Tuesday

The Backstory: How I Wrote my Novel

The advent of the financial crisis put me on an employment roller coaster. In the course of two years I was given two pink slips, had my hours cut (even though I was already part-time) moved to another department, moved back, and was finally given a new desk at my old job. I'd been back for a total of three months when an instant message flashed across my screen. My supervisor messaged me that my job would end in 30 days.

I did not fright. I wrote. I began to write a love story that had been rattling in my head for almost 20 years. During that 30 day period, I had amazing inspiration and energy. I would work all day come home for parenting duties and sit to write my novel. The words exploded and the pages filled quickly.

My job was ultimately saved and I was left with a draft of my first novel. It may have not been perfect, but I was proud. What I’ve now been told is that your first draft is the “vomit draft”. You throw everything into your story, then go back to re-arrange/delete and strengthen. In other words, when the first draft was complete, the real work began.

The librarian at my kids’ school introduced me to an editor who once worked at a publishing house in New York. I worked with that editor to form my story and help it into three acts. The process was fabulous and collaborative, but showed me that I had more work to do.

Between work, parenting and volunteering I’ve brought the novel to a place that I’m now ready to share with the world. Please enjoy Lovelost, it is available on both Amazon (yes, you can get it in paperback!) and Apple Books. If you read it and love it, please write a review. If not, than thank you for taking time to try a debut author.

I’m drafting of my second novel. To stay up to date on all my publishing news and follow my writing journey, please follow my Author Page on Amazon or Facebook.


Sunday

Flash Fiction: A Fish Fry*


They hoped the fish would be biting that day. They needed the fish to be biting that day, because it was Woody and Guila's annual fish fry; a feast that the family and all the neighbors within shouting distance counted on.

"Did you get to the bait shop?" Guila asked as Woody steered the pick-up down the dusty road alongside the river.

"Heck no. I's goin' to use the scrap from Ma's Sunday dinner," said Woody with a wink and wry smile as he kept the truck going straight.

"I don't remember eatin' worms for dinner Woodrow George." Guila shook her head and rolled down her window ignoring the dust cloud that billowed inside.

"Well, no we had a chicken dinner and I snuck out all the scrap. I put in it my pocket when Ma wasn't looking. It would have just gone to the dogs and swine, I had  a better idea...Bait!"

"Woody that is the strangest thing I've heard. Chicken and fish. How's that going to work?" Guila bit her lip and looked away.

"Oh it will work, Guila Marie, it will."

Woody turned toward the river. There was a break in the vegetation and the gleaming navy blue water begun to call for the day fishers. Woody pulled the truck to a stop on the shoulder of the road. He and Guila grabbed their fishing baskets and poles and walked toward a little known peninsula just before the ox bow.

Guila and Woody Stroope, circa 1940
The fish seemed to be jumping from the water waiting for their meal as Woody pulled a rumpled piece of foil with bits of chicken skin and discarded meat from his basket. The scrap had started to rot and a moist stench drifted into the air as the foil was peeled opened. He offered the bait to Guila. She pinched a bit of the meat and laced it on her hook saying, "I'm still not sure about this."

Woody ignored her comment. He knew that Guila was a better fisherman than any of his friends. She always fished without any intention of being good, which in turn made her great.

He watched as Guila cast the trusty red pole hard. The hook sank and the pole immediately started to pull and shake. Guila reeled in the line as Woody gently coached, "there you go, keep it coming." A strong colorful rainbow trout came in with the line. Woody took the fish off the hook and placed it on another line wading in the water. He then cast out and just as quickly was able to reel in a stunning rainbow trout. "See, I knew fish liked chicken." He called over his shoulder as he cast out his pole again.

This same easy catch happened over and over until the sun let them know it was time to stop. In all, Guila and Woody had caught 23 fish, more than enough for a fish fry.

As they drove home Guila mused. "We did well today Woody. It was almost as if the Lord had a hand in our day by the river. The trout just seemed too happy to come in."

"Or maybe it was the chicken." Woody laughed waving off Guila's glares. "Yee-haw! That Buck is never gonna believe all these fish were from one day. I've got a new secret and I ain't sharing."

"Don't be so ornery!" Guila scolded swatting the air toward her husband.

"Well, I know one thing, we've got to invite everyone we know over tonight, even the guys from the bait shop. It'll be a hoot!" Woody pounded the steering wheel in a sort of celebration.

"Let's make sure we get a picture of the catch before we prepare supper," Guila proposed.
"This may never happen again."

*This short piece on the fish fry was a writing exercise based upon the photo of my grandparents. There were many fish stories I was told growing up. I took bits and pieces and found a story in the photo.



Saturday

She Always Knew

She always knew how to do things. I got engaged and my family threw me a bridal shower. She took me aside and away from the judging eyes of our grandmother, gave me a tasteful piece of lingerie. To this day, it's the only lingerie I've received as a gift. She always knew.

I had a baby, she sent flowers from the best florist in town. How did she know it was the best florist when she lived 300 miles away? I didn't question it. She always knew.

She was a hair stylist, and from the ages of 15 to 25, she was the only one who touched my hair. It was only after I moved to another state that I allowed someone else to cut and style my auburn locks.  In those days when I sat in her chair, I marveled at her insight into people, politics and family dynamics. I hope she knew, she was the sage in our family.

Our grandfather died. She collected money from all the cousins and ordered a funeral spray. It was stunning. The ribbon across the giant bouquet read "Beloved Honey" (that's what we called him). It was a perfect tribute to our grandfather. She always knew how to do things.

She was in her 44th year, soon to turn 45. I received a shocking phone call. Michelle was in the hospital, her condition grave. She had collapsed at home and likely had had a heart attack. My family members nearby were rushing to be with her.

She taught us the importance of Dia de los Muertos in the years leading up to her death. She started coming up to Northern California to participate in our local community event. The year before she died she painted her brother and nephew's faces in the traditional skull and marched alongside them carrying candles. The next year she would be gone. 

Last year was the first Dia de los Muertos without Michelle. Our larger cousin clan gathered, painted our faces and marched for her, like she always knew we would.

Sunday

The Down Vest (my armor)

Fall is here and so is my vest. I love my vest. It's a thick black down vest with giant pockets.The pockets are so big I could fit a newborn or litter of kittens in each one. My mother wears a robe around the house, I wear a vest. It is not the fashionably fitted cute kind most moms wear. It's boxy, roomy and perfect.

Some days I sleep in it, other days I remove it prior to climbing into bed and hang the lofty friend off the bed post. It is my armor.

The vest was a Christmas present. In those first weeks of acquaintance, the vest mostly hung  in the closet. I was unsure where it fit into my life. Slowly, I started wearing it on short trips to the grocery store, then to volunteer at school. I decided the vest was a good thing. I did not have to carry a purse when I wore it. My wallet, phone, sunglasses and keys all fit with ease in the voluminous pockets. When I wear the vest, I can turn the thermostat down a few degrees. A box of tissues even fit into the pocket which is helpful during flu season. My daughter needs a rubber band for her ponytail, I probably have one in my pocket. The house phone rings, it's in my pocket. My cell phone buzzes, it's in the other pocket. My husband calls the vest my uniform.

I love the warmth the vest offers. Warmth is security. You never hear of someone who is hot and scared, it is always cold and scared. Being too hot indicates ill health. Being warm is perfect. Like the intuitive baby bear in the Goldie Locks fairy tale, warm is just right. I do not fight with my kids or husband when I wear my vest. It makes my home life easier.When I'm warm, all is right.

A couple of years ago my husband and I were invited to a Christmas party. At the end of the night the guests grabbed their jackets and coats and emerged into the cold winter night. We were the last to leave. I found the coat closet, picked up a lonely down vest and kissed the hosts good-bye.

As we drove home I noticed my vest felt a little bigger than usual. I let the thought pass as my husband drove on.

At home I walked straight to our room. I removed my vest to sling it over the bedpost and suddenly stopped. There was already a vest hanging on the bedpost. I picked up both vests and compared the labels. They were the same brand and color, but different sizes. Obviously I had grabbed the vest by mistake (and oddly had forgotten I didn't wear the vest to the party in the first place).

I e-mailed the hosts to alert them about the wayward vest. No reply. I saw the hosts again for New Year's Eve and I mentioned the vest. They said nobody had claimed the orphaned vest. The conversation ended.

I now own two vests. They keep each other company on the bed post on those days and moments when I am vest free. Perhaps the universe knew I needed the armor and sent a back-up.

Tuesday

FLASH FICTION: The Lead



The review of Desert Cabaret in the morning paper was a sign that I had landed. I was home. I slowly read the words, which filled me with pride: “The lead stole the show, his sparkle lit the night."


Desert Cabaret is now showing in ‘the biggest little city in the world'; Reno. I moved here because I answered a call. I grew up in Chester, a small town in the Sierra Nevadas. I never fit in at school and besides mom, my only ‘friends’ were the school nurse and an English teacher from freshman year.


The day after high school graduation my mom found me lying in bed. I was depressed and staring through the window without much thought; my leg was hurting more than usual.
“You should try Reno,” she said. Mom knew I would never be happy in Chester. The smart kids were off to college and the stout ones had jobs in the lumber mills; I was neither of these.

I rolled over, “Why Reno?”

She bounced out and came back to my room with a crisp newspaper. “Look at this terrific ad,” she chirped, “it’s asking for ‘actors of every make’, that’s you.”

A new casino had taken out a full-page color ad in the local paper. The newest card house was to focus on ‘Vegas style shows’. The call asked for everything from actors and singers to comedians and dancers. I sat up straight and read the entire ad; trying Reno seemed plausible.

Throughout high school, mom had always urged me to audition for all school plays. The lead was never mine, however and I blamed it on my limp. I was cast in endless minor roles: the keystone cop, the odd-uncle, the little brother. They were small parts, but I always transformed them into memorable moments on-stage-- small moments that made us both proud.

Mom drove me to Reno to audition. I could not drive, because we did not yet have a car fit for my leg. When we reached the city, she pulled off the freeway and into a sea of crawling cars. The slow traffic and ticking clock required me to walk the last few blocks to the casino. I emerged from the car at the nearest curb and like a tumbleweed, walked with gusts of wind toward my destination. As I neared the entrance, I felt suddenly at home and began to walk a little straighter. Young men and women gathered on the sidewalk leading toward the entryway. I saw many familiar faces, but yet none known. 
I dazzled on stage and found the lead. Did the director notice my limp? I wondered just once. 
Reno is now my home. My first floor apartment is where I sleep and eat and the casino theater is my living room. I re-read the review as I pulled on my knee-sleeve and prepared my leg for the day. I didn’t need to send the article to my mom, she knew without reading that I was in the right place. Reno called and she helped me answer.