Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Skin

"You need to have a thick skin, like your sister. Why can't you be more like her?"

When I think of my mom's mom, that's all I hear. It's been at least six years since those words physically left her lips. But I hear them all the time.

It's strange how people form attachments to relatives. I loved my mom's mom. Not that I don't love my dad's mom too. But the heart pulls favorites. Whether we're looking for them or not. My sister lived for the times she spent with our paternal grandparents. She'd be visiting on the exact weekend they were going into the North End to do their shopping. Every time. Me, we'd hit the Purity Supreme across the field. Still it was fun. But not my sister's full bodied fun.

I, on the other hand, loved to visit my mom's parents. Nana was forever trying to teach me to sew a straight seam. I still can't. But my sister is an expert seamstress. She can sew anything she dreams about. My sister can also knit and crochet. Never dropping a stitch or having to read a pattern twice; not me. I'm just starting to figure out what all those odd symbols in a pattern mean. Despite sharing a domestic green thumb, my sister didn't appreciate Nana. I never understood why. Even in death, and me lacking in home economic graces, I love her deeply.

Nana seemed to relish the fact that my sister never lets anyone get the last word. She is quick thinking, and no one ever takes advantage of her. So I can understand why she held my sister up as a shining example for me to follow. She wanted me tephlon tough. She didn't want me to get hurt. Such love.

But still, I wonder. Was Nana right? I tend to forget those disturbances that happen in relationships. There isn't enough space in my brain to keep track of all that stuff. My sister never forgets. She remembers every fault, every hurt, every anything that comes her way. Her backbone is fortified with them. Her tongue honed.

Despite her thick skin, I know she gets hurt. I've seen it in her eyes and heard it in her voice. But I wonder if her thick outer cover prevents her from healing. Acting like a scab that holds in the infection.

So is having a thick skin truly worth it? I probably will never know. Instead, I'll live out my life, smiling through my thin skin. Shedding the hurt, and looking to each day as a new beginning.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Miss Snark

A while ago, FC turned me on to Miss. Snark. "It's a must read site for any author hoping and praying to someday grab the attention of a literary agent. "

FC you are so right. And yesterday the heavens opened and the angels sang as Miss Snark posted "Synopsis versus plot outlines in queries". On my desk I have stacks of example query letters, okay there's only seven, and three pages, handwritten of my attempts at cutting to the chase of my 49,976 word novel. In her post Miss Snark states the obvious areas that must be addressed in a query. I have paraphrased here. Please see the original post.

Who is the main character? I have that one answered.

Does what happens in the first 50 pages set up the story for the rest of the book? I believe so, but will continue to rewrite to tighten the plot.

Who is the enemy? This question has stopped me. On the surface, the enemy seems to be Sarah's Dad. After all he moves his family across the country for a job. Imagine that -- the selfish soul that he is. But is he the enemy? Me thinks not.

What about Jeff? Yes, he's the classroom bully. But is he the enemy?

What about the ghost? Or the thought that the house is haunted?

As I have been painting the porch (almost done!) I have been pondering over many a brush stroke on this query letter.

I need to list out who are the enemies and why.

And then I can go on to the last query letter criteria:

The twist in the plot is:

Thank God, for Miss Snark.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sometimes I feel like James Bond

Not that I'm licenced to kill.
But I have learned the meaning of the phrase: Never Say Never Again.

Last week I finished my book. Last night I started the research to find an agent. Most want the first ten pages, some even want fifty. I decided to reread the first ten. Choppy, choppy, choppy...

I rewrote them again. So if I emailed you a copy of Forever Yours, swearing it was done... if your not my dear dear printer friend who writes and takes pictures, through both producing works that will knock your socks off, you don't have the latest and greatest.

AND if you want the latest and greastest, send email and I'll send it out, again. I guess these revisions will go on until it hits the shelf. So I'll never say it's done again , until then.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A little surprise

This is a bit embarassing to admit, but it's funny. So here goes.

While rewriting my book, the eighth time now, I got an Ah-Ha moment.

Sarah is half asleep and she sees someone on the attic stairs carrying a book. When she wakes fully, she assumes it was her father, who has been busily setting up bookcases up there. I am hoping the readers follow her lead and make the same assumption, but I know who it is. After all I wrote it.

I have often wondered about where the ideas for my book have come from. It started out as an innocent picture book for my lovelies. A cute read about moving homes and finding the good in new places. But over the course of 8 years, it has taken on a life of its own. I see things, like the August 12, 1944 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. I know Martha and Alice Boss saw that cover, and it affected them. I've found cards, music, plant holders, Christmas decorations and old canine tags in this house and I know that they are their's. Treasures left here for me to ponder. When I dig in the gardens, I am curious if it will be in this shovel full that I'll find a thin warped wedding ring engraved "Forever Yours."

This draft is the one I will use to find an agent. Once that mountain is conquered, I am sure more rewriting will take place. Still, I hope and pray that my lucky agent will have Ah-Ha moments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Earlier than usual

The little ones were playing with their clock and set the alarm for midnight. I dreamed about an annoying constant buzzing and finally woke enough to realize it was an alarm. Now I'm up. I guess it's a gift of time for Sarah. I think I'll take it, and not be cranky in the morning when the little ones arise.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Making time for Sarah

I spent a couple of hours yesterday rewriting my book. It was a gift to sit, read, and edit. After reading a paragraph or two I'd go back and see what was telling and what was showing. Did I need all those words? Is that detail required to move the story? If not, the words and I parted ways.

I also took the opportunity to add the little details I picked up during my trip to Stockbridge this summer. A word here, a phrase there that adds substance to the story.

I love rewriting, but I've said that before. I wonder when I'll be ready to let Sarah, her family and friends go?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Visit

"Hi Nana!"
"I brought coffee and some pictures."
"Look at the girls. Haven't they grown?"
"Do I know you?"
"Yes, I'm Sonny's daughter."
"Do you like Ri-Ah's dance picture?"
"Lola rides the bus to school."
"Maddielou has shot up like a weed."
A light....
"Do you remember the girls?"
Do you remember Dean?"
"My brother."
"Yes, and Angie?"
"My sister."
"I can't remember your other sister's name."
"It's Margie. She's rich."
"Good for her. I remember Great Grandma Pagano."
"She was my mother. She was fat."
"It happens."
"That lady there is fat. And when she comes over
here I'm going to stick my tongue out at her."
"Nana, she seems so nice."
"I remember sitting on your porch with Aunt Angie."
"Yes, Angie would come over and we'd sit."
"The breeze was lovely."
"And drink lemonade."
"And Grandpa's tomatoes."
"They were so big and fat. Not fat like that one."
"But probably just as sweet."
"You like her?"
"I don't know her really. But she seems very nice."
"I won't give her any of my whiskey."
"Nana, I didn't know you drank."
Lunch time.
"I'll see you again soon."
I drove home. Vacant.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Making a lawn out of a mountain

Since we put the addition on the house last year, we've had a rather large pile of dirt in the backyard. To save money we decided instead of hiring a landscape company to fix the backyard (from the construction) we would do it.

My Dear One took on the task last fall. Right about the same time I started the painting. He got half of the construction debris sifted, removing all the rock and several thousand boulders before winter hit. The weather halted the backyard work, and likewise painting stopped too. Funny how that works.

Well, to make a long story short, the Dear One spent most of his free outside work time finishing up this job. And for the past two evenings we have been putting the frosting on the cake. In otherwords, we have been spreading loam and planting grass seed.

We even went a bit overboard by reseeding some of the balder areas in the lawn. I think we have one more evening of spreading and seeding and the outside, except for painting the porch, will be done. It will be so nice to have the yard back in shape again.


The porch is on the docket. With winter coming I need to pull this last bit of bamboo from underneath my fingernail. I tried to pay my college-aged nephew, a summertime painter, to do the dirty work, but he's too busy with school. Imagine that. He must hate painting more than I do.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11

 Taken from The Eucharistic Prayer For Masses of Reconciliation

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we praise and thank you through Jesus Christ our Lord
for your presence and action in the world.

In the midst of conflict and division,
we know it is you
who turns our minds to thoughts of peace.
Your Spirit changes our hearts;
enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.

Your Spirit is at work
when understanding puts an end to strife,
when hatred is quenched by mercy,
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.

For this we should never cease
to thank and praise you.


(And) In that new world where the fullness of your peace will be revealed,
gather people of every age, race, creed, language, and way of life
to share in the one eternal banquet

with Jesus Christ the Lord.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's quiet

I shocked myself the other night. For months I have been wondering if I had another story of any length in me. Even a taut, bare bones and stretched paragraph would've been a start. Something humorous; something that would get me thinking.

Several ideas had perculated to the surface, but none had stood the test of typing. The process by which the smokey mass of electronically impulsed details is funneled down into words, sentences and scenes through my fingers and keyboard.

The other night while out walking it came to me. And last evening it was still there. Hanging with possibility. It's mostly dialogue. Will it truly work? Only time will tell. It would be nice to get it published.

But let's not put the literary magazine before the pen.

Friday, September 08, 2006


If you had asked me in high school, college, or even graduate school if I liked to write. My answer would have been a resounding NO. I hated to write. In Creative Writing, which I had to take in high school and college, my stories were a stretched paragraph. Not quite as short as my summary of the movie the Titanic: The boat sank. But close. And in Grad School my thesis took forever to get down on paper.

Why do I write? How did I ever come to embrace, to absolutely live for the written word?

My writing started with wanting to produce a simple children's story when I was the mystery reader for Ri-Ah's kindergarten class. I read to her all the time and I wanted something different for her and her classmates. While walking the middle one in the stroller, I came up with the idea of Sarah and the Jelly Jars. A picture book story about a little girl that finds a stash of jelly jars and recipes when she and her family moves from Bainbridge Island, Washington to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The making of the jelly helps the little girl accept and see the possibilities in the move. There was to be a jelly recipe at the back of the book.

I never finished this book. What happened is, it took on a life of its own. Growing from 28 picture book pages to a whooping 178 full text pages; so many changes, so many additions and enhancements to the story line.

It's been seven years in the making, and it's still not complete -- almost, but not quite. Soon. Yesterday, I had my work space laid out before me and, as usual, before I started to write I closed my eyes and slipped between the pages. I try to become the characters, so that my fingers will type what they feel, what they say -- and not what I say.

But still I wonder where all these twisting and turning ideas come from. Over the course of the last three or four years I have discovered some very powerful similarities between my book and the circumstances in our house. For example, in my book the little girl finds a box filled with letters and cards, etc... in the attic, and I found a box full of cards in our attic. I found out that two sisters lived in this house two sets of owners ago. (During World War II.) In my book, the little girl discovers that two woman lived in her house, and her classmates tell her that the women haunt the house. (Again, during World War II.)

Am I a ghost's writer?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The light goes on...the light goes on

With the start of school last week, one of my dear children made it their solemn vow to complain about the completely rediculous task of having to learn how to multiply numbers. Complaints would start even before feet would touch the floor in the morning, and last until right after homework in the evening. Even if the homework had nothing to do with math. Like the assignment: Tell Me All About You. The response, delivered while draped across the kitchen chair, "I can't do times tables."

Well last night we, notice I said we, had our first math homework assignment. It was on BIG NUMBERS. The directions were to count out at least five groups of objects where the population count would be between 100 and 1,000. My quiet internal response to reading this was, OH PLEASE! Don't make me count to a thousand. Finally, I was making time for my book (Remember I'm supposed to be writing a book?), and this assignment without the use of multiplication was going to take forever.

I smiled. "Get started and if you need me, I'm here."

The stairs in the house were counted. Thank GOD we don't have over 100 stairs in the house.

The DVDs were counted. Three shelves. First she tried counting all of them, but got lost. I suggested she count one shelf, and then add that number to itself three times. Task completed.

Then the holes in a rectangular plastic pin cushion. My heart sunk. There is no way we can count all those holes. By herself she'd lose count or lose her place. And I wasn't sitting there for an hour counting.

"Why don't we count the holes in two lines and then count up how many sets of lines there are.
1, 2,3,4,5,6,7,8....... 30 holes

And the number of two line sets: 24.

I set up the multiplication problem, 24 time 30, then asked, "What's the answer when you multiply zero by anything?"

Answer, "One."

"No, zero."

"OH." I saw a flicker. The information was noted and rightly stored.

"What is the answer of 4 + 4 + 4?"

(Bring out little fingers here.) "Twelve"

"Right, Four times three is 12. And next what is three plus three plus the one we had to carry?"

(NO fingers this time.) "Seven."

"Right again, three two times is six, then plus the one to be seven. So how many holes are there in this pin cushiony toy?"

"Seven hundred and twenty." All smiles.

"Yes, and you did multiplication!"

The heavenly lights shown down, angels sang, trumpets trumpeted and she did ten more counting exercises than required. All due to the power of multiplication.

There is a God, and he/she loves math. And hopefully my children will too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ernesto came a calling

Every Labor Day we have the tradition of tent camping with family and friends in Vermont. Last Monday, The Weather Channel was calling for sunny weather Saturday, Sunday and Monday. As the week progressed the forecast was for rain. Still, we'd camped in the rain before. So off we went packing extra warm clothes and socks.

Friday was fine. Cloudy, but fine. We arrived at the campsite around dusk, set up camp (our tent and screen house with our kitchen set up and table), ate dinner with family, sat around and visited then went to bed. That night the mud flaps on the tent caught the breezes and kept thrumbing against the ground. So, Saturday morning we found some rocks to hold the flaps still. As it turns out these rocks probably saved our tent.

Saturday afternoon, Ernesto came a calling. First, with a few brisk breezes and then, in the evening, the campfire flames were being driven sideways. Before turning in, afraid when the rain finally came everything would get soaked, I packed up all our dishes, and put everything that we normally keep out, back in its storage bin. The only things left out were the two lanterns. They were sitting on the table.

That night, the cool air and whoosh of the wind kept the kids fast asleep while my husband and I laid awake watching the tent top being pushed all over the place. Finally I nodded off still wondering if we'd be awoken by having the tent collapsed on us. What woke me was the soft tinkling sound, like something hitting up against a tent pole. My Dear One got up to investigate. Within seconds he made a brief return to the tent door, "The screen house is blown over." My first thought was for the lanterns. One of them was new, but the other was from my Grandfather. I could remember camping with it when I was a little girl.

In the pitch dark, I groped around for one of the four flashlights, but couldn't find one. I found a a small sweat shirt, a tiny t-shirt and finally a pair of jeans. I slipped them on. They were my Dear One's. Despite my apprehension about the screen tent, I was delighted they fit, thinking, maybe I'm not so fat after all. Next I found a jacket. It turned out to be my eldest. That fit too. I did manage to find my own shoes, and with them on I was out the door, looking at a mangle of screen and poles.

"Your Grandfather's lantern is fine, but the globe on the other is smashed."

A miracle.

As we burrowed through the debris, our friend emerged out of the darkness. She had been calling to us, offering us bed space in her trailer, but we hadn't heard her with the gale force winds that were still howling.

Since I had packed up the night before, it took us no time to untwist the screen house and put our belongings into the car.

Back in the tent we tried to go back to sleep. It was then HE said, "You know I heard two trees snap off around midnight." I thought about getting everyone into the car, but if one of these trees feel on our vehicle we'd surely be killed as if it fell on the tent. Why worry everyone. So, I said my prayers, we had a few laughs and soon I was back to sleep.

In the morning, Ernesto was still flexing his muscles, but there were longer lulls between the gusts. The kids up, we set up our stove, made hot cocoa as usual, and then cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast. After breakfast, we assessed the damage: two poles snapped like dried twigs, a few rips in the screen tent, three out of four legs broken off our kitchen unit, and one broken lantern. Later, while the Dear One set up a lean to out of tarps, I walked around the tent. At least three pegs were pulled out completely and several others were being worked out. If it weren't for the rocks, I fear the tent would have gone over like the screen house.

In the end, we got very little rain, the wind died down by Sunday evening, and we had a lovely campfire. As they say, "A bad day at camping is still better than a good day at work."