Mary Akers

A little chat about characters in August

I can’t imagine a worse job than being a neurologist stuck trying to study the brain of a writer. Even the prefrontal cortex of a reptile is complex. Writers create characters and those characters have needs, wants, and desires. Some become so real, they “come to life.”

August tends to be the month where I get a lot of writing done because I can sit alone in cabana without radio or internet and focus on a story. After one of those sessions, one of Mary Aker’s characters stopped by. Atlas was…unbalanced in the book. (No doubt you’re thinking I am as I tell you this.) He asked if I remembered a fight scene in her book. I did. He told me he had a problem with it. I nodded at him with the wary respect I lend to forest animals. He went away.

The next time I was out there and getting ready to leave, he showed up again and asked if I’d spoken to Mary. I told him I hadn’t had time and rushed away. Mary happened to text a breezy, hi-how-are-ya-I-miss-you. I told her I’d been thinking about her book.

Atlas reappeared and told me he thought a certain baby was his. I told him he was mistaken. The sperm was from – he cut me off. He claimed it was switched. Or mixed. There was a chance that it was his. I told Mary this. We had a zoom with Gina, and the subject was brought up. We all hashed out possible plot twists. What if a Gloria switched the sperm and told Atlas about it in a certain scene – trying to keep from rewriting down. It was a weird but good exchange. I was done with the matter. I went out, worked on my own story, and Atlas stayed away – satisfied, I suppose.

Gloria waited until I was cutting up fruit for dinner to make her appearance. She likes Atlas. She can’t have children, but sees nothing wrong with taking Sylvia’s baby away when it’s born. If there’s one successful pregnancy, there would be another. Sylvia could use the sperm of the specimen she really wanted. What was 9 months of delay?

I find it all rather Meta that these shifty characters Mary created had a way to pop into my head for a chat. Are all the abandoned characters out there waiting for us to notice them again? Would a neurologist be able to explain away the phenomena instead? These are the things that have been on my mind.

Otherwise, I’m rewriting a book which is frustrating because two characters that had little to do with each other in the original are about to fall into bed – or shoot each other. Either outcome challenges the rest of the plot. Sigh.

Husband had another happy 45th birthday.

The garden is producing many tomatoes.

The dog

Went to the groomer.

The rose bloomed.

Wild grapes were picked.

There was a nocturnal visitor at the hummingbird feeder.

Another section of the house is being painted.

And thus concludes this month’s blog post. You are wonderful and full of grace. Thank you for stopping by and for the read!

July and Domestic Adjustments

This month, the fear of everything closing down again served as an impetus to get things done. We replaced our king-sized mattress with two extra-long twins and installed an air conditioner. Both were objectives we kept putting off and now that we’re both getting a good night’s sleep, we wonder why.

We put in another step on the walkway down to the south lawn. The Chipmunk of Doom was warned it was going to happen, but he doesn’t seem happy about it, does he?

Husband finished up the remaining drawer fronts in the kitchen.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

I believe this is a picture of the last bouquet I bought. Cheap flowers from grocery stores were one of the few things that kept me sane this spring. Now, it’s blooming season and these beauties greet me every time I walk out the door.

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The lilies take turns showing off their soothing brilliance.

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And the wildflowers in the far back are a delight. I brought this one in to identify and haven’t yet – but if you know what it is, please don’t hesitate to tell me at TLSherwood01@gmail.com

As ever, the garden is what it is and currently, it’s well weeded. The peas were wonderful and now the beans and squash are here.

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Inside, I made new cases and transferred the feathers from my pillows into them. It’s so nice to have plump and cushioning ones again. I’d used Husband’s sewing machine. In a flurry of texts, that to me still feel unreal, I’m the proud new owner of a Singer sewing machine in a cabinet. Many, many thanks to the marvelous XO Man for the amazing offer and gift.

It’s setup in the bedroom and when not in use it serves as a new writing spot and I’ve even used it to set up the tablet for a Zoom session with Gina and Mary.

Speaking of Mary, she sent a ticket for virtual Crab Con and I went to check out the platform she used. I stayed for the Baby Crab Cam and some interesting discussions as well as a video. It was fantastic! She also let me do a bit of ghostwriting. Thank you!

