The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 35

The Other Arts are Important

Last week, my husband and I traveled to the Berkshires in Massachusetts for our annual visit. We have friends who summer up there and they invite us up each year.

Theater and music are always part of the scheme. As a writer, I deeply appreciate the arts. I have no skills in drawing, painting or sculpture, so I’m thrilled to visit art museums and galleries and the region abounds with them. The joke in our family is, “Show Mom a teacup and she’ll write a thousand words about it, but don’t ask her to draw it.”

The Berkshires are also filled with music. We usually go to one or two concerts at Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra summers there and provides outdoor concerts all summer long, plus you can attend rehearsals and watch musicians as they prepare on oboes, flutes, trumpets, violins, drums, and dozens of musical instruments. We were privileged to attend both the practice and the formal concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

It was totally thrilling and a moment I’ll never forget. When the chorus at the end sang the final movement, it brought tears to my eyes.

We also saw a premiere of a comedy by Kathleen Clark called “What We May Be”. It was amusing, yet deep and made me think, which is what theater is all about.

There is nothing like a live performance. The actor, comedienne, singer, violinist or conductor is out there in front of you doing his thing, making you laugh, making you cry, bringing out emotions and feelings that you never realized you had.

Writers should make a point of attending live performances, whether it’s a country-western singer in your local bar or a symphony in a large amphitheater. These artists will inspire and amaze you.

If you’re a writer, you generally work alone, typing, correcting, re-reading, and editing until you have a finished product. A friend, family member or co-worker may proof your product. A book publisher will edit it and make changes, but all this is happening behind the scenes. You are not in front of a thousand people performing and hoping they like your work.

Attending and appreciating other art forms will inspire you and make you a better writer. Do it!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 34

Poetry Makes Life and Writing Sing

I’ve been writing poems since I was six years old.  Growing up, as an only child on a rural Maryland farm, I read Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and many others.  The worlds comforted me and helped interpret the world around me.

Poetry used to be more prevalent.  Good Housekeeping and many women’s and general interest magazines featured poems in each issue.  I often read the poems before the articles on child-rearing, cooking and decorating.

I have nearly 400 poems in my files.  I didn’t write them to be famous or to make tons of money.  I wrote my “word pictures” to record, explain and enjoy the world around me.

Children are a large part of my life (I have four daughters) and I wrote many poems about childbirth, toddlers, teens and the adventures of being a parent.  Over the years, I sent out a few and occasionally, I got an acceptance.

Recently I have been sending more of my poetry out into the world.  One publisher was impressed with my words and send me several suggestions for of literary magazines who would fit well with what I wrote.

I sent out my poems and within couple of days, had an acceptance from WestWard Quarterly.  Their summer issue just came out and my poem, “To Jessica” right there on page 15.  Jessica is my grandniece and I wrote it when she was born and I first saw her beautiful face.  She’s a young lady now, a college graduate, living on her own, but I preserved that feeling I had when she was brand new.

To Jessica

Baby, sweet baby,
nestling here sleeping,
I yearn to keep you
here in my arms.
Protect you, enfold you,
safe from all harm.

I will teach you to fly
with soft wings of love,
teach you to wonder
at stars far above,
whisk you to places
under the moon
where pale mists of eiderdown
dapple and swoon.

Where flowers grow trumpets
and fat kittens play,
scamp’ring near bushels
of soft golden hay.
Streaking along
past white clouds and whistles,
crystal clear raindrops
and pink fluffy thistles.

Near clean rushing streams
great trees gather moss,
as bluebells grow tall
and fair pixies toss
jingling white balls
of fine shiny silver.

Their bubbles of laughter
in soft summer air
will crowd ‘round you, sweet baby
protect you from care.

To my writer and non-writer friends.  Try writing some poems, they will relieve stress and bring you joy.  Don’t worry about form or spelling or punctuation.  No one else needs to see them, but they will heal your heart as you make up your own “word pictures”.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 33

Growing Up Poor Can Help Your Writing

I grew up on a chicken farm five miles out of town at the end of dirt road in Cecil County, Maryland.  I was an only child. My parents were Finnish immigrants who had come to this country during the Great Depression.

We didn’t have much materially.  We had a cow, drank the milk and churned our own butter (I helped).  We had a big vegetable garden and fruit trees.  We ate out own fruits and vegetables and canned the extras for the winter months.  We had an outhouse until I was 12 years old and my father put an addition onto our tiny home with a real tub and shower.

