Revival!

amuletYears ago, I read The Amulet by Michael McDowell. I loved it, but when I went looking for more by this author, I was disappointed to find he had died in 1999. McDowell wrote horror but without the gore. His books were already out of print and nearly impossible to find. So I was delighted when I saw on the Books & Bytes blog that Valancourt Books has reissued McDowell’s titles. I was also intrigued to read a bio of McDowell on Valancourt’s web site. Wow! In addition to his fiction, he wrote the screenplays for both Beetlejuice and The

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Nightmare Before Christmas, both ingeniously original films and two of my favorites. If you’re like me and prefer eerie, creepy, the slow build, but not splatter and chainsaws, you might like McDowell. The entire feature on Valancourt Books, posted on Books & Bytes is also worth reading. You can find it here. Their sole purpose is to re-issue out of print classics and other hard to find, but deserving titles. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to order a couple of new-to-me McDowell titles.

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My Best Writing Tool

timerMy new best writing tool is not a new computer. It’s not a fancy word processing program. It’s not a printer, instruction book or office space. It’s a simple digital timer.

A few weeks ago I was facing a difficult writing chore. We all know that starting is the hard part, and I was dragging my feet. I wanted to use the old mental trick of saying, “just work for ten minutes.” But how to keep track? I don’t dare use the clock on my computer screen. Too easy to get distracted by the news feed, or click on that game icon. I could have used my phone, but for me, even that much tech was more a distraction than a help. My regular kitchen timer is not digital, and has that annoying “tick, tick, tick” as it’s counting down. Then I remembered a digital timer I had bought for another purpose. Turns out it was the perfect tool. Easy to set, re-set, start and stop. Silent. Big, easy to read numbers. Plus, I could put it out of my line of sight so I wouldn’t keep checking to see how much longer I had to go.

You won’t be surprised by what happened. By the time I heard the first “ding” I was well into the project. The initial reluctance had vanished, replaced by renewed interest and enthusiasm. So I set the timer for the next ten minutes. And then the next ten minutes and the next ten. When I finally slowed down, I had worked over an hour and made a sizable dent in the project. While I won’t need this trick every time, I’m glad to have it when I need it. And hey, it also works when it’s time to clean the garage!

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

pat on backA few days ago, I attended an awards ceremony for a poetry competition. This was at a very small, private organization and the competition was in-house only. But from the beaming pride on the faces of the winner and two runner’s up, it might as well have been the Pulitzers. I know we’re supposed to write first of all for ourselves, but nothing, I say NOTHING, beats recognition from others, whether judges, editors, friends, or strangers, in validating what we do. It can be recognition and appreciation for our actual published work, the fact that we actually submitted something, or merely an acknowledgement of the huge effort we put in to our dream and the sacrifices we make. We would do it anyway, of course. Yes, I’ll never forget the boost I got a few months ago. I had attended at Sisters In Crime meeting and run into an old friend. He asked me about my work. After filling him in, I remarked on how much better he had made me feel. He said simply, “That’s because someone is paying attention.” It’s hard sometimes for non-writers to have any idea of what we do. So I take my figurative hugs and pats on the back where I can. I cling to them and treasure them. To all those, whether fellow writers or not, who keep providing them for me, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Accepted! Published!

I’m thrilled to report that my story “The Wannabe” will be included along with 22 others in the newest Guppy anthology. Something Fishy will be out towards the end of the year. The Guppies (a sub chapter of Sisters In Crime) create and publish an anthology every other year. I can hardly wait. An added perk for me is that it’s taken many years for this story to find the right market.

I also have two poems in the current issue of Light: A Journal of Light Verse. You can read them here. So, keep writing and submitting. I like sharing my successes, but I’m always delighted to hear about everybody else’s as well.

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Weeding

piles of paperTo most people, I don’t look like a hoarder. And I’m not, in general. But when it comes to my writing, well, yes, yes I am. In trying to pare down, I’ve found that my writing related hoarding boils down to three categories. One, notebooks and scraps of paper filled with jotted ideas, random thoughts, character names, catchy phrases. Unorganized, largely unreadable, and often mystifying, therefore for the most part worthless. Why do I hang on to them? Fear. Fear that I will never have another idea. That there will come a time when my ideas run out. Hasn’t happened yet, but hey, you never know. Yet, new ideas constantly come along, and I never end up going back to the old stash. When I do (rarely), I find I can no longer recall what prompted a notation such as “torn coupon” or “strict bed rest.” So, yeah, pretty much worthless.

Two, stacks of photocopied, printed or torn out writing related articles. Topics include, craft, markets, technology, inspiration, motivation. Again, why do I keep them? Fear. Fear that I’m not good enough yet. One of them might, just might, contain the one tip, insight or information that will take me to the next level. But on a practical basis, how many of them do I read or re-read, once I’ve put them in the files? Aren’t the technical ones, as well as the markets already outdated? Isn’t all that stuff available online anyway?

Three, old stories, drafts, outlines that never went anywhere. Why do I keep them? Some have the germ of an idea that is still good, or a theme that I still want to explore. I still believe they could be developed into a decent story, essay or poem. This pile makes more sense to me. Just this morning, I found a story I started years ago, but that I saw a new market for recently.

