Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post by Lisa Rivero: Down She Went

What would you do if you were given a stack of daily diaries written by a vibrant woman, who saw the importance of recording simple yet rich details about the world around her? You’d read them, sure. Not many can resist diving into the pages of first-hand experiences about the past. And, if you’re Lisa Rivero, you’d see the value of their imprint on history and turn those diaries into a story.

Every Tuesday, on her blog Writing Life, Lisa posts flash narratives — very short excerpts of the story that lies within the pages of her Great Aunt Hattie’s diaries. Lisa’s narratives are beautiful pieces that will draw you in and leave you hungry to know more about the life of Hattie Whitcher. Today, I’m honored to host Lisa here, where she shares the third installment of a series based on Hattie’s experience on Memorial Day in 1933. Click these links to read part one (“A Nice, Bright Day”) and part two (“Cracklings”).

Memorial Day Weekend, 1933:
“Down She Went”

She knows what will happen only a moment too late to stop it. Her foot slips on the rain-soaked bank of dirt the men had thrown onto the path, and down she goes into a newly dug, half-finished toilet hole, her left leg buckling beneath her in six inches of water.

At first, she feels nothing but surprise and wonders only how she will heft herself out of the four-foot deep hole, but when she tries to stand up, the pain in her left leg lashes through her body like a whip, causing her to collapse against the earth wall. She tries again to stand, this time on her good leg, and braces both arms on the ground at her chin level.

“Bill! Help!” Her voice is shaky. She hopes he is not asleep in his chair, as usual.

Her arms keep slipping on the mud, and she clutches at wet clods of earth, trying to prop herself up so as to project her voice. “Bill!”

She sees him then, rushing from the house.

“Goodness, Hattie! What did you do? Give me your hand.”

He tries to pull her up first by taking her hands, then by grabbing her under her arms. She bites her bottom lip when her leg hits the side of the hole. After three more attempts, she manages to get out. She sits on the ground to catch her breath.

“I’m going to carry you into the house,” Bill says.

“No, I’m too heavy.” The image of her brother’s hauling her across the yard is more than she can bear. “I’ll crawl.”

Using her arms and her right leg, she crawls to the house, issuing small cries of pain with each labored movement. Her dress grows heavy with mud, slowing her down even more.

“Hattie, be reasonable,” Bill pleads, walking beside her, his hands helpless at his sides. She just shakes her head.

Once on the porch, she allows Bill to help her into a standing position. She leans on his right shoulder and, step by step, makes her way to the first floor bedroom. The thought of what her dress will do to the quilt makes her cringe, but she cannot imagine removing her clothes, so she tells Bill to lower her to the bed. The relief of finally being off her feet combined with the pain in her leg brings tears to her eyes. Bill gets her some aspirins and a glass of water, then disappears.

Hattie spills water on her chin and wipes it with the sleeve of her everyday dress, smearing mud on her face. “Bill?” she calls.

He brings a hot pan of water he poured from the kettle on the cook stove that she had been keeping warm for cleaning the kitchen and places it on the floor. After removing Hattie’s shoe and stocking and gently moving her leg off the side of the bed so that her foot soaks in the hot water, he says, “Stay here. I’m going for help.”

“But–”

“No buts, Hattie!” She rarely hears this sharp tone from her gentle brother. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to Tom’s to get a car.” Over his shoulder, as he leaves the room, he adds, “Don’t move.”

Bill runs west to their brother Tom’s house. On the way back, at the bridge, they meet LeRoy Kropp and his wife, Jerome Jamison and his wife and their two children, all coming from Winner in their car, and they follow Bill and Tom back to the house.

Just as the cars pull into the yard, Will and Narvin return. They prepare Hattie for the trip to Rosebud Ashurst Hospital, their only stop being for Hattie to use the slop jar at a neighbor’s place. Because of the Memorial Day weekend, there are no workers and no power at the hospital to take an X-ray until the next evening, when it is found that the long bone above her ankle is broken.

