Writing Wins and Woes: Childhood Dreams

I recently started listening to The Wind in the Willows on Audible Books at work. I love Amazon Prime and it recently added Audible Channels to prime membership and now, praise be, I can listen to many audible books for free. One of them is The Wind in the Willows. Before beginning the book, there was a brief history of its author, Kenneth Grahame and it interested me almost as much as the book. If you haven’t read this wonderful book, most people consider it a children’s book but I would beg to differ, I highly recommend it.

It’s about the adventures of some animal characters, Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger. It bears a lot to life and that is why I consider it so much more than a children’s book. Mole is tired of his every day life of just doing the routine, so he just wakes up one day, drops the dusting and starts out to see the world around him. That is how he meets Rat and eventually Badger and of course, Toad, who is a bit of an eccentric character in the story.

The reason this story really touches me is how Kenneth Grahame came to write it. He made up bed time stories for his son, Alistair. Why does this interest me? Because this is how I came to write my children’s book, as yet unpublished. It really has inspired me to want to continue on my journey to get my book published. But this story about Kenneth Grahame is very tragic. Grahame had a difficult childhood. His mother died when he was only five of scarlet fever. He, too, contracted the disease and his grandmother had to come to nurse him back to health. His father, however, after his wife’s death, reverted back to alcoholism and was unable to care for Kenneth or his three siblings who then moved to their grandmother’s home. Her home was lovely, right next to the Thames River, and  those were the happiest of his childhood years. Although, his father tried to pull himself together and get his kids back, he never really succeeded and the kids went back to grandma’s house, which was now a cottage nowhere near the Thames because of a chimney fire in the old house. Kenneth as a child went to St. Edward’s in Oxford and always dreamed of attending the college but he could never afford to so he had to take a position at the Bank of England.

Being of a very ambitious character, he succeeded in most things he did and prospered at the bank. However, he did not have great success in marriage. He married Elspeth Thompson and they had a son born with disabilities, including blindness in one eye. However, neither was able to accept that their son was in any way imperfect, considering him a gifted child. He was not, however, and after he entered school, he was kicked out again and again. Although Alistair was the inspiration for the magical story about toad, rat and mole, he never attained any inspiration of his own and eventually died by collision with a train while walking on the tracks. All evidence led to suicide. Kenneth Grahame was devastated and never really wrote again.

The story behind the story is haunting. There’s a point in the book where Rat listens to a tale of a ship rat who travels all over and it transports him into a trance where he determines to follow his companion to the sea and live a life quite different than his own until Mole shakes him out of his delirium and he resumes his own existence. And I wonder if Grahame’s son longed for a life much different and so followed the train tracks until life woke him up to the realization that he would never be able to live his dreams and so he ended it all. We’ll never know, but one thing is sure. We should never give up hope in life. When hope dies, so do we.

Writing Wins and Woes: Someone to Count on

Today I want to blog about someone special. My husband has a birthday tomorrow. We have been married since 1983. Anybody that has been married that long can tell you that marriage is not a bed of roses. We have had our hard times. Some of our hardest times were when our nest became empty. I realized at that point that I had depended on my kids to make me happy. Maybe it wasn’t the kids themselves but the fulfillment I had in mothering my kids. All of a sudden I wasn’t in the role of motherhood any longer. Instead I was more in the role of wife. And I wondered if I even knew the man I was married to.

I found out I did. He is complex. He is changeable. He is many faceted. He is independent. He is stubborn. He is often grumpy and angry and silly. To be honest what I knew about him I wondered if I even liked. Why didn’t he do the things I wanted him to do? Why wasn’t he more serious when I needed him to be? I really needed someone to count on and I wasn’t sure I could count on him.

But I found out I can, and here’s why. Because he is changeable, he adapts to the crazy that I am. Because he is many faceted, he continues to hold my interest. Because he is independent, he isn’t always needing me to be his support system, sapping me of all my energy. Because he is stubborn, he is fiercely loyal to me. Because he is often grumpy and angry and silly, I can empathize with him, complain with him and laugh with him. Why would I want him always to do the things I want him to do? What’s the fun in that? I have a dog for that. Why would I want him to be more serious when I am serious enough?

I can say with all my heart that I am married to a good man. He tries to follow God and he is faithful to me. Not many partners can say that in this day. He is a hard worker and a talented artist and a good friend. He is someone I can count on.  Happy birthday, Scott. I love you, not for being perfect, but for being perfectly suited to me.

Writing Wins and Woes: Color Me Green.

Here’s the things I think of when I think of St. Patty’s Day: the color green, Kermit the frog, leprechauns, a pot of gold, Shepherd’s pie, Peppermint Patties, drinking, four leafed clovers, Shamrock shakes. And St. Patrick.

Today is St. Patty’s Day. I thought it would be fun to blog on the origins of the holiday. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day celebrates St. Patrick. Who is St. Patrick? He was a priest in Ireland, but he didn’t start out that way. Actually, he didn’t even start out as Patrick. His real name was Maewyn Succat. He changed his name later to Patrick because it meant father figure in Latin or because St. Maewyn Succat day sounds stupid. He was born a Roman citizen in Britain in the fifth century. Rome owned everything back then. Somehow he made his way to Scotland or Wales and was captured and shipped off to Ireland as a slave. He either escaped or was set free but either way he returned home where he studied to become a member of the clergy. He became a priest or a bishop and headed back to Ireland. Somehow, the former slave managed to convert the occultist druids into Christianity.

But that wasn’t all he did. He began many St. Patty’s traditions. The story goes that he used a Shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, which began, yes, you guessed it the St. Patty’s Day green and shamrock traditions.

