Tag Archive | words

When You See Progress

I’ve posted that I’ve been dabbling in painting for the past two years. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because Ken bought me some paints, a desk easel, and a couple of canvases for my birthday many years ago. I wanted to begin then, but my time was absorbed by a corporate job that sucked all the life out of me.

I had never taken a painting class or even a drawing class. My closest thing to painting on a canvas was in kindergarten when I was a finger painter extraordinaire. I still remember the wonderful feeling of the squishy paint in between my fingers. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being free.

Facing a blank canvas is almost as threatening as a blank computer screen. The first time I attempted to paint I sat in front of canvas afraid. I knew my first attempt would probably be awful. And I was right. Here’s a photo of one of my first attempts.

Early Painting

Early Painting

At the time I thought it was pretty good, so I kept painting. Then my artist friend Marie came home and with her coaching, things got better. Now I think this first painting was butt ugly.

When I look at my early work, I can see I’ve come a long way; that is not to say I don’t have a longer way to go. The same is true about my writing; that’s why I rewrote my first novel and will soon publish the second edition. Nobody commented on the posted rewritten pages, so I only have my own gut feeling to go on.

The important thing is I’m creating and when the bad days come along, I find painting soothing. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me that my art may never bring in a check.

And the writing? Well, even though that craft is more serious for me, I so enjoy when an idea comes along and burrows into my heart and head so I can tell a good story.

I hope all of you have a craft you love to do and are excited when you get a little bit better everyday. Create! Enjoy! Live!

Getting Organized

I love organization where everything is in its place. But, I have a terrible time achieving such neatness. My girlfriends seem to be able to keep everything where it belongs, but for some reason my things move from room to room. I have dishes in the living room along with shoes I wore the day before. My painting supplies are all in one room, but getting more than me in that room is simply impossible.

I seem to work in a whirlwind. I remember one time when I worked in a corporate office, my boss assigned another woman to help me get my cube organized to make me more efficient. I guess somewhere there’s a rule somewhere that says “only touch a piece of paper once.” Any more touches breeds disorganization and wasted time. I never did get the knack of it. However, I also never missed a deadline. I told my boss I work more effective in organized chaos. She said, “Whatever works, Barb. Just keep hitting those deadlines.”

I believe part of me doesn’t want to work myself to death to keep everything in place because my mother was a fanatical housekeeper. She put keeping things clean ahead of everything else. One time she came into my bedroom with a white glove after I cleaned. She found a trace of dust under my bed and made me clean again. See what I mean?

I tell myself I am far too artistic to keep everything neat all the time. I also love my friends enough to put them first even if I scheduled the day to scrub the kitchen floor. I do have priorities.

I also live with two animals and a husband. I rest my case.

Even though my home is somewhat disheveled, I am organized in my writing. In fact, to keep the timeline correct in the second edition of “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” I keep a spreadsheet to make sure real history is weaved with the fiction element of the story properly.

The moral to this story: Everyone’s definition of organization is different. Make your world perfect for YOU.

######

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 24

London, England – Christmas Eve—On his wedding day, Danny decided to dress at the base to allow Heidi her privacy as she prepared to make marriage promises again. His wool chocolate brown dress uniform with brass buttons provided a stunning backdrop for his jacket ribbon bar and the silver wings he wore over his heart. He spit shined his black shoes so bright he saw his himself. He studied his reflection in the mirror before he left his room and realized the boy who came to England to fly planes and kill Germans had disappeared. In his place, a man who experienced friends falling from the sky, became a prisoner of war, and found the love of his life stared back at him..

At the flat Mrs. Smithe draped the lace and satin dress over Heidi’s slim figure. After Heidi gazed at her reflection in the mirror, she didn’t believe the beautiful woman smiling back at her could be the same girl who didn’t think she possessed a happy future after graduating from secondary school. A Jewish family and three long journeys changed her forever. The children made her an adult. Her only disappointment was the wonderful people who entered her life during the past five years could be with her now. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her parents, Leisel, Marta, Dora, the Rabbi and Gavriella and Dominik.

A lace veil trimmed in pearls fell from a tiara Mrs. Smithe pinned on Heidi’s head.  She carried a bouquet of Christmas cactus flowers Mrs. Smith grew in her apartment.

“There, my dear.” Tears formed in the landlady’s eyes.

Heidi saw the older woman’s distress. “Oh, Mrs. Smithe. I knew I should not wear Catherine’s wedding dress. It causes you such pain.”

“Don’t be foolish, sweetie. I am not thinking of Catherine; I’m overcome by what a beautiful bride you are.” Mrs. Smithe dried a tear rolling down her cheek. “We better make sure the children are ready to go. We don’t want you to be late.”

