Chicken Soup for Your Writer’s Soul? Absolutely!

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In a previous post I encouraged writers to seek out the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. There you will find a bevy of topics for which new books will be developed. They are always seeking submissions and believe me you are likely to find something you can wax poetic about.

I did find something when I checked out the site  and they selected my essay on volunteering to be included in their newest book, out next week. Yay, it arrived today! And there on page 89 is my story, “A Little Lipstick.” (It’s about a lovely gentleman I used to deliver weekly meals to who had only one poignant request…)

The Chicken Soup guidelines are fairly straightforward. The stories (they also accept poems) must be in first person, not “as told to” and they must have “heart.” Love that description, “heart.” It leaves much open to interpretation, doesn’t it? Doesn’t everything you write have “heart?” Anyway, this was my first submission (already submitted a second) and maybe it was beginner’s luck but I am so honored to be included. It’s just pretty exciting when someone (anyone!) thinks your work is worth publishing and reading. (Let alone paying you $200!) I’ve had two prior books published by big publishing houses. My most recent “Tales From The Family Crypt,” is self-published. With that varied publishing history, I can report this: It’s a thrill to be published no matter how you get there.

So, my writer friends and wannabe writer friends, get there! Give it a try. I can’t promise you’ll make the cut on your first try but I can guarantee you won’t make the cut if you never try. Also, I can promise you’ll be thrilled if you succeed and the disappointment of not getting in probably won’t kill you.

Do It. Join me in a future Soup! And do let me know if you make it. We’ll revel together.

The Irony of Amazon Reviews Mysteriously Disappearing

This post is not a complaint about Amazon reviews. It’s just something that made me smile this morning. I read recently that Amazon is going to crack down on reviews of products or books by people who are somehow related to said product or book. I get that Amazon wants reviews to be unbiased. As a consumer I want that too. And yes, I’ve heard the many stories of frustrated authors whose books have had completely legitimate reviews removed. I am, in fact, one of those authors and I’m not that happy about it.

I’ve had three reviews deleted from my page mysteriously. There were all there for a while and written by completely unrelated people. Two were 5-star, one was 4-star and OUCH it hurts to lose those. I’m guessing that somehow the Amazon algorithm used to crack down on bogus reviews somehow found that one of those writers is my friend on Facebook. He’s a guy I graduated high school with whom I haven’t seen or spoken to for 40 years. But, Amazon decided, I suppose, he and I were too close for their comfort and boom, his lovely review vanished. If you’re reading this, thanks for trying.

They deleted a review of someone I don’t know and to my knowledge she doesn’t know me. Five stars down the drain.

A woman who “liked” my Facebook book page sent me a message saying she was trying to write a review but was unable to “submit” it as Amazon seemed to be blocking it in some way. Maybe they discovered she is one of the 400 or so people who “liked” my page but for whatever reason they didn’t want her review to post.

But, overall I’m doing pretty well for a new nonfiction book about dysfunctional family. Twenty-four reviews, almost all five stars, a handful of four-star reviews and then these two, which are the ones that made me smile.

First is one written by a friend of my sister-in-law, one of the more despicable but true-life characters in my book. The “reviewer” even identified herself in the review as someone who “knows four of the people” I wrote about. She also pretty much said she hadn’t bought or read the book. And, she didn’t say she knew me, because I’ve never met her so I guess that was enough distance for Amazon to allow her review in which says the book is a “sad tale of a woman who is not happy in her own life.” That right there tells you she didn’t read the book because it’s not all sad. Some parts of damn funny, if I do say so myself.

But my favorite selection for Amazon irony in review deletion has to be the one by my brother-in-law. He does know me (alas for me), he’s an actual family member (alas for him since I pretty much described all the family members in detail and he is in no way happy about his depiction because it is, true and undeniably awful). Yet, Amazon allowed him to call me Hitler and that review stands!

But, as I said at the start, I’m just musing, not so much complaining. I’m overall grateful to Amazon for offering a platform for indie authors to get their fine work out there and to promote it to readers seeking new voices to enjoy. I’m hoping to garner so many good reviews I will no longer notice if a handful disappear. (Unlike now when I have pretty much memorized each review as if it were one of my children and therefore I notice when they’re missing!) Until that happens (the magical day when my reviews are in the hundreds instead of the 20s) if there are bumps along the way, if the system is imperfect, I can live with that. But when I realized the irony of stranger reviews being deleted while actual family member reviews are allowed to stay, it did make me wonder what’s up at Amazon?

Have you authors out there had mysterious deletions of your reviews? Do you think this matters much?

Love Haters, Freedom Fighters?

One of the big deals on WordPress this week involved the ire of some bloggers who didn’t like the rainbow banner emblazoned across their site as WordPress (I’m guessing) tipped a hat to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

At first the whole anger reaction made me sad. I know I may ruffle some feathers here but, honestly, I’ve never understood anyone’s objection to gay marriage. How can something borne of love be a bad thing in anyone’s eyes? I’ve heard the rationale that gay marriage will ruin marriage. Well, folks, haven’t we already ruined marriage with our more than 50% divorce rate here in America? Haven’t we screwed up marriage with our TV shows showing strangers getting married on their first date? Or the shows in which a marriage partner is selected during a televised competition? Or the reality TV shows inside the very personal life of a celebrity family where we see the dirty underbelly of way too much intimacy in way too public a forum? In how much worse shape could marriage be?

And the marriage these people are protecting? It’s already evolved.  Marriage didn’t always involve religion, it was an arrangement between families. In Biblical times, marriage was polygamous. It didn’t morph into monogamy until at least the sixth century. It was also more about business and land alliances than true love. Love’s only been a big part of marriage for a few hundred years. Don’t even get me started on how little women got to say (and in some parts of the world still don’t) about who they married and when.

