LIFE PASSES AND ANOTHER REPLACES IT

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Today marks the 36th anniversary of my father’s death.

He passed away around noon on August 29, 1981. I find it difficult to comprehend–how could it be so long ago when it seems as if we last spoke only yesterday? But it has been that long. Recently, I wrote about the months leading up to his death because of the serendipity of life. I’m honored to have been a part of the circle of life as my family struggled to accept the passing of our leader. Here’s the story of that time.

I love you, Dad, and always will.

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

Written in 2017

One week in May in 1981, my family went from the depths of sorrow to the heights of joy.

It all began on Mother’s Day. But, in actuality, serendipitous events swirled behind the scenes unbeknownst to us gathered at my parents’ house to celebrate my mother. I had been married for a year, and our carefully plotted life did not include children …not yet. We had other things to accomplish first.

We posed for various photos, and in all of them, my father is pale, and his shoulders droop. He had been suffering from a nasty cold for weeks and he’d been unable to shake it.

“We’ll call the doctor tomorrow,” my mother assured me. “Don’t worry. He probably just needs some vitamins.”

The next day my mother called after his appointment.

“The doctor wants to run some tests.” No. I didn’t want this news, and I certainly didn’t need to hear the rest. “The doctor wants them done in the hospital.”

We had a diagnosis within days of his hospitalization.

Liver cancer. Three months to live at the most so far had the cancer advanced. They could only give him small doses of chemotherapy, which would allow us the summer with him. It wasn’t a cure, the doctor warned. It was simply a prolonging of the inevitable. The cancer had progressed speedily without detection, and within days, my father faced the end of his life.

I cried with my mother and my brothers. I threw up. Then I cried some more. We all hugged and wept. And when I wasn’t doing all those things, I longed to crawl in bed and sleep. Grief gripped me, but I fought to remain strong. My mother found me in the waiting room of the hospital nearly asleep one afternoon.

“Could you be pregnant?” my mother asked exactly one week after Mother’s Day.

“No way.” I huffed at the question. Pregnancy wasn’t in the plans. “Why would you ask me that?”

“Every time someone hugs you, you cringe as if your breasts are tender. Same thing always happened to me during the first months of my pregnancies with you five kids.”

I looked at my mother. Could she be losing her mind over the grief of losing her husband of forty-five years? I certainly questioned her grip on reality. How could she be thinking of my tender breasts at a time like this?

Tender breasts. That gave me pause. My breasts had been terribly sensitive during all the hugs and embraces during the past few days—meaningful hugs from my aunts to convey their sympathy.

My mother smiled at me—the first smile I’d seen in a week of tears.

All my symptoms, suddenly took on a new significance. I couldn’t keep food down. I felt nauseous all day. And then I remembered the most important one of all. My period was two weeks late.

The next day I went to the clinic to be tested. In those days, we didn’t have the pee sticks purchased at the corner drugstore. I had to pee in a cup and wait hours for the results. I filled out a form when I arrived. The final question asked on the little piece of paper, “What will you do if you’re pregnant?”

Suddenly, the last thing I wanted before that moment became the thing I wanted more than anything else. I knew exactly what to write on the form.

“I’ll scream for joy.” Loudly.

Not only were there no quick tests in 1981, there were no cell phones, either. I called the clinic later in the day from a pay phone.

When the nurse came on the line, I impatiently went through all the details of my life to assure them of my identity. Finally, I finished.

“Well, Patricia, you can start screaming,” the nurse said.

We raced to the hospital where my father lay waiting for his first treatment. We wanted him to hear the news before anyone else.

“You’re going to be a grandfather once again.” I stood at the head of my father’s bed. His eyes filled with tears, and I heard my mother gasp.

The door opened, and my father’s cousin walked in the door.

“How are you, Harmon?” she asked.

“I’m going to have a granddaughter,” he announced. Loud and clear. We all laughed that he’d decided the sex of the child only six weeks into its gestation.

We brought my father home soon afterward. Between my brothers and mother, we rotated shifts of caring for my father. As my father’s cancer ate at his liver and the chemo prolonged his life for a few weeks, he lost his hair and his body mass. I would sit by his bed and read his favorite Bible verses to him. He reminded me of a newborn. Perhaps it was my pregnancy that made me think this way. But the skin on his face grew softer and shinier. When the pain killers worked, he lay in repose with a slight smile and blue-veined lids that reminded me of the fetus pictures I studied as my pregnancy progressed.

