Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beyond Embarassment

Because of a lack of foresight, or maybe an error in judgment, my husband and I ended up carrying our daughter’s trunk, sewing machine suitcase, and autoharp, the last of her possessions, objects of endearment, from south Brooklyn to the tip of Manhattan on Memorial Day  weekend changing trains numerous times.

And because the trunk was heavy, full of her stuff, and because it had no handles, I wrapped it with clothesline cord, one of us on each end, going in and out of trains, up and down stairs, pausing to rest and then continue on.

We waited on platforms and pushed onto packed trains, bumping and bonking, and excusing and pardoning, and begging for some kind of logical end to what could only be described as illogical.

The schizophrenics stopped to consider us, interrupting their own internal conversations. Manhattanites dressed to the nines, going out on the town, pondered the tableaux before them: a middle-aged Dust-Bowl-looking couple, weary and worn out, sitting on a battered old trunk—perhaps about to play for their supper. Old women offered tentative smiles.

And I smiled back. Thus, is my life--performance art.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Secondly . . . .

I am in the latest issue of this:

It was a story that took a while and a boatload (pun intended) of rejections. All I needed, I guess, was a Stoneboat to carry me thru.

EXIT 24: The story of two elderly women who decide on a day of shopping--and then things go terribly wrong.

If they’d only known what lay ahead, they would have turned around and gone back home

Scroll down to order the issue. You'll be glad you did. Also here through Amazon.

First, let me say . . .


Monday, May 20, 2013

Great Cover!

People have been writing to me/commenting on the cover of my new book. With all modesty I say, I know!

Here are the people I use, and have in fact done ALL my (e-book) covers. Nine3Nine Creative

They can do anything--really. T-shirts, signs, websites, covers, logos, illustrations. And did I mention they're FAST? Yeah. I e-mailed my idea/concept and within an hour had the above. For Beyond Paradise I'd had the photo taken when the book was first published with Morrow back in 2000 but the editor decided to go with their own in-house. Thus, ten years later I e-mailed the jpeg to Nine3Nine and, again, within an hour the boys mailed me back. This was soooo easy.

Full-disclosure: I now write web content for Nine3Nine. Through the back and forth on covers they now contact me if they need someone to run down content, etc or at least help them with mock up text.

There you go. Relationship building. so for all my friends and clients that I'm helping edit their memoir manuscript--I direct you to Nine3Nine Creative. Your one-stop shop for no hassle covers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Freeze Frame: How To Write Flash Memoir

Many of us are looking to write memories—either in the form of literary memoir or simply to record family history. This how-to book looks at memoir in small, bite-size pieces, helping the writer to isolate or freeze-frame a moment and then distill it onto paper.

Flash is generally anywhere between 1,500 words to as few as 66 (I've seen 6-word memoirs!).

Since I began exploring the genre I've had over 30 flashes published. Lately I've also been teaching Flash Memoir. so this how-to book is a summation of my process, the approach I take to flush out a flash.

Even if you are only interested in flash, or only in memoir, or only in fiction--I believe there is something in this small book that you can take away.

Order Freeze Frame: How To Write Flash Memoir TODAY!

If everyone who visits my blog downloads a copy I will become a millionaire and I promise to flash about it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Everlasting Moments

How many moments are everlasting?

When even a second is measured in past tense, as soon as it has happened it is gone.

The only thing that lasts is eternity and . . . photographs. That moment captured in forever carpe diem. Perhaps this is why I’ve always been spellbound by old snapshots. Look, I don’t know how many times I’ve said, look at that cat. It looks so alive.

Why cats?

Maybe because sometimes when lazying about they often look dead.

I used to visit a Miss Puls in a nursing home down the street where I grew up in Centerville, Ohio. In an act of altruism, I began, all on my own, to walk up the hill to Bethany Lutheran and visit residents the staff indicated had very few visitors. So I’d stop by and say hi to Miss Puls. And it was always the same. I’d ask if I could look at her photo album. She had so many OLD pics from when she was a girl growing up in Dayton, to young adulthood. She never married and became a secretary and worked in an office. She owned her own home and shared it with a companion, a lady friend.

I swear, I had no idea.

Just like any family photo album, she even had photos of her friend as a young girl. And cats, on steps, in laps, swishing tails. I’d always exclaim—Look! It looks so alive.

