What Do Your Memories Smell Like?

I keep a bar of Yardley Flowering English Lavender soap, still in the box, on my desk.  I guess that requires some explanation.

When I was a little girl, I attended Our Lady of Angels school in Brooklyn.  We sat at  wooden desks with fold-down seats, an indentation to hold a pencil, and a hole that once held an inkwell.  We’re talking old.  The front and one side wall of the classroom held enormous blackboards that ran the length of the walls.  The windows were so big it took two kids to open one.  The girls wore itchy woolen uniforms.  We had both lay teachers and religious, both nuns and brothers, though the brothers only taught the upper grades at the time.

The nuns lived austere lives in the little convent across the schoolyard.  I had the chance to go inside the convent one day to help one of the sisters carry some boxes.  It was so clean and quiet.  The corridor was lined on either side with the nuns’ cells.  The floor was covered in brilliant blue carpet that muffled the sound of my hard-soled shoes.  A statue of Mary stood on a pedestal at the end of the hall, flowers resting at her feet.  I was living at the time in a two-bedroom apartment with my five siblings.  I was seven years old before I got my own bed.  Clean was impossible and quiet could only be found in the pre-dawn hours.  I wondered what it would be like to live in that clean, quiet convent where I could even have my own room.

Luxuries were something nuns were not allowed.  It was rumored they weren’t even allowed toothpaste, so they brushed their teeth with baking soda.  When the end of the school year came around, it was customary to give the teacher a little gift.  For the nuns, my mother always chose a gift box of Yardley Flowering English Lavender soap.  It was a gift they clearly appreciated–a welcome change from the plain soap they used every day.

The smell of that soap conjures up wonderful memories of the last day of school.  It was a day of watching the clock.  A day of sweating in the heat of an early New York summer.  There were no fans or air conditioners, and those big windows facing the treeless street only pulled in the heat beating down on the sidewalk.  I sat in my woolen green uniform, report card in hand, waiting for the bell to ring.  When it finally did, I felt the way I imagine a prisoner would feel on being released from the penitentiary.  Freedom.  “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!”  Trips to the park.  Bike riding along the path under the Verrazano Bridge.  The beach.  Hot summer evenings playing in the open fire hydrant (we called it a “Johnny pump” back then).  All the good things a child daydreams about on a Tuesday in winter, right after the teacher announces a pop quiz.

I sit at my desk, trying to make enough money to pay a few bills, and I think of where I’d rather be.  I pick up the box of soap and inhale the wonderful flowery fragrance.  For just a moment, it’s the last day of school; and any minute now, I’ll be free.

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Indie Spotlight Picture Book Writer MJ Belko – I Don’t Read Mysteries

My friend and mystery writer, Anita Rodgers, invited me to write a guest blog on her blog, Writer Chick (https://writerchick.wordpress.com). Check out Anita’s mystery series on Amazon and Kindle!

Anita Rodgers "Writer Chick" Blog

Today’s indie author is MJ Belko. In her article she discusses the irony of not being a mystery reader and yet having written a mystery picture book for kids. Take it away, MJ.

I Don’t Read Mysteries

I don’t read mysteries.  I know, a pox upon me.  I don’t mind watching them, but I never felt compelled to read one.  I’m more of a nonfiction reader.  As a writer, picture books are my wheelhouse.  So, how did I end up writing Winthrop Risk, Detective—The Mystery of the Missing Hamster, an early reader with a nine-year-old detective who sounds like he just stepped out of a Raymond Chandler novel?

I certainly don’t have any disdain for the mystery genre.  I’m a rabid fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern version of Sherlock Holmes.  I loved Derek Jacobi as Cadfael on PBS.  But write one?  Not on your life.  Plot twists…

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Don’t Look Now, But…

Reblogging because I don’t want these lives to be forgotten.

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ISIS CRUCIFIXION

When 22 people died outside a concert hall in Manchester, England, the media coverage was wall to wall.  The cry went up that something must be done! Journalists followed the investigation.  Press briefings were scheduled regularly. With broken hearts, we pored over color photographs of the victims, many of them only children, and we listened to bystanders describe their horror.  The world grieved as the story unfolded for a week.

Five days later, 29 Christians in Egypt died when terrorists attacked their bus. Forty-two others were seriously injured and the assassins got away.  That story vanished in less than 48 hours.  No color photos.  No interviews with authorities. No tragic details.

Here’s what you probably never heard.  The Christian group of parents, grandparents, and children were traveling in two buses to pray at a monastery. Their vehicles were stopped by terrorists outside the town of Minya.  After the buses were…

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World Book Day

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For Mrs. Burgio

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was in the third grade. I had this great teacher, Mrs. Burgio, who was one of the few lay teachers at the time at Our Lady of Angels in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She was the audacious type who eschewed the linear pattern of desk placement in favor of creating small groups. Each group had a name. Mine was the Blue Jays. She set up “learning stations” around the room. We had one for science, one for math, one for reading, and another for art. Each day, we were given time to visit the station of our choice and learn on our own. In a school ruled by nuns, this teaching style was downright seditious. At some point during that year, I wrote my first poem. It was awful, and I was hooked.

The year Mrs. Burgio directed the eighth grade’s all-girl production of Fiddler on the Roof, my class had the chance to sit in on a few rehearsals. I had never seen a live performance before and I was entranced.

Mrs. Burgio was also a woman of great foresight. Brooklyn in the late sixties and early seventies was a place full of very young drug addicts. I well remember seeing a neighbor’s daughter being carried, unconscious, up the apartment steps by a group of friends. Drugs were everywhere; and at the age of about nine, my classmates and I were approaching the day when we would have to make our own decisions about whether or not to use. You have to understand that at the time, drugs weren’t considered especially dangerous unless you overdosed. Drugs were mind expanding. Drugs were fun. Drugs were cool. If you didn’t at least smoke weed, something was seriously wrong with you. Mrs. Burgio took the unheard of step of talking to a bunch of very young kids about drug abuse. She taught us about addiction. I remember her saying, “If I had to draw a picture of someone who uses drugs, I would draw a picture of them with a big fish hook in their mouth.” That image stuck with me and despite enormous peer pressure in later years, I never touched the stuff.

We all meet people who impact our lives, maybe even change our direction. Mrs. Burgio was the first who did that for me, and I loved her for it. I found out that I’m good with words. At home, my daily lesson was that I wasn’t worth the time of day and that all I did was make everyone else miserable. But in Mrs. Burgio’s third grade class, I found the thing that would define and sustain me.

Thank you, Mrs. Burgio, wherever you are.

Bold, Beautiful Bastards

I just read Laurie Gough’s (www.twitter.com/lauriegough) Huffington Post piece, Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word published on December 29, 2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-gough/selfpublishing-an-insult-_b_13606682.html).

As most of you know, I’m the self-published author of Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster (Amazon and Kindle), so Ms. Gough’s assessment of self-publishing and “wannabe” writers pissed me off more than just a tad.

Ms. Gough opines that self-publishing is “…an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.”  She fears that “…writing itself is becoming devalued.”  In her mind, self-publishing is something bad writers “resort to” when they can’t get a traditional publisher to back their work.  It’s acceptable, she says, for a writer to self-publish “…especially if they’re elderly.  Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally.”  In other words, let the old folks self-publish because they might croak before they’re good enough to grab the attention of an agent.  How generous of her.

You get the impression someone put her up to this.

I will concede her point that there is a lot of crap out there. But there are also people with great potential who just haven’t quite learned how to polish a manuscript that could have used a few more trips through the sieve. It’s the ultimate school of hard knocks and the marketplace will weed out the less than serious authors.  Gough’s article hysterically labels self-publishing and self-published writers as disrespectful, wannabes, an insult, and taking short cuts.  Indeed, the only similarity she sees between published and self-published books is that “…they each have words on pages inside a cover.”

Well, golly gee! That there sounds like hubris to my wannabe ears!

Ms. Gough is clearly laboring under some false assumptions, the tip of her nose having obscured her vision.  Let’s review.

Gough feels self-published authors haven’t been at it long enough and rush their manuscripts to print. Really? It took me more than a year and multiple revisions to write Winthrop Risk, which is a simple four-chapter mystery written for early readers.  I labored over every word, every character, and every scene. It was critiqued by my writing group. Rushed to print? Not on your life. I busted my ass and it’s a damn fine book.

What about those gatekeepers Gough has such high regard for?  The gatekeepers have a nasty habit of getting it wrong.  We’ve all heard the stories about famous authors whose manuscripts were rejected over and over again before finally becoming bestsellers.  Sometimes it’s as simple as which intern happens to pick your envelope from the slush pile.  It’s something of a crap shoot. In fact, I suspect a great many manuscripts are never read, particularly if they’re submitted on line. I once got a rejection e-mail seconds after hitting “send”.  Most publishers won’t even consider a writer who lacks an agent, and far too many agents don’t want to work with an unknown.  The gatekeepers Ms. Gough is so fond of have dug themselves a nice little moat and filled it with crocodiles.  Excuse me while I go around the castle and maintain ownership and control of what I worked so hard to create.

I know a fine writer who went the traditional route.  She queried an agent and won representation.  A publisher expressed interest in her work and asked for some revisions, which were dutifully supplied.  Then the publisher decided they weren’t interested after all.  Screw that.

