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Monday, June 26, 2017

What's In A Name?

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There were three of us - cousins, all within a year of one another in age. We grew up in a small town in Indiana. Back then, in that trusting age, our parents turned us loose to do whatever we wanted during the days of summer vacation. We rode our bikes to the park outside of town, played in the river, went to the library, ambled down alleys to gather thrown-away magazines to make scrapbooks and visited the dump to see if we could find a cache of love letters. One of our favorite pastimes was going to the cemetery. One of my cousins would pick out an interesting tombstone and ask me to tell a story about the person who lie under it.

And I always knew exactly who that person was. I never had to stop and think. Once I had the name in my head, the history flowed out behind it.

My cousins would listen enthralled by a world of magical little girls with dogs named Bestus and one-legged soldiers and a beautiful woman who died of a broken heart. To tell you the truth, I was somewhat enthralled by it myself.

My cousin, Shirley, asked me once - "where does it come from?"

"I don't know, it's just....it's just there."

My son always preferred me to tell him a story than to read from a book.

"Yours are better, Mom."

And it has always been there. I didn't begin writing until I was an adult and I didn't write fiction until I was in my 40's. Now I have 14 published novels and they all started with a name, just like those cemetery tales.

Once I had the name, I knew the person intimately - his or her looks and interests and history laid out before me. I never  questioned why Luka was born and raised in Romania or ended up settling in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. That's just the way it was, just as Shea found his dream in New Mexico and Ethan fled to Equador. I didn't know anything about any of those places but they were destiny for my characters.

I'm sure some people don't have the creative bent to do this but I bet there are a lot who could and just don't realize it. I think it would be an excellent practice for budding writers to find a name, any name, and make up a story about the person behind it. If you are curious enough, they will tell you about themselves.

I also think it would be a good lesson for smaller kids. Creativity has to be nurtured and stroked. Make up a name and ask your child to tell you who they think it is. Some, of course, will walk away to go play video games but others, who have that spark, may discover that what inside their head is every bit as interesting as what happens on a computer screen.



Thursday, May 04, 2017

International Women's Writing Guild - Empowering the Dreamers


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The first time I ever went to a writer's workshop, it was to teach one. I'd had been invited by Hannelore Hahn, the visionary who created the International Women's Writing Guild. IWWG's headquarters were in New York City but they had events all over the U.S., the largest and most prestigious being the one at Skidmore College at Saratoga Springs, New York in August. 

So, I drove from Indiana to New York, wondering the entire way what one did in a writer's workshop and wondering if I had enough money to get home. (They didn't pay you as the honor of being there was your reward. I could never have afforded to attend as a paying guest). 

You have to understand that at that time, I'd never attended a writing class, never even took a journalism class in high school. I never wrote for the yearbook. I never went to college. 

I wrote my first short piece for the Harley Davidson Enthusiast in 1973 for $70 (though I'd never owned or ridden a Harley Davidson motorcycle). I continued to write for magazines and newspapers, eventually including higher-paying publications, such as Newsweek, McCalls, Sports Illustrated, USA Today.

An essay I wrote for Newsweek got a lot of attention and as a consequence, I was invited onto several television programs and went to Washington as a guest of Senator Kennedy to attend a public policy forum on unemployment.

That is what brought me to Hannelore's attention. The IWWG describes itself as "a community that provides women a nurturing environment in which to experience rebirth, creativity and personal growth through writing." That was Hannelore's dream and she succeeded in bringing it to life for herself and many others, me included.

When I first arrived at Skidmore, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Most of the attendees were way more upscale and educated than I was but one of Hannelore's rules was that every type of writer was welcome and all their writing would be respected. At night, people gathered in the auditorium to read their work. You were allowed to offer kindly constructive criticism but never anything harsh enough to wound. We had the editor of a porn magazine once and when she read her work, there were red faces all around as well a compliments for her colorful use of language.

My workshop went fine and in fact, was voted one of the most popular ones but I think I learned more than I taught anyone. I learned about collegiality in that environment and how encouraging your peers could be, especially if you didn't have any back at home.

I learned about different types of writing. I was labeled a "nuts and bolts' writer, practical and down to earth, but we had our other groups as well - the feminists (voluntary lesbians rebelling at the world of misogyny) - the poetesses (I assumed everyone wanted to make money on their writing but the poetesses scorned money, they worked for the love of art) - the earth mothers (at home, they raised goats and made quilts and canned vegetables) -  the spiritualists (who read our palms and taught us to make mandalas and showed us where our chakra centers were).

