All Write, Columns

Framing your story

Meme makers had lots of fun with 2020.

To be clear, there is nothing funny about a global pandemic, murder hornets and horrific wildfires, but honestly, it seemed the year was one disaster after another. The great thing about humans is our ability to use humor to diffuse our angst.

Take this meme for example: “2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and five years in April.”

Or this one: “If 2020 was a math problem: If you’re going down a river at two m.p.h. and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?”

Everyone is hoping 2021 will be better (I refuse to ask how it could be worse), and signs are promising. The vaccine is rolling out. The election is over. And most of us never saw a single murder hornet.

Someday, we’ll be on the other side of COVID-19, and I wonder what stories we will tell our children and grandchildren about our experience.

Maybe something like this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks. Stores ran out of toilet paper and flour. Schools closed, and most of us learned to work from home.”

It’s a grim narrative, fit for a grim disease, but it’s not the whole story. In 2020, babies were born, businesses launched, books written, bread baked and outdoor treks enjoyed.

For me, one of the best things about the year has been writing the Pandemic Project series for this newspaper.

The idea started simply. A reader wrote, sending pictures of a quilt she’d finally had time to refurbish and she asked, “I wonder what projects others are tackling during this time?”

My editor forwarded me the note.

“Do you think this could be a series?” she asked.

So, I wrote a call out for stories, and the responses flooded my inbox. People eagerly shared how they’ve been using their unexpected down time.

From small needlework projects, to elegant patios and decks. From quilts, to chicken coops. From flower gardens, to greenhouses, to cookbooks, people proved that staying home didn’t stifle creativity. In fact, it unleashed it.

I think the reason these stories struck such a chord is that they stand in stark contrast against the daily roster of things we can’t do.

We can’t go to concerts.

We can’t go to movies.

We can’t visit our parents in retirement homes.

The ever-changing rules and information often results in fear, an unexpected side effect of the virus. Fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s hardwired into humans and warns us of impending danger. It can keep us safe, but it can also cripple us.

I’ve seen fear-induced rants turn to rage on social media. For example: anger at those who balk at the mask mandate, and anger at those who comply with it. The flip side of the same coin.

It reminds me of what I told my sons about anger when they were small.

“It’s OK to feel mad. Everyone gets mad sometimes. It’s what you do with your angry feelings that matters.”

The same thing applies to fear.

That’s why I enjoy writing the Pandemic Project series so much. Every week I get to talk with people who’ve channeled their worry, their fear, their sadness, into creating something new, or trying something they didn’t have time to pursue until a pandemic slowed their pace.

Perhaps one day I’ll tell my grandchildren this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks.

But every week we had family dinner, and I fed your uncles the meals they loved when they were little. We watched movies, played cards and made memories.

I couldn’t visit great-grandma Shirley, but we waved at each other from windows while we talked on the phone.

Papa went to work every day, so people could buy the tools they needed to build and fix things, and I wrote stories about the wonderful things people did with their time at home.

It was scary, but in the quiet and slowness of a careful world, we finally had time to appreciate the small things – things that in the busy, noisy times, seemed to slip through our fingers.”

So much of a story is in how it’s framed. Beautiful things shine all the brighter against the darkest backgrounds. Every breath offers an opportunity to add to our story. What will you add to yours?

War Bonds

RIP Pat McManus

Letter from Pat McManus

So sad to learn of the death of Patrick McManus.

When I had the crazy idea that maybe I could write a book, Pat McManus read an early draft of my proposal. Then he took me out to lunch and told me it was “the best book proposal” he’d ever read and he was absolutely positive “War Bonds” would be published.
A week later, he sent me the above letter of recommendation and introduction that I could send with my proposal to agents and publishers.
He believed in me and in my book when it was still just a maybe, someday…..

Having someone believe in you and your project when it’s just a glimmer, a wisp of a hope, is incredibly powerful.

I wish every author could have someone like Patrick McManus in their corner. I am humbled beyond words that he considered himself my fan, because like millions of others I was certainly his.

Rest in peace my friend. Thank you for the joy that you brought to the world and for the life-changing encouragement you gave to me.

War Bonds

Writing from the reservoir

I don’t know any writers who haven’t at one time or another thought, Why am I writing this? Is anyone even going to want to read it?

Whether you write memoir, fiction, essays or poetry, the words are or should be, uniquely yours– your voice, your character’s voice,  your story, their story that you’re trying to tell. And there’s the rub,  the risk of the writing life– you feel compelled to tell a story birthed in the isolation of your own mind and heart and send it out into the universe

While wrestling with the organization of my second book, a collection of essays and columns about life, love and raising sons, I’m getting tripped up, and bogged down with second guessing just about everything from the title to the contents of each chapter.It’s hard to have perspective when you’re writing your own life.

