From the living room floor, I watched the roaches crawl across the ceiling. When they began to fall, I hurriedly wrapped the blanket around me and tucked it in as best I could. Uncle J’s death was unexpected and Aunt D came unglued, dragging my cousins from sibling to sibling. I crossed my fingers they’d be moving on soon. Alas, they enrolled in the local school, the meanest two in my grade…not twins, just one dumb one. They tormented me daily, on top of the usual bullying I received from my classmates, so that in the evenings I would ride my bike around town until dark, hoping dinner would distract them. I was ordered to come home straight after school and stay there by my mother, adamant that I show compassion. The night I took to the streets on my bike, sobbing, I returned long after sunset to find my father waiting for me in his garage. I homed in on the light as a beacon of refuge. He was fiddling around, doing a little of nothing, as he liked to say, when I entered. Without turning around, he told me—Your mother’s angry with you. He looked at me, one eyebrow raised. There was nothing to say. Facing the counter again, he said—I got you something—and brought a little box to me. We sat on his workbench so I could open it. My gift was an itty bitty radio with a pullout antenna. He took it from me, placed it on a little table next to an overstuffed chair he’d dragged down from the attic, and plugged it in. Next to the chair, he’d put a small bookshelf and filled it with some of the books from my room. He hugged me and said—You can come read in here after school; I’ll let your mother know where you are.
He came in quietly and stood just inside the doorway. I continued perusing my bookshelf, waiting for him to announce his reason to enter my bedroom, a rare occurrence. After a couple of throat clearings, he walked over and sat on the edge of my bed, patting the space next to him. The hair on my arms prickled my skin, a vague unease settling in my stomach as I sat next to him. My father then asked me—You know your mother and I love you, right? I jumped up to face him, asking too loudly—Are you getting a divorce? He blinked and shook his head before smiling and assuring me—No, no, nothing like that…sit, sit—patting the bed again. I sat up straight and stared at the wall through a few more throat clearing harrumphs. When he finally spoke again, he told me softly—Should you ever need any surgeries…—and I again took to my feet to search his face for answers. Am I sick—I asked him—I don’t remember the doctor saying anything. Shaking his head frantically, he implored—Please sit down and stop looking at me. I complied, and he continued—If you have back pain, or shoulder pain, or need any kind of surgery…—I burst out laughing. Daddy, look—I said—I know I’m only 15, but I will never, ever want breast-reduction surgery, and you can take that to mother. He nodded, hugged me, and walked out as quietly as he came in, leaving me rolling around on my bed giggling.
I’ll have to admit that the initial idea to write the song itself was not my own; it was the Viking’s. He wanted to know if perhaps I could write a song with the words from the book and play it at Mom’s next book signing. I was excited to take on the challenge, of course. As most of my friends and family know, I usually write hard rock songs, so it was a bit of a challenge to do justice to the words written in “Whisper Me This.” I had a guitar idea I had been playing around with earlier in the year that I ended up adapting to be the verse of the song. After this, the melody and cello part rang in my head as soon as I had figured out the general chord progressions.
The recording process was painless as Jimmy Hill of Amplified Wax took us through his flawless process of recording an acoustic song. It took about four hours to track the guitars, cellos, and vocals. I was fortunate enough to convince Keadrin Cain to join me in the studio as I had heard she was the best cello player in the area. Upon entering the studio, I found out that she was also able to sing. I immediately recruited her for harmonies. The harmonies were written in the studio with the help of Jimmy.
I’ve always felt self conscious of my voice, I still find myself picking apart my vocals and wishing I could fix several things. But Keadrin’s voice is such a perfect complement to mine that it makes me forget I even hate my voice. Overall, I’m exceptionally proud of the song and I think it represents the book well. I’m so excited to share it with everyone!
Readers and writers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.
What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?
ANNOUNCING A 2018 READER SURVEY designed to solicit input on these topics and others.
with friends and family via email or your favourite social media. Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make this year’s survey – the 4th – even more significant.