It was a very heady time for me - sleeping in a dorm room, eating at a cafeteria (I'd never eaten baked squash before). We had our other entertainments as well. The thoroughbred track's season was during our conference and we usually went to the races once or twice. Saratoga Springs is a beautiful and appealing city to shop and eat. When the jockeys appears in the tree lawns in front of the magnificent mansions on the main street appeared, you knew the owners were in residence and receiving guests.

Mostly though Skidmore was about being at a place where ideas and creativity flourished and where everyone felt free to turn their thoughts loose, knowing they'd receive a supportive hearing.

I ended up going to Skidmore to teach three times and to the Chicago conference twice. I remember a woman who had come long before me. The other instructors told me the first year, she read her work, she was awful...but she wanted so badly to write, she kept coming, getting better every year. After seven years, she sold her book to a publisher. I think she was one of Hannelore's proudest accomplishments.

Hannelore told me once that the world was "too cruel to the dreamers". Instead of being told why they could realize their dreams, they were told why they couldn't. Hannelore wanted to empower the dreamers....and she did. I was lucky I got to be a part of it.

Incidentally, the IWWG still exists. You can find it on the internet. It is well worth belonging even if you never attend any conferences.






Sunday, April 23, 2017

Different Strokes for Different Folks


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Since the advent of computers as an elemental part of my existence, you could track my life through the discussion groups I’ve joined.

First, as a Sheriff’s Department employee, I joined a police group (typical of their caution, you had to send a copy of your badge, your i.d. and a confirmation from your superior to even be approved for membership). A while later, as the new owner of a rescue Cocker Spaniel, I joined a Cocker group. They welcomed anyone who owned a Cocker, might own a Cocker someday, simply liked Cockers or had ever even seen a Cocker).  

Law enforcement officers are hard-nosed and wary. Men (mostly) of few words, and all of them to the point. These are people skilled in the use of weapons and they carry that mentality right into your in-box. Make what they consider an ignorant comment and the verbal equivalent of Glocks and Tasers  are on hair trigger. Flaming is their version of Shock and Awe. Compassion? Forget it! If you have a death wish, try mentioning Hillary Clinton in a favorable light. I sometimes stumbled from their cyber-world bleeding emotionally. If you can’t take the heat, trust me, the cop’s kitchen is one you want to stay out of.  

So it was a relief to don my rose-colored glasses and enter Cockerland, where a constant sun filled the sky. Cocker devotees were so sweet, I could literally feel my blood sugar climbing as I read their posts. Express the tiniest upset to them and be prepared to overdose on tender loving care.  The Cocker aficionados rushed to send one another Frosty Paws, a kind of electronic hug. Pets or people never die, they go “across the Rainbow Bridge”. Cocker lovers always give everyone the benefit of the doubt. They remember one another’s dogs’ birthdays. I never felt like I measured up. Heck, I’m lucky if I remember my best friend’s birthday. I didn’t even admit when Raleigh crossed the Rainbow Bridge because I didn’t want to confess about the funeral service, casket, headstone and cemetery plot I didn’t buy. I thought I would only feel guilty confronting an inbox overflowing with Frosty Paws.

Then I joined a Wesley Clark for President group back when the General was in the running in 2004. We were drawn together by belief in Clark’s resume (first in his class at West Point, Rhodes scholar, wounded in Vietnam, 4 star general, NATO commander, etc). We thought it was a time when America needed a hero. Evidently, America didn’t agree. But we stayed together even after he lost the nomination. As a group, the Wes Clark supporters tended to be cool, calm and analytical. They’d write long, detailed e-mails about esoteric policy issues. They were religious about attributing credit for quotes and posting links to their sources. Our moderator was militant about keeping us on a path of fairness and deliberation. This lasted until the great match-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at which time, we broke into two opposing camps and deteriorated into name-calling and recrimination. We found out first-hand how easy it is for even friendly neighbors to turn on one another.

