Readers: Butter crème for writers.

Who doesn't like butter creme?

Who doesn’t like butter creme?

She calls herself the piano lady and she came to my house to inspect the 9-inch scratch I accidentally caused across the lid of our grand piano.

And  before she left, she made my day, and it had nothing to do with a miracle fix for the scratch—which she isn’t sure she can repair. She’ll get back to me about that.

When she asked to take my contact information again, I handed her my business card.

She looked at it. “I know this name –,” she said.

“When I heard your message on my machine, I knew I’d heard that name somewhere before, but just couldn’t remember exactly where . . . ”

This, of course, caught my attention, as being a freelance writer for my city’s  newspaper and area magazines kinda’, sorta’ came to mind.

I explained to her about the weekly column that I and another freelance colleague supply to on an alternating basis.

Her expression lit up at that, but still didn’t hit solid pay dirt.

“Did you by any chance publish a book of short stories . . . about Midwest living or something like that? Something about Walking Beans Wasn’t Something You did with Your Dog, or . . .?”

My head and heart smiled. I’m fairly sure I was smiling on the outside, too.

I told her the book wasn’t  solely mine, but that I was one of the contributors and that my story “Small Town Ghosts” closed out the collection.

Pay dirt.

“Oh, yes!” she said, finally connecting all the dots. “I love that book. I can read a few stories at a time, and one of the writers even has the same last name as mine, so I started checking into it to see if we might be related . . .”

We visited briefly about this possible family connection to another of the contributors to the book, and I filled her in on Shapato Publishing and its founder and how these Midwest anthology books came about.

“I don’t remember where my copy of the book came from,” she said, “but you signed it.”

I loved the concept of all these short stories written by Midwesterners about local history, family tales of hardships as well as good times, remembrances of world wars or The Great Depression, coming together under one title. I did everything I could to bring the book to light in my city, and did so with success, finding venues and outlets for selling copies.

I enjoyed doing small group talks promoting the book and speaking on the importance of getting personal family history and stories down on paper, or on tape—any way possible–before the elder ones in our families are gone, taking their stories and impressions with them.

It was time to conclude this piano-investigative appointment—and what I viewed as a godsend of a conversation about a bit of my writing.

She looked at my card again. “So. You are a writer,” she said. “I like the way you spell your name.”

Another conversation commenced about how I switched life gears when I realized the old way of office-world life appeared to point my creative life to an early death.

She shared how she, too, restarted her life after the death of her husband.

“I was too young to not do anything,” she said. “I knew I could learn something new, so I learned how to tune and repair pianos.” That was 13 years ago.

My freelancing brain is always on the prowl. There might be a story here. Ask her. Which I did. She hesitated, but finally said she’d think about it.

I pointed to my card. “Let me know what you decide.”

I hope she’ll locate her equipment for buffing out that unwelcome scratch across my black lacquered beauty. I also hope she’ll let me write an article about her new career one day soon.

But I have to say, to have someone come into my home for one reason, and make the connection back to something I wrote made for a really fine day—piano scratch be hanged.

Writing is good and therapeutic and all that. And I’ve heard people say they write only for themselves. Well—not all of us want to stop there. We want to write for you. We like writing for you.

And we love it when you take the time, not only to read it, but when you will talk with us about it.

And if we get lucky enough to have someone like what we wrote–well—that’s just pure butter crème on our cake.

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. I mean that sincerely. You have other things you can, need or have to read today. So—really. Thank you for today.

Tractor pins, writing—and tears.

The final–and most beautiful tractor pin of all.

Do you know what this is? 

If you grew up on a farm, you do. For those of you who didn’t—it’s a tractor pin. You slip this pin down into a connecting hitch on a tractor so you can tow wagons, etc. behind you. My dad made dozens and dozens of these throughout the years he owned a welding/machine repair shop in the farming community where we lived, and this tractor pin served as the catharsis for a story about him that is now published. 

The Fourth edition in the Series of Stories About Growing Up in and Around Small Towns in the Midwest (Shapato Publishing), *Make Hay While the Sun Shines, came off the presses last week. 

Before dad’s business sold after his death, my brother collected several of these pins from the shop, and he had this one chrome-plated. He recently made a gift of it to me. (Thank you so much big brother!) 

Shapato editor Jean Tennant requests submissions for her popular Midwest Series be kept to around 1,500 words. 

When I started drafting I ran into things I hadn’t counted on. Deep, sad things, and by the time I finished drafting there were 15 pages strong. That’s just a tad over the 1,500 word mark, so I had major decisions to make, and big time cutting to do. 

At times the process brought tears. I hadn’t counted on that. I was just going to write a story about my dad the machine-shop owner and welder, right? 

I wrote about the hardships he and his twin sister knew as kids because of an abusive alcoholic father who quickly abandoned the family. I worked through their being separated from their mother who had to work at what jobs she could find in town, often leaving them alone on the farm together to care for each other, or with neighbors—who my dad didn’t feel comfortable around. (Was there more to this than anyone ever told me? I’m never going to know.) 

I walked back through the story about the time all they had to eat were rotten eggs—and yes, they did eat them. When you’re hungry—you eat what you have. 

I wrote about the day he died. The roads were treacherous and slow that February afternoon and it took the ambulance 5 hours to get out to where he’d died and collect his body. On top of a wretched sounding childhood, this seemed like the ultimate final insult that, for me, still stings.

I wrote about the dirt and dangers inside a welding shop with dangerous chemical fumes. I wrote about foul-smelling manure spreaders that he crawled under to repair, and I revisited the nasty conditions of working in a machine repair shop—with no air conditioning in the summer and those frigid winter mornings until his heater caught up. All this so I could have pretty dresses and shoes—and food and all that good stuff that hardworking parents provide for their offspring. 

And through all that writing I realized I never told him that I understood just how hard he had to work for his family — because I know I didn’t fully comprehend this until later in life. 

I know this is a common affliction for the young, selfish and stupid, but it was damn hard to work through in that draft. 

Of course, I did not put all of this in the story that appears in Shapato Publishing’s latest edition, but I used it all to help me find and shape the story that I submitted. 

Some days I had to set the piece aside. The deep stuff was too much. I’d shut the file down and leave it. I’d pick it up again several days later, and eventually I whittled it down as I figured out what I wanted to say. 

What I wanted to tell the world was about his creativity that balancedBetween Iron and Paint,” the title of the new story. I mucked through a lot of “stuff” to get there. 

If you think you can whip out a story quickly, maybe edit a few words here and there and call it done, you are doing yourself a great disservice. 

Your first draft—your second try–your third look—simply will not be enough to give you a finished piece. 

Sometimes there will be tears—or anger, as in my case this time around, but eventually you end up with something you are ready to put before the world. 

Neither of my parents lived long enough to see me publish, but I’m hoping they have some idea of it from wherever. They both inspired so much of it. 

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. – Robert Frost  

*The book is available at www.Amazon.com, www.Shapatopublishing.com – or you can buy a copy from me, if you prefer.