Tag: Italian-American (page 3 of 4)

On Veterans Day

Military with FlagI grew up in Western Pennsylvania. It has a high concentration of Italian Americans. But, after a few years of marriage, my husband and I relocated to Beavercreek, Ohio, which is very near Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The area has an incredibly diverse culture, mainly because of the influx of people from several different backgrounds and nations. While we lived there, I met people whose ancestrage was from Vietnam, China, Korea, Syria, Iran, the Netherlands, Mexico, India, (and yes, Italy too)… all over the world. I even learned to speak a little Dutch while I was there. (Thanks, Iris!)

I treasure my time there because my children were exposed to such rich and varied cultures. They also learned the importance of military service while we were there. Many of our friends’ families were employed at the base. As much as we admired what we learned from others, that doesn’t mean we don’t still treasure our own history.

My husband and I are not first generation Italian Americans. It was our grandparents’ and our great-grandparents’ generations that settled here. But they brought with them a sense of duty, honor, and love of country that Italians feel for their homeland, and that is the environment in which my husband and I were both raised. Both of our fathers were in the Navy. We have grandfathers, uncles, and great-uncles who served this country proudly.

Strong values are not a tradition that our families have said goodbye to. We and our siblings are raising our children the way we were raised, with the same code of ethics and honor that our families instilled in us. My niece took those lessons to heart. She is currently in the Navy. Given the state of foreign affairs, my first reaction should be abject fear for her safety. But it isn’t. It’s pride. Yes, part of me is frightened for her, but mostly I’m honored that she would put her needs and wants aside to serve her country, to protect me, my family, her family and friends, and the millions of other people she’s never even met. It’s humbling to think that she, and so many like her, would give so selflessly.

Today isn’t about whether you agree with the wars that are being or have been fought. Today is about thinking of and thanking those soldiers who have made a difference in your life, whether you realize it or not. Their sacrifices, and those of the families they’ve left behind, have given us the freedoms we currently enjoy.

To you, past and present military personnel of America, I thank you. Know that I don’t take your sacrifices for granted, and I offer up prayers for you and your families. May God bless you.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I awaken to a shrill alarm. Smoke is filling the room. My eyes sting, my lungs sear. Frantic, I reach for my husband, but he is already rolling out of bed and pulling me with him. We crouch low, trying to get under the burning strata billowing above us. I hear him say the one thought that’s racing through my mind: “The kids!”

They’re already in the hallway when we burst out of our room. We hear the fire crackling below us and our beloved dogs howling. I try to cover my kids’ faces as we sprint to the door. My husband races to release the dogs. I send a prayer up to God that the three of them will join us in the driveway. When we all unite—me, my children, my husband and my dogs—I am relieved for only a moment. Then I turn and survey all I am losing. I can’t even hear the sirens yet; we stand to lose everything. The fire isn’t that bad yet. Do I have time to go back in for anything? One thing? What one thing would I grab?

 ***

I’m blessed to never have had a fire at my house. I know people who have. People who have lost everything. They all say they are grateful to have gotten out safely, so they don’t care about the possessions. I get that. If my house was burning down, I would first and foremost make certain my husband, children and dogs were safe. As long as they are healthy and happy, I’m happy. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t miss some material things if I lost them. I’d think about all my wedding things: my gown, my champagne glasses, my photos and video. But that stuff is all spread out and not really worth anything to anyone but me. My next thought would be for my family photos and videos, and although my kids would love to have them, there would be no way to grab all of those in time. More likely than not I’d be wearing my engagement ring and family ring (and I’ve never taken my wedding band off), so I don’t have to worry about grabbing any jewelry that matters to me. So what one item would I take with me on my way out the door? What would I foolishly consider running back in for?

My family Bible.

I’m not going for the obvious answer here, although I wouldn’t want to live without God’s Word. For several years I read the Bible every day. There are religious books and artwork throughout my home, and my religion is a strong presence in my life. No, it’s not just any Bible that I would grab (I have several in my home). It’s one particular one. The family Bible is the object I treasure most.