So I bailed on politics and became a NASCAR fan and, of course, I joined a NASCAR discussion group. In general, NASCAR people tend to be one sentence posters. E-mails will flood into my in-box and I settle happily into what I expect will be a an hour or so of contented reading, only to spend five minutes deleting messages that simply say, “Go, Smoke!” or “Down with Jeff Gordon” or “88!!!!!!!”. You can race through their messages as fast as Carl Edwards makes a lap around Bristol. Their judgments are swift and sure. They hate with great passion. The most devastating epithet they can hurl is to call a driver gay. I don’t know that they necessarily think it is true, it is simply that in NASCAR nation, gayness is the ultimate expression of contempt. NASCAR people worship at the altar of Dale Earnhardt and that adoration flows down to his son, Dale, Junior. It strikes me as odd that although I’d guess NASCAR fans are heavily weighted toward being Republicans, a party that professes its support for the free enterprise system, in choosing drivers they scorn those who fought their way up through the ranks in favor of monarchy.

These days, I’m back in the political ring big-time. I was a dedicated Hillary Clinton supporter and joined several pro-Hillary groups. She lost, of course, and now the Hillary gatherings have tended to slide over to anti-Trump discussions.

I no longer belong to all these groups but I enjoyed all of them even if moving among them made me feel that I was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. For amusement, I sometimes imagined how everyone would react if somehow all my various groups, past and present, were merged and had to deal with one another. Would the cops drown in the sea of syrupy optimism from the cocker folks? Would the NASCAR fans be overwhelmed by the blizzard of white papers posted by the Clark devotees? Or would the police pull their weapons and shoot their way free. Would the NASCAR aficionados run down the undoubtedly gay-leaning Hillary fans?  


Or are there more like me than I imagine, showing only one part of their personality to one group at a time but able to appreciate them all and using all of it as fodder for their writing? 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Old Writers - New Tricks



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This happened a few years ago when I was doing more writing for magazines which often offered additional $$ for accompanying photographs. 

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In our bid to join the twenty-first century, my friend Brenda and I took a class on Digital Photography. We both bought new cameras recently. In the past, our photographic expertise had consisted of: a) peering through the viewer to more or less center our subject (with a success rate of about 50 percent); b) clicking the button and 3) hoping for the best. If we had ever learned from past experience, we would have confined ourselves to purchasing simple, throwaway cameras and letting it go at that but, ever on the quest for knowledge, professionalism and technological hipness - and always over-estimating our own abilities, we forged into new photographic territory.
Brenda chose her camera by means of the ever-reliable “it was on sale” method.. I used a somewhat more labor-intensive technique for making my decision.  I went to the camera section of the Amazon.com website and read the reviews for different brands and styles of digitals.  I was particularly on the look-out for comments such as: “this camera is so easy, a two-year-old could take competition-winning photos with it!”  I ignored any mention of pixels and shutter speeds and other mechanical comparisons. By the time I scrolled down through page after page of reviews, often by writers who disagreed (“Brand A is the easiest and most reliable camera I have ever used and I’d never buy anything else!” versus “Brand A is junk and a total waste of money!”), I was no closer to a resolution than before.
When my camera was delivered, it came in a box of a size to suggest that it contained a microwave. The box included three manuals, one so thick, you’d assume it was instructions for building the space shuttle. This particular manual boasted four pages of Table of Contents. It has thousands of depictions of tiny little icon choices that my aging eyes have to struggle to differentiate and a series of complicated schematics that only an engineer would understand.
Of course, you have to consider that the manual would only be half as large if it was not divided in half by language since it has instructions in Spanish as well as English. I am not one of those people who are bothered by having to “press one for English”. In a complicated life of many ups and downs, pressing a single button seems like one of the simpler decisions I have to make. I almost enjoy it because it is something I can do without agonizing about whether I’m doing the right thing. And, in fact, with this manual, it really probably wouldn’t matter much if I flipped to the English section or the Spanish section because I think I would understand either one equally as well.
Along with the camera itself and the manuals were several cords and a cd and a carrying case and a little extra memory thingy that the Amazon people advised me to buy.
It was all so overwhelming that I simply placed everything in a cupboard and never looked at it again.  That was in August.  Brenda got her camera for herself at Christmas and has yet to take a picture.
We both decided we needed professional assistance if we were going to be able to take advantage of our new cameras and that’s why we signed up for the Digital Photography class. The first class was on a Tuesday.  I missed it because that was also Super Tuesday and nothing could have pulled me out from in front of the t.v. when election results were rolling in.


