Category Archives: Real Life of a Writer

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Novel

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I was 40 years old before I became an overnight success,
and I’d been publishing for 20 years.

Mary Karr
The Liars’ Club

When my first novel was accepted by HarperCollins — the HarperCollins, formerly Harper & Row, publisher of so many authors whom I adored — I thought that all my days of rejection were over. When my book began to be sold to foreign publishers via Harper’s Foreign Rights division, earning out the HarperCollins Advance within 6 months of acceptance, i.e., earning out its Advance before the book was published, I thought I was on the road to full-time writing. When the pre-publication and publication reviews for the first novel started pouring in — all good, and some absolutely stellar — I thought that all my years of hard work and ceaseless rejection had finally earned me a somewhat easier writing life.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The subsequent rejections started almost immediately.

With my editor.

Despite all her claims of loving my work, of wanting to be my editor for the remainder of my writing career, of wanting to publish all my books, etc etc etc, my editor did an abrupt about-face when I submitted my second novel to her.

Though my first novel was on the Holocaust, my editor found the second, on serial killers, “too violent.” She rejected it based on the violence.

If you know my work, you know I don’t do graphic violence. I was briefly hurt, and I wondered where all the “love” for my work had gone, but resolved, on my agent’s advice, not to take the rejection personally.

Despite the fact that my agent loved the second book and didn’t understand the editor’s rejection, we couldn’t take the book anywhere else because Harper had an “Option” on my next book, meaning that they had the right of first refusal. Further, if they rejected the book and another publisher accepted it, Harper had the right to match the other publisher’s offer on the book.

I’d thought the Option clause was a guarantee of future publication by Harper, but it was really just the publisher’s hedge against the ever-unknown-and-unknowable market. If the book did well financially, the publisher would have its own guarantee of publishing my next book. If the book didn’t do well in sales, the publisher could simply reject it and be legally free of any future obligation to me and my work.

Oh, the things you don’t know when you’re new to traditional publishing.

Because my agent loved my second book (though not the title), I assumed that she would simply sell it to another publisher. Granted, it might become my third book published instead of my second, but that didn’t bother me. I was already working on my third novel, so it didn’t matter to me which order the books were published in. I asked my agent where she would be sending the second novel.

“Nowhere,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Harper has the Option.”

Publishers don’t usually want books under an option clause with someone else, she informed me, because no matter how much the new editor wants the book, if he makes an offer, it’s likely to be “taken back” by the publisher that has the option. Though the first editor didn’t like the manuscript originally, most have a tendency to change their minds the moment another publisher makes an offer.

The Option clause in practice seems to work something like this: Editor 1, who is at the first Publishing House and who bought the rights to publish your previous novel, doesn’t think the next book you’re offering will sell, so Editor 1 rejects the manuscript. Editor 2, from the second House,  thinks the book will sell, and he makes an offer on your new book. Editor 1 now thinks that Editor 2 sees something she missed. Editor 1 then “re-evaluates” the book by simply buying it — for whatever price Editor 2 offered — hoping that Editor 2 was right about the book’s potential market.

Does that mean the book ends up with an editor who doesn’t really like the book?
That’s exactly what it means.
So why does the editor who originally rejected the book then accept it?
Money.

As in, the money the editor believes the book might earn despite the fact that she didn’t like it enough to buy it originally but which the second editor did think the book might earn.

What a convoluted process, and what a headache for the author.

My agent didn’t want to “shop the second novel around” because of the Option clause, but she had yet another reason not to shop the second book around: my first novel hadn’t even been published yet, so we had no sales figures. Further, no reviews had come in, not even pre-publication reviews.

That’s how early we were in the publishing process when this rigmarole was happening. The first novel had just been sent to the printer (about 3 months after acceptance, since the printing took about 6 months in those days) and no galley copies were available to send out to reviewers, who usually want the books about 6 months before the book’s publication date. We had no reviews or sales figures. My agent suggested we wait and see how the first book did before we shopped the second novel around. She suggested that I continue work on my third novel, which I did, erroneously assuming that the second novel would soon find a home.

Meanwhile, HarperCollins still had the Option clause on my “next” novel.
I was floored.
Hadn’t they just rejected my second novel?
Why was the Option clause still in effect?

“Because we don’t want to hurt the editor’s feelings,” said my agent. “If she doesn’t get a chance to publish the next novel you write that she’s madly in love with, she’ll be hurt, then angry. We don’t want an angry editor.”

I wasn’t happy about putting my second novel in Limbo, but what could I do? In traditional publishing, authors are not the ones with any power. Only bestselling authors have any power, and they only have it as long as they remain bestsellers.

It’s the traditional publishers who have all the money for Advances, so their editors have all the power. The agents earn their livelihood by pleasing the editors and bringing them books that they want to publish. No one in the traditional publishing system is going to buck the system.

Especially not 25 years ago where there were no other viable options for writers who wanted to become authors.

I returned to work on my third novel, assuming that, since it was not about serial killers, my editor would once again “love my work.”

She didn’t.
She liked the book.
Or, rather, she liked the idea of the book.
She thought the book itself needed some work.

“What kind of work?” I said, since she was talking directly to me about it, rather than through my agent.

“I found Claudia’s childhood scenes somewhat unnecessary,” said the editor. “Can you cut all of them out?”

I didn’t think Claudia’s childhood scenes were unnecessary, which is industry jargon for “boring.” I thought the childhood scenes were an important part of her character, her interaction with her husband, etc. I talked to my agent, who agreed with me about those scenes, but suggested I delete them anyway, to make the editor happy.

“After all,” said my agent, “she likes the book, which is more than we can say about the other novel.”

I agreed to the revisions without a contract.

What did I know?

Though I’d been published in prestigious literary journals and University magazines, I’d never had a book published. And lest you think that there were a great many options in those days, let me make it clear that there were no other options for writers to become authors 25 years ago.

There weren’t even any viable options as recently as 10 years ago. My last traditional publishing contract was issued in 2007, for my collection of short stories, which won the Grand Prize in an international writing contest, and that contract had no “electronic book” clause because ebooks hadn’t been invented yet, and without ebooks and portable e-readers, there was no way to self-publish and get your books in front of an audience. Period.

So, I spent another year revising my third novel, taking out all the childhood scenes involving the protagonist. My agent liked the new version of the book. She told me that she missed the protagonist’s childhood scenes but said that if she’d never read them in the first place, she might not have noticed that the book seemed “a bit less good than the original version.” She happily sent it to the editor, anticipating an offer.

My first novel had been published by then, and been out of stock for 6 of the first 8 weeks it was in print due to unanticipated demand. Editors were the ones who decided print-runs in those days before print-on-demand publishing, which means “print the books on demand” when the bookstores or consumers want them rather than trying to anticipate how many books need to be printed and warehousing the printed books until the bookstores order them.

After sending my newest version of the novel to my editor, my agent was happily preparing her negotiating stance, anticipating getting at least the same Advance for the second novel as she’d gotten for the first.

The editor promised to get back to my agent by Friday of the week she received the novel. Since the acceptance for my first novel had happened relatively late in the day, I waited all Friday to hear from my agent. When I called her around seven in the evening, she said she hadn’t been able to reach my editor all day.

“Not to worry,” said my agent. “I’ll get her first thing on Monday morning.”

Then, on Saturday afternoon, I got the letter from my editor.
Rejecting the second, substantially revised version of my third novel.

“I was wondering if you could do a bit more revision,” she wrote, “and put in something about Claudia’s childhood.”

“WTH?” I said, although that phrase wasn’t widely abbreviated at the time.

First thing Monday morning, I called my editor, certain that she didn’t mean what she’d written.

She did.

I reminded her that she’d been the one who’d asked me to delete all those scenes. I read her the letter that she’d sent to my agent, rejecting the novel the first time I’d submitted it to her. She told me that she remembered not liking the childhood scenes but that, upon reading the new version, she found herself “wondering what Claudia’s childhood had been like” and realized that she “missed those scenes and wanted them back.”

This time, I was furious.

I didn’t care how important an editor she was or that she was in line to become a VP at HarperCollins. I called my agent and told her about the rejection letter and the phone call with the editor. My agent was stunned: she hadn’t even heard from the editor though she’d called several times that morning (apparently, while I was on the phone with the editor myself).

My agent insisted that I fax her a copy of the third rejection letter: I don’t know if she was more upset about the rejection or about the fact that the editor had written to me directly instead of telling my agent that she didn’t want the book.  All I know is that my agent was livid.

My agent also wanted me to send her copies of the first two rejection letters from the editor: the one for the serial killer novel, which mentioned the book and its characters by name, and the letter for the first version of the third novel, which mentioned the characters by name and asked me to delete the protagonist’s childhood scenes. The newest rejection letter again mentioned the characters of the third novel by name and suggested that I put all the deleted childhood scenes back in.

My agent was going to break the Option clause.

“Now we have three rejections, in writing, of three different manuscripts,” said the agent. “That’s the end of HarperCollins for you.”

And, unfortunately, it was.

Though HarperCollins had put my first novel into its HarperPerennial line, the book was taken out of print shortly afterward.

“Apparently, Harper doesn’t understand the definition of ‘perennial’,” my agent said.

I always thought my first novel was taken out of print because my agent revoked the Option clause.

