how to save and pay ourselves for those two months.  Anyway, I will probably work harder over the next two months than I did most of the year.  My honey-do list awaits.

By the way, since you’re reading my blog, click the link and check out some of my other writings.

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

3 Comments

Filed under fun, John Stack, life, musings, writing

How Not To Write A Novel by Sheila Deeth

The problem with being a published author is that friends sometimes assume I know what I’m doing. I don’t. But I am learning. So here is a list of things I’ve learned about how not to write a novel:

  1. Don’t write what you don’t know. My first novel, written in elementary school, included a woman getting pregnant and giving birth six weeks later. I suspect if I’d had any readers they might have said this couldn’t be true.
  2. Don’t tell your characters to go away. In high school and young adulthood I still wanted to write. But every time I started a novel this character, someone awfully like me, demanded I let her take over. I didn’t want to write about her. I wished she’d go away, but of course, she wouldn’t. Characters rarely obey.
  3. Don’t write about yourself. Hoping to dispel my intrusive stranger, I tried my hand at autobiography. It didn’t work. She  was there again, complaining, “No, that’s you. It didn’t happen that way to me.” I gave up and wrote her story instead, and learned a lot from her. Later she introduced me to someone else, a character in my first-ever published novel, and at last she stepped aside. Thus Infinite Sum was born.
  4. Don’t forget the timeline. But that was later. Before then I gave up on writing novels, assuming they’d need too much time. I stuck to short stories–tons of them–where the same set of characters kept reappearing and meeting over again. One of these turned out to be a murderer, much to my surprise (probably his as well), at which point I decided to stick the stories together into a novel. All went well until my wonderful editor pointed out that one sister aged two years while the other didn’t change. Time for a timeline! Lesson learned.
  5. Don’t expect it to sell. Still dreaming, I still hope that first novel might turn into the start of something spectacular. It’s called Divide by Zero. It’s a tapestry of small town lives woven around a small town singularity. It’s moderately invisible on Amazon. But…
  6. Don’t stop writing, because the more novels you have out there, the better chance you have that one might sell. (That’s the mathematician in me, checking out the odds…)
  7. Don’t write in first person. They told me that long ago and it was easy when I wove Divide by Zero together. With so many characters each chapter clearly belonged to someone else–first person would have been hopelessly confusing. But my second novel was different. My character wanted to tell her tale her way, which meant I had to make sure I wrote in her voice and never mine. Harder work than I expected.
  8. Don’t write from multiple points of view. I didn’t hear this instruction until too late. Divide by Zero was inherently created from multiple points of view. But Infinite Sum enjoys just one narrator (yes, first person), so it’s more straight forward. Then comes my third novel, with two viewpoints warring, and a cat. It’s called Subtraction, and it due for release on August first.
  9. Don’t try to change the time and place. With Subtraction speeding toward release, I’m working on novel number four. In its first life this one was set somewhere else with different characters living in a different time. Now I’m reworking it for the Mathemafiction Series. I have to check up when people started using cell phones, computers, reading online, wearing different clothes… Whatever possessed me to think I could do this? (The characters, of course. They insisted I’d got everything wrong first time.)
  10. And finally don’t rewrite before rereading. Sadly, I needed that piece of advice before Imaginary Numbers took over my life. I don’t even remember where the plotline is meant to go. But the characters aren’t concerned. They assure me they’ll take the right way this time, implying, of course, that I got it so terribly wrong before. They’re bossy, my characters. And they really don’t care one jot about my flagging self-esteem.

So those are my ten don’ts. And now for my dos.

  1. Do read.
  2. Do write.
  3. Do listen.
  4. Do let someone else read what you’re writing.
  5. Then listen well to their advice. It’s sure to be better than mine.

Sheila Deeth is the author of the Mathemafiction Novels, published by Indigo Sea Press. Her first novel, Divide by Zero, weaves a tapestry of small town lives around a singular death. The second book, Infinite Sum, presents the story of a wounded woman finding a path through the infinite sum of troubles in her past. Book three, Subtraction, will be released on August 1st. It tells how a man who’s lost everything might seek a missing child and find himself. And in Imaginary Numbers… Who knows? The novels explore guilt and forgiveness, and Sheila begs your forgiveness for her inability to tell where Imaginary Numbers will go.

4 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, musings, Sheila Deeth, writing

Medicare Redicare

For the last three years, I’ve had the same Medicare company and so this year I assumed my healthcare appointments, coverage, providers, etc. would probably remain pretty much the same as in previous years. However, I’m finding changes and they’ve kind of surprised me. A couple of days ago, I received a letter from my company stating they are “making it easier to take charge of my health.” Are they saying it’s going to be easier for ME to take charge of my health, or that they are making it easier on THEM to take charge? Hmmm.

I decided to continue reading to see if the answer lay further on. Ah, ha! The very next sentence stated my company was working with another company to bring a mobile clinic to my neighborhood in order to give me preventative health screenings close to home. And these screenings would be custom geared to my specific health needs and could be completed in one appointment. Then to top it all off, these screenings would be provided to me at no extra charge. Gosh, I feel as though I’ve won the lottery! All I needed to do was call a certain phone number and I could get scheduled. Wow, huh?