From her hospital bed the next day, she is keen to learn from Will of the holiday’s events, which she writes in her diary:

May 30, 1933: Will and Thomas went to O’Kreek this morning to the Legion Program, then George O’Conners took Will in his car to Mission to help decorate graves and then back to O’Kreek to dinner. Will then went on to see me at hospital. It was my wish that he do all he could, also the boys. William and Narvin did fine with lunch. Will said that all the meat is put in the basement and the kitchen is cleaned and mopped. All the pork is cooked and in jars, covered with fryings and lard, so the men can batch awhile.

 *****

"Although a windy afternoon, I managed to walk to the Car, first time on crutches. W. J. has his pipe in vest pocket, was told to put it in his mouth, but he covered it with his hand. Maggie and Will took me to Winner, and I enjoyed the trip."

Hattie stays in the hospital for two weeks, and for several weeks afterward she remains on a sanitary cot at home, leaving it only “when they take me out to sit sideways at the table to eat.” She has a live-in helper, Maggie—“the best helper we could have”—for one and one-half years, at which time she can walk with one crutch and a cane.

Hattie will eventually be diagnosed with diabetes. Her left foot and leg will heal slowly. We can only imagine the damage done by her crawling to the house and the jostling car ride to Rosebud before the leg could be set. She will battle infection and poor circulation, and her leg will never again be pain free. This is her last entry, from June 2, 1957:

South wind was quite strong. I feel bad with pains in my left foot. Will put my bedding from the front-room chair back on my bed and elevated my left leg, but it pained more than ever, so Will brought the bedding back to the front room chair. I gave an insulin shot to myself and ate oatmeal toast and apricot sauce and had hot water to drink.

She never writes in her diary again, and, four days later, part of her foot will be amputated. The next Memorial Day in 1958, twenty-five years after having broken her leg, Will—her husband, friend, companion and helpmate—takes Hattie to the hospital, where she will stay until her death.

~

Lisa Rivero

Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include gifted education, home education, creativity, literature and the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. Her published books include Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010). She is currently writing a novel based on the Great Plains diaries of her great-aunt Harriet E. Whitcher.

Welcome Ilie Ruby, Author of The Language of Trees

The willows here grow to enduring heights of one hundred feet, their narrow leaves and long branches bent toward the ground, never forgetting their home. ~The Language of Trees

Trees are a life force around us. They lay claim to a land, bear the weight of change with the seasons, and, as they grow, become living evidence of the history of a place.

And sometimes, trees harbor secrets.

Ilie Ruby’s debut novel, The Language of Trees, is a story about place, as much as it’s a story about the people who live there. It is the sight of the Diamond Trees along the shore of Canandaigua Lake that draws three small children to the scene of a tragic accident. And, it is the power of that place that implores two of the main characters, Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell, to return home to Canandaigua.

While Grant and Echo travel back to Canandaigua separately, their past, and the mysterious disappearance of a young woman named Melanie Ellis, brings them together. As they help search for Melanie, Grant and Echo find  healing, they rediscover their faith in family and in love, and they uncover the truth behind a secret that has haunted Canandaigua for years.

The Language of Trees is full of surprises and revelations — about the characters and about life. Ruby masters the craft of imagery and prose throughout her novel, hinting at answers but keeping the reader guessing. I’m honored to host Ilie Ruby here today.

At the end of the interview, leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of her novel, The Language of Trees. *Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, May 17th.*

***

CC: One of my favorite scenes in your book is between Lion and Melanie on their first date: Lion realizes that “memories were something you could decide to make, rather than the results of things that just happened to you.” That scene is such a sweet moment between two people and one of healing for them both. Do you have a scene that was your favorite to write?

IR: I’m so glad you like that scene. It takes place during a blizzard and it was one of my favorites to write. You know, I spent half of my life learning how to navigate a world of snow and ice. It will come as no surprise then that many of my childhood memories took place during blizzards. Blizzards are, come to find out, a good time to be inside with people you like (although when you’re a teenager you want to be out there in the midst of them). With everyone in an atmospherically-compressed space, lovers collide; intense family bonding or strife is created.

