The Lost Little Ones

Oh, yes, I am so going there.

Today my son and his fifth grade class went on a field trip to historic Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed in 1620 and site of what would later become the birthplace of New England. I carefully packed his lunch bag to ensure he had plenty of food to eat and share, gave him cash to spend at the gift shop, hugged and kissed him, and sent him off with my husband, who brought him to school to catch a 6:45am bus.

After they left, I prayed.

I prayed to God for the bus driver to get him and his classmates to and from Plymouth safely. I prayed that they would be safe while they were there. I prayed because as an American parent, I can no longer take my child’s safety at school, or anywhere, for granted. There are people out there with guns, many obtained legally, who want to hunt down and kill our children.

My son and I rarely go to the movies anymore. When we do, we sit in the way back, against the wall, so I have a clear view of the theater. I calculate what I might do if a shooter were to come in and start spraying bullets. Throw my son on the floor, under a seat, and then lay on top of him. Alternatively, throw him down, tell him to stay down and hide while I charge the shooter so he kills me instead of my son.

In church, we usually sit toward the back. If a shooter were to enter, I would tell my son to get under the pew and crawl his way to the end of the row, stay low while he heads to the exit, then run like hell away from the church. If this were not an option, I would throw myself on top of him and shield him with my body.

I do not share these thoughts with my son.

We send our most precious, priceless gifts from God  – our children – to school and sometimes they do not come home. This is not a fluke or an anomaly anymore; this is a regular occurrence in American society. No child is safe, not yours and not mine, and our government does nothing about it.

Arm teachers. Have fewer entrances. Be kind to each other. These are the innovative solutions our government throws at us each time we experience another violent loss of innocent life. They expect us to predict which one of the “weird” kids will become a mass murderer before he kills. They blame the victims when he, in most cases with legal access to semi-automatic weapons, massacres them while they learn .

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for term limits for our elected representatives. Too many of them have been in office during these massacres and still are unwilling to compromise or take action to implement policies and laws to help prevent this bloodshed from happening in our schools.

Something is fundamentally wrong with a country that values the right of a private citizen to own an inanimate object capable of mass murder over the rights of living, breathing human beings to live their lives in safety and peace.

Children are dying. Do not think it cannot happen to yours.

We will all die. If we are fortunate, it will be at a ripe old age, after a life well-lived. As you lie on your deathbed, which do you want by your side, your gun or your child?

“In the end, both sides wanted what the Pilgrims had been looking for in 1620: a place unfettered by obligations to others. But from the moment Massasoit decided to become the Pilgrims’ ally, New England belonged to no single group. For peace and for survival, others must be accommodated. The moment any of them gave up on the difficult work of living with their neighbors—and all of the compromise, frustration, and delay that inevitably entailed—they risked losing everything. It was a lesson that Bradford and Massasoit had learned over the course of more than three long decades. That it could be so quickly forgotten by their children remains a lesson for us today.”  ~ Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

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Resolve

Every day life tests our resolve. Two weeks ago, I posted that my goal over the next year is to practice greater self-acceptance. The other day, I found myself wavering in that goal.

I took a much-needed day off from work, and so I picked up my 11 year old son from school. Before we even got in the car, he asked to go to his friend Jack’s house. I didn’t know Jack or his parents, plus my son mentioned that Jack’s mom wasn’t home from work yet. No way was I going to let him go to a strange house with no adult supervision. I said no, but told him to have Jack’s mom call me.

Back home, I got involved cleaning my grandmother’s old mirror that I’d taken down from the loft over the garage. As I was prying thumb tacks off the back cover of the frame with a butter knife, my son tells me, “Jack is coming over in a few minutes with his mother.”

What?!

I looked around me. Dirty dishes in the sink. School papers, bills, and newspapers strewn about. Piles of shoes thrown near the back door.  Dried cat food stuck on a dish. Loose ends that needed tying up from a remodel – and that was just the kitchen!

I wanted to throttle my son, but I was too busy panicking over the horrible first impression I would make on Jack and, more importantly, his mother. The impression of a disorganized, scattered, messy mother who is too busy indulging in personal activities, like fiddling with a 50 year old mirror, to keep her house in good order.

I should add that my son goes to parochial school, where a large chunk of the student body come from families who are well off. I’m just an ordinary, middle-class educator married to a blue-collar guy, who sometimes struggles to pay the tuition. Our house is in an older, working class neighborhood that I sometimes fear may be going down the tubes.

My inner demons kicked in: Will the mother look her nose down on me and my home? Will she think we’re not good enough for her son?

Then my goal came back to me. So what if my house was messy? I preferred self-care and creative projects to cleaning on a day off. We might not live in the best section of town, but our 1930 colonial was charming and in a friendly, down-to-earth neighborhood that we enjoy. That was what mattered, not the opinion of a stranger.

I thought back to the family with five girls that used to live in the little ranch behind me when I was a girl. Their house was the place to hang out. They had a Roly-Poly, a round, wooden contraption with bench seats and bars to hold onto while someone rolled us around the yard. There was an underground fort where we would bunker down, in the pitch black, and pretend to be hiding from danger. Their basement was finished into a recreation room where we would put on plays for their parents. The girls’ dad made us homemade potato chips, and on Halloween night he would pile us into his station wagon and drive through a nearby cemetery while we screamed in terrified delight.

In retrospect, they probably didn’t have much money, and their house was way more messy and disorganized than mine, yet I loved being there. The chaos was part of the charm.

Suddenly, I was excited that Christian’s friend was coming to hang out at our house. If he and his mom saw me as messy and scattered, all the better. To hell with perfection!

They arrived, and I invited the mom inside so we could get acquainted and exchange phone numbers. Her eyes scanned the kitchen, just as they’d scanned the neighborhood.

“We’re at the tail end of a kitchen remodel,” I said, feeling the need to explain the plywood backsplash over the counter, the lack of trim by the floor, and the box of silverware on the kitchen floor.

“It’s cozy,” she said, leaving me to decide if this was an insult or a compliment.

Then it dawned on me: I knew nothing about this woman. Not where she lived, where she came from, what her story was. I was making all kinds of assumptions based on my own insecurities. Hadn’t I resolved to end this bullshit?

I smiled at her, and felt warmth and acceptance spread through me. “Thank you.”

OMG, Did I Really Just Say That?

The older I get, the more I wish I could say whatever I want without fear of repercussions. It gets tiresome having to always be politically correct and feel responsible for people’s feelings. I am constantly searching for the right language to use so as not to hurt, upset, offend, anger, alienate, or demotivate someone.

Not that I want to be a jerk, but once and a while it would be a relief to tell someone what I really think, exactly as I am thinking it, instead of keeping my mouth shut or censoring my words.

Like that former co-worker who clipped his fingernails at his desk. I wanted to shout, “Why in the hell would you do that here? It is disgusting and unsanitary. Who raised you to think that’s okay?” Instead, not trusting myself to find a polite way to ask him to stop, I said nothing and cringed each time I heard a clip.

How I long, even for a day, to do away with the filter and speak my mind as I please.

In response to that job interview question: How do you cope with stress? “Mostly I do yoga and journal, but on really bad days I drink an entire bottle of wine, then pick a fight with my husband.”

To the delusional college senior who is applying to medical school and asked me to write a recommendation, even though her GPA is 2.6, she flunked chemistry, and has yet to volunteer in a health care setting, “Girl, you do realize that your chances of getting into medical school anytime soon are like no way in hell?

Twice in my life I actually said what I wanted without a filter and the feeling of freedom was liberating. The first time was in a supermarket checkout line. An item rang up higher than I’d expected, so the cashier put on a blinking light to alert the manager to come over. The people in line behind me started to shift impatiently.

Then one guy said, “There’s one in every line.”

I could have chosen the path of dignity and kept my mouth shut. Instead, I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, are you referring to me? Yeah, because I purposely selected an item that I knew would ring up incorrectly just so I could hold up the line and wreck your day. Because it’s all about you.”

He went still. Said nothing. In a moment, he slinked away. The others in line avoided my gaze. Turns out the item had rung up incorrectly. Ha!

The second time was when the worst plumber on the planet entered my basement to inspect a leaking pipe. I followed him down and told him that every time I turned on the outside hose to water the garden, a loud, thumping sound roared through the pipes. The resulting conversation went something like this:

“Lady, I don’t know anything about a thumping sound,” he sneered. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the pipes.”

I said, “Neither do we, which is why we called a plumber, so you can figure it out and fix it. By the way, did your boss mention that we don’t have hot water in the kitchen sink and the downstairs toilet is running?”

“Jesus,” he said, “No, he didn’t. It’s almost four o’clock. I wasn’t planning on being here all night.”

We went back and forth like this for several minutes, mostly with him bitching and moaning and gesticulating, until finally I exploded.

“Listen, mister. My mother-in-law passed away last week, just before that my husband was in the hospital and almost died, and now I have to stand here and deal with you? If you don’t want the [expletive] job, leave.”

I feared he might strike me, so aghast did he appear. Instead, he held up his hands as if surrendering.

“Calm down, lady. I’ll take care of everything.”

While part of me could not believe I had just spoken to him like that, another part was glad I had. Clearly, it was the only kind of language he understood.  Some people need to hear it straight, no filter involved.

Imagine if everyone in the world said exactly what was on their minds? We would either be at war constantly or maybe we might start behaving better. Then there’s the matter of having to take in what we dish out. Would we want to know what people wish they could say to us? Probably not.

As I was writing this, Justin Timberlake’s “Say Something” kept playing in my mind. Here’s the song if you want to listen.

The Road to Self-Acceptance

I used to be a self-improvement junkie. From self-help books and journaling, to daily meditation and yoga, I was forever striving to become the best I could be, but somehow always falling short.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I am so over it.

It takes tremendous energy to always be striving toward a better version of yourself. Almost as much energy as learning to love and accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. Of the two, I am convinced the latter is the greater use of our energy, and the more difficult, which may be why so many of us prefer the former.

Evolving  toward our highest potential is a beautiful thing. Sadly, too many of us start our journeys of growth and self-discovery from a place of lack instead of love, convinced we’re not good enough as we are and that we therefore need to strive and change to be better.

My entire life has been a struggle to feel good enough, to appreciate myself for who I am – the good, the bad, the quirks, and even my God-given strengths and talents. Did it start in the womb, with my 17 year old mother “disgracing” the family by having pre-marital sex and getting knocked up with me? Can shame be passed on at the cellular level? Does the stain of being the black sheep seep into one’s offspring?

Or could it have started with my father? He never could seem to accept me for who I am. He still corrects my speech (not how I say things, but what I say) and seems overly concerned with how I make him appear. There are digs about me acting like my mother, as if being like her in any way means that something is wrong with me.

What about those small moments that add up over a lifetime, such as when I was eight years old and sitting on my friend Jenny’s front steps with her and a group of girls. Someone mentioned the new landscaping around the front walkway of Jenny’s house and I, in innocence, said, “My parents said they copied our landscaping”, which they kind of had given it was identical and we lived directly across the street. Not that I cared, but my parents had taken issue with it.

Unbeknownst to me, Jenny’s mother was listening inside the house through the screen door. All of a sudden, a voice hissed, “You little devil. How dare you say that. Get off my property.” Stunned and afraid and ashamed, I left without saying a word and spent the rest of the day sitting in our garage watching the girls play. The residue of that day has stayed with me all these years.

I don’t know how my lack of self-acceptance started, but the days of feeling like I have to act a certain way, say things a certain way, dress and wear my hair a certain way – I could go on and on – to fit in and be accepted by others are slowly coming to an end. I am getting too old for such bullshit. I want to experience myself fully for the first time in my life, to know what it feels like to appreciate and accept myself as I am, right in this moment. I want to observe my thoughts, words, and actions without judgment, even the “bad” ones, and to naturally be myself first in every situation, instead of adhering to my tendency to adapt myself to others’ opinions of who and what I should be.

A funny thing that has been happening lately that has prompted this shift. All of the things I’ve learned and thought I understood in my self-improvement heyday are rushing at me, seeping into me as primal, mini-revelations during which I think, Oh my, God. This is what it meant. Now I get it. Now I really, truly get it, in my soul. I couldn’t explain the revelations if I wanted to because they go beyond words to a deep knowing.

What a gift! The world is opening up to me and I’m ready to dive into it.

Check It Out: Inspiring Women Writers

I don’t usually promote authors or books on my blog, but there’s a first time for everything and I want to do my part to support the writing community. Plus, these women and their work are inspiring!