He did not want to talk about my pregnancy. At first, it hurt me. But then one afternoon, sitting by his side, I realized he didn’t want to talk about it because he knew he would never meet the child growing inside of me.

I sat by his bedside in those final days, watching his face change from a man dying of cancer to the face of innocence. I put my hand on his and the other hand on my belly. The life cycle beat through me to my father and to my child.

One cloudy morning in August, my father’s breathing became labored. Then, the breathing suddenly stopped. My champion and my hero was gone.

Sobbing, I walked outside. As I stepped onto the back stoop, the sun came out from the clouds and a swoosh of movement somersaulted in my womb. My baby moved inside of me for the first time.

My family assured me it had happened because of my grief.

But I knew better. And five months later, I knew for sure.

From the moment, my father made his pronouncement that I carried a girl, I always believed the same thing. I wouldn’t even consider a boy’s name.

On January 26, 1982, I pushed a baby out of my womb. When the crying bundle was placed on my chest, I discovered that my father had known what others had not.

“Welcome, Anna Christina,” I said to the granddaughter of my father. I had named her after his mother.

The birth of Anna was a serendipitous event, and one that brought much joy for my mother. Her grieving was lessened as she held the new life within hours of Anna’s birth.

Now thirty-five years later, I still feel my father’s presence. Anna, an artist, often does self-portraits, and every one of them resembles the face of my father. That’s not her intention, but she tells me it always ends up that way.

Recently, I showed a friend a photo of my father as a young man.

“It’s Anna!” my friend exclaimed.

Yes, it is. And the circle of life continues.

§§§

ECLECTIC LEANINGS final

This essay is one of dozens in my collection of writings, which I’ve spent the summer putting together in one slender volume.

On September 5, 2017, Eclectic Leanings – Musing from a Writer’s Soul will be released. The book is a collection of my columns, essays, articles, and short stories and represents the breadth of my writing career over the past twenty years. The book is available for pre-order now on Amazon.

Click here to pre-order a copy of Eclectic Leanings.

 

 

Author’s Blog Chain

It’s my pleasure today to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Francis Guenette tagged me on her blog, Francis Guenette - author photoDisappearing in Plain Sight. I also reviewed her delightful novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight. Disappearing in Plain Sight - coverPlease visit her blog. She writes thoughtful pieces on the process of becoming and sustaining a career as an Indie Author. I’ve found many of her insights very helpful in my journey as an Indie Author.

The Author’s Blog Chain requires me to answer four questions about my writing life, so here goes:

Sketch of P.C. Zick by Jae at Lit and Scribbles

Sketch of P.C. Zick by Jae at Lit and Scribbles

1. What are you currently working on?

I’m working on my next Florida Fiction novel, Native Lands. This work looks at who owns the land on which we live and how we should tend to that land as good stewards. There’s plenty of love and intrigue and nasty antagonists. I hope to publish it sometime before the end of the year. I’m also working on a nonfiction book, Odyssey to Myself, which is a collection of essays on my travels from 2004-2009 and how each trip held a significant life lesson. I’m also developing an editing and book formatting business, which I hope to launch very soon.

2. How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

I think most authors like to think their work is different from any other work, and I’m no exception. I’ve been compared to Carl Hiassen because I write about the disastrous effects of development on Florida; I’ve been compared to Anne Rivers Siddons because of my southern characters. I may have elements of those writers’ genre in my work, but I also write in-depth about nature and wildlife. I take a page from the John Steinbeck book of writing and try to create metaphors in nature that represent man’s actions. I aspire to write as noteworthy books as those I’ve mentioned!

3. Why do you write what you write?

Good question. I often refer to Rachel Carson’s (Silent Spring) comment on how she chose her subjects. She said that she never chose a subject, but rather the subject chose her. I believe I’ve chosen my path to help bring awareness on issues regarding nature and all its creatures. If we continue to live thoughtless lives without consideration of the natural world around us, then we’re dooming our future generations to some heavy burdens.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m not sure I have a process. I write when the mood strikes, which is every day. I keep several journals going. I usually have a work in progress. I tend to begin with an idea and then plot it out, researching as I go. With every project, the process changes.

