What I’m excited about

cactus bloom
A cactus in bloom in my yard.

After taking time off from submitting stories, I finally did it. I dusted off the story I wrote about my mom and submitted to two publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. Two so far.

It made me really happy to do that. The process has changed through the years. I used to mail my printed manuscript with a query letter and an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.) Then I’d anxiously await for the publisher or agent to reply by snail mail. If I was lucky, I’d get a letter that was encouraging. Or, in the case of a novel, I’d send in the first three chapters and the editor would ask for more. I even got a few acceptance letters from magazines and newspapers.

The funniest thing was I did get an offer to publish my “mom” story. At the time, I didn’t think the offer was good enough. It was from a small publisher who said they’d do an initial run of 500 or 1,000 and see how it did before another print run. How I wish I would have said yes! That’s why I’m excited to try again, all these years later.

On the down side of submitting manuscripts, I’d get a form letter or postcard in my SASE with a generic phrase, “We’re sorry but your manuscript doesn’t fit our needs.”

Now, we submit by email or through a form on the publisher’s website. They have submission guidelines and say if you don’t hear back in so many months, they aren’t interested. You’re not guaranteed to get a response.

Doing more research on publishers, I renewed my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I downloaded the market survey for small presses and discovered quite a few still use the old snail mail method with SASEs. I bet that cuts down on the number of submissions!

I received an email from one of the two publishers so far and it stated they are interested in my story and will give it careful consideration. I guess I passed the first hurdle. But, the email ended with “if you don’t hear back from us within two months, then we are passing on your manuscript.”

Eh, wait and see. In the meantime, I’m pleased to be back in the game.

What are your thoughts about submitting your writing?

About forwards and prologues

I was excited to read my third Shirley Jackson book “The Road Through the Wall.” I read two Jackson books on my beach vacation and loved them.

I took the time to read the forward — something that I don’t always do.

Compared to the “Haunting of Hill House” or “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” Jackson’s masterful late novels, “The Road Through the Wall” is a slighter work.

Ruth Franklin, book critic and contributinG editor at The New Republic

The two books I read on vacation were the ones mentioned. This latest book was Jackson’s first novel, so yes, it is a lesser work. But reading those words dampened my enthusiasm to read the book. I wondered if I should even bother.

I now wish I’d read the forward AFTERWORD. I’m almost finished with the book and I’m enjoying it, but I felt this feeling of doubt when I started. Ruth Franklin’s forward is detailed and explains a lot about the story. I will finally read the Forward again — after I finish reading the book.

What are your thoughts about Forwards and Prologues. Do you read them? Do you think they add or detract to the story?

What I read on the beach

Books I read on the beach.

My beach chair has a pocket on the back with a zipper. That’s where I keep sunscreen and books. I selected two books by Shirley Jackson and my goal was to get through them while I sat on the beach.

I adore reading on the beach.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is one of my favorite books. I’m thinking of assigning it to Book Club when it’s my turn — if book club survives. The last book club turned into a disaster more on track with “The Real Housewives” than a social evening to discuss literature. A spat broke out between two ladies. One woman went way over the top — and the other countered by sending a certified letter telling her she was out of the group.

Since then, two months of book clubs have been cancelled. In August only one person RSVP’d. September’s book club is off because the woman hosting said she needs a break. After that last episode, we all need a break!

Back to the beach. I LOVED reading both Shirley Jackson books. She is such an excellent writer. “Come Along with Me” is the beginning of a novel she never finished due to her death.

In 1968, Jackson’s husband released a posthumous volume of her work, Come Along with Me, containing her unfinished last novel, as well as 14 previously uncollected short stories (among them “Louisa, Please Come Home”) and three lectures she gave at colleges or writers’ conferences in her last years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Jackson

Although I’ve hauled “Come Along with Me” from Washington to California to Arizona, I’ve never read it. It was the perfect beach book. I read one short story or a lecture each day at the beach and finished it the day before we left. Her unfinished novel “Come Along with Me” was a joy with a very quirky character who was clairvoyant and communicated with the dead.

At the beach house I had a Liane Moriarity book I was reading but didn’t finish. “Nine Perfect Strangers” may remain strangers to me.

The contrast between Shirley Jackson and authors today was stark. I felt almost smug reading such a talented writer and forgoing my usual beach romances. I have five more Jackson novels yet to read. I can’t wait!

What type of books do you like to read on vacation?

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Have you read Shirley Jackson’s stories or books besides “The Lottery?”

Cancel Culture and the Four Olds

Cover of Red Scarf Gril

I read Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang this weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve read it, but it’s been ten years since I picked it up.

It’s a Young Adult autobiography from the Cultural Revolution in China. It covers the Red Guard teens who were enforcers of Mao’s dictates. I saw so many parallels with our world today — which isn’t a good thing.

The story opens up with the youth destroying a store sign “Great Prosperity Market” because of the “Four Olds.” Prosperity was no longer seen as a good thing.

“The names of many shops still stank of old culture, so the signs had to be smashed to make way for the coming of new ideas.

Ji-Li Jiang proudly wore her red scarf and dreamed to be part of the Red Guard when she was older. Unfortunately, her family was black-listed because her grandfather — who died when her dad was seven — was a landlord. It didn’t matter that she had never met her grandfather and the family had gone through desperate times. A landlord was one of the worst things anyone could be. The ancestors of the landlord were marked for life.

Here’s an excerpt about the Four Olds from the online Britannica:

When Mao formally launched the Cultural Revolution in August 1966, he had already shut down the schools. During the following months, he encouraged the Red Guards to attack all traditional values and “bourgeois” things and to put CCP officials to the test by publicly criticizing them. These attacks were known at the time as struggles against the Four Olds (i.e., old ideas, customs, culture, and habits of mind), and the movement quickly escalated to committing outrages. Many elderly people and intellectuals were physically abused, and many died. Nonetheless, Mao believed that this mobilization of urban youths would be beneficial for them and that the CCP cadres they attacked would be better for the experience.

https://www.britannica.com/place/China/Economic-policy-changes

It’s an excellent book and a quick read. What I found so eye-opening was how it showed cancel culture on steroids. Soon, nobody was safe. Everybody was being turned in. The former party leaders in the community were found to have some fault of Four Olds and they were treated as badly as Ji-Li Jian’s landlord family.

What are your thoughts about carrying the faults of our past generations?

Do you have any good books to recommend?

Needing some downtime

Pink flower
The simple beauty of nature.

It’s been a few weeks since our vacation to Utah and I’m already feeling the need to get away. There’s something about the heat of the desert, being stuck inside because of 100-plus degree temperatures that gets to people.

I remember in my former life in Palm Springs that controversy always bubbled up mid-July to early August. Especially with our swim team. You take a bunch of over-involved parents who are competitive about their kids — put them on a hot pool deck — and you have a recipe for a few outbursts.

Once the former president of our swim team told me “Take this team and shove it up your A**!”

Then he walked off the pool deck with his kids and started his own team, taking about 30 or 40 swimmers with him. I stood in shock. As a board member, I had been in the middle of a power struggle between our coach and him. He wanted to be the coach and was actively trying to discredit our current coach.

It was an ugly episode in my parenting years. We noticed every summer around the same time things began to boil.

I don’t thrive with conflict. I try to avoid unpleasantness in my life.

Last week, a club meeting rivaled the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

A woman who I consider a friend acted horribly out of anger. I don’t know where the anger came from. But what should have been a nice night of having dinner and friendship turned into a battleground. I feel especially bad for the woman who opened up her home, prepared dinner and dessert for the club.

Now I feel caught in the middle. It’s a bad place to be. I want to get along. I am willing to give people a second chance and the benefit of the doubt. Even when they lose their temper and act badly. We are all human and make mistakes.

I’m going to distance myself from all these clubs for awhile until my emotions settle down. I can’t wait to get out of the heat and out of town, which is in a couple weeks.

How do you handle conflict? Do you forgive people for bad behavior or write them off?

It’s a struggle

book cover of "The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki
Book club selection for July.

I’m trying to be open-minded about book club. I joined wanting to meet people in my neighborhood. Plus, I had never been in a book club before. Several of my friends from Palm Springs were in book clubs and they tried to get me to join. I always shied away for various reasons — not enough time, not wanting to be assigned a book, wanting to read what I want on my own schedule…

You can read about my first impressions of book club HERE.

I got an email yesterday from the woman who is hosting July’s book club. She asked which date next week would be good for “The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post,” by Allison Pataki.

Yikes. This is the first time I heard the title. I’m thinking I missed an email with the book selection — or she announced the title at the last meeting which I didn’t attend due to vacation. Or, the entire book club is getting one week’s notice to order and read the book.

I’ve ordered it from Amazon. I’m going to give it my best effort because it does look like a book I’d enjoy. I also downloaded it to Audible. It’s a little over 14 hours long. But once again I’m struggling with book club and wondering if it’s more annoying than fun?

Have you read “The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post?” How much time do you think book club should give people to read a book? How does your book club work with book selections?

Is it possible to manage thoughts?

The Movie Colony Palm Springs
The view of Mt. San Jacinto during my morning walk in my Palm Springs neighborhood.

Yesterday after reading LA’s Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50s blog, I remembered writing about how to manage thoughts. Here’s link to LA’s blog post.

This is what I learned about managing thoughts:

I was listening to a webinar on my morning walk and when I got home, I had to jot down a few notes. The talk was from one of my favorite sports parenting experts, David Benzel, from Growing Champions for Life. The topic was “Teaching Kids to Manage Their Thoughts.” It had great information to help your kids manage negative self talk and to get them on the right path when they beat themselves up. Benzel said he got most of the information for this webinar from a book called Managing Thought by Mary Lore.

It also had a lot of great stuff for adults, too. Adults and children alike can get bogged down with negative thoughts about themselves. How often have you told yourself, “I’m not good enough,” or something else similar? If we can recognize that our brain is creating 55,000 thoughts per day and we can separate ourselves from them, they will lose their power. When a negative thought pops up, we can say “Where did that come from?” or “Is that useful for me to accomplish my goal?”

Benzel also said that negative thoughts spread like a disease and once you have one, more and more will pop up. Also, our thoughts are a choice. We can choose instead to rephrase a negative thought into a a positive one. If our child says “I don’t want to fail the math test,” instead they can say, “I will finish my homework and ask for help.”  Benzel made the point when we focus on what we don’t want, the more we focus on it, the more likely it will happen.

Now to the part where I was so impressed that I had to write it down: “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you do these four things, you’ll be happier, more positive and your relationships with others will improve.

ONE

Be impeccable with your word.

TWO

Don’t take anything personally.

THREE

Make no assumptions.

FOUR

Always do your best.

Those seem so simple, but aren’t they valuable? For example, if someone says something you feel is hurtful, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s more of a reflection of what that person is going through. We shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s motives or intent. Instead we should investigate and ask questions. Try to learn where the person is coming from. As far as always doing your best, your best may change from day to day. Do the best you can on that particular day.

Palm trees in Palm Springs
Views from my morning walk in my old neighborhood.

What do you think of the “Four Agreements?” Do you think it’s possible to manage your thoughts? What tips can you share?