Family Myths

grandmas last secret coverFamily myths are the richest to mine for stories. Family myths are things that a great aunt or uncle might have done, where they may have worked, lives they may – or may not – have lived.

It is rumored that one of my great grandmothers was Hoffa’s ex-girlfriend. Although when we tried to match up the timeline, it didn’t quite match; however, given a few corrections here and there – who knows?! It’s fun to think about.

Another family myth involves my grandfather – even telling the story here feels like I’m giving away secrets about my family, but my grandmother swore to her dying day that the tale was myth.

My grandfather was shot in the back by a police officer. A number of different stories are told as to why he was shot, but the officer stated he was aiming for his legs.

My grandfather was over 6 feet tall. The cop must have been the worst shot in the world if he was aiming at his legs.

My grandmother lived with people creating myths as to why he was shot. She would tell us stories about aunts and cousins who came to her asking for the truth, asking for money, asking for what they believed my grandmother had which caused his death. I was present for one such argument before my grandmother passed of a cousin asking her for the truth before she died. Grandma’s Last Secret is about one of those myths.

I love family myths so much, that I’m planning to write more stories about them. Maybe I’ll write “Hoffa’s Runaway Bride” someday.

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The Sad Story of Those who Shall Remain Nameless.

Have you heard something like “don’t piss off a writer, they may kill you off in a book.”

the text reads still not famousI guess it’s a threat to make people not want to cross a writer, make them afraid they’ll be named. An odd thing is sometimes people think I put them in a book or poem even though they hadn’t occurred to me at all during the writing. Then there are those who want to be in a story.

I had a friend cancel plans on me at the very last moment. Not a problem, except this was at the long end of his excuses and bs, so I was done. The funny thing – he wasn’t. He sent me an unending barrage of drunken text messages:  it seems, in his liquid bravado, he admitted he’d wanted me to make him famous.

“wat wil u writ but me if u nvr gve me shce”

read one of this texts. A day later:

“I cuold be ur bes t s tory vr!”

A few years after that, someone asked me what chapter they would be.

I don’t take people wholly and insert them into a story. There are just little bits and parts, an essence, a scent, a glance. They are a single speckle of mortar in the building of a house. I guess, one might argue, they are then in a story, poem, book, but they’ll never actually be named.

 

 

 

 

What makes good literature?

An extremely good conversation in my literature class about intelligence (Inspired by Ted Chiang’s The Great Silence). We talked about other species that fall under the definition of intelligence, which is “the ability to understand and apply knowledge.” parrot.jpgConsidering Alex the Parrot and Koko the Gorilla, and other species: crows are problem solvers and remember faces. We discussed dogs, cats, and others. Is love, as an abstract idea, understood and applied by animals? And then – is intelligence found in showing love?

This is what good literature should do. Teach, delight, and create wonder.

Read The Great Silence here

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.

When Editors Go Cray….

beautiful ppl.jpgMany years ago, All The Beautiful People was accepted for publication. But, then, as happens sometimes, I got the dreaded letter (yes, that’s how many years ago it was) in the mail stating that they had accepted too many things and something had to be bumped. The editor apologized and said they’d keep it in their files, but I should feel free to submit it elsewhere.

I did so.

A year later, that story was accepted for publication in another journal.

Even another year later, the original journal – with a new editor – wrote me via email and said they’d decided to use All the Beautiful People in their upcoming edition.

I responded that they were welcome to use the story; however, it had been accepted and was scheduled for publication by another journal. The publications would come out about six to nine months apart.

I never heard from that second journal and believed they had removed the story from their journal and their archives.

Six months later, I received a copy of the beautiful journal and my story within its pages.  YET – they’d billed the story as a memoir – it was fiction – and they’d cut off the last paragraph.

I was a little embarrassed. The girl in the story does things I would never have never girl with elvis facedone. I was concerned what readers might think – that this might serve as some sort of legacy I couldn’t live down.

See – with the last paragraph – it could NEVER EVER EVER be mistaken as memoir. I sent off a quick email to tell them these two things.

The editor dashed off a quick and nasty response – that they had published it as received, adding some choice and unprofessional comments. She made it sound as if I’d sent it directly to her and that she hadn’t pulled it from their archives.

I responded with the history of the piece, date sent, date accepted, and by whom, date and reason it was taken out, and by whom, etc.

I received another quick and dirty response. I wish I would have kept that email – misspelled words, inappropriate language, and completely and utterly unprofessional. I decided to look this person up. I then forwarded her emails to her employer.

She had found All The Beautiful People in the other publication – the one which was attributed correctly and published fully – and accused me, in her fancy slang, of lying, cheating the system, and whatever else she felt necessary. Another email I forwarded to those who were really in charge of the journal.

I again responded – with the forward – the series of events that had transpired offering all the original letters, archived in my own files, and the emails, which I had still in my saved box.

Route-66-Texas-Midpoint.jpgI didn’t hear from any of them again. But they did put a tiny little line in an inconspicuous place on their website that the story was mislabeled as memoir and should read fiction.

Now, it could have easily been a little mistake to publish it as memoir; however, again, the last paragraph would have told ANY reader that was wrong. Therefore, the missing last paragraph and the misattribution made me wonder. Still, this problem could have been easily, politely, and professionally handled.

I was shocked to learn that the editor who had acted so poorly was a lecturer at a University and had a book or two to her own credit. I do not believe she continued as the editor after that, but I didn’t bother to check.

I learned two valuable lessons from this experience – KEEP EVERYTHING! and always act like a professional.

What’s So Scary?

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“Don’t be afraid of failure.  The reality is that most people successes rise out of the ashes of their previous failures.”

From a new documentary on Netflix titled Creativity. The narrator is talking to the creator of Game of Thrones. The creator is talking about how many times he’s failed.

I started this to say – what are you afraid of?

Then I wanted to ask – what if there was no such thing as fear? What would you do? What could you do?

I want you to think about that. What if fear was not in the human range of emotion or thought?

 

On my bookshelf

I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).

bookshelf.pngI began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books

I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.

A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.

I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.

For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.

I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.