Now that I’ve answered questions about my writing life, I’m tagging three other authors so they can continue the Author’s Blog Chain.

IMG_0140 resized-framedChristina Carson – I discovered Christina Carson’s work through my social media channels and what a lovely surprise to find her. I’ve read one of her books, Suffer the Little Children, and reviewed it, and Christina wrote a guest blog for Author Wednesday in June. Her books are delightful reminders that novels serve as more than entertainment; they also show a way to live a more thoughtful existenceSuffer the Little Children-resized

From Christina: I was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, when it still looked like the verdant farming country of England. Horses and dairy farming were prominent, and I chose horses. Educated as a scientist, I was a child of the 1960s, and one of the outcomes of that was my stance as war protester. Leaving a Ph.D. program and the United States in 1968, I settled in western Canada and fell in love with the wildness of the country and the tolerance of the people. The cold was a tad stunning, however. I’ve been writing nonfiction and poetry as long as I can remember, but eight years ago, I began to write fiction. In 1996, I came back to the States on the arm of a Vietnam veteran. Now there’s a story for you. Presently, I reside in Alabama with my husband, also a writer. Neither the adventure of life and its wonder, nor what it has yet to teach me seem anywhere close to an end.

Links:

Amazon Author Central

Suffer the Little Children

Dying to Know

Blog: Cristina Carson, Writer

100-0059_IMGDarlene Jones – Darlene Jones caught my attention when I came across her blog, Em and Yves. Her experiences from living in Mali made an indelible mark on her so much so she’s dedicated herself to writing books that reflect a country and culture living in poverty and pain. I usually don’t read science fiction, but Darlene’s purpose in writing her novels intrigued me. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed reading, Embattled, which I reviewed on Book Review Friday. Darlene has also appeared on Author Wednesday.Embattled jpg for Kindle

From Darlene – A long time ago, I lived in Mali. Every single day, I wished I could wave a magic wand to relieve the heart-wrenching poverty. The story line of my books reflects my desire to wave that wand and make the world a better place. If only wishes could come true. And of course, every novel needs its love story, so along with the sci-fi magic, I’ve added the requisite romance.

I’ve always believed we can’t be the only beings existing in the vastness of the universe. There must be others “out there somewhere,” and I brought some of them along for the ride. The setting stays, for the most part, within the realities of our world, but I’ve found that I love the magic the sci-fi element of other beings can bring to the story.

Links:

Blog: http://emandyves.wordpress.com

Books: http://www.amazon.com/Darlene-Jones/e/B005ZVH88G

PicturePaffi S. Flood – One of my blogger friends, Staci Troilo introduced me to Paffi S. Flood. I’m very pleased to meet her and add her to the growing list of author friends I’ve met since starting Writing Whims. Her novel A Killing Strikes Home is another in the series of Mystery, Ink by Goldminds Publishing.Picture

From Paffi – Ever since I worked on the school newspaper in the seventh grade, I had a passion for writing. Although I pursued software engineering in college, being a writer was always in the back of my mind. A decade ago, I attended writing classes and workshops and was encouraged to chase my dream. A Killing Strikes Home published by Goldminds Publishing, LLC: in January 2013 is my debut novel, and I’m currently working on my next one.

Links:

Website: www.paffisflood.com

Twitter: @paffiFlood

A Killing Strikes Home on Amazon

Please visit these other authors and their outstanding work. They’ll be posting their Author’s Blog Chain on February 3.

How Much Background Is Too Much in a Novel?

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I’m happily working away at the new novel these days. When I wrote the original concept back in 2006, I provided lots of background research on Florida and the Everglades. That’s the way I’ve always written, even when I was a reporter. I regurgitated all the new and old knowledge onto the page in a very rough first draft or outline of a new piece. Then I set about slicing more than half of what I’ve spewed onto the page.

Successful writing in any field or genre contains three essential elements. I call it the 3 C’s of writing. The elements are correctness, clarity, and conciseness.