In the film Everlasting Moments, by Swedish director Jan Troell, such moments are brought to life. As one captivated by photos and memoir, this film combines both. The movie was inspired by Troell’s wife who upon visiting an aunt and pouring over a photo album was intrigued by the story of how the great grandmother started taking photographs around the turn of the century after winning a camera in a lottery. So much rests on chance. She was a working-class woman with an unremarkable biography. Her life was filled with a myriad of ordinary moments—except that they were caught, captured by emulsion and film, between the pages of an old photo album. Here was a whole life.

Maria Larsson’s.

We see Sweden through many decades through the lens of Maria and her daughter Maja Larsson. It is a courageous story, one in which Maria moves uncomfortably between motherhood and art, lost in the world of her camera and consumed by a large family (7 children). She was able to inhabit both—though tension in the film revolves around her guilt. How to pursue photography and continue to serve her family.

Here is a trailer.

Everlasting moments--from a distance they seem worn and faded, but upon closer inspection, they are alive. They are me.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Latest Publication

I have a flash memoir in Wordland: What They Saw in the Night Sky. My piece is called The Night of the Comet. JUST CLICK ON Contents.

Check it out!

Also NEXT WEEK I am going to launch at Amazon an E-book called

Please be sure to come back next week. I'm also available for panels and to teach seminars--just sayin'

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Biking from Nashville to Jackson, MS on the Natchez Trace, part 3

Have I mentioned no rain. We slept that night in a pollen-soaked campground, yellow dust coating the picnic tables, the ground, us in the morning. We ate, packed up, and unknown number 3:

Sickness. A slight case of diarrhea of which I am prone when drinking all different kinds of water, a lingering symptom of another ride taken when just 16 through a bog area, where the trip guide said the water was safe to drink. I believe I picked something up that day that has resided in my intestines ever since. Don’t talk me out of this idea. I fall quickly in and out of tummy trouble, and this trip will be part of a very long list.

But we ride on. On what turns out to be a perfect day, weather-wise.
We ride into Tupelo to get a Starbucks coffee and more supplies at a Wal-mart.
We continue riding, feeling as one should when the sun comes out: glorious, as if anything is possible. We only have 73 miles planned.

But after 20 I am again, suffering.

Sunburned, dehydrated, bum sore, we stop at Witch Dance, and again get
Psyched. I tell myself only 10 more and then ten more after that. I promise myself
I turn to the IPOD and listen, and feel a strength come into my body that surprises me.
I actually feel good. I actually believe this is all so cool.

Have I mentioned how old I am?

It is bittersweet—I wonder how much longer, how many more years, knees, I have left to do what I do, because at a certain age you KNOW, this is not an unknown, that you are not forever, that one day you will not be doing this, the unknown is when, and perhaps when that time comes, God will give me the grace to accept it. I ride with people usually 15 to 20 years my junior and at this point we are well-matched. At this point we are doing it.

My riding partner didn’t have a good section, so that when we pull in and I am high, she is low.
Another flat she announces. Damn the presta valves, but she pumps, pumps, pumps, and the tires HOLD.
We go on to Jeff Busby—but first
We pass mile after mile of tornado damage—from two years ago.
road normally

road after tornado outbreak April 2011
April 26, 27, 2011 there was an outbreak of tornadoes, sideways rain, shears winds, micro-bursts
That took down a 20-mile stretch of trees. All those things you’ve heard:
There were tree trunks but no tops, huge root beds ass-up, trees reduced to splinters. A living exhibit
Of what would be an unknown.
Day 5 and have I mentioned? No rain.
This was to be our shortest mileage day, and we needed it.
We caught up on laundry, bike maintenance. We are starting to feel stronger.
We arrive at French Camp around noon with a cadre of antique cars driven by antique drivers.
I ask them if they want to trade.
French Camp cabin
again at French Camp cafe
My riding partner and I order off a menu! Sandwiches! Potato chips in bags!
A honey-mustard sauce that we ask them to package to-go and pickles. Despite tummy trouble
I eat all of this.

We slather on sun lotion, sun block, SPF 15, 30, 45 and roll on, riding for the shade, patches of shadow
Beneath sections of tree canopy that cover the road.
the trees extended about 60 feet up (at least)
At Kosciusko we hear that more rain is on the way. Okay.
We keep going.
At a certain point, it will happen, and there is nothing we can do about it. For now.
For now. For now. That is how I try to think. In small chunks. Do-able pieces.
At least we weren’t caught in tornado alley back by Pigeon Roost like riders were 2 years ago.
We have traveled through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, a state with too many Is and too many Ss, and a smattering of Ps.
We sleep for the last night on the trail. It feels celebratory, melancholy, scary as the clouds pile up.
We know the end is coming, but do not know when the rain will arrive.