See, when I was growing up, my grandfather was my hero. He immigrated from Italy when he was a young boy and had to drop out of school at fourteen when his father died to support his mother and siblings. Despite his lack of education, he was the smartest man I knew and in spite of all his hardships, he made more out of his life than most people do. Everyone loved him. I lost him when I was far too young, and I didn’t have much to remember him by.

Years later, my grandmother gave me a family Bible. Not only is it more exquisitely illustrated than any Bible I can find on the market today, it has sections in it that you can’t find in other Bibles, like indices and maps. It’s beautiful. It’s leather bound with gold-edged pages. The words inside are a treasure to the world. The craftsmanship is a treasure to anyone who appreciates fine art. Then Gramma told me it was my grandfather’s Bible. It was the kind he sold when he first started working to support his family, and it was the first one he owned. He owned it when he was the head of his father’s family, then he brought it to his own home when he was the head of his family. She had kept it all those years, and she was gifting it to me.

If I had to name one treasured item that I own, I’m naming that Bible. The words in it soothe me when I need comforting, the artwork is breathtaking, and it’s one of the only things I have to remind me of my grandfather and his sacrifices for his family. No, I wouldn’t risk sacrificing my life running into a burning building to retrieve this book, but I hope I never have to part with it. Losing it would be losing the one of the last tangible memories of my grandfather that I have left.

written for WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge

Heroes

This past week, the world lost two heroes. One hero lost his standing in society and one hero lost his life. If you believe in a higher power, and I do, you can understand why I believe the former is the greater tragedy.

Lance Armstrong is an American citizen, but he was renowned the world over as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France. Does that make him a hero? Not to me. Sports figures are celebrities, not heroes. His accomplishments were legendary, but not heroic. What made him a hero was his triumph over cancer, combined with his ability to take the adversity he faced, the fame he’d acquired, his innate talent, and his drive and ambition and create an organization that raises money to help cancer patients every day. I don’t know if he’s guilty of the accusations levied against him, nor do I care. What I care about is whether those accusations will ultimately cost his foundation, and therefore, the cancer patients who benefit from it. The loss of the titles isn’t the tragedy; the detriments to the organization is.

Neil Armstrong was also an American citizen, but he didn’t even belong to this planet. He left footprints on the moon. He risked his life for his country when we were engaged in the space race, and he left this earth to help the Unites States win that race. However, when he set foot on our moon and said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he wasn’t just talking about our country; he was talking about the world. Decades later, our country collaborates with several other countries in space, working on the International Space Station, an endeavor that probably wouldn’t have been possible without Armstrong’s efforts. His passing is a sad thing for those loved ones he leaves behind, but his legacy is a proud one.

As writers, we will likely never have titles that can be stripped from us. We will probably never have one line that the world stops and listens to us speak. But our words do live on for eternity, so we should choose them carefully. We shouldn’t steal them from others. We shouldn’t carelessly and quickly publish them and move on to the next project without concern for quality or integrity. We may never be heroes, but we do touch people’s lives, and we have a responsibility to do so to the best of our abilities.

What One Online Tool You Might Be Using Incorrectly to Get to Know People

I recently read a post called “eBooks and the Personal Library” (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/08/20/e-books-and-the-personal-library/ ) by Joseph Esposito in which he posits that the day of the personal library is falling by the wayside. He came to that conclusion during a move in which he parted with many books rather than paying for the shipping cost. I, too, have been there. I’ve moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, to Michigan, back to Ohio, and to Arkansas, and every time my physical library has taken a hit. I’ve built it up in each new residence only to have it reduced in the subsequent move. It is currently the smallest it has ever been, and it’s being replaced by eBooks. It’s a trend that I’m not completely in love with— there’s something about the feel and smell of paper that will always comfort me— but it is convenient and it’s here to stay.