Brenda called me on Wednesday night. She was depressed as she told me about the class.  First, everyone there seemed to have higher end cameras than either of ours and second, all of them seemed to be considerably farther along the road to knowing how to use their cameras. (For instance, they all knew about framing and shading and what Photoshop was.) Bottom line: she felt dumb even though the instructor tried to convince her that neither the quality of her camera nor the depth of her ignorance was a cause for concern.
She told me that she tried to take notes but in looking back at them, they turned out to be gibberish. She told me our homework assignment was to know the speed of our cameras and to take a “raw picture”.
Sadly, she asked me if I knew the speed of my camera (answer: no) or if I knew what a raw picture was (answer: no).  We are supposed to get together this afternoon with our manuals and try to figure these two things out.
At the end of our conversation, she said -  “there’s only one consolation about next week’s class.”
“What’s that,” I asked.
“You’ll be there too and you’ll be just as stupid as me.”

Oh, wow, I could hardly contain my anticipation.

* Incidentally, we only made it through three classes before we ignominiously dropped out. My digital cameras is still in the same cupboard I put it in on the first day I got it. I mostly use my cell phone to take pictures now. I'm not very good at it. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Every Writer Needs A Blog



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I've been blogging for years, probably at least 15. In the beginning I didn't take it very seriously and I wasn't very good at it. My blog had no consistent theme. I wrote about whatever I wanted to write about. It was simply fun to do and it was practice for thinking up ideas and writing itself. I made no attempt to draw readers. I just published it and if by chance someone came along and read it, that was great.

I do better than that now although I still don't consider myself a mega-professional blogger with thousands of hits every day. I write three blogs - one about politics; one about NASCAR and this one, Rafe Vincennes (the name of the main character in my on-going series), about writing. The political blog is the one I've been doing the longest. I watch my stats with interest now and I must say, its a real thrill when you first hit 100,000 hits or you see that 700 people read your blog the previous month. 

I faithfully update the blogs. I now include pictures and links. I have enough readers that I get feedback if I fall behind. I use BLOGGER.COM and my blogs automatically appear on Twitter and Google+. I post them myself to Facebook. (I didn't know about any of these when I first began blogging). 

I still don't try to make money off my blogs by selling ad space. There are lots of tricks to increase your viewership or earn income off your blogs. I have just never had the time to look deeply into it although I might when I retire from my real job.

If you write books, a blog is an excellent platform for keeping readers up to date with your progress or to alert them that you have published a new book.

I'd recommend that every writer have a blog as a presence on social media. Of course, first, you have to find a subject that interests you enough to write about it every week at least - whether that is being a parent or pets or fashion or movies or whatever it is you have a passion for. Then you just have to DO IT. I've known several people who started a blog with great aspirations then simply petered out after the first few. 

For those of you who'd like to start a blog, here is what it was like for me as a newbie.

WHEN I FIRST BEGAN BLOGGING..... (written, I think, in 2008)

Blogging has always simply been an exercise in self-indulgence because I write it for myself and the three people a year who just happen to stumble on to it accidentally when they’re surfing the web.

It is nothing but writing because I never learned to use all the bells and whistles offered by the blog people who provided my space for free, although they frequently sent me encouraging messages to “enhance” the blog by adding this or that new feature. My blog doesn’t have pictures and it doesn’t have links. I write about whatever subject piques my interest. Sometimes, I go long periods without posting anything at all. Maybe there are a few more than three people who read it because I get complaints sometimes saying, “I went to your blog and there was nothing new.”

My goal in life is to sell my novel before I retire. (*Note - this never happened. I turned to e-publishing instead). To that end, I bought a book about how to market a fiction manuscript. I had an old copy but publishing companies and editors and agents change frequently so if you’re serious, you need to have the latest edition. In this most recent update, I discovered a new twist: publishers and agents who may be interested in buying your book manuscript consider it an advantage if you have a “platform”.

When I read this, my first reaction was – “huh?” I had no clue what a platform was but it turns out, it is any way you might have to reach potential readers of your book – a radio or television show, a column in a newspaper or magazine, a blog. Unbeknownst to me, I was already two steps ahead of the game. I write this column and I have a blog.

I decided I needed followers to make my blog look impressive in the unlikely event an editor and/or agent ever actually checked it out. A blog without readers is sort of like the tree that falls in the forest: you don’t know if it makes a sound or not. So, I sent e-mails to all my friends asking them if they’d go to the blog and become followers.

The young girls at my office had no problems. They instantly sent a one word message, “done.” Unfortunately, though, most of my friends are roughly my age. I began getting a flood of responses saying, “I went to the blog but I couldn’t figure out what to do.” So, I tried myself and I couldn’t figure out what to do either.

