What I am Living For: A Fourth of July Message

Postage Stamp Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/personalized-postage-stamp

A few weeks or so ago, I was so inspired by a piece I read on The Saturday Evening Post (https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/06/what-i-am-fighting-for-my-home-and-yours/) that I was inspired to write my own version of it. I simply changed “I’m” to “I am” and “fighting” to “living”; I, however, kept the last line.

I guess you could say my version is the homefront one.

In the wee hours of the morning, while everyone else was in bed, I was writing this and realized that it would be a good Fourth of July piece. Mine, of course, is not as eloquent as Sgt. Pappas’s, for I’m not a warrior but simply, a writer.

I am living for that big enough house with the wide front porch and Adirondack chairs facing the white picket fence⁠—the house I live in after being touched by homelessness. I am living for the breathtakingly beautiful beaches that I seldom see and the shady, grassy parks with the rusting playground equipment where kids still play,  for the towns where I planted memories and the town where I’ve replanted myself. I am living for my daughter⁠—the special one with the incredible memory who understands so much more than she may ever let on. I am living for her children and for those who will look out for her when I am no longer here⁠—those people who may never touch my life but who will touch hers and she, theirs. I am living for the husband who is who he is and who takes care of things while I am away and the things I don’t like to when I am there.

I am living for those churches that still exist, not just to be good but to do good⁠—both the traditional and the non-traditional⁠—these churches that I don’t attend but am glad to know are there. I am living for the schools that have not become factories, for the college I graduated from⁠—with the magnolias that perfume the air and the loquat trees with the fruit that rots in the lower Alabamian summer, for the university with its painted benches and abundance of Spanish moss, for the home with the bunny dollhouse and the never ending stack of children’s library books and the freezer full of novelty ice cream, for the television where we watch “Wheel of Fortune” that has been part of my childhood and part of my adulthood, for the computer where I can pound the keys instead of the pavement, and for the Monopoly game under the coffee table I use to teach my daughter about taking turns when all she wants to do is try to fit the cat into the thimble and the dog into the shoe.

I am living for the house I have now and the house I will have, my town and any other place that may become home, be it for a day or till death separates me from it. I am living for the chance to travel to Iceland and Australia and wherever else English is spoken because that language bespeaks of home. I am living for the country we have now⁠—this land that so many still want to come to.

I am living for the America that will prevail no matter who is in office.

I am living for the right of Americans to separate the powers of the news media from their minds so they can make up their own and live the lives they want⁠—not for their children but for themselves, to work the jobs they need to so that someday, they can work the jobs they want.

I am living for the right of every American to be left alone.

I am living for the freedom we have to eat, drink, and wear whatever we want, to worship or not to worship, to enjoy that freedom we had before and after 9/11. I am living for my faith in an unfair God⁠—unfair because He freely gives us what we could never hope to earn⁠—a life of second and third and seventy times seven chances. I am living for the continuous and fruitless pursuit of the balance between freedom and equality, and for my belief that even when things happen for a bad reason, we can find meaning in what happens and make something good come of it.

We cannot lose.

Mrs. Sarah Richards, “What I am Living For,” July 4, 2019

Poem-a-Day April 2019 Writer’s Digest Challenge #4. Theme: Painter #aprpad

Norman Rockwell

Illustrator or artist,
he captured what he saw,
even as “the greats” captured
what they imagined,
& does that make it any more
or any less real?

2019 April PAD Challenge: Day 4

#Fiction Friday: #Novelines from the Book

Mormoni

There were 30,000 or so residents of Green Haven—none we knew intimately, yet they knew us, & saw the lie that would someday become a truth.

David was a New York liberal in Christian conservative Florida—an oddity. However, in the enclave of academia, he’d found his place.

I felt like Ariel—a fish out of water—who wanted to be a part of their world, but I’d have to take up the Cross, with y’all on my lips.

Caitlin was the Audrey & I was the Marilyn, at least from the neck down.

Maxwell Manor was David’s home, & our little hideaway from the world that seemed strange to us, with its extreme religiosity.

The Nolan women and “that Dalton man” were known as “those Godless Northern folks”, or carpetbaggers, even though we had lived here for years.

We weren’t born-again, buckle-of-the-Bible-belt Christians.  David & I believed in Something—we just weren’t sure what that Something was.

I was the Jacob, Caitlin, the Esau; it wouldn’t be birth order or genetics, but a lie that sealed my inheritance.

