My 1000th blog post! Then & Now

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Sarah Lea Stories was born in the blogosphere as sarahleastories@wordpress.com, eventually graduating to https://sarahleastories.com/

My first blog post was published on October 24, 2013:  https://sarahleastories.com/2013/10/24/the-treasury-of-the-sara-madre/.  I was a new mom, practically a newlywed, and hadn’t even started college yet. 

Since 2013, SLS has gone through many incarnations.  I was actually pretentious enough, once upon a time, to call myself The Populist Poetess; now I’m The Post-It Poet, bridging brevity with gender neutrality (I still prefer the terms actress and sculptress, but no one uses poetess).  Now, my concentration is on getting my B.A. in Creative Writing in three years (or less) and editing everything I’ve written thus far.

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It’s rather serendipitous that my 1000th blog post would fall on this day–as I finally made it to the local writer’s group I belong to–reconnecting (outside of Facebook and one-on-one chats over lunch or coffee) with friends I’ve known since before I started this blog (and making a new one).  It’s been at least two years since I’ve attended a meeting.  Throughout the months, perhaps even years, I’ve sort of kept up with the group through the monthly group emails, not realizing how much I’d missed it, missed them, till I went back today.

I’d gotten acquainted with the group through a Facebook political page in 2012 (the page’s administrator was a local woman).  No dues, only kind critiques were required.  It was perfect.

I always learn something from each of the members, who generally share their news and a piece they’ve written; sometimes we do a writing exercise.  This month’s prompt was to create a Twitter account for a deceased person (their handle, bio, and maybe even a web address), which became homework.  I’m not on Twitter anymore (it’s so impersonal, and there’s a lot of ugliness), but I love fun, short challenges like this.

We’re a diverse group–writing everything from magazine nonfiction to children’s books to blog posts to creative writing.   Today, I read a piece I’m submitting to Shutterfly for a $500 gift card contest, writing from the perspective of the giver rather than the receiver.  

It was just so good to be able to share something in my own voice.

Every book I’ve created through Shutterfly has had special significance, and I don’t just give them to anyone.  So many hours, I’d be in the Writing Lab with its giant monitors, perfecting them, reading them aloud where no one would hear me.  That Lab was where I spent most of my lunches for the several months I worked at the college after graduation. 

I am practically the unofficial brand ambassador for Shutterfly and am finalizing my ninth and tenth book through the site.  

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Writing is what I want to do more than anything else, and if it’s in technical writing, so be it.  It is still writing and every experience I have, whether it be writing press releases, biographies for an event program, articles for a newspaper, etc., it all helps me become a better writer.  Even when I worked for my alma mater’s Writing Lab, I learned so much.  It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Practicality is what compelled me to major in Health Information Technology, but the only class I enjoyed (and I enjoyed it quite a lot) was Medical Terminology.  I still have a medical dictionary one of my professors gave me, but beyond that, it was excruciatingly painful to sit through those courses.  About halfway through the program, I realized I liked the idea of wearing scrubs and working evenings (not being an early morning person) in a big hospital more than I would like the work.  I could write about those things, but I could never be those things.  

I am finally pursuing what I’ve always wanted to do full-time.  I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and I am blessed to be able to do that now.  It just took four years of surviving, of barely making it financially, to get to that point.  

That said, no matter where life takes me careerwise, I will always blog at least twice weekly; I’ve learned a lot through blogging process:  how to schedule posts in advance, increase my SEO (by using key words), and add share buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera–all basic but useful things.  Now if WordPress would just put more attractive ads on my page (without me having to pay to take them off), that would be the cats.

As I prepare for uni, I realize I’ve been writing so much that I haven’t been taking the time to edit anything, including my Southern Gothic horror novel, which I “advertise” on Fiction Fridays:  https://sarahleastories.com/category/fiction-fridays/.

While in school, I’m going to read a lot more nonfiction (about writing), finalize my book, and wrap up all my unfinished writing projects–not to mention all the writing I’ll be doing for class.  I have the prolific thing down; I just need the perfecting, the polish.   

