#AmWriting, #BookTeaser

Never Throw Anything Away

March 18, 2019

Our mothers told us to clean our room, put stuff we weren’t using away, and throw/give away stuff we no longer use.

The same thing holds true with authors. Everything we see, every fragment of conversation we overhear is material. Sometimes it finds its way whole into a bit of prose or a poem. Sometimes it influences a scene. Sometimes it just plain old doesn’t fit and retreats into the parking lot where it waits for the right place to reemerge.

My novel, Out of the Desert, is saturated with just such bits. A few years ago, I published a story about a woman who had named her breasts before she had a double mastectomy. It was light-hearted, if ever that topic can be light-hearted. I needed a powerful scene between two estranged sisters. How to get them back together after a twenty-year separation. Recycling the long short story into a five page scene did the trick.

I wondered how I would end the novel. It had to have a positive ending. It had to answer one of the key questions asked near the end by the main character. I searched the parking lot for ideas. What did my eye fall upon except a small character sketch I called “The Greeter.”

Several years ago, my husband and I made the trip between northern Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake about twice a month. When we drove in daylight, we were overjoyed to see a man standing in a cross-over, waving to the passing cars, and grinning widely. We nicknamed him the greeter. As time passed, the greeter grew older and was in the cross-over less often, until one day he wasn’t there any longer.

My husband and I made up stories about his life. We wondered if he was a retired veteran. That idea fit with what we wanted him to be. We wove tales around his life. We made up names, a backstory, and an ending. I jotted these down in a file called “The Greeter.” When it came time to write the last story, I gave my main character a greeter who’d waved at him when he was a teen. I gave the main character an interest in the man, a curiosity to learn about the man’s backstory. I gave the main character permission to write about this humble in glorious prose.

I gave myself permission to recycle the greeter’s story in the final passage of the novel. Due out later this year, I hope you remember the path the greeter traveled to appear in the final movement of Out of the Desert.

#AmWriting, #FiveSenses, #Memories, #ToadtheDreamer

Evoking Memories

March 4, 2019

What evokes the most memories for you? Is it the sound of a bird, a person’s voice? Is it the taste of a favorite food, or a not-favorite food? Is it the sight of someone’s hair, a color you wore on a special day? The feel of a favorite book, worn from overreading, that just feels right in your hand?

For me, it’s smell, that most powerful of senses. At Roanoke Regional Writers Conference 2019 at the end of July, three writers offered new ways of looking at the six senses, including the one we keep inside, our sixth sense. I drove home thinking about all the smells of my youth which define special moments.

Marcel Proust may have set the bar for a stream-of-consciousness memory invoked by dipping a small cake into a cup of tea. The resulting reverie is one of the more famous moments in literature. My memories are closer to home.

Home defined two great memories, one of my grandmother, the other of my mother. My grandmother smelled of Evening in Paris cologne. It was her favorite and she wore a drop for special occasions. She also smelled on Ivory soap and bleach, because she was responsible for doing the wash and hanging it out on the line to dry.

Mother smelled of Chanel No. 5, chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven, and, my favorite, chocolate-covered cherries. My mother was hooked on chocolate-covered cherries, the kind you bought in a box at the pharmacy, the kind with milk chocolate outer shells and mareschino cherries and a vanilla filling. God, they were awful. God, we loved them. Mom bought a box at Valentine’s Day every year. Confession: I have a box ready to open next week…

The other smell combines both scent, sight, and texture. It’s my memory. It’s one I’m writing about in my latest novel, Toad the Dreamer. It is sand. All sands are not alike. My two favorites are those of my main character, Todd, aka Toad. One is the scent of desert sands. Dry. Clean. Sun-baked. Filled with tiny pebbles, bits of lava, thorns. Shades of brown. tan, flat green.

Todd’s, and my, other favorite sand is beach sand. Todd has a house near the ocean. Here, the scent is of damp, early morning fog. The scent of red tide and dead fish. White, clean stretches with bits of shell. Sun-baked, salty. Smooth between the toes. A place to lie and nap in the sun.

