Monday, November 29, 2010

Blogging - three years already?

I started blogging on a lark, and here I am three years later with a serious blog on my hands. The first purpose – to use it as a sort of bucket list of my end of life plan – seems to have gone by the wayside. Even though I still think about the choices I have yet to make in life – as long as I stay healthy and together . As Nora Ephron likes to say: it’s as though we at our age are racing with the clock. We keep going on normally until our systems – like the clockworks – decide to stop. And we have no control over when that will happen.

So, I feel that using my blog to post about my writing successes and failures, my family occasions, my book due out next May, my life events in general, and to use it as a place to post poems and photos is all to the good. I’m an eclectic person. So no reason my blog shouldn’t be eclectic as well. 

Over these last three years I feel my posts about the ups and downs of querying agents and publisher in the hopes of getting my book published and finally my ultimate success in finding Janice Phelps Williams and Lucky Press LLC were the most meaningful to me. I also got a lot of value about blogging about my indecision about work: stay, retire, stay, retire. I went back and forth for almost the entire three years on that until finally I made my decision. I retired, went on a marvelous vacation, and then got my book contract. Pure synchronicity at work.

Which reminds me. I don’t blog about where I am when I’m on a trip. I post about the trip when I get home – just for safety sake. And I don’t blog about politics. That’s for the experts. 
But, I did like my blog series about the women in my life – the women who take care of me and nurture me. I found it more than wonderful that I have so many women who do that for me. Perhaps it’s time for an update. I also felt it was useful to blog about my book revision process. I’ll probably divert some more of that to my Red Room writer’s blog in the future.

One thing I do regret is not being able to publish my new poems here. Many publications want only poems submitted that have never been published, and they consider a poem published if it’s been posted on a blog, Facebook, or some other network site, that I feel that my hands are tied. I must comply if I want to get my poems published in other venues. Poems posted here have already appeared in an online or print zine.

Which brings me to where I’m going with Choices in the future.

Of course I’ll be blogging about my book and what’s going on until it’s finally published. Right now, it’s almost ready to go into the hands of my publisher – hooray for that. Then we’ll get the book ready for final review and production. And, before we know it, it will be May and it will be out. Oh my word. Definitely a dream come true.

While the book is being readied for its unveiling, I’ll lesson my posts about the writing process and get more into the subject matter of my book: suicide, mental illness, grief, and survival. I’ve mentioned The Compassionate Friends and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention here before. What I plan to do next month – in honor of Paul’s December 31 birthday – is to provide material about many of the suicide prevention organizations – what they do, where they are, and how people who need them can get involved. Of course there are more than thirty-one of them, but I plan to cover one each day for each of December’s thirty-one days.

I’ll let you know at the end of next month, where I’m heading next.

I must say that blogging has been a major component of my writing life during the last three years. Mainly it has kept me writing. And I’ll tell you a little secret. After Janice found my blog, she was convinced to take me on as one of her Lucky Press authors. I can find no fault with a blogging life that can accomplish that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving thankfulness

The day before Thanksgiving. Time to think of things to be thankful for. 

I wrote on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s wall that I am thankful that I chose to live and survive after Paul died. Otherwise I could never have had the joy of seeing Ben get married last August. Of course that was my reasoning for staying alive. I couldn’t leave Ben and Bob. I didn’t want to miss out on what was going to happen in Ben’s life.

And as it turned out, I have a lot to be thankful in how my own life turned out. In learning how to live again, I discovered that I had the gift of leadership, the gift of love from family and friends, the gift of strength that only surviving the death of a child can bring, and the gift of a creative life. 

About fifteen years ago I finally said now or never, and I started taking classes and workshops to hone my writing skills that had laid dormant since my high school and college days. Although at first I didn’t think I could transfer my technical writing and editing skills into creative writing, it came easy for me. And I learned that I loved it. I haven’t looked back. 