Participate by clicking this link. Those who take the survey will be able to sign up to receive a summary report when it becomes available.
M.K. (Mary) Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, Time and Regret was published by Lake Union. Fellow authors Patricia Sands and Heather Burch helped design and plan the survey. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her blog A Writer of History.
I’m taking a little break from flash fiction to share my new favorite author (my list is growing!). She’s SadeqaJohnson and her newest novel “and then there was me” (yes, the title has no caps, because she knows the rules and she can break them) came out in April.
Feeling frustrated with my agent search, I initiated my strategy to be published by St. Martin’s Press, the publisher of my favorite authors Diane Chamberlain, Mary Kay Andrews, Lisa Scottoline, and Sarah Addison Allen. The first step in my action plan was to go to Sadeqa Johnson’s book reading.
Am I glad I went! She read from her two St. Martin’s Press books, the other being “second house from the corner.” She is a great speaker, articulate and funny, and she’s a warm person who feels genuine. She offered me so much encouragement.
I bought both books and took photos — see ^^ above.
Here is her website: http://www.sadeqajohnson.net/
I grew up in a small, Midwestern town where nearly everyone was white. There are so many ways to stand outside of the mainstream as a white child in a white town. One significant way is being poor enough to live in a trailer park across from the high school, while going to that high school, in a surprisingly twisty turn of events in our country where my little town was not significantly poor. Another less visible way is being strange, not understanding social mores, and not being tolerant of the usual offenses, such as bullying hidden behind the more benign terms of “joking,” “kidding,” and “pranks.”
Parents who constantly fight are well known in such a small town, and a mother who is literally crazy is even more well known throughout the school system. I did not know that I was considered the class clown until people who never spoke to me in high school sent me friend requests on Facebook. Carol Burnett did say that tragedy plus time equals comedy.
Moving to a larger town, a small city, did not lessen the prickliness of social contact, but the much larger school did equalize the playing field a bit, allowing friendships with equally strange schoolmates. Today, working in schools myself, I tell children who are told they are strange to tell the other child, “Thank You!” and dance and sing. For your strangeness means you’re unique and generally denotes a creative nature. Of course, I didn’t now this in high school, and so when my stifled creativity transmogrified into depression, an avenue readily offered to me through genetics, I played “At Seventeen” repeatedly my 17th year after transferring to that enormous high school for my last year.
Someone told me that Janis Ian is a lesbian…
And I realized that her pain wasn’t mine, that she didn’t understand being different in ways people can’t pinpoint beyond “strange.” It broke my heart that I was still alone in my strangeness.
I don’t know what happened to that record.
I found Janis Ian on Facebook…
And she interacts with her fans in a huge way, sharing her life’s stories, her work, and her Big Opinions. I have fallen in love with her again, and I hope she knows that she means a lot to many people who will likely never meet her IRL.
Thank you, Janis Ian, for being you.
The man who raised me is a complex individual. He didn’t give a rat’s ass for safety if it impeded his performance or his fun. He is the reason I don’t feel comfortable with anyone coming into my home to repair anything. He fixed everything, from delicate necklaces to furnaces and cars. He taught us to ride bikes before helmets were even considered for non-motorized two-wheelers. He drove fast before cars had seatbelts or airbags. We rode in the back of a pickup flying down country roads to go swimming in the lake. He was the Fun parent.
As a teenager, I found him awesome and only slightly embarrassing, but always hilarious. My friends loved him. He told the best dad joke groaners. He was cool with all my friends – black, Indian*, gay, and my weird, little, white girl friend, who just happened to be my best friend in high school. I joined her youth group, though I was rapidly becoming atheist via Paganism. She celebrated birthdays with us. She laughed along with us when my mom pranked my dad on his 40th birthday with a stuffed dog with the name Sheriff BowWow etched onto his gold Sheriff’s star.
From that birthday on, my dad carried that toy everywhere.
