an impractical writing companion

Jack in Wildflowers by Ron DeKett
Jack in Wildflowers by Ron DeKett

This morning as I was making toast I noticed a tiny, tiny, pale spider crawling across the kitchen counter. I was going to capture her and put her outside, which is what I usually do with spiders, but I realized she would quickly die in winter weather. So, I lured her into an empty toilet paper tube and wedged her new house between a table leg and the wall.

Animals make perfect companions for writers. A dog will get you outdoors for a walk and offers unconditional love. A cat brings her own capriciousness into your writing day, often with delight as part of the bargain. If nothing else, animal companions add a dimension to a writer’s life that is outside the human experience and thus, valuable.

Not all animals make perfect companions, however. Being hidden away in her toilet paper tube, the little spider is unavailable to provide an ear when I’m reading a new poem aloud. Jack, our yellow Lab who passed away this year, used to listen intently. He was wonderfully cuddly. I imagine if I try to snuggle with the little spider on the couch, I’ll quickly lose her in sofa cushions if I can find her to begin with. As far as a leash goes—probably not practical, and if my neighbors saw me walking down the street gently carrying and conversing with a toilet paper tube, well . . .

For now, Bailey, the fuzzy white dog across the street, lets me rub her and gives me kisses. Oliver, a neighbor’s black cat comes to meow and be petted when I step outside mornings. He and Jack used to rub noses, but he seems quite content with human greetings. A silky border collie named Shadow often greets me at the track where I walk. She makes my day.

When you’re a writer, solitude is a splendid gift and often a rare one. Solitude gives a writer time to think, to ruminate, to contemplate, to observe, to study, and to write. Now that I’m retired from the world of journalism, it’s an enormous blessing to be writing away and not be interrupted. You can hear your own writing. For many writers, interruptions can’t be avoided, especially when they involve young children, a spouse, a partner or another family member or good friend. Unfortunately if you believe you shouldn’t feel frustrated, you heap more frustration upon your keyboard which sits abandoned.

An animal friend or two, however, is the perfect companion—I’ll let you know if a whole family of tiny spiders comes marching out from behind our table next spring.

Thank you to all readers and contributors, and to Adamy Damaris Diaz of Artistik Dreamlife LLC (and a cat lover) for administering the site. We had a great start-up year, and I appreciate all of you. Please contact us with your thoughts and inform us if you have writing to share. Let us continue to build a creative community.

May 2014 bring you solitude and companionship.

Nan Lundeen –

the process of getting published or why is my head hurting so much?

Mary Ellen Lives
Mary Ellen Lives

It’s an old joke: a man tries to cure his headache by banging his head against the wall. This is the life of a fiction writer trying to get published. I can’t speak for non-fiction as I don’t write it, except for now, but there are hordes of fiction writers out there. Some are like the gentleman who said he creates stories in his mind every day but doesn’t write them down. Some day he will. At that moment he will join the rest of us in the ocean called “sending it out.” We are like a school of fish, friendly little fish, but fish that are all swimming in the same direction. For this gentleman I feel I should give a fair idea of what it’s like to get a piece of fiction published.

Let’s take a hypothetical writer who for this piece I will call, me. I write a short story one day and immediately see it as a hit. It’s raw and needs help, but I know it has the makings of brilliance. I rewrite it a couple times. It’s getting better; I think it’s almost there. I bring it to my writing group. They love it, but have a few suggestions. I take home their copious revisions for review. Some I like, some I don’t agree with, and so begins another round of rewriting. I look for repeated, unnecessary words. I change things around. I let it sit for a week or two and look at it again. Rewrite it again. It’s damn near perfect.

Now I start to look for appropriate venues to send it to, both online and in print. I read, and read, and read, and there it is—the perfect literary magazine. In fact that’s its name, The Perfect Literary Magazine. I follow all the guidelines and send it off. It will take four to six months to hear back from the PLM but they don’t ask for exclusivity so I keep reading and looking for places to send it. Some reject me in no time at all. It takes longer for others. Some kind editors tell me why they are rejecting it, maybe even make suggestions. Most do not.

In the meantime, I begin to rewrite it some more. I rewrite the beginning, change the ending. Now I’m unhappy because I sent it to PLM way too early and it is a much better story now. Sure enough, six months down the road The Perfect Literary Magazine sends me an email: “Dear Me, We read your story with great interest . . . blah, blah, blah.”

I am crestfallen. The last rewrite was so much better. Why did I send it off so soon? I think about moving it from my short story folder to the works in progress folder, otherwise known as the never-to-be-seen-again folder. I think about drinking in the afternoon.

But wait—I have been sending it out all this while. I have forgotten how many places I have sent it due to the fact that I can’t stand to look at my submissions log for fear of day-long depression. One was a magazine that asked for my best work. In fact that’s its name: Send Us Your Best Work.

One day I open my email and see that there is a message from Send Us Your Best Work. I moan. Oh no, another rejection. But this time the first word in the email is “Congratulations!” They love it! They want to publish it in the next issue! They have only a few, minor, suggestions.

I am ecstatic, of course, but I wonder—why does my head hurt so much?


let’s celebrate this writer’s win!

Mary Ellen Lives
Mary Ellen Lives contributor Mary Ellen Lives won the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award for her humorous short story, “A Damn Good Funeral.” Here’s an interview she gave us:

What were your feelings when you learned you won?

“I was and am ecstatic! Even though this is not a highfalutin contest it pays, and this is the first time anyone has given me any money. I have to say, though, that I get excited even if they don’t pay. Just publish me!!”

How do you choose what contests to enter?

“I generally don’t enter them if they charge. Some of these contests are way out of line and I can get rejected for free all day long.”

How many things do you send out per month?

“I try to get a couple out a month. Right now for instance I have four out for review. Two of those have to be exclusive so that takes those stories off the market. (These are short stories only. I also have the novel out to one contest and one publisher.) I just had two stories rejected so I will be sending those back out when I figure out where I want them to go. That takes a lot of time.”

What advice do you have for writers submitting to contests and/or to publications?

“Do your research. I know, everyone says that but it’s really true. Spend the time to read what the mags are looking for. And expect a lot of rejections. Even if it is what they are looking for. Get down about it for a day, then get over it and move on.

“Don’t just send to paying magazines or print magazines. Send work to university presses and others who don’t pay in anything and don’t look down at online only sites. They all give encouragement and exposure. The two things every writer needs.”

Congratulations, Mary Ellen. Your win is our encouragement.


what is Christmas?

Christmas for me has always been a time of magic.

It’s a time when peace is on the lips of all – even when it’s in the actions of just a few.

The season is a period of joy and quiet, or even exuberant, happiness as the timeless tale of the nativity is told again or viewed through the eyes of children..

Did you see that sheep lose it’s place. It happens all the time in pageants. And towels only look like headdresses at Christmastide.

It’s Christmas trees, the tannebaum of Germanic lore, and bright lights glimmering and silver bells ringing.

Christmas is the manger with a donkey and a camel as well as Santa Claus kneeling in front of it.

The holiday is also a holy day.

It’s a time of reflection (all of us should do as Mary did and ponder many things in our hearts).

It’s a time of giving, the one time of year that people try to think of others more than themselves.

It’s family, those that gather round the fire or the Bible and those in far-off places who gather with us in our memories and imaginations. It may also be crying babies and squabbling adults. But it doesn’t really matter. We’re all in it together.

Children all pray for snow, a glistening whiteness covering all the dreary darkness of the world.

What I like most about Christmas is that it’s a time of new beginnings: We have another chance to be the best we can be.

Let’s try it out this year.