I couldn’t decide what to do with the letter, so, like Scarlett O’Hara I left it sitting on the counter in my kitchen and went on with my day. Then the next day, I received a phone call from a cute sounding young man from my company (we’ll call him “Brad” since he may have called you, too) who asked if I’d gotten a letter from them recently about this screening company. I told him I had and he said he was calling to get me signed up and scheduled for an appointment. How efficient! “Brad” explained that when the results came back from the different tests conducted, they would be sent to my primary doctor and she would discuss the results with me in a subsequent visit.  I told him I thought that would work out well since I was already scheduled to see her for a checkup in early August.

I secretly was thinking it seemed strange to me to have this company schedule screenings this late in the year since each Medicare year begins in January. I may have already had these screenings because I see my primary doctor for a checkup about three times a year, as it is, and each time she covers a screening or two—but what do I know.

I asked “Brad” where the location was of this screening place and he told me it was a mobile unit near my local Winn Dixie grocery store. Then he asked me if I was able to climb a few steps. I told him I was old, but not too old to get into a trailer. I guess it must have been the way I said it, because “Brad” burst out laughing, which caused me to get tickled, too. I was becoming fond of “Brad.” He told me I had a good sense of humor and suddenly I thought of him calling seniors all day who were likely seriously obsessed with their own health issues and probably not much fun to talk with. Poor kid. I asked him if his job was tedious and he said, not at all. He was helping people get the care they needed. Okay, his reply may have been scripted, but he answered so quickly, I felt he was being sincere. Now I was ready to adopt “Brad!”

So I can honestly say I spoke with someone today who seemed to sincerely care. How often do we feel that way these days? I hope all you other seniors out there get a call from “Brad.”

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

13 Comments

Filed under blogging, Coco Ihle, life, musings, writing

Lessons Learned in a Bluebell Wood by Sherrie Hansen

My love of bluebells is no secret.

Bluebells

They bloom in the woods near my B&B every year in late April or early May.

Sporing - bluebells

cropped-bluebells-08.jpg

I’ve watched their pink and purple buds turn into intense, periwinkle blue flowers, then fade to a soft, sky blue, since I was a little girl.

Blue Belle - Jump Canva

I’ve written a book named Blue Belle. The B&B and tea house I’ve owned for 25 years is called the Blue Belle Inn.

BlueBelle 2016

Familiar as bluebells are to me, I’ve recently learned a few new lessons while walking through the bluebell wood.

bluebells - dense

It’s possible to be broken, bent, and beautiful at the same time.  One most likely leads to the other, like the beauty of a mosaic made from broken pieces.

bluebells - broken

You can focus on the beauty of a place, or the ugliness. Stuff happens. It’s your choice what you dwell on.

bluebells - dung

For every hill you struggle to climb, there’s an easy cruise down the other side, and a beautiful view from the top besides.

bluebells - hill

 

Even when you feel hollow and empty inside, you’re a thing of beauty to someone who needs shelter from the wind.

bluebells - hollow tree

Finding your own little niche to grow in is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Bluebells - log

No matter how bad you have it, someone else always has it worse.

bluebells - mud

Being front and center isn’t always the best place to be. Wallflowers are much less likely to get stepped on than flowers that grow in the middle of a pathway.

bluebells - path

You can lift your eyes upward to the tree tops, or follow the shadows down into the valley.  Your choice.

bluebells - ridge

Being uprooted is never fun, but there’s always a bright spot on the horizon.

bluebells - roots

Sunshine or shadow – it makes all the difference.

bluebells - shadows

Some people live lengthy lives in obscurity, others are chosen to be loved intensely for but a moment.

bluebells - smashed

Some are fortunate enough to find a clear, straight, well-marked path.

bluebells - straight path

Sometimes the path winds  so much that you can’t see what’s around the bend. But that’s okay. It’s good to be surprised.

bluebells - winding path

Everything you do and say is a reflection on the things you love most – the real you.

bluebells - water

 

I’m in a time of transition in my life. Are you? Wandering in the bluebell wood, I was reminded that there’s no better way to find your way than in new lessons learned from the comfort of the familiar.

 You can see what’s Sherrie’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

http://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Sherrie’s newest release is Sweet William. https://amzn.com/B01H2TUD3U

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

Sherrie’s next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, Golden Rod, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.

9 Comments

Filed under musings, photographs, Sherrie Hansen

The One-Way Mirror, by Carole Howard

Violinists sometimes claim they play the most difficult instrument. After all, there are no keys to press that automatically produce “C#.” Nor are there frets, as on a guitar neck, for guidance. You need to just know where to put your finger. For every single note – and there are so many of them. (Have you guessed I’m a violinist?)

I have to admit, though, that pianists have it rough, too, with two different lines of music, one for the left hand and one for the right. As if that weren’t enough, the two lines are written in different clefs. (Non-musicians: let’s just say that black dot on one of the five lines of a musical staff can mean different things depending on which clef it’s in.)

Each group has a point. Or, as my friend’s mother used to say, “There are pros and cons on both sides, and they’re all bad.”

