About writinganovel101

I am a writer. I am a waitress. In between there is just me! I have a journalism degree and have written on a freelance basis for numerous publications. I want to finish my novel now and take off the apron and put down my waitress tray.

Women Who Read

neal diamond     Last Friday night I took this photo of people holding their cell phones aloft at a Neal Diamond concert. It was my first Neal Diamond concert. Considering this is his fiftieth year on stage, I thought time just might be running out for me to hear him sing Solitary Man or Sweet Carolyn live.  While I was there I met several of fans who had been to his concerts multiple times. Seems I was late to the game.

    Each one of those lights represents a Neal Diamond fan. If only all writers had such a loyal and large fan base.  Okay maybe Stephen King or J.K. Rowling could fill an auditorium, but even they don’t get to actually see all the people who enjoy what they read especially as they are writing.  Bookstores host readings, but a writer is lucky to get more than thirty people, unless they write blockbuster best sellers.  At its core reading is a solitary pursuit. As is writing. 

IMG_0401 (1)There are so many books from which to choose. There is a lot of competition and writers toil alone  with the hope that someone, somewhere, will take the time out of their busy lives to read. I never really picture a person reading my work, but perhaps that is a mistake.  After all, I’m writing for living, breathing, and paying, humans.  Hopefully. Always have hope. If I wasn’t it would be journal writing which is fine but be careful because we know those can be found and read, too.  Remember Bridges of Madison County? Talk about unintended audience. I started thinking about the people in my life who are avid readers. Not necessarily of my work. I just know they like to read. 

sara

My friend Sara here, wrapped in toilet paper which is what women do at wedding showers, is an avid reader. She reads a lot of non fiction, her tastes are varied and she doesn’t settle for shallow, trite books. We went to hear Gloria  Steinem speak last year when she was on her memoir tour. Now Gloria sure had an audience, but the audience of women didn’t hold cell phones in the air to make her return to stage.   Wine glasses. Not really.  Anyway, Gloria Steinem said she doesn’t limit herself by only having friends her own age. Her view is that she just had to wait until some of her friends were born. I feel that way about Sara. She keeps me in touch with the latest smart reading around. I stay hip with Sara.

laura and debbieOn the right is my friend Laura and she reads fiction. A lot. She is one of the most prolific readers I know. She bought me Night Circus for my birthday last year, and I loved it. I trust her judgement, and we tend to like the same fiction. I can’t keep up with her. Her reading habits  put me to shame. My high school friend, Debbie, on the left doesn’t read. At all. Writers would never be able to make any income if everyone was like Debbie. However, Debbie beats me at Scrabble every time. Every time. She out spells me. Also, I know she would have loved Neal Diamond. Laura — maybe. Variety of friends is the spice of life. 

andreaI work with Andrea and she recently gave me a book called Winter People. It was nothing I usually read. I don’t like scary  books all that much. However, I liked the book’s stark, white cover with an etching of a house. Isn’t that funny how we sometimes chose books for the cover? She likes that particular author a lot, reads all her books, and she was so excited about Winter People.  Her enthusiasm was contagious.  I read the book just so I could talk to her about it. The book was scary, involving ghosts and an evil little girl. Andrea likes supernatural, scary books, and her encouragement allowed me to expand my reading horizon. She is a avid reader, as well, and an independent young woman who has a bright future. And she surprises me by reading my blog. 

high school girlsI‘m uncertain who my readers might be, but I know they are women. I classify myself as writing women’s fiction. I just never think a man will be interested in what I write. I have had male editors, male writing teachers and now and then a guy will read my blog, but I think I write more for women. Above is a photo of the women I went to high school with at our reunion a few years ago. I’m not saying what year I graduated. Let’s just say it was when bell bottoms were in style and Neal Diamond had number one hits.

I can have moved far away, traveled many places, met a variety of people, but I  don’t want to escape from my past and what makes me who I am today. These women I understand.  We share a lot in common. We grew up together and survived our teenage years. They are all  funny, witty and gorgeous. 

desk 2Even if I don’t know for certain who reads my work, maybe a few men do,  it helps as I sit alone in a room writing to imagine a reader.  I feel less alone believing I’m not alone.  

