I keep reading that the publishing industry has changed. That now it's about more than a good story, well told. It's about websites, and traffic, and page views and SEO. And while I can understand that ... I mean publishing is a business and people want to make money on every level ... it still makes me sad.
Would I love to one day be able to support myself with writing. AB-SO-LUTELY. I mean that's the dream, but it's not why I do this.
Before I started writing, I would hear or read other writers saying how their characters had a life of their own and how they wrote because they had to.
It never resonated with me. I couldn't understand that feeling of creating something with a life of its own like that. And then, I started writing. And boy, do I understand now.
A friend gave me a copy of Anne Lamott's book "Bird by Bird". It's a slim little volume of her thoughts on writing. She's pretty damn good at it so I think her thoughts are worth a look. My takeaway from the book (and I paraphrase) is this: You'll never get published. You'll never make any money. So you better be doing this because you love it.
I may die with eight unpublished novels. That's not the plan, but if that's the outcome, I'm cool with it because it will be eight novels I'm proud of and that I wrote out of love.
But all the talk of social media and fan base, blah blah blah inspired me to dust off this blog and make a serious effort to keep it alive. I've also published a new domain (an @london domain because I'm a shameless anglophile) so I hope to have another website in the not-so-distant future.
But to catch you up in case you're interested:
My first book Crazy Quilt ... still love it ... still querying.
I've had 15 rejections and some of them included very positive feedback. Just cause, I emailed one of my favorite writers, Jodie Picoult, a couple of months ago, because I heard she was good at emailing back. She told me she had 100 rejections. She's a best selling author now so I figure I owe that little southern novel of mine at least the opportunity to get 100 rejections. If nothing comes of that, I'll self-publish on amazon and see how that goes.
My second book is more of a straight romance ... based on a relationship I had with a man in London about 30 years ago, but it's in a holding pattern for now.
Two years ago I met my dear friend Lisa in her hometown of Dublin, Ireland. Over dinner I told her about my idea for new book. "Stop whatever you're working on and write that book now," she told me. And that's what I did. I'm very proud of it and I did freelance jobs and saved my money for a year so I could hire an editor in New York to help me polish the manuscript. The editor was a literary agent for fifteen years before striking out on her own, so I think that's a valuable perspective to have. I'm sure I'll have my work cut out for me when she sends it back but I'm excited to make it the best it can be and start the querying process on that book.
At the moment, I'm working on a book with a co-writer. He's extremely talented and a friend I met on authonomy.com, which if you've been following me you know I had my first book on that site for over a year and got great feedback. Sadly, Harper Collins shut the website down, but the valued friendships I made (Lisa, Mark and CoeDee) remain. The book is a bit "Me Before You", but not ... and with a happier ending. Writing with someone else slows the process but it's moving along. I'd say we're halfway done then can start the rewrites and editing.
I'm anxious to finish this collaboration because there is a book burning a hole in my head and I had to put it on the back burner to co-write the current manuscript. I have tons of research to do for the next book (on flowers of all things!! Not my strong suit) but I've already ordered two massive books to study. Just as a tease, when my grandmother was a little girl, her mom left her and her sister (my great aunt) in the old Watson's Pharmacy in Decatur (it was across the street from the train depot when I was growing up) while she ran off to Baltimore with another man. She knew their father would come get them but it was a scandal nonetheless, and the girls got their photos in the newspaper. Anyway, the book will be about much more than that, but that is the genesis.
I appreciate you taking the time to visit and I promise to check in on a more regular basis. This ... this writing thing ... has proven to be a great joy in this next chapter of my life. For snickers, here is a short, short story I did for my writer's group that tells a fictionalized version of my grandmother and great aunt's story at the soda fountain at Watson's Pharmacy.
“What flavor do you want?” Carolyn Reynolds asked. She is a year behind me at school and has been working at the Watson’s pharmacy soda fountain for nearly three months. She was pretty in the same as most of the girls at Winnona High—fresh-faced and blonde. Me? I had the dark hair and eyes of my mother.
Watson’s has a dozen flavors of ice cream at any one time, and this will be my 144th free ice cream cone. That’s a cone a month, every year, for twelve years. There is only one other person I know who gets free ice cream, and that’s my younger sister, Bea. She still has another dozen to go, but today I turned eighteen and so the ice cream gravy train is coming to a halt. How we came to get a free cone a week, well, that’s some story.
Seems people will feel sorry for you if your mama leaves you sitting at a soda fountain and runs off with a shoe salesman from Baltimore. Hell, you’ll even get your photo on the front of the newspaper.
