Finding the Good in the Sad

by Staci Troilo

First, an announcement. Soon you will have to type the address: http://stacitroilo.wordpress.com to access my site. This will only be temporary while I am in the process of switching over to a new host. Please make note of this change. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, and I hope it won’t be a lengthy one. Now, on to this week’s post.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For Catholics, it’s the day the Passion is read at Mass. As a kid, I always had such trouble just listening to that gospel reading, let alone participating in it. Then when I was an adult, I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Now I really have trouble getting through that gospel. It really makes me feel completely…well, unworthy is the only word that comes to mind, but it really doesn’t come close.

But I have other, happier associations with Palm Sunday, too. For one thing, I was born on Palm Sunday. Not on the thirteenth, but on a Palm Sunday, waaaay back in 1971. I don’t remember that day, but I’m pretty happy about it, nonetheless.

Palm Sunday crossesBut my favorite memories of Palm Sundays gone by are the tying of the palm crosses. When I was little, my grandfather would come to our house and take all of our palm fronds and tie them into crosses for us. We would then have one for our bedrooms for a whole year, until the following year, when we would get a new one to replace it. (Most churches collect old palm before Lent starts and burn it for the ashes that they use for Ash Wednesday.) I remember him teaching me that the palm was special—it was blessed by the priest—so if I dropped it, I had to kiss it. As he tied the crosses, I scrambled to pick up any little pieces that fell and put them in a pile to be buried or burned. He taught me that was the only way to properly dispose of the blessed palm. He taught me so many things.

I loved being his little helper.

When I got a little older, he taught me how to make the crosses myself. It took me a few years to finally memorize the process, because there weren’t that many to tie. It’s not that complicated once you get it, but you don’t have many to learn with. It starts with a series of folds to anchor the knot in the center, then there are a series of loops to make the post and the cross pieces. Finally, a set of two tiny loops hold the middle together. I finally mastered it in 1985. No one else in my family ever took the time to learn it.

My grandfather died in February of 1986. He never tied another cross. I still have the last one we made together. It’s pretty delicate, but I don’t want to let it go.

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I do have children, and I’m trying to teach them how to tie the crosses. I think it’s important to pass the traditions along while I’m still here to enjoy sharing my time with them. I’ve already taught my niece, I even taught my husband, and my kids are learning. My son actually did really well this year. My daughter isn’t doing too badly, but she actually is more interested in tying crowns of thorns. She saw one on television once, and has been doing her own version ever since. Maybe she’ll start her own tradition of tying crowns of thorns with her kids. It doesn’t matter to me. Right now, at least we’re all together, at Mass and afterward, as a family.

The gospel is such a tragic—albeit necessary—part of Palm Sunday. It’s nice to have some good memories to add to the day as well.

For Writers:
Fiction is nothing without conflict. Is there something in your WIP that has a negative connotation? Can you think of a way to add an activity and put a positive spin on it?

For Everybody:
Are you having this issue in your WIP? Did you do anything for Palm Sunday? Let’s talk about it.

Posted in Inspiration, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Do You Celebrate National Tartan Day?

National Tartan DayYesterday the US officially celebrated National Tartan Day. It’s observed on April 6 every year in commemoration of the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence on April 6, 1320. In the US, we acknowledge it because the Scottish Declaration of Independence was the document upon which we based our own Declaration of Independence, and almost half of the signers of our declaration were of Scottish descent. We also want to recognize people of Scottish descent because, let’s face it, they’re great people and they’ve done some wonderful things.

To celebrate National Tartan Day, major cities host parades with bagpipers playing Scottish music. Many of the marchers wear kilts in traditional Tartan plaids to represent the clans from which they descended. And many special events are held during which awards are given to people of Scottish heritage for outstanding achievements or accomplishments, the most noted of which is hosted by the American Scottish Foundation.

A lot of nationalities get months devoted to them for observation, or have well known holidays that everyone celebrates. Very few people are aware of National Tartan Day. I am part Scottish on my father’s side, and I have to admit, I didn’t even know about it. In fact, my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, was founded by one of the country’s most famous Scots (Andrew Carnegie), and we never celebrated the event on campus.

It’s a shame the day isn’t more well known.

If you read my blog frequently, you know I think it’s imperative that we embrace our heritage. It’s impossible to own who we are if we refuse to acknowledge where we came from. (Agree? Tweet it.)