Correctness – In journalism, accuracy is a key element (we hope). However, even in fiction, correctness is important. I read a book once where the author was describing a scene where the newly in love couple went kayaking – in a single kayak. He helped her in the seat and then the author wrote that the man jumped in the same seat behind his gal. Also, the couple – both experienced kayakers – were said to use “oars” rather than the “paddles” used in kayaking. I lost interest in the book at this point. Try jumping into a one-person kayak alone, let alone with another person, and remain unharmed, upright and dry, and I’ll eat an oar immediately. Correctness is essential in the details of a novel. If you chose a famous place for the setting, make sure you know that place and the names of streets and intersections. You can make up the name of hotels and restaurants, but be sure you know distances between places. Also, make sure that if you’ve set your novel in 1984 you haven’t created any anachronisms by having a character pick up a cell phone to make a call. I’m reading a book right now that I thought was set twenty years, ago but the author just mentioned Wikipedia and Craig’s List. I don’t think either of those were around then.

Clarity – Clarity goes along with conciseness in some ways. Make sure nothing in the novel confuses the reader’s understanding of the story. I don’t mean the confusion that might come from unraveling a mystery. The reader shouldn’t have to read a word, a sentence, or a paragraph repeatedly to make sense of what you’ve put on the page. I ask my Beta readers to point out any confusing areas by simply putting a question mark. Sometimes it’s as simple as a misplaced modifier, such as “Credit cards shall not be given to customers unless the manager has punched them first.” I misplace my modifiers often in the first draft, and just as often, I’m not the one to catch them.

Conciseness – Finally, I get to the reason I started writing this post. I’m struggling now with all that background information culled from reading, interviewing, or living. It’s sometimes difficult to realize that the reader doesn’t need and probably doesn’t care to know all I’ve learned before writing the novel. The reader simply wants a story to be told. I’m struggling right now as I turn that original draft/outline into a real first draft ready for Beta readers. That background information or exposition as it’s called by literary folks doesn’t all need to come at once or at all. The author decides where, when, and how much to tell. Some of it can come out in plot situations throughout the book. It’s one of the beautiful things about being an author. It’s also one of the most difficult. Beginning writers can sometimes be spotted immediately because they haven’t yet realized the importance of conciseness. I’m still learning after nearly two decades in this business. You don’t need to tell the reader everything you know. Not even close.

Here’s something I try to remember every time I write: Just because I put it down on paper, doesn’t mean I’ve carved the words in stone. That delete button is a one-finger press away. (But just to be sure I create a file for deleted passages.)

What do you think? Are these important elements in storytelling?

wood stork (Everglades)

wood stork (Everglades)

Writing Rules – Simple and True

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When I taught high school English, I always had at least one student – usually a female – who concentrated more on her presentation than the substance of her work. When the term paper was due, I’d receive a beautiful folder with lots of clip art designs on the cover. I might even get a plate of food representing something from the topic of the paper. Instead of working on the substance, this type of student hopes to wow with “pretty.”

I usually took the paper out of the folder so I could actually read it and comment. I tossed aside the accoutrements to find the meat. Most of the time, I found large fonts in 14 point size.

It wouldn’t have taken much more effort to actually write the paper.

With the advent of easy book publishing programs, anyone can write a book and make it pretty on the outside. And many do. Maybe they’ll sell a few books that way and fool some people for a short period of time. But for lasting effects and success as an author, substance and technique are required. There are the exceptions, of course, and I’m not going to give them further publicity by publishing names and titles. I predict those who find easy success will burn out as easily.

For a few minutes today, I’m going to put on my English teacher cap and tell you something I told hundreds of students each year: You must know the rules before you break them.

For any of the trailblazers in any art form, they knew the basic standard rules of music composition, architectural design, painting aesthetics, and fashion basics. How else would they know how to skillfully break those rules? Some of the classics of literature, such as The Catcher in the Rye, break all the rules. But I bet J.D. Salinger knew what rules he was breaking, and he deliberately created a main character who broke the rules of society as well.

Some rules are best not to break. I follow the conventional uses of punctuation just because it helps the reader understand meaning. But I do start sentences with conjunctions – but, and, or – for emphasis. I write in sentence fragments, again for emphasis. Short. Strong. Powerful. I know the rules, but I break them with intent. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a run-on sentence in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He was writing about the injustices inflicted on African-Americans in this country and telling his audience why he couldn’t be patient and wait. His sentence went on and on listing the injustices, and the sentence itself becomes a metaphor for those injustices that keep going on and on. Brilliant. Memorable.

Do you break any of the rules of grammar?

NOTE: I’m looking for writers – published or not; Indie or not – to feature on Wednesdays in Writing Whims. Author Wednesday will include guest posts and interviews with authors in most genres and at most stages of their career. Please leave me a comment or email me at pczick@verizon.net if you’d like to schedule a feature. On Fridays, I’m going to post book reviews. If it coincides with an author’s post, that’s great, but sometimes I might just review an old favorite, a new release, or the most recent book I’ve read. I’ll still post about writing tips and techniques once a week, but only on Monday.

 

A Hemingway Feast

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Confession time:  I’ve never been a great fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing. It leaves me cold. That’s not to say he isn’t a brilliant writer; I’m only saying his style of writing is not my favorite. I go more for Fitzgerald and Steinbeck.

Nonetheless, I longed to read A Moveable Feast, a nonfiction account of his years in Paris during the 1920s. He wrote the book almost thirty years after his life of sharing drinks and philosophies with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and many others of that era. The period and place fascinate me as I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to have so many creative geniuses gathered in one place, sharing and hording ideas and discussing the process of creating when all the rules went with the winds of war so recently fought.

The book didn’t disappoint. A Moveable Feast is the first book of Hemingway’s that I enjoyed and read in almost one sitting. His descriptions of his writing process intrigued me. Here’s a few gems that moved me and made me consider my process.

Here’s what he told himself when he became stuck as he started a new story: “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

I tell myself something similar every time I face a blank page. Then I just write the first thing that comes to mind about the topic. I wonder what one true sentence might mean. He describes it as a simple, declarative sentence. So I suppose that’s all it is: the simplest thing to be said in the most concise way. What do you think is “one true sentence?”

“. . .I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started writing the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything. . .”

Sometimes it’s difficult to shut it off, but I believe he’s right about letting the subconscious work it out. Whenever I’ve agonized over a scene or character, nothing comes, and I become more frustrated. When I let it go and forget it about, I often wake in the morning with the perfect solution to the problem. Are you able to let it go when you put down the pen or stop the fingers?

“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

This is fairly similar to the last one, and again, it’s the way I write. I stop writing when I’ve figured out a way to begin or end a scene. I take down some notes on how I want to proceed, and then I start fresh the next day after that time of letting it go to the subconscious. Of course, this is in the perfect world of writing – it doesn’t often happen that way. I’ve emptied the well and had to quit until I could pull in the hose and fill it up again.

“I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.”

Yep. It’s the best way to end the writing day. I’ve ended in the middle of scenes. I read somewhere that Somerset Maugham ended his writing day in the middle of a sentence so he always had a place to start the following day. I don’t go that far, but I do like to stop so I don’t face an empty page the next day. Do you find this a helpful way to write?

Hemingway to Fitzgerald: “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

Amen.

 

Two Male Authors and Their Books

pilebooksBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Two books, two male authors, and two similar disillusioned looks at love kept me reading late into the night recently.

I admit I read books written by women with intriguing female protagonists most of the time. It’s my preferred choice because I’m a female author who creates female protagonists in pursuit of truth and love. But I reached my quota a few months ago after reading one too many “bestselling” novels by “bestseller” female authors. The last novels disappointed me with weak plots and annoying female leads.

I decided I needed a break from my “studies.” It’s not that I don’t like male writers – Pat Conroy and John Irving are two of my all-time favorites – it’s just that I study in the genre I write. Sometimes it helps to break with routine.

I turned to Jeffrey Eugenides and The Marriage Plot. I enjoyed Middlesex, his novel that received a Pulitzer Prize in 2002, so I eagerly awaited his next book published ten years later.

The Marriage Plot

 

The Marriage Plot takes a different approach when a love triangle forms with Madeleine at the center as she writes her senior thesis on female authors from the nineteenth century who formed the “marriage plot” of the era.

