Friday, April 29, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Sinclair Dinosaur

Remember back in the day when certain detergents included benefits for the housewife—like a glass. Really you might be thinking—glass? Somehow they didn’t break and cut off the tips of fingers. There used to be all kinds of incentives or bonuses to purchases, that had nothing to do with each other. Wash your clothes and drink a glass of wine!? It wasn’t always Cracker Jacks that came with a prize inside, but also boxes of cereal. Not sure how big these boxes were but there would be books, airplanes to build, fannypacks, towels!!?? You used to be able to “collect” a whole set of tableware just by filling up at the gas station.

My parents were too chintzy to buy any of the stuff for us kids. There were four of us. And of course you couldn’t get for one without getting something for all. So it was out of the question.

That’s why when Aunt Mart and Uncle Mike took me for a week or two in the summer it was so GREATTTT. I would be the only kid. After picking me up in Dayton to take me to Akron we’d stop for gas. At a Sinclair station they weren’t giving away, but I think selling a Sinclair toy dinosaur, the kind you inflate. I knew better than to ask for one, but always coveted it when I saw them advertised on the signs. Uncle Mike came out of the station carrying one under his arm for me.

I thought it was the greatest thing ever. It stood about 2 feet high (or maybe that’s the way I imagine it). Just like now I wonder if perhaps I might have stayed with them all summer.

So for any of you out there old enough to remember premiums or give-aways—write a flash. There’s got to be something there, something hidden inside.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In The History of Great Things Elizabeth Crane has done the miraculous. She has brought her deceased mother back to have a conversation. Together they tell a story. Is it fiction or memoir?

Well, they even argue about this.

As mothers and daughters often do, they have intersectional “talks” about what may or may not have happened. Things get especially heated when Betsy is planning her wedding to Ben. Mom wants to know why Betsy selects to include some details and leave others out—a question many memoirists struggle with—how do I keep it real without hurting others or bringing up something better left unsaid/unwritten. Not everything is grist for the mill.

Where upon the mother reminds her daughter: YOU SAID THIS WASN’T A MEMOIR.

It is a kind of memoir. One with all those souls looking over your shoulder, some with their own questions, and their own perspectives on how it all went down. A kind of Spoon River Anthology memoir-ish book.

My own contribution to this non-memoir is that I met Ben, supposedly. At least that’s what Betsy said when I met her at AWP in Chicago. She said, My husband went to your church.

And I tried to think: There are lots of people who come and go and stand in the back. I rarely meet them all. And, that’s okay.

Church, like life, should be about participating as much as you’re comfortable. Sometimes I take breaks. Ben was probably looking for something and was trying us out. (I can’t remember Betsy saying how long he tried us out for. I can’t remember if I asked her). I can imagine feeling nervous talking with her, trying to imagine how I should feel.

You see at every AWP I’ve been to I’ve snuck into the Exhibition Hall. It was all pre-meditated. I have several colored lanyards I’ve saved and some wide scarves I wear on such occasions. So I put on a lanyard to approximate the ones required for admission and a scarf to camouflage, and a tote bag, and pretended to walk confidently past security.

I did this because:
1. I have no credentials
2. I am not a member
3. I cannot afford to even be a student
4. I shouldn’t be there
5. I don’t belong

But Betsy speaks to me in a friendly way and puts me at ease. Almost to the point where I point out I have trespassed. But I do not. almost to the point where I pretend she is my friend and I ask her if she might be a reader on my novel manuscript. But I don’t.

So in this non-memoir memoir flash . . . she and I keep a healthy distance and in future message each other via Facebook.

But what about Ben?

I swear I cannot think if we've ever met. I’ll save that for another non-memoir flash.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Meta Memoir Fash

There was this one time when I was eight or nine years old that I applied to be a go-go dancer. Maybe it was the boots. The go-go dancers on TV got to wear shiny patent leather knee-high boots, their long hair swaying as they moved. I called clubs that advertised in the newspaper classifieds. Girls! Girls! Girls! One man asked me if I had experience.

My mother put a stop to my plans when strangers called the house asking for me. At the time it seemed so unfair. I could see myself in one of those cages.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Meta Me

Meta is an odd word; it is all about me. Self-referential. And, we do it in the subtlest of ways. Right when I’m enjoying a work of fiction I get a glimmer, a suggestion, that this book is all about the author. It is likely their story.

