A good friend, teacher and mentor of mine who I’ve mentioned before, Jeffrey S. Hillard, has just published the e-book Story’s Triumph: Mining your creative writing for its deepest riches. I know many of you are writers as well as readers and bloggers.
Get this book.
Beginning tomorrow for two or three days, it will be free from Amazon on Kindle. It’s a short little book on writing that contains several gold nuggets of ideas to spark your creativity, and exercises to prompt you to practice. I read it in less than an hour, but intend to go back to it and use the exercises over and over again. I know Jeff personally. I know how talented he is. If you read this book, you will see for yourself how intuitive, insightful, and supportive he is.
Here is the review I just left on Amazon.com:
Finally—poet, author, and educator Jeffrey Hillard puts his experience, skill, and enthusiasm for writing down on paper for our benefit. In Story’s Triumph, the first in a planned Write-Up series, Hillard encourages us to take our writing, and creativity, to the next step. By sharing a few simple concepts like the use of details and recycling our mistakes, Hillard explores and explains techniques some of our most favored and successful writers have employed to bring the word on the page to life.
This short and entertaining book contains unique and fun exercises after each topic to encourage writers to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations and sharpen the impact of our writing.
One of my favorite lines from the book is “Your imagination can work wonders with things that you can’t yet fully envision.”
Hillard “gets it.” He understands the written word, the writing process, and the writer. His book is informative, encouraging, and will make you see your writing and its possibilities in a new light. His enthusiasm is contagious.
Story’s Triumph is a book to read slowly, practice with, and then keep close-by to re-read again and again.
I’m looking forward to the next book in Hillard’s Write-Up series.
I had to pay a lot of money to tap into Jeff’s writing experience and wisdom through college-level courses I took from him at the College of Mount St. Joseph. I bet you will find at least one idea in Story’s Triumph that will not only cause you to see your work-in-progress in a new light, but that will help you to improve it.
And hey. It’s free.
Since Mom and Dad died in January I have undergone a lot of confusion and soul-searching about life—from large general philosophical questions like “What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” to small particular practical questions like “What do I do with my Wednesdays now?”
The event of Mom and Dad’s death, and I call it a singular event because that’s how it feels to me, has been, and continues to be, a transformational one.
I know my life and times are changing, but I can’t always articulate exactly how.
Today one thing became clear.
I’m refocusing this blog and the title of it on Random Thoughts from Midlife. I had switched the main title of my blog to my name from advice I got online while trying to figure out how best to market my book. I’m heading back to my original inspiration and letting my other blog-website (such as it is, a mere stagnant skeleton waiting for me to return) bear the burden of my name.
I first started this blog in January of 2011. On my “About” page I wrote:
“I have a father with Alzheimer’s, and a mother who is trying desperately hard to take care of him. I have two living sisters and one brother. We lost my younger sister Annie to cancer in August of 2009. She was permanently and severely disabled at birth. We loved her dearly.”
That’s what it still says today. It’s just one more thing about my life that needs to be updated now that Mom and Dad are gone.
I started my blog because I wrote Annie’s book. That’s the simple truth. I wrote a book and I was trying to figure out what to do with it. The online research I did continued to talk about how I needed to have a platform—a completely foreign concept to me at the time.
I knew a blog could be an important building block of the elusive “platform” so I thought about what I might possibly blog about. Several years prior to this I had the notion of writing a magazine with stories and photographs called Random Thoughts from Midlife. I went so far as to jot the title down on a scrap of paper and stuff it in a drawer. The fate of many of my ideas.
Forgive me if I’m rambling. I know some of you will stick through this to the end with me and others won’t. It’s something I need to do regardless. Thank you if you’re staying.
Since Mom and Dad died, writing has been one of the larger questions I’ve grappled with. Maybe I don’t need or want to do it anymore, I’d think. What am I doing with my blog? Does it need a more specific direction? Should I give it up altogether?
It really all boiled down to What do I want to do now? Some of my lack of direction came from the empty nest feelings that I directly transferred to the care of my parents. Dad had Alzheimer’s. Annie died in August. My youngest left for college in September. It was an easy shift to let the care of my parents fill the hole left behind by my children.
When I was in college, the second time, earning my English degree, I took every course in Women’s Studies that was available to me. Several of these courses used journal-type writings from women—not famous literature, just simple accounts of their lives. The slave narratives I studied in several courses were a similar inspiration to me. Just simple people, perhaps living complicated lives, who chose to tell or write about what they went through. I saw these stories as a gift to the rest of us who might now be able to see more clearly, understand more deeply.
In my view, and you might not agree, midlife is a time period that is undervalued by society at large. As we head out to pastures no one is interested in what we’re doing anymore. They’re all watching the three-year-old thoroughbred races.