He sat a place at the dinner table for him. Then at restaurants. Dad started dining alone. When going anywhere with him, the dog took priority, with dad seat-belting him into the front seat, while he continued to drive without using his, though the law had caught up to safety.
“Put on your seatbelts, girls!”
I could only shake my head at my weird, little friend that she better not say a word. She complied.
But she could only hold it so long, until we pulled up in front of the theater, “Sir, why is the toy dog in the front seat?”
“His name is Sheriff BowWow and he’s my friend.”
I didn’t mean to slam the door.
Dad had that dog for years. He may have it still. I doubt it’s ever been washed. We grew used to it, and ended up ignoring it. You can’t out-dad-joke a dad.
*I don’t use these terms indiscriminately. They are the words my friends used to describe themselves, and I respect their choices.
Sometimes you don’t even realize that this timeless adage applies to you. I’ve spent too much time trying to follow the advice of those I believed to be experts in the craft of writing, not understanding that I was emulating what works for them, then concluding that I was lacking in discipline. Finally I believe those authors who say to find your own way. Read about successful authors. Read about their schedules, their protocols, their procedures, and their magical notions. Then develop your own using that information as guidance and motivation. Now I know that no writer, no matter how successful, should espouse anything in the craft beyond Neil Gaiman’s admonishment…
Write & Read Every Day!
Know yourself. Be honest. Ask yourself if you will really write at sunrise, or will you stare wistfully off into the distance while taking that extra hour to fully awaken. Ask yourself if you will really write 1,000 words each day if you’re not producing that now. There are many strategies that writers use to coax the words out of themselves. If you will write at the coffeeshop, instead of people watch and order another latte and another latte, that is your way. If you know you will do something, then you may still struggle a bit until it becomes a habit. Persist! Habits are harder to kick.
You can adjust your schedule for practicality. Let go of guilt. This is your life. Do it your way. I substitute teach part-time. When I tell my husband that I will write in the two hours between the end of my work day and his, I am lying. Kids are emotionally draining, so that my brain is not accessible for writing on a day I substitute. That’s okay. I am in the process of accepting that, and now I must find time to write in the evening. This is better for both of us, as he is teaching himself programming and cannot be disturbed. You can adjust your schedule accordingly, but keep writing.
Learn from others. You don’t have to do what they’re doing. There are nuances galore to stuff and fill any little gaps in your protocols or procedures. Writers are lifelong learners in tune with the nuances of the world. There’s a difference between knowing that someone does something and knowing why. Understanding the reasons for someone’s actions may give you insight into how you might do it more effectively in your own way. I’ve found excellent writing groups online for advice. On Facebook, Writers Helping Writers, Bad Writing, and The Write Life Community are a few that I follow. You can also follow other writers who are in various stages of a writing career.
Fill yourself and your environment with inspiration. Requiring inspiration made me feel needy, until I grasped that my favorite authors had tons of inspiration throughout their writing sanctuaries. Along with books on the craft of writing, read books that inspire you to move forward. Surround yourself with motivational ideas. Here are a few that inspire me: Robert Benson’s Dancing On the Head of a Pin, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Stephen King’s On Writing, Sark’s A Creative Companion. Many authors interact with fans on Facebook and Twitter. Some of my favorite authors do: Diane Chamberlain, Lisa Scottoline, and Mary Kay Andrews.
Read and analyze books you love. It’s challenging to look at the words when a story is flowing through you. Go back and determine why that scene went so well. Look at the sentence structure. Note transitions and segues. Understanding why you love it will improve your own writing. Feel the story. Then analyze it to its core. Adapt what you learn to your style. Be the best writer that you can be.
I wrote and illustrated little books for my little brother when I was in grade school. I have written sporadically, in diaries and journals, short stories piling up first in notebooks, now in computer files, and finally, with the support of my husband, I finished a novel for which I now seek representation. This dear hubby of mine has worked his way up in his career, reaching a point where I need only work part-time. Since my time and energy went into assisting him, he is returning the favor, allowing me time to write and to focus on submitting my work. He even builds my website. I am blessed.