Writing Without a Publisher and Biking the Rail Trail

rail trailLike lots of writers, I’m a runner too. I’m not sure why so many people who love banging out words are also drawn to the often mundane process of putting one foot in front of the other—over and over again—but we are. For me, running serves many purposes. It provides exercise and anxiety relief, allows me to exercise the dog and myself at the same time, doesn’t require much special equipment, and can be done just about anywhere. There was a time when I thought a lot about running. I prepared for and ran road races, got excited about buying new sneakers, and subscribed to running magazines. But in recent years, running morphed into something I just did. I didn’t want to stop doing it, but I didn’t pay much attention to it either. I took it for granted. It was simply part of my daily routine.

Thankfully, my husband has a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table, so in addition to my family and domestic duties, I get to spend time composing books, essays, and blog posts. And in 2014, the Seattle hybrid publisher Booktrope published two of my novels. I was thrilled. Not only was I lucky enough to have a team of people editing my words and making the books look great, but I was part of a wonderful community that helped each other with the hardest part of writing: the marketing. But maybe, as I plugged away slowly on my third novel, I was getting a little too comfy. After all, Booktrope had already agreed to publish the book when it was done, and I didn’t have a deadline. Make no mistake: I was about as far from Stephen King or Jodi Picoult success as a writer can get, but I’d also seen my work in print. I’d done readings and signings. I’d discussed my work with book groups. I still loved writing as much as ever, but some of the excitement was wearing off. Perhaps, like running, I was taking my writing life for granted.

But at the end of April, Booktrope announced—quite unexpectedly—that it was ceasing operations. Authors would get their rights back, but all books would go out of print within a month. Then, about a week after the announcement, I suffered a running injury. It wasn’t particularly serious, but I knew it wouldn’t heal unless I stopped pounding the pavement for a while.

handlebarsFirst world problems, yes. I shed no tears. But my daily routine got all shaken up. Since I couldn’t run with the dog, I’d walk him after breakfast, then go out for a bike ride to calm my anxiety demons. And as I cycled up the rail trail near my home, I’d contemplate my writing future. I felt off-kilter and low-key depressed. My feet were literally and figuratively off the ground.

And there’s very little relaxing on the rail trail, because much like the publishing industry, it’s a very crowded place, with many people jockeying to get ahead. The biker who gets too distracted out there can end up in a heap of metal and bloody flesh.

Also, much like in publishing, sometimes the people who move fastest on the trail are actually fairly young and new at the game. But youth, natural talent, and enthusiasm can be a formidable combination. Of course, the young upstarts aren’t always appreciated by more experienced and established riders. Not only do they sometimes cause problems, but their recklessness can give all bikers a bad name. Sound familiar, writers?

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for working hard and putting in the hours. Because neither good fortune nor wild energy can last forever, and the people who eventually become the best bikers—and writers—are the ones who keep honing their craft and growing stronger.

Sadly, jerks and airheads exist, both in publishing and on the rail trail. And sometimes it’s not easy to tell one from the other. Take, for example, the biker who flies past you on a narrow passage without announcing his presence. Is he unconcerned about your safety, or has he even considered that you might swerve to the left? With writers, it can be the same way. Perhaps there’s a poet or novelist you’ve helped to promote in various ways, but they, in turn, have done little or nothing to help you. Is that because they believe they’re worthy and you’re not? Or are they simply so absorbed in their art that they don’t realize you’re struggling too? See what I mean? It does seem, however, that both biking and publishing can temporarily blind people to the needs of others.

The good news is that helpful writers and bikers far outnumber the unhelpful ones. I’ve seen super-serious riders giving tips to newbies out on the rail trail. And some seasoned writers—regardless of how famous they’ve become—have never forgotten what it’s like to start out, and often take time to support and encourage new talent.

So, as you can probably tell, this combination of losing my publisher and getting injured has pulled me pretty far out of my regular routine. In fact, this is the first blog post I’ve finished in weeks. Since the shakeup, I’ve been spending more time with friends and family, reading more, and thinking about the bigger picture. I’ve also been staying up later at night and crashing on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. I won’t lie: it’s been strange.

Ultimately, though, I think this type of change is good. It’s healthy and interesting to take a step back once in a while. But I’m feeling ready to engage again. Over the past couple of days, I’ve done a bit of running. Very slow stuff, and very short distances, but the pain—for the most part—has stayed away. The novel’s calling to me again too, so maybe on Monday, I’ll open up that file and start editing. Like everyone else, I don’t know what the future holds, but it seems like time to start putting one foot in front of the other again.

Posted in #MondayBlogs, anxiety, biking, books, exercise, family, feedback, health, life experiences, novel writing, publishing, reflections, running, wisdom, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Goodbye to Booktrope and Looking Ahead

booktrope logoIt was quite shock when I learned last Friday night that my publisher, Booktrope, is shutting down. Some people are angry, some are scared, but me, well, mostly I’m just sad.

My friend Jan—fellow Troper and blogger—said it best, I think, when she compared Booktrope to a failed Utopian society. You can read Jan’s entire post here.

But while Booktrope was in business, I didn’t see it as Utopian. I saw it as a bunch of dedicated, creative people working together, sharing profits, and publishing books in a new, innovative way. The model wasn’t perfect—sure, there were issues—but the company attracted so much talent. Writers, designers, editors, marketing people, proofreaders: all focused on the goal of bringing various forms of literature to the public.

