Where Will She Sit on the Shelf?


I’ve sat in on enough writing sessions facilitated by writers, agents, editors and other workers in the publishing industry to know that if my book doesn’t conform to market standards, good luck on getting it published.

Today’s post is on meeting that challenge and moving forward.

Maybe a Story Really Does Tell Itself

My original intention when I began telling my mermaid story was for it to be a romance. A beautiful fishlike young woman washes ashore where a beautiful young man discovers her and along the way love arrives.

The story didn’t unfold as I’d planned.

My mermaid remains a young female but her story focuses on her journey toward the realization of who she is and where she belongs in the ocean world.

A young man is a part of her narrative, along with issues of ocean pollution and extinction and motherhood and love.

Genre Dilemma

My novel is complete. But what kind of novel is it?




Women’s Fiction?

Adult Mainstream?

All of the above?

None of the above?

I can’t imagine anything worse than a story being refused because the marketing department has no idea how to advertise it and the bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

What do I do?

Change the story?

Keep the story?

Forget the story?

Advice from Experts

I expressed my dilemma with book editor, Rebecca Heyman. Her response was a recommendation to read three novels. One is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.


Erin Morgenstern’s story doesn’t fit a standard type; it’s fantasy, romance, maybe even steampunk.

No spoilers here: In Night Circus, two old competitive peers, artists in magic and illusion, pit their apprentices against each other for an eventual showdown.

The story itself is magic. It enchanted me with its vivid details, compelling storytelling and mystical tone.

The structure of the story is also as unique as the tale itself.

Have readers found this strange, unusual novel in their bookstores, real or digitalized?

They certainly have.

Forging Ahead

My focus now isn’t on whether or not there’s a specific shelf for my mermaid novel but on how compelling and memorable my story is for the audience who will read it one day.


“The Red Ball” Earns the Cut


I had five pages to convince the judges that my short story was the best.

Midwest Writer’s Workshop of Muncie, Indiana, has a five-page maximum length requirement for its entries in long fiction, nonfiction and short and one hundred lines for poetry. No exceptions.

“The Red Ball” is a futuristic tale of a young man who rarely steps outside and a young woman who does, for thirty minutes every night while the city detection system goes offline.

It was seven pages long.

The judges expected to read incomplete entries, but wouldn’t it be to my advantage if I could end the story within the limit?

I trimmed.

Like lovely locks of hair, my story lost its extra curls of enriched characterizations. The words weren’t shorn for good, I consoled myself, only stored away in another word file.

“The Red Ball” took Best Short Story. Placed against the winning pieces in all four categories, it also earned me the Top Writer Excellence Award.

In the end, I couldn’t deny it: the impact of the tightened, five-page story was sharper.

The judges thought so, too.

Two Stories are in an Anthology, Romantic Ruckus

I notice how anxious I’ve become to get every aspect of this writing business covered.

I most enjoy the writing. I like the solitariness of it. My favorite spot is curled up in my chair with my computer on my lap, typing out a new story or editing an older one.

However, I won’t get anywhere unless I go after selling markets. Thank goodness for the Internet. I search online. I read what my fellow writers on Facebook and at my writers’ group are submitting to. Making my own list of possibilities, I send my stories out. No stamps. No envelopes. No waiting for a phone call or an envelope back.

The quickest rejection was four hours. Others took longer. Some came with a personal comment as to why it wasn’t being accepted.

Finally, an editor who was looking for quirky funny romantic stories, took one of mine. Then she asked if I had any more and she took a second one. What joy!

Now my professional writer’s resume is looking pretty, well, professional. I’m not feeling too bad either.


“Migration” and “Big Screen Romance” are my two contributions here.

Romantic Ruckus, edited by Kara Leigh Miller.

Emerging From The Chrysalis

I notice how penitent I feel as I come back to my blog after being gone for a little more than a year. I want to apologize to someone. I feel like the dog who missed the newspapers and is looking at her human with sad eyes.

My reasons for my absence are valid. I’ve experienced drastic changes in my family, which required much of my focus. The center of my life, my mother, passed way last Thanksgiving. Since then I’ve been working with my family on the process of selling the home where all six of us kids grew up.

However, the most valid reason I’ve been gone is I fell out of practice.

I won’t dillydally about it. Let’s rip off the bandage in one strong pull. I am back and I am going to come here more often.

Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I stretch my wings.

Oh, look! A whole field of wild flowers!              DSCN0253



A Retreat is Really A Step Forward

I am tucked away on the third floor of this one-time convent and Catholic college for girls. A powerful place to write.

I am tucked away on the third floor of this one-time convent and Catholic college for girls. A powerful place to write.

I notice how energized I feel as I walk to my cell of a room, the sole person on this floor at this retreat center.

The Catholic nuns have got their act together. The number of women entering Catholic convents is dwindling. Various orders of sisters are compensating by renovating their convents and sisters-only retreat centers and opening them to the public.