I managed to submit seventeen pieces this month and am thrilled to say my piece “The Thinnest of Veneers” will be published in Cathy Ulrich’s amazing Milk Candy Review later this year. It started from a prompt in Kim Chiquee’s Hot Pants Office. I’ve knocked out at least five rough drafts for new flashes and an essay. A few things happened that have given me fodder I plan to explore soon. It’s been a while since I’ve felt competent in my writing. (And as soon as I wrote that, I received a rejection. Ugh!)

The library reopened and so far I’ve read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and  The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. I’m catching up on stories in the New Yorker, too. I grew brave on a perfect day and visited with the spectacular Nina Fosati – outside and six feet apart. Not giving and getting hugs saddened me, BUT hopefully soon Covid will be in the past and we can all get back to whatever we choose to be a brighter and more humane normal. In the meanwhile, this creature tempts me to pet and to play, otherwise I’m sure I would have done even more this month.

Thank you for stopping by and for the read. Remember, you are AMAZING and I probably miss you!

The Chipmunk of Doom is Visiting and He Brought Me a Bout of Ennui

I’m slightly mad at the world. Yes, I know it does me no good. Yes. I know all sorts of “oughts” to remove thoughts but I’m still kind of pissed – not about the lock down – but the indefinite time it will remain. I miss going to my writer’s groups, but we’re doing Zoom and Skype. I’ve touched base with the usual suspects. Some people I don’t frequently deal with have sent messages. I’m not lacking connection or – knock on wood – anything like food, so I’m fine and should shut up, but not knowing the end date is maddening. Maybe it’s just me.

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I’ve been working on the new novel. I’m fairly certain about the end – not exactly – but I think it will be hopeful and life affirming so yes, you should speculate if aliens have abducted and changed me. I’ve shown the start to the amazing Nina Fosati and she thinks the voice is good, so I’ll continue. As most people know, I don’t talk about my books while I’m writing them, so that’s all I’ll say about it – that and thank God for Mary and Gina for pushing me through this writing biz as long as they have. I was truly afraid when Gina left for PA it would be the end of the group, but oddly, the lock down has revived it.

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Working with a wireless keyboard makes me wonder if there will ever be a gadget that would write down one’s thoughts – or better, dreams. I’ve heard people are having vivid dreams. I haven’t been. I can usually remember them fairly well and jot down a few lines about them but recently, I haven’t been doing that. Are there only so many dreams around? I know, what an invalid theory since I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could test for such a thing. This is what happens in quarantine, odd thoughts which end up getting typed out instead of forgotten.

It’s also led to Husband completing another part of the kitchen – the corner cabinet door.

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Every year there is a yearning in spring for change. Sitting on the couch in the mudroom, I’m imaging the furniture in different places. Tomorrow, I need to check in during different times of the day. What will work as the sun goes down might be annoying in full sun. I haven’t worked up the energy to move anything. There’s a chance I’ll change my mind about the arrangement of this room. The new pest – I mean pet – hinders a lot.

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We’re keeping her as an indoor cat, but she’s insistent on getting out. I don’t know how the last cat learned her moves, but this one is brash and adamant about its right to do whatever it wants. Dog thinks that, too but he’s smarter than this cat. He generally stays within bounds.

So, that’s what I’ve managed to write for this post. My birthday cake was delicious. If I’d not been in a locked down state, I would have shared it with you.

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Thanks for stopping by and for the read. I miss all of your faces.

Novel Critique Groups and Writing for an Audience of One

It’s been a NaNoWriMo type of November. I can tell because I have an extra 50,000 words added to my novel and next to no pictures taken during these past 30 days. It wasn’t all writing and no socializing though. When I went to vote, I ran into old friends. I had a chance to talk to Maureen Lee and Kimberly Moritz after the SGI school board meeting – conveniently held in Colden this month. Springville Journal’s esteemed Max Borsuk was there, too. Five out of five Friday nights saw me in the Comfort Zone for the Hamburg Writers’ Group plus Husband and I went to see the movie “Knives Out.” The first snow has fallen and occasionally, it’s a pretty thing to admire as long as shoveling isn’t involved.