So what went wrong? Well, they ran out of money. There are many other theories out there on the web—and I’m sure some mistakes were made along the way—but I believe the main problem was that the business model simply wasn’t sustainable. Which is sad.

It’s also messy, because of the profit-sharing contracts all Booktropians signed when they began working with the company. It’s important that every writer, designer, editor, proofer, and product manager is compensated fairly for the work they’ve done. But as writers consider moving forward with other publishing options (self-publishing, traditional publishing, various hybrid models) the profit-sharing model adds many complications.

Nevertheless, I believe we’ll all land on our feet. Fortunately, we’re dealing with books and not pacemakers or artificial limbs. (Although a true book lover might argue that a good book can keep a person alive, or be the force that enables someone to get out of bed and do something positive.) And the people at Booktrope are good people. We care about each other, and I have faith that in the days to come, most of us will find ways to sort out the legal/financial issues and get our books back into the hands of readers.

Back? Yes. Because after May 31, all books bearing the Booktrope imprint (both paperbacks and e-books) will go out of print. And when (if) they come back, they’ll be different. Some in subtle ways, others more significantly.

Hence, both of my books, Leaving the Beach and Living by Ear will disappear for at least a little while on May 31st, 2016. I’m working with my wonderful literary agent, April Eberhardt, to determine the best paths of action for them. But in order to go out in style,the e-version of Living by Ear will be priced at $.99 until May 31st.. So if you’ve never read it, or are looking for a slightly edgy story about love, family, divorce, music, and parenting, check it out here. It also makes a good Mother’s Day gift.

I’m also working hard to finish up a new novel that I hope readers will enjoy. It remains untitled, but is about the unlikely friendship between a confused twenty-five-year-old woman and her much older male neighbor, who happens to be a ham radio operator. And because most people ask this question, I’ll answer it in advance: yes, there’s plenty of romance in the story, but not between the two main characters!

Thank you for reading this, and thanks for visiting my blog! I’ll always have fond memories of Booktrope, and look forward to future adventures in writing and publishing.

 

 

Posted in books, in memoriam, promo, promos, promotion, publishing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Parenting the College Bound Teen: Guest Post by Beth Schulman

I love this guest post by fellow Gravity Imprint author Beth Schulman. It contains some great information about raising teenagers, and as my own kids get closer to college age, I can really relate! Many thanks to Beth for sharing this. There’s more info about her and her great new memoir, The Gold Mailbox, below.

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college kidMy first born is eighteen years old. I somehow maintained my sanity during the early years of colic, potty training and tantrums. I got through the middle years of science projects and sleepovers, and in less than two months, I’ll be able to say I survived the rocky roads of adolescence. On June 5th, my son, the baby I had to put in the car to get to sleep, will be a high school graduate. I’d hoped the struggles of parenting would end there. He got into a good college and now my part is done, right? Wrong! I’d never imagined how stressful the transition to college would be- not for him, but for me!

There’s the anxiety of completing the FAFSA and having to wait several weeks before you know how much (if any) federal aid your son will get. The anxiety is doubled when you are divorced and are forced to communicate about finances with your non responsive ex, who is your ex due in large part to his inability to communicate (but that’s a whole other blog!) Then there are all the “hidden” costs of a college education- room, board, books, dorm accessories. All this, coupled with the fact that your son, who looks and occasionally even acts, like an adult, functions as if he’s in the secret service when it comes to sharing information. In college there are no newsletters sent home from the head of school keeping you up to date on all the important stuff. All the information is being sent directly to the student. Of course, this makes sense, since the student is the one who is registered at the University. But, the fact is, an eighteen year old brain, is not fully functioning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

“The parts of the brain responsible for more “top-down” control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead—the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature… In key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.”

With this in mind, here are two coping strategies I’ve adopted to help me survive this transitional time with my “almost” college kid:

  1. MAINTAIN SOLID RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR PARENTING PEERS.

I get most of my information from my friends who have kids going into college. It sometimes feels like detective work, but I’ve been able to piece together important information about the first year college experience, through my interactions with other parents. I recently learned there is a “university portal” that’s full of critical information, including deadlines for orientation and registration.

  1. MAINTAIN A SOLID RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR TEEN.

I recently saw a quote that said, “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.”

This really summed it up for me. My eighteen year old can watch TV for hours, but when it comes to sitting down and having a discussion with me, it’s like he’s got ants in his pants. He gives me a condescending nod and wave of his hand after two minutes and says, “I’ve got it, Mom.” I’ve learned to acknowledge that “he’s got it” and explain that my need to talk and process is my way of “getting it”. Scheduling these “chats” helps. If he knows in advance, we’ll be meeting at 1pm to talk he’s more likely to participate. Also, I’ve found it’s better to keep the conversation brief and to the point. It’s better to have lots of “little” meaningful conversations rather than having one long, drawn out discussion that could easily turn into battle.