Something Esposito said stuck with me, though. He said that we can’t tell what kind of person someone is by seeing what book is on their table because books aren’t there anymore. We need to see what is in their GoodReads or LibraryThing accounts. That statement really gave me pause.

Maybe I’m just a cynic. Maybe it’s the overprotective mom coming out in me. Maybe I need to stop watching the evening news. But I have a difficult time believing in the sincerity of online profiles, even ones as innocuous as “what I like to read” accounts. I think the only way to really get to know a person is to get to know them personally. If you meet them face-to-face and see for a fact that they are reading A Tale of Two Cities, then it’s highly likely that they are reading it. If they just say they’re reading it on their online profiles, it’s hard to take them at their word. They may be reading it now, but they may have read it years earlier and are secretly reading something they’re too embarrassed to admit to, or even nothing at all. How many authors out there are willing to write to the world that they are reading books that are getting bashed by the media or books whose content would get them looked down upon by friends or associates? Yes, there are people who will be honest about what they read and who they are, but there will also be people who won’t; people who list literary novels in their libraries and spend evenings snuggled up with beach reads (or worse). Furthermore, often authors are asked to review books outside their areas of interest for fellow authors. You could see five star reviews of sci-fi books on author pages who really only read and definitely only write historical westerns. That’s akin to false advertising. The booklist profiles really can’t be trusted as viable sources of information about the readers.

I know in this day of advanced technology we all are just a keystroke away from corresponding with almost anyone around the globe. It’s an exciting and fascinating time. But I just don’t think I can safely say I can make judgment calls on strangers based on booklists, or any online profiles. I guess I just miss the days when I could shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. Barring that ability, I’m not going to use booklists as a screening tool. I’ll turn to social media avenues (see that word social in there?) to try and determine what kind of people they are. Blog comments, Twitter posts, Facebook presence, WANAtribe… these are the tools I use to interact with people online (huh, interact, another keyword there).

I feel the pain of Mr. Esposito’s loss. I miss my books, too, and I miss the days of libraries and big bookstores and snuggling up with an actual words-on-paper book. He has a fantastic blog (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/) that I urge you all to visit. But I wish him, and everyone, success at screening booklists when getting to know people online. I’ll stick to actual communications instead.

It’s Up To You New York, New York

Ah, Old Blue Eyes. I fell in love with Frank Sinatra when I was a young girl and saw Guys and Dolls on television. That’s when I also fell in love with Marlon Brando, but that’s a subject for another post. This post is about New York. Specifically the Big Six publishers. When Sinatra sang “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York” I’m sure he wasn’t singing from a writer’s perspective talking about getting a publishing contract. But I hear that song and it’s like it’s coming from my heart and soul.

I don’t know what route my published works are going to take. I have one finished novel currently with a small publisher, and I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I have a finished first draft that I’m currently revising, and I don’t know if I’m going to go the self-publish, small-publish, or New York route with it when I’m done. I see merits to all three.

Self-publishing is great because you have complete control and reap the most rewards. However, all the work and responsibility is yours. Sure, the writing and revising is a given. But cover design, marketing, extra editing, conversion to e-format… all on you. No help. And, while it’s getting better, there has been a stigma in the past with self-publishing because anyone can self-publish (hence the name), so there is no quality control. There are some really bad books out there. Some people assume if you self-publish it’s because you weren’t good enough for a publisher to take a chance on you. Writers know that isn’t the case, but not all readers are on board with that premise yet. It’s getting better. Cream does rise to the top. I’m just not sure yet when the readers will find the cream. I want them to know I’m the cream and I want them to know where to find me.

Small publishers are becoming a popular choice for writers. It’s the route I chose for my first manuscript (knock on wood). They seem to be a nice middle ground between self-publishing and getting that elusive New York contract. Some accept electronic submissions, which is a big plus. Also, they will handle the cover design, the copy editing, the e-format conversion, and even some marketing for you (check your contracts!) but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Distribution will be severely limited to regional stores, if they print books at all, and you’ll still be expected to do a lot of marketing on your own. Plus, you’ll have to share more of the profits than if you self-publish. At this level, an agent is a good idea, as a contract is involved. At the very least, get a lawyer to review the paperwork.