I have three such places within four hours of me where I may spend a weekend or longer. The one in the picture offers meals every day, not just weekends. All provide quiet spaces, a desk, and a wifi signal.

I am in heaven.

Even though I have my own house basically to myself, I am distracted by work I do for other organizations and the chores of everyday living. In my room away from home, in a place taken care of by others and where meals are cooked, presented, and cleaned up by others, I sit at a desk, guilt-free, and go to it.

I sense the history of women praying, studying, focusing their lives on holiness in the days when these convents were full. The energy is powerful.

My connection with my imagination, diction and composition intensifies during this time in retreat.

The work is also powerful and the process sacred.

A Convention of Rejuvenation


Writing Panel “Don’t Ever Let Me Catch You Doing This” featuring Dayton horror writers, Brady Allen and Tim Waggoner.

I notice the excitement generated by a writing convention and how valuable it is to reigniting my own drive to keep writing and learning the publishing business.

I recently attended Context 25, one of my favorite conventions because its focus is on writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Many of its offerings are free with registration: one-hour panels on everything from “Children Characters in Fantasy and Horror” to “Nanotechnology.” Other sessions are more intensive and longer and cost extra. Two of the three of my choice were “World-Building” and “Revising Your Manuscript.”

I love being a student and taking notes; listening to interviews with guest of honor writers in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Editing; asking questions of the experts. I write it all down in a journal used exclusively for anything relating to writing, whether the source is a convention, workshop, online or in magazines.

My top task is connecting with other writers and those involved in publishing. Small talk isn’t my forte. How do I sidle up to strangers and just chat? Here, the Con Suite is a good beginning. It offers free food, snacks, sweets, and nonalcoholic beverages. Usually, some of the seasoned writers, singers (called filkers), boasters, thinkers, talkers come to sit around the tables and share stories. After a few minutes, I feel like I fit in.

Chatting gets easier as the weekend passes. Seeing similar faces at various activities builds camaraderie. Shared experiences lead to writing discussions.

A mere weekend is exhausting, but only physically, and mostly due to less sleep. What is accomplished is my rejuvenation of spirit. It is only with perseverance that a new writer can make inroads into professional publication. This age of e-books and self-published books is shaking up the traditional book publishing process. I can get lost in that surge of change. But if I stick with it, I will find my way.

Writing conventions like Context in Worthington, Ohio, buoy my spirit and energy level. I return home to the rather solitary life of a writer, eager to write something new and focused to submit something already written.


Closure: John Updike and Sex

My first reading moment featuring a love story was the attraction between Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was in third or fourth grade. I can still conjure up their quick kiss in the cave scene in all its imaginative detail. Later, in early high school, I devoted myself to Jane Eyre’s search for purpose and discovering love with the dark, sophisticated and tormented Edward Rochester.

Amid the times when these classics encompassed my world of romance, the talk of sordid lust was through the popular Hugh Hefner’s Playboy and Penthouse magazines. No, I wasn’t a reader nor a peruser of the photos, but I had high school and college friends who were.

So it was one extreme or the other: the black and white movie type of suggested sex of the curtain blowing through the open window or the glaring centerfold and full color exposure. It was all make believe.

As a university English major, I took a class featuring novels by Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and John Updike. It was the first time I read work so realistic of adult modern day life. Characters were regular people who could be my neighbors or professors. No one was literally lost in a cave or had an insane wife locked on the third floor of his mansion. The stories featured male characters and, in my memory, all of the men in John Updike’s works were in search of sex. Sex in average bedrooms like the one in my house or, now that I think about it, anywhere they could get it.

While the professor expounded on the works’ lofty themes and literary genius, and I took notes as the dutiful student who knew an analytical paper was in the offing, my real thinking was somewhere else: focused on the overabundance of sex, real, suburban sex. And perhaps I pined for the want of a gothic structure or a one-of-the-boys relationships like Nancy Drew. Instead, I think I grew up during that course and faced an all-too-realistic literary adulthood.

Today, a few decades later, I finished reading John Updike’s collection of short stories entitled My Father’s Tears, first since 2000, the inner book jacket states. Males dominate each tale, but the men are older, much older. Some are in the suburbs, some are in foreign places. All are coping with aging. “The Walk with Elizanne” is about a high school reunion, same with “The Road Home.” Even those that feature boyhood like “The Guardians” and “The Laughter of the Gods” is from a senior male hindsight.

The one short with the greatest departure from my imposed Updike theme is “Varieties of Religious Experience.” It has sex, but love and faith from its domestic to its fanatical as it encompasses the terror of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as experienced from various perspectives.

I gave away the John Updike books I had to read in college. I was through with the white guys in search of sex. Maybe too real for me. Maybe not. I reluctantly returned to his writing with his My Father’s Tears collection. And there I was, struck again with the same issues and felt the same realness. But this time the cold, hard facts of love were taken over by an aging, male mind who wondered whether love had met expectations, matched memories or redefined definitions.

John Updike doesn’t kid around with age. He isn’t imagining the stud muffins of his youthful pieces. They exist no longer because he exists no longer in that image.

His last two stories are my favorites: “Outage” and “The Full Glass.” I see them as his eulogy to himself. In “Outage” his older-now male, sex-driven ego sees itself in both states of fantasy and reality. “The Full Glass” is his swan song. Through all of John Updike’s personal journey as a youth, adult, author, lover, father, here he is, on the edge of living, looking back and seeing life as a full glass not an empty one.

I’m not sure whether I will read his work again. I like to consider the reason being that I have come full circle and see this collection as closure for a writer who introduced me to modern, everyday male characters and their quests for love that remain, like it or not, a part of my literary memory.

As such, I raise my full glass and offer a toast. Here’s to you, John Updike: Born in 1932. Died in January 2009.

Is There Ever an End to Writing Workshop Preparation?

I feel like I’ve read it all: how to behave at writing conferences, how to prepare the perfect sale’s pitch, what to say, what not to say.

Got my business cards with blog address on back. Getting my blog updated as I write. Have read the manuscripts of my writing intensive colleagues, submitted my twenty-page manuscript excerpt for review by a professional. Have the cash, checkbook, credit card to purchase books by visiting authors for signatures.

Am I ready?

I’d love to say yes, but the blotches on my face tell a different story. It’s like pimples popping out on a teenager’s face the morning of school photo day.


I am off to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on Saturday, July 9. I have bought into the whole program: Saturday seminar all day, full morning sessions all week, afternoon fiction intensive all week, two professional critique sessions about my manuscript excerpt, open-to-the public writer forums and readings every evening. I hope to sign up to pitch my novel (said manuscript) Mermaid with an agent. All that and making connections and picking up tips from other attendees and facilitators.

Conferences were easier when I was a beginning writer with nary a story to my name, just aspirations. Now I am in the group that has that “lean and hungry look,” not to assassinate Caesar but to bring attention to my work. It’s great because I passed that critical dateline from wannabe-writer-but-I haven’t-written anything to a writer-with -a- completed-novel-looking-for-an-agent-and-a-contract.  It’s scary because now there is evidence for someone to tell me how good, mediocre or poor I am.

Nevertheless, I am ready.

Wait. Not yet.

I need another container of make up to cover up these red blotches.

“Crystal Love” Takes Third in Short Fiction Contest

At six, Jade knew that the best things were over her head. Candy in the top cupboard. Cookies on the refrigerator. Tiniest toys on her closet shelf.  Prettiest statues above the fireplace.

When she saw Grandpa’s step stool next to the armoire in his room, she had to have a climb.

“Be careful, “ said Grandpa. “And hand me that old light bulb.” He tossed it in the trash then sat on the bed, breathing heavily.

“Aw, Grandpa. You gotta dust up here,” Jade said. She sneezed a few times to show she was serious but giggled when she lifted an old framed snapshot of him and Grandma making angels in the snow.

“I make snow angels too,” she said. “Is that you and Grandma? She’s just a girl.”

“She’s the best girl in the world, honey.” Grandpa stared at the tremor in his hands. “I would have given your Grandma the world if she’d let me. But we weren’t rich and never traveled far. Still, we’ve laughed a lot and enjoyed our times together.”

Grandpa pushed himself back toward his pillows and leaned against the headboard.

“We loved to take long walks together, especially in winter. Grandma always wished she could hold winter forever in her hands. To her it was the most romantic time of the year.”

He shut his eyes and folded his hands across his stomach, waiting for his breathing to even out.

Jade put the photograph aside and reached for something else. It was larger than her little fists. And heavy. She knew she would drop it if she tried to carry it in her hands.

She got her fingers around its base and slid it to the armoire’s edge. It was a glass ball but so grimy she couldn’t see anything. She tilted it over and cradled it in her neck.


“Jade!” Grandpa hadn’t moved so fast in ages. He was off the bed and grabbing the globe from her. “My god, child, you could have seriously hurt yourself. Now get down off of there. Go see what Grandma’s doing in the kitchen.”

Grandpa sat back on the bed and held the globe in the palms of his rough, steel mill factory hands.

“Grandpa, what is it?”

Balancing the globe on his lap, Grandpa reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a washed-out blue bandana. Like he was bathing a newborn baby, Grandpa cleaned the globe of its dusty film.

Jade waited.

“Grandpa?” she whispered.

“Honey,” Grandpa lifted it up. “This is a snow globe. Grandma has loved this globe more than anything. She brought it with her when we moved in here after our wedding. She said her father gave it to her. She keeps it up on that armoire. Once in a while, I see her pick it up and shake it. She gets a little misty-eyed then puts it back.”

“See?” Grandpa turned it upside down and right side up again.

Jade leaned close and watched snow crystals sparkle as they settled over a bare tree and a bench. On the snowy pond, a boy and a girl, both in skates, stand close together, about to kiss.

“Who are the skaters, Grandpa?”

“Nobody in particular. Just two young people in love. Grandma says they remind her of us. We never had skates and I once asked her, ‘Do you want to go skating?’ But she just called me silly.”

Jade had better eyes than Grandpa. To her the skaters looked a lot older and a lot like her grandparents. But she didn’t tell Grandpa that.

“Now let me put it back.”


   At ten, Jade stood in her grandpa’s room and stared at the snow globe.

Grandpa came in, drew her close and together they sat on the bed. “I miss her, too.”

He got down the globe and gave it a shake. “Look.”

The scene was the same, except the girl skater was gone. The boy stood alone on the pond, his arms outstretched but no one to hold.

“Oh, Grandpa.”


   At fifteen, Jade returned to her grandfather’s room.

“Jade?” Grandpa whispered from his bed. “That snow globe.”

No longer needing a step stool, Jade reached over the top of the armoire and carefully pulled the heavy glass toward her. She wiped off the dust and shook it, waiting for the snowflakes to fall. The pond and the tree were there, but the boy ice skater no longer stood on the pond. He sat on the bench, his chin in his hands.

She brought the globe to her grandfather’s bed.

“Take it” was all he could say.


   At twenty, Jade unpacked the snow globe from a box. She gave it a shake before placing it in her first apartment.

The boy was gone. Two pairs of skates, their laces undone, laid on their sides next to the bench.


   At twenty-five, Jade fell in love with Tony. When they moved into their home, Jade carried the snow globe up the stairs and into their bedroom.

Tony saw her give the ball a shake and watched with her as snow crystals floated around the two young lovers on skates. “Where did you get this?”

“My grandfather gave it to me.”

“Funny how they look a lot like us, Jade,” he said and he kissed his bride and left the room.

Jade’s eyes grew misty as she shook the snow globe one more time and gently placed it on the armoire. “He’s the best, Grandpa. The best boy in the world.”

Third place in Adult Short Fiction:                                                                                           Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Contest 2011

“I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay.” Edward Albee

S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult book The Outsiders is about guys, all guys. No notable parents. No notable girls. No notable teachers. Strictly teenage males. Susan Eloise Hinton wrote its first draft when she was 17 in Oklahoma. What could she possibly know about the male sex, let alone about writing novels? She had a great editor to help finalize  her novel. And she used her first two initials to take care of the doubt over the male sex part. She didn’t want potential readers, particularly the male ones, to shy away from reading her books because she was female. The Outsiders is timeless and probably the most-read book by male and female adolescents. I read Rumblefish, That Was Then, This is Now and Tex. All with male protagonists, all with plots focusing on the struggle to find one’s way in life without guidance by adults. All powerful stories.

Interviews about her work always include the question, “Why write about guys?” But I never recall a backlash remonstrating her for having done so. Why limit a writer’s imagination to her or his personal biography?

In late May 2011, playwright Edward Albee received the Pioneer Award during the Lambda Literary Awards for writers who have broken ground for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) in literature and publishing. His body of work, including the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the novel The Witches of Eastwick, does not reflect gay characters or gay themes because it doesn’t. He said he thought it “deplorable” that he, or any writer, should be expected or limited to writing according to his or her own personal lifestyle.

I agree with Albee, though when I was in my thirties I may not have.

My radical feminist phase occurred in my thirties. Actually how radical it was is debatable. For an obedient Catholic kid in a stoic, modest Slovak family of eight living in steel mill Youngstown, Ohio, I’d say studying for a master’s in women’s studies/American women’s literature at Antioch University and marching in D.C. for women’s freedom of choice is a radical phase.

I read my MS magazine from cover to cover. I attended women’s music festivals. I believed that men had no business using females as their protagonists. What did they know? I was all about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Ah, youth: headstrong, idealistic, anything-for-the-cause youth.

I love Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series whose protagonist is male with leprosy and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series about humans who ride dragons. Donaldson is not a leper and McCaffrey has never…you get the idea. Several male writers write darn good romance, though they write under pseudonyms. Unlike Albee, they know most of their readers will not believe men can write about women in love.

Albee stands by his beliefs. I applaud his statements and his defense of them. In this I-must-please-everyone-and-offend-no one society, I am impressed with his firm stance to what sounds true and logical.

But his age is in his favor.

I’d like to think that at one time, maybe during a radical gay phase of his youth, he may have wanted to write about homosexual themes and characters. I don’t know. But then those verbally abusive heterosexual twosome, Martha and George, from Virginia Woolf just wouldn’t shut up.