Mrs. Entwhistle Cancels Christmas

I’m working on my third book, a compilation of short stories about a redoubtable woman named Cora Entwhistle. (All rumors that she and I bear a resemblance are totally untrue.) Here’s a Christmas story, Mrs. Entwhistle-style. Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

Mrs. Entwhistle Cancels Christmas

         Cora Entwhistle had mixed emotions. The thing was, she didn’t believe the Christmas story, but a respectable elderly lady living in a small town couldn’t voice such doubts. In her opinion, a virginal conception announced by angels was highly suspect. Why not just admit Mary was expecting before she got married? That was a story old as humans.  As for the whole manger/shepherds/wise men meme, she couldn’t buy it. The unassailable fact of the matter was that a person who’d lived hundreds of years ago was still so influential that all the years before and after was dated from his birth. That seemed significant enough without all the attendant window-dressing. But she kept such views to herself. After all, Winter Solstice had been celebrated from time immemorial; it just came wrapped in red and green these days.

Some things about the holiday she liked: midnight service on Christmas Eve, when the familiar old church took on an air of mystery and strangeness; the table groaning under the feast of favorite foods; seeing her children and grandchildren all together.  Some things she disliked: all that cooking; the difficulty of finding a date to gather family, the mad orgy of shopping and wrapping presents, the tension of deadlines and budget versus list. But she’d learned to concentrate on what she liked and ignore the rest as much as possible.

Mrs. Entwhistle was not one who did her Christmas shopping in July.  She believed the holiday season had already overlapped its boundaries like a fat man in an airplane seat.  She refused to think about it until December first.  That was still plenty of time if you didn’t plan to go mad and make a big fuss over everything. In due time, she called her daughter, Diane.

“Hello, Mama,” her daughter said.

“How did you know it was me?” Mrs. Entwhistle demanded

.        “You always ask that.  I have Caller I.D., remember?”

“Oh, yes.  It’s spooky, though, like you can see through the telephone.”

“Yes, Mama.  How are you today?”

“Oh, fine, honey, just fine.  Listen, I’m calling about Christmas.  When’s a good day for me to have everyone here?”

“Well, let me just look at my calendar.  It’s already filled up; seems to do that earlier every year.  Let’s see.  We have John’s family coming on the Sunday before.  And the kids are in the church program on Christmas Eve.  And on Christmas Day, we want to stay home so they can play with their new toys.  The week-end after, we’re taking them to Dollywood. It’s their big present this year.”

“Any week-days available?” Mrs. Entwhistle asked, through gritted teeth.

“John has to work every day except Christmas.”

“I see.”

“Sorry, Mama, I don’t mean to be uncooperative, it’s just such a busy time with the kids and two sets of families to celebrate with.  And you’ve left it kind of late.”

“Only one family is celebrating, far as I can see.  And today is December second.  I wouldn’t call that late.”

“Why don’t you just come here, Mama?  You could come over on Christmas Eve, spend the night and watch the children open their presents in the morning.”

Mrs. Entwhistle shuddered at the mental image of two over-excited grandchildren ripping and shrieking their way through the ridiculous pile of presents that she knew lay under the tree at her daughter’s house.  She pictured the mounds of wrapping paper and empty boxes, the hectic red cheeks of children who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and so did both. She envisioned the spilled cocoa, sticky on the floor; the quarrelling over who got more or better presents; the exhausted faces of parents trying, against all common sense, to enjoy the occasion. No, thanks. Not even if they were her own children and grandchildren.  She had an ace up her sleeve for just such an occasion.

“What about Roger?” she asked.

“Mama, you know Roger can’t come.  Jeannie’s allergic; she’d spend the whole holiday sniffling and coughing.”

“Well, I can’t just leave him at home.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s little dog, an ancient Shih Tzu of uncertain lineage, was her built-in excuse when she didn’t want to do something. Nobody much wanted Roger to visit, not that it was his fault that he had those skin problems and a bit of an odor. He was old, after all.  And he did get confused sometimes when he was away from home, and forget to go to the door when he wanted out.  That one time he’d lifted his leg on Diane’s new sofa, Mrs. Entwhistle had never heard such a scream.  Scared the poor little dog so much he dried up in mid-stream.  It was not lost on Mrs. Entwhistle that Jeannie’s allergy developed right after that visit.

“All right, Diane,” she said into the phone now.  “Let me check with Tommy.  You be thinking if there is some time you might squeeze your mother into your schedule.”

Mrs. Entwhistle hung up, hearing Diane’s sputtering as she replaced the handset of her old-fashioned desk model telephone.  She dialed Tommy’s number at the office.

“Accounting,” he said crisply.

“Tommy, it’s Mama.”

“Oh, hi, Mama,” Tommy said, his tone changing instantly from business-crisp to whiney-casual. “I’m being rushed off my feet right now, could I call you back later?”

“This won’t take a minute.  I’m just trying to see when you can come for Christmas.”

“I’m not celebrating Christmas this year,” Tommy said.  “Since Judy took the girls and left me, I don’t have anything to celebrate.  In fact, I’m going to ignore the whole deal.  Maybe go skiing.”

“You don’t ski, Tommy,” Mrs. Entwhistle said.

.        “I might learn.”

“I see.  All right, then.  ‘Bye.”

Mrs. Entwhistle was darned if she was going to spend one more minute begging her children to fit her into their plans.  She sat staring out the window at the bird feeder.  The black-capped chickadees and sober gray sparrows were having a grand time kicking the expensive sun flower seeds to the ground, where a couple of gluttonous squirrels Hoovered them up.  Apparently they have time to get together, Mrs. Entwhistle thought.  Then she rose decisively.

“Come on, Roger,” she said, rattling his leash and harness.  The little dog walked stiffly over and extended his neck toward the harness.  She slipped it over his head, buckled it around his belly, got into her coat, warm hat and gloves, and they set out for their daily walk.  Walking was a good time to think, and she had some thinking to do.

“Well, who says Christmas has to be celebrated, anyway?” she said to herself.  Mrs. Entwhistle often talked aloud as she walked.  Let people think she had one of those cell phone thingies clipped on her ear.  Half the population could be seen talking into thin air these days, like crazy people escaped from the Home.

“I’ll just do something else this year, on my own.  Maybe I’ll volunteer to serve the Christmas meal at the homeless shelter. I can plop turkey and dressing onto a paper plate as well as anyone.  That’d show Diane and Tommy.”

Of course, Diane and Tommy had a fit when she told them.  They felt guilty, as Mrs. Entwhistle knew they would.

“I’m not mad at you,” she explained several times.  “You are both busy.  Fine.  I can fill my time quite nicely, thank you. You’re off the hook, because Christmas with me is officially cancelled. I’ll see you after the holidays, when things settle down.”

And that was that.

~*~

         They were glad to have her, at the homeless shelter.  “We always need volunteers,” said the perky lady who took Mrs. Entwhistle’s call.  “We start prepping the night before, get those big turkeys into the oven at midnight, carve early in the morning, everything goes in the warming oven, and then we begin serving our clients at eleven.   People come through until around three, and then we clean up and go home.  Can you come for the whole day?”

“No, dear, I’m seventy-eight years of age.” Mrs. Entwhistle didn’t hesitate to play the age card when it suited her.  “I’ll come at ten-thirty and stand in the serving line.  As long as my old legs will allow,” she added, prudently giving herself an out in case she needed it.  Advanced age should have some compensation to balance out the things you lost, she figured.  Heaven knew there were enough of those.

At the appointed time, she drove into the mission’s parking lot.  Spaces were scarce.  You’d think the homeless people wouldn’t be driving, she reflected, maneuvering gingerly into a too-small spot.  The person on her right would not be able to get their driver’s side door open, but it was the best she could do.  Maybe she’d leave before that person did.

Entering the warm, brightly lit kitchen, she felt shy.  She knew no one, and that in itself was a novelty.  Having lived in her house for fifty years, her neighborhood and its inhabitants were as familiar as her own face in the mirror.  A smiling, hurrying woman in a big apron came forward, holding out her hand.

“Hi!  I’m Marge!” she shouted.

“Cora Entwhistle.  I called…”

“Yes!  I was expecting you!  Come on in and get your apron!”

Mrs. Entwhistle mentally christened her Shouter. Obediently, she slipped the stained white apron over her head and tied the strings in a firm bow behind her back.

“People!  People!  Our clients are waiting at the door already!  I need someone to go out and tell them to line up in an orderly way!  Mrs. Entwhistle, would you do that?”

Mrs. Entwhistle nodded and moved toward the glass double doors, beyond which could be seen a jostling throng.  Everyone seemed to be dressed alike, in dark jackets, black knitted caps and camo pants.  They looked cold.  And menacing.

She pushed the door open, stepped outside and heard the lock click as the door shut behind her.  Great, now she was locked out in the cold without a coat, in the middle of a mob of hungry strangers.  Sure to get pneumonia, if not get shot.

“Uh, folks…friends,” she said in her naturally-carrying voice, “I’ve been asked to tell you to form an orderly line before the doors are unlocked.”

“I was in an orderly line, until this shit-head pushed in front of me,” said one woman.  She cast a baleful look at the offender.

“She left and then came back and jumped the line,” he said.  “If you leave, you give up your place, right?”

“Now, now, ‘tis the season,” Mrs. Entwhistle said, but she was met by stony stares.  “You know, to be jolly,” she explained.

“Ain’t nothin’ jolly about standin’ out here in th’ cold,” someone muttered.

“If you’re too good to wait, why don’t you get on outta here?” said an anonymous voice in the crowd.

“Don’t you tell me what to do; I’ll break your sorry head.”

Mrs. Entwhistle wondered how the newspaper headlines would read in tomorrow’s paper:  Elderly Woman Killed in Riot at Homeless Shelter.  Or, best case scenario:  Saintly Volunteer Quells Homeless Unrest.  “I certainly wouldn’t call myself a hero,” she rehearsed in her mind.  “I just did what anyone.,..”

At that moment, Shouter swung the glass doors open wide and Mrs. Entwhistle surfed into the warm dining room on a tide of humanity.  She washed up near the kitchen door and took her place in the serving line. The plates started coming.  Plop, shuffle, plop, shuffle, it was endless.

“Make eye contact!  Say Merry Christmas!” Shouter shouted.  But Mrs. Entwhistle barely had time to glance up from the enormous vat of dressing.

She remembered the old I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy and Ethel worked on the candy factory assembly line, and, unable to keep up with the conveyor belt, stuffed chocolates into their mouths and clothing.  At least dressing would be warm next to the skin, if it came to that.

Finally the line slowed and then trickled out. The volunteers were encouraged to fix themselves plates and Mrs. Entwhistle did so, having worked up a good appetite.  Like the clients, this would be her only Christmas dinner.  She looked around for a congenial table.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked, approaching three seated women.

“Sit down, dearie, take a load off,” one of the woman said.  “I’m Rachel, this here is Patricia, and that’s Mary.”

“Cora,” Mrs. Entwhistle said, dropping heavily into the folding chair.

“Tired you out, didn’t we?  You have yourself some turkey now and catch your second wind.”

The women continued the conversation that Mrs. Entwhistle’s arrival had interrupted. “You need to leave now if you’re gonna walk to the women’s shelter in time to get a bed,” Rachel said.  “I’m gonna sleep in my place. I’ve got a little pup tent up in those woods off the interstate.  Got me a propane heater, so I’ll be okay.”

“Willy caught hisself on fire with one of them heaters,” Patricia said.

“Yeah, but Willy’s an idiot.  Probably had all kinds of blankets and papers piled right up on it.”

Mrs. Entwhistle thought of her own bed, never before viewed as luxurious, and of the hot bath she intended to sink into when she got home.  The women had draped their outerwear over the backs of their chairs – second-hand woolen coats that had seen better days, cleared from closets of plenty.  The requisite knitted caps were still on their heads, no doubt to hide hair that wouldn’t stand the light of day.  Fingerless gloves and one pair of mittens knitted in a reindeer pattern lay on the table.  Were they warm enough on this glitteringly cold day?  And what about the nights?  Where were these women’s families?

Mrs. Entwhistle spoke up.  “Do you have children?  Have you seen them over Christmas?”

All six eyes turned to her.  They regarded her silently for a long moment.

Rachel spoke first.  “My boys are in California, I reckon.  That’s what they said when they left a couple years ago.  I heard from one of them for awhile, but when I had to give up the house, I didn’t have no address to give him.  I had a cell phone ‘till someone stole it off me while I was sleepin’.  I don’t guess my boys would know where to find me if they was lookin’.”

“I never had kids,” Patricia said.  “Never been married.  When the factory closed, I couldn’t make my rent no more, so I had to get out on the street.  Been out there for three years now, and it ain’t so bad, once you figure out where to get help when you need it.”

Mary’s head was down.  Tears leaked slowly from her closed eyes and made tracks down her cheeks.  She said nothing.  Mrs. Entwhistle drew in her breath to speak, but Patricia caught her eye.  No, her head shook, and she placed a finger on her lips.  Mrs. Entwhistle exhaled and closed her mouth. She understood.  Some things went too deep for words.

“So!” Patricia said, with forced cheer, “The women’s shelter is real fine.  We c’n take showers and wash our clothes and on Saturdays there’s a gal comes and gives haircuts.  Lotta times someone brings in a big pot of soup.  But…” she hesitated. “Well, it’s a mite far from here. If you was to give us a ride, that would sure be a help.  If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s glance fell on Mary’s foot, clad in a filthy orthopedic walking boot and elevated on another folding chair.  “How did you hurt your foot?” she asked.

“Oh, just got a dang infection between my toes.  Feet are wet a lot.  It’s getting better, but it still hurts like hell when I walk on it.”

“Of course, I’ll drive you to the shelter,” Mrs. Entwhistle said with some difficulty. There seemed to be a big lump in her throat.  “Whenever you’re ready.”

Coats and gloves were donned, with much winding of scarves around necks.  They need waterproof boots, Mrs. Entwhistle thought, resolving to go to Wal-Mart the next morning and purchase several pair.  And maybe some warm flannel shirts, too.

Rachel said good-bye in the parking lot and set off on foot for her pup tent in the woods.  She turned and waved several times before she disappeared into the trees.  The other women climbed into Mrs. Entwhistle’s car.  Never had her old Buick been so appreciated.  Patricia and Mary commented on how nice and clean Mrs. Entwhistle kept it.  They complimented her on the soft seats and strong heater and smooth ride.  When they arrived at the women’s shelter, both women gripped her hands, told her she was as good as an angel, and wished her a Merry Christmas as they hauled themselves back out into the frigid and darkening day.

“Merry Christmas,” Mrs. Entwhistle said back.   She’d slipped a twenty dollar bill into Mary’s coat pocket.   A little voice whispered in her head:  she’ll probably buy a bottle with it.  I don’t care, Mrs. Entwhistle answered.  Whatever gives her a little comfort.

She resolved to go back to the shelter in the morning with the contents of the crowded coat closet in her front hall.  After all, I can only wear one coat at a time, she thought.  Any more just get in the way.

Driving home in the gathering dusk, she silenced the radio and told herself a story instead.  “Joseph had to register with the census so he could be taxed.  That’s the most believable part of the whole thing.  We can all relate to that.  And anybody who’s had a baby knows they come when they darn well please, so Mary could have been caught by surprise with those first labor pains.  Maybe the shepherds really did leave their flocks and walk a ways to see the new baby, just for something to break the monotony of sitting in the fields looking at sheep all day and night.  A new baby is always interesting.  Now, the three wise men – no way they’d have shown up that night, all the way from Asia or China or wherever it was. But I guess there could have been rumors that got them curious, too.  Maybe they were heading that way anyway, and decided to stop in and see for themselves. It was different back in those days, folks didn’t get their news on the television or the Internet.  Stories probably got better as they were passed along, like a big game of Gossip. Could have been some bright stars in the sky, too.  No city lights to drown them out.  But angels, now—there I have to draw the line.”

It was almost dark now, but home was near.  She pictured Roger, waiting by the door to greet her exuberantly.  Maybe she’d build a fire in the fireplace, take a long, hot bath, have a cup of soup, call the kids to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Her children may have been unavailable today, but they were there for her at the other end of the telephone line. They knew where to find her. They’d always know that.

Filled, suddenly, with contentment, Mrs. Entwhistle hummed a little. Then she sang the words, turning her face up to the first bright evening star, her quavery voice cracking on the high notes:  “The first Noel, the angels did say, was for certain poor shepherds, in fields as they lay.”

It didn’t seem to matter anymore whether the Christmas story was true in a literal sense. There was a kernel of truth in there somewhere, and it was enough.

###

 

 

 

 

 

Shut Up and Vote

Life is short. And because life is short, I’m not going to waste one minute – one second, even – spinning my wheels over things I am powerless to change. That includes the current presidential race.

Do I have opinions? Of course. Do you want to hear them? No? I didn’t think so. I don’t particularly want to hear yours, either. It’s swell if we agree, but if we don’t, we might jeopardize our friendship. My friend, you are precious to me and I don’t want to lose you.

Besides, we could stand toe-to-toe arguing until our knees buckled and we fell over backwards. We could have polite, learned discussions that would light up the intellectual skies. We could blacken each other’s eyes and bloody each other’s noses over our differences. But chances are, neither you nor I would change our opinions as a result.

There is a deafening babble surrounding this year’s presidential race. It’s hard to sort out the issues from the distractions, the lies from the truth. Truth is a slippery little critter at best. My truth may not be yours; yours may strike me as exceedingly iffy. It’s tempting to fall back on simplistic answers and ignore the fact that complex ideas can’t be expressed in slogans. It’s tempting to say, “I’m not voting this year.” Or, “I’ll write in my dog’s name.” But how can we forget there are people in the world willing to die for the right to vote? Remember those Middle Easterners proudly displaying their ink-stained thumbs?

If all the ranting and raving get to be too much, take comfort in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written just before the Civil War: “…sail on, O Ship of State. Sail on, O Union strong and great.”

I have to trust that our Ship of State will sail on, no matter what the outcome of this election is. Meanwhile, I give you permission to dial it down a notch, to ease up on your First Amendment rights, and remember that we’re all in this together.  I give you – and myself – permission to just shut up and vote.

Smashing some words with Smashwords

I didn’t want to do an interview. Who cares what I think, right? And besides, I’m not even sure what I think. But there was this author page on Smashwords with my name on it that remained boringly blah, and one of the options to pep it up was an author interview. Smashwords provides the questions; you provide the answers. Since my goal is to do something every day to promote my latest book, Every Last Stitch, I decided the interview would be today’s thing.

Surprisingly, it was fun. I got to talk about my favorite authors, how I write, what my next project is about, and my earliest experience of reading. (Ah, memories of Dick and Jane! Those of us of a certain age can relate to the See Spot Run (“Run, run, Spot.”) stories in our first grade readers.  Our young eyeballs glazed; our developing minds went AWOL. Kids today have it easy with their peppy little stories. We had to slog along with Baby Sally.)

I’d like to reprint the whole interview here, but I don’t think Smashwords would go for that. So I hope you’ll go to Smashwords, type in my name, and read it onsite. You can hum “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.”  And then I’d love it if you’d comment on your reading life. For instance, can anyone remember Dick and Jane’s kitten’s name?

 

Who Likes Lemonade, Anyway?

I read the manuscript,  reread it, and then read it again. Spell-checked it several times. Kind friends read it for me. And there is STILL a misspelled word in the pages of my new book, Every Last Stitch.

Arrgh!

Yeah, I know: lemonade out of lemons, and all that. So, in the hope of sweetening some very sour lemonade, here’s my offer: to the first reader who finds the misspelling in the paperback and emails me at reidybooks.com, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.  (Hint: it’s an adverb. Adverbs are mean and sneaky, and they don’t like to be speled rite.)

If, in your quest for my mistake, you happen to enjoy the book, let me know. It will make my lemonade a little bit sweeter.

Every Last Stitch Takes a Bow

At last! This book has been waiting in the wings for a couple of months while I tried to figure out how best to launch it into the world. Since I never did figure it out, here it comes anyway. It’s now available on Amazon.

There’s something scary about publishing a book. I’m afraid you’re going to read it and say, “Is that what goes on in her mind?” But, on the other hand, maybe it’s a welcome relief from what you feared went on. I hope you read it and like it…and then I hope you’ll review it on Amazon. In fact, if you’re willing to write an honest, objective review, I’ll send you a copy of the book, either in paperback or PDF file. Shoot me an email at reidybooks@gmail.com and I’ll get your preference to you.

Reviewing is easy. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to Amazon
  2. Type in Doris Reidy
  3. When Every Last Stitch appears, scroll down to “Write a Customer Review” and click
  4. You’ll get some questions to answer, and then a space to type in your comments. It doesn’t have to be literary criticism. Just say what you think.

Reviews are like gold. They show people are actually reading and taking time to comment. I hear that after a book has accumulated 50 or so reviews, Amazon raises its monolithic head and sniffs the air. Okay, that’s a scary mental image, but you get what I mean.

My goal is to grow readership, so if you get a copy of Every Last Stitch, I’d love it if you’d pass it along when you’re finished with it. Add it to a neighborhood book swap; pass it along to someone in your book group; give it to your cousin, Joe. The more readers, the merrier I’ll be.

Keeping It In The Family

It turns out my thirteen-year-old granddaughter is a writer, too. She spent a week with me recently and while she was here, she worked on a short story. Imagine: here’s this dear child whom I love to distraction, saying, “Nana, can I read you what I wrote?”

Most of us in writing critique groups know the feeling of panic that hits when a fellow-author asks if we’ll read his or her work. Yikes! What if it’s lousy? Most writers secretly want praise and assurance that their work is absolutely flawless. Some thick-skinned individuals can deal with carefully worded suggestions. But almost everybody gets mad if you become too carried away in the honesty department.  That’s what I was thinking.

What I said was, “Of course.” I planned to be kind. She’s just a kid.

Imagine my relief when I realized she can write! She composed dialogue that sounded like real people talking, and she understood point of view. I’ve been in classes where people five times her age had trouble with those aspects of fiction-writing. (I am sometimes one of them.) Her innate talent reinforced my belief that the ability to write is with us from an early age. You can learn to parse a sentence. You can learn rules, guidelines and iambic pentameter. But a natural ability to get words onto paper in readable fashion is as unmistakable as a graceful jump shot that sends the ball whooshing through the net. You know it when you see it.

So there’s my granddaughter, plugging away on a story that may accompany her application to a fine arts high school. She read it to me scene by scene. I made notes and then we talked. Because she’s the real deal, I gave her the same kind of critique I’d give an adult – honest and unvarnished. Now here’s the cherry on top of the sundae: she could take criticism and utilize suggestions for a rewrite, while understanding that it’s her work and her voice. Sometimes she didn’t agree with my comments and that’s okay. She got it that the only proper response to a critique is “Thanks. I’ll consider that.”

Now, you may be thinking that I’m just a proud grandma, and quite possibly you’d be right. But I’ve hung out with enough writers to feel confident that I can recognize ability. Can’t wait to see where this girl’s talent takes her. I’m betting there will be a book dedication to good old Nana someday.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

 

If you ever want to bring a blank look to the eyes of a writer, ask that. It’s a logical question. All those intricate plot twists, characters and situations – where the heck do they come from? The thing is, we don’t know. They may appear full-fledged, as in “Aha!”  Or they might tippy-toe into our subconscious, as in “Oh…yeah.”

Sometimes they lie in wait. I’m surprised by the people and events that ambush my computer, and presumably, my mind. I like to start typing with a germ of an idea and see where it takes me. If I get stuck, I ask myself what would be the most unlikely thing that could possibly happen next. So characters take sharp left turns, veer right and do illegal U-turns all the time.

But let’s think: say you were going to write a story. Where would you get your plot idea? Well, do you have an eccentric relative about whom family myths are spun? Was there a house you lived in and loved? Ever had an unrequited love? I’ll bet you could flesh out all three of those skeletons with stories uniquely your own. All you need is a person in a place with a problem. And we’ve all been that person. We’ve all had life experiences that tested, tickled and taunted us. That’s the jumping-off point for a novelist.

However: beware of reality. It’s fiction’s enemy. “But it really happened this way!” you may protest. Yeah, and who cares? Reality hardly ever has a satisfactory beginning, middle and – especially – end. The most earth-shaking events tend to taper off into normality, simply because humans crave and seek normality. Beginnings are seldom sharply defined. With the exception of birth, beginnings just sort of happen. And middles! Middles are mindless muddles of the mundane. Nothing interesting about ‘em in real life. But readers want a cohesive narrative that keeps them turning pages, so…you make it up. Or, you beat your head on the nearest wall and return to the land of sanity where people actually live their own lives, instead of dreaming up worlds for imaginary characters. But where’s the fun in that?

So here’s a challenge: describe someone. Could be someone you know or a someone you invent. Make him or her memorable. For example, here’s a character I love, Cora Entwhistle. She’s a lady of mature years who has definite opinions, but she won’t offer them unless you ask.  Mrs. Entwhistle doesn’t seek adventures, but they seem to find her. Her ancient dog, Roger, gets kidnapped; she’s swept into the witness protection program; she unknowingly eats a pot brownie. To all these situations and many more, Mrs. Entwhistle responds with straight-ahead common sense. (I like her so much I’m working on a book of short stories about her.)

And where did I get the idea for Cora Entwhistle? No clue.

 

 

 

Every Last Stitch, Sewn and Double-Knotted

So I’m finally lifting my head and taking a look around, after almost two months of feebleness. My first-ever case of bronchitis laid me low for far too long. As in, “Hey, I missed Spring,” too long.

Somehow, in the midst of all the coughing, my second novel, Every Last Stitch, was completed and is about to become a paperback reality. I’m trying to decide if my teacher and mentor, Josh Langston, is right when he says each subsequent novel becomes easier to write. I’ve picked up some good tips from his writing classes: write chapters in sequence so you don’t have to cobble it all together at the end; keep track of what’s in each chapter so you can find scenes again; list your characters’ names and traits because you’ll forget they are 85, Hispanic and have blue hair, and make them something else on page 85. But I still prefer writing without an outline. I’m as surprised as anyone at how some of the characters act. And I’m fairly undisciplined about sitting down and plugging away at it every day. That seems too much like a job. Don’t want a job.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Kill your darlings?” Your children are actually safe; it refers to the darlings that writers foster – that phrase that is so right, that allusion that says it perfectly, that cover illustration that knocks it out of the park. Only it doesn’t. Darlings, by definition, don’t work. It’s wrenching to say the final sayonara and cut ‘em loose. I had a darling with Stitches. It was a photograph for the cover that was just…so…perfect. A friend took several shots, all good, and I was in love with the image she captured. But no matter how we fiddled and jiggered it around, it just didn’t work. The new cover, designed by Josh, who is a cover-designin’ genius, is better. I know that. Still, I grieve a little bit for my lost darling.

An enormous thank you, and you, and you, to the first readers who read and critiqued the various versions of my manuscript online. (Personally, I don’t take kindly to reading online. I much prefer turning pages and jotting little notes in the margins with a pen. I also like cave drawings and dinosaurs. Tough luck for me, right?) I know my readers gave me a major gift of time, laced with aggravation, along with their good feedback. I’m grateful.

And finally, kudos and tons of thanks to Josh (see “genius” above), owner and operator of Janda Books, who critiqued, formatted and designed with his usual good humor and patience. There will be a special place for him in Writers’ Heaven, with no deadlines, no authors nipping at his heels, and no computer glitches. Until then, may his life on Earth be heavenly.

As soon as Every Last Stitch hits Amazon books, I’ll let you know. I hope you’ll read it and tell me what you think.

OMG — Why Am I Doing This?

2nd acts banner

My web page is called 2nd Acts because writing is a second act in my life. I always wanted to be a writer, but life got in the way. After raising three kids, being married for 51 years, working as an executive assistant to some very nice CEOs, and then becoming a widow, I figure I’d better get a move on with my second act before the curtain descends for the last time. (Cue the lugubrious music.)

I’ve been advised not to talk about my age, because there’s little interest in what old people have to say. It’s true we live in a time and place that values youth, and as a society, we tend to marginalize the elderly. There’s a point, though, when old age becomes cute (think “spunky” and “look, she still doesn’t wear orthopedic shoes”). I’m just about there, so let’s go with that. I trust you to see beyond my wrinkles.

My first book, Five for the Money, is about five office workers whose lottery pool hits the big jackpot. The infusion of sudden wealth into their lives is a game-changer, and not always a good one. These people are gob-smacked with all the possibilities before them. What to choose? What to keep? What to discard? If you’ve ever fantasized about winning the lottery, you’ll be able to relate.

Five is available on Amazon, and you can click the link on this website and presto! You’re there. I would be eternally grateful if you readers would review it on Amazon. It’s not hard, really. Just say what you think. One review I like says, “Got the book yesterday, read it today, loved it.” Rumor has it that if a book garners a respectable number of reviews, say 50 or so, Amazon pricks up its corporate ears and starts paying attention.

Book Number Two – in progress – is titled Every Last Stitch. No, it’s not about a stripper.  This is the story of two sisters who clear out their mother’s house after her death, and in the process learn her deepest, darkest secret. They also learn a lot about themselves as their lives take surprising turns. The leitmotif is a baby quilt found in an old trunk in the attic, with a threaded needle still stuck in one of the squares. Who was working on that square, and why did she leave it unfinished? By the last chapter, every last stitch is revealed.

Self-published books appear at the rate of about half a million a year. Plus there are all those that are conventionally-published. That’s a lot of books. “Why should I read yours?” you ask. Just for fun. That’s the same reason I write them. Together, we’ll go on a little trip through our imaginations. I’ll tell you stories; you step into them.  If it stops being fun, you stop reading and I’ll stop writing. How’s that for a deal?