Then I remembered something award-winning author Shawn Vestal said at a recent reading of his debut novel Daredevils. Someone asked if it was difficult for him to write from the perspective of Loretta, a 15-year-old girl.  Vestal replied that it was actually quite freeing and then added, “Really, the only reservoir you have is your own life.”

Yes! Everything from our wildest flights of imagination to our earliest childhood memories, comes from the same reservoir.

Don’t be afraid to drop your bucket down into its depths and pour out what you find.

 

War Bonds

Impromtu book signing!

A few weeks ago, I got a nice email from a lady in regards to a recent column. I thanked her for her kind note and for taking the time to write to me.

Soon I received another note from her.

“I recently sent you a a brief email thanking you for a particularly good article, and you graciously replied, which made my day!

I was inspired to purchase War Bonds for my 89-year-old mother for Mother’s Day.”

She then asked if it was possible for me to sign the copy for her mom. When I found out the writer lived near the grocery store where I do my weekly shopping, I offered to meet her there and sign the book.

She showed up with a lilac bouquet– my favorite flower.

And that my friends, is how you turn grocery shopping from a chore to a delight.

Never forget, readers make a writer’s world go ’round!

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War Bonds

Debut Writers Tell All!

Please join me for this panel during which we will dish about the path to publication.

Admittance is free! Saturday April 16, 2016 1:45pm – 3:00pm
Spokane Convention Center 334 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane, WA 99201

During 2015, six female authors in Spokane launched their debut books, leading to the obvious question, What’s in the water? The group was profiled in the Inlander, each with different perspectives on how their book came to be published. During Get Lit!, they will discuss their rising success in publishing, from getting an agent to editing their manuscripts to promoting their books. Sharma Shields explores the mystical side of the Pacific Northwest as she follows her protagonist’s obsession to find Bigfoot in The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac. In War Bonds, Cindy Hval, a columnist for The Spokesman Review, tells the often overlooked stories of couples and their romances during World War II. Stephanie Oakes, author of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, crafts the poetic tale of a young girl coming to terms with her dark past in the Kevinian cult, which cost not only years of her life but also her hands. S.M. Hulse gives hope to graduate students in her MFA-thesis-turned-novel Black River, a modern-day Western set against past violence in its characters’ lives. In the young adult novel You and Me and Him, Kris Dinnison explores the bonds of friendship as two characters struggle to maintain their relationship while interested in the same guy. This panel will be moderated by Chey Scott, writer and listings editor for the Inlander.

GetLit

War Bonds

Writing the Weather

Sometimes writing is like the Pacific Northwest weather. Moments of brilliant sunshine, quickly followed by ominous dark clouds. A patter of light rain that suddenly turns to snowflakes. Snow. In March!

My mood and my output fluctuated with today’s weather. I’m almost done with the outline and organization of my second book. I slid into my desk chair full of optimism as the sun poured through the windows of my borrowed office.

Then doubts swept in with the clouds. This is a lot of work. Who is going to want to read this anyway? Do I really have anything original or entertaining to say?

Rain gave way to sudden snow flurries. An idea for another book popped into my mind. Maybe that’s what I should be working on? Maybe that’s the market I need to pursue….

My energy and excitement for my current project flagged. Chilled, I shrugged on a sweater and stared at my screen. Too many tabs open. Too many doubts nagging.

That’s the writer’s life. Moments of absolute confidence in your voice– your words; followed by the dark empty silence of self-doubt.

I finished the section I’d started and packed up my laptop. Stepping out into the damp gray, I longed for the warmth and confidence of the morning. Scanning the horizon I saw a flash of color– the faint beginnings of a rainbow. A promise. Whatever the weather the words will come.

 

 

War Bonds

Of Cats and Chicken Soup

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Getting a box of books with your stories in it never gets old.

“Chicken Soup for the Soul My Very Good, Very Bad Cat,”  is the 8th volume in the series to feature my work and the thrill of seeing my words in print in this popular series is still exciting.

This one hits bookstores across the nation on February 9 and includes my stories, “Another Baby Boy” and “Fat Cat.” One story per cat 🙂

When novice writers ask me how to get published I always tell them Chicken Soup is a great place to start honing your nonfiction skills. The principles of writing are the same whether you’re writing your memoir or laboring on the Great American Novel. You need to be able to tell an engaging story.

The submission process is simple and all online.  They are constantly adding titles and sending new story call outs. Authors are paid $200 for each story, retain the rights to their work and receive 10 free books. You can also purchase more books at a discounted rate.

So while you’re slaving away on your manuscript, sending out agent queries or entering writing contests visit Chicken Soup for the Soul and submit a story.

After all, Chicken Soup can cure just about anything– even writer’s block.

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