2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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From A to Z

If you’re interested in joining the A to Z Challenge, check out Damyanti’s blog Daily (w)rite. She’s a co-host to the A to Z Challenge.

I considered the Challenge, but knew I couldn’t write about twenty six subjects in less than a month, a year maybe, but never a month. I’m lucky if I blog every three months as it is. The motivation is gone. Where it went is beyond me. I should have named this blog Brain Fart instead of Brainstorm. I’d go ahead and change it, but I’m not sure how to do it. Who knows, maybe it’s too late. What can I say? I’m still technically-challenged (though I did finally buy a smart phone and am slowly learning how to use it). My brain doesn’t function the way it did when I was younger. It’s slowing down. Yours will too one day. Enjoy its brilliance while it lasts.

I’ve read so many different people’s ideas on what a blog should be. Most people pick a topic and stick with it. Not me. I’m random. And I don’t care if others say that’s not the way to do it. I don’t want to write about writing all the time. Plenty of other writers do that already. The subject is well-covered; I don’t have anything else to add. Besides, I’m still learning. I’m no expert. I’m an expert of nothing.

Even though I’m not joining the A to Z challenge I think I’ll try the basic concept. I need to blog more just to keep it from dying. My next post—and I have no idea when it will be, not that you’re holding your breath or anything—will be about something that starts with an A.

If anyone even reads this post, if you have any ideas please feel free to share. I need all the help I can get.

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March 22, 2014 · 8:46 pm

When to Cut and Run

No, my blog isn’t dead. At least, not yet. I haven’t written in quite some time. My excuses are many.

First, it’s the holidays! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that jazz. I know, I know, I haven’t written since April, I think, so I can’t use the holidays as an excuse. But I do sincerely wish everyone all the best and a happier New Year.

I have been writing, just nothing worth sharing yet. I’ve started on three short stories, none of which have a decent beginning or ending. I used to write short stories all the time, many years ago, but they kept growing longer and longer. That’s why I switched to writing novels. But it seems I need to publish more short stories in order to sell myself as a novelist. Frustrating.

I’m editing my thesis novel Daughter of the Bride (again) and have been for what seems like a very long time. Well, since graduating in June. It would be helpful if I trusted my own instinct, but I don’t. I hired an editor who made many valuable suggestions. I didn’t use all her ideas, but most. So I added and deleted scenes and wound up with over 95,000 words. I asked my writer friend Marla to read it. She had some great advice, too, some of which helped me remove scenes my editor had already advised cutting, but I had stubbornly refused. Now, after struggling with what many writers call “killing my darlings,” I’m deleting more scenes. I’m searching for overused words, too, which is enough to drive anyone crazy.  {Little side note of trivia: the lesser-known Arthur Quiller-Couch coined the term “Murder your darlings” in his 1914 lecture “On Style” (slate.com)}.

The following is a sampling of words and the number of times they appear in my manuscript:

was-733, were-199, when-180, adter-115, once-72, while-102

turned-91, stood-65,went-37, moved-39, seemed-30, appeared-30,

looked-178, glanced-75, stared-58, gazed-29, watched-62, peeked-15,

peered-19, squinted-7,just-81, well-53, oh-46, sighed-39, shrugged-23.

I could go on and on, but I won’t bore you with numbers. But you get the idea. I could go on and on with the word search and count, too, and drive myself insane! Or in my case, further insane. It’s addicting, playing with words, finding ways to replace them with something better. What I want to know is when do you stop the searching and thumbing through the thesaurus? How many times do you have to use a word before it is considered overused?

I’m down to a little over 82,000 words. I wonder. Is it time cut some more or run for the insane asylum? What would you do?

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JUST A FAN (OF A ROCK AND ROLL BAND )

As a child in the seventies I fell in love with the voice of lead guitarist Justin Hayward of the British rock band The Moody Blues. Once I saw him on the album On a Threshold of a Dream I discovered he was as beautiful as he sounded. I prayed for the chance to see him in concert, but it wasn’t until 1994, some twenty-odd years later, when my prayer was answered.