Both of these memories shape the adult Todd, as the desert shaped the child Toad. It’s fun to write about places and events I lived. I hope I do honor to my memories.

#BookTeaser, #EyesWithoutAFace, Uncategorized

EYES WITHOUT A FACE Teaser

February 22, 2019

I find it hard to believe that not everyone has read EYES WITHOUT A FACE, my novel about a female serial killer. She tells the story in her own voice and in her own unique style. In hope of teasing more of you into reading my novel, here’s the first complete chapter. I hope you like it enough to pick up a copy.

No matter what anyone says, I wasn’t born a serial killer. I don’t carry a sociopath gene, a psychopath gene, or even a serial killer gene. No such thing.

You can argue about nurture versus nature. Go ahead. Have at it. Look at the studies about psychopaths. Check me against the list of traits. I didn’t wet my bed, kill small animals, or set fires. My younger brother did those things, but he didn’t kill people―as far as I know. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous. My sister was. She began screwing every boy and some of the men in town as soon as she got breasts.

My father was verbally and physically abusive like half the men in town. So overpowering was the old man’s dominance that my mother retreated into a dark place where no spark emerged. Valium and vodka numbed her into submission.

None of this turned me into a killer. I came to this life through free will.

Back in college, I was never in touch with the lifestyles of my sorority sisters, who were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I knew from the very beginning that would never be satisfying. I needed something more, something different. Once I killed someone, however, I found my true calling in life.

In a way, fate led me to kill people that didn’t deserve to live. Other than one time, I never, ever killed anyone without a damned good reason. Even that time, I felt justified because I was learning my craft, honing my skills, if you will. I came to killing gradually, but once I started, I continued for more than three decades.

I’m not very comfortable writing about my life. I spent the first half of it building walls, packing my emotions into boxes, and pre- tending to be something I wasn’t. Now, beginning my sixth decade, I unpacked those same boxes onto these pages, all the while still pretending to be someone I’m not. By no means have I provided an accounting all of my kills. Representative ones, memorable ones, but not the entire list. Yet, as I record my story in black and white, I see it’s not a dark coming-of-age tale full of who-gives-a-shit trivia.

My life and what I did with it matters.

If you’re reading this, I’m either in a facility where I can’t pursue my craft and kill anyone else, or I’m dead. You may never understand why I became a killer. At times, I don’t either.

Remember, we are not all what we seem.

I have violated your trust. Telling you what I did hurt you. I’m sorry for lying. One thing I know for certain. You can’t tell anyone about what I did. Ever.

Well, that’s the first chapter. If you like it, you can find the book for sale on Amazon.

Thanks for reading. See you soon for a different blog post.

Uncategorized

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

February 8, 2019

Hi, all,

I know I went silent for a few weeks. Nothing wrong here at all. More like needing to clear my head and focus on two new books. And now I find myself looking for some advice.

I’m closing in on final edits for the book I’ve been calling “Out of the Desert.” I’m not sure if that’s the best title.

So, what do you think? I have four titles below that people have recommended. Do you like any of them? Please email me at betsy_ashton2005@yahoo.com with your ideas. You can add your own suggestions.

  1. Out of the Desert
  2. Grains of Sand
  3. Sands of Time
  4. Toad the Dreamer
  5. Other

This is a novel in stories about Toad, his brother Cricket, his best friend Polly, and his cousin Phyl.

Once upon a time a little boy named Toad the Dreamer lived in the Mojave Desert. He dreamed first of being a spaceman. Then, he dreamed about growing up and going to college. Next, he dreamed about having a big family. He dreamed his mother’s dream for him becoming a writer. 

One day, when Todd, the grown-up version of Toad, was closing in on his 50th birthday, he wondered what happened to the little boy who wanted to be a spaceman. Or a writer. Todd’s story, and those of his favorite cousin and best friend, bring him to this turning point.