And the first novel was taken out of print about a month before Patrick Stewart optioned the novel for film.*

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

It was another three years before my third-written-but-second-published novel was accepted, in part because my first agent had her first child (at age 49) and took an extended maternity leave: when she returned, she would no longer be representing literary fiction. Instead, she was going to “concentrate on nonfiction only” because she could get Advances for her authors based on proposals (novels typically have to be completely finished before traditional publishers make a decision).

My second agent, who was recommended to me by my first, sold my next novel (with the protagonist Claudia who, by then, had all of her childhood scenes restored along with a new title for the book) and then proceeded to attempt to sell that publisher my serial killer novel.

The second publisher insisted on an Option clause on my next book…

But that’s another story, for another post, though the story is almost the same as this one except for the fact that the younger, less politically powerful editors loved the serial killer novel and wanted the publisher to buy it, but the older, more politically powerful editors, though they were “awake all night reading the novel,” felt it was “too scary” to publish “because nobody would read it” (despite the fact that they themselves had been unable to put the book down), and the younger editors who loved the novel didn’t have the political influence necessary to push the novel through the negotiations…

Oy, vey…

Nevertheless, I did learn some important things from all these torturous negotiations and editorial submissions and rejections of my second novel, and I want to share them with you (please don’t think that you have to learn these same lessons from my experiences).

  • There’s no end to rejection in a writer’s life, even after he becomes an author.
  • I don’t want Option clauses. (Even Amazon’s traditional publishing imprints include Option clauses in their contracts.)
  • I won’t substantively revise any novel unless it is already under contract. (Most publishers won’t even offer a contract if the editor wants substantive revisions.)
  • “Moles” operate at both traditional publishers and agents offices: moles surreptitiously pass manuscripts on to Hollywood and get paid for sending them those “stolen” manuscripts. (That’s how my serial killer novel, which was rejected by the HC editor, got pirated, including entire plot, scenes, characters, etc, by a very famous director/screenwriter and made into a film that so closely resembled my book that I found out about the theft of my novel from my friends who saw the movie and said, “OMG, that’s Alexandria’s novel…” My serial killer novel also got stolen by at least two others who made it into less “artsy” film versions of the exact same story, even including some of the actors who’d appeared in the art version, forcing me to revise my own novel so that Hollywood couldn’t say I stole it from them… but that’s another blog… and a seriously angry rant, lemme tellya.)
  • Having a book copyrighted, even with a registered copyright, doesn’t stop piracy of Intellectual Property, and it costs an unbelievable amount of money to hire an IP attorney and get a Cease & Desist against publishers or others who have pirated your work.
  • Traditional publishing, though it depends entirely on writers for its existence, doesn’t give a fig for writers or even for previously published authors because there are so many writers out there who’d literally give their books away to traditional publishers just to see the books in print.
  • Authors should never, ever give up.

Of course, now that authors have the option of publishing their own books at very little cost, as opposed to the previously very expensive and career-killing option of self-publishing, I don’t even think I would want to return to a traditional publisher.

Okay, maybe I’d try traditional publishing again if I was offered a big Advance, but it would have to include a humongous Advance since I never made any money in traditional publishing beyond the initial Advances. Until that happens, I’m happy putting all my out-of-print books back into print myself and doing my new books through the small publishing House I started after I retired from University (originally intended only to help other literary authors get published, not to put my own books back out into the market).

The main thing I learned from all the rejections by HarperCollins after it had accepted and published my first novel is that rejection never ends. Ever.

So get used to rejection, concentrate on writing your books, and never, ever give up.

Because, really, who would have predicted ebooks and the way they transformed the entire monolithic publishing industry?

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* Though the film was fully funded, it never got made… sigh… and authors only get paid when the film gets made… more sighs… (back to post)

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Filed under Agents, Authors, Books, Indie Authors, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Traditional Publishing

A Week in the Life of a Writer (and a Peek Inside My Office)

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I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life, or, at least, from the age of 6. By the time I was 12, I was writing stories, making covers, stapling them into little books, and offering these limited editions for sale for 25¢. Unfortunately, I had no buyers (or readers, for that matter), and those rare first-and-only editions have been lost. As an adult, when I switched from writing poetry to writing novels (and non-fiction books), I quickly learned that I couldn’t write only when inspiration dropped down out of the heavens. I needed to write as much as possible, preferably full-time.

I was a Professor at the time, and I was already writing full-time during the summer — during which teachers do not get paid unless they divide their 9-month salary over the entire 12 months of the year — as well as on holidays and weekends. I’d been trying to write my first novel on those holidays, weekends, and summers, and it took me an entire 9 months just to get the first chapter done.

I needed to write full-time.

But how was I doing to do it?

I got the brilliant idea of asking the bank for a loan. I lived in a small village where there were lots of artists, writers, musicians, professional singers, etc., so I thought the manager at the local branch might be more likely to approve a loan that was going to support a local artist.

When I applied for the bank loan, I’d been writing poems and non-fiction articles — and getting published in prestigious literary and University journals — for almost 15 years. My Vita of publications was already quite impressive, even though I had not yet published any books.

The bank manager knew who I was, apparently, and had heard that I was a good writer. With a letter from my University saying that I would have my job after I took 9 months off, without pay, and after putting both my house and my new car down as collateral, the manager approved the loan.

I borrowed $11K at 18 ⅞% interest, totaling over $18K for nine months off work. (I couldn’t take an entire year off because borrowing my entire year’s salary would have made the monthly payment out of reach on my budget. I settled for 9 months off work, which was technically a school year, and took off from March to December.)

Of course, once the bank approved the loan, I went home and promptly threw up, cried for a couple hours, then hyperventilated for a few hours more. I guess I never really believed anyone would actually let me borrow the money to take a year off work and write.

I was scared out of my wits.

I’d already signed the papers, so there was no turning back. I deposited the money, made out a budget, and then took off work to write full-time.

You know what happened next?

The first month of writing full-time, I didn’t write a single word.

Not a one.

Instead, I spent the entire month just thinking about the book I wanted to write.

Four weeks later, after I realized that it has just cost me $2K to think about writing for an entire month, I began to really and truly panic.

My best friend listened to me whine and cry and panic, and then she gave me some excellent advice: “How about you think about writing while at your desk,” she said, “with a pen in your hand, poised over a piece of paper?”

I never once thought she was being sarcastic or non-supportive. She loved me and wanted me to succeed. Furthermore, what she said made perfect sense.

“Pretend it’s your job,” she said, “because, for the remaining 8 months, it is your job. Get up at the same time every morning, get dressed, be at your desk, ready to write by, let’s say, 9:00. Work until noon. Take half an hour for lunch. Go back to work until 5:00, at least.”

That’s what I began to do: treat writing as my job.

My full-time job.

At the beginning, I was writing (starting with an outline) only about 2-3 hours a day. The rest of the day, I was exploring my characters and doing additional research (it was a novel set during World War II and The Holocaust).

About six months later, I was actually writing 10-14 hours a day, forgetting to eat, waking up from sleep with new scenes in my head, and getting up to write those new scenes.

It was a wonderful 9 months, if only because I proved to myself that I could actually write full-time — with no assurance of any reward whatsoever from the outside world. All my reward came from the writing itself during that sabbatical. I learned, without any doubt, that writing full-time was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, the finances of traditional publishing didn’t work out in a way that permitted me to become a full-time writer even after my first book was accepted and published by HarperCollins and sold to foreign publishers around the world. I won lots of awards and got a great deal of critical attention, but I was not a bestseller. I had to keep my University job, even while I was writing virtually full-time on my subsequent books.

I constantly kept thinking that, with the next book, I could quit my University job and write full-time.

It was a lovely dream.

One that, unfortunately, didn’t come true until I retired, after 31 years of being a University Professor.

Still, it finally happened, and since the present is the only time we ever really have, the only important thing for my life is that now I do write full-time.

My writing does not support me: it doesn’t even pay the cost of my writing supplies, let alone pay the cost of software, computers, etc. (Full disclosure here: I made $604 from my books last year.) I actually live, very frugally, on my meager retirement income. (I paid off all my debts the last 10 years that I was teaching so that I could afford to write full-time.)

And that’s the important thing: I am writing full-time now, at last, for the rest of my life.

It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy, it’s sometimes frustrating trying to keep up with all the technological changes in the industry, but it’s what I always wanted to do. Writing full-time is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my entire life, and I absolutely love it.

In case some of you would like to know what it’s like to write full-time, and not as a best-selling celebrity author who can afford to hire marketers, managers, publicists, etc., I thought I’d give you some insight into a typical week of writing for me by posting this week’s writing schedule. (I think it’s dreadfully boring, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

I get my reward from the writing itself. If you want to write full-time, that should probably be the only “reward” you expect, too, since it’s the only one over which you have any control.

In any event, without further ado, but with one last warning that the rest of this post might put you to sleep, here’s what a typical week writing full-time is like in my life.

Some of the milk crate bookcases, from floor to ceiling, on three walls of my tiny office

Monday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Give cats and doggie their breakfast (canned food — dry food out for them all day), give cats who are on medication their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer all Mentions and Notifications on Twitter while walking on the treadmill in my office. (Obviously, I’m using my laptop.)

