"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Am I Quirky and Offbeat over Here? I hope so!

Here's an award I got from amazing blogger Patrick Tillett.

I love this award and how Patrick explains it: "The "White Russian" Award is for my favorite blogs. I'm sure it's no coincidence that they all have something unusual about them, are a bit quirky, or totally offbeat, and I like them as folks. Some of them are mega-popular and some are undiscovered."

I love it that he thinks my blog here is unusual, a bit quirky or totally offbeat. I could say the same about his. If you haven't been there, please go because it is a treat. Pat should be writing a memoir. Whether he ever does or not, at least he's blogging and we can all enjoy his posts and his photography.

Thanks, Pat, for this award. And since there are no rules to pass it on, I won't :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Learning and Doing

I love those two words. They mean you can accomplish almost anything you want if you learn how and then commit yourself to doing it. I could even be on Oprah if I learn the rules and do them. I could have my books in the local Costco warehouses if I wanted to. (I've learned the rules there, but I choose not to follow them, so it won't happen and I'm ok with that.) Same with Oprah-- I know what it would take and I don't want to pay the price.

Too often we think we CAN'T do something. What we really mean is we can't do it by OUR rules. My rules for getting on Oprah would be to do nothing much special and then Oprah calls me and offers me an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago to appear on her show and listen to her tell me how wonderful the book Farm Girl is and that all her fans must go right out and buy a copy.

Those would be my rules and clearly it won't happen. Also, my rules would involve me not having to talk at all because I would be petrified. So yes, I'd just sit there in a new outfit and red shoes and listen to Oprah wax poetic about how wonderful Farm Girl is. That's all. Those are my rules! Not going to happen. Because Oprah has her own rules for getting on her show, as well she should. She isn't a multi-million-dollar industry by accident.

Think about the things you want to do. Have you learned the rules? Are you operating by the rules at play or by your own rules? Because if you want to achieve the goal, you must DO as well as LEARN. You must play by the rules of the game at hand.

This last year I learned how social media works and I entered into the fray. (Just joined Twitter but not Facebook, no not ever!) I learned more about story structure and I'm doing it with my current work in progress. (Course my editor says my character-development is suffering but I can fix that.) I learned a few other things, too, but why bore you with my entire year in review lol?

What new things have you learned and done recently?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Great Follower Chase and other Anxiety-inducing Behaviors

I decided when I began this blog that I wouldn't get caught up in the follower chase, the countdown for more and more followers. We writers seem obsessed with adding and counting followers and commenters, probably because we need readers to feel complete.

My daughter did both a writer and yoga blog for awhile, and she noticed that the yoga bloggers don't have follower icons on their blogs. Apparently, they don't care how many followers they have.

Maybe we writers should be doing more yoga, and calming ourselves down. Not worrying so much about followers, commenters, agents and query letters (omigosh does that subject ever get us into a tailspin of anxiety), marketing (my current focus and cause of frequent panic attacks), time to write (Who has time to do anything? Something's got to give. If it's important to us, we'll do it, otherwise we won't), and the be-all and end-all --- GETTING PUBLISHED!

Man, we are a stressed-out bunch of people. That's what I've learned from following writer blogs. And I used to think it was just me! Just knowing I'm not the only one helps to calm me down. And coming to this blog instead of hyperactive follower-obsessed other blog. There may come a time when I slow down on that one and just hang out here.

Now, if you'll forgive me for asking a personal, self-absorbed question to the faithful few who follow this blog: Which one of my blogs do you prefer? This one or Coming Down the Mountain?

Monday, May 17, 2010

If Only

My 93 year-old mother, the grown up farm girl, came this weekend for my daughter's wedding. She traveled with my sister from Minnesota to Utah and stayed at our home for three days. Sunday she came to church with me and caused a minor stir among several of the people who had read Farm Girl. They fell in love with her, murmuring things like, "I can't believe she's 93! Her mind is so sharp." "What an honor to meet your mom. She is adorable!"
"I loved Farm Girl! And here she is!" "If only she could stay longer and talk to us about the book and answer all our questions."

Truly I feel blessed to still have my mom around and active mentally and physically. She lives alone in an independent living center and drives her eighty-year-old neighbors to their doctor's appointments.