All night long sleeping next to a cow pasture where the livestock must be in heat or gastric distress
We lay awake listening until finally the rain arrives, waves and rivulets, sluicing down off the rain fly, spreading on the ground around us and our parked bikes.
Our old friend is back.
A slow-moving low that swamps us.

We awake to torrential rain, run relay to the bathroom with stuff to pack up, water pooled up in the corners of the tent I am now rolling up, heavier now to transport, soaking wet.
We wear rain jackets, rain pants, ponchos and within seconds the plastic is like a second skin sticking to us. We live in a new reality of wet, wetter, and wettest.
Of hard rain, filling the swales beside the road, filling our ears with the roar of cataracts. Slack rain dimpling the puddles, plimping off the ponchos, a slow drip off the brim of my cycling helmet.
Misty—the saddest of all, because it is so complete.
Fog—Thank God!—because it means it has stopped raining—or slowed.
Because it is back. Always with us, in some form or other.
We stop at the Cypress Swamp, hoping to get a glance, catch a snapshot of an alligator sunning himself on a log.

Even the snakes, turtles and toads that have been present along the side of the road—are gone.
The alligators are smart. They are hiding away where it is dark, cold, and wet—just like us.
We eat a lunch of bread with French Camp honey-mustard and sliced apple beneath a rain poncho.
We swallow back hot tea and hot coffee and know
That in 20 miles we will be in Jackson—where we will find ourselves in unknowns.

We ride along the Yockanookanay River, a name that only Faulkner and his fans would love.
It rides on the tongue like a bicycle cruising along, with one or two sudden gear changes.
We can feel it, the last day of riding, the road rising up,
We get closer and closer to water, to the reservoir as big as a sea—at least in the mist
It becomes water, air, and sky—all one color. And
A squall comes up. My riding partner feels as if she is cycling once again along the North Sea
There is wind, bursts of power swept in off the lake, shaking our loaded bikes
We are lucky; we have to gear UP to go up hill as the wind is pushing us.
STOP, she yells.
An alligator, or maybe she says crocodile. I haven’t been able to convince her they don’t exist in the US.
Or else the fatigue makes her forget.
Either way, I do not believe her. It is The Perfect Storm all around us and why should we stop for a log in a canal
I take a picture anyway and the head ducks underwater
She’s right! I stand in fascination while she pulls out into the road, time to go.
We keep rounding curves bringing us into the head of the squall and then turning us away.
I actually feel very alive, fighting for breath as the wind carries it away.

Finally we are on the outskirts of Jackson and its mothering traffic. We pull over
Onto a multi-use trail, that winds, safely, gear-challengingly through a woods that parallels the Trace.
To the Parkway Information Cabin where we are greeted by National Park Rangers.
We made it, we say and they act like it is a big deal.
It is raining.
We ask for the closest coffee shop where we might be able to dry off, make a few calls, and get ready
For the LAST 10 miles to our couchsurfing destination in Clinton.

At Great Grains where we camp out for three hours the rain pours and pours. We order
Coffee, espresso, hot chocolate. Josh arrives, we get him a coffee. Josh leaves us a key.
We play, and play, and play, and play cards. Waiting, waiting, waiting, We’re so close
And so far away.
We want to just get going in order to stop.
The misery of waiting those three hours in wet clothes, wet shoes, wet underwear, sends shudders
Down my wet head, dripping hair, rain-washed cheeks.
The phenomenon of this system I will later learn is causing creeks, rivers to flood their banks
For the farmer’s fields to take on standing water, for every low place to become full of
The multi-purpose trail ends 100 yards from the parkway at mile marker approx 95.  
We have to carry our loaded-down bikes across a drainage ditch that is running about a foot high to the roadway.

Everywhere danger. The rain. Our ability to stop, to stay alive. The hideous traffic. The cars passing too close, the trucks honking. I can feel the stress in all the sore places of my neck and butt. All I want is to make it alive—and eat pizza. Please God.
We exit around 89,88 and turn into more local rush-hour traffic. We don’t talk anymore. We just keep going.
We don’t move over for cars, we make them move over for us. There is the continuing ominous fear that at any minute we will be hit from behind. I expect to hear the screech of brakes and a sudden, stomach-gutwrenching-crunch of human bones and bike and steel.
We ride.
Three miles to our couchsurfing destination, a refuge from the rain, cars, and for a while
We shower, eat pizza, and do laundry. A shelter from the storm. Thanks Josh.