My biggest advice to other bloggers is that you need readers who aren’t writers–people who won’t expect anything in return except great content.  Keep cranking it out, but always bank your marketable works to submit for paying opportunities.  That is why I only post poetry (i.e. my streams of consciousness with line breaks), book reviews, and the occasional personal essay (by the time most of my essays got published, it would be old news)–never chapters of my novel, short stories, or any portion of my children’s nursery rhyme collection, which I plan on hiring a student to illustrate (same goes for my book cover).  

 By the time I reach my 2000th post, I want to have:

  • Finished editing my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley, and have it ready to publish:  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/
  • Finished my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, Golden Plates and Silver Spoons
  • Been published in the print (or online) edition of The Saturday Evening Post
  • Making a good living writing (or where writing is part of the job) 
  • Graphically designing all my blog post images myself, eliminating the need for stock photos (and using my own photos whenever possible).  I became aware of just how awful stock photography was (not the quality of the image but the lack of originality on my part) when I saw an image I’d used for one of my posts elsewhere (in three different places)
  • Read at least 100 books on writing (and reviewed them)
  • And, most importantly, developed a lifelong love of books in my daughter–she already requests “Punch and Judy” every night, which is a delight

And, by my 2000th post, I will have graduated from college a second time.  For a while, I had considered being a polysomnographer (my dad has sleep apnea) or doing something with hearing aids (I have unilateral hearing loss), but being honest with myself and true to myself led me on the path that I should’ve taken all those years ago.

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022

#Micropoetry Monday: Realms of Motherhood

 

Vintage Anne.jpg

She loved her baby for who she was now,
not for who she might become.
She’d love her in all her forms,
for every 7 years, she was a new being.

The long-awaited child was an unsolved crossword puzzle
without clues to fill in the boxes.
Love & care were the only answers.

Everynight,
her mother read to her fairy tales,
nursery rhymes,
& stories just-so;
every morning,
poetry from Frost and Field,
fables of Aesop,
& artful science articles,
feeding her imagination;
but twas when she read to her Bible stories
like a Prophetess–
a Prof & Poetess of Fire and Lit–
that her child’s universe was expanded
& her little girl saw her place in it.

He was the key,
she, the lock,
& when they were
fitted together,
they unlocked that door
of opportunity
called parenthood.

She was not unemployed,
but had been placed in a
permanent volunteer position, with a
job description that changed daily.

Writing Tips

There is not a single writer’s group meeting I attend that I do not learn something, or at least get inspired or motivated.  I even got a blog post (this one) out of it, plus a possible regional short story idea.  I like to write regional, because as Allison Mackenzie stated (at least in the movie) in “Peyton Place”, there is nothing like opening up a newspaper where the names mean something to you.  There is a peculiar sort of delight when I open up a book and see Pensacola (my hometown) or Poplar Bluff (my birthplace) mentioned.

One of the neatest things I learned was that it is possible to “age appropriate” your writing.  Just as there aren’t any recommended ages listed on children’s books (which I think is done on purpose, to sell more books; I’m such a cynic, I know), I wasn’t aware there was a way to figure out how to determine at what age level my writing was.

For my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, “Golden Forks and Silver Spoons” (“Golden Stars and Silver Linings” being the first), in the “Just-so Stories” section (a la Rudyard Kipling), I “graded” my poem, “How the Colon Became a Semicolon” (who doesn’t love semi-colons, the noncommittal things they are), and have realized that perhaps I wrote a book of children’s poetry rather than simplistic nursery rhymes.

Because I am a “For Dummies” kind of person (I am consulting the “Dummies” books, rather than my textbook, to help me slog through the college course known as Computer Concepts), I want to share how grading our work is accomplished, screenshot by screenshot (as I am a visual learner).

Basically, just follow the cursor.  In the fourth screenshot, just make sure “show readability statistics” is checked.

2 3 4 5 6 7 8

That is how I wish all computer programing books were laid out, because I would so get it.

Now, onto my list of writing tips (which have helped me).  The 5-minute freewriting challenge that was posed to us at the meeting was on what makes one a successful writer, and this is what I came up with.

