Fentanyl and no-bake cookies…

Yesterday, I saw this headline on the local daily newspaper:

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And for a moment, I couldn’t breathe. Really? Fentanyl is a major killer in Vermont? I didn’t know that! Yes, I am being really, really sarcastic.

Fentanyl killed Sam. Not illegally imported fentanyl from China. A legally prescribed pain patch killed Sam. Yes, he took it from the patient. And it killed him. And it wasn’t the first fentanyl death in Addison County, but the others had been kept out of the press because of the county’s desire to keep its pastoral, safe, healthy image.

I read the article in sadness, reading of how this evil drug is killing Vermonters (and others across the globe), and I was sad. So very sad. Sad for the loss of life, sad for those who mourn, sad that we can’t figure out how to fix the problem.

Yes, this was grief. But not the kind of grief that drives you to your knees, or makes snot run out of your nose. This was grief that was slow and constant and heavy, just pressing down on my shoulders, making every step hard.

Later that day, still feeling the weight of that sadness, and missing Sam so thoroughly, I realized that I needed to do something that would help me remember good memories, and I made no-bake chocolate cookies.

Huh? What’s the connection between grief and the cookies?

When Sam was in high school, he dated a young woman for a long time, and we spent a lot of time with her. And often, she would bring over a plate of no-bake cookies, one of Sam’s favorites. So last night I made a batch, thinking back to evenings filled with macaroni and cheese and cookies, love and laughter. I remembered laughing until my sides hurt, watching TV together, holidays together, and love. Just love.

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And when I scraped the pan, and stood by the dark window eating the cooling batter, I gave thanks for love.

Loving when it is uncomfortable…

As I have said before, Sam loved unconditionally. Loudly. Consistently. Without questions, without judgement. He could see behind the grime. Behind the corrections anklets, beyond the stigma of serious mental illness, behind the convictions or prison time, behind poverty, behind cognitive limitations, behind varying political views.

Sam had very, very strong views on things. Views he worked hard to support. For example, he went to our State House to attend the hearings on marriage rights for all, because he so strongly felt anyone should have the right to marry. He volunteered at the local fair collecting signatures on petitions for this, even though he faced venom from many who walked by his booth. But even as he faced that wrath, he never reacted in rudeness or anger. He wanted to understand the views of others, and actually listened.

Sam could sit and chat with lawyers about his views on civil rights, or go fishing in the creek with friends. He could talk about literature like a champ, and laugh until his sides hurt watching movies like Chicken Run. He had the ability to not limit himself into the constraints society likes to thrust upon us.

It is easy to love, or treat well, people just like ourselves. It is much harder to love those who look, sound, worship, believe differently than ourselves. Sam was able to do that without thinking about it, without making it a lofty goal to achieve. It was just who he was, and it is part of the reason that his legacy lives on to this day.

I challenge all of us to try to love someone different than us — let me know how it goes.

 

How’d this happen?

Over the last few weeks, I have been approached by many people asking how I got published. Many of them are local, and read the recent article about Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude in the newspaper.

What have I been asked? Am I self-published or published through a publisher? Do I have an agent? Why did I go the route I did? What is the difference between self-publishing and going through a publisher? How much money am I making on my writing? How can other people get published?

Some of the questions I answer in general terms. How much money have I made on my writing? I’m not quitting my day job any time soon… Am I self-published or published through a publisher? Publishers. Do I have an agent? No, I don’t.

To be clear, I didn’t come to quick fame and glory in writng. I completed my first full version of The Phone Call (then titled Stepping In It) in 1995. Then I got books about agents, and I sent letters, old-fashioned letters mailed in envelopes with stamps on them, to agents. After about fifty letters later, one agent asked to read the full manuscript. I still have that letter framed. I got rejected so many times it was amazing. Then in around 2002, I did get an agent for that book. He represented me for a year, and nothing came of it.

Through all of this, I kept writing. And my family kept believing in me. They never questioned when I had piles of letters on the kitchen table ready to send them to agents. They never minded when I was in my own little writing world. And when I got rejected and said I was giving up? They picked me up, dusted me off, and told me it would happen. And Sam would tell me it would happen, that someday I would be a published author.

Then the internet really came into our lives, and I could do research on agents online. And I sent a least a million email queries for now my two completed novels, and I got rejected with amazing regularity.

Then Sam died. I put away my fiction writing and thought I would never look at it again. A couple years after his death, I started having the urge to write again, and I could hear his voice in my head telling me to keep trying. And I talked it over with the rest of the family, and decided to give it a try again.

This was when I got serious about writing. I had an incredible local editor, but to push myself further as a writer, I hired a professional fiction editor. Working with her was completely different than working with a friend. Once we were done the full editing and formatting process, I started a two-pronged approach to getting it published. First, I started sending queries to agents, looking for representation. Then I also started researching publishers who allow submissions without an agent. I did my homework. Hours and hours, days and days, months of research. I kept detailed records of who I contacted, how, when, and the response.

Then one morning in June 2017, I opened my inbox, and found an email from Solstice Publishing offering me a contract on The Phone Call. A month later, a contract for That One Small Omission also arrived from them. Five months later, a contract for More Than I Can Say.