Since she went back home, I've been thinking "if only." I've thought about the enthusiastic reactions that came from those who met her Sunday, and how they took to her right off. I'm used to people taking to my mom. She has a way about her that attracts people. I've thought about the tour we took in Nebraska two years ago. As hard as it was traveling at her age, she enjoyed it immensely.

"If only" we could figure out a way and means to travel again and let people meet her-- this elderly white-haired lady with a quick mind who amazes everyone. "If only" people could meet her, hear her speak and reminisce about those farm girl days, and feel inspired to write their own stories or those of their parents and grandparents. "If only" we could travel the world carrying the message of Farm Girl-- that ordinary people often have the best stories.

As my mother wrote in her forward:

"After all, history is just the story of people's lives. To me my life has been very ordinary and typical of others in our community of that era. It is rather humbling to think that anyone other than family would find much interest in my experiences. Nevertheless, I am thankful to Karen for believing that these memories are worth saving."

"If only" we could turn back the clock and give her the vigor she had at 73, then my mom and me would tour the world and share the story of Farm Girl. That would be so fun.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review of "Following the Whispers" by Karen Walker

Parts of this book were difficult to read, but I finally got through the unhappy, abusive marriage relationships. I suppose, since I come from a happy childhood and am blessed with a happy marriage, that might be why I don't enjoy tales from the dark side of family life. However, Karen Walker doesn't dwell overly long on these issues and carries the reader beyond this to her self-discovery through listening to the still, small voice within her.

Ignoring this voice is what causes the author to make poor decisions which results in misery. Finally listening to the voice, the whispers, is what gradually brings her back to strength and happiness. It's a message I truly believe in. This is a spiritual book, although not religious and not espousing any particular belief or church. The author comes from a part-Jewish background which she values, yet her final spiritual discoveries result from this simple philosophy-- to listen to the voice within and be guided by it.

Her story strengthens my own faith that we are children of a Heavenly Father who loves us, and who guides and directs us throughout this often painful, difficult journey on earth. It was a beautiful thing to see this author's account of how God kept reaching out to her in so many ways.

I read several of the reviews on Shelfari (or was it Goodreads?) and was surprised that so many saw it as an account of overcoming childhood sexual abuse. True, an incident occurred but Karen Walker's memoir is much more than a story of abuse. I saw it as a spiritual discovery memoir, which is how I most related to it.

If you are interested in reading one woman's journey from a life of pain to one of peace and happiness, then Following the Whispers is a book worth reading.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Journal Writing

I just finished reading Following the Whispers by Karen Walker. According to her memoir, she wrote in her journal constantly. I'm sure this helped her remember details when she began to write her book. (I'll post my review on it in a few days.)

Many of us aren't ready to write the official memoir but we can still keep a journal. I used mine extensively when I wrote Uncut Diamonds, my autobiographical novel. (I don't think I could ever write a true memoir. I like to make up stuff and change situations to suit the story.)

If you're not used to writing in a journal, it can be awkward at first. Especially if you think about "your posterity" reading it. That idea can really tie up the flow of words. I prefer to think of journaling as my thing, something I do just for me. I get a nice, smooth-writing pen, sit in my chair, shut the door, grab a cold diet Coke and just write stream-of-consciousness about what I did, what I'm going to do, what I'm thinking about. Not to mention dumb stuff like how much I weigh, who I'm mad at, what frustrates me and how much I spent at the store.

I don't write for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren who may or may not read them someday far in the future. If anyone ever wanted to go through my 4000 journals, which I doubt they would, then that's their problem. They'll have to decipher the handwriting and figure out who I'm talking about when I say "S. was a b. today" or "I hate mean people."

Really, journal writing is the best and cheapest psychotherapy ever. If for no other reason than to vent, or plan, or talk about nothing to someone who cares (yourself lol!) I highly recommend it. And when you want to write that memoir, look at how easy it will be with events of your life already recorded.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Picture at the Top of the Page

Every time I come to this blog I take a moment to look at the family group shot. It is my family on one of our camping trips. We didn't take weekend camping trips-- we went on vacation every summer for 4 weeks. This was because my dad, being a Methodist minister, had to get the heck out of Dodge to avoid phone calls, visits, and any kinds of problems that might come up with his parishioners that would mean he was no longer on vacation.

Back then ministers were barely paid a living wage, much like teachers now. Ministers now do quite well salary-wise, plus they still get free housing and many other perks that make it pretty good employment. But all those years ago, it was macaroni and cheese, one car, one church dress and just two or three school dresses, and everything bought on sale, if at all.

So camping during this long vacation was an economic necessity. My dad doesn't look like he's enjoying himself, does he? My mom, as always, looks sweet, kind and gentle. I remember my dad getting stressed out a lot on these vacations.

It was a lot of work packing for a month-long camping trip. Setting up and taking down the tent, preparing and cooking food on the Coleman cook stove, blowing up air mattresses (the old-fashioned way--no pumps), digging the trench around the tent every time it was set up, driving hundreds of miles from one state to the next so that we girls could see this beautiful country we live in.

Not that we appreciated any of it. During the drives, my sisters and I would sleep, read, argue and whine about how bored we were. Once we got to the campground, we'd run off to explore and leave my parents with all the work. Really, I don't know how they tolerated us.

In this picture, my mom is holding the youngest, we two middle girls are standing there posing, eyes closed, in our matching cowgirl outfits (I'm the one who is not scowling), and our oldest sister is taking the picture with her little Brownie camera.

I love this photo. It brings to mind those summer vacations. Thoughts of my dad who passed away eight years ago, and of my mom who is 93 and still sweet, kind and gentle.

Happy Mother's Day, my beautiful mom!! Thank you for making my childhood a place where cherished memories happened daily.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My New Shelfari

I've belonged to Goodreads forever. Recently I added Shelfari in order to create a shelf of memoirs, autobiographical novels, biographies, etc that I can then transfer to the sidebar of this blog. Goodreads lists anything and everything I've read, want to read and am reading. Shelfari will be just for the biographical works read recently, that are worth at least 3 stars.

Any suggestions for fantastic memoirs? Autobiographical novels? Biographies? (Ann Best's In the Mirror will go up there once it's done and I've read it. And Karen Walker's Following the Whispers when I finish it.)

I just added Alexandra Crocodile's suggestions of two Norwegian authors-- mystery writers who won't make it to my Shelfari shelf, but still I'm excited to read them.

Oooh, I just love love books! I adore books. Is there a woman alive in this wretched world who doesn't? (That was a movie quote, anyone get it?) I've had a love affair with books ever since I learned to read, and it has not dimmed with age.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"If These Walls Could Talk"

I found the book I was in the mood for the other day, a book steeped in home and habitat. It's "If These Walls Could Talk, Thoughts of Home" a book of essays by a variety of different writers (none of whom I've heard of, gulp, but many of whom I'll now look up for more of their published works). This book has sat on my bedside table for awhile, and so I took it with me to Idaho this weekend, to finally finish.

My husband and I stayed at the Enders Hotel in Soda Springs, Idaho, and fell in love. No, not with each other lol, with the hotel. It's 19th century restored, with rich dark woodwork, furnished with antiques, quilts on the beds, tapestries on the walls. Original artwork and large, framed portraits of family ancestors grace the hallways. You're steeped in history just walking to your room. Ours was on the third floor, at the end of the hallway, as secluded and quiet as a couple of over-stressed suburbanites wanting a retreat could ever want.

Outside the window of our room, a geyser shot high into the air every hour on the hour for five minutes. After it finished, birds came to drink from the pools around the rocks. The most picturesque freight trains you ever saw, with box cars in bright primary colors, tooted their way past the hotel almost as often as the geyser spouted.

In this environment, I read from my book of essays on home. Oh, and did I say that on the main floor of this hotel was a kitchen like a family dining room, with delicious, large meals for unbelievably cheap prices? We loved this hotel, and our own third floor room, so much that we hardly wanted to leave it. We read, we talked, we worked on the business plans of two family businesses. We happily cocooned there for two full days, and promised each other to return soon. It's only three hours from our Utah home, but it feels like another world, or another century.

We decided that if we ever get really, really rich, we will buy this hotel and live on the third floor.