When Amazon goes Rogue

Sometimes Amazon does their own thing.

one dollar stories cover.jpgOnce I saw my book Eddy was on sale far below what I’d seen before. I contacted the publisher who told me that Amazon had put it on sale to compete with another website. Really?

Well, they’ve done it again; my book, $1.00 Stories, is on sale. Or, at least, as I write this it is.

$1.00 Stories is about an author whose success is not enough and a homeless man who has what he wants.

I enjoy imagining people’s stories. I think all writers do. $1.00 Stories originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal.

When they believe it’s about you….

cover of west endI’ve written so many stories from first person point of view. At first, I was nervous because people did ask – is that real? is that you? and even contacted me and said – I know that’s about you.

So, it does make a person nervous about what they write and publish.

But at some point, you’ve got to let people think what they want to think. None of it will affect you in the long run.

I had an editor refuse a fictional story because, he said, it’s memoir and ultimately we didn’t ask for your personal story.

I thought – it must be good if he thought it was me! But I didn’t bother to correct him. It was a fiction call and I’d submitted fiction. If the editor didn’t realize the “I” didn’t necessarily represent the author, but the character, he is probably not the editor I need to work with nor the journal I want to be published in.

I worried about this with West End – my first big publication. One of the big criticisms girl on train tracks.jpgfrom someone who believed they knew me thought it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of me. I had to tell him because the character was not me! While the same story convinced another person that I’d led a secret life prior to moving to California.

Possibly, one of the convincing elements of the story is the setting. The place, the west side of Cleveland, where I grew up, is real. You can trace the steps of my characters who walked the path passed the baseball field and lost themselves on the train tracks, or those who played in the abandoned buildings. The streets are still there, the houses still stand, except the one which burned to the ground – a vacant lot interrupts the landscape of the neighborhood.

West End was a passion project. It was for the kids who I’d known and those I didn’t who never made it out. But it wasn’t me. Maybe parts of me live there in the pages and parts of me live on those streets.

Ultimately, you can’t allow another person’s possible opinion of you affect your writing.

I Am Not Necessarily Me

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I use first person narrator in many of my stories.  I find the level of intimacy I can connect with in the character makes the experience feel more authentic.

I also enjoy the unreliability of the first person narrator. Although I don’t intend to make my main characters questionable, all first person accounts must be met with skepticism.

There’s one possible downside to the first person narrator and I’m certain many writers have experienced the fan who believes they understand the author based on a story which utilized the “I”.

dadshiningOne reader contacted me convinced Dad Shining was about me. “This is a true story, I bet!” He wrote.

This is complimentary in the fact that the story must have been realistic enough for this reader to believe and enjoy it.

However, Dad Shining (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal) is written from a male point of view experiencing a life event incomparable to what a woman could experience.

There’s not much a writer can do about being mistaken for their narrator except to gently correct the reader without offending them or merely thank them. I said, “thank you for reading.”

My main character in West End is a young woman, and I did use an area close to where I grew up. A number of readers have attempted to call me out on that. One reader wrote, “I know most of this is you, except for the part of leaving the boy.” Another reader, convinced it was me believed I’d been married before and left them to change my name and start a new life incognito.

This did bother me to some extent; the woman in West End is in some ways stuck in west end coverlife, and while that might be my fear, it is not me.

Still others found the first person narrator unreliable enough to question her sanity and ask me if she was seeing spirits. These questions I rather enjoyed. One character I had intended to be questionable, but when asked about another – I don’t want to say as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! – I was blown away!

And that is the benefit and, perhaps, curse of first person narrator. The connection is so authentically intimate that you might convince readers it’s you; And you might just convince them the narrator is a little off her rocker!

Reader Response

Some authors are unhappy when readers see something in their story, novel, or poem that was not intended.