Madeleine’s love interests, Leonard and Mitchell, provide glimpses at very different versions of intellectual prowess. The novel begins at Brown University and follows the characters through college and beyond as they travel and do post-graduate studies. The book has received criticism for being pretentious in its literary ramblings and collegial discussions.

I found it refreshing to read a novel not watered down to achieve the eighth-grade national reading level. I learned about things I’d never heard of before , such as semiotics, and I felt intelligent when I understood the genius behind the madness of Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard. Thank you, Mr. Eugenides, for taking ten years to write a novel of substance.

Since I enjoyed reading one male author so much, I ventured immediately into another one on my shelf purchased from the discount bin at the local bookstore. Douglas Kennedy creates a rich portrait of a female protagonist in Leaving the World.Leaving the World: A Novel

Again, I found myself immersed in the life of an intelligent and literary main character, Jane. Jane loves, loses, and learns to rise up above the ashes of her pitiful life. Despite the outrageous plot contrivances and the unbelievable tragedies that befall Jane, I was intrigued by her pain and poor decision-making abilities. I moaned a couple of times when I recognized the brink Jane teetered on, but I still became invested in Jane’s redemption.

After these books, I went to another male author. Ernest Hemingway has never been one of my favorite writers, but I wanted to read his account of his Paris years in A Moveable Feast. That’s for another post.

Next, I’m embarking on a book I found impossible to read in serial form when it was released back in 1987 in Rolling Stone. But it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe so I thought I’d give it a try. Now it will be an historical account rather than a contemporary examination Wall Street and New York City. At 700 pages, don’t expect me to write about it anytime soon, if I can embrace it this time around.

Have you read either of these novels?  What did you think? What are you reading now?

Remembering the Moment

 

following the writing dream

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I watched a documentary recently about pursuing a dream. The Back Nine revealed much more than the story of one man going for the impossible. The piece chronicles the life of Jon Fitzgerald, who at the age of forty decides to pursue his dream of playing professional golf.

Almost everyone, except his wife and daughter, discourages his dream. He continues on his quest. It’s the story of discovering what’s most important in life. It’s the story of fathers and sons. It’s the story of journey trumping destination.

On his journey, Jon must train and practice. One of his coaches – a yoga teacher – asks him to remember the moment he felt the highest joy when playing golf. Once he remembered the moment from childhood, she told him to reconnect to that feeling every time he played.

I knew what she meant because I remember the moment it occurred for me in my writing.

As I wrote my second novel, A Lethal Legacy, I came to difficult scene. A character in the story dies with the protagonist at his side.

I sat in an antique rocking chair with the keyboard in my lap as I envisioned the scene. I rocked back and forth and closed my eyes, remembering. I began typing as the scene in my mind moved to my fingers on the keyboard. I was transported back to my memory to when I sat at my mother’s bedside as she lay dying. The words flowed as freely as the tears running down my cheeks. My fingers flew across the keyboard. It was a moment of pure commitment to my craft. It was blissful and joyful, despite the painful memory I evoked. I’ve heard other writers refer to it as “the flow.” I was definitely in it, and like a drug addict seeking the next high, each time I write, I seek that moment once again. It’s never been as good as it was that first time, but I’ve come close. More than a decade later, I still remember what it felt like.

That moment is the very reason I continue on my journey as a writer despite the pitfalls. Jon has yet to realize his dream but what he gained from the pursuit gave him much more. I have yet to realize my full-blown dreams as a writer, but what a ride I’ve experienced so far.

a moment of writing joy

Excerpt from A Lethal Legacy

By P. C. Zick (formerly Patricia C. Behnke)

“I slowly rose from my bed to get dressed. I would not let Gary die alone as my father had. He would have those who loved him near him as we tried to make his passage from this world a safe one. After a lifetime of suffering, it was the least he deserved.

We remained with Gary for the rest of the night. It was excruciating to sit in that room. We waited after each loud breath for the next one, dreading it, yet hoping it would come. As the night wore on, the breathing became more irregular.

Finally, around dawn with the new day emerging outside the shaded window of the bedroom, Gary took one last gasp of air, but he never let it out. He had gone from us, just as the night had slipped away, with little fanfare.