The Moody Blues came to town and performed with the local symphony. A radio station announced an opportunity to meet the band for one hundred dollars. I wanted so much to meet my idol, but I was a thirty-two-year-old mother of a toddler and a teen, returning to college for my elementary certification, and therefore, tight on money (plus, my husband wouldn’t let me). I bought tickets, but didn’t get front row seats. I kicked myself for months afterward. Why didn’t I ignore my husband? Kick. Why didn’t I spend the money I didn’t have? Kick. I could have charged it!

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A younger Justin Hayward.

The night and music were magical. Afterwards, I wanted to play all my old albums but my turntable was broken, so I bought CDs to replace my antiquated collection. I listened to their music every day until my husband said, “You know, The Moody Blues used to be my favorite band, but since you’ve played the hell out of their music, I’m getting kind of sick of them.” To appease him, I played their music every other day.

My prayer was answered, but I wasn’t satisfied. I had not been specific enough. I wanted to be up close and personal, so I added this wish to my daily meditations. Before the concert I went through a writing dry spell, but after listening to them I felt the muse awaken. I wrote a corny short story about a woman who fantasized about Justin Hayward. (Hey, what can I say? Most fiction is based on reality.) In time, this phase played itself out. Years passed, my children grew, I began teaching. Life became hectic. Occasionally, I would loll myself to sleep with fantasies of Justin, but the obsession abated.

Seven years after my first Moody Blues concert I heard they were coming back. I made damn sure I was in line early to purchase tickets. This time I got front row seats. The day of the concert I went to the salon to have my hair styled. If I was going to make eye contact with my idol, I had to look my best. My husband laughed. When we found our seats at the auditorium, we sat next to a fellow who had been behind me in line when purchasing tickets. My husband whispered something in his ear. A few seconds later the man grinned and said, “By the way, your hair looks lovely.”

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Photo I took at the April 2013 concert.

The concert was fantastic. I was close enough to get some great photographs. I looked Justin in the eyes and couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. I floated on a sea of sighs throughout each song. In the end, the audience moved closer to the stage and the band members threw guitar picks and drum sticks, while shaking people’s hands. As Justin moved in our direction my husband pointed at me and shouted, “She loves you!” Then it happened. Justin shook my hand. My second prayer had been answered.

I begged my husband to walk by the backstage doors, but he wouldn’t. “Only groupies do that,” he said.

Well, I wasn’t a groupie, but after that concert I thought maybe my obsession had something to do with a spiritual connection. Maybe that was why I always wanted more. I shook hands with Justin Hayward. It should be enough. It wasn’t. I started dreaming about talking to him.

When I heard they would perform in Oklahoma City during Spring Break I about wet my pants. I would be in Norman, Oklahoma then, visiting my daughter who attended college there. I ordered tickets.

On Sunday, March 16, 2003, my twenty-two-year-old daughter Miranda and I met Debbie, a friend from OKC, at the Civic Center to embark on another Moody Blues voyage. Our seats were at the back by the lighting crew. Though far from the stage, we had an excellent view. Some of the songs brought tears to my eyes. When Justin sang, “I know you’re out there somewhere” and the lights flashed on the audience, I wanted to wave and shout, “I’m over here!”

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What girl wouldn’t fall in love with a face like this?

Once the concert ended, we sauntered out back and waited around with other fans, hoping to catch a glimpse of the band. After some time, they came out. Drummer Graham Edge and guitarist John Lodge and his wife left in a black limo. The rest of the band, along with Justin Hayward, left in a white van. Miranda took several photographs.

With a sigh, I said, “I wish I knew where they were staying.”

Debbie said. “Let’s go have a cocktail.”

“Where’s the nicest hotel?” I had an idea.

We drove by two. At the second one, the Renaissance, I saw a guy walking in, carrying a Moody Blues album. “I bet this is the place. Let’s have a drink here.”

