Sunday, May 26, 2013

Writers, Rejections, and Reform

After five months of watching the inbox, I was beyond anxious. Surely if they were taking this long to consider my manuscript, then the news would be good. Then again, maybe they’ve already passed on it and neglected to notify me. Angst, doubt, and, of course, hope, had me in a constant state of flux.

I emailed the publisher. Despite being unsure how much time was reasonable to wait, and worried that they would consider me a pest for bothering them, I composed a professional query as to whether my manuscript was still in the running.

Their response was encouraging. My work was still under consideration. These things take time, I told myself. I remained optimistic.

Two months later, the rejection arrived. Due to cutbacks in their program, they were unable to publish my collection of stories. They went on to say that my book was an interesting concept, and I could certainly write (the soothing balm that eased the sting) but targeting my audience might be a problem. Also, that, ‘Book sales are on the decline and publishers are making cut backs in the number of books they do. It’s a very difficult financial climate for publishers and very discouraging for authors. Yes, that’s the sad reality.

They went on to suggest that if I didn’t find a publisher for this manuscript that I should think about self-publishing and market my book on Amazon.

I’m not faulting the publisher, it was due to my own inexperience that I quit querying this book to others when they requested the manuscript. Though it was a boost to  my ego to have my collection considered, I had wasted a significant amount of time. 

One part of me says I should read the manuscript again and see if there are more edits. The other part of me says Are you nuts?? There are always edits. Editing never ends! Just send out more queries! Publishers usually request their own edits, anyway.
And so, I will do some research and follow up with a few queries to promising prospects for this project while continuing to move forward with writing my current novel and, also, finish some fine tuning on my last novel which is being queried to select agents and publishers.

Did I mention the short story contest deadlines looming on the horizon? I need a clear and creative mind to write something diabolically bizarre and darkly twisted. Or maybe I will use my diabolically bizarre and darkly twisted mind to write something clear and creative.

Regardless, edits will be done, queries will be sent, stories will be written, and novels will be completed. All is well that ends well.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing About My Sister

Whispered prayers and soft goodbyes 

Echo under silent skies

When you were ready

He cradled you near

I held your hand and shed a tear


Leave me now and save a place

In the family circle of heaven’s embrace

When it’s my time

Please take my hand

And guide me to the Promised Land

Dedicated to my sister Eileen

My first memory of her is when I was three years old. With my hand in hers, we leave the crowd of people, cross the sidewalk and walk down along the boulevard, almost to the house next door. She asks me to stand by the large − so tall I can’t see the top − tree. Wearing a yellow organza dress with short puffed sleeves and gathers at the waist, I obediently stand so near that I remember the ants climbing the black bark.

My sister, square-box Brownie camera in hand, notices that one of my shoes is unbuckled. The skirt of her tulle-layered wedding gown parts the long blades of grass as she bends down to weave the small strap through the tiny silver buckle.

I’m not sure of the indelible significance of that moment but it has lasted a lifetime.

 My next memory of my sister is three or four years later. She sits in a straight-backed chair and gently loosens the folds of soft wool to introduce me to my baby nephew. I am in awe.

With his arrival comes the opportunity to bathe, diaper, and feed. This real baby soon replaces my treasured doll. It is then that I wonder how old I must be to have my own babies. I figure I have to wait at least until I am ten.

During the many weekends and summers spent at my sister’s house, aside from the steadfast rule to never ever leave the bedroom without making the bed, I learn the fundamentals of cooking, cleaning, and caring for little boys − ultimately numbering three.

I learn that before the husband arrives home from work, the wife must set the table for dinner, brush her hair, put on a decent dress, and apply lipstick – beauty red – with purposeful precise strokes and then blot with a single square of toilet tissue.

I learn to slice cucumbers and onions paper-thin and serve them in a bowl filled with vinegar and lots of salt and pepper. To place a dish of celery sticks and radishes on the table for every dinner. That creamed corn and mashed potatoes always accompany pork chops. To add finely diced raw onion along with milk and butter to the cooked potatoes before mashing them to a creamy smooth texture. After the meal, to sweep the kitchen floor and wash the dishes immediately.

I learn that her favourite time of day is late afternoon. When all the floors are dust mopped and the dinner vegetables are prepared, she settles in with a pot of tea and cigarettes to watch her soap operas. I stand behind her chair brushing her thick dark hair. She loves having her hair brushed. So much so that I regret having started the habit.

Sisters will always intertwine in childhood recollections but not all my memories are so distant. Many years later when we’re both grey-haired, on a rare occasion when she agrees to go shopping, we kibitz back and forth in a teasing sisterly way, having a bit of fun.

I struggle putting her walker into my trunk and then help her fasten her seatbelt when she begins to curse ‘that damned thing’. I threaten her. Don’t start your complaining or else ..., I say. As we pull out of the mall parking lot, she lowers her window shouting ‘elder abuse’ to all who could hear. The years melt away in our laughter.

Because of our age difference, she is forever teaching and telling. A practice she finds hard to break. I remind her that I am now a grandmother. She can stop lecturing me as if I were a young teen. That’s the problem with being the youngest in a large family. No matter my age, I’ll always be the kid.

So many memories.

She was beautiful, my husband commented while looking at a picture. I don’t mean just attractive, she was a very beautiful woman, he said.

His words nudge my memory of the lively sparkle of her deep brown eyes, her shining black hair, and the vivacious smile that always seemed on the verge of laughter. The red dress that brought out her dark beauty. The sharpness of her tongue, her boisterous laugh, and the confidence in knowing she was always right.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Ewwwwww...It's a Skunk Alwrite!

Ewwwwww....skunk. The smell was strong enough for me to suspect that the stinky critter was within spitting distance – make that spraying distance. Lex, wait! I tried to close the door before she got out. Too late. She was gone. A dog on a mission and it had nothing to do with a skunk.

Out in the yard, Lexus circled and sniffed while I continued to coax her back into the house. A command didn’t work so I used my ‘what a good girl you are’ voice − the ‘milk bone’ voice. She looked back as if to say, ‘wait a minute, will ya, I got things to do.’

Lex squatted. Yes, yes. No. She changed her mind. She needed a few more turns and a couple more sniffs. Oh, come on! Normally, I don’t watch her and maybe that’s why she kept looking over at me. ‘Do you mind?’ Yes, that’s likely what she was thinking.

Leaning through the open doorway, I called to her, telling her to hurry and even clapping my hands – like that would make a difference. Anything to get her back inside before there was an unfortunate encounter. Thoughts of the striped animal scooting between my feet and into the kitchen did cross my mind, as far-fetched as that sounds.

Nervous, I glanced at the bushes next to the deck before scanning the yard. Nothing. The smell of skunk was nauseating. It had to be close. It could get either one of us.

Another anxious look at the dog. Finally, she had finished her business. With a little encouragement, Lex headed back to the house, raced across the deck, and skidded over the threshold. An indignant snort let me know she wasn’t pleased at being rushed.

Normally, she likes to wander a bit first thing in the morning. It’s her favourite time of day. The rabbits are playing tag in and around the shrubs and she joins in the chase. After nosing along the creek and a general tour of the perimeter, she returns for breakfast. But not this morning.

Even though the smell was all through the house, we had both escaped unscathed and the skunk was probably spreading good cheer at neighbouring properties.

Later that afternoon, the skunky stench long gone, I went outside to do some yard cleanup. I headed to the gardening shed back by the creek. My garden cart was up against the outside of the shed and I moved some campfire chairs and gave the cart a tug. Sniff, sniff. Yuck. I’d disturbed something, no doubt.

I dragged the cart out to the clearing and eyed the shed that held my garden tools. The smell was getting stronger. Lex was rolling around on the ground, getting up, and diving through the grass again. Stop that, Lex, I said. Keeping a leery eye, I backed away.

Clearly, the skunks had taken over the rabbits den under the shed. My fingers tightened around the keys in my pocket. What if they’re inside the shed, I thought. Visions of being immersed in gallons of tomato juice, rubbing my stinging eyes, and coughing and choking and crying – for sure I’d be crying − made me cautious.

Urging Lexus to follow me, I pulled my cart across the yard. I’d manage without my garden tools.