 

 

 

 

The Secrets We Carry

resturant table     An empty table at a resturant is a blank slate. A happy family might occupy it for awhile, then a couple celebrating an anniversary, and next business associates winding down from a day of meetings. At the table people laugh, argue, looked bored or just want to eat and run. One thing in common is everyone wants to be fed and there are times it is not just physical  hunger.  

     Servers are never quite sure what he or she might encounter as we go from table to table serving people’s needs. Encounters can be brief, just details of a food order, or people will share personal details. I’ve listened to a lot of stories. Perhaps it’s the intimacy of providing food, a necessity for us all, that often triggers the loosening of boundaries and sharing of personal lives. Or maybe it’s the alcohol! One thing is certain, each table has a story.  Some stay with me and others I forget. Recently, I saw the story of a lifetime unfold.

     The other evening I waited on what I assumed was a typical group of six women. When will I learn the lesson to never assume! The youngest woman was likely in her thirties.  I know for the certain the oldest was 92 as she played the starring role in the real life drama. My first impression of ladies getting together just to chat and eat was soon corrected.  For the first time, the 92 year-old woman was meeting her 73 year-old adult daughter she had given up for adoption. Well she had met her, of course, as a baby many years ago in Washington when she gave birth. But their time together was brief.  Now the older woman was hard of hearing but for 92 she still had her facilities. The daughter had oxygen tubes in her nose, but she smiled a lot and had a gentle, kind demeanor. 

mother with babyThe woman had gotten pregnant by a married man in Washington state where she lived. Her father and mother told her she could keep the baby, but she decided to put the little girl up for adoption. In those days there weren’t a lot of single mother’s raising little girls alone, especially if the child was conceived by a man who was married. The story itself wasn’t that unusual, but what was profound was to observe a mother and daughter meeting one another as strangers meet one another. Politely but with no history beyond biology. 

family from 1960sWithin a few weeks after giving up her baby, the woman met a nice man. There, at the table, with the daughter she had given up for adoption so many years ago across from her, the woman said,”he told me we could keep the baby girl, but I said no.” I looked at the woman who had never known her birth mother until that moment and wondered if she felt stung by that admission. The woman just nodded. Later, I asked if she had a happy life, and she said she had wonderful parents. I believed her. Both were now dead.  

The woman who had the baby out of wedlock married that nice man and had more children. She never told any of the children that she had a baby that she had given up for adoption. They still don’t know and she’s uncertain if she wants to tell them. She said they will be upset with her.

At the table were the woman’s two younger sisters. Well no one was young anymore. They said they knew their older sister had gotten pregnant all those years ago but they were too young to truly understand. She had gone away for awhile, but then returned. No one in the family mentioned it ever again. And so the secret was buried in time. It might have always remained buried if the State of Washington hadn’t opened up birth records.

Washington birth certificate

   The two daughters of the woman who had been adopted told their mother they wanted to find her biological mother and their grandmother. The internet did it’s magic and there they were all in Arizona meeting at the resturant where I work. 

The six of them sat at the table for a very long time talking, sharing stories about family.  Takes awhile to catch up after seventy years. The woman who had been giving up for adoption said now she knew where she got her quirky sense of humor from after listening to her biological mother’s stories. Both women shared the same smile.

At one point the 92 year-old woman leaned across the table to her daughter and asked, “What did you say your last name was again?” I tried to imagine what it would be like to ask such a question of one’s own child. The woman politely told her biological mother her last name and then they ordered dessert.

 Will the woman tell her children she had a baby out of wedlock all those years ago? Will this newly formed family stay in touch? I’ll never know. Time to move on to the next table. 

tea in a resturantEvery evening I meet people, often for just a short time, but still  I learn so much about our shared humanity, our joys, our stresses, our loves and losses. It’s similar to when I worked as a journalist except there is food and wine involved.  We are all so different, and we are all so the same. If that makes sense.  And we all have secrets. Some we never tell. Some we tell our loved ones and some we tell strangers.

