Quite Something

Archive for May, 2008

Books for Memorial Day

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I’m back from vacation and will post an entry about our adventures in a day or two, but today on Memorial Day I wanted to recommend two WWII books to you. Both are excellent, and will give you a very clear picture of what day-to-day life was like for those who served during WWII.

The first is my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge, which I wrote about in a previous post. My uncle was a Pfc. in the army, in the 26th Infantry Division. He and his buddies fought across Europe, enduring mud and rain and a constant lack of food. He was trapped in a foxhole for 17 days, and later helped to liberate several concentration camps. He kept a diary of his experiences, always intending to write a book about them. He finally wrote and published it, 51 years later.

The second book I discovered by accident while searching to see if there were many other WWII books with letters in them, similar to All on Account of You. It is called At War and At Home, edited by Bob and Gale McClung, and contains the correspondence of an entire family: three brothers (one of whom was Bob McClung) who served in three different branches during WWII, their parents, and their little sister. I posted a review of it on Goodreads.com. Sadly, Bob passed away shortly before the book was released, but Gale and I have become online friends.

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C. on PBS and was moved by it. It’s good to see that we’re finally paying attention to those who haved served and are serving to keep our country safe, and it’s important that we keep telling their stories. God bless all of them.

Happy Memorial Day.


Giving the little guy a chance

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

We’re getting ready to go on a family vacation on Tuesday (Vegas, baby!) and I’m trying to decide which book to take along. I read a lot of nonfiction, but on vacation, I have to have my fiction. While looking through my nightstand stacks, which my husband has been reminding me are overflowing, I noticed one of the most recent fiction books that I really enjoyed. It’s called To Truckee’s Trail, by gifted writer Celia Hayes.

To Truckee’s Trail is a fictionalized account of the first wagon-train party that successfully crossed the Sierra-Nevada mountains and arrived in Sacramento, California. The journey took place in 1884 and spanned 2,000 miles. I posted a review of the book on Goodreads.com, which is a site where you can recommend to your friends what you are reading.

I hope you will all get the chance to do some reading this summer. If you’re getting ready to buy a book soon, consider buying a self-published book online. They are growing in numbers and their authors are working hard to promote them. Print-on-demand (POD) publisher sites work just like amazon. You can search based on topics, read reviews, and purchase using major credit cards. (The books take a few extra days to arrive because they are printed as they are ordered.) The POD site I’ve been publishing with in recent years is Lulu.com. Other top sites are iUniverse.com, BookLocker.com, AuthorHouse.com, and Xlibris.

This is the kind of purchase you can feel good about. It’s kind of like buying hardware at the local hardware store instead of the Home Depot, or coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop instead of at Starbucks. On behalf of all the “little guys” out there, we appreciate your business!


The miracle of the brain

Friday, May 16th, 2008


Writer’s Digest website contest

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The Writer’s Digest magazine editor, Maria Schneider, is running a contest on her blog, The Writer’s Perspective. It just started yesterday–here’s her post. You can nominate your website or blog (or another writer’s) and it will be judged based on presentation, ease of use, and marketing effectiveness. Winners will get some pretty cool prizes such as a listing in their October print issue, their e-newsletter, and on WritersDigest.com.

The website must be created and maintained by you personally. (Read the comments to her blog if you’re not sure what that means. She answers several questions about it.) Unfortunately mine doesn’t qualify because I have both a designer and a webmaster. :(

Don’t be shy–nominate yourself! You may also get some traffic to your site from the people who read her blog. Good luck!


Not reinventing the wheel

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Including our parents, there were ten of us in our household when we were growing up. You can imagine that, in that type of environment, efficiency is very important. You have to do daily tasks quickly, or you’d never get to do anything else with your day. So I learned to speed up, and to utilize everything at my disposal so that I didn’t have to create from scratch or, as the saying goes, reinvent the wheel.

A friend and I were chatting yesterday about writing and marketing, and we were both expressing a similar hope: that if you do something well, and persist, something good will happen. If you believe in kharma, it just makes sense.