I subscribe to the theory of reader response. Our work is going to touch different people in different ways; readers are going to get out of it something related to what they bring to it, so if they don’t see what we originally intended, they are not wrong, nor did they read it wrong, they are merely giving the writer an insight.front-cover-small

I, personally, am thrilled when readers see something I hadn’t intended. For my novella, West End, one reader said the melancholy of the main character haunted her. Other readers believed some of the characters might have actually been spirits or ghosts. One of the characters, I left open. His questionable appearances deepened the story and the effects on the main character who is dealing with depression.

However, when another reader felt that the son might have been a ghost – it made me go back and reread my own work!

Once the story, novel, or poem is out there, readers are going to take away or put into it whatever is in their own toolbox and we can not control it. We may not like it – I had one person mistake me for one of my characters – but we do have to accept it. I usually thank the reader for their insights, regardless of what I feel about the response.

All readings are good readings!

If you’re interested in reading West End – it’ll be on sale Saturday and Sunday. And – then let me know what you think!

West End – the opening chapter

Hi, All.  I was feeling West End today. I wanted to share a little portion, but couldn’t decide, so I give you all the opening selection for West End.  Enjoy.

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BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

When the female squirrel stopped coming, my mother worried, but the baby squirrels continued to visit. Then, the cubs must have grown, left the nest, because one by one they disappeared until only a single squirrel came to the daily meeting.

That winter, mother’s heart sucked itself dry. Familiar faces appeared, distant relatives, long-ago friends, who talked our concerns away with assurances for tomorrow and beyond.

“Little honeys, it will be okay.”

“I brought the eggplant casserole, green dish.”

“She was a wonderful woman.”

“Call if you need anything.”

Sarah and I stood at the door where someone’s aunt told us to stand. We pointed people who carried in food to the kitchen, guided people with flowers to the dining room, pointed the rest to Daddy who sat on the couch, gaze glued to the floor. We didn’t have to say anything, and no one asked.

The familiar strangers came and went and with them, our mother, our hopeless youth, our language.

The house became quiet. I couldn’t remember the last complete sentence I spoke or heard, couldn’t remember the last partial sentence I’d said to my father or he to me. My sister and I exchanged words, hushed, sometimes soundless breaths only we knew the meanings for. We lived our lives in half-words, pale sounds that sunk into the silence, in ideas of what we had to do next: breakfast, school, homework, laundry, dinner, dishes, bed. This soundless process became our lives; a strange off-balance way to live, but we did it for some months content not to break that pattern.

One cold February morning, a descending snowstorm blocked the roads, locked us indoors, kept us from going to school, our father from his work. Our first full day alone together in the house. Sarah and I sat at the painted brown kitchen nook picking at our cold Raisin Bran; the milk just tangy enough for us to question the freshness. A tapping noise brought our eyes to each other’s. Then silence.

“Wind.” Sarah exhaled with barely enough voice to make a sound much beyond the breath itself.

“Yeah.” My voice not much stronger. We returned to the cereal.

Tap…Tap…Tap…

Her gaze followed the floor to the sink, the counter, the back door.

“The door?”

I shook my head. “Nah.” Not today, at mid-day, in this storm. “Wind.”

I slipped from the nook; she followed. We stood, somewhat unnerved when the tapping came again. We could see through the glass in the door; no one stood there. I moved to the windows to get another view of the patio, leaned over, heard shuffling, then rattling against the window. We jumped. A squirrel clattered against the window, caused us both a momentary and laughable fright. Sarah touched my arm. We each took a deep breath. Our first that winter. The squirrel, the female or one of the children, we didn’t know and could never tell anyway, gave us a quizzical look, stretched up against the window; her little paws stretched against the glass. Tears welled. Quiet, unmoving, we held our breath, each other, tried not to let out the flow of emotions the winter built up.

Father’s footsteps, heavy on the linoleum, came toward us. We straightened.

“What’s going–”

“Shhh,” we both hushed him; his rough, dry voice might drive the squirrel away.

“It’s the squirrel,” Sarah said.

He looked puzzled.

She motioned toward the window. “The squirrels Mom used to feed. She used to give them nuts.”

“Well, give it some.” He waved his hands at us.