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After a gap when Mary Akers, Gina Detwiler and I pursued other writing projects, we each had new work to share so we reconstituted our roving novel critique group meetings. First stop: My home. Why yes, it was fun cleaning the whole house in two days and make quiche and cauliflower nuggets and two types of sweets because I wasn’t sure either would turn out. Dog went to a new groomer before the meeting and was far too sexy for a photo session.

I know, it’s a cheat to take pictures when he’s sleeping, but isn’t that the cutest Thanksgiving bow-tie? Thank you everyone at Paw Spa!

Anyways, I want to say that I’m still surprised that every book I write ends up being written in a different way. Last time, it was a ton of flashes that expanded into a whole. This time it was a lot of wasted writing trying to find a proper beginning. Regardless, once I found it, a lot of the themes and ideas I wanted to explore fell into place.

On and off through October, I worked on the blurb and the first chapter. I searched thumb drives for the abandoned bits and plumped out a catchall file with those meanderings called LineAboutMarriage. I know, it’s not a snappy working title, but it is a little more descriptive than NewBook17.0

I had sent the semi-polished first chapter to the amazing Nina Fosati and Prisoner for their take. Each were happy with it. When I revised it a bit more and sent it to Gina and Mary with no introduction to what it was about, I received my first negative response. It was a kind assessment of how she couldn’t tell if it was a romance or a mystery or what. And that was okay. I had been working at “genre” the last two books after I sent the dark literary “Ellie’s Elephants” to twenty agents and didn’t get more than a few requests for partials. “Blue” and “Near Eden” – the genr-y books had requests for fulls, but again, no agent took them on. For this novel, I’d abandoned the genre slant and wrote it for me.

Lots of people I’ve met have self-published. Some are lovely and I enjoyed them. A few people I’ve shown my early novel attempts liked them. I could have put them on CreateSpace when that was a thing, but my goal has always been to have an agent who will help with the process. Ideally, I’d like to be published by a big house. Making the long (or short) list for first-book awards would be a pleasant surprise, too. If I had self-published, I wouldn’t be eligible to strive for a lot of the goals I set out to reach from a young age. At heart, I’m still the 12-year-old who read “Peyton Place,” saw Grace Meticulous on the back cover in front of a typewriter and wanted to BE her.

But I don’t write like Grace Metalious. Or Nora Roberts. Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Madeleine L’Engle, Toni Morrison, or anyone else. I write like me and while I hope as I work through the rewrite of this crappy first draft, you and others will like it, in the end, the only thing I really want is for it to be a manuscript I want to read repeatedly and be happy to call mine. I’m writing for one person. It’s taken years to understand this oft-mentioned piece of advice

In the meantime, I appreciate you and the time it took to read this post. My new assistant is waiting patiently, so I must be off…

 

Thank you for stopping by and for the read!

Views of July

This is the quiet before the chaos. Well, not so much chaos as time-consuming activities – many filled with emotional tugs. Early Saturday morning, I’ll be in Lockport where I’ll be rocking a lanyard and staff shirt. I also have a new skirt for CrabCon. If you’re going, I’ll see you – Gina and I are working the check-in table. The following day, Husband and I will be attending a wake for a dear man. Paul Lawton was a playwright, teacher, and all-round good guy. We both miss his knotty quips and wry humor.

The following week is a wedding and the week after that is our vacation/family reunion in Essex. I’m already closing my eyes and taking extra deep breaths because the sheer number of details associated with preparing for all these things overwhelms me. I won’t make it to Friday night’s writers group this week, next week is iffy and I’ll be out of town the following so that “grounding” will be lacking and Gina will be out of town for weeks, so the Wednesday morning write-ins will also be gone (unless the lovely Mary is up for it – and I have time.) The lack of that structure is unnerving especially when my tablet has been acting up and demonstrably hostile lately. (Why yes, I do love all of my first-world writer problems. They are lovely, aren’t they?) But with all that apprehension, there is also my gratitude…and bugs. This one insisted on having its picture taken.

