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Month: May 2014

Becoming a Writer

Way back at the beginning, I was puzzled about how 15 writers and a nonprofit could publish a book. What would be the arrangement between the authors and the nonprofit? What about the understanding among the writers, some of whom had many entries, some of whom had few? How would we make this fair? The questions overwhelmed answers.

My former-lawyer self said, we need to work this out before we move forward. We need to know what the deal is. We need to be able to describe it and have everyone buy into it. We need to know on the front end what we are getting into.

I tried that for a while. Then, in November of 2012, I realized that the process of figuring it all out would, ultimately, smother the book. If we defined our relationships first, we would never get past the deal-making to the creating of a book. We needed a book first, then we would figure it out.

This concept was a**-backwards, to a lawyer.

I asked the group, are we ready to get started? They said yes. Are we willing, I asked, to move forward trusting that we can work out the details later? They agreed. So we set the Book Retreat and began putting our book together.

This is the moment I quit being a lawyer.

I’d already given up my power suits. I’d told nonprofit boards that I would no longer offer legal advice. I’d even relinquished my law license. But that month, when we put art first, I became a former-lawyer. I became a writer.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . .

The Stink of Failure

I have just sent—for the last time—to the interested agent Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens. After three (count ’em, three) prior attempts, I have either successfully managed to revise the manuscript into a “market ready” product or I have not.

I am telling y’all this because I need to share. I’m not sharing my success. I’m sharing my possible failure.

See, I often don’t tell y’all what I’m attempting to do. Contests I’ve entered, submissions I’ve made. If I don’t disclose what I’m trying to do, you won’t ask, Hey, what happened to the ABNA submission (FYI, I didn’t make it into the third round.) I won’t have to face the questions and admit I’ve failed. This is good, because of course I don’t want to look like a failure.

Yeah, I can talk a good game—”I advise from failure” is one of my standard lines—but that’s admitting failure IN THE PAST . . . after I’ve demonstrated success. This position is similar to what I’ve observed about being poor: everyone’s proud of growing up poor, but no one brags about it while they’re still in it.

So here I am—in the midst of becoming a success or on the verge of failing again. I don’t know which way the weather vane will spin. If it’s not good, I’ll try something else. Ultimately, I have faith that it will all be good. I just want to admit, right now, while the jury is still out, that I may be about to fail. Again. And again. For the fourth time again.

And I’m okay with that.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

We Rise as One

I saw it once. It was on TV. The man was old. He had white hair and a wrinkled face. His arm was raised. He was carrying an American flag, the tiny kind with a wooden stick, the flag no bigger than a First Aid kit. The man was running, as best as his old man legs allowed. He waved the flag.
The field through which the man ran was located in France. He ran toward another man. The other man waved his own tiny flag. The two men had fought on opposite sides of the war. They’d faced each other as enemies. Now, they were to meet in the middle of the field. Tears streamed down their cheeks.
What was it I’d seen? The power of love.
*
The young man looked to be not much past twenty years old. If he’d been dressed slightly differently, with his pale skin and cap of dark hair, he could have been in a Vermeer. He sat on a side bench behind the organist. Beside him rested his golden trumpet. He sat through the whole damn church service—baptism, sermon, and communion. When the signal went out that all communicants had finally been served, he stood. He raised the trumpet. He played Taps. When I approached afterwards to thank him for his offering, I hadn’t the courage to ask my question: is it as hard for you to play as it is for us to hear?
*
He entered college at sixteen years old; at nineteen, he was an officer in the Navy. I never saw his uniform. By the time he came into my life, decades had passed since the days when he stood on a ship as big as a small country and felt the deck shudder with the force of a far-away typhoon. Tomorrow, for the first time since I was twelve years old, I will not have him here to thank for his service. But this morning an old man rose from the pew. He stood as straight as his old man’s body would allow. He wore his uniform from 1945. He had been at Normandy. He smiled and waved his hand. The congregation rose as one and gave him a standing ovation.
What was I seeing? The power of love.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

A Good Book Day

William and I began our lessons on “How to Play Bridge.” We established that you arrange your hand by suit; you must follow suit; the higher card in a suit wins; ace is the highest card. The rules called the winning process taking “tricks.” William called them books. We played. We made books. William made more books than I did. Next week, what are trump cards?  

* We made tiny books to hand out at church this morning. The tiny books were inspired by ‘Tit RƏx, a New Orleans micro-krewe (the floats are shoe boxes). The folks at church accepted the tiny books. One man, a newcomer to Memphis, chose a book with the word Saint on the front cover. He wrote a poem in the book. He gave me the book. Guess where he’s from? New Orleans.  

* The contract with Triton Press to publish our book, “Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness” is (mostly) signed—we have one writer who didn’t make the meeting. We’re tracking him down. When he’s found, the contract will be (all the way) signed. The manuscript will be submitted to the publisher and, soon, we’ll have a book. 