At this blog I’ve reviewed Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories, Love and Obstacles and Lily Tuck’s Liliane—all supposedly fiction, but both hovering on the edge of autobiography.

With Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth (Betsy!) Crane we are easily clued in. The author actually references themselves. In Our Souls at Night the main characters talk over the morning newspaper while at breakfast and mention that that one writer, his latest novel is being made into a play. She’d enjoyed the last production the playhouse did of his work and now it looks like they are launching another.

“He could write a book about us. How would you like that?”—she asks.
Louis replies to her,  “I don’t want to be in any book.”

The joke is on them—and a bit on us. It is all imaginary, it is all so real. Holt the imaginary county and imaginary county town were all spun over 25 years ago from Haruf’s head. He was blessed before he passed away last November to see several of his novels transformed for the stage. It must have pleased him immensely because he brings it up in the course of conversation between his characters. Louis says:

“But it’s his imagination. He took the physical details from Holt, the place name of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. .. It’s all made up.”

I like to imagine Kent Haruf writing those lines with the flicker of a smirk on his lips. I loved Plainsong and his follow up novel Eventide and also Benediction. Our Souls at Night is his last. Unless one of his characters cares to recreate a novel about Haruf; that would be interesting.

The History of Great Things is about Betsy and Ben her husband and her mother and father. In fact it is her mother talking to her, telling her story. Except it is not. It is a fictional retelling. How many of us have had the good intention of one day sitting down with a tape recorder and asking old granny some questions. Or asking Dad about what it was like to play basketball in college. There is always that one story they tell and you think: I should write that down. Very few of us get around to doing this.

Elizabeth Crane has done the impossible, she has gone back to get her mother’s story. Both Betsy and her deceased mother get a chance to tell their personal history. It’s how I imagine the circle, unbroken, sitting around a table in gloryland. Truly an inventive book, meta, but not sentimental. It’s the truth, just not one Crane can claim to be hers alone.

May the Circle Be Unbroken (1907)
There are loved ones in the glory[1]
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: voucher/other

Here is another contest you can enter mined from Cathy's Comps & Calls.

30th Apr A monthly competition. You have to write up to 2000 words inspired by the prompt. VOUCHER/OTHER

There is NO entry fee. It doesn't cost to play, people!

For 2015 we're focusing on honing our writing skills with som exercises from Fiction Writer's Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.  Each month, we’ll post a creative writing prompt which will challenge your skills in a particular area of the writing craft.  The prompts require a little more contemplation and development this year.  So, your task is to write up to 2,000 words about each prompt. 
Prizes will be awarded each month for the winning entry. We must have a minimum of three (3) contest entries each month in order to award a prize.  There is no entry fee to submit to the monthly contests. 
Please type the name of the monthly contest in the header of your submission.  You may enter as frequently as you like, and as early as you like.  Each winning entry will be featured on our website and the winning entries, as well as honorable mentions, will be published in the next edition of our Legends Literary Journal
Visit our website to read each monthly prompt, and click the monthly contest icon next to the description of each contest to read the winning submissions that month. 
Each month we will award a $25 Visa Gift Card!  There is no entry fee.  All judges decisions are final.
Writers may submit multiple entries, under separate submission.  Grey Wolfe Publishing accepts simultaneous submissions, and pieces previously published, as long as original copyright ownership can be provided, if requested.
Submission Deadline is the last day of each month.
Winners agree to grant one-time print publication rights, as well as right to publish selected pieces to the Grey Wolfe Publishing website. The Grey Wolfe Publishing editorial team's decisions regarding submission inclusion are final. Inclusion in the Legends Literary Journal is intended as a tool to build your writer’s platform and to add to your writing career momentum. Contributing authors are not paid royalties; however, each contributor will receive a complimentary copy of the Legends Literary Journal.
The nice thing about entering--is you will need to sign up to be able to log into Submittable--if you haven't done this yet, please do. It is a great and easy way to submit work and keep track of acceptances and the occasional rejection.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Biking from Grand Rapids to Chicago

What I forgot to say about going to Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith & Writing. Is that I'll be riding my bike back. Approximately 225 miles.