First there is the newly released Daddy: Reflections Of Father-Daughter Relationships, edited by one of my favorite bloggers, author K.E. Garland. I discovered Kathy’s blog, Kwoted, when I came across her first book, The Unhappy Wife during a Google search. (I’ll leave it to your imagination why I was doing a search that led me to the title.) Unlike her first book, which tells true stories of unhappy wives written by Kathy, Daddy is written by guest authors who have had challenging relationships with their fathers and, in their own way, have come to terms with it. The stories are powerful, painful, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Kudos to Kathy for giving women a venue through which to voice their deepest truths about their father-daughter relationship.

Then there’s Joanne DeMaio, who happens to be a distant relative, my father’s first cousin’s wife. I haven’t seen her in years, and only then at the occasional wedding and funeral, but I’m excited for her success. When a publishing deal she had hoped for fell through, she decided to self-publish her first novel and it went on to become an Amazon bestseller. The best part is that her publishing success happened when she hit her 50s, so there is hope for us in middle age! She is now the author of a series of novels that tell the stories of friends who live in a small, cozy town by the sea. Fun fact: Her daughter is her marketing agent.

I hope you’ll visit both women’s websites to learn more about them and their work.

How to Embrace Rejection and Keep Writing

Rejection is inevitable if you want to be published, so thicken your skin, baby. 

On September 14, 2017, I crossed a big-ticket item off my bucket list. Not only had I completed a 75,000 word romance novel, a bucket list feat in itself, I submitted it to Harlequin Historical Romance for consideration. Pressing the submit button gave me the most amazing sense of joy, accomplishment, and lightness. I had poured my heart and soul into that story and its characters on and off for years. Now I had let it go and the results, mercifully, were out of my hands.

Evolution of a novel
A few years ago, I sent the manuscript in novella form to Harlequin’s Undone line, an eBook division. Two years later, I received an apologetic email from an editor stating that they had shut down the line and only recently realized the email account linked to it was still active. They encouraged me to submit to another line, which meant I needed to expand my story by about 50,000 words.

Inspired that an editor had emailed me for any reason, I lengthened the manuscript and submitted it, this time to Avon Romance. They never got back to me, which serves me right for betraying Harlequin! In retrospect, my query letter and synopsis were pretty awful and I should not have sent a sex scene as the sample of the best scene in the manuscript. I still cringe (and giggle) when I imagine the horror the editor must have felt when she read that scene, if she bothered to read it at all.

Learning from those mistakes, I revised the story rather extensively, wrote a new query and synopsis, and submitted them along with the first three chapters, as requested, to Harlequin. Three months later, I received the best rejection ever, which was a rather detailed and constructive critique of my story. I was so grateful that someone had actually read what I’d written and taken the time to respond! (See rejection letter below if you want.)

Using that critique as a guide, I am back to work on a new historical romance novel. A colleague who has been published suggested that I work with the original manuscript. He read Harlequin’s critique as saying that they thought the piece had promise with some changes. I read it as I should start all over. Regardless of one’s interpretation, it feels right to start fresh with a new story line and characters.

Embracing rejection
I have learned so much from the experience and process of writing and submitting that novel and I want to share it with you.

  1. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and perseverance to complete a 75,000 word story. Passion alone will not see you through to the end, though it helps. Kudos to those of us who actually do it, regardless of whether the piece is published.
  2. Be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself and your story out there for the world to see. Some of the feedback will be helpful and encouraging, some will not. We have no control over that, so let it go. Develop an open mind and thick skin. The former will help you sift through the criticism and use it to grow and improve; the latter you will need to keep from wallowing in anger or self-pity and giving up.
  3. You will fail, be rejected, make mistakes, and want to give up. DON’T!  Listen to the criticism, embrace the rejections, and use them to make you a better writer!
  4. The more you write, the more you read, and the more open-minded you are to constructive feedback, the better you’ll get at  writing. Even your worst writing is not wasted! All is practice for what comes next.
  5. Try to assess your writing objectively, especially when revising, editing, and taking in feedback. Don’t become so attached to a word, phrase, scene or character that you can’t see reason. Killing your darlings is a skill set in itself. Get comfortable with it.
  6. Fear not rejection! Fear never having tried in the first place. Enjoy the writing process, look forward to submitting your work, and consider your rejection letters to be badges of honor! They mean that you have written something you care deeply about, submitted it, and taken another step toward your dream. How many people can say they’ve done that?

If you have any words of wisdom you would like share about writing and publishing, please leave them in the comments section!