On our way to the hotel lounge, we saw Paul Bliss, the keyboardist, and Gordon Marshall, the other drummer, talking to fans. I felt my blood pressure rise. We found a table and ordered drinks. The band members came in and sat at the table next to us. The drummer leaned over and asked if they could use one of our chairs. As my heart pounded through my ears, I said to my daughter and friend, “God, I hope he’s here.”

Not long after that, Justin Hayward walked in. I thought I would faint. We watched as they toasted each other with champagne. Fans came by, asking for autographs and photos. Debbie and Miranda kept saying, “Go over there. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.” I didn’t want to interrupt their celebration. And I was terrified.

Debbie told the waitress I wanted to meet Justin but was too shy. The next thing I knew, Miranda whispered, “She’s telling him. They’re all looking over here.”

I don’t know what the waitress told him, but she came back to our table and told me I was welcome to go over. Still too scared to make my move, I felt like crying. I started slamming down my beer, looking for strength in my liquid courage. When two chairs became vacant and it was last call for alcohol, the girls urged me on. “Go, go,” they chanted.

I took a deep breath, made myself stand, turn around, and plop into the chair next to Justin. I felt like a complete idiot. To make the situation more awkward, Justin was talking to a man sitting next to him. I couldn’t be rude and interrupt. Trying not to let on I was in a panic, I introduced myself to the female backup vocalist. Thank goodness, she was nice.

Before much else could be said, Gordon the drummer came back to the table. I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m in your chair.”

He sat in my lap “That’s okay,” he said in his charming British accent. “I’m the birthday boy!”

Oh joy! Comic relief. I wrapped my arms around his waist and laughed. “So how old are you?”

“Thirty-four.” He held up his glass and cheered. Everyone was laughing, including Justin.

I said, “You’re just a baby.”

“I mean forty-three.” He got out of my lap and sat next to me. Now I was sitting between Justin and Gordon.

Trying to keep the conversation alive, and not knowing what else to say, I stuck my foot in my mouth. “So did you get your birthday spanking yet?”

Everyone cracked up laughing. The female singer asked, “Is that with or without clothing?” More laughter.

They probably thought I was making a sexual advance. I felt my face begin to burn. Thankfully, the lights were dim. I tried to regain my dignity. “You don’t know about birthday spankings?” A shake of smiling heads. Obviously not.

“You get one spanking per year old you are, and then a pinch to grow an inch.” More laughter. Oh God, what did I just say? Why not the variation, “And one to grow on?”

Gordon said, “In that case I’m not 43, but 4003.”

When the laughter died down I introduced myself. I shook Justin’s hand and said, “You don’t know how many beers I had to drink to get the nerve to come over. I’ve loved you since I was a kid.”

He said something like, “That’s okay. I understand.” He was so nice. His voice was soothing and he looked as handsome as ever.

I felt like a silly young girl sitting next to him. At this point, I lost my senses and the rest of the story is the best I can recall.

Someone asked if Rebel was my real name. “Are you a rebel? Have you lived up to your name?”

“I was, but I’ve mellowed with age.” I explained that my mother’s name is Dixie.

Justin pointed to Miranda. “What’s your sister’s name?”

I laughed. How sweet of him. “That’s my daughter.”

I introduced Miranda and Debbie, though they remained in their seats. Everyone exchanged hellos. Justin asked why I didn’t name Miranda along the same lines as my name. I explained about hearing her name in a song and thought it was pretty. He smiled as if he appreciated I got her name from a melody.

Debbie said, “Rebel drove all the way from Midland, Texas to see you.”

I added, “I saw you last year in Midland.”

“That was two years ago,” Justin said.

“I had front row seats, you shook my hand, and my husband screamed, ‘She loves you!’” The band laughed. At least now they knew I was married, perhaps they didn’t think I was some hussy. Then I said, “I did something that made me feel really stupid.”

Justin leaned forward. “What’s that?”

“I was clicking away, taking pictures, when this roady told me to turn off my flash. I didn’t even think about how it might temporarily blind you.”

More laughter. Why worry they might think I was a groupie? By now, I’m sure they thought I was a complete idiot.

“The flash doesn’t bother us.” Justin shook his head. “Heavens no, we don’t care. It’s the concert hall that decides whether you can take pictures with or without flash.”

Relieved to know I hadn’t blinded my favorite guy, I still felt foolish for not thinking about all the stage lights and how much brighter they are than any flash.

I told him about how I had kicked myself for years for not attending the hundred-dollar event to meet the band many moons ago. He didn’t know what I was talking about. I explained hearing about the 1994 concert charity benefit, how I could have purchased a ride in a limo, had front row seats, and a chance to meet the band members.

“Aw ha!” Justin said. “That’s the catch . . . a chance to meet the band members. We don’t do those kinds of things. You can’t trust all you hear on the radio. Good thing you didn’t spend your money.”

I’m not sure what I said in reply. At least I didn’t have to kick myself anymore.

We spoke of other things. I told them about Stephen Stills playing in Midland, how there had been no advertising and a poor turnout for the concert. “It was embarrassing.”

“It was the promoter’s fault.” Justin pointed to the man sitting next to him. “That’s what he does. He’s the promoter here.”

The man scowled pure hatred. He looked like he would rather see me dead. I tried to ignore him, but his angry gaze made me uncomfortable. I struggled for something to say, so I mentioned seeing Bob Dylan in OKC. (Oh great, now I really sounded like a groupie, mentioning all the concerts I had been to.)

Justin pointed to the promoter again. “He promoted that concert, too.”

Someone asked, “How was he?”

“He was good,” I said, feeling my words begin to sputter. “The concert was outdoors.” I looked at Miranda. “Where was it at?”

“The Zoo.” The look on her face said, Mom, they don’t really care.

I continued regardless. “They sold beer there, so you could drink while you listened.” (Oh great, now they think I’m a lush as well as a babbling idiot.) “It was a lot of fun. A friend of mine broke her wrist . . . I mean her ankle while we were there.”

Gordon said, “Well, get it straight. Was it her wrist or her ankle?”

Everyone laughed.

“Her ankle,” I said, not knowing why I even mentioned it in the first place. Feeling even more flustered, I said, “Anyway, I turned my daughter on to The Moody Blues.”

Justin smiled. “What did you think, Miranda?”

“It was great!” She smiled.

The rest of the evening was a blur. I talked with Paul the keyboard player for some time. At some point Justin spilled a drop of red wine on his sweater. I asked if he had tried white wine to get it out.

“That doesn’t work,” he said.

“How about club soda?”

“That doesn’t work either.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here I was talking to Justin Hayward about laundry.

We talked some more, or should I say, I talked some more. I rambled on about how much fun Miranda and I have together, going on trips and concerts together. All the while, I could see Justin from the corner of my eyes, leaning back with his chin in his hand. Was he just listening? Or was he thinking: How did I get stuck with this weirdo at my table?

At one point, he asked about our stay at the hotel. I rushed on to tell that Miranda went to school in Norman, I was staying with friends there, and Debbie lived in OKC. He may have thought I was stalking him. I don’t know why I didn’t explain how luck (or divine intervention) had drawn us together.

The band had a long drive to Nebraska the next day and I had a long drive home. We all stood and shook hands. I would have left it at that, but my dear friend Debbie used her brains (she knew mine had been blown away). “Before you go,” she said. “Could I get a picture of you with Rebel? This would mean a lot to her.”

He was gracious and said yes, mumbling something about the wine spot on his shirt. We stood and put our arms around each other’s waist. I glanced at his face, still in a haze, not fully comprehending that I was next to HIM.

Miranda took my camera and shot the photo. “I think I blinked.” I moaned.

“I think I did, too,” Justin said.

“Take another one,” I ordered.

“I can’t,” Miranda said. “That was the end of the roll.”

I wanted to say, “Oh shit!” but instead I said, “Oh well, at least I got to touch you.” (Fortunately, the photo turned out and our eyes are open.)     

Scan

Justin and me. April 2003.

As the band headed toward the elevator, we girls waved, saying, “Goodbye, have a safe trip.”

I called, “We love you guys!”

Debbie, Miranda, and I went outside and hooped and hollered with joy. It had been a perfect night. I saw them in concert again this April. My husband and I had second row seats. I made eye contact with Justin. I couldn’t tell if he remembered me. Who knows, if he did, he may be afraid.

I still would like to meet him again so I’m working on another prayer. Never underestimate the power of prayer. I’d like a second chance to prove I’m not a stalking, babbling idiot. I’m just a lifelong fan of a singer in a rock and roll band.

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Graduation Vacation

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My family: Miranda, Dean and Morgan.

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So I finally did it. This June I graduated with my M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. It’s been a dream of mine for over twenty years. Why did it take me so long? Well, while I was raising my children and teaching full-time I never had the money or the time. Tuition isn’t cheap and teaching small children is mentally and physically exhausting.

Going back to school, especially at SNHU, was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I worked with the most talented writers, my wonderful mentors Jacquelyn Mitchard, Katherine Towler, and Ann Wertz Garvin. There were many more I would have loved to work with if only the program lasted another two years: Wiley Cash, Mitch Wieland, and Craig Childs, just to name a few. I recommend this low residency program to all who are serious about their writing. I had so much fun while honing my skills.

New Hampshire is such a lovely state with some of the nicest people. After graduation, my family and I took a vacation while there. We went to beautiful Portsmouth. Everywhere we looked history was preserved in this pristine seaside town. One of my friends, Sophia Easterly, also a SNHU grad, played our tour guide. I’ll attach some photographs to give you a little taste. We went to Strawberry Banke and back to Star Island for a farewell visit. My husband and daughters wouldn’t mind living in the “Live Free or Die” state if it wasn’t for the harsh winters. We’re from West Texas where it rarely gets below freezing. After we returned from our trip we visited Norman, Oklahoma, where my daughters live. It was lush and green there, too, though hotter than New Hampshire. Once back home we arrived to dry heat of over one hundred degrees. Now we’re looking forward to retirement and moving away from here. I could handle Oklahoma and living closer to my girls.

Now that I’ve graduated and completed my novel, what next? It’s time to find an agent. I have two editors who’ve said they’re interested in my YA novel Daughter of the Bride. With one a smaller publisher, I wouldn’t necessarily need an agent, but my published writer friends have warned it is essential to have an agent to protect my interests. So while I’m waiting for news on possible (nothing is guaranteed) publication, it’s time to seek out that special agent.

In the meantime, I’ll work on a sequel and dream of greener pastures.

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Portsmouth sunset.

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Downtown Portsmouth.

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Sophia and Steve showing us the gardens at Strawberry Banke.

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A Cleaner Living or Mobile Homes from Hell

My family has the mistaken idea that I enjoy housecleaning, all because I like living in a clean house. Some people might even think I’m a little OCD when it comes to cleanliness. When I was younger I never noticed dust on furniture, fuzz balls on the floor, or a ring around the toilet or tub. It all changed when I began cleaning repossessed mobile homes while in my twenties as an undergrad.
I already worked two part-time office jobs, had a Pell grant, and a couple of scholarships, but as a full-time student and single mother I was still financially at poverty level. I had to alternate monthly bills in order to survive, always a month or two behind on utilities, mortgage, and credit cards. I used my credit cards only for emergencies like when I needed new tires for my ten-year-old Camaro and had to replace my water heater. And there were a few times I was too broke to pay doctor bills or even buy groceries.
So I put an ad in the paper and started cleaning houses and A-1 Mobile Homes. The mobile homes were the worst. Very rarely were they hooked up to the dock where I could use running water and electricity. I often dragged a bucket of water and electrical cords to the various locations on A-1’s lot. Because I had such a long way to walk to refill the bucket I used the water until it was black and oily. I learned to appreciate running water and electricity.
First, I threw out all the items the previous owners left behind. I loaded the trash into the trunk of my car and drove it to the dumpsters. There I deposited motorcycle parts, clothing, broken toys and a wide range of household items. I remember one home where, in the back bedroom, I found a closet full of dolls with their eyes either poked out or scribbled on with markers. On the walls were certificates and photos of a little girl with dark brown hair receiving academic awards. She smiled in the photos, but it was a sad smile. Goosebumps erupted all over my flesh as I tried to imagine what she didn’t want her dolls to see.
At another place I tossed plywood that partitioned off a corner of the kitchen. Behind the wood stood a pile of dog shit three feet high. Long, deep scratch marks marred the cheap, paneled walls where a large canine had tried to claw his way out of his living hell. I found a big box and stationed it outside the back door where normally steps would have been. Then I shoveled the shit into it.
The worst trailer had to be the one where cockroaches scurried around the floors and kitchen and bathroom counters. They weren’t afraid of the light nor were they the only insects occupying the pig sty. Fleas jumped on my ankles and bit me as I swept the broom about trying to kill the roaches. I told the manager the place didn’t need to be cleaned, but burned to the ground. He said, “Do the best you can to make it look livable.”
It was a windy day. I opened the windows and smoked as I worked to block the stench. I couldn’t scrub the toilets because they hadn’t been flushed. The water was murky brown and stunk of . . . (well, use your imagination). As I thought about the poor fools who might end up buying this foul piece of junk, I flicked my cigarette butts out the front door. Later, I threw a soiled and stinky mattress out as well. It wasn’t long before I smelled smoke. I glanced outside. The damned mattress was on fire! I tossed my bucket of dirty water on it, but it kept burning. I jumped in my car and sped to the office building where the manager was busy talking to a potential customer. I took him aside to tell him about the fire. He rushed to the trailer. He and a salesman managed to drag the mattress far away from any of the other repossessed homes to let it smolder. He shook his head at me and laughed. “You weren’t kidding, were you?”
It really was an accident but it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit if the structure had burnt to the ground. I cleaned the place the best I could and the manager promised they would spray to kill its current inhabitants. That was the last time I worked for A-1. I quit. The ten dollars an hour wasn’t worth what horrible disease I might catch.
Afterwards, I looked at cleaning in a different way and developed a new-found respect for maids everywhere. How could anyone live in such filth? Obviously, there were many mobile home owners who did, or at least, the ones who couldn’t afford to keep them. If I could make a home, that deep down was still dirty, look clean, I would make sure my house not only looked clean but was super sanitary.
I still hate cleaning but I can’t rid myself of the nightmares. Now if only I could get my family to care about a dirt free environment as much as I do perhaps I could get them to help me out.

 

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In a Funk

I haven’t written a blog since December. Once the holidays are over I get in a funk. I stay inside my house hibernating from the rest of the world. Nothing I’ve written seems worth posting. I’ve even begun to wonder why I started a blog in the first place. Everyone said a writer needs to have a blog. But why? I don’t like the idea of promoting myself.

Well, anyway, I’m going to try to get back into the practice.

 I finished my novel Daughter of the Bride and sent it off to my thesis mentor Ann Wertz Garvin and second reader Jacquelyn Mitchard. I’m anxious to hear back from them. I graduate from Southern New Hampshire University with an MFA in Creative Writing in June. Already made hotel and flight reservations to New Hampshire. My family is coming with me and we’re going to vacation in Portsmouth while we’re there. I’m excited but also apprehensive. I’ll miss the peer workshops and deadlines.

I’ve started on a sequel to Daughter of the Bride but have only ten pages. I guess it’s normal to feel drained of creativity after finishing one major project. I just hope it doesn’t last too long. I rework old short stories but have no new ideas. Just curious as to how many other writers go through this funk and what they do about it.

If anybody’s out there who has any advice, please leave a comment.

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