The first day will be Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to stay one night with friends. Then a wild camp along the lake after the Kal-Haven trail. Then Dunewoods Campground outside of Michigan City, then home on a number of connecting? bike paths. I'm so looking forward to riding, sleeping outside, cooking over my catfish can de-natured alcohol stove.

To see little flowers carpeting a field or wake up to birdsong. Yessss.

What I meant to say is--keep me kn your thoughts. This will be my 3rd attempt to complete this journey. One other time a girlfriend and I attempted to cycle around the lake and only got as far as Saugatuck and in 2014 I camped out in Warren Woods and awoke to 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. It had gotten down to 23 degrees the night before. The wind off the lake was brutal. My husband came and got me in Michigan City. But this time I'm determined to close the gap, to complete the lost segment and call this one done.
Dunewood Campground

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Monday, April 11, 2016

Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids

I'll be gone starting 4/13 to Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing. I cannot express at this blog how much this conference has meant to me through the years (held every 2 years). I believe I've been to all but one of the festivals. From the website:

The Festival of Faith and Writing began in 1990 as an exploration of the communities made and served by religious writing. Since its inception, the Festival has brought both new and established talent to speak about a variety of issues related to religion, faith, ethics, justice, writing, music, community, and more.

The Festival has welcomed to Calvin more than 13,000 attendees and hundreds of renowned speakers, including Maya Angelou, John Updike, Yann Martel, Elie Wiesel, Marilynne Robinson, Donald Hall, Eugene Peterson, Katherine Paterson, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Kate DiCamillo, Luci Shaw, and many more.

It is one of the most generous conferences I've been to in the sense of relationships. People I've met through the years (again only every other year) remember me, wave across rooms, or smile on their way to a session. We only recognize each other by face--and by the commonality of reading. Most of the participants are passionate readers. I can sit down anywhere and fall into a conversation with a complete stranger over books, what's on my nightstand. Before the conference I make an effort to read a few books from the major speakers. Which doubles my excitement to hear them talk about their work.

I'm particularly interested in hearing Chigozie Obioma talk about his novel, The Fishermen.
I thought it was the English and Americans who wrote tragedies--but come to find out, Nigerians have a history of telling sad stories.
And, lest one think this is a dour Calvinist funeral--think instead festival--there are sessions on: Christians who Drink Craft Beer: The Rise of Middle Space Artists and Audiences in Entertainment and Wine, the Slow Food Movement, and Spiritualit.

Spiritual writing mainly has to do with something more elemental, elusive than pedagogy or dogma. As a writer I'm always wondering how to reach the CENTER. The center of what I'm trying to say and the center of my reader, to make a cosmic connection of sorts. Can my soul touch your soul? This is not easy. It is not oversimplistic or trite or sappy writing, but often bare bones, revealing, broken. It asks far too many questions and expects far less answers (if any).

Many of the writers invited and celebrated have no affinity for religion, are, in fact, SURPRISED to be invited. The breadth of writers who speak is also diverse, coming from many traditions and backgrounds.

One last thing about FFW, is the access. I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself in a hallway or crossing a quad and falling into conversation with a writer whose work I admire (I see you Marilyn Nelson, Mark Richard, thank you Katherine Paterson, Jacqueline Woodson, wow Leila Aboulela) on and on. I once was at a cocktail party with John Updike and stumbled over making small talk. Come prepared to meet and mingle.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: happiness, mug, converter

I’ve discovered a new website for contests and calls for submissions. Comps & Calls by Cathy. Every month Cathy puts up a fresh batch of journals both print and online where you can submit—either flash, poetry, essay or fiction.

Here is a great way to take the inspiration or boot in the butt of prompts and come up with a flash.
15th Apr Story up to 500 words, including the words ‘happiness’, ‘mug’ and ‘converter’. PAYING

The nice thing about Cathy’s blog is that many of the calls PAY for work:
MASH competition aims to spot rock star quality storytellers. We like innovative ideas, but we are not keen on too many rules.
Our competition rules are simple. Every three months, three random objects are selected from a randomly gathered list. Writers are invited to incorporate them into a short, sensible and convincing story.
$100 for the winning story! All shortlisted stories are published on our website, and Mash Club stories are narrated by professional voice actors and broadcast in MASH podcast.
Get rockin’. You have one week to enter!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Love is the Cure

Been working on this for awhile, the state I've been in lately:

Doctor-Prescribed, Number 1

Once or twice daily, Levitra
Over an extended period, Victoza
I am confronted by mortality, Januvia
Postmenopausal women are at high-risk, Boniva
For fracture, Prolia,
The urgent need to go, Viagra
Sudden tightening in the stomach, Humira
Tired restless legs, Orencia
Insomnia, disrupted sleep, Lunestra
Make more tears, Jublia
Shortness of breath, Spiriva
Heartburn, heartache, Ranexa
Overall achingness, Zetia
Do not take, Lyrica
If agitation or changes in mood occur, Cymbalta
If your depression worsens, Truvada
Or if you have suicidal thoughts, Dulera
Or if you experience hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, Latuda
In some rare cases, death, Avandia
Stop and seek help immediately, Nyulasta
Is there a cure for all that ails, Namenda
This lonely broken heart?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Odds and Ends on Aging

I’ve been going through a dry period. Tell me this is normal!!

I’ve been someone who could dash off a short story a week, about a dozen flashes, along with 3 blog posts. I kept a critique group busy every 2 weeks reading my stuff. Now I’m lucky to hold a single thought in my head for 20 minutes. I’d like to blame the Internet because secretly I’m afraid it is a sign I’m growing old.

And I’m petrified of aging.

It is all about the mystery. I’ve never been here before, each new year, each new day and I have all these questions. If only I knew what the future looked like, then I might not be so afraid. But we don’t have that luxury.

I need to be able to ride my bike, write stories, find enjoyment in reading, meeting new people. I live in a building with an elevator, so I’m okay with letting go of climbing stairs. In fact, lately, I stare up the stairs and then walk around the corner to the elevator bank.

Speaking of banks—I got my first perk of aging! I have quit have a dozen banks all because they wanted to charge me for holding my money. I find this surreal. Money I have earned, worked hard for and am depositing in a savings account—and a bank wants to charge me for it. No way. I already have paid my taxes. This part is mine. EXCEPT, now I fall into a category of depositer—55 and older who are not going to be accessed a fee. Thank you Universe. 

I got another perk, some assurance that I’m not losing it. I finally found a book to read. The sides of my bed are blanketed with books, Stacks of them. Yet of that number I was having a hard time finding something that engaged me. The worst part is when you want to love a book or think you should. I know, I know, life is short, just move on. But I tear myself down and try to make myself stick with something even if for the first 50 pages. 

I want to announce that I am loving Our Souls at Night by the late Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane—tune in later for a full review of her book. Whew! One less thing to worry about—losing my passion for words. Now all I have to manage is a soul-killing revision on my MG novel.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Go on Vacation

This is for me as well as (both) my blog readers. There’s a piece I’ve been collecting snatches of words and phrases and now need to knit together into a short—or whatever it calls out to become.

Your retreat place. Your vacation spot. That place of surrender. Where you can be your truest self. Most relaxed. 

Is it somewhere your parents took you every year as a child? We went to an old motor court called Wild Waves on the shores of Lake Erie—every summer there was a spectacular fish die-off as the lake was under a great deal of pollution stress in the 1970s. The old log cabins harbored spiders in the wood, the walls crawled with them. The cement dock was crumbling, every winter eroded another chunk of it. The metal Adirondack chairs were one color: rust red, with hints of a former palette shining through. Yet, in my mind, I travel there all the time, checking images on the Internet to remind me of that part of my past. A past that was past even back then.

Or did you visit your family’s fish camp or Granny’s house in the country? As kids you think this is all there is, and then there comes a time, the year after grandma’s funeral, when you stop going. The kids are getting older, far too busy in the summers, it’s impossible for everyone to get together—even for a week. Then there’s the repairs, the taxes, that make keeping the old place hard. What used to be becomes a mere memory.

What about that one rental, that time-share? We all have stories of nightmare destinations, of ants or lizards trekking up and down the walls, of hopeless plumbing, of descriptions that don’t match up to reality, of fighting to get deposits back, of making do. Or of paradise. The best spot ever—if only you could go back there again! 

Write right now. My neurons are fired up, quick—go!
Farm vacation, Jane and Nancy 1964, cow unknown?