I also think that technology has somehow undermined the perceived value of the experience of our more mature members of society. Who needs to ask Grandma how to make a pie crust when you can Google it and get expert advice from 4 or 5 individuals with their own television shows?
I think midlife is a fascinating time of life with many of life’s largest issues at the forefront. I think all of our lives are important even if our faces are not on Hollywood’s big screens or we aren’t a star athlete or the head of a major corporation. We all count. I believe that some of the greatest wisdom can be found in what society may consider the least of us. I am grateful for the technology, that on the one hand threatens to devalue us, yet gives us the opportunity to speak and have others hear our voice.
Some of the topics I’ve written about on this blog include:
Being a grandparent
Physical problems of aging
Hobbies like photography, gardening, and genealogy
Taking care of aging parents
Losing a parent
Long-term love of a spouse
Many of these are common things that those of us, in the middle of our lives, are concerned about, value, and live with.
I think my original idea was a good one.
Welcome back Random Thoughts.
If you’re a blogger, I’d love to hear why you started your blog, why you continue, and what you try to do with it.
If you’re not a blogger, thanks for reading my blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post.
I’m finding it hard to write. My mind is so full of things it wants to say that it has created a logjam like the drainage stones I sometimes put in the bottom of a pot for a plant, the pressure of one against the others keeps them all captive and unable to slip through the hole.
So I make attempts to organize the information:
Letters to my mother—
Why did you have to leave when I wasn’t ready for you to go? Why was there so little time at the end, and that taken up by the necessities of life drawing down to an end like the last stingy trickle of shampoo squeezed from a bottle held upside down? I wish I would have known thirty years ago what I know today and then maybe I would have taken the time to really know who you were.
Observations on how the world has shifted, and why nothing seems the same.
Deliberations on what to do next to find meaning in what often feels like a purposeless life.
I could do a whole study on “things.”
Why do we have so many things? How can we just exit and leave everything behind? Should I begin to get rid of my prized possessions now so that my children won’t have to make heart-wrenching decisions as to whether my books get sold, donated, or stored in a box in someone’s basement? And is someone walking around today in my mother’s green spring sweater? So many things. We buy because we think we need. We keep in case someday we might need. Or someone gave to us because they thought we needed or would like to have. Poof. We exit. And yet every thing that we kept, bought, were given, held dear, or merely tolerated, is left sitting on its shelf, in a cabinet, or in a drawer. Unclaimed freight.
Why do the things we leave behind plague me so?
Contemplations on the age-old question, what is it all about?
My world has shifted and my mind is full, yet I remain largely speechless.
But the crimson on the wing of the blackbird shines red in the sun to me. Still.
Reposted from ChristineMGrote-author.
One year ago tomorrow Dancing in Heaven-a sister’s memoir appeared for sale on Amazon.com. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me on this journey. I’d especially like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the book for me. This has been a big help. You can find links to these reviews at my Dancing in Heaven page.
As I was looking back over my posts regarding my memoir and self-publishing, I came across the following:
“I know I need to write her story, but I am afraid I have waited too long and won’t be able to remember it clearly. I am afraid it is too soon and I will remember it too well.” October 5, 2009 – from Dancing in Heaven
I remember very clearly writing this in the middle of the night at our old house with Arthur, who was just a puppy then, at my feet, three years ago, almost exactly two years before I published the finished story.
Isn’t it funny that it all started at this same time of year?
I had a finished draft a year later in November of 2010 and started deliberating about what I should do with it. I’m not going to drag you through all that again, but if you missed it, you can find all my posts about Self-Publishing here. By June of 2011 I had decided to go forward with self-publishing and with a lot of help from my graphic designer daughter, had a proof copy in my hands before the end of September. I did a little video of that thrill to share with you in case you missed it. That was a high point of the journey.
After a few rounds of proof copies and edits, Dancing in Heaven went up on Amazon.com, and other sites as well, October 7, 2011. I was actually visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson when that happened. I had prepared some excerpt posts in advance to be able to blog from St. Louis. For some of these I taped myself reading the excerpt as I sat out on our screened in porch where I sit as I type to you today.
Over the past year book sales have done little more than trickle in. I’ve sold almost or only (however you choose to see it) about 300 books to date. And I owe a nice portion of that to three individuals: my good friend, teacher, and mentor, Jeff Hillard who has made Dancing in Heaven one of the required books for his Cincinnati Authors’ class two years running; a good friend and high school classmate Nancy Henry Chadwick who chose it for her book club’s selection and hosted a book discussion; and Teresa Hutson Simmons, also a friend and classmate as well as the librarian at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, who shared the book with her colleagues and invited me to speak to students. Friends and bloggers who wrote reviews, interviewed me, or allowed me to guest blog also were very helpful in promoting the book. Again, links to these can be found at my Dancing in Heaven page.
At first I had a pretty good idea who was buying my book. Now when the sales trickle in, I always wonder. Who is it? Where did they hear about it? I sold one book recently in the UK — my first book sold out of this country. Is that one of you out there reading my blog? I’m happy that Dancing in Heaven has made its way into the right niche market at Amazon.com judging by what recommendations come up when I search for it.
I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve given away over the past year, but if I were guessing I’d say in the neighborhood of 50 — not all that many, but a fairly high percentage of those that I sold. I’ve debated doing mass giveaways, one of the Indie tactics to generate publicity and sales, but I’m not convinced that it will actually result in readers of the book. If anybody asks me for a book, I gladly will give them a digital copy. If someone offers to do a review, I send them a print version if they’d like. Many people have told me they’ve shared the book with someone else, so it’s hard to know how many people have actually read it. But I think 350 is a good, yet conservative, number. And I really don’t think that is bad.
Early out I made efforts to get reviews, to get involved with Indie organizations and support groups, and to try to promote my book. I quickly became disenchanted with what I saw as the Indie rat race, and soon stopped overt efforts. I know that my sales would be much better if I would promote the book with any regularity, energy, and enthusiasm. I just don’t want to spend my time doing that. I still occasionally make a lame effort or two at promotion, but mostly I have removed myself from that arena and will allow Dancing in Heaven to sink or swim on its own.
Would I do it again and self-publish another book?
I’ve thought about this a long time, and I believe I would. In fact, I probably will, if I ever finish my father’s story.
Would I show it to someone from a major publishing house if they came to me and asked to see my manuscript? Duh.
Will I spend a lot of time generating book proposals and summaries and query letters and wait perhaps years to try to get my next book accepted by an agent and then published? Not likely.
Will I do anything differently the next time? I will probably make every effort to keep my costs as low as possible. But I still will pay for good editing and cover/book design.
As disenchanted as I’ve been with trying to rise above the clamor and market a self-published book, I’m even more disenchanted with the notion of having to get that opening paragraph of a query letter so perfect that it will knock the socks off the agent who is buried beneath a pile of them. Did that agent have enough coffee that morning? Is she in a good mood when she opens my envelope? Was mine the last one to be opened at the end of a very long day? I just can’t deal with that kind of stress and dependence on luck and timing.
If I were a famous personality would I try to get an agent? You betcha.
Do I hope the world of self-publishing figures out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course. (Assuming my book/s fall into the category of wheat.)
Am I glad 350 people have read my sister Annie’s story? Absolutely. It’s made it all worth while to me.
I hope you’ll enjoy this from the archives of my school days, written November 1, 2001
You came out crying, screaming really. You embraced the air and the world and announced your indignation with all the force your tiny body could muster. I heard you before I saw you, before I held you. It was a sign of things to come.
When you were first born I immediately looked for evidence of myself in you. On the delivery table I held your little hand and saw that it was truly a miniature of mine. I was so thrilled to see this part of me in you—to recognize myself in one of what I considered your most important features, —your hands. I think some of our turbulence may have come from this need of mine to see myself in you. It started from day one.
Over the years I have kept a journal of memories for you, filling it mostly with trivia of the times—but also with glimpses into our turbulent relationship at the start. When you were only 2 years old, I was already writing about struggles to come when I noted, “You try to exercise much control and influence over the people and events around you.”
August 16th, 1989
Last night you woke up in the middle of the night. When I put you back in bed, I left the light on and gave you about 6 books in your crib. I could hear them hitting the floor one-by-one as I left your room. You threw them out in your rage.
December 16, 1989
Anna, Anna, Anna, you are truly a challenge. We must come to terms with ‘dressing’—who is going to do it, what you will wear, and when……. I do think that your strong will will serve you well later in life—if we can just get through it together. I love you.
January 24, 1992
You are really a good girl but I think I misunderstand you sometimes. I yell at you for pushing the baby, or picking him up, but I know you’re usually just trying to help. And many times you really are a big help. You get irate with me when you feel I’ve reprimanded you unjustly. I guess I can’t find fault with that. I love you and hope we will be good friends.
September 22, 1992
You take the bus to kindergarten. The first day you were very brave. You were afraid and came back to me before you got on the bus. But you got on anyway—and that’s being brave.
January 25, 1993
You are very good at knowing where things are, and how things are done. I think you’re going to be a big help to me someday. You’re a smart girl and you are a good singer. You really take care of your little brother. I love you now and always—even if we fight.
January 10, 1996
We have had some times when we could laugh together but you still prefer your Dad to me and don’t hesitate to let me know it. I still believe with time we will have a strong relationship. I love you dearly. I’m just not a very patient person most times.
February 19, 1999
Yesterday you helped me set up the new computer and I saw again how I have come to rely on you. You help me, ungrudgingly, whenever I ask. I do enjoy your company at those times and I appreciate your help.
I know I’ve been hard on you, and I don’t regret some of it, but a lot of it I do regret. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me. I have firm ideals about being strong, being brave, not being needy, so I know I discourage weakness in you. I think the problem with this is that I may be stifling your ability to feel O.K. about your feelings. I want to tell you now that it’s O.K. to be angry, scared, sad, and proud—forgive me for my mistakes in this. I am not a perfect person either. I’m hoping you will love me anyway. And I’m hoping you will be able to overcome the mistakes I’ve made. I love you dearly and always will.
November 1, 2001
Being a mother is a tremendous emotional burden. I feel your pain; sometimes I think I feel more than your pain. I want to take it all away from you. But I know that I can’t. I can’t buffer the world and keep you in a pastel, cottony soft cocoon. Sometimes I wish I could. Sometimes I wish I could paint your world for you. But it is better that you experience life with all its sorrows, fears and disappointments as well as its triumphant and joyous moments. You are strong and brave and loving. I have confidence that even if I won’t always be able to hold you and comfort you; you have it within you to take care of yourself. This gives me great comfort as you spread your wings and go out into the world.
Now that you’ve gotten older I can see what a charming, talented young woman you are becoming. And I am so proud of you. I worried when you were younger that you would reject all the ideals I held most dearly. I was most concerned about my ideals about the place or role of women in society. When you were young and infatuated with Barbies and make-up and dress-up, I worried you would end up being something of a ‘fluff’ for lack of a better word. Now I realize you have become a brave, serious and enlightened young woman, in addition to being sensitive and caring. I couldn’t have formed you better if I had held the power to do so. You are everything I could have hoped you would be, and amazingly you did it in spite of me.
I like to watch you use your hands: playing the piano or the flute, drawing, painting, and creating hairstyles for yourself or your friends. You are really quite creative and very good with your hands. You use your hands to not only create, but to help and comfort.
I believe you will do great things with your hands.
I’d like to thank Arlee Bird at Wrote by Rote for the invitation to write a guest post on his blog about memoir writing. Why we write our stories, is a post I wrote about writing stories in general and Dancing in Heaven in particular. I hope you’ll stop by and read it there today or sometime through next week.
In addition to Wrote by Rote, Arlee is the author of Tossing it Out (his main blog), A Few Words (a Sunday contemplation), and A Faraway View (about dreams). Arlee also initiated April’s A to Z challenge.
Thank you, Arlee, for your interest in Dancing in Heaven, and your invitation to guest blog.
A bouquet of wildflowers to you.
In some ways I might be a little ADHD. When I was younger, stronger, and had a house with more possibilities for it, I used to rearrange my furniture on a more frequent basis than my husband, at least, was comfortable with. That’s putting it gently. He’d come home after a hard day at work and find the piano stuck in the foyer, or the bookcase halfway across the room. Can’t fault him, I guess, for being a little tiffy about it at times.
I’m too old for that hoopla anymore. I just have to live with the same ol’ same ol’ because I’m simply too old and have a few physical limitations that discourage me from being impulsive in that way.
I have to find a new route for my impulsivity. (I might have just made up a new word, or misspelled an old one.)
I feel a change coming.
For quite a while now I’m been looking at how I’m spending the hours in my days. The older I get, the more valuable those are to me.
I’m thinking about backing off of blogging to two or three times a week from the five posts I do now. I know some of you who are getting barraged with daily messages from me in your inboxes may be heaving a sigh of relief. The biggest concern I have is that I used my daily blogging commitment to get myself seated at my computer and put words on paper every single day—something all the pros say is a must. But what I’m doing with my blog isn’t what I would call quality writing, usually. Not that I mind that much. I took a series of photography courses in college, really enjoy doing it, and wish I had more time for it. But the blogs with many photos actually take much longer to do, as I’m sure other photography bloggers can verify, than simple writing does. For me, at least.
The long and short is, I want to try to translate some of this disciplined at-the-computer time into working on my writing.
One sticking point is that I’m trying to build content on my blog, so I don’t know if I will be able to resist blogging every day. That’s an odd twist. I may try making better use of my Facebook author page (Christine M Grote) and Twitter.
I’m not going to make any more predictions or promises about blog frequency. I’m not a big rule-follower, which has been to my detriment at times. But it comes to me naturally and what can we do about genetics?
It’s a beautiful, blue-sky day here this morning. The windows are open and I can hear the birds singing, and babies in the birdhouse out front chirping. A soft breeze ruffles the leaves on the very end of the arched limbs that hang withing view from my desk. A robbin is skipping around the landscaping looking for a worm, no doubt.
My garden waits.