Writer Talk

Shelley Margosian Stack

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This Soldier and His Dog

It is Memorial Day weekend, and I have my first afternoon off since Easter. Instead of jumping right into revising chapters of my work-in-progress, I cleaned out my mailbox. A relaxing activity, and I don’t do much relaxing, so it was a treat. I saw a message from WordPress, and I remembered I started a blog, and published a few posts before I got busy for four years, and forgot about it. Oh sure, I know publishing a blog is a good thing for writers, but I’ve just been so darn busy. I don’t have scads of hours to write. I also have to earn a living. Writing is squeezed into hectic days of caring for two little kids, and giving music lessons but summer is on the horizon, and there will be less child care, and somewhat fewer lessons. My big goal is to complete my YA novel by the third week of August, and to begin the final revision. So why am I even toying with the idea of a blog entry? I don’t have a clue. Maybe it is a bit of guilt that I am not doing enough for my writing, that the one hundred pages I’ve written in the past six weeks are not enough, or that I haven’t published anything since the spring of 2015. I had a nice streak of five published short stories, and two essays since 2010, but nothing at all since I made the leap to writing a novel. Somehow I think I should be far more prolific. One voice in my head tells me I may be a lazy writer, while another yells at me to get real, fool, you work seven days a week.

Anyway, the hard copies of my most recent novel pages are waiting in a pile to my right, next to a favorite photo of my father. And, as I said, it is Memorial Day weekend.

His name was Ed. His mother signed him into the service when he was seventeen. He wanted to be a medic, but somehow ended up in the Air Force stationed in the Aleutian Islands. He hated the Aleutians, the desolation, and the cold. He hated the salmon served at every meal. He loved being a pilot, but hated gunning down the Japanese soldiers lined up outside a mess tent. He hated killing anything big or small. Ed found the stray dog a week after his arrival in the Aleutians. She’d been wandering around the base, living off scraps, and sleeping under trucks. He whistled to her and she came running. No one minded when Ed brought her into the barracks. No one minded she slept on his bunk, and ate with him in the mess hall. He was bereft when his time was up in the Aleutians, and he had to leave her behind with an islander.

The photograph is fuzzy. My father’s face isn’t clear, but that is okay. I know what he looked like. I see his love for the dog in the way his gloved hand cradles her hindquarters, and his forearm supports her middle, and holds her tight against his chest. He was just a boy in a world war, and I know that little dog helped him get through it. I thank them both for their service. This soldier, and his dog.Dad & Dog

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The Pleasure and Sadness of Pastina

A few days ago, I opened my fridge and stood there, hoping that one of the gifted chefs on the Food Channel had left a few ready-made wonderful meals in there for me. I hadn’t been food shopping, and there was absolutely nothing appealing to eat for lunch.

Fourteen month-old Caroline, was having pastina. In desperation, so did I. I made it al dente, and dressed it with finely chopped flat leaf parsley, whipped butter and romano cheese. It pleased Caroline and it pleased me . . . until the sadness hit.

When I was little, and sick, home from school, in my bed or on the couch in front of the television, my mother made pastina for me. It was comfort food. It was my mother’s way of making me feel better. She would moisten it with chicken broth, dot it with butter, and heap mountains of parmesan on top. It soothed my throat. and warmed my stomach. I loved it and when my own girls were little, I did the same for them when they were sick, as she did for me.

My mother died three years ago, suddenly, with no warning. The three years since have been full of remembering, and many moments of sadness. The other day, at lunch, pastina brought another. I vividly missed the mother of my childhood, and being the recipient of a mother’s love for her child. Other loves in life are wonderful, but there is something that words cannot sufficiently describe about feeling a mother’s love.

For a few minutes, eating pastina, I felt it again.

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Shrinking Rejection Slips

I got caught up with the mess on my desk this week. It is now bare of everything but my beloved MacBook, the printer, a lamp and the sign with my mantra, “Never, never, never give up.” The saying is especially meaningful as I am sorting and filing rejections.

