Dad Shines

“‘Dad Shining’ is a terrible name for a story.,” said a certain someone.

I replied, “The Chicago Tribune must have liked it. They’re going to publish it.”

I worked on “Dad Shining” for some time, not quite knowing what the ending needed. Then it struck me:

We grow up not really understanding our parents or why they do the things they do. When we become adults, if our maturity doesn’t lend itself to that understanding then it should lead us to empathy.dad-shining-cover

We can’t possibly know our parents challenges in the same way we comprehend our own. Therefore, we must let things go, forgive, and move on. (Whatever that forgiveness means to you. Don’t be tortured by the past)

My father passed four years ago this month. The story “Dad Shining” was published two months before he passed. (For which, I’m happy.)

It’s not a story of my father, nor of me. But it is a story of a child coming to some sort of peace with himself and extending compassion to the father he never quite understood.

 

(A little trivia for you – the cover was taken in Virginia where Poe’s mother is buried)

 

 

Author Quarantined After Ape Attack

Returning to the country, I imagined myself held hostage by the CDC in plastic tents on some far away airfield with my family left wondering what had happened to me.

men in contamination gear.jpgI imagined it in different ways – maybe I’d get all the way home before men in white coats and gas masks would show up, or maybe they’d come in full contamination gear and yank me from the yard to whisk me away, question me, and – oh my gosh – pull aside everyone I’d come in contact with.

The whole of the passengers on the plane, my family, the taxi driver. I cringe when I think how upset everyone would be with me or with the fact that they had the misfortune of sharing a space with me.

I wonder – would the Pandemic Control Team let me have my computer?pandemic-control_clip_image002.jpg I actually have a ton of work to catch up on. Would they let me facetime or skype with family? friends? Would they let me wave through the clear plastic tents to onlookers?

And then – from one of those speculative fiction novels – what if I started an outbreak? What if a monkey virus mixed with some other virus and the whole of the population was at risk. I was patient zero.

You see – I have a very active imagination.

I told you I had about six ideas. That was the first.

Think about this as a writing prompt: What if you had 30 days in a tent with three squares a day? What would you do? What would you miss? Would you write? Exercise? Catch up on reading? Or go absolutely insane?

 

Inspiration

black and white of women talking over a fence

 

I love old photos.

 

 

 

 

black and white of unhappy children

 

 

They spark the imagination

 

nuns smoking

 

 

 

 

 

Make me want to ask questions.

 

 

 

 

And answer them.

 

 

 

black and white of women walking over a bridge

 

 

In a story.

 

 

 

 

I used to collect old photos I’d found at second hand stores and antique shops for the expressed purpose of telling their stories – giving them life once again.

Find an old photo – at a shop, or the internet, or grandma’s attic,  and tell that story.

 

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.