Will he go back to the desert he left behind and find Toad the Dreamer? Or will he continue as he has, living a good life but not being satisfied with what he’s doing? Will he reconnect with his best friend?

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing, Writing Life, Writing Style

‘Twas the Night Before Deadline

December 17, 2018

I run this poem every year in honor of all my writer peeps out there.

 

with apologies to CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE

‘Twas the night before deadline, when all through the house

Not a writer was stirring, not even his mouse;

The laptop was set up on the table with care,

In hopes that the words soon would appear.

 

The images were nestled all snug in his head;

While visions of page proofs filled him with dread;

And good guy in mischief, and bad guy with a rap,

How to keep the right words, and edit the crap.

 

When out on the street there arose such a ruckus,

He sprang up in anger at loss of his focus.

Away to the window he flew like a flash,

Drew back the curtains and peered through the glass.

Red lights swirled on ceiling and wall,

Shattered concentration caused him to bawl.

When what to his curious eyes did appear,

Images of pages, blank and austere.

 

He wielded a pen so sure and so quick,

He knew in a moment his edits were nixed.

More rapid than eagles his cross-outs they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Bracket! now, Period! now Colon and Slashes!

On, Comma! on, Hyphen! on Quote Mark and Em-Dashes!

To the top of the page! to the top of the wall!

Now erase away! erase away! erase away all!”

 

Ideas that normally flowed freely and fast,

Now met so many obstacles they left him aghast;

So on the pages his cursor stood still,

Hours to deadline and no words to kill.

 

And then, in a twinkling, he heard in the hall

A shuffling gait of his wife’s slow footfall.

As he drew back his head, and was turning to see,

Into the study she carried fresh coffee.

 

She was dressed all in flannel, from her head to her foot,

And her clothes were all rumpled, no makeup to suit;

A cup she set on the table with care,

Steam rising and swirling, to drink it a dare.

 

Her eyes—how they twinkled! her dimples, how merry!

Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a berry!

Her droll little mouth was pursed up like a bow,

And the hair on her head was as white as the snow.

 

He wished she’d call his editor to plead

All he wanted was more time to re-read.

His editor he knew would laugh and deny,

He was behind in his contract, he could but sigh.

 

That editor so mean, so nasty and bold,

“Not another second,” his memory so cold,

With a nod of his head and a stroke of his pen,

He showed him the way out of the mess he was in.

 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to the work,

Delete key melt down, words appearing from murk,

Finally laying fingers on keyboard with a touch so slight,

He typed and typed well into the night.

 

He sprang from his chair, the manuscript to send

The deadline met, the last words “The End.”

His editor sent a note full of delight,

“Happy deadlines to all, and to all a good write!”

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Eating with a Stranger

December 3, 2018

Have you ever eaten with a stranger? Not just someone you don’t know well, but someone you’ve never seen before? If you had that opportunity, what would you talk about?

Would you exchange light pleasantries, keeping to the weather, “how about those Mets?” Or would you take a chance on a deeper conversation and possibly learn something unexpected?

I’d want to learn about the person sitting opposite me. Where are you from? Tulsa, really? I’ve never been to Tulsa. What did you like about living there? Do you miss it? What brought you here?  I’d keep the conversation going by asking more specific questions, stopping only when I think I’m getting too personal.

Do you have kids? Grandkids? Do you have any pictures? Pay attention to those this stranger chooses to share. If they are on her cell, you can scroll through several. If he pulls a couple from his wallet, ask their ages. If they are older, what are they doing? You can learn an awful lot by how a proud parent or grandparent talks about family.

Steer away from those really touchy subjects. I never ask a person’s politics, religion, even their ethnicity, if I think it’s undetermined. If, on the other hand, this stranger wears a symbol of a specific religion, and you want to learn more about it, why not ask, “will you tell me about your religion?” You might learn something that will change your mind.