Working as a server, and as a reporter, meeting so many people,  has made me a better writer and for sure a better person. It is a gift to walk beside one another as we share a moment on the path of life together and tell stories and sometimes long held secrets.

two older women

 

Eye of the Beholder

burning tree    I like pretty art. Call me simplistic, and some may, but I have trouble understanding modern art and not just because it’s often not pretty.  The art, such as the piece above, challenges me and makes me think. That’s not such a bad thing. But there are often times I flat out do not get what I’m seeing. Last Sunday at the Phoenix  Art Museum, which has arctic-like air conditioning and thus a great place to be on a hot summer day in the desert, I wandered into the modern art area. The photo of tree, whole and then reduced to ashes, might represent humans who, like the once mighty tree, will one day turn to dust. I often wish I had the artist beside me to explain. 

dead people

      Did this artist get inspired by yoga? Or is it that pesky concept of death again? I’m not even going to try to guess with this one. In the photo, the woman gazing down at the prone body with her arms crossed is wondering the same thing herself…or maybe she “gets it.” I don’t. Near each piece of art work is the name of the artist and some explanation of the artist’s vision but, again, I often leave scratching  my head trying to understand.  Art like this doesn’t leave me in awe, but it does make me ponder metaphorical meanings.  

    In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages writers to take themselves on artist dates to spur creativity.  Attend the opera, a quilting exhibition, or visit a historic home to find inspiration from another’s artistic work. It doesn’t mean we will like everything we see. There are some books people have encouraged me to read that stunk. I read one or two chapters and can not make myself read any further. Modern art is sorta like that for me, too. 

lady

After the modern art, I found myself in the portrait exhibit area. Now this painting inspired me because it is of a woman who was the mistress of King Charles. Not sure what century.  A long time ago as is obvious by her shimmering gown. She had five children with the king, and also several other lovers. She  died in her forty’s,  so she was one busy gal. Her dark eyes, creamy skin, wistful expression (another lover perhaps?) made me want to write a story about her. I wanted to make her come alive on the page and answer the questions about her life such as how did the king’s wife never learn about the five children her husband spawned with this beautiful dark-haired woman? Scandal is not reserved for 2017.

Scottsdale The title of this oil painting was Scottsdale, Arizona 1935. Really? Today Scottsdale has more plastic surgery offices than any other city in America. The days of horses, and Native American women in traditional garb, and dogs lounging in the street have been replaced with trendy restaurants, expensive malls, lavish resorts and a lot of Botox. Art is like a visual history book. I wish Scottsdale still looked like this, at least in a few places. The city could stand to lose a spa or nightclub and add a few horses.

    And then, just when I had written off modern art, I saw this on my way out. 

velvet tree

 The tree’s trunk is covered in velvet and that is rock salt as the base. The birds on the tree are clear containers filled with Windex. That’s pretty cool. Saying cool is not the most sophisticated way to explain art, but I looked at this tree for a long time. I have absolutely no idea what the artist was saying, but it didn’t matter, because it was fun to view. 

The lesson from all of this is that the artist writes or dances or makes modern art to please his or her own self first. If other people come along for the ride, fine. That’s a good reminder for any creative pursuit, or life in general. Some people will like it, some won’t. Bottom line is to be true to you.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Buffet of Mother’s Day Memories

hoffman-estates-jewel-2     This isn’t my mom, but it could be. Taken at the Jewel Grocery Store in Hoffman Estates, Illinois where I grew up, this is where my mom shopped every  Friday night after my dad brought home his paycheck. This is before debit  and credit cards filled everyone’s wallets, so she had to wait until my dad cashed his weekly pay check in order to buy groceries. My mom wore dresses to the grocery store and makeup as did most the women who pushed around a grocery cart at Jewel in the 1960s. (Now there are times  I go to the grocery store where I look as if I just posed for a mug shot. Who has time for lipstick and a comb, pantyhose, when all I am buying is detergent and dog food? I’d go in my pajamas if I could, and I have seen people in pajamas at Walmart shopping. My mom would likely be appalled.)