The first cry came from Rick, who began rocking back and forth in his chair next to the bed. Claire had positioned herself on the other side, standing near the head of the bed resting her cheek on Gary’s forehead as he breathed for the last time. The tears slid down her face as I went to stand next to her, trying not to let the sob escape from my throat. We stood motionless for an eternity each thinking our private thoughts of this man who could finally rest in peace in a place where demons no longer tortured young men, where fathers cared, and where acceptance came as naturally as living on this earth.”

Riding the Roller Coaster

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Seven months ago, I began a perilous journey when I decided to enter the revolution.

I’ve earned my living as a writer for more than a decade. Now I’m working longer hours, opening myself to the whole world, and earning just enough to pay my overhead.

In these seven months, I’ve started two blogs (Living Lightly Upon this Earth and Writing Tips, Thoughts, and Whims), which are steadily growing followers. I follow dozens of blogs, too. I start each day with my coffee and my blogger friends. I love leaving comments and receiving them in turn.

I’ve gone from twenty twitter followers to almost 1,600 and enjoy tweeting and retweeting my fellow tweeters. I’ve also learned a new language. I’ve grown my Facebook fan page and enjoy all the supportive writer groups.

I published my first ebook on amazon.com in May, and then the roller coaster really took off. I’m learning everyday about promotion and marketing. I learned this week that no one knows what really sells these books. That actually made me feel slightly better – I thought I was just a slow learner.

Between actual sales and promotional days on Amazon, more than 25,000 folks have downloaded Live from the Road. It stands to reason not everyone will be a fan, but I wasn’t really prepared for my first bad review. I reeled for a few days but managed to put it in perspective. Then a discussion ensued on the review when several folks came to the book’s defense. That brought others in and the discussion became less about my book and more an indictment of self-published authors.

None of the critics have read Live from the Road. The reviewer admitted she’d only read a portion (approximately 20 percent based on her comments). While I’m not crazy about the comments being on my Amazon page, I do offer a prayer of gratitude to them.

After hanging my head for a few days, I addressed the criticisms. They said my previous reviews were meaningless because many of them were written by “shills” or “sock puppets.” I said I was learning a new language, remember? There are some 5-star reviews written by folks who know me and have never written any other reviews. When they finished the book and contacted me to tell me they liked it, I said “If you feel like it, leave a review on amazon.” Now I understand that this is a bit like asking your mother to give you a job recommendation. However, even the majority of these were done without my asking so I don’t know how to stop that.

A couple of the reviews come from reviewers who give only 4- or 5-star reviews. Before they read the book, all of them told me the book had to meet their criteria for at least a 4-star review, or they wouldn’t give a review. At the time, I considered it fair and was pleased my book qualified under their criteria. Now I’ve discovered these are meaningless too. The rest of the reviews are from folks I’ve never had any contact with except when the review appeared on my page.

So I’m attempting to educate myself on the review process. I’m researching how to find “legitimate” reviewers who will give an unbiased view of the book and my future books. I’m prepared that not all these reviewers will like the book, but I hope they will at least give constructive criticism that will help me become a better writer. Giving the book a 1-star review without finishing the book doesn’t do much to help me although I appreciate the reviewers attempt to give her honest opinion.

Jade Kerrion, one of my fellow bloggers, wrote an excellent post on “Post-publication Reviews.” Her insight and detailed account of her ebook journey is superb. Another valuable site is Amazon’s top customer reviewers. Then I downloaded The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages ($3.99) on my Kindle. I’m slowly going through all the listings and finding those reviewers who enjoy reading my genre.

I’m still on the roller coaster, but most of the time, I’m managing to enjoy it.

What about you? Any advice or comments on your experience?

 

Versatile Blogger Award

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This week my blog Writing Tips, Thoughts, and Whims was nominated twice for the Versatile Blogger award by two bloggers I greatly admire. Thank you, So Much To Write, So Little Time and 365 Things to Wrote About. If you don’t follow them already, visit their site. I think you’ll be as impressed as I am with their informative and inspiring blogs.

My other blog, Living Lightly Upon this Earth, has received several awards since I started it in March. However, this is the first award for my writing blog, and I’m delighted.

As a requirement for accepting this award, I’m supposed to provide seven random things about myself and tag 15 other blogs I admire. I hope you’ll visit the other sites. While I follow quite a few blogs, I’m going to stick to ones strictly about writing. We writers must stick together. I truly believe when one of us succeeds, we only move a step forward.