It’s hard to pick a favorite scene because all the characters came alive for me and have their own voices, magic, and sense of urgency and purpose. But Joseph’s scenes were especially meaningful because I based his character on a magnificent friend who has passed on, who had a way of enveloping those he held close in what can only be described as immense grace, perhaps the most powerful feeling of warmth, love and protection that I’ve ever felt in my life. It both startled and comforted me as I re-experienced that grace while writing Joseph’s scenes. I still feel that sense of comfort when I re-read the book and any scene that has Joseph in it. I hope others do, too.

CC: What was the inspiration behind writing a character that is a spirit? 

IR: I think one reason I write is to learn about things I’m compelled by or exceedingly interested in. Part of what fuels the desire to write about spiritual things is a wish on some level that we exist in a benevolent universe, that there is a rightness to it that can be defined in human terms. From the age of about nine onward, after learning about the loss of so many of my relatives in the Holocaust, I voraciously read everything I could find about religion and spirituality. In this novel, I wanted to show how the dynamic coexistence of light and darkness is reconciled through generations—ultimately, how a child can bring healing and triumph over a painful legacy. The character of Luke, a healing spirit, must transcend the darkness of his father, a hunter, both on this plane and from the spirit world. There is a wheel of energy at work. The character of Melanie fights addiction in order to mother her own child, becoming a person that uses art to transform pain into beauty so in my mind hers is a spiritual gift as well.

CC: What are you reading these days?

IR: I’m re-reading The Giant’s House because Elizabeth McCracken has an incredible gift for making the unfamiliar relatable. She’s a writer that takes chances and I’m awed by her creativity and her ability to render the human heart and the complexity of relationships so uniquely and beautifully.

CC: What is your advice to writers?

IR: Write truth. Write where there’s “heat”. Follow your questions and relate them to universal themes. Know that if you’re wondering about something, it’s likely other people are, too. If your book evokes questions and discovery, that’s a good thing.

Ilie Ruby grew up in Rochester, NY and spent her childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, the setting for her debut novel, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES. She is the recipient of several awards and scholarships, including the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. In 1995, she graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. Ruby is a painter, poet and proud adoptive mom to three children from Ethiopia.

***

For more information about Ilie Ruby, her book, and her upcoming events, visit her website. Also, check out her fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or keep up with her on Goodreads.

And, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway!

From Here to There: Writing Under Pressure at Write It Sideways

Timing is everything.

It’s the weekend, I’m playing Single Parent for the next few days, and my guest post, a Finalist in the Write It Sideways Blogging contest, is up. The topic is one that I grapple with on a daily basis: life as Mother and a Writer.

“I love it when my kids get hold of my camera. Really.

Their photos serve as a study of daily life, and, for a brief moment in time, I see the world through their eyes.”

“The Dilemma of the Mother Writer.”

Click on over, take a peek, leave a comment.

And, Happy Writing to all you Mamas out there!

Ride the internet waves.

Today, I’m guest posting at Lisa Rivero’s blog, Writing Life.

Lisa and I live within easy driving distance of each other, but it was the ever-expansive internet that brought us together. I won’t bore you with details on when and where we connected, or how long we “chatted” before we finally met in person (writers’ forums and social networking sounds a lot like online dating, don’t you think? Only we exchange website domains instead of phone numbers).

How Lisa and I met isn’t half as important as why I value her as a writing friend: her blog continues to inspire me, and she’s a constant bouy of support. So, jump on the broadband and slide on over to Lisa’s blog, where I write about how one genre of writing informs another:

On Stanley Kunitz, Memoir, and Fiction.

If you’re like me, you’re always in search of the perfect How-To book when it comes to the craft of writing, but sometimes the lessons are found in other books. You just have to pay attention.

Browse around Lisa’s blog, too, while you’re there. She publishes some great posts on writing and some amazing flash narratives.