To all my fellow parents of soon to be college students I say, “hang in there” because as we know from our parenting paths thus far, “this too shall pass.”


beth_schulmanMs. Beth Schulman is a mother, teacher and avid reader and writer. She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Individual and Family Studies, and from Cabrini College with a Master of Education Degree, with a focus on Early Childhood Education. She has been teaching elementary school students for over 20 years. Beth has devoted her life’s work to creating supportive, creative and literacy rich learning environments for young children. She has also worked with professional teachers at The University of Pennsylvania through The Penn Literacy Network (PLN) as an instructor and literacy coach since 1997. Beth lives in the Philadelphia area with her two teenage sons, James and Ian. The Gold Mailbox is her first book.

the gold mailbox“This dazzling and moving memoir is a roller coaster of loss and transition, held together by the reminder that love and family run deeper than we ever imagine. Written in gorgeous prose, this ultimately uplifting tale will have you savoring every page.”

–Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance

You can visit Beth on FB at Beth Schulman Author. On Twitter, she’s @bschulmanauthor and @authorbethschul

Posted in #MondayBlogs, aging, college, family, growing older, guest blog, guest post, life, life experiences, parenting, teenagers, teens | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anxiety Attacks: The Road to Coping Strategies: Guest Post by Joan Jessup

Wow, another week has flown by and it’s time for yet another great guest post by a Gravity Imprint author. This week, I’m very excited to introduce you to Joan Jessup, who has just published the memoir Bipolar Goggles. There’s more info about Joan and her writing below, but first, a terrific post about anxiety attacks.

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highway                 I am driving down the road. I am calm. I have my window down and enjoy the breeze. At that moment I am imagining how fun it must be for my dog to have his head hanging out and lapping up the wind. It couldn’t just last could it? Nope, of course not. It starts in my feet. They are tingling now and have started this involuntary tapping. Not a good thing when I need at least one of them to control the gas and brake pedals. I can feel it creeping up my legs and into my stomach that starts to burn from within. My heart is racing; my pulse feels like it’s going a thousand miles a minute. Great, my beautiful drive is now a nightmare because of an anxiety attack.

I have gotten used to this sporadic and unwanted mental illness. It, for me, is the ultimate betrayal of mind and body. I take medication to try and ward the attacks off before they happen, but it doesn’t always keep them away. I think I am prepared for them but then they happen and I realize I will never be prepared for the overwhelming fear. I am definitely never ready for the physical symptoms that accompany the attack.

My first psychiatrist gave me some of the best advice I have heard to this day. She told me, “What the mind believes, the body will follow.” It took me a while to really figure out what that meant, but then I got it. I developed a coping mechanism that I use to this day. It is my “go to” way of coping with a panic attack.

My attacks come with a few major physical symptoms. First there is almost always a fear that my throat is closing up. That is an awful feeling and scares the hell out of me. My mind over body coping strategy is to grab a glass of water, coffee, or my favorite diet soda. I take a drink and out loud say, “I can swallow this drink. If I can swallow, then my throat is not closing up.” I continue to drink and repeat that phrase as many times as I need to. I say it until my mind believes it and my body follows suit. Eventually I can feel my throat start to relax and the feeling stops.

Another big and common physical symptom I experience is the feeling that I can’t breathe. I have a strategy for that one too. I take deep breathes in with a long exhale. I say, out loud “If I can breathe in deeply and exhale, then I am able to breathe.” I repeat that until the feeling subsides and I am able to take normal breaths. Next on my list is the pounding in my chest as though my heart is going to explode. I say, out loud of course, “My heart is racing because I am scared. Once the fear is gone my heart will return to a normal speed.” Eventually my pulse slows and the pounding in my chest calms.

Don’t take this to mean that I don’t still carry my handy-dandy anxiety meds with me because I do. The big difference between nine years ago and now is that I don’t need to take one unless my coping strategy doesn’t work. I have relied more on my knowledge and understanding of what a panic attack is. I have learned to tackle the fear on a mental level; take control of my mind and get my body to follow the lead. It is far from foolproof, but it is something I can do that makes me feel like I have some control back.

When this strategy works, and it often does, I smile and say a mental “thank you” to my wonderful doc. The simplest statement made this huge impact on my life. I have kept it with me all this time and share with anyone who needs it. This betrayal that once dominated my life is now more of an inconvenience. I don’t fear my drives as I once did. I can enjoy seeing my four-legged son hang his head out the window and lap up the wind.

No one can see the fear that my mind can unleash at the most inopportune times; it is my “invisible” illness. What they do see is this curly haired lady singing way off key to some 80s song with my windows down and my chocolate lab drooling down the side of the car. It is a beautiful way to spend a lazy day. I hope this can help others and maybe make your drives a little less scary.

Always in this with you,

Joan Jessup


joan jessupIn a weekend of self-discovery, author Joan Jessup started writing what would become her memoir.

 

 

Bipolar Goggles Cover pic (1)Bipolar Goggles is the first book by Joan and is now available. She lives in the sun of Florida, becoming a better mom and person every day. She hopes her struggle and acceptance of her mental illness can serve as a reminder to others that they are in it together.

 

Posted in anxiety, books, coping strategies, guest blog, guest post, health, life, life experiences, mental health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Violence Destroyed my Body Image (and Caused an Eating Disorder): Guest Post by Lindsay Fischer

Welcome to another amazing guest post in the Gravity Imprint Blog Swap. Today, our guest is the wonderful and inspirational Lindsay Fischer. There’s more info about Lindsay, her work, and her book below, but first, here’s a post she’s shared about domestic abuse and body dysmorphic disorder. Thank you, Lindsay, for joining us today.