Our friends were mostly from Scandinavia and we lived similar lives.  There was no TV when I cam home from school, there was work to be done, grading and packing eggs, cutting the grass with a push mower, painting chicken coops and outbuildings, picking apples, pulling weeds.

On Saturdays, I cleaned the house because my mother was too busy with farm chores, and it had better be done right!

Our friends lived similar lives.  They were mostly Scandinavian immigrants:  Swedes, Finns, Danes.  For amusement, my friends and I hiked in the woods, fished in the creeks, and swam in the Chesapeake Bay.

The adults had dinners at each other’s houses, simple food, homemade and delicious.  There were periodic Finnish Dances where an accordion player played waltzes and polkas and various folk dances. I watched my parents dance and laugh among the other couples swirling around.

Today, my humbles beginnings don’t seem humble anymore and they gave me a great understanding of different people.  You don’t have to live in big house to be happy.  You don’t need country club memberships, fancy cars and designer clothing.

Today, I write about many different people in my magazine articles and books.  I have empathy because of my upbringing.  I understand what it’s like to be poor and to count every penny.  I understand immigrants and language barriers, and the worth of hard work because you’re your own bottom line.

I know what it’s like to be teased because your parents have an accent and you wear hand-made dresses and have only one pair of shoes.

My advice?  Use your past experiences to flavor your writing.  And, enjoy the ride.  To this day, I get a thrill whenever I push the lever and hear the toilet flush!

The picture is be at the age of 15 with chicken coops in the background.  Love it!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, part 31

Two years ago, my husband and I traveled to Normandy Beach in France. Gene has been a student of World War II for most of his life and has read dozens of books and watched many documentaries and movies about the Second World War. At the top of his bucket list was a visit to Normandy Beach.

The scene was awesome, one of the best experiences of my entire life. We knew the story of our awesome military heroes who charged into freezing cold water, across an unprotected beach and up a sheer cliff in order to secure a foothold in the ultimate destruction of the Nazi Empire. But, to be there in person, to see the wide beach and the remains of gun turrets in the steep cliff that overlooked it, took our breath away.

The soldiers on the beach below were defenseless against the hail of bullets and mortars from above, but they came in anyway, dozens, hundreds, thousands of them dying. Some drowned in the waters before they ever made land. Others were cut down as they ran across the wide beach.

Above the beach is a beautiful memorial and a large cemetery with rows of crosses. A wide circular wall lists the names of the 10,000 Allied soldiers who perished in Normandy on D-Day. Over 6,000 were Americans. Our troops went over to Europe and died there to save the world from Hitler and the Nazi way of life. It was one of our proudest moments.

During our visit to Normandy, there was a brief ceremony where the French talked about how the Americans saved France and they thanked us profusely. A trumpet played Taps. Gene and I were in tears for most of the day.

I will never forget it.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 30: Memorial Day Memories

My husband and I have travelled to may historic sites in this country. Three years ago, we went to Normandy Beach in France and totally lost it when we saw the gun turrets on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. When they played Taps, everyone in our tour group had tears in their eyes, thinking of the great sacrifices of those brave men and women on D-Day.

I am the child of Finnish immigrants. My father was a college graduate, spoke English and became a citizen shorty after he came to the United Stated. My mother was a farmer’s daughter with an 8th grade education. It took her awhile to learn English and to apply for citizenship. I remember studying with her as she learned about the Three Branches of Government, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. I was in 5th grade then. When she passed the exam and learned that she was now a citizen of this great land, she cried like a baby. It was the happiest day of her life.

On the other hand, my husband’s ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and my daughters could all be members of The Daughters of the American Revolution. I have the files and the genealogy to prove it (compiled by one of his cousins).

Gene and I have been happily married for many years, with children and grandchildren. In other countries, this match would never have happened. My father could never have married an uneducated farmer’s daughter who was “beneath him”. My husband would never have married an immigrant’s daughter who was “beneath him”. Thankfully, we don’t have a caste system here. We chose who we want for better or for worse.

Let us celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in these United States: the right to choose our leaders, the right to choose our spouses, our jobs and careers, the right to a free education through 12th grade, the right to come and go as we please, to buy and sell property. As I writer, my work is not censored. I can say what I want about what or who I want.

Here’ a poem I wrote about our great land:

America

If there is a value in America, it is ideals and philosophies,
not wealth and power. We will not keep those ideals here,
locked in our land.

When we say “Give me your tired, your poor”, we mean give us
your old, patriarchal, backward, non-functioning mores
and let us show you what liberty and freedom can do for your people.

Give us your masses of oppressed men and women and
let us teach them to read, to think and to reason, for we know
that goodness exists in the core of every human being.

