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Preview: fallible


I find these truths to be self-evident. But, then again, I could be wrong.

Published: 2012-11-25T21:28:29+00:00




I try with words to heal myself, To claim a cure for ills unknown, But only find my voice is hoarse, More seed among the symptoms sown. I try with words to find myself, Search through the stories and the tales, Pick over what has come to ruin, Old successes and new fails. I try with words to save myself, Who cannot save the flower’s bloom, But end up using still more words, ‘Til filling my heart’s every room.

Becoming Brenda Starr


Brenda Starr and I go way back. I knew just enough about her by December, 1961, to know I wanted to be her when I grew up. I wanted the career in writing, the fabulous clothes, the glamorous bedroom, the amazing long, red, flowing hair, and the cleavage. Sure, she had a wacky dysfunctional relationship with a guy named Basil, but I hoped they had some semblance of a true spiritual connection, since his last name was St. John. A name like that should be able to cover a lot of sins, don’t you think? As it turned out, he often disappeared for years at a time into some distant jungle, where he was forced to develop a rare serum from an exotic breed of orchid in order to prolong his own otherwise useless life. Then he’d ingest or inject the serum, and use the cubits that had been added to his miserable existence to trek back to the big city, where Brenda would forgive him in an implied session of passionate lovemaking. In December of 1961, Basil was away. I was eight years old, and anxious for his return. Wouldn’t it be better if Brenda and Basil lived out his few remaining days together, making happy memories? What good was it if he hung on another ten years separated from his one-and-only love, in exchange for a couple measly episodes of making-out? Even at eight, I had lost patience with Basil St. John. And if it weren’t for what happened on that fateful morning in December, 1961, I might have given up hope for Brenda, too. I was spending the weekend with my grandparents, and by five o’clock Sunday morning, my grandpa let Grandma and me know he was having a terrible heart attack. She told him it was just heartburn, and to go back to bed. She was snoring within seconds, but I knew the truth. My grandpa, just like Basil St. John, wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon. The doctor made a house call, and an ambulance took Grandma and Grandpa into the city, where Grandpa lived in Intensive Care for the next five weeks. I was hustled to the next-door neighbors, people I did not know, but who had an enormous white Family Bible on the coffee table. I took great comfort in the physical presence of the Bible—although I had never opened one and didn’t that day, either—but I instinctively reached for the Sunday funnies. What I found there disturbed me almost as much as witnessing my first heart attack. Evidently, Brenda Starr had been drugged by very bad people who, as the ultimate insult, had shorn her hair. Really shorn. Brenda Starr with a pixie cut. “You can get through this, Brenda. Things aren’t as horrible as they seem right now. It will be all right, you’ll see. Hair grows back, really it does. Basil will still love you, no matter what. You are not alone.” Okay, I admit it. That morning, I played Brenda Starr’s shrink, her counselor, her pastor. And in helping her, I pulled my terrified little self through a very scary time. Brenda’s hair grew back so fast, I couldn’t believe it. Within a few short weeks—before my grandpa was even in a private room—her auburn tresses were as long and voluptuous as ever. Boy, did I ever want to be Brenda Starr. The next Halloween, in 1962, I got my chance. My mother bought me a wonderful Brenda Starr mask, and I had a costume to die for. (No cleavage, but still. Heck, I was a kid. There was plenty of time for that.) It was my favorite costume ever. I must have had Brenda and Halloween on my mind in my sleep last night. Toward morning, I dreamed of having her gorgeous coif, which was growing exponentially like one of those dolls with a little crank that makes her hair cover her rear end in seconds flat. I awakened with a huge smile and ran to the mirror to see if my hair would turn redder and grow big before my very eyes, but no such luck. Still no cleavage, either.

Off Beat


Two clocks like electric shocks Only not set to Greenwich time One ticks as the other tocks, Committing a second-by-second crime. Two plans for a given day Compete like a pair of off-beat clocks One plan to go and one to stay, But both to wear slippers without socks.



My mother wore loose powder with her lipstick No other make-up, not even mascara, and even then The occasion had to be of the special variety Involving salt-rimmed glasses of Margarita And shrimp cocktail, if times were good. The box is round, of course, by Maybelline, And the puff fits into it just so and when It comes up for air again it chokes, and spews A cosmetic cloud, like the nuclear fall-out we Feared under wooden school desks, thanks to Cuba. I keep the leopard-printed box atop my dresser now Dust around it, touching jewels, perfumes, and potions, Then gasp at my reflection in vanity’s mirror, As I lift the lid and breathe once more what was her life. The ashes scatter and she is gone again. Forever and again.

That’s It


It would be lovely, wouldn’t it, if we could truly know everything we’ve seen, if nuances whispered their meanings to us in the light where we could at least read their lips, rather than in the darkness where we must also depend on interpreting their touch. It would be lovely, but too easy. I am more impressed with a deep knowledge than a broad one, even if that which is fully known by me is not unlike what is known by any other person living in this world. I would rather read one phrase which aptly captures love, and about which anyone might say “that’s it!” than a library full of poetry which almost touches my soul. The one beautiful thing about the “almosts,” though, is the way they challenge me to try the thing myself. To try myself to fashion the one apt phrase which, after it’s written, I might read again, and sigh and say, that’s it.

So I’ve Finally Signed With An Agent. Now What?


When I signed on the undotted line to become a client of WordServe Literary, dozens of people began asking me the very questions that were reverberating through my own mind, and contributing their commentary to my interior monologue. As it turned out, thinking through these questions and comments helped me understand some of what might—or might not—happen next. “I really don’t know what it means to have an agent.” The friend who made this statement happened to be a real estate agent. She loved getting new listings, knowing that other agents would be showing the house at least as much as she would, possible making the sale for her and splitting the commission. I told her that unlike a real estate agent, a writer only has one literary agent working for her at a time. And it’s through the efforts of that agent that the book proposal is submitted to publishers, the bidding war for your book heats up (hey, a girl can dream!), the contract is negotiated, and the movie rights are sold (again with the dreams!). “How did you find your agent?” In my experience, there are two great ways to find your agent, and the two are somewhat related. One is to attend local, regional, and national writers conferences. While there, you will have a chance to sign up for brief meetings with agents and editors to pitch your work. You’ll also get to meet these industry professionals at meals and during their teaching presentations. Often, after hearing about your project, agents will invite you to submit your proposal and some sample chapters. Do your best to follow through on those invitations! There are plenty of online references to coach you through the writing of a proposal. Get it in tip-top shape (ask a few writer buddies to look it over for you) and send it, with a reference to your previous meeting and the agent’s invitation. But even at large conferences, your opportunity to meet many agents all on your own isn’t too great. That’s where networking with scores of published authors comes in. Build relationships online and at conferences, and it might just happen that one day a favorite writer friend might introduce you to an agent, giving you the gift of a sought-after recommendation and earning you the agent’s attention. That is how I found my agent. “Why would you want to pay an agent when you can just deal with the publishers yourself and keep the money?” While it’s not impossible, it is not easy to connect with an acquisitions editor at a publishing house and succeed in getting a contract without an agent. At the stage of contract negotiations, I personally would not want to be going it alone. If I did not have an agent and managed to sell my manuscript, I would definitely hire an intellectual property attorney to help me with the legal side of things. In my opinion, a good agent offers so much more than just contract negotiation. A great agent acts a trusted friend, career coach, and mentor. Some like to get involved in shaping your proposal and even some editing of your work, but I would not expect that level of involvement from my agent. “Why wouldn’t you just self-publish and keep all the money?” More and more, of course, this is becoming a viable alternative to traditional publishing, and it’s an option that has made quite a number of authors wildly successful. I personally appreciate the commitment of resources (marketing, editing, cover design, sales, and production professionals) that traditional publishers bring to the table, as well as the value of an agent’s contribution. I do have a few book ideas that would probably be better self-pubbed than traditionally pubbed, for reasons relating to small niche markets and need to be frequently updated. But for most of my projects, I’d prefer to stick with traditional publishing. “Was your book all the way finished before you got an agent?” My novel was completely written, along with a proposal, bef[...]

The Spoon


It’s just a slotted spoon, of course, Nothing more. Wooden handled, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. Vintage 1950, when housewives Stirred oatmeal old-fashioned, Stick-to-ribs, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. She scraped potatoes from a Heavy pot, smoothed soup Into soothing cures, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. Scooped Irish stew into steaming Bowls, set before us with Wonder Bread and peaches, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. Alone at last, she scrambled A solitary egg, that’s all, to make Things simple, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. The spoon went with her to the Tiny kitchenette. She never stirred Another thing, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. I touch it now, and feel her palm Upon the handle’s grain, her fingerprints Beneath my own, sturdy and Steady as she goes, and went. It’s just a slotted spoon, of course, Nothing more. Wooden handled, sturdy and Steady as she goes—-and went.



O, horrible capacious cries, She damns her waves of pain. And then she counts this travesty Above her greatest bane. Sciatica! Sciatica! O, why did you choose me? Screamed when I stood, Not in the mood, Pinched nerve from butt to knee!



I was seven when I first heard of Mother’s Day and thought, How lovely for my mother that my teacher has us doing crafts at just the exact right time. Miss Evans passed out bars of naked Sweetheart soap, pure white, the kind my mother bathed the baby with, and used to scrub her nylons on Saturday, the night before Mass. I wrapped the oval bar in golden rick-rack, cut from spools at the Five and Dime, overlapping the ends. Then I used straight pins (Be Careful!) to poke in purple plastic violets on top, like a field of flowers in the snow. I punctured my fingertip and it bled onto a pale green leaf and I didn’t wipe it off with a Kleenex from my bookbag. Because Mom needed to know how dangerous love can be. She treasured that gift more than life, setting it on the windowsill away from water where lowlier bars bathed new babies until only tiny fragments of soap remained in the old chipped dish. I emptied my mother’s house one day and there sat my decades-old gift. Dust and grime engraved upon the violets, the rick-rack petrified, straight pins rusted, the bottom cracked and dry. I thought of the little girl with the young mother and the old woman now bathed by others with a fresh bar of Sweetheart soap. And I cradled it carefully in my hands.