My mother was pretty smart, though. She planned it all out, nice and neat.
The sun was already beating down on our desert of a front yard when Mama flung open our bedroom curtains and told us to wake on up. Nothing grew in our sorry excuse for a garden, but that didn’t stop our mother from trying. She’d buy geraniums and pansies on sale and plant them by the front walk. And when they died, she just dug them up and planted more. Daddy considered it a waste of money, but at some point he gave up fussing about it.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes and then looked at the clock.
“Dagnabbit, Mama! I’m late for school,” I hollered.
“You know I don’t like you talking like that,” she said, raising her hand like she was going to swat my leg. Then, for some reason, she seemed to change her mind.
“You’re not going to school today. We’re going to have a special mother/daughter day.”
“Mother daughter day?” I asked, looking over at my little sister. I don’t know why Bea was grinning like a fool. She’s not in school yet so every day is a mother/daughter day for her. “Have we ever had one of those before?”
“For the love of Pete, Delores. Stop acting like you just came down from the planet Mars. Of course, we have. Any time we do something, just the three of us, why that’s a mother/daughter day.” I nodded, the explanation making sense and besides I wasn’t about to argue, not if this meant a day off from school.
There were new dresses laid out for us to wear. Our mother liked to dress us like twins, even though I was 357 days older than my sister Beatrice. It’s a bona fide fact. You can check my birth certificate.
The dresses were identical in style, just not in the details. Mine was pale blue, and Bea’s was yellow. They both had the same puffed sleeves and smocking across the front, though mine had tiny berries decorating the bodice, and Bea had cherries dancing across the front of hers. There were new white socks with lace trim, and our patent leather shoes had not a scuff mark on them.
“So what are we doing today, mama?” I asked as she tied a bow at the back of my dress.
“It’s a surprise. We’re going to take the bus so we need to get a move on.”
Bea was whining that she was hungry but Mama told her to be patient. We were all going to have ice cream for breakfast. Ice cream for breakfast? I could barely contain myself. Bea saw me grinning and, figuring it was okay, she started to giggle.
Mama had on a pretty green plaid dress and pumps. She slipped white cotton gloves on her hands before grabbing a suitcase that was by the front door.
“What do you have a suitcase for, Mama?” I asked. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Well, aren’t you just full of questions, Delores Jean. I told you we’re going to have a mother/daughter day. I’m taking some old clothes to a thrift store that’s down the way. Just a quick errand.”
Mama locked the front door and took Bea’s hand. “Take your sister’s other hand, Delores. Stay together and don’t dawdle.”
The bus stop was three blocks from our house. I tell you, I felt like we were pretty on parade walking down that sidewalk. The sun was already starting to make me warm and thank goodness there was a big oak tree by the bus stop so we had some shade to stand in. Mama kept looking at her watch and tapping her foot, and then she’d look over at me and Bea and smile and tell us to quit hunching over.
A few minutes later the bus pulled next to the curb, spewing smoke and hot air. Bea climbed up first and, with her short legs, she was slow as Christmas, of course.
We smooshed in three to the seat, being as we were little. The ride took about fifteen minutes and the whole time Mama kept smoothing our hair and giving us kisses. It was nice.
The bus deposited us right in front of the courthouse in the town square. Mama and I grabbed Bea’s hands again and we crossed the street. I knew just where we were ‘cause we come here once a month so Mama can get her hair done. She brings crayons and coloring books to keep busy and if we behave, when she’s ready for the dryer, she gives us each a quarter and sends us next door to Watson’s pharmacy. Ice cream for breakfast!
Mama opened the door and a little bell signaled our arrival. She told us to go on over to the soda fountain — she was just going to buy a magazine. We walked up to the counter and pressed our noses against the glass case. Bea had to stand on tippy toe.
The glass was cool and my warm breath caused it to fog up. I don’t even know why Bea is looking. She always gets chocolate. She’s going to get it all over her new dress and Mama is gonna have a hissy fit. Guaranteed.
I’m the same way though, ‘cept I always get vanilla. Sometimes I’ll ask for sprinkles, but most times I like it plain. Here in south Georgia, we don’t get snow and I always thought vanilla ice cream must be how snow tastes.
“My Mama will be here in a minute,” I said to the lady behind the counter, after we ordered. “She’ll pay you.” She wasn’t the same one that was here on Saturdays when Mama got her hair fixed. That lady was Terri. She was pretty and blonde and looked like a schoolteacher. This lady was short and round with pink cheeks.
“No problem,” said the lady. “And what’s your name?” she asked, looking at my little sister.
“Bea,” she said.
“Is that really her name?” the lady asked me, “or does she just know the first letter?”
“Nope, that’s really her name,” I said. “Short for Beatrice.”
“And what’s your name, honey?” she asked me.
“Delores,” I said. “It’s not short for anything.”
Just then Mama came around the other side of the cough medicine display. She put her suitcase down and placed her magazine face up on the counter. Reaching for Bea, she picked her up and plopped her on a stool, while I scrambled for a seat on my own.
“No spinning,” she said, pointing her finger at me. “I don’t want you getting dizzy and throwing up, now.”
“Here’s a dollar,” my Mama told the lady. “You can keep the change. My girls are well behaved, so I’m just going to leave them here to have their treat, while I run down to the corner for a minute.”
“Sure thing,” said the lady, handing my sister her cone. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”
“It’s not a treat. It’s our breakfast,” Bea told the lady.
Mama took Bea’s face in her hands and kissed the top of her head, then did the same to me. “I love you girls. Don’t you ever forget that.”
“We love you, too, Mama,” I said. Bea was too busy licking the ice cream that was running down her arm to talk. “Hurry back so you can get your cone.”
I heard the tinkling of the bell and knew she’d gone out the door. If she’s just going to the corner, she ought to be back before I’m finished with my ice cream. For sure, she’ll be back before that slowpoke sister of mine is done.
When I was nearly down to the end of my cone, I bit the bottom off so I could get the last bit of melted snow. The nice lady got a rag and tried to get the chocolate off Bea’s hands. The front of her dress was a lost cause as I had predicted.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I started spinning in my chair because I was restless and Mama should have been back by now.
“How long you reckon it’s been since my Mama left,” I asked the lady.
She glanced at her watch. “I don’t know. Twenty minutes, maybe.
“Does it take long to drop off clothes at the thrift store?”
“Thrift store?” the lady repeated back to me.
“Yes, ma’am. The one down at the corner.”
The lady smiled at me and wiped off the counter even though it was already clean.
“You girls be good. I’ll be right back.”
I watched as she walked around the counter and over to the back of the store where Dr. Watson was doing all his stuff with pills and what not.
He looked over our way, then he called his assistant over and that fella started doing whatever it was Dr. Watson had been doing. Then I saw Dr. Watson come out from his special place.
He walked, head down, to the front of the store, and though I couldn’t see him anymore I heard the bell tinkle, so I reckoned he had gone outside. A few minutes later, it tinkled again and then I spotted him. He walked up to Bea and me, took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“What’s that?” Dr. Watson asked, pointing at the counter, and for the first time I noticed a corner of white peeking out from under the Good Housekeeping magazine.
“It’s my mama’s,” I said. “She already paid for it.”
He reached over and pulled on the triangle. He opened the piece of paper and I watched as his eyes scanned it, left to right.
“You girls stay right here,” he said, his face full of seriousness.
While Bea and I sat there bored out of our brains and kicking our heels against the stools, apparently there was a lot was going on we didn’t know about. First the police showed up, then a newspaper fella with a camera showed up. Finally my daddy showed up, and he was none too happy, I’ll tell you that.
You’ve probably guessed by now, those weren’t old clothes in my mother’s suitcase. And there was no thrift store down on the corner — only a taxicab waiting to take her and the shoe salesman to the train station, and then a train there to take them to Baltimore.
All in all, mama leaving was quite the scandal. Well, outside of our house, anyway. When it hit me that mama wasn’t coming back, panic set in. Then sadness, and finally anger. My mother’s name was never mentioned again. My daddy got colder and he remarried a woman even colder than he was. His only concession to our childhood was to take us to Watson’s once a month for ice cream. Looking back, I think it helped him keep his hate for my mother alive. At least until he died.
But somehow I survived the next dozen years. Bea can make it another year or two. When I get settled and after she gets her last free cone, I’ll come back for her.
“What’s the most exotic flavor you got there?” I asked Carolyn.
“Exotic?” she replied, scrunching her nose up like she smelled something funny. “I dunno. Spumoni, I reckon.”
I liked the sound of that.
“One scoop of spumoni then.”
I opened my purse and dug through the bills, looking for change. I knew it was my last free cone day, but still I got out 65 cents and put it on the counter.
“I think I’d like to pay for this one,” I told Carolyn.
The telltale budge of my wallet spoke to the amount of cash inside. My savings from three summers of babysitting was enough for a train ticket to Baltimore with a bit to spare.
I took my cone, picked up my suitcase and walked out of Watson’s pharmacy for the last time.
I heard they have snow in Baltimore.