Ruthie wore a pretty pink velvet dress Mrs. Smithe made from a pair of curtains she had at the window in one of the rentals. She even solicited her friends and neighbors to find suits to fit both boys. As Heidi and the children emerged from the apartment, no one would guess soldiers still fought and citizens still died. For the few hours they’d be in their wedding clothes, as their lives appeared normal.

Danny arranged for a car to pick up his family and bring them to the base where the Major, the Chaplain, and Danny waited. As soon as Heidi and the children entered the chapel, Danny’s jaw dropped. Heidi reminded him of a drawing of a princess he reembered in one of his sister’s childhood storybooks. At one time he believed Rosalie Lombardo was the most beautiful bride in the world, but now Heidi took that honor.

Ruthie ran to Danny. “Papa Danny, Mama looks pretty, huh?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Mama is the most beautiful bride in the world.”

“So kiss her!” Ruthie said.

Everyone laughed. Ruthie wrinkled her forehead not understanding why everyone laughed. Brides and grooms kissed in her story books, so why did people laugh at her?

Mrs. Smithe wore her “mother of the bride” dress she hid in the back of her closet after Catherine died. When Heidi asked her to be the matron of Honor, she pulled out the dress and could smile again. Major Jamison stood in as Danny’s best man along with David. The whole group gathered around the altar with Chaplain and the intimate wedding ceremony began.

“We are gathered here together to marry Daniel and Heidi in holy matrimony.”

Jacob yelled. “What is mat-tri-monee?”

Everyone turned toward the little boy in short pants, and said, “Shhhh.” The child looked down at his shoes and started to cry. Danny picked him up. “Everything is okay, son,” he whispered to Jacob. “I’ll tell you later.”

Jacob wiped his tears and smiled. “Okay, Daddy.”

Danny returned Jacob to the floor and held his hand as the ceremony continued.

The chaplain said, “Repeat after me, Daniel. “I, Daniel, take you Heidi to be my lawfully wedded wife  . . .

Chapter 25

Naples, Italy—As Christmas got closer, Josie wore a melancholy expression. This would be her third year of celebrating Christmas without snow and family. She became uncharacteristically nostalgic. As she gazed at the palm trees, she thought about Christmas back home. Sap on logs would crackle in the fireplace; a fresh pine scent would waft through the living room while the sweet aroma of cinnamon would come from the kitchen. Her mother always baked dozens of different cookies, but the entire family decorated sugar cookies together around the kitchen table. Christmas in Italy this year would come with cold winds, rain, canned turkey, and hydrated potato flakes.

Mario found her starting out into space in the courtyard. “Hi Sweetheart. Whatcha thinkin’?”

Josie turned toward him with glistening eyes. “About home. I envisioned my parents drinking eggnog in front of a fire as the snow fell and laid a beautiful white covering over the bare trees and brown grass.”

Mario sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Yeah. Christmastime here leaves something to be desired. I want to go home too. But seeing we can’t, how about we spice the holiday up a little?” He grinned.

“How?”

“Let’s go to Rome and celebrate Christmas Eve at the Vatican.”

“Don’t tease me, Mario.”

“I’m not teasing. We can go. It’s safe there now.”

“How will we get there, genius?”

“Details. Details.” A Cheshire cat smile crossed his broad face. “I got a buddy in the motor pool; he’s got a jeep all gassed up for us, Miss Smarty Pants.”

“You’re the only guy I ever met who can get the impossible done.”  Josie laughed. “Mario, I’m glad you didn’t give up pursuing me. I love being with you. You make me so happy.” She leaned over and put a peck of a kiss on his cheek.

Mario blushed. “Thanks, doll. I’m glad you appreciate me because I never worked so hard to get a date. Hell, I almost died to get one with you!” He chuckled as his eyes twinkled. “So is Rome a date?”

“I’d be nuts to turn down a trip to Rome. After I get home, I’ll probably never want to come to Italy again.”

“Only time will tell.” Mario said. “Life can be a constant surprise if you let it be.”

Josie smiled. “Amen!”

*****

On Christmas Eve morning, Josie and Mario took off for Rome. They remained silent as they whizzed through the hills and valleys of the countryside. As they got closer to the city, Josie expressed her fears of what they might find in the Eternal City. “Do you think the Krauts bombed Rome into oblivion?”

“Nah. They got in bed with Mussolini. I think the Italian dictator put down a few rules. I don’t think the Krauts are that barbarian.”

Josie said. “Really?  I think bombing hospitals is pretty barbarous.”

Mario answered.  “You’re right about that. I just hope Vatican Square didn’t appear on their radar.”

“Me, too.”