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Photo by Volcan Olmez

Photo by Volcan Olmez

Body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD: another medical acronym in a longstanding list of diagnoses after leaving my abuser. I couldn’t even see myself for who I was; my mind was a highway in gridlock: too many thoughts, too many problems, so much to absorb. I felt paralyzed.

You’re getting so fat. You’ll eat when I allow it. His verbal attacks played on a loop in my head.

Maybe, just maybe, my ribcage protruded because fat accentuated them. One meal a day doesn’t matter when the calorie count is high.

This disease went undiagnosed in me for three years; I rationalized it as my new normal. Convinced his words were my truth, I let myself be ruled by false phrases. You’re getting fat and I don’t care what you look like as long as you’re confident spewed my way within seconds of one another. Crazy-making conversations that led me to believe in my own worthlessness. It was okay to hate what I saw in the mirror because it reflected how I felt inside.

I was never going to get my self-image back, because I could never be the person I was before I survived.

To be honest, I’m not sure there is a diagnosis for what followed leaving. Not only was I obsessed with my appearance and unable to truly, realistically look at myself, but I started gaining and losing weight, 40 pounds up and down the scale, because I needed to know I was capable of remaining in control of my body. In fact, my preoccupation with how the physical and mental assaults inflicted by him impacted my body and led to my own harmful tendencies:

I ingested and regurgitated, starved and then over-filled, designing and preparing for each shift in weight like they were as normal as the seasons changing.

Was I conscious of it?

Absolutely not.

But over the course of the three years I went untreated, then after the diagnosis, I struggled along through trauma therapy for three more, ranging from a size 2 to a size 12 (#shortgirlproblems) in next to no time. Up and down, over and over.

None of this is something I should’ve tried doing alone, but I unintentionally set myself up for success by writing about the bloody, gaping wounds hindering my soul. That’s when others told me they understood. They’d been there, and they wanted me to know I wasn’t wrong for feeling the way I did, but I could change it when I was ready. Ironically, these messages came from abuse and eating disorder survivors, from family members of both, and from anyone who could relate their trauma to my own (even when the correlation seemed murky, at best, in the moment).

The abuse, it appeared, was easier for me to acknowledge, because it took more time for me to realize what I was doing to my own body, after I freed myself of his manipulations.

Seven years down the line, I’m finally able to see myself again. Some days, it’s easy to look in the mirror and be confident. Other days, I still see the brokenness: seeing myself as too thin or too thick, but I’ve learned that choosing to heal doesn’t mean problems vanish.

Now, I’m simply equipped to handle them.

What I’ve learned is that life and recovery are equally complicated. Good times and bad are intermingled in such complex ways that it’s impossible to see them differently. While I might still struggle with body image, I’m thrilled with how far I’ve come, never doubting the work I’ve put in has changed me – in the best ways – even when I hate what stares back in the mirror. Because even when my confidence is questioned, I love the person behind the body. The soul that shares openly–raw wounds and those that’ve healed–so people realize they aren’t alone in their own fights. Just like brave warriors did for me.

No matter where each of us lands on the spectrum of happiness and health, we’re all able to connect with one another if we try. It’s an impossible feat to go through life without support, and an act we shouldn’t be trying so hard to wear as a badge of honor and courage.

When I was stuck in a constant state of trauma, there was very little chance of me fixing my BDD. Through the help of a professional, I was able to break down one medical acronym at a time, realizing they all stemmed from the same beliefs (but manifested in different ways).

If you are dealing with any kind of body issues, I encourage you to dig deep and let the root of your problem surface, making it easier to overcome than when merely focusing on prevalent symptoms. It won’t be easy or pain-free, but it’s certainly worth it.

Feeling alone doesn’t equate to actual solitude, and I’m happy to be your sister in arms whenever you’re feeling less-than-perfectly-you. Because, along this road, you’ll remember why life is so worth fighting for, why lessons sometimes knock us on our backsides, and why the getting up is more important than the terror of descending.

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linsay_fischerLindsay Fischer is a best-selling and award-winning author, and the creator of #domesticviolencechat on Twitter. An avid reader and learner, Lindsay took her passion for words into a classroom before starting a writing career. Life got messy when she fell in love with a man who would become her abuser, and it pulled her from the classroom. After three years of trauma therapy, she saw an opportunity to use her voice against domestic violence, blogging about trauma recovery since 2009 and releasing The House on Sunset, her domestic violence memoir, in 2015.

Lindsay hopes she can be an advocate for women, men and children who are still living inside the nightmare of domestic abuse. She currently lives with her husband and three dogs in St. Louis, Missouri.

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/linsfischer

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/survivorswillbeheard

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/lindsaycapo

Website: http://www.survivorswillbeheard.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/House-Sunset-Lindsay-Fischer-ebook/dp/B012EMBZ5A

Posted in beauty, body image, eating disorders, guest blog, guest post, health, life experiences, movie, Uncategorized, weight | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Overcoming Another Kind of Addiction

Please welcome fellow Gravity Imprint writer Dana Leipold to my blog today. Many Gravity writers are participating in a blog swap over the next few weeks, and I’m thrilled to have Dana as my first guest. You can read Dana’s bio below, but let me just say that she’s a wonderful writer and I think you’ll really like her work. In this post, she talks about a difficult topic: anorexia in a family member.