The Catalyst and Writing

Every story has a catalyst, some event that induces a permanent change in the protagonist, and every writer has their catalyst. I bet each of us can name that “one thing” that kick-started us into writing. Mine was a big, fat dose of jealousy.

A woman I knew was given a wonderful opportunity that any writer, especially a Mother Writer, would have given her third arm for: unadulterated time to write. When I heard the news, a hard ball of contempt formed in my gut. It loosened when I muttered “How come she gets to!” and festered as I pouted, “That’s not fair!” Then, a wise friend turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Just start writing.

Oh.
I suppose.
And, so I did.

I wrote during those in between times and late at night and let that jealousy drive me until I forgot all about my obsession for uninterrupted time. I was writing, and that was all that mattered.

Today, Eric Kobb Miller reveals his catalyst in his story entitled “Flashing.” You can read it below.

Then, think about the “one thing” that urged you to take the leap and start writing (or that keeps you writing).

*****

FLASHING
By Eric Kobb Miller

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write “the great American novel” and to be inducted into the pantheon of American writers alongside Melville, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Salinger. An invitation to the literary pantheon not forthcoming, I battled with the demons of low self-esteem. My wife, Rinnce, my dental assistant Saliva Godiva, and my dental hygienist Bidday O’Shea all suggested that I try my hand at “flashing.” I recoiled in revulsion at the thought of running stark naked through life, in very public places, flashing very private parts. They assured me that the flashing to which they referred was writing very short, short stories which could be entered in writing contests. Doing this would get me focused, disciplined, tournament tough, and hopefully published someday.

Alas, the acceptance letters never came, although the rejection slips inundated my mailbox. It disappointed me, to be sure, but the comments about my punctuation just outright enraged me. Editors constantly criticized how I used my colon, as if that were any of their concern. Moreover, they claimed that my semicolons were acting like squatters in places they didn’t belong. As for my commas, they described them as looking like insects randomly stuck between the teeth of a motorcyclist without a face shield — even going so far as to label me a “comma splicer.”

One especially unhappy editor, who thought she was Portia in The Merchant of Venice, told me that my quotation marks “droppeth not as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, but as sleet wrapped irritatingly around the wrong words.” My penchant for not italicizing the French words I liked to sprinkle about in my text really drove some editors crazy, especially because I italicized my poems which were in English. But more than anything, the endless discussions about hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes felt like acupuncture with dull needles. To this day, I still try to crawl into the spaces which are not supposed to be surrounding my em dashes.

However, I kept tap, tap, tapping away at my keyboard to get even in my own personal and special way. Each time my middle finger, that ubiquitous devil, was to hit a key, I did it with just a tad more emphasis: a flourish which never failed to give me the faintest hint of a smile, even though it inserted more colons: semicolons; commas, and “quotation marks” in all the wrong places, as well as the wrong sized dashes — with inappropriate spaces — between the wrong words.

*****

Eric Kobb Miller

Eric Kobb Miller is a retired dentist who has laid down his drill for a quill. His stories and poems number more than several mouths full of teeth and have appeared in a score of publications.

You can read more of Eric Kobb Miller’s work on his website, Spit Toon’s Saloon, or in his book, Spit Toon’s Saloon: Rinnce and Spit Toon, Proprietors. Sad Songs and Funny Tales on Tap. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Writing Groups: Turning Problems into Progress

Part of the fun in being the author of your own blog is hosting a guest. Please welcome Lisa Cron: writer, instructor, and story consultant. Lisa shares on the pros and cons of writing groups, and how problems can be turned into positive experiences for the writer, and for the work-in-progress.

