Nostalgia For What I Never Had

By Lisa Alber

I spent last week in Chicago and Lansing, MI, with my two younger sisters. We re-connected with relatives on both sides of the family: Mom’s side in Lansing and Dad’s side in Chicago. My dad passed away in 2001. My mom, last year. One of my maternal cousins, K, had found a five-year journal that Mom kept for one year, 1946. She was 14/15 years old, and she went to the movies every chance she could. She read a lot, sucked at algebra, excelled in English, went to mass and confession, loved horses, and enjoyed scrapbooking.

Except for mass and confession, that could be a description of me at that age. I got to thinking about how much she and I could have bonded. Why didn’t Mom mention her love of horses? Why didn’t she commiserate with me over my math woes? Why didn’t she take an interest in my scrapbooks?

Were we too much alike? I also recently learned that she had curly hair, which I inherited. She told me once that she never liked my hair.

Over in Chicago with my dad’s side, my one remaining aunt, J, mentioned that she’d felt sorry for us girls. She said, and I quote, “Your mom was never meant to be a parent.”

I loved her honesty, and I felt oddly relieved that she validated what I’d always intuited. I grew up with my basic hierarchy of needs met—shelter, food, water—and that was about it. Years ago, a therapist called it “benign neglect.” I was pretty feral considering our suburban lifestyle. I remember crusty, oozing, painful sores behind my ears because I was so dirty.

Aunty J recalled one of our rare family visits to Chicago, and how my parents dumped us at her house for the week and left without saying goodbye. We didn’t notice because for years they’d been handing us off to overnighter child-care minders while they larked off for long weekends in Carmel, CA, or wherever.

Aunty J also said my mom teased her mercilessly about how much she did for her kids. For example, baking cakes. To this day, I remember how amazed I was by her cake-frosting prowess. It was like I’d never seen a cake being frosted. “Wow, you’re so good at that!” She responded with something slightly grumpy, like, of course she was, no duh.

It didn’t occur to me to tell her that I didn’t know a frosted cake could look so tidy and yummy because Mom didn’t do cakes much, even for birthdays unless we begged. As the oldest child, I was the first to become aware that we didn’t celebrate birthdays and other holidays like “normal” families. I started to hector and insist on Easter baskets, birthday cakes, Christmas stockings and pretending that Santa existed (luckily, my dad was a Christmas guy when it came to having a beautiful tree), proper Halloween costumes, and please, could she cook us turkey for Thanksgiving? (Never happened.) I created rituals for us, as best I could.

I still don’t celebrate my birthday much, and I have a hard time remembering other people’s birthdays.

Anyhow, back to Aunty J. Apparently, when she spoke long distance with her brother, my father, he talked about what we girls were up to—he was interested even if he was never around—but Mom never talked about us.

I know many things about Mom now: undiagnosed depression (she was usually in bed when we got home from school); sexual abuse on her mom’s side of the family; a huge family scandal when Mom was a teenager; her own bitter, overly staunch and crusty mom; an out-of-wedlock son given up for adoption; loss of the man who I suspect was Mom’s soul mate; CIA recruitment straight out of college and life in Europe after that …

She will always be a mysterious figure—a figment that reflects too readily back onto me.

Could I write a novel based on nostalgia for what I never had? I suppose I could. A novel about absentee mothers, mother-daugher relationships, misperceptions, family mysteries … but I probably won’t. Or, maybe I already have with Kilmoon.

Lizzie Borden on Tour

by Elizabeth Engstrom

My publisher, IFD Publishing, is launching a new line of books, Horror That Happened. My Lizzie Borden book was re-released under this new imprint, in the Based on a True Story category.

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We decided to do a blog tour with Silver Dagger Book Tours to promote this new release of a much-published book.

The first step was to decide when to do the tour, and how long the tour should last. We chose the entire month of July. Now I say a month is too long. I can blog, and post on social media, but my universe is small, and I can only annoy my readers/followers so much. A month of such posts turned out to be too much for me. Two weeks would have been perfect.

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Maia, of Silver Dagger, did a stellar job. She asked me for all kinds of materials, from answers to interview questions, to history behind the writing of the novel, to personal information. This, she parceled out to her bloggers, who quite faithfully posted the appropriate information on the day they said they would. Maia also posted it all on her Silver Dagger website, which got quite a bit of attention. Could be the $25 gift card we offered to participants. Could be she just has a nice following.

This was not the first time I’ve done a blog tour with Maia. When Benediction Denied came out through ShadowSpinners Press, the publisher set me up for a tour with her. This was in Maia’s earlier days and most of her bloggers turned out to be geared toward the romance market. Definitely not a good fit for my dark fantasy Labyrinth of Souls book. But Maia has grown her business and branched out into what appears to be all genres.

The results aren’t in, of course. Did I get book sales? I won’t know yet for a while, as Amazon reports their book sales in a weird way. But I can tell you that I also blogged about it several times on this blog and on my personal blog, and the publisher also did a fine job of blogging, all during the month of June. I think I picked up north of 30 new subscribers to my personal blog. So it’s all good.

Fortunately, this coincided nicely with a bump in Twitter subscribers because When Darkness Loves Us has had an astonishing resurgence with its new publication under the new Paperbacks from Hell imprint from Valancourt Books, curated by Grady Hendrix.

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There is more news, but I will keep that for another post at another time. Suffice to say, it’s good to have a whole new audience for my favorite books. Consider booking a blog tour and report back your successes.

Karmic Law for Becoming Writers

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Karmic Law for Becoming Writers, by Eric Witchey

We write stories for as many different reasons as there are people who write. Some people write as personal therapy. Some write to set the world straight. Some write to heal others, and some to heal wounds from their childhoods. We have stories that instruct, deny, teach, explore, and warn. We have stories that do all these things at once. Yet, people still ask these perennial questions:

  1. How do I become a writer?
  2. Where do I start a story?
  3. What should I write?

In order, the truest answers I know are:

  1. By writing.
  2. With the writing.
  3. And whatever you write.

You may have chuckled in humorous agreement after you read the questions and their answers. You may have become a bit angry and resentful at my apparently useless and flippant answer. You may have just skimmed forward to get to the bits you think you need. Please don’t laugh, resent, or skim. The questions are legitimate. The answers are true. We have all asked them, and we have all had to answer them for ourselves and others.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

How do I become a writer?

The word “writer” is the agentive nominalized form of the infinitive verb “to write.” In the strictest sense, a person who writes is a writer. If that’s as far as we take the answer, the writers were justified in their little chuckle. The haters were justified in their little moment of resentment. The skimmers were justified in moving on.

However, I want to bring a bit of karma into the concept of becoming a writer. Some writers are born into families where professional writing parents read stories to them in the womb, where the family played endless word games for fun, where no TV was allowed, where a giant dictionary lived in the living room, and where telling stories to one another was a form of entertainment every night after dinner. From families like that, writers emerge into academic and commercial circles carrying the burden of “talent.” Those writers are not kidding at all when they say things like “Just tell the story,” “I know if it sounds right,” and “the characters just do what they are going to do.” For those rare and highly talented people who were genetically predisposed to solid language skills and then internalized the patterns of success in language and story at very early ages, “Just write,” is a true, complete, and self-sufficient answer to the question.

I wasn’t born into one of those families. Most people weren’t. Sure, we all have some degree of the magical thing called talent, but talent is just the degree to which you were genetically predisposed to then trained to early life fluency in language and story. Luckily, many successful writers had little or no talent when they came to the craft. They compensated by working hard. It turns out that behaving like a writer creates writers.

That’s what I mean by karma. One definition of karma is that every choice we make turns us into a person who has made that choice. Having chosen, we benefit from all the pleasures and pains that go with that choice. If we choose to drive on the wrong side of the road, we gain the freedom and joy that comes with being unconstrained by law. We might even live through the experience. We might also experience the accident and death that can come with having made that choice. Either way, we create ourselves into the person who experiences the result.

By writing, we become writers. Showing up every morning at the keyboard causes our bodies and minds to adapt to the task of writing. By attending seminars, classes, and conferences, we train body and mind to become sensitive to the patterns of success in behavior and technique that make a writer a writer.

A person who says, “I am a writer,” but doesn’t touch the keys is the same person not writing today that they were yesterday. A person who says nothing but does sit down at their desk and reads, studies, and practices the craft becomes a writer. Mind and body adapt to what we do. Writers write. Writing makes writers.

Where do I start a story?

The entry point to any story can be any moment in the story. By entry point, I mean the first text on the page. I do not mean the opening line. As you would guess from what has come before in this little essay, it means that writers write in order to figure out what they are going to write.

Since the first shaman spit pigment onto a cave wall, writers have been struggling with blank stone, clay, or page. I can’t count how many different methods of beginning I have studied over the years, and all of them have been correct. I will say that my all-time favorite came from the woman who taught the Carlo Rossi Method of mystery writing, but that’s another story and not really mine to tell. Here are a few non-Carlo Rossi entry points along with an example of each:

  • Start with A Theme: Developing listening skills creates understanding, deeper respect for others, and greater success in family and life.
  • A Social Issue: Prejudice against intelligence
  • Personal, Emotional Issue: Unrequited love
  • Trauma: Limitations in relationships because of early life sibling abuse
  • Random Topics: A dirty coffee mug, a newspaper article about hauling ice from glaciers in Canada to L.A. as a water supply, and a Country Western Song. (This starting point actually became my sold short story “Running Water for L.A.”)
  • Idea in The Shower: What would it be like to be a spider living in the sewer?
  • Image or Images: My reflected house on a dew drop on the rust-damaged petal of a blue rose.
  • A fast Scene: Just wrote five pages as fast as I could. Now, is there anything in there to work with?
  • The Beginning: Her first day at Garver Road Middle School was triumphant and terrible in equal parts.
  • Someplace in The Middle: By the time Gordon arrived at the farm, the dogs had eaten most of the flesh from Millicent’s corpse.
  • The Climax: She held the flame of the sword close enough to his head to singe the hair of his beard and raise acrid smoke. When he closed his battered eye to avoid the flame, she said, “For my sister and my village.”
  • The Final Moment: Susurrate waves tickled his toes and tugged at the beach sand, washing away his foundations and forcing him to shift his footing from time to time. The Corrilla’s black flag disappeared over the horizon. The breath he’d been holding slipped past his lips in a long sigh before he turned toward home, his wife, and their new child.

Any one of these could become the entry point for a story. Any one can provide the spark that allows the writer to begin asking the questions that define context, present a problem for solution, and result in answers that drive the project forward toward completion.

What would it be like to be a spider in a sewer? Replace spider with rat and watch the film Flushed Away. Go back to spider, and ask what makes the spider worth following in the sewer? She loves her children—deep fried with vinegar and salt. Nothing in the sewer can satisfy her hunger. Why does that matter? Because she is the only spider of her kind in the sewer and the other sewer spiders shun her for her culinary peculiarities. So what? She can solve murder mysteries in the sewer, and that will bring her back to the bathroom where she meets her grown children but no longer only sees them as food. So, the sewer is a metaphor for her exploration of the shadow self and her resentment that her children are a part of herself she wants to recover by eating them, and the murders force her to recognize the deeper value of every life and the interconnectedness of each life to all….

The above example of uncensored, question-driven brainstorming would not end with the ellipsis. It would go on and on until enough silliness and non-silliness appeared on the page to allow the writer to begin to see a story worth telling.

The point is that writers start by starting. Any start is a start provided we keep going.

What should I write?

Did you read the bit about the spider? Did you shake your head and think, “Oh, for the love of…” Now, go back and look at the list of starting places. Which one is the one we should pick as the story we want to write?

Exactly. Any of them. All of them. Just pick. The one that you picked is the right one. Don’t pick. Start a different way. Toss a coin and write about the glimmer of it spinning in the sunlight. Travel to a festival and write about carnies. Write about not being able to write. However you start is the right way to start. Whatever shows up in your writing is the right thing to write about. Later, you can do the work of turning it into a story.

One of the most disturbing phrases I hear from writers at conferences and in seminars is, “My story is about…” Compare that opening phrase to “This story is about…” Writing a lot of stories allows writers to learn faster, understand story more deeply, and discover which stories, themes, concepts, and issues are most powerful for them. Additionally, writing a lot of stories results in, well, a lot of stories. More stories provides a broader range for possible sales and reduces the worry surrounding any one story.

Let’s change the question just a little bit. Instead of asking “What should I write,” ask, “What the hell did I just write?” The answer will often be, “Huh. Well, I’ll be damned. That was fun.”

Portal Home

by Cheryl Owen Wilson

Portal Lrg“Portal Home”  original painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Universal fingers crawl along the edges of darkness as I doze,

pulling the shades of my word’s light to a finite close.

While fanciful creatures come out of their hiding,

wanting to soar on night stars, riding.

They speak to me in words never before spoken,

unveiling worlds waiting to be woken.

I accept their invitation to roam through the Universe,

amidst ancient galaxies we magically traverse,

embracing this knowledge eating at the edges of my being,

setting my soul on fire, forever seeking.

Centuries pass in the blink of an eye,

minutes and years blurred by times fateful sigh

These are the wonderings of my mind,

as it plays hide and seek though infinities of time

Words continually unfold through portal’s pricked by night.

I am at peace as I once again, take flight.

The poem wove through my mind, as I created the painting, and would not leave after the painting was completed until placed on the page.   I am forever in search of the beginning, the spark, the muse causing an artist to create. Can you remember the first thought sending you off in a months/years long quest to create a work of art, a story?  I enjoy hearing artist’s answers.  Please give me yours.

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Horror that Happened

by Elizabeth Engstrom

My publisher, IFD Publishing, has opened a new imprint, Horror that Happened. I’m delighted that the first will be my perennial bestselling Lizzie Borden.

This is the official announcement:

IFD launches New Imprint: HORROR THAT HAPPENED

 The outrageous is all the more extraordinary when we know it actually occurred.

 

Horror that Happened provides riveting stories in three categories: True Crime, Based on a True Story, and Lifted from the Past

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The imprint will be launched with the release of Elizabeth Engstrom’s Lizzie Borden under the subcategory, Based on True Story. In the novel, Engstrom imagines an intimate view of the life of Lizzie Borden during the period surrounding the murder of her parents.

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On September 1, 2019, IFD Publishing will release within the same category, A Parliament of Crows, by Alan M. Clark. The novel is inspired by the lives and crimes of the infamous Wardlaw sisters, 19th century American murderers.

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 Following that, in the True Crime category, will be Elizabeth Engstrom’s Divorce by Grand Canyon.

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Lifted from the Past will include unsettling works in the public domain, such as Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, and various writings about the Bell Witch from the 19th century.

We hope you will come back to IFD Publishing for your high-quality reading entertainment.

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You can buy a copy of Lizzie Borden Lizzie Borden.

Some Opportunities Make You Crazy

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Photo by Phillip Lees. Evia, Greece

Some Opportunities Make You Crazy

Eric Witchey

The crazy of being a full-time writer is so pervasive that we don’t even think about it. We just feel normal in our obsessions, our passions, and our darkness. Then, you read your email and discover a unique moment of joy and rage at the fates. You hear from an old friend about whom you often think kind thoughts. He lives on a Greek island, and he tells you he has finished renewing a house on his property and wants make it available for rental to working writers.

First thought, “WOW! I’m so on this! I can’t wait to hang out in Greece and chat with my friend again.”

You read the letter again, and you realize he has even said that if you want to come visit, you’ll be a guest.

Second thought is, “Where’s my passport?”

You scramble around the house. You find your passport. You pull up your calendar to see when you go. There’s a couple weeks that might be available in . . . in. . . WTF? May of 2020?

A cup of tea later, and you’re all, “Yeah. May. 2020. That’s good. I can do that.”

So, you do a few calculations and check your bank account.

No. You can’t do that. You’re a writer. You have multiple revenue streams that are currently bringing in less than your overhead. At the current rate, the cushion of cash you are living off will be exhausted about May of 2020.

That’s normal. You’ve been living the freelance writer and consultant gig economy for thirty years. However, you also know that in May of 2020 you’ll be dug into whatever work is filling the coffers.

Still, you check on the travel costs. Hope springs eternal.

  • 2000.00, plus or minus a few hundred, for round-trip Airfare to Athens and back.
  • 60.00, bus/ferry to and from Athens to Evia
  • 300.00, general food and sundries
  • ???.??, rental cost for people who aren’t you.
  • 2360.00, total minimum.

You are so glad you are a writer and have this amazing friend and opportunity!

You rage at the fact that you are a writer, who is not a travel writer, and can’t currently figure out a way to take advantage of the amazing opportunity and go see your friend!

This is the life of a freelance writer. The waves come in. The waves go out. You can ride them, but you can’t predict them. Sometimes, they are ocean waves you get to play in because you’re honored to be a writer-in-residence at a week-long retreat on the Oregon coast. Sometimes, they are Greek Island waves because you get to teach on Crete for a couple weeks. And sometimes, the perfect waves, which all now know are on the Greek island of Evia, are just out of reach.

You decide that it’s okay that you can’t figure out how to go today. Another day, maybe. Waves come and go. Someday, you’ll sit with your friend, chat, sip raki, and watch the sun set. For now, you decide that what you can do is share the joy and rage. You can let other writers know that they, too, have this opportunity!

This amazing place exists. So, here it is. If you can go, go. All writers should get time in a little stone house on a Greek island at some point in their lives.

http://www.crookedhouse.gr/

Hey, at the very least we can click through the photos and see the Greek sunset.

CENSORSHIP!

By Cynthia Ray

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”     ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Recently, I came across a  list of previously banned and censored classic books, which got me wondering about the phenomena of censorship.  It has taken many forms and faces over time, in different governments, countries and cultures, and looms over us now. censored

In her new book on censorship; Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love – a dramatic historical investigation of the roots of modern censorship in Britain and the US, Naomi Wolf exhibits a grim optimism:

   “Let’s just say that I have now looked at the issue of censorship in Britain and the United States over the last 2½ centuries and I can tell you categorically that censorship never stops anything from happening. It didn’t stop abortion, homosexuality, contraception. If anything, censoring ideas just makes them stronger. And bad ideas are only ever changed through sunlight, scrutiny and debate.”

Powerful books that confront the status quo, like Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird, or Margaret Atwoods The Handmaidens Tale, provoke debate and shine a light on important issues, bringing them to the forefront for discussion.

The desire to censor something could only be based on FEAR. Fear of seeing that which makes us bothered, uncomfortable, troubled and disturbed.  It is fear of exposure to ideas, images or actions that go against the prevailing values of a group or a society and belief that exposure to those images, or ideas will taint or corrupt.

Censorship is defined as the supervision and control of the information and ideas circulated within a society.  The ALCU points out that in the United States, censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups, but censorship by the government is unconstitutional.  Individuals and groups are protected by the First Ammendent, but that doesn’t stop efforts to censor certain ideas, groups, in an ever-evolving conversation.

I had to ask myself what makes me so uncomfortable that I would censor it?  What were my own boundaries, and where did I think people should be made to behave in certain ways, whether they agreed with them or not.

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If the society we live in wishes to turn away from uncomfortable truths, we should not be surprised.  Do we welcome someone telling us something unpleasant about ourselves?  Often, our first response to become angry at the messenger, or to deny and turn away.   On the other hand, who defines truth, and for who?

Artists, poets, writers and thinkers have always pushed the limits and boundaries set by the government, by religion, by the culture or prevailing mindset of the time.  That is why the book, the photograph, the movie is so important.  It remains available for consideration and examination, inviting us to confront our discomfort and encouraging a conversation to be had in “sunlight, scrutiny and debate.”

As writers and artists, it is important to ask:

  • Do we censor ourselves?
  • Do we allow boundaries to be set by other or by conditions outside of ourselves?
  • Do we tell our truth courageously?
  • How far do we allow ourselves to push our limits?

When we are able to rise above the prevailing thinking of the time to see and express what others only sense, making the invisible visible, and have the courage to express what we see, it brings us forward together.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451