Another fun fact is the story that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Supposedly, he was attacked by a snake while he was fasting, which made him rather testy, so he herded all the snakes into the ocean. That makes him a kind of super hero, combination border collie. Whatever the reason, there are no snakes in Ireland so if you are scared of the little buggers, go there.

There’s a lot to love about St. Patty’s Day, even if you’re not a drinker. There are many parades, celebrations and feasts. It’s also a day off from Lent, if you are depriving yourself of things for the Lenten season. You can wear green, dress up in funny hats and kiss people because they’re Irish. Happy St. Patty’s Day everyone!


Writing Wins and Woes: What I’ve learned from Writing

Writing is a very difficult process. It’s like building a tower. You can’t just start building. You have to have plans. If you just start building, your tower will fall over like kids with blocks. Many people seem to think that if you are a writer, you just sit down and the words just flow out like magic. This is not true. Even the inspiration is hard and thought out. Some of it may come from research, meditation, reading, life experiences or something I’ve heard from somebody else. Not every inspiring thought will develop into a good story. Some just fizzle out.

After the inspirational thought I start working on a plot line. Some think you just begin the story. No, every story has to have a beginning, middle and ending. So the next step is either writing the plot of the story, or thinking it up in my head. Some call this outlining. I never write clear outlines but I do want to know where my story is going so I have a clear picture in my head. Sometimes I even know what my last line of the story is going to be.

After I decide on the plot, I may think some on characters. Every story has to have strong characters. So I may want to decide what kind of personality my characters have. Stories often fail because characters are not developed enough. A lot of times, they are too one sided and flat. They don’t have flaws. Every character should have some flaws or they are not interesting. I often think about the good guys and the bad guys of my stories. Most narratives have these. Bad guys should not be all bad. Good guys should not be all good.

Now, I may start writing. However, it’s only the rough draft. This is often hard for me. I want to stop and improve my story, but I shouldn’t. Rough drafts should flow and they should be rough. I can work on making the story better later. If I spend too much time pouring over the story now, I might get discouraged and quit. I might forget where I’m even going with the story.

When I finish the rough draft, I need to edit. Editing is a large part of story writing and it’s not fun. I have to look for mistakes in spelling, context, tense, characters that say wrong things, or are misnamed. Believe me, I have renamed a character in a story without even wanting to. He may start out Ethan and end up Edward because I forgot his name. I have to cut out words and sentences I don’t need. If I’m honest, this is where the rubber meets the road and where I’m most likely to fail. Nobody likes to edit but it has to be done or the story will most likely be terrible.

Now, you think I’m done,  right? and I could be, but I shouldn’t be. I need somebody to read the finished product. I may need more than one somebody. They should not be someone who likes to pat me on the back but objective enough to tell me where my story stinks. After that wonderful person reads my story, I probably will have to edit again based on their advice. More grueling work I don’t like.

Then I’m done, right? No, I’m not. After all that work, I’m not done. Why? Because I need to let my story lay around a few days and rest. After the few days, I need to pick it up again and re read it. Maybe I like it and that’s great. But maybe I see stuff I don’t like. Now what? Back to editing again.

So, now you see why being a writer is so hard. What am I going to get for all this? You’re probably thinking that I’m going to make money from my story being published. And you think wrong. Nine times out of ten, my story will never be published, even if it’s good. Because I need to find the right publisher/magazine or ezine to run my story. That’s difficult, too. I may never find a home for my story except in my files. I have dozens of stories just like that. They are great stories in my way of thinking but they are just my stories. They only belong to me. And I want my stories to belong to the world.

Do you want to be a writer? Be prepared for a battle. To be an author, you have to write to win.

Writing Wins and Woes: Happy birthday to my hero

Many people are asked who their heroes are. It’s kind of funny because they don’t usually say things like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or some famous baseball player. They almost always say somebody they know. My brother. My best friend. That person who battled cancer and won. My Grandma.

My hero is my Mom. There are a lot of reasons why my Mom is my hero. Here are some of them. She raised me all by herself. Most people know my backstory. It’s a beautiful story but kind of sad, too. My parents split up when I was 6. My Mom took care of me while living with a friend in a small apartment and working in a foundry. I missed my dad but I don’t feel like I suffered much because I never lacked for attention. My Mom was always there for me when I needed her. I don’t remember her ever saying I’m too tired to talk to you. I’ve worked all day in the foundry. At nights when I had bad dreams, she would sit by my bedside until I fell asleep. She didn’t say, I need my sleep. I have to get up early. She loved me. That’s a lot to say.

She gave me standards so I could be the person I am today. When I was a teenager, she guided me in the way I should go. I remember one time telling her that me and my friend were going to go out hanging on the street corners. She was indignant and said No, you are not. We had the kind of relationship where I told my Mom almost everything so telling her where I was going even if it was hanging out on the streets was just natural.

When we came to believe in Christ, we came together at the same time. We even attended church together for many years. My Mom and I have the Lord in common and she taught me to stay close to Him even when it’s hard. She taught me to choose a life partner that loves God, too, and I did.

She guided me to make good choices but when I made some choices she didn’t necessarily whole-heartily agree with, she supported me through those choices. That’s what Moms do. They don’t ditch their kids because they don’t do everything they want them to.

My Mom always put me first. So I learned to put my kids first, too. At least I tried. I tried to want what was best for them but let them stumble a little when they needed to. It didn’t affect how I felt about them. My Mom and I had some struggles, especially through the teenage years. But she never gave up on me and I never gave up on her.

My Mom is battling cancer now and I am battling it with her. She is taking it like she has taken everything in life, with all her strength and by staying close to God and by worrying about others more than about herself. She has been such a shining example to me all my life and I don’t know how I will ever live without her if I am someday called to do that. So Happy Birthday, Mom. You are my hero. I hope to have you here with me as long as I live, but if not, someday I know I will join you in Heaven where we will be together forever.