~

Lisa Cron

It’s a delicious irony when you think about it — writing is a very solitary act, and yet its ultimate goal is to communicate, and with a wide audience at that.  Which is why as we strive to coax our story onto the page, a writers group can be incredibly helpful.  In fact, writers groups offer two fabulous benefits before you even get out the door.  First, they provide a concrete writing time frame – and nothing focuses the mind better than a rapidly approaching deadline.  And second, they give you a reason to get out of your pj’s, close the laptop, and actually leave the house.  But there are two main areas where writers groups can inadvertently do more harm than good.  Once you’re aware of them, you can sidestep them, and flip them in your favor. First, the problems:

1. Writers groups tend to focus on the prose, so good writing is praised. And what could possibly be wrong with that?  Isn’t great prose what hooks readers? Surprisingly, no, it’s not. What actually hooks readers is the story beneath the prose. In fact, if a story is good, the prose can be decidedly not — The Da Vinci Code, anyone? Not so the other way around.

The problem with praising prose in and of itself is that the writer often becomes so attached to it that she’s afraid to cut it, even when she suspects it might be holding her story back.  I’ll never forget the stricken look on a student’s face when I pointed out that several lyrical sentences on the first page of her novel were getting in the way of the story she was telling. “But my writing group told me they were beautiful, and I shouldn’t even think of cutting them,” she said.  Then she did. In fact, she cut the first 40 pages of her novel, and a month later, a publisher expressed interest.

2. In a writers group you can only workshop about a chapter at a time. What’s wrong with that?  Story is a cause-and-effect trajectory.  So the important question isn’t: Does this scene work in and of itself?  It’s: Does it make sense given what happened up to now? Does it move the story forward? And hey, why does the reader need to know this? These are questions writers groups often miss, especially if they’re caught up in the beautiful prose.

So, how can you make sure you get the feedback you need?

1. Make sure the group knows exactly what happened prior to the scene you read and what you think will happen next, so they understand its intended purpose, storywise. Then, once you’ve read it, ask them: What do you think was important? Based on that scene, where do you think the story is going? What leapt out as a “setup”?  What do you think the protagonist’s agenda is in this scene? Questions like this help immeasurably, both in terms of pointing out where the story in your head and the one on the page might diverge, and in triggering new story possibilities that hadn’t yet occurred to you.  What’s more, they tend to weed out the judgmental statements that can shut a writer down. It’s not about what the group liked, or what they didn’t, it’s about the expectations they had based on what you read.

2. If you get negative feedback that you don’t like or don’t agree with, while you don’t have to follow it, you don’t want to discount it, either. There’s an old saw that goes, “If twelve people tell you you’re drunk, even if you’ve never had a drink in your life, go home and sleep it off.”  In other words, while the group may be utterly wrong about what caused them to decide your story needed help at that point, and even more misguided about how you might solve it, something pulled them out. This gives you the opportunity to dive in and try to figure out what it was.

Chances are that what the group is responding to is a glitch in the emotional or psychological credibility of how your characters are (or aren’t) reacting to what happens.  That doesn’t mean you have to scrap the story you want to tell, it just means that you might need to dig deeper (and probably make external plot changes) in order to bring your story on to the page. In this case, it also helps to remember that neuroscience has revealed  a truth every kindergartner knows: one negative statement carries the emotional weight of ten positive ones.  They’re a gut punch.  They don’t really negate the good stuff, it just feels like they do.

3. Don’t forget to consider the source. It’s like in life, when your significant other does something squirrelly, and you turn to your friends for advice.  You always know whose attitude is going to be, “He called five minutes late? Dump him!” and who’ll say, “Well, I know that the fact he slept with the entire glee club looks bad, but . . .”  In other words, make sure that you know each writer’s idiosyncrasies, and how they see the world, so you know what advice is likely to be objective, and what might be a wee bit too subjective to have merit.

Having the courage to view your work through a writers group’s eyes helps assure that you’re communicating the story you want to tell.  But at the end of the day, when you’re back in your pj’s, fingers flying over the keys, your story always belongs to you.

What do you think of writers groups? What’s the best (and worst) advice you ever got from a writer’s group?

*****

Lisa offers more great advice on her website, Wired for Story. You can also follow her on Twitter, or check out her UCLA Extension Writers Program instructor page. Her upcoming online course is entitled the Inside Story.