During this time, I was also finishing Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude. I was sending the proposal to agents. As a family, we talked about self-publishing, but felt that it would be picked up by a publisher — they believed. So while I was still contacting agents, I also started sending proposals to publishers. And in May 2018, I was offered a contract.

What is the difference between self-publishing and a publisher? Truly the difference is that in self-publishing you have more complete control of your work. Both have their advantages. You need to know yourself and your work to know which option works best for you. For me, it was working with publishers, but for many other authors, it is going through a self-publshing process. If you go the self-publishing route, please, please, please get your work professionally proofread and formatted so it has the best chance possible in the marketplace.

How can others get published? Do your homework. Get organized and focused. Decide on your audience and then research what the best options are for that particular type of work. Get the best editors you can. Then try, try, try.

 

 

Being Thankful

I write and talk about gratitude a lot. One of the things I have noticed is that many people see gratitude as something you feel/express when it is something major, or dramatic in your life, such as being grateful for a vacation to Mexico.

As I say when I speak on the topic, I don’t see gratitude as just for big things. Yes, I am thankful for a wonderful gift, or a surprise visit from a friend. But I am also grateful for having a coffee maker that works well on auto setting each morning so there is coffee when I get up. I am thankful for firewood. I am thankful for sturdy, warm shoes when the weather is yucky. I am thankful for friends who send text messages saying “hugs.” I am thankful for friends who send me photos of rainbows. I am thankful for the chickens’ excitement when they get their cracked corn. I am thankful for the music on my phone. I am thankful for a family who loves to eat dinner together.

I think if we spend our time thinking that events/experiences/gifts need to be major or new to make our gratitude list, we are missing so many opportunities to be grateful.

Love, snow, and stew

Today was a snowy day in Vermont. My drive into work was a bit iffy, but once I was settled in, the view from my window was spectacular.

Coming home a bit early today, I spent time picking up, making a stew, making sourdough bread and some brownies before taking care of things outside.

What I realized as the day progressed was that I was seeing love in action. Love is shoveling and plowing. Love is clearing snow from decks. Love is bringing venison to your neighbor to thank them for letting you hunt on their land. Love is making a rich stew from that venison so all your family members who are cold and tired and hungry can have a great dinner. Love is fixing a garage door opener. Love is gathering dirty dishes and washing them. Love is finding the socks left on the floor and washing/drying them. Love is texting to let people know when you have arrived somewhere. Love is sending an email saying that you want to connect with someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. Love is ordering a surprise for someone who is struggling so they feel loved. Love is sending a message telling someone what you appreciate about them.

Where did you see love today?

What Sam wanted…

As any of you who know me personally know, Sam was one of my greatest cheerleaders of my writing. Sam (along with his dad and brothers) always believed that I would be published at some point. He always said that once I either got an agent, or a publishing contract, we would go out to dinner as a family and that everyone would order what they want. This was a big deal, since when you are a child in a big family, you spend a lot of time being told to order the cheapest option.

When my first novel was published, we went out for a family dinner, just as Sam had wanted. We ordered what we wanted, we laughed, we cried a bit, we reminisced, and we honored Sam and his belief in us. Then we took a photo of the four of us with that novel.

This past weekend we went out to celebrate the upcoming publication of Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude. We went to this amazing local Asian restaurant, and had a fabulous dinner. We didn’t each order what we wanted, instead the boys told me to order for everyone. Many courses later, we were full, happy, and had enjoyed an evening of love, laughter, memories, and joy.

By the time we were done, the restaurant was full, and the sun had set. We weren’t able to get a family photo with the book like we had done before, but when we got home, we took a picture of the book with my fortune.

 

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Sam always believed. Sam always looked for opportunities to spend time with family and friends, and he loved a good meal. So we did what Sam wanted us to do, and I know he is proud of us for doing it.

How do I get one?

Several people have asked lately how they can get a copy of Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude. The book will officially release in e-book form on February 5th, and will be officially released in paperback form on May 21st. Having said that, signed copies are available now directly through me.

If you are local (Addison/Rutland/Chittenden Counties), either use the contact form on this site, or Facebook messenger to send me a note, and we can connect in person so you can pick up a copy.

If you are not local, you can order them directly through the “BOOKSTORE” tab on this site — and they usually ship out (via priority mail) in a couple days.

What is love?

Happy 2019 to all of you! I hope this year brings you health, joy, light, love and peace.

As I started this year, I thought a lot about what love is — I know, I know. I think about love a lot…

Love is getting up every morning and making the bed for your partner. Love is getting the wood stove going as soon as possible so your family is warm. Love is cutting, splitting and stacking firewood so your family will be warm next winter. Love is dragging the splitter to another house to split wood. Love is reading a romance novel because you love the author. Love is fixing the dryer so that clothes don’t snag. Love is carrying Fluffy 2 to the coop just because she likes to be held. Love is making another handrail, even when the original was brilliant. Love is putting up with snoring. Love is picking up the phone charger and bringing it downstairs every single day. Love is all those seemingly little things that together make life grand.

How do you show love?