Agents are a definite if you choose to go the New York route. You aren’t going to get your manuscript on an editor’s desk unless an agent puts it there, and it will definitely be a bulky paper copy. Another bonus is the big publishing houses will do all of the heavy lifting for you — above and beyond the efforts of the small publishing houses — but be aware. You have the least control when you go through the Big Six and you share a bigger percentage of the profits than in self-publishing or with small publishers. They’re also the slowest to pay the royalties out, although you do often get an advance. (New authors will get much smaller advances than established authors. Of course, new authors have trouble getting in with the Big Six to begin with.) What is the biggest benefit you get from going the New York route? The backing of one of the Big Six. If you can say that New York is willing to take a chance on you, then cautious readers are more likely to take a chance on you.

So with the trend going to eBooks and the Big Six hesitant to sell eBooks to libraries and having a tenuous relationship with Amazon… it’s hard to know which way to go. Small publishers look like a bargain, but they look like a lot of work, too, when you consider that for just a little more work you get complete autonomy. Still, I hear Sinatra crooning, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere, New York, New York.”

At the end of the day, I probably should finish my revisions before I make any decisions. What have you decided, and how is it working for you?

A Legacy is More than Boxes of Photos

My grandfather was a photography nut. I won’t go so far as to say he was a photography buff or an amateur photographer, but he was into taking pictures. Of his family, mostly, and friends. I never saw a picture of interesting buildings or pretty foliage. My grandfather took pictures of people. Often twice, because he’d forget to take the lens cap off.

He was so excited when my sister went to the prom that she and her date had to repose for all the pictures. Because he left the lens cap on. (I secretly think he was just stunned she got a date — just kidding, sis!) I’m not sure how you and your family pose for prom pictures, but in our family, it’s just short of a wedding shoot. Pictures of the girl alone, pictures of the guy alone, pictures of them together. Pictures of her getting the flowers, pictures of him getting the flowers. Pictures with the parents, pictures with the siblings, pictures with the whole family. Pictures with the grandparents… you get the idea. Is it an Italian thing, or was it just my grandfather setting a tradition in my family?

It wasn’t just the proms, though. In the summers, he’d have me and my cousin stand in the flower beds to take photos of us by whatever was blooming. They usually planted geraniums and impatiens. When my grandma wasn’t looking, my cousin and I would bend down and pop the impatiens’ seed pods, and my grandfather would laugh. If Grandma would see, she’d yell and we’d run away, and he’d just laugh louder. And then usually he’d realize he had the lens cap on and we’d have to come back and do it again. Afterward, we’d get Gram’s lemonade and cookies, so who could complain?

There were always photos at holiday mealtimes. We have some wonderful snapshots of tables laden with food and everyone is gathered around them, forks or glasses raised in salute of a toast having been made. But someone is always missing from the photo, because someone was behind the camera. Usually it was my grandfather. I have one nice picture where my grandfather is actually at the head of the table… my uncle took the shot; he’s absent from the photo. When I grew up and started hosting meals, I took a photo at my home. I wasn’t in the shot. It was kind of depressing, because it reminded me that my grandfather wasn’t, either. He’d been gone from us for many years at that point. I never took another photo at the dinner table. Really, at some point one of us should have learned to use the timer function on the camera.

My grandfather’s gone, and all we have now are boxes of his photos. Half of them are black, thanks to the lens cap. He’s in so few of the photos, because he was always behind the camera. But still, he gave us so many memories to remember him by. Not the big trips or the gorgeous monuments. It was the little things.

The grandkids in the flower beds.

His daughters in the kitchen with their mom.

His sons-in-law in the alley washing a car.

The family at the table.

We don’t have to worry about lens caps anymore when we’re taking the photos. But we should all learn to use the timer.

