Writing Update

Monday writing update:

Week of August 23: 10 pages + one freelance article three pages long

It’s kind of nice to mix a little journalistic writing in with the purely creative. Reminds me to work through a logical sequence, to structure my writing around key points and to be aware of the flow–beginning, middle, end. Creative writing can sometimes take off in odd directions that really aren’t going to help me get where I need to go. I try to catch those early so I don’t have to toss too much. It’s always a little discouraging for me to have to delete those hard-won pages.

Up and Doing

On page 2 of my copy of Longfellow’s Poems, copyrighted 1883 and presented to Carlotta Ratts on Christmas 1886, is the poem “A Psalm of Life.” I love to “adopt” used books. And if they are particularly beautiful books that have been around for more than 100 years, all the better! Longfellow’s Poems, Household Edition has a faded rose and burgundy cover with the title in a gold box. There is also a butterfly on a thistle centerd on the cover  in a gold medallion. Art Nouveau daises fill the background. It’s a lovely thing, this book. And it has lovely things printed in it. “A Psalm of Life” reminds me that waiting is no excuse for not being “up and doing,” in the meantime. I hope Carlotta enjoyed this book half as much as I do.


                    SAID TO THE PSALMIST

    TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream ! —
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem.

    Life is real !   Life is earnest!
        And the grave is not its goal ;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
        Was not spoken of the soul.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
        Is our destined end or way ;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
        Find us farther than to-day.

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

    In the world’s broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

    Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o’erhead !

    Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time ;

    Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate ;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


So, I’m afraid of heights. What I consider a healthy, normal fear. And I agreed to do a freelance article about Navitat–an organization that sends people flying through the treetops on a zipline. I was down for it, too, until I saw the photos of the 1200 line that’s 200 feet in the air.

Why did I agree to this? Oh, heck, I don’t know. But fortunately, I am wily and tenacious and have always thought that discretion is the better part of valor. So I did the first two of ten zips and then made a discrete exit down a foot bridge and back to the main office where I could interview the other crazy, I mean adventurous, people heading out.

I had expected to find the zippers to be thrill-seeking sorts, but they were housewives, businessmen, retirees, students and get this–grandparents. Patty Jane was zipping at 64 along with several of her girlfriends and not one chickened out.

So how did I like it? Well, it was fun, but unlike Patty Jane who said she couldn’t wait to do it again, my two zips will do me. I had a blast flying through the trees, but as soon as my feet hit the platform I was perfectly content to be unclipped and returned to earth. I guess I’m a feet-on-the-ground kind of girl. If I want to find a thrill in the forest I’ll wait for just the right week in April to go hunting for pink lady slippers or watch the woods behind our house for the inevitable parade of black bears.

If you aren’t TOO afraid of heights, though, Navitat is an exceptional way to see a slice of Appalachia. http://navitat.com/


I was closing the bathroom window this morning when a great blue heron swooped down, flew past the window and came to stand in our backyard. What are the chances that a heron would be landing outside my window just as I was closing it? Miraculous things happen all the time . . . what are you missing out on?

Ezekial 12:2 – 2 “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”

Answer #1 . . .

Is a no. I was invited to send proposals to editor’s at two publishing houses. After two weeks and one day I got my first answer. “I think your idea has merit, but your writing needs to be strengthened.” She then recommended some freelance editors who could help me shape up the manuscript. Okay, deep breath.

Gut reaction? This woman, who has decades of experience and thousands of sucess stories, obviously doesn’t know strong writing when she sees it (although she is able to recognize a good idea).

Reaction after gut reaction wears off. Crap, I obviously can’t write and I’m kidding myself when I think my book could actually be published. This brilliant woman is letting me down easy and she’s probably just being nice when she says my idea has merit.

Reaction after being hugged by my husband and getting a good night’s sleep. A professional in the Christian publishing field–who’s opinion is subjective–thinks my idea is good and my book is worth working on.

I replied to the editor thanking her for her time and advice and saying that I’ll explore the editor route. She replied with a “Good for you!” That was nice, actually.

Next step? Well, I may look into what it costs to hire an editor. But before I do anything further with my manuscript, I’ll WAIT to hear from editor number two. Opinions are subjective and what I’ve learned about the current publishing industry is that it’s getting harder by the day to get a book into print. There are more people writing and fewer people buying books. The industry is in flux right now with technology changing even the way we read books. Self-publishing is on the rise with ebooks, print on demand and vanity houses. Result? Even a good idea with strong writing is going to have a tough time making it.

Upshot? I’ve just had a little dose of reality, but I feel the optimist in me rising to the surface. Maybe I should beat her down a little, but I like being optimistic. And as a Christian I know how everything comes out in the end, so I’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride–the peaks and the valleys. Let the waiting continue.

Phillipians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Waiting Suddenly Seems Easier For Me . . .

There are 33 men trapped nearly half a mile under ground in Chile. They’ve already been there well over two weeks and will likely be there for several months longer, waiting to be rescued. While they have room to move around, the temperature is 90+ degrees. This is going to be a long wait not only for them, but for their families.

My wait? Not long at all.


Publication isn’t the only thing I’m waiting for. I’m also waiting eagerly for fall after a particularly hot, sticky summer. Yesterday evening the humidity finally gave way and I took a most pleasant walk along our road. The great thing about waiting is that there’s usually plenty to see and do while you wait. As I walked, I noticed sure signs that fall is on its way.

Joe Pye Weed has been blooming for a while now, but the Ironweed is also beginning to put out rich, purple flowers. Virgin’s Bower–a wild clematis that’s probably invasive–is draping fence lines in delicate white flowers. The dogwood trees have just a hint of deep red to their leaves and here and there on the ground I saw a yellow or orange leaf that’s taken the leap a little early. Fall is coming.

The advantage fall has over publication, is that I’m pretty certain of fall. Publication? Well, we’ll see. Maybe by next fall . . .

James 5:7-8 ” Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Mountain Mama

This poem of mine appeared in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.


There is truth in the trailer park
and honesty in the car on blocks.

Starvin’ Marvin and “as seen on TV”
live cheek by jowl with the likes
of handmade quilts and apple butter;
old-time music and the oral tradition.
Some folks say it isn’t True,
isn’t the way things used to be.
But lose a grandfather to the coalmines,
an uncle to the war, your mother
to a cancer that gnaws at her soul—
lose a child for no reason you can see.
Then you’ll find the fragile beauty
in the never-ending yard sale.
You’ll learn to love the tourists
who buy corncob pipes, coonskin caps,
and lumps of coal carved like bears.

When the giant timber companies
run the local sawmill out of money
and Aunt Eunice can’t remember your name—
when your best friend moves to California
and minimum wage is doing alright, man.
Then you’ll find the potent wisdom
in workers’ compensation, food stamps
and tonight’s lotto number—
dear God let me win.
A one in a billion chance is better
than watching the land your ancestors
cleared wash away . .  . no wish away
on the promises of strip mines
and a future you can’t afford to wait.

At night, the lights from Wal-Mart glow
like the promise of a better tomorrow.

Likeable Characters

Have you ever read a book and realized that you just didn’t like the main character? I recently read “Gods in Alabama” by Joshilyn Jackson and I appreciated her ability, her craft and her style, but I did not like Lena. And although I found her boyfriend Burr likeable, it annoyed me that he put up with Lena’s nonsense. The story was great–a mystery that unraveled slowly and unexpectedly even though, at one point, I thought I had it all figured out. I finished the book, but I’m not sure I’ll read the two that follow it.

On the other hand, it can sometimes be delcious to not like a character. In Ron Rash’s novel “Serena” the title character is awful–but spectacularly, wonderfully so. I wanted to see her punished, but her awfulness was thrilling to me. I could hardly put the book down because I couldn’t wait to see what unbelievable thing she would do next. I liked how unlikeable Serena was.

Q4U – Have you ever stopped reading a book because you didn’t like or care about the characters? Have you finished a book in spite of not liking the characters? How important are likeable characters to you?

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