Immersed

Immersed is the perfect word to describe how I feel when a story coming on. In between these exchanges its similar to walking along a flat plain, the mechanics of the story completed have taken over and and it becomes a level field. In the story though, it’s an immersion as if you fell into a well. Lost in your thoughts, nothing in your field of vision except the thoughts and contents of your creativity. Somewhat of a struggle to get back to the surface, a frantic effort to get it all out. My short story Memoir, Fairview  Bungalow helped me to realized that.

Elements of the story of the life of my mother have been in my mind since I was old enough to listen. Filtering out the information not necessary for this short story had to be calculating. I have entered enough contests limiting word count to know that ending up with double the word count is not good. The editing can ruin the essence of the story, I know this to be true. I have a tendency to get lost in the story, writing short stories is a good discipline for me.

I am still in the well. I have been blogging about this for three days now. I have included some of my own story in much of the writing I have done. I tried however, not to “tap” the mother-load — so to speak.

My mother died in 2002 of Non – Hodgkins Lymphoma she also had dementia. She lived with me until the last three months of her life, she was too sick and needed hospice at the end.

After a routine visit to the doctor she ended up in the hospital and needed to be taken by ambulance to the nursing home of our choosing. She refused to go, I had to insist and chose a place close to our home, I brought her there myself — heartbreaking.

In the first month at the nursing home, she was angry and wanted to go home. She was moved up to the critical care unit after one week. I was still able to sit with her at lunch and dinner while she ate and I visited with the kids. The second month I noticed she was eating less, I would help her, but that only lasted about one week or so, then she stopped eating.

She had always told me no extraordinary efforts to keep her alive should the day come. Even in her diminished state, she insisted. I researched the disease the decision to watch her die seemed inhumane, it was the disease that kept her from eating — morphine was administered. She was able to talk to us as we visited her in her room, she knew me until the end. She was hanging on, at first I didn’t understand her wish not to try everything and anything to stay here on earth. Anyone I talked to about Non – Hodgkins Lymphoma said the cure can be worse that the illness. Maintaining the quality of life for the short term was preferred to living with the side effects of chemotherapy. I would be going against her will, I chose to let it go.

She passed away two days before Thanksgiving at 83 years old. I have put her story in a memoir — I miss her and others may hear her story.

The Bungalow

Today the bungalow and family farm in my story are buried beneath a strip mall and grocery store the homes adjacent are underneath tenement housing, the evidence of their lives there has been erased. After moving back to Western Massachuestts in 1958, I actually lived in one of the houses on Brittan St. for about three years before we moved to Holyoke when I was five years old.

I listened to the stories my mother, Helene, told me, she was a good story teller and lived her life in a time that saw many advances in technology, medicine and entertainment.

The family sat in front of the radio and listened as Pearl Harbor was bombed, she watched the footage of the first men on the moon. She watched as vaccines eliminated most of the diseases from her childhood, and witness the chance of dying in childbirth diminish.

After nurses training Helene joined the Visiting Nurses Association in Chicopee and after a fifteen year break she rejoined the VNA in Holyoke and went on to head the Home Health Aide Services. She told me she preferred the routine of the home visits as opposed to the rigorous schedule and shifts at the hospital. She liked people and had a great bedside manner, she was also gentle and considerate of the patient’s comfort.

These later observations are mine, she didn’t talk much about her current life, only the past. The past blended with the present and I have to think about when her stories actually ended and mine kicked in.

In my research, writing several books I learned about the bylinas, oral stories, told in song and passed down for generations. That is how I feel about sharing these stories my mother told me. When will I be done putting them down in words? I listened to them all my life … before she passed, she told me I would miss her stories. At the time I knew I would miss her, but highly doubted I would miss her stories, they are embedded in my mind. I was a listener before I was a writer … how true.

I don’t miss her stories, they are part of me, but I do miss her.

Exciting Time (continued)

Helene passed thirteen years ago, just before Thanksgiving, an independent force to the end. Eight pregnancy’s four children, only three made it to adult, I am one of those. Helene married the most wonderful man anyone could have hoped for. Pa lived with them till he passed in 1955, he heartily agreed with her choice.