Once they passed Rome ‘s city limits Josie basked in the city’s beauty. The evening stayed warm and balmy. The stars burned bright and a full moon gave Vatican Square a warm glow. Mario and Josie waited with a throng of people in the courtyard for Pope Pius XII to appear on the balcony.

The Pope appeared through an open window and prayed the familiar prayers in Latin. A choir of beautiful voices sang out, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” and Josie thought about her little church back home where she sang the same song every Christmas Eve. In about eight hours her parents would celebrate Christmas with the same ceremony. For the first time in a long time, she thought about Peter. This would be the first Christmas without his funny sense of humor and sweet demeanor. Josie bowed her head and prayed for her parents because Christmas would be so difficult without any of their children close at hand.

Mario held Josie close. He loved everything about her. He loved her spunk, her courage, and her ability to banter with him. He loved the empathy she showed everyone. He loved her self-confidence and fearlessness. He bent down and kissed the top of her head as the Pope asked God for peace. Josie looked up at Mario with a tender smile.

After the Mass, people left the square, but Mario lingered. He didn’t want the magical night to end. He turned Josie to face him and placed a kiss on her lips. He whispered. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

With tears in her eyes, Josie whispered. “Merry Christmas, my sweet Mario. Thank you for bringing me here. This Christmas turned out to be more special than I ever imagined.”

He handed her a small box.

“What’s this?”

He grinned. “A present, silly. Open it.”

“Mario—

He interrupted her. “Will you just open the GD present.”

“But we agreed to wait until tomorrow to exchange gifts.”

“Look at your watch. Miss Smarty Pants. Isn’t it after midnight?”

“Yes, but—

His voice took a tender tone. “I want you to remember this night forever. Please open the gift.”

“Okay. You win.”

Josie tipped open the lid of little wooden box to find a beautiful solitaire diamond perched in the center of a white gold band. “Mario! Oh my God! It’s beautiful!”

Before she said another word, Mario went down on one knee. “Josie, my love, will you be my wife?”

She said the one word he wanted to hear. “Yes. Oh God, yes!” She pulled him to his feet, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him like never before.

His eyes glowed with love. “Let’s try the ring on for size.” He took the engagement ring in his thick fingers and slipped it onto her left-hand ring finger. The ring fit perfectly.

Josie couldn’t take her eye off the sparkling stone. “How did you ever buy such a beautiful thing?”

“Let’s just say, I know a guy, who knows a guy, okay?” He paused, “It helps to be Italian in Italy.”

She laughed and kissed again him, while happy strangers shared their joy with applause.

 

The Price of Freedom

Ken and I have been watching the PBS special THE CIVIL WAR directed by Ken Burns.  I love Ken Burns productions because they are so well done, and I always learn something. As you might have guessed by now, life long learning (LLL) is important to me.

As I watched this critical period in our American history, I wondered what would have happened if the Confederate states had won the war. How different our history would  have been if our country was split into two separate countries. First, we’d have to come up with an entirely new name. We certainly couldn’t be called “THE UNITED STATES”could we?  It could have happened if Britain and France would have supported the South. The two European countries needed the cotton the South produced, so it’s not far fetched they may have entered the war.

The other thing that impressed me about this series is the language which is used to tell the story. Burns artfully inserts excerpts from speeches made by principals. He also uses writings and journal entries of soldiers. Their correspondence artfully uses the English language. Hearing words written so well from common citizens put our present use of the English language to shame.

A little tangent: It drives me nuts when I hear incorrect grammar usage by people who should know better. Educated people like newscasters, anchor people, and politicians. For instance, so often you hear “People that” instead of “People who” or “By who” instead of “By whom.” Does anybody care about such things any more in our warp-speed world?

Another thing which impressed me about this program is how strong Abraham Lincoln needed to be to hold things together. His critics were many. Even his head honcho General McCullen blasted Lincoln, which is really funny because for the first two years of the war, McCullen sat on his hands and did nothing. He had every excuse–not enough men, not enough weapons, not the right time. He trained a strong army but he was afraid to use it. So Lincoln got involved, fired the jerk, and put Grant in charge. Boy did people talk about that sudden change of events!

The other event which riled the country was the Emancipation Proclamation. The U. S. had to define itself. People needed to think about freedom and if every person was entitled to it. If freedom is truly at the core of who we are, then slavery had to be eradicated. The war began to save the union, it ended emancipating the slaves and providing freedom for everyone who lived here.