I don’t like to grocery shop, it’s just a boring chore to me, but as a little girl I loved going each week with my mom to Jewel with it’s shiny polished floors, and colorful boxes of food and fresh-looking vegetables. Seeing this photo from the historic archives of an Illinois library, made me remember those Friday night grocery store outings and, of course, made me miss my mom. Especially so with Mother’s Day right around the corner.

mom givng me a bathI’m keeping this photo small as it is myself  bathing in the nude. The only naked photo that will ever be seen of myself on my blog. (I want to keep my readers). Somehow bathing me in a plastic dish bucket on our kitchen counter doesn’t seem safe. Poor mothers. No matter how hard they try, they still get blamed for imperfections. I survived the bath, as well as any other missteps by my mother who, like most mothers, did the best she could. 

We all are so different, but we all had mothers. I’ve seen even the toughest guy soften when speaking about his mom. So often writers write about his or her mother and it’s obvious no matter how old we get our mothers  remain with us, in our hearts and minds, for good or for bad.  I have often wrote about my mother. I will miss her this Mother’s Day just as I have missed her every Mother’s Day since she died forty two years ago. Yikes! It never gets easier, but for me remembering my mom in my writing somehow eases the great loss, just a little.

mom and grandmaOur moms had moms, and this is my mother in front of my grandma’s house in Chicago. Every Mother’s Day,  our family took my grandma out to eat. This Sunday there is a fancy buffet at the hotel where I work. People will spend a lot of money  to eat, even drink champagne and hope that they made their mom feel appreciated. It’s one of the busiest days in the resturant industry. So much has changed in our world, but not wanting mom to have to go to the grocery store and cook, remains the same. And the resturant industry is grateful. Servers groan about that day because it is hectic, but it’s also lucrative. For the past four decades, I’ve wished my mom was alive so I could take her to a busy, over-priced resturant and make her feel special. 

   I hope my words travel upward and reach the angels and that my mom can hear me wish her a Happy Mother’s Day! And I wish the same to all mother’s, and I hope you all feel special on Sunday and that you are loved.

My mom.

mom

 

 

 

     

 

Out of Print

morning paper

       Above is a photo of the most despicable thief you can imagine. This man has been seen stealing, gasp, newspapers. He was caught on a neighbor’s security camera taking The Arizona Republic off the driveway.

      I’m not surprised he looks like an old guy. What millennial reads the print newspaper anymore much less would want to get up early in the morning to steal one? News can be found online with just a few taps on the cell phone. The print version of the paper has become as old fashioned as handwritten letters and the milk man. We didn’t have a milkman, but my friend Chris, her dad was a milkman. That always seemed like a fun job, going from house to house depositing dairy products though I imagine her dad had to  get up way early in the morning as do newspaper delivery people. Not much need for milkmen anymore, and in the near future home delivery service of newspapers, too. 

      A lot of people of my generation don’t bother to subscribe to the newspaper anymore, either.  I shudder for the day when the newspaper will come only via the Internet. Every morning when I wake up, after I walk Darla, (who of course is the best and cutest dog on the planet) I eat breakfast and read the newspaper. My day wouldn’t feel right without this much-beloved ritual. I love opening the paper, turning the pages, spreading it out and drinking hot tea.

My father would bring home the Chicago Sun Times every day after work. I would take it into my bedroom and read it from cover to cover. Highlight of my day, as odd as that might sound. Old habits and true loves never fade, and I loved the newspaper. It provided a written window to a bigger world beyond middle-class suburbia. 

goldieOne of the things I will miss if the print version of the newspapers ceases is receiving clippings from friends. Just recently, my dear 92 year-old friend, Goldie, who lives in Denver, and subscribes to the The Denver Post, sent me this clipping about a historic tavern in  Denver being sold to new owners. We both loved going to this tavern which was just down the hill from our neighborhood.  I ordered grilled cheese and she had a cheeseburger. The tavern had great pickles.  She wrote me a little note on the clipping. “Thought you would like to read this.” And I did. Sure she could have sent me a link, but finding it in the mailbox meant she took extra time for me and that always feels special when our loved ones think of us.

Marilee

    Then, a few days later, my sister sent me this article from The Chicago Tribune. She lives in southern Illinois now, but she still appreciates the news of her former home town north of her. This humorous article about the couple that were on a popular home fix up show, but were now divorcing, made my sister smile and she wanted me to smile, too, at the Chicago columnist’s wit.