There is a fourth category that I don’t consider hoarding. This is a shelf with copies of all my printed work from over the years. It’s a testament to my worth as a writer. In low moments, it reminds me that I did it before and I can do it again. But looking at the first two categories, I sense they represent a fundamental self-doubt that may end up being crippling, rather than supportive. Don’t they just bog me down? I want to focus on the current viable ideas, on the future, on the writing yet to be, on the writing I do today. All the inspiration in the world, all the bits of ideas in the world, are only valuable if they get turned into submittable work. That’s where I need to spend my time.

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Off-Topic

This post is not about writing, reading or publishing. At least not directly. But as a writer, I’m constantly looking for ways to be more efficient, especially with my keyboard and other electronics. And so I’m recommending the book Pogue’s Basics, by David Pogue. It’s full of keyboard shortcuts, as well as sections on web searching, text messaging, enhancing privacy and security, preserving and recovering files and other ways to make the best use of our phones and computers.

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Sure, a lot of this I already knew. And maybe you’re more computer savvy that I am. But even the few new ideas I’ve learned are well worth the price of the book.

The edition I have is a few years old (and so far, I haven’t seen any plans for an updated edition), so I had to translate some of the commands to newer versions of web browsers or applications. But that was easy and many of the tips are still perfectly current. Too many of these “helpful hints” books, on any subject, are full of ridiculous actions that I would never bother with, or are overwhelming. This book is clear, well-organized and above all, useful in the most immediately practical way. It’s not about becoming a computer expert. It’s more about helping the rest of us become the best end users we can be. Just my humble opinion.

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Oh, Now I Remember Why

spilled inkThere are very few markets these days that still allow paper submissions, still fewer that require them. Sometimes I forget why I’m so glad about this. But yesterday I submitted a flash fiction story to a market that only accepted paper, snail-mail submissions. What a chore! First, since the story was a one-page print-out, I folded it in thirds to fit into a number 10 envelope. But, the creases kept ending up in places that made the manuscript harder to read when it was opened up. So I did the re-folding four times before I got the look I wanted. Then, the number 10 envelopes I was preparing kept getting ink smudges on the back and I had to toss several of them out. It took me a while to realize I was laying them down on a page of ink-jet printed labels that had not quite dried. Sheesh. I finally got it all together and had to make a trip to the Post Office to drop it in the slot. No way was I going to trust any other form of drop-off for something as important as a manuscript. But then I worried: Gee, that address label seemed a little loose at the corner. Would it fall off before it got to its destination? At least this, being a one page submission, only needed a regular stamp. At least I didn’t have to stand in line at the PO to have it weighed for correct postage. The whole experience was a good reminder of why I’m so grateful that these days we largely deal in electronic submissions. I guess it’s sort of like “roughing it” in the wilderness from time to time. It sure makes one appreciate the comforts of the modern world.

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Books For Mother’s Day: Dear Mother: Letters of Tribute and Remembrance and In Celebration of Mothers

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Here is a book to treasure and to re-read again and again. It’s filled with every kind of emotion–grief, regret, guilt, but also connection, gratitude and hope. The stories touch on every religion from animism to Buddhism, or no religion at all. And of course, they portray every kind of mother. Every story made me wish I could have known each of them. Every story makes me wish I could meet its author. The writing in each essay is fresh, skilled, illuminating and evocative, even though they are short. I love it that what means most to these children are the small, shared moments, the bits of knowledge and advice somehow absorbed, the lessons in resilience and wisdom in adversity. Mainly I love the editor’s forward, when she writes, “We may remember words spoken in love and words spoken in anger, but words unspoken linger forever.”

 I did have to take the book in small doses, as each vignette moved me to tears, guilt and memories of my own. But I persisted. This experience is too good to miss. The recent death of Barbara Bush is inspiring so many tributes, all positive and meaningful. This book does the same for so many mothers never in the public eye. No matter what relationship you had with your mother, this is a book for everyone.

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Also there is the lovely collection edited by Trisha Faye. Either of these books are great gifts for mothers, mothers-to-be, or sons and daughters. I guess that includes everybody!

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Note to Self

Just finished reading Lie To Me, by J.T. Ellison. It was a pretty good page turner. But what I really appreciated was the author’s note that she added at the end of the novel. In it, she states, “I had a specific goal in mind with this story–stretch myself beyond my limits.” Of course, she meant stretching herself beyond her then-current limits as a writer. Seems to me that’s how I’m going to get anywhere in my own writing, or improve any skill: by stretching, even if ever so slightly, beyond what my abilities are right now. And then doing again the next day and the next.

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And for heaven’s sake, stop comparing myself to where other people are, or to where I wish I were. I may, however, compare myself to where I was yesterday. Or last year. Cuz I’m way better now, not coincidentally, at the very skills I’ve practiced. Imagine that!

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An Abundance of “Free Stuff”

Several times on this blog, I’ve mentioned what everybody here in town calls the “free table.”

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The Free Table behind our local library.

This is a table with a lovely roof, built by the local Boy Scouts, in back of the library where everyone is free to drop off or pick up books, magazines and other related items. Well, apparently our small town had the money to upgrade to new event furniture, because now, next to the “free table” are . . .

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It took a week or two, but they all found new homes. And not in a land fill or dumpster. Yay!

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