I had planned to blog about the subject today, but before I got there, I read Kevin Alexander’s blog, This Writer’s Life. Kevin is another one of the Writer’s Digest bloggers. As fate would have it, Kevin wrote a longer-than-usual post today which includes what he calls his mantra. It just happens to be on my topic. So as not to reinvent the wheel, I’ll include the revelant excerpt from today’s post

“You see, I have this theory about writing and writers. My theory goes like this: no matter who you are and where you are from and what your parents do for a living, if you can write and you know you can and you work at it every day and you know deep below the surface in that place where only the truth exists that you’re not just being daft and irrational, you will get discovered. This may take weeks or it may take years or it may take decades, but my feeling is that good, solid writing rises to the top. Editors can spot  it. Agents can spot it. Other writers can spot it. And this is the beauty of the writing world. You always have to fall back on your own talent. Yes, you may get put in a prime spot by things like connections or nepotism or the lottery, but if the writing doesn’t hold up, you will fall and ultimately you will fail. That–more than anything else– is the powerful self-correcting agent in the writing world. And–despite all of my cynicism and my love of irony and all of the other knee-jerk reactive habits infused in me by my age, social standing and penchant for limited edition sneakers– I believe in that. If I had a mantra, that would be it. Good writing rises to the top. It’s not catchy, it doesn’t sound good in a Nike commercial or on a lower back tattoo, but that is what I believe.”

Thanks, Kevin, for saving me time today. You said it better than I could have.


Everything upside down

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.”
                                                                                         Daniel Francoiseprit Auber


My mother said a funny thing the other day. She was frustrated that her sewing machine was acting up, and she said, “I know I threaded it right. I’ve been doing it for centuries.” She’s nearly 90, and it probably does feel to her like she’s been doing some things for centuries.
Her machine has been giving her trouble since she had it serviced a month ago, but she sounded defensive, as if I would question her skills. The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and I wondered at first why she felt the need to explain herself.

It made me think about what it must truly be like to be her age, to have people question what she is doing and how she is doing it. Even without Alzheimers, older people become aware that, over time, they are losing the ability to do things they once knew how to do.

As we watch our parents age, it’s easy to get impatient. We experience the changes in terms of how they affect us. They start to repeat themselves. They lose things. They don’t pay their bills. They forget to take their medications. They become, for us, like another one of our children, and we begin to speak to them in the same hassled tone.

We truly forget that it will happen to us one day too. And it will, if we live long enough. There’s no getting around it. Imagine for one minute what it must actually feel like to have your child treat you as if you were the child. To have them remind you of things, explain things to you, drive you places, speak to people on your behalf.

I’m going to try to hold that picture in my head the next time I visit my mom.


The agony and the ecstasy

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I was having a tough day today, mostly due to the torture I received from the substitute dental hygienist at my dentist’s office, until I saw a blog post by Scott Francis. Scott writes a new book marketing blog for Writer’s Digest magazine called Living With the M-Word: Marketing Your Writing Without Selling Out Your Muse. I had commented on his blog yesterday for the first time, and today he mentioned me in his post. Check it out.

Commenting on other people’s blogs is supposed to help bring traffic to your website. I figured I might as well start at the top. Writer’s Digest is the number-one rated writers’ magazine. I suscribe to the print version, which arrives in my mailbox six times a year, and also read the online newsletter, which is where I heard about Scott’s blog. As he says, it’s all about community, and sharing information.

My day got even better late this afternoon when our daughter Jenny arrived home from college. She just finished her freshman year, and is relieved to have her final tests and papers over with. Earlier in the week, her dad and I helped her edit her paper on the reputation of the Monguls. Jenny struggles with writing, but she’s making progress. She and her brother think I’m unbelievably weird because I’m a writer. They like to tease me about writing what they call “term papers” for a living.

I can’t help it–I love to write. The marketing I could do without. But, like Jenny, I’m getting there, and maybe I’ll get there quicker by reading Scott’s blog regularly.

For now, I’m going to go do some other M-word (Mommy) stuff and nurse Jenny through the M-word (Mono) she brought home from college. Wish me luck.


Cathartic writing

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

This week I’ve been consoling a friend who is having trouble with his teenager. Normally an optimistic guy, his recent late-night emails reveal the depth of his sadness and frustration. I have been there, with both of my kids, and I wrote a lot of desperate emails to friends, too. The writing helps, and the supportive responses help more.

When my daughter was in the hormone-filled middle school years, she sometimes wrote me notes when she was too upset to speak to me. Sometimes they were scribbled on paper and left on my pillow, and sometimes they were emails. It sounds crazy—there we were in the same house—but you know how it is when the emotion runs so high that you can’t stand to be in the same room with each other.

She is the one who always initiated the notes. To be honest, I never thought about writing to her. But it worked. She explained things I didn’t know about the stress she was under at school or about issues with her friends that were spilling over onto her. And, no matter what, she always signed them, “I love you Mama.”

In turn, I was able to write back and tell her how stressed I was as well, and how scared I was for her, but only because of how precious she was to me.

Once we were able to take it down a notch, we often went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant near us to talk the rest out. It started one day after her dance class when she was still mad at me, but also hungry. So we went to the KFC across the parking lot from her dance studio, and ate and talked for a long time. The conversation went so well that we decided it would be “our place.” We went there often that year and the next, to talk through the hurts and frustrations.

Eventually, we didn’t need to go as often, and later, we actually made up “fights” just so we could go and be together and treat ourselves. We still tease about it.

If you’re in a tug-of-war with your teens, try writing to them for a change, and see how quickly the tone can change from one of blaming each other, to that of understanding. And I promise you, no matter how frustrated or sad or scared you are right now, one day soon you will be so proud of your emerging adults, you’ll be bursting.


Off the beaten path

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Yesterday I taught a class called “How to Write Your Family’s Story” at the Cary Senior Center. I did a book signing there in the fall and was invited back. It’s a beautiful facility and the people who run it are exceptionally friendly and helpful. They have such great classes that it almost makes me anxious to be a senior.


I had ten people in the class, and they were very interested in the topic. I like to do a show of hands when I teach to find out what the participants are looking for. To inject a little humor, I always ask things like, “How many of you have no idea what you’re doing?” It lightens the mood and helps me to relax. Like most of us, they admitted to having boxes and bins of family memorabilia, and almost no idea how to get started writing about their families.

I used a microphone so as not to strain my voice, since it was an hour-and-a-half class. I’ve done a fair amount of speaking over the years, but I don’t consider it my strong suit, and I rarely use a wireless microphone. Imagine my horror when I discovered that I had walked into the bathroom with it still clipped to me. I didn’t know how to work the volume on the clip-on part, and didn’t want to go back into the classroom and leave again, so I took it off and left it on the floor in the hallway just outside the bathroom. At least I figured it out in time.

I often mention how I get things I need by bartering, suggesting that the seniors might be able to offer some service in exchange for getting their manuscripts typed or edited. Afterwards an interesting gentleman came up to me and introduced himself. Donald said he was an artist, and offered me artwork, of any type or in any medium, in exchange for helping him through the self-publishing process. He said he and his wife were leaving to go up north for six months (they only live here half of the year), and he wanted me to see his work before they left next week. He called his wife and she said he could invite me over to see it. He suggested I follow him to their house, which was supposedly only two miles away.

I’m not even sure why I did it, except that I hadn’t eaten and wasn’t thinking straight. But when I got to his house and saw his wife, Wanda, I realized I had met her before, at the fall book signing. His artwork was amazing, and I imagined using it for a book cover in the future. Donald read one of the stories he had written about his early life, and it was good. He told me that he had been an art instructor, and that they had traveled the world.

By then I was starving, and Wanda fixed me a sandwich. Then their two adult daughters dropped by. Beautiful, personable professionals, they had stopped by on their lunch hour. They were very excited about the possibility of their dad writing his memoir and were happy that I was encouraging him. He was from Poland, and was one of 12 children. I’m one of eight, which I mentioned in my talk. They said they’d been asking him to write, and he’d done a little, but not much. I suggested that he record his stories on a cassette or digital recorder and have the girls type them for him.

The one daughter asked a lot about All on Account of You, so I got a copy from the car to show to her, and she bought it for her dad. They seemed like a wonderful family, and I felt happy to have inspired all of them to record their history, one way or the other. I left Donald with these words: “Put your bottom in the chair (and write).”

On the way home I had the fleeting thought that it was quite an expenditure of time and gas to sell one book. But I quickly realized that it was much more than a sale. I had made some new friends.

An interesting detour, indeed. Even more so when I told my hubby when he got home from work that I had gone to a strange man’s house to see his etchings.