After many beau’s and letters home, Helene met Tom while visiting a family whose son had scarlet fever. The call came into the office late in the day and because of Helene’s good nature she was asked to take the call outside of her own district — it was just easier to ask her.

The photo of the handsome soldier on the piano caught her eye, and the young man who was now getting better saw her stare.

“That’s my uncle, he is coming home from training, I can introduce you.”

“No, oh no, I have a boyfriend overseas, please don’t bother.”

One month later that handsome soldier appeared in the doorway of the office, with a bouquet of flowers. Looking for Helene who was highly recommended.

“He should have been here for me.” cried the nurse whose brusk personality cause the order to send Helene so late in the day. A Dear John letter went out to the poor guy in New Guinea. She had three blood tests and several postponed marriage ceremonies, due to the war and her ever present dormant TB alerts. Finally the stars aligned and the marriage happened after traveling to the base camp before he shipped out. Gertie, whose husband was in California joined her in Neosho, Missouri and stood up for her as her bridesmaid. They took the next day train home to Massachusetts, both their husbands ended up in California and met at the Brown Derby before they were deployed — I remember the photo. Francis went overseas and received a medal for valor from the Navy. Tom went to the signal corp and never left the country.

All the young men went to war, Helene’s scrapbook is filled with pictures of soldier’s in far away places the names faded on the back. Soldier’s she met at the USO dances at home and friends of her brothers. Mountain Park was a mecca in those days, a trolley brought people by the hundreds to spend a night dancing in the ballroom and forget the worries of the day, if only for one night.

Back at home the girls stayed at the bungalow with pa. Bud had married Mary a beautiful, but fragile woman. Helene often spoke of Mary who died young, she was lovely, and gentile blonde hair that curled at her neck, blue eyes and dark lashes. Helene helped her to deliver her two daughters, being a nurse she was allowed access and tended to her needs. When her youngest child was two, Helene helped her in her final days, Bud was devastated, but determined to raise the two girls himself. Arn never married but had a long time girlfriend, Ernestine. I remember them coming to the house, Arn was our favorite as well, he never lost that infectious smile and playful attitude. Still ever-watchful over Helene he spent many hours at our home and at Gertie’s. He was a favorite uncle and his natural way made him dear to us.

After the war Helene and pa moved to Marlboro, Massachusetts, Tom’s hometown. He was also a favorite uncle to all his nieces and nephews. He would soon settle down and start a family of his own.

An Exciting Time To Live

She was my mother, she would talk about her life constantly … she had a lot to say, it was an exciting time to live.

They were one of the first families to own a television and a Ford. They didn’t suffer as much as others during the Great Depression, Helene was ten years old, they were well-to-do in comparison, living off the bounty of the farm. Pa even designated the outer two rows of corn to the needy who would be free to take their share. When the children notified pa about the chickens that were stolen he said.

” They need the chickens more than we do.”

They didn’t go to the beach in those years either, the threat of Polio was great and the fear was real. Helene survived an outbreak of small pox in the nursery at the hospital where she was born. She was also exposed to Tuberculous from an uncle that served in WWI, she would carry the scars on her lungs her entire life. Winnie had a scar that Helene would touch on her neck from surgery to remove part of her thyroid, there were some advances in medicine, but in the coming years the advances would multiply.

The neighboring city was bustling and Helene would go to visit her grandmother, trolley cars, department stores and amusement parks. In the winter the skating rink was worth the three mile walk with Arn. He was patient with her, especially on the long walk home — uphill.

Winnie would send Helene out to the field to collect buttons left by the rag man, she thought they grew there. This child was a mystery, full of life and adventure and many mishaps unlike the rest of the children.

She would ride the boys bike and put her feet on the handle bars and ride into the driveway of the bungalow in complete abandon. The pants-set mother made her served many other purposes than hanging upside down in the orchard. The sideboard of the Ford was a fun place to jump from as pa rolled home until she slipped and was run over, she was a clever child and shifted under the weight of the rear tire in the muddy driveway. Winnie watched in horror as Helene jumped up and ran into the orchard.

“She must be all right if she can jump up and run like that.”

Timing is everything and at thirteen her courses started and she thought she was internally damaged from the accident. She tried to handle it herself for days but finally went to her mother for the last rites.

Winnie laughed despite Helene’s fear. “You’re not dying dear, have Gertie show you what to do.”

“Well now you are a woman, welcome to the club.” A less than comforting reaction from sis.

Helene came down with pneumonia when she ran home from school after being unfairly scolded by the teacher. They thought they might lose her. Gertie was now a college student and drove the family car, Bud and Arn worked selling rags, papers  and Mellins Food.

Helene wanted to be a gym teacher and set her sight on a college education like Gertie.

In 1935 the hopes and dreams of the family were dashed. Winnie died of kidney disease, pa went into a deep depression the boys had to get jobs, Gertie worked as a school teacher and Helene had to finish her last year of high school knowing her mother wouldn’t be there to see her graduate.

When Helene was in 8th grade she had me, her lifetime friend Velma, whose family was a great source of comfort when they mourned the loss of her mother. Someone should write a book about Velma who was an incredible person, invaluable and inseparable friend. Arn was friends with Warren, Velma’s brother and the four of them would continue the long walks to the skating rink and up the hill, separating at the base to their respective homes.

Four years later WWII broke out, boys whose lockers were to the left and right of hers died, her hometown held an active Air Force Base. There were USO dances and foreign prisoners riding in open trucks for KP duty.

Helene and Velma had several beau’s but Velmas lost her heart to a local boy and started a family. Helene went into nurses training, pa was feeling better but the funds for college were no longer available.

“I should have been kinder and more understanding.” pa was remorseful.

Winnie was a loving mother who was a soft place to fall, quite humorous and loved to read romance novels. Helene missed her dearly.

One day while in training, Helene was asked to assist in a home birth while she was walking back to the residence. The doc pulled up seeing she had her nurses bag and invited her along. It was an experience she never forgot, which was a good thing. Several months later she found her self at another birth, with no doctor or midwife. She had to handle the delivery and subsequent life saving efforts on the mother and child. The doctor eventually did arrive and laughed at the method she used to tie off the umbilical cord, and the expression on the exhausted young nursing student.

Something to Write About

Helene was a willful child.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

She would hear that statement often from her mother. She was a beautiful woman with dark hair worn in the Gibson style flattering her perfectly chiseled face. Her heavy arms deep in the tub of the new washing machine.

In the morning Helene would jump up, scraping her toes on the brick that now lay cooled wrapped in the bed clothes that gathered at the end of the bed. A new day to explore the farm and meet the cousins across the way.

Her older sister, Gertie would be settled, reading or writing a school assignment when not doing chores. Her brothers would be outside already helping their father work the farm. Bud was handsome and tall like his father, Arn was Helene’s favorite always teasing and helping her get out of the many scrapes she would find herself in, his smile was infectious.

George and Winnie had persevered, the depression and war touched their lives. Religion was a sword that ruined the harmony of this otherwise peaceful household.

“Where is that child?” Winnie was exasperated.

She stepped out onto the landing and peered across the acres of corn and dusty land between the fertile field and the barn. Her hand shielding her eyes from the setting sun, she fetched Arn to go out to find her.

Helene was hanging from her favorite tree out in the orchard, smelling the nectar of the apples and dreaming of far off lands. Arn crept up and scared the daylights out of her. Her knees buckled almost dropping her from the limb. Arn was quick to grab her as she frantically tried to kick him in frustration.

“You are a big tease!”

“Mother would tan your hide if she saw you hanging by your knees in all your glory. That is not how a young woman behaves.”

“You wouldn’t tell her would you?”

“What do I get in return?”

“You already have the nickel I earned from Mrs. Bieller.”

“Yes, that was when I helped you retrieve the chickens you let loose feeling sorry for them when mother was fetching them for dinner.”

“I don’t have anything else, except the book mother brought home from town last week.”

“I know, you can do my chores, one day next week.”

“I’ll tell pa.”

“Then I will tell mother.”

“All right, I give. I’ll do your chores — for one day.”

After dinner Winnie called Helene into her bedroom and presented her with a new dress and pants set she had made from an old set of curtains.

“I will make another set, but you must wear this if you continue to hang upside down. If you insist on being a monkey, you’ll have to wear the pants.”

“He told you, Arn spilled the beans?”

“No, Mrs. Phelps told me, and a few other things you have been doing around the yard.”

“Do I still have to do the chores for Arn?”

Arn got a talking to by their father for trying to get out of his chores, he blamed Helene for squealing and mouthed to her that she was going to pay. Bud’s stern dark gaze confirmed the threat.

All was righted when Arn crawled in through her bedroom window late at night and needed her confidence. She stared at him and he put his finger to his mouth while Gertie only stirred, she watched him with big eyes as he padded through her room and out the door into the hallway.

Pa’s family had immigrated from Canada before he was born, that was only a temporary residence they were originally from Scotland. A rather large family, they settled in Western Massachusetts and built homes on rented farmland within earshot of each other.

Pa was a stoic Scot and a strict Congregationalist. A very hard worker who insisted his sons follow in his footsteps. Winnie was a Catholic, occasionally a war of religion broke out in the house.

“If you hate Catholic’s so much, then why did you marry one?”

Winnie had secretly smuggled every one of her children out to be baptized, she believed they needed the sacrament to be safe from damnation. Helene would run from the house when these arguments escalated, covering her ears she would run until the silence of the distant farmland took over and she could remove her hands from her ears and relish the quiet.

One of these times she found Arn sitting by Mrs. Phelps barn, smoking a corn cob pipe. He had positioned himself perfectly so the snoop couldn’t see him from her window. However, she saw Helene and knew she was talking to someone. Although she was only eight, her mother received the report of her colluding with boys behind her barn.

“I wasn’t mother, I was play-acting, I don’t like boys … they stink.”

Helene was an honest child if nothing else, Winnie put her money on Helene instead of the prying neighbor, about the flirting. However, Helene was restricted to the confines of their farm, no more fodder for Mrs. Phelps, who could ruin the reputation of her fun-loving child of fantasy. Any word of Arn’s smoking would mean a brutal beating, so she took the blame on herself.

One day the family packed up to visit the woodlot, pa had purchased with his brothers about twenty miles away. Helene begged to stay home, it was a painful memory for her. She was left behind on their last visit. They had brought two other families with them and in the confusion she was left behind. When she returned to the spot where they had set up the picnic there was no one there. She called out and cried for hours, when she collapsed to the ground from exhaustion, she could hear Arn’s voice calling out to her. He remembered the exact spot they had picnicked, whereas the others combed the nearby woods unsuccessfully.

“Helene, there you are!” Her mother called out as Arn stepped out to the main road where the wagons were.

She hugged her and apologized by the lantern that shed the only light, it was a dark night and the sounds imaginary or otherwise had her panicked. The ride home was spent clutched in her mothers arms, fearing that she would wake alone and in the dark.

Several weeks passed, Helene had stayed near her home and her mother. She helped with chores, which surprised her mother. She even offered to help Gertie who shooed her away.

“Go outside, you’re in the way!”

The timing was right, Helene was feeling secure enough to get back to her normal routine without worrying she would return to an empty house. She spotted the large black umbrella leaning up against the chicken shed and looked over to the pile of manure recently shoveled to be cleared away. The flight of fantasy took over and she thought she would fly over the pile and even further if it all worked out. She took the leap of faith and landed up to her thighs in the muck. Arn scolded her and laughed till he made his point, before he and Bud pulled her out. The boys presented her to their mother who screamed and ordered her to stay put, while she got some rags and ordered her to the stream.

Mother glanced at the ruined umbrella she had used the night before. “My new umbrella, at least you could have waited until I got one more use out of it.”

Helene could see the smile her mother tried to cover up.

Got to keep writing

Today I received a generic response to a query I sent out on July 10, 2015. I had counted them out, after three months went by, and that was a correct assessment. My queries have come a long way since then, I keep good records of the queries I send out, dates, agencies, etc. So, it was easy for me to track down the agent and remind myself that it was an early effort, before I evolved — into what? I don’t know, I am still chasing the ever-evasive connection with an agent. I haven’t solved the puzzle.

It is a waiting game, this last one was over four months for a reply. When the query goes out there is a sense that your project is on hold, that is why I started another book after the initial ten queries went out on my first novel. I have four completed books and one WIP so, I hesitate to start another story, but that is my favorite part of the process. Doing mostly what I do here in my blog, writing the thoughts that pop into your head, that total connection between words and thoughts. I have touched on this in earlier blogs, speaking through script not knowing if anyone is listening.

All of my books are pretty much on hold now, I have three stories entered in contests and the results won’t be known until the first of the year. There is time to start another story, but I need to feel the passion for the subject, I am researching, reading and listening for the catalyst to my next story. I have only sent queries out on three of my works, which has magnified the negative responses by three, not sure if I am going about this the best way.

My queries lately, have been going to agents of a specific genre but the responses are disappointing, when they say “not for us but keep looking, there is an agent out there who may feel it’s worth their effort” I am not sure how else to go about this, unless I have misinterpreted the genre I think my stories are representing, that is a problem.

I am looking for a career change, I am hopeful that 2016 will start off with some positive news from the contests I have entered, or perhaps some of the latest queries I have sent out, after some readjusting, will bring in the response I am looking for.

Still, when I go back and read through my stories, I wonder who wrote them. It’s amazing the information that is stored way back in my mind that comes out in a frenzy of words, that will mean something to someone.

About the comments

I have left my blog open to receive all potential comments, it was recommended not to do so. However, through all the spam and trash, I have received some great comments and suggestions — so thank you! One of the suggestions was to enter contests, which I have done. Three of my stories are now entered into contests, I think they are stellar contests and the bottom line is to get my stories out there, and read!

2016 will either find me on a different path or I will still be at my computer, scratching my head. So far of all the contests I have entered, I only heard back from one, so it is following the theme of the query, where you wait months and then — nothing. There are a few exceptions I have received some passes in two weeks or less, those are greatly appreciated because I worry that I may miss out on an opportunity by being impatient — so I tend to wait the full three months.

I have recently received two more rejections for submissions I made to agents on my second book, Curious Allure. Now I have to reassess my thinking on that one. I think it is a great story but getting past the first five pages, trying to guess what would grab the agent, and encourage them to request more, is the problem. I have written about the process extensively in this blog, I tore CA apart and was so happy with the results, only to fall flat on my face. However, I have never gotten a “don’t quit your day job,” suggestion. They all seem to see potential in all my work, I just need to find the right agent, representing the right publisher.

I have also mentioned reaching out for a freelance editor, I have made two attempts and never heard back from either. The only assumption I can make is they don’t want the work. There is one very commercial editor that I am contemplating using, I may just make the plunge. Its kind of like the progressive (Flo) of editorial services but when its constantly in your face — you may relent. Hey, now that I think about it, that is exactly what I am trying to do with my assorted MS’s, I only hope I don’t run out of agents.

I read constantly, audiobooks — you can take them anywhere. I do find myself having to rewind though, my mind tends to wander. Also the narrator has a lot to do with how the story is delivered. I am re-reading The Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell the narration is excellent and the first person account is riveting. Reading a book is very intimate, it has its own allure. However, I am always driving and the audiobooks are great for that.

My son came up to me and asked for one of my MS’s to read, I think he heard me complaining about the lack of beta readers, it is still sitting on the kitchen table. I am not sure if he will ever actually read it, but I appreciate the sentiment. I had the MS for my fifth story Summer Palace in my little black bag and was able to hand it over to him, I think he thought he’d have a month for me to get it together, but I surprised him. It is still a wip at 20,000 words. It was submitted in a short story contest, but as I mentioned before I kept going after the required 4,000 words was complete.