  1. Write everyday.  (Stephen King writes at least 2000 words a day.)
  2. Don’t edit as you go.  (For a perfectionist like me, this is extremely hard, but I’ve gotten better, because I’ve found that once I get it on paper, it’s a snap to go back and clean it up.)
  3. Submit at least twice a month.  (I would say once a week, but I haven’t even reached this goal myself yet.  I try to count my blog posts as submitting/publishing).
  4. Become a proponent of lifelong learning.  No matter what your major is, there is inspiration for writing everywhere.  My Anatomy and Physiology class inspired a series of medical poetry.  My ethics (philosophy) class has just plain inspired me.
  5. Nurture your spiritual side.  Just one verse in the Bible can (and has, for me) inspired an entire poem, short story or novel.
  6. Become proficient in Microsoft Word.
  7. Stretch your writing muscles by writing in different lengths and genres.  (I’ve also written the same story in poem and short story form.  However, I have found that before writing a novel, decide whether to write in first-or third-person.)
  8. Share your writing, but also be willing to listen to others share theirs, and give sincere compliments and constructive criticism.
  9. Have another creative outlet, such as photography, crafting, etc.  Anything that gives you a break from the screen, but keeps you away from the television.
  10. Don’t watch too much TV, or at least be purposeful in what you watch.  Don’t just turn it on for the sake of turning it on.  I don’t channel surf.  When I turn the TV on, there is something specific I want to watch.
  11. Be persistent.  What one publisher may not take a shine to, another one might.  Just look at the rejection as another opportunity to make it better.
  12. Once you believe a piece is as good as you can make it, put it away for at least six weeks (Stephen King may say six months, I can’t remember), so you will look at it with fresh eyes.  However, if there is a deadline, give it your best and send it in.  This is where being a perfectionist can be a hindrance.
  13. Read!!!

 

 

Snapshots: A Life, One Line at a Time

I wrote this poem for a rhymezone (online rhyming dictionary) poetry contest (it’s a free contest, and those are like the Holy Grail), the theme being “Understanding”.  I’m not sure if I chose the right title, but I’m going with it.  I thought “Parenthood, Understood” might be too literal, so I went with “Snapshots”, as in flashbacks.

It’s autobiographical, and mostly unrhymed.  Perhaps that was why it flowed so easily through my fingertips.

It’s a bit long, but writing it brought to mind of something June Cleaver said to the Beav.  When he was trying to write about his dad, to make him seem more interesting, June said that instead of writing about what his father did, to write about how he felt about him.  That scene when the Beaver is reading his essay to Ward, still makes me misty-eyed.

Though my dad was a SAHM (stay-at-home dad), this poem is about my mom, too.

Dad

Snapshots

The night you brought me home,
I cannot remember.

The day you gave me my first bath,
I remember only what you told me—
that I held my breath till I turned purple,
and then you splashed me (gently) in the face,
startling me.

The day I took my first steps,
you cheered me on,
like you’d never seen it done.
I know, for I’ve seen the pictures.

The day I got sick and almost passed away,
when I wanted nothing more than apple juice
and a ride around in a wheelchair
with my redheaded Cabbage Patch named Michelle on my lap.
I remember that.

You told me Dad was there, with me,
as you were outside the door,
for you could not bear to hear my screams as they gave me a spinal tap.

I’m glad I don’t remember the pain,
only frayed fragments in golden hues—
the good things that remained.

I remember Kelly Morgan, my brother, was born around then,
and how I wished he’d been a girl.

The hearing on my left side was gone, and I,
not understanding that my world could have become a silent one.

I was not afraid as you were,
for I knew not enough to be afraid.

I remember when you took me to the private school with the clean walls,
and the playground with the skyscraping, spiral slide that was a terrifying vortex;
the school where all the teachers wore dresses and
where our hands had to be folded at our desks during quiet time,
the sound of the principal’s heels echoing down the hall.

Every morning, Dad would take me to Delchamps,
for a chocolate milk and a brownie for breakfast,
because eggs made me gag and he always burned the bacon.