If we do this, the beauty, the excellence, the giving
and helping healing heart of all people will grow, and
we will have a new world: free, abundant, kind, and caring.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 29

Because of my background as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I only write fact-based fiction. My novels are based on real events, real people, real places.

My first book, FIND EDSELL!, is about a 17-year old who disappears on the Jersey Shore. Adults and teens join in the search which leads to the Pine Barrens, a million-plus acre woodland preserve in the heart of New Jersey. There a medical sci-fi angle and it all ends with a huge forest fire.

To write the book, I spent time in the Pine Barrens. I introduced myself to the men of the Forest Fire Service. They showed me fire stations, took me out to fires, allowed me in fire trucks and in towers and weather stations. For the medical parts, I read books on the human brain and interviewed nurses and doctors. I knew the Jersey Shore because we vacationed there.

I had the plot, the characters, the knowledge and the book flowed easily. I got good reviews, nice sales, one award from Writer’s Digest magazine

My next book is called FOOTES CREEK. That research was easy. I am a life-long golfer. On vacations, my husband and I played Pebble Beach, Blackwolf Run, Harbour Town Link, Sawgrass, and others. He had served on the board of a private club; I was ladies golf chairman several times. We have friends who are PGA Pros and golf course superintendents.

Writing my golf murder-mystery was fun because I knew the inner workings of those prestigious old-boy clubs. You can read it now for free on my website through Inkitt.

I just finished my third book, LOSING IT, a cross-country thriller where a wealthy woman from New Jersey must become homeless to escape a vicious killer. She flees from New Jersey to Connecticut to Pennsylvania and on to Montana. My husband I made that trip two years ago. I spoke with dozens of homeless people and spent time in trailer parks. I interviewed folks who work with the homeless and read dozens of books about the homeless.

Now I am looking for agents and/or publishers. Keep your fingers crossed! I want to keep doing this. More stories are floating around in my head. I just need to do the research!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 28

Use Your Imagination!

In order to write novels, poetry, children’s stories or humor, you need an imagination. As children, we see faces in the clouds, rainbows in the water, and monsters in the trees. A sudden click or crash in the house when all is still brings to mind monsters and devils. We lie in the grass on a summer afternoon and dream; we hike through the woods and see ourselves as heroes combating aliens in a far-off galaxy.

As we grow older and busier and more responsible, we don’t have time to dream and imagine events, places and things. We are so caught up in the moment we forget the wonderful delicious world of imagination.

As writers, we really need to take the time to explore that empty space, the unknown universe of our imagination.

Today, I needed a break from editing my book so I took a stroll through a nearby vacant lot. I took a few deep breaths and forgot about Chapter 36 and whether I should use the past or present tense in a flashback. I put away my concerns about my website and my potential new agent and what I was having for dinner. I cleared my mind and looked around.

There is was: a face in a tree trunk. A monster face with long droopy eyes and a sagging mouth. I took a picture with my cellphone and continued walking. Were there more faces in the trees?

Yes! I saw one, then another. Soon most of the trees and bushes had faces. Something rustled nearby and instead of being scared, I was glad. I had liberated my mind, my imagination was running free and wild through an overgrown vacant lot just down the street from my house.
I walked home strangely relaxed and ready to work, feeling strangely liberated and serene.

So do it, dear friends, no matter what your job or commitment is. Relax for a few minutes, clear your mind and be a kid again. Take a walk and let your imagination run wild.

It’s good for you!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 27

Tragedy Makes Us Grow and Become Better Writers

I have a nice life, with a great family, a caring husband and wonderful children, but I (like most of us) have also experienced times of grief and tragedy.  None of us escapes the sad times and now, in retrospect, I can consider those times learning experiences that equipped me to be a better writer. 

I can imagine what it might feel like to fly like Superman, to kill an intruder, travel to Mars on a spaceship.  But deep sorrow must be felt in order to understand the depths of sadness, to know that visceral feeling of losing someone permanently. 

My father was only 72 when he died a long lingering painful death from Multiple Myeloma, a bone cancer.  A few years later, I went to pick up my mother to take her for a ride in my new convertible.  She didn’t answer the door and when the superintendent of her apartment building let me in, we found that she had died in her sleep. 

One death was expected, in fact, welcomed as a release.  The other was shocking and unexpected.  It took me awhile to get over both of these events. 

I spoke with a therapist to help me through the grief process and he suggested I write down my feelings, even if it was one or two words scribbled in large letters across a page, even if was not in complete sentences.  “Be your true self,” he said, “let it all out, rage, anger, sadness.  Whatever.”