Writing Epiphanies at the Chinese Buffet

I ate dinner at a Chinese buffet tonight. I am horrified to think of how many calories I actually consumed, but more importantly, I hate to think about how many of those calories I didn’t enjoy. I saw all those options in front of me, and I partook of them simply because they were there and they looked good. And the price was right.

Then it hit me. E book offerings are kind of like the Chinese buffet. Browse your buffet of downloadable e books and you’ll find a veritable smorgasbord for you to choose from at prices too good to pass up. How do you choose? In the end, you sample many, simply because you can. They make it so easy, and everything looks so good, how can you resist?

Ah, there’s the problem. Caloric overload. Most of what you get leaves you feeling bloated and unsatisfied, and not long from now you’re just going to want more. You can go back to the buffet. It will be there, offering you endless choices. Surely something will be there that is satisfying. You might get lucky. Or you might just get more of the same, more that leaves you feeling like you wasted your money and you’re just going to want something else in a little while.

To the readers, I say this — read the reviews. You don’t want to get stuck with something that has no value. Read the reviews on the site you’re downloading from, but also check elsewhere. There are plenty of book bloggers who give honest reviews on their own sites. A little homework up front will save you money in your pocket and time to read something worth your while.

To the writers, I say this — if you self-publish, only put your best effort up there. Typos, grammatical errors, syntax problems, and of course, poorly written works only strengthen the argument people make against self-published authors. I can hear James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams saying “If you build it, they will come.” Well, if you write it, they will download it. And if it’s written poorly, they won’t download anything else. You’ve got one shot. Make it count.

The readers are hungry and the buffet is open. Don’t send them away wishing they had gone somewhere else.

Inspiring Blogger

I’m grateful and humbled to announce that a blogger I follow has nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. P. C. Zick (P.C. Zick in the Writing Life) is an author I met through Facebook, and she lives near my old hometown. She shares similar interests as me, and I enjoy reading her thoughts and following her work. I’m inspired by her efforts.

Here are the requirements for this award:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

Seven things about myself

  1. I’ve never had a cavity.
  2. I can do a split.
  3. I am the only child in my family with brown hair and brown eyes (despite those being the dominant traits and being half Italian).
  4. I’ve seen lightning strike right in front of me three times.
  5. I’ve lived through a tornado passing through my town.
  6. I played four instruments in school, clarinet for the longest.
  7. I changed my major three times in college, but still managed to graduate in four years and with good enough grades to get a scholarship to grad school.

My nominations for the Very Inspiring Blog Award – I chose the following blogs for various reasons, but each because of how it touches me. Some help me in my profession, some simply touch my soul.

  1. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen
  2. The Red Kimono
  3. Five Reflections (prefers not to accept awards, but I find the site inspiring, nonetheless)
  4. Janna Hill
  5. InkWell
  6. My Perfect Pitch
  7. Jan Morrill
  8. Bottomline English
  9. Velda Brotherton
  10. Joy Keeney
  11. Pamela Foster
  12. Truths by Ruth
  13. Italian American Writer’s Cafe
  14. Claire Croxton
  15. A Writer’s Universe

 

Who Wrote That?

My in-laws are in town. I was worried about how I was going to get a blog written today. But, as luck would have it, a guest blogger fell right in my lap with a post ready to go for me. No, it’s not my usual Italian heritage memories, but it is about writing, and it suits this entry perfectly. Having been a ghost writer myself, I know what she means. So, without further ado, I give you Karen Cole, Executive Director of Ghost Writer, Inc.

How to be a Righteous Ghost Writer

What is the point of writing or ghost writing, or even being a ghost writer or author of a novel, book, memoir or screenplay, if nobody else reads it or them? One reader does an experience make whether it is a ghost writer book, ghost writing screenplay or author memoirs. The point has always been the reader, your readers. You think when you ghost write a book between the many of you, what am I going to be an author or screenwriter about, how am I going to have a ghost writer talk, and how am I making ample money for my business, for my family, for myself – how about simply caring about your readers for a change?

What do they want, what sells you to them, how would you go about being a ghost writer or book author client for your readers? Whether you are a ghost writer or book author, it tends to be the case that your readers get awfully lost in the shuffle. The mental picture is somebody so important; they have their pick of all media on the face of the planet – why would they want to view yours? You do have to pick out your audience instead, aiming for something a bit shorter than best sellers, a bit longer than eBooks that make ten cents for you if you don’t aim it, hugging and arming instead a smaller group. Who would be interested in reading your idea book the most and whom are you as a ghost writer or book author writing it for?

It’s not a matter of what you want to say, it’s not a matter of satisfying your own selfish desires. It’s not a matter of how well your book is going to sell; it’s a matter of the nature of your audience. What are their needs? If you haven’t got an idea yet, what do you think is a Big Idea out there, what would appeal to a vast audience? If you do have an idea and you need to fulfill it, who needs that idea, who needs to be a ghost writer for it, who needs it? It’s not a matter of who you already happen to be – it’s largely a matter of where you can take a realistic appraisal. This is what I want ghost writers to consider.

Not the thing everybody else is doing, not the best rewrite, not the kitchen sink of each book or screenplay author’s prose that can be found somewhere else. Something else that is news to your readers, your audience. Not the past, not the present, not the future. Not sexual matters, not war, not how to make peace in our time by selling million dollar babies. Understand this example – books on self-help have sold like hotcakes because they have a readymade audience, namely people who need help. Who needs help, who beseeches a way to find that help, who hires a ghost writer who needs to help an author achieve an audience – who actually needs you?

You should be able, as either a ghost writer or book author, to think about somebody else for a change. Go find your people, and write, draw, plan, dream and implement fantasia for a pared down, niche, select series of groups of them. When you are a ghost writer, find somebody and write only for them – see it now. Give it your all, or give it something, but don’t just write for yourself – unless you really must pass it around to your family, friends and colleagues. Which can be the fairest audiences of some smaller types, of a different drummer, as long as you do realize that you are writing? Who are you a ghost writing team of – you, or all of those others?

Executive Director of Ghost Writer, Inc., Karen Cole writes. GWI at http://www.rainbowriting.com/ghostwritertos.htm is a renowned affordable online professional copy writers, book authors, ghost writers, copy editors, proof readers, coauthors, rewriters, book cover creation, graphics and CAD, digital and other photography, publishing assistance and book and screenplay writers, editors, developers and paid analysts service. We also do presentation and pitch services for your book and/or screenplay ideas to major TV and film industry representatives.

America’s Pastime

The two men most important to me (my husband and my son) have abandoned me and my daughter. Apparently there is something nearer and dearer to their hearts than we are.

I’m just kidding.

They’re off on a manly bonding adventure. To Kansas City.

Isn’t that where all men go for manly things to do?

I know, I know. You’re thinking barbecue. Or, you’re thinking we’re Italian, there is a large Italian community there, so we must have family there.

Wrong on both counts.

They’re there for the Baseball All-Star Game.

My son is so excited. They have great seats for the celebrity game, the home run derby, and the all star game itself. I’d tell you where to look for them on television, but you don’t know what they look like.

So what are my daughter and I going to do? We’ll be like Cinderella, of course. Cleaning and scrubbing and washing for their triumphant return.

Not.

I mean, of course some tidying will need to be done in their absence. I’m not a heathen. But if they’re on vacation, why shouldn’t we be, too?

My daughter had her purse packed the second they left the driveway. She has her route planned through the different malls she wants to hit for every day they’re gone. That’s right. Different malls every day.

I was thinking facials, manicures… she’s thinking BOGOs and clearance racks. And some high end stores thrown in to balance out her haul. (She just had a birthday. She’s ready to go.)

When the cat’s away the mice will play. And when the men are away, the ladies will shop.

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