What I find uncomfortable is meeting strangers and have them force their ideas on me. As strangers, you don’t know if I have a son who is gay, have lost a child to cancer/drugs/texting while driving. You don’t know my political beliefs. Please don’t tell me all about your biases on these subjects. You don’t know me. And you won’t because I’ll exit the conversation as quickly as possible.

But, if you want to share in a manner where we can exchange ideas, even if they are on the opposite end of the spectrum, then I’ll engage until we talk ourselves dry.

‘Tis the season to reach out. Take a few minutes to meet a stranger. Listen, learn. You’ll be a better person for doing so.

 

Featured, Lifestyle, Survival, Trauma, Writing, Writing Life, Writing Style

A Letter To My Daughters

November 19, 2018

Dear Daughters,

I am a woman with no children of my own. I am a universal mother of children born to other mothers. I am a woman and mother who wants her daughters to stand proud.

In your lives, you will experience success and failure. Learn from both.

You will find times when you aren’t strong, don’t want to do the right thing―because doing the right thing can be hard. It can bring condemnation down on you. It can bring haters out of the dark. It can hurt.

I hope you never have to experience what I did when I was in my twenties. If you do, I hope you will do what I did.

When I was a teaching assistant at a major football university, I had a student who never attended classes, never turned in homework. I didn’t know what he looked like. I had no idea how to reach him, but since he had not dropped my class, I had to carry him on the rolls. He showed up at the end of class three weeks before the end of the term. He handed me a paper, saying, “Sign this. I need to be eligible for the big game.”

I stared first at the paper and then at the behemoth standing in front of me. I was 5’8” and weighed maybe 125. He had me by a head, outweighed me by 150 pounds on a good day. More on game day. I assumed that he was on the football team because he needed C grades to play in the upcoming bowl game.

I asked how he planned to make up the work in order to be eligible. He laughed. He had no intention of making up the work, he said. He wanted me to sign, “or else.” My brain didn’t compute what “or else” might mean. I tried to explain that while he was still registered, without making up the work, I couldn’t sign the form. He was officially failing my class.

I held out the paper, smiled my regrets, and turned to my desk to load my bag and leave the classroom.

In an instant, he shoved me onto my desk, lifted my mini-skirt, and ripped off my underwear. He unzipped his pants. That’s when he made a huge mistake: he put his hand over my mouth, smothering my cries for help. I bit him. Hard. He raped me, pulled out, and walked away, leaving his eligibility form behind.

Every cell shook from the assault. I sat for a long time, glad that no students had a class the hour after the attack. Ultimately, I dried my eyes, wiped off raccoon make-up, and went to my office. I ran into my faculty advisor who immediately took me aside. I didn’t want to tell him what happened.

Then, anger set in. I had done nothing wrong. I was the victim, not the perpetrator. And I was mad as hell.

My advisor asked how he could help. By rights, I should have been suspicious of all men, but he was kind and concerned. I told him every detail, gave him the student’s name, showed him the eligibility form. He asked me what I wanted to do.

I was now mad enough to want revenge. He called another teaching assistant, who took one look at me and said, “We’re going to the health center. And then we’re going to the police.”

My friend was one of those dynamos who at 5’ tall brooked nonsense from no one. She took me to the health center, where I was examined. I demanded and got a rape kit. My friend demanded the campus police be called.

The campus policeman was useless. He said it was my word against the student’s, I must have wanted it because I wore a mini skirt, the fashion at the time. He took notes and advised me to go home.

My friend called the city police. They were a little more interested in my story, but in essence said the same thing: “No one is going to believe you.”

My friend drove me home and stayed with me. Thursday night passed into Friday, a day when I had no classes to teach or take. By the end of the weekend, mad morphed into icy rage. I decided to tell the football coach.

I marched into his office early Monday morning and planted myself outside his door until he arrived. I followed him inside, threw the unsigned eligibility form on his desk, and said, “This player raped me in my classroom on Thursday.”

He didn’t believe me.

I had proof, I said. I asked him to call the player to his office.

He didn’t believe me.

I took my Wonder Woman pose, fists on hips, eyes glaring at him.

He asked his assistant to bring the player to his office.

“What proof do you have?”

The player walked in, shot me a dirty look. He had a thick bandage on his right hand.

“I bit him when he raped me. Check under that wrap.”

The coach, to his credit, told his player to unwrap the hand.

Do you have any idea how filthy the human bite is? His hand was infected, red lines climbing his arm.

I had my revenge. I had exposed a rapist. I had stood up for myself. I was a survivor of something no woman, no daughter should have to survive. No one was going to put the blame on me.

Years later, I wondered what had happened to the player. I found a news article. He’s doing thirty to life for multiple rapes, many when he was armed with a knife. With that, I wiped his name from my memory.

Shaking set in again. He could have killed me. He could have killed my spirit. HE DID NEITHER.

My daughters, if you ever find yourselves in such a situation, maybe not rape, but something that you shouldn’t keep hidden, tell someone the truth and only the truth. Act. Be proud of your strength. Stand tall. Relish it. You will feel better about yourself. And I’ll be proud of you.

I love you all,

Mom

Featured, Lifestyle, Poem, Writing, Writing Style

Raising Ben

November 5, 2018

No one would say I’m a poet. I’m not, but occasionally I write something that goes beyond my standard doggerel. I’m very happy to announce that my poem, “Raising Ben,” will be featured in an upcoming anthology, which celebrates the30th anniversary of the Smith Mountain Arts Council. I hope you like it.

Raising Ben

hold my hand

don’t let go

I’ll help you walk

 

time to eat

it’s your favorite

I’ll feed you

 

give me a sign

a smile something

show me you know I’m here

 

speak

one word any word

let me hear your voice

 

Mama

 

No, not Mama

just me Kathy

your daughter

Editing, Featured, Lifestyle, Writing, Writing Life, Writing Style

Wait! You’re A Writer?

October 22, 2018

All of us who write get a series of questions, most of which are asked out of curiosity, a few out of envy, and even fewer to debase us.

  • How long does it take to write a book?
  • What’s your “real” job?
  • How long do you write every day?
  • How much money do you make?
  • Are you a best-selling author?
  • I’ve never heard of you. You must not be very good.

The list goes on and on, like the road leading out of the Shire. Let’s dig into these and see if I can clarify my answers:

  • How long does it take to write a book? As long as it takes. Use “How long is a piece of string?” to give the questioner a sense of just how silly this question seems to those of us who write all the time
  • What’s your “real” job? Writing is my real job. Between my family, writing my allotted number of pages, interacting with readers, Skyping with book clubs, and promoting my materials through social media, it’s a “real” job. It’s even what I list on my IRS returns where the forms ask for occupation. I answer, “Author.”
  • How long do you write every day? I put in a good four or five hours each day in creating new material and editing older material. New material begins with a blank screen. On a terrific day, I fill up that screen and many more with words. On the next day, I look at those words and see how many I can keep. Sometimes it’s most of the new work; other times most is designated “what the heck was I thinking?” and moved to the parking lot, a graveyard for what seemed good ideas at the time.
  • How much money do you make? Best answered politely with “I never discuss money,” when you really want to say, “How often do you have sex?” Same degree of “none of your damned business” questioning. Some people think it’s fine to be snoops. They usually end up dead in a subsequent novel.
  • Are you a best-selling author? If I was, you’d know it.
  • I’ve never heard of you. You must not be very good. Well, that is a matter of opinion. My readers think I’m pretty good. As I add more with each book, I rise in the ranks of authors. So, if you haven’t heard of me, shame on you. You’re not paying attention.

It’s hard sometimes to paste that smile on your face, but you have to do it. These people are future readers, most likely. They may not remember what you write but they will remember that you dissed them. Don’t diss them. Honor the comment with a polite one of your own. No matter that we don’t like being in public, the first time that pesky novel hits print, you are now a public figure. Enjoy it.

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