I remember the days you picked me up from the public school,
so I wouldn’t have to sit on the smelly schoolbus,
horrid in the humid, Floridian clime,
kids scrawling with their fingers on the grimy windows,
windows covered with condensation,
making the glass appear frosted,
the inside like a giant snow globe,
the weak sunlight filtering in,
hazy like snow.

I remember the green vinyl seats were sticky in the heat,
the muddied dirt tracked in the aisles, catching in the grooves—
the long space imbued with a damp, earthy smell,
like mold, and clothes that had been washed and left too long.

I didn’t want to sit with the boy with the perpetual comb,
I didn’t want to sit with Melinda Sue,
I wanted to sit with you.

I remember all the times you took me to the bookstore in the mall,
always wanting the newest Babysitters Club book.

You instilled in me a love for reading,
for you read to me all the nursery rhymes—
stories of birds flying out of pies
and children living out of shoes.

Whenever you’d read to me, “Little Boy Blue”,
and you’d get to the part where he’d cry,
I’d beg you to stop reading,
with a tear in my eye.

I remember you wouldn’t let me watch “Married with Children”,
but instilled within me a love for old movies and glamour long gone,
of country music that sounded like country.
I discovered ABBA on my own,
but I wouldn’t have had it any other way,
for many of those things you showed me,
I love still today.

You introduced me to Pollyanna and Shirley Temple,
Candyland and Rainbow Brite,
with some Strawberry Shortcake on the side.
You laughed with me at Bullwinkle, let me love Lucy,
and watch Nickelodeon, back when it was good.

I never had a dollhouse,
but neither did I go without.
The fewer things I wanted, but could not have,
the more my imagination grew.
I appreciate that now,
as I could not then.

Plain white paper became snowflakes,
snowing confetti on the floor,
so the living room became a wonderland.
I was like Elsa, before Elsa came to be.

Then there were the endless guessing games,
games that drove Mom crazy,
and all the times you helped me with school projects
that didn’t make any sense to me,
some not even to you.

I remember all the summers you drove me up to Poplar Bluff,
to let me stay with my grandparents and be near extended family,
so that I could experience what you once had.

I don’t remember all the burned meals you served me,
but I know they sustained me.
I don’t remember every time you took me to a friend’s,
but I remember how friends were hard enough to make.
I don’t remember all the times I made you angry,
but it was never enough to strike,
and that wasn’t because I wasn’t so bad,
it was because you were so good.

I remember my high school graduation,
but I more remember you taking me to Mr. Manatee’s restaurant downtown,
now gone after Hurricane Ivan,
just ashes a-blowing in the wind.

I remember the day you came to my wedding,
even though I cannot remember your face,
for so focused was I on Brian,
thinking that life would never be the same,
for it marked the day it was time to put away childish things.

I remember you coming to the hospital when Hannah Beth was born,
but it was just my husband I wanted in the delivery room—
so many different kinds of love in one room,
it was like everything wonderful and happening all at once.

I still see you so often,
for you live just down the road.
I am so glad you get to know Hannah.
I know now I love her in a way you love me,
and you love her in the way your parents’ did.

The times I was away and didn’t call and you worried…
I’m sorry I didn’t understand your anger then.

No, I never knew how much you loved me,
till I became a parent myself.
But wait, that isn’t right…I knew all along–
the only difference now is that I understand.

Mom

Why I Write (among other things)

August has been a busy month.  My daughter’s first birthday was on the sixth.  Interestingly, my husband’s two sisters’ firstborn children were both girls, born on the seventh of August.  Tootie and Becca are only a year apart in age, but my daughter Hannah, is the true baby of the brood, with seventeen and eighteen years separating her from her eldest cousins.  I’d tried to hold out till the seventh, so as not to break with tradition, but it was so not happening.

In a way, I don’t mind so much, because it’s nice not having to share Hannah’s special day with anyone.  We had a small birthday party for her (an excuse to show her off and catch up with my husband’s side of the family).  We got a free “smash” cake from Publix, and though I rarely post pictures of my child on here, this one I have to share.