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heartHer clothes hung off her shoulders as if she were a mere hanger. Her arms at her sides were incredibly thin, and her wrist bones poked out like the knobs on an old gnarled tree. We were afraid that if we hugged her too tight she’d break.

This is how I remember my mother for most of my childhood.

I first heard the word anorexia when she was diagnosed after a series of tests for bizarre diseases all came back negative. My mom knew how to hide her eating disorder like a master because she had been doing it most of her life. I was only ten years old at the time and I thought, “All we need to do is give her food and she’ll be better.” But it wasn’t that simple.

My mom almost died after she lapsed into a coma when she hit her lowest weight, 89 pounds at five feet, five inches tall. I was about 12 years old at the time and I developed debilitating panic attacks. An overwhelming sense of fear clouded everything in my life. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. At my college graduation, I had to take a tranquillizer just to walk down the aisle to get my degree. I rarely took risks and I’m pretty sure my panic disorder ended my first marriage.

It wasn’t until I was thirty years old and working with a compassionate therapist that I realized there was a connection between my mother’s anorexia and my panic attacks. I had been suffering from PTSD and I didn’t know it. My therapist helped me work through the trauma and I began to heal, but my mother still struggled. Sometimes she maintained a healthy weight and sometimes she wouldn’t eat. It was frustrating because we all knew, even she did, that she had anorexia. After three years of therapy, I had a major epiphany: her eating disorder had nothing to do with food.

My mother was severely abused as a child by her parents. She lived in fear and had very little control over her life until she was 18 years old when she moved out of her family home. She developed anorexia as a way to cope with the trauma of abuse. Not only did she gain a sense of control when she had none, she also felt better about herself as she lost weight. Her mother often commented about her “cow-like” body when she was younger. Anorexia was my mother’s addiction. Like many addicts, she would stay away from it for a while but if something triggered her, she’d end up starving herself because it gave her solace from the pain.

Luckily, my family found her a therapist who specialized in treating eating disorders as an addiction. My mother is still with us today having found a way to manage her addiction. What was once something that brought my mother and I to our knees, her anorexia has helped us grow. We discovered things about ourselves we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t struggled with her disease. She is resilient and I am strong, proving there is nothing that cannot be faced where there is love and hope.

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LeipoldPhotoDana Leipold is a freelance writer and author. Her award-winning debut novel, Burnt Edges (published by Booktrope) has gained critical acclaim. She also self-published two books, Stupid Poetry: The Ultimate Collection of Sublime and Ridiculous Poems and The Power of Writing Well: Write Well. Change the World. She helped found, Kōsa Press, an independent publishing label specializing in shared universe anthologies and is a member of the Association of Independent Authors. She practices yoga, loves funny cat videos, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. You can visit her blog at www.danaleipold.com.

You can also visit Dana on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in #MondayBlogs, aging, beauty, blog hop, blogs, eating disorders, guest blog, guest post, health, weight | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Art Of Self Acceptance

This is an absolutely beautiful post by one of my favorite writers, Stephanie Ortez. Please read it if you can. Trust me, it will make your day better.

Talking about our self-worth can be one of the toughest conversations we can have. Have you ever been asked to list your strengths, talents, and virtues without thinking about your accomplishments and level of intelligence? Would you be able to write 10 great things about yourself? Remember, you can’t include work accomplishments, awards, nominations, etc…this is about YOU.

Modern society has taught us that having self-confidence appears arrogant. Madonna expressed this sentiment and embraced it in the following quote: “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”

-In her own words, Madonna was able to define her self-worth and accept the judgements others might make about her. The social media platforms provide numerous examples of the capacity for judgement. Even though self-acceptance has become a regular talking point on social media, we encounter a variety of opinions that could make us…

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Throwback Writing with Scarlet Darkwood

words we never speakToday marks the third installation in the Throwback Writing series. Throwback writing is stuff written in a younger, more innocent time. Just as we might look at a photo of an adult friend as a child and recognize certain features, so we can read throwback writing and see traces of the mature writer.

Readers, I’m happy to introduce you to Scarlet Darkwood. These days, Scarlet writes mostly erotica and romantic suspense, but when she was in high school, she took a class that required her to write all sorts of stuff. Here’s a note from the author about the short story she’s so kindly shared with us.

I took creative writing back in 1980, two years before I graduated high school. We had to write all kinds of things to experience the full writing gig—poems, free verse, sonnets, ballads, plays, short stories. Too bad Amazon wasn’t around then. I think it would have been great to create a class anthology. So my writing stemmed from class assignments and not so much inspiration, but I have a few of those too. Unfortunately I wasn’t like a lot of writers who say they wrote stories from a young age. I kept some diaries, but even those were not that detailed. But for some reason, writing always fascinated me. I was thrilled to find that I had all of my assignments! 

Thank you so much, Scarlet, for sharing this short story!

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Pursuit

The fall sun shone down brightly over the fields, and the cool wind whipped Lee’s face gently as he sat thinking under an old, snarled, tree. He was lost in a dream world, a world where reality was kind and beautiful. Lee was born and raised in the heart of the Norshkan Hills. There, he lived alone with his mother in a little house surrounded by rugged hills and high peaked mountains and farm land. His two older brothers and his sister were all married and living lives of their own. His father has passed away five years ago, and only he remained home alone, taking care of his mother.

