Monday, April 23, 2018

Box of Memories

This past weekend I spent a day going through a file box of old writing. When I say old I mean pre-computer: before I owned a typewriter up to when I finally owned a typewriter. The earliest thing I found with a date was in mid-1973. I married in January 1974 at age 17.

It is always interesting to look back at things you've written. Usually, I'm encouraged by how much my writing has improved over the years. I'm not sure it helped much this time. You see, I've been feeling very down about my writing. The last year has been a disaster and even saying it makes me feel guilty. I should have been writing. I shouldn't have been sick! I shouldn't have ruptured a disk in my back. I shouldn't have had to have surgery. I shouldn't have rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia, or chronic pain, or nerve damage.  I. Should. Be. Writing! But I didn't. Hardly any.

This isn't news. I've written about it ad nauseam, and for more than 10 years the cycle has repeated. I get started and am pumping out the words and boom, and two weeks in I'm hit with a flare. Joint pain, muscle pain, migraine headaches, back pain, fatigue take turns. These days the fatigue is scary. After my surgery, I was excited at my improvement. By the end of December, my severe neck and back pain were gone. I made up my mind I could learn to live with the nerve damage in my hand. It hurt, but I could use it and I would not let it hinder me. The New Year seemed promising.

It wasn't until the first part of April that I recovered from two colds, but I was still tired. In fact, my fatigue has been so bad that some days I sleep 12 hours.

I've been so bummed over all this that I decided to toss in the towel. Yes. I said give up writing. Forget it. Pack up all the junk and either put it in a trunk in the attic, which I don't have or burn it in the next cookout. I'm tired of trying. I'm tired of getting up with a plan only to find I'm knocked out by 9 a.m. until noon.

I can't tell you if the pain of my illness is worse than the pain of never writing again. I can take a pill to numb one of them. The other, not so much. Then, I opened that box and started pulling out files. For several hours, I read over each page. The first thing I discovered was that my handwriting is as bad today as it was when I was 15.

However, the words were familiar and I could remember the days I wrote the earliest poems. I remember the spiral notebook I wrote them in. The cover had a pretty mountain scene I loved. I'm still a sap for pretty notebooks. Here's one right out of that notebook. I've kept the format and errors.

I Love You
I love you more than I can tell,
I love you more than water in a well.

I love you more than mountains high,
I love you more than stars in the sky.

I love you more than the ocean deep,
I love you more than I love sleep.

I love you more than the valley low,
I love you more than you'll ever know.

I love you more than the sun and moon,
I love you more than Sunday afternoon.

I love you more than the birds and bees,
I love you more than flowers and trees.

I love you more than a clock can time,
And I'll love you beyond the end of time. 

By Cynthia Patch
(written about 1973)

Yeah, I know. Corny. I was barely 16 and back then things were a lot more innocent. You'll notice this was before my marriage. I didn't even have a boyfriend at this point.

In those days I wrote with a Bic school bus yellow, AF-59 accountant pen. If you remember those, you're old. I loved those pens. You could get them in red, blue, or black. I used the blue, and the pen wrote such a nice clean line. I don't know when I stopped using them, but I doubt they make them anymore. That could be when I stopped using them. When I read the early poems, I could see the pen and remember the feel of it in my hand. These days, I can't hold a pen that slender and the ink has to be either liquid or a gel to limit the need for pressure.

Jump ahead 20+ years, to February 28, 1995, my last year of college. I was taking Creative Writing with Patti Aakhus. I was sorry to hear she passed away a few years ago from cancer. I loved her class. Here's a poem I wrote in that class.

She smiled, she laughed, she chatted
Stepped close to the wall of backs
Slipped into the circle
Breaking the bond with strange words and strange clothes.
Faces with slide away looks
Turn away laughing, silencing.
She cried broken tears that covered her sharpness
And sealed the approaches.

When I read this I was brought up short. Did I write that? Wow. I know, not earth-shaking poetry but I really like that. I lived that!


Look into my palm
tell me what you see
Tell me if the broken lines
are things that happen to me
Broken dreams, broken hearts,
and broken toys, you see?
Broken by these hands of mine
with all its broken lines.