Random things about me:

  1. I begin most of my drafts on a legal pad with a very sharp pencil. I might only write a paragraph this way, but it’s the way I start all major works.
  2. I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and a cold glass of milk for lunch.
  3. I suffer from directional dyslexia (my term). I have a tough time distinguishing left from right, front from back, etc. I have a letter I wrote to Santa when I was eight asking for my “two back teeth.”
  4. Numbers and I do not get along. We’ve been at war since junior high school.
  5. Words are my friends.
  6. I believe algebra should be outlawed because it just isn’t right to create formulas using letters, numbers, and punctuation as if it was a real sentence!
  7. I have a weird sense of humor. My best friends are the ones who laugh at anything I say even if they don’t understand what I mean.

Tagging those favorite blogs now. Stop by and leave them a comment – we all need comments!

  1. The Neophyte Writer
  2. Kana’s Chronicles
  3. Hazy Shades of Me
  4. Kate Brauning
  5. Katie Jennings
  6. Jodi Ambrose’s blog
  7. Novel Girl
  8. The Stobe
  9. headywriting
  10. Staci Troilo
  11. Kristen Lamb’s Blog
  12. lifeintheblueridges
  13. Rosalie Squires
  14. Charrion’s Chatter
  15. 3rd Rock in the Sun

There are so many other inspiring blogs out there; I know I’ve left some of my favorites out. Congratulations to you all for doing what you can to expand and explore our craft.

Sticks and Stones and Words

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

The biggest lie from childhood: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.

Hit me with a stick or throw a stone at me anytime rather than tell me that my face is ugly or my clothes are old or my mother wears army boots. Tell me those things, and I crumble.

Yet the insults and ridicule begins at a very young age whenever someone does something outside the norm of behavior. Where do we learn to insult one another for our differences? Does it come from somewhere deep inside our psyche? Is it so ingrained in our personalities that it begins with the acquisition of language?

Many times we throw the slings and arrows of words to protect ourselves. They serve as a red herring for the soul, deflecting them from coming directly back at us. We are taught the old adage about stick and stones in order to make ourselves tough and to let go of those insults. But how often do they really just roll off our backs? Those words pierce their way into our hearts and souls, leaving wounds. Some of us can heal those wounds over time; others never can.

The wounds that never heal become festering blisters of pain. Words serve, not as the sticks and stones of our childhood, but as the timber and boulders which threaten to come crashing down to smother us.

When I was a teacher, one of my students, a young man of seventeen, woke up one morning and no longer wanted to face the timber and boulders of his daily life at school because he was different. It doesn’t matter how he was different, but he was. He was ostracized and ridiculed for it. He would hide it, deflect it, and strike back because of it. But finally the struggle to do all of those things while still living the life of a teenager became too much, and he couldn’t face another day.

So he woke up that morning and decided he’d had enough of his life. He swallowed 400 Tylenol pills in an effort to end the pain and struggle. For more than two weeks he lingered in and out of this world. Thankfully, he survived, but the repercussions sent out ripples, and the emotions came in waves of guilt.

Some of his peers wondered if they could have done something for him while the adults wondered why they didn’t do more. A week before the suicide attempt, I took my concerns to his guidance counselor. I was told not to worry; he wasn’t going to do anything rash. I informed his parents that I sensed something wasn’t right. Even though I’d done a few things, I still tormented myself with what more I could have done.

What I should have done was intervene when I saw other students shooting off the bullets of words that taunted this young man. I thought at the time, I was doing the right thing by not highlighting the insults. I was wrong.

We are a society founded on the tenets of individual freedom yet we have become something else in our struggle to protect the rights of a diverse people. We do not applaud the standard bearers or the trail blazers until they have made lots of cash from their achievement. Then we are ready to join the bandwagon as we erect statues to their heroism. We put on pedestals those who are different only when they have achieved a  status we can only appreciate in our little superficial souls. That doesn’t happen much in the world of a teenager.

We all must remember words and language contain the power to harm and the power to heal. I chose every day to use my words wisely to make the world a better place where we don’t need nursery rhymes to hide behind reality. I may not always succeed, but I sure give it a good effort.