Rejections are okay, really they are. They make the acceptances so much sweeter. Many rejections come via e-mail but those journals that haven’t yet switched over to online submissions are still sending paper rejection letters, no, not really letters but pieces of paper, slips, that seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One arrived last week. It was lost in the legal-size envelope I had included with my hard copy story submission. The slip is a mere three inches long by two inches wide. The words are teeny-tiny . . . Thank you for submitting . . . blah, blah, blah, not what we are looking for right now . . .  please submit again. Reading it gave me eye strain.

Perhaps the journals are working hard at being green, minimizing the use of paper, thereby saving our trees and the environment. I am all for that. So dear journals, instead of teensy slips of paper, please, please, just switch over to online submissions and rejections. Then I won’t have to make a million copies (killing trees and all), buy large envelopes and costly postage and wait on a long line at the post office where there is only one window open these days, manned by a very cranky postal worker.

Oh sure. I know online “everything” is causing the demise of the post office and I am sorry to see it go, but online is so, so much easier!


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Writing in Pajamas

Writing in pajamas is the best . . . but only up to a point. The point being when it is late enough in the morning for for someone to come to your door, to ring the bell, to summon you to appear. You can’t hide because you are writing at your desk right next to the front door. You are clearly visible through a big double wide window. The top and the bottom of your pajamas don’t match. Your hair is bundled on top of your head in a fright pony tail. You are wearing your glasses and your face is bare of makeup. You have a dot of zinc oxide on the one red spot on your nose. Halloween early! So while I enjoy writing in my pajamas in the morning, I will have to take a break now, to shower and dress, and be ready . . . just in case. On the other hand, maybe I should stay in my pajamas. Maybe an appearance like this would chase everyone away!

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OMG, I Have A Truckload of Excuses!

All good ones though!

I have been writing in every spare moment, between teaching piano, teaching music theory, taking care of a 14 month old, doing Writers Studio exercises and most recently, working on scenes for a novel. I have a narrator in place, I have a location, a time in history and the makings of a story. The story started as a short story exercise in the Writers Studio, based on an Alice Monroe short story. It grew to 20,000 words. Few places want to publish a short (not-so-short) story of that length. So I decided to grow it and see if I have the makings of a novel writer. I’ve been advised that it is far easier to write a book than a great short story. I shall see. Short term goal, stated today, with the best of intentions…start posting short bits and pieces of thoughts here to fuel my head. We’ll see about that too!

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Been absent but not idle

I started this blog with the intention of writing something daily here….that went down the pike pretty quick. Between my day job–the paying one–and doing Writers Studio work–reading, listening to craft class and writing exercises…..plus having several stories at once in various stages of completion, well…..finding the time to write even a few sentences here is challanging. I’ve been doing re-writes and proof-reading until my eyes are on the verge dropping out and bouncing on my keyboard.  I am finding that I need frequent breaks from proofing and rather than scream in frustration during those breaks, I am going to make another attempt to write some words here instead. Let’s see how it goes.

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Researching places to submit

I actually took an entire day off from teaching this week to research journals/sites to submit stories to, places other than the usual big ones ie., Glimmertrain, Tin House, Narrative, etc. The possibilities are mind-boggling and figuring out what each one is looking for takes hours and hours of reading, not to mention the different submission format requirements. I am using Duotrope to research and organize submissions, thank the writing god for that site, what did writers do before Duotrope!

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Portnoy’s Complaint

Am reading Portnoy’s Complaint and finally, after a lot of years, completely understand why my parents kept it from me. I remember it laying on a table or a chair. I remember picking it up only to have it whipped out of my hand by one parent or the other and then, I forgot all about it until now.  It is this week’s reading assignment for the Writers Studio and I’ve just listened to a craft class discussing the narrative technique, the goal is to attempt the narrative technique. This will take some thinking for sure. Thinking in between laughing. It is an amazing read.