7:30-9:30 a.m.
Participate in #MondayBlogs. This is one of my priorities on Mondays. Most weeks, I write my own blog all day on Sunday so that I can devote myself fully to the blogs I’m RTing on Monday. I read every blog that I pass along to my followers, and I try to be on Twitter on and off all day on Mondays, so I don’t miss anything important. I eat my homemade breakfast bar and have my coffee while reading and RTing #MondayBlogs.

9:30 a.m.-12:45  p.m.
Writing: Right now, I’m working on revisions for the 2nd edition of one of my books. I’ve actually finished writing the revisions themselves (that took three months), and I’m typing them in, proofreading, updating Index, getting pages correct, proofreading again, etc.

12:45-1:00 p.m.
Lunch, pet all the cats, pet doggie

1:00-1:15  p.m.
Read and answer most important email. I can’t get to it all every day: I get about 2K emails a day.

1:15-7:00  p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

7:00-7:15  p.m.
Eat dinner with my guy

7:15-8:30 p.m.
Read and RT more #MondayBlogs

8:30 p.m.
Say “goodnight” to all the cats, the doggie, and my guy

8:30-9:00  p.m.
Meditate

9:00 p.m.
Bed

My printers (b&w laser jet for manuscripts, color laser for making covers for books), on the edge of my writing desk: an 8′ solid wood door, on file cabinets. I’ve had this desk since I was 22

Tuesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats and doggie breakfast, give cats their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

3:00-7:30 p.m.
T’ai Chi class and Kundalini Yoga Class

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

8:00-8:30  p.m.  
Meditate

8:30  p.m.  
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Wednesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

4:00-5:00  p.m.  
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter

5:00-7:00  p.m.  
Scheduling posts in my social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) with Buffer app. I read every blog post or article before I put it in my feed

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

One side of my writing desk, with journals, in which I write long-hand, my current work-in-progress. (My published books [US versions only] are in the upper left corner)

Thursday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30  a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

12:30-1:00  p.m.  
Answer Facebook notifications, Twitter Mentions & Notifications

1:00-1:15  p.m.  
Lunch

1:15-5:oo p.m.
Writing blog post for Friday

5:00-5:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30  p.m.  
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

The opposite side of my writing desk, with my laptop, and currently, with financial paperwork (for taxes)

Friday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30-8:30  a.m.
My Writing Friday on Twitter

8:30-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – noon
Researching artist for this week’s Art Saturday on Twitter

12:00-12:15  p.m.  
Lunch

12:15-6:00 p.m.
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

6:00-7:00  p.m.  
Answer notifications and Mentions on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Saturday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:00-9:00 a.m.
My Art Saturday on Twitter (a different artist every week)

9:00-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

1:00-1:15  p.m. 
Lunch

1:15-7:00 p.m. 
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

7:00-7:30 p.m. 
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

My computer desk, in front of the window that looks out across the porch, down Big Rock Candy Mountain into Valley: I’ve always had my writing desk in front of a window

Sunday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Write my own #MondayBlogs post

5:00-5:30 p.m.
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30 p.m. 
Mentions & Notifications on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter; start RTing #MondayBlogs on Twitter

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

More of my milk crate bookshelves (this wall is fuschia since I ran out of white ones)

Wowza. How incredibly dull my typical week is.

It looks even worse than I thought it would now that I’ve written it all down.

The important thing, though, is that I’m writing full-time, and that’s what makes me happy. I spend about 8-10 hours writing every day, either on my books or on my blogs, and that doesn’t count any of the time I spend on social media. That’s more than 40 hours a week, so that’s writing full-time.

When I’m actually writing a new book, or revising it the first few times, as opposed to updating a new edition of a book that’s already been published, I spend a bit less time on social media and a bit more on the actual writing (which I usually do by sleeping less).

And in case you think that social media has taken writers’ time away from them, that time was previously spent telephoning/emailing editors, agents, and publicists, and marketing your books locally (traditional publishers don’t do that).

My treadmill, in front of more of my bookcases in my way-too-crowded and tiny office

What do you think, my Lovelies?

Still want to be a full-time writer?

If you do, then just start following a serious writing schedule on your weekends and during any vacations. You’ll be writing full-time on those days, even if not all year ’round, and you’ll get to see what it’s really like.

Please do let me know how it goes.

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Naked, with Glasses: My Journey from Poet to Fiction Writer

Photo by Phillip Tong ©

I started my writing career as a poet — if you don’t count the stories I wrote and tried to sell when I was 12 — and eventually my poems became so long, with so many characters, dialogue, and plot, that editors of the journals where I submitted my poems began writing me notes on the rejection slips, asking, “Are you sure you’re not writing fiction?”

At first, I thought they just didn’t understand what I was trying to do in my poetry, but when I wrote my Holocaust poem “Little Birds,” a poem that was 35 single-spaced pages long, from several perspectives, with a very strong plot, and got those same kinds of comments, along with one that said, in red ink, “Our journal is only 50 pages long,” I began to think that perhaps I was starting to write poems that had more fictional elements than poetic ones.

Since “Little Birds” was already 35-single-spaced pages long, and stories are traditionally double-spaced when submitted to journals, I figured I was already beyond the “short story limit,” so I thought, “Maybe I should write a novel.” As soon as I let that idea even enter my head, I heard the voice of the Nazi Kommandant, from a story-then-poem that had been in my dissertation, say, “Tell my story.” At the same time, I heard the voice of the Jewish inmate with whom he becomes emotionally and sexually obsessed saying, “You can’t tell his story without telling mine.”

The premise of my first novel was born. I spent the next seven years researching the Holocaust again, then borrowed $11,000 (at 17 7/8% interest, total repayment $18K) from the bank to take a year off work and write my novel. After it was published, I found myself thinking of ideas for stories, though I hadn’t written any for 25 years.

On “Naked, with Glasses,” the story

My housemate (who was an ex-boyfriend) at the time I wrote and published my first novel, though he was a mathematician, was extremely jealous of my success as a writer. While I’d been writing the novel, he told me that my chances of ever writing a novel that could actually get published were “less than 1 in a million, and closer to 0 than to 1.” (Needless to say, my feelings were unbelievably hurt by that remark.) After the New York Times Book Review of my first novel came out, he got into a fight with a complete stranger in a public place, then came home and screamed at me about how much “important work” he’d done in the world of mathematics, while I’d gotten all this “national and international attention when all [I’d] done was write a stupid little novel.”

I knew that was the end of any relationship, even a platonic one as housemates, as I found myself staring at him, thinking, “Yes, I could kill this man.”

I left and moved out of the house, found a more supportive relationship a few years later, and continued my writing. Then I saw an advertisement for a contest, with 1st Prize as publication in the famed and reputable Story Magazine. The contest was called “The Seven Deadly Sins,” and the premise was to write a story that illustrated as many of the traditional seven deadly sins as possible: hatred, anger, murder, sloth, gluttony, envy… You get the idea. Within seconds, I had the opening line: “This is how the plan to kill your husband could begin.”

You get the idea. Within seconds, I had the opening line: “This is how the plan to kill your husband could begin.”

So I wrote the story, polished it up, and entered it, never expecting to hear anything from the magazine, but pleased that, as an adult, I’d written my first story.

Imagine my surprise when, several months later, I received a check for $100 and a box of books about the history of world literature. I had no idea what they were for: the letter had somehow gotten separated from the check and the box of books, so I called F&W Publications in Cincinnati — the address on the box of books — to ask if anyone knew why I’d gotten the books and the check. That’s when I found out that my story, “Naked, with Glasses,” had won 3rd Prize in Story Magazine’s “Seven Deadly Sins Contest.”

Though only the 1st Prize-winner also got published in Story, I still took it as a sign from the Universe that I’d improved greatly since those stories I’d written when I was 12, and continued to write stories when I took breaks from my novels.

Here, then, is the first short story I wrote as an adult (two others follow, with brief introductions about how I got the ideas), for your reading pleasure.

Naked, with Glasses
St. Jerome Emiliani Comes to the Church Picnic
In the Path of the Juggernaut

Naked, with Glasses

This is how the plan to kill your husband could begin. You come home early from work. You have a headache. A terrible headache. The worst headache of your life. You have this grant proposal to write. It’s not finished, and it was due yesterday. Your boss is gone for a week, so you bring the proposal home with you. After you open the door, you hear a noise.

“George?” you say.

Head throbbing, you wander into the living room. No one’s there, but you hear another noise. Upstairs. You find your husband in the hallway which leads to the bedroom. He’s naked, but he’s wearing his glasses. To see you better. He’s pale. He’s sweating.

“George,” you say, genuine concern in your voice, “what are you doing home in the middle of the day? Are you ill?”

He makes a movement, backward, toward the door. Too late. A young woman steps from the bedroom. She’s also naked, but she’s not wearing glasses. She doesn’t have to: she can see you perfectly well. You can see her, too. She is young. Lovely. Thin. George introduces her.

“This is Monica,” he says. “My assistant.”

This is Monica. That is just like George. Naked, wearing glasses, saying to his wife, “This is my girlfriend.” You say nothing. Your headache, however, suddenly gets worse. That is how the plan to kill your husband could begin.

Or perhaps it begins like this:

You and George go to the family reunion. It’s his side of the family. It’s hot. George’s side of the family always insists on having reunions in the middle of July. In parks that have inadequate shelters. In parks that have no trees. George hates his family. He says this constantly.

“How I hate my family,” he says. “Such a stupid family.”

You hate his family, too. You, however, are not allowed to say this. Not to George. Not to your friends. Not even to yourself, alone, with no one else around. You aren’t even allowed to think this. To think bad thoughts about George’s family is bad. It’s worse than a sin. It’s worse than a crime. It’s so bad, they haven’t even invented a name for it yet. And George always knows when you’re thinking bad thoughts about his family.

“Don’t tell me you were trying to decide between the strawberry pie and the chocolate ice cream,” he says. “I know perfectly well you were thinking how fat and ugly Great Aunt Mabel has gotten, and that I’m getting just like her.”

You don’t even remember which one is Great Aunt Mabel. They’re all so fat and ugly, you can’t keep them straight. That doesn’t matter to George. He shoves both the ice cream and the pie off the concrete picnic table, into the grass. Everyone looks at him. The children cry. You look longingly at the knife.

There are no butcher knives at the picnic. After all, everyone eats sandwiches, cookies, snacks. They eat pie and ice cream. There’s no food here for sharp knives. You think of sharp knives anyway. Long, sharp, glittering knives. Heavy-handled, glittering, butcher knives. You think of these beautiful sharp knives in connection with George. In connection with George’s throat.

Or perhaps it starts like this:

You work late. On a project. It’s important to you and to your company. It’s important to your promotion. It’s vital to your self-esteem. To your self-fulfillment. This project is not important to George. It annoys him. He doesn’t like to cook his own dinner. He doesn’t like you to cook his dinner the night before, and leave it for him to warm up. And he hates it when you come home, cook dinner, set it on the table for him, and go back to work. George hates that most of all. It means you’re not a good wife.

He doesn’t care about your education, your degrees, your career. He doesn’t want to be liberated. He wants to be an old-fashioned man. A real man. He nags. He whines. He complains. He calls you every five minutes at work to ask questions. Stupid questions that a teacher shouldn’t be asking. Questions like, “Where’s the can opener?” or “What’s it mean when the microwave goes boom?”

You discuss these things with Charles. Charles is your co-worker. He’s writing the project with you. He sometimes answers the phone for you, so he recognizes George’s voice. Charles tells George you’re in the ladies’ room.

He offers to take a message, but George says, “Never mind. It isn’t important.”

George doesn’t call back the rest of the evening. You ask Charles to answer the phone every night for a week. He does. Charles is very understanding. He’s a few years younger than you, but he doesn’t act like it. He refuses to believe you when you tell him the year you were born. Charles is beautiful. When he leans forward over the desk, his hair falls over his forehead.

“How awful it must be for you,” he says. “How dreadful.”

You start to agree with this. Later, when Charles leans over the desk, your heart starts to pound. The office is air-conditioned, so it can’t be the heat. When you get home at night, George is lying on the couch. Naked except for his glasses. Reading the newspaper. George isn’t as young as Charles. He has no hair to fall over his forehead. He frowns at you, looks pointedly at the clock on the wall above the fireplace. His glasses glitter in the lamplight. His belly bulges under the paper. It is a decidedly un-pretty picture.

You think of Charles, his arms around you, his mouth open on yours. Naked, perhaps, but not wearing glasses. You decide killing George would be a pleasure. More than a pleasure. An absolute joy.

Time passes. Life continues much in the same way. Much as everyone else’s. Only worse. But you’ve changed. You’ve made a decision. You decide the ending will be different. You’ll choose the ending to this life of yours. You. Nobody else.

This is how it could end:

George and Monica think you’ve forgotten them. George says, “She means nothing to me.” Monica doesn’t get to say what she thinks of this remark. George weeps, falls on his knees, beats his breast, swears never to see her again. He swears on the Bible. He’s very good at this. But George and Monica meet three afternoons a week. You know because you’ve been watching them. Your girlfriends and their children have been helping you. You haven’t told this terrible story to your own children. No, that would upset them. But the others understand. They chart George’s movements for you. They discover Monica’s address, phone number, license plate, dress size. They discover that she has a fiancé. The fiancé’s name is Michael. And Michael doesn’t know about George.

So one of your friends calls the house. At 2:35 on Wednesday afternoon. 2:35 exactly. She’s very prompt. You know because you’re hiding in the kitchen. George and Monica don’t know you’re there, of course. They’re too busy with each other. The phone rings. Right on schedule. Your friend says she’s a nurse from the emergency room of the local hospital. She says she knows Monica’s there because Monica’s mother told her so. George gives the phone to Monica. What else can he do?

Your friend says, “I have terrible news for you, Monica.”

Monica holds her breath. Standing in the kitchen, crouched near the doorway, you hold your breath, too.

Your friend says, “Your fiancé Michael has been in a motorcycle accident. A terrible motorcycle accident. One of the worst motorcycle accidents I’ve ever seen.”

You know what she’s saying because you wrote it yourself.

As a final touch, your friend says, “Your fiancé Michael wasn’t wearing his helmet.”

He does this sometimes. You know because some of the others have seen him do it. Monica knows it, too. She cries out. She drops the phone. She grabs her clothes and runs out of the house. George follows, but she’s gone before he can get his clothes on. He stands in the doorway. Naked. Wearing his glasses. In the front doorway. Where everyone in the neighborhood can see him. He has no shame. You’ve suspected this for a long time, but now you know it for a fact.

You don’t say anything to George as you come up behind him. You say absolutely nothing as you aim the gun. As you squeeze the trigger. George says nothing as he falls. His hands grasp at the empty air. His glasses shatter as his body hits the concrete of the front walk.

You smile. Your friends and the neighbor women gather around, nodding their approval. No one calls the police. There’s no need to: the police chief’s wife is your best friend. She’s the one who gave you the gun.

Or it could end like this:

You’re packing your suitcase. Your heart is pounding and your face is flushed. You’re so happy. George comes home. Your heart thuds. What’s he doing home in the middle of the day? He comes into the bedroom. He looks at the suitcase. He looks around the room. The closets and bureau drawers are almost empty. The suitcase is filled with your clothes. George takes off his glasses, cleans them, puts them back on.

“What are you doing?” he says.

Charles is waiting for you at the airport, but you think it best not to tell George this. Not at this time. Not in this way. Besides, you’ve left a letter for him on his desk. You look at your watch. George stands in the doorway.

“Please let me go, George,” you say.

“Not till you answer me,” says George. “Not till you tell me exactly what’s going on.”

You try to push him aside but he’s bigger than you. Heavier.

“Please, George,” you say, “I’ll explain everything to you later. But first I have to catch this plane.”

George isn’t listening to any of this. He walks in front of you as you go to the stairs. George is walking in front of you, but he’s walking backward. So he can see you better.

“Tell me tell me tell me,” he keeps saying.

You look at your watch. You should’ve been there long ago. What if Charles thinks you’re not coming? You push George out of the way. A slight push. Against the chest. Not even a shove, really. You’re a small woman and he’s such a big man, after all. But he’s standing at the top of the stairs. Right on the edge of the top step. Your push takes him by surprise. He falls. Backward. Down the whole flight of stairs.

His glasses glint in the light as his big body tumbles down the steps. His neck is broken.

It’s not your fault. Everyone agrees about that. Of course, you’ll have to change your flight. But Charles will understand.

Or perhaps it ends like this:

You’re tired. It’s been a long day. You know George didn’t mean to ruin the microwave oven, but he’s a teacher and you’d think that someone like that would know that you cannot put certain kinds of dishes into the oven.

George complains about his teaching assistant, whose name is Michael. Michael has a fiancée named Monica. George thinks Monica’s a twit. She fell off her bicycle today and sprained her little finger. She called Michael away from the lab, just when George needed him. You don’t care about Michael. You care even less for Monica, whom you’ve never met.

The proposal you wrote for the new project didn’t get accepted. It didn’t get rejected, but it didn’t get accepted either.

“Let me think about this,” your boss said. “Let me have Charles look it over.”

Charles is younger than you. He’s just graduated from college. You feel depressed. Angry. Hurt. Do you cry? Shout? Stomp your feet? No. You smile.

“That would be just fine,” you say.

Charles is the boss’ nephew.

Your head is throbbing by the time you get off work. You decide not to cook dinner. You’ll warm up some food in the microwave. No, you’ll try one of those new frozen meals that you just pop into the oven. You’ll pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up, and relax. You smile, and your head starts to hurt a little less.

But when you get home, you find that George has broken the microwave. He didn’t mean to, but he’s not as smart as everyone else thinks he is. You throw something. Not at him, exactly. At the wall. He doesn’t like how close the bowl comes to his head. You say three feet away isn’t close. George doesn’t agree. And after all, it’s his head.

You run out of the house. You get into the car and drive away. You drive for hours. You think of all the terrible things you’ll do to George. All the terrible, slow, painful things you’ll do to George. To Charles. To your boss.

No: to yourself. Yes. that’s it. You’ll kill yourself. You’ll deprive them of your existence. That’ll show them.

You’ll drive your car right over the edge of some cliff. A high, steep cliff, with jagged rocks and crashing waves at the bottom. They’ll find you at the last second. They’ll beg you to hang on, just for one… more… minute. But it’ll be too late. Oh, how they’ll grieve. Oh, how they’ll suffer. You drive and drive, looking for cliffs. You can’t find any. That’s because you live in Ohio. You curse yourself for moving with George to Ohio.

You think of an alternate plan to punish George and the rest of them. You’ll drive into a tree. A big, old, oak tree. There are plenty of those in Ohio. They’ll have to dig the car’s twisted metal out of the tree. They’ll have to use Jaws-of-Life to get you out of the twisted metal of the car. What’s left of you will be almost unrecognizable. Except for your face, which will be untouched, and even more beautiful in death than it was in life. Yes. That’ll show them. Oh, what weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. How they deserve it.

You drive and drive and drive, looking for just the right oak tree. You drive until you realize you’re tired. Until you realize you’re hungry. Then you go home.

A cold dinner’s sitting on the dining room table: salad, cheese, bread, wine.

There’s a note from George.

“I’m sorry I ruined the microwave,” it says.

You don’t cry. You’re too tired.

You go upstairs. George is in bed. He’s lying on top of the covers, naked, reading student papers. He looks up when you come in. He puts down his pen and the student essays.

You sit on the side of the bed. You say nothing. Tears blur your vision. George takes off his glasses. Now his vision is the same as yours. He puts his hand on yours. Your fingers tighten.

This is how it could end.

Back to List of Stories

On “St. Jerome Emiliani Come to the Church Picnic”

One of my next stories came from the fact that I have a Southern Appalachian accent. Unless you’re from the areas mentioned below, or are a Linguistics scholar, you won’t understand the difference between a Southern accent and a Southern Appalachian accent, but let me assure you,  the population of Southern Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania have the Southern Appalachian accent — as opposed to the Mountain Appalachian accent — and others in the area recognize it. They also consider it as an indication that the speaker is illiterate, stupid, uneducated, dirty, nasty, and stupid.

All my life I tried to get rid of that accent — to no avail, since my “Southern accent” is constantly remarked upon — and so, for my next story, I decided to make use of that accent (and when I read it aloud, I read it in the accent that I grew up with). I have gotten rid of all the illiterate aspects of the Southern Appalachian accent and dialect — much of which came from my biological parents, who left school without graduating from the 8th grade. While growing up, I saw education as the only way to escape poverty, incest, illiteracy, and having multiple children starting at around age 12, as my mother had, and as I myself was being pressured to do by my mother and stepfather. Most of my family was horrified that, as a girl, I went to high school in the first place: I was the first in my family to graduate from the 8th grade, and the only one to graduate from high school, let alone to continue my education by going on to college.

When I wrote “St. Jerome Emiliani Comes to the Church Picnic,” I decided to explore my Southern Appalachian dialect and accent, and fell in love with the little girl narrator who emerged. (Eventually, I plan to video myself reading it aloud, so you’ll get to hear the accent I was born to, and which I’ve tried to eliminate, albeit not completely successfully, it appears, since everyone [including Patrick Stewart, who imitated me mercilessly at our first dinner together until he had perfected it] always remarks on my “Southern accent” and my “

(Eventually, I plan to video myself reading it aloud, so you’ll get to hear the accent I was born to, and which I’ve tried to eliminate, albeit not completely successfully, it appears, since everyone [including Patrick Stewart, who imitated me mercilessly at our first dinner together until he had perfected it] always remarks on my “Southern accent” and my “drawl,” though I honestly don’t hear it.)

St. Jerome Emiliani Comes to the Church Picnic

When I was little, Mama and Daddy tole me nobody but old folks died. Before I was even growed, I found out my Mama and Daddy lied. Anybody cain die. Even folks young as me. Folks cain die right smack in the middle a playing with they doll babies, right smack in the middle a eating mashed potatoes at supper, right smack in the middle a Saturday night bath. Folks cain die right smack in the middle a anything at all. Ain’t no way to stop it neither.

The day I found out my Mama and Daddy done lied to me was the day of the church picnic. Mama done went off early in the morning, to be with her pies and her lady friends. Daddy carried us there later, just before lunch. He pulled right up to the front gate, and give us each a quarter.

“Y’all get on out now,” he says. “Go say ‘Hey’ to the Reverend. I’ll be in directly.”

Annabelle Lee and Clyde Junior they just jumps right outta the car, before he even finishes talking. You sure cain tell they’s twins. Even though they’s boy and girl, they’s identical selfish. To the very bone. My own self, I am more polite. I waits till he finishes before I opens the door.

‘Course Annabelle Lee and Clyde Junior don’t pay him no never mind. They’s already at the gate, jumping up and down in fronta the preacher, almost wetting they own selves in they excitement. I act more dignified. More growed-up. Lotsa folks is pushing through the gate. Some of them boys ’bout run me down, and don’t even say ‘scuse me neither: they’s just like the twins. Lotsa folks knows Mama and Daddy, and they all says, “Hey.”

“Hey, MaryLouise, where’s your Ma?”

“Over at the pies.”

“Where’s your Pa, MaryLouise?”

“Parking the car.”

“Where’s your Ma?”

“At the pies.”

“Where’s your Pa?”

“Parking the car.”

After ’bout three-billion-trillion “parking the car’s,” I starts to wonder what in tarnation is taking Daddy so long. Don’t take that long to park no car, even if it is a big brand new one that he parks real far from all the resta the cars so it don’t get no dings nor dents nor scratches in its brand spanking new $25 paint job. Annabelle Lee and Clyde Junior starts in whining and crying like dogs got they tails stepped on, and says they gotta go find Mama.

“Don’t you be going nowheres,” I says. “Daddy done tole us to wait by the front gate.”

They turns up they ugly little twin faces at me, and squinches they ugly little twin eyes.

“We going over to be with our own Mama,” they says.

And they runs theyselves off before I cain even grab aholt of they collars. ‘Course they don’t come back. Didn’t I tell you they’s selfish? Ain’t got no respect, them two. Why if I’d done that kinda disrespecting when I was they age, I’d been whupped for certain. Them, they’ll probably get no more’n a mean look and a “I tole you two don’t you do that no more.” But you cain bet that ain’t gonna stop them two none.

After a while, I get kinda tired of waiting on Daddy.

“How long’s it take to park a car?” I asks my own self, and I decide it don’t take near as long as he’s been gone. I reckon I best go look for him and fetch him into the church yard.

The parking lot is little rocks in some places and dried-up grass in others. Daddy didn’t tell us where he’s gonna park, so I gotta look up and down, up and down, up and down every row. There’s lotsa cars here today, I cain tell you. I ain’t never seen so many cars in one place in all my life. I keeps on walking, looking for the car. Sometimes I am walking in dried-up grass. Sometimes I am walking on little rocks. It is fun to throw these little rocks. They’s just the right size for throwing. Wait: I ain’t here to throw no little rocks. I am looking for my Daddy. I drop them little rocks.

Finally I finds the car. Daddy ain’t there, but the door is open. Now this is mighty particular. Daddy don’t never go nowhere away from the car and leave the door open. I figures he gotta be standing somewhere, jawing with the fellas, but I sure ain’t seeing him nowheres.

I reckon he done forgot about us standing by the front gate like he done tole us to his very own self. I reckon by this much time past he’s over to the pies where Mama is. ‘Course Annabelle Lee and Clyde Junior done tole him by now how I was the one who run off and left them by they own selves so they was forced to come find Mama so they’d not be all alone just the two of them just them two little twins all by they own selves in the middle of the church picnic all by they lonesomes. I cain just hear it now. I closes the car door, drags my feet, kicks at some of them little rocks that is so nice for throwing, and walks my self on back to the church yard gate.

All a sudden, folks is running. Men-folk mostly, but some women-folk, too. Running past me, in the direction I just come from. Funny looks on they chalk-pale faces. So I runs, too.

They runs they selves back toward the very furtherest side of the church parking lot. Where it is all grass, and none of them little rocks at all. They’s all running to the little boys’ room. And they’s all going right in, too, all of them: they just running they selves right in to the little boys’ room. Even the girls and the growed women who I knows cain read. So I goes on in, too.

Right away, sure as I’m born, without nobody saying nuthin at all to me, I knows something powerful bad’s done happened. The looks on they faces is something awful. And it’s real quiet in there. But it ain’t quiet like church-quiet come Sunday morning. No, it ain’t like that. It’s bad-quiet. Some of the women-folk is shaking they heads. They got they hands over they mouths. In they hands which is over they mouths, they got they flower-stitched handkerchiefs. The men-folk is shaking they heads, too. They’s talking real low to they selves. And everybody that done run they selves over here is all standing in front of this here one stall.

One of the more growed boys wearing tore overalls is holding the door open. So everybody cain look right in. Now that don’t seem at all right to me, but then Mama and Daddy done always tole me I ain’t even allowed to go into the little boys’ room, but here I am, clear as daylight, nobody not a single person on God’s green earth stopping me. That’s ’cause they’s all too busy with they eyes looking in the stall where the boy in the tore overalls is holding open the door. So I looks, too.

You cain knock me over with a chicken feather. You cain knock me over with the breath outta you mouth. You cain knock me over without nuthin at all. What they was all looking at was a man.

A growed man was there, with his pants full on, kneeling on the floor, his backside sticking out at all of us, his head down in the toilet. For the life of me I cain’t figure what he’s doing like that. ‘Specially with everybody in the whole entire world in the universe standing there gawking at him. Don’t he hear all of us? Don’t he notice that the door is being held wide open?

“He’s dead,” says one of the men-folk to another.

“You reckon?”

“Like a doornail.”

“How can y’all be so disrespectful?”

“Shouldn’t we do something?”

“Sheriff’s on his way.”

“Cain’t we at least lay him down?”

All the men-folk looks at each other but nobody moves.

Nobody moves ‘cepting me, and I am staring at the patch on the back of the man’s jeans. It’s a blue patch. Blue with little white stars on it. Blue with little white stars in the shape of hearts. Blue with little white stars in the shape of hearts from my old jumper that I am too growed to wear anymore and which Annabelle Lee cut on with a scissors because she is such a stupid selfish little twin. The blue patch with the little white stars in the shape of a heart is on the back of the man’s jeans.

That man is my Daddy.

‘Course I don’t say nuthin to nobody. I cain’t say nuthin to nobody even if I was to try. My mouth’s hanging open and all, but no words is coming out. No words is coming outta my mouth which is open to the ground, but them words is in my brain all right. And them words is running ’round and ’round and ’round, bashing into my head bones, and them words is saying, “No, no, only old folks die.”

But my Daddy is in the little boys’ room on the other side of the parking lot at the church picnic. My own Daddy is kneeling on the floor with his head stuck in the toilet and some boy with tore overalls is holding the door wide open so everybody and his brother cain see and all the folks is standing ’round shaking they heads and whispering “how sad how awful dreadful sad” while my own Daddy is kneeling there not moving nary a little finger and I my own self am standing there with my mouth hung open wide enough for a bird to build its self a nest in not saying no word not no single word at all.

I reckon it must be for a fact, what they been saying about him being dead.

When Mama gets her self there, she screams and starts to crying. Then somebody gets to noticing that children is in the little boys’ room, and some of them children is little girls, and one of them children which is little girls is me.

“Oh, my God, oh, sweet baby Jesus,” they says as they kinda push-pulls me out of the little boys’ room, out into the parking lot where the grass is all tramped down from all the folks running they selves over here, out where the dried-up grass turns its brown self into them little rocks which is just the right size for throwing, out where the sun is shining hot enough to fry a egg without no skillet.

But I cain’t feel nuthin. Not even the sun beating down on my head.

I cain’t see nuthin neither. ‘Cept that little blue patch with white stars in the shape of a heart.

And I cain’t hear nuthin ‘cept big words and Mama crying hard enough to choke her self and Annabelle Lee and Clyde Junior crying even harder till somebody finally done picks the twins up and takes them over to a neighbor’s house which is nearby the church yard.

I cain’t hear nuthin but weeping and wailing and growed doctor words like “mass-of-corn-airy” and “corn-airy-fail-your” and “They’s St. Jerome Miliani’s widow and orphans now,” but they all means the same thing.

Dead.

And dead means forever. Dead means forever and ever till the end of the world. Dead means no cake on your birthday with one more candle than you done had last year, and no powder-smelling Mama to kiss both your cheeks and your forehead at night so’s you can sleep with pretty pictures, and no rides up to your own warm bed at night on Daddy’s shoulders, the Daddy you love more’n anything else in the whole wide world around and who you want to marry your own self when you’s all growed up.

Dead means till Jesus his own sweet self comes back to raise you up from the ground where you’s laid for hundreds or thousands of years and takes your sweet lonely old bones up to heaven to match them with your skin. Dead means darkness and coldness and shivering and loneliness. Dead means never ever again. Dead means nuthin at all for the rest of your whole entire life on earth.

Dead means you done found out your very own Daddy lied to you.

‘Course, I coulda forgive him for that.

But he ain’t never give me no chance to.

Back to List of Stories

On “In the Path of the Juggernaut”

The final story I’m sharing from the collection was originally one of the chapters of my newest novel (not yet published), about Jesus of Nazareth. Anything that ended up not in the final draft of the novel, I re-worked into stories. Many of the character development and plotlines have changed over the several years it has taken me to write the novel, so the stories simply didn’t fit my final vision of Jesus of Nazareth. Still, I liked the original stories and characters, even if they had changed in the novel version.

Here is one of the stories involving Pontius Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth, “In the Path of the Juggernaut,” which is narrated by Pilate.

Pontius Pilate, Washing His Hands, by Jan Wouters, c early 1600s

In the Path of the Juggernaut

Juggernaut: A belief to which
people sacrifice themselves or others.

“When, in all the years I’ve been stationed in this hideous desert province, when have you known me to actually hear one of these cases?”

“Yes, I know, my Lord, but the local dignitaries are in quite an uproar…”

“What local dignitaries?”

“The Priests, of course.”

“I buy the Priests, you idiot. They can’t be in an uproar against me.”

I indicate to my slave the three bags I’m taking back home with me. To another, I point out the wrapped package on the bed. A gift for my wife. Silk scarves with elaborate embroidery and beading. From some far-off land by way of the Parthians, the vendor told me. My wife will be pleased.

“The Priests did get into an uproar about those Standards. Got nearly half the city’s population into an uproar about it…”

“Do you want to be whipped?” I say.

“I’m… I’m your aide, sir.”

“Do you think that means I can’t have you whipped?”

“I’m not a slave, my Lord. I’m a citizen.”

“Weren’t you a slave at one time?” I say, rubbing my chin slowly and narrowing my eyes.

“Your lordship gave me my freedom.”

“How long ago?”

“Ten years, sir.”

“Very well, then, I suppose I won’t have you whipped.”

“Gratitude, my Lord.”

One of the slaves ties my sandals while another adjusts my traveling cloak. As I glance around the room to see if I’ve forgotten anything, I hold out my wrists and hands so that the female slaves may put my bracelets and rings in place. When they’re finished, they bow before slowly walking backward from my bedroom. The large Carthaginian who adjusted my cloak picks up my golden necklace which holds my great seal of office, lifts it over my head, puts it around my neck, and settles it against my chest. He’s the only one tall enough to do it so that I don’t have to bend my head. I give him his daily coin. As always, he closes his eyes as he slightly bows his head and leaves the room.

“The Priests are quite insistent that you hear these charges…”

“Which means the charges demand the death penalty?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the only death penalty the Priests can issue is ‘death by stoning’ for religious and moral issues such as blasphemy and adultery.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That means this is a case dealing with insurrection or rebellion against the Roman Empire?”

“It concerns a disturbance at the Temple… They say he disrupted the entire monetary system and made threats.”

“Against Rome?”

“I’m not quite sure, my Lord.”

“Why aren’t you quite sure, Lucius?”

“He’s one of the silent ones.”

“One of the suicides, you mean.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t see any reason to stay in the city for that,” I say. “I have to get back to Caesarea Maritima and the Mediterranean. You know I simply can’t breathe here.”

“The Priests know you haven’t left the city yet…”

“Guilty as charged. Crucify him.”

“They say he’s scheming to set himself up as the new head of state…”

I laugh aloud.

“…that he commands thousands, tens of thousands — all willing to martyr themselves to his fanatical cause. They say if you don’t destroy him now, chaos and rebellion…”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“The Priests. Caiphas, most particularly.”

“Where is he?”

“Caiphas or the prisoner?”

“I’m going to exile you to Germania when this is all over, Lucius.”

“They’re downstairs, my Lord. Both of them. All the others are with them.”

All the Priests bow, as do the guards, when I sweep into the Great Hall. Immediately I notice that despite their reputed terror of the man, he’s not bound in any way. He’s no Rebel, at least not the kind they’re accusing him of being. All the Priests want to speak. And they don’t even shut up despite the fact that there’s no translator present.

I send for one of the guards who speaks koinē, the common Greek language left by Alexander’s soldiers that the soldiers and the shopkeepers still use to communicate. None of the Priests speak it. One of the shopkeepers does, though, and he begs my permission to come forward and translate with the guard.

At once the Priests start babbling that the prisoner is a healer, a magician, an exorcist, while some of the others present insist he’s only a teacher, until finally the two translators can’t keep up, and they both look at me, shrugging. The Priests say the prisoner caused a disturbance in the Temple, calling them traitors and collaborators —which, of course, they are — claiming they had desecrated the “house of The Lord God, his Father,” whatever that means.

I gaze at the prisoner. I can see his anger about the High Priests, but they’re useful to us. He must actually believe they should be devoted solely to the service of their god. A fanatic, then, but not of the sort they claim. I can see from where I sit that his own hands haven’t labored over weapons or munitions. His long, slender fingers and alabaster skin are more like a woman’s; his hands are more suitable for holding pen and ink — though I doubt he can read and write — than for assembling the swords, shields, and spears necessary for an army. He doesn’t look like a warrior or Rebel or Zealot or a Freedom-Fighter. No, he looks like the teacher his followers and some of the others claim him to be.

A teacher, trying to return his people to their god.

But those eyes of his — oh, yes, I do see the spark that frightens them, the smoldering passion that makes them tremble.

That passion burning in his eyes is a fire for his god.

Yes, he burns, but not against the Roman Empire.

Perhaps he did attack some vendors in the Temple and claim the Priests have desecrated the “house of his Father.” And so they have, with Roman collaboration.

All he did was speak the truth.

With one look he reduces them to a quivering mass because he forces them to see themselves. With one look from him, they fall against each other, their limbs jerking and twitching, their eyes rolling back, their lips frothing. Even my own legionnaires turn pale and tremble though he says not a word.

Brave man.

Foolish man.

Should I execute a man because he frightens others by making them see the truth about themselves?

If I look at him, will he make me see some truth about myself?

I wave the guard and the shopkeeper over to me.

“Ask him if he’s plotting rebellion against the government?” I say to the guard in Roman, who asks the shopkeeper in koinē, who repeats the question to the prisoner in his own tongue.

He says nothing as his eyes continue to burn with that fire. But he does look up at me. It feels as if his hand is clenched around my heart. I glance down at the charges until I can catch my breath.

Rebellion, Treason, Tax Evasion, Terrorism, Inciting Riots.

“Have they so angered you by violating your god’s temple that you would allow them to charge you with treason against the Roman Empire, though you’ve committed no such crime?”

That look comes back to his face, that pressure to my chest, and while the shopkeeper and the guard wait for his answer, which I know will never come, I realize that he’s committed to throw himself under the hooves, to be crushed under the wheels, as if that will somehow stop the desecration, as if somehow he’s been born to it, as if somehow his death will change things, and that — above all — what I do matters little to him.

It’s a pity. But what can I do to stop him? We cannot even speak to each other. He wants me to sign. His eyes tell me that. I pick up the pen, dip it into the ink, and sign the death warrant.

So. There it is.

When I push aside the document, I see that there is a mark, a stain of some sort on my palm, and I rub my hand against my robe as they lead him away to the same end as all the others. I send one of the boys for water and towels. When he returns, I wash my hands. The water is cool and clear.

After I leave the palace and board my litter, I notice that my hand is still stained. I rub it against my robe, over and over. Lucius has left documents for me. I’ll whip him when I see him next. I kick the documents out of my way, each headed with the traditional and usual notation: To Our Most Honorable and Noble Prefect, Pontius Pilatus.

Just as his was before I signed it.

And after.

His eyes are there when I close mine in the litter, leaving the city. His silence is heavy on my skin. A savage cry rips at me from the place they call Golgotha Hill of Skulls — outside the city walls. Chosen by us long ago so every one of them can see the consequences of resisting us. A hill covered with crosses. Covered with the bones of their leaders. I let the litter-curtain fall into place.

A cloud passes, for a moment, in front of the sun.

The mark in my hand burns and burns.

Back to List of Stories

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane ©

After I submitted the collection in a contest just to get a critique of them as a whole, I was warned that I would have no chance of winning since the publisher, UKA Press [United Kingdom Authors Press] had never done a collection of short stories, so mine couldn’t “win” the Annual International Contest. I thanked the publisher for her honesty, but assured her that I just wanted the critique of the stories from the outside readers — all publishers, editors, authors, professors, etc. The contest entry fee is rather expensive (between $40-50 for 35 pages), but the critique is very insightful and detailed: I’d entered it before and gotten excellent feedback on my work, which helped me improve it.

Since no one had ever read my entire group of stories as a collection, I went ahead and entered it into the contest — the 35 pages, at least. Later, the publisher contacted me and asked if I had any more stories: she said that the outside readers had enjoyed my submission so much that they wanted to read more. I sent the entire collection. For months I heard nothing from them, and, more important to me, I had never received the critique which I was anticipating. When I contacted the publisher a few months after the contest ended, she said she’d check on the entry, telling me that it must’ve gotten lost in the mails.

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane ©

About a week later, I received what appeared to be a copy-edited version of Naked, with Glasses — all my stories arranged in what looked like a book format, with comments from an editor named Don. I was confused, to say the least. When I contacted the publisher to ask what was going on, I was informed that the outside readers had been so impressed with my 35-page contest submission, that they had wanted to see the remaining stories in my collection. They then insisted that the Grand Prize be given to my manuscript, though UKA Press had never published a collection of short stories before.

I was stunned.

“What about the critique?” I said.

“We don’t publish short stories,” said the publisher, with a laugh, “and you just got awarded the Grand Prize: how much more of a critique do you need?”

None, I guess…

but it might have been nice…

Back to List of Stories

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Read excerpts from Naked, with Glasses

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Naked, with Glasses (the story)

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Rebellion in the Promised Land

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Golgotha, Mon Amour

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In the Path of the Juggernaut

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“When, in all the years I’ve been stationed in this hideous desert province, when have you known me to actually hear one of these cases?” ...
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Naked, with Glasses: My Journey from Poet to Fiction Writer

Naked, with Glasses: My Journey from Poet to Fiction Writer

I started my writing career as a poet -- if you don't count the stories I wrote and tried to sell when I was 12 ...
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© 1993, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
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Portrait of the Poet as a Woman: The Creative Process

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If you don’t count the short stories about vampires, shrinking girls, and monsters that I wrote — and tried to sell as little books — when I was twelve, then my writing career technically began with poetry. If you’ve never written poetry, you might wonder where the poet gets his ideas. If you have written anything creative, you know that the ideas are always out there. It’s the getting them down on paper so they make sense to other people that’s difficult. Though my poems eventually became so long and contained so much narrative that I eventually switched to fiction, even the reviewers of my first novel said that I wrote like a poet.

Originally, my two poetry collections were much smaller and were part of my Creative Writing dissertation, Survivor: One Who Survives. Eventually, while trying the get the book accepted for publication, the dissertation grew into two books because I continued writing poems. Love in the Time of Dinosaurs included any of my poems that were not on The Holocaust, and Where Lightning Strikes contained all my Holocaust poems.

My earliest successful poems, both in terms of positive reactions from readers and in getting published in university or literary  journals, were those that dealt with family and relationships. They eventually ended up in Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, in the section called “Portrait of the Poet as a Woman” — named after one of the poems. In those poems, though they contained some aspects of my private life, I adopted a persona of an unnamed woman who was struggling  to make sense of relationships, family, marriage, divorce, and children that were not her own.

I was in a relationship when I wrote these poems, and the man had children from a previous marriage, but we weren’t living together. When I wrote it, while living in my one-room apartment, and it won a prize. The judge who awarded the prize thought it was memoir. At the Awards ceremony, he asked exactly how many children I had. I told him I had none.

He asked how long I’d been married.

I told him I was single.

“But you live in a big house, at least, right?” he said.

I told him I lived in a tiny apartment.

With obvious surprise on his face, he told me he would’ve given me an even “bigger prize than the Grand Prize” if he’d known I wasn’t married nor had any children and lived in a tiny apartment when I’d written it, just for “writing a relationship poem that made [him] think it was memoir, albeit a very well-done memoir.”

Later, one of my friends was so moved by the relationship poems in general, and by “Portrait of the Poet as a Woman” in particular, that she painted The Yellow Teapot in its honor and gave me the painting as a gift.

Barbara Walker's artwork of the "yellow teapot", inspired by my poem "Portrait of the Poet as A Woman," from LOVE IN THE TIME OF DINOSAURS_1024

Portrait of the Poet as a Woman

Your second wife calls to say that the children get
ill after you bring them home Sunday night it must

be something they eat what do I feed them something
dreadful? She calls collect when she’s away. If I

ask who’s calling she says, This is his wife. If I
don’t ask, she says, This is his wife. Sometimes she cries.

I want to feel for her pain, but loving a man
is penance enough. In the yellow tea kettle,

the water steams. Holding the phone to my ear, I
sit at the table with this morning’s dishes. At

breakfast, your youngest son decided to hate the
toast, the jam, the world, me. I wanted to hold him —

the hands covering his face seemed so small, but his
older brother’s stare fixed me, as if in a bad

photograph: off-center, one hand reaching out, the
other almost tipping my teacup, mouth open,

staring straight into the camera. Lot’s wife stilled in
faltering. Pinned without wriggling to the wall. One

of the children slams the bathroom door. The water
steams, without whistling, in the yellow tea kettle.

Last night, one of your children cried out in sleep. The
wood of the hall was cool on my bare feet, and

my nightgown brushed my legs. You were already there
in his room. I stood near the open window and

listened to the hum of your deep voice, woven with
your child’s answering sobs. The white lace curtains brushed

against my flattened belly, aching to be child-
swollen, to share you with something of me instead.

The water steams and she reminds me again that
I have moved into her house. I crumple some burnt

toast with my fingers. Outside, two brown sparrows hop
together in the dried leaves, talking bird-somethings.

~~~

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Holiday

Sometimes my Poet-persona had two step-children, sometimes three, but she always felt isolated from them, excluded from their world and their love, no matter how much she loved them. Much of that may have been because I never felt loved as a child myself, but it also may have been due to the fact that, since I wasn’t married to the man with whom I was in a relationship, my status was legally undefined.

Is the girlfriend allowed to tell the children what to do? Is she allowed to discipline the children who aren’t hers? Even married couples with children from previous relationships have to consider these things.

I created other poems narrated by this woman Poet, in which she attempted to emotionally connect with the children who were not hers, as well as with the husband who, technically, was hers. “Holiday” was one of the poems that came from my own experiences but which was transmuted into the Poet’s life.

The dream she has was, in fact, a real dream of mine: it was that very same dream that inspired this poem. Even though, at the time, I didn’t consciously realize what the dream was trying to tell me about my own relationship, I was still able to create poetry from the dream. By the time I was finished with the poem, I understood enough about the dream — and my relationship — to find exactly the right epigraph for it.

 

Holiday

 Day followed day, and this and that
Seemed to be happening
As always, but through it all
Already loneliness was seeping.

Anna Ahkmatova

 

I pour myself another glass of wine, then lounge
on the wicker couch of the sun-porch, my bare feet

propped on an old milking stool, surrounded by texts
on the psychology of dreams. Late this morning

your first wife phoned, from where it is not raining: your
three children huddled around, chirping, while the cat

lapped milk from their cereal bowls. Outside the grey
rain shimmers, chanting the glossary of terms I

have yet to memorize. Thirteen-year-old Laura
eases into the Bentwood across from me, rocks

slowly. Her brothers pirouette onto the porch,
warbling ninth-day-of-rain-it-never-rains-when-we’re-

in-school songs. I reward them with cookies, so they
dance away to the kitchen, crooning rain-songs for

each other. Last night the youngest stole two-thirds of
your gin-and-tonic, inquired of your mother:

Barbara, when you get drunk, do things look all different?
Beethoven drifts out from behind the door of the

room she’s sharing with your daughter. Your typewriter
clacks as Laura strokes the cover of one of my

books. Last night I dreamed I was swimming and couldn’t
see land anywhere at all.
When her brothers

bounce onto the porch and propose rain-dancing, I
send them to you. Two minutes later, the back door

thuds, and muted squeals float back to us. Your clacking
chorus resumes. I got real tired and called and

called to some man to save me but he was talking
to this mermaid. He didn’t hear me so I guess

I drowned. I present her one of the dream books; she
snuggles with it in a distant room. I wander

the summer cottage, open a second bottle
of wine, memorize your sons in glittering pools.

Last night I, too, dreamt: I was unrolling faded
oriental carpets onto scuffed wood floors. Three

sparrows fluttered down, whispering among themselves.
Their words swelled, joined hands, became the cars of a train

yanking away from an abandoned platform. My
legs lumbered after. The sparrows darted down,

snared the ticket from my extended hand, raced each
other to giggling clouds. The ticket escaped, spun

itself into a whirling dervish, scattering
the clouds and birds. Then I roamed through some crumbling old

house, breaking open all the curtains, unlatching
windows. You followed around behind, closing them.

~~~

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The Toast

I don’t recall exactly when I wrote “The Toast,” but I’m sure I was beginning to suspect that the man in my life was being unfaithful, despite his denials. Later, after I discovered that, for the final year of our eight-year relationship, he’d been having an affair with my best friend, who was married with two young children, I left him, changed my phone number, moved, and never answered his letters begging me to forgive him and to just talk to him and listen to his side of what happened.

His side?

I didn’t need to listen to anyone else’s side.

The pain and the grief had been too much for me to bear: the woman he had been involved with had, metaphorically and emotionally, died.

I was the survivor, and I wanted nothing to do with a man who defined “love” like that.

The Poet persona, however bitter, stayed with her unfaithful husband, and I got a series of good poems out of exploring the betrayal and pain of infidelity. One of the poems dealing with those issues, “The Toast,” later won a prize.

Though I don’t know if I ever would have gained the ironic tone of the poet had I stayed in my own relationship, I know that leaving that unfaithful man after eight years certainly improved my writing.

The Toast

To God,
Who did not save us.

(after a poem by
Anna Ahkmatova)

Let’s drink a toast to this dreadful old house, filled with
lost ghosts who come every night to roam around the

downstairs rooms, their limp ghost-hair straying across their
gloomy ghost-eyes. Let’s drink to all the empty rooms

upstairs, meant for an absolute infestation
of tousle-haired, rosy-cheeked children, but housing

instead only walls of books, empty as our eyes
at the breakfast table when the drinks of the night

before have deserted us, leaving us only
each other. Let’s toast the sons your scorned first wife hid

in Italy: your just and deserved punishment
for requiring someone younger, but for which you

never pardoned the new wife. Or let’s toast that faint
stirring in my flattened belly — only once, long

before you were free to claim it. Let’s raise our glass
to the clacking and clanking of your manual

typewriter in the middle of the night, and to
mine, which has been holding its electric tongue for

weeks, except to murmur the names in your frieze of
discarded women whenever I try to write

about something other than the space in the bed
between us, something other than our excuses

for not touching. And let’s not forget to drink to
nineteen-year-old Seraphina in your fiction

writing class who called the house Saturday morning
and asked for you by first name. Let’s drink to the God

who plucked us from our separate lives that last summer
your second wife visited her family in France,

molded us together in His callused palm, clamped
His heavy fingers like bars around us, and laughed.

~~~

I hope you’ve you enjoyed the poems as well as some of the background information on how I got inspired to write them.

c

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On Hairballs and the Writing Life

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I meant to get a lot of writing done today. I hadn’t necessarily intended to do a blog, especially after I spent the entire morning doing the state taxes for our businesses (mine’s writing, of course), but I wanted to get some work done on that 15th Anniversary Edition of one of my books that I’m revising. Which was supposed to be published in December 2015.

Missed that deadline by being Mommy to a doggie that had to get an emergency tooth extraction, to one of our kitties who was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes and who had to be hospitalized (who’s now in remission), to another kittie who has FORLS — a dental disease found in 20% of Rescue cats which causes their teeth to break and expose the root — requiring two emergency tooth extractions, and to another kittie who has Stomatitis, an auto-immune disease in which the cat is allergic to the natural bacteria on its own teeth, causing its tongue, gums, palate, and throat to get inflamed and swollen, leaving the cat in great pain and unable to eat or drink. The only possible cure: complete extraction of all her teeth. But she still occasionally gets lesions on her lips, allergic lesions, which cause her great pain and prevent her from eating. So she has to get NSAIDs every third day, and get blood work every three months to make sure her kidneys are functioning properly.

As if that weren’t enough to keep Mommy from having any writing time over the last few months, the dreaded HAIRBALL Season has begun.

If you have cats, you know what I’m talking about. That horrid time of year when the weather begins to warm and cats’ hair begins to shed. Only it usually ends up in their mouths and digestive tracts from grooming before it gets a chance to be swept up by your vacuum. Last week, it was 50-60F every day. Shed-city.

And before we knew what was happening, Hairball Disaster Zone.

IMG_0576_1024 2Sascha is leading in this race to cover the house with slimy, disgusting, smelly hairballs. She’s hurled 7 of them just in the past few days, 4 of them this morning and this afternoon. None of them has been less than 5 inches long, and each is as wet as a dripping beach towel. I’m thinking of giving up washing the blanket I put on the couch to protect it. Water is a more precious commodity in the desert than a couch, even if it does get stained. Meanwhile, Sascha, who doesn’t think much of the hairball gel, is giving me the Evil Eye and the Arched Back from the top of the highest Cat Tree in the house.

Eli’s become a real pro at this Hairball Game. He can drag out a Hairball, leaving little gnarly puddles of food and… well… imagine it… all around the room in a circle before he finally coughs up one humongous hairball. His must be at least 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. It wouldn’t be so bad if he did it all in one place, like Sascha, but he prefers to try to cover as much ground as possible while discharging the hairball and all its accompanying contents. He’s only done 3 today, but when you have to clean the entire carpet in the room each time he hurls one, it makes it seem like so much more.

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Ling seems to be annoyed that the LongHairs are getting all the attention, so she dropped 3 in an hour today. And even though she likes the taste of the hairball gel, she made us chase her for half an hour before letting us get some into her. Then she stalked away and promptly ejected another gnarly mess.

Trixie just gave us the Evil Eye To The Max when we tried to approach her with the tube of hairball gel: I believe she feels she has “done her time” — for life — after being subjected to Blood Glucose tests, which require ear-pricking, and insulin shots for the past 2.5 months. Don’t tell her she might come out of remission: she might run away and join the circus.

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Sophie is totally simpatico with Trixie on the hairball thing, even if she does like the taste of the gel if she’s in the mood. Neither of them were in the mood today. And both of them like to expel their hairballs on the top of things like my computer keyboard, my desk, the book I’m currently reading, my iPad (cover closed, thank god).

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Baxter likes the gel, but not all the commotion. After depositing his slippery hairball gifts on the kitchen chairs today, he jumped up onto the top of the cupboards. I guess he thought it might be fun to see us climbing on chairs and ladders to try to catch him. We eventually surrendered to his High Ground, though I’m sure there’s a pile of hairballs up there by now.

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Shooter Tov — THE Alpha male in this household — not to be outdone by his little brother Baxter, who sometimes gets the privilege of playing Alpha Male if Shooter’s taking a nap, watched Baxter cover the cushions on the kitchen chairs, watched Mommy and Daddy sponge-sponge-sponge-ing them off, and then climbed onto the kitchen table and decorated it with a hairball that would rival any canvas of Jackson Pollock’s.

So, there.

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The only person who has NOT expelled a hairball today is Sadie-Doggie, but she’s been following the cats around as they do them because she loves the hairball gel and insists on getting some each time one of them does. Mommy’s trying to write and Sadie’s begging for more gel. I can just hear her asking, What does a dog have to do to get some yummy-yum-yum hairball gel around here? Cough up a hairball?

And I’ve just been told that Shooter is attempting to deposit a slimy gift in my bag, which I accidentally left sitting on the kitchen chair while I went to clean up Sascha’s latest offering.

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Ahh, the life of a Mommy.

I had to write this blog today to remind myself that I am actually also a writer.

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Filed under Cats, Humor, Philosophy, Real Life of a Writer