For those of you interested, here is the rejection I received from Harlequin (a huge thank you to that editor!):

Dear Kim,

Thank you for submitting Sweet Irish Kisses for our consideration. The story has interesting characters and you have a lively way with words. However, regretfully it is unsuitable for publication on the Harlequin Historical list at the current time.

Here are some areas for you to think about, should you choose to submit again.

Character Motivations: 
This story has lots of very exciting, dramatic plot points that we thoroughly enjoyed. However, while they are dramatic, it’s unclear why your characters are choosing to behave in this way, on an internal, emotional level. For instance, your heroine chooses to engage with your hero very quickly, when she might, perhaps, be naturally more suspicious, and in particular the kiss does feel a bit out-of-the-blue. Equally, your hero does not seem to question this. You might like to think about layering in your characters thought processes further, so that we can see why they are acting in this way. Establishing layered, deep-seated, internal motivations for this will make your characters more believable and engaging.

The Alpha Male: 
Perhaps tying in with the above, and indeed the matter of emotional conflict, it’s crucial that a Historical hero is powerful and commanding, regardless of his economic background. While your hero is very likeable, he doesn’t quite fulfil the fantasy of the above traits. It’s important than in his interactions with every other character, he feels thoroughly in charge; it’s also important that he feels motivated by his emotional conflicts, rather than external situations. We would suggest that in future, you focus your hero on his more commanding traits, who embodies that aspirational alpha male which readers look for in the series.

Emotional conflict driving the twists and turns of the story:
The main area to work on would be the emotional conflict between your hero and heroine. With this submission, there is a lot of focus on your characters immediate, dramatic behaviour, and as mentioned above, without much motivation. This is preventing the reader getting straight to the heart and the emotional impact of their backstories and conflicts. We’re sure there is a wealth of potential emotional conflict that prevent these two from coming together, however, it is the external intrusion of external circumstances that forces the twists and turns in their relationship. Emotional conflict is vital to any romance as it is this that pushes characters through their story and provides the grounding for their emotional turning points so that they can evolve and develop as their relationship does.
Digging really deep into their past hurts and using this to creating that ‘will they, won’t they’ tension throughout the story will keep readers turning the pages. To develop this there needs to be an almost insurmountable emotional obstacle within both characters that stops them being together. It is then important for your reader to see both your hero and heroine overcome their emotional concerns through their relationship and come to a happy and emotionally satisfying resolution at the end of the story.

If you are interested in pursuing Historical as a series to write for, we would recommend exploring the series guidelines and reading as many books from the Cherish series to be able to deliver on our series promise. A few excellent recent examples are Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress by Lara Temple, A Pregnant Courtesan for the Rake by Diane Gaston, and The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding by Amanda McCabe.

We are sorry to disappoint you on this occasion but hope you find this feedback helpful.
Thank you for your continuing interest in Harlequin Mills & Boon.

Yours sincerely,
Editorial.

Drowning In Extremes

I want to talk about life’s ups and downs.

About extremes and trying to find the middle ground.

A wonderful week in Florida; two magical weeks in Prague.

Then I come home.

Husband laid out, on oxycodone,

After work accident led to surgery.

A new kitchen floor installed.

Refrigerator and dining table in living room.

Washer, dryer, dishwasher in driveway.

No hot water in kitchen sink.

Piles of dishes.

Lugging hot water from downstairs bath in pitchers.

Piles of laundry.

Dragging baskets to parents’ houses.

Husband in tears from pain; his boss whines,

“I’m losing money without him. I’m so stressed I need a massage.”

Then just as things are looking up, it happens.

Mother-in-law has a heart attack.

Survives five bypasses, only to end up with blood clot and paralyzed legs.

Emergency surgery doesn’t save her.

Funeral plans. Countless phone calls to relatives.

Final viewing. Burial.

Father-in-law’s blood sugar plummets.

Picked up by the PD for erratic driving.

Rushed to hospital.

Okay for now.

Then,

Two co-workers announce they have new jobs.

Boss is leaving for China.

Work follows me on my so-called vacation.

Thanks to invention of Smartphone.

Is there enough wine in the universe to help me forget?

Will this, too, really pass?

They say when it rains, it pours.

It is pouring.

But I am alive.

I am healthy.

I am free?

Still, I wonder,

Is there always a price to pay

For joy,

For love,

For beauty,

And the desire to be free?