The bird’s eggs hatched. Here they are hungry on the 4th:

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And this is from today. Look how big they are getting! (The picture is blurry and distant because I didn’t want to get dive-bombed.)

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These bulbs bloomed.

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The pink lilies are still going strong – except for the ones the deer ate.

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These lilies line a portion of our driveway.

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This is to show how tall the yellow flowers are already – and to show off the newly painted roof on the garden shed.

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Oh, this happened, too! I now have garden gates installed!

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The fenced-in tent is up and the back end of the woodshed was finished over the holiday weekend – not that it looks very different, but it’s exciting to have a non-leaking roof.

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The past few mornings, I’ve supplemented my breakfast with blackberries, conveniently planted by birds right by the tree on my way to the mailbox.

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There are pansies in the flower box.

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The moss is doing well.

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I took a lot of pictures to remind myself of the loveliness here in the summer. It’s far from perfect, often in need of weeding and/or mowing, but its home, where I collect my creekside reflections to share on here.

Thank you for stopping by and for the read.

June is gorgeous with words and flowers

What can I say? The writing news has been shockingly good recently. In case you’re not bored to death from my Facebook posts, here’s a recap: I placed second in the latest On the Premises mini-contest (#42!), which can be read here. I thought I’d only made the Micro-Madness Long List – and I was so happy with that – but then, last night, I saw that I was shortlisted and published here(June 13)! (And if you’re anal-retentive like me, you’d do the math and see my story was in the top 10!) 101 Fiction Issue 23 was released with my story in it. I wrote it during a Kathy Fish Fast Flash Reunion Workshop. Another one is coming up this weekend and I’m excited as all get out.  I also received an email from the Strands International Flash Fiction Contest…and I’m on the short list. Plus! The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature took a story of mine and it will be out in March of 2020. Like I said, shockingly good news on the writing front which has been quiet the balm for the rejections which have also tumbled in to remind me I’m NOT all that.

The yard and garden have been keeping me on my toes. I had a Disney Princess montage! I went out to plant willow near the road. I put three in and turned around to see a black butterfly with amazing blue iridescent spots. I walked around to the next section and found a yellow swallowtail butterfly on the pale pink lilacs fluttering about. Then, walking to the next section, I heard a ruckus. It turned out to be a duck squawking for the baby ducks to get in line. All of this happened in like 6 minutes. It was amazing. And of course I had no camera at the time.

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This is the pale pink lilac bush. I wish there was a way to have you inhale the aroma. Wild roses are blooming nearby so it’s heady on that path.

Monday, I had a lovely time in Springville at Café 49 catching up with Kim Chinquee and Wednesday morning found me at Spot Coffee in Orchard Park with Mary Akers. I wrote and she worked on Crab Con details. And I got my swag bag!

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Tuesday I did more yard work since the weather is spotty and found the slim irises are also in bloom.

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And back on 31 May, even though I told Husband he didn’t have to, I was honored to receive roses from him to commemorate 19 years of being married/20 years together. (Isn’t he sweet?)

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Anyways, and all in all, this is one of the happiest posts I’ve ever gotten to write. Thanks for stopping by and for the read!

Bits of Spring with a Cartoon Sheepdog Impression at the End

There’s a meme floating around that gives a rundown on “spring” and how it takes several stabs before it actually arrives. Creekside, we’re at the spring where the snowdrops appear.

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They are a welcome sign. I’ve also spotted tulips and hyacinths emerging.

Later today I’ll be transplanting the roma and cherry tomato seedlings to pots so yes, for me, spring is here, and so far it’s fabulous. Happy birthday to XO Man because it’s his birthday. Mine is coming up soon and I’ve already gotten a gift, Mr. Fishy fish!