When I looked at it with a critical eye, I thought the blog looked amateurish. Any editor who viewed it would instantly know I was old because only an elderly, behind-the-technology person would have such a boring blog.

I decided I would pay to have the blog professionally done. The first thing the blog developer at Visionary Web asked was, “why pink?”

“What?” I said.

“Why pink?” he repeated. “The name of your blog is “red state blue collar” so why did you use pink as the primary color in your blog theme? Seems as if red and blue would have been the obvious choices.”

I felt like a fool right off the bat.

The new blog is red and blue. I “own” my very own domain name now, providing I can keep up the annual fee. The blog has a little button to press to become a follower. It even has a link from my Facebook page. The Visionary Web guy, Toby, showed me how to import pictures and to link to other sites. (And I plan on doing this before long, really). He told me about tags. The more tags, the better. Tags describe what your post is about. Like tags might be: “NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson, Daytona, Sprint Cup, auto racing….etc.” Tags are how you distinguish yourself to the search engines such as Google so if someone does a search for Jimmie Johnson, there you are. (Only it really isn’t quite as easy as that because you have about 4 billion competitors out there trying to do the same thing).

The pink blog was a pleasant dalliance. I dropped in now and then when I was in the mood, then waved a cheery good-bye – “see ya later”.  The new professional red and blue blog is a marriage requiring devoted attention in order to flourish.

To make it even more stressful, the Visionary Web people are like the friends who introduced you to your partner. They have a proprietary interest in seeing that the relationship works. They send me suggestions about things to do now and then. I worry about not living up to their expectations. I imagine them going to my blog site, shaking their heads in disappointment.

“She hasn’t imported a single picture yet,” or, “her latest post was pretty lame.”

My hope is that the blog will be an effective sales tool should a publisher happen to pop in. Over all, though, the old blog with my three + readers was a lot more relaxing.







Saturday, March 25, 2017

I Write What I Am



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I received a phone call from a friend this week to tell me that a friend of hers, who doesn’t know me but sees my posts and comments on Facebook, had been told by someone else that I am a lesbian. She asked my friend if that was true.

“We’ve been close for over 30 years,” LeAnn told her, “and I’m quite sure I’d know. No, it isn’t true.”

Her friend assumed I would be upset and hurt if I knew what had been said about me but LeAnn knows me better. She was laughing when she revealed to me what had happened.

For the record, it isn’t true and the way you know is that I haven’t told you. I write about my life – its happiness, its humor, its trials and its tribulations. I’m rather private in person but my writing is like an entity of its own, separate from me. It’s where I let it all hang out.

So, if I was gay, I’d write about the experiences of being gay. My integrity as a writer would demand that I not hold back what would be such an elemental part of myself. I wouldn’t be ashamed of being a lesbian, rather I’d just accept it as who I am.

It does make you wonder though why someone would pass on that information about a person without the slightest shred of evidence. Perhaps it is because I am a supporter of gay rights and have frequently said so in my columns, Facebook posts and blogs. Maybe some people think the only way you can be in favor of gay marriage is if you are gay yourself.

Actually, the opposite appears to be true. It is so often the most vociferous opponents who are later hoist on their own petard and found to be in-the-closet homosexuals themselves. Fairly recently, we have seen the case of Denny Hastert, Republican former Speaker of the House (and voter against gay issues). Ashamed gays seem to do more harm to the cause of gay rights than straight people, at least those who have the power of politics or religion or celebrity.

It could be that my informant assumed that since I’ve been single since Jim died in 1989, that must mean I don’t like men but the truth is that after having been in two marriages that both had their moments of joy but their share of difficulties too, I just didn’t want to be bothered trying to make a relationship work again. I simply wasn’t sure the third time would be the charm, especially since my penchant was always for men with a bit of an outlaw streak.

Anyway, it is a moot point now because at my age, my “love affairs” are confined to the pages of a book or a television screen. Right now, in my fantasies, I’d have to draw straws to choose between Jamie Fraser (aka actor, Sam Heughn) of the Outlander series or Jimmie Johnson, champion NASCAR driver.

It may be that the rumor-spreader simply doesn’t like me for what could be an abundance of reasons and wanted to say something negative about me, which she assumed being labeled gay would be, not knowing that I couldn’t care less. Call me uncompassionate or un-generous-hearted or harshly judgmental....now those would bother me because those would be ugly and deliberate choices.