Squints

I just started school today, and this blog post is a brain break from algebra homework.  I’ve neglected my blog a bit for the past month, and all writing in general.  My friend, Mandy (who has inspired me in so many ways), has been reading my nursery rhyme collection for me; we’ve decided to see if we can find an art student (she works at a university) who would be willing to collaborate with me.

I would prefer to have illustrations to submit along with the stories (but I won’t let it stop me if I don’t); just like a photo on a blog catches the eye, it’s the illustrations that catches the eye when it comes to children’s books.  I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Seuss (story or illustration-wise), and I would be horrified if that style of garish, hideous drawings accompanied any of my work.  I prefer what I call softer illustrations–like a cross between Dick and Jane and Norman Rockwell; those types of drawings would complement my rhymes, which I believe have the charm of Mother Goose, still popular today.

However, these are the best young children’s books I’ve come across.  I never tire of reading them.

crown

They are beautifully written, and beautifully illustrated, and by the same author, too.  Someday, I hope to be talented and skilled enough to do the same.

Though I write primarily because I love it, I came up with several other reasons why I do so:

Top 10 Reasons I Write

  1. I love to make !@#$ up.
  2. I love to kill off people in my stories–people I loathe in real life.
  3. I believe an imagination is a terrible thing to waste.
  4. I want something of my own mind (if not by my own hand; no writing longhand for me) to live on after I pass away.
  5. I am naturally good at it.
  6. Writing is a way to produce something wonderful, while consuming little.
  7. One can make lots of money doing it.
  8. I love to read, therefore, I love to write.
  9. I can do it in my skivvies (and look like hell while doing it).
  10. I…can’t…stop.

The Trees of Life: A Poem, and other musings

It has been almost a month since my last posting.  Spending more time with family, enjoying summer, and wading through all the red tape to go back to school has taken up most of June.  I have been hopping from Building 5 to Building 2 to back again for weeks now, and I have yet to make it to the beach.  It is the raining season in Florida.  One year (I don’t remember which, but it’s been within the last three years), it rained every day in July.  I have, however, made use of all my old seashells (pictures to come later).

I have finished my story for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Short Story contest, and I got together with a friend of mine over coffee to help me edit, and hopefully, publish and market “Golden Stars and Silver Linings”, my collection of children’s nursery rhymes (50 in all), complete with a few recreational drug references and double entendres (however unintentional).

Though I don’t consider writing poetry a waste of time (they’re great writing exercises and fun to write, too), poetry for adults just doesn’t sell; though I have several favorite poems by the greats (Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe), I never read modern, adult poetry.  I’ll still enter free poetry contests for which there is a cash prize (a pine needle in a hay bale?), but I refuse to pay any more entry fees when it comes to poetry contests.  Poetry isn’t hot (people like stories), and so those venues that publish it have to charge entry fees just to stay in print because they don’t make money off subscriptions.  Harlequin romances sell, and that’s my focus right now (as far as adult novels go).  Poetry might be more fun to write, to do, than to read (like tennis is more fun to play than watch).  I tend to feel about poetry in novels like I feel about paragraphs written in italics:  (obvious) dream sequences bore me as much in novels as they do in movies.

There is one movie, “The Woman in the Window”, with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett (highly recommended), in which almost the entire movie is a dream, but that’s okay, because we don’t know it till the end.  The fact that it was all a dream was a bit of a letdown.

Though Dorothy’s adventures in Oz also turned out to be all a dream, I prefer to believe she somehow, telepathically, traveled to a parallel universe.

The poem you about to read is based in reality, though creative license was taken.  It was entered into a tree-themed poetry contest.  I never heard back, so I assumed it wasn’t chosen.  I have noticed that many journals that publish poetry specify they don’t care for rhymed poetry, that it reads better, blah, blah, blah.  I believe there is a certain snootiness where rhyming poetry is concerned–it is seen as not edgy or provocative, but trite and childish.  I disagree, as long as the rhyming isn’t forced and is written well.  With this poem, I experimented with rhyming every first and third line, and every second and fourth.  It was a very difficult task, and quite unnecessary; second and fourth would have been sufficient.

However, here it is:

The Trees of Life

Twas under the magnolia tree with its voluptuous, white blooms,
where I read piles of books while drinking sweet tea from a tall glass;
by the light of the pearl moon I read, the honeysuckle releasing its perfume,
my pillow a denim backpack, my bed a lush patch of St. Augustine grass.

Twas under my grandmother’s dying hickory trees,
that I wiled away the lazy summer days in sweet repose,
writing the kinds of stories I loved to read,
the scent of peach pound cake teasing my nose.

Twas under the ancient oak at my parents’ house on Jackson Street,
that my husband-to-be, knelt in the sand on one knee;
*his grandmother’s band of rose gold with a pearl solitaire,
slipped it on my finger–this intricate heirloom of sentimental wear.

Tis every birthday, under the curving colonnade on Twelfth Avenue,
my husband takes me to the Cactus Flower cafe,
classical music playing with the window down partway,
the breeze blowing through my hair those warm, September days.

Tis past rows of swaying palm trees I walk,
flip-flops slapping hot concrete on the way to the boardwalk–
the beauty of the Emerald Coast shimmering in the background,
full of seashells—jewels of the sea–just waiting to be found.

Tis under the Christmas tree,
I lay my baby daughter beside me,
to look up at the twinkling lights–
lights in red, green and white.

Tis amongst the pine trees in the park we watch our children play,
picnicking on our tattered blanket of blue and white squares,
enjoying a Southern smorgasbord of homemade foods artfully arrayed,
whilst a spray of dandelion seeds and yellow butterflies float in midair.

Tis under trees of various species,
we gather ’round the table in our backyard,
enjoying the warmth of the bricks under our feet,
the steaks juicy, the peaches deliciously charred.

And then the day will come and so it will be,
that under the shade of a weeping willow tree,
I will return to the earth in eternal rest,
peace in knowing I have lived my best.

Easter Sunday 2011

Linsey Gordon had a…hatchet?

So I’ve finished my poem based on the Lizzie Borden “nursery rhyme”.

lizzie_borden_hatchet

The Ballad of Linsey Gordon

A Sunday school teacher was Linsey Gordon,
who ran her class like a prison warden.
Though she was filled with the unholy ghost,
she knew her Bible better than most.
Vanilla plain, she was, with a heart as black as coal,
and a hole where there should have been a soul.

Then one day,
feeling rather gray,
tired of her mother’s nitpickings,
she gave her fifty whippings.
When she saw what she had done,
she gave her father fifty-one,
adding their remains to the wood chippings–
all with a ho and a hum.

Feeling better for the release,
this woman of candor and caprice,
she sought out her sister, Elise.
When she found her, forty lickings did she give,
and when she saw what she had done,
she gave her brother thirty-one,
while giving her lollipop forty-one.

Fortified now,
with the taste of blood in her mouth,
she gave her puppy thirty kickings,
tired of his incessant yippings.
When she saw what she had done,
she gave her kitty twenty-one,
annoyed with her yarn and knittings.

Having run out of live prey,
her gray mood turned black,
and she gave her dolly twenty stickings,
her mophead hair twenty snippings.
When she saw what she had done,
she gave her teddy ten and one–
nothing left but but tattered rippings.

Last she came upon the grandfather clock,
chiming in the hall.
Deciding she’d had enough of its tickings,
she hacked it to pieces,
splinters bouncing off the wall.

And in this rhyme, we see a pattern
of Linsey Gordon mellowing,
yellowing as she ages backwards in time,
like a curious case of reverse progeria–
oh, happy day, bloody sublime!

wood-floor-perspectivefloor-patterns-brown-empty-room-dark-tranquillity-backgrounds-frivhbfx

~

And for those who are interested in the darker versions of popular tales, these links are for you:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/55035/dark-origins-11-classic-nursery-rhymes

http://mentalfloss.com/article/17601/8-fairy-tales-and-their-not-so-happy-endings