Sunday, December 27, 2015







Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shame On You Algonquin Books and Workman Publishing

Dear Lit Loves,

Usually I take the time to post reviews of memoirs on this blog, but today I am writing because of extreme disappointment in the independent trade book house known as Workman Publishing and its small imprint known as Algonquin Books.  I've always prided myself on my spirit of deep independence and passion for writing as well as the value of a really excellent book that I could recommend to someone.  Four years ago I decided to take up writing manuscripts in the memoir genre about matters such as southern family strife, the strong bonds of female friendship even in the face of death, the insanity of navigating our modern medical system as a patient with a few unique illnesses, the strains and rewards of being a determined patient advocate for a parent battling a rare form of cancer and finally, how to build your intestinal fortitude and courage upon enduring domestic violence, corporate chauvinism and a year teaching in the chalk dust trenches.  I wrote four manuscripts and four book proposals over the course of four years.  I've queried literary agents and editors as well as small and large publishing houses.  Since I am a native North Carolinian, naturally it made sense to submit to Algonquin Books and the independent trade publishing house that later bought Algonquin Books, Workman Publishing. 

Why would it seem natural to query Algonquin Books?  Well, let's see, they have a primary location in Chapel Hill, North Carolina which is virtually right next door to where I live.  They were supposedly founded on the premise of discovering and publishing those writers who might otherwise remain undiscovered.  I mean, not all writers live in New York City, write for The Wall Street Journal, attended renowned schools of writing or are considered celebrities.  It appears now that as a writer you must also have five million Facebook fans and a half million Twitter followers if you ever want your manuscript to see the light of day via some form of traditional publishing.

I want my fellow writers, especially those of you who are new or just beginning to put the finishing touches on a manuscript, to know that I am most sorry I ever thought to submit any of my writing material to Algonquin Books or Workman Publishing.  It usually takes four to six months to receive a reply once you submit a hard copy or email copy of your writing material.  If you write an editor at Algonquin Books or try to make a connection with them, good luck.  The acquiring editors at Algonquin with whom I would have liked to work never responded to any of my emails.  And today, I received word that Algonquin Books is no longer open to unsolicited submissions for the foreseeable future due to a backlog of submissions.  I do remember once writing the publisher of Algonquin Books to inquire as to what more I could do to help raise my prospects of getting an invite or offer from them regarding publishing any of my work.  The publisher responded, "No one was interested in any of your work and we publish very few books per year." Wow.  That was a blow.  So no editor at Algonquin is interested in life-changing moments,  walking with a friend to the very end of her life, how to withstand being used and abused by our medical system in this country, what it is like to assist a father through his third bout with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma via a stem cell transplant, or why folks who often lead uncharmed lives matter and make a difference in this country on a daily basis.  Evidently the answer is a resounding no.

Not to be forgotten, I also recently submitted to an editor at Workman Publishing, the publishing house that owns Algonquin Books, because I liked one of their recent narrative nonfiction books that revealed the drama associated with being a nurse.  Fortunately, that particular editor responded to my email and encouraged me to submit my work as I informed her I write about encountering our country's medical system and its doctors from the patient's perspective.  I was excited that the editor encouraged me to submit my work and I did.  Today, I received a form rejection letter via email from someone at Workman Publishing.  I don't know who evaluated my work as the rejection email was not signed by an actual editor nor were there any specific reasons given for the rejection.  So I will no longer be purchasing any books published by either Algonquin Books or Workman Publishing.  I won't be recommending any books published by them either.  My experiences reflect the sorry state of publishing today where you are treated as a nobody, ignored, and often discarded because you do not have a literary agent, are not a YouTube sensation, do not have a "brand" and you are an unknown writing entity.  Wait!  Isn't that the premise upon which Algonquin Books was founded?  The mission to discover and champion writers who might otherwise go unheard of and undiscovered?  Also, I do believe I read where Workman Publishing and Algonquin Books wish to publish books that "stimulate, enrich and entertain legions of fans."  So I guess a southern writer with a Master's in Communications and who also taught English doesn't meet those qualifications.  And I guess her written work revolving around subjects like life, death, female friendships, the convoluted U.S. medical system, domestic violence, and the real heroes in the world known as teachers, just do not matter.  Well then, shame on you.  And I truly wish you all hadn't wasted my valuable time.


Monday, November 23, 2015

What Constitutes A Stellar Memoir Is Different For Agents, Readers, and Writers

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings fellow lovers of literature I was attending a medical appointment with my Meniere's disease specialist here in North Carolina today.  While waiting for my consultation and subsequent hearing tests, I was reading a medical memoir written by a popular surgeon.  When I returned home from my appointment, I started working on writing a review of the surgeon's memoir when it dawned on me that what constitutes a good or stellar memoir varies depending on the person you ask. Let me explain what I've personally experienced  in terms of what an agent believes is a good memoir, what a writer believes is good memoir, and what a reader often defines as a good memoir because I can assure you, there are very real and distinct differences especially among the three.

Literary agents, in my experience, appear to prioritize "platform" when acquiring in the memoir genre.  One friend of mine that I recently had lunch with thought this meant that the literary agent wanted a memoir writer who was also a good speaker.  If that were the case, she thought I would have no problem because I have a background in education and have taught public speaking.  I informed my friend that for many a literary agent "platform" means you are a celebrity, rock icon, gangster, morning show host, or sports figure.  Someone who is a household name.  Now "platform"for many literary agents can also mean you have a grand social media following. This type of  "platform" can take the form of a writer with 6,000 Twitter followers, 1,000 Facebook friends, or a gazillion blog followers.  To this my friend said, "But what about the content, the experience? Shouldn't that be the top priority?"  Well, you would think that should be at the top of the list, but again, based on my experiences as a writer, I'm not sure that really matters to many a literary agent acquiring in the memoir genre.  And quite a few literary agents want to acquire memoirs written by journalists, reporters, opinion columnists, or academics.  Now maybe those writers do come with a built-in audience, but I often find that memoirs by writers with that type of background write a memoir like it's a report they will discuss on the six o'clock news or a subject on which they will give a research lecture.   Their memoirs often do not flow like a story or personal tale and  those memoirs have very little of the author's voice conveyed in the writing so the book comes across to me as dry and boring.  Finally, literary agents have indicated in their query guidelines that they just want a good story well-told.  From my experience, this usually means the agent wants lyrical, poetic or what I call "sing-songy" writing.  When I read memoirs written in this manner,  I usually find myself putting the book down and thinking, could you just tell the story and get to the point!  And usually the theme or lesson of the memoir may or may not be readily identified and explained by the average reader. 

Now, as a writer in the memoir genre here is what I think about when I question if I should consider writing about specific experiences:  Is this experience relevant?  Will my story resonate with other readers, primarily women?  Does the experience I am writing about reflect important women's issues?  Is there anything from my experience that would be helpful to someone else?  Are the experiences I am writing about going to reflect my life passion and distinct southern voice?  And above all, will my story hold the attention of the reader and keep them interested?  To me, social media is not as important as the story I am telling and if I have a unique way or manner of communicating that story.  And let's be honest, social media did not always exist.  I have no problem with maintaining a website and blog as well as being connected on LinkedIn and Goodreads, but Twitter I find obnoxious and Facebook to me is just too invasive.  I don't need to share every detail or picture of my life with the whole world.  To me, Facebook is a way of people tooting their own horn, sharing way too much information, and a way for many people to find validation.  I've never needed Facebook or MySpace to know I'm a worthy individual with valuable insights to communicate whether via writing, speaking, or teaching.  So sue me!  I LIKE being considered "old school". 

Finally, as a reader I will tell you that I most likely will NOT read a celebrity memoir.  I want to read a memoir written by a female writer that is telling a story about experiences that reflect an issue that is timely and important to women today such as overcoming domestic violence, finding your calling in life, the strong bonds of female friendship, dysfunctional families, developing a brave soul and standing up for yourself, elder care, being your own best patient advocate within the quite chaotic medical establishment we have today, and handling family drama as well as coping with the death of a parent.  And here's another tidbit:  many memoir authors today have websites, blogs, etc. and offer ways to contact them.  The problem is this:  many of those memoir authors do not respond to their readers or the people who bought their book, paid good money for it, and helped put the writer on the bestseller list.  And to me, that's just shameful.  If you can't be bothered to respond to your readers then what was your real motivation for writing the book?  If you can't at least send a proper "thank you" when a reader writes you then I think you might need a good and serious reality check.  Never, ever take your memoir readers for granted.  If you do take them for granted, they probably will not be buying your next book, recommending a book of yours to others, or supporting you in growing your writing career. 

Thanks Lit Loves.  I really needed to get that off my chest.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Memoir I Voted For In The 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards

Dear Lit Loves,

Well, I have to say that after looking at the list of books that made the finalist list under the Autobiography/Memoir genre for The 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards, I was disappointed.  Actually, I almost didn't even cast a vote at all.  I'm not a fan of celebrity memoir or autobiography unless your name happens to be Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep.  I don't buy celebrity memoirs because I try to make my living via writing whether via teaching writing skills, editing, or attempting to get my own personal narrative/memoir manuscripts published.  Writing is My Cup Of Joe so to speak.  Celebrities have usually already made serious money by the time they or someone else writes the story of their life.  So if you are a television show host, actor/actress, sports star, musician, etc., you might as well hang it up if you are waiting for me to buy your book or for me to advise others to buy your book.  In my opinion, over half the books that made the final cut in the memoir/autobiography category on Goodreads were about celebrities.  There's a big difference between celebrity memoir and what I call "mainstream" memoir which is written by your normal, average Jane or Joe.  In other words,
I prefer memoirs like Wild and The Glass Castle and The Rules of Inheritance over anything by Patti Smith, Georgia H.W. Bush, or Mindy Kaling.  I want to read how "real" people who haven't already  acquired spoils and riches via another line of work handled life issues; people who don't have body guards, a weekly television show, a rock band, or who are already paid well for hosting a television network show.  The celebrity stories are important to a degree and I'm not taking anything away from them except to say there is a distinct difference between "celebrity" memoir and "mainstream" memoir.

So I voted for Hope:  A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus (with Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan), a memoir about how these two young women handled the experience of being abducted, held captive, and mistreated by a delusional maniac who believed he owned them and how they coped for years living in isolation with no one knowing what had happened to them or if they were even still alive.  Talk about having your life shattered and learning to live with trauma that will probably haunt these women for the rest of their lives.  And yes, I know they were in the news and covered by local and national media which did make them somewhat familiar to us all, but really, they were just teenagers living their lives until catastrophe struck.  Those are the stories that inspire me.  I will always endorse a memoir written by a "mainstream", "normal" woman who speaks openly of catastrophe, hardship, impoverishment, domestic violence, etc. and lays her bare soul on the page.  That's what we're lacking presently in the memoir category and that's the type of memoir we need to see more of, but until literary agents, editors, and publishers grasp the importance, relevance, and potential of these type of books we're just going to be bombarded with celebrity memoirs. And that my fellow book lovers is a real and total shame and a black eye for the publishing industry.

Until my next rant, review, or update,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, And Miracles With The Heroes Of The Hospital by Alexandra Robbins

Dear Lit Loves,

As regular readers of my blog probably know I write about the personal experiences I have encountered with our medical system in this country via my own peculiar illnesses including Uveitis, Uveitic glaucoma, Meniere's disease, and some unknown or undiagnosed autoimmune disorder that is believed to have given rise to all these illnesses (no one's been able to pin down an exact autoimmune problem). Additionally, I've seen my dad cope with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, a stem cell transplant, quintuple heart bypass surgery, and most recently, a new targeted drug therapy which eliminated the cancer yet subsequently, my dad died this year of pneumonia and heart failure.  My mom has had breast cancer and I've dealt with basal cell carcinoma which was a walk in the park compared with potentially losing my eyesight and hearing. Thus, I may not be the best person to evaluate the book entitled The Nurses:  A Year Of Secrets, Drama, And Miracles With The Heroes Of The Hospital because I admit I am a bit biased as I think the real heroes of the hospital are the patients themselves.  Since I've been reading books that address the medical chaos my family and I have experienced, I'm always ready to read what someone else thinks of the medical establishment and what types of experiences they have encountered with hospitals, doctors, interns, residents, hospital administrations, etc.

First let me say that in my opinion the book The Nurses:  A Year Of Secrets, Drama, And Miracles With The Heroes Of The Hospital is not necessarily exclusively memoir or exclusively narrative nonfiction; I think it is actually a combination of both.  It was written by an experienced journalist.  Ms. Robbins follows the stories of four different nurses who are at different levels in their nursing careers.  She also gives quite a bit of detailed information on the burnout rate of nurses, inadequate working conditions nurses encounter, the gallows humor doctors and nurses utilize to "blow off steam", the clique-like nature among many nurses, and the notion that many nurses suffer a form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the injuries they witness and treat or hostile patients and a patient's family members.  So let's start first by taking a look at the four nurses the author shadowed.

Nurse #1:  I am referring to the nurses as numbers because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who has yet to read it.  Nurse #1 is in my opinion, the best of the group.  She's ethical, will stand up for herself in the face of an arrogant doctor,  and can work effectively as a nurse in almost any kind of hospital whether it's a hospital located in the most violent part of a town or one located in the suburbs visited by affluent patients.  She recognizes when she is exhibiting symptoms of nurse fatigue or burnout and she has ways of taking care of herself and assuaging the demands of the job so she can always bring her "A" game to work.  She appears to be a team player and never displays any tendency to misuse some of the powerful drugs she is required to administer to patients.

Nurse #2:  Nurse #2 is the chief breadwinner for her family.  She has a rather revolting husband who she acknowledges probably cheats on her, is verbally and emotionally abrasive toward her, and who appears not to really care when she finally leaves him.  He stays home and takes care of the kids and depends on Nurse #2 to provide for him and the kids though she moved out and relocated to an apartment.  This nurse also had a tendency to suffer migraine headaches which she often did not have time to take off work and go to a neurologist for examination and prescriptive meds.  She had a previous drug problem as a teenager I believe and she falls into using leftover vials of pain meds to alleviate her headaches and the pain from them.  She finally admits to stealing and utilizing the pain meds and in order to save her nursing license, she goes for drug abuse treatment and spends several years on desk duty or probation before she is allowed to return to being a bedside or ER nurse.  The interesting part is that a hospital later recruits her to improve conditions for nurses at the hospital; however, she appears to be the only one to really buy into the concept of improving conditions.  The hospital had formed a group of medical personnel to find ways to improve nurse morale, but none of the more important ideas are ever truly implemented by the hospital administration even though they are aware that nursing morale is a its lowest and they have a high turnover rate among nurses.

Nurse #3:  Nurse #3 has the tendency to allow a charge nurse to assign her way too many patients than she can properly care for or supervise in a single shift.  She realizes that there is a clique of nurses on her unit.  They go out together, correspond online, and in Nurse #3's opinion, exclude her from the group.  Honestly, it was almost like high school social cliques.  I found the whole idea juvenile, but this nurse felt she was being excluded and it led to quite a bit of resentment.  And I had no idea how one nurse or group of nurses can actually demonstrate bullying behavior until this nurse's experience.  Nurse #3 is well-skilled and devoted.  She had a tendency to overshare detail from her personal life with her charge nurse in an effort to make a friend or possibly gain entrance to the nurse clique in her unit.  This backfires when she wants to move up the clinical nursing ladder as the charge nurse uses that personal information not to recommend her for a higher position. 

Nurse #4:  Nurse #4 is the youngest and least experienced among the group of nurses that were shadowed by Ms. Robbins.  She initially is shy and to me, makes some questionable choices when it comes to combining your private life and career life.  At one point she dates a doctor on her unit who is many years older than her.  And it appeared that she had a reputation for getting involved with medical staff at other hospitals where she worked.  She does develop her confidence to stand up to senior nurses who like to bully new nurses and I was proud that Nurse #4 did learn to not be afraid to question doctors and do what is necessary to advocate for the patients for whom she is responsible. 

The amount of research the journalist author did was astounding.  For example, the most frequent bullying medical personnel are general surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, cardiologists, othopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and neurologists.  The hospital departments most likely to have bullying employees included the Operating Room, Medical Surgery Unit, Intensive Care Unit, and the Emergency Room.  The worst holiday for nurses appears to be New Year's Day and that's because of the number of drunks that go to the hospital.  There appears to be an unspoken "Code of Silence"among nurses in that you do not "rat out" another nurse if you see her displaying suspicious or questionable behavior.  The worst time of the year to get sick appears to be in July when there is a mass influx of new interns and residents that become directly indoctrinated into hands-on patient care.  The hospital morgue is never labeled "Morgue", but something more along the lines of Anatomical Pathology so hospital patients and visitors don't get freaked out by the notion of death or dead people.  Even if as a patient you have a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) paper, it might get ignored if you are unconscious and your family puts up a fight to have you ventilated and treatment continued.  I definitely did not agree with the notion of experts recommending healthcare professionals use gallows humor as a survival tactic and as a means of preventing burnout.  Now, it's one thing for nurses to prank one another.  It's a whole other ballgame when doctors make fun of obese patients on the operating table or hospital personnel keeping something known as a "butt box" for all the different items that have to be removed from patient rectums.  Honestly, I thought that was unsanitary and gross.  Also, I found it highly immature of hospital personnel placing bets on patient outcomes of  risky surgical procedures, a patient's blood-alcohol level, or who can best guess the incoming injuries of a patient arriving by ambulance.  Hello!  This not high school folks!  And who in the world knew that there was such a thing as a "slow code" which basically means hospital personnel are to respond slowly to a patient who is not expected to survive and responding hospital personnel should just generally go through the motions of attempting to revive the patient. 

Honestly, we're going to need more nurses in the future with all the baby boomers who are retiring and living longer.   According to this book, good work environments for nurses include favorable/low patient-nurse ratios, positive and not demeaning nurse-doctor relations, nurses being involved in hospital decisions, and managerial or charge nurse support for nurses who have no choice but to take on eight patients at one time.  I would venture to say it would be important to have fellow nurses who are supportive as well and to work as a team.

What do nurses advise for hospital patients?  Have a family member with you at the hospital and have someone who can be the spokesperson that interacts with the nurses and doctors so that person can relay the information to all the other family members.  Ask questions of your doctor.  Honestly, if a doctor doesn't present a condition or treatment in terms you understand, by God, make him/her repeat it or find someone who can explain it to you so you are well-informed.  Patients should be informed by knowing their meds, diagnoses, allergies, and emergency contact numbers.  Also, watch the hygiene habits of hospital staff members.  If hospital personnel do not wash their hands before touching you, ask them to do so because you're safety and well-being may depend on it.   I felt the nurses left out the need for hospital patients to have a living will or how much extraneous care do you wish for yourself if you are incapacitated.  Make sure you have a healthcare power of attorney and that the hospital personnel knows who that is.  Also, if you wish for your doctors and nurses to provide updates and health information to extra members of your family such as children, you better make sure you've signed a HIPAA waiver form that enables doctors and nurses to exchange that information or those family members could be left in the dark completely. 

I learned quite a bit about the nursing profession and the positives and negatives of a career in nursing from this book.  As a person who writes strictly memoir, it was often hard to keep up with the personal narratives of four nurses from chapter to chapter because nursing research and statistics often concluded each chapter.  I missed the continuity of following the story of each nurse and oftentimes found I had to go back and reread a section just to make sure I was clear on what was occurring for each shadowed nurse throughout the book's entirety.  The research information was outstanding and concise.  I now know that I will be paying attention to the actions of nurses I encounter at each clinic or hospital visit I make based on what I've read in this book.  It makes for a more informed patient and a more informed patient advocate.  And most people will tell you I am all for information sharing and being your own best medical advocate. 

Till my next read or publishing update,

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What Happened To My North Carolina?!!!

Dear Lit Loves,

Salutations, good day, and please understand that every now and then I have to diverge from discussions about my often horrendous interaction with the publishing world and just write about something that either strikes my fancy or lights my fire, okay?  I moved back to my home state of North Carolina about a year ago and in the year that I've been here I have been shocked, ticked off, ready to launch a protest movement, and floored by what I am witnessing in North Carolina after having lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA for fourteen years.  Honestly, I am ready to launch and institute what I call "Operation Bring Back The Art Of Southern Sophistication".  I've been horrified at what I am witnessing in my home state.  The following is what has led me to wonder what in God's country happened to southern gentleness. 

1)  When Did Interstate 40 East And West Become The New INDY 500 Track?  

For Pete's sake folks, it is NOT necessary to drive like a bat out of hell on North Carolina Interstate Highways!  Not only are people driving sometimes ten and twenty miles over the speed limit, but I have been forced onto the embankment of a highway entrance/exit ramp because other drivers who SHOULD move over to allow me access to the highway, refuse to do so.  Maybe people around here forgot what a turn signal indicates and why some of us use it?  Maybe there are a good many people who have transplanted themselves here from other states and this kind of backassward, rogue driving is what they learned in their former state?  And I have been cut off by so many aggressive, phone hogging drivers that now, I've just started taking down the color and make of the vehicle along with the license plate number and voluntarily giving this information to my friends at The N.C. Highway Patrol Office so you can be ticketed for aggressive driving and driving while using a handheld cell phone.  Next, there are those drivers (in my experience it is usually a person driving a Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, or some other high-falutin' vehicle), who ride the ass of my vintage Mustang.  One foolish male tried to pass me on a two lane road that was a no passing zone with oncoming cars headed toward both he and I.   Now, rogue fool, if you wish to drive like a maniac from hell and have a death wish for yourself, might I suggest you take you and your overpriced vehicle, ugly personality, and total disregard for safety to some other state.  Don't get behind my Mustang and ride my bumper like you're under a Nascar caution flag.  And do not flip me off and yell profanities at me when you do get an opportunity to pass me.  And finally, the other day I was taking myself to lunch in an upscale shopping area near where I live in the Triangle area of North Carolina.  The parking lot was packed and I had been driving around being patient waiting for a parking space.  Finally, I see a woman leaving a salon.  So I pull around, give her plenty of space to back out and wait patiently as she leaves so I can then park my car.  Would you not know that some wing-ding, it's all about me twenty-something, most likely driving her mom or dad's sports car, speeds down the aisle from the other direction and pulls right into the parking space for which I've been waiting.  Folks, there was smoke coming from my ears.  I have never in my life seen such rude, despicable, aggressive, self-centered drivers in this state!  And let me just add that I think it's true that a person's true personality is revealed when he/she gets behind the wheel of a car.  So I have concluded that we now have some seriously foul-smelling personalities in this state and if it were up to me, you wouldn't be allowed to live here.  And oh yes, I forgot to mention that I do believe in Karma and man is it a bitch when it comes back to bite.

2)  What Is With All The Overpriced And Butt-Ugly Homes In The Area?

Honestly, me and my husband have been renting an apartment since we moved back to North Carolina.  Every now and then I decide to go drive around the Triangle region just to see what homes are going for and what styles are available.  Let me tell you I have been laughing my ass off that homeowners here think that you are going to find someone gullible enough to buy your 3 bedroom, 2 bath home on .02 acres for $550,000!!!  Is the bathtub made of gold?  Are there marble floors throughout the house instead of hardwood floors or carpet? Does it come with a Ferrari? No, you say?  Well, welcome to reality.  Ain't no one, unless he/she is one gullible person with more money than common sense, that is going to pay you $550,000 for that fifteen year old three bedroom, 2 bath cluster home, ranch, or God Forbid, craftsman style house.  And what is with all the Craftsman style homes around here?!  They look like something out of the show "This Old House" without any renovation or "after" work done at all.  And let me tell you, I have no problems telling a real estate agent what I think of a house and exactly what I think that house is worth!  You know why?  My mother worked in the real estate industry for over thirty years so I know what the going rate is for your home, I know what you paid for it, I know about the schools in the area and the crime rate as well as what you have or haven't done to maintain and update said property.  And if you overpaid for a house you bought during the mortgage meltdown, prepare to take a serious loss.  You should NEVER have paid that much for that house. That just plain incompetence.

3)  What Is With North Carolina Being Next To Or Last In Education?

When I read recently that North Carolina came in either next to last or last in terms of public school education, I was offended.  Seriously offended.  But I know why it's happening.  The state is NOT paying your teachers enough!  You are paying those assistant principals and principals especially and often overly adequate salaries, but the state is giving the teachers here bread crumbs.  I know.  I used to teach here. The operative words are "used to".  I no longer tolerate not being more than adequately compensated for bringing in top student reading and writing test scores.  I don't need to teach in a school that is so out of control that a student purposely slams a classroom door on my hand, breaks the tip of my finger, and the principal or assistant principal gives them one day of in-school suspension.  And that truly happened to me.  If your principal and assistant principals don't have enough decency and authority to make sure North Carolina teachers are not dissed or injured, then why should I put my life on the line?!  And no, the governor has not given teachers a substantial salary raise in this state nor do I think he ever will.  And would somebody explain to me why N.C. State University keeps sending me requests to tutor students in English for free?  I paid for my education and you damn well can afford to pay me for my expertise if your students require it so badly!!

4)  And Why Did Our N.C. Governor Fast Track A Bill To Permit Fracking?

I just recently learned that back in 2014 the governor of N.C. fast-tracked a bill to permit fracking.  Oh Jesus and Mother Mary Help Us All.  People, if you think fracking is a good thing then go take a look at the state of Texas.  In Texas, fracking decimated the land, home prices dropped through the floor, people started developing respiratory illnesses and cancer, and the air there is polluted something awful.  And now I'm learning that our N.C. governor wants the citizens of N.C. to subsidize fracking?  If you don't know what that means let me tell you:  He wants tax payer dollars to be given to the oil and gas industries who make billions so they can implement fracking in North Carolina so our land, water, and citizens can be poisoned all for the sake of discovering a little natural gas!  Ain't no way I'm voting for it.  I'd rather see our governor start having to dig his way back to Charlotte with a teaspoon than give him one ounce of authorization to use my money to ruin the land, water,  and people of this state.  And what also bothers me is that the governor chose to sign this fast-track fracking bill at N.C. State University.  So I have to ask:  Is N.C. State University backing fracking?  Let me know N.C. State Public Relations because I will not be recommending your institution to any college-bound senior high school students or college transfer students either.

5)  Why Have I Been Assigned To Vote At A Church?

The last time I checked (and I also have a degree that allows me to teach history) the founding fathers of this country wanted separation of church and state.  Okay.  No problem.  And then I register to vote in North Carolina and I receive my voter registration card telling me I am supposed to vote at a church?  Say WHAT?!  Oh Hell To The No.  I've voted at courthouses, schools, fire stations, city hall, etc., but never have I been instructed that my voting place is a church.  Why is that happening is what I want to know?  This is a serious violation of the law in my opinion.  It will not prevent me from voting, but I find my polling place to be high suspicious. What I really want to know is who in their right mind designated a church as a polling station?!!

6)  What Is With All The Weird 'Cue?

Okay, so for the uninitiated what I am saying is this:  what in the hell is going on with all the weird barbecue places springing up here and there all over the Triangle area?!  Dear God.  Now in N.C. folks, barbecue is as serious as your religion and I am telling you I am from near the Winston-Salem area and as far as I'm concerned this is what N.C. Barbecue is:  well-chopped, spicy with a distinct tang.  It is served with hushpuppies and spiky, sharp-shooting, make grandma sit up and scream vinegar based slaw, and usually this comes with a sweet tea.  So I move to the Triangle region and start trying various barbecue restaurants.  Somebody Call The Pope!  What in the tarnation is this grub you are trying to serve me?!  N.C. barbecue ain't sweet (that's Georgia); it ain't ribs; it's not burnt to a crisp (that's Texas) and it surely is not served in strips that are barely cooked!  And no, quality N.C. barbecue is not served with fried okra, pinto beans, some kind of nasty mayo coleslaw or worse, mustard colored potato salad!  Now, I haven't tried all the barbecue restaurants here yet and I am hopeful that I will discover serious, quality North Carolina barbecue in the N.C. Triangle region, but so far NADA.

7)  What Is With All The Rudeness?

So my husband returns home from getting a his hair cut and styled at a salon.  He enters the apartment looking like someone just stole all his Edy's chocolate chip ice cream from our refrigerator and he is massaging both sides of his temples.  During his salon visit, the stylist located next to his stylist had a five year old kid whose mother forced him to come to the salon and get a his hair washed, cut, and styled.  The kid screamed from the moment he was put in the stylist's chair.  He yelled that it hurt to get his hair cut.  And he screamed in an ongoing fashion for the entire forty minutes my husband was there sitting in a station beside him trying to get his hair trimmed.  Did the mom take the kid outside?  Did the mom pick up the kid and say that she would come back at another time?  Did the owner of the salon intervene?  Oh no.  No one stopped this scream king.  He went full tilt.  My husband was concerned because he couldn't even hold a conversation with his own stylist and he was also afraid that his stylist was so distracted by the screaming that she was going to mess up and leave him with a cowlick which has happened.  Rude, rude, and just rude.  Because your kid needs his hair trimmed and you insist it be done on your schedule and then your kid starts acting like a hyena and giving other customers and stylists migraines, you as a parent just ruined a salon experience for seven other customers. Ever heard of discipline dear momma?  Take a class, read a book, or google it on your new Apple smart phone.  Time for some people to go to school and learn how to parent.   By the way, I went to this salon on one occasion, judged them to be seriously lacking due to my hair being five different colors, and promptly called my brother Kegan, the McDaddy Edward Scissorhands of Raleigh, North Carolina and now, I have seriously fierce hair, but he ain't cheap and no, he will not tolerate screaming spoiled five year olds.  And finally, the other day I was shopping in Belk.  I happened to be looking at a pair of pumps.  Suddenly I heard a seriously awful conversation peppered with the most foul language.  It was coming from a dressing room.  So I went to see if maybe this was a person or persons who worked for Belk.  Oh no.  It was two fully grown women trash talking one another as they tried on clothes.  And I noticed customers in the area hurrying to vacate the store and not one employee dared call security or intervene.  I was frankly annoyed.  I could have bought two pairs of shoes, but rather than have to listen to two grown adult women talk smack, I left.  Shame on you.  You people are old enough to know better.


Till my next book review, literary rant, or soap box call to battle,


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: A Grand Slam of a Memoir entitled The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

Dear Lit Loves,

I always love it when a generally unknown writer creates a memoir that touches on a deep subject and then tells the story in such a way that she knocks it out of the park; a homer or better yet, a grand slam.  Why?  Because it gives me hope that a literary agent has recognized that you don't have to be a celebrity to write a bestseller and that there is an editor who is brave enough not to shy away from what some members of the literary community will say is dreary subject matter.  In other words, it gives me hope that there is a distinct possibility that the same could happen for a writer such as myself.

I finished reading The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith.  This was her first book and a memoir about the cycle of grief and turmoil following the loss of her parents.  Her mother died when the author was eighteen and her father died when she was twenty-five years of age.  First, the reader is escorted through the process via chapter timelines marked by not only the year, but the age of the author at the time.  It is quickly apparent to me after having lost my dad recently to cancer that each person experiences grief in a different way.  And also, there are some categorically essentially truths that most people encounter when a parent is lost.

First, the author loses her mom and misses the actual point where her mom dies due to stopping along her route home from college.  This haunts her for a long time.  We then see the author experience a period of turmoil where she is almost nomadic.  She loses her way.  The audience sees how she begins to spiral into drinking, going from one romantic relationship to another, moving from place to place and one job to another.  In one particular relationship it was quite evident that the guy with whom she was involved was capable of domestic violence.  He is angered easily, volatile, manipulative, controlling, highly arrogant, and then the recognizable trait of being almost incapable of sympathy.  When you've been up close and personal with a man like this, you can recognize it from a mile away and I definitely picked up on the nature of this one particular partner with whom she becomes involved.  The author then loses her dad when she is twenty-five years old but not before getting to know him really well as the two of them try to find their way through a thick fog of grief following the wife/mother's passing.  And no, she doesn't miss the moment when her father takes his last breath; she's there with him and present for that quite important moment.

Several good points are made regarding grief and death of a parent.  I think it's true that when a parent dies a part of you simply stops.  You can go into a state of shock.  A person may then go on to experience despair, hostility, and meaninglessness.   And I must say I agree with the author that grieving is a lonely process.  No one, until they've been in your shoes and lost a parent, really understands what you're feeling.  Ms. Bidwell Smith says grief is like another country.  To me it's like falling into a void, a place of nothingness.  Time almost seems to stop and your own life comes to a halt while you watch everyone else in the world rushing here and there with their own lives.  For me it's a feeling of my world has been turned upside down and this guy over here is upset about a scratch on his car door or a woman in line at the bank for more than ten minutes begins having a nuclear meltdown because it's taking up too much of her time.  You almost want to shout, "Oh really?!  Get a clue!  I realize it's disappointing and inconvenient, but hell, you didn't just watch someone who shaped you as a child and adult die!"   I've been in situations like that and you just realize life is too short to get caught up and overwhelmed by the trivial stuff.  After you've held your parent's hand when he/she has taken their last breath, when you watched a parent actively die right before your eyes, you begin to recognize what constitutes real disaster and not by choice, you become quite familiar with looking real disaster in the face.

Ultimately, the author finds her purpose and calling in life by volunteering at a newly built program assisting youth after school.  She goes on to finish a master's degree is clinical psychology and becomes a grief counselor at hospice.  I don't want to give away the ending to this book, but I thought it was quite poignant that the author's father tells her before he dies that life is worth living and if there were no death, we wouldn't realize how sweet and precious life is.  I think as a hospice counselor the author knows how powerful it is to have someone present with you when death comes knocking at you or your family's door.  And ultimately, Ms Bidwell Smith is correct when she says that losing someone like a parent is like having a physical wound that eventually heals, but it leaves a scar.  A scar serving as a reminder of a battle and the memory of your survival as well as how that experience has made you into the person you are now and today.

Truly, I highly recommend this book. 

Till my next read, review, or publishing experience,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: After This: When Life Is Over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell Smith

Dear Lit Loves,

Oh. My. Goodness.  I have a fantastic narrative/prescriptive book recommendation!  I liked it so much that I wrote the author and the editor.  The author hasn't gotten back to me, but she is also a full-time grief counselor so like all of us in the writing world, she's juggling a lot.  I learned from an associate editor at Avery (who is quite kind and responds supportively to potential debut authors) that the editor of this book, Denise Roy, has left Penguin Random House.  So I wrote the senior editor who took her place to thank her for PRH acquiring and publishing this book.  She didn't respond.  Oh well.  That's her loss and that speaks to a part of the reputation being built by Penguin Random House.  The associate editor that corresponds with me is a smart and lovely young editor. That does not negate the fact that After This:  When Life Is Over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell Smith is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it.  Here's why:

This book wholeheartedly explores the author's exploration, following the deaths of her mom and dad, the questions that persist with many of us left behind when we lose a parent:  Where are they now?  Are they still with us?  Can they see what's going on in our lives?  Do they know how much we miss them?   These questions obviously resonated with me in a quite profound way as I just lost my dad after a twelve year intensive battle with a rare form of lymphoma.  I truly struggled with his death because I didn't think my dad should have died from pneumonia.  His newly assigned oncologist didn't recognize the symptoms, did not perform the appropriate tests, and neglected to hospitalize a high-risk cancer patient and administer the appropriate antibiotics dad required.  And the cancer center's administration, when I brought this to their attention, basically ignored me and treated me, my dad, and my family in an abrasive fashion after my questioning of their holier than thou new oncologist. 

So Ms. Claire Bidwell Smith, who also wrote The Rules of Inheritance, about her struggle with her parents' deaths, is right on the money when she finds her audience in those folks like me who struggle daily with how to proceed in life following the death of a parent.  Ms Smith like me is profoundly struck by all the attention and celebration paid to the birth of a person and how well-trained our society seems to be in regards to recoiling and shrinking away from the dying person.  No folks, let me tell you from personal experience that is when a person and their family needs people the most.    So to discover potential answers to the questions of what happened to her parents once they died and how will she proceed in life following their deaths, Ms. Smith explores the inner world of psychics, mediums, shamanism, past life regression practioners, seances, and faiths.  I will not give away here on my blog what she learns through being open to all these sources of information.  And I loved the way at the end of each chapter she writes a note to her daughters about what she wants them to know not only about life and death, but the values of their mom and what special characteristics she notices in each of her daughters that will certainly inform their life path as they mature. 

Here's what Claire Bidwell Smith and I know from our experiences with the death of a parent or a sincerely close friend:  those folks' spirit is still with us.  They are all around us.  When someone that close to you dies, you must make meaning of it and discover what it is this experience teaches you.  What values or good can you do in the world today that would make that deceased loved one proud or honor them in some way?.  For me, it's how I treat people in my everyday existence.  And it's potentially helping others through sharing my life experiences via memoir or personal narrative.  Because here's the real clincher folks:  Human life is but a small bit of our soul's experience in this world.  We're not yet done when we leave this earthly existence.  And those that have gone before of us are still here, just in another form.  We are the living proof and product of those dear loved ones we and the world have lost.  We are their legacy and there is only a temporary goodbye.  We will see them again.

Fabulous book.  Order it, swing by Barnes & Noble and buy it, or read someone else's copy.  It's a beautiful testament to both life, death, and the people we have lost who have touched our lives.

Till my next review.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Stir: My Broken Brain And The Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor

Dear Literary Loves,

Let me start by prefacing this memoir review by saying I really, truly wanted to love this book.  When I read a blurb about it in one of my literary magazines and realized that a woman had written a memoir about a medical incident that was quite similar to one in which I helped a friend navigate the world of neurosurgeons, I was ecstatic.  I mean, brain issues are not trivial.  So I ordered the memoir in its original version and started reading it while on vacation.

First, the gist of the story is that a woman finds herself running on a treadmill, drops to the floor, and promptly gets taken to the hospital.  She has a major brain bleed or what I would more formerly describe as an aneurysm.  This is where a blood vessel in the brain weakens to the point of bursting and blood begins to pool in the brain.  It's not good; many people do not survive it.  I know several who did not survive this type of trauma to the brain.  I'm not going to give the ending away because well, that's just spoiling the book for another reader. 

Since I thrive on the unusual and absurd ailments a person can suddenly develop, I was looking forward to the whole book being about the medical experience of a brain bleed.  And fifty percent of the book explores that development in this woman's life.  I wanted serious medical detail relayed in layman/laywoman terms.  That's why I bought the book.  I kept getting distracted by the author's obsession with food.  I mean I realize that cooking, food, dinners, and holiday meals are what helped the author return to a sense of normalcy.  There was so much about food though that it was highly distracting.  Every other chapter included some sort of recipe.  Maybe it's because I don't consider myself a foodie, but I wanted to know more about what happened to her while she was in the hospital, the side effects of having your skull sawed open, and the experience of having the optic nerve in an eye decompressed.  Hello?  Where was the detailed discussion about that?  And I wondered why the author didn't confirm the head reconstruction surgery with both the brain surgeon and the plastic surgeon when the plastic surgeon clearly said he was not available on the date the patient had confirmed with the neurosurgeon?  When you go through the living hell of something like a brain bleed, loss of eyesight, temporary loss of taste, and reconstructive skull surgery that is far from perfect, I expected to hear more detail about that experience and why she didn't hold the plastic surgeon accountable for not showing up for the surgery?  It was quite apparent to me that the neurosurgeon and plastic surgeon were not on the same page and probably didn't communicate with one another about her case. 

Now, many of you are going to like the back and forth of reading about the medical trauma and then reading about food and its meaningfulness; however, I found the chapters on food to be distracting and a bit presumptuous.  I mean, I would never tell a person what brand of flour or sugar to buy for a particular recipe.  I am definitely not going to tell anyone that they absolutely must by an oven thermometer.  Mario Batali would probably salivate over the chapters on food, but I felt the audience who wanted to read about surviving a medical tragedy were left seriously disappointed.  And for the record, I thought it was great she had such a supportive husband, friends, and family; however, many people in such circumstances do not have that luxury.  And I kept wanting to ask the author, did you have health insurance and how did you handle the tremendous medical expense of all the hospital care, meds, equipment, etc. that you undoubtably encountered during this medical trauma?

To be honest, you have to read this memoir yourself and judge it for yourself.  I was left wanting as you can tell.  And I also want to say that I reached out to this author via email and wrote her editor at Avery twice and received no correspondence from either one which is definitely not going to make me a fan of anyone's publishing efforts.  And that kind of indifference doesn't give me any added incentive to recommend the book to my friends, acquaintances, book club members, family, etc.

And now I'm on to reading another memoir and also retooling my own memoir manuscripts so I make sure I'm engaging my reader with every chapter.

Till next time, happy reading!


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir by Melissa Cistaro

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  I am proud to say that I completed reading the newly released memoir entitled Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro.  What triggered my interest in this particular book?  Well, the memoir is about the time span of when the author's mother left the family until when the author gets a call years later from her mother's sister letting her know that her mom is dying.  The ultimate question that reels the reader into the story is what happened to cause the mother to up and leave her family and will the author return to see her mother upon learning that her mother is close to death. 

The synopsis of the memoir is this:  A mother decides to pack and leave her young family which included a daughter and two older brothers along with their dad.  Actually, I think the mom in this book became defeated by the demands of motherhood and exhausted from the responsibilities as well.  I  think the author's mom wanted to explore her options as an independent woman and I think she was also a creative type who wanted to be free to explore what she really wanted to do with her life.  Furthermore, I think this particular mother wanted peace, quiet, and to live in a wide open space in the country.  So the memoir is told with one chapter reflecting on the author's childhood, family, and life without her mother and then the next chapter focuses on what she decides to do upon learning her mother is currently dying.  So the reader sees what transpires as the author matures from age five and grows up without her mom and is limited to short visits with her mom.  She elaborates on what happens to her family once the mom "checks out" of living with the family.  Some aspects of the author's experience were traumatic while others were quite moving in that the author becomes a mom herself and reflects on how she approaches parenthood given that her mother left the family when she was around five or six years of age.

The author learns quite a bit about her mother while visiting her when her mother has just days to live.  Most interestingly, the author discovers her mother wrote to her and her brothers, but never mailed the letters.  I won't give away the ending as I don't want to spoil this book for future readers.  The book was written quite clearly and concisely.  There was no use of overly frilly language.  I liked that she explained the experience in a very vivid and raw fashion.  Additionally, I liked how the author analyzed how she was and was not influenced by her mother leaving the family and by the mother only visiting the children sporadically.  It causes the author to examine its effect on her as a mother currently.

I selected to read this book as I just lost my father recently.  And I wondered how someone in this author's position would handle the death of a mother who essentially vacated her daughter's life.  It made me especially grateful for my dad as he came from a broken home, yet he was married to my mom for fifty years. And he was an extremely devoted dad who never lost contact with "the child"within him.   I do not have children of my own, but I often reflect on what my dad taught me in terms of life lessons and the development of a strict work ethic as well as the spiritual strength he always maintained in the face of a third recurrence of the brutal disease known as Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.  I am natured like my dad in many ways.  He always used to say that I got my looks from my mom and my character from him.  I still miss him to this day and he has only been gone for two months. 

I did discover toward the final one third of the book where there were sentences that did not make sense because words were omitted.  Actually, there were several errors like this.  I'm not sure if this was due to an editorial problem or possibly a printing problem with the book.  Overall, I would recommend this memoir and I found the author's life quite fascinating.

Currently, I am reading My Stroke of Insight:  A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Dr. Jill Bote Taylor and perusing fall 2015 memoir releases to determine if there are any "regular people" memoirs that I would read because I do not read celebrity memoirs.  I am all about the lives of real, regular people and their experiences.  So until my next review or publishing update, I bid you Happy Reading!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do Your Homework: Be Your Own Healthcare Advocate

Dear Lit Loves,
Greetings!  Well, I haven't concluded reading Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro yet, but I am close to finishing it.  I learned recently of a memoir that reminded me of an experience a close friend of mine had about three years ago.  The book that reminded me of this friend's experience is entitled Stir by Jessica Fechtor.  My friend had been experiencing headaches, dizziness, nausea, and mild seizures over the course of about eight months.  Her primary care doctor kept "blowing it off" as hormonal changes and depression.  I advised her to see a neurologist and she did.  After having a CT scan and other tests, she called to thank me for my advice because the neurologist had called to tell her she had a meningeoma (brain tumor) sitting right between her eyebrows and within her nasal cavity.  She was going to need brain surgery to remove it and obviously, the tumor would need to be biopsied.  She looked up the neurosurgeon who she had been referred to for the surgery and she just didn't get good vibes about him.  She called and asked me what I would do.  I asked her to give me the afternoon to contact my medical specialists at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. 

Here's the thing:  I looked up the neurosurgeon my friend was referred to and not only was I NOT impressed with his educational background, but worse, he had already settled one malpractice lawsuit and was in the midst of settling another malpractice lawsuit.  (I did a background check on the surgeon and looked up the medical malpractice case histories online).   The whole situation gave me chills.  I called one of my trusted specialists at Emory and asked him if his twelve year old daughter had received this diagnosis, who would he trust to do the surgery, biopsy, and follow up care?  He told me the name of a specific neurosurgeon at Emory.  I researched the educational background and number of surgeries for this neurosurgeon as well.  Stellar.  So I called my friend and gave her the neurosurgeon's name and contact information and told her what I discovered about the first medical referral she received.  Let's put it this way, she had the surgery, the tumor was removed and found to be benign, but she did lose her sense of taste and smell.  Now, that may be bad, but I cannot tell where on her scalp the neurosurgeon did the surgery.  There is no scar, line of demarcation, and her face, as always, looks impeccable.  The author of the memoir Stir had something similar happen and I can't wait to read her memoir.  Here's the lesson though:  Do your homework when it comes to your health or any surgery you have.  Research the doctors.  Do a background check to see if your doctor, specialist, or surgeon has any malpractice or negligence cases.  Ask a surgeon for references of patients who have had similar surgeries or treatments.  Call those patients and find out how they are doing, their opinion of the doctor, and how well they felt cared for after surgery or treatment.  No one else has to do this for you.  And don't expect specialists to tell you that they have had malpractice or negligence suits lobbied against them.  You owe it to yourself to get the best medical care for yourself.  And if you need something serious done, get about three or four recommendations medically and not just one.  It makes a difference.  Trust me.

Recently, our family lost a very dear acquaintance.  A very generous and successful business man.  I admired him greatly because he always tried to do what he thought was right.  He had no problems standing up against an injustice.  And one time a doctor left him waiting in an examining room for an hour and he took off the patient gown, got dressed, and left.  His time was just as valuable as the doctor's so he told them he would come back when the doctor could see him without requiring the patient to spend an hour waiting in a patient room.  He may have just found an entirely new doctor, but the point is, he stood up for himself and his right to prompt and vigilant medical care.

About a month ago that same family acquaintance developed intestinal turbulence.  I believe he tried treating it himself for two weeks.  Finally, he made it to a local hospital at which point, it was discovered the man had an E. Coli intestinal infection that evidently had spread to his bloodstream.  He was severely weak and mentally confused.  The hospital placed him on a ventilator and feeding tube while they tried to get him to respond to an array of high-powered antibiotics.  Briefly, he was able to be taken off the ventilator, but not the feeding tube.  He must have tried to communicate to his family and doctors, but no one was able to understand what he was saying.  Four days later, he died.  I was saddened.  I had also had experiences with intestinal C.Difficile infections, Ischemic Colitis (inflammed colon), and an E. Coli infection.  Seven years ago I spent two weeks at Emory Hospital for treatment of Ischemic Colitis so when I began experiencing intestinal problems two years ago, I called my gastroenterologist at Emory and was seen that afternoon.  She immediately suspected a C. Difficile bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics.  I also had to have stool and blood tests done.  One week later my gastroenterologist called to tell me my stool test was positive for E. Coli.  I was placed on a much stronger antibiotic for a longer period of time.  And the gastroenterologist told me that I did the right thing.  When I started having the intestinal symptoms, I called her office and demanded to be seen.  If I had not done so, I might have found myself in the ICU with my own E. Coli infection.  I was treated with antibiotics for a month and had to return to Emory for repeated stool and blood tests.  I finally got the "All Clear" from Emory's lab department.  And now, whenever I am placed on antibiotics for any illness, I have been advised to also take a daily probiotic to prevent any intestinal distress or infection developing.  Also, the CDC had to be informed of my E. Coli infection and I had to document where I had bought my groceries in the last month and which restaurants I had visited over the last month along with documenting what I ate while I was there.  The CDC goes to check the stores and restaurants food to make sure there is not E. Coli present on any of the food so they can potentially prevent a massive E. Coli outbreak. 

Here's the deal:  Folks, do your homework when it comes to who you allow to treat you.  Be aware of potentially serious symptoms.  And if a doctor can't get you in to his/her office fairly quickly, don't be scared to seek treatment at a hospital or find a specialist who can get you in for an examination as soon as possible, preferably that day or the next.   And for heaven's sake:  take someone with you if you think or know you have something serious, particularly something like cancer, because honestly, as a patient you may freeze and stop hearing anything beyond an oncologist telling you your diagnosis.  Trust me, I've seen it happen.  I've been my dad's medical advocate through a rare form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and my husband was with me when I needed to be treated for basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my left arm.  Get the best medical specialists you can, don't be afraid to fire a doctor if you have to, and always ask or seek medical help if/when you need it.  In my experience, you will never be sorry for helping yourself if/when you need it.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Publishing Needs Right Now: Real People, Real Stories, and Stone-Cold, Real Writing

Dear Lit Loves,

Oh Lord, what a week.  Let me just say that I received a book proposal rejection from an international literary agent explaining that she could not connect with the "voice" of my book, my writing needed more "creativity", and something about changing the chronology of events in my memoir.  My first reaction was literally, Seriously?!!  I swear if one more person tells me to "elevate" my prose, I may stop buying books completely.  And folks are wondering why more and more writers are opting to go the self-publishing route.  Henceforth, let me advise agents, editors, publishers, and anyone else in the book industry who would care to get in the ring with me on this:  Here Is Exactly What We Need In Publishing Right Now:  Real people writing about Real life in a stone-cold, blatantly Real Manner.  I'm serious, look at Lena Dunham and the television show "Girls" or Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is The New Black as well as the television series of the same title.  The writing is NOT fancy-dancy, metaphorical, lyrical, or some form of nose in the air writing.  It's not about swirly, sugary, challenging writing folks.  If you want that then by all means go find yourself someone with an MFA from Iowa, Harvard, Stanford, etc.  And here's why this is true:  Because according to The National Adult Literacy Survey in both 1992 and 2003, the average American reads at a ninth grade high school reading level.  Right there, is where you hear the "cha-ching" people.  There's your money-shot and grand slam.  Do you hear it?  I do. 

Now, let me explain my style of writing:

1)  Shoot-from-the hip and No-holds-barred:  I don't mince words, spend long passages describing a mountain or grief metaphorically, and I get to the point.   I tell the story and I am passionate about the stories I have to tell, but I don't express my passion with "dry" writing that's going to sound like something from a master's level course in the merits of Lord Byron's writings.  Tell it like it is, get to the point, and get on with the story. 

2)  Do Not Over-Describe Or Babble On Excessively:  Honestly, I came across a writer recently who did nothing in her memoir but seemingly put down men and marriage while also describing in excrutiating, boring detail what it is like to experience menopause.  By the end of the book I just wanted to shake the female writer and say:  You could have Googled this and discovered all this information on menopause.  And maybe if you don't like men and marriage, I suggest you try being single or seriously think about acquiring a butler because no man worth his salt is going to baby you like you feel you deserve.  Here's a clue:  Pamper yourself woman!

3)  Chronologically tell the story to the best of your memory.  That's it.  People will get either get it or not.  As long as you stay true to the story you remember when writing a memoir, it's okay.  If a literary agent advises you to change the chronology of your memoir to make it "flow" better then skip the literary agent, find a new one, or just self-publish.  I'm not going to lie about the timeline of how I remember something happening.  Nope. End of story.

4)  There is no such thing as a memoir being too long or too short:  This is especially true if you are just getting the story down on paper for the first time.  There are some memoirs that are entirely too long mainly because the author is utilizing grandiose descriptions or babbling/whining about someone or something.  Here's what my English teacher advised me about my writing:  Make your story like a woman's skirt:  long enough to cover the important, parts, but short enough to keep it interesting.  Comprende?!!  Si!  Oui!! Aka...Preach it, Sister!!

5)  Getting more "Creative" with your writing does not have to mean including recipes, directions, lists, or an entire travel guide in your memoir.   I'm serious.  I write with a southern flair and often utilize southern sayings which most agents, editors, publishers, etc. should probably try Googling or just ask me what it means.  Usually, I will explain the meaning to the reader or give examples, but for some gatekeepers at the publishing entrance, this is a detriment to my writing.   Not buying it folks.

And finally I just want to say I HAVE NO PROBLEM PROMOTING MY BOOK.  In fact, I would rather plan my own book and publicity tour.  I would rather select where I promote my book.  In essence, it would be quite nice if a publisher helped in a small way, but I don't need or expect you to because I'm the one who is passionate about the book and I know who my readership is.  So to be entirely truthful, I think it's entirely acceptable to expect an author to get out and plug their own writing.  If you believe in your writing, are passionate about your writing, and want your book promoted in the right way, hell, just do it yourself.  No one's going to do it better than you because it's your baby, understand?  And that comes directly from my Dadio, sweethearts.  God Rest His Soul.

Till my next soap box speech or review, happy reading!



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh

Dear Lit Loves,

So recently I wrote a blog post regarding a contributing editor who perpetually ticked me off when she completed a blog post for a digital magazine in which she outlined what she automatically knows about a woman who wears anything related to Lilly Pulitzer.   If you read my last blog post, I'm sure you will understand why I became blatantly angry with this contributing editor and decided to make my own rebuttal regarding her assumptions or "known facts" she adheres to when encountering women who wear Lilly Pulitzer.  Now, I have come upon an author of a memoir who places herself within the same demographic as me, Generation X; however, I assure you I do not identify with this author and really found absolutely no humor in her memoir.  So here goes. I recently attempted to read, and after putting the book down many times due to disgust, did finish the memoir entitled The Madwoman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh.  To be fair, the memoir had gotten some good press and it was advertised as one of the 100 notable books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review.  And hence, there goes my faith in the book reviewers at The New York Times.

Let me try to explain this memoir in a nutshell:  The author is a woman approaching the age of fifty and she's married to some "allegedly" major guitarist whom she refers to as "Mr. X".   He is on the road quite a bit and they have two children together and apparently lived in a rather nice home in California.  At this point, I think the author and guitarist had been married for maybe twenty years when essentially the author has some kind of hormonal whiplash and has an emotional and physical nuclear meltdown.  Obviously, she was experiencing menopause, but it apparently didn't occur to her that this might be the case until she pulled her Volvo off the side of a road, found herself in a state of anger, tears, depression, panic, and then called a friend who told her about the concept of menopause.  I just want to say that there were so many moments during the reading of this book that I wanted to yell, "Oh God!  Don't be a nitwit, for Christ's sake!  Put on your big girl panties, take a freaking Valium, see a gynecologist and pull yourself together!!"  

Long story short, the author divorces the guitarist, who by the way I had never heard of, and she seemingly discovers the love of her life in a man who is somehow also managing her career.  She calls him "Mr Y" and all this goes down when the two of them decide to go to some Burning Man refuge out in a desert.  Personally, I think they had both been inhaling a few too many fumes.  So the author sets out to find her some kind of refurbished house, splits time with her children on a fifty/fifty basis with her ex-husband, and also has "Mr. Y" move in with her.  "Mr Y" then returns to his wife and kids briefly before I believe, though I can't' be sure, his wife throws him out and divorces him.  Hence, he goes back to live with the author of the book.

In the meantime I'm learning as I continue reading, why I have no idea other than that I promised myself I would review this memoir, that the author's mother died of dementia at age 59.  And her father has married umpteen Asian women, has rented the rooms of his home out to some questionable tenants, periodically goes through trash cans or dumpsters, and is eventually found at his home unresponsive by the author.  The author, after calling her sister first to tell her she thinks their father is dead, finally calls 911.  The father goes to the hospital and we discover that he is not dead, but dehydrated.  I don't think this author was required like I was to take CPR before graduating high school; otherwise, I think she would have known what to check for regarding her father's health status when she found him at home unresponsive.   And to beat it all, the author's father places his monies in bogus banking accounts and oftentimes forges his daughter's signature.   I know what you're thinking, Grace would have had the "Come To God" meeting with that dadio right then and there, but this isn't my book dearest Lit Lovies.

So eventually the author and "Mr. Y" throw themselves into couples therapy because she's upset that he has taken on the role of executive producer of some play for six to eight weeks and he is never home.  And then honest to Jesus, it was just a whine fest.  He doesn't do his household chores, he doesn't remember appointments, his stuff is all over the house in "nests",  he's not home to have supper at a decent hour, they barely see each other, etc. etc.  I'm hoping by this point in the book that someone gets this woman to a gynecologist who will give her some copious amounts of Estrogen, Xanax, Prozac, and Restoril because honestly, I have legitimate reasons for taking all these drugs, but this author needs them more than I do and she needs them daily and not on an "as needed" basis as I do.  Truly, reading this memoir brought me to the point of knowing for sure how some people manage to have so much success in their lives and are still terribly unhappy with life. 

Finally, the author goes to spend time with a friend who lives in some extraordinary home in California and is married to a quite domesticated man.  The author is ready to move in and proceed to possibly take up a residence with them.  It dawns on me at this point in the book:  This woman wants and probably requires a handmaiden, butler, or executive assistant as opposed to a husband or significant other.  THANK GOD, the author finally sees a gynecologist who prescribes estrogen gel and the author also decides to find various books on how to survive menopause which she discovers is truly a revelation.  Why On God's Green Earth She Didn't Do This To Begin With, I Have No Idea!!

In the end, the author starts giving tips on how we middle-aged, Generation Xers should handle menopause.  Lord help her because she could have learned all this had she just Googled the word "Menopause".  Okay Lit Loves, I am not claiming this author chick to be part of my Generation X.  There, I've said it.  I thought she needed to get over herself and her Texas-sized ego.  And if I ever act or behave in any fashion as this author describes in this book, please, dear close friends or maybe my brother, smack me back into reality, throw a bucket of cold water on top of me, or have me jailed for a day until I get my compass pointed properly, okay?!

And hey, was it really necessary to diss other memoir writers in the book?  I thought that was just suggestive of delinquent behavior, okay?  And um no, fellow Lit Loves, I will not be recommending this memoir to you.  I will be recycling this book in the very near future.  It's not my cup of tea.  I don't live in Orange County, California, have a television or radio show, was never married to a guitarist, and most certainly DO NOT feel I need a maid or servant.  Oh, Hell To The No Lit Lovies!  I clean my own house, regularly see medical specialists for all sorts of weird maladies, and most of all, I know how to find and make my own happiness.  And for that I thank my Dad who is no longer here, but I sure as heck fire do reflect his humble, humorous, personable, curious, and wild-natured self.

Do with this memoir what you will Lit Lovies.  I am now moving on to reading the memoir entitled Pieces of my Mother by Melissa Cistaro.  Until my next review, update, or soap box rant, walk around proudly with a good book, read it, and then critically think to yourself, was this worth my time?


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Contributing Editor Makes Gross Assumptions About Women Who Wear Lilly Pulitzer

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  I'm still reading The Mad Woman In The Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh so I am unable to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down yet.  I have read Every Patient Tells A Story by Dr. Lisa Sanders, an internist at Yale Medical School.  Excellent book.  I sent her an email about my reaction to the book and she kindly responded to it. 

Now, I just ran across a blog or periodical post from a contributing editor who makes some seriously adverse and judgmental assumptions about the women who she sees wearing a Lilly Pulitzer dress.  Well, I happen to be a fan of Lilly Pulitzer so I decided to post this contributing editor's assumptions and then respond to them.  Here We Go:

Contributing Editor at Digital Magazine Files Blog Post Making The Following Assumptions About Women Who Wear Lilly Pulitzer. My feedback to her statements is/are in Italics:

1)  You belong to a country club.   Hell no, I don't belong to a country club.  I might sign up for a Fight Club, Book Club; or Rebel Southern Ladies Club.  I might decide to live in a country club.  It depends on if I get published and if I like the house and acreage.

2)  You have dated a Lacrosse player.  Say What?!!!  No, I've been known to snag a Frenchman and date a few delirious male souls, but no I can't say I have ever encountered a Lacrosse player I would date.  I married an Electrical Engineer with a Ph.D.  I liked him as he is as smart as I am. 

3) You know how to tie a scarf.  Well, yes I do.  I used to wear them around my neck and tucked into my pant suits when I was a public and private school teacher.  Now I just wear them as bandannas around my head when I exercise.  I also tie a scarf to my purse.  You never know when you might need to use one as a tissue or turn it into a tourniquet to stop profuse bleeding.  Heck, with enough scarves tied together, I could make them into a parachute and potentially jump safely from a small plane.

4)  You can name all the Ivy League Schools without having to google them.   Maybe.  I really feel like asking most students and graduates of Ivy League colleges if they feel good about overpaying for their education and having massive student loans.  I also ask them did they feel privileged to attend an Ivy League School and ask if they consider themselves arrogant.  Can you tell I attended a state college?!

5)  Your dress would be great on a small child.  Damn straight some of them would.  I like little people occasionally.  Not the obnoxious, bratty ones.  I like adults who haven't lost their inner child-like spirit.  I'm in touch with my child-like spirit, how about you?

6)  There's another pair of shoes in your bag.  What?!  No, there's another pair of shoes in my car in case I need them when I wash my Mustang or if someone tries to attack me and I can use a pair of stilettos to defend myself.  The only other things in my bag might be meds, a Tazor, and a red lipstick.

7)  You might be drunk and you like an umbrella in your smoothie with five or six shots of rum.  Girl please.  I can't drink because I take a boat-load of medications and I don't need alcohol to swing from the rafters, okay?!  

8)  You are really fun.  Well, hell yeah.  I would wear my Lilly Pulitzer to a professional wrestling match or to a Floyd Mayweather fight.  You've got to sport some style, honey.  And trust me, I know fun like no other person or soul.

9)  You know how to French braid hair.  Um, no.  I like short hair and pixie cuts, preferably flaming red.  I have a sincere dislike for long hair as most of the time long hair can look like a bird's nest.

10)  You have a list of baby names.  Baby Names?!!! Hell, I don't even have children.  They generally give me a migraine.  And I really like my independence darling.

11)  You own a Tiffany necklace.  You got it in ninth grade with a velvet box.  Girlfriend, I do not own a Tiffany necklace.  I spent the summer of my ninth grade year working on a tobacco farm and attending professional wrestling matches.  I do like a bit of semi-precious stones and accompanying hardware though.  Personally, I really like the jewelry designer, LeVian.

12)  You say your favorite movie is Amelie.  You are kidding, right?  My favorite movie is Erin Brochavich (spelling?).  I like women who stand up to big business and know how to kick legal ass.

13)  Your favorite movie is Fast and Furious.  You like fast cars and man feelings.  Oh, for the love of Jesus.  I like Vin Diesel.  I like my vintage cherry red Mustang.  I like the Mach sound system in my Mustang so I can crank it up and listen to the Rolling Stones.  And "man feelings"?  Well, isn't that a form of stereotyping?  I choose to not participate in that portion of your list of assumptions.  Sorry.

14)  You have been watching a lot of House Hunters.  No.  I don't have time, dearest.  I don't need to watch any show to discover what I like in houses.  I just do a simple crayon home layout, find a contractor and get him to build it according to the specifications.  Then I decorate, relax and sit outside on the patio with a lemonade and the latest memoir by a non-famous person.

15)  Your Instagram makes your relatives feel like butt.  Wow, such language.  No, I hate Instagram and Twitter as I think they are self-aggrandizing.  And, please leave my relatives out of this dialogue.  Are we clear?  They are my problem and I know how to best deal with them.

16)  You are into the dessert zeitgeist.   What?!  Does this mean I adhere to Paula Dean and Martha Stewart recipes?  What are you saying, child?  I like chocolate and peanut butter ice cream pie.  Who has time to make dessert?  I just call my favorite baker and stir up business for him by ordering a fancy-dancy cake.  I support small, local businesses.

17)  You love Taylor Swift's brother more than you love Taylor Swift.  I googled Taylor Swift's brother as I have no idea what he looks like.  I think he needs to be about twenty years older, more mature, and lose the scruffy face.  And no girlfriend, I do not listen to Taylor Swift.  Presently, I am listening to AC/DC, but YOU may have to google them to understand what band that is.  Personally, my favorite song is "Back In Black". 

18)  You have a standing appointment for a Kate Middleton blow-out.  No, No and just Hell to the No!  I like my pixie cut and my brother is my bad-ass hair designer.  You should try him.  He works wonders, let me tell you.  Honestly, I keep telling him he should add "magician" to his business card.

19)  You have a porcelain box of baby teeth.  Now girlfriend, I am telling you that is just nasty.  And I will not be caught dead with baby teeth; however, I really did like the tooth fairy.  She was quite generous compared to what my classmates received for their baby teeth.

20)  You feel superior to people who like Versace, but you would never say it.  Girl, Donatella Versace rocks.   Really, you shouldn't indirectly try and insult her or me like that.  That is just a serious form of rude behavior.  Total shame.  And I have never been one to keep my opinions to myself as my family and friends can tell you.

21)  You have a Pandora bracelet and it is filled to capacity.  Um, no.  I wear a Swiss watch.  And I am known to carry a cross and recite Hail Marys when I come across hospitals, obnoxious people, bad drivers, chauvanistic men and most medical personnel.  And no, I don't like charms on a bracelet or in a breakfast cereal.  My brother did remind me that most of my rings could potentially be used as weapons so I will add that observation.

Wow.  Wasn't that something Lit Loves?!  I mean, you know I HAD to respond to this contributing editor's list regarding women who wear Lilly Pulitzer dresses.  I'm hoping she learned a few things by my responses,  like stop trying to make assumptions about someone just from how they dress.  Be prepared for people to surprise the crap out of you.  Get to know someone before you make potentially erroneous statements about them.  Some of us are just rebels wearing Lilly Pulitzer, okay?  It's not illegal or anything.  It's tricky, yes, but man is it ever a load of fun to confuse the hell out of people!  Now, I've got to get back to reading and over the weekend I've got to go find this Lilly dress I've been dying to score.  Ya'll have fun, keep reading and have one damn colorful summer, okay?!!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Evaluation of Literary Agent Responses To Writer Queries Via QueryTracker

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings fellow literary lovies!  I have a major announcement. And no, I did not secure a literary agent. If that had happened you would have heard me screaming and doing somersaults in the parking lot of my apartment complex here in North Carolina.  My major news is that I have now surpassed 4,000 views of my blog!  Okay, it's not on par with Lady Gaga's number of Twitter followers, but I'll take it.  My number of blog views is actually 4,124!  AND HEY!  IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE ME IMITATE ELECTRIC GUITAR PLAYING TO THE ROLLING STONES TUNE, "START ME UP", THEN PLEASE FOLLOW ME ON THIS BLOG'S HOME PAGE.  I'LL TRY AND GET MY TECH GURU HUSBAND TO VIDEO RECORD IT AND POST IT SO YOU CAN SEE MY EXCITEMENT.

So today I decided to peruse QueryTracker, a website where new writers log their queries (aka book pitches) to literary agents and then have the option of letting the rest of us (writer minions) know what kind of response they received. Well, I decided to evaluate a few of the "alleged" responses noted from literary agents in reply to writer queries.  I say "alleged" because I am assuming that the writers are telling the truth about the responses they report from literary agents.  I don't want to get sued either.

Evaluations of Literary Agent Responses To Writer Queries Via QueryTracker
For July 16th, 2015:

1)  Writer #1 noted that she sent a query via postal mail to a literary agent regarding a political thriller manuscript she had written.  She mailed this in March of 2015.  After four and a half months, this writer has still not received a response to her query.  Personally, I thought it was shameful on the part of the literary agent.  And then when I looked to see the identity of the literary agent, I wanted to tell the query writer not to worry, this literary agent did not get back to me on four different occasions so I struck her off my potential literary agent list for untimely behavior and poor time management skills.  I am a former inner-city teacher.  I have responsibilities you know.

2)  Writer #2  queried a literary agent on July 6th, 2015 with a query for contemporary romance.  That writer received a full request from the literary agent on July 12th, 2015.  This means the agent wants to see your entire manuscript, book proposal or sometimes both.  The literary agent offered the writer representation on July 15th, 2015 and the writer accepted the invitation.  Good for you!  I've never had any luck whatsoever with this literary agency.  I think it's because they do not like serious subject matter or memoirs written by non-celebrities, but that's just my assumption from the rejections I have received from them as a writer. And I am also very intuitive.

3)  Writer #3 queried a romantic thriller to a literary agent on July 14th, 2015.  The writer received a rejection or pass on the book pitch on July 15th, 2015 because the literary agent felt he/she was not a good fit for this book.  I took this to mean maybe it wasn't his/her style or maybe this is not a genre in which heshe specializes.  Anyway, it was a timely and professional rejection.  This literary agent remains on my potential literary agent list. Being prompt is always beneficial in my opinion.

4)  Writer #4 emailed a query letter to a literary agent in June 2015 regarding a time travel novel.  She received a response from the literary agent a month later saying that it was essentially well-written, but he/she could not connect with the voice of the main character.  This literary agent invited the writer to query her again with future projects.  I thought this was courteous and professional.  And it's certainly nicer than any rejection or pass I have received from any literary agent at this particular agency.  I no longer query any of the literary agents at this agency because I just didn't feel they were willing to make the time and effort to guide a new writer through the publishing process.  This agency was banished from my query list.

5)  Writer #5 sent a pitch letter and first ten pages of her manuscript to a literary agent on June 22nd, 2015 and received a courteous email rejection a week later.  This agent said the manuscript is wonderful, but the main character's voice is just not her style; however, he/she recommended the writer not change a thing about the manuscript and to just keep querying because some agent will fall in love with it and choose to offer representation.  Folks, I actually stood up from my chair in my home office after reading this and applauded.  What a genuinely pleasant and personalble response by a literary agent.  I just queried this same literary agent and I have not heard back which means either she is quite busy, has placed my query in a "maybe" pile, or is horrified by my content and writing style.  Fingers crossed though.

6)  Writer #6 queried a quite busy and popular literary agent on July 14th, 2015 even though the literary agent's website noted he/she was closed to queries.  The writer received a full request on July 16th, 2015.   This means the literary agent wanted to read her entire manuscript and evaluate it.  I was impressed.  I have queried this literary agent with at least two manuscripts and he/she has rejected them.  Recently, when I had four editors who expressed interest in perusing a manuscript of mine once I landed a literary agent, I queried this same literary agent asking if he/she could consider any material of mine now.  Crickets.  No response.  And it was just a simple question too.  I guess neither me or my question warranted a response.  Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers.  Onward!!

Okay folks!  That's it for today's blog post.  I'm still reading the memoir entitled "The Mad Woman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones" by Sandra Tsing Loh; however, I am no longer laughing hysterically.  I'm now beginning to wonder if she is going to need a prescription for Paxil, Wellbutrin, Xanax, or possibly Prozac.  And I'm beginning to wonder how she and I grew up both belonging to Generation X.   Will get back to you on this once I conclude my reading.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why Querying Annoys The Hell Out Of Me

Dear Lit Loves,

Hi!  I'm back!  Yes, after my last post there were people wondering if I would ever blog again, or quit writing and suddenly take up rodeo riding, or transition from my potential writing career to professional wrestling just so I could take on Ted Cruz!  Obviously, I am blogging once again, I rather like trying to ride the mechanical bull in a club, and well, I am an avid professional wrestling fan (whoo-hoo Ric Flair) and if I ever take on Ted Cruz, well, my husband said his money is on me and I should disclose that my husband holds a black belt. 

Yes, I'm still emotionally raw from my father dying recently.  And I'm rather upset at the way his oncological care or lack thereof was handled, and I was informed by Duke University's Retina Department on Friday that my Uveitis (major eye inflammatory disease) is now not just residing in my right eye, but also the left eye too.  Joy!  Wonder if the Uveitic Glaucoma in my right eye will also take up inhabiting my left eye too?!  Oh, the wonders of modern medicine!  And I just want to add that I really wonder if doctors, surgeons, specialists etc. ever take any psychology or interpersonal communication/how to be humane classes during their many years of college?  I WOULD HAPPILY VOLUNTEER TO TEACH THIS COURSE FOR ANY INSTITUTION WHO FEELS DOCTORS SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO ENGAGE WITH PATIENTS/PEOPLE IN A REPUTABLE, PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONABLE FASHION.

Now, allow me to get to the subject of this blog post:  Querying.  So many people ask me what this is.  My routine answer is that it's when you are trying to secure a literary agent and you write them a pitch letter for your manuscript.  You introduce yourself as a writer, pitch your book, and then list your accomplishments or "platform".  The next question I get asked is, "What the hell is platform?"   My short answer is:  it means how many people know you? do you have a website, and how many social media sites can people (readers) go to on their phones or computers and find you?  And finally I get asked, "But isn't it about the content of your book, your voice, the story, etc. etc."  In a nutshell:  maybe. 

In the last four months I have queried various literary agents because to sell your book to a publisher, it is quite wise to have secured a literary agent who can negotiate for you.  Well, I can tell you this:  some literary agents will not respond to you or are going to willfully ignore you; some literary agents will respond to you politely and in an explanatory fashion even if they are rejecting you; and then some literary agents are rude, don't abide by their own rules for querying, and would not recognize the next bestseller or successful writer (see J.K. Rowling) if their own personal publishing fairy Godmother dropped down from heaven and smacked them over the head with an iPad containing your query, book proposal and manuscript.  I'm serious people.  It's brutal.  Thank God I once taught in an inner city school as well as a private, religiously-oriented school.  I have vast experience on the front lines of interacting with exasperating and non-compliant folks.  Enough said.

Here, for your perusal are some of the responses I have received from literary agents I have queried in the last six months along with what my responses might have been if I had felt so inclined to respond: 

1)  "I don't think I am the right agent for you."   (Well, why not?  Are you too busy?  Do you belong to The Tea Party?  Do you dislike feminists?  Are you leaving in the next six months for a better job?)

2)  Okay, there are literary agents who I have queried and they have never responded.  (I begin to wonder if they were involved in an accident, are on maternity leave, are too busy traveling, or have been advised to leave town immediately and take up residence in a witness protection program).

3)  "Your project (aka book) is not right for my list."  (I take this to sometimes mean they do not like the subject about which I'm writing, they are looking for the next Hunger Games and not a memoir, or maybe they just use it as an excuse so as to not hurt a writer's feelings.)

4)  "Dear Author,  Thank you for your query.  Your work is well-written and very timely.  I applaud you for sharing your experiences; however, you really should have 25,000 Twitter followers or no editor will even look at you."   (So I write well, am a former English teacher, and have good content, but I am not a famous person; therefore, I am not worthy of representation.  By the way, I feel Twitter is for those who are pompous, have a limited vocabulary, and like to fill up an enclosed stadium with their own individual hot air,)

5)  "I didn't connect with the narration." (Maybe they do not understand southerners or southern lingo?  Maybe they have never dealt with serious subject matter?  Or even better, maybe they don't want to deal with/face the subject matter?  It's about life and death people!  Or trying to teach and connect with inner city school students!  Or caring for aging parents! Or the strength of female friendships!  Or God Forbid, it's about being diagnosed with,at the time, a rare disorder called Meniere's disease at age eighteen!)

6) "We do not feel sufficiently enthusiastic about your project (book).  Please forgive the impersonal nature of this letter." (We don't like your subject matter or you and we will not even give you the time of day, understand?!  Well, whoop-tee-do.  I'll let you all go put on your Pollyanna dresses and continue prancing down Park Avenue!).

7)  "Dear Author, we are not the right agency for you.  Sincerely, Assistant #3"   (We are a conservative literary agency.  We do not wish to speak with you, sit near you, or waste our time reading your query.  And dear author, you are not worthy of a response from a literary agent; therefore, we devalue you as we do our interns by not inserting or addressing you by name!  Damn, this has definitely got to be "that time of the month" for this entire office of literary agents and assistants; therefore, thank God you didn't consider me for representation.  I'm placing you all on the naughty mat and referring each and every one of you to Dr. Ruth!"

Yes, dear lit loves, all these responses were actually sent in response to my query by various literary agents working in publishing today.  It's a riot!  I do take solace in the fact that two literary agents are seriously considering not just my query, but also my book proposal and manuscript.  Also, four editors from major publishing imprints have expressed interest in my projects (books) once I sercure a literary agent.  And finally, one small press is actively considering publishing one of my manuscripts even if I do not have a literary agent.  Damn!  Thank God they don't hold it against me that I have not yet secured literary representation! 

Ya'll have fun now, ya hear?!  By the way, I am currently reading The Madwoman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Log and doubling over hysterically laughing while reading this memoir at two in the morning.  Cheers!

Grace (Amy)