Lee was a tall and slender boy of nineteen. He had dark hair that shaped nicely around his pleasant, handsome face, and his eyes shone brilliantly in the autumn sun. The boy had never done a hard day’s work in his life. Anytime he started to do a chore around the farm, he would get so involved with daydreaming of far away places, the work was finally left undone.

“Ah, lazy boy!” his mother would cry. “You will never amount to anything. Your mind wanders far too much. You need to grow up and be a man. Make something of yourself like your older brothers have. Have a dream or gal in mind and set out to achieve it. God gave you brains and muscles. Use them.”

“But mama,” replied Lee, “I do have dreams. I dream of seeing the world. I long to go out and search for a perfect place where only happiness rules, and reality is kind.”

“Foolish child. You know there is no such place as that here on earth. You must face reality and come out of silly childish fancies. Besides, how could you go out into the world to see far away places? You’ve hardly ever left the farm. “My dear.” His mother softened kindly, placing her hand softly on his shoulder. “Places such as you have mentioned only exist in books and legends, and in Heaven. Heaven, though, is the only perfect place that exists. While you are here on earth, you must face up to life.”

As Lee reviewed these things in his mind, he became even more determined to go out and find that perfect place. “It’s there. It’s got to be there. Why would Glornoria (I believe it’s called Glornoria) be mentioned in books and legends if it didn’t exist?” said Lee softly to himself. “i do know one thing. I would have to cross the mountainous region of Domarta. But I am a man. I know I can make it. I will. I will start tomorrow morning before the sun rises.”

Having made up his mind, he started packing up some of the things he would need to take in order to help him make the long journey through the Domartas. He went to the old shed and brought out the sled that his father used to use when he went hunting through the Remoras. From the rough, dirty wall of the shed, Lee brought down an old dagger that had also been used by his father. He wouldn’t take a gun, for he knew, from what others had said, that loud noises could cause an avalanche. He decided not to tell his mother. She’d only laugh at him. He knew she could take care of herself. She also had his two older brothers that would help take care of her.

One hour before the sun began to rise, Lee got up quietly from his bed in the corner of the course, quietly dressed himself, got all of his necessary belongings together, and stole silently away into the chilly morning air. He trudged through the forests, at first, with little difficulty. Soon all the familiar sights he had known since childhood disappeared with each long mile. However, as he continued walking, the paths became more difficult, and the temperature, which was at first rather mild, now became abruptly cold. The wind was beginning to blow strongly, and snow was beginning to fall. The sled was getting harder to pull as each hour went by. He knew he would soon have to stop and rest. The sun would soon set, and he badly needed to get a little sleep.

Tired from hunger and lack of sleep, Lee finally sat down in an open spot, and took out his water bottle for a drink, and removed some of his food that he had brought for the trip. After eating, he made out a small bed in the snow, and prepared to sleep for the night. He knew this would be his last time to have a good sleep before he reached the Domartas. In crossing the Domartas, he had heard that it was unsafe for a man to sleep long periods of time. One could easily freeze to death.

Lee was awakened by the pale streaks of sunlight. Getting up, he prepared to continue his journey. He knew it would be a few more days before he would reach the border of the woods. Five days passed, and he trudged onward, fighting the snow and wind. He knew he had to be getting closer to the Domartas. Once he would get there, he would leave all forest shelter behind, and have only the rough, snowy mountains to face.

On the sixth day, he came to the border of the forest. That marked the end of the Norshakn Hills, and the beginning of the mountain range he would need to cross before he reached his goal to get to Glornoria. Now he knew that his journey had actually begun. He walked onward, leaving the forest behind, and prepared himself for the dangers that were waiting ahead.

Two weeks passed. Lee’s food ration was getting low. Only water could be available with the use of snow, but how long can one live on water alone? There were no animals around for him to hunt. However, he forced himself to go on. The mountains were almost impossible to climb, the wind and snow were harsh and cruel. Stumbling forward over hidden holes and other debris, Lee suddenly began to feel dizzy and light-headed. He had been cutting his food rations down considerably, and the little bit he had now was almost gone. Sleep had been almost non-existent. This dizziness began to worry him. He knew he couldn’t go to sleep now. It would be too dangerous. Besides, he had to be nearing Glornoria. There all of his troubles would be over.

Suddenly the dizziness began to grow worse, and no matter how much he tried to wrap himself in furs he had brought along, he still couldn’t keep very warm. Walking blindly on, he stumbled over a small hole. As he tried to get up, a sudden flash of bright light blinded him, and a warm sensation tingled throughout his body. In the next moment, he found himself in a beautiful paradise. His heart was filled with joy. He began to take in all the beautiful things that he saw. He saw the beautiful, lush green meadows, and the green mountains sprinkled with flowers. The crystal waterfalls fell like thousands of sparkling diamonds, and the warmth of the sunny climate felt good to him.

“This must be Glornoria!” Lee said aloud to himself. Taking in all of the beauty, he longed especially to pick some flowers and to feel the water of the lovely falls run through his fingers. Runny carelessly to pick some of the flowers, he tripped again and fell. As he got up, the sudden beauty disappeared, but the warm sensation stayed with him.