Thanks again for the great comments, I hope I am helping someone through this process that I am experiencing, I have faltered somewhat lately, but I intend to keep at it. Blogging helps so much. I have written two of my books through blogging and I find writing excerpts in the blog helps, not sure if it is because blogging is casual? I seem to be able to write from the heart, but it is a rough draft which needs editing before posting. Also there is the conflict of being published or unpublished by way of the blog. Another reason excerpts are good because you get a taste of the story and hopefully will encourage readers to seek out the final product when it is finally published.

Between Worlds (Woven In Time excerpt)

Quince stood on the precipice, the space between the worlds of the living and the dead. He remembered frantically calling out to his ward, and envisioning her flight to safety, wishing it to be so. Now he stood facing six riders across the void, silhouettes of riders with horses rearing against the remaining amber tones of the sunset and tumultuous atmosphere.

I am dead.

He evaluated his situation, the riders were beckoning him. The saddlebag was at his side strapped across his heaving chest. The contents of the saddlebag emanating a light of its own. Its power resonating in his chest, relieving his pain.

“Ivan’s son, we await you.” came a voice from across the void. “Join us, it will be like it was.”

“Juhaz, is that you?” Quince remembered the man by his voice.

The remarkable man, Juhaz of Anatolia,  whom he had spent several months with on his journey north with his father when he was a boy, was always admired by him.

“Yes, Q, we await you, we’ll escort you to Anubis.”

The death blow Quince received ached, he was suddenly aware of his crushed ribs and gaping wound on his right flank. The back of his throat stung with the acid-air of the scorched landscape that lay before him.

The light from inside the saddlebag was somehow comforting to him, its warmth was filling him with the desire to live.

“I won’t go, I’m not finished here!” Quince raised his sword in defiance.

The god of war, Ardur, sat amused from his seat in the heavens, but his companion watched in disbelief, as the intensity of the beacon from within the saddlebag grew. That was his own doing, Guil had stolen the Guardian Tauelm and left the useless brooch amongst the treasures of King Rom in his tomb.

Now seeming to do for Quince, the true guardian, what it never did for him — infuriated him.

“They are tending to him now.” Ardur mentioned to Guil. “You are reckless with your treasures. If you are not careful Nuthe’s plan will be fulfilled.”

Anubis could see what was happening, he wanted this soul.

“Get him, extract his soul and bring him to me if you must!”

The essence of the Guardian Tauelm manifested into an opaque mist that filled the gap between the guardian and the death riders, they couldn’t advance on him. Ardur smiled to see Anubis angry, Guil stood up and stormed away from him, intending to find another way to thwart his wife.

“Not this time my friend.” Quince called over to his father’s companion. “I will be honored to ride with you, when my time does come.”

He woke to a bright soothing light and the sweet smell of hay. An angel looking upon him, holding him in her embrace.

Treading Water

I am in a holding pattern. I have a few new queries out, waiting for replies. I have two of my stories entered in contests winners of both to be revealed by the first of the year. I have made two attempts to find an editor, but have received no response. Thus I am waiting again, this is part of the process — a waiting game.

I am editing my first book, cut it in two stories instead of one, and plan to send out a fresh new query to an agent I have been looking at for awhile. I follow him on Twitter and I like his comments, I have made decisions not to query certain agents based on the same criteria.

I wasn’t selected in the edit contest I had entered either, but I did get some helpful feedback, which is what I am craving … I find it hard to get anyone to read my stories, I know it is a lot to ask, that is why I am researching a professional editor and willing to pay the fee. Now I have to decide on a full edit of one story or a partial edit on several.

I need a stroke of luck, because that is what it will take, some agent somewhere will see something in my stories that will be the catalyst to getting them published. I should be happy in the thought that the enjoyment I experienced in writing these stories is enough for the effort. That is always the bottom line, but I am sure there is something in them for readers to enjoy and I hold on to that little nugget until I am able to break through. One thing I don’t intend to do is write for profit, the story comes first the success comes as the result of a good story.

My first novel inspired the subsequent four stories, in doing research I ran into some interesting areas to further explore. Recently, I have been anticipating stumbling upon other issues that will spawn other stories.

I’m trying to walk and chew gum at the same time, sitting on work, re-editing it and writing new stories not sure when to stick the gum on the bedpost.