Isn’t he adorable? Mary Akers made him and I’m using him as a tea bag holder. She gave him to me (Gina got one, too) yesterday at SPoT Coffee on Transit. There, I started a new story. On the way home, Ben’s check engine light came on – right in front of Goodyear. They plugged in the scanner and it was an oxygen sensor so I drove to the Hamburg Library. I returned “The Friend” by Sigrid Nunez. Great book, but a bit harsh toward memoirists of trauma, I thought. I picked up the books that I had requested: Coetzee’s, “Disgrace,” Brautigan’s “The Abortion,” and Saroyan’s “Boys and Girls Together.” I’ve been waiting on “The Abortion” for months and the copy I received also has “Revenge of the Lawn” and “So the Wind Won’t Blow It all Away” in it. After I read the others, I might take up the extras. “Disgrace” was referenced in the Nunez book. I read “Boys and Girls Together” yesterday. It has been touted by Jim Miner in the Hamburg Writers’ Group for a long time. Now I need to find out what why. I’m on the fence about finishing Cathleen Schine’s “They May Not Mean To, But They Do.” She had the biggest blurb for the Nunez book, and I adored “The Love Letter” but I’m on page 83 of this novel and can’t figure out why agents and editors thought it was important to publish. Maybe I’ll change my mind if I finish it. Maybe it’s not coming to me at the right time…

On the 17th, Husband was being loud with the kitchen renovation which pushed me to get dressed and drive to Rust Belt Books. I wish I had left sooner so I would have had more time to browse, it’s an enchanting space. There, I saw Kim Chinquee read from her latest, “Wetsuit” and Joey Nicoletti read from “Thundersnow.” Afterwards, some of us went to the Gypsy Parlor for dinner and drinks. (Tonic for me – it is Lent after all.)

I met Nina Fosati at the Comfort Zone on Wednesday the 20th.   We had a lovely meal then drove to Kleinhans Music Hall to see Min Jin Lee.

She was funny and bright and the question and answer question section with Barbara Cole was a delight.

The story I’ve been writing for the SMOLDR contest is finished. I cannot thank Nina Fosati enough for her help. Her insight and sharp eye were paramount in getting the piece as good as it is. I also want to thank Mary Akers for spotting the tense shift in the third section, James Wood for his “action verbs,” everyone in the Hamburg Writers’ Group who has listened, commented, and suggested tweaks, and Gina Detwiler who read the final version yesterday and said it was, “So Good,” funny, sweet and clever. Let’s hope the judges think so, too – knock on wood.

So those are the highlights from the past two weeks. I’m off to do Pilates, transplant seeds and write. If the weather holds, I’ll probably take the dog out again for an extended walk. Notice his resemblance to the sheepdog from the Road Runner cartoon.

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Thanks for stopping by and for the read!

 

Let There be Lent and Melting Snow

Even though I’m not Catholic, every year I give up alcohol for Lent. So, yeah. I’ve been completely sober for a week. This time, the thought of being done with drinking forever is stronger than it was last year, and stronger than the year before that. I mean, I’m not getting much out of it, am I? Plus, when I stop drinking, it’s so much easier to lose weight…and not engage in pointless Facebook and Twitter “debates.”

Tuesday held a pleasant surprise – and gave me an excuse not to watch The Bachelor. At the SGI Board of Education meeting, they voted to return the polling place to the Library/Media Center starting this May. Apparently, the points I made in my speech last month were well taken. It’s kind of nice to have made a difference for voters and according to Kimberly Moritz, future users of P-TECH. The handicap accessibility that was originally drawn up for that building is being reworked.

Wednesday was another writing session at Spot Coffee in Orchard Park – this time with Mary Akers! She was gracious enough to read the short story I mentioned in my last post. Oi, I’ve been polishing that thing! So many and such huge thank yous to Nina Fosati for her editorial assistance and keen insight into the genre. Mary noted a switch in tense that I corrected but said that otherwise it was good. I’m closer to sending it off. The rules for the contest have been slightly changed. Should I be lucky enough to make it to the top three entries, I’ll be begging for votes, as the winner will be determined “American Idol” style.

This morning the temperature was decent and I went out to hunt for signs of spring. No robins were spotted and no bulbs have emerged so far, but the sweet gum is forming buds.

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The windows are cracked open and fresh air is drifting in…it’s delighting me to step away from the computer and do something else, like take the dog to explore the melting snow and ice.

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Thank you for stopping by and for the read!