   Recently, I met a woman and was discussing with her an article I read in The Arizona Republic regarding her  tour company. I happened to have the print version of the article with me. She was thrilled to have a version she could hold in her hands and slip into her purse.  Several people had read the story,  she said, but no one had the print copy. I was happy to give her the article, but also sad that no one had the paper copy. Another sign of the demise of the print version. 

Tracy  My friend, Tracy, often writes letters to the editor of The Arizona Republic. Next time I see her I will give her this clipping of her letter that appeared a few weeks ago. She only gets the paper on Sunday, but I think she goes to her mom’s house and gets the daily newspaper to read. 

my clips

    During journalism school, and during my writing career, I saved all the clips of my work. Now anything I write is online. I’ve kept some of my clips, neatly as you can tell, but I’ve thrown out a lot of articles I’ve written. Why bother keeping so much paper. And yet I love that I had the chance to see my words in black and white and not just on a computer screen. Call me old school. I don’t mind. 

    This morning as I was crunching on my cereal and flipping the pages of the newspaper I saw an article I want to tear out and send to a friend. I’m grateful I can still do that, and I hope now and then people will send me new’s clippings.

    Because it makes me sad to think of that one day there will be an end to my morning paper, I will finish with a picture of my adorable dog Darla. Just to cheer me up and anyone else who might feel sad about one morning not finding the newspaper on the front stoop anymore, not because some old guy stole it, but because it no longer exists. 

darla

Telling Your own Life Story

deskc
    The artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her close friend Anita Pollitzer wrote a lot of letters back and forth to one another during their decades-long friendship. They met in college, and after work and life geographically separated them, they continued the friendship via sitting at a desk and writing. (Fancier desks than the one above, but I just liked this photo of an old fashioned writing desk with inkwell and pen).

     They wrote about all the things girlfriends now text or email each other about except they had to use stamps and the post office.  Because everything was on paper, actual paper my goodness, the letters are saved. No delete button. And because one of the women became a world-renowned artist, the correspondence between two friends about everything from romances to idle gossip to career goals is now kept in the archives of none other than Yale.  Not too shabby. At the time most of the letters were written, they were just two women who had common interests and a shared respect for one another. Girlfriends.

georgia

     I thought of all the letters I wrote back and forth to my girlfriends when I left Illinois in 1977. I threw them all away and because I’m not famous I don’t think any fancy university will be pining for them. Still, I wish I still  had all those youthful letters if only to remember the girl I once was. Not saying I don’t like email or texting, but now it’s hard to imagine someone taking the time to write me a letter on paper, get a stamp, address an envelope and mail it to me. So much time invested when now we can just hit a few buttons. I keep any letters someone sends me now. There are none but I would keep them.

    When it came time to write Georgia’s biography, Anita was asked to do the honors. That was the beginning of the end of their friendship. Oh there were other issues that eroded the friendship in time, (read the letters to find out) but the final blow for Georgia was how Anita portrayed the artist’s life in a manuscript she had hoped to publish about her long time, and now oh so famous, artist friend.

     Georgia got picky. She didn’t like how Anita said there were “fields of many-colored flowers” near Georgia’s birthplace. There weren’t that many flowers, said Georgia in one of the many long, downright snippy, notes she wrote to Anita about her misconceptions. Anita made the mistake of saying Georgia was happy. No I wasn’t, said Georgia. In fact, said Georgia, I don’t even like the idea of happiness. Then Anita called her friend “a shy beauty.” Nope. On that one I agree as Georgia was actually no beauty. Regal looking, but Anita was the beauty.  And so  Georgia’s complaints of how  Anita saw her life went on and on. Finally Georgia refused permission to her friend to publish any book about her famous self.
     So instead many years letter this book of the letters between the women was published. Anita was a champion of Georgia’s work, and was her ally and dearest friend, but in the end Anita could not write Georgia’s life to the artist’s satisfaction.

volcanoI met a woman recently who was going to take a group of people on a trek through Peru. This is Costa Rica. Haven’t gotten to Peru yet. So I said that would be interesting story to write. She said that I should I write her story. I said No. I think people, if at all possible, need to write their own story. How we perceive our own life can be very different than what people see from the outside. Anita saw her friend living in a house with flowers and smiles. But the person who had lived the life didn’t see the flowers. And that was her right.

jo anna

   This made me think about my friend Jo Anna who died about a year ago. I now and then will remember stories about her.  No one told her life story, but if they did how would it be told? Example.  I thought her husband was decent, but then I spoke with another woman and she said Jo Anna said he was a brute.  I won’t be writing Jo Anna’s life story, but It would be difficult for me to write it any other way than the way I perceived her life. If nothing else, we should get to tell about own life through our own lens. However cloudy or clear.

What does this all mean? If you want to be remembered a certain way, better start putting it on paper. If you don’t care either way, then however people remember you is just fine. As long as they remember you. Especially the ones you’ve loved. Also if there are journals and diaries lying around that you don’t want read, or possibly letters, decide now if they need to be shredded or would it be okay for grandchildren to read about grandma’s or grandpa’s wild nights listening to the Bee Gees and disco dancing.

me from LeeP.S. This is an old photo an old friend sent me during my years as a cocktail waitress in a rock and roll bar in Denver. I know he’s not a writer, so I think I’m safe because I think he might get my story a little too accurate. 

     

 

 

Do you believe in Magic?

photo 1     Deep in the forest lived a woman in a small cabin all by herself. She didn’t mind living alone, in fact she wasn’t alone. She had the birds and the foxes and the squirrels as her friends. Also, she had a unicorn. 

horseShe named her unicorn Moonbeam because it arrived to her cabin on a full moon night. She awakened and the unicorn was standing there beneath the bright glow of the smiling moon. The woman wove roses and daisies into the unicorn’s mane and rode it by the  river each morning so the unicorn could drink from the clear water which ran down from the mountain peaks. Silver fish with yellow fins would leap out of the water with joy at the sight of Moonbeam.

bed in trailer

At night in her pretty little bed, the woman would open up her curtains and stare at the stars and make wishes upon each one. All her wishes were different, but all were happy and kind.  Now and then she would have a visitor from the nearby village at the base of Blue Mountain. The woman grew up in the village though she never visited there anymore. She was content in her cabin.

sitting area in trailer She would read tea leaves using her lavender tea and china cups.  Some of the people in the village called the woman a gypsy, which wasn’t a good thing to be called then, and warned people not to go to the cabin. But this did not deter certain villagers and they would bring the woman warm pumpkin bread, rich stew or ripe cherries and tiny frosted cakes. There were rumors that the mushrooms that grew around the woman’s cabin were either poisonous or magical, but some people still tried to pick them but they would tug and yank and they mushroom would not budge. Only the woman could pick them. 

mushrooms2She fed them to Moonbeam and the unicorn liked them very much. Then one day a visitor came to her cabin and knocked on the door. She opened it and there stood a man with rooster feathers in his hat. 

fancy man

Alright so you are thinking I must have eaten some magic mushrooms myself. No my latest kick is champagne. I love the bubbles. Seriously, I was thinking of writing something about well, writing, or about being a waitress but realized I needed something magical in my life. I understand reality. I accept the responsibilities of home ownership, of washing my car and paying bills. 

      However, I don’t want to be such a grownup  that I forget about magic. In fact, it’s essential and not just for writers. Sure writers need imagination to create, but we all need to have a vision of something beyond what we can see with our eyes. With our imagination, skyscrapers get built, and life saving medicines get invented and novels get written. Skill plus imagination is a winning combination. Oh that sounds like a advertisement for tennis shoes.  

 People will sometimes ask writers where they get their ideas. My goodness. We might have to look up from our cell phones or computer screen now and then, but they are there.  Even the writer Jane Austen, who lived in a small English village and didn’t have the Internet, put her imagination to work and invented some unforgettable characters.  We don’t have to travel the globe. It’s right outside our door.  Put on the imagination glasses.  Everything I photographed above exists in the real world. Even the unicorn.

    There’s magic all around. So sure there are bills to pay, groceries to buy and chores to do, but if we can take to stop now and then and appreciate the magic in our world then maybe life will sparkle just that much  more. Now back to that little cabin in the woods.

caabin 2