Lee now knew of his awful fate. The cold reality of death hit him harder than the wind and snow. He knew now that he was too far gone. He couldn’t turn back towards home, nor could he go on. Trying to get up, he only fell back down to the snowy ground. The warm sensation was coming stronger. Actually, he was almost comfortable. He knew if he closed his eyes, it would be forever. However, the fact of failing to find his perfect place did not disappoint him totally. He had one comfort. He remembered what his mother had told him about Heaven being the only perfect place that exists.

“Well,” said Lee calmly to himself, “maybe my efforts weren’t all in vain.” Closing his eyes, he fell into a peaceful, eternal sleep.

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Scarlet Darkwood wields a mighty pen, or at the very least, delivers mighty punches to the computer keys when she’s typing furiously on a story. She likes dark and twisted, and the weirder, the better. Always preferring avant garde themes, her stories take the reader on unusual adventures, exploring the darker parts of the human psyche as she whips out cunning prose wrapped in provocative themes. Sometimes she veers from her beaten path and takes a happy-go-lucky romp in the brighter sides of life, kicking up her style into sharp, snappy dialogue and clever descriptions. Writing in several genres unleashes her imagination so she never grows bored. From a young age, she’s enjoyed writing and keeping diaries, but didn’t start creating novels until 2012. She’s a Southern girl who lives in Tennessee and enjoys the beauty of the mountains. She lives in Nashville with her spouse and two rambunctious kitties. For more information about the latest concerning Scarlet and her work, sign up for her newsletterhttp://eepurl.com/Rt5HP

Please visit Scarlet on the web and check out her other work, especially her new romantic suspense novel on Amazon, Words We Never Speak.

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Posted in art, guest blog, guest post, life, life experiences, memories, short story, throwback writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Throwback Poetry with Jackie Cioffa

JCioffa_nRecently, I found some old college poetry and began to wonder what the early work of other writers might be like. So I launched this Throwback Writing series.

This week, I’m so happy to feature a wonderful writer and wonderful person, Jackie Cioffa. Jackie is an essayist and novelist, and I always look forward to reading the new things she writes. Today, however, we look back on two poems she wrote in high school.

Let’s start with an intro by Jackie:

Here are some poems from my high school literary magazine, Mind’s Eye. And backstory.

I was a terribly insecure teenager trying to find my way, how to fit in by acting out. The classic, 80s teen angst and John Hughes crazy character, wracked with insecurity. (Who wasn’t or isn’t living their own form of adolescent hell now?) I changed the spelling of my name to Jaci, (cringe worthy; what the hell was I thinking?). I crimped & dyed my BIG hair, wore neon tights, rosary beads, and crosses alla Madonna and combat boots in an effort to be seen, and at the same time, invisible. 

The creative writing classes saved me daily, and were one of the few fond memories I have from high school. Finding a tribe amongst the freaks and geeks who were uniquely different, seeking something meaningful through their voices. I felt an immense sense of pride and joy being ‘published’, seeing my words in print. That feeling and sense of accomplishment hasn’t changed.

Thirty years later, my mom pulls out the newsletter I’d long forgotten. She’d tucked it away in a drawer for safekeeping, perhaps with a foresight I didn’t have back then. I’d hightailed it, traveled the globe, the gypsy desperate to expand my horizons and my own Mind’s Eye, only to return home again. It would take many years, mishaps, misfortunes and luck before I found my way back to the words. They have always been my freest and truest form of self-expression.

If we’re lucky enough to keep our hearts and minds open, we’ll have more layers to paint the canvas. Our stories are forever evolving. And that is mad cool. 

And now, the poems:

Soon I can leave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting here in class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but when I read Jackie’s poems, I’m transported back to a time when I was also insecure and trying to figure out my role in this world. And as a mother of two teenagers, I feel a bit more connected to them after reading these poems. So thank you so much for sharing, Jackie! You’re brave to be my first guest!

As for the series, I welcome additional submissions. The only rules are that the writing–poetry or prose–must be from your early days of writing, and the work must make you cringe at least a little. Please send your early writing to mary@pocomotech.com

—————————————————————————————————-Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and a celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector, and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in the anthology Brainstorms and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness. She’s a storyteller, observer, essayist, potty mouth, and film lover who’s traveled the world.
Her poignant, literary fiction debut, The Vast Landscape, gives new meaning to intense, raw and heartfelt. Fans of the emotional, soul stirring first novel will not be able to put the exciting sequel, Georgia Pine, down.

The essence continues because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack. I seize the opportunity to revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live in the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. Hope is our greatest asset. To choose hope against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life.
~ Georgia Pine by Jacqueline Cioffa

Look for Jackie’s new column, “Bleeding Ink” on Feminine Collective.

Posted in events, guest blog, guest post, memories, poem, poetry, throwback poetry, throwback writing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Return of Music Tuesday with Cathy L. Mason

Cathy L. MasonReaders, I’m thrilled to bring back the popular Music Tuesday blog series with a wonderful author I’ve recently met. Her name is Cathy L. Mason, and this is a beautiful and sad story about how music influenced her relationship with her mother. Thank you so much, Cathy, for sharing this story with us.

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She was the first-born daughter of a first-born daughter.  I was her first-born daughter as well.  Perhaps that’s why we struggled to bridge the ever-present gap.  Too similar? Maybe too different.  We both definitely wanted to be in control, especially with regard to the music.