It’s been a great book day.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . 

The entries are from 2008. I had been involved with writing group for a year. Each week, after we met, I came home and wrote into the journal every significant thing I could remember having happened. The journal helped me process the chaotic hour that was a weekly writing group of men and women who had experienced homelessness. I am reviewing the journal to draft a template for “What Worked For Us When We Did Writing Group.”

The pages are hard to read. I can only read a few at a time. Memories come flooding back. At least three of those who were writing with us during that period are dead. I recorded their dialogue. They, and the times, come alive as I read what I wrote. I loved the group and the process of becoming accepted by them. They each gave me particular delight.

On these pages, I recorded when W. asked me my name. This is astonishing: at one time W. didn’t know my name. We have now been through the terrible period of W.’s arrest; his interminable trial appearances; his incarceration in both jail and the mental facility for evaluation; his release when the DA realized the woman’s physical description of the man who stole her pocketbook had nothing—nothing!—in common with W. But in June of 2008 he didn’t know my name.

Humbling that, six years ago, the Executive Director of the Door of Hope was asking me if we had enough writings for a book. Tomorrow, we hold the final meeting necessary to send our manuscript to the publisher. Six years after I recorded the words. “Do we have a book?” the answer is, “Almost. Almost.”

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Where Exuberance Will Get You

I live in a jungle:

The Cottonwood Grove
The Cottonwood Grove

Technically, this is a zero-lot line house within spitting distance of the next zero-lot line house. The balcony wraps around two of these massive cottonwoods. We have an interior garden:

a garden spot
a garden spot

This is what it feels like when you walk out of the front door, through this garden spot, and onto the sidewalk:

The path to the world
The path to the world

I’ve over-planted the yard:

What used to be my front yard
What used to be my front yard

And I’ve extended the tiny yard by planting in the median between the sidewalk and the street:

healthy iris fronds
healthy iris fronds

I’ve unintentionally invaded the neighbor’s yard:

incipient annabelle hydrangea
incipient annabelle hydrangea

We can sit on our front porch and no one knows we’re there:

The hidden sitting area
The hidden sitting area

In case you’re worried, it’s not claustrophobic in there:

A glimpse of open space
A glimpse of open space

It all comes down to desire. I have plants in my yard because my grandmother grew iris, I passed spider lilies on my way to elementary school, my daddy loved Lenten roses, I fell in love with ferns when I went to Pickwick Lake the first time, I can’t get enough of hydrangeas, my uncle gave me a cutting from Mississippi’s largest fig tree (owned by my family) and from the rose bush my daddy gave his mother on Mother’s Day when he was a little boy:

Hebron's roses
Hebron’s roses

I have exuberant desire and a small yard. So now I live in a jungle. Thank God our house is on the Mississippi River. Nothing I can do can top that.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

I am Beyond Thrilled

I’ve had a book published, okay? I went through the fairly tortuous experience of editing and re-editing and receiving a proposed cover and approving the interior illustrations . . . I’ve done all that.
Yet.
I am beyond thrilled to see the examples of how Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness might look.
This isn’t even our mock-up. It’s just samples of how others have attractively put a lot of author’s names on the front cover. We have 15 authors, all of whom have personally experienced homelessness. I never thought we could actually put their names on the cover.
We can.
We have an original painting by a local artist that will grace the front cover. We have a great painting by one of the writers that will be on the back cover. We have a local publishing house publishing the book. We have blurbs from local standouts in the community. The book is going to be amazing before you even open it up.
Then just wait until you read it.
I am beyond thrilled.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Nature of Time

After an extended visit at my sister’s, I will be back at my house today. I will discover what is happening in my yard, as well as what I might have missed. Are the peonies already gone? Will the iris be in full bloom? Some years, the ephemeral spider lilies spring, flutter their skinny petals, and die in my absence. Whenever I begin to wonder if time has any substance, I run smack against nature.
*
The stiff magnolia leaves on the tree planted by my grandfather began to wither. Head thrown back, the tree doctor examined his patient. Old age, he pronounced. The tree had reached its life span and was dying. A big of mulching, a lot of tender loving care, and the tree survived. For how long, we don’t know. Before this experience, I’d not known a tree had a life span. Of course it did, but if these majestic presences are prisoners of their allotted years, what chance do we stand?
*
My yard is planted so as to have something always underway. If it’s not the daffodils, it’s the snowflakes. Sometimes the phases overlap—the Lenten roses bloom straight into the re-appearance of the ferns. At one point in my life, I had an Addams Family theme going on: dragon’s blood, spider lilies, and toad lilies. This made the Lenten roses nervous. The dragon’s blood eventually gave up the ghost. That time of my yard is now in my past. In its place, Solomon’s Seal grabs hold and flourishes.
*
The dog lies forlorn on the hotel bed, head on her paws. Her woebegone gaze follows our packing up, on the move again. This is not her idea of a good time. She values routine, and becomes instantly happy in the “now” of this slightly smelly “dog-friendly” hotel room. In contrast, I too easily place myself at an earlier time. I look up and there’s my ex-brother-in-law blustering into my sister’s foyer, wrapped in a bulky winter jacket, unleashing the dog from its walk. Bending to pick up a glass, I pause, certain my mother is standing beside the cooktop, though she could not join us this trip. The red bows that grace my sister’s house at Christmas suddenly jut into the birds of spring that dominate this trip. This slippage of time both comforts and frightens me. Comforting because, though the magnolia will die, it will always live. Frightening because the dragon’s blood will wither and that is the reality my time travel denies. And you know what they say about those who deny reality.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Ultimately, Laugh