And I did.  Now, when one of the characters in my novels is sad for whatever reason, I feel it inside as I write.  It’s in my gut and it comes out through my words.   Here’s a poem I wrote about my mother (the Finnish word for Mom is Aiti). 

Aiti

The last cake was in the oven,

The last sheets, ironed and crisp,

tucked neatly under the mattress,

Then she pitched forward and died. 

Chaos descended upon the world

And the starched and pressed white shirts,

The angle food cakes made without

an electric mixer, went away. 

She was my mother, beautiful, laughing,

Running, daring, organizing the world,

Re-arranging the universe

So it made sense to her. 

Today, I order my chaos with words

Re-arranging dots on my computer screen,

Extending ink on a legal pad,

Seeking knowledge, painting word pictures,

Creating my own angel food cakes

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 26

Race & Segregation

A good writer must reach all people:  black, white, Hispanic, Asian, poor, wealthy, those with Ph.D.’s and those with high school diplomas.

I grew up as a child of Finnish immigrants on a small farm in North East, Maryland.  We spoke Finnish at home; English was my second language.  Our schools were segregated back then and all the black children were bussed to a school in Elkton, our county seat. 

I never once spoke to a person of color until I went to college and I often wondered about it.  I would see black people and their children around town.  Why couldn’t we talk?  Why couldn’t they go to my school?  What if all the Finnish people were green or purple or orange?  Would we be sent to a school somewhere else, shunned, ignored?  Denied basic rights? 

These black people had lived in our area for generations. Here I was, a first generation American and I had all the rights of a Daughter of the American Revolution.  Why?  Because I was blonde and fair skinned.   

Times have changed since then, thank God, and I welcome it.  Today, I have black friends, I worked with black children when I ran youth groups in our church in New Jersey.  In my first job out of college, my boss and most of the employees at the Tremont Welfare Center in New York City were black. 

Yesterday, my husband and I went to a Coastal Carolina Football Game.  Many of the players are black, many of the fans seated near us were black, and we all got along just fine. 

I went for a short walk on the balcony and ran into a group of handsome young black men laughing and talking while trying to take a group selfie.  I offered to take the picture.  They put their smiling faces together, I clicked their cell phone a couple of times.  We were all joking about it when one of guys grabbed me and said, “We need a picture!”

One of his friends took it and Phillip sent it to me.  Here I am smiling and having a good time with a complete stranger who happens to be a CCU football fan.  And he is as dark as I am fair.

What a wonderful world we live in today.  Freedom of association. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech.  The Bill of Rights coming true.   

Admittedly, there are still problems, but we’ve come a long, long way.  Thanks, Phillip for showing me that truth!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 25

A writer’s experiences in life are useful in a writing fiction.  That’s what empowers a book, that’s what keeps readers reading far into the night.  They can’t put it down, because it’s so REAL.

I was stuck in my new book, “Losing It”, about a woman who must become homeless to escape a vicious killer.  A well-known agent rejected my book and told me that I was “telling and not showing”. 

Looking over the first 50 pages, I realized she was right.  My journalism background had taken over my book.  After the first few pages, my novel read like a newspaper report.  Laura did this and that, but with no feelings, no intimate descriptions of the day, the moment, the sound of someone’s voice, the rain, the wind.    

I’ve interviewed many homeless people.  I’ve heard stories of what it’s like to be out there, alone and afraid, with no resources.  I’ve listened to tales of hunger and want, of going for several days without food.  Of dumpster diving behind fast food stores to find remnants of other people meals. 

But I had never been homeless myself. 

Until two weeks ago when my husband and I left our quiet peaceful home in Ocean Isle Beach NC to flee Hurricane Florence.  We headed for Gatlinburg TN, a favorite vacation spot for us, high and away from the winds and floods. The drive took longer than expected because everyone was evacuating the Carolina Coast. We were in the middle of nowhere late that night with hours of driving remaining.  We finally found a third-class motel in a not-so-nice area that had a vacancy. It was late and dark and scary.   

The next morning, we finished the drive and stayed for two weeks.  The whole time I was there, I felt disoriented.  All our belongings were in harms way back on the Carolina Coast.  All I had with me was my cell phone.  We were safe on a mountaintop, but I experienced something totally new:  uncertainty, not knowing what’s coming next.  I had 16 days to think about it.

Now I am hard at work, revising “Losing It” from a whole new perspective.  My house is fine and we’re back in it but I have a new understanding and empathy for the homeless.