We both played the flute and piano.  I was the better pianist, even as a child, and she excelled as a flutist, but for too long we tried to keep up with the other.  Eventually we retreated to where our strengths lay and learned to make music together, rather than bumping up against each other’s ego.

Her talent was burnished to a blinding sheen by a laser-focused determination to practice hours every day, while I only played at playing.  My moderate abilities came naturally, which frustrated her.  We got past that.  Mostly, anyway.

When we came together and performed music we loved, though…magic happened.  Her brilliant tone and disciplined capabilities sent melodies swooping and soaring across the most beautiful of performance arenas.  I gamely kept up, although I cheated my way through the difficult parts.  We both knew it.  It was usually all right, but I always knew I could be better if I exercised the self-discipline she did on a daily basis.  I still didn’t want to.  I was a lazy musician and nothing was going to change that.  I knew I was somewhat of a musical fraud – I just hoped no one else could tell.

In my teens I was called to a musical position in our church she had yearned to fill.  It hurt her deeply and she couldn’t speak to me for some time.  We weren’t close anyway, but the chill cut through.  I had wanted the job as well, but never thought it would be given to me.  I was happy, but that joy was tempered with the knowledge that she felt undermined and publicly embarrassed.  Every Sunday, as we attended church and I fulfilled my new duties, the wound was reopened once again.  It took a long time to recover.

Again we made music together.  We took on more difficult pieces, especially those few had performed or even heard of.  I practiced how to cheat my way through the rough spots, while she practiced her runs and difficult intervals endlessly in the search for utter perfection in execution and tone.  My ability to gloss through passages I should have learned well grew, which annoyed her.  It was a mixed blessing – she didn’t like it, or respect it, but it gave her the opportunity to perform more because few accompanists could keep up with her.  She needed to perform.  So did I.  We knew each other well enough that no one could take one or the other’s place.  It was a beautiful, dysfunctional codependence.

Our reputation grew and we made music more often, but, as is so often the case, we again felt the divide.  I married and began raising a family, while she coped with a hellish marriage and health issues.  We communicated sporadically, but rarely performed together again.

Years passed and I missed our music.  I sometimes dug it out of the closet and ran through passages myself, but it wasn’t the same.  She wasn’t playing much any more, but I didn’t know why.  We lived a few hours apart, so it wasn’t practical to simply start up again.  And…she was different.

After a number of phone calls it became clear she was in a steep decline.  She indicated she needed help with her home, yard, and finances, so we reconnected.  I was shocked at her appearance – she was thin and almost frail, but still in good spirits.  It took very little time to realize she was losing a battle with Alzheimer’s, although it took some time to have her officially diagnosed.  We also learned she struggled with aphasia, a condition in which individuals cannot produce the word for a common object even though they know what it is.

Our lives descended into a strange dance of charades and guessing games.  No wonder she wasn’t playing.  We still hoped, though.  During subsequent stays at a senior living community and, toward the end of her life, an assisted living facility dedicated to individuals with serious memory loss, we tried what we could – Aricept, musical therapy, crafts.  Nothing worked, but I hoped, so hoped, we could rekindle that magic one more time.  Anything for just..one more time.

We placed her beloved music stand in her tiny room, along with a church hymnal.  She deposited it in the bathroom.  We turned her t.v. to channels with religious music, always a favorite.  She could not turn it off on her own, so she would unplug it and then not recall why it was unplugged.  We encouraged her to attend the small church services local religious leaders would bring to the facility she lived in.  She loved them, but didn’t participate.  The words to familiar hymns were no longer there and the melodies she so loved were lost in the mists of time.

She tried to bring them back.  She leaned forward eagerly during the short meetings, attempting to mouth familiar phrases during songs and lessons.  She looked around at fellow residents, hoping to pick up cues for appropriate behavior during various portions of the services.  It was to no avail.  I thought her musical training and life-long body of work so ingrained in her would be the last to desert her during her decline, but it was irrevocably gone.  It was devastating.

And yet…

During her last few months we had several somewhat lucid conversations about our musical history.  She missed it too.  She knew it was gone, though she didn’t know why, and sometimes our discussions veered into strangely funny territory that had nothing to do with music at all.  That is life with Alzheimer’s and aphasia.

Still, the music did connect us.  We never played together again, but we relived a few wonderful memories.  She would beam, almost childlike, when I recalled certain performances.  We even laughed a couple of times at some of the crazier situations we found ourselves in.  We both needed that during those difficult months and years before she succumbed to a major stroke.

Maybe the gap between us was bridged after all.  Music is, as always, the great uniter, no matter the form.  For that I am grateful.

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Cathy L. Mason holds a bachelors degree in Sociology, with emphases in Abnormal Psychology, Family & Human Development, and pre-law studies.  She also holds a masters degree in Criminal Justice and Corrections, with emphases in Abnormal & Deviant Psychology, Domestic Violence, and Forensic Criminology.  She is a lifelong musician, hardcore scrapbooker, voracious reader, and has recently discovered a great love of ancient history.  Her life is made better by her husband of almost 33 years, four amazing kids, and 3 1/2 perfect grandchildren.

Cathy has published three non-fiction books, including one called Nancy, about her mother. Cathy’s Amazon author page is here.

You can visit her on Facebook here.

And on Twitter here.

Posted in #musictuesday, aging, art, family, memories, music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments