The Psychic Sunburn

Writing

I got my short story published today, and the magazine sent me an email to let me know I will receive this hard copy. I am truly honored. Maybe, I tell myself, I can finally call myself a writer.

My ultimate goal is to finish the revisions on my memoir – but the short story is a good way to practice great storytelling. Someone gave me good advice about establishing writing credits before I begin the query process. So I worked on this particular story for over a year, revising, submitting, gettting it rejected, and revising again and again. I sent it to over 50 places. One of the reasons I was determined to get this particular story published was to prove I could do it, and the greatest motivation (at least in the back of my mind) was to prove someone wrong. That person was Dave.

Don’t let other people make you feel ashamed. There’s no reason to put up with nasty criticism. It’s not worth any price. I mention price because Dave never charged me a penny. “I want to pay it forward,” he said. He acted as a mentor. I thought I was lucky I had someone who would work with me and didn’t expect compensation. But he got wierd. Real wierd. Chip opinioned that Dave became frustrated and impatient with me because I didn’t listen. Maybe that’s true, but my memory of working with Dave is tainted. He often grew testy and mean. Did he think he was one of protagonist in his short stories? I regret I held on a little longer than I should. I stuck it out with Dave until after the interview incident with Ariel Chart. They nominated my short story, My Phantom Ovaries for the Pushcart and invited me to speak about the process of writing. During the interview, I mentioned Dave, praised him for his role in coaching me through all the revisions, and after the interview aired, Dave accused me of not giving him the credit he was due. Bewildered, I apologized profusely, although I was unsure why. Talk about a psychic sunburn – I received imaginary third degree burns from his rant!

For those who don’t remember Dave, he was a mentor/editor I had worked with up until last year. I learned valuable lessons from Dave and it’s this:

Dave got dramatic, snide. Was he jealous? One of his last comments was I would never get this story published. The threat of not being successful haunted me. But he was wrong,

Here’s the story. He helped me with this one too. I wish Dave well but I will never speak to him again, Dave is entirely too toxic. If he ever reads my blog, which I don’t think he will, he won’t understand, but I don’t expect him to. So Dave – “We will never speak again.” I quote you here. You wrote this to my writer friend because she sent you part of her manuscript. Your response was tasteless and rude.

I have a new editor now. We have just started working together but I know she’s the right one. Erica doesn’t shame me or talk to me about anything other than the content of my memoir. And she believes in my story.

The Psychic Sunburn was published in Variant Literature magazine. The link is below.

https://www.variantlit.com/journals ( Summer 2020 ) Story is on page 36

#writerslife #writing

Why Don’t I Celebrate This?

I recently submitted a short story I wrote. I’m rather new at this, so I sent it out to twenty-four magazines, believing my little story would be published in a widely circulated magazine. For two or three months, I waited hoping for that magical moment when I read “Congratulations,” but the only thing I received was twenty-four rejection letters. In my mind the story about a young woman and her challenging mother was a universal one, one that other readers would relate to and connect with. Disappointed, I wanted to prove to myself I could write, so I revised the story, changed it to fit magazines that called for stories about toxic relationships, and reimagined it with music as a theme. I rewrote different parts of it, made it longer and changed the title. I resubmitted to every free submission on Submittable and since I had already submitted to well-known magazines, I began to submit to the lesser-known ones. I sent my story anywhere I hadn’t sent it before. My list of submissions grew from twenty-four to sixty. I searched the internet for every open submission. Yesterday, after five months of rejections, I received an acceptance letter. This sounds like wonderful news, but I didn’t react as I expected I would. 

Yes, I should have been ecstatic, knowing some random editors liked my story so much, they wanted to publish it but I felt deflated, like a balloon that’s lost all of its air. The effort I’d put into writing this story was a monumental task. I worked so hard for this moment, the moment when I opened my email and instead of reading the dreaded opening line of “Thank you for submitting…,” I read, “Congratulations.” If this was what I was waiting for why was I disappointed? Here’s the reason; it wasn’t an acceptance from the New Yorker, any of the well-known literary journals, or even one of the magazines that paid for stories. No, those opportunities disappeared in the two rounds of rejections. I could practically hear the frosty tone Annie uses whenever I mention the names of journals I’ve been published in. “Oh I’ve never heard of that one,” she says. The pinched expression on her face always reminds me of my lowly position in the publishing world. 

I spent the next two hours untangling my emotions although I didn’t understand the reasons for my angst. I felt distraught that after all that effort, only one magazine liked my story! To make matters worse, I had to withdraw my story from the other fourteen places I submitted and some of those places were well-known. But the rules are the rules. Simultaneous submissions are allowed but the writer must withdraw the piece if it is accepted elsewhere.

I called my best friend, the one who helped me come up with this fantastic little title, the one who urged me to edit and revise this story to make it work, to make my characters more likable, to change the focus of the story so it connected to the reader. As we talked about my reaction to the news I had longed to hear, she helped me see it wasn’t about being published in a magazine. It was about how most of us are never being satisfied with what we get. The universal experience we all should practice is learning how to be grateful. I’m learning.

#amwriting #writerslife #Thewriterszen #writingcommunity

Staying the F Home


Over a month ago, I flew home from a visit with my daughter, with tentative plans to meet her and her family in South Dakota this summer. We’d visit Mount Rushmore! I was imagining what it would be like, when everything changed a few days after I got home.

A month has now passed since we started the self-isolation due to the pandemic. Although Chip says he likes staying home, and he likes being alone, I struggle with not seeing my friends, or going to my writing class, or seeing my grandchildren. For the first few weeks of Stay the F home, I experienced fear, anger and depression. Any suggestions from well-meaning friends to write about the our world pandemic crisis caused further annoyance, and gave me a sense of helplessness. So I wrote other stuff instead.

I’m grateful that right before everything shut down, I celebrated my daughter’s fortieth birthday. It was also my granddaughter’s birthday. Year after year, ever since my oldest child moved up north, I haven’t missed a birthday celebration. I’m afraid that might change.

When I flew home at the beginning of March, Jessica wanted to see me. I’d been gone for a week, and she insisted I come get her. I brought her home for the weekend. That was before the world changed.

Each day, the cases of coronavirus grew more widespread.  Schools closed, then the parks, then small businesses. Toilet paper was one of the first things to fly off the shelves. Chip and I ran to the grocery store and stocked up on everything we could think of, expecting we would shelter in place for a few weeks. We had to make a decision about whether to return Jessica to the group home or keep her with us. This created more issues which could’ve impacted her services. I couldn’t lose all I had worked to achieve.

Questions abounded. What would happen if either Chip or I got sick and had to be hospitalized for coronavirus? When I flew home on the plane, I sat near someone with a bad cough. No one wore a mask at that point, so I didn’t wear one, but what if that man infected me? What if I were infected but didn’t have symptoms? What would we do with Jessica if one of us had to go to the hospital? She WOULD be better off in the group home, but how long would she have to stay there?

Sarah yelled at me. “Mom, take her back, I don’t know what you were thinking.”

I thought of the weekend when Chip had his stroke, when I frantically drove him to the hospital because he wouldn’t allow me to call 911. Jessica sat in the back seat, bewildered. Luckily, I called Sarah on the way to the hospital. She met us at the emergency room and retrieved Jessica as I flew through the entrance with Chip moaning in the wheelchair. I debated what to do with Jessica and pictured that scene over and over again. I pictured one of us rushing to the hospital, sick with this deadly virus. What if we infected Jessica? Who would take care of her?

I called the director of the group home. She told me no one would be allowed to come and visit. Jessica would have to stay there for the remainder of the outbreak. I reluctantly agreed. It was almost as hard as moving her there in the first place. How would she survive? How would she manage if she had to stay there for months?

Today marks one month since we’ve seen anyone up close. We’ve video chatted with friends and family. I asked the group home to install WhatsApp on Jessica’s phone and occasionally, she is able to successfully video chat. With the proverbial sigh of relief, I can relax, knowing Jessica is doing just fine. It gives me a sense of peace to know when I die, she will be okay.

My ninety-seven-year old mother’s nursing home stopped allowing visitors and families. I saw my mom right before I flew up to Philadelphia, but she wasn’t exactly coherent. A week later, I received a call she had pneumonia. It looked bad. I told my brother he couldn’t fly down if we had a funeral. He was astounded by my suggestion, but I told him, it wouldn’t be safe. Then my mom recovered. If anyone can beat the odds, it’s her. We often laugh about how tough Mom is, how her maiden name, Brick, represents just how hard she is. She’ll probably outlive the pandemic.

But each one of these things has weighed heavily. I needed a distraction. I started drinking wine. Every night. Cooked. Ate cookies. Drank more wine. Every night. Ate more cookies. Every night. I turned my attention to writing. Not writing about corona virus, or the editor who dumped me. No, I focused my attention on my memoir. I contacted new editors. I studied my manuscript, found plot holes, wrote more revisions, joined more writing groups on Facebook, took a free class in revising my novel in a month. Thank you Martha Alderson!

Today I finished the second round of revisions on my thirtieth chapter. Three chapters left. I already have a few beta readers lined up.

Over the years, I ‘ve had to deal with enough challenges to fill a lifetime, but I am not going to be a victim, I won’t allow fear or doubt stop me. This coronavirus has given me a chance to listen to my inner muse. I will do PitMad and research agents. I’ve already started to explore what’s next. Some good has come from this experience.

#memoir #Iamwriting #disability #mothers #plot whisperer #PitMad

coronavirus
My granddaughter Clara calls it the “Coroney Virus”

Mothers of the Special Ones

The more I talk to mothers who have disabled children, the more I understand the immense challenges we’ve all had to deal with. It reminds me of what we all have in common, the loneliness we’ve experienced, and the common thread that links us as mothers of special ones. I wrote this post after I finished an email to a writing friend. She’s a mother of a teenaged son who lives in a residential facility. He lives there because his uncontrollable, violent outbursts were a threat to her and her family. I imagine she’s wracked with guilt, yet she did the right thing. My email commended her for her devotion to her family. I commented on the endless and selfless ways she’s helped her son throughout the years. I commended her bravery and courage. After I sent the email, I realized I could say the same things about myself. My thoughts skipped like a ping pong ball. I thought about the years Jessica has lived in the group home. I thought about the day I moved her there. I am grateful that Jessica, unlike my friend’s son, has never been violent. I’ve witnessed, firsthand, how that looks. Years ago, one of Jessica’ friends bent Jessica’s finger so hard, the teacher thought it might be broken. I took Jessica for x-rays. I remember when the girl’s mother told me her daughter threw a brick (where did she find a brick?) through the T.V! Let me be grateful for small miracles.
Of course there’s also horror stories about group homes. Thankfully, Jessica hasn’t experienced any abuse, but it’s a parent’s worst nightmare. The mother who recommended Jessica’s group home previously had her son in a Chicago home until she discovered the truth and had to rescue him. The story went like this: something about horrible conditions, lack of medical care, etc. The boy was nonverbal, so he couldn’t call for help. I don’t think he even knows how to use a phone. I’ve always imagined how this made my friend feel. What about her guilt? I’ve considered asking her – “Do you feel guilty about what happened?” but she’s so pragmatic, I imagine this never crossed her mind. I admire this woman. She’s a bright, strong, sensible mother. I wonder if the same thing happened to me, what would I do? I’m pretty sure I’d still be blaming myself. When you have a special needs child, you never stop worrying. The angst, the pain, the fear, the worry, those emotions never completely disappear. I still worry about Jessica, although not as much as I used to. She appears to be thriving in her group home. True, there are times when she gets intimidated and refuses to explain what’s wrong. I used to call it her autistic moments, because she closes down like a shuttered storefront. These minor issues pale when I think of my friend’s son, the boy in the residential treatment center. Whenever Jessica has an issue with the staff, it’s usually because she’s stubborn. They might tell her to get dressed and she’s unwilling to cooperate. One time they called and told me they wanted her to brush her teeth and she refused. I’m grateful these were minor problems. Many times, I’ve felt sorry for myself. It’s pointless, I know, but I can’t help feeling it. What’s arisen out of these experiences is an incredible story. While I still don’t fully accept Jessica’s limitations, I know I have to. It’s obvious I have. I have a responsibility to help Jessica and I refuse to let go. Part of me demands I deal with it. The other part yells – “No I don’t want to!”
I remind myself something good came from my experiences as a mother of a special needs child. I wrote a book. I know I’m the queen of denial (everyone in my writing class says so)  – but I try and use this to my advantage. One thing everyone says about my writing is how brutally honest I am. I question if I can show my readers the depths of what I felt. What I still feel to this day. Will people want to read my story? Is it unusual enough? Is it compelling? There’s a reason I was driven to write it; it hurt, I hurt.
I am a mother.
#disabilities #writing#memoirs#mother#writinglife

Latest project: Entering new land

So I had this problem, right? A bewildering experience, in my opinion and now it’s over, rather barely over, I can talk about it. Or at least provide some details. It has to do with my female anatomy, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say, I had my bladder sewn back into place and a complete hysterectomy. Two weeks ago today. The diagnosis reminded me of the shock of Jessica’s diagnosis. Unexpected. Unplanned. And unwilling to accept the reality.

Luckily, it wasn’t cancer. Or at least the doctor hasn’t told me they found cancer and it’s already been two weeks since the surgery. Rationally, there’d be no reason for the extreme emotional reaction. BUT I wrote a great story and it is going to be published !! June issue of https://arielchart.blogspot.com

Thank you but no thanks…….

affection board broken broken hearted
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
I got another rejection letter today, this one from Woodbine House, a publisher devoted to stories about special needs. Back in August, after learning they were accepting submissions, I sent a book proposal and several chapters. I expected to hear from them any day. What I didn’t expect was the editor actually wrote a letter explaining why she couldn’t use my story! This was a good sign. Most rejection letters never come with an explanation, but this editor took the time to write! At the top of the page, under the company letterhead, was the form letter:

Dear Author,
Thank you for your submission. I regret that it does not suit our needs at the present…..blah, blah, blah -basically, ‘thanks but no thanks’, and then this hand written note:

“Your writing is very parent friendly, engaging and insightful but I’m afraid we would not be able to reach the market with your memoir. More and more, we are finding that it’s nearly imposssible to succeed financially with any sort of memoir, perhaps because so much autobiographical writing is available for free on the internet. We have an especially difficult time marketing books that deal in any way with the adult years, for whatever reason…..You might try self-publishing and then if you succeed in attracting readers, you could approach a larger, traditional publisher with a proven record of sales.”

I guess I could have been upset, but it made me happy that this editor wrote to me with advice. At least I had some feedback about my writing. I think I will give myself two years to query agents and then maybe I will consider self-publishing on Amazon.

#literaryagent #writing #publish #strugglingwriter

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO and NO!

adult art conceptual dark
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So I received another rejection email. What was wrong with my story written specifically for a magazine addressing disabilites? It was about Jessica’s sensory deprivation disorder! Come on now!

#writing #literaryagents #disabilities #sensoryintegrationtherapy #memoirwriting
#occupationaltherapy

Write Me

20180617_205414.jpg
The twins @ 2 years old

So I went to the Florida Writers Association conference last weekend. I met lots of other writers, rubbed shoulders with publishers and agents and generally kept hearing people talk about books they published. Except almost everyone had paid a publisher to publish or had their book on Amazon. This wasn’t exactly what I expected… I thought I would meet representatives from HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House or Simon & Schuster, and at least meet agents that had connections with those companies. That wasn’t the case. But there were a couple of good presentations. One of the presenters talked about the reason you don’t give up and encouraged everyone to send out thousands of queries. There was a critique group with Cheri Roman. With ten other writers in my group, I received positive critiques on chapter 1 of my book.  Oh, and the folks who did the workshop on query letters were helpful. I learned mine needed work but now that it’s tweaked, I might use it.

So am I ready now? Can I send my book out? Nope, I have more edits to do. I thought my story was done! I learned I have to search Query Tracker to send out thousands of queries! And most of the agents said memoir is an oversaturated market and they weren’t interested in hearing from me. Whoa,  when I heard that, I was totally crestfallen!  Nope, I didn’t expect that. I had to keep reminding myself I finished the book. I told myself that’s a big deal. I never planned to self-publish on Amazon. I wanted to go to this conference and find an agent or have someone interested in my pitch, but I came home a bit deflated. Yet, that inner urge to keep pushing ahead, to capture the right words to describe the world around me is still there, telling me not to quit. I want to tell the world about my journey with Jessica and my family.  But who would want to read about my story? Would anyone besides my friends?

I started reading Educated, by Tara Westover. Her memoir is on the best-seller list. If the memoir market is saturated, how did she get her story published? Isn’t my story just as unique? After I received my latest rejection letter, I complained to people in my writing group. One of them, the one who everyone says is “the best writer in our group,” told me she has over 2000 rejections and 67 acceptances. It made me feel better in a strange way. I applaud her success. I want both of us to succeed though.  I want validation that my words, my story has merit.

So I will keep submitting. Starting to grow a thicker skin already. If you are reading this, please hit “follow”!

#fwa #writer #disabilities #mother #twins #cheriroman #memoir #literaryagent

I’ll Be Leaving You Behind

20180909_130240-e1539576938292.jpg

“I’ll be leaving you behind.”

The words I typed out were supposed to be the beginning of another post for my blog. I was thinking about Jessica and all the stories I wanted to tell. Maybe offer a peek into what it was like to welcome all the new babies born into our family, then watch as they grew, then outgrew Jessica. Watching them wave goodbye as they left her behind.

I stared at the screen after writing that statement, and realized Jessica wasn’t the one on my mind. It was my 95-year-old mother. Slowly inching her way to the end of her life, she is the one who will be leaving all of us behind. The weight of her story tugs, urging me to give words to her struggle. To tell everyone what it’s like to be trapped in a body that no longer does what it’s told or watch a mind, once sharp and alert, abandon you, leaving you confused and helpless.

There is something about the duality of this situation and the things she has in common with Jessica. Things which have always been my normal. Although my mom has never had much in common with Jessica, she does now. She probably wouldn’t like that I am putting her in the same category as her mentally disabled granddaughter. This would annoy her. If she could she would make the disapproving face that has always reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West. But I’m just telling it as I see it.

These days, I have to manage all the aspects of her life, but I’m used to this. Since Jessica was born, this was the role I’ve had to assume. Jessica has always relied on me, so this wasn’t anything different. Just one more person to have to be responsible for.

I tell myself I am a good daughter. At least I am devoted. If she deserves more, I don’t have it to give. I wonder if maybe I should feel guilty. I do and I don’t. This is how our relationship was always defined. Distance.

So I watch, emotionally detached, wondering what it must be like for her as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. Residing in assisted living at the Palace, she doesn’t remember why she’s in so much pain. It doesn’t help to remind her she has a compression fracture in her spine. She sits in her wheelchair, oblivious to the fact she can no longer walk.  She’s developed bedsores. The doctor orders drugs for the anxiety, and an array of other drugs that block the pain but make her lethargic. She barely eats and has lost so much weight, she’s down to 76 pounds. In July she was 89. When I asked the nursing director what to do, she just shook her head and said the staff is trying to get her to eat. I don’t think she’ll live to see her 96th birthday. Maybe she will, you never know.

Last week, the nursing director called to tell me about the Hospice decision. Was that what I needed to hear to be nudged into going to see her more often? I went twice this week. A few days ago, when I was there, a man sitting across from Mom had taken off his white T-shirt and was waving it over his head like a soldier signaling the white flag of surrender. Shirtless, he looked right at me and yelled, “Come over here and talk to me!”

Frightened by his outburst, I looked away. When he began yelling louder, I tried to ignore him. When Mom was more aware of her surroundings, she had plenty to say about the other residents. I can imagine what she would have said about this guy. Mom would have been embarrassed. But this time, she didn’t notice. The woman next to me quietly lamented, “Oye yoy yoy, oye yoy yoy,” repeating it like a mantra. It sounded Yiddish, a phrase that translates, “Whoa is me.” But she was speaking Spanish. Her plea seemed to represent what everyone else in the room probably felt.  The whole scene was a sobering reminder that one day, I would take my place at the table, repeating oye yoy yoy until the very end. Fifteen minutes had gone by, and I stood to leave. The obligatory visit complete, I kissed my mother goodbye. I know she is slowly transitioning to the final exit. She keeps talking about people from her family who are no longer with us. The other day, it was my father, who died over 25 years ago. Yesterday, it was her brother, Jake. He’s been gone almost 30. She said he’d called her on the phone. Maybe the other side IS calling. I just hope that when she goes, she goes in peace. And one of those folks on the other side is there to greet her when she arrives.

 

#dying #writing #death #peaceful departure #caregivers #memoir

 

 

Smacked in the face?

20150106_103552
Yep, that’s him, – the guy who knows just about everything! We were in Yosemite on a hike to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary!

SMACKED IN THE FACE – is that how I felt thirty-one years ago, when we sat in the cold air-conditioned room, meeting with the specialists, listening as they gave us their “final ruling” on Jessica?  Maybe. Yes. It’s an accurate description.   

As I worked on writing my memoir, recalling what happened over the years, I realized the things I’ve never forgotten are the emotions I experienced. The struggle. The anguish.  The love. As I wrote, I had to recreate and reimagine events but it wasn’t hard to remember how I felt. I guess that’s how I captured it. So now that I’ve finished the book, I’ve decided it should be published.

I’ve written a story millions of mothers can relate to, or at least mothers and parents of disabled children. I see a similarity between my story and the common theme of many of Jodi Picoult’s books -children with some type of disability, families struggling with problems. The determination to pursue getting it published is growing. But first, I have to get noticed. So today’s blog is focused on coming up with an “elevator pitch” for my book. I’m sure some of you are wondering what the heck is an “elevator pitch”?  Until I started writing this memoir I’d never heard of it.

So last night, I asked my husband if he knew what it was and of course he said he did. If you know him, you know he knows EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING. (Or just about.) And I mean that in a loving way.

So he says, “when someone is doing an elevator pitch, they are trying to create interest in a project. So you want to do one for your book. A good elevator pitch is short and shouldn’t last longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, – that’s why it’s called an elevator pitch.”

“Oh wow,” I said, “now I understand. So help me write one.”

I wanted to come up with a killer pitch. I’d love to get some feedback. Here’s what I have so far.

My memoir, Another Side of Normal, begins with a life-changing detour after I am told that Jessica, my four-year-old daughter is “retarded” and will never grow up to live a normal, independent life. Filled with anguish, I use denial to resist accepting this reality until eventually, I do. The story begins when Jessica is twenty-eight and moving into a group home.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

“This was not how I planned her life. It was supposed to be entirely different. Without a map to guide me, it’s been a difficult journey to navigate. In the back of my mind, I can still hear the doctor’s words. His voice remains embedded in my mind like a permanent recording. ‘Your daughter Jessica is profoundly retarded.’” 

Perhaps the most captivating aspect of my story is the way I illustrate my daughter’s unique speech and curious mannerisms. My target audience would be adult women, mothers and parents of children with disabilities. At approximately 84,000 words, Another Side of Normal is reminiscent of Rachel Simon’s Riding the Bus With My Sister.

#disabilities #uniqueabilities #writing #memoir #elevatorpitch #agoodquery