Violet Girard, the First Lady of Green Haven—a gracefully aging Liz Taylor—loved David, for he would paint her as she saw herself.

David didn’t see Christianity and the American way of life as superior to anything else.  I daresay now, it was because he’d never known anything else.

More Good News

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story for the “Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest”, but, forgettable me, missed the deadline, so I submitted it this year and won “Honorable Mention”, which, for a magazine of such notoriety, is quite an honor.

The story is called “The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery”, set partly in Pensacola during the great flood of April 2014, and partly in Pensacola in the late Fifties when a grave robber “haunted” two of the local cemeteries (true story).

Below is the e-mail I received yesterday.

~~~

Dear Sarah:

Congratulations! You have won “honorable mention” in the 2016 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest.

We will be announcing the winner very soon, but I wanted to reach out to each finalist first to applaud your work and also clarify details with regard to publication rights.

If you agree, the Post will be publishing the winning entry, runners up, and honorable mentions in an e-book and possibly print anthology. While only one story will be published in the Post, we are seeking online rights, as well as digital/anthology rights for all stories. Though there is no monetary award, each honorable mention will be included in the anthology—print and/or digital.

We want to make sure that each finalist is on the same page. All rights—one-time anthology/online/digital rights—will be clear in the contract that will be forwarded to you.

As a final check, we also want to make sure that your story has not yet been published, with the exception showcasing on a personal website or blog (as outlined in the rules). If you have placed the story in a national publication since its submission to our contest, please advise.

Your story is great and we look forward to sharing it with Post readers and the general public as well. We may have several questions regarding editing, which I would like to address with you. Welcome your earliest reply.

Please let me know if you have any questions. 

Again, thank you, for sharing “The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery” with us.

All the best,

Patrick Perry, MPH
Executive Editor
The Saturday Evening Post magazine

TGOWC

What Editors Want…

Christian films (and movies with Christian themes) are rising in popularity.  A revival is going on.  How much that influences what magazine publishers/editors are looking for, I have no idea, though I wish I did.

For instance, “The Saturday Evening Post” is sponsoring a Great American Fiction Contest, and one of the guidelines is this:  Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America, past, present, and future.

Now I can do that.  However, being a Christian (especially growing up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt), it is very hard for me not to include any mention of religion (good or bad) in my writings.  It is not only what I know, but it is part of what makes me, me.  I always think, before I send a piece that has even a passing mention of Christianity, that it will be rejected for that reason.  What I write tends to be too liberal to qualify as Christian fiction, and too conservative for mainstream fiction.

Hence my dilemma in crafting a story for this contest.  If I was submitting a piece for this magazine seventy years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue.  My thought is that I’m writing to impress the editors, not the subscribers, because I have to get past the editors first.

When I think of what constitutes Americana, I think of “Huckleberry Finn”, “Leave it to Beaver”, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Stephen Foster and Norman Rockwell.  I think rural.  The story I originally wrote for this contest is about a group of young Mormons living in Montana (as I was once a young Mormon living in Montana).  I fear even the mention of the word Mormon, much less most of my main characters being members of such a controversial religion, might scare off the editors, who fear offending anyone.  That’s the kind of country we live in now.  We (or some of us) live in fear offending anyone, and if we do happen to offend, we must apologize immediately.  It doesn’t pay to be honest anymore, but rather, it costs us.  I can write what I want, all I want, but if I want to win a contest, I’ll probably have to censor myself a bit, thus making my piece less authentic.

So, I am at a crossroads.  Because of the ten dollar entry fee, I don’t want to send something I’m pretty sure won’t be chosen, but I am grappling with a story that will appeal to the masses (though I do believe Christianity, portrayed in a positive light, would be appealing to most people, but again, I have to get past the editors).

A few nights ago, my husband and I watched “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”, a fifties movie starring William Lundigan, as a Protestant minister, and Susan Hayward, as his wife.  I’d read on an imdb.com message board that it was serialized in “The Saturday Evening Post” and it (the movie) was a perfect example of what qualifies as Americana.  The movie is a good watch, but milk without the meat.  Things happened, but it didn’t have a plot (which is fine; “Our Town” didn’t either, and I loved it).

I am thinking of abandoning my original story (or perhaps omitting the Mormon angle altogether, even though that’s what my characters are; I borrowed them from a book I will publish someday in which the Mormon theme is integral to the story), and writing something brand new.  No borrowing.  I am thinking of penning an homage to my hometown of Pensacola, Florida–a small city that is steeped in Christianity.  If I write as an observer, I might just get away with mentioning the existence of churches, maybe even God!

 

 

 

The Saturday Evening Post-It

So I am writing a story to submit to the Saturday Evening Post short story contest.  See:  http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/fiction-contest

I like specific guidelines, one of which is this:  Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America, past, present, and future. 

I am an American who lives in America, living in a town that supplies endless material (both complimentary and not so complimentary).  Lots of writers love to write about the South (Tennessee Williams comes to mind).  I’d had the road trip for a story all mapped out, until I realized it might be too religious in nature.  It was going to be about a group of four girlfriends, one of whom leaves the comforting folds of Mormonism, and how her leaving affects the rest of them.

My idea preceding that one was going to be about two sisters, Lucy and Emma Potlocki (who go by the “Anglicized” surname of Lock), who seek their fortune by auditioning for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in 1939, then I googled for some information, and that’s when I came upon “The Scarlett O’Hara War”–a TV-movie about just that.  Sometimes you wonder if your idea is original, or, if somewhere, in the back of your mind, it’s a memory.

*

According to Branden Rathert, our local radio host, when one steps into Pensacola, they’re stepping into the year 1927.  I don’t think places like Emerald City (google it, if you want) existed in 1927, at least not openly, though Pensacola does have a church on every corner (and some in between).

However, I will not be setting my story in Florida, but rather in Sidney, Montana, where I was a live-in nanny for three girls.  Since the story has to be fiction, I juiced it up a bit.  My protagonist (I don’t use the term “heroine”, as I think it’s silly, unless she does something heroic) is from Pensacola, but has left home to do just what I did more than a decade ago.  She is LDS (as I was at the time, though I won’t make her religion central to the story; however, Mormonism is a very American religion), and that’s where the similarities between my story and her story end.  Her experience is quite a bit darker (I just can’t help myself) than mine was.

pic1

I borrowed her (and one of the main two plots) from the novel I wrote (“The Fall and Rise of Alfred Bomber”) that she is a supporting character in.  Since it will be quite some time before “Alfred” is finished (meaning edited), I thought Karsen Wood (the name of my protagonist) may as well be doing me some good elsewhere.  I see this story as Karsen’s part-time gig, rather than her full-time career in “Alfred”.  I grew quite fond of her (as she is an extension of me), in addition to the fact that her story gave me something to build on other than a blank screen.

Query letter to “Missouri Life” magazine

Paul and Eleanor

(Above:  My grandparents, Paul and Eleanor Booker.)
(Below:  The query letter for the 5000+ word personal essay on the town of my birth.)

Dear Editors,

“Poplar Bluff” is a memoir of the fondest kinds of memories–those from childhood.  It is a juicy slice of small town American life, which includes a history of P.B., peppered with anecdotes and salted with sweet remembrances.

For several years, I spent all my summers with my grandparents in P.B., my aunt, uncle and cousins right next door.  I didn’t have that kind of luxury or history in Pensacola, Florida—the luxury of having family close by, and of a shared history in the place where I lived.

“Poplar Bluff” is also coming-of-age essay, where the memories are as golden as the tones in a vintage photograph, and the present is as stark as Technicolor.  It is also a love story of loss and moving on from loss.  Poplar Bluff, as I remember it, is representative of a simpler time, before Facebook and cell phones and other devices monopolized our hours, when kids played outside and entertained themselves.

It is a story of the wonders of summer through the eyes of a child.

 

My parents were into genealogy during those seasons of my life, and so I have them to thank for some of the more factual content, but the parts I believe that will resonate most is the story only I can tell.

I believe anyone who has ever called Missouri home, and those who have chosen it as their home, will find something worth remembering in what is simply titled, “Poplar Bluff:  A Memoir”.

 

A little about me:  I am married and the mother of a five-month old baby girl.  In addition to being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I am the unofficial family storyteller.  I regularly blog on issues of freelance writing, marriage and motherhood.  My current project is a collection of children’s nursery rhymes, unofficially titled, “The Treasury of the Sara Madre.”  I am also a member of the local writer’s group, WriteOn! Pensacola.

 

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warmest regards,
Sarah Lea Richards

Grandma and Jacques

(Above:  My grandmother, as I remember her, and their dog, Jacques.)