At any rate, I’ve been writing columns and blogs long enough to have heard myself called just about everything at one time or another. Lesbian would certainly the least of them. If I was concerned by untrue allegations, I would simply retreat from the kind of provocative writing I often do.  It would be just as easy to only write about pretty things, although not nearly as much fun.









      





Monday, March 13, 2017

History Provides Ideas


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           I instructed a workshop once and met a woman there who had only one goal. She had no desire to write books or newspaper articles or poems. She just wanted to tell her mother’s story.
            This woman’s mother’s maiden name was German. Her grandmother prepared German dishes for family get-togethers. Her grandfather read to them from a Bible brought with them when the family came to America. The grandchildren called their grandparents Oma and Opa. They were proudly German through and through.
            But oddly, St Patrick’s day was her mother’s favorite day of celebration. She reminded the kids to wear green to school. She tied green balloons on the porch railings. She served emerald-hued lemonade and baked a cake decorated with shamrocks. Once she came home from shopping, laughing, with a Teddy bear dressed like a leprechaun. She named him O’Malley and for years after that, he sat on her dresser.
            The mother was almost 90 when she went in the hospital. Toward the last, she called her daughter, the woman I met at the conference, to her bedside.
            “I have something to tell you,” she said, “so someone knows before it’s too late.”
            It seemed she had been adopted. She’d known since she was very young when she found the paperwork in an old trunk. Her birth mother was an Irish girl, unwed. I won’t tell you her name because this is someone else’s story but suffice it to say, it was a thoroughly Irish name, like Molly O’Malley. She’d never let on that she knew. Her adoptive mother and father had been wonderful parents and she loved them. She wouldn’t have wanted them to think she doubted that she considered them her real parents. So she kept their secret. For 364 days a year, she was German but on that one day, St Patrick’s Day, she honored the woman who had brought her into the world.
            By the time her parents died, it seemed not to matter so she remained silent. The documents had disappeared from the trunk. But now she was dying and it seemed important to pass on her history.
            I don’t know if my friend ever wrote her mother’s story. She planned to try to do research to track down her real grandmother but I never heard whether she did it or if she tried, whether she was successful. 
            I was thinking of this because I was reading through the “Cass County, Indiana – 2002 History” over the weekend. Wabash County has a similar book. I love these histories but they can be so frustrating. They always contain a section devoted to family biographies but usually they are a boring list of “begats” with relevant dates. Sometimes, though, embedded within them are tantalizing bits of information that make you long to know more.
            Many Cass County settlers emigrated from Germany and Ireland and Italy. What must it have been like to leave Italy in 1913 as Domenico Pancini did, leaving behind a wife and child, to start a new life in Logansport, Indiana (why Logansport?). And what was it like for Zelinda who followed him months later, spending 14 days on a ship, coming through Ellis Island and traveling to Buffalo to board a train to Logansport, only to watch her child succumb to illness there? What a bittersweet reunion that must have been for Domenico and Zelinda with little Josephine left in a lonely grave in New York.    
            The Frederick Charles Green listing relates that he was born in Ardwick, England on June 19, 1879 and came to America when he was approximately four years old. From there, Frederick “came west from New York in 1892 on the “orphan train”. The orphan train? What was that and how did Frederick get to be there?
            Dennis Franklin Hess was born in Ireland on September 15, 1864 and was adopted into the Hess family when he arrived in America. Was there a time when America was actively importing European orphans into our country to increase our population?
            According to the Crook-Helms Homestead account, Patrick and Nancy Crook purchased their farm on August 7, 1858. It goes on to say that the Crooks were “blessed” with nine children. I wonder if Nancy really considered herself blessed when she realized she was pregnant with her ninth child?  I’d love to read a diary written by the mother of nine in that era.
            Dr Kathryn McHale taught in the Logansport public schools for seven years after graduating from Logansport High School, then went to Columbia University where she received a B.S., an M.S. and a Ph.D, going on to countless achievements and awards. From a humble public school teacher to a multi-degreed professor/doctor/author? What came between?
            The history book only offers teasing clues about the stories that abound within our family histories. I can’t help being curious about how many fascinating tales have been lost because our family members never thought to tell us the details and we never thought to ask.
            If you still have the opportunity, ask.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Is E-Publishing For You?

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I received an acceptance from from a publisher for the first novel I ever wrote (Magic Creek). Oh, man, I was ecstatic! I wanted to be a published author more than anything in the world! There was only one condition: I had to change the ending. Two of the main characters were a wife and her abusive, controlling doctor husband. In the end of the book, she remained with him. The publisher said that was not acceptable. She simply had to leave.

And I was more than willing. I would have done anything short of selling my soul to the devil to get a book contract. Integrity to my muse? Forget that!

So, I tried and tried....and tried. But Tory would not go. I must have re-written the ending 20 times. Those edits always turned out clunky and graceless. There was no flow. You could almost feel Tory's rebellion and resistance coming out on the pages. At the last, the book knew better than I did what it wanted to happen and so I gave up and let it have its way.

I've written 14 more novels since then and I doubt if I could have sold any of them to a traditional publisher. They fit in no known genre and conform to no known guidelines. The plotting is quirky. The male protagonists are more anti-hero than hero. The scenes of sex and violence are graphic. The subject matter often deals with taboos, such as incest. In short, there are multiples reasons for a publisher to reject them.

Thank heavens, I discovered e-publishing. It is perfect for idiosyncratic authors such as myself. No one can tell you how your book should end. No one can tell you that your character needs to be softened up a bit to be more likeable.

E-publishing is easy and its quick. I hire my formatting done (I think the last book cost $50). I also pay for the cover. I'm no good at the graphic or technical end of publishing. Once those two things are done, you go to Smashwords (Smashwords sells to multiple venues such as Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and others) and/or Amazon, fill in the information about your book, download the manuscript and the cover and voila, you're done. The whole process takes about half-an-hour.

You have to do your own marketing but from what I've read, if you're an unknown, you have to do a lot of that yourself now anyway. Publishing houses don't spend a ton of money on book tours and advertising in the New York Times for new authors, unless a manuscript has really impressed them.

So, you'll need to have a Facebook author's page and a Google+ account. You'll need to join GoodReads and any other book sites you can find. You'll need to jump on to Twitter. You need to consider writing a regular blog. All so you can promote your books. If you can do it (it's something I'm terrible at), you need to ask your friends to write reviews and share your posts with their friends and "follow" you on your various sites.

None of that is hard but it can be time-consuming.

I won't lie, I'd still love to publish a hardcover novel but I don't think it will ever happen. I don't think my writing will ever lend itself to a mass market audience. In the meantime, my books are out there and people read them and like them (sometimes they hate them too). And I have the freedom to go wherever my characters take me without an editor second-guessing them or me. And I'm satisfied with that.

Vicki's links:

https://www.amazon.com/author/vwilliams - amazon author page
smashwords author page- Smashwords author page
http://www.godlovescirclesbest.com - Nascar blog


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Be Adventurous - Don't Get Stuck in a Rut!



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I go through phases with books. Almost the whole time I was a kid, the books I read were about animals – any kind of animal, really, but mostly horses and dogs. I still have the tiny book with the little one-paragraph reviews we had to fill out to be part of the summer reading program at the Logansport library when I was about nine. I read way more books than I needed to get my certificate. Almost every one of them was about animals – black stallions and Irish Setters that were lost in the wild and little girls who wanted a pony more than anything (which described me, incidentally ).
Into adulthood, I never lost this tendency to toward obsession about certain types of books. For many years, I read everything on the New York Times best seller list. It was one of my claims to fame then (though no one found it exceptional but me) that I’d read every best seller for several years running. No discrimination there. I didn’t care what the book was about, I read them all. Making the list was my only criteria.
Then we moved to the country and I went through my non-fiction period. I was rather smug and self-righteous about my new-found turning to “just the facts, Ma’am” reading list. I looked down on those people who read simply for enjoyment when they could be Learning Something. Most of these books were in a similar vein to my Bible of the time – “Five Acres and Independence”.  They, along with our subscription to the then  new magazine, Mother Earth News, taught me how to milk goats and plant gardens (placing plants so that the dreaded anti-environmental herbicides  and fertilizers were never needed), making my own butter and creating a compost pile. It turned out that our commitment to self-sufficiency was never up to the standard Mother Earth demanded.   I discovered I was too attached to thermostats for heat and that by the end of the garden planting, I no longer gave a darn about matching plants. I just wanted them in the ground and to get done (which is why my cucumbers mated with my melons (or, anyway, why some species crossed ethnic lines because I’d placed them too close together and they fell in love). We did have chickens but we never dammed our creek so as to tie into the electric grid and free ourselves of REMC.
I went through a Louisiana spell with no clue why. I knew everything there was to know about that state. Although I’d never been there, I was convinced that I must have been a New Orleansian in a previous incarnation. For quite a while, it was the Civil War that captured my attention and then later, the Vietnam War.
Quite a few years ago, I settled into mysteries and that’s where I have mostly stayed. Not only did I get trapped in that genre but even certain authors within it. In short, I didn’t care to read anything that wasn’t by a writer I already knew I liked. Adventuresome, I was not. I’d go to the library and never even look at titles, just author’s names. If Ed McBain or Martha Grimes wrote a new book, I got it.
Oddly, my very favorite novel for about a decade was “Lonesome Dove”, which I’d got only out of desperation because my favored authors were letting me down by not writing books quickly enough to keep up with me.  My experience venturing out of my chosen area to find my favorite book taught me nothing. Once Lee Child and Ian Rankin and Robert B Parker came out with new offerings, I fled right back to mysteries again.
Until fairly recently. Once again, my favorites were selfishly producing too slowly. I could find nothing that sounded appealing so, reluctantly, I got a novel, “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” by a Scottish writer, Iain Banks. “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” overtook “Lonesome Dove” as my all-time favorite book. Iain Banks, I discovered, has been one of Britain’s most popular authors for years. His first novel, “The Wasp Factory” has been acclaimed one of Britain’s top five books of all time.  I got another of his books from the library, then ordered the others from Amazon and have loved every one.
In addition to his novels, Iain Banks is a hugely successful writer of science fiction, writing under the name Iain M Banks. I’d always thought I hated science fiction but I don’t know why.  As far as I knew, I’d never read a science fiction book or seen a science fiction movie.  But because I was so enthralled with Banks’ writing, I took a risk and let him lead me into new territory –science fiction – and learned that wonderful writers are wonderful writers no matter what the genre.
Even more recently, I took the advice of several friends and reluctantly began the Outlander series. I didn’t think romance/history/time travel was my cup of tea at all but lo and behold, I fell in love. Now, maybe Diana Gabaldon’s books are my favorites. Or maybe an even newer discovery – Chronicles of a Legend – The Pirate Captain, by Kerry Lynn.
There’s a moral here – about ruts and how you can cheat yourself out of some of the joyousness of life when you let yourself get stuck in them.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Shades of George Orwell

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Well, it seems that George Orwell's 1984 has hit Amazon's best seller list again, thanks to Kellyanne Conway's statement about alternate facts. Maybe we should all give it another read to remind ourselves what we're up against in the new era of Trump.

Of course, alternate fact is an oxymoron. There can be no alternate fact. Facts are facts and stand alone. At least, that's true in the world of reality though not necessarily in the world of narcissistic politicians.

Words will be our weapons in the coming years. Obviously, the administration plans to use them as weapons as well and they have some big guns. By choosing who can cover the White House. By labeling certain news organizations (CNN) as peddlers of "fake news". By limiting how agencies may or may not communicate with the public via all forms of expression - tweet, email, press releases, interviews, policy papers. We will not hear any scientific fact the administration disapproves of. All references to climate change have been scrubbed from the EPA website. Trump seems to have taken lessons in media management from Vladimir Putin.

I don't believe we have ever had a president before who could stand before us and swear to an outright lie even when there is verbal and visual proof that his lie is a lie. It is a scary future in which the very words we rely on for communication cannot be trusted. We are lost in an information vacuum when the leader of the free world feels no responsibility to share honestly with his people.

The rest of us with have to engage in a world duel with our leaders. Ours may not carry as much weight as a president's but we outnumber him by millions so we'll have to rely on overwhelming his deceit with our truth.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Now In Paperback - Marking Time

    

My book of columns has now been published as a paperback. It can be purchased from either Amazon or CreateSpace at a cost of $8.48. Here are the links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1535538228

This book is completely different than any of my e-published novels. The people who read my e-books probably won't recognize that author of graphic and gritty fiction as the same one who writes about life in a rural Hoosier county with affection and humor. I hope this book brings smiles and the occasional tear to readers. I hope it reminds them that even in times of turmoil, this is still the heart of America. 

If you are looking for a unique gift, consider this book.  If you are from this area, you might even recognize yourself or someone else you know!