Even when I went back to work I didn’t stop writing. I couldn’t. I had to write. If I didn’t write I couldn’t live. And as I’ve said many times before, writing saved my life after Paul died.

Writing or any artistic outlet is a way to heal. It’s a way to help. And it’s a way to record the memories – both good and bad. I am so thankful that I have writing in my life. And, hopefully my writing will help others to discover the gifts they have to offer the world.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Write down fifteen favorite books in fifteen minutes

"So many books, so little time."

Here's my list, though surely not complete, in no particular order:

Gone with the Wind - Mitchell
The Fountainhead - Rand
Angle of Repose - Stegner
The Blind Assassin - Atwood
The Robber Bride - Atwood
Mao's Last Dancer - Cunxin
The Corrections - Franzen
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man - Joyce
From Here to Eternity - Jones
Catcher in the Rye - Salinger
East of Eden - Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath - Steinbeck
The Hours - Cunningham
Mrs. Dalloway - Wolfe
Lolita - Nabakov

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Survivors of Suicide Day

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention today is Survivors of Suicide Day. Another reason to remember Paul -- as if I really need one. What is important about this day for me is that my family and I have survived losing him eleven years ago, and I have a book coming out that will hopefully help others get to the place we are today: Leaving the Hall Light On to be released by Lucky Press LLC next Mother's Day. I am so happy that our story will get out there to those who need it.

After spending so much time this week picking out photos for the book, it is fitting to post a couple today.

So happy at the piano early on

With that little closed mouth smile

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Compassionate Friends ask the right questions

The Compassionate Friends – a non-profit organization for bereaved families and the people who care about them, following the death of a child – pose a question a day on its Facebook page regarding how we handle the every day issues involved in grieving and surviving our child's death.

Questions in the last few weeks included: 
  1. Have you been able to find meaning in your life since the death of your child, sibling, or grandchild?
  2. As the one year mark since our daughter's death is nearing . . . we become nervous and defiantly not anticipating the date. What does one do on the one year "anniversary"?
  3. How well do you feel this saying applies to bereaved families after a child dies? 

"From the outside looking in you can never understand and from the inside looking out you can never explain." ~ author unknown 
  4. How have you handled your child's room? 
  5. What did someone do after your child (sibling, grandchild) died that really touched your heart?

I have responded to a lot of these questions from my experience on the TCF Facebook page and touch on them in more detail in my forthcoming memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, about my son's mental illness, suicide, and how our family survived. 

Here is my response to Question No. 5 above:

One night right before the first Thanksgiving after my son's death my next-door neighbor left a basket on my doorstep. She said in her note that she dreaded the holidays after her mother died, so she gathered a few things to ease the holiday season for me. Her thoughtfulness certainly helped – and for quite a long time. Among the items inside was a poetry book about coping with the loss of a love, a journal, a candle, a box of absolutely delicious chocolate covered graham crackers, a little silk pillow with the word Heal on it, and a smooth gray stone. Early on this stone became my biggest comfort as I describe in this poem:

A Stone Called Son

I sleep with a stone.
It's gray and small enough
to fit in the palm of my hand.
One side is smooth, the other
has the word, son, cut into it.
And when I put the stone
in the crook of my index finger
I can read the word with my thumb.
I like to place it between my breasts
and feel its coolness on my chest.
It quiets the pain in my heart
and slows down my heartbeats
so I can rest.
Sometimes I hold it all night
and find it in my fist when I wake.
When I'm not sleeping it sits next to my bed
on a tiny silk pillow imprinted on one side
with the word, heal.
Well, it takes time.
A healing pillow and a stone called son
can't do all the work. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Erasing the stigma - a must!

In gathering information for an addendum to my book I turned to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. According to AFSP records for the year 2007 (the latest information available):

·     "There were 34,598 reported suicide deaths with suicide the fourth leading cause of death for adults   between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the United States (28,628 suicides).
·    Currently, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States.
·     A person dies by suicide about every fifteen minutes in the United States.
·     Every day, approximately ninety Americans take their own life.
·     Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
·     There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
·    There are an estimated eight to twenty-five attempted suicides for every suicide death."

There are also alarming statistics regarding the rise of suicide rates in the armed forces. In 2009 there were 334 suicide deaths and twenty to thirty percent of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Finally the military is looking at ways to erase the stigma of mental disease and suicide so that our service people needing help won't hesitate to go ask for it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do Facebook ads help create fans?

A couple of weeks ago my Facebook author page was having a slump in fan attention, and I thought the best way to reve up interest was to buy an ad. Facebook is always pushing their ad prowess, so I thought why not give it a try.

I started out with a budget of  $250. But, after a couple of days of seeing hardly any action, I cut it to $150. After a week I slashed the budget to $50, and I don't even think that is worth it. For fifty-two clicks and one fan I've paid over $30 so far.  But I'll stick with this amount and then quietly leave the Facebook ad arena when the money runs out. 

Perhaps I don’t know enough about steering the ads to the appropriate folks, but I thought that’s what Facebook was there to do for me. What else would I be paying them for? 

So for all this money, what I'm left with is a huge negative feeling about Facebook ads. Right now I just don't get the point.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Permission process update

Way back in September I began the process of getting permission to use quotes in my up-coming book, Leaving the Hall Light On (to be released May 9, 2011 by Lucky Press LLC). And I must say the process seems to go on and on.

Actually I heard from Random House that the Anne Lamott quote from Operating Instructions I want to use falls within the realm of fair use and doesn’t need permission – at least by Random House. However, they referred me to the Wylie Agency for permission to use the quote if my book will be distributed in the United Kingdom. Of course to be prepared I have now embarked on getting the Wylie okay.

My other request to use a quote by Ann Pachett from her book Bel Canto has had several back and forths by email, but still no okay. I was told both publishers would take about five weeks to process the requests. Right now I’ve been waiting about eight.

One other request was for use of two lines from one of Paul Simon’s songs. Still no word yet on that one – no emails, no requests for more information, no nothing. I think I’ll check back with them next week to make sure my request didn’t go into the round file.

So the permission process continues to be an interesting problem. Two things I know for sure. It pays to start early and provide all information exactly as asked.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poetry challenges

In the last couple of years I've entered two April poem-a-day challenges and one last November run by Robert Lee Brewer who writes the poetry column for Writer's Digest. This year I opted out of the November challenge because of my book deadline, but I promised Robert I'd be back in April.

However, I haven't stopped writing poems for my self-imposed poem-a-week challenge that I started at the beginning of 2010. My challenge was to write a poem weekly about my thoughts and imaginings about people I don't know. Remember trying to figure out or making up the lives of people sitting at tables near yours when you're out in a restaurant? Well, my challenge is something like that.

And in keeping with my belief that there is a poem everywhere, I've found subjects for this challenge at my gym, on the plane, in doctors' waiting rooms, in countries where I've traveled, on the cruise ship we were on last Spring, and of course at tables near mine in restaurants.

Now of course I don't consider these poems works of art -- at least not yet. But perhaps there's a book there someday. I could call it Fifty-two Poems. How easy is that?

Here's one from last April's poem-a-day challenge (with prompt).

Prompt 12 – pick a city, make that the title of your poem, and write a poem.

Growing up in Chicago
I never knew any hog butchers
or steel makers as Sandburg
liked to tout in his poem.
But I do remember the Lake
and the Art Institute
and the Museum of Science and Industry
and seeing plays at the Goodman Theater.
I’m going back for a few days this spring.
I’ll be sure to look for the hogs.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's next?

More and more I’m feeling ready to have the writing and the revisions and the editing of my memoir be finished. I’m now looking at this final process the way I worked proposals. I have a deadline, and as I get nearer and nearer to it, I'm beginning to prepare myself for the proverbial pens down date. I'm even pretending I have someone breaking that red pen in half, just like I had to do with the engineers who wrote proposals. There is a beginning, middle, and end to this process. That's all there is to it.

When I worked proposals I was always happy close to the deadline. That meant I could move on to a whole other proposal project and work with an entirely new proposal team. Well that will be true for me soon -- at least temporarily. 

I started a novel before I got my memoir publishing contract, and I’ve put it aside for several months while I’ve worked on revising the memoir. But come January I’ll be back working on the novel. I’ve signed up for a UCLA extension online novel writing course. Luckily my instructor is also a friend and the person who taught the Writing the First Novel workshop I took last February, so she was willing to take me into her third level class without my having had the first two levels. Well, her prerequisite for the class is fifty pages and to my recollection I already have seventy. Of course the material needs a lot of fleshing out, and I need to honker down on the research, but I believe I have a healthy and credible start.  So, I’m excited. This class will last ten weeks, perfect timing in my memoir schedule. About the time the online class is over I’ll have to get busy with my memoir marketing work. 

That will seem like a whole other project as well.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One month countdown

Even though my publisher has given me a December 18 deadline, my goal is to have everything ready to send off to her on December 4 -- one month from today.

Here's the list:

  • complete and merged manuscript
  • cover photos
  • photos for inside the book
  • photos of me
  • copy for the paper back cover
  • copy for the hardback dust jacket
Here's what's left to do:
  • finish creating almost-final chapters. I have four left to go
  • have the almost-final version reviewed front to back
  • incorporate last review comments if I so choose
  • merge and copy-edit the final document
  • finish picking out photos for the body of the book
  • have my photo taken
  • write the cover and dust jacket copy

Sound daunting? 

Well, I'm a deadline-oriented person. I have no doubt I will get it all finished -- on time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Aging girlfriends

I couldn't resist posting this piece I just received in an e-Mail from another aging girlfriend:

A group of 40-year  old girlfriends discussed where they should meet for dinner.  Finally it was agreed upon that they should meet at the Ocean  View Restaurant because the waiters there had tight pants and  nice bums. 

Ten years later at 50 years of age, the group  once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally  it was agreed that they should meet at the Ocean View Restaurant  because the food there was very good and the wine selection was  good also. 

Ten years later at 60 years of age, the group  once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally  it was agreed that they should meet at the Ocean View Restaurant  because they could eat there in peace and quiet  and the restaurant had a beautiful view of the ocean. 

Ten  years later, at 70 years of age, the group once again discussed  where they should meet for dinner. Finally it was agreed that  they should meet at the Ocean View Restaurant because the  restaurant was wheel chair accessible and they even had an  elevator. 

Ten years later, at 80 years of age, the group  once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally  it was agreed that they should meet at the Ocean View Restaurant  because they had never been there before. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's finally over

I am so sick of the negativity of both parties leading up to today's election that I hardly care anymore. I actually gave a cursory thought to not voting at all out of disgust. And now I wonder how many people felt the same way and carried it through.

The thing that fries me the most is the obscene level of money spent on campaigning. 

I wonder if there is a way that candidates can actually put their money where their mouths are. If they are for education or job creation, couldn’t they spend their campaign money on education or creating jobs? Then they could actually show the good they are doing before the election. We could believe what they say becasue their good products would be their proof. I’d definitely want to vote for someone like that. I don’t want to vote for people who spend millions on negative adds. Our economy is crying for help right now. There are starving people out there – starving for food and a proper education. That’s why in my mind using millions on negative campaigning is so obscene.

One of my friends said today that our forefathers would be spinning around in their graves if they knew what was going on now.  I agree. It’s not the country and behavior they intended when they created our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. But of course they had no idea how saturated we would be now with the wild spread of electronic information now reaching forest fire levels. We are out of control, and I worry that we don’t know how to reel ourselves back into normality.

But, never fear. I voted. I'd never miss a chance to do that. I just hope my vote really counts.