I may not wear Tartan kilts, play bagpipes, eat haggis, or drink whisky (well, I’ll let you guess which one of those I do), but you can bet my ancestors did. And every buckle that was fastened, every note that was played, every morsel that was eaten, and every drop that was drunk eventually led my father’s family to Pennsylvania and to me being born.

I believe in the butterfly effect. One less shot of whisky in my family tree, and I might not be here. That’s a sobering thought. (Sorry. I had to write that.)

So, to my actual family, to my Carnegie Mellon family, and to my Scottish family around the world… Happy National Tartan Day!

Lang may yer lum reek!

Or

May you live long and stay well.

For Writers: Are you considering the butterfly effect in your WIP? I’m not talking about writing a time-travel story where you change one event and everything ends up different (although you could, but that’s been done). I’m talking about plotting out your WIP and asking the “What if” question. Not just at the beginning of your work, when you’re working on a concept, but the whole way through.

  • You plan on Dick and Jane meeting in chapter one and going for coffee? What if they have a fight?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane escaping the shoot-out with Dick’s arm grazed? What if Jane has an abdominal wound instead?
  • You plan on Dick and Jane falling in love by chapter fifteen? What if Jane’s first love comes back from being MIA in Iraq in chapter fourteen?

The butterfly effect isn’t just a concept for a book or movie, and the “what if” technique isn’t just a question to ask when you’re looking for a premise for a story. Consider employing this method throughout your WIP to ramp up the tension and the action, or to throw in an unexpected twist to the plot.

So, did anyone celebrate National Tartan Day? Is anyone asking “what if”? Let’s talk.

photo via iStockphoto.com/Jay Lazarin/timeanddate.com
Posted in Holiday, Inspiration | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Laci and Del: In Like a Lion

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 4 of 12.

Laci and Del: In Like a Lion

Laci dashed through the rain at five-thirty and flung open the passenger-side door of Del’s car. She dove inside and slammed the door closed behind her. Swiping at the rain on her sleeves and in her hair, she turned to him and huffed. “Remember when the post office stayed open late on tax day?”

He smiled and wiped a raindrop off her nose. “Most people file online now. And if they are using snail mail, they don’t wait for the fifteenth. Especially not until closing.”

She sat back. “Obviously I wasn’t the only one. Besides, I was there at five minutes to five, and the line was to the door. They needed more workers. Look at the time! And there are still people in there.”

“You’re lucky they didn’t lock the doors.”

“I beat closing by five minutes.”

He smiled. “You’re lucky they didn’t send you away.”

“I don’t think they can do that.”

“They’re the post office. They can do whatever they want.”

“No they can’t.”

“The bank used to switch their calendar days over to the next day around three p.m.”

Her eyes widened. “You don’t think they did that, do you? My taxes need to be post-dated today.”

He laughed and pulled into traffic. “No, I don’t think they did that. I’m sure you’re fine.”

She fidgeted as he drove, unable to focus on the ride. It had been a crappy day. Her alarm hadn’t gone off and she’d slept in, making her rush to work. She never slept in and never ran late, so starting the day that way really put her off her game. And the day went downhill from there. Her boss was on her case all day. None of her projects were going as planned. Her accountant was supposed to meet her with her final return at lunch, but he was late. She missed lunch in order to meet him, and she was late getting back to the office because of his tardiness, causing her boss to flip out again. To top it all off, she owed money for the first time in ten years, and she’d been counting on a refund. Stupid crappy economy.

The end of her day? A mad dash in the rain to just barely make it to the post office in time.

Thank God Del had been able to pick her up. She never would have caught a cab in this weather. She just wanted a glass of wine and a nice hot soak in the tub. Time to put this day behind her.

“Laci. Lace?”

“Huh?”

“You checked out on the drive home. We’re here.”

She looked out the window and tried—and failed—to suppress a sigh. She wasn’t home. She was at his home.

“Del, I’m sorry. I’ve had the worst day. I just want to go home. I mean, my home.”

“You need to eat. And you need to relax. Besides, you made me a promise, and I’m collecting tonight.”

She thought back over the things she’d promised him. Sometimes he caught her at the most vulnerable times and she made a lot of promises. Wonder what he had in mind for this evening? She really didn’t feel like paying up tonight.

He turned around and reached for something in the back seat. “I have an umbrella.” His voice was strained as he stretched. “Let me just find it.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m already wet.” She opened her door and dashed for the awning in front of his building, not even bothering to feel sorry for him as he drove around the side of the complex to the parking lot. He had let her off at the door, but he’d have a much longer trek in the downpour. Umbrella or not, he’d be getting wet. At least the bottom half of him.

It wasn’t long before he ran up behind her. He hadn’t bothered with the umbrella, and he was soaked, his dark hair dripping onto his face and down his collar. “Let’s go up.” He held the door for her and led her into the lobby.

“You know, I’m really beat. And I’ve had the worst day. I don’t know how long I’m even going to be able to keep my eyes open. Exactly what promise did you want me to make good on tonight?”

She could see the heat in his eyes when he smiled at her. “I can think of plenty. But there’s just one that I had in mind when I brought you here.”

“Which is?”

His eyebrow quirked and he gestured for her to get in the elevator before him. He followed her in and pressed the ‘twelve’ button for his floor. Pressing her against the elevator wall, he bent down and claimed her mouth in a searing kiss, his lips hot against hers in contrast to his skin, cool and wet from the rain. Was this the promise she was fulfilling? She couldn’t remember them ever discussing the elevator… But she couldn’t remember much of anything. Her thoughts were a scrambled mess, her nerves a jumbled mass of tingling electricity.

He pulled away from her way too soon. She lifted heavy lids and looked up at him. “Why’d you stop?” Her voice sounded far away, even to her own ears.

Chuckling, he released her from the wall and pulled her forward. “You didn’t hear the bell? We’re on my floor.” He tugged her out into the hall.

Laci followed him down the hall to his apartment, heat flooding her face. She never thought straight around him. Going home with him after the day she’d had was not a good idea.

Del opened his door and turned to her. “Here. Let me take that.” He stripped her of her coat and hung it on a peg in the foyer before taking his own off and hanging it beside hers. “We need to get you out of those wet things before you get sick.”

“I don’t have anything here. Del, I really should just go.”

He took her hand and tugged on her until she followed him to his room. Thoughts tumbled through her brain like clothes in a dryer, falling all over each other, too fast for her to latch on to one before the next took its place. She stood in his doorway, dripping on his carpet, staring at his bed, wondering exactly what he had in mind, what promise she was supposed to fulfill.

He stepped in front of her, blocking her view. “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

“Hmm? I’m sorry, what?”

“Wow. Your mind really is a hundred miles away tonight.”

She bit her lip and looked up at him. Feeling something soft in her hands, she looked down. And smiled.

He’d put a pair of socks, a hoodie, and drawstring sweat shorts in her hands.

“I know everything will be big on you, but these are the only drawstring shorts I’ve got.”

She looked down, then back at him, mortified. “I can’t wear these.”

“Why not?”

“They’re Ravens shorts. And the fact that you even own them is an insult to me, our football team, and this great city.”

“Do you forgive me if I say they were a gag gift and I never wore them?”

“You kept them.”

“And aren’t you glad I did? Otherwise you won’t have any bottoms to wear.”

She considered the alternatives. She had to take her other stuff off and throw them in the dryer—that included her underclothes. But to wear Ravens clothes? Sighing, she stomped off toward the bathroom with the garments, listening to him laugh.

“There are towels in the linen closet,” he called through the closed door.

She stripped and dried off, lamenting the misfortunes of her day. As she scrubbed her skin dry, she wondered exactly what Del was doing on the other side of the door. Deciding she didn’t want to wait long to find out, she hurried to dress, delaying only for a moment to adjust the oversized garments.

When she came out, Del wasn’t in the bedroom. She followed noise to the kitchen, where he was busy getting things out of the refrigerator.

“There you are,” he said. “I ordered pizza. It’s supposed to be here in about forty minutes, but given the rain, I’m guessing more like an hour.” He opened a bottle of wine. “Give me your clothes. I’ll go throw them in the dryer with mine.”

“You look busy. I’ll do it.” She took her things to his laundry room, which was really just a closet converted to house the appliances, tossed them in the dryer, and returned to the kitchen, where Del was still bustling around. “So, what are you doing? And can I help?”

He turned and looked at her, and then burst out laughing.

“What?”

“Your shorts are on backward.”

“I couldn’t wear them and look at the logo. Plus, this way I get to sit on a Raven.”

He shook his head. “On anyone else, that would look ridiculous.”

“But not me? Please. I’m wearing socks, sweat shorts, and a hoodie, all of which are several sizes too big for me. I think it’s a safe bet that I look ridiculous regardless of whether the shorts are on backward or not.”

Growing serious, he studied her carefully. “No. You could never look ridiculous. Not to me.” He brushed a damp tendril of hair off her forehead and held her face, meeting her gaze. “You’ve never looked more beautiful.”

The air—was there air?—was thick, electrified… so hard to breathe. She leaned into his hand, lost in his gaze, drowning in his words and his touch.

Then she pulled away and turned from him. “Are you kidding me? My makeup’s completely washed off. My hair is soaked. I look like a river otter. Or a raccoon. I don’t know. Some kind of wet rodent with circles under her eyes. I’m swimming in these clothes. I’m embarrassed to be seen like this!” She pulled at the sweat shorts and almost lost them, hiking them up through the oversized hoodie.

He spun her around and again cupped her face in his hands. “You’re always beautiful to me, Laci. I don’t care about your hair, your makeup, your clothes. I care about you.” And he kissed her, a feather-light kiss, soft and sweet, a kiss that promised his words were true. A kiss that scared her even as it exhilarated her.

She looked up at his and blinked, trying to clear her mind. “I’m sorry, Del. You know I don’t usually care about this stuff. And I know you don’t either. It’s just been a really crappy day. Why don’t you just tell me what promise I’m supposed to be keeping, and then I can call it a night?”

“Wow. You really know how to make a guy feel like you’re interested in spending time with him.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just—”

“Did you ever think that maybe you could turn the day around?” He poured a glass of wine and handed it to her.

“What?” She sipped the Merlot and looked at him over the rim of her glass.

“You had a bad morning, right? And a bad afternoon? Who says you have to have a bad evening and night, too? I plan on making things better.” He led her to a bar stool at his island and pulled it out so she would sit. Once she was settled, he started bringing items over to the counter, placing them within her reach.

Cups. Vinegar. Food coloring. Eggs. White crayons.

She stared at him, then started to giggle. “What were you thinking?”

“You promised me you’d color eggs with me this year. We’re almost out of time. Easter’s on Sunday.”

“I thought you were kidding.”

“You said you hadn’t done it since you were little. And neither have I. It’s a tradition. We should start doing it again.”

“It’s a tradition for families with little kids.”

“Says who? Besides, this will give us a reason to make baked macaroni.”

“You don’t need…” she stopped and counted, “…four dozen eggs for baked macaroni.”

“I like baked macaroni. We’ll make a lot. We can freeze what we don’t eat. And we can make deviled eggs. And egg salad.”

She shook her head and poured some vinegar into all the cups of hot water.

“Oh! And pickled eggs. I love pickled eggs.”

“You don’t like beets.”

“But I like pickled eggs.” He put food coloring in all the cups.

She picked up a crayon and scanned the cups. “Did you make any black?”

“For Easter eggs?” He scoffed. “Um, no.” He finished writing something on an egg and put it in the pink cup.

“How am I supposed to make a black and gold egg without black?”

“Just draw the Steelers logo on it and put it in yellow.” “You don’t do eggs right.”

“You’ll have to teach me next year.”

She looked up at him, but didn’t say anything. They’d been together for a while, but no one had talked long-term. Nervous, she decided to change the subject. “Are you almost done with the pink?”

“I don’t know. Check and see if you think it’s dark enough.”

She lifted his egg out of the pink cup. He’d written, ‘I love you, Laci’ on it.

She wished she’d stuck with the ‘teach me next year’ conversation. It was an easier one to deal with at the moment.

And he said he wanted to make her night better. The L-bomb was not better. Not at all. What was she supposed to say to that?

Posted in First Friday Fiction Feature | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

The Ultimate Rejection

erase your fearIf you are a regular follower of my blog, you know I’m a writer. Maybe you are too. And if you are, you know a thing or two about rejection. It’s a safe bet that most adults have experienced it in some form or another. Heck, my kids are no stranger to it in their own ways.

As citizens of this world, we’ve got to learn how to deal with rejection in a healthy manner if we want to cope with life effectively. (Agree? Tweet it.)

My birthday is this week. I’m usually a little melancholy around this time of year, and my whole family assumes it’s because I’m turning another year older. They tease me relentlessly. In fact, the jokes are so bad that they’ve taken to asking me how old I am the day before my birthday just so they can say, “Starting tomorrow, you won’t be able to say that ever again!” I go along with the joking and I don’t correct anyone; it’s easier to let them think my age bothers me. It doesn’t, but it’s simpler that way.

The real reason I’m a little maudlin this time of year is because it’s the anniversary of my miscarriage.

It’s hard to celebrate another year of my life when I have a child who never got to celebrate any life at all.

And that, to me, is the ultimate rejection.

I bring this up now because my sister-in-law is expecting, and she was having some problems this week. She thought she might be losing her baby. Of all anniversaries, that wasn’t one I’d want to share. Thankfully, she and the baby are currently fine. If you’re the praying sort, I’m sure they’d appreciate a prayer or two offered up for them.

My husband and I share everything equally in our marriage. But my miscarriage was the one thing I never felt I could share equally with him. I’m not saying he didn’t grieve with me. We both grieved. But the baby didn’t reject him. Just me.

I offered it all I had to give: nourishment, safety, comfort, love. But I wasn’t enough for it.

It was the ultimate rejection.

I had a lot to overcome when I learned I lost the baby. The physical issues were the least of it. There was the heart-shattering grief. The gut-wrenching fear that I’d never be able to have a child. The stomach-churning guilt that I’d done something wrong. And the soul-sucking humiliation that I was an abject failure.

I moved through life on a functional plane of existence just above ‘zombie’ for months. It truly took an act of Divine Intervention before I snapped out of my funk and rejoined the land of human beings again.

After living through a loss like that, a rejection like that, the other kinds of rejections in my life didn’t quite have the same impact. Sure, I still have feelings, and my feelings can still be hurt, but I now have a different perspective.

  • Have I had friends leave me out of things or tell me lies? You bet.
  • Have I had family members break promises or betray trusts? Sure.
  • Have I had colleagues drop the ball or cause damage to my brand? Yes.
  • Have I, as a writer, received rejection letters? Of course!

Do I let those things get me down? No.

I wish I could say I laugh and move right past them. I don’t. Like I said, I have feelings. But in the grand scheme of things, those things aren’t nearly as important as what I’ve already faced.

So the next time you’re facing rejection, ask yourself this one question:

Is this NO a life-altering NO, or can I move on from this unscathed?

If you can move on, allow yourself five minutes to wallow and wail at the world (venting your frustrations for a little while is healthy, after all), then pick yourself up and move on. Your next effort may be the one that results in your dreams coming true. You don’t want to cheat yourself out of your dreams because you were busy living a nightmare. (Believe that? Tweet it.)

son and daughterI hope none of you have ever suffered the ultimate rejection. Or ever will. I, thank God, have only suffered it once, and since then my husband and I have been blessed with two wonderful children—a son and a daughter. And although I remember that rejection every year, I have come to terms with it. While I’ll never say I’m glad it happened, I can say I learned a lot from the experience. If nothing else, I hope you can learn from my loss, too.

  • Keep your rejections in perspective.
  • Lament them to get them out of your system.
  • Reassess to see if you need to change anything before continuing with your plan.
  • Move forward with your next step so you are still pursuing your dream.

Do you have any suggestions for someone suffering a rejection? Share them with us here.

 

Posted in Inspiration, Writing | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Spring Cleaning: Three Tips for Writers

daffodillsMarch 20 was the Spring Equinox, which means spring is officially here! It doesn’t matter that it was actually snowing on March 20 in some parts of the US. It’s spring; I’m claiming it. I think most of us have had enough of Jack Frost, Suzy Snowflake, Old Man Winter, and Polar Vortices to last a lifetime… or at least until November when we’ll be glad the oppressive heat of summer is over.

Spring in my family means more than just winter’s end. We’ll be entering about a seven week glut of birthdays, not to mention sprinkling in Easter and Mother’s Day. We have a lot of celebrating to do over the next month and a half.

But before the parties commence, the cleaning begins. My family spends weeks stripping rooms apart and scrubbing them top to bottom. Nothing is skipped over. Painted surfaces get washed or repainted. Wood gets waxed. Carpets get shampooed. Shelf paper gets replaced. Crystal and silver get polished. Winter linens get laundered and switched out for summer ones.

As a child, I hated it.

As an adult, I avoided it for a long time. I moved so often that I was able to just wait the cleaning out, knowing that in another year, I’d be packing my house and starting over in a new one, essentially “spring cleaning” anyway.

This time, however, I’ve been in Arkansas for a while. The spring cleaning can’t be avoided. I’m grateful my kids didn’t lose too many snow days; they’ll be here to help. They just don’t know it yet.

Sure, the work is hard and time consuming, but the results are always worth it. The house always smells so good—like Murphy’s Oil Soap and lemons. And sometimes fresh paint. And it reminds me of my childhood. There’s no better feeling than resting tired muscles in a clean, clutter-free house and thinking about home.

Spring is a time for new beginnings, fresh starts, clean slates. I hope as this spring commences, it promises something new and wonderful for you.

For Writers:

It’s been a long winter. Many of us have been almost in hibernation, stuck in our homes or offices. And because we’ve been inside for so long, our patterns have become ruts, maybe even blocks. Our workspaces? Well, if yours is like mine, it’s getting out of control.

It’s time for a fresh start. Time for some spring cleaning.

Sometimes the easiest way to break out of a writer’s rut or writer’s block is to simply clean our space. It’s hard to be productive when we’re surrounded with clutter. It’s much easier to do our best work when our writing space is conducive to creativity and productivity.

  1. Desk space — Make sure your writing/typing surface is as clean as possible. Not all of us have dedicated office space. That’s okay if you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you have a glorious mahogany desk, write at the kitchen table, sit on your bed, or type at a coffee shop. Just be certain you have space around you. You want to be able to write in a notebook if you need to. Put down your cup without risk of it falling. Reach for a pen with no fear of knocking something over. Your surface space should be clutter-free.
  2. Wall space — When you write, you don’t always stare at your screen (or notebook). Sometimes you look around when you think. If your eyes can’t rest on something relaxing or helpful, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Do you have a bulletin board or whiteboard for your WIP? Organize it and clean it up. Do you have a picture hanging on your wall? Can you see it, or are stacks of books and papers in your way? Tidy the mess. Do you look out the window? Clean it, and clean your window coverings, too. It’s best to have no distractions.
  3. File space — Is your computer working correctly? If it’s running slowly or your performance is poor, it could be because you have a virus, or perhaps you just haven’t done any maintenance. When was the last time you ran defrag? Are you spending fifteen minutes looking for a file because you don’t remember where you saved it? Spend some time cleaning up your system and organizing everything into the appropriate folders so your work is more methodical, and therefore faster.

It really doesn’t take much to get your workplace organized for spring. And just sprucing things up in a utilitarian manner might be all it takes to get those creative juices flowing again.

Mary NaccaratoThey call my grandma The White Tornado because (1) she has the most beautiful white hair and (2) she can blow through work like crazy, whipping any project into shape. She’s about to turn 96, and she still spring cleans her house. I wish she wasn’t 1,000 miles away; I’d ask her to help me with both my house and my workspace. I know she’d get both neat as a pin in a heartbeat.

What about you? Are you spring cleaning this year? Your house, your workspace, or both? Do you have any cleaning tips or tricks to share? Post them here.

Posted in Motivation | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

When Everybody’s Irish, And Should Be

by Staci Troilo

I’m part Irish, although I know more about my Italian heritage than the other side of my family. But today, I happily claim my Celtic roots. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, one and all!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I don’t know much about how my dad’s side of the family celebrated this feast day. I’m pretty sure there was beer involved. (There was beer at all Smith family functions, so that’s a safe bet.) But I can tell you how my mom’s side of the family celebrated it: with Italian food. My grandmother made all sorts of Italian meals for my grandfather. St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t have been an exception.

I make an effort to expose my kids to all cultures (yes, I’m partial to our Italian heritage, but I’m not rigid). My children studied martial arts for several years (my son holds a second degree black belt and my daughter a first degree), and on Chinese New Year one year, their Master had them participate in the dragon dance… a smaller version re-enacted in their school, but the parade was still something to see. We also had traditional dishes that I still make every Chinese New Year at home. On Cinco de Mayo, I make enchiladas suizas and tres leche cake. And of course I make something Italian on Columbus Day.

It probably goes without saying that I’d make an Irish meal for St. Patrick’s Day. (What can I say? I teach in the kitchen.) We have friends who grew up in Ireland. (You should hear them speak. Such lovely brogues!) We’ve learned a lot about Ireland and Irish history just from their stories.

Last year we were blessed to have my husband’s parents here with us. They are full Italian, just like my mother. Not only did we get to enjoy their company that week, I got to share a little bit of my heritage with my in-laws.

irish mealI didn’t just have my kids in the kitchen with me, I had my mother-in-law, too. We made Irish soda bread, Guinness stew, mashed potatoes, and cabbage. Dessert was Irish coffee, which the kids didn’t get, but it was Lent, and we all have to make sacrifices. The meal was delicious, and the company was even better. As we ate, we discussed the fact that just a generation earlier, a meal like that would have been difficult to have. When my parents started dating—an Italian Catholic girl and an Irish/German/Scottish/Swedish Lutheran boy—some in our hometown frowned on mixing cultures. Luckily my grandparents could see past the labels to what great people my parents were. Are.