We have one more episode to watch tonight, and even though we know the outcome, we don’t know many of the details which makes this struggle human. History is more than facts and figures. It is created by the people who lived and survived the time period. More people died in the Civil War than in any other war in our history. Through suffering and bloodshed the United States found her identity. Being able to live in a free country is not free. The price has been paid in blood. Just visit Arlington which was formerly the front yard of General Robert E. Lee.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 – 1943

Chapter 1

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—Since Angelo invited Bobby to live with his family, the little house on Main street too crowded. Donna realized she needed to move on. As she helped Rosalie hang baby Angelo’s diapers on the basement clotheslines, she approached the subject. “Rosie?”

“Yeah?”

“With Angelo home and Bobby living here, the house is a little crowded.”

Rosie dropped the clothespin she held. “What are you saying, Donna?”

“It’s time for me to move out.”

“No! I love you living with us.”

“I accepted a new job and made some plans. A girl’s jazz band needs a lead singer, so I auditioned and got the job. I’ll be with the USO in Chicago. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, but aren’t you scared to go to such a big city? People are different in cities.”

“Hey, if you can get through a birth of a baby alone, I can certainly go to Chicago alone.”

Tears sprang up in Rosalie’s eyes. “Chicago? It’s too far away! I’ll never see you.”

“I realize this is a big step, but Rosie, this is a chance of a lifetime! Maybe some big shot will like my voice, and I’ll be on my way to a recording contract. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”  Donna threw her arms out to the side like a star does after they complete a number.

Rosalie hugged her while her voice inferred her disappointment. “That would be swell.”

“So you’re okay with this?”

“No. But I know you’ll go anyhow. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams.  I know you dreamed about something like this since first grade talent show. Chances like this rarely come along. And if you’re a big flop, you can always come back here.”

Donna pulled away. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”

Rosie laughed and hugged her again. “Donna Jean, I’m just kidding. After you get your first recording contract, I can say I knew you when we hung up diapers on the basement clotheslines.”

The two friends laughed and cried in each other’s arms.

*****

Two weeks later, Donna packed a bag and hopped a train headed for Chicago. She saved her wages for the past few months to make the trip. She needed enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and to buy the glamorous strapless gowns and high heels required by the band for their performances.

Donna met up with the other members of the band at the USO Club as soon as she arrived in Chicago. From now on Donna’s husky, sexy voice would complement the four-piece jazz combo. They scheduled to practice at nine tomorrow.

In the meantime, every week the USO hosted a dance and tonight the hall buzzed with girls pushing tables around so there would be enough room to dance. They decorated the place in red and white for Valentine’s evening. Donna and the other members of the band needed to be on hand to dance with the soldiers who might be shipping out to join the troops in Europe or the South Pacific.

Every USO dance adopted a theme chosen by the USO girls. They decorated the hall, planned and made the refreshments, and then arrived at the appointed hour in their prettiest dresses, solely to make a memorable evening for the soldiers, sailors, and marines in attendance.

As the girls dressed for the dance, Marilyn the drummer offered Donna a room in her apartment. Donna felt relieved she had a place to stay until she had time to go apartment hunting. The two girls fell in sync with each other like old friends. Marilyn and Donna got on a bus and stopped at a six-floor walk-up. Marilyn unlocked the door with the number 620 and ushered Donna to a small bedroom on the Lake Michigan side of the building. “This room is cool in the summer, and unfortunately, cold in the winter. I’ll get extra blankets in case you need them. I share a bathroom down the hall with the next door neighbor, but the arrangement isn’t too bad. He’s a soldier, who just shipped out, but he wanted to keep the apartment, and so far he hasn’t subleased the place.”

“This is so nice of you, Marilyn; truly, I fully expected to stay at the “Y” until I found a place.” Donna said.

“Nah, why should you do that when there’s an extra bed here?”

“What can I pay you?”

“Nothing right now. But if we get along, half of the rent is $50 a month.”

“Seems reasonable.”

They shook hands to seal the deal.

Chapter 2

North Africa, February 1943—Josie never worked so hard in her all of life as she did with the 48th Surgical Unit. The daily oppressive heat and humidity drained the life out of her, but the positive attitude of the constant flow of wounded soldiers kept her motivated. Her nurses learned to take the challenges of combat in stride, as they fought to keep conditions as sterile and comfortable.

When the battles moved, so did the field hospitals. A rumor circling around the camp told a story about German forces breaking through the Kasserine Pass. With the enemy so close to the Evacuation Hospital bivouacked near Tebessa, orders came down the chain of command to move the hospital to a safer location. Nurses and other staff packed up and moved one hundred fifty patients sixty miles. Through careful planning and coordination, the medical staff got the hospital up and running in twelve hours. A remarkable achievement.

As the war progressed, moving hospital facilities from one place to another for safety became a normal routine for Army doctors, nurses and corpsmen. Josie thought herself lucky she didn’t need to move her position, even though the hospital she worked in left so little to be desired.

With so many seriously wounded men, Josie’s triage skills got finely hones.  The severity of a patient’s condition determined where, when, and how he would be treated.  The nurses ran into untrained situations daily, so they learned on the job and improvised with what they had. They gallantly performed their duties earning the respect from the male medical staff and military command.

****

Josie often accompanied patients to the airfield to be evacuated to a general hospital. As the C-46 cargo plane landed, the attending nurse would meet her to get the records for the wounded patients. The nurses working on the planes took special training to become flight nurses–one of the most dangerous duties for medical personal. Even though the planes bore the Geneva Red Cross to protect them from enemy, often the designation was ignored and the plane was shot down.

As the ramp dropped and the nurse came forward to accept the patients, Josie recognized the gait of the woman walking toward her.

“As I live and breathe! Anna! . . .” Josie said as she hugged her college roommate.

“I couldn’t let you get all the fun!” Anna shouted over the plane’s engines.

“But you hate flying!” Josie said.

“Not any more! They needed somebody from a cold climate to work on the plane because there’s no heat in these tin cans.”

Anna laughed.

“What?” Josie could barely hear her over the engines of the plane.

“Yeah, the heaters in these “flying coffins” sometimes explode during flight, so the pilots refuse to turn them on. We keep the critical patients warm with heated blankets and warm fluids while we shiver in our combat boots.” Anna flashed her impish smile that always cracked Josie up.

Josie laughed. “You haven’t changed! How great to see you! Will this be your usual run?”

“Are you kidding? I’m never privy to where they send me.”

“Well, then, let’s make a promise. After the war is over, we’ll get together and compare notes.”

“You bet! Do you think we could get our old dorm room home and talk all night?” Annie laughed.

“No. But my Mom still has the roll away, and I don’t think she’s given my room to anyone else.” Josie thought about their midnight conversations which centered on boys, exams, and new classes. What a world away that was now.

After their brief reunion, Josie went over the charts of the men she released to Anna, while corpsmen boarded the patients on the plane. Anna gave Josie one last hug and then ran to the plane.

Josie yelled, “Take good care of my boys!”

Anna waved and yelled over the engines. “They’ll get my very best.”

The brief reunion with Anna provided a small nibble of home for Josie.

The ambulance driver motioned for her to hurry. Josie jumped into the passenger seat and the driver yelled over the plane engine noise, “We gotta go, Josie! More wounded coming in!”

“I’ll say one thing for the Krauts; they provide job security.”

The driver smiled at the feisty nurse as he left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Chapter 3

Berlin, Germany — March 1943—After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis public relations department decided to install a program to bolster the moral of the country. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi “spin doctor” declared the March 21st as Heldengedenktag–a Memorial Day to commemorate all war victims with special recognition given to the soldiers who fell in Stalingrad.  Instead of being a stoic holiday, the German leaders professed the day needed to be a celebration, not a day of morning.

Marta’s mother Olga tried to buy into the celebration because she needed to believe her husband’s death stood for something important.  But Olga’s severe loss of the man she loved for over twenty-five years cut deep into her soul leaving a wide void. She couldn’t imagine how she would live out the rest of her life alone.

With Allied planes bombing major German cities day and night, residential areas turned into landscapes of mud, demolished buildings, and charred corpses. Hitler refused to admit he lost the war and continued with his futile ambitions, while his stubborness destroyed the very country he professed to love so much. He believed if the German people didn’t claim victory, they all needed to suffer for their failure.

Olga received letters from relatives living in Cologne with pictures of dead bodies lying on sidewalks. Other photos of children playing among bricks which had previously been their homes broke her heart. Hell rained down across the country and Olga found nothing to celebrate in such circumstances.

Most Germans realized their side lost the war, but Olga’s old friends held on to Nazi delusions about the Third Reich overcoming their losses. Only a fool thought Germany could rise again. No single army, no matter how great could conquer the entire world.

 

 

What is Writing Excellence?

writing excellence

When my first novel was published, I thought I had achieved excellence. My family and friends said they loved the read, but now as I study the book, I wish I could take another whack at it. Typos and other annoying things jump off the page and taunt me. The story is good, but I wish I had a magic wand to improve the novel with the help of my editor and my proofreader.

Book cover 1APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS hit the shelves in 2010, and I had visions of being as prolific and successful as Stephen King or William Paterson. So far, though, I’m hardly a household name, even though four more of my books have gone to press. With 40,000 books published everyday, I’m hardly a whisper.

Am I a failure in pursuing excellence because my books aren’t on the best seller list?

Yes and no. I failed to bring in royalties so far, but I achieved a childhood goal to be labeled an author. I failed to create a big national buzz, but I spoke at our local library’s “Breakfast with the Authors,” was featured in the local newspaper, and interviewed on the local radio station.

A writing career is a journey, not a destination. A writer is a life-long student of observation of  life. This self-education is then explored on paper and shared with other to inspire, inform, or entertain. To build a reading audience writers make themselves vulnerable every time they publish. Reviewers and critics of all kind have the ability to make or break them. What’s more, the public eye causes people to scrutinize not only your work, but you. Still, public exposure is a necessary evil.  Failure to advertise is fatal because without it authors will remain invisible.

Through this journey of writing, I have learned not everybody loves my subject matter. I write about what fascinates me. That’s why my novels are all set in the 1940’s, a time when the world went crazy and emotions of every kind were at a fevered pitch. Each story can stand alone,, but certain characters may pop up again and again from book to book. I wanted it this way because the novels can be read in any order, but cohesive links exist.  For example, the next release, STEPHANIA IN AMERICA, is a prequel to the second book, STRANGER IN THE SPOTLIGHT.  LOVE IMMIGRANTS is a sequel to TEA & BISCUIT GIRLS.

But let’s get back to the question—what is writing excellence? I believe excellence to be an allusive quality like perfection. I also believe excellence means different things to different people. Someone might find excellence in a book which keeps them turning pages. A good yarn to one is drivel to another. Something deeply thought-provoking to one person is hard work for another. Excellence boils down to personal preference, but critics get the last word.

My goal is to write the best story, article, or post I can at that particular time and space. As I explore and share my ideas, I hope to touch my reader with something they may remember, and hopefully, they will return wanting more from me.

So you see, true success for me is not quitting. Being willing to fall is not failing,; striving to improve is a constant challenge; and facing a blank screen day after day is courage. That’s true excellence in writing.

Building Vocabulary, Word by Word

colorful libraryDon’t you just love how things in this world all work together? We have to separate knowledge into different departments in school to make subjects manageable, but if you’re smart enough and take enough classes, you’ll realize that what you learn in a film class affects literature and what you study in an English lit class is mirrored in history. So on and so on.

With that in mind, yesterday, in my writing class I gave a different kind of spelling test. It wasn’t a “normal” spelling test–a list of words to memorize or even better, to sound out to help them increase their vocabularies and make them cognizant of tricky spellings.   The words came from an assigned reading about a day in the life of an ER nurse. At the bottom of the pages in the reading, the unusual words and their meanings were pulled from the text and defined. All the class had to do was read the lesson and pay attention to the footnotes.

Yesterday, the test was given. SURPRISE, SURPRISE! All but one student failed. I proved my point.

This demonstration showed them that reading and writing work together in many different ways, and one of the most important ways is to expand one’s vocabulary. I asked them what they did when they came across a word they didn’t understand. One student said, “Look it up,” of course this is the apple-polisher in the group. Another honest student said, “Skip it and go on.”

Now granted, in common vernacular we don’t use words like cacophony, bane, or palpable too often, but in order to get the most out of the reading a person can just stumble over such words and go on. Their first instinct should have been to head for the nearest dictionary. If they had taken the time to look up the word, their memories would file away another tool in their word arsenal to use later on. They would have accomplished a goal and increased their vocabularies by one more word. My students are adults, but somewhere along the line, they haven’t been taught such a wise idea, or they have become apathetic and don’t care. In either case, they are cheating themselves from growing.

Once again, I attempted to throw another plate of imaginative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. In this case, I can only hope some of my class will learn from my little practical demonstration. After all, it would be nice to know one other person who knows what cacophony means.

P. S. I didn’t grade the test.

Last Chance for Fixes

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Yesterday I missed writing my blog because I had to anchor my big butt in my writing chair to proofread FINDING GESSLER for one last time before it goes to press. This is a necessary step because my publishing house doesn’t provide editing or proofreading. so the responsibility falls on the author. After the book has been formatted to go to press, the author is given 48 hours to comb through the text one last time to make last chance corrections. I always feel a lot of pressure at this stage because it’s my last shot to look good in the eyes of my readers.

This time I thought there would be less to “fix” in the 419 pages because I had added one more layer off scrutiny to my team. Linda is a wonderful proofreader, so I thought between me, Heidi (my editor) and Linda I would breeze through the manuscript and find very few things to change. Not so. I still found missing words and wrong word endings–two of my most notorious errors in my prose–to the tune of 4 pages of corrections. Damn! And because the manuscript is sent in a PDF file, I had to make a spreadsheet designating the page number, paragraph number, line number, prose to be fixed, and how it should read to indicate to the publisher where the errors were. It’s a very tedious process, and it took me from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to get it done. (I did allow time out for potty breaks and lunch and dinner.)