Once I’ve had the opportunity to digest all that has happened over the last five days (a double graduation for my godchild, a rare visit with my cousin, the amazing hospitality of my sister enabling such joyous times, and the oddity of being in the same state with my mother yet not seeing her on Mother’s Day), I’ll be posting.
Until then, if you pray, remember me. When you pray for guidance, tack on my name. When you pray for humility, ask God to give me an extra dose. When you pray for love and understanding and the end of judging others, lead off with my name.
Mostly, when you pray for perspective, say to yourself, that Ellen Morris Prewitt wants me to pray for her humility, yet she’s asking everyone to make their prayer life all about her. And laugh.
Laugh at me and with me. I thank you for it.

The Big Announcement

The show kept interrupting the announcement of winners with fluff. Maybe it wasn’t fluff, but compared to the important thing—had our son won the Best Chef, South award from the James Beard Foundation?—it was as insignificant as a wart on a frog on a log at the bottom of the sea. Finally, the MCs rolled out the names of the nominees in our son’s category.
The boy hurtled through the front door. He’d been playing in the yard. The boy loves trucks—dump trucks, firetrucks (of which he owns three), backhoes (he can tell you the difference between the backhoe and the front-end loader), and garbage trucks (beep! beep! beep!—in New Orleans, the garbage service’s motto is “Business stinks, but it’s picking up.”) The fenced-in yard, no bigger than a ping-pong table, is an excellent place for the boy to play, with his grandparents peeking through the window at him.
In between peeks, seems the boy had experienced an accident. This was his big announcement: “I peed all over myself in the yard.” He’s almost three years old. He’s going through potty training. He’s doing a really good job, except when he’s not.
He trudged into the bathroom. While the famous people in New York were announcing the winners of the cooking world’s most coveted prize, he was saying, “Man, this is terrible.” Tugging down his long pants and his pull-ups, he stepped out of the sodden clothes. While his Gandy whooped in the living room, the boy was standing over the toilet, observing, “It won’t come out.”
“Maybe,” I said, “because it’s already come out.”
Naked (the shirt was soaked, too), he made his way back into the living room where he sat with his little brother on the sofa so his Gandy could rerun the video of his dad’s acceptance speech. There, at the very end, was the tiny red race car the boy had given his daddy for good luck. In front of all the foodie world’s heavy-weights, the boy’s dad held up the General Lee race car and thanked the boy for the good luck charm. It had worked. The boy’s dad won. The boy pointed at the computer, his eyes alight: “That’s daddy!” Then he slid into his high chair, naked bottomed, and asked for some toast.

The Power of the Ear

How many words are there in the entire universe yet, in an 86,000 word novel, how many times in the last, read-aloud review have I run across the same word used again within a breath of itself?

“You, in point of fact, are still over dry land,” my observant friend pointed out.

Or words with an unintended rhyming effect:

“Not kill. Enjoy And you’d like for me to join you?”

Or words that are spelled one way—barbed wire—and a different way when repeated: barbwire.

Honestly, this is exactly the type of thing a final review should catch. What’s so frustrating is that this is not my first “final” review. I’ve done a final review. I paid an editor to do a final review. Yet, there it is, my small-town Mississippi heroine using five dollar words that she would never use; a reference to advance bookings that is no longer part of the plot; a segue into a new thought that needs more preparation.

You might have found differently, but for me the ONLY way to catch most of these is to read the document aloud. I hate doing this. It’s incredibly time-consuming. It’s boring (which is why I’ve now stopped to write a blog post.) Yet, it’s essential.

The read-aloud should be done last, I think, because it really is a polishing of your final revision. Of course, it’s hard to know when something is a final revision (see above). Having read a prior final revision aloud, I can be tempted to skip the read-aloud on the current final revision.

I shouldn’t, and I’m not. I’m just writing this post to remind myself of that.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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