Having been a fiction writer who dove, somewhat naively, into memoir-writing, I see that there are pros and cons in both genres. In this case, of course, they’re not all bad. But they sure are different.

My first novel was character-driven. I could use incidents from my own life, but got to pick and choose, and had the freedom to make up whatever I wanted. Having come from the corporate-writing world, it seemed heavenly to give free rein to my imagination, my creativity. Readers didn’t know which parts were fact-based and which were fictional. When people asked if the protagonist was really me, the short answer was no.

And yet, there was that intimidating blank-canvas thing.

The second novel was a murder mystery. Only a little was drawn from my life, and the canvas wasn’t so blank because mysteries have to be constructed in a certain way so they wind up being….. mysterious. Red herrings, false clues, buried truth. So the “rules” were comforting. But they were difficult, very difficult, to follow.

Like I said, pros and cons.

My most recent book is a travel memoir about five volunteer trips, each two months long, to the developing world. It’s not a travelogue: no recommendations for hotels or restaurants. Yes, it recounts experiences I had while traveling – some funny, some inspiring, some surprising, some sad. There was the time I was twenty feet from a silverback mountain gorilla with nothing between us except trees. Or the time I coached sex workers on their presentations to colleagues about the correct use of condoms. We used wooden props – use your imagination!

But the point of telling about these moments in the memoir is not necessarily, “This is great – you should do it too.” There’s a lot more. Character. Reflections. Truth. Certainly, the tools for writing fiction were also crucial for memoir: setting the scene with physical description, creating tension, using punchy dialogue. But making it all into a story was quite a hill to climb.

The strangest thing about having written a memoir, though, is realizing there are a whole lot of people out there who know some pretty intimate stuff about me. Not only do I not know intimate details about them, I don’t even know who they are!

When I’m speaking at a book store or library, this asymmetry is particularly disorienting. And there’s irony, too: People in the audience, if they’ve read the book, know how uncomfortable I feel about public speaking, and yet here I am, speaking publicly. Through the looking glass, or should I say the one-way mirror?

I guess it’s like being naked when everyone else is clothed, aka EVERYONE’S WORST NIGHTMARE!!

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard wrote Deadly Adagio, a mystery with a musical undertone set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.

5 Comments

Filed under Carole Howard, fiction, music, musings, Travel, writing

Read or Not Read

Did my title confuse you, dear reader? Don’t worry, I’ll explain. After my publisher launched my debut book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, in 2011, I gave a number of talks and signings for various organizations to familiarize people with me and my work. In addition, I was on several panels at writers’ conventions in which the subject of the panel had something to do with the panelists’ books, and a signing followed so attendees could purchase said books. For me, there were talks with signings at libraries, art galleries, and civic groups, but there was one thing in common with all these talks. No one had read my book yet. Of course, I’m referring to the public, not people who were associated with the publication of the book itself.

I had been attending writers’ conventions and conferences for a number of years before my first publication, so there were lots of writers whom I had met and also lots of aspiring authors like me with whom to share experiences. In fact, an author friend introduced me to her agent. Although my author friend’s agent wasn’t looking for my particular book, it was a good experience for me to have contact with her. I also did several pitches to agents and editors at these conventions and finally I acquired my agent at a convention. It was all so frightening, exhilarating, exhausting, energizing, deterring and inspiring, and produced both insecurity and later a bit of confidence and I loved most every moment!

In all of these instances people had not yet read my book, so in delivering my talk, I was always aware not to give away any important clue, or say too much about any character. My subject matter covered my motives for writing this particular book and what went into doing so. I talked about how I accomplished the research needed. Everything was general and somewhat vague, so as to not spoil the book for a new reader. I only realized this recently when I was scheduled to give a talk for a book club in which everyone had read my book.

The first part of my talk with this group was like previous ones since most of my audience didn’t know me, but I started seeing smiles of recognition as I went on. I was able to talk more freely, specifically about placement of red herrings, or why a certain character acted a certain way. During my question and answer period, I received some interesting questions that I was able to answer fully without having to be concerned that someone’s reading experience would be ruined by a spoiler. This was the first time since my book came out that I had specific feedback on it.

As an author, this experience was more helpful to me from a writer’s perspective. I guess one could call it a critique session from readers. I really enjoyed this. In this case, my audience was too kind to give me any negative feedback, but I would have welcomed that as well, because one learns from all criticism.

Reviews and comments on Amazon and Goodreads are good too, but in the case of the book club, I was able to interact with my questioners. That isn’t possible, of course, in a review.

The only drawback to doing a talk for a book club is that the author probably won’t sell many books, if any, because book clubs usually read lots of books over time and book stores and libraries usually don’t have enough copies for all the members to share. Since costs of books would get prohibitive, often the prospective readers will buy used books or ones from another vender than one that would provide a royalty to the author. I certainly understand that, but I have to say that’s not a reason for an author to not do book club talks, because I certainly learned a great deal from my experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Yes, we do want to get paid for our work, but sometimes the lessons we learn along the way can be much more valuable than the cost of a few books.

I’d love to hear what you writers feel about this subject.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

14 Comments

Filed under Coco Ihle, marketing, musings, writing