Friday, May 27, 2011

My Two Cents or For What It's Worth

Because I was tired and missing my daughter I googled my name. I know it's silly.

We only got to see Grace for 4 days before she had to leave for Yellowstone where she has a summer job. Here's a link to her blog:  called Canyonfirebugs. She is working at Canyon the highest lodge in the park where right now they still have too much snow. Of course Memorial Day weekend is a big one for tourists, but at this point the park service is struggling to keep the roads plowed--let alone get the campgrounds opened.

But while googling myself I discovered I have another story on-line. I'm not saying the journal stole it because 1) I submit my work and keep track of submission on a grid, but 2) I didn't have any correspondence or notes that "I'm Lying to You" was taken. So I was surprised, pleasantly.

So far this spring I have THREE stories coming out.

Let me go back to the pleasantly surprised part. I rechecked the journal to see if there might be any remuneration. You see these journals pretty much can take (not steal, okay) your piece and shove it on-line without you knowing because there really isn't any commerce going on.

Again this isn't a bad thing necessarily. I mean I love submitting my work, because submitting means hope, it's out there. I need for my stories to be in the public domain, being read, and between kindle this and Nook that and on-line and print--I REALLY don't care how people read my stuff.

It's just out of the 15 or so stories I've placed I've made only $65. Pathetic, I know. I could only go for the tier 1 magazines and journals. I've thought about that, but I'm too impatient. The process is already time-consuming--I'm not talking about the writing, but the getting published--that to say I'm only going for tier 1 is ridiculous. Many of those publications are massively hard to break into. They have their regulars. One way to become a regular is to win contests, but to win contests you must submit to them--usually along with a reading fee of anywhere between $15 and $30. Again this isn't a bad thing; this is how those journals break even or wow! make money. They also can pay a writer anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 for winning, and that's no small change. But my two cents worth opinion is that I'd have to INVEST probably $500 inorder to break into the contests. While in the meanwhile my work is maybe not getting placed and I'm feeling defeated and depressed. It's not that I don't believe in my work (maybe I don't, is this a big deal?) I just don't have $500 or the rest of my life to see my name in print. So I submit to publications that offer little or no $$.

So far I've had 15 pieces taken, which equals $65. I'M NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY. Because if I were, I'd be dead.

Here they are for this season:
I'm Lying to You=
(it's totally weird)
Goldabelle=Six Minute Mag
(it's a pdf so if you don't see my story click on recent issue and the pdf will come up, scroll down)
I wrote this story last year when I was missing Grace sooo much. See I do do more than just google my name and search for her face on Facebook
and lastly, Google Earth=Fiction Fix
which may or may not be up yet, I'm waiting for their Spring 2011 issue to come on-line

Thursday, May 26, 2011


What WEIRD weather we are having. I'm surprised it isn't the end of the world--oh, wait!--that was last weekend. Right now, here in Chicago it's a blustery, wet 45 degrees!

Though this weekend I hear it's going to get up to 92. It's enough to make a person's head explode. Speaking of which here is a link to the YouTube video taken by the same person who experienced the Joplin tornado from inside the convenient store beer cooler. This is called Aftermath.

sorry will have to post it later, not working right now

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Three Different Stories about the Same Thing

A lady needed some repair work done on a house she'd just bought. It was a fixer-upper, so she brought in a local handyman she knew. They weren't dating but were friends. The house used to belong to a judge and had at one time been a stunner. The handyman in the process of breaking through a wall discovered a safe deposit box and brought it to the current owner. Cool!

So they broke the lock and opened it. Wow! It looked like a million dollars but was only like 10, 000. Still!

They were very excited. The lady thought about what she could do with the money. So did the handyman. Hmm.... she didn't have to, but she decided to share. something like 80/20. Wait! How about 70/30?

 No, she said. It's my house. He countered by saying, he was the one who found it. She agreed to 70/30, but then he thought why not 50/50.

No way!

The lady, no longer were they friends, took the handyman to court where they each laid out their case. Both of them had a claim to the money. In the mean time, the story was carried in the news and lo and behold the former owner's family found out about the money. They went before the judge because now they too had a stake in how the money was divided. Actually, they thought they deserved it all. I mean it was their family member who had left it behind in the wall.

So in the end, no one was happy. In the end no one was friends with each other. And the money, what was left after court expenses and paying off the lawyers, in the end turned out not to be worth the trouble.

All this to say: did you hear the story on NPR this morning about Augusten Burrough's mother and brother penning a memoir. Of course Augusten Burrough's own memoir Running with Scissors was a run-away bestseller (pun intended). Same family, same stuff, but three different perspectives. The mom claims she wasn't that bad and that she named her son Chris and not Augusten and the brother said hey I got treated bad too by my insane family and maybe not ALL the bad stuff happened to Chris, whoops Augusten.

Interesting isn't it? how all these stories are the same. Different, but pretty much the same. Even the part that no one ends up liking each other in the end.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting Real

Remember how I last wrote that I wanted to make people uncomfortable. Well, watch this:
It is a first-person account of the RECENT Joplin, MO tornado. It depicts a crowded backroom at a convenient store where 18 or 19 people have gathered. We don't know if they know each other. Obviously some have come there together, but mostly they are thrown together because of a disaster. And then . . . .

About half way through you start hearing people say I love you. They are saying good bye. It's amazing in one way because this is life boiled down to its most basic. It's not about stuff or plans for tomorrow or the normal routine. You can actually feel in your gut the REALNESS in this first-person account video.

Yup, it's intense and very uncomfortable.

I've also tried to be real with myself--am I simply watching/listening to be voyeuristic. Honestly, I am. but that's also why I read certain things. I want to live vicariously. We are drawn, however much it makes us squirm, to look, to listen, because as observers we are at a safer distance from those actually experiencing.

So after watching this and after the panic subsides, go call your grandma.

Friday, May 20, 2011

About Writing Uncomfortable

At the CCBC listserve the topic for the last half of this month has been about the depiction of poverty ie struggle, hard times in children’s lit. Of course Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a great example as well as Newbery Honor winner One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Certainly with the Great Recession many families are facing financial heartbreak. My picture book Home Is Where We Live: Life at a Shelter Through a Young Girl’s Eyes also tells the story of a young girl and her family working themselves out of homelessness. About the time this book came out there was also a picture book about a boy and his father who lived at the airport. I’m not sure people could do that in this day and age.

Mostly my problem with a lot of YA and middle grade today has a lot to do with the middle. Middle class, middle America, maybe even middle children. Everyone just seems so suburban. Yes, even Libba Bray’s Going Bovine which in many ways is unique still reflects a pretty standard upbringing. Not too many authors write outside that middle of the middle comfort zone. A nice example of a book that won acclaim that presented a different family dynamic was The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Incidentally it was also set, I believe in the not so fertile part of California or some deserty place.

I know as a YA growing up I LOVED The Outsiders where the parents had died and the boys were being raised by their older brother. They lived in Oklahoma, middle America, yet not the suburbs. I wanted to read about people who were different from me, from some place different. I think this is why fantasy and apocalyptic sci-fi is so extremely popular right now ie Hunger Games and Ship Breaker and Huntress by Malinda Lo. YA readers are looking for something out of the norm, the world skewed, or screwed—however one cares to see it.

This kind of writing is not easy. It’s gutsy and brave. It must be human tendency to want to keep things middle. Writing an uncomfortable scene can be like walking a tightrope. Too much overdone and it just comes across loud, a blinking billboard—same thing with sex, too much and it just reads titillating, manipulative. Also horror—a great way to get your reader’s attention, but very hard to write. If you go overboard it slips into simply gross.

What I’m struck most by is those scenes that create tension, writing that makes me embarrassed, prose that makes me want to hurry up and get to the end.

So when writing, dear readers, think about this: hitting a chord—bing!—where you make your readers squirm.

Next week I want to focus upon and do some practice with writing uncomfortable.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Young and Dumb

this story originally appeared in Flashquake, Summer 2009

She ran away when she was seventeen. Met up with a guy on the bus and together they rode to Denver. But he turned out to be trouble. One night she slipped away from the room they rented. By the neon strobe she packed a bag, took his wallet while he slept. On the way out of town she stopped at a diner with a funky name and ordered a chicken dinner. Ate it to the bone.

It was a bad space. She couldn’t go home. Let’s leave it at that. And she didn’t have anywhere else to go, except names on a map. She preferred the blue roads, the ones that branched off, growing more and more anonymous, changing names in different locales, adapting to the terrain. Often dead-ending.

She was okay on her own. She knew enough to get by. Her step brothers had taught her karate. Really more like Three Stooges gestures. She knew how to scream. Enough to do damage to her vocal cords, until her stomach muscles ached. Until black night melted and she moved on. Her few possessions tied to her back.

She carried in her pocket stray bits. A bottle cap. A white cockleshell. A key. To what door she did not know. A piece of paper with a phone number on it that accidentally blew away from her. It skidded across the road and whooshed up an embankment, airborne over a barbed wire fence, and landed in a field of stubble and stick grass. She cut across that snowy field to a farmhouse. Long abandoned.

The front door was open. So she closed it. A grease-yellowed curtain lightly exhaled, the window sash unlatched. Trash, swirled into corners, occupied the first room. Loose wallpaper sagged, water stained. In the back on the first floor was a kitchen. A mouse scurried from the back of the stove to a crack in the floorboard. She righted an overturned chair. The silence scared her.

A fury of thoughts flooded her brain, most of them connected to late-night horror movies watched on TV.

There was a staircase in the middle of the house, dividing it in two. She gripped a rail and ascended one step at a time. Listening for monsters. Creaks and audible breath. The whoosh of bat wings. Upstairs she found more of the same. Remnants. An old Sears catalogue. A pile of rags, once clothes. Animal droppings. A tin plate covered a hole back when there used to be gaslight. She picked up a child’s toy, a bobble head plastic boy. The wire to his head a weak neck.

Who were they, the former occupants? What moved them on? Had the family disintegrated, broken by divorce, violence, stupid mistakes? There were all sorts of reasons. She tried to draw from the clues left behind some kind of explanation. She reckoned they were young and dumb.

She never meant to stay. It rained the next day, and the day after that. A solid week of damn miserable rain. She lit a fire in the fireplace, expecting any minute for a neighbor to come check the place out, for a cop to pull into the puddle-rutted drive. Instead it was as if she’d fallen off the face of the earth. She learned to keep her own company, separate the voices inside her head. The good ones from the bad and make up her own mind. In town she bought groceries and hauled them back to the farm. Simple fare, easy enough to cook over the fire or eat raw. She licked her fingers and wiped them on her jeans. Slowly a sense of well-being came over her. The kind that comes with a full tummy, warmth, and forgetfulness, where the crazy windmill inside her finally slowed down.

                                                            * * *

Years later while slicing tomatoes, she will look up. Her memory ignited by who knows what. Another kitchen, another house, she remembers. Through the window the back yard with the kids’ swing set is aglow with late afternoon light. And putting down the knife, she breathes a prayer.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Brief Word About Hope

Maybe it's spring, the scent of new in the air or maybe it's my daughter coming home for a few days before continuing on to her job in Yellowstone.

Or maybe it's about change. The trees changing, buds budding, the fact that the sun is shining.

The last few years here in Chicago I've had a mentor I'll call Esther and she is terrific. In fact this is one of her most-used words. She's had a steadily growing career as a writer, writing coach, and writing instructor. Though she's reminded me that it hasn't all been up, there have been downs too. but one thing she told me that has stayed with me is that hope is good.

So maybe what I'm feeling is spring hope. I just recently sent out a new round of stories to literary mags and my agent--the one I went back to, despite some concerns--is taking my ms around to different editors. It always makes me think something is just around the corner when my stuff is out there, circulating in the universe, just like hope. It might come back, it might get trampled or overlooked, but it gets rejuvenated, before going right back out.

Enjoy your spring. Live in THIS moment. Kiss a baby, call your mom, and buy yourself an ice cream

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Every Vote Counts

Hi Fellow Writers

I am a volunteer at a Chicago homeless shelter named CCO and they are
trying for a $15.000. grant from Kaboom! a non-profit that builds
If you can, please go to Let's Play Video Contest
and vote for CCO
1. register
2. you will receive confirmation, check spam folder as your computer might
not recognize
3. sign in
4. vote for CCO

Thank you so much.
At this point we are #6 and the TOP 5 WILL RECEIVE A GRANT

the contest ends May 11, Tuesday at midnight
Remember YOUR vote is important. (We need to beat) Brooklyn!)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Books as signposts in our life

Here is a re-print of an earlier blog about books as milemarkers for our lives because I was impressed so much by Daniel Kraus's article.

    As I lay there in bed I tried to think back as far as I could, exercising my memory as if it were a flabby muscle. Pictures spindled across the photo album of my brain. I leaned forward and squinted my closed eyes trying to decipher them. Book jackets. Freddy the Pig, Barnyard Detective. Charlotte’s Web. Little House on the Prairie with the Garth Williams’ illustrations. Little Women—I actually saw the chapter illustration where Jo peers into Beth’s trunk and is overcome by grief. Piles and piles of Nancy Drew mysteries, and sitting on the back porch two-seat rocker with my legs dangling over the armrest and a glass of sweetened ice tea sweating on a small stand near by. Stories were intertwined with my life story. Books served as the chronological markers of my personal history.

     The Newbery shelf at the local library where I felt as if I were reaching into a crock of gold and pulling out rainbows—I read them all beginning with Hendrik Van Loon’s The Story of Man. I remembered falling asleep at night beneath a coverlet of books—and characters swirling around me like a shadow box show. As a teenager I stayed up all night reading Here I Stay by Elizabeth Coatsworth, about a Colonial girl who chooses to live alone when all her neighbors migrate west, abandoning their small village in Maine. Reading this coming of age story I left my childhood behind and crossed over into becoming a woman book-aholic. It is the type of book seldom read these days where the rise and denouement are all within the main character, and very little action takes place. Instead of me reading the book—it felt like it was reading me. I wondered at how something as abstract as words could be so intimate. I lost myself inside books, becoming another person and living vicariously through the characters.
In high school I fell in love with Jane Eyre, another solitary narrator, nearly crushed by the pressures of a caste-like hierarchy filled with dehumanizing adults. During the Cold War everything seemed reduced to a race, a contest between the Soviet Union and the USA. Good versus Evil. As an adolescent I felt the tension deeply, hoping to some day defeat the Superpowers, whomever they may be. During this pubescent period I also fell in love with the notion of undying love. From across shrouded heaths and misty moors, I fell asleep dreaming of Wuthering Heights and a handsome mystery man calling my name.
One summer on a vacation with my parents to a cottage at Houghton Lake I spent the entire time reading. I forgot my bathing suit, but remembered to bring a dozen novels. I believe it was also the summer I discovered the poems of Emily Dickinson and her twitchy punctuation. She gave me hope that some day I could be a writer. I mean what did she know—she never left her room.
In college I read Silent Spring, Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye and was shaken to my core. I had never before read anything like them. The themes disturbed me, got under my skin, and lived in my mind for months after I’d finished them. I was constantly revisiting the characters, applying new overlays to the narratives while at the same time trying to make sense of the small planet upon which I lived. These books were pivotal, hitting me at a time in my life when anything could happen. If literature was a marker in my own personal history, then some books were milestones.
Later, after graduating from college, I vacillated between smut and serious literature—some being more equal than others. I was in my late twenties when I stumbled upon the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. She was a writer from the American South, a region dominated by writers with such fantastic first names as Eudora, Harper, Walker, and Shelby, and of course, Flannery. For a short time I contemplated changing my name to Mason. Flannery wrote short stories populated by misfits, self-righteous racists, tattooed Bible salesmen, and one-legged agnostics. She wrote in a style referred to as the grotesque, where only the craziest most mixed up people were reliable enough to tell the truth (even as Hazel Motes in Wise Blood climbed up on top of his car and declared there was no real truth). I experimented with the grotesque, penning a story about a young woman married to a fundamentalist preacher who yearned to break out of the rigid landscape of her life. One day while cleaning out the deep fryers at the diner where she worked as a waitress/short order cook she slipped and fell, the hot oil melting her skin down to the bone. As she lay bedridden, numb from pain and the painkillers, scattered hallucinatory visions came to her, allowing her to escape her oppressive marriage and legalistic church upbringing. Upon rereading it a few years later I was embarrassed by my unbridled emulation of O’Connor. 
  Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying something like that by a young age we have emotionally already what it takes to be a writer.
What books have been "there" for you, made you the person you are today?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Only Connect

I know I'm always stealing--it's what writers do--take things and rework them into their creative process--like an article I read at Salon today about SEVERAL writers who used a Happy/Sad Foot sign out in LA and made them symbols (get it--a sign) in their novels--something F. Scott Fitzgerald about the whole thing--and even he was borrowing from T. S. Elliot.

Sooooo. Here is something I've taken from Booklist. The original link was from Daniel where he posted at a listserve I'm on SCBWI-Illinois

Desperately Seeking DeSario: A Real-Life Literary Mystery.

Kraus, Daniel (author).

First published May 1, 2011 (Booklist).

Sanctuary paperbackIn 1990, I read a novel called Sanctuary, by Joseph P. DeSario (Doubleday, 1989). Don’t bother looking it up—you won’t find anything. I plucked it from a paperback rack in Iowa so that I’d have something to read while our family made its annual five-hour haul to Grandpa’s farm. As a young Stephen King fan, I thought the machete on the cover had just enough blood on it, and that Chicago Tribune blurb didn’t hurt, either: “Violent, exciting, and quite satisfying!”
Regardless of the reasons, I tore through it like almost nothing else before or since. The story follows a tabloid news reporter named Matt Teller who comes across a bona fide scoop: a mutilated corpse strapped to a metal cot in the middle of the desert. The delirious plotline ends up involving an alcoholic baseball scout, fanatical Christians, brutal torturers, and Mayan prophesies.
It’s brash, whip-smart, brilliantly plotted, ambitious, funny, violent, and, you guessed it, “quite satisfying.” So satisfying, in fact, that I’ve been reading it semiregularly for 21 years. I took that paperback to college; it traveled to each of the eight apartments that followed. In my early twenties, I even had dreams of turning Sanctuary into the next Hollywood blockbuster. I wrote an (extremely long) first draft of a screenplay, but even I knew I had been too unflaggingly loyal to my source.
What I didn’t do—not once did I even think of it—was seek out more books by DeSario. Recently, however, I was weeding my home shelves, an activity akin to cutting off my fingers a knuckle at a time, and found myself flipping through the dog-eared, note-scribbled pages of Sanctuary. The front design trumpeted DeSario as the “author of Limbo.” How had I never followed up on this? Easily remedied: I purchased a used copy of Limbo for 83 cents.
My next thought was: Booklist. Did we review DeSario’s books?
Limbo filing cardA trip to Ye Olde Filing Cabinets informed me that, yes, in the March 1, 1987, issue of Booklist, Peter L. Robertson reviewed Limbo, calling it “gripping . . . a tough and compassionate first novel.” We weren’t alone in our praise: Publishers Weekly called it “extraordinary . . . a magnetic new voice in thriller fiction.”
Sanctuary was published just two years later—certainly quickly enough to capitalize on Limbo’s heat. But there was no record for Sanctuary at Booklist, not even in our files of rejected titles. Four years later, DeSario published one more book: Crusade: Undercover against the Mafia and KGB (Brassey’s, 1993), a memoir by former CIA agent Tom Tripodi, coauthored by DeSario. That one, by the way, we reviewed.
Then: 18 years of silence.
DeSario clearly stopped putting out books; the world, if it ever cared, stopped caring. This, truth be told, is the real story of publishing. Everything else you hear about is the exception. For these reasons, it seemed even more important that I remind DeSario that great books get overlooked all the time; we at Booklist miss our share. I had been the perfect reviewer to pick up Sanctuary. The only problem was that I had been 15 years old at the time.
I hit the Internet. Library of Congress gave me the most important information first: “DeSario, Joseph P., 1950–.” So he was alive, but where? It didn’t take me long to find a web page from the Illinois Center for the Book. It is nearly devoid of information aside from the following sentence:
“DeSario lives in Morton Grove, Illinois.”
I swear to you, I felt a chill. Morton Grove is a 30-minute drive from my home.

read the rest here:

it's a great REAL story of fiction writers who discover that deep connection only writers can have with each other and their work.The reason we read. to only connect.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

False Attribution to Dr. King

false memoir is only part of what happens
we are a people who crave myth--even if WE have to make it up
thus--this piece from this:

Fakery Follows the bin Laden Killing

One of the boxed features in our book is "Myths and Misinformation," a category that includes fake or misattributed quotations. As a previous post noted, many credit Martin Luther King for saying "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," even though the line belonged to Theodore Parker. At The Atlantic (h/t Tina Nguyen), Megan McArdle spots another fake King quotation:
Shortly after I posted my piece on feeling curiously un-thrilled about Bin Laden's death, the following quote came across my twitter feed:
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." - Martin Luther King, Jr
I admire the sentiment. But something about it just strikes me as off, like that great Marx quote about the housing bubble that didn't appear anywhere in Das Kapital.
Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867
Like the Marx quote, it's a bit too a propos. What "thousands" would King have been talking about? In which enemy's death was he supposed to be rejoicing?

A quick Google search turns up lots of tweets, all of them from today. Searching Martin Luther King Jr. quote pages for the word "enemy" does not turn up this quote, only things that probably wouldn't go over nearly so well, like "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend." I'm pretty sure that this quote, too, is fake.
so Osama Bin Laden isn't even 2 days cold in his watery grave without fiction flowering above him or surrounding him--of course where is the proof--of course that was a microwave minute, people demanding to see pictures, etc

so back to Dr. king--isn't there anything that gentleman said that he REALLY did say that speaks to this situation: ie not celebrating the death of one's enemy lest that triumphalism turn against them later

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 Martin Luther King, Jr.

or this one I like:
We must use time creatively.

another snip:

Altered Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote Goes Viral After Osama Bin Laden’s Death