“Where are they?” Sarah pulled open random cabinet doors.

“I don’t know.” I opened the opposite cabinet doors.

“Well, look, look. They have to be here.” Father took to the drawers.

The three of us searched for a bag of peanuts Mother bought for the squirrels, hid from us to deter our snacking.

“He must be hungry.” Father gazed out the window at the back yard covered in snow. The porch railings, the powerlines, all draped in sheets of white; the squirrel, nervous, waited at the end of the banister. “Peanut butter. Get the peanut butter.”

“Will he eat that?” Sarah reached for the jar.

“Certainly,” Father assured us. “It’s peanuts, isn’t it?”

I grabbed for the bread.

“Just spread it on,” he said, more animated than I’d ever seen him.

We did.

“Wait, he can’t eat it like that Break it up.” He put his hands in the mess with ours.

Of course, we knew, but at the moment, that strange, unsettling, yet somehow comforting moment, we all needed to take part.

Sarah set the plate on the patio just outside the backdoor. The squirrel chattered, juddered its head from her to the door, the windows, its tail jerking back and forth as if with nervous jitters, then approached the plate, took a piece, and skittered back to the railing to eat it.

Dad ordered us away from the window. The little squirrel tittered, danced delicately, tail flitting, to take more food. We backed out of the kitchen.

Something shifted inside the house. The rooms warmed. The silence faded. The house took on old noises; the refrigerator hummed; the kitchen light buzzed; switches flicked with their old sticky clicks.

Our voices returned. We spoke more than mere sounds. We’d broached full sentences. But I don’t know if we ever surpassed that. We’d never been a family of paragraphs or stories. Laughter rarely rose to the ceiling. Now, with one of the speakers forever hushed, we were destined to be something less than complete.

Winter dissolved into spring; the strawberries mother planted last summer grew green, red, wild. We left nuts out all the time. Sometimes squirrels ate them; sometimes they’d sit until the birds got them or the ants swarmed them.

Sunrise reopened in summer, but never again did we hear our names called from the front patio as we walked up the street, never again did the light intonation of words follow us through the night, “not too late,” never again, upon our return, would we be met with a drunk asleep on the table with just enough consciousness to whisper “too late” when we passed through the kitchen to go to bed.

 

*West End is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible.

Random facts stalkers don’t know…

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I grew up in a tough neighborhood. (don’t stereotype me)

I was in a band. (for about 5 minutes)

I was in a few movies. (another 5 minutes)

I wrote my first “novel”at the age of 11. (an angst ridden piece about a girl who is kidnapped because she witnessed a crime)

I was actually kidnapped. (not at 11/that story is waiting for publication)

I always have wanted to own a Munster-like house.

I’ve gotten lost in every major city I’ve ever been (including abroad. Trust me when I say every country/every city has neighborhoods you don’t want to be lost in at dusk)

I keep a lot of random facts as well as insignificant details in my brain. (jokes don’t stick tho)

now the stalkers know – don’t be a stalker….

Is Mike a Ghost? The Supernatural in West End

 

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I was asked, recently, if Mike, the character from West End who disappeared as a teenager and reappeared to the narrator was a ghost.

According to Dr. McAndrew, in the article “Why Some People See Ghosts and Other Presences,” people may see spirits when they “have become isolated in an extreme or unusual environment, often when high levels of stress are involved. These individuals report a perception or feeling that another person is there to help them cope…”

The main character in West End is isolated and in an unusual environment when Mike arrives. She’s not certain she saw him with the soldiers, just that there were soldiers and she never looks at faces, so she states.

McAndrew further states: “The loneliness and isolation, coupled with high levels of stress and unchanging sensory stimulation, might very well produce the same biological conditions that could trigger a “visit” from the recently departed.”

The narrator in West End claims to find comfort in this non-existence she has found. She left home because of the stress which she was unable to handle; she is now surrounded by, so it seems,  an unchanging environment without stimulation.  Then, suddenly, Mike is there.

What do you think – is Mike a ghost?