As much as I dislike this part of the process, I know it is so important. In many ways, I wish I could take another whack at my first novel because now I see many things that got missed or could have been better. Maybe someday that will happen if we do a second printing.

In my writing classes, I try to impress upon my students that we all make the same kind of errors over and over again, and they should analyze their writing and spelling errors to uncover what their personal shortcomings are. Knowing your weaknesses is a strength. But like many of my words of wisdom,  more often than not, my tips fall on deaf ears. The fact that the students don’t heed my warnings maybe do to the fact that most of them are not writers. They are struggling to get down a paragraph and be satisfied with their first draft. They don’t believe me that writing is a process. They just want to endure the pain once, get the assignment in, and get out of the class as fast as they can.

So, now that I’ve confessed to you my weaknesses, it’s only fair that you share your writing traps. After all, they say misery loves company.

Falling in Love Over a Scrabble Board

let's play (1)Today I want to tell you a story about Scrabble. Yes, the word game that’s been around since 1948. A game that is only played by word geeks. A game that made me fall in love with Ken. You see, on our first date, he came to my door with a red rose in one hand and a Scrabble board tucked under his other arm.

Don’t yawn! Stop that! Don’t you understand that this game brought two people together who have enjoyed a wonderful life together? Don’t you understand that people who can’t compete in any other venue appreciate a game like Scrabble where one actually has to use his/her gray matter? Don’t you understand that the combination of letters is like life playing out on a game board? (Well, maybe I did go a bit overboard with that comment.) But, needless to say, Scrabble is has played a major role in my happy marriage.

It all started one Christmas when I was ten. Santa brought me the game, and I was thrilled because I loved words from an early age. But I had a problem. Nobody but my mother would ever play with me! And of course, Scrabble isn’t a game one plays alone–at least not until the computer version came along. Until I met Ken, I didn’t have a competitive Scrabble player in my life. So, needless to say, I didn’t play too often. I was thrilled when I learned he loved the game as much as I did. So, on our first date after dinner and a movie, we played. And he beat me. I had finally met my match. And he got a second date and a rematch.

I think Ken and I love Scrabble so much because we play at the same level. We hardly ever blow one another off the board; our games are always within a few points of one another. On rare occasions, we help each other when we’re stuck. We’re competitive, but not cut-throat. We have a Scrabble Dictionary that we allow each other to look up a word. (Did I tell you that we also cheat?)

scrabble dictionary (1)

We even have several Scrabble boards for different occasions. The one we use most is the Travel Scrabble that we keep in the car. The little fold-up plastic board with its tiny tiles often makes an appearance at McDonald’s or Burger King after a burger and fries. And you can bet when we were able to travel, the Scrabble game was the first thing we put in our luggage. In fact, when we sailed through the Panama Canal, we would play everyday after breakfast in the same spot by a large window, watching the ocean go by and other passengers would stop by to see who was winning. At the end of the ten-day cruise, we were tied.

One of my best finds at the thrift shop was a couple of Scrabble Mugs I purchased for 50 cents each, so when we have our dining room matches, we can sip coffee and nibble on a cookie “officially.”

Even with MS invading Ken’s brain, he still beats me about every other time we play. In fact, I think when he can’t play any longer, I will retire the game and probably never play again. You see, this game is that special for the two of us.

A Tale of Three Breakfasts

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. – Jules Revard

 

US_$10_Hawaii

I don’t remember where I came across this quote, but this weekend I felt the full force of being a “starving” artist. For the first time ever, I got to experience what it is like not to have ANY money. I’m not exaggerating, like I sometimes do for humor. I’m telling you the God’s truth. My bank account is in the red, and I was down to my last ten dollars hidden in my secret hiding place. I saved this lonely bill just in case we needed milk and bread to limp to the next paycheck, which is due in about 10 days.

So, when my brother called and asked me to take his two handicapped children out for breakfast ,while he rushed to the hospital to check on our father who had been taken in by ambulance, I was a little worried. He handed me a twenty dollar bill and then rushed out the door. I turned to my niece and nephew and asked, “Where do you want to go for breakfast?”

In unison they shouted, “IHOP!” I knew twenty dollars for the three of us wouldn’t be enough, so I grabbed my last ten dollars and the three of us were off.

My brother’s children are both about 30 years old and neither of them have any concept of money. Both were born with severe handicaps. Curtis is legally blind, and he has the intelligence of a five year old. Cheryl is better off than that, but she is also hindered because she suffered brain damage when she was born. Both of them have suffered a lot of pain growing up, but because of the love my brother and his wife have for them, they’ve both done very well.

As we sat at IHOP waiting a LONG time for our food to come, the three of us enjoyed each other. Cheryl told me about her new boyfriend and about the work she does at Goodwill. I asked Curtis if he had a girlfriend, he smiled and in his unique wit said, “All the girls like me. And now you’re my new girlfriend, Barb.”

“Whoa – hold on there Curtis! I’m a married woman!”  We all laughed and went on to the next topic.

Needless to say, the time I spent with them took my mind off  having to spend my last ten dollars  to cover the check. In fact, I apologized to the waitress for only having a buck for a tip because she deserved much, much more. I wanted her to know I wasn’t making an editorial comment on the service she gave us.

After breakfast we went back to my house. Curtis settled in with pen and paper to draw, and Cheryl sat in front of the television which was playing one of her favorite shows. Within a few minutes Mark came to pick them up, and I was a little sad. But they had to go because the three of them were off  to clean their church.

As he drove away, I was thankful for the time I spent with Cheryl and Curtis, even though I had spent my last dollar on feeding them at IHOP. Having no money in the bank or in my wallet is most difficult thing I’ve ever faced, but seeing my niece and nephew happy was money well spent. And who know, perhaps someday a royalty check or two will appear in my bank account, and being a writer will not be so ridiculous after all.

Precious Words

festival_of_books1This morning on CBS Sunday Morning, there was a poignant story about a WWII veteran, one of the few living soldiers who participated in the D-Day landing. He had a box full of military medals, but that wasn’t what this story was about. Instead, this piece was about another battle that he fought all of his life.

Throughout his life, he was cut out of a very important world–the world of reading. Others “covered” for him with work reports and other important documents he needed to understand. And he was ashamed that he let them do that for him. He thought being illiterate was more shameful than anything in his life. Oh, he tried to learn to read at different periods, but either he quit or his teacher gave up.

That is, until he recently met a young woman at Northeastern University, who gave him the patience and had the skills to open up the world of reading for him at age 90. His story should be an inspiration for all of us.

First, all of us who can read don’t realize what a precious gift our teachers gave us a long time ago. We can experience different worlds, professions, viewpoints, through millions articles, newspapers and books. We can enjoy novels that touch our hearts. Words are all around us. It’s how we learn. It’s how we expand our worlds from one single town to the universe.

Second, as writers, we are even more blessed because we can contribute our ideas and thoughts to the libraries. We have a chance to touch others in memorable ways. Our true or fiction stories have the power to change people’s lives. With that being true, we must also remember it is our responsibility to tell the truth as we know it.   

I know from now on when I want to whine about how hard it is to write on a particular day, I will remember that veteran,  shut up, and get to work. His quest to learn to read taught me something today. He appreciates books and what they contain. If I never becoming a best selling author, it will be my fault because he reminded me that if I want something, I have to go after it. I have to dig deep, work hard and keep my eye on the prize.

In his memorable words, “If you want to do something, get in there and learn now because you ain’t going to learn in that pine box.”

Effects of Rain and Other Sounds

incredible-storms

It’s a horrible spring day. The second one in a row. Rain has come down in transparent sheets for over 24 hours. The temperatures are only in the 30’s. Flood warnings are out. Basements are flooding–so far, not mine. According to the television, we’re on “weather watch” — whatever that is. There are crashes on the roadways and many delays. Thank God, I don’t have to fight that good fight any more.

Ernie woke up barking at a crack of thunder at 4 a.m. Needless to say, the rest of us were awakened, too. I shoved his little furry body under the covers to soften the blow of the weather outside, and we both went back to sleep for a couple of hours. I got up at six, took the trash out in between the raindrops, and then drove to a friend’s house to take him and his wife to the hospital. Today’s he’s facing surgery, and of course, he grumbled about having to get up so early on such a day just to have surgery. The dreary, no-let-up weather makes it seem like nothing is right with the world.

But if you’ll keep a secret, I’ll tell you I kind of like the sound of the rain hitting the roof. I find it soothing. It reminds me of when I was a little girl sleeping in a tent for the first time when I was eleven years old. The sound lulled me to sleep then, and it has the same effect on me now. Trains rumbling down the tracks have the same effect because I lived less than a block away from the railroad tracks when I was growing up.

Describing the feelings specific sounds, smells, and touches can have is a tough thing to describe when writing. But like in real life, these experiences have a keen effect on us, so using sensory images is an important skill to show in your story; it is an essential element of good writing of any kind.

So the next time you’re kept in the house like Ken and I have been for the past couple of days due to horrendous downpours, darkness, cold temperatures, or a dog barking at thunder, catalog your feelings for use on a good writing day. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy writing everyone!