Readers of this blog or my book know my family story isn’t a pretty one. If gay people or any people want to form families of love and respect and support, why oh why would anyone say no? We have so much that tears us apart as people, why not embrace anything that brings us together?

Having said that, back to the ire about the WordPress rainbow banner — I loved it but others did not because it represented a political or social point of view with which they disagreed. While their disagreement makes me sad for them and everyone who agrees with them, I actually understand their objection. I wouldn’t want WordPress emblazoning my blog with a political point of view radically opposed to my own.

I celebrate the freedom secured by this Supreme Court decision. Makes me proud to be an American. But with that freedom comes the responsibility  to not shove our own points of view or agenda down anyone’s throat. (We’ve done that and it has dire consequences. I’m looking at you Iraq war.) What did you think about the banner? Did it offend?

Be Present in Your Life: Father’s Day Edition

This morning I was running down the beach. Yes, I live near the ocean, you may commence hating me for that, I’ll understand. (More on that in the next post.)  From afar I could see what appeared to be a large heart-shaped something at the water’s edge up ahead. As I approached the image came into focus. (Keep in mind I didn’t have my glasses on so the heart-shaped something could have been almost anything and not at all heart shaped.) It was two horses, a stallion (male) and a smaller one, obviously a younger horse, a child of sorts. The little one was standing in the larger one’s shadow kind of resting its head on the stallion so they were somewhat connected at the head end with their hindquarters apart, forming a triangular, yes, heart shape. Awww. It being Father’s Day, I imagined them as father and child. A child often stands in a father’s shadow. I did and it was warm and wonderful there.

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I stood for a while, keeping the recommended distance of 50 feet from the wild horses who live here and just appreciated the beauty of nature and of nurture. I thought about the majesty of fathers and how they shape their children’s lives. It’s a “big job,” as my own dad would have said but when done right, it leaves a legacy of love.

So I observed and enjoyed what I was seeing and feeling. Normally I would have been doing something entirely different. I would have been frantically trying to get their picture before they moved. I mean heart-shaped horse bodies, one doesn’t see that often. It would have made a fantastic photo and I would’ve loved to capture that moment in time. That’s what writers and photographers do, we observe and we feel compelled to somehow record what we see. We can’t stop ourselves and maybe that’s often a good thing, this desire to see and share, to help others learn what we’ve learned or failed to learn, to see what we’ve been privileged to witness. That’s what we do most of the time. I’ve “run” into these horses before and they are majestic in their beauty. I often have a phone with me and I always say, “This photo is going to be awesome.” Because in real life the view is incredible. So I snap and snap and snap and almost never does the photo match what I recall seeing.

But this morning I couldn’t strive for the perfect photo because I had no camera. No phone, no instrument of moment capturing whatsoever. Which afforded me the luxury of simply being present to truly see what was. I really need to focus on doing that more often because when you are truly present you can feel things you might otherwise miss. You can grow in unanticipated ways. You can see inside yourself and outside yourself toward the goal of knowing more of both. And maybe with that knowledge comes peace.

Even if I miss the perfect photo, I’ll take the peace if I can capture that moment.

But, I don’t want you to miss the opportunity of seeing a wild horse so here’s one I captured on a previous day. I can tell you the photo isn’t nearly as cool as the sight of this magnificent, free, animal on the dune. But you’ll get the idea.

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So, today, I wish you peace and I wish you the ability to be present, be focused, see what’s around you. And, I hope it’s beautiful.

What If Your Story Is Too Good To Be True?

In my writer’s group I offered for critique a short piece I had recently written about my dad. It’s a true story from many years ago, but one with unbelievable events involving my father somehow managing to reach out from the grave to give me money when my husband and I really needed the help. While Dad didn’t literally send a hand out from the gravesite, he did, I believe, send a handout from the grave in the form of a CD he opened for me showing up miraculously years after he had died, despite the fact there had been no record of the account previously.

As I said the story is true. The money showed up under very mysterious and timely circumstances. I wrote the essay with warmth and a poignant and humorous tone. I really loved the ways the piece turned out (because as all you writers know, these things we write often have a mind of their own in terms of the way they form) and maybe even more I loved  the memory associated with it. Members of my writers group had almost universal glowing and positive reactions similar to these:

“I love your dad.”

“This is wonderful.”

“I feel like I know your dad.”

“You were so blessed to have him.”

And, then there was this one.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m a cynic but this story is just too too perfect. It’s hokey. You were in trouble, Grandpop came back to save you just as he always did. You needed money, and oh lucky you, you got money. Ugh.”

The critic, a very nice man and good writer, didn’t intend to hurt my feelings. He was offering honest critique as we are supposed to do in order to support each other to create better work. And, my feelings weren’t at all hurt. I just didn’t quite know how to respond. Yes, it’s a lovely story. Yes, it all happened almost exactly as I recounted it. Yes, it is very mysterious and unexplainable, and yes, my dad was always there for me, even, as it turned out, seven years after his death. The story may have been too too perfect. But it was true.

Just as my memoir, Tales From The Family Crypt is about family members who may be too awful to be true but are, this story about my dad is the exact opposite. The critic suggested it would be a better story if I made it a little less pristine in its goodness, in its somewhat miraculous aura. If I toned down the facts to suit what real life is like, which is to say, not often perfect and beautiful and poignant and lovely and true simultaneously.

But in that moment in time when the CD showed up, in that instance real life was all of those things. Too good to be true? Yes. But it was.

So, what do you think, writers? Do you shy away from such stories? Is grit always better fodder than grace?