Pulling the plug, a December tradition

Once again, the Christmas chaos calms down and a piece of my heart dies with it…but first, let’s explore the highlights of the past few weeks…

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I know, this may not be a great thing for you, but look at the back:

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Ink! From the Paris Review! I also got a nod of encouragement that I could take my writing to a whole new level and get published in the Reader’s Digest if I wrote differently, so I’ve got that going for me…

The Playwright’s Potluck dinner party at Donna Hoke’s house was amazing. I met Gary Earl Ross’s wife, Tammy, as well as other writers, directors, and actors. I reconnected with some people from previous parties or workshops and had a great time. Husband and I caught up with Stepson and DIL over dinner at J. P. Fitzgerald’s and exchanged presents before they left to return to Texas. Within two days of their departure, my son flew up from a different part of Texas to Indiana. We agreed to meet about mid-way on a Wednesday. The timing worked and in Cleveland, we had lunch with a great friend named Michael who turned us on to an amazing market. We wandered around in there while waiting for my son and his family to arrive. Husband and I had appetizers with my son, DIL, and both grandkids at Great Lakes Brewery.

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While exercising off our meals, we stumbled across a glass operation with a resident chicken.

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We got a tree – which isn’t that unusual, but we went with a living pine tree for decorating. We – and by we, I mean Husband – put up multiple strands of light.

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All month, I’ve been receiving cards and notes from all over and I love each one. Thank you to all who sent us holiday wishes!

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Nephew from Portland, Niece from Boston, and her husband arrived to spend the holidays with us.

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During their visit, we went to the Eternal Flame. A logjam prevented me from going to the end because I’d brought the dog with us. He later thought he’d scored a rug, but it was a beautiful, 8 years in the making, gift from Niece to her brother.

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We drove to Leicester to see my sister and another niece. I was able to make it to a writing session/gift exchange with Gina and Mary. I doled out bags of candy to the workers at The Comfort Zone and my other writers’ group. I stopped by and visited with Nina Fosati. So basically, I’ve seen pretty much all the people and I’m grateful for those interactions because today is a rough one. Like I said, I’m losing a part of my heart today…

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She’s been in decline, but now – 4:30pm, actually – we’ll be driving her down the road for an appointment where we say our goodbyes.  I know, not the greatest way to end the year, but what are you going to do – other than wish you a Happy New Year. I’m ecstatic to be leaving this one behind.

Thank you for stopping by and for the read.

October. Bam!

While it’s tempting to wait as long as possible before the first wood fire, there’s also the tricky comfort level of humidity and cold bones to consider when living in western New York. Needless to say, we’ve had a few fires already and I’m trying to start one now…

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It’s been a fantastic week. Former Cactus came out early. My story, “Tilt-A-Whirl” was plugged by both Cathy Ulrich and Tommy Dean, so I guess I can die happy now. It’s a great issue including “Boomtown” by A.E. Weisgerber and such fun that Tommy Dean’s “Throttling” was first and mine was last. Alpha, omega…

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Riggwelter #14 contains my story, “Doing the Arithmetic,” a piece I wrote during a Meg Pokrass workshop. Thank you Amy Kinsman for accepting it!

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The esteemed Mary Akers decided to use several of my photos in October’s “Rust” Issue of r.kv.r.y. Quarterly Literary Review. I don’t think anyone knows how cool that is to me to have my pictures paired with such awesome writing. Thank you Mary! And thank you Gina Detwiler for offering Silo City tours as part of your book launch for “Forsaken.” Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been inspired to snag Husband’s camera and take pictures. I ❤ you both SO much!

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On Wednesday, I met Nina Fosati at The Comfort Zone for dinner, then we went to Kleinhans Music Hall to see Mohsin Hamid as part of the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series. It was smart and interesting. We sat by the woman who’s student started/narrated the video describing the block party series. I ❤ Buffalo!

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Oh, while I was talking to Nina, I found out Literary Orphans Issue 36: Nichelle dropped! Not only is my interview with Grant Falkner in this issue, so is this amazing story by z. t. wiser titled “True Love Waits.”. And  “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” by Lori Sambol Brody.  It’s one of my favorite issues!

Seriously. All of this. In one week. Bam.

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Thanks for stopping by and for the read!

Cheers!