If they hadn’t, I might not be here today.

And my kids wouldn’t be here, learning about the Irish culture.

Today, my in-laws aren’t here. Our meal will be smaller, less festive, but just as poignant. We’ll discuss my heritage—my children’s heritage—and how important it is to celebrate our differences. And accept them.

St. PatrickSt. Patrick was kidnapped from Scotland as a youth and after escaping, went to Ireland where he lived in poverty, worked many miracles, and preached and converted the people for forty years. His tool of choice? The shamrock (three leaves on one stalk), which represented the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all in one entity). St. Patrick wasn’t always accepted, not even in his own country. I’m grateful to live in a land of tolerance and diversity, and although we’re celebrating a day when everybody is Irish, I’m proud of my heritage, proud of my differences. We shouldn’t be afraid to show who we are or where we came from.

It’s our differences that make us unique, make us interesting, make us inimitable. (like that? tweet it)

We should all be Irish today, and then we should all celebrate our heritage, because then we’d be celebrating what makes us who we are.

For Writers:

Just as we as families have different heritages we can draw from for different experiences, as authors, we need to capitalize on different incidents in our lives to get the most out of our writing.

It’s time to stop playing it safe. They say “write what you know,” and that’s fine, but that doesn’t always mean “write what you’re comfortable with.” (like that? tweet it)

I’m not necessarily telling you to change genres, or switch from fiction to nonfiction. But is there some hidden story, some dark truth in your past that you’ve been itching to explore? Something that you want to talk about, a story begging to be told that the world needs to hear, but you’ve been putting it off because it’s ugly, or uncomfortable?

Now’s the time.

If your writing seems ho-hum, it’s because you aren’t being true to yourself, to what you really want to say, to what’s really inside. (like that? tweet it)

Open up that cookbook and see what it has to offer. There’s a whole world of palates to explore, flavors to discover.

Rise to the challenge. You might surprise yourself.

Irish Soda Bread and Other Traditions:

irish soda breadHere’s something, literally from the family cookbook.
If you’re looking for an easy Irish recipe to celebrate with today, here’s one to try. It’ll be gracing our table tonight.
Maybe you’d like to share a tradition or a recipe in the comments below.

Irish Soda Bread:

Ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the dried fruit
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants, raisins, or cranberries

Directions:
1) Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2) Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
3) With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
4) Combine the dried fruit with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
5) Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf.
6) Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Posted in Holiday | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Getting to the Heart of A Different Matter

by Staci Troilo

Hello. If you’re stopping by hoping to read another anecdote about my family or my friends, you’re going to be disappointed today. Or maybe not.

We’ve been discussing my relationships for a while now. I’ve told you stories about my grandparents, my parents, my siblings. You’ve read about my husband, my kids, my friends, heck, even my dogs.

What we haven’t discussed much lately is my work life. And we should. Because as far as relationships go, we have professional ones as well as personal ones. And if you’re as lucky as I am, you’re as passionate about your career as I am about mine, which means your professional relationships have the potential to be quite powerful, meaningful.

writing conferenceThis weekend I attended the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop Annual Conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s been a while since I saw some of the attendees, some of the people I only knew from online and I got to meet in person for the first time, and some people were complete strangers to me but became new friends and colleagues. A great time was had by all, and there was some valuable information presented.

greg campThe day started with Greg Camp, Publishing Director of
Oghma Creative Media doing a presentation on
editing for publication.
Greg’s talk covered the importance of a few key points
in fiction writing in order to avoid getting rejection letters. Well, to avoid getting as many as you would otherwise, anyway.

  • Grammar—You must have no grammatical errors if you want to be considered for publication.
  • Research—You have to do your homework. Historical inaccuracies are a sure way to get your manuscript tossed.
  • Pacing—You can’t do an “info dump” and tell the reader everything within the first five pages of the novel. Action needs to be revealed through the POV character interacting with other characters at a measured rate throughout the novel.
  • Conflict and Motivation—You don’t have a story unless your characters are at odds with something or someone and are motivated to change their situation.

I’ve known Greg for a few years and we have a lot in common. We both taught at the college level (he still does), we both write fiction, and we both edit for a living. I can tell you two things about his presentation: He knows his stuff and his advice was spot on.

casey cowanThe next presenter was Casey Cowan, President and Creative Director of Oghma Creative Media. Casey’s presentation was all about the seduction and allure of book covers. He said four things sell books:

  1. Word of mouth/peer pressure
  2. Big name endorsements
  3. Eye appeal of the cover
  4. Author effort/interaction with readers

When Oghma Creative Media designs covers, they consider the demographic of the readers and the genre of the book, then they look at the book’s message or theme and work with the author to design a front cover and spine that has the appropriate appeal for the audience. Then they work on the back cover to design not only the right color, but also taglines, teasers, and endorsements so that the back works with the front and works with the genre, creating a comprehensive package.

Duke PennellKimberly PennellThen my bosses, Duke and Kimberly Pennell from Pen-L Publishing, did a presentation on the relationship between authors and publishers. They discussed author expectations, publisher expectations, and the importance of the two getting in sync for a rewarding relationship. Some points covered were:

  • Personality—It’s really a matter of chemistry between author and publisher. If you don’t like each other as people, you won’t trust each other and you won’t work well together.
  • Vision—What are you expecting for your book? Your promoting efforts? Your career as a writer? Talk about it and be sure your plans mesh.
  • Marketing/Promotion/Reviews—Publishers used to send books to reviewers, issue releases, handle the promotion efforts. Now the shoe’s on the author’s foot to handle the marketing. These plans should be agreed on in advance so there are no surprises or disappointments.
  • Editing—Typically work is done in Microsoft Word using “track changes.” If a different method is preferred, it should be discussed.
  • Distribution—You need to know where your books will be available for purchase, how much you can buy them for, if you can buy them at wholesale price, etc. Learn the details in advance.
  • Support—Support shouldn’t end when the book is released. If you have questions or concerns, you should be able to call your editor. If you are doing a marketing tour, it’s not unreasonable to request a media packet be sent on your behalf. Make certain you have this support in place. Remember, your publisher doesn’t make money unless you do. They should be on your side.

velda brothertonAfter lunch, one of the founding members of the group, Velda Brotherton, discussed her twenty year writing journey. She encouraged us to hang on to everything we write, even our early work, because while we might not find a publisher for it immediately, years later we might. She’s finding success with some of her work twenty years after she wrote it. She offered a lot of advice, applicable to novices and experienced writers.

  • Write the best book you can (This involves more than just writing; it means studying the craft, joining critique groups, going to conferences, writing every day, editing ruthlessly, and having your work edited—with a thick skin.)
  • Build your platform so people can find you and follow you—Promote!
  • Publish your own work if you have to so your tribe can start reading your work
  • Avail yourself of small publishers
  • Use Createspace
  • Look into audiobooks
  • Then go for broke in New York (This is where conferences are so important. You’ll make connections with agents and editors there to get your foot in the door.)

Dusty RichardsWe ended the day with the other co-founder, Dusty Richards. Dusty discussed everything and anything you’d want to know about writing.

  • How to measure page count (1 page = 250 words)
  • How to structure a novel (1st quarter, hero’s lost. 2nd quarter, hero’s alone. 3rd quarter, hero gets support. 4th quarter, hero becomes hero or martyr.)
  • How to end a chapter (with some teaser to keep readers turning the page)
  • How to analyze the experts (Read every other page; you’ll see their structure. Or read one scene in the middle of the book and pick it apart.)
  • How to get experience (Work on short stories first, then work on single person POV.)

It’s been a privilege being in Dusty and Velda’s group for the last several years. Between them they have close to two hundred books published and decades of wisdom that they willingly share. All of the speakers were full of knowledge and quite entertaining. It was a really good day.

But I think my favorite part was the people. I used to be intimidated by conferences, but now I love them. I like meeting new people and catching up with old friends.

conferenceThis was the first time I set up a book table. That was a new experience for me, and it was a blast. It’s always a shock to me when someone wants my autograph, and this time someone even wanted to take my picture! I even had one woman come up to me and say she saw my book cover from all the way across the room and she just had to come over and see what it was about. That was a real honor. Yes, I met a lot of new people, made some new friends, and had a really good time.

So this post wasn’t about family, but it was about relationships—professional ones. And I’m just as passionate about them and treasure them just as much as I do all the other relationships in my life. What about your professional relationships? Have you recently been to a conference? Are you in sales? Do you have a funny work story to tell? Share it with us here.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments