All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

Columns

My Corona Diary

Unlike many writers, I don’t journal. I write for a living, so by the end of the day I’m all out of words.

However, we’re living in extraordinary times, and frankly since the governor issued the stay-home order, I seem to have a bit more time, and a bit more difficulty keeping track of it. Jotting journal notes seems like a good way to commemorate this unprecedented era, or at least help me track the days of the week.

Here are a few excerpts from my quarantine diary.

Stay Home Day One: Tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I slip my feet into my bunny slippers, grab a cup of coffee, and make the morning commute to my downstairs office. In other words, it’s just like every deadline morning I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Day Three: As the designated shopper, I venture out to forage for food. I’m an introvert, so I adore the 6-foot distance guidelines and the taped X’s that mark where to wait with your cart. One store has the cashiers back away from the register while you swipe your debit card. Push cart up. Back away. Unload cart. Back away. Swipe card, cashier backs away. It’s like the shopping Hokey Pokey. I wanted to “shake it all about,” but I settled for “turning myself around.”

Day Five: Having an ample flour/sugar supply on hand I begin baking in earnest. Chocolate chip cookies, Texas sheet cake, banana bread. Though my men folk consume the bulk of it, I start to worry about my own bulk. I’m thankful for the lovely weather and my well-established walking routine.

Day Seven: I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants for a week, so I take a pair of jeans out of my closet just to make sure I can still button them. Success!

Day Nine-ish: I apologize to Derek for being annoyed with him earlier this year when he bought two Heritage pigs and half a cow from a local farmer. We’ve got plenty of pork chops, sausage and steak in the freezer, but it’s time to trek to Costco to buy the essentials: jelly beans, peanut butter whiskey and salted caramel chocolates.

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Day Eleventy-five: What fresh hell is this? My hair salon isn’t considered an essential business? I peer into the mirror at my overgrown bangs. Then I phone a friend. “Talk me down! I’ve got scissors and Cousin Itt bangs!”

She reminds me of the Great Hair Hack of 2013, and asks if she needs to call Derek or one of the kids to hide the scissors from me.

Day 666: Mother Nature has turned her back on us – snow, hail, rain and an earthquake.

“Did you feel that? My desk was shaking!” I said to my son, Sam.

“I didn’t feel anything. You’re probably having a stroke,” he replied.

Day Something: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Horrible walking weather and a shutdown gym means I have to exercise at home. I dig out my Jill Ireland and Richard Simmons workout videos. The next day I’m incredibly sore.

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“I can’t even sweat to the oldies,” I tell Derek. “No way can I do ‘Buns of Steel.’”

“That’s OK, honey,” he says. “I prefer buns of cushiness anyway.”

We are still married.

The day after whatever day that was: In the darkened bedroom I decide to try on my jeans again. I reach into the closet and grab a pair. They slide on effortlessly. In fact, I’m swimming in them. I’ve done the impossible! I’ve actually lost weight in the midst of quarantine!

I flip the light switch.

I’m wearing Derek’s jeans.

Days later: Panic sets in. Who cares about toilet paper – I’m down to three library books! Then I remember my nightstand is chock-full of books I either haven’t read or want to read again. Also, we have three overflowing bookcases. Crisis averted. Panic wasted.

Another day: Everyone on social media is posting about wearing their jammie pants all day. I’ve never owned pajamas. Choosing between gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants is getting old. I open a tab on my browser, but quickly close it when Derek walks in. He may like cushy buns, but I don’t want him to catch me googling flannel.

Apocalypse Day: Pulling my hair back into a now necessary ponytail, I decide to use a hair clip to get my bangs out of my eyes. That’s when I notice my untended eyebrows edging toward catastrophic caterpillarlike configuration. Salon shutdowns mean no access to my aesthetician with her handy hot wax.

From the far reaches of the bathroom cabinet, I pull out an old hot wax kit. My hair keeps slipping into my eyes and I realize hot wax and overgrown bangs are a bad combination. My fate is sealed. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the scissors.

Some may bemoan the extension of the stay-home order. Not me. I’m hoping by May 4, my hacked-off bangs will be long enough to hide what I did to my eyebrows.

All Write

Children’s Author Donates First Book Proceeds to Feed Out-of-School Kids

What do you do when your debut children’s novel is released during a pandemic?
If you’re my nephew, Jake Burnett, you  find a way to use the launch to help hungry kids.

Jake and his publisher are donating 100% of of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

I’m incredibly proud of my nephew. Read more about the book in the press release below and please consider purchasing The Chaos Court. You’ll be helping launch a fabulous book and feeding hungry kids. What could be better?

RALEIGH, NC—Like most of us, Jake Burnett didn’t expect to have his world turned upside down by a pandemic. His first children’s novel, The Chaos Court, was scheduled for release this month from start-up publisher South Window Press.

“I was running in a dozen different directions,” Burnett says, “figuring out how to do a launch party, a book tour, school visits.”

Then COVID-19 hit.

Schools are closed. Book signings are off. Social distancing is the hot new thing.

“My first reaction was to put it all on hold,” Burnett continues. “But, weird as it sounds, I knew my heroine Patience Fell wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing. She’d want to do something to help people.”

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Patience is a lowly 12-year-old servant girl who uncovers an ancient conspiracy of fairies to tear down her town. No one else stands up to them, so she decides to fight by herself—armed only with a kitchen broom.

“It’s a story about being brave in the face of the unknown. About doing what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got,” Burnett explains.

School closures threaten school lunch programs and the students who depend on those lunches. So that’s why Burnett decided to act. He and South Window Press are donating 100% of the novel’s proceeds through April 30th to the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina (https://foodbankcenc.org/).

“Books are food for the mind,” Burnett says, “but first you have to feed the body. No kid—no person—should have to go hungry. I’m proud to be able to support the great work the Food Bank does.”

The Chaos Court is available from Amazon March 20 (https://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Court-Whosebourne-Chronicles/dp/1734664207/). Stay tuned at http://www.southwindowpress.com/ for bookstore availability as the current situation develops.

Jake Burnett is also available for remote school visits (contact information at: http://jakeburnett.com/contact/).

All Write

Goodreads Giveaway: Virgil Wander

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I’m sure the neighbors heard my excited whoop when I found out I’d won a Goodreads Giveaway copy of “Virgil Wander” by Leif Enger!

His novel “Peace Like a River” is on my top ten favorite books list, and I was in the audience when he visited Whitworth University in 2004.

I’m so excited to dive into his latest novel! Review to follow.

Have you ever won received a Goodreads Giveaway book?

All Write

Book Lover’s Tea in Kettle Falls

On Saturday, I’m delighted to be sharing from War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation at the Friends of the Kettle Falls Library Book Lover’s Tea.

The event is from 1 PM- 3 PM in the Community Center addition at the Kettle Falls Library, 605 Meyers St.

My friends from Barnes & Noble Northtown Mall will be on hand to sell books.

I love libraries and as a member of the Friends of  Spokane County Libraries, it gives me great joy to help raise funds for other library groups.

If you’re in the area, please join me Saturday, April 13.

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All Write

Meow! Cat fans demand more!

 I rarely post fan mail, but this one made my day!

Hello, Cindy.

I have been a big fan of your columns for quite a while now, and met you a couple of times when you did a book event at the library, and speaking at Auntie’s some time ago.

When you wrote about Milo’s death, it broke my heart. Over the years, I have lost several cats, and still miss them terribly.

Your update column about Thor being lonely is what prompted me to write. I really hope you adopt another kitty soon. They tend to do better when they aren’t the “only child”. At the moment, I have 2 rescue cats, and once they got over the initial hissing/introduction, they have bonded just fine and make me laugh with their interaction. Honestly, I don’t know how I could live without them. I still miss the ones who are no longer with me, but I have given the 2 new ones a new chance to live and be happy.

I hope you bring home another kitty for Thor (and you). And I hope you write about it. It seems to me that this town is overly dog-crazy, and cats do not get much positive press. Your funny cat adventures have helped many other cats by making them more appealing to potential adopters. Of that I have no doubt, and I look forward to reading more cat stories in the future.

Please keep on writing!!!!!

I forwarded this email to my husband and he replied, “Nice try.” But I believer in keeping my fan base happy.

Stay tuned 😉

 

Columns

Sunrise and the San Francisco Writers Conference

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The rooster’s hoarse crows were sounding desperate and none of us knew what to do.

There are a lot of things you expect to hear when packed into an airplane, but a rooster crowing isn’t one of them.

On Valentine’s Day I boarded a flight to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a three-day event filled with classes, workshops, literary agents, publishers and hundreds of authors.

I was seated next to a young mother and her adorable 2 1/2-year-old son.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, as we settled in, awaiting takeoff. “It’s a rooster!”

Barely awake, I put down my book and listened. Sure enough a faint cock-a-doodle-do echoed throughout the cabin.

“It must be someone’s phone,” I replied.

But the crowing continued and grew more frantic as the minutes passed.

“I hope they’re not serving chicken sandwiches,” said a lady across the aisle. “That’s taking farm-to-table a little too far!”

We tittered but the crowing continued as the engines revved.

“It’s probably someone’s emotional support rooster,” announced the gentleman behind me.

Alas, we’ll never know, because once we fastened our seat belts and were airborne, the crowing ceased.

“If he’s in the cargo hold, his nuggets are frozen solid,” I said.

“Nuggets? Want nuggets!” the toddler next to me demanded.

Thankfully, he was satisfied with the Goldfish crackers his mother gave him.