Is self-publishing an insult to the art of writing? Who decides? Is it the same type of educated knucklehead that decided a crucifix in a jar of urine was art? My idea of what makes a good children’s story is very different from a lot of what’s out there today. I hate political correctness and hold in the greatest contempt authors who use children’s publishing to push their particular ideology; but if you’re a social justice warrior with a love for F-bombs, you’re pretty much a shoe-in.  Books along the lines of “Timmy’s dog was run over by a bus today” or “Hey, mom! Grandma’s dead!” or “The problem with white people is…” may be popular with adults, but no normal, healthy kid wants that for a bedtime story.  The written word may not be getting the respect it deserves, but that disrespect isn’t coming from me.  Blame the gatekeepers.

Ms. Gough seems to have gotten stuck in some sort of time warp as she confuses old school vanity publishing with self-publishing.  I have great news for her.  I didn’t pay a dime to Kindle to get my book out there.  And I didn’t spend one minute “…sitting back and waiting for a stack of books to arrive…” at my door.  Publishing on Kindle is free and the books are printed on demand and shipped directly to the buyer.  Much more eco-friendly than traditional publishing, by the way.  Maybe Gough has watched too many movies.  I’m reminded of Dennis Farina’s character in “Authors Anonymous” as he sits at a folding table at the local hardware store, trying to sell copies of his awful book.

I’ve only sold a handful of books and I have no marketing apparatus to help me.  I’m flying blind, but I’m flying. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing and I’m doing it well.  I’ve done it on my terms, held true to my own vision, and I don’t have to share the little money I earn with the publishing bullies.

So to all my fellow self-published authors who write and create wonderful art without representation and without fetters, bravo.

Brazen, bold, beautiful bastards, all.

 

Is the Ad Worth the Price?

I’ve been getting emails from Amazon offering an advertising package for my children’s book, Winthrop Risk, Detective.

Seems they’ll have my book turn up here and there when someone searches for something in my genre.  Each time someone clicks on my book, I have to pay Amazon something like 25 cents.

Have any of you self-published daredevils used Amazon’s service?

Was it worth the price?

 

Time for a little shameless promotion

I wrote this mini-mystery for kids who are outgrowing picture books but aren’t ready for a full-blown novel. Four entertaining chapters of mystery, the school bully, loyalty, and finding out who your friends are.  Available on Amazon and Kindle.  And don’t forget to write a review!

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Why Writing is Hard

Here’s a wonderful bit of encouragement for all of us.

A Writer's Path

Hard

by Meg Dowell

Writing is hard.

You know this without having to convince yourself it’s true. You may love it – it may be your art; your love; your baby – but that doesn’t mean there are days it doesn’t take all you have left in you to drag yourself to your laptop and write something. Writing isn’t easy. Sometimes it feels like the words are flowing from your fingers and they’ll never stop – but not long afterward, you’re staring at your empty coffee cup, in a daze, as if you can’t believe you just wrote 2,000 words without thinking twice about it.

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My Day Job Sucks & Doctors are ***holes

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A brief recap:  Like just about every writer on the planet, I work a day job to keep a roof over my head.  In my case, I do medical transcription.

What that means is that I listen to reports dictated by very highly paid neurologists and otolaryngologists and I type what they say.  Well, sort of.  I type what they’re supposed to say.  Clearly, the basics of English grammar are never acquired by these highly-educated buffoons and it takes a woman with a twelfth grade education to make them sound smart.

In addition to being an excellent typist, I have to know the rules of grammar, be an excellent speller (including medical terms like “uvulopalatopharyngoplasty”), and have to know which drugs are used to treat which conditions, as well as the appropriate dosages.  I have to be very aware of details, like making sure the doctor is consistent about things like left and right.  I also have to find current addresses for the referring physicians, most often without being given a first name or the proper spelling of the last name.  This eats up my time and I don’t get paid for it.

For all of this, I currently make (if I’m lucky) 5 cents per line.  That translates to about $6.25 an hour in a good month.  And boy, do those doctors bitch about the cost.  Many have gone as far as to outsource their work to India. Yeah. Chew on that for a while and remember it the next time your computer freezes and you get stuck talking to “Bob” in customer service.

The only benefit to this job, as far as my writing career goes, is that I can say with complete honesty that I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life editing medical reports.  That fact, and this blog, are about as far as I get with the elusive writing platform.

So next time you see your doctor, just remember that behind that façade of concern is a person who will later bitch about how much it costs them to have someone like me make sure the right information gets into your chart.  If your doctor hasn’t poisoned you yet, you may have a medical transcriptionist to thank.

You’re welcome.  Your miserly physician is not.

 

 

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