The next day we cycle to Flowood. In the greasy rain on greasy roads. As it seems that in Jackson the only way to get around is by car.
We bikequested a route to the Bike Rack that was primarily on divided highways 4 lanes wide on each side. I felt as if I were on Lakeshore Drive—something I would never do.
Except for this
Bike the Drive
At the Bike Rack we were treated with incredible CARE. I want to spend a blog alone on the Bike Rack.
A little I’m afraid if I talk them up too much others will come to expect the great treatment we received.
I’d like to think it was because we were special.
But the Bike Rack gave us free boxes, tips on packing, sealing tape and then
Jesse gave us a ride in his truck to the train station. Then Jesse
Helped us get our bike boxes and assorted gear into the station. These are good people.
Thank you Tom Martin for 40 years of business (his card says this), Thank you Tom Martin
For being there.

We checked our luggage, Thank you Ms. Dillon, and walked around Jackson, where we
Peeked into the Old Capital (Old Capitol Museum) picked up a flier about a re-enactment to take place

*Saturday, May 4, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum. Capturing the Capitol. In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Union Army capturing Jackson during the Civil War, Union reenactors capture the statehouse and camp on the Old Capitol Green. Reenanctors will be on hand to demonstrate drill, tent set-up, and other related skills. For more information call 601-576-6920 or email Old Capitol.

Then got some local advise on where to get some sandwiches to go. McAlister’s, where we
Order 2 of everything and got it in about 3 minutes, just in time to make it back to the train.
City of New Orleans, thank you. Even though you arrived in Chicago
3 and a half hours BEHIND schedule, you did the job.
We got home.

Knowns and unknowns of the Natchez Trace.
I am 54 years old and I realize I may never bike the Trace again, but I am already planning
My next trip.

P.S. Did I mention--we rode almost 400 miles!!

Biking from Nashville to Jackson, Natchez Trace, part 2

When we awoke, to the sound of rain and gray skies that obliterated the landscape we knew:
Riding this a.m. would be a mistake.
We ate our oatmeal, drank a flask of hot tea, played cards, and commented on how much better the sky looked in comparison to 5 minutes ago.
By 11 a.m. we thought at least we’d try, try to get 5 miles down the road, or 10, or so.
We finished the day doing 69 miles after all.
Oh—but up! Up! Up! Then, down, down, down. There is a sound of wet tires on a wet road
A sizzle, wind filling the ears, and heart pounding wondering, would wet brakes grip?
Always the unknowns.
Would cars behind us slow down, see us at all?
We had on blinkers, flapping ponchos, bright colors. The only moving specks on an otherwise
Black and shining tarmac.

Then the sun popped out and we were near a town, indicated on the map, so
We stopped and my riding partner met a man with a pickup who carried an air compressor
Who filled her tires to top PSI and I bought some mega snickers (with 3x MORE chocolate)
And pickled eggs, which we discovered our God’s gift to mankind.

We slept that night in another picnic area, down away from the road, in what the Scottish would call
A glen. On hunter green moss, surrounded by grasshopper green grass.

And, by some grace of nature
Built a fire out of wet sticks and cooked a quick dinner—all the while, in the distance
We watched dark clouds pass over and both offered thanks that it passed us by, until—
That night it poured. We felt like our tent was a submersible and our little plastic window
A porthole. We expected fish to swim by. Yet, we stayed dry. And in the morning—
Packed up, hoping to catch up, to where we needed to be, on the itinerary.

Yes and no. we were wet and sore, this being our third day straight of riding.
In hills. In rain. And all I could think about was
That pickled egg, all red/purple in a little waxed paper bag, and
Food so simple that it made me feel basic, like I was reducing into spare elements, as if my
Body was not quite up to the task. And my
Mind was dwelling in abstracts, existential thoughts such as:
Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Who cares?
We moved a box turtle from the roadway and placed him on the grassy side of the road.
We coasted downhill to Colbert Ferry and a mile-long bridge across the Tennessee River.
We’d only ridden 20 miles and already I wanted to quit.
AFTER the pickled egg on saltine crackers I thought I’d try another 20, body so weary.
We rode uphill and passed a box turtle, which we didn’t move off the roadway, and will
Forever feel guilty about—until the next turtle which I hurled into the woods as with a vengeance.
The snapping turtle we passed after lunch, we left well-enough alone. He looked like a frontiersman—all muddy, messy, dread-locked and evil-eyed. We had a suspicion he would
Make it to the other side.
While I on the other hand—was this the THIRD DAY? Of riding?—was praying. For a dry place to eat lunch
Jane with wet feet

Cave Spring in MS
We stopped at Cave Spring, no more a cave and no more a spring where we sat on the cement sidewalk because there was no picnic table and rolled off soppy socks and enjoyed another
Pickled egg and tunafish on a bun and said—if ever I make it home, I just want to be warm and dry
My riding partner asked me if I had more miles in me and I nodded my head, skeptical
I would ride 10 more and then decide
We rode 10 more to Pharr Mounds, where if we had decided to stop would have been 68 miles for the day
But we kept on—and at a certain point IT GOT EASIER

Maybe the road became decidedly downhill, or level, or the pickled eggs kicked in
But we caught up with our itinerary and camped that night outside of Tupelo, across the
Street from the Parkway Visitor Center, at an old abandoned campground, where we
Stealthily bathed and made a campfire and got cell service and raised the bar on what
Felt human and civilized and normal for a long bike ride.

88 miles that day.

Biking from Nashville to Jackson, MS on the Natchez Trace, part 1

sunken trace, the original trail

April is the cruelest of months
It also brings showers—this much I know
In a list of unknowns, we didn’t know anything
Only anticipations and broad guesses
We were riding our bikes from Nashville to Jackson, MS on the Natchez Trace
A National Park parkway, a place for cars and bikes with minimal traffic (again, an unknown)
How long had I been planning this trip—the thought came a few years ago and every
Spring I thought about it until—I booked tickets on Megabus and the train, for there and back
So this we know—we will bus to Nashville and a week later train home from Jackson,
Now the list of unknowns   . . .

We arrived in Nashville about 8:30 a.m. after a cramped night-bus and re-assembled our bikes in a parking lot. One unknown known. We did it! While the sun shone, then after taking beginning photos the clouds rolled in. Another unknown: weather. Would we get a break?

Rolling hills, Belle Meade and other local roads to get to the trail head. On Sneed, one hill
So steep we walked the bikes up. This didn’t portend well for the trail.
After 20 miles of Nashville and beyond we made it to the Loveless CafĂ©—
An end point and beginning for many.

Rolling clouds. We biked beneath overcast skies, but we hardly noticed because the road was so good and not so hilly, we didn’t have to walk the bikes up. Yet, we were using all our gears!
I told stories, we talked, we rode side-by-side. We saw
Wild turkeys and turkey vultures, wild flowers and spring blossoms
Indian paintbrush and dogwood in bloom
Smelled sweet perfume. Butterflies and hoppy toads.
We discovered road shorthand—
An overlook on the map means you must go up.
I learned what goes up, must come down.
Thank God. Chin down, almost touching the handlebars to get EVERY ounce out of every turn of the wheel.

We picnicked under a tree, we snapped pictures from the road while straddling our bike.
That first day we took few breaks. We ambitiously planned where we would camp, then

Rolling thunder. In the distance, begun by the chu-chink of scattered rain drops. We’d passed
Shady Grove one of the places we talked about camping for the night
Camping! Yes we were riding self-contained.
Every uphill wasn’t about riding, but moving my body and a steel-lugged old-school Trek ’82 frame, wasn’t about riding, but transferring about 30 – 40 pounds of food and gear. I strained my knees and stood up in the saddle just to get an extra couple of feet HIGHER, FARTHER, CLOSER.
So it wasn’t the rain that stopped up, but how dark everything got. We figured it was 5:30 pm and we’d done 60 miles, so knock off until the rain stopped.
Jackson Falls was our life raft because the rain didn’t stop. We pulled in under the picnic shelter just as the drip-drip-drops took on heft, weighted as marbles, and my riding partner announces
I have a flat tire.
Two unknowns: weather and maintenance encountered. Only one under our control.
She fixed the flat, we ate, we set up camp, and hoped for the skies to clear.
see the space in front of the fence--that's where we pitched the tent @ Jackson Falls, TN
Huddled beneath an eave off to the side, we listened to a system that kept swirling, circling in upon itself, with sweeping rain and thunder. Then a car pulled in. Guests? They stayed for an hour and at one point tried to pester us, strangers unknown to them, in a tent. Finally the couple left and we could breathe, and per chance to sleep.