My community college journey

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         It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
         I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be.  The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
         I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
         Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself).  I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
         However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
         I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do.  I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer.  (I just need the training.)
         Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another.  I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
         My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post.  I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest.  (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
         “Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.”  (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
         Writing sure changed mine.
         My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college.  If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
         So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera).  I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts.  I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
         Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall.  I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
         The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard.  It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
         As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently.  Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
         But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
         Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
         And it was more than all right.
         Our college’s motto is:  Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here.  Stay here.
         Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation.  I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10.  There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home.  I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
         I so look forward to graduation tomorrow.  Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
         I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #357, Theme: Bigger

Her Sidney Summer

Karsen Wood drove from the Sunshine State to the Big Sky Country—
to the land that was bigger than her small, childish dreams.
She wasn’t running away, but to something she couldn’t yet see—
to something greater than the life she’d left and richly lived,
and would live again.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-357

Writing Prompt: On Memoir Writing, and Finding Their Voices

If you ever get writer’s block (which can happen if you’re just working on one project at a time; I tend to work on at least seven, and in a variety of forms and genres), writing prompts might help you get unblocked.  Even better, you might come up with a great, publishable piece that you otherwise would have never written. 

  • The Wife of Brian.  (About not losing your identity, but rather, becoming more of who are you through the marriage relationship.  This would definitely have a Christian chick-lit vibe, as I am not the queen of oversharing.)
  • Second to Fluff:  Growing Up with Pet Parents.  (My mom’s story of having to compete for affection from her mom and dad, who liked to say that “dogs were easier to raise than kids”.)
  • Life with Griff.  (Told from my P.O.V. about growing up with a dad who is an unintentional Lucy Ricardo.)
  • Twice Upon a Time in Pensacola.  (My husband’s story of us, and how we crossed paths before we knew each other.  Love and Serendipity.)
  • Hannah Banana of Florabama.  (Though I had already written this as a nursery rhyme about my daughter, I am going to write another in the form of a fairy tale.  It is easy to take any story, and turn it into a fairy-tale:  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/12/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-340-theme-finally-or-at-last/)

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  • The Huntsman of Poplar Bluff.  (My Uncle Bill’s story of his “countrified” life, juxtaposed against the lives of his “citified” children.)
  • Jasper Vizsla:  The Hot Dog of New York.  (Based on Dana Perino’s dog of the same name.  A tale/tail? of New York Life, from a dog’s perspective.)
  • Santa Claus:  The Before.  (A fable or legend about how Santa Claus started his trade/calling.  Maybe this has already been done by L. Frank Baum, I don’t know, but I can have my own take.)
  • Before Laurie Nolan:  A Prequel.  (Laurie Nolan is a character in my book, “Because of Mindy Wiley”.  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/)   Mine your writings for characters who still have their own story to tell.  You may even end up with a series of short stories to promote your primary work.
  • Lila Caddy’s Second Family.  A poignant narrative (from the P.O.V. of a twenty-five year old Cadillac named Lila).  Lila was my and Brian’s first car together.  She was more than just transportation–she was our freedom to go wherever we wanted.
  • House on Cottage Row.  The story of a house with heartwarming and heartbreaking secrets.  (Think of all the stories Tara, from “Gone with the Wind”, could tell.)
  • Pensacola:  The Dark Paradise.  Think “City Confidential”.  Every town has a story to tell.  I told mine in “The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery” (which was published in an anthology sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post, and was based on a true story).  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/12/06/more-good-news/

I believe these prompts will also help you to write in other “voices”.  I have found that almost all of my main characters are extensions of myself, and so I am in bad need of an “out-of-body” experience.

A persona poem is another great exercise in this:  http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-many-faces-of-persona-poems

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

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

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.

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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.