It was my first visit to the Bay area, and I was delighted to leave Spokane’s frigid February and arrive in a city with temperatures in the balmy 50s.

Due to flight delays, I had to hit the ground running to make it to my first workshop. I checked into my hotel in the Embarcadero, directly across from the iconic Ferry building, and gathered my credentials.

“Hi Cindy, Happy Valentine’s Day,” said a stranger in the lobby.

“Er. Thank you,” I replied.

“Hey, Cindy! How are you today?” another gentleman asked, moments later.

These people are so friendly, I thought, but how do they know me?

Then I looked down at the credentials hanging from a lanyard around my neck, my first name written in super-sized font. Apparently, my fame had not preceded me.

I wasn’t the only one. I’d noticed the attendees had white nametags, and the volunteers had orange ones. In the elevator I asked a fellow sporting an orange nametag if he was helping at the conference.

“I’m presenting,” he said.

Turns out it was Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks.

Moving on.

After several classes, I had just enough time to dash across the street to pick up a sandwich for dinner.

“Ma’am where’s your jacket? It’s freezing!” the concerned doorman asked, as I scouted nearby restaurants.

“It’s 53 degrees!” I replied. “When I left Spokane it was 17! This is tropical!”

He shook his head, huddled in his heavy overcoat.

“At least take an umbrella,” he said, offering one from the hotel’s stash.

The umbrella was necessary that night, but I never used one again – not even during a sunrise photography walk, sponsored by the Writer’s Workshop.

That’s right. I may be notoriously anti-morning, but I saw the sun rise from a pier near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to explore the area with a professional photographer as a guide.

51920729_2191659600872655_2118461617678057472_n[1]However, the morning got off to a rocky start when I discovered my hotel room had only decaf coffee. Thankfully, by the time I’d returned the front desk had sent up a stash of the real thing.

But the coffee didn’t prevent my next elevator faux pas.

“Are you here for the writer’s conference?” I asked a fellow, as we descended to the meeting rooms.

“No, I’m here for a conference on thinking,” he replied.

“Writers think, too,” I said. And then I silently vowed to stop speaking to strangers on elevators.

Speaking of mornings, I took comfort in the words of keynote speaker Jane Friedman. “With a little self-awareness you can compete with morning people,” she said.

I knew she was one of my tribe even before that because she shared a photo of a kitty she frequently cat-sits. I quickly got out my phone and shared a photo of Thor with my tablemate, which prompted the other writers at the table to share pictures of their own cats.

It must be hard to be taken seriously as an author if you don’t have a cat.

Sunday morning I watched the sun rise over the bay and listened to the clang of the cable car as it rounded the corner in front of the hotel. I drank in the view of palm trees and the waterfront. It was time to fly home to the land of snow and ice.

I was tired and I missed my family, but Tony Bennett and I now have something in common. I. too, left my heart in San Francisco.

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All Write, TV

What’s a newspaper columnist doing on TV?

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Now, that’s a great question.

When the folks at Spokane Talks invited me to try my hand at television commentary. I thought about how I’d fit this in with my weekly newspaper deadlines, monthly deadlines for a marketing client, finishing up my second book (Tiaras & Testosterone), and keeping up with my husband, sons and two cats.

Two episodes in and I’m still thinking about it.  Obviously, I’m thinking on air:)

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This week I tallied the results of my childhood wish list. If you want to hear about ’70’s fashion, bikes with banana seats, and the Second Coming click here. The Front Porch starts at the 22 minute mark.

Next week I’ll tackle the devil’s music!

Tune into Spokane Talks, Sunday nights at 6 on KAYU Fox 28.

All Write

Goodreads Giveaway Equals Happiness

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Like most writers I’m an avid reader. I’m never without a stack of books on my nightstand and usually have a book in my car or purse, too.

When you read a lot, it can be hard to keep of what you’ve read and what you want to read.

Enter Goodreads. It’s a delightfully easy way to track your reading, keep up with your favorite authors and discover new authors.

Goodreads also offers frequent book giveaways. Publishers  ship the book directly to the winner and there’s no obligation to read or review.

I only enter giveaways if the book is something I really want to read or it’s by a favorite author. I’ve entered a lot of giveaways and last month I was notified that I’d won a copy of “Aunt Dimity & The King’s Ransom” by Nancy Atherton. I was beyond thrilled!

The “Aunt Dimity” books are exceptionally well-crafted, delightful British cozies and I haven’t missed one.

This week my doorbell rang and the UPS man handed me my copy of “The King’s Ransom.”

I admit it.

I hugged it.  (At least I didn’t  hug the UPS man.) Then I whooped. And might have hollered.

My teenager rolled his eyes, but I didn’t care. Books make me happy. And free books make me even happier!

If you haven’t joined Goodreads yet, you really should. You can follow your favorite authors *hint*  Cindy Hval and connect with other readers.

Who knows? You may even win a free book