That is another in-class poem, and I love it. I don't remember if I liked either when I wrote them. I have lived a bit longer and now, I understand them. They mean something to me. Honestly, I wrote more poetry in that class than I had since I was 15. And you can see the difference. I "feel" the difference.

The trip down memory lane gave me some encouragement but it also disappointed me. I've wasted too much time and allowed things to get in the way of the writing. I read in this month's Writers' Forum something that resonated with me. In his article, Tales from My Guru, Hugh Scott said:
"Disappointment comes because you are focused on being published, whereas your focus should be on creating. That is getting on with the writing, enjoying the jigsaw-placing of word into word, the genius of dropping one idea on to another, the excitement of finding a phrase that expresses, oh, precisely what you want to express, and the discovery of rhythms that no one in the world has ever put on paper, and the silent beat of drums arising from the page, and the rocking laughter at the lunatic jokes that demand to dance on your keyboard. Oh, and a thousand other things that are nothing to do with being published but everything to do with creating!"
And that's the truth. Just write and stop worrying about blogs, platforms, social media, and publishing. Write.

I'll finish it here. I think I need to address the constant focus on my illness and instead, focus on the thing that makes me feel like I'm alive. Maybe I'll feel better then.

Here's one final find for this post. I have no idea when I wrote it but I suspect it was in the 80's. I don't know what it was going to be. I only know that now, it feels finished.

I thought of you this morning
When I stood at the window, yawning,
And I smiled.
Good night.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Cost of Doing Business

I was going to share this meme on my Facebook page, but it reminded me of when I actually bought books for $4.99 or less.

In the late 60's I was around 13 and I remember getting a cash gift from my grandparents. It was an embarrassing amount, and I spent it on a pile of gothic novels in the bookstore! I was so excited. They sold for 79 cents each! I had at least $40.

I was a member of the Weekly Reader Book Club around the same time. Mama let me get new books every month. I can still name some of them!

In the 70's and 80's I was a member of the Doubleday Book Club and getting a real bargain every month on half dozen books. Over the years, I was a member of several book clubs but Doubleday was my favorite. You could buy a hardback book for less than $10. In hindsight, that's astounding. Now they're closer to $30, although book clubs might be lower.

Over the years, I've owned thousands of books. When we moved to Germany in 1977, I had to leave behind about 800 books. When I moved back to the states two years later, I left behind another 700 books. I used the base library, too. Over the years, I've collected many times that and with every move, my husband threatened to divorce me. One day I was going to have a room devoted to books.

When I started college at in 1988 at 31, I was in heaven. I had to buy lots of books. I read lots of books. I even researched lots of books and spent hours pouring over historical books in the library. I had books on Russian, European, Latin American, and American history. I had books on dinosaurs, psychology, anthropology, archeology, and communications. That was only for school and didn't include my pleasure reading.

By this time book clubs were almost a thing of the past so my book purchases were at the store price. I frequented second-hand shops and a couple of local used bookstores. I was still a sap for Book-a-Million, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Barne's and Nobel. You could always find good stuff on sale, too.

These days I dare you to find a book by an author you love for $4.99 outside a discount store or second-hand shop. I also dare you to find Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in a mall. You won't. In fact, you won't find a lot of bookstores anymore. The meme made me remember all the books I owned and how much I'd spent over 40 years on books. Despite all the books I bought over the years, if it wasn't for the library, I'd not read more than a few books year. I suspect this is a factor in why books sales have declined. Many people can't afford to buy many new books because of the price. Believe it or not, a lot of people don't own a Kindle.

I bought two series of 6 books each for my granddaughter this past Christmas. They're paperback books. Those two 6-book series (only the first two installments in a much, much longer series) cost me over $70. I bought three more books from the series that didn't come in a boxed set. These cost me around $40. That's a lot of money on books. She had already read the third boxed set at school and is in love with the series. Can you see where this is going? I could spend $1000 on this series for her. I won't. Her dad and stepmom bought three more of these books. I told you it is a huge series by author Erin Hunter. The total spent on 18 books is about $150. Hunter should love us.

Don't get me wrong, I understand how hard it is to write a book. I am a writer. But I also am a reader who is on a limited budget and books are not the priority. They are a much-loved luxury that I have to plan for. I do buy books but only when I can afford it. I use Kindle a whole lot but I prefer to buy paper books of those I want to collect. I just ordered a new release from my favorite author and it cost me $15... for a paperback. I wouldn't have done that for anyone I didn't know or who wasn't an author I was sure was excellent.

So, yeah, I wish I could buy books for $4.99. I've read 22 books since January 1. My kindle has about 600 books on it, in a wide variety of genre. I will tell you that most were giveaways. There are a lot of public domain books because I love classic literature. There are about two dozen reference books on it. Most of the time I have a couple of library books on it. I obtained a lot of novels from authors giving away sets of their older novels to generate interest.

I can't tell you how many of my Kindle books were free new author books. As a result of these, I discovered some great new authors to add to my collection. The vast majority of these (free) books are not worth $4.99. In fact, it would embarrass me to give away some of them if I were the author. I've deleted many free books from both my Kindle and my Amazon account after I'd read a few chapters. Yes, they were that bad.

It is important for writers to remember that readers want quality, and readers are willing to pay for it. Yet, I'm not willing to pay for mediocrity or plain rotten writing. The author is not always the best judge of quality and it shows in many of the novels turned out by indie authors. Some books are not worth a plug nickel. I'm sorry if that hurts, but it is true. Of course, a lot of authors think their writing is horrible but I can tell you, not enough of them think that.

Writers need to get used to people complaining about the price you ask for your book. It is a fact of life, whether the books are worth it or not, most especially if it is not. The best way to ensure that they buy more than the first one is to make sure it the very best work you can do. Edit, rewrite, edit, and revise as many times as it takes. Find a good editor, someone who will get tough with you. Ask people you don't know to read it and tell you the truth. Accept that truth with graciousness and view it as an education in writing.

If someone is editing for you, their suggestions are to help you make that story better. They're not an insult to your character. I love editing but telling a stubborn writer to fix their grammar, rewrite paragraphs, or change sentence structure is daunting. Don't be that writer. If you're not willing to make changes, you're not ready to publish it.

Once you've got a well-written book, you won't have trouble selling it. They'll still complain about the cost. That's called the cost of doing business. Incidentally, I don't by that $5 specialty coffee either. I make my own flavored coffee at home, and my coffee is good curled up with a good book.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What I've Been Doing Lately

I mentioned I've been working on some things. While "real" writing hasn't been happening, something else has but I can't decide what you call it. I wrote but not on the main story. Instead, I worked on background information. I rarely do this but this story has so much going on and there is such rich history that I need some clarity and I need to hone it down into relevant bites. I don't need the whole history but I do need to understand it.

So, that's what I've been doing. I share it below just so you can understand what I'm talking about as well.

The first thing I worked on last week was the setting. The Realm of the Sacred Territories is a country ruled by a monarchy with 6 nation/states under one king. So, it's a bit complicated. There are connections, as there always are in these kinds of countries. Everyone in the ruling houses is related to everyone else. I don't need to know all of them but I do need to understand the way they're connected both politically and geographically. Things are happening here and it is all connected.

Next, I turned my attention to the religious order, The Order of the Holy One, that plays a huge role in the story. My main character is a member of this order and because of this, I have to understand the way it works and why. I began the story thinking I could gloss over it, but the farther I got into the story, the more I realized it is very much a part of my character and as such, is a character as well.

I've spent the last two weeks, when I did any writing at all, working on these two items. There are probably more changes and clarifications to come but I think now I need to stop and work on the story more. I've elected to work on two stories because this one bogs down quite often. There are two main characters - two POVs. Trying to weave them together is tedious and I haven't found a method that worked well. I'm at the point that I think I have to write two distinct stories and then arrange them in a sensible order. I don't know if that is possible either. We'll see.

You can view the two documents here. They won't tell you the story but they will give you a sense of the country and the some of the history that influences the events in the story. As always, comments are welcomed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Things I've Done

Since I've talked about things I'll probably never do, I decided to look at what I've actually done. I've always thought I lived a pretty average and boring life. However, when I remember a southern girl from a small town in South Alabama and what she accomplished, it looks a whole lot different.

At 17, I married. We'd known one another for about 6 weeks. No, we didn't "have to get married", although there were nasty people who suggested it. They said it wouldn't last but it lasted 35 years and was ended by death. He's a nasty one, too.

I didn't have children for the next 5 years. Later we were glad it worked out that way because we had a lot of fun just being together. And a lot of hardship. But, during the next 35 years, we did a lot of stuff!
  • Lived in 5 states and 2 foreign countries in 35 yrs. 
  • In first 6 years of our marriage, we moved 100 times. No, we didn't "like" moving. 
  • We moved to Frankfurt W. Germany when I was 20 and lived there 2 years.
  • Visited Bavaria and climb a mountain.
  • Visited two castles & two palaces.
  • Rode on a riverboat on the Rhine River and watched castle illuminations and fireworks in the dark. Breathtaking.
  • Hopped on Strassenbahns and trains and went where we wanted just to see what we could see. We didn't have a car in Germany and didn't need it.
  • Shopped at a Black Market... which looked like any other street market.
  • Furnished our first apartment just by "Junking", the act of driving around with your pals and collecting stuff the Germans tossed (really nice stuff, btw). It is a lot of fun.
  • Visited Paris, France and strolled the Champs Elysee with dear friends.
  • Rode the Paris Metro - a rougher ride than the Strassenbahn.
  • Climbed the Eiffel Tower and Arc Du Triumph.
  • Stared in wonder at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I mean, just look at it! 
  • Visited Montmartre and Sacre Coeur (probably my two favorite places)
  • Visited the Louvre - needed more time!!
  • Visited the Musée de l'Armée
  • Had my first child just before we relocated back to the states.
  • Moved to Pisa, Italy at age 24.
  • Visited the Leaning Tower when you could still climb it.
  • Visited Rome for two weeks.
  • Rode around the region and just took in the sights. 
  • I sat on a rock on the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea and watched the waves crash against the rocks.
  • Returned back to the states where the second child was born.
  • Camped in a tent with only some blankets to sleep on. I'd have been fine except for that one root. 
  • Cooked full meals over a wood fire for a week (twice). 
  • Went to college beginning at 32.
  • Graduated with honors at 38.
  • Raised two sons and visited assorted historical sites, zoos, museums, and other fun places.
  • Retired at 58.
  • Wrote 7 rough drafts novels in 7 years that I'm now trying to complete.
  • Since I retired I've traveled some.
OK, so maybe it hasn't been such a boring life after all. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Things I'll Never Do & Why

I see these Bucket List posted every once in awhile. They don't seem to be as popular as they were when the movie came out but they still show up.

After thinking about it, I decided I would be more accurate to create my UnBucket List. I mean, let's face it, I have a better chance of not doing something than I have of doing it. Right? So, here is some of my UnBucket List

See the Taj Mahal - It is a tomb for gosh sakes! I don't care if her husband built if for her and it is a beautiful building. She's dead. Where's he? Betting he remarried and moved on.

Visit Machu Picchu - This is unfortunate because I'd absolutely love to go here but my knees... mmmm not thinking it is going to happen, so I'll just leave it here.

See the North Pole - I live down the block. I hate cold.

Visit Washington DC - Look, the stuff that's been coming out of Washington for the last decade has made me violently ill. If I go there, I'm likely to die. There's probably a statistic somewhere about that.

Ride an elephant - Do I look stupid? What would be the point? Besides, everything I've read says they are bristly and dirty. Nah, I'm good.

Ride a camel - I have no plans to associate with something that will spit at me. Besides, they just don't look comfortable.

Ride a llama - See above. Unless it is to haul my big self up to Machu Picchu.

Visit the Middle East - I'm waiting until they all get here.

Sail around the world - I've had a cruise. It was enjoyable for a minute but I have to tell you the truth. I saw the whole boat in two days. After that, it is just a mall on water and you're trapped. I adored the shore excursion, which should tell you a lot.

Go deep sea fishing - Nah, just leave me on the beach with an ice chest. Pick me up when you come back.

Shoot an animal for food - I grew up with hunters and learned to shoot before I learned to drive. I was a very good shot. But I'm not interested in hunting so I'll leave the hunting to the pros.

Buy a pool - I'